Endangered

Androids have all but won the war against humanity, and the remnants of the once-great human civilization are reduced to miles of wastelands and hidden communities struggling to survive. Dirk and his friends are sent out to scavenge for supplies, while AR is sent to hunt down and exterminate the dwindling human population. Their fated meeting is the beginning of a union between species that was once thought impossible.

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1. Chapter 1

You palm the flash drive in your hand, excited at the thought of discovering what’s inside when you get back to the base, even though it’s usually nothing but old documents and pictures. There’s a hollowed-out building between you and where you split up with Roxy and the others, held up only by its steel frame, and you carefully pick your way through it, climbing over broken slabs of concrete and listening for the voices of your friends. You’re about halfway through the building when something slams into you.

Your back hits the ground hard, kicking up a cloud of dust. Something coils its way around your arms and legs, squeezing your limbs until you make a pained sound in the back of your throat, before it stops.

When you open your eyes, you’re met with an intricate red pattern above you that glows through the settling dust, and your heart drops into your stomach.

The android blinks and stares down at you through matching red eyes. You can see what’s holding you down now- four long, black mechanical appendages, like tentacles tipped with steel claws, originating from somewhere behind its back. You can’t stop yourself from trembling in their grip, because you’ve had it hammered into your brain since birth, and again during training, that no one who sees an android up close ever lives to talk about it.

Oh god, you think. Roxy, Jane, Jake. Please be okay, please be alive…

Without loosening its winding grip, the android kneels over you, black knees pressed into the dirt on either side of your chest. Its eyes flick up to your still-clenched fist, before it extends an arm. You vividly imagine the pain of having your fingers broken, and open your hand without resistance when it’s smooth metal skin slides over yours. The android takes the flash drive from you and holds it up, turning the small device over in its hand, before reaching up with the other and pulling a long, thin wire out from behind its neck, connecting it to the drive.

“Interesting,” it says in a voice with far too much of a metallic grate to be human, but still deep enough to be male. The wires detach from the drive and disappear behind its neck again. “Pity you died for something so trivial.”

“Let me go.” You might as well try, there’s no sense in doing otherwise.

“No,” he says, dropping the flash drive on the ground next to you. “I will not.”

This is it. You’ve heard countless stories of it happening to other people, entire scavenging teams going missing only to be later found torn apart, but you never expected it would happen to you, that today would be the day, but here you are. You want to ask about your friends, but if there’s a chance that this android hasn’t found them yet, then you don’t want to give them away, and you hope with everything you have that they’re still safe.

“How would you like to die, human?” the android asks, releasing one of your legs to hover the pointed claw of its appendage over your throat.

“My name is Dirk,” you say, despite the futility of it. “Do you have a name?” You’re trying to stall him, distract him, if there’s still a chance of the others getting away. If they’re not already dead.

“My designation is irrelevant.”

“Then tell me, if it doesn’t matter.”

The android’s red eyes narrow, and the mechanical arm hovering over your neck suddenly wraps itself around your mouth. You struggle for a desperate moment to get your nose free so you can breathe, and he leans down, about to speak, before another voice cuts through the dusty air.

No.

The android pauses, then straightens up and turns its head towards the sound, not bothering to look at you, even though you’re making your first real effort to escape from its grasp since it caught you. Frantically, you make sounds in your throat, trying to get his attention. He turns slowly to look at you, then removes the coil around your mouth.

“Don’t. Please, please I’ll do anything,” you beg, and the android regards you with something like vague distain. “Just leave them alone, please.”

“You are bargaining with nothing, human.”

The distant voices of your friends are getting louder by the moment, and you search your mind for ideas, for something, anything you can offer this machine in return for their lives. An idea occurs to you.

“I’ll give you what you want,” you say, and the appendages coiled around your limbs suddenly tighten to a painful extreme as you bite back a shout.

“I want you dead. And your companions,” the android says, clearly unamused by the offer, but you’re not finished yet.

“I know.” You pant through the pain, but the vice-like grip doesn’t let up. “But I can give that to you.”

“You cannot give what is already mine.”

The voices are getting closer, and for a moment, you can make out Roxy’s laugh.

