Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

He made the corner into the alley at a full sprint, nearly missing a mountain of abandoned waste containers, but not completely. One foot caught a lid, throwing him off balance, and momentum and gravity combined to send him skidding across greasy asphalt into the wall opposite. Rain water and urine raced each other to saturate his coat and chinos as he struggled to regain his feet, sweat and fresh blood clouding his vision where the alley brick had left its mark.

He’d killed a mech just ten minutes earlier, and he knew exactly what would happen if they caught him.

The buildings lining the alley stretched skyward, shutting out any light from above, and the streetlights could no longer penetrate the murk as he stumbled forward. A dumpster loomed out of the darkness, offering a route to a fire escape above, and he clambered upwards, leaping from the complaining metal of the bin to the hanging rungs of steel, then pulling hand over hand until he could hoist a foot up and climb higher to safety.

He hadn’t meant to kill anyone. He thought he’d surprise his girlfriend at home, used his key to her apartment, and found him there, with her.

The iron staircase announced his ascent to anyone with any interest, but he was past caring now, he needed to get clear of the area, and once he was on the roof, he was sure he could disappear.

She’d screamed when she saw him, just standing in the doorway of her bedroom, watching this other man, watching what he was doing with her. Something snapped, and he was suddenly wielding a lamp he didn’t remember picking up, swinging repeatedly at this strange mans head.

The iron rungs curled over the rooftop wall, and his heart pounding, chest heaving, he threw himself onto the flattop roof, gravel scattering beneath his boots as he raced towards an adjacent rooftop at random. He could run for miles up here, the buildings so close together, he could be halfway across the city before anyone knew to look for him.

He’d hit the stranger ten, maybe thirty times when it happened, the bastard started twitching wildly, not like a human would twitch, but violently, mechanically, arms and legs flailing about in perfect synchronized rhythm, the girl scrambling to safety, not from the bloody lamp, but from the flailing stiff limbed machine in a death fit conniption on her bed.

This was a somebody’s mech. Someone would own him, and they’d hunt him down and exact payment for the damage he’d done to their property. He fled. She screamed after him, but her words lost themselves in slamming doors and his tumbling down stairs. Lost themselves in the realization of liability and the promise of violent repercussions. People had been killed for accidental damage to these mechanical men, and he’s smashed this ones brains in, pulverized it beyond repair.

The city moved beneath his feet, slipped by as he jumped the narrowed gaps where buildings leaned towards each other, reaching to close any available space above the streets. Time and distance passed between he and his crime, and with each step, each ragged breath he began to feel less frantic. He would be safe, had to be safe, they couldn’t find him up here, they’d no idea where he’d gone. Maybe she wouldn’t tell them who he was.

He leapt again, a sudden drop in his stomach as the next roof came up to meet him, a sudden flare of blue light, voices amplified into his brain. Panic overtook him and he lurched left, trying desperately to make the next rooftop. A sudden flash, eyes flooded with light before consciousness was ripped violently away and gravity took complete control.

The officer lowered his weapon, and thumbed his radio. ‘Control, this is five niner two, two, seven, the runner’s down, send a pickup to my twenty – over.’

A second uniformed man turned off the tracker he’d been focused on, walked to the fallen figure and kicked it lightly in the ribs. ‘I never will get why they bother to run.’

The shooter powered down his pistol and holstered it. ‘You want to be careful kicking that thing, you break it, and its owner will see to it you pay for it the rest of your career.’

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