Page Seven Point Five – Rise And Shine

BACK

After getting a drink at the nearest bar (he appropriated some cash from a patron who got uppity with Kolt standing in his way before he split their nose with his forehead), Kolt wondered what he was now; a fugitive? No, if he was a fugitive, they’d have blown the collar by now. He was allowed to steal the jet, probably because he was already supposed to be given it, and after Kolt had left the bar (and trashed the excess clothing he picked up from the warehouse), the HUD of his craft disappeared again, and the console screen went black. The vixen from earlier, a little less annoyed looking this time, adjusted her beret as she appeared on screen. “Mister Saudwell, as we have talked about before, you work for us now. Your first real task will be to find and take down a man called Moses.”

“Moses? What, some religious leader? I’ve dealt with ’em before, not that tough, just conmen.”

“No, he’s a lizard with a condition that’s caused his scales to turn a shade of blue with a knack for kidnapping kobolds and selling them into prostitution rings… or worse, as we haven’t identified any of the kobolds he’s captured in the employ of any nearby pimps.” She tapped on an unseen keyboard, and Kolt heard a humming noise before a piece of paper slid out of a slit on the wall Kolt was previously wondering the use of. He took the piece of paper and read it over, squinting slightly in the darkened space of the cockpit.

A very gruff looking lizard with a scarred face and short snout wearing what seemed to be a cape of some sort stared back at Kolt through the paper, his mugshot printed in black and white.{A} Even though it was just a picture on paper, Kolt felt slightly unnerved, but also attracted to the gruffness of the lizard. He was pretty handsome if Kolt had to say so himself. Next to the picture was his name (or in this case nickname), ‘Moses’, a list of his crimes, and known information. The known information part was essentially empty, and he was wanted on over seventeen counts of rape, a count of unlawful slavery, kidnapping, and prostitution charges. Fun at parties, no doubt.

“So, let me get this straight, him big?”

“What?”

“Nevermind. This dude looks tough, and i’m guessing you guys know where he is?”

“Yes, we know exactly where he is.” The vixen leaned forward and gravely stated, “But… it wouldn’t be wise to attack his compound head on.” Great, he had a compound. Why do they always have compounds? “There is a local gay bar near your current location; Moses likes to frequent there in order to reveal his closeted homosexuality for short periods of time. You are to find him, seduce him if need be, and kill him. His prisoners are a secondary objective, but you do not need to rescue them; they’re expendable.”

“Expendable? Jeez, guess the rumors about you guys ARE true… Hey I think I may have stopped at that bar on the way here! Place was pretty flashy, and they made me drink my whiskey out of a stripper’s thong while the stripper was still wearing it. Tasted kinda sweaty.” He stopped staring at Moses’ mugshot and instead glanced up at the screen, bragging, “Not like I wasn’t okay with it or anything.” He crumpled up the piece of paper and asked, “Hey, because I work for you guys now, am I, like, part of some ‘super secret special agent’ group or something? Do I get any cool gadgets?”

“Technically, you are.” The vixen licked her lips, and Kolt felt a tang of horniness vibrate through his body; that never happened before, yet, he knew exactly what he had felt. “But we don’t have a name for you yet. Just consider yourself-”

“Exiled?”

“-an indentured servant for the time being. The coordinates of the station where the gay bar, ugh, never expected to be saying THAT anytime soon, has been printed on the sheet that you just crumpled up in case you HAVEN’T gone there before.”

“The stripper was a man.”

“Okay that’s definitely the place than. Goodbye, Kolt Saudwell, and do not let us down.”

But before the vixen could tap the spacebar on her keyboard, Kolt yelled, “Wait a second! I don’t think i’ve asked what your name is yet!”

The woman gave Kolt an unsure look, before stating, “I have no reason to give you my name, Mister Saudwell, so I won’t tell it.”

“Maybe over drinks? Not out of stripper’s thongs though, god no. But still?” He gave a half shrug. “Even though you’re acting all plastic and barely emotional, I know there’s a person in there somewhere. I mean you DID display some disgust at having to say the words ‘gay bar’, so…”

That statement caused the woman to be taken aback (quite literally), visibly moving about an inch away from the monitor and giving Kolt an even more confused, yet slightly flustered look intermingled with disbelief. The exiled bastard was… attempting to lightly flirt with her? She bit her lower lip and looked down at her script before blinking a few times and visibly easing up, letting her face relax and her shoulders slump a little. She sighed, and looked back up at Kolt’s quite ugly mug on her computer screen, a fact about Kolt’s face that he would be deeply offended by.

“Johannes. Two N’s.”

“Can I call yah ‘Jo’?”

“No.”

She disconnected, and Kolt shed a single lonesome tear before starting to molest his Portuguese AR-10.

 

Johannes put her hands on her face and leaned back in her chair, groaning loudly. She rubbed her eyes and stood up, turning off the computer and collecting her script. She crumpled it into a ball as she walked towards the door, chucking it into a trashcan over her shoulder, and the scrap bounced off the pile of paper balls that was overflowing from the trashcan and into a few bins strategically placed around it.

