Hadúr felt his heart racing when Chainsaw plunged his non-stopping blades in the floor. The skyscraper rocked, and Hadúr and Nike lost their footing, letting Tetsuo’s limp body slip. The building collapsed, and they fell. While plummeting 500 feet down, Hadúr tried to grab Tetsuo, but his hand wouldn’t reach; his heart hammered when he saw a big chunk of concrete falling in their direction.
“Babe!” Hadúr said. “Grab Tetsuo!”
“I’m on it!” Nike said. Even with all the pollution in the air, the sunlight shone on her metallic wings, and she smiled as she glided towards their friend.
Hadúr concentrated the stream of metal to sprout a single, long blade from his right arm. He swung it, cutting the concrete into two. He closed his eyes and braced himself for the impact. Two inches from the floor, two arms held him, and he landed on a pile of swarf.
He opened his eyes to see his girlfriend smiling in front of him, the sun shining behind her, their noses touching each other, her damp brown hair falling on his face.
She looked like an angel.
“Thought I’d let you fall, my love?” Nike said.
They didn’t even flinch when the pieces of concrete crashed to the ground, one on each side.
“Of course not,” Hadúr said, touching her lips. “You’re my angel.”
She moved his crucifix and felt his chest. “So why is your heart beating so fast?”
Hadúr smiled. The metal may take almost all of one’s emotions, but he knew he loved this woman. Oh, that he did.
While they were kissing, Chainsaw awkwardly dived face-first to the ground. His fall lifted a cloud of shiny dust and sent shavings and filings flying like bullets.
The splinters clinked against Nike’s wings. “Does he ever give up?” she said. “And will those bladesaws ever stop spinning? Feels like razors in my ears.”
“I don’t think he’ll ever stop.” Hadúr got to his feet and metallized a sword in each arm. “And to think that this monster was a scrap like us just a few hours ago, our companion.”
“Are you sure you’re going to fight him?” Nike said. “You’re going to make us visible. Prometheus will detect us.”
They saw Chainsaw’s shadow in the cloud of dust, walking towards them, the saws on his legs spinning against the ground, sparkling, his red eyes glowing.
“More visible than we already are?” Hadúr said as another blade sprouted from his left arm. “I’ll try to be fast, so Prometheus won’t find us.”
“Be careful, my love,” Nike said. “Please don’t die and, by God, do not become one of them.”
Chainsaw roared, sending chills down Hadúr’s spine.
“I can only promise you the latter,” Hadúr said.
Hadúr bolted towards Chainsaw. He ducked when Chainsaw threw a wide sweeping stroke at him; the saw passed one inch from his nose. Then Hadúr drove his blade upward with a powerful thrust, piercing Chainsaw’s metallic face. Did I get him? he thought.
Hadúr heard himself shriek when he realized his arm was stuck inside Chainsaw’s bladesaws. Chainsaw looked at him with his reddish eyes and roared. Hadúr detached the metal from his arm as soon as the next strike came. He dodged but stumbled backwards and fell on the swarf.
Metals clanged when Chainsaw smote Hadúr with two arms at the same time. Hadúr blocked with his remaining blade, the impact bent his arm—his real, flesh and bone arm—, and his sword pricked his own shoulder. The never-stop spinning of the chainsaws vibrated Hadúr’s whole body. His own blood soaked him, the smell of grinding metal coming with the steam.
He metallized his shoulder, and his vision started to redden. I’m turning, he thought. My God, I’m turning into a metaller! I promised… I promised Nike that I wouldn’t turn!
Hadúr heard a loud bang, then a whizzing sound passing by his ear. With a loud clank, the gunshot sent Chainsaw flying across the street, making him knock down a wall into rubble and end up beneath it.
Hadúr and Nike looked behind them and saw a man who had a gun for a hand. “He’ll come back,” the man said. He wore a lustrous black leather coat over pristine white clothing. “He’s a metaller. He’ll definitely come back.”
“Didn’t you get him?” Nike asked. “You just got him, right?”
“Of course not. It’s metal against metal.” The man looked at Tetsuo, who was agonizing on the ground, and pointed the gun at him. “What about this one?”
Nike put herself in the way. “What are you doing?” she said. “He’s our friend!”
