Everyone assured us that we were safe.
When the riots began, everyone assured us the police lines would hold.
When the police lines broke, everyone assured us the doors would hold.
When the locked doors were kicked in, everyone assured us that reinforcements would arrive soon.
By the time reinforcements came, “everyone” had been narrowed down to two of us, and we weren’t in the habit of lying to each other.
We sat on the rooftops, safe for the moment. Mike had unrooted one of the massive blocks of machinery from the flat surface and pushed it atop the trap door that was the only way up. Not even fire escape ladders climbed this high into the cooling summer sky.
Sirens wailed, blocks away, unable to shove through the seething crowds some twenty floors below us. The sun sank and painted the clouds beautiful as the wind pushed gently at my eyes. The disparity was jarring.
“What do you think will happen?” Mike asked me, his speech slow and fumbling. His lower lip jutted, fat and blood-stained, as he stared forlornly at the city gone mad.
“I don’t know.” I twisted my hands together, the rubbery flex of my fingers soothing. My legs were curled to my chest, my arms wrapped around them; I made a neat ball of flesh and fretting.
Mike was bigger than me, his skin the color of the earth, his hair dyed shock-white. He hunched uncomfortably nearby, folded into a crouch, his knuckles pressed to the cold corrugated metal.
We’d lost the other six of us. Maybe some of them were still alive, hiding in the depths of the building. Maybe some door had held, somewhere, and saved a life.
More likely, they were dead. It was hard to swallow. Everyone had promised our safety, our equality. But even they had gone down beneath the panicked fists of the mobs, white lab coats shredding like tissue paper. I had never seen humans so angry, so powerful.
We learned fear as we fled, room to room. It was Mike’s idea to shove me into the ceiling, breaking the flimsy tiles, raining dust and rubble on our pursuers. The support beams barely held his weight, but we gained enough of a lead to find the way onto the roof.
Mike was the one labeled a failure. By everyone, including us. He was slow-witted and ham-handed. He was assured a good life, just like all of us were, but we had ostracized him as cruelly as human children did to their own.
We weren’t very old yet, after all.
Mike shifted his weight and harrumphed, the sigh ending in a low grunt. He touched one sausage-thick finger to his face and studied the drying blood that came away. “This is bad,” he said. “They got ‘copters.”
I lifted my ears and held my breath– sure enough, nearly drowned out by the bloody pulse of the riot, the steady drum of a helicopter. I tightened and curled in on myself, burying my face between my knees, thinking helplessly of how normal the morning had been.
Then the news report of a protest. “Unethical experiments must be destroyed,” the journalist said, reading one of the signs hefted jauntily over too many marching heads.
“We aren’t unethical,” I whimpered, listening to the helicopter draw closer. Its wings beat like boots on concrete, like my heart against my ribs.
Mike thumped one heavy hand on my shoulder, his skin surprisingly soft on mine. “We aren’t,” he agreed in his slow voice. “Everyone else was.”