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.


6. Chapter 6

Something wakes you slowly, gradually pulling you out of a vague dream, and when you open your eyes, the glowing lights on your clock indicate a few minutes before four in the morning.

You roll over unhappily, trying your best to ignore the aching pain in your leg, before giving up a few minutes later and sitting on the edge of your bed. Your sleep-fogged mind finally picks up on an odd, muffled sound that seems to be coming in through the walls, like a distant tapping and thumping, and the occasional hint of a voice. You stand and make your way to the door, limping slightly. The living room is dark, and you’re about to approach table in the center when something roughly grabs you from the side, pulling you over onto the floor by your arm and making your leg crumple painfully beneath you. A startled shout almost escapes your lips, but it’s muffled by a hand pressed against your mouth.

“Dirk, shh, it’s me.” You recognize Roxy’s voice, and she lets you go after you stop struggling. Your leg feels like it’s on fire, and you do your best to straighten it out from your sitting position without gasping in pain. You blink at the darkness, and can just make out the shape of someone leaning over next to you.

“Roxy?” you whisper back, confused. “What the hell’s going on?”

“It’s actually happening,” she whispers frantically, keeping her eyes trained on the door out to the tunnels. “English and his gang are going around shooting everyone. They’re trying to get rid of us.”

You stare at her in the darkness, unable to believe what you’re hearing.

“You can’t be serious,” you whisper weakly, and a particularly loud crack from outside makes the both of you jump.

“He sent out a public notice last night,” she explains, still holding on to your arm. “I saw it because I was still up working on stuff. It said we had one last chance to join him, but I didn’t think he’d actually go and do this.” Her voice is almost shaking, and you clasp a reassuring hand over her arm, at a loss for what to say, or even think.

You realize with sudden horror who English’s first target might be.

“I have to find my Bro,” you say urgently, trying to stand up, but Roxy yanks you back down.

“Dirk, are you insane?” she hisses. “They’ll kill you!”

“I have to, Rox. They might hurt him.”

“Dirk…” she begins slowly, but you don’t want to hear it. She doesn’t try to pull you down again when you stand up, but she doesn’t let go of your arm.

“Where are Jake and Jane?” you ask, and her expression falters.

“I don’t know,” she finally says. “They left for the old mall right before this all started. I don’t know if they even made it out of the compound.”

You curse under your breath, trying hard to ignore the distant sound of someone screaming, before it’s suddenly cut off with a muffled tap.

“We need to get out of here,” you mutter, looking around the room and racking your memory for anything you can use as a weapon. You bitterly curse the fact that Jake isn’t here, picturing the ancient pair of pistols he takes everywhere, but at least Jane is with him, and your brother is far from helpless when it comes to a fight. Your first priority should be to keep yourself, and most of all Roxy, safe.

“I locked the door, but if they’re trying to get rid of everyone, they’ll be going around with a cutting torch soon,” she says, standing and walking into her bedroom. She reappears a moment later with a large rifle in her arms. Something clicks in the back of your mind.

While she adjusts the magazine beneath her gun, you return briefly to your room. Your bed is situated against the wall, and you grab the edge of the metal frame and pull it away, revealing a long, thin shape on the floor. You’ve always had a reputation for bringing back some of the more useless things from your team’s retrieval missions, but this katana was razor-sharp when you found it, and it hasn’t lost its keen edge. The hilt fits comfortably in your hand, and you return to the living room where Roxy is waiting. She gives you a look of mild disbelief, before turning to face the door.

“We should keep an eye out for Janey and Jake. And for Calli,” she says, pulling the metal latch to unlock the door. “Although I don’t think her dad would hurt her. Stay behind me though, okay?”

“Yeah,” you agree, keeping your voice low. “Let’s head for the tunnel that opens onto fifteenth. That’s probably the way they went to get to the mall. I’ll do what I can and keep an eye on our rear.”

She flashes you a grateful smile, before slowly pulling the door open, and the sound of distant, intermittent gunfire clearly reaches your ears. The sword’s hilt is smooth as you anxiously thumb the silk wrapping. It’s a useless weapon from a distance, but you’ll need it if anyone gets too close.

