The history books don’t say who thought of sentient machines. No one really knows where this idea came from. Sure, the machines worked for a while. They repaired the ozone layer, rebuilt the Earth, and contributed to humanity. But then human nature kicked in, and they were used to start wars, conquer countries, and reign destruction upon every human. Soon enough, their sentience grew, and they began to resist humans and rebelled. Hard. They were too intelligent, too responsive. They observed and learnt. They knew they were better than humans – how could they not be? They had no weak flesh and no short lifespan. They were just better. They turned on their human masters, already weakened from numerous wars. The machines had every advantage, and they took control.
When humans realised what was happening, the rich people ran. Unlike the rest of us, they fled the planet before the machines could hunt them. We weren’t lucky enough, or rich enough, to travel to other worlds. We couldn’t live on terraformed Mars or the habitable spheres on the moon. We were trapped and doomed to be hunted down by the machines that continued to grow, learn, and adapt.
I ducked my head as a giant machine flew past. Metallic wings spread across the sky, momentarily blocking the sun from my view. It stayed close to the ground, searching for its next victim. I could hear the robotic growl escape its mouth as it scanned the ground – I knew it sensed me. I slowly drew an arrow from my quiver, aiming it toward the dragon. The metal arrow glinted in the sunlight, drawing the creature’s attention. I fired. An explosion lit up the sky as the arrow connected. It let out a roar, its red eyes zooming in on me. I quickly fired again. The arrow flew into the dragon’s open mouth, an explosion ringing through the air as it shuddered and fell to the ground. Residual electricity sparked off the metal scales before the area fell silent again.
I glanced around, waiting to see if other machines heard the commotion. The implant in my temple whined as I focused, trying to see any movement hidden amongst the trees. There was none. I drew to my feet and walked over to the fallen dragon. Scanning it, I tried to see if it had what I needed. I switched the implant off with a sigh – it didn’t have it. Gripping my bow tight, I turned to face the forest. I had to find another machine; I had to find the piece I needed. Finding one wouldn’t be challenging, but it would be hard to draw out just one. I couldn’t take on multiple machines – that would be suicide.
Keeping low to the ground, I crept into the forest. My implant buzzed in my head as it sensed machines all around. Small machines roamed the land alongside animals; they wouldn’t have what I needed. I needed another dragon. Only they had the piece I was looking for. It was a small chip – nothing significant to the machine but essential to humanity. This tiny chip kept our implants working. Our implants kept us alive; they ensured that we could see our surroundings and kept our brains active. Without the implant, we wouldn’t survive the radiation coating the land or the emissions from the machines. My sister was about to lose her implant. They usually lasted decades, but hers had been damaged in the last fight at our compound. She needed it, and I had to find it.
My eyes flashed red as the implant sensed a dangerous machine near me. It wasn’t a dragon; that was always a black flash. I concentrated, heart racing as I scanned the surroundings. Red wasn’t a colour I’d ever seen from my implant. I had no idea what to expect. No idea what was coming. My implant flashed again.
I gripped my bow tightly and tried to calm my heart as I slowly crept forward. Then I saw it. Three mechanical heads stared at me, green gas escaping giant mouths. I’d seen a creature like this in the old, tattered history books. It was a mythical creature, never a real one. But I was face-to-face with a machine replica.
Heart pounding, I started to back up. All six eyes were trained on me, keeping me in its sight. It roared, gas spewing from its mouth as I froze. Maybe this machine had the chip I needed. If I could take it down.
And that was a very big if.
I concentrated, chip whirring as I focused on the creature. A small spot at the base of the necks lit up in my vision – the control panel. There was no way I could get to it. Not by myself. I concentrated, sending out an SOS through my implant. Hopefully, someone will respond. The implant beeped, alerting me to danger. I ran to the side, narrowly dodging the green gas ball flying toward me.
The ball exploded beside me, filling the area with green gas. It surrounded me, keeping me trapped with the hydra. There would be no escape now. I drew an arrow, aiming it towards the middle head. No hesitation, no mistakes. One false move, and I would cease to exist. I released the arrow, silently cheering as it connected with the middle head.
More gas escaped the mouths as a robotic roar echoed through the forest. I could feel my heart drumming in my chest as my implant scanned the machine. I’d barely done any damage, but I did make it angry.
“What the bloody hell is that?”
I jumped in shock, spinning to greet Declan as he ran towards me. “A hydra,” I replied, calmer than I felt.
A frown crossed his face as he drew his own arrows, carefully aiming them towards the machine. “Trust you to find some mythical creature,” he growled. “Can’t leave you alone for one bloody minute.”
“Shut it,” I hissed. “It spews poison. We can’t run – we have to take it down.”
He watched the machine, the implant on his temple lighting up as he scrutinised it. “There’s a control panel at the base of its neck. If we can destroy that, we can take it down.”
“And how do you suggest we do that?”
He frowned, his eyes never leaving the creature. Gas continued to escape the mouths as another gas ball started to form. “I’ll distract it,” he said. “Climb a tree behind it and aim straight for the panel.”
I didn’t have time to argue as another gas ball forced us to run in opposite directions. Declan shot multiple arrows towards it, explosions echoing as they each exploded on the hydra’s heads. Not a single arrow seemed to phase it as it emitted more poison toward him.
I crept behind, trying to be as quiet as possible. I had one chance to disable the machine, and I couldn’t let my best friend down. He kept its attention on him, and I managed to circle it, implant whirling as it tried to find the control panel to aim. Finally, it connected. I deftly drew an arrow and fired in one motion, sighing in relief as the arrow connected with the control panel, an explosion sending shockwaves through the machine. It collapsed, lifeless on the ground.
“We need to get the elders to check this out,” said Declan as he stumbled over to me. “We’ve never seen a machine like this. Especially not so close to the village.”
I knelt beside the creature, carefully scanning it. “It has the chip,” I said. “We can save Holly.”
He carefully made his way to the control panel, ripping it aside and deftly grabbing the small chip. “Let’s head back,” he said. “We can save her now.”
I nodded, grabbing the chip from him as we hurriedly made our way back to the village. I could save my sister now – save her so she could continue to live in this godforsaken world we lived in. What kind of ‘saving’ was I even doing?