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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6. Chapter 6

By evening Sam was getting awfully sick of his apartment, so he decided to go and visit his ex-colleague Laura. She had quit after her first assignment, but they’d trained together so they’d already known each other quite well by then. It wasn't easy to understand the horrible realities the job brought with it until you experienced them, and Laura hadn't been nearly as good at distancing herself from them as Sam was.

 

He supposed he would have to bring Kias with him, but that was okay. Kias would have to get used to the outside world eventually, and though he hadn’t complained he had to be getting bored of being cooped up by now too.

 

Kias stuck by Sam's side and didn't say much, his eyes darting in every direction as Sam led him to the parking area under the compound. Kias was, if nothing else, mostly undemanding company.

 

"These are cars," Sam said, spreading his arms wide to indicate the many vehicles surrounding them. "They're a bit like carriages without the horses."

 

"Oh," was all Kias said, which infuriated Sam just a little. Not that Sam really wanted to explain how cars worked. He didn't even understand it that well himself, and it would have been nearly impossible for Kias to grasp the concept. Sam just wished Kias was more interested. Technology could be pretty cool.

 

#

 

"Are they like your shuttle?" Kias asked when they reached Sam's car. Its shiny red exterior looked newer and cleaner than that of most of the other cars around it.

 

The grin Sam gave Kias was inexplicably pleased. "Yeah, a bit like it, except that most cars can't fly."

 

Well, that was good, except... "Most? Can yours?"

 

"Nah, it's boring." Sam had something in his hand, and when he pressed it the car made a short loud noise followed by a click. Kias flinched back at the sudden sound.

 

Sam opened one of the car's doors and gestured for Kias to enter and, reluctantly, Kias obeyed.

 

The car was much too small inside, and the seats reminded him of the ones in the shuttle. They even had a strap, which Sam did up for him, though it was of a different style than the one in the shuttle. The one in the shuttle had had two straps that crossed over the wearer’s chest, whereas the car had only one strap. Kias pulled on it and it loosened, then slid back into place when he released it. At least it felt a little less restraining than the one in the shuttle had.

 

Sam reached forward and did something that made the car start making a quiet roaring sound and vibrating gently, and Kias really didn't want to be in it anymore. Then the car started to move, and Kias started to panic.

 

Kias had become good at keeping his panic internalised, so he didn't scream and he didn't try to get out. If the car hadn’t been safe, Kias reassured himself, Sam wouldn't have been in it. He repeated that in his head, over and over, as the car gained speed. They went up a slope and then Kias saw buildings and the black night sky. They were outside.

 

The car had been going too fast for Kias' tastes before, but once they got outside it sped up even more. Then there were other cars, more and more of them, moving too fast and too close, right next to them on both sides. Nobody seemed to be crashing, but with so many cars moving so fast Kias wasn't sure how they managed it.

 

Not all of the cars on the road were small like Sam's. Some were far larger, with a couple being as big as small buildings, though narrow to fit on the road. All the cars had bright lights on them, and bright lamp posts lined the roads. It was night time, but it was far from dark. Kias could barely see the stars, but he could see the moon. It looked just the same as the one on his world had, and Kias wondered if, somehow, it was the same moon. It was a comforting familiarity, in any case.

 

The car stopped periodically, and Kias began to see how the cars kept from running into one another. When two roads crossed, cars from each direction would take turns. It took Kias a little while longer to figure out how everyone knew when to stop and when to go, but eventually he realised that one of the many lights along the road changed colours as a signal.

 

This new knowledge made Kias feel a lot better for the few moments more that the car was stationary, but as soon as it started moving again cold dread seeped back into his gut.

 

#

 

Though Sam much preferred the freedom his shuttle gave him, he found driving relaxing. It kept him occupied without stressing him and it gave him control. Kias, however, looked like he was about to throw up, so Sam decided not to take the scenic route. Though Kias would have to get used to cars eventually, Sam didn't feel like paying to have his car cleaned.

 

The area of the city Laura's apartment was in had three levels of underground parking, so finding a spot wasn't terribly difficult. They parked on the second level, right under Laura's apartment building.

