Blue Prints

After the world is ravaged from war, a small group of survivors struggle to stay alive amidst the relentless attacks of the Kombat AI Drones—the KAID. Trained to shield their colony, Ever, Jaxon, Larissa, and Violet pride themselves on being protectors. But a seemingly normal takedown ends with more questions than answers: where—who—do the KAID soldiers come from, and how will the group continue to keep their people safe?
Caption: IMAGE VIA: Unsplash

IMAGE VIA: Maxim Berg on Unsplash

“Get down!”

The metal table crashed to the ground as I dashed for cover, wincing at the clash of metal on concrete echoing through the abandoned building. Bullets whipped past, creating indents that came too close to my head. The Kombat AI Drones moved closer, their joints whirring. I pressed my back to the cold metal. Beside me, Larissa reloaded her pistol, sweat tacking her red curls to her cheeks and forehead. The magazine slipped out and clattered to the floor. As fluid as water, she clipped the new one in and aimed the barrel back at the enemy.

I dragged sticky dark hairs out of my eyes, blinking through grime, and checked how many bullets I had left. Three.

Jaxon and Violet crouched behind a pillar on my left. Violet fiddled with the EMP grenade in her lap. Jaxon met my gaze with vigor. The scar on his temple glowed white in the low light of the decrepit apartment. He’d cut his hair—finally—and where it had shagged over his eyes was now cropped around his ears. I was rudely ripped back to the present as another bullet sunk into the metal by my shoulder. I pursed my lips and signaled for him to shoot.

He nodded. I took a deep breath and rose above the table.

The KAID soldiers immediately sensed my movement and turned their submachine guns toward me.

I focused, aiming my revolver just as Jaxon had taught me, pulling back the hammer. Aim for the weak points, his voice rang in my head. Joints. Their neck. Anything that exposes the twisted wires under their metal skin.

On a sharp exhale, I fired, and the recoil loosened my grip. The bullet hit the first android in the neck. The wound sparked, and its body immediately crumpled. I regained my tension. Fire. The next bullet took a soldier’s knee out, and the third shot lodged between another’s hip and leg joint. For a moment, everything was still.

“Now!” I yelled.

Violet darted forward. She tossed the EMP bomb towards the KAID. For a split second, the black orb rolled on the floor, stopping at the feet of the soldiers. I crouched back down behind the table, bracing myself for the wave.

A tiny beep sounded, and I felt a rush of air as the bomb set off. The soldiers fell, their bodies and weapons clattering against the cracked concrete. I released a breath, pulling the hair that had stuck to the corners of my mouth.

“Clear. They’re all dead,” Violet said.

I stood, cringing as I picked a shard of glass out of my knee through my leggings. I rounded the table, approaching the dead trio, chest heaving. I holstered my gun back into its place at my hip. The familiar weight settled as I knelt by the bodies. A cool breeze from the broken windows dried the sweat on my forehead.

“There was three this time. Normally they travel in pairs,” Jaxon said as he picked up the activated grenade. The EMP bomb had changed the game when fighting off the KAID. With concentrated doses, the electromagnetic force shut down any and all electronics in its radius.

I lifted the head of one of the soldiers, studying the odd blue armour that curved and dipped into perfect facial features.

“That was terrifying,” Larissa said, her eyes wide with shock.

Jaxon avoided my searching gaze, sheathing his weapon. I hoped he felt my glare through his back.

I hesitated before reaching to inspect its body. It’s dead. It’s really dead this time.

“Anything new, Ever?” Larissa asked.

I shook my head, turning the body over so I could study the back.

“No. They’re all the same,” I said. I pointed to the thick line of blue visible through the armour. “They all have this central vein that starts at the base of their skull, then runs down their back and splits off into their limbs. Like an artificial spinal cord.” I had my fair share of interest in how these monsters were put together. Plus, it was easier to report back to Asher if I knew what I was looking for. Maybe this time he would finally let me help him.

“That’s disgusting.” Larissa shivered and looked away.

I shrugged and continued to study the body, feeling along the crevices connecting the neck to the AI’s head. Maybe there would be….

I traced a line over the spot where the eyes should be, feeling a chill creep up my spine. Looking at them made me queasy. They had transparent, blue-tinged skin like walking corpses, and deep black holes made to mimic eyes on a delicately carved face. If I squinted, they almost looked human.

The android jerked, its features coming alive. I gasped, pushing myself back from the body. I was too slow, and the AI’s hand reached out, grabbing my arm in a grip so tight I winced. A pathetic squeak escaped my throat.

“Ever!” Violet said, cocking her gun.

Goosebumps trailed up my arm from where its cool, metal skin met my own. I attempted to pull away, but the soldier’s grip only tightened.

