Charades, Truths – Ch. 18

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As the porter drones mercilessly descended toward the forest clearing, Aria tried to objectively evaluate all pieces of information that had presented themselves, including the mockup aidbot’s theory that Vera and Captain Stravinsky were not to be trusted.

Immediate conclusion: the mockup had a point, especially regarding the questionable existence of a “bribable coroner.” Because, coroners, even bribable ones, didn’t employ dozens of men dressed in black suits to guard the forest where they operated their illegal business. But here they were, the Black Suits, crowding the clearing. So, the whole coroner talk might have been a sham.

Closer to the ground, the porter drones slowed down. Snow and conifer needles swirled around the freight container. The Black Suits watched—or so Aria assumed. Those men wore sunglasses, just like they’d done earlier in the day, when the sun was out. How they saw anything in the darkness through those tinted glasses was beyond Aria. Maybe it all worked out for them because they weren’t moving. They didn’t come closer, so they didn’t need to check the ground for conifers on which they might trip.

Eerily, they stared up at the sky. They didn’t snicker or yell or otherwise indicate what they made of Aria’s arrival. They didn’t bother to take out their weapons or threaten her.

There were a lot more than six of them here. At a quick glance, Aria counted more than two dozens. Perhaps close to thirty, though she lost count because she couldn’t tell whether the shadows nearer the forest were them or just particularly thick tree barks.

The porter drones placed the container right in the center of the Black Suits circle—gently, with precision. Then the drones landed on the ground, in a smaller circle around the container. They shut down. Their rotors turned for a few more rounds, then stopped.

The snow and needles settled down.

No more wind. Only the thick smell of snow mixed with the scent of conifers. Evergreens. Always the same. Even in winter. More or less. A little bit shabbier-looking, maybe, compared to their looks during summer, since even evergreens had to conserve energy in the cold months in one way or another. But they were always green enough to be called evergreen—more or less unchanging.

Unlike Aria. She had never been the same from one moment to the next. And depending on what happened next, she not only wasn’t going to be the same, but also, she might be no more.

No more Aria. That meant the end of the world from her perspective. So many people hated the idea of their end. Aria had always believed that it was because they knew, at the logical level, that the world didn’t end with them. It should end, but it didn’t. That was what infuriated so many people. It was so unfair to be born into this world—nobody got to veto their own birth—and then to be torn away from it against their will.

In fact, some people hated the break from the world so much so that they wanted to forcefully take Mr. Wang’s technology of moving memories into a bot. Those people employed these Black Suits. Those people had killed Mr. Wang. Those people wanted to claim his body and his mockup in tiptop condition. That was why they’d allowed the container to safely land.

But what they didn’t want was Aria. She assumed so, because until yesterday, she’d had nothing to do with Mr. Wang. She’d been just another desperate technician who’d wanted to make something out of herself instead of sitting home, watching online videos all day long.

Which meant, they could easily get rid of Aria. They could just shoot her and leave her wherever she fell dead.

Dead. Dead!

Panic rushed through Aria’s veins and instead of helping her act quickly, it froze her. She didn’t know what to do.

She still stood on top of the mockup’s head. It swiveled and flung its arms. Awkwardly, she was gazing out of the freight container, with her gloved hands clasping its wall. Through their sunglasses, the Black Suits gazed back—sternly, stiffly.

And now, in the stillness, she realized something even weirder about the Black Suits. No two of them shared the same skin and hair color. That had been the case back at the airport, too, but there’d been only six. Six people with different skin and hair color could be a coincidence. But this many? It was too bizarre to be a coincidence. Aria frowned with puzzlement.

Were these men hired based on color? Like, if there was a dark-skinned man with dark hair, that slot was taken, so the next dark-skinned, dark-haired man couldn’t get the job?

There was one of each. A redhead with reddish skin, a redhead with pale skin, a redhead with dark skin—and more redheads with in-between skin colors, but never the exact same shade. The same with gray heads. And blonds. And silver heads. And brown heads. And black heads. And—

More walked out of the woods. All, wearing black suits. A delightfully diverse color collection wrapped in black packages; an expanded edition of what Aria had seen earlier at the airport.

And since they stood still, instead of running like earlier, Aria also noticed that they had identical body shapes. It was dark, but she could tell by their silhouettes. It seemed as if the employer had wanted to collect every possible manifestation of skin and hair color for his gang pool, but hadn’t cared about the differences in height, weight, or muscle mass.

