Souvenirs From Dead Worlds (boyxboy)

Sam's job is to make a record of cultures before the drones come and destroy them. He's supposed to take artefacts, not people. Kias doesn't know what's going on, but there are metal monsters flying around killing people and he doesn't want to be next, even if to live he has to give up the freedom he's only just reclaimed.

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2. Chapter 2

The boy was a lot bolder in the face of danger than Sam had expected. When he looked at Sam he was meek, avoided eye contact, and spoke sparingly, but when it came to the drones he didn't freeze up. He was smart enough to get the hell out of the way so Sam could deal with them and brave enough to keep moving after Sam was done. Being out in the open was necessary but definitely not safe, and Sam was surprised that the boy didn't decide Sam was mad and abandon him. Surprised, and very disappointed. Sam was too busy shooting drones to figure out what to do about it, though. Other than the corner of one narrow lane where half a dozen people had been trapped and executed by the drones, there hadn't been many bodies in the side streets. The marketplace was a different matter. The drones tended to aim to kill, and their lasers burnt rather than cut, so at least there wasn't a great deal of blood. Bodies, though, yes. Plenty of those. Sam risked his life for a few extra moments to find a clear spot so that none of the bodies got crushed under his shuttle. While still shooting the drones, Sam turned the dial on his ring with his spare hand, then pressed the buttons in the required sequence. Less than a minute later, the beam from Sam's laser gun narrowly missed being deflected back into his arm before his shuttle de-cloaked, appearing before him in all her ruddy, dented glory. The boy, who had been lying behind Sam on the ground to stay out of the line of fire, made a startled noise and scrambled back. Sam hoped he would run. He didn't. Sam should have left the boy there, laying frightened on the ground. He wouldn't have survived more than a few moments after Sam had left. Why should Sam help him? Everyone else on this world was going to die, why should this boy live? He wasn't special, he'd just encountered Sam at the right — or perhaps wrong — time. Sam twisted his hand in the front of the boy's shirt, yanked him up, and shoved him into the shuttle ahead of himself. Yep, Sam was going to regret this. # Wherever the man had shoved Kias, it was darker than it had been outside in the mid-morning sunlight. The few lights there were, Kias didn't understand. They didn't look like fire. Some were larger, about the size of Kias' fist, and shone white light from the curved surface of the ceiling. The others were far smaller and glowed faintly in many different colours on the surfaces that encircled most of the small room. Once the door slid shut all sound from outside was cut off, leaving only a soft humming sound and, after a few moments, a clicking sound coming from where the man had sat down on the other side of the room. This room, and the man who had shoved him into it, were about as strange as the metal monsters outside, but at least they didn't appear to want Kias dead, even if the man had threatened to strangle him. The man seemed to have relaxed now that they were in this room, and so Kias allowed himself to do the same, just slightly. Just enough that the wound he'd received across one side of his stomach from attempting to fight one of the metal monsters decided to remind him of its existence by means of sharp, burning pain. Kias crawled under one of the surfaces with the glowy lights and curled up, hoping he could be forgotten for a while. # Sam jabbed furiously at the keys, selecting and confirming the coordinates of the transport point. This was the stupidest thing he'd ever done, and he had done some exceptionally stupid things in his lifetime. Like that time he'd tried to fight a drone with a sword because he'd dropped his gun somewhere. He probably should have known better that time, if not because of his training then because the owner of the sword had actually known how to use it and Sam had still had to take it from the man's dead body. He still had a scar from that. This, however... this would lose him his job. It annoyed him even more when he turned to find the boy huddled under one of the command panels. If he was going to lose his job rescuing someone, was this truly the most worthy individual he could have found? Sam kneeled on the floor in front of the panel, peaking under at the boy. "What's your name?" He might as well know now. Sam could still have gotten out of this by tossing the boy back out the door, but he apparently had more conscience than sense. "Kias," the boy responded cautiously after a long pause, not unballing himself. "Kias," Sam repeated. "I'm Sam. Get out from there." A commanding tone, Sam was glad to find, worked on Kias. As soon as Kias was standing, Sam dragged him over to the seats at the front, pushed him into one, and did up the buckles. Luckily, the shuttle came