I wait for the inevitable BOOM.
The ensuing smoke and flames.
But it doesn’t come.
As soon as it hits the ground the guards desperately scatter, they scramble and yell so frantically I can’t understand them. From the metal ball erupts a bright green light; it ripples from the ground and expands upwards and outwards as if I’d thrown a rock in the middle of a lake. It looks and activates the same as a typical Legion grenade, however like with much of their superior high-tech weaponry, I’d failed to predict its true function.
My limbic system takes over and my body moves without my command. When the radiating bar expands wide enough to get to me I immediately drop to my knees and limbo underneath it. I watch the ring pass over my shins, then my pelvis, my chest, shoulders, nose and eyebrows; I arch back just in time for it to miss my forehead by mere millimetres. The light is sweltering, in the split second it passes over me I feel as if it burned my skin. As my hair falls back it slices a few baby pieces off the top, barely missing the crown of my head.
It clears me and I shove my palms into the asphalt beside my neck, bend my knees to my chest and kick up to my feet, ready to take on the attack from the survivors. But that’s the problem; there aren’t any.
The guards collapse in a mass of steam and burning metal, the smell of sizzling synthetic flesh fills my nostrils and my nausea returns. Most of them were cut clean through the torso, skeletal frames shudder and fold in on themselves as their legs give way. They hit the ground in pieces, sparks jumping off the exposed wires. My favorite ones are those who tried to block the ray with their arms, now they lie in shock with their dismembered limbs. There are at least three whole decapitations, this one’s head is completely missing while that one is still barely connected to a broken steel beam. The best part is most of the cuts are clean; the pieces lie neatly on the asphalt, almost good enough to be reconnected to the host...
Laughter builds and bubbles up uncontrollably in my stomach as they continue to deteriorate. “Ohoho...ha HAHAHA THAT’S SO FUCKING COOL!” I yell and it echoes through the empty streets. With the reverberations of my own voice comes a low rumbling and I stop in confusion. Pebbles skitter across the hard ground, car alarms suddenly screech from all corners of the city, and the sky opens up to rain white dust all over everything. My laughter catches in my throat as I look around in absolute horror. “Oh no,” I say, and my blood runs ice cold.
The beam didn’t just cut through the guards. It cleaved the entire city in half.
The roar of the splintering forest of metal and concrete deafens me. The earth cracks and groans, glass shatters and sprinkles the air with light as the pieces refract and fall. The buildings come down one after another, sending waves of material into my path. Like dominoes the metal giants lurch as gravity pulls them right on top of me. To make matters worse my old friends have already reassembled, slowly pulling themselves back together to resume their assault. I’m suddenly illuminated by dozens of glowing eyes as they come back online.
I just start running as fast as I can, narrowly missing a giant pipe that slams straight through the ground, punching a hole through the asphalt. An old red Honda Accord is demolished as a slab of concrete pounds it into the sidewalk, glass shards spray out like rain and I run right through it. It cuts my face to shreds and the blood stings as it mixes with the sweat dripping down my cheeks. One large building begins its descent a couple feet in front of me and I know I’m not going to make it, but I close my eyes and keep pressing forwards, my chest ready to explode from the exertion.
Behind me another smacks into the ground and a wave of force bursts from the impact, it pushes through my back and I use the momentum to ricochet into the air. I grab the edge of a landing and swing my body up as high as I can, the hot breeze created by the movement whooshes through my ears and dries the blood on my cheekbones. I land on top of the skyscraper and run as fast as I can across its side stepping delicately over its shredded frame. I slide off the edge, drop to the ground and roll, only to duck underneath a crashing light pole. I’m still in the lead but the city is catching up.
I’ve cleared the largest buildings but the rest still tower above me, slowly collapsing into themselves. The Legion soldiers no longer matter to me anymore, I’m too blinded by the cascade of debris to try and deal with them. I place my bets on the slim possibility that they’ll be too crushed to rebuild and come after me.
I turn a corner and come to a great open space that used to be a park. Its now taken over by upended vehicles, dead trees and tiny floating pieces of metal shards. I slam to a halt and drop to my hands and knees, trying to catch my breath. My ribs ache, I clasp my right arm over my upper abdomen as if trying to hold it together, but the pressure just makes it hurt more. Every time I inhale it feels like somebody is trying to rip the bones from my rib cage. My breath is raspy and my throat is so dry, I must have inhaled at least a gallon of dust and powder while running through the industrial snow.
The clearing is wide enough that it’s fairly well protected from the falling buildings, far away from the glass titans in the center of the city that are still making their slow decent. It gives me just a few seconds to collect myself and plan my next move.
In the center of the park is a man-made stream, the water black and tar-like gathering underneath a small red bridge. A gray pick up truck is parked there, one wheel over the side of the channel, its door open and inviting. I come to my feet and walk up to it, trying to remember the procedure for hot wiring as I go, but right when I get there a massive shadow devours the space in between.
