Smoke Rises

Chapter 6

Cerbera's words had filled Kurt's dreams with dread, both for him and his friends, but also for her. She wouldn't get away with leaking information to him surely. There was punishment for being uncooperative; he found that out the hard way. Or, was that their plan all along? To have him worry over what they would do to her? As she had said in her thoughts, she was there to serve as his human link outside solitary, to keep his mind from losing its hinge on reality so he would perform properly for his captors. Still, no matter if all of this was just a role she was supposed to play; he couldn't help but be concerned for her. It was his nature.

He sat up and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. The lights reacted to his movement and brightened slowly. Off to the side, he noticed the table was up and already contained his breakfast of fresh fruit, omelet, and milk. He sighed, not surprised at the woman's lack of appearance.

Just for safe measure, to keep up with his fake-but-not-fake concern the Room was most likely expecting, he looked around for her and even worriedly asked the Room where she was. After the usual lack of response, he proceeded to follow through with what he believed they wanted. He rose, stretched, ate, then crouched in the center of the Room and waited.

It didn't take long to respond as it grew, this time, to a long, round ceilinged chamber, poles spanning widthwise across its top like giant monkey bars. A few alternating levels rose from the floor and the Room fell silent.

Bouncing back and forth like a boxer preparing for a match, he readied himself for the floor to become live and send him off. Instead, a low hum sounded next him and three silver rapiers rose from the floor. Their black handles caught the white light like onyx, while each pommel held a single dark red stone.

Kurt hesitantly grabbed and spun one in each hand, flipping the slightly shorter sword with his tail. At first, he didn't know what to think about them. His heart was joyous at having something so familiar and comfortable in his hands, but the reasoning behind them gave him a sudden sinking feeling down in his stomach.

"Glad to see you are doing better today Mr. Wagner," the voice announced.

"I missed you to mein freund," he said contemptuously, "those last few days of rest were quite a drag. Maybe you should invest in a TV sometime. Or even a book. I hear there are quite a few good series out now."

Again ignoring him, the voice continued, "Today we will be testing your combat skills."

"Combat?" Kurt's sinking feeling was beginning to plummet, "With who exactly?"

The hum echoed from the opposite side of the Room as a figure walked through the wall. Its silhouette was nothing familiar or unique, typical strong, slender male form covered in black from head to toe. Kurt was initially relieved at the man's unfamiliarity, nevertheless, the swords in his hands still held their entailed purpose. These were lethal weapons, not shields.

The blade tips clinked on the floor as he let his arms fall to his sides. Before he could refuse verbally, the Room sent them off with the oh-so-pleasant, "Proceed."

The figure launched himself at Kurt, body low, ready for a massive frontal assault. Kurt crouched lower in a defensive stance and tightened his grip on his swords. Even if he was determined not to use the blades on this man, there was no way he was going to let him get his hands on them and end up getting his blue hide diced into cubes. He knew there was more than one way of winning a fight, bloodshed not required.

He easily dodged under the first charge and windmilled to a kick at both his legs. The man tripped but twisted to his feet quickly and came back with an uppercut to Kurt's chin. He managed to jump with the momentum of the punch and flipped backwards up to a higher level. Even with the partial dodge, his jaw still pulsed from the hit.

It had been unnaturally hard, not as much in strength, but where there should have been give where flesh would be, it had been strangely solid. More attacks were thrown all over the place, and with every single one he dodged and countered, he met with the same solid form.

Facts were well lined up when he finally ported past another charge and kicked the "ninja" strategically hard in the back. It landed with a loud metallic clang and slid into a podium head first. Any normal human would have been out cold.


He stood up and smiled, relief plastered all over his face. Finally comfortable using the items he still held in his hands, he let the bot rush him again, ported behind it and sliced through its back, revealing all sorts of wires and circuits. The robot faltered mid-stride then was met with Kurt's tail blade through the head. Sparks sizzled like fireworks in the air as the robot fell to the ground in a heap of twitching metal.

Kurt gave a disappointed look at the neutralized robot and mocked the room, knowing, and strangely welcoming, what would happen next, "Surely you can do better than C-3PO here. My hands are not even sweaty."

He spun the swords again and assumed a low foil position as six more bots melded through the walls and surrounded him.

Five days later, Cerbera still had made no appearance and her warning remained up in the air. He tried to keep these thoughts at the back of his mind for now and concentrate on his new "tests."

The combat sessions, though relatively easy to his skill level, were a much needed bit of stress relief. It was strange how greatly he missed being in the heat of battle. Pushing your body to its limits against a real adversary felt far more accomplishing than being zapped over and over again like a dancing monkey. Though, his past conditioning sessions were definitely proving their worth now as he ported behind one bot, sliced it in half, dodged another's head high kick and neutralized it in no more than two seconds.

Having the rapiers was a wonderful bonus to his sessions as well. Each was designed specifically for him; one right-handed, one left-handed and the last was slightly shorter and even had a handle that worked perfectly with his tail.