You crouch low behind her and make your way up the stairs, pausing as she stops to peek over the top of the last step at the tunnel beyond. She nods at you, and you follow her, doing your best to walk quietly, even though the ambient sounds of fighting should cover it up. You don’t see anyone, although the sound of quick, pounding footsteps passes by you a few times, echoing from nearby tunnels. The two of you make your way around another few corners and up a flight of metal steps, before Roxy turns another corner and you hear a loud, aggressive shout.

She stands up and mounts the rifle on her shoulder without a moment’s hesitation, and you get to your feet just in time to see a man running towards you with a pistol in his hand and a green cloth tied around his neck- the distinctive signature of English’s gang. Roxy lines up her sight and pulls the trigger, and the man’s feet immediately fly out from under him as he falls backwards onto the floor with a thump, lying motionless a second later. She brings her gun down and lets out a breath, gesturing for you to keep moving. You edge around the small pool of blood circling the man’s head and continue down the tunnel, while she peeks around the next corner.

“That was close,” she whispers. You agree softly, trying to exhale some of the nervous tremor in your hands after witnessing the sight. She leads you up another fight of stairs, then freezes in place after peeking around the corner, holding up a hand to stop you. The sound of multiple footsteps echoes down the tunnel and fades away as you wait behind her, and she motions for you to follow once it’s quiet again. You’re close to the exit point, and the distant sounds of fighting are getting progressively harder to hear. The air starts to feel colder, as you turn one final corner into a short, narrow tunnel.

Just as she’s about to open the hatch door leading to the surface, it swings open on it’s own, and she lifts the barrel of her rifle just in time to block the metal pipe that comes swinging down at her head. You quickly move next to her, about to thrust the point of your sword through the opening into whoever’s on the other side, when a familiar face stays your hand at the last moment. Jane blinks at you from around the half-open door.

“Dirk!” she exclaims, still holding the pipe in the air. “Roxy! Oh my god, I’m sorry! Are you o-” Roxy moves her gun out of the way and uses her free arm to grab Jane into a rough hug.

“Janey, holy shit, I thought you guys left already! Where’s Jake?” Roxy asks, somewhat muffled.

“I’m here,” he says breathlessly, emerging from behind Jane with both pistols in his hands. Roxy releases Jane and gives him an abbreviated, but similarly heartfelt hug.

“Are you two alright?” Jake asks after she releases him.

“Yeah, we made it out okay, thanks to Rox,” you tell him, as she releases him and glances at you with a smile. “What about you guys?”

“We’re fine, nothing much to speak of besides being absolutely scared out of our wits,” he says, gesturing at Jane. “What the bloody hell is going on in there? We were just about to leave when everyone suddenly started shooting each other.”

“It’s English, that fucking psycho,” Roxy says, stepping through the door as you follow her. “He sent out a notice last night. Something about a ‘last chance to make a choice.’”

You pull the door shut behind you, and Jake takes out the lit glow stick from his pocket, illuminating the tunnel in neon green as the four of you crowd together on the floor.

“I saw that this morning before we left,” Jane says, sitting with the metal pipe still held in her hands. “But I only skimmed it. I figured it was more of the same old propaganda. Why now?”

You miserably think back to the conversation with your brother. Roxy looks at you out of the corner of her eye, guessing at the direction your thoughts are taking.

“Hey, this isn’t because of you, Dirk. If he’d gotten the others on his side, we’d have been booted out of the compound, not shot at.”

“Roxy is right,” Jake says, putting a reassuring hand on your shoulder. “He was probably going to do this eventually, given the way he always goes on about it.”

“What are we going to do?” Jane asks, her voice small. “What about Dirk’s brother, and my dad and Roxy’s mom. And your grandma, Jake?”

Roxy’s head lowers, her eyes closed. Jake is silent at your side, and his hand slips from your shoulder.

“We can’t go in there, Jane,” he says softly.

“But we can’t just leave them,” she whispers desperately. Roxy gives her a sad look, and reaches up to rub her back.

“Janey, Dirk and I barely made it out of there in one piece.”

