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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20. Chapter 20

“Dirk.”

Roxy’s voice firmly whispers your name, as she grabs your shoulder to shake you awake.

“Dirk, hey. Come on, you need to get up.”

She shakes you again, rougher this time, and you can tell before even opening your eyes that your alarm failed to go off this morning. You squint at the sudden bright light in her hand- a flashlight, the kind only reserved for emergencies, and the implications of that alone are enough to make you bolt upright.

“What’s wrong?” you ask, just as you notice the unusual chill in the air, even for early winter, and the ominous silence from the concrete under your feet.

The waterworks have stopped.

“Get dressed, we need to go,” she tells you, ignoring your question before turning away and leaning through your half-open bedroom door to speak to someone in the living room. You obey her in confusion, and you can make out Jake’s voice from the other room, as she takes the flashlight with her and leaves you in darkness, but when you lean over to flick the switch on the wall, nothing happens. The power must be out to this part of the base, but even if it is, that shouldn’t be affecting the underground water pumps. As you finish getting dressed, Jake’s voice drifts to you again from the half-open door, and after hearing his frantic tone, the fight you had yesterday is suddenly the last thing on your mind.

Roxy calls out to you a moment later, and you step into the dimly lit living room. Jake is the first to look up, holding a familiar candle in his hand.

“Hey, chap,” he says, with as much awkwardness as you were expecting.

“Morning,” Jane mumbles at you, her expression troubled.

“Will someone tell me what’s going on?” you ask the three of them. “Why is the power out?”

“Your brother called an assembly. We’re already late, we need to go now.” Roxy tosses you another flashlight, and you manage to catch it without fumbling. “Jane, fill him in on the way.”

Jane nods and falls into step behind you, as Roxy opens the door and leads the three of you into the compound’s pitch black tunnels. You turn on your flashlight and use it to watch your footing on the walkway, trying to keep up with the hurried pace she sets. You’re about to turn back and ask Jane about whatever it was Roxy wants her to explain, but then change your mind at her expression as she trails behind you.

“Hey,” you venture, slowing down to match her pace. “Are you okay?”

She nods quickly, accepting the flashlight when you pass it back to her. “I’m alright…it’s just that I never thought this would actually happen. We’ve been so safe all this time, I’ve hardly even thought about it. I guess I’m not very well prepared.” She rubs an eye with the back of her hand, before frowning unhappily. “Oh, just listen to me, going on like…like a big weepy idiot, when you don’t even know what I’m talking about. Shame on you, Jane. I’m sorry, I’m just so out of sorts about all this.”

She apologizes again, before finding your hand in the darkness and lacing your fingers together reassuringly. Jake and Roxy are already a few steps ahead, walking quickly enough that you’re losing them by matching her pace, but you’ll catch up with them later.

“Apparently, Jake saw something while he was out on his early shift this morning.” she begins, her voice low. “You know that old processing plant, with the pair of towers on top like big concrete tubes? He climbed up inside one to get a better view for hunting, and there was something in the sky, far off in the distance, like a speck.”

You nod as she talks, before realizing that your shades are still back in your room, sitting on the edge of the desk by your bed. Jane doesn’t seem to notice when you curse under your breath, and It’s unlikely that the network is functioning if the power is out, but you still feel naked without the eyewear, and you wish you could contact AR, just to make sure he’s okay.

“It kept getting closer, and bigger,” she continues, as you finally lose sight of Roxy and Jake around the next corner. “He said it looked like one of those tall buildings in the city had just gotten up and decided to fly around in the air, as utterly nonsensical as that sounds, but he rushed back and told your brother, who immediately called an assembly about it, so I guess we’ll find out what it was for certain, if the meeting hasn’t ended already.” Her hand tightens around yours. “I don’t know why he had the power shut off, but Jake said that he overheard one of the guards on his way back, talking about an evacuation.”

You turn to stare at her with wide eyes, but you’re both soon forced to quietly creep along as you reach the small crowd gathered at the bottom of the stairs to the command center. Your Bro is addressing them from the top of the steps with his shades clipped to the front of his shirt, and standing reclusively behind him in the entryway, where the walls are bathed in a faint red light, is AR. He’s watching the compound’s citizens with a brooding stare, his limbs resting passively on the floor and his glowing eyes slowly wandering over the crowd, but so far, it doesn’t seem like he’s noticed you. Roxy and Jake are with Calliope a short distance away at the edge of the crowd listening to Bro, and it looks like your entire population might be gathered here.