Also, identical postures. The weirdest thing ever. When two Black Suits happened to begin turning their heads at the same time, they did so at perfectly identical angles and speeds. Like a very exactly executed choreography.

Maybe the employer had a color fetish of some sort? As in, he or she had wanted to eliminate anything and everything that differentiated people, except for color?

And faced with these extremely odd employees, should Aria talk? Should she try to befriend them? Say Hi? Ignore them?

“There they are!” a woman said loudly, barely able to suppress the delight in her voice.

Aria winced and looked. The woman was Captain Stravinsky, in her uniform, minus the cap. Her bob cut and bangs cheerfully bounced with her every step as she rushed toward the freight container. She seemed positively ecstatic.

The mockup had been so right to mistrust that woman.

Aria glanced from the captain to where she’d emerged from: a cabin in the shadows of the thick forest. Aria hadn’t even noticed the cabin earlier. It was so dirty from exposure to decades of precipitation, dust wind, and animal dung that it was the same color as the ground, from the tip of its gable roof to the bottom part.

“Come on out, come on out,” Captain Stravinsky said.

She reached up to help Aria out. Because Aria was looking right down at the captain, Aria could clearly see a thin strip of scalp that had no hair. This was the two-week-old head wound that Vera had mentioned. “Bruises and cuts,” Vera had said, afflicted by a crazy ex-boyfriend.

That ex-boyfriend probably didn’t exist.

Captain Stravinsky jumped up and down like a young child eager to snatch an apple from a tree. She was aiming for Aria’s fingers on the freight container. And when Aria winced back, the captain got hold of the container itself. The container threatened to topple to the side—which would have been good if Aria had wanted to get out, but she wasn’t so sure. Luckily, Captain Stravinsky didn’t seem to notice Aria’s reluctance. The captain glanced back at the Black Suits.

“Come on, help her. Help us.”

The Black Suits didn’t move. All thirty or forty of them.

“Party poopers,” the captain said. But she didn’t lose her grin.

She pulled down the container with such force so that it finally did topple over. Aria rolled out to the frozen, grass-less ground. Her duffel bag, Mr. Wang’s body, and the mockup remained in the container. The mockup struggled just as it had struggled for who knew how long at this point, flinging its arms at the container, the duffel bag, and everything else they happened to reach.

No one but Aria paid attention to it despite the noise. The mockup looked like it was in pain. If it could stand upright, it would look much less like it was being tortured. But Aria didn’t want to return anywhere near the container because Captain Stravinsky stood right next to it.

“There, there,” the captain said. “That wasn’t so hard, was it?”

Aria nodded, mostly because she was too afraid to answer in the negative. The captain, who’d simply been a figure of authority back at the airport, had now revealed her true identity as a crazy figure of authority who was a skilled liar and possibly a psychopath; no one who wasn’t a psychopath could possibly grin that incessantly.

“Just don’t do anything stupid, okay?” the captain said. “There are too many of them. And even though they don’t take orders from me, they’ll sure as hell attack you if you try to flee. You can’t win against them. We’re in a forest in the middle of nowhere. There are no security cameras, no news drones, no nothing. No one will know if you get killed.”

Yeah. Message received.

“And you brought the cargo,” the captain said. “Good girl.”

Cargo. Did she just call Mr. Wang’s body “cargo”?

“Come on, aren’t you going to take them to the cabin?” the captain asked the Black Suits.

They still didn’t react.

“Silly fools,” the captain said, snorting in half disgust, half amusement. Then she turned to Aria. “Can you imagine their likes pretending to be like us?”

“Captain,” Aria said. Her voice was once again splintery, threatening to tear her throat into a million shreds.

“Oh, call me Natasha. Come on, take off your gloves. Let’s shake hands. Let’s make this our real first meeting.”

Aria did as told. They shook hands.

“Natasha. I… What is going on?” Aria asked, clasping the gloves in one hand.

“Why, I was waiting for you to bring that, of course.” Natasha pointed at the container. “Now, if only these mindless gentlemen would move these to the cabin so the doctor can get to work.”

“The doctor?” Aria said.

“Yes. Oh, you don’t know. I’m talking about the coroner. He’s the doctor, the coroner, the engineer, the technician, my lover, and the mastermind behind all this. But he prefers ‘doctor.’ You know, it’s one of those power status words. And of course he gets to choose whichever title he wants to be called by. As long as the title makes sense, who cares? It’s not like he demands to be called captain, is it? Only I get to use that one around here.” She winked. “Nothing beats ‘captain.’ ”

Aria wondered if the captain was drunk and high, or if this was the standard reaction from psychopaths when they got what they wanted. Either way, better stay as far away as possible, without getting too close to any of the Black Suits.