A great beam of light shoots in front of my path, I block my face and duck. It cracks into the truck with a loud BANG and it explodes into flames, the top completely blown off. I turn around to see a silver stingray airship hover directly above me, its cannons centered on my chest.
“Are you fucking kidding me,” I say, facing it head on. See, this is the problem with having robots for guards. They are programmed to be purely mission focused, with no regard for their comrades. If it were me and my men, I would have taken my airship to rescue our brothers and sisters trapped in the city. But here as the sky falls and the ground rises up to swallow us, I have to fight off these bastards at the same damn time.
I stare down the airship as the city crumbles around me. It’s huge, it has sleek alloy skin painted with white stripes that dip down to its tail. It’s wings carry two massive laser cannons with beams that converge at the nose, ready to shoot me down. They’re preparing it’s largest possible attack, taking the time to gather energy to do so. Okay, I think. Really not sure about getting out of this one.
The yellow light is blinding, but I don’t cover my eyes. It grows brighter and brighter, a high pitched noise whirs as it continues to charge. I start counting the seconds, trying to get my heart rate under control. Thirty seconds, that’s how long it takes to charge that beam. Thirty seconds to figure out how to run away.
I focus on the ground beneath the ship, if I hurry I can slide underneath it and hide from the blast behind its tail. I take two steps forward before my world explodes in lightning, I gasp and fall back to my knees, unable to move.
“Where do you think you’re going,” a mechanical voice slithers into my right ear. I look to the side and see the commander, his skin shredded to show the complicated mess underneath. Oh shit, I think. He must have escaped when I detonated that grenade, anyone could predict that I would use the park as a hiding place. Besides with him being a commander and all, he’s a more advanced model, he can run three times as fast. He must have been waiting for me to get here.
He puts one hand on the back of my neck, the other holds the same black baton I was using moments before, jammed in between my vertebra. I can’t even speak, my veins turn blue with electricity as they climb through my face to my forehead. They trace my arms to my fingertips, etching rivers of current into the crevices of my skin.
“Ge-get off o-of m-m-e you b-bastard--” It takes everything I have to force out the syllables.
“No, not this time,” he says, and he gets down to my level, leans his chin over my shoulder and puts his lips closer to my ear. I shudder internally in disgust. “Your reign of terror ends here.”
“I know I said I’d take you alive. But see, orders change.”
“Oh don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt that bad,” he says. “Besides you’re the lucky one, Titan will just upload me to a new body, and I have to come back to this shithole to do this all again. You get to leave all this behind. Isn’t that exciting?”
“Fuck you,” I say, somehow mustering the strength to get it all out in one piece. My skin is crawling, it feels like a million insects are traveling through the layers.
He grabs my scalp and holds my head back once more, forcing me to stare into the blinding white light. Once again I’m completely helpless, paralysis seems to be the theme today. “Look at that,” he says. “Isn’t it pretty? Why don’t you relax, take it all in. It’ll all be over soon.”
I resume the timer in my head, now down from thirty to ten. It’s okay, I tell the billion voices screaming through my mind, threatening to throw me into a total mental breakdown. We’ll figure something out.
I try to force my elbow to move, but it doesn’t respond. It’s not like before when I had some sense of control, I’m completely locked up.
I glance to the side. Even if I do escape the commander I’ll still be caught in the blast. These lasers are gigantic, it will likely rip a new highway through the rest of the city ruins. The entire park will be finished, and me with it.
I close my eyes and try to control my racing thoughts, tapping into the energy of the earth beneath my feet. It hums and vibrates with feverish waves that burn through the sand and up into my boots. I try to take that energy through my body, forcing out the electricity in my veins. But it’s all in my imagination, none of it works and I still can’t control my limbs.
I look through the light to see dozens of black helmets staring me down, all hiding the excited faces of Legion guards, waiting eagerly to report my defeat back to base. These assholes have been after me for a long time, I’ve been their general order number one since the day they activated.
It’s so hot I can barely stand it. My clothes seep into my skin and all I can think about is water. The commander’s grip tightens around the back of my neck, his hand large enough to envelop it entirely. He presses his fingernails into my lymph nodes, forcing me to look nowhere but the expanding star in front of us.
My heart beats faster and faster, the pulse surging through my head and my ears. My hands and feet are freezing cold and I feel like throwing up even though I’m starving. The muscles in my arms and legs cramp as the hot voltage eats them up.
Tears burn the sides of my eyes and I hastily blink them away, telling myself that its from the heat of the cannons and not because I’m so fucking terrified.
I think about all the times I evaded capture in the past, all the times I’d been tortured, blown up, ripped to pieces, stabbed, shot, poisoned, and I survived. Who knows what the extent of my limits are, maybe it’s time to find out. Maybe I can take this one.
I close my eyes and detach from reality, trying to forget about the world around me. I exhale and relax, and I feel his grip soften. “That’s it” I hear him say gently. “Just breathe, you’ll be alright.”
It detonates, and I surrender to the flames.