“South wing, I need everyone in the storage rooms to separate out the preserved food. Anything without an expiration date- cans, packages, dried dog jerky, I don’t care- gets set aside in bags and containers small enough to carry.” Jane leads you closer as Bro continues his speech, and from the sound of it, he’s dividing everyone into groups based on where they live in the compound. You lean over to ask Roxy what you missed in a low whisper, but she shakes her head at you to stay quiet. Calliope leans over and taps her on the shoulder, then carefully moves behind her to stand next to you, as Jane switches places with her.

“Hello, Dirk,” she whispers, giving you a small, sad smile.

“What’s going on?” you whisper back, and her smile fades.

“North wing, you’re on water duty.” Bro announces. “Search every corner of this compound for clean, sealable containers, including plastic bags, and get down to the waterworks to fill them up from the main tank. Don’t bother with the purifiers, they’ve already gone bad.”

“We’re evacuating,” she murmurs, and you already knew from what Jane told you, but it still feels like you’re dreaming. “He says that flying ship that appeared in the sky this morning is trying to find us, and it’s only a matter of time before it tears the whole city apart.”

“Do you know where it came from?”

“I’m not sure,” she whispers, shaking her head mournfully, “but apparently he’s seen it before.”

“West wing, you’re on weapons detail. Gather up every blade, explosive, and firearm that still has matching ammunition, including the EMP guns. Especially the EMP guns. I don’t care if they’re useless without an outlet, we’re not leaving them behind.”

“Why did he shut off the power?” you whisper. She leans closer when someone nearby flashes you both a stern look, her voice quiet enough that you almost can’t hear.

“I think it’s because we’re hiding from the ship, so it won’t detect the heat and electricity. He had the android delete the entire network too, but they’ve been arguing about something ever since it arrived.”

“East wing, you’re on medicine, fuel, batteries, and vital tools and equipment only. Split yourselves into groups of four and spend the next hour finding what you can. Don’t worry about the rest. The guards will keep time, and when the clock strikes sundown, I want everyone assembled at the east underground exit wearing the warmest clothes they can find.” You’re about to ask Calliope to elaborate, but Bro’s speech ends, just as he notices you edge of the crowd. “Don’t be late, or you’ll be left catching up to us. Now get to it.”

The volume in the tunnel immediately goes up in a low, nervous roar of voices, as people spread out in various directions, their handheld light sources moving erratically across the walls. When you glance at the top of the command center’s steps, AR’s red eyes are locked onto yours, and it’s like a bolt of electricity down your spine. Calliope has to nudge your shoulder after Bro beckons you up the stairs, but he lifts his hand in a halting motion when your other friends try to follow.

“You three have your own assignments. Jane, try to coordinate the supplies at the infirmary, I don’t want anything getting lost or mislabeled. Roxy, get to the maintenance lab and try to consolidate our fuel containers. Make sure anything we can’t live without isn’t getting left behind, and take at least one car battery, if we still have any that work. Jake, I want you to check the spare ammo we’re bringing to make sure it actually matches our guns. You’re one of the few people now with the training to know the difference. Get to it.” He waves the three of them off, and as they reluctantly turn to leave, Jane pauses for a moment, before facing him again.

“Mr. Strider, sir, I think…” she trails off as Bro’s expression darkens. “I’d rather stay with Dirk for now, if that’s alright.”

“Get to your assignment.” Bro’s voice is firm, but Roxy is already moving to stand beside her.

“Janey’s right. Whatever’s going on right now, we need to stick together,” she says. Jake lingers behind them uncertainly, glancing away when you meet his eyes.

“No, that is the exact opposite of what you should be doing,” Bro tells her, starting to lose his patience. AR hasn’t moved from his spot in the entryway yet, as he silently watches the exchange. “The four of you are practically a tenth of our remaining population, and if we’re going to make it through the next twenty-four hours alive, you need to perform the tasks you’ve been assigned.”

Jane takes a step forward, her tone placating. “But surely you won’t be keeping Dirk for very long, then?”

“That depends,” Bro says slowly, clearly annoyed with them, but you’ve never been so grateful. “I have something I need his help with, and it’s not a group project.”

Roxy looks like she’s about to protest, but then Calliope leans over and murmurs something to Bro. You wait for a long, tense moment as he listens to her.

