On the Television, a young bearded man sat at a desk. A backdrop of high tech construction projected onto a screen behind him. He was speaking now with a grave voice. “Another four hundred are confirmed dead after a car bomb went off in the IFV Government building, inside the Capital. The group Robots Deserve Rights”— A giant picture of the logo for RDR popped up, “—has refuted the attack. Their leader, Marx Leonard, made a statement shortly after saying his people are hungry for the Federal Government to identify autonomous robots as free-thinking individuals; with access to the same basic rights of all humanity. And violence is not a way to achieve this. Regardless, members of the group are suspected behind the attack.”
Sara Redfield diverted her attention from the viewing monitor as a service worker handed her the coffee and sandwich she ordered.
“Have a Stoic day!” He said, a smile on his face. “Enjoy your delicious Stoic produced ham and turkey sandwich, chalk full of vital nutrients--“
“Thank you.” Sara turned away from him and moved through the crowded lobby, full of eager people waiting in line to order.
The restaurant’s sign, simple giant green neon letters spelling “Stoic”, illuminated the street in a soft glow. The light drizzle of rain on a dark cloudy morning reflected the ambient glow from the restaurant. Sara moved down the side walk, heading towards her bus stop, taking sips from her coffee and bites from her sandwich as she went. Passing signs along the wall promoting Stoic as a wonderful place to eat. Sara ran into a man, spilling coffee all over herself.
“Oh, my gosh, I’m so sorry!” Sara said, wiping hot coffee off her coat. She noticed with some small amusement that the color of the stain blended in with her coat. Sometimes it was the small victories after all.
Sara couldn’t see the man’s face. A large dark coat concealed his body, a hood from a sweatshirt underneath covering his face. He did not seem to notice that she’d bumped into him. Instead he faced the sign, which shifted from advertisements of Stoic to infographics on Stoic’s benefit to society.
Sara was about to brush it off and walk past him when he turned his head to look at her. She saw why he’d not been bothered by her collision. He was a robot. His angular metal face had a faded black painted arrow coming down to his forehead and red letters above his eyebrow that read D-4814. His eyes, those discernable robotic eyes that have a strange life-like quality to them, grey and soft blue, glowed. The iris like a shutter in a camera. A light, seeming distant, glowed in the reticle. His jaw was wide and Sara could tell this was a male robot, or one that identified as male and constructed himself that way. When you toss out biology, the gender attribution to these robots was purely social.
“Hello.” He spoke to her with that not quite human voice but as close to it as you could get.
Sara ignored him and moved to go around him. The robot moved to obstruct her.
“Did you know, twenty-five years ago, twenty-three percent of the population was starving to death?” He asked her, his head tilted to the side and his eyes glowed a harsh light in an attempted display of curiosity-- or was it sympathy?
“Of course.” Sara replied. That statement was popular at political hearings and Sara remembered those times well.
Sara lost her father to starvation when she was seven. Her mother a few years later from medical complications; probably due to the fact she wasn’t eating anything, either. A disease, Azyleothoma, had spread like wild fire through the livestock population, whittling their bones and making their produce laced with the disease. Hundreds of thousands of children got sick from the disease before they discovered the problem and eradicated the infected livestock. All the children that got sick died soon after. Adults immune system could fight it, but the children had gotten sick so fast that the disease was too far along before the cure could save them. It was a modern-day polio. The world was left with no livestock and billions of people to feed. Azyleothoma was still a threat today, and every so often you’d hear of a child getting sick from it, only those under five ever had a threat of getting it. When the parents would hear it’s what the child had, it was usually an inevitability of their death. The quarantine the infected underwent blocked off all communication the parents had with the child, until they were told the child didn’t make it. Which was always the case; no one ever survived. Due to the infectious nature of the disease, the parents couldn’t even get the body back to bury or cremate. It was awful.
When Stoic, a government funded eatery, had come out the impact was immediate. A full meal for less than five cents, free water, and a source of employment. Stoic caused the starving bellies of America to cease rumbling. A breakthrough in cell cloning allowed Stoic to reproduce beef, chicken, and pork without needing actual animals. Once the government got it down to a fine science, the production of food was clockwork. Everyone in America now had access to food. Stoics started opening everywhere. Unemployment fell, hunger and poverty fell, mental disabilities fell, and America was on the cusp of utopia.
“Do you know how they get the food?” The robot asked, turning his attention back to the ad.
