Chapter 23:


Pyro's Grand Demise

The migraine pounding at my temples refuses to cease fire. I take a long draw from my hot cup of lemongrass tea, but it does nothing to help calm my warring mind. I glance over the cup’s rim at the CEO sitting across from me.

She’s already made herself at home in my office. Much like her son, she’s a coffee drinker. I don’t yet have a coffee maker in here, but this is hardly a problem since she brought her own liquid caffeine in a large tumbler.

She drinks it while observing my office with raw intensity. I almost feel embarrassed, except none of the current decorations are my own. Not that there are many. A lone painting of what appears to be a smudgy pigeon is set on the wall. I’ll probably be tossing it.

“This office is quaint,” she says, finally speaking after what seemed like an eternity of silence.

I nod, the motion causing my thoughts to splinter. That upload of information had been too much. I’d passed out on the floor for several minutes afterward. I now know the entire facility’s layout, though, along with other choice tidbits of information which will come in handy later. My only regret is uploading all that information at once. I tend to be impatient.

“I’d like to decorate it to my taste as I settle in,” I reply. As if we’re two people capable of small talk.

“I did love that bookshelf in your last office,” she says with a smile attempting to be warm. She’s gotten better at it. The first time she tried to smile at me like that I was reminded of a snake. Now only vaguely so.

“I brought the books with me,” I say pleasantly. “But we both know you didn’t come here to reflect on my decorating expertise.”

Her smile widens. “Yes, Pyro, you’ve shown me time and time again how fond you are of small talk. But you are right. I came here to congratulate you on your promotion. Congratulations.”

“Thank you.” I dip my head. “It’s been a long journey.”

“A journey which is longer for most. You worked your way up through the ranks fairly quickly. As to be expected of one of my pupils.” There’s a dark light in her eyes which causes me to squirm. I hide it by yawning and reaching my arms upward in a stretch.

“I do hope you’re not too tired from your journey,” she continues. “Being a new warden of Laboratory 031 means you have to make self introductions. We wouldn’t want the test subjects to think little of you, would we?”

Both my interest and wariness are piqued. “How exactly does this self introduction take place?”

Her smile tilts just slightly, like a see-saw. Despite not wearing makeup, her lips are always a ruby-red. At first I’d thought she got them pigmented, but now I believe they’re just naturally that color.

She says, “Once a month there is a tournament between the wardens of the facility. It’s a chance to flex your unused muscles all the while showing off your abilities. I’m sure you’re aware, but the wardens who have made it to this facility are very powerful. They have to be, or else they would have stopped progressing up the corporate ladder long ago.

“Both cyborgs and staff alike are permitted to attend these tournaments. Not only does it give the cyborgs something to look forward to, which I know you’ll appreciate, but it also demonstrates what they can work toward.”

“It’s propaganda,” I conclude. “For your experiments.”

She barks out a laugh. Even when amused, she sounds cruel. “That’s a small part of it, yes, but it’s also to ensure the cyborgs know what they’re dealing with. Ever since I started these tournaments, there has been an eighty-percent drop in insubordination. Test subjects are less likely to act out if they know what their wardens are capable of.”

She’s trying to make it sound like a win-win situation. On one hand, she’s marketing becoming a warden or even undergoing an experiment like I did. Yet on the other, this is something cy’s get to enjoy every now and then. I suppose I won’t know how I feel about it until I experience it myself.

“So who will I be fighting?” I ask.

“A blue-type called Hectic. He’s a favorite in the ring, but I want him brought down a notch. He’s been letting his ego get too big recently and I need you to crush it just a little. Nothing that he won’t be able to come back from, of course. He’s still useful.”

I haven’t fought a blue-type in a long while. There just aren’t that many of us. Well, if I can even be considered one anymore. The thought kind of bums me out.

“After the fight, there’s something more,” she continues. “Whoever is victorious, if they’re not in too rough a shape, they can be challenged by one of the test subjects. It makes the tournament inclusive, even though it’s not often anyone raises their hand.”

I scrunch my features and she laughs a little. “Don’t worry, you’re not expected to go all out on them. Just let them think they have a fighting shot before taking them down. Swiftly and without any casualties.”

I’m not the biggest fan of the idea, but it can’t be too bad. I highly doubt any cy is going to want to fight a blue-purple hybrid anyway.

