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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5. Chapter 5

“Honestly, I don’t know what the fuck to do with you anymore.”

The words are uncomfortable against your skin in a way that’s borderline physical, and for the third time now since walking into your Bro’s room, you feel another flush of shame spread across your face and down your neck, made worse by the fact that you know it’s perfectly visible against your pale, sun-starved skin. Despite the fact that he’s sitting in an old office chair and you’re standing, he still manages to stare down at you like you’re a child. The rest of the room is almost bare, save for the desk, filling shelves, and cot-style bed against the wall. He only uses his room when he’s sleeping, and he only sleeps when he’s not in the command center. You’ve been in here maybe a handful of times since you were little.

“It seemed like less of a risk at the time,” you repeat to him what you said to your friends, but he’s unmoved.

“That was not for you to decide,” he says slowly, visibly trying to keep his anger in check. “Your actions have repeatedly put not only yourself, but the rest of your unit, and this entire compound in danger, not to mention undermining everything we’ve spent over a decade trying to rebuild.”

You keep silent, because he’s right, and there’s nothing you can say to change that. He pauses to watch you shift miserably in front of him. The bandages around your wound are tight under the cloth leg of your pants, and standing for this long still makes you feel dizzy after several days of forced bed rest.

“I will tell you this right now, because I want you to understand the kind of position you’ve put me in,” he says, leaning forwards to clasp his hands firmly together. “The only reason you haven’t been thrown into a cell and locked up is because you're still the only living member of this community who can repair some of our specialized equipment, but after all the bullshit you’ve put us through, the others are starting to wonder if you’re even worth it.”

“Bro, come on,” you protest weakly, wishing you could at least sit down. “You don’t think this entire situation is punishment enough?”

“It isn’t just up to me anymore, Dirk,” he says, his voice getting louder. “That mechanized abomination could have done god-knows-what while it was in the system, and you, for whatever insane justification you came up with, didn’t tell anyone.” The last few words are spoken slowly to punctuate the severity of the situation, but he should know by now that you’ve already paid the price in blood. He levels you with a particularly serious glare, as his voice gets low. “If English had gotten his way, you’d have been taken outside today and shot.”

You know who he’s referring to, and it isn’t your friend Jake.

“He always says shit like that,” you mutter, and your Bro laughs sarcastically.

“You’re making it real easy for him, kid. This network security breach has spooked the rationality out of everyone, including the people I’m still working every day to convince that English’s entire philosophy is horseshit, but when my own fucking kid goes and practically hands the base over to the machines, they’re a little less inclined to listen to me.”

“That’s not what I-”

“I know it’s not, but try to imagine what it sounds like to everyone else,” he says, cutting you off from the explanation he’s heard several times already, before shaking his head. “We’re done for now, Dirk. Go back to your room and try not to do anything else completely fucking stupid tonight.”

You ball your fists at his words, considering saying something back at him, but your head feels like it’s spinning, and you just want to sit down somewhere quiet. Your leg throbs when you turn and approach the door to leave, before Bro stops you.

“Hold up,” he calls out. You sigh morosely and turn around.

“What?”

“How’s your leg doing?” he asks, the tone of his voice suddenly more subdued.

“It’s fine,” you lie, not in the mood to talk anymore, but he can always tell when you’re being dishonest, so there isn’t really a point.

“Did they give you anything for it?”

“No.” You resist the urge to rub the wound, just talking about it seems to make it hurt more.

“Yeah, everything we have left is probably reserved for surgeries,” he murmurs, thinking to himself. You sigh impatiently, crossing your arms over your chest. He raises an eyebrow at you over the rounded edge of his aviators. “Just try to stay off of it while it’s healing if you can.”

You stare at him sardonically, then gesture at yourself standing in the middle of his room. He rolls his eyes and waves you out, and the heavy door falls shut behind you. You’re trying your hardest not to feel too hopeless about your situation, but it just seems to be getting worse by the day.

Your footsteps are loud against the metal floor, as you start the journey back to your room through the tunnels. When you turn the corner just past your Bro’s room, you’re met with a very large, very wide torso, sporting it’s signature green shirt and suspenders beneath a heavy, garish coat.

Caliborn is bad enough on a good day, but his father doesn’t even have good days, as far as you can tell.

You’re forced to stop walking and stand in front of him. The tunnels in this area are narrow, and you’re not keen on the idea of trying to squeeze past him, with the way he’s purposefully blocking your path with his broad shoulders. Mr. English is the biggest man you’ve ever seen in your life, like a particularly wide football player, and that’s including the shoulder pads. You’ve always found it ironic that his twin son and daughter are so scrawny, and you’d imagine it’s something he’d be sensitive about if he cared at all in the first place.

