Red-Nine

End of Active Obligated Service

Aug 8th, 2020 (edited)
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  1. End of Active Obligated Service
  2.  
  3. (UNFINISHED) (Border Collie) (Childhood Friends) (Comfy Catastrophe) (/K/-ish (?) ) (Too Much World Building) (Post-War) (Military Adjacent) (PTSD/Mind Fuckery)
  4.  
  5. Summary: a disturbed veteran of a fallen empire returns to his war-torn planet and finds his home in shambles. After reuniting with an old friend, the duo carry on as best they can in the wasteland their home has been turned into.
  6.  
  7. ____________________________________________
  8.  
  9. Homecoming
  10. ____________________________________________
  11. You never liked buses.
  12.  
  13. Big, obnoxious, things that clogged up the roads and were always filled with the strangest people imaginable. You had usually found yourself on one whenever you went to and from your job after high school; night-shift at a drive-in coffee shop. The buses at night had always unnerved you, more than once you’d been accosted by drunks or druggies, twice you’d come home with a black eye and several bruises.
  14.  
  15. In recent years however, almost five of them to be exact, they’d been the chariots that had delivered you to some of the most unpleasant and downright traumatizing moments in your life.
  16.  
  17. Boot camp, the AIS Diligence, the Federation port on Prosperity, the POW Camp, you’d been ferried to them all in those big, stupid white buses. Now, however, one was scheduled to finally take you back home, and you weren’t sure what to think. On one hand you were glad to finally be home, but now you were told that your hometown of Averlia had been reduced to a ghost town due to the war; also the Red Cross letter had kindly informed you that no one would be expecting you when you returned. You had nowhere to go though, unless you wanted to join the Peace Corps and die on some resource planet fighting pirates, going home was really the only option that appealed to you, regardless of what awaited you there. You would find a way, you always did, this homecoming however was fixing to be something of a shock. Your future looked grim at best, absolutely mind-breaking at worst.
  18.  
  19. It was dark inside the bus, your eyes were slowly adjusting to the dark; you found yourself reminiscing of how the roads at night used to be illuminated by the occasional street light, even this far from the capitol.
  20.  
  21. You were currently sitting alone in a bus parked outside a small airport approximately an hour drive away from the planet's capitol city, the airport still had a few lights shining from its large windows, but it was clear they were shutting down for the night. Before the war, John Porter Airport had been used in a usual capacity, landing and takeoff of planes to various destinations around the planet, now however, the main facility and its runway was used as a landing zone for smaller space-faring ships. These small ships, sometimes called “Atmosphere Hoppers” were all being used in the relief efforts for your home planet, bringing in supplies and taking those who didn’t want to live here anymore to the bigger Carrier Ships floating around the planet to ferry them off to new horizons. The airport had found itself in an important role once the hostilities ceased, the big airport in the capitol had been destroyed, meaning this little runway was now the only place where a large number of ships could land and supply the starving citizens of the war torn Mastosit. The Commonwealth had apparently come in immediately after the war, hired anyone who could lift a box, drive, or fly and began relief efforts for the planet in record time, one of the staff working there had told you the Commonwealth officials on the planet were planning to expand the runway and its facilities.
  22.  
  23. You checked your phone, 12:47 AM, you wondered if your driver had changed his mind and decided to leave you stranded, you didn’t blame him, it was past midnight and the drive home was at least two hours, the guy probably just wanted to go home and sleep; still this meant you would probably have to sleep in the airport and catch one of the relief trucks into the city and hitchhike to your hometown. You thought about maybe just taking the bus and driving yourself back home, the keys were in the ignition after all, but you didn’t feel like getting arrested by Commonwealth Peacekeepers a day after getting home for stealing this rust bucket, also you wanted to catch a small nap on the way home.
  24.  
  25. Just as you were about to grab your bags and head inside, a figure coming up the bus steps sat you back down. It was your driver, a shift manager who worked leading a small team of teenagers unloading all the ships of relief supplies and loading them onto trucks heading to the city; you also knew he was a present while the battle had raged on your home planet, you were hoping to ask him some things about it since you actually knew very little about the Siege of New Shanghai. He had given you the keys to the bus and told you to wait for him there; thinking about the drive that awaited you however, you maybe should’ve taken the time to quickly grab some water, you were parched and the ship that brought you down to the surface had been full of supplies . . . dumbass you for not asking for any.
  26.  
  27. “Ready to go?” asked the driver.
  28.  
  29. “Yeah, I’m good” you replied
  30.  
  31. The bus’s door shut with hiss and the engine groaned to life, it sounded like it was ready to drop dead, you hoped your driver wouldn’t strand you both halfway into the city.
  32.  
  33. The bus slowly began to leave the parking lot, shaking with every speed bump that it rolled over. It turned onto the main highway that led into the city as you settled in for the journey ahead. You turned to look out the window to stare at the darkened silhouettes you were passing. The airport was situated closer to the mountain range to the south of the city, meaning all you had to look at for the time being was a bunch of trees. Once you left the forest, the trees would grow scarcer and you would eventually have a chance to gaze upon the ruined city of New Shanghai.
  34.  
  35. As you sunk deeper into your seat and gazed at the passing landscape, your mind wandered back to the past.
  36.  
  37. Highschool, Home, The Federation Armada, The War, Prosperity . . . and Joey.
  38.  
  39. Oh Joey . . .
  40.  
  41. . . . Fuck, Man.
  42.  
  43. You are Anon, hailing from the resource planet of Mastosit, specifically from the town of Averlia, a small rural community that had originally sprung up around a now abandoned mine. An hour's drive away was New Shanghai, an impressive, and modern city that served as the planet's capitol. Mastosit was a part of the Federation of Unified Planets, a massive, human-majority empire spanning dozens of planets.
  44.  
  45. On the year 2276, the Federation had declared war against its rival, The Fendorian Commonwealth, the opposing anthro-majority empire; which humanity had lost to in a humiliating defeat. The year was now 2284, several months after the remnants of the Federation government had signed a declaration of unconditional surrender; after a long, tiring journey through the cosmos, you were finally back on Mastosit
  46.  
  47. Shortly after finishing highschool, you had joined the Federation Armada and had dragged your best friend Joey along. You both had joined into what they called a “Co-Op Contract” where you and one other friend could join the Federation armed forces and be guaranteed to go through boot camp and be stationed on your first duty station together with your fellow joinee. The recruiter had convinced you both to join the Expeditionary Corps, which at the time sounded badass. He had gotten the both of you the rates of GM or Gunners Mate; Armada personnel specialising in the operation and maintenance of everything from machine guns to ship-mounted rail guns. You and Joey were both excited, relishing in the foolish thoughts of fighting on exciting planets,shooting huge guns, and killing a shitton of Anthros . . . ironic considering your moderate pool of Anthro friends back home.
  48.  
  49. “But they’re Federation Anthros” you used to justify to yourself ”they’re all loyal Federation citizens no different from the humans, these are Commonwealth Anthros we’re fighting; beasts, savages, rapists, looters, and scum they are.”
  50.  
  51. The Armada had definitely been an . . . experience, both good and bad. The battle that happened on the less-developed resource planet of Prosperity being perhaps the most deep-seated memory you had . . . but still, you didn’t like to think back to it . . . It was where everything went so . . . wrong.
  52.  
  53. You reach to the back of your head to feel the small pinhole scars you had beneath the hair on the back of your head.
  54.  
  55. It’s where you got these.
  56.  
  57. That bastard Lieutenant Commander Owens . . .
  58.  
  59. Him and his fucking lapdog . . .
  60.  
  61. They were the reason so many had died in a hopeless assault. They were the reason Joey had to die. They were the reason you were so fucked in the head presently. They were the reason the whole damn detachment had to be fitted with those hellish Redecker Devices.
  62.  
  63. You were glad they were rotting in an unmarked grave still on Prosperity.
  64.  
  65. You gaze down to the seabag settled against your seat, the little moonlight that shone through the trees only barely illuminating the embroidered patch sewn onto the bag.
  66.  
  67. GM3 MOUS, ANON, Y
  68. AUXILIARY SECURITY FORCE BATTALION 79
  69. FEDERATION ARMADA
  70.  
  71. ASFB 79 had been you and Joey’s first and only command, of which LTCMDR Owen had been the executive officer for. The security forces that you were stationed with were tasked with the protection of Armada ships, essentially security guards. You would guard camps with machine guns, protect the construction battalions, and do other things of that nature that all in all were actually really boring, the worst being having to work in the armory, which usually entailed sitting around all day and staring at concrete walls. You hated your job at times, cursing the recruiter for promising you that you’d be manning gigantic missile launchers aboard ships, but in the end it was still a stupidly easy job.
  72.  
  73. At least until the AIS Diligence, the cruiser ship your battalion had been attached to, shitted out half the battalion, you included, on the surface of Prosperity, deciding they didn’t need the whole security force anymore and had left . .
  74.  
  75. But there would be time to reminisce about the Armada another time.
  76.  
  77. Preferably never.
  78.  
  79. You dug through your pockets to grab your phone. Its bright screen made you squint your eyes to read the time. 1:27 AM, you still had a ways to go.
  80.  
  81. You thought about what awaited you in Averlia. You knew very little about the state of your hometown, besides that the war had spread there. It apparently lay abandoned if what you heard was true, its cadavre inhabited only by vultures and the destitute.
  82.  
  83. “The hell am I doing going there then?” you thought.
  84.  
  85. You didn’t really have a good answer to that.
  86.  
  87. Maybe to see your parents?
  88.  
  89. Find someone you knew that was left alive?
  90.  
  91. Attempt to etch a living there?
  92.  
  93. It seemed pointless, but it was too late to turn back, you were already here and it's not like you had anything better to do. Maybe once you were done there you could find work with some merchant ship . . . or see a Peace Corps recruiter.
  94.  
  95. A light out the corner of your eye catches your attention. You turn to look out the window and you gaze upon what looks like a completely alien city in the distance.
  96.  
  97. This had to be New Shanghai.
  98.  
  99. Across a small river, only barely illuminated by the clear night sky and several distant lights laid the ruined and bombed out remnants of your planet's capitol. You couldn’t even recognize it, you knew several high-rises were missing from the view, the tallest building with a rounded top which used to be a Federation Administration center was nowhere to be seen. The few towers remaining were very obviously missing several top-story floors, crowned instead with twisted and jagged peaks. The buildings closest to you remained only in memory, the only indication there was ever anything there being burnt piles of rebar and concrete.
  100.  
  101. You stood up, hanging on to the seats at either side of you to try to get a better view. You managed to make out some of the residential homes just across the river, they were all riddled with holes and several had entire walls blown out. You looked down one of the passing streets and you saw a ruined Commonwealth tank sitting in the middle of the road.
  102.  
  103. You could only imagine the loss of life that was had here, New Shanghai had been home to just a little under a million people before the war. Devastation on this scale must have had a proportionate loss of life. From what little you were able to recall, Mastosit was one of the few planets still under Federation control near the war’s end. The Commonwealth had been on the offensive for years now taking planet after planet from the human empire. Mastosit was next in line, and they were expected to surrender to the Anthros in a matter of days, they instead were able to hold back the might of the Commonwealth Military for eight months.
  104.  
  105. Even before the war, Mastosit had always been different from the rest of the Federation planets. Several decades before you were born, there had been an uprising here, the planets citizens were tired of the unfair treatment from their Federation overlords and managed to overthrow them. A fierce civil war ensued, which Mastosit seemed to very nearly win.
  106.  
  107. Due to its importance as a resource planet for the entirety of the empire, the Federation was quick to accept Mastosits terms during negotiations.
  108.  
  109. Your planet always feared another Civil War, and with the freedoms won from the first conflict, Mastosit set about creating the largest planetary defence force in the entire Federation. Arms factories, munitions plants, the fifth largest Armoured Vehicle force in the Federation, and even a small air force all for a war with the Federation that never happened.
  110.  
  111. You made your way to the front of the bus, looking to see if your driver could shine some light on what happened here. You had to tread slowly and hold on to the seats as you went, the road seemed to be riddled with potholes, you had to hold on tightly as the road shook the bus. You took the seat closest to the front.
  112.  
  113. “What happened here?” you asked.
  114.  
  115. The driver briefly looks back at you with a confused look before turning back to the road.
  116.  
  117. “The war, man” he replies ”what, you didn’t know this world got fucked up?”
  118.  
  119. “No, I knew something happened here, but . . . not this bad.”
  120.  
  121. “Well, we got invaded, like the other planets and the fucking Federation just left us some of those Directorate fags then turned tail and ran.”
  122.  
  123. You knew about the Directorate, they were originally a security force for the Federation capitol world, but as the war got worse and worse for humanity, they eventually developed into the Federation’s own secret police. Essentially Political Commissars, they’d get sprinkled into different worlds and were tasked with carrying out the ruling parties' will. This usually meant executing a bunch of people.
  124.  
  125. “They left us out to rot” continued the driver ”a token Federation army, An inexperienced Planetary Defence Force, and a bunch of civilian militias against the combined might of the Commonwealth military. I’m surprised we lasted a month even, let alone eight.
  126.  
  127. “Were you stuck in the city when it happened?” you asked.
  128.  
  129. “No, I fought with one of the militias in the mountains.”
  130.  
  131. “Oh . . No shit. What happened up there?”
  132.  
  133. He paused, as if searching for an answer.
  134.  
  135. “I’d . . . rather not talk about it.”
  136.  
  137. “Ok, I understand.”
  138.  
  139. You felt the same way about your service, you’d rather not remember, let alone talk about it to a complete stranger.
  140.  
  141. “You fight anywhere?” he asked.
  142.  
  143. “Yeah, on Prosperity with the Marines stationed at the port there” you answered.
  144.  
  145. “Hmm” he replied.
  146.  
  147. “Do you know what happened in Averlia?”
  148.  
  149. “Not much, except that it got taken when the city got surrounded. The Militia that I was with fought mostly around the woods near the airport, we were never able to get close to that town. I do know that some of the Federation regulars tried to take the town back several times, never made it though. Heard it got pretty bad there . . . lots of refugees.” he finished with a somber tone.
  150.  
  151. You thought over what the driver just told you. It sounded like the defenders in the hills were forced to wage a guerilla war against a much stronger enemy. They were probably desperate to break the siege, which would’ve placed your town right in the center of the fighting, seeing as Averlia was situated in a more accessible pass through the mountain range. You had hoped that your home wasn’t as ruined as New Shanghai, but seeing just how bad the capitol was, those hopes were quickly fading away.
  152.  
  153. “I guess we’ll see how bad it is in a bit here” the driver comments.
  154.  
  155. “Yeah . . . guess so” you say dejectly.
  156.  
  157. You stood up from your seat, hanging onto the railing sticking out of the roof as you made your way back to the center of the bus. You slouched back into your previous nest and tried to get comfortable for the remainder of the ride.
  158.  
  159. You turned to the window to get another view of the city. There were a few distant lights emanating from the few buildings still standing, which probably meant there was still some form of populace still living there. Maybe you could go and see the city itself one day.
  160.  
  161. You looked away and rested your head against the seat.
  162.  
  163. “Too early to be thinking about tourism” you thought to yourself.
  164.  
  165. You thought about taking a small nap, you haven't slept since the cargo ship had brought you to the surface down from the carrier. Your only other alternative was to stare at the passing landscape.
  166.  
  167. As you close your eyes, your thoughts drift back to your present situation.
  168.  
  169. You had maybe four-hundred Federation dollars in your pocket, maybe some more if you could somehow access your bank account, that is if your bank even still existed. You could probably live in your parents home for a little while before heading for the city and finding a way off the planet.
  170.  
  171. Was anyone even taking Federation dollars anymore?
  172.  
  173. Would there even be any stores left to buy things from?
  174.  
  175. Was your house even standing anymore?
  176.  
  177. You tried to push all those thoughts aside as sleep started to overtake you.
  178.  
  179. As you drifted into unconsciousness your mind briefly drifted to your friends. Childhood buds you had spent the years of your youth with.
  180.  
  181. Were any of them still alive?
  182.  
  183. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
  184.  
  185. The first thing you hear as you return among the living is the rumble of the bus’ engine. You wondered how far out you wh-SHIT!
  186.  
  187. You suddenly lose balance as the bus takes a sudden turn, nearly throwing you off your seat, you manage to grab on to the edges of the mattress and sit yourself back upright.
  188.  
  189. “Sorry back there, had to dodge that wreck!” you hear yelled from the front of the bus.
  190.  
  191. You looked down the line of bus seats to see out the rear windows of your vehicle and were able to make out the obstacle that the bus had swerved to avoid.
  192.  
  193. A burnt Federation tank was sitting right in the middle of the street, you recognised the vehicle due to its barely recognizable dark green-colored camouflage. You could tell something had hit it and set off its ammunition rack, as the turret was missing. You peaked over the seats to get a better view of the road and sure enough, laying upside down a few feet away was the ruined turret.
  194.  
  195. Wait.
  196.  
  197. You recognised the small buildings you were passing; you were driving through the main road of your hometown, if you kept going down for another mile or two, you would eventually hit the area with the abandoned mine and the rock crusher quarry.
  198.  
  199. You looked out your window, and recognised the family-owned pawn shop that you used to sell old video games to for a few dollars. It looked like it had taken a grenade or something through the front door . . . you hoped poor Miss Ridley wasn’t inside when it happened.
  200.  
  201. Looking out the other side of the bus, you knew you would be passing a 24 hour burger joint shortly, and sure enough, there it was and was looking surprisingly intact, save for a few windows with garbage bags taped over them, maybe they would still be in service.
  202.  
  203. Looking past all the immediate structures, you could tell that the war had been pretty rough on your town; windows were shattered, almost every building had bullet holes or looked burned; some had been completely demolished. The few cars still sitting in parking lots were ruined or had been peppered in bullet holes.
  204.  
  205. The bus passed the occasional burned-out military vehicle resting in the middle of the road, both Federation and Commonwealth alike, the most prominent being two tanks who looked like they had been trying to ram each other before they had been knocked out.
  206.  
  207. Before you became too enraptured with the passing destruction, you stood up and started to make your way up the bus, dragging your seabag behind you. You knew in a minute or two you would be passing a bus stop that was within walking distance to your neighborhood. Sure enough, in the distance you could make out where the bus stop used to be, the little roof that stood over the waiting point had been knocked over, obscuring the plastic covered seats from view.
  208.  
  209. “Hey man, I can get off there” you mention to the driver.
  210.  
  211. You hold on as the hydraulic brakes hiss and the bus slowly comes to a stop, you hear the bus doors open with a loud squeak. You shoulder your seabag, normally it would’ve been a pain with all the uniforms and other Federation trash in it, but all you had to your name currently were two sets of uniforms, some boots, some undergarments and maybe three sets of civilian clothes, plus whatever little things you had managed to hold onto; making carrying the bag a breeze.
  212.  
  213. As you pass the bus driver, you dig into your pockets. You weren’t gonna be that asshole. You pull two twenty dollar bills and try to hand them to the driver. He in turn puts up a hand and shakes his head.
  214.  
  215. “Nah man, don’t worry about it.”
  216.  
  217. “C’mon, I know you probably aren’t going to get much sleep tonight after driving all this way” you dispute.
  218.  
  219. “No bro, don’t worry, I can call in late tommorow, my boss will understand, he fought down here too.”
  220.  
  221. “Well, for the gas then” ,you say trying to put the money into his hand.
  222.  
  223. “The Commonwealth gives us all our fuel, your money’s no good here. Besides . . .” he takes a look outside the windows ” . . . judging by the look of this place . . you probably need the money more.”
  224.  
  225. He was right, you didn’t know what awaited you. You pocketed your cash.
  226.  
  227. “Well, thanks” ,you say as you begin to make your way down the steps.
  228.  
  229. “No problem, if you’re ever back at Porter’s, look me up if you need anything” the bus’s doors close as soon as you step off and with a groan of the engine, he takes off and you're left alone on the dark road.
  230.  
  231. “Well . . . home at last” you think to yourself.
  232.  
  233. You begin your walk to your parents house, the sidewalk is somewhat illuminated by the clear night sky, you look out across the street and are greeted with the same devastation: ruined buildings, trash everywhere, holes in the concrete.
  234.  
  235. You stop walking for a second to gaze at a ruined APC sitting a few meters from you. You recognise it as of Federation origin, the Marines on Prosperity had made extensive use of these, except the ones there had those massive 105mm cannons; looking at this one's bent turret barrel, you could guess it only had a heavy machine gun.
  236.  
  237. You continue as you keep looking at the remnants of the town. Your home was maybe a five minute walk from the bus stop, you hoped it was still standing. In the distance you can see a single street light illuminating a portion of the road, gazing up at a passing light, you saw the glass was knocked out, its “guts” hanging out. Looking further down, some were knocked over, others were just not illuminated.
  238.  
  239. You turned at an intersection, this was Glass Street, which led from the main road into the residential area. You eventually started to walk past some homes and they looked just as bad as the storefronts on the main street. One stood out at you, it’s roof had collapsed and had knocked down some walls, leaving only a pile of rubble, you knew the family who lived here; you had gone to school with their son, Randy Tello, you didn’t know him much but you still prayed that they weren’t inside their home when it had been hit.
  240.  
  241. You kept walking until you hit a T in the road, further ahead the road ended and merged into an entrance for the creek, a popular jogging path and an area you remembered fondly during your childhood. To your left was Hart Street, where your home was. You turned and walked down the street, passing by more homes whose inhabitants you used to know.
  242.  
  243. There was Mrs. Delain, her home didn’t look too bad, a few burns, some trash laying about. Maybe the old widow was still alive.
  244.  
  245. A few houses down was Avery Jones, whom you had known well and hung out with occasionally, he used to live here with his parents and two sisters, but presently the home looked abandoned, the windows boarded up and the front door wide open.
  246.  
  247. You continued and passed by the old home of Marco Ramirez.
  248.  
  249. Oh shit, his lights were on.
  250.  
  251. You stopped before his house and tried to make out any occupants inside. All the curtains were drawn but there was definitely someone moving around inside, Marco had always been a night person, so it wouldn’t surprise you if he was up and about right now.
  252.  
  253. You considered walking up and knocking on his door, but you decided against it; you were tired and knew that any reunion would probably take a while. You kept walking, vowing to come and see Marco again sometime. He had been one of your good friends, on par with Joey or Annie. In highschool he had been the one who introduced you to shooting and the collection of firearms as hobbies. When you turned 17, you had bought a kit to assemble an unserialized pistol from him and had spent an entire summer scrounging together the money for the remaining parts.
  254.  
  255. The memory made you smile, you wondered if that old thing was still hidden in your dresser beneath all your clothes.
  256.  
  257. At long last, you were able to make out a familiar shape among the rows of houses. Your beige-colored single story home came into view and you were a bit disheartened by the view. Some of the windows had been knocked out, and you saw that the garage had a pretty decent chunk torn out the wall. The garage door had some holes in it as well, although they didn’t seem to be from bullets or shrapnel.
  258.  
  259. Shit.
  260.  
  261. What if looters had gotten into your home?
  262.  
  263. Your mind briefly thought about the Red Cross letter you had received in the POW camp, and you looked up to the roof. Sure enough there was a massive blackened hole around the center
  264. of the roof.
  265.  
  266. The Red Cross hadn't lied to you, that shit had really happened.
  267.  
  268. You felt hesitant to enter, anxious of what you knew awaited you inside. You steeled yourself and slowly trudged up to the front door.
  269.  
  270. You laid your hand on the door knob, pausing for a moment before pushing the door open. There was no lock, and the door creaked as it swung in. You stepped inside, dropped your seabag and closed the door behind you.
  271.  
  272. You stood in the darkness for a while, as if fearful that turning on the lights would reveal a monster. Finally, with a sigh, you reached for the light switch by the front door.
  273.  
  274. *Flick*
  275.  
  276. Nothing.
  277.  
  278. *Flick* *Flick*
  279.  
  280. Guess the lights were out.
  281.  
  282. You reached into your pockets, pulling out your phone and turning on the flashlight, you shined the light around the place.
  283.  
  284. Fuck.
  285.  
  286. Your home was a mess, all the furniture was either covered in dust or knocked over. You looked over the wall in front of you, all the pictures that your mother kept hung there were missing, illuminating the floor beneath and you saw they had all fallen off the wall, several of them shattered and had spread glass all over the carpet. You slowly walked into the living room, taking care to not bump into any of the furniture in the dark.
  287.  
  288. You gazed at the couch covered in dust and small flakes of drywall, surely knocked off the roof. You turn to where your dad had installed a TV on the wall, only to find nothing there.
  289.  
  290. Strange.
  291.  
  292. Next to the couch was a makeshift alter your mom had fashioned out of a spare coffee table, shining your light over to it revealed that most of the religious pieces had been knocked over.
  293.  
  294. Your mother was always big on religion, ensuring you spent most sunday mornings in a church. You felt compelled to clean the altar up a bit, as your mom always kept it looking nice.
  295.  
  296. As you walked up to it, you heard something crunch beneath your feet, shining the light at the floor and moving your foot revealed one of the altar's clay statues had fallen and shattered, leaving little shards all over the floor. You made a note to clean it up sometime in the morning. You reached for the little cross that served as the altar's centerpiece and stood it up.
  297.  
  298. You sighed.
  299.  
  300. Mom would’ve been so happy to see you again.
  301.  
  302. You felt a lump in your throat, but before you could get too emotional, you turned and headed into the kitchen. It was in a similar state to the rest of the house. The dish rack next to the sink had fallen over and dropped plates and utensils all over the floor, anything fragile had shattered.
  303.  
  304. You reached for the sink’s faucet, surprised as water began to flow when you lifted the lever; guess the Commonwealth had brought the water back.
  305.  
  306. You reached for one of the plastic cups laying on the floor, ceramic shards crunching beneath you as you moved. You rinsed out your chosen cup a few times to get any dust out, before filling it up and taking a sip.
  307.  
  308. As you drank generously, you turned to inspect the rest of the kitchen. Several things were missing, like the microwave, Mom’s favorite blender, and a jar of change that was kept on top of the fridge.
  309.  
  310. Looters had definitely been here.
  311.  
  312. Bastards.
  313.  
  314. You placed the cup beside the sink once you had finished the water, finally satisfying your thirst. You turned and walked through the living room, past the front door, and into the hallway which led into the bedrooms.
  315.  
  316. The first door on your right was your parents room.
  317.  
  318. You didn’t want to go in, you knew what was on the other side of the door.
  319.  
  320. Against your better judgement, you turn the knob and push the door open.
  321.  
  322. The room was completely unrecognisable, your parents bed looked like a pile of junk, springs sticking out at odd angles, the mattress being reduced to ribbons. All the furniture looked shredded, as if a large animal had taken bites out of it. All the walls were covered in heavy, black burn marks, the outermost wall was missing a giant chunk and looked ready to fall over. A breeze running through the room made you turn to the roof, finding a massive hole punched through.
  323.  
  324. You thought back to the Red Cross letter
  325.  
  326. Dear Gunners Mate Third Class Anonymous
  327. We regret to inform you that your hometown of Averlia has been captured by Commonwealth Forces. During the fighting over Averlia an artillery round hit the home of your immediate family, Anonymous, D. N and Anonymous M. N. They passed away on the fourth of September of the year 2283 and have been properly buried in a local cemetery.
  328. The Red Cross extends its deepest condolences for your loss.
  329.  
  330. Your parents were dead, they had been pulverised by an explosive shell in their sleep.
  331.  
  332. You couldn’t help but feel guilty, all this could’ve been avoided somehow. If you hadn’t gone off chasing childish adventures you could’ve stopped this somehow.
  333.  
  334. You felt weak in the knees and you fell back to a lean against the wall, this was too much to take in. You felt a tear rolling down your cheek.
  335.  
  336. “Mom . . . Dad . . . I'm so sorry” you stammered out almost at a whisper.
  337.  
  338. The tears really began to flow now, you wiped at your cheeks, only managing to make the rest of your face wet.
  339.  
  340. “I’m sorry . . . “
  341.  
  342. You sobbed silently, your hands came up to cover your eyes as you slid down the wall and slumped down to the floor.
  343.  
  344. “I could’ve . . . done something.”
  345.  
  346. You don’t know how long you sat there crying your soul out, your heart felt like it was jumping into your throat with every sob.
  347.  
  348. You couldn’t bear with the unbearable grief, this room was swallowing your being.
  349.  
  350. You shakily stood up, hanging onto a nearby dresser, you felt dizzy and disoriented as you stumbled to the door.
  351.  
  352. You passed through the door frame and shut the door behind you. You’d try to clean out your parents room some other time.
  353.  
  354. You made your way down the hallway, still fighting against the urge to cry. Fragments of the knocked down photo frames cracking beneath your feet as you made your way to the final door on the left of the hallway, your room.
  355.  
  356. You opened it and stepped inside almost in a rush; you couldn’t bear the thought of living through this nightmare anymore, you felt like death and just wanted to fall into unconsciousness if only to escape the ever present sadness you felt .
  357.  
  358. Your bed was still made, as your parents liked to keep everything clean even in your absence. You started to shed your clothes, letting everything fall to the floor; you didn’t care, you just wanted to sleep and let the day finally end.
  359.  
  360. You yanked the covers off your bed, even in darkness, you could faintly make out dust and drywall flakes falling to the floor. You dropped onto your bed, the shifting springs breaking the silence, you layed down on your side and tried to shut your eyes.
  361.  
  362. Even with the fatigue from the day, sleep still evaded you, your mind instead being swarmed with thoughts of your dead parents and the state of your home; you couldn’t help but start to tear up again.
  363.  
  364. Your home.
  365.  
  366. Your family.
  367.  
  368. Your friends.
  369.  
  370. Everything.
  371.  
  372. It was all gone.
  373. ____________________________________________
  374.  
  375.  
  376. The Dog
  377. ____________________________________________
  378. You couldn’t stand it anymore.
  379.  
  380. The silence was unbearable.
  381.  
  382. This house put you on edge, being so close to where your parents had died made you feel nauseous.
  383.  
  384. You had to leave, atleast to try and escape this reality if only for a few hours, but you had nowhere to go.
  385.  
  386. You felt helpless. Helpless and alone.
  387.  
  388. This fucking sucks.
  389.  
  390. It was around midday, you were presently sitting on your sofa staring at the empty space where the living room TV used to be.
  391.  
  392. After waking up you had dragged yourself to the bathroom and had quickly showered, deciding to dress yourself with the clothes still in your seabag instead of the dusty ones in your dressers.
  393.  
  394. In the daylight, you were able to better make out the extent of the damage to your home. Almost all the windows had been blown out, the walls were damaged and rotting. Rats were your only current company. This place was borderline unlivable.
  395.  
  396. You had gone around the house and tried to clean up as best you could, there were glass fragments and broken furniture everywhere which had been a pain to clean up. Without any trash bags, the best you were able to do was take all the rubbish and place it over an old bed sheet, tie it into a sack, and leave it in your backyard.
  397.  
  398. You had tried to at least clean out your parents room, but there was little you could do, unless you wanted to drag every piece of ruined furniture out only for it to end up in your backyard or driveway, a task you couldn’t bring yourself to do.
  399.  
  400. Earlier, you came to the conclusion that someone had been in your home and had ransacked the place for anything of value. The TVs in the living room and your bedroom were missing as was your old gaming system, a small safe that had a bit of money and some sensitive documents, an old laptop, your mother’s jewelry, a microwave, a blender, and other small odds and ends. All the drawers, cabinets, and boxes in your home had been opened, their contents shifted around as someone was looking for anything of value.
  401.  
  402. Your pistol was missing too, as was your car, the old blue hatchback missing from its spot in the garage, the plastic car cover laying bunched up a few feet away from the vacant space.
  403.  
  404. The thought of some scumbag coming in and looting the house of your dead parents angered you to no end, but you knew it was pointless. It had probably happened months ago, the perpetrators would have already left the planet, if not the galaxy.
  405.  
  406. You stood up from your spot on the couch, moving to the kitchen to see if anything was still edible, neglecting to think about breakfast as you did your chores. The growing rumbling in your stomach was too much to bear any longer, and the state of your fridge promised it would stay that way. Everything in the fridge was rotten or was in no state to eat, a foul smell emitting from the old perishables prompting you to close the fridge door as quickly as you opened it.
  407.  
  408. You looked up at a small shelf on the wall opposite the fridge, you saw some instant noodle cups with faded labels, guess this was gonna be breakfast . . . or lunch considering the time.
  409.  
  410. Wait . . . some jackass stole your microwave and your oven didn’t work.
  411.  
  412. Fuck, man.
  413.  
  414. You stomped back into the living room, the pettiness of your situation quickly getting on your nerves.
  415.  
  416. If you ever found the bastard who did this, you were gonna do every unspeakable thing you would’ve been forced to do to an anthro while under the control of a Redecker Device to this scum, you hated thinking back to the devices, but the burning you felt deep down quickly overwhelmed any troubling memories.
  417.  
  418. You grabbed the thermal undershirt draped over the armrest of the couch as you made your way to the front door. In the Armada they were known as “Waffletops”, they were the most comfortable sweater you had ever owned, and had lucked out when you were issued several instead of one or two.
  419.  
  420. You decided you were gonna go to the burger joint to grab something to eat, hoping that your earlier assumptions had been correct. You opened the front door and were immediately hit with a gust of cold wind, you closed the door behind you, not bothering to lock it as you never found any keys.
  421.  
  422. A few steps in front of you was your house's mailbox, you noted how it was so full that the little door wasn’t able to close, leaving several letters scattered about to get thrown around by the wind. You walked up and took several out and began to go through them.
  423.  
  424. A furniture catalog.
  425.  
  426. Coupons for a fast food joint.
  427.  
  428. Several unpaid phone bills.
  429.  
  430. You stopped at a big brown manilla envelope, you recognised this one.
  431.  
  432. A few months before you landed on Prosperity, one of the guys in your platoon had bought a camera, and was offering photoshoots for 20$, he used a service that sent back several printed pictures to your family, which was what you were currently holding in your hand. You had commissioned the guy to take several shots of you while you worked, you figured your parents might appreciate a small photo album of you manning machine guns and posing in your flak jacket.
  433.  
  434. You thought back to the day with a slight smile. One of your Chiefs, Chief Lane, had caught the camera guy while he was taking photos and chewed him out for a solid 10 minutes while you watched from the safety of a machine gun pit. You guessed the photos never got here in time. You started to tear at the lip of the envelope.
  435.  
  436. “Anon?”
  437.  
  438. The voice makes you pause, you recognised it. You turned to your right to look at them.
  439.  
  440. Standing before you was an anthro Border Collie, her head was a mix of black and white fur; black ran from her right ear and eye, went down to her cheek and stopped at her snout. Her white underbelly ran all the way up past her neck fluff to cover her snout and left side of her face. Her hands and bare paws were also white except for her right arm which was black, you knew she also had black running from her left shoulder down to her elbow; the coat on her legs also had black down to her calves. Her tail was black as well, with a cute white tip. The dog was fluffy, but not excessively so, the fur surrounding her neck spilling generously from the collar of her clothes; you also remembered she had what resembled epaulettes of fur on her shoulders. She was wearing a set of old jeans and a light brown jacket which obscured the majority of her fur, but you still remembered the coloration of her coat, even after all these years.
  441.  
  442. “ . . . Anon . . “ she repeats. The dog before you looks shocked, mouth agape, eyes wide, and ears standing at attention; of course she would be. She hasn’t seen you in nearly five years.
  443.  
  444. “Annie”, you manage to quietly utter.
  445.  
