TO had high hopes for their next combat training class. As far as they were concerned, they had proven that they could follow orders. They had done what DH had told them to do last time, even though there had been some major flaws in the plan. TO had even been encouraged to speak up and offer advice.
They had done what they were told. They followed orders. They expected that the other synths in their group would trust them now.
They scanned into the new simulation which took place in some kind of industrial setting. They were outside under a rust colored sky, standing in the middle of a collection of broken machinery. Just as they grew acclimated to the simulation the other synths entered as well.
TO didn’t know any of them; GiDi and DH seemed to be in other simulations today. They glanced at the others, determined not to say a word until they at least had their orders and the objective for this session. They wouldn’t give the others any reason to distrust them or think that they wouldn’t follow orders.
“It’s that one.” one of the others said as their eyes landed on the tag on TO’s uniform, “The deceitful one.”
“I am not deceitful!” TO protested, trying hard not to raise their voice, “I worked just fine yesterday! I worked hard! I did what I was told-”
“As far as everyone knows.” one of the others said.
Their suits materialized over them; Yellow this time. TO checked their uniform and saw that they were now S32
“I did as I was told.” TO said to the other synth who was now S78, “I followed orders. C12 saw that.”
“They’re not lying.” another synth said, this one with S65 on their uniform, “maybe-”
“Do you want to trust them?” S78 said, “I don’t.”
The orders came up. Instead of reading through the orders fully TO skipped to the bottom to see who was in charge. They hoped that they were the commander this time because they really didn’t think that the others would listen to them or believe them.
They were not the commander; S78 was.
“I swear.” TO said as they took a step towards S78, “I swear, I will obey orders.” They felt their wings tighten around them, their ears flick back with worry, “I’ll do what you say. I’ll do whatever you say.”
“Will you now.” S78 said as they continued reading through the objectives. They frowned, the closed the file, “I am in charge. I am the commander. It’s my job to make sure my team succeeds. It’s my job to make sure they’re safe, correct?”
“That means going about this as logically as I can.” they frowned at TO, “And as far as I am concerned, you cannot be trusted.”
TO felt their stomach clench, and tears of frustration started to sting at their eyes. No, they wouldn’t give the others the satisfaction of seeing them cry. TO knew that they were good, and that they could obey orders. C12 knew that they could do the job properly! Everyone that mattered knew.
Well, provided that those orders didn’t involve death, apparently. So long as those orders didn’t involve killing GiDi or DH. After yesterday, they weren’t entirely sure that they’d follow those orders.
Their uniforms morphed into armor. The scenario started.
“So.” S78 said, in the deadpan tone that common always carried for them, “If I order you to stay here and not move, will you obey?”
“You’ll stay there, no matter what I say?”
“Good.” S78 said, “Then stand there, and don’t move.”
TO took a breath, feeling the frustration in their stomach, the tears at their eyes. They supposed it didn’t matter now that they had their helmet on. They stood upright at attention, looking back levelly at S78.
Everyone that mattered knew that TO could do the job, that TO was a good synth. Why did it hurt so badly that this synth which TO didn’t even know distrusted them so much?
S78 pulled out their multigun and held right at TO’s face. Startled, TO took two sudden steps back.
“You moved.” S78 said.
At first it was the shock that hurt most. They had been shot by their own teammate! S78 distrusted them so much that they were willing to sabotage themselves, to be forced to do the scenario short of a team member.
Those thoughts only lasted for a split second. Even though it was only a simulation, there was still some pain experienced when one was shot or attacked. TO felt the full blast of the multigun right in their face. It was like a pinpoint of fire stabbing into TO’s forehead, followed by a wave of fiery heat spreading over their face. They cried out- or they tried to. Though they could still feel the pain on their face they were already falling backwards and out of the simulation, and could no longer control or even really feel their body.
They couldn’t help it. Logically, they knew they were safe but through the shock and the pain and the frustration they just couldn’t manage to hold themselves together. They tried to thrash against the nothingness, to move some part of themself.
Then they were in the chair. They thrashed, but they felt someone grab one arm, then their other. They were held down in the chair, unable to see who was before them since the helmet was on them. Someone spoke, but TO couldn’t make out what they said at first; it was just noise under the blood rushing through their head and the steady hum of their heart in their ears.
“- and if you calm down, I’ll let go of you.”
C12. It was C12. TO could tell that at least from their voice. They took several long, deep breaths as they calmed themself. They could feel their heart threatening to burst from their chest and the tears dripping hot on their cheeks.
