Undisclosed location. 2079.
My name is Elias Warden, and I am a nobody.
I’ve hacked, blackmailed, and stolen my way into this luxurious penthouse suite. I can feel the sterile wind whip through the shattered glass wall – glass walls, now that’s something I could never get used to. Why would anyone want to expose their home like that? But then again, I guess you don’t get the perks of a real cyber-court when you’re hiding in black market safehouses.
A family’s photo booth printout is stuck to the glass with static. The wind is desperately trying to rip it away, but it clings to the glass. I’m surprised it hasn’t lost its charge through all these years, but technology has come a long way since my childhood.
I peel it off and hold it up to the light. Haruki smiled like a man who had it all – money, power, and a perfect family. A loving wife and two beautiful kids. He was a lieutenant in the mafia, but also an insightful and empathetic person. We had met in the past, back when I was a street kid living off pickpocketing tourists. Now he was my one way into the system. It’s funny how life works out that way.
I feel sorry for Haruki and his family. But when you make your living in an underworld full of cybernetic-enhanced killers and sadistic crime lords, there’s nothing surprising about collateral damage to innocents. The sad part is that I’ve come to understand my part in it. Bringing down the mafia isn’t just about my own vengeance: I understand now that I may not deserve redemption, and maybe chasing after it is just an elaborate way of postponing my true punishment.
Clearing what remained of the glass from the window sill, I sit down with my feet dangling over the 112th floor. Heat lightning flickers in the distance, illuminating the city skyline.
Tonight, the city feels alive with the pulsing neon glow of a thousand advertisements. The streets below are teeming with life, people and machines alike. The cars drifting through the night leave trails of color that race each other to the horizon.
Three years ago, it might have taken me a week to decrypt Haruki’s files. But now everything I need is in my head. Literally. Next-generation neural implants that are usually reserved for the elite military personnel. With a blink, the classic Linux penguin danced across my field of sight, and I begin sifting through encrypted files.
His business accounts and contacts were easy enough to find, but the real prize lay hidden deep in the digital catacombs of his augmented mind. Haruki had been a witness to an assassination that would change the balance of power in the criminal syndicate. But he had been smart enough to not say a word – instead, he’d encrypted the video and hid it away in a custom partition locked behind layers of encryption and firewalls.
I found it eventually, and extracted it. I couldn’t help but give it a watch before I sent it off. The video was grainy and low-resolution – a testament to how far our technology had come since that night – but it still told me everything I needed to know.
Sending the video and account details to my contact would bring down an entire generation of mafia lords. But that’s not why I did it. That’s not why I hunted them down like animals, why I left home, why I left her.
No, it wasn’t for justice or any kind of moral absolution. It was for vengeance.
And tonight, I’d had my fill.
The wind howled through the room as I sat on the ledge, contemplating what might be my final moments. Suddenly, from the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of the family photo again. It had slipped from my fingers in the chaos of my digital escapade, but it still clung to the room.
I stared into Haruki’s smiling face and wondered what it would be like to have that kind of peace.
The room was quiet now, nothing but the hissing of the wind and the distant hum of the city. The lightning flickered, again and again, illuminating the endless expanse stretching out below me.
Perhaps, I thought, redemption isn’t handed to you on a silver platter. Perhaps it’s something we must create for ourselves from the ashes of our past lives.
I pushed off the ledge and plummeted into the night, leaving behind the lavish penthouse and broken glass. I didn’t know where the city would take me next, but I knew I’d finally be facing it as a hunted man. The mafiosi would be after me, seeking their own vengeance. But somehow, for the first time in my life, it felt like I was finally on the right path.
And maybe that was redemption enough.