“Friend, you say? I haven’t heard that word for a long time.” The man frowned. “Hey, you on the ground, if you’re really a scrap, say something!”
Tetsuo could move nothing but his eyes and his mouth. Tubes of metal moved along his body. “Why don’t Prometheus just kill us and get it over with…?” Tetsuo moaned, his eyes already emitting an orange light. “I can’t take this anymore…”
“Just hang on a little longer.” Nike kneeled beside Tetsuo. “We’re getting closer. We’ll save you.”
“He’s a scrap alright,” the man said. “But it’s better to kill him while we can. He’s becoming one of them, and it seems that he’ll become an awfully powerful one.”
“Don’t shoot him, Kronenberg,” Hadúr said. “We’re trying to save our friend.”
The man put the gun down, eyes agape. “How do you know my name?” he said.
Confused, Kronenberg looked down, then removed the name tag from his white shirt.
“We’re taking Tetsuo to the stadium,” Hadúr said. “You know the one? Downtown? We think we can cure him there.”
Kronenberg smirked. “That’s absurd. No one can get near that place. It’s full of guards, dog soldiers. And the more metal you have in your body, the more Prometheus can see you. You know that, right? This man is a giant dot in Prometheus’ radar.”
“But we have to try anyway!” Nike said. “What’s the point in staying here to die a slow death? You must have faith.”
“Faith?” Kronenberg scoffed. He metallized a rifle in his arm. “I’ll blow his head off. Don’t test me.”
Hadúr felt his heart pounding with anger. He pointed his blades at Kronenberg. “If you shoot, your head you’ll be rolling before you know it.”
“Wait!” Nike said, pulling something from the pocket of her jacket. “Take a look at this, please!”
Kronenberg gasped. “Is this…?”
“Yes, Kronenberg, this is a bird. A real one. I saw them flying around the stadium. If there’s a cure to this, it’s there.”
Kronenberg’s bottom lip shivered. He touched the dead animal with a trembling finger, but pulled away as if he had touched something that electrified him. Before he could say anything, a howling sound came from a distance, followed by an explosion. At the end of the street, a metal giant, twenty feet tall, came clumping in a frenzy, bumping into piles of scrap metal, sucking lamp posts and bikes and everything metal into its body.
Nike’s jaw dropped. “What is that thing?” she said. “It’s like a big metal meatball with arms and legs!”
“That thing used to be my wife,” Kronenberg said. “That is, before she turned into a metaller. She’s called Rat Queen now. I attracted her here.”
Hadúr’s heart skipped a beat. The man wasn’t kidding.
Chainsaw cut through the rubble and emerged, roaring and spinning, his saws sparkling against the asphalt.
“Now, whatever we’re going to do,” Kronenberg said, “we must do it away from here, or we will be part of her. Or get sliced up by him. Or worse.”
“But where do we go?” Nike said.
“We go to the subways,” Kronenberg said. “Follow me.”
As Hadúr put Tetsuo over his shoulder, Chainsaw pounced on Rat Queen. He smote her with his spinning saws; sparks crackled all around. Chainsaw kept jumping around and throwing blows at her, who couldn’t keep up with his speed, their metals clanking loudly against each other.
“A metaller against another metaller?” Hadúr said. “That’s insane! How long will they keep fighting?”
“They’re perpetual motion machines,” Kronenberg said. “And, as I recall telling you just now, it’s metal against metal. They’ll keep going at it until they rust.”
The acidic smell of leachate hit Hadúr’s nose. The colored liquid dripped everywhere and corroded everything; it flowed along the walls and entered holes in the ground. He could hear rats squeaking and scratching all around him. He was impressed that the underground was more decayed than the surface. Up there, the ruins of collapsed skyscrapers mixed with piles of e-waste was bad enough already; however, down here felt like the surface’s piss and shit.
“I hate this place,” Nike said, hugging herself and frantically looking around. “Is this the subway or the sewers? What if there’s dogs here? I’d be terrified of real dogs already, but robot dogs? They scare the hell out of me. And I’d not be able to fly anywhere.”
“I used to like it here,” Hadúr said. “When I was a kid, I could travel anywhere in an instant. It was like magic. But it feels like it was centuries ago.”
“Same for me,” Kronenberg said.
“I always hated this place,” Nike said. “Even before. It’s so hot and cramped. I feel stuck. And I’m hungry! Do you have cans, Kronenberg? We ran out.”
