The stolen personnel carrier rumbled to a halt as the Citadel grew on the horizon, as though humanity itself was trying to build a mountain to make it’s mark on the world. And quite a mark, too – when the hatch dropped onto the ground and we crawled out into the open air, breath was stolen from each of us. It was hard to appreciate the scale of the destruction from inside the protective shell of the vehicle – there was devastation as far as the eye could see, as though the Citadel were a bomb dropped onto the landscape, tearing craters from the surrounding area much like a starving man might rip into a hunk of bread. My eyes adjusted slowly as I took in the ghosts of a battle lost ages ago – corpses of vehicles scattered about the ground before the Citadel, the very earth having drunk deep and tinted itself red with blood and rust, down to the very leaves on the few remaining trees, tinged with red from their bloodlust. In the distance, a short distance from the wall, the land was bare and clean – the vultures from the Citadel had scavenged what was close, it seemed, but hadn’t yet gotten to the graveyard at the edge of the zone. My gaze fell upon a tornado of leaves that wound it’s way past the wounded metal creatures, each sprawled out as though going to sleep forever. My reverie was only broken by the wind tugging at my trenchcoat like a small child.
Taking a deep breath let me savor all the subtle notes of rust and brought an unwanted thought to my mind – is this how I will end up someday? Rusted and forgotten? I found myself shaking my head faster than the thought wrote itself into existence before turning back to the group. “I think a rest break is what we need right now, fifteen minutes or so – need to take care of those vital bodily functions and stretch the legs a bit.” A small amusement – guilt, accompanied by a friendly smile towards Wormwood. Is guilt a manufactured feeling? It is human?
I found myself standing in front of the trailer, the door halfway open before I realized what was happening. That’s what is needed – a distraction. A ride through the wasteland to clear my head. The moment I got the wheels on the ground, I looked up and saw Seranya standing there, eyes looking hopefully at me, glancing between the sidecar and my face. Seranya, our renegade robot, my sister – if anyone else saw those eyes, would they see hope, or something cold? Pity if they can’t see her as I can.
“You want to go for a ride, sis? See how far we can get in five minutes and then turn back?” The grin on her face, the hopping up and down on the balls of her feet – you can’t manufacture exuberance, can you? The moment she was settled in, I gunned the accelerator and felt the motorcycle lurch like a greyhound chasing a rabbit – all speed, no reservation. We chased the horizon for what felt like hours to us, our brains working blindingly fast but communicating little with each other – there was no need. The vistas around us – the pain, devastation, loneliness – they said that which our words could not. So strange to be alone in a world full of people. But here, just the two of us, that was enough, for now.
Reaching the crest of a low hill, I felt this compelling force to shut the cycle down. Coasting to a stop, my eyes flitted our surroundings. The hill dropped off sharply into a crater where water had pooled from a previous rainstorm. In the center rose a small mound of dirt with a little flower struggling to survive in the desolate landscape. One look at my sister’s face told me what must be done. Clambering down into the crater took no time at all, and soon I was caked with mud and clambering up the side, cupping the flower in my free hand. Tucking it behing Seranya’s ear brought a smile to her face. “Here you go sis.” A small favor to the flower – a brief life cut short to serve a more beautiful purpose than it’s meagre existance would allow.
On the return trip, Seranya requested that she be allowed to drive, to get used to her new arm. I made a mistake – I accepted. The flower was torn from her hair as she ripped open the throttle and sent the motorcycle tearing through the harsh landscape, leaving the petals of the flower caught, hanging on the sunbeams behind us. Marveling at the fear flushing through my system, I found my knuckles gripping the frame of the sidecar so tightly that they went pale. Imagine, if those servos were stronger, the metal would dent or tear… in years gone by it would be unthinkable for a human to be able to make such changes. For me? It would be rather simple…
The ride of terror was over as almost as soon as it began. As we pulled up towards the group, Seranya’s laughter finally caught up with us, the wind finally giving up her prize. My eyes set on Pitbull as he emerged from the remains of a tank, grumbling severely with empty hands. He seemed as shocked to see Seranya driving the motorcycle as I was to be riding in it. As I frantically scanned the horizon for some sort of unwavering reference point to prevent my stomach from turning, I saw Wormwood sulking not too far away from the van, slouched in his chair. His eyes were carefully avoiding looking at either Pitbull and Pacoy. At the screaming approach of our motorcycle, one of Pacoy’s bots angled an optic up at us, his actual eyes and hands occupied by sort of bobbing, weaving, accelerating and nausea inducing tech. Or maybe the tech was stationary. Even for a mind wired to process data faster than a bolt of lightning can strike, I still had a hard time telling.
It took only a minute to stop the bike again, and by that time a bored looking Eris emerged from the back of the APC, where the dame had been primping, preening, bugging the ride or editing together something-or-other that would expose my nature to the world. The choices reeled through my mind as everyone began congregating back towards the vehicle – it was time to hit the road again, and despite all we had been through, I had a hunch that the longest part of the journey was yet to come.