When the robots asked me my age, I said 12. I’d seen what they did to those of age; I didn’t want that. I was 19 and well past my collection time.
Now, after all the years of their imposition, they had truly become the ruling force. Tall squads of machines patrolled the gray streets, monitoring the humans in their midst. Their grip was inhuman and entailed certain death.
We walked the streets with timid steps. Across the way, a machine questioned a young woman with fear in her heart. She had every right to fear; she might never be seen again after this moment.
My face was bloody, swollen, conspicuous from my earlier ordeal. I’d never remember why I’d been in the train yard or why I’d been on the tracks, barely able to dodge death when I came to my senses. I’d ducked and rolled, and I had avoided being sucked under but had still managed to turn my face into a pulp.
Maybe I had a subconscious death wish.
But then, in this world, didn’t we all?
The machine picked me out because of my face, but it heard wild beating of my heart in its tinpanic membrane. It stopped me with an outstretched vice grip.
The monster towered over me, a living piece of machination that we’d invented in some cursed past.
“Twelve,” I said, voice shaking, and continued on my way as if honest.
Across the river, the City looked peaceful, but we all knew its deception. It was the hub of their kind and the death of ours. It was a hive of decadence living around a contrived existence. It was turmoil and death.
I hurried on my way in fear. This time, I was sure, the machine had not believed my lie.
… and then I woke.