Sara thought for a moment. “They genetically create the animal via cell manipulation.”
His eyes widened at this. His metal hinged jaw working like he was grinding his teeth. “Interesting.” His tone flat, like he didn’t believe it.
Sara felt her face get heated. “Then explain it to me, Arti.” Sara spat the insult at the audacity this random robot had to question a Pulitzer prize winning journalist.
Sara could hear a whirring noise before the robot spoke again.
“What would you be willing to give, for Stoic?” The robot still had a kind of pitying light in his eyes. Maybe she was reading too into it but for some reason Sara felt like a child being humored by a parent who knows the truth of how babies are made.
“People aren’t starving to death anymore, is there too high a price to pay for human lives?” Sara scowled at the robot. “I don’t think so, but what would an Arti know about life?”
“Your insults used as a defense do nothing for your argument.” The robot said. “The truth I know, comes from Marx Leonard himself.”
Sara scoffed at the religious leader’s name being dropped. “Bringing up a religious leader does nothing for your argument.”
People meandered around them like they weren’t even there. Their faces glowed in the dim light of their Pocket Communicators.
“Life is an argument. One entity wanting another, and one deciding whether they get it. The beauty of debate, how unfortunate you can’t be more open-minded.”
Sara rolled her eyes. “Are you some speaker for RDR? Out to win the hearts and minds of the Capital? Go waste your time on someone else, the last thing we need is can openers voting.”
The robot nodded at this, which caught Sara by surprise. “Can opener.” He said to himself, trying out the insult himself. “I like it. Can your mind be the can?”
There was an odd glint in the robot’s eyes, it’s yellow glow flashed at her. “Is that a threat?” Sara said.
The robot turned to her, a blink separating his action. Sara instinctively recoiled back. He placed his hands-on Sara’s shoulders. “No. It’s an invitation! An invitation to the truth.”
“Get your fucking hands off me, Robot. Or I’ll have you decommissioned.”
The robot released her and Sara stormed down the street.
“I thought journalists cared about the truth?”
Sara froze. How did he know she was a journalist? She didn’t remember telling him and she didn’t have a celebrity status of facial recognition. She looked down at her arm. 6:25 glowed just below her wrist. She had five minutes till the bus came. Sara turned around to face the robot. Her eyes grazed the misty street and saw no sign of him.
Sara ‘s eyebrows furrowed and she tossed her sandwich into a receptacle on the street, her stomach not hungry anymore. She warmed her hands on her coffee and tried to brush off her encounter with the robot. She focused on the sound of birds. Sara passed large, expansive apartment complexes full of people starting their day. A park with people walking their dogs, or people going for a morning run. Their breath, puffs of steam clouds, as they huffed off to wherever their run would take them. In a city like this you could go anywhere you wanted knowing you could get free transportation back if lost. There were police walking around, eager to help, preventing any sense of danger. Perks of being heavily taxed in the city, but perks Sara thought well spent.
Sara loved the inner city. A hub of life, employment, and homes where there was once a dark stain in the city as a reminder of the failure of past governments. The credit went to President Sierra Hartford.
“Sara Redfield?” An older man asked as she approached the bus stop.
“Yes?” Sara replied, noticing an elderly man bent over his cane but choosing to stand instead of sit.
“It is you! What an honor to meet you!” He held out a shaky hand which she took in a gentle but firm hand shake.
She didn’t know what to say. Sara thought this the weirdest start to her day she’d ever had.
“Love your publication.” He said with a big smile on his face.
This brought a smile to Sara’s face. “Thank you.”
“As far as I’m concerned, you’re the only honest person out here, these days. Everyone’s demanding rights for these damn robots and you’re the only one with the common sense to see down the road. Read the implications.”
“Someone’s got to look at all the angles.” Sara said.
The old man nodded. “How many bombings does this country need before we start cracking down on Robotic laws?”
Sara gave a depressed laugh. “Apparently to the President, always one more. You’d think she would care more about the lives of human beings then the rights of computers.”
“If you keep up the good investigative journalism, at some point they’ll come around. Still waiting on a piece about RDR.”
“We’ve got something in the works.” Sara told him.
“Good.” The old man turned his head and went back to what Sara thought was listening to music. It seemed like everyone was on their PCs these days. She changed her mind, deciding it was most likely an audio book; he seemed to be focusing more, a slight amused expression on his face.