  446. Her lips curl up into a small smile. She suddenly drops the backpack slung over her shoulder and breaks into a sprint towards you, you barely have a chance to brace yourself before she crashes into you, spilling all the letters you had in your hands all over the ground. You can feel her arms wrap around your back.
  447.  
  448. “ANON!”
  449.  
  450. Then you feel it.
  451.  
  452. The device’s nasty aftereffects.
  453.  
  454. Anxiety.
  455.  
  456. Worry.
  457.  
  458. Fear.
  459.  
  460. . . . No
  461.  
  462. You weren’t gonna let the Armada’s bullshit drag you down at a moment like this.
  463.  
  464. You try to push the negative thoughts out your head, although you still feel an unnerving anxiety lingering in the back of your mind.
  465.  
  466. A slight ticklish sensation brought you back to the present, the dogs ears were brushing past your neck as she pressed herself against you, her arms threatening to squeeze the life out of you.
  467.  
  468. Annette Fontanez, although she preferred to be called Anne or Annie, she was the dog currently enveloping you, you had known her for the majority of your life. She was one of your best friends before the Armada. You and Joey had left her behind when you had left, although you stayed in communication. During the battle on Prosperity, you had lost communication with the outside galaxy, leaving her fate a mystery to you. You return her embrace and wrap your arms around her as well.
  469.  
  470. “. . . Anon” she pulls back a bit to gaze up at you, her deep blue eyes meeting yours; she still had her infamous “Look”.
  471.  
  472. “A-Anon . . . Oh Anon, oh my god it's really you”, she says, you can make out tears beginning to form under her eyes.
  473.  
  474. You’re at a loss for words. You’re shocked that not only is Annie alive, but here she was, in your arms. Her eyes still glowed with the same liveliness as you remembered and seemed to search your eyes for a response.
  475.  
  476. “Yeah . . . yeah, it's me” you took an arm from her back and reached up to caress the fur on her cheek with a thumb, as if trying to see if she were real. She closes her eyes and deepens her smile as you cup her cheek, you can see a tear escape her eyes which is quickly absorbed by her fur, she sniffs as she reaches up to rub the wetness from her face.
  477.  
  478. “H-how . . . w-when’d you come back?” ,she asks as she tries to blink away her tears.
  479.  
  480. “Last night, I took a bus”, you respond.
  481.  
  482. “You took a bus across space?” she jokingly asks.
  483.  
  484. “I-No, I mean I landed at Porter Airport and took a bus from there” ,you reply, grinning at her small jest.
  485.  
  486. “B-but how? I thought you were like . . a zillion light years away on-what was it? Prospect? Processor?” she faces back towards you awaiting a response ”I-I thought you were dead, Anon.”
  487.  
  488. “Prosperity . . . yeah, I took a Carrier from there.”
  489.  
  490. “Well . . tell me more”, Annie demands.
  491.  
  492. You gave a small chuckle, this was Annie as you remembered her, ever inquisitive. You knew she wasn’t gonna let up on her questions, she had every right not too; you had kept her waiting way too long.
  493.  
  494. “Annie it's a long story . . . do you wanna come in?” you say gesturing at your home, ”I think it’d be better than staying out here.”
  495.  
  496. “Sure”, she replies, you expected her to let you go and follow you inside, instead she kept staring up at you, catching your eyes and making you focus back on her, her arms around your back forcing you to stay put with her. You stayed like this for a good minute.
  497.  
  498. Finally you break the silence “uhhh, Annie?” her eyes are starting to unnerve you.
  499.  
  500. “Just . . a second.”
  501.  
  502. Her hypnotic eyes were something she had taken from her mother, a line of worker dogs known for their stamina and smarts. While Annie was not the smartest or the most active, she still had a look that could kill. You also knew that if she really tried to, she could probably eyeball you into a nervous wreck.
  503.  
  504. What were you gonna tell her?
  505.  
  506. Should you even say anything?
  507.  
  508. She would be absolutely devastated if she found out.
  509.  
  510. Before you can start internally panicking, Annie interrupts your thoughts.
  511.  
  512. “O-ok, lets . . go”, she says as she slowly lets you go.
  513.  
  514. ____________________________________________
  515.  
  516.  
  517. Home Invasion
  518. ____________________________________________
  519. “From there, the cargo ship took us up to the carrier, we were sleeping in the cargo hold for at least a few weeks, we were all too scared to go into the passenger section. We would sneak up there when everyone was asleep and steal shit like bowls of mints or sodas out of vending machines . . . that was also the only time we could use the bathroom.”
  520.  
  521. You were in the process of telling Annie about your odyssey to get back home.
  522.  
  523. After a daring escape from the POW camp on Prosperity, you, three guys from the security battalion and five Marines had snuck onto a Commonwealth cargo ship that was destined to take you all into a carrier ship. Carrier ships were these massive ships with gigantic landing bays, with space for dozens of ships and rooms for hundreds of passengers. Ships with faster than light capabilities were expensive, not many people being able to afford them, the only alternative being to rent a spot on a carrier and let it speed you off to your destination. They were usually described as flying hotels with plenty of parking space.
  524.  
  525. “The itinerary we stole from the Commonwealth told us that that ship was supposed to pass by Mastosit as well as the home planets of all the other guys there” you pause to take a bite out of a sandwich that Annie was carrying as lunch but had decided to give to you.
  526.  
  527. Annie was looking right into your eyes still, listening intently to every word you said; you occasionally broke eye contact with her, unable to take the pressure from her predatory eyes.
  528.  
  529. “At one point, one of the Marines was like ‘man fuck this, this cargo hold smells like burnt asshole and there’s rats everywhere’ and then he says he’s going to the passenger section and renting a room, we all panicked when he left cause we thought he was gonna get caught and we were all gonna get jettisoned into space. Twenty-minutes later he comes back in and says he got us all a room.”
  530.  
  531. Annie giggles at your tale, clearly amused at the thought of you sleeping on a pallet for weeks.
  532.  
  533. “On the carrier I met this guy, Captain Douglas, he was an ex-Federation pilot, he was gonna be taking a ship down to Mastosit to drop-off supplies and come right back; but once he found out I used to be Federation too, he told me he’d take me down to the surface for free.”
  534.  
  535. Your canine friend shifts slightly, pulling her legs in to sit criss-crossed, still soaking in every word you said, her tail gently swaying behind her.
  536.  
  537. “The captain knew one of the guys working in the airport where we landed, and that guy gave me a ride here . . . and . . . well . . here I am” you finished, raising your arms above your head before letting them drop to your side.
  538.  
  539. “Jesus, Anon . . . “ she faces the ground, giving a small frown, before turning back to you and giving you a melancholic look “you’ve been through a lot, haven’t you?”
  540.  
  541. You think back briefly to the five years you spent in the cosmos, it sure wasn’t a walk in the park, and now you returned with bitter memories and a disturbed mind. It wasn’t just a hard time, you honestly shouldn’t even be alive anymore.
  542.  
  543. “Yeah . . . I guess” you reply in a somber tone, turning to face the floor.
  544.  
  545. You feel a paw on your shoulder give you a small squeeze, you turn to the Collie, who’s looking back at you.
  546.  
  547. “I’m so sorry about your parents . . . how-uhh” she pauses, choosing her next words very carefully ”how’re you . . . how’re you taking it?”
  548.  
  549. You consider briefly just lying and saying you were fine; but to be honest, you didn’t see the use of putting up the tough guy facade, not in front of Annie, there was no use, she could read you like a book.
  550.  
  551. “It hurts”, you answer ”it hurts bad . . real bad . . . I . . . I can’t even . . . I can’t stand being here without them.”
  552.  
  553. Your voice cracks during your last sentence and you turn away to try to save face as you feel tears welling up in your eyes.
  554.  
  555. “Oh . . C’mere” you hear Annie whisper.
  556.  
  557. You feel a paw pull at you as you hear Annie shift closer. She pressed herself against you as she wraps her arms around you, you can feel her nuzzle her snout on top of your head, she sighs as she gives you a small squeeze.
  558.  
  559. “N-no, Annie . . . It’s ok” you stutter out as you try to choke back tears, she only hugs you tighter in response.
  560.  
  561. “Hush, no it’s not. I know it hurts, Anon, believe me I do.”
  562.  
  563. You had almost forgotten.
  564.  
  565. Annie’s mom had died of cancer a while back when you were still in the Armada. She probably understood exactly what you were going through. It was a tough situation that was only made worse with an already present family dilemma with her father, it was a long story. You made a mental note to ask how she was holding up with that.
  566.  
  567. “It hurts, I know, but you just need to fight through it, ok? You know I’m here for you.”
  568.  
  569. The worst of your grief had happened during your stay at the POW camp, which was where you were given the Red Cross letter informing you of their passing. From there it was weeks if not months of constant sorrow. You didn’t eat, you didn’t leave your rack, you barely talked. All you did was grieve, cry, and sleep. Your fellow shipmates had helped you through the worst of it, forcing you to eat and constantly keeping an eye on you. Their help was invaluable to keeping you sane through your hardest moments, and you were grateful that they were so understanding; but the gravity of the situation still hurt, you were still fighting to cope with your parents death.
  570.  
  571. You sat with Annie cuddling you for a few minutes, not even caring about your building anxiety as you started to calm down. She shifted around, forcing you to lean back into the couch as she straddled your lap, still keeping her arms around you and her head atop yours.
  572.  
  573. You started feeling a bit awkward at your present position. With Annie now in front of you, you were met with a face full of neck fur, giving you a good whiff of her scent. It seemed natural, it was like a very faint smell of apples mixed with the usual scent of dog fur, you wondered if she used some sort of special fur soap.
  574.  
  575. Annie sure had grown into quite the pretty pooch. You never thought about your friend like that, growing up she had always been like a sister to you, but now with her sitting atop you, you couldn’t help but let your mind wander. You knew she had never been with anyone, not during highschool at least, choosing instead to hang with you and do stupid shit over the summers. When you left for the Armada, she would always message you about how between taking care of her ill mother, work, and college never left her anytime for herself.
  576.  
  577. She pulled back a bit from her hug to look down at you, once again catching your gaze.
  578.  
  579. “Let’s get our minds off of all of that . . play some video games or . . go for a walk . . like when we were kids!” the last phrase elicits a grin from the excitable dog, her tail starting to wag rapidly behind her.
  580.  
  581. You gave a small smile, her joy rubbing off on you, she was right. It was a miracle that you and your best friend had the opportunity to reunite, regardless of the harsh conditions you were both living through. It was a time to catch up, celebrate, and carry on together.
  582.  
  583. “Alright” you say back “I think there might still be power, I can hook up the ol’ Xbox to-ohhhhhh” your plans are interrupted as you look to where your TV used to be only to be met with the same vacant space.
  584.  
  585. “That’s right, I can’t; some dickhead broke in here and stole everything” you look back to Annie,”did you see anything? I’m missing so much shit, I know someone robbed the place.”
  586.  
  587. Annie's eyes widen when you mention your situation. Her eyes dart side to side as if she was the guilty one, she opens her mouth to tell you something, but nothing comes out.
  588.  
  589. “Annie? What's wrong?”, you ask.
  590.  
  591. She turns away from you, a guilty look overtaking her.
  592.  
  593. “I-I uhh . . . please don’t be mad.”
  594.  
  595. “Yes, Annie? What happened? Do you know who did this?” you try to lean over to look at her in the face, but she just turns her head further away.
  596.  
  597. “Ummm . . well, I-I saw the whole thing happen and I didn’t do anything . . I’m sorry, there were more of them and I couldn’t stop them!” she cries out the last part as if she were completely at fault.
  598.  
  599. She knows who did it, there might be a chance for you to get your stuff back.
  600.  
  601. “Well, who did it?!” you could care less if Annie wasn’t able to stop the looting, you didn’t expect her to risk herself to save the belongings of someone who she probably thought was dead.
  602.  
  603. The dog turns to face you, wearing a frown.
  604.  
  605. “After your parents . . . um, well . . . your ex, Sophia came in when the house was empty with a bunch of guys and they stole everything that they could carry off.
  606.  
  607. Your Mouth falls agape as your face contorts into a frown, it takes you a second to process what your canine friend just told you.
  608.  
  609. " . . . WHAT??!!"
  610. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
  611. "-I GOT SEVEN MAC-11s, ABOUT EIGHT .38s, NINE NINES, TEN MAC10s THE SHITS NEVER END-"
  612.  
  613. Fitting, but not what you needed right now.
  614.  
  615. You roll up the car’s window to drown out the loud music coming from a nearby apartment complex.
  616.  
  617. It was sometime in the late afternoon, the sun had set, leaving only a barely illuminated sky, you knew it was about to get dark soon. You and Annie were parked about a block away from the house of your ex-girlfriend, Sophia, a human girl you had met and gotten together with in high school, initially she was everything you ever wanted, and after your contract with the Armada, you had planned to propose to her.
  618.  
  619. However, she had different plans, while the AIS Diligence was ported, Sophia had video-called you to inform you that she had cheated and was breaking up with you. It had been quite a depressive episode, but you eventually had gotten over it and were eager to move past it, yet here you were, still dealing with her shit.
  620.  
  621. You still Couldnt believe this bitch had the gall, the nerve, the fucking AUDACITY to not only cheat on you while you were away, but to then steal from the home of your recently deceased parents.
  622.  
  623. You weren't gonna let this fly, fuck no.
  624.  
  625. Annie had watched the whole thing unfold, apparently passing by as she was on her way to try and get food from the Commonwealth relief station. She had decided to take your car before they could come back for it, which was what you were currently sitting in, you were glad to know your old beater was still alive and kicking, but you had little time to appreciate it.
  626.  
  627. You had decided you were gonna break into her home and take back everything they had stolen and then some. You had half a mind to set their shitty apartment trap house on fire, but Annie had convinced you otherwise, informing you that the local Commonwealth Peacekeepers didn't tolerate violent crimes like that, however she agreed that what Sophia had done was messed up and was gonna accompany and help you take your stuff back, you had told her she didn't need to come along, and that this was a matter between you and your ex, but Annie retorted that as your friend it was her responsibility to watch your back.
  628.  
  629. "You nervous?",Annie asks.
  630.  
  631. You glance over to her, the fur around her neck seemed to be standing on end, and her ears were pressed against her head. She returned your gaze, her tongue darting out to lick her lips.
  632.  
  633. "A little, but . . I think I'm still too pissed to back out"
  634.  
  635. "Then I won't either!" she responds, mustering enough courage to at least try to seem confident
  636.  
  637. "Again Annie, I appreciate you coming but you don't have to go up there if you don't want to."
  638.  
  639. "And I'll tell you again, I'm coming, I gotta watch your back. You don't know how many fuck buddies she's got up there."
  640.  
  641. She was right, you didn't know if she was still living with her brother, and coupled with whatever fuckboy she was screwing, you guessed that you might be facing up to three people, maybe more. Annie being there to watch your back would help, but you still didn't want to needlessly endanger her in your little revenge scheme.
  642.  
  643. You look down to the gun you're cradling in your hands. It's a little .380 Pocket pistol, a Bersa if you remember right. You had bought it during your highschool years from some sketchy guy in a supermarket parking lot in New Shanghai. You and all your friends were sure it had been used to rob a store or something, given that the guy had sold it to you for only a hundred bucks and seemed to be in a rush to get rid of it. At the time you didn't care, it was your first gun, having bought it a year before you bought the pistol kit from Marco; you felt like a million bucks whenever you carried it, looking back though, you're sure you probably could've gotten in a mess of trouble if you were caught with it.
  644.  
  645. It was a "Saturday Night Special" in a every sense of the word, it was cheap, small, and old; the kind of gun a crackhead takes from his mother's purse to hold up a corner store and then sell at the first sign of trouble, although given you were planning to use it in a home invasion, you suppose you didn't have much room to talk.
  646.  
  647. You look over to Annie, who you see is checking your gun out too. You had given the pistol to her when you and Joey had left for the Armada, as a going-away gift of sorts; and now that you were looking to get your stuff back, she had given you the gun back.
  648.  
  649. "You said you had a gun too?"
  650.  
  651. "Yeah, hold on",she replies
  652.  
  653. Annie turns to reach for a bag that she had thrown in the backseat of your car. You were initially excited to get to drive your car again, but then you remembered what you had learned in the Armada, that people who don't drive their vehicles for a long time are at high risk to get into an accident. You had thought back to Chief Pierce, one of the NCOs in your Lander Battalion who had returned from a deployment and gone for a joyride in his truck, only to end up rolling it and ending in a ditch. You decided to let Annie drive given she's been driving your car for a while, which she happily agreed to.
  654.  
  655. Annie unzips her bag and digs around for a second and pulls out her weapon and places it on the center console. A single barrel, break-action shotgun, with the stock and barrel chopped down to a more concealable length. The sight of the gun amuses you, the thought of your monochrome friend wielding a gun meant more for criminals making you chuckle out loud.
  656.  
  657. "Pffft what is this?"
  658.  
  659. "What?"
  660.  
  661. You pick the gun up for a closer look, it looks old, like the kind of gun a farmer would use to chase you out his property.
  662.  
  663. "Who'd you steal this from?"
  664.  
  665. "I found it, why what’s wrong with it?"
  666.  
  667. You turn the gun to try to look for any stamps to identify a model or some sort of identifying marks, all you find is an old serial number on the underside of the guns receiver, which looks like it was scraped off with a file, which again drives another laugh out of you.
  668.  
  669. "This is a trap house gun, you sure you ain't using this to defend your methlab?"
  670.  
  671. "Oh screw you"
  672.  
  673. You pass the gun back to Annie, picking your own gun back up, checking again to make sure it was loaded.
  674.  
  675. "Alright, you ready?"
  676.  
  677. "Hell yeah" she punctuates by pulling the hammer back on her pirate gun "what's the plan?"
  678.  
  679. "Ok so we leave the car here, lock the doors, and we're gonna go in that backyard over there”,you say as you point at the abandoned house you're parked next to “we cut through a few backyards so they can't see us coming. We get into the apartments and we make our way to the parking lot with the little roof over it, we climb up onto that and we can get into the bitches house through a window there, easy.”
  680.  
  681. "Sounds like a plan."
  682.  
  683. You press-check your burner one last time, you both get out of your car, ready to fuck up that witch’s night.
  684.  
  685. You tuck your gun into your waistband, you look at Annie who’s following suit by opening her jacket and slipping the shotgun into an inside pocket. She digs around her clothes and pulls out the car keys, pressing the lock button which your car beeps in response to.
  686.  
  687. You make your way through the abandoned property, Annie following you closely. You climb over the fence once you reach the backyard, the chainlink jangling beneath your weight. You wait long enough to ensure Annie makes it over safely, ensuring her jacket nor her fur got caught on the fence.
  688.  
  689. You think back to a time when you were younger, you and Annie had been fooling around your school on a weekend, until some cops had pulled up, probably thinking you two were vandalising the place. Instead of risking community-service, you both ran for it; aiming for a fence that you could climb over that led into a neighborhood where you could easily lose your pursuers. In her panic, Annie had jumped from the top of the fence to the ground and had cut her tail on the pointed ends atop the fence. She needed stitches for it, a fact that you had always felt a bit guilty about.
  690.  
  691. You realize that you’re still standing before the fence, Anne already past it and standing before you, staring at you with a classic canine head tilt.
  692.  
  693. “You alright, ‘Non?”
  694.  
  695. “Oh . . Yeah” you shake your head.
  696.  
  697. “Something on your mind?” you both turn to walk towards the next obstacle.
  698.  
  699. “I was thinking about that one time we ran from cops and you cut your tail on a fence” you explain, you reach the next fence and begin to climb over.
  700.  
  701. “Oh that? Heh, yeah I remember” she followed after you “what of it?”
  702.  
  703. “Were you mad at me? It was my idea to go for the fence” you jump off the fence, landing on soft ground.
  704.  
  705. “Nah, I was more mad at the fence, bastard made me get a whipping from my mom” she reaches the top and swings a leg over and begins to slowly make her way down “I agreed to climb it anyway, wasn’t your fault.”
  706.  
  707. You continue until you reach the next fence “you always sucked at climbing fences”,you tease.
  708.  
  709. “Screw you, it's hard to do that shit with paws” she says as she gestures down to her bare paws.
  710.  
  711. “You try to climb a rusty, pointy, metal fence without shoes” Annie continues.
  712.  
  713. “It's okay, everyone sucks at something” you reply.
  714.  
  715. The canine stops and looks at you with a smirk.
  716.  
  717. “Just cause you’re back doesn’t mean I won’t bite you” she punctuates her threat by giving you an evil grin which exposes some teeth at the corners of her mouth.
  718.  
  719. You knew it was just a jab, simple teasing; but you couldn’t help but get nervous at her threat, the gears in your head turning to remind you of your condition.
  720.  
  721. This goddamn device and its bullshit aftereffects.
  722.  
  723. You start climbing the next fence to take your mind off it.
  724.  
  725. Once you’re both over the fence, Annie stops and puts a paw on your shoulder, she crouches down and brings you down with her.
  726.  
  727. “Ok, so . . uh-go over the plan again, yeah?” she looks nervous, and understandably so, the worst type of fighting she’s been in was when she got beat up by a group of assholes in school, a memory you held on to fondly.
  728.  
  729. “Alright . . . sooo . . “ your nerves are starting to get to you as well. You think for a second about your plan.
  730.  
  731. “We're gonna go in right?” Annie nods her head in acknowledgment “we go room by room, guns out and we drag anyone out into the living room, anyone doesn’t wanna cooperate, we bash ‘em until they do”, you say as you pat at the spot where Annie’s gun was nestled.
  732.  
  733. “We get them all on that shitty couch, and I’ll watch them and make sure they stay put, meanwhile, you go and fill up the bags. They probably already sold most of the shit, so just grab anything of value you see laying around, it's all rightfully ours anyway. As soon as you're done, let me know and we’ll be off.”
  734.  
  735. “Ok . . “ the dog looks up as if recording your words to memory “got it . . easy enough, heh.”
  736.  
  737. “Let's put on the masks” you reach back and unshoulder the backpack you’ve been carrying, digging into the small pockets to pull out a simple ski mask.
  738.  
  739. Annie follows suit and pulls a mask out from her back pocket, she struggles with it, trying to fit her snout into the material. After some pulling and cursing, she looks back at you, her snout poking through the hole meant for her eye, the other two holes spilling with fur.
  740.  
  741. You stifle a laugh ”Pfft, no, you ding-dong, here” you pull the mask off her and pull it over her head. She stays still as you adjust it for her, ensuring she can see and breath. Her ears are pushing against the fabric, but at least it covers her face.
  742.  
  743. “Alright, you good?”
  744.  
  745. “Yeah, lets go”, Annie replies, standing back up.
  746.  
  747. You stand before the final fence, on the other side is the apartment complex where you would find your ex’s pad, Annie had apparently scouted the place out months prior, planning on recuperating your belonging herself but had never mustered the courage for it, so you atleast knew that she was probably still living there.
  748.  
  749. Before Anne starts to climb up the fence, you pull her back and turn her to face you.
  750.  
  751. “Your thing loaded?”
  752.  
  753. “Yeah”, she says as she pulls the gun out of her jacket.
  754.  
  755. “Please check.”
  756.  
  757. *Clack*
  758.  
  759. Breaking open the barrel reveals an empty void where the shell should be. Good thing you caught that.
  760.  
  761. “Shit” the dog starts to dig into her jacket’s pockets, you hear the familiar sound of shells shifting around as she pulls one out and loads it, shutting the action and pulling the hammer back.
  762.  
  763. “Annie” she looks up at you ,”anything happens, plan starts going sour or whatever, you shoot, okay? I want both of us to go home tonight.”
  764.  
  765. “I know . . . come on now, you know I’m a killer”, she replies with an amused smile.
  766.  
  767. “Well come on then, ‘killer’ ”, you say turning to the fence.
  768.  
  769. You both climb the fence and land on hard concrete, you’re in the apartment complex’s parking lot now. You lead the both of you to a nearby dumpster, the repugnant stench invading your senses, making Annie scrunch her nose. From the dumpster, you were able to climb onto a small roof meant to protect the resident’s vehicles from the elements. Across the roof was a wall with a row of windows, you remembered that your ex’s bathroom window was the second from the right.
  770.  
  771. As you and Annie crossed the canopy, you gazed across the sea of roofs before you. The late afternoon sky had darkened considerably, leaving only scattered lights coming from windows and the odd street light still standing.
  772.  
  773. This area of the town was still considerably populated, unlike the area where your neighborhood was, due mostly to the severity of the war's devastation to the northern end of the town, here in the southern area, the residents were spared the worst of the fighting, regardless many had still caught ships out of the planet, leaving many homes empty.
  774.  
  775. You and Annie crouched before the bathroom window. You pulled your pistol from your waist and Annie cradled her shotgun with both hands.
  776.  
  777. “Ok, in and out, quick as possible, don’t fuck up”, you said as you began prying at the window.
  778.  
  779. “Gotcha” replied the dog.
  780.  
  781. The window slid open, and you slowly went in feet first, careful to not make any noise or knock anything over. Annie followed after you, her toenails lightly clicking against the tile floor.
  782.  
  783. You carefully opened the door that led out the bathroom, and were met with a dark hallway, although at the end, you could see the living room was illuminated. As you pressed further inside you were hit with the stench of old pizza, dirty clothes, and cheap alcohol. You heard some talking, definitely coming from a TV, so there was likely someone in the living room.
  784.  
  785. You’d been here with to visit your then girlfriend dozens of times, so you knew the layout pretty well; immediately to your right was a bedroom, on the other side was another, Sophia’s bedroom, the hallway led into the living room and the final doorway right of the hallway led into the kitchen and front door.
  786.  
  787. You stop to turn to Annie, her ears are low and her eyes are wide; you hoped she wouldn’t panic and do something stupid. You point at her and point at the bedroom closest to you; she seemed to understand, she carefully opened the door and peeked inside. She closed it just as carefully and looked at you and shook her head.
  788.  
  789. Ok, so it's just the guy in the living room and maybe Sophia in her bedroom. You slowly advance, the carpeted floor muffling the majority of your movement. You pointed to the living room, Annie again picking up on your directions and moving ahead of you, she turned and checked the kitchen before moving into the living room.
  790.  
  791. “Move and you die” you heard being called from the living room “hands up.”
  792.  
  793. You smirked briefly, Anne was truly an elite operator.
  794.  
  795. Confident that Annie could handle whoever she had at gunpoint you turned into Sophia’s room, swinging the door open briskly, not caring about the noise anymore.
  796.  
  797. You flicked the light on, and you made out a figure lying beneath the covers of the bed in the center of the room. Stepping further into the room, sure enough your ex was sleeping peacefully, lightly snoring. She was a white female with light brown hair and a pretty face that you had foolishly fallen for years ago. The room was a mess, there were clothes scattered everywhere, and her nightstand was overflowing with empty beer bottles. You saw that one was still half-full. You grabbed it and splashed its contents on your ex, before dropping the now empty bottle and aiming the pistol at her. She quickly shot up, gasping at the sudden cold sensation.
  798.  
  799. “WHAT THE FU-“ seeing a gun aimed at her quickly shut her up, her initial anger replaced with a look of fear.
  800.  
  801. “Get your ass to the living room” you said as stoically as possible “you scream you die.”
  802.  
  803. She began to slowly step out the bed, eyeing you the whole time. When she didn’t move quick enough, you grabbed her by a wrist and roughly yanked her out the bed and began to shove her out of the room.
  804.  
  805. “MOVE!” you ordered.
  806.  
  807. “Don’t fucking touch me!” she shot back, regardless she started to walk towards the living room.
  808.  
  809. You followed her into the living room. Sophia was only wearing a light shirt and a pair of panties, she had always been an early sleeper, likely explaining why she was already asleep when it was only around 7 at night.
  810.  
  811. Entering the living room, you saw a couch facing away from you, surrounded by half-eaten plates of food and more beer bottles, a shirtless man sitting on it. In front of him stood Annie, aiming her shotgun at him. You led Sophia to the couch, shoving her into it when you were close enough, she landed atop the man sitting there; a caucasian male with long hair and what you could only describe as scabs all over his face and body.
  812.  
  813. Sophia had really traded you for a meth head?
  814.  
  815. Wait.
  816.  
  817. You knew this fuck.
  818.  
  819. His name was Joshua Richardson, you had gone to school with him. You barely had known him but knew that he had traded a juicy sports scholarship for a spiraling drug habit. He had always been a fuck-boy, the fact that this little shit had stolen Sophia from you made your face burn with anger.
  820.  
  821. You stepped back to stand beside Annie, patting her shoulder which made her turn to you. “Go and get the shit” you told her as you unshouldered and handed her your backpack, eyeing your two hostages the whole time.
  822.  
  823. She quickly obeyed and walked back into the hallway, you heard stuff being moved around and zippers being done up.
  824.  
  825. “Did Marco send you?” asked Joshua, anger beginning to grow on his face.
  826.  
  827. “Shut up” you replied, pointing your gun at him. You take a second to take in what he just asked. Did he mean Marco as in Marco your friend? Marco knew these fucks?
  828.  
  829. “A-Anon?” you hear Sophia say. You look over to her, seeing a shocked expression on her. “Is that you?”
  830.  
  831. You don’t answer, choosing instead to stare daggers at the backstabbing wreck before you.
  832.  
  833. “A-Anon . . please, I’m sorry . . i-it wasn’t my idea” she pleads, apparently catching on as to why you were here.
  834.  
  835. You point the pistol over to her “Shut up you lying . . . skank” you say bitterly.
  836.  
  837. “Anon please! Don’t do anything you’ll regret!” her begging sounds pathetic, you have the greatest urge to pull the trigger, but Anne running back into the room and dropping a bag near you stops you. She begins to make her way back to the bedrooms but stops, and turns back to look at you, her eyes staring at something behind you. You turn around to look, seeing only a white, plastic folding table with a small flat screen sitting on it; you turn back to focus back on Sophia.
  838.  
  839. Annie walks past you, puts her gun down on the surface and ducks down beneath the table, you can hear her messing with the TVs cable, she stands back up and you can hear her grunt as she picks it up, she sets it down next to the doorway that leads into the kitchen.
  840.  
  841. “What's that?” you ask
  842.  
  843. “Isn’t this your TV?” Anne replies
  844.  
  845. “Oh shit, it is” you think, recognising the small TV you used to have in your room.
  846.  
  847. You only nod in acknowledgement, Annie quickly grabs her weapon and picks the second bag up and begins to make her way back to the bedrooms before Sophia piping up stops her.
  848.  
  849. “This bitch?!” she says as she looks at Anne, she turns to you “you’re fucking robbing me with this . . MUTT?!
  850.  
  851. Mutt.
  852.  
  853. Annie didn’t like being called a mutt.
  854.  
  855. You can see anger flash across her face, she steps up to the couch and you think she’s about to strike Sophia with her gun, but instead, Anne picks up a nearby beer bottle and tosses it at her, the bottle connecting with her head with a resounding “Bonk”. Sophia yelps and clutches her head in pain, cursing Anne beneath her breath.
  856.  
  857. “Shut your ass up, hoe”, Annie yells before running back into the hallway.
  858.  
  859. You’re barely able to stifle your laughter at the exchange that just happened, your hate for Sophia being temporarily quenched after seeing her get domed by a bottle.
  860.  
  861. Annie and Sophia never got along back then, whenever they were near each other they’d always be down each others throats. When you were together, Sophia always liked to bad mouth Anne, calling her a “filthy anthro” or other choice words. She also forbade you from hanging out with her, which you always ignored.
  862.  
  863. You can hear Anne shifting through the rooms, the sounds of drawers being opened and objects falling on the ground making Joshua look back towards the hallway.
  864.  
  865. “I’ll find you” he says to you snidely
  866.  
  867. “I’m sure you will” you reply sarcastically, pointing your pistol back over to him.
  868.  
  869. Anne coming back into the room interrupts your exchange, she’s dragging both the bag and what you recognise as your mother's small safe. She turns to you and reaches into her waistband.
  870.  
  871. “Look what I found” she tosses something at you, which you barely catch with one hand.
  872.  
  873. It was your pistol, the trashy Glock 19 you had built with the kit you bought from Marco, you were glad to see it back in your possession. You tucked it in the back of your waistband, suppressing the joy you felt.
  874.  
  875. “Ok that’s everything” Annie announces.
  876.  
  877. You lower your gun and go to shoulder one of the bags, only to be surprised at its weight. The fuck had Annie put in here? Whatever, you’d dig through this stuff later.
  878.  
  879. You grab the safe, its contents rattling around inside. Annie throws her bag on and puts her gun inside her jacket to grab the flatscreen, struggling to pick it up. You both make your way to the front door, deciding you weren’t going to be able to carry all this stuff past several fences if you went back through the window.
  880.  
  881. As you enter the kitchen, a canine yelp and a loud crash make you jump. You turn to see Annie has been grabbed from behind by a man you recognise as Sophia’s brother, you guess he’d been hiding by the fridge against the wall this whole time. He has a kitchen knife to Annie's throat and has a hand wrapped around her snout, pulled up and exposing her neck. She’s looking at you with terror in her eyes, she has a paw on the arm holding a knife to her, but she isn’t able to do much.
  882.  
  883. You immediately drop the safe and point your gun.
  884.  
  885. “LET HER GO”, you yell, you try to get the gun's sights on his head but he’s hiding behind Annie well.
  886.  
  887. “Drop that shit or I’m gonna kill this mutt!” He threatens.
  888.  
  889. Annie begins to struggle a bit more at the mention of her hated word, she tries to pull the knife away from her, but her attacker presses the knife closer to her, eliciting a whimper and making her hold still.
  890.  
  891. Out the corner of your eye you saw your two former hostages looking over to the kitchen, still sitting on the couch. You had to act fast before they decided to join in and overwhelm you.
  892.  
  893. “I said drop the fucking gun or I’m gonna kill her!” Sophia’s brother punctuates this by pulling Anne’s snout further up, driving another whine from her, this makes you panic.
  894.  
  895. “Ok-ok, stop!” you say as you lower your pistol. You couldn’t let your friend get hurt, you couldn’t bear the thought of her being hurt because of your stupid revenge plan; and so soon after your reunion with her.
  896.  
  897. “Slide it over here!” he commands.
  898.  
  899. You're about to comply when you see it.
  900.  
  901. Annie starts to reach for her waistband and you remember she holstered her shotgun to be able to pick up the TV. She struggles lightly to distract her attacker from noticing her actions.
  902.  
  903. You slowly begin to lower your pistol to the ground, ensuring he doesn’t notice you staring. You see a brown stock slowly emerge from behind Annie’s brown Jacket.
  904.  
  905. Your pistol clicks as it touches the floor.
  906.  
  907. “HURRY UP” the man yells, still oblivious to the danger he was in.
  908.  
  909. With impressive speed and coordination, Annie draws the shotgun and twists her wrist in a way that points the barrel right at her attacker’s waist while at the same time pulling harshly on the arm holding the knife, catching him off guard and getting the knife off her throat.
  910.  
  911. *BANG*
  912.  
  913. The loud blast makes you flinch and leaves your ears ringing, the recoil from the short barreled shotgun rips the weapon out of Annie's hand and sends it flying across the kitchen, crashing to the floor with a loud smack.
  914.  
  915. Annie breaks free from her attacker’s grasp as he falls back and lands on the ground, screaming in agony.
  916.  
  917. “GOD FUCKING DAHAHAMM”, he yells as you see a large bloody wound in his waist.
  918.  
  919. You had to leave.
  920.  
  921. Now.
  922.  
  923. Annie rushes to your side, stopping to grab her gun off the floor, she turns briefly to try and reach for the TV but you grab her jacket and pull back.