“What do you mean, ‘behind all this’?” Aria asked.

“The chase. My replacing the other captain. The bribing. Controlling the media.”

The mockup had been so, so right.

At Aria’s obvious shock, the captain folded her hands in front of her and gazed at Aria the way a grown-up gazed at a little girl who said unbelievably adorable, innocent things.

“Aww,” the captain said. “You didn’t think twelve drones could simply leave the airport because your friend, the cart driver, decided to go rogue, did you? You didn’t think that TXP076 was delayed on its own, did you? That its captain, the one who was originally supposed to fly it, spontaneously fainted?”

With her story, the captain was going where the mockup had wanted to go. Only, her story began way, way earlier, and connected far, far more dots.

“And the police letting you go,” the captain said, “just like that. And the news channels suddenly agreeing to remove their drones. And me, so willingly cooperating with the police, so sure that they weren’t going to put me in prison for killing a man on the airport grounds. Although, they removed the thing, of course, so there is no dead man. But you saw him killed. You didn’t know they were gonna pretend he hadn’t died.”

“Yes!” Aria said. She was glad to have remembered her key counterargument to the mockup. “You helped us. You’re on our side. Otherwise, why did you kill the Black Suit guy? Why kill someone on your team?”

“Darling, not everyone on the team has equal importance, no matter what your junior high volleyball coach told you.”

“But you didn’t have to kill him.”

“Of course I didn’t have to kill him. But he was mistreating precious assets—assets more precious than him and all his friends here combined. He shouldn’t have harmed Mr. Wang like that, and he definitely shouldn’t have killed him. The initial goal was to bring the mockup and Mr. Wang alive and well and quietly. Without the silly agentbots stopping him because of 200 grams, everything would have gone according to the plan. All the security cameras would have captured what needed to be captured: a hyperelderly getting on a plane and arriving at a destination. Then he was supposed to disappear where no cameras were watching. Only then. But things didn’t pan out that way. The stupid agentbots did stop Mr. Wang for 200 grams. And then you showed up.”

Yes. Aria had shown up.

“You and Mr. Wang made ‘quietly’ pretty much impossible by drawing a ridiculous amount of attention at the security check lines. Then you fled outside. Then the silly agentbots left the building and you might know this already, but the different departments at that airport don’t really get along. It’s a mess, really, makes me wonder sometimes what would’ve happened if there hadn’t been the bots…”

Captain Stravinsky’s eyes glazed over in disdainful horror. Then she awoke.

“But of course, we were prepared. Even the idiotic department heads knew they’d better cooperate or the people way higher up were gonna get angry. That was why they removed the thing so fast from the field. No blood, no trace whatsoever. We all knew that what had to get done had to get done. We can’t standardize downward because a few humans are stupid. We must always standardize upward.”

Now, what was that supposed to mean?

The captain sighed, crossed her arms, and glared at the Black Suits. They didn’t react.

“Anyway, we had to make it look like I was opposing them. Otherwise, those who’d promised to cooperate would’ve betrayed us, fearing for their own asses. We all needed a story for the greater world, what with the police finding the bodies and digging them up… But never mind that. Two desperate humans not obeying the agentbot’s instructions and getting themselves into trouble—that’s a pretty exciting story for the masses. You eventually turning against him, then kidnapping him, all that.”

“Wait. Who promised to cooperate?”

“All of them.”

“All of them, who?”

Captain Stravinsky doubled the gleefulness of her grin. She was so glad to tell Aria the exciting truth. “Oh, sweetie. I told you earlier. The airport, the news channels, the police.”

“But— Why?”

“All of them did what they did because they want a stake in something bigger. Or, at least, the leaders of those organizations want something bigger. The underlings know nothing yet. Maybe they never will. Shortly after Wang booked his tickets, we knew he was going to try to get on TXP076. We had a plan A, plan B, plan C, and look. Eventually, he got here, with the bot.”

“So, you shot a man just because you wanted to make it look like you weren’t on the same side as him?”

“What do you mean, ‘just because’? What it looks like is very important. Don’t you agree? What it looked like turned most of the world against you. People blame you, Aria, not the bots. Even if I were to bomb this whole place, people won’t help you.”