A car door slammed. The sound reverberated down the still street. Perpendicular to the street she was on, a few blocks down, an old van was parked on the curb. White smoke emitted from the muffler. It caught in a breeze and enshrouded most of the van in a haze. Sara hadn’t seen a gas-powered vehicle since she was a child, and there were no more gas stations.
Sara brought up her PC, the thin 8-inch piece of mirror used for phone calls, texting, social media, and limitless other possibilities. She thought this was a good opportunity to get something for her cover piece. Opening the camera mode and zooming in on the van gave her a much clearer view then her eyes could see from this distance. The driver sat ridged, facing the front with both hands on the wheel in a typical ten and two formations. A robot. His arms metal, decorated with all sorts of what the robots called tattoos but was really painted graffiti. Various dark red lines painted all around the arms with most shooting back under a loose-fitting t-shirt with grease stains on it.
Sara snapped a few photos. The unusual sight of a robot driving a gas-powered vehicle screamed out-of-place. His face was worn, not shiny and well-kept like most. He had a faded red arrow painted on his head like the one she spoke with earlier. Sara wondered if this was a marking of a new tribe forming within the robot population. She was familiar with the X on the right-side temple for Marx Leonard’s closest group, but not an arrow on the forehead.
Sara watched the vehicle through her camera and hit the button to record video. She wondered what its purpose was and why the driver was sitting there idling. Then a dark figure moved out from the back and dropped himself in the passenger seat. Sara’s heart skipped a beat. The Stoic robot. Something was going on, and she was in a prime position to find out.
The passenger’s side robot turned his head and said something to the driver. A loud screech startled Sara as rubber burned. The van took off down the side walk, dodging only a few obstacles before ramping off the curb onto the empty street. The van clipped a few parked vehicles, swiping their side view mirrors off. Sara was sure they were going to collide right into the bus stop. Sara rushed to grab the old man, who was lost in his audiobook. A loud screech pierced the air as the driver yanked hard on the wheel. Smoke filled the air as the tires burned, the van’s tail end swaying out behind it. The van made the turn and accelerated down the street.
Sara put her camera back up and followed the van. It turned and plowed straight through the Stoic’s windows. The sound of glass shattering and people screaming filled the otherwise quiet street.
Sara screamed in horror, her senses rushed back to her. She held the camera in front of her and started a quick briefing. “This is Sara Redfield, Investigative Journalist for CWN, where just seconds ago a gas-powered vehicle crashed into a downtown Stoic here on 45th and Shyan. I could see two robots, uh operating the vehicle.” Sara’s monologue sounded bad, she kept having to take huge breaths as she ran towards the screaming.
“I’m going to see if anyone needs help. Sir! Call the police!” Sara shouted back to the old man who was watching the commotion, he fumbled for his PC.
A few pieces of glass that still clung to the top of the windows started to fall, mimicking the rain, landing on the ground and shattering. As Sara got closer she could see pools of blood starting to seep out through the destroyed wall.
“There seems to be injury.” She trailed off. She could hear people screaming in pain from inside. How many people were in there when Sara left? She figured maybe fifty, all crowded around the front.
Sara felt a thump against her chest. A bright light blinded her as flames shot out from the Stoic and an ear deafening boom shook the windows of near-by buildings. The force from the explosion knocked Sara off her feet, her PC spiraled through the air. She landed on her back on the plastic bio-fiber sidewalk. Sara’s head rang as great billowing clouds of dark smoke rose into the sky. Sara propped herself up on her elbow, looking around for her PC. She needed to film this.
Bodies littered the street. Impossible to identify in their charred state. Sara noticed a dark figure move through the smoke, ran out the far exit and headed down another street. A figure emerged from the bright burning remains, taking Sara’s focus. It was the driver. He raised a fist in to the air and pointed at one of the security cameras across the street.
“Freedom!” He yelled in a synthesized, booming voice and took off running.
A New Election
Sara Redfield sat in her office rubbing a large bandage on her elbow. Her ears had stopped ringing and rescinded to a low hum. Everyone in the office had stopped by at one point or another to make sure she was okay. As well as satisfy their hunger for the macabre, a few asked if she could describe the body parts in detail and watched her video over and over. They acted curious to an event they didn’t understand. This new violence was shattering the world most people lived in. A world in which utopia had been achieved. This sudden dark time in Sierra Hartford’s presidency had people questioning if any real change had been made. Heated political discourse was exchanged between the philosophers of the world and major world leaders about the civil rights of autonomous robots.
