HunterAnon

Selene the Huntress

Feb 1st, 2016
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  1. >You tumble forward hitting the floor with a dull thud.
  2. >Your head is full of fog and none of your senses seem to be working right.
  3. >Feeling the cold floor below you starts the slow process of conciousness returning.
  4. >Fucking cryo never feels good when it ends but not much you can do about that now.
  5. >Shaking your head to try and get the hazy feelings gone you decide on a systems check.
  6. >Stretch the legs, check, Wings, check. Wave a tallon in front of your face, cant see it.
  7. >As you consider how to restore sight the ringing in your ears begins to subside, you hear indistinct sounds near you.
  8. >A moment later the sounds resolve into speaking.
  9. >"...s from good stock, was aparently a soldier in the war"
  10. >A second voice cuts in "Good. Thats exactly what i am looking for."
  11. >"Hmm, ears are twitching now, she can hear us."
  12. >"Soldier!" Barks the second voice "Stand at attention and Identify!"
  13. >Instinct replaces thought as your body snaps to the command
  14. "Sir, Selene, Sergeant, Third Scouts"
  15.  
  16. >You shake your head and press your eyes shut.
  17. >Wondering why you just did that. That had all been a long time ago, you were not a soldier.
  18. >Clarity returns and your eyes open, finally focusing.
  19. >In front of you stands a pair of humans. One you know, the market owner in his pristine suit.
  20. >The other is dressed in sleek black armor. It reminds you of the type the human military used back in the war.
  21. >The armor is complete with a opaque face mask so you cant get a good look at him, you assume its a him at least.
  22. >The armored human takes a step forward and brings himself down to eye height with you.
  23. >A long tense moment passes as he stares at you and you do your best to stare right back.
  24. >Standing and taking a half step back the human is the first to break the silence.
  25. >"Ok soldier, defend yourself"
  26. >He begins to draw a gun. Instinct again kicks in.
  27. >Ducking right you bring your wing up and bat the weapon arm away just as you hear a shot go off.
  28. >It wizzes past you harmlessly. With a push off your back legs and a small flap of wing you propel yourself at your attacker.
  29. >Tallons rise and target a slightly less armored section of throat.
  30. >Just as they are about to connect a shield ripples to life in front of your tallons.
  31. >Fuck
  32.  
  33. >Next thing you know you are on the deck again, head throbbing from where the pistol collided with your head.
  34. >The armored human kneels down to face you again.
  35. >"Good, instincts still that sharp straight out of cryo. I like it."
  36. "Glad to impress asshole." you reply, putting as much venom in the words as possible.
  37. >The human just nods and returns to where he was standing.
  38. >"I hope she is to your liking sir" says the market owner. "Bit of a mouth on her, but nothing the collar cant fix im sure"
  39. >The other man nods "Deal, i'll take her"
  40. >The next hour is spent in processing. The men talk and fill out paperwork.
  41. >A technician comes in and fits you with a harness that keeps your wings at your side.
  42. >You sit through it all without a word. Discipline dies hard, besides you know what the pain collar on your neck can do.
  43. >Finally a lead is attached to your collar and handed to the man in armor.
  44. >You follow him out of the market and into the busy concorse beyond.
  45. >The sights and sounds of the concorse nearly overwhelm you after the quiet calm of the Slave Market.
  46. >Flashing lights, hundreds of people conversing, the smells of a thousand types of cooking.
  47. >A tug on the lead pulls you back to reality.
  48.  
  49. >"So, Selene huh." The human says. Hes not looking at you, instead his head is up and slowly moving around.
  50. >You know when someone is scanning for trouble, and he certainly is.
  51. >"Names Anon" he continues.
  52. >Seening no reason to reply you keep quiet.
  53. >After crossing the concorse Anon leads you into an elevator.
  54. >The doors close and the slow movement begins.
  55. >Alone with anon you cant help but notice his sidearm in its holster.
  56. >Its only inches from you and Anon is looking straight ahead.
  57. >"Its DNA coded, try it and you wont like the results." He says, tone passive.
  58. >Realizing you just got caught you do your best to starea hole in the metal door in front of you.
  59. >Finally after an agonizing eternity the door opens.
  60. >You pass out of the elevator and through several security checkpoints.
  61. >After the last security check you enter a massive room. Glancing around tells you its a hangar.
  62.  
  63. >Several dozen human craft sit in neat rows along the sides of the room.
  64. >The craft range in all sizes from personal ships to a huge white vessel at the end of the room.
  65. >It looks like several of the smaller ships could fit inside it easily.
  66. >The far wall is a shimmering transparent shield separating the hangar from open void.
  67. >The rooms reeks of metal and fuel. The air filled with the sounds of heavy machinery and grinding metal.
  68. >Workers and vehicles are running about the place, often narrowly missing eachother.
  69. >Anon leads you left along the line of ships until he turns and approaches one of them.
  70. >The ship is one of the larger ones in the hangar. It is roughly triangular growing wider and taller the further back you looked.
  71. >The hull was painted a flat grey with a pair of deep crimson stripes running the vessel from nose to stern.
  72. >Just under the nose was a single work emblazoned on the hull "Falcon"
  73. >Near the back of the ship a wheeled set of stairs lead up to a hatch.
  74. >Anon leads you up them and through the hatch.
  75. >A small hall and another door lead from the hatch to the interior of the ship.
  76. >The second door opens with a hiss of escaping air.
  77. >You step into a rather spacious room.
  78.  
  79. >To your left is a booth style bench and dining table.
  80. >To your right a large screen of some sort.
  81. >In the far corner of the room is a small kitchen.
  82. >A pair of doors mark the center of the room, one on either of the right and left walls.
  83. >Finishing your sweep of the room you find Anon undoing the clip of the lead to your collar.
  84. >He sets the lead on the table as well as his helmet.
  85. >Running a hand through his hair he turns back to you.
  86. >"Ok, time to lay out the rules." He begins "First, this is my ship. You break it, you buy it."
  87. >"Second, I would prefer you dont fight me. If you try I have a remote to your collar, its also wired into my suit. Oh and voice
  88. activated too."
  89. >"Third, I issue requests and Orders. If I make a request feel free to tell me to fuck off. Thats fine, does not bother me too
  90. much."
  91. >"But if I give you an order you damn well better follow it. Failure to follow orders could get you or both of us killed."
  92. >"Next the tour."
  93.  
  94. >He begins pointing out the kitchen, table, and viewscreen.
  95. >"Those two doors, the left one goes to the cargo compartment, the right one goes to the cockpit."
  96. >"You are not allowed into either of those areas unless I am with you or I explicitly tell you to do so. Doors wont open for you
  97. anyway"
  98. >Anon motions for you to follow him. You walk the length of the room to the kitchen area. Three doors adorn the wall past the
  99. kitchen.
  100. >"This" Anon motions to a seat opposite the kitchen area "is the crash seat. If I tell you to get in it, do it then hit this button.
  101. If you dont, you likely die"
  102. >"Left door leads to crew quarters. Theres four bunks in there, take any one you please. Middle door is the head, shower is voice
  103. activated so just tell it what to do."
  104. >"Door on the right is my quarters. No reason for you to be in there. If I am asleep and you wake me up i may shoot you, dont take
  105. it personally. If its an emergency and you have to, well sorry if I do"
  106. >Anon brings his left arm up and starts tapping away at a screen embeded in his armor. With a click the restraining harness on your
  107. wings falls to the floor.
  108. >"Questions?" he asks not looking up from the screen.
  109. >After streching your wings out you decide to get out the one nagging question you have. Well, ok, one of the questions, but
  110. certainly the most important one.
  111. "Why am I here? What do you want me for?"
  112. >"I bought a Griffin. I expect you to do what griffons do best. Hunt."
  113.  
  114.  
  115. "You want me to hunt? I know you humans hunt for sport but you bought a griffin to hunt?"
  116. >"One, I dont hunt for sport. Two, we arent hunting dumb animals. If I were hunting animals I would have bought a hound or a
  117. falcon."
  118. >"No, I hunt for work and I hunt people." Anon walks over to the booth and takes a seat.
  119. "So let me get this straight, you hunt your own kind. Like, chase down and kill humans?!" You ask in disbelief as you follow Anon
  120. over to the tabe.
  121. >You take up a position opposite him looking at him across the table in disbelief.
  122. >You had seen first talon how cruel humans could be, but this was a whole new level of messed up.
  123. >Anon looked back at you across the table, an amused look on his face. He waved his hand over the table, which somehow left a
  124. translucent keyboard in its wake.
  125. >"First off the people I hunt are worth significantly less if they are dead. So no, I dont kill people unless I absolutely need to."
  126. >"Secondly I said I hunter people. Not always humans. Though I never have gotten a contract to hunt down, say a pony before."
  127. >"Cant say that I would not accept that contract either. As long as it pays" He finishes, his gaze shifting from you to the screen
  128. on the opposite wall.
  129. >"Falcon, show me the Guild Job board." He says "In fact its time to find a new contract right now."
  130. >The screen shifts and is replaced by scrolling images and text.
  131. "So people pay you to do these hunts. Who are they paying you to hunt down?"
  132. >"All sorts of people. Thought usually it is criminals that ran to hard to find places. People who owe people money. That sort of
  133. thing"
  134. "And where do I play into this?" You sit down and continue staring across the table.
  135. >Anon eyes still dont leave the screen across the room.
  136. >"Your eyes and ears are going to be very valuable on a hunt."
  137. "Plus my wings allow me to get a height advantage" You suggest.
  138. >"Nope, you will not be flying any time soon. Sorry just dont trust you."
  139. >Damn, you were close with that one. But the situation is as you expected. You had not been allowed to truly fly since the war
  140. ended.
  141. >You miss it, the feeling of wind in your feathers. The freedom of the open sky.
  142. >"Ah! there we go. Found a nice easy milk run for us." Anon speaking breaks you out of your reverie.
  143. >"Now where are you..." Anon is typing away at the keyboard in front of him. A glance at the screen reveals a picture of a man and a
  144. large block of text.
  145. >Seeing you staring at the screen Anon begins "Darren Walt, wanted for three counts of murder. Known to be armed and dangerous."
  146. "Armed and dangerous with three murders under his belt, and this guy is a milk run?" you deadpan.
  147. >"He's not likely to be surrounded by armed guards in a fortified mansion or bunker, so yes."
  148. >"Falcon, start extensive search for Darren Walt." A chime sounds from somewhere in the room as if to answer Anon's command.
  149. >Turning his eyes finally back to you Anon continues "Its going to take some time to track this guy down. Theres food in the kitchen
  150. if you want it."
  151. >"Search might finish tonight, likely wont though. Either way we are leaving first thing tomorrow. I want you cleaned fed and
  152. prepped by zero seven-hundred."
  153. >You do admit that a shower and some chow sounds excellent.
  154.  
  155. >The bathroom is very basic and nearly empty. A toilet clearly designed for humans, a sink more the same. The shower however
  156. occupied nearly half the room.
  157. >A clear glass wall affords a view of the entire space of the shower. Opening the glass panel door you step in.
  158. >The door swings closed and to your surprise the glass wall changes to an opaque surface. You can see nothing of the bathroom
  159. beyond.
  160. >The next problem arrives when you cant seem to find a way to turn the shower on. Remembering what Anon said you look at the head
  161. several feet above you.
  162. "Shower on" You say hesitantly.
  163. >"Please specify temperature" Comes a reply from seemingly everywhere. The voice is vaguely feminine as far as you can tell, also
  164. almost devoid of emotion.
  165. "umm. hot?"
  166. >"Please specify temperature"
  167. "fuck, I don't know. What does Anon shower at?!" This shower computer thing is really pissing you off now
  168. >"The Captain showers at forty Degrees"
  169. "Uh, sure. Lets try that"
  170. >The water starts up and thankfully forty seems to be a good temperature. This is exactly what you needed.
  171. >You don't know how much time passes just standing there under the water.
  172. >Upon opening your eyes you are surprised to see a small shelf that appears to have hollowed itself out of the wall. It is roughly
  173. at shoulder height for you and contains a pair of bottles
  174. >The bottles are product for both your feathers and fur. Huh, and not the cheap stuff either. No generic brand here, this is the
  175. good stuff.
  176.  
  177. >Toweling your head off you emerge from the bathroom. Anon is still sitting at the table. He appears to have his weapon disassembled
  178. in front of him.
  179. >He was carefully cleaning each piece then returning them to their rightful places.
  180. "Is there some damn voice or trick to this icebox too?" You ask, still slightly peeved at the shower.
  181. >Anon does not look up from his work, but you see the slightest signs of a smile on his face.
  182. >"No. Just a normal icebox."
  183. >You open the device and peer inside. There are countless human foodstuffs all arranged neatly inside.
  184. >The wave of scent hits you just a second after the sight. Though most of the food is contained in neat containers or the plastic
  185. material humans are so fond of you can still smell
  186. >every bit of food contained within.
  187. >Your brain locks onto one scent in particular. You cant put a talon on what exactly it is for a moment so you let your nose lead
  188. you to it.
  189. >You find a pair of oblong white objects wrapped in plastic. Thinking of tearing the packaging open on the spot to get at whatever
  190. it is your stomach wants so bad.
  191. >Then you glace at Anon. No idea what his reaction to you making a mess would be. Seeing the state of the rest of the ship,
  192. especially the kitchen you guess not good.
  193. >A few minutes of rummaging yields a plate. Placing the package on the plate you carefully peel back the plastic wrapper. The scent
  194. hits you full force as soon as the seal is broken.
  195. >Meat! How could you forget that smell. Forgetting your previous caution you rip the hunk of meat out of the the package and pop it
  196. in your mouth.
  197.  
  198. >The taste is amazing. You have no idea as to the quality of the meat, just that it is the first meat you have had for a very long
  199. time.
  200. >Savoring the meal for a moment you finally let it slide down your throat. The second follows not far behind.
  201. >You grab a glass and fill it with water at the tap. Drinking it with one gulp you look around the room feeling quite satisfied.
  202. >Anon is looking at you with one eyebrow raised.
  203. "What? The hell you looking at?" Annoyance rising in your voice
  204. >"Not every day I watch someone down a chicken breast in one go. So I guess you dont mind that I keep meat around." He says with a
  205.  
  206. half chuckle, mouth curling into a smile.
  207. "Are you kidding?! Its been forever since I got a good meal with meat in it. Damn ponies get squeemish when they smell the stuff."
  208. "They just dont stock it at any of the slave markets. Last time I had meat was...back in the army, before the war..." you trail off,
  209. a hint of sadness in your voice.
  210. >Another question pushes its way into your head. Anon has gone back to cleaning his weapon.
  211. "Where do we stand? Me being a slave here. Is that what I am to you?" You ask gingerly.
  212. >Anon lets out a sigh and stops his work.
  213.  
  214. >"That is a very direct question. Bold one too"
  215. >He pauses for a moment, his eyes still have yet to leave the table.
  216. >"So with how you phrased your question I expect you want a direct answer." He begins to pick up the pieces of the gun in front of
  217. him, carefully placing each one together to form the weapon.
  218. >"You are not a slave. A slave is a person who is owned by another, typically performing menial labor that the owner is either
  219. unwilling or unable to perform."
  220. >"Now I do own you, and at the moment I do direct your movements. But you do not perform a task for me yet. Soon I hope you can be
  221. of use to me, but at the moment you need training, work."
  222. "I don't see the difference, I am a tool for you to use. You own me, slaves a slave" Anger edging its way into your voice.
  223. >"No, a tool performs a useful task. It is an implement wielded by another to magnify or change effort. In time you may be a useful
  224. tool."
  225. "So what. You train me then I am allowed the *lofty* status of being equal to your damn gun?!" Your temper rising with the volume of
  226. your voice.
  227. >That catches his attention as he clicks the last pieces of his firearm together.
  228. >"No, this here is not a tool. It is a weapon. A tool that has been crafted to harm or subdue others."
  229. >"But a weapon still needs a person behind it wielding it. Aiming it, giving it purpose and a target."
  230.  
  231. >He sighs again. "In time you shall become a tool, then a weapon. Perhaps if you live long enough you will become a hunter. A hunter
  232. is capable of selecting a target, choosing when to strike,"
  233. >"And carrying out the violence all on your own. At the moment, you are an ingot. A raw material ready to be made into something
  234. useful."
  235. >"But the first thing a hunter remembers is that his body is a finely tuned weapon. A tool designed to inflict violence."
  236. >His somber expression breaks into a smile "Besides, this gun here puts food on my table. You raid my pantry for chicken. Totally
  237. different things."
  238. >You stand jaw slightly ajar at his lengthly explanation. After a moment of silence you manage a coherent response to Anon's speech.
  239. "The fuck did any of that mean?! That made no sense at all."
  240. >Anon's smile only grows as he lets out a quick bark of a laugh.
  241. >"You will understand in time. Suffice it to say that at the moment you represent an investment in time and money that I have made.
  242. I intend to collect on that Investment."
  243. >"For now lets both catch some shut eye. We might have a long day tomorrow" Anon rises and begins to move towards the three doors at
  244. the end of the room.
  245. >"Hey, grab some more chicken from the freezer and move it down please. Need some thawed out for lunch tomorrow" With that the door
  246. to Anon's room slide open.
  247. >He steps inside and they close leaving you with your thoughts.
  248. >Jackass. The hell did any of that mean. Who cares, hes right tomorrow will be long if today was any measure.
  249.  
  250. >The next morning comes faster than you expected. It starts with a rather abrupt banging
  251. >"Selene! Up and at it soldier!"
  252. >Ass.
  253. >You roll out of the top bunk you had selected in the crew quarters and pad out into the main room.
  254. >Anon is sitting at the table with a mug and a plate. Hes doing those dam hand gestures at the monitor on the wall. Images changing
  255. with every flick of his hands.
  256. >"Breakfast is on the counter help yourself."
  257. >Making yourself a plate you cross over to the table and slide into the other end of the curved booth seating. Eggs and bacon. More
  258. meat sits well with you right about now.
  259. >Anon stops the screen on one image. The image starts moving and sound seems to come from the screen. Ah, the Television stuff the
  260. humans always keep watching.
  261. >The man on the screen is rambling on about something or other, none of it really makes sense to you at this point.
  262. >The pair of you eat in relative silence, Anon seems fixed on what the screen is saying.
  263. >As he finishes Anon rises and walks to the kitchen
  264. >"Search will likely be done soon, I have pre-flight work to do. Keep busy while I am gone ok."
  265. >You nod at him, not that he sees as he works at the sink.
  266. >Once he departs through the door he said goes to the cockpit you are once again left to your own.
  267. >A particularly vindictive thought passes through your head.
  268. >You cant help but wonder what a hunter like Anon keeps in his "Cargo Hold".
  269. >Technically you were told not to go in there, but honestly...fuck him.
  270.  
  271. >Initial inspection of the door finds that it is far larger than the doors to the shower or the crew quarters. But other than that
  272. it seems to work on the same principle.
  273. >A panel is embedded in the wall to its right. Rising to your hind legs you inspect the panel. After a moments examination you find
  274. a button labeled OPEN.
  275. >You glance back at the door Anon went through before deciding to press the button.
  276. >Your talon is less than an inch from the button when the ship chimes again.
  277. >"Attention, subject located"
  278. >You fall backwards and scramble away from the door. The cockpit door opens and Anon rushes into the room, prompting you to dive for
  279. the booth and table.
  280. >Luckily he seems to not notice.
  281. >"Ok Falcon, wheres our man."
  282. >The screen starts to flash a lot of information very quickly.
  283. >Your ears twitch as you hear a faint noise. Listening all the harder you can make out Anon muttering under his breath.
  284. >"Not mars not mars not mars"
  285. >The screen flashes once.
  286. >"Most likely location of search subject, Sol system, Planet four" Informs the voice from the screen as a picture of a red planet
  287. appears on screen.
  288. >"Motherfucker. It had to be Mars." Anon lets out a heavy sigh.
  289. "What can I ask is Mars?"
  290. >Anon, perhaps reminded of your presence in the room turns to face you. He looks pained.
  291. >"Mars is a planet in humanities home system. Its...well...its. You will see when we get there. God I hate Mars."
  292.  
  293. >Anon disappears into the cockpit again, this time for several hours.
  294. >When he finally reemerges you are lazing in the booth, having given up on the cargo bay door an hour earlier.
  295. "So, when are we going to this Mars place?" You ask impatiently.
  296. >"Just landed. We will be heading out onto the surface in a few minutes." Anon heads into his room and the door shuts.
  297. >When he returns he walks over to stand next to the screen facing you.
  298. >"Ok, so. Here's our target for today." A gesture later and a human face appears on the screen "I need you to."
  299. "What the hell are you wearing?!" You interject, having just now noticed Anon's change of clothes.
  300. >He had changed from the casual clothing you had seen him in all of last night. He was also not wearing his armor from the other
  301. day.
  302. >Anon had donned a brown leather jacket and white undershirt. The outfit had matching brown pants apparently as well as some rather
  303. ridiculous looking boots.
  304. >To top it all off, perhaps pun intended, perhaps the stupidest hat you have ever seen.
  305. >Anon sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose. "Have I mentioned that I hate mars."
  306. >"Ok time for bounty hunter lesson one. Dress the part. If I go out there in my armor I wont exactly fit in. Any mark I may be
  307. chasing will have me be able to spot me in an instant"
  308. >"Dress like this and at best I look like a local, at worst I look like a tourist trying to fit in. Neither of these people look
  309. like they are likely to start shooting up the streets"
  310. >After a moments pause he adds "Well, ok so not technically correct, fucking Mars. But correct most other places."
  311. >"Where was I? Right, I need you to do your best to memorize this face."
  312.  
  313. >"I also have some voice clips for you to listen to. Memorize these please, I need your ears and eyes out today."
  314. >Another few gestures and a voice starts issuing from the screen. Its mostly snippets of conversations with no intelligible flow to
  315. them.
  316. >Anon heads off into the cargo hold leaving you to your work.
  317. >You are not sure how long Anon is gone, but the audio clips repeat several times before he does return.
  318. >As Anon returns he hold up your harness.
  319. >"So, do you want to put iton yourself or do I need to do it?"
  320. "Really, do we need that?"
  321. >"Yes, yes we do. I cant have you flying off out there." His tone leaves no room for argument
  322. "No, I can handle it" you reply with a sigh. It was worth a shot.
  323. >Anon nods and tosses the harness over to you.
  324. >Catching the harness you slip it over your head and start adjusting the straps.
  325. "So what exactly is the deal with this Mars place anyway. You seem to dislike it a fair bit."
  326. >Anon is fitting his gun into its hip holster as he starts to answer
  327. >"Mars used to be a frontier a long time ago, back when humanity had just barely figured out terraforming."
  328. >"The whole place was notoriously hard to govern. It was also one of the first human colonies to gain independence."
  329. >"The colonists also must have watched too many wild west movies, they grabbed the aesthetic and ran with it. Turned into a huge
  330. tourist destination soon after."
  331. >"Makes them a lot of money from tourism so they work very hard to keep up the look."
  332.  
  333. >Anon motions for you to follow as he opens the cargo bay door. Following him in you get a good look at the contents.
  334. >The room is not much more than a long hallway. On either side of the hall are cryo chambers.
  335. >Three on the left and four on the right. In the center of the room is what could perhaps be described as a cart.
  336. >A plate of metal floating two feet off the floor, a slight haze in the air below it the only clue as to why it was not falling.