equipped with two seats, even though Sam was almost always alone on his assignments. Otherwise, Sam supposed, he could have simply let Kias rattle around on the floor somewhere while the shuttle did its shaky thing, but he knew well enough how much that could hurt. Sam had done that once during training when they'd had to pick up some of his co-workers who had gotten stranded. He'd been the lowest ranking at the time and so had automatically drawn the short straw and been left without a seat during transport. Sam had ended the day with a concussion, more bruises than he could count, and a powerful desire to one day work alone. It wasn't until Sam had strapped himself in and initiated the transport that he discovered Kias was injured. He discovered this by Kias screaming. An unfortunate side effect of the transport, aside from the annoying shaking, was that it had a way of agitating injuries. Even the few minor scratches Sam had acquired from running from the drones were stinging and reopening. Unless Kias was seriously freaked out by some rather aggressive shaking, Sam could safely conclude he had been hurt. # Kias had no idea what was going on, but Sam had strapped him to a chair, the room had started shaking, and now the injury on his stomach felt like someone was dragging a hot poker over it. It hadn't bled when Kias had received it. Whatever the dangerous light that the metal robots and Sam's weapon shot out was, it burnt rather than cut. Now, though, he could see blood starting to soak through his shirt. Kias' throat hurt from screaming when the shaking stopped a few seconds later. Kias was pretty sure Sam swore as he unstrapped him from the chair, but it wasn't in any language Kias understood. Sam had darker skin like the people from the north, but his eyes were a lighter brown and his hair had a slight wave to it that the northerners didn't have. Kias assumed, therefore, that Sam was of mixed blood, but his smooth accent wasn't one Kias recognised. Sam disappeared from Kias' line of vision for a few moments, then pulled Kias to his feet when he reappeared. Although he'd experienced a good bit of pain in his life, Kias was pretty sure he'd never been this badly injured. He felt nauseous and his hands were shaking, and he had to keep one hand on Sam's shoulder to hold himself up. Kias managed to stay on his feet while Sam pulled his shirt over his head. # Sam swore, this time in Kias' language, grateful that the linguistics module he'd been provided with included language sampled from areas that enjoyed some more colourful vocabulary. How the hell had he failed to notice Kias was injured? Not that it would have made any difference if he had known as everything he’d done had been necessary, but he still felt kind of bad for overlooking something like that. Kind of impressed, too, that Kias hadn't let it hold him back when they were escaping. The wound looked nasty and raw and had obviously been caused by one of the drones' lasers. It was nowhere near as bad as it could have been, though, considering those things were designed to kill with a single hit. It looked like Kias' stomach had only been grazed by the laser, scorching a hole in his shirt along with it. Sam instructed Kias to keep his arms up while he wrapped the wound, and Kias silently complied. The wound wasn't as clean as Sam would have liked and it looked like some of the burnt patch of Kias' shirt had adhered to it, but they would be back on Sam's world within a few hours and Kias would be able to see a doctor then. Sam would probably just make it worse if he tried to mess with it. Another thing that worried Sam was how skinny Kias was. Sam had noticed that Kias was underweight right away, but Kias' baggy shirt had hidden the extent of it. Sam carefully adjusted the dose of the painkillers, knowing how easily it would be to dose someone with a body weight as low as Kias' too heavily. After he'd made the adjustments, Sam ran the injector across the crook of Kias' arm until it beeped, indicating it was above a vein. "This'll sting a bit," Sam warned Kias while he held his arm firmly in place. Sam pressed the button down, and while Kias showed no reaction to the pain, the look he gave Sam afterwards was one of greater wariness. Sam helped him sit back down in the seat, but after Sam returned the med kit to its storage place he turned to find Kias huddled back underneath one of the panels. Fair enough. Sam put a bottle of water and a nutrition bar on the floor near Kias' hiding place before heading outside. The rendezvous point was, as it should have been, reassuringly desolate. They would be safe there until it was time for meet up in a few hours. These transport points were naturally occurring and fixed, but they had to be opened up before Sam could go through them. As they had no way of communicating between worlds, there was a specific time each day when someone would come through and open up the transport points for any teams that might need to go through. Often Sam would have the company of the occupants of one of the other shuttles while he waited, but on