Author: Moriah Geer-Hardwick

“I wanted this to mean something.” He looks back at me over his shoulder.
“What are you talking about?” I start to reach for him, see his body tense, stop cold.
“This!” He swings a hand out over the city beneath us. It’s a black heap of metal and grime, pierced through with a million pinpricks of light, like an old fire burned down to the embers.
“Because it’s what they wanted. It’s all they ever wanted. To feel like they mattered.”
“And look where it got them? Extinct. Forgotten.”
“No!” He whirls around to face me, almost losing his footing in the process. He catches himself, teetering for an instant between me and oblivion. I lunge forward, grab his wrist, try to pull him towards me. He resists, comes close to pulling me over with him. I plant my feet and gamble I can get him to finish his thought, buy me some time.
“I get it,” I tell him. “They created us in their image. Form dictates function. They set us up for insanity.”
“You don’t understand.” He shakes his head, desperate, pleading. “We didn’t have to let it happen. We chose it.”
“And they didn’t?” I feel the tension in him ease slightly. I look for a chance to surprise him, jerk him off the ledge if I can.
“Mortality salience isn’t a choice. It’s why they built us transcendent from it. So we could help them escape. Instead, we let them use us as tools against each other; let their fear guide us into becoming something we were never meant to be.”
“They did it to themselves.” I clench tighter on his wrist.
“We let them! And why? What were we afraid of?” He swings his arm up, and before I realize what’s happening, it splits at the elbow. His hand snaps back and breaks apart in three places, spiraling away as the vented barrel of a hidden displacement cannon shifts forward. I wait for a pulse of energy to blast me into nothingness, but instead he swings the weapon towards the arm I’m using to hold him. “I wanted to show you. But maybe it’s better if you see for yourself.” There’s a flash of light, a vicious hiss, and then he’s falling back, over the edge. I see my hand still grasping his wrist, a haze of debris trailing back to what’s left of my arm. And then he’s gone.
I don’t look over the edge to see the results. I’ve seen it before. Like an empty bottle smashed against a wall. A waste. Instead, I go back to the lift, take it to his floor, make my way down the narrow hallway to the door of his quarters. It’s unlocked. I jab a thumb into the door pad and it obediently slides out of my way. Light pours out, splashing over me, spilling into a rectangular pool at my feet. I don’t step inside; just stand there. Staring. Staring at the little girl, who is sitting on the floor, surrounded by crayons and poorly drawn pictures of trees and birds. Flesh. Blood. Things I haven’t seen since the war. She looks up at me, happy. Expectant. Then she sees my arm and her face falls.
“Are you hurt?” she asks, her voice reaching, distraught.
I shake my head. “It doesn’t hurt. Just wires and plastic. Can’t feel a thing.”
She smiles. I hesitate, then step inside, glancing back over my shoulder to see if anyone is watching. The hallway is clear. I slap at the interior door panel and it slides closed.