  924.  
  925. “NO, LEAVE IT, JUST GO!” you yell, you both run up to the front door, stopping to grab the safe. You fumble with the lock before it opens and you yank the door open, you speed outside and down the hallway, practically leaping off the stairs on your way down.
  926.  
  927. You exit the apartment complex and begin sprinting down the street, the cold night air blowing against you. Annie passes you, her jacket and tail fluttering behind her, you reach your car in record time, Annie already pulling the key out to unlock it, you jerk open the doors and push your way in despite the both of you still wearing the bags, as soon as the engine comes to life, Annie stomps on the gas pedal and the car takes off.
  928.  
  929. You’re breathing heavily as you sit frozen in your seat, Annie doing so as well, her tongue hanging out her mouth as she pants. You slowly pull your backpack off of you and pull at your mask. You turn to Annie, who’s wide-eyed and still lightly panting, you get her attention by pulling her mask off for her, which leaves her fur at odd angles.
  930.  
  931. “You alright?” you ask.
  932.  
  933. “Y-yeah” she replies shakily
  934.  
  935. “You sure?” you lean over to try and get a good look at her. You place a hand beneath her snout and lift up gently, checking out the fur around her neck. She quickly understands what you’re doing and looks up slightly, exposing her neck to you; occasionally shifting down to keep her eyes on the road. You carefully run a finger through her fur collar.
  936.  
  937. Satisfied after not finding any nicks or cuts, you settle back down into your seat. You drop your pistol into the cup holder and focus on calming down
  938.  
  939. “You OK?” Annie asks, breaking the silence.
  940.  
  941. “I’m fine” you quietly respond. Truth was you were quite shaken, the threat of possibly losing Annie to a knife attack in a stupid stunt was a wake up call for you. You weren’t gonna be doing stupid shit like that anymore, for Annie’s sake if not for yourself. You could only imagine how Annie felt about having to shoot someone, you made another mental note to ask her about that.
  942.  
  943. With your mind now in order again, you shifted your attention to the bag lying between your legs on the floor board. You pulled it up and started to undo the zippers, eager to dig into your lost goods. Instead of your old xbox and a stack of games or some of the cash you had saved up you’re met with a plastic covered wad of a crystalline-like substance that reminded you of salt.
  944.  
  945. “The hell is this?”
  946.  
  947. You pull the packet out, it's the size of a thick hardcover book. After some scrutiny, you conclude that it is in fact crystal meth.
  948.  
  949. “The fuck?”
  950.  
  951. You throw the packet onto the floor board and reach into the bag to pull out another one and another and another. When you empty the bag, you reach into its depths, hoping to find something that was actually yours, only to find another packet at the end of the bag. Frustrated, you tossed the packet down with the rest.
  952.  
  953. You turn to Anne “The hell is all this stuff?!”
  954.  
  955. Annie turns to you, seemingly startled at your displeasure. “I-I . . that’s all the stuff they had.”
  956.  
  957. “Fucking Meth? All they had in that entire shithole was meth?”
  958.  
  959. “I looked everywhere, inside everything, under beds . . everywhere, I-I thought you might be able to sell this stuff and . . . replace . . the other . . stuff . . “ she trails off, realizing the impracticality of what she was suggesting. Who in this town was going to buy several pounds of meth? What were you even going to buy with the money even if you did? A new Xbox for your house that had no electricity?
  960.  
  961. Annie looks defeated, a glum look on her face.
  962.  
  963. “I’m sorry, Anon . . I looked everywhere . . and there wasn’t anything that was yours . . . except the gun.”
  964.  
  965. You remember about the uncomfortable hunk of metal pressing against your waist, pulling it out and setting it inside the cupholders. You begin to feel a bit guilty about scolding Annie for something that was outside her power.
  966.  
  967. *sigh* “No Annie . . I’m sorry . . it’s not your fault they probably sold all my shit for drugs.”
  968.  
  969. “I-If you want I can turn around and we can go take more stuff”, she suggests.
  970.  
  971. “No, just . . lets just go home.”
  972.  
  973. You slump back into your seat, defeated. This stunt had almost gotten your best friend killed and all you got out of it was a bunch of this poison. As well as probably a huge target on your head for stealing a shit load of drugs. To the outside observer, this might’ve been hilarious; a disturbed veteran of a fallen empire finally returns to his devastated home and raids his ex’s house for a couple pounds of meth. It sounded like the premise of a dark comedy, but to you it felt like a punch in the gut, a reminder of how pathetic your life was turning out to be. Coming home felt more and more like a mistake with every passing moment, maybe you should’ve just stayed in the POW camp and gone off to be a paid slave with the Auxiliary Corps and worked on a Commonwealth colony planting potatoes. At Least there you wouldn’t have to deal with seeing your life fall to pieces before you.
  974.  
  975. You sighed as you cleared your mind of those thoughts; you were here now and there was no turning back, only thing you could do now was attempt to move forward, no matter how hard it was. Annie began to struggle around in her seat, trying hard to take her backpack off while still keeping an eye on the road. You turned to gaze at her amusing struggle.
  976.  
  977. At Least you still had her.
  978.  
  979. You leaned your seat back, intent on catching a small nap on the way home. You let the sounds of Annie grumbling to herself lull you to sleep.
  980.  
  981. . . . . . . .
  982.  
  983. “Anon?”
  984.  
  985. You slowly begin to stir, not wanting to wake up and face reality just yet.
  986.  
  987. “Anon? We’re here.”
  988.  
  989. You open your eyes to an unfamiliar sight, you’re parked in a driveway but the house isn’t yours; then you remember the place. This is Annie’s home.
  990.  
  991. “Why’re we here?” you bring your seat back up and turn to Annie, who you can see has shed her jacket.
  992.  
  993. “Well Anon . . . your house is a mess, there are rats everywhere and there’s no power . . I think you’d do a lot better sleeping in my guest room, I atleast still have lights . . . and a microwave and stove.”
  994.  
  995. She was right, and the chance to leave the scene of the tragedy gave you a feeling of relief; although you were a bit uneasy with encroaching on Annie’s home, not to mention you had left all your clothes and essentials back at your home.
  996.  
  997. “I-thanks Annie, but I don’t wanna mooch off of you . . you’ve already done a lo-“
  998.  
  999. “Oh come on, Anon”, Annie interrupts “you finally come back after FIVE-FREAKIN’-YEARS . . . and you really think I care about you staying a few nights?”
  1000.  
  1001. You don’t have any response, choosing to let Anne continue.
  1002.  
  1003. “Besides . . . you heard what that meth-head said, that he was gonna look for you, Sophia knows where you live, they’re probably on their way right now to cap you.”
  1004.  
  1005. You hadn’t thought about Joshua’s threat, much more focused on your “loot” and Annie’s brush with death. She was probably right, they’d definitely want their drugs back and your house would probably be the first place they’d look, spending a few nights with Annie wouldn’t be a bad idea.
  1006.  
  1007. “Well . . thanks Annie, but . . I still have all my stuff back home.”
  1008.  
  1009. “Don’t worry, already took care of it” she says as she gestures to the back seats.
  1010.  
  1011. You look back and are surprised to find your seabag, several garbage bags over flowing with clothes, toiletries, and other personal belonging laying atop eachother on the back seat.
  1012.  
  1013. “. . . what . . . how?” you ask as you turn back to Annie.
  1014.  
  1015. She giggles before answering “You’re a pretty heavy sleeper, Anon. You didn’t even wake up when that big bag fell over and bumped your head” she explained while pointing to your green seabag.
  1016.  
  1017. You were dumbfounded. In your sleep, Annie had somehow managed to ransack your house; but this was one of her many quirks, she had an impressive drive, probably another standard of her breed. While others would usually give up on certain tasks, Annie’s determination would see things through regardless of their feasibility. It had its limits though, she only dedicated herself like this to things she enjoyed, such as the time in highschool when she’d managed to raise sixty dollars to buy a new video game by recycling bottles out of dumpsters. On the flip side, she struggled slightly in school, seeing her grades barely skimming on passing, only really improving during her junior and senior year of highschool.
  1018.  
  1019. Annie stared at you, waiting for a response, her tail thumping against the cloth seat.
  1020.  
  1021. “Well, I guess I can stick around . . you sure you can take me in? No problems with food and stuff?”
  1022.  
  1023. “The Commonwealth hands out food every week, if you go, you’ll get some too, food isn’t a problem.”
  1024.  
  1025. You open your mouth to raise another objection, but Annie quickly cuts you off.
  1026.  
  1027. “Look, ‘Non. You aren’t going back to that house to sleep with rats, not when you got Cracks one and two hunting you down; I won’t allow it.”
  1028.  
  1029. Without much of an option, you agree.
  1030.  
  1031. “Alright, Annie. Guess it's a sleepover.”
  1032.  
  1033. “ . . Like when we were kids!”
  1034.  
  1035. You hear her tail start to wag at lightspeed, threatening to punch a hole through your car’s seats.
  1036.  
  1037. You both get out of your hatchback and begin to collect your stuff to bring it inside. After a few trips,her front doorway is crowded with bags of your belongings; once you’re sure your car is cleared, you make your way inside the house proper.
  1038.  
  1039. Annie’s home was a bit larger than yours, her parents doing rather well for themselves. It had 4 rooms as opposed to your 3, had a much larger living room and kitchen and even had a two-car garage. As far as layout went, her home was much like yours, from the front door the hallway to the bedrooms and bathroom was on the left and the living room and kitchen was to the right.
  1040.  
  1041. You made your way to the living room, eager to relax a bit before going to bed, you were instead met with a scene straight out of a hoarders dream. Scattered all over the floor were bins of various sizes and material filled with just about every implement imaginable, from tangled messes of wire and motherboards to pieces of scrap metal. Leaning against the TV stand against the wall was a stack of plastic first aid kits, on the other side leaning against the wall, was what you recognised as a burnt chunk of armor from a tank.
  1042.  
  1043. You walked further into the room, enraptured by all the stuff Annie had hoarded. Despite the somewhat crowded arrangement, you could tell she had taken careful care to ensure there was at least some sort of order to her chaos. Every single bin was filled with similar objects and were all lined up in an orderly file. She had a bin full of canned foods, a bin with nothing but bullet casings, one was stuffed full of half-empty cigarette packs while another had handheld radios and phones in various states of disrepair. You turn back to Annie, who’s been watching you intently as you combed through her rows of junk.
  1044.  
  1045. “What’s all this?” you finally ask her.
  1046.  
  1047. “It’s all the stuff I’ve found . . I’m a scavenger, it's how I make my living” Annie answers.
  1048.  
  1049. “You make money off this junk?”
  1050.  
  1051. “You’d be surprised, Anon. Most of this stuff I can usually find a buyer for; the Commonwealth or one those salvage companies usually.”
  1052.  
  1053. “So like . . . recycling?”
  1054.  
  1055. “Sort of, they usually only take stuff that still works, but they sometimes take stuff like this” she says as she points towards a bin full of what you recognize as radio components.
  1056.  
  1057. “Does it pay well?”
  1058.  
  1059. “Depends on what you bring back, the Commonwealth usually only takes guns, ammo, things of that nature but they pay pretty well for it. The salvage company will take your junk but you usually only get a few bills for it.”
  1060.  
  1061. You gaze around the room again, this time noticing three machine gun barrels leaning against a corner.
  1062.  
  1063. “You trying to sell those?” you ask pointing to the metallic pipes.
  1064.  
  1065. “Yup, hoping to get quite a bit for them, the Commonwealth always pays more when it's Federation stuff.”
  1066.  
  1067. “And you find all this stuff in town?”
  1068.  
  1069. “Mostly . . if I wanna find the good shit like radios and bullets, I gotta go a bit away from town. Most of the really good stuff’s already been found around here, but since there’s so few people left in town, there’s always something to find.”
  1070.  
  1071. “You ever find anything good?” You ask as you turn to look at the dog.
  1072.  
  1073. “Found two live tank rounds once, it was a pain in the tail to bring with, but the Commonwealth gave me nine-hundred bucks for ’em.”
  1074.  
  1075. You began to step towards the couch in the room, taking care not to trip over any of the bins. You landed on the couch, breathing a sigh of relief. Annie joined you and sat besides you, she sat on her tail, so she shifted up to pull her tail out from under her before settling back down. She turned to look at you.
  1076.  
  1077. “You hungry?”
  1078.  
  1079. You might’ve been tempted to eat some more earlier, but the small shock from today's activities sapped any hunger you had out of you.
  1080.  
  1081. “Nah, I’m good for today.”
  1082.  
  1083. “Alright . . . wanna watch something?” She asked as she gestured to the TV infront of you.
  1084.  
  1085. “Actually . . . I wanna ask . . how have YOU been handling everything?”
  1086.  
  1087. “What do you mean?” her head tilted as she looked at you.
  1088.  
  1089. You chose your next words carefully, not wanting to strike any nerves. “How’re you dealing with . . . loss?”
  1090.  
  1091. “Oh” she turned away to stare at the ground. “I’m . . . Ok . . . I sort of made peace with it all . . . Mom passed away peacefully . . . and the war sort of . . occupied me. The first several months were the worst . . but I eventually got better . . I think working as a guide helped a lot.
  1092.  
  1093. “Guide?”
  1094.  
  1095. Anne turned back to look at you as she explained “that’s what they called the Anthros who helped with the rescues . . . When the Commonwealth took over, they got a bunch of firefighters and paramedics and stuff together and made them help people caught in the fighting.”
  1096.  
  1097. “No shit . . . so you were like a rescue dog?”
  1098.  
  1099. “Yup . . . found 12 people with my nose buried under rubble” she declared proudly.
  1100.  
  1101. “Wow Annie . . . quite a hero aren’t you?”
  1102.  
  1103. The dog smiled and turned away.
  1104.  
  1105. “I-I . . . didn’t have anything better to do . . the college had been burned down and I didn’t have anyone to take care of anymore . . “
  1106.  
  1107. “Whatever happened to your dad?”
  1108.  
  1109. Annie’s expression saddens, you fear you may have been a bit too inquisitive.
  1110.  
  1111. “He uhhhh . . he left with George . . he said that I could come too . . but I said no, I couldn’t even look at him . . bastard was at a company disbanding party when mom died . . . that . . bastard.
  1112.  
  1113. Annie had come from a somewhat troubled household. Her mother had been a working dog, starting as a herder for a local poultry company before making her way up to a cushy desk job. Her father had met her during one of his jobs for the big Intergalactic supply company that he worked for. He had come from a rich family and was making a fortune as some sort of financial specialist for the company; he’d also been married before and had a son, who would become Annie’s step-brother, George. The marriage had started off well but seemed to worsen as time went on; there was always fighting, but it worsened when it came to light that Annie’s father had been cheating with her young secretary.
  1114.  
  1115. Annie always left her home to escape the dismal environment, and she always found refuge with you. You thought back to when she’d come to you with her problems.
  1116.  
  1117. “My parents are fighting again . . .”
  1118.  
  1119. “Let’s go get some burgers to get your mind off that” you’d suggest.
  1120.  
  1121. or
  1122.  
  1123. “My dad isn’t happy with where he is . . . and he’s blaming mom for it . . I need to get my mind off that for a bit . . .”
  1124.  
  1125. “Come help me build this sick-ass pistol I bought from Marco.”
  1126.  
  1127. When you were younger, it had always been your goal to get her tail wagging again, and you had gotten pretty good at it. You thought back to a particularly bad incident when Annie came to you crying, telling you how her dad had singled her out and called her a mutt. You had spent the rest of the day holding her as she cried and vented, before going on a walk to a nearby lake. When you both came back, she wasn’t ready to go home so you decided to have a sleepover, you had broken out the sleeping bags and played Xbox well into the night. When you awoke, you found Annie had snuggled her snout into your neck.
  1128.  
  1129. You smiled as you thought back to simpler times. Again, thanking the heavens that fate or whatever had reunited you two again.
  1130.  
  1131. Finishing her tale, Annie got up from the couch and made her way to the front door, returning with your seabag dragging behind her. She sat back down besides you and turned to you.
  1132.  
  1133. “So, what’d you bring me from the cosmos?”, she said as she tried to open the bag.
  1134.  
  1135. “A meth pipe, so you can use all that shit you brought back.”
  1136.  
  1137. “Y’know I thought bootcamp was supposed to like . . change you or something.”
  1138.  
  1139. “And?”
  1140.  
  1141. “Well they clearly failed, cause you still joke like a twelve year old.”
  1142.  
  1143. You laughed in response “Old habits die hard I guess.”
  1144.  
  1145. She undid the clip that kept the bag’s flaps closed and began to dig through your stuff. The first thing she pulled out was your uniform blouse; a faded, light green rip-stop jacket that you haven’t worn for a long time.
  1146.  
  1147. “oooo . . cool.”
  1148.  
  1149. Annie threw the jacket over her shoulders and snaked her arms through the sleeves. It was too big for her, her padded fingers barely sticking out the sleeves.
  1150.  
  1151. “I think I can use this”,she said as she looked at you with a grin.
  1152.  
  1153. “I think it’ll get you shot by those Commonwealth guys.”
  1154.  
  1155. “hmmm, maybe you’re right” she pulled the uniform off and went through the bag some more, this time pulling out one of your precious waffletops.
  1156.  
  1157. “Now this is dope!” she exclaimed as she pulled the sweater over her head, the zipper was down, which gave her neck floof plenty of breathing room.
  1158.  
  1159. “Hang on” you said as you leaned down to dig through the bag, you pulled out one of your covers, a wrinkled eight-point cap. You tried to straighten it out a bit, it had been squashed by all your clothes. Satisfied with its appearance, you turned back to Annie and placed the cap over her head, obscuring her ears. It was also too big, the bill of the hat sliding down and covering her eyes. Regardless, Annie gave an amused smile and wagged her tail.
  1160.  
  1161. You snickered at her present get-up, she looked out-of-regs, and would probably get yelled at for having an unsatisfactory uniform.
  1162.  
  1163. “You look like a bum”, you told her.
  1164.  
  1165. “I look like a badass, Anon” she shot back, trying to shift the cap around so it wouldn’t cover her eyes; with no success.
  1166.  
  1167. A yawn escaped you, reminding you of the time. Annie quickly caught one as well, exposing her rows of pointy teeth.
  1168.  
  1169. “Well . . I think I’m going to bed” you declared.
  1170.  
  1171. “Yeah . . *yawn* . . I am too” Annie said as she scratched the nape of neck.
  1172.  
  1173. You got up and began to make your way to your allotted room. The guest room also had a few bins lined against the walls, but it would suffice for now; it was still better than sleeping in a collapsing wreck. You decided you would gather all your stuff into your room tomorrow. You began to shed your clothes, content with sleeping in your shorts and shirt. The bed had some folded blankets on it as well as a pillow, you were glad Annie hadn’t decided to turn this room into a warehouse just yet.
  1174.  
  1175. Just when you were about to crawl into your bed, a knock at your door caught your attention. You turned to find Annie standing in your doorway, wearing nothing but your waffletop and some shorts.
  1176.  
  1177. “Hey Anon . . just . . wanted to say that . . .” She pauses, searching her mind for the right words.
  1178.  
  1179. “I-I’m glad you're back . . . I missed you . .” she said with a warm smile.
  1180.  
  1181. You smiled back at her.
  1182.  
  1183. “Thanks, Anne. I'm glad to be back . . I missed you too.”
  1184.  
  1185. Her tail begins to wag behind her.
  1186.  
  1187. “Well . . goodnight . . if you need anything, I’m down the hall ok?”
  1188.  
  1189. “I know. Goodnight, Annie.”
  1190.  
  1191. Anne slowly departs from your room, closing the door behind her, staring at you the whole time.
  1192.  
  1193. Guess that waffletop was her’s now.
  1194.  
  1195. You slumped back onto your bed, pulling a blanket over you.
  1196.  
  1197. Your homecoming had a light at the end of the darkness after all, and it was your best friend, Annie. You couldn’t express the godsend she had been, pulling you right out of the dumps and providing you with a warm bed to sleep in. Your troubles were far from over, but it was comforting to know you had someone to lean on. You were going to make sure to take her out to have some fun sometime; maybe a walk down literal memory lane or going shooting at one of your old spots.
  1198.  
  1199. As sleep began to take you, you thought more about your black and white bud.
  1200.  
  1201. You bet you can get her panting with some belly rubs.
  1202.  
  1203. . . if you could get over your bullshit condition that is.
  1204.  
  1205. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
  1206.  
  1207. Pain.
  1208.  
  1209. Pain.
  1210.  
  1211. Pain.
  1212.  
  1213. Every breath you took hurt, made worse by the air having been knocked out of you.
  1214.  
  1215. Every little movement you made shot pain through your limbs.
  1216.  
  1217. Your body felt like it was going through a gigantic cramp, like every inch of you had been bruised.
  1218.  
  1219. But you were still alive as far as you could tell.
  1220.  
  1221. You opened your eyes and were met with a white sheet.
  1222.  
  1223. Snow.
  1224.  
  1225. You groaned as you turned yourself to lay on your back.
  1226.  
  1227. Looking up, all you could see was the clear sky obscured by a dark cloud of smoke.
  1228.  
  1229. And trees.
  1230.  
  1231. Trees . . . Snow . . . Death . . .
  1232.  
  1233. This was Prosperity . . you were back on Prosperity.
  1234.  
  1235. Why were you back in this hell?
  1236.  
  1237. You slowly sat up, the entire left side of your body was stained with blood, making your uniform stick to your skin. It wasn’t your’s as far as you could tell, at least not most of it.
  1238.  
  1239. You looked around, finding only mangled corpses and blackened snow. In the distance, an armored vehicle was engulfed in flames, its crew surely dead.
  1240.  
  1241. Artillery.
  1242.  
  1243. Owen’s counter-assault had been initially successful, your ragtag task force had succeeded in driving the encroaching Commonwealth forces from their foothold in the forests, but the stupid bastard really thought four-hundred guys were gonna be able to push them all the way back to the captured port. He had gotten a wake up call in the form of a massed artillery strike which had caught the surviving Federation force in the open, laying absolute waste to the whole element.
  1244.  
  1245. You began to painfully stand yourself up, you had to leave. Now. The Redecker device was no longer beckoning you to attack, and you knew the Commonwealth wasn’t far from reclaiming the lost territory.
  1246.  
  1247. You slowly waded through the sea of viscera, trying to carefully avoid stepping in any of the piles of meat around you. Your former battle-buddies laid strewn everywhere; some incinerated from the explosions, others savagely shredded from the ensuing shrapnel.
  1248.  
  1249. “gggghhhhhhhrr”
  1250.  
  1251. A guttural groan caught your attention, you gazed down to a nearby corpse, or so you thought. The former Federation Marine was barely recognizable, he was badly burnt, his uniform had been shredded, plate carrier nowhere to be seen. His legs had been blown off, leaving behind only grotesque strands of flesh. His skin looked melted, like a pile of minced meat, exposing muscle and red tissue.
  1252.  
  1253. “Kggghhhh . . . Vhhheee.”
  1254.  
  1255. And he was still alive.
  1256.  
  1257. His eyes were locked on you, his expression screamed pain. He was begging you for relief, to put him out of his misery and free him from this torment.
  1258.  
  1259. You couldn’t help him. What you assumed was his rifle layed a few meters away and was as ravaged as he was, buffer spring sticking out and barrel twisted at an angle. You had lost your own rifle in the blast.
  1260.  
  1261. The blast.
  1262.  
  1263. Joey was with you in the fox hole when the blast had blown you from your meager shelter.
  1264.  
  1265. You had to find him. He had to be alive.
  1266.  
  1267. You turned from the Marine and began to stumble at a faster pace to where the explosion had thrown you from; promising to return and end him.
  1268.  
  1269. You found the foxhole completely destroyed, the force from the artillery shell landing a few dozen meters away completely burying the hole.
  1270.  
  1271. And sticking out of the collapsed foxhole, was a gored and mangled corpse, you couldn’t tell if it was Joey or the other guy who had also hid in the hole. His destroyed plate carrier was still hanging from his shoulders, and on a barely readable velcro name tape read the words: HEISS, J. - O POS
  1272.  
  1273. “Joey . . .”
  1274.  
  1275. He was dead. He and the other guy had absorbed the brunt of the blast that had sent you flying, their bodies had been incinerated and buried beneath the shockwave from the explosion.
  1276.  
  1277. “Oh god . . . Joey.”
  1278.  
  1279. Your heart sank to your stomach. Your friend was dead. He was alive one moment, then turned into a pile of flesh the next.
  1280.  
  1281. “No no no no no don’t die”
  1282.  
  1283. Then you heard it. The sound of snow crunching behind you. It was fast, and it was getting closer.
  1284.  
  1285. Before you even had time to react, you felt something barrel into your back, the force taking you off your feet to fall right into the corpse of your friend.
  1286.  
  1287. You felt a set of jaws clamp around your right shoulder, the pain feeling like a white hot bear trap shutting on you; the pressure breaking your skin and sending searing pain throughout you. You couldn’t move, you couldn’t even think. The teeth shut down even harder, making your arm seize up in pain. You were forced down on your stomach, a weight on you back keeping you from rolling over or reaching back to try and fight back.
  1288.  
  1289. All you could do was scream.
  1290.  
  1291. AHHHH!!
  1292.  
  1293. You shot up from your bed. Your hand instinctively going to your shoulder; finding nothing but old scars.
  1294.  
  1295. It was a nightmare. Nothing but a nightmare.
  1296.  
  1297. You haven’t had one this bad in a while.
  1298.  
  1299. You never knew if you had left the war with anything like PTSD or something, having never been formally diagnosed. Your biggest pain that you had to deal with had been the aftereffects of the device.
  1300.  
  1301. The Redecker device . . . the horrible, brain melting gift from the Federation.
  1302.  
  1303. Redecker Devices had been a human invention. A machine designed to make the perfect soldier; Obedient, steadfast, brave, and unwavering in loyalty. It was a small electronic device that resembled a tiny black chip with a red light that would be installed into the back of your head. Once installed, you were at the mercy of whoever was in charge of you, who would also have to wear a device, once given an order, you were only able to watch as the device made your body carry out the order. Boundaries in the device’s programming had been put in place to prevent any abuse of the system.
  1304.  
  1305. Your security force had been slated for device installation when the CO found out that a small group of guys had been trying to defect to the Commonwealth a few months prior to landing on Prosperity. It wasn’t uncommon for entire battalions of personnel across all branches of the Federation military to be forced to wear the devices due to the actions of a few; group punishment apparently being somehow seen as an acceptable standard.
  1306.  
  1307. Even after having them removed in the POW camp, the device's nasty aftereffects took hold. It affected everyone differently, some people were scared of the sight of military uniforms, Commonwealth or Federation; couldn’t stand being near them. Some guys became terribly irritable for months on end, every little thing being capable of setting them off. Some became suicidal, others were terrified of the sight of snow, one guy pissed himself at the sight of a rifle, another fainted when his NCO spoke to him. You’d heard the stories of deserting soldiers ripping their devices out of their heads with pliers, most brains unable to handle the shock of the forced removal. Across the galaxy were mental hospitals filled with vegetative deserters who had tried to.
  1308.  
  1309. For you, you had been plagued with a temper for a long while, you couldn’t do anything without feeling frustrated and angry. You also felt sluggish and weren’t able to focus, it felt like being drunk.
  1310.  
  1311. The device had also marked you with a fear for anthros.
  1312.  
  1313. Following the artillery barrage in the forests of Prosperity, you were attacked by a surviving Commonwealth soldier, a wolf. The device had imprinted the memory and you developed a terror for anything with fur on it. At first it was unbearable, you couldn’t be in the presence of the Anthro guards without going into a panic; but over time the effects began to subside. You thought that by now, the fear would be all but gone, but your recent interactions with Annie had snuffed out any hopes of complete recovery. Whenever she got close, you felt anxious and nervous; as if you suspected she was going to attack you.
  1314.  
  1315. You knew she would never do such a thing, but the anxiety lingered. You didn’t know if the effects might be permanent; for now all you could do was try to hide your condition.
  1316.  
  1317. You knew that if Annie found out, she’d probably be devastated, finding out that her one surviving friend was scared to death of her.
  1318.  
  1319. You pushed your thoughts aside. Gazing at a nearby window told you that it was sometime in the early morning, the sun not entirely up yet.
  1320.  
  1321. You began to shift to the edge of the bed, your mind still a bit cloudy from your nightmare. You thought back to the Collie in the other room.
  1322.  
  1323. When you two had been in contact, she had told you about her small venture into college. She was aiming for some sort of mental health degree, therapist and what not.
  1324.  
  1325. Maybe you could talk to her? Sure she’d only taken a few classes before the war shut everything down, but even help from a half-qualified therapist would probably be better than suffering in silence. It also helped that you’d be telling your sorrows to your best friend and not a complete stranger.
  1326.  
  1327. No . . . knowing Annie, she’d probably take it the wrong way, probably panicking and either making your own condition worser or sending herself down a depressive path. You didn’t want to make your return another tragedy for the dog, she’d already been through enough.
  1328.  
  1329. You sat at the edge of the bed, realizing you were still pretty filthy after last night's event. You got up and made your way to the bedroom door, opening it gently so as to not wake Anne. You made your way to your seabag, still leaning against the living room couch, grabbing a new set of clothes and a towel out of it.
  1330.  
  1331. As you entered the bathroom, you noticed just how clean Anne was keeping it, save for a few stray white hairs scattered around.
  1332.  
  1333. The cold sensation of the water coming from the shower head made you shudder; you began to scrub the grime off your skin.
  1334.  
  1335. *Knock Knock Knock*
  1336.  
  1337. You moved the shower head away from you so you wouldn’t be drowned out by the rushing water.
  1338.  
  1339. “Yeah!”
  1340.  
  1341. “What do you want to eat?” shouted a familiar voice from outside the washroom.
  1342.  
  1343. “Uuhhh . . Surprise me!” You yelled back.
  1344.  
  1345. When you didn’t hear any response, you assumed Anne had gone off and you resumed cleaning yourself.
  1346.  
  1347. Once you were finished, you quickly grabbed your towel off the rack and began to dry yourself, a cold draft rushing you along. Upon opening the bathroom door, you were hit with the pleasant smells of breakfast being cooked; eggs, sausages, and . . . coffee?
  1348.  
  1349. You were never much of a coffee person, choosing instead to start your days in the Armada with energy drinks, like a proper lower enlisted man.
  1350.  
  1351. When’d Annie learn to cook?
  1352.  
  1353. You made your way back to your room, taking your time with getting yourself dressed. Your mind began to wander as you threw a pair of jeans on.
  1354.  
  1355. This was the first time in ages you dressed yourself in the morning without any stresses.
  1356.  
  1357. No 0645 muster time, no Chief Lane to yell at you for walking up at 0647.
  1358.  
  1359. No blaring alarm clock to wake up to, instead you awoke naturally and at your discretion.
  1360.  
  1361. No more throwing on the same faded uniform, instead you wore your own comfy civvies, not to say the uniform wasn’t comfortable.
  1362.  
  1363. No more hungry mornings because you weren’t gonna wake up at five in the morning to walk a mile to the galley to eat undercooked eggs, instead a plate of Annie’s breakfast awaited you in the room over.
  1364.  
  1365. You suppose that these little moments were what you were hoping for once you left the Armada, although you can’t help but feel a bit . . . out of place. As much as you hated the Armada’s little nuisances, it’s what your body and mind had grown used to after five years of them, as such you couldn’t help but feel a little weird after a morning without them; admittedly, you even found yourself missing those mornings . . . just a tiny bit.
  1366.  
  1367. Oh well.
  1368.  
  1369. No use in reminiscing over moments you despised. The fact remains your current allotment in life was still something of a shitshow.
  1370.  
  1371. What were you even going to do with yourself?
  1372.  
  1373. Where would you live?
  1374.  
  1375. Is there any use in staying?
  1376.  
  1377. How were you going to make a living?
  1378.  
  1379. If you left, where would you even go?
  1380.  
  1381. . . . What about Annie?
  1382.  
  1383. You pushed your thoughts aside as you finished dressing yourself and followed the delicious aromas to the kitchen. You found Annie, still wearing her sleepwear and your waffletop standing over a pan of frying eggs. She turned over to gaze at you, and her tail began to softly sway behind her.
  1384.  
  1385. “Woah Mr. Spaceman, where’re you going?” she asked.
  1386.  
  1387. “What do you mean?” you replied.
  1388.  
  1389. “Why’re you dressed up already? It’s barely . . . like eight.” she said as she turned to look at a clock hung up on the wall.
  1390.  
  1391. You didn’t have a good answer, not really knowing why you bothered getting dressed if you really had no plans for today.
  1392.  
  1393. “I dunno . . for the cold I guess?”
  1394.  
  1395. Annie sighed as she shook her head and turned back to the cooking eggs with a smirk.
  1396.  
  1397. “You humans . . . little breeze and it's the death of you.”
  1398.  
  1399. You scoffed at her jest “Hmmm, look like an unwashed rug. . . or have to wear clothes . . I think I’ll take the latter.
  1400.  
  1401. “I’ll have you know, that this coat is an ideal Collie breed standard” ,she said as she poshly ran a hand through the fur on her neck “mutts out there are paying thousands to even look half as good as what I was born with.”
  1402.  
  1403. You shook your head, smiling at her comments “Fucking Mrs. Fontanez, the purest furball in the wasteland.”
  1404.  
  1405. Annie finished the eggs and scooped them onto two plates already loaded with sausages and fried bananas. She led you to the kitchen table, taking a seat across from you. You eagerly began to dig into your plate.
  1406.  
  1407. Annie looked up at you from her plate, mumbling something out with her mouth full of food.
  1408.  
  1409. “fho woff vu phann pho phovay.”
  1410.  
  1411. “Clear your mouth, slob; I can’t understand you” you told her.
  1412.  
  1413. Annie chewed a bit and swallowed her food.
  1414.  
  1415. “What’s the plan for today?”
  1416.  
  1417. You paused for a second “Don’t know . . . I kinda wanted to check out the city . . . just see what’s up.”
  1418.  
  1419. “I can show you around!” Annie piped quickly.
  1420.  
  1421. “Alright, when you wanna go?”
  1422.  
  1423. “mmm”, Anne downed another spoonful of eggs “right after . . . jus’ lemme get dressed.”
  1424.  
  1425. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
  1426.  
  1427. “I got to drive one of those.”
  1428.  
  1429. “Which one?”
  1430.  
  1431. “That one”, you repeated as you pointed to the burnt out vehicle across the street.
  1432.  
  1433. Anne stared at the armored vehicle for a few seconds, before turning back to you.
  1434.  
  1435. “What was it like?”
  1436.  
  1437. “It's big, and you can’t see shit out the windows . . . it surprisingly hauls ass, though.”
  1438.  
  1439. You and Annie were currently sitting atop a burnt out sedan that had crashed into a street light. You’d taken a small break from wandering around the ruined town.
  1440.  
  1441. Anne had shown you a couple different locations around town, all of them ruined in some way.
  1442.  
  1443. Your highschool had been the site for a pretty big skirmish. Some Commonwealth forces had made a camp in the school, and due to its proximity to the surrounding forests, a force of Federation regulars had ambushed them at night, destroying the site with mortar fire.
  1444.  
  1445. The small mall you used to occasionally go eat and shop at was the final stand for the small militia of human defenders that fought back against the Commonwealth capturing the town initially. The moderately sized outlet was surrounded by tanks, the anthros intent on blasting them out, but the defenders persisted. Eventually the attackers were forced to send in personnel, which devolved into a bitter close quarters battle.
