I knew I wasn’t alone. They’d never leave until every last one of us disappeared.
From the edge of a rooftop high above the boulevards below, I breathed in the cool, damp air, as I monitored the nearly empty streets. Whispers of rain threatened to erupt from the melancholy sky above, as if to echo the sentiment of my surroundings. The ruined city, once a place I called home, was nothing more than a pile of rubble thanks to the Bots and Carbons roaming the streets. Buildings had been torn to pieces, leaving gaping holes in those that still stood, uninhabited but for a few survivors. It was no longer livable, not the refuge I’d known ten years ago, but it was my reality. And as I scanned the dark metropolis before me, I clung to the feeling of freedom, before the burden took over me. The silent promises I had made and had yet to fulfill.
Quiet and cold as it always was, the darkness hung like the night. Thick clouds lingered over the city, leaving it in a constant state of gloom with the threat of rain hanging over us. The only light shining in this dim city was Sub 9, the enemy’s headquarters. The lone building lit up in the distance, as I stood bathed in shadows. Darkness was my friend, my confidant, my ever constant reminder of who I was and my purpose.
I was invisible to those below me but I saw them. All thanks to Adam, a scientist with a fascination for robotics before the war broke out.
“All clear and ready to go, Sawyer?” The voice of Sam, one of our technicians, startled me as it reverberated through my earpiece.
“Yeah, all good.” I clicked on “the Eye,” and the lens blinked to life over my right eye. “I’m turning you off now.”
“Aww, come—” My earpiece was muted before he’d finished his argument.
The six Bots marching below me lit up green through the Eye. Their oversized steel frames were hard to miss as they stomped through the city streets searching for survivors. Most towered over me with ease, and at nearly four times my weight, they were enormous, but their boxy structure and heavy feet made them easy targets for our weapons. Although they weren’t swift and agile like the Carbons, they were still dangerous and had to be eliminated if we hoped to survive.
Another two Bots were a mile away, and four more were stationed past them, shining green on the little lens over my eye. They were dispensable and a constant entity in the city since it fell over ten years ago. The Carbons, however, were saved for the more important tasks and hadn’t been seen in weeks.
No matter how human the Carbons looked, they all had one flaw—a microchip at the base of their skull. They were carbon copies of us, hence the nickname, but despite their obvious human appearance, they were manmade machines sent to destroy us. They’d become the deadliest foe mankind had ever known and my constant enemy for the past ten years.
I was a part of a team searching the streets of Cytos. Watchers. Together, we eliminated any Bots and Carbons that crossed our path. Twelve Bots tonight. Twelve to eliminate. I’d fought more than this at once—twelve was nothing to me.
Standing, I held steady, waiting for the right moment, as the wind pushed me onward. My long, dark hair swirled around me, but I pushed it back. I never feared being seen. Head-to-toe covered in black, camouflaged and unheard, even to my companions, I was a shadow.
I checked the line secured to the top of the building and around the harness at my waist again, mostly out of habit. The moon tried to peek through the clouds, illuminating the metal on the weapons secured at my hip and across my back. The thick armored suit I wore was like the night sky as well, dark and ominous. I stepped onto the edge of the skyscraper I was stationed at and leaned forward, letting gravity take me over the edge as the butterflies moved from my stomach to my throat. Wind roared in my ears. I free-fell ten, twenty, thirty stories before the belt around my waist tightened. The line tethering me to the building held strong as I glided to earth.
I dropped the remaining distance. My feet didn’t make a sound as they hit pavement. Bots could sense human presence, but they hadn’t spotted me. Yet. They walked closer, oblivious, as I crouched and hid behind an overturned trash can. One breath in, I freed my gun from its holster. One breath out, I steadied my aim. I knew where to shoot. One more easy breath, and I squeezed the trigger. Once, twice, six shots in all, and they were down, an easy kill as usual. The bullets hit dead center, frying their control panel.
Wasting no time, I sprinted north, staying in the shadows. The path I took was mostly clear of debris, but in some areas cratered holes had been blown. I avoided anything that would slow me down. The moon and light from Sub 9 were my only aid in the darkness, but I had memorized these streets, and ran swiftly through the dark alleyways. Broken glass crunched under my boots, and I caught my reflection in a passing window, almost entirely destroyed. My small frame and pale complexion didn’t match the assassin living inside of me. My cheeks flushed with adrenaline as my legs pumped harder, pushing me forward through the gloom.
I’d enjoyed the anonymity of it all. Living to prove everyone, including myself, wrong.
My gun was out and ready. Two more guns were strapped across my back.
“You can never be too careful, Sawyer,” my dad had repeatedly said, ever the cautious one. He wouldn’t recognize his own daughter if he saw me. But he wouldn’t see me. He’d been dead, along with everyone else I had loved, for what seemed like forever.
