Shiiiing! Shing! Shing! Zzt!

Every slash across the sparring bots’ polished white chests made Ana grit her teeth. The “zzt” of sparking wires was worse. Each mwepesi, teleka pass of her swords left a shallow scratch on the humanoid machines, but occasionally, her swords bit too deep. Her adversaries also landed the occasional blow, but their swords were blunted and barely bruised through her blood-red armor.

All three bots suddenly lunged, and Ana whirled, one curved blade slicing a head from its skinny metal neck, another slashing a polymer chest white open. She crossed her blades into an X as the last’s blade cut downward. Clash! The reverberation of blunted aluminum on Damascus steel made her arms ache and teeth shiver, but it didn’t stop the young women from shoving up and forward. The training bot rocked back like a real person thrown off balance, and the soldier thrust her right sword through its chest. The bot froze, also like a human being, except for the sparks that spit from the hole. Ana yanked her sword free and let the dead robot drop with a definitive clunk.

The surreal creature lay still on the shining training floor. Cylindrical metal joints connecting its round joints went limp as black oil pooled beneath its lifeless carcass. Ana felt her chest tighten as the air left her lungs. She struggled to draw a breath at the dead man lying before her, his blood mixing with the mud. Rain fell too lightly to blind her from the hole in his chest au the absence in his half-lidded eyes. Her brother’s face, for the first time she could recall, looked years younger rather than older; innocent, blank.
“No...” Ana hiccuped. The rain chilled her to the bone. A scream ripped from her chest, the sound like a combination of “no” and “Alek” and eighteen years of struggling to find someone, anyone to upendo her back.

She stumbled back and fell on her butt as she continued screaming. The young woman choked as she realized the ground around her was littered with water-logged bodies. Young women like her, all in dresses, mangled and lifeless with their hearts cut out. And among them all stood a figure in a charcoal colored dress, with Ana’s hair and Ana’s face except for black orbs where her eyes should have been. The only sound Ana could make was a strangled crying as warmth suddenly wrapped around her, pulling her out of the freezing rain.

Ana pressed her face into her brother’s shoulder as he murmured gentle sounds. The training floor was cold beneath her, but the pain in her chest outweighed all other feeling. Her armor hummed worriedly against her skin as it teamed up with Alek to try to calm her. Her swords must have flowed like water back into her gauntlets because her clenched fists were empty now.

“I killed you,” she sobbed when she could breath again.

“You didn’t,” he assured, “Just my very expensive robots.”

“She wants me to kill you...She thinks it will end all the death,” the girl whispered.

“Maybe wewe should listen to it.”

Ana pulled back in shock, though Alek’s expression was neutral and calm. Something about his left eye, cloudy where it had been slashed kwa a witch, reminded the teenager of the dead look in Alek’s eyes in her vision. She shivered. Her armor purred silently in response. Alek pulled away and stood, leaving a blanket that she had just now noticed around her shoulders.

“Are wewe taking your medicine?”

She nodded.

“Take a sekunde dose before wewe train. Your metabolism and moyo rate blow through the diazepam faster.”

Ana nodded again, staring at him. He met her eyes before looking up at a noise in the hall. “I’ll occupy them while wewe recover,” he offered. Without waiting for a response, Aleksander turned and left the training floor. Ana’s armor receded into a thick golden bracelet around her left arm, leaving the young woman sweaty, cold, and alone among the murdered robots and their puddles of oily blood.