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.


12. Chapter 12

You lied to me.

Roxy glances at you out of the corner of her eye, an unspoken reminder to keep your expression neutral, as Bro addresses your gathered group of early morning shift workers. It’s not something you signed up for, but you don’t exactly get to dictate your schedule these days.

“Our electrician will keep working on restoring power to the north wing, and no, I don’t care that you’ve never wired anything bigger than a floodlight before. You’ve been promoted, and that’s the end of it.”

The woman in question gives a defeated sigh, and your Bro moves on to the next item on his list, while you chew the inside of your lip. Just the sound of his voice right now is enough to make you fantasize about slapping the notebook out of his hand.

I saw the footage, I know you lied about AR.

“Cleaning detail, good work. I know it’s a lot of effort to disinfect every little spot of blood, but I’m not having an outbreak of some blood-borne disease cut our numbers down any further. You’ll be reassigned to your old jobs afterwards if we can’t find anything better for you. Until then, keep me posted about your progress.” A small group of several individuals nod and murmur affirmatively, and he flips the page in his notebook. “Scavengers, I hate to do this, but we’re still not covering enough ground, and our supplies of ammunition and medicine are pathetically low. I’m splitting you into groups of one, meaning I expect everyone to adhere, strictly, to survival guidelines, and to check in at the appropriate times. If you fail to do so, you’ll be presumed dead, and your team will rendezvous and leave without you. Is that clear?” Another, slightly larger group of people (including Calliope) respond this time, and you grit your teeth as Roxy mutters your name. Apparently your poker face isn’t as good as it used to be.

What did he say to you before he left? Why did he keep me alive? I deserve to know why, Bro, I saved your fucking life for this.

“We’re running low on methods to test the tanks and pipes for bacteria, and I sure as hell don’t want to start playing the odds with our drinking water. I know live animals are hard to come by, but we need more gelatin for the bacterial growth plates. I’m reassigning one member of each checkpoint team to hunting, depending on how good you are with a firearm. Once again, we’re low on ammunition, so take it easy out there.” He gestures at several people, and you watch as Jake is pulled away from your small crowd to stand with them, looking pleasantly surprised. “Basic survival rules still apply. After you take a shot, get the fuck out of there before the noise attracts something worse. Infirmary,” he gestures to the group next to you, and Jane looks up attentitively. “I don’t need to tell you what kind of condition our supplies are in. Keep working with the physical rehab patients and whatever else comes up. I want another inventory report handed to me at the end of the day, I don’t care who fills it out.”

You had no right to hide the truth from me. All this time, I’ve trusted you.

“Maintenance,” he finally says, turning to where you and Roxy are standing in front of your other group member. You’re still reduced to only three, since the fourth is out sick again. Bro turns the page in his notebook, and you can’t tell whether he’s meeting your accusing stare or not. “That broken generator from yesterday is working now, but it’s only putting out about half of what it should be. I’m assigning two of you this time to look into it. We need that thing fixed properly. One of you,” he gestures at you, and your teeth grit together, “will take care of emergency repairs only. Other than that, you’ll stay put in the maintenance lab.” His voice drops slightly at the end, the words meant for you alone. The infirmary told you multiple times not to exert yourself, but he’s still reiterating it, as though he expects you to run laps around the compound if he doesn’t tell you otherwise. Roxy nudges you again.

He dismisses your gathered group after a few more sets of instructions, and you leave the command center with the rest of them through the still-absent door, trailing miserably behind Roxy as she chats briefly with the other maintenance worker. They’re heading to the lab for tools before venturing to the ever-malfunctioning generator (you have no idea why Bro hasn’t just scrapped the damn thing yet, you could probably build a better one from scratch if you had the parts), and you follow them down the corridors as Roxy laughs at something and the old man chuckles, but you aren’t paying any attention to their conversation.

You couldn’t sleep last night. The best you could do was several half-hour periods of vague, dreamlike episodes, but you’d hardly call it sleep. As a result, you’re tired and more irritable than usual. Every part of you is itching to confront Bro, but you’d probably get Roxy in trouble if you did, and you still owe her for helping you out. You aren’t sure of your brother’s motives, but more than anything else, you just want to know what was said between him and AR. The android’s actions are the most confusing part of this equation.

