Fuck you, Gene Roddenberry. Or more accurately, fuck you,
Gene Dolgoff, though nobody ever knew who the hell Dolgoff was, so it was
always Roddenberry. No agent in the entire Preventer agency hadn’t
uttered a fuck you in his direction at some point in their training career.
But I wanted to laugh in the faces of those newbies when they did it.
You think the training courses are a pain in the ass, just wait until you
get to the senior agent advancement tests.
The concept of a holographic training room had been a pretty cute idea
back in pre-colony 1980s television land. Though I doubt the original writers
had envisioned the sadistic uses the real thing would end up being put
to. Want to see how a new agent will handle being put under fire? Shove
him in a ‘holodeck’ and actually shoot at him. Want to train
a new pilot on emergency landings but don’t really want to risk a
million dollar aircraft? Into the holodeck he goes to smack into the ground
until he gets it right.
No mess, no fuss, and way less expense.
The reality of the holodeck environment had ended up being more virtual
than physical. There was no real massive gridded room; that concept had
turned out to be far too cumbersome and ridiculously expensive. And lacked
the true reality they flirted with in pop culture, because the real future
had failed to produce the replicator science required to actually flesh
it out into ‘solid’.
Much easier to turn inward and let it all play out in the endless landscape
inside an agent’s head.
We called it the holodeck because the higher ups got upset when we’d
referred to it as the mindfuck room.
But that’s what it was, there was a lab and there were sensory couches,
and there were electrodes attached to your head and drugs administered.
And then you, or you and your partner, or you and your squad all got to
go play in the same virtual landscape. But since your brain has been hijacked
as part of the playing field, when the bullets hit, it hurts like a mother… just
like it would in real life. And when your partner goes down, your heart
seizes in your chest even while part of your brain is telling you it’s
all fake. Your fingers still hurt from dragging over rough concrete, your
eyes still sting from smoke that isn’t really there, you still hear
the pock of bullets hitting around you.
And when you are storming down the hall away from that particular lab
(whatever you choose to call it), and you are muttering curses at Roddenberry,
Dolgoff, all of their respective progeny, the woman who introduced them,
Commander Une, and your partner, all while looking like you needed a stiff
drink… people just tend to get the hell out of your way.
I had fully intended, when I slammed into the break room that day, to
grab something cold with enough caffeine and sugar to off-set the vague
shakes I still had, park my ass in some empty corner and glare at anything
that came within twenty feet of me until it or they fled or pissed themselves.
I was most definitely not in the mood for company.
That plan had not taken Trowa Barton into account. Apparently, months
of taking care of my comatose ass had granted him immunity to my glares.
In fact… they only seem to amuse him now. So I was not at all surprised
when he picked up his drink and his afternoon bagel, and came to join me
at my corner table. He was not even deterred when I planted my feet on
the only other chair. He simply dragged another one over from another table,
and sat down anyway.
‘Rough day?’ he asked, setting his stuff down and making himself
‘Rough week,’ I growled, ‘capped by a shit day. Go away.’
‘Want to talk about it?’ he asked, licking cream cheese off
his finger and giving me a little smile. The one that was so annoying.
‘I have no desire to have you spout platitudes at me in some stupid
attempt to soothe my pissy mood, Barton,’ I said and glared at him
extra hard for good measure. Some woman sitting behind him happened to
also be in my line of sight, and she paled, gathered her things and left
the room. Barton did not budge.
‘I’m not here to soothe anything,’ Trowa said calmly. ‘I’m
just being nosy. The last time I saw you this mad, you were dog-sitting
Duo’s beast and it ate your…’
‘Don’t remind me!’ I snapped and took a long swallow
of my soda, wishing I’d just gone the hell back to my office. But
there hadn’t been anybody to intimidate there.
‘So tell me what happened?’ he prodded, ignoring my glare,
my growling, and my fervent wishes.
‘My damn partner killed himself.’
‘Ouch,’ Trowa commiserated and winced. ‘Let me guess… advancement
program? Level ten?’
‘That’s not an advancement program, that’s some programmer’s
psychotic nightmare. Sadistic, psychotic nightmare.’
Trowa snorted, not arguing the point. ‘Did you finish the level
after Duo… didn’t?’
‘Of course,’ I snarled. I hadn’t snarled yet, and it
felt like the next stage and necessary in the face of Trowa’s calm… nosiness. ‘But
it doesn’t matter; I lost my partner to do it. That’s an automatic
hundred point dock.’
There was movement across the room and I flicked my glare that way, hopeful
of actually making some office grunt whimper, but was surprised to see
Duo making his way into the room. Just… kind of unsteadily. He looked… waxy.
He glanced our way, his shoulders hunching slightly in reaction to the
look on my face, and he quickly looked away. He made his way to the vending
machine, hand shaking so bad it took him three tries to get his coins fed
into the slot.
‘Damn,’ Trowa mused, watching him too. ‘Wufei was out
cold for two hours after level ten.’
‘What?’ I asked, surprised. I hadn’t realized they’d
caught up to us. The last time I’d checked the boards, Duo and I
had been well ahead of all the other teams.
But Trowa just ignored me. ‘You know, I can’t work with Duo
in the holodeck… he gets sucked into it too far.’
I grunted and took another gulp of my drink. Duo hesitated for a moment
before heading for the opposite corner to sit with his back to my… unhappiness.
‘I think he forgets sometimes that it’s not real,’ Trowa
continued, ignoring my ignoring him. I tried glaring at Duo’s back,
because I was feeling pissy still and wanted an outlet for my pissiness,
but it was getting kind of hard… he was starting to make me feel
like I was kicking puppies.
‘He hates it…’ Trowa was saying, and I turned my pissiness
back his way.