 

"Relax," Sam told Kias after letting him out of the car. "We're going to visit my friend. She's making us dinner."

 

"Oh," Kias said after several moments. He was frowning at the ground as they walked, brow creased in contemplation. Still overthinking things, then. Sam supposed he couldn't blame Kias for that, but it was frustrating. When Kias was tense it made Sam feel tense too, and he was getting sick of it.

 

#

 

That Sam's friend was female made Kias feel a little better. Not that it meant nothing bad would happen, but Kias had been hurt by far more men than he had women. The place he'd been kept had been run by men and had dealt only in boys. They only rarely had female customers and Kias had only once been made to serve one. That hadn't gone at all well. He'd done his best, but in the end he hadn't been able to give her what she'd wanted.

 

They stepped into one of the small boxy rooms that moved and, after the doors shut and opened again, they were outside. They were on the street next to the road and without the walls of the car surrounding them, things were noisy. Sam led him around the corner and then into a building.

 

It was quieter inside the building and there was a lot less going on, so Kias decided he preferred it. There wasn't much to see in the building, just a hallway, a flight of stairs, and another one of those moving boxy things. Sam led Kias into the moving box, the doors shut, and unsurprisingly when they opened again Kias found they were somewhere new. It was weird, but it was a weirdness that Kias was beginning to get used to.

 

They were in a long hallway with widely spaced doors on either side of it. Kias counted the doors as they passed them and got up to seven before Sam stopped in front of one. There was a button on the front of the door, and Sam pressed it.

 

#

 

The first thing Laura did when she answered the door was pull Sam into a hug. She was a good bit shorter than Sam so hugging her required him to bend uncomfortably, but he didn't mind. Her joy at seeing him and her easy affection made him feel so much better.

 

"This is the boy you saved? Kias?" Laura's said, her chin digging into Sam’s shoulder as she watched Kias over it. "He has nice hair. Suits him."

 

Laura released Sam and then moved towards Kias with her arms spread to envelop him. Sam saw Kias flinch back, and Laura must have noticed it too because she stopped and dropped her arms to her sides.

 

"Sorry," Kias said quickly. "Um, what does she want me to do?"

 

"This is my friend, Laura. She was just going to hug you," Sam told him.

 

"Oh," Kias said. He took a step closer to Laura and moved his arms from where they were gently hugging his own chest so that they were held slightly away from his body. His posture was stiff, not welcoming, and when Laura pulled him into her arms she did so slowly and carefully. Over her shoulder, Kias' eyes were filled with barely contained panic.

 

Laura pulled back and scrutinised Kias carefully. "Do his people have some weird thing against hugs? Did we just get engaged or something?"

 

"Nah," Sam said. "He's just a really anxious guy. It's kind of exhausting."

 

Laura didn't look impressed. "Poor you."

 

When Laura let them pass into the apartment, the first thing Sam noticed was Cassie sitting on the sofa with Whiskers sprawled on her back across her lap. While Laura was short, dark, and a little plump, Cassie was tall, thin, and pale. They contrasted and complimented each other, both in appearance and in personality.

 

The robotic cat on Cassie’s lap twisted her head to watch them as Cassie used a small screwdriver to make adjustments to her inner workings through a hole in the skin of one of her legs. Cassie tongued at her lip as she carefully brushed back the long, grey fur that was getting in the way of her work. If she shaved it, it wouldn’t grow back.

 

A quick glance at Kias showed that he'd noticed it what Cassie was doing and was decidedly horrified. Sam had to nudge him twice to get him moving again.

 

"It's not a real cat," Sam explained. "It's like, uh... Well, it's a machine, anyway. It's not alive."

 

Whiskers' fluffy tail twitched and she mewed at them quietly as they drew near. When Sam encouraged Kias in a particular direction he would move without argument, but he was definitely avoiding getting any closer to Cassie and Whiskers than absolutely necessary.

 

"Looks like she bent the joint in her leg," Cassie said without looking up, and Sam was unsure whether she was talking to him, Laura, or to herself. "She's been walking funny for days. I'll probably have to replace them all eventually. Her design was very flawed."