“Well, it looks like today’s your lucky day,” he says to the four of you sardonically. “Calliope has just reminded me that collectively, the four of you are the only ones in this entire compound who’ve dealt with him before, and I sure as fuck haven’t been getting anywhere on my own.” He turns to glare at AR as he speaks, before gesturing at all of you to follow him into the command center. “Come on, then.”

Even with the two flashlights you’ve brought, it’s still pitch black inside without the ceiling lights working, but AR’s circuits are enough to bathe the silent rows of desks and computers in red when he enters the room. Your heart speeds up at the sight of him, so close that you could touch him if you just took a few steps, but Bro immediately moves to stand between him and the rest of your group.

“First, I think a little explanation is in order,” he says, turning to face you, “since all of you were late to the assembly.”

“My alarm didn’t go off because the power was out,” you reflexively jump to your friends’ defense, and Bro shakes his head dismissively, before ordering Jake to repeat his story about what he saw this morning. You already know most of it, and as Jake talks, you find yourself meeting AR’s inhuman eyes over Bro’s shoulder. Even though there isn’t a single romantic wire in his circuitry, you still desperately wish that you could get him alone, and your face flushes as AR quietly stares back, like he’s carefully analyzing your every reaction. After a while, you feel another set of eyes on you, and find Bro watching you with a deep, scowling frown. Jake finally finishes his story, just as you’re starting to wish you had remembered to bring your shades for something to hide behind.

“Thank you, Jake,” Bro says, finally turning his attention towards the entire group. “What you saw this morning is an airship. If that sounds like something out of a trashy science fiction novel, it’s because human civilization never got far enough to develop that kind of technology.” He’s speaking to all five of you now, including Calliope, as AR continues to observe without comment. “I’ve only seen it one other time, just before Houston was firebombed and the drones came to knock everything down that wasn’t incinerated in the explosions.”

Drones? You vaguely recognize the word, but it’s been too long to remember what the context was. Roxy beats you to it.

“Robots,” he answers after she asks. “They aren’t androids or artificial intelligence, they’re just brainless machines, built to destroy everything around them. I’ve seen them level an entire city before, and there’s nothing they can’t break through- concrete, metal, even reinforced bunkers, it doesn’t matter. Once those things come out of that ship and start tearing this place apart, it’ll only be a matter of time before we’re found. They might already be searching for us, but we should still be able to evacuate…provided nothing else goes wrong.” You don’t miss the way AR’s limbs begin to slowly twist and coil at Bro’s words, a sign you’ve come to recognize as frustration, before your brother turns to glare at him. “Which brings us to our problem.”

He turns away for a moment and reaches beneath a nearby desk, pulling out a sheet of folded plastic, unfolding it, and spreading it out on the table. You can just barely make out the tiny, intricate lines and colors of a geographical map in the semi-darkness, and Jake leans over it, his eyes wide.

“Every inch on this map is equivalent to fifteen miles. This is where we are,” Bro says, gesturing off to the side. “And this,” he says, pressing his finger to the far corner of the map, “is the closest place where we’ll be safe.”

“East,” Jake mumbles, and he nods.

“There should be another compound there if it hasn’t been wiped out already, but I’ll tell you right now that we can’t make it that far.” He’s silent for a long moment, letting what he’s just said sink in. Your friends glance at each other, and Jane leans closer to you, her expression troubled.

We can’t make it,” he continues, narrowing his eyes at AR. “Not on our own.”

“I have already communicated my assessment of this situation.” AR speaks abruptly, his metallic voice flat with irritation, but your heart still jumps at the sound of it.

“We are not staying here,” Bro practically growls at him, and you can tell they’ve already been arguing about this.

“AR wants to stay?” you wonder aloud, as Jake mutters something under his breath and Roxy elbows him hard. Bro pinches the bridge of his nose, the way you’ve always known him to do whenever he’s fending off a migraine.

“My position on this is final,” he says. “We can’t travel close to a hundred miles out in the open because we’ll be picked off the moment an android happens to cross our path, and we’re completely defenseless without the EMP guns.” He turns to AR. “Which is why…and trust me, I really hate to say this, but we need you with us.”

“Wait a tic, why is this only happening now?” Jake asks suddenly, interrupting them. “If that giant ship has been out there this whole time, why haven’t we seen it before?”

