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  • Writer's pictureJordan Hirsch

Parts of Us They Can’t Replace

It is not my own blood I smell. I remind myself of this during every chase.


Stalking through an alley between brick warehouses, the iron-scented trail gets stronger, and I can hear footsteps up ahead. I’m getting closer.


I head deeper into the old part of town. Runners always think they can hide better where there might still be traces of iron or steel to mask their scent.


They’re wrong.


Each building has been stripped if it hasn’t been replaced. There are no pylons left, no rebar fortifying the crumbled concrete. Cars abandoned by those trying to flee are now just tubes and tires and broken glass scattered across asphalt. Even the ancient fire hydrants are gone, plucked from the corners where they used to stand guard; we’re fine with letting the organic world burn if it comes to that.


The metal that was once the veins and muscles of the city has all been salvaged, component parts broken down and repurposed.



Just like we all have.


Save for these stragglers.

And even if there were old railroad spikes to draw our attention away from their legs and lungs pumping through the night, there’s a big difference between the smokey smell of cold, hard metal and the tang of living blood.


Our synthetic receptors have been programmed to tell the difference.


Checking my comm, two of my team are a few blocks away, cutting through the deserted paper mill, hoping to head this one off. I take in another deep whiff. Our target is close.

I grin. I can get there first.


The glare of the streetlights bounces off the wet bricks as I sprint, following my reconfigured nose. I take a left, slide, cut back right. They must have lingered here, the hold out. The smell–if you can call what we do smelling–is strong.


Jogging a bit further, I hear echoes off the building walls, my reflection dark in their windows. It is a face I don’t recognize, one that was built instead of born.


A few more steps and I round a corner; the target’s halfway down the block, which is no distance at all for my augmented legs. I close the distance easily and grab her, my two reconstructed hands gripping her upper arms, lifting her off her feet. I almost smile then, pleased to have reached her first.


“Let me go, you tin scum,” she says, squirming and kicking the air. Our eyes meet then. Even in the dark, I can see they’re amber, a light brown matching her chopped hair. Like mine, before they drained me. Before they made me their soldier.


Like mine, but not like another pair I’ve spent years searching for.


This is not my sister.


Every night, every chase, I both hope and don’t hope to find her, and that if she’s found, it’ll be me–alone and separated from my team–that catches my sister.


The target’s arms are warm under her denim jacket, and I know my grip is adding to the night’s chill. Glancing at my comm, my team is headed this way.


This is not Atrine, and I have a decision to make. Fast.


I set her down, holding her in place with one hand, my other slapping a patch on the exposed skin of her neck.


“A tag?” she asks, using her free hand to try to scratch it off, red welts already appearing.


“A mask so we can’t track you,” I say, pushing more patches into her hand. These are my last few, and it will take a while for me to assemble more in the barracks when I’m not watched. I must be slow, so I don’t get caught. I can only steal so many resources at a time.


And if I run across Atrine between now and when I’ve had time to manufacture more?


Cybernetic fluid–not blood, never again blood–pounds briefly in my ears until my processors regulate the flood of artificial adrenaline. I push the thought from my mind.


This isn’t my sister, but her eyes look like mine used to. I can’t bring this one in tonight.


“These will hide your scent, but only for a few days at a time.”


Her gaze narrows with what I’ve said, but it’s already working. If my visual receptors–the ones that used to be the color of amber–weren’t perceiving her, I wouldn’t know she was here. All five liters pumping through her body: invisible.


“You’re a liar and a traitor,” she says, clawing at the patch on her skin again, desperate to be free from whatever I’ve done to her, whatever I’ve been asked to do by my masters.


My comm saves me then. “278, we’ve lost them,” Patrol 116 says. “Any idea which direction they went?”


Her brown eyes widen in fear, trying to pull away from my grip.


“No,” I quickly say into the mic. “I’ve lost them, too.”


Understanding dawns on her face, slowly. It’s guarded and still skeptical, but it’s there. I let go of their arm.


“Go,” I say quietly, comm muted. “I’ll cover for you.”


She takes a few steps back, looking at the extra patches I put in her hand. “Wh–”


“Take those and run. Now. The others are coming this way.”


She knows she shouldn’t hesitate, so she doesn’t, sprinting down the alley and turning right up the street. Once I can no longer hear her footsteps, I don’t know where she’s gone, the patch I’d made for my sister Atrine working perfectly.


“A dead end,” I hear from behind me and turn; I can’t smell my patrol team either, no traces of blood flowing through their systems.


“Yes,” I say, refusing to look in the direction the straggler had run. “A dead end. Maybe next time.”


My teammates turn, and I follow them back out to patrol for the rest of the night, praying my sister will stay hidden, that Atrine will never succumb to the fate so many of us have. Praying that there’s still hope for me despite all that’s been taken.



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