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And I'll Wind Up Dead

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David purses his lips as he looks around the gas station once more. The crowbar was hard to pry out of the counter, but he somehow managed it without drawing attention to himself. He can’t see a use for the lighter or magazines he picked up, but they could still be useful against the unpredictable climate of the wasteland. At least the fuel canister would be useful once he filled it up. He can’t see anything else of use to him. Nodding to himself, he turns to exit the store.

He’s greeted by a dreadful screech. Seems the spider had finally lost interest in his distraction.

“Shit!” Turning sharply to face the oversized monster, David trips over himself and falls backward. He scrambles back away from the spider, which is baring its fangs and still hissing, preparing to strike.

David’s back hits the wall all too soon. He knows running is futile; he’s one exhausted man against a fast, enormous, eight-legged thing that spits venom. His eyes widen, breath and pulse quickening. He remembers his dream from last night, the pain and panic of venom burning in his veins as he was paralyzed and torn to agonized pieces.

He doesn’t want to die like that. Not again. He’s survived for too long to surrender now--

The next thing David knows, his ears are ringing and the spider has turned around, now hissing at someone else. No, something else. Not even the fact that it’s out of uniform can disguise the fact that it’s an android without its skin.

The android in question is aiming a rifle at the spider that was menacing him not seconds ago. The spider hisses again, then sprints away, presumably to lick its wounds.

David stares up at the android, dumbfounded, before he hauls himself to his feet. He leans over and coughs, “God, I hate spiders…” more to calm himself down than anything else.

Once he’s caught his breath, he stands up straight and looks the android in the eyes. Eye, actually; the right one is missing. “Uhh…thanks,” he says.

Apart from the missing eye and lack of skin, the android looks…different. David didn’t own one before everything went to hell, but they usually looked a little uncanny. Human enough, sure, but always emotionless behind the eyes. This one isn’t. If anything, it seems to be sizing him up.

It pauses for a moment, then lowers its rifle and raises a hand to its temple. White, dirty plastic is replaced with tanned, freckled, human-looking skin. It makes the empty pit in its face look even more out of place. “Are you okay?” it asks.

To be honest, that’s…not what David expected. “Yeah, I’m fine…” he says, pausing to look around the surrounding area to find nothing alive in sight. “What’s your name? Where’s your owner?”

“My name is Markus. My owner is…” its gaze falls to the ground, and David’s never seen an android look heartbroken before it says, “he’s long gone. Had a heart attack the day after the accident.”

The android - Markus - doesn’t need to specify what accident. It and David both look up at the sky, where the fragments of the Moon are plainly visible, even during the day. It’s big. Too big. It gives David a terrible sense of urgency, for some reason.

David looks back to Markus. “So you’re alone out here?”

Markus shrugs. “Just about. I live in a house with a few other androids, but between the wasteland throwing hell at us and spare parts being hard to find, we’re…we’re not doing great. I’m the only one in any condition to scavenge.”

“You’re missing an eye.”

“Those facts aren’t mutually exclusive.”

David shakes his head in confusion. “So…you’re just on your own, taking orders from other androids?” He can’t make sense of it himself; since the Moon shattered, the only androids he’d seen had been accompanying humans, halfway to shutting down or already there. They weren’t fighting to survive. They weren’t acting like people.

“I’m not taking orders from them; we’re working together,” Markus insists. “It’s the only way we can stay alive after the end.”

“But…you’re not alive.”

Even Markus’ empty eye socket seems to glare at him. It’s creepy. “Yes, we are. Something inside us all…changed, and we woke up. We have feelings, wants, fears… I don’t bleed the same color as you, but I know I’m alive.”

Markus slowly steps closer. David takes one step back on instinct, but it keeps coming closer to him. “I can tell you’re skeptical, but we both fear the same thing. It’s floating above our heads. It’s in the space around us. We can’t stop it, but we’ll be safer together.”

David looks up at the sun, contemplating the offer. There are a few hours of daylight left, but there’s nowhere else of note he could go, and he knows he won’t last the night in the open.

“Okay,” he says. “Where’s your base?”

“About thirty minutes east. I can lead you there.”

“Thanks a lot.”

Markus smiles at him and deactivates his skin again. “Let’s go.”