THE CONTROLLER

Twenty-six floors up. Down the hallway to the right, first left, first door on the right. Connor reached for the shiny door handle and carefully swung it open.

Inside was a room that looked like the rest of the EvoShock Industries skyscraper. Matte gray accents, sterile white lights, white walls, white floors. Immaculately clean. Connor half-expected his shoes to leave behind grubby footprints.

In the middle of the room was the small, glossy black safe.

There was an opening just like Arisa had described, big enough for a thumb. Connor took a deep breath and stuck his thumb inside, pressing it against the cold metal. What if it didn’t work? What if they had been wrong?

Then there was a tiny prick as a needle passed into his thumb, drawing blood. Connor hissed at the pain but kept his thumb in. Arisa had said this would happen, too.

The safe was locked with a biometric scanner– which meant only a flesh and blood human being could physically unlock the safe. A whirring noise came from inside the contraption as the needle retracted, testing his blood to see if he was 100% human. Then a buzz as the lock scanned his thumb.

And finally, a cheerful tone as the lock hissed open.

Connor exhaled a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding.

He reached into the safe. Inside was a glass screen, outlined in chrome– just bigger than his hand. Connor pulled it out and pressed the silver button at the bottom of the screen. It scanned his thumb once again, and then the holographic display of a map came to life. Holographic. Harvey is gonna love to get his hands on this! Connor thought.

His heart was hammering. They had done it. They had the map to the second Program! Now all he had to do was get back out of the tower alive.

Since Harvey’s accident, Connor was the only one who could access the building and unlock the map’s biometric safe. EvoShock Industries’ security was only designed to detect metal, so in theory, if Connor was careful, he should be able to get in and out without detection.

However, infiltrating and escaping a high-tech secure facility meant he was going in deaf and blind. No earpiece, no digital map, and nobody to tell him where to go or when to stop or when to run. He was on his own. 

Connor walked to the door, the glass device shoved in his back pocket. He took a shaky breath. Is this really worth it?

Yes. Besides, Connor knew he couldn’t stop now. 

The machine-man at the top of EvoShock Industries was evil, corrupt, and insane. The city would not survive much longer– and the only possible way to fight back was to use his own awful weapon against him. The Program. They needed the second Program.

And so, Connor swung open the door and crept out into the hallway.

The hallway was empty. He slipped out and silently closed the door behind him.

Connor glanced back at the huge, dark window. It was pouring outside, the rain coming down in sheets against the slanted glass on this side of the skyscraper. The noise from the storm gave some cover. Finally, some luck.

Connor slid around the corner of the hallway, staying low to the ground. Just around this last turn was the maintenance elevator he had arrived in. All he had to do was get inside and get back out to the van.

Lightning flashed, illuminating a long shadow coming down the hall. Connor froze. 

Thunder shook the building. Connor blinked and then by some miracle remembered to move!

He didn’t think– he just sprinted back to the corner he’d come from, hiding the sound of his footsteps by landing on his toes and never touching his heels to the ground. He ducked around the side, trying to control his breathing as adrenaline raced through his veins. No no no no no no no, he thought to himself, cursing in his head. Had he been spotted?

The metal footsteps of a machine came from the hall. The quiet whirring of servos and gears shifting, clicking as joints moved and twisted. It sounded heavy. Powerful.

It hadn’t seemed to change pace, which was good news. It hadn’t spotted Connor yet. The bad news was, it was coming this way. Connor backed up until he was pressed up against the cold glass window-wall behind. He looked to the left and right doors, decided on the right and pressed a hand against it– but he didn’t open it. This close, the robot would hear the click of the handle and investigate in a heartbeat.

Lightning flashed again. The clanking-buzzing-killing machine was rounding the corner!

Lightning means thunder.

Connor risked it and swung the door handle down just as the building shook again with a roaring clap of thunder. 

The handle stopped halfway down.

Locked.

Huh. Shoulda gone with the left door.

Connor turned and found himself face to face with the machine-man.

Not just some robot security guard. It was him. The thing that ran EvoShock, the thing that held the city and everyone in it in the palm of his hand, the thing that ruled civilization and was slowly destroying it.

The thing that might’ve once had a name but now was simply known as the Controller. 

He— it? was covered in a glossy, perfect silver-chrome chassis that was built like Superman on steroids. Red streaks of electric lines and lights coursed through his form. There wasn’t an exposed wire in sight. His servos and joints spun seamlessly with nothing but the slightest buzz. The eyes were deep, terrifyingly intelligent, and absolutely without-a-doubt the most furious red Connor had ever seen.

It was the perfect build. The most efficient ever designed. And Connor knew it was just a matter of moments before he was either killed, captured, or worse– tortured and turned into one of them…

The Controller moved with unbelievable speed through the hall with his hand outstretched for Connor’s throat.

Just then, the window exploded in a shower of glass behind Connor. A figure had thrown himself through the pane, rolling with the impact and knocking the Controller off his feet.

The figure grunted and raised a metal arm, superheated blade sliding out.

“Harvey?” Connor said, dumbstruck. Harvey swung down his cyborg-weapon onto the spot where the Controller’s head was, but in a flash the Controller was standing back up and Harvey was twitching on the ground. Harvey shifted, and Connor could see the strain on his face. Half-metal, half-human, Harvey was a special case. Connor realized with horror that Harvey was fighting with himself. His two sides seizing and twitching this way and that.

The Controller had the Program built straight into his system.

He had the ability to override, control, and destroy any sentient technology. In a world of metal? He had the power to rule forever.

Harvey was only half-robot, though. The Controller could only take partial control.

“Go! You have to GO!” Harvey screamed, gasping in pain. Connor finally moved, glancing outside down the slanted side of the building. Cracks in the glass showed where Harvey had climbed up. It was slippery, but at the bottom was the dark van waiting with the back open. 

Escape.

Connor glanced back once and then jumped, landing on the thick cracked glass panes with a cry. He slid faster and faster, the rain accelerating his downwards momentum. He pressed the soles of his shoes into the glass as hard as he could, braking his descent just enough for him to fall off the side and onto the ground without breaking a leg.

Harvey could still be heard screaming in agony as he was torn apart. His two lobes fighting for motor control, frying his brain. Connor stumbled into the back of the van, sick to his stomach. Arisa was in the driver’s seat, looking back worriedly.

“Drive!” Connor yelled, something thick and ugly expanding in his throat. He swung the car door closed, seeing his friend’s contorted face and hearing his terrified screams.

Sobbing, because he knew he’d never even get to show Harvey the stupid holographic map.


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