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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14. Chapter 14

“I stopped by the command center on my way here.” Roxy keeps her voice low, glancing over her shoulder at AR walking a few steps behind you, as he braces his metal appendages against the walls. The lighting in this part of the compound is dim, and even with some of his circuits damaged, the walls around him are still bathed in a faint red.

“Did you talk to Bro?” you ask hesitantly, and Roxy shakes her head.

“No, but I peeked in and saw Caliborn with him. Apparently he’s telling everyone that you just up and walked out of the compound, like you snapped or something. Also that he tried to stop you, but you were acting crazy with a flare gun or some shit, I dunno. I didn’t stick around to hear the rest, but your brother looked like he was about to have an aneurysm.”

You grit your teeth, imagining the scene with infuriating clarity. It sounds exactly like something Caliborn would do, and he probably planned this out from the beginning.

“I seriously doubt your bro would believe him, though. Or anyone would, for that matter, what with his reputation ‘n all,” she continues, turning the next corner in the tunnels before coming to an abrupt halt. You almost run into her back, as AR stops behind you. “Shit, what about the cameras?” she mutters, gesturing at the corner of the ceiling in the next tunnel. You breathe a long sigh, before turning to look at AR. He regards you silently, the way he did before when you were in the waterworks with the rest of your friends. For whatever reason, he seems less inclined to say anything when they’re around.

“Bro will find out one way or another,” you tell them both, looking up at the camera at the end of the hall. “Maybe we should just go talk to him first.”

“Uh, you sure that’s a good idea?” Roxy asks skeptically.

“Caliborn tried to kill me,” You tell her, as she falls into step behind you. “I’d be dead right now if AR hadn’t shown up, and I don’t know what he’ll do when he finds out I’m still alive. I can’t let him hurt anyone else.” You aren’t lying to her, but there’s also a big part of you that wants revenge for the way he put a gun to your head and grinned like a shark while your life flashed before your eyes. The muscles in your arms are starting to ache, and you carefully sling the metal coils over your shoulder.

“Well, at least there’s a no-gun policy in the command center now.” Roxy lets out a tired sigh. “Although I don’t think your bro is gonna be too happy about you-know-who.” She points her thumb sideways at AR, and you can’t help but feel guilty over everything she’s been through for you already. You owe her better than this.

“Maybe you should stay behind,” you suggest, as she ducks under one of AR’s reaching appendages. “I don’t want to get you in trouble.”

“Nah, fuck that,” she says with a reassuring grin, patting the black metal fondly. AR blinks at her and lifts the appendage out of the way. “I wanna see this go down. That prick is finally getting his just deserts, and I want a front seat to the action.”

You’re about to say something along the lines of making sure Roxy is really okay with this, when the sound of footsteps at the end of the next hallway stops you in your tracks. The three of you watch in silence as someone walks by at the end of the tunnel, not bothering to look up and see you and Roxy a few yards away with an android standing passively behind you. She lets out a nervous breath when they’re finally out of sight, shaking her head.

“I’m gonna have a heart attack before the end of this. Too much deja vu,” she mutters.

“That reminds me,” you mention, trying to keep your voice quiet. “If anyone comes after us with an EMP gun later, I might need your help protecting AR.”

“Yeah, sure thing,” she agrees nonchalantly. You glance up at another security camera as you pass beneath it, before glancing back at the android.

“You’re in the network again now, right?”

“Yes,” he replies. Roxy lifts an eyebrow at him before glowering at you.

“‘Kay, I swear to god, your brother had better not make me purge it again. I am getting sick and tired of doing that.”

“What’s happening in the command center?” you ask him, after giving Roxy an apologetic look.

“There are multiple humans conversing with one another. Your brother is among them.”

“I guess they aren’t paying attention to the security feeds, then.” You enjoy a momentary sense of relief, followed by a stab of panic like a knife to the gut when you turn the next corner and two people standing in one of the open doorways look up, their conversation abruptly forgotten.

You lift your hands, trying as hard as you can to convey the lack of danger, but one of them grabs the other and ducks into the room, slamming the door shut a moment later. You stand in place, unsure whether to feel relieved or not. Roxy comes up behind you, and pats you on the shoulder.

“That’s probably gonna happen like, a bunch more times before we get to the command center,” she says placatingly, and almost as though they were summoned by her words, another individual rounds the corner at the end of the hallway, then pauses, before quickly retreating back the way they came at a panicked run.

“We should hurry,” you tell her, picking up your pace as you follow the retreating figure into the next stretch of tunnels, and there’s a distant shout behind you, as someone else catches sight of AR. “I don’t want anyone pulling a gun on him.”

The two of you walk quickly with AR trailing behind, as you pass more people on your way to the small set of metal stairs leading into the command center. You seem to be staying ahead of the panic his presence is causing, as people flee at the sight of him, and he watches with disinterest. When you finally reach the stairs to the missing door after navigating the last few turns in the tunnels, you rest his damaged limb on the floor and turn to Roxy.

“Okay, let me go in first and try to explain the situation to Bro. Hopefully, I can make this go smoothly. I’ll call you both in when I’m done.”

“Good luck,” Roxy says doubtfully, crossing her arms as she leans against the metal railing. You glance at AR, still clutching at his shoulder with one hand, but otherwise looking like he’s almost bored with the events. Roxy flashes you a thumbs-up, as you take a deep, nervous breath and approach the short flight of stairs.

