By Lena Hillbrand
At the sound of the bells signaling the end of working hours, Draven punched out and collected his pay. Every morning, the same thing. Although this marked one hundred years to the night since his evolution, he didn't think of that. He didn't know it was an anniversary of sorts for him—like for most of his people, time had ceased to have meaning the way it did for homo-sapiens. Even if he had known of the anniversary, he wouldn't have thought much about it. His thoughts centered around one thing.
Hunger nibbled continually at the edges of his nerves. Having only eaten one of his five rations that evening and nothing since, he had begun to weaken from overwhelming thirst by morning. He hadn't gone so long without nourishment for a very long time. Unlike the usual slow work night, tonight his team had found a cache of contraband, mostly wooden items, that kept them busy and a bit nervous. But he didn't think about that now, either. The hunger made him frantic, like an animal, clouded his vision, made important things fade and seem inconsequential.
He had nearly reached the restaurant when he saw her.
If he hadn't been so hungry, he would have noticed her earlier. But with his mind so distracted, he didn't see the homo-sapien until she darted in front of his silent car. She glanced up, her eyes huge and terrified, when she realized her mistake. But she didn't freeze. She kept moving. So did he, for a second, too startled to command the Mert to stop. When he did, he also applied the manual brakes. He didn't think the verbal command would engage quickly enough to spare the animal's life.
He swore as he wrenched the brake back. The car began to skid. Draven slapped his palm to the steering screen and twisted, pressing down hard, as if that would prove more effective than a light touch. The car spun, sliding sideways before smashing into the nearest building. Draven's temple jarred against the window, sending a bolt of pain through his head. The car had jolted to a stop, folded around the corner of the building. He sat for a few seconds, waiting for his mind to catch up with what had just happened.
"Merde," he said, slamming his hand on the dash. He stepped out of the car and circled it, surveying its condition. The building had left a sizeable dent in the side of the Mert. Draven scowled and shoved the car away from the wall, back onto the street. The wheels still functioned, and since only the side of the car had been crushed, he wouldn't have to pay for the damage. The Memory Metal would find the correct shape again in a night or so. Still, he'd have to drive around with a dented car. And he'd have to get the ad on the side redone.
He'd already climbed back into his seat when he caught a faint whiff of sap and remembered the cause of his accident. Damn sapien, running into the street without looking for turning cars. Or too brainless to notice them. And what was a sap doing alone on the street at this hour of the night, the last meal before Superiors took sleep? Even trusted saps who ran errands should have gone home an hour ago.
And they wouldn't run like that.
Unruly saps were always causing problems—escaping the Confinement, staying out past the appropriate hours for errands, running away from their owners. Granted, sometimes their owners could be quite cruel, but Draven couldn't dwell on that. That was just the way of the world.
He scented the air before closing the door. He could hear where she'd gone even from a street away. And he could still savor her tantalizing aroma, so tempting in his current state of hunger. He should bring her in. He'd receive bonus money if she had run away, and he could use it to fix the ad on his car. She'd caused the damage, after all.
He turned onto the street where he'd heard her. After a second, he spotted her and slowed his Mert. She darted along the side of the buildings, away from the lights. She must have been young then, or brainless enough not to realize he could see her in the shadows, even in the dark.