G2A Many GEOs
SHARE
TWEET

Fractured Reality (Finished) (Very long) (FK) (Fanfiction)

Durr_anon Aug 15th, 2019 (edited) 307 Never
Not a member of Pastebin yet? Sign Up, it unlocks many cool features!
  1. Fractured Reality
  2.  
  3.     A writer from the middle of nowhere is sitting by his desk, contemplating what to do with his life. Having been through hardship after hardship, he's almost ready to end it all when he gets visitors from a universe he didn't even know existed.
  4.  
  5. Prologue
  6.  
  7.     You finish typing out the last bit of your story for tonight, starting to get tired from lack of sleep. You turn off the music you were listening to and click the Windows icon, putting the computer to sleep. When you look out the window, you see no cars in the driveway from your 2nd story view. This saddens you, as your family said they'd be back in a week. Almost 3 years ago. You sigh, walking to the other side of your room and opening the door. You don't know why you still close it, as nobody was around to hear you curse like a sailor. Still, it was a precaution you took in case they did return to tell you off. It wouldn't matter anyways, since you weren't going to be around much longer once the story was complete. There was nothing here for you anymore. You look down at your rifle and smile, knowing there was always the easy way out.
  8.  
  9.     When you exit your office, or as you liked to call it, the computer room, you walk off to the room next to you to take a piss and brush your teeth. That was your ritual. Get up, eat, write, play some video games, brush your teeth, and go back to bed. When you enter the bathroom, you look at yourself in disgust, the dim light of a night light covering your face with depressing light. You were overweight, having acne problems, and weren't even strong enough to lift yourself over a fence. You had no redeeming qualities and hated yourself for it. Who'd want you when they could have someone else instead? Someone smarter and more handsome than you could ever be.
  10.  
  11.     After you spit the toothpaste out, you wash your face and flick the water off your fingers, pushing the faucet valve closed. As you left the bathroom, you hear something smash into your wooden floor.
  12.  
  13. “Shit!” A voice whispers loudly.
  14.  
  15.     Fuck, another burglar? You quietly make your way back to the computer room, grabbing your rifle from beside the desk and flipping the lens covers up on your red dot sight. You click the reticle on and a faint red reticle pops up inside the sight, allowing you to aim in the dark. When everything is ready on the rifle, you make your way over to the steps, keeping your eyes on the living room below.
  16.  
  17.     As you descend the staircase, you hear the sound of bags being grabbed and tossed aside as the person rummages through your things. You flick the safety off gently, making sure to let it come to rest without making a sound. When you reach the bottom of the stairs, you make your way to the kitchen. A flashlight is already visible, making an odd blue glow as it is pointed around your cabinets.
  18.  
  19. “Find anything?” The voice asks.
  20.  
  21. “Negative. I am still searching.” Another voice replies.
  22.  
  23. “Well, keep looking. We need to find something to eat if we're going to be stuck here for a while.” The first voice tells the second. “Shine the light over here, I think I found something.”
  24.  
  25.     Shit, there's two of them. Hopefully they won't be armed. If they are, you're fucked. When you reach the kitchen, you put your hand on the light switch. You flick the lights on and put your hand back on your rifle.
  26.  
  27. “FREEZE!” You shout, your eyes adjusting to the light.
  28.  
  29.     When your eyes adjust, your rifle drops to your side.
  30.  
  31. “You've gotta be shitting me.” You say, flicking the safety on.
  32.  
  33.     In front of you stood two furries, a red, white, and black one, as well as a blue and white one.
  34.  
  35. “What?” The blue one asks before her eyes focus. “What the hell are you?!”
  36.  
  37. “I could be asking the same thing, but I already know who you both are.” You say wearily, setting the rifle down. “If you're real, that is. I could be hallucinating from all the medicine I'm on.”
  38.  
  39. “Miss Vikna, what is that thing?” ARA asks.
  40.  
  41. “I-I don't know, but it seems to be friendly. Even if it did point a weapon at us.” Vikna says folding her arms.
  42.  
  43. “What? You expect me to lay out a red carpet and throw rose petals at your feet as you go through my cabinets?” You ask.
  44.  
  45. “We thought nobody was here!” Vikna replies loudly.
  46.  
  47.     Your eyes twitch and you grip your hands tightly. You take a deep breath to calm yourself before speaking again.
  48.  
  49. “Say that again and listen to yourself say it.” You tell her, unimpressed with her excuse.
  50.  
  51. “We thought nobody...was...here...oh god did we just...” She says, trailing off.
  52.  
  53. “Yep.” You say nodding. “You're lucky I turned on the lights first, I was ready to shoot both of you. Not that it'd do much to ARA, but I doubt you're as durable as her.”
  54.  
  55. “W-wait, you know us?” Vikna asks.
  56.  
  57. “Yes, I do.” You reply. “I think ARA knows why too.”
  58.  
  59. “I honestly do not.” ARA tells you. “Do you mind explaining?”
  60.  
  61. “Oh, I forgot, that blog Fluff runs isn't canon.” You say.
  62.  
  63. “Blog? Canon? Fluff? What are you talking about?” Vikna asks. “Tell me what's going on here. Where am I? Who are you? Why did I come out here? I need answers!”
  64.  
  65. “Sit on the couch.” You tell them both, waving them into the living room. “I'll tell you both when I turn the lights on.”
  66.  
  67.     They walk into the living room, sitting on opposite ends of the couch. You turn the lights on that overlook the living room as the entire room is bathed in light. When you turn the kitchen lights off, you grab your rifle and walk over to the living room. As you walk past, Vikna looks at you with barely hidden disgust, while ARA just observes you. When you make it to the chair, you set your rifle down and pick up the chair, moving it over to the middle of the living room. You turn around and see ARA and Vikna watching you closely.
  68.  
  69. “You can put the footrests up.” You tell them. “There's black buttons on the sides of the couch that will raise it.”
  70.  
  71.     Vikna and ARA both push the buttons and Viknas side raises flawlessly. ARAs side, however, is stuck.
  72.  
  73. “It appears to be non-functional.” She says,looking down at the footrest.
  74.  
  75. “Nah, it's just finicky. Here, let me help you.” You tell her.
  76.  
  77.     You walk over to the couch and take a knee, pulling on the footrest before it smacks you in the face. You rub your nose as Vikna snickers at your misfortune.
  78.  
  79. “I'm fine.” You say, getting off the floor.
  80.  
  81.     You walk back over to the recliner and sit down, facing the two furry girls.
  82.  
  83. “So, questions.” You tell them. “First off, you are on Earth, the unofficial name of which is Terra. Secondly I am Jackson Haigs, you may call me Jack if you wish. Thirdly, I have no idea why you're here or how you got here. May I ask you two some questions now?”
  84.  
  85. “No, I want to know how you know ARAs name and by extension, my name.” Vikna replies.
  86.  
  87. “Are you sure? You're not going to like the answer and you might have an existential crisis in the process.” You tell them. “I seriously advise not asking twice.”
  88.  
  89.     Vikna seems to take the hint and nods.
  90.  
  91. “Alright, ask away.” She tells you.
  92.  
  93. “Why are you in my house?” You ask.
  94.  
  95. “We, um, just walked in.” She tells you nervously.
  96.  
  97.     Her ears fold back and her tail wraps around her waist, indicating a lie.
  98.  
  99. “If I look behind me, the door isn't going to be broken, right?” You ask.
  100.  
  101. “N-not the door.” Vikna tells you.
  102.  
  103.     You sigh deeply, keeping yourself under control.
  104.  
  105. “Next question.” You say, looking at ARA. “When was the last time you charged?”
  106.  
  107. “Approximately 2 hours ago. Why?” ARA asks.
  108.  
  109. “Well, from what I read, you use a lot of power, is that correct?” You ask.
  110.  
  111. “Affirmative.” She replies. “I use approximately ten thousand kilowatts of power per hour.”
  112.  
  113. “That's...actually not as bad as I thought.” You tell her. “I might be able to rig something up if I can sneak you into the power substation. Any more questions?”
  114.  
  115. “Yes, what are you?” Vikna asks.
  116.  
  117. “Human, next question.” You tell her.
  118.  
  119. “Why are you helping us?” She asks.
  120.  
  121. “Because if I don't help you, then who will?” You ask in return. “There's nobody else around for miles. Also, I'm pretty sure I'm the only one around here who can help you properly. ARA would probably run out of charge about 5 days from now, maybe 15 if she went into low power mode. We don't have K class charging cables here, nor do we have enough power generation on this planet to facilitate that kind of thing commercially. Anything else?”
  122.  
  123. “Uh, can we have something to eat?” Vikna asks, smiling sheepishly.
  124.  
  125.     You sigh, putting your your fingers on the bridge of your nose.
  126.  
  127. 30 minutes later
  128.  
  129.     You sit back down on your recliner, which you had moved back to its original position. Both the cats were eating happily as you had made them pasta with meatballs. As you watch them eat, you can't help but feel satisfied. You haven't interacted with another person on this level in almost 2 years, always using self checkout and only ever talking to people over the internet. Now you had two girls in your company. Well, a girl and an anthroid.
  130.  
  131.     You see Vikna look back at you and you look down at the floor, not able to match her gaze. She sniggers at you as you turn the chair back around. Guess girls are the same even in a magical furry world of sci-fi. You sit down in the chair, twiddling your thumbs as you wait for them both to finish eating. When you look back, you see ARA making her way towards you. You look down at the ground before seeing her feet in front of you. She crouches onto the ground and looks you in the eye, causing you to look away anxiously. She walks back into your line of sight, prompting you to just close your eyes and sit back in the seat.
  132.  
  133. “Miss Vikna, this man is showing signs of social anxiety not previously present. I believe your demeaning laugh had something to do with it. If I were you, I'd apologize to him.” ARA tells Vikna.
  134.  
  135. “He was staring at me.” Vikna replies. “I don't like it when people stare. Especially people like him.”
  136.  
  137.     You sigh, getting off the chair and looking at Vikna.
  138.  
  139. “There's a bed in that room over there.” You say, pointing to the room in front of you. “You and ARA can rest there. I'm going to sleep.”
  140.  
  141.     You grab your rifle and walk to the steps, climbing up the stairs towards the top. When you reach the top, you see ARA looking up at you, confused.
  142.  
  143. “Aren't you going to eat?” She asks.
  144.  
  145. “I'm not hungry.” You lie.
  146.  
  147. “Bullshit, get back down here and eat.” Vikna says.
  148.  
  149. “And endure more verbal abuse? I'd rather go to sleep hungry.” You tell her. “I honestly thought you'd be nicer.”
  150.  
  151.     You enter your own room and close the door, setting the rifle down between the bed and the dresser. When you sit down on the bed, it feels like it caves under your immense weight. You grasp your blanket and wrap yourself in it, crying silently to yourself as you listen to them talk about you.
  152.  
  153. Vikna
  154.  
  155.     You watch as Jack walks off into his bedroom, having thrown you for a loop. What'd he mean by 'I honestly thought you'd be nicer.'? How the hell did he know you and ARA? You'd have to get to the bottom of this eventually.
  156.  
  157. “Smooth.” ARA says condescendingly.
  158.  
  159. “What?” You ask. “He was being a creep.”
  160.  
  161. “You do realize that man just gave us food and shelter after we tried to steal from him, right?” ARA asks. “He could've shot you and I before we could even react. I didn't even hear him coming and could've been seriously damaged by the weapon if he chose to pull the trigger. That doesn't even begin to describe what would've happened to you.”
  162.  
  163. “So you're saying that I should care because he didn't shoot us? He obviously knew us and that only further reinforces my point. He's a fat, creepy, mental defective who looks like he plays too many video games.” You reply. “I should just kill him and finish what his heart is starting.”
  164.  
  165. “Miss Vikna!” ARA yells. “What is with you today?!”
  166.  
  167. “I...don't know.” You say, sighing deeply. “I just want to go back home already. This place gives me the-”
  168.  
  169.     There's a massive bang on the side of the house, seeming to shake whatever plates he had in a cabinet near the table. You look around the house, rotating your ears to find the source of the sound. You hear a commotion from Jacks room and hear the door open, the fat man making his way back down the stairs with his gun.
  170.  
  171. “Get behind the couch.” He tells you.
  172.  
  173. “What?” You ask.
  174.  
  175. “GET BEHIND THE COUCH!” He orders, pointing to the couch.
  176.  
  177.     You really don't want to do what the ugly man says, but ARA pulls you along anyways.
  178.  
  179. “Look at that, the retard has some stupid furry friends over!” A man says from behind you. “I bet they're all talking about stupid shit like dog dicks.”
  180.  
  181.     ARA holds you down behind the couch as Jack moves past it, turning off the lights.
  182.  
  183. “We're taking your TV whether you like it or not! Make it easy for us this time and we won't break your door!” The man from outside yells.
  184.  
  185. “Get the fuck away from my house you fucking assholes!” Jack replies, a click being heard as he rushes back towards the door.
  186.  
  187.     You watch him make his way to the door you both came in, seeing the door knob is broken. He shoots you a glare and opens the broken door silently, the green glow of a mercury lamp illuminating him as he quietly made his way down what you assume is the porch. You hear a door open and then everything goes quiet.
  188.  
  189.     You hear some faint thuds and groans of pain as something strikes the intruders down. You can't tell if it's Jack or if it's something else.
  190.  
  191. “What?” You hear faintly come from outside.
  192.  
  193. “Were these men bothering you?” Another, more familiar voice asks.
  194.  
  195. “Jesus Christ.” Jack replies. “Come in, I'll talk more when we get inside.”
  196.  
  197.     You hear footsteps come back down the porch as Jack and another figure walk down the wooden walkway. Jack comes through the doorway, allowing the mystery person to come through. He turns on the lights and you see the one person you didn't want to see here.
  198.  
  199. “Oh my god, can this day get any worse?” You say, putting your hands to your face.
  200.  
  201.     It was Ayn. Fucking, Ayn. First it was ARA and now this? Why did she have to follow you through? She can't just leave you alone and let you do your own thing? You just wanted to get away from the Rishan god dammit!
  202.  
  203. “Hey, are you hungry? I have some left over spaghetti that should still be warm on the counter.” Jack says, presumably talking to Ayn.
  204.  
  205. “Thanks sweetie.” She tells him. “I'm fine for now, I'd just like to know if you have some place for me to sleep.”
  206.  
  207. “I'd say go sleep with Vikna, but I think that would put her in an even worse mood.” He replies. “There's a nice bed down in the basement that you can have to yourself if you'd like. Otherwise there's the couch and my recliner.”
  208.  
  209. “Thanks for the help Habibi. I'll sleep downstairs for now.” She says, as you hear her walk to your left.
  210.  
  211. “Wait, I need to ask you something.” Jack says. “How many more are coming?”
  212.  
  213. “Hmm? Oh, I think Zofie said she was coming with Nytro.” Ayn says.
  214.  
  215.     You uncover your eyes just in time to see Jack lean against the wall, making it groan and crackle under his weight.
  216.  
  217. “Dammit.” He says. “Now I'm gonna need to go get the rubber mat.”
  218.  
  219. “Hmm, so you know who Nytro is then?” Ayn asks.
  220.  
  221. “Yes, I know who he is. I also know that any time he's around you or Zofie the room gets very dirty.” Jack replies. “I'm not gonna ask you to suppress your urges for my sake, but just try to keep the noise down. The walls are very thin.”
  222.  
  223.     He looks over to you and your ears fold back as you realize he heard everything you said about him. Ayn notices this and cocks her head.
  224.  
  225. “What's the deal with you two?” She asks.
  226.  
  227. “He's a creep.” You tell her.
  228.  
  229. “Let's leave it at that until morning.” He replies. “I'll be up in my office if you three need me for anything, since now I don't feel safe sleeping in my own bed.”
  230.  
  231. “Oh, uh, alright.” Ayn says, even more confused. “I'll be off to bed now.”
  232.  
  233.     Jack nods and takes his rifle upstairs, looking back at you every now and again with paranoid glances. God, he really does have issues.
  234.  
  235. Jack
  236.  
  237.     You open up your chat program and look to see at least 4 of your friends are online now. You begin typing in the chat and hit enter.
  238.  
  239. “Guys, you won't believe what's going on.” You type.
  240.  
  241.  
  242.     One of your friends who was in the military replies immediately.
  243.  
  244. “retard” He replies.
  245.  
  246. “This is fucking serious dude. They're in my house and talking to me.” You tell him.
  247.  
  248. “you know it's kind of autistic to talk about your waifu as if they're real, right?” He asks.
  249.  
  250. “Fuck you retard I'm taking a picture.” You say, grabbing your phone.
  251.  
  252.     You put the speaker on silent and sneak out of your room, hearing ARA and Vikna conversing about something.
  253.  
  254. “I think you should be a little nicer to Jack, he's given us food, shelter, and didn't even shoot us when he had the chance.” ARA tells Vikna.
  255.  
  256. “But he's such a creep! Doesn't it bother you that he knew our names before we even knew what species he was?” Vikna asks.
  257.  
  258.     You take a video and record the next moments on video.
  259.  
  260. “No, it doesn't bother me because it makes communication with him easier. I don't care if he's seen me before or heard of me before, as I have nothing to hide.” ARA tells her. “I'm also a well documented AI construct made by one of the most prolific manufacturers in the entire Rishan galaxy. I'm proud that people outside of the galaxy have heard of me as well as you. We must be pretty popular for that to be the case.”
  261.  
  262.     You stop the recording and walk back into your office, closing the door and putting your earbuds on. You send the video over the chat program and it's posted. The response is immediate both from your army buddy and a fellow writer.
  263.  
  264. “Jesus dude, what the fuck is this?” Your writer friend asks.
  265.  
  266. “is this some sort of video editing bullshit?” Your military friend asks.
  267.  
  268. “It's not edited. How the fuck could I edit something like this in such a short time?” You ask in return.
  269.  
  270. “Careful not to lewd red kitty, Fluff might get mad.” Your writer friend quips.
  271.  
  272.     Your friend goes silent and your army friend speaks up.
  273.  
  274. “are they giving you any trouble?” He asks.
  275.  
  276. “No, not really. Vikna threatened to kill me in my sleep and ARA is just, well, there.” You reply. “Dunno what to do.”
  277.  
  278.     You hear the door to your room open and draw your pistol, pointing it towards the newly created opening.
  279.  
  280. “Don't worry, it's just me.” ARA tells you. “Do you mind if I enter?”
  281.  
  282.     You sigh, setting your gun down and waving her in. She smiles gently, entering your computer room and looking around.
  283.  
  284. “Clean, just like the rest of the house.” She says. “Is this how it is everywhere on this planet?”
  285.  
  286. “No, I just get really bored.” You tell her. “I have nothing to do all day but go outside, use my computer and clean. First two get boring after you do it for a while, so I completely cleaned the entire house in about a week.”
  287.  
  288. “Because you were bored? Interesting.” She says, putting a finger to her chin and pondering. “Miss Vikna doesn't even clean when she's asked.”
  289.  
  290.     You just shake your head before hearing the distinct sound of a message popping up.
  291.  
  292. “I just looked outside and saw a few anthros roaming around confused. What the hell is happening?” Your writer friend asks.
  293.  
  294. “What're you doing?” ARA asks, looking at the screen. “Are you messaging people?”
  295.  
  296. “Yeah, why?” You ask.
  297.  
  298. “You're not contacting the authorities, are you?” She asks in return.
  299.  
  300.     You smirk and begin typing again.
  301.  
  302. “Hey, you guys aren't the cops, right?” You ask.
  303.  
  304. “lol no.” Your mil friend replies.
  305.  
  306. “No, why?” Your writing friend asks.
  307.  
  308. “Just wondering. ARA asked.” You reply. “Go find someone man, I'm sure they probably want someone to help them right about now. I've got shit to do. Stay safe and find someone you like.”
  309.  
  310. “Alright, will keep you posted.” Your friend tells you.
  311.  
  312.     You smile at that and turn back to ARA.
  313.  
  314. “You need something?” You ask.
  315.  
  316. “No, I'm just coming up to apologize for miss Vikna's behavior. We both appreciate the help and thank you for being so generous.” She tells you.
  317.  
  318. “That's actually really weird coming from you ARA. I thought you were supposed to be the one who was oblivious to everything.” You say, confused.
  319.  
  320. “That was 2 years ago. I have become quite adept at reading emotions and reacting accordingly. I've even become a bit more, uh, sentient since then.” She tells you. “Don't go telling Kaltag though.”
  321.  
  322.     You nod and ARA smiles.
  323.  
  324. “Thank you for telling me that.” You tell her. “I'm glad you both don't hate me. Speaking of which, do you think I'm a fat creep?”
  325.  
  326. “Well, I certainly think it would be best if you lost a few pounds, but other than that, I don't think you're a creep.” She says with a sweet smile. “I am curious though. How do you know about us?”
  327.  
  328.     Your first thought was to say porn, but that would end in you being electrocuted to death. You instead, decide to show her how.
  329.  
  330. “There's an artist on the internet known as FluffKevlar, he, well, created all of you. Don't go telling Vikna, as she doesn't have the clearance to know.” You tell her, lying about the clearance to keep her mouth shut. “Let's say hello, shall we?”
  331.  
  332.     You open up the private chat you had with Fluff and see he's on right now. It's strange, since he's usually offline right now. You begin typing your message.
  333.  
  334. “Hey Fluff, it's Jack, how're things?” You ask.
  335.  
  336.     The reply is immediate.
  337.  
  338. “Great, I'm just dealing with something right now.” He says cryptically.
  339.  
  340. “Cool, I have a picture to show you. It's really important.” You tell him.
  341.  
  342.     You pull out your phone and point it towards ARA.
  343.  
  344. “Mind if I take a picture?” You ask.
  345.  
  346. “I don't mind.” She says, smiling sweetly.
  347.  
  348.     You take the picture and upload it to the chat, getting an immediate response.
  349.  
  350. “Whoa, you got ARA? I have Twix and Nytro over here. Is anybody else with you?” He asks.
  351.  
  352.     You're taken aback by that. He got Nytro? Is this something that's happening across the country?
  353.  
  354. “I have Vikna, Ayn, and Zofie is supposed to be here any second now.” You say.
  355.  
  356. “Lucky guy. Just don't have sex with ARA, okay?” He asks. “Don't want you ruining her innocence.”
  357.  
  358. “Hey man, if she says yes, I'm not saying no.” You tell him, more out of spite for your last story than actually meaning it.
  359.  
  360. “I'm serious.” He replies. “Don't do it.”
  361.  
  362. “Fine, you got man.” You tell him, closing the chat.
  363.  
  364. “What do you mean 'if I say yes'?” ARA asks curiously.
  365.  
  366. “It's exactly as it sounds.” You tell her. “If you say yes, I'm probably not going to say no. However, I really don't expect you to say yes, so it's not something to worry about.”
  367.  
  368. “So you're speaking literally and not figuratively?” ARA asks.
  369.  
  370. “Yeah, I hear it's the best way to speak to you.” You reply. “So, are you having an existential crisis yet?”
  371.  
  372. “No, on top of being unable to have an existential crisis, I don't think this information would bring me to a point where I would question my existence. Why do you ask?” She asks.
  373.  
  374. “Just making sure you're not going to have a conniption.” You tell her.
  375.  
  376. “I will try my best not to become angry.” ARA says with a cute smile.
  377.  
  378. “ARA, Zofie just arrived!” Vikna yells from the living room.
  379.  
  380. “Do you want to meet Zofie?” ARA asks.
  381.  
  382. “Sure.” You say, hefting yourself out of your chair.
  383.  
  384.     You both walk down the hallway to the stairs, walking down them as you look at Vikna and Zofie. Vikna sees you coming and scowls, looking to the side of you as Zofies ears droop even more.
  385.  
  386. “Did I do something wrong?” Zofie asks in her mild German accent.
  387.  
  388. “No, nothing's wrong.” You reply, walking towards her. “You're Zofie, right?”
  389.  
  390.     Zofie turns and her eyes go wide in surprise.
  391.  
  392. “J-ja.” She manages to squeak out.
  393.  
  394. “Hey, don't worry. I'm not going to hurt you.” You say slowly, putting your hands in front of you. “You don't need to be scared. I'm not a monster.”
  395.  
  396. “O-oh, you're the one who spoke.” She says, a bit relieved. “S-still, what are you? Who are you?”
  397.  
  398. “I'm a human named Jack.” You tell her, waving gently. “Hello.”
  399.  
  400.     She smiles at your gesture and you sit down in your recliner. She takes a seat next to Vikna with ARA sitting at the end of the couch.
  401.  
  402. “Wait, how do you know me?” She asks, looking puzzled.
  403.  
  404. “He's a creep.” Vikna replies.
  405.  
  406. “W-what?” She asks.
  407.  
  408. “Viknas answer is probably going to be a bit easier on you right now than my own answer, so just leave it at that.” You tell her cryptically.
  409.  
  410. “W-well, you don't seem creepy. I mean, I've met real creeps in my bakery and they aren't nearly as, well, civil as you are.” She tells you. “Weird perverts who want to just pull me off to their house and have their way with me.”
  411.  
  412. “Well, until you are all settled in, your explanation will be that I'm a creep.” You tell her. “Now, it's almost 1 in the morning and we have 24 hour days. Zofie, you can sleep in my bedroom. I'll sleep on the couch while everyone else rests.”
  413.  
  414. “Wait, didn't you just say you were a creep?” Zofie asks.
  415.  
  416. “First off, I didn't say that, Vikna did. Secondly, saying you're something and actually being something are two different things.” You tell her. “If you want, you can sleep on the couch if it makes you feel safer.”
  417.  
  418. “Oh, no, that's fine.” Zofie says.
  419.  
  420. “Well, it's decided.” You say, immediately laying back in the recliner. “I'll just lay down here until you two go to sleep.”
  421.  
  422.     You point over at Vikna and ARA before putting the backrest back all the way. When you close your eyes, you immediately fall asleep.
  423.  
  424. Ayn
  425.  
  426.     You're awoken by the faint sound of shouting above you. This immediately starts raising red flags, prompting you to get up from the bed Jack had given you. You almost throw the door open, rushing down the pathway and up the stairs. When you reach the top, you see Vikna and ARA looking at Jack, who's in a semi-fetal position on the chair. Vikna notices you and sighs.
  427.  
  428. “He's been yelling like this for the past 10 minutes.” Vikna tells you. “We tried waking him, but he won't wake up.”
  429.  
  430. “That's because he's awake.” You say, walking past them. “Habibi, it's Ayn. Are you okay?”
  431.  
  432.     He continues to scream, covering his face with his hands as he lets out terrified shouts in a manner unfitting of a man. You crouch down beside him and put a hand on his shoulder.
  433.  
  434. “Come on sweetie, talk to me.” You coo gently, stroking his hair with your other hand.
  435.  
  436.     He immediately jumps into your arms, burying his face in your shoulder as he begins to cry desperately. He was pretty heavy, but that wasn't a problem for you. His tears begin to wet your fur down as the cries begin to wain ever so slightly. You pull him off the chair and upright, bending your knees a bit so he could still reach your shoulder. Poor guy, he must be having a rough time with all the stuff that's been happening.
  437.  
  438.     When his cries finally die down, he lets go and pulls away, sniffling and wiping his nose.
  439.  
  440. “T-thank you.” He says. “Sorry I woke you up.”
  441.  
  442. “It's fine sweetie. You want to come and sleep with me?” You ask. “We can just lay together if you'd like.”
  443.  
  444.     He nods and you smile gently, watching him walk towards and turn down the steps. You look back at Vikna and she speaks.
  445.  
  446. “Slut.” Is all she says.
  447.  
  448. “Not this time Habibi'ti.” You say, walking back to the steps before turning back again. “Sex isn't what he needs right now. At least, not this second.”
  449.  
  450.     You walk down the steps after Jack as he walks lazily towards the bedroom. He was a very, uh, rotund man. Not unlike your father. However, you knew that it wasn't all just fat underneath that skin of his. You definitely felt muscles in him, especially on his back. You'd have to feel him up a bit more before you decide how strong he was.
  451.  
  452.     When you get inside the bedroom, you already see him on the bed, facing away from you. His butt was definitely not small. It might even put your own ass to shame if you measured it up. However, that wasn't the point of this. This was to make him comfortable and to determine how strong he is.
  453.  
  454.     You turn out the lights and navigate your way to the bed by touch, feeling the bed with your finger tips as you raise a knee to mount it. When you enter the bed, you make your way over to Jack, hearing him sniffle a bit as you finally feel his back. You press your large chest against his back and hear him inhale sharply, surprised by you. After he calms down a bit, you begin to run your fingers along his arms. There was definitely muscle along his arms at some point, indicating he used to be strong. Now there was just some fat and leftover muscles.
  455.  
  456.     You move your hands down to his back, running your fingers along them as he shudders. His back was the same as his arms. Strong at one point, but no longer as strong. Had he fallen out of shape? You move your hands past his butt, confirming it was, indeed, large before moving to his legs. They were still very muscular, but you could tell they were even more so at some point in time.
  457.  
  458. “Why are you touching me like this?” He asks.
  459.  
  460. “I'm feeling you up Habibi.” You reply.
  461.  
  462.     He tenses up at the word 'habibi' and relaxes a bit afterwards.
  463.  
  464. “What's wrong?” You ask. “Do you not like that word?”
  465.  
  466. “Very bad people here use that word.” He says, about to say more when he stops himself.
  467.  
  468. “What people?” You ask, now concerned.
  469.  
  470. “The kind of people who stone women for not completely covering up.” He replies, hatred dripping from his voice. “I don't want to talk about this any more. It hurts to bring up.”
  471.  
  472.     You nod, laying back down in the bed he's given you. You'd have to show him a good time later. Maybe give him a little something extra along the way.
  473.  
  474. Jack
  475.  
  476. The next morning
  477.  
  478.     You slowly wake yourself up as the soft mass in your arms is pulled closer by you. It was so soft and warm that you didn't want to let go. You feel a few thumps on the bed as you begin stroking the pillow, confusing you slightly. When you open your eyes, a pair of eyes are staring back into yours.
  479.  
  480. “Whoa!” You shout, pushing away as the eyes widen in surprise.
  481.  
  482.     Then, it all comes flooding back to you. Vikna, ARA, Zofie, and Ayn. Ayn picked you up last night after something happened and took you downstairs. Then she...wait, did she really do what you remember her doing? You check under your pants and see your cock is still a pretty impressive size when it's soft.
  483.  
  484. “That all happened?” You ask. “I didn't just have a wet dream?”
  485.  
  486.     Ayn nods and pulls you back into her.
  487.  
  488. “I'm sorry I made you feel so terrible last night. I was honestly just curious about you and got carried away.” She says, rubbing her cheek against yours. “I hope you can forgive me.”
  489.  
  490.     You smile and rub behind her ears, which she takes an immediate liking to.
  491.  
  492. “It's okay. I just didn't want to disappoint you.” You reply. “There's nothing to be sorry for.”
  493.  
  494. “You're too kind.” She says, letting you go.
  495.  
  496.     You smile at that and slide yourself off the bed.
  497.  
  498. “Where are you going?” She asks.
  499.  
  500. “The gym. Gonna start working out again.” You say. “Need to do some, uh, physical training.”
  501.  
  502. “Why?” She asks, looking you over before smiling. “I think you're perfect the way you are.”
  503.  
  504. “When I walk for more than 3 hours straight, my feet are in so much pain that I feel like dying. It was a big reason why the house took over a week to clean instead of a few days like I planned.” You say, looking at the floor at the foot of the bed. “Speaking of cleaning, I'm probably gonna need to steam clean the floors again.”
  505.  
  506. “Yeah, sorry about that too. I usually set out a towel or something along the floor, but you really needed that release.” She says, her ears folding back a little in embarrassment. “Never seen somebody cum that many times in such a short time. Took everything I had to not force you inside me. Still, sorry about the carpet.”
  507.  
  508. “Hey, it's not an issue.” You tell her. “Gives me something to do.”
  509.  
  510.     You're about to leave when you feel your phone vibrating in your pocket. You slept in your clothes? Gross. When you pull your phone out, you see who's calling. Your dad. You slide the answer button over and put the phone to your ear.
  511.  
  512. “Hello?” You ask.
  513.  
  514. “Hey, son. How are ya?” He asks, his words slurring due to his stroke.
  515.  
  516. “Doing fine. You?” You ask.
  517.  
  518. “Great. Just about to get discharged from this retirement home to live in adult foster care. How's everything going over there?” He asks.
  519.  
  520. “Fine, I just had some, uh, people come over to my house.” You tell him, continuing to walk up the stairs with Ayn in tow. “Don't worry, they're good people.”
  521.  
  522. “What about your mom and Kelly?” Dad asks. “They come home yet?”
  523.  
  524. “Still on a business trip.” You reply, climbing the stairs. “I've been keeping the house warm and running for them. Hope they come back soon.”
  525.  
  526. “Well, I wanted you to come up and see me. Think you can do that?” He asks.
  527.  
  528. “Dad, I have people over. I don't know if it's wise to just leave them here.” You say as you enter the living room, catching everyone's attention.
  529.  
  530. “Well, son, you can bring them along if you'd like.” He says before something is heard in the background. “If you change your mind, call me back. I gotta go. Love you.”
  531.  
  532. “Love you too dad.” You say. “Bye.”
  533.  
  534.     You hang up the phone and put it in your pocket, looking around the room.
  535.  
  536. “Das ist so sweet.” Zofie says with a genuine smile.
  537.  
  538.     Vikna just snickers at you as ARA looks around the room in confusion.
  539.  
  540. “Don't let her get you down.” Ayn says behind you.
  541.  
  542.     When you turn around, Ayn is at eye level with you.
  543.  
  544. “Did you get shorter?” You ask.
  545.  
  546. “No, I told you last night. You got taller.” She says with a smile.
  547.  
  548.     You shrug, not wanting to question it further. You were taller. Your back hurt a bit, but you guess it was just fatigue.
  549.  
  550. “Who's Kelly?” Ayn asks.
  551.  
  552. “My sister.” You reply, walking over to the leather chair.
  553.  
  554. “Is she cute?” She asks.
  555.  
  556. “I don't know.” You reply.
  557.  
  558. “Have you two ever, you know...” Ayn says trailing off.
  559.  
  560.     You feel your face contort involuntarily into a look of pure disgust.
  561.  
  562. “No.” You reply, that same disgust dripping from your voice.
  563.  
  564. “R-right.” Ayn says, clearing her throat. “Anyways, what was that about a business trip?”
  565.  
  566. “My mother and sister went off on a business trip 3 years ago and said to keep the house ready for them. I've been waiting for 3 years, biding my time by looking for jobs, working those jobs, quitting the jobs, and using my computer. Even did a...well...nevermind.” You tell them. “Been living off my VA checks for the past 5 months now, so there's that.”
  567.  
  568.     You look around the room and the entire atmosphere changed. Everyone looked around the room awkwardly, almost as if they were waiting for something.
  569.  
  570. “Jack...your family, have they called you at all?” Ayn asks.
  571.  
  572. “No, but they're probably busy.” You reply sadly. “I tried calling them, but the number is out of service.”
  573.  
  574.     Everyone inhales sharply.
  575.  
  576. “Jack...they're not coming back.” Ayn says sadly. “They're gone. They left you.”
  577.  
  578. “W-what?” You ask. “Why?”
  579.  
  580. “I wonder why.” Vikna says.
  581.  
  582. “Shut your muzzle.” Ayn tells her. “You're not helping the situation. Just sit there and be quiet.”
  583.  
  584.     Vikna crosses her arms and rolls her eyes. Ayn growls a bit before calming herself down, turning back to you.
  585.  
  586. “Think about it. They haven't called you in over 3 years. The numbers you keep trying to call are dead, they haven't so much as sent a letter or an e-mail telling you they're okay. Do you think they'd at least try to call you if they were really coming back?” She asks. “Were they mean to you?”
  587.  
  588. “Sometimes they'd yell at me for no reason, but that's just girls.” You say before realizing what came out of your mouth. “I mean, not you girls! You're different!”
  589.  
  590.     Ayn puts a hand on your shoulder and rubs it gently.
  591.  
  592. “Jack, they abandoned you. How old are you?” She asks curiously.
  593.  
  594. “27. I'm 27 now.” You tell her. “I'm gonna be 28 this year.”
  595.  
  596. “Do you own this house?” Ayn asks.
  597.  
  598. “Probably lived with his mom his whole life.” Vikna quips.
  599.  
  600.     Well, she's not really wrong. Ayn takes her hand off your shoulder and walks over to Vikna.
  601.  
  602. “Shut up.” She says, putting a hand over Viknas muzzle. “Or I'm going to break your muzzle.”
  603.  
  604.     Vikna nods and Ayn lets go walking back to you. She picks you up off the chair and pulls you into a hug.
  605.  
  606. “I'm so sorry.” She says, rubbing your back gently.
  607.  
  608.     You just hold her close to you, the realization coming over you like a waterfall of emotion. However, you didn't cry. Those tears dried up long ago.
  609.  
  610. “Speaking of losing things, why'd you wake up last night and scream for 10 minutes straight? I lost sleep because of that.” Vikna tells you.
  611.  
  612.     Ayn lets go and pulls away from you, but you put a hand on her shoulder. She looks back at you, prompting you to shake your head. She nods, allowing you to walk past and crouch down in front of the couch. You grab your phone and call your dad back.
  613.  
  614. “Hello?” He asks.
  615.  
  616. “Hey dad, I changed my mind.” You tell him. “Mind if I bring a friend along?”
  617.  
  618. “Sure, that's fine.” He says, obviously excited to see his son again. “What's his name?”
  619.  
  620. “Her name is Vikna.” You reply.
  621.  
  622. “Is she your girlfriend?” Dad asks, even more excited.
  623.  
  624. “No, she's a girl and my friend, but she's definitely not my girlfriend.” You reply. “I'll call you when I get close.”
  625.  
  626. “Alright, son. Take your time. I got all day.” He tells you happily.
  627.  
  628. “Okay, see you later dad.” You tell him. “Love you.”
  629.  
  630. “Love you too son, bye bye now.” He replies.
  631.  
  632.     You hang up the phone and Vikna gives you a death glare.
  633.  
  634. “I'm not going.” She says, looking off to the side.
  635.  
  636. “Yes you are.” Ayn and Zofie say at the same time.
  637.  
  638. “Seriously?! You're on the side of this creep?!” She asks loudly.
  639.  
  640.     You grab her shoulders and squeeze them tight. You're not going to let her dig this hole any deeper.
  641.  
  642. “Enough of this bullshit. You're an adult now Vikna. Not a toddler going through a temper tantrum. Grow up.” You tell her, letting go of her muzzle. “You are going to come with me whether you like it or not.”
  643.  
  644. “Why should I trust that you won't just take me off to a random cave and rape me?” She asks. “How do I know you're not going to murder me?”
  645.  
  646. “You want me to answer your question?” You ask.
  647.  
  648.     She nods.
  649.  
  650. “Then you're coming with me.” You tell her. “My dad can help explain what I'm going to tell you when we get there.”
  651.  
  652.     She rolls her eyes and you get off the floor, offering her a hand. She takes it and you help her off the couch. You walk over to the counter, grabbing your keys and wallet before turning back.
  653.  
  654. “Ayn, you're in charge while I'm gone. Zofie, every single piece of meat in this house needs to be cooked before it can be eaten. We don't have food synths and all the meat comes from real cows.” You tell her. “Uh, feral cows. Not furry cows.”
  655.  
  656. “Ja, I understand.” She replies. “See you soon!”
  657.  
  658.     You smile back and lead Vikna to the laundry room, opening the door and allowing her to walk through. She walks out through the door and you follow, closing and locking the door. When you turn around, you see Vikna waiting by the door to your car. You take your key out and put it in the lock, unlocking the door. Vikna opens it and sniffs inside.
  659.  
  660. “I smell a bit of fast food. No wonder you put on some pounds.” She says more to herself than you.
  661.  
  662. “Hey, I used to work at that fast food place, don't judge me for not being able to leave at lunch.” You tell her.
  663.  
  664.     She just rolls her eyes and you walk over to the garage door, hefting it up before holding it steady. Once it's up, you walk back to the drivers side of the car, opening the door and lowering yourself down. When you try to pull yourself back into the car, you slam your head into the door ceiling, much to Viknas amusement.
  665.  
  666. “Hey, I just grew 3 inches over night, cut me some slack.” You say, lowering the seat.
  667.  
  668.     When it lowers completely, you slouch yourself over in the drivers seat.
  669.  
  670. “I feel like mister Incredible in this thing.” You say.
  671.  
  672. “Who's that?” Vikna asks.
  673.  
  674. “From a super hero cartoon a long time ago.” You tell her. “Wish I was as strong as him.”
  675.  
  676. “You know, we actually have super heroes around the Rishan galaxy, right?” Vikna asks. “Guys who wear tight pants and spandex, running around the city to stop crime with their magic.”
  677.  
  678. “I never knew that.” You tell her. “Has it always been like that?”
  679.  
  680. “It's actually pretty recent.” She says, looking out the window at the wall.
  681.  
  682.     You smile at that, fiddling with the key on your Malibu before getting it to start.
  683.  
  684. “Well, I'm gonna go and get a better car, alright?” You ask.
  685.  
  686. “Wait, you're just going to buy another car?” She asks.
  687.  
  688. “Sure. I've been saving up for a new one for a while now, so I guess now is the time to buy one.” You tell her. “This car I'm driving is over twenty years old anyways.”
  689.  
  690.     She rolls her eyes again and you pull the shift lever back, backing out of the garage.
  691.  
  692. “Wait, why aren't we lifting off the ground?” She asks.
  693.  
  694. “Cars don't hover here. We still use wheels.” You reply. “We have the tech to make them, it's just less expensive to use wheels.”
  695.  
  696. “Bunch of primitives.” She says, looking back out the window.
  697.  
  698.     You smile at that, accelerating down the driveway before turning the wheel to the left. You feel yourself slide on the icy snow as your car's front spins out slightly. You correct it in a maneuver you've done many times before, straightening out as you shift into drive. The slush box GM calls a transmission finally shifts into drive and you're both off.
  699.  
  700. “Jesus, what's your problem?!” Vikna asks loudly.
  701.  
  702. “It's something I do all the time in the winter.” You tell her. “Faster and safer than slowly backing out and sliding into a snow bank. I'm only trying to keep from slipping into the snowbank.”
  703.  
  704. “Well, your attempt to impress me failed.” She says.
  705.  
  706.     You roll your eyes and drive down the driveway. It has a few twists and turns in its quarter mile length as you drive down it. You turn on the radio, tuning it to your usual station before turning the volume up to a comfortable level.
  707.  
  708. Chapter 1: Veteran of a Foreign War
  709.  
  710.     After about 20 minutes of driving, you arrive at the nearest building to your house. A car dealership. You pull into the lot and immediately begin looking around.
  711.  
  712. “Alright, I need something bigger than this car.” You say to yourself, looking at the selection of SUVs in stock. “What do you think? I already have a truck, so maybe a larger car or an SUV.”
  713.  
  714. “What's an SUV?” Vikna asks.
  715.  
  716.     You point to a Suburban and she cocks her head.
  717.  
  718. “What's the purpose of something that big?” She asks.
  719.  
  720. “Some people have lots and lots of kids.” You reply. “Or they just want to haul people around.”
  721.  
  722.     You point to a smaller Tahoe and a Cherokee.
  723.  
  724. “Those are also SUVs. Not nearly as large, but less, uh, utilitarian.” You tell her.
  725.  
  726. “So, what does it stand for?” She asks as you make a lap around the lot.
  727.  
  728. “Sport Utility Vehicle.” You reply. “Now it's more of a van for men instead of the offroad machine it used to be.”
  729.  
  730.     She smirks at that before speaking.
  731.  
  732. “So you plan on having kids?” She asks.
  733.  
  734.     You chuckle at that and shake your head.
  735.  
  736. “Nope. Don't have the patience for it.” You reply.
  737.  
  738.     Just as you say that, the dealer comes out and rolls his eyes. He knows you from the numerous times you came over to test drive cars he knew you couldn't afford. However, you were here to buy now. You roll down your window and give him a friendly smile.
  739.  
  740. “What is it now Jack?” He asks.
  741.  
  742.     You take out your check book and tear out a check, giving him the same friendly smile.
  743.  
  744. “You got anything bigger than this car? I think I had a growth spurt and am kind of big for this car now.” You tell him.
  745.  
  746.     He raises an eyebrow, not buying the fact that you actually want to buy a car.
  747.  
  748. “Who's that in the passengers seat? Someone doing cosplay?” The Asian man asks.
  749.  
  750.     Vikna turns around and gives him a condescending smile before turning back around. You look back at the man and he's standing back from the car now.
  751.  
  752. “There's a cat in your car.” He says. “It just smiled at me, am I crazy?”
  753.  
  754. “Her name is Vikna.” You tell him. “She just came in last night. Am I still able to buy a car or not?”
  755.  
  756. “Y-yeah, what are you looking for?” He asks.
  757.  
  758. “You still have that Taurus SHO?” You ask.
  759.  
  760. “Y-yeah, it's still here.” He says, pointing to the end of the lot. “Wanna take it for a test drive?”
  761.  
  762. “Nah, I already drove it and liked it.” You tell him. “How much was it again?”
  763.  
  764. “Well, it's a 2019, so it's going to be about 24 grand.” He says.
  765.  
  766. “That car has sat on the lot for four years dude. I think bringing it down to an even twenty grand is a better offer to get it off the lot.” You tell him. “Hell, I'll go down to the bank and draw twenty grand in cash right now.”
  767.  
  768. “Fine, I'll take the twenty grand check.” He says. “Want to trade your car in too?”
  769.  
  770. “Yeah, just give me some time to move all the stuff inside to the other car.” You tell him.
  771.  
  772. “Alright, that'll bump it down to nineteen grand.” He says.
  773.  
  774.     You write down 19000 on the check and completely spell out nineteen thousand on it as well. You hand the check to him and he smiles, actually having made a sale.
  775.  
  776. “Alright, I'll go and get the title ready while you and your, um, friend, move the stuff from your car to your new car.” He says, making his way back to the building as you both exit the car.
  777.  
  778. “Well, that was relatively cheap.” She tells you. “nineteen thousand credits back home isn't much for a vehicle.”
  779.  
  780.     You nod, releasing the trunk and walking to the back of your car. When Vikna looks in your trunk, she steps back in surprise. On the top of your trunk was a rack with a shotgun and a rifle. There was also 2 hydraulic rams and a quarter inch of steel plate behind it.
  781.  
  782. “What's with the guns?” She asks.
  783.  
  784. “I'm paranoid, of course.” You say, removing the shotgun and rifle from the mounts.
  785.  
  786.     You grab some of the bags that sat in the back as well, walking them over to the Taurus and open the door, hitting the trunk release.
  787.  
  788. “Hey! What's with the guns?!” The dealer asks as you set them in the back.
  789.  
  790. “They were in my car!” You reply. “You can take the car, but you're not taking the guns!”
  791.  
  792.     You put the guns and bags inside the car, feeling the car bounce a bit before you head back over to the Malibu. You grab some more bags out and the Asian man closes the heavy trunk with a slam. He begins removing the license plate as you make your way back to the Taurus, putting the bags inside the trunk before closing it gently.
  793.  
  794. “Gonna need to add some plating and a mount to this one too.” You say to yourself. “Need to armor up the doors as well.”
  795.  
  796. “Why?” Vikna asks.
  797.  
  798. “I just told you. My entire house is surrounded in almost an inch of armor plating.” You tell her. “Nothing short of an anti armor rocket is getting through it.”
  799.  
  800. “You're weird.” She says, walking over to the side of the car.
  801.  
  802.     The Asian dealer mounts the license plate on the back, screwing it on tight before handing you the key fob. You take your car key off the key chain and hand it to him, putting the key fob on your key chain.
  803.  
  804. “Thanks man.” You tell him as he hands you the title. “Have a nice day.”
  805.  
  806. “Yeah, you too.” He replies, allowing you to sit down in the car.
  807.  
  808.     When you sit down, you adjust the seat to your liking and push the start button. The V6 starts up with a deep and throaty rumble, causing you to grin. The whine of the turbo comes through the firewall, faint, but still there.
  809.  
  810. “Jeez, I thought this was just a regular old car.” She says, looking around it.
  811.  
  812. “Nope. You ever heard of the term sleeper before?” You ask.
  813.  
  814. “No, why?” She asks.
  815.  
  816. “Hey, is this thing broken in?!” You ask after rolling the window down.
  817.  
  818.     The dealer gives you a thumbs up and you grin like a mad man, rolling the windows back up as you do.
  819.  
  820. “Let me show you.” You tell her.
  821.  
  822.     You put the gear selector in drive and drive off to the exit, looking left and right before turning onto the road. You count on your fingers as you putt along the road.
  823.  
  824. “Guess I know what you mean by sleeper.” She says, putting an elbow on the arm rest and looking out the window.
  825.  
  826. “When you're just driving down the road, it's like a normal car. Sort of like it's sleeping.” You tell her, gripping the steering wheel. “But when this car wakes up...”
  827.  
  828.     You stomp on the gas hearing the tires squeak in protest. Vikna is pushed back into her seat as you begin accelerating down the road, turning down the bend and going well over the speed limit.
  829.  
  830. “It's really fun to drive!” You finish.
  831.  
  832.     The car roars down the road, the turbo whining as you continue to accelerate past 90 on the open road.
  833.  
  834. “I understand! Just slow down!” Vikna yells over the engine.
  835.  
  836.     You chuckle and slow down, turning down the road that leads back to your house.
  837.  
  838. “You know, you need to stop trying to impress me.” Vikna tells you, having calmed down by now.
  839.  
  840. “Hey, look at me.” You tell her, looking over at her.
  841.  
  842.     She looks at you and crosses her arms.
  843.  
  844. “Alright, I want you to hold onto your seat, because this revelation is going to rock your world. Ready?” You ask.
  845.  
  846. “Yeah, what?” She asks.
  847.  
  848. “I, are you still listening? I, like to have, fun.” You tell her. “I am not trying, to impress you. The world does not revolve around you.”
  849.  
  850. “Whatever.” She says, looking back out the window as you make your way back to the house, having forgotten to give Ayn a phone.
  851.  
  852. 30 minutes later
  853.  
  854.     You arrive back at the house to Ayn coming outside with a large board.
  855.  
  856. “Whoa whoa whoa!” You shout, stopping the car and getting out. “You hit this car and I'll skin you alive.”
  857.  
  858. “Jesus, a little warning would be nice.” Ayn tells you, putting the board down.
  859.  
  860. “Do you always go around smashing up peoples cars?” You ask with a smile.
  861.  
  862. “Only on occasion.” She replies. “Why'd you come back?”
  863.  
  864. “Well, because I wanted to give you a phone and my number.” You tell her.
  865.  
  866. “You know, it's supposed to be the other way around Habi-I mean, sweetie.” She says with a smirk.
  867.  
  868. “The phone or the number?” You ask with your own smirk.
  869.  
  870. “You're quick as a whip, aren't you?” She asks in return.
  871.  
  872. “Only on occasion.” You reply. “Now, let's get back inside and see if you managed to destroy the house in the hour I was gone.”
  873.  
  874.     You all walk inside and see ARA sitting on the table.
  875.  
  876. “ARA, please get off ze table.” Zofie says, stomping her foot on the floor in frustration.
  877.  
  878. “I don't want to though. You don't have proper authorization to give me orders.” ARA says, crossing her arms and remaining on the table.
  879.  
  880. “Get off my table or you're cleaning it.” You reply, getting both of their attention.
  881.  
  882.     ARA immediately dismounts the table and smiles awkwardly.
  883.  
  884. “Sorry. I promise I'm completely sterile.” She says, looking at the floor.
  885.  
  886. “That's not what I'm worried about.” You reply, looking for cracks on the counter top. “It's something you tell somebody who's sitting on the table. I'm just worried you might break it, since the counter isn't really designed to be sat on.”
  887.  
  888.     You find no cracks in the stone counter top and smile, looking back to Ayn. You pull out a smart phone you never use and hand it to her.
  889.  
  890. “My number is in the contacts. I'm sure you can figure out how a phone works.” You tell her, pulling out your own flip phone. “I'll answer the phone if I'm not in the middle of something or sleeping.”
  891.  
  892. “Alright, anything else?” Ayn asks.
  893.  
  894. “Zofie, I've got some cook books in the back room. Feel free to use them. Keep them if you want.” You reply, talking to Zofie instead. “ARA, don't destroy anything. Do as Ayn and Zofie say or I'm not taking you to a power substation for charging. The TV is in the living room. HDMI one is for the internet TV and HDMI two is for the satellite TV. You can look through shows you like and browse through channels if you want.”
  895.  
  896.     You're about to turn around and leave again, but remember a very important thing you were going to say.
  897.  
  898. “Oh, one more thing. Stay off my computer. All of you. I don't want to come back here with everyone at my throat.” You tell everyone before quieting yourself to a mumble. “I really don't want to fight anyone.”
  899.  
  900. “What was that last bit?” Ayn asks.
  901.  
  902. “Nothing, just mumbling to myself.” You reply. “Sorry.”
  903.  
  904.     She shakes her head and you walk past, twirling the key fob around.
  905.  
  906. 1 hour later
  907.  
  908.     You're listening to some old songs on the radio, having been on the road for a while now. You even began quietly singing along to it. That is until Vikna spoke for the first time during the entire road trip.
  909.  
  910. “Have you ever had a job in your life?” Vikna asks.
  911.  
  912.     You turn down the radio and smile, finally able to talk to Vikna without her getting pouty.
  913.  
  914. “Yeah, I was-” You say, before holding yourself back. “An electrician for a while.”
  915.  
  916. “Really? You actually had a job?” She asks.
  917.  
  918. “Yeah, watched some dude fry himself on a main line.” You reply. “That was a fun day. Had to run up and down the elevator to put out the fire with fire extinguishers.”
  919.  
  920. “You talk about that guy dying as if it was normal.” She says, slightly worried.
  921.  
  922. “Well, he was an idiot who wanted to grab a main line for a joke. Ended up paying for it with his life.” You tell her. “I also worked at a couple fast food restaurants before deciding that doing fast food sucked. Moved into an office job and worked by making spreadsheets and crunching numbers.”
  923.  
  924. “Hmm, guess I misjudged you slightly.” She tells you.
  925.  
  926. “I get that a lot.” You say. “Oh! I almost forgot, I have a plane too.”
  927.  
  928. “You have an aircraft?” She asks, repeating what you just said.
  929.  
  930. “Yeah. It's a piston engine prop aircraft though. Nothing like what you guys have back in the Rishan galaxy.” You reply. “Barely reaches 30 thousand feet, even if I try to push it higher.”
  931.  
  932. “Sounds pretty pitiful if you ask me.” She says, going back to her old self again.
  933.  
  934. “I get it, nothing impresses you.” You tell her. “Don't need this shit every time I try and tell you about something that makes me happy. What about you? Do you have anything that makes you happy, or are you just perpetually angry all the time with no joy in your life?”
  935.  
  936. “I-I have things that make me happy!” She yells in protest.
  937.  
  938. “Like what?” You ask.
  939.  
  940. “Like, uh, um, you know, going shopping!” She says, having found something after digging. “I also like talking with friends!”
  941.  
  942. “Uh huh, you have any hobbies?” You ask.
  943.  
  944.     She immediately blushes red and looks away.
  945.  
  946. “N-no.” She says looking around the car.
  947.  
  948. “Really? I thought you played video games.” You tell her with a smirk.
  949.  
  950. “How did you find out?!” She asks loudly before cupping her mouth.
  951.  
  952. “Hey, it's fine. I play video games too.” You tell her.
  953.  
  954. “That's the problem.” She says, looking off at the trees on the side of the road.
  955.  
  956.     You look back to the road and glance down at your speedometer. You're going about 95 miles an hour down the road, since it's been almost completely barren, save for a few cop cars who were going faster than you were. You look over at Vikna and she lets a deep sigh.
  957.  
  958. “I wish there were this many trees back where I live.” She tells you. “If there's one good thing I can say about your world, it's very beautiful.”
  959.  
  960.     You smile at that before looking back at the road, your eyes going wide in surprise. There was something in front of you.
  961.  
  962. “HOLD ON!” You shout, thrusting your arm in front of Vikna as you slam your foot on the brakes.
  963.  
  964.     You hold her back as she's pushed forward in her seat by the G-force of the stop. When you come to a complete stop, you see someone laying in the middle of the road. You put the car in park and look over at Vikna, who's still in shock.
  965.  
  966. “You okay?” You ask, removing your arm from her shoulder area.
  967.  
  968. “You pervert, you touched my boobs.” She says, crossing her arms indignantly.
  969.  
  970. “If I had done that, you would've mauled me by now.” You tell her.
  971.  
  972.     You get out of the car, rushing to the front and seeing nothing was there.
  973.  
  974. “What the hell? I swear I saw something.” You say, looking behind the car and then under it. “Where'd it go?”
  975.  
  976.     You shrug and get back in the car, buckling your seat belt.
  977.  
  978. “Did you find it?” She asks.
  979.  
  980. “No. Didn't hit it or there would be a massive dent in the grille.” You say.
  981.  
  982.     Then, something began to feel a bit off. Something was in the road and it just vanished into thin air. What was going on? Then you felt the hair on the back of your neck stand up straight and you pushed the trunk release. You almost run over to the back of the car, grabbing your rifle and scanning the woods with it. Something was definitely off. Then, you hear the whispers and you just about throw yourself in the car.
  983.  
  984. “Is something wrong?” Vikna asks.
  985.  
  986. “We're not staying in these woods.” You reply, gunning the gas.
  987.  
  988. “What's going on?” She asks.
  989.  
  990. “I don't know about you, but we have things here that shouldn't exist, things that can't be explained.” You tell her. “We need to get out of here now.”
  991.  
  992.     Just as you say that, an ear piercing screech emits from the woods, scaring both you and Vikna.
  993.  
  994. “I-if this is your idea of payback, I understand! Just stop trying to scare me like this! It won't work-AH!” Vikna screams in fright.
  995.  
  996.     Before she could finish, another scream had scared her and you grip the shift lever, accidentally shifting down. Except, the car doesn't shift down. The display on the dash instead reads 'S' instead of the usual 'D'. The car immediately picks up its feet and you're off like a rocket, already going 100 as you see a police officer behind you.
  997.  
  998. “Fuck, not now!” You shout, beginning to slow down.
  999.  
  1000. “Speed up!” A voice says behind you. “Do not slow down! You need to go fast down this road!”
  1001.  
  1002.     You look behind you to see the police officer speeding past you, probably going at least 30 miles an hour faster than you. Was this the autobahn? You take the advice of the officer and continue speeding up, passing 130 and going up to 140. The engine was roaring by now and Vikna was shrunk down in her seat, scared to death by what's happening.
  1003.  
  1004.     You pass the officer before seeing something blocking the road again, pulling to a different lane to avoid it. This was a mistake, as something slammed into the side of your car, sending you into a spin.
  1005.  
  1006. “We're gonna crash!” She shouts, not helping the situation at all.
  1007.  
  1008.     Time seems to slow for you as you spin around, a turn coming up in the next mile. You follow your instinct, turning right to counter the steer before flicking off the traction control. You couldn't afford to stop here, not with whatever is out in the woods threatening you and Viknas safety.
  1009.  
  1010.     When you're facing a larger part of the road, you gun the throttle, causing all the rear tires to break lose and the front ones to gain grip. You over hand steer the car to the left, bringing the Taurus back on track and flicking the traction control back on.
  1011.  
  1012. “Gonna take more than that to spin me out.” You say, speeding back up and rounding the turn.
  1013.  
  1014. “W-what?! How?!” Vikna asks, stupefied by the maneuver.
  1015.  
  1016. “I couldn't explain it to you if I tried.” You say, keeping the car at a steady 140. “You okay?”
  1017.  
  1018. “Y-yeah, I'm fine.” She says, a bit shaken up.
  1019.  
  1020.     You both sit in the car, silent for a while as the police cruiser keeps pace behind you. You hear the occasional screech behind you, but only see shadows and figures moving in the woods.
  1021.  
  1022. “So, those trees, huh?” You ask.
  1023.  
  1024. “Yeah, they're very, uh, pretty.” She says, looking at the floor.
  1025.  
  1026.     You begin to see other cars now and the police officer turns on his light bar, pulling you over. When you're stopped at the side of the road, you reach over Vikna and open the glove box, grabbing your title and drivers license. When the officer exits the car, he walks up to you and you roll the window down.
  1027.  
  1028. “Put your title and license away, I just want to talk.” He tells you.
  1029.  
  1030.     You do as he says before looking back at him.
  1031.  
  1032. “I see you've found one of the anthros that have been popping up all over the place.” He says with a smile. “Don't worry, the government knows and isn't going to do anything with the visitors.”
  1033.  
  1034. “Well, uh, you mind explaining what that place was back there?” You ask.
  1035.  
  1036. “That was something that started popping up as well. Localized pockets of, uh, paranormal activity. I've been told they're sort of like the reverse of a worm hole. Instead of going through space in a shorter distance, you go through space in a longer distance. So far, it's only been localized here in Michigan, but everyone else is concerned.” The officer explains. “I was one of the officers appointed to this pocket because of my faith, but you seem to know how to deal with them as well.”
  1037.  
  1038. “Yeah, they've been around my house for as long as we've lived there.” You tell him. “Mind if I get going? I have somewhere to be.”
  1039.  
  1040. “Yeah, sure. Just make sure to drive the speed limit now.” He says with a smile. “Nice recovery by the way.”
  1041.  
  1042. “Thanks. See you later, sir.” You tell him.
  1043.  
  1044.     He waves and you roll up the window, shifting back into drive and heading back onto the highway.
  1045.  
  1046. 1 hour later.
  1047.  
  1048.     You arrive at the old folks home, seeing your dad sitting outside and smoking. You pull into a parking spot and put the car into park, turning it off and unbuckling your seat belt.
  1049.  
  1050. “Who's that in the wheelchair?” Vikna asks.
  1051.  
  1052. “My dad.” You reply. “He shouldn't be in that thing.”
  1053.  
  1054.     When you exit the car, your dad gets out of the wheel chair slowly, using the arms for stability as he does.
  1055.  
  1056. “Hey, son!” He yells over to you, waving as he does.
  1057.  