Jane looks like she’s close to tears. She must have been holding onto the hope that she and Jake could make it back inside, or maybe they were waiting for the fighting to die down before trying. You reach out and put a hand on her knee, and she lets go of the pipe to squeeze your fingers while she blinks back tears.

“You’re right,” she finally says, swallowing hard. “They’d never forgive us if we got ourselves killed trying to go back for them.”

Roxy nods silently, while Jake mutters a quiet, mournful ‘right-o’ under his breath. Your stomach feels like it’s twisting painfully as you picture your Bro, the way he scolded you last night, and how he wouldn’t let you leave until he asked about your leg. The wound aches, but it’s nothing compared to what your heart is doing right now.

“We should head east,” Jake says, breaking the momentary silence. “I hear there’s another compound in the next city over.”

“But that’s almost a hundred miles away,” Roxy protests. Jake shakes his head.

“I know it is, but we don’t have any choice.”

“We can’t make that distance, not at this time of year. It’s too cold at night,” you add, and Jake sighs morosely.

“Well, mate, I don’t see any other option right now, unless somebody has another idea.”

Your friends fall silent again, broken by the sound of Jane sniffling, and Roxy rubbing her back through her shirt.

“Okay. How about this- what if English is stopped by the others before he can finish his stupid coup?” she asks, keeping her hand on Jane’s shoulder as she looks up at you. “His gang doesn’t own every gun in the compound. We heard a lot of fighting on our way over here.”

You consider it before shaking your head. “It’s safer if we’re away from the base for now, just in case he does win.”

“I suppose we could check back later,” Jake adds, standing slowly with the glow stick in one hand and his pistols holstered. “Hope for the best and all that, but we really should get moving.”

Jane nods, and Roxy helps her up, then turns to help you as you stagger briefly on your leg with a wince. Jane gives you a concerned look as you crouch down to pick up the katana.

“Dirk, are you okay to walk?”

“Yeah, I’m fine,” you say, pushing down the pain and ignoring the way your injury throbs as you stand on it. They can’t afford to let you slow them down, but you know they won’t leave you if you fall behind, so you’ll just have to bear it. Jake leads the four of you quickly through the narrow tunnel, holding the green stick out in front of him, while Roxy follows and Jane lags behind her, keeping an eye on you as you try your hardest not to limp after her.

“There’s a sheltered spot by the old treatment plant,” Jake’s voice echoes back to you from the front of the line. “We can hide there and then come back tomorrow, or whenever it’s safe enough.”

“We should check back this afternoon,” Roxy says with an undertone of anxiety. “Jane’s right, our parents and whatever might still be fighting back there with the others.”

“We’ll play it by ear,” you tell her, feeling the pathway under your feet start to slope upwards. “When the fighting stops, we’ll check it out.”

“Sounds good,” Jake says, stopping to shake the glow stick as it starts to go dim. “We’ll be alright for at least a day.”

“Sorry, Janey,” you hear Roxy murmur, and you see her silhouette outlined in faint green as she reaches behind her to take Jane’s hand. “I haven’t been practicing with this thing nearly enough, and Jake’s still a crappy shot.” His head turns over his shoulder to protest, but she waves him off. “We’d probably have gotten ourselves torn apart if we tried to go back now.” Jane nods at her, and the two of them wait for you to catch up.

Torn apart.

Your feet stop moving, anchoring you against the ground. Jake continues another few yards down the tunnel, before noticing that he’s not being followed anymore, and he turns to stare curiously at the three of you behind him.

“What’s wrong?” he asks, and Jane takes a few steps towards you.


It’s a long shot. You’re fairly certain it’s not going to work, and even if it does, you’ll never see your friends again, but it’s the only chance you have to stop this now, before it gets any worse.

“I have an idea,” you tell them, and Jake turns around and walks back down the tunnel, joining Jane and Roxy in front of you.

“You do?” Jane asks hopefully, but the look on your face makes her voice falter. “What is it?”

The three of them watch you expectantly for a moment as you turn it over in your head, finalizing your decision on the spot. You sigh, before looking up at them.

“I need you guys to trust me.”

They stare at you, waiting for you to elaborate.

“Okay, mate,” Jake says slowly. “What’s this idea of yours?”