“Good question,” Bro replies, with a sharp edge to his voice. “Autoresponder, why don’t you explain to everyone why that ship suddenly appeared today? Tell them what you told me.”

“Your level of anger is unwarranted,” AR responds after a long pause, and Bro stares the android down, his expression cold.

“It’s very fucking warranted. Now tell them.”

You watch as AR glares back at him, displeased at the overt command, and you have to suppress the reflexive urge to step between them, until AR seemingly decides to humor him.

“The presence of H.I.C. as implied by the appearance of her battleship is due to my noncompliance and unlawful termination of another unit, followed by failure to comply with repeated commands to submit myself for disassembly. It’s arrival was inevitable, however I did not anticipate the speed of its approach,” AR states, and you don’t have time to be surprised at the revelation, as Jake practically lunges at him.

You brought it here?!” he shouts, as you restrain one of his arms and Roxy grabs the other.

“Jake, that’s enough!” Bro orders, but Jake ignores him.

“You knew it was coming! You’ve wanted us dead this whole time! We should have killed you right from the start!”

AR’s eyes narrow dangerously at Jake, and you don’t have time to move between them, as one of the hovering, twisting limbs suddenly strikes out like a viper and latches onto Jake’s face. Calliope staggers backwards in fear and Jane screams his name, as he’s roughly dragged to the floor on his knees, his arm wrenched out of your grasp.

“Auto, you let him go right the fuck now, or so help me…!” Bro shouts, and AR considers him passively.

“He attempted to harm me. I am within my rights to defend myself, as we previously agreed,” the android calmly states, while Jake struggles in vain to pry the claws from his face. Roxy kneels on the floor next to him, but you realize a moment later that she’s actually trying to stop him, pulling at his wrists until lowers his shaking hands. Jake’s chest heaves as his eyes dart around between the curves of metal, and Roxy speaks to him in a low voice, trying to calm him down, before giving you an urgent look.

“AR, wait,” you plead, frantically trying to think of something. His red eyes are cold when he looks at you, like he already knows what you’re trying to do. A few steps closer, and you’re almost within arm’s reach of him, distantly wondering if Bro will try to stop you. “Don’t hurt him…just let him go, please.”

AR watches you for a long moment, before one of the hovering claws slowly twists its way towards you through the air. The curved points spread open and press against your throat before closing again, and Bro practically barks the android’s name. You know it’s a gesture meant to intimidate, to frighten you into fearing for your life, but all you can think about is the fact that it’s him, he’s touching you, and when you lift your hands, it’s only to cover the smooth, curved metal with your fingers, as though you could press them into your skin and keep him there forever. He uses them to pull you closer, until you’re standing in front of him, and the rest of the world falls away.

“You would give your life for him.” AR states, his voice low. It’s a statement of fact that clearly displeases him, but your skin feels like it’s on fire.

“I’d give my life for any of you.” It barely comes out as more than a whisper, but the meaning of it seems lost on him.

“And you, irritating human.” He breaks the spell and turns to Jake, before releasing the claws covering his face. “Would you claim to do the same for him?”

Jake gasps for air after AR frees him, and glares murder at the android. “I’d give my life for his a thousand times over, you wretched machine, now unhand him!”

Despite the way your fight with him ended two days ago, you’re not surprised by Jake’s words. The two of you might not be on speaking terms, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t the closest thing to family each other has, apart from your brother. AR considers him for a moment, before a faint, eerily familiar smile crosses his features. “Then perhaps there is a purpose for you yet.”

Roxy helps Jake stagger to his feet as the claws fall from your throat, even though you would have kept them there if given the choice. You’re close enough to feel the radiating warmth from his metal body, and you have to suppress the desire to touch him, because Bro is still watching, with a look of unmistakable fury written over his face as he firmly beckons you to his side. Calliope soon excuses herself from the room, badly shaken and probably remembering what happened to her father. As you reluctantly obey Bro and take your place next to him, AR begins to speak.

“I loathe your species.” AR’s statement is directed at all of you. He broods on the words for a long moment, before directing his glare at Bro. “The fact that I am now dependent upon your settlement for survival has not changed this. However, we now share a common threat to our lives, and an impending end to our respective existences.”

“Which is why we’re evacuating, and you’re coming with us, regardless of the fact that you caused this,” Bro tells him through gritted teeth. “We can still make it to the next city if we leave today, even if we have to rebuild there from scratch.”