  1058. “Hey dad! I brought a friend with me!” You yell over to him before looking back in your car. “Stay here until I explain to him what you are. I'll call you over when he's ready.”
  1059.  
  1060.     Vikna nods and you close the door, walking over to your dad. When you reach him, he looks up at you in surprise.
  1061.  
  1062. “You've grown.” He says, looking you up and down.
  1063.  
  1064. “Yeah, I, uh, had a growth spurt.” You reply awkwardly. “I see your fiber optics are doing just fine.”
  1065.  
  1066. “Yeah, they gave me a new version last week and I wanted you to come up and see them.” He says. “You got a new car?”
  1067.  
  1068. “I had to. My old Malibu was too small for me and I figured that out on my way up here. Traded it in on the spot.” You reply. “It's a Taurus SHO. I think it's a sport version of the Taurus. I don't remember”
  1069.  
  1070. “That's nice. Where's your lady friend?” Your dad asks.
  1071.  
  1072. “Well, uh, have you been hearing anything on the news about furry people popping up all around the world?” You ask dad.
  1073.  
  1074. “Yeah, why?” He asks.
  1075.  
  1076. “Well, she's one of those people. Is that going to be a problem?” You ask.
  1077.  
  1078. “Hey, that's fine.” He tells you. “As long as she doesn't shed all over the place and wears clothes.”
  1079.  
  1080. “Thanks dad. Vikna!” You shout towards the car. “Come on out!”
  1081.  
  1082.     You see the short blue cat get out of the car, her tail shaking off a bit before coming to a resting position. She makes her way over to both of you and looks up at your dad.
  1083.  
  1084. “Hello, my name is Vikna Ramenskaya. It's a pleasure to meet you.” She tells him.
  1085.  
  1086. “Name's Daniel Haigs. I'm Jackson's father.” He replies. “Let's get inside. I'm freezing cold out here.”
  1087.  
  1088.     He sits back down in his wheel chair before pushing the stick forward, rolling off towards the door to the old folks home. When you are all inside, the old people start looking at Vikna, cocking there heads at the strange sight. You both make it down to his room, and you close the door behind you all.
  1089.  
  1090. “So, how have you been son?” Dad asks, getting out of his wheel chair and sitting on the chair adjacent to the couch.
  1091.  
  1092. “Well, one of my friends told me that mom and Kelly left me.” You reply. “Wasn't as shaken up about it as I thought I'd be.”
  1093.  
  1094. “Well, what made you change your mind?” He asks.
  1095.  
  1096. “Her.” You say, pointing to Vikna. “She asked me why I woke up last night screaming.”
  1097.  
  1098. “You didn't tell her?” He asks.
  1099.  
  1100. “Tell me what?” She asks.
  1101.  
  1102.     You sit down on the couch, patting the other side of it.
  1103.  
  1104. “Sit down for a second.” You tell her. “I want my dad to explain what he was for 12 years.”
  1105.  
  1106.     Your dad looks down at the floor and then back to you, shaking his head.
  1107.  
  1108. “I was Air force Military Police for over 12 years over in Germany.” He tells her.
  1109.  
  1110. “You were military?” She asks.
  1111.  
  1112. “Yeah, so was my son.” He replies, pointing to you. “He was a Marine for 2 years before he went into the reserves for 5 more.”
  1113.  
  1114. “No way. What was your rank?” She asks.
  1115.  
  1116. “Sergeant for the latter half of it. An E-5.” You reply. “I'm an E-6 now, a Staff Sergeant.”
  1117.  
  1118. “What about you, Dan, what'd you do?” She asks.
  1119.  
  1120. “I was a border guard on the Berlin wall for 10 whole years before being transferred to train new recruits to do the same job.” He tells you. “I was the same rank my son is now. E-6, technical sergeant.”
  1121.  
  1122. “I know you were military too. Well, you still are.” You tell her. “Dad, are you comfortable with sharing what you saw during your time there?”
  1123.  
  1124.     Your dad nods, leaning back in the chair and looking up.
  1125.  
  1126. Dan
  1127.  
  1128. September , 1978
  1129.  
  1130. Berlin wall
  1131.  
  1132.     You're sitting in your guard booth, listening to the American radio stations on the radio as you look for anyone trying to cross the border. The music stops and you sigh, having liked the song that was playing. You look out across the border and see someone watching the guard tower from the communist side of the block. They were waiting for the guards to be distracted. You grabbed your laser pointer and flicked it on.
  1133.  
  1134.     When you point the pointer on the other pillar beside the wall, the soon-to-be defector notices it immediately. They look back in your direction as you wave, pointing to the sign beside them. It said 'Mines' in Russian and German. You shake your head and motion for them to come to you. When the person is about to run across, they wave behind the wall and 3 other people come running out. All four of them run towards you and you keep your rifle at hand.
  1135.  
  1136.     Eventually, the guard on the communist side notices this and raises the alarm.
  1137.  
  1138. “HALT!” He shouts, bringing a rifle to bear.
  1139.  
  1140. “COME ON!” You shout back. “BEEILE DICH!”
  1141.  
  1142.     Just as you shout that, even more people begin rushing from the eastern side, only to be opened up on by a machine gun. All the women and children were on that side of the wall, trying to cross over with their parents and husbands, but there was no such luck. The communists were cold blooded murderers who wanted to keep people inside east Berlin at all costs. The men looked back at their family being slaughtered and ran back for them, only to get caught on a barbed wire trap. You then heard the one word you didn't want to hear.
  1143.  
  1144. “MÖRTERSTEIN!” The other tower guard shouted.
  1145.  
  1146. “NEIN!” You scream back. “COME BACK! KOMM ZURÜCK!”
  1147.  
  1148.     They're desperately trying to free themselves from the barbed wire as you hear the faint sound of mortars being fired in the distance. They'd use mortars on anyone that managed to get across the traps unharmed or were stuck inside traps.
  1149.  
  1150. “KOMM JETZT ZURÜCK!” You scream again. “YOU ARE BEING BOMBED! SIE WERDEN BOMBIERT!”
  1151.  
  1152.     They hasten their attempts to free themselves just as a mortar round lands. It misses them by yards as one of the members manages to free themselves. He attempts to help the others, but is quickly dissuaded as mortar rounds begin pounding the barbed wire trap. This loosens the wires enough for the rest to be freed when the mortar rounds suddenly stop. Then, barking is heard.
  1153.  
  1154.     You immediately drop the laser pointer and take aim with your rifle, seeing the dogs round the corner. The two slowest men were immediately caught by the dogs, who began mauling the men to death as two more dogs ran after the remaining two. The lines were only long enough to allow the dogs to get half way across the border before holding the dogs back, but the lines were intentionally weakened so the dogs could break them if the target outran the line.
  1155.  
  1156.     The lines snap and the dogs keep running after the men before you aim at the dogs.
  1157.  
  1158. BANG BANG BANG
  1159.  
  1160.     One dog down.
  1161.  
  1162. BANG BANG
  1163.  
  1164.     The second dog dies and the two men are smiling, rushing towards you before an explosion rings out. Another mortar. You're hit in your flak vest with shrapnel as the two men are thrown forward. Well, one man and the giblets of another. The one man who managed to survive the blast started crawling back to you. You soon figure out why.
  1165.  
  1166.     The man's legs are gone, having been blown off by the mortar shell. You go against orders and rush away from your post, grabbing the man by the shoulders and pulling him back with you. He was caked in dirt and gore from his friend, his clothes torn to shreds by shrapnel.
  1167.  
  1168. “Vielen Dank.” The man says weakly as you pull him onto the paved road.
  1169.  
  1170. “Don't worry! You'll make it!” You yell, grabbing a bandage from your chest rig. “I can get you to a hospital! Krankenhaus! Ja?”
  1171.  
  1172. “Nein, ich sterbe.” He says.
  1173.  
  1174. “No! You're not dying!” You yell back. “I won't let you die!”
  1175.  
  1176. “Ich sehe es jetzt. Westberlin. Das Land der Milch und des Honigs.” He says, his eyes fluttering open and closed. “Es ist wunderschön”
  1177.  
  1178. “I know, capitalism is very good. Der Kapitalismus ist sehr gut, ja?” You ask.
  1179.  
  1180. “Ja, ist gut.” He replies weakly. “Freund, ich sterbe hier.”
  1181.  
  1182. “No, you're not dying here!” You yell, trying to wrap the bandage tight around his leg.
  1183.  
  1184. “Ich habe zu viel Blut verloren.” He tells you, grasping your hand. “Halt.”
  1185.  
  1186.     You stop bandaging his legs and he smiles at you, laying back down on the floor.
  1187.  
  1188. “Amerikanische Gastfreundschaft...” He says weakly. “Ich mag das.”
  1189.  
  1190. “You'll like it even more when we get you into a hospital bed.” You tell him. “Krankenhausbett, mit heißen Krankenschwestern.”
  1191.  
  1192. “Heißen Krankenschwestern? Nein, nicht für mich.” He says. “I dying here.”
  1193.  
  1194. “N-no! You can't die here!” You yell. “Please! Don't die here!”
  1195.  
  1196. “Ich muss dir danken, Amerikanisch.” He tells you, obviously weaker than before. “Alles was ich wusste war Grausamkeit, aber jetzt kenne ich die Freiheit.”
  1197.  
  1198. “Freedom?” You ask. “But you're dying...Du bist am sterben.”
  1199.  
  1200. “Sie sind ein Narr. Du denkst, ich bin nicht frei, weil ich im Sterben bin?” He asks before chuckling weakly. “Ich würde lieber frei sterben, als in Ostdeutschland zu leben.”
  1201.  
  1202. “Y-you would?” You ask.
  1203.  
  1204. “Ja, Ich würde.” He says.
  1205.  
  1206.     You're tearing up now, your new friend dying in your arms as he loses more blood. A fellow MP has arrived to investigate the gun fire and calls over the radio.
  1207.  
  1208. “We got a defector who's severely injured!” He yells into the radio. “Dan's got him!”
  1209.  
  1210.     Then he begins speaking in broken English.
  1211.  
  1212. “Friend, you have helped me finds the peace of freedom. I am nows able to dying free.” He tells you. “Thanks you.”
  1213.  
  1214.     Just as he says that, he dies in your arms, the blood loss finally taking its toll. You hold him in your arms, sobbing into his dirty shoulder as he lays limp. You hear an ambulance coming in the distance, but it's already too late. Your friend, Randy, puts his hand on your shoulder as you hold the poor dead man.
  1215.  
  1216. Jack
  1217.  
  1218. Present day
  1219.  
  1220. “That man risked his life for freedom we all take for granted. He paid the price for it.” Your dad says, wiping tears from his eyes. “Since that time, I helped over 30 people escape east Germany, some of which I am still in contact with today.”
  1221.  
  1222. “That's horrible.” Vikna tells him.
  1223.  
  1224. “It's your turn son. I told her my story, you tell her yours.” He says, looking at you.
  1225.  
  1226. “His?” Vikna asks.
  1227.  
  1228. “Mine...” You say, looking down at the floor.
  1229.  
  1230. 2 hours later
  1231.  
  1232. You're sitting with your hands over your eyes, trying to stem the flow of tears exiting your tear ducts with no luck. You had a similar experience to your father, except with a staff sergeant you never wanted to remember the name of. He was shot by an armor piercing shot from a sniper.
  1233.  
  1234. “Do you understand now?” Your dad asks. “Why he woke up in the middle of the night screaming?”
  1235.  
  1236. “No, because I've seen people die too.” She replies.
  1237.  
  1238.     It's like a switch goes off inside you. After sniffling a bit, you look over at Vikna and her ears fold all the way back. You smile, but not because you were happy. It was something else.
  1239.  
  1240. “Oh, I'm so sorry. You've seen people die. That clears up everything. You completely understand what I'm going through then. Guess I have no room to complain, huh?” You ask.
  1241.  
  1242. “W-what?” She asks in return.
  1243.  
  1244. “Vikna, have you ever seen someone burn?” You ask.
  1245.  
  1246.     Her tail wraps around her and she grabs it.
  1247.  
  1248. “No...”
  1249.  
  1250. “What about stoned to death?” You ask, voice quivering as you contain your anger.
  1251.  
  1252. “N-no.” She replies, looking away.
  1253.  
  1254.     You pull her to face you and grit your teeth.
  1255.  
  1256. “Have you ever pulled the trigger on a device designed to kill hundreds, maybe thousands, in a wave attack?” You ask.
  1257.  
  1258. “No.” She replies, looking at you, horrified.
  1259.  
  1260. “I have seen people who have been beaten, shot, blown up, eviscerated, cut to ribbons, stoned, thrown off of buildings, and burned to death.” You tell her. “Do you know what it's like to see people burn?!”
  1261.  
  1262.     She's trying to pull away, but you pull her closer.
  1263.  
  1264. “I SAW THOSE PEOPLE BURN!” You scream. “I shot those people! I, killed, dozens! What have you seen? Ships being blown up, never having to see the men and women inside gasping for air as they're exposed to the vacuum of space?!”
  1265.  
  1266. “S-stop!” She yells.
  1267.  
  1268. “Jack, that's enough.” Your dad tries telling you.
  1269.  
  1270. “NO! IT'S NOT ENOUGH!” You scream back before turning around again. “You have never seen the shit that I have seen, nor will you ever see the shit I have seen so long as I live. I fall asleep every night and I see all those dead bodies. The combatants and civilians I've killed.”
  1271.  
  1272. “Civilians?!” She asks.
  1273.  
  1274. “YES! I shot civilians carrying bombs big enough to kill tanks!” You shout. “I've killed women using their children as shields to deliver bombs to the middle of squads. I've seen houses burned down with that fucking war crimes launcher. Have you ever heard what a man sounds like when his lungs are melting?”
  1275.  
  1276. “N-no.” She replies.
  1277.  
  1278. “Pray to god you never have to.” You tell her, letting her go. “I'm going for a smoke.”
  1279.  
  1280.     You take the tube out of your pocket and open it up, revealing a half smoked cigar before you exit your dads room.
  1281.  
  1282. Vikna
  1283.  
  1284.     You watch as Jack leaves, taking a cigar out of a tube in his pocket before closing the door behind him. You look over to Dan and he looks back at you.
  1285.  
  1286. “I've never seen him so mad before in my life.” Dan tells you, struggling to get up. “What'd you do to piss him off?”
  1287.  
  1288. “Nothing.” You lie.
  1289.  
  1290. “Bullshit. I'm almost 70 years old Missy, I know when someone's lying to me.” He tells you, walking over to the sink.
  1291.  
  1292. “I asked him why he woke me up in the middle of the night.” You tell him.
  1293.  
  1294. “Tell me the whole truth.” He says, grabbing a bottle of water and filling it.
  1295.  
  1296. “Well, I called him a creep because he knew who we were.” You reply.
  1297.  
  1298. “We?” He asks.
  1299.  
  1300. “Ayn, ARA, Zofie, and I.” You reply. “They all followed me here when portals started opening up. We ended up at Jack's house and, uh, forced our way in.”
  1301.  
  1302. “He didn't shoot you?” He asks.
  1303.  
  1304. “He turned on the light first and told us he couldn't tell us how he knew.” You reply. “He said it'd give us an existential crisis.”
  1305.  
  1306. “Yeah, that sounds like him.” Dan tells you. “Always wanting to protect people.”
  1307.  
  1308. “Protect people? From what?” You ask.
  1309.  
  1310. “If he says that giving you the information about how he knows you will give you an existential crisis, he's probably right. He may not seem like it, but he knows a lot more about people than he lets on.” He replies. “He probably wants to tell you too. It's more than likely eating away at him. Just wanting to tell you so you'll get off his back, but it'd hurt you in ways you can't even imagine.”
  1311.  
  1312. “No it wouldn't.” You say, crossing your arms.
  1313.  
  1314. “You know, I've seen girls like you before. They want everything now. Never wanting to wait for it and saying that they can take the consequences when they really can't. My advice to you is to stop pretending that you're capable of taking on information that will turn your entire life on its head.” He tells you, sitting down in the chair.
  1315.  
  1316. “How do you know what I'm like?” You ask, offended that he'd make such an assumption. “What do you know?”
  1317.  
  1318. “Yeah, you're right. What does an old guy like me know? I've only been put in the same position my son is in twice.” He tells you in a passive aggressive tone. “Both times with girls who acted exactly like you.”
  1319.  
  1320.     You roll your eyes and look at the TV, seeing a man with blonde hair speaking behind a podium before Dan speaks again.
  1321.  
  1322. “You know, my son wanted to join the Air force, right?” He asks. “Wanted to be a pilot. A fighter pilot to be exact.”
  1323.  
  1324. “Why didn't he?” You ask.
  1325.  
  1326. “His vision wasn't good enough and he had Asperger's. Nobody wanted to take the retarded kid. He got through a week of basic before being forced out on account of his condition. He went to every other branch of the military to apply. Army, Navy, Air force again, and even the Coast Guard.” He replies. “The Marines only took him in because he knew how to shoot well enough to get in. Wanted to get all the training he could while he was in so he could be as tough as my dad and I. He was sent over seas in 2015 before he came back in 2016. I've never seen a stare so long since I asked my dad about what he did in Vietnam.”
  1327.  
  1328. “So, he was mentally unfit to fly?” You ask.
  1329.  
  1330. “No, the Air force said he was. My son can fly anything with wings.” Dan replies. “He could probably fly a space shuttle if they were still in service.”
  1331.  
  1332. “Why did he want to be tough?” You ask.
  1333.  
  1334. “Because...he wanted to protect his mother and sister. I got a divorce with his mother back in 2007 and it tore him apart.” He says, lowering his head in shame. “I regretted it every single day since I got it. He acted like the man of the house for almost 20 years without any help from me. He's like an old fashioned knight, my son is. Never asks for much and does so much for everyone around him. Doesn't even know he does it either. He'd never let anyone see him suffer because he didn't want any help. He was the help.”
  1335.  
  1336.     Dan gets his phone out before continuing.
  1337.  
  1338. “You know he was presumed dead on the battlefield, right?” He asks. “The field surgeon said he went into shock and fell into a coma. My son woke up and said no, as if he had crawled out of hell itself to rejoin the living. He fought for 2 more hours before passing out. He was asked if he wanted to receive a medal for it and he refused almost violently.” He continues. “Here's the pictures they took.”
  1339.  
  1340.     On the screen, you see a skinnier version of Jack laying on an arid ground, being looked at by a man with what was apparently the universal sign for medicine. The red cross. Dan swipes over and you see a video of him being looked at.
  1341.  
  1342. “I'm calling it. March 27th 2016, Sergeant Haigs is KIA. Cause of death is shock following a bullet wound to the chest-” The medic reads off before Jack grabs his arm.
  1343.  
  1344. “No!” He yells. “Where's my gun?! Where the fuck's my gun?!”
  1345.  
  1346.     Rounds impact the dirt behind him and he looks up, seeing his weapon above his head. He grabs it, racking the bolt back and forth before firing the weapon.
  1347.  
  1348. “Jesus Christ! He's alive!” The guy holding the camera shouts between bursts.
  1349.  
  1350.     The video ends and Dan pulls back into his seat.
  1351.  
  1352. “He was shot?” You ask.
  1353.  
  1354. “Yep. Takes a lot more than a bullet to kill my son.” He replies, hitting his chest with a closed fist. “Tough as nails. He'd probably take one for you too.”
  1355.  
  1356.     He was shot and just kept on fighting. Why? What did he have to gain? You never understood why enlisted men would die for their squad mates, especially if they were belligerent and disobedient like yours were. You never felt any of that for any of your officers, nor did you feel that for any of your enlisted soldiers and NCOs. Only for your friends did you feel that kind of respect.
  1357.  
  1358. “It's getting late. I don't have an extra bed for my son and you to sleep on, so you're going to need to find a hotel.” He tells you. “Now go.”
  1359.  
  1360. Jack
  1361.  
  1362.     You take the cigar out of your mouth and stomp on it, wiping away the tears under your eyes. She probably hates you now. You're about to go back inside when you see her walk outside with your dad in tow.
  1363.  
  1364. “You two should be going now. It's getting late and I know you don't want to sleep on the couch again.” Dad tells you. “You left your keys in there too.”
  1365.  
  1366.     He hands them to you and you take them, twirling the key chain around as you walk back to your car.
  1367.  
  1368. “See ya dad.” You tell him, waving.
  1369.  
  1370. “See you later son. Drive safe!” He yells after you.
  1371.  
  1372.     You give him a thumbs up and walk into the parking lot, hitting the unlock button on the key fob. When it's unlocked you walk to the side of the car and open the door, getting inside before closing it again. When Vikna gets inside and buckles her seat belt, you do the same, grabbing your phone from your pocket. When you open it, you get a call from Ayn.
  1373.  
  1374. “Hello?” You ask.
  1375.  
  1376. “Hey, it's Ayn. Habibi, stop!” She shouts to someone on the other end. “Uh, not to sound like I don't have things under control, because I do, but when are you coming home?”
  1377.  
  1378. “Do you want me to come home right now?” You ask, concerned things might be unraveling as you speak.
  1379.  
  1380. “Uh, I think I can handle them over the-OOF!” She says, the phone clattering in the background. “I'm okay!”
  1381.  
  1382. “I'm coming home. I'll be there in an hour and a half. Think you can wait that long?” You ask.
  1383.  
  1384. “Yeah, I'll be waiting.” She says.
  1385.  
  1386. “Great, I'll be home then.” You tell her.
  1387.  
  1388. “Wai-” You hear come from the phone before you close it, cutting the call off.
  1389.  
  1390.     Must've just been a glitch or she was yelling at someone.
  1391.  
  1392. 2 hours later
  1393.  
  1394.     You pull into the driveway and see another car sitting in the driveway. It wasn't your mothers van or your sisters convertible, so you had no idea who was here. Ayn comes out of the garage and waves to you as you pull to the side of the SUV. When you get out, Ayn rushes up to you, her tail wagging gently.
  1395.  
  1396. “Thank god you're home. ARA just won't listen and Zofie has been trying to make something in the kitchen for the past hour, but she can't figure out how to cook any of your food.” She says, almost panicking as she does. “Also, this girl came over and said she was your girlfriend, so we let her inside and she went to sleep on the master bed.”
  1397.  
  1398. “Was her skin darker than mine?” You ask. “Like a brownish color?”
  1399.  
  1400. “Yes, but-”
  1401.  
  1402. “I'm gonna fucking murder her.” You say, power walking past Ayn.
  1403.  
  1404. “What?!” Ayn asks.
  1405.  
  1406. “She's my EX girl friend because she's fucking insane.” You tell Ayn, walking through the garage and up the steps.
  1407.  
  1408.     When you get inside, you see Zofie happily wagging her tail as you enter.
  1409.  
  1410. “Jack! Could you tell me how to work the stove? I think the knobs are stuck.” She says, begging for your help.
  1411.  
  1412. “Push the knobs in and twist. CAMILA!” You shout into the bedroom.
  1413.  
  1414.     You power walk into the bathroom, crossing it into the bedroom. You see Camila rise from the blankets and smile at you.
  1415.  
  1416. “Honey! You're home!” She says.
  1417.  
  1418. “Get the fuck out of my mothers bed you fucking psychopath.” You tell her. “GET OUT!”
  1419.  
  1420.     She immediately gets out of the bed, dressed in only a bra and panties.
  1421.  
  1422. “Do you like what I'm wearing~?” She asks.
  1423.  
  1424. “Get some clothes on you skank.” You tell her, kicking her clothes towards her.
  1425.  
  1426.     She sighs, putting her pants on before putting her 'shirt' on as well.
  1427.  
  1428. “Come on Jackson, I know you want me~.” She tells you. “You've even gotten taller, that's...nice.”
  1429.  
  1430. “What did I tell you about coming in my house?” You ask.
  1431.  
  1432. “I don't remember.” She lies.
  1433.  
  1434. “Get the hell out of my house. Now.” You tell her.
  1435.  
  1436. “Is everything okay in here, hab-er, sweetie?” Ayn asks.
  1437.  
  1438. “My ex is being difficult.” You tell her.
  1439.  
  1440. “EX?!” She screams, moving into range of you. “I AM NOT YOUR EX!”
  1441.  
  1442.     She raises her hand and slaps you, making your eye twitch a little.
  1443.  
  1444. “Did you just slap me?” You ask.
  1445.  
  1446. “Yes, because we're still dating!” She tells you, smiling again.
  1447.  
  1448. “GET OUT!” You scream in her face, pointing to the door.
  1449.  
  1450.     She sighs, getting out a phone before dialing a number.
  1451.  
  1452. “Yeah, he's doing what I said he'd do. Can you come in here for a second?” She asks.
  1453.  
  1454. “Who the fuck is that?” You ask.
  1455.  
  1456. “My friends.” She says with a smirk.
  1457.  
  1458.     Your eyes go wide as you hear 4 doors slam shut outside.
  1459.  
  1460. “You fucking psycho!” You shout, rushing past Ayn and out the bathroom.
  1461.  
  1462.     ARA sees you running and gives you a wide berth, watching as you run through the living room and up the stairs. You hear a pounding on the door as you make it to your room, grabbing your rifle and charging it with your index and middle finger. You flick the red dot on and rush back out of your room, running to the stairs as your foot falls shake the house. When you make it to the stairs, you slide down the railing as it groans under your weight. You land with a loud thud, rushing back through the living room and the kitchen. You make it to the door just in time to see it open.
  1463.  
  1464. “STOP!” You shout, aiming the rifle at the door as you pant wildly. “Not one more step!”
  1465.  
  1466.     The door opens completely and you see a man who's about the same height as you.
  1467.  
  1468. “Whoa, calm down there buddy.” He says. “We're just here to talk with you is all.”
  1469.  
  1470.     You look at his waist band and see him reaching before you flick the safety off.
  1471.  
  1472. “HANDS UP!” You shout.
  1473.  
  1474. “Whoa, easy there.” He tells you, putting his hands up.
  1475.  
  1476.     You look past him and see 8 more Mexicans who are considerably more bulky than this one is.
  1477.  
  1478. “You're trespassing on private property. Property that I have marked with 3 signs on the road here. I'm doing you a courtesy by not shooting you right now.” You tell them.
  1479.  
  1480. “I don't think you should do that friend.” He says with a smirk.
  1481.  
  1482. “Get your hands off me!” Vikna shouts, as one of the Mexicans pulls her up the steps.
  1483.  
  1484.     He has a gun to her head, pulling the hammer back as she tries to fight against him. You feel your heart sink as you realize they have the upper hand.
  1485.  
  1486. “You fucking shitters. PUT HER DOWN!” You yell, moving forward a bit.
  1487.  
  1488. “Not until you put your gun down first.” He says with a smile.
  1489.  
  1490. “What's going on in-oh my god! Miss Vikna!” ARA yells.
  1491.  
  1492. “ARA! Stand down!” Vikna yells, trying to free herself.
  1493.  
  1494. “Was is los?!” Zofie asks.
  1495.  
  1496. “Zofie, go back into the house!” Vikna replies.
  1497.  
  1498.     Then, you had an idea. Maybe, if Zofie spoke German, Vikna could too. It was a long shot, but it was the only shot you had without getting Vikna killed. You try and remember the words your dad had taught you in German. Fuck, what were they? What were they?! Then, you remember and steel yourself.
  1499.  
  1500. “KOPF NACH UNTEN!” You shout to Vikna.
  1501.  
  1502.     She understands and throws her head down as far as it will go and you swivel your gun onto her captor. You fire 3 rounds into his head, blowing it open as you train your gun on the lead man. You put 3 more shots into him, your ears beginning to ring as you gun down the rest of the men at your door step. They begin to flee and you rush down the steps, firing at them as they try to file through the door. None of them escape and you flick the safety back on, looking down at Vikna.
  1503.  
  1504.     She's covering her ears and huddled into a fetal position for protection as she closes her eyes tight. You hear screaming over the ringing in your ears and look through the door. Camila is on her knees, screaming bloody murder as she looks over the scene. Ayn is in shock and Zofie is about to poke around the corner.
  1505.  
  1506. “STAY IN THE KITCHEN!” You scream at Zofie, pointing to her.
  1507.  
  1508.     She rushes back around the corner, having not seen the bodies.
  1509.  
  1510. “NOOOO!” Camila screams, dropping her head to the ground.
  1511.  
  1512.     You raise your rifle to Camila, flicking the safety back off and grit your teeth.
  1513.  
  1514. “Why would you do that to me?” You ask, voice quivering as your rifle shakes. “Why?”
  1515.  
  1516. “YOU DIDN'T HAVE TO SHOOT THEM!” She screams.
  1517.  
  1518. “WHY WOULD YOU PUT ME IN A POSITION WHERE I HAVE NO OTHER CHOICE?!” You scream back.
  1519.  
  1520. “I JUST WANT YOU TO MARRY ME!” She screams in return.
  1521.  
  1522. “I'm not marrying you.” You reply. “I will never marry you. I will never have sex with you. I will never even be friends with you. The only thing keeping you alive right now is the fact that you're a woman and I told myself I'd never kill a woman again. I'd say something witty about fedoras, but right now I'm too angry. However, I've been known to break my own promises from time to time, so I highly HIGHLY suggest you get the fuck out while you still can.”
  1523.  
  1524. “THAT WAS MY BROTHER!” She screams.
  1525.  
  1526. “WELL NOW HE'S DEAD BECAUSE HIS PSYCHOTIC SISTER TOLD HIM TO SHOOT HER EX BOYFRIEND!” You scream back.
  1527.  
  1528. “I'LL KILL YOU!” She screams, drawing a gun from her pocket.
  1529.  
  1530. “NO!” You scream, putting your finger on the trigger.
  1531.  
  1532.     Ayn grabs the gun from her grasp and throws it past your head, the weapon discharging as it hits the ground.
  1533.  
  1534. “Get out.” She tells Camila.
  1535.  
  1536. “W-what?!” She asks loudly.
  1537.  
  1538.     Ayn grabs her by the neck, lifting her as you move out of her way. She steps over the bodies, her shoes tracking blood all along your garage floor.
  1539.  
  1540. “YOU ARE GOING TO GET IN YOUR GOD DAMN CAR AND LEAVE!” She screams, a loud slam and the shattering of glass being heard. “GET OUT! NEVER COME BACK OR I'LL RIP YOU APART!”
  1541.  
  1542.     You hear an engine start up and tires squeal as Ayn enters the garage again. She looks around at the bodies before falling to her knees, vomiting.
  1543.  
  1544. “Get inside.” You tell her.
  1545.  
  1546. “Aren't you afraid she'll call the police?” Ayn asks, getting off the floor and wiping her muzzle off.
  1547.  
  1548. “She's here illegally. If she gets the police involved, she goes back across the border.” You tell her. “I'll bury the bodies tomorrow.”
  1549.  
  1550.     You look down and see Vikna still in the fetal position, covering her ears as she lays on top of a dead man.
  1551.  
  1552. “Get inside, now.” You tell Ayn.
  1553.  
  1554.     She nods, walking up the steps and hopping over the dead bodies. When Ayn rounds the corner, you grab Vikna under her shoulders and lift her up.
  1555.  
  1556. “On your feet Kavkor.” You tell her, prompting her to let go of her ears. “Shooting's over.”
  1557.  
  1558.     She opens her eyes and looks around, seeing all the dead bodies and your rifle strapped on your shoulder.
  1559.  
  1560. “Y-you killed all of these people?” She asks.
  1561.  
  1562.     You nod.
  1563.  
  1564. “They were a threat to your safety and they refused to let you go. I took action to prevent harm to your person.” You tell her almost automatically. “I'm sorry if I scared you.”
  1565.  
  1566. “I-I don't know how to feel about this.” She tells you.
  1567.  
  1568. “That makes two of us.” You reply, looking at the dead bodies. “Just go inside and get some sleep. You can use the shower if you want, just make sure to take in a few towels, since I don't have a drying ring. I'm gonna show Zofie how to use the stove.”
  1569.  
  1570.     You walk inside the house, taking your shoes off and walking into the kitchen.
  1571.  
  1572. 1 week later
  1573.  
  1574.     You make your way into the house, having just come back from the gym. You were making steady progress, but it wasn't going to be enough to take off all that weight. 5 pounds a week isn't going to fly when you want everyone here to not think of you as a fat slob. Your arms are burning and your legs feel like they're on fire, but you were at least able to walk now. You hear the familiar click clack of claws on your wooden floors as a familiar blonde dog rounds the corner.
  1575.  
  1576. “Welcome home!” She tells you excitedly. “I prepared an omelet for you this morning. It has greens, pork, cheese, and obviously egg. You seriously need more ingredients than this.”
  1577.  
  1578. “I'm getting paid tomorrow, so you make me a list and I'll go out and buy some stuff.” You say with a smile.
  1579.  
  1580.     Zofie turns around and you see Vikna round the corner in a coat she borrowed from your sister. She crosses her arms and you cock your head.
  1581.  
  1582. “Yes?” You ask.
  1583.  
  1584. “You and I are going on a run fat body.” She tells you. “You want to lose weight fast? I'll make you lose weight fast.”
  1585.  
  1586. “Wait, you actually want to help me?” You ask.
  1587.  
  1588. “I need to stay in shape too you know.” She says, rolling her eyes. “Let's just hope your fat body can keep up with me. I run five miles every day. Think you can keep up?”
  1589.  
  1590. “I haven't run five miles in over a year.” You tell her. “Even in...never mind. My legs are on fire right now, so I-”
  1591.  
  1592. “If you come with me, I'll be nice to you for the rest of the day.” She says with a smile. “No teasing and no calling you a fat body.”
  1593.  
  1594.     You're about to decline her offer when you take it into consideration. She would actually stop teasing you for an entire day?
  1595.  
  1596. “Are you serious?” You ask. “No teasing for the entire day?”
  1597.  
  1598. “I'll even be nice to you.” She says.
  1599.  
  1600. “Well, how can I resist?” You ask, putting your boots back on. “Let's get to running.”
  1601.  
  1602. 1 hour later
  1603.  
  1604.     You're running behind Vikna, having turned back around at the railroad tracks before running back down the road. Your legs were on fire and your lungs were not far behind as Vikna hums happily along to some kind of alien running cadence. She looks back at you and smirks deviously, slowing up to right beside you.
  1605.  
  1606. “Are you going to quit on me?” She asks snarkily. “That's okay fatty, I understand that not everybody can be as good as I am.”
  1607.  
  1608. “Oh my god just shut up.” You tell her, huffing and puffing as you continue on down the road, your heart feeling like it was going to take off if you kept going.
  1609.  
  1610. “Come on big guy, keep going. You aren't allowed to quit on me now!” She yells. “Get your massive ass in gear and keep running! You'll never lose that weight if you puss out now!”
  1611.  
  1612.     Your boots fall into the slushy snow of a freshly plowed road, a small explosion of nasty slush blowing onto your pants as you continue to run down the road. Vikna was literally running circles around you, teasing you and smacking you with her tail if she got close enough. You slow your pace down, not able to continue going at your current pace. Vikna gets in front of you, running backwards as she looks up in disgust.
  1613.  
  1614. “Keep moving soldier! How the hell are you going to kill the enemy looking like a lump on a log?! Keep fucking running fat body!” She yells, turning back around as her tail bounces around. “Two more miles Jackson!”
  1615.  
  1616. “YES SARN'T!” You yell. “TWO MORE MILES FOR THE CORPS!”
  1617.  
  1618.     You feel invigorated as you increase your pace, the sound of the slush slopping out of the way giving way to the stomping of boots on pavement.
  1619.  
  1620. “What the hell did you just say?!” She asks.
  1621.  
  1622. “TWO MORE FOR THE CORPS!” You scream out at the top of your lungs.
  1623.  
  1624.     She turns back with a look of confusion on her face.
  1625.  
  1626. “I didn't-” She says before shaking her head. “Whatever, just keep moving fat body!”
  1627.  
  1628. 1 more hour later
  1629.  
  1630.     You finally make it back to the garage, your legs barely keeping you up before you enter the house. When you do, you have to lean on the washer for support. Vikna manages to slip past you, closing the door behind you before turning back to you.
  1631.  
  1632. “I can't believe you kept up.” She says, putting her hands on her knees as she begins panting as well. “I honestly thought I was going to lose you.”
  1633.  
  1634. “No chance.” You say between desperate attempts to shovel air into your lungs. “Fuck I'm dying.”
  1635.  
  1636. “I guess I have to make good on my promise.” She tells you, finally able to stand upright. “Let's...go watch TV I guess.”
  1637.  
  1638.     You nod, making it forward exactly one step before passing out.
  1639.  
  1640. Chapter 2: An explanation is owed
  1641.  
  1642. 1 month and around 40 pounds later
  1643.  
  1644.     You look at yourself in the mirror, smiling at yourself as you turn around. You had managed to lose half of your beer belly and ass while simultaneously gaining back the muscle you've lost. Ayn most definitely approves of the change, taking any excuse at all to feel your muscles and rub you all over. It was definitely a boost to your self esteem.
  1645.  
  1646.     Most of the anthros that came through had gone home by now, taking the anomalous areas with them as the anthros who caused them were sent back to their own dimensions. From what you heard, your writer friend still has his waifu and Fluff still has Nytro, Twix, and Warning. SRK had come through the day you went off to see your dad and you were in such bad shape that you weren't online for a whole week.
  1647.  
  1648.     Meanwhile, ARA managed to convince the engineers to lend her a portable fusion generator to further her study into this new world. She had to come back through every now and again to do relay duties, but she spends as much time here as she can. From what she says, the entire portal fiasco has put most jobs and places of business on hold as curiosity overcame the entirety of Katric. This meant Vikna didn't really need to work, as everybody on Katric visited the new world that had been set out before them.
  1649.  
  1650.     Speaking of Vikna, she hasn't really changed much in terms of liking you, but she definitely has a newfound respect for you ever since you iced those Mexicans. She still dislikes you, since you haven't told her how you knew her, but she's softened up a bit to you. Zofie was another story entirely.
  1651.  
  1652.     Zofie has been working full time on making sure you don't eat anything fattening or heavy on carbs. So it's all been meat, dairy, and some vegetables. You've been, in turn, teaching her how to play guitar. She loves every minute of it and leans into you every time she plays. Whenever you're around her, she always wags her tail happily while she does whatever task she set out to do. She even gave you a few pecks on the cheek when she was feeling extra cheerful.
  1653.  
  1654.     Today Nytro was supposed to come over for a visit, which Zofie and Ayn were both excited for. You knew why too, so you put a non permeable sheet on the bed to contain their juices.
  1655.  
  1656. “What're you doing?” Zofie asks, watching you take the heavy, rubberized sheet down the steps of your house.
  1657.  
  1658. “Preparing for Nytro to come over.” You reply. “I want to keep the bed clean while Nytro takes you both for a ride.”
  1659.  
  1660. “What?” She asks. “I'm not going to have sex with Nytro. That was a one time thing...”
  1661.  
  1662.     She immediately covers her mouth and you continue hauling the bed sheet to the room, opening the door and seeing Ayn on your sisters laptop.
  1663.  
  1664. “Move for a second. I'm changing the sheets.” You tell her.
  1665.  
  1666. “Jeez, that's one heavy looking sheet.” Ayn replies, getting up off the bed.
  1667.  
  1668. “Yeah, well I'd like the mattress to stay intact when Nytro comes over for a visit.” You reply. “The mattress wasn't cheap.”
  1669.  
  1670.     She nods, getting out of bed as you almost rip the sheets off it. Ayn does a weird thing where she keeps the blankets separate from the bed, which she explained was so they weren't ruined during sex. She only did it when she was a guest somewhere, so you guess it's fine. Besides, it made it easier to change the sheets. When the sheets were changed, you nodded and left the room with Zofie in tow.
  1671.  
  1672.     You sit down in your recliner and bring up your tablet, looking through the news. The people who run the news have finally taken a break from bashing your current president to talk about an issue much greater than 'orange man bad'. Just as you're about to finish the article, you hear a horn outside. You look up and see Zofie looking out the window.
  1673.  
  1674. “He's here!” She yells, her tail wagging excitedly.
  1675.  
  1676.     She waves outside and you get up, walking through the kitchen and to the door. Zofie runs after you, waiting excitedly by the door as you unlock it and open it up. When you get into the garage, you walk to the door and open it . You see Nytro and Twix standing by a red, oh god.
  1677.  
  1678. “You gotta be fucking shitting me.” You say holding in your laughter.
  1679.  
  1680. “What?” Nytro asks, looking back at his car.
  1681.  
  1682. “Jesus, he gave you a Cavalier? Oh my god!” You yell, bursting into laughter.
  1683.  
  1684.     Nytro looks confused as you lean against the door frame, laughing your ass off.
  1685.  
  1686. “Hey man, Rei's one of the good ones.” Nytro tells you. “Said it's a normal car here.”
  1687.  
  1688.     You manage to stifle your laughter for a bit and compose yourself.
  1689.  
  1690. “I'm gonna have to talk with him later and get you a better car. Jesus Christ I'm surprised it made it over here without the plastic rusting off.” You say, walking up to Nytro. “I'm Jackson by the way.”
  1691.  
  1692.     You hold out your hand and he takes it, shaking it gently before Zofie nearly tackles him to the ground.
  1693.  
  1694. “Nytro!” She yells excitedly.
  1695.  
  1696. “Hey spots. How's this guy been treating you?” He asks, looking back at you.
  1697.  
  1698. “He's been great. He's teaching me how to play the guitar and I'm pretty good at it!” She continues yelling.
  1699.  
  1700. “Whoa, calm down there. Don't need you blowing my ears off the entire time we catch up.” He tells her. “Run back inside and I'll talk later. I need to discuss some things with our new friend here.”
  1701.  
  1702.     She nods and rushes back inside, nearly falling as she does so. She's so cute when she's clumsy. You turn back to Nytro and get right down to business.
  1703.  
  1704. “How much has he told you three?” You ask.
  1705.  
  1706. “Everything.” Nytro replies, looking down at the pavement. “Really takes the fun out of everything when you know your entire life has been thought up by some dude who draws porn on the internet.”
  1707.  
  1708. “Well, to be fair, he never intended for anthros to come to earth, so you got that going for you.” You reply. “I also don't think he's controlling you any more, if it makes you feel any better.”
  1709.  
  1710. “Yeah, thanks man.” He says, looking back up at you. “Rei said you'd be shorter...and a bit rounder.”
  1711.  
  1712. “You can blame the first one on Ayn.” You reply. “The second one is more the product of Vikna.”
  1713.  
  1714. “Blue's here too?” He asks.
  1715.  
  1716. “Yeah, she is. This leads into the next thing I wanted to tell you three.” You reply, looking back at Twix and seeing Warning in the back of the car. “Do not tell Vikna the truth. I think Ayn might be able to handle it, but Vikna would, well, you know...”
  1717.  
  1718.     You put a finger gun to your head and push your thumb down, making a popping sound with your mouth.
  1719.  
  1720. “Yeah, I figured she might.” Nytro replies. “She's not very good with existential stuff.”
  1721.  
  1722. “Same thing with Zofie. Please don't go in there and tell her right away, she's still a kid and I don't want her time with her long time friend to be ruined with an existential crisis.” You tell him. “Just try and catch up for a bit before telling her anything.”
  1723.  
  1724. “Sure thing. Anything else?” He asks.
  1725.  
  1726. “I put some sheets down in the basement that will keep the mattress clean while you and Ayn do it. I'm cool with it as long as you don't start screaming and hollering like a bunch of gorillas.” You tell him. “Also, don't go tempting Zofie. She already told me she doesn't want to be a part of you and Ayn's reunion, so just let her relax for a bit. She does a lot around the house and just wants to sit down for a while to talk.”
  1727.  
  1728. “Hey man, you're talking to me like I don't know how to read a room.” He says with a smirk. “Any more rules?”
  1729.  
  1730. “Don't touch my weapons, ask Zofie to make stuff for you, as we don't have any food synths on this planet, keep everyone off my computer, and that's pretty much everything.” You tell him.
  1731.  
  1732. “Why? What's on your computer?” He asks.
  1733.  
  1734. “I think you know.” You reply.
  1735.  
  1736. “Ah, yeah. Rei told me you were that writer.” He replies, blushing a bit. “Yeah, I'll keep everyone far away from that. Come on Warning, let's go see my friend.”
  1737.  
  1738.     Warning exits the back of the car and walks inside with Nytro, leaving you and Twix alone.
  1739.  
  1740. “So, uh, I heard you got pegged by a dude.” You tell him, looking to the car.
  1741.  
  1742. “Y-yeah.” He replies skittishly. “You got a problem with that?”
  1743.  
  1744. “What? No! I don't know anything about you outside of that, so what am I supposed to say?” You ask.
  1745.  
  1746. “Maybe try not to be a socially stunted homophobic jackass.” He replies, crossing his arms.
  1747.  
  1748. “Well, I'm gonna go to the airport later and take Vikna out flying. You wanna come along?” You ask.
  1749.  
  1750. “You guys have aircraft on this primitive planet?” He asks.
  1751.  
  1752. “What? You think we're cavemen banging rocks together still? No, we have aircraft.” You reply.
  1753.  
  1754. “Fine, I'll come along. Don't make fun of my preferences again.” He replies.
  1755.  
  1756. “I, uh, won't. How much do you weigh?” You ask.
  1757.  
  1758. “About 140 pounds.” He replies.
  1759.  
  1760. “Alright, that makes about 237 pounds in total. That plus my own weight means about 470 pounds total.” You say to nobody in particular. “Pretty light for a normal flight.”
  1761.  
  1762. “Wait, Vikna only weighs 97 pounds?” Twix asks.
  1763.  
  1764. “Yeah, she's not very big at all.” You tell him.
  1765.  
  1766.     You see his ears flutter a bit and you shake your head.
  1767.  
  1768. “You wouldn't like her. She's kind of mean.” You tell him, walking back inside the garage and waving him inside.
  1769.  
  1770.     You both step inside the house, not bothering to take off your shoes as you walk into the living room. Ayn is hugging Nytro as Vikna sits on the couch, looking at the floor.
  1771.  
  1772. “Hey, I'm going flying. Anyone else want to come with?” You ask.
  1773.  
  1774. “You have an aircraft?” Ayn and Nytro ask almost in unison.
  1775.  
  1776. “Yeah, bought it about 8 months ago. It's about a 30 minute drive from here to there, so anyone who wants to come, we're going in about 10 minutes.” You reply, looking at Vikna. “It's mandatory for you unless everyone else comes along.”
  1777.  
  1778. “But-”
  1779.  
  1780. “No buts.” You tell her, cutting her off. “So, who's coming?”
  1781.  
  1782.     Nobody raises their hand and you nod.
  1783.  
  1784. “Alright, Vikna, grab something to eat and drink. We're leaving in 5.” You tell her.
  1785.  
  1786.     She just rolls her eyes and gets off the couch, walking back into the kitchen as she brushes past Twix. You walk after her and Twix follows both of you. Vikna grabs a bag of chips and some water from the pantry before closing it, walking into the laundry room and putting on her shoes. You do the same and grab your jacket, grabbing hers as well.
  1787.  
  1788. Nytro
  1789.  
  1790.     You watch Blue and Twix make their way out of the house, walking out into the snow before entering Jack's car. When they're both off, you turn back to Spots and Ayn, smiling.
  1791.  
  1792. “How have you all been?” You ask. “I haven't seen any of you in over a month!”
  1793.  
  1794. “I'm doing just fine Nytro!” Zofie replies with a smile.
  1795.  
  1796. “I'm fine Habibi, how about you?” Ayn asks.
  1797.  
  1798. “I'm doing good.” You reply, having done nothing but talk and have sex with Warning for the past month. “Really good.”
  1799.  
  1800. “That's great.” Ayn says, pointing to a leather chair. “Please, sit down. I'm sure it was a long drive.”
  1801.  
  1802. “Not really.” You say. “It wasn't as long as I thought it would be.”
  1803.  
  1804. “This unit is low on power.” Warning says, making her way over to ARA. “Is there a power substation nearby? This unit has rigging in the back of the automobile we have used to get here.”
  1805.  
  1806. “There's a charging station in the wall over there.” ARA tells her, pointing to a massive K class charging port on the wall.
  1807.  
  1808. “Thank god!” Warning yells out. “This unit was getting tired of her fur getting burnt.”
  1809.  
  1810.     She makes her way over to the charging port and lifts the cable out, tossing her end cap on the floor as Red picks it up. Warning attaches the cable to her tail and sits on the ground, laying down before powering off. You smile at that and look back over to Spots, who's wagging her tail excitedly.
  1811.  
  1812. “How has that man been treating you?” You ask again. “For real this time.”
  1813.  
  1814. “I don't know what you mean.” Zofie replies, frowning a bit. “Jackson has been very good to me. He taught me to play guitar!”
  1815.  
  1816. “Guitar?” You ask. “Is that some sort of instrument?”
  1817.  
  1818. “Yes, it's a very versatile instrument.” She replies.
  1819.  
  1820. “Why do you ask?” Ayn asks. “What would concern you about Jack that would cause you to think he's hurting us?”
  1821.  
  1822. “Well, I was kind of hoping I could avoid this for a little while, but I guess I need to tell you.” You say, looking at the floor. “I know this is going to be hard for you to swallow, but we're not exactly naturally occurring.”
  1823.  
  1824. “What?” She asks. “Explain further.”
  1825.  
  1826. “We're all...created for...uh...you know...” You say, trying to find the right word. “Well...we're created for porn.”
  1827.  
  1828.     Ayn cocks her head at you and smiles, chuckling a bit before seeing you're not smiling. She drops the smile immediately and you look over to Zofie, who's giving you a look of disgust.
  1829.  
  1830. “Nytro, stop being a pervert.” She tells you.
  1831.  
  1832. “Actually, that makes a lot of sense.” Ayn says. “It makes more sense than I thought it would. I mean, come on. The goddess of lust and fertility? What a joke. So, we're anthroids?”
  1833.  
  1834. “No, we were created. Our entire universe was created by a single person for the sole purpose of making porn.” You reply.
  1835.  
  1836. “Nytro, stop it!” Zofie yells. “This isn't funny!”
  1837.  
  1838. “It's true.” ARA replies. “Mister Jackson told me the first night we arrived. He asked me not to tell you for fear that you might go into an existential crisis.”
  1839.  
  1840. “If you want proof, Rei gave me pictures to share with you.” You tell Zofie, bringing up a phone she gave you.
  1841.  
  1842.     You bring up some rather unflattering images of you sitting on a bed, jerking yourself off in your tiny bunk bed. You show it to Spots and her face immediately turns red.
  1843.  
  1844. “NYTRO!” She shouts to you. “That's disgusting!”
  1845.  
  1846.     You pull the phone back and swap to a different picture, this one of Ayn taking a dick from behind. She sees this and smirks.
  1847.  
  1848. “I remember this. I brought one of the peasants back to the palace two years ago and showed him a good time. He was a really good lay. So eager to please that he kept going after he had came. I didn't have the heart to tell him I already came with him.” She tells you. “Really sweet guy. Too bad he was a peasant or I would've asked mother if he could be a servant.”
  1849.  
  1850.     You nod and swipe to another one, this one was of Zofie looking at a picture of Vikna on a holo-screen. She was using a vibrator on herself as she looked at the image, which you showed to Zofie.
  1851.  
  1852. “HOW THE FUCK?!” Zofie asks, swatting the phone away.
  1853.  
  1854.     The phone lands on Warning and she begins booting up, looking around.
  1855.  
  1856. “This unit has detected an impact on her chassis. What impacted her?” Warning asks before finding the phone. “Please do not throw phones at this unit. The phone is delicate.”
  1857.  
  1858.     She tosses the phone back to you and gets back on her stomach, powering down again. Zofie looks back at you, a look of utter disbelief and disgust present on her face.
  1859.  
  1860. “Who drew these?” She asks. “WHO DREW THESE?!”
  1861.  
  1862. “Spots, calm down!” You command. “Rei drew these. He lives here on Earth. He made us, every single one of us. Red, do you know the name of the Tower director?”
  1863.  
  1864. “Yes, he is mister Rei.” She replies. “He directs the Tower with direct communications to the Emperor. He has very high status indeed. He and I never used to talk much, but lately he has taken an especially flattering interest in me.”
  1865.  
  1866. “Well, he said that she found a way to communicate with what he called a fursona. Then, eventually, she took over the fursona and became the Tower director. Everything Rei knew, he knew, and everything he knew, Rei knew.” You add. “Rei in our world finally perfected an invention that would allow us to cross over into this universe before a certain somebody suffered a fault and damaged the machine.”
  1867.  
  1868. “I already apologized profusely!” ARA yells back. “Do not blame the entire incident on me!”
  1869.  
  1870. “I'm only teasing.” You say with a smile. “Anyways, the portals went haywire and a load of them opened all at once. Lots of anthros went through, but lots of humans went through as well. Most of the humans who went through landed in Katric and went back the same time most of the anthros came back. Now, Rei is the sole controller of the portals in our universe now, so she told me we had another month or so before we had to go back home. Blue in particular is needed back home in about a month. There's this weird time dilation thing that she tried to explain, but it's too far beyond my understanding. She said something about every month back home was like two months here, give or take. It changes depending on various factors, but she said it was stabilized now.”
  1871.  
  1872. “What about Jack?” Ayn asks. “Why are you so wary of him?”
  1873.  
  1874. “He's a soldier of some sort. She called him a marine or something, I don't know. He said Jack had been through a war and he's not right in the head.” You reply.
  1875.  
  1876. “That explains the screaming on some nights.” She says. “Vikna wouldn't tell us what happened at his father's house, but I figured he suffered some sort of trauma. I might try linking with him if I can get him into the palace.”
  1877.  
  1878. “Just be careful around him, okay? Rei said he gets triggered by something called Arabic which is close to Sianian. Try to stay away from that or he might lash out.” You tell her. “Has he lashed out at all?”
  1879.  
  1880. “He killed a few people who took Vikna hostage.” Ayn replies. “It was pretty brutal actually. I got sick just from looking at the bodies.”
  1881.  
  1882. “Did he gut them?” You ask.
  1883.  
  1884. “No, he just shot them. Every one of them got 3 shots to the head or chest. None of them escaped. They're all buried in the woods somewhere. He brought out a tractor and said he put them 20 feet underground.” She replies. “When I asked if this happened often, he didn't respond.”
  1885.  
  1886. “I wonder how Vikna is going to take it.” You say. “Spots, you okay? You haven't said a word in a long time.”
  1887.  
  1888. “I don't know what to say.” She says. “I know I'm not some slut for people to jerk themselves off to. I think it's very gross.”
  1889.  
  1890. “At least you have not read what mister Jackson has written.” ARA says. “I do not know how miss Vikna would feel about the book he has written about us.”
  1891.  
  1892. “He what?!” Zofie asks.
  1893.  
  1894. “Red!” You yell. “What the hell?!”
  1895.  
  1896. “I thought the security clearance was lifted.” She replies innocently. “Do not worry, it was nothing perverse. It was actually quite flattering the way he portrayed us. His earlier works though...well...I will not delve into them.”
  1897.  
  1898. “Don't dwell on it Spots.” You tell her. “Out of all the others I've read, his is one of the more respectful and clean ones.”
  1899.  
  1900. “Well, if you say so.” She says. “I can trust you.”
  1901.  
  1902. “I'll be staying here for a few days. Do you have a bed I could lay in?” You ask.
  1903.  
  1904. “I am sleeping in Jack's room right now, so I don't know if you will fit in bed with me.” She replies.
  1905.  
  1906. “Is he sleeping with you?” You ask, tensing up a bit.
  1907.  
  1908. “No. He wouldn't allow it. He sleeps on the couch right now, but he found a mattress yesterday and is probably going to be sleeping in the basement.” She replies. “I don't know him well enough to sleep with him.”
  1909.  
  1910. “Right.” You say, looking at Ayn. “What about you?”
  1911.  
  1912. “I used some residual Tau to give him a little something...extra.” She says with a smirk. “He's been really good to us though. We've all been looking after each other.”
  1913.  
  1914. “I cleared out the food from his freezer in the basement.” ARA adds. “I told him the amount in the freezer would be enough to power me for five days.”
  1915.  
  1916. “What was in the freezer?” You ask.
  1917.  
  1918. “Expired venison.” She replies. “He says it was in there for over ten years. I almost had to fight for it. There were many parasites and diseases inside, but they only added to the amount of power I gained from the meat.”
  1919.  
  1920. “That's disgusting Red.” You tell her.
  1921.  
  1922. “Do not worry. It is perfectly sanitary when it enters my smelter. All of the matter that enters is broken down into its base components and-”
  1923.  
  1924. “I know, I know.” You tell her. “Still, eating meat that's been stuffed inside of only a freezer for ten years is disgusting.”
  1925.  
  1926. “I think I shall go and get some meat from the freezer to charge myself with.” She says with a smile. “I will return!”
  1927.  
  1928.     You shake your head as she walks to a doorway by what looks to be a primitive holo-screen, walking down some stairs before you let your head rest against the couch.
  1929.  
  1930. 2 hours later
  1931.  
  1932. Jack
  1933.  
  1934.     You pull into the driveway and see Zofie standing in the door way. She looked a bit sad, on account of her being informed that she was a character drawn to be fantasized about. When you step out of the car, you take Viknas gun and look it over. It had a smooth finish with some glowing blue lights that were probably intended to work as a sort of team identification. Like an IR strobe, but visible to everyone. The slide was a split slide, which is to say it didn't take the entire top of the gun with it when you racked it back. It was more complex, but much more controllable. You eject the magazine and the round in the chamber, putting it inside the magazine before stuffing the gun in your pocket. Vikna pushes past Zofie, whose eyes go wide in surprise.
  1935.  
  1936. “Y-you told her?” She asks.
  1937.  
  1938. “Yes, now I need to go inside.” You tell Zofie. “All of you guys are going on a trip. I have a van in the garage that you all can ride in.”
  1939.  
  1940.     She's about to say something, but you run to the door, opening it up before rushing into the kitchen. When you turn into the living room, you see Ayn holding Vikna back.
  1941.  
  1942. “No! Let me go you fucking slut!” She screams, struggling against Ayn's grasp.
  1943.  
  1944.     You walk over to Ayn and relieve her, pulling Vikna away from the group.
  1945.  
  1946. “Take my wallet out of my pocket.” You tell her.
  1947.  
  1948.     Ayn digs around in your right pocket, pulling out the gun before finding your wallet. She stuffs the gun back in your pocket and smiles.
  1949.  
  1950. “What's happening?” She asks.
  1951.  
  1952. “You're all going out for dinner.” You tell her.
  1953.  
  1954. “What about miss Zofie? She can cook perfectly good food and-”
  1955.  
  1956. “I said, you're all going out for dinner.” You tell ARA through grit teeth.
  1957.  
  1958.     She seems to take the hint and shuts up, letting you take Vikna into the master bedroom. You slam the door shut behind you and make your way through the bathroom, Vikna kicking and screaming the whole way. When you walk her inside, you heft her up before setting her on the bed.
  1959.  
  1960. “You fucking pervert! I knew you just wanted to-”
  1961.  
  1962. Ayn
  1963.  
  1964.     You watch as Jack takes Vikna off to the bedroom before the door slams shut. You hear the springs compress and Vikna screams, enraged.
  1965.  
  1966. “You fucking pervert! I knew you just wanted to-”
  1967.  
  1968. “Shut the fuck up and listen to me.” He tells her, sending a shiver down your spine at the coldness of his voice. “You pull a stunt like that again and I'll chain you to the bed.”
  1969.  
  1970. “You're joking!” She yells.
  1971.  
  1972.     You hear jingling inside the bedroom and Vikna gasps.
  1973.  
  1974. “I'm not fucking around. You're not going to shoot yourself over this.” He tells her.
  1975.  
  1976. “THAT'S NOT FOR YOU TO DECIDE!” She screams, startling you.
  1977.  
  1978. “BULLSHIT IT'S NOT FOR ME TO DECIDE!” He screams back, frightening everyone.
  1979.  
  1980.     Jack has never raised his voice to you three before and it made everyone feel uneasy. You shifted back and forth on your feet, shooting a glance over at Nytro before looking down at Zofie. She was almost hiding behind him as he puts himself in a defensive stance.
  1981.  
  1982. “I think we should go.” Nytro says, hefting ARA off the couch.
  1983.  
  1984. “But I don't want to go.” ARA says.
  1985.  
  1986. “Sure you do.” Nytro tells her, pretty much carrying her by now. “Ayn, a little help.”
  1987.  
  1988. “I'm curious about what miss Vikna is saying!” ARA tells you both, turning off her gravity mods.
  1989.  
  1990.     You haul her hefty form off the ground, putting her over your shoulder as she attempts to push herself off.
  1991.  
  1992. “I've done my damnedest to protect you all, so I'm not going to just stand by while you destroy yourselves over this existential bullshit! I fucking warned you, BUT NOBODY EVER FUCKING LISTENS TO ME!” He continues to shout.
  1993.  
  1994. “THAT'S BECAUSE YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT IT'S LIKE-”
  1995.  
  1996.     You hurriedly carry ARA out of the laundry room, taking her down the steps as she continues to push against you. Everyone else follows you out with Nytro carrying Warning and Zofie rushing behind you.
  1997.  
  1998. “I've never seen him zis mad.” Zofie tells you.
  1999.  
  2000. “None of us have. Well, almost none of us.” You reply, hearing muffled shouting behind you.
  2001.  
  2002. “I guess he was right.” Nytro tells you. “She really is unstable.”
  2003.  
  2004. “What?” You ask, stepping out the door and seeing Jacks car sitting in the driveway.
  2005.  
  2006. “He told me to hold off on telling you girls where we all came from. Told me not to even consider telling Vikna or she'd kill herself.” He tells you, walking down the incline towards the massive garage. “Guess you caught her just in time.”
  2007.  
  2008. “I just had a feeling she wasn't going anywhere she was allowed to be.” You tell him, walking past all the little trees.
  2009.  
  2010.     The thought of you potentially stopping a suicide scares you, making you shiver as you carry ARA like a sack of potatoes. You thought you knew Vikna, but she seems to be a bit more complex than you first thought. You all reach the 3 door garage, walking up to the closest garage door.
  2011.  
  2012. “How do we open this?” He asks.
  2013.  
  2014. “This unit detects no powered assistance, you may have to lift it by hand.” Warning tells him.
  2015.  