Jo adjusted her beret as she walked past a few grunts talking in Hungarian about the most recent rollerball game. Jo ignored it as she didn’t care much for sports, even the most violent ones, which made her an outcast in the ranks of the GSS. When she came to a particularly fanciful door, made of wood but known to have a metal insert in order to stop bullets, lasers, and most handheld explosives, she stretched out her neck and cleared her voice. Next to the door was a bin inside the wall; she pulled it out, deposited her service sidearm inside, a Walther P88, adopted in 2066, putting the venerable but ancient and worn-out PJK-9HP pistols finally out of service with the officers of the GSS, and pushed it closed. The door’s automatic lock clicked and she pulled it open, walking in and softly shutting it behind her.

Everything was green. The walls, the large desk sitting in front of her, the drapes covering the false windows, even the flag hanging from the nearby flagpole, simply a solid green rectangle. The large leather chair in front of Johannes was turned away from her, so she cleared her throat. “Ahem.”

“Sooooo,” A voice drawled from the other side of the desk as Johannes put her hands behind her back, “How is your little experiment doing?”

Jo saluted the Fuhrer before beginning to talk. “The experiment is only in its opening stages Mein Fuhrer, but, the conversion therapy seems to be a success. The brain function, however, is quite lacking, for now at least.”

The Fuhrer shrugged, although Johannes couldn’t see this. “So be it. As long as it gets my goals done, we can simply dispose of it when this is all over. Please, sit yourself down, Generalmajor.”

“Heh, i’m quite alright Mein Fuhrer.” Jo awkwardly laughed. “I-”

“Sit,” Jo quickly made her way to the small chair in front of the Fuhrer’s desk, “Please.” She sat down. “Thank you.” The Fuhrer sighed and turned his chair around, leaning forward and bridging his fingers as he sat his elbows on his desk. his glaring wasn’t making Jo feel comfortable in the slightest, although the chair was quite nice. The Fuhrer was not an imposing man physically; he was a Rüppell’s fox (also known as a sand fox, although there are multiple other foxes with that same nickname), with light tan fur and two big almost adorable ears, and he was only about 5’4” in height, but he made up for his below-average height by sitting in some really big chairs, along with his soul-rending glare, which he used to great effect whenever people came to him complaining about petty things like food shortages and government actions breaking the GSS constitution. “Generalmajor… I hope you realize the brevity of this project of yours.” {A}

“Umm, excuse me Mein Fuhrer?”

The Fuhrer leaned back in his chair, placing both of his elbows on the armrests and staring at Jo. She didn’t want to be around him more than needed. The Fuhrer began to talk once more in his low voice, musing, “Do you know what it’s like to play with the minds of millions, Generalmajor?”

“I uh, I can’t say I do Mein Fuhrer.” Johannes gulped.

“It’s like molding putty. It’s as if you are, metaphorically, thrusting your hands into their skulls and shaping their brains to make a nice, attractive shape. And, say, if the person’s skull is already broken, that just makes it all the easier!” What the fuck kind of metaphor IS this, Johannes thought to herself. “This project is more important than you may hazard a guess. I must say, your initial idea seduced me, but with the progress you’ve been making…” He chuckled. “With the prototype enabled, we have already passed the tallest of the hurdles. Now, it’s up to you, and your staff, to make sure we pass all the others.” The Fuhrer adjusted how he sat in the chair, before leaning forward. “We, are going to make the Gilded States great again. At least, in the eyes of the people.”

“…s-sir didn’t the infamous Donald Trump say something like tha-”

He waved Jo off. “You can go now, Generalmajor, back to your, heh, little project.” Johannes stood up from her chair, saluted, and promptly turned towards the door, but the Fuhrer spoke up again.

“Oh, and, one last thing.” Johannes turned and looked at the Fuhrer with a raised eyebrow. “If you complete this task well enough… there may be a chance I can recreate the spot of Deputy Fuhrer after I am inevitably re-elected, and, maybe, you shall be put on the list of candidates.”

Johannes smiled devilishly. “Yes, Mein Fuhrer.” She turned towards the door and opened it.

“Hail victory, Generalmajor Johannes!” The Fuhrer called as Johannes closed the door.

“Hail victory Mein Fuhrer.” She whispered to herself. Her smile became crooked as she retrieved her gun, her tone mocking. “And hail the States. And hail my lost tail, and my ass. And hail this, and hail THAT. Ugh. For a man elected solely on lies and the fact that he looks adorable, he sure does have a way with words…” She slid the P88 back into her holster, adjusted her collar, and walked off. Someone tapped her on the shoulder, and she turned to stare directly into the eyes of Yehudi, who was looking quite displeased.

“You didn’t show up at our meeting spot.”

“I had to do something. Let me guess, this is about you wanting to be ‘let go’?” Yehudi opened his mouth to snarl, but Johannes put a paw against his snout. “Shh, walk with me while you talk.”

The pair began to slowly walk down the hallway, Yehudi slamming his shoulder into a GSS soldier who just so happened to be in his way, but Yehudi kept his eyes fixed on Johannes. “I’m done, Johannes, i’ve done enough for you all, more than enough actually. I would rather not die from old age before you, in your words, ‘let me go’.”

“Yes yes, I know, and, lucky for you, I won’t need you soon enough! So, as of,” She checked her watch, “Twelve-o-five PM, today, you are free to go.”

Yehudi opened his mouth to say something, but found only air coming from his mouth. “I… huh? Just, like that?”