 

Whiskers had been a prototype robotic cat designed and built by Cassie and Laura. Cassie was a master of robotics and artificial intelligence, and Laura designed their outer features to make them look realistic. Even as a prototype, Whiskers was almost imperceptible from the real thing. Their designs were being mass produced now, but Whiskers had been the first and they had grown attached to her. Being the first, however, meant that she suffered from more than her fair share of mechanical problems.

 

"Hello to you too, Cass," Sam said. "I think your robocat surgery is freaking Kias out a little."

 

Cassie glanced at Kias for a second and let out a soft whuff of a laugh before refocusing her attention on her work.

 

"Aw, he's scared?" Laura asked as she came up behind them. She rested her cheek against Sam's shoulder. "I made brownies for dessert, but he can have one now if it'll make him feel better."

 

"Food's about the only thing that does calm him down," Sam told her. She tugged on his arm and he followed her in the direction of the kitchen.

 

Kias was right on Sam's heels until they passed the large, rather elaborate fish tank set up near the door to the kitchen. The fish seemed to fascinate Kias, and he stopped to watch them.

 

"Are they real fish?" Kias asked when he realised Sam had stopped as well.

 

"Yeah, they're real." Of course, Cassie and Laura had only bought them in order to study them so that they could perhaps one day design their own robotic fish, but the ones in the tank were in fact actual living creatures.

 

"They're brightly coloured," Kias said, "and their bodies are unusual shapes. I've never seen fish like these before."

 

"They're tropical fish," Sam explained. "You didn't live near the ocean, and I suppose nobody would bother with fish like these where you're from because they're not good to eat. People here keep them as pets."

 

Laura returned with a chocolate brownie on a napkin and held it out for Kias to take. "Food."

 

'Food' was one of the few words Sam had taught Kias in Global, and Kias looked pleased to understand something for once. Or pleased to have a brownie; it was hard to say.

 

"Um," Kias said, sending Sam a nervous glance. "How do you say thank you?"

 

Sam told Kias the word and he repeated it to Laura. She beamed in response.

 

"Okay," Cassie suddenly spoke up from her position on the couch, “the joint's still a bit wonky, but I've bent it more of less back into position. It won't have the full range of flexibility, but she'll be able to jump again and walk without a limp. As soon as I get the parts in, I'm going to replace all the leg joints."

 

A few moments later, Whiskers scrambled over Cassie's shoulder and onto the back of the sofa. She watched them with big, curious green eyes, and let out an inquisitive meow. When she jumped down onto the floor and started walking towards them, Kias took a nervous step back behind Sam.

 

"She's safe," Sam reassured Kias, bending down to pet Whiskers. "Safer than a real cat, actually, because she won't ever scratch or bite."

 

After several long moments Kias knelt down and reached out a tentative hand to stroke Whiskers' soft fur. She mewed at him happily and butted his hand with her head.

 

Cassie watched them over the back of the couch, a small smile on her face. "Man, our whole world must be pretty freaky to him. How's he coping with understanding it all?"

 

"Uh..." Sam scratched the back of his neck. "Mostly he doesn't ask? I couldn't explain how most things work in a way he'd get anyway. But, yeah. He's a quiet kind of guy."

 

"Jules and Trevor are supposed to come over it a bit to play some games, but I can tell them to come some other night if it's going to stress Kias out."

 

"Nah, he should be fine," Sam said. "He'll have to get used to these kinds of things anyway."

 

Kias, having heard his name, was watching the conversation curiously. He'd finished his brownie and had the napkin clenched in his hand.

 

Sam switched languages to speak to Kias. "A couple more people are going to come over soon. If you get scared, just stick close to me. If you need some time out we'll go to the bedroom, okay?”

 

Though he looked more worried than Sam thought was warranted, Kias simply nodded stiffly and made no complaints. He never complained. Hell, he hardly even spoke. Sam would have liked to have heard his opinions for once.

 

"Come and meet Cassie." Sam offered Kias his hand and helped him stand from where he had been on the floor cautiously petting Whiskers.