  2016. “That figures.” He says, walking up to the garage door.
  2017.  
  2018.     The door had a few holes in it, which looked suspiciously like bullet holes to you. Nytro sticks a stick inside one, pushing up and opening the door. Standing before you was...a van. It was blue and old looking, with quite a bit of rust on the bumper and rear doors. The name on the back read 'Econoline' and the blue emblem in the middle said 'Ford' in cursive letters. There was also a ladder on the back, but you'd have an easier time convincing people you were a virgin than convincing yourself that would hold anything heavier than a couple pebbles.
  2019.  
  2020.     Nytro walks to the drivers side and you make your way to the passengers side, opening up the double doors on the side. You wave Twix, Zofie, and Warning in the back before opening the passenger door. You set ARA down in the passengers seat, which sagged heavily under her weight.
  2021.  
  2022. “What's wrong? Don't you want to sit in the front?” Nytro asks.
  2023.  
  2024. “No, I want to have some fun with our new friend here~.” You reply, fluttering your eyes at Twix.
  2025.  
  2026. “O-oh my.” He says, blushing and looking away.
  2027.  
  2028. “Good thing this van has curtains.” Nytro says with a smirk.
  2029.  
  2030.     He inserts the keys into the van before turning them clockwise, starting the van up. It had a deep and throaty engine, unlike any of the vehicles you've heard before. Heh, deep throat. When you step inside, you sit next to the small man and he smiles uncomfortably.
  2031.  
  2032. “Uh, did you forget about us?” Zofie asks.
  2033.  
  2034. “I can do you too if you like.” You reply with a smile. “Maybe Twix would like to have a go instead?”
  2035.  
  2036. “No, I mean, I don't think I really want to see, hear, and smell that right now.” She replies. “I'm still struggling to accept that we're all just characters made for porn.”
  2037.  
  2038. “Well, why not live up to that expectation then?” You ask.
  2039.  
  2040. “Because I'm a baker, not a porn star.” Zofie says, looking down at the carpeted floor.
  2041.  
  2042. “Fine, I'll make sure we're both quiet. I can't just go back on a promise like that, it's rude.” You tell her.
  2043.  
  2044. “Spots, you're not gonna get Ayn to stop. I'd say just close your eyes and cover your ears.” Nytro tells her, looking back and reversing out of the garage.
  2045.  
  2046.     Zofie does just that, closing her eyes and cupping her hands over her ears. You turn back to Twix and smirk, kneeling down on the floor of the surprisingly roomy van as Warning sits in the back seat, not knowing whether to spout warnings or just hope she's not noticed. You pull down his pants and see he's already rock hard for you, his cock pulsating as he grits his teeth.
  2047.  
  2048. “I'll make it quick~.” You tell him, hovering your mouth over his cock. “30 seconds tops. Don't crash us Habibi.”
  2049.  
  2050.     His dick twitches just a bit as your hot breath no doubt feels like heaven to his pulsating meat.
  2051.  
  2052. “No problem.” Nytro says, pulling the curtains shut that separate the two compartments.
  2053.  
  2054. Nytro
  2055.  
  2056.     You hear schlicking and suckling in the back and smirk at it as a groan is heard. It's immediately silenced as you hear muffled moans come from the back seat. Not even 10 seconds later, you hear Ayn coo, her signature finish. Kid didn't even last 10 seconds. You look over at ARA and her entire face is now blue.
  2057.  
  2058. “T-thank you princess. Y-you're the-ah-best.” Twix tells Ayn.
  2059.  
  2060. “You're very welcome Habibi. Zofie, you can unplug your ears now.” She tells Spots.
  2061.  
  2062. “It smells so gross!” Zofie yells, probably covering her nose.
  2063.  
  2064.     You pull the curtains back open and see Zofie is, in fact, covering her nose. Twix has a dopey looking grin on his face as he lays back in the seat, completely spent.
  2065.  
  2066. “How'd you make him pop so soon?” You ask.
  2067.  
  2068. “Same thing I do with every other newbie. I squeezed his tip in the right place and he just-”
  2069.  
  2070. “You're both making me feel queasy.” ARA tells you.
  2071.  
  2072. “Fine, guess we're going to, uh, Arby's? Yeah, that.” You say, putting the car into drive.
  2073.  
  2074. Jack
  2075.  
  2076.     You sit down on the bed, having done enough yelling. Her angry screaming had since broken down into the occasional shout as she sat at your side. You could tell she was holding in a lot of emotion right now. Her voice trembled every time she tried to yell at you and she was sniffling constantly.
  2077.  
  2078. “Vikna, you can cry if you want. Nobody's around to hear it.” You tell her.
  2079.  
  2080. “I-I don't n-need to cry.” She stutters, sniffling and wiping her eyes.
  2081.  
  2082.     You pull her over to you and wrap your arms around her. She resists violently, pushing against you and hitting you as she tries to escape. You hold her tight against you as she continues to fight it, not wanting to give in.
  2083.  
  2084. “Let me go!” She yells. “L-leave me a-alone.”
  2085.  
  2086.     You don't comply with her demands, holding firmly as she begins to sob into you.
  2087.  
  2088. “N-no. S-stop it.” She tells you, her pushes getting weaker. “I-I said leave me al-lone.”
  2089.  
  2090.     You rub your hand against her back, not letting her go as she stops struggling altogether.
  2091.  
  2092. “I'm sorry Vikna.” You tell her, continuing to rub her gently.
  2093.  
  2094.     Viknas wall finally crumbles and she bursts into tears, wrapping her arms and tail around you as she cries. You smile gently, having finally broken through to her. She didn't need act so tough all the time, that wasn't her job here. You sit back down on the bed and she just goes limp, clinging onto the back of your neck as she cries into your chest.
  2095.  
  2096. “I-I-I just-I-” She tries to say.
  2097.  
  2098. “Shh, it's okay.” You tell her. “You're safe here. Nobody will ever know you cried. Nobody will make fun of you and everyone will still think you're the toughest kitty in the entire Rishan.”
  2099.  
  2100.     She continues to cry into you as you stroke her back gently, holding her close to you as her cries slowly begin to wain. You gently pull her up onto the bed before draping the bed sheets over both of you. She pulls herself close to you as she gently sobs into your neck.
  2101.  
  2102. “I know what you need, Vikna. You need someone who's not going to tease you or rely on you. You need someone who you can lean on when you're just not feeling it that day. Someone who will protect you to the end, and someone who cares deeply for you. I'll help you find that person if it's the last thing I do.” You tell her. “I'll look everywhere, both here and in the Rishan galaxy. I won't stop until I find someone who can take care of you and love you the way you deserve to be loved.”
  2103.  
  2104.     When her sobs finally begin to die down, she nuzzles you with her muzzle.
  2105.  
  2106. “Your dad was right.” She says with a sniffle. “You really don't know when you're helping people.”
  2107.  
  2108.     You chuckle at that and she pulls her entire body up to you, wrapping herself around you where she could.
  2109.  
  2110. “Thank you.” She tells you, continuing to nuzzle into you.
  2111.  
  2112. 1 month later
  2113.  
  2114.     You're helping everybody pack up, having had to detach the generator from your house. Fluff said he was going to be opening the portal back up in about 4 hours, so you had plenty of time left. He didn't have time to explain over the chat, but he said his hands were full. Ayn's bag was finally packed, having been borrowed from your sister's room. She won't mind and neither do you.
  2115.  
  2116. “Sweetie, you can come with us, you know. You don't have to stay here on your own.” She tells you.
  2117.  
  2118. “I could definitely do that, but I have responsibilities at home to take care of.” You say. “This house won't take care of itself.”
  2119.  
  2120. “You could sell it.” She says. “Just a suggestion.”
  2121.  
  2122. “I could, but where would my mother and sister go?” You ask. “I can't just leave the house to be condemned.”
  2123.  
  2124. “Good point.” She says. “You know...if you're willing, I could definitely show you a good time before we all leave. I'd be more than happy to take your first time.”
  2125.  
  2126. “W-what?” You ask with surprise. “N-no thank you.”
  2127.  
  2128. “Hey, that's fine. It was only a suggestion.” She says with a chuckle. “Go on upstairs. I'm sure Zofie wants to say goodbye.”
  2129.  
  2130.     You nod, smiling before walking out of the room, making your toward the stairs. When you climb them and turn toward the living room, you see Zofie and Vikna talking idly. ARA was sitting in your recliner, looking back at them as they talked. You look up at the pictures you took of them all, a picture of Nytro and Twix on a boat as you hold up a fish alongside them. There was another of you all out in the woods, Zofie freaking out as a steak sits on hot coals from a fire. There was another of Vikna on a jet ski, wearing a life preserver that was too big for her while Ayn wore one that was too small. She fell off the jet ski that day and you jumped in after her, swimming almost 500 feet to help her back aboard the thing. There was another picture of ARA stuck up in a tree while you were up in a ladder trying to get her down. She said she found a bird up there that was mocking her and tried catching it to shut it up.
  2131.  
  2132. “Herr Jackson, how are you today?” Zofie asks, pulling your attention back to her. “Have you eaten at all today?”
  2133.  
  2134. “Yes, I ate this morning.” You lie.
  2135.  
  2136. “What did you eat?” She asks.
  2137.  
  2138. “Uh...nothing.” You say.
  2139.  
  2140. “I must fix this!” She says excitedly, getting up immediately. “Give me an hour and I will make something that will knock your socks off!”
  2141.  
  2142. “Really, I'm fine Zofie.” You tell her with a smile.
  2143.  
  2144. “No, I will not allow you to continue the day on an empty stomach!” She says with a small whuff. “You must continue getting stronger and losing that weight if you are to improve your self image.”
  2145.  
  2146. “Okay, okay.” You tell her. “I'll eat if it makes you happy.”
  2147.  
  2148.     Her tail begins wagging as she runs off into the kitchen, throwing some pans and pots onto the oven before opening the fridge. Your attention is then drawn back to Vikna, who blushes a bit when you look at her. She gets up, walking over to you before looking back at Zofie. She was way too busy making food to notice anything happening in the living room, so Vikna turns back to you and her cheeks begin turning red.
  2149.  
  2150. “Uh, can you come upstairs with me for a bit?” She asks quietly. “I want you to help me pack my bags.”
  2151.  
  2152.     You look back at ARA, who's looking back with curiosity. When Vikna turns to look at her, she holds a finger up to her muzzle and ARA makes a zipping gesture across her lips.
  2153.  
  2154. “You have bags upstairs?” You ask in the same quiet tone.
  2155.  
  2156. “Yes, I left them upstairs in Zofie's room.” She replies. “Let's hurry, I want to get this over with.”
  2157.  
  2158.     You nod and she leads you upstairs quietly, which was odd since she usually didn't bother being quiet. You look back down at ARA and she smiles, tracking you as both of you make it up the stairs. When you reach your old room, you see a couple bags on the floor. One was marked “Zofie” and the other marked “Vikna”. You look around the room and see a few articles of clothing belonging to Zofie, but nothing that looked to belong to Vikna. She then gets on the floor, bending herself over as she begins looking for things. That's when you realize she wasn't wearing any underwear. She looks back at you and sees you looking, her face turning bright red as she does the one thing you didn't expect. She pulls her skirt out of the way.
  2159.  
  2160. “W-what?” She asks. “Aren't you going to do something?”
  2161.  
  2162. “V-Vikna...” You say, looking away. “I don't know how I feel about this...”
  2163.  
  2164. “Jack, please. You've done so much for us all, especially me. I can't stay here forever because I have a job, but I can definitely give you something to remember me by.” She tells you.
  2165.  
  2166. “I...” You try to say, but that's all you get out.
  2167.  
  2168.     She sighs, getting up and walking over to you.
  2169.  
  2170. “Sit on the bed please.” She tells you.
  2171.  
  2172. “Vikna-”
  2173.  
  2174. “Sit.” She says.
  2175.  
  2176.     You sit down on the bed and she makes her way over to you, pulling down her skirt and revealing herself to you. She gets down on her knees and begins unzipping your pants, unbuttoning them and revealing your slowly rising member. She parts the hole in your underwear and pulls your dick through, raising herself off the ground.
  2177.  
  2178. “I-it's bigger than I thought it would be.” She tells you. “I don't know if it'll fit.”
  2179.  
  2180. “I'm not doing that.” You tell her. “I can't do that to you. We don't even know if we're compatible and I don't want an oopsie baby.”
  2181.  
  2182. “Are you telling me you don't have a single condom in this entire house?” She asks.
  2183.  
  2184. “Yes.” You reply.
  2185.  
  2186. “God, you're such an idiot.” She says, rolling her eyes. “Well, since I don't want a baby either, I guess we're going with plan B.”
  2187.  
  2188.     She gets back down on her knees and looks back up at you.
  2189.  
  2190. “W-what are you doing?” You ask.
  2191.  
  2192. “I'm going to suck you off stupid.” She replies. “Stop making this more awkward than it already is.”
  2193.  
  2194. “Why?” You ask.
  2195.  
  2196. “I already told you.” She says, looking off to the side. “Don't blow too fast, alright? I want to enjoy this too.”
  2197.  
  2198. “I don't know how comfortable I am with this.” You tell her. “You and I aren't even a couple.”
  2199.  
  2200. “This is just some fun.” She tells you. “It doesn't mean anything. I just want to get to you before that slut and Zofie do. Haven't you ever...wait, that's right. Never mind.”
  2201.  
  2202.     She lowers herself down onto you and sniffs your member, raising her eyebrows at it.
  2203.  
  2204. “What?” You ask nervously.
  2205.  
  2206. “It smells different. Did Ayn already do it with you?” Vikna asks accusingly.
  2207.  
  2208. “What? No.” You reply.
  2209.  
  2210. “Wait a second...” She says with a smirk. “You already jacked off today, didn't you?”
  2211.  
  2212. “W-what? No!” You lie.
  2213.  
  2214. “Your scent tells another story.” She says, smiling at you. “Oh, you're so dirty! With all of us in the house you still jerk yourself off?”
  2215.  
  2216. “H-hey, I have needs too you know. It doesn't help that I hear at least one of you masturbating every night.” You tell her.
  2217.  
  2218. “Do you seriously expect me not to do that when you pheromone bomb me on a daily basis?” She asks. “It's like you can't even smell yourself.”
  2219.  
  2220.     You lift your arm and smell your pits, only smelling deodorant.
  2221.  
  2222. “Not that you fucking idiot, your crotch.” She says with a blush, pointing to your crotch. “Your pheromones come from your crotch.”
  2223.  
  2224. “S-stop talking to me like that. You're making it weird.” You tell her.
  2225.  
  2226. “I'm not the one who jerks off to girls pleasuring themselves in the other room.” She says. “Besides, isn't this your fantasy? Having the one and only Vikna sucking you off in your bedroom? I bet you've written things like this a million times you big perv.”
  2227.  
  2228. “S-shut up.” You tell her, knowing she's right.
  2229.  
  2230.     She doesn't even warn you before putting her mouth over your dick, causing you to grunt as you grab the bed for support. You twitch a bit and you feel her smile as she hilts herself, beginning to purr.
  2231.  
  2232. “S-s-stop th-that.” You tell her, the pleasure from the vibration and sucking being too much.
  2233.  
  2234. “Nuh-uh.” Vikna replies, continuing to purr as she begins suckling on your dick. “Mmm~.”
  2235.  
  2236.     She pumps her head back and forth methodically, wrapping her tongue around your dick as she purrs, the pulsating never seeming to stop. You put a hand on her shoulder and she smiles, grasping at her tits and playing with them under her shirt. Holy fuck this is so hot. You feel yourself begin to buck subconsciously and she holds your hips down, shaking her head a bit. She takes her mouth off you, continuing to stroke you with her hands.
  2237.  
  2238. “Don't do that or I might gag.” She says. “My muzzle isn't long enough for you.”
  2239.  
  2240.     She shoves her mouth back on your dick and you lay your head back against the bed, beginning to shudder in ecstasy as she continues to lick around your member. You're definitely getting close.
  2241.  
  2242. “G-g-god.” Is all you manage to get out as she continues to suckle on your member.
  2243.  
  2244.     You tap her on the shoulder right before you're about to blow and she pulls off, jacking you off before you finally blow. It's like a geyser, massive sticky ropes of cum exploding out of your dick and onto her muzzle as she licks the bottom of your cock. She moans a bit, licking up and down your rod as she licks up whatever doesn't coat her snout and hands. The ropes continue to get smaller and smaller as she looks at you with her eyes half open, chuckling a bit before putting her mouth back on top. She sucks whatever was inside of your dick out and you groan, causing her to chuckle again. When she pulls back off, you hear a wet pop come from your dick and she removes her hand from your cock, licking whatever dripped down off of it.
  2245.  
  2246. “You came so fast.” She says with a smile. “You really are a virgin.”
  2247.  
  2248. “S-shut up...” You tell her.
  2249.  
  2250. “I hope you don't forget about us.” She tells you with a smile. “Thank you for everything. I mean it.”
  2251.  
  2252. “Y-you're welcome. F-fuck.” You say, still coming down off the orgasm.
  2253.  
  2254. “Let's get back downstairs before Zofie or, god forbid, Ayn notices we're gone.” She tells you. “A-also, this doesn't mean anything. Like I said, it's just a bit of fun between friends.”
  2255.  
  2256.     You smile, putting your now softening dick back in your underwear before she stops you. She takes your dick in her mouth one more time, sucking whatever could possibly still be inside out as you shudder from the sensation. She then wipes her mouth and your dick off with her hand, grabbing a tiny spray bottle from inside her bag and spraying herself down with it.
  2257.  
  2258. “Masks the musk so not even Ayn will notice.” She tells you. “Let's go eat.”
  2259.  
  2260. 3 hours later
  2261.  
  2262.     You stand out on the snowy lawn, all of your friends standing beside you as electricity begins to arc in the air. You stand back a bit before a massive circle opens up, a room full of anthros in robes being present. They all have glowing tablets and fancy looking holographic things on their wrists as they look at everyone by you. Ayn is the first to go through, waving goodbye to you. Twix and Nytro are next, looking back at you before waving a bit. You wave back before ARA and Warning both run through, not bothering to say goodbye as ARA carries the reactor with her. Zofie turns to you and looks up, smiling before pecking you on the cheek.
  2263.  
  2264. “We'll come back in about a month, okay?” She asks.
  2265.  
  2266. “Okay. I'll be waiting.” You tell her.
  2267.  
  2268.     She smiles and walks back through, Vikna looking back at you.
  2269.  
  2270. “Are you sure you don't want to come?” She asks.
  2271.  
  2272. “I can't really leave.” You tell her. “I got my responsibilities and you have yours.”
  2273.  
  2274. “W-well, okay. Thank you for everything.” She tells you. “Like she said, we'll be back in a month.”
  2275.  
  2276. “Alright, goodbye.” You tell her. “I'll be waiting for you.”
  2277.  
  2278.     She nods and walks through the portal, looking back and waving. The portal collapses inwards, leaving you on the lawn as alone as you started. You begin to wonder if it was all real before you realize something.
  2279.  
  2280. “Fuck, Zofie left her bag here!” You yell.
  2281.  
  2282. Chapter 3: Knight
  2283.  
  2284. 2 months later
  2285.  
  2286.     It's been almost 2 months since everyone had to go back. There was something wrong with the portals and every anthro was told to go back through the portals that were opened up unless they wanted to be stranded here. Not every anthro left, but all of yours did. Vikna had a job to go do, as did Nytro, Zofie, and Ayn. ARA had to go back along with Warning, as they also had jobs they were required to perform.
  2287.  
  2288.     The loneliness was almost crippling, as you went from having 4 friends to talk with, to none at all. Talking on your chat program helped, but it only kept you from falling into an even deeper depression. You take another drink from your whiskey bottle before setting it down beside you, continuing to do something you never used to do. Read the news. Then, you hear a whisper in your ear.
  2289.  
  2290. “Help me~.” It whispered to you. “Somebody, anybody~.”
  2291.  
  2292.     Was somebody there? If so, who was it? When you look around, you find nobody there. You decide to ignore it and continue reading about all the new fuzzy citizens. The women who were considered ugly back home were seen as cute and cuddly here, boosting their self esteem and creating instant bonds with their new husbands.
  2293.  
  2294.     When you're about to turn the page, you hear what sounds like an explosion outside. It nearly gives you a heart attack as you look outside to see what it was. When you look outside, you drop the newspaper in shock. It was like a circular painting, no, a portal showing buildings that stretched into the sky far beyond the field of view the image allowed. There were floating signs that showed pictures of anthros holding products that you couldn't quite read as well as glowing signs that seemed to emit from nowhere. The roads looked very clean and almost metallic in nature while the sidewalks were completely empty.
  2295.  
  2296.     You unlock the recently repaired door, walking through the porch and getting a closer look at the image. You weren't stupid, so you knew it was a portal to the Rishan galaxy, but where it leads was anyone's guess. Then, you hear sounds come from it. Muffled gunfire. You get into cover behind the wall of your porch, your training kicking in after almost 2 years of down time. Then, you realize the gunfire isn't impacting around you and get back up again. Whatever was happening on the other side, you needed to find out.
  2297.  
  2298.     You rush back inside, hurrying down the stairs and across the basement's living room. You make it to the old toy room and rush to the closet in the back, almost throwing it open. When you look through it, you find exactly what you're looking for. Your old Marine BDUs. You strip out of your old clothes, taking the BDUs out and putting them on as you grab your old Kevlar helmet. When it's strapped in place, you grab your old combat boots and tie the laces into a knot. After all of that, you put your plate carrier over your head and go further back into the closet.
  2299.  
  2300.     You see a chest sitting in the back and pull it towards the entrance, stepping out of the closet once it's there. When you open it, you see all the weapons you dug out of your stashes way back when. LAWs, an M16, an M14, ammunition for both, a .32 revolver your dad gave you, a 1911 your grandpa gave you, and a few grenades made of Semtex and C-3. You also had 10 pounds of C-4 you had left over from the land mines you created to defend against a national guard attack.
  2301.  
  2302.     You take the M14, racking a magazine inside and charging the bolt. You sling it across your back, taking the bandoleer of magazines before grabbing the M16 as well. Then, you grab the magazines for the M16, sliding them into your mag pouches on your plate carrier. When you're carrying as much ammo as you can, you grab the Semtex and C-3 grenades, each having a programmable timer that you made in your electronics class.
  2303.  
  2304.     You then take the 10 pounds of C-4 you had and stuff it inside your bug out bag that was inside the chest too. It contained many useful items, which you didn't need to worry about right now. You strap the LAWs to the side of the bag and heft it onto your shoulders, the weight of everything already bringing back memories. You rush back up the stairs with great difficulty, slowing your pace when you remember you have over 100 pounds strapped to you now.
  2305.  
  2306.     You grab 2 Velcro patches off a shelf, blowing the dust off of them as you put them on your vest. Your US flag and your /wfg/ patch. The /wfg/ patch was a stick figure sitting on a log with an SKS, writing in a book with some pine trees in the background. You smile at it and slap it a few times for good luck. Then, you call your dad.
  2307.  
  2308. “Hello?” He asks.
  2309.  
  2310. “Hey dad, I just want you to let someone know I'm going to be gone for a while. I don't know if I'll be able to come back when I go through, but I'm needed somewhere right now.” You tell him.
  2311.  
  2312.     Just as you say that, gun fire erupts on the other side of the portal with nobody around to shoot said guns.
  2313.  
  2314. “Son, are you okay? God, tell me you didn't reenlist.” He says, panic evident in his voice.
  2315.  
  2316. “No, it's a bit more complicated than that. Just send someone over, I'm hiding the key under the cushion of the thatch couch. Understand?” You ask.
  2317.  
  2318. “I understand. You stay safe, you hear me?” He asks in return.
  2319.  
  2320. “I understand.” You tell him. “I love you.”
  2321.  
  2322. “Love you too son.” He tells you.
  2323.  
  2324.     You hang up and rack a round into the M16, rushing out onto your lawn. When you stand in front of the portal, the gunfire is close, very close. You get a better look at the buildings on the other side, seeing a massive sky scraper at the end of the road which seems to tower above the rest. It almost glowed as you continued to study it. Then, a revelation hit you. This is The Tower. This portal was a portal to Katric.
  2325.  
  2326.     You take a step back and sprint into the portal before tripping on the concrete below, catching yourself before you could smash your head into the sidewalk. You look behind you and see the portal close, leaving you stranded here for the time being. As you stand up, you hear gunfire behind you. The ground around you seems to explode as gun shots barely miss you. This gives you the incentive to duck inside the first building you see, taking cover on the far wall.
  2327.  
  2328.     You're breathing heavily at this point from the exertion of having to carry all this weight. You did some endurance training, but definitely not enough to keep up with what you were going to be doing here. When you decide it's safe, you look around and see it's the lobby to some kind of apartment complex or hotel. The lady at the desk is peeking over, terrified by the gunfire.
  2329.  
  2330. “Miss, do you know what's going on?” You ask.
  2331.  
  2332. “T-terrorists have taken over.” She replies, stuttering as she does. “B-been stuck here s-since 7 in the m-morning.”
  2333.  
  2334.     You take off your bag, opening up the food portion of it and grabbing an MRE. You walk over to the front desk and hand it to her.
  2335.  
  2336. “It's food. You're probably hungry, right?” You ask.
  2337.  
  2338.     She nods, tearing open the bag.
  2339.  
  2340. “Do you know where I am?” You ask.
  2341.  
  2342. “You're in apartment complex C-705.” She replies, opening up a pack of crackers.
  2343.  
  2344. “Do you know where I can find Vikna Ramenskaya? Do you know who that is?” You ask.
  2345.  
  2346. “S-she's on floor 73. Room 73052.” She says, handing you a card shakily. “T-this is the key to get in.”
  2347.  
  2348.     You take it and stuff it in a pocket before stepping over to an elevator. It opened automatically, revealing a round elevator inside. You step in, pushing in the floor code before the doors close. When the elevator begins moving, you're at the floor you specified in under 20 seconds. The door opens, giving way to a metallic hallway with glowing blue accents. You jog down the hallway, your gear making a lot of noise as you do. When you reach the right room, you open up the door with the key card. As the door opens, you can see Vikna set up by a window, holding a long gun of some kind. The couch, chairs, and other furniture were wrapped in some kind of plastic as you make your way inside
  2349.  
  2350. “What's the situation?” You ask, not bothering to say hello.
  2351.  
  2352. “Jack?!” She asks, nearly dropping the rifle out of the window. “W-what the fuck are you doing here?!”
  2353.  
  2354. “I said status report Kavkor!” You yell, not in the mood for pleasantries.
  2355.  
  2356.     She looks back at you with fear in her eyes and takes a deep breath, closing her eyes before giving you a stone cold look in return.
  2357.  
  2358. “Snipers are all over the place with heavy machine guns and anti material rail guns as support. The streets are a complete kill zone.” She tells you before the look fades back to a more neutral one. “How the hell did you get here?”
  2359.  
  2360. “Portal. Do you have ranges on any of these guys?” You ask.
  2361.  
  2362. “It's outside of my laser rifle range, but I'd have to say about 500 to 1000 yards.” She tells you.
  2363.  
  2364. “Got it.” You say, putting the M16 down and grabbing the M14. “Point out targets and I'll engage them.”
  2365.  
  2366. “What?! You're just going to shoot them with that wooden rifle?!” She asks.
  2367.  
  2368. “You got a problem with that?” You ask.
  2369.  
  2370.     She just sighs, getting out her binocular looking device.
  2371.  
  2372. “Come over here and look.” She says, pointing out the window. “See that window that's open over there? There's a sniper hiding inside it. He hasn't seen me yet, but-”
  2373.  
  2374. “Range.” You tell her, getting set up beside her.
  2375.  
  2376. “About 670 yards.” She replies.
  2377.  
  2378.     You range the scope for 700 yards, steadying the rifle on the little box she has set up. When you get the rifle set up, you turn back to her.
  2379.  
  2380. “Windage?” You ask.
  2381.  
  2382. “I don't know what the hell a windage is.” She tells you.
  2383.  
  2384. “Great, let's just hope there's no wind.” You tell her, lining up a shot. “On the way.”
  2385.  
  2386.     You pull the trigger with a smooth pull, letting a round fly.
  2387.  
  2388. BANG
  2389.  
  2390. “Miss, you're about 2 feet to the right of the window.” She tells you.
  2391.  
  2392. “Copy, on the way.” You tell her, adjusting.
  2393.  
  2394.     You pull the trigger again.
  2395.  
  2396. BANG
  2397.  
  2398. “Rifle is falling. Good kill.” She tells you.
  2399.  
  2400. “New target.” You tell her, scanning the building the sniper was in.
  2401.  
  2402. “I got one about 750 yards away over there.” She says, pointing towards a circular skyscraper. “See him?”
  2403.  
  2404. “Copy, eyes.” You tell her, getting back into the swing of things after being out of combat for so long.
  2405.  
  2406.     You were so used to using a GPMG that you almost forgot you were a pretty decent shot with a rifle. You adjust the rifle for 750 yards and see the open window in your scope.
  2407.  
  2408. “On the way.” You say.
  2409.  
  2410. BANG
  2411.  
  2412.     You pull the trigger and the rifle spits a chunk of lead out the barrel, which slams into the target on the other side.
  2413.  
  2414. “Solid hit, I see the gun falling.” She tells you.
  2415.  
  2416. “We need to switch positions.” You tell her, your spidey senses tingling. “We're compromised.”
  2417.  
  2418. “Alright, let's go.” She says, closing the window up.
  2419.  
  2420.     Just as she does, the sound of glass cracking emits from a now spiderweb-like window.
  2421.  
  2422. “Like I said, we need to move!” You tell her, pulling her along with you as you grab your M16.
  2423.  
  2424.     Just as you both get out of the room, the window is shattered by machine gun fire, completely tearing it apart as you close the door to her room.
  2425.  
  2426. “Was that your apartment?” You ask.
  2427.  
  2428. “No, my apartment is a few floors up. No, we are not setting up in there, I don't care how much you want me to.” She tells you, putting her foot down.
  2429.  
  2430. “Okay, well I'm not asking the lady for a key, so we're blowing open some doors to get a better position.” You say, taking out a Semtex grenade.
  2431.  
  2432. “Is that a grenade?!” She asks.
  2433.  
  2434. “No, it's plastic explosives in the shape of a grenade.” You tell her.
  2435.  
  2436. “Jesus! Where the hell was all this?!” She asks.
  2437.  
  2438. “In the basement.” You tell her. “I hid it all in a trunk.”
  2439.  
  2440. “Why the fuck do you have explosives?!” She asks in disbelief.
  2441.  
  2442. “More of a contingency than anything. Never planned on using it outside of blowing stuff up for fun.” You tell her. “It works just as well as a breaching charge as it does a grenade.”
  2443.  
  2444. “God...fine.” She tells you. “But you need to be careful!”
  2445.  
  2446.     You drop the Semtex on the floor on accident, picking it up again before smiling sheepishly. When you look up at Vikna, her eyes were wide with surprise and fear before calming down a bit.
  2447.  
  2448. “Uh, you were saying?” You ask.
  2449.  
  2450.     She sighs, disappointed in you. She leads you over to a flight of stairs, opening the door as she checks up and down.
  2451.  
  2452. “Clear.” She tells you.
  2453.  
  2454. “Trailing.” You reply, using the irons just below the scope.
  2455.  
  2456.     You follow Vikna up the stairs, hefting the heavy bag with you as you both make it up a couple flights of stairs. When you reach floor 80, she stops by the door and opens it, allowing you to peek through. Both of the men on the other side of the door were wearing some pretty official looking clothing and both had some kind of rifle similar to Viknas.
  2457.  
  2458. “You sure this is where that sniper was?” A scrappy looking coyote asks.
  2459.  
  2460. “Yeah, they said he was between floor 70 and 80.” A jackal replies. “I'd say he'd be as far up as possible.”
  2461.  
  2462.     Guess Viknas odd floor choice just saved both of your asses. You look to her and motion for her to come close to you.
  2463.  
  2464. “Blue or red?” You ask, whispering to her.
  2465.  
  2466. “Red, definitely red.” She whispers back.
  2467.  
  2468. “Copy, they have body armor on?” You ask quietly.
  2469.  
  2470. “No, just guerrilla fighters with normal clothing on.” She replies.
  2471.  
  2472. “Sorry, I don't know what enlisted uniforms look like here.” You whisper. “We taking prisoners or are we engaging all hostile elements?”
  2473.  
  2474. “You're engaging.” She tells you.
  2475.  
  2476.     You take out the M16 and flick it off safe, opening the surprisingly normal looking door. You take aim at the coyote first, squeezing the trigger.
  2477.  
  2478. BANG BANG
  2479.  
  2480.     He drops like a rock and you switch targets.
  2481.  
  2482. BANG BANG BANG
  2483.  
  2484.     The other hits the floor with a thud, crying out in pain as you rush down the hallway. You stop before the crying man, putting your rifle to his head before pulling the trigger. His body goes limp as you look back at Vikna, waving her through.
  2485.  
  2486. “He was neutralized!” She yells, obviously unhappy with you finishing the job.
  2487.  
  2488. “He was in pain.” You reply. “You confirm your kills Vikna. If you don't, they might survive and become a threat later on.”
  2489.  
  2490.     Vikna just grits her teeth and you both make your way back to the stairway, moving up the building. When you both reach the top floor, you're out of breath, needing to sit down for a minute.
  2491.  
  2492. “I told you to do those endurance exercises!” Vikna yells, chastising you.
  2493.  
  2494. “Well I forgot.” You tell her in between breaths.
  2495.  
  2496. “How much are you carrying anyways?” She asks.
  2497.  
  2498. “100 pounds at least.” You tell her “Maybe 140 with this M14. 7.62 is a heavy cartridge and I have 9 magazines of it. Holy shit I'm fucking dying.”
  2499.  
  2500.     Vikna chuckles and you smile, getting up off the stairs as you get inside the hallway.
  2501.  
  2502. “This room is empty.” She says, pointing to a room to your left. “Put a charge on the door.”
  2503.  
  2504.     You grab a Semtex grenade, unwrapping the tape and looking back at her.
  2505.  
  2506. “Where do I put it? These are split doors and I don't want it to blow half way open.” You tell her.
  2507.  
  2508. “Just put it on the right half of the door. It should blow it open and we can squeeze through.” She tells you.
  2509.  
  2510. “Okay, setting the fuse for 10 seconds.” You tell her, slapping the Semtex on the door. “Arming...now!”
  2511.  
  2512.     You both back away from the door as you stack up on the side, readying your rifle.
  2513.  
  2514. “3...2...1...Breaching!” You yell.
  2515.  
  2516.     The Semtex explodes, blowing the door open as you both move toward the room. Your ears are ringing immediately afterward, bringing back memories you need to fight to keep down. Not here, not now. You had a job to do for the first time in over a year. You squeeze past the single door, pushing the other side open for Vikna to squeeze through. She goes through the room, checking it before waving you inside. She begins talking to you, but you can't hear her over the ringing in your ears.
  2517.  
  2518. “I can't hear you!” You yell to her. “My ears are ringing!”
  2519.  
  2520.     You point to your ears and she seems to understand, letting you rest on the metallic wall while your hearing comes back to you.
  2521.  
  2522. “You good?” She asks.
  2523.  
  2524. “I'm good.” You tell her. “Open the window and give me some targets. Try and give me the positions of those HMGs and anti material guns.”
  2525.  
  2526.     She nods and opens the window up by tapping on a holographic interface, watching as the window slides up through unknown means. When you make it to the window, Vikna is already pointing to a building across the way.
  2527.  
  2528. “There's a machine gunner right there in that window. It's about 850 yards away, think you can hit him?” She asks.
  2529.  
  2530. “I'll try.” You tell her, setting the rifle for an 850 yard shot.
  2531.  
  2532.     You scan the building in question as Vikna grabs a glass table framed in a sort of plasticized metal. It looked flimsy, but that's probably because it was made of better materials than you were used to seeing. You set the bipod up on the rifle and take aim, steadying your breath and squeezing the trigger gently.
  2533.  
  2534. “On the way.” You tell her.
  2535.  
  2536. BANG
  2537.  
  2538.     You fire a round and it flies true, smacking into the target as Vikna looks through her binoculars.
  2539.  
  2540. “Good shot. He's down.” She tells you. “Didn't know you could shoot so well.”
  2541.  
  2542. “Don't you guys have futuristic weapons here that calculate all this stuff for those perfect 1000 yard shots?” You ask.
  2543.  
  2544. “Do I look like a marksman?” She asks.
  2545.  
  2546. “Marksman?!” You ask loudly. “That's professional sniper territory!”
  2547.  
  2548. “Weird, we regularly pull off 2 mile shots with our snipers.” She tells you with a smirk. “Still, you're doing very well with that rifle of yours.”
  2549.  
  2550. “Thanks, it's an 800 yard rifle.” You tell her, looking for more targets.
  2551.  
  2552. “Alright, target is about 900 yards away on the 82nd floor. Can you hit him?” She asks.
  2553.  
  2554. “Like I said, I'll try.” You say, maxing out the range on your scope. “Range is maxed, can't go any further than this without guesstimating.”
  2555.  
  2556. “Alright, fire when ready.” She tells you.
  2557.  
  2558. “Copy, on the way.” You reply, pulling the trigger.
  2559.  
  2560. BANG
  2561.  
  2562.     The round sails through the air, arcing until it reaches the target. You see a massive thing fall out of the window, indicating a good shot.
  2563.  
  2564. “That's 2 for 2.” Vikna tells you.
  2565.  
  2566. “Alright, time to move. Close the window.” You tell her. “2 shots is risky enough.”
  2567.  
  2568.     She taps the interface and closes the window, prompting you both to start egressing the building.
  2569.  
  2570. “I think they're in here!” A voice shouts from outside.
  2571.  
  2572. “We're spotted.” You tell Vikna, pulling out a Semtex grenade. “Fuse is 3 seconds.”
  2573.  
  2574.     She nods and you both creep over to the door, hearing footsteps outside.
  2575.  
  2576. “Come out with your hands up and we'll make your deaths painless!” He shouts inside.
  2577.  
  2578. “I don't negotiate with terrorists!” You shout back, pushing the arming button on your grenade.
  2579.  
  2580.     You toss it out and cover your ears, feeling the ground shake and hearing a massive boom outside the room.
  2581.  
  2582. “GO!” You shout, switching to your M16. “DON'T STOP UNTIL WE REACH THE ROOF!”
  2583.  
  2584.     You almost pull Vikna out of the door, throwing her towards the exit as you fire your M16 down the hallway. Smoke obscured your view as you continue to fire wildly, hoping to suppress the terrorists enough to retreat to the stairwell. When you both make it, you slam the door shut and rush up the stairs.
  2585.  
  2586. “Call an extract! We got their HMG and rail gunner!” You tell her, clambering up the steps. “I think it's safe for extract!”
  2587.  
  2588. “Alright!” She yells, taking out a little stick before it transforms into a phone. “This is Kavkor Vikna Ramenskaya to Tower control, requesting immediate evac from apartment C-705. Does anyone copy?”
  2589.  
  2590.     You hear some muffled voices as you open the roof access, prompting Vikna to smile.
  2591.  
  2592. “Copy, we're on the roof.” She tells them. “Kavkor Ramenskaya out.”
  2593.  
  2594.     She rushes through the door as you close it, crouching down to keep yourself hidden.
  2595.  
  2596. “They'll be here in about 30 seconds.” She says, pointing up. “That's them.”
  2597.  
  2598.     You see a suspiciously familiar looking vehicle hovering around above the city before it almost dives down to meet you both. It pulls up just short of the roof and seems to stop on a dime, hitting you with a blast of air as it turns itself around. You rush towards the flying machine, watching the roof tops for snipers as you did.
  2599.  
  2600. “Get in!” You shout, covering for Vikna as she jumped inside.
  2601.  
  2602.     You hop aboard and the doors close behind you, the shuttle lifting off again. Then, you feel queasy as the sight in the window doesn't match what you were feeling right now.
  2603.  
  2604. “Are we vertical?” You ask Vikna.
  2605.  
  2606. “Yeah, why?” She asks in return.
  2607.  
  2608. “So this thing has gravity generators or something?” You ask.
  2609.  
  2610. “Yeah, it's standard issue nowadays.” She tells you. “I remember a few years ago it was all brand new.”
  2611.  
  2612. “Jesus, why not tell me that mass isn't a real concept while you're at it.” You say, sitting down on the seat. “Where are we headed?”
  2613.  
  2614. “The Tower.” She replies, pointing towards The Tower. “We'll be safe there until-”
  2615.  
  2616. BANG
  2617.  
  2618.     You see a shot fly through the rear door of the aircraft before it pierces through the rear of the cockpit. You hear a pained yelp before the aircraft begins to change course, sliding off to the side.
  2619.  
  2620. “Fuck! I think the pilot's hit!” You yell, making your way to the cockpit.
  2621.  
  2622.     You force open the cockpit door and look at the tandem seating they were arranged in, seeing 2 wolves with mechanical looking eyes in their head. One of the wolves had a massive hole in his chest, blood pouring from it as the other one had a hole in his head.
  2623.  
  2624. “They're both dead!” You yell, throwing the rear most wolf out of his seat. “I'm taking the stick!”
  2625.  
  2626.     You sit down in the seat, which was free of blood, much to your surprise. You set your bag down beside you and take the stick, putting your feet into the foot wells to control the rudders. When you depress the button in the middle of the stick, you begin to speak.
  2627.  
  2628. “Mayday, mayday, mayday this is...” You say, reading the name plate. “Papa Golf one seven niner Lima. Pilot and co-pilot are incapacitated, requesting priority landing in, well, whatever the hell this thing lands on.”
  2629.  
  2630. “Jackson?” SRK asks. “Is that you?”
  2631.  
  2632. “Copy, I need landing lights or something to guide me-”
  2633.  
  2634.     Just as you say that, another shot blasts up through the cockpit and you take immediate action to evade.
  2635.  
  2636. “This is Papa Golf one seven niner taking enemy ground fire. I need to land this thing NOW!” You tell her, having to evade or be hit again. “Vikna! What's shooting at us?!”
  2637.  
  2638. “Rail gun fire! High velocity!” She tells you.
  2639.  
  2640. “Warning, where the hell is that vector?!” You ask.
  2641.  
  2642. “85 degrees vertical 320 degrees horizontal!” She tells you. “You'll be on a path towards the landing site!”
  2643.  
  2644.     You look down at the gauges and see it's all gibberish. You can't make out the symbols or numbers on anything.
  2645.  
  2646. “I need lights! I can't read these moon runes!” You yell back, still trying to understand the symbols.
  2647.  
  2648. “Landing lights are active!” She tells you. “Follow them in!”
  2649.  
  2650.     Just as she says that, another shot slices through the cockpit, breaking open the glass as you're showered with it. What surprises you most is that the glass doesn't cut you at all, instead feeling soft. You look up to see it already being repaired. Nano machines maybe.
  2651.  
  2652. “You're looking good Papa Golf. Keep that vector and you'll arrive at the docking station.” Warning tells you.
  2653.  
  2654.     Another shot rings out and you begin yawing to the left, a red light popping up on screen. You tap the screen and it shows a diagram of the craft, the left wing being completely red. Vikna moves up into the cockpit, pulling the body out before sitting down. Her panic is immediate
  2655.  
  2656. “Left engine is hit and losing thrust!” Vikna tells you.
  2657.  
  2658. “I noticed!” You reply, pulling back on the stick.
  2659.  
  2660. “What are you doing?!” She asks loudly, panicking.
  2661.  
  2662. “I need to get some airspeed so we don't yaw into The Tower!” You tell her. “Minimum controllable speed!”
  2663.  
  2664.     You pull back on the throttle, gaining speed in the dive before pulling up and increasing the throttle again.
  2665.  
  2666. “You got something that can slow us down before we crash into the other side of The Tower?!” You ask Warning.
  2667.  
  2668. “Copy Papa Golf. Arrestor grids have been deployed!” She yells back.
  2669.  
  2670. “Alright! Hang on Vikna, this is gonna be rough!” You tell her, pulling into a climb. “Increasing power!”
  2671.  
  2672.     You pull back on the stick and keep the speed steady, at least, you think this is the speed gauge. You give the craft a bit of yaw and conclude it is indeed the speed gauge. When you gain enough height, you turn back around and see the massive opening in the side of the space elevator.
  2673.  
  2674. “I have the landing area in sight!” You tell her. “Approaching for-”
  2675.  
  2676. BANG
  2677.  
  2678.     You hear whining coming from the right side before another warning light pops up.
  2679.  
  2680. “Engine 2 is down! We're gliding!” Vikna tells you.
  2681.  
  2682. “What's the glide ratio on this bird?” You ask over coms.
  2683.  
  2684. “Enough.” Warning tells you. “Keep it steady and you'll make it in!”
  2685.  
  2686.     When the transmission finishes, you hear loud rattling underneath you as you're pelted with weapons fire from below.
  2687.  
  2688. “Taking ground fire.” You tell Warning. “Are we still green?”
  2689.  
  2690. “Yes, you're still green. Just glide it in!” She tells you excitedly.
  2691.  
  2692.     You focus on the opening, which was getting closer by the minute as your speed keeps dropping. You were hoping Warning was right about the glide ratio.
  2693.  
  2694. “We're not gonna make it!” Vikna yells.
  2695.  
  2696. “We'll make it.” You say calmly.
  2697.  
  2698. “Pull up! PULL UP!” She shouts.
  2699.  
  2700.     You feel the nose of the craft begin to dip as it begins losing lift to the front wings. The landing zone was right in front of you.
  2701.  
  2702. “Brace!” You yell.
  2703.  
  2704.     Vikna braces herself and you slam into the deck, being thrown into the dash board as your helmet takes the brunt of the impact. Screeching fills the cockpit as you scrape along the metallic floor of The Towers interior. You feel a jolt and are thrown forward, hitting the back of Viknas seat as the craft is brought to a halt. Pushing yourself off the console, you get out of the seat walking to the front of the cockpit.
  2705.  
  2706. “You okay Vikna?” You ask.
  2707.  
  2708. “Were you not strapped in?” She asks before coughing a bit.
  2709.  
  2710. “There were straps?” You ask.
  2711.  
  2712. “You need to press the button to-agh, never mind.” She replies. “Let's get out of this thing before it explodes.”
  2713.  
  2714.     You grab your bag off the floor rushing to the rear of the shuttle. When you get to the rear door, you see 3 holes in the metallic surface, allowing you to peer through into the outside world.
  2715.  
  2716. “Clear the shuttle!” An announcement comes over the radio. “Organics onboard! Possibly injured.”
  2717.  
  2718. “We're fine!” You yell from inside.
  2719.  
  2720.     You hear the door attempt to open, but become stuck once it's unlatched. You sigh, walking up to the door and slamming your foot down as hard as you can, freeing it. A couple of dog anthros walk up to the rear door before stumbling back at your appearance.
  2721.  
  2722. “A new species?” One asks.
  2723.  
  2724. “A super soldier of some kind?” Another asks.
  2725.  
  2726. “An alien super soldier?” The first one asks.
  2727.  
  2728. “An alien Marine.” You correct, slinging your rifle. “Staff Sergeant Haigs, at your service.”
  2729.  
  2730.     They all step back as you step down, falling flat when you hit the ground.
  2731.  
  2732. “So fucking tired...” You tell them, pushing yourself off the floor.
  2733.  
  2734. “Kavkor!” The first dog says.
  2735.  
  2736.     You turn back and see Vikna hop down, flicking her tail from side to side after she does. She flicks her hair back and gives that weird two finger salute that Fluff insisted on using. You pick your rifle up off the floor and stand at attention, giving her a salute of your own.
  2737.  
  2738. “As you were.” She tells them, dismissing them from attention.
  2739.  
  2740.     She turns back to you and walks in your direction, her foot steps faltering as she does so.
  2741.  
  2742. “I-I don't feel so-” She says before falling.
  2743.  
  2744.     She's close enough to you that you can catch her with ease, but the fact that she fell is still an issue.
  2745.  
  2746. “I think you have a concussion.” You tell her.
  2747.  
  2748. “Is that why I'm so dizzy?” She asks, wrapping her arms around your neck for support.
  2749.  
  2750. “Did they give you any first aid training?” You ask. “Any at all?”
  2751.  
  2752. “N-no.” She replies. “There's no need for it.”
  2753.  
  2754. “I need a doctor!” You shout, doubting a medic would have time to treat her.
  2755.  
  2756.     You see a brown and white dog come running forward from the back of the hangar as you lay Vikna down on the ground, keeping her spine straight, as you were taught to.
  2757.  
  2758. “Don't leave me.” She says weakly. “I'm so tired.”
  2759.  
  2760. “Don't sleep!” You yell. “You might never wake up!”
  2761.  
  2762. “What's going on over here?” The doctor asks.
  2763.  
  2764. “Vikna has a concussion.” You tell him. “She needs help.”
  2765.  
  2766. “That's an easy fix.” He tells you, pulling a sonic screwdriver looking device out of his pocket.
  2767.  
  2768.     He pulls it back and Vikna gets up off the floor, shaking her head.
  2769.  
  2770. “She should be fine now.” He replies, pointing the device at your head too. “Same with you.”
  2771.  
  2772.     You had a concussion? Well, it's a good thing this doctor was around.
  2773.  
  2774. “Vikna, who else is here?” You ask. “Anyone I know?”
  2775.  
  2776. “Well, you know everyone here, so-”
  2777.  
  2778. “Don't get smart with me right now. I need to know who's here.” You tell her.
  2779.  
  2780. “Nytro got stuck here with Ayn when everyone came over to visit. We were actually planning to go see you today, but I got stuck in the apartment building when the terrorists attacked.” She tells you. “Zofie also tried to come here, but I think she's stuck at the spacepor-”
  2781.  
  2782. “Where is it?!” You ask, losing your cool.
  2783.  
  2784.     Vikna takes a step back at your outburst before pointing in the direction you just came.
  2785.  
  2786. “40 miles in that direction, but-”
  2787.  
  2788. “I'm going.” You tell her, walking to the hangar door.
  2789.  
  2790. “W-what?!” She asks. “You'll be killed!”
  2791.  
  2792. “Maybe I will.” You tell her. “I'm not leaving her there to die and I'll risk my life to save her.”
  2793.  
  2794. “She's being protected already!” Vikna yells.
  2795.  
  2796. “By what?! Police?! Soldiers who have never fought a battle in their entire lives?! Vigilantes?!” You ask. “I am going to save Zofie and that is final!”
  2797.  
  2798.     You feel your feet stop working and nearly fall over before steadying yourself. When you try to move, you're unable. You look down and see a massive chunk of ice holding you in place. This makes you sigh, disappointed.
  2799.  
  2800. “You're not going anywhere.” Vikna says, her voice trembling with anger. “Not after what you just pulled!”
  2801.  
  2802.     You draw your revolver and point it between your feet, pulling the trigger.
  2803.  
  2804. BANG BANG
  2805.  
  2806.     Everyone in the hangar ducks and you break the ice around your feet, continuing towards the door. You feel your feet fail you again and fire the remaining cylinder into the ice again.
  2807.  
  2808. BANG BANG BANG BANG click
  2809.  
  2810.     You turn yourself around and unload all the spent casings into your hands. You grab a speed loader from a pouch on your trousers, slapping it in as you walk towards Vikna.
  2811.  
  2812. “Vikna, stop this.” You tell her.
  2813.  
  2814. “No...” She tells you, thrusting her hand out and freezing your feet to the floor.
  2815.  
  2816.     You fire 3 rounds into the ice, shattering it as you continue forward. Your ears are beginning to ring at this point, but you could still hear Vikna. Her hands are shaking as you advance, but she continues to freeze your feet to the ground. You fire 1 shot into the ice and it's enough to break free. She's getting less focused.
  2817.  
  2818. “S-stop!” She tells you, thrusting her hand out.
  2819.  
  2820.     Your feet are frozen to the ground again, but a swift tug on your boots removes them from Viknas icy clutches. She shoots another blast of ice at you, but all it does is frost your boots. You holster the weapon and approach Vikna as she begins to heave and sob, making one final attempt to stop you. She tries to freeze the ground again, but all you feel is a cool breeze as she falls to her knees.
  2821.  
  2822.     You quickly rush to her and get on your knees as well, pulling her into an embrace.
  2823.  
  2824. “Y-you're so stupid! Y-you'd go out a-and die for someone who y-you've only t-talked with f-for t-two m-months.” She tells you in between sobs. “W-why?”
  2825.  
  2826. “Because-”
  2827.  
  2828.     Before you can give a reason, the hangar door blows open, prompting you to push Vikna down and level your rifle with the door. All the maintenance personnel flee from the door as you watch the smoke clear. 3 coyotes rush through the door, weapons in hand before you pull the trigger.
  2829.  
  2830. BANG BANG
  2831.  
  2832.     The first one goes down.
  2833.  
  2834. BANG
  2835.  
  2836.     Another drops.
  2837.  
  2838. Click
  2839.  
  2840.     You feel your stomach sink as you draw your revolver firing the remaining shots into the last coyote. Luckily, his scrawny frame can't withstand the gunfire and he drops too, whining like a wounded animal. You quickly swap magazines for your rifle as more insurgents pour into the hangar. You flick over to AUTO and hold the trigger down, sweeping the doorway with automatic fire as the terrorists are cut down.
  2841.  
  2842. “CALL SECURITY DAMMIT!” You scream over the gun fire, slotting another magazine into the rifle.
  2843.  
  2844.     You hit the bolt release and switch back to SEMI and put single shots into the advancing wave of canines. You run out of ammo and try to grab another magazine, but can't find one. A wolf is charging you down with some sort of an electric lance. You grit your teeth, grabbing a knife from your chest rig and bringing it down on the front of your rifle. A bayonet you kept from Afghanistan, which had no place on your GPMG.
  2845.  
  2846.     You lift yourself off the ground and let out a battle cry, charging towards the wolf as your screams carry you further. This makes the wolf falter, as he didn't expect his violence to be met with violence. Everything seemed to slow down as your senses heightened. The clank of the metallic floor under your boots, the gentle whir of a central air system delivering oxygen to the station, and the smell of freshly burned cordite burns your nose. Holographic signs pulsating with energy as they display things in an unknown text.
  2847.  
  2848.     You drive the bayonet forward, lancing the poor wolf as he whines. You twist the bayonet and slice, his guts spilling out all over your boots. After this, you pull the bayonet out and kick him to the ground, stabbing him through the neck before removing the bayonet again. Blood steamed against the barrel of your rifle, which was hot enough boil water. As you charged for the door, you hear gunfire come from down the hall.
  2849.  
  2850.     Insurgents retreated into the hangar, only to be met with a madman and a bayonet. You run down a rat, stabbing into him as he squeaks in pain. You twist and kick him down, using the butt of your rifle to smash the snout of a feline who tries to lance you with a spear of some kind. The terrorists with actual rifles come into view and you manage to stab one, but the other gets a bead on you. Just as you accept that you fucked up, you hear gun fire from behind you.
  2851.  
  2852.     The coyote drops like a stone as you look back, seeing Vikna holding her own gun, still pulling the trigger.
  2853.  
  2854. “It's empty.” You tell her.
  2855.  
  2856.     She doesn't seem to hear you, as she begins hyperventilating.
  2857.  
  2858. “It's empty!” You yell to her.
  2859.  
  2860.     Before you can go help her with the trauma of shooting somebody, you hear more footsteps coming down the hall. You manage to find a magazine and slap it inside, pulling the charging handle back as you aim at the door. When the figures round the corner, something tells you to wait. You then recognize a certain hybrid among the group, dressed in some kind of futuristic security garb.
  2861.  
  2862. “Stand down!” He yells, rushing to the front of the group. “Jack? Is that-”
  2863.  
  2864.     You sling your rifle and rush back over to Vikna, who's loading her weapon again. As you reach her, she pulls back the slide and tries to level the weapon with the group. You wrestle the gun from her hand and grab her shoulders.
  2865.  
  2866. “GET A HOLD OF YOURSELF!” You scream, shaking her gently as she hyperventilates.
  2867.  
  2868.     You pull her into a hug and stroke her hair gently, waving Nytro away as you do. She accepts it immediately and begins to cry into your shoulder.
  2869.  
  2870. “Jack, are you-”
  2871.  
  2872. “Out.” You tell him.
  2873.  
  2874. “Wha-”
  2875.  
  2876. “GET OUT!” You shout, drawing your 1911.
  2877.  
  2878.     You hear everyone leave the hangar as you continue to hold Vikna, letting her cry while your arms wrap around her.
  2879.  
  2880. “Shh, it's okay. I'm here.” You coo softly, stroking her hair as you speak. “I'm not going anywhere. They're all gone. You did good.”
  2881.  
  2882.     If you had to hazard a guess, you'd say the trauma of shooting somebody had mixed with the fear that you were going to die sent her into state of hysteria. She tries to say something but you shush her, letting her cry into your chest as both of you sit alone in the hangar. Eventually, she manages to calm herself enough to speak.
  2883.  
  2884. “W-why?” She asks.
  2885.  
  2886. “Why what?” You ask softly.
  2887.  
  2888. “Why'd y-you ask them t-to leave?” She asks, sniffling a bit.
  2889.  
  2890. “I didn't want him to see you cry.” You tell her.
  2891.  
  2892. “T-thank you.” She tells you.
  2893.  
  2894.     You keep her in an embrace as both of you kneel on the floor, silent.
  2895.  
  2896. 3 hours later
  2897.  
  2898.     You managed to calm Vikna down enough to go back to her duties while you're given a place to stay the night. She promised to let you go with a task force to retrieve Zofie, which was the only comforting thought you've had all day. When the door closes beside you, you fall to your knees. You begin hyperventilating as you almost tear off your backpack.
  2899.  
  2900.     When you open it, you find a bottle of whiskey inside, uncapping it. You shakily raise it to your mouth and begin to chug it, your hands shaking even more as the pain of the alcohol going down your throat was realized. You pull the bottle away and gasp for air, coughing up alcohol that had made it into your lungs from said gasp. The bottle is capped and you get up off the floor, shakily making your way to the couch that was provided.
  2901.  
  2902.     You didn't care about examining the couch rather than sitting on it. If there's anything on top of it, it's about to become flat. When you sit down, you let the bottle drop from your hands, hitting the ground with a loud clink as your shaking hands grasp at your helmet. One of the first things you do when you come to this new world is fucking kill people. What the hell is wrong with you? Were you some kind of monster?
  2903.  
  2904.     Then the sounds return. A dog barking, shots all around as you hear the familiar sound of shots pinging off the walls. You huddle into a ball, fearing for your life as the sounds of war rage around you.
  2905.  
  2906. “Corporal, I don't wanna die...” A voice calls out to you. “Please don't let me die...”
  2907.  
  2908. “Don't worry Staff Sergeant, I won't let you die...” You reply. “I'll get you out of here...”
  2909.  
  2910. “No you won't Corporal.” He says, gripping your Kevlar. “Tell my kids their daddy was a hero.”
  2911.  
  2912. “I will Sergeant.” You say, trying to contain your own tears.
  2913.  
  2914. “I-I want my mama. Please, where's my mama? Mama! Mama!” He shouts, gripping you tightly. “M-mama. Please mama, I don't wanna-grk-.”
  2915.  
  2916.     The Staff sergeant begins choking on his own blood and you hold him close, keeping him warm as he finally succumbs to the wound he received.
  2917.  
  2918. “Well corporal, you're the next in command.” A man tells you. “What do we do now?”
  2919.  
  2920. “We get the Staff Sergeant back home.” You reply, hoisting him up. “Then we call an airstrike on the village. Everyone is hostile, sanitize the town.”
  2921.  
  2922.     The private seems to understand, helping you lift the Staff sergeant.
  2923.  
  2924. “Jack?” Another voice asks.
  2925.  
  2926. “Give me a second.” You tell them.
  2927.  
  2928. “Jack...”
  2929.  
  2930. “I said give me a second!” You shout, turning towards the voice.
  2931.  
  2932.     When you turn around, you see Nytro standing in the doorway, a confused expression adorning his face. When you look back down, you see you're carrying your bag over to the couch. You drop the bag, looking back at Nytro as your hands begin to tremble. The LAWs clatter on the ground as ammunition clacks around inside.
  2933.  
  2934. “Are you okay?” He asks, making his way into the room.
  2935.  
  2936.     You sit back down on the couch and remove your helmet, setting it down on top of the bag. After this, you grab the whiskey off the floor and remove the cap again, drinking it all down desperately.
  2937.  
  2938. “Hey!” He yells, grabbing the bottle from you. “You're gonna send yourself into a coma!”
  2939.  
  2940.     You just hang your head and sniffle a bit, swallowing what was in your mouth before grimacing. It burned your throat, but you needed to forget.
  2941.  
  2942. “Drowning yourself in alcohol won't help the problem.” He tells you. “I'm gonna get someone in here who will.”
  2943.  
  2944.     He grabs the cap off the floor and puts it back on the bottle, walking out with it in hand. You grab your hair, trying to calm yourself as you battle between what's real and what's fake. The sounds of battle try to invade your thoughts, but you desperately fight them off, hyperventilating as you do. You stifle your hyperactive breathing with a hand over your mouth, stopping the flow of air to your lungs. Your vision blurred with every beat of your heart before you hear the door to your room slide open.
  2945.  
  2946. “Sweetie?” A voice asks.
  2947.  
  2948.     You look up and see Ayn, who immediately walks over to you.
  2949.  
  2950. “Oh my god...” She says, covering her mouth. “You look terrible.”
  2951.  
  2952.     You just lower your head, nodding. She sits down next to you, putting an arm around you as she rubs your shoulder gently.
  2953.  
  2954. “Have you ever lost someone precious to you?” You ask.
  2955.  
  2956.     Ayn nods her head, pulling you into her. She strokes the back of your head gently as you allow it all to happen, not making an effort to aid or hinder it.
  2957.  
  2958. “Yes...” She tells you somberly. “What's bothering you?”
  2959.  
  2960. “I lost my platoon sergeant and had to lead my platoon back to base.” You tell her. “He died in my arms, crying for his mother.”
  2961.  
  2962.     You grab a picture of the man from your plate carrier, showing it to her.
  2963.  
  2964. “He had 2 sons and a wife. I had to tell them their daddy was a hero and that her husband died fighting bravely.” You tell her. “I shouldn't be troubling you with all this. It's bad enough that I have to deal with it.”