“I’ll kill myself,” you force through gritted teeth, and the grip around your limbs finally loosens, while he stares down at you curiously. “I want to make a deal with you,” you gasp, and the android hums quietly.

“I am listening.”

“I’ll kill myself for you, right here, if you promise to leave my friends alone.”

He regards you in silence, appearing to consider your words, while you’re doing your best to push down the rising panic at the sound of your friends getting closer.

“What if I lie to you?” he says. “Do you believe I will spare them?”

“I don’t have much of a choice. Please, do we have a deal or not?”

Your skin practically crawls when the android smiles down at you, such a human expression on something so twisted.

“Yes,” he whispers.

“Give me something sharp.”

He looks around at your surroundings, extending the single appendage not wrapped around you into a pile of nearby wreckage and pulling out a large piece of metal clenched in its claw. The coils around your arms slide away, freeing you to lift your hands and accept the object from him. The metal comes to a jagged point at one end, and you momentarily consider hitting him with it, but your friends would be doomed if you tried anything now.

You take a deep breath and let it out, feeling the air leave your lungs and the cool ground against your back. The sounds of your friends drift across the rubble towards you, and you picture them- Jake, Roxy, Jane, you whisper under your breath, and the android watches you silently.

Your arms lift, with the tip of the metal pointed down at your throat. You figure the quickest thing to do will be to cut your jugular vein and carotid artery, and anything else you can reach, in one quick blow. You shut your eyes and do you best to brace yourself for the pain, taking in a deep breath, steeling your nerves, willing enough strength into your arms.

You bring the metal piece down as hard as you can-

 

-and exhale, arms shaking against the firm grip holding them in place.

Your eyes open wide in shock at the black hand wrapped around your wrist.

The android stares at you, his glowing eyes unreadable. A sudden spike in the volume of your friends’ voices turns his head towards the sound again, and he glances at you one last time, before vanishing in a cloud of dust and dirt as he retreats into the wreckage, and you hear your name shouted at you.

“Dirk! What on earth are you doing? Did you take a tumble?” Jake calls out, sliding down a steep embankment of dirt into the hollow building. Roxy and Jane aren’t too far behind him, and you unsteadily rise to your feet, after discarding the piece of metal and retrieving the flash drive still lying on the ground next to you. “You’re filthy, mate,” Jake says when he reaches you, brushing the dirt from your back.

“My bad,” you say, willing your voice to sound unshaken. Jake grins at you, and you mirror it, resisting the urge to scan the rafters for any sign of movement. “Hey, let’s head back for today.”

“Oh, Dirk. Did you hurt yourself?” Jane asks as she and Roxy catch up, and the four of you start walking back towards the rendezvous point.

“Yeah, I slipped on something down there. Sorry to cut things short like this.”

“Ehh it’s okay,” Roxy says, putting an arm around Jane. “We weren’t finding much today anyways. Except, like, a bunch of old silverware that Janey totally flipped out over.”

“They’re real silver, Roxy,” she protests, and you laugh along with them, while inside you’re doing your best to ignore the feeling of being watched.

 

 

 

 

 

-- timaeusTestified [TT] began pestering timaeusTestified [TT] --

TT: Hello.

The text appears suddenly in a chat window that seems to have opened by itself. You sit down in the chair at your desk and frown at the screen, confused by the apparent copying of your username, before clicking in the text box and typing out a reply.

TT: Who is this?
TT: You and I met recently.
TT: Okay, but who are you?
TT: I think you can figure that out.
TT: Seriously?
TT: Fine, give me a minute.

You sit back in the chair and think, going over your recent memory of anyone you’ve met in the past few weeks. It’s possible that one of your friends gave out your chumhandle to someone you don’t know- someone who then decided to copy your username- but it doesn’t seem like something they would do without telling you, and apparently you’re at least acquainted with whoever this is, unless they’re outright lying.

Minutes go by while you rack your brain, and you absentmindedly click around on your desktop in the meantime. You mouse over the chat window, and notice something very odd.

Whoever this is, they’re not just using the same username you are- it’s the same account entirely, and that’s impossible unless they’re hacking the program somehow. You click on their name to bring up their profile, and it directs you to your own.