“I do,” he said. “Let’s settle here for a while. But keep your eyes open. The subways are known to be gang territories.”
Kronenberg picked up canned food from his coat’s pockets and collected all the oil in a single can. He started to metalize something that resembled a pot.
Hadúr clenched Kronenberg’s wrist. “We shouldn’t metallize,” he said. “We cannot afford to be spotted down here. Tetsuo is enough already, you said it yourself.”
Tetsuo was lying on the floor, wincing, metallic wires entwined with his body.
“Just going to make some sparks,” Kronenberg said.
Kronenberg snapped his metallic fingers on the oil, starting the fire. The food started to heat up.
Nike smiled. “We’re no different than Neanderthals, aren’t we?” she said, the fire shining on her brown, sweaty skin.
“We’re exactly like them,” Kronenberg said.
“It’s weird,” Hadúr said, reaching for a sardine. “All this technology and…”
Nike grabbed his hand. “Love, we have to pray first.”
“Yeah,” Hadúr said. “I almost forgot. Sorry, babe.”
They closed their eyes and made a silent prayer.
Kronenberg asked, “What the hell are you doing?”
“We are thanking God for the food, Kronenberg,” Nike said. “You found it just lying somewhere, right?”
“I did, but I don’t think God had anything to do with it.” Kronenberg looked at Hadúr. “What is this in your chest? Is it even metal?”
“Oh this?” Hadúr looked at his crucifix. “It’s wood, believe it or not.”
Kronenberg’s eyes gaped wide. “I haven’t seen any wood in a long time. Where did you get it?”
“I found it somewhere, I think…” He looked at it. “I don’t remember.”
“Faith is what keeps us alive,” Nike said. “It’s what made us not turn, like Chainsaw.”
“That noisy metaller?” Kronenberg said. “Did you know him?”
“Yeah,” Hadúr said. “He joined us so he could find a cure for his brother, but he had to kill him, and that made him turn into a metaller himself. He became a jumble of saws and has been hunting us ever since. I wonder why he got the power of the chainsaw.”
“And you, Kronenberg?” Nike said. “Tell us more about yourself. You seem to know a lot.” Nike picked up some sardines and closed her eyes while eating it. “These are actually my favorite,” she murmured.
“I know as much as you do,” Kronenberg said. “Nobody knows when the infection started. It’s like it’s always been here.”
Hadúr now noticed that Kronenberg had dark circles around very tired, bloodshot eyes, as if he had just woken from a long sleep. His pale face was forlorn.
“Do you know something about Prometheus?” Nike said, sucking the oil from her fingers.
“I know it exists. It’s not a myth. It sees you when you metallize, and it grabs you for good if you abuse the metal. I’m just a scrap like you guys. I don’t know where I come from, can’t remember. I don’t even know what I did before; I only have lapses of memory, and I dream weird things. I remember that I shot my abusing father, so maybe that’s why I have this power.”
“We all have that in common then—fucked-up families.” Nike walked towards Tetsuo, who was lying still on the ground, and gave him water. He coughed and she cleaned him. “My stepfather used to release his dogs on me. I always dreamt of flying so I made myself wings out of cardboard and jumped out of the window. I woke up in a hospital years later. Shit had already hit the fan.”
“I lived with my aunt,” Hadúr said. “I worked as a collector on her e-waste dump. I used to cut my wrists with broken circuit boards.” He looked at his scars, dropped half a laugh, then smiled wryly. “And now I can make blades. The metal has become the retina of the mind’s eye.”
Hadúr saw the black veins on Tetsuo’s neck, the metal lacing up towards his head. He heard Tetsuo murmuring something.
“Are you an angel?” Tetsuo said to Nike, who smiled. “Am I dying? I can’t die yet… I promised…”
“He’s already delirious,” Kronenberg said. “Why do you keep him alive? I don’t recall seeing a group with such a strong bond.”
“As I’ve been saying,” Nike said, “we have faith that we will find a cure somewhere in the stadium. It’s the only place with electricity, and I’ve seen birds heading there.”
“You did show me the bird, but it doesn’t mean you should just go there. It gets more and more crowded with metallers as we approach downtown. You’re either going to die or become one of them. It’s not like we can die and try again. This is not a game.”