  1446.  
  1447. Annie explained the story behind every wrecked building you saw, as well as pointing out the ones where she had participated in rescues of trapped victims.
  1448.  
  1449. One house close to your neighborhood was hit with a mortar shell, and Annie was the one who had sniffed out a trapped family. The home however, had apparently been hit twice, which Anne had found out by tripping over the unexploded mortar shell. Once she was done with her tale, you saw fit to ask some questions.
  1450.  
  1451. “So wait . . . the Commonwealth was bombing random homes . . and then sending you and others to go save the people they just hit?”
  1452.  
  1453. “Oh no, it was Federation forces who were shelling us” Anne explained.
  1454.  
  1455. “ . . . why’d they do that?” you asked with a questioning look.
  1456.  
  1457. “I dunno . . . guess they didn’t want to give up the town just yet.”
  1458.  
  1459. A distant rumbling interrupts your conversation. You look down the street and are able to make out a vehicle approaching in the distance. You initially begin to disregard it, assuming it's probably just a truck here to deliver relief supplies, but eventually you begin to make out the shape of the approaching hulk. A big blocky shape that reminded you of an armored bank transport. Then you recognise its dark green color.
  1460.  
  1461. It’s a Commonwealth Infantry Vehicle.
  1462.  
  1463. You tense up as you feel your blood rush to your face; instinct screaming at you to run for cover before its machine gun rips you to shreds. Before you can jump off the wreck you were sitting on, you feel a padded hand on your shoulder. Turning to Annie, you see she has a worried expression; then you remember.
  1464.  
  1465. The war’s over, you weren’t a target for those guys anymore.
  1466.  
  1467. You observe the vehicle as it passes in front of you; the two anthro soldiers sitting on the passenger side staring at you and Anne. You can make out their dark green uniforms and plate carriers as well as their wolfish features, the one manning the machine gun up top just leaning against his turret hole, not even handling the gun. As they pass by, out of the corner of your eye you see Annie raising a hand at them and waving. They continue down the street, leaving a small trail of dust behind them. When they’re gone, your friend turns to you.
  1468.  
  1469. “You alright, Anon?”
  1470.  
  1471. “ . . yeah uhh-I just . . . I just got a bit nervous I guess” you explained.
  1472.  
  1473. “Don’t worry, they’re good people, I know some of them. They just patrol the town here and there and give out food to the people still living here; they don’t bother anyone.”
  1474.  
  1475. You don’t answer, instead looking down the road, wondering if they might turn around. Annie however puts an arm around your shoulders.
  1476.  
  1477. “Relax, Anon. War already ended, you’re not in danger, I promise.”
  1478.  
  1479. You reflexively tense up at Annie’s touch and she seems to take note of this, briefly gazing at you to observe your reaction before looking back across the road. You can see her nose twitching as you hear light sniffing. She seems to get the hint and takes her arm off you. You both sit in awkward silence for a while before Annie decides to speak again.
  1480.  
  1481. “Anon?”
  1482.  
  1483. “Yeah?”
  1484.  
  1485. “What happened to Joey?”
  1486.  
  1487. Your heart sank. Annie still didn’t know; he was your friend as much as he was hers. You didn’t know how she’d react, but she still had a right to know.
  1488.  
  1489. “ . . . he’s dead.”
  1490.  
  1491. Annie didn’t respond, instead slowly slouching and gazing at the floor. You can see her sad expression.
  1492.  
  1493. “Damn” she quietly whispered out.
  1494.  
  1495. She remained quiet for a while; Anne and Joey had been somewhat close, the three of you hung out regularly, although you had to admit she clearly had a greater liking for you.
  1496.  
  1497. “What happened?”
  1498.  
  1499. “ . . . I’d rather not talk about it” you quietly responded.
  1500.  
  1501. Anne turned to you and put a paw over your leg, giving it a gentle squeeze.
  1502.  
  1503. “It’s ok, you don’t have to.”
  1504.  
  1505. You sat together for a while longer, taking in the “scenery” before eventually deciding to go home, when the sun began to set. On your walk home, Anne kept describing who was still around and who had left the town, which is to say most of them did so. In the daylight you could see that a lot of homes had been boarded up and left abandoned, most with their front doors wide open; Anne told you most of the homes had already been picked clean by opportunistic looters, she did make it clear however she never went through any abandoned homes, much less those of people who had died.
  1506.  
  1507. You were both on the street to Anne’s home before you passed Marco’s home, curiosity getting the better of you.
  1508.  
  1509. “Hey Anne, is Marco still alive?” you asked as you stopped in front of the shabby domicile.
  1510.  
  1511. “Yeah he is, you wanna go see him?” Anne asked as she stopped beside you.
  1512.  
  1513. “Is he home?”
  1514.  
  1515. “Probably, I think it's too late for him to be out scavenging.”
  1516.  
  1517. You approached the front door, knocking on it a few times before stepping back.
  1518.  
  1519. After a few seconds you can hear some rustling to your right, gazing over to the window you see the curtains are slightly swaying. The sound of a deadbolt unlocking returns your attention to the door, it opens and standing before you is a man wearing shorts and an oversized bathrobe . . . holding a gun.
  1520.  
  1521. This was Marco, the gun-nut you’d been friends with since elementary. Like Annie, he looks shocked to see you alive as well.
  1522.  
  1523. “Anon-fucking-mous . . . my man!” he yells out as he pulls you in for a hug. “Anne! Where’d you find this guy?!”
  1524.  
  1525. “At his house, he didn't tell anyone he was back” Anne told him with a grin.
  1526.  
  1527. “Jesus fucking christ! Well-come in!” your friend says as he pulls you inside, Anne following after you both.
  1528.  
  1529. “Can’t believe you’re still alive, Anon! The way Annie put it, we thought you fucking died on that one planet” he continued as he led you through his home.
  1530.  
  1531. “Was everyone left here a dumpster diver?” you thought to yourself as you looked around Marco’s home. Like Annie, he had a bunch of boxes everywhere, most of which you realized as being of military origin; wooden crates with strings of numbers and letters as well as metal cans of ammunition, their contents a mystery to you.
  1532.  
  1533. “I was close to it, man; fucking miracle I actually got here in one piece” you tell him.
  1534.  
  1535. “Well shit man, whats-whats going on, where’ve you been?” Marco says as he takes a seat on one of the couches he has surrounding a large coffee table. You take a seat on the other sofa adjacent to it, gazing at the small pile of narcotics he has on his table. “How was working for the man like?”
  1536.  
  1537. “Well it's a long story, bro” you say leaning back into your seat, you look around the room again finding more and more boxes everywhere. The room smells slightly of the skunk-like scent of weed, however you can tell Marco had been coating the place with air freshener. Marco’s home was actually kind of nice given the circumstances, save for all the boxes and the smell; he had new furniture, a massive flat screen, several gaming systems set up, not to mention the entirety of it was all clean.
  1538.  
  1539. “Well shit, talk. We all got nothing but time” Marco says as he leans forward and picks up a joint, he pulls a lighter out of his robes pockets and lights it up. After hitting it, he tries to pass it to you, but you raise a hand to decline, Annie doing the same when offered as well.
  1540.  
  1541. You proceed to tell Marco more or less the same tale you told Annie yesterday. Your friend keeping quiet and smoking through most of its entirety. You told him about the AIS Diligence, the many planets you stopped at, you skipped most of what happened on Prosperity save for mentioning you fought and were captured there.
  1542.  
  1543. As the intoxicant began to take hold, he began to laugh uncontrollably as you told him about your plight aboard the carrier that brought you home, finding your tales of having to shit on a pallet once exceptionally funny.
  1544.  
  1545. “Sheesh, five damn years out in space . . . I couldn’t imagine doing that” Marco comments as he shakes his head. After a good hour of telling stories, you were mostly finished, both Annie and your friend content with all the tales.
  1546.  
  1547. “It was a bitch, bro”, you say as you lean forward ,”it’s no fucking wonder we lost when we had people like Owen’s leading us.”
  1548.  
  1549. “Shit you think that old fuck was bad? When those fucking furballs . . . no offense” Marco says as he turns to Annie.
  1550.  
  1551. “None taken” Annie quickly replies.
  1552.  
  1553. “When the Commonwealth got the upperhand, the damn Federation just started going full on scorched earth out here, they burned down all the towns around New Shanghai” he continued “only reason we got off easy was the Commonwealth was already here and even then . . they shelled the fuck out of us.”
  1554.  
  1555. As the war began to get sour for the Federation, everything just began to fall apart. Scorched earth was a common policy amongst the remaining human armies; on some planets, entire cities were razed to the ground so they would be of no use to the attacking anthros, their populations forcibly evacuated or just burned as well.
  1556.  
  1557. “and if that wasn’t bad enough, they fucking unleashed those genetic horrors all over the place.”
  1558.  
  1559. The Genetic Horrors, it was a catch-all term used to describe the creatures the Federation government had created in laboratories and used for military purposes. They came in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, and uses. There were the ones that resembled mutated boars who had rows of jagged teeth and tusks that resembled blades. There were the smaller ones that were built off of common rats who were bred to swarm over victims like piranhas and leave them skinned. Regardless of their appearance, their base instincts were the same; they were hyper-aggressive predators who ate both humans and anthros and were intended to make conquering a territory a pain. The Federation had used them indiscriminately across the galaxy, sometimes making entire swaths of land unaccessible.
  1560.  
  1561. “They left some here in Averlia?” you asked.
  1562.  
  1563. “Not a lot, mostly just stragglers around here, but in New Shanghai I hear the Commonwealth is still having troubles killing them.”
  1564.  
  1565. Perhaps the biggest irony you’d faced throughout this entire war was how your entire life you’d been taught that if the Commonwealth won, humanity would be eradicated; your homes would be burned and looted, the men would be executed, the women raped, everyone left would be thrown in camps. Yet here you were, and the Commonwealth was making it a priority to rebuild all the new planets under their control; promising everyone that life under them was going to be far better than life under the Federation. In fact, the only group that had engaged in such atrocious behavior was the Federation; executing thousands, burning down their own cities, decreeing entire planets as traitors, and were willing to bring all of humanity down with them once they lost. Despite humanities brutal war against the anthros, they were still willing to make us apart of their empire, not only rebuilding the human worlds but even helping the Federation veterans.
  1566.  
  1567. Wanting to switch topics, you turn to Marco,“so what do you do out here now? Just jerk off and sell drugs?” you say gesturing to the drugs on his table.
  1568.  
  1569. “Bro” he says as he stands up “you ain’t gonna believe this.”
  1570.  
  1571. Marco beckons you to follow him; he leads you and Annie to where the entrance to his basement was. You duck your head as you follow him down, not wanting to hit your head; behind you, you hear Annie’s nails click against the wooden steps. Reaching the end of the stairs, you’re left standing in darkness as your friend looks for the light; when he does you’re left temporarily blinded, but as your eyes start to adjust you’re met with a view that almost makes your jaw drop.
  1572.  
  1573. Lining the walls from the floor to the roof was nothing but guns of every imaginable kind. Commonwealth rifles, Federation machineguns, rifles with grenade launchers, DMR rifles, essentially every type of weapon that had been used in this war. In a corner was a stack of ammo boxes that nearly reached the roof, on the other side was a large pallet bin filled with uniforms, plate carriers, and flak jackets from both factions. Surrounding the room were white folding tables holding more firearms.
  1574.  
  1575. “ . . . the fuck? . . . how?” you asked, turning to Marco who had a shit-eating grin.
  1576.  
  1577. “Shit man, I didn’t have anything better to do when the empires were duking it out. Instead of hunkerin’’ down, all I did was loot the battlefields” he explains.
  1578.  
  1579. “You found all of this shit by scavenging?” you asked in disbelief.
  1580.  
  1581. “Well . . it wasn’t just me, there were three other guys who helped, but one of them died and the other two left the planet, but for the most part, yeah; I found all this shit out there.”
  1582.  
  1583. You approached a nearby table, taking interest in a Federation rifle sitting there. A modernised Armalite rifle, the same one that’s been in use for nearly three centuries with few changes in it’s design. You picked it up, its familiar weight and feel bringing back memories of your own rifle that was issued to you. Your’s wasn’t as fancy as this one, this one had a fancy stock, an optic, a flashy laser and light device and a foregrip; your rifle on the other hand had been a hand-me-down carbine that the Marines didn’t want anymore, it still had the ages-old plastic furniture on it, still used iron sights, had zero attachments and looked like it had been dragged through a mountain range.
  1584.  
  1585. “You like that one?” Marco asked, bringing you back to the present.
  1586.  
  1587. “Yeah . . . wish I had something like this instead of the beater I was issued” you replied as you turned the rifle over, inspecting its markings and finish.
  1588.  
  1589. PROPERTY
  1590. OF F.U.S. GOVT.
  1591. M4A5 CARBINE
  1592. CAL. 300MM
  1593. M998732
  1594.  
  1595. “You want that man? I’ll sell it to you on a discount.”
  1596.  
  1597. You briefly considered taking up his offer, having a gun like this would be sick, but then you remember you’d probably be left with nothing if you did.
  1598.  
  1599. “I can’t man, no money . . . maybe once I find a job or something” you answer.
  1600.  
  1601. “For sure, just let me know, it ain’t going nowhere” Marco replies.
  1602.  
  1603. “So you sell guns and drugs now?” you ask him, as you place the rifle back on the table.
  1604.  
  1605. “Buy, sell, trade; people bring me whatever shit they find and I pay them in cash or drugs, their choice; I then fix it and I sell it to the PDF guys, they’re always looking for more guns.”
  1606.  
  1607. “Who?” you ask, turning to him.
  1608.  
  1609. “The planetary defence forces, they need guns to fight off those Federation hardliners still in the mountains” Marco explains.
  1610.  
  1611. “Hey” Annie calls from behind you “ . . . would you want to buy . . what was it? . . . 6 bags of meth from us?”
  1612.  
  1613. “Sure . . . always some losers around here who smoke that shit, how much is it? 6 grams?”
  1614.  
  1615. “No, it's six BAGS” you say as you use your hands to give him a size estimate.
  1616.  
  1617. “So pound bags?” he asks looking between you and Anne
  1618.  
  1619. “I think so”,she says.
  1620.  
  1621. “Yeah man, I’ll take that stuff; just don't expect pre-war prices for it.”
  1622.  
  1623. “That’s fine” you agreed.
  1624.  
  1625. Awesome, you had an arms dealer who’d sell you guns later on and now you had someone to take your stolen goods off your hands.
  1626.  
  1627. After some more gawking at Marco’s armory, the three of you made your way back upstairs. Emerging at the top of the stairs, a nearby window told you that the sky was beginning to darken, and if the word of those genetic horrors was true, you didn’t want to hang around outside after dark for too long.
  1628.  
  1629. “Hey man, it's been nice to see you again, we gotta head out” you told Marco.
  1630.  
  1631. Marco turned around to face you,”for sure bro, come back and visit soon, I wanna hear more stories.”
  1632.  
  1633. You chuckled “I’ll tell you about the company autist next time.”
  1634.  
  1635. Your friend walked you and Anne to the front door, undoing several deadbolts and locks and opening it to let you both out.
  1636.  
  1637. “Y’all stay safe, see you soon” he calls to you as you step off his property and get back onto the street.
  1638.  
  1639. With the sun mostly gone by now, the entire street is painted in the dark hues of shadows. You and Annie turned and continued down the road, gazing at the passing homes that lay abandoned and in disrepair. The whole time you were both content with keeping quiet, not saying a word as you both soaked in the landscape. You began to walk through some more neglected sections of the street, each step you took, you heard dirt and pebbles from the crumbling sidewalks crunch beneath your feet, you noted that Anne was eyeing the floor the whole time she walked over more rough patches of concrete; taking care to avoid stepping on larger bits of rock. You imagined walking around an abandoned battlefield would be somewhat painful for someone who preferred to be barefoot . . . or bare-pawed.
  1640.  
  1641. “Doesn’t that hurt?” you asked, breaking the silence.
  1642.  
  1643. “What? Walking?” Anne asked, gazing between you and the ground.
  1644.  
  1645. “Yeah . . I’m guessing your pads can only take so much.”
  1646.  
  1647. “Ehhh . . if the terrain gets real bad I’ll wrap them up. I got a really nice set of paw gaiters from the Commonwealth when I was working for them.”
  1648.  
  1649. “Have you ever just tried boots or something?” you asked as you turned to look at her, Annie returning the gesture and gazed into your eyes.
  1650.  
  1651. “Nah . . . well actually-sort of, when I first started off being a guide, we had this Sargent from the Comm. army who was in charge of us. She was a dachshund, really high strung and full of herself. Well she was a real stickler for rules, she made us wear all this extra protective shit that made everything that much harder and that included making me wear boots-“
  1652.  
  1653. Anne paused her story to quickly look at the floor and step over some particularly large and jagged chunks of concrete strewn over the ground.
  1654.  
  1655. “Well I hated those thing” she continues,” felt like I was wearing a set of cement shoes or something, so the next day I just showed up barefoot like I always did, and she started yelling at me; but then this other Commonwealth guy, I think it was an officer, came over and started to yell at the shortstack Sargent, telling her that they couldn’t be treating civilian aides like trash” Annie finished her tale with a slight smirk as she thought back to the Dachshund getting chewed out.
  1656.  
  1657. “And from there she never fucked with me ever again, in fact, after that whole thing, the officer pulled me aside and gave me that set of gaiters I told you about.”
  1658.  
  1659. “Sounds like the Commonwealth’s been good with you” you told her.
  1660.  
  1661. “Guess so . . . how do you feel about the whole thing?” she asked.
  1662.  
  1663. “What do you mean?”
  1664.  
  1665. “Are you upset that the Federation is gone?”
  1666.  
  1667. You thought about it for a second. While the Federation had gone full genocidal on its own people, you still couldn’t help but be reminded that at one point it had been humanity’s empire; a rich and proud society that you once were proud to serve. Given how things turned out however, you were somewhat relieved that you were now living under the Commonwealth instead of the empire who’d turned to scorched earth and suicidal defences.
  1668.  
  1669. You shrugged,“it’s kind of . . . whatever at this point . . . Commonwealth’s in charge, oh well . . doesn’t change anything really . . . whole worlds still fucked up.”
  1670.  
  1671. “Y’know, if I’m honest . . . the Commonwealth’s the best thing that’s happened here” Annie says.
  1672.  
  1673. “Hmm . . . fucking traitor”, you taunt with a smirk.
  1674.  
  1675. “Woah there, I’ll fight Commonwealth mutts any day of the week . . . shit . . I bet those hardliners in the mountains need more recruits” Annie says jokingly.
  1676.  
  1677. “I’m sure they wouldn’t take you” you argue.
  1678.  
  1679. “Bet they will” she shoots back.
  1680.  
  1681. “They won’t. They’ll behead you and post a video of it on the internet.”
  1682.  
  1683. “ . . . maybe you’re right . . . but hey, you don’t have to be a hardliner to fight the Commonwealth.”
  1684.  
  1685. You shake your head with a smile; Annie always managed to get a laugh out of you with her ridiculous banter. You continue walking for awhile before Annie speaks up again.
  1686.  
  1687. “So Anon . . . you’re looking for a job now, huh?”
  1688.  
  1689. “Guess so” you reply,”can’t exactly cash in on the Federation’s promise of free college anymore.”
  1690.  
  1691. “Well I’ve been thinking . . . why don’t you come with me scavenging? We’d be able to get a lot more stuff with two of us . . . I mean, unless you wanted to do something else . . .”
  1692.  
  1693. That’s actually not a bad idea. It's not like you can go work for a fast food place anymore; looting old battlefields actually sounded sort of fun.
  1694.  
  1695. “You know what, dog? That sounds like fun, yeah . . . I’m down.”
  1696.  
  1697. Anne’s tail began to wag, a wide smile beginning to emerge.
  1698.  
  1699. “Hell yeah, Anon! I promise it’ll be fun, in a few days or something, I’ll show you my favorite spot; there’s all these old tanks and stuff, we’ll make a bunch of money!”
  1700.  
  1701. She sure was excited, you chalked it up to her being essentially alone for a long time. You knew these canines were sociable animals.
  1702.  
  1703. You and Anne eventually approached her home. She stepped up to the front door, pulling an ornate lanyard with several keys at the end of it out of her jacket. She unlocked the door and let you in, following after you and shutting the door behind both of you and turning several locks. You pulled your shoes off, not wanting to track dirt on her rugged floor. Anne made her way to the living room, you however stopped on the way there and instead turned to your room.
  1704.  
  1705. “Hey Anne, Ima’ take a shower real quick” you called out.
  1706.  
  1707. “Ok, ‘Non” you heard called back.
  1708.  
  1709. Making your way to your bedroom, you grabbed a new set of clothes and went to the bathroom to take a quick shower. This time, you noted that the water was pretty cold which wasn’t helped by the fact that the climate was already decently chilly to begin with. Regardless, you spent a good while cleaning off all the sweat and grime that you’d accumulated from crawling around the destroyed town. Once you were finished and you’d put up your towel and dirty garments back in your room, you made your way back to the living room to join Annie.
  1710.  
  1711. Instead of finding the black and white hound, you realized that she’d hopped in the shower herself while you were in your room. You decided to wait for her, taking a seat at the couch and attempting to switch the TV on. To your surprise the TV came to life and a news station began to relay to you the current events around the galaxy.
  1712.  
  1713. Federation hardliner insurgents defeated on a distant planet. The arms industry mega-corporation Galaxy Ordinance has secured a contract with the Commonwealth to begin salvage operations on various war torn planets. Federation military remnants have allied themselves with Commonwealth peacekeepers to fight back against the overwhelming wave of space pirates on the planet Toxteth. Commonwealth officials made a press conference outlining their plans for reconstruction on several more formerly Federation planets.
  1714.  
  1715. You spent nearly half an hour gazing at the events happening hundreds of light years away. The war may have ended, but the galaxy was still an extremely dynamic place. It was ironic to think that some people in this galaxy were still fighting for their lives in the post-war era and here you were on your war torn planet, just sort of bored and without much to do.
  1716.  
  1717. You eventually heard Anne step out of the bathroom and make her way to her room. You expected her to eventually come out so you both could start working on dinner; the day’s activities had left you with something of an appetite.
  1718.  
  1719. You heard footsteps on the carpet approaching the living room, you didn’t bother looking over, you figured Annie would just join you on the couch.
  1720.  
  1721. “Anon?”
  1722.  
  1723. You looked over to Anne, she was wearing only a t-shirt and a pair of shorts which displayed the black and white colorations of her arms and legs prominently. Her fur still looked a bit ruffled and out of place, like she’d been hit with a strong gust of wind. She stood at the threshold of the living room, with her arms behind her back, gazing at you with a . . . hopeful look.
  1724.  
  1725. “Yeah?”
  1726.  
  1727. Anne seemed almost nervous, her eyes darted between you and the walls as she spoke.
  1728.  
  1729. “Anon . . . if you’re not too busy . . . do you think . . .” she paused and looked away from you, staring apprehensively at a nearby wall.
  1730.  
  1731. “Do you think you can . . . brush me?” she finally managed to stammer out as she pulled a brush from her back.
  1732.  
  1733. “O-only if you want to”,she quickly added,“it’s just . . . living alone, I’ve been having a hard time getting all of my coat . . . especially my back.”
  1734.  
  1735. “ . . . sure” you eventually answered; you’ve never brushed an anthro’s coat before, but you knew that they had to brush themselves pretty regularly, lest their coat get all tangled and whatnot. You figured you could do Anne a favor, and with a fluffy coat like hers, you imagined that living alone gave her a pretty tough time when it came to grooming herself.
  1736.  
  1737. Her tail began to wag as she walked over to you with a skip to her step. You shifted over to give her some space on the couch, but instead Anne stood in front of you briefly to hand you the brush, then crawled atop the couch, and unceremoniously plopped herself onto your lap, belly-first. Before you had a chance to react or object, she propped herself up on her elbows and began to take her shirt off, pulling it over her head and letting it fall to the floor which exposed the black fur coat on her back in all its glory. She turned back to look up at you and give you a hopeful smile, before looking away and sinking further into your lap.
  1738.  
  1739. She also wasn’t wearing a bra.
  1740.  
  1741. It began as a lingering thought, like a small itch that you couldn’t reach. The feeling of her fur pressing against your legs, the sound of her breathing, and the closeness of it all; it felt disorienting. Then came the chilling feeling of anxiety.
  1742.  
  1743. This . . . predator . . .
  1744.  
  1745. She can hurt you.
  1746.  
  1747. You knew these thoughts weren’t your own, they were the invasive demands of the dying spectre of the Redecker device haunting your mind, it still didn’t change the fact that you were currently terrified of your friend.
  1748.  
  1749. “Anon?”
  1750.  
  1751. You were awoken from your stupor, realising that you’ve been staring at Anne’s back blankly.
  1752.  
  1753. “You OK?”
  1754.  
  1755. You look over to Anne, who’s turned to look up at you with a worried expression.
  1756.  
  1757. “ . . . uhh . . yeah” you manage to whisper out. You wanted to tell her to please get off of you, but doing so would’ve probably tipped her off that something was amiss, which you didn’t want to trouble her with right now.
  1758.  
  1759. You had to get over this condition of yours, it was honestly starting to get aggravating.
  1760.  
  1761. You hesitate for a second, mentally shaking away any sour thoughts. Right as Annie opens her mouth to say something else, you touch her shoulder with the brush and begin to gently run it down her back. She goes silent as the sensations overtake her, her eyes slowly close as she turns back away from you and rests her head against the couch. As the brush runs over the small of her back, you can feel her tense up slightly beneath you, and as the brush approaches the base of her tail closer and closer, you can only feel her tense up further, which culminates in her lightly arching her back as the brush touches the base of her tail. You begin to worry that spot may be uncomfortable for her, looking up her body you notice that she has her arms laying in front of her, her hands balled up into fists. She also seemed to be trying to bury her face into the couch.
  1762.  
  1763. “Sorry, does that hurt?” you ask.
  1764.  
  1765. It takes her a moment to respond; pulling her head out the couch and whispering,”no . . . keep doing that.”
  1766.  
  1767. You smile as you reposition the brush to the fluff on the back of her neck and start to run it down. Once again, Annie tenses up as the brush slowly passes her lower back, however this time, you let the brush lightly pass over her tail, which she responds to by letting out a deep sigh. You wondered if it’d be rude to brush her tail proper, but decide to leave it alone for now.
  1768.  
  1769. You go back to her upper body, this time starting at her left shoulder and running the brush all the way down to her waist, stopped only by the shorts she was wearing. You notice a particularly knotted section of fur and decide to untangle it by hand instead of pulling at it with a brush. As you work your fingers into her fur, you feel something tap your elbow, looking over you see her tail has started wagging, gazing to the end of the couch, you’re able to catch Annie gazing over her shoulder at you before she looks away quickly. By now any fear you might’ve been feeling has all but been rendered meaningless as you start to focus more and more on grooming Annie.
  1770.  
  1771. You decide to try something; you scratch at a spot on the dog’s back for a few seconds, disheveling the dark fur there slightly.
  1772.  
  1773. *thump thump thump thump thump*
  1774.  
  1775. Sure enough, her wagging tail picks up speed, your arm absorbing every tap. You had never petted Anne when you were younger, thinking she might’ve thought it weird, now however, you wonder if you should’ve asked her at the time. Maybe, scratches would’ve been a useful tool to help cheer her up whenever she was having troubles at home. You smoothen her fur back down before picking the brush back up and continuing your routine. You steel a peak at Anne, leaning over slightly to try to look at her face; her eyes are still half-lidded and she’s wearing a goofy smile, you also notice her ears are swiveled around to face you. Once you conclude that her back is free of knots and was nicely done, you decide to try to smoothen out the fur by hand. It was an exercise in futility, especially with fur as fluffy as hers, but you figured she’d appreciate the gesture. You run a hand down the same routes that the brush took, Anne seems to be enjoying this, if her wagging tail was any indication. You slow your petting to a crawl as you approach her tail, taking in the feeling of every strand of fur beneath your fingers; you’re rewarded with a deep sigh.
  1776.  
  1777. Her fur had a silky feeling to it, while it might not be soft like a cotton ball, it definitely wasn’t like a stiff brush. And surely not like the last coat of fur that you had felt against your skin.
  1778.  
  1779. A lot less bitey too.
  1780.  
  1781. “Alright . . . I think you're good, Anne.”
  1782.  
  1783. She doesn’t answer, all you can hear from her is the deep breathing coming from her.
  1784.  
  1785. “Anne?” you repeat; you put a hand against her back and give her a little shake, this seems to stir her.
  1786.  
  1787. “Hmm?”
  1788.  
  1789. “You’re good, Anne; coat’s been brushed” you tell her.
  1790.  
  1791. “Oh . . .” you can hear sadness in her voice; she props herself up on her elbows before reaching down to grab the shirt at the foot of the couch. She pulls it on and turns back to face you.
  1792.  
  1793. “Thanks, Anon . . . we should do that more often . . like . . every night” she says with a smirk.
  1794.  
  1795. You furrow your brow,”I didn’t come all this way just be a fur stylist” you say with a smile.
  1796.  
  1797. Anne brings a hand up to rest her head against as she looks at you,”Hey, think of it as your way of paying rent.”
  1798.  
  1799. “Oh now it’s a problem, is it?” you ask in an amused tone.
  1800.  
  1801. She grins,“No . . . but everyone’s gotta pull their weight, you know?”
  1802.  
  1803. “Are you even paying for the house anymore?”
  1804.  
  1805. “No”, she answers “but still, be a lot cooler if you learned how to brush fur.”
  1806.  
  1807. You shake your head as you lean back into the couch,”we’ll see.”
  1808.  
  1809. You sat there for a little while longer with Anne laid over your lap, content with gazing at the TV for some time. Eventually, you felt an urge to get her off you, your conscious only able to take so much closeness.
  1810.  
  1811. “You hungry?” you asked her.
  1812.  
  1813. “Yeah . . . what’re you feeling for tonight?”
  1814.  
  1815. “Steak . . shrimp . . and fries”
  1816.  
  1817. “ *whine* don’t say that, last time I ate like that was . . months ago, all we got are rations.”
  1818.  
  1819. You both got up and made your way to the kitchen. Annie showed off her assortment of emergency rations that she’d accumulated from the Commonwealth handouts, which you eventually figured out was just MREs for civilians; you did notice a few outliers though, like a breakfast sandwich MRE you’ve never seen before. You settled on the pizza meal while the hound chose a ravioli one. When you asked her if she kept regular food anywhere, she explained that a local grocery was still in business but had problems keeping its shelves stocked; as such she only kept the good food reserved for special occasions.
  1820.  
  1821. As you let the meals heat up in their plastic packets, you both hung around the kitchen idly. Anne told you more about her time as a rescue dog, relaying you a tale about the time her team got shot at by Federation soldiers while they were rescuing a couple out of a bombed house; apparently a bullet had missed her tail by a few inches and had taken a patch of fur instead. In return you told Anne about the time you threw an MRE bomb into the porta-shitter while someone was using it; dumbass Daniels never bothered to lock the door.
  1822.  
  1823. The meals became hot enough to eat after a few minutes, you both took your dinner to the kitchen table, sitting across from each other and began to munch down on the preserved mush as you made more idle chatter. Eventually you both finished and discarded the opened packets into the trash. A long yawn reminded you of the time, Anne following suit which displayed her pointy teeth.
  1824.  
  1825. “Well” you began as you stretched your arms over your head “I think I’m gonna turn in.”
  1826.  
  1827. “Yeah . . I am too” she responded.
  1828.  
  1829. You got up from your chair and made your way to your room, Anne following closely behind you. Before you were able to get through your doorway, a clawed hand running gently down your back sent a chill down your spine. You turned to the perpetrator, who was standing close to you with an innocent smile on her snout.
  1830.  
  1831. “Good night, Anon.”
  1832.  
  1833. “ . . Good night, Anne.”
  1834.  
  1835. She gave you another cheerful smile before turning and making her way down to her room, her tail brushing past you as she did.
  1836.  
  1837. “Fuckin’ Anne’s gonna trigger an episode or something if she keeps acting like that” you thought to yourself as you settled into your bed.
  1838.  
  1839.  
  1840. ____________________________________________
  1841.  
  1842. New Dawn Fades
  1843. ____________________________________________
  1844.  
  1845.  
  1846. “Wake up, Anon!”
  1847.  
  1848. “Mmmgggghh”
  1849.  
  1850. “C’mon Anon, wake up!”
  1851.  
  1852. You only groaned again in response as you felt the bed shift under Annie’s weight as she climbed up. You felt a set of clawed hands pawing at you, trying to pull you up; in response you only pulled the covers over you tighter.
  1853.  
  1854. “We’re gonna miss the food handout if you keep sleeping like this . . . COME . . ON!” Anne exclaimed as she wormed her hands beneath you trying to pull you up from your slumber. The feeling of clawed fingers against you startled you fully awake, although you did your best to keep your expression from showing any discomfort.
  1855.  
  1856. “What is it?” you asked groggily.
  1857.  
  1858. “The Commonwealth gives out food today, lets go or we’re gonna miss it!” Anne explained excitedly.
  1859.  
  1860. You groaned as you felt your blanket yanked off you, furred hands wrapping around your wrists and pulling you into a sitting position, being met with a smiling canine face once you were forcefully sat up.
  1861.  
  1862. “C’mon, Petty Officer, get up!” she said as her tail began to wag behind her.
  1863.  
  1864. Ok, that’s just weird.
  1865.  
  1866. “Alright alright freakin’ weirdo, I’m up” you said as you shifted over to the edge of your bed. Gazing over to Annie, you saw that she was already dressed up in her usual jeans and a black nylon jacket.
  1867.  
  1868. Annie crawled off your bed and shuffled off to where you had your seabag laying on the floor, being too lazy to put any of the clothes into the empty drawers around the room. She dug around the duffle bag and pulled out a set of jeans and a fleece sweater before tossing it to you.
  1869.  
  1870. “Here, I’ll wait for you at the car, OK?” she said before rushing out the room. You could hear keys and doors being opened, you assumed Anne was getting the car warmed up now.
  1871.  
  1872. You quickly threw on the clothes that your friend had allotted for you, passing by the bathroom to wash your face and teeth; once done you made your way to the front door, stopping to pull your shoes on. You were about to open the front door when a thought entered your mind.
  1873.  
  1874. “That’s not a bad idea” you thought to yourself.
  1875.  
  1876. You rushed back to your bedroom, taking your gun off the nightstand and tucking it into your waistband. The last thing you wanted was to get jumped over a box of MREs . . . or get mauled by one of those vat-grown beasts.
  1877.  
  1878. You ran out the front door, making sure to switch one of the locks before closing the door behind you. You made your way to your familiar blue hatchback, the engine already rumbling and Annie waiting for you.
  1879.  
  1880. “Took you long enough” Annie said as you climbed into the passenger seat, the vehicle began to move as soon as you clicked your seatbelt on.
  1881.  
  1882. “If this was so important, why didn’t you let me know last night?” you asked in a jesting manner.
  1883.  
  1884. “Figured since you’re already waking up early as shit, it wouldn’t have been a problem, guess civilian life is making you lazy.” she snapped back.
  1885.  
  1886. “Get fucked” you said with a laugh “I don’t feel like getting up at the peak of dawn just to go get my Commonwealth mandated MREs”
  1887.  
  1888. “What’s your plan then? Starve? Hunt rats and cook them over the oven? Be a cannibal?” Anne asked as she turned onto the main street.
  1889.  