this occasion the cities his co-workers had been assigned to were closer to different transport points. Sam didn't mind, though. Nobody else who wasn't a doctor would be much help to him right then, and his co-workers would only have reminded him of what he already knew. He'd fucked up. If Sam thought about it too much, his job was incredibly sad. His task was to witness the last days of a civilisation's life before it was destroyed by the drones and built over by a more advanced society. Sam's people could protect their own world from being entered, but the only thing they could do for the people of worlds like Kias' was to make sure they were remembered. This was the first time Sam had ever saved a life, and the worst he had ever fucked up. Sam re-entered the shuttle to find Kias trying to tear the foil off of the nutrition bar with his teeth. Hopefully that was what he was doing, anyway; if he was trying to eat the foil, Sam was taking him back to where he'd found him. Sam attempted to contort his laughter into a kind smile while he helped Kias with his food access problems. He wiped the saliva he'd gotten on his hand from opening the food wrapper off on the leg of Kias' pants. The speed with which Kias consumed the nutrition bar, combined with how underweight he was, had Sam wondering if Kias had been homeless. Looking closer, though, Sam noticed that the ends of Kias' hair, which had come out of its tie at some point, had been recently trimmed. When Kias lifted the bar to his mouth again Sam saw that his fingernails cut been cut short, not chewed, and his hands were clean rather than dirt stained as was common among the homeless. Despite being way too thin and in ill-fitting, well-worn clothing, Sam was fairly convinced Kias had not been a street kid. Most likely, he'd just come from a very poor family that couldn't afford to feed him right. "What happened?" Kias asked after he'd finished his food and drained the bottle of water. Sam had known that question was going to come eventually, and he had no idea how to answer it. "Um..." Sam scratched the back of his head awkwardly. "Some bad guys are killing all the people in your world with machines, and then they're going to come here and build a new colony and inhabit it with their own people." There, that was slightly better than 'everyone you have ever loved is now dead,' and it communicated the same concept. Sam was pretty sure Kias wasn't even close to being able to process what Sam had just told him yet, his expression confused and distressed, but Kias slowly nodded anyway. Kias gestured around himself, "And this? Us?" "Ummm..." That was even more difficult to simplify. "You got lucky? I don't know. You're alive and you're going to stay alive." Sam didn't know if it was the authoritative tone of his voice or if Kias was genuinely satisfied with that shitty cop-out response, but he fell quiet after that. Sam gave Kias another bottle of water and another nutrition bar, and was relieved to see that Kias had mastered the art of opening foil wrappers. That counted as adjusting to a new society, right? # Kias had fallen asleep again and was once again alone when he woke up, but this time the door to the room had been left open and he could hear voices outside. He dragged himself out of his hiding place and pulled himself up, wincing at the pain that blossomed from his wound. It was late afternoon, Kias noted as he peeked his head out the door, and they were nowhere near where they had been the last time he'd been outside. That was something of a relief, really, as the last time he'd been out there metal monsters had been trying to kill him. But a room that could appear out of nowhere and move on its own... that was disturbing. Kias concluded that it had probably happened during all that shaking, but he was a long way from figuring out how. The strange, undulating expanse of blackness that hung suspended by nothing in the air like a low flying, particularly menacing cloud was also rather noteworthy. It was large enough to swallow the entire room whole, and a niggling fear in the bottom of Kias' belly told him that was the point. Next to the black cloud was a... a thing. It looked to Kias rather like a large rock, but it clearly wasn't. It was a mottled mix of dark greens as though it had been painted to be easily disguised amongst foliage, but there was a thin scratch up one side that reflected the sun and indicated it was made of metal. Indentations on the outside suggested to Kias that it might be intended to open up and fit people inside. Sam was there, standing near the blackness, and he was talking to two other people, a man and a woman. Kias wondered if they had come from inside the strange rock thing. From the distance they were at, Kias only caught the occasional word, but they weren't speaking any language Kias understood. At this point, he wasn't surprised. They didn't look much like Sam, as Kias might have expected. The man had close cropped black hair and skin a few shades darker than Kias', and the girl had hair and skin of lighter colours, though not as light