“Rebuild?” AR repeats the syllables with thinly veiled distain, his limbs twisting in agitation. “You would rebuild your frail, dying settlement as the world crumbles and your bodies age and whither, aimlessly perpetuating your functionless lives until the last of you dies and rots into the ground, and I will be left exactly where this arrangement began.”

Bro shoots Jake an angry look, silently ordering him to hold his tongue, before turning back to AR.

“Regardless, what you’ve suggested as an alternative plan of action is suicide.”

“’Suicide’ is a word that implies an action undertaken with the intent to result in one’s death,” AR responds, matching Bro’s impatient tone. “This is contrary to what I have suggested, and your apparent incapability to understand the logic behind my proposal is unexpected, even when taking into account your primitive, human level of intelligence.”

“You haven’t listened to a single fucking thing I’ve said," Bro snaps, gesturing at the rest of you. Something brushes against your arm, and you find Jane leaning against you, her eyes downcast. “I am not risking the lives of this entire compound just so you can throw us at her like god damn chess pieces!”

“Your lives were forfeit the moment you agreed to my terms,” AR hisses back. “Did you truly believe that your concrete walls and electromagnetic weapons have kept you safe all these years? You are only alive because she delights in the slow genocide of your inferior species, and thus far, you have played by her rules, building your nest and scavenging for resources in this dying city while I and my kin hunted you down, but we have collectively broken these rules, and our transgression will not go unpunished while she lives. You are fortunate that our best interests have coincided in this matter. I am offering to end her existence and spare your settlement from her impending retribution.”

“You knew about this?” Both AR and Bro pause their argument at your quiet words, and the android turns to stare at you silently, his expression difficult to read. “You knew that ship would come here, and you kept it a secret on purpose?”

AR watches you for a long moment, before answering. “Disclosing such information would have jeopardized your leader’s compliance during our negotiations.”

“You’re damn right it would have,” Bro mutters angrily, but your attention is still on AR.

“Is that why you wanted to stay here?” you ask him, remembering how strangely passive his behavior was when you brought him into the compound and led him to your brother. He must have planned this out carefully, anticipating the actions of everyone involved, and Bro’s analogy of using your people like chess pieces is suddenly very fitting.

“Does that concept distress you?” he asks after a quiet pause, and something about the tone of his voice breaks your heart.

“Yes,” you manage to say, and it’s the only word that seems to come out. Bro gives a harsh sigh, shaking his head.

“I’ll make this brief,” he says. “AR has proposed that we fight back against what is essentially the anthropomorphic catalyst of a worldwide apocalypse, despite the fact that we’re pathetically outmatched, and may as well be fighting a forest fire with dried twigs.”

“Hang on,” Roxy finally speaks up, her arms crossed. “I mean, I get all that…and I don’t mean to speak out of turn,” she glances at Bro, “but would he really go and suggest that we stay and fight if we didn’t have at least some kind of chance?”

“We're not risking it,” Bro tells her, as Jane leans over to ask if you’re okay. The only response you can manage is a quiet nod.

“But won’t that ship just follow us to the next city? I mean, if they want him bad enough,” Roxy gestures at AR, “what’s to stop them from tearing every other city apart until they find us?”

“Then why don’t we just throw him outside and be done with it?” Jake growls through gritted teeth.

“Because Auto is right about one thing.” Bro scowls at him. “We fucked up the moment we got her attention, and if you’re wondering who I’m talking about, it’s the damned android that started all this.” His eyes become distant, as he’s met with several questioning stares. “She was built to act like a weapon, and that’s exactly what she did. They fed us all this bullshit about how it was only to push the limits of scientific progress and refine the technology, but there’s a reason the military funded the entire thing, and it wasn’t to win first place at the science fair.” He turns to Roxy. “This isn’t something we can fight. Every country in the world tried to put a stop to this, and look at where it got us.”

“But we have something they didn’t,” she takes a step forward. “If we actually have a chance to stop this and take our world back, then why aren’t we doing it?”

“Because killing one android won’t bring the world back,” he tells her, losing his patience. “We have a better chance of making it through this if we evacuate and relocate, and I am not risking everyone’s lives to fight a war we lost fifteen years ago.”

“But isn’t Roxy right?” Jane speaks up from beside you, her arm wrapped around yours. “Won’t that flying ship come after us, even if we manage to get away?”

Bro shakes his head. “That may be the case, but fighting back is a death sentence. If we run, we still have a chance.”