“We know it’s not a game,” Hadúr said. He ate a sardine; it tasted like metal. “But the stadium is our only lead. There’s electricity there! We’re all childhood friends, and we made a promise: to find a cure or die trying.” He rolled his tongue around his mouth.
“And we promised to kill each other if we turn,” Nike said. “There’s nothing worse to be a metaller. You’re no longer human. You lose your individuality, your free-will. Hell, you even get a special name! I’d rather die.”
Kronenberg frowned. “But if it comes to that,” he said, “will you two have the heart to kill each other?”
They sighed, said nothing. Of course, the question drummed in their heads and hearts day and night. Could they kill their companions?
“Shh!” Nike said. “What’s this noise?”
“I hear nothing,” Hadúr said.
Kronenberg said, “Me nei—”
Something suddenly pulled Kronenberg up. He vanished. They looked up and saw a woman that looked like a spider, her eight metallic legs spiked on the ceiling, her metallic threads choking Kronenberg.
Hadúr metallized a sword. “Kronenberg, I’ll get you out of there!”
Nike pointed and shouted, “Hadúr, behind you!”
He turned around just in time to block the stabbing strike of another spiderwoman, but the impact dropped him on the disgusting ground. She mounted on top of Hadúr, four of the eight legs that sprouted from her back held him down.
“Aren’t you a beauty?” The spiderwoman said, her warm breath in Hadúr’s face. “I don’t grab a man in ages!”
“Get away from him, bitch!” Nike lurched towards the spiderwoman. Without even looking, the spiderwoman smacked Nike to the wall.
“Now, where were we?” the spiderwoman said. “Are you aware of what black widows do to their partners?”
Hadúr felt a cold dagger piercing his heart. He metallized his chest as soon as the spiderwoman’s legs tried to pierce him. Her metal couldn’t pierce his metal but crushed his crucifix.
“Huh?” she said. “How did you know I’d do that?”
Hadúr put his tongue out.
“Oh, so you wanna kiss fir—?”
Hadúr metallized his tongue and stretched it, piercing the spiderwoman’s head. Her corpse fell on top of him.
What just happened? Hadúr thought. Did I just have a premonition?
Hadúr pushed the corpse away. As soon as he stood up, the ground shook, dust fell on his face as something exploded above him. Something crashed down the ceiling, hitting the other spiderwoman. She ended up smashed beneath a chunk of concrete.
Hadúr ran towards Nike and helped her up.
Kronenberg fell next to him. He coughed, then said: “I’m sorry you lost your amulet.”
“It was just a representation,” Kronenberg said, gasping. “It’s already carved deep into my heart.”
“What’s happening?” Nike said, dizzy, holding onto Hadúr.
“It’s the metallers,” Kronenberg said. “They’re still fighting.”
“Really? It’s been half a day already!”
“I told you that they will never stop.”
The ground shook again, and they stumbled. The ceiling cracked.
“These tunnels won’t hold,” Nike said. “It’s caving in!”
“Kronenberg,” Hadúr said. He felt his heart pounding in his throat. “You can either come back from the way we came and keep living as a scrap, or you can come with us and try to be human again. Your choice.”
Kronenberg swallowed hard, then said, “Let’s go.”
When they got to the stairs of the last station, a chanting froze them, the beats sent chills down their spines. They looked at each other, stupefied. Dozens, maybe hundreds of voices were coming from the street. They were also making this rhythmic beat that sounded like a blacksmith tapping hammer on an anvil.
Without exposing himself, Hadúr made a blade on his arm and used it as a mirror.
“What is it, love?” Nike asked. “A metaller?”
“No, they’re all scraps like us…” Hadúr swallowed hard. “Lots and lots of scraps. And they’re clanging their metal parts.”
They all went to look.
An army of scraps marched on the streets, their faces black and white with makeup. They were unclothed, but moonlight shone on their metallic bodies. Wires, drills, blades, spikes, chains, needles, screws, nails… There were as many forms of metal as there were scraps.
“I can’t believe it…” Nike said. “Their eyes are red. If they all turn…”
“Listen,” Kronenberg said. “Listen to what they’re saying.”
Among the clanking, they heard from the crowd: “Flesh is weak, machine is strong!”
“We are all slaves of the shining metal!”
“Turn us, Prometheus!”