Roxy turns the corner and walks with you through the maintenance lab’s entrance. She moves around the room, gathering what she needs into a satchel, and you morosely sit down at the console where you’ve spent the better part of the last week. She retrieves something from the table next to you, and flashes you a brief, apologetic smile that you force yourself to return.

“See you when we get back,” she whispers, squeezing your arm before joining the other worker at the entrance of the lab. They leave together, talking quietly about nothing in particular. You heave a sigh and boot up the computer, before spending the next ten minutes staring vacantly at the idle screen and wondering how you’re going to get through the day with hardly enough energy to even sit up straight.

Sulking, you walk to one of the workbenches and retrieve the radio from yesterday, still half-assembled from your attempt to fix it. You were planning on having Roxy look at it, even though her speciality is computer software, but a second pair of eyes would have been helpful regardless. You carry the device to the desk next to the computer, figuring that maybe it’ll miraculously work on its own after you finish reassembling it, because you’ve already tried everything else, before a sudden notification on the computer’s screen catches your eye.

You open the message after setting the radio aside and skim the contents. It’s a malfunctioning generator, but it’s not the same one Roxy left to fix. You’re not happy about the fact that yet more equipment is breaking down, but this qualifies as an emergency job, and a change of scenery would be nice at this point. The busted radio can wait.

The remaining tools Roxy left behind are somewhat scarce, but you find almost everything you might need, including a voltmeter and small can of oil worth its weight in whatever valuable ore this society used to hold dear. You gather everything into a bag and sling it over your shoulder, leaving a notice on the intake desk that you’re away on a repair job, before heading into the tunnels. The generator is located in one of the more distant parts of the compound, so you’ll have plenty of time to think while you walk.

Last night, you finally remembered a little more of what happened before you blacked out. Something had touched your face and said your name after English hit you, but you hadn’t known it was AR. Everything after that is still a complete blank, until you woke up in an infirmary cot with Bro sitting next to you. His behavior was bizarre at the time, but now he’s just been distant, like he’s angry about something. AR might have gone along with your plan in the interest of killing you at the end, but you did it to save everyone’s lives, and if it weren’t for you, things would have turned out very differently. His strange behavior seems ungrateful, at the very least. You wish you could just confront him about it, but he’s been avoiding idle conversation lately, and he looks tired all the time, even through the dark glass of his aviators. You’ve all had it rough since the incident, and everyone’s been working overtime to restore some semblance of normalcy to the compound, especially him.

Regardless of your Bro’s obscure intentions, you still have to wonder about AR. After staying up the entire night and replaying the footage in your head, you’ve come to acknowledge that it might have had something to do with how you saved him from English, but that would mean applying a very human motivation to his actions, which wouldn’t make sense. From what you know about him, he doesn’t operate on mercy or pity, although it almost seemed like it back when he cornered you in the subway. At the time, you’d attributed his desire to kill you without a struggle to his own particular brand of psychological sadism, but you’re starting to wonder if he really had been doing it out of appreciation for your conversations. The possibility seems remote, but you haven’t completely ruled it out. He might have even helped you after English hit you in return for saving him, but you have to keep reminding yourself not to think about him in human terms.

It doesn’t help that you’ve been thinking about him too much in the first place.

Every image of him holding you or wrapping his mechanical limbs around your body are held in your mind, like precious, irreplaceable jewels. You’d give anything to have been awake for it. He hasn’t touched you with his hands since he took the flash drive from you, as you laid in the dirt with him kneeling over you, pressing you into the ground. You have to stop thinking about it before the heat pools in your gut like it always does now.

The corridor ends in a series of twists and turns. Its narrow tunnels don’t see much traffic due to the remote location, and you’re on the east side of the compound now, close to the old processing plant Jake mentioned before you shot down his idea of traveling a hundred miles on foot in late autumn. The generator is still running, like the notification mentioned, but it’s not putting out any electricity, and it’s probably the circuit breaker or a blown fuse. You kneel in front of it and set your bag down, letting out a sigh before digging around for a screwdriver.

It’s an old machine, similar to the one that keeps breaking down on the other side of the compound. You’re working far too early in the morning with far too little sleep to deal with this, and you silently curse the generator and it’s stupid, faulty parts. The panel comes off easily after you unplug the noisy behemoth of a machine, and you pick around the wires, trying to remember the layout from the tattered manuals you were forced to review recently.