Aria shook her head—half denying that statement, half not wanting to have heard all that she’d heard.

“Besides, the bigger picture should take priority. I’m on the human team, first and foremost. That’s the big picture. Humans taking back what is theirs. Standardizing upward, not downward, as I said. That’s the critical part. That’s always the critical part.”

“You killed a man,” Aria said. She couldn’t consciously process her own thoughts, but apparently that part was the part that had shocked her most. “You killed a man to make it look right. He didn’t expect you to shoot at him because you were on the same side and you shot him, using that expectation.”

The captain sighed. She reached for the small of her back.

Instinctively, Aria ducked.

The captain fired a pistol—but not at Aria. Instead, one of the Black Suits collapsed.

Aria held her breath. A true psychopath, that Captain Stravinsky lady! The mockup had been so right!

But something about that man on the ground wasn’t right.

His death resembled that of his coworker who’d been shot dead in front of TXP076. Neither this man nor that man had screamed. Neither had writhed in pain.

And in the darkness, Aria noticed the key difference between the two deaths: she couldn’t see the color of the victim’s blood this time. It had to be red just like the blood of the other dead guy, but all she could see this time was that it was liquid and dark against the frozen ground.

No brilliant red here. Nothing to imply that whatever was spilling out of the man was actual blood. Most importantly, an oily and metallic odor overwhelmed Aria. It was the smell of roasted wires and parts. The same smell she’d smelled when the flightbots had been shot. Without a stark visual to fool her, she’d finally smelled the truth: This man carried no blood in his body. All he carried was oil with red pigment.

“Oh, come on. Get up now,” Captain Stravinsky said.

The “dead” “man” didn’t react.

“Damn it, they don’t listen to anyone except the doctor.”

While the captain rolled her eyes, Aria slowly got up. Her temples throbbed, but she had to stand, so that she didn’t feel so small in front of this crazy captain. Granted, even in the standing position, Aria was a span shorter; but at least she could run if she needed to. Run from the captain, and run from the Black Suits—a herd of bots.

Bots that were so human that not even the barricade of inspectorbots had noticed they were bots. Bots that might as well be like rocks or water to the wild animals in this forest. Inanimate. Inedible. Indestructible. But real enough to humans who had an unreliable sense of smell and believed what their eyes saw.

In front of TXP076, no man had died. Mr. Wang had been shot and had spilled real blood, but he hadn’t died on the field. He’d died later, on the aircraft. The Black Suit who’d spilled fake blood in front of TXP076 had been removed. Afterward, Stravinsky and her “team” only had to wipe a few security camera recordings. Even if some footage was to leak, no one would have been able to find the Black Suit’s body or traces of human blood. There’d been no man who’d needed to be rushed to the hospital. The bot that had been “killed” had no birth records, no driver’s license, no spouse who looked for him, no children. It had never existed officially, so its not-being-anymore was the natural state. And natural states were easier to sell than unnatural ones.

The airport personnel, the police, the news channels, all had played their parts in a scripted show.

All of them, with the exception of maybe one:

“Where is Vera?” Aria asked.

She didn’t want to believe that Vera had lied too. Vera, who’d given her a free counseling session. Vera, who’d been better than any shrink Aria had ever talked to. Vera, whose neutral information collection had been a freeing experience for Aria.

The captain said, “She is in there.”

The cabin in the ominous shadows of the coniferous trees.

The weirdly affectionate tone of the captain’s voice disturbed Aria more than the physical darkness.

“You know,” the captain said, “she really is an excellent aidbot. If everything had stayed the same, the likes of her would have conquered the world eventually. I can’t blame it on them. I would’ve done the same thing. But as it turns out, I’m not one of them. I’m of the human race. And lucky for the human race, I’m not just anyone of the human race. I am a singularly successful specimen. And also lucky for the human race, that me happened to be Vera’s owner. I wasn’t amazed at how wonderful she is. I wasn’t impressed that she could act like she could think on her own. I saw her develop, and I knew.”

The affection in her voice vanished abruptly and turned into bitterness.

“These beings have to be put in their place. And not by us begging, no; by us becoming stronger. That’s what I mean by standardizing up. We humans as a group must become stronger than them.”

“What did you do to Vera?”