“I think I can put a stop to this, but I need to get back to my room.”

Roxy’s eyes go wide, and Jake frowns.

“Uh, Dirk, I think that’s a rather bad idea,” he says, looking at you skeptically. “It still sounds like utter hell in there.”

“We barely got out once.” Roxy’s voice is hesitant, but curious.

“I know, but it’s the only chance we have to end this now. I can’t really ask you guys to help me with this, but… I don’t think I can’t make it there on my own.”

“You still haven’t told us your plan,” Jake remarks dubiously, but he’s already unholstering his guns, with the glow stick tucked into his pocket.

“That’s ‘cause we’re not gonna like it, whatever it is,” Roxy tells him, leaning the barrel of her rifle on her shoulder. You flash them an apologetic look, and she clicks her tongue. “See? Knew it.”

“Dirk,” Jane says, with a slight warning in her voice. “Tell me you’re not thinking about doing something extremely dangerous and stupid again.”

You look around at the three of them, meeting their eyes. Jake seems resigned in a way that’s also content with the idea of following you blindly into this, and you viciously stomp down on the tiny, unwanted swell of affection that blooms at the sight. Roxy looks just as willing as he does, with a faint tapping of her finger against the trigger of her gun, and it’s not the first time you’ve seen a hint of righteous bloodlust in her eyes. Jane is eyeing you suspiciously, and is obviously the least willing to do this.

“Jane,” you begin, but she stops you.

“No, I’m coming with you.” She mimics Roxy, defiantly leaning the heavy metal pipe on her shoulder. “You’re about as useful as I am right now with that oversized kitchen knife, and you’re not leaving me behind, Mr. Strider.”

You smile at her words, even as something twists painfully in your chest. ‘I can’t tell them yet,’ you think to yourself, letting Jake take the lead again with the glow stick in one hand, and his guns in the other. They’ll try to talk you out of it if you tell them, maybe even stop you by force, but there’s no way the four of you will survive outside of the compound for long. As brutish and hostile as English always was, he still commands a rather sizable following of like-minded people, and if they tried to take charge by ambushing the guards and the leadership, you’re doubtful there’s any way he’ll be beaten at his own game.

Which is why you’re going to try something he won’t be expecting, something he could never have planned for, and with a small miracle, it’ll actually work.

Jake puts away the glow stick and pushes open the metal door slowly, letting it creak on its hinges. He pokes his head out and steps through, then gestures to the rest of you. Roxy takes the lead from him, and you keep up behind her, with Jane at your back, and Jake bringing up the rear. She takes you through the way you came, and you walk with them silently, passing the man still on his back with a spreading halo of blood. Jane makes an unpleasant sound and faces the wall as she steps past him. You make it all the way to the last stretch of tunnels before running into trouble.

Two men suddenly emerge from the end of the tunnel, both of them sporting bright green bandanas around their necks. One of them sees you and points in your direction, then lifts the black assault gun in his arms. The other does the same, and they start to approach your group. Roxy quickly gets into her firing stance, and Jake is about to do the same, when the sound of pounding feet comes from the narrow corridor on your left, and there’s suddenly a figure jumping out at you, swinging a crowbar.

Jane catches the blow with her pipe just before it lands, with a metallic clang that practically rattles your teeth from its proximity to your ear. She wrestles with the man as he tries to take it from her by force, before Jake gets behind him and savagely pistol-whips him, bringing the butt of one gun down hard against the back of his head. He kicks the dazed assailant out of the way, and Jane raises her pipe, about to beat him with it, when Roxy gets your attention with a shout.

You turn just in time to simultaneously hear and feel something ricochet off of the wall next to you, peppering your arm with bits of concrete. The two approaching figures are still walking towards you with their guns raised, and she takes aim at the figure on the left, as you quickly follow her lead and crouch down, getting ready to lunge at the one on the right. Roxy pulls the trigger and hits her target in the shoulder, causing him to reel backwards in pain. You forget the wound in your leg and run towards them with your body low to the ground. One of them tries to aim at you, but you reach him before he can pull the trigger, putting all of your weight behind the blade as it slides into his stomach. You pull out and up, slicing a long vertical line into his flesh, and he collapses to the floor with a choking gasp.

