Author: Leon Taylor

“Tonight’s the night,” Devon said to his robot. “Conditions are perfect. Cool, dry weather and a long night.” Of course, he was talking to himself. The robot could not speak or do anything but deliver to its human the daily kasha meal, stored in its boxlike body, at the end of the 20-hour workday. The alien captors provided the box-bots so that the humans would mine rare metals rather than forage for food.

As the sun set, Devon watched the guards file noisily out of the concentration camp. The invisible electrical fence surrounding the camp, Devon knew from months of nightly observations, would remain open for twenty seconds. He sprinted for the exit, groaning with effort, running on the sides of his splayed feet. His pasty skin reddened and bled. He gripped the foot-long knife that he had held back two days ago when he had returned his mining tools as always to the guards. The other human prisoners paid no attention to his breakout.

The last guard, a pot-bellied baldish human, bellowed at Devon. But the eight-foot-tall alien commandant made him lower his laser rifle. “No point in killing a strong young worker. He’ll be back soon enough. Sic the Pinscher.” The aliens had bred Dobermans as guard dogs for the strength of their bite, the equal of 600 pounds of weight.

The slathering, snarling dog raced a hundred yards beyond the camp and lunged onto Devon’s back, sinking its teeth into his right shoulder. They rolled down a muddy ravine, the ash-black muscular dog as large as the stunted human, until Devon could break away long enough to plunge his knife into the Doberman’s belly. The dog yelped and retreated. Bloodied and bruised, Devon hobbled into the silent scented forest. Now he just needed to find the city on a hill.

He knew, from his parents in whispered conversations, and they from theirs, that it lay in the direction of the rising sun: A sparkling castle, beyond the reach of the alien invaders who ruled the netherlands; a castle where a human was free to live, love, and think. You could learn to read novels and write your own. You could listen to the long intoxicating songs called symphonies. Men and women could mingle freely, not just in the gloomy pairings dictated in Mating Week. Everyone knew that the city was just outside the forest. Devon limped down the rocky path, propelled by crescendos of pain. A quarter-mile behind him, the dog picked up the trail of blood.

After a few hours, Devon paused and gathered acorns off the trail to appease his gnawing hunger. The dog hid in the bushes, keeping the human within sight. Exhausted and still starving, Devon resumed his hike at a snail’s pace.

At daybreak, Devon reached the young birches and weedy meadows at the eastern edge of the forest. A mile away, the grassy mounds seemed to radiate in the spreading rays of the sun, as if illuminating the fabled city. Devon contemplated the vista and thanked God. Someday hundreds, thousands, would surely follow his lead. He prepared a bed of leaves and lay down for just a moment, to relax his muscles. In an instant, he fell asleep. By the time that he detected the charging dog, he was muscle-bound, unable to move.

In the tall yellow weeds at the end of the path, the box-bot, still carrying the oatmeal dinner, watched as the Doberman, despite its training, ripped out Davon’s throat. The robot stood stock still, as if in shock and grief.