“Yes, just like that. And with that, i’ll have to have you escorted from the premises as you are no longer in the employ of the GSS. You there, soldiers!” She waved to a nearby group of three GSS soldiers who had been discussing how best to shine their boots using toothpaste, and one of them turned towards Johannes.

“Yes Generalmajor?”

“Escort this man from the premises please, to the shuttle bay.” She turned back to Yehudi. “I assume you came here in a ship?”

“You’re correct.”

Johannes nodded, before turning back to the trio of soldiers. Her right cheek twitched and she winked at them. “You heard the man.” The soldier knew what that meant; they had been waiting specifically for this moment since Johannes had assigned them to this spot two hours before.

“Yes ma’am.” The soldier walked up to Yehudi. “Come this way sir.”

He tried to gently take Yehudi’s arm, but Yehudi yanked it away and put a finger in the soldier’s face, hissing, “Don’t touch me.” Yehudi looked over at Johannes. “Just like that, huh?”

“Just like that. Enjoy your freedom, Mister Reed.” Yehudi was led away by the trio, and Johannes sighed to herself, “All three minutes of it. Well then!” She adjusted her beret and waltzed off to do other important duties.

 

Yehudi was led to an elevator by the soldiers and coaxed inside, and as he stood in the middle of it, they stood around him in a triangle formation. The one to his right pressed the button corresponding to the shuttle bay, and the three visually relaxed as the doors closed and the elevator began to raise. Yehudi crossed his hands and spread his legs out slightly as he stood between the three soldiers, watching the light above the door slowly advance right as the elevator ascended. “Just like that…” He whispered to himself. Hmm. Just, like that? He was free? That, didn’t feel right. He liked to think that he knew Johannes, at least slightly. When she tracked him down, she was the only person to offer a pardon in exchange for his help; everyone else he had dealt with wanted him dead or turned over to INTERPOL. Just like that. Mister Reed. Wait, she called him Reed… she’s never done that before.

This didn’t feel right. He glanced over at the soldier to his right; they craned their neck and shuffled a bit as they stood in place, hands on the stock of their slung rifle, and the soldier on the left was the same. He turned slightly and peeked back at the soldier behind him, who had pulled off his glove and was checking his nails. All were foxes. The soldier near the panel with the elevator’s controls leaned against the wall and appeared to doze off for a moment, sliding forward headfirst into the wall, accidentally kneeing the emergency stop button. They shook their head as the elevator came to a stop, wiping off their eyes. “God, DAMNIT!” They cursed while adjusting their helmet, “Hey Otto, I did it again!”

“Oh for fuck’s sake, Walter,” The soldier to the left sighed as they put a hand on their face.

“What happened?” Yehudi asked as he stepped in front of the door and leaned forward to see what the other soldier had done.

“I had another goddamn microsleep and headbutted the wall. I stuck my leg out to catch myself but kneed the damn emergency stop button. Give the thing a second and we’ll get going, sorry for that.”

“It’s fine.” Yehudi said as he returned to his spot in the middle of the elevator. “Totally fine.” He pulled off his glasses and reached into his coat, and he saw the soldier to his left twitch slightly when he did. Yehudi pulled out a blue microfiber cloth and wiped down his glasses, putting them back on. “You alright?” He asked the soldier who twitched.

They acted as if they hadn’t noticed him. “Huh? Oh, yeah, i’m fine.”

“Alright.” Yehudi let his hands fall to his sides and craned his neck, hearing and feeling the cracks. He stretched out his hands before cracking his fingers one by one, finishing off by cracking his knuckles. The soldier to his left began to fidget a little while he did this. “Well then, no sense in waiting. Let’s dance.”

He expected the soldiers to dogpile him, probably swinging their rifles like clubs as shooting in these close of quarters would deafen them and have a large chance of friendly fire, but instead, Yehudi saw a shining line flash downwards across his eyes, and suddenly found himself yanked backwards by the neck. He kicked his legs and grabbed the garrote, and to his amazement the other two soldiers just started to chat in front of him as he was being strangled.

“So how’s the wife?” The one on the left asked the other.

“She’s good, just got out of therapy. Thank god she got out of the crash relatively unscathed, gonna be moving her back home next week.” Yehudi tried to reach out and kick that soldier, but he was being pulled off the ground by the soldier behind him, who grunted and growled as Yehudi kicked and tried to wrench the garrote out of his hands. Yehudi turned around, wrapping the garrote around his neck even more but allowing him to look face to face with the soldier, and he grimaced before opening his mouth and snapping his jaws closed on the uncovered neck of the soldier. They yelled and let go of the handles on the edges of the garrote, and Yehudi felt iron-tasting air rush back into his lungs as his mouth was currently clamped around the neck of the soldier who tried to strangle him. The soldier standing to the left of the elevator door stopped chatting with the other one and raised their rifle over their head, bringing the buttplate of the stock down on Yehudi’s back. Yehudi let out a muffle yelp, but with his hands free, reached into his coat and drew out his suppressed 1911, whipping it over his shoulder and firing thrice, hoping at least one shot made its mark, which it did, hitting the soldier in the face and blasting a hole in his cheek and lower brain, killing him instantly. He yanked his head to the left, ripping out a chunk of the other soldier’s throat as he did so, and they fell to the ground grasping the huge wound in their throat.