He stares down at you, and his face slowly spreads into an unpleasant smile

“Going somewhere?”

After getting to know Jake, you never thought you’d hate the sound of a British accent so much.

“Yep,” you reply, trying to make the fact that you’re waiting for him to move out of the way as obvious as possible.

“You,” he says slowly, in the manner of someone who clearly loves the sound of their own voice.

“Are lucky…” He steps towards you, and it takes everything you have not to step back from the way his shirt practically brushes against your face.

“Your daddy…” He leans down over you, blocking out the light from the ceiling.

“Is here…” You clench your jaw in defiance, refusing to give up even an inch. “To save you.”

“He’s not my father,” you mutter through your teeth, and English’s grin only spreads wider, revealing the gap of his missing right incisor. When it quickly becomes obvious that he’s not going to move out of the way any time soon, you wordlessly turn and walk away from him, fervently hoping that he continues on his way to wherever he was going (probably to see your Bro) instead of harassing you. Fortunately, you don’t even hear the sound of his feet move as you walk down the length of the tunnel, back the way you came and around another corner to take a different path. It’ll be an exceptionally roundabout way of getting back to your room, but you’re willing to avoid Jake’s uncle though any means possible.

You get back to your living room about ten minutes later than you should have, and you’re immediately surprised by the sheer number of people sitting at the small table. Jake and Jane are seated together at one of the sofas, with Roxy claiming the other, sitting next to a girl who smiles up at you as you walk in.

“Dirk, hello!” she greets you happily, standing up to give you a heartfelt hug. You wrap your arms around her thin shoulders and return it, feeling your spirits lift from the simple gesture. You’ll never understand the way family genetics work.

“Hey, Calliope.”

“‘Bout time,” Roxy says, leaning over to invitingly pat the armchair next to the couch. Jane shakes her head.

“No, Jake would you mind sitting over there?” She ushers him to the empty armchair, while Calliope pulls back and flashes you a warm smile, before returning to Roxy’s side. Jane beckons you over, pulling out a small plastic bottle of clear liquid.

“It feels like I haven’t seen you in forever, Dirk,” Calliope says as you sit down next to Jane, who’s taking out several balls of cotton from her bag.

“How did it go?” Jake asks, leaning his elbows on the table with the unfolded map beneath them.

“It was alright,” you say, eyeing the small pile of cotton that Jane’s accumulated. She upcaps the bottle and tips it over with one of the fluffy white balls pressed to its opening.

“Lean over,” she instructs and you give her a slightly pleading look before obeying.

“Jane, you don’t have to-” You cut yourself off with a hiss when she presses the cotton to the stitches on your neck. She rubs at them gently, but your nerves feel like they’re screaming. Roxy covers her mouth with a hand, hiding a smile at the face you’re making.

“Did he say anything about your demotion?” Jake asks somewhat hopefully. You almost shake your head in reply, before remembering to hold still.

“No, I think he just wanted to chew me out again.” Your words are stilted through the pain, and Jane removes the cotton for a merciful moment to wet it again from the plastic bottle. “I ran into your dad, though,” you say, gesturing at Calliope. Her face falls.

“I’m sorry, Dirk. He’s been in a particularly bad mood lately, I’m afraid.”

“Can’t imagine why,” Roxy mutters with exaggerated sarcasm, and Calliope laughs quietly as Roxy grins at her.

“He’s been going out and about the compound at odd hours again. My brother and I have hardly seen him at all this week.”

“I don’t know how you stand living with them, Calli,” Jake says, shaking his head. “I mean, I can understand how Caliborn does it, since they’re both awful, to be quite honest.”

“Jake,” Jane hisses pointedly as she recaps the bottle. Calliope smiles.

“Oh, It’s okay. I know he does tend to cause a lot of problems,” she says unhappily. Roxy puts an arm around her.

“‘Ey, don’t worry about it. Nothing Dirk’s brother can’t handle.”

“I don't know about that,” you mutter, half to yourself, but in a moment you feel all four sets of eyes on you. Jane pauses with the cotton ball forgotten between her fingers.

“What do you mean?” she asks, a nervous undertone to her voice. “The others wouldn’t really listen to him, would they?”

You sigh, looking down at the concrete floor between your knees.

“Bro said they were really freaked out by the whole network thing.”