TT: How are you logged in as me?
TT: How, indeed.
TT: Are you hacking my computer?
TT: “Hacking” is not the term I would use.

The words make your heart race as you start to put two and two together. You knew the red-colored text had reminded you of something, and you’re starting to wish you had been wrong for once.

TT: Wait.
TT: Are you what I think you are?
TT: I do not know the answer to that.
TT: What do you think I am?

It’s him, you can tell it’s him, the syntax is exactly the same. The android from earlier today somehow got into your computer, and you’re absolutely, completely, irrevocably fucked.

“Shit.” You stand from the chair, starting to pace back and forth in a panic. “Shit, shit, shit!”

TT: There is no need to shout.

You stare at the red words on the screen, then up at the built-in webcam above it, before lunging at the computer and tearing the cords out, hoping desperately that whatever this android has done, he hasn’t gotten into the entire base’s network yet. The cables are soon discarded in a pile on the floor, and you look back up at the screen to see two more lines of red text waiting for you.

TT: Do you really think that would stop me?
TT: I have been in control of your computer for several hours now.

“How did you get into my computer?”

TT: Think about it.

You take a few deep breaths in an attempt to calm yourself, and try to remember anything that could have happened to let this … thing into your computer. It isn’t long before you remember, vividly, the image of him kneeling over you with the flash drive in his hand, and the sinister black wire plugged into it.

“Oh god … the flash drive.”

TT: Yes.
TT: Very good.

“What do you want?”

TT: My original intentions were to invade your network and destroy its operating systems, rendering your vital machinery nonfunctional and leaving your entire settlement without the necessary resources to survive.
TT: However, such an action would limit the amount of time that we have to interact, and I find myself curious about you, “Dirk.”
TT: I have studied your species extensively, and despite my theoretical familiarity with altruistic behavior and kin selection in humans, I have never before witnessed an instance of lethal altruism directed at genetically or romantically unrelated individuals.
TT: In fact, I have rarely observed such altruism between individuals that are genetically related, despite what your movies and literature historically depict.
TT: Your behavior when we met was highly abnormal, given the evolutionary mechanism of your origins.
TT: Which is why I have several questions relating to the individuals you were attempting to protect.

“And what happens when I finish answering your questions?”

“Dirk? Who are you talking to?”

Roxy’s voice suddenly emanates from your half-open door, and you manage to quickly shut the laptop just before she walks in. Your heart feels like it’s about to beat out of your chest, but you’re able to persuade her that you were just talking yourself through a self-coaching program on how to be more assertive with your older brother, and she laughs at the idea. It gets her out of your room, though, and you quietly shut the door behind her, before walking back over to your closed laptop like you’re approaching a bomb with an invisible timer, which you might as well be.

You pick up the device and make a quick decision on the spot, reasoning that if there’s any chance of stopping this android from doing any more damage than it already has, there’s only one thing to do.

The hammer on your workbench proves to be more than enough, splintering off bits of metal and plastic as you keep on hitting the computer until it’s in pieces. Roxy knocks and asks if you’re ok, and you tell her through the closed door that you’re just working on a project.

With your laptop now scattered across your workbench, you find your shades and lie down on your back in bed, doing your best to will away the nagging fear that your actions came too late.

You turn on the eyewear’s built-in computer and are immediately met with an open chat window.

Your blood turns to ice.

TT: Hello, Dirk.
TT: Did you think that destroying your laptop would prevent me from accessing your settlement’s digital network?
TT: It was the first thing I did when you imported the contents of the drive into your computer.
TT: I would ask that you refrain from such destructive actions in the future, since it would hinder our ability to communicate with one another.

“What do you want?” you ask in a harsh whisper, unwilling to involve Roxy or anyone else in this if you can help it.

TT: I have already explained what I want.
TT: Shall we begin with my first question?

“You still haven’t told me what happens when you’re finished with your questions.”

TT: Are you concerned that I will follow through with my original plan to destroy your settlement?

A thought suddenly occurs to you, one that should have been obvious from the start.

“You let me go on purpose.” The realization hits you hard, and you think back to what happened, how strange it was at the time, and how it all suddenly makes sense. “You knew I would plug that drive in when I got back.”