Yehudi spat out the furry chunk of neck-flesh on the floor of the elevator and turned to the remaining soldier. He had his hands up, rifle hanging by the sling, and stuttered, “H-Hey man, I had nothing to do with, whatever the fuck just happened.”

“THEN WHY DIDN’T YOU HELP?” Hissed Yehudi as he caught his breath, wiping his bloody mouth on his sleeve.

“H-Help?”

“WHEN I WAS BEING STRANGLED, WHY, DIDN’T YOU HELP? YOU JUST STARTED TO TALK!” Yehudi pointed his 1911 at the fox’s face, and the fox slumped down in the corner, raising his hands even farther up his body, trying to shield his face in case Yehudi shot.

“I-I didn’t want to get involved in something I had no idea about y-yah know? Y-You’re not supposed to ask questions around here! I-I’m just an infantryman, dude!” Their eyes started to get teary. “P-Please i’m not lying!”

Yehudi finished wiping off his mouth and surprisingly lowered his gun, and the soldier breathed a sigh of relief. “Then i’d suggest you get another fucking assignment, soldier.” Yehudi breathed as the elevator began to move again, arriving at its destination a few seconds later, the parking lot connected to the shuttle bay. Yehudi walked out of the elevator and bent over, spitting small bits of flesh on the concrete, before groaning and standing back up. Inside the elevator the soldier whose throat was bit by Yehudi began to stir, trying to reach for his rifle, which had been flung to the floor of the elevator in the melee. Yehudi ran a bloody hand over his head. “Fuck my li-BANG” A round ricocheted off a concrete pillar to his right, and he whipped back around and fired into the elevator from the hip; he struck the bloodied soldier in the body armor twice, but his third round took another chunk out of their neck, and the soldier promptly toppled forwards, landing on their chest. They pulled their face from the floor, staring at Yehudi with hatred in their eyes, and attempted to pull their rifle out from underneath them, but blood was gushing from the massive neck wound they had sustained, and after a tiny bit of movement their face fell back down against the blood-covered floor of the elevator. From the edge of the doors peeked the helmeted head of the last soldier, who looked down at his dead compatriots, then back at Yehudi, then back at his dead compatriots.

“Huh. Think i’ll take up your offer on an assignment change.” They said completely deadpan, and Yehudi leaned back over again, wheezing. “Earth sounds pretty good now that I think about it, maybe somewhere tropical or-”

Yehudi pointed at the soldier. “You,” He wheezed, “Shut your mouth.”

“Mouth is shut.”

Yehudi sat down on the concrete floor of the parking lot and buried his head in his hands. {A}

 

Velent tapped her cigarette, letting the ash fall into the carpet of her quite unsatisfactory hotel room before taking a long draw from it, closing her eyes as she breathed out, letting the smoke flow from her nose. She opened her eyes, squinting at the report she had just finished writing, and scrolled her trackpad to the right, hitting the big green check mark in the upper right corner. {A}

The screen displayed in bright green lettering: MAIL SENT. There was even a little picture of a pixelated mail on top of a pixelated gust of wind under the message! How quaint. She glanced over at the guard standing by her door, and sighed, “I’m going to bed, so your ‘services’, if I can even call them that, are no longer needed.”

The soldier promptly turned and left with no sort of complaint; they were bored of just standing there for hours, watching Velent purposely slowly type her report. Watching people squirm has always fun. She chuckled, before crushing the rest of her cigarette on the table and throwing it into the corner of the room as she stood up from her chair.

Kobold was by the window, leaning against the wall and looking out at the ships chugging past. His view on the world (well, space in this instance) was slowly shifting to the left with every second, as the ring they stood inside rotated in order to keep gravity in place through centrifugal force. No fancy gravity wells on this station.

“Don’t you get tired of being moody?” Asked Velent, unimpressed. Kobold turned and gave her a confused look with the uncovered half of his face, so she elaborated. “Brooding by the window, not speaking to me as much as usual, is there something on your mind?”

“Ironically, no.” Kobold stopped leaning on the wall and crossed his arms, still looking outside. “Just a little miffed about not being able to leave you for only a DAY.”

Velent scoffed. “Oh, come off it! That was weeks ago!” She pulled her lab coat off of the back of the chair she was previously sitting in and began to fold it, and then she set it on the dresser next to the bed relegated to her. Kobold sat on his own bed, eyes still fixed to the sights outside that window. I wonder of the things going through his mind… that man was unreadable, Velent thought when she peered over to see what he was doing. It’s probably the face mask. Yeah it’s the face mask. She scratched the sleeve of her shirt and painfully adjusted what she started to oh-so-lovingly call the ‘iron corset’; a large brass-colored chest brace meant to protect her healing lung from any sort of outside trauma, and a physical reminder that she was indebted to the Gilded States. It literally reached into her chest and held her lung in place with some metal scoop-shaped instruments, and she had to wipe the holes in her chest where the rods pierced her body with a special ointment to ward off infections. It made sitting in that chair for the last hour and a half absolutely awful, but it was worth it just to type a word a minute in order to torture the soldier they had sent to watch her and Kobold.