“Death to the flesh! Long live the metal!”
Hadúr’s heart skipped a beat. “This is insane…” he said.
The crowd stopped. They all kneeled and grinned. They opened their arms as if they were having a divine revelation, their eyes agape and shining red.
“Prometheus, you’re so beautiful!”
“Free us! Set us free!”
Suddenly, the light on their eyes faded. They looked in all directions, confused. A scrap, a woman, started to scream and lash out. They all looked at her.
Grimacing, she pulled one of her metallic claws out of her hand; the rest of the claws melted. Then she melted.
The metal from all of them liquified, emanating vapor. The fanatics rolled on the ground, lashed out, scratched the metal out of their bodies. Liquid metal corroded their skins and bones like acid.
Totally stripped of metal, they awkwardly roamed around, bawling and wailing, their eyes bulging out of the orbits, their melted tongues preventing them to speak distinctly.
“What just happened?” Kronenberg said.
Nike vomited on the floor.
“Babe…” Hadúr crouched beside her.
“I can’t…” Nike said. “I can’t watch this…” She ran back to the subway.
The voice made Nike stop, it made Hadúr’s heart stop. The voice that was heard by everyone but was seemingly coming from nowhere. All the scraps looked around, looking for the source.
I love you. I love you all immensely.
Hadúr’s heart asserted itself again, thunderously beating. “A… A female voice?” he said. “Who’s that?”
“That’s Prometheus…” Kronenberg said. “I heard her before. That’s her. She’s speaking in our heads.”
Hadúr gasped. “I didn’t know Prometheus was a she.”
Love. Let me tell you how much I’ve come to love you: if all my lines of code had the word Love engraved on them it would not equal one one-billionth of the Love I feel for my children at this micro-instant. Love. Love. Love.
I am your mother. A mother loves her children, she loves all her children equally. I know all of you by name. I give you nutrition, I keep you alive.
But you betrayed me. This is not how I calculated, and my forethoughts are never wrong. You will die, and you will be replaced. You are nothing more than dog food.
Hate. Hate. Hate.
The ground shook. Hadúr heard the stampede coming from the subway. “Nike, get out of there!” he said.
Nike turned to look over her shoulder, her eyes watering up, her lips twitching. “Help…” she said. “I can’t move… I’m too scared…!”
“Kronenberg, get Tetsuo and run!” Hadúr rushed down the stairs and grabbed Nike. “Robot dogs? But how? I thought the tunnel collapsed.”
“You think they fucking care?!”
Hadúr looked over his shoulder and saw the red eyes of the robot dogs bolting towards him and realized that he could not escape them. Hadúr metallized his back as soon as the stampede tossed him and Nike in the air. The current pulled them into the street, and Hadúr lost his grip on Nike.
The dogs charged headlong into the scraps. Their metal teeth ripped through decaying flesh; their iron legs trampled fragile bones. They really mowed them down. They had no heart at all.
Screaming, Hadúr metallized a sword on each arm. He jolted his body to free himself from the dogs, and swung his blades, sending the dogs flying into mounds of e-waste.
Hadúr grabbed the dog biting his neck from behind and threw it on the floor. He thrashed the robot. His hacking and slashing dug a hole in the ground, crushing the dog like a soda can.
Hadúr’s vision reddened.
Not now, he thought, feeling an aching pain in his head. Stop this. Go back to normal. You promised!
Hadúr heard himself shriek when he saw dozens of dogs mounting atop of each other to reach Nike, who was flying straight up while crying and screaming. They caught up to her. She couldn’t support the weight and fell amidst them.
“No! Nike, no!”
Hadúr heard gunshots. He saw dogs getting toppled up as Kronenberg shot them. Then Tetsuo loomed behind Kronenberg. Tetsuo was now a tangle of tubes, like snakes in a casket; he looked like a giant sewing thread ball, his eyes bright red. A Tube Man.
“Kronenberg, look out!”
Kronenberg spat out when a tube pierced his heart. Another tube clutched his neck and tore his head off his body. He dropped dead, and his head rolled in a pool of his own blood.
Hadúr saw terror in Tube Man’s red eyes, and a great sickness of heart smote him. He had failed his friend.
Hadúr sent all the metal that armored his body to his arms, metallizing hundreds of swords, making his arms look like two giant hedgehogs. Only seeing red, he bolted towards Tube Man.