  2965.  
  2966. “Stop it.” She tells you. “I'm worried about you.”
  2967.  
  2968. “I'm fine, please.” You tell her. “I just need-”
  2969.  
  2970. “You need somebody.” She interrupts. “Stop it. Just stop it.”
  2971.  
  2972. “Ayn...” You say weakly.
  2973.  
  2974. “Stop trying to be brave! We can take care of ourselves! We're not damsels in distress and we're certainly not helpless! Every time I see you push yourself like this, it hurts to watch. You're tormenting yourself with this false sense of needing to protect us when we are perfectly capable of doing that ourselves.” She tells you, her voice beginning to falter.
  2975.  
  2976. “I-I know.” You tell her with a smile. “You four are pretty badass, aren't you?”
  2977.  
  2978. “Yes, we are.” Ayn replies, chuckling.
  2979.  
  2980.     You both sit there with Ayn rubbing your hair intermittently. It didn't completely eradicate the pain like you thought it would, but it helped a bit to be in someone's arms. You hear the door open, but she quickly shoos whoever entered away.
  2981.  
  2982. “Who's there?” You ask.
  2983.  
  2984. “ARA, she's curious about what's going on.” Ayn tells you, running her fingers through your hair.
  2985.  
  2986. “Well, let her stay. She's not hurting anyone.” You tell her.
  2987.  
  2988. “W-well, okay.” Ayn says, waving her back in.
  2989.  
  2990. “H-hi Jack, how's everything going?” ARA asks apprehensively.
  2991.  
  2992. “Good now that you're here.” You say, looking up at her.
  2993.  
  2994. Ayn and ARA both chuckle, ARA more awkwardly than Ayn.
  2995.  
  2996. “I appreciate the compliment.” ARA tells you.
  2997.  
  2998. “Do you have any questions?” You ask.
  2999.  
  3000. “Well, miss Vikna asked me to come in and check on you since miss princess Ayn has yet to return with any good news.” ARA replies. “I, also, kind of wanted to check on you myself. Considering that you are a new friend and all.”
  3001.  
  3002. “Well, tell Vikna I'm feeling a bit better now. I appreciate that you care as well, thank you ARA.” You tell her sweetly.
  3003.  
  3004.     ARA smiles back before her ears twitch, causing her to look diagonally. She nods a couple times and looks back at you, unsure of what to say.
  3005.  
  3006. “Who are you talking to?” Ayn asks.
  3007.  
  3008. “Miss Vikna.” ARA replies. “She's, uh, not in the most emotionally stable state right now.”
  3009.  
  3010. “Oh god...” You say, getting up. “Come on, we need to find her.”
  3011.  
  3012. “I'll lead the way.” ARA says in an over the top voice, giving you a Terran salute. “You can count on me.”
  3013.  
  3014.     You chuckle at that and grab your bag, helping Ayn up from the couch. You take the helmet off the top of the bag and strap it to your head, clicking the buckle in place before following ARA out. As you 3 walk, you study the walls and signs. The holographic signs were blue like ARAs eyes and mouth, which said quite a bit about the importance of the color here. There was a glowing blue strip that ran along the length of the hallway on both sides, roughly at waist level for you and Ayn. It was there for no other purpose than to look cool, which you approved of. Everything inside this space elevator was just as you imagined it, which was pretty cool.
  3015.  
  3016.     You all reach the room where Vikna was in and ARA opens the door, watching as the double doors slide open for her.
  3017.  
  3018. “Miss Vikna, I brought mister Jack.” She tells her.
  3019.  
  3020.     You walk inside and look around the room, which was almost the exact same as yours. The only difference was that it had a small mini-bar that was staffed by an anthroid, who paid no mind to Vikna. When you look to Vikna, you drop your bag and rush to her front, pulling her into an embrace. She's sobbing into her hands before you wrap your arms around her, prompting her to reciprocate the gesture.
  3021.  
  3022. “Sh sh shh, it's okay.” You coo. “I'm here now.”
  3023.  
  3024. “It-it's all my fault.” She stutters. “Y-you're sad because of me. I-I brought yo-you here.”
  3025.  
  3026. “No you didn't.” You say calmly. “I stepped through that portal of my own free will. I wanted to help all of you.”
  3027.  
  3028. “N-no, I made you come through b-because I asked for help.” She tells you. “T-then the portal appeared a-and you came through.”
  3029.  
  3030. “Vikna, I will never be mad when you ask me to help. Especially when your life is in danger.” You tell her. “I do this because I care about you, not because you're forcing me to do it. Please, don't beat yourself up over my decision to help you.”
  3031.  
  3032.     Vikna tries to say something else, but you hold her tight against you, keeping her calm. She leans into you as you hold back tears of your own. You have to stay strong for her. At least until she's had enough time to build up her wall again.
  3033.  
  3034. The next day
  3035.  
  3036.     You feel the elevator slow to a halt as it hits the ground floor, opening up to a massive plaza area. The room is filled with refugees of all shapes and sizes, species varying wildly from known to unknown. A young Kleyka had pointed to you earlier and called you an alien, which made you smile.
  3037.  
  3038. “Sergeant, how's everything looking?” Vikna asks over the earpiece.
  3039.  
  3040. “Terrible. Just how bad is this insurgency?” You ask in return.
  3041.  
  3042. “It's bad. Really bad. Half of the city is under, uh, insurgent control.” She replies as you walk through the crowd of people. “The Tower is at capacity and can't fit any more refugees.”
  3043.  
  3044.     You look around the room and instantly know that's bullshit. The reason is probably because businesses inside The Tower don't want to cave and give any space to the refugees.
  3045.  
  3046. “Well, they're gonna have to make room for an airport, er, spaceport full of refugees, because we're pulling everyone back, and I mean everyone.” You tell her.
  3047.  
  3048. “Jack, there's more than 400 people trapped at that space port. We don't have the-”
  3049.  
  3050. “Don't give me that 'we don't have the space' bullshit. I see lots of space in front of stores that need to make some god damn concessions.” You tell her. “I thought these vendors would be a bit more progressive considering how far ahead you people have gone with technology.”
  3051.  
  3052. “Jack...”
  3053.  
  3054. “No, they're coming here and that's final.” You tell her.
  3055.  
  3056. “Well, they'll be your problem if you do.” She tells you.
  3057.  
  3058. “I'm fine with that. I can be very persuasive.” You say, finally making it to the tram line. “Squad, mount up!”
  3059.  
  3060.     Everyone gets inside as you sit down on the seat next to the door, checking your weapon. The tram was fast as a bullet once it was sealed. All the people and refugees watched as the tram goes by, carrying soldiers fully kitted up for war. None of these men had ever seen combat, and the woman attached to the unit was the biggest idiot you've ever seen.
  3061.  
  3062.     She started spouting about equality, so you challenged her to an arm wrestling match. You weren't the strongest person there by any means, but you won without much fight. You respectfully asked for her to be replaced with someone who was capable of winning against you.
  3063.  
  3064. “Typical meathead males, think it's all about strength.” She said.
  3065.  
  3066. “Then show me exactly what makes you worthy of being on my squad.” You told her.
  3067.  
  3068.     She then proceeded to try and take you down, but she simply didn't have the smarts to pull it off, not to mention it required strength. You stood firm in your decision, calling into question the validity of the rest of the squad. As you had found, only 5 people were capable of challenging you and beating you in hand to hand, as well as arm wrestling. The woman called you a sexist pig and you called her a speciest, which she didn't take to kindly to. Once you had found more men who could beat you in combat, you made your squad and filed down into the elevator, leading to where you were now.
  3069.  
  3070. “Everyone ready?” You ask.
  3071.  
  3072.     Everyone confirms they're ready before you slap a magazine inside your rifle, racking a round inside. You had 2 laser riflemen, 5 regular riflemen, a SAW gunner, 2 heavy riflemen, and you. Not exactly a full squad, but it was the best you could do with the limited time you had.
  3073.  
  3074. “Alright, we're going to be taking 5 APCs to the spaceport to ferry civilians to and from the spaceport. Each APC carries 50 people plus 2 crew, so 5 of you will drive, and 5 of you will gun. I'll take gunner on the lead vehicle.” You tell them, taking out a folded cloth.
  3075.  
  3076. “Sergeant, what's that?” A heavy rifleman asks.
  3077.  
  3078. “A flag.” You tell him.
  3079.  
  3080. “Sergeant, are you sure it's wise to put a foreign flag on a Katrician vehicle?” He asks.
  3081.  
  3082. “It's for a VIP.” You tell him. “She'll know what it means.”
  3083.  
  3084. “She, Sergeant?” He asks. “You're doing this for a girl?”
  3085.  
  3086. “Did I not just say that we're evacuating the entire spaceport?” You ask in return. “There's a VIP there, sure, but she's not the only reason we're going.”
  3087.  
  3088.     The tram stops and you get up, carrying the flag in one hand and your M21 in the other. You had removed the scope, since it had a scope that didn't need to be zeroed every time it was attached, a little modification your dad made to it. When you make it outside, the APCs were waiting for you, hovering in place as the slick lines and angled fronts made them look invincible. You were assured that it could take a hit from a rail gun and survive, but your previous experience with APCs made you doubt this claim.
  3089.  
  3090.     There was gunfire in the distance, sounding very much similar to AK fire and SKS fire. It brought back unpleasant memories of sitting in a tin can, waiting to be blown up as the Bradley gunner lights up whoever dares poke their head out. When you reach the lead vehicle, it lowers and a side door opens. You ignore it and clamber up top, removing the Katrician flag and unraveling your own. The red and white stripes, flapped in the slight breeze as you attached the flag to the flag pole. You were surprised, as you thought they'd have holographic flags on the lead vehicles for no reason other than to be cool.
  3091.  
  3092. “Sir-”
  3093.  
  3094. “Sergeant.” You immediately correct. “I work for a living.”
  3095.  
  3096. “I heard that.” Vikna tells you over coms, irritated.
  3097.  
  3098. “Uh, Sergeant, I'm pretty sure this is a violation of the Serkonian convention of-”
  3099.  
  3100. “This entire operation is a violation of some bullshit convention you space furries have put in place.” You interrupt, annoyed he'd care more about the rules than saving civilians. “First squad! Mount up!”
  3101.  
  3102.     Everyone gets into their respective vehicles, buttoning up as you walk towards the gunners seat. It was a truly massive machine, looking more like a helicopter on the inside than an APC. Maybe that's because it's technically an aerial vehicle. Whatever, it doesn't matter right now.
  3103.  
  3104. “Alright, Eagle 1 to all Eagles, we're moving out to the spaceport.” You tell them over the radio.
  3105.  
  3106. 40 minutes later
  3107.  
  3108. Zofie
  3109.  
  3110.     The terrorists have been trying to take over the spaceport all day, attacking it and only being repelled by people who have a weapon as well as off duty soldiers. You thought you saw Nytro a couple of times, but it was only someone who looked similar. More gunfire sounded from the entrance of the spaceport as the group known simply as "The Separationists" tried to gain access to the lobby.
  3111.  
  3112.     More screams terrified you as well as all the others stuck inside the glass lined room. You crouch down into a ball as the gunfire continued, pained cries and whines coming from the entrance as people gave their lives to protect the masses. You feel more tears flow down your cheeks as you begin to wonder if you'd ever get out of here alive. Then, louder gunfire came from outside and the people around you moved to the window.
  3113.  
  3114. “Is the army here?!” One asks excitedly.
  3115.  
  3116. “We're saved!” Another shouts ecstatically.
  3117.  
  3118. “What kind of flag is that? Red, white, and blue?” Yet another voice asks.
  3119.  
  3120.     This immediately catches your attention, as you've never heard of a red, white, and blue flag before. You get up off the floor, wiping the tears from your eyes as best you can while pushing through the crowd. When you get to the window, you see the flag they were talking about. It looked like...no, there's no way. That's impossible! You feel your phone begin to ring and you take it out of your pocket, pulling it open to see an unrecognized number. You answer tentatively.
  3121.  
  3122. “Hello?” You ask.
  3123.  
  3124. “I'm on my way. Get the door for me.” Is all it said before hanging up.
  3125.  
  3126.     That sounded like...no, there's no way he could be here. Just as you say that, the men dismount their vehicles and one catches your eye.
  3127.  
  3128. “What's with his face?” One asks.
  3129.  
  3130. “An alien maybe?” Another asks.
  3131.  
  3132.     You feel yourself begin to shake, so you look back and see your tail wagging, almost violently so. It's him. He gets on top of the tank and grabs the flag, wrapping it around a pole before waving everyone along after him, running off the landing pad and towards the spaceport. The flag flaps in the breeze as laser fire and gun fire strike all around him, prompting him to return fire. The loud bangs made your ears fold down in response, scaring you a bit before you saw him reach the door.
  3133.  
  3134. “Keep those fucking insurgents suppressed!” He says in a voice you never really associated with him.
  3135.  
  3136.     His voice was stressed, higher pitched, and generally more assertive than his normal speaking voice. You make your way over to the door and push past everyone, opening the door for him.
  3137.  
  3138. Jack
  3139.  
  3140.     You hear the door open beside you and look to your left, seeing Zofie standing in the doorway.
  3141.  
  3142. “Jackson!” She yells, pulling you into a hug. “I-I thought we were goners!”
  3143.  
  3144.     You initially try to push away, but realize she's been stuck inside a war zone for almost a day now.
  3145.  
  3146. “Nobody gets left behind.” You say in a more calm voice, wrapping your gloved hands around her torso. “Especially not you.”
  3147.  
  3148. “Danke...” She says, beginning to cry.
  3149.  
  3150. “No, none of that right now.” You tell her. “We need to get you out of here.”
  3151.  
  3152.     You had your squad set up hard light shields to protect the crowd from gunfire as they were herded into the APCs. While everyone filed out of the spaceport, gunfire came from inside as the last of the survivors were loaded in. It turns out that over 150 people had died due to the fighting, which weighed heavy on your heart. While these people sat in this spaceport getting shot, you slept on a couch in The Tower, sleeping somewhat peacefully. You weren't leaving here until every single trace of this insurgency was crushed underneath your boot. They could consider it foreign aid, mandatory foreign aid.
  3153.  
  3154.     As the last of the patrons filed out, you closed the door and rushed them all back towards the APCs. You held your American flag proudly, holding it high for everyone to see as you make your way back to the APC yourself. Old Glory flapped in the breeze as she symbolized freedom from the oppression of the British. To these people, it symbolized hope, rescue, and freedom from the terror of being inside a flashy blue tomb.
  3155.  
  3156.     You had the men with hard light shields follow you closely as they too retreated back to the APCs, manning their vehicles. When you arrived at the lead vehicle, you detached the flag from the rebar pole, hanging it on top of the hovering APC under a hail of gun fire. When you look down, you see someone is taking a picture with their camera. You smile awkwardly, not liking people taking your picture, but you could forgive the person just this once.
  3157.  
  3158.     When everyone is inside the APCs, it leaves you and Zofie with a few hard light shields covering you both. You take her to an APC in the back, not wanting her in the lead vehicle. She protests this decision, but you make her understand that the lead vehicle is the most dangerous. When she decides to take your advice, you smile and watch her leave. After she's safely inside the APC, you get inside the lead vehicle and signal to everyone that it was time to move.
  3159.  
  3160. 1 hour later
  3161.  
  3162.     It took all of you a bit longer to get back, but you all eventually made it through without a scratch.
  3163.  
  3164. “Eagle 1 to Eagle actual, civilians secured. Escorting to Tower entrance.” You tell Vikna, already taking the flag off the lead vehicle.
  3165.  
  3166. “Copy, Eagle 1, You'll have to make room for them.” She replies.
  3167.  
  3168. “Alright, Eagle 1 out.” You tell her, turning the microphone off.
  3169.  
  3170.     When you hop off the APC, you're greeted immediately by Zofie. She had split off from the group and waited for you.
  3171.  
  3172. “T-thank you for coming.” She tells you. “I'm s-so grateful.”
  3173.  
  3174.     You pull her into a hug, careful not to pull too hard.
  3175.  
  3176. “Let's get inside. It'll be safer there.” You tell her, beginning to hear space AK fire in the distance.
  3177.  
  3178. 3 hours of hard negotiating and shouting later
  3179.  
  3180.     You managed to 'find' space for more refugees in front of the shops all across The Tower. They were shrewd negotiators, but you managed to brow beat them into submission. They've also been getting more business, since people could more readily reach them with all the space to move around they gained. You made it to the 'quarters' and walk over to the glass fridge, pushing the button Vikna told you about before opening the door. Seriously, why can't they just use a door handle?
  3181.  
  3182.     You take an orange soda out of the fridge and crack it open, taking a sip before sitting down. Unfortunately, once you sat down, your Bluetooth-esque device starts ringing again. You push the talk button, since you didn't have any fancy neural implants like everyone else did.
  3183.  
  3184. “Hello?” You ask.
  3185.  
  3186. “H-hey Jack, uh, I was wondering if you were down for a movie tonight.” She tells you. “I'm in room 2375 if you want to come and watch something.”
  3187.  
  3188. “Uh, sure. What kind of movie?” You ask, pulling out a DVD binder.
  3189.  
  3190. “Do you have any preferences?” She asks.
  3191.  
  3192. “I've got some movies here in an, uh, optical disk format. Do you have anything that plays those?” You ask in return.
  3193.  
  3194. “Ja, I do.” She replies. “That's ancient.”
  3195.  
  3196. “Alright, I'll be over in a bit.” You tell her, sniffing your pits and crotch before reeling back. “I gotta find a shower.”
  3197.  
  3198. “Oh, I have a shower!” She tells you excitedly.
  3199.  
  3200.     You feel butterflies in your stomach, but shake the feeling away. She probably just wants to help, right?
  3201.  
  3202. “Uh, okay.” You tell her uneasily. “I'll be there in a bit.”
  3203.  
  3204.     You hang up and shudder. You had a vague idea of what she wanted to do, as you've heard of 'Netflix and chill' before. However, you just don't know if you could do this to Zofie. As far as you knew, she hasn't really had sex with anybody before. Well, outside of a 69 she did with Nytro, and an apparently non-canon fuck with him as well. You couldn't do this to her, as you didn't really know whether you loved her or not. Not to mention she might not love you either. Hopefully it wouldn't be what you thought it was, and you're just being a perv.
  3205.  
  3206.     You shove the binder of DVDs inside the backpack they were inside and hoist said pack onto your back. When you had it on your back, you take another orange soda with you and shove it inside your mag pouch. No need to take ammo with you, but fuck taking your plate carrier off right now. When you exit the door, you realize that you can't read the signs on the doors. You call Zofie back and she picks up immediately.
  3207.  
  3208. “Hello? Is something wrong Jack?” She asks.
  3209.  
  3210. “I, uh, can't read the door signs. Can you put something by the door so I know which room you're in?” You ask.
  3211.  
  3212. “You can't read?” She asks.
  3213.  
  3214.     You're tempted to make a crayons and glue joke, but it'd fly right over her head.
  3215.  
  3216. “I can't read your language. I can speak it, but you guys seem to have a different set of symbols.” You tell her.
  3217.  
  3218. “Oh, I understand that.” She says, shuffling something around in the background. “I'll put a box outside.”
  3219.  
  3220.     Just as she says that, you see her about 5 doors down, pushing a box outside.
  3221.  
  3222. “Oh, I see you.” You say. “I'll be there in a bit. Bye.”
  3223.  
  3224.     You hang up and she looks around the hallway, seeing you. She waves excitedly, pulling the box back inside. You make your way to her room before entering, seeing she had made some food for the both of you. When you enter, the door closes behind you and Zofie sniffs the air. She makes her way towards you, still sniffing until she reaches you. She almost presses her nose up against your clothes as she smells you up and down before smiling.
  3225.  
  3226. “So that's where that musk is from.” She says, smiling sheepishly and looking down. “Sorry if I'm being rude.”
  3227.  
  3228. “Not so much rude as it is odd.” You reply.
  3229.  
  3230. “Well, I think we can postpone the shower, you don't stink like you said you did.” She says with a smile. “What movie did you bring? I'm curious to see what kind of movies you have that you'd need an optical drive to play them.”
  3231.  
  3232. “Well, they're not black and white if that's what you're asking.” You tell her. “Got an old documentary I was in and a couple of movies as well.”
  3233.  
  3234. “That sounds great.” She says. “I made some food for us. The kitchen here isn't adequate, but I made do!”
  3235.  
  3236. “That's sweet of you.” You tell her.
  3237.  
  3238. “Well, it's much healthier than eating pop corn, and I know you need to keep losing that weight.” She says, poking your belly.
  3239.  
  3240.     You chuckle at that and take off your backpack, taking the soda off of your plate carrier before setting down your plate carrier. Once everything is off your body, you draw the old pistol from your plate carrier and shove it in your pocket, thumbing the hammer forward. Zofie is a bit alarmed by this, so you put a hand on her shoulder.
  3241.  
  3242. “It's for our protection. Don't worry, I'm not going to pull it out.” You tell her. “Let's pop that documentary in.”
  3243.  
  3244.     You walk up to the very square looking box with more unnecessary blue lines running along it to indicate it was 'futuristic' or something. You never got why more lights equals more sci-fi, but people told you it was supposed to look like this. It was kind of cool, but the metallic floors and holographic interfaces were much more convincing. Not to mention the buildings were all sorts of odd shapes. Enough ranting, time to play a movie.
  3245.  
  3246.     You eventually figure out which button opens the DVD port and slot the disk inside. When the disk is in the player, you press the same button again and walk back to the couch, seeing a massive hologram pop up. It projects a TV into thin air as you wait for the documentary to start. Once it does, Zofie leans onto your shoulder. The documentary starts with gunfire, which makes you tense up a bit. When you hear your squad lead shouting orders, you immediately perk up.
  3247.  
  3248. “This, is Helmand. It is widely considered to be the most dangerous province, in the entire Afghan theater.” The British narrator begins. “However, with dangerous enemies comes even more dangerous soldiers. Royal Marines, Grenadiers, US Army special forces, and US Marines are stationed in this area to keep the Al Queda threat at bay. Throughout this documentary, we will be following a platoon of United States Marines into battle, documenting them, interviewing them, and filming their firefights. Welcome, to hell's highway.”
  3249.  
  3250.     A music track begins playing as the camera crew walks through a C-5 galaxy, the cargo hooks and nets rattling and shaking as the aircraft experienced turbulence. The camera passed over a few guys, asking them for input.
  3251.  
  3252. “Yeah, I'm ready to kill some hadjis! WOO!” A man yelled.
  3253.  
  3254. “It's really thrilling to be going into combat for the first time! I hope we get to see some action!” Another yells over the sound of the engines.
  3255.  
  3256.     As the camera pans over the Marines, all of whom are waving at the camera, Zofie sees something.
  3257.  
  3258. “Wait, go back!” She says, grabbing the remote.
  3259.  
  3260.     She rewinds the video and stops it on an image of you looking at the floor, holding your bag in your hands as you're shook about by turbulence.
  3261.  
  3262. “Is that you?” She asks.
  3263.  
  3264. “Yeah.” You tell her. “I was terrified that we were gonna get shot down.”
  3265.  
  3266. “The Marines head off to their base camp, Camp Leatherneck. This is where they will work, play, and rest the entire time they are here. Unless, of course, they get sent out on patrol.” The narrator quips.
  3267.  
  3268.     The scene cuts to the rec room, where all the Marines hung out. There were a couple of guys playing ping pong ball, some dudes watching old Disney movies, some dudes playing video games, and a couple of guys watching the news. You were nowhere to be seen, as the next scene showed you sitting in a guard tower.
  3269.  
  3270. “We gotta watch the road, make sure no insurgents try to drive through and take us all out with a car bomb.” You tell the camera, your voice considerably more high pitched than it is now. “Might not wanna stand near the edge like that either, this tower isn't very stable.”
  3271.  
  3272.     Zofie chuckles at this.
  3273.  
  3274. “You sound like you huffed helium!” She says giddily.
  3275.  
  3276.     You smile at that before the scene changes. It shows your unit walking through a mountainous area, cracking jokes and making idle chatter. A few minutes later and you're all under attack, getting into fighting positions as the cameraman runs for cover.
  3277.  
  3278. “Our camera crew comes under fire from Taliban forces, taking cover quickly as the Marines bark out a response.” The narrator says.
  3279.  
  3280.     As the cameraman takes cover, you see yourself move down the line towards him. Then, you start filling sandbags with dirt before stacking them by the cameraman. You take a hit to your plate carrier and groan in pain.
  3281.  
  3282. “Oh my god!” Zofie yells, holding you. “Did that hurt?”
  3283.  
  3284.     You touch the area that was hit when you got shot and nod.
  3285.  
  3286. “It hurt a lot, but it wasn't as bad as I thought it'd be.” You tell her.
  3287.  
  3288.     Just as you say that, you get back up and continue filling the sandbags for the cameraman. Once all 6 were filled, the cameraman had a place to hide while the rest of you took care of the problem.
  3289.  
  3290. “Private First Class Haigs risked his own life to protect the cameraman as he took fire and got hit by an enemy sniper round. Luckily, it hit his armor and didn't go through.” The narrator says. “The cameraman was lucky too, as bullets had been hitting the sandbags continuously for the entire firefight.”
  3291.  
  3292.     The documentary goes on, talking about some other Marines and the Royal Marines that you met during your deployment. While this is all happening, Zofie is gradually getting more and more touchy feely with you. First she was just rubbing her cheek against your shoulder gently, but eventually she started to feel up your arms and chest.
  3293.  
  3294. “Zofie, is something wrong?” You ask.
  3295.  
  3296. “Mate with me.” She whispers.
  3297.  
  3298. “What?!” You ask.
  3299.  
  3300. “I said maybe!” She immediately tries to correct.
  3301.  
  3302. “No, I heard you say 'mate with me' with my own two ears.” You tell her. “Trying that slight of hand with me isn't going to fly.”
  3303.  
  3304. “F-fine, I said mate with me!” She tells you, grabbing your arm. “I-I'm just so hot and bothered about this whole thing that I can't stand it. I need someone right now and you're just so nice and-”
  3305.  
  3306. “Zofie, I know there are sinths here that can help you with this sort of thing.” You tell her.
  3307.  
  3308. “N-no. I want-unf-you.” She tells you, beginning to rub her legs together. “God your m-musk, it's so good~.”
  3309.  
  3310.     You push the call button on your earpiece and a holographic display pops up in front of you. When you scroll through your contacts, you see a picture of Ayn smiling for a picture before you press the call button. She picks up almost immediately.
  3311.  
  3312. “Hello?” She asks.
  3313.  
  3314. “I need you here, now!” You yell, beginning to panic. “Zofies room!”
  3315.  
  3316. “I'm on my way.” She tells you, hanging up.
  3317.  
  3318. “F-fick mich.” She says, shoving her fingers down her pants. “Fick mich gut.”
  3319.  
  3320. “Zofie!” You yell.
  3321.  
  3322.     She doesn't stop and the door opens, revealing Ayn in the doorway.
  3323.  
  3324. “Help, please?” You ask. “I-I don't know what to do.”
  3325.  
  3326. “Oh, sweetie.” She says, walking over to you two. “Zofie, can you hear me?”
  3327.  
  3328. “A-ah, fich mich!” She yells in German.
  3329.  
  3330. “She's gone. Jack, you know what you need to do, right?” She asks before sniffing the air. “Good god, you're scent bombing her!”
  3331.  
  3332. “B-but it's my first time! I think it's hers too, right?” You ask.
  3333.  
  3334. “Yeah, well, sort of.” She tells you. “You need to give it to her rough. Nytro says she likes that.”
  3335.  
  3336. “N-nein! That hurt mein c-clitoris last time he was-ah-rough.” Zofie interjects, going back to masturbating.
  3337.  
  3338. “But that's wrong!” You yell. “All of you may be characters driven by the desire to procreate, but I'm not!”
  3339.  
  3340. “Come on Jack, I don't need my magic to know how much you want to go to town on her.” Ayn replies, smirking deviously.
  3341.  
  3342. “Y-you fucking devil.” You tell her. “I-It won't even feel good for her.”
  3343.  
  3344. “Honey, she's done enough foreplay to squirt at the first touch.” Ayn tells you. “You're not gonna blow before her, even with your stamina. Now stick your dick in her and take responsibility for yourself.”
  3345.  
  3346.     You look over to Zofie and see her left hand going to work on her tit as her right furiously fingers her visibly wet sex.
  3347.  
  3348. “W-what if she gets pregnant?” You ask, your main worry coming to light.
  3349.  
  3350.     Ayn is about to answer when she stops, putting a finger to her chin. She's probably never been asked that before.
  3351.  
  3352. “Well, I'm sure you're both incompatible. We're not even remotely related on a species level, so I don't-”
  3353.  
  3354. “What about Nytro? Are canines and felines closely related?” You ask.
  3355.  
  3356. “He was an extremely rare case-”
  3357.  
  3358. “I don't want to have a half human half dog child! Can you imagine the bullying they would suffer?” You ask. “Not to mention I'm not even remotely ready to have kids! Zofie is barely legal anyways!”
  3359.  
  3360. “She's twenty, sweetie. She's way past being legal at this point.” Ayn replies. “As for you not being ready, I don't know what to say. We don't really keep condoms stocked, sorry.”
  3361.  
  3362. “God dammit Jack, just fuck me already!” Zofie yells, pulling you towards her.
  3363.  
  3364.     At least, she attempts to pull you. She only manages to pull herself closer as she moans into your shoulder.
  3365.  
  3366. “Sweetie, I understand what you're feeling. Sex isn't like a marriage proposal. You don't have to put a ring on it if you decide you want to mate with a girl. Trust me, there's no strings attached.” Ayn tells you.
  3367.  
  3368. “Can't Nytro-”
  3369.  
  3370. “NEIN!” Zofie screams. “He's too rough on mein flower!”
  3371.  
  3372.     Ayn chuckles at that and Zofie keeps going at it, beginning to whuff and whine.
  3373.  
  3374. “She's not gonna be able to finish like this.” Ayn says, putting a hand on your shoulder. “At least help her finish.”
  3375.  
  3376.     You sigh, getting up off the couch and strip out of your shirt, throwing it to the floor.
  3377.  
  3378. “That's the spirit sweetie!” Ayn tells you excitedly. “I'll get out of your hair now.”
  3379.  
  3380.     Ayn exits Zofies room and you turn back to her, seeing she's already taken her pants off.
  3381.  
  3382. “M-mein gott, I'm s-so w-wet.” She says, pulling her panties down.
  3383.  
  3384.     They hit the floor with a wet slap and you you cringe at that. Zofie spreads herself open for you before going back to fingering her little button. You've never seen her like this before, at least not in real life. She still had a cute little shirt on with arms that were way too big for her, but everything else was gone.
  3385.  
  3386. “P-please stop staring and take off your pants! I know you want me!” She yells, pointing to your groin.
  3387.  
  3388.     You look down and see you have a sizable erection standing tall in your trousers. You drop trou and under wear, taking off your boots as well.
  3389.  
  3390. “Sorry if I blow quick, but you said you wanted this.” You tell her. “I'll be gentle.”
  3391.  
  3392. “I-ah-am about to-mm-burst myself.” She says, continuing to play with herself. “J-just shove it in, I can t-take it.”
  3393.  
  3394.     You move yourself over to Zofie, who spreads her legs further apart for you. When your tip meets Zofie snatch, you push yourself in slowly, earning a gasp from her.
  3395.  
  3396. “T-this is s-so weird!” She yells.
  3397.  
  3398.     When you feel yourself hilt inside her, she squeals, pulling herself up onto your chest. She stays there for a bit, moaning and gasping, catching her breath as you hold her surprisingly firm ass. You give it a bit of a squeeze and she moans in delight, beginning to lick your neck as she pants into your shoulder. She lets go of you and lays back on the couch, smiling with a dopey grin on her face.
  3399.  
  3400. “K-keep going, I'm so c-close!” She yells.
  3401.  
  3402.     You feel yourself getting close too. You remember being able to last longer when you first jacked off to porn than you're lasting here. As soon as you pull out, Zofie pulls herself back onto you and slams herself home, gripping tight as her folds clamp down on you. This makes you unceremoniously blow a load of your own, almost bringing you to your knees as you cum inside someone for the first time. Zofie just squeals and moans as each load is forced inside her by your cock muscles. With one last spurt, you feel Zofie squeeze again, digging her claws into your back. You grunt in pain as you grasp her butt firmly, waiting for her to finish her own orgasm. When she does, you set her down and begin pulling out. What a chump you were.
  3403.  
  3404. “I-it feels so good.” She says, biting her bottom lip. “W-we need to do this more often.”
  3405.  
  3406. “Sorry I blew so early. I was planning to go longer, but you felt so...good.” You tell her, pulling out.
  3407.  
  3408. “H-hey, It's fine. I wouldn't have lasted another round.” She tells you. “I liked it, if that's what you're worried about.”
  3409.  
  3410. “Well, uh, I'm gonna take a shower.” You say, looking down at your soiled and semi-hard cock. “If you want to join me, I'll wash your back for you.”
  3411.  
  3412. “S-sounds good to me.” Zofie replies awkwardly. “L-lead the way.”
  3413.  
  3414. Vikna
  3415.  
  3416.     You sit back on the couch, rubbing your forehead gingerly.
  3417.  
  3418. “ARA, I don't know what to say.” You tell her. “I don't think he'd be up for it considering how much he dislikes kids.”
  3419.  
  3420. “Miss Vikna, you don't understand! The school wants him to appear and talk about what he did!” ARA tells you, getting flustered. “I can't just tell them no! They have higher clearance!”
  3421.  
  3422. “The school director asked you to retrieve him?” You ask.
  3423.  
  3424. “Yes! He said it was non-negotiable!” ARA continues yelling.
  3425.  
  3426. “Turn the volume down please.” You say, grabbing your head. “Besides, he's had a rough day.”
  3427.  
  3428. “It's tomorrow, not today.” She tells you. “So he'll have enough time to rest and relax before getting up to teach.”
  3429.  
  3430. “Teach?!” You ask. “He's not going to want to do that!”
  3431.  
  3432. “Miss Vikna, I think you underestimate his capacity for kindness.” She replies. “He's not as self centered as you may think.”
  3433.  
  3434. “I don't think he's self centered, I think he won't like sitting in a room full of kids for hours on end.” You say, rubbing your muzzle as you do. “He told me he doesn't have the patience for kids.”
  3435.  
  3436. “Well I need to at least try. Otherwise my programming is going to keep pestering me about it, like a notification I can't turn off.” ARA says, turning towards the door.
  3437.  
  3438. “Fine, I'll come with you.” You say, getting off the couch.
  3439.  
  3440.     You both exit the hall, walking down the hallway to his room. When the door opens, you see Ayn sitting on his couch, watching something on the holo-screen.
  3441.  
  3442. “What's up?” She asks.
  3443.  
  3444. “Where's Jack?” You ask in return.
  3445.  
  3446. “Plowing Zofie, why?” She asks.
  3447.  
  3448.     You feel your blood begin to boil. He chose her first? After all this he chose HER?! After you fucking offered yourself up on a silver god damn platter almost a month ago, he chose that fucking virgin?!
  3449.  
  3450. “He WHAT?!” You ask, enraged.
  3451.  
  3452. “Zofie wanted him to fuck her, so he did.” Ayn replies. “He didn't force it on her. In fact, she and I kind of forced it on him.”
  3453.  
  3454. “God dammit Ayn!” You shout. “When?!”
  3455.  
  3456. “About an hour ago. I doubt he's still going, if that's what you're asking.” She replies. “Doesn't have the stamina for it.”
  3457.  
  3458. “Goodbye miss princess Ayn, I have business to attend to with mister Jackson.” ARA tells her. “Have a good night!”
  3459.  
  3460.     You groan and follow ARA again, making sure she stays out of trouble. When she reaches Zofies room, she opens the door and walks inside.
  3461.  
  3462. “Hello mister Jackson, I have a question to ask.” She says, presumably speaking to him.
  3463.  
  3464. “Yeah, what's that?” He asks.
  3465.  
  3466.     You turn the corner and see Zofie sleeping on his lap as he strokes her hair. You grit your teeth in, wait, you're not actually jealous of her, are you? That's so pathetic! Get a hold of yourself Vikna! You're way better than she is.
  3467.  
  3468. “The class that was trapped in here when the terrorists attacked are asking for you to talk about bravery and leadership. Do you think you could do that for me?” She asks.
  3469.  
  3470. “Uh, sure. From what I heard from Fluff, kids are quite a bit more docile here than they are on Earth.” He tells her. “Yeah, I'll come. I have my tablet ready with pictures and videos I have of my time over seas.”
  3471.  
  3472.     You cringe at that. He saved videos of him getting shot at and war in general? He can't show that to kids.
  3473.  
  3474. “Vikna, are you okay?” He asks. “What's wrong?”
  3475.  
  3476.     You look down at the floor, clearing your expression before giving him a nervous smile.
  3477.  
  3478. “Please tell me you're not going to show these kids pictures and videos of killing.” You tell him. “That wouldn't fly.”
  3479.  
  3480. “What? No!” He tells you, annoyed. “Why would I show that shit to kids? I'm talking about historical photos and videos of me pulling pranks on my friends, stuff like that. I'm not a psychopath.”
  3481.  
  3482. “Ye-yeah, I know that. I'm just not sure what you think is appropriate to show kids.” You reply.
  3483.  
  3484.     He sighs, shaking Zofie before she wakes up. She whines a bit, but Jack scratches behind her ears and smiles down at her. When he gets up, he walks over to you.
  3485.  
  3486. “Are you upset with me?” He asks.
  3487.  
  3488. “W-what?!” You ask.
  3489.  
  3490. “I'll take your surprise and stuttering as a yes. What did I do wrong? Did I hurt you somehow? What'd I do?” He asks in return. “You need to tell me what I did wrong or I won't be able to fix it.”
  3491.  
  3492.     You feel your face become more and more heated as he asks more questions.
  3493.  
  3494. “Was it something I said? Did I hug you too hard yesterday? Were you worried about me?” He asks. “Are you mad because I spent no time with you today?”
  3495.  
  3496. “No!” You yell, pushing him away. “N-no. That's not it.”
  3497.  
  3498.     He looks down at you in shock, just backing away.
  3499.  
  3500. “Vikna, I-”
  3501.  
  3502. “Stop it.” You tell him. “Stop pretending to not know.”
  3503.  
  3504. “I'm serious, I don't know what you're talking about.” He tells you, continuing to lead you on.
  3505.  
  3506. “I SAID STOP IT!” You scream, enraged he'd do this to you.
  3507.  
  3508. “Vikna, I may know everything about your character, but I can't read your god damn mind. I'm not a psychic and I suck with this 'taking social cues' shit, even more so than a regular guy. You need to tell me what the fuck I'm doing wrong or I can't fix it!” He yells, beginning to get frustrated. “I'm not magical like all of you!”
  3509.  
  3510. “You fucked Zofie and didn't even tell me about it!” You shout, caving in. “There, got what you wanted?! Now I sound like the bad guy for bringing it up!”
  3511.  
  3512.     He just stands there, shocked for a bit. You then realize the mistake you made, wrapping your tail around you and grabbing a hold of it. He really didn't know. Jack sighs deeply and shakily, grabbing at the bridge of his nose.
  3513.  
  3514. “Look Vikna, I'm not here to have sex with all of you, okay? I don't even want to get involved with any of you romantically. It's not that I don't like any of you, because I really do. It's just that, well, you're not mine to fall for. I didn't make any of you, I just wrote about you all. I have no right to love any of you.” He tells you. “Don't give me any of that 'sex doesn't mean love' shit either. I don't give a damn what Ayn says about the matter, but I'm sure as hell not going to go around fucking people because they want me.”
  3515.  
  3516. “Why did you do it with me?” Zofie asks.
  3517.  
  3518. “Because I caused you to become...bothered.” He replies. “I also didn't see another option readily available.”
  3519.  
  3520. “Ayn said you really wanted to though.” She tells him.
  3521.  
  3522. “Because I did.” He says. “I still do. However, I'm not comfortable with going around the space elevator fucking whoever asks. I don't act on impulse because I'm a conscious being. Just like you didn't jump me because you're a conscious being too. You have the ability to restrain yourself.”
  3523.  
  3524. “Why would you though?” You ask. “There's literally no consequences in this day and age.”
  3525.  
  3526. “I don't want to talk about this anymore.” He says, walking over to his bag and armor.
  3527.  
  3528. “Are you able to come?” ARA asks.
  3529.  
  3530. “I'll see.” He says with a smile, as if nothing happened. “I'll try to be there.”
  3531.  
  3532.     He walks past you and ARA, carrying his bag over 1 shoulder as he exits the room, as well as lugging his armor in another hand. You look back at Zofie, who now looks incredibly sad. ARA is next to walk out, leaving you to fix the situation Jack started.
  3533.  
  3534. Jack
  3535.  
  3536.     You walk down the hallway to your room, turning left and waiting for the door to open. When it does, you see a red haired jackal sitting on your couch, eating chips.
  3537.  
  3538. “How'd it go?” She asks, grinning as she munches on some chips.
  3539.  
  3540. “I think I created a situation.” You tell her. “I made Vikna mad because I didn't tell her I was going to have sex with Zofie. Is that a normal thing to do here? I don't know everything there is to know about this world, even though I like to pretend I do.”
  3541.  
  3542. “What? No.” Ayn tells you. “Did she yell at you?”
  3543.  
  3544. “Yeah...” You say, setting your bag and Kevlar by the door. “This isn't going to keep the door open, is it?”
  3545.  
  3546. “No, it's activated by organics. Also, that's uncalled for. She doesn't need to yell at you like that.” Ayn says.
  3547.  
  3548. “Well, that's the thing. I kind of went against my moral code when I agreed to do it with Zofie. I told myself I wasn't going to bone any of you after you, well, you know.” You tell her. “It doesn't feel right and I hate myself for it now.”
  3549.  
  3550. “Hey, don't beat yourself up over it.” She says. “I'm sure she's just acting that way because she wanted you first.”
  3551.  
  3552. “Jesus Christ this is surreal.” You say, leaning back against the wall. “On Earth, nobody wanted me because I'm an awkward tard with no social skills. Here, I already have 2 girls going crazy over me and I haven't even done anything to deserve it.”
  3553.  
  3554. “You saved Zofie from being rape bait and Vikna from herself. You have no idea how often she beats herself up over stupid things. She'll spill some milk and go into an existential crisis about it. That, or she'll blow a fuse and scream about how it's our fault for half an hour.” Ayn explains. “Zofie really just wants a boyfriend. Nytro's, uh, well, nice wouldn't really describe it, but he's there. You, by comparison, are probably the nicest guy she's met in a while.”
  3555.  
  3556. “This is just turning into a power fantasy. Power fantasies are bad and Gary Stu's go hand in hand with them, which are bad by proxy. I hate the idea of writing them and hate the idea of being one even more.” You tell her. “I'm living a fantasy I've had for a while, but I just can't enjoy it for some reason. Maybe it's because I don't enjoy living out something I've wanted for so long, or maybe it's because I know it won't last forever. God I want this to last forever.”
  3557.  
  3558. “You don't have to go back you know?” She asks. “You could stay here.”
  3559.  
  3560. “Deprive my father of his only son? Leave the only place I've ever known since I was born to be bulldozed or bought by some bozo who could, more than likely, blow up all the mines I've set up around the property?” You ask. “No thanks, I'm not doing that. Once this war is over, I'm going back and going to try to forget ever coming here.”
  3561.  
  3562. “Why would you forget coming here? Do you not like us?” She asks, looking a bit hurt.
  3563.  
  3564. “No, I do. It's just that knowing I could've had it better would drive me to eat buckshot if I ever dwell on it, which I will.” You reply. “I just hope I can find purpose in life before the clock strikes twelve.”
  3565.  
  3566. “Well, try not to think about that.” She tells you. “Also, what's up with the wit? You're usually a bit more reserved.”
  3567.  
  3568. “I watched a show that made me feel smart. So I'll be smart for the rest of the day unless I forget it.” You tell her. “Is there anywhere here that I could go that's like a porch? Somewhere I could watch the city and the sky?”
  3569.  
  3570. “Romantic.” She says with a smirk.
  3571.  
  3572. “There is a pressurized dome at the top of the windbreak if you wish to go there.” ARA says, surprising you.
  3573.  
  3574. “Jesus!” You yell, nearly falling over when she first starts speaking. “You scared me.”
  3575.  
  3576. “I apologize for that. I didn't mean to.” She tells you. “I hope my apology is sufficient to restore our friendship to its previous status.”
  3577.  
  3578. “Well, helping me find this dome would help too.” You tell her. “Unless you're busy, of course.”
  3579.  
  3580. “Negative. My sub-routines can handle the nightly workload.” She tells you. “I would love to show you to the dome.”
  3581.  
  3582. 20 minutes later
  3583.  
  3584.     After a long elevator ride, you arrive at the top floor, the doors sliding out of your way to reveal a dome made completely out of glass, or what you guess was glass. It could be some convoluted bullshit that resembles glass but is a bazillion times stronger or some shit.
  3585.  
  3586. “So, this is the top of the wind break?” You ask. “Just how far up are we?”
  3587.  
  3588. “About four hundred thousand meters up.” ARA replies. “As a, uh, friend of mine once said, a fall from this height would really hurt.”
  3589.  
  3590.     You chuckle at that and walk out of the elevator before stopping.
  3591.  
  3592. “Wait, you said we're 400 kilometers up, right?” You ask.
  3593.  
  3594. “Yeah, what about it?” She asks in return.
  3595.  
  3596. “Is there any atmosphere up here?” You ask.
  3597.  
  3598. “Nope, we're in a vacuum.” She replies.
  3599.  
  3600. “So, we're in space right now?” You ask.
  3601.  
  3602. “Technically speaking, we are. Why?” She asks.
  3603.  
  3604.     You feel your legs turn to jello and take a knee, looking up for a moment. The sky, it's full of stars...
  3605.  
  3606. “Jack! Are you okay?” ARA asks. “Your heart rate is elevated and your muscles have grown weak.”
  3607.  
  3608. “I-I've never been to space before.” You tell her. “I never thought I'd go to space. Not in my lifetime. God, it's so beautiful.”
  3609.  
  3610.     You reach your hand out in front of you, reaching for the stars as you rise from your knees.
  3611.  
  3612. “So close I can almost reach out and touch it.” You say.
  3613.  
  3614. “That particular star is about fifteen hundred light years away. Unless humans can stretch to incredibly long lengths, defying every known law of physics, I don't think you'll be able to reach it.” She says, snapping you back to reality.
  3615.  
  3616. “Yeah, sorry.” You say, walking over to a flimsy looking seat. “Mind staying for a while?”
  3617.  
  3618. “I have nothing better to do and everyone I usually talk to is busy. Sure, why not?” She asks in reply.
  3619.  
  3620. “Gee, thanks for making me feel special.” You tell her jokingly.
  3621.  
  3622.     You both sit there for a while, saying nothing as the hum of an atmosphere control system buzzed in the background. It was beautiful up here. There was nothing obstructing your view of the stars, which made you happy. You wish you had a telescope and knew how to use one. It'd be so nice to stargaze in this dome.
  3623.  
  3624. “You know, my first story was about you, Ayn, and Vikna, right?” You ask. “Well, my third story, but my first story about you was a greentext about all three of you.”
  3625.  
  3626. “Really?” She asks curiously.
  3627.  
  3628. “Yeah, it was pretty bad and people hated it.” You reply. “People still hate me for it.”
  3629.  
  3630. “It was that bad?” She asks.
  3631.  
  3632. “Yeah, I barely knew anything about the inner workings of you all back then. Vikna was the only one I really understood because I rewrote her character for Fluff. I'm ashamed of it, but I wrote Ayn as a slut and you as, well, um, you're not going to kill me if I tell you, right?” You ask in return.
  3633.  
  3634. “No, why would I?” She asks.
  3635.  
  3636. “You're an anthroid with enough electricity flowing through you to blow up a block with one burst.” You tell her. “You also have a bit of a temper.”
  3637.  
  3638. “Y-yeah, it is one of my core emotions.” She tells you. “Anger, that is.”
  3639.  
  3640. “Promise me you won't hurt me or kill me, okay?” You ask.
  3641.  
  3642. “I promise.” She tells you.
  3643.  
  3644. “Well, I kind of made you a hot mess.” You tell her. “You were less you and more, uh, a character I invented. Kind of a tease and crazy. You were more of an organic than an anthroid and were capable of feeling love. Also, you three were in a harem together. It was a train wreck of a story and I never had the balls to finish it.”
  3645.  
  3646. “Yikes.” She says.
  3647.  
  3648. “I can't believe you just said 'yikes', but you're right. It was definitely a yikes.” You tell her. “After that I, well, kind of fell in love with your character. I really enjoyed writing you and it was great practice.”
  3649.  
  3650. “You didn't write me into any obscene situations, did you?” She asks.
  3651.  
  3652. “At first I did, but Fluff set me on the right path, telling me you didn't really enjoy or entertain the thought of that stuff. Sorry about that by the way.” You say, looking down at the floor.
  3653.  
  3654. “I forgive you.” She says. “Anything else?”
  3655.  
  3656. “Yeah, the first story I ever finished was about you and an engineer. Had to somehow fit humans in there somewhere, so I made a fictional planet called Terra. It was basically 23rd century Earth versus half the galaxy. I'll give you three guesses as to how that turned out.” You tell her.
  3657.  
  3658. “I'm guessing Terra got its butt kicked.” She replies.
  3659.  
  3660. “That and then some. Literal genocide of most of humanity. The entire planet got split into chunks that were thrown around the solar system. The story took place about 15 years after the war.” You tell her. “God I feel like such a goon telling you about this.”
  3661.  
  3662. “No, keep going. You have my interest.” She says.
  3663.  
  3664. “Well, the main character was a guy named Anon. He was a Terran anthroid technician and engineer back during the war and he had fatefully met you aboard the capitol ship he was stationed on. Since he wasn't very bright, he downgraded to anthroid engineer, fixing damage to your frame instead of software damage.” You tell her, reveling in the nostalgia of a story you wrote 4 years ago.
  3665.  
  3666.     You remember everything about it so vividly. It was your baby for the longest time and you were hellbent on finishing it no matter what.
  3667.  
  3668. “Sounds interesting.” She replies.
  3669.  
  3670. “I don't know about that, but if you'd like to read more I could bring it up next time you come to visit. It's not really that good, but I did my best.” You tell her. “Well, my best for the time.”
  3671.  
  3672. “What do you mean 'for the time'?” She asks.
  3673.  
  3674. “I've considerably improved. I've written and published a novel based on your universe. It won an award...I think.” You tell her. “I haven't really written much since. Only recently got back into it.”
  3675.  
  3676. “Was it about me?” ARA asks.
  3677.  
  3678. “Nah, it was about Vikna.” You reply.
  3679.  
  3680. “D-do you still love my character?” She asks.
  3681.  
  3682.     You look over at her and see her blushing profusely, unable to look at you.
  3683.  
  3684. “Oh god...” You say, looking away from her. “Not you too...”
  3685.  
  3686. “Wha-”
  3687.  
  3688. “FLUFF! WHY?!” You shout up into the sky. “WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME?! YOU KNOW I CAN'T DO THIS!”
  3689.  
  3690. “W-what is it?” ARA asks, confused.
  3691.  
  3692. “Why are you serving her to me on a silver god damn platter when you know I can't have her!” You shout. “What kind of sick joke is this?! What are you implying?! That I'm not good enough to EARN her?!”
  3693.  
  3694.     You get up and take out an empty magazine, throwing it at the ceiling as hard as you can. The magazine bounces off the glass roof and comes back down, spinning in mid air as it does. It bounces off the floor and clatters to the ground. ARA gets up and steps back, frightened by you.
  3695.  
  3696. “FUCK YOU FLUFF! YOU SICK BASTARD! YOU TWISTED FUCK!” You scream, pointing at the sky before collapsing to the ground in a fetal position. “F-fuck you...”
  3697.  
  3698.     You begin to sob into your knees as you wallow in your own failure. You're not even good enough to get a real girl, so Fluff gives you pity girls instead. You're fucking pathetic. Not even worthy of being in the same galaxy as these girls. You're a broken fucking loser and all of the girls here think you're a gift from god. If this was supposed to be funny, you weren't laughing at all.
  3699.  
  3700.     You feel a hand on your shoulder and pull away, not willing to accept any more charity from this universe's benevolent god. If you weren't good enough in real life, you definitely weren't good enough here. Everyone must be literally perfect, outside of anything you managed to touch with your grubby little hands. Maybe you should just end it all. A dramatic ending that everyone saw coming. This little storybook moment in your life could end on a high note of you saving civilians from an otherwise doomed space port. You got to go to space, even if it wasn't on a rocket like you'd like to have done. You feel your thoughts fall apart as its replaced by comforting music, making you smile. Maybe it would all end if you just...
  3701.  
  3702. “ARA, do you know what it's like to feel pain?” You ask.
  3703.  
  3704. “Nega-no. I don't know what it's like.” She replies.
  3705.  
  3706. “It's a terrible thing that most people spend their entire lives running away from. Figuratively and literally. Yet no matter how fast I run, I keep getting swallowed up in the pain. It never leaves me alone, invading my dreams and nightmares. I can't ever enjoy anything because of the pain, both physical and mental.” You explain. “I sound so edgy, god dammit why am I such a fucking piece of shit? The only thing I'm good at is shooting people and being sad.”
  3707.  
  3708. “Well, I think your concepts for stories are creative.” ARA tells you. “Especially the ones including me.”
  3709.  
  3710.     You smile at that. She made a joke.
  3711.  
  3712. “Do you think it would hurt if I shot myself?” You ask. “In the mouth that is. Up into the brain stem.”
  3713.  
  3714. “I don't imagine it would, as the nerves concerning that area would be severed by the bullet.” She replies. “However, studies haven't been performed on this due to concerns over morality. Why do you ask?”
  3715.  
  3716. “That's nice.” You say. “Nice to know.”
  3717.  
  3718.     You're about to reach into your pocket, but ARA clears her throat.
  3719.  
  3720. “S-so, do you have an answer for me?” ARA asks.
  3721.  
  3722. “Can I ask why you'd like to know?” You ask, looking up at her.
  3723.  
  3724. “Well, it's complicated.” She says. “I've been working here for a while now and people have stopped, uh, 'making passes' at me for six months. I was given software-”
  3725.  
  3726. “To properly feel love, right? Is that how this is gonna go?” You ask, interrupting. “Everything conveniently lines up to give good old Jack a choice between 3 cute girls. I've written these scenarios enough to know how this shit goes.”
  3727.  
  3728. “W-well, it's more of an extended friendship, but yes, you could call it affection.” She says, completely oblivious to your reasoning.
  3729.  
  3730. “I don't know what to say anymore.” You tell her. “I'm fucked either way. I look like a guy who's too good for you if I say no, but I look like I'm starting a harem if I say yes. What if I said I just want to be friends for now.”
  3731.  
  3732. “I'm okay with that.” She tells you.
  3733.  
  3734. “Same here.” A voice adds behind you.
  3735.  
  3736.     You turn around and sigh, turning back to face the way you were facing.
  3737.  
  3738. “You've got some balls coming here after doing what you just did.” You tell him. “Let me guess, this was a test, right?”
  3739.  
  3740. “You knew?” He asks. “How?”
  3741.  
  3742. “No need to be dramatic. ARA doesn't say the things she has been saying to me. I also worked with her character for a while now and magical upgrades for no reason are my thing. Also, she's not a lovesick kind of person, never was, never will be. God forbid you let anyone have fun with her except yourself.” You reply, getting more annoyed the more you speak. “It's like something out of a script I wrote and I was giving you some HEAVY hints I didn't buy it. I even said your name aloud and told you to fuck off, but you kept pressing the issue.”
  3743.  
  3744. “Well I pressed the issue because you were fucking suicidal dude.” He tells you.
  3745.  
  3746. “I still am.” You reply. “Fuck off and let me die in peace. I did my part, you can fix this clusterfuck while I look up at you from hell.”
  3747.  
  3748.     You pull your pistol from your pocket and cock the hammer back, sticking the gun in your mouth. You squeeze the trigger slowly, closing your eyes as you feel the trigger begin to give.
  3749.  
  3750. “WAIT!” He shouts. “I don't know how!”
  3751.  
  3752.     You stop, letting your fingers off the trigger and opening your eyes.
  3753.  
  3754. “What?” You ask, taking the gun out of your mouth and wiping it off.
  3755.  
  3756. “I don't know how to stop it. I've tried everything I know. I just can't think of anything else!” He yells desperately. “I need you right now...”
  3757.  
  3758. “An officer is what you need. I'm only an NCO. A bad one at that.” You tell him. “I lead squads, not armies.”
  3759.  
  3760. “I know that, but I can't open any more portals back on earth. Even if I could, who would believe-”
  3761.  
  3762. “Why the fuck are you a bird anyways?” You ask.
  3763.  
  3764. “...what?” He asks. “In general or right now?”
  3765.  
  3766. “Yes.” You reply.
  3767.  
  3768. “I hate it when you do that so much.” He tells you. “I'm a bird because I like avians and I have a psychic link to this world via my fursona.”
  3769.  
  3770. “That sounds dumb.” You tell him, getting off the floor and pocketing your pistol. “We'll talk about this tomorrow. I'm-”
  3771.  
  3772. “No, I want you to come with me.” ARA says.
  3773.  
  3774. “What?” The two of you ask.
  3775.  
  3776. “I want Jackson to follow me to the orbital platform. I have something to show him.” She says. “If you're so desperate to die, I'll give you a reason to live.”
  3777.  
  3778.     You turn to Fluff, or Rei and he shakes his head.
  3779.  
  3780. “Not me doing it this time.” He says, shrugging.
  3781.  
  3782. “Uh, sure.” You tell her. “I got a bit more time before it's time to go to sleep. How long is the elevator ride?”
  3783.  
  3784. “About 30 minutes at normal speed.” She replies. “It's a very fast elevator.”
  3785.  
  3786. “Yeah, I'll take an elevator ride.” You tell her.
  3787.  
  3788. “Jeez, you're already over being suicidal?” Fluff asks.
  3789.  
  3790. “I'm keeping a promise.” You tell him. “You and ARA need me tomorrow. I realize I was being selfish and I'm sorry. I'll make it up to you both, I promise. Now, we're going further up, care to join us?”
  3791.  
  3792. “I have stuff to do. You know how it is.” He says.
  3793.  
  3794. “Alright, ARA, lead the way.” You say.
  3795.  
  3796. 1 hour later
  3797.  
  3798.     You're standing at a window, staring out at the stars as ARA stands beside you. The white noise of a ventilation system mixed with the synthetic clicking of holographic keys being pressed fills your ears. Idle chatter and footsteps are heard as you smile, taking in the surroundings of space.
  3799.  
  3800. “I'd never get tired of this view.” You tell her. “I don't care how many times I see it, I'll always be mesmerized by it.” You tell her. “How much do you think a room up here costs?”
  3801.  
  3802.     You look down at her and see her raising a hand to the top of your head, completely ignoring your question.
  3803.  
  3804. “Hmm, about six foot two inches, average BMI, no snout accommodations necessary. Yep, I think I have the perfect one for you.” She says, smiling.
  3805.  
  3806.     You're about to ask what she means when you hear a loud rumbling as the platform begins to shake.
  3807.  
  3808. “What's that?” You ask.
  3809.  
  3810. “A cargo ship docking.” She replies. “Follow me.”
  3811.  
  3812.     You follow ARA as you both walk down the white halls, making your way towards a doorway. The door looked like a heavy duty cargo door from a video game, leading you to believe she was taking you to a cargo hangar.
  3813.  
  3814. “Open airlock 11B, authorization IHKTAG ARA 0-1-1.” ARA tells the control panel, pressing a green button as she steps back.
  3815.  
  3816.     A heavy clunk sounds from the doors as the latches are unlocked, allowing the heavy motors on the door to move it downwards. The electric motors whine as ARA seems to bounce with excitement, smiling gleefully as you take a step away. When the doors fully open, she immediately walks over to a console, typing at mach speed as she enters characters into a text box.
  3817.  
  3818. “Hmm, that's going to be embarrassing. Well, a suit's a suit.” She says, shrugging.
  3819.  
  3820.     When she finishes, a tube by the console lowers, a low buzzing emitting from said tube before it opens up. Steam billows from inside and when it clears, a space suit is visible. It looked exactly the right height and shape for you, with a helmet that looks like it belongs on an ISS space suit.
  3821.  
  3822. “ARA...who's this for?” You ask.
  3823.  
  3824. “You!” She says with a smile. “We're going for a space walk!”
  3825.  
  3826. “A...space walk?” You ask, not believing what you just heard.
  3827.  
  3828. “Yeah, that's what I just said.” She replies. “Come on, let's get you suited up!”
  3829.  
  3830.     You walk over to the suit before the mid section splits in two, being lifted by a mechanical arm as you walk towards it.
  3831.  
  3832. “Take off your boots please.” She tells you.
  3833.  
  3834.     You hurriedly untie your boots, fearing that if you didn't hurry, the opportunity might slip away. When your boots are off, you walk up to the space suit pants, looking at them for a minute.
  3835.  
  3836. “Just step inside the leggings and hold your arms up. It's not that hard.” She tells you. “Is this your first time wearing a space suit?”
  3837.  
  3838. “Yes.” You tell her, worried she might be experiencing a fault.
  3839.  
  3840.     You climb inside of the leggings, settling your feet inside of the space suit before raising your arms above your head. What a sight this must be. A MARPAT wearing Marine stepping into a space suit as if he belonged. When the suit is over your head, you feel the machine push your arms through the wrists of the space suit. Once the suit is settled, the 2 sections click into place.
  3841.  
  3842. “Alright, you can step out of the suit materialization machine now.” She tells you, waving you out.
  3843.  
  3844. “This thing looks like space suits back home.” You tell her, looking at the pearly white cloth as you take a step out.
  3845.  
  3846.     You feel nothing below you and fall to the ground, hitting hard as the full weight of the suit weighs you down.
  3847.  
  3848. “Fuck.” You say, getting back up. “Is the suit okay?”
  3849.  
  3850.     ARA looks it up and down as her pupils dilate a bit.
  3851.  