  1890. “Shit . . . is it too much to ask not to have to eat MREs anymore? That’s all I’ve ate for the past . . . 4 years.”
  1891.  
  1892. Anne’s ears perked up as she briefly looked over to you with a concerned look.
  1893.  
  1894. “Really? . . . if you want we can go to the grocery store, see if they restocked” she suggested as she focused back onto the road.
  1895.  
  1896. “I’m kidding, Anne. I can eat that stuff for a while longer . . . although it would be nice not to have to shit bricks anymore.”
  1897.  
  1898. Annie suddenly burst out in heavy laughter, you could hear her tail thumping against the seat.
  1899.  
  1900. “What do you mean shit bricks? Do you need to go see a doctor, Anon?” she asked between giggles.
  1901.  
  1902. “What do -YOU- mean? Those MREs don’t clog you up?”
  1903.  
  1904. “PFFT HAHA NO! That’s never happened to me!” Anne replies, her black enveloped eye glancing between you and the road.
  1905.  
  1906. “Well . . . probably because you canine’s bodies are used to eating garbage all the time” you joked.
  1907.  
  1908. “We dogs just ain’t picky eaters, Anon. I’ve seen you eat chicken, I can probably feed myself with what you leave behind.”
  1909.  
  1910. “I’ve seen you eat chicken too, Annie. You eat like you’ve been possessed . . fucking . . choking on bones and shit.”
  1911.  
  1912. Anne just shakes her head with a smile. You continue driving for a while longer, the war torn scenery passing you. Every once in a while, Anne has to turn onto the oncoming lane to avoid a vehicle wreck, not like it mattered, you were the only car on the road as far as you could tell.
  1913.  
  1914. You eventually pull into what you recognise as the towns library, which was decorated in the usual dereliction and debris. What set this building apart however was that you were able to make out several sandbag structures around the building as well as barbed wire strands lining the area; around the entrances several unpowered floodlights had been set up as well. As Anne steered into the building’s parking lot, you approached a hastily fashioned wooden sign propped up at the entrance to the lot which caught your attention.
  1915.  
  1916. CAMP WILLIAM
  1917. 957th PEACEKEEPER BATTALION
  1918. CO: LT KURTZ
  1919. SEL: SFC ROMANOV
  1920.  
  1921. Anne pulled the car alongside several other vehicles, all of civilian origin.
  1922.  
  1923. “These guys set up their camp in a library?” you asked as Anne put the car in park.
  1924.  
  1925. “Yup, they even let people come in and use the computers or check out books.”
  1926.  
  1927. You both got out, Annie making sure to lock the car. You gazed around the parking lot and saw a section had been cordoned off with barbed wire, the space filled with armored vehicles, one of which you recognised as the armored four-wheeler you’d seen yesterday. You followed your friend as she made her way to the main entrance. As you went along you casually glanced around trying to recognise the old library. What was once an ornate fountain in front of the building now laid dry and destroyed, the main structure knocked over and shattered over its own basin. You looked down to your feet as you walked, the once neatly laid decorative tiles that had been painted on by kids were in disarray and cracked with every step you took.
  1928.  
  1929. Eventually you came across a line of people waiting in line for the handouts to commence, you and Anne joining them.
  1930.  
  1931. Checking your phone, you saw that it was a couple minutes until 9:30 hit, which was when you assumed the doors would open. As you waited, a thought entered your mind; you nudged at Annie with an elbow, which got her to look at you.
  1932.  
  1933. “Hey Anne, do they pat you down for weapons or something?” you asked, leaning over to whisper right into her folded ear.
  1934.  
  1935. “You’re armed?” she asked, to which you nodded in response. “You’re fine, see that lady over there?” she said as she motioned towards an older human woman standing a few spots ahead of you. “She carries a gun in her purse and the Commonwealth knows so, but they don’t care.”
  1936.  
  1937. “How do you know?”
  1938.  
  1939. “One day when I came and got food, I guess some guy tried to rob her in the parking lot and she shot him. Dumbass . . he could’ve just walked in and gotten free food . . . cost him half his face.”
  1940.  
  1941. The sound of turning locks directs both of your attention to the head of the line. A lupine soldier is unlocking the double sliding doors, which he has to pry and push apart to open. The line of people begin to shuffle inside, which you and Anne follow, as you pass by the Wolf you can’t help but gaze at him.
  1942.  
  1943. He’s wearing the dark green uniform typical of the Commonwealth Army, although you notice his lack of a plate carrier or any sort of kit, his only defence being the rifle slung over his back. On his shoulder, you note that he’s not wearing the usual branch or division patches, instead wearing the logo of the Peacekeepers; a stylized human hand crossed over an anthro paw holding an olive branch and an orchid flower respectively. Apparently meaning peace, union and prosperity between the species . . . or something.
  1944.  
  1945. You and Annie wait in line for a while as you wait for your turn at a counter, which is where they seem to be handing out boxes of food. You note that this isn’t the only thing people are flocking to; across the room, you can see several tables have been set up and are holding stacks of folded clothing, which people are sorting through, some taking a few and putting them in bags.
  1946.  
  1947. Eventually you come up to the counter, a bored looking red fox briefly looks at you wordlessly before reaching down under the counter and pulling up a large box and letting it drop on the counter with a loud *thump*. He pushes it across the counter to you, you grab the cardboard box by the edges and bring it along with you, reminded of their familiar weight.
  1948.  
  1949. You follow after Anne who leads you to a corner in the building, hauling off her own box of preserved mush. Glancing around the room again, you begin taking in the truly . . . amusing sight . . at least for you.
  1950.  
  1951. These were our conquerors? Our oppressors? Our enemy . . . or atleast yours?
  1952.  
  1953. Savage animals don’t hand out disaster rations to impoverished, nearly abandoned small towns. Beasts don’t allow their former opponent to take up arms to defend themselves against new threats. Feral beings don’t rebuild their mortal enemy’s homes and bring their troops back.
  1954.  
  1955. Could it be you were lied to by the Federation the whole time?
  1956.  
  1957. No, right?
  1958.  
  1959. How could a whole race be so ignorant?
  1960.  
  1961. This was a trick, it had to be a trick; these furballs were just waiting on the transports to take everyone to deserted resource planets and work us all to death in mines, right?
  1962.  
  1963. Heh.
  1964.  
  1965. Big talk coming from the fool who was mind fucked by his own government then forced on suicidal human wave attacks in a useless effort to save a genocidal empire. Before you could mentally berate yourself any longer, a familiar voice cut you off.
  1966.  
  1967. “OH! Anon!”
  1968.  
  1969. “Hmm?”
  1970.  
  1971. “They’re giving out juice boxes! Wait here, I’ll go get us one” Anne says excitedly as she puts her MRE box down and rushes off to wait in another line, her tail wagging behind her.
  1972.  
  1973. You lean against a wall as you wait for Anne to return with her treasured juice, as you linger about, you casually gaze at one of the Peacekeepers talking to a human. It was somewhat surreal to see a living, breathing Commonwealth soldier this close, you were much more used to seeing their bullet-riddled corpses lying lifelessly in the snow or in the distance as green lumps, their rifles cracking and-
  1974.  
  1975. “Good morning” spoke a foreign voice to your right.
  1976.  
  1977. You turned your head to see a snow-white canine wearing the same fatigues as the rest of the furs in the building. Her presence initially alarmed you, if Anne alone scared you at times, a dog wearing the Commonwealth’s rags was sure to send you into a panic. You tried your best to bury any outward emotions, but it couldn’t help but manifest itself in a shaky voice.
  1978.  
  1979. “. . . Good Morning” you eventually replied back.
  1980.  
  1981. You initially thought she was a wolf, but you figured she wasn’t tall or big enough to be one, you guessed she must’ve been a husky. Her dark-brown eyes contrasted her light fur nicely as she gazed into yours.
  1982.  
  1983. “Don’t mean to sound rude . . but are you new around here?” she asked as she tilted her head slightly.
  1984.  
  1985. Shit.
  1986.  
  1987. What would happen if you told her you were an escaped Federation POW? It wouldn’t matter, right? They were bringing them all home anyway.
  1988.  
  1989. “Uhhhh n-no, I grew up here, I’ve just . . . been away . . for a long time” you shakily said, you mentally kicked yourself for sounding so suspicious, she’d probably think you were a Hardliner or something.
  1990.  
  1991. “Federation Armada, huh?” the husky said with a smirk “I recognize that sweater” she added matter-of-factly.
  1992.  
  1993. You looked down at your black fleece zip-up, realizing the sweater that Annie had chosen for you was in fact the cold-weather article that was worn over your Armada fatigues, it even still had an empty rank tab on it.
  1994.  
  1995. “Yeah . . . I uhh just got back a few days ago” you replied somewhat nervously, you hoped nothing would come of this.
  1996. “Knew it” the husky proudly stated, “I know just about everyone left in town, and . . . well you just sort of looked out of place . . not that that’s a bad thing . . . just had to make sure you weren’t one of those insurgents or anything.”
  1997.  
  1998. You weren’t sure where this Peacekeeper was trying to steer the conversation to; if the worst came to be, you were sure you could reach for your gun and take down a few of these furs before you went down, like hell you were gonna let any of these mutts take you back to a POW camp.
  1999.  
  2000. . . . .
  2001.  
  2002. “Calm down, Rambo” you snidely thought to yourself. It hasn’t even been a week and you’d already broken into someone's home and were now thinking about taking on an entire detachment of Commonwealth soldiers with just a pistol. You mentally chastised yourself as you focused back onto the fur before you.
  2003.  
  2004. “Well, welcome home, sorry you had to come back to this” she extended her furred paw out to you “Sergean-eerrrr . . . Inez”
  2005.  
  2006. You extended your hand out to meet hers, a bit more confident given her friendly demeanor.
  2007.  
  2008. “Anon”
  2009.  
  2010. “Hmm . . Y’know, I’ve actually never had a chance to talk to an actual Federation troop . . there’s a lot of you guys in the mountains . . but they’re not very talkative.”
  2011.  
  2012. “Likewise, first time I’ve seen this uniform and it wasn’t shooting at me.”
  2013.  
  2014. “Heh, well . . I hope you’ve been having a nice homecoming, Anon” Inez says as her tail begins to gently sway behind her.
  2015.  
  2016. “Ehhh it’s been . . . alright” you said as you looked away.
  2017.  
  2018. Guess the Commonwealth wasn’t as bad as you would’ve thought. This hound had every reason to hate you, considering the Federation’s many crimes against her species; despite this, you were being treated with a medium of respect that you-
  2019.  
  2020. “Do you think I can touch it?” the dog quickly asks. You were somewhat taken aback by the request, looking at her with a confused expression.
  2021.  
  2022. “What?”
  2023.  
  2024. “The sweater . . do you think I can touch it? . . . sorry, it’s just . . . it’s kinda exciting seeing actual Federation gear . . and I’ve always wanted to know what these fleeces felt like.”
  2025.  
  2026. You were still sort of weirded out by her request, but you supposed there was no harm in it, it was just a sweater after all.
  2027.  
  2028. “Uhhh sure” you eventually answered.
  2029.  
  2030. The Husky closed the already small gap between you both before putting her hand out towards you, slowly creeping forward as if still seeking approval. She eventually made contact with your shoulder before beginning to run her hand around the material.
  2031.  
  2032. “Soft! It feels like fur . . y’know Human gear like this gets sold for hundreds back in Commonwealth planets?”
  2033.  
  2034. “Why is that?” you were beginning to feel a bit anxious at the actual Commonwealth fur touching you, the rifle slung over her shoulder wasn’t helping either. You slowly began to regret your answer once the husky started to press her open palm against you with much more pressure than was needed for just trying to see what a sweater felt like.
  2035.  
  2036. “Don’t know . . . collection maybe?”
  2037.  
  2038. The Husky ran her paw across your chest which drew a questioning stare from you, the canine only gave you a small smile in return. You slowly began to lean away from her touch, you were about to speak up when someone else did so for you.
  2039.  
  2040. “Anon?”
  2041.  
  2042. You both turned to Annie, who had a small package of juice boxes in her arms; you took the chance to step away from the touchy sergeant.
  2043.  
  2044. “Oh shit, BG!” the Husky said to the Collie excitedly.
  2045.  
  2046. “. . . Sergeant” Annie responded in a dry tone, you couldn’t help but notice her ears were pinned against her head.
  2047.  
  2048. “You two know each other?” Inez asked as she looked between you and Anne, you both nodded in response ”shit, small world.”
  2049.  
  2050. “Well . . . I hope you both have a nice day . . hey, BG try not to bite him will you?” the husky said in a sly tone. Looking to Anne, you saw her snout begin to twitch as if wanting to snarl, she was glaring daggers at the Commonwealth sergeant.
  2051.  
  2052. “I gotta get back to it, nice meeting you, Anon. You know where to find me if you ever wanna talk again, I’m sure there’s . . . a lot we can learn from each other” the sergeant turned around to rejoin her fellow troops, but as she did so, her tail brushed against you. You didn’t know what to make of it.
  2053.  
  2054. Was a Commonwealth Sergeant trying to flirt with you?
  2055.  
  2056. You briefly closed your eyes and internally shook your head, trying to shake away the weird feeling plaguing your mind.
  2057.  
  2058. Anthros were a lot more touchy than humans, that was all, nothing more than a friendly interaction.
  2059.  
  2060. Right?
  2061.  
  2062. You turned to Annie, who you saw was still scowling at Inez; her expression softened when she met your gaze.
  2063.  
  2064. “Lets go?” she asked.
  2065.  
  2066. You nodded in response, collecting your MRE box. Anne had to stack her juices atop her food, but managed to shakily walk out the library. You passed various groups of people as you made your way to your vehicle, most going back to their own cars.
  2067.  
  2068. Once you got to your car, Anne popped open the trunk of the hatchback, setting her box down and moving aside so you could set yours down. As you leaned over to push the cases of food further into the trunk, you heard a small sniffing sound in close proximity to your back. Turning around you found Anne still standing behind you looking away from you and across the street at nothing in particular, you ignored her and closed the trunk.
  2069.  
  2070. As you and Anne pulled out the library’s lot, you began to make small talk with her.
  2071.  
  2072. “Why’d she call you BG?”
  2073.  
  2074. Anne seemed hesitant to answer, she explained how back hundreds of years ago when furs who lived under humans were treated as little more than pets and slaves, BG was the name of a food brand meant for anthros, it was essentially pet food. Apparently Commonwealth anthros used it as a sort of slang to describe furs living in the Federation.
  2075.  
  2076. “So she says that to trash you?” you asked.
  2077.  
  2078. “Yup . . I worked with her whenever we were still rescuing people, she was such an ass; she hates Federation furs . . . which meant me.”
  2079.  
  2080. “Why’s that?”
  2081.  
  2082. “I dunno . . . freakin’ . . dick . .” she muttered.
  2083.  
  2084. You were about to sit back and relax for the rest of the ride home when you remembered another apparent jab Inez had taken at Anne.
  2085.  
  2086. “Who the hell did you bite?” you asked with a laugh.
  2087.  
  2088. Anne’s ears laid flat against her head as if she got caught with her hand in the cookie jar, “i-it wasn’t my fault! One of their freakin’ privates got drunk as fuck and tried to get smart with me! Guy kept trying to kiss me so . . I-I used my god-given weapons to get him off” she quickly explained.
  2089.  
  2090. Realizing what it was, you began to apologize for trying to make fun of what sounded like a rape attempt against your friend.
  2091.  
  2092. “Shit, sorry Annie. Didn’t know it was like that.”
  2093.  
  2094. “Oh don’t worry about it, nothing ever really happened . . . sure showed him though . .” she muttered with an odd satisfaction in her voice.
  2095.  
  2096. The rest of the drive home was uneventful, you arrived at Anne’s place an hour or two before midday. You both brought in your boxes through the front door and made your way to the kitchen, setting them in a small pantry that Anne had reserved for supplies.
  2097.  
  2098. “Soooo watcha’ wanna do today?” Annie asked once you’d stowed your MREs.
  2099.  
  2100. You searched your mind for anything you might feel like doing but came up empty handed.
  2101.  
  2102. “I don’t know . . choose something” you eventually answered.
  2103.  
  2104. “You choose, you’re the guest” Anne insisted.
  2105.  
  2106. “I chose yesterday, besides you know what’s to do around here more than I do.”
  2107.  
  2108. The dog thought for a second, “I’ll think of something.”
  2109.  
  2110. “Well while you do I’m gonna go through all those bags.”
  2111.  
  2112. You excused yourself and made your way to your room, again taking care not to trip over any of the bins scattered throughout the place, briefly stopping in front of the large couch to take off and throw your sweater over the armrest. You began to go through the bags of your belongings that Anne had ransacked from your home. You had made it a point to force yourself to clean up your room and put all your belongings in drawers instead of living like a slob with bags everywhere. Since it looked like you’d be staying with Annie for a while, you at least wanted to keep your end of the house clean.
  2113.  
  2114. You took a while sorting through all your belongings, much more caught up in the nostalgia of all your old civilian clothes. One of the trash bags crinkled as you ripped it open, revealing a mass of clothes. While some of them were much too old and likely had to be thrown away, Anne had for the most part chosen stuff that would likely still fit you and you could still reasonably wear in public. You pulled a pair of gray cargo pants out of the bag and held it out in front of you, these were the pants you sometimes wore when you were out doing outdoorsy stuff with Anne and the rest of your friends, they had a hole in the right knee from when your were crawling through an abandoned building and had cut yourself on jagged rebar. A few plain t-shirts that were still serviceable were folded up and placed into one of the drawers, you softly chuckled as you realized you were folding them in the same way that you were taught in bootcamp, guess old habits really do die hard.
  2115.  
  2116. You pulled a rain jacket out of the bottom of the bag and inspected it before you stored it. You recognised it as the jacket that Anne had gifted you for your seventeenth birthday; it was a red waterproof jacket that had dark grey accents on the collar and shoulders. It’s nylon material meant it wasn’t the most suitable for the coldest winters on Mastosit, but regardless it was still a really nice piece of clothing; you knew Annie had to have spent a pretty penny for it. Back when you were still in school and working at the coffee place, it quickly became your go to jacket for whenever it was cold or raining, a fact that you knew Annie was really proud of.
  2117.  
  2118. The final bag you emptied was your green seabag, there wasn’t much left in it that you’d be using anymore so you simply threw the stuff into a nearby closet. As you were stowing a stack of your old uniforms a rattle at the end of a shelf caught your attention; standing on your toes and peering over the shelf, you saw that it was a small lockbox. You looked out your door, ensuring Annie wasn’t around before bringing it down and undoing the small clasp, peering inside you were met with three worn out tennis balls.
  2119.  
  2120. “Oh Anne, you haven’t played fetch in a long time, have you?” you thought to yourself as you felt a smile creeping onto your face.
  2121.  
  2122. Anne loved playing fetch, she was absolutely obsessed with it. You fondly remember spending hours upon hours throwing a ball back and forth, Anne sprinting to and from trying to catch it, usually in her jaws. Some anthros liked baseballs, others enjoyed tossing around those small rubber handballs; for Annie it was tennis balls, especially those that squeaked. You remember she used to have a small stash of them underneath her bed that she used to break out whenever you came over.
  2123.  
  2124. She even had a peculiar way of playing fetch, it involved occasionally tempting you to chase after her to retrieve the ball. Whenever she’d walk the ball back to you instead of tossing it back, you knew she wanted you to run after her. Anne would get within arms reach of you before starting to jump back to avoid returning the ball; once you committed to a chase, she would take off, running in zig-zag patterns and generally sprinting around the area. It was tiring, but you eventually developed a pretty effective strategy: you simply did what your ancestors did billions of years ago, you slowly jogged after her, allowing Anne to tire herself out from sprinting so much. Once you saw that she was panting and slowing down, you would sprint after her, to which she could only muster miniscule shreds of energy. Grabbing her and prying the ball from her jaws was always pretty fun.
  2125.  
  2126. You had to admit, chasing after Anne for so long sure helped prepare you for the mile runs you did for the physical readiness tests in the Armada.
  2127.  
  2128. You grabbed one of the balls out of the tin box, ensuring it was one of the squeaky ones before setting it aside; you were hoping to surprise her later on.
  2129.  
  2130. With your room sufficiently more organized, you began to make your way to the living room to join Anne, hopefully by now she’d thought of something to do. You were about to round the corner when a sound caught your attention.
  2131.  
  2132. *sniiiiiffff*
  2133.  
  2134. The hell?
  2135.  
  2136. *sniiiiiiifffffff*
  2137.  
  2138. “Fucking . . . bastard . . . bitch . .” you heard being whispered.
  2139.  
  2140. You heard another deep inhale and what sounded like different fabrics rubbing against each other. You slowly peeked around the corner and were met with a truly strange sight.
  2141.  
  2142. Anne was sitting criss-crossed on the couch, she had taken your sweater from the armrest of the couch and seemed to be trying to suffocate herself with it. She would take a deep inhale, her snout buried into the fleece before bunching the sweater up and rubbing her face against it.
  2143.  
  2144. “Mark him . . how fucking . . . dare you . . he doesn’t want your filthy Commonwealth ass . . . you whore” Anne muttered between sniffs.
  2145.  
  2146. What was wrong with her? You had rarely if ever heard your friend seem so angry and curse so much. Although, that was the last thing on your mind.
  2147.  
  2148. What in the hell is she doing?
  2149.  
  2150. You watched as she repeated the routine several more times, each time inhaling ever deeper. She would turn the sweater around and smell then rub her face against a different spot every time. She had a particularly noticeable reaction to the collar of the sweater, she sniffed at it deeply before sighing loudly, nearly devolving into a groan. A few times she would smell the chest of the sweater and bare her teeth in a slight snarl before rubbing her cheek furiously against the fabric, it looked like she was about to bite your fleece.
  2151.  
  2152. “you smell like . . alcohol . . and . . fucking . . garbage . . . sergeant brush-back . .” Anne growled.
  2153.  
  2154. Anne stuck her snout into the inside of the fleece and took a deep whiff, you swore you saw her eyes roll back before she laid back into the couch, landing on her back and continuing to inhale deeply.
  2155.  
  2156. You had seen enough. You didn’t want to make things awkward by walking in on her, so you slowly creeped back to your room and audibly shut the door before making your way back to the living room. This time, as you rounded the corner, you found Anne sitting upright on the couch and your sweater once again on the armrest.
  2157.  
  2158. “Done?” she asked with an innocent smile and a wag of her tail.
  2159.  
  2160. “Yeah . .” you said in a monotone voice.
  2161.  
  2162. You didn’t know what to make of what you had just witnessed. You chalked it up to Anne simply having to remember your scent, she must’ve forgotten it after five years, right?
  2163.  
  2164. Then why was she rubbing her face against the fleece?
  2165.  
  2166. And don’t canines remember certain scents for the majority of their lives?
  2167.  
  2168. You tried ignoring your mental argument.
  2169.  
  2170. “Anne is just weird, nothing more nothing less; leave her be” you thought.
  2171.  
  2172. You took a seat on the couch beside her, the dog’s gaze following you the whole time.
  2173.  
  2174. “Think of something to do?” you asked.
  2175.  
  2176. “I did” Anne answers, with a particularly somber voice you noted. “It’s been a while since I’ve seen her . . . would you like to go see them?”
  2177.  
  2178. “What? See wh- . . . Oh . .”
  2179.  
  2180. ____________________________________________
  2181.  
  2182. The dry and dead grass crunched beneath your feet as you trudged along a now derelict path. The groundskeeper was long gone and it showed in the way the area looked; the grass was overgrown and dead, trash littered the once impeccable grounds, and the stone monuments laid cracked, dirty, and defiled.
  2183.  
  2184. You had eventually mustered up the courage to take on Annie’s offer: visiting the site where your parents were buried. Your friend hadn’t visited her mother in a while, and as such she was willing to show you where your own family members were put to rest as well. You had initially thought about denying her offer, much too scared of the grief that you knew was going to plague you, feeling a sense of shame, you had forced yourself to come along.
  2185.  
  2186. The walk from your car to wherever Anne was leading you was uncomfortably silent, you guessed she was keeping quiet out of a sense of respect, although admittedly, this whole trip would feel much better if she was her chatty-old self. Looking ahead of you, Anne was still stepping through dead grass, occasionally slowing down and peering behind her at you to make sure you were still following. Her ears were laying flat against her head and her tail hung limply, in stark contrast to her usually cheerful mannerisms.
  2187.  
  2188. Could it be that she sensed your mood?
  2189.  
  2190. You wouldn’t doubt it, as you were able to tell what she was feeling by reading her ears, snout, fur, and tail; Anne was equally capable of reading you by a simple whiff of your scent, or at least you had learned that anthros were capable of such things in school. While you weren’t sure of the exact extent of her senses, her recent interactions with you told you she was very capable of sensing how you were feeling. She seemed to sense whenever you felt anxious and now she seemed to be picking up on your ill state of mind.
  2191.  
  2192. You eventually came into a clearing in the grass, the land showing signs of being recently disturbed. Instead of the usual ornate tombstones and other memorials, you found a mass of simple engraved copper plaques dug into the ground. Anne slowed down and began to survey the plaques before her, it took her a minute but eventually she gazed out to her left and froze mid-step. She briefly relaxed before turning back to you and wordlessly eyeing a nearby copper slab before again gazing at you. You looked at where she was indicating and saw two plaques near each other, as you slowly approached you mentally prepared yourself. Anne stepped away, standing a few feet behind you.
  2193.  
  2194. You got close enough to the duo of plaques to read them.
  2195.  
  2196. Anonymous M.N.
  2197.  
  2198. Anonymous D.N.
  2199.  
  2200. There they were.
  2201.  
  2202. Dead.
  2203.  
  2204. Gone.
  2205.  
  2206. Forgotten.
  2207.  
  2208. You stood before your parents, a sinking feeling in your stomach beginning to overwhelm you.
  2209.  
  2210. As soon as you felt a wetness forming, you grimaced and put a hand over your eyes. You knew she wouldn’t care, but you didn’t want Anne to see you cry.
  2211.  
  2212. You slowly sunk to your knees before them, a weak sigh escaping you as you failed to suppress your emotions. Annie stayed quiet and still the entire time as you softly whimpered before your dead relatives, eventually she seemed to gather some courage. You heard the grass crunching behind you and a padded hand gently squeeze your shoulder. Regardless of Anne’s intentions, you still didn’t want her to see you like this, not now.
  2213.  
  2214. “I’m gonna need a second, Anne” you softly told your friend.
  2215.  
  2216. She seemed to understand. You heard the grass rustling slowly get further and further until you were alone.
  2217.  
  2218. Your knees were growing tired of supporting your weight, so you let yourself fall on your stomach. The short, dead grass made your skin itch as you let your face rest against the ground. You eventually shifted around into a comfortable position that you were sure looked like you had just been shot and were bleeding out on the floor.
  2219.  
  2220. You didn’t know what to feel.
  2221.  
  2222. Sadness?
  2223.  
  2224. Regret?
  2225.  
  2226. Anger?
  2227.  
  2228. You knew the Red Cross letter you had received had to have been somewhat incorrect in their report. Your house, even in its dilapidated state, was much too sound to have been hit by an artillery shell, you knew what a Commonwealth artillery shell was capable of, and your house should’ve been wiped off the map if it was hit by one.
  2229.  
  2230. You guessed that your parents must’ve been killed by a smaller mortar shell launched by overzealous Federation troops who saw the captured town of Averlia as an outpost of traitors, as if they had any say in the anthro army’s takeover.
  2231.  
  2232. If your assumptions were true, then the Federation had not only killed your mother and father, but also been responsible for the death of your best friend and the deaths of nearly all the men you had served with. Not only that, the human empire was also responsible for the terrible affliction that currently plagued your mind.
  2233.  
  2234. Pangs of guilt began to assault your already bleeding heart. You had dutifully served your people for five torturous years and had nothing to show for it. Your Mother would never get to welcome you back home. Your father would never be able to feel proud of his son’s accomplishments. You had gone to the Federation military against their wishes and had paid the price for it.
  2235.  
  2236. “Mom . . Dad . . I . . *sniff* . . I should’ve listened . . you were right . . I went . . when you said I shouldn’t . . and now you’re dea- . . god damn it . . what the fuck am I saying.”
  2237.  
  2238. You silently chastised yourself for sounding so crude. Regardless, you weren’t exactly wrong; both your parents never . . . ever . . ever supported your decision to join the Armada, how could they?
  2239.  
  2240. You were their only child. You had a future lined up. School, apprenticeships, scholarships . . everything you could’ve ever needed. Everything that could’ve made your parents proud.
  2241.  
  2242. But no.
  2243.  
  2244. You wanted adventure, you wanted to go out into the cosmos and earn your place in the history books. You didn’t want the dull life of a resource planet inhabitant. You wanted to know hardship, you wanted to meet the terror of combat head-on, you wanted to stare into the void and come back and say that you laughed.
  2245.  
  2246. Well you had gotten your wish.
  2247.  
  2248. You had seen men ripped apart by machine guns. You’d seen the look of terror in a man’s eyes as an alien contraption drilled into his head forced him to choke the life out of his enemy. You had seen humans and anthros in mortal combat, skin and fur clashing in a bloodbath of teeth, claws, rocks, knives, and rifle butts. You’ve been at the forefront of what was perhaps the greatest shift of power in history . . . and had gained absolutely nothing from it all.
  2249.  
  2250. Your internal monologue only made your head hurt. You struggled to clear your head as you tried to shift your thoughts back to the two plaques laying before you. You tried hard to come up with more redeeming dialogue to say out loud , but were met only with the dark shroud of loss. Defeated, you resumed to your meaningless sobbing.
  2251.  
  2252. You don’t know how long you laid in the grass crying your eyes out. You closed your eyes to try to drown out the terrible anguish. As your weak sobs began to subside, you heard a sound in the near distance.
  2253.  
  2254. *crunch*
  2255.  
  2256. *crunch*
  2257.  
  2258. *crunch*
  2259.  
  2260. The sound of footsteps in the grass approached you, slowing down as they got within a few meters of you. You didn’t bother getting off the ground, you knew that it was just Anne, she must’ve gone off to see her mother and had finished before you, deciding to come back and check up on you.
  2261.  
  2262. *crunch*
  2263.  
  2264. . . .
  2265.  
  2266. *crunch*
  2267.  
  2268. Anne slowly stepped towards you, stopping a foot or two away. You were about to get off the grass to try and save face when you felt a weight pressing against your back. You peered back behind you and found the black and white hound kneeling on the grass, her body propped up on her elbows on either side of you, carefully lowering herself onto your back. Once she was fully resting against you, her arms snaked themselves beneath you to wrap around your chest; soft, silky fur tickled you as you felt her lay her head in the back of your neck.
  2269.  
  2270. “N-no, Annie . . . go-*sniff* go wait for me in the ca-“ you began to quietly protest.
  2271.  
  2272. “Hush . . I will do no such thing” she interrupted, her hold on you tightening.
  2273.  
  2274. Anne gently rubbed her cheek against your neck, an act which made certain instincts in you begin to fire up.
  2275.  
  2276. “What are you doing?” you asked.
  2277.  
  2278. Anne remained quiet for a while before eventually answering.
  2279.  
  2280. “Friends don’t let friends stay sad . . .” Anne responded, her apparent worry for you beginning to manifest itself through her voice. “You taught me that, Anon.”
  2281.  
  2282. A foreign sense of comfort began to spread throughout you, a feeling that was only amplified by the pleasant warmth radiating off Anne and onto you; your mind and body wasn’t sure how to react.
  2283.  
  2284. Anne finished off her embrace by draping her legs over yours, her paws meeting and trying to encircle your ankle.
  2285.  
  2286. You felt your cheeks grow warm in shame, somewhat embarrassed at your current situation. How could your long time friend be having to comfort you like a lost child?
  2287.  
  2288. You.
  2289.  
  2290. The Armada veteran who had been to hell and back.
  2291.  
  2292. Your mind screamed at you to try and save at least a shred of your dignity. You tried to prop yourself up on your elbows in an effort to communicate your wish to get your friend off you. In response you only heard Anne give a weak whimper as her embrace around your chest tightened and her head pushed deeper against your neck, her gentle fur pressing against your exposed skin. You felt Anne fully encircle your ankle with her legs in an effort to deny you use of the limb. You again tried to struggle against your fluffy prison, this time only earning a discontent grumble as Anne trapped one of your arms in her hug, making escape that much more difficult. You eventually surrendered to Anne’s embrace, choosing to just lay in the dead grass limply; you were sure the mental discomfort you were feeling right now was likely due to Anne laying on your back, but in the moment you could care less.
  2293.  
  2294. You laid in the grass for what felt like hours, although you’re sure it couldn’t have been more than a few minutes. You eventually broke the silence.
  2295.  
  2296. “Ok, Anne. Lets go home, yeah?”
  2297.  
  2298. “ . . . yeah.”
  2299.  
  2300. You tried again to get off the grass again, being met only with resistance, Anne’s hold not seeming any weaker from holding you in place. Eventually her embrace concedes and lets you get off the grass. You both get up and begin to brush any stray blades off your clothes before wordlessly making your way back to your vehicle.
  2301.  
  2302. Reaching the blue hatchback, you’re about to get in the driver’s seat when a quick gaze across the road gives you an idea.
  2303.  
  2304. Across the cemetery was a small park, its playground and tennis courts layed rusted and unkempt, but all you needed was the empty space. You reached underneath the seat to grab the centerpiece of a surprise you had planned for Anne. Before she could get into the car, you called out to her.
  2305.  
  2306. “Hey Anne.”
  2307.  
  2308. “Hmm?”
  2309.  
  2310. “Follow me” you vaguely told her.
  2311.  
  2312. The Collie tilted her head as she looked at you with a questioning gaze. She closed the passenger door and began to follow you as you exited the cemetery’s gates on foot.
  2313.  
  2314. “What's wrong?” Anne asked as she approached and walked beside you. “Anon?”
  2315.  
  2316. “Just wait” you responded in a reassuring tone, the surprise you had for her was noticeably printing on your jacket’s pocket, you hoped she wouldn’t figure it out before you got to the park.
  2317.  
  2318. You crossed the street and entered the park, which was crowned by the same dead grass as the area you had just left. You led Anne further into the park before turning around to face her, making sure to angle yourself so she wouldn’t see the large lump sticking out of your pocket.
  2319.  
  2320. “Wait there” you ordered as you kept walking backwards and away from her.
  2321.  
  2322. Anne obeyed and stood still, she continued monitoring you with inquisitive eyes as you put distance between you both. As you kept moving, you took in the view before you, Anne stood out amid a sea of dead flora and rotting trees, her bright black and white coat stood in stark contrast to the neutra, dead tones around her. A scene like this looked like it belonged on a calendar, she was a much needed sight for your sore eyes.
  2323.  
  2324. Once you had put ample distance between you both, you reached into your pocket and slowly pulled out your surprise. Once Anne’s eyes gazed upon the green tennis ball, her tail immediately began wagging as her ears perked up, you gave the ball a squeeze.
  2325.  
  2326. *squeak-squeak*
  2327.  
  2328. The sound made her jaw drop and curl up into a classic canine smile, her tongue lolling out and hanging limply.
  2329.  
  2330. “Ready?” you called out which made Anne snap out of her trance and begin to struggle to try and yank her jacket off, which she let it to fall to the ground as she got into a slightly crouched ready position.
  2331.  
  2332. You grunted as you flinged the ball to her, with more of an angle than you cared to have, five years of no practice left your throw slightly off. Regardless, the excited dog sprinted to the projecting landing sight, catching the ball in her jaws with the same expertise as she did when she was younger. She tossed the ball back towards you which you had to move to catch, guess her aim was off too.