‘Don’t we all?’
‘Hell yeah,’ he agreed amiably. ‘But not quite on the
level that Duo does.’
‘Too damn bad,’ I muttered, ‘because you know what it
means when you die on the course…’
‘You start all over from level one,’ he agreed. ‘I know.’ But
then his tone kind of changed, his amusement turning a little bit smug. ‘Let
me guess; you stormed out of the holodeck without checking your scores?’
I snorted and drained my soda, tossing the empty bottle at the recycling
bin across the room and watched Duo flinch when it hit. ‘Didn’t
need to. I knew where we stood and knew what our points were, coming off
Trowa was grinning at me widely, taking smug to a whole new level. ‘Duo
figured out level ten, and you didn’t.’
I stopped watching Duo sit and nurse his drink with shaking hands and
turned to glare at Trowa some more. ‘What the hell are you talking
‘Dumb-ass,’ he grinned. ‘There is only one way out of
level ten; one of the two agents has to sacrifice themselves to get the
other on board the courier ship.’
‘What?’ I said, though I was starting to feel like I was repeating
He ate the last bite of his bagel before leaning back and stretching his
legs out in front of him, making me wait. ‘Wufei and I figured it
out last night,’ he informed me. ‘The courier ship must be
boarded; there’s no other way to do it. One of the team-members has
to pilot the jump-cycle while the other makes the transfer. The time-frame
is too small; there’s no time to pull the cycle out after the ship
I turned away from him and looked back at Duo, remembering his insistence
that he pilot the jump-cycle.
‘You’re such a jerk,’ Trowa chuckled at me. ‘Wufei
and I at least drew straws.’
I didn’t point out that I hadn’t known; he obviously knew
that. And was too amused by that fact for his own good.
Laughing again, he reached out with those long legs of his and kicked
my foot off the other chair. ‘Do I need to point out to you the hell
he thought he’d consigned himself to, just to get your sorry ass
through the level?’
‘No,’ I said sullenly, wishing I hadn’t tossed my bottle
away, because I would have tossed it at his head if I’d still had
it in my hand.
He got a funny kind of smile then, one that sort of made me uncomfortable. ‘I
would leave you to stew in your own… what’d you call it? Pissy
mood? But Duo doesn’t deserve it. Let him know you guys passed.’
I jerked my gaze away from Duo and stared at Trowa. ‘What?’
His smug look was back and he drew his legs in, leaning forward to grin
at me. ‘That’s the secret to level ten… one of you has
to die. You passed. You’re done.’
I blinked at him, not sure whether to believe him or not. ‘Duo doesn’t
have to go back to the beginning?’
‘Nope,’ he said, and pushed himself to his feet, giving me
a jaunty little salute. ‘Congratulations.’
Then he walked out. I turned my attention to Duo’s back again, watching
him trying to hit his mouth with the shaking soda bottle, the mission playing
out in my head again.
We’re almost in position, Yuy! Get ready!
You just hold it steady!
You just make the damn jump and let me worry about the… about the
On my mark…
Oh crap… oh crap.. oh crap…
Oh fuck this is gonna hurt…!
He really had known. He’d figured out the ‘trick’ to
the level before I had, and hadn’t said a damn thing. Just put himself
in the right position to take the fall, and… to get me through. Even
knowing… or thinking… that he’d have to go back to the
beginning and start all the hell over again.
God damn idiot.
I got up, stalked over to his table and smacked him in the back of the
head. ‘Next time,’ I grumbled, ‘freaking warn me. I almost
blew the whole mission when I saw you go up in flames.’
He frowned, rubbing at his head for a moment before giving me a sheepish
little smile. ‘You’d have made me draw straws.’
‘So?’ I grumbled, not quite ready to let go of the foul mood.
He just sat for a minute looking up at me, before finally saying, ‘I
would have blown the mission.’
And didn’t that just say a hell of a lot?
I reached down, grabbed him by the front of his shirt and hauled him to
his feet. ‘Come on,’ I commanded, ‘and bring your soda… you
‘What?’ he squawked. ‘Where the hell are we going?’
‘I want to go over the recordings of our mission.’
His eyes got kind of wide, and his squawk went up a notch. ‘Oh hell
no! I’m gonna have nightmares as it is!’
‘Not that part,’ I said, hauling him along with me, back toward
the lab. ‘We’re going to find another way to complete that
level. Fuck if Barton and Chang are going to beat us. And fuck if I’m
finishing a mission without my partner intact.’
‘Yeah?’ he said, and I couldn’t tell if his tone was
hopeful, or full of dread.
‘Damn straight; there has to be another way. Oh…’ I
pulled him to a stop there in the hallway outside the lab, my hand still
clutching the front of his shirt. I used it to pull him in and planted
a kiss squarely on his shocked face. ‘And thanks.’
He blinked at me owlishly for a moment, and then broke out into a grin. ‘Really?
I have to croak to get your attention?’
‘You’ve had my attention longer than I care to think about,’ I
informed him. ‘I just never knew I had yours before.’
‘From day one,’ he said, his grin toning down to something
that wanted to be melancholy. We didn’t have time for melancholy.
‘Later,’ I commanded. First we were going to wipe that smug
damn look off Barton’s face.
‘Ok,’ he said, kind of cocking his head to look at me searchingly. ‘Because
I kind of think I maybe need some unfried brain cells for that conversation.
But… just to clarify… at some point in the next twenty-four
hours am I finally going to be able to answer the boxers or briefs question?’
‘Camo,’ I informed him, and dragged his gaping self back into
the lab. ‘But yes.’
Right after we nuked the stupid playing field on that effing level ten.
And maybe took an extra few minutes to rub Barton and Chang’s face
Fiction : GW :