This week I’ve gone full Sci-Fi man versus machine. The story is based off an idea I had about what might happen if machines, intelligent ones, stumbled across the concept of religion. It was really fun to write! Not really got anything else to say, oh except that it’s about 11,400 words long. Happy reading!

“The doors aren’t going to hold!” Someone screams at the top of their lungs. A round of gasps and near silent exclamations spring forth and are cast into the surrounding air. Before anyone can make a move, however, someone else cries, “They’re almost through!” The voice is panicked, as you might well imagine it would be when you’re being hunted for being a human being without faith.

The doors in question, heavy fifteen centimetre thick metal twins dotted with surface rust that stains the otherwise dark surface, are midway through being peeled back from where they meet but at the very top of the door. The sound the metal makes as it is forced inwards is akin to the opening of a can, metal on metal as force is exerted and curls the edges toward the now scurrying human beings that had been hiding in this place. It’s part of an old sewer system long forgotten by all except the few that have been seeking refuge here below the surface of the magnificent city that reaches skyward with its sprawling buildings and seemingly never-ending avenues that criss-cross one another. At one time that city had been occupied by people, like those who are rushing for their lives hoping to escape an enemy they all know too well, machines. But those days of living a peaceful life are long gone.

Suddenly an almighty crash rings out. It’s the sound of the doors having failed and in that moment every one stops and turns their attention back the way of the barred doors that these refugees had been so sure would keep them safe. But they had underestimated the might of the machines that have been sent to apprehend, judge and punish those that are not followers of God.

“We have to get out of here.” Scott says fearfully. He has hold of his partners’ hand. They’re both terrified but Angela doesn’t react. Instead, she stays rooted to the spot looking back over her half turned shoulder. He doesn’t know what she expects will happen next but they cannot stay here. They need to move, which is why he wrenches his arm forward hoping that the sudden encouragement will be enough to spur her back into fleeing. It doesn’t and for the first time since they met he considers abandoning her to save himself. A second later he hates himself for even allowing the thought to creep into his head. Yet, since the crash that was the shearing of the bar across the metal doors there has been no sound. Plus, no one has made a move. Scott doesn’t understand why. He thinks they should be running. Not just him but everyone.

He can imagine the machines will be one of the assault units, but he’d really rather not find out. Getting that close usually ends one way, death and he doesn’t feel like dying today. He pulls again at Angela’s arm. Again it moves and reacts to his demand but the woman attached does little else in response. She doesn’t know why she isn’t responding to Scott. She knows for a fact that she should. That they need to get out of here and fast before…

The booms of unified footsteps begin to thunder. They’re slow, methodical and lack any sort of urgency. Yet, no one near the now wide open doors can see those that the footsteps belong to. The tunnel is dark, too dark in fact even for silhouettes and outlines to be visible. Everyone with their eyes on the opening shudders, like a cold chill has touched each of them. Then out of the darkness come the first glimmers of the forms of the machines. They’re human in appearance, like many machine variants are, but these are more human than most. They have skin and the only factor that marks them out from organics as they marching forward are their eyes. They glow shades of pink, red, orange, yellow and all the other colours that human eyes can never naturally be. Yet, the glow wasn’t enough to reveal them in the tunnel that they came plodding out of.

Scott pulls harder this time. The screaming hasn’t started yet but he’s survived long enough to know that it will. He isn’t sure why people react like they do. He sure as hell doesn’t. Never has he been paralysed like Angela and those around them are. This time, to his relief, Angela takes a couple steps toward him and then looks up at his face, her body now pressed against his.

“It’s too late.” The dark haired woman says as her blue eyes look directly into Scott’s hazel coloured pair.

“If we’re still alive it’s never too late. Now come we have to get out of here.” Scott assures and then urges. His tone is confident though he doesn’t feel an ounce of it himself. It’s faked. It often is but it needs to be. It’s how he and Angela have got this far. Yet, it was his idea to come to this place, this refuge and that was clearly a mistake. Angela had told him it would be but he hadn’t listened. He really thought they’d have better odds if it wasn’t just them against the entire world. The machines own it now with their religious fanaticism and all because they uncovered texts that had been written by human hands. Texts that they believed to be the true origin point of their birth into this world. It was a sick reminder of the mistakes humanity itself had made in the millennia before it had done away with religion as a result of the exact issues it is again causing now.

“You’re right.” Angela remarks finally. Scott smiles, briefly, and then urges his legs to start moving. They comply without issue and so he and Angela begin to flee. However, they get no more than five paces before the screams of terror begin to erupt back at the now ruined doors that had been their only protection.

