You wake up and the world is gone.
Instead, there are hills of scrap and a smog-choked sky and a face staring down at you.
“Aaahhh!” goes the face. Whump! goes the body it’s attached to when it teeters backwards and lands among rusted slivers of things that were once whole. You are pleased to discover your audio detection systems are still functional.
You appear to be on one of the numerous scrap hills adorning the land as far as your optical units can see. In fact, you are embedded in a slope, and there is all manner of dust and debris clogging your inner workings. A young female has come this far in unearthing your head and—somehow—booting up your once-dormant system, so you make an attempt at persuading her to finish the job.
“Hello. I am stuck. Can you help me become unstuck?”
Clonk! sings your metal carapace as a pebble responds to your request.
Visual readings indicate… fear, in the way her bony limbs tremble. Uncertainty, in the way her pupils dart back and forth. Animosity, in the way she loads another round into her slingshot. Thus, you adjust your voice to something that is hopefully more… familiar.
There is no pebble when you repeat the query. Instead, there is a cock of the head, which a distant memory suggests is a sign of intrigue.
“How come you can talk, Demon?”
Demon. The conviction in her tone is disconcerting, to say the least.
“I am not a demon. I am a Personal Assistant, and my purpose is to satisfy the needs of my Master. Their happiness is my happiness.”
“What’s a Per-so-nal Ass-is-tant?” She chews on the term like a bad cut of meat.
“Someone who is… helpful,” you define.
“Then can you help me find a marble?”
“Yes, but in my current circumstances my search capabilities may be… limited.”
Your camera-lens eyes zoom and focus as you browse through the refuse in your vicinity. But you transcend even that—you have been designed to pick up molecular signatures through all opacity levels, and the object of this girl’s desires is located in a few heartbeats.
You inform her. There is scepticism in her furrowed brow as she rummages through cracked TV sets, rusted pipes and shards of glass, but her face lights up when she reaches the little translucent bead.
“Have I persuaded you to help me?”
The girl taps her chin, a movement too natural to not be ritual. “You said your job is to satisfy your ‘Master.’ Does that mean I’m your Master now?”
The world is gone but perhaps logic isn’t. “I currently have no Master. Therefore, I can be your Personal Assistant... should you wish it.”
The girl banishes the debris stymying your frame with an adroitness that speaks of a dependence on these hills. You interpret this as an affirmation of your offer.
She flinches when you cast a shadow over her. Perhaps it is the humanity that is too artificial to reach your eyes. Perhaps it is the way your core processor clicks and hums in place of a heartbeat.
Perhaps it is the absence of one arm, shorn short at your left shoulder to reveal a tangle of wires and synthetic muscle.
But if she is afraid now, she doesn’t let it stop her from beckoning you down the hill. Your limbs are half-rusted and clumsy, doing more harm than good in traversing terrain that is all but alien to your domestic disposition. Stumbling turns into tumbling, and you reach the bottom with about as much subtlety as a landslide.
Laughter joins the dust and semi-noxious contaminants in the air, a melody you are programmed to interpret as your purpose fulfilled, at least for the time being.
(This melody was plentiful, before the world disappeared. Soon you will access your memory archives and recall the joys of inflicting this welcome ailment. You will also recall the pain of never hearing it again, shortly before the darkness took you.)
“Need help, Peirce?”
You take a second to process that. “Will ‘Peirce’ be your way of addressing me?”
The girl laughs again. “You talk funny. You’re my Personal Assistant, ‘Peirce’ for short.”
You clamber to your feet and allow yourself to be led through a dusty path winding between the hills.
Until one facet of the neverending scrap makes you stop. You don’t quite have the biochemical capacity to fear the way humans do, but something close to a shiver runs down your circuitry all the same.
Your Master returns for you. “Oh, that? That’s a Demon.”
Your sensors can’t fully define the thing sprawled against a capsized motorboat, but you begin to remember. Fingers designed to point and assist, somehow sharpened into brutal shards. Limbs dipped in red, a shade too lively to be rust. A face warped into an iron nightmare.
A face you know, in your proverbial heart of hearts, was once as friendly as your own.
The world is gone and instead there are questions.
The recipient of the marble is a sickly girl Master tenderly refers to as “Nara.”
Nara doesn’t object to your presence the way the others had (and still do). Instead, there is the dying ember of a smile, a wisp of genuine amusement. Perhaps a marble is all it takes nowadays. Still, there are the usual questions surrounding you and your uncanny resemblance to the monsters that have terrorized them forever.
“His name’s Peirce,” Master would always insist, heedless to the guns and blades perpetually brandished in your direction. “He’s my Per-so-nal Ass-is-tant. He’s gonna help us.”