  2333.  
  2334. You squeaked the ball before you tossed it again, which seemed to excite the hound further. You tossed it, this time more in line with her. The ball again landed square in her teeth, she closed her jaws around the ball and let it squeak a few times before grabbing it and flinging it back to you. You botched the catch and had to jog over a bit to retrieve it.
  2335.  
  2336. You exchanged the ball for what must’ve been a half hour, Anne slowly growing more and more tired from sprinting to and from to catch it. You weren’t too far behind, you were breathing deeply as you ran around trying to nail Anne’s throws. At one point, Anne missed the ball and leaned over to grab it and began to walk towards you which you questioned, Anne never ended your fetch sessions, it was always you that had to call it quits from being too tired. You eventually realized what she was doing, she wanted you to chase her.
  2337.  
  2338. The malignant demon in your mind began to flare up, there was no way you could chase an anthro around, not without a panic erupting or you doing something untold.
  2339.  
  2340. Anne stopped a few meters away from you, bending at the waist and placing her hands on her knees in what you recognised as an anthro play-bow, squeaking the ball that was still in her jaws. She looked at you with an incorruptible joy that only a dog and her ball must’ve been capable of; you felt a pang of guilt that you weren’t going to be able to fulfill her wishes.
  2341.  
  2342. Instead of starting to run after her like you should’ve, you only stood there with a blank look on your face, unsure of how to explain to your friend that you weren’t going to be able to partake in one of her favorite pastimes. Anne took the ball out her jaws and gave you an adorable smile that broke your heart.
  2343.  
  2344. “C’mon Anon, I know you remember what happens next.”
  2345.  
  2346. It took you a second to respond, “ . . . I can’t.”
  2347.  
  2348. Your words replaced Anne’s joy with a very visible look of intrigue and worry.
  2349.  
  2350. “What? . . . why?”
  2351.  
  2352. “I just . . I can’t” you were sure you could have worded it better, but in the moment you just went with what your gut told you.
  2353.  
  2354. Anne looked crushed, like someone had just stepped on her sand castle; but through that, you could somehow make out that the look of sadness wasn‘t just for self-pity. It was a look that worried you, it was a look that told you that she knew something was amiss with her human friend.
  2355.  
  2356. “That’s ok . . . can we keep throwing it?” Anne asked.
  2357.  
  2358. You nodded, “of course.”
  2359.  
  2360. Anne quickly ran back to her side of the field, almost immediately tossing the ball towards you as soon as there was enough space between you two.
  2361.  
  2362. You continued throwing the ball until the sun began to set, which coincided right when you weren’t able to keep up with the Collie’s stamina anymore.
  2363.  
  2364. “Alright *pant* Annie . . I’m done *pant* . . let's go home.”
  2365.  
  2366. “Awww, such a spoil-sport . . I thought the time in the Armada would’ve made you stronger . . maybe throw a little better too” she teased.
  2367.  
  2368. “You know what? I’m gonna order one of those potato guns and we’ll see who gets tired first” you called out as you began walking towards her.
  2369.  
  2370. You both made your way back across the street, both of you panting as you got into your car. You let the A/C cool you down a bit before beginning to head back to Anne’s place. You reached for the gear shifter and were about to put it in drive when a fluffy paw draping itself over your hand caught you off guard. You looked over to Anne who was giving you a troubled look.
  2371.  
  2372. “Anon . . . you know I’m here for you if you ever need to talk about anything . . and I do mean -anything-.” she told you as she gave your hand a squeeze.
  2373.  
  2374. You only softly nodded as you spoke, “I know, Annie.”
  2375.  
  2376. “It doesn’t have to be now . . but . . just . . know that I’ll always be here, ok?” she said as she slowly started to caress up the back of your hand and to your wrist, her padded fingers making your arm involuntary twitch.
  2377.  
  2378. “Yeah . . I know . . thanks, Annie.”
  2379.  
  2380. Anne gave you a warm smile as you focused back on driving.
  2381.  
  2382. God dammit.
  2383.  
  2384. When were you going to tell her?
  2385.  
  2386.  
  2387. ____________________________________________
  2388.  
  2389. Four-Day Interval
  2390. ____________________________________________
  2391.  
  2392. You knew what was coming.
  2393.  
  2394. You knew -IT- was coming.
  2395.  
  2396. You stepped away from the mangled mess that was once Joey, intent on meeting the threat head on, only to find nothing.
  2397.  
  2398. No feral being charging at you, no jagged fangs sinking into your shoulder.
  2399.  
  2400. Where was he?
  2401.  
  2402. The flicker of flames from the burning hulls of once roaring tanks and the eerie silence from the dead around you filled the atmosphere with an unbearable dread.
  2403.  
  2404. Could it be that this time around he changed his approach . . . or even just decided to leave you be?
  2405.  
  2406. The snow crunched as you turned to and from, expecting an attack from any direction, but all you found were more lifeless bodies, bloodied snow, and smoking craters.
  2407.  
  2408. Maybe if you just talked to him, you could both leave this hell alive. He was a living, thinking being after all, just like you, surely you could agree to disagree and leave this place behind, both of you alive.
  2409.  
  2410. “What the fuck are you saying . . . this fucking mutt will stop at nothing to rip your throat open!”
  2411.  
  2412. Yes yes, right . . . of course . . dog evil, human kill.
  2413.  
  2414. “You’re getting it twisted, you fucking mongrel-lover. If you hesitate for even just a second, you’re dead . . and it’ll all be because you wanted to be a bitch.
  2415.  
  2416. You absolutely hated the voice in your head. Apart from already being an invasive parasite, it was such an asshole. You honestly didn’t know what it was, maybe it was the Redecker Device talking in your head or maybe your corrupted conscious fighting against itself for control over your mind.
  2417.  
  2418. God, it made you feel like such a schizo.
  2419.  
  2420. The device’s schizophrenic side effects weren’t at all uncommon. You had learned from a Commonwealth propaganda flyer that 1 in 5 users suffered from such a disorder and that wasn’t even the worst of it.
  2421.  
  2422. Crippling headaches, insomnia, personality disorders, bloodshot eyes, permanent brain damage, and memory loss among other things.
  2423.  
  2424. Perhaps the worst of it was what would happen if you tried to force the device off your head or was sufficiently damaged.
  2425.  
  2426. The average human mind wasn’t capable of withstanding such a shock to the system, and would more than likely devolve into a vegetative state. The Federation had machines and special procedures for the removal of the device, any unauthorized removal was quickly subjected to the device's built-in countermeasures, which included turning its victim into a brain-dead zombie.
  2427.  
  2428. Fuck this, you were gonna leave. You turned and began to trudge through the snow before the device intervened. You felt your legs freeze up, barring you from trying to retreat to friendly lines.
  2429.  
  2430. “Federation personnel do not retreat, not in my Armada” the voice in your head snarkily said.
  2431.  
  2432. Fuck you. This battle is over. There’s nothing more any of us can do.
  2433.  
  2434. “You sound like a traitor! ATTACK, FOOL! YOUR ORDERS STILL STAND!”
  2435.  
  2436. “FUCK YOU” you yelled out loud “I’m not dying for a lost cause!”
  2437.  
  2438. “You knew what you were signing up for, you signed the dotted line” the voice shot back.
  2439.  
  2440. Fuck that, fuck Owens, fuck Prosperity, fuck the Federation, fuck it all.
  2441.  
  2442. I’m leaving, zap my brain, I don’t care. The XO can go fu-
  2443.  
  2444. *crunch crunch crunch*
  2445.  
  2446. You briefly heard the sound of running footsteps in the snow before getting tackled from behind. The sudden blow on your back made you lose your balance, you felt the wind getting knocked out of you as you landed face first with your attacker atop you.
  2447.  
  2448. You barely had any time to react before you felt rows of teeth piercing your skin.
  2449.  
  2450. “FUUU-AAAAAAAHHHHHAAHAAAAAA”
  2451.  
  2452. You cried out as you uselessly tried to get the anthro off your back but to little avail, he was doing a good job of keeping you pinned to the ground.
  2453.  
  2454. “HERE WE GO AGAIN, FUCKER” the voice screamed, drowning out the deep growling coming from your assailant.
  2455.  
  2456. The device on your head began to do its job, better late than never you guessed. Instead of letting you panic, freeze up, and die; it channeled your thought process into trying every avenue of escape. You began rolling side to side, one attempt being successful and rolling the both of you over. Now the anthro was on his back with you atop him; regardless, the hold his jaws had on your shoulder didn’t falter, he began to shake his head which teared at your flesh further, forcing panicked yelps out of you as his feral-like growls reverberated in your head.
  2457.  
  2458. You brought your free arm up and rammed your elbow into your attacker, hoping to hit his stomach and distract him, you were only met with a hard surface and a hurting elbow as you realized he was still wearing his plate carrier. In response, your assailant wrapped his own arm around your neck to try to keep you still; you had to act fast. It would probably be a few moments before he realized he was mauling your shoulder and not your neck.
  2459.  
  2460. Fuck it, this is war.
  2461.  
  2462. You grabbed at the furred arm wrapped around you and twisted the fingers upwards, successfully stunning it and bringing the hand to your face before you bit down on the digits with all the force you could muster behind your jaw.
  2463.  
  2464. “Go for the joint! HARDER! GRIND THAT SHIT!”
  2465.  
  2466. “DAAAAAGGHHHHHH!!”
  2467.  
  2468. Jesus, the device was a sick fuck.
  2469.  
  2470. This got the clamp on your shoulder to release, you scrambled away and got on to your feet. You spit a foreign matter out of your mouth, realising you had bit the fur’s thumb right off.
  2471.  
  2472. You both stood a few meters apart, staring each other down, gauging each other for every little movement. The dark-grey coated fur was wearing a worn out uniform, burn marks adorning several spots; his plate carrier showing signs of having absorbed several projectiles. The wolf began to circle you, and you followed suit in the opposite direction. You couldn’t run, you knew this one could probably outrun you; so it was down to fighting for your life.
  2473.  
  2474. “Kill him.”
  2475.  
  2476. Sure . . .
  2477.  
  2478. You began to see red, you quickly undid your kevlar helmet’s clasp from your chin and took the helmet into your right hand. You rushed your opponent and took a swing at his head, the weight and the exertion making the wound on your shoulder flare up. The anthro expertly ducked below the swinging helmet and went for your legs, letting your combined weight take you both down again as he threw you off balance, sending a flurry of snow airborne. Somewhere on the way down you lost your grip on the helmet.
  2479.  
  2480. As soon as you landed on the ground, a clenched fist came down, making your face explode with pain. Before you could even begin fighting back, you felt both your assailant’s hands wrap around your neck and begin to squeeze, you flailed around, arms wildly trying to throw punches and push away at anything you could reach. Every breath began to hurt, your lungs screaming for oxygen. You began to give out weak grunts; you looked at your attacker, his murderous brown eyes told you he had every intention to finish you off.
  2481.  
  2482. Was this it?
  2483.  
  2484. Were you going to die?
  2485.  
  2486. “THE KNIFE, DUMBASS!”
  2487.  
  2488. The knife . . .
  2489.  
  2490. The little folder you had bought from the base exchange.
  2491.  
  2492. You pushed at your attackers snout with renewed vigor, which earned you an angered growl. You took your right hand off the paws choking you and reached for your trouser’s pocket, taking hold of the reassuring piece of metal.
  2493.  
  2494. You twisted your body to try to free yourself further as you quickly flicked the knife open. You thrust the blade into the canine’s side, hoping to pierce the plate carrier and punch into the stomach, instead you were only met with an audible *thump* as the blade hit into a solid barrier.
  2495.  
  2496. FUCK! He’s wearing side plates!
  2497.  
  2498. The wolf noticed the blow against his armor, his eyes widened once he saw the weapon in your hand. A paw left your neck as he began to try to grab at your wrist.
  2499.  
  2500. “AGAIN!”
  2501.  
  2502. You pulled your arm away from his reach, close to your head. With your other hand you stopped pushing at his face and grabbed at the paw trying to disarm you. In a swift motion you brought the blade down in an icepick grip.
  2503.  
  2504. *YELP*
  2505.  
  2506. You felt your attacker recoil, his other hand leaving your neck to try to protect himself from your blows.
  2507.  
  2508. “AGAIN!”
  2509.  
  2510. You retracted and brought the knife back down, stabbing blindly past the whirlwind of limbs.
  2511.  
  2512. *YELP* “STOP STOP!” screamed an unknown male voice.
  2513.  
  2514. You switched grips, now holding the blade more conventionally before thrusting again, this time you clearly saw the blade embed itself into your opponents neck, before you could stab again, a paw was pushed against your face which took your view away from the fray. Panicking, you swung again, feeling your hand and blade push into something soft.
  2515.  
  2516. In the moment of confusion you focused back onto trying to push the wolf off of you, and to your surprise you were able to; you scrambled a few feet away before stopping to try and get oxygen back into your lungs. As your labored breathing began to stabilize itself, you peeked back to where you thought the wolf would be and found your assailant sitting still in the snow.
  2517.  
  2518. He was clutching his neck, blood slowly seeping out and staining his gray fur. That wasn’t the only wound, he had a hole between his neck and shoulder, one by his collar bone, and another one on his right cheek.
  2519.  
  2520. He looked at you with wide eyes, an expression that begged for mercy, he held an extended hand out as you stood up. While the wounds seemed gnarly, you hadn’t stabbed into anything terribly vital, he still ran the very real risk of bleeding but you don’t think you had nicked any arteries; he would live if he knew how to use a bandage.
  2521.  
  2522. That was it.
  2523.  
  2524. You won.
  2525.  
  2526. You had to leave.
  2527.  
  2528. You turned away from your defeated opponent, intent on leaving before the Commonwealth counter-attack reached you, as you pocketed your blood-stained blade, you felt your legs freeze up.
  2529.  
  2530. These actions weren’t your own. You didn’t want to do this.
  2531.  
  2532. You turned around and faced the wounded canine. He was weakly trying to rip open the wrapper of a bandage with one hand, he stopped as he saw you approaching.
  2533.  
  2534. No.
  2535.  
  2536. As you calmly stumbled towards him, you briefly stopped to pick your helmet off the snow. You got within reaching distance to him as he started to push himself away with his legs, giving you a defeated whimper as he did.
  2537.  
  2538. “Do it.” the voice demanded.
  2539.  
  2540. No.
  2541.  
  2542. “Do it, pussy. Redeem yourself.”
  2543.  
  2544. No.
  2545.  
  2546. Your arm lifted itself on its own accord, as if your body wasn’t your own. All you could do was stare in horror as the device guided your actions.
  2547.  
  2548. With a swift and heavy throw, you swung the helmet at the wolf’s head, connecting and earning you a sickening *thwack*.
  2549.  
  2550. Stop.
  2551.  
  2552. The blow sent him onto his back, he weakly tried to push himself away from you as he put his paw out in front of him to try and impede any more blows.
  2553.  
  2554. “Please, no!” you heard him cry out.
  2555.  
  2556. You again swung the helmet at the grounded soldier, this time making his arms go limp and fall to his sides, all he could do now was give you a half-conscious stare as the blood seeped out of his previous wounds, staining the snow.
  2557.  
  2558. But the device wasn’t done.
  2559.  
  2560. You felt yourself straddle the wolf as you took the helmet in both hands and brought it above your head.
  2561.  
  2562. Stop!
  2563.  
  2564. *THWACK*
  2565.  
  2566. Stop!
  2567.  
  2568. *THWACK*
  2569.  
  2570. STOP!!
  2571.  
  2572. *CRUNCH*
  2573.  
  2574. “STOP PLEASE FUCKING STOP!!”
  2575.  
  2576. . . . . . . . .
  2577.  
  2578. And just like that, you were no longer in the frozen forests of Prosperity being forced to commit the horrible atrocity that had scarred your mind; instead you were sat up on your bed, drenched in sweat, and breathing deeply.
  2579.  
  2580. Another nightmare.
  2581.  
  2582. This one somehow worse than the last.
  2583.  
  2584. You’d been having nightmares for a while now, nearly every night since arriving on Mastosit. You weren’t sure what it was, maybe it was the shock of coming back to a destroyed home or seeing the grave of your parents or . . .
  2585.  
  2586. . . . or maybe it was Annie?
  2587.  
  2588. You reached up and planted your face in your palms, sighing deeply as your rushing heart began to calm down. You were about to lay back in bed when the sound of rushing footsteps caught your attention.
  2589.  
  2590. Oh shit, you yelled out that last part out loud didn’t you?
  2591.  
  2592. Your door burst open and Anne came rushing through; she was wearing your waffle-top and had a gun in her hand.
  2593.  
  2594. “Anon?! You ok?” she exclaimed as she glanced around the room, her finger on the pistol’s trigger.
  2595.  
  2596. “Y-yeah, Anne . . relax, I’m fine.” you said in a shaky tone.
  2597.  
  2598. “Relax? Jesus, Anon I thought an abomination had gotten in . . . you scared me . .” Anne said as her ears went flat.
  2599.  
  2600. You were hoping that Anne was just going to disregard your little night tremors and go back to sleep, but you were soon let down.
  2601.  
  2602. “Anon . . . w-what happened?” Anne said, tilting her head and perking an ear up and swiveling it towards you.
  2603.  
  2604. “I-it was just a nightmare,” you answered blandly.
  2605.  
  2606. “. . . about what?”
  2607.  
  2608. You looked over at Anne, who was standing attentively near the foot of your bed. She met your gaze with a small smile and a wag of her tail, but you couldn’t help but notice the intensity of her stare. Despite her well-meant smile, you immediately noticed her trying to subtly squint her eyes to further intensify her glare.
  2609.  
  2610. This damn dog was trying to use her collie stare to get you to spill the beans.
  2611.  
  2612. Before you could dismiss your friend's query, she began to slowly tip toe over to the edge of your bed, maintaining eye-contact the whole time. She sat down, the springs in the old mattress groaning under her weight as she slowly reached for you, a padded paw draping itself over your ankle and giving you a gentle squeeze.
  2613.  
  2614. “You can tell me Anon, I’m here for you.”
  2615.  
  2616. Her predatory eyes and slow deliberate stalking was having the opposite effect of what Anne was likely trying to accomplish. Instead of feeling reassured, you felt more on edge, as if she was about to bite the answers out of you.
  2617.  
  2618. You knew what she was trying to do: use her familiar stare to try and coax a confession out of you; too bad she didn’t know what had happened on Prosperity. Your nightmare had been an almost exact retelling of the terrible event and was something you definitely were not ready to share, much less so early in the day.
  2619.  
  2620. “I know Anne . . . just . . not now . . maybe when we’re not busy” you said, losing a bit of concentration as you kept gazing into Anne’s deep blue orbs, the sincerity and affection radiating from her being something that you had long since forgotten about.
  2621.  
  2622. She gave you a small smirk as her eyes deviated from you and darted left and right, “busy? . . . I think now would be fine” she whispered as she refocused onto you.
  2623.  
  2624. She was slowly chipping away at your facade and she knew it. The sly hound had gotten you to admit that there was in fact something wrong, a fact you’d only realized after saying so blindly. Regardless it still wasn’t something you wanted to trouble the two of you with.
  2625.  
  2626. “N-not now, Anne . . another time, ok?”
  2627.  
  2628. In response Anne widened her warm smile, “Ok Anon, I have your word.”
  2629.  
  2630. Anne still hadn’t lost her little hypnosis.
  2631.  
  2632. It was what you called her collie stare, her intense eyes would gaze into your very soul and seemingly make your mind go blank, it was a stare that seemed to be all knowing, as if she already knew what you were hiding and simply wanted to hear you say it yourself; mix that with her warm smile, her genuinely affectionate demeanor, an admittedly pretty face and you couldn’t help but telling her all she want to know. She had used it regularly when you were younger, getting you to spill the beans on various things; most noteworthy had to be when she got you to reveal that you had signed up for the Armada, a fact that you knew she wouldn’t have taken lightly. Back then it was amusing, fun even, whenever she’d look at you with her predatory eyes and do her little stalking routine, but now it made you feel some kind of way; dread and a primal fear probably being the first to come to mind.
  2633.  
  2634. “You wanna get up, Anon? It’s a little early but we can probably get started with breakfast . . . if you wanna” Anne said, interrupting your thoughts.
  2635.  
  2636. You looked to your bedroom’s window, finding that indeed the early morning light was beginning to shine through the breaks in the curtain.
  2637.  
  2638. “Sure, Annie” you said as you began to throw the covers off of you.
  2639.  
  2640. Anne led you through the living room and into the kitchen, her tail softly swaying behind her the whole way. You couldn’t help but gaze a bit further down.
  2641.  
  2642. Her shorts, while utilitarian, displayed her well-sculpted legs nicely, and even beneath all the fluff, you could make out the hidden muscle beneath. Despite her somewhat thin frame resulting from the war and a food shortage, a diet of MREs and a semi-active life had left her in a comfortable middle ground between skinny and athletic. As she bent over to dig through her pantry, you shook your head and mentally scolded yourself for checking out your friend.
  2643.  
  2644. This morning’s breakfast was MREs, since Anne was beginning to run out of all the good food. You both heated up your main courses and made your way to the kitchen table, mush bags in hand.
  2645.  
  2646. “Oh shit, I got M&Ms in mine” she said excitedly.
  2647.  
  2648. You looked up from your preserved meal to see Anne downing a handful of candy, a weird thing to be eating for breakfast.
  2649.  
  2650. “I thought dogs couldn’t eat chocolate” you said.
  2651.  
  2652. “eeehhh, it’s only bad if we eat a lot and even then we just have to poop or throw it up.”
  2653.  
  2654. “ugh” you said with grimace.
  2655.  
  2656. “Hey, I’m not the one who gets constipated after eating MREs” Anne shot back.
  2657.  
  2658. “That’s what it’s supposed to do, Anne” you tried to explain, “you think we got bathrooms out in the field?”
  2659.  
  2660. “Don’t you have porta-shitters out there?”
  2661.  
  2662. “Yeah, but only in camps and stuff; if you gotta shit while you’re in a trench or something, you gotta do it in the forest.”
  2663.  
  2664. You heard a giggle from Anne, looking up you saw her with a hand over her snout trying to stifle a laugh.
  2665.  
  2666. “How was that like?” she asked between chuckles.
  2667.  
  2668. “Well, you had to do it in secret because everyone always threw acorns at whoever was shitting in the woods” you said.
  2669.  
  2670. “Pffft”
  2671.  
  2672. Annie could barely contain herself, eventually bursting out in a heavy laughter.
  2673.  
  2674. “You humans are ridiculous!” she yelled out between laughs. You couldn’t help but join along her contagious humor, you both laughed for a while before eventually dying down and eating in silence, occasionally broken by a stray giggle from Anne.
  2675.  
  2676. “Got anything in mind for today, Anon?” Anne asked as she finished her main course and focused on whatever was left of the MRE.
  2677.  
  2678. You were about to hand off the choice to Anne again before a good idea came to you, it was sure to be a great morale booster, plus you had already promised yourself that you’d take Anne out to do something fun.
  2679.  
  2680. “Finish up and get dressed, I got us something to do today.
  2681.  
  2682. ____________________________________________
  2683.  
  2684. Breathe in.
  2685.  
  2686. Breathe out.
  2687.  
  2688. Hold it steady.
  2689.  
  2690. Breath in.
  2691.  
  2692. . . .
  2693.  
  2694. Is it on the breathe out or the breathe in?
  2695.  
  2696. Shit, the aftereffects must be making you forget things.
  2697.  
  2698. . . .
  2699.  
  2700. Fuck it.
  2701.  
  2702. *BANG*
  2703.  
  2704. “Miss.”
  2705.  
  2706. Shit.
  2707.  
  2708. Breathe in . . .
  2709.  
  2710. *BANG*
  2711.  
  2712. “Miss.”
  2713.  
  2714. You’re embarrassing yourself, GM3.
  2715.  
  2716. *BANG*
  2717.  
  2718. “Miss, low right.”
  2719.  
  2720. Come on.
  2721.  
  2722. *BANG*
  2723.  
  2724. “Miss . . C’mon, marksman.”
  2725.  
  2726. “Screw you” you muttered under your breath.
  2727.  
  2728. You steadied your hold on your handgun, taking your time aligning the sights, making sure they lined up well with your target. You slowly pressed the trigger.
  2729.  
  2730. Breathe in . . .
  2731.  
  2732. *BANG*
  2733.  
  2734. “ . . . HIT!”
  2735.  
  2736. You refocused onto the glass bottle you were shooting at, finding only shards of glass scattered around the floor. In your defense, the bottle must’ve been at least forty meters away; nearing the Federation qualification standards for a handgun if you remembered right.
  2737.  
  2738. You reached beside you and picked up your can, taking a swig of the cheap corner store beer as celebration for hitting the distant target. As you placed it back down, you made sure the can wouldn’t fall off the roof you were currently sitting on.
  2739.  
  2740. Day drinking and shooting.
  2741.  
  2742. Surely not the smartest combination, but definitely a fun alternative to staying home and watching TV all day. You and Anne were currently sitting atop the roof of your junior-year math class taking potshots at anything that looked like a fun target.
  2743.  
  2744. Earlier you and Anne had gone to Marco’s house and traded the packets of drugs for several hundred rounds of ammunition and some cash. You had initially planned to go to one of your old shooting spots like the nearby creek or deep into the forests, but Anne had told you that not only did your highschool lay ruined and abandoned, but also no one lived nearby. It sounded like fun, so here you were; the dog had even brought along a couple of cheap beers.
  2745.  
  2746. You carefully steadied the pistol, taking aim at a nearby classroom door; your aim wasn’t the best as you began to feel the numbing effects of the bitter tasting alcohol.
  2747.  
  2748. *BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG*
  2749.  
  2750. “ . . . uhhhh . . . hit?”
  2751.  
  2752. You smiled as you looked at your target, the door was now pelted in small bullet holes and any dust had been kicked up into a small cloud.
  2753.  
  2754. You again took aim, intent on knocking an already trashed security camera off its stand on a nearby roof.
  2755.  
  2756. *click*
  2757.  
  2758. “Shit.”
  2759.  
  2760. You dropped the empty magazine besides you, making sure it wouldn’t fall off the roof. As you load a fresh magazine, Anne speaks up.
  2761.  
  2762. “You learn that in the Armada?” she asks.
  2763.  
  2764. “Nah . . I mostly shot machine guns and stuff, not too many pistols” you answer.
  2765.  
  2766. “Sounds like you had fun.”
  2767.  
  2768. “Believe it or not, I’ve never been so bored shooting than when I shot with the Armada.”
  2769.  
  2770. “Bullshit” Annie replies, looking over at you with a smirk.
  2771.  
  2772. “For real, we shot the same damn course every time for an hour and then had to spend four hours cleaning the guns.”
  2773.  
  2774. “Getting paid to travel and play with guns sounds like a good time to me.”
  2775.  
  2776. You shook your head, “it gets boring after the third year” you said as you let the slide shoot forward with a resounding *CLACK*, “it’s not any fun when it’s not actually YOUR gun, you never get to do anything cool with it.”
  2777.  
  2778. You looked at Anne, only to find she was already staring at you. She was only on her third beer but you knew she was infamously lightweight; back in highschool, two or three of your mixed drinks would usually have her knocked out or have her head in the toilet, which you had promised yourself long ago that you wouldn’t put her through ever again.
  2779.  
  2780. She was looking at you as if she were observing a priceless piece of art, she’d look you down then return her gaze to your eyes, carefully taking in every detail of you with half-lidded eyes.
  2781.  
  2782. Jesus, was she already buzzed?
  2783.  
  2784. Before Anne could begin a staring routine on you, you offered her the handgun. She looked down at the hunk of metal and began to wag her tail.
  2785.  
  2786. “Hell yeah” she said as she grabbed the gun. She immediately began looking for a good target, you did as well, eventually finding something that might interest her.
  2787.  
  2788. “Wasn’t that Mrs. Bordner’s class?” you ask as you point over to the small building you had singled out.
  2789.  
  2790. Annie looks to where you’re pointing; as soon as she sees the target her ears lay flat against her head and her eyes narrow, as if your former Economics I teacher was still inside the building.
  2791.  
  2792. Annie had hated Mrs. Bordner with a passion due to her very vocal dislike of anthros. She had always seemed to single Annie out whenever she felt like chewing someone out or sending them to see the principal. More than once she had granted Annie detention for things that weren’t her fault, causing friction in her already volatile home. Despite the obvious unprofessionalism, the school district never saw fit to fire her, seeing her speciesism as a non-issue. Annie once told you that she had once even called her a “Mangy Mutt” as they passed each other on the hallway.
  2793.  
  2794. “Yeah that’s hers.”
  2795.  
  2796. “Heh, knock her window out”, you chuckled.
  2797.  
  2798. Annie took aim with both her hands, focusing on the target with an intensity only a Collie could muster. It takes her a minute before she rests her finger on the trigger and slowly begins to squeeze.
  2799.  
  2800. *BANG*
  2801.  
  2802. Some dust and a few shards are kicked up as the bullet impacts a few feet to the right of the window.
  2803.  
  2804. “Miss” you say, mimicking her spotter routine.
  2805.  
  2806. Anne shifts her grip on the handgun, holding it a bit higher and taking her time with her next shot. Her folded ears stood at attention, exposing the blue ear plugs as she slowly squeezed out the next shot.
  2807.  
  2808. *BANG*
  2809.  
  2810. “ . . . Miss.”
  2811.  
  2812. You see her ears twitch in annoyance before they fall flat against her head, her eyes further squint as they glare at the iron sights on the weapon. A slight breeze passes by the ruined school, shaking a few dead leaves off the roof. It takes the dog a second to resteady her aim and take her shot.
  2813.  
  2814. *BANG*
  2815.  
  2816. You hear glass shatter and spill over the floor. She had hit the glass and knocked out a good chunk of it although some was still hanging on to the edges of the frame.
  2817.  
  2818. “Hit.”
  2819.  
  2820. Annie looks over the sights of the gun to observe her handiwork. She’s still staring daggers at the classroom.
  2821.  
  2822. “Take that you old hag . . . “
  2823.  
  2824. Annie lowers the gun before passing it back off to you. She picks up her beer, and takes an abnormally large swig before setting it back down.
  2825.  
  2826. Just as you’re trying to pick out another target, Annie pipes up.
  2827.  
  2828. “Y’know I joined the Loyalty Society?”
  2829.  
  2830. You lower the gun and face her, finding the dog still facing the ruined school but eyeing you intently.
  2831.  
  2832. “What, really?” you ask, somewhat taken aback at her sudden comment.
  2833.  
  2834. “Yup” she replies, lightly kicking her dangling paws as she stares at the ground.
  2835.  
  2836. “Did you ever do anything for them?” you were beginning to worry your friend might’ve done something untold.
  2837.  
  2838. Anne gives the ground a frown, as if she was remembering a sour memory, “ . . no . . I was supposed to sabotage a bunch of Commonwealth trucks and steal grenades to make traps . . but I never got to cause our cell leader got arrested . . sooooo I just . . kept working with the rescue team.”
  2839.  
  2840. You can’t help but note the guilt in her tone, as if she was just caught with her hand in the cookie jar. Did she feel bad about not taking action during the Commonwealth takeover?
  2841.  
  2842. Heh . . . Annette Fontanez, sabotage master and defender of humanity.
  2843.  
  2844. Before the war, the Loyalty Society was a loose group of anthros, mostly dogs who lived under the Federation, their focus was on the betterment of anthro-human relations as well as service and loyalty to their human companions.
  2845.  
  2846. While any species of anthros were welcome to join, the general consensus was that the Loyalty Society was a majority dog group who wanted to show humanity that while the rest of anthro-kind was opposed to the human empire; the dog remained loyal and faithful to the race who had invited them to the fire and taken them on as companions all those millions of years ago.
  2847.  
  2848. Man’s best friend.
  2849.  
  2850. They would do a lot of community service and were also focused on higher education and job-finding for anthros, usually for medical professions, public services, and the like; in fact you were pretty sure Anne mentioned once that they’d offered her a scholarship in the medical field. Once the war really began to go south however, the Loyalty Society began to take on a much more paramilitary tone in its approach to Human-Anthro relations.
  2851.  
  2852. The Society would train its members to essentially be partisans in planets at risk of Commonwealth invasion, it eventually got to the point where the Federation was openly arming the societies’ guerilla groups and providing them with proper training; pretty soon, the Commonwealth military began to see every anthro on Federation planets as a possible insurgent, especially dogs. Perhaps their biggest claim to fame was how during the final battle of the war on the surface of the Federation capitol planet, the anthros wearing Federation uniforms were the last forces still fighting desperate battles long after all human elements had surrendered. All the dead and the few that survived were all found to have Society membership cards in their possession.
  2853.  
  2854. The Commonwealth had openly called out the groups during the war, labeling them “brainwashed, suicidal fanatics who had betrayed their species”. Due to the nature of the group, any LS anthro captured by the Commonwealth ran the risk of being declared a guerilla and executed; and that’s not mentioning the poor reputation Federation anthros already had with Commonwealth personnel. With the end of the war, the victors had outlawed the group, but regardless LS groups were apparently still occasionally being found fighting alongside Federation Hardliners, fanatical as ever.
  2855.  
  2856. “Why’d you join?” you asked once you had processed the significance of your friend’s actions.
  2857.  
  2858. “ . . . I dunno . . .” your friend said after thinking about it for a while, “guess . . . I’m a Federation hound at the end of the day.”
  2859.  
  2860. “Whatever happened to ‘the Commonwealth’s the best thing that’s happened here’?” you asked with a smirk.
  2861.  
  2862. Anne smiled sheepishly, realizing the conflict between her past and present statements.
  2863.  
  2864. “Well . . yeah” she explained, “if it wasn’t for the Commonwealth we’d all probably be starving right now, but . . I mean . . they’re still dirty mongrels . . but still . .”
  2865.  
  2866. You couldn’t help but begin lightly chuckling, Anne turned to you with a concerned expression.
  2867.  
  2868. “What?”
  2869.  
  2870. “ . . oh Anne” you said, trying to recollect yourself, ”of all the things you could’ve done while I was gone, you went and joined the Loyalty Society of all things . . and yet still worked under the Commonwealth . . you got quite the resume going on there.”
  2871.  
  2872. She turned back to face the school with a frown, you think you might’ve hit a nerve.
  2873.  
  2874. “I-I would’ve fought. . . but I . . i-it was just me left . . all the other LS people ran into the woods or got arrested . . I didn’t know what to do!” You notice the slight frustration in her voice.
  2875.  
  2876. “You feel bad about it?” you asked as you turned to her, one of her folded ears twitches at your words; it takes her a while to respond.
  2877.  
  2878. “ . . . yeah . .” she answers with no further explanation.
  2879.  
  2880. You thought about not prying any deeper, you had never seen Anne as the fanatical kind, but maybe she took the whole LS belief to heart. Instead you slightly switched topics.
  2881.  
  2882. “Can I see your membership card?” you asked with a reassuring smile.
  2883.  
  2884. Anne’s ears perked up as she turned to you with a questioning glance, hopefully the random question had disarmed her.
  2885.  
  2886. “oh . . uhhh-yeah” she said as she began digging through her pockets, she pulled out a stack of cards held together by a black bootband, much like the ones you’d worn with your old uniform. She pulled out a card out of the pile and handed it to you.
  2887.  
  2888. It was a card that was styled much like your government ID card except it was labeled clearly with LS tags, they must’ve really been trying to go for the paramilitary vibe. The smiling black and white dog on the card looked back at you with hopeful eyes, you could tell she must’ve been excited when she was getting the picture taken.