Something clicks loudly behind you.

“Hello, Strider.” Your surname is practically spat out, and you’d recognize that stilted, excessively hostile voice anywhere.

Carefully, you put down the tool as something nudges against the back of your head. You have an idea of what it is, and you’re hoping with everything you have that you’re wrong.

“Stand the fuck up,” Caliborn snarls, and you obey slowly. When you try to turn around, he shoves at your shoulder, keeping your back to him. “I didn’t tell you to turn around,” he growls, before adding, “fucker.”

You almost laugh at the absurdity of it, along with your own rising, helpless panic.

“Calib-” you start nervously, before the thing shoves at the back of your head, and a familiar twinge of pain arcs across your skull.

“Shut the fuck up. And start walking.” He shoves at your shoulder again, pushing you to face the tunnel leading away from the direction you came and shoving at you again when you don’t move. You almost stumble before wordlessly obeying, floundering for what to do as your feet mindlessly carry you away from safety. Whatever’s brushing against the back of your head, knowing him, it’s probably filled with bullets. You want to grab it, turn around and rip it out of his hands, but your reflexes haven’t been the same since the injury that landed you in the infirmary for two weeks. You wouldn’t have hesitated a month ago, but now you aren’t sure how fast you can still move, and he’d probably shoot you on the spot for trying. Your mind fleetingly conjures the moment in the subway, with AR’s claws at your neck.

“You think you’re so smart,” Caliborn mutters, shoving you again for good measure. “You think I won’t blow your fucking brains out. I’ll splatter them all over the walls, while you watch.”

‘Idiot,’ you think, before he shoves you yet again, and you turn over your shoulder to glare at him after stumbling forward and almost falling. The long barrel of a black rifle is indeed pointed directly at your head. Caliborn sneers at you.

“Keep walking, Strider.” He forcibly pushes at the side of your head with the gun, until you turn around and continue further down the tunnel, the floor beginning to slope upwards. “Bet you wish your precious brother was here. With his stupid sunglasses.”

He’s taking you to one of the compound’s exits. Your feet slow with the realization, until he kicks at one of your legs painfully. “Keep walking,” he growls again, “or you’re dying here.”

As opposed to dying out there?

But there’s nothing you can do without getting yourself shot, except let your feet carry you closer to the hatch door at the end of the corridor. It’s a small one, perched at the top of a long flight of steps. When you reach it, he nudges the back of your head with the barrel again.

“Open it.”

‘Fuck no,’ you think vehemently, and a sudden explosion of sound next to your ear makes you jump like a startled cat. When it’s over, you’re practically deaf on one side, and there’s a bullet hole in the concrete next to the door.

“I said, open it.”

You reach out with trembling hands and turn the circular latch. When you step back to let the door swing open, the early morning cold air hits your skin like an invisible wall. Caliborn roughly pushes your shoulder, forcing you to step through it and onto the metal scaffolding outside.

You’ve never left the compound through this route before. The area stretching out in front of you is a small, barren lot of dirt, surrounded by the cracked structures of low buildings, their walls half collapsed. The hatch door opens onto a scaffolding about a dozen feet high, leading to a set of metal stairs that descend to the empty lot. The sun still hasn’t come up yet, and the sky is dark. Caliborn shoves you again, while you resist the urge to hit him back.

“Go on, Strider,” he says, with a satisfaction that makes your stomach sour. “Get down there and stand still. And don’t even think about running.”

“Bro will have your head for this,” you tell him through gritted teeth. He grins at you unpleasantly, and you get a brief, vivid flashback of English doing the same. He’s probably going to shoot you the moment you get to the bottom of the steps. You’re hoping that the noise from before will attract someone, but a single shot like that could easily be mistaken for something else, with all the machines breaking down lately. Even if it does, it’ll probably be too late, unless you can stall him.

Before you can even open your mouth to try, he pulls the trigger again, and the bullet sparks close to your feet.

He mutters a curse with a slight frown. It looks like he was actually trying to hit you that time.