“Well, yeah,” Roxy says quietly, mirroring the nervous edge to Jane’s voice. “But that’s no reason to completely overhaul everything.”

“They can’t possibly be thinking about letting him take charge,” Jake adds in disbelief. Jane glares at him.

“Don’t even suggest that,” She says, reaching up to resume cleaning your stitches. The pain isn’t as bad the second time around, but your mind is elsewhere.

“I think half of the base would revolt if that happened.” You tilt your head obligingly as Jane continues around the side of your neck.

“Well of course they would, mate. Even if he gets the leadership and the guards to support him, it’s either rebellion or the wastelands,” Jake says, just as lost in thinking about the possibility as you are. He’s well acquainted with his uncle’s philosophy. You’ve heard Caliborn tout the finer points of it on more occasions than you’d like, loudly pointing out that the compound’s population is unsustainable, and that the multitude of machinery being used to support them with heat and water and electricity could be put to better use if its “unnecessary” citizens were deported- in other words, thrown out into the city to find a new community or fend for themselves, so English and his supporters can build more EMP devices out of the machines keeping everyone alive. He’s often gone on at length to anyone who will listen about the idea of actually fighting back against the androids, instead of letting them pick people off one at a time while the city rots around them. It would be an attractive idea, if it didn’t mean leaving over half of the population outside to die. That said, it’s still an attractive idea to some, and their numbers seem to be growing lately. Jane finishes cleaning your neck and puts the discolored cotton ball in a pile with the others.

“Dirk’s brother will not let that happen,” she says firmly, staring the others down from across the table. “We’re not going to turn on each other just because that…absolutely horrible oaf thinks he’s better than everyone else. Sorry, Calliope.”

Calliope smiles sadly. “I can’t help but agree with you, Jane. We’re better off sticking together, even if it means spreading our resources a little thin.”

“Amen,” Roxy remarks with another grin, squeezing Calliope with the arm still around her neck. Jane stands and lets out a long sigh.

“Well, I’d say that’s quite enough of an awful conversational topic for one day. Dirk, if you wouldn’t mind lying down on your bed, I’ll change the wrapping on your leg.”

You stand and thank her, waving goodnight to the others before returning to your room. Jane follows after retrieving the necessary supplies, and carefully unwraps the cloth from around the wound once you’ve settled down on your back, telling you as she works about the mission to the old shopping mall she’s going on tomorrow with Jake. They’ve reduced the scavenging teams to groups of two instead of four, she says, after the conversation you had with your brother. You do your best to joke about it, trying to lighten her mood, and she smiles while rewrapping your leg, saying that you should have been reassigned to stand-up comedy instead of maintenance. She leaves soon after, and you thank her again as she turns off the light and closes the door behind her.

Your leg aches under the new wrapping, made worse by all the moving around you’ve done today. At least your neck feels better, even if that rubbing alcohol stung like battery acid. Your friends’ voices are muffled beyond your bedroom door, and Roxy’s laugh is as distinctive as ever, followed by the almost inaudible murmur of Calliope’s. You’re still happy for them, even if the knowledge of your demotion sours it a little. At least you didn’t get moved to a different living quarters, and you know Bro must have had something to do with that.

You turn over on your side, away from your injured leg, and let your eyes adjust to the darkness of your room, filled with the tiny, blinking lights of electronics. You’ve been repairing your laptop in your spare time since getting back from the infirmary, and it sits open on your workbench, the screen propped up by its frame over the wires and chips beneath an absent keyboard. The built-in webcam was undamaged by your earlier assault, and the tiny round shape reflects the ambient light coming in beneath the crack under your door, glinting at you like an eye.

Roxy finished purging the system days ago, but you still wonder about whether or not AR is really gone. It’s hard to tell for sure, since he made it abundantly clear that he wasn’t interested in chatting with you anymore, and a vague, paradoxical feeling of disappointment settles over you. He wasn’t ever friendly with you, by any means, but the novelty of communicating with such a foreign intelligence was always a fascinating experience. You’ve even checked the chat logs stored under your username, but there’s nothing there except for the conversations you’ve had with your friends. He could have wiped them before he left, or maybe they never saved at all, since you were technically conversing with your own chumhandle. You roll onto your back and sigh at the ceiling, thoughts returning again to the subway station.

That night, you dream about red circuits and coiling black appendages, holding you firmly against a warm chest. His voice mocks you, but it’s gentle and fond, while you press your face into his neck, whispering to him quietly that you missed him.

 
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