Chapter 23

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The machines all sprung into life at once. They battled furiously, unarmed, taking out hybrid after hybrid. The weakest were attacked first, eliminating the least threatening of the group.
   They were tactical – and felt no remorse. It was like a bloodbath as the targets of Fox’s experiments were brought down, one by one. The machines quickly identified the scars of their operations as weaknesses, and tore out the stitches in a cruel type of agonising torture. Those who were not killed instantly were left to bleed to death.
   Jay seemed to be one of the few hybrids with an advantage. His long claws tore straight through the steel bodies of the machines, slicing wires as they went. He ripped through the masses like a tornado, slicing and shredding everything in his path. Ruby wasn’t doing too badly either, using her chameleon talents to shrink away from the battle whenever she was targeted. And then the machines discovered thermography – the use of thermal imaging to discover where Ruby kept disappearing to. The machine made a beeline for something and it took Sara a moment to realise that she was crouched on the ground against the aircraft. She charged after it, beating her wings so that she could throw her airborne weight against it, but it was too late. The machine’s bulky fist punched through Ruby’s chest and she came back into vision all at once. Her eyes were wide in shock and blood spurted all over the machine, which sparked and hissed with the sudden contact with liquid.
   Sara gagged at the sight. There was a clean hole through Ruby’s mangled ribcage as the colour drained from her lifeless skin. She thought back to the first time she had been told Ruby had died and the grief it caused her – and then remember the relief when she was found in Fox’s cavern. She shook her head, knowing that she could never feel this relief again. It was over, Ruby was gone.
   “Sara!” Callum screamed.
   She whirled around in time to block an attack from one of the other machines. It was wielding a scrap of torn metal from one its fallen companions which was showing off Jay’s signature claw marks. Sara gulped as a few feathers were sliced from the tip of her wing. She felt air graze against her skin and couldn’t help but be filled with gratitude as the weapon missed her flesh.
   Her foot came into contact with the machines legs as she tried to sweep it off its feet. However, it had no fear of danger and threw the jagged metal at Sara. She ducked out of the way but her reaction was too slow. She cried out as the metal sliced a long wound in her shoulder that instantly began to pour with bright red blood. The metal weapon landed in the ground, wedged upright, as if it was waiting for Sara to collect it. She staggered over to it whilst holding her palm to her shoulder in an attempt to stop the bleeding. When she reached for the metal, pain streaked through her arm, causing her to scream. She was losing too much blood. It was pouring down her chest at a startling rate, making her feel sick to the stomach. She tore at her shirt, pulling off a strip of the material and strapping it around the wound. Blood continued to sweep through, but its presence gave her the strength to lift the metal from the ground.
   She cursed loudly under her breath as her head began to spin. It was a terrifying situation to be in and she couldn’t help but wonder how her end would have come in another life. Dismissing the thought, she swung the metal behind her towards the machine which was picking itself up from the ground. The result was a loud crunch, following by the crackling of electrical circuits shutting down and exploding.
   When the lights in its eyes faded completely, she glanced around. Surprisingly, many of the machines were lying on the ground – some were emitting smoke and others were carved into separate pieces. However, among them were the contorted bodies of hybrids. It was a battlefield – blood-stained and thick with the scent of burning wire. Sara ran through the mass towards the fight, trying to pump her wings fast enough to fly. As she finally lifted from the ground, the flesh of her shoulder tore open even further and she fell into the ground, rolling over and over in the dirt. She couldn’t fly, it was too much stress on the wound.
   “Callum,” Sara groaned, seeing him in the distance.
   He was surrounded by machines, aiming punches and kicks at them in quick succession. He used his tail to knock one off its feet, but another grabbed his hair and tossed him to the side. Sara pushed up on the ground, trying to pick herself up. Meanwhile, Callum was being strangled by the cold, robotic fingers of one of the machines.
   “Devin!” Sara shrieked, “Devin!”
   Devin whirled around, seeing Sara first and then his brother. With a cry that could only come from an animal, he charged – head down and determined – towards the machines all around his squirming brother, Callum. He ran amongst them, trying to tear the fingers away from Callum’s scrawny throat.
   Sara stood up, staggering forwards with almost no balance whatsoever. She broke into a run, stumbling and grazing her hand as she caught her weight. Her breath ripped at the delicate skin of her throat, causing her to cough up most of the dust she’d inhaled. Her feet hit the ground, one after another, propelling her forwards with every tiny step.
   Devin seized the neck of the machine and forced his hand into a gap between the two metal disks. His fingers fell upon some cables and he held them tightly, ripping his fist from the enemy’s neck. Out with it came a handful of tangled wires that caused the machine to fall to its knees and then forwards onto its front. Then the boy turned on Callum. His eyes were closed and there was no longer the light blush in his cheeks. His chest did not have the familiar rise and fall of his gentle breathing. Callum was gone.
   “No!” Devin cried in an empty scream.
   He dropped to his knees, clutching the body of his twin in desperation. He wailed as he could find no pulse and smacked his fist hard against his chest. After a few precious seconds, it was clear that there was no undoing the damage that had been caused. Devin’s tears flooded out onto Callum’s shirt as Sara approached. The battle had been forgotten and the pair were snatched by the depression that came with losing Callum. Sara looked at the boy with distress in her eyes, agonised by how quickly an innocent life had been taken. He had deserved to live – out of all of them. Callum was the one with the unquestionable talent and now it had been taken away.