“You’ll of course need to show a mixture of all your abilities,” the CEO says. “No converting back into your blue-type ways.”

I stare at her a moment too long and she sighs. “You know exactly what I’m talking about. I didn’t choose you for Project Indigo just for you to continue being an average blue-type. Use your purple-type abilities as well. They should coincide together. Two halves of one whole.”

I frown but nod.

“Good.” She stands up. “I’ll send someone to escort you in two hours. I suggest you use this time to take a nap. Those dark circles under your eyes look dreadful.”

I groan after she leaves. Of course the tournament is tonight.

I’m thrown onto my back and the air escapes my body in an abrupt whoosh.

Agile as a cat, I leap back onto my feet, and not a moment too soon. My opponent’s foot slams into where my head just was. That would have broken my nose, and possibly a couple teeth.

I aim my left hand at him and fire sprays out in a large gust of orange fury. I’ll admit that I’m holding back; I’m not exactly looking to roast him alive. The crowd seems to like the effect though, because their cheers have grown into a steady roar.

He easily dodges my half-hearted attack and slams his body into mine. He’s not much taller than me, seeing as all blue-types are relatively short. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he only has five percent body fat. The man is pure muscle.

As he rams into me, I let my knees sink down and the top half of me go backward, effectively sending him over me. I quickly twist away from him and kick him squarely in the back. Unfortunately, he gets up quickly and is immediately on the offensive.

Dodging his punches isn’t too difficult, but the man likes to fight dirty. I have a bloody set of teeth marks on my forearm from where he bit me like a dog. I can see why he’s called Hectic and is a fan favorite. I probably would have placed bets on him, were I not a competitor.

The fighting ring is located in a large cavernous area of the facility. It looks like a part of the mountain had been blasted into, but not quite refurbished into neat-looking rooms like the rest of the compound. There are a lot of natural crags and stones for people to sit on, so they can easily look down at competitors in the fighting ring.

The ring itself has been polished down into a flat surface, but there’s fencing all around it. Whether to keep people in or out, I’m not sure.

His last punch grazes my mouth, just enough to cut my lip against my teeth. I taste blood and spit it on the stone floor.

“Come on, hybrid!” a cyborg yells from behind the fence. “Show us your purple-type powers!”

“Stop going easy on him!”

“She ain’t going easy on shit. Hectic is gonna beat her ass!”

I ignore the ensuing argument and focus on my opponent. It’s obvious he’s worn out, but I have a mission to do. And the CEO did say she wanted me to use my other abilities. I just wish they didn’t make me feel so queasy.

Hectic glares at me. “Come on, purple girl. Show us what you got!” He suddenly barrels toward me and all I have time to do is brace for impact. When he slams into me, it’s completely jarring. Four percent body fat, maybe.

Before I can wiggle out of his grip, he’s gotten me into a bear hug. “We all know you whorred yourself out for power,” he says into my ear. I feel my face flush bright red as I painfully reach my arm around him and grab hold of the back of his neck.

“But look at what this power lets me do,” I answer. I feel the moment I make the connection through his chip, and I see the hint of realization in his eyes. “Goodnight,” I say before knocking him unconscious with a single thought.

The crowd of cy’s is quiet at first, as if they’re unsure what just happened, but then they’re cheering once more. A warden who has hold of the microphone says, “We have a winner! Our new Miss Pyro takes the victory after a stunning conclusion with the previously undefeated Hectic! I guess being a hybrid really does have its benefits!”

I smile weakly at the hundred-or-so cy’s screaming my name. I’d feel a lot more accomplished if something about this didn’t feel so wrong.

There’s always hesitation when I’m breaking into someone’s chip. Their own subconsciousness tries to fight me as I slither my way inside, but there’s also my own morals shouting at me to stop. I know I’m not really doing any harm--I only made him sleep--but it still feels like a threshold I shouldn’t pass. I feel yucky.

“Do we have any more contenders who’d like to take their chances against Pyro?” the announcer asks.

I stretch a kink out of my back, fully expecting no one to raise their hand. “We have a contender!” the announcer exclaims.

Frowning, I scan the crowd for a raised hand. I’m really not in the mood for another fight, no matter how fake it might be.

I lock eyes with someone very familiar. Maybe I am seeing ghosts.

Steward McOy
Makinohara sensorika