  337. >On the cart is what looks like a stack of boxes covered in a grey tarp.
  338. "Whats with the cart?"
  339. >"To carry our prey if we catch him. There's a cryo cell hidden under there in case we run into our friend out there."
  340. >Anon grabs the handlebar of the cart and adjusts the height slightly. He glances back at you then makes another adjustment.
  341. >He walks around to the front of the cart and grabs a pair of straps on the front of it.
  342. >Anon snaps his fingers and points at the floor in front of him. "Come here please."
  343. "Oh no. No no no. I am not pulling that cart. No way." You take a step back in disgust.
  344. >"Oh yes you are. Remember lesson one, you need to look the part. You look out of place as it is here, I need you pulling the cart.
  345. Besides, you need to earn your cut of the bounty."
  346. "I don't care about fitting in if it means pulling that damn...wait I get part of the bounty?"
  347. >"You do if you work for it."
  348. >That catches you off guard for a moment.
  349. "How much pay are we talking?" Suspicion begins to creep into your mind to replace the surprise.
  350. >"If you just pull the cart, five percent. Percentage will go higher the more work you do for the hunt."
  351.  
  352. "And this is pay in what? Money or 'the right to eat.'" You make air quotes with your talons.
  353. >"Payment in cash, what you get with your share of the money is not my problem."
  354. >Cautiously you walk over in front of the cart. Anon starts connecting the carts leads to your harness.
  355. "So why the cryo caskets? I assume for transporting the bounties right?"
  356. >"Correct. Cryo is less space and resource intensive. Plus fewer fires and hissy fits by the bounties."
  357. >Having finished attaching the cart Anon straightens and takes a deep breath.
  358. >Turning to you he says "Alright, lets get this done and get off this damn dust-ball."
  359. >The door at the end of the hall opens, leading out into another smaller hallway. Anon opens the second door and starts walking down
  360. a ramp to the planet below.
  361. >The light coming in the door is nearly blinding, you have to cover your face with a front leg until your eyes adjust.
  362. >To your surprise and relief the cart is actually rather easy to pull. In fact you hardly notice it there aside from the slight pull
  363. on the harness.
  364. >This spaceport seems to be a wide open area dotted with a series of landing pads. Workers move to and fro loading and unloading the
  365.  
  366. various vessels landed here.
  367. >You pause for a moment on the ramp leading from the ship. Closing your eyes you feel the sun beating down on you and the wind
  368. running over you. Sensations it had been all too long since you have had.
  369. >Bathing in the glorious sun and soothing breeze you extend your wings if but to feel the wind in your feathers once...the harness
  370. around your barrel snaps you back to reality nearly instantly.
  371. >Anon is standing at the bottom of the ramp looking back at you. With a dejected sigh you follow him off the ship and onto the
  372. Martian dust.
  373. >The spaceport is ringed by a fence with a security checkpoint at one end. The pair of you pass through the checkpoint with little
  374. trouble, they don't even check the cart.
  375. >Once out of earshot of the checkpoint Anon speaks up "That there is the reason I end up here on Mars way more often then I would
  376. like."
  377. >Cocking your head to one side you give Anon a quizzical look.
  378. >Seeing your look he continues "Security here is almost non-existent. Partially on purpose to keep up the mystique of 'Wild West'.
  379. Also because higher security is a pain for tourists."
  380. "Wait, so why don't all criminals come hide here?"
  381. >After a moment of puzzling over your question "Likely because Mars is a pain in the ass. The locals get really angry when you don't
  382. dress the part, breaks the experience for the tourists."
  383. >The walk to town is not long, but enough time for the heat of the sun to start to be just a bit too hot.
  384. >As you move into town Anon speaks again.
  385. >"First step is talk to a contact of mine here, then a quick break for lunch. One good thing about Mars, lots of variety in the
  386. food."
  387. "Sounds good. How far to this contact?"
  388. >"Not far, he lives on main street." Anon points at the sign for the street that you are about to turn on to.
  389. >Upon turning onto the street foot traffic drops significantly. In fact it goes down to none at all.
  390. >Everyone on the street is standing off to the sides, on porches and balconies lining the street.
  391. >There is a pair of men standing at opposite ends of the street, perhaps twenty feet apart.
  392.  
  393. >As you look up to Anon to ask what is going on you notice him pinching the bridge of his nose again.
  394. >"God dammit Mars is such a pain."
  395. >Anon drags you off into an alley where you and the cart can be out of the way. Peering out of the alley you watch as the two men
  396. eye each other.
  397. >A man in a black jacket and wide brimmed hat begins addressing the crowd.
  398. >"Attention, being on the street or on the side of the street is a potential hazard. Please be advised that bodily harm you incur is
  399. not the responsibility of the Mars officials."
  400. >The man then promptly steps inside a building across the street from you.
  401. >Anon is grumbling about "Cant cross the street until this is over" as well as several more things about how inconvenient Mars is.
  402. >You for one are interested to see what the men are doing that is drawing such a crowd.
  403. >A bell starts ringing in the distance. The whole street seems to hold its breath.
  404. >Which seems silly since the bell rings eleven times and nothing at all happens.
  405. >Then with the twelfth ring both men move at once. They both draw a gun and fire at each other. One man is hit in the chest, kocking
  406. him off his feet to land on the ground with a heavy thump and puff of dust.
  407. >the other round sales off and hits a building at the end of the road.
  408. >The victor begins to jump up and down yelling with excitement "Woo! I did it, holy shit I got em!"
  409. "What the fuck! Did they actually just..." disgust and shock on your face.
  410. >"No! No they did not. Those are stun rounds, its all fake. Stupid tourist trap stuff, he will be fine in an hour or so." Anon
  411. deadpans
  412. >"Now lets get across the street and get this done"
  413. >The crowd is cheering and clapping as you cross the road.
  414. >This place is strange, Humans are strange. What is happening in your life anymore.
  415.  
  416. >Crossing the still mostly empty street you are collecting some interesting looks from the crowd of bystanders.
  417. >Once across the street Anon unclips the cart from your harness and ties it to the porch of the shop. The sign above the door reads
  418. "Jim's General Defense"
  419. >The inside of the shop is populated with numerous glass display cases housing firearms of all sizes and shapes.
  420. >You cant help but walk slowly, peering into the glass cases at all the different designs. Anon makes straight for the back of the
  421. shop.
  422. >There is a rather large man behind the counter, he looks up as you and Anon enter.
  423. >"Anon, my friend. Long time no see! What can I do for you today." A smile growing on his face.
  424. >"Jim, How are you. Here on business, need some information" Anon reaches the counter and shakes Jim's hand.
  425. >The two of them converse for a few minutes meanwhile you take the time to wander the store examining the various display cases.
  426. >Having completed a full circuit of the store you pad over to Anon and the shop-keep.
  427. >"Well, I would be a bad salesman if I did not at least if you needed a new piece as well." Jim says pushing a small grey chip over
  428. the counter to Anon.
  429. >"Not at the moment, sorry Jim."
  430.  
  431. >"Well what about the young woman here? Is she in need of a new weapon?" Jim turns his attention to you.
  432. >You are caught off guard by suddenly being addressed, leaving you staring like a fool.
  433. >"No, she's ok for today. Not quite ready for a gun of her own yet."
  434. "What, don't trust me? Think i'm going to shoot you in your sleep?" Not letting you answer for yourself, dick.
  435. >"In the back, perhaps, you can't get into my room so my sleep is fine at the moment. Get yourself some money first then prove that
  436. you can handle a weapon and I will get you one."
  437. >"Tell you what young lady, I bet if you bag Mr Anon here a bounty all on your own and I bet he will let you. In fact, do that and I
  438. will personally build you a custom piece." Jim interjects with a smile.
  439. >Now that's a thought, your own custom gun.
  440. >Anon signals time to head out, pocketing the chip from the counter.
  441. >With a final wave to Jim you head for the door. "Go get 'em girl!" Jim yells after you.
  442. >Anon adjusts his hat and starts untying the cart, the street outside now busy with people.
  443. "He was a nice guy." You watch Anon at his work.
  444. >"Jim? Oh he's great." Anon begins attaching the tow lines back to your harness "One of the best gunsmiths I ever met, Mars is one
  445. of the only places a tallent like his is appreciated"
  446. "So what about his offer of a custom?" Can't hurt to test the waters on the matter now.
  447. >"Are you kidding?" Anon looks at you with a grin, oh well. "There is no way I am letting you have a bounty hunting gun that is not
  448. a Jim's Special." Anon pats his own weapon in its holster.
  449. >Disappointment quickly turns into excited anticipation.
  450. >"Come on, lets get some food." Anon finishes with the cart and starts off down the road.
  451. >Your step now filled with excitement, you just have to know more.
  452. "So how much money am I going to need?"
  453.  
  454. >"For a custom piece? Assuming your five percent here for this job." Anon starts mumbling numbers and moving his fingers in the air,
  455. miming an abacus.
  456. >"That gets you a solid two to three percent towards paying off that gun!" Anon exclaims finally, grinning widely.
  457. "Really." Your grin quickly becoming a scowl.
  458. >"That's assuming Jim gives it to you at cost too." Anon, seeing your new expression continues "But! Like Jim said, if you catch a
  459. bounty solo for me I can cover the rest."
  460. >Your smile returns and for a wonderful moment you almost feel like a companion or trusted friend to Anon, and not his slave.
  461. Almost, that is until your wings extend in excitement only to be halted by the harness."
  462. >Entering the main market square you have little time to mull over those thoughts. The square is bustling with people and noise. A
  463. multitude of different food stalls lend the area an truly excellent aroma.
  464. >The food stalls form a rough square, the center filled with tables. A wide dirt path separates the stalls and the tables allowing
  465. people to line up and order.
  466. >Never before had you smelt this much diverse cooking in one place. "So, what you feel like eating?" Asks Anon. You ponder the
  467. question for a moment before answering.
  468. "I hear you humans cook with a lot of spices. That true?"
  469. >"Certain types of food yes. Why? Want something spicy?"
  470. "Never had anything spicy. Griffin food is fairly bland, spices don't grow well in mountains. Also slaver markets don't exactly use
  471. the fancy stuff either."
  472. >Anon scans the market, apparently finding what he is after as he sets off through the crowd.
  473. >You follow as close to his heels as possible, people can't see you as well in a crowd.
  474. >Finally Anon comes to a stop in front of a stall labeled "India House"
  475.  
  476.  
  477. >You stare at the menu for a moment but it may as well be written in Ancient Equestrian for all the sense it makes. You see Anon
  478. looking at you expectantly and give him a shrug.
  479. >He nods and places an order for the both of you. You have no idea what he ordered as you keep getting distracted by the man running
  480. the sandwich store next to you.
  481. >The shop-keep keeps yelling out the names of his customers in the most annoying accent you have ever heard. It sounds like a bad
  482. attempt at whatever accent it is the native martians have.
  483. >Anon steps away from the stall, a tray in his hands. He leads you to a table near the edge of the square.
  484. >Undoing the cart from your harness he takes a seat, you settle on the bench across from him. Anon drops his coat into the table and
  485. starts setting out the food on the tray.
  486. >The "Lamb curry" he puts in front of you looks like a stew, but it smells amazing. After one bite you decide you really like
  487.  
  488. spices, yes they are really good food.
  489. >"Ok, time for lesson two. Pay attention. In a situation like this there are a lot of people that could mean you harm. Listen to the
  490. sounds and try and hear anything out of the ordinary"
  491. >You nod while stuffing another bite of delicious curry in your beak. "Eyes on the move too, watch for anyone suspicious. If they
  492. are moving towards you and keep looking at you, they may be up to something"
  493. >You are doing your best to pay attention to Anon, but that damn sandwich salesman keeps cutting into your ears.
  494. >"Order for Walt! I got an order here for Walt. Darren Walt come get yer chow!" He is yelling.
  495. >Why do you know that name. You head snaps over to the stand to try and make some sense of what you heard. The man grabbing the
  496. sandwich from the shop-keep looks familiar, but you just cant place him.
  497. >The man turns from the stall and starts walking to a nearby table. In that moment you lock eyes with the familiar stranger, and you
  498.  
  499. instantly know where you have seen him.
  500. "Anon, I think that's the guy we are after."
  501. >"Hmm?" Anon looks up from his meal.
  502. "Darren Walt right?
  503. >The man is frozen in place, just staring back at you
  504. "Hes looking at me right now, sandwich man called out his name. Im sure of it."
  505. >"Fuck, now he's gonna run."
  506. >No sooner has Anons prediction left his mouth Walt takes off running, his sandwich forgotten and dropped in the dirt.
  507. >Anon also leaps into action, getting out of the bench attached table faster than you thought possible.
  508. >Walt is pushing through lines and groups of people in a panicked effort to get out of the square. Anon leaps onto the next table
  509.  
  510. over, spilling the occupants food everywhere.
  511. >Startled yells come from the tables occupants as Anon lands. He draws his weapon from its holster and fires without hesitation.
  512. >A brilliant blue bolt flies across the market square, impacting Darren Walt square in the back. Walt flies forward from the force
  513. of the impact, momentum causing him to skid through the dirt some distance.
  514. >The startled yells of the crowd turn to whoops and clapping as Anon returns the gun to its holster. "Damn that was some good
  515. spotting Selene, get the cart"
  516. >Anon dismounts the table and makes his way over to the fallen man. Grabbing the cart you realize that you have no way of attaching
  517. it to your own harness, so you settle for standing and grabbing the handle.
  518. >Its awkward but the cart gives no resistance and the journey is not far, thankfully people part for your passage.
  519. >When you reach Anon he is kneeling on Walt's back, Walt for his part appears to be unconscious. Anon pulls the tarp off to reveal a
  520. sleek Cryo pod atop the cart.
  521. >By this time a sizable crowd has gathered in a circle around the fallen man and is murmuring about what is going on.
  522. >A tap of a couple buttons and the cryo pod opens with a hiss. Anon starts hoisting Walt up when a man breaks through the crowd. Its
  523. the man in the black suit from the street battle.
  524. >This time he has a bronze star on both his hat and jacket as well as a rifle in his hands.
  525. >The gun looks like one of the old style weapons that you have seen everywhere here on Mars, but it clearly is not just for
  526. stunning. Evidence by the dual barrels that are now leveled at Anon.
  527. >"Who's starting a gun battle in my here market!" The man barks "Y'all know ya cant be fighting in the market areas."
  528. >Anon unceremoniously drops Walt his hands slowly rising into the air. "Sheriff, how are you today. Sorry for the commotion, just
  529. bringing in a wanted criminal."
  530. >Slowly Anon reaches into his pocket and produces a card which he hands to the Sheriff. You catch a glimpse of "Bounty Hunters Guild
  531. License" on the front as the card is passed.
  532. >After careful examination the Sheriff hands the card back "Fine, but clean this mess up quick." He says departing the scene.
  533. >Anon loads your newly caught bounty into the cart then kneels down to your eye level.
  534. >"That was good work Selene." He says clapping you on the shoulder with a hand.
  535. >Pulling the tarp over the cart and hooking you back up Anon motions for you to follow. Time to get off Mars.
  536.  
  537. >The walk back is as uneventful as the walk into town though you manage to work up quite a sweat. Mars, you decide, is a very hot
  538. place.
  539. >Walking up the ramp into the cool insides of the ship is a welcome relief from the direct sun. Anon unhooks the cart and removes
  540. your harness.
  541. >Stretching your wings helps greatly in relieving the heat and sweat. The cryo tube gets snapped back into its receptacle, a green
  542. light appearing above its position on the wall.
  543. "So now we just turn that guy in and get paid right?" Giving your wings a few flaps to cool off.
  544. >"Not yet, I don't like to bring these guys in until the cargo hold is full." Anon replies, tapping the nearest cryo for emphasis.
  545. >The left side of the room has all four tanks showing green lights while the right side is entirely red.
  546. >"Though I do want to get off this planet as soon as possible. Lets find a job and get moving"
  547. >Anon heads into the main room, flopping into the booth and discarding his hat onto the table. He starts manipulating the screen as
  548. usual.
  549. "Hey, I'm going to hit the shower a bit early." you just cant shake the feeling of sweat and dirt "I feel disgusting right now"
  550. >"Enjoy, personally I felt that way all day."
  551.  
  552. >Emerging from the bathroom about an hour later you think you may have gotten all of the Martian dust out of your plumage, maybe.
  553. >Anon is exactly where you left him, except he apparently changed back into his normal attire at some point.
  554. >"Found several contracts for offer on Meridian. Think we will go there next, bit of a ride but worth it for the chance of multiple
  555. jobs" Anon speaks up when he sees you.
  556. >Nodding you pad your way over to see what he is up to. You make it half way before Anon rises "Alright then lets head out"
  557. >Anon gets up and walks to the cockpit door, to your surprise he motions for you to follow.
  558. >The cockpit is bigger than you were expecting, perhaps a third the size of the main room. Most of the front wall and ceiling is a
  559. multi-panel glass canopy.
  560. >There are three seats near the front of the room, all facing out the canopy. Anon drops down into the center seat and indicates the
  561. right side seat for you.
  562. >In front of you is a mass of buttons and switches that flow almost non-stop around the cockpit in front of all three chairs.
  563. >"Touch nothing and you can stay. Deal?" Anon glances back at you.
  564. "Uh, sure. No touching, got it" Not even sure where you would begin hitting things.
  565. >Anon snaps his fingers and a massive holographic display springs to life in front of him. Several minutes of furious tapping and
  566. gesturing ensue, giving you ample time to examine the cockpit and the view out the window.
  567. >Finally Anon brings his hands together in a silent clap and the display vanishes. His hands fall down to the controls built into
  568. the arm rests of the chair.
  569. >Pulling back with his right hand and slowly forward with his left the ship begins to slowly move off the ground and into the sky.
  570. >Once off the ground Anon turns to you with a grin on his face, he then jams the left control all the way forward sending you
  571. rocketing up into the sky.
  572.  
  573. >It takes a solid ten minutes for Anon to stop laughing, something about not knowing a grey Griffon could go the white.
  574. >You don't find it funny at all and let your feelings be know by sitting in your chair as grumpily as possible.
  575. >"Just passed our jump point, course plotted. 3...2...1" Anon counting down can not be good.
  576. >The stars outside begin to distort, instead of specks of light they become long lines of white light.
  577. >After a moment they change again and finally settle as multi-colored lines of light lazily passing by the window.
  578. >"Well, Sol to Meridian is a rather long jump. Settle in and get comfortable" Anon says turning his chair to face you.
  579. "How long are we talking?" Eyes still fixed on the field of stars drifting past you outside.
  580. >"Twelve hours about." Anon replies. "So, been meaning to ask. Where you from Selene?"
  581. "Hmm? What?" Still transfixed by the stars it takes a moment for the question to process.
  582. "Oh. Little village called Jarn in the Greyback mountains. Its near the western edge of the Griffon Kingdom."
  583. >"Whats it like? Saw your planet from orbit when I came to get you, never went down myself."
  584. "Its a mining town, fairly boring. Very cold in the winter but summers are nice at least." Remembering home brings back all manner
  585. of smells and sights to your mind.
  586. "I have never found clearer air anywhere I have been since. Winds were great for flying." Closing your eyes you can see it all
  587. again, feel the wind in your feathers.
  588. >Your wings start to spread on their own to accept the gusting winds of your home.
  589. >"Best flight I ever took was the canyons of Hallorn Four" Anons breaks you out of your reverie.
  590. >Your wings snap shut and you can feel your face reddening with embarrassment. Luckily Anon does not seem to notice as he keeps
  591. talking.
  592.  
  593. >"Clear blue skies and no one for a thousand kilometers. Just you and tour ship burning through twisting turning canyons. You may
  594. not think it from her size but this bird here is rather nimble"
  595. >Anon has a smile on and eyes closed, likely now caught up in his own remembrance.
  596. >"So, army. Why join up? Why scouts" His eyes snap open and re-center on you.
  597. "Had to. Dad was mayor of the town, makes him a minor noble. All children of noble parents are expected to serve."
  598. "Scouts was because of where I am from. Greyback means a lot of flying if you want to get anywhere at any sort of speed. Scouts love
  599. that amount of flight experience."
  600. >More memories flood to the surface, your squad mates and friends in the scouts. Closing that door quickly before something nasty
  601. comes out you refocus.
  602. "Ok, now your turn." Looking Anon straight in the eye, doing your best to banish memories.
  603. >"Me? Navy brat myself. Mom was a captain dad was in the marines. Grew up on ships then joined up with the marines when I was old
  604. enough." Anon has returned to staring out the canopy.
  605. >"Got sick of the military life fairly quickly though. Hunting pays a lot better and the hours are nicer." He says with a grin.
  606. >"So how did you end up in that cryo pod there?" Anon turns to you.
  607. "Easier for the market to store Griffons like that. Plus I may have been a pain in their ass before that."
  608. >"Get grabbed during the war I assume"
  609. "Would rather not talk about that."
  610. >"No problem, don't mean to pry. If you want to talk just tell me." Turning back to the canopy Anon continues.
  611. >"I know the feeling, seen some rough situations in my time."
  612. >You two sit there in silence, lost in thought for what seems an eternity.
  613. >"Good job again, back there on Mars. Got us off that planet quickly."
  614. >Those words of praise bring back the feeling that you two are now a team. Two people out hunting others for money, almost makes you
  615. forget about being a slave.
  616. >Almost.
  617.  
  618.  
  619. >Time passes as you both stare wordlessly into the vista of stars in front of you. Both too caught up in the beauty of it and the
  620. remembrance of old memories to really say much of anything.
  621. >Anon is the first one to break the silence. "Ok, time to head aft. If you want I can show you how to work the TV."
  622. "Wait, and leave the cockpit while we are flying?"
  623. >"Yea, Falcon can handle flying straight for the next ten hours."
  624. >With a shrug you hop down from the chair and follow Anon back into the main room. With a quick command the table retracts into the
  625. floor, the bench seating extends slightly until it could perhaps loosely be called a couch.
  626. >The gestures to get the TV to work are slightly difficult to do with your talons but you manage. You finally settle on a channel
  627. playing movies, one is just starting up and Anon describes it as a decent action movie.
  628. >Anon has settled on the couch next to you, reading from some sort of tablet in his hand. The movie is entertaining, its about a
  629. person that Anon calls a spy. The main character has a funny accent but the action scenes are cool so who cares.
  630. >Sometime during the course of the movie, you don't quite know when, you drift off to sleep.
  631. >For once waking is a pleasant sensation, your pillow is warm and it is scratching your neck in just the right...wait.
  632. >Your eye shoots open, you are sprawled out on the couch one wing extended and draped down to the floor. Your head seems to be
  633. rested on Anon's lap, his hand absently scratching your neck just behind the ear.
  634. >Anon removes his hand for a moment to manipulate the tablet, you take the opportunity to remove your head from his lap.
  635. >Your wing snaps back in and you do your best to look casual as you get up off the couch and head over to the kitchen. Yep totally
  636. meant to do all that, uh huh, not embarrassing at all nope.
  637.  
  638.  
  639. >There is a bowl of food waiting for you on the counter. It is some sort of beef dish over rice with a sweet sauce.
  640. >Returning to the couch with your dinner you catch the second half of another movie. This one has the same actor from before but
  641. they are somewhere else punching bad guys.