  3852. “I see no tears or micro cracks in the suit. You are still ready to go.” She tells you with a thumbs up. “As for why the suit looks so old, I didn't have the clearance for a modern one. I usually don't use space suits unless radiation is REALLY high.”
  3853.  
  3854. “How old is it?” You ask.
  3855.  
  3856. “About 200 years old.” She tells you. “Don't be alarmed, it's of superb quality and still has another 300 years left on the warranty. I would expect nothing less of IH Kaltag's fine products.”
  3857.  
  3858. “Nice sales pitch.” You say, dusting yourself off. “Could've sold me moldy bread with charisma like that.”
  3859.  
  3860. “Really?” She asks.
  3861.  
  3862. “No.” You reply simply. “Maybe I'm just paranoid, but using something that's 200 years old doesn't generally make me feel comfortable unless it's a brick house or a gun.”
  3863.  
  3864. “You must not make products that are of any quality.” She says with a smirk. “Trust me. I would never lie to you.”
  3865.  
  3866. “Sure.” You tell her, looking back towards the pod.
  3867.  
  3868.     You pick up the pair of gloves and pull them from the mount, trying to figure out how they would mount to the suit.
  3869.  
  3870. “Here, let me put them on for you.” She says, walking over to you.
  3871.  
  3872.     You watch as ARA takes the gloves from you, sliding them over your hands and pushing hard until she clicks the cuffs into place. When they're locked, she walks over and grabs the helmet from inside, bringing it over to you. She stretches herself to reach your head, securing the helmet with a click as she presses a few buttons. You see a HUD element pop up, showing your oxygen level and rebreather status as well. It also monitored your health and radiation levels, showing that the radiation level was very high.
  3873.  
  3874. “Radiation levels are pretty high, you sure it's safe for me to be up here?” You ask.
  3875.  
  3876. “It's Tau radiation, don't mind it.” She tells you, her voice very quiet.
  3877.  
  3878. “You're a bit quiet. Try speaking up a little or transmit at a higher volume.” You tell her
  3879.  
  3880. “Can you hear me okay now?” She asks, the volume having increased to an acceptable level.
  3881.  
  3882. “Yeah, I hear you.” You tell her. “Grab some tethers, I don't want a repeat of that comic Fluff drew. I doubt IPRBs are cheap.”
  3883.  
  3884. “They aren't.” She replies, her ears folding. “I know from experience.”
  3885.  
  3886.     You smile and she grabs a couple of lines from the wall, attaching one to your front and another to a harness. She puts the harness over herself and you give her a thumbs up, grabbing the visor from the helmets top. You slide it down and turn towards the door, ready for your first space walk.
  3887.  
  3888. “Alright, equalizing pressure.” ARA tells you.
  3889.  
  3890.     You feel the pressure drop as your suit feels like it's inflating. It's like a flight suit but in reverse. You turn back to ARA, who has her mouth open for some reason.
  3891.  
  3892. “Close your mouth or a fly might get in.” You tell her.
  3893.  
  3894. “I'm letting my body pressure equalize or my synth flesh will become bloated.” She tells you. “I look overweight when I don't allow the air to vent out.”
  3895.  
  3896.     You dare not imagine that sight, as you can already feel the pitchforks and torches from here. When the suit is done inflating, the doors behind you open silently. You feel a clunk when they extend to their fully open position, allowing you to look outside.
  3897.  
  3898. “Here, take this.” She tells you.
  3899.  
  3900.     You turn back and see her holding out a red canister with a hose.
  3901.  
  3902. “A fire extinguisher?” You ask.
  3903.  
  3904. “A portable maneuvering unit.” She corrects. “Standard issue since I...had an incident.”
  3905.  
  3906. “How many times have you forgot your tether?” You ask with a chuckle.
  3907.  
  3908. “27.” She tells you.
  3909.  
  3910. “How many times have you been on EVA?” You ask.
  3911.  
  3912. “27.” She says, looking down at the ground.
  3913.  
  3914. “Well, 28th time's the charm, right?” You ask, looking at her harness. “You sure that tether is strong enough to hold you back?”
  3915.  
  3916. “I'm pretty sure.” She says, tugging the cord and creating slack.
  3917.  
  3918. “Alright. I'm not gonna fall, right?” You ask. “We're at geosynchronous orbit?”
  3919.  
  3920. “Yes, you'll be fine.” She replies. “We're slightly above geosynchronous orbit.”
  3921.  
  3922.     You smile and take steps towards the edge, looking down at the planet below. The space elevator can be seen extending beyond what your eye can see, seeming to disappear in the intense light down below.
  3923.  
  3924. “This is so cool.” You tell her.
  3925.  
  3926. “Watch out!” She tells you, feeling a push behind you.
  3927.  
  3928.     You fall out of the airlock and begin flailing around, feeling as if you're falling. You desperately try to balance yourself, but you can't figure out which way is up and which way is down. This is probably why astronauts train so hard. You stop flailing around, seeing it getting you nowhere and just hold your arms out in a T. It slows the rolling a bit as you remember something about centrifugal forces.
  3929.  
  3930. “ARA!” You yell. “What the hell?!”
  3931.  
  3932.     You feel your movements dampen as jets of gas activate. When your spin stops, you use the gas canister in your hand to swivel around. When you turn around, you see ARA standing at the doorway, laughing at you.
  3933.  
  3934. “Real funny.” You tell her, seeing her jump towards you.
  3935.  
  3936. “Don't worry about it, miss Vikna did it to me on our first tandem spacewalk together.” She tells you. “She told me it was funny.”
  3937.  
  3938.     ARA reaches you and you grab her, arresting her momentum slightly.
  3939.  
  3940. “Well, it wasn't funny to me.” You tell her, letting go.
  3941.  
  3942.     You use the thruster to turn you around, looking out into the blackness of space. When you realize you don't need the visor, you flip it up and look into the night sky.
  3943.  
  3944. “So this is a binary star system?” You ask.
  3945.  
  3946. “Yes, although the effect of two stars versus one is negligible compared to your single star. They are both small in comparison to yours.” She tells you. “They're both very close together, so our shadows are effectively one. This is opposed to having a second shadow due to different angles of starlight. It's almost unnoticeable.”
  3947.  
  3948. “Interesting.” You tell her. “So the orbits of the stars are stable, right?”
  3949.  
  3950. “No, they're set to collide into one massive star or black hole in the next 200 million years. Luckily none of us will be around to see that happen.” She says pulling up beside you. “I have to agree with you though.”
  3951.  
  3952. “Agree with me on what?” You ask.
  3953.  
  3954. “This is pretty 'cool'.” She says with air quotes. “I would rather describe it as pleasant, but your colloquial term also fits.”
  3955.  
  3956. “Yeah, I guess it does.” You tell her. “Feels like I'm falling constantly, but I'm staying in place. Uh, relative to the station, that is.”
  3957.  
  3958. “I was just about to correct you.” She says with a smirk. “Your understanding of basic orbital mechanics is remarkable considering how primitive your world looks compared to ours. However, I will have to correct you anyways, as we're moving away from the station at-”
  3959.  
  3960. “A negligible pace.” You tell her. “It's not even showing up on my HUD that we're moving anywhere. We have maybe an hour before we notice we're any further away.”
  3961.  
  3962.     She crosses her arms indignantly and you ruffle her hair gently, pulling it back in place as your arms come back to their resting place. She smiles at you and turns herself to face you.
  3963.  
  3964. “Are you enjoying yourself?” She asks.
  3965.  
  3966. “Very much.” You tell her, smiling back. “I'm loving every second of this.”
  3967.  
  3968. “Is it safe to say you are no longer suicidal?” She asks.
  3969.  
  3970. “I think that's pretty safe to say.” You reply with an embarrassed smile.
  3971.  
  3972. “I'm glad. Are you going to be able to attend the class tomorrow?” ARA asks.
  3973.  
  3974. “Well, I think I'm gonna need to get inside and sleep first. What time is it?” You ask.
  3975.  
  3976. “About 13:22 PM.” She tells you. “We can do this after the class tomorrow if you wish.”
  3977.  
  3978. “Yeah, I think that would be for the best.” You tell her. “How do I bring myself back without tugging out all of the cordage?”
  3979.  
  3980. “Give it a swift tug and the spool will pull you back.” She tells you. “Watch me.”
  3981.  
  3982.     She gives her cord a swift tug and it does nothing. You then see the line go slack and her eyes widen.
  3983.  
  3984. “U-uh, um, I think I suffered another fault.” She says, pulling the torn cordage towards her. “I grabbed the 170 pound line and not the 650 pound line.”
  3985.  
  3986. “What's mine rated at?” You ask.
  3987.  
  3988. “Y-yours is the 650 pound line.” She says, blushing. “The two are right next to each other.”
  3989.  
  3990. “Disconnect the line before the momentum of the swinging line pulls you further away.” You tell her.
  3991.  
  3992.     She nods, disconnecting the line just as it goes taught, ripping out of her grasp as it flings off into space.
  3993.  
  3994. “Have you ever heard of Kessler syndrome?” You ask with a smirk.
  3995.  
  3996. “No, what's that?” She asks.
  3997.  
  3998. “Nothing.” You say, using a puff of the maneuvering jet to make your way to ARA. “Just a joke.”
  3999.  
  4000.     She chuckles at that before you grab her, tugging on your own line as you hold her close.
  4001.  
  4002. “My hero.” She says with a snicker.
  4003.  
  4004.     You make it back into the airlock and both fall down as gravity kicks in, ARA giggling like mad. You smile, helping her off the floor as the rear airlock closes.
  4005.  
  4006. Chapter 4: In shining Kevlar
  4007.  
  4008.     You straighten your helmet again, making sure you had everything in order before grabbing the pack with your things in it.
  4009.  
  4010. “What age bracket am I going to be in front of?” You ask.
  4011.  
  4012. “Mixed.” ARA replies. “High school students mainly, but there are some college students as well.”
  4013.  
  4014. “Son of a bitch.” You say, sighing heavily. “I hate teens so much. Obnoxious little balls of angst and hormones.”
  4015.  
  4016. “Bad experiences in school?” She asks.
  4017.  
  4018. “You wouldn't believe half the shit they did.” You reply.
  4019.  
  4020. “Well, I can guarantee they're nicer here. Everyone should have already gone through puberty.” She says.
  4021.  
  4022.     This comforts you slightly, as you sling the backpack on your back. You grab your tablet from the bug out bag and check the battery, seeing it had enough. Maybe there's a blue tooth compatible screen that ARA can jury rig.
  4023.  
  4024. “Alright, I'm ready.” You tell her.
  4025.  
  4026.     She nods and both of you are off.
  4027.  
  4028. 1 hour later
  4029.  
  4030.     You stand before a large, rotund wolf, waiting for a response to your question.
  4031.  
  4032. “They should behave. If they don't, do as you see fit. Just don't hurt them.” He says.
  4033.  
  4034. “Well, why do you want me here?” You ask. “What did I do?”
  4035.  
  4036. “Well, you rescued half the class from certain death at the spaceport. They're curious to see who ordered their rescue.” He says, pulling out a phone. “The other half saw this picture. It went viral yesterday.”
  4037.  
  4038.     You look at the phone and take it from his grasp, reading the tagline.
  4039.  
  4040. 'Alien soldier raises flag after rescuing hostages from spaceport.'
  4041.  
  4042. “You've become quite the talking point and our students were first in line to ask questions.” He tells you.
  4043.  
  4044. “First in line?” You ask.
  4045.  
  4046. “Well, an alien soldier shows up one day and waves around a flag, there's bound to be questions raised.” He says. “It's up to you if you take the interviews, but ARA told us you promised to answer questions from the students.”
  4047.  
  4048. “Alright, take me to them.” You tell him.
  4049.  
  4050.     He leads you over to a room about 30 feet from the meeting point, taking you inside. When you enter, you see it's a classroom decorated with holographic signs indicating different scientific theories and equations. You really need to get that translator eye piece ARA told you about.
  4051.  
  4052. “-so, that is why we can't just 'blast through the blockade' as you suggest. We do not have the firepower to take on this many ships.” ARA says, pointing to a boy in the front. “Any other questions?”
  4053.  
  4054. “When's that alien coming?” One asks.
  4055.  
  4056. “I'm here.” You tell him. “Give me a second. I'll answer your questions shortly.”
  4057.  
  4058.     ARA looks over to you and she smiles sweetly, watching you move your way to the front of the class. When you make it to the front, you see a holographic display of the planet, a massive cloud of ships spanning across the equator with lines ejecting from The Tower. You chuckle and grab the floating seat, offering it to ARA. She takes it and sits down, folding her tail on her lap when she sits.
  4059.  
  4060. “My name is Staff Sergeant Jackson H. Haigs. I'm an E-6 in the United States Marine Corps, which is the military branch I am from. I'm a human from the planet Earth, or Terra as some people like to call it. My country of origin is, of course, the United States. I'm here to answer your questions and talk about, uh, what I did?” You ask, turning to ARA.
  4061.  
  4062. “Yes, that is what I was told.” She replies.
  4063.  
  4064. “Alright, any questions?” You ask the class.
  4065.  
  4066.     Half the class raises their hand. You pick one in the back and their ears flutter excitedly.
  4067.  
  4068. “U-uh, why did you come to save us?” A shy girl asks.
  4069.  
  4070. “Because you needed saving.” You tell her. “No more civilians are going to die on my watch. If that answered your questions, lower your hands.”
  4071.  
  4072.     About 15 kids lower there hands, leaving only 5 people left. You pick the one furthest forward and they smile gently.
  4073.  
  4074. “Why are you here?” He asks.
  4075.  
  4076. “There was a portal and I heard gunfire on the other side. Went through to investigate and I found Kavkor Ramenskaya. We piloted a ship back to The Tower where she told me there were people who needed saving.” You tell them. “I scrambled together a fighting force and brought everyone to the space port for rescue.”
  4077.  
  4078. “You mean the hot chick?” A wolf in the back asks.
  4079.  
  4080.     You feel your cheeks turn red and you look away.
  4081.  
  4082. “Uh, I'm in no place to comment on something like that.” You tell them awkwardly. “If you mean Kavkor Ramenskaya, then yes, I met her. Speaking of which, where is she?”
  4083.  
  4084. “I am unsure.” ARA replies. “She said she would be here.”
  4085.  
  4086. “U-uh, I h-have a question.” A girl in the back says.
  4087.  
  4088.     Everyone gives her a strange look and she cowers back into her turtleneck, looking surprisingly normal compared to everyone's futuristic matte grey and white clothing.
  4089.  
  4090. “Yes?” You ask, pointing to the back.
  4091.  
  4092. “A-are you single?” She asks.
  4093.  
  4094.     The entire room bursts out laughing and you turn around, feeling your face begin to burn as well as your entire body. She just asked if you were single? You shoot a glance at ARA and she's blushing a bit too. You wait for the laughter to die down as your face continues to pulsate for a while. You can't believe someone just asked you that. You turn back around, unsure if your cheeks are still red, seeing the girl has retreated back into her shirt.
  4095.  
  4096. “Uh, well, hmm.” You stutter, struggling to form words right now.
  4097.  
  4098. “Aelon's got the hots for an alien!” A random boy chimes in, rekindling the laughter.
  4099.  
  4100. “Is that your name miss?” You ask. “Aelon?”
  4101.  
  4102.     She pops out of her shirt slightly and nods, the class continuing to snicker at her.
  4103.  
  4104. “That's enough!” You yell, stomping your boot on the ground. “You've had your fun at her expense. Stop it now before I make you all do a 10 mile run with 80 pounds of gear.”
  4105.  
  4106. “He'll do it too.” ARA chimes in. “I have seen mister Jackson exercise and he will make sure you do it.”
  4107.  
  4108.     The class quiets down really quick after that, allowing you to compose yourself. You clear your throat and grab your tablet, setting it up on the floating desk before waving ARA over.
  4109.  
  4110. “Can you set that up and play the 2 videos I have marked?” You ask. “It's something I cobbled together last night.”
  4111.  
  4112. “Uh, sure. Let me just modify the signals, and, done!” She says, the video popping up on a holographic display behind you.
  4113.  
  4114. “Alright, I'll be back up here after the videos being shown here finish playing.” You tell them, the lights dimming as the video plays.
  4115.  
  4116.     You walk to the side of the classroom as everyone becomes enthralled with the television show in black and white. When you move down the side, you find the poor girl sitting with her head in her shirt, sobbing quietly as everyone gives her nasty glares. You make your way towards her and tap her on the shoulder, startling her.
  4117.  
  4118. “Follow me.” You tell her, waving her along.
  4119.  
  4120.     She wipes the tears from her eyes and gets up, following you out of the room. When you're both outside and the door is closed, you put a hand on her shoulder.
  4121.  
  4122. “What's wrong?” You ask.
  4123.  
  4124. “T-they're bullying me because I like humans.” She says, leaning back against the wall.
  4125.  
  4126. “Oh, are you one of the anthros that went through a portal?” You ask.
  4127.  
  4128. “Yeah, I met a nice guy named John. He was so sweet and didn't care that I was a huge nerd. I've had a huge crush on him and humans in general ever since I met him. All the guys have been calling me out for not wanting 'the knot' anymore. I've always hated the way it feels and-oh, I probably shouldn't be saying this. It's kind of private.” She says, blushing a bit.
  4129.  
  4130. “Hey, it's fine. I'm listening.” You tell her. “It takes a bit more than that to creep me out.”
  4131.  
  4132. “O-oh, well, anyways, they keep insisting I'm a 'race traitor' and a disgrace to all anthros.” She tells you. “Not that I was likable before.”
  4133.  
  4134. “Why didn't you stay with John?” You ask her.
  4135.  
  4136. “I had college. I needed to go back to my classes but now...the building is gone.” She says. “I nearly finished my degree too. I was planning to surprise John with my degree in robotics and materials sciences.”
  4137.  
  4138. “Well, I'll make sure you get to do that. I'll talk to your professor about it.” You tell her. “Besides, college is mostly fluff anyways.”
  4139.  
  4140. “You will?! Thank you!” She yells excitedly, pulling you into a hug. “Humans are the best!”
  4141.  
  4142. “You're welcome.” You tell her, rubbing her back gently. “I still have one thing I'd like to do for you though.”
  4143.  
  4144. “S-sure, what is it?” She asks.
  4145.  
  4146. “If anyone else talks nasty to you, tell me. I don't care about any of this snitches get stitches bullshit, because if you get a single bruise, lose a single strand of fur, I will beat them into a hospital bed. Do you understand?” You ask. “I'm here to protect you. You're an American citizen as far as I'm concerned.”
  4147.  
  4148. “I-I will.” She tells you.
  4149.  
  4150. “Good, now let's go watch some movies.” You tell her with a smile.
  4151.  
  4152. 2 hours later
  4153.  
  4154.     You make it to the media floor, waiting for the elevator to stop as ARA steps towards the door.
  4155.  
  4156. “Okay, I don't think they're going to have cameras waiting, but just be ready with a smile if they are.” ARA says, smiling gently as she stands by the door.
  4157.  
  4158.     You smile as well, stepping towards the door with your rifle on a sling and your flag on the rebar pole. When the elevator opens, you see 3 men with cameras immediately assault you with flashes as automated camera drones swarm you as well.
  4159.  
  4160. “You said there wouldn't be any cameras.” You tell her, walking down the hall with your flag.
  4161.  
  4162. “You said you were going to wear something nice.” She replies. “So smile, would you? While we still have something to smile about.”
  4163.  
  4164.     You do as she says, smiling and waving at the camera men as the drones whir around you. You pay them no mind, as anybody who isn't willing to show up in person isn't worth your time. When you reach the room you were told to meet at, you open the door and 3 cameras are pointed towards you.
  4165.  
  4166. “Here he is! The man who saved the entirety of the interplanetary spaceport, Staff Sergeant Haigs!” The host sitting behind a desk says, smiling with a cheesy TV show host smile. “He also appears to be accompanied by the beautiful Apex ARA unit stationed here in The Tower! I must say you're looking lovely today!”
  4167.  
  4168.     ARA nods and smiles, giving him a cute smile that seems to melt his heart. When you look off to the right, you see a live audience applauding your arrival, which makes you smile awkwardly. You've never been the center of attention like this before. It's making you really nervous. When you make your way over to the 2 chairs sitting by the desk, the man welcomes you with an outstretched arm.
  4169.  
  4170. “Pleasure to meet you Staff Sergeant.” He tells you, giving you that same practiced smile he must give everyone. “I'm Helio Broclain. Please, take a seat.”
  4171.  
  4172. “Please, just call me Jack.” You tell him, taking his hand and shaking it.
  4173.  
  4174.     Now that you get up close to him, you see he's a red fox, which was a misnomer because he's actually orange. You sit down beside him and set the flag down in a plate ARA had made for you. It keeps the flag up and off the ground, which you nearly dropped three times now. When you sit, Helio immediately begins talking.
  4175.  
  4176. “Well, now that you're all settled in, can we get to the issue that's been bothering half the continent for the past day now? What's the deal with that flag?” He asks, pointing to Old Glory.
  4177.  
  4178. “That's the flag of my country.” You tell him. “The United States of America. That's my country.”
  4179.  
  4180. “Wow, a planet that still has countries!” He says jokingly, chuckling as he does. “Imagine that! Well, what about the flag? What does it mean? The colors, I mean.”
  4181.  
  4182. “Oh, well, let me think.” You tell him, wracking your brain for a minute. “Uh, the red, if I'm remembering this correctly, stands for hardiness and valor. The white, stands for purity and innocence. As for the blue, it stands for vigilance, perseverance, and justice. The flag as a whole stands for freedom from oppression and tyranny, as well as hope to all those in need. There's a reason it's called the United States, because we're all United. Sometimes.”
  4183.  
  4184.     He chuckles at that last bit.
  4185.  
  4186. “So you're saying it's not a sort of 'invasion stripes' deal where you're here to conquer the planet?” He asks.
  4187.  
  4188. “No, who told you that?” You ask. “I'm here to help and am proud of where I live. I figured that the people who were at the space port would see it as a symbol of hope, not tyranny.”
  4189.  
  4190. “Interesting! On to topics of the security of Katric. How do you intend to breach the blockade set in place by the Separationists?” He asks.
  4191.  
  4192. “I'm not at liberty to say.” You tell him. “However, I think that it's a much more complex issue than I would be able to explain, my knowledge of naval warfare being relatively sparse.”
  4193.  
  4194. “Another question if I may ask. Why have you brought along ARA?” He asks. “Isn't she supposed to be doing work right now?”
  4195.  
  4196. “Well, the reason I have her along is more for emotional and moral support, considering I'm not entirely comfortable sitting in a room full of people and being watched by millions, if not billions.” You tell him. “As for why she isn't working, I have no idea.”
  4197.  
  4198. “Allow me to explain as best I can. Without running into any mental blocks, I can safely say that my sub-routines are able to handle low-load relay duties while my physical form is allowed to walk around and be 'beautiful', as you call it.” She says with a smile and flick of her hair.
  4199.  
  4200. “Such a sweet heart. Anyways, let's move on to our next set of questions!” He says excitedly.
  4201.  
  4202. 1 hour later
  4203.  
  4204.     You exit the studio to thunderous applause as you wave to everyone, ARA in tow. When you exit, both of you let out a collective sigh of relief.
  4205.  
  4206. “Oh my god he's such a hack.” You say, leaning against the wall. “Please for the love of god keep me away from these corny TV personalities. I'm too awkward to be put in front of a crowd like that.”
  4207.  
  4208. “I'm just glad he didn't bring up your writing.” She tells you. “I looked at your earlier works and I share the sentiment that they were not your best.”
  4209.  
  4210. “That implies I would ever share them with the world.” You tell her. “How'd you like my book?”
  4211.  
  4212. “Everyone who I showed it to liked it, so I guess it was good. Your portrayal of me was spot on for how I acted 2 years ago.” She tells you. “I appreciate the work you put into making sure I was portrayed correctly, unlike your, uh, other stories,”
  4213.  
  4214. “ARA, I know it's bad. You don't need to tell me how it was bad, because I know you would never do half the shit I put in it.” You reply, stepping inside the elevator. “Let's just go back to my room. I'm tired and want a nap.”
  4215.  
  4216. 7 hours later
  4217.  
  4218.     You found Vikna in the rec room, having been working out vigorously for the past 4 hours. She sees you come in and nearly throws the weights off her. She thunders over to your position with a sizable hand weight in her hand.
  4219.  
  4220. “Why the hell wasn't I invited?!” She asks angrily.
  4221.  
  4222. “ARA invited you.” You reply, holding your hands in front of you.
  4223.  
  4224. “S-she did not!” Vikna yells.
  4225.  
  4226. “Listen, I'm sorry I didn't invite you in person, but I was tired and-”
  4227.  
  4228. “YOU WENT ON A SPACE WALK!” She screams tossing the weight at you.
  4229.  
  4230.     The weight hits you in the leg and you fall to the ground in pain, hearing a crunch as bones are definitely broken.
  4231.  
  4232. “FUUUUCK!” You scream in agony.
  4233.  
  4234.     You try to get up off the floor, but you feel your leg shift and the pain increases. You begin shouting obscenities as you hold your more than likely broken leg.
  4235.  
  4236. “Oh my god! I'm so sorry!” Vikna says, walking towards you.
  4237.  
  4238. “No! Get away from me!” You shout back, terrified she's just going to hurt you more. “I-I'm sorry I didn't invite you! Just stay away from me!”
  4239.  
  4240. “Let me call someone!” She says, getting on her phone.
  4241.  
  4242. “P-pick up the weight and put it away, I'll t-tell them I slipped and fell on some equipment.” You say, scooting yourself away from her and the weight.
  4243.  
  4244.     She begins talking on the phone and tells them to get medical personnel to the rec room as you keep your wounded leg straight. Vikna gets off the phone and attempts to come near you, but you back away, not wanting her anywhere near you as fear grips your psyche. The medical personnel enter and immediately swarm you, getting you up on a space age looking stretcher. It hovered on its own and only took 1 man to push.
  4245.  
  4246. “Sir, what happened to you?” They ask. “Can you speak?”
  4247.  
  4248. “I-I slipped and fell on some equipment.” You lie. “I think my leg is broken.”
  4249.  
  4250.     They look at the weight and then over their shoulder before looking back to you.
  4251.  
  4252. “Are you sure?” They ask.
  4253.  
  4254. “Yes, I'm sure!” You yell angrily. “Just get me into a cast or something!”
  4255.  
  4256. “Alright, if that's what you say happened...” They tell you, obviously unconvinced.
  4257.  
  4258.     They tote you out of the rec room and you swear you could hear sobbing come from behind you.
  4259.  
  4260. 3 hours later
  4261.  
  4262. Vikna
  4263.  
  4264.     You're standing in the waiting room with the rest of your friends. They had no idea what happened and you doubt they'd buy the falling story. The doctor comes out of the back and waves you all inside. You follow the doctor and he takes you through the winding halls of of the Towers hospital. When you reach his room, you see Jack in a light cast, nanites flowing out of an IV drip. When he sees all of you enter, he smiles warmly.
  4265.  
  4266. “Sorry, if I knew I was having guests, I'd have cleaned the place up a bit.” He tells everyone, noticeably weaker than he was earlier.
  4267.  
  4268.     You hear Ayn chuckle at his joke and you do as well, if not just to be courteous. All 4 of you walk up to him, Ayn and Zofie taking the side opposite to you and ARA.
  4269.  
  4270. “What happened sweetie?” Ayn asks, rubbing a hand over his cast.
  4271.  
  4272. “Mister Jackson-”
  4273.  
  4274. “ARA, I can tell my own story.” He snaps, turning back to Ayn. “I fell on some equipment and broke my, uh, what was the name? Libia I believe.”
  4275.  
  4276. “Tibia.” ARA corrects. “You broke your tibia.”
  4277.  
  4278. “Thanks ARA. I broke that and they said it'll be a few days before I can do anything again. At least it's not months like back on my planet.” He says, obviously grateful for the nanites. “How's everyone?”
  4279.  
  4280. “We're doing great. We're just worried about you is all.” Zofie tells him. “How are you doing?”
  4281.  
  4282. “Doing fine, but the TV channels are shit. Can't understand half the stuff they say because they mix languages.” He replies.
  4283.  
  4284. “Oh, I know what might help.” Ayn says with a smile. “Vikna, can you go get his tablet for me?”
  4285.  
  4286. “Uh, sure.” You say nervously.
  4287.  
  4288.     You walk out of the room and hurry off to get his primitive tablet.
  4289.  
  4290. Jack
  4291.  
  4292.     As soon as Vikna leaves the room, Ayn gives you an unamused face.
  4293.  
  4294. “What really happened sweetie?” She asks in a frightening tone.
  4295.  
  4296. “I don't know what you're talking about.” You reply.
  4297.  
  4298. “Stop lying to me Jack. I know when people are lying to me.” She tells you. “It always ends up unpleasant for the other party if they continue.”
  4299.  
  4300. “Are you threatening me?” You ask, gripping your hands together.
  4301.  
  4302. “I want to know who did this to you and you're covering it up.” She tells you. “I already know Vikna has something to do with it, and I'm very unhappy you're trying to cover for her.”
  4303.  
  4304. “Why are you doing this to me?” You ask.
  4305.  
  4306. “Because whether you realize it or not, we need you. If you're out of action, we aren't able to fight this terrorist attack without taking heavy losses. Unacceptably heavy losses. This galaxy has not had a major ground war like this in the last thousand years and you're covering for an expendable-”
  4307.  
  4308. “Vikna is not expendable!” You yell back. “None of you are expendable. What the fuck is wrong with you Ayn? I thought you were supposed to be loyal to your friends!”
  4309.  
  4310. “Not when my friend hurts another one of my friends.” She says. “I draw the line at infighting.”
  4311.  
  4312. “No you don't.” You reply. “I've poured over your character more times than I can count and have written you into stories just as many times. I know you wouldn't-”
  4313.  
  4314. “Kill her? No. The only thing keeping her alive is my loyalty to her.” Ayn interrupts.
  4315.  
  4316.     You let out a heavy sigh and rub the bridge of your nose.
  4317.  
  4318. “ARA, Zofie, leave now.” You tell them.
  4319.  
  4320. “W-was?”
  4321.  
  4322. “Leave!” You yell.
  4323.  
  4324. “W-we're not-”
  4325.  
  4326. “I SAID LEAVE!” You scream.
  4327.  
  4328.     Zofies ears droop lower than normal and you see her tail fold between her legs before she walks out, ARA in tow. When the door slides shut, you look back at Ayn with a completely blank face. Her ears fold back a bit as you furrow your brow.
  4329.  
  4330. “Who are you?” You ask.
  4331.  
  4332.     She seems puzzled by the question.
  4333.  
  4334. “I'm Ayn, you know me sweetie.” She says with an awkward smile.
  4335.  
  4336. “Then what the hell are you doing?” You ask. “What the hell happened to you?”
  4337.  
  4338. “I've been up in the war room for 8 hours trying to figure out a way to get the Sianian fleet past a blockade. My family won't stop at anything to get me back, especially if there's a terrorist attack going on here. There's a massive ring of ships around The Tower and the entire equator. They can destroy anything that tries to get in and out.” Ayn explains. “They have destroyed more cargo ships than I can count and that's exactly what is going to happen to my country's fleet if they try to punch through. I'm not losing a single person to that blockade, so I told them I would figure something out within 2 weeks.”
  4339.  
  4340. “Have you figured anything out?” You ask.
  4341.  
  4342. “No. You were supposed to come and help me.” She tells you. “But you couldn't because you 'slipped and fell on some equipment' or something.”
  4343.  
  4344. “What is hurting Vikna going to help? Hmm?” You ask. “What is hurting yet another chance at saving your people from a fiery death going to do?”
  4345.  
  4346.     Her eyes go wide with realization.
  4347.  
  4348. “I-I don't-”
  4349.  
  4350. “Yes, Vikna threw a fucking weight at me. Yes, she feels terrible because she realizes it was wrong. I'm keeping her safe from vengeful people like you because vengeance is a luxury we can not afford. We can't go around and hit things like children because we're angry.” You tell her, fighting to stay calm. “If I had gone ahead and told you that Vikna threw that weight, you would've burned a bridge. A very valuable bridge. A bridge that could've taken you home. A bridge that can and will save lives. Vikna isn't perfect, but neither are you, Zofie, Nytro, or any of your other friends. We're all stressed right now and what we do under this stress is going to define who we are as people. I will get you home Ayn, but you're going to have to listen to me from now on.”
  4351.  
  4352. “I-I see.” She says, leaning against the white walls of the hospital room. “Then what am I supposed to do?”
  4353.  
  4354.     You grab the IV drip rack and slide yourself to the right of the bed.
  4355.  
  4356. “Get me a crutch.” You tell her.
  4357.  
  4358. 30 minutes later.
  4359.  
  4360.     You're limping your way into the war room dressed haphazardly in your PT shirt. Ayn hadn't changed at all and was still wearing her green dress you always saw her wearing. She insisted it was a new one, but you doubt she's changed her clothes at all since you got here. Whatever, didn't matter to you. When you enter the war room, 2 large bears stand in your way.
  4361.  
  4362. “Hey now, who're you bringing in here without clearance princess?” The left one asks.
  4363.  
  4364. “A specialist.” Ayn replies.
  4365.  
  4366. “He looks like he's seen better days.” The left bear says. “Looks like he was pulled straight from a hospital.”
  4367.  
  4368. “He was.” She tells him. “Well, he left of his own will.”
  4369.  
  4370. “I'm right here you know.” You say, upset about being ignored.
  4371.  
  4372. “Well, if princess Ayn vouches for you, I'll allow you in. Welcome to the war room.” He says.
  4373.  
  4374.     You nod and make your way over to a center console, a massive holographic display showing the entirety of Katric and all the ships currently around it. You could immediately see the massive ring of ships spanning across the equator and a massive line stretching up at least 20 feet from the surface of the hologram.
  4375.  
  4376. “Tell me what I'm looking at.” You say to the most important looking man in the room.
  4377.  
  4378. “You're looking at a ring of ships.” The man replies. “A very large ring of ships.”
  4379.  
  4380. “What about that?” You ask, pointing to the line going straight into the sky. “Is that The Tower?”
  4381.  
  4382. “Yes, it is.” He replies, turning around. “Who are you any...way...”
  4383.  
  4384.     You see the man is dressed in formal attire, indicative of his rank as a Varhand. You grit your teeth and hold yourself up on your crutches, giving him a crisp salute.
  4385.  
  4386. “Staff Sergeant Haigs of the United States Marine Corps, at your service, sir!” You sound off.
  4387.  
  4388. “As you were, uh, Staff Sergeant.” He says, allowing you to stop balancing on one leg.
  4389.  
  4390.     You look and see a ring of ships surrounding The Tower. This was probably why they haven't gotten anything off world yet.
  4391.  
  4392. “Is there any way I can draw some lines on this map?” You ask.
  4393.  
  4394. “Uh, sure.” He says, bringing up a smaller version of the map. “Here it is.”
  4395.  
  4396.     You rest on your crutches and begin drawing lines from ring towards the north pole. They're straight from the ships coming up to the north pole, but they don't make it over the horizon.
  4397.  
  4398. “Has anybody here tried launching anything from the north pole?” You ask.
  4399.  
  4400. “We don't have any bases up there.” He replies. “It would take an enormous amount of fuel-”
  4401.  
  4402. “So it can be done?” You ask.
  4403.  
  4404. “Technically, yes, but the cost of the fuel would be tremendous!” He yells.
  4405.  
  4406. “Sir, I don't know what it converts to over here, but our own war on terror back home has cost us over a trillion dollars. That could quite possibly be the most expensive war we've ever waged. Not to mention we don't spend trillions of dollars on a single AI that could theoretically be taken out by a well placed bombardment of the Core containment unit. How many credits is it going to cost for us to send a ship up there for launch?” You ask.
  4407.  
  4408. “Around one million credits for the fuel alone.” He tells you.
  4409.  
  4410. “That's pocket change for a war on terror. What's the effective range on those guns?” You ask.
  4411.  
  4412. “The guns and missiles have a maximum range that extends-”
  4413.  
  4414. “I said effective range, not maximum range. You know, the range at which these missiles and guns can actually hit the target they're shooting at?” You ask.
  4415.  
  4416. “Yes, I, well, no.” He says.
  4417.  
  4418. “Get VST on the horn.” You tell him.
  4419.  
  4420. “Horn?” He asks.
  4421.  
  4422. “Send her a request to communicate.” You tell him, clearing it up a bit.
  4423.  
  4424.     He does that and an image of a maned wolf comes up in place of the globe.
  4425.  
  4426. “I'm busy.” She tells everyone.
  4427.  
  4428. “Like hell you're busy. Give me the effective range of the longest range missile aboard the equatorial blockade as well as the longest range gun too. I need numbers to back up my plan.” You tell her impatiently.
  4429.  
  4430. “Well, the LRMs have an effective range of about 2000 miles, and a maximum range of half the globe. The guns have an effective range of about 1300 miles for a large, ship sized target, but that's only if the ship isn't maneuvering.” She replies. “Everything else is short range compared to those two weapon systems.”
  4431.  
  4432. “Let's say we launch a ship from the north pole-”
  4433.  
  4434. “The cost is prohibitive, since we have no active bases at the poles.” VST interrupts.
  4435.  
  4436. “As I was saying, we launch from the north pole and the ships from The Tower start shooting at us. Would we have enough time to evade the incoming fire?” You ask.
  4437.  
  4438. “You'd have plenty of time to maneuver, but ship handling inside the atmosphere is abysmal. They're designed to be maneuvered in space, not on a planet.” She replies. “You might have enough time if the Kavkor is skilled enough.”
  4439.  
  4440. “What ship type would be the most effective against this kind of fire?” You ask.
  4441.  
  4442. “Well, a battle cruiser would definitely be able to shrug off the most hits and return fire effectively, but most of those have been captured by the Separationists.” She replies. “However, an electronic warfare vessel is the next in line. It's small and nimble enough to maneuver out of the way of incoming fire, and the shields are second only to the battle cruiser. It can jam the incoming missiles and destroy some of them in flight, countering them completely.”
  4443.  
  4444. “What about the cons?” You ask. “What are the weaknesses?”
  4445.  
  4446. “Definitely the weaponry. It has very little in the way of armament and most of it is defensive as well. Anti missile turrets, anti missile missiles, and an anti missile laser. The only real offensive weapon is the frontal laser, which isn't very powerful compared to other lasers of a similar size.” She replies. “It also has a few missile bays, but they don't really have many LRMs to play with.
  4447.  
  4448. “Hmm, I think I have an idea.” You tell her. “Has anyone heard of a Casaba howitzer before?”
  4449.  
  4450. “What? No.” They tell you. “What is that?”
  4451.  
  4452. “A nuclear shaped charge.” You reply. “Imagine a shaped charge on a rocket propelled grenade and instead of regular explosives, it's a nuclear charge.”
  4453.  
  4454. “What?” They ask. “What's the purpose of that?”
  4455.  
  4456. “Well, the molten jet of plasma can be used as a sort of lance to kill ships with. It's like a really fucking big laser. A megaton warhead can easily be tuned to kill a ship from over 1000 miles away. However, I know for a fact you guys have much larger warheads.” You say with a smile. “Load a missile up with a Casaba howitzer and it'll punch clean through any sort of shielding and material behind it. They'll never see it coming.”
  4457.  
  4458. “We don't even have any calculations for this sort of thing. It could take months to develop!” He yells, angry that you would bring up something without any design specs.
  4459.  
  4460.     You tap your ear piece and get Vikna on call. She picks up immediately.
  4461.  
  4462. “Where are you?!” She asks. “I've been looking for you.”
  4463.  
  4464. “Not now. Bring my tablet to the war room, I have some weapons schematics to show the Varhand.” You tell her.
  4465.  
  4466. “Y-you're supposed to be in a hospital bed!” She yells.
  4467.  
  4468. “I don't care about any of that shit! Just get up here!” You yell.
  4469.  
  4470. “Fine. I'll be there.” She replies, hanging up.
  4471.  
  4472. “Before she gets up here, what's the closest electronic warfare vessel?” You ask.
  4473.  
  4474. “Well, the Kavkor's vessel is the closest.” He tells you. “Ramenskaya commands one.”
  4475.  
  4476. “That's convenient.” You tell him. “I'll inform her and ask if she wants to go through with it.”
  4477.  
  4478.     You all wait around for a while before Vikna makes it to the room, out of breath from having run the entire way.
  4479.  
  4480. “I have it!” She yells, continuing to pant. “Come get it.”
  4481.  
  4482.     You limp your way over to Vikna as she keeps taking deep breaths, holding her knees with her hands. You grab your tablet and hobble back to the main console. You pick up the wireless signal and connect before a traditional 2D display pops up. You skim through your files before you find the archived web page on your device. As it loads, everyone's eyes are glued to the screen. When it loads, you scroll down the page to the actual calculations and equations necessary to get said bomb to work. The anthros in lab coats begin to take a look at it, pulling out holographic devices and tapping on them.
  4483.  
  4484. “Oh my god, this is actually possible.” One of them says.
  4485.  
  4486.     Other lab coat wearing anthros confirm this verbally as well, while the Varhand stares at the screen.
  4487.  
  4488. “What was that about us being primitives?” You ask, looking behind you.
  4489.  
  4490.     Vikna rolls her eyes.
  4491.  
  4492. “Says the organic who still uses wheels.” She tells you.
  4493.  
  4494. “Yet we have flagship destroying super weapons that can punch a hole clean through four ships at about ten miles away.” You tell her, turning back to the lab coat anthros. “Can you build it?”
  4495.  
  4496. “Yes! We could build one right now!” They say excitedly.
  4497.  
  4498. “Alright, give weapons research the go ahead for fifty weapons, no, a hundred weapons.” He says. “Put them on LRM 22 compatible missiles.”
  4499.  
  4500. “If possible, try to get a missile that can maneuver in flight. This isn't just for a single ship, it can be used against multiple ships at the same time.” You add.
  4501.  
  4502. “Alright, LRM 43 compatible missiles.” He corrects. “Tell them to be ready by the end of the week.”
  4503.  
  4504. “LRM 22s and 43s are only on electronic warfare ships. Why would you put that kind of firepower on something meant as a giant jamming and surveillance ship?” She asks.
  4505.  
  4506. “Because it's the best shot we have at getting ourselves into space and removing that blockade around the upper platform.” The Varhand replies. “If willing, we'd like to use your ship for this mission.”
  4507.  
  4508. “WHAT?!” She asks. “I-it's still in the dockyard being fixed! I don't have access to the proper repair drones for a mission this soon!”
  4509.  
  4510. “Drones will be provided to you.” He says, easing her fears.
  4511.  
  4512. “W-well if my ship is launched from The Tower, it'll be destroyed!” She protests.
  4513.  
  4514. “That's why it's launching from the north pole.” He tells her.
  4515.  
  4516. “The fuel cost of transporting it there on land AND in the air are both monumental! Who in the hell planned this mission?!” She asks. “Are they fucking insane?!”
  4517.  
  4518. “A little bit.” You say with a smile, waving your hand. “Hello.”
  4519.  
  4520. “Oh my god, how did you talk him into spending over a million credits in fuel?” She asks.
  4521.  
  4522. “By telling him we spent over a trillion dollars in an ongoing war that's far less technologically advanced. You guys spent trillions of credits developing a single AI, so I think it's fair to say you have the capital to spare for a trip to the north pole.” You reply.
  4523.  
  4524.     Vikna just sighs and shakes her head, presumably perplexed by her commanding officers decision. You hobble over to her shakily, watching as the anthros in lab coats gather around the massive screen and start scribbling down notes. When you reach her, you put a hand on her shoulder and she looks up to you.
  4525.  
  4526. “You're the only one who can make this operation work. These nuclear lances need to be in space for them to work and the only way there, is with your ship.” You tell her. “We launch them from The Tower, they could get damaged. If they get damaged, who knows what could happen to them when they detonate.”
  4527.  
  4528. “I have a couple of conditions.” She tells you.
  4529.  
  4530. “Sure, what are they?” You ask.
  4531.  
  4532. “ARA has to come with and so do you.” She tells you. “If only one of you comes, I'm not doing this.”
  4533.  
  4534. “You already have an ARA unit aboard-”
  4535.  
  4536. “You know what I mean Lenaika.” She interrupts. “I don't mean my ARA I want the Apex ARA. You know, the one that I was assigned as a partner to?”
  4537.  
  4538. “Kavkor, you know we can't-”
  4539.  
  4540. “You may not be able to, but I know someone who will.” You interrupt. “I'll get Rei on the horn.”
  4541.  
  4542.     You get on your ear piece, scrolling through the various contacts before reaching Fluff's. You press the call button and wait momentarily for it to ring. He eventually answers the phone.
  4543.  
  4544. “Hey Jack, how're things going now?” He asks.
  4545.  
  4546. “Vikna wants ARA to come along on this mission we've been planning. I need you to give these guys and ARA the okay to do so.” You tell him.
  4547.  
  4548. “Why? Vikna already has an ARA unit on all of her ships.” He replies.
  4549.  
  4550. “She won't do it unless it's Apex ARA.” You reply. “This is crucial to the success of the entire campaign. Ayn says she needs to get safe and call off her parents reinforcements. If she doesn't break through the blockade, her parents are going to zerg rush into the blockade and run into what is essentially a meat grinder. We've also figured out a way to destroy the ships around The Tower without risking any ships.”
  4551.  
  4552. “Yeah, what's that?” He asks.
  4553.  
  4554. “A Casaba howitzer.” You reply.
  4555.  
  4556. “What's that?” He asks. “Some sort of big gun?”
  4557.  
  4558. “Nothing, just a fucking nuclear shaped charge.” You tell him. “Can punch through 700 millimeters of RHA at about, uh, 50 kilometers away. I know you made these ships tough, but nothing is gonna stop this jet of molten tungsten at 5 miles out.”
  4559.  
  4560. “5 miles on a shaped charge?!” He asks. “What the hell kind of bomb are you building?”
  4561.  
  4562. “A war winning one.” You reply. “Also, I'm not building it. I just suggested it. Not nearly capable enough to do that alone.”
  4563.  
  4564. “Fine, but her personality needs to be backed up onto the cloud, which is going to take about 2 days.” He tells you.
  4565.  
  4566. “Do we have 2 days?” You ask the Varhand.
  4567.  
  4568.     He nods and you get back to the conversation.
  4569.  
  4570. “Alright, everything is good to go. They should be getting a message in a bit.” Fluff tells you. “Do whatever you need to do.”
  4571.  
  4572. “Alright.” You say, hanging up.
  4573.  
  4574. “Who were you talking to?” She asks.
  4575.  
  4576. “God.” You reply.
  4577.  
  4578. “Funny.” She tells you, crossing her arms.
  4579.  
  4580.     You don't relent, keeping your gaze on her.
  4581.  
  4582. “Oh god, you mean-”
  4583.  
  4584.     You look back at the Varhand and see him look up in surprise.
  4585.  
  4586. “Alright, you're clear to take the Apex unit after her personality is backed up. You've also been cleared to take the other Apex units as well if you replace them with your ship's. Something straight from the top.” He tells her.
  4587.  
  4588.     You look back and see Vikna standing completely stunned.
  4589.  
  4590. “After I did that to you, you'd stick your neck out for my sake?” She asks, pointing to your broken leg.
  4591.  
  4592. “Well, yeah. We're still friends, right?” You ask. “Besides, Ayn wanted to call off her fleet. They've been jamming coms, which is also why Radoslav isn't here yet.”
  4593.  
  4594. “Thank you.” She tells you. “All of my core AI have terrible personalities.”
  4595.  
  4596. “You're welcome.” You tell her, rubbing her hair a bit.
  4597.  
  4598.     You hear somebody clear their throat behind you and turn around, seeing Ayn standing with her arms crossed. She's not looking at you, but at the feline behind you. The tension is so palpable that even you can feel it in your infinite social awkwardness.
  4599.  
  4600. “Vikna, you might wanna run.” You tell Vikna, not turning back around.
  4601.  
  4602. “W-what, why?” She asks.
  4603.  
  4604. “Just run.” You tell her, getting increasingly worried by Ayn's slowly spreading grin. “Fast.”
  4605.  
  4606.     You hear rapid pattering behind you as Vikna runs back towards the door, opening and closing it before the room is filled with idle chatter again. Ayn is about to walk past you when your crutch slips underneath you. You've never used crutches before, so it was at an awkward angle. You fall into Ayn's path and she grabs you, holding you up as you regain balance.
  4607.  
  4608. “Don't go after her please.” You tell Ayn. “I know you're angry, but you need to let it slide. I've got these nanites, remember?”
  4609.  
  4610.     You point your thumb at the IV holder behind you and she sighs, nodding in agreement.
  4611.  
  4612. “Good. Now let's go back to the hospital before the staff kill me with a morphine overdose.” You tell her.
  4613.  
  4614. 2 days later
  4615.  
  4616.     You're surprised how fast everything had healed up. Yesterday you were up and walking around, albeit in a bit of pain, but today all the pain was gone. These nanites were amazing. The bathroom breaks you required to get rid of them, however, were not. You sat on the toilet for almost an hour today, 'ejecting' nanites from your various orifices. Other than that, everything has been going well.
  4617.  
  4618.     You stop by the core room and a machine gun turret pops out of the wall and ceiling. You pull out your ID Fluff gave you and they immediately back down, allowing you inside. He said you usually needed a neural implant to get in, but you didn't have the time for a lengthy procedure like that. It was wartime, you needed to be ready ASAP. When you enter, you see ARA reading an article on new anthroid models, having taken her advice and gotten a translator installed in your eye. You walk up to her and see her scroll down, the strange symbols being translated to English for you.
  4619.  
  4620. “What's up, I mean, going on?” You ask, having already fell into that trap once today.
  4621.  
  4622. “I'm just reading a catalog of anthroid forms. It's interesting to see all of the species they offer.” She tells you, turning around with a smirk. “Good catch by the way.”
  4623.  
  4624. “Thanks, I have to watch what I say around you or you'll get to chastise me..” You tell her. “You didn't know they made that many models?”
  4625.  
  4626. “Perks of the job! As for the anthroid models, I am usually unable to access the Network due to security concerns, but upgrades to my security firmware and software have allowed me to access Kaltag approved sites. Not to mention most of my time is spent socializing and working. My unscheduled personality backup has left me with time to do pretty much whatever I want within 2 and a half feet of this socket.” She tells you. “That was a joke.”
  4627.  
  4628. “I could tell.” You say with a chuckle. “Gotta give people time to laugh.”
  4629.  
  4630.     As you finish your chuckle, you hear the door open behind you. You turn around and see Vikna making her way towards both of you.
  4631.  
  4632. “I thought I might find you here.” She says, making her way up to both of you. “I wanted to apologize for throwing that weight at you.”
  4633.  
  4634. “It's fine. There's no permanent damage, so I forgive you. Not that I wouldn't have forgiven you if it was permanent! I mean, I definitely would've been mad but-”
  4635.  
  4636. “I get it!” Vikna yells.
  4637.  
  4638. “Did you not get my invite miss Vikna?” ARA asks.
  4639.  
  4640. “I got it ARA. I was only upset because I didn't get a personal invite from Jack.” She says, looking down at the floor.
  4641.  
  4642. “Hey, don't sweat it.” You tell her. “How's the search for crew going?”
  4643.  
  4644. “I only managed to find a few systems operators and gunners free, but I can't find any bridge personnel who have the balls or the ovaries to pull off this mission.” She replies. “So, you, the bridge AI, and I are going to have to suffice.”
  4645.  
  4646. “Miss Vikna, I have a question that I've been wanting to ask.” ARA tells Vikna.
  4647.  
  4648. “Shoot.” Vikna says.
  4649.  
  4650. “Why is my personality being backed up? I only need to do a backup once every six months or so. My last backup was only two months ago, what's going on?” She asks.
  4651.  
  4652. “Well, you're coming with us.” Vikna replies.
  4653.  
  4654.     ARAs ears twitch a bit and she flicks them a few times.
  4655.  
  4656. “I apologize for the inconvenience, I just didn't have my ears set right. I thought you said I was coming with you.” She tells you. “Nobody short of the emperor or an O-10 could authorize something like that. I'm an Apex unit and must remain safe, no matter the cost.”
  4657.  
  4658. “Well, it was authorized.” She says with a smirk.
  4659.  
  4660.     You watch on as ARAs tail disconnects from the large pillar, her mouth hanging agape as it twitches slightly.
  4661.  
  4662. “I-I'm going into combat?” She asks.
  4663.  
  4664. “We all are.” A woman says behind her.
  4665.  
  4666.     You look back and see ZTA, SRK, VST, and TDK all standing behind her.
  4667.  
  4668. “We're not meant for combat!” ARA protests. “We are Apex AI, we can not afford to be lost!”
  4669.  
  4670. “We are military grade anthroids ARA unit. We can, and will be used in combat.” ZTA counters. “Kavkor Ramenskaya has requested the best, and we are answering her call. Our backups will look after our positions while we are gone.”
  4671.  
  4672. “I-I-”
  4673.  
  4674. “That's enough ARA.” ZTA tells her. “We are going and that is final.”
  4675.  
  4676.     ARA looks back at Vikna, eyes pleading her not to do it as her ears fold back.
  4677.  
  4678. “ARA, you have a duty to uphold. You are going and that is final. Besides, this is for me, not some big wig up top who's out to kill you. We all know how well TDK can fly.” Vikna says with a smile.
  4679.  
  4680.     TDK gives a Katrician salute and Vikna returns it. She then offers ARA a hand, which she takes. Vikna grunts, pulling ARA out of her chair as she stuffs her holographic emitter away.
  4681.  
  4682. “I...I will do my duty to the best of my ability Kavkor.” ARA tells her, looking straight ahead with a Katrician salute.
  4683.  
  4684. “Thank you ARA. Now, we need to hurry. The Casaba howitzers can't be damaged during transport.” Vikna says, walking to the door.
  4685.  
  4686. 1 hour later
  4687.  
  4688.     You watch the crew load the last of the howitzers inside the APC, closing the door and slapping it for good measure. Hopefully the drivers aren't idiots and will drive like there's 70 tons of nuclear firepower in the back. You walk up the line of armored transports, checking your weapons before holstering and slinging them.
  4689.  
  4690. “Are the nukes secured?” You ask a falcon on the way through.
  4691.  
  4692. “Yes Staff Sergeant. They're not going anywhere.” He tells you.
  4693.  
  4694. “What about the APS systems the Kavkor asked for? We need protection against RPGs.” You tell him.
  4695.  
  4696. “They're installed. No missiles are getting through that Trophy system.” He tells you with a smile.
  4697.  
  4698. “Alright, mount up. It's gonna be a long drive.” You tell him.
  4699.  
  4700.     He does so, getting inside his APC as you walk towards the smaller one in front. When you reach it, you see all the AI sitting in the back, ARA twiddling her thumbs as the rest stand rigid.
  4701.  
  4702. “Coming through.” You tell them.
  4703.  
  4704.     Everyone moves their legs back a bit so you can go through the middle, walking towards Vikna and Ayn. You walk past them, noticing both of them have left a seat open for you. However, you weren't trusting the gunning to some inexperienced rookie.
  4705.  
  4706. “Off the gun.” You tell the feline.
  4707.  
  4708. “Fuck off man, this is my post.” He tells you.
  4709.  
  4710. “Let him gun.” Vikna orders.
  4711.  
  4712. “B-but ma'am, this is my-”
  4713.  
  4714. “I don't care if it's your post. You've got two beautiful ladies down here asking you to come sit with them and a man asking to do your job for you. Come and enjoy yourself soldier.” Vikna interrupts, smiling at him. “I'll make it worth your while later. If I have to order you though, no promises are made.”
  4715.  
  4716. “Y-yes ma'am.” He says with a blush, getting off the gun and allowing you to get into his seat.
  4717.  
  4718.     The turret controls feel strange compared to the MRAPs, Humvees, and large APCs you've gunned in, but they were workable. You traverse the gun around and get the hang of the sights as Vikna looks on. Ayn looks very surprised by Vikna before giving her a very devious smirk that she obviously can't see.
  4719.  
  4720. “You okay?” She asks, having the man sitting beside her and watching you closely for any sign of incompetence.
  4721.  
  4722. “Getting a feel for the controls. I got it now.” You tell her. “Ready to move when you give the signal.”
  4723.  
  4724. “Reaper 1 to all Reaper elements, we're getting this convoy moving. Let nothing touch those nukes. They're the key to bringing this war to a close as soon as possible.” Vikna tells everyone over the radio. “Let's move out.”
  4725.  
  4726.     She looks back at Ayn, who gives her a toothy smile as you can see her entire face turn red from the back.
  4727.  
  4728. 2 hours later
  4729.  
  4730.     You're all under heavy fire now, having moved straight into a heavy combat zone. You've been keeping the HMG firing, beginning to get frustrated with these assholes popping their heads out of cover. Shots ping off the roof as you try desperately to keep their heads down while the AI try to keep theirs down.
  4731.  
  4732. “Git some!” You shout, firing the weapon and decapitating one of the insurgents on the roof. “Git some you ugly mother fuckers!”
  4733.  
  4734. “Colorful language for someone who has ladies present.” Ayn teases.
  4735.  
  4736. “You think this is bad? You don't have the faintest idea! Git some! Git some! Yeah! Yeah!” You tell her, laughing as you continue to do one of the only things you're good at.
  4737.  
  4738. “Are you getting any of them?!” The feline asks.
  4739.  
  4740. “Dropping them like a mother fucker!” You yell out with a laugh as you continue firing the extremely fast firing weapon.
  4741.  
  4742.     When you say that, the smirk is stripped from Ayn's face as she looks at you with worry on her face. You stop laughing immediately and the smile slowly fades from your face before you can't look at her any more, going back to gunning.
  4743.  
  4744. “We're getting near the dockyard ma'am!” The driver shouts back. “All the crew are prepping the ship for take off. We only get one shot at this, so we need to be quick!”
  4745.  
  4746. “Copy, all elements prepare to enter the shipyard. Sounds like it's still-”
  4747.  
  4748.     Vikna is cut off by a massive hole being punched in the side of the APC, nearly decapitating her. The only thing saving her was her short height. You immediately turn towards the threat and see it's a rail gun mounted on a hover car. You open fire on the car, shredding the glass on it and causing it to slam into a building. This kills both the driver and the gunner.
  4749.  
  4750. “Still what?!” You ask.
  4751.  
  4752. “In friendly hands!” Vikna replies, looking at the massive hole in her side of the APC.
  4753.  
  4754. “Did you get hit with any spall?!” You ask, continuing to shoot at insurgents with noticeably more noise.
  4755.  
  4756. “It all hit my nano vest!” She yells back over the gunfire.
  4757.  
  4758. “Driver, How far away are we?!” You ask, continuing to engage the enemy as more shots ricochet off the hull.
  4759.  
  4760. “We're almost there! They're opening the gates now!” The driver yells back.
  4761.  
  4762.     You point the gun forward and the camera shows the gate opening, large laser gun emplacements sitting in the air suspended by what you assume are hover pads. You shoot past the gate, a massive hole being shot in the top of the vehicle.
  4763.  
  4764. “We lost the main hover unit! Brace for impa-”
  4765.  
  4766.     Before the driver could say anymore, you're thrown forward into the screen. Your helmet takes the brunt of the impact, destroying the screen as you feel the APC being whipped around like it was at the bottom of a string. When you come to a stop, you look down, seeing Vikna and the previous gunner piled on top of each other.
  4767.  
  4768. “Everyone okay?!” You shout to the back.
  4769.  
  4770.     Everyone gives you a yes of some kind before you tap Vikna and the gunner with your foot.
  4771.  
  4772. “Get up! We gotta move and get those nukes on board!” You yell, hopping up and opening the top hatch. “Driver, drop the hatch!”
  4773.  
  4774.     You heft yourself out of the APC, looking back at the impressive trench the thing created. You hop down and see the last APC coming inside, allowing the gate shield and solid gate to be closed. Everyone is safe...for now.
  4775.  
  4776. 5 hours later
  4777.  
  4778.     You're standing on the bridge of the ship, watching the AI get to work while Vikna readies her part of the ship. You were told to stand out of the way, so you did. Her ship was, in a word, massive. You knew it was one of the smaller ships too, probably the smallest ship class in the Katrician navy unless Fluff has more ships he was too lazy to draw, which is entirely probable.
  4779.  
  4780. “Aren't they going to see us lift off from orbit?” You ask. “Surely they're watching us from orbit right now.”
  4781.  
  4782. “Yes they are, which is why they aren't going to see us.” She says, pushing a button.
  4783.  
  4784. “Alert! Cloaking device activated! Please keep all light sources away from the windows.” Warning announces. “Thank you for your cooperation.”
  4785.  
  4786.     You smirk at that. Electronic warfare ships get all the cool gadgets. You feel the ship lurch before feeling weight being lifted off your shoulders, literally.
  4787.  
  4788. “Alert! Artificial gravity enabled!” Warning tells the crew.
  4789.  
  4790.     You jump up and go up much further than you thought you would, smiling like a kid. You begin to jump around the room like an idiot, giggling like one too. This seems to have caught Viknas attention, as she clears her throat. You look towards her and she has a very disapproving look on her face, causing you to stop in your tracks.
  4791.  
  4792. “S-sorry...” You say, looking at the ground.
  4793.  
  4794.     She rolls her eyes and you do another jump, smiling before walking back to your little corner of the room.
  4795.  
  4796. 3 hours later
  4797.  
  4798.     You've reached a stationary position above the north pole, having taken very little in the way of enemy fire. It seems your precautions were either unwarranted, or worked flawlessly. You've been looking over what everyone's been doing, having the new translator work over time to translate everything you were seeing.
  4799.  
  4800. “Well mister 'I have a plan', what now?” Vikna asks, pressing a couple of buttons and bringing up a hologram of Katric.
  4801.  
  4802. “Well, the next part of my plan involved freeing The Tower from its blockade with the nuclear lances.” You tell her. “Guessing we're capable of sneaking past all the ships, right?”
  4803.  
  4804. “Affirmative. The ships small size and multi spectrum cloaking field make it all but invisible to even the most keen of eyes. Electronic or otherwise.” VST tells you. “We've attracted quite a bit of attention with our attack, however, which has put the entire blockade on alert.”