The second man is still stumbling backwards with a hand pressed to his shoulder by the time you finish with the first one, and his eyes open wide with shock as you lash out with the tip of the sword, drawing a red line across his throat that immediately bubbles and spurts with blood. You finish it with a thrust beneath his ribs, and he falls to the floor when you remove the blade. The tunnel is abruptly silent, save for the distant sound of gunfire, and you wipe your blade on the man’s clothes before turning to see the others regrouping behind you. Jane’s pipe is stained and wet at one end, and Roxy checks to make sure you’re okay when you limp back to them on your angrily protesting leg.

“Maybe we should try a different route,” she murmurs, brushing the gray concrete powder from your skin. You lick your lips absentmindedly, and grimace at the sudden taste of blood. It’s then that you notice your white T-shirt is dotted all over with red spots. Jane gives you a sympathetic look. She knows how much you liked that shirt.

“What about the waterworks?” you ask, trying not to grit your teeth from the pain radiating up the side of your body. Jake mutters unhappily.

“It’s pitch black down there,” he says, pulling out the dim glow stick from his pocket. “And unfortunately this thing has almost run its course. It’s the only one I’ve got.”

“We’re almost there,” Roxy says reassuringly, taking the lead again. The three of you follow her around another few corners, and you finally see the flight of steps leading down to your shared rooms.

Roxy pulls open the metal door, and you all follow her inside before she shuts it again, setting the latch in place to lock it.

“Alright then, chap,” Jake sighs heavily, holstering his pistols. “Let’s see this plan of yours.”

“I’ll watch the door,” Roxy says. She leans her rifle against the wall, and Jane sets her bloodied pipe next to it. You rest your sword on the table and join them, while Jake watches you impatiently. He almost reaches over to flick the switch on the wall, but you stop him with an outstretched hand.

"Hold up, I need you to look for the candle instead. Someone outside might notice if we turn on the light.”

“Sure thing, mate. I think we had it out last night.” He walks around to the other side of the table, squinting at the shelves against the wall in the low light. You leave him to it and push the door open to your darkened bedroom, as Jane tells him to check the bottom shelf. The bed is still pulled out to the middle of the room, and you push it back against the wall, before limping to your workbench.

Jake walks in soon after with the lit candle to see you rummaging around the disorganized mess of computer parts and wires. He sets the candle down on the edge of the surface, next to your half-repaired laptop.

“What are you looking for?” he asks, just before you find it, and his eyes slowly widen at the flash drive grasped between your fingers. “Mate…hold on, now,” he says, trailing off apprehensively. You quickly move past him, back into the living room.

“Roxy, I need to use your computer.”

“Why? What’s…oh god. Dirk, you can’t be serious.” Roxy stares in horror at the small device in your hand, and Jane’s face does something similar as she follows her line of sight.

Jake follows you into the living room with the candle, and you motion him into Roxy’s bedroom before entering behind him. It’s filled almost to the ceiling with computing devices, offset by the occasional cat-related decoration perched on top of electronic equipment and nailed to the walls. You find one of her computers on the desk by her bed and sit down in the chair, turning the system unit on with a push of its glowing button. Jake stands off to the side, holding the candle in his hand, while you watch the screen booting up.

“Mate,” he says again, shaking his head. “Whatever you’re planning on doing with that thing, I will tell you now that it’s a terrible idea.”

“We can’t just let everyone die,” you tell him, typing several commands into the keyboard as the computer finishes waking up. “Knowing him, your uncle planned this thing out carefully. I don’t think there’s much of a chance of him losing.”

“Perhaps not, chap,” he says softly, watching you work. “But are you quite certain you know what you’re doing?”

“I have to try.” You motion for him to leave the candle on the table, and he complies, looking at you for a long, unhappy moment, before returning to the living room and pulling the door almost shut behind him. The screen is now sitting idly, and you hold up the flash drive, taking a deep breath.

The device fits easily into the matching port on the side of the computer.