  642. >As the film ends Anon rises from the couch "I'm done for tonight. Would advise you head to bed as well, you seemed tired earlier
  643. and we are up early tomorrow."
  644. "Why up early? I thought we had quite some time left in this flight"
  645. >"We do, but we both need to get a workout in. Gotta make sure that cryo sleep did not make you soft." With that Anon heads off to
  646. his room, leaving you in silence.
  647. >Shutting down the TV you make for the crew quarters. Sleep comes quickly and soon you are riding the winds of the Greybacks once
  648. more.
  649. >Morning comes in the usual way "Jump to soldier!" with accompanying banging.
  650. >Stumbling out into the main room you find Anon carefully setting out a weight set.
  651. >"Lesson three. Next time you are staring down a bounty, don't stare. Potentially lets them know you are after them." Anon says with
  652. a grin. "Now get over here, lets see what you can do"
  653. >With a sheepish look you start moving over to the weight set. Then you notice what Anon is wearing, he is dressed in a tight
  654. fitting workout shirt and matching tight pants.
  655. >Wow are those pants tight...wow.
  656. >The next two hours are filled with pain. Anon keeps droning on about how you need to be in top shape to be an effective hunter. You
  657. could swear that you used to be able to do more wingtip push-ups than that.
  658. >After two hours of sweat and pain all you want is a hot shower, but when you get there the shower demon voice thing insists on
  659. asking what degree system you want to measure in.
  660. >After some arguing you find the right answer is Celsius. Apparently Fahrenheit is not the right answer.
  661. >Finally emerging from the shower you find Anon waiting patiently for his turn, a towel draped over his back. You slide into the
  662. booth with a bowl of cereal and start trying to work the TV.
  663. >Last night it worked fine, but today is filled with it either ignoring you or flashing a "Gesture Unrecognized" symbol at you. You
  664.  
  665. are still fighting it, and getting fairly frustrated, when Anon walks back into the room.
  666. >"Hey! Falcon, stop messing with her dammit." Anon yells at the ceiling.
  667. >"Affirmative" Comes the reply with a chime.
  668. >Heh, that's right bitch, I win. Anon grabs his own bowl and takes a seat.
  669. >"Ready to get to work?"
  670. >You nod and keep eating. Anon pulls up a pair of pictures with accompanying text.
  671. >"Michael and Aiden Brody. They stole a ship and took it on a crime spree across five worlds. Robbery mostly, but they have killed
  672. too. Currently holed up on Meridian."
  673. "Wait, if we know where they are then why has the government gotten them yet?"
  674. >"Simple, Meridian has no law. Whole rock is owned by a corporation, means plenty of scum like them head there. They are untouchable
  675. by authorities as long as they pay their bribes to corporate security." Anon shrugs
  676. "But since we are bounty hunters and not government we can go in and get them."
  677. >"Exactly"
  678. >You start your work memorizing faces and voices as Anon makes himself busy cleaning and checking his gear.
  679.  
  680. >Hours pass as you watch security video of the various crimes of the Brody twins. The ship chimes again alerting you that the ship
  681. was nearing the destination.
  682. >You and Anon make your way to the cockpit once again, both taking your respective seats.
  683. >Flicking a switch Anon drops the ship back into normal space. The stars resolve back into their normal spotted field, a large grey
  684. planet flies into view.
  685. >"There it is, the mining world of Meridian. A cesspool in the armpit of the galaxy." Anon turns to you "Lets go make some money."
  686. >The descent to Meridian is a bit nerve wracking as Anon drives the ship straight at the planet. Turns out that most of Meridians
  687. livable areas are inside the planet, no atmosphere to be had on the exterior.
  688. >You descend into what at first looked like a crater, through one of the protective shields keeping air within the seal environs of
  689. the planet's interior.
  690. >Once on the ground Anon secures the ship and puts on his sleek black armor. He clips a badge onto the shoulder plate of the armor,
  691. seeing your inquisitive glance he speaks up.
  692. >"On Meridian the locals can smell a hunter from a mine away. Better to identify as one clearly, they wont fuck with you that way"
  693. >"Come here, time for your gear" Anon says as he turns to the table.
  694. >With a sigh you walk over, knowing what comes next. To your surprise the harness that keeps your wings in check is nowhere to be
  695. seen.
  696.  
  697. >Anon instead asks you to tilt your head up, he is holding what looks to be clear plastic tape of some sort. You look up and he
  698. promptly starts rummaging through the plumage along the underside of your neck.
  699. >Indigence and embarrassment flood you as he touches a very personal area.
  700. "What are you doing?! Stop that" For some reason you can't bring yourself to just move your head.
  701. >"Sub-vocal microphone. Lets you talk to me without letting anyone know you are talking.
  702. "Huh, how do I make it work?"
  703. >"Just talk but don't open your mouth. You will get the hang of it quickly i'm sure" Anon says, finishing his work.
  704. >He then sticks a tiny bead inside your ear "And that is a micro speaker. Lets you hear me but not let others know"
  705. "Handy gear"
  706. >Anon nods, fastening his helmet in place and making for the aft hatch.
  707. "No harness?" You ask hopefully
  708. >"Nope, but good luck finding somewhere to fly here on Meridian. It's all tight hallways and sharp corners. Sorry"
  709. >You pass the cryo pods and move into the final hallway before exiting the ship.
  710. >You stare at the door ahead of you, waiting for it to open and reveal what horrors this world called Meridian has in store for you.
  711.  
  712. >The outer door to the ship opens with a rush of air, the smell of metal and fuel that you have come to associate with spaceports
  713. floods your nose.
  714. >This is however the busiest spaceport you had seen yet, hundreds of people rush to and fro with their accompanying machines.
  715. >Unlike any of the other spaceports you have been to, there is no security checkpoint at all. The Mars checkpoint was a joke but at
  716. least it existed.
  717. >Anon as always is walking through the chaos of the spaceport with ease and purpose.
  718. >Walking through the maze that is the Meridian spaceport for about ten minutes brings you to an open room with tunnels entering it
  719. from both ends.
  720. >Looking down the tunnels you clearly see train tracks, this must be some sort of underground train system.
  721. >A five minute wait yields a train pulling into the station, it looks absolutely packed. The train car is fairly large but seems to
  722. be pack to the wall with people.
  723. >Anon glances at several different cars before settling on one. The doors slide open as he approaches, the people inside closest to
  724. the door turn to look.
  725. >Many of the people look to be opening their mouths, perhaps to say that the car is full. However no complaint ever comes, in fact
  726. they push farther into the car leaving a small bubble of space near the door.
  727. >Anon steps in and you follow closely behind. The doors close and the train begins to move, no one speaks a word. Despite the next
  728. to no room in the car you and Anon share a small bubble of personal space by the door.
  729. >The smell hits you just as the door closes, the stench of a hundred people crammed into a space designed for fifty. You personally
  730. are getting some odd looks from the other occupants of the car, causing you to press into Anon's leg.
  731. >Less for need of space and more for a sense of security, these are not nice looking people. Anon rests a hand on your head, a
  732. gesture that normally would get a swift rebuke from you but right now its exactly what you want.
  733. >As his hand lands the looks stop, they go to Anon for a split second before disappearing entirely.
  734. >The ride seems to last for an eternity and you are intensely relieved when it ends. Anon leads you out of the car and onto the
  735. platform along with a throng of other people.
  736. >Jogging up some stairs gets you out of the subway and into a massive room, you can barely see the walls from where you stand. The
  737. room is lined and filled with booths and stalls of all manner and sort.
  738. >The smells and senses are far too many to describe and threaten to overwhelm you with sensory input. Above all however there are
  739. people, so many people.
  740. >You had been to Manehattan and Phillydelphia back home and seen a busy city. But you are nearly certain that there are more people
  741. in this hall than there were on your entire world.
  742. >One thought of pure clarity rings through your head. How the hell could we have expected to win a war against this.
  743. >Anon begins to lead you away through the crowd, he seems to have the same effect here he did in the train car.
  744. >As if hearing your thoughts Anon speaks "Corporation law here states that The Guild is free to operate here at will, and that any
  745. and all agents of The Guild may do as they need to complete the mission."
  746. >"In short I can do whatever I need to get near my target. It's why they are all getting out of the way"
  747. >The two of you walk in silence for some time until you stand in front of a large door. Above the door is a rather large billboard
  748. that reads "Pulse" with a picture of a scantily clad human female on it.
  749. >Name makes sense as you can already feel the music coming from inside. Anon takes a deep breath and pushes the door open.
  750.  
  751. >The sound of the place hits you like a physical wave, the smell of the place not far beind. The aroma is a cocktail of alcohol,
  752. body odor, and perfume.
  753. >Three men just inside the door nod at Anon and beckon you inside, all three are carrying compact looking assault weapons.
  754. >Anon takes off at a brisk walk, apparently headed somewhere important. The establishment is a large multi-story affair with tables
  755. scattered around a large stage.
  756. >The stage begins at one wall and extends in a long neck out to the center of the room. The second story as far as you can tell is a
  757. balcony that extends out almost everywhere except over the stage.
  758. >Small booths line the outter perimeter of the room, the entire place must be structurally unsound as there are small support poles
  759. running from several points on the stage all the way to the roof.
  760. >Each booth on the side seems to have its own poll too, strange. There also appear to be human females walking around the stage in
  761. their underwear. Why they are doing so escapes you, as most humans you have met see nakedness as obscene.
  762. >There are men and a few women crowded around the stage, one of them reaches up to one of the women on stage. He is holding a cash
  763. note in his hand and he places it...oh. Oh thats just wrong, what is this place. What the fuck!
  764. >Insight dawns on you, these aren't women. They are meat, on display for all to see. Your collar suddenly starts to feel very heavy,
  765. Humans are disgusting.
  766. >Seeing the room in its true light your eyes go to saucers as your irises shrink to pinpricks. You cant help but take it all in as
  767. you follow Anon to his destination.
  768. >To your further horror you see a smaller stage towards a back corner, this one containing a small assortment of Pony dancers.
  769. >Thankfully Anon arrives where he is intending to go and you can focus on something besides the sights of this odious place.
  770.  
  771. >Anon is standing in front of the bar, or what passes for one here. The barkeep waddles over, he is a rather large man with a
  772. wolfish grin plastered on his face.
  773. >His smell hits you as he arrives, body odor and rotten teeth. He carries himself with the surety of a proprietor in his own
  774. establishment, must be the owner.
  775. >"What can I get for you Mr Hunter?"
  776. >"Need some information." Anon replies. His voice is clear as crystal in your ear but he seems to be speaking extra loud. Might be
  777. the music, but somehow you doubt that.
  778. >"I have a lot of information, what do you need to know?" Asks the bar tender, anxiety begins to creep into his voice. He too seems
  779. to be rather loud, something is up here.
  780. >"Brody twins. They are here on Meridian, need to know where." Anon is an ass, but since when has he been this aggressive?
  781. >"I assure you sir I do not know of these Brawny twins of which you speak. Besides gossiping about clients is bad for business no?"
  782. The response is nervous but the barkeeps eyes are rock steady.
  783. >Anon grabs the man by the collar and hauls him half way across the bar, pulling his gun in one swift motion. What the hell is
  784. happening here?!
  785. >"I am with the Hunters Guild. Impeding my investigation in any way is punishable by death on Meridian" Anon jams his gun into the
  786. mans throat.
  787. >If your vision were any worse you would have missed what happened, luckily it was damn good. There was a small piece of skin
  788. colored tape on the barrel of the gun, now jammed into the barkeeps neck.
  789. >The rest of the conversation came over loud and clear to you, but to the bar it likely looked like a tense stare down.
  790. >"Hey Max, hows business." Anon begins calmly.
  791. >"Eh, not bad Anon. Meridians a shit hole, but it makes me money"
  792. >"Brody twins, where" Anon sounds like he wants this done quickly.
  793. >"Last I knew hab block one twelve, don't have the room number in memory though. Send it over in the usual way?" The barkeep seems
  794.  
  795. to prefer otherwise
  796. >"Sure, whats the price today?" You see Anon tense just slightly.
  797. >"Hmm, how about your pet there, bet she would make a..." The words barely clear the barkeeps throat before the gun is pushed half
  798. an inch deeper into his neck
  799. >You let out a low snarl and harden your eyes at the Barkeep as well. The noise seems to make it through your mic just fine as Max
  800. puts his hands up ever so slightly higher.
  801. >"Not happening Max, end of story. I will wire you the correct amount once I secure the Brody boys." Anon is also practically
  802. growling.
  803. >Max gives an almost imperceptible nod, Anon lets him down finally.
  804. >Taking a deep breath and mock sigh of relief Max straightens himself out.
  805. >"Now Mr Hunter I am truly sorry that I cannot help you today. What do you say to a drink instead though? On the house for your
  806. inconvenience" Max begins as if nothing was wrong.
  807. >"Fine." Anon nods.
  808. >"And for the lady? Max turns to you"
  809. "Fuck off" He gets another snarl.
  810. >"Enjoy your stay, both of you" Max's wolfish grin returns.
  811.  
  812. >Anon strides over to a table nearby and you follow. After a few moments sitting a human woman arrives at the table. She is dressed
  813. just the same as the stage dancers but carries a tray on one hand.
  814. >There is some sort of drink on the tray and it smells absolutely repulsive.
  815. >"Sir, your drink" The woman bends down just a bit too far in handing Anon the beverage.
  816. >Anon pulls his helmet up slightly and downs the drink in one swift motion, swallowing with a gulp. Setting the empty glass on the
  817. tray the woman walks slowly away.
  818. >Reaching one hand up as if to scratch his chin you see Anon extract a small computer chip from his mouth. It slides into his
  819. gauntlet and he starts tapping away.
  820. >Giving another glance around the club your heart stops. You see another griffon, and you know her! She is carrying a tray with
  821. drinks over to a private table.
  822. >As she turns around you get a look at her face, you know her alright. You bound up from the chair and rush over, ignoring Anon's
  823. cries.
  824. >You idly notice that the griffon is also wearing the standard "outfit" of the dancer girls.
  825. "Hey! Freya, it's me Selene!" Excitement rising in your voice. "Remember, Third Scouts."
  826. >The Griffon looks at you for a moment, then her face dissolves into disgust.
  827. >"There never was a Selene in the Third Scouts. Get out of my way" Venom drips from every word.
  828.  
  829. >You stare in shock for a moment, confusion building in you.
  830. "Yes I was! We...we trained together Freya. How can you not remember me?" Disbelief digs deep into your heart.
  831. >"No. You were not in the scouts" Freya starts to advance on you, disgust turning to rage. "You were not there at Griffonstone at
  832. the end. You are no Third Scout"
  833. "But I...but" You manage to stammer
  834. >"Get the fuck out of my way you honorless coward!" Freya is now yelling loud enough to be drawing attention "Go back to your damn
  835. Hunter master, you are his pet after all. Now move, I have work to do"
  836. >Freya pushes past you and walks off towards the bar, somewhere in there Anon had arrived at your side.
  837. >A server rushes over to Anon "Sir may I extend our deepest apologies for the conduct of the Griffon."
  838. >"Not me that needs apologizing to." He answers.
  839. >"Yes well, sorry anyway. That girl is going to get her ass shot off by one of you some day." The server sighs. "Please know that
  840. she will be well disciplined for this incident"
  841. >The server turns to leave when Anon grabs her roughly by the shoulder and spins her back around.
  842. >"You tell that damn barkeep that if he lays a finger on that Griffon I will personally flay him alive. Am I clear." Anon has steel
  843. in his voice.
  844. >The server nods and quickly walks away.
  845. >"We spent enough time here, lets go" Anon rests a hand on your head to steady you.
  846. >You nod, trying and failing to keep tears from your eyes.
  847.  
  848. >Anon's hand does not move from your head as he leads you out of Pulse. You must have been a hell of a sight, and likely drawn some incorrect conclusions from the denizens of the streets around you.
  849. >Anon leads for ten minutes that feel like an eternity before you enter an elevator and begin ascending.
  850. >The door opens revealing a luxurious office environment. A receptionist speaks with Anon for a moment, but though you hear him the words just don’t register.
  851. >The sea of thoughts swimming through your head is just too much for you to handle at the moment.
  852. >Anon does some more leading finally stopping at a door deep into the office building, down a long hallway of identical doors.
  853. >He touches his Guild ID to the door and it opens with a click.
  854. >The door closes and Anon rips his helmet off, tossing it across the room and onto a bed.
  855. >"What the hell was that?!" Anon asks bringing himself down to your level "Holy shit Selene, are you ok?"
  856. >That’s all it takes to make the floodgates burst, you collapse into Anon's arms balling your eyes out.
  857. >Anon just holds you, holds you while you let it all out.
  858.  
  859. >Anon deposits you on the bed after you calm down, putting on a headset and starting his frantic tapping on his gauntlet.
  860. >He strips off his armor and hangs it on a nearby hangar while murmuring into the headset.
  861. >Anon walks back over to the bed and pulls up a chair next to the edge.
  862. >"So, do yo want to talk about what happened?" He asks, looking you dead in the eye.
  863. "It was about my capture. I was out on a scouting mission near the Griffon capital of Griffonstone." You manage to say.
  864. "We found the human army moving towards the capitol. The enemy opened up and I took a hit, dropped and landed hard."
  865. "The humans picked me up and away I went. Next day was the battle of Griffonstone, it was the battle that ended the war for the Griffons."
  866. “I should have been there” Your eyes fall from Anons and stare at your talons. “I should have been there to help my friends, my country.”
  867. >”But you could not be, the enemy got you” Anon adds.
  868. “That should not matter, I should have tried to get free. A Griffon is honor bound to defend the homeland, even with our lives. I failed to do that”
  869. >”Did you try? To get free and join your comrades?”
  870. “Of course I did. Messed up a couple of the guards in the process.”
  871. >”Then you tried your best. You simply could not be there.”
  872. “Like that matters to them. Griffons died because I was not there to help. They will hate me for that. Freya certainly has enough reasons to hate me.”
  873. >”You got a good break after getting a bad one, simple as that.”
  874. “Yeah I guess.” You say the words, but your heart is not with them.
  875. “Guess it’s all getting to me. The failure, the loss in the war, the slavery.”
  876. >”Yes it’s all a lot, but I know you can get through it. I saw that strength in your eyes when we met. It’s why I bought you.”
  877. >Bought, another reminder that you were just property.
  878.  
  879. >Anon points out the shower and you take it, the warmth provides a moment's reprieve from the thoughts and the sadness.
  880. >At bare minimum the shower washes away the tears.
  881. >When you emerge an hour later Anon has a tray of food on the desk, closer inspection reveals pizza. You take a slice and eat it but it offers you no solace, you just aren’t hungry.
  882. >Instead you head over to the rooms bed, curl up and are swiftly fall asleep.
  883. >Thankfully no dreams trouble you that night, perhaps you are just too exhausted.
  884. >When you wake you are pleasantly warm and cozy, the bed is soft and warmth surrounds you.
  885. >Then the warmth shifts ever so slightly, you begin to wonder how and why the nice warm spot is moving.
  886. >The light bulb clicks on in your sleep addled mind and your eyes snap open. Anon is lying in bed with you, and you are snuggled right up against him. The room is almost completely dark so you can’t tell what time it is.
  887. >As slowly and carefully as you can you roll over in an attempt to escape the bed.
  888. >You manage a full one eighty roll and are about to attempt to slide out when an arm pulls you right back in, crap.
  889. >Anon now has you pulled tight against him...and oh god he’s not wearing a shirt!
  890. >What if he’s also not wearing...nope can’t have that thought, wings might wake him.
  891. >Panic increases until Anon’s other hand snakes under your head, reaching around to start scratching that one spot on your neck.
  892. >Everything melts away with those precious scratches as you relax into his grip.
  893.  
  894. >You lose track of the passage of time until Anon breaks the silence.
  895. >”Morning Selene.”
  896. “Mmm” Complex words cannot cope with the power of scratches.
  897. >”Sleep well? Feeling better?”
  898. “Mmhmm”
  899. >Anon rises a few minutes later and begins walking around the room putting things in order.
  900. >You would never admit it, but you *may* have watched for a while, no one can prove it.
  901. >Finally donning his armor Anon returns to the bedside.
  902. >”So, there’s no way to solve the dishonor of the past. All you can do is make the best of the present. What say you begin anew starting today, fresh honor and a clean slate?”
  903. >You laugh slightly at his question, such things are impossible. But what good would lying in bed moping all day do?
  904. “Sure, I can get behind that”
  905. >”Good. Let’s go catch some criminals then” Anon collects the remainder of his gear as you fall out of bed and stretch.
  906.  
  907. >Leaving the room you find out that the office building is owned by the Guild, makes sense given the events of last night.
  908. >Everything in here smells fresh and clean, a welcome relief after the scents and sounds of Meridian.
  909. >You pass down a hallway of what you assume are rooms like the one you had stayed in last night.
  910. >The hallway opens out onto a large room filled from end to end with cubicles. The buzz of conversation fills the room as phone calls are taken and co-workers chat.
  911. >There is a sign marking the hallway that you just left as “Crash Rooms.”
  912. >Back on the streets Anon walks with purpose, you board a significantly less crowded train and make your way to Hab Block Twelve.
  913. >The train arrives at the platform, opposite the train is a bank of perhaps twenty elevators.
  914. >Hab Block Twelve is emblazoned on the wall above the Elevators in flickering neon lights.
  915. >Anon checks his wrist for a moment then points to one of the elevator seemingly at random.
  916. >”There, that one can take us to the correct floor.” How he knows is beyond you.
  917. >Nodding you follow, as you get closer you see faded, nearly unreadable numbers written above each elevator door.
  918. >The one you are walking towards has a barely legible eighty dash one hundred printed above it.
  919. >The elevators to the left and right also both seem to service twenty floors. If that was correct and your guessing at the number of elevators was right this hab had around four hundred floors.
  920. >The elevator ride is slow and painful, the car regularly lurching worryingly.
  921. >Anon readies his gun in the elevator, giving you a nod as the car dings to a stop at floor eighty two.
  922. >The hallway smells of vomit and smoke, trash and grafiti litter the concrete halls
  923. >Anon begins striding down the hallway, gun at the ready
  924. >He pauses to check the number of each door before passing it, moving quickly and quietly past each door and resuming his stride.
  925. >Anon stops at door eighty two thirty and motions for you to do the same.
  926. >Pressing himself to the wall Anon readies his weapon and reaches into a pocket.
  927. >From his pocket he produces a small bead with a reflective black surface.
  928. >He places the bead onto the peephole in the middle of the door, Anon taps a command into his wrist with one hand.
  929. >The bead changes color until it becomes almost entirely invisible.
  930. >”Lets us see into the room, also makes them see what I want them to see” Anon explains seeing your confused look.
  931. >Anon steps in front of the door and raises his weapon.
  932. >”Be ready” Anon speaks through his mic “When that door opens I want you inside and finding cover.”
  933. >You nod, taking a runners stance.
  934. >”Two occupants, definitely the brothers. Kitchen is to the left, head there and I will cover you from the door.” Anon reaches out and knocks on the door.
  935. >”Delivery for a Mr. Brody.”
  936. >You hear footsteps approach the door and stop, followed by whispering.
  937. >”Who is it?” one voice, far from the door.
  938. >”Looks like a delivery guy, you order something?” This voice right behind the door.
  939. >”Nope, you?”
  940. >”Fuck no.”