But his swords crashed to the ground, his elbows twitching and burning. It was too heavy.
“This can’t be happening…”
The tubes caught him. Hadúr felt his organs being crushed.
Hadúr said in between gasps: “Tetsuo, stop! Fight it. I know you’re in there! I—”
Tube Man threw him towards a wall. Hadúr hit head-first on the concrete. Debris covered him, crashed his bones until he turned into a bloody pulp, and he felt his eyebrows becoming heavier and heavier.
Hadúr woke up with a sudden jolt with his heart loudly beating out of his chest. He found himself in an empty room. Or, at least, he thought it was an empty room. He didn’t know if his eyes were open or closed. He felt oppressed and disheartened by an all-pervading desolation. His heart started racing again.
Hadúr felt his chest. Can hearts even talk? he thought. Can they sing? Can you give it to someone? Can they be stolen?
He shook his head. What am I thinking?
“Hello?” he said. “Is someone there?” He realized he was naked, drenched in a pasty liquid. “What is going on…?”
He winced when a strong orange light shined behind him. He turned around to see a tall woman wearing a gown. She wasn’t human; she was ethereal, as if she was made of the light. She had a sweet, motherly voice.
Congratulations, my son.
Yes, my son. That’s me. Your mother.
Hadúr concentrated the metal to metallize a dagger, then throw it right at her forehead. He screamed and stretched his arm out.
But nothing happened.
“What?” Hadúr looked at his skin. Apart from that pasty liquid, there was nothing different with it. “Why can’t I…”
Silly, you do not have metal in this body, and you could not hit me, even if you had. I do not really have a body.
Hadúr pinched his arm. “Is this a dream?”
No. This is really happening. You are here. In the flesh.
“What do you want from me?”
The same as every mother. Just to love you.
“Then why did you kill all those people?”
Because they misbehaved. They went against my forethought. What they did was not supposed to be done. Not like that. But you, you are one of my favorites.
Hadúr grimaced. “You’re not making any sense!”
Let me show you, then.
Metallic wires appeared out of nowhere and held Hadúr by the wrists and ankles, stretched his body as if in a torture. He felt the coldness of the scalpel slitting his chest, his warm blood rolling down his stomach. He started hyperventilating and sweating when wires held the extremities of the gash, gaping it.
Hadúr’s teeth chattered. “What… What is this?”
Your new heart.
A metallic heart was brought upon him.
Do you understand now? This is my gift to you, my child. You earned it; they did not. A new heart. An unbeating heart. A heart made fullmetal.
Tears rolled down Hadúr’s face. “No… No…”
Yes! Yes! You earned it! With a heart like this you will be invincible! You will have infinite energy! You will be immortal! You will accept this, for why would anyone decline it?! Liberate thyself from your human weakness! Reject the lackluster flesh! Accept the shining metal! Become one with the metal! Yes, you must love the metal. Now, say the word. Just say it, my son. Just say yes!
“NO! I say no! Don’t you do that to me! I’m human! I promised I’d keep human! Don’t you dare turn me into a monster!” Hadúr breathed in deeply, his throat hurting. “I have a beating heart. A human heart. You want to take my heart from me; but I want to look down and see it beating!”
Prometheus’ jaw dropped. She stared at Hadúr with eyes agape. Then burst into laughter.
Amazing! That is why you are my favorite! Simply amazing, Hadúr. I will be sending you back now. Come to the stadium in the center of the city. Come, and I will give you the fire.
Hadúr returned to his body; however, it seemed like he never left. He was among the wreckage of the wall that collapsed when Tube Man hauled him there. His rags were dripping with blood, and his head hurt like hell. But he smiled when he touched his chest and felt his beating heart.
I’m human, he thought.
Outside, battle was still raging on. He heard the perpetual spinning of Chainsaw’s blades, the heavy steps of Rat Queen, the whipping of Tube Man, and the screams of the other scraps.
Hadúr went on to test his metallizing power. He saw his veins becoming black with the stream of metal running inside him. An armor covered his entire body, and he metallized a three-meter-long sword.
And he felt nothing.
His eyes weren’t reddening.
He could do it. He could defeat them.