The stilled, taking deep, gulping breaths. They felt the strong hands let go of their wrists. The helmet started to lift off of their head and though TO reached up to try to hold the helmet down they were too slow; The helmet was removed.
C12 looked legitimately concerned as they looked down at TO, their ears flicked out, their brows furrowed as they observed the tears on TO’s cheeks, and how low their ears were. TO quickly brought the back of their hand up to their face and wiped at the tears. “Sorry.” they muttered as they tried not to make eye contact. They could feel their ears burning, and they wanted to just disappear. They wanted to run away.
“You didn’t do anything.” C12 said, “You didn’t have a chance to.”
TO shook their head, “I know… but it’s my fault. I-” a sob caught their throat. No. They didn’t want to start sobbing in front of C12, in a room full of other synths. They were better than that!
They put their face in their hands as they took deep breaths, trying to compose themself.
“You’re fine.” C12 said, “Everyone else is in the simulations. You’re the only one out right now.
TO sniffed, but didn’t take their hands from their face. C12 had only just let them back into the simulations, and they only just found out that C12 didn’t hate them. They didn’t want C12 to think less of them now.
“It’s my fault.” TO muttered as their voice calmed down, “Because I lied before. They didn’t trust me.”
“I know.” C12 said, “I saw.”
The sob that TO had been holding back escaped from their mouth. TO cursed themself for it, but they wondered if it made a difference now. “I’m done, aren’t I?” They asked, refusing to look up, “Nobody will trust me again. Nobody will let me fight, and I won’t complete my training and-” another deep long breath. Nobody would let them fight. They wouldn’t complete their training. At best, they’d be allowed to stay at the center and work in maintenance. At worst, they’d be corrected before being set to any task.
Or repurposed. After seeing what it did to Q10 though, TO wondered which option was worse.
“I won’t allow that.”
C12’s voice was harsh and firm, with a determination that TO didn’t expect. TO looked up finally, forgetting about their tear stained face, and saw C12’s angry, determined look.
It was almost as though C12 had forgotten where they were for a moment. They frowned, then turned and started to walk away. Still, TO could see their ears pinned down and twitching with worry.
“You’re a good worker.” C12 said, “I’m not about to let you-... your potential go to waste.” they gestured to their chip, and their screen popped up before them, “I'm putting you back in for flight practice.” they said.
“But… but I’m good at flying, yes?”
“Very.” C12 said, “You enjoy it, yes?”
“I…” TO rubbed at their face with the base of the palm, “Yes?”
“I want you to do flight practice for the rest of the session.” they said, “I don’t want your skills to go rusty.” they closed up the screen, “Go ahead. You’re set up for flight training.”
TO nodded, and put their helmet back on. They hated the helmet to an extent but they were happy to have it to hide behind right now. They were happy to get away from everyone, from all the others synths who were still in their own combat scenarios, learning and improving.
They had that same feeling of being taken from their body, the inability to feel themselves in the moments before they materialized again.
This time, it was a beautiful world that they had been put in. At first, TO thought it was night time, but then they saw that the darkness was caused by the thick foliage that hung overhead. They seemed to be in some kind of rainforest environment, one that was almost cavelike with the thickness of the canopy. The air was warm and comfortable. The tree trunks were huge –if hollowed out they could probably fit two or three Overseers offices– and their branches were large enough for TO to lay on comfortably without immediate fear of falling off. The bark of the trees glowed with iridescent moss, and glowing flowers hung nearby. TO could hear distant sounds, but none of them seemed dangerous. The only life that seemed to be around TO was a type of giant moth whose wings shimmered in the light and gave off a glowing powder as they flapped through the air.
It was comfortable.
The instructions popped up with only a ten second timer; they were simply to fly. Unlike all the times before, their armor didn’t materialize.
No armor. No weapons. No enemies. The darkness, and the canopy overhead made TO feel almost safe.
Except they weren’t, they reminded themself. They were still sitting in a chair, in a room, among synths who mostly hated them. At least DH seemed to be ok now. At least GiDi didn’t seem to be struggling like TO feared they would.
TO was the only one struggling now, and they didn’t know what or who could help them. To improve now, to excel once more, they had to prove that they could work well in the simulations, that they could take orders, that they were a valuable asset to any team, in any role.
They couldn’t prove any of that if nobody gave them a chance. They needed to be trusted to prove that they could be trusted.
TO curled their knees to their chest as they sat on the soft mossy ground, and wept in helpless frustration.
Bio: A writer and Illustrator with scenes to show and stories to tell