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Aaron Denius

Copyright ยฉ 2021

Printed in The United States of America

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law.

ISBN: 9798505638217

Cover Design: Mousam Banerjee     IG: @illus_station

IG/Twitter/TikTok: @aarondenius

For Forrest


I don't want to die.

My shoulders sting from being pulled above my head. My shoes struggle to stay on my feet as the heels drag against the ground. The world around me moves slow, much as it does when I'm in a battle against the outsiders. This is different, thoughโ€”a different struggle.

I don't want to die.

My heartbeat echoes through my ears. I focus on the thumps as they pound inside my head. The beats grow faster, and my breathing matches the tempo. I look around and see two drones pulling me down a hallway by my arms. We pass a few people, but I can't see clear enough to tell whether they are drones, Genesys, or scientists. I try to make sense of the hallway to get my bearings. None of it looks familiar. My muscles tighten as adrenaline engulfs my body. I'm scared.

This is new. I don't like it. Fear is not something with which I am familiar. We drones were designed not to have it. Death was not supposed to scare us. But I'm scared. I don't want to die. I don't want to die.

โ€œI don't want to die!โ€ I scream out. I struggle to pull away, but before I get a chance to do anything, Iโ€™m thrown into a room. The door slams in my face.

I pound with my fists on the metal barrier, screaming until my throat feels like it's on fire. I know that it's all for nothing. They won't open the door until they are ready. Exhausted, I step back and take in my surroundings.

It's a small roomโ€”a bed in the center, little decor. One wall grabs my attention and holds it. It's covered in screens showing a live feed of different parts of the compound. The hallways, the medical ward, the bunkers that I call home, and many areas Iโ€™ve never seen before pollute my eyes. This compound must be enormous.

โ€œAtom?โ€ I step closer to the screens and see Atom pounding on the door of a tiny room, much smaller than the one I'm in. He's screaming, and even though I can't hear him, it's pretty evident that he's yelling, โ€œDon't kill him.โ€ I can only assume he's talking about me.

I pity Atom. If only he knew the burden he carries on his shoulders. He's powerful and courageous, but his empathy will make things difficult if he is to succeed at leading the Genesys after the Ragnarok and the end of the world.

The fear rises in me again. If Atom succeeds, I die. Everyone dies.

โ€œStop!โ€ I push away from the wall, angry at myself. The bed hits me behind my knees, and I fall back. These aren't thoughts I should be having. If Dr. Anfang knew, he'd kill me immediately. I was created for one reason only: to protect Atom, Ev, and the other Genesys at all costs. To sacrifice myself to ensure they live. But why? Am I not as valuable? Is my life worth less than theirs? I deserve to live!

A small tickle on my cheek snaps me out of my head. My reflexes send my hand to my face, and my fingers wipe away the culprit. Tears. I'm crying. I'm not supposed to cry. I fight it, but the more I fight, the harder it fights back. My chest hurts. It feels like it's collapsing in on itself.

โ€œ80!โ€ Grant opens the door, startling me.

I stand up and face him. โ€œYes, sir?โ€

โ€œSit down.โ€ He points to the bed and pulls up a chair for himself. I sit back, wiping the remnants of the tears from my face. He stares at me for what feels like hours, not saying a word. I find it hard to keep eye contact, but I hold firm. It's unnerving.

โ€œPlease don't kill me.โ€ The words escape my mouth before I can stifle them.

โ€œWe aren't going to kill you.โ€ Grant states. โ€œAtom cares a great deal about you. Killing you could have very dire consequences on his development.โ€

I'm relieved, even though I know that if it weren't for Atom, I'd already be dead. โ€œSo, what happens now?โ€

Grant is taken aback by my brash response. โ€œThat's what I'm trying to figure out. We can't keep you here and have you be more of a distraction. I have some ideas, but I need to run things by Dr. Anfang.โ€

I don't know how to respond. I can sense a hint of compassion in Grant's voice. I nod.

โ€œYou'll have to be placed in confinement. I'm not sure how long, but I'll try to make your stay there as brief as possible.โ€ He stands and heads to the door.

As soon as Grant leaves, the two drones who dragged me here walk into the room. I recognize them now. 164 and 44. They are both excellent Breekbal players and have rooms in the same building as mine.

โ€œLet's go,โ€ 164 orders. I don't say a word as I follow them out of the room and down a series of hallways.

I can't believe I used to be one of them. If it weren't for the patch over my eye, all three of us would look identical: black hair, black eyes, pale skin. As much as we appear the same, they seem alien to me. I remember how I used to think before I met Atom. It was all so simple; there were no layers. I can't imagine thereโ€™s much going on in their heads. While I feel as though my brain won't shut off.

Atom opened my eyes to the world. Before, I was merely alive. Now, I am living, and I don't want to

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