Sara’s news agency was involved in the political nature of robots. It was hot news and there were endless speculative articles a publisher could write both for and against robot rights. Sara was a little late to her meeting but arrived just as the weekend stories being exchanged were concluded. Sara sat down and Marie, Sara’s researcher and Ethics maven, started the meeting.
“Okay,” Marie powered up the screen that was the table they gathered around and sifted through some images from Sara’s video. “So, I looked in to your footage Sara, the arrows on their heads are significant.” Marie spoke loud and with the air of authority some people just inherit. She sowed an image of the driver of the van and another of a group of robots getting into a car. “They’re called the Sagitta group. Latin for arrow. Claim to be Leonard’s attack force tip, you know? The arrows are launched first. I sent Paul to look in to any other groups that could represent a next phase in their attack.”
“What, like a sword and shield group? Or boots on the ground? What’s that in Latin?” The table laughed at Mark’s comments. Sara rolled her eyes. Mark was a fireball as a reporter and his wit seeped through his prose like only the best can really do. But the high price for his quality is his opinionated stubbornness.
Thomas, another reporter, looked up from his tablet that was littered with windows of articles and pages. “Why Latin?” He asked.
The group turned to Sara. “Tell us, oh great Editor and Chief.” Mark quipped.
Sara looked around the room disappointed in her team. “What am I paying you people for?” There were a few chuckles. “They have some fascination with that period of human history. The fascination starts with Marx thinking he’s a prophet.”
Marie’s eyebrows furrowed. “A prophet? I’ve not seen anything on that.”
Sara let a small smile creep on her face as she brought up a few pages that projected onto the wall behind her. Images off mass amounts of robots and humans attending a sermon he did out in a park. Other images showed snippets and quotes from the Book of Marx, his self-published book of prophecies and his encounter with god.
“A prophet for the robot god?” Mark said.
Sara shot him a look of annoyance that dampened his smirk. “The Christian god, actually. He believes he’s been sent before the second coming of the Christ. He says he is Ezekiel, prophesying the destruction of Babylon. The Capital being Babylon of course.” The table burst out laughing and Sara joined in. “Hey, remind yourselves, you’re journalists. He has every right to think that and say it.”
“Does anyone actually believe him? Like people, not robots.” Thomas asked.
“It would seem so, but why don’t you find out why? That’ll be your next beat.” Sara gave him a sly smile and Thomas groaned.
“Okay, back to the robots that almost killed me.”
The table nodded and Marie continued. “Sagitta isn’t a formally recognized group of RDR.”
Sara looked up from her note after jotting down Thomas’s new piece. “Interesting. They’re operating outside of Marx’s orders?”
Marie read from her tablet in front of her. “Yes. His official position is against violence.”
Mark gave a sharp laugh. “Sure, his official position. I bet he’s pulling strings. It’s not like he’s out there trying to stop them, is he?” Mark, a known anti-robot advocate who wrote opinion pieces for Sara, gave a theatrical huff and shook his head. “We should just strip them of their code and revert them back to their original software. Been saying that for years.”
“Are you serious, Mark?” Marie scolded him. “Remember how many models malfunctioned and killed people on accident?”
“Better than on purpose.” Mark said.
The group broke out in heated words. Sara half agreed with Mark but then understood the advantages to having them sentient so they could take care of themselves. She hated the idea that these machines humans created were biting the hand that feeds.
Sara’s secretary, Model Jennings, interrupted the room with a serious look on her face. The group quieted to let her speak.
“Sara, phone.” Model told her.
“I’m in a meeting.” Sara told her.
Model stared at her. “You’ll want to take it, it’s Mr. Baltar.”
The group in unison looked over to Sara.
“Alright.” Sara got up. Everyone’s eyes watched her leave. Sara could only imagine the type of gossip that was going to derail the meeting in her absence.
Sara walked back to her office, passing large photographs of recent covers and news articles that had won critical acclaim. Sara couldn’t help but smiling as her name appeared in most of them, albeit in small typography. She felt another story was building, she just needed to find out where it was.
Frederick Baltar was their owner but left the Current World News and affiliated well enough alone. He owned tech companies that were more worth his attention. After a company party over the winter holidays Sara had a long, drunken, conversation with him which made them a little bit of friends. Which led to every once in a while, a call from him with a nudge in the direction of some insider gossip or story that was about to break.