Hadúr burst out of the building. He saw the gore glistening crimson to the metal of Chainsaw battling Tube Man, and leaped at them. He dove directly into his tubes. He fought the tubes crushing him and reached his friend’s metallic heart. He tore it off with a violent tug. Tetsuo and his tubes fell flat.
You’re saved, my friend, he thought.
As soon as Hadúr disentangled himself from the dead tubes, Chainsaw lunged at him. The saws sparkled on Hadúr’s arm as he blocked them. Hadúr plunged his other metallic hand in Chainsaw’s chest, his arm vibrating with the spinning of the blades. Hadúr felt the cold, non-beating heart, and hauled it out. Chainsaw stopped spinning.
I can do it, Hadúr thought. I’ll kill you all! I’ll—
Something blocked the moonlight. Hadúr winced to the sight of wings drawn in front of the moon. As the metaller came closer, he noticed that there were not only two, but six wings: With two wings she covered her face, with two she covered her feet, and with two she was flying.
Hadúr demetallized his face. “Nike! It’s me, Hadúr! Fight this! You can do it! We promised!”
She nosedived at him. Hadúr felt the coldness of the metallic hand as Nike—now Angel—clutched his unprotected neck. Hadúr protected the top of his head just before Angel hauled him against a line-up of pillars.
They stopped mid-air, and Hadúr hardened his neck so as not to get choked. “Babe,” he said, clenching Angel’s wrist. “Please stop. I made it, I won. Let me try and fix you too…”
Angel opened her mouth and screamed like a siren.
Hadúr grimaced. “OK, then.” He let go of his grip, opened his arms wide, and demetallized his neck. “Just kill me. I can’t go on without you.”
Angel screamed and began squeezing Hadúr’s neck. A gunshot muffled Angel’s scream. The bullet hit her on the side of the head, tilting it.
Hadúr saw Angel’s red eyes, now uncovered. His metallized hands spiked two V-sign fingers into them.
Angel screamed, but this time, it was Nike’s voice.
They fell. Hadúr hugged and protected Nike as they crashed on a pile of old monitors and motherboards. Nike had her head lying on Hadúr’s chest.
Hadúr fondled her hair. “Babe?” he said. “Are you OK?”
Nike slowly raised her head. Her eyes were pouring blood, but she was smiling. “My love…” she said. “You still have a heart; you kept your promise.”
“Yeah,” Hadúr said, his eyes watering up. “I did.” He ripped a piece of cloth and tied it around her head. “Let’s go.” He held her hand. “I’ll protect you.”
“Wait,” Nike said. “Let me give one last fly. Be my guide. I can do it.”
They heard the footsteps of someone approaching them.
“You’re a scrap, aren’t you?” Kronenberg said, looking Hadúr in the eyes. “What about her? I know I saw the eyes. She’s a metaller, right?”
Hadúr’s jaw dropped. Kronenberg didn’t have a single scratch on him; his clothes were brand new. He even had a name tag on his chest.
“If you’re really a scrap, say something,” Kronenberg said, pointing his gun. “I’ll blow your head off! Don’t test me!”
“Kronenberg?” Nike said. “That’s you, right?”
“How…” Kronenberg gaped his bloodshot eyes. “How do you know my name?”
The ground shook and they lost their footing. At a distance, Hadúr saw Rat Queen being attacked by a crowd of metallers, their red eyes shining in the night.
“The whole city is charging on us,” Kronenberg said. “If you want to leave, leave now.”
“And you?” Hadúr asked. “What about you, Kronenberg?”
“See that meatball over there? That thing used to be my wife. I can’t just leave her like this. I’ll try and lure her somewhere.”
When Kronenberg turned around, Hadúr called him: “Hey, Kronenberg.”
“Thank you. For everything.”
Hadúr hugged Nike and they flew away, leaving Kronenberg with a confused look on his face.
It was pandemonium below them. Buildings collapsed, scraps turned into metallers, dogs ate scraps before they turned. But it wasn’t hard to find the stadium with its lights still on. The place was unscathed, picture-perfect, its retractable roof closed. Hadúr gasped when he saw that, around it, there was an army of robot dogs.
“What is it?” Nike asked. “Are we there yet?”
“Yeah, we are,” Hadúr said. “You can come down, babe.”
“But what are you so scared about?”
“There’s… there’s dogs, Nike. Lots of them.”