  941. >”Then see what he wants and tell him to get lost”
  942. >The door begins to open and a man comes into sight. He is wearing a plain shirt and jeans, reeking of alcohol.
  943. >The door is barely halfway open when Anon fires, a bright blue bolt striking its target square in the chest.
  944. >The man goes down hard and the door swings wide. Bolting inside and break left into a small kitchen area, there is a counter separating the kitchen area and the room beyond.
  945. >Taking cover behind the counter you peer around and survey the remainder of the apartment.
  946.  
  947. >You catch a glance of the other occupant, he is deeper into the room and is scrambling for a weapon. As you formulate a plan of attack he opens up on Anon, bright red bolts flying towards the still open doorway doorway.
  948. >The man ducks as a blue bolt comes sailing his way, leaping to the side and behind a stained and ripped couch.
  949. >You creep closer to the couch from inside the kitchen, about to make a break for it when the man comes up from behind it wielding a shotgun.
  950. >He swings the long barrel around and luckily aims at the door, a thunderclap sounds as the gun discharges.
  951. >Fierce red light sprays towards the doorway and out into the hall, you hope none of it hit Anon.
  952. >Seeing the man distracted you take your chance. In one bound you cross the distance from the kitchen to the couch. Hopping around to the side you see the man kneeling behind his chosen cover, cocking the weapon for another shot.
  953. >Spreading your wings and taking a small bounding step you hurl yourself at your opponent.
  954. >He sees you too late and you hit him like a truck forcing him the ground. the shotgun skitters across the floor away from you and your target. The man lands hard on his chest, knocking the wind out of him. You take the opportunity to bound over and sit in the center of his back, fighting your instinct to retch at the awful mix of alcohol and body odor flooding off your target.
  955. >You press your talons into his shoulders and do your best to pin him, issuing a threatening grown.
  956. >Anon comes into view from around the door, crossing the gap between you in a quick walk.
  957. >Your target manages to get his hands under himself and is about to start pushing when Anon plants a stun round in the back of his head.
  958. >When the round connects the man goes limp and you get one hell of a shock through your unprepared back side, it hurts like hell.
  959. “Ow! Fuck that!”
  960. >”Yep, sorry.” Anon says, raising his gun and checking through the rest of the small apartment.
  961. >Satisfied with his search Anon returns, holstering his weapon.
  962. >”Well done again Selene. Good tackle.”
  963. >Pride swells within you at a job well done, thoughts of last night finally sliding away.
  964. >As you sit being pleased with yourself the collar on your neck gets just slightly lighter.
  965.  
  966. >A group from the Guild comes along with a pair of cryo tubes for the bounties.
  967. >You sit watching them work, tail flicking from side to side and a huge grin plastered on your face.
  968. >You and Anon escort the tubes back to the ship, your pizza is waiting there on the table somehow.
  969. >You devour the pizza in one sitting while Anon works, back to typing frantically on his keyboard.
  970. >Once you are done with the Pizza you do your best to follow Anon’s work.
  971. >It looks like he is researching your next target, then moves onto writing a report.
  972. >The report surprises you with the language Anon is using. He is referring to you as “my partner”, in addition he mentions you subduing the second subject.
  973. >He actually is giving you credit, that you did not expect.
  974. >Completing the report Anon returns the next target’s picture to the screen.
  975. >”Ok Selene, I know we just finished the last job but it’s time to get to work on our last target. I would rather spend as little time on Meridian as possible.”
  976. >”Besides, our hold is getting rather full” He turns to you with a grin.
  977. >”So, next target is…”
  978. “Anton Holt, AKA Magic Man, AKA The chemist.” You interject.
  979. >Anon’s mouth hangs open and slowly closes as you continue.
  980. “Wanted for multiple counts of narcotics production and distribution. Fled to Meridian three weeks ago.”
  981. >Anon stares for a moment.
  982. >”Huh, damn. You might be starting to not suck at this.” A smile starts to spread on Anon’s face.
  983. >”Ok Selene. You think you’re hot shit right now, call the play.”
  984. “Um...ok...well.” You think for a moment.
  985. “Well he has not been here long, so chances are he is still setting up his operation. That’s assuming he is getting back into dealing”
  986. >”A safe assumption” Anon nods.
  987. “Ok, so we can go find the local drug scene. Ask around and see if there is anything new in town, they could lead us right to him.
  988. >”Good plan. So how do we find the local druggies?”
  989.  
  990. >Thinking for another moment you reflect on where you have been on Meridian
  991. >The light bulb goes on again and a plan forms.
  992. “Ok, so no one knows your face but they know mine. I caused a scene at the club and you practically dragged me through the streets.”
  993. >Anon nods, he seems to be following but not seeing where you are taking this.
  994. “I am likely now known as the Hunter’s Griffon. We can use this to our advantage, I go asking around and I look like a rebellious slave in search of an escape.”
  995. >”Not bad at all.” Anon’s smile returns. “You are ok with essentially being bait?”
  996. “Yeah, no problem.” You answer with no hesitation.
  997. >”Ok then. I have some scouting to do and business at the Guild. Work up a character for yourself to play and we get working tomorrow.”
  998. >You nod as Anon rises and makes for the door, just before leaving the room he turns back to you.
  999. >”Hey, again damn fine work today. That was an excellent take down and you were very brave to take him one on one.” Anon secures his helmet once more.
  1000. >After Anon departs you split the rest of your day between researching the target and watching more movies.
  1001. >As the last movie ends you look at the time display on the screen. It well past late and Anon is still not back. With a sigh you shut down the screen and make for the crew quarters, wishing Anon was home.
  1002. >He is likely fine but you can’t help but worry about him.
  1003. >Crawling into bed settle in for the night, ears still listening for him to return. A now not so small part of you wishes you were back in that Guild room, in the bed where it was...warm.
  1004.  
  1005. >Your eyes slowly creak open the next morning. You think it odd that there is no Anon pounding on your door, so you groggily roll out of bed and pad over to the door.
  1006. >As it opens you find Anon with his fist right about to make contact with where the door should be. He is wearing his workout gear and towel as well as a surprised look.
  1007. >Seizing an opportunity to look badass you simply walk past him and out into the main room, getting your morning workout started in style.
  1008. >Over breakfast Anon goes over how he wants the plan to go today.
  1009. >”I am going to take you to the market, there is bound to be a dealer hanging around the edges somewhere.”
  1010. >You break off and do your thing once we get there. We will be in constant contact so don’t worry I will stay close by.” He taps his ear and then the sub-vocal mic on his neck.
  1011. >”If things get bad say the word ‘panic’ and I will be there. Work it into a sentence is the best idea.”
  1012. >Having dealt with the minutia Anon suits up and puts on your microphone. The walk to the market is uneventful, Anon still has his aura of personally space that the locals seem to give him.
  1013. >Arriving at the market you start to trail Anon slightly until you slip into the crowd as planned. Once away from Anon you start looking around the market for the right sort of person to get some drugs from.
  1014. >Several minutes of searching yields promising results, a man dressed in slightly ratty clothing leaning on a post in between a pair of market stalls.
  1015. >Approaching slowly so as not to startle the man you get his attention.
  1016. “Hey, question for you.”
  1017. >The man looks around then down slightly to find you
  1018.  
  1019. >”Yo ace, what you want”
  1020. “I’m looking for some product, thought you might be able to hook me up.”
  1021. >”Product..what the fuck you…” the man looks confused.
  1022. >”Wait, nah I know you. I saw you with that badge yesterday. I don’t know shit, can’t help ya.”
  1023. “What, oh yea, him. Fuck that man, come on hook me up I need something”
  1024. >”I said I can’t help you, I know nothing and I certainly don’t want to talk to the Guild” Annoyance crosses the man’s face.
  1025. “I’m not with the guild.” You point to your collar
  1026. “That asshole owns me. Think I would help him any more than I have to? fuck that” You continue with a mock look of disgust.
  1027. >Suspicion crosses the man’s face and he says nothing.
  1028. “Look, I caused a scene at Pulse the other day. He dragged me back to Guild HQ and beat the shit out of me ok.”
  1029. “I’m just looking for something to take the edge off alright”
  1030. >The man nods a couple times.
  1031. >”Ok ace. I hear ya, got no love for the Hunters. What you lookin for then?” He relaxes substantially.
  1032. “Something new. I have tried a lot to try and get myself away from him, want to try something new this time”
  1033. >”I don’t know what u had in the past so what you mean new?”
  1034. “Never been to Meridian before, what’s new around here?”
  1035. >”Ah, I got you. Aight here’s the deal, new producer just moved into town, The Chemist, real good stuff. Hab block nineteen room thirteen twenty. Knock and say why you there, should be good for him.”
  1036. “Hey thanks man, shit I should go he might be looking for me.”
  1037. >”No problem ace, anything to stick it to a badge.
  1038. “Yo, am I walking into a party with this Chemist guy? Would rather not have a ton of people see me there, boss might get ideas”
  1039. >”Nah you should be fine, guy lives alone, likes to do business one on one.”
  1040. >With a nod you leave the man to his post and disappear into the crowd.
  1041.  
  1042. >You meet back up with Anon and make your way to the train station, going over the details with him.
  1043. >The ride to hab block nineteen is long, Anon speaks up about half way through.
  1044. >”You ok? ready to go?” He asks over sub-vocal.
  1045. “Yea, just like yesterday right.”
  1046. >”Let’s hope so” He replies.
  1047. >When the train stops the platform you step onto is markedly more run down than hab block two.
  1048. >Several of the elevators are out of order but floor thirteen seems to still have service.
  1049. >Anon seems on edge in the elevator checking his weapon over and over.
  1050. >The hallway of floor thirteen is a mess, trash everywhere and several broken down doors litter the floor.
  1051. >You pick your way through the detritus and find room twenty, the stench of chemicals permeates nearly the entire level.
  1052. >The door looks to be made of much sterner stuff than the others in the hall.
  1053. >”Not good.” Anon comments “No peep hole, steel door.”
  1054. >”I can’t get a reading past the door or walls, you hear anything?”
  1055. >Listening as hard as you can all you hear is the ventilation system running.
  1056. “Nothing. No problem though, the guy said he lives alone.”
  1057. >Before Anon can object you knock on the door, a cry of response comes from inside the door.
  1058. >”Who is it and what do you want?! I’m Busy”
  1059. “I’m here to buy.” You call back.
  1060. >Anon takes a position to the right of the door and points you at the left side.
  1061. >On one hand, taking cover is a good idea. On the other Anon is going to get this guy just like he did the one brother yesterday.
  1062. >The door makes an audible click and Anon trains his gun on the door. No way are you letting him hog all the glory for this job, besides if you get this guy all on your own you get a gun.
  1063. >With this in mind you dart out from cover to the front of the door, readying your sprinter's stance again.
  1064.  
  1065. >The door begins to open and Anon’s gun comes up as he attempts to grab for you.
  1066. >”Selene! No!” He hisses into the sub-vocal mic.
  1067. >Too late, your wings were half spread and ready to push. The door opens fully and you see a man four feet inside the door.
  1068. >With a push of wing and spring of leg you launch yourself at your target, just as you had done yesterday.
  1069.  
  1070. >Unlike yesterday, your target today is ready. Just as you are about to reach him your target slams you with a fist to the side of the head.
  1071. >You fall to the ground with a thud, behind you the door slams closed with a bang.
  1072. >Regaining your feet you see a man behind you holding the door shut, Anon seems to be pounding on the door trying to get in.
  1073. >You turn back to your target just in time to see the butt of his gun descending before your world goes black.
  1074. >Regaining consciousness is a painful process this time. Your head is pounding and light burns your eyes as you try to open them. The room smells of chemicals that burn your nose and mouth as you breathe.
  1075. >Once the ringing in your ears subsides you can hear multiple voices speaking.
  1076. >”Look boss, she’s coming to” A voice to your left.
  1077. >Opening your eyes a second time you get a good look at the room. It is a single room apartment but is fairly large for being so. It looks like a wall got taken down to merge this and an adjacent room.
  1078. >You count five men in the room with you including The Chemist. One is sitting behind the door on a stool with an ear pressed to the door.
  1079. >There are tables set up all over the space containing various chemical containers and processing equipment.
  1080. >Then you see where you are, on the rooms only bed. You are tied spread eagle, a rope attached to each limb and stretched taught to the end of the bed and anchored somewhere you can’t see.
  1081. >Testing the ropes you find them to be hard and unyielding. Your train of thought is brought to a stop by Holt walking over into your view.
  1082. >Holt is a big man, tall and with a lot of muscle, at least half again as large as the Brody brother that you tackled. Trying to take this guy down solo was a mistake.
  1083. >He stands there grinning at you for a moment before opening his mouth.
  1084.  
  1085. >”What do we have here, a Hunter’s pet. And a cute one too.” His voice is smooth but somehow just a bit off sounding, listening to him is downright eerie.
  1086. >”Now tell me little bird, what was the plan here. Were you going to storm the castle just the two of you? If so I dare say you made a slight miscalculation.” His hands seem to be clasped behind his back as he paces back and forth in front of you.
  1087. >”Do you know what we do with Hunters and their pets around here?” Holt gets right up in your face and runs a hand softly down the back of your neck.
  1088. >You snap out with your beak as he touches you causing him to take a step back
  1089. “Don’t touch me you filth.” You snarl.
  1090. >Holt raises his arm and strikes your face with the back of his hand.
  1091. >”You do not get to speak slave!” He roars in your face.
  1092. “Anon is going to fucking kill you asshole!”
  1093. >The entire apartment fills with the laughter of Holt and his crew.
  1094. >”That fucker left a couple minutes after you went down you dumb bitch.” The man at the door yells across the room
  1095. >”He’s not coming back for you, prolly half way to the slave market already!”
  1096. >With a snap of his fingers and a command in a language you don’t understand one of Holt’s lackeys comes over with a roll of tape. It takes them several tries but they get your beak taped shut.
  1097. >”Now, where was I?” Holt resumes pacing
  1098. >”Ah yes, Hunters and their pets. We don’t take kindly to them interfering in our business.”
  1099. >”So i’m going to teach you and your Hunter friends a lesson.” Holt reveals that his right hand was holding onto some sort of straight blade.
  1100. >He gets up really close to you again, the smell of chemicals and alcohol is unbearable.
  1101. >”You got some nice wings here girl. I think they would look great mounted right above my bed here” He taps the wall for emphasis while his other hand runs lazily over your left wing.
  1102. >Shaking your head as the tears start to flow.
  1103.  
  1104. >”So, after I get my trophy me and the boys figure we are going to have some fun with you.” Holt continues “Not often we get a pretty lady visiting us here.”
  1105. >”Then we box you up and ship you off to the Guild. Hope you don’t mind, we lack a box of sufficient size for you...so we are going to have to do it in multiple pieces.”
  1106. >”But first let’s get started on my trophy.”
  1107. >Holt tries to open your left wing but you hold it tight to you.
  1108. >”Now listen here girl, you give me that wing or I start taking other things first. Bet talons would hurt real good.” Frustration tinges his voice.
  1109. >Still you resist, shaking your head as tears flow down your face. You can’t believe that Anon would leave you like this.
  1110. >”He’s not coming back for you, so save a bit of pain for yourself and open up like a good girl.” As if he can hear your thoughts Holt continues.
  1111. >How could he leave after all this, because he could not get through the…
  1112. >”NOW GIRL!”
  1113. >Holt’s yell startles you and your wing snaps out to his command. Holt catches the tip so that you can’t retract it.
  1114. >He touches a button on the hilt of the blade and the edges begin to glow with heat.
  1115. >As Holt sizes up your wing and where best to cut it, a clear voice cuts through the fog in your head.
  1116. >”Close your eyes and ears if you can. Hold on Selene.”
  1117. >You jam your eyes shut as hard as you can and a second later there is a flash so bright that you can see it through your clamped eyelids.
  1118. >A sound like a gunshot comes from somewhere to your left and leaves your ears ringing.
  1119.  
  1120. >Opening your eyes to see what the flash was you see a half food wide hole bored straight through the front door, the edges still red hot from the passing of some unknown object.
  1121. >Everyone else in the room is either rubbing their eyes or holding their ears.
  1122. >Then all hell breaks loose as the door is blown off its hinges and flies inward at the speed of a subway train.
  1123. >The man sitting behind the door is carried across the room by the flying door and impacts the wall with a spray of blood. The door squishes the man into paste against the wall.
  1124. >Then Anon calmly walks through the door, gun raised. He aims at the nearest goon and fires, a bolt of red light striking the man in the forehead and exploding out the other side.
  1125. >Switching target Anon plants another round into the next man in his way. The shot knocks the man off his feet, throwing him to the ground as his brains erupt out of the back of his head.
  1126. >A third henchman quickly follows the first two. By this point Holt is regaining some of his senses.
  1127. >The ringing in your ears stops just in time for Anon to fire a pair of red bolts at Holt.
  1128. >To your surprise they strike him in the knees, sending him spiraling to the floor.
  1129. >Anon calmly walks over to where Holt is trying to crawl away, screaming in agony. Anon plants an armored boot onto Holt’s back and aims.
  1130. >This time there is no mistaking that the gun is pointed at Holt’s head.
  1131. >But Anon waivers for a second, gun visibly shaking.
  1132. >Then with one swift movement Anon plants a round in each of Holt’s shoulders.
  1133. >”Don’t fuck with the Hunters Guild.” Anon raises his gun once more, flicking a switch on the handle of the weapon. A blue bolt strikes Holt in the back and puts an end to the screaming.
  1134.  
  1135. >Anon carefully removes the tape around your beak then begins quickly untying the rope.
  1136. >Once free Anon pulls you up to sitting on the bed while he takes a seat in front of you.
  1137. >He opens his mouth to speak, but you beat him to it.
  1138. “You asshole! You left me here with him! How could you abandon me like that!” Your voice is ragged with crying, tears pouring down your face.
  1139. >You ball your talons into fists and start punching Anon in the chest, hard.
  1140. >With each punch you scream another obscenity at him, but Anon does not move. He makes not move to stop you or even to get out of the way, he simply takes the beating.
  1141. >Finally you run out of curses and energy, slumping into Anon he draws you in with both arms.
  1142. >Cradling you on his lap and encircling you with his arms Anon begins to rock back and forth.
  1143. >”Shhhh its going to be alright” He whispers in your ear.
  1144. >All you can manage to get out between sobs is a pitiful sorry.
  1145. >For the second time in three days you cry your eyes out in Anon’s arms.
  1146.  
  1147. >So Anon holds you, curled into a ball in his lap while you cry it all out. Just the two of you in your own little world together, nothing else mattered.
  1148. >It must have been an odd sight amidst the broken apartment and dead bodies.
  1149. >Your mind was racing from one thought to the next, the panic of moments past still not faded.
  1150. >Why had Anon left you? How could you have done something so stupid? Will you be disciplined?
  1151. >Did Anon come back for his partner or his property?
  1152. >That last question sticks in your head and refuses to leave.
  1153. >Soon the room is swarming with Guild personnel, they begin removing the bodies and casing up the bounty.
  1154. >Another Hunter enters the room, taking a look around the room they approach you and Anon.
  1155. >They are wearing the same type of armor but this new Hunter’s armor appears to be tailored for a woman.
  1156. >As she arrives at the bed she reaches out and touches Anon lightly on the shoulder.
  1157. >”Anon, you ready to go?” She speaks quietly but with a voice like crystal.
  1158. >Anon nods and lifts you up into his arms as he dismounts the bed, the other Hunter falling into step just behind Anon’s right shoulder.
  1159. >Anon carries you out of the apartment and down the hallway, leaving the horrible scene behind.
  1160. >Reaching the elevator the other Hunter hits a button and the car begins to move.
  1161. >As the door closes the Other hunter pulls her helmet off, revealing a woman with striking blue eyes and buzzed short hair.
  1162. >”Selene right, how are you feeling?” She says bringing her head over to your eye level.
  1163. >You give her a nod and weak smile, the light smell of a fruity perfume wafts off her.
  1164. >”Hey Kate, thanks for the backup” Anon nods to Kate.
  1165. >”No problem, always for another Guild member.” Kate responds, her voice just a bit bittersweet as she looks at you with concern.
  1166. >The elevator nears the bottom floor and Kate puts her helmet back on and draws her weapon.
  1167. >”You ready?” Kate looks at Anon while cocking her gun.
  1168.  
  1169. >Anon nods in response, you look between them, not quite sure what is going on.
  1170. “I think I can walk the rest of the way” You look between your two companions.
  1171. >”Not happening, sit tight” Anon answers.
  1172. >The door dings open and your trio walks briskly to the subway station. Anon usually produces a bubble of personal space here on Meridian, the three of you together manage to get most of a subway car.
  1173. >The subway ride is made in complete silence, the few occupants that the train does have all move as little as possible their eyes locked on Kate’s gun.
  1174. >Exiting the train you walk in silence through the market district towards the spaceport.
  1175. >Time in the market district seems to come to a stop, as soon as anyone catches sight of your group they move out of the way and watch your passing.
  1176. >A thousand faces watch your passing in utter silence, none daring to get too close.
  1177. >Reaching the spaceport you quickly board the Falcon.
  1178. >Anon sets you down on the couch before stalking over to his room, tearing his helmet off as he goes.
  1179. >Kate removes her helmet and sets it aside in the kitchen.
  1180. >”Do you want anything Selene?” She asks looking back at you “Water? a snack?”
  1181. >You shake your head and manage to croak out a “No thanks”
  1182. >Kate walks over to stand in front of you, tapping at her wrist unit as she goes.
  1183. >With a flick of her fingers a picture appears on the screen opposite you.
  1184. >”Now I know this is going to be hard on you Selene, but I need you to be a trooper for me on this one alight.” Kate’s tone is gentle and reassuring, her pleasant perfume wafting your way again.
  1185. >”Is this the man who you contacted for your target’s location?” Kate points at the screen.
  1186. >After a moment's examination you see that it is indeed the dealer from earlier.
  1187. >A muffled yell comes from Anon’s room followed by a slamming noise. Kate does her best to ignore the noise, but a twinge of sadness crosses her face.
  1188.  
  1189. >You re-center your vision on the screen one last time, nodding to Kate.
  1190. >”Good, you are doing really great ok. Anon is going to take care of you.” With that Kate returns to the kitchen to retrieve her helmet.
  1191. >Kate then vanishes out the aft door of the room leaving you alone and in silence once more.
  1192. >Motioning to the screen you clear off the picture, not wanting to look at that face anymore today.
  1193. >With nothing more to do and no sights to take in exhaustion takes hold.
  1194. >You quickly drift off to sleep right on the couch, curling into a tight ball for safety and warmth.
  1195. >You find yourself flying free once more, mountains all around you.
  1196. >Looking to your left and right you see familiar faces, your old flight squad from during the war.
  1197. >Taking a moment to feel the wind under your wings and the scents of flying you close your eyes.
  1198. >Your thoughts brought to an abrupt halt by a lance of searing pain erupting into your chest.
  1199. >You begin to plummet towards the ground below, none of your muscles seeming to react the way you are begging them to.
  1200. >You catch a glimpse of the human military squad on the ground below just before you make impact.
  1201. >The hard landing spreads you out and knocks the wind out of you, you wheeze and puff trying desperately to fill your lungs.
  1202. >You try to rise to your feet but find your legs bound and left wing held. Looking up you see the face of Holt staring back at you, his wicked looking blade glowing.
  1203. >The blade begins to descend as you start screaming.