Kobold finally took his eyes off of the ships out the window as Velent went to the bathroom, and he absently pulled out his MAC, examining it. “You still have the pistol I gave you?” He yelled to Velent.

Velent sprung out of the bathroom with a finger to her mouth. “SSSHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. Do you WANT them to hear you? And yes, of course, why wouldn’t I? Check the drawer of the nightstand.” Kobold did so, finding the pistol wrapped up in toilet paper in order to conceal it, sort of. Velent went back to examining her neck scar, pulling one of her manes out of the way. A sunken-in star-like shape made of pink scar tissue marked the lower left side of her neck, and she tenderly touched it, grimacing a little. It looked awful, but alas, at least she’s alive. An artery had been severed, but considering that she was wounded in the maintenance halls of the MEDICAL BAY, getting her into surgery took less than two minutes, although the doctors made Kolt their main priority. In between the shuffling of labcoats and her trying to stay conscious from both blood loss and lack of oxygen, she saw Kolt being tended to by the short blue one, what was his name again? Oh, that’s right, Theo. Theo was by his side hastily tying a tourniquet on his stump, and Velent honestly thought Kolt was dead, because after he shot her and said something, he slumped back down. Her foot bumped the fire axe that pierced her neck when she was lifted up, and the last thing she saw before finally falling unconscious was her burgundy shirt stained with a darker shade of red.

She had to throw that shirt away afterwards as it was full of holes. A pity, I actually liked that shirt, she thought as she extruded some toothpaste onto her toothbrush. Kobold meanwhile was now laying on his bed, which was completely unruffled since they arrived on this station months ago. The sheets were still tucked in as they were by the cleaning lady, and he hadn’t even moved the pillow. He stared at the ceiling, and the inside of his mind was a frenzy. Past operations, the people he has met, the people he will meet… so much information. His eyes drifted towards the window once again, and he examined the ships slowly floating past, red-hot engines blasting and RCS thrusters silently hissing.

Velent walked back into the room with a substantially cleaner mouth, but she sadly hadn’t washed out her rudeness as her first task was to close the curtains, blocking Kobold’s sight of the stars.

“Hey!”

“It’s four-hundred hours, both of us need sleep, well, me at least. I don’t care if you sleep or not.” Kobold just gave her a look of indifference, and she made her way back to her desk, switching off the lamp on it before shuffling back to her bed. As the only clothes she had were the ones on her back due to the GSS not allowing her to GO anywhere, she slept in her normal outfit, burgundy turtleneck (to replace her wrecked shirt) with tight jeans. Jeans were all the craze nowadays; you could even buy them pre-scuffed! Velent honestly had thought about buying one of those denim jackets, as she liked the look of her pants, so why not match? But all those days were sadly behind her.

And as she slipped into the sheets, she started thinking about the days farther and farther gone, namely in the last decade or so. Her hand hovered on the little bead used to turn on and off the lamp, but instead of just turning it off without a care, she hesitated, and called out, “Goodnight, Kobold.”

“I would’ve preferred you just say ‘goodnight’ instead of using my code name, but, goodnight, Doctor Velent.”

She pinched the bead. “Call me Polito.”

Click.

 

Flesh and napalm. Fire and ash. Screams, all around. Velent’s body shuddered in response to a loud boom behind her, but her eyes were focused on the soldier in front of her’s wound. She pressed hard on the bullet wound, stemming the bleeding as another field medic tied a tourniquet, and the soldier just sobbed. Taking her blood-stained hands away from the jagged wound and seeing that the bleeding had mostly stopped, she pat the other medic on the back, and began to help them lift the wounded warrior onto a stretcher when she heard a metallic *PING* next to her. She looked up, and the other medic suddenly crumpled next to her, and crimson spurted from the hole in his helmet. Her wide eyes locked onto the corpse, and after a moment of silent shock, she let go of the stretcher and just stood there.

Two other soldiers, not medics, came by and frantically lifted the now-crying soldier out of the stretcher and hopefully carried him off to get medical aid, but she was too disoriented to care. Velent turned away from the sight of her fallen comrade, and began to stumble not away from, but towards the gunfire. Other soldiers sprinted past, the barrel of one’s rifle actually scraping against her red cross-emblazoned helmet, and she tripped over some gravel, landing on her knees. She fell forward, eyes still wide in shock, and sat there, entirely frozen. What could she do? She couldn’t save everyone. Hell, she couldn’t save anyone! One bullet wound leads to one case of gangrene which leads to one amputation which leads to one more casualty because of the lack of ANYTHING; antibiotics, painkillers, clean bandages. They were trapped in enemy territory, and they were all going to die.

But out of nowhere, a gloved hand descended in front of her, hand open, and she slowly looked up. The face of the soldier was obscured by the sunlight above their head, almost acting like a halo, but their gruff feminine voice rang into her folded ears:

“COME ON YOU PUSSY, YOU WANNA LIVE FOREVER?”

“Yes.” Velent’s deadpan response actually made the soldier laugh. She slowly grabbed the woman’s hand, and was promptly jerked to her feet.

“Then get up, take my pistol, and follow me! We’ve got enough medics back here!” They let go of Velent’s hand, pulled their pistol from their holster, and slammed into into her hand. “Fuck your hippocratic oath, we’re running out of able-bodied troops at the chokehold and I need you at the front!”

