Automata

The canyon walls grew higher as they weaved through the narrow passage. They weren’t running, but they were wary of what followed close behind. What may possibly have overtaken them from above where the rock was flat but open. He hoped the maze of passageways would throw it off their trail, but he knew it to be a thin hope. Like smoke in the wind. But there was no wind in the canyon, and he heard no sound except her breathing. They were approaching the end of their path and he stopped.

“Wait here,” he whispered.

“I can go on,” she said.

He knew she wasn’t used to the labor and the distance he had taken her so far would soon show. She wouldn’t last if they had to sprint across the open plain. She was a good liar, but he knew when someone was at their limit. He dropped a hand to his sidearm and took a few steps out of the canyon path into the sun. A large field of green lay beyond. The last real green left to see. He stared at it knowing he probably wouldn’t live to feel it under his feet. She stayed behind but watched as well.

He felt it on the back of his neck. The glare of glass as the eyes of death turned on him, alone, in the canyon beyond the city. To his luck, he knew which one was sent after them. He knew it well and knew he’d have a chance. That it wouldn’t strike at first sight. That it would want to talk.

With a thud, the large figure of a man caved the earth before him. He drew instantaneously and fired a round at its head. Beneath the explosion of gunfire he heard the distinct pop of glass. The large man’s head kicked back in tandem. He’d hit the mark but feared it wasn’t enough. A fear that was validated as the large figure pulled its head back to its shoulders with a laugh. An eye was missing but no blood fell from the wound. Another glass orb focused on him. He hated that this thing’s eye was the same blue as his own. He cared less that it shared the same face. There was something about the eyes that were wrong. A smile crept onto his face as he glimpsed the green field beyond through the hole he’d put in its head.

“Always quick on the draw aren’t you, Duke?” it said.

“Always quick to put things right is all.”

“Even if putting things right, by your standards, puts things wrong for everybody else?” It tipped its hat toward the woman, “Ma’am.”

“I’ve put nobody in the wrong coming out here,” said Duke.

“My employer says otherwise, and your quick departure seems to agree with him.”

Duke drew again, and again he hit his mark as a hole tore through the large man’s chest where a heart would have been. He looked down at the damage then back up at Duke.

“You’re wasting your time, Duke. And mine. The only thing that antique can do is cost my employer more money which will only make him want to make you a little more tender before he kills you.”

The large man took a few steps forward and Duke drew again. This time piercing a lung, but it continued without missing a stride. Two more rounds tore into the body hitting the stomach and intestines. The large man gripped Duke’s throat and lifted him off the ground. He could feel the strength beneath the leather gloves and behind the false flesh as it pulsed within the inhuman thing. The one blue eye drew closer and it smiled a horrid row of perfect teeth marred only by a chipped incisor.

“You know I wouldn’t be here if the money wasn’t good.” A rank odor drifted from its mouth.

Duke barely heard him as the pressure in his skull rose to block out all sound. That one blue eye stared at him. Taunted him.

“Duke!”

He heard his name drift on the wind and his gazed turned to the hole in the man’s head and the green field beyond. He remembered the first time he’d met the false man in front of him who shared his eyes and he pulled the trigger on his last bullet.

The shot rang out and echoed off the canyon walls and the false man with one blue eye did not falter. The gun fell from Duke’s hand and phantom spots began to cloud his vision as the pressure inside his head threatened his consciousness, but then the pressure lessened. His feet again found solid ground but he fell to his knees. The large man fell to the ground as black liquid poured from his abdomen.

“All of you have a fault built in, Kane. A safety switch. A tell. And you never could quit the drink, could you?”

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