  1204. >You wake up thrashing, arms and wings flailing violently. You are in your bunk in the crew quarters, Anon is there wrapping his arms around you.
  1205. >”Shhh shhh, it was just a dream. Relax Selene, you are safe now.” Anon’s voice is calm and neutral.
  1206. >Anon holds you for some time as you calm down from the frightful dream.
  1207. >With a sigh Anon breaks the silence. “Ok you, come here.”
  1208.  
  1209. >Anon hefts you back into his arms and carries you out of the crew quarters.
  1210. >To your surprise he carries you into his room, laying you down on the bed.
  1211. >Anon climbs into the bed behind you, pulling you into his chest.
  1212. >You could really get used to the feeling of his warm chest against you.
  1213. >His warm...bare...che...nope can’t go there again, don’t make it awkward.
  1214. “Why did you leave” You ask barely in a whisper.
  1215. >”Had to go get something to get through the door with.” Anon answers.
  1216. “Guess it was foolish of me to go charging in there.”
  1217. >”What is past is past, all we can do is deal with the present. Live and learn” Anon starts to pat the back of your neck.
  1218. >You lay there for some time just enjoying the moment.
  1219. “Anon. Did you come back for me or for your property?” You have to ask the question for fear of it eating you up inside forever.
  1220. >Anon does not answer for a long moment.
  1221. >”I have invested way more than simple money in you. I came back because I have your back, just as you have had my back on all of our jobs.”
  1222. >Satisfied at having gotten an answer you once again allow yourself to drift off to sleep.
  1223.  
  1224. >The next morning comes all too soon, you are woken by Anon climbing out of bed. Anon pulls on a shirt while you roll off the bed yourself.
  1225. >Looking around the room with the light on you find it to be fairly sparse. The bed is large, taking up most of the room.
  1226. >Under the bed are a series of drawers that likely contain clothing.
  1227. >The room's only other features reside on the wall opposite the bed.
  1228. >One is a wall of assorted guns, several are in the modern style that you were used to but the majority were of older looking design.
  1229. >You recognize the sidearm that Anon carries on hunts, above it hangs a large rifle and a compact rifle of some sort. You can’t begin to guess at the age of the other designs.
  1230. >Below the weapon wall is a counter with a set of drawers.
  1231. >The next wall panel to the right has a small assortment of photos pinned to it.
  1232. >You step over to the pictures and start examining them, many contain Anon in various locations usually with various groups of people.
  1233. >Anon gives you a pat on the head, he has donned his workout outfit.
  1234. >After workout and breakfast Anon heads back to his room, returning a few moments later in full armor.
  1235. >”I have some work to take care of, Kate will be by soon. She will take care of you for today.” Anon says briefly before leaving.
  1236. >Not sure what is going on today you decide to do what you do every day and just roll with it.
  1237. >You flick on the TV and settle in for the day.
  1238.  
  1239. >After about an hour the door swishes open and Kate strides in, a bounce in her step.
  1240. >”Hey Selene. How are you today?” She says in a cheery voice.
  1241. “Hello Kate. I’m ok.” you answer noncommittally.
  1242. >Kate drops down onto the couch beside you, setting her helmet on the floor nearby.
  1243. >The two of you sit watching TV in silence for some time.
  1244. “So, why are you here exactly?” You finally ask, turning to look at Kate.
  1245. >”Anon asked me to come keep an eye on you for a while. He has some business to take care of and thought you should not be alone today.” Kate answers in a matter of fact manner.
  1246. “What, he thinks I can’t handle myself alone?” Irritation rising in your voice.
  1247. >”No, it’s likely that he does not want you alone after what happened yesterday” Kate says with a warm smile
  1248. >”Now I don’t think you need someone here myself. You are a big girl and you can take care of yourself. Anon’s just worried, that’s all.” Kate pats you on the head, smile broadening.
  1249. >You return her smile, both of you return to watching TV for the time being.
  1250. “So Kate, how do you know Anon?” The thought crosses your mind and mouth at nearly the same moment.
  1251. >”Anon and I go way back.” Kate’s smile returns. “We met during training. Worked a few jobs together after that as well.”
  1252. “What was he like back then?”
  1253. >”Same as now, bit angrier though.” Kate takes a moment to answer. “He was good though, military background and all. Some of us did not have that going in, he had it easy.”
  1254. >”So! How are you liking working with the Guild?”
  1255. “I don’t work for the Guild, Anon owns me.” You deadpan, giving Kate a flat look.
  1256. >”Oh...right, sorry” Kate gives you an apologetic look.
  1257. >”But still, how do you like the life?”
  1258. “It’s not bad. Interesting, fast paced, and never a dull moment. Dangerous though.”
  1259.  
  1260. >”Ha! The life is not always like that. Anon is just crazy, takes jobs like a machine.” Kate gives a harsh laugh.
  1261. >”He is also fortunate enough to know how to drive a ship like this”
  1262. “So you don’t have a ship?” You ask.
  1263. >”No, I do, just have to hire a pilot.” Kate answers.
  1264. >A few moments pass before Kate speaks again.
  1265. >”You know there are a lot of reasons Anon picked you up right.” She says catching your eye.
  1266. >”Anon never does anything without a reason, a decision that big certainly had multiple. You help him on jobs sure but I bet it gets pretty lonely out here with a ship all to your own.”
  1267. >You had never given that much thought.
  1268. “So why were you asking me about the drug dealer I met?”
  1269. >Kate’s expression turns grim as you ask.
  1270. >”Well...I...Anon would not want you to know right now, but I think you have a right to know.”
  1271. >Kate flicks a picture from her wrist screen up onto the wall screen. It is a shot of the elevator leading to the Guild office.
  1272. >On the wall between the Guild sign and the elevator door a man was hanging.
  1273. >He appeared to be secured in place by his shoulders, a gunshot wound on his forehead.
  1274. >Around his neck was a simple white sign, it read “Maliciously endangering a Guild member’s life, Lying to a Guild member”
  1275. >You had seen the face twice before, but you were not soon going to forget that particular drug dealer.
  1276.  
  1277. >Anon returns late that night, you and Kate had spent the day relaxing and chatting. Kate had told stories of her more interesting hunts and you had shared a bit about your homeland.
  1278. >Kate had also shown you how her weapon worked, stripping it and showing you every last piece and hot it fit into the gun.
  1279. >”Evening Kate, Selene” Anon says entering the room.
  1280. >He sets his helmet on the counter and lets out a weary sigh.
  1281. >”Hey Anon” Kate barely looks up from her wrist display.
  1282. >”Selene, we are getting off this rock. Time to head back to HQ.” Anon says making for the cockpit.
  1283. >You get up and follow as does Kate.
  1284. >”Hey Anon” Kate begins in a singsong tone “So, my mechanic said my ship needed work done so my crew took it back to HQ...so I was wondering if…”
  1285. >”You know where the crew quarters are, stop bugging me while I get us out of this hellhole” Anon replies curtly.
  1286. >Kate retreats from the cockpit as both you and Anon take your seats.
  1287. “So what do we do at HQ?” You ask as you settle in.
  1288. >”I have some paperwork to handle as well as turning in our bounties.” Anon is furiously tapping at his controls, starting the ship up and prepping for launch.
  1289. “But we aren’t full. We have one cryo pod still open.” You check the math in your head again and arrive at the same result.
  1290. >”It is full as of today.” Anon does not look up from his work as he answers.
  1291. “You went on a hunt without me?!” Anger and disbelief battle for control of your voice.
  1292. >”Of course I did! After what happened yesterday I was not taking you back out so soon. You aren’t ready for another hunt.” Anon roars, turning his full attention to you.
  1293. >”Was likely a mistake taking you on hunts so far.” Anon mutters as he returns to his work.
  1294. >”I did what I had to do to get us off this rock as soon as possible.”
  1295. >Several minutes pass in silence as what Anon said sinks in.
  1296. >Anon slowly guides the ship out of the docking bay and back out to the stars.
  1297. >”So, do you feel up for talking about yesterday?” Anon asks.
  1298. “I guess we can, if you want.” You answer with a bit of trepidation.
  1299. >”Did they hurt you?”
  1300. “Holt hit me once, but aside from that no.” So far so good.
  1301. >”Good. Now kindly tell me what the fuck you were thinking.” Anger begins to seep into his voice.
  1302.  
  1303. “I…” You sigh “I wanted the Hunt to be mine. Completely mine. The plan was mine, and I wanted the capture to be mine too.”
  1304. >”You got too caught up in my promise to get you a gun. I knew this would happen.” Anon pinches the bridge of his nose.
  1305. “I’m sorry, I just want to help…”
  1306. >”You ignored a direct order!” Anon thunders cutting you off.
  1307. >”I told you to stay put and you rushed in there and nearly got killed! I trusted you to listen to my orders and cover my back, pulling a stunt like that makes you a liability!” Fury evident in his voice and on his face.
  1308. “Are you afraid that I’m going to get you killed or that someone will damage your property?!” Lacing the question with as much venom and fury of your own as you can muster.
  1309. >”I’m worried about you getting yourself hurt or killed with a stunt like that. And yes if you want to make it an issue about that I have invested a lot in you.” Anon points an accusing finger at you.
  1310. “That’s all you ever cared about, an investment to bring you more bounties!” Tears of rage start to well in your eyes.
  1311. >”I wanted a partner to watch my back and go where I can’t. I have invested a lot of money, time and effort in you and I genuinely thought you were starting to understand that!!” Anon counts off on his fingers. So fine! If you want to make this an issue about that damn collar around your neck then get the fuck out of my cockpit!” Anon points to the door.
  1312. >You are frozen in shock, you have never seen Anon this mad.
  1313. >”Get moving dammit! Slaves are not allowed in the cockpit!” Anon’s fury seems to be growing.
  1314. >Snapping out of your stupor you drop out of the chair and head for the door. You make for the crew quarters and your bed, thoughts swirling in your head. Did you just fuck up the best time you have had since your enslavement?
  1315. >What would Anon bring you hunting anymore or would he sell you back to the slavers?
  1316.  
  1317. >As you climb in bed you see Kate resting in one of the other bunks, apparently already asleep.
  1318. >Sleep eludes you for some time as you toss and turn, your thoughts giving you no peace.
  1319. >A restless sleep finally finds you, but your dreams are unpleasant at best.
  1320. >You are in the middle of a dream in which Anon is selling you back to the slave market when a banging interrupts your sleep.
  1321. >Anon is hammering on the door again as morning seems to have come far earlier than you want.
  1322. >”Ladies, wake up!”
  1323. >You roll out of bed and stretch, Kate seems to be doing the same but with more grumbling.
  1324. >”Fucking monster, we aren’t in training anymore, no need to wake up like this.”
  1325. >Kate starts fussing with her bag stashed on the bunk below her as you cautiously exit the room.
  1326. >Anon is the main room laying out the exercise gear.
  1327. >”Morning Selene. I wanted to talk about last night.”
  1328. >You nod in apprehension of what might happen next.
  1329. >”I am sorry for what I said last night. I was very angry and honestly not thinking clearly.”
  1330. >You can hardly believe what you are hearing.
  1331. >”The slave comment was out of line, you have been trustworthy and supremely helpful so far. One mistake does not wash away all that good work.” Anon finishes laying out the workout gear and turns to you.
  1332. >”That being said, you didn’t follow a direct order. For that you deserve a correction, but I think that last night as well as the result of the mistake are penance enough.”
  1333. >Your jaw starts to hang just a bit open, not quite believing what was happening.
  1334. >”Now, I too am partially at fault for what happened. You lack the proper training to be out here in the field, so over the next few weeks it will be my job to fix that.”
  1335. >You stand in disbelief for a moment as Anon starts his warm-up routine.
  1336. >”What are you waiting for, get stretching!” Anon barks snapping you out of reverie.
  1337.  
  1338. >Kate emerges from the crew quarters wearing a sports bra and athletic pants.
  1339. >”You are such a goddam task master you know that.” Kate takes a spot to your left and starts a warm-up of her own.
  1340. >”Its how I keep in shape and keep my numbers up.” Anon’s response sounds neutral but there is a well hidden playful tone underneath.
  1341. >”You do this every morning don’t you, not just when you have guests to guilt into working out too.” Kate quips back as she begins a set of push-ups.
  1342. >”Every morning.” Anon confirms flatly.
  1343. >”And how the hell do they not have you teaching at the academy?” Kate’s tone turns to sarcasm.
  1344. >”I make way too much money out here to put behind a desk.” Anon’s flat responses only seem to anger Kate further.
  1345. >”Oh I will fuck you up!”
  1346. >”Don’t write checks you can’t cash.” Anon rolls over from push-ups into sit-ups.
  1347. >”Asshole”
  1348. >The banter continues through the entire workout and well into breakfast.
  1349. >After breakfast Kate motions you over to the table, sitting next to her she produces her sidearm and places it on the table.
  1350. >Carefully Kate disassembles the weapon showing you every piece and function as she does so.
  1351. >She reassembles the weapon with the same care before sliding it over in front of you.
  1352. >”Now it’s your turn. I will walk you through it the first couple times but after that I want you to try it solo.”
  1353. >After disassembling and reassembling the weapon for the first time Kate makes the point of the exercise clear.
  1354. >”Good, now again. You will be doing this all morning for the next three days, until we reach HQ. By the time we get there I bet you will be able to do it in a couple seconds.” Kate pats you on the back with a smile.
  1355.  
  1356. >When you finish assembling the device for what must be the fiftieth time Anon motions for you and Kate to join him out from behind the table.
  1357. >”Next lesson is hand-to-hand combat. Sometimes we need to get up close and personal with a target or they choose to do so to us. You need to learn how to defend yourself in that situation.” Anon rolls out a large foam mat onto the floor.
  1358. >”Now I can’t teach you any advanced techniques because they are all designed for a human, but what I can do is show you how humans fight. Learn from how we fight and use it to your advantage” Anon motions for Kate and she joins him on the mat.
  1359. >They both don padded gloves and mouth guards as they step onto the mat.
  1360. >Anon reaches out a gloved fist which Kate promptly taps with her fist.
  1361. >The two start circling each other on the mat for a moment, then suddenly and violently collide.
  1362. >As the fight progresses you start to see styles and patterns emerge in the two fighters.
  1363. >Anon has a very strike oriented style, preferring to use his longer legs and arms to keep Kate at a distance.
  1364. >Kate on the other hand has a style that seems to favor close in fighting, using her opponents momentum and energy to her advantage.
  1365. >Several times Kate grabs a strike and diverts the energy, sending Anon spiraling to the mat.
  1366. >But each time she does Anon uses his superior striking and reach to buy himself a moment to flip back onto his feet.
  1367. >After several grueling minutes of fighting both fighters extend a glove and tap, dropping their guard and stepping off the mat.
  1368. >”Ok kid, so you will never have a mass or size advantage on a human you are tracking.” Kate steps over to the table, discarding the gloves and mouth-guard.
  1369.  
  1370.  
  1371. >”Your best bet is a style like mine. Redirect what force they throw your way and try and throw them off balance. Go for the legs, humans are nowhere near as stable on two legs as you are on four.” Kate points to the various joints in her legs and indicates how to fold them with force.
  1372. >”Once they are on the ground you have the advantage. Also you have those nice talons, don’t be afraid to use those.” Kate pats you on the shoulder and heads off towards the shower.
  1373. >Anon takes a seat next to you on the couch.
  1374. >”Now I know watching can’t teach you everything and you will eventually need practice. Once we get to HQ I can set you up with a sparing partner closer to your skill.” Anon starts tapping on the holo-keyboard and the screen on the wall comes to life.
  1375. >You nod, trying to absorb all this new information.
  1376. >”For the rest of the day you will be learning about terrain and environments as they relate to firefights.” A series of images resolve on the screen as Anon starts his lecture.
  1377. >And so the next two days continue much as this one had, training learning and exercise.
  1378. >Day two Kate shows you some of the moves she uses in slow motion so you can see how it all works when it’s not a blur of action.
  1379. >By day three you are formulating your own movements and how to take advantage of strikes humans will likely use on you.
  1380. >On the third night you and Kate are relaxing with the tv on while Anon makes dinner.
  1381. “So where is this HQ place that we are going?” You ask, glancing at Kate inquisitively.
  1382. >”Centaron Seven. It’s where the Guild’s main office is as well as the Guild Academy.” Kate turns to you and ruffles your head feathers.
  1383. >”It’s also where we turn in bounties most of the time. Sometimes they go to the actual customer, but mostly we let the Guild handle that.” Kate’s gaze returns to the TV.
  1384.  
  1385. >The next morning you wake up before the banging starts, rolling out of bed you head out into the main room.
  1386. >Anon seems not to be up yet, though if you are awake he is certainly not far behind.
  1387. >Groggily you start your morning routine of stretches and exercises.
  1388. >Anon steps out of his room as you begin your first set up wingtip push-ups, he is dressed in his armor and is carrying his helmet.
  1389. >He motions for you and heads for the cockpit.
  1390. >Silently you follow Anon and take your normal seat, staring at the star field floating slowly by.
  1391. >Anon taps some controls and the slow moving field of stars slows and becomes so many static dots.
  1392. >A planet rushes up to meet you from a tiny speck to dominate most of the window.
  1393. >The world in front of you is a blue green marble from pole to pole among the black field of stars.
  1394. >”Centaron Seven, gorgeous world from space. They do their best to keep the place nice.” Anon nods, looking longingly at the world ahead.
  1395. “Wow, I can see why the Guild built HQ here.” You have to admit that even from orbit the place looks nice.
  1396. >“No, they chose this place for the price not the view. It was one of the cheapest places to build HQ.” Anon shakes his head.
  1397. >”Without the Guild this place would be a backwater. It is out of the way, not near any major space lanes.” Anon guides the ship into the atmosphere.
  1398.  
  1399. >Soon the ship is gliding over low fields of grass and sparkling blue rivers. You can make out the odd settlement here and there along the landscape, suddenly up rises a city from the plains.
  1400. >The towers of the city made of gleaming steel and glass that reflect the bright mid-day sun.
  1401. >The city seems to only stretch for a couple of miles in any given direction but where it does reach seems to be built high.
  1402. >As you approach the city Kate walks into the cockpit and slumps down into the other forward facing chair.
  1403. >”Capital City. The one dot of true civilization on the entire planet.” She says turning to you.
  1404. >”I was born down there. Grew up on those streets.” She remarks returning her gaze to the city below, a hint of sadness touching her eyes and tone.
  1405. >A massive tower looms over the rest of the city, sitting just north of the city it rises at least twice the height of the next tallest building.
  1406. >The top of the building is dominated by a huge emblem of the Guild, and the sun reflects off a thousand windows.
  1407. >Flying over the city and past the tower you get a good look at the thousands of people inhabiting the place, they look like ants from up here.
  1408. >The ship glides around the back of the Guild tower to reveal a spaceport tucked in tight against the structure.
  1409. >The spaceport is humming with activity, ships and transports flying to and fro like insects around a nest.
  1410. >Anon seems to be following a holographic flight path laid out on the screen in front of him.
  1411.  
  1412. >Setting the ship gently down onto an indicated pad Anon starts to flick the keys to power down the ship, suddenly the whole world shifts.
  1413. >The ground around the ship starts rising and shifting, then you see that it is you that is moving.
  1414. >The pad the ship landed on slides gracefully down into the ground and into a massive hollow space of machinery.
  1415. >Shifting backwards the pad slides into an alcove along one wall, countless other alcoves dot the opposite wall.
  1416. >When the ship finally stops moving Anon rises and heads aft.
  1417. >Following him you see Kate duck into the crew quarters and return with her duffle bag of clothes and supplies.
  1418. >Anon checks each cryo tank in the cargo hold before opening the aft hatch. The hatch opens into a wide hallway and a crew of Guild workers await outside the door with carts in tow.
  1419. >”All pods to processing please.” Anon nods curtly to the crew who slide past your group and begin disconnecting the cryo pods.
  1420. >The three of you step out of the ship and turn left down the hallway towards an elevator door at the end.
  1421. >Anon jabs the elevator button and turns to you, “We have a meeting with the Guild Master, he is waiting for us now”
  1422. >Kate lets out a low whistle, “Who did you piss off this time Anon?”
  1423. >Anon ignores her comment and steps into the recently arrived elevator.
  1424. >He and Kate both tap different buttons and the elevator begins to rise.
  1425. >The ride up is silent and Kate’s stop arrives first, she steps out of the elevator with a bounce in her step.
  1426. >”Well you two, hope to see you both again soon.” Kate spins on a heel to come back facing the elevator.
  1427. >She snaps her heels together and salutes the pair of you “Good hunting and fair skies Anon.”
  1428.  
  1429. >Anon nods as the doors close again. You check the button and see that you have many floors to ascend yet.
  1430. >A thought begins nagging at your conscious and ends up slipping out.
  1431. “So wait, you said *we* have a meeting with the Guild Master. Don’t you mean you have a meeting?”
  1432. >”No, we have a meeting. The Guild Master wants to meet you.” Anon turns and looks at you as he attaches his helmet to the back of his armor.
  1433. “Why does he want to meet me?!” Surprise evident on your face.
  1434. >”You're the first of your kind to work for the Guild, he wants to know what benefit you can be to the Guild.” Anon starts fussing with his armor idly.
  1435. “What?! The Guild wants to know how it can use slaves to help hunts?” Irritation creeps into your tone again.
  1436. >”Not slaves, Griffons.” Anon answers as the elevator dings to its destination.
  1437. >This is apparently a very fast elevator, the doors open to a luxurious hallway.
  1438. >Everything is paneled in rich wood and stone, the stone panels have water tumbling down them to collect in pools lining the hallway.
  1439. >At the end of the hall is a large desk with a team of receptionists seated in a neat row.
  1440. >Anon approaches one and announces your arrival, the woman behind the desk nods and indicates a door to the left of the desk.
  1441. >Passing through the door leads to a rather spartan looking office. The room contains very little, but the walls are almost all glass windows. The center back wall of the room has a desk made of fine wood with numerous holograms being projected from its surface.
  1442. >The wall you pass through seems to be almost completely comprised of the rock and water paneling from the halls.
  1443. >The room's only other feature is a small seating area over to one side, four chairs are arranged around a circular coffee table.
  1444. >The room's sole occupant stands behind the desk staring out the full window wall out to the city beyond.
  1445. >The office must be on the top floor because you can see for miles out the windows.
  1446.  
  1447. >The man behind the desk is average height but muscle shows through his business suit. Salt and pepper hair is tied into a tight ponytail that falls to his shoulders.
  1448. >Anon approaches the desk, stopping several feet from it at roughly center desk.
  1449. >He snaps to attention and salutes. “Sir, Anon and Selene as requested.”
  1450. >Not knowing quite what to do you stand next to Anon at attention, but without the salute.
  1451. >”Anon, thank you for coming today. I hope your hunts have been good.” The man speaks with an odd accent that you can’t quite pin down.
  1452. >The man turns around and walks around to the front of the desk, saluting Anon as he goes.
  1453. >Anon relaxes, connecting his hands behind his back.
  1454. >”And you must be Selene. It is excellent to meet you, I am Haans Vadderung, Master of the Hunter’s Guild.” Vadderung offers a hand.
  1455. >Tentatively you reach a talon up to shake his hand, his grip is surprisingly strong despite his apparent age.
  1456. >Your eyes connect with his bright blue eye, the other eye socket is covered by a black piece of metal.
