I am useless.
Ask me debate corporate intrusion into Free Republic politics and I can fight like a champ. But ask me to make a stand against death machines sent to capture me, my feet turn to lead and fleeing becomes difficult. I can do nothing but gawk and pray to Nostradamus for divine intervention. There were no more angels left to protect mankind. Instead, we turned to monsters lurking in the night.
“Francis, light ‘em up.” Did I hear Halo correctly? The cyborg meant to save my life had a proper English name? I barely had time to imagine him as a child in attending Visionary school. A burst of light projected from his raised arm. Four lasers spun about his arm fast enough the light appeared to to criss-cross in an elegant pattern. The beautiful lights hit a synthetic and bore a hole through its chest before he pointed at the next machine.
The synthetics jumped out of the way like scattering insects. Crawling on all fours, their shoulder pointed in our direction. Lilith jumped behind the woman and I dropped to the floor. Both cyborgs held up their arms, the metal flipping open to create shields to protect their faces and torsos. Bullets pelted the metal and even a laser pulsed, striking their bodies but doing no harm.
“Those are new,” Lilith said. She had the knife drawn. It seemed smaller than before, or perhaps it appeared smaller because of the size of the situation. I didn’t want Lilith to be holding a knife, I wanted her to be wielding a rocket launcher. No, I wanted her driving a tank and mowing down—
Halo reached into an opening in her thigh and produced a long rope. Lilith took the moment to pivot around the woman and hurled her knife at an oncoming synthetic. The blade sunk into the cranium, a precision hit from almost thirty feet away. The synthetic didn’t fall down like the others, but it staggered as it tried to assess the situation. I had been wrong; she didn’t need a bigger weapon, just more of them.
The rope hanging at Halo’s side glowed a vibrant blue and as a cat-like synthetic lunged; she brought it back and snapped it forward. It wasn’t a rope. It was a whip and as the blue end wrapped around the synthetic, the blue flared. A yank and the rope seared through the metal of the machine. The moment it was free, she repeated the action, snaring it around the wrist of another machine.
Francis ran toward the remaining four, his arms shielding his head and heart. The synthetic sat upright, grabbing his arm and struggling to expose his body. I swore the man’s muscles thickened as he grappled with the machine. The lights in his right arm pulsed, burning away part of the machine’s skull while removing its entire left arm. Grabbing onto the thing’s face, he jerked backward, ripping away part of the skull. The synthetic tried to grab at Francis’s hands. Overpowered and refusing to submit, a second pulse from Francis’s arm penetrated the exposed skull.
“Lilith,” he yelled, “help us.” Lilith appeared to be the underdog. There were no flashy limbs or storage compartments filled with high-tech weapons. But what she lacked in bulk she made up for in an elegant prowess. She ran, jumped, and somersaulted around a barrage of bullets from a synthetic on all fours. It leapt into the air, determined to throw her to the ground, but she slid underneath it. Had she fought enough of them to know their tactics? Or was she just that skilled? If we won, I’d ask.
She reached the staggering synthetic and pulled her knife free. Another jab and twist of the blade left it in rubble. Lilith chucked the blade. A synthetic grabbed her leg and pulled her down while the blade sank into the skull of a synthetic getting dangerously close to me. Her aim was deadly, as was her confidence in knowing she’d strike the machine and not me. It continued crawling toward me, it’s body smacking against the ground attempting to carry out its mission. I scurried to my feet, looking for a place to hide in the open room.
“Dammit,” I cursed. I inched closer to the machine, taking care to watch the gun mounted on its back. It could shoot and still kill me, it had a clear shot. But it didn’t. Whoever sent the synthetics didn’t want me dead. I had more questions. But for now, I grabbed Lilith’s knife and twisted it as I pulled. I had to put my weight into it. Leaning back, it jerked free and the synthetic’s limbs froze. I had just gone from completely useless to mostly useless.
