The two in the doorway were apparently caught off-guard by their recklessness. As the five black knights lit up the building’s front, burning ammo with abandon, they all howled and jeered.

Skrimp could feel the adrenaline setting in.

Once they’d reached the door, they each took turns reloading. In the ear-ringing absence of gunfire, Skrimp could hear his own laughter.

Just then, a voice could be heard from inside. “So much for warning them!” The pink robot said.

A trap? Skrimp wondered.

Liddy punched his arm. “Worry not! I’ll breach.”

All of them filed in behind the gaunt and strange man as he led the way into the dark. There was a brief moment before their night vision activated. A green landscape appeared to Skrimp out of that black, and he took in the sight of a dozen pillars. They stood in rows, wide apart, each as thick as a red oak. They supported the vaulting ceiling of what they had assumed before to be a multistoried building.

A couple of gunshots popped off, coming from nowhere. They scrambled for cover.

Skrimp found himself behind the leftward pillar with Liddy, frantically confirming he hadn’t been hit.

“Nothing critical,” he heard Liddy say. When he looked, Liddy was inspecting the hole that had been blown out of his upper arm.

“Jesus, man!”

“Shhh,” Liddy, warned. “Watch this.” He stuck out his hand, only for another gunshot to crack off, obliterating two of his fingers.

Skrimp cursed, reflexively covering his head. “Stop that!”

“He’s a Nephilim,” Liddy whispered. “Half demon.

Fuckers using an aimbot, Skrimp realized. “Well, what the h-hell are you, huh?”

“Beyond pain, back from the grave.” As soon as he said it, Liddy leaped from cover again.

He could hear the bullets crashing into them, and the low thwump of Liddy’s grenade launcher trigger. In a rush of faith, knowing the shooter would be distracted, he moved out of cover the opposite direction. Continue reading


People gravitate together, Skrimp thought. Cities were the logical conclusion. Even within them, that gathering force would make pockets of density. There would always be the spaces in-between, then, for shadows to gather.

That’s where they’d gone to meet up with their own people. All of them now strangers to the light.

He could already make out the van ahead, sitting in the only patch of snow streaming down from the broken roof above. The abandoned structure around them groaned as their echoes passed through.

Such a massive building’s dark corners became depthless, and in the pit of Skrimp’s stomach, he felt the weight of that vastness. They would be going even deeper into the blackout zone tonight before all was said and done. He was ready to brave the abyss.

Dag brought them to a stop twenty yards off. He dropped the stand and dismounted, Skrimp quickly following. They left the bike behind them without looking back. On their approach, the van doors opened for them, three people stepping out.

Each of them was clad in black paramilitary gear, carrying automatic weapons. Dag grabbed one such weapon as he approached, quickly going through the motions of checking the chamber and magazine. Skrimp was also offered one, but he simply shook his head. He wasn’t confident about handling it; his pistol would be enough.

He could tell that one of the three was a woman, but beyond the glossy sable of their masks, he could make out nothing.

“This is the resistance, huh?” he asked.

One of them replied in a rasping voice. “Ten thousand strong.”

“We’re decentralized,” Dag said. “We have the power to start a riot or burn an entire district, Skrimp, but the system is slow. It’s literally word of mouth.”

“I was in deep with the Puritans and the Seekers. I never heard nothing.”

“By design.” Dag stepped into the van, extending a hand.

As Skrimp was pulled in he looked back at the faint shine of the black bike. Suddenly he realized just how far those days were behind them. Continue reading


The midnight cold made the room I was in like a freezer. Within the flooded basement of the slaughterhouse, among murderers, my body brimmed with furious energy.

Stepping a few paces forward, I aimed for her eyes. I squeezed the trigger and watched her head jolt. But not a scratch was dealt. Shit.

Something was wrong here. She was right. This place was a dead lead. “Goddammit,” I swore. I needed to get out of here pronto.

“My, my.” She sat up from where the shock had knocked her back. “What do you think then, Ryou? Shall we try him on the chair?”

A man appeared out of thin air between me and her. He was a strong-faced Asian man, clad in a long white cloak. The field around him had somehow completely hidden him from the full spectrum of my sensors. My heartbeat quickened, even faster.

He shook his head. “We’ve tried his type before.”

I trained my gun on him. “How did you do that?”

“Oh, Honey, you have no idea what’s possible,” the machine said, lounging on the throne. She sighed. “It’s really a shame. To be left with only such a tantalizing taste.”

The cloaked one is who I had to worry about. I had to shoot him before he closed the distance. Then, I could bolt. Forget about her.


As I let bullets fly out, he simply ducked around every shot I fired, marching towards me as he did. Fast as lightning, it was like he knew my every move. As one pistol ran empty I raised the next, frantically squeezing the trigger.