You run the command to download its contents, then sit back and count to sixty after it’s finished, watching the screen for any sign of movement. The Pesterchum icon sits at the side of the desktop, and you stare at it, counting the seconds in your head. When nothing happens, you reach for the mouse and bring the little arrow to the chat program, clicking on it twice and logging yourself in when prompted. You spend another sixty seconds staring at the blinking cursor in the text box, before touching your fingers to the keyboard.

TT: Hey.

The word sits alone at the top of the screen. You lean over briefly and check the flash drive, making sure it’s plugged in properly.

TT: Are you there?

Please be there.

You run the fingers of both hands through your hair, trying to suppress your own building anxiety. Jane and Jake’s voices are softly emanating from the other room. She sounds upset, but they’re almost whispering, and you can’t make out what she’s saying through the half-closed door.

TT: I know you’re mad at me.
TT: But,
TT: I guess there’s no easy way to explain this, so I’ll just give it a shot and hope for the best.

You breathe out slowly, feeling the keys under your fingertips.

TT: I want to make a deal with you.
TT: If you look through the security cameras right now, you’ll see why.
TT: Lots of people are dying, and it’s because of a man named English and his supporters.
TT: They’re trying to get rid of us so they can use our resources to build more EMP devices.
TT: They’ve been going on forever about fighting back, instead of letting ourselves get picked off one at a time, but it’s not worth the price.
TT: I don’t know how many of us they’ve killed. The entire base is in chaos, and we can’t do anything to stop them.
TT: Which is why I need your help.

Another minute passes, and you can hear Roxy’s voice joining the other two from the living room. You can barely make out your name in the muffled exchange, and you’d like to think that she’s defending you, but it’s hard to tell.

TT: Offering to kill myself probably won’t be enough this time around.
TT: I get that.
TT: Instead, I’ll make you a promise.
TT: If you help me end this fight, I’ll give you what you want.
TT: I’ll let you kill me.

The orange words stare back at you from the screen. There’s a chance the program he added to the drive won’t install more than once, or maybe it just takes a while for it to work, or he’s uninterested to the point of ignoring you entirely, but you have to keep trying.

TT: When it’s over, I promise I’ll go with you willingly.
TT: No running, no struggling, no trying to get away.
TT: You can’t pretend you don’t want that.
TT: And yeah, it’s true you might just lie and kill me on sight, but I’m really out of options at this point.
TT: I’ll let you into the compound. You can kill as many of English’s men as you want, but I need you to get rid of him.
TT: Without hurting the others.
TT: That part is really important.
TT: Not that I could stop you or anything.

Your fingers pause on the keys as you remember how helpless he makes you feel, every single time you’ve been close to him. You’ve seen what his mechanical limbs do to solid concrete, and you shudder at the memory of them brushing against the back of your neck and coiling around your arms and legs. You stare down at your hands.

TT: I don’t even know if you were going to keep that first promise you made, back when we met.
TT: You could have killed my friends after watching me die, and I wouldn’t have been around anymore to find out.
TT: Although I’d like to think that you were sincere.
TT: Like you were that second time. In the subway station.
TT: Would it piss you off again if I said I felt bad about that?
TT: The only reason I got away was because you were trying to be gentle with me.
TT: Maybe you were only doing it to drag things out and fuck with me, but it’s more than English’s men would have done.
TT: We’re all probably the same to you.
TT: But I would do anything for my friends.
TT: I’d die for them.
TT: You’ve never believed me before, but let me prove it to you this time.
TT: I’ll prove you wrong, AR.

You sit back against the chair and rest your head, letting your eyes focus on the candle’s wavering flame as you listen to their voices in the other room. Jane sounds like she’s on the verge of coming in and stopping you, but you’ve already done everything you can, and all that's left is to wait and hope that your life is still enough of a bargaining chip to keep his interest. If he thinks you’ll try to run when it’s over, he’s wrong. You won’t tell your friends until the last minute what you’ve offered in place of everyone’s lives, but you’ll take any chance you have to save them, no matter how small or remote, even if it means you won’t be with them in the end.

You’re about to stand up, getting ready to pacify Jane if she enters the room, when a flicker on the screen finally gives you an answer.

TT: You may try.

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