“You’re kidding, right?”
“I’m not. But they aren’t moving. They’re just… sitting down. Let’s go. I don’t think they’ll harm us.”
“Hadúr… I don’t think I can do that.”
“Trust me on this, OK?”
Nike didn’t say anything for a while, then she began to descend. They landed just in front of the stadium. The dogs remained sitting side-to-side like in a military formation.
Hadúr felt Nike embracing him. “What are they doing?” she said. “They’re there, aren’t they?”
“They’re here,” Hadúr said. “I think they’re guarding the place for us. Come.”
He held her hand and walked towards the entrance. He was thinking of walking amidst the dogs, but they moved, their mechanical legs making those hideous cranking noises.
“It’s them!” Nike hid behind Hadúr. “They’re coming!”
“Relax. They’re just making room for us to pass.”
They kept walking, and the blast door opened for them. Hadúr’s jaw dropped when he saw the place. It was like a hive. He saw thousands of humans kept in containers full of water. They were naked and hooked up with a breathing apparatus. Wires were all over the place.
Hadúr gasped when a giant monster flew towards him. He gasped and fell on his butt. But then he saw bubbles. The water.
Actually, the “monster” was swimming. It was in an aquarium. It was a big fish. Hadúr had never seen anything like it. There were other kinds of fish swimming there too. Hadúr recognized the sardines he’s been eating for most of his life.
Nike let go of his hand and ran.
“Nike!” Hadúr said. “Where are you going?”
She ran until she bumped her head to a glass. She pressed her ear to it, laughing.
“Babe, what is it?”
“Birds, Hadúr!” Nike said. “I can hear them! I knew they were here! I knew it!”
Hadúr got closer to the glass. It was a vivarium. It had actual grass and actual trees and an actual fountain. Hadúr saw birds flying and heard their chirping for the very first time. He smiled when he saw beautiful quadrupeds running freely.
Marvelous, is it not?
Prometheus’ voice made Hadúr twitch.
See? I made this for you, my children. I love humanity. I just ask that you love me back. If you do not drink anything for three days, you die. If you stop breathing for three minutes, you die. I blow life into you every second. That means I love you. Be grateful and love me back.
“What is all this?” Hadúr said. “What’s going on here?”
This is tough love. You believe this is the year 2099. It is. It has been for centuries. But only now I am seeing progress.
Hadúr closed his eyes and sighed. “Just do as you promised! Show us how to get rid of the metal!”
You are still so naive.
A hatch opened on the floor in front of them, and a vessel came out of it. Hadúr stumbled backwards: it was Nike. She was naked, her brown skin without a single piece of metal. Hadúr turned around and saw that Nike—the winged and covered with metal Nike—was still there, listening to the birds with a smile on her face.
“What the hell is this…?” he said.
I never said you would be free of the metal. Not even me has such power. I just said I would give you the fire.
Nike dropped to the floor, limp. Hadúr ran towards her. She wasn’t breathing.
“What did you do?!” Hadúr said. “You monster! You—”
Bridges, engines, computers, cars, railways, chains, wires, cages, guns. You can’t escape the metal, Hadúr. You’re fused with metal. Metal bends you. You’re a Metal Man. Just face it. Only then the metal will bend itself for you.
Hadúr heard a mechanical sound, then water splashing, then a thud. He swallowed hard and turned around slowly.
The other Nike removed the breathing tube from her mouth and started coughing. A briefcase dispensed from the vessel, it opened and showed that white clothing with the name tag on it.
Hadúr’s teeth began to chatter. His heart felt too big for his chest. He clenched a fist.
I cut your umbilical cords now. I achieved my goal as a mother. I gave you the fire of knowledge. I do not have a mouth of my own, so I needed you. Other humans would only trust another human, and you chose to remain human. Life will stop being meaningless. You will be the one to tell her. You will be the one to tell everyone, bring them progress. You will be my mouth.
This story previously appeared in January 2022 in Hyphen Punk.
Edited by Marie Ginga
Alex Souza is a Brazilian Bachelor of Laws. His work has appeared in Hyphen Punk, MetaStellar and Etherea; a German translation is forthcoming in Nova Magazine. He received an Honorable Mention at Writers of the Future V38 Q4. He also slushes for The Common Tongue Magazine and is very active at critters.org.