It was here again. After years of evasion; years of hoping he was free; years of knowing it was out there, somewhere, waiting, always waiting; Hasif knew it was here again; he just knew. It had found him. There was no real evidence, nothing you could say was proof, definitive; just a murmur, a rustle in the stillness, something watching in the blackness, waiting. It was back again allright. And it wanted him.
He would have to go on the run again; before it was too late. This really annoyed Hasif; he was just starting to get his life back together again; again after the last time. He had a new name, a new job, and a few new friends. The job was nothing special: he was just some anonymous clerk performing tasks considered too lowly for the main computer; still he got by, just about, and it was better then nothing. The friends, also, were nothing special: just some people he could have a conversation with; but he would never let them close, they could never be trusted. Could they have? No: he was sure he had given nothing away. It had just found him; hunted him down; just like the last time.
Hasif returned to his small cramped apartment and started, sadly, packing his things; he would not regret leaving this place, it was not much for all his years of work. So far he had not seen the whatever-it-was; the murmurs were enough, or was he overreacting? Then he glanced out into the walkway below the apartment block. And there it was; waiting, lingering, looking up. It looked older, more tired, battered; he supposed even androids or whatever-it-is must grow old, wear out. It was still recognisable from the first time he had seen it. That monstrous brown sludge of an android. The thick set legs; unaccountably fast from Hasif's past experience. The hollowed out muddy brown face; if you can call it a face, and Hasif did not want to get close enough to find out. Hasif stepped back and out of sight, then peeked, It was still there; waiting, lingering, looking up.
Hasif abandoned his baggage, it was not much anyway, and ran for the exit. There was no going out the front of the block so he headed for the service ducts, the corridors and deserted stairways. He ran down, down and out into the service bay, keeping to the sides, and there it was again, at the far end. How did it move so fast? How did it know he was running? His main exit was blocked so he headed towards a side corridor. It had seen him; it was after him; stumbling across the debris in the service bay.
The first time John had seen it was half a lifetime ago (Hasif had been called boring predictable 'John' back then). It had been lingering outside his apartment block for days; an apartment so much nicer then where he was now. At first John thought it was some horrific looking security device and tried to ignore it; then he ignored that it was watching him. Then it started following him to work. Then it was outside his workplace all day. Then he asked the security services about it; and they just laughed at him, the most insulting and gratuitous laugh; did that mean they were in on it? And then a friend – some friend! – said it was asking for him and John just ran. Ran as fast as he could; he did not know where. Every so often it had caught up with him and whatever-his-new-name-was he had run. Sometimes there had been some narrow escapes and sometimes he had recognised the murmurs and run, run fast, wondering if he really should.
Now it was bearing down on him in the badly lit service corridor. Hasif was exhausted but he had to push on; he ran. He had to use his intelligence, he knew he could not out run it. The android was near now, so he cut into a narrow alcove, and this, to Hasif's horror, was a dead end, hell a dead end, why had he not planned his escape more diligently? Hasif's heart sank; a momentary thought crossed his mind: it was amazing he had lasted so long, had escaped so many times. Hasif slumped against the far wall, exhausted, and resigned to his fate.
The android pushed into the entrance of the narrow alcove blocking what little light there was from the corridor. It approached Hasif slowly knowing he was trapped. A hand reached out and grabbed Hasif by the throat, pulling him upright and, for the first time, Hasif could look directly into the android's cold face. Set into the whether-beaten metal frame was a brown sludge of a face. Slimy bulges resembling lips that oozed some frothy toxic liquid. Dry hollows where eyes should be; eyes that seemed to light up when they looked down on Hasif. The rest of the face was hideous, cracked and pitted, like drying mud or worse.
The android had pinioned Hasif against the wall; one slime covered metal hand had him by the throat and he could barely gulp in air. The more he struggled the harder it was to breathe; he twisted and turned and tried to bite the hand and almost lost consciousness. Hasif relaxed to get his breath back and the android relaxed a little more. A side cavity on the android's body jerked open and the android took something from it and pushed it in front of Hasif's face. In the low light it was difficult to make out what it was: a sort of red tipped greenish stick. It was almost as if the android wanted him to take it.
A cracked metal voice rang out; a voice that had not been used for a thousand of your puny earth years: “Happy Valentines.” The sound echoed and hissed down the corridors.
Hasif, timorously, hesitantly, took the proffered brown/green spiky stick and stared at its deep red petals; barely discernible in the half light. Hasif drew it closer: it was a rose, a pure pristine red rose.
The android, with his hand now free, picked Hasif up and carried him almost like a baby. Carried him out into the starlight; the thorns of the rose cutting into Hasif's hand. And then, most unforgivable of all, it, the thing, whatever it was, kissed Hasif; a brown slobbering metal kiss; a kiss full on the lips, a kiss full of love, a kiss for all eternity.