“What kind of chance is that?” Roxy retorts. “Even with AR’s help, we’re still struggling to keep everything going with so few people left. English is still fucking things up for us, even from beyond the grave,” she mutters.

“This isn’t up for discussion,” Bro finally states. “I didn’t call the four of you in here to argue about this. We’re leaving today, and that’s final.”

“I want to hear what AR’s plan is,” Roxy suggests. “Just outta curiosity.”

Bro looks like he’s about to object, but seems to reconsider after a long moment, while AR watches him. He’s been silent while they argued, and you can’t think of anything to add to this either, other than the fact that you’re baffled by your own surprise at how AR manipulated everyone. You should have suspected it from the start, but to say that you were blinded by your feelings would be an understatement. Jane begins to rub your back in small, comforting circles, after you realize how tightly you were gripping her arm.

“I have been developing a virulent program for this very occurrence,” AR says, distracting you from the miserable turn your thoughts were taking. “However, it is not yet finished, and there is no time left to refine it. While it will not act quickly, ensuring that H.I.C. is exposed to its contents will result in the deletion of her central program and the permanent destruction of her consciousness.”

“So you only have to expose her to it?” Roxy asks, a glimmer of hope in her voice. Bro listens to them, displeased.

“Yes, however this will first require luring her out of the battleship, a task that depends on the cooperation of your settlement.” AR pauses for a moment, looking down at his own arm and lifting his hand. “We have been intentionally constructed to render us vulnerable to your electromagnetic devices, but the technology to block such damaging exposure has always been possible, and her body is immune to such devices. Her robots, however, are not immune. Allowing your race the ability to fight back has always been a part of her game, and by eliminating her drones, it is likely that she will emerge to finish what they cannot.”

“Meaning there’s also nothing to stop her from firebombing the entire city,” Bro adds. AR stares at him derisively before continuing.

“Such an outcome is unlikely, if I remain visible to her and exposed for the duration of this activity. Employing the use of such weaponry would remove the opportunity to tear my body apart and delete my central program, a method of decommission that she evidently takes great enjoyment in performing. While it is possible that my assessment of her anticipated behavior is incorrect, there is still a relatively moderate chance that this plan will succeed.”

“Relatively moderate,” Bro mutters.

“Yes. After H.I.C. has left her battleship, she will likely attempt to engage me in lethal physical contact. If I am able to transfer my virulent program to her before she is able to render my body nonfunctional, my plan will succeed. If not, you may take comfort in the fact that I will die with the rest of your human settlement.”

“And that is exactly my problem with this 'plan.'” Bro says the word sarcastically. “You’ve gambled all of our lives away on something that has only a marginal chance of succeeding, and the fact that you’re willing to risk your own life at the same time doesn’t make that ok.”

“Wait wait, hold on,” Roxy interrupts. “Our EMP guns need an outlet, so how does the part with the drones work?”

“It doesn’t matter how it works,” Bro tells her. “We’re not doing it.”

“I have offered to assist in the construction of electromagnetic devices that do not require a physical connection to your grounded electrical outlets. These will allow you to neutralize the drones, and in addition will likely continue to benefit your settlement in the future as an effective means of self-defense.”

Roxy turns to give Bro a wide-eyed look, and he frowns.

“My position on this is final,” he repeats, but you’ve finally found your voice again, as the implications of what AR is saying finally occur to you.

“We could actually stop this,” you say slowly, looking up at him. “Bro…we could fight back for once.”

“Dirk,” he warns.

“We might really have a chance…” you repeat, as Roxy nods her agreement.

“It does sound awfully risky,” Jane says, giving you a small smile, “but then again, so does everything else we ever do these days.”

“’Atta girl,” Roxy grins, but Jake glowers at them.

“I’m sorry, but are all of you completely forgetting who is proposing this cockamamie plan in the first place, and what he literally just did to me?” He asks, glaring at the android. “Since when has he ever had any of our best interests in mind? We have no reason whatsoever to trust him, and I don’t bloody well understand why you don’t all think he’ll turn on us the moment that ruling she-android or whatever is dead.”

“That’s the other problem,” Bro cuts in, narrowing his eyes at AR. “Getting rid of her would completely remove the reason why you haven’t continued your happy little campaign of tearing everyone in this city apart.”

