|For a short piece about Ky's angst, it has an awful lot of Drow and Remus in it. Well, either way.|
Blowing Off Steam
"Yo, Catseye --" The cyborg's greeting cut short when the object of his hail turned to him with an expression that seemed designed to scare the life out of impressionable students. He raised his hands placatingly, as surprised look flashing across his unrepentantly cheerful face. "Whoa, man -- what'd I do? Oh wait, don't tell me -- they cut your funding again."
The white-haired Reploid's expression relaxed, and he managed to summon up a forced, tired smile, though he didn't answer immediately. "Sorry, Remus."
"It's cool." Remus gave a fanged and lopsided smile. "Somethin' bothering you, man?"
Ky shook his head once, though it didn't seem to be entirely in response to the question. After a moment, he gave himself a shake, then he turned to Remus almost as if he had only just noticed him. "Care to join me in the sims?"
The cyborg gave him a long, evaluating stare. "Uh.. sure. I ain't got anything else to do." At his agreement, Ky immediately started walking, leaving the cyborg to followed, bewildered. "I'll settle for watchin', if that's all right by you. My leg's been givin' me trouble, and I haven't had a chance to get it adjusted yet." His only acknowledgement was an absent-minded wave, and Remus began to scowl.
Ky caught the expression out of the corner of his eye and felt a brief surge of guilt, but he continued on his way without responding, unable to think of an adequate explanation for his unusual mood. At least not one that didn't send his mind wandering down dangerous corridors -- lingering on events he'd thought long put behind him. It was only when Remus' hand on his shoulder drew him to a slightly unbalanced halt that he realized he had nearly walked past the sims themselves, lost in thought.
His scowl was more pronounced now, and he spoke with an edge of irritation. "You're startin' to freak me out, Catseye -- what the hell's the problem?"
Ky turned quickly, barely mastering himself in time to avoid flinching at his companion's tone. "I -- I am sorry, Remus -- I don't really know what the problem is." The cyborg's expression indicated that he found this to be a very raw attempt at a lie, but the white-haired Reploid plunged on regardless. "I just -- need to blow off some steam. I've got a sim in mind, if you'd like to join me --"
"I already said I can't today," Remus grunted, and he ambled past him to the observation booth, ignoring another fumbled attempt at apology.
Ky grimaced, turning to the simulator's primary field instead of the booth. There was a pause while he tried to remember what he'd called the sim he was thinking of, as he hadn't used it in some time -- almost a year, now he thought on it. He tapped in his access code and frowned slightly, then -- after several moments of staring blankly at the console -- he remembered it and tapped "10-100trbaseone" into the Quick Search field. He was bleakly pleased to find it still available and fairly high in the file cache -- apparently some of the Hunters and trainees had found it diverting -- or possibly educational.
The computer booted it quickly, its automated warnings sounding over the speaker system. Such was the level of technology, it sounded as if a polite citizen was voicing his concerns over Ky's shoulder.
"This simulation is rated at a very high difficulty level. Do you wish to proceed?"
"Standard safety precautions are in place. Alpha Level authority is required to alter these settings. Do you wish to alter these settings?"
"Do you wish to terminate the sequence upon receiving maximum scored damage?"
He hesitated over this, then shrugged. If nothing else, he could see how his record rated against everyone else who'd played the sim. "Yes."
The room went momentarily black as the sim loaded, and he found himself flanked on the left by four beige-toned drones and on the right by five of the same. In front of them, the room rapidly filled with more of the non-robots, these painted black to denote their opposition to Ky's small army. So far, it was exactly as he recalled it.
A moment later, there was a call for weaponry. His companions were armed automatically, and the concerned citizen spoke to him once again. "This simulation's weapon set defaults to --"
"Default," he told it before it could explain his options. He was beginning to lose patience with the program's settings. A naginata formed beside him, and he snatched it out of the air, dropping into a fighting stance.
"Begin simulation," said the citizen, and the drones rushed forward, an ocean of metallic black.
He could never recall how long his drone companions lasted, as they were quickly lost in the sound and fury of the battle itself. One by one, though, he knew they would fall, as they always did -- the computer's AI was, at times, ridiculously fair-minded -- and he would be alone on the battlfield, fighting off an unrelenting army. He attacked with only basic techniques at first, noting with some embarrassment that he was out of practice. Perhaps he wouldn't be beating any scores today.
Flickers of thought and memory intruded, stuttering the ideally fluid motions of the fight. He remembered the face of the boy who died, and two more drones fell to a nearly-arrested sweep, momentarily banishing the smiling child. The phantom returned in the shape of his friend and co-worker -- this disappeared in a disemboweling stab, to be replaced by an echo of laughter that dissipated in a rush and a thrust. They rolled over him one after another, remembrances long buried, events left far behind him. Each stroke took him farther from them, farther from the past, and closer to the present day, where the drones continued their relentless assault, slowly but surely stripping away his simulated life force.
He didn't bother to check his status. When it was over, he would know.
Above him in the observation booth, his audience watched, silently perplexed. The simulation was non-sensical to Remus, who was not a fan of overwhelming odds. It was less this that bothered him, though, than the vacant look in his friend's gaze as he plowed through the hordes of drones he'd set against himself. It clearly meant something more to Ky, but the cyborg was hard-pressed to figure out what.
He had never asked much about Ky's past, but he was rapidly feeling inclined to broach the subject as soon as he could figure out a polite way to ask. He was so absorbed in his thoughts and watching the battle below, it wasn't until the large, black tiger shoved her nose into his hand he noticed she was there. He jumped sharply, looking over at her.
"Hey, kiddo. You lose Cici again?" He stroked her ears absently, returning his gaze to the battle stage.
"Cici told Drow to go find you," she replied, nuzzling his hand contentedly. Then, realizing his attention was not at all focused on her, she ambled over to the observation booth window and reared her paws on it, peering down. "Ky-ky?"
"Yeah.. seems to be workin' out some personal issues."
The tiger girl gave him a puzzled look, but he scratched her ears again instead of explaining. She didn't seem to mind the substitution. "Is Ky angry?"
"Maybe. A little." Remus frowned down at the white-haired Reploid, who was slowly but surely falling back against the tide of opponents. "I think he's.. hurting."
She tilted her head, ears wiggling slightly with puzzlement. "Heart-hurting?"
Remus glanced at her and nodded -- they'd had a discussion about different kinds of hurt some time ago, and he was fairly pleased that she'd retained it. She looked troubled, though, and glanced over at him again. "Friends help heart-hurt?"
She dropped to the floor, tail swishing, and sprawled slightly in the center of the room. Remus turned from the window, leaning back against it and folding his arms to watch her instead. "Never understood why people used these things to play back old, bad memories."
"Bad memories," the tiger murmured sleepily. "Drow has ..."
"We all do."
"Drow doesn't like." She rolled over on her back, feet dangling in the air. "Drow doesn't remember."
"Yeah.. some people can't --" He stopped, startled by a buzzing clang that signaled the end of the simulation. Turning back to the window, he saw Ky sprawled on his back in the middle of the now-empty room, staring silently at the ceiling as if waiting for word from a reticent god. "Some people can't let it go."
The tiger didn't answer him, and a glance back over his shoulder confirmed his suspicion that she'd fallen asleep.
"I don't get either of you guys."