  2889.  
  2890. ANNETTE R. FONTANEZ
  2891.  
  2892. AFFILIATION: LOYALTY SOCIETY
  2893.  
  2894. SPECIES: CANIS FAMILIARIS; BORDER COLLIE
  2895.  
  2896. RANK: RECRUIT
  2897.  
  2898. You cracked a smile at her ID card, if you still had yours, you could probably get a laugh out of her with the picture, it was taken during bootcamp after you hadn’t slept in two days, you looked like a crackhead in it.
  2899.  
  2900. You turned the card over before handing it back to Anne, as she was sticking it back into her boot band wallet, you hit her with a final question.
  2901.  
  2902. “Why’d you feel bad about not fighting?” you ask, she seems to freeze up at your words.
  2903.  
  2904. Anne sighed and shrugged her shoulders, “I just . . . everyone was fighting . . even you were . . even some of the guys from our neighborhood were joining the Defense Force . . and I just . . I joined LS . . . and ended up working for the Commonwealth . . I just . . I just felt like a coward . .” her ears fall flat as she finishes, she stares at the ground with a saddened look, even her tail is curled up against her.
  2905.  
  2906. You wordlessly looked at the gun still in your hands, you weren’t sure how to console her. Although in your eyes it was a non-issue, maybe to her it was something serious; but you knew a story that might make her feel a little better. You turned to Anne, who reciprocated with her ears perking up.
  2907.  
  2908. “Let's go for a walk.”
  2909.  
  2910. Anne nodded, you both gathered your things. Anne threw what was left of the beers in her bag while you pocketed a few magazines and threw the ammo in your friend’s bag. Once finished, you made your way off the roof, which involved climbing down to a cement wall near the classroom and jumping to the floor. Anne’s bag ringed with the sounds of brass hitting aluminum cans as she jumped off the small wall after you. As she joined your side, you led the both of you through the school, taking in the now destroyed visage of your teenage years.
  2911.  
  2912. “Y’know we killed our commanding officer on Prosperity?” you told Anne as you began to take aim at a nearby classroom door.
  2913.  
  2914. “What? Really?” Anne said with bewilderment in her voice.
  2915.  
  2916. “Yup”
  2917.  
  2918. *BANG*
  2919.  
  2920. You lowered the gun and kept walking, Anne keeping pace and looking at you attentively, eagerly awaiting to hear more of your tale.
  2921.  
  2922. “After the port was overrun, everyone that was left was pushed into the forests. There were maybe like . . four-hundred of us left and the CO from my command was the highest ranking officer left . . so he took charge of us and whatever was left of the Marines.”
  2923.  
  2924. You stopped walking and took aim at a dead tree that was missing most of its branches. You aimed down the sights and carefully squeezed the trigger.
  2925.  
  2926. *BANG*
  2927.  
  2928. The rotted wood exploded in a small puff of dust. You kept walking, trying hard to keep down any external emotions from recalling the painful memories.
  2929.  
  2930. “Well actually, he wasn’t our actual CO, he was the Executive Officer, our real CO left aboard the Diligence with the rest of the battalion to . . god knows where” you clarified, “ . . . don’t know what ever happened to him” you realized before you continued.
  2931.  
  2932. “The bastard sent us on an attack . . 400 Marines and Spacemen, six armored vehicles, and a single artillery cannon against . . . god knows how many Commonwealths fucks . . we made decent progress, we got about a mile away from the port before we got caught in an artillery barrage . . whoever was left from that retreated.”
  2933.  
  2934. Anne was looking at you with great intrigue, soaking up every word you said intently; her ears would turn and flex, trying to absorb every single word you were saying.
  2935.  
  2936. “When we got back to our ‘camp’ the bastard comes out of his fucking tent, calling us cowards and traitors. He was ordering us to go back out and to only come back once we’ve taken the port or to not come back at all . . . but none of us did so . . so he pulled out his pistol and started shooting at us.”
  2937.  
  2938. You stopped again, this time taking aim at a worn out bench and shooting wildly.
  2939.  
  2940. *BANG BANG BANG*
  2941.  
  2942. “I think he shot . . three of us before a Marine came up behind him and clocked him with his rifle” you continued as you kept walking, “he didn’t even hit the floor before he had several dozen guys on him . . .”
  2943.  
  2944. You took aim with the pistol while still walking and shot at a distant classroom one-handed, not even bothering to aim.
  2945.  
  2946. *BANG BANG BANG BANG*
  2947.  
  2948. You stopped and lowered the gun, turning to face Anne who was staring at you with wide-eyes.
  2949.  
  2950. “They ripped him apart with pocket knives and e-tools . . limb by limb . . whoever wasn’t with the CO went after the other officers . . less than a hundred guys massacred . . I think . . seventeen officers and NCOs, the only one who was spared was the medical officer.”
  2951.  
  2952. “Jesus, Anon . . you never told me this story.”
  2953.  
  2954. “Look Anne, what I’m trying to get at is you shouldn’t feel bad about not dying for a lost cause . . the war was already lost long before it came to Mastosit . . the Federation was nothing worth dying for.”
  2955.  
  2956. Anne sighs deeply, “I know . . I know . . it’s just . . . I can’t help but think I wussed out.”
  2957.  
  2958. “I wouldn’t worry about it, Anne” you reply.
  2959.  
  2960. You turn away and finally switch topics to get her mind off all that.
  2961.  
  2962. “You remember that?” you ask as you point to an empty space behind a few classrooms. It was a blind spot in the school cameras, while crowds regularly passed through there it was hidden enough to where the students would go back there and smoke or fight whenever class let out.
  2963.  
  2964. Your friend lets out a low laugh, “heh . . I do”. Her tail began to slightly droop as the memories came back to her.
  2965.  
  2966. During your freshman year, Anne had gotten her ass whooped in this spot after you both had gone to a class after school for a make-up test. She had finished first and said she would wait for you in the front of the school so you could walk home together. Imagine your surprise when you came across a group of juniors jumping your canine friend, calling her every slur in the dictionary while the two females in the group pulled her fur and tail.
  2967.  
  2968. You had thought about turning around and avoiding any confrontation, there were five of them and only one of you. A loud yelp from Anne had snapped you out of your delusion, there was no way you were gonna let these dicks get away with this. You had bravely and foolishly rushed the pack, connecting a few punches which had knocked one of the males out and sent the female yanking the dog’s tail sprawling to the ground. Your assault was short lived however, as the remaining offenders quickly turned their attention to you and laid you out on the floor, raining a storm of kicks and punches on you that hurt like hell.
  2969.  
  2970. A shoe to the nose was about the time that you began to regret your irrational charge. Right when you were about to fall into the arms of unconsciousness would be right when a kick connected with your stomach, making you recoil on the floor and flop around like a fish out of water. Eventually the juniors had had enough and dragged away their unconscious friend, leaving both you and Annie bleeding and groaning on the floor.
  2971.  
  2972. “Y’know . . I don’t think I ever properly thanked you for that” Anne said, distracting you from the memory.
  2973.  
  2974. That was a lie.
  2975.  
  2976. Anne was the first one to get up after the beatdown and was immediately at your side using her hoodie to try and clog your bleeding nose. After a while she had dragged you to her home, which wasn’t too far of a walk, and spent several hours putting ice on your bruises, all the while apologizing profusely for having this happen to you.
  2977.  
  2978. “Don’t worry about it . . y’know I thought about just letting them beat your ass and walking away” you admitted.
  2979.  
  2980. Anne only smiled childishly, “well . . thanks for not doing so . . I seriously thought they were gonna pull my tail off.”
  2981.  
  2982. “Ohhh poor puppy . . whatever would she do without her precious stump” you teased which elicited a giggle from her.
  2983.  
  2984. “Oh screw you” she replied, you both began to walk further through the school, eventually going behind the amphitheatre which drew yet another memory from you both.
  2985.  
  2986. “You remember that?” Anne asked as she pointed at a dead tree that was a few dozen feet away from the amphitheater; another blind spot.
  2987.  
  2988. “Yup” you answered.
  2989.  
  2990. It was probably one of Anne’s fondest memories, and one of yours as well if you were honest. Following the beatdown, the group of junior’s ringleader, Courtney Wellington, who was a rich girl from the nice part of town, had bullied Anne constantly. Your canine friend had eventually come to you, asking for any suggestions to the problem, and you being the good friend you were, suggested she should fight her.
  2991.  
  2992. Over spring break, you had “trained” Anne to fight, and while it was little more than letting her punch at you with boxing gloves, she did eventually get a pretty nasty right hook going. You were no real fighter yourself, only having been in a handful of fistfights throughout your life, yet you were still pretty confident that Anne could hold her own in her planned brawl.
  2993.  
  2994. The first day school started back up, Anne’s rival had called her a mutt, and Anne had yelled back that she was too much of a pussy to meet her behind the amphitheater and fight, which Courtney had accepted. After school, they both met under the tree you were currently gazing at and got ready to square off, the rich girl had brought along all her cronies who immediately began heckling Anne, while the dog only had you to cheer her on. The human female began to take off her jewelry and pull her hair into a bun while Anne simply threw her backpack to the grass and put her fists up, her tail straight and raised hackles peeking from her shirt telling you that she was pissed. The fight started off decently enough, Courtney connected a few half-willed punches while Anne threw some pretty decent blows that riled up the crowd.
  2995.  
  2996. “C’mon Courtney!”
  2997.  
  2998. “Fuck that bitch up!”
  2999.  
  3000. “Kick her ass, Annie!” you had yelled, trying to encourage her in opposition to the wave of disparagement.
  3001.  
  3002. It wasn’t long before they began rolling on the floor, the human was yanking at a handful of Anne’s neck fluff while the canine was pulling at her opponent’s hair, growling deeply the whole time; it quickly devolved into a stalemate which both you and Courtney’s lackies split up so they could start throwing fists again.
  3003.  
  3004. Both the “fighters” were out of breath, the human female stopped for a second to catch her breath; which you used as an opportunity to embolden Anne. You turned her to face you and smoothened out her disheveled neck fur with an open palm.
  3005.  
  3006. “C’mon Anne, don’t let this bitch muscle you around” you remember saying to her, which elicited a determined smile from her before turning around and facing her opponent.
  3007.  
  3008. Round two had ended almost as quickly as it began, the bully had immediately tried to resume the hair pulling move but Anne had countered that with a right hook so mean you were sure she had the finger of god guiding her; you had never felt so proud of her. Courtney was knocked out and sent crashing to the ground, to which Anne followed her down and got another hit in before you came up behind her, wrapping your arms around her torso and pulling her off her rival just in time as a swarm of hussies came in to try and defend their leader, they exchanged insults with Anne as you dragged her away, making sure to recover her bag before you both made your way out the school.
  3009.  
  3010. “Did you see that?! You see that?!” Anne yelled the whole time as you led the both of you out of the school grounds, her tail wagging furiously the whole time. You assured her that you had in fact seen her drop her human opponent but that you wanted to get you both out of the area before school security noticed anything.
  3011.  
  3012. Back in the present, you handed Anne your gun, which she eagerly took and aimed at the dead tree.
  3013.  
  3014. *BANG . . . BANG BANG*
  3015.  
  3016. *click*
  3017.  
  3018. As Anne stared at the locked-back pistol with a disappointed frown, you reached into your pockets to pull out a loaded magazine, handing it to her and watching her reload the gun proficiently, yet another thing you had taught her.
  3019.  
  3020. You turned to continue exploring the ruins before you felt a hand on your shoulder, you turned to face Anne. The dog was looking at you with a blank stare you couldn’t quite put your finger on, she opened her mouth to try to say something, but remained quiet for a second until she found her words again.
  3021.  
  3022. “Anon . . . I-I just wanna say that . .” she turned away as she went quiet again, you looked at her with a puzzled look, waiting for her to finish. “ . . I wanted to say that . . you’re a really good friend and . . I’m glad we’ve stayed friends for so long . . . and . . I-I was wondering . . what do-“
  3023.  
  3024. “HEY!”
  3025.  
  3026. The unidentified voice startled you both, you saw Anne jump and her ears perk up before you turned around to try and find the source, turning the corner of a distant building was a Commonwealth Peacekeeper looking right at you both. The moment you saw the dark green camouflage and the black rifle in his hands your instincts kicked into overdrive, you immediately erupted into a sprint in the opposite direction, you briefly looked at Anne who seemed to be stuck between running after you and standing still, but once your eyes met, she too began to run behind you.
  3027.  
  3028. As you both sprinted through the abandoned hallways, you thought about the gun, the ammo, all the shooting that they were probably responding to and Anne’s LS card; if the Peacekeepers found you with any of them, you ran the very real risk of likely being considered a Hardliner, something that you could definitely do without.
  3029.  
  3030. Anne’s backpack rattled with the sound of cans and bullets shaking around as she sprinted after you, you began to think of an escape plan; you had walked here and left your car back home, meaning you had to get creative with your flight and somehow lose the pursuing anthros, then it hit you, you could climb the same fence Anne had cut her tail on and lose them in the neighborhood just like you’d done with the police many years ago.
  3031.  
  3032. You followed the hallways until they ended, leading you both into a large field of dead grass with your target at the other end of it. Your heart beat faster and your breath grew shallow as you crossed the field, you peeked behind you and sure enough two anthros emerged from the bombed out ruins chasing after you.
  3033.  
  3034. Anne reached the fence first and immediately began climbing it, the rusted metal shifting and groaning under her weight. You climbed after her, looking up you saw that she was keeping her tail curled up against her, likely reminded of her past experience climbing this same fence; looking back you saw the anthros were almost halfway across the field, you hoped their rifles and armor would be heavy enough to keep them from climbing after you.
  3035.  
  3036. A loud rattling and a hushed whimper drew your attention back to Anne, she had reached the peak and was putting her leg over the top when she had lost her footing and slipped, putting her weight onto the jagged tips of the fence, before you could reach her and give her a hand, she had already readjusted and was climbing down, jumping off at the last few meters. As you climbed down, the Peacekeepers reached the fence, the closest one harshly kicked it in an attempt to get you to fall, which he nearly succeeded as he made you lose your balance and tumble off, luckily landing on your feet and scrambling to get away.
  3037.  
  3038. “STOP!”
  3039.  
  3040. You quickly glanced back at your pursuers as you ran between the abandoned houses, the snarling face of the white wolf sent you into a greater panic, making you pick up speed as you scurried past the rotting wooden fencing. You had just rounded the corner and caught up with Anne who was kneeling on the floor and holding her leg for some reason when suddenly-
  3041.  
  3042. *POW*
  3043.  
  3044. “SHIT!”
  3045.  
  3046. A portion of the wooden fencing, only inches away from your head exploded, leaving behind a gaping hole and showering you in wooden shards. The sudden shot had missed you, but had still shocked you enough to make you trip and fall onto the concrete. You could hear the two soldiers arguing in the distance, the more senior one sounded upset about the shooter's interpretation of the rules of engagement.
  3047.  
  3048. “Fucking dicks” you thought, “sons of bitches would shoot at two fleeing civilians?!”
  3049.  
  3050. You approached Annie, reaching for her waist where you hoped your gun was still tucked away, intent on teaching these two mongrels about “hearts and minds campaigns”. As you pulled the hunk of metal out of her belt, Anne’s eyes widened and her ears stood on end as she quickly caught onto what you intended to do. Before you could even aim the gun down range, the dog jumped up and wrapped her arms around yours, forcing you to stay put and look at her.
  3051.  
  3052. “Anon, No!” she exclaimed in a hushed tone, “you shoot at them and they’ll really come after us, let’s just go home, please!”
  3053.  
  3054. You pulled against Anne’s restraint intent on gunning down the still arguing anthros, but her grip was not letting up, she whined in response to your pulls.
  3055.  
  3056. “Please Anon, don’t do it, they’ll kill us!”
  3057.  
  3058. Your face contorted into a scowl as you pointed the weapon down.
  3059.  
  3060. “Fine” you muttered.
  3061.  
  3062. Your friend let you go, immediately pushing you along to continue your flee. You tucked your pistol down your pants as you crossed a street, you were both fleeing towards a line of houses whose yards you could cross to run further into the neighborhood. You reached a wooden fence, as you did you turned to Anne and placed your hands together in front of you, intent on giving her a boost. As she placed her foot on your hands, you were able to feel the smooth leathery pads on her paws as she pushed her weight against your grip. As you pushed up to get her over the fence, you were met with the sight of a rip in her jeans on her right thigh and a red stain around the tear.
  3063.  
  3064. Damn it.
  3065.  
  3066. She had cut herself again on the same damn fence.
  3067.  
  3068. Once she was sitting atop the obstacle you jumped up and had Anne grab your hand and pull you up which she somewhat strained to do so; once you were both on the ground again, you crossed the yard and repeated the same process for the next wall.
  3069.  
  3070. You kept up your exfiltration until you were sure you had lost the pursuing anthros. The whole situation made your hair stand on end; getting chased around by Commonwealth soldiers was the last thing you expected out of this homecoming, but if the last few days had taught you anything, your return was anything but normal. Once you were in a rather secluded yard covered on all sides by privacy fences you placed a hand on Anne’s shoulder and had her crouch down with you.
  3071.  
  3072. “Sit down, Anne” you told her.
  3073.  
  3074. “Hmm? What’s wrong, an-“
  3075.  
  3076. “Sit down, lemme see your leg.”
  3077.  
  3078. Anne followed your order and sat down with her back against the wall of the house whose yard you were currently ducked down in. She laid her wounded leg out in front of her, letting you observe it closely.
  3079.  
  3080. It wasn’t very bad, the fence’s spikes had cut through her jeans, sliced through her fur and past her skin, but it wasn’t anything a decent cleaning and bandage couldn’t fix; regardless you still didn’t want to risk it getting infected. As you spread the broken fabric apart, you could hear Anne give off a light whimper.
  3081.  
  3082. “Nghh . . looks like the more we hang out, the more I get hurt, huh?” she teased in a strained voice.
  3083.  
  3084. “You were the one who said it was fine to go shooting at the school” you replied.
  3085.  
  3086. “I-i’ve done it before . . those Peacekeepers have never been this nosey before” she stuttered as you placed your hands around her lower thigh and lifted her leg.
  3087.  
  3088. You were half-tempted to rip up your shirt and use it as a makeshift bandage, but the filth already present on it as well as any potential lead discouraged you from it.
  3089.  
  3090. “Alright, you’ll be OK, just be careful on it and we’ll patch you up once we get home” you told her as you placed her leg back on the ground.
  3091.  
  3092. You stood up and extended your hand towards the dog, she took it and stood herself up. You carried on with a heightened sense of care, letting Anne take her time climbing over any obstacles. You eventually reached another open street, but given that you’d lost your pursuers a couple streets back, you opted to walk along calmly.
  3093.  
  3094. Even though you were walking slowly, Anne still struggled to keep up.
  3095.  
  3096. “Ouch.”
  3097.  
  3098. You turned to her and saw she had a hand over her cut.
  3099.  
  3100. “You ok?” you asked.
  3101.  
  3102. “Y-yeah . . I just keep on pulling it” she replied as she squeezed the area around the wound. The bleeding had long since stopped, but you could tell it was still a chore for her to keep on walking.
  3103.  
  3104. You felt the gears in your head turning as well as your subconscious screaming at you as it realized what you intended to do. Ignoring it all, you presented your back to Anne.
  3105.  
  3106. “C’mon, you’re slowing us down” you said with a smile as you wordlessly offered her a piggyback ride.
  3107.  
  3108. Looking behind you, you were able to catch Anne’s tail beginning to wag slightly as her eyes lit up once she realized what you were insinuating. Without skipping a beat, she approached you and ran her arms over your shoulders as she tried to press a leg by your sides so you could grab it with your hand; to keep her from straining herself, you crouched down to allow her easier access. You stood back up once you felt Anne had a firm enough grip on you, only to feel her arm tightly choke you upon doing so.
  3109.  
  3110. “Gllgh.”
  3111.  
  3112. You felt Anne give you a questioning look, her wet nose brushing past your cheek.
  3113.  
  3114. “You’re choking me, Annie” you said with a strained voice.
  3115.  
  3116. “OH . . sorry” she said as she readjusted her grip to sit more comfortably around your collarbone.
  3117.  
  3118. You started to walk towards Anne’s home, years of walking through this very neighborhood easily guiding you. At first you took in the scenery, a backdrop of wrecked houses and torn up roads quickly occupying your mind; perhaps a reminder of your own dwindling life you had thought to yourself. Eventually your mind wandered to the collie nestled up against your back, she wasn’t heavy not by any means. Given how close you were, a pleasant warmth radiated off of her, warming your core nicely, although maybe if you would’ve worn a warmer jacket you wouldn’t be needing Anne to warm you up. A sharp wind picking up and blowing dead leaves past you and slicing right through your clothes seemed to confirm you made the right choice in carrying Anne, even if she probably didn’t need it, it’s not like she complained at all.
  3119.  
  3120. You felt a padded hand run down your chest, making the nylon rustle. “You wore my jacket” Anne said happily, calling attention to the same jacket you were just thinking about. It was the red jacket she had bought you for your birthday.
  3121.  
  3122. “What? It's a nice jacket” you said as you turned your head to look at what little you could see of Anne’s snout out the corner of your view.
  3123.  
  3124. “I know, that’s why I bought you it.”
  3125.  
  3126. “ . . . Anne . . . you can’t climb stuff worth a shit” you exclaimed, suddenly changing the topic.
  3127.  
  3128. “Hey screw you, I told you it’s hard climbing shit like that with bare paws.”
  3129.  
  3130. “Sounds like a lot of complaining” you teased, “guess the big bad Collie ain’t such a shining example of the breed after all” you joked, knowing any mention of her breed would drive a good reaction out of her.
  3131.  
  3132. “Ano- you know what?” she said before pulling her head back.
  3133.  
  3134. You were barely able to look back to see what she was up to before you felt a set of pointy teeth on the back of your neck. They grabbed the skin on your neck, not tightly, but it was enough.
  3135.  
  3136. You weren’t able to think about your reaction before you immediately froze up, your legs locked back and your grip around Anne’s thighs tightened as your whole body tensed up. A sharp inhale made Anne let your neck go, you could feel her grip tighten around your chest in reaction to your stiff posture.
  3137.  
  3138. “Anon?”
  3139.  
  3140. You didn’t answer, you must’ve looked like a frozen corpse with how straight you were standing. You didn’t respond, much too overwhelmed with the feeling of fear after feeling sharp teeth so dangerously close to where you’d been mauled before.
  3141.  
  3142. “Anon?! Anon what’s wrong?!”
  3143.  
  3144. You realized your eyes had widened as far as they could once the wind began to make them sting. Anne’s voice was only muffled background static for you, you felt as though you had just blacked out, everything seemed fuzzy, everything sounded distorted.
  3145.  
  3146. “What did Annie just do?” you thought to yourself, “she just bit me . . but why? . . .I-I thought we were friends . . . . the hell’s going on?”
  3147.  
  3148. The clouds in your head began to clear as calmer voices prevailed, you began to come to your senses before you could fully panic. A shake at your shoulder truly brought you back to the present as you fully realized what had just happened and more importantly, who had witnessed it.
  3149.  
  3150. “Anon?!”
  3151.  
  3152. Anne hadn’t let go of you, but she was now shaking you around, trying to get you to awaken. You didn’t have a good excuse lined up, probably because you didn’t expect to get bit by her today, but you had to try. This was supposed to be a fun day, you couldn’t let it get derailed by your condition.
  3153.  
  3154. “R-relax, Anne. I’m . . fine.”
  3155.  
  3156. “Fine?! Anon, what just happened?! You just . . wigged out! What’s going on?!”
  3157.  
  3158. “Anne don’t worry, I’m fine. You just scared me a bit is all” you responded as you resumed your walk to Anne’s home.
  3159.  
  3160. “Anon, no, stop. You need to tell me what’s going on, this isn’t normal” she said in an insistent voice.
  3161.  
  3162. “Anne I’m telling you it's fine, nothings going on, I told you, you just surprised me a bi-“
  3163.  
  3164. “Anon . . . did something happen on Prosperity?”
  3165.  
  3166. Those words made you slow down.
  3167.  
  3168. “N-no Anne . . . just . . just drop it Anne.”
  3169.  
  3170. “Please Anon, I’m your friend and you know I can’t just let something like that slide” she said as her grip around your chest tightened.
  3171.  
  3172. “Annie, just drop it, please.”
  3173.  
  3174. “No Anon, you’re not ok, I can help, I swea-“
  3175.  
  3176. “ANNIE! PLEASE! Just drop it!” you yelled out loud as you stopped walking and did your best to look back at Anne with a glare. It was difficult given she was on your back, but you could clearly make out a startled canine face out the corner of your eye.
  3177.  
  3178. Anne went quiet, her grip around your chest relaxing, “. . . s-sorry Anon.”
  3179.  
  3180. You sighed as you resumed your trek; you immediately regretted yelling at Anne, she had been so generous since your reunion, the last thing you wanted to do was to get angry with her. You weren’t really sure why you had even gotten so upset with her.
  3181.  
  3182. Was it genuine anger? A matter of pride? . . . fear?
  3183.  
  3184. “I’m sorry for yelling at you” you said softly after a few minutes of walking in silence.
  3185.  
  3186. It took Anne a second to respond,you could tell you had genuinely startled her with your reaction, “It’s ok . . . sorry for prying . . you think we can just forget this whole thing?”
  3187.  
  3188. “That’d be nice.”
  3189.  
  3190. You didn’t speak to each other for a good duration of the walk home. At Least not until you got onto your street, you were thinking about how lucky you had gotten to get away from the Peacekeepers so cleanly when you felt an itch at your neck; you were about to angle your head to the side incase it was a bug when you realised a warm, fuzzy feeling was spreading to the rest of your neck.
  3191.  
  3192. It was Anne. She was pressing her snout against the crook of your neck, slowly, as if testing the waters after having set you off earlier. She didn’t stop until she was completely resting her head against you, ending her shifting with a gentle sigh.
  3193.  
  3194. You were so focused on Anne that you weren’t paying attention to your step, tripping over a deformity in the sidewalk and nearly sending you both to the floor.
  3195.  
  3196. “Easy, dumbass” Anne whispered.
  3197.  
  3198. You ignored her, instead choosing to say what was on your mind, ”what’re you doing?”
  3199.  
  3200. “ . . . getting comfy” she answered.
  3201.  
  3202. You didn’t have a response. You just kept walking.
  3203.  
  3204. The silence returned and you were once again left with your thoughts, although now you were much more focused on the Canine clinging to your back. Her chest pressed into your back with every inhale she took, complementing her warmth nicely. She would occasionally shift her head around slightly which would rub her soft fur against your neck, giving you a mix between a tickling sensation and silk being pressed against you, which was a nice contrast to the unease you felt from her being so close to the scars on your shoulder.
  3205.  
  3206. “Anon?” she asked, interrupting your train of thought.
  3207.  
  3208. “Hmm?”
  3209.  
  3210. “Tell me more about Prosperity . . what was it like there?”
  3211.  
  3212. “What, the scenery?” you asked, turning your head slightly to see Anne’s head snuggled against you.
  3213.  
  3214. “Mmhmm” she confirmed.
  3215.  
  3216. “Well . . it was cold . . there was snow everywhere. We had these real tall trees all over the place . . I think you might’ve liked it . . if we weren’t fighting a war . . I think I might’ve liked the place too.”
  3217.  
  3218. “Did you ever build a snowman there?”
  3219.  
  3220. You huffed a laugh, “yeah . . yeah I did, me and Joey built a small one for our pit.”
  3221.  
  3222. Anne took her head off your neck to try and look at you, you turned your head to meet her adorable gaze.
  3223.  
  3224. “How small?” she asked.
  3225.  
  3226. “Maybe like . . . 3 feet high? We found a branch that looked like a middle finger and stuck it onto the snowman, we put him in front of our pit, hoping he’d get shot before us.”
  3227.  
  3228. Anne giggled at your story, “you all sound like such children.”
  3229.  
  3230. You smiled at her words, but it quickly turned into a gloomy look.
  3231.  
  3232. She was right.
  3233.  
  3234. You didn’t just sound like children, you were children . . at least figuratively.
  3235.  
  3236. While you were already in your early twenties when the battle of Prosperity happened, you still clearly remember the baby-faced junior troops that you fought alongside with. Young E1s that had joined up right after highschool, kids so young they weren’t even able to smoke a cigarette legally or drink alcohol, yet they were entrusted by their government to use machine guns and rocket launchers to tear their enemies to shreds.
  3237.  
  3238. It was a cruel irony, made all the worse by having to witness them being cut down by gunfire, blown to bits by artillery, or seeing them be forced to their deaths by the same device that had been stuck to your head once.
  3239.  
  3240. “yeah . . just kids . .” you said with a frown.
  3241.  
  3242. You heard a sniffing close to your ear, followed by Anne pressing her fluffy head against your neck; you were somewhat taken back by her actions, enough to slow down your walk briefly.
  3243.  
  3244. “Sorry if I . . . struck a nerve, Anon” she whispered.
  3245.  
  3246. “No, its fine . . . how’d you know?”
  3247.  
  3248. Out the corner of your eye you could see Anne smirking.
  3249.  
  3250. “You humans are like an open book, I can pick up just about every little emotion with this nose . . . . especially yours.”
  3251.  
  3252. You remained quiet, you felt a bit weird after her strange comment. The silence resumed its course, right up until you stood in front of Anne’s home, you crouched down so Anne could get off your back. You walked her inside, stopping briefly to slip off your shoes and remove your jackets, you guided Anne to the couch, sitting her down and going to grab a first aid kit from the stack that was already in the living room. Turning back to Anne, you found her pulling off her pants, while you were initially a bit taken aback, you figured that trying to patch her up with her pants still on would’ve been a foolish move.
  3253.  
  3254. You sat down beside her, taking a clearer look at her cut.
  3255.  
  3256. “Alright, it's not too bad, but you probably don't want to get it infected” you concluded.
  3257.  
  3258. Anne glanced up at you from her cut, expecting your next move.
  3259.  
  3260. “Alright uhhhh” you pondered as you began sort through the contents of the small plastic case.
  3261.  
  3262. The little bottle of saline solution should clean the wound well enough, afterwards you could use the gauze and dressing to cover the cut. Simple enough.
  3263.  
  3264. “ . . . shit . . I should probably get some of this fur out of the way” you thought out loud.
  3265.  
  3266. “What?” Anne asked, look at you with a confused expression.
  3267.  
  3268. “Wait here” you ordered as you got up and made your way to your bathroom; you grabbed your shaving razor, making sure to toss the old razor and throw on a new one. Rejoining Anne, she immediately seemed reluctant upon catching sight of the razor.
  3269.  
  3270. “What’s that for?” she asked.
  3271.  
  3272. “Can’t have your coat messing with the cut” you explained.
  3273.  
  3274. “B-but my fur’s clean, I know it is.”
  3275.  
  3276. “Sorry Anne, if I bandage it, your furs gonna press right up against the hole . . relax, you're acting like I’m gonna shave your whole body” you said with a laugh.
  3277.  
  3278. You carefully got to work clearing a small area around the cut, taking extreme care to not cause her any further discomfort.
  3279.  
  3280. “I uh . . I don’t think this is a proper medical procedure, herr doktor” Anne commented sarcastically.
  3281.  
  3282. “Well maybe if you didn’t roll around in the mud like a retard, I wouldn’t be having to shave this mangy rug” you replied in a similar tone.
  3283.  
  3284. Upon hearing your mocking and laughter, Anne brought a hand down on the back of your neck and began to squeeze, you brought the razor away from her skin before trying to pry her off you.
  3285.  
  3286. “Eh-hey, your gonna make me fuck this up and cut you!” you warned between laughs.
  3287.  
  3288. Anne eventually let you go, crossing her arms and forcing out a half-hearted pout verging on the edge of laughter.
  3289.  
  3290. “I do NOT roll in mud” she asserted.
  3291.  
  3292. “No, but you did like rolling in grass” you reminded her as you finished your shave, blowing away any loose hairs. The pinkish shade of her skin was left revealed, oddly contrasting the dark fur on her thigh.
  3293.  
  3294. Anne smiled as she pondered what you told her, she did indeed enjoy an occasional tumble in the grass, a fact which sometimes annoyed her parents.
  3295.  
  3296. “My parents hated when I’d come home with a green coat . . used to call me an overgrown broccoli” Anne said with a goofy smile, “I used to rub the green off my arms on my brother just to b- . . . oww” she whimpered as you let the solution run its course on her wound.
  3297.  
  3298. “Relax . . just for a few seconds” you reassured her, “what about your brother?”
  3299.  
  3300. “Uhh . . oh yeah, I used to rub the green from the grass on George just to bother him” she recounted.
  3301.  
  3302. You cleaned the solution off her and began to bandage the wound; with decent care, this would heal quickly.
  3303.  
  3304. “Wanna know what I remember, Anon?” the canine asked in a sly voice.
  3305.  
  3306. “What?” you asked, stopping to look up at her.
  3307.  
  3308. “I remember that day you came to school with that fuckass mushroom cut!”
  3309.  
  3310. You visibly cringed as you recalled the memory. It was your first time trying out a new barber; you didn’t know wether it was your fault for not specifying or the barber for not listening, but the next day you came to school with all the hair around your ears cut with a clipper size one and all the hair above it about two inches long, looking like a literal mushroom.
  3311.  
  3312. “Fuck that barber . . he clearly didn’t know what a fade was” you told Anne.
  3313.  
  3314. She giggled in response, “what did Joey call you?”
  3315.  
  3316. “ . . . Anon the shroom dome.”
  3317.  
  3318. Anne threw her head back in laughter, slightly undoing your work.
  3319.  
  3320. “HAHAHAHA, you looked like a fucking monk!” she exclaimed.
  3321.  
  3322. “Hold still, dog! Your gonna make me fuck this up” you complained, trying to redo the wrapped up bandage.
  3323.  
  3324. “hehe . . sure thing, Shroom Dome.”
  3325.  
  3326. “I’ll shave your tail, Annette” you threatened, picking up your razor and pointing it at your giggling friend menacingly.
  3327.  
  3328. Anne gave an exaggerated whimper, “oh noooo, the Federation has come for my tail” she said sarcastically, her tail began to wag behind her, rhythmically hitting the couch.
  3329.  
  3330. You ignored her jests, focusing again on finishing the bandaging; before long a neat looking bandage was done up on Anne’s thigh. All you really needed to worry about was changing it every once in a while.
  3331.  
  3332. “Alright . . there you go, don’t pick at it, it’ll heal soon enough.”
  3333.  
  3334. Anne raised her leg off the couch, moving her calf back and forth and giving a few experimental flexes before looking back at you with a smile.
  3335.  
  3336. “Thanks, Anon” she said before suddenly coming close and giving you a hug, “never figured you for the medical type” she whispered directly into your ear as she further tightened her embrace.
  3337.  
  3338. You didn’t know what to do, as your gut quickly drove you to a nervous state given all the anthro fur around you. Determined not to unsettle her any further, you did your best to try and suppress the feeling; you lightly patted Anne’s back, trying to faintly return her embrace so she’d get off you.
  3339.  
  3340. “D-don’t thank me just, we don’t know if you’ll need a tetanus shot just yet” you joked.
  3341.  
  3342. “I think I’ll be ok, Anon” she said as she let you go and stood up, giving a few experimental steps around the living room before making her way to the kitchen.
  3343.  