Without missing a beat he grabbed my gun with one hand, and with the other, he shoved me to the ground. “It’s a shoddy program,” he observed. “A simple aim and maneuvering assist. Zero predictive strategy involved.” Looking down on me in the waters as he tossed my gun aside, a stoic stare was all I got. “…Weak.”

My steel grip took hold of his ankle and wrenched, but my hands had grasped something hard as stone. He didn’t budge an inch with all my effort. Neither did his solemn expression.

Reality came crashing back into me all at once.

You underestimated them.

The man standing over me only had to apply pressure to drive me into the murky floodwater. As he did so, it spilled into my mask and up my nostrils. I instantly choked and sputtered in panic.

“You think-!” I coughed, “you think you know me, Ryou!?”

He stopped for a moment, considering the question. He made up his mind. “I do, yes. I already know that you’re going to attempt to dissuade me from killing you, by convincing me that we should try you in the chair, even though you can’t fathom the implications of that. Every thought you’re having right now, and every belief and fear and conviction you hold, they are all written on your face. I do know you, young one. I see into you.”

I knew he was trying to shut me up, yet he had still lifted his foot. Desperately, my mind grasped. “You say all that, yet you give me the chance to speak anyway? ‘Cause what you see doesn’t make sense, does it? I don’t care what the odds are.”

“It’s the opposite. I see a simple pathology. A subconscious need to confront death. You yearn to escape from meaningless. Naturally, you disguise a drawn out suicide as purpose. Which brings you here. You are like Icarus, flying ever higher, fully aware his wings are mere wax.”

“Ryou,” the female robot cut in, “we haven’t got all night.”

He nodded, looking from her back to me. “Indeed. Now do you see?” he said, “I am the sun. I let you speak because my purpose is to show you, and killing you is not enough.”

As I was driven back into the water, my concentration shattered.

Suicide. No. It couldn’t be.

With the shock, I lost the image feed in my neck and was dropped into the black of my inner mask. Blind and deaf, my hands searched for anything, punching and thrashing as air ran thin.

In desperation, I thought to reach upward. Back to the stair steps which I had descended. There my fingers found purchase around a pipe. Then, I pulled.

The autopilot took over, helping me scramble to my feet before I could even think. I had barely regained focus, the image from my second eyes reforming in my mind just in time to see the fist coming at me. He had taken no time in mounting an assault.

I’d been punched before, but not like that.

Each hit was a solid steel freight train. I was driven back into the wall. Even though my hands were ten times as deft now as they’d ever been, perfectly carrying out the best defense I could imagine, it was nothing compared to him.

Run, Frode. My mind screamed it at me.

I was barely able to slip around one of his hits. Only once I realized he was intentionally pummelling me away from the exit could I dedicate myself to escaping his hurt-box. The only hope I had now was that I could be faster.

I stopped dead in my tracks as he landed in front of me, straight out of the air from a standing vault.

He stared me down.

Something broke inside me with the understanding which hit in that moment. I swallowed hard.

It can’t be. 

Rapidly backstepping, my eyes caught sight on the other one still just sitting in her chair. She acknowledged my horror. “These things happen, sweetie. You were never long for this world, I gather.”

“You’re wrong,” I said. “You think I’m suicidal? Fuck you. I’m alive.

A knife appeared at the side of my attacker. Just its subtle glint was enough to let my blood run cold.

My life suddenly flashed before my eyes. Each memory played by at super speed. It was torture and I hated it, but I had no control. I was lucky I could stand at all.

I tried not to get upset. I had to keep my head in the game. I could still do this. Everywhere I looked, though, I saw no way out.

“I don’t know what else I expected,” I spat out. “I didn’t expect it to be fair! But I’m no suicider! I’m alive for the first time, Goddammit-!”

In the blink of an eye, he stepped in and stabbed me in the gut. The pain of the blade was electrifying as it dug in. Then, he ripped. I could hear blood splash across the floor.

My screams strangled in my throat. My body locked and froze. For a moment I had a hold on him, a white raging death grip. As he let me go, though, I fell back, suddenly losing my strength. The impact of the metal underneath me was a dim sensation compared to the knife he’d left behind. Finally, I screamed. It poured out of me with the pain.

“Shh.” Ryou leaned down, snatching my mask. As it broke free from my neck and my naked eyes took in the shadows, they streamed tears.

“I don’t want to go,” I managed to say, strangled in agony.

My arms reached out to pull me forward as if I could crawl away. But there was nothing left in them. Years of tension were washing out of my body.

I watched him throw away my mask like he had the gun, turning his back on me.

“Please,” I said, leaning up to see my bloodsoaked hand. My head fell back, my chest heaving labored breaths. “Oh, fuck.

I was alone, here.

They didn’t bother to finish me before closing the door behind them on their way out. The lights automatically switched off a second later, leaving me in the darkness.

My eyes stared, unseeing, skyward.

Just breathe, I told myself.

This isn’t the end.

