Under Fire, Under Steel – Kai Delmas

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Kai Delmas

My sensors boot up as my pod is en route to my next target. Explosive shells bang and thud all around me. If I were human I’d be scared for my life.

Luckily, I’m not burdened with fear. I need only follow orders and destroy my targets, whatever they may be. And if I fail, the military can send another killing machine just like me.

My pod decelerates, preparing for entry into the rebel compound. A missile strikes the pod and knocks me off course, this happens all the time—the pod is easier to hit once it prepares for landing.

The crash is uncomfortable but comfort is not part of my job description. I exit the pod and determine all my limbs are functional. A few dents here and there but their integrity hasn’t been harmed.

I’m one mile off target.

My metal limbs are highly flexible, yet robust and obviously bullet-proof. They carry me swiftly toward the compound. It doesn’t take long for the first snipers to take aim at me.

Bullets ping off my chest and head. I continue running until my targeting system is in range. Three tiny missiles blast from my arms and the bullets stop flying.

Once I near the compound gates more bullets come at me rapidly. They cling-clang off my armored exterior as I launch a grenade onto the landing above the gates where several rebels are gathered.

My heat vision identifies five other targets. Two small firearms slide out of my wrists into my hands and eliminate the threats.

I destroy the gate and place C4 upon the door to the compound’s science lab. After it detonates more rebels block my path. The only one who makes an impression is the one who fires a bazooka at me. The explosion rattles my sensors and causes some damage to my left shoulder area, disabling my limb but the rest of me remains functional.

I aim at the one who fired the missile and I twitch as I pull the trigger. The shot goes wide and he runs away.

Why did I twitch?

I don’t have time to run diagnostics. I need to finish my mission. I assume the blast must have caused more issues than I expected.

I move deeper into the interior of the science lab. More bullets fly my way but the rebels firing are on the retreat. They fire and run around corners before I can retaliate.

That seems wrong. My sensors should pick them up so that I can kill them before they shoot. The damages must be more extensive than I thought.

A noise startles me and I turn around. There’s nothing there but a red line on the floor. The trail leads all the way to me.

That can’t be right. Is that blood?

I don’t bleed. Do I?

I’m a machine. I’m not real. Am I?

My primary mission alert blares in my mind. My main target is nearby.

I will run diagnostics when I’ve completed my mission. I will figure out what’s wrong with me.

I break through two more doors and enter an experimentation chamber of some kind. Cables thread through the room, criss-crossed from wall to wall and floor to ceiling. Before my sensors can even detect my target a dull thud thrums through me.

A large metal lance punctures my chest and electricity sparks along all the cables and my body. Smoke rises and fizzles along my chassis and limbs. I try to move but I can’t.

All is still except for the dripping of blood. I know it’s blood even though I can’t smell or see it. And I know it’s coming from me. Why am I bleeding?

“Oh, you poor, unfortunate soul.” The scientist, my main target, walks through the net of cables. “They are cruel monsters.”

There’s nothing I can do. Only watch as he comes ever closer.

Right in front of me, he dislodges the lance from my chest and uses its peak to pry me open.

A human would be frightened right about now. But I’m not human. Am I?

My vision flicks back and forth. Looking at the scientist as he opens me up. Looking at the cables all around me. At my torn shoulder. I see a splattering of red.

“I wish I wouldn’t have had to demagnetize you but it was the only way to take you apart. Now comes the next unpleasant thing.”

My target scrapes metal against metal as he removes my armored chest piece and then my head.

My vision goes dark and I hear something I haven’t heard in forever. Deep, struggling breaths. My own.

I’m beginning to see something in the dark. A blurry shape moving in front of me.

“I’ll have to inspect your helmet more closely. It’s quite complex. They must have much more control over your thoughts than I assumed.”

Something cold presses against my forehead. “But that’s over now. They won’t be able to control you and make you hurt anyone ever again.”

That very human emotion—fear—courses through my veins. I know I’m about to die. And that means they will send another killing machine just like me. Except they won’t be me at all.

“Time to take you out of your misery.”

The pistol fires.

August 18th 2023

Under Fire, Under Steel published Aug 25th 2023


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Holley Cornetto’s The Orchard of Dreams, a wistful fantasy.
Y.M. Resnik’s Magic is Like a Box of Chocolates, all about how tough life is for trainee magical heroes and the difficult choices they have to make.
Robert Bagnall’s I Was Just Doing What You Asked, a salutary tale about being all wiffly waffly when there are robots around.

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