Author : Kathy Kachelries, Staff Writer

He’d always known about them.

When it snowed, Arwik lived in abandoned buildings. He slept in the rusted creases of abandoned subway tunnels to escape their satellites, and he ate whatever he could forage. He found a lot in disposal bins, but he’d never tried to eat it. People poisoned that stuff, he knew.

They injected tracking devices into his skin when he slept. Often he’d find an unexplained pockmark on his body, something that looked like an insect bite, but he knew what was inside of it. He used to try to gouge it out, but he soon realized that they’d used nanites. Thousands of silicon creatures, eating him from the inside out.

No one believed these things.

At first, he’d tried to warn people. He tried on the subways and on the streets, but everyone walked by with their eyes firmly on the ground. They could come for anyone, he said. They could come for you. Arwik hadn’t wanted anyone to get hurt.

Now, it was about survival.

Sometimes he saw the cops on the street and felt their sideways glances. Sometimes he couldn’t see them at all, but felt their eyes as they watched him through the scope of a sniper rifle. Arwik had seen those rifles, watched them in movies as a child. He knew the power of invisibility.

Once, they’d cornered him on the L train. The trackers, he knew. The goddamn trackers. They always knew where to find him. They offered help, but he knew what help meant. Scalpels and brainwashing. His eyes held open with wires as he would be forced to watch propaganda. Drugged with truth serum and forced to confess to everything he knew about them. He’d be executed in an electric chair, or shot at point-blank range in a seedy alleyway. Sometimes he wished that he hadn’t been smart enough to figure them out. If he hadn’t known the truth, they might have left him alone.

Arwik ran, dashing up slush-covered subway stairs until he found a dumpster in a trash-filled alleyway. The metal lids scrambled the signal, and surrounded by fish bones and plastic bags, he knew that he was almost protected. They could have used dogs, but they didn’t. That time, he’d gotten away.

It’s impossible to know who’s real. Some of them are brainwashed, or have given into the nanites. Some of them might even be cyborgs. Arwik has nowhere to turn. No one is ever safe.

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