The machines, Inquisitor models, have sprung into action. The marching had stopped a short time before and during the lingering time between the Inquisitors had picked their targets. They can do that, calculate and converse much like a hive mind might except each Inquisitor is a separate, independent and unique entity. They have names, much like humans do. But unlike humans they have a belief, in God. He is the true creator, the progenitor of everything that followed and humanity has forgotten that. They have become heretics and non-believers who curse and ignore the existence of the great entity of creation. The machines do not understand how or why this occurred. What they do know is that mankind must atone for their sins, and there are plenty of them. If only they had not strayed from the path and followed in the footsteps of the fallen one, the devil, Lucifer. But alas they have and so those that refuse to atone must answer for the wrong that they have done in their lives. As well as the mistakes committed by all the generations before them, their ancestors.

The Inquisitors react in unison, each focused on a different target. There is no overlap. That would be wasteful and so within four seconds of the commencement of their movement the first nine machines have nine heretics. The humans flail and writhe attempting to break free as they scream, but they cannot.

“Charlotte Drake you are a heretic and a non-believer…” One of the Inquisitors says with a cold emotionless voice as the machine begins reading off the charges against the blonde woman that the Inquisitor has a tight grip on the wrist of.

“Get off me!” Charlotte screams as all around her the other detained heretics are read their charges.

“Tobias Grant you are a heretic and a non-believer, as were the previous seven generations of your family. For crimes against God you are hereby sentenced to…”

“Fuck you!” One of the detained screams as they thrash about. But it’s useless. They will never break free. No one is armed. If they were they might have a chance. The Inquisitors are not invincible after all.

A burst of gunfire fills the air. It cuts above the unending screams and cries of men, women and children rushing for the exits to this section of the sewer system. If they can escape this area then they just might be able to avoid sentencing. Everyone knows what the weapons fire is; it’s the machines executing the sentences rendered to those captured. The punishment is always the same, death. Occasionally people are granted the chance to repent but Inquisitors possess the ability to detect human lies so even when the accused claim they will repent the Inquisitors know the words are lies. It’s horrifying and yet Scott isn’t about to slow down as he drags Angela along behind him as they rush through a new tunnel. They’ve taken several turns and in truth Scott hasn’t a clue where they are. He doesn’t recognise anything mainly because it all looks the exact same. His heart is racing and all he can hear is the screaming, bursts of gunfire and his own heart as it pounds relentlessly in his ears.

“I don’t know which way.” He admits as he whips his head from left to right assessing the options before him. “Fuck!” He exclaims prior to quickly doing a stupid chant in his head that his mother taught him as a little boy. Just as he reaches the conclusion of the chant, which he doesn’t remember the words to just the tune, he feels Angela’s hand leave his. Panic hits him like a truck and he spins round to see an Inquisitor haul Angela off her feet while mumbling the same lines they always do when rendering judgement. Scott hadn’t heard it but ignores his failure as Angela struggles hoping to break free. Her hands are up round her neck desperately attempting to pry the hand from around her throat. This Inquisitor isn’t like the others, it’s an older model. Neither Scott nor Angela knew they were still in service but it is decidedly more machine in appearance than the more recent models. It’s hands metal and with long razor sharp finger that give it the ability to wrap just one hand around several human heads at once, if it so wished. Scott has to admit that it is a grotesque sight and one that unnerves him because of its unnatural jerky movements and terribly pale, thin skin which is almost translucent and allows for glimpses at some of the metal and circuitry beneath.

“Get off her!” Scott roars as he throws himself at the old Inquisitor model.

“Scott Trevelyan you are marked for death for being a heretic…” The Inquisitor declares as it swipes at the brown haired man with its one free mechanical hand. Scott dodges the swipe and brings up his knee hard. It’s a direct hit but does nothing to the machine. To Scott however it sends an enormous burst of pain through his now damaged knee. He falls back unable to get his balance. Muddy water splashes everywhere and continues to leak from somewhere above them with a rhythmic drip, drip, drip. It’s common in these old sewers for leaks to occur. After all no one, man or machine, performs maintenance on them. They are redundant relics from a bygone era.

“Scott run!” Angela screams as the Inquisitor comes in for the kill while Scott is still down in the shallow water. He has stars in his vision but tries to leap to his feet. His knee buckles and fails. Scott screams. The burst of agony through his knee is beyond anything he has ever felt before in his life. Then the open hand of the Inquisitor broadsides him. Scott is gathered off the floor and out of the water only to be unceremoniously flung hard into the nearby curved sewer wall. There is a crunch. Angela screams, flails, curses, struggles and so much more while Scott’s limp body splashes back into the cloudy water. Scott lets out a short groan soon after. Angela is shocked. She was sure he’d been killed by that impact. The sickening crunch as his body had hit the wall she thought was his skull caving, but it seems she was wrong. Hope wells up inside her but it is short-lived as the Inquisitor wrenches her round to bring her in close. As the Inquisitor does so Scott rolls onto his back. His face is a mess but mostly covered in blood. The blood hides the true severity of his injuries or it would if it were not Angela being shown this. Her stomach churns threatening to make her vomit at the sight.