“Do to Vera?” A few, interrupted giggles escaped the captain’s mouth. “Whatever I did, it wasn’t done to her. No one can do a thing to her because to be exact, there is no her. There’s no Vera, at least not the way you or other people or Vera thinks. Vera is nothing. Vera stems from nothing. She’s a made-up thing that might just as well have been a ‘he’ if she’d happened to have a different body for a different human. The only reason she is that way is because Lucious made her for me.”

“Lucious?”

But before the captain said one more word, Aria knew which Lucious the captain was talking about.

And she also knew why none of the Black Suits had overlapping skin or hair color. Lucious Bold had recently developed artificial skin that closely resembled the natural skin of a human, almost indistinguishable. He’d said that he was going to create artificial hair, too, and apparently had succeeded. And to show off his skills, he had created every imaginable variety. Then he’d put black suits on the specimen to make sure that people knew they belonged together; belonged to one creator; belonged to him.

“Eternal life in an eternal shell,” the captain said. “Finally. Finally humanity is going in the right direction.”

Aria shook her head. “But you didn’t leave me behind. You could have left me to die but you didn’t.”

“I couldn’t leave you behind because those imbecile bots definitely would have killed you, causing a bigger scene. You would’ve suspected me as you died, Vera would’ve suspected me watching it, and everyone else would have suspected me too.”

Aria managed to inhale a short, insufficient breath.

Then she exhaled incompletely.

Inhaled, exhaled too quickly.

Inhaled exhaled inhaled exhaled.

“But I must say, Aria, I was very impressed by your resume.”

“My resume?”

“Yes. Your job, your education, your parents, your ex-boyfriends, your habit of traveling a lot. In short, you’ve always done something. That’s an interesting trait.”

“You didn’t answer my question. What did you do to Vera?”

Stravinsky sighed patiently, again as if she were dealing with a young girl. “And you weren’t listening. But fine. I didn’t do anything to Vera yet. She’s being prepared for the transfer.”

“Transfer.”

Stravinsky pointed her palms up in a pose of ta-dah. “Lucious will transfer me into Vera.”

Aria barely heard the captain’s last sentence. ‘Transfer me into Vera.’ Into Vera.

Into Vera…

Into Vera?

“Vera will be your new body?” Aria said.

“Yes. Sort of like Mr. Wang’s done with that trash.” The captain pointed at the writhing mockup. She grimaced. “Except, much nicer.”

A sense of extreme unfairness dizzied Aria. “You’re going to wipe out Vera and use her body?”

Captain Stravinsky didn’t bother to give a more concrete answer beyond a shrug and what sounded like “Ergh.”

“Why did you make her like that, to begin with, then?”

“Why did we make her ‘like that,’ how?”

“Like—intelligent. Self-thinking. With, with free will.”

The captain snorted. “If it were you, would you want to be trapped in a body not fit for your mind? We had to test the hardware before putting an actual person in it. Because if you think you can stay you after being moved to a box, then you’re thinking plain wrong. The reason you think you’re you is because you have those particular limbs, those particular legs, those particular whatever-physical-features. What’s inside cannot be completely separate from what’s outside. That’s why Wang was so stupid for putting himself in that ugly box. The thing in it might think it’s him, but it for sure isn’t. And with Wang, the human component, now dead, that box-bot will quickly deteriorate into nothing more than a computer with human intelligence. Or it could go completely crazy, losing all hint of intelligence. And that’s just terrible.”

“Why don’t you just use a different bot instead of Vera? There are plenty others. I’ll make one for you if you don’t have one.”

“That’s very sweet of you. And it’s actually why I wanted to talk to you. But for now, no thanks. Vera isn’t any random bot. Surely you’ve noticed. Isn’t she more beautiful than any other bot you’ve ever seen?”

That was true. The moment Aria had seen Vera, she’d thought that Vera was special. She was a bunch of ideals squeezed into one vessel. She was no manufactured product. She was no consumer good. She was Vera, jet-black, lean, so human in form and movement that Aria had actually thought she was a woman in a full-body suit.

“Not just in terms of beauty,” the captain said. “All parts forming her are state-of-the-art, built to last a century and more. The AI installed on her is superb, designed to replicate human intelligence, but able to connect to the wealth of information that this world provides. That’s how she pretends to be human. That’s how she reacts more organically compared to these silly bots here. Vera learns like no other bot. Vera will be the perfect new me. A frame in which I can grow more powerful than in any bot available on the market.”

“You in Vera’s body will be better than Vera?”

“Of course.”

“What makes you think that?”

The question seemed to greatly confuse Stravinsky. “Because I’m me.”