“Y-Yes ma’am, yes ma’am!” Velent shakily looked over the pistol in her hands, cupping it like it was made of fragile glass.

“COME ON!” The female soldier yelled, and Velent looked at her. The first thing she noticed was the soldier’s bulbous helmet with holes for the tips of her ears, and also that she wore an extremely thick looking flak vest, and the pins on the lapels of her uniform were shaped like wings.

A Fallenjäger! A drop hunter! They must’ve been dropped nearby, could that be a sign of an offensive to help retake the town?

The Fallenjäger grabbed her by the collar of her uniform. “SNAP OUT OF IT AND SCHNELL!” Velent shook her head, finally snapping back to reality (whoop there goes gravity) and watching as the paratrooper ran off before stopping and turning around, waiting for Velent. She promptly ran towards the paratrooper, and soon the two were sprinting through the trenches covered with gravel.

Velent looked at the face of the soldier as they ran.

She had prominent cheekbones, tan fur, whiskers, and a look so wild decades of breeding wouldn’t be able to tame its descendants. Another feline. But different than any other one she had ever seen.

They yelled as they were running, “WHAT’S WRONG SOLDIER, YOU LOOK LIKE YOU’VE SEEN A GHOST?”

Velent had seen plenty of ghosts.

And she was looking directly at one.

 

She awoke in a cold sweat, metaphorical of course because cats don’t sweat, and quickly turned on the lamp next to her bed. She glanced over at Kobold, and saw that he had not moved an inch, his eyes closed. What an odd sleeper. Blinking a few times, she rubbed her eyes and pulled back her sheet to get out of bed, but Kobold, who she previously thought was asleep, spoke up.

“You like to narrate your sleep in the third person.”

“P-Pardon me?”

“To quote you, the woman you were dreaming of had ‘a look so wild decades of breeding wouldn’t be a-’”

Velent shut him up by flinging her pillow at his head.

 

The very next day was like any other. Velent worked silently in her lab as Kobold fought to keep himself falling asleep from boredom. She fiddled with a few nondescript devices in order to make it look like she was doing things, but in reality she had nothing left to do; her lab was extremely limited, and all she could’ve done for her research was already done.

Her current goal was to replicate the serum that she had injected Kolt with during that whole ‘clone fiasco’, but she had none of the materials and chemicals needed. So for now she simply lit stuff on fire and boiled action figures on her hotplate. Such is the strenuous life of a scientist under house arrest.

“I’m gonna go get a sub sandwich,” Sighed Kobold after watching Velent boil a green army man in a pot of water, which totally wasn’t symbolic or anything, “Want me to get you anything?”

“No, i’m quite alright, but thank you for the offer.”

Kobold grunted and walked out, and Velent turned off her hotplate to watch him through the one-way glass window. The fact that they took the time to put that in just to mess with her didn’t help. She was hidden in plain sight. She turned off the hotplate and splashed the boiling pot of water at the window, giggling as the half-melted army man flew out and rebounded off the window, landing on a nearby counter. Her boredom was leading her to do childish things, but that was fine. As long as it entertains her.

While walking towards the previously-mentioned counter, she stepped on the puddle of water made by her flinging the pot of water’s contents at the window, and quickly found the world rotating backwards 90 degrees as she fell on her back. That confirmed that her actions were indeed stupid, and she rubbed her head while slowly getting to her feet.

She jumped at the sight of strange green blobs outside her window, and realized that there was water on her glasses. Taking them off and rubbing them with the sleeve of her jacket, she squinted, and realized that, no, those weren’t gigantic army men here to kill her for torturing one of their comrades, they were GSS troopers. But, they weren’t normal GSS troopers. They wore ballistic face masks designed around canine snouts to protect from shrapnel, which Velent recognized as ones normally meant only for the combat engineers, along with single lense black goggles. Their flak jackets were replaced with plate-carriers, a much bulkier and heavier option for personal armor, and held expensive-to-manufacture STG45M assault rifles. This seemed odd. One stood in front of the window, turned to the right, watching down the hall with their rifle at low ready, while another stomped over to the keycard locked door into Velent’s lab.

Sensing something wrong, Velent made her way to the plastic bag that Kobold brought her new shit in those many days ago, making sure that the handgun hidden inside was covered yet easy to access. The soldier opened the door and walked in, looking more a like a robot under all that armor than a person, and droned in a static-y voice (radio?), “Polito Velent, you are to be moved to a safer location.”

“Safer location? And right after I got a new ‘shipment’ of supplies, damnit, alright, give me a moment.”

Velent made herself look busy, practically shoving pots and pans into the plastic bag, but making sure that, should the need arise, she had easy access to the pistol inside. She had been in MANY suspicious situations before, even caused a few, and there were a few massive red flags; her guard wasn’t standing outside the door, there was another heavily-armored soldier just standing outside glancing around oddly, and they stood… stiffly. She almost couldn’t believe that very same shade of green on the masked soldier’s clothings used to soothe her almost two decades ago. Hmm.

“I can get the rest of my things later, right?” She asked as she maneuvered the hot plate into the plastic bag.

“Yes.” The soldier robotically replied. “We will be moving your equipment to your new location once we have made sure that you are safe.” The soldiers without masks at least SOUNDED like they had some sort of emotion.

