When the last Titan fell the world threw a party. The one Emilia went to was in the largest dance hall in the city, and it had been decorated with their remains. They had not been human, nor nothing like; yet still she found it in poor taste. Here was a clawed manipulator tall as she was; here a flanged bit of armor; here an energy core, which had once pulsed red with power. “That was taken from the one they called the Flamer,” said someone nearby, who was wearing a Navy uniform. “Destroyed half of Seattle before they got it with some artillery.”
Ed Durrow, who had dragged her here, growled his approval. “Damn right. Sent it straight to hell.”
“Do machines go to hell?” Emilia asked.
“These have, I’m sure.”
On the stage a band of twelve was playing jaunty music, and people were starting to dance. “Emilia!” cried her friend Kelsey Sullivan, spying her and rushing in for an embrace, face flushed. “Isn’t it great? Come on, let’s have a toast!” She began pushing through the crowd, pulling Emilia in her wake.
Emilia drank the proffered champagne and tried to smile. All Chicago was drinking, it seemed, and no doubt all America, and the world. The machines had landed, and fought, and been destroyed. Humanity had triumphed. “What’s wrong?” Kelsey yelled over the music. “Are you and Ed fighting?”
“Then what? This is a night to be happy!”
Half the cities of the world lay in ruins; Chicago itself had seen a quarter of its buildings destroyed when three machines had attacked its factories, and been attacked in turn. Yet the last of them were gone; the world was safe again, at least for now. “What if they come back?”
Kelsey gave her an astonished look. “Well, they’ll think twice about it now, won’t they?”
“I suppose.” Or would they? No one knew from where they had come; they had simply landed that day in 1927, lines of fire screaming through the sky, striking the Earth with a sound like the world ending, as indeed it seemed to be at the time.
But the Titans for all their technology, had not prevailed. When the Titans realized they were in a real fight, they responded in kind. But there were only a few thousand; and when one was destroyed, it was rarely replaced. Now it was June 1932; and the last of them lay in pieces, hung on the walls as garish trophies.
After a while, Ed found them again and took her hand. “Come on, let’s dance.” His were eyes were too bright, breath redolent with liquor.
She shook her head. “You two go ahead.”
“Not feeling good?”
She found a seat by the wall and rubbed her temples. Soon someone sat beside her: the lieutenant from earlier. “I’m John Russell,” he said.
“What’s your name?” So she told him. “Can I get you a drink?”
“No thank you.”
“Not feeling like dancing?” She shrugged. “Why not?”
If he was going to ask… “We don’t know anything about them,” she said. “Nothing at all. Where did they come from? What did they want? Are there more? We’re all here celebrating, but we’re like children, celebrating something we don’t understand.”
He looked at her more seriously. “You don’t have to understand something to know it’s attacking you. You just have to defend yourself.”
“I saw one once,” she continued. “Early on, in the first weeks after Invasion Day. I was visiting with family for the summer, and after the news we decided we better stay on the farm for a while, thinking it would be safer.
“In a way it was; it was never harmed. But one one of the Titans came through the fields. It was just as big as they say: taller than the barn as it walked by. I remember most that it shimmered silver as it walked; it seemed to be covered in lights, or some luminous material. It was near sunset, and it shone as it walked.
“I had been out walking myself, and of course I stopped and hid in the corn when it came by. It turned, and seemed to look right at me. Then it just kept going. It went to our car, a Cabriolet, and tore it apart. That was terrifying. When it was done, there wasn’t much left but the tires.
“Then it left. Just walked away.”
After a while Russell said thoughtfully. “You know they changed over time.”
“How do you mean?”
“They were altering themselves. That’s why they always went for machinery, heavy metals. They used the materials to repair themselves, to make changes, to build new Titans. But they were slow about it, which was fortunate for us.”
“I never heard that.”
“Can I show you something?” He stood up. “Come on, I won’t hurt you. Won’t even hit on you, too much.”
She let him lead her backstage. “I helped set this up,” he explained, as they passed a number of broken and mysterious objects, in strange shapes and hues. “Brought the parts here for people to see. But we didn’t use them all. Here, look at this.”
And there they were, three great orbs, slung from a hook on the wall like a cluster of grapes. Her own eyes widened in surprise. “These are from a Titan?”
“Yep. One of the last to fall, right here in Chicago.”
“But they’re so… human.”
He nodded. “I’m not sure the machines even realized who and what they were fighting until late in the war. Maybe they thought they were fighting other machines, and of course in a sense they were. But they started to catch on, toward the end.”
He unhooked one from its netting and handed it to her. It was smooth and glassy, surprisingly heavy. She sat down in a stool and cradled it, its gaze innocent as a child’s.