Slowly, you turn around, hoping that he won’t try it again if you cooperate. You take the steps one at a time, drawing it out as much as possible, but your shoes eventually crunch against the dirt and rocks as you reach the bottom. When you turn around, Caliborn is still pointing the gun at you, but there’s something else in his other hand that you hadn’t noticed. The hatch door behind him is hanging open, and he sits down on the bottom of the frame. His grin spreads wider as you stand in the middle of the empty lot, confused.

“Listen to me, Strider,” he says, resting the rifle on his knee, the barrel still pointed at you. “You’re going to die today.”

“Caliborn…” you mutter his name, at a loss for what to say, or how to get through to him. You’re experiencing a distressing amount of deja-vu.

“But first I’m gonna do to you, what you did to my dad.” He lifts his arm, the one not holding the rifle, with what looks like a tiny, red pistol in his hand, pointed straight up at the sky. “And you won’t move from that spot, until I move first.”

The sudden sound makes you flinch as he pulls the trigger, but it’s different from a normal gunshot like you’d expected. Looking up at the darkened sky, you watch in growing fear, as a bright ball of light slowly falls through the air like a firework, illuminating the empty lot and abandoned buildings. You stare at the light, transfixed in disbelief, until it gradually fades. Your safety training suddenly comes to mind, conjuring the brief lecture you were given about flare guns.

‘Flare guns have a visibility distance of two to twelve miles, depending on the time of day they’re used, and how dark the sky is at the time,’ Jake’s grandmother had told you in her soft, gravelly voice, while you and your friends listened to her lecture. ‘Which is why they should never be used, especially not at night. You’ll only be attracting something terrible.’

Every muscle in your body screams at you to run, but Caliborn just smiles at your expression of shock, and points the rifle at you.

“Stay put, Strider,” he taunts. “We wouldn’t want to miss our guest.”

“Are you fucking crazy?” you hiss, breathing heavily for a moment as the distant sound of shifting rubble comes to your ears. If only you had repaired your shades in time, you might be able to contact someone for help, but they’re still useless, sitting folded in your pocket. Caliborn just grins as he waits patiently, and the sound comes again, closer this time.

“Maybe,” he murmurs with a laugh, almost too soft for you to hear. “I’m crazy, and you’re dead. That sounds fine to me.”

Something creaks behind you, and you turn to face it, seeing nothing but shadow between the leaning walls of the dilapidated buildings. There’s a hint of movement there, and you turn again to glance at Caliborn.

You aren’t sure what AR will do when he finds you again.

A long, black appendage snakes out of the darkness, gripping the edge of one wall with its pointed claws. Another follows it, and a third, and fourth, before a looming shape appears in the center.

Your blood runs cold, as the darkened walls slowly light up with a deep, blue glow.

Oh god…

Whether Caliborn is still pointing his gun at you or not, you don’t wait to find out, scrambling to the side as a large figure outlined in blue circuits appears from the shadows. You have to duck under a sweeping metal limb that lashes out suddenly, threatening to knock you off of your feet, and you get a brief glimpse of the emerging figure as you run towards the crumbling buildings to your left- a hulking android with wide metal limbs, and a single horn on one side of its head. The other seems to have broken off at the middle.

You don’t have the presence of mind to wish it had been AR, as you pump your legs as fast as they’ll go, but your head already feels like it’s swimming. You can hear it behind you- a familiar pounding that makes the ground under your feet shake, and when you duck behind the first wall, you hear a sudden crash from the other side. The wall leans forward and almost crushes you as the android pushes it over, with two of its metal claws reaching for you from around either side, digging into the dirt as they blindly grasp at your body and snapping open and closed with a terrifying clang. You avoid them and duck around the next wall, then the next, taking advantage of the smallest openings you can find between the crumbling buildings. When you’ve found one with an intact door hanging crookedly on its hinges, you slide beneath it and press yourself against the wall next to the door, then grit your teeth as a vicious wrench of dizziness grips you.

Your chest feels like it’s burning, but you force yourself to breathe silently, as more walls crash to the ground nearby. Unlike AR, this android seems to prefer a bulldozer approach to hunting, and you’re forced to keep moving as the sounds get closer, crawling past an old wooden desk and a row of fallen file cabinets, before finding another room with a collapsed wall to escape through. You can see the processing plant’s towers a short distance away, but you need to find another entrance to the compound if you’re going to survive this.