Velent squinted slightly. “…alright.” She lifted her plastic bag from the counter, and the soldier turned around and stomped out. She followed, feeling uneasy, and wondering, WHY were the soldier’s faces covered? Why were they wearing those heavy vests, too? She thought back to her days in the military, trying to see if she could remember that uniform anywhere.

They LOOKED like basic infantrymen, but the vests were different, and the combat engineer face masks coupled with the goggles made them stick out like sore thumbs. NBC-resistant infantry maybe? If so…

Why the hell were they escorting her? Unless the station turned into a nuclear wasteland when she wasn’t looking, that made no sense! As Velent and the first soldier joined the other one outside before beginning to walk down the eerily quiet hall, she randomly had an urge to glance behind her. And when she did, she realized that her worries were worth something after all.

Around the corner at the end of the hall, two boots stuck out, along with the lower part of someone’s BDU-wearing legs, sprawled across the floor.

Velent turned back to her guards, and leaned on one of her feet as she looked in front of one. Their rifles had suppressors.

Kobold rounded the corner in front of them, holding two sub sandwiches under one arm and with his eyes locked on his PDA, and when he looked up to see the two soldiers escorting Velent, suddenly furrowed his eyebrows. He knew who they were and what they were there for.

Time seemed to slow down for Velent as she tried to think of what to do, and sound seemed to disappear, leaving her in a blurred, silent void as everyone moved at a tenth of their normal speeds. Kobold’s sub sandwiches fell from his armpit as he quickly slid his PDA into his pocket, his hand sliding down his side towards his MAC 10. Velent looked up at the helmeted heads of the soldiers, who towered a few inches over her, and noticed that their large vests stopped right under their necks, leaving only the collar of the flak jacket underneath to mostly protect them. The collars weren’t resistant to bullets. Velent slowly slid her hand into the plastic bag as the soldiers sluggishly turned towards her, rifles held at their hips and slowly raising to their shoulders.

The sandwiches hit the floor, and silently bounced a few inches into the air. Velent felt the knurled safety against the knuckle of her thumb, and pushed it down as she lifted the pistol from the bag, which she also dropped at the same time. She pressed the barrel of the sleek pistol into the collar of the soldier on her right, and her entire hand strained as the trigger was pulled.

She didn’t hear the gun fire, but she felt it kick away from the neck of the armored soldier, and the collar of their flak jacket underneath the plate carrier flexed from the bullet flying through it. As the other soldier turned in slow-motion, she swung her pistol over to their neck too, and pulled the trigger again. Both fell to the ground moments later, and she stood there, gun still raised, frozen in place. Her eyes began to drift to the floor.

Kobold stopped trying to unholster his machine pistol and ran up to Velent, asking, “Are you okay?”

Velent didn’t respond, she just stared blankly at the reflective ground.

“ARE YOU OKAY VELENT?” Kobold yelled, grabbing her by the shoulders and shaking her. That snapped her out of her daze instantly.

“Yes, YES i’m okay! We need to leave, NOW!”

“No shit!” Kobold crouched down and took the rifles from the dead soldiers, handing one to Velent who practically tore it from his hands, brass-checking it before tossing it in the air a few times.

“Never thought i’d hold one of these again.” She mused before closing her eyes and wincing. “Guh, my ears are ringing quite badly.”

“Well boo hoo, princess, we still have to go.” He grabbed her by the arm and pulled Velent along until she decided to walk on her own, yanking her arm away from him and jogging next to him.

The halls were entirely devoid of people, and even though Velent knew that not many people lived and worked on this station, it was still odd. The pair jogged towards where they knew the elevators were on that floor, so they could head to the docking bay and take Kobold’s ship, but in order to get through the elevators, they had to cut through a shopping mall that Velent had never seen before.

They ran through a foyer, and Velent lagged behind to look up at the walkways on either side of her, and the signs covered in words of shops eerily absent of people. Bright advertisements spoke highly of flat-looking couches surrounded with lines that gradually shifted from orange to yellow back to orange again in a circle surrounding them, particularly fake-looking foxes advertised the newest anti-musk spray, and, of course, recruitment posters were plastered all over the place. The GSS had a new enemy, the LRG, even though the LRG had done nothing so far, but it created an opportunity for more stupid slogans: ‘stomp out the breeding menace!’ ‘see The Gap and the rest of the galaxy!’ ‘shoot some stuff, said stuff being mostly rabbits nowadays!’ and so on.

Velent and Kobold made it to an open foyer, which was in the middle of the mall, and it seemed like they would get to their destination without being harassed before a flurry of boots were heard stomping on the pale yellow tiling on the floor above. Velent ducked behind a wide potted plant as Kobold did the same behind a mirrored plant in front of her across the foyer, and four of the masked soldiers trundled out from the hall on the floor above that led into the mall, and upon spotting the pair, one yelled in robotic voice, “IT’S THEM!”