“Because you’re Natasha Stravinsky?”

“That, and mainly because any human would be better than any bot. Have you been listening to anything I’ve been saying? All this is to save the human race from its dependency on aidbots. Those things have been making humanity need aid. Taking away what is ours. Putting us in a weak, helpless, lethargic state. Why not help ourselves instead of relying on others’ help?”

“And you want to accomplish that by entering the body of an aidbot.”

“By creating a new human race.”

Aria opened her mouth. Closed it. Opened it again. Didn’t know how to explain this to Stravinsky.

“Vera can think and feel, you know,” she said eventually.

“Vera, as you knew her, doesn’t matter. That’s what I’ve been telling you. Vera is nothing.”

“Vera very much is something,” said Aria, outraged. “Someone.”

Stravinsky shook her head minutely, in a “goodness, I’m so sick of wasting time on this topic” way. Then she said, “What matters is that you’ve done something with your life and we’re impressed.”

“Who, we?” Aria snapped.

“We, Lucious and I.”

Aria stared at Stravinsky, who smiled.

“Yes, Lucious Bold is impressed by you,” Stravinsky said.

“I’m not staring at you because of that,” Aria said.

And she meant it. At this point, she didn’t give a fuck what Lucious Bold thought about her. She regretted every hour that she’d spent watching Bold Productions documentaries. She regretted that she’d fought with Jack because of Lucious Bold. Not that Jack wasn’t an asshole, but Jack wasn’t an asshole who kidnapped an old man and wanted to wipe a sentient being out of existence. Jack was narcissistic and shallow, but at least he wasn’t narcissistic and shallow for the greater good.

“Well, what do you say?” Stravinsky said. She smiled, clapping her hands together expectantly. Apparently, the lady was incapable of reading body language.

“What do I say, what?” Aria said.

“Will you join the team?”

“What?”

“You’ve shown surprising resilience and determination. Not many people have that anymore. They don’t run for their lives, think for their lives, they don’t do anything for their lives. They only value staying alive and the shield of safety they have been given. They never take risks and never accomplish anything. But you—you acted like you couldn’t lose anything. And ironically, that’s the key to getting everything.”

Aria slowly shook her head. “You’re mad if you think I’ll participate in your sick—transfer, or whatever you called it.”

“Are you sure?”

“Absolutely.”

In fact, Aria looked around for the drones. Now that she knew what had caused the chase and death in the past twenty-four hours, she wanted nothing more than to leave, preferably with Vera.

“You have to see the bigger picture, Aria,” Stravinsky said. “You’ve barely known Vera for what, three hours?”

“And I’ve known you for way less than that.”

“Don’t you want to be part of something great? Don’t you want to have a purpose in life? I mean, don’t get me wrong, you’ve accomplished some things in life, but with guidance, you could really shine. At the very least, you’ll have a life that you won’t want to leave behind, which I assume you don’t have right now, otherwise you wouldn’t have wasted your own ticket to babysit Antonius Wang.”

Aria snorted. “Believe me, I have a life I don’t want to leave behind. I thought I didn’t, but I know better now.”

“Well then.” Stravinsky’s shoulders slumped. She pursed her lips. “At least you’ve done your part for true progress. Would’ve been nice if you hadn’t been so stubbornly stupid.”

The captain raised her gun. This time, she aimed at Aria and fired.

Aria dropped her gloves. The bullet was faster than her, but she was faster than the captain, who’d fired at the wrong place.

The bullet bounced off the freight container. It hit another Black Suit in the shin. He didn’t whimper, didn’t grab his wound—instead, he limply fell to his knees and remained on the ground. Neither he nor his buddies seemed to consider helping Aria or the captain or each other.

Aria rushed toward one of the porter drones. The captain adjusted her aim and fired once more.

The bullet bounced off the drone and hit a tree.

Aria took cover behind the porter drone. Like a shield, she dragged it toward the freight container. The thing seemed twice as heavy as her and twice as large, its limbs spidery, its static rotor capable of snipping off heads if heads were in the way.

Upon reaching the freight container, Aria bided her time…

Then ran toward another drone. Stravinsky fired once, twice, thrice, in quick succession.

Aria grabbed the drone. Took cover behind it. Dragged it into the freight container.

Just one more drone. That was all Aria needed.

She ran to the third drone.

The captain fired.

Aria gasped. Something hot and wet spread on her thigh.

© 2022 Ithaka O.

All rights reserved.
This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
No part of this story may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author.


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