Chapter 19:


Pyro's Grand Demise

“You still haven’t explained to me why you had it,” I continue while pacing angrily. I can’t seem to stand still, which is quite unfortunate since the size of my room limits my capabilities of movement. I have the sudden urge to run or punch something.

Seeing as I can’t do the former, I stalk to my bed and punch the cool pillow I’d been planning on using tonight. Joe doesn’t even flinch when faux feathers fly into the air. It’s as if he’s grown immune to my ill-tempered outbursts.

He only stares at me with a sad, thoughtful expression. As if he’s deciding how much of the truth I deserve. I want to shake him by the collar. “Tell me,” I demand instead.

The corners of his mouth pull downward and his expression darkens. “It’s not something I’m proud of. I want you to know that.”

Relief nearly knocks me over. I hadn’t foreseen him actually telling me. I sit beside him on the cot.

He looks almost pained and hesitates before saying, “As you know, I wasn’t always the most empathetic child. Meaning I was raised to believe cyborgs were less than human. Inhuman, really.”

He rubs the back of his neck. It’s one of his tells that he’s uncomfortable.

“I was also a child prodigy, which was to be expected seeing who my mom is. She enrolled me in all the best schools and soon I was working in her labs, perhaps better at my job than engineers who had been in the field for decades. Beginner’s luck, they said. They all hated me of course.

“Imagine being good at your job, but then some kid shows up and steals your spotlight. Does your livelihood better than you, and without nearly as much practice. I knew they hated me, too, but I basked in their attention. I didn’t get nearly enough of it at home, so any form of it was good enough for me. It did get to the point where I wanted to please my mother, though, so building cyborg parts soon grew tedious. I wanted to accomplish more.

“I started listening to the people in power. If I couldn’t hear my mom’s opinions directly, I could certainly pay attention to those closest to her. They all seemed to want the same thing. In essence, a killing machine. Something marketable for selling to the military. The only problem with that is a cyborg’s free will. Is it truly smart to give a prisoner all the ammunition they could ever want, then trust them to shoot at the right guy?

“With the problem in mind, I began brainstorming. How could I make my mom the proudest? By making her money, of course. I may have not been street smart at the time, but even back then I knew what made the world go round. And I figured if my mother put so much of her time into her business to make money, then perhaps if I made the money for her, she’d be at home more.”

I lock my jaw, unwilling to interrupt. He’s building up to the point in which the story takes a turn, I know it. I’m not even sure how to feel about what he’s divulged so far. His lack of morals as a child is revolting--the fact that he was practically brainwashed from birth makes my stomach churn.

“After years of development, I created the prototype. That was what you found in the thumb drive. I’d been planning on testing it, but I first needed to find a cyborg I could implant the chip onto. It’s a relatively safe procedure compared to replacing the chip entirely. It would only attach to what was currently on the back of the cyborg’s neck, whether they be a red or green-type.

“That was when I met Kaden,” he pauses and shifts his weight uncomfortably, causing the bedsprings to groan. “I’d originally befriended him in an attempt to get him to be my test dummy. I didn’t actually think we were capable of being friends, what with cyborgs lacking humanity, so I only brought him things in order to get on his good side. Magazines, treats, those sorts of things. It wasn’t until one day I’d stayed in his room for over two hours, just talking to him, that I realized I’d be really sad if he were turned into a mindless machine.

“I’d finally made a true friend, and it was with the exact last person I would have chosen.”

He pauses as I absorb this. That sweet kid who’d whole-heartedly wanted to help me escape had nearly been turned into the first mindless cyborg. Just the idea of there being nothing behind his amethyst eyes sends a coldness down my spine.

“Have you told him?” I ask and have to clear my throat. “Have you told him why you originally befriended him?”

Joe looks down then nods. “He’s better than I deserve. He was put out for a solid twenty-four hours before he forgave me. He even told me it wasn’t my fault, if you can imagine that.”

I can. Something about that wide-eyed teenager with his lanky arms and legs just screams he’s easy to forgive. He seems like the understanding sort. The kind who doesn’t easily lose his temper, but rather thinks things through. Unlike me.

“I thought you told me he had died,” I point out. I hadn’t forgotten that particular lie either.

“I never said he died,” he returns. “I only said he’d shot himself in the back of the neck. We were able to save him.”

“Obviously,” I say, an edge to my voice. “You let me believe he’d died.”

“I was assuming your sympathy would cause you to want to assist me,” Joe admits, only the slightest bit admonished. “It worked, didn’t it?”

“The urge to throttle you grows with every passing second,” I growl and stand, unable to be near him anymore. “The lies were too much. We have to promise there will be no more lies between us.”

He doesn’t respond so I finally turn on him with an arched eyebrow. He watches me warily. “I thought you would dismiss me and never wish to speak with me again. But you’re talking as if you want to continue our friendship.”

Friendship?” I parrot back, more as a defense mechanism than anything. I hadn’t realized what I’d said until it was already out there. He was right, I should be kicking him out the door right now. Instead, I’d just extended an olive branch. Funny, because if anything I’m the person in need of one.

A slow smile begins to spread across his face. “Yes, friendship,” he repeats.

I click my tongue and turn away once again. The impish look on his face is beginning to get on my nerves. “Get out,” I say.

“Now, is that how you treat your friend?” he inquires, his voice closer now.

I let out an impatient sound and pivot to find him much closer. I take an accidental step backward. Usually I’m the aggressor, so I’m taken off-guard.

The mischievous look is no more, replaced now by something much more serious. “You don’t have to do this, you know. The procedure.”

I stare at his polished shoes before meeting his stern gaze. “Yes, I do. This is my decision. It’s already been made.”

A frustrated breath of air escapes him and he presses his thumb and forefinger to the bridge of his nose. “Very well, then. I can’t change your mind. Especially not when my mother is involved.” He adds this last bit with menace.

“But what I can do is ensure you’ll have the best engineer to switch out your chips.”

I quirk a brow. “Who?”

“Me, of course.”

I stare at him for a solid four seconds before bending over at the waist, cackling loudly. “That-- is so-- funny!” I take a deep breath to stabilize my wheezing. “You’re one cocky bastard, especially if you think I’ll let you anywhere near me during that procedure.”

"Why do you think I’m here?” he inquires while ignoring the flush in his face. “My mother knows I’m the best, which is why she brought me.”

I wipe a tear from my eye. “Yeah, okay, Mister Smart-Pants. Last time I checked, it was your mother who’d personally be looking over the procedure, not you.”

Looking over, not performing,” Joe points out.

As what he’s saying begins to make sense, I feel my smile start to fade. Just as his makes a reappearance, his grin bright enough to blind the sun.

“With me being your engineer, I’ll increase your chances of survival by at least twenty percent.”

I point to the door, all amusement gone. "Get out."

Even after he's swiped his ID card and left, I still fume after him. It isn't until well after he's gone I realize I forgot to ask one question. Why hadn't he wanted me to destroy the thumb drive?

Steward McOy