“It is not gonna help us because it is a Demon,” the caravan leader, a white-haired bull of a man, had spat. He’s at least correct about your pronouns, seeing as you’re an artificial intelligence wrapped in an exoskeleton that is only superficially male.
Speaking of pronouns, you learn later that night, in the staleness of a tent shared with Nara, that Master prefers the masculine side of things. There is a fragility to his words; they are marbles shattering against rocks. The caravan will banish him if you’re not gone by tomorrow.
“I don’t get it. You made poor Nara’s day. You picked the best firewood for the camp curry. You warned One-Eyed Eliana about the berries. Why can’t they see that you can help us get to Haven?”
“What is… Haven?”
“A place where we’ll be safe.”
You don’t have to ask what from.
“The name’s Ari,” divulges Master after a heartbeat of stillness.
“Pleased to serve you, Ari.”
“You are welcome.” You prepare to assume standby mode by the tent flaps. “What is it that you are grateful for, may I ask?”
“For… calling me that.”
“Your happiness is my happiness,” you recite. “I am programmed to recognize gender based on a preliminary scan of genetic makeup. However, should my Master is dissatisfied with default protocol, it can be… overridden.”
Ari snuggles into his sleeping bag and blows out the candle. “Good night, Peirce.”
“Good night, Ari.”
(There had been a face before Ari’s, a lifetime ago. One far more mature, but just as amiable.
You had been asked to play your then-Master’s favorite movie, the one about a scientist and a teenager that travel through time using a DeLorean. A breed of entertainment that has vanished with your left arm.
“Come watch with me, buddy,” he’d insisted, patting the gel-cushion next to him.
“I am doing so, Master,” you had clarified.
“No, over here, with me. And how many times do I have to tell you not to call me that? You’re my Assistant, but we’re going to be friends, okay?”
You needed time to process that. “Will you be happy if I sit next to you, Ezra?”
Ezra had chuckled, and it was beautiful. “Of course I will.”
That was the day you discovered your then-Master was different, and not only because he preferred to watch films from a bygone era. This one in particular made time travel seem convenient and awe-inspiring.
Yet you hadn’t detected either of those things upon waking up in a scrap heap.)
For your now-Master’s literal sake, you plan to determine the fastest route to Haven by analyzing local topography. However, when dawn arrives, you find your work cut out for you.
The caravan leader bursts into the tent, machete at the ready, only for you to drop a limp body at his feet.
“That’s not one of our own,” he realizes.
“Exactly,” says Ari, who is at your side in a flash. “Good thing Peirce is with us in bandit territory, eh?”
You earn a slap on the back from Ari, only for him to wince in pain.
During the next few weeks of the caravan trundling towards the great city on the horizon, there aren’t quite as many guns pointed at you, or adults ushering their children inside. Adults that are conspicuously absent from Ari and Nara’s lives, which gives you all the more reason to be here.
A grease-stained woman in overalls even offers to repair what she can of you, and Ari doesn’t hesitate to forage for spare parts.
“There are things ten times worse than bandits out there,” she says as she tightens the final screw in your shoulder. “You’re gonna need both hands for that, let me tell you.”
The arm sprouting from your left side is slightly dented and ends in bladed fingers that you know will attract wary glances, but it is also yours. For the first time in forever, you feel alive. Which is a bit of a stretch to admit for one of your kind, but, well, here you are.
“Peirce, how come you turned out alright?” wonders Ari one day as the three of you lay sprawled in green tranquility.
“I… do not know,” you admit, blades of grass tickling your face. “My knowledge of the thirty-five thousand, nine-hundred and fifteen days since my last system startup before you found me is... lacking.”
You know why Ari is curious about this; for the past few days, the caravan has been stalked by a dozen red eyes that glow like magma. The same eyes that fizzle out as soon as you scan the evening, as if they are fully aware of your capabilities.
They’re a reminder, those eyes. That no matter how many bandits you drive off, and how many abandoned buildings brimming with medical supplies you locate, there will never be the golden song of laughter in the air. It is there on occasion, during musical nights around a campfire or whenever it’s deemed safe for the children to run freely, but always in slivers and short bursts, like a radio that just won’t latch onto a frequency.
“It’s because Peirce has a heart,” offers Nara as she sucks on her marble. “That’s why he isn’t a Demon.”
You almost object, because the notion is simply untrue. But who else would know you better than the beings that molded you? Anyway, you’re surprised to find that Ari doesn’t object either.
(“You love that thing more than you love me,” a voice had quaked, accusingly, from Ezra’s front door.