You’ll kill Caliborn yourself if you ever get your hands on him again. He might try to run before anyone figures out what he did, but you get the feeling he’s got some kind of alibi planned out. He probably sabotaged the generator himself. You’re on the east side of the compound, so there should be another entrance to the south, but it’s closed off and reinforced. You can’t go back in the way you left, which leaves the checkpoints as your only hope, but there aren’t any subway entrances nearby.

The wall next to you suddenly collapses as the android’s hulking figure emerges, its blue eyes fixed on you almost mindlessly. You turn to run back the way you came, and one of the claws lashes out at you, catching your shirt and tearing the fabric almost completely off. Your head spins as you stumble your way towards the tilted door, at a frantic loss for where to go next. You can feel your body already slowing down with exertion, and you’re more or less trapped, just as Caliborn must have gleefully planned.

You head back towards the compound again with no real goal in mind, running and gasping for air as the rhythmic pounding follows you. The empty lot appears, and you circle around it, passing beneath the metal scaffolding with the now closed hatch door, and making your way along the concrete wall. You duck under gigantic pipes and detour around a large tank when it looms into view, but the blue light follows you as the android gives chase. He’s slower than AR, but not by much. You’re barely keeping enough distance from him to avoid his reaching appendages, and as you come upon another open stretch of space, something yanks your foot out from under you, and you hit the ground hard, knocking the wind out of your chest and slamming your chin against the dirt, making your teeth throb painfully. You roll onto your back and reflexively reach out to dig your fingers into the ground as the android pulls you close, having caught you by the metal claw wrapped like a vice around your ankle.

You think you might have screamed at some point. Three other appendages rise into the air over you, spreading their pointed tips, while memories of English’s men flash through your mind, their stomachs ripped open and their insides strewn about on the floor. The android’s face is expressionless with intent, and you meet its eyes in a silent panic, waiting helplessly for the claws to descend as a growing, rhythmic pounding echoes from the buildings nearby, before there’s a sudden crash of deafening sound and motion above you.

The steel grip releases your ankle, and you close your eyes against the shower of dirt that peppers you, making you cough when you accidentally inhale it. Something hits the ground next to you on one side, followed by a similar impact on the other, and after that it’s suddenly, strangely silent.

You open your eyes, squinting against a mixture of purple light in the air as the dust settles. You can faintly make out the pattern of blue lines a short distance away as the android lifts itself up on its appendages, and a second, smaller figure, hovering over you with its claws buried into the ground on either side of your body. You’ve never been more relieved in your life to see glowing red circuits.

“AR,” you gasp in disbelief, but he’s ignoring you. He’s staring at the larger blue andorid, his posture rigid, while the other android stares back. You ears pick up on a strange, faint electronic sound, almost like an overloaded hard drive. It seems to be coming from the both of them in turns, and you realize a moment later, with a small sense of wonder, that they must be talking to each other.

Your fascination with the sound is brief, as the blue android lifts itself higher on its appendages, its expression vaguely angered. AR’s claws reposition themselves restlessly in the dirt, his entire body tense in a way you’ve never seen before, while the bizarre sound continues to emanate from them. Suddenly, the other android’s blue eyes narrow.

“You have malfunctioned!” he booms in his electronic voice, and AR staggers backwards over you, his expression turning quickly to fear, before the hulking android lunges at him.

A claw slams into the ground next to your head, and you barely manage to roll out of the way before another digs into the dirt where your stomach was a moment ago. They grapple at each other with a deafening sound of clashing metal, as the blue android seizes AR’s neck with one claw and repeatedly slams the others into the smaller android’s chest, their pointed tips screeching against the plating. AR lashes out at him with all four appendages, striking at him and locking claws with two of his limbs as they strain against each other. The blue android shouts something like the word ‘submit!’ before one of AR’s claws abruptly hits him in the face, and he staggers backwards before lunging again.

