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The CAIR faked a jab and right hooked me so hard I flew backward, right into the dumpster. Pretty sure my jaw shattered in pieces. Damn, the CAIR was holding back. The crowd roared with laughter. My hand returned from the back of my head, covered in blood. A few people beside me must have noticed because they screamed for the CAIR to end me. Yesterday, it wasn’t how I expected my life to end, but an hour ago, I knew this was how I would go out. No human left a fight alive with a CAIR.

“Get up, kid,” Rodney shouted. I didn’t want to let him down. He’d helped me out on the streets when I hitched to New York and had no idea how to survive. I had thought I’d audition for a few plays or make easy cash at Wal-Mart. Maybe sleep in the toilet paper aisle like those YouTubers. It didn’t look that hard to eat for free and have a decent place to sleep. The first time I tried, a clerk spotted me shuffling the toilet paper and kicked me out. She knew I didn’t have money.

“Wake up, kid,” Rodney shouted just in time for me to move my face out of the way of an incoming metal fist. The fist missed my head and put a dent in the garbage bin. Most of the crowd booed. They wanted to see my head get obliterated.

“Kill the stupid kid,” Audrey shouted. She’d caught me trying to steal a XT-217 watch from her store. Somehow she knew I’d gotten away with a few thefts, and it pissed her off. That’s how I ended up in a fight with her CAIR. They solved things differently on the streets. No cops required. They bet on fights, won a lot of money and dumped the bodies in the river. Win—win for them. Police couldn’t hold them responsible because they can’t DNA match a CAIR.

Audrey tapped her phone like she was trying to launch a nuclear strike, but the red button wasn’t responding.

I front rolled out of the CAIR’s reach and ran straight into a line of men. Fat Bastard, well that’s what I called him, shoved me hard, knocking me on my ass. I back rolled to my feet and turned to find the CAIR winding up for another punch. I backed up a few steps closer to Fat Bastard and dived out of the way when the CAIR’s metal fist torpedoed at me. The sickening crunch of broken bones and the guy’s bellows made me smile. I hated that guy. He watched the fights front and center every day—sick bastard.

Hopefully, the CAIR smashed his brains in, but I didn’t stick around to find out.

I launched myself at the dumpster and climbed, planning to run up the wall and grab the fire escape ladder above my head. A quick burst will all my strength sent me up the wall and probably five feet short of the height I needed. The CAIR followed me onto the dumpster. Audrey had set CAIR to attack my DNA so it wouldn’t stop hunting me, no matter where I went. My basic instinct told me to run, even if I didn’t have a chance. The Combat Artificial Intelligence Robot—CAIR—had no problems chasing me down like the terminator. I’d heard of one guy that survived three days running from the CAIR before it found him in the middle of a lake on a boat. It shot him with a sniper rifle. No idea if that story is true, but it made me feel dead already.

“Fight him,” Rodney said. He sounded too cheerful for a guy watching a friend of his get pummelled. His voice stood out. Most of the others jeered and cursed. The fight had gone on for over two minutes. I might have a Guinness World Record for a fifteen-year-old surviving a fight with a CAIR if I could last three more minutes.

“Come on, you stupid robot,” Audrey said. “You cost me half a billion dollars. Kill the damn kid.” She beat on her phone with her finger, then smashed it on the ground. If you thought I hated Fat Bastard, I’m fairly certain her hatred for me was much bigger.

You might think, why not have some guts and fight the CAIR? Let me remind you that the CAIR is a seven foot tall coltan-based alloy that doesn’t get tired. Fighting it is like punching the side of a battleship. It had slow reflexes and its movements were robotic and clunky, which is the only reason I could roll out of the way and dodge its punches. It hadn’t grabbed hold of me yet. When it did, it would punch me in the face until my skull caved in and my head turned to mashed potatoes.

I jumped off the garbage bin. The CAIR dropped beside me, grabbed the back of my shirt, and lifted me off the ground. My feet dangled. I kicked the CAIR in the head. It didn’t seem to notice. One glance at Rodney’s sad face, and the energy went out of me.

“You’re an asshole,” I said to the CAIR.

The CAIR pulled back its arm and stared at me.

“Go ahead, murder me.”

“Murder him!” Audrey agreed.

“Why?” the CAIR said.

“What?” In all the years of having CAIR in fights, I’d never heard of one stopping to ask why.

“Why do you want me to murder you?”

“I don’t.”

“Then why did you ask me to?”

I’d never heard the fights go silent before, but they went there now. “I don’t want you to. It’s what you do.”

“So you want me to do what I do?” It wound its arm back.

“Wait, no. Not if you don’t want to,” I said. “I’d rather you didn’t kill me.”


“What the hell is wrong with this thing?” Audrey’s face had turned so red I thought she might have heart failure and die on the spot. Good. “Why isn’t it listening?” Her shattered phone rested in her palm. She jabbed the screen.

“Let him go,” Rodney shouted. “He’s only fifteen, for christ’s sake.”

“Fifteen,” the robot repeated. “What is he fifteen of?”

“Years old.”

“A fifteen-year-old can’t be convicted of an adult crime. Therefore, the death penalty doesn’t apply to him.” The CAIR dropped me.

“No!” Audrey shouted. The crowd booed. Rodney yipped hooray. It turned out he’d bet five dollars on me and he’d been the only one.

I took a few steps back and bolted—straight into Audrey. She dropped her phone and pulled a butterfly knife from her pocket and thrust it. As I felt the tip of the blade cut into me, the CAIR took her arm and squeezed until she screamed and dropped the knife.

“What’s wrong with you?” she said. “You belong to me.”

“CAIR software update 193.4 included an update requiring me to follow local laws. Thank you for installing,” the CAIR said.

Audrey’s hands trembled. “I didn’t install an update. Why would I do that?”

I smiled, looking at her shattered phone. “Thanks for the update.”

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