But, even stranger than having access to weapons, the Room had decided that he could keep them when not in a session. They gave him three simple stands where he could set the tip of each blade inside to display near his bed. Kurt only really used the stands when eating or sleeping, as he often practiced with the swords when alone to become used to their weight and speed. By this current session, his prowess with each sword was at its peak.

There were ten bots in the room today, minus the two he had just taken out. Four were very large, "brutes" as Kurt called them, built for power and not speed; easily dealt with if one managed to get past the fists. The other six were slender and fast like the first "ninja" bot. These robots also seemed to have a higher level of programming than their larger counterparts, easily able to make logical defensive and offensive measures against Kurt's attacks.

After many bruises and possible cracked ribs over previous days, he found it was smarter to first get rid of the ones that could actually lay a hand on him, then deal with the lumbering, steel gargoyles later.

The brutes had been left behind on the floor, trying but failing miserably to climb up the sides of a 15 foot platform. The ninjas quickly leapt from smaller platforms and rushed Kurt almost simultaneously with feet and fists.

One bot, whose arm had already been removed, managed to grab his tail.

"Bad move, mein freund," Kurt flipped the swords backwards in his hands, stabbed behind him then flung the bot over his shoulders into two others. After landing, its head was sliced off at the shoulders, rendering it inert.

"Just as forewarning, the tail…off limits," he said with a grin to the metal head at his feet.

Three more ninjas left. The two that had been knocked over by Mr. Tail Violator kip-upped to their feet and ran to each side of him. The third was suddenly nowhere to be seen.

Kurt ported to a pole about twenty feet away and five feet higher to try and get a better view of the area. The brutes noticed his movement and ran down under him, finding small handholds on lower platforms and climbing up, though still far from dealing any damage. The two remaining ninja bots found a pole of their own and began swinging nearer.

In the time it took Kurt to worry about where the last bot was hiding, the other two had come at him, one punching his jaw and the second double kicking his opposite side. The force from both strikes ripped off his handholds and sent him spinning to the floor. He landed hard, sending two swords skidding across the ground in opposite directions. Before he was able to catch his breath and run for the nearest sword, a huge fist to the jaw threw him into the side of a platform. A quick gush of blood down his throat sent him into a quick convulsion, but he managed to keep himself from choking and clear his whirling head enough to get his wits together before the brute who had struck him rushed again. With only his right-handed sword left, Kurt ported behind the brute, let it run into the wall and jammed his last blade through its back.

Three brutes. Three ninjas.

The slight sound of a metal blade scraping on the ground was his only warning before another bot, a ninja, ran up behind him and sliced at his back. Kurt ported fast, managing to only get grazed on the shoulder. He landed and turned quickly as the now armed ninja charged at him again like a knight with a javelin, wide open. Clearly unimpressed, Kurt side-stepped out of its way in one smooth movement and sliced it in half as it ran past.

"Amateur," he grinned with a shake of the head.

Grabbing his second sword out of its hand, he managed to duck and take out another brute on its way down at him. The final two brutes went down together as both got a sword thrown through their heads.

All that was left were the last two ninja bots, one who was currently running at him and the other who was still playing "hide and go seek."

There were a few more dodges as Kurt flipped over to his swords, but once armed, the one-on-one confrontation was simple to reprimand. He would dip under a kick, slice at an arm; jump past a punch, slice a leg. By the time he finished this bot off, it looked like it should have been saying a few lines out of a Monty Python movie.

And then…silence.

This last bot's distraction had worked, and most painfully. Kurt stood there, breathing hard, his white clothes now spattered with red from the lucky hits the other bots had managed to get on him. The cut on his back was deeper than at first thought and still bled freely, making the fabric of his shirt cling and pull at his fur ever so uncomfortably. It pulsed hard along with his swollen lip and jaw. The kick to the side was also making a fine bruise but, luckily, it seemed superficial.

Kurt looked around the seemingly empty room; he knew there was another bot out there. His count at the beginning of each session had never been off before.

"Marco…" he said quietly, trying to get an answer.


He ported to the highest platform to see if he could get a better vantage point, "Marco…" he said again.

The longer he had to wait, the more the pain increased, but he didn't want to drop his guard to dress his wounds for fear of attack, so all he could do was stand there and wonder what this last bot was doing. His tail sword was still out there and, if he was a guessing man, it was probably now in enemy hands.

He knelt down into a crouch, leaning on his swords for support but remaining alert. What were they going for now? The Room had a knack for nasty surprises, but having him bleed out like this was most likely not on their agenda.

Was this bot special? Did it have some type of alternate programming? It didn't seem any different from the others at first glance. He tried to think back to when they came through the walls earlier. Four brutes, six ninjas, ten in all. He had taken the high ground early, been followed, then…wait. Out of the six ninja bots, there had been one that was shorter, more bulky but not so much as to hinder its speed. There was something else that Kurt couldn't quite put a finger on. A familiarity with the way it moved. It was almost like…


bum Bum BUM!