The boy clothed in blue armor stood for a while looking down at the frost-ridden metal, his ice-blue eyes dull in the lightless grey of an overcast sky… an overcast world. His forehead was streaked with dried blood where the helmet had been split. Behind him lay his wrecked jet-bike smoldering in its ruin and casting a black pall into the westward breeze.
Farther behind lay the severed, cauterized body parts of Maverick assassin-bots. Their graves were as tracks marking the boy’s path.
His broken helmet rested beneath the fold of his weapon arm, the red jewel cracked and bereft of its previous glow. The helmet was useless to him now, but he held to it as though it might yet keep him safe.
Snow hovered over the long metallic causeway, falling away and melting into the stygian water of the bay, whose waves rose in the wind, rushing toward the distant shores as if being called home. The causeway stretched on for nearly a mile toward a burning city. She would burn well into the night.
A voice spoke within his internal communicator chip: “You all right, boy?”
“I am all right, yes.”
He checked the rate of power consumption on his arm-cannon. The readings were lower than he would have liked. He only had enough energy for standard blasts. He could manage against the smaller bots, but if he met another of the Reavers…
“You need to repair,” the voice in his brain said. The voice was like his own, though older sounding and dryer in tone.
“I can’t do that,” the boy said. He brushed a strand of matted hair from his face.
“If it were just the bike I wouldn’t ask you to come back,” the voice said, “but without the helmet you’re as vulnerable as anyone. And your power consumption–”
“Has drained all but my reserves,” the boy said. “I’ve managed with less before.”
“Those were different circumstances,” the voice said.
“I can’t abandon these people,” the boy said.
“One blow to the head and you’re gone, just like the rest of us. Come home.”
The boy stood for a moment in thought, looking out toward the flaming ruins. The sounds of mechanized warfare drummed from somewhere beyond the burning citadels and shattered columns. He looked down at the helmet.
“Son…” the voice pleaded now.
“Would you come home?” the boy asked.
“If you were me,” the boy said. “Could you bring yourself to turn back?”
There was a long silence. The boy calculated how many might be dying with every moment that he lingered, but he waited with calmness. The energy levels on his arm cannon had risen by half a bar.
“No,” the voice said. “I could not turn back.”
“I will return when it is finished,” the boy said.
“This may not end as soon as you hope.”
“Can’t expect a hundred years of war to end in one night. Have you plotted my course?” The boy tossed the helmet toward the crashed bike, watched it roll and collide with the wreckage.
“I’m downloading the map into your memory core now,” the voice said. “Can you see it yet?”
“Yes. Eighty-four percent.” When the bar reached one-hundred percent, a cognitive map of the city replaced his previous map data.
“There is an underground canal where the causeway connects with the main platform,” the voice said. “It leads to the inner city plaza. There are no guardians watching the bridge. That is the safest route. You can make it.”
The boy leapt into a full sprint, the cleats on the bottom of his boots catching the ice. He ran three-quarters of a mile in under two minutes and when he came to the end of the causeway, dropped into the shallow water at the platform’s edge. There was a small, circular canal directly under the causeway where the corroded water from the city’s storm drains washed out into the bay. The boy entered, disappearing into cold darkness.