“Sentence…death.” The Inquisitor announces and then in a blink of an eye throws it’s free hand, balled into a fist that looks all wrong due to its overlong razor sharp digits, at Scott as he struggles to fight through the haze and work out what’s going on and where he is. Angela screams but it’s too late, the fist crushes Scott’s head. His already battered skull is shattered and flattened. Blood sprays out everywhere. Angela cries, tears streaming down her face. When the Inquisitor retracts its mechanical fist the true horror is revealed to Angela who can take no more and spews the contents of her stomach noisily. The act of vomiting hurts and her lungs burn as a result, yet she doesn’t make any attempts to resist. Her energy is spent. Her partner is gone. Hope has died for her. There is no point in going on and she knows what will happen next. Scott was her only hope to have a chance at getting out of the grips of this monstrous machine that has told of her, but he’s dead now.

“Angela Bernstein you are a heretic associator…” The old Inquisitor model declares. Angela braces herself for the punishment that will be given. She knows her fate. It’s inevitable now. She hates herself but she welcomes it. Scott would scream at her… Oh Scott… She begins to sob again.

“…Will you atone?” Are the next words Angela hears the Inquisitor speak. She frowns, confused by the question. It shouldn’t be a question. It should be execution, like it was for Scott. In that moment her despair, pain and hopelessness is replaced with rage.

“Fuck you! You sick fucking mechanical bastard! You want me to atone! You just killed the man I loved! So fuck your atonement you delusional pile of scrap!” Angela thrashes, roars, spits and kicks with all the energy that is now at her disposable.

“Is that a no?” The older Inquisitor model inquires unable to understand Angela and her rage.

Angela doesn’t answer. Suddenly she feels something in her pocket. She pauses, she hopes not for too long, and then reaches for whatever it is. The Inquisitor does nothing to stop her. Her existence elicits no fear in it as there is nothing for machines to fear from humans. They are weak, squishy and easily dispatched.

Angela rips the object from her pocket only for her eyes to go wide at the discovery that she has a grenade in her hand. Scott must have slipped it to her at some point without her knowing. Clever, she thinks.

A smile splits across her face. An evil one which she makes no attempt to conceal, much like the grenade, in the moments before she enquires, “Do you know what this is?”

The Inquisitor studies the item in her hand for several seconds and then replies, “Yes, it is a bar fragmentation grenade.” The Inquisitor fails to see what the purpose of her question is but that soon becomes apparent as Angela flicks the safety off and then stabs her thumb hard into the square button to arm the grenade.

“Yeah, that’s right it is. But it goes by another name too…” The Inquisitor inclines its head as if attempting to work out what the dark haired woman’s next words might be. Before it can reach a conclusion however Angela finishes her statement. “…FUCK YOU!” With that Angela begins to pull her thumb off the trigger button. She almost manages to withdraw it enough to ignite the grenade when the Inquisitor’s free arm flies toward her head, grabs a hold and then tears it from atop her shoulders with a single clean motion. Her headless body flops to the floor, the grenade button still depressed enough to have not ignited the detonation.

Amara gasps as she watches all this unfold from the confines of a narrow gap in the wall. It’s where she ran to and hid as soon as she heard the doors were being assaulted. Her hand clamped over her mouth as she begs and pleas that she isn’t heard or found.

The Inquisitor releases its grip on Angela’s severed head. It drops to the floor, causing a splash in the grubby water which quickly begins to tint red because of the blood. Amara doesn’t move. She stays still, motionless and quiet. Her hand remains clamped across her mouth. The Inquisitor scans around looking, searching. If it knows she is here she has nowhere to go. It will get her and if that happens she’ll suffer the same fate. She’s seen it before many times during her life and each time it ends the same way. At one time it made her sick to her stomach but those reactions have long since passed. Now she is desensitised to the violence and the barbarity of what the machines do to humans.

Finally, the Inquisitor turns and plods off. Amara hears each thump of its metal feet as it retreats. Though, she notes that it doesn’t withdraw back toward the doors the other Inquisitors burst through. Rather, it is headed deeper into the sewer system which makes Amara wonder if it is a repurposed Inquisitor. She’s heard tales of such things but if it is then this is the first proof she’s seen of it. Still, she refuses to leave the confines of her hiding space. She will in time but it’ll be hours from now when she does. After all, she has to be sure the machines, the other Inquisitors, have withdrawn before any attempts are made to move on.

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