Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Joshua’s feet pounded against the pavement, bare soles bleeding from the coarse stone underfoot. Within his bare chest, his heart kept time.

He navigated the deserted streets outside the perimeter fence from memory, a mental map burned in through hours of illicit hacking. He cornered, climbed and sprinted reflexively, anxiously aware that he was being pursued.

Buildings stood vacant; window holes empty, doorframes bare, stripped of anything that may be used as a raw material.

In an alleyway he kicked the drying carcass of a large emaciated rat. Joshua pressed his right hand into its body and disassembled it, rearranging its component parts into the simpler but equally lifeless shape of a short bone-white shiv. What wasn’t needed fueled his microassembler, radiating heat and filling his nostrils with the stench of burning hair and flesh. A pound of dead rodent was reduced to six ounces of knife blade. Not much, but better than nothing.

Exiting the alley he loped down the cobblestoned street, through a crumbling building and out its back door into the twilight. It was here that he saw his pursuer, several hundred yards to his left, as a lone figure exited another building at a sprint and, seeing Joshua, adjusted course to intercept him.

They raced to cross the open ground to another row of buildings, his pursuer course correcting to cut him off but Joshua reached the safety of another doorway first, darting inside and immediately doubling back to flatten himself against the wall inside the room.

Makeshift weapon in his hand, he waited until his pursuer burst through the doorway then stabbed sideways at the running figure’s face, raking his mouth and carving back to the ear before the knife jammed in his jaw. The force of the impact ripped the knife from Joshua’s hand as, off balance and screaming, the guard lost his footing and slammed shoulder first into the ground, his weapon skating across the floor into the shadows.

Joshua bolted deeper into the building, finding himself in a maze of twisting corridors. The further he ran, the less light permeated the gloom and soon he found himself steadying himself between the walls with his hands outstretched, groping fingers in complete darkness until the end of the maze leapt out, smashing his nose and dropping him in a heap on the floor. He frantically felt around blind, his heart sinking as he realized where he was.

“Dead end, you little shit.” The voice not far enough behind to warrant running back. ” I was going to take you in, but now I’ll just take you apart.”

Joshua backed into the corner, pushing himself to his feet with the cold stone hard against his shoulder blades. He’d used his only weapon, and there was nothing here for him to use to fabricate another.

The guard rounded the last corner into the dead end with his starlight goggles turned up as far as they could go, the image of the man pressed against the wall ahead in high contrast.

“End of the line, fucker.”

As he closed the last few feet, he noticed the escapee’s left arm was newly missing from just below the shoulder. The smell of burned hair and flesh filled his nose, but before he could think Joshua slid eight pounds of short, jagged edged bone blade through his chest plate into his rib cage.

The guard fell to the floor, gasping around the chunk of bone still protruding through his cheek.

“You – sick – bastard,” he wheezed, struggling to inflate his lungs, normal aspiration made difficult by the frothing wound in his chest. “your arm?”

Joshua kneeled on the dying man’s chest, pressing his remaining hand against the bloody man’s cheek.

“Don’t you worry”, the smell of burning intensified in the close quarters, “I’ll just make myself a new one.”

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