 

Cassie and Laura had a single L shaped sofa large enough to fit a dozen people if they sat tightly packed. Cassie was sitting in her favourite spot, in the junction of the L. On the floor in front of the sofa was a thick beige rug on which sat a medium sized glass coffee table, and most of the wall across from it was dedicated to an enormous television screen.

 

Cassie was in the middle of clearing away the tools she'd been using to work on Whiskers' leg when Sam flopped down on the sofa, pulling Kias down next to him.

 

"How was your assignment, Sam?" Cassie asked.

 

Before Sam could answer, Laura clambered over the back of the sofa to join them. "Ooh, yes, I want to hear too!"

 

"Short," Sam told them. "Less than two weeks. I swear we're getting less and less time for these things. I didn't really get much done. Rich people where Kias is from seemed to be generally expected not to do much in the way of exploring their surroundings. It was difficult to do what I needed to do without appearing suspicious."

 

Laura had lain down on the sofa with her head in Cassie's lap and was listening to Sam's story with interest. "And then you met Kias?"

 

"Yeah, when I was leaving. I guess I shouldn't have taken him, but it's hard to look at him now and regret it. It makes it difficult when you start to think of people as individuals."

 

Laura reached an arm over Cassie's lap and patted awkwardly at the bit of Sam's hip she could reach. "When I did it, I couldn't stop thinking of people as individuals. It was so awful seeing little kids and knowing they were going to die soon in such a terrible way. That's why I quit."

 

For a moment Laura looked sad, caught in memories, but then Cassie pulled Laura's black hair out of its tie and carefully combed it with her fingers, and soon Laura was smiling again. She butted Cassie's slim stomach with her head.

 

The door buzzer interrupted their affection.

 

#

 

A sudden buzzing sound made Kias jump, and he couldn't figure out what it was until Laura got up to answer the front door.

 

Kias had been watching Laura and Cassie and had begun to wonder if they had a similar arrangement to the one he and Sam had. Laura had been answering the door and had fetched Kias food while Cassie had busied herself with... machine cat doctoring? Kias wasn't sure, but it had looked less like slave work to him. And then Laura had rested her head in Cassie’s lap submissively and had been petted like Kias had been petting their strange fake cat.

 

Kias wasn't sure he was correct, but it was a reasonable theory. Laura seemed to be happy. Perhaps when Kias settled in he would be happy too.

 

Kias peered over the back of the padded seat at Laura as she opened the door. It seemed hugging was her usual form of greeting, because she did it to the two young men standing outside the door before letting them in.

 

Sam was leaning over the back of the padded seat too, and he smiled broadly and said something to the two young men as they approached where Kias, Sam, and Cassie were sitting.

 

As soon as they walked around the end of the padded seat and could see them fully, it was Kias who had their attention. They were still talking to Sam, who was sitting between them and Kias, and Kias heard Sam say his name to the men.

 

"Kias," Sam said to Kias, addressing him this time. "This is Trevor and that's Jules. They're friends of ours."

 

Trevor was tall and lanky and had olive skin and short brown hair. Jules was pretty for a man in his mid twenties and had short blond hair and tanned skin. His eyes were blue, something which seemed to be uncommon on Sam's world, or at least the part of it Sam lived in.

 

Jules sat down next to Sam and, since there was no more room between Sam and Cassie, Trevor sat down on the end of the padded seat next to Kias. Laura had returned to Cassie and curled herself up against Cassie's side.

 

Everyone was talking and moving around and sometimes Kias got the feeling they were talking about him. He felt surrounded and out of place and he wished he knew what was going on. What if he just copied what Laura was doing and snuggled up next to Sam?

 

Kias shuffled closer to Sam and when he bumped up against Sam's side he was surprised to feel Sam's arm wrap around him, pulling Kias against him. When a few moments later Sam paused in conversation and glanced down at where Kias was nestled against him, he looked somewhat surprised too.

 

"You okay?" he murmured to Kias, as though being overheard was an actual thing that would matter. Kias nodded and Sam returned to his conversation, but Kias remained pressed against Sam's side and Sam's arm remained around him. Kias could almost trick himself into feeling safe.