  1457. “Nice to meet you sir.” Is all you manage to spit out.
  1458. >”Anon speaks highly of you in his reports. Sounds like you are a real asset to him.” Haans leans back onto his desk crossing his arms as he regards you.
  1459. >”Tell me, how do you like working with Anon and the Guild as a whole?”
  1460. “The work is engaging and I have been doing my best to help Anon in his hunts.” Vadderung’s presence is a physically intimidating force now that he is focused on you.
  1461. >”Good. I am glad you are liking working with us. Anon tells me he brings you here for further training. I think you will find our facilities here to be of the highest quality.”
  1462. >You nod, unable to find anything to answer.
  1463. >”Now if you would not mind, I wish to learn more of your race.” Haans cups his clean shaven face in one powerful hand.
  1464.  
  1465. >The meeting with Vadderung was thankfully brief, but nonetheless intimidating.
  1466. >He was a nice enough person but his gaze was unnerving.
  1467. >Vadderung seemed particularly interested in your descriptions of the Griffon sense of honor.
  1468. >He seemed to agree with Griffon loyalty to family and country.
  1469. >You and Anon rode the elevator down from the office both feeling fairly relieved.
  1470. “Why was he asking me all of that?” You turn to Anon and raise an eyebrow.
  1471. >”You are the first time the Guild has interacted with your world.” Anon is still fidgeting with one of his gloves.
  1472. >”The Guild Master is likely interested in starting up business with or on your world.”
  1473. “I doubt there is anyone on Equestria who would hire the Guild.” You shrug.
  1474. “Not much business to be done on the world.” You pause “Unless...the Guild wouldn’t start slaving there would they?!” Anger starts rising in your voice.
  1475. >”Slaving? No. The Guild would never get into that business. You are likely the first slave to ever work for or with the guild.”
  1476. “Why is that not comforting to me?” You say with a scoff.
  1477. >The elevator dings open to reveal a long hallway with doors every fifty or so feet along it.
  1478. >”Ok Selene. It’s about time I gave you some real training.” Anon says stepping out of the elevator and into the hallway.
  1479.  
  1480. >”These here, are the training rooms.” Anon gestures to the doors.
  1481. >”In there we can create any scenario we want. The perfect place for you to get some hands on experience” Anon taps the controls next to one door.
  1482. >With a hiss of escaping air the door slides open, the room inside is completely empty.
  1483. >The floor and walls are all a reflective black material, stepping inside and taking a look you notice that the room is at least three stories high.
  1484. >The rooms only feature is an observation window set into the wall at about the second story height.
  1485. >Anon steps inside and the door closes behind him, clapping his hands Anon summons a holographic display in mid air.
  1486. >”Step one is more hand to hand training.” Anon taps the holo controls and the room springs to life.
  1487. >The black walls shift to a warm white, illuminating the room. A raised mat appears in the center of the room, on the mat is drawn a black circle about ten feet across.
  1488. >”Step into the circle and we can begin” Anon gestures to the mat, stepping towards it himself.
  1489. >You step onto the mat and into the circle, as soon as you do a man appears on the opposite side of the circle.
  1490. >He is wearing white loose clothing with a white sash tied around his waist like a belt.
  1491. >”This will be your sparring partner. Hit him as hard as you like, you will have to do the same to subjects in the field.” Anon paces around the outside of the mat.
  1492. >”Your objective here is to find a style and techniques that work for you. He is gonna come at you and you have to take him down. I want you to put him on the deck and disable him, but don’t kill him.”
  1493. >With a nod you look back at your opponent and take a fighting stance.
  1494. >”Begin!” Anon barks.
  1495. >The man rushes forward towards you, closing the distance quickly. He swings one leg out to kick at you.
  1496.  
  1497. >You are ready for the attack and you dodge left, batting his leg further out with your right wing.
  1498. >You rush forward and put your full weight into his other leg.
  1499. >The attack takes your opponent off balance and he topples to the ground.
  1500. >When he lands on the mat hard you leap onto his back and threaten him with a talon to his throat.
  1501. >Anon starts clapping and the holographic enemy disappears.
  1502. >”That was well done. Good takedown and pin.” Anon waves an arm and the holographic display returns.
  1503. >”Next difficulty level. Begin!”
  1504. >Your opponent reappears on the other side of the ring and you square off with him again.
  1505.  
  1506. >The difficulty quickly ramps up until you are not able to easily defeat your opponent.
  1507. >You learn two vital facts through the next several hours. One, hologram sparing hurts, you are often thrown to the ground and pinned in some rather painful manners.
  1508. >Two, in a fight you should do anything you need to do to put the opponent down, dirty fighting does not matter when your opponent is trying to kill you.
  1509. >You finally master the eighth level of the simulation when Anon calls stop.
  1510. >He tosses you a towel, which you are very thankful for as you are presently drenched in sweat.
  1511. >”That was a damn fine job for day one. Towel off and take a breather, when you are ready meet me at the door and we will move on to the next step.” Anon heads for the door, his holo-display hovering along in front of him.
  1512. >After a good toweling and a small bit of preening to get your feathers back in order you join Anon by the door.
  1513. >”Eight levels in a day is impressive Selene.” Anon remarks as you approach.
  1514. “What level do you train at?” You ask, straightening a last few feathers.
  1515. >”I nearly beat seventy once. Everything past level sixty is bullshit. They start getting double jointed which is a pain in the ass.” Anon taps a command into his console and the room turns black once more.
  1516. >The room shifts and changes in the darkness, when the lights return the mat has been replaced by a multi-stall gun range.
  1517. >”You know how to maintain a weapon, about time you learnt how to fire one.” Anon steps up to the nearest stall and a pistol appears on the table.
  1518. >You follow him over but have to rear up onto your hind legs to make it to the stall’s table.
  1519. >Anon gives you a rundown of how to fire the gun and how to stay safe at the range.
  1520.  
  1521. >Gun always down range, safety on until you want to fire, etc.
  1522. >He then sets the gun down on the table and takes a step back.
  1523. >Standing on your hind legs is awkward at best and you have to spread your wings a bit to keep your balance.
  1524. >Carefully you pick up the weapon in your talons and examine it.
  1525. >Battery is full, plenty of ammo. You click the safety off and aim the gun down range.
  1526. >You sight the target like Anon showed you and carefully squeeze the trigger.
  1527. >At the last second you instinctively press your eyes shut as the gun fires.
  1528. >Opening your eyes you hear a sigh from Anon behind you.
  1529. >The target in front of you is undamaged, but there is a fresh scorch mark in the wall to its left.
  1530. >This gun stuff may prove to be a bit more difficult.
  1531.  
  1532. >For a week your training continues. In the morning you fight, gun practice in the afternoon.
  1533. >By the end of the week you have just finished mastering level twenty in sparring training, turns out breaking human limbs is hard but very effective.
  1534. >You learned all manner of guns, pistols, shotguns, rifles, and automatics.
  1535. >On day eight of training Anon leads you down for training in the morning but this time he continues farther down the hallway.
  1536. >Anon opens the training room door, in this room there appears to be another training session already in progress.
  1537. >Two men stand on the training mat, two other men and a woman sit at the edge of the mat watching. An instructor is pacing around the outside of the mat yelling instructions into the fray.
  1538. >The combatants are locked in a battle for positioning, both trying to gain a decisive edge.
  1539. >Seeing you and Anon approach the instructor steps onto the mat.
  1540. >”Halt!” He thrusts a hand into the ring.
  1541. >The combatants separate and to your surprise neither of them vanish. Instead they bump closed fists and step off the mat to sit with their compatriots.
  1542. >You and Anon reach the mat, all eyes in the room now firmly on the pair of you.
  1543. >”Anon, Sir!” The instructor salutes Anon, the class quickly follows suit.
  1544. >”Instructor Walsh. Class.” Anon returns their salutes in kind.
  1545. >”Is your recruit ready to join the class?” The instructor turns his eyes to you.
  1546. >Walsh is a compact man, short yet well build with athletic muscle throughout.
  1547. >”Yes I think she is.” Anon responds taking a step over and joining the class on the edge of the mat.
  1548.  
  1549. >Walsh’s eyes have yet to leave you as he walks a slow circle around you.
  1550. >You follow him with your eyes, not sure if you are allowed to move in this situation.
  1551. >Walsh completes his circle and locks eyes with you.
  1552. >”Recruit Hannagan. Onto the mat. You will fight this slave.” Walsh’s gaze does not falter, you sense disgust as he utters the word slave.
  1553. >a recruit from the class stand wordlessly and steps into the circle.
  1554. >Walsh steps aside and indicates the ring with his right hand.
  1555. >Stepping past him and into the ring you look Recruit Hannagan up and down.
  1556. >Tall, high center of balance. Strong leg muscles, best not to take a kick from those, could also mean he relies on speed in a fight.
  1557. >”Nothing personal slave, just following orders” Hannagan gives a little shrug before offering his closed fist for a bump.
  1558. >You tap his fist with a wing and take a step back, this guy is not taking you seriously.
  1559. >Harrigan takes a step back and then promptly swings a kick at your head with his front leg.
  1560. >What?! This guy is really not taking you seriously. Why?!
  1561. >you dart right and catch his attacking leg with your talons.
  1562. >Pulling the leg forward by pivoting further towards him you rob Hannagan of his balance.
  1563. >Sweeping your right wing out you catch his other leg at the ankle.
  1564. >Hannagan comes crashing down to the mat hard, landing on his back.
  1565. >You hear the wind go rushing out of him and take the opportunity to hop onto the man.
  1566. >You place one of your rear legs just above his groin and rest a talon on his windpipe.
  1567. >A short series of claps comes from somewhere in the room, then the instructor speaks up.
  1568. >”Learn that lesson well class, underestimate your opponent at your own peril.”
  1569. >Reality returns to you as fighting instinct begins to recede. This guy had looked to you like more than a match for you when you first saw him.
  1570. >”Hannagan! Up! You are now dead or captured. Twenty laps, go!”
  1571.  
  1572. >Hannagan pushes up off the mat glowering at you and starts off running the perimeter of the room.
  1573. >”Well executed recruit Selene, take a seat. Chen, Michales, back up here, you have a fight to finish.” Instructor Walsh claps his hands for emphasis.
  1574. >You pad off the mat and take a seat next to the female recruit with a sigh.
  1575. >”That was a nice takedown. Always good to see Hannagan hit the deck like that.” The woman whispers from beside you, she does not turn her head from the match in front of you.
  1576. >”I’m recruit Gonzales, this is recruit Smith.” Smith nods as Gonzales mentions his name.
  1577. >You nod back, not quite sure what to say in return.
  1578. >You take a look over your companions both on and off the mat.
  1579. >Over the next few hours you watch and fight your fellow recruits.
  1580. >Chen and Michales both seem fairly new to fist fighting and the Instructor is doing his best to get them lots of experience.
  1581. >Hannagan clearly has a lot of experience, his style leverages his superior size and reach.
  1582. >Smith is a smaller man but what he lacks in physical prowess he makes up for in speed.
  1583. >He is damn fast on the mat, his style a constant whirling moving thing.
  1584. >Gonzales is also a smaller woman, standing perhaps a few inches over five feet.
  1585. >In contrast to Smith, Gonzales is made of iron bands of muscle.
  1586. >Gonzales’s style is reminiscent of Kate’s. relying on throws and joint locks to make up for her size.
  1587. >Fighting live opponents ends up being far different from holographic partners. For one you are able to watch their style and find a counter to it, on the other hand they have the same ability.
  1588. >Also you are not allowed to break the live opponents like you would holographic opponents, throwing out a lot of your upper end moves.
  1589. >You win most of your matches, but Smith turns out to be a particularly vexing opponent.
  1590. >The ever changing flow of his style catches you off guard more than once.
  1591.  
  1592. >As Chen and Gonzales finish up a match Instructor Walsh calls you all off the mat.
  1593. >Following him to the door the room dissolves to black behind you.
  1594. >”Alright everyone, break for lunch then back here at thirteen hundred hours.” Walsh claps his hands and the doors slide open.
  1595. >You see Anon nowhere in sight either in the training room nor in the hall so you start to make your way for the cafeteria.
  1596. >”Hey Selene! Wait up.” Gonzales calls from behind you.
  1597. >You stop and see Gonzales and Smith following you, as they catch up they both give you slight smiles.
  1598. >”You headed to the dining hall? Mind if we tag along?” Gonzales says, catching up and matching your pace on your right side.
  1599. >Smith comes up on your left with a grin on his face.
  1600. “Don’t see why not.” You nod to Gonzales as you reach the elevator.
  1601. >You tap the up button with a wingtip and turn to your companions.
  1602. >”Damn, those wings are gorgeous.” Gonzales is eyeing your wings as you turn around.
  1603. “Thanks, I guess” You extend one wing slightly, idly checking to make sure your feathers are all in order.
  1604. >”Sorry, was that creepy. It’s just that a lot of humans wish they had wings like those.” Gonzales says as the elevator arrives.
  1605. >You shiver slightly, remembering Holt for a moment, as you enter the elevator.
  1606. “No problem, no offense taken.” You manage a small smile at Gonzales.
  1607. >”They hurt too! Those are some cool moves you can pull off with them.” Gonzales gives your shoulder a playful bump with her fist, hitting the third floor button in the elevator.
  1608. >You return her grin as the doors close.
  1609. >”Hey, sorry putting you down a couple times there, not too nice of me on your first day.” Smith speaks up for the first time.
  1610. >Smith’s voice carries a calm confidence in contrast to Gonzales’s excited manner.
  1611. ”Again, don’t worry about it. I gave you guys quite a bit of the same.”
  1612. >”Speaking of first day, what's the deal with you and Anon?” Gonzales asks.
  1613.  
  1614. “He..uh. Well, he owns me.” Your collar gets a hair heavier.
  1615. >”Oh, right. So the Instructor was telling the truth. Didn’t mean to bring it up.” Gonzales tries to look anywhere else at the moment, glad when the door opens to your floor.
  1616. “It’s ok, he treats me fine.”
  1617. >”Not too fine if he threw you into the ring with Hannagan on your first day here!” Gonzales looks concerned.
  1618. “Not my first day here. Just my first day with you guys.” You shrug, not quite certain why Gonzales is so upset by this.
  1619. “I have been here for a week beating up holographic opponents. Plus three days before that watching Anon and Kate fight.”
  1620. >”And before that? What training did you have?” Smith raises an eyebrow at you.
  1621. “Little bit of talon to talon training in the army, but that was not a heavy focus.” You shrug again.
  1622. >”You learned all that in a week?!” Smith lets out a low whistle “That is some scary dedication.”
  1623. >The three of you gather trays and walk along the lunch line in relative silence, finding a table near the center of the large room.
  1624. >”So, where you from Selene?” Gonzales starts up conversation again.
  1625. “Equestria, obviously, Greyback mountains specifically.” You grab a forkful of steak, hard to work human implements with your talons but it is considered polite.
  1626. >”So what exactly do you do for Mr Anon?” Smith asks hesitantly.
  1627. “Hunt with him. Though he wants me to get some training here before we continue. Why?” You say through a mouthful of mashed potatoes.
  1628. >”Oh, that's good. Makes sense why you are here then.” Gonzales says exhaling.
  1629. “Why what did you think I did?...Oh that’s gross!” Realization of what they were worried about dawns.
  1630. >”Hey, can’t assume.” Gonzales raises her hands apologetically. “I have never met a Griffon or someone who bought one. Would not know what Anon got you for anyway.”
  1631.  
  1632. “Yea, and what did the Guild hire you to do? Cook?” A sarcastic smile spreads on your face.
  1633. >”Fuck you bird brains” Gonzales returns your grin.
  1634. >The three of you return to the training room laughing, Gonzales was retelling stories of the training class from before you joined.
  1635. >Apparently they had been together for a month already, and they had the wild stories to show for it.
  1636. >The training room seems much larger than when you left it. Anon and Walsh are standing near a series of tables near the door.
  1637. >Off in the distance is a small single story house, the entire room is like stepping onto a suburban street minus any other homes.
  1638. >The training class filters into the room over the next few minutes, once you are all assembled Walsh waves you over to the tables.
  1639. >”Class, this afternoon we will be drilling urban combat, specifically breaching and entering.” Walsh begins.
  1640. >”Urban environments are both the most common and most dangerous places that we work in. As such you must master the terrain and tactics to stay alive in this line of work.
  1641. >”Step up and choose your gear for this exercise then meet me over by the target house and we will begin” Walsh indicates the tables then heads off in the direction of the lone house.
  1642. >Stepping up to the tables, you once again have to get up on your hind legs to see.
  1643. >Initially there is nothing on the table that you are standing at, but once you put your talons on it for balance a holographic interface appears.
  1644. >As you swipe from side to side different weapons and equipment sets appear on the table. The gear ranges from assault weapons to long guns of various shapes and sizes.
  1645. >Finally you settle on a shotgun and a pistol, close range weapons for a close range situation.
  1646. >You strap the pistol to your left side such that you can reach under your body to retrieve it with your right talon.
  1647. >The shotgun gets strapped across your back snugly between your wings.
  1648.  
  1649. >A flash-bang grenade finishes out your kit, you saw Anon use one of those and it seemed very effective in a closed space.
  1650. >You join the class near the house, it took you a bit longer to adapt the human made straps to hold the weapons where you need them.
  1651. >Walsh gives you a nod and starts addressing the class.
  1652. >”First thing to know about urban clearing, watch the doors. They will funnel you into a very predictable area when you go through them.” Walsh indicates the front door of the house.
  1653. >”Second, watch the corners. You never know when a hostile is hiding in an inconvenient corner.”
  1654. >”Finally, remember points one and two once you are inside the building. Doors and corners are just as deadly while clearing room to room as they were on initial entry.” Walsh claps for you all to stand up.
  1655. >”This clearing will be a test. Do it as you see fit, you will be monitored and graded on performance.”
  1656. >”Choose a team lead among yourselves and make what preps you need to. The mission parameters here are very simple. Enter the house and subdue any and all hostiles found by whatever means necessary.”
  1657. >Hannagan quickly steps up and starts formulating a plan, giving orders to each of the other trainees.
  1658. >You are placed with Chen and Smith, and given the task of entering through the front door.
  1659. >Anon is walking around handing out throat mikes and earbuds to the class.
  1660. >Hannagan explains that your team will hit the front door at the same time the rest of the class enters through the larger rear door.
  1661. >Everyone acknowledges their roles, some hesitantly and you all make your way to the house.
  1662.  
  1663. >Arriving at the front door your team starts sorting itself out.
  1664. “Ok, how do we want to play this?” You look to Smith then to Chen.
  1665. >”Well, we need one person per side of the door.” Offers Chen.
  1666. >”Also need someone to open the door. Doubt it is unlocked. Likely need to kick it in.” Smith takes a good look at the door.
  1667. “Right, Chen do you think you can make that kick?” Chen has the best chance at getting the door open in one hit.
  1668. >Chen nods after sizing up the door.
  1669. “Good, Smith I have a flashbang so when that door comes open I intend to use it.”
  1670. >”You and I both go when that grenade goes off.” Smith nods. “Chen follow us in.”
  1671. >Exchanging nods the three of you get into position, awaiting Hannagan’s signal.
  1672. >Five minutes pass before an “In position.” comes across the team’s voice comms.
  1673. >The three of you tense for the violence to come.
  1674. >”Now, Breach!” Hannagan whispers through your earbud.
  1675. >Chen plants a kick right next to the doors handle, sending the door flying open.
  1676. >You rip the pin of the grenade out and toss it into the room, covering your ears and slamming your eyes shut.
  1677. >You hear a muffled thud signaling that the grenade detonated.
  1678. >Grabbing your pistol out of it’s holster you charge inside on three legs, pistol raised.
  1679. >The inside of the house seems to have been thrown into disarray by the recently detonated explosive.
  1680.  
  1681. >You head left from inside the door, there is indeed a man hiding in the corner. You likely would have missed him if you had not broken left. You plant a round in his chest and return to scanning the room.
  1682. >Smith rushes in and breaks right, taking down a target further into the room. The room's only other occupants are the rear door team, all three of them covering their ears and eyes in clear pain.
  1683. >Without warning a door on the rooms left wall bursts open and another gunman emerges.
  1684. >You dive for cover behind a nearby couch as the gunman opens up, spraying wildly into the room.
  1685. >Rounds slam into the other team before Chen can take a shot from the still open front door.
  1686. >With the target down Smith rushes over to peer through the door that he came through.
  1687. >”Clear! That’s the only other room in the place, all targets down.”
  1688. >House clear, but three members of the team down. That was likely due to your flashbang, crap.
  1689.  
  1690. >Walsh enters the house and surveys the room, a frown on his face.
  1691. >The other team finishes shaking off their disorientation and rises from the floor.
  1692. >Walsh stops walking around the room after a moment and turns to address the room.
  1693. >”First, Hannagan. Good organization of resources, two teams and a synchronized breach means the enemy will have to deal with both teams at the same time and have trouble escaping the situation when all exits are blocked.”
  1694. >”Team one, good breach. Excellent use of a disorientation device and a solid plan for room entry.” Walsh fixes your team with an appraising gaze.
  1695. >”Selene, good thought on collecting a flash-bang. Close quarters combat can be very hectic and lethal, having an advantage like that can be an invaluable asset.” Walsh’s gaze focuses on you as he speaks.
  1696. >”Smith, good thinking to check the other room. Also nice hustle getting over there and clearing it properly.” Walsh indicates the door behind him.
  1697. >Walsh lets out a heavy sigh before fixing his gaze on Hannagan.
  1698. >”Team leader, you failed to properly assess the equipment of your team. This lead to half of your team being caught in a flash-bang and resultant crossfire.” Walsh steps forward to get right in Hannagan’s face
  1699. >”You also failed to go over a plan for the attack, in which you *might* have properly assessed this situation. You and three members of your team are now dead!” Walsh is practically screaming by the end.
  1700. >”As for recruit Selene.” Walsh steps over to you, his screaming now getting louder.
  1701. >”You used a disorientation weapon when you weren’t certain that the remainder of your team was prepared for. Because of this action half of the team is now dead!” You shrink slightly from Walsh’s verbal attack.
  1702. >”All of you, fifty laps around the training room! Now! Extra P.T. to follow.” Walsh steps back and addresses the entire room.
  1703. >Damnit.
  1704.  
  1705. >Hannagan is scowling the through the entire run and exercises afterwards, shooting you dirty looks whenever your eyes meet.
  1706. >By the time an hour is out you and the other recruits are all drenched in sweat from the pummeling of the workout.
  1707. >When the workout is done Walsh splits the class into a pair of three man teams again. This time he is leading the front door team and Anon leads the back door team.
  1708. >The two trainers lead you through a proper entry and clear of the same building. This time both teams breach their doors properly, and with co-ordination.
  1709. >A pair of flash-bangs disorient the hostiles and both teams move smoothly into the building.
  1710. >With the building clear for a second time, this time without incident, Walsh dismisses the class for the day.
  1711. >Anon brings you back to the ship for dinner as the other recruits head elsewhere in the facility.
  1712. >Back home you grab some dinner and a very needed shower.
  1713. >You collapse into your bunk and are nearly instantly asleep after such a long and strenuous day.
  1714.  
  1715. >The next morning begins as normal, with plenty of hammering on your door.
  1716. >Anon takes you straight to the training rooms to meet up with the other recruits.
