The following is an excerpt of a novel by Jasmina Kuenzli.
He let the steel harden his hands, flow over his fingers like liquid silver. In the streetlights, she’d thought his eyes had looked curious. Something was off about them.
He turned toward her, and that’s when she realized that his left eye glowed red. A winking end of a cigarette.
He took a step toward her, and he clanked. Like a toolbox or a rusty old car.
Still, her mind tried to come up with rationalizations, reasons for the way he looked, the way his hands were open, just below his shoulders, as if to say, I don’t blame you if you run.
He had a glass eye from some accident. He was wearing some kind of sleeves, intending to pull one over on the cute female detective. The clanking had been from somewhere else, and she’d misheard.
He extended a hand toward her so that she could see where his dark skin met the silver.
Without thinking, she reached for that seam, letting her fingers trail over the edge. He shrugged a shoulder, and the metal travelled up higher, all the way to his bicep.
The metal was warm, and she could swear a pulse beat beneath the steel. She could swear he was human, encased in metal.
A tin man.
“I didn’t want to lie to you, Sarah,” he said, his voice still containing that soft lilt that had stopped her in the coffee shop, that calm reassurance. The feeling that he was someone to be trusted.
Unless that was just how he’d been manufactured.
“You’re—you’re—“ she said softly, looking around the park to see if anyone watched them.
But there were just trees, hung with twinkling lights. The magical forest in a sea of concrete, steel, and asphalt. Streetlights. The silhouettes of skyscrapers surrounding them.
No one was around, except the two of them, and her pulse raced at the thought.
His, beneath her palm, remained steady. But she could see moisture starting on his brow, peeking out through his dark hair.
Was he nervous, too?
He couldn’t be nervous. He was a machine.
Cyborgs are enemies of the Free People of Austin. Cyborgs have adapted near-human intelligence, combined with animalistic brutality. Cyborgs seek to eliminate all humans and establish a Free State, where human beings will be turned to cyborgs or used as slaves.
All cyborgs should be considered enemies of the state.
Shoot on sight.
Her hand was still curled around his bicep, and before she could stop herself, she reached up to touch his face.
The lashes that surrounded his glowing red eye.
The sheen of blue behind his skin, barely visible, that hinted at the network beneath.
She couldn’t breathe.
Her other hand reached toward the holster at her hip, the EMP bullet that would short circuit all his systems, shut him down…
Sarah,” he said quietly, “I’m not what they think I am.”
And she realized that looking at him, there was no way he was a simple machine.
No way he was a sentient computer that sought to eliminate all of human kind.
Because he, himself, was undoubtedly human.
Unless that was just what he wanted her to think.
She moved for her gun again, and in a blink, it was held out before her. Two hands along the barrel, just like they showed her in the Academy.
She’d never had to fire it in the field, but she knew how. She thumbed off the safety, aimed squarely at that glowing red eye, trying not to be distracted by the gleam of the metal, next to the glimmer of his skin.
Trying not to think about the ache in her chest, because here was her enemy, and she had been tricked, that was all.
“You’re a cyborg,” she hissed. “You—“
“I am in love with you,” he said. “And I didn’t want to lie to you.”
“I should destroy you for this.”
He nodded. “You should. Cyborgs seek a robot regime. Cyborgs want to destroy all normal humans,” he spat the word normal with disturbing venom. “Shoot on sight.”
She swallowed. “I’ll give you ten seconds to run.”
“I’m not going anywhere.”
“Then I’ll pull the trigger.”
“If I have still not shown you who I really am. If you still see me as a steel heart and not a beating one, one that beats for you, then I have failed anyway.”
“I wanted to gain your understanding, your trust. We thought that if we could get one human to believe us, especially Detective Sarah Hayes, we might be able to come out of the shadows one day. To make peace, to stand on the side of humanity and fight for the flesh that lies within us.”
“So this was all a marketing ploy?” her voice trembled, and the gun shook.
He walked up and gently took the gun out of her hand. “No. This—” He put the gun on the ground, then stepped even closer, so that his breath mingled with hers. One of his metal hands touched her cheek, and she shivered. “This…this was something I never planned.”
His lips were a whisper from hers, but he wouldn’t move first.
His eyes challenged her, dared her. Even the mechanical one, so contrasted with the dark blue of the other, pierced her.
This is not what I planned. I am in love with you.
She brushed her lips across his, tentatively, and he let out a sigh, a sigh that bespoke utter defeat, utter surrender.
He pulled her closer.
She kissed him so fiercely she knew her lips would bruise, but she didn’t care.
He held her so tightly, they forgot the protocols. Forgot the twinkling lights around them for the ones bursting behind their eyelids.
Forgot the cameras that lurked behind the trees, recording every moment.
Setting them up for the end.