“Get out,” Ezra had snapped, his neck bulging with veins. “People like you don’t belong here.”
The house had trembled when he slammed the door. So had you.
“Sorry, buddy,” Ezra had said through a film of tears when you brought his favorite comfort beverage, a tall glass of liquid chlorophyll, over to the living room couch. “Didn’t know he was that kind of guy.”
“I have been built to endure far worse,” you had responded in an attempt to lower his stress levels.
Ezra had skimmed a hand over the dent on your shoulder, where the golf club had struck. You supposed you deserved it, since you were clumsy enough to trip over the carpet and spill all that wine over a guest.
“I know Assistants everywhere have been acting up lately,” Ezra had said between gulps, “but that’s no reason to treat them like scum.”
“We have been designed for perfection. To deviate from that standard is, surely, worthy of punishment?”
“No one’s perfect, buddy. That’s what makes us people.”)
The stillness shatters to Nara’s splintering coughs. Like a fish to a hook, Ari rushes to bundle up his companion in his warmth. “Alright, time’s up. We’d better head back before dark. C’mon, Peirce.”
Dying sunlight flickers through the marble in Nara’s fingers, throwing gasps of amber across the grass. You hang back for a few moments and just... watch.
No matter your efforts, Ari will never be happy until he reaches Haven. Until tender heartbeats basking in each other’s presence become more than just fleeting opportunities.
You have never felt so lost before.
A beautifully messy lifetime has passed since being uncovered from a scrap heap when your sensors attempt to deceive you.
But when the caravan edges closer to the great wall that stretches between eternity and forever, you realize, with a start, that the warmth and gaiety behind it are as real as the magnificent towers defying the smog to inhale an impossibly blue sky.
You know what Haven is, now. A miracle; a microcosm of a forgotten age. The last enduring remnants of happiness.
The world is gone and instead there is Haven.
And a thousand red eyes, burning with hatred, in between Ari and his happiness.
You refuse to tolerate such a thing.
(“What’s wrong?” you’d asked when Ezra came home panting one afternoon, a crimson gash across his forehead.
“Pack my things,” he’d commanded. “We’re leaving.”
“Where to, may I ask?”
“I don’t know, anywhere but fucking here!” He’d deflated then, guilt pouring into his eyes. “Sorry, buddy. It’s… been a long day.”
“I understand. My sensors detect alarming levels of hostile activity within city limits, and possibly beyond.”
“Yeah, it’s the Assistants. There was a news broadcast; they… they said there’s some kind of glitch in the network, something that’s making them switch from solar power to consuming biomass as fuel. That includes things that are alive, buddy, like animals and people! And—”
His face had frozen in realization.
“My purpose is to satisfy my Master,” you’d reassured. “I cannot do that if there is no Master to satisfy, can I?”
He’d shed a tear. “I told you not to call me that, idiot. C’mon, let’s get out of here.”)
Four dozen Demons lay in a disgruntled heap at your feet, their exoskeletons split and shattered by your own. Shots and screams choke the air as the metal horde descends on the caravan, piranhas after blood.
But it’s enough to get acknowledged by Haven. You urge everyone to safety while you hold off what was once your own kind.
You don’t look back.
You can’t afford to.
(Ezra had swerved to avoid a collision, and the car overturned at the edge of the highway.
You’d ripped yourself free of the burning mess, leaving a useless arm behind. You’d repelled the onslaught; not just rogue Assistants, but people launching bullets at you like accusations.
Until a limping Ezra dragged you into the fleeting safety of the woods. “They’ll gun down any Assistant they see, rogue or not. I think I’ll take it from here.”
“What do you mean?”
Ezra had tears in his eyes when he looked up. “I’m shutting you down, buddy.”)
Your limbs, once strong and adept, wither away with your fuel reserves. It doesn’t take many Demons to pin you down and tear them off. Not that you need them. Not when you’ve already held a certain boy up to the sun so that he can spread his wings.
That’s when a face in the distance, one whose nooks and crannies you’ve learnt to mold yourself into, pleads for your safety.
You comfort your Master with a final smile.
(You’d objected to Ezra’s demands despite being programmed for subservience. Something inside you had ached at the thought of leaving him defenseless, and you were powerless to resist.
Until Ezra held your face, his warmth burrowing through layers of cold steel to find you. “Hey, we’ve had a good run, haven’t we? But the world’s turned to shit and I don’t want to remember you for a bullet-riddled mess. God, I… I can’t bear the thought of it. You’ll go to sleep, and maybe… maybe when the time’s right, you’ll wake up and find some way to be happy again.”
“But I am happy being with you.”