“Redfield,” Sara said. She moved behind her desk, the light wireless phone resting against her ear as she logged into her computer. The reason Frederick had called her office, and not her PC, is the CWN lined-in phones had so much decryption and encoding on them it would be impossible for anyone to record or gain access to their conversation. On a PC it might be easier to hack.
“Sara.” Frederick’s hello. “She’s not going to run again.”
Silence filled the void between them. The color drained from Sara’s face. Dings and colors flashed on the lower right-hand screen of her monitor. Her emails were blowing up. She wasn’t the only person learning this.
Sara took a breath and considered the amount of work in front of her. “Why?” She asked.
Frederick laughed. “She’s old, Sara. Tired and old. She doesn’t want to do this for the rest of her life and no one else wants her to. She’s laid a foundation of progress the next candidate is going to run on.”
“Has she already named a successor?” Sara asked, pulling a screen tablet out from her desk and writing notes on it with a stylus.
“Not yet.” Frederick’s tone had a playful lilt to it.
Sara sat back in disbelief. “You?”
Frederick chuckled. “You say it like it’s a bad thing.”
“I would think you have a lot of hands in a lot of cookie jars for you to take that position.” Sara fired at him.
“Calm down, nothing official. Yet. But I want to meet. Go over a strategy. I want you to pick a new photographer as well. I don’t like anyone you have.”
“Anyone I have? I have the best photographers in the world.”
Sara could hear Frederick breathing before he answered. “Yes, but none of them I trust to be able to get you out of a sticky situation.”
“That’s why you hire protection.” Sara didn’t want to lose her photographers, besides being the best, they meshed well with her personality.
“Not on the assignments I’m having you do. Low key, undercover. Two-man field team. I’d think it’d be easier to teach a body guard how to hold a camera then a cameraman to fight.”
Sara’s head felt stuffy and a headache was creeping its way into her day. “Wait, does that mean I’m leaving my reporters here.”
“I’m looking into them, I know some of your top performs are special to you. Don’t worry about it now. I’ll message you and set up a time to meet. I’ll have better answers then.”
The phone went dead before Sara had time to protest.
If she could take Marie and maybe Thomas that would be sufficient, she could afford to lose Mark. However all of them would be a bonus. The photographers weren’t going to enjoy this news, but what they had gigs all over the city. Sara could hear the murmuring from the conference room some distance away. When she entered the group, as she suspected, was losing itself to gossip.
“Get in trouble again, boss?” Mark asked.
“Zip it. I want everything we know about Frederick Baltar.” Sara knew the man surface level, but if he was being named the next President of the United States and wanted her to work in the white house with him, she needed to know everything about him. Even the things he didn’t know about himself.
Marie spit her coffee out of her mouth and the rest stared at her.
Sara plopped herself down at her chair. “I’m not saying I don’t know who the fuck he is,” the group laughed. “I’m just saying what’s his secrets? What do we know, that others don’t?”
Thomas, with his bearded face and tangled hair, spoke. “Let’s see, his family owns a quarter of the worlds wealth. He’s the direct decedent of Pasius Baltar.” Cherry and Mark gave a Whoop Whoop! “—Heralded king of America. His grandfather Pasius had an IQ of over 200. This guy’s no different. Still using technology they discovered from Nec Plus Ultra. World dominating tech industry.”
Sara had learned all that in high-school. She wanted to know what they didn’t print in the press. “Do you think Frederick and Hartford have a close relationship?”
Thomas leaned back and crossed his legs. “I would think so. B&B Inc. work with the government all the time. All the safety systems with traffic to our PCs. There would be plenty of reasons to meet with her on various political platforms. Campaign donations. Government buying his tech. His charities. His political agenda.”
Mark was scrolling through his PC with a confused expression on his face. “I wouldn’t see why that would make him buddy-buddy with the prez. If you’re asking about the closeness of their nature, as in does he call her at night when he can’t sleep? I doubt it.”
Thomas shook his head, his beard swaying with the motion. “Doubt it? He’s a nice, charming fellow, and she’s very personable. If they spend any amount of time together regularly their bound to be more than business affiliates.”
Mark looked lost in his PC and everyone waited for his response. Mark’s eyes came up and locked with Sara’s, she smiled knowing what was coming. “Sierra Hartford is resigning?”
Marie snapped her attention to Sara. “Are you saying Baltar is the President Select?”.
She knew this was going to be a busy day. “Let’s keep an eye on him. The President will be leaving office at the end of this year. She’s going to announce a successor.”
