I stand atop one of Exia’s tallest buildings, hand in hand with my partner in crime, Gilbert.
As we brace ourselves to commit the crime of a lifetime, our cloaks fly in the wind.
“I want to be with you,” I whisper, as I give his palm a squeeze. The city’s lights bounce off his shoulders. It’s beautiful. He’s beautiful, I think, just like I had when I first saw him transform into a weapon of mass destruction, two years back.
“I’ve—” Gilbert pauses. He purses his lips together, then averts his gaze. He looks like he’s about to start crying, and even though I’m very much aware that’s impossible, it still gets to me. “I’ve, also… had thoughts of being together. Alone.”
“Yeah?” I rest my forehead against his.
Everything is perfect.
I’m finally happy. “Why don’t you tell me about it, then?” I lean in. “We’ve got all night.”
I grab his collar, then tug him close.
Until he’s breathing down my neck, and I’m running my hand up his chest. “I want to feel you.” I thread my fingers through his hair. “Before the mission,” I say.
“I don’t want to die, Gilbert”—my throat tightens, my shoulders tense—“not until I’ve known what it’s like to be with you first. Please,” I part my lips. My eyes are lidded. “Please—”
Gilbert wraps his arm around my waist.
My heart skips a beat. “Very well,” he whispers, as he slides his knee between my thighs. “I, too, feel the same way, Ian.”
This is it, I think.
There’s no going back now.
Gilbert’s on the verge of kissing me and calling me his. I take a deep breath, but—okay, scratch that, let’s slow down for a minute: you might be wondering how I got here in the first place, especially after considering the fact that I absolutely despise Androids, so, let me hit rewind for you, and we’ll get back to that kiss in a few… moments, I guess.
It’s midnight. Two years ago. I’m lonely, drunk, and alone—the worst kind of combination.
The streetlights flicker. They remind me of a pattern; my father’s dying breaths.
A gang walks by. They’ve got crowbars and guns lodged between their rugged fists. Neon signs blink, then flare into pinks that soften into marble blues. I stop.
But they don’t spare me another glance.
Good. They should know I don’t have any Android parts on me, or anything else in my pockets that could be traded off for food.
It’s not worth the risk.
A multitude of rooftops from the apartments up ahead are destroyed. With most of their last floors now razed and crumbling to pieces, it makes it easier for me to spot Exia from afar. The city without hope.
If it weren't for its spotlights, which fire off a dozen bright, vibrant coral, cerulean and ivory colors up into the clouded sky, the world would be black.
I hate this, I think, as I observe artificial circles that rise, then fall in the air. It's like being outside of a party, knowing that everyone’s having a good time, yet having no other choice but to walk away. Because I'm never getting back in.
Not after my exile.
The faint sound of music being blasted from inside Exia’s walls catches my attention.
I look up. It is a mistake. For my eyes meet with the face of an Exian guard, that had been lying in wait nearby.
Now I understand why this place is deserted.
I switch sidewalks. I run across cracked concrete that’s stuffed with weeds, and tiny nameless insects.
A cough escapes me. I shake the insects off and step past needles, other crushed objects, that are long past the point of being recognizable.
The Exian guard chases my shadow. I squint in an attempt to see clearer, but the roads are distorted. I can’t hear a sound. It’s like I’m underwater, or behind glass.
I barely have time to register what’s going on before the Guard catches shoves me to the side, into a brick wall.
“Leave me alone!” I shout. My voice is dry. “I’ve done nothing wrong!”
The Android freezes. His head snaps my way. He stares me down. The dark, coal-like shine of its coated metal reflects deep blues from a nearby stoplight. Its featureless face is covered in red symbols that shift into many different shapes.
He reaches out to grab my shirt, then throws me against the wall again. The brick is cool to the touch. It hurts. My whole body aches. I hate this world. I hate—
I duck to avoid his next blow. I climb onto his back with the intention of plunging a blade into his spine to disable his system.
But the alcohol in my blood is messing with my senses, and what’s usually an easy feat for me turns into a struggle, as the Exian guard sends me toppling onto the ground.
For a moment, the night is quiet.
A pulse beats beneath my bruised knuckles.
My shoulder throbs to the tune of my heartbeats—it would suck if it were broken. Bones are a difficult thing to fix, especially in this part of town.
The wind rises. The breeze grows hot in a way that isn’t pleasant, but intoxicating.
With heavy legs and an uneven stride, I rise to my feet. I step into the thinning scape of dawn—an attempt to get away. To escape.
The Exian Guard towers over my figure. Even if, deep down, I know it won’t be of much use: I try to shield my face by bringing my arms up into a cross before my features.
Glass shatters behind me.
I wince. I turn around. And blink.
The world disappears. And so does the Guard.
A masked man has lifted me off the ground. He carries me with the strength of two soldiers, away from my enemy.
Flashes of light that emanate from utility poles above my figure blind my eyes. I grasp at my savior’s coat, then lean in further into his chest. I don’t know what he wants, but for now, it seems like he’s friendly.
As the sun rises behind our backs, I notice more guards come out of the shadows—old alleyways filled with nothing but nightmares. They are all radiant metal, missing flesh.
“Hey,” I mutter, in hopes that the masked man, who is still dashing across this empty street, will hear me. “This is risky. We should split up.”
Not to mention being carried bridal style is kind of humiliating.
He puts me down. “Meet me two streets away from here,” he says.
I nod. “Got it.”
I take off in the opposite direction and curse under my breath.
Soon, my sneakers are covered in dirt as I huff, and try to pick out a place where I could heave myself up onto some rooftop, to lose those bloodthirsty tinmen.
The buildings in this area are too high though. And I still need to retrieve my mask, and my belongings, from where I left them at Fletcher’s garage.
My heart races. It thumps rhythms into my ears.
If the guards had been human, I could have escaped easily, however they are faster than men will ever be—and I know: If I make one wrong move, it’s all over.
There’s a crash in the distance.
I take another turn to the right.
The guards shout from two streets down. Orders for me to come back. Promises about doing us no harm.
I scoff. I don’t stop. I’m not stupid.
Neither of us are.
An elderly man is sleeping on a cardboard box two streets down. A pair of children watch me from behind broken windows.
I pick up my pace.
When I finally stop before my savior, who apparently arrived long before me, I smile. The Guards have yet to find us, it seems they’ve gone the other way, and now, I’m curious to know what my mystery man looks like.
“Hey,” I echo, as I lower my voice and step toward him—whoever this guy is, he’s ripped, and his shoulders are quite broad. I’d be lying if I’d say it didn’t appeal to me in this slightest. “Why’d you save me, stranger?” I chuckle, then reach out to untie his mask. “Am I your type?” Fuck alcohol, seriously, it always makes me say the most inappropriate shit. “Cause you’re definitely my—”
His mask slips away from his face.
I immediately recoil and take a step back.
My eyes widen. I want to scream at the world and ask it, “Why?”
“No.” My shoulders tense. I shake my head.
Out of all days, why now? “No, please, this shouldn’t be— You shouldn’t be—”
His hand latches onto my wrist—it is chilled, like smooth metal.
I fall silent. My gut churns. His face is hidden again by shadows cast from dumpsters all around us, but I know.
I know what you are.
“You aren’t human.”
“That is correct, Sir.” The Android shows me a curt nod. “Now, if you would please, follow me: I have a favor to ask of you.”