It can’t be…


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You could find anything online. Weirdos made it their hobby to model the city. To explore and record. Comparing the images I’d robbed from the heads of the dead, it hadn’t taken me more than an hour to find what I was looking for. It hadn’t been easy… But if there was one thing I was good at, it was working with complex data.

The heavy steel doors from the vision loomed ahead. Their graffitied exterior said nothing, but the death inside was still seared into my brain.

“Shock me all you like, I’m not going in there.” Ash prowled alongside a burnt up police vehicle at the edge of my vision.

“I’ll extend your range. If I die, though… The shock will be lethal.”

“You’d really just kill me? Isn’t that murder?”

“Is it?” I asked. “I would feel bad about the cat.” The thought came out fiercer than I expected.

“You know what? I have never been conflicted about wanting one of you to die before.”

“…There’s a first time for everything,” I said. “Maybe there’s something to say about the fact we all die together in the end.”

The cat sneered at me from the shadows.

I didn’t know what I was thinking. I was going in with nothing but a taser to take on a monster and a small army of professional human butchers. Big steel doors lied ahead. They were barred and locked, meant to keep the things behind them out of the fragile sight of people like me. Beware, they said, the doors keep monsters in as much as you out.

I took a deep breath. With my eyes closed, the signal in my head, I couldn’t blink or waver. I flipped on the taser and started towards the door.

For my friend.

My metal hand wrapped on its surface.

You should be looking for a side entrance. You should be running.

I knocked again.

Don’t throw away everything, Frode. Don’t kill yourself.


My program took hold.

They deserve it,” I said under my breath.

The door unlocked from within and began to slide back. A slit of light let out onto the barren street and widened, overtaking me. Stepping into that light and casting me in his shadow was a behemoth of a man.

I’m gonna need more amps.

His massive jaw stuttered, “n-not much m-meat on you, l-little skelly-ton.

He knew I was here to start trouble. He had already decided I would die, and I had already realized he could do it. I didn’t have time to think through the freeze that was trying to take hold in my bones. I bellowed. “WHAT YOU GOT?!”

He lurched forward, arms outstretching.

>trajectory calculated

My body moved like water, rushing under his arm and then sidestepping, putting us back to back. With him already leaning forward, I only had to push back to send his body to the asphalt. Like meat dropped on brick, his face smashed down as I quickly closed the door behind him again, locking him out.

The first cackle escaped my lips. My eyes darted over the interior of the hallway I had found myself in, the taser tight in my grasp. I only had to think and the pilot program interpreted the command to the military grade AI in my mask. Jerry took the reigns.

I started forward. Small pools of blood broke up under my footfalls as I traveled deeper into the building.

I remembered the way from when they’d killed me… Her.

The pounding of the giant on the outside doors began to sound. It echoed over me. Rapid footsteps came in from around the next corner in response to the noise.

My pace picked up to a sprint. We met at the same time, catching them by surprise right at the bend. The first man already had his gun in hand. Without even thinking it, as my taser stabbed into the flesh under his chin, my hand slipped over his and dislodged the pistol.

The next two fired without consideration for their friend. Their bullets tore into him as my momentum transferred, driving us both towards the wall. I set us into a spin to keep him angled as my shield before raising my new weapon and squeezing the trigger just twice.

They all fell down.

Blood was splashed across my arms and chest, I saw. My beating heart surged with me as I picked up another gun. My lungs expanded to bellow, “BUNDUS!? COME OUT!” They can’t stop me. “IT’S TIME TO PAY!”

More came running into the next hallway. They were augmented freaks laced with metal and lights this time, their proportions and gaits aberrant. Each one only took a single bullet, and aiming took no thought. I walked over their corpses.

The strong smell of brain and blood filled my nose. I didn’t stop.

Finally, I had reached the inner chamber at the bottom of the stairs. For some reason, I had almost expected more. This was his den and he was the head of the entire sector’s flesh-trade. Pride is what it was. Now he died.

My foot hit the door and it swung inward. The red insides of the room reflected on the soaked floors. As I stepped down and my eyes scanned the rafters for Bundus, I heard a noise.

A low cackle came from behind the bloody throne where the woman had died.

I didn’t waste any time in locking onto the source and firing.

The ricochets went violently around the room. The figure stepped forward into the light and sat down on the crimson seat as I watched.

Her metallic face shown in the dim as she leaned forward. The robot cooed. “You are absolutely precious.”

“You’re not who I came here for,” I said.

Her feminine voice almost broke with laughter. Her eyes were glowing silver like the moon. “It’s so refreshing when your type come around. Alone against the world, fresh-faced and grasping for power against insignificance. You always think you’re the first one to figure out a magic trick or two.”

“Where’s Bundus,” I demanded.

“I do love them…” She leaned in as if she was telling me a secret. “They’re always so surprised when the end comes.”


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