You seem to have been forgotten for the moment, as the two tear and strike at each other. One of the crumbling buildings is a short distance away, and for a brief moment you consider fleeing and saving yourself, but the other android gets a grip on AR’s leg and yanks him to the ground on his back, before slamming a claw into his chest and digging the points into the black metal as AR’s circuits flicker. You get a flash of the look in his red eyes- panic, like nothing you’ve ever seen before, not even with the EMP gun in the subway tunnel. The blue android seems intent on tearing open his metal plating, and AR thrashes beneath him, struggling to throw him off and slamming his own appendages into him wherever he can reach. You’re helpless on the sidelines, watching as AR finally manages to pull him down to the ground, and their limbs strike at each other like serpents in the dust, tangling together and flashing their pointed tips. A horrible sound of screeching metal abruptly cuts through the air, and one set of clawed appendages suddenly begins to thrash wildly, uncoordinated, before weakly coiling and sliding across the ground, then gradually stilling. The blue light fades away with it, leaving AR’s red glow alone in the settling dust.

The larger android lies at his feet, its eyes dark and its chest roughly torn open in the center. Something like a green rock is clutched in one of AR’s claws, and he flings it away to thump and roll against the ground. You let out a shaky sigh of relief, pulling yourself to your feet, but you freeze when AR suddenly staggers to one side, clutching at his shoulder. He lets out a strange, almost pained sound, and you can see now that one of his metal appendages is dragging on the ground behind him, the clawed tip twitching erratically. When he turns away, you see a deep gash in the metal limb, close to where it emerges from his back.

He’s hurt.

“AR,” you whisper, then yell it, trying to get his attention, but he’s already turned away. You steady yourself and half-run after him, ignoring the dead android sprawled in the dirt. He turns when you get close, and you slow your approach at the look of fury on his face.

“Get away from me,” he hisses dangerously. You reach out your hands, like trying to placate a wild animal, but before you can speak, one of his intact limbs whips around and hits you, effortlessly brushing you aside. You fall to the ground and stagger back up, ignoring the ache in your body where you landed.

“AR, wait,” you beg, trying to catch your breath. He clutches his shoulder and glares murder at you, flinching in pain when a spark flashes across the tear in his limb. When you try to approach him again, two more of the appendages lash out, and you brace yourself as they hit your chest-

-only to push you backwards. You struggle to keep your balance as your shoes slide across the ground, fearful of the sharp points against your chest, but he simply pushes you with the claws spread wide, and when you try to resist, he stubbornly holds you away from him. He latches onto your arm when you try to move aside, but only shoves you backwards with it, using no more force than Caliborn did. You meet his eyes, enraged and pained, but you aren’t yielding, not even if he hurts you for it.

“AR, please.” You’re not sure what you’re asking for, but a thought suddenly occurs to you. “You’re hurt. Let me see it.”

“Why,” he snarls, but the claws holding you back don’t close into your flesh like you know they could, like you’ve seen, despite the rage in his metallic voice.

“Because maybe I can help.”

He stares at you when you say it, before shoving you backwards again, this time with more force, and you almost stumble to the ground.

“You have damned me,” he growls, infuriated. “I have been marked for disassembly because you would not stay within the safety of your settlement!” His voice rises, as the appendage lifts you by your arm into the air and flings you away from him. Your back hits the ground, but it was a gentle toss compared to what you’ve seen him do. For whatever reason, despite the situation, he isn’t really trying to hurt you, and it gives you the courage to stand up and approach him again, ignoring the dirt covering your torn clothes.

“It wasn’t my fault” you tell him, as his three functioning appendages twist angrily in the air. He looks like he’s ready to actually hurt you this time, so you keep your voice low. “I was forced out at gunpoint, I had no choice.” You take a step forward, then another. The hovering claws lift higher into the air. “I wouldn’t have done this to you on purpose. I don’t want to see you get hurt.”

He takes a step back, and you take another step forward, keeping your hands lifted placatingly in front of you. When one of the claws pushes against your chest again, you pry it away with considerable effort, and somehow, he lets you. Another latches onto your shoulder, then another, just below your neck. You wrench them aside with your fingers wrapped around the metal tips. When you get close to him, AR takes another step back for every two you take forward, his red eyes blazing with anger and conflict, until you’re within arm’s reach. When you wrap your arms around him and bury your face in his neck, you can’t tell whether he stiffens from it or not, because his skin is nothing but solid plates of metal. The claws seem to hover at your back, unsure of whether to dig their points into your flesh or not, to rip out your lungs the way he must want to, but you feel like you’re dying all over again. He’s so warm against you, it’s like pressing yourself to a running motor, and his internal parts gently vibrate with whatever mechanisms are keeping him alive. You clutch at his back, ignoring the way you’re already too warm from holding him like this, but his circuits tingle pleasantly against your skin. It’s gentle in a way he usually isn’t, and you marvel at the fact that he hasn’t torn you open for this.

