Alarms traveled through the upgrades in Chicago’s underworld. Alerts appeared in the eyes of the patrons and sirens must have sounded in the auditory enhancements. Lilith grabbed me by the hand, her grip far stronger than I anticipated. Pill-R gave her a nod and pointed to a metal hatch near the back of his vendor space. Later, Lilith explained he paid extra to be close to an escape. As we cleared tables filled with junk, he pulled a wire from one of his servers and slid it into a port just behind his right ear. Pill-R didn’t computers. He was living tech.

I’m a college student at a respected university. I shouldn’t know what gunfire sounds like. I shouldn’t have empirical proof that a bullet entering the forehead causes the rear of the skull to explode. I shouldn’t know any of this, but I do. 

I have witnessed the very definition of a massacre. Even as the black market dealers returned fire, synthetics tore their way through the entrance. Their bodies lit up as bullets ricocheted. They fired into the crowd with frightening accuracy. Those unfortunate to be within arms reach were eviscerated. Sword-like fingers punched into a man as a forearm mounted gun blew through his body. These weren’t peacekeepers, these were the boogeymen people feared. 

I found myself rooting for the gang members. The killers and drug dealers, I wanted them to fight back and win. I didn’t approve of them destroying my city or poisoning our kids, but I didn’t want them to die. If it was going to be imperfect humans or soulless machines, I would always cheer on those with a heart. 

I had to shield my eyes as a something struck one of the synthetics causing an explosion. The air in the room vibrated. Whatever they fired, it sent the two robots into the stone, shredding them into scrap metal. The pressure in my ears made it difficult to hear and nearly impossible to stand. As quickly as those two fell, they were replaced by two more, and then another two. Everybody in that room was going to die.

“Hurry,” Pill-R skipped formalities as he yanked on my arm, pulling me through the small hatch. Lilith braced her foot against the wall and tugged on the door. The woman was only an inch or two taller than me and perhaps ten pounds heavier. Her muscles strained as she pulled at the circular door. Whoever had performed Lilith’s upgrades had been careful to hide their work, nowhere on her body could I find the familiar scars. 

With a grunt, she jerked the door shut and our world went dark. The barrier didn’t stop the yelling or the screams of dying of humans. There’s was a second explosion. With so many men and women infused with technology, I prayed they’d have a fighting chance. They deserved life in prison, not being eradicated under a train terminal. 

I grabbed a small flashlight from my backpack. By the time I flipped it on, Lilith and Pill-R were already down the tunnel. I was glad to know my protector and her weird hacker friend were concerned about my safety. I get it, we’re all trying to survive, but they could do it without being assholes.

We spend the next ten minutes coming to splits and small rooms with half a dozen exits. Pill-R continues leading us and I wondered if he’s done this before or if he’s somehow seeing a map of the tunnels in his ocular enhancement. I kept pausing to look over my shoulder, but at that point, it didn’t sound like we’re being followed. I was thankful, Pill-R may be a world renowned hacker, but I think too much time in an office chair rendered him useless to fight. While Lilith might fair better, I couldn’t imagine she’d…

They both froze and I barrelled into them. The large chamber joined multiple tunnels. We were far enough away from the action I couldn’t hear the screams, but I still didn’t feel safe.

“Shh,” Lilith said as she pressed the button on my flashlight. It went dark. I’ve always heard when one sense is useless, the others step up their game. I can assure you, standing in a pitch black room did not give me super hearing. Other than Pill-R dragging his heels on the floor, I couldn’t hear a thing. He took my hand, backing me against a wall, I can’t make up or down. I had no idea what he could see that my human eyes couldn’t make out. Reaching out, Lilith had deserted us.

My blood turned to ice as red dots appeared down one of the corridors. Synthetics. I couldn’t tell how many there were. Metal scraped along the cement and the thin beams of light moved until one centered on me We’re about to die and all I could focus on is that the hacker’s hand isn’t reciprocating my death grip. I assumed in his line of work he’d be used to the safety of his home office, but perhaps he had more than a passing familiarity with life or death encounters.

The red dot zipped up my body, catching my left eye before it vanished entirely. Metal grinding against metal. I heard the servos in the machines wheezing as they attempted to react. A gun fired and in a burst of light I made out Lilith, weaving between two robots. I reached for the flashlight flipping it on. 

The head of one synthetic rolled off its body. While I shone the light terrified, Lilith moved as if the synthetics should fear her presence. Spinning out of the way, she dropped and knocked one robot off its legs. Whatever she is held in her hand sliced through its arm, sending it and the gun on its forearm clanking against the ground.

I started to walk forward. I couldn’t let her fight those god-damn robots on her own. Pill-R grabbed me, stopping me in my tracks. The machine kicked Lilith in the torso, knocking her against the tunnel wall. Even with enhancements, she’d be bruised, a perfectly shaped footprint on her stomach. 

The machines refused to surrender.

Lilith pushed off the wall, launching herself at the machine. A blade flashed. The tip of the knife sunk into the synthetic’s skull while she caught its hand. She relinquished the blade, slamming her palm against the inside of its elbow, snapping the arm in half. A synthetic could lift me off my feet without effort, and here Lilith tore its limbs free. This wasn’t her first time dealing with Chicago’s enforcers.

The headless synthetic grappled with her leg. With a stomp of her heel, it flattened on the stone. Several more kicks and the power source surged and a blinding orange light filled the cavern. She didn’t slow, pulling her knife free and sheathing it in a well-rehearsed motion. She hurled the standing synthetic against the wall. Two blows from the palm of her hand its chest cavity collapsed inward.

Holy shit.

The light caught her eyes, tiny silver orbs. Ocular enhancements. Lilith might be closer to machine than human, but at that moment, I was grateful. She dispatched two synthetics without effort. She has a story, a complicated one. Lilith might not be the person I wanted, but she was the person I needed.

“That was amazing.”

“I hate machines.” Irony. I’d let it slide.

“We are near the exit. We can go now, yes?”

Pill-R, was an awkward little man, but between the two of them, they were all I had. I didn’t think stealing a hard drive would put me under Chicago, fighting for my life. I didn’t think I’d be a fugitive hiding with a hacker and an agent of the church. But there we were. 

“Are you ready for what’s next?”

Lilith asked as if being part of a police raid and watching dozens of people be slaughtered was only the opening act. Did my father experience this? When he claimed to be at the university working late, was he partaking in this world? Every step further led to more questions. I was starting to wonder if I truly knew my father. 

I nod. “We have a rendezvous to make.”

Lilith asked if I was ready, but nothing prepared me for what came next.