Lilith held a cushion from the couch, the corner of it consumed by fire. She wasted no time using it to light the drapes before wedging it into the sofa. In the kitchen she had torn the stove off the wall. I didn’t need to know her plan; I knew we would be blown to pieces if we didn’t get outside.
“It’ll disorient their thermal scanners. Out the back.” She admired her handiwork before nudging me into the kitchen. I didn’t need to be told a second time. I dropped the goggles into my backpack and bolted for the door. The kitchen already smelled of gas, and it was only a matter of time before it ignited.
“Enforcer synthetics. You know what I’m talking about?”
The machines came in a dozen varieties. In Chicago it was difficult to tell one from the next, each of them serving the same purpose. However, I had seen the newspaper clippings featuring the ferocious cousin of the police units. Enforcers were built for destruction, large, armed, but most importantly, they were coated with a rare metal that made them more durable. We might survive a patrol of synthetics, but not even my enhanced sidekick stood a chance against a cluster of enforcers.
“You run. No matter what you hear, you run.” Lilith’s cocky demeanor fell apart, replaced by panic and dare I say it, fear? Seeing the woman scared turned the blood in my veins into ice water.
“Let’s go,” I growled.
Lilith followed me through the backyard. She tucked herself into a ball, hurdling through the wooden fence. I climbed through and then the Earth shook. The heat of the explosion didn’t quite reach us, but bits of wood landed all about. I wanted to turn back and look, but Lilith took my hand, tugging on my arm, urging me to follow.
The alley led between row houses, a place for them to put their trash on collection day. The backyards were massive by Chicago standards, but otherwise small. Even while moving at my top speed, I was surprised to see the Earth had yet to reclaim the houses. Trees, vines, even grass, refused to fill the uninhabited places.
Lilith turned right, jumping over a waist high metal fence. I followed, not as gracefully, but as fast. By the time we reached the stairs, I could hear metal sparking against the pavement. The clack of feet could be one on all fours, or several standing upright. I’ll admit, I was too scared to turn and find out.
They were coming to kill us.
Lilith held the door as I ran into the house. She shut it behind us, and for a moment I thought were going to hide and hope their sensors couldn’t detect us. “Keep running.” The whisper didn’t lessen the command. Through the kitchen, to the living room, the porch and we were back on the street. The door hadn’t shut when the building rumbled as synthetics burst into the back. They were closing.
“The alley.” I trusted her judgement. I ran. Clearing the narrow opening of the alley, synthetics burst from the house. I couldn’t resist, I peaked. Taller than a man, thicker, broad, and faceless, they didn’t need eyes to see. Lilith shoved me and I tried to speed up my pace. They were large, guns mounted on each forearm, all waiting for a target lock to obliterate me. I didn’t want to die, not here, not by a machine. If they killed me, my corpse would be left to rot, and I’d become one of the faceless. I didn’t want to be forgotten, not today.
My muscles started to hurt, but fear pushed adrenaline into my heart. I ran faster than I ever had in track. I wanted to vomit. It would happen eventually, but vomiting meant slowing. Slowing meant death. I leaned into the run, arms pumping, trying to maximize my rhythm.
I could hear them gaining, closer. If I turned, I might be able to squeeze into one of the tighter spaces, perhaps a place they couldn’t reach. A chunk of cement exploded to my left as a bang reverberated through the alley. It missed by inches, and with their ability to learn, the next one would be even closer. I tried to zig, and I found myself launched into the air before I felt the pain of a rolled ankle.
I landed, tumbled and tried to get up, but my Olympic jogging had been reduced to a hobble. Hobbling meant death. “Lilith, I can’t run.”
It was only then that I realized Lilith was no longer behind me. I turned and saw the massive metal creatures already slowing as they found their wounded prey. There was nowhere to crawl, no place I could hide. I could do nothing but stare into the oblivion inside its barrel. “Nostradamus, protect me.” Even as I whispered it, I questioned if he’d reply. No, I would die here, in a dank alley, abandoned and alone.
“What do you want from me?” I yelled. “Leave me alone. This has nothing to do with you.”
Soulless machines offered no answers.