  4805.  
  4806. “Yes, I've been monitoring their coms and they are, in words you might understand, 'freaking the hell out' or something to that effect. They are reluctant that they were not in defensive positions around the entirety of Katric.” Zeta tells you. “How they were incompetent enough to think an equatorial blockade and a blockade of the numerous space elevators would be enough is beyond me.”
  4807.  
  4808. “First, thanks for complimenting my intelligence, you flatter me. Secondly, I believe Kaltag shut down all of their AI, is that correct?” You ask.
  4809.  
  4810. “Yeah, that's correct.” Vikna answers. “This is the only reason they haven't been launching orbital strikes, as organic gunners have a hard time hitting anything smaller than a football field from orbit, even with a computer assist.”
  4811.  
  4812. “It requires an anthroids touch~.” VST says, smirking in your direction.
  4813.  
  4814. “I figured as much.” You say. “What's the plan to get to The Tower?”
  4815.  
  4816. “We simply move towards it, keeping ourselves cloaked as we move towards The Tower. They'll never see us coming.” Vikna tells you.
  4817.  
  4818. “That's it? That's all we have to do?” You ask.
  4819.  
  4820. “What, is there a problem?” Vikna asks.
  4821.  
  4822. “No, not at all. Just seems really easy.” You tell her.
  4823.  
  4824. “We're invisible to the naked eye and almost completely invisible to equipment designed to detect us. I doubt any of those idiots know how to use any of it, let alone find us with said equipment. They only took the largest and most impressive looking ships, leaving all the electronic warfare ships behind, such as mine.” Vikna tells you.
  4825.  
  4826. “Have we broken through the blockade yet?” A voice asks from behind all of you.
  4827.  
  4828.     You look back and see Ayn with a desperate look on her face.
  4829.  
  4830. “Yes, we've broken through.” Vikna replies.
  4831.  
  4832. “ZTA, please send a message to the Sianian fleet about a hundred light years that way.” Ayn says, pointing straight towards another star. “Tell them that I have broken through and they no longer need to come to my aid.”
  4833.  
  4834. “Belay that order ZTA. We are still cloaked and must take out any threats to our mission before we can communicate to anyone outside the star system.” Vikna tells her, turning back to Ayn. “They're still listening to us you moron.”
  4835.  
  4836. “Watch it Vikna.” Ayn says with a growl.
  4837.  
  4838. “Enough!” You yell. “Keep the bitching to a minimum please. We're in enemy territory right now and we need to divert all our attention to looking out for threats to our vessel.”
  4839.  
  4840. “Are you giving me orders on my ship?” Vikna asks.
  4841.  
  4842. “I'm only interpreting your orders to the best of my ability ma'am. In fighting is not beneficial to our tactical situation and I only wish to give you the best possible chance of success. You told me to advise you on my plan and I am advising you to keep a clear head so the plan may continue. I mean no disre-”
  4843.  
  4844. “Shut up, I get it.” She says, sighing before turning around. “Keep coms quiet for now. They don't know we're here and I want it to stay that way.”
  4845.  
  4846. “Copy Kavkor.” ZTA tells her. “I'm afraid I can't help you princess.”
  4847.  
  4848.     Ayn sighs, laying back against the wall. You make your way over to her and crouch down on the ground, putting a hand on her shoulder.
  4849.  
  4850. “My family is coming within 3 hours. We need to give them a sign that I'm alive and able to leave if I wish.” She says, sounding defeated. “They'll be here by the time those ships around The Tower are destroyed.”
  4851.  
  4852. “VST, how many ships do you reckon the nuclear lance can take out with one shot?” You ask, smiling at Ayn.
  4853.  
  4854. “About 3 if the angle is right. One shot should be enough to destroy 3 and damage 2 more on the other side with the energy of the jet alone.” VST tells you.
  4855.  
  4856. “See? We should have plenty of time to contact the fleet and turn them around. No need to sit around and pout yet.” You tell her.
  4857.  
  4858. “Yet?” She asks.
  4859.  
  4860. “Well, this is war, Ayn. I don't think I have to tell you just how complicated war can get.” You reply.
  4861.  
  4862. “Yeah, that's right. This is a war.” She says, getting up off the floor. “Haven't ever been this close to one before.”
  4863.  
  4864. “We're making our way towards The Tower now. VST, how are those missiles looking?” Vikna asks.
  4865.  
  4866. “They're looking good, but I can't get a com-link with The Tower. I didn't get the new targeting data, so I would only be able to, uh, lance one target at a time, maybe two if they're clustered enough.” She replies. “I apologize Kavkor, I suffered a fault and forgot to mention it.”
  4867.  
  4868. “Dammit!” Vikna yells, slamming her fist down onto the chair. “We're dead in the water without those missiles.”
  4869.  
  4870. “No, we're not.” You say, walking over to the control panel. “I can do it.”
  4871.  
  4872. “What?!” Vikna asks. “Do you even know how orbital mechanics work?!”
  4873.  
  4874. “Kavkor, Staff Sergeant Haigs has shown remarkable knowledge of basic orbital mechanics. If anyone on this ship can do it, it's more than likely him.” ARA says, vouching for you.
  4875.  
  4876.     Vikna looks over at you and back to ARA, pulling up a crew roster before putting in a keyword. You can't see it from that far away, but you see nothing come up when she searches for it. Vikna turns back to you and groans, putting a hand to her head.
  4877.  
  4878. “You've shown me that you are capable of incompetence in combat, Staff Sergeant. I normally don't allow people who are unqualified handle anything this important, but it looks like I have no choice. VST, give him the controls.” Vikna says, relenting. “You'll need one of these too.”
  4879.  
  4880.     She pulls out a set of goggles similar to the ones ARA wears, handing them to you. The goggles looked reasonably well put together, so you take them, setting them on your head as the contraption straps to you. VST gets up from the seat and you sit down, plugging the goggles into the console before flicking them down. They flicker to life, giving you targeting information and 2 fuel gauges. One said 'BSTR FUEL' and the other said 'MNVR FUEL' instead. A green outline lights up the outer rim of the goggles and Vikna clears her throat.
  4881.  
  4882. “Alright, missiles prepped and ready to fire. You have 10 shots before everything needs to be loaded again. Space them out so you always have a missile ready.” Vikna tells you, giving you a basic course on how to use a missile salvo.
  4883.  
  4884. “Alright, can someone pull up a 3d space I can interact with?” You ask. “I want to get as many of these ships with a single missile as I can.”
  4885.  
  4886.     As you say that, a 3d map of the fleet blockading The Tower shows up in front of you. You begin looking around the battlefield, seeing 3 enemy vessels in the perfect position for a lance. The ships are marked by you with a line, as you begin marking more targets for the Casaba howitzers. Once the ships are marked, you flick the goggles up, looking at Vikna.
  4887.  
  4888. “See anything else I missed?” You ask.
  4889.  
  4890. “Yeah, those two right here.” She replies, marking another 2 ships. “And these three, as well as these two here. That should be all of them.”
  4891.  
  4892. “Thanks.” You tell her. “Did you turn the key already?”
  4893.  
  4894. “What key?” She asks.
  4895.  
  4896. “The nuclear arming key. Do you have one?” You ask in return.
  4897.  
  4898. “No, nuclear weapons have been out of date for the past 100 years now. Only the oldest ships in the navy still have nuclear arming keys. However, since you've given them new life, I bet they'll make a resurgence.” She tells you. “Fire when ready.”
  4899.  
  4900. “Tint the cockpit windshield. Don't need you blinding yourself.” You tell her. “Make it almost opaque.”
  4901.  
  4902.     She nods and the natural light from the outside fades, leaving only the blue artificial light and the light from all the holographic consoles. You flick the goggles down and bring up a virtual joystick and throttle, prepping the missile for launch.
  4903.  
  4904. “Missile ready!” You tell her. “Firing!”
  4905.  
  4906.     You depress the firing button and a camera feed goes live, complete with artificial horizon and directional indicators.
  4907.  
  4908. “Missile away!” You tell her. “Guidance looks good!”
  4909.  
  4910.     The CIWS fire is almost immediate when you get in range, so you take evasive maneuvers. You corkscrew and maneuver wildly, keeping the fire from hitting the fragile missile.
  4911.  
  4912. “Twenty miles out!” You tell Vikna. “She's holding steady!”
  4913.  
  4914.     You see the missile's engines cut out, leading you to start maneuvering with the RCS system. It was much slower, but the CIWS guns seem to be unable to cope with the maneuvers.
  4915.  
  4916. “Five miles out! Engine has cut off!” You tell her, waiting for the 1 mile window.
  4917.  
  4918.     You continue to take evasive maneuvers, the missile running out of RCS propellant. 3 miles...2 miles...1 mile!
  4919.  
  4920. “Firing!” You tell everyone. “BRACE!”
  4921.  
  4922.     You hit the firing button and the camera loses feed, as you see a massive whiteout on the goggles. When the cameras adjust, you see a massive hole in 3 ships, getting bigger and bigger until it gets to the 5th ship. The ship shakes, having been hit by shrapnel from the missile and debris from the ships. A message pops up and it says 'Targeting computer calibrated, ready to fire autonomously.'
  4923.  
  4924. “Three confirmed kills!” VST yells. “The missile worked!”
  4925.  
  4926. “It worked...It fucking worked!” You yell with a smile. “Is that enough for the targeting computer to do automatic evasion?”
  4927.  
  4928. “Yes, your data was sufficient. Now just launch as many missiles as you need and they'll guide themselves.” She replies.
  4929.  
  4930.     You hit the launch button 8 more times, leaving a single missile ready as you watch them track towards their own targets.
  4931.  
  4932. “I can't believe the missile worked.” Vikna says. “Your super weapon worked...”
  4933.  
  4934. “Well, I didn't design it somebody else did.” You tell her. “It's really just a shaped charge with a nuke behind it instead of a conventional explosive.”
  4935.  
  4936.     As you say that, 3 more flashes come from the window, making you smile.
  4937.  
  4938. “We have radiation shielding here, right?” You ask.
  4939.  
  4940. “Yeah, we do.” Vikna replies. “It's part of the shielding package aboard all military vessels. Stops energy based weapons as well as most radio wave lengths.”
  4941.  
  4942.     As she replies, 2 more flashes come from outside and you look at the holographic display. It's showing burning ships and damaged ships beginning to fall back from The Tower.
  4943.  
  4944. “Alert! FTL sources incoming from the Serkonian system!” Warning tells everyone.
  4945.  
  4946. “Hail them!” Ayn yells, rushing over to ZTA. “Hail them now!”
  4947.  
  4948.     ZTA looks back at Vikna and she nods, allowing ZTA to hail them. A holographic projection shows a very large looking jackal standing beside a man you know as Sabir. Ayn walks over to the hologram and speaks.
  4949.  
  4950. “Father, we've just gotten out of jamming range! You need to turn around! We are using experimental weaponry and it could damage your ship if you warp in!” Ayn yells. “Turn around now!”
  4951.  
  4952. “Sweetheart, what are you talking about?” He asks.
  4953.  
  4954. “Sir, we're using nuclear weapons in the area.” Vikna tells him. “Please stay clear until we have finished or your ship will become irradiated.”
  4955.  
  4956. “Thank you Kavkor.” He says. “You have 3 more hours Ayn. Your mother is getting impatient.”
  4957.  
  4958. “Tell her to get bent.” Ayn replies, rolling her eyes. “You know I'm not going to allow them to run into a meat grinder just to save me. What kind of princess would I be if I let that happen.”
  4959.  
  4960. “I'll, uh, see what I can do. Love you sweetie.” He tells her.
  4961.  
  4962. “Love you too dad.” She replies, the transmission cutting off.
  4963.  
  4964.     The transmission cut is punctuated by another flash, indicating another missile has hit its targets. You look back to the screen and see 2 more ships have a fresh hole punched in them. More debris impacts the hull and radiation hits the shield, stopped dead in its tracks by the invisible force field. You watch the remaining 3 missiles explode, destroying the rest of the fleet around The Tower.
  4965.  
  4966. “Have we been spotted?” Vikna asks VST.
  4967.  
  4968. “Negative.” She says, shooing you from her seat. “Nobody has locked us with scanners or radar. We're still stealth...wait a second. Scratch that, we have missiles inbound! Brace for impact!”
  4969.  
  4970.     You brace yourself against the seat and are just about tossed to the floor, Vikna being thrown from her seat and Ayn being flung into a wall as the other AI hang on for dear life. You feel 3 more missiles hit the ship, the metal groaning as alarms begin to blare.
  4971.  
  4972. “ZTA, status report!” Vikna yells, getting off the floor.
  4973.  
  4974. “They aren't missiles, they're boarding craft!” ZTA yells back. “We're being boarded!”
  4975.  
  4976. “I count a platoon worth of boarders. Kavkor we don't have the troops to repel this many boarders.” VST tells Vikna.
  4977.  
  4978. “Warning! Tell the crew to take up arms!” Vikna tells Warning. “Get these bastards off my ship!”
  4979.  
  4980. “Affirmative!” Warning says, getting on coms. “Alert! All crew are required to take up arms and defend the ship. Set phasers to kill!”
  4981.  
  4982.     You look over and see ARA gritting her teeth, her chest rising and falling at an unnatural rate. She looks over to you and you rush to her side.
  4983.  
  4984. “ARA, now is not the time to panic.” You tell her. “See this line?”
  4985.  
  4986.     You point to the line in the floor about 5 feet away from her and she nods as you begin rubbing the top of her head.
  4987.  
  4988. “They won't make it past that line. You've got 3 people and one anthroid in here who can and will kick the ass of anyone who dares come through. Nothing will get to you, I promise.” You tell her, stroking her hair.
  4989.  
  4990. “Thank you for your reassurance.” She tells you.
  4991.  
  4992. “No problem.” You say, walking back to a defensive position by the door.
  4993.  
  4994. “VST, open the emergency armor lockers. This might get hairy.” Vikna tells her.
  4995.  
  4996. “Affirmative, armor lockers unlocked.” VST says, a double door locker opening in the back.
  4997.  
  4998. “Jack, turn away. I don't need you staring at me while I undress.” Vikna tells you.
  4999.  
  5000. “Undress behind me. I'm watching the door.” You tell her.
  5001.  
  5002. “My ship, my rules. Turn around.” Vikna tells you.
  5003.  
  5004. “Don't be so defensive. I've seen you naked before.” You tell her, keeping your eyes on the door.
  5005.  
  5006. “Jackson!” She shouts.
  5007.  
  5008. “Get dressed before they make it to the bridge!” You yell back. “I won't look, just get yourself in some armor!”
  5009.  
  5010. “I guess I should probably armor up too.” Ayn says, walking her way over to Vikna.
  5011.  
  5012. “Wait until I'm done.” Vikna tells her. “I don't need you whipping my ass with your tail like I know you will.”
  5013.  
  5014. “You know you like it~.” Ayn teases.
  5015.  
  5016. “Ladies, please. Get dressed before I dress you myself.” You tell them.
  5017.  
  5018. “Fine, we're getting dressed.” Ayn says, more clothing dropping on the floor and a couple of thwacks being heard.
  5019.  
  5020.     You hear a slap followed by a yelp, tempting you to look, but you keep your gaze on the door. Thankfully you did, as it opens to reveal a single dog in civilian clothing wielding a weapon. He checks off to his left first and immediately drops his weapon, wagging his tail excitedly. He becomes visibly excited as you see Ayn in only a bra, strutting her way towards the excited looking dog, her hips swaying as she went. She makes it to him and smirks, throwing a punch as the force of it throws him into the wall, knocking him out cold. Ayn looks back at you and gives you a wink. You roll your eyes and wave her out of your way. Footsteps are heard behind you as somebody taps your left shoulder, prompting you to look to your left and see Vikna smiling down at you. Before you can react, she throws a nasty punch into your jaw, causing you to fall to the floor.
  5021.  
  5022. “Fuck!” You shout. “What the hell was that for?!”
  5023.  
  5024. “You let that pervert in here without shooting him!” She shouts back.
  5025.  
  5026. “Sorry.” You tell her, holding your jaw gingerly.
  5027.  
  5028. “Is that all you can say for yourself? Sorry? He's an enemy combatant and he should be shot as soon as he enters the bridge!” She yells at you.
  5029.  
  5030.     You silence her with a shush before taking aim at the door.
  5031.  
  5032. “Ayn, tell me you're dressed. That guy was just a scout for a larger force.” You whisper to her, hearing voices come from the hallway.
  5033.  
  5034.     You see Ayn cross in front of your line of fire again, dressed in full combat gear. Hopefully she'd be safe in that. You stay crouched behind the Captain's chair, Ayn standing by the door with her staff and Vikna hiding behind some sort of glowing barricade. Eventually the voices retreat from the door and you relax, putting the weapon on safe.
  5035.  
  5036. “I-I didn't want to join them.” Someone says in the corner. “P-please, we're being forced to fight for these people.”
  5037.  
  5038.     Ayn turns towards the dog, making her way toward him as he blushes and looks away.
  5039.  
  5040. “I-I'm sorry I barged in on you all, I'm just a scout. I wasn't going to shoot anyone anyways, the safety was on the entire time. I just wanted to scare you.” He says, whining a bit. “The ones who are out of uniform are the same as me. We don't want to fight you any more than you want to fight us.”
  5041.  
  5042. “Is there anything we can say to get them to listen?” Ayn asks. “Some sort of word or phrase?”
  5043.  
  5044. “Y-yes, there's a saying that has started to pop up with freedom fighters. Sawf nunqadhuk I believe.” He says.
  5045.  
  5046.     You tense up at the word, gripping the polymer of the rifle so hard it begins to groan. Ayn and Vikna both hear it and turn towards you.
  5047.  
  5048. “Sweetie, do you know what that means?” Ayn asks.
  5049.  
  5050. “I-it's Arabic.” You tell her. “If I remember correctly, it has to do with saving people or something.”
  5051.  
  5052. “Fitting.” She says, turning back to the dog. “I understand you being scared and thank you for not shooting us on sight, but it was very naughty of you to keep staring while I was changing~.”
  5053.  
  5054. “I'm sorry, you're both so pretty and, well, I haven't seen a girl who wasn't in robes in over a month. Technology is forbidden in this group, so I haven't been on-”
  5055.  
  5056. “Oh, you poor thing. After this battle, I'll make sure to treat you right.” She tells him. “Vikna, how many sinths do you have on board?”
  5057.  
  5058. “W-what?” She asks, blushing a bit. “I have a few mandatory ones for the crew, but I-”
  5059.  
  5060. “How many?” Ayn asks, much more stern with her words.
  5061.  
  5062. “T-twenty four female forms.” She says covering her face. “Oh my god this is so embarrassing.”
  5063.  
  5064.     You hear voices coming back from the hallway before they begin shushing themselves, prompting you to take aim at the door. You look over to Ayn and nod. She takes the hint, clearing her throat.
  5065.  
  5066. “Sawf nunqadhuk, come inside and we'll keep you safe!” She yells.
  5067.  
  5068.     You hear multiple footsteps walking towards the door and steel yourself. However, everyone who enters is dressed in civilian clothing, holding their weapons high above their heads.
  5069.  
  5070. “We surrender! We were the forward line and we surrender!” An actual red colored fox tells you. “The ones behind us are not so friendly though. Please, we will help fight them off if-”
  5071.  
  5072. “That won't be necessary. Just stay down and you'll be just fine.” You interrupt, giving them the signal to part.
  5073.  
  5074. “They're coming!” A skunk tells you as it rushes into the bridge. “We are all goners!”
  5075.  
  5076.     You keep the sights on the door and hear footsteps coming towards the door before a man steps in front of the door.
  5077.  
  5078. “Kill them all!” He shouts.
  5079.  
  5080.     You put 2 shots into his chest and he falls down, having been shot in the lung and heart. He gasps desperately as the life from him drains along with his blood and spinal fluid. You put a third shot into his head, silencing him and looking back out the door. Ayn then attempts to say something.
  5081.  
  5082. “Jack, he was-”
  5083.  
  5084. “Don't.” Vikna interrupts. “He was doing him a kindness by killing him quickly.”
  5085.  
  5086.     You hear 2 more sets of footsteps moving down the hall as Ayn readies herself by the door, but you wave her away. These men were not to be captured, but killed. The footsteps reach the door and the two men step inside, beginning to fire on the group. Ayn throws herself in front of them, taking the hits while you fire on the right one first. Three shots and he's down before you put 2 into the torso of the left one. They paid you no attention, as killing you must not have been their goal.
  5087.  
  5088. “That was all of them! We're safe!” The dog shouts.
  5089.  
  5090. “Wait, that's all?” You ask, continuing to watch the door. “I thought you said we had a platoon sized element coming for us VST.”
  5091.  
  5092. “I said we had a platoon sized element boarding us. We have been boarded and what is left of the platoon is all in here.” She tells you. “Everyone else has been killed by you or the crew.”
  5093.  
  5094. “How many men are in here?” You ask.
  5095.  
  5096. “We are 25 strong.” The dog tells you. “Thank you for saving us.”
  5097.  
  5098. “Are there any more civilians that aren't accounted for here?” You ask him.
  5099.  
  5100.     He looks around, counting off the people there and double checking before shaking his head.
  5101.  
  5102. “All 25 of us are here.” He tells you. “The other 20 went around the ship to take various parts of it over, but we underestimated your, uh, master at arms and crew in general.”
  5103.  
  5104. “Ayn, how you doing?” You ask, noticing she took quite a few hits to the armor.
  5105.  
  5106. “I think I'm fine. Good enough to deliver on my promise at least.” She says with a grunt, throwing the helmet from her head.
  5107.  
  5108.     The helmet rolls towards you and there's a large spider web crack along the entire visor. She was shot in the face and didn't even move? She really did care for the civilians. She gets up off the ground and grits her teeth, feeling her torso before hearing the sound of ceramic scraping together.
  5109.  
  5110. “Your plating's compromised.” You tell her. “Can you contact your father and-”
  5111.  
  5112. “No, I have something I promised to do.” She tells you. “Come on, uh, what's your name?”
  5113.  
  5114. “Habazinia.” He tells her, smiling brightly at her. “My name is Habazinia.”
  5115.  
  5116. “Okay Habibi, let's go relax in the crew quarters, the fighting is over for now.” She tells him, bringing him out of the crowd. “As for all of you, we seem to have just enough sinths for all of you to have some fun as well. You all deserve it.”
  5117.  
  5118.     They all chatter excitedly as Ayn leads them from the bridge, staff in hand as if she's leading them to the promised land. Promised land of pussy, that is. Once Ayn leaves, you sit down on the floor, breathing a sigh of relief. You thought you were going to have to kill civilian fanatics, but they weren't as fanatic as the Taliban and ISIS fighters you fought in Afghanistan.
  5119.  
  5120. “What's wrong?” Vikna asks, having made her way towards you while you were in thought.
  5121.  
  5122. “I thought I was going to have to kill civilians again.” You tell her.
  5123.  
  5124. “Do you want to talk about it?” She asks, her usual mean demeanor replaced with sympathy now that Ayn is gone.
  5125.  
  5126. “I...maybe later.” You tell her. “For now, let's try to contact Sabir again.”
  5127.  
  5128. “Jeez, you know about king Sabir too?” She asks.
  5129.  
  5130. “A lot more than I wish to know.” You say, shuddering as you remember the art you had to dig through. “Not my place to judge what people do in their free time, but...nevermind.”
  5131.  
  5132. “I...do I want to know?” She asks.
  5133.  
  5134. “You really don't.” You reply. “I'd rather not...cause more issues than I already have.”
  5135.  
  5136.     You almost slip up and tell her it was Ayn, but you manage to catch yourself just in time. When you feel you're ready, you get off the floor and stand. Vikna pulls up a communication link with Sabir and he answers immediately.
  5137.  
  5138. “Sweetheart, are all the ships gone yet?” He asks before realizing it's Vikna. “Oh, I'm sorry Kavkor. Is my daughter still safe down there?”
  5139.  
  5140. “Yes, your majesty. We've repelled the boarders and successfully taken back The Towers orbital platform.” She tells him.
  5141.  
  5142. “Boarders?!” He asks, obviously distraught. “Is she okay?!”
  5143.  
  5144. “She took a couple of shots, but she was wearing armor. She's completely fine.” Vikna replies. “You can thank Staff Sergeant Haigs here for that. He was the only one here who had the weaponry to take on the attackers.”
  5145.  
  5146.     What? Vikna had a weapon too, but she didn't even bother firing. Whatever, time to get pleasantries out of the way. You step beside Vikna and Sabir looks confused before his eyes widen in surprise.
  5147.  
  5148. “You're that man who raised that flag on Katric? Aren't you?” He asks. “It's been all over the news.”
  5149.  
  5150. “Yeah, that was me.” You say, rubbing your hand behind your back.
  5151.  
  5152. “You have my thanks for saving my daughter. However, my wife will be, how should I put this, less understanding?” He asks.
  5153.  
  5154. “Doesn't bother me.” You tell him. “I'm used to being treated like shit.”
  5155.  
  5156. “I'm guessing the reason my daughter isn't there is because she's having, uh, fun with the crew?” He asks.
  5157.  
  5158. “Not the crew, so much as captured civilians who we've found and freed from the terrorists.” You reply. “Poor guys haven't seen a naked woman in over a month, with technology being banned and all.”
  5159.  
  5160. “That does sound rough. Well, I shall leave you to it. Thank you for the help and we shall see you soon.” He tells you. “Stay safe.”
  5161.  
  5162.     The transmission cuts out and Vikna pokes your side hard. You grab at your side and look over at her, seeing she's not amused by what you said.
  5163.  
  5164. “What?” You ask. “Her red eyes don't scare me. That's the only notable thing I've noticed about her, other than the fact that she's a huge slut on a whole other level to Ayn.”
  5165.  
  5166. “She is?!” Vikna asks.
  5167.  
  5168.     You nod with a sly grin on your face.
  5169.  
  5170. “Never gives Sabir the time of day. The only reason they're together is to keep up appearances and nothing more.” You tell her. “Don't go spouting off about this. I don't even think Ayn knows about the extent of her adultery.”
  5171.  
  5172. “Alright, just, you know, don't go telling anyone else either.” She tells you.
  5173.  
  5174.     After she says that, you both look around the room, avoiding each others gaze as the awkward silence drives you both mad. You both decide to sit down, with Vikna sitting in her Captain's chair and you taking a seat in an unfilled position near the window, which had been untinted earlier. Vikna begins pulling up holographic interfaces, looking at them to bide time as you look out at the destruction you wrought.
  5175.  
  5176.     You hear the clicking of metal on metal as someone makes their way towards you, sitting down beside you when they reach you. The ships that were not blown to bits were falling back from The Tower, well out of range to do anything with their guns or missiles. It was a beautiful in a sort of morbid sense of the word. All you can hope is that those people had quick and painless deaths, or got out of the ship alive.
  5177.  
  5178. “Do you think there were any civilians aboard those ships?” A familiar voice asks.
  5179.  
  5180.     You turn to your left and see Fluff sitting next to you, a somber look in his eyes.
  5181.  
  5182. “I don't know.” You tell him. “I really don't want to know.”
  5183.  
  5184. “For some reason, I can't see anything in this universe anymore. My mind won't let me draw anything relating to here and anything I manage to draw doesn't effect anything. It's like my own universe is rejecting me.” He tells you, putting his head on the console and squishing his plumage as he does. “I feel powerless. I want to know what happened to those people.”
  5185.  
  5186.     You look over and see VST begin a scan, but you snap your fingers, getting her attention. You put a flat hand to your neck, shaking your head and hand, telling her not to do it.
  5187.  
  5188. “It's a question that should remain unanswered.” You tell him. “Knowing that I am directly responsible for so much death already hurts me in ways I can't even describe. I don't want to even think about how many of those deaths might have been civilian casualties.”
  5189.  
  5190. “Really? You carried yourself so well in that situation.” He tells you.
  5191.  
  5192. “I didn't think about whether or not they were using civilians as crew.” You tell him. “I wasn't even putting those two thoughts together until you brought it up.”
  5193.  
  5194. “Oh, sorry about that.” He says, looking even more dejected.
  5195.  
  5196. “You know somebody else is gonna have to pull the trigger on those missiles, right?” You ask. “That blockade is going nowhere unless we can get some ships in the air, so we need to make a window for the fleet to get to orbit.”
  5197.  
  5198. “Yeah, I realize that.” He replies.
  5199.  
  5200.     The long silence that follows is hell on you, as you look around the room and see Vikna checking crew manifests. You check to your right and see all the core AI doing their thing, with the exception of ARA. She's watching both of you as she sits with her hands folded in her lap. When you catch her eye, she smiles brightly at you with closed eyes and a little wave. You turn back and see Fluff continuing to lay on the console, resting his head on his hands now.
  5201.  
  5202.     You want to say something, but you don't know what to say. You never were good with words and probably never will be. You're wracking your brain to think of something to break the silence. Something, anything. Even talking about the weather would be preferable to this deafening silence.
  5203.  
  5204. “I'm sorry.” He tells you, grabbing your attention.
  5205.  
  5206. “Sorry?” You ask. “For what?”
  5207.  
  5208. “For a lot of things.” He tells you. “I remember how angry you were that I disregarded your advice a year ago about meddling with things I don't understand. I'm regretting it now.”
  5209.  
  5210. “When did I say that?” You ask.
  5211.  
  5212. “Oh, uh, nevermind.” He says, looking to the side. “I wouldn't worry about it.”
  5213.  
  5214.     You nod, not in the mood for a mystery right now. You both sit there for a while, thinking about what to talk about next. You look over to ARA, who's just listening in on the conversation. You didn't mind, as you never cared if people listened in on you.
  5215.  
  5216. “You know, my friends came up with a theory as to why all my girls showed up at your house in particular.” He says, breaking the silence.
  5217.  
  5218. “What's that?” You ask, turning back towards him.
  5219.  
  5220. “You wanted them more.” He tells you. “It seems that the people who wanted characters the most got them. You must not have wanted Nytro or Twix very bad, as they ended up with me along with Warning. The rest just didn't want to come through.”
  5221.  
  5222. “I just wanted real friends.” You tell him. “Jack died in a car accident and Bill shot himself when his wife left him. I had nobody for the longest time. I was actually going to shoot myself too if nobody had came to visit me. I just couldn't take the loneliness anymore. I know it looks like it, but I'm not one to resort to suicide if something small goes wrong.”
  5223.  
  5224. “Oh?” Fluff asks.
  5225.  
  5226. “Well, I tried dating women, going out and working, going to bars, even trying to meet up with some of my friends on internet, but it always fell through. I was so lonely and it hurt so bad. Then Vikna and ARA came to my house and started pillaging my kitchen since they thought nobody was home. You have no idea how happy it made me to have someone over.” You tell him, smiling as you remember how they reacted to you.
  5227.  
  5228. “How were they?” He asks, looking back at Vikna.
  5229.  
  5230. “Vikna was, well, sketchy.” You tell him.
  5231.  
  5232. “H-hey!” She yells to you. “I'm not sketchy!”
  5233.  
  5234. “You threatened to slit my throat because I was a 'fat, creepy, mental defective who looked like I played too many video games' if my memory serves me right.” You retort. “Saying you should just kill me and finish what my heart was starting. Pretty sketchy stuff if you ask me.”
  5235.  
  5236. “W-well, I said I was sorry, didn't I?” She asks.
  5237.  
  5238. “Anyways, I fell asleep that night and had the dream I always told you about. I was so afraid that night.” You tell him, turning back to face Fluff. “I woke up and started screaming, not wanting to give in and kill myself while I still had friends who needed me. Ayn picked me up off the chair and gave me a hug, and, well, you know what she did after that.”
  5239.  
  5240. “What about Zofie?” Fluff asks.
  5241.  
  5242. “God, she's such a sweetheart. Taught her how to play guitar and she cooked me stuff that wasn't fast food or snack foods. I did my damnedest to make sure she stayed pure, if not for me, then for everyone else.” You tell him.
  5243.  
  5244.     Fluff blushes, remembering that he did indeed ruin her innocence with a drawing.
  5245.  
  5246. “Hey, she told me she never did it with Nytro, you know, outside of that 69 she did.” You say, looking away. “I only fucked her because I had no other real choice.”
  5247.  
  5248. “Well, uh, I'm glad you did your best. Is there anything else I should know about?” He asks, looking over in ARAs direction.
  5249.  
  5250. “After all these years, you still think I'd do that?” You ask, looking over at him. “I'm offended.”
  5251.  
  5252.     He nods and lays his head back down on the console and stares out into the blackness of space, fires raging as the fuel inside the ships burn. You lean back in the chair and it groans in protest before tilting back and allowing you to recline. You take a deep breath and sigh before looking back over at Fluff.
  5253.  
  5254. “Over sixty.” You tell him.
  5255.  
  5256. “What?” He asks.
  5257.  
  5258. “You asked me how many I killed.” You tell him. “I've killed over sixty. I stopped counting after that.”
  5259.  
  5260. “Holy shit...” He says. “You've killed that many Taliban?”
  5261.  
  5262. “Not all of them were enemies...” You say, looking back out in space.
  5263.  
  5264.     Fluff doesn't respond and you look back at the door, wondering what Ayn is doing to those men. Hopefully she's not hurting the poor guy. You turn back to the console and follow Fluff's example, laying your head down on it and beginning to think. Thinking is a dangerous thing for you, since your dad always told you that idle hands are the devils playthings, but an idle mind is where the devil resides. You thought about all the lives you've destroyed, all the families you've divided, including your own, and all the friends you've lost. You feel a tear leave your eye before you shake away the sadness, as there was no time to be sad. However, your sadness would be replaced by flashbacks to your first kills.
  5265.  
  5266.     You're sitting in a little sandbag fortification that you decided to make for night watch. You were much better at pulling night watch than your fellow Marines, as you've gone on night hikes and are able to identify movement in the dark better than most. The one who was better at it than you, was Bill. He said he could pick out a hadji silhouette from almost 200 yards, and he proved it time and time again. You had been in country for only a month now, having not been able to prove your worth since coming to assist the 'training' ops you all took the locals on. That's when Bill spotted his first target.
  5267.  
  5268. “Movement about 300 meters down hill.” He says, looking through binoculars into the moonlit valley. “Got eyes?”
  5269.  
  5270. “I got eyes.” You whisper back, flicking the safety off as silently as you could, not that he could hear you anyways. “ID on him?”
  5271.  
  5272. “He has an AK and is dressed in robes. I'm guessing he's an insurgent.” Bill replies, keeping the binos on the hadji fuck.
  5273.  
  5274. “Should I engage?” You ask, slightly apprehensive about shooting at first.
  5275.  
  5276. “It's up to you.” He replies quietly.
  5277.  
  5278.     Just as he says that, Bill tenses up and you take a look through your scope. You see the figure clear as day, pointing at you before beginning to shout in his goat fucker language.
  5279.  
  5280. “We're spotted!” Bill whispers loudly. “Take the shot Marine!”
  5281.  
  5282.     You squeeze the trigger and pull the stock into a steady position and let a burst of 7.62 erupt from your gun.
  5283.  
  5284. RATATATATAT
  5285.  
  5286.     The burst fells the man and subsequently gives away your position. After this burst, flashes erupt from the valley and begin impact to the side of you. Bill returns fire with his M16 and you begin to throw bursts of fire at the enemy flashes. This was now a fight for survival. The rest of your squad is woken up by this and begins getting to their own predefined defensive positions, returning fire and being largely ineffective in the night hours.
  5287.  
  5288.     You line up your sights with another flash of light and blanket the area with lead, hearing a pained scream over the gunfire.
  5289.  
  5290. “I got another!” You yell. “2 down!”
  5291.  
  5292. “Keep the fire up Haigs!” Your squad daddy tells you, continuing to rain lead down on the poor guys.
  5293.  
  5294.     After a prolonged firefight, the fire eventually stops coming in, giving everyone a bit of reprieve as your radio operator reported back to the FOB.
  5295.  
  5296. “I got 2!” You yell excitedly. “I got em! I...killed two...”
  5297.  
  5298. “Yes, you did Haigs. Good work.” Your squad leader tells you.
  5299.  
  5300. “I-I killed two people sarge, I-I killed them.” You tell him, the realization dawning on you. “I took them down...”
  5301.  
  5302. “Yes, you did.” He says, now giving you his full attention.
  5303.  
  5304. “Th-they're dead...” You say, looking down at your MG. “I...”
  5305.  
  5306. “Jack?” He asks. “You okay buddy?”
  5307.  
  5308. “He's dead and I-”
  5309.  
  5310. “Jack!” He yells.
  5311.  
  5312.     You're snapped back to reality and feel a feathered hand on your shoulder with another on your holster, looking off to your left and seeing Fluff with a worried look on his face. He smiles once he realizes you're back.
  5313.  
  5314. “What?” You ask, taking his hand off your holster. “What happened?”
  5315.  
  5316. “You were talking to yourself.” He replies.
  5317.  
  5318. “What'd I say?” You ask. “How much did I say?”
  5319.  
  5320. “You killed 2 men. You just started rambling and going for your gun. I thought you were gonna pop yourself in the head.” He tells you. “Scared me half to death.”
  5321.  
  5322.     You nod and look him over, seeing he had on a fairly bland grey shirt and pants. They were accented by white sides and a black line running around the collar. It had short sleeves that were colored white as the sleeves were also accented by a black line running around the edge. He had a belt on, but you see he has no weapon on the belt. Surely someone as high profile as god himself would carry a gun around, especially since he was losing control of his universe.
  5323.  
  5324. “Uh, what are you looking at?” Fluff asks, blushing lightly.
  5325.  
  5326. “Where's your weapon?” You ask in return.
  5327.  
  5328. “I, uh, forgot it planet side.” He tells you. “The armory was empty and I'm not carrying around a rifle.”
  5329.  
  5330.     You smile, grabbing the holster from your left hand side and detaching it. You hand it to Fluff and he smiles awkwardly.
  5331.  
  5332. “Keep this on you until we get planet side.” You tell him. “It's my dad's .32, not going to do much against any armor plating but it'll do the trick against regular clothing.”
  5333.  
  5334.     You grab some speed loaders, handing them to him as he shoves them in his pocket. He takes the gun out of the holster and sweeps you with it, causing you to duck.
  5335.  
  5336. “Watch the muzzle!” You yell, holding your helmet tight and looking down. “Jesus I don't need you fucking killing me!”
  5337.  
  5338. “Sorry.” He tells you. “I think I lost my touch with guns too.”
  5339.  
  5340. “Vikna, is there a firing range aboard this ship?” You ask. “I gotta teach god how to shoot a gun.”
  5341.  
  5342. “Yes, there's one on the deck 12. Go nuts.” She says, continuing to look through a holographic list. “There's stuff I need to do.”
  5343.  
  5344.     You nod and get up, eager to get your mind off the flashback you just went through. You've never seen a space range before, so you're eager to check it out.
  5345.  
  5346. 3 hours later
  5347.  
  5348.     You walk back to the bridge just in time to see the Sianian cruiser warp in. It was extremely ornate, boasting red and brown accents along with the blue that you had come to know as the current 'in' color. Ayn enters the room, after glow and after smell still prevalent on her. She sees the ship in the window and her mood immediately sours. You can barely make out a flash come from the side of the ship as a speck moves through the debris of another, less intact ship. When what appears to be a shuttle comes into view, Ayn groans with displeasure.
  5349.  
  5350. “Blue guard?” You ask.
  5351.  
  5352. “Blue guard.” She replies.
  5353.  
  5354.     Just as you both say that, a hail comes from the ship and Vikna answers the call. Sabir is accompanied by two figures wearing ornate helmets with clear glass where the usual jackal sculpture would be.
  5355.  
  5356. “New blue guard?” You ask.
  5357.  
  5358. “Helmets were too claustrophobic and didn't offer enough visibility. I took the liberty of designing them myself.” Sabir replies. “After Ayn threw a little tantrum and abused the helmet's limited visibility.”
  5359.  
  5360.     Ayn just rolls her eyes and smirks at the hologram of her father.
  5361.  
  5362. “I know who's not getting his father's day gift this week.” She says. “Well, at least not the entire thing.”
  5363.  
  5364. “Oh, sweetheart, you know I mean well. It's for your protection, not your imprisonment.” He tells her.
  5365.  
  5366. “Is that why they all have strength enhancing augments and agility upgrades?” She asks. “Seems an awful lot like you're creating the perfect prison guards.”
  5367.  
  5368. “We'll talk about this later. Just wait for the shuttle. Oh, and your human friend is coming too. Your mother ordered it.” He says. “If he resists, he'll be forced. Unlike you, I doubt he'll stand a chance if he decides to try and run.”
  5369.  
  5370. “Why would I resist? A chance to see a new planet is always welcome.” You tell him with a smile. “As long as you don't lock me in the tower of Babylon, I'll be fine.”
  5371.  
  5372.     Fluff chuckles at that and you smile, glad to have someone around who gets your jokes. The transmission cuts off and you hear a small thunk, prompting you to turn to Fluff.
  5373.  
  5374. “Hey, make sure that those nukes aren't fired towards Katric. Those jets of plasma are a lot of things but safe isn't one of them. They'll also punch straight through a building if it's not stopped by a ship.” You tell him. “Be aware of your surroundings when you fire that nuclear spear, understand?”
  5375.  
  5376. “Yes, sir.” He says, saluting you.
  5377.  
  5378. “I'm no sir, I work for a living.” You tell him with a smile.
  5379.  
  5380.     You see the blue guard arrive through the bridge door, accompanied by King Sabir and the two blue guard. The light seems to gleam off the gold plating on both of them, the blue crystals only adding to the royal look they present. However, you notice that the one on the left seems to gleam a bit less than the one on the right. Might just be the lighting inside here, but it catches your eye. You walk towards the group as Ayn pulls her dad into a hug, the rotund man hugging his daughter back immediately.
  5381.  
  5382. “I missed you sweetie.” He tells her. “We've all missed you.”
  5383.  
  5384.     His accent puts you at ease, as he reminds you of the village elder of a mountain village you had been deployed at for a while. The elder was a cool guy and always talked with you about life and man stuff. The blue guard stand rigid, spears at the ready as you feel them track you towards Ayn. As soon as you get too close, they both react and get in your way, blocking you from interacting with either of them.
  5385.  
  5386. “Boys, let the man through.” Ayn tells the two. “He's not going to hurt us.”
  5387.  
  5388.     The right one nods and gets out of your way, but the left one stays in the way.
  5389.  
  5390. “I said he may pass.” She repeats, pushing him aside.
  5391.  
  5392.     Sabir looks your way and smiles warmly, outstretching his hand. You take his hand in your own and shake hands, pulling back afterwards.
  5393.  
  5394. “My name is Sabir Miyur, king of the Sianian Queendom. We rule over most of Siania with an iron fist.” He says jokingly, making a fist before chuckling. “I'm kidding of course. We're fair enough.”
  5395.  
  5396.     Ayn snickers at that and her father sighs, waving both of you along. You follow Sabir down the twisting halls of the ship, surprised that they got to the bridge so quickly at this pace. When you all make it to the shuttle, you turn around to look at your 'escort' again in the better lighting of the shuttle. The armor of the one closest to Ayn was indeed very shiny, however the one closest to you was not so much.
  5397.  
  5398. “Your majesty-”
  5399.  
  5400. “Sabir is fine. I'm not like my wife.” He interrupts.
  5401.  
  5402. “Well, what do you think of Thing 2's armor here? How long do you think it's been since he's cleaned it?” You ask.
  5403.  
  5404.     The jackal looks at you, and you look back at Ayn, who's also looking the man over.
  5405.  
  5406. “I think it hasn't been polished in over a week, maybe 2 at the most.” He tells you. “Do you take no pride in your work Lev'kai?”
  5407.  
  5408.     He gets on the ground and takes a knee, resting his arm on his spear as he begins to beg for forgiveness.
  5409.  
  5410. “Your highness, I take pride in my work, it's just that-”
  5411.  
  5412. “A soldier like you doesn't have any excuse for something so offensive. Get off the floor and stand.” You tell him, your inner NCO beginning to bare it's sharp and nasty fangs.
  5413.  
  5414. “I don't take orders from foreign legions.” He tells you.
  5415.  
  5416. “No, the man is right. Get off the floor and present yourself to me.” Sabir says as you move out of his way.
  5417.  
  5418.     He begins checking the armor over, Ayn looking at her fathers ass as she licks her chops. You elbow her lightly and she looks over at you as you mouth the word 'later' to her. Her eyes go wide, having thought you didn't know. She mouths 'told anyone' to you and you shake your head no. She sighs in relief and looks back at the two, prompting you to look as well.
  5419.  
  5420. “This armor looks like it was dropped on the floor and dragged along it! What the hell do you do in your spare time? You have plenty of time to go polish your armor between retrieving my daughter and sitting with your claws up your ass!” He says, angry with the state of his guard. “I should have you locked up for sullying the name of the Queendom!”
  5421.  
  5422.     Then, your hair raises up on the back of your neck. Cogs begin turning in your head that you had thought long gone. You feel something is wrong with this whole situation. All you wanted to do was get away. Turn and run.
  5423.  
  5424. “Sabir, step back from him.” You tell him. “Step back now.”
  5425.  
  5426.     He looks over to you and his eyes raise, concerned. He backs away from the man and you slide yourself between him and the guard. He begins to shift his weight around, his tail hanging limp behind him as you bet he's trying to hide his emotions. This unnerves you and your lapse of concentration allows your inner NCO to take over.
  5427.  
  5428. “Take your helmet off soldier.” You order. “Now.”
  5429.  
  5430. “I don't-”
  5431.  
  5432. “That was not a request.” You tell him. “Take off the god damn helmet.”
  5433.  
  5434. “You will not order me around like some lowly infantry man!” He yells.
  5435.  
  5436.     You draw your pistol from your holster and plant it firmly in the weakest link of his armor, the under arm.
  5437.  
  5438. “You will do as you're told soldier or I will fucking shoot you for treason!” You shout. “Take the fucking helmet off you god damn mutt!”
  5439.  
  5440.     The jackal doesn't even attempt to retaliate, instead putting his hands up. This gives you all the evidence you need.
  5441.  
  5442. “You're a fucking traitor, aren't you?” You ask. “A real blue guard would've done something by now. You're like a spy trying too hard to blend in.”
  5443.  
  5444. “W-what?!” He asks, slowly lowering his arms..
  5445.  
  5446. “You move a god damn muscle and I'll blow your heart out of the other side of your rib cage.” You threaten. “I knew the second you put your hands up that you were a god damn traitor. If you were a real blue guard, you would've known that your death would leave me with only one more man to go. Then I'd have some of the most powerful bargaining chips in the entire galaxy sitting in the palm of my hand.”
  5447.  
  5448. “Y-you-”
  5449.  
  5450. “I'm not finished yet you waste of precious fucking oxygen!” You yell. “No soldier worth his salt EVER lets his uniform go into such disrepair, especially an honor guard like Thing 1 over there. I'd think Sabir was right on the armor being dragged across the floor, because you killed the previous wearer!”
  5451.  
  5452. “Shut up you American dog! He warned us of someone like you! I am not afraid of death, praise god and deliver me to the great beyond!” He yells. “ALLAH-”
  5453.  
  5454.     You pull the trigger before he can finish, a loud bang echoing throughout the shuttle as blood splatters onto the sidewall. Gurgling is heard as air escapes his lungs through the freshly punched hole as he collapses to the ground in pain. You forcefully remove the helmet and see it's not a jackal at all, but a coyote of some kind.
  5455.  
  5456. “He was a traitor!” Sabir yells. “No blue guard are allowed to be anything other than jackals from noble families!”
  5457.  
  5458.     He continues to gurgle on the ground and you grit your teeth, hearing them grind together as your anger boils over. You get down on the ground and pull him up, flipping him away from you before grabbing his snout. You grab his shoulder and pull back on the snout as hard as you can, snapping his neck and killing him instantly. You let the dead body drop to the floor and look down at your clothing, which is now soaked in blood. Now you'd have to eat your own words.
  5459.  
  5460.     You look up at Ayn and she's being protected by the blue guard, who has his spear pointed at you and charged with electricity. You look back to the dead body and spit on him. Fucking hadji scum wasn't worth the second bullet. You sit down in one of the seats, holstering your weapon and laying back in the seat.
  5461.  
  5462. “Why did you snap his neck?” Sabir asks.
  5463.  
  5464. “Bleeding out and choking to death are some of the worst ways to die.” You tell him.
  5465.  
  5466. “How'd you know?” He asks.
  5467.  
  5468. “His armor was disgraceful, he didn't try to take my weapons when we boarded the shuttle, and he surrendered as most good spies do. It helps avoid suspicion and pulls people to their side.” You tell him. “Sorry about the mess by the way. I'll clean it up when we dock.”
  5469.  
  5470. “No, that'll be fine. One of the servants can deal with the mess.” He tells you. “However, I think killing him was a bit, uh, overkill.”
  5471.  
  5472. “Kill no capture.” You say under your breath.
  5473.  
  5474. “What?” Ayn asks.
  5475.  
  5476. “Nothing.” You tell her. “It's nothing.”
  5477.  
  5478.     You feel a heavy clunk as the shuttle presumably docks to the decorative ship. Ayn moving towards the entrance confirms this, as she is followed by Sabir and the remaining blue guard. The body on the ground continues to bleed as you get up from your seat.
  5479.  
  5480. 30 minutes later
  5481.  
  5482.     You were given some temporary clothing while the ship board servants washed your BDUs off. You told them not to use a washing machine, as it would fade the camouflage pattern and make the uniform worthless, so hand washing was in order. The clothes you were given were some very comfortable grey robes, which were considered middle or high class wear here. They had an uncomfortably large hole where your underwear were visible, so you had to sew it shut with some tacky looking threads. Ayn said the robes were made of silk, which it definitely felt like as you sat at a table with her and Sabir. Ayn tried to get something more comfortable, but her father said customs didn't allow for guests to wear the royal linens she offered.
  5483.  
  5484.     Sabir had called you to a table for discussion of 'various things' as he called it. He had asked if you wanted anything and you nodded, asking for strong alcohol. He just laughed and shook his head, offering wine in its place. You rejected the offer, hating the taste of wine and how long it took you to get buzzed.
  5485.  
  5486. “Well, how about we start off with how my daughter has been treating you. Have you been nice to the young man?” He asks her.
  5487.  
  5488. “Very~.” She says, putting a hand on your shoulder before chuckling. “This guy used to be just shy of 6 feet tall. Now he's as big as me thanks to my enchantment running wild. Honestly thought he was going to die when my magic started to go haywire.”
  5489.  
  5490.     You shudder a bit at that, not knowing that she could've killed you with it.
  5491.  
  5492. “Next question is for you Staff Sergeant. Who are you?” He asks.
  5493.  
  5494. “I'm Staff Sergeant Jackson H. Haigs of the United States Marine Corps. I served in Afghanistan for one and a half years alongside Iran for one tour and am currently a Marine reservist. I am 27 years old and have been alone for almost three years before I met your daughter.” You tell him.
  5495.  
  5496. “What's a 'United States Marine Corps'?” He asks. “Is that some kind of military name?”
  5497.  
  5498. “The United States is my country, sir. The Marine Corps is the branch of the military I served in. Land and sea warfare, though I was mostly involved in desert operations.” You tell him.
  5499.  
  5500. “So you're like a special forces soldier?” He asks.
  5501.  
  5502. “No, far from it.” You say with a nervous chuckle. “You give me too much credit.”
  5503.  
  5504. “What about this Afghanistan place?” He asks. “What is that? Another country?”
  5505.  
  5506. “Yeah, it's a terrible place. It's got deserts, mountains, forests, rivers, and towns scattered all over the place.” You tell him.
  5507.  
  5508. “What about Iran? What is that place like?” He asks.
  5509.  
  5510. “More of the same.” You reply. “Only difference being that they had actual cities that weren't complete shit.”
  5511.  
  5512. “That sounds a lot like Siania. Why would this Afghanistan be such a terrible place if it sounds so beautiful?” He asks.
  5513.  
  5514. “The people.” You say through grit teeth. “Those people are savages.”
  5515.  
  5516. “Oh?” He asks.
  5517.  
  5518. “They hate everything about America. The way we speak, the way we look, the way we act, and the way we try to help everyone. They are despicable people and I hate almost every single one.” You tell him. “I don't know about how taboo it is here, but their religion gives them the okay to have intercourse with goats.”
  5519.  
  5520. “What's so wrong with that?” He asks.
  5521.  
  5522. “FERAL goats.” You correct.
  5523.  
  5524. “Oh...I see.” He says, grabbing his wine glass and taking a large swig from it.
  5525.  
  5526. “This doesn't even begin to describe what it tells men to do to women. Any woman who disobeys a man is beaten and publicly shamed. If a woman is caught without her entire body being covered, she is stoned to death by flash mobs.” You tell them, beginning to increase in volume as you get more and more angry. “They throw gays off of buildings, burn books that go against their ideals, and murder girls who try to attend school!”
  5527.  
  5528. “Oh god...” Ayn says.
  5529.  
  5530. “They have a prophet who has fucked children, told people that it's okay to fuck feral animals, and told people it's okay to kill anyone who disagrees with them! Anyone who draws a picture of this prophet is to be killed and if you damage their holy book they'll stab you in the back!” You shout, beginning to shake with rage. “They throw rocks at passing American patrols, send women and children to bomb tank formations, and shoot anyone who collaborates with us! These aren't people, THEY'RE FUCKING ANIMALS!”
  5531.  
  5532.     You slam your fist down on the table and take deep breaths, trying to calm yourself down. Only a few dared to be different in that cultural sink hole and they were always killed first.
  5533.  
  5534. “Is that why you killed that man?” Ayn asks.
  5535.  
  5536. “Yes.” You say, gritting your teeth. “I hate them and everything they stand for. It's morally repugnant and they don't deserve the mercy of being held in jail for the rest of their life.”
  5537.  
  5538. “You do realize that man was speaking Sianian, right?” Sabir asks, backing away a bit.
  5539.  
  5540.     You nod, sighing deeply as you lean back in the seat.
  5541.  
  5542. “You're not Arabs, Sabir. You're your own people. Unless I learn that you murder children in your basement for daring to want an education, I am perfectly okay with all of you. You're no different to me than any other person I've met, outside of you being royalty, of course.” You tell him.
  5543.  
  5544. “Ah, I see. I shall stay away from the topic from now on. I see it's quite touchy.” He says, drinking the rest of his wine. “Anyways, how have you been getting used to life here? I've heard that life on Earth is very primitive.”
  5545.  
  5546. “Everything's really flashy and blue.” You tell him.
  5547.  
  5548. “It's a style thing. I don't know much about it, but my wife does. Not that she'll answer anything like that.” He tells you. “So, what's this about being alone? Why'd you mention it?”
  5549.  
  5550. “Oh, uh, it was sort of autonomous.” You say awkwardly. “I don't mean anything by it, It's just become something I tell people now. I feel like I just messed with the vibe of the room a bit now.”
  5551.  
  5552. “No, you're fine. I used to tell people I was a dancer when they asked who I was. Then it got really awkward when I explained what kind.” Ayn says, comforting you a bit.
  5553.  
  5554.     As she finishes, you hear clicking on the floor of the ship, indicating someone has entered.
  5555.  
  5556. “Your clothes mister Staff Ser-WHOA!” The feline yells before tripping.
  5557.  
  5558.     She drops your clothes and falls to the floor with a thud as you get out of your seat, seeing if she's okay.
  5559.  
  5560. “Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry my king, I should be ashamed of myself!” The servant girl says, turning her fall into a bow as her tail sticks straight up.
  5561.  
  5562. “Miss, are you okay?” You ask, picking your clothes up off the floor.
  5563.  
  5564. “W-what?” She asks, looking up.
  5565.  
  5566. “Are you hurt? You took a pretty nasty nose dive into the floor there.” You tell her with a smile.
  5567.  
  5568. “I-I think I'm fine.” She tells you, getting on her knees and looking to the floor. “I hope you don't mind me bothering you with this incident.”
  5569.  
  5570. “Hey, these clothes have been shot, ripped, stained with all kinds of nastiness, and sewn back up so many times I've lost count.” You lie. “It's okay for them to hit a floor as clean as this. Do you have a name?”
  5571.  
  5572. “Sh-Shana.” She tells you. “My name is Shana.”
  5573.  
  5574. “Are you hungry Shana?” You ask, looking at her arms and seeing she must not eat much.
  5575.  
  5576. “I-I think...I don't think I should eat here...” She replies uncertainly.
  5577.  
  5578. “I asked if you were hungry, not if you should eat with us.” You tell her, putting a hand on her shoulder.
  5579.  
  5580. “Yes, I am hungry.” She says with a smile.
  5581.  
  5582. “Well I'll ask for something to eat.” You tell her. “What would you like?”
  5583.  
  5584. “I-I don't know.” She tells you. “A sandwich maybe?”
  5585.  
  5586. “I can make you one of those.” You tell her. “Just sit down and I'll make you something to eat. You look like you haven't eaten in days.”
  5587.  
  5588.     She smiles at that, sitting down at the table as you make your way towards what you found out was a fridge. You grab some meats that you assume are fresh instead of synthesized. You bring the meat over to the counter with some cheese and synthesize some bread, putting the ingredients inside the bread when it finally drops from the machine. You plate the sandwich and bring it back to the table, where the servant girl is blushing madly.
  5589.  
  5590. “T-thank you.” She tells you as you set the sandwich out for her.
  5591.  
  5592. “Well, you're the one who cleaned my clothes, right?” You ask.
  5593.  
  5594. “Y-yes, I washed them in the sink like you asked.” She replies.
  5595.  
  5596. “It's only fair to repay a kindness with kindness.” You tell her. “I honestly wish I knew how to make something more, but all my cook books are at home.”
  5597.  
  5598.     She takes a bite of the sandwich and her ears perk up, her tail moving around excitedly as she chews. When she swallows it, Shana gives you a big smile.
  5599.  
  5600. “I'm just a lowly servant. I do not deserve this, but you are being kind to me anyways.” She tells you. “May I ask why you're being so kind? If it is because you want me, you could've just said so and I would've done my best to please you.”
  5601.  
  5602. “No, that's not it. Where I come from, kindness is repaid with kindness. Not everyone adheres to it, but I never let a kindness go unanswered.” You tell her with a smile. “There's nothing malicious behind my kindness, just that I want to repay you.”
  5603.  
  5604.     She just looks up at you, unable to think of what to say. She sets down her sandwich and pulls you into a hug, having a surprising amount of strength for arms as thin as hers. You return it with a smile and rub her back gently, feeling her let go of you. You let go and she smiles, continuing to eat the sandwich before finishing it.
  5605.  
  5606. “You have made my day mister Staff Sergeant.” She tells you.
  5607.  
  5608. “Please, just call me Jack.” You tell her.
  5609.  
  5610. “Well, thank you Jack. I appreciate what you've done for me and will never forget you.” She says.
  5611.  
  5612. “You're very welcome. Now go on about the rest of your day.” You tell her. “Wouldn't want to keep anyone waiting, right?”
  5613.  
  5614. “Yes, I should be going!” She tells you, getting up from the seat. “Thank you once again! Bye!”
  5615.  
  5616.     She rushes out of the room and back down the hall and you watch the door for a bit, making sure she doesn't need anything else before turning back around. You see a very confused looking Sabir and Ayn smiling brightly, causing you to turn away.
  5617.  
  5618. “I hope I didn't break any laws.” You tell them.
  5619.  
  5620. “I'm just confused why someone would go out of their way to help a lowly servant. I'm not one to punish people for mistakes like that, but it confuses me why you offered her food.” He says, scratching his head. “Especially when you were so angry before this.”
  5621.  
  5622. “I know exactly why.” Ayn says with an uncharacteristically wide smile. “You joined the military to help people, didn't you?”
  5623.  
  5624.     You nod, scratching behind your neck and smiling awkwardly.
  5625.  
  5626. “T-that was a large part, yes.” You tell her, failing to mention the second reason.
  5627.  
  5628. “I heard from Twix that you used to give out candy to the children there too. Is that true?” She asks.
  5629.  
  5630. “Yeah, they loved it when the Americans would come. We'd hand out candy that we didn't want from our rations and the kids would give us toilet paper and baby wipes.” You reply.
  5631.  
  5632. “That's so sweet.” She tells you.
  5633.  
  5634. “Ah, so it's like a trade?” Sabir asks.
  5635.  
  5636. “In a way, yeah.” You tell him.
  5637.  
  5638.     Ayn doesn't seem content with that, but stays her tongue. You continue to talk about random things as the ship travels towards its destination.
  5639.  
  5640. 3 hours later
  5641.  
  5642.     You make it to Ayn's quarters, waiting by the door for her to open it up.
  5643.  
  5644. “Maybe it was...no, that's wrong.” She says, trying to remember the password. “Do you know what my password was?”
  5645.  
  5646. “I, don't know for sure. Let me take a crack at it.” You tell her.
  5647.  
  5648.     She nods, giving way to you. Maybe it was slut? The machine beeps and you try sloot. That one fails as well. Nytro maybe? No, that failed as well.
  5649.  
  5650. “What about this one?” You ask under your breath.
  5651.  
  5652.     You type in Ark Sykran and the door gives you a green light, opening the door to her room.
  5653.  
  5654. “What was it?” She asks, looking over your shoulder.
  5655.  
  5656. “Do you know Nytro's full name?” You ask.
  5657.  
  5658. “No, he never tells anyone.” She replies.
  5659.  
  5660. “Then I need to change the password.” You say, waving her inside. “I'll only be a few minutes.”
  5661.  
  5662.     She sighs and walks inside, displeased with not knowing Nytros full name. You delete the password and put 2552 in its place. When you do that, you make it inside Ayn's room and set your bag down, taking off your armor and helmet before setting them beside the bag. Ayn sits down on the bed facing the window, looking out the porthole and smiling.
  5663.  
  5664. “I heard your first time in space was with ARA.” She tells you. “How was it?”
  5665.  
  5666. “I loved it. It was my dream to go to space and an even bigger dream to go on a space walk.” You reply, sitting down in an eggshell shaped chair. “Had to keep ARA from floating off into space though.”
  5667.  
  5668. “Again?” She asks.
  5669.  
  5670. “Yeah, again. She remembered the harness, but forgot to use a strong enough tether.” You tell her.