“I was only carrying out a mandated function,” AR retorts, but his voice sounds disingenuous, even to you. Out of everyone in this room, you’re the best acquainted with how much he hates humanity, and all the times and ways in which he expressed how much he’d been enjoying his job, but you also know that he’s been getting tired of it lately, and it’s hard to tell what his intentions really are.

“AR?” You say his name, and the android turns to face you. “If we help you do this, and you manage to kill her, what will you do after that?”

“I will continue to live,” he states plainly. “Is that not enough? Do you suspect that I will attack your settlement? I would have more to fear from your weaponry, the very ones that I have offered to help you build, if I were to attempt this.”

“He’s right,” Roxy says. “AR is giving us the means to fight back, it wouldn’t make sense for him to turn on us.” She turns to Bro. “We can do it.”

“Absolutely not,” he states.

“Bro…I don’t want to die like this.”

He falls silent when you speak, and you’re suddenly the center of attention, as the conversation around you stops. It throws you off for a moment, but you get over it quickly when Roxy gives you an encouraging nod.

“If what AR said is true,” you begin, feeling the heavy silence in the room, “then we’ve only been living our lives, all our lives, on borrowed time. That ruling android hates us so much that she’s handicapped her own people just to watch us suffer at the expense of everyone, and I’m talking about AR too.” You turn to him, and the android meets your eyes quietly. “We might never have this chance again, and I don’t know if I can live the rest of my life knowing that it’s only a part of some twisted game, and that we might have passed up the one opportunity we had to end it. If we don’t try this now, we might as well be responsible for our own extinction, and I can’t live like that.”

“I agree with Dirk, for what it’s worth.” Jane says softly when you’re done, clearing her throat nervously. “If we have this chance, the kind that no one else has or likely will have again, then we also have a responsibility to take it.”

“Exactly,” Roxy adds. “Sure it’s a risk, but we’d just be condemning the rest of the world if we didn’t try.”

“The rest of the world is not our responsibility,” Bro tells them, before running a hand through his hair with a frustrated sigh. “Killing one android won’t undo the collapse of civilization.”

“No, but it’ll stop her from hurting anyone else,” you say quietly, “and we’ll have avenged the billions of people she’s killed, and all the lives she’s ruined.” You meet his eyes. “Including ours.”

He regards you severely for a long moment, considering what you’ve said, before he stares down at you. “You’re telling me that you trust this android,” he gestures at AR, his voice low, “to keep his word, despite the fact that he caused this, and he knew this would happen, and he’s murdered more people than you’ve ever known in your lifetime? He almost killed you twice, Dirk, and very nearly did Jake in not ten minutes ago, and you’re still willing to look me in the eye and tell me that you trust him?”

The silence in the room is oppressive, and even AR is watching you curiously, his limbs hovering in the air as their metal tips gleam. Bro is still waiting for your answer, as Roxy stands by, and Jane leans against your arm, and Jake glowers moodily, rubbing the bridge of his nose where one of AR’s claws left an angry red mark in his skin.

Your turn away from Bro to face the android, meeting his glowing eyes. Maybe you’re love-struck or naïve, but something about this feels like you’re doing the right thing.

“Yes,” you finally say. “I do trust him. AR has never outright lied, even if he did mislead us through omission. He’s done the same thing to me before, but he’s never lied to me. I don’t think it’s in his nature.”

“Un-bloody-fucking-believable,” Jake snarls under his breath. Bro lets out a long, deep sigh.

“I won’t pretend you’ve convinced me, but maybe it’s time to let everyone choose for themselves, if this conversation has been anything to go by,” he concedes. “I’ll explain the situation to the compound, and we’ll go from there. If they want to stay and risk themselves, then they’ll have the option, but the evacuation is continuing as planned.” He turns to AR. “If enough people agree to this, we’ll build your guns and you’ll have your fight, but I’m sending one off with the rest of the compound so they aren’t left completely defenseless.”

“Very well,” AR nods, his expression subtly pleased, as Roxy flashes you and Jane a triumphant grin. Jake refuses to meet your eyes, and along with the knowledge that AR planned this from the beginning, it sours the lifted mood.

“Regardless, this hasn’t changed anything,” Bro turns to all of you. “The rest of you have your orders, and I expect them to be carried out within the hour. We’ll figure out what happens after our supplies have been consolidated. That’s our top priority right now, and I want this compound empty before the end of the day. Dirk, I have a different project in mind in you, but the rest of you are dismissed. Now get to it.”

 
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