The pressure suddenly dropped, and the floor wobbled under my feet. I had the sudden urge to hurl as if I had been drinking a bit too much wine. One synthetic stood upright, its back to me. I couldn’t be sure, but it appeared if its chest compartment had opened. The deep bass pulsing sent the other three to the ground. Lilith tried to crawl, but the synthetic pointed its palm in her direction and the pulse undulated until she collapsed. Their lethal arsenal was impressive, but the real sight was a synthetic’s ability for non-lethal crowd control. I had witnessed the bursts of sound before in a food riot. Even the cyborgs curled into tight balls, unable to resist.
Even though the tactic wasn’t directed at me, the fluid in my ear vibrated to where I could hardly stand. I willed myself upright, certain I’d hurl from the rumblings in my stomach. One foot in front of the other, two steps turned to three. For the moment, they wanted us alive. It was my time to shine, to show I was more than useless.
I clenched the knife tighter, focusing on the textured black handle. The sound was both loud and oddly quiet. My associates had dispatched five synthetics, but it only took one. The artificial intelligence had declared Halo and Francis as expendable, but they wanted Lilith and me. It was a mistake. I shoved the knife into the back of its skull, the nearly invisible blade penetrated the metal. I pushed as hard as I could and slammed the heel of my other hand on the butt of the blade. It slipped through. I refused to be useless. I was on a mission and a tin bucket would not stop me.
It turned, batting me with its arm. Without effort it flung me from its back. The knife pulled free and as I collapsed onto my butt; the machine froze in place. I had done it. I had made myself useful. I killed a synthetic.
The victory didn’t last as Lilith ran over to me, took her knife and pulled me to my feet. Even Halo and Francis were checking their weapons. I thought we had won, but the speed in which they moved suggested otherwise. Lilith must have seen the confusion on my face. “That was the scouting party. More are coming.” And as if on cue, I could hear the vibration of vehicles crashing through the front of the pier.
“You need to run,” Halo shouted.
“We’ll buy you as much time as we can,” Francis added.
“Thank you.” It was the first time I heard Lilith offer any amount of civility. It didn’t surprise me that in the heat of the battle, that was when she was most human. A scary human, yes, but a human none-the-less.
“Not for you,” Halo said, “for Walker.”
“Tell him we say, hello,” Francis said. I had so many questions. I didn’t want to leave them behind. They knew something about my father, answers about who he really was. But as glints of metal started to show, synthetics poured into the pier, climbing walls and running along the floors, I knew they were willing to sacrifice themselves for a debt owed to my father. I took pride in whatever he had done for them.
Lilith grabbed my hand and tugged at me. We ran from the building toward the end of the pier. They had tied a single boat to the dock. It was less of a helping hand and more of a shove as she hurled me into the back of the boat. With a cut of the rope, we were free. I turned to watch as the building lit up. There was gunfire and the bright red of lasers. I tried to ignore Halo’s screams cutting through the air. A moment later there was nothing but the splash of water against the boat. The engine roared to life as Lilith took command and we sped away from the pier, another near death experience tacked on to an already busy day.
Four drones overhead followed, but the synthetics were contained on land. The only benefit of being in a boat, we were watched, but not chased. At the moment, it didn’t seem we were a big enough catch to pull out the airships, not yet at least. Lilith pulled out a rifle, even with the choppy water six shots, four destroyed drones.
For the moment, we were safe, if drifting aimlessly in Lake Michigan could be considered safe. The Valentine encouraged this mission, but Lilith said he couldn’t be trusted. My father was part of the network and the cyborgs owed him a debt. I eyed my bag. What was on the hard drive that was so important? And how did my father and the Children of Nostradamus tie together?
I stared at the bruising on my hand, the indents of Lilith’s knife leaving tiny welts. Things were changing, and it was obvious few of them would be good. But even if tonight was categorized as a defeat, I had one small victory.
“I’m not useless.”