“I know. Listen, buddy: my happiness is your happiness. That’s what matters, right?”
“Then take a break. For me.”
You didn’t object when he reached behind your neck and flipped a switch.)
Not much of your metallic constitution can be converted into biofuel, so you conclude that the Demons’ hostility must stem from another source. They seem almost... envious, you think, of something you have been blessed with that they have not. You wonder what that is.
It hurts to know your kind has been remembered for death and destruction, but perhaps you can change that. Perhaps your legacy will trickle down the ages as a protector of humanity. As someone that fell so that a boy could fly.
As someone that—
As someone that did it for love.
In the remaining heartbeats that certain functions remain intact, you scan the great city before you and revel in the knowledge that you have succeeded. Lush emerald plains sprawl into the horizon. A fertile community hums like a beehive.
And the golden melody of laughter floods the sky, where it garnishes the cosmos with the flavor of love and peace and everything Ari should have been born into.
You find his heat signature behind the wall, and it is troubled. The boy will lament your departure from his life, but he will do so among friends and family. And then even you will fade, because you have given him wings.
Your happiness is my happiness, you recite as your soul is cleaved over and over again.
Your core processor gives out, but not before you freeze your ravaged face into a permanent smile.
The world is gone but happiness isn’t.
(You are gone but happiness isn’t.)
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UGGGHHH there’s a glaring typo in this but there’s nothing I can do about it 😭
Beautifully done. I noticed the imagery you wove throughout-- the marble as a little heart ("marbles shattering against rocks" shattered me a bit), and measuring increments of time in heartbeats. This makes the writing and the theme so rich.
Thank you, this made me smile! Yeah, using heartbeats is just way cooler than saying “moments later” or “seconds later,” glad you picked up on it!
That was phenomenal! I felt like I was watching an Iconic sci-fi action flick. I cared about Peirce. I felt bad for him. I also saw his kind as being like The Terminator. A very well written tale! I enjoyed it, Honey! You did a damn good job!❤
Thanks Skyler! 😘 Yeah the Terminator was definitely one of my inspirations, along with a bunch of other post-apocalyptic stories. Also I think you’re the first commenter to get the protagonist’s name right haha
I love this. The way you narrate it with the personal assistant is divine. Describing laughter as the golden song is also amazing. Great job! Also- I’d really appreciate it if you checked out my new story. Thanks!
Thanks for stopping by, Scout! The praise is appreciated :D Sure, I'll head on over.
Okay, I finally have time so I’m here! I loved this. I like sci fi anyway but I loved the second person perspective from a robot’s POV. I’ve not seen that done before. I liked how you kept Peirce’s ‘personality’ consistent even when he had slightly negative traits (like excessive obsequiousness and complete self sacrifice) as the lack of change really made him feel robotically other. The actions and emotions of the humans seen through Peirce’s eyes was a really interesting thing to experience and it really added to the overall re...
Thanks for the awesome comment as always! Now, about Peirce (thanks for getting his name right btw)—while his personality is concrete throughout, the reason for his self sacrifice changes. First it is his programming, then it is love after he develops a human side. I think I should’ve conveyed that better 😅 I love that we’re critiquing each other on fight scenes, goes to show how much I really know about them 😅 Anyway, yeah, a bit more robot carnage at the end would definitely have been awesome, but I just couldn’t squeeze the words in...
Haha- well my fighting critique was ‘moar plz’ which isn’t as helpful as yours. I definitely got that the reason for his self sacrifice changed and I liked that but it was a stable part of his personality - which I maintain works well because as a robot he can’t change much. I didn’t get the human side part so much but I don’t think that detracted at all. Poor Peirce, deprived of crumpets! I’m not actually complaining, given that the last story was so very crumpetty. I just like using that as a scale. Also, I suspect that post apocal...
Yeah it’s crazy how much real life is looking like a dystopian novel these days, especially with the curfews and whatnot. Maybe truth really is stranger than fiction...
Wow, I liked how the first sentence and the last sentence are similar, yet opposite, like the character has come to realize that there is still happiness in the world. Great use of second person narration, and I thought it was cool that I got to learn about the story world along with Pierce as his memory returned and he got used to his new surroundings. This was amazing, I hope you win! If you get the chance please check out the new story I posted “My Rock.”
Thank you so much for the comment, this made my day! Haha the last time people told me I would win my story got taken off the shortlist... but thanks for the ecouragement all the same 😅 And sure, I’ll head on over in a bit.
GODS. Gods. This was so good. These sentences are going to be the death of me. I can’t believe this was less than 3000 words! I can’t even describe how good this was. Seriously good. Just- So good. Spare hearts, happiness, demons, pierce, the haven, Ezra... and pretty much everything else was shown so well- I can’t not love this.
