Author : Mur Lafferty, featured writer

In the years following the cyborg wars, humankind toiled to return the world to the order before the chaos.

“Rose, are you done with your lessons?” her mother asked from the den.

Rose blew her bangs off her forehead, said, “Not yet!” and continued with her history lesson.

The last of the cyborgs were hunted, giving humans the earth again. Two generations later, society returned to a semblance of the years before cybernetic “improvements.”

Rose turned off the video – she’d seen it before. But her dad was adamant about her learning the school-taught histories.

She peeked out her room to see if he was gone yet. He puttered around the kitchen, mumbling to himself. He didn’t approve of her solitary walks.

The front door finally slammed. Rose quickly turned her vid back on, knowing her mother would be coming soon.

We estimate that 99% of cyborgs died in the war, there are still reports of survivors. A vigilante group known as wolves charge bounties for decommissioning.

Rose shivered. She knew about the Wolves, all right. They were one reason her dad didn’t want her traveling alone. But she should have nothing to worry about. She was 100% human.

Her bedroom door opened. Her mother’s eyes flicked to the video, and then to Rose. “Your pack is ready, you can go. Don’t tell your father.”

The instructions were the same every time. Rose nodded, the excitement building in her belly. She took the pack from her mother and slid it onto her back. Her usual rebreather was getting its filters changed, so she borrowed her mother’s red one, the one she wore out.

Rose kept her eyes moving as she wandered through the hazy farmland at a job, the rebreather filtering the foul air still leftover from the war. Once she hit the woods at the base of Butler’s Ridge, a movement caught her eye to the left.

Her survival training kicked in, and she picked up her pace. She reached into a pocket underneath her pack and gripped the ray gun there. Her mother had taught her how to use it, away from the eyes of her card-carrying Luddite father. Mom knew a ray gun was a far superior weapon that pistols. But she was only to use it when absolutely necessary.

It turned out the shadow flanking her was meant to be a distraction. Ahead of her, on the road, stood five people in black jackets and silver rebreathers. Wolves.

“Where are you going, Rose?” the woman in front said, her tone mocking.

“Just visiting my grandmother.” She knew she couldn’t take six Wolves, but she had no other choice. But just as she brought the ray gun around, the leader exploded in a red vapor.

The other Wolves cried out in terror, and Rose killed two as they turned to face their new threat. The other three dissolved like the first one, and silence filled the woods.

She dropped the gun and ran forward, spotting the camouflaged mechanized shell in the forest. “Grandma!”

Huge metal arms caught her in a gentle hug. The old woman smiled from the shell.

“Felt like a walk today. Good thing I did, too. Now, what did you bring for Grandma?”

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