We built synthetics to protect mankind, to offer a respite for our soldiers and police. They were designed to be servants and offer us a better life. But like everything mankind does, there was a dark underlying motive. They perverted innocent machines, corrupted them until they were killers and hunters. Their artificial intelligence made them lethal, but they had stripped any sense of right and wrong while human oversaw to these moral dilemmas. They paused as they chose between a list of predetermined options. Once they scanned my face, and I registered as Madison Walker, criminal, they’d terminate.
They stepped forward as if they didn’t have the ability to make a clean shot. The arm extended and the large caliber gun hovered mere feet from my head. I thought I’d have regrets. I worried I had made a grave error when I stole the drive, but in the face of death, there was freedom.
Synthetics weren’t the only monster hunting tonight.
Lilith jumped from the roof a garage, the knife clutched in both hands high over her head. The night monster had risen, and it wanted artificial blood. Sparks rained down as the knife buried itself in the enforcer’s skull. Its arm pivoted, reaching behind its own back and grabbed Lilith. As it jerked her free, she stabbed at its arm, strategic strikes at the hydraulics.
When it knocked the knife free of her hands, she changed tactics. Gripping its forearm, she kicked off its torso, attempting to tear the arm free. Its companion smacked her across the face, but her enhancements kept her head in place. The arm holding her fell limp, but before she could lunge at the second, it batted her, knocking her between me and the machines.
Their threat assessment happened, and it deemed both of us worthy of termination. The hand lifted, and the bang followed faster than I could register. First Lilith, then me. This marked the end of our journey.
Except it didn’t.
“He sees,” I muttered as the bullet impaled itself on a blue barrier inches in front of Lilith. The lights shimmering from the blue goo were majestic. Its bullet clanked to the ground and Lilith forced her way back to her feet. The vibration of rounds being fired forced my heart to stutter, but each round impaled itself on the blue.
“Run,” she screamed.
But I couldn’t, not while one of Nostradamus’ titans stood between me and death. What I had mistaken for enhancements had been supernatural strength. What I thought were optics and auditory augmentation were gifts from the gods. Lilith, the monster in the night, was a Child of Nostradamus.
The barrier of blue vanished as the enforcer reached for Lilith. She dropped low and lunged, hugging the synthetic’s waist in an attempt to tackle it. It drove its fist down and I feared it’d break her spine. But it stopped short, striking another blue barrier. Shields. I wasn’t sure how she managed, but her abilities had something to do with creating shields. It was the massive robots that were outmatched.
Bringing back her arm, her fist opened until her fingers were straight. She drove her fingertips into the torso, penetrating the metal. I led a silent cheer at the tiny victory. It spun, sending Lilith sailing into the brick of a garage. A pillow of blue glowed surrounded her as she struck the wall. She hit the ground, her feet already moving. The machines might be terrifying, but the ruthlessness Lilith exhibited made her far more frightening.
The closest enforcer fired, but the bullet struck a patch of blue shield. Its companion attempted to lunge at Lilith, but struck a similar aura of blue. Whatever Lilith could create, they were beautifully positioned barriers to stop gunfire or to hold the synthetics in place. As the first fired another round, the blue shifted, and the bullet ricocheted, striking the second in the skull. The blast tore open the metal.
Lilith jumped up onto the first synthetic and placed her hand on its head. I expected her to wrestle it free from the neck, or grind the hydraulics until it was shrapnel. She reached to the back and tore the metal forward, her fingers digging into the hole her knife had made earlier. Popping preceded the one armed synthetic slowing to a halt.
Blue shields kept its partner in place, preventing the arms from snatching her. It resorted to weapons and guns attempted to spew forth massive rounds. Both arms exploded, sending bits of shrapnel skidding along the ground. Lilith growled as the machine leaned against one of her shields, determined to free itself. Like an acrobat, she timed the jump perfectly, the shield vanishing and the synthetic stumbling forward. She brought her fists together, clubbing the machine on the head, once, twice, and then a third time. It reached for her, but shredded limbs couldn’t knock her free. The skull collapsed in on itself as she pounded it a fourth time.
Lilith slipped down the machine, staggering backward until she collapsed on the pavement. It took a moment before my muscles responded. I crawled to Lilith. Her face was cool to the touch and her eyes fluttered as she struggled to keep consciousness. I gave her cheek a light pat, but it was useless as her body relaxed. Looking up to the towering behemoths of metal, I knew it was a matter of time before more came.
“Lilith,” I stood up, grabbed her by the shoulders and started dragging. “We are not dying in Detroit.”