You take the steps one at a time, and when you reach the top, you immediately pick out Caliborn among the sparse collection of remaining computers and desks. He’s got his back to you, as your Bro stands in front of him and listens intently to someone else at his side, the man talking while gesturing nervously. The two of them both look up and see you at the same time, and you can’t see Bro’s expression through his dark shades, but Caliborn turns around a moment later to follow their stare to where you’re standing just past the door. You glare at him silently, with a fury you haven’t felt since English held a gun to your brother’s head.

They’re only standing halfway across the room from you, but you almost don’t react fast enough to get out of the way as Caliborn suddenly rushes at you, shoving you to the side while your Bro shouts after him. You stumble against one of the desks, scattering its contents to the floor as you try to grab him, but he wrenches his arm out of your grasp and makes a run for the door.

He almost makes it out, before he’s flung backwards by the metal claw latched onto his chest and slammed into the floor, as two more black appendages snake through the doorway into the room. AR emerges behind them, his red eyes fixed on Caliborn, who struggles and yells frantically as red spots bloom on his shirt where the claws are digging in. The room quickly erupts in chaos as people start to flee, and your Bro tries to regain order with only minimal success. You watch as AR slowly lifts Caliborn into the air, kicking and thrashing his legs in a futile effort to free himself, and the realization suddenly dawns on you that AR wouldn’t have been marked for death by his own kind if Caliborn hadn’t forced you out of the compound in the first place.

“Wait!” you shout, as two of AR’s limbs hover around Caliborn’s body, ready to dig into his flesh. The android turns to look at you, steadying yourself on your feet after being knocked over onto the desk. You understand his desire to rip the kid limb from limb, and you wouldn’t be sad to see Caliborn reduced to a bloody smear at this point, but the command center is already in complete chaos, and you don’t like the way Bro is looking at the two of you, between trying to calm the pandaemonium. AR’s appendages are still hovering as he watches you approach, before grabbing one of them out of the air by its metal neck.

“Let him go.”

The noise in the room is already dying down as your brother regains some measure of control, and AR’s eyes narrow at your commanding tone, but you stare back at him, as he considers ignoring you and closing his grip over Caliborn’s chest. The moment drags out, and you can feel multiple sets of eyes on you, including your Bro’s, as Roxy emerges from the stairs and hangs back in the doorframe to watch from a safe distance. Caliborn continues to thrash and yell in AR’s grip, before he’s abruptly dropped to the floor.

The black appendages twist in the air as Caliborn frantically backs away from them, grabbing at the bloody marks on his chest and staring up at the android in fear. You don’t fight the twinge of satisfaction at the sight, but now you have something more important to worry about, as the remaining people shift and murmur nervously. The mass panic in the room has finally died down, and you take a deep breath, turning to face your brother.

“Bro,” you start, trying to keep your voice steady. “I don’t know what he told you, but-”

“Get out. All of you.” He suddenly interrupts you, directing his words at the people standing around. They hesitantly begin to move, filtering out of the command center, as he gestures to one of the nearby guards who must have entered from the hallway during the commotion.

“Bro-” you try again, but he cuts you off.

“That’s an order,” he says to you icily, before turning to the guard. “Take Caliborn downstairs and lock him up, then wait for my instructions. The android stays. Everyone else, get the fuck out, now.

You stumble backwards as Roxy suddenly pulls on your arm, and you let her lead you out of the command center with the others as you silently flounder. You take one last look at Bro and AR as they face each other, your brother glaring at him, and the android staring back somewhat derisively, before you’re forced to descend the stairs, and you lose sight of them.

 

Almost an hour went by before you heard anything. Roxy took the two of you back to your rooms, and you were joined shortly by Jake and Jane, the two of them slightly confused and alarmed at the sudden commotion in the base. You tried to pass the time and take your mind off of whatever was happening in the command center by recounting the events of that morning to them, while a slow panic creeped its way through your insides. Roxy sat next to you on the couch and listened along with them, while your mind conjured all sorts of horrific scenarios involving your brother’s guts strewn across the floor or AR’s circuits going dark in front of an EMP gun. Your other friends were predictably angry at what Caliborn had done, but neither of them were all that surprised. Jake, for his part, reacted with bitter scepticism when you told him that AR had saved you, while Jane briefly examined your head and made sure nothing had reopened. It was shortly after you got to the end of your story, that there was a soft knock on the front door.

Roxy got up to open it, motioning for you to sit back down on the couch. When she returned, Calliope was with her, smiling amiably at your gathered group. Apparently after your brother split the scavenging teams into single individuals, she asked him if she could be reassigned, and he gave her the position of assistant/courier. Now she relays orders to different parts of the compound on foot when necessary, and as it turns out, she’s here on business.

The android is going to stay.

You don’t know how to react at first, as Jake glowers and Roxy flashes you a secretly pleased smile. Calliope tells you that your brother will be sending out an official notice later, but for now, you’re urgently needed in maintenance.

Jake begins voicing questions that Calliope can’t answer, such as ‘why the bloody hell is that soulless piece of hardware staying here?’ while you ask her if it’s okay if Roxy comes with you. She agrees, and you leave for the maintenance lab with Roxy at your side, reassuringly holding your hand, as your emotions flip back and forth between anxiety and relief.

   
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