as Kias'. His city was — had been — quite multicultural, however, so Kias wasn't entirely a stranger to diversity. He was, however, completely unacquainted with mysterious black expanses. # Jason was laughing even though it really was not fucking funny. Not fucking funny on so many, many levels. Sam had rescued some guy, thus violating the most important rule governing his job, and pretty much guaranteed he would lose his job. The guy he'd saved was probably going to be traumatised for life, and would completely fail at being a functional or useful member of society. Hell, he wouldn't even be able to talk to anyone but Sam unless they had a linguistics implant and were given Kais' language module. When Jason didn't stop laughing, Sam punched him in the shoulder, hard, aiming to leave a bruise. That made him shut up fast. Overall, Sam probably wouldn't have minded a bit of a fight right then, even if Jason was his (rather shitty) friend. Unfortunately, Keri stepped between them and pushed them apart before things could go any further. "Now now, boys," Keri said condescendingly, and Sam was irritated to find that her expression wasn't without amusement. She shrugged unapologetically at him. "Is he cute at least?" Jason snickered. "I hope so, considering you just gave up your entire career for him." Sam looked at Keri miserably. "Can I please hurt him, just a little?" Keri shook her head. "No, he might hit you back." She turned to Jason and pulled his ear hard enough to make him squawk. "There, justice done. Now tell us if he's cute." Sam made a sound of annoyance and turned away, heading back to his shuttle. "Get out of the way or I swear I will run you both over," Sam called back to them before stepping back into the shuttle and closing the door. Sam realised that both Jason and Keri were trying to lighten the mood in their own way and that they did, in fact, feel genuine compassion for his situation. He didn't care. Whatever they'd been trying to do, they'd only succeeded in pissing Sam off more. Kias was awake and standing near the door, having clearly been spying on them. Sam wondered what Kias thought about the portal but didn't ask. At the moment, he didn't have room in his brain to care and he really wasn't in the mood to explain multiple worlds or portals or how any of it worked. Actually, he was pretty sure he'd never be in the mood for that. Explaining science and technology to someone who couldn't even begin to comprehend it sounded like a pretty pointless activity. "Sit in the seat so I can buckle you up," Sam said, and then had to repeat it in Kais' language because he'd gotten himself mixed up. Kias looked no more inclined to obey the second time, however. He was backing away. Which, of course, made sense, considering what had happened last time Sam had made him sit in the seat. Sam didn't have the patience to deal with it at the moment, though. "Just..." Sam ran his hand through his hair. "Just sit down. It won't hurt this time, I promise." Kias didn't look like he believed him, which pissed Sam off. The first time had been an accident! Sam hadn't known Kias was injured. Besides, he had saved Kias' life. Didn't that earn him just a little trust? Sam decided to fall back on what had worked on Kias previously: an authoritative tone. Already frustrated as he was, however, it came out a bit more aggressive than he'd intended. "Sit. The fuck. Down." Yeah, that comprehensive language module was really coming in handy on this assignment. This assignment, which would probably be his last. Sam was a bit rough buckling Kias in, and finally felt guilt seeping into his gut when he accidentally poked the bandage over Kias' wound with one of the buckles, causing Kias to make a strangled sound of pain. # Kias had no idea what was going on with all these strange moving rooms and metal monsters, but he was beginning to get an idea of what was going on with him and Sam. Kias had had several ideas as to why Sam might have taken Kias with him, but he'd been hoping Sam had just done it to be nice. He'd allowed himself to stay hopeful about it because Sam was young and attractive, and though he was a bit older than Kias, Sam still reminded Kias more of the boys he'd worked with than any of the men who had mistreated them. Everything about Sam was strange, but his attitude was familiar. Sam was angry and domineering and quick to snap when he wasn't obeyed, even if he had shown some kindness towards Kias earlier. Kias wasn't naive enough to assume that anyone who was nice to him had his best interests in mind. Still, at least Sam could be nice if he wished to be. Kias just had to work out how to keep him from getting angry. Sam hadn't lied — at least not about it not hurting this time. In fact, the whole thing was quite different this time around. The first thing that happened was a few of the large pieces of glass above the surfaces with glowy lights suddenly became transparent, revealing the surrounding area and the disconcerting cloud of blackness. And then the room began to move.
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