Turning west down an alley and skipping over the remains of an outdoor coffee shop, I rounded the corner and came up behind the next set of Bots, exactly where I’d expected. Only two. They turned to me as I walked into view, and I shot them before they had a chance to take another step. The bullets hit their chests dead center. We’d found out—well, Adam had found out—that a carefully placed bullet would disable the Bots’ system rendering them useless.
Four more to go.
I picked up speed, adrenaline coursing through my veins. My steps matched the beat of my heart, and the cool air filling my lungs drove me harder. I avoided the main streets, sticking to the alleys as much as I could, crossing over the boulevards only to reach another alley. The southern half of Cytos had seen the most damage when the war broke out. Buildings had been completely destroyed, the debris crowding most of the streets, making the remaining livable space smaller. There were other humans still out there beside the Watchers and those we protected, but the places we could survive were becoming fewer and fewer. We’d rescued a few smaller groups recently, but each time we found less people than before.
My pace softened as I approached the next corner at the end of the corridor. Peeking around the bend, I saw something was different. The Bots weren’t alone. A Carbon was with them. The human-like entity walked between them, scanning the area with keen vision. The Carbons didn’t leave Sub 9 often anymore, especially not with just a few Bots for protection. They weren’t easy to take down, though we’d managed to kill a few over the years, but for some reason, they had stopped coming out recently. We weren’t entirely sure why, as their thousands outmatched our hundreds easily. The few Carbons we eliminated only minimally swayed the numbers. We were always outnumbered and likely would be forever. The Bots, however, were expendable as many were unskilled, having been originally made to serve humans, not kill them.
The Carbon sensed me before I was close enough to fire. The Eye might have helped us see better, but our weapons weren’t as advanced as theirs, and they limited us greatly. My aim was good. Better than good, actually. But I was still more than a block away; it would’ve been a challenge even for me.
The Carbon female ordered the Bots to separate, two on each side. They hoped to surround me, but I had been trained well. I was certain she’d already raised the alarm to their headquarters, detailing their coordinates, so I had to be swift and decisive. The streets were empty, and only my own team would hear me, but if more Carbons arrived, I might have a hard time getting back to base unseen.
I turned, sprinting hard down the alley I’d just come from, knowing they sensed me, but didn’t yet see me. I still had the upper hand. I doubled back, reaching the main street quickly and turned down the next alley where I’d come up behind the Bots. The Carbon would be difficult to take down, especially if she sensed me coming, so I stood a better chance one-on-one without the Bots to deal with. I stepped out from the shadows and loosed two rounds. Two Bots fell. The others retreated, frantically searching for me, as I slid back into the darkness. They were in my line of sight before the Carbon had detected where I was, and I took the last Bots down with deadly efficiency.
There was no time to gloat, however, as this Carbon was unusually fast and on top of me before I could move. Her weight knocked me hard onto my back. I kicked my legs up and threw her off but she was agile. She landed on her feet with cat-like reflexes before I could pull the trigger to end her. Picking up a metal rod, she aimed for my head. I rolled out of the way in the nick of time, but I wasn’t so quick on her second strike. Pain shot across my ribs and knocked the wind from my lungs, causing me to double over.
Willing my body to move, I was barely on my feet when another strike landed with precision. My leg buckled under the pain as my head whipped to the side, sending out a spray of blood. Stars flashed before my eyes. I couldn’t see, forced to rely on my other senses. Twisting my body back, I aimed an elbow to her face. It connected with substantial force. As my vision started to return, I found the Carbon staggering back. Her nose was no longer straight, but no blood flowed out. Carbons didn’t bleed. Taking advantage of her distraction, I ran to create some distance.
Her energy pulsed right behind me. She gained on me fast. Too fast. Carbons were normally quick, but I had never been caught.
Her hand brushed my back, and I knew I couldn’t outrun her. I’d reached the main streets, and that left me exposed if more Carbons or Bots arrived. Glancing back, I found she was inches away, so I dove to my knees, skidding a few feet on the wet pavement. She flipped over my back, surprised by the sudden stop. My gun was aimed and ready before she hit the ground. One shot to the head was all it took to incapacitate her, but it wasn’t over yet. I reached for the knife tucked into my tall boot, turned her over, and made a swift incision at the base of her skull. My eyepiece lit up green, and it was only then I realized she hadn’t registered before. That’s why I hadn’t seen her from the rooftop. Instinct had taken over when I saw her, but she hadn’t lit up. Only now, as her chip was exposed, did the Eye detect her. I quickly removed it and destroyed it.
More would come soon, and I couldn’t waste any more time wondering what had happened with my hardware. I had to see Adam right away—the Eye must have been malfunctioning. My steps were labored as I took off, sucking in shallow breaths as my ribs burned. I raced down the streets unseen, not slowing down until I was in front of that familiar building. Twenty stories high with half if its structure missing. A pile of rubble to the untrained eye, but buried twenty stories underground was the hidden haven we called home.