 

The thing was, Kias had encountered Sam's type before. The first time, he'd even fallen for it. A few months after Kias had been taken captive, one of his clients had been a wealthy socialite who'd expressed sympathy for Kias' struggles. He would bring Kias treats, sympathise with his pains, and treat him gently when he needed it.

 

Most of the time, anyway. He always had excuses when he didn't, like that Kias simply excited him so much that he sometimes had difficulty controlling himself. He never forced Kias into sex, instead making Kias feel so obligated that he'd gone along willingly. At sixteen, Kias had been rather naive. It had taken him almost three months to work out that someone who could easily afford to buy and free him but who didn't was not his friend.

 

The next man who tried to pull that trick had gotten Kias' anger, but by the third Kias had figured things out. It was important to know when someone was trying to manipulate him, yes, but that didn't mean he should push someone who was offering him kind treatment away, regardless of their motives. The best approach was to pretend to believe them and enjoy whatever they were offering, even if it was simply a respite from cruelty.

 

At that moment, cuddled against Sam's side, Kias wasn't entirely playing a role. He was attracted to Sam and, frankly, he was having a hard time not enjoying the feeling of Sam's body close to his own. It wasn't even really sexual, for the most part. Physical contact with someone familiar, someone who'd never really hurt him, just felt nice.

 

There was a huge sheet of black glass covering most of the wall across from them, and Kias' theory was that it was a larger version of the thing in their room that showed moving pictures. He was proven correct when all of a sudden it came to life, the unexpected sound and pictures startling Kias. Sam's hand squeezed the part of Kias' arm it was resting on in reassurance.

 

Trevor and Jules each had some kind of strange object that fitted comfortably into two hands. They held them up and pressed things on them while watching the pictures move. After a while Kias determined that the things they were doing were changing the pictures, he just wasn't sure how or why.

 

The pictures Kias could identify as anything at all were cars. After a while the image on the screen changed to two cars on a road with a bar down the centre of the screen dividing them. Trevor leant forward, his tongue swiping over his upper lip in intense concentration, and then there was a whistling sound and the cars on the screen began to move.

 

Everyone on the couch was smiling and what sounded like taunts were being thrown back and forth between Jules and Trevor, so Kias decided it was probably some kind of game. After another couple of minutes of carefully watching both them and the screen, Kias concluded that they were racing. They seemed to be putting a lot of effort into driving the cars on the screen, effort that definitely wasn't going into driving them smoothly, so he could only conclude that speed was the goal.

 

Seeing the cars swerve all over the road and casually crash into parts of the scenery was really, really not making Kias want to get back into Sam's car. Sam certainly hadn't been driving recklessly like Trevor and Jules were in the game, but the possibility of it was terrifying.

 

Jules threw his hands up and let out a victorious shout and a few moments later there were words on the screen Kias couldn't read, so Kias concluded he had won.

 

#

 

Trevor groaned at his loss, then tried to hand his controller over to Sam.

 

Sam shook his head and waved the controller away. He couldn’t play without letting go of Kias, and Kias seemed to be finding his touch reassuring. "Not right now."

 

Trevor handed it to Cassie instead, and she took it happily.

 

Laura pushed up from where her head had been resting in Cassie's lap and pulled Cassie's head down in the same movement, bringing their lips together. "Kiss for luck."

 

"I want a lucky kiss too," Jules said. In an instant his hand was on the back of Sam's neck, and a second later their lips made contact. Before Sam had a chance to respond Jules was already pulling away.

 

Normally Sam wouldn't have minded at all; it was far from the first time Jules had kissed him, and it had been a lot more chaste than on other occasions. This was a bit different, though.

 

"Don't," Sam said, and then glanced in Kias' direction. "He—"

 

Sam hadn't really known what he'd been about it say, but Jules interrupted him. "Is he jealous?" Jules asked as he slid off of the sofa.

 

Before Sam had a chance to explain that no, that wasn't the issue at all, Jules was already crouching on the ground in front of Kias. Sam opened his mouth to asked what Jules was doing, but before he could get anything out Jules lunged forward, grabbed Kias by the back of the neck, and pressed their lips together.

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