They pressed on through the blasted heath, as burnt to ash as the nights were long and dark and cold enough to crack the life out of stone. Walked past the cauterized ribcages of what might have been sheep. He held the boy shivering against him and felt the warm of each frail breath in the dark.
Something woke him. He lay listening. Clattering, like insects. Underscored by an anxious mechanical hum, the voice of no beast but that which man had made to hunt himself. He rose slowly and when he looked back toward the road the first of them were already coming into view.
God, he whispered. He reached and shook the boy, keeping his eyes on the road. They came prancing through the ash. Metal and lithe. Canine parodies jerking their limbs and their headless shoulders at the dead threshold of perception.
Dont look back, he whispered, pulling the boy. The boy was frozen with fear. It's all right. We have to run. They all but fell into the brake tearing through it. Something snarled around his ankle. He grabbed the boy and fell to ground with his arm around him.
The pack came to a sudden halt, yellow digitigrade legs shuddering to a halt. Maybe a hundred feet from them. The boy looked back.
Then silence. The sound of the dogs listening for them. Muttered electronic croaks that might be a perverse speech.
Shh, he said. Shh. They waited. Then with a lurch the motors whined into life and the clanking mindless beasts pressed on. They waited a long time, until their sound was a distant murmur filtered by the broken woods.
I should have been more careful, he said.
The boy didnt answer.
You wanted to know what the bad guys looked like. Now you know.
Are we still the good guys?
Yes. We're still the good guys. And we always will be.