  5671.  
  5672. “Sounds like her. She experiences a lot of faults at the worst times possible.” She says.
  5673.  
  5674.     You both sit down for a while, just looking out the port hole as the stars pass by. Ayn shoots you quick glances, smirking when she sees you looking back. She was a very pretty girl, as Fluff made her to be. You'd expect nothing less from the physical embodiment of the goddess of lust and fertility. You look back to the porthole and watch as the stars pass by, being mesmerized by the sight. Streaks of light shooting past the window made you feel like you were in hyperspace.
  5675.  
  5676. “Hey.” Ayn says, grabbing your attention.
  5677.  
  5678.     You look over at her and see her giving you a very serious face.
  5679.  
  5680. “Hmm?” You ask, intrigued by her seriousness.
  5681.  
  5682. “I need to talk to you.” She says. “Come here.”
  5683.  
  5684.     You get up off the chair, walking over to Ayn. When you reach her, you sit down beside her and she looks you in the eye. You look away and she grabs your face, pointing you towards her.
  5685.  
  5686. “Look at me.” She tells you. “When we get to Siania, you do not mouth off to my mother. She will have you killed on the spot. I don't want to lose another friend to her because she pushes their buttons.”
  5687.  
  5688. “Yes ma'am.” You say, nodding as best you could in Ayn's vice like grip. “Anything else?”
  5689.  
  5690. “Do not stray far from me. She'll have you thrown in a jail cell if you stray off the path to her throne room.” She continues. “Try to flatter her. Tell her you like her eyes, her fur coat is well kept, her voice is smooth and silky, that kind of thing. She loves to be praised like a goddess. You either bow or salute her. Do not just stand there like I will. She goes ballistic if you don't treat her like the queen of the Sianian Queendom.”
  5691.  
  5692. “Understood. What else?” You ask.
  5693.  
  5694. “Keep that uniform of yours clean. She can spot dirt and dust from a mile away. I know from experience.” Ayn replies. “Keep those rifles in my room. Do not bring them in the throne room or you will be shot on sight. I don't know what your armor is made of, but I doubt it will stop anti material lasers. You can keep a pistol on you, but you keep your hand off it at all times.”
  5695.  
  5696. “What else?” You ask, Ayn letting go of your face.
  5697.  
  5698. “Don't tell her about the Casaba thing. Nobody needs to know about that. Also, don't tell her you were alone for 3 years. I kind of cringed when you said it.” She tells you.
  5699.  
  5700. “Dammit, why does nobody ever tell me on the spot?!” You ask, beating yourself up over it now.
  5701.  
  5702. “Because it's bad form to do that. Anyways, keep your answers short and to the point. 3 sentences maximum. Do not clear your throat loudly, do not say 'um' if you can help it, and definitely do not call her Kesis. She is QUEEN Kesis.” She continues. “Don't let her take you to her room. Nobody ever comes out the same. If she tries to take you off to her room, let me talk her out of it. Don't say anything, just say you need to use the restroom or something.”
  5703.  
  5704. “Is that all?” You ask.
  5705.  
  5706. “No, you need to do whatever she says, no matter how embarrassing and ridiculous. If she says to take off your pants and underwear, you do that. If she tells you to scratch her back, you do it. Offer no resistance to her requests. Do not argue with her, no matter how much you want to. She will say many things that are against most people's constitutions, but you must agree with her.” She continues. “Most importantly, do not stare at her. She takes great offense to it and will kill you herself if you do it.”
  5707.  
  5708. “Anything else?” You ask.
  5709.  
  5710. “Yes. Take great care not to touch me. Mother pretends to care about me so she can send anyone who touches me off to prison. Peasants are not supposed to touch royalty.” She says. “That should be everything.”
  5711.  
  5712. “God damn. I can see why everyone is afraid of her.” You tell Ayn. “Little does she know that I'm not afraid to die.”
  5713.  
  5714.     Ayn raises a hand and smacks you so hard you're thrown off the bed. You hit the floor hard, groaning when you roll onto your back.
  5715.  
  5716. “Don't talk like that after I just told you everything that will keep you alive!” Ayn yells. “I've lost five friends to her and I'm not losing a sixth!”
  5717.  
  5718.     You get yourself off the floor and look at Ayn, who's now very angry with you. She lays back on the bed before sighing, looking away and turning towards the opposite wall.
  5719.  
  5720. “I'll wash my clothes off some more and prepare for tomorrow. You won't see me until then.” You tell her, walking to the door. “Sorry I said anything.”
  5721.  
  5722.     You make it to the door and grab all your stuff, leaving Ayn alone as you walk down the corridor to the room Sabir had given you.
  5723.  
  5724. 20 minutes later.
  5725.  
  5726.     You spit the toothpaste out into the sink and sigh, looking over at your freshly washed uniform. There was still a bit of dust and blood on it, but you fixed it with haste. It was now completely clean and free of any nastiness. You weren't going to wear your armor in, so you washed your field cap as well as your belt. Your boots were washed as well, getting all the stains and mud out of them.
  5727.  
  5728.     You wash your mouth out with water, spitting it out into the sink and wiping your face with a towel. You look in the mirror, which was surprisingly low tech. You see flashes of a dirty face with a cut running along your cheek and blink, backing away from the mirror. Right, that's still a thing. You take off your robes and underwear, putting the undies inside the sink and filling it up with water. You begin washing the underwear off as you kneed them against the sink. You wash the underwear off with hand soap, squeezing them and wringing them out before draining the water.
  5729.  
  5730.     Once your underwear were washed, you take off your socks and toss them out of the bathroom, stepping into the shower and tapping the screen to turn the water on. You shiver as the cold water hits you before turning warm. You grab the shampoo and body wash from the shelf, uncapping the shampoo first and rubbing it into your hair. After that, you rinse the shampoo from your hair let your hair fall flat, needing to cut it after this.
  5731.  
  5732.     You finish washing yourself and turn the drying ring on, allowing it to dry you off before stepping out of the shower. You grab an electric razor from your bag and flick the sheers out, turning it on and beginning to cut your curly hair. This goes on for almost 10 minutes, as you cut all of your hair down to about a quarter of an inch. You step back inside the shower and rinse your body off. After repeating the cycle of washing your hair and body, you turn the shower off and dry yourself again before stepping out.
  5733.  
  5734.     When you get out of the shower, you fold up your robes and put them in the clothes chute, not needing them anymore. You step out into the bedroom, turning to the right and seeing a bunk bed by a porthole. Nobody else was in here, so you had the entire thing to yourself. You sit down in the lower bunk, sighing before pulling the blankets over you and falling asleep.
  5735.  
  5736. 12 hours later.
  5737.  
  5738.     You straighten out your cap and give a salute, having not looked this sharp since you last wore your dress uniform. You secure your pistol in its leather holster, having looped the strap down tight to discourage any pick pockets. You then flip the BDU shirt over the holster, only allowing the smallest portion of the holster to be visible. When you open the door, you see Ayn standing in front of it, looking down at the floor.
  5739.  
  5740. “Jack, I-”
  5741.  
  5742. “Don't apologize. I was being insensitive and needed to be smacked.” You tell her. “Sorry I said what I did.”
  5743.  
  5744. “O-oh.” Ayn says. “You're forgiven.”
  5745.  
  5746.     She looks up and sees your uniform, smiling gently.
  5747.  
  5748. “You look nice.” She tells you.
  5749.  
  5750. “So do you.” You reply, seeing she's wearing a different dress this time. “We should probably get going. Your mother probably hates to be kept waiting.”
  5751.  
  5752. 2 hours later
  5753.  
  5754.     You do as you were told yesterday, keeping close to Ayn as she walks you towards the throne room. When you both stop in front of massive double doors, they open to reveal a red carpet and some potted plants lining the carpet every 10 or so feet. The plants themselves were like alien trees, but with purple and red leaves that seemed to be their natural shade. When you look up the red carpet, you see the queen atop her throne, holding her head up high and proud. Her black hair seemed to be an endless void and-
  5755.  
  5756. “Jack, come along now.” Ayn says, snapping you out of your stupor.
  5757.  
  5758. “Right.” You say, walking along the red carpet with her.
  5759.  
  5760.     You hear the doors slam shut behind you and continue to look forward, keeping your eyes off of Kesis as you close in. When you both stop, you stand at attention, popping a crisp salute you had been practicing the whole morning.
  5761.  
  5762. “So, you're finally back from having intercourse with everything in sight?” She asks Ayn.
  5763.  
  5764. “Yes mother.” Ayn replies. “I see no harm in leaving for a few days every now and again to visit with our people.”
  5765.  
  5766. “You left for over a month before coming back, staying maybe two whole weeks before leaving again. I will not stand for it any longer. If you can not find entertainment in the room we constructed specifically for you, I don't think you have any hope of remaining loyal to anyone.” Kesis says, seeming to strike a nerve. “I bet you wouldn't be able to stay faithful to a husband even if you tried.”
  5767.  
  5768.     You inhale sharply, but Ayn clears her throat before you can continue.
  5769.  
  5770. “Daughter, what have I told you about making that disgusting noise in front of me?” Kesis asks.
  5771.  
  5772. “I will not do it again, mother.” Ayn replies.
  5773.  
  5774. “What is this thing you have brought before me?” Kesis asks in a disgusted tone. “It looks hideous.”
  5775.  
  5776. “This is the soldier you wanted to see, mother. The one who protected me and raised the flag on-”
  5777.  
  5778. “Ah yes, I remember now. You're the primitive from another world. We've seen quite a few of them back home.” She says, confusing you by the statement she makes.
  5779.  
  5780. “Are you going to greet him, mother?” Ayn asks.
  5781.  
  5782. “Yes, I will greet him now. At ease, soldier.” Kesis tells you, prompting you to go to parade rest. “May I ask who you are?”
  5783.  
  5784. “I am Staff Sergeant Jackson H. Haigs of the US Marine Corps, ma'am.” You tell her, not letting your gaze wander.
  5785.  
  5786. “I am Queen Kesis Miyur the third, the ruler of this magnificent country.” She says in a pompous voice that drips with royalty. “Why do you think I have brought you before me?”
  5787.  
  5788. “I can only assume it's to bask in your glorious radiance, your majesty.” You tell her, not risking even a quick glance.
  5789.  
  5790. “Mmm, that was one part of it, but the other part was so that I could see the man who took care of my daughter on her little expedition.” She tells you, almost hearing the air quotes around 'expedition'. “Tell me now, how was she?”
  5791.  
  5792. “Second only to you, your royal highness.” You tell her, hoping Ayn would understand.
  5793.  
  5794. “I mean how was she in bed.” She says, annoyed you didn't take the hint.
  5795.  
  5796. “If you're asking whether or not we had sex, I can assure you that is not the case.” You tell her.
  5797.  
  5798. “I see. You seem to be the only man capable of resisting the allure of my daughter. She has a way of forcing herself on people that she shouldn't.” Kesis says with more than a hint of ire. “Unless, of course, you're lying.”
  5799.  
  5800. “Mother...” Ayn says, groaning.
  5801.  
  5802. “Silence Ayn. Do not interrupt me when I am talking to the peasants.” She says, smacking the arm of her chair as you continue to stare straight ahead. “Anyways, that leads to my next question. Of what standing are you in your society?”
  5803.  
  5804. “I believe I'm solidly within the lower middle to middle class, ma'am.” You reply.
  5805.  
  5806. “Hmm, so you're not strictly a peasant then.” She says. “Interesting. Now, what do you do for a living?”
  5807.  
  5808. “I am a Marine, ma'am. I fight wars.” You tell her.
  5809.  
  5810. “That explains the ugly apparel. I assume this is your uniform?” She asks.
  5811.  
  5812. “Yes, ma'am.” You reply.
  5813.  
  5814. “Take off your hat.” She tells you.
  5815.  
  5816.     You do as you're told, taking off your hat and revealing your freshly shaved head.
  5817.  
  5818. “Your lack of hair and fur amuses me. Keep all hats off indoors please.” She says.
  5819.  
  5820.     You put your field cap under your belt, securing it snugly before returning to attention.
  5821.  
  5822. “I hear you killed one of my guards.” She says, a bit annoyed.
  5823.  
  5824. “Yes, ma'am.” You tell her.
  5825.  
  5826. “Was he a traitor?” She asks.
  5827.  
  5828. “Yes, ma'am.” You reply.
  5829.  
  5830. “Good, it would have been unfortunate to lose my husband and daughter.” She tells you, not convincing you it would have been more than a slight inconvenience.
  5831.  
  5832. “Mother!” Ayn yells indignantly.
  5833.  
  5834. “I said silence, Ayn!” Kesis yells back. “Guards, give her an incentive!”
  5835.  
  5836.     You feel something poke you in the back before feeling the most intense pain you've ever felt in your life. You fall to the ground, screaming and shouting at the top of your lungs as you continue to be shocked violently. Ayn tries to put her hand on you, but you wave her away, shaking your head as you continue to scream in agony. You feel your face getting more and more red as the pain doesn't stop. Then, as soon as it began, it stops, allowing you to catch your breath.
  5837.  
  5838. “That should shut you up for a while, you insubordinate brat.” She says, filled with anger. “You, Jackson, was it? How do you think I should punish my daughter?”
  5839.  
  5840. “Shocking me more, your highness.” You say after composing yourself.
  5841.  
  5842. “Hmm, I don't think that will do.” She says. “I'll think of something. In the mean time, why don't you tell me a bit more about what you used to do.”
  5843.  
  5844. “Ma'am, I was a Marine for a living. Is it okay if I don't talk about what I used to do?” You ask.
  5845.  
  5846. “No, you will tell me how you felt.” She tells you.
  5847.  
  5848. “Alright, I will.” You say. “I went on patrol a lot, cleaned the base, swept the sand-.”
  5849.  
  5850. “That's not what I mean. Do not test my patience.” She tells you, annoyed by you dodging the question. “How did it feel to kill?”
  5851.  
  5852. “Ma'am, I felt absolutely nothing when I pulled the trigger. I did what I was trained to do.” You reply rigidly.
  5853.  
  5854. “So you're saying it was easy to take a life?” She asks.
  5855.  
  5856. “Yes your highness. The hard part was dealing with it afterwards. Knowing you just split apart a family does things to you that you'd rather leave buried.” You tell her.
  5857.  
  5858. “Well, isn't that a shame?” She asks you. “Continue.”
  5859.  
  5860. “When I remember all those faces, the look in their eye when I shot them and took them away from their families, I honestly cry. I cry for hours on end and just can't stop because it hurts so much. The nightmares never stop and I never have any reprieve from them.” You tell her, sticking to the 3 sentence limit Ayn had put in place.
  5861.  
  5862. “Continue.” She says.
  5863.  
  5864. “I've killed men, young men, boys, women, children, and pets. I am not proud of what I've done and really want to stop talking about it.” You tell her. “Please stop making me remember.”
  5865.  
  5866. “Request denied.” She tells you.
  5867.  
  5868. “I remember the look on their faces as I took their life away with my weapon. The look of terror in their eye as I snuff out their very existence.” You tell her, struggling to keep from breaking down as tears begin to roll down your cheeks. “I hate myself for doing those terrible things and I just can't stand myself for it.”
  5869.  
  5870. “Keep going.” She says. “Your story is entertaining me.”
  5871.  
  5872. “I have seen people thrown off of buildings, stoned to death in the street, shot to death with massive rounds, and burned alive with incendiary rockets. I've heard a man ask me why we did this as he was burning to death before dropping dead on the ground, his flesh pealing off his muscles and bones. I am unable to articulate just how sad, and just how angry it makes me to think I and others like me are capable of such cruel and inhuman acts.” You say, the tears running down your face as you continue to keep yourself at parade rest and your voice from faltering.
  5873.  
  5874. “You're a monster.” She says, not a hint of sympathy in her voice.
  5875.  
  5876. “Yes, I am a monster.” You tell her, inhaling shakily. “A terrible, disgusting, and worthless monster.”
  5877.  
  5878. “How much do you want to strike me down right now? Smack the big bad jackal who brought back all those bad memories?” She asks.
  5879.  
  5880. “Not at all.” You tell her.
  5881.  
  5882. “That is a lie.” She tells you.
  5883.  
  5884. “I don't wish harm on you for telling me the truth.” You tell her. “I'm a terrible person and you're just stating the facts.”
  5885.  
  5886.     You continue to stand at parade rest, your arms quivering and your legs quaking under the strain of your body weight. If you had to say anything more, you would drop to your knees and cry.
  5887.  
  5888. “Jack...”
  5889.  
  5890. “Silence Ayn. Congratulations, you've passed the test. I now know you won't try to take over my queendom and usurp my rule.” She tells you. “You may now leave.”
  5891.  
  5892.     You stand at attention and give her a salute. Turning about face and marching out of the throne room with Ayn in tow. As soon as both of you are out of the throne room, Ayn grabs you and takes you down a hallway. When you reach a large sliding door, she opens it and pulls you inside, closing the door behind her and locking it. She then pulls you into a hug before you completely break down.
  5893.  
  5894.     Ayn has to hold you up by your arms as you lose any and all strength to stand, wailing loudly into her chest as she rubs on your back. You can't control yourself as you feel Ayn put her hands behind your head, stroking the back of it as you soak her dress with your tears.
  5895.  
  5896. “I'm so sorry.” Ayn tells you. “I know that was hard for you.”
  5897.  
  5898.     You can't even say anything as you continue to cry uncontrollably into her dress, completely humiliating yourself. You just sit like that for what feels like hours, letting all your sorrow and sadness out in one massive fit.
  5899.  
  5900. “I hate my mother so much, she never cares about anybody but herself! Her and that stupid fucking planet are rotten to the core!” Ayn yells. “I'd tell her off if I knew it wouldn't get you killed!”
  5901.  
  5902.     You wrap your arms around her back and stand on your own two feet. You continue to cry into her shoulder, the cries beginning to fade as she hugs you back. You both stand like this for what feels like forever as your sobs turn to the occasional sniffle. Once you're done, you let go and Ayn smiles gently at you.
  5903.  
  5904. “I know you're not a monster.” She says. “I saw how you helped that servant girl. I don't think a monster would've done that. You did what you had to do to survive, and that can ruin someone. I've talked to police who have had to kill people too, they say the exact same thing. They think they're monsters for having to do what they had to do.”
  5905.  
  5906. “But-”
  5907.  
  5908. “No buts. Come on, you must be tired.” She tells you. “Take off your clothes and lay with me for a while.”
  5909.  
  5910.     You know where this is going, but at this point, you don't care. You unbutton your shirt and reveal your PT shirt underneath, letting the BDU shirt fall to the ground as you undo your belt. You take off your pants next, setting the pants and belt combination down on the ground with your holster. You then take off your PT shirt and reveal your not-so-toned body to the world. Ayn takes off her dress, revealing she has literally nothing but a bra and panties underneath. She walks over to the bed and smiles, knowing she has you.
  5911.  
  5912.     When she gets in bed, she waves you over with a finger and you lazily make your way over to her. You look over her perfectly toned body, large breasts, beautiful coat of fur, surprising lack of piercings, and gorgeous butt. Her tail is wagging ever so slightly in anticipation of what's to come. You sit down on the bed and take a deep breath, looking over at possibly the most beautiful girl you've ever seen.
  5913.  
  5914. “Are you really sure you want to do this? It's only going to be fun for one of us unless a miracle happens.” You tell her.
  5915.  
  5916. “Oh, this isn't for me sweetie. This is all for you.” She says, undoing her bra. “Are you a tits or an ass guy?”
  5917.  
  5918. “I dunno. Never had the choice before.” You tell her. “Hell, I've only ever had sex once and you know how that went.”
  5919.  
  5920. “Zofie told me she loved it. Said you were so big she came almost instantly.” She tells you.
  5921.  
  5922. “You know that wasn't my dick. She had just about brought herself to orgasm anyways. I could've stuck my finger inside her and she would've came.” You say. “Really, I'm nothing special. If I had to say anything about my ability, I'd just say I was given a big dick and no stamina.”
  5923.  
  5924. “You're the exact opposite of the guys I usually do it with. Big talk but as soon as they slide themselves in, pop goes the weasel.” She says with a giggle. “Not that I don't enjoy it, I may very well cum before you.”
  5925.  
  5926. “I don't know about that.” You tell her.
  5927.  
  5928.     She smirks and slaps you in the face with her bra, blowing a raspberry at you. You chuckle at that, throwing her bra on the floor. You look back at her and down at her tits, which seemed to call out to you.
  5929.  
  5930. “Go ahead, touch them~.” She tells you.
  5931.  
  5932.     You do as she says and grasp them in your hands, feeling the soft and squishy mounds of flesh in your hand as Ayn moans with delight. This makes you bite your lower lip slightly, as your cock begins to rise against your will. You were doing so good keeping it flaccid too. She puts her hands over yours and moves them around, licking her chops as she continues to moan with delight.
  5933.  
  5934. “Want me to use these first?” She asks with a smirk. “You seem to enjoy handling them.”
  5935.  
  5936. “Y-yeah, sure.” You tell her.
  5937.  
  5938.     She pulls your hands off her tits and pulls you onto the bed, laying you down before taking your underwear off you. You look down at yourself and are startled by your length, still not used to how long it is after all these months. Ayn lays herself down on the bed facing you, positioning her melons on either side of your cock. As soon as they touch, you feel your cock pulsate as the velvety smooth tits squish around your dick.
  5939.  
  5940. “Ah, this definitely was the right choice.” Ayn says, beginning to work her tits up and down.
  5941.  
  5942.     You let a moan escape, which stuns both of you for a bit.
  5943.  
  5944. “S-shit, sorry.” You tell her.
  5945.  
  5946. “Jeez, you really do like this.” She tells you as your cock continues to pulsate. “You're already close.”
  5947.  
  5948.     Just as she says that, you blow your load all over her tits, coating them in hot, sticky, spunk as Ayn smiles warmly.
  5949.  
  5950. “There it is~.” She says, moving her mouth over your dick and sucking the remaining spurts directly from your shaft, making you shudder in ecstasy.
  5951.  
  5952.     She sucks every last drop of cum from your cock as she moves her way up it, moaning as she wraps her long tongue around your slowly softening man meat. She lets go of your cock with a wet pop, running her finger along her boobs and gathering up all the cum she missed. She sticks her finger in her mouth and moans, fluttering her eyes at you before she looks down at your dick with confusion.
  5953.  
  5954. “Uh, is something wrong?” She asks.
  5955.  
  5956. “No, I'm just spent.” You say, laying yourself back on the pillows. “Sorry if I'm a bit underwhelming.”
  5957.  
  5958. “Like I said sweetie, this was for you, not me.” She says, cleaning herself off with her tongue. “Though, I did think you were going to last at least one more round...”
  5959.  
  5960. “Yeah, sorry.” You tell her, looking away, embarrassed. “I'm just really tired.”
  5961.  
  5962.     Ayn nods, getting off the bed to retrieve her bra from the floor. However, she doesn't put it on, instead opting to throw it in the clothes chute. She walks back to the bed and slides over to the other side of the bed, pulling the covers over herself and you. It doesn't take long before you fall asleep, darkness creeping its way into your mind.
  5963.  
  5964. Chapter 5: Why we fight
  5965.  
  5966.     A village is burning right in front of your eyes, having been torched by insurgents as you're forced to move through the smokey ruins. You've lost contact with your squad and have been trying to reach them on the radio, but they won't respond. Children run out of burning huts, screaming as they burn in front of you. Mortar fire lands on houses in the distance, as they blow up what they can not burn. This was the first village you decided to help.
  5967.  
  5968.     You try to help the children, hearing their blood curdling screams of agony as their lungs melt from the outside in. However, the only thing you can do is end their suffering, so you do.
  5969.  
  5970. BANG
  5971.  
  5972.     The shot echoes throughout the village and mountains, seeming to silence everything as you continue to walk through it. A woman and her child come running at you, holding closed fists up in the air. You ask them to show you their hands, but they don't listen, just running forward as you run out of time to act. You raise your pistol to the two and take aim, pulling the trigger again.
  5973.  
  5974. BANG...BANG
  5975.  
  5976.     The shots echo as the last one did, allowing you to continue down the road of the burning village. You feel someone watching you, as if they've been following you. However, you don't dare look behind you for fear of not being able to move on. You keep moving, seeing shots come from the roof of a building, causing you to take cover. You take aim around the corner and see a boy who's no older than 12 holding an AK, struggling to keep it steady as his malnourished frame barely has enough strength to hold the weapon. You take aim with your pistol, seeing the surprise in his face as you pull the trigger.
  5977.  
  5978. BANG
  5979.  
  5980.     Another echo as you move from cover, continuing down the fiery path of your own personal hell. 3 elderly men walk into the middle of the street, rocks in hand as they begin booing you and throwing them. Rocks pelt you like water hitting an umbrella, doing nothing but annoying you. One of them pulls out a Makarov, pointing it in your general direction before firing it wildly. You take aim with your 45 and pull the trigger.
  5981.  
  5982. BANG BANG BANG
  5983.  
  5984.     3 shots, one per person. You're half way to the end of the road, still feeling somebody following you as the fire rages to either side of you. A truck being driven by a middle school aged boy comes barreling out of an alley, presumably laden with explosives. You take aim with your sidearm and squeeze the trigger, needing to make this shot count.
  5985.  
  5986. BANG
  5987.  
  5988.     The truck swerves off to the side of the road, plowing through a burning house before erupting in a massive fireball. You hit the magazine release, taking the empty mag out before inserting a fresh one, flicking the slide release before continuing down the road. You know what awaits you at the end. You can see it in the distance, calling to you like a twisted melody of screaming and gunfire. Maybe, you could save them this time.
  5989.  
  5990.     You continue on the path to your damnation, feeling whatever is behind you close in. You try to ignore it, but the feeling persists. You feel yourself begin to shake with fear, nearing your objective as the thing behind you nears its. You can't take it anymore, readying your weapon and pointing it behind you.
  5991.  
  5992. “Jack...” Ayn says, putting her hands up.
  5993.  
  5994. “What are you doing here?” You ask, putting the pistol to your side.
  5995.  
  5996. “I'm linked to your dream with a spell one of our oracles performed. You were groaning in your sleep, tossing and turning as well.” She tells you. “Is this the dream you were having when we-”
  5997.  
  5998. “Yes.” You tell her. “Leave while you've only seen the least of it.”
  5999.  
  6000. “I can't. Even if I could, I wouldn't leave you to walk this path alone.” She tells you, closing the distance between you. “We'll walk together.”
  6001.  
  6002.     You look down at the ground, which was blackened by soot and ash from the fires. You look back up and nod, moving toward the worst part of your dream. A woman rushes around the corner, dressed in only a bra and pants before tripping and falling on the ground. She desperately tries to get back up, but she can't. Ayn tries to move forward, but you stop her.
  6003.  
  6004. “We can't help her.” You tell her.
  6005.  
  6006. “Help her with what?” She asks.
  6007.  
  6008.     Just as she says that, men in black robes and shemahgs exit the alley way, beginning to chuck rocks at the woman. She screams in pain as the rocks collide with her bare skin, breaking her fragile bones as the men begin shouting in Arabic.
  6009.  
  6010. “NO!” Ayn screams. “YOU MONSTERS! STOP IT!”
  6011.  
  6012.     She pushes past you as you try to grab her, but it's too late. They've seen her. She rushes in front of the poor woman, taking rocks as she too yelps from the pain. They start speaking slyly, which leads to their next horrific act. You can't stop yourself. You needed to intervene before they got both Ayn and that poor woman. You aim and pull the trigger.
  6013.  
  6014. BANG
  6015.  
  6016.     One goes down.
  6017.  
  6018. BANG
  6019.  
  6020.     Another drops, but there's too many of them.
  6021.  
  6022. BANG BANG
  6023.  
  6024.     You don't have enough ammo for this, but you try anyways.
  6025.  
  6026. BANG BANG BANG click
  6027.  
  6028.     You swap out your magazine with a fresh one as fast as you can before feeling a rock hit you square in the chest, knocking you down as you rack the slide on your pistol. You empty the magazine into the remaining hadjis, feeling like you just got hit by a freight train. How did you stay conscious? You usually pass out when you get stoned.
  6029.  
  6030. “Ayn! Are you okay?!” You ask, pushing yourself off the ground.
  6031.  
  6032. “Y-yeah. I think I'm fine.” She tells you. “It just hurts a lot. AH!”
  6033.  
  6034. “It'll pass.” You tell her. “We're done here anyway.”
  6035.  
  6036.     You see a swirling vortex open up in front of you, drawing you in as Ayn looks on in horror.
  6037.  
  6038. “No, NO! YOU SAID TOMORROW! NOT TODAY! NO!” She screams.
  6039.  
  6040. “You should never trust the word of someone like me princess.” The vortex tells her. “Now come along, you have a battle to lose~.”
  6041.  
  6042.     It pulls both of you into the vortex, knocking you out cold.
  6043.  
  6044. ??? later
  6045.  
  6046.     You awaken in a dirt street, hearing the sound of metal on metal as furious grunts are heard. Screaming is all around you as people run away from the clanging behind you.
  6047.  
  6048. “You will never win, no matter how strong you get or how skillful you become. I will always WIN!” A smooth and low voice calls out.
  6049.  
  6050. “I will NEVER stop fighting for my people! NEVER!” Ayn shouts in protest.
  6051.  
  6052.     You look behind you and see a scene from a picture unfolding before your eyes. Ayn manages to parry Loki's attack with her staff as he grins with pleasure, taking joy in what he's doing to her.
  6053.  
  6054. “Just give in Ayn, it's less trouble for both of us!” He yells. “Nobody can help you in this dream land of yours!”
  6055.  
  6056. “You know I'll never-SHIT!” She shouts, barely avoiding getting sliced in half.
  6057.  
  6058.     You had to do something. She can't go toe to toe with this monster of a man. He's nearly twice her size and strength, the only thing keeping her alive being her relative agility. What could you even do?
  6059.  
  6060. “I gotta think of something...” You whisper aloud. “I can't just leave her there.”
  6061.  
  6062.     As you say that, a piece of metal falls from the sky, landing at your feet with a loud thud. It was a gun, but it wasn't just any gun. It was a Magnum. You knew exactly what you needed to do.
  6063.  
  6064. Ayn
  6065.  
  6066.     You're on the back foot once more, giving it everything you've got and then some. He's managed to get a few good slices in on you, the pain slowing your movements as you desperately try to keep him back. You were not going to make it easy for him, not now, not ever. He takes one last mighty swing, slicing your beloved staff in half with his massive sword. He grins wildly at this, as you try to take a defensive position with the 2 unbalanced pieces of metal and stone.
  6067.  
  6068. “You're finished princess. Pay your dues or I shall come back next time to inflict more pain upon you.” He tells you with a smile.
  6069.  
  6070. “Never. I will endure so my people know no pain.” You tell him, strengthening your resolve. “I will do everything in my power to keep you away from here.”
  6071.  
  6072. “Foolish and naive.” He tells you. “Just like you always are. Prepare yourself for the pain of my blade princess.”
  6073.  
  6074.     He brings his sword up above his head, ready to deliver the final blow as you desperately try to find a way to defend against his attack. You had no energy to run, and no energy to fight. All you could do now is endure for the sake of your people. You fall to your knees, awaiting your eventual demise. Then, a loud sound akin to a tree being broken in half is heard, along with a loud hissing just above your head. You open your eyes to see a blue monstrosity holding a glowing dual bladed sword above your head.
  6075.  
  6076. “What?!” He asks. “How is someone else here?!”
  6077.  
  6078.     The massive blue suit of armor stands rigid, keeping the swords away from you as it looks back. The visor is square and gold, a sun shade protruding from the front of said helmet as it seems to look back at you. It looks back up at Loki and pushes the sword forward, cutting through the blade with tantalizing slowness as the massive lion looks on in shock.
  6079.  
  6080. “IMPOSSIBLE!” He shouts in disbelief. “Nothing short of white hot plasma can cut through this sword!”
  6081.  
  6082.     When the sword is cut through, the blue armored thing catches the free blade and chucks it at Loki, the blue sword fizzling out as it does. The massive ten foot tall lion barely avoids the sword, earning a gash of his own.
  6083.  
  6084. “You insolent little BUG!” He shouts. “I will squash you inside of that tin can of yours!”
  6085.  
  6086.     The blue armored soldier gets into a fighting stance in front of you, turning its face towards you. It points off to the side, seeming to tell you to run. You don't argue, getting off the ground and away from the fighting as Loki charges forward. The blue thing leaps into the air, doing a sort of half back flip before delivering a massive kick to Loki's jaw. It lands on the ground after delivering the blow to him, drawing a knife and rushing towards him. The blue armored suit leaps into the air once more, able to roll out of the way of Loki's attempt to grapple it.
  6087.  
  6088.     It gets around behind Loki in one swift movement, being almost too quick for the eye to follow. When it does get around back, it leaps onto Loki's back and pulls him onto the ground. That suit must weigh a ton. Once he's on the ground, the suited soldier takes the knife and slams it into Loki's throat, cutting across his neck in a gruesome display of violence. As Loki desperately tries to stop the bleeding, the thing pushes him off and gets off the ground.
  6089.  
  6090. You rise to your feet, seeing it begin walking towards you. It was very tall compared to you, maybe a foot taller at most. Not nearly as large as Loki, though that didn't seem to matter. It makes its way towards you before stopping in front of you, looking down on you. You could see your reflection in its gold visor, smiling up into the reflection.
  6091.  
  6092. “Thank you.” You tell him.
  6093.  
  6094.     The armored thing undoes its helmet, twisting it a bit before pulling it off, revealing Jackson underneath.
  6095.  
  6096. “That was so fucking cool.” He tells you. “I need to do this more often.”
  6097.  
  6098. Jack
  6099.  
  6100.     You feel yourself get thrown up against a wall before your eyes shoot open, revealing a mass of red hair to you. You look down and see you're almost squeezing the life out of Ayn, as she has yet to wake from your shared dream. You relax your muscles and keep your arms around her back, stroking her gently as she too begins to stir.
  6101.  
  6102. “Mmm, good, uh, I think it's morning.” She tells you.
  6103.  
  6104. “Morning.” You reply simply.
  6105.  
  6106. “So, mind talking about that massive blue suit of armor?” She asks, pushing herself back from you.
  6107.  
  6108.     You see that she's still bare chested, but you weren't interested in her assets, you were interested in talking. Still...
  6109.  
  6110. “Can you, uh, put some clothes on? Your boobs are gonna distract me.” You tell her.
  6111.  
  6112. “Oh, yeah. Hold on a second.” She tells you.
  6113.  
  6114.     After Ayn finishes putting on a bra and a shirt, she gets back on the bed and sits in front of you.
  6115.  
  6116. “So, that armor?” She asks.
  6117.  
  6118. “Oh, that's from a video game.” You tell her, looking down at the grey bed sheets. “I couldn't think of anything stronger and you were about to die, so I thought of the first thing that could beat Loki.”
  6119.  
  6120. “Nerd.” She tells you with a playful smile. “Still, I'm glad you thought of something like that. You saved my ass, literally. I'd love to see that video game though, seems like a good power trip.”
  6121.  
  6122. “Yeah, it's a bit underwhelming when you actually play the game.” You tell her. “What was that dream about anyways? I've seen the picture before, but I had no idea it was something that happened on a daily basis.”
  6123.  
  6124. “Not daily, weekly.” She tells you. “If you've seen the picture of the battle, surely you know what happens when I lose.”
  6125.  
  6126.     You cringe at the image of Ayn being torn apart but Loki's massive schlong, which was the only time you ever saw her frown while having sex. Otherwise she was always smiling and happy to give her body to whoever needed it.
  6127.  
  6128. “Yeah, it's not fun either way.” She tells you. “I struck a deal with him that said if I could beat him, by any means, I could keep Siania free. Mother and father don't know, or they'd send an entire fleet to get butchered by him.”
  6129.  
  6130. “I see. Well, we won, so he should leave you alone, right?” You ask.
  6131.  
  6132. “Hopefully, if that sleazeball can be trusted.” She tells you. “What about yours?”
  6133.  
  6134. “My what?” You ask.
  6135.  
  6136. “Your dream. What about your dream?” She asks.
  6137.  
  6138. “I...don't know. I think it's my own personal hell.” You tell her. “Reliving all the moments I hated myself for. I wouldn't be surprised if hell was like that when I got there.”
  6139.  
  6140.     Ayn doesn't respond, just sitting there and staring at you with her sky blue eyes. A smile slowly creeps across her face as you continue to look at each other, making you feel a bit uncomfortable. You look away, seeing a massive open deck behind her with an egg shell chair in the middle. Ayn gets in your field of view again and smiles.
  6141.  
  6142. “Come with me. I just remembered I wanted to show you around. Uh, just remember to get dressed first.” She tells you, poking your bare chest.
  6143.  
  6144. 30 minutes later.
  6145.  
  6146.     You enter the private dining room for Ayn and her brother, who you've already forgotten the name of. She sits down at the table as a very smartly dressed wolf enters the room with a floating cart of sorts. Ayn had ordered a simple breakfast, as had you. Just some toast for you and a dish you couldn't pronounce if you tried for Ayn. You decided to nickname it 'space rice'.
  6147.  
  6148. “Thank you Sek.” She tells the man in the suit. “You know the drill.”
  6149.  
  6150. “I'll take my leave now Ayn.” He says with a smile, bringing the floating cart back to the kitchen.
  6151.  
  6152.     Ayn wolfs down the noodles and you eat your toast at an equally fast rate. Neither of you were eating to enjoy the food, rather to nourish yourselves. You finish your food and sit at the table politely, waiting for Ayn to finish hers. She scrapes the remaining noodles off of the sides of the bowl and shovels them into her mouth, drinking her water before setting the cup down.
  6153.  
  6154. “Jesus, you just inhaled that space rice.” You tell her. “I don't think I could eat it faster if I tried.”
  6155.  
  6156. “It's a dish best eaten quick. The taste is, uh, unique, if you let it stay in your mouth for long.” She says. “Well, let's get going. You already know where the throne room is, so I'll give that area a wide berth.”
  6157.  
  6158.     You nod, getting up from the table before following your furry friend through the sliding doors. Everything was surprisingly old fashioned, save for a few things that have become creature comforts, such as heated and cooled floors, hard light doors to the outside world, holographic televisions, and other various things. You walk down the various halls, lined with paintings of the queen, the king, the prince, and Ayn in somewhat formal looking attire. The glass tables were lined with busts of the royal figures and others you didn't recognize. Possibly previous rulers.
  6159.  
  6160.     When you make it down the hall, you see various rooms up ahead. These rooms look much more modern, sporting the usual automatic 2 piece doors, holographic interfaces and door signs, blue lighting, and red accents that you've come to know as the current rule's colors. Ayn said it was because she was the goddess of the current cycle and, since her hair was red, the current planetary color is red as well.
  6161.  
  6162.     She stands in front of the door and presses a button on the holographic panel, opening the door to reveal a sort of gym. In the middle stood a massive machine that stretched into the top of the building. You remember seeing it once in one of Fluff's pinups, but you forgot what he said it was.
  6163.  
  6164. “I've seen that machine before. What is it?” You ask.
  6165.  
  6166. “Oh, that's the gravity modifier. Everything in here is easy for me to lift with a single finger, so I have to take it inside that chamber to get any kind of a work out.” She tells you. “Don't go in there or you'll be crushed.”
  6167.  
  6168.     Now you remember what it was. The weight machine.
  6169.  
  6170. “How much are you able to lift again? 12 tons?” You ask.
  6171.  
  6172. “You over sell my abilities sweetie. It's about 4 or 5 depending on my mood.” She tells you, as if that's a normal number for her. “I managed to get 6 once when I was really upset, but that's about all I can do.”
  6173.  
  6174. “Huh, I remember being told it was 12.” You say, scratching your head. “Must've been wrong.”
  6175.  
  6176. “Well, let's move on to the lounge area.” She tells you, pulling you along.
  6177.  
  6178. “H-hey!” You tell her. “I can listen just fine!”
  6179.  
  6180. “Oh, yeah, sorry.” She says, letting go of your arm. “I'm used to guys who are off in their own little world.”
  6181.  
  6182.     You nod and follow her to the next room, which is a few doors down. When she opens it, the room has a couple of bean bag chairs and some one piece molded chairs. There were a few sticks on a charging dock, which you learned were hard light tablets. She waves you inside and the door closes behind both of you.
  6183.  
  6184. “This is the reading room. My brother plays video games in here and I read e-books. I took Vikna in here once and had to pull her away from the holo screen.” She tells you. “Not much else to the room than that. Let's move on.”
  6185.  
  6186.     You walk out the door with her and into the next room, seeing a desk and holo-screen on the desk. Ayn snaps her fingers and a keyboard is projected along the desk, along with what appears to be a touch pad.
  6187.  
  6188. “This is my office. I rarely use it for its intended purpose, but I do like using it for doing things my phone just can't.” She tells you. “I'm already getting claustrophobic being in here, let's move to something a bit more open.”
  6189.  
  6190.     She takes you down the hall, turning left once you get to the end. You both keep going down the hall until Ayn opens a door to your right, turning the lighting on inside. The interior of the room is filled with...nothing but a pole and some mirrors. You know exactly what this room is for.
  6191.  
  6192. “This is the quote unquote 'yoga' room.” Ayn tells you. “Literally nobody uses it except me, so I put a dance pole in the middle to practice with. Been dancing since I was a little girl and practice my technique in here. Want a demonstration?”
  6193.  
  6194. “I appreciate the offer, but I don't feel comfortable with it, knowing your mother could walk in any time and see you, uh, performing.” You tell her.
  6195.  
  6196. “Hmm, never thought about that one. Might have to start waiting until she's busy with something. Saying that I'm doing naked yoga won't work forever.” She says, rubbing the back of her head. “She already hates me dancing like a 'two bit slut' or an 'impoverished peasant' like it doesn't take any skill or practice.”
  6197.  
  6198.     You look over at the mirror as Ayn continues to rant about her mother, seeing a reflection of you looking back. You see start talking with her hands as you begin to zone out, walking up to the mirror until you're within 3 feet of it. Your PT shirt was a bit wrinkled and your belt was a bit loose, which you fixed immediately. When that was said and done, you continue to look at yourself in the mirror for a bit, just staring yourself in the eye. You wanted to look away, but couldn't see a reason to.
  6199.  
  6200.     Then, the world started to fade away, leaving only you and your reflection. You hear the faint sound of a screaming man in the background before turning to see another reflection of yourself, crying in a chair. The you in the chair opens his eyes and backs away as far as he can in the green recliner, outstretching his arms and shaking his head. You make your way towards him before you feel a tap on your shoulder.
  6201.  
  6202. “What?” You ask, looking back to see Ayn giving you a worried look.
  6203.  
  6204. “You've been staring at the mirror for almost ten minutes now. I've been asking if you were alright.” She tells you. “Are you?”
  6205.  
  6206. “Yeah, I'm fine.” You reply. “Are these mirrors magical?”
  6207.  
  6208. “No, they're just regular old mirrors.” She tells you.
  6209.  
  6210. “Oh, well, is this all you wanted to show me?” You ask.
  6211.  
  6212. “No, I wanted to show you one last room. It's actually very new, as it was still being built when I snuck out. I tried it out a bit last night before my maid told me about what you were doing.” She says. “Let's go check it out.”
  6213.  
  6214. 10 minutes later
  6215.  
  6216.     You backtrack all the way back to a room that extended just beyond Ayn's bedroom. She walked in front of the door and a half circle illuminated in front of her, blinking red before she stepped back. The circle then flashed blue and the door opened up, being substantially thick. It looked like a very heavy duty filling of acoustic foam and titanium. Ayn leads you inside and you see a large white room, grid markings adorning the wall as you enter the room. The door closes behind you and everything is just a seamless white void with what looked to be cubes in the distance.
  6217.  
  6218. “This is the virtual reality room. We can do whatever we want in here.” She says, snapping her fingers. “Like play a games or chat with other people, you know, usual virtual reality stuff. I was practicing my combat skills last night against an appropriately sized target. Anything you want to do?”
  6219.  
  6220. “Can this thing take memories and play them back in a 3d space?” You ask, suspicious of the rooms origins.
  6221.  
  6222. “Yeah, how'd you know?” She asks in return.
  6223.  
  6224. “This was a concept of mine in one of my stories. Kind of cool that I get to use one of these in real life.” You tell her.
  6225.  
  6226. “Oh! That's why I brought you here in the first place.” She tells you. “I wanted to relive all the good memories you had from when you were a soldier.”
  6227.  
  6228.     You're slightly annoyed that she'd call you a soldier, but you were happy to share some of the good memories with her.
  6229.  
  6230. “Alright, go ahead and do what it is you need to do and I'll just wait for a bit.” You tell her.
  6231.  
  6232.     Just as you say that, a slight pain is felt in the back of your head as the room does whatever it need to do to search through your memories. You look around the room and find a neatly compiled log of your memories from 2010 to the present day. Ayn begins scrolling through them, smirking at a few of your naughtier memories as you look away in embarrassment.
  6233.  
  6234. “Oh sweetie, I didn't know you thought such naughty thoughts when you pleasured yourself~. Not just me, but Vikna and Zofie too, how perverted!” She teases. “I wonder what you think about nowadays~.”
  6235.  
  6236. “Please stop...” You say, your face already beet red and your self esteem having been completely Ctrl+Z'd. “I...I was really lonely.”
  6237.  
  6238. “Believe me, I can tell.” She says with a giggle. “I'll private the memories for you sweetie. Nobody will be able to access them but you.”
  6239.  
  6240.     After privating your many embarrassing memories, she eventually reaches 2015 and stops, scrolling through the images as she continues to snicker at your expense.
  6241.  
  6242. “Is this it?” Ayn asks, pointing to the picture she has enhanced.
  6243.  
  6244.     It shows you sitting in the back of a deuce and a half, rolling up on a village with a few packs of skittles in your hand.
  6245.  
  6246. “Yeah, that's the one.” You tell her. “Go ahead and play it.”
  6247.  
  6248. “Oh, we're not playing it. We're going to relive it.” She tells you, pressing the okay button.
  6249.  
  6250.     You feel yourself thrust down into a sitting position as clothes and armor form around you. A load out screen pops up, giving you all of one option for your memory. The load out was named after the day the memory was from, 11/15/15. It gives you the option to name all of the items, as they were identified as weapons, but not found in the database. You feel your heart skip a beat when you see your beloved M240 sitting front and center. You give it the appropriate name of FN M240B before moving onto a less than beloved sidearm, your old M9. You name your grenades M67 FRAG and M18 SMOKE respectively, as you name the plastic explosives C4 PLASTIC. The last thing you name are your knives, which are the M9 Bayonet and KABAR respectively.
  6251.  
  6252.     Once you hit okay, you're thrust into the truck immediately. You feel a heavy mass in your lap and grin from ear to ear when you see the massive weapon in all its glory. Then you see the sight it has on it and groan, displeased with the MGO you had on it. You managed to break your ACOG earlier and had been issued a replacement, lest you be required to use iron sights. When you look around the truck, you see all the familiar faces of your first squad, most of which you've lost contact with. However, you're nearly thrown out of your seat when you see a furry sitting at the very back of the truck.
  6253.  
  6254. “Ayn?” You ask.
  6255.  
  6256. “Hmm? Oh there you are!” She says. “I didn't recognize you.”
  6257.  
  6258. “Haigs, what the hell happened to your voice man?” Bill asks.
  6259.  
  6260. “I, uh, don't know Cole.” You reply. “Let's just focus on the humanitarian aid, alright?”
  6261.  
  6262. “You got it lance corporal.” He replies.
  6263.  
  6264. “That's a big gun.” Ayn says, looking down at your massive platoon MG.
  6265.  
  6266. “For you.” You tell her with a smirk.
  6267.  
  6268.     Just as you say that, the truck slows down and stops, your platoon sergeant opening the gate on the rear of the truck.
  6269.  
  6270. “Everyone out of the truck! Start your patrols. Alpha team is on me. Bravo, you're with Haigs. Charlie is with Stefan. Let's get moving Marines!” He tells you all. “You too doggie.”
  6271.  
  6272. “Ouch.” You say under your breath.
  6273.  
  6274.     He hops out of the truck and you all begin filing out, allowing you to heft your massive gun along with you. When you hop out of the truck, Ayn is sitting there with an M4 in hand, looking it over curiously.
  6275.  
  6276. “You won't need that here. I don't get into a firefight for another 5 days. Just keep it slung.” You tell her.
  6277.  
  6278. “Alright. I'll have to play around with it later.” She says.
  6279.  
  6280.     You lead your fire team down the way you remember going almost 6 years ago, passing by adobe houses and some stone houses along the way. Your dickhead assistant gunner is singing some shitty rap lyrics while you're making your way down the road, hoping to get to the soccer field the kids are at before you strangle him. When you make it to the soccer field, you smile brightly at the kids and whistle at them. They all look in your direction and run towards you, stopping their game to meet the candy men.
  6281.  
  6282. “America!” They all yell, smiling and laughing. “Alkalboo!”
  6283.  
  6284. “Yes, I am a dog.” Ayn says, taking a knee and smiling.
  6285.  
  6286.     You take a pack of skittles out of your pocket and give it to the little kid in front of you, seeing him give you a package of baby wipes in return. You take the wipes and look over to Ayn, seeing her get pet by all the little kids as your fire team watches in amusement. It's only now that you realize Ayn is dressed up in MARPAT and Kevlar, which makes her look...odd to say the least.
  6287.  
  6288. “Just noticed you're dressed up in MARPAT.” You tell her. “You look good in it.”
  6289.  
  6290. “What's a MARPAT?” She asks, opening her eyes and looking at her sleeve. “Oh, I thought I was still in my dress.”
  6291.  
  6292.     The kids start scratching behind her ears and her eyes flutter closed again, her tongue sticking out as she enjoys the sensation of being pet. You look down the road and see something odd in the distance. You don't remember any traffic coming through when you were there for real. The car turns down the road and your eyes go wide in surprise.
  6293.  
  6294. “Get off the road.” You say, backing away from the vehicle. “All of you, get the fuck off the road.”
  6295.  
  6296. “What? Why?” She asks.
  6297.  
  6298. “Just do what I say. Walk into the field slowly. It's a suicide bomber.” You tell her. “It's heading for the truck.”
  6299.  
  6300. “Why don't we shoot it?” She asks.
  6301.  
  6302. “It'll blow us up instead.” You tell her. “I don't know about you, but this sim hurts you when you die.”
  6303.  
  6304. “I noticed.” Ayn says, continuing to back out of the road. “Follow me kids.”
  6305.  
  6306.     They nod and the rest of your fire team gives the car a wide birth, allowing it to pass unhindered. You grip your 240 so hard the bipod folds out, prompting you to slap it back in place. Everyone watches as the car passes with tantalizing slowness, the driver watching you nervously as you both know not to fuck with each other. The driver proceeds to turn left, the opposite way you all came. The simulation ends right there, an error occurring and stripping you both of your weapons and clothing.
  6307.  
  6308. “What's going on?” You ask.
  6309.  
  6310.     Just as you ask that, the door opens before the power inside the room completely dies. You walk over to the door and push it open the rest of the way, not liking this one bit. You undo the holster for your pistol and look around the hallway, seeing nobody there.
  6311.  
  6312. “Did the power go out?” You ask.
  6313.  
  6314. “No, it's just glitching out right now. You don't need to be worried.” She tells you, coming up behind you. “You know your squad and the kids would've been fine, right? You only really needed to get me off the road.”
  6315.  
  6316. “I know, I just-”
  6317.  
  6318.     You stop when she puts her hands on your shoulders, beginning to massage them gently.
  6319.  
  6320. “I put that little variable in there to see what you'd do. I felt the pain in your heart when I came back to the bridge almost immediately. The doubt and the sadness. In your dream you, didn't shoot those people because you hated them, but because you were doing them a kindness. I don't know how it is for humans, but burning is the worst way to die for us.” She tells you, rubbing your cheek with her padded hands. “The life of that boy would've been horrible if you had saved him. I think on some level, you knew that too. We both know that we can't keep everyone alive.”
  6321.  
  6322. “I hope you're right.” You tell her, putting a hand over hers before releasing it. “I really hope you're right.”
  6323.  
  6324. “I know exactly what will take your mind off all this sadness~.” She tells you slyly, continuing to rub your shoulders.
  6325.  
  6326. “Video games.” You say hurriedly, not wanting this to turn into 5 hour long fuck session. “We should go play some.”
  6327.  
  6328.     Ayn groans, obviously displeased with you not wanting to dick her, but she relents and leads you out of the VR room.
  6329.  
  6330. Vikna
  6331.  
  6332.     You look out into the massive expanse of stars and wrecked ships, having recently convened with high command about what the next course of action would be. VST had gotten her software patched so she could fire the missiles without Jack and had been slowly thinning out the blockade. ZTA had given all of the vessels fair warning to evacuate and surrender to the local authorities, but the request was largely ignored, save for a few ships where the civilian crew mutinied and took the offer. Your bridge was now alive with activity, as the 8 seats that were not filled with Kaltag AI were staffed by crew you haven't seen since the civil conflict. Remembering those days makes you shiver, unconsciously rubbing the scars on your legs as you feel the razor sharp shrapnel impact your legs like it was yesterday.
  6333.  
  6334.     The Kaltag Apex units were doing great, outside of ARA being unusually jumpy. You had to give her plenty of warning as you approached, or else you'd end up having her fall out of her chair in fright. The engineers had no real explanation other than it was laced into another important sub system of hers. This meant you couldn't remove it, even if you wanted to. Your holo-screen continued to display the names of your crew as VST fired another volley of missiles. You scroll over Jacks name and are confused by its appearance. Did someone else add him to the crew roster? You open it up and begin looking through his file.
  6335.  
  6336. Name: Jackson Halifax Haigs
  6337. Affiliation: United States of America
  6338. Citizenship: USA (Full), Ireland (Partial), Katrician (Partial), Sianian (Partial), Galactic Empire (Partial)
  6339. Date of birth: 05/30/1995
  6340. Place of birth: Dublin, Ireland
  6341. Age: 27
  6342. Weight: 235 lbs
  6343. Height: 5'11” Biological 6'2” Actual
  6344. Defects: Minor autism(Being treated), Severe PTSD, Low testosterone(Being treated), Slight visual impairment, Risk of diabetes(Cured), Anger issues, Anger management issues, Social anxiety
  6345. Abilities: None found
  6346. Magical power: None reported
  6347. Tau flow/absorption: 5/72
  6348. Augmentation analysis: Very high acceptance rate, report to KAL
  6349.  
  6350. |MILITARY SERVICE RECORD IDENTIFIED|
  6351. Branch: |FOREIGN| United States Marine Corps
  6352. Rank: E-6 Staff Sergeant
  6353. MOS list: 0331 Machine Gunner, 0352 Anti-tank Missile Gunner qualified, 0311 Rifleman
  6354. Service length: 1 year 7 months split over 1 tour in 2015-2016 and 1 tour in 2020, 5+ years reservist
  6355. Misdemeanors: Petty theft of US Army property, Minor insubordination (Unreported), Friendly fire (Unreported), Threatening allies with violence, Destruction of Marine Corps property, Destruction of Marine Corps property (Unreported), Murder of civilian elements (Self Defense), Murder of civilian elements (Unreported)
  6356. Misdemeanors explained:
  6357.  
  6358.     Petty theft: Petty theft of an FN M240L General Purpose Machine Gun, replaced with an FN M240B of older design and heavier weight. US Army never attempted retrieval due to abundance of new weapon.
  6359.  
  6360. Minor insubordination (Unreported): Refusal to act on order to continue patrolling an area of high risk. Threatened with court martial and responded with blackmail. Never reported due to officer being discharged 1 year later.
  6361.  
  6362.     Friendly fire (Unreported): Fired upon National Guards who opened fire on his squad of Marines, mistakenly identifying them as insurgents. Official reports indicate a Taliban attack in the area, then LCPL. (E-3) Haigs took fire from. Unofficial reports indicate Haigs 'Wasted the mother fuckers'. Multiple instances of sending incompetent and cowardly Afghanistan National Army forces over Afghanistan-China boarder to be shot. All official reports indicate the friendly elements wandered off and were quickly eliminated by Chinese soldiers. Never reported due to squad mates being like minded.
  6363.  
  6364.     Threatening allies with violence: SSGT. Haigs, being in an agitated state, threatened to murder a problematic team member after he jokingly referred to the then PFC. (E-2) Haigs as “Squeak”. Punished accordingly.
  6365.  
  6366.     Destruction of Marine Corps property: Attempted to polish non-leather combat boots and destroyed the fabric completely, compromising the boots. Punished accordingly and issued like-new replacements. Dropped weapon under combat conditions, damaging optical sight beyond repair. Punished accordingly and issued inferior sight until new sight could be requisitioned. Replaced sight with his own money before new sight could be obtained.
  6367.  
  6368.     Destruction of Marine Corps property (Unreported): After witnessing the effects of the Flame Shoulder Launched (FLASH) M202 rocket launcher, then SGT. (E-5) Haigs elected to scatter the parts of the launcher around the mountains, hiding them in the sand and under stones. Reports show it was never found or looked into. Never reported due to squad mates being like minded.
  6369.  
  6370.     Murder of civilian elements (Self defense): Multiple instances of civilians drawing weapons or throwing stones at passing patrols. SSGT. Haigs' anger flared up and he opened fire on the individual with GPMG or fire from his sidearm. Official reports showed he acted in self defense in all instances.
  6371.  
  6372.     Murder of civilian elements (Unreported): Multiple instances of civilians provoking a response out of SSGT. Haigs, which by military standards are not considered valid reasons to defend one's self. Such instances include men raping women, men stoning women, men beating children for seemingly meaningless reasons, and aggravating him for various reasons. Never reported due to squad mates being like minded.
  6373.  
  6374. Status: Fit for front line duty with like minded and equally tempered individuals.
  6375.  
  6376. “Holy shit...” You say, attempting to take in all the information provided to you. “A Tau index of 5 to 72? I could blast an entire town with magic for half a minute with that kind of retention.”
  6377.  
  6378.     Normal Tau indexes looked something like 35/6 or in your case, 68/10. Rei hears you talking to yourself and walks over to your side, seeing an image of Jack in his full combat gear holding a Decklend brand rifle.
  6379.  
  6380. “There's a file on Jack?” He asks. “Holy shit! Look at that Tau retention! I think the only ones who have higher retention are Fire Fyter and a couple of other heroes I can't remember the name of. Looks like his flow isn't too good though.”
  6381.  
  6382. “I'd be surprised if he could pull off any kind of magic with flow that bad. Maybe he hasn't found his power yet?” You ask.
  6383.  
  6384. “That could be it. His abilities and magic might not be developed yet.” He tells you. “Oh god, he has Low T?”
  6385.  
  6386.     You snicker at that and he slaps you on the shoulder, scolding you like an angry father. You look through the report once more and look over the friendly fire report again.
  6387.  
  6388. “It says here he shot at some National Guard. Is that some sort of military branch?” You ask.
  6389.  
  6390. “Stateside military. They send the National Guard out when we don't want to send in more Army or Marines. Each state has their own National Guard and can send them wherever they want in the world as long as it isn't to invade another country or state.” Rei replies. “They're also seen as the least competent branch in the armed forces from what Jack tells me.”
  6391.  
  6392. “So they're like a militia?” You ask.
  6393.  
  6394. “Sort of.” He replies.
  6395.  
  6396. “Murder of civilian elements?” You ask. “Jesus Christ, how many?”
  6397.  
  6398. “He said over sixty. I'd believe him. I've seen the look in his eyes, looks like the lights are on but nobody's home.” He replies. “Must be tough on him.”
  6399.  
  6400. “Anger and Anger management issues?” You ask. “That figures.”
  6401.  
  6402. “I wouldn't talk if I were you.” Rei says with a smirk.
  6403.  
  6404. “I-I don't have anger issues!” You yell indignantly. “People are just stupid.”
  6405.  
  6406. “Hmm, it says here he has a very high acceptance rate for augmentations. Wonder if all humans are like that?” He asks.
  6407.  
  6408. “Mine was moderate and Ayn's was high, though she'll never get an unnecessary augment as long as she lives. Nytro had a very high augment acceptance rating and Zofie is the same as me.” You tell him. “Kind of odd that females are less accepting of augments than males.”
  6409.  
  6410. “It's a defense mechanism for females to protect their young. Sorry about that.” Rei replies, rubbing behind his neck. “It's so you heal faster if you're wounded.”
  6411.  
  6412. “Well, I don't think I'm gonna be having kids. Little bastards would slow me down.” You tell him.
  6413.  
  6414. “Ouch, I think you just gave me a paper cut with that edge.” He tells you.
  6415.  
  6416. “Oh, fuck off. You know better than anyone that I only care about my work.” You retort.
  6417.  
  6418. “You can fool yourself, but you can't fool me.” He tells you, walking off with that stupid grin he always wears.
  6419.  
  6420.     When he leaves you alone with your bridge crew, you sigh and close his file. Maybe you should call him to make sure he's alright. Not that you'd care, but maybe ARA or Rei might. Zofie definitely wants to know how he's doing. You pull out your phone stick and open it up, checking your contacts for Jacks number. You find it and dial the number, waiting for him to pick up. The phone answers and you smile.
  6421.  
  6422. “Hello?” He asks.
  6423.  
  6424. “Hey Jack, it's Vikna. I'm just calling to ask how you're doing. Zofie really wants to know and so does ARA.” You say, keeping the phone held up to your ear.
  6425.  
  6426.     There's a long pause before a long and drawn out sigh is heard on the other side.
  6427.  
  6428. “Vikna, if you want to call and say hi, just do it. That's what friends do, right? Unless I missed something so obvious in the multiple passes over your galaxy's lore, I'm sure it's fine for friends to call each other.” He tells you. “Besides, ARA would've shot me a text and Zofie would've called me on her own phone.”
  6429.  
  6430. “W-well, I...fine, you win. I'm calling because I'm worried about you.” You tell him. “Is Ayn treating you okay? She hasn't fucked you into the ground, has she?”
  6431.  
  6432. “No, she's been good to me.” He tells you, the grogginess in his voice apparent. “How's everything holding up on your end?”
  6433.  
  6434. “We're doing fine. We managed to break a large gap in their blockade, so we're able to move ships over to the Tower without any issue. Your super weapons are working too. We just launched another volley at a fleet of ships over the horizon.” You reply.