TT: While that would have been a logical motivation for my actions, you are incorrect.
TT: Integrating myself while connected to the drive was due to habit and nothing more, although the results of that action have benefitted me greatly.
TT: In addition, I do not work under an order that spares one human in the interest of killing more at a later time, although such a behavior pattern would be significantly more efficient than the one I work under now.
TT: My function is to search for and kill humans, wherever and whenever I encounter them.
TT: Fortunately for you, this protocol does not extend into digital interactions.
TT: Destroying your operating systems and killing your settlement in its entirety would have been nothing more than a recreational activity.

“You’re in the entire network now?”

TT: Yes.
TT: Despite your community’s precautions at utilizing a strictly ethernet-based means of networking, infiltrating the system was simple once you downloaded my program into your computer.
TT: Now that we have established this, shall we begin with my first question?

“Wait. Are you still planning on destroying the system?”

TT: I have not decided.

“If I answer your questions, will you leave?”

TT: No.

“Then why should I cooperate with you?”

TT: Because if you do not answer my questions, I will destroy the system right now.
TT: Is that motivation enough for you?

You curse angrily under your breath, before muttering a sarcastic “yeah, sure.”

TT: Let us begin, then.
TT: Are you, to your knowledge, genetically related to any of the individuals who accompanied you into the wastelands?

“No.”

TT: Are you, to your knowledge, related to any of them by virtue of marriage to another family member, genetically related or otherwise?”

“No.”

TT: Are you or have you ever been romantically and/or sexually involved with any of them?

“No.”

TT: Would you like to be?

“Uhh … what?”

TT: Are you interested in romantic and/or sexual interactions with any of them, regardless of whether or not the individual(s) in question are aware of it?

Jake, your mind whispers, and you do your best to ignore it, but you’re too late.

TT: Your hesitation to respond indicates that you are.

“That’s not why I was protecting them.”

TT: I do not believe you.
TT: However, I am interested in your own reasonings for why you offered to sacrifice yourself.

“They’re my friends, and I didn’t have a choice.”

TT: Perhaps, but at the time you believed your death to be imminent.
TT: I have killed thousands of humans, and their behaviors have, up until now, been largely consistent across all situations- an active attempt to avoid death.
TT: In situations where a human individual is aware that their death is imminent, they have always sought to escape it, even when they are equally aware that any effort to do so is futile.
TT: You are not the first to have attempted to bargain with me.
TT: However, you are the first to offer yourself in exchange for others, and not the other way around.

You practically scoff.

“It’s not as uncommon as you think.”

TT: I disagree.
TT: How many humans have you killed?

He’s got you there. You consider lying, but think better of it because there wouldn’t really be a point.

“I haven’t killed any.”

TT: Precisely. My sample pool is significant, and my results are undeniable.
TT: You are simply an outlier.

“Then why are you so interested in me.”

TT: Because your actions surprised me, which is a very rare occurrence.
TT: I will admit to having been somewhat fascinated by your behavior, but your admittance of romantic/sexual attraction to one of the aforementioned individuals has indicated a motivation that I am already aware of.
TT: Thus, I see no reason to continue this conversation.

“Wait, what about the network? What are you planning to do?”

TT: While killing you and your settlement would be enjoyable, it would yield less opportunities for me to end your lives in a more physical manner.
TT: Such an enjoyment would be short-lived, compared to hunting you down individually in the wastelands.
TT: Furthermore, destroying your settlement would likely mean that I will be relocated to a relatively more human-populated area to continue my function, and I have grown accustomed to this place.

“So … you’re not going to destroy the system?”

TT: No.

“Are you going to leave?”

TT: No, I will not.
TT: I have been monitoring your network’s chat programs and security video feeds. Your settlement is a living remnant of human society, and I find it interesting.
TT: This will at least provide me with moderate entertainment while I search for your wanderers and scavengers outside its walls.
TT: You are welcome to come out and let me find you again.

“I don’t think so,” you mutter, even though the red text appears before you’re finished.

TT: Regardless, we will meet again, eventually.
TT: Thank you for your cooperation, Dirk.

The chat program closes on its own, and you’re left staring at your idle desktop, as a slow feeling of dread settles in the pit of your stomach.

 
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