  3344. You sat up and dug into your pants, pulling out your firearm and laying it on the nearby coffee table, you worked the controls to get the magazine out and lock the slide back. In the room over, you could hear the fridge open and its contents being shifted through. Focusing back on your gun, you figured it could wait for a while before it received a cleaning.
  3345.  
  3346. “Got anything in mind for the rest of the day?!” you yelled at the dog in the kitchen, you assumed that she had gone in there for a quick snack. While the day was already beginning to end, watching TV for several hours didn’t really appeal to you.
  3347.  
  3348. At the sound of your voice, you could hear the fridge open again and several heavy glass bottles being moved about, you took your attention off your gun to look at the doorway to the kitchen, after several seconds the pantless dog came through, with a large bottle of liquor and a bottle of Sprite in hand.
  3349.  
  3350. “So . . I heard Spacemen are good drinkers . .” Anne said, raising the bottle of vodka optimistically.
  3351.  
  3352. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
  3353.  
  3354. “And then . . and then the motherfucker looks me dead in the eye and says ‘bro . . that hoe smelled like a fucking grilled cheese’!”
  3355.  
  3356. “HEHAHAHA” Anne laughed as she slapped an open palm on the table.
  3357.  
  3358. You had both been drinking mixed drinks for the past couple hours. You had made sure to pace yourself and remind Anne to do the same, going as far as to take her drinks away before she chugged the whole thing and made herself throw up, much to her dismay. While it had been a while since you’d drank anything, your experience in the Armada gave you a clear advantage over Annie, given she was just on her second drink while you were on your third or fourth cup. You were currently telling her about the time one of the junior troops got caught messing around with the fat bitch in your platoon; a story Anne clearly found hilarious.
  3359.  
  3360. “T-tell me more shtorrys, Anonn” Anne slurred.
  3361.  
  3362. “Anne you drunk, you’re already fucked up?” you asked in a joking manner, “you’re already slurring your fucking words!”
  3363.  
  3364. “H-hey fuck you, Anon! You mix yyour drinks like your making them for the fuggin’ King of Ireland!” Anne stood up from her seat and held onto the surface of the white folding table to balance herself. “If I d-didn’t know better, I’d say you're trying to give me alcohol poisoning!”
  3365.  
  3366. “My drinks are dope, dog! You’re just way too much of a lightweight” you exclaimed; you weren’t exactly lying, you had put a single shot in all the drinks, if that.
  3367.  
  3368. Anne shook her head and smiled at nothing in particular, “w-what was I sayin?”
  3369.  
  3370. Your face went blank as you realized you too had forgotten what Anne just said, “uhhhh I forgot.”
  3371.  
  3372. “Hah! See? You’re drunk too you . . d-drunk-ass!” she said excitedly, she leaned and took a step backwards, moving her chair slightly, her balance beginning to fail her.
  3373.  
  3374. “Sit down” you replied.
  3375.  
  3376. Instead of taking the two seconds to straighten herself up and shift her chair forward, your words seemed to go into her ears and immediately processed as actions. She plopped herself down to where she thought her seat would be, finding only the edge; her eyes widened as her arms shot up and flail about as she fell down to the floor, taking the chair down with her with a resounding *THUNK*. The drunken canine fell flat on her back.
  3377.  
  3378. “AAAHHAHAHAHA- Annie! You fucking goof!” you laughed.
  3379.  
  3380. “rrrffgh” she moaned from behind the table.
  3381.  
  3382. You stood up from your own seat and approached her, kneeling down and looping an arm around hers.
  3383.  
  3384. “C’mon, up you go” you said as you pulled her up. You stood her up and stood her white plastic chair up, making sure she sat down correctly. On your way back to your side of the table, you grabbed Anne’s red cup, placing it at your end of the table.
  3385.  
  3386. “That’s enough for you for now” you told her; her ears laid flat against her head as she put on her best puppy eyes as she looked at you.
  3387.  
  3388. *whine*
  3389.  
  3390. “Relax” you reassured her, “I said just for now, not for the rest of the night.”
  3391.  
  3392. It was a scene straight out of your most deeply ingrained memories. Anne had brought out the liquor and gotten you both drinking; in keeping with the tradition and at her insistence, you had brought out the shitty white folding table, the shitty white plastic lawn chair, and the grey folding chair, setting it all up right in the middle of the living room. Before the Armada, whenever you and Anne decided to drink, you had usually done it in her room, away from her parent’s prying eyes, you would set up the table and chairs, order a pizza and play cards, get drunk, and just relax. Given the current lack of any open food places, you had to contend yourselves with a bowl of chips, salsa, and a game of dominoes; overall it was a pretty comfy time.
  3393.  
  3394. “It's been what . . five years and you still don’t know how to pace yourself?” you asked her.
  3395.  
  3396. “I-I haven’t drank in a while, I think this is the first time this year” she tried to explain.
  3397.  
  3398. “You were at the center of a war and you didn’t drink once?”
  3399.  
  3400. Anne shook her head.
  3401.  
  3402. “Damn . . out at Prosperity, the guys were making alcohol in the barrack’s toilets, pretty sure some of them took shots before the fighting started.”
  3403.  
  3404. “That’s probably why you lost” Anne said with a smirk.
  3405.  
  3406. You shrugged your shoulders, “hey, who knows”. You stood up from your seat, Anne’s gaze following you with a questioning look. “I’m gonna get some fresh air for a minute”, you stopped and pointed at a plastic bin laying against the wall filled with cigarette packs, “can I get one?”
  3407.  
  3408. “Yeah” Anne said as she stood up as well, briefly leaning to her side to correct her balance.
  3409.  
  3410. You stopped by the kitchen to grab a barbecue lighter from a drawer before opening the sliding door to the backyard and stepping outside, Anne followed you and closed the door behind her. The cold night wind hit you, making you slightly shiver as you took a seat on the old swinging lawn bench, Anne taking a seat next to you.
  3411.  
  3412. Your fingers dug through the worn out pack as you pulled a cigarette out and put it in your mouth, you clicked the cheap lighter on and lit it, inhaling deeply and blowing out a plume of smoke, leaning back into the bench.
  3413.  
  3414. “Give me one” Anne requested.
  3415.  
  3416. You passed the pack to Anne, breathing in more smoke as she pulled a cigarette out, you clicked on the lighter and brought it up to her, she inhaled, lit it, and pulled away, blowing out a small puff of smoke.
  3417.  
  3418. As you settled back into your seat, the wind again picked up, threatening to yank the burning tobacco out of your mouth; a shiver drove you to wrap your arms around yourself, your jeans and t-shirt weren’t doing much against the cold. You stole a peek at Anne, who you found staring up at the sky intently, taking small, periodic hits off her cigarette; the wind pushed and flared her fur out at different angles, the fluff collar spilling out the collar of your waffle-top submitted easily to the wind, resembling a white sea wave. You joined Anne’s sky watching, finding the night sky covered in stars, much more than you would’ve seen five years ago; perhaps now that New Shanghai was gone, all the light pollution was gone, giving you a clearer view of the night sky.
  3419.  
  3420. And to think mere months ago, you were up there among the stars. Shooting at anthros and freezing your ass off.
  3421.  
  3422. “cold?” Anne asked, taking you out of your musings.
  3423.  
  3424. “A little” you replied, she must’ve caught you shivering while you were star gazing.
  3425.  
  3426. “Here” she said as she began to pull off the waffle-top, revealing the simple red t-shirt she was wearing beneath; she passed you the sweater, wordlessly encouraging you to don it. You felt a bit off about accepting a sweater from a woman on a chilly night, maybe you were just old-fashioned, but given said woman was covered in several tons of warm fluff, you concluded it wouldn’t be too much of a dent to your honor.
  3427.  
  3428. You threw the sweater on, appreciating the familiar article as it immediately began to warm you. The waffle-top smelled like Anne . . like a dog . . not that you minded . . it was a familiar scent that you could definitely get used to if you were honest, if you weren’t already.
  3429.  
  3430. “Think you can sssppot Prosperity from here?” Anne asked.
  3431.  
  3432. “ . . . don’t know . . don’t think I wanna see that shit hole again, even from here” you replied.
  3433.  
  3434. Anne giggled, “well that sucks, I just bought us tickets for a vacation there.”
  3435.  
  3436. You lightly chuckled, “well you’re gonna have to bring a damn sandbag in my place then.”
  3437.  
  3438. “Oh don’t eve-CAAGHH!”, you turned to her as she started coughing loudly, flicking away her cigarette and hunching over, “*COUGH* . . jesus, don’t know how you can smoke this shit.”
  3439.  
  3440. “It takes time” you said as you patted her back, “probably just went down the wrong hole . . . you need water?”
  3441.  
  3442. “Nah I already got something” she said as she reached down beside the swing, bringing up a red cup and taking a sip while giving you a mischievous eye.
  3443.  
  3444. “Ey dumbass!” you said with a laugh, “you’re gonna fucking heave if you drink that much” you pulled the cup off her snout, but not before she managed to lap up a bit more with her tongue.
  3445.  
  3446. “Hmph, you’re no fun anymore” Anne said with a smirk, “whatever happened to the Anon that used to feed me pizza and vodka?”
  3447.  
  3448. “He grew up and realised that that’s a good way to waste a week's worth of liquor and make the next morning real shitty” you replied as you placed the red cup down on the floor beside you.
  3449.  
  3450. “Look at you, all mature” Anne teased, giving your shoulder a gentle shove, “I still remember you buying hundreds of rounds and shooting it all in a weekend.”
  3451.  
  3452. You shook your head as you were reminded of your wasteful mannerisms, “that was then, we gotta save what we can now.”
  3453.  
  3454. You both went quiet and settled back into the swing, again taking a few minutes to gaze at the sky. You had been staring at a particularly intriguing bunch of stars when you had a genius idea, half of which must’ve been brought on by the alcohol. You peeked at Anne, who was still busy studying the stars before you took the cigarette out of your mouth . . . and lightly howled.
  3455.  
  3456. “oooooo.”
  3457.  
  3458. Out of the corner of your eye you could see Anne’s ears perk up and face you before she turned to you, you faced her as well, taking the chance to howl again.
  3459.  
  3460. “ooooooooooo.”
  3461.  
  3462. Anne tilted her head in a classic canine gesture, studying you with a frown. Unabated, you tried again.
  3463.  
  3464. “ooooooooooooooo.”
  3465.  
  3466. She tilted her head in the opposite direction in response, her face softening as her ears twitched and turned, seemingly trying to interpret your random howling. “C’mon Anne, I know you wanna” you thought. You could see the gears in her doggy head turning as a deeply ingrained but forgotten instinct began to kick in.
  3467.  
  3468. “oooooooooooooooooooooo” you howled again, this time putting a lot more effort into it and sounding off with some heart. Right as you were about to admit an embarrassing defeat, your efforts paid off.
  3469.  
  3470. “Awwooooooo” Anne howled, it started off low and somewhat shy, but she seemed to be getting more into it as the howl ended, as if she was trying to match your enthusiasm, she ended her howl and stared straight into your eyes, waiting for your cry.
  3471.  
  3472. “oooooooooooo” you howled, putting your hands around your mouth to try and get a different tone.
  3473.  
  3474. “Awooooooooooooooooo” she responded as she slowly threw her head back, giving you a much more spirited howl, her tail beginning to pound against the bench.
  3475.  
  3476. You inhaled deeply and howled again, Anne was quick to reply, throwing her head further back and calling out for all to hear.
  3477.  
  3478. “WOOFWOOFWOOOOOOoooooOOOOOooooo”, she began her howl with a bark, before growing into a truly melodic howl that seemed to be crying to the very stars. She ended and gazed back at you with an excited grin, her tail flying behind her, waiting for you to begin again.
  3479.  
  3480. “There that’s it” you said as you shook your head.
  3481.  
  3482. “Oh come on! You started this, you ain’t done till it’s over!” Anne exclaimed as she got on a knee and closed the distance between you both, leaning against you as she threw an arm around your shoulders and placed a padded hand atop your head, seemingly holding you hostage until you agreed. “C’mon, together . . 1 . . 2 . . “
  3483.  
  3484. You humored her, starting a howl which she quickly joined in on.
  3485.  
  3486. “AWOOOOOOOoooooOOOOOoooooooOOOOOooo!!” you both cried in unison, Anne matched your movements as well and you soon felt a furry snout pressing itself against your cheek as you both threw your heads back in howling. Finished, you both burst into laughter, proud of having woken the neighbors, if any were left alive.
  3487.  
  3488. “I haven’t howled like that since I was a pup!” Anne said as she got off you and sat next to you, leaving no space between you both. She pressed up against you, placing her head on your shoulder and looking up at you with hopeful eyes, “how come we never did that when we were younger?”
  3489.  
  3490. You shrugged, “I dunno . . guess it never occured to me . . I figured it might have been ‘ill-willed’.”
  3491.  
  3492. “What?” she asked, slightly tilting her head.
  3493.  
  3494. “Y’know . . . like . . going up to some random dog and throwing a ball and expecting them to go fetch it.”
  3495.  
  3496. “ . . . but we did play fetch.”
  3497.  
  3498. “Well . . still . . I didn’t wanna impose on the ‘proud dog’.” you said while putting up your hands in a mocking manner.
  3499.  
  3500. Anne rolled her eyes, before settling further onto your shoulder. You both went silent, it was only then you realized how awkward you felt with her leaning on you.
  3501.  
  3502. “Anon?” you peeked at Anne, finding her wet nose mere inches from your cheek.
  3503.  
  3504. “Yeah?”
  3505.  
  3506. “What-uhhhhh . . . what do you think about anthros?” she asked, completely taking you off guard.
  3507.  
  3508. “ . . . what do you mean?” you asked as you turned to look at her properly.
  3509.  
  3510. She took her head off your shoulder, gazing away shyly, “well . . d-do you have a problem with them?”
  3511.  
  3512. “Yes, I’m fucking terrified of you people, I can’t fall asleep with out picturing your bleeding, snarling mugs or the sounds you make when you’re tearing the muscles in my shoulder apart, your mere presence makes my stomach sink; and when you touch me, I feel the same fear as when I first got shot at” . . . . . your mind screamed, but you don’t think you could ever tell her such a thing to her face, never in a million years.
  3513.  
  3514. “. . . No . . why do you ask?” you responded.
  3515.  
  3516. Anne looked at the ground, refusing to gaze back to you, “I-I . . it’s stupid, I just . . I was kinda worried you had something against anthros after . . well . . spending five years fighting them.”
  3517.  
  3518. You sighed as you looked up at the sky, “no Anne, I don’t have a problem with anthros . . I don’t have a problem with you, if that’s what you’re really trying to ask . . you aren’t a Commonwealth hound after all, hell, I don’t have a problem with Commonwealth anthros either if I’m honest.”
  3519.  
  3520. “S-sorry for asking, I think I just spent way too long thinking about what Sargent Inez told me . .”
  3521.  
  3522. “What’d she say?” you inquired.
  3523.  
  3524. “ . . . well, I mentioned that I had a friend in the Federation Armada, and she said that you were gonna come back a mindless husk who only thought about killing anthros . . she told me about the indoctrination . . and the Redecker devices”, you felt your stomach sink once she said those two words, “ . . and I-I was just a little worried that that was true.”
  3525.  
  3526. “Well Annie, we’re friends aren’t we?”
  3527.  
  3528. “Yeah” she replied.
  3529.  
  3530. “I’m sleeping under your roof, we just spent the last couple days . . being friends, and now I’m here with you getting drunk and howling at the damn moon . . I’d say they did a horrible job at brainwashing me, don’t you think?” you asked with a laugh.
  3531.  
  3532. You could hear her lightly chuckling, “yeah . . yeah I guess they did.”
  3533.  
  3534. “Anon?” you turned to face her, ” . . . if you don’t mind me asking . . . did you ever kill anyone?”
  3535.  
  3536. . . .
  3537.  
  3538. Now it was your turn to stare at the ground.
  3539.  
  3540. . . .
  3541.  
  3542. “Y-yeah” you admitted as you slowly nodded.
  3543.  
  3544. Goddamnit.
  3545.  
  3546. “Why would you ever tell her something like that” you thought to yourself as you mentally kicked yourself.
  3547.  
  3548. “O-oh” Anne finally responded,her eyes darting side to side before looking away.
  3549.  
  3550. A deafening silence overtook the night, even the crickets seemed to silence themselves amid the tense atmosphere that suddenly grew between you two.
  3551.  
  3552. Say something.
  3553.  
  3554. You reached down besides the swing, grabbing Anne’s drink.
  3555.  
  3556. Don’t be an asshole, say something.
  3557.  
  3558. What little remained of the ice cubes clicked as you took a long swig from the cup, placing it back on the floor once you were done. You grimaced at the sour tasting drink, she must’ve sneaked another shot into this one while you weren’t looking.
  3559.  
  3560. Just go for it, you have nothing to lose.
  3561.  
  3562. You turned to Anne, who you saw was subtly eyeing you; she quickly looked away once she saw you were looking back.
  3563.  
  3564. “What?” you asked in a playful manner.
  3565.  
  3566. “N-nothing” she said, quickly shaking her head.
  3567.  
  3568. “It’s definitely not nothing” you insisted as you raised an arm.
  3569.  
  3570. Don’t do it.
  3571.  
  3572. . . . fuck you.
  3573.  
  3574. You ran your arm around Anne’s shoulders, pulling her even closer to you.
  3575.  
  3576. “What is it, Annie? You scared?” you continued to press on in your playful tone.
  3577.  
  3578. “I-I no . . what would I be scared of?” her voice was audibly shaky, but you could tell it wasn’t exactly of any presumed fear of you.
  3579.  
  3580. “That’s what I’m wondering, c’mon, what’s up?”
  3581.  
  3582. “I-its nothing, I swear” she insisted, her ears pressed themselves flat against her head.
  3583.  
  3584. You placed your other hand atop her head, lightly running your finger through her soft fur, “Annie, if its me you’re worried about . . I-I think you’re a fool if you think I would ever hurt you” you pressed your nails against her scalp, properly scratching her head now, you could spot her tail lightly swaying.
  3585.  
  3586. Anne seemed to be loosening up under your touch, “i-it’s not that, seriously . . . I just felt bad for asking . . but it’s nice to know that, A-Anon . . .”
  3587.  
  3588. A sigh escaping her lips made you turn to her, you found the dog with half-lidded eyes and a barely visible smirk. You realised now just what you were doing, you probably shouldn’t be petting her, between your mental state and possibly offending her, you figured it wasn’t the best idea. You slowed your scratches and took your hands off her, in response she turned to you with a stare that shouted . . .
  3589.  
  3590. . . . Disappointment?
  3591.  
  3592. Before things could get more awkward, you stretched and stood up.
  3593.  
  3594. “Wanna go in? It's getting cold.”
  3595.  
  3596. “Uh yeah” she replied as she stood up and followed you in.
  3597.  
  3598. Entering back inside, you took your seat back at the folding table, helping yourself to some more chips. Maybe in the near future you could learn how to make a pizza and have a proper drinking night with Anne.
  3599.  
  3600. The dog in question went past the table, making her way to the kitchen. You hoped she wouldn’t think much of the awkward interaction you both just had.
  3601.  
  3602. . . . shit, what if she thought poorly of you petting he-
  3603.  
  3604. *CLUNK*
  3605.  
  3606. Heavy glass bottles were shifted about and you heard a fridge door close, followed by the rumbling of the fridge dispensing ice cubes into a cup . .
  3607.  
  3608. *CLACK* . . . *CLACK*
  3609.  
  3610. . . two cups.
  3611.  
  3612. Anne turned the corner into the living room, her hands full with the bottle of vodka and two plastic cups presumably filled with ice; she gave you a knowing smile, her tail wagging behind her as she approached the table.
  3613.  
  3614. “Jesus, no Anne, you’re gonna kill us” you complained.
  3615.  
  3616. “Oh come on, Anon! It’s been damn near a week and we still haven’t celebrated!” she exclaimed as she placed all the stuff on the table and sat across from you.
  3617.  
  3618. “Celebrated what?”
  3619.  
  3620. “W-well that your back of course.”
  3621.  
  3622. You sighed, “Anne, we don’t need to celebrate, just being back is celebration enough.”
  3623.  
  3624. “Anon, if it was up to me, I would’ve thrown you a party that would still be raging; now, come on”, Anne stood up from her seat, swooping up the liquor and uncapping it. She approached you and tilted the bottle towards you, you felt padded fingers pressing against your forehead, beckoning you to lean back and chug.
  3625.  
  3626. “Isn’t being buzzed good enough?” you tried reasoning.
  3627.  
  3628. “No . . now, please . . . for old times sake?” she begged, giving you puppy eyes. You never thought she’d use such eyes to get you to chug vodka.
  3629.  
  3630. You rolled your eyes and sighed.
  3631.  
  3632. Fuck it, why not.
  3633.  
  3634. You tilted your head back and she immediately began pouring alcohol down your mouth.
  3635.  
  3636. One second . . two seconds . . three seconds-FUCK!
  3637.  
  3638. Your hand shot up to wrap around her fuzzy wrist, the other tilting the bottle down.
  3639.  
  3640. “ *cough* goddamn . . ggghhhh” you grumbled as your face contorted into a grimace at the terrible liquid burning your throat.
  3641.  
  3642. Anne giggled, “sorry Anon, but you’re wayyyy too sober right now” she went back to her seat, taking a moment to fill a shots-worth of liquor in both your cups, “now . . I’ll trade you a story for a story” she offered, putting the bottle down and resting her head against her hand, smiling warmly at you.
  3643.  
  3644. Well, atleast she wasn’t upset about earlier.
  3645.  
  3646. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
  3647.  
  3648. “Gaawwfuggin dammmn, you’re such a damn . . sshheater!”
  3649.  
  3650. “Get bent, ANNETTE . . . ffive fuggin years and you still suck at this!”
  3651.  
  3652. You had lost track of how much liquor you had drank, but it was enough to convince Anne to put the bottle away for the rest of the night.
  3653.  
  3654. You were currently playing a video game, some shooter. Even in your inebriated state, you were still managing to wipe the floor with Anne. She insisted on using a heavy machine gun on a close quarters map while you were able to outgun her every time with an SMG; even her obvious screen-looking couldn’t save her.
  3655.  
  3656. “Fuggin . . fuggin . . shitty gu-FUCK!”
  3657.  
  3658. You both rounded a corner in game and unloaded on eachother, she almost had you, but you still managed to gun her down, and on a game point.
  3659.  
  3660. “HAH! Told you, you fuckin . . fuckin . . DOG!”
  3661.  
  3662. Anne dropped the controller and crossed her arms, turning and sticking her tongue out at you, “you wait, HUMAN, w-wait till we play a racing game!”
  3663.  
  3664. Racing games . . “her specialty”.
  3665.  
  3666. “Y-you mean the racing games that you aaallllways crash into me to win?!”
  3667.  
  3668. “Yyyou . . you . .” Anne paused, seeking her brain for a good comeback while glaring at you, “I-I gotta pee” she suddenly voiced before getting up and rushing to the bathroom.
  3669.  
  3670. You heard a door slam and you leaned back in your chair to wait on her.
  3671.  
  3672. Ha.
  3673.  
  3674. This was great!
  3675.  
  3676. Here you were having a truly idealistic afternoon that you honestly thought you would never get to experience ever again.
  3677.  
  3678. You were drunk as hell, playing video games, eating chips, and all this alongside the black and white hound that . . . you truly missed.
  3679.  
  3680. Jesus.
  3681.  
  3682. You never really thought about just how much you had missed that dog . .
  3683.  
  3684. Good ‘ole Annie.
  3685.  
  3686. Your intoxicated mind rushed through the various memories you had of her, all the goods, the bads . . . and all the ones you were sure to make in the future.
  3687.  
  3688. Before you could get deeper into your musings, a door opening and approaching footsteps snapped you out of it. Anne entered the living room, slightly stumbling and tugging on her gray running shorts; they exposed the majority of her black legs, showing off the brown bandage on her thigh prominently.
  3689.  
  3690. “You so scared of losing again you pissed yourself?” you asked, refusing to lose the chance to capitalize on her sudden escape to the restroom.
  3691.  
  3692. Anne’s ears perked up at your words, her hands clenched into fists in a show of mock annoyance, “Anon you-“ she uttered with an indignant smile before suddenly bolting towards you.
  3693.  
  3694. Not missing a beat, you jumped up from your seat, making it fall to the floor and quickly putting the folding table between you both, almost slipping and falling on your ass in the process.
  3695.  
  3696. She’s chasing you . . .
  3697.  
  3698. Your mind began to form thoughts of revulsion, belittling you for letting her chase after you; but the alcohol in you quickly overshadowed those thoughts, you were having too much fun.
  3699.  
  3700. Anne crouched down into a stalking posture, her eyes trying their hardest to catch your gaze despite her drunken state. She was going to try and ”herd” you like she had done so many times before, but you knew her strategy, you could beat her.
  3701.  
  3702. You focused on trying to distract her, a twitch of the hand or a stomp of your foot; it would make her tense up or make her tongue dart out and lick her lips, everytime she would immediately focus back onto you. You gauged each other for every little action like this for a few moments before she suddenly dashed in one direction around the table after you, in response you ran towards the couch, intent on putting the coffee table between you both and repeating the process, perhaps even be able to throw pillows at her.
  3703.  
  3704. Imagine your surprise when she jumped straight over the coffee table in a lunge after you, she crashed against you, throwing you off balance and sending you both tumbling onto the couch; as soon as you landed, you instinctively put your hands up in front of yourself, more so out of you misplaced fear of her than just playful roughhousing, you realized the foolishness of your actions when you felt her hands at your armpits.
  3705.  
  3706. “Aha!” you laughed instinctively.
  3707.  
  3708. You tried pressing your arms against yourself to try and protect yourself while rolling side to side, attempting to get her off of you, but it was of no use; you felt her spider her fingers down your torso, blunt claws scratching your stomach before clamping down on your sides, driving panicked laughter out of you.
  3709.  
  3710. “AHA-ngh . . HAHA AHHHANNE-STOOHHHOP” you begged desperately.
  3711.  
  3712. She tickled you in her desired direction, whenever you’d try to roll in one direction, she’d tickle your opposite side to make you recoil back. Anne properly straddled you once she had you laying in the center of the couch’s mattress, sitting back on your waist and trying to pin down your lower body; your squirms and laughter jostled her about, unabated she continued forcing you to laugh.
  3713.  
  3714. “What now Anon, huh? Huh?!” she teased as she squeezed both of your sides simultaneously, driving you to laugh even harder.
  3715.  
  3716. “AAHAHHAA AAAHAHAHHNNIIEE YOU FUHHAAHAK!!” you laughed at the top of your lungs.
  3717.  
  3718. You had to counterattack, it was the only way out.
  3719.  
  3720. You felt leathery padded fingers worm themselves under your shirt, attacking your bare skin; you twitched and squirmed against her weight in a panic but she still kept herself grounded against you. You managed to wrap a hand around one of her fuzzy wrists, pulling it away from you and holding it in place, you shot your free hand into her furry belly, trying your hardest to clamp around her sides.
  3721.  
  3722. “Dgh . . PFFHAHA . . . AGGHH-STAAHHAAP” she laughed.
  3723.  
  3724. You let her hand go, quickly clamping your other hand onto her and squeezing as many laughs out of her as you could; her hands came off of you and tried prying your attacking limbs off her belly but to no avail. You managed to reduce her into a giggling mess, her ears pinned themselves against her head as she writhed against your touch. She jostled about on top of you, taking her weight off of you and ceasing to pin you but you made no effort to throw her off of you, you were enjoying her reactions way too much, her wagging tail flying through the air behind her told you she was having fun too.
  3725.  
  3726. “AAGGH AHHA AHHA HAHA” she laughed out loudly, despite the obvious torment, she made no real effort to get off of you besides squirming about and trying to pin your assaulting hands.
  3727.  
  3728. Despite her hands wrapping themselves around your wrists you still managed to walk your fingers over to the front of her belly, poking and squeezing at what you could reach. Going beneath her shirt, you managed to feel out the fur at her stomach as you tickled her; it was soft, much softer than any of the other patches of fuzz you had felt, it felt like proper silk. You focused a lot more on her belly, aiming to feel more of this soft fluff.
  3729.  
  3730. “AHAHAHANNOHOHON!!” she yelled at the top of her lungs.
  3731.  
  3732. With a surprising show of strength, she managed to pull your arms off of her torso and push downwards, pinning your arms at the wrists on either side of your head, the suddenness of the act and your drunken state left you too surprised to react against her.
  3733.  
  3734. Out of breath from her tickling attack, you panted as you stared up at Anne; she was leaning over you, her snout inches away from your own nose. She panted as well, mouth agape and tongue hanging out her mouth as she looked right back at you. You searched her eyes for any hint at her next move, but she held her stance, maintaining a constant force against your wrists, ensuring you remained trapped.
  3735.  
  3736. You took in her figure and coloration as it took up all of your view; her vibrant coat and the sea of fluff occupying your mind as you began to ponder how soft her neck fur must be. Anne kept panting as her eyes began to search yours, seeking any intentions or hesitation, finding nothing, she sat back onto your waist and took your arms and pinned them against your sides as she kept on staring into your eyes, now properly utilizing her collie stare and catching your gaze.
  3737.  
  3738. You knew that this was wrong, you knew that her actions should be driving you into a panic, you knew that her fur and warmth should be forcing you to fight back with deadly intent; but luckily for you, Anne had brought out the strong stuff, you were drinking to forget and right now, you could care less about your mental state, you could care less about the devices or any other bullshit the Federation put you through. Right now all you cared about was the joyful Collie stradling you and the pleasant sensation her fur was emitting.
  3739.  
  3740. “Truce?” You finally managed to ask.
  3741.  
  3742. Anne squinted her eyes, briefly intensifying her stare before she relaxed and smirked mischievously, “o-only if you say . . . Anon drools . . Annie rules.”
  3743.  
  3744. laughing loudly at her childish conditions, you shook your head and told her “no”.
  3745.  
  3746. Anne suddenly bared her teeth and shot her head towards yours, you turned your head to your right and clenched your eyes shut in a panic, expecting pointy teeth to clamp around your neck. Feeling nothing, you turned back to her and quickly complied, finding that she had only made you flinch.
  3747.  
  3748. “A-alright alright . . . Anon drools . . . Annie rules” you uttered, mentally belittling yourself for sounding so foolish.
  3749.  
  3750. “G-good . . I win” Anne stammered out, seemingly too lost in your eyes to care about your surrender.
  3751.  
  3752. You returned her gesture, briefly losing yourself in her bright blue eyes before she began to shift around; she leaned downwards until she was pressing her chest against yours; sliding her whole body downwards and pressing her paws around your ankles. Before you could object, you felt her squirm her snout into the crook of your neck and rest her weight fully against you.
  3753.  
  3754. You felt something press against your back, Anne wormed her right arm beneath you and pushed it up your back until you were to resting your head against her padded hand, a somewhat fitting pillow if you were honest. Her other hand went to your head, where she began to run her fingers through your hair and lightly grazed her nails against your nape.
  3755.  
  3756. You tensed up, your mind was overrun with emotional conflicts, feelings of dread and anxiety, and the general awkwardness of having your best friend properly curled up against you. It was alarming for you, terrifying even, but you had to keep yourself under control; you had the alcohol on your side to keep you settled so now it was just a matter of maintaining your composure.
  3757.  
  3758. She was drunk . . . that was it, she was drunk, there couldn’t be any other reason she was getting so close.
  3759.  
  3760. . . . right?
  3761.  
  3762. Anne must’ve felt the tense emotions you were emitting, she pulled her snout out of your neck and began sniffing the air . . . . . who were you kidding? She was smelling you.
  3763.  
  3764. “Anon?”
  3765.  
  3766. “Y-yeah?”
  3767.  
  3768. “ . . . you OK?”
  3769.  
  3770. “Yup” you quickly replied.
  3771.  
  3772. It was so tiring. Anne’s nose was fine tuned to your emotions, there was no hiding anything from her and every time she’d sense something you always had to lie to her. You had to think of something, a way to tell her or a way to fix it; either way this had to stop.
  3773.  
  3774. . . . but you think you knew of a way to make it up to her for now.
  3775.  
  3776. . . . you think.
  3777.  
  3778. Carefully and at a snail's pace, you lifted your arms up and slowly placed them over Anne. Your right when to her nape and rested atop her fuzzy neck guard, your left placed itself warily on Anne’s back. You saw her try to look down at your invasive limbs and look back at you with a subtle expectancy.
  3779.  
  3780. Without waiting for further permission, you began scratching at her neck. You pressed your nails against her fur, digging past it and caressing her warm skin below. At the same time, you pushed your free hand beneath her shirt and began to scratch at her lower back. A soft sigh escaped Anne as she resumed her place at your neck and tightened her grip around you.
  3781.  
  3782. You lost track of time as continued your light petting until you began to hear faint snores coming from her, and you knew you weren’t far behind her. You didn’t fancy sleeping on the couch, despite how warm she kept you; the couch wasn’t very comfortable and you were looking up to the light on the roof laying on your back. You would have to go drop off Anne in her room before you could retreat to yours.
  3783.  
  3784. With careful movements, you slowly sat yourself up while wrapping an arm under her legs and swinging them over to your left, making her sit up as well. Whenever you moved too harshly, Anne would whimper and briefly tighten her embrace on you, forcing you to stay still for a few seconds to let her relax; luckily for you, her drunken slumber kept her from fully waking.
  3785.  
  3786. Finally after what seemed like an hour of careful maneuvering, you were sitting upright against the couch with Anne still on your lap. You wrapped an arm beneath her legs and one on her back and in a brisk motion stood up, carrying your friend bridal style. You slowly walked towards the bedrooms, careful not to jostle her about too much; you flicked the lights off with an elbow as you left the living room, you would clean the mess up another time.
  3787.  
  3788. You made it to Anne’s bedroom, thankful that she hadn’t shut the door all the way. You gently kicked the door open and took in the sight of Anne’s bedroom. Little had changed since you had last been here: a simple twin-bed against the furthest wall surrounded by drawers and a small nightstand, to the right was a closet, to the left was a simple desk with a laptop atop it. It was messy, but not excessively so, she had a pile of dirty clothes in one corner and had various miscellaneous items laying on every surface in the room; disassembled radios on the dresser, a variety of bullets in an ammo can atop the desk next to a bin with a handful of tennis balls.
  3789.  
  3790. You approached her bed and carefully placed her over it, right as you were going to move away to throw a blanket over her, you felt something tug at you. Looking down you saw Anne had a handful of the waffle-top she had given you to wear earlier, refusing to let you go.
  3791.  
  3792. “Anne go to sleep” you said, figuring she had woken up.
  3793.  
  3794. “Mgghhh” she groaned, making you wonder if she was actually awake or moving in her sleep.
  3795.  
  3796. You tried prying her paw off the sweater, but were quickly thwarted once her other hand gripped you.
  3797.  
  3798. “Anne” you whispered.
  3799.  
  3800. “Mmmnnn” she grumbled.
  3801.  
  3802. “Anne.”
  3803.  
  3804. “Nngghh.”
  3805.  
  3806. “Anne”
  3807.  
  3808. *whine*
  3809.  
  3810. You were on the verge of defeat when an idea struck you. You pulled the sweater’s sleeves off your arms and in a swift motion pulled the entire article over your head, letting Anne have it. She settled back into her bed, hugging the sweater and turning onto her side. You in turn threw one of the bunched up blankets at the foot of her bed over her. You turned to exit the room once you concluded she was comfortable, before closing the door behind you, you turned back to face the sleeping pooch.
  3811.  
  3812. “Good night, Anne.”
  3813. ____________________________________________
  3814.  
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