  1717. >Mornings are apparently the time for P.T. and general misery.
  1718. >After you are thoroughly exhausted from the morning workout, Walsh takes the class out of the training room and down the hall to another.
  1719. >This room is set up as a tight hall with a single door set near the middle. Concrete doors and a metal door give you unsettling memories of
  1720. >Walsh motions for the class to gather round, the class all sits or takes a knee in a semicircle around him.
  1721. >”One of the more common environs you work in is tight apartment buildings.” Walsh indicates the door and hallway.
  1722. >”Selene, I believe you have some experience with these types of operations.” Walsh turns to you.
  1723. >You nod with a slight shudder.
  1724. >”The difficulty with these operations is that there is usually only one entrance to move in from.” Walsh gives the door a smack.
  1725. >”Getting inside and spread out without getting killed can be very challenging. Anon is here today to walk us through some solutions to these problems.” Walsh steps aside to allow Anon to stand in front of the class.
  1726. >”So class, what are some ways that we could possibly get through this door and eliminate the hostiles inside.”
  1727. >”A flash bang could ease entry into the room” Gonzales suggests.
  1728. >”Sure, but you still need to get the door open. If the hostiles are ready for you the door kicker is likely to go down in the process” Anon responds.
  1729. “Explosives on the door?” You offer.
  1730. >”Can work, but a prepared enemy will recover fairly quickly. Flash bangs can also be overcome by a prepared enemy in that situation.” Anon nods.
  1731. >”How about here.” Anon slams a fits into the wall nearby.
  1732. >”Go through the wall and you make yourself a door, one that the enemy is not ready for.” Anon grins as he explains.
  1733.  
  1734. >The week continues much in the same manner, PT and sparring in the morning with CQC and weapons training in the afternoon.
  1735. >Friday’s exercise finally rolls around with you feeling quite worn out by such an active week.
  1736. >Stepping into the training room, you expect to see another building clear.
  1737. >To your surprise you stand in a dense forested area covered in snow.
  1738. >The other recruits shiver slightly as the cold wind takes them unaware.
  1739. >”Class, today we will be practicing open ground combat.” Walsh begins.
  1740. >”There is a target in these woods guarded by a small team of bodyguards. Capture the target.” As usual there is a table nearby loaded with gear.
  1741. >”Gonzales, this op is yours. Begin when ready.” Walsh takes a step back out of the training room and the door closes.
  1742. >As the door closes the wall fades into the scenery and after a few seconds all you see is forest stretching off in every direction.
  1743. >Gonzales starts going around to every member of the class and having a chat with them, likely about their role in the operation.
  1744. >You take the moment to inspect the gear on the table and make some selections.
  1745. >”Selene.” Gonzales gets your attention with a tap on the shoulder as you scan the table.
  1746. “Yeah?” You drop back to all fours and turn to your fellow classmate.
  1747. >”I would like to have your eyes in the sky please. Bring some grenades with you, also a long rifle if you don’t mind. I would like you keeping an eye on the enemy and taking potshots where possible” Gonzales hands you a belt of grenades and some thermal goggles.
  1748. >You had used the goggles previously on a night operation that involved cutting the power to the target building.
  1749. >Nodding to Gonzales you take the belt and find a long rifle with a mounted scope.
  1750. >You fit the goggles to your head in easy reach and start struggling with your other gear.
  1751. >”Ok team.” Gonzales claps her hands once to get the groups attention. “We move as one group. Wide formation, call your contacts on comms. Selene will be eyes in the sky. Spread out and let’s move.”
  1752. >You all nod in agreement and the team spreads out and readies weapons.
  1753. >You take a low stance and prepare to lift off, butterflies dance in your stomach as you prepare for the operation.
  1754. >You can’t help but keep a little excitement from your mind at the prospect of the first real flight since your capture.
  1755. >Gonzales motions with her hand and the team starts moving forward.
  1756. >With a powerful shove of legs and a flap of wing you rocket skyward.
  1757. >And end up way higher than you anticipated, each stroke of wing carrying you faster and farther than you remembered.
  1758. >Huh, turns out wingtip push-ups every day for a month does wonders for the flight muscles.
  1759.  
  1760. >For the first time in far too long you feel wind in your feathers. Each flap of your wings carries you higher and higher into the air.
  1761. >Soon you are soaring high over the forest, your team a set of tiny specks below you.
  1762. >”Selene, you with us?” Gonzales’s voice comes over your earbuds.
  1763. “Yep. Thermals going on now.” You lower the thermal goggles over your eyes and the world shifts into black and white.
  1764. >Dropping lower you trace a wide lazy circle above the rest of the team, eyes open for any sight of motion.
  1765. >After perhaps ten minutes you spot a small group of heat signatures making their way through the forest. They are walking away from your team, deeper into the woods.
  1766. “Targets spotted, eight heat signatures. Moving away slowly, one fifty metres.” A flap of wing brings you to circle over the targets.
  1767. >The team moves closer to your targets swiftly and quietly despite the snow.
  1768. >”Eyes on the principal?” Gonzales asks, the team now drawn very close to the hostiles.
  1769. “Negative, can’t pick him out in there.” He could either be the man in the center of the pack or the one leading it.
  1770. >”Flash bang. Flush the target and take them down.” Gonzales and the team take cover behind nearby trees.
  1771. “Affirmative, dropping now.” You unclip a grenade from your belt.
  1772. >You sling the grenade into the pack of hostiles, it lands in the snow in front of the group with a thud.
  1773. >As soon as it does the hostiles start to scatter, running in differing directions nearly instantly.
  1774. >One of them leaps onto another, knocking the man to man to the ground.
  1775. “Target located, a single guard is on him now.” You unsling your rifle to provide what cover you can for the team.
  1776. >Gonzales and the rest of the class open up just as the grenade goes off, downing several of the hostiles almost instantly.
  1777. >The guard that jumped pulls his charge out of the snow and begins to rush off with him through the woods.
  1778.  
  1779. >Seeing that everyone else was busy you start lining up a shot. Hitting a moving target from this distance while flying will be no easy feat.
  1780. >You roll onto your back in mid air, using your whole body to steady the rifle.
  1781. >With a squeeze of the trigger a brilliant red bolt flies out across the treetops.
  1782. >It strikes the bodyguard square in the back and he goes down hard.
  1783. >The target for his part continues off into the woods, stumbling in the snow and unsteady ground.
  1784. “Guard down, going after the target.” You flip back upright and power forward into a shallow dive.
  1785. >Passing your target you gain some forward ground on your mark, finally spiraling down into the trees.
  1786. >You land in the snow on your rear legs. Gaining your balance you shoulder your rifle at the target as he comes to a quick stop some ten meters in front of you.
  1787. “Move and I take the shot.” You spread your wings to steady yourself.
  1788. >Your target nods once and drops to his knees panting.
  1789. “Target secure, awaiting support.” A grin makes its way onto your face.
  1790.  
  1791. >The hologrid dissolves around you, leaving you and the team standing around the empty training room.
  1792. >Walsh steps through the door to the training room clapping.
  1793. >”Well done class. That was an excellently executed operation.” Walsh stops clapping and surveys the class.
  1794. >”Now then, training for today is over. Weekend is yours be back and ready to go on monday as always” Walsh waves a hand and walks back out of the training room.
  1795. >The class’s spirits are high and you are certainly no exception.
  1796. >”Hey Selene! Good shot back there.” Gonzales trots over, Smith at her heels.
  1797. “Thanks.” You nod and grin.
  1798. >”We’re about to head into town for some chow and drinks. Come with?”
  1799. “Uhh, yea. I would love to. Lemme go ask Anon if i can.” You smile sheepishly at the last statement.
  1800. >”Oh, yea, right.” Gonzales reddens visibly
  1801. >You walk over towards the door where Anon is leaning against the wall. Your starts to itch but you resist the urge to scratch.
  1802. >Anon steps off the wall as you approach, he nods at you and starts to turn for the door.
  1803. “Hey Anon, can I go out tonight? With Gonzales and Smith.” You ask hesitantly.
  1804. >”Sure. Be back before Monday training.” Anon shrugs, turning back to face you.
  1805. >A smile once again makes its way onto your face.
  1806. >”Hmm, you will need some credits if you are going out.” Anon rummages in his pocket and pulls out a small clear plastic stick.
  1807. >Pressing the stick to his wrist computer he taps in a few commands.
  1808. >”Ten percent of the Mars job. Thirty percent for the twins. And fifty for the dealer job.”
  1809. >Anon hands you the stick when he is finished. “Your collar has a tracker, and this planet is nothing but farmlands outside this city.” Anon gives you a meaningful glance.
  1810.  
  1811. >You nod, taking the stick from Anon and returning to Gonzales.
  1812. >Tucking the stick into your head feathers, it won’t fall out there and should be hidden from sight.
  1813. “Ok, what’s the plan then?” You grin at your classmates.
  1814. >”Well, let’s get some dinner then some drinks. Can’t waste any weekends on this, no piloting needed to get home. Might as well get smashed” Gonzales says, beckoning for you to follow.
  1815. >Heading out of the training room and up the elevator to the cantina.
  1816. >Gonzales makes a fair point that the in house food is free and decent. No use spending money when you don’t need to.
  1817. >Once you are all well fed you make it back to the elevator, heading towards street level.
  1818. >”Ok, Selene, spill it.” Gonzales grins as she confronts you. “I saw Anon give you some cash. How much is he paying you?”
  1819. >You hesitate for a moment, not quite knowing how much you had been given.
  1820. “Umm, well he said a percent cut of each of the jobs we worked together.” you shrug and pull out the clear plastic rod.
  1821. >Gonzales motions for you to hand over the stick and then points to her wrist computer.
  1822. >Hesitantly you retrieve the stick and hand it over. Gonzales taps the stick to her wrist and her eyes expand to the size of dinner plates.
  1823. >”Holy crap! We could drink every night for a month on this and not even make a dent!” Gonzales hands the stick back to you.
  1824. >”Guess this job really does pay well.” She shakes her head and shrugs.
  1825.  
  1826. >Stepping out into the refreshing night air you follow Gonzales down the sidewalk away from the massive Guild HQ.
  1827. >The walk takes about twenty minutes, most of which the three of you spend chatting idly.
  1828. >Your destination, as it turns out, is a club by the name of Azure. You feel the beat of the music even from outside, and a sizeable line of people stands along the outside wall waiting to be let in.
  1829. >”Be ready, it's loud in there.” Smith remarks with a slight frown.
  1830. >”Yea! Of course it is! You won’t notice it after a while though, once the dance gets into you.” Gonzales does a small mock dance to emphasize the point.
  1831. >”Why the hell do I always let you choose the watering hole?” Smith says as much to himself as anyone.
  1832. >”Because we always have fun.” Gonzales beams and steps up to the bounce, bypassing the line.
  1833. >The bouncer nods to Gonzales, then smith, unclasping the red velvet rope and allowing them passage.
  1834. >As you move to follow them he puts up a hand, you take half a step back in surprise.
  1835. >Gonzales notices the encounter and speaks up. “She’s with us, another Guild recruit. Would advise you not try and stop her either Tony, she will likely snap both of your legs.”
  1836. >The bouncer’s reaction is instant, taking his own step back and aside to allow you passage.
  1837. >As you move to enter, you notice for the first time that you had unconsciously taken a fighting stance with your step back.
  1838. >Stepping inside the club the sound hits you like a physical force. A hundred or so people are inside, most of them writhing in one large mass on the dance floor.
  1839. >Gonzales motions for you to follow as she makes for the bar set into the right hand wall.
  1840. >”Hey Pete, let’s get some starters for me and my friends here!” Gonzales is yelling so that the bartender not three feet from her can hear.
  1841.  
  1842. >”Sure! Three Hunter Specials coming up!” The bartender grins as he starts mixing.
  1843. >Lining three shot glasses, filling them from a shaker.
  1844. >Gonzales grabs one and downs it in one go. Smith picks up his, you see him mutter under his breath. “God i’m a fucking idiot.” Before downing the glass with a frown and a pained look.
  1845. >Gonzales hands you down the third glass with a smile. You grab it in one talon and make like your friends and down it in one go.
  1846. >The shot burns going down, causing you to cough.
  1847. >Gonzales and smith both share a laugh at your discomfort, but quickly move to return the glass to the counter.
  1848. >”Hey Pete, her tab tonight” Gonzales says pointing at you.
  1849. >You start to feel the pleasant buzz of the alcohol hit you fairly quickly.
  1850. >This human drink was strong stuff, not that you had been too much of a drinker back home, but damn.
  1851. >Ordering a couple more rounds of drinks, your party retreats to a nearby table.
  1852. >Gonzales seems to be happy here, Smith meanwhile still looks irked by the noise. After the second round however, he looks to be more tolerant of the sound.
  1853. >You are edging well past drunk by the time the third round arrives and most of the surroundings are just a buzz in your perceptions.
  1854. >You vaguely see Gonzales pulling Smith onto the dance floor, and you follow for some reason that likely seemed relevant at the time.
  1855. >At some point your remembrance blacks out and the events of the evening are all but lost to you.
  1856. >You are sure however that at some point you made it to bed. You have some very pleasant dreams of soaring high in the sky over the city, lights twinkling below you.
  1857.  
  1858. >You return slowly to consciousness the next morning, the same same way you had several times before. In a nice warm bed, snuggled up to Anon.
  1859. >You feel Anon tug you in tighter, and you for your part snuggle deeper into his chest.
  1860. >Huh, when had Anon’s chest become so damn soft and squishy? Who cares, this is nice.
  1861. >Wait, that’s not right!
  1862. >Your eyes snap open, a beautiful dark set of bare human female breasts staring back at you.
  1863. >Your eyes track up to find Gonzales attached to the well formed chest that you were attempting to burrow into.
  1864. >Her eyes open slowly as yours reach her face.
  1865. >For a moment you both stare at each other, eyes locked in place.
  1866. >Then in unison you both scream and backpedal out of the bed. You tumble down one side of the bed to land on the floor with a thump. An equally impressive thump issues from the other side of the bed.
  1867. >Gonzales rips the sheets off the bed and quickly covers herself as you rise from the floor, still a bit woozy.
  1868. >”Holy shit Selene, I am so sorry.” Gonzales splutters.
  1869. >The sound of a single person talking is like a spike being driven into your brain.
  1870. >Gonzales keep talking, but it seems to be rambling excuses and apologies.
  1871. >”Would you shut the fuck up. That hurts.” Smith’s voice issues from a nearby couch. He is curled up in some blankets, doing his best to pull a pillow into his face.
  1872. >”Fuck you Smith, I just…” A pillow collides with Gonzales’s face at high velocity.
  1873. >She goes down hard, hitting the ground with a thump and a groan.
  1874. >You are glad she did, as you suddenly need to sprint to the bathroom.
  1875. >You find it across the room and dart inside, not bothering to close the door behind you.
  1876. >You retch your guts out for a few moments into the toilet.
  1877. >Gonzales and Smith are both still groaning out in the main room.
  1878. >This was going to be a long and confusing day.
  1879.  
  1880. >A long cold shower gets you feeling slightly better.
  1881. >As you emerge from the bathroom Gonzales pushes past you without making eye contact. Apparently headed for the shower if the towel she was wrapped in is any indication.
  1882. >As you enter the main room Smith walks over to you and extends a hand.
  1883. >He is wearing heavy sunglasses and what look to be earplugs in his ears.
  1884. >He has a matching set of glasses and earplugs for you in his hand.
  1885. >You take them and put them in, which makes the light in the room much more bearable but does nothing for the pounding in your head.
  1886. >You flop onto the bed and feel miserable for a while.
  1887. >Gonzales eventually emerges from the bathroom. She mimes the act of eating food and points towards the door.
  1888. >Both you and Smith haul yourselves up and make your way towards the door.
  1889. >The elevator ride down to the cafeteria is silent and very awkward, Gonzales still refusing to even look at you.
  1890. >Arriving at the cafe, your party heads to your usual table and flop down into the chairs.
  1891. >Smith’s head hits the table with a thunk and a groan.
  1892. >”Im….gonna get coffee.” Gonzales adjusts her own glasses and stands slowly, walking off in the direction of the cafe line.
  1893. >Once she is out of earshot you fix your gaze on Smith.
  1894. “Ok Smith. Tell me now. Did we...last night...Gonzales and I…” Apprehension at the answer stains your tone.
  1895. >Smith groans and pauses for a long moment.
  1896. >”Yes...but also no. You both sure gave it a good shot...but...you were both fairly drunk.” Smith sighs. “I fell asleep fairly quickly after you two started up.”
  1897. >Smith goes back to resting on the table as you ponder what you just heard.
  1898. >Gonzales returns shortly with three mugs of coffee, and for the first time all morning she looks you right in the eyes.
  1899. >Ok, so technically the second time.
  1900.  
  1901. >”So Selene, something obviously happened. I don’t think either of us remember exactly what. But I think the best solution is to act like nothing happened.” Gonzales fixes you with a stare.
  1902. “I have no idea what you are talking about.” You say, keeping a perfectly straight face.
  1903. >”Ok, good. Settled then.” Gonzales starts drinking from her mug.
  1904. >Your group sits drinking in silence for a long time.
  1905. >Eventually you start to feel a bit better, thinking it was time to get back home.
  1906. >You rise from your seat.
  1907. “I should get back, Anon will likely want to know where I have been” You nod at your friends and head for the exit.
  1908. >They both nod back and you depart. Pausing at the door you look back and see Smith has returned to his table, but Gonzales has her head resting in her hands and it looks like tufts of hair grasped firmly in her fists.
  1909. >The elevator door closes before you can ponder it more.
  1910. >Arriving at the docking bays you find your way back to the ship easy enough.
  1911. >Anon is inside relaxing on the couch, idly toying with the screen on the wall.
  1912. >”Good morning Selene” He says upon your entrance.
  1913. “Mornin Anon.” You half grumble half whisper.
  1914. >”Had a fun night I see.” Anon glances at your glasses and earplugs, his voice like a ice pick being driven into your ear.
  1915. “Yea.” You mumble, dropping onto the couch next to him.
  1916. >Anon lets you be for a few minutes, likely seeing your discomfort, an amused smile on his face the whole time.
  1917. >”So Selene, I am glad you had a good time. However, I have been asked by air traffic control to tell you to keep your altitude down the next time you go for a fly. They don’t want to have to advise incoming ships to watch out for the swerving Griffon in the skies.”
  1918. >Fuck.
  1919.  
  1920. >The next two weeks of class are fairly similar to the last. With the exception that Hand to Hand training has been cut out in favor of additional time on the weapons range.
  1921. >You continue to drill on numerous types of solo and team operations. Most of them still focused on buildings.
  1922. >On Friday of your third week of training Walsh greets you in the training room.
  1923. >”Class, today will be a test of all that you have learned these last few months. Your objective will be to move through a large office building and capture your target. It is unknown where in the structure the target is, you will need to clear the whole building. Lastly it is far too large for you to reasonably cover in a single or even small teams, each of you will be alone.”
  1924. >The training room resolves into the exterior of a multi-story office building.
  1925. >”To give you a head start, as the planning is not a tested part of the exercise, I will be assigning you breaching teams. Chen, Michales, there is a service door around back. Smith, Hannagan, there is a loading dock on the east side of the building. Selene, Gonzales, front door. Begin!” Walsh heads out of the room as you all start taking weapons and gear.
  1926. >You take your standard kit of shotgun and pistol. Backed up by three breaching charges, a pair of flash bang grenades, and obligatory communications equipment.
  1927. >Once the team has collected their gear you all silently move into position.
  1928. >It is your turn to call the shots on the operation, so once the other two teams report ready you call for the breach to start.
  1929. >Gonzales kicks the front door open and you rush inside. The room inside is a large multi-story lobby. You toss a flash bang into the room, then spin about and take to the skies inside the three story tall space with a single flap of wing.
  1930.  
  1931. >The grenade goes off just as you hit the apex of your leap, rolling over backwards you acquire three targets inside the room.
  1932. >Two are disabled by the flash, but a third must have covered his eyes. He is raising his weapon towards you when you complete your roll, extending your wings to gain just a moment of stability while you bring your weapon to bear.
  1933. >The timing is close, but you fire first, dropping the man with a solid hit to the chest.
  1934. >Gonzales rushes in the open door and puts round into the stunned guards.
  1935. >Landing on a second story balcony you start working your way deeper into the office space, Gonzales padding off into the first story.
  1936. “Second story breached. Starting search.” You breathe into your throat mic.
  1937. >You enter the office proper to find it a maze of cubicles. And so begins the tedious and stressful job of clearing out each cube one at a time.
  1938. >Twice you encounter patrolling guards, both times you are able to duck into a cube and ambush them as they pass.
  1939. >”Attention team. Comms compromised. Go silent” Michales reports into the radio. With a flick of a talon you disable your throat mic.
  1940. >You don’t know exactly what made Michales call corrupt comms, but it must have been a good reason.
  1941. >You don’t have long to ponder the change in plans before things go from bad to worse. Shutters on the exterior windows slam down one by one and the interior lights flick off, leaving you in near total darkness.
  1942. >Your ears are now the most important sense you have and you do your best to muffle your own sounds.
  1943.  
  1944. >As you come to a junction in the cubicle rows you hear footsteps coming from around the corner.
  1945. >Freezing in place, you crouch down and prepare for ambush.
  1946. >As the guard passes the corner you are hiding behind you leap up, grabbing the front of his shirt in your talons. Your momentum aided by a flap of your wings carries him off balance and into a spiral.
  1947. >You throw him into a nearby cube wall, which he impacts with significant force. Pushing yourself off him you flap your wings to gain a small hover and raise your gun.
  1948. >A single round to the forehead causes the man to slump to the ground.
  1949. >One more guard down you check the final corners and confirm that the second floor is clear of hostiles and the target.
  1950. >Making for the stairs in one corner of the building you quickly ascend to the fifth floor.
  1951. >A guard is standing watch over the floor when you slowly and silently open the door. His back is turned to you for the moment as he surveys the darkened room.
  1952. >With a leap and a flap you pounce on your prey, impacting him square in the back. You ride the man down to the ground and plant a round in the back of his head before moving into the cube farm.
  1953. >Once again you arrive at a junction in cubicles and take a listen for where to move next. Footsteps catch your attention.
  1954. >These steps are much softer and cautious, likely this guard has caught onto what you have been doing here.
  1955. >You hug the cube wall and crouch again. This guard comes around the corner much closer to the cube wall than the last, leaving you no option for a large leap to kill his balance. Instead you will have to take down his balance a bit closer to the ground.
  1956. >You put all your power of both wing and leg into the pounce and slam your shoulder into the inside of his knee.
  1957.  
  1958. >With a wet snapping sound both the knee and the man crumple with a shout of pain. Odd, these holograms usually made a noise close to shattering glass when you hit them good.
  1959. >Your instinct and training carries you through the attack and taking the head shot as it presents itself as he lands hard on the ground.
  1960. >Just as you pull the trigger all the lights suddenly come on. The office building dissolves away and leaves you standing over your prey in the empty training room, your classmates looking confused at various locations throughout the now empty space.
  1961. >Instead of a holographic guard on the floor in front of you is the body of Smith. His leg bent at an odd angle and a burn mark on the temple of his helmet where your round impacted.
  1962. >”Recruit down! Recruit Down” Speakers blare in the room.
  1963. >You step back in horror and shock, tears beginning to well in your eyes.