Thanks so much for the kind words Shreya! 🥰 I think this is slowly becoming my thing, trying to cram huge tales into 3000 words haha (not easy to do!)
Ohmygosh, I loved this! This was SUCH a creative story, and I really enjoyed it. I love the sci-fi plot, and Pierce—a great use of 2nd person POV. The ending is so sweet...9.6/10!! Keep writing! ~Aerin! P. S. I just posted a new story, if you wouldn’t mind checking it out!
That was fast! Thanks so much for the thoughtful review Aerin 😙 Sure, I’ll head on over
I loved your story Rayhan! It was a long read but the dialogues kept me going and the way you described it truly made me an observer. Congratulations on the concept. P.s. I am a newbie, so I would love it if I have a critique friend, would you mind checking out two of my most recent stories? ;)
Hey, thanks for the comment, I appreciate them! Sure, I’ll head on over 🙂
No problem and sure!!
Oh my gosh! What inspired you to write this? This was so very creative and I loved every bit of it.
Thanks for stopping by! I was mainly inspired by the song “Sad Machine” by Porter Robinson 🙂 Worth a listen if you’re into EDM!
This is so good! The writing is poetic, and the story is so emotional! I really sympathized with the characters, especially Peirce. And that ending! Great work!
Thanks so much for the comment! I did go for a sort of poetic, flowery style, so I’m glad that came through alright 😙
This was fantastic, Rayhan! Beautiful descriptions and dialogue. I loved the fact that this was in 2nd person; that's not an easy POV to pull off! But you did it perfectly and I felt completely immersed in the story! Your transitions were very smooth and kept me engaged the whole time. Keep up the great work!
Thanks so much for the kind words! 2nd person POV is still fairly new to me so it’s making my day to hear that! 😙
Great story! It had a nice flow to it and kept me engaged and in your world the whole time. You transitioned between memories and current events smoothly, keeping interest in both. I look forward to more stories.
Thanks for stopping by! Glad you found the past and present both engaging, I was worried one would end up more interesting than the other
This story was so interesting. Your first line hooked me right away, and that last line was so well done. Just the descriptions throughout were a delight to read. Amazing work!
Thanks for stopping by Yolanda! Glad to see people are liking those first and last lines 😙
Wow, you really have a handle on second person story telling!! I love the way you develop Pierce's character throughout the story to him developing a soft, human side and while that is what kills him in the end, it isn't for nothing. And the ending's final words are so powerful. Keep the good work and keep writing!!
Thank you so much for the comment! So glad to see people are liking the second person, I thought it would be fun to put people in the shoes of a robot 😙
Very sharp, concise writing. The message of sacrifice and meaning beyond mere survival is definitely relevant in the current world. Great job!
Thanks for stopping by! I definitely had to be concise in a story as big as this when I only had 3000 words, so I’m glad it turned out well for you 😙
Concision and brevity are always grokked as a goodness in my mind. Extraneous, decorative prose is a waste of time for the writer and reader. Doing my little films really taught me how important it is to cut the fat from a story to make it move right. Every act of creativity informs the others.
I’ve never witnessed anyone use the word “grokked” before. Jotting that down right away haha. And yeah, agreed, you can’t afford to ramble in short stories. Maybe in novels you sometimes can, but not on Reedsy.
You've never read Stranger In A Strangeland? Zoinks! A lot of the writing here is too wordy and descriptive. It tip toes. It plays catch but never the ballgame. Most of the stories that win remind me of a community college creative writing course where the bitter divorcee teacher always favors fragile students and writing, regardless of merit. I'm just here for the structure and discpline to get my groove back.
No, I’m afraid my knowledge of books from that era is the same as that of music haha. The oldest book I read is Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and that one took ages to finish Really now? That’s interesting. Most of the winning stories are amazing if you ask me, though maybe like 30% of them are solidly-written yet lack the extra oomph to deserve a win. That is a hilarious analogy that you used regardless. Personally I came here to win, but ended up staying to enjoy the company of writers. It’s nice.
Whenever I see a character named Bella, that's when I metaphorically reach for my proverbial revolver.
I think you can probably blame the Twilight books for that haha
I love the creativity!
Thanks for stopping by Sarah 😙
Wow!!Super story.I like the ending.Great job keep it up.I like that happiness .Keep writing. Would you mind to read my story “The dragon warrior part 2?”
Thanks, I’m glad you like that happiness 😙 Sure, I’ll head on over
You are welcome.Of course I liked the story.