Out of the corner of my eye, Jaxon pointed his handgun at the AI’s head.

“Wait!” I said, putting a hand up to stop him. “We need the parts. Don’t shoot.”

“It’s going to kill you!” he said, his knuckles turning white as he gripped his gun.

The AI’s lips parted, its mouth pitch dark inside like a portal to the underworld.

“Kompanion sees all.” Its claw squeezed, the mechanic phalanges vibrating, digging. “Kompanion sees all. Kompanion sees—”

A bullet lodged deep into the AI’s skull, but its grip remained locked until Jaxon’s boot smashed through the synthetic limb. I crawled away from it. Bruising marks from its fingers remained like a tattoo on my arm, red already turning purple.

The faint glow from their wires was gone now—dead. Jaxon dropped to his knees and grabbed my arm. He studied the bruises slowly turning blue. His rough thumb skimmed my skin, sending butterflies through my stomach.

“Are you okay?”

I pulled away. A muscle in his jaw feathered, but he retreated, standing to keep watch. In the background, Violet rummaged through the apartment, shuffling papers, and smacking around wood cupboards. Larissa crouched beside me. I reached for the body again.

“Careful, Ever,” Jaxon said, a hint of alarm in his voice as my fingers slipped below the connective plate.

My muscles tensed but I ignored him. I understood his concern, but I had been doing this for a long time. His overprotectiveness was getting old. The light was gone this time. I was sure.I strained to pull out the piece of hardware I suspected was hidden in its neck.

“There,” I said and pulled out the small chip. It was blue, like the rest of the AI’s shiny flesh, and silver lines, thin as hair, crisscrossed along the surface. I’d found these in every KAID so far but had failed to get them working again. I turned it over, eyeing the strange symbol on the back.

A backwards K was stamped on the chip, with the number one beside it. I once thought it was some sort of code, but after finding it engraved on every AI robot, I now guessed it was a label. Perhaps a symbol for the manufacturer. Either way, it was a clue.

 “It’s the same symbol,” Larissa observed. She sat back on her heels and nudged the soldier with her gun. “These guys are useless.”

“Not completely,” I said. “We can still salvage for parts. Asher will be happy to receive some new wires to play with.”

Smile lines appeared around her eyes before her lips broke into her familiar crooked grin.

“That’s true,” she said. Asher understood any type of electronic by taking it apart and somehow magically putting it back together with no instructions. He would never be out of a job, especially with the AI around and so many of us fighting back. Now, robotic bodies littered the city like cheap scrap metal.

“The thing said ‘Kompanion.’ Didn’t it?” Jaxon interjected.

“Yes,” I said quietly. My mind was still reeling from the encounter with the soldiers and my arm stung from where it had gripped me. Kompanion sees all. What did it mean? Who was Kompanion? Maybe the designer or person behind the KAID programming. 

And, worst of all, what could it see?

“Do you think someone is watching us?” Jaxon began.

“I can’t think about that right now.” I pressed a thumb to my temple, the familiar dull throb of a headache building behind my skull.

“Alright,” Jaxon huffed and faced the others. “I guess that wraps up today.” He ran a hand through his hair. From this angle, he looked broader. More muscular. He kicked a rock on the floor. It slid across the room and tapped the skull of a fallen AI.

I stood. For a few minutes, we took apart the soldiers. The only real salvageable parts were the wiring and some of the skeletal pieces. After we were finished, I shouldered the bag full of parts and turned to the others.

“Ready?” I asked.

Violet and Larissa nodded and checked around the apartment for any remaining supplies. Jaxon took the lead, guiding us down the cracked stairwell we had ascended before.

When we reached the third floor, a sound echoed from the streets outside. I stopped, my ears straining to identify the noise. The rest of the group paused, their eyes wide.

Jaxon crept over to a partially intact window and peered down into the street. I watched him, and dread filled my stomach when his shoulders slumped in defeat.

“We have some visitors,” he said, and his hand slid over his handgun.

Violet sighed from behind me. The clicks of their safeties switching off echoed through the stairwell. I pulled out my own weapon and crept forward to stand beside Jaxon.

On the street below, between the wreckage of cars, dumpster fires, overgrown weeds, and uprooted trees—and who knows what else—over a dozen KAID soldiers stood. Their weapons aimed right at the exit of the building.

Paige Vandop
Contributor

Paige is a second-year Creative Writing and Anthropology student at VIU. She has read from her self-published dystopian sci-fi YA novel Masked Rebellion at a department campus event and is at work on a trilogy. She works for students as a freelance editor and is a Nonfiction Editor and the Portfolio Series Coordinator for Portal 2024.

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