  1964. >Anon and Walsh both rush into the room with a stretcher and medkit.
  1965. >You take another horrified step back, tearing off your helmet and tossing it aside.
  1966. >Suddenly you retch and disgorge your breakfast onto the training room floor.
  1967. >You become aware of Gonzales at your side holding you upright as you empty your stomach.
  1968. >Then you simply collapse and start crying, a mixture of horror and disgust all you can feel.
  1969. >Gonzales holds you as Smith’s limp body is carefully loaded onto the stretcher and rushed out of the room. .
  1970.  
  1971. >Gonzales helps you reach a nearby bathroom where you disgorge your breakfast into a toilet.
  1972. >Stepping from the stall you splash water on your face, washing away the vomit and tears.
  1973. >Gonzales is leaning on a nearby wall with a look of concern etched on her face.
  1974. >You grip the sink in your talons and stare at your reflection in the mirror.
  1975. >Splashing more water on your face you begin to collect your thoughts.
  1976. >”Selene, don’t beat yourself up about it ok. It happens” Gonzales’ voice is barely above a whisper but it echoes through the empty bathroom.
  1977. “It is a big deal! I just hurt someone.” Frustration filling your voice. “It should never have happened! He may be dead for all we know. Even if he’s not I doubt he will ever walk again after that.”
  1978. >Fresh tears run down your face as you scream at Gonzales.
  1979. >”I don’t think they would give us guns that can kill Selene. Either way the situation is was bad, we would have all made the same mistake if we were in your shoes.” Gonzales reaches out a placating hand.
  1980. “But you weren’t. Besides, I have better hearing and sight than any of you do. If anything it should have been one of you and not me.” You clench tighter your grip on the sink, staring at the water as it spirals down the drain.
  1981. >”Sure your sight and hearing are better, that doesn't mean you are immune to mistakes.” Has sadness in her eyes.
  1982. “Is he going to be ok?” You dread the response.
  1983. >”Let’s go find out. Nothing to be gained standing here in a bathroom.” Gonzales abandons the wall and reaches out a hand to you.
  1984. >You push away from the sink and idly notice talon marks now dug half an inch into the porcelain of the fixture.
  1985.  
  1986. >Stepping out of the bathroom you find Anon waiting just down the hallway.
  1987. >As you approach you see he has a neutral expression on his face but his arms are crossed.
  1988. >”Sir” Gonzales gives Anon a polite nod.
  1989. “How is he?” Again dreading the answer.
  1990. >”Shattered leg. Actually was a good thing you shot him. He’s still out cold from the shot. Otherwise he would be in a lot of pain.” Anon indicates for you to follow, walking slowly down the hall.
  1991. “He’s not dead?!” You are a bit surprised.
  1992. >”What? No. Did you actually think we would give you guns that could kill?” Anon gives you a disgusted look.
  1993. >”Smith is going to be fine. Docs are seeing to his leg now. He won’t be running any marathons this weekend, but they will have him back at it soon.” Anon shrugs. “If you want we can go see him later today.”
  1994. >Your spirits lift significantly when you hear that.
  1995. “Sure. Good to know that he is ok for now though.” You fall into stride on Anon’s left.
  1996. >”I will see you guys later then.” Gonzales waves from behind you and heads off in the opposite direction.
  1997.  
  1998. >Arriving back at the Falcon you drop onto the couch as Anon makes his way over into the kitchen area.
  1999. >Flicking the wall screen on you attempt to find something, anything to do. At the moment all you want to do is take your mind off the events of the day.
  2000. >You see Anon’s weapon sitting on the table and pull it towards yourself. Idly you start to strip and clean the weapon.
  2001. >You are on your third teardown when Anon sets a plate of sandwiches on the table and slides into the booth beside you.
  2002. >Clicking the gun back together and setting it aside you grab a sandwich as Anon toys with the screen.
  2003. >Finally settling on a movie to start Anon picks up a sandwich of his own.
  2004. >You eat in silence enjoying the film in front of you.
  2005. >When the food is gone Anon rises and brings the plate to the sink, stowing the table as he does.
  2006. >When he returns you find yourself laying your head on his lap as the movie’s first act finishes.
  2007. >Anon’s hand finds its way to your head and the worries of the day dissolve in glorious scratches.
  2008. >”Thanks by the way.” Anon is the first to break the silence “For never giving me a reason to use this.” His hand idly playing with the back of your collar.
  2009. “Never gave me a reason to act out.” You shrug, feeling the collar for the first time today.
  2010. >”Still. Not sure I could handle having to do it at this point” Anon returns to scratching your head.
  2011. “You trust me a lot. I don’t often say thank you for that.” You snuggle your head deeper into Anon’s lap.
  2012. >”And you have earned every bit of that trust.”
  2013.  
  2014. >Later that afternoon Anon brings you off the ship and in the direction of the Medical wing.
  2015. >”Oh, hey Selene. I forgot to give you this. Sorta got lost in the hustle of today.” Anon gets your attention on the elevator ride.
  2016. >He hands you a smaller version of his own wrist computer. Carefully you reach up and take the precious object.
  2017. >You attach it to your left wrist, a mad grin spreading across your face.
  2018. >For the remainder of the elevator ride you unconsciously press yourself into Anon’s leg.
  2019. >The technological marvel would have to wait for later however as the elevator dinged to a stop at the medical level.
  2020. >Anon walks with his usual gait, equal parts “I know where i’m going” and “I belong here” while you pad along at his side.
  2021. >Stopping at a nurse's desk Anon asks where Smith’s room is.
  2022. >”Room two-twelve. Not sure if he is awake yet, got out of surgery about an hour ago.” The nurse on duty supplies.
  2023. >A peek into the room shows you that Gonzales is already here, sitting in a chair in the corner of the room.
  2024. >Stepping inside it seems that Smith is still asleep, Gonzales offers you the seat next to her. Anon preferring to stand outside.
  2025. >Twenty minutes in silence as both you and Gonzales stare at Smith.
  2026. >Finally with a stir he opens his eyes.
  2027. >”Shit. How did I end up here?” He asks no one in particular.
  2028. >”Smith. How you feeling man?” Gonzales moves over to the side of the bed with a concerned tone,
  2029. >”Like crap. Does that clock really say sixteen-hundred?” Smith rubs his eyes.
  2030. >”Yeah, you been out most of the day bud.”
  2031. >”Can’t move my leg. Why?” Smith still sounds rather groggy.
  2032.  
  2033. >”Because you just got out of surgery to fix it.” Gonzales pulls up a chair to the side of the bed.
  2034. >”Right. Something hit me in the leg and then I wake up here. How bad?” Smith thumbs a button and the bed brings him up closer to a sitting position.
  2035. >”Don’t know, have yet to see a doctor.” Gonzales settles into her seat.
  2036. >Another half hour passes in near silence, you not quite being sure what to say to your comrades.
  2037. >Just as the silence is about to turn awkward a doctor steps into the room.
  2038. >”I see you are finally awake, good. How do you feel?” The doctor is carrying a tablet and flicks on a screen on the wall opposite the bed.
  2039. >”Feel like crap. Can’t move the leg but at least it does not hurt.” Smith reports.
  2040. >”Good. The leg is in a brace, both internally and externally.” The doctor taps the tablet and then flicks a couple images off of it and onto the wall screen. “You shattered your leg around the knee. Was a mess when we got in there.” You cringe slightly.
  2041. >”We installed an internal brace so that the bone can heal and you can keep moving.” The doctor indicates the x-ray image marked Post Surgery.
  2042. >”Now I usually don’t have to give this talk to anyone except my child patients, but don’t go playing in traffic ok.” The doctor returns his attention to Smith.
  2043. >”How exactly did you manage this? All I was told was a training accident.” The doctor taps the left hand image, showing the shattered bone structure.
  2044. >”Well, I remember getting hit from the side....but I was inside at the time so…” Smith looks like he is doing his best to remember.
  2045. “That would be my fault.” You pipe up, raising a wing into the air.
  2046. >Smith and the doctor both turn to look at you, Gonzales’ head hits her palm with an audible smack.
  2047.  
  2048. >”Really. You did that? How?” The doctor points at the x-ray image again. Smith for his part just looks astonished.
  2049. >”I usually see this level of damage from a car hitting a person.” The doctor does not look convinced.
  2050. “Hit him with my shoulder. Charged from about three feet away.” You give a small flap of your wing in way of demonstration.
  2051. >”Really! Stand up. Show me those wings.” The doctor motions for you to stand.
  2052. >You get off your chair and drape your wings at your side loosely.
  2053. >”Up! Wings up. Let me get a good look.” The doctor crosses the room.
  2054. >Your face reddens as you raise your wings to full extension above you. The doctor looks you up and down for a moment before nodding.
  2055. >”Huh, yea I guess I can see it now. God I feel bad for whoever they let you trainees loose after with you on the team.” The doctor steps back and you thankfully lower your wings.
  2056. >”I would be remiss to not say try not to do that again, but I am sure there were circumstances.” The doctor raises his tabled again and removes the images.
  2057. >”For you sir, no running this weekend and we are going to keep you until tomorrow morning. After that nothing past a brisk walk for next week. Also a regiment of calcium pills for around two months.” The doctor looks to Smith before nodding at you and Gonzales and departing.
  2058. >An awkward silence descends on the three of you.
  2059. >”Well, I was going to ask if either of you got the number of the truck that hit me but I guess that’s not needed….” Smith breaks the silence but to your relief he has a grin on his face.
  2060.  
  2061. >Three weeks later Smith is back with the training class as normal. Classes are getting progressively more difficult and the simulations more challenging.
  2062. >The instructors constantly throwing more and more challenges into the missions.
  2063. >As you step from the training room with the other recruits you spy Anon walking down the hallway towards the elevator. Waving goodbye to your friends you trot over to catch up.
  2064. “To dinner and bed?” You ask reaching Anon.
  2065. >”I am, sure. Why don’t you go with your friends.” Anon stops to look at you.
  2066. “What?! Really?!” you step back slightly in surprise.
  2067. >”Sure. There are extra beds in the barracks. Go have fun.” Anon shrugs and starts on his way again. “Besides, you can’t get too far off base anyway”
  2068. >With a smile you bound off the floor and soar down the hallway towards where your comrades had disappeared.
  2069. >Catching up with them quickly you head to a well deserved dinner.
  2070. >The barracks is a fairly sparse room, each recruit having a bed, bedside table, and foot locker.
  2071. >Smith and Gonzales keep you late into the night but eventually you catch some shut eye.
  2072.  
  2073. >You are awoken suddenly by yelling in the room. You sit upright quickly and idly wonder at how you had not hit your head.
  2074. >Seeing that you are in the recruit barracks and not your bunk on the ship it becomes apparent why.
  2075. >Walsh is rushing about the room rousing your companions.
  2076. >”Up! Get the fuck up! This is not a drill!” He shakes Chen for a moment before fully overturning his bunk.
  2077. >”What's the emergency?” Gonzales is rubbing the sleep out of her eyes, yet still donning her boots.
  2078. >”We are under attack. Enemy numbers and objective unknown.” Walsh rushes back over to the door and checks the hallway. “It doesn't matter what they want. Our objective is the same. We need to link up with the rest of the guild members on site and get the Guild Master clear.”
  2079. >Everyone instinctively gathers near Walsh around the door.
  2080. >”Selene, I want you on point. We need those ears on scout duty. Step one is make for the Armory.” Walsh Gestures for you, his own gun sweeping the hallway.
  2081. >The building is mostly dark, the red light of emergency lighting the only source of illumination.
  2082. >The walk to the Armory is eerily quiet, the halls devoid of the usual traffic the facility is used to.
  2083. “Sir” You whisper back, catching Walsh’s ear. “Have you seen Anon yet?”
  2084. >”Neg, he’s likely already on his way to find Guildmaster Vadderung.”
  2085. >Arriving at the armory door Walsh keys in a code allowing entry.
  2086. >Your group works quickly and quietly arming yourselves. You grab a pistol and several extra batteries as well as a shotgun and belt of ammo.
  2087. >”Where next sir?” Hannagan Loads a magazine into a rifle.
  2088. >”We’re going up. Top floor has the Guildmaster’s office and quarters.” Walsh slings up his own rifle. “Selene take point again.”
  2089. >Nodding you peer out the door, pistol raised. Walking three legged you keep your pistol ahead of you as you head down the hallway.
  2090.  
  2091. >Reaching the stairway your team begins its slow ascent to the top. Nobody daring to speak more than needed. Reaching the top five floors Walsh taps you on the shoulder.
  2092. >”Get up the last few here and let me know what's up there.” Walsh points towards the end of the stairs.
  2093. >With a flap of your wings you hop into the gap between the stairs and up the last few flights.
  2094. >Dropping low onto the landing you can hear the gunfire in the hallway beyond. You reach over the edge of the stairs to signal the rest of the squad.
  2095. >When they reach the top of the stairs Walsh takes up position on the door with the rest of the squad stacking up behind him.
  2096. >”Gonzales, door. Selene you in first, keep low. Hannagan and I will give a base of fire, Chen and Smith you are going after Selene.” Walsh whispers
  2097. >Gonzales carefully grabs the handle as you step up behind her. You hang your wings loosely at your side in preparation for your push through the door.
  2098. >Raising your shotgun you, and the squad prepare to go through.
  2099. >”Selene, in and to your right, conference room. Clear it and we move out from there.” Walsh nods at Gonzales.
  2100. >Gonzales rips the door open and you bolt through. The hallway is a ruin. One wall about halfway down the floor is blasted open and the room beyond is visible.
  2101. >Burning chunks of wall and papers lay everywhere, the fire and embers adding to the red glow of the emergency lights. Gunfire can be heard from further inside the floor.
  2102. >With a leap and flap you move into the hallway and then right through the door marked conference.
  2103. >The room is dark when you get inside and there are no signs of movement.
  2104. >Peering back into the hallway you see the rest of the squad about to start moving through the door.
  2105. >Chen and Smith make it across and into the conference room. Walsh moves quickly into the hallway when the distinctive crack of a rifle echoes close.
  2106. >A red bolt flies down the hallway and slams into Walsh’s head.
  2107.  
  2108. >A spray of gore accompanies the exit of the red bolt from the back of Walsh’s head. His body hits the floor with a thump.
  2109. >”Fuck! Return fire!” Gonzales yells from the doorway while raising her gun.
  2110. >The squad opens up down the hallway towards where the shot came from. A moment later the fire coming the other way stops.
  2111. >The rest of the squad quickly rush into the conference room. Gonzales brings up the rear and covers the door.
  2112. >”Alright, what do we do now that Walsh is dead?” Chen checks his weapon near the other conference room door.
  2113. >”Keep moving I guess. Need to link up with the rest of the Guild.” Gonzales answers.
  2114. >”Then who is in charge?” Hannagan asks.
  2115. >”Selene is.” Gonzales checks the hallway.
  2116. >”What?!” Hannagan looks aghast.
  2117. “What!” You echo.
  2118. >”She has the most combat experience of any of us. Been under fire before.” Gonzales looks back at Hannagan.
  2119. “Uhh... Ok, Back door. Let’s head out there and move through the back rooms and hallways. Sounds like the fighting is up ahead and that’s likely where the Guild is.” You point at the back door to the conference room.
  2120. >The rest of the squad nods and prepares to move out. Slipping out the back door you move into the adjoining waiting room.
  2121. >Crossing the room you start to try and remember this floor from the one time you had been up here.
  2122. >Reaching the next door you nudge it open ever so slightly. The smell of charred flesh assaults your nose as well as the sound of gunfire. In the hallway beyond, about five feet from you, is a small squad.
  2123. >They are stacking up to get firing positions on the hallway that you had just avoided. One seems to have noticed the door move, turning to face you.
  2124. >Thinking quickly you leap through the door and raise your shotgun. You pump four round into the mass of enemies in quick succession.
  2125. >The men shudder and fall to the ground. Gonzales takes up a position in the door as you skid to a halt against the opposite wall.
  2126.  
  2127. >Just as she does her eyes go wide. “Selene get back here! Grenade!”
  2128. >A red flashing cylinder comes flying through the air down the hallway, thrown from the far end past the fresh pile of corpses.
  2129. >You quickly scramble across the hall, finding it hard to get any traction on the polished floor. The offending object lands behind you with a thunk.
  2130. >Reflexively you give it a swift kick with your back leg, sending the cylinder skidding down the hallway. Gonzales reaches from her position and grabs your collar.
  2131. >With a leap your comrade hauls you and herself through the still open door. The door slams shut less than a second before the muffled whump of the explosion.
  2132. >”You ok?!” Gonzales seems to have landed on top of you, sprawled on the floor.
  2133. “Yea, fine. You?” You crack an eye open to see Gonzales starting at you, mere inches between your faces.
  2134. >The stare holds for a moment.
  2135. “Gonzales, get up please.”
  2136. >”Unwrap me from your wings and I will”
  2137. >Your cheeks redden as you quickly fold your wings to your sides. Both of you regain your footing and check the door.
  2138. >The hallway beyond is a mess and the corpses in even worse shape than you left them.
  2139. >looking right you can see the grenade blew a hole in the side of the building, explaining the rush of air.
  2140. >Pulling back inside you see the squad looking at you.
  2141. >”Orders?” Smith asks.
  2142.  
  2143. “Wait. Let me think…” You pause for a moment then an idea hits you. “Gonzales! You and smith are fire team one. Michales, Chen, Hannagan, fire team two.”
  2144. “Team one, provide covering fire from this door. Team two, loop back around and attack from the opposite conference room to the one we just left. There are more hostiles in the hall out there.”
  2145. >”And you Ma’am?” Chen asks, checking his weapon.
  2146. “I have scouting to do. When the other hall is taken, Gonzales you have the squad. I want you to attack through the double doors in the center of the hallway. It leads to the elevator area on the way to the Guildmaster’s office. That’s where I expect most of the hostiles to be.”
  2147. >Gonzales gives a quick salute and a worried look.
  2148. “Hit them from behind and we might get a little pressure taken off the rest of the Guild.” You nod at your team.
  2149. >Gonzales and Smith take up positions at one door and the others disappear into the adjoined conference room.
  2150. >You nod at Gonzales and she pushes open the door. You dart out the open door and bound down the hallway to the right.
  2151. >You hear Gonzales open fire behind you but all that matters right now is the gaping hole at the end of the hall.
  2152. >A leap clears the last bit of the distance and you shoot out of the building and into open air.
  2153. >You spread your wings wide and glide on the cool night air.
  2154. >You pull hard left to circle around the side of the building. Your memory served you well earlier to remind you of the giant set of windows that made up one wall of the Guildmaster’s office.
  2155. >Gliding by you see numerous Guild members bunkered down inside the office trading fire with the attackers at the doors to the massive room.
  2156. >Taking cover behind his large desk you spot the Guildmaster himself, Anon at his side firing over the surface of the desk.
  2157.  
  2158. >Turning in you find an open piece of floor and dive towards it. A pair of blasts from your shotgun shatters the window in your way and you land with a thud on the wooden floor of the expansive office.
  2159. >You are suddenly facing down five or so guns as Guild members wheel about to see what the source of the noise was.
  2160. >”Hold!” Anon yells from his cover at the desk. “Christ Selene, you want to get yourself shot!”
  2161. “Sir. Made my way here from the barracks. The rest of the training class will be attacking the enemy from the rear any moment.”
  2162. >”Good work!. Were pinned down here. Need to get the Guildmaster to an escape shuttle on the roof.” Anon points upwards. “Go make sure the shuttle is there. See if they can render any assistance.”
  2163. >You nod and leap back out the now open window. A powerful flap of your wings brings you up to the roof where you do see a shuttle and small squad of Guild members.
  2164. >You land next to the shuttle’s ramp and trot up into the hold, looking for the cockpit.
  2165. >You find a pilot anxiously checking over the instruments.
  2166. “Pilot. Is the ship ready to leave?” You get his attention by rapping a claw on the door.
  2167. >”Yes. Just need to get the Guildmaster up here.” He nods.
  2168. “Suggestions?” You look back out towards the roof.
  2169. >”Stairs are going to be rough. Hostiles have it locked down pretty good. We have not been able to get down there to render assistance.
  2170. >You ponder the situation for a moment.
  2171. “Got any rope?” You ask hurriedly.
  2172. >”There. In the survival kit.” The pilot points at a box on the wall.
  2173. >Rummaging through the crash kit you find just what you are looking for. A length of rope and a hook.
  2174. “Warm the engines, I should have the boss up here in no time.” You bound out of the shuttle and back onto the roof.
  2175.  
  2176. >You tie the rope securely to the hook and make for the roof edge. You attach the hook to a length of pipe near the roof edge and give your best pull. Neither the hook nor the pipe budge.
  2177. >Satisfied you toss the remainder of the rope over the side. You leap after the rope and descend back to the office.
  2178. >You step over to Anon and the Guildmaster.
  2179. “Sirs, I have an escape route secured.” You gesture to the hanging rope. “Think you can climb that Guildmaster Vadderung?”
  2180. >”Wouldn’t be the Guildmaster if I couldn’t” Hans replies over the gunbattle around you.
  2181. >”Good work Selene!” Anon takes cover for a moment to reload.
  2182. >Mr. Vadderung makes his way to the open window quickly and at a low crouch. Giving two sharp tugs on the rope he nods and swings out into the night beyond.
  2183. >You bound out the window to help the man up the makeshift escape route. Just as you do there is a tremendous boom from the office as the central wall explodes.
  2184. >Men rush into the room and are met with ferocious fire from the remaining Guild members. Anon stands firing into the open hole when a shotgun blast picks him up off his feet and slams him into the window behind him.
  2185. “NO! Anon!” You desperately want to rush to his side.
  2186. >Tears stream down your face as you see him slide down the glass wall and go limp at the bottom.
  2187. >Vadderung is clambering up onto the roof as you finally make the decision to go after him.
  2188. >”Good plan recruit. And just in time too.” Hans walks briskly across the roof towards the waiting shuttle.
  2189. >You only manage to nod in shock. This whole day was all too much for you.
  2190. >You stagger weakly back towards the edge of the roof, yet gaining strength with each step.
  2191. >”Where are you going recruit?” Hans stands on the edge of the ramp to the ship.
  2192. “Back to my squad sir. Need to make sure they are safe.” You salute as you reach the edge of the roof.
  2193.  
  2194. >You are about to leap off when suddenly the world dissolves around you. The roof and shuttle replaced with the familiar grid of one of the training rooms.
  2195. >A short distance away the rest of the squad stands looking bewildered. The sound of clapping draws your attention.
  2196. >Above the room is an observation room where a few dozen people stand clapping, all of them looking at you and your squad.
  2197. >To your relief Anon, Walsh, and Vadderung stand clapping.
  2198. >Walsh steps forward and grabs a microphone.
  2199. >”Attention training class. Selene was able to get Vadderung successfully exfiltrated while the remainder of the squad tied up a significant portion of the enemy's power.”
  2200. >”Congratulations are in order. You all passed your final test.” Walsh takes a step back and is replaced by Vadderung.
  2201. >”It is my great pleasure to welcome all of you into the Guild of Bounty Hunters as full and complete members of the organization, with all of the privileges and rewards of your new station.” Hans beams down at the room’s occupants.
  2202. >Silence reigns for a moment before Gonzales starts up a cheer which is echoed by you and your colleagues.
  2203. >You collapse to the floor with a sigh of relief. A single tear making its way down your face.
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