“I missed you.” The words come out naturally in a whisper, the way they did once in a dream. You were terrified for him a moment ago, thinking that he’d be torn apart or killed, and that fear lingers as you feel yourself shake at the memory. He’s silent in reply, and when you pull away enough to look at him, his eyes are predictably, indignantly confused, but he still isn’t hurting you. Your hands slide down his shoulders to rest on his scratched chest, and some of the circuits are already dark where the blue android’s claws cut into the metal. “Please let me help you.”

His three remaining appendages are hovering around you indecisively, and you take it as a good sign, gently pulling at his shoulder and coaxing him to turn. He resists for a moment, but you lean over and manage to pull his shoulder down enough to see the deep gash in his nonfunctional limb, filled with more tiny wires than you’ve ever seen before in your life. He flinches again with a quiet, pained sound as it sparks, while the claw twitches on the ground like a severed limb. You’ve repaired exposed wires before, but you aren’t sure if the same rules apply here. He’s not a generator or a radio transceiver, and you have no idea what makes him function like a sentient creature rather than a simple robot, but you’re willing to do your best, if only he’ll let you.

“Come with me,” you tell him, taking his metal arm in your hand. He stares at you wordlessly, before his eyes narrow and he takes a step back.

“Why,” he asks again, his voice bitter.

“I might be able to help you, but I need my tools. Please, just trust me.” You try to put enough sincerity into your words to convince him. He weighs significantly more than you do, and he’s not going anywhere unwillingly. “You saved my life twice, let me return the favor.”

He stares at you suspiciously, but doesn’t strike out at you, the way he would have before.

“Your altruism is pathological,” he mutters angrily, but when you pull on his arm again, he gives in and silently starts to follow you, and your heart jumps with relief, along with a tiny thrill at seeing him give in to your persuasion. A sound like shifting gravel reaches your ears as the damaged limb drags across the ground, and you step away for a moment as he turns, confused, to watch you pick it up by its metal neck. The appendage is unexpectedly heavy, given the way he always wields them around in the air, but you’re averse to the idea of letting him drag it all the way to the compound. He stares at you strangely as you gather the metal coils your arms, carefully avoiding the twitching claw, and carrying it with you as you walk beside him. His black skin is scuffed all over, covered in scratches and dents inflicted by the fight, and you’re relieved beyond words that he came out of it alive. Either AR’s claws are stronger, or the blue android’s plating was weaker. Whatever it was he tore out, that green rock must have been some sort of vital part, with the way he panicked when the other android tried to do the same to him, pinning him and repeatedly digging his claws into AR's chest.

“Are you okay? I mean, besides that wound,” you ask, and he glances at you wordlessly with a derisive stare, still clutching miserably at his shoulder, before turning away. The silence stretches on, broken only by your footsteps on the ground as you follow around the compound’s perimeter, leading him between a row of large tanks and discarded industrial equipment. It becomes clear after a while that he isn’t interested in responding to your question, and your mind wanders a little. You feel slightly off-balance and sore, with a headache slowly coming on, but otherwise unscathed.

AR seems to have taken the worst of it. The circuits on his chest are an uneven patchwork of red lines where they used to form a symmetrical pattern, and you could even feel the marks in the plating when you ran your hands over them. The memory of what you just did, embracing him the way you’ve dreamt about for weeks on end, feels almost unreal, like it was nothing but another dream. The fact that he actually let you do it is even more remarkable. You’d think he was ignoring you now, except for the way his eyes flick over to you every few minutes, like he’s keeping track of you while he walks. You’d give anything to know what he’s thinking right now, why he saved your life and left the compound, and then defended you from one of his own- you have so many questions, you don’t even know where to start, but it can wait. For now, you need to help him. It’s the least you can do, and you can’t bring yourself to care what happens next, now that he’s with you again.

The sky has already lightened into hues of murky blue since Caliborn forced you out of the compound, and in another few minutes, the sun will begin to rise in earnest.

Join MovellasFind out what all the buzz is about. Join now to start sharing your creativity and passion
Loading ...