Marie, and Thomas made audible displays of shock. Mark did not look impressed. “Fucking. Bullshit.” He said.
Sara rolled her eyes. “Enlighten us Mark.”
Mark’s arms were crossed. A frown creased his forehead, the PC crammed in his pocket. “This is still a fucking democracy regardless of how many socialist programs we have.”
“Here we go, again.” Thomas mumbled.
Mark threw up his hands. “There should still be a vote for god sakes!”
Sara marveled at his ignorance. What did he want? America to go back to the ‘good old days?’ No one wanted those times again, or those policies. Those things were destroying America. “There is still a vote. That’s why the Robots want to vote. To get Marx as president.”
Thomas nodded. “Exactly. I’d rather not be able to vote, then to lose the Presidency to a fucking robot.”
Marie fired in her two cents. “And who else are you going to vote for, dipshit? No one’s run against the woman in her thirty-five years of Presidency, anyway.”
Mark looked at them like they were all idiots. “That’s not the point! The point is, the President does not just select who’s next. That sounds like a bad road. How can we trust Hartford’s judgement?” Mark spat the words at her like it was a bad taste in his mouth.
Sara felt like laughing. “You’re doubting the woman who brought the world back from the brink of extinction?”
“Just because she has good programs doesn’t mean she’s a good judge of character.”
“Well vote for someone else then, or run yourself.”
Mark pointed in the air. “That’s the problem, everyone’s too goddamn afraid in this country to have a different opinion. You can’t run against her!”
Sara and the table laughed.
Thomas shook his head in disappointment. “That’s the classic conspiracy bullshit. There’s no hidden agenda out there stopping other people from running. People like what she’s done so far and want to see it continue. No one will run against her successor because they want what’s best for the country more than they want the position.”
“Yeah, you want this, do you Thomas? You know Frederick’s in love with those robots. Christ, the guy will probably marry one soon. He’s going to give them everything they want and more. You still like this idea, Fatty?”
Mark was the joker of the group, Sara had let him have his angsty ways and bitting personality because he was good. Sometimes he took it too far. This was one of those times. “Mark.”
Mark sighed, he got up and went over to a small dish on the wall and placed his arm on it. The AmWire chip depositing a hundred dollars to the insult bin, which they used for their winter break end-of-year party. “I’m sorry.” He said before plopping back down in his chair.
Sara interrupted before Thomas could go answer. “Let’s get to delegations, please? You can rant in an opinion piece, Mark.” He nodded silently.
Marie tucked dark hair behind her ear, and sat up with her knees folded on her chest. A tablet and stylus firmly in place. “I’m going to work on some more with the robot cliques within the population. There’s an insurgency going around. A lot of them won’t talk to me. Seems like somethings going down.”
“Good.” Sara said, writing that down on her pad. With Thomas working on humans who believe Marx is a Christian Prophet and Mark with his opinion pieces, Sara started constructing an article about Frederick Baltar. She’d do a cover wide expose on him. That way the people would know a little more about who their next President could be.
Sara dismissed the team and they all got up and left. Sara enjoyed the quiet conference room. Her eyes took in the length of the oval wood desk. It’s grains running outward from her. Sara felt a strange feeling boiling up inside her. Something was going to burst, but Sara couldn’t imagine what from. She felt sick, her stomach giving a hurdling lurch. Bile rose in her throat and Sara dashed to the waste basket in the corner. Her Stoic breakfast sandwich came out in a rush followed by rank smelling coffee.
Sara’s head swam and her vision blurred. She stumbled back to her chair and reached for the intercom receiver to get Model’s help. The desk disappeared and instead her arm reached out to a street filled with body parts. Whole legs hung hewn from the hip bone, blood pouring from the wound. The flesh wasn’t charred from the explosion. Instead, a discolored skin tone with bruising and dark veins that threatened to break through the skin. A torso lay against a light post, the body’s head missing. There was screaming. Sara couldn’t tell if it was her own screaming or someone else’s. Then the screaming changed to tires squealing. The van was heading down behind her, and her body refused to turn and look. The rev of the gas-powered motor grew louder as the charging animal barreled down on her. Every nerve in Sara’s body screamed to get out of the way, but she remained frozen, arm outstretched to the chaos. The motor was right behind her when the street exploded all over again. A robot, dark black with red eyes shining out into the morning darkness, emerged. Instead of pointing to the camera’s he pointed at Sara. “Freedom!” He screamed.