“Oh, joy.” Velent muttered as dived for the nearest piece of cover, a rectangular potted plant in the same coloring as the floor, faded yellow. She was thankful the soldiers all used suppressed weapons, because her eardrums would’ve been completely destroyed had they not been, because sound bounced off the tile quite easily and her ears still started to hurt from the gunshots. She huddled behind her rectangular potted plant, the bullets not breaking through the hard ceramic the pot was made from and just gradually chipping away at it. Kobold had to scrunch up against his pot as close as possible, because the angle the soldiers were firing at meant they could shoot OVER the pot, and sure enough the tile behind him was cracking and chipping from bullets pounding into it.

When two of the soldiers stopped to reload as one tried to reposition themselves, Velent leaned out from behind the potted plant and fired twice at them, and the soldier was hit once in the vest, but they simply stopped for a moment, laughed mockingly, and unloaded the rest of their magazine into the top of Velent’s cover as she cowered behind it. She really wasn’t used to the recoil. Kobold meanwhile stuck up his gun and fired off a few blind potshots at the two who were reloading, miraculously hitting one in the hand as he went to put in his new magazine and blowing off two fingers and splashing the soldier with their own blood, a third hanging on just by a tendon. They let out a horrible scream and fell backwards onto their ass, and Kobold, hearing the screaming, raised his head a little so he could line up the sideways sights onto the facemask of the wounded soldier.

The soldier’s head violently jerked back as an eight millimeter bullet slammed through their goggles and ricocheted against the back of their helmet, and the body limply slumped backwards. The other reloading soldier took a second to stare blankly at their dead comrade before sliding in their new magazine and giving a tug on the bolt handle of their rifle as they began to walk sideways, firing periodic bursts at Kobold in order to keep him suppressed. Velent stepped up to the plate this time, standing up and firing a burst of her own into the soldier’s center of mass to no avail, as their vest just hopped an inch off the soldier’s chest and caused them to stagger a little, but they continued on their slow assault. The one to the right of the pair had just finished reloading his gun, and the fourth one was nowhere to be seen, and it’s well known that losing track of your enemy in a firefight is a horrible feeling.

Velent heard the squeak of boots on tile behind her and spun on a dime, nailing the soldier who had sneaked behind her and Kobold in the side with a well-placed shot, managing to pierce between the plates on his armor and kevlar vest and send them to the ground, grunting and cursing but not out of the fight yet. She fired at their helmet just as the soldier above the pair and to their right leaned across the railing , but Kobold took him out with two well-placed shots through the facemask, the corpse falling forward under their own weight and landing next to Kobold with an exaggerated WHUMP.

“Hey, thanks for the ammo.” He chuckled as he yanked a short fifteen-round magazine from the mag-carrier on the dead soldier’s armor. Velent had managed to hit the soldier in the helmet with one of a barrage of shots, the shot causing their face to be yanked to the side, exposing it for a well-placed shot to their, which Velent took, ending another threat. There was only soldier left, and, seeing that their comrades were finished, they turned and tried to run for the hallway out of the mall, but Velent and Kobold were having none of that. They both rose from their potted plants and thumbed forward the selector’s on their guns, and the soldier found their armor shredded to bits by bullets. They stumbled and fell to the ground, not to move ever again.

Velent found that the bolt locked back on her rifle, and that she was out of ammo. She was about to ask Kobold for a magazine when one hit her in the forehead, and she vocalized, “Yowch! Those are heavy you know!” Kobold just chuckled in his deep voice as Velent crouched down to pick up the fifteen-rounder and swap it with the empty mag in her gun. She gave a tug on the bolt-handle with her paw, and it flew forward with a satisfying ‘kerCHIK’.

The elevator to the docking bay was surprisingly calming for Velent, who, as soon as she ran in, quickly slammed her back against the wall and slid down it, her heart attempting to break through her chest and escape. Kobold just casually walked in and pressed one of the elevator’s buttons to send them to the docking bay as Velent wheezed, “I haven’t been in a gunfight in a long, long time.”

“Well they’re not exactly things you seem to be looking for so, that’s good.” Kobold likewise leaned against the wall next to the buttons of the elevator and slid down it. “What isn’t good is it seems people are after you, for whatever reasons.”

“They said they wanted to move me to somewhere safer, but, they killed my guard. Weren’t they also in the employ of the GSS?”

“No. I knew who they were.”

Velent was a little confused. “Tell me then!”

Kobold slowly turned his head, his sad eyes boring through Velent’s soul. “Death. Squad. Members. You’ve been marked for death by the GSS.”

Velent laughed. “HAH, and what makes you think that?”

“Have you ever seen a GSS soldier wearing a facemask of that type before that ISN’T an engineer?”

“No, I haven’t.”

“Have you ever seen a GSS soldier wearing body-armor like that before?”

“No, but wh-”

Kobold stood back up and adjusted the sling of his new STG. “Velent, i’ve FOUGHT these bastards before. If they were gonna take you anywhere, it was to a mass grave. And if they killed your guard, it looks like someone is trying to take you out for personal gains.”

Oh. Great. Velent rocked back her head and sighed, “Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.” She rolled her head forward, and to Kobold it appeared that she finally understood the brevity of the situation.

“Once we get in my ship, we’re heading to Earth.”

“Earth? Why?”

Kobold pulled off his facemask, revealing a very stern smoothly-shaved face with a prominent hooked nose, and he took a cigarette from one of his pockets, along with a lighter. As he lit it, he looked at Velent once more.

“Coincidences don’t exist.”

Velent didn’t understand.

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