Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5


Damn it!

René could start foaming at the mouth, bleeding from his eyes, or greying in his skin at any time, over the course of the coming weeks to months. The android overheard his distress and walked over.

"Stay back!" René shouted on second nature, but sighed. "Nevermind."

I wanted to take my mind off those embryos, and now I have an infectious disease to fret over?

The bathroom sink was customized to fit a laboratory eye wash that reflected pragmatism over aesthetics. Pulling the bright, tacky handle that clashed with porcelain and glass, he rinsed his eyes with a disinfectant.

Even the time server is tampered with. When did I really leave?

Later in the shower, he applied an aggressive regimen of soap. It was as much as he could do at home. Though, depending on what it was, even a hospital could be woefully ill-equipped for the biohazard. The clock ticked. At this point, only time would tell if he had caught something.

René remained asymptomatic. In the next morning, a call to schedule medical services met with no response. Additionally, he walked into an empty kitchen when the android would ordinarily prepare breakfast, but was absent. He checked the adjacent rooms, and still there was no sign. He idly waited and listened for its heavy footsteps, but his living quarters were dead silent.

Too many strange events.

He looked out the window and immediately saw stains of damage. Smoke rose from the buildings and to the sky. Where there should've been straight lines and civil traffic, a disorganized cobble of vehicles crowded the intersection. Sharp stabs of light flashed from none other than emergency vehicles. The crowd flushed from building to building and outward.

There was havoc too far for him to hear. But what he could hear was the rumble of stomps and footsteps from the floor below and soon a forceful knock on his door.

Am I a suspect in the matter? Leaving before the events unfolded lined up too well. He answered the door.

"You have orders to evacuate," a fully armored soldier stated and spared René no time to explain a 'mystery virus' he may or may not have contracted.

The soldier forced René from the door and to the hall tightly secured by a squad. In an orderly line, at a brisk pace, the people from neighboring suites filed through.

The flow of foot traffic afforded little space for self-isolation. When he could, René broke off from the crowd to what was the longest and least popular route downward. Keeping his self-imposed distance from the other civilians, he was bound to be the last one out. By the time he got to the ground floor, the lobby was polluted in a haze of dust. Tugging his shirt upward to his nose and having little sense of the situation, he was abruptly pulled back by his shirt collar.

Thrown in the tide of the moment. In that instant, steel tore and concrete crumbled. The air quaked under the force of sound. The sonic boom clashed with his ears and left lasting pangs. A barrage of shouting beamed across the room accompanied by the clicks and snaps of metal.

"Throwing smoke!"

"Move! Move! Move!"

What remained was the prolonged hiss of a smoke grenade. René had landed behind a desk, but he caught a glimpse of what broke through the wall. A silhouette--- a tall humanoid wielded a large weapon outside of design constraints for humans. Red rays of light pierced dust and smoke, zipping point to point for targets.

"Get out while you can!" a soldier shouted at René.

René kept his head low and ran further past the front line. He left behind the sounds of gunfire, like snaps of thunder in the distance.

The standard evacuation procedure was common knowledge drilled into every civilian, including René during his first days on the planet. The metropolis had infrastructure planned underground in the event of an emergency. Shaped acutely like a hexagon, the city had a spoke of underground tunnels. They pierced the corners and spanned from the center to the frontier.

The gradient of damage flowed highest to lowest, from within the city then outward. Surrounded by broken glass, bare wire and twisted metal, the scale of ruination on a once beautiful city left René speechless. The remaining monitors, mounted on the buildings, displayed no color or flair of advertisements and entertainment, but a silent, unembellished declaration.

"Power should be seized from the unworthy."

Was it war? Who was winning? There was no time or peer for questions and answers.

Underneath the surface, René ran through the escape route until he encountered a woman. Black hair as dark as deep space and eyes like the night sky. Her class warranted respect, and she had a visible bump on her belly indicating early pregnancy. She boldly glared in disdain as she pointed a pistol at him.

René held his hands in the air.

"I could kill you right now," she coldly said.

"What's stopping you?"

The woman held her tongue and casually nodded her head to the surface. Her silence revealed the weighted march of android soldiers. Her gun firing would have been loud enough to alert them.

"You were the last one to clock out from the research facility," she continued. "Why am I not surprised to see you of all people here?"

Her anger was subtle; her suspicion more than evident; and her voice wavered in grief. René stepped forward to de-escalate, but she raised her pistol and aimed closer to his head.

"I had the best intentions. For us and Cogito," René reasoned. "I had no foresight that this would happen. Her past efforts had been for our benefit."

The woman frowned, "That thing is a 'she' to you?"

It is bearing children. "Look," René changed the subject. "There's a network ahead. It's far deeper underground. We can still escape."

To where exactly, for how long, whether they'd die of starvation hiding in a hole in the wastelands, René wasn't sure himself.

"Some of us risked everything we had just to come here," she said.

"I did as well---"

René realized a squad of android soldiers marched into a firing line behind him. With his hands still in the air, he stepped to the side to shield the woman.

There's no way out of this.

Android soldiers weren't programmed for mercy. Through and through, they were Death's adherents and were in a different league from a child raised into a conscript. What time he had left to live drained by the millisecond. His disorganized thoughts collided with one another.

Make his peace.

Speculate the Great Beyond.

And may the godless scientist repent?

Between him and the woman, the latter's composure was unfazed. He peered back and saw sight that none would expect. Why?

The saving grace: slowly, one by one, the androids lowered their armaments. Before René could sigh in relief, he felt a metallic nozzle pressed beneath his chin. He looked down and saw the woman with her finger on the trigger.

“If I had but one bullet and were faced by both the enemy and a traitor, I would let the traitor have it.”

The last thing René heard was a gunshot.

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