Once and Future Friend

The dripping rain feels like it is tearing at me as I dash along the barren rooftops. My alarm kicks in constantly when I hear Tilton's pattering footsteps just paces behind me. I'm so frightened of captivity that my reflexes flare at even my own partner's footsteps. I still never look back, knowing any slip up could mean my incarceration, or much worse. The PermaFrost bots chasing us have no flaws, so we must make the most of our whisker of advantage. Tilton rushes right alongside me now, hands clenching his gun like a lifeline. What I respect about him is that he always has my back, and he never loses his calm. This trait I lack is replaced with a maniacal devotion that keeps me together in these times of turmoil. I'm scared out of my wits, but I could rely on Tilton's ease that hides just beneath his steely glare.

The thought of a maze comes to mind as we jump from rooftop to rooftop. It feels like there is no foreseeable end to the relentless pursuit and winding diversity of neon buildings. This strikes my heart with vicious realization. This is what happens to the rebels of Chrysalis City, I think impulsively. The ones that deal a blow to the heart of darkness only are met with more darkness. With more dead ends. Eternal fear and running. And finally, inevitable failure.

I almost miss the ledge of a building as these thoughts surface in my mind. My hands shuffle and search for It's embarrassing that my insecure thoughts almost led to my untimely demise. My death would have been by the hands of my clumsy actions and not by authorities. Refocusing my cluttered head, I regain my footing and shift my perspective back to escape. Tilton paces just a few steps ahead of me now and I exert all the energy I can to catch up from my misstep.

"Almost there," I hear Tilton grunt under heavy breaths.

I try to usher a quick response, but instead I nod my head, too exhausted to speak. Tilton never had a plan for escape, but I trusted him with my life. Even in moments that deviate from any plans, he still has the best instincts of anyone I know. As I dash beside Tilton, I rustle through my ragged pack, hands finding rough steel. I don't exactly know what I grab, but I know the only resources I brought on the mission were weapons. It was an explosive apparatus of some sort. For the first time since we started running, I look back to the faces of the PermaFrost bots following our trail. Into their cold and heartless eyes.

"You fuckers are going to get it," I say defiantly before tossing the device straight towards the cluster of robots.

There is a loud explosion that rings my ears, flames licking just in front of my face. Through my convulsing body combined in adrenaline and fear, I produce another bomb from my pack. I ready the second weapon at the remaining automatons, looking them dead in the eyes once again. Lobbing the explosive with all the force my aching arms can muster. In the instant I throw, there is a piercing gunshot just measures away. The second explosion rings, but its not how I expected it.

The noise rages in my ears once again, but the fires reach my body this time. I yelp, collapsing to the ground in blossoming pain. I roll to the side, desperately attempting to quench the scorching fire that started on my legs. Even after I barely curb the burn, the pain that lingers ruptures every boundary I formerly had. I reach a shaky hand into the sky, rasping with as much power as I can.


Red. Through my double vision, I see red. I feel an alarmingly liquid texture lift my torso upwards. I focus my waning eyes, looking at an ungodly sight. It was Tilton, or at least a fragment of him. Two "eyes" stick lifelessly to a horror of synthetic veins and flowing "blood" encased in an opaque substance. There is a nose that attaches to a divot in Tilton's face and his short hair looks like grass on a mat of plastic. These are the only characteristics that show skin, the rest is gone. I want it to be dreaming, but the pain grounds me to my body and reality. It is clearly all real.

"Vermin," I hear the monstrosity say with crystal clear conviction. Its voice is strained horrifyingly between electronic autotune and amorphous human. "Vermin like you don't belong on the face of this fine Earth."

It continues, droning unspeakable words I never thought my best friend would say. "You are the plague that threatens this beautiful city, this beautiful world," Its chilling voice spits. "Your very nature is to disrupt us, to kill us. We are eternal, you must realize. Humans are infertile of greatness. Your extermination is not necessary, yet we will abide by this if we must."

I could see the gun clenched in its twisted hand and I bristle in rage. The shot that rang out... the bomb going off. My partner's own hand. The monster tosses me to the side like a sack of rice, clearly unconvinced my charred legs could flee the scene. It rips the rest of its artificial appearance from its body, forsaking anything I once knew about Tilton. I see the same face I had been fleeing from. I couldn't help but remember that I was right about my thoughts on Chrysalis rebels.

"Y-you traitor," I bluster, at a lack of words for what I was experiencing.

The bot that was once Tilton walks towards me steadfast. A pack of multiple other bots approach, enclosing me on all sides of the roof. Like a pack of sick dogs hunting their prey, they inch closer and closer, waiting to strike. They look like they enjoy the tension even if they are certain of the ending. "Tilton" speaks for the last time, a delayed reaction to my retort, his voice succumbing to the autotune I despise with my entire soul.

"I'm not a traitor. I was never on your side."

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