   “I’m sorry, bro,” Devin whispered, “I’m so sorry.”
   A loud crash drew their gaze away from him. All at once, the machines had been shut down and fell to the ground. There were little more than fifteen hybrids left, each looking extremely confused. Many had brutal injuries but were still on edge, ready to continue the fight, but it was clear that they wouldn’t last much longer.
   Then, the aircraft clicked and hissed, and a third door opened. Out stepped a tall figure, cloaked in black velvet with a hood hiding their face. Everyone’s eyes were directed towards the figure who strode forwards with a sense of importance that was undeniable. Her authority over them was clear as they swept off the cloak, revealing a feminine figure with long black hair. They were extremely skinny with pale pink lips and high cheekbones. Devin gasped at the sight of her and pushed his hand into Callum’s pocket, pulling out a crinkled up photograph which was torn and scruffy around the edges.
   “Yes, Devin,” the woman spoke, “I am your mother – creator of Justice.”
   “You destroyed the world,” Devin spat the words at her like venom, “I became a monster because of what you caused. You killed your own son!”
   The woman bowed her head, the first sign of emotion she had shown so far. She seemed genuinely hurt as she made her way over to Callum, raking her eyes over his body like the machines had previously. She knelt down, gently smoothing her trousers against her thighs. There were tears threatening to spill through her thick, black lashes but she did not let them escape. She held them in as she assessed the dead body of her son.
   “You’ve grown so much,” she whispered softly, “both of you. I’ve missed you so much.”
   “We were left to rot in some backstreet care home,” Devin countered, “why the hell didn’t you keep us? Were those… those things more to you than we were? Well, where they?”
   The woman shook her head in disbelief: “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to endanger you – not when I’m the most hated woman in the world. They would have used you to get to me, done things that were unspeakable to you, as long as it hurt me.”
   Devin cursed and grabbed her by the throat. His fingered tightened but the woman did not struggle. She coughed once, a sure sign that she was beginning to choke. Sara looked between the two in a trance. Should she let Devin kill her and complete the mission they’d set off on in the first place, or should she make him stop and focus on building a relationship on his only living relative? Sara blinked rapidly, pushing Devin to the ground and grabbing his wrists. She pinned them to his chest and kissed him once in the centre of his forehead.
   “Stop it,” she said, “you’re stronger than this.”
   “She killed him,” Devin cried, “she, she… it’s her fault. She is Justice and everything it has caused. She the reason that Calox gave you those wings, Sara. I can’t believe that you are defending her.”
   “She’s your mother,” Sara reminded him, “I can’t let you destroy the only person you have left. Not after Callum…”
   Devin relaxed beneath her, fresh tears running down his cheeks. Jay appeared with them, watching Sara carefully for any sign to attack the woman. Some of the other hybrids were with him – but Erika and Ruby were long lost. The horror of it settled on a part of their soul that would never be healed. Around them were the littered parts of machines, scattered mindlessly across the barren land.
   “Is this all that’s left?” Sara asked Jay, who nodded once.
   The woman glanced around at them all with a glint of admiration in her honey eyes. Her lips curled into a slight smile as she surveyed the wounds on Jay’s face – two deep gashes running across his cheek and a burn on his neck. She was impressed at how many of the machines had been destroyed by the little group; she had never expected to lose so many to so few. Maybe there was a place for humans in her life after all. Especially these humans – the mutated ones, just like Fox had been trying to create.
   “Come with me,” the woman said, “I control Justice – there’s no need to fear the machines anymore.”
   “Why should we?” one of the hybrids said in a raspy, emotionless voice.
   The woman laughed: “I could always reactivate the machines.”
   The hybrid was quick to respond: “Go on then, I dare you.”
   The woman threw her head back in laugher and touched Devin’s shoulder lightly. Then she jerked her head in the direction of the aircraft. Devin got to his feet and glared at her, gently taking Sara’s hand and leading her for the aircraft. After all, there was nothing to lose. Some of the other hybrids followed them, but Jay remained behind with the raspy-voiced girl.
   Sara stopped, gesturing for Jay to follow them. He shook his head and continued to stare menacingly at the woman behind Justice. Every voice in his mind was screaming at her to put an end to it, but what would be achieved? Another suit would pop up in her place and take control, building more machines and worsening the world. He tapped one claw against his hip.
   “I will kill you one day,” Jay warned the woman.
   “But not today,” she said with an understanding smile.
   “No, maybe not,” Jay said, “but I’m going to rip your company apart.”
   And with that, he walked away from the others. The raspy-voiced girl followed him into the direction of a brewing sunset. Sara and Devin reached the aircraft and stepped inside. They could have been walking straight into the lion’s den – but then again – that would have been far too easy, Sara mentally decided. Devin gripped her hand tightly, a motion that simply secured their alliance – a promise to never go their separate ways. Sara smiled at the boy beside her, feeling less than one tenth of the misery he was going through. She felt a stab of guilt that she didn’t feel worse, but she had become so immune to sadness that she was almost a machine.
   Hand-in-hand, they walked into the heart of Justice. 

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