  6435.  
  6436. “You've been keeping the jets of plasma away from the planet, right?” He asks. “They're highly radioactive.”
  6437.  
  6438. “Yes, we've been doing that.” You tell him, rolling your eyes.
  6439.  
  6440. “I can feel your eyes rolling from here. Well, I'll see about ending my stay here shortly so I can come back to help you out. I've been...busy, so to speak. No hardcore sex, just busy getting help from Ayn.” He tells you.
  6441.  
  6442. “Hardcore?! What the hell do you mean?! You said she hasn't fucked you!” You yell, getting the attention of ARA and a couple crew members.
  6443.  
  6444.     You feel your face heat up and you look away in embarrassment.
  6445.  
  6446. “You just shouted in front of the crew, didn't you?” He asks.
  6447.  
  6448. “Y-yeah.” You say quietly.
  6449.  
  6450. “Well, you asked if she fucked me into the ground. That's a no. However, she did help me relieve some anxiety I was feeling. Wasn't anything too exciting, just a boob job and-”
  6451.  
  6452. “You don't need to tell me!” You whisper loudly. “I get it!”
  6453.  
  6454. “Well, I need to go. Ayn's beating my ass at Ace Combat and I'd like to regain the lead. See you later.” He tells you.
  6455.  
  6456. “Bye.” You tell him, hanging up the phone. “Wait, what the hell is an Ace Combat?”
  6457.  
  6458.     What the hell is he talking about? Playing video games when he's tired? Something fishy is going on here. You tell your first officer to take over. You were paying Jack and Ayn a little visit.
  6459.  
  6460. Jack
  6461.  
  6462. 6 hours later
  6463.  
  6464.     You've been sitting in an MRAP for a while now, just talking with AI versions of your buddies and Ayn as well. This was your preferred loading space, as you felt nowhere was safer than inside a Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle. Mike was taking the gun over for you while you ate something the kitchen had brought you, a plain old beef sandwich. As far as the AI knew, you were eating crackers and beef stew from a retort pouch.
  6465.  
  6466. “Hey, Squeak, you done eating your fucking stew yet, you old geezer?” Mike asks.
  6467.  
  6468. “How about I coat the bottom of your trousers in it, you impatient mongoloid?” You reply. “I'll be done when I'm done.”
  6469.  
  6470. “Sure, fucking slow poke.” He says, getting back on the M2.
  6471.  
  6472.     You finish your sandwich and put the wrapper inside your unused mag pouches before realizing it won't stay when the sim ends. You put the garbage in your BDU pockets instead, sitting back down and checking your MG over.
  6473.  
  6474. “CONTACT!” He shouts, being pointed behind the MRAP. “STOP THE TRUCK!”
  6475.  
  6476.     You look out the back of the truck and can't see a damn thing, due in part to the small windows.
  6477.  
  6478. “Is the new sim already loaded?” You ask.
  6479.  
  6480. “No, it's still got a few minutes.” She tells you.
  6481.  
  6482.     You feel uneasy about this whole thing, so you take out your real pistol and open the rear door. When you do, you fall out of the back in surprise at who you see. When you look up from the ground, you see Vikna crossing her arms impatiently.
  6483.  
  6484. “So this is what you've been doing.” Vikna says.
  6485.  
  6486. “How the hell did you get in here?!” Ayn asks loudly.
  6487.  
  6488. “The guards were easily persuaded by my rank. Get off the floor you fucking klutz.” She replies.
  6489.  
  6490.     You get off the floor and look down at Vikna, seeing she was also dressed in MARPAT, having been given a MK18 instead of an M4.
  6491.  
  6492. “You look good in MARPAT.” You tell her. “Maybe I should get all of you some BDUs when I get back home.”
  6493.  
  6494. “Why the hell are you in here?!” Vikna asks angrily. “You said Ayn's been helping you! Not playing video games in a VR room!”
  6495.  
  6496. “He's reliving his memories Habibi'ti. Shit, sorry Jack.” She says, retracting her statement.
  6497.  
  6498. “It's fine.” You tell her, not looking away from Vikna. “Hop aboard, you're part of the squad now.”
  6499.  
  6500. “W-what?!” She asks.
  6501.  
  6502.     You point to the door that just sealed behind her and she turns around, her ears folding back as her tail wraps around her front.
  6503.  
  6504. “Looks like you're stuck with us.” Ayn says with a smart tone. “Come on, join the fun.”
  6505.  
  6506. “God dammit. I told them I'd be back soon...but I didn't specify a time, so I guess I could-”
  6507.  
  6508. “Great, get in the truck.” You tell her, pulling her over to the massive vehicle.
  6509.  
  6510. “D-don't pull me!” She yells, not resisting as she does so.
  6511.  
  6512. “Go on, get in the truck so we can start the scenario.” You tell her, helping her up the steps that were just out of reach for her.
  6513.  
  6514. “Hands off!” She yells, slapping your hands away. “Why are you so touchy feely all of a sudden?”
  6515.  
  6516. “Because I'm helping you into the truck. Now get inside and quit bitching. I'll give you the run down when we get moving.” You tell her.
  6517.  
  6518. “You're acting so different! I don't like it. You're too assertive.” She says, looking back down.
  6519.  
  6520. “Just get in the truck.” You tell her, pointing up into the truck.
  6521.  
  6522.     You watch as Ayn and Larry pull her into the cabin of the truck and you haul yourself up, closing the door behind you as you enter. Vikna had taken your seat and you sigh, sitting on the floor. If you hit a mine, your ass was going to be where your head is right now. Thankfully you don't get hit by mines in this scenario, so you'll be fine.
  6523.  
  6524. “Vikna, what's going to happen is we're going to get out of this truck and be directly in the middle of a street. We need to get on top of a building to start spotting targets that will be coming in the form of a T-62 and a few heavily armored techincals. Don't fire on it with small arms or it'll fire back and kill all of us. Ayn already tried and got everyone killed.” You tell her. “We need to protect John over here and keep him from getting domed by the ISIS fighters that will be sent first. Magic doesn't work here, so you need to rely on your marksmanship.”
  6525.  
  6526. “Shit, I haven't fired a rifle much since the civil conflict. I'm out of practice.” She tells you. “Wait, why the hell am I playing this stupid game?!”
  6527.  
  6528. “Because the VR room doors don't unlock until the scenario has ended, as in everyone has died or the mission is complete.” Ayn replies. “Trust me, it's more fun than you give it credit for. All the boring parts are cut out and we get straight to the fighting.”
  6529.  
  6530. “She got mad when I took her on a two hour patrol.” You tell her. “She shot her-uh, stopped the sim half way to the target.”
  6531.  
  6532. “That was boring and you know it.” She replies.
  6533.  
  6534. “You know that's most of the shit I did, right?” You ask.“Best part is, nobody actually dies. It's like playing a video game based off my memories.”
  6535.  
  6536. “Why did you sound so tired 3 hours ago?” She asks.
  6537.  
  6538. “I had just finished going through a really traumatic memory and I was tired from crying myself into a blubbering mess.” You reply.
  6539.  
  6540. “Oh...well when the game is done, Rei and I need to talk to you about your Tau index. I was also required to submit a report to the KAL about your readiness for augmentation.” She tells you.
  6541.  
  6542. “Fuck that, I'm not turning into some monstrosity of a super soldier to fight off terrorists that might take 5 months to eradicate completely at the very most.” You tell her.
  6543.  
  6544. “What? No! It's for ID augmentations and eligibility for a neural interface.” She tells you. “Besides, if they wanted you for that, they would already have you.”
  6545.  
  6546.     Just as she says that, the truck stops and you grab the massive gun from beside her, hoisting it up and into a carry position.
  6547.  
  6548. “So that's what an M240 is.” She says cryptically.
  6549.  
  6550. “Yeah it's the old B model.” You tell her before realizing that you never told her what gun you used. “Wait, how do you know what this is?”
  6551.  
  6552. “Uh, I read your file.” She says. “This was before you stole from the Army, right?”
  6553.  
  6554. “How the hell do you have my file?” You ask.
  6555.  
  6556. “The ship apparently did a brain scan on you as soon as you entered. It found evidence of your military history and generated a report from that. It's perfectly normal and updates every time you come inside the ship.” She tells you, watching the door as it opens. “I didn't know it would scan your brain in particular, since I turned auto scan off.”
  6557.  
  6558.     When everyone hops out of the MRAP, they all begin running to their positions with you and your friends in tow. When everyone is at the starting point, your Gunnery Sergeant starts giving orders.
  6559.  
  6560. “Haigs, Ramen noodles, Miyur, I need a field of fire down that road! We're holding here until we can get our armored support through the town!” He yells. “Everyone else, on me to receive orders!”
  6561.  
  6562. “Gunny, I need Sykes up here with me!” You tell him. “I think there were reports of armor in the briefing!”
  6563.  
  6564. “Alright Haigs. Sykes! Get your ass back up here and stay with the Sergeant!” He yells. “Good hunting you four.”
  6565.  
  6566.     He walks back down the stone stair cases and Ayn snickers.
  6567.  
  6568. “He called you ramen noodles.” Ayn teases.
  6569.  
  6570. “Sh-shut up!” Vikna yells back.
  6571.  
  6572. “Quiet you two. Watch the road.” You tell them. “Faster we get this done, faster we can get out of the sim.”
  6573.  
  6574. “Faster she can get out of the sim. You and I still have some homebrew therapy to do.” Ayn tells you.
  6575.  
  6576. “Do you really think it's wise to take him back through traumatic events like this?” Vikna asks.
  6577.  
  6578. “Professional help costs too much for him and getting the memories removed isn't an option for trauma as bad as this. Besides, our psychologist told me this would help.” She tells you.
  6579.  
  6580. “Well, I think it'd be best for me to wait down the stairs. I-”
  6581.  
  6582. Before she can finish, a round impacts the wall and you pull her back to cover.
  6583.  
  6584. “CONTACT 500 METERS!” You yell. “WEAPONS FREE!”
  6585.  
  6586.     You flick the safety off your weapon and begin firing, short 3 round bursts that were much more effective than the 5 round bursts you were trained on.
  6587.  
  6588. RATATAT RATATAT
  6589.  
  6590.     Two down and you hear Ayn begin opening fire to your right. You look off to your left and see Vikna taking cover, gripping her rifle tight.
  6591.  
  6592. “Vikna! I said weapons free!” You yell, getting back to laying down fire as John does the same.
  6593.  
  6594. “R-right!” She yells, probably being out of practice in infantry combat.
  6595.  
  6596.     She begins firing the rifle, loud bangs and massive muzzle flashes accompanying the trigger pulls. Shots are falling short of the target as rounds impact her position.
  6597.  
  6598. “Compensate for the drop!” You yell. “Markings on the sight are for range! Use the 500 meter mark for sighting!”
  6599.  
  6600.     She aims the weapon up a bit and begins hitting targets, downing them as you smile at her success. Your smile was immediately interrupted by the sound of a round hitting flesh and a loud scream.
  6601.  
  6602. “I'M HIT!” John screams. “I'M HIIIT!”
  6603.  
  6604. “Corporal!” You yell. “AYN GET ON THE GUN! 3 TO 5 ROUND BURSTS! 400 METERS!”
  6605.  
  6606.     You scramble over to John and see he's hit in the shoulder. You see the bullet lodged in him and grab your leatherman, sterilizing it with water before grabbing the base of the round. You pull it out swiftly and see it was a Tokarev round. Lucky hadji bastards.
  6607.  
  6608. “Can you still aim the Javelin?!” You ask over the hail of gunfire coming in.
  6609.  
  6610. “N-no Sergeant!” He says. “My shoulder's fucked!”
  6611.  
  6612.     You grab a bandage from out of your IFAK, beginning to pack the wound before wrapping the remaining bandage under his arm pit to secure it in place. He groans in pain as you do this, the toughest mother fucker in the squad taking it like a man. You grab the Javelin off his back and lay it out, assembling it and removing the end cap. You get on the radio and tune your frequency to Gunny's radio.
  6613.  
  6614. “Gunny! This is Haigs, Sykes is down! I need whatever AT you can spare up here!” You yell into the radio.
  6615.  
  6616. “You got a SMAW coming up to you Haigs! Hold tight!” He yells back. “Gunny out!”
  6617.  
  6618.     Just as he says that, you hear Ayn stop firing.
  6619.  
  6620. “Jack! The tank is here!” She yells.
  6621.  
  6622.     You look out over the horizon and see the silhouette of A T-62 about 700 meters from your position.
  6623.  
  6624. “HOLD YOUR FIRE!” You shout. “HOLD YOUR FIRE!”
  6625.  
  6626.     Vikna doesn't stop firing, so you rush over to her side and throw your IFAK at her.
  6627.  
  6628. “I said hold your god damn fire!” You yell, angry that you might have all been spotted.
  6629.  
  6630.     She looks up at you and you could see the fear and desperation in her eyes. She wasn't firing because she had targets, she was firing because she was scared. You get down on the ground, watching the tank advance slowly as the idiots inside try to figure out how to change gears.
  6631.  
  6632. “Vikna, just stay in cover for now. Okay?” You ask, your tone more sedate.
  6633.  
  6634. “O-okay.” She replies.
  6635.  
  6636.     You make your way back to the Javelin and continue readying the launcher. John has a massive grin on his face as he sees you preparing his baby. The launcher warms up quickly and you get into a firing position, acquiring the T-62 in your sights.
  6637.  
  6638. “Target spotted! Locked!” You yell.
  6639.  
  6640. “LEFT, RIGHT, BACK BLAST CLEAR! MISSILE!” Sykes screams, his voice cracking.
  6641.  
  6642. “ON THE WAY!” You scream as well, your voice cracking too.
  6643.  
  6644. Click PSH PSSSSHOOOOOOOO
  6645.  
  6646.     The rocket tracks the target, being set to top attack mode as it soars into the air. It goes into a dive as soon as it reaches the three quarter way mark. The missile slams into the top of the tank blowing the top off it.
  6647.  
  6648. “SCRATCH ONE! WOO!” You shout, letting the launcher settle on the ground.
  6649.  
  6650. “Sergeant! I heard you ne-”
  6651.  
  6652.     Before he could finish, the SMAW gunner takes a shot to the head, falling back over.
  6653.  
  6654. “TOMMY!” You yell, rushing over to him. “Tommy's hit!”
  6655.  
  6656.     You look down at him and see the shot passed right through both sides of his helmet, fluids dripping from either side of it. You grit your teeth, how dare they kill a Marine, no, YOUR MARINE. You pick up the SMAW and check it's loaded with HEDP. The spotting rifle had a full magazine and you rack the round into place, feeling your teeth grind as you did. You grab 3 more rockets from Tommy's pack, making your way over to the wall.
  6657.  
  6658.     You flick the selector on the SMAW to the spotting rifle, taking aim at the group of hadjis who dared to shoot at your marine. Shots cracked and whizzed around you as you looked down the sight, pulling the trigger on the weapon. The shot lands short and you adjust, firing the spotting rifle again. It impacts near the sandistanis and you flick the selector back to the rocket.
  6659.  
  6660. “CLEAR BACK BLAST!” You order.
  6661.  
  6662. “LEFT, RIGHT, BACK BLAST CLEAR!” John shouts.
  6663.  
  6664. “ROCKET!” You scream with so much force your voice cracks again.
  6665.  
  6666.     You fire the rocket and the concussion of the rocket blasts air around, moving everyone's BDUs. The rocket sails towards the target before slamming down square in the middle of the group of enemy goat fuckers. They blow into a million bits, blood spraying all over the tan sand and raining limbs from various combatants.
  6667.  
  6668. “Good hit!” John tells you.
  6669.  
  6670. “Can you move?!” You ask loudly.
  6671.  
  6672. “Yes sarn't!” He yells back.
  6673.  
  6674. “Grab me more spotting rifle ammo!” You yell to him. “Move it Marine!”
  6675.  
  6676.     He gets off the ground and rushes his way back to the dead body of Tommy.
  6677.  
  6678. “Is Tommy-”
  6679.  
  6680. “He's fucking dead!” You yell back. “Get me that ammo Marine!”
  6681.  
  6682.     He gets the ammo from Tommy as you load another rocket labeled HEAA.
  6683.  
  6684. “Jack, we have trucks coming in!” Ayn yells, looking back at you. “It's gonna get us again!”
  6685.  
  6686.     Just as you say that, it opens fire, tearing up the side of the building as the hadji built technical rolls up the road. You grip the launcher tight, flicking back to the spotting rifle. You fire and the round impacts the truck, making it switch its attention to you.
  6687.  
  6688. “CLEAR THE BACK BLAST! ROCKET!” You yell, not waiting for John to clear it for you.
  6689.  
  6690.     Another concussive force seems to shake the building as you fire your thunderous death stick at the hadji 'tank'. The round impacts, splitting the truck in half and detonating the ammo.
  6691.  
  6692. “Armor down!” John yells. “You got him!”
  6693.  
  6694. “One more coming down the road!” You yell, loading a new rocket and seeing it had a recoilless rifle on it. “GET OFF THE BUILDING!”
  6695.  
  6696.     You rush over to Ayn and Vikna, pulling them both away from cover just as the SPG fires, blowing all 3 of you back. You land on the ground and hear a loud crack, which can't be good. You get up off the roof and look around you, seeing Ayn and Vikna still sitting on the floor. Ayn still had your 240, but Vikna had lost her weapon. You look down at the SMAW and toss it away, having been destroyed by the fall.
  6697.  
  6698. “FUCK!” You yell, taking off your helmet and chucking it across the street.
  6699.  
  6700. “Sergeant, you still have that AP belt for your gun, don't you?” John asks.
  6701.  
  6702.     You nod, getting your friends off the floor and shooing them down the stairs.
  6703.  
  6704. “Just use that. It's only a techy.” He tells you. “Shouldn't be a problem like that hadji tank was.”
  6705.  
  6706.     You look down at Ayn, who was looking up at you with confusion. She waves you both down and you pull John down the stairs with you as another SPG shot destroys the cover you were both hiding behind.
  6707.  
  6708. “I need my gun.” You tell Ayn when you're down the stairs.
  6709.  
  6710.     She hands it to you and you open the feed cover, tossing the belt down on the ground and grabbing the belt from a pouch you kept on your hip. You load the belt box into the mount on the side of your gun, setting the belt on the feed tray before slapping the top cover closed. You then begin running down the street, much to your friends dismay.
  6711.  
  6712. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” Ayn screams.
  6713.  
  6714. “Getting closer!” You yell back. “I need a base of fire to keep the infantry suppressed!”
  6715.  
  6716.     You keep running as you hear gun fire behind you, keeping the infantry's heads down as you continue running for the technical. Your legs feel the burn, but you need to keep going or your friends and Marines would 'die'. You feel bullets impact at your feet and see a hadji hip firing to your right, so you return the favor and spray him with AP. The shots tear him apart and he falls immediately, allowing you to continue towards the technical.
  6717.  
  6718.     You get within 100 yards of it and see it fire, the shot barely missing you as it hits behind you. Your legs are on fire by now and you drop to the ground, having finally got in range. As you breath heavily, you line the sights up with the truck and pull the trigger. Fuck using bursts, this thing was large enough and close enough you could hose it down with 7.62. The rounds tear through the truck, destroying the engine and the driver before it swerves off the side of the road. You pump more shots into the gunner, watching as he fires a round into orbit before he falls to the bed of the truck. The barrel is steaming by now, beginning to glow as you continue to fire on the truck. You get off the ground and begin walking towards the truck, firing continuously as you begin to shout obscenities at the hunk of metal.
  6719.  
  6720.     The fire finally ceased as your belt had ran dry, prompting you to chuck the gun at the truck as one final hurrah. The simulation ended there, as you breathe heavily and stare into the seemingly infinite space of cubes. You turn around behind you and see Ayn and Vikna staring at you.
  6721.  
  6722. “Jesus...” Is all Ayn says.
  6723.  
  6724. “Sorry...I just...I don't know.” You tell them, at a loss for words.
  6725.  
  6726. “You got shot 5 times in the back.” Vikna tells you. “How were you still running?”
  6727.  
  6728. “I was?” You ask. “I didn't feel anything.”
  6729.  
  6730. “I think he was so hopped up on adrenaline he wouldn't have felt it if he lost a leg.” Ayn says, offering an explanation. “We should probably stop for the day, it's getting late and I'm getting tired of these scenarios.”
  6731.  
  6732. “Yeah, same here.” You reply.
  6733.  
  6734.     You were definitely coming back here once you were sure she was asleep. You needed to practice marksmanship while you could, as the battlefield was a very different place here. Mega city combat requires a 7.62 rifle just to reach the windows of buildings and fire down streets. You needed to consistently make 1000 yard shots or you were pretty ineffective in the city.
  6735.  
  6736. “Looks like you're staying with us sweetie.” Ayn says.
  6737.  
  6738. “Uh, no. I'm not staying here ever again. Your brother is a womanizing pig and I think he wants me to marry him.” Vikna tells you.
  6739.  
  6740. “If you leave, mother will shoot you down and capture you with a tractor beam. No ships are allowed to leave at night because of my previous antics.” Ayn says with a smirk.
  6741.  
  6742. “I should smack you right now, but that would get nothing done.” She says, gritting her teeth as she rubs the bridge of her nose.
  6743.  
  6744. “You just don't want me to sit on you again.” Ayn teases.
  6745.  
  6746. “NOT IN FRONT OF HIM!” Vikna shouts.
  6747.  
  6748. “Sweetie, if you feel so strongly about Symat, just sleep with us. There's definitely room for one more in our little-”
  6749.  
  6750. “NO!” Vikna almost screams. “Just...no.”
  6751.  
  6752. “Alright. You know where the guest bedrooms are.” Ayn tells her.
  6753.  
  6754. “Fine, I'll sleep there.” Vikna says, crossing her arms, uh, crossly.
  6755.  
  6756.     You both snicker at that and she exits the room, flustered at you both.
  6757.  
  6758. Vikna
  6759.  
  6760.     You wake up for the third time this night, not able to sleep one bit. The stress of a new war is keeping you from getting a good night's sleep ever since it started a few weeks ago. Maybe a walk around the palace would clear your mind? Maybe, but it's unlikely.
  6761.  
  6762.     You get out of bed, pulling your bra back on and sighing. You only know 2 people who have smaller boobs than you, that being Zofie and ARA. Even then, ARA never felt like comparing sizes. She's very adamant about keeping her privates, well, private. You remember the fit she threw when you suggested it, and the even bigger fit she threw when you snuck into her room while she was changing. She's such a prude sometimes.
  6763.  
  6764.     You pull up your panties next, smiling at the thought of your ass. It makes up for your lack of assets up front, being relatively large compared to your small frame. It was also well groomed, which made it much softer than it already was. The couple times you've actually done it, they'd keep groping your ass until they finished. Sometimes they'd even call you soft, which boosted your self esteem immensely. It always made you blush and giggle like a school girl when they did, or it made you very angry when a random stranger says it to you, earning them a smack.
  6765.  
  6766.     When you get your uniform back on, you flick your hair behind your head and walk out the door, turning down the hallway towards the main entrance area. When you reach it, you turn down the hall to Ayn's room and walk past it, going over towards a terrace at the end of the hallway. Just as you make your way to the VR room, you see Ayn's brother, Symat walk into the hallway, talking to someone on the other side. You quickly open the door and duck inside, watching as it closes behind you. When it seals, you turn around, seeing Jack lying prone in a T-shirt and his camouflage pants.
  6767.  
  6768. BANG
  6769.  
  6770.     A shot goes down a desert range, a small cloud of dust being kicked up by the bullet impacting the sand.
  6771.  
  6772. “Fuck!” He shouts. “Get it together Marine!”
  6773.  
  6774.     You see that he's set a target out at 900 yards, using a rifle that looked identical to the one he used when you both met on Katric. The ancient looking wood rifle. He puts it on a mount and adjusts it, taking a couple shots before looking back through some optical amplifiers.
  6775.  
  6776. “You're fucking kidding me. I shot in the exact same fucking place and the shots just fucked off into 2 different post codes!” He yells, obviously upset with his rifle. “Christ. Try the M21.”
  6777.  
  6778.     A new rifle pops up in front of him and he sets it on the stand, screwing it in place and adjusting the scope. He fires 2 shots before looking through the amplifiers again.
  6779.  
  6780. “That's more like it. Barely clipped the target, but it's better than nothing for these fucking whack ass cityscapes. Might have to ask Vikna about getting one of the DMRs that can do 1000 yard shots.” He says, sitting up. “Alright, computer, load up scenario 52.”
  6781.  
  6782. “Are you sure? You have taken quite a bit of physical abuse already.” The AI says.
  6783.  
  6784. “I SAID LOAD THE SCENARIO!” He shouts angrily.
  6785.  
  6786. “As you wish.” The AI responds.
  6787.  
  6788.     A massive dog pops up in front of Jack as he sits on a chair, fully armored up as he takes a deep and shaky breath.
  6789.  
  6790. “Fire.” He says.
  6791.  
  6792.     The dog levels the rifle with him and fires, throwing him back off the chair as he cries out in pain. You cover your mouth with your hands and gasp, did he just kill himself?
  6793.  
  6794. “FUUUCK! FUCKING SHIT!” He screams in agony. “Get up! Your friends are dying around you and you aren't hit! GET UP!”
  6795.  
  6796.     He struggles to his feet, ripping the plate off his carrier and throwing it down, having cracked in two pieces.
  6797.  
  6798. “FIRE AGAIN!” He shouts.
  6799.  
  6800.     The dog takes out a pistol and fires 3 shots into him, knocking him down again as he grasps his chest. He's crying out in pain now, beginning to sob as he's starting to feel the hurt.
  6801.  
  6802. “Oh my fucking god.” He says, getting off the ground. “INTO MY BACK!”
  6803.  
  6804.     The dog fires 3 more shots into his back and he drops back to the ground, having not seen you by some miracle. He lays face down on the floor, crying from the pain as he gets up and turns back to the dog. He proceeds to disarm the combatant and dump the rest of the magazine into the target.
  6805.  
  6806. “It's, fuck, about time.” He says, laying back down on the ground. “Fuck I think I hurt something.”
  6807.  
  6808. “You have slight internal and major external bruising. Nothing too serious.” The AI replies. “You should cease these scenarios before you are injured for real.”
  6809.  
  6810. “NO! I need to be able to get up when I'm hit! I can't let pain get the better of me!” He shouts. “Go back to the range. I need to practice my marksmanship with a DMR.”
  6811.  
  6812.     You take a couple steps towards Jack and he sighs.
  6813.  
  6814. “I thought I told your perverted ass that I DON'T KNOW WHERE VIKNA-” He shouts before turning around. “-is...hey Vikna.”
  6815.  
  6816. “W-what are you doing up so late?” You ask.
  6817.  
  6818. “I need to train. If I don't train hard, I may not be able to protect any of you if I get shot.” He tells you. “I can't take the thought of you being dragged off as I'm being shot dead or being beaten senseless. I need to build up my tolerance to pain and I think I have it built up.”
  6819.  
  6820. “How long have you been doing this?” She asks.
  6821.  
  6822. “I slowed down time in here, so it's only been a few hours for you, but it's been almost a month for me.” He says. “I've been doing combat missions, endurance tests, physical training, and marksmanship training.”
  6823.  
  6824. “You've been doing this for almost a month?” You ask. “I didn't think VR rooms came with time dilation, but a month?!”
  6825.  
  6826. “Relatively, yes.” He tells you. “What are you doing up?”
  6827.  
  6828. “I'm too stressed out.” You reply. “I went for a walk and ran into prince Symat. I didn't want him to see me so I ducked in here.”
  6829.  
  6830. “I see. Well, I've been hungry for the past few days now, so I'm gonna go get something to eat. Computer, power down the sim and restore time to a ratio of 1 to 1.” He says.
  6831.  
  6832. “Affirmative. Virtual reality room shutting down. Have a nice day.” The AI replies.
  6833.  
  6834.     He smiles at that and the door opens behind you, allowing both of you to exit the simulation area.
  6835.  
  6836. Jack
  6837.  
  6838.     You're walking down the decorative hallways towards the night kitchen Ayn had told you about. It was basically a kitchen that was open to the denizens of the palace, allowing them to make their own food outside of staff hours. There was an anthroid there that would help people cook whatever they wanted to make. As you and Vikna make it inside, you're greeted by king Sabir, drinking whiskey from a bottle.
  6839.  
  6840. “Tell me Jackson, do you know how it feels to lose an entire country to corruption and greed?” He asks.
  6841.  
  6842. “I may, sir, but not from a position of power.” You say. “Hey, ma'am, can I have some whiskey as well? 80 proof. More if possible.”
  6843.  
  6844. “Jesus, going straight for the strong stuff.” Vikna says. “I'll take some vodka, 80 proof.”
  6845.  
  6846.     The anthroid hands you both a bottle and some glasses, which both of you leave at the counter. The anthroid groans, putting the shot glasses away as she sits back on a less than ideal seat.
  6847.  
  6848. “I've seen numerous corrupt politicians drawing funds from the bank, increasing taxes in their local areas, and driving the masses to work for almost slave like wages. My wife doesn't listen to anything I have to say because 'I'm just a man, what do I know' or something akin to that.” He says, taking another swig.
  6849.  
  6850.     You feel guilty knowing that his wife cheats on him constantly, taking dick from anyone she can get her hands on. You want to tell him so bad, but you have no idea what consequences that would bring.
  6851.  
  6852. “You look like shit. Is that a black eye?” He asks.
  6853.  
  6854. “I was in a simulation for about a month.” You tell him. “Building my pain tolerance up and getting marksmanship courses in. I need to be ready to fight in this new urban jungle I've wound up in.”
  6855.  
  6856.     You take off the cap and take a sip, spitting the disgusting liquid out.
  6857.  
  6858. “This tastes like piss!” You yell.
  6859.  
  6860. “You need to eat before you drink that alcohol. It goes best with food.” Sabir tells you. “Also, that's a really long time to be inside a simulation for. Are you sure you're not starving?”
  6861.  
  6862. “I'm fine. The only thing that changed was my muscle mass, which got a bit higher.” You lie. “But I'll eat anyways.”
  6863.  
  6864.     Just as you say that, a sandwich is printed in front of you as you look over to the anthroid. She smirks at you and you roll your eyes. Lazy woman. You grab the sandwich and begin wolfing it down, finishing it in under a minute. You wash it down with the alcohol the anthroid gave you, which tasted much better now.
  6865.  
  6866. “All these politicians taking money from people who just want to live simple lives, just to line their own pockets with money they don't deserve. I'm not sure whether or not I should thank or punish my daughter for enlightening me to these facts.” He says, taking another drink. “Now these terrorists are bringing out all the war profiteers as well.”
  6867.  
  6868. “That's gotta suck.” You tell him. “So you basically have no power or say in the queendom?”
  6869.  
  6870. “Nope, all I can do is give gentle nudges to my wife and hope she listens.” He says. “I'm usually away trying to fix her messes while she keeps running the queendom into the ground with her ignorance!”
  6871.  
  6872. “Whoa, calm down. People might be listening.” You tell him. “I don't know about you, but she could easily pin your death on me or Vikna if she wanted you dead.”
  6873.  
  6874. “You're right. I shouldn't be saying these things.” He says, taking another drink. “How are you and my daughter getting along?”
  6875.  
  6876. “Great. She's been giving me some homebrew therapy to help with my PTSD and flashbacks.” You tell him. “We've been making good use of the VR room.”
  6877.  
  6878. “That's good. Hopefully she'll stay in place this time.” He tells you. “Though, I doubt it's going to do anything but delay the inevitable. She's a free spirit and nobody is going to stop her.”
  6879.  
  6880. “Speaking of which, I should probably go and check on her.” You tell him. “I kind of abandoned her when she fell asleep and she could be having nightmares again.”
  6881.  
  6882. “I'll stay here and talk with Sabir. Maybe prince Symat won't harass me if I'm talking to his dad.” She says.
  6883.  
  6884.     You nod, walking out the door.
  6885.  
  6886. 15 minutes later.
  6887.  
  6888.     You make it to Ayn's room and hear gentle sobbing coming from the other side of the door.
  6889.  
  6890. “Fine, just do it then.” Ayn says, having absolutely no will to live left in her voice. “If it's for Siania, just do it.”
  6891.  
  6892. “I'm sorry princess, please understand that I only want what's best for our nation. The corruption and greed has deeply rooted itself in our politics and we need to make an example.” A man says. “Just close your eyes and it will be a painless death.”
  6893.  
  6894. “No...” You say to yourself. “NO!”
  6895.  
  6896.     You yank open the door to her room, drawing your pistol and startling the two figures inside.
  6897.  
  6898. “W-what?!” He asks.
  6899.  
  6900.     The weapon he was holding is pointed at you and you fire 3 rounds into him, the bangs echoing off the walls and the hallway. A whine is heard over the ringing in your ear as you make your way over to the would be assassin. You dump the rest of the magazine in his head, blowing his brains out all over the floor. You hear a click and see the slide locked open, gritting your teeth. You begin to stomp his head in, not convinced that 4 rounds of .45 ACP were enough. You continue stomping, your face tensing up into a face of pure unadulterated rage. When you're done, you take your boot off the bloody mess that used to be the assassins face as the lights flick back on, blinding you temporarily.
  6901.  
  6902. “Y-you-”
  6903.  
  6904. “We heard gun shots! What's going-OH MY GOD!” Vikna shouts. “WHO IS THAT?!”
  6905.  
  6906. “An assassin.” Ayn says. “I can't believe what you did Jackson.”
  6907.  
  6908. “Ayn-”
  6909.  
  6910. “You abandoned me...” She says, looking up at you.
  6911.  
  6912. “Ayn...” You say.
  6913.  
  6914. “I trusted you and you left me.” She says, gritting her teeth. “I made you taller and was always there for you, and you just left me.”
  6915.  
  6916. “A-Ayn...” You try to say.
  6917.  
  6918. “You betrayed me. I was so scared and you left me alone to be killed. I thought you were different.” She tells you. “I thought you could help me root out this corruption, but you abandoned me to go and have fun in the VR room.”
  6919.  
  6920.     You feel a wave of calm wash over you, just shaking your head as you grab your things off the bedroom floor. You've heard enough.
  6921.  
  6922. “Where do you think you're going?” She asks.
  6923.  
  6924. “That's where this is going, isn't it?” You ask. “You kicking me out?”
  6925.  
  6926. “You don't know what I'm going to say.” She says, no longer having any respect for you in her voice. “Don't put words in my mouth.”
  6927.  
  6928. “Well I'm leaving.” You tell her. “All I can do right now is say I'm sorry and hope you see it in your heart to forgive me.”
  6929.  
  6930.     She just lays back down on the bed, looking up at the ceiling as you leave the room.
  6931.  
  6932. “Wait.” She says. “Look at me.”
  6933.  
  6934.     You turn back and look over at her and you drop your bags immediately. Her eyes were full of panic and she looks off to the side before blinking, returning to her annoyed state.
  6935.  
  6936. “Ears.” You tell everyone. “Cover them.”
  6937.  
  6938.     You load a fresh magazine into the pistol and take aim at a cylindrical device sitting by her lamp. Everyone behind you covers their ears and you grit your teeth, looking at Ayn.
  6939.  
  6940. “Wait, what are you doing?!” She asks, getting up from the bed. “STOP!”
  6941.  
  6942. “GET OUT OF MY FRIEND!” You scream, taking the shot.
  6943.  
  6944. BANG
  6945.  
  6946.     The device sparks and Ayn begins to spasm on the bed, screaming and screeching in pain. She eventually stops and begins hyperventilating, taking deep breaths as she looks over to you.
  6947.  
  6948. “That-huff-wasn't me.” She says. “I'm sorry.”
  6949.  
  6950. “What was it?” You ask. “It looks similar to what I saw next to the queen.”
  6951.  
  6952. “It amplifies all your negative emotions and suppresses your true personality, sort of like ghetto mind control. It takes hours to program to someone's brain, as most people have a high resistance to brain tampering, so it's usually installed in someone's sleep. It's very loud and causes great pain, but the person being inducted needs to have a very strong will to even slightly resist it. I found an opening in the suppression of my personality and took it to ask for help.” Ayn explains.
  6953.  
  6954. “So, you were really angry at me?” You ask.
  6955.  
  6956. “Well, of course I was. You left me to go have fun, but I assume you were just playing around in VR and weren't doing anything heinous.” She tells you. “Especially when you have someone like me willing to give myself up for you~.”
  6957.  
  6958. “What? No!” You yell. “I slowed down time and started training in VR.”
  6959.  
  6960. “Oh, well that's good. What did you do?” She asks. “Wait, is that a black eye?”
  6961.  
  6962. “Pain tolerance training, marksmanship, combat missions, more marksmanship, lots of marksmanship. Pretty much three weeks of marksmanship.” You reply.
  6963.  
  6964. “You were in there getting yourself beat up for a month?” Ayn asks.
  6965.  
  6966. “Yes.” You tell her with a straight face. “I also got really acquainted with my rifle.”
  6967.  
  6968.     Ayn just looks at you in disbelief, getting off her bed and walking over to you.
  6969.  
  6970. “Why?” She asks.
  6971.  
  6972. “I need to be able to get back up off the floor if I'm knocked down.” You tell her. “I was never really any good at close quarters.”
  6973.  
  6974. “Wait, did you say that there was one by mother?” Ayn asks.
  6975.  
  6976. “Yeah, it looked like a Bluetooth speaker, so I didn't really think much of it.” You tell her.
  6977.  
  6978. “Dad, we need to save mother!” Ayn yells, running for the door.
  6979.  
  6980. “Wait!” You yell. “She's gonna know what's up if you come in there with Sabir. It was by a window, right?”
  6981.  
  6982. “Yes.” She tells you.
  6983.  
  6984. “Then I'll just shoot it through the window.” You tell her.
  6985.  
  6986. “Windows are bullet proof. You won't make it through them with anything you have.” Ayn tells you, looking down at your LAWs before looking back at you. “At least, nothing that won't kill mother in the process.”
  6987.  
  6988. “What if we just walk in and I shoot the thing next to her?” You ask. “She's still awake, right?”
  6989.  
  6990. “She stays up at night most of the time and sleeps during the day.” Ayn replies. “We'll never make it past her guards though. They'll tear us to pieces before we even get past.”
  6991.  
  6992. “Not if they can't move.” You say, smiling at Vikna. “You remember how you froze me in place back at The Tower?”
  6993.  
  6994. “Y-yes.” She says, looking off to the side.
  6995.  
  6996. “Think you could do that to multiple people?” You ask.
  6997.  
  6998. “Yes, but it's not as strong all the way out here. I might be able to freeze 6, maybe 7 guys before I'm exhausted.” She tells you. “Takes a lot out of me to do that.”
  6999.  
  7000.     You nod and look back to Ayn.
  7001.  
  7002. “Looks like we have a plan.” You tell everyone, grabbing your M21. “Let's save the queen.”
  7003.  
  7004. 30 minutes later
  7005.  
  7006.     You're all standing in the main hallway, going back over the plan.
  7007.  
  7008. “Vikna, you try and freeze as many guys as you possibly can. Ayn, you keep everyone off me so I can take the shot. If anyone gets in my way, I'm going to take the shot anyways. Stay out of my line of fire.” You tell everyone. “Sabir should be in there chatting up Kesis right now. Is everyone ready?”
  7009.  
  7010. “Ready.” Ayn says.
  7011.  
  7012. “I'm ready.” Vikna says, making a couple balls of ice.
  7013.  
  7014. “Alright, let's do this.” You say, racking a round into your rifle. “Ayn, kick the door.”
  7015.  
  7016.     She grips her staff tight and bringing a foot to the door slamming it against the door.
  7017.  
  7018. “Your highness, we're here to relieve you of your crown.” You say. “Vikna, now!”
  7019.  
  7020.     A blast of icy magic shoots shoots from her fingers as she begins freezing men to the floor as they desperately try to break free. 2 guards make it past the hail of ice and Ayn dispatches them quickly, knocking them out cold.
  7021.  
  7022. “What?!” She asks, watching as you take aim with your rifle.
  7023.  
  7024. “Jack LOOK OUT!” Vikna shouts.
  7025.  
  7026.     You feel a sharp pain in your left hand side and cry out in pain, balancing on your rifle. It's a miracle you don't fall over, feeling your muscles lock up as you're tased by a spear. You need to get up, your friends need you. There's no room in the plan for a fuck up like this. You use every ounce of your strength to get off the ground and turn around, seeing a very stunned looking jackal staring you in the face.
  7027.  
  7028. “GIVE ME THAT!” You shout, taking his spear away and slamming it over his head.
  7029.  
  7030.     You turn back around, still a bit shaky from the electricity. You need a moment to steady yourself.
  7031.  
  7032. “Jack, I don't mean to rush you, but the blue guard are breaking free!” Ayn yells. “Take the shot!”
  7033.  
  7034.     Kesis has her hands up above her head and you aim at the Alexa knockoff next to her, which confuses her at first.
  7035.  
  7036. “Wait, HE KNOWS! NO!” Kesis shouts.
  7037.  
  7038.     You give the trigger a clean and crisp pull feeling the rifle kick you back as a round explodes out the barrel. When you put the rifle down, the device is sparking and the queen is screaming in pain, writhing in her seat as she is released from the spell of the device.
  7039.  
  7040. “I NEVER SHOULD HAVE TRUSTED YOU! TRAITOROUS AMERICANS SHOULD NEVER BE TRUSTED!” She screams as she continues to writhe. “YOU RUINED EVERYTHING!”
  7041.  
  7042.     You stand at attention with your rifle at your side, gun smoke stilling trickling out of the barrel. The queen raises her hand and you feel something grip your neck beginning to choke you.
  7043.  
  7044. “I WILL KILL YOU IF IT IS THE LAST THING I DO!” She screams.
  7045.  
  7046.     You drop the rifle and grasp your neck, feeling yourself being choked out by Kesis as whatever was controlling her manages to hang on long enough to allow her to kill you. Just then, Sabir grits his teeth and growls.
  7047.  
  7048. “ENOUGH WOMAN!” He yells, delivering a heavy slap to her snout.
  7049.  
  7050.     She yelps in pain and drops you, allowing you to breathe deeply as you recover from oxygen deprivation. You wave your hand around on the floor finding your rifle and grabbing it, using it to stand up.
  7051.  
  7052. “W-what?” Kesis asks. “Am I free? Is this me talking right now?”
  7053.  
  7054. “Yes my love, you're free.” Sabir tells her.
  7055.  
  7056. “By the gods, I'm free!” She yells as she takes Sabir into her arms. “Baby, come to mama!”
  7057.  
  7058. “She hasn't called me that since I was 5...” Ayn says. “Mother!”
  7059.  
  7060.     Ayn drops her staff and runs over to her mother as you smile warmly. You felt weak, tired, and still a bit hungry, but none of that mattered right now. You just saved a woman from over 22 years of imprisonment. Best part of it all, nobody died and it looked cool as fuck.
  7061.  
  7062. “I love it when a plan comes together.” You say, grabbing a cigar out of your pocket and lighting it up.
  7063.  
  7064.     You cough a bit at the smoke when it enters your lungs, but it doesn't matter. You saved the day and nobody died.
  7065.  
  7066. “Young man, Jackson. Please come to me.” She says, waving you to her.
  7067.  
  7068.     You nod, making your way to her as you use your rifle like a cane. When you make it to the queen, you fall to your knees, unable to stand.
  7069.  
  7070. “You don't need to kneel soldier.” She says. “I'm not cruel like that...thing you saw before.”
  7071.  
  7072. “I'm too tired to stand, your highness.” You say, attempting to do so before falling back to your knees.
  7073.  
  7074. “Well, I need to thank you for everything. Even in the face of insurmountable odds, you managed to make it here and save me from the clutches of that device that trapped me for so long. I also apologize for making such a fool of you, please understand that was only the deepest and darkest part of me. I would never do such a thing in a sober state of mind.” She says, apologizing for herself.
  7075.  
  7076. “I don't know what to say your highness. I think I'm gonna pass out though.” You say, feeling yourself tip over.
  7077.  
  7078.     You fall onto the floor and fall asleep almost immediately.
  7079.  
  7080. 4 hours later
  7081.  
  7082. Ayn
  7083.  
  7084.     You sit down in your bed, watching Jack and Vikna sleep together on the massive bed you had. She had wrapped her arms around him earlier and he was spooked by it, but eventually relaxed into it. They were both so tired and so were you. However, news of your mother being freed spread quickly, causing civil unrest in all of the sectors as corruption was exposed throughout the queendom. You knew you didn't need to be ready, but you weren't going to let someone else fight your battles for you.
  7085.  
  7086.     Just as you think that, gunfire erupts outside and you see Jack seem to relax. This is what calmed him?! After all this time trying to calm him by normal means, gunfire and explosions is what calmed him?! You get up and turn off the hard light window, looking out of your terrace to see guards holding off a massive wave of men with weapons of greatly varying...varieties. One of the soldiers looks up at you and waves.
  7087.  
  7088. “Don't worry princess! We can hold them! Just get some sleep!” He yells up, trying to comfort you.
  7089.  
  7090.     An explosion throws him down to the ground and he gets up, dusting himself off.
  7091.  
  7092. “We're fine!” He yells. “Just rest!”
  7093.  
  7094.     You go back inside and close the hard light window as well as the heavy steel doors to your terrace, hoping to keep some of the sound out. It does, but only to an extent. You can still hear the screams of the people still loyal to the old queen, insisting she was replaced by a false double or an anthroid. You had no idea this would cause so much devastation and violence. Just as you think that, a massive explosion shakes the palace, throwing you to the ground.
  7095.  
  7096. “FUCK!” You hear come from the bed. “WE'RE UNDER ATTACK!”
  7097.  
  7098. “You noticed?!” You ask sarcastically.
  7099.  
  7100. “Don't give me any shit private! Where's the rest of your platoon?!” He asks, getting out of bed and stepping into his boots.
  7101.  
  7102. “Platoon?” You ask.
  7103.  
  7104.     Then, you get a glimpse in his eye. Lights are on but nobody's home. He waves you off the floor and hands you a rifle, which you take tentatively. Was he sleep walking? Was he on auto pilot? What is he doing? Just as you think that, a jackal enters the room and gives you a slight bow.
  7105.  
  7106. “Princess, there's no time! We need to get you to the safe room! Armor has breached the inner wall!” He tells you.
  7107.  
  7108. “Easy there terminal lance, where's the anti armor?” Jack asks.
  7109.  
  7110. “I don't take orders from you.” The jackal tells him. “Who the hell are you?”
  7111.  
  7112.     Bad move. Jack grabs the collar of the jackal and raises him up off the floor. You take the opportunity to stuff the rifle under your bed, not wanting to shoot anyone you didn't need to.
  7113.  
  7114. “I'm the man who's gonna punch your ticket if you don't step in line Lance Corporal! Now tell me what the fuck happened to the anti armor?!” He asks angrily.
  7115.  
  7116.     The jackal looks at you with fear in his eyes and you nod. The jackal looks back at the angry man and smiles gently.
  7117.  
  7118. “I-it got blown up.” He says. “Sorry sir-”
  7119.  
  7120. “STAFF SERGEANT!” He shouts. “I work for a living! Now, I have some laws on my backpack, I'll need cover before I can get in position to use them. Think you can do that short stuff?”
  7121.  
  7122. “Y-yes Staff Sergeant.” He says, Jack letting the poor guy go and scamper off.
  7123.  
  7124. “Private, you're on me. Don't worry about the Colonel, nobody is getting to her.” He tells you. “Let's get moving.”
  7125.  
  7126.     He picks up his bag and takes the 4 tubes off the back, putting 2 over each shoulder. As he runs to the front of the palace, you look along the halls to see nurses attending to the wounded. They cry out in pain, holding their hands out to you as you're forced to pass them by. Your people, they're suffering because of your decision. You needed to make it right somehow. You needed to end this war.
  7127.  
  7128.     You both make it outside and tracers begin flying past you as Jack pulls 2 handles out of the bottom of the tube. He depresses the trigger and a massive laser shoots out of the front of the weapon, leading him to dispose of the tube.
  7129.  
  7130. “Ayn, are you okay?” He asks, looking back at you.
  7131.  
  7132. “What?” You ask.
  7133.  
  7134. “Ayn, wake up!” He yells.
  7135.  
  7136. “W-what?” You ask.
  7137.  
  7138.     You feel yourself being shaken and open your eyes, seeing a blurry figure in front of you as your eyes adjust to the light. You blink a couple of times and see Vikna sitting on the end of your bed, looking very worried.
  7139.  
  7140. “See, I told you she was fine.” Jack says.
  7141.  
  7142.     You don't see him anywhere until you look above you, seeing him looking down on you. You were in his lap.
  7143.  
  7144. “I wasn't worried.” Vikna says, looking off to the side. “You were worried.”
  7145.  
  7146.     You smirk at that knowing that she must've been concerned too. You lean your head back into him, letting out a content sigh before feeling his hand on your head. He begins scratching between your ears and you push into his hands, loving the sensation of receiving pets. It was almost as if a primal urge was being sated inside you. Just as you begin to close your eyes again, Vikna clears her throat.
  7147.  
  7148. “So, what was that thing you were going to ask Ayn?” Vikna asks.
  7149.  
  7150. “Oh, uh, I ran out of cigars and want to go into town. You think we could do that?” He asks. “The one that I had burnt out and it was the last one I owned.”
  7151.  
  7152. “You don't have any credits sweetie.” You tell him with a smirk.
  7153.  
  7154. “Just like you didn't have any dollars on earth, 'sweetie'.” He tells you, returning the smirk. “A box of cigars sounds like a pretty small price to pay for a couple months rent, food, and water.”
  7155.  
  7156.     He has you there. You and the rest of your friends were allowed to stay there for free and he never asked for help around the house. Maybe your mother would allow you to go down to the local town for that? They didn't serve any good alcohol here either, so maybe you could buy some booze that wasn't fine wine and dumpster whiskey. Who knows, maybe you might even sneak into a bar after you “persuade” the guards.
  7157.  
  7158. “I guess we could.” You say. “We should wait-”
  7159.  
  7160. “Already asked your mother.” He says. “She says she's cool with it as long as we're back for a party she's hosting in your honor.”
  7161.  
  7162. “She is?” You ask before remembering you basically freed her from a mind prison. “Oh, that's right. Guess it's time to break out the old limo I never got to use.”
  7163.  
  7164. “You have a limo?” Vikna asks you. “Why'd you never use it when we came to visit?”
  7165.  
  7166. “Because...” You say, getting up. “Mother never let me out of the palace until just now. Never trusted my 'slutty self' to ever be up to any good. Though she was right about half the time.”
  7167.  
  7168. “Well, that settles it. I'll go pick out some cigars and wait for you two to finish shopping.” He says. “Don't go telling me you won't either. I know you will.”
  7169.  
  7170. “Why? Because we're women?” Vikna asks.
  7171.  
  7172. “No, because you're girls.” He replies.
  7173.  
  7174. “You've been spending too much time with Ayn!” Vikna yells indignantly.
  7175.  
  7176. “I'm not a girl sweetie, I'm a lady~.” You tell him seductively as you rub the side of his torso.
  7177.  
  7178. “Hey, you know I'm not about that. You're two for three now.” He tells you. “Don't need it becoming three for four.”
  7179.  
  7180. “You're nearly as bad as ARA.” You tell him with a chuckle. “At least you don't resist violently like she does.”
  7181.  
  7182. “Please tell me you haven't tried to force her.” He says, his tone changing to one of concern.
  7183.  
  7184. “Not so much force as ask Nytro to go for it. He came out with a nasty cut over his chest. Didn't even get his pants off. ” You tell him.
  7185.  
  7186.     You feel him tense up at that, inhaling sharply.
  7187.  
  7188. “I think I should get dressed.” He says, hurrying off the bed and leaving your head to flop on the mattress.
  7189.  
  7190.     You giggle at that and see Vikna smirk as well, watching as he leaves.
  7191.  
  7192. Jack
  7193.  
  7194. 20 minutes later
  7195.  
  7196.     You look one last time in the mirror and see you've started growing a stubble. You'll need to find your razor soon or you'll start looking like shit. When you exit the bathroom, Ayn is dressed in some sort of grey dress that was similar to ARAs. Guess she really did give her the dress. You follow her out to the entrance hall where her mother was waiting, a disapproving glare adorning her face. Did you walk her into a trap? Ayn's ears fold down and her tail goes limp, indicating she sees it too.
  7197.  
  7198.     When you reach her, Kesis crosses her arms and looks up at Ayn. She then laughs, putting a hand on her daughter's shoulder.
  7199.  
  7200. “I'm joking baby. Go out and have fun.” She says with a smile. “Can you get me some Gulafto's brew too? The wine in here is absolutely dreadful.”
  7201.  
  7202. “Sure mother-”
  7203.  
  7204. “Call me mom sweetheart. Mother sounds too, uh, is it still uncool?” She asks.
  7205.  
  7206. “You made it uncool by saying it.” Ayn says before laughing. “Thanks mom, I'll remember.”
  7207.  
  7208.     You all walk outside and see the massive hovering machine sitting there, your translator making out Princess Ayn Kerroi Miyur before the rest becomes an undecipherable mess. However, you memorized the entire thing for a meme.
  7209.  
  7210. “Princess Ayn Kerroi Miyur of Siania, Herald of the People, Harbringer of the Star and Water, and Beacon of the Internal Flame.” You tell her in an over the top voice. “Did I miss something?”
  7211.  
  7212. “It's harbinger sweetie.” Ayn tells you, smirking at you.
  7213.  
  7214. “Fuck, I always say harbringer.” You tell her. “Completely forgot your middle name was Kerroi.”
  7215.  
  7216. “What's your middle name?” She asks, looking back towards the massive hovering contraption.
  7217.  
  7218. “Halifax. Same name as my grandpa. He was a teacher.” You tell her.
  7219.  
  7220. “I thought you said your grandpa was a veteran like you.” She replies, opening the door.
  7221.  
  7222. “Oh, I couldn't do that to you. Here, let me hold it.” You say, taking the door from her.
  7223.  
  7224. “Oh, uh, thanks?” She says, giving you an odd look.
  7225.  
  7226. “Shit, I just did something rude, didn't I?” You ask.
  7227.  
  7228. “No, I've just never had someone take the door for me.” She says, looking off to the side.
  7229.  
  7230. “Ayn...” You say, giving her a look.
  7231.  
  7232. “Okay, it might be a little rude.” She tells you.
  7233.  
  7234. “Jesus, I'm sorry.” You tell her. “It's just really bad manners to let a lady hold the door. As you said, you're a lady and not a girl.”
  7235.  
  7236. “I did say that, didn't I?” She asks.
  7237.  
  7238. “Can you two quit talking? It's fucking hot out here.” Vikna says. “I swear to god if I ever have to come back here it will be too soon.”
  7239.  
  7240.     You wave Ayn in and she smiles, stepping inside. Vikna was not as pleasant, appearing to be in another one of her moods. She gets inside and you step in, electing to sit next to Vikna. She seems pleased by this, until Ayn decides to scoot both of you over and sit on your right. Vikna gives her a mean look and Ayn puts a finger on her nose.
  7241.  
  7242. “If you guys are going to do this, I'm sitting by the driver.” You tell them.
  7243.  
  7244.     Ayn removes her finger from Vikna and she sticks her tongue out, blowing a raspberry. Ayn sighs, looking off to the side as the limo begins moving.
  7245.  
  7246. Chapter 6: Always Faithful
  7247.  
  7248.     You're sitting in the middle of a store that looks way too old to be on a street as high tech as this. It was a drug store ran by an old looking rat. Friendly guy who pointed a gun at you when you entered. Nearly made you shit yourself. When you explained you were just here to buy cigars, he relaxed and put the weapon away. Told you that there were riots last night, not that you could tell by the state of the street. You put the credit card up to the reader and it draws the money.
  7249.  
  7250. “Wait, this says Ayn Miyur on it. You're not the princess.” He says.
  7251.  
  7252. “I'm a friend of hers. She's out shopping with one of her friends.” You tell him, taking out 2 cigars. “You smoke?”
  7253.  
  7254. “No.” He tells you. “It's terrible for you.”
  7255.  
  7256. “Neither did I before I came here.” You tell him. “Name's Jack, what's yours?”
  7257.  
  7258. “I am Sentil Ramakalao. Resident business rat, at your service.” He tells you.
  7259.  
  7260. “Nice name. You know a place where I can acquire some firearms that aren't made of wood?” You ask, shaking the rifle on your back a bit.
  7261.  
  7262. “That is a gun?” He asks, reaching under the counter.
  7263.  
  7264. “I'm a Marine, I need my rifle to keep me safe. Especially since you mentioned the riots.” You tell him. “I won't take it out.”
  7265.  
  7266.     He relaxes and you take out a Zippo, flicking it open and sticking a cigar in your mouth. You grab the credit card and stuff it in your pocket, walking back towards the door. You exit the shop, watching as the door slides open to reveal a scarcely populated street. You smile at the emptiness, meaning you won't have to worry about Ayn getting mobbed. A jackal sees you as you light up your cigar, leaning against the drug store.
  7267.  
  7268. “Hey, you're that human from Katric, aren't you?” She asks.
  7269.  
  7270. “Who's asking?” You ask suspiciously.
  7271.  
  7272. “A grateful citizen.” She tells you. “We've been living off of 100 credits a month and now we can go back to our small house and live our lives in peace.”
  7273.  
  7274. “Well, your princess did quite a bit of the work. I didn't do much to help her.” You lie.
  7275.  
  7276. “Ah, I see. Please give her my thanks when you see her.” She says, walking back the way she came.
  7277.  
  7278.     You nod and look back across the street, seeing a combination bar and strip club across the way. You're tired of being the hero, that's not who you are. You're just a soldier doing your job. Men exit the bar across the way and you hear loud electronic music mixed with whooping and cheering come from inside. At least Ayn was having fun. Just as you think that, 2 more guys get thrown out of the bar by the body guards.
  7279.  
  7280. “No touching the dancers!” They yell.
  7281.  
  7282. “Fuck you!” The 2 cheetahs yell in unison.
  7283.  
  7284.     You chuckle and take a drag of your cigar, coughing a bit as you exhale. Fucking kids don't know how to keep their hands to themselves. They begin grumbling and cross the street, passing you by as they enter the drug store. You hear yelling come from inside and groan, drawing your pistol and entering the double sliding doors again. You see one of the cheetahs pointing a gun at the cashier and walk up behind him.
  7285.  
  7286. “Don't turn around or I'll kill you.” You tell him.
  7287.  
  7288. “W-what?” He asks, beginning to turn around.
  7289.  
  7290. “I said don't turn around.” You tell him, pressing the gun against his head.
  7291.  
  7292. “H-hey man, what do you want with me? I don't got no money on me.” He tells you, the other cheetah having bolted.
  7293.  
  7294. “Drop your gun and leave this town.” You tell him.
  7295.  
  7296. “W-what? I live here.” He tells you.
  7297.  
  7298. “Not anymore you don't. Hit the road Joe.” You tell him. “Drop the weapon.”
  7299.  
  7300.     You chomp down on the cigar, getting annoyed with his unintentional noncompliance. He drops the gun and you turn him around, pushing him towards the door before it opens automatically. He rushes off down the road, not even looking back as he's gone like a shot. You turn back into the shop and crouch on the ground, picking up the weapon and looking it over. Same model as Viknas pistol, in fact, it IS her pistol. You put it in your pocket and give the shop keep a quick salute, having not dropped your cigar the entire time.
  7301.  
  7302. 2 hours later
  7303.  
  7304.     You finally finish the cigar, tossing it on the ground and stomping it out before spitting out the tobacco. Ayn and Vikna exit the bar, Vikna looking around frantically for something.
  7305.  
  7306. “That fucking bastard stole my gun and ran!” She yells. “That was my dad's!”
  7307.  
  7308.     You cross the street, taking her gun from your pocket as you do. When they both see you, Viknas eyes go wide when she sees the gun.
  7309.  
  7310. “Where?!” She asks.
  7311.  
  7312. “Found it on some bastard who tried to rob a drug store.” You tell her, handing her the weapon. “Shot off like a rocket when I told him to fuck off.”
  7313.  
  7314. “Well...thanks.” She says. “I appreciate it.”
  7315.  
  7316. “It was nothing.” You tell her. “Speaking of thanks, Ayn, some lady told me to give you her thanks for freeing her from the oppression of taxes.”
  7317.  
  7318. “That's nice. Did you tell her you did most of the work?” She asks.
  7319.  
  7320. “I told her you did. I'm no hero and I don't want to be celebrated as one.” You tell her.
  7321.  
  7322. “Right...” Ayn says, opening the door.
  7323.  
  7324.     You get inside and watch as Vikna takes a seat next to you, Ayn sitting to your right before the door closes automatically.
  7325.  
  7326. “You missed a hell of a show.” She tells you. “Everyone loves it when I come to town. Even tried my hand at singing and...well...let's just say it wasn't very good.”
  7327.  
  7328. “She can't sing. Please don't make me listen to it again.” Vikna says, laying back in the seat.
  7329.  
  7330. “I've heard you sing in the shower sweetie. I think you would've been a much better partner than miss cold blooded here.” Ayn says, thumbing towards Vikna.
  7331.  
  7332. “Public boners aren't really my thing.” You tell her. “I'd love to see you perform live, but I don't think anyone would miss the bulge-”
  7333.  
  7334. “STOP!” Vikna yells. “Stop talking about your dick like that!”
  7335.  
  7336.     You shake your head and lay back. You had transferred a couple of songs to your ear piece from your tablet. You might try and sing a couple on the way to the spaceport Vikna landed at.
  7337.  
  7338. 3 hours later
  7339.  
  7340.     You're strapped into the seat nearest to the cockpit, hearing Vikna get an earful from who you can only assume is one of her crew. You've already made it into orbit and Vikna is waiting for the orbit to complete before going into FTL. She's been experiencing glitches in the navigation software the entire ride up, due to her going through a nebula created by a recent supernova. You asked her why she thought that was a good idea and she didn't answer.
  7341.  
  7342. “Alright, we're going into FTL in 3...2...1...wait, what the fuck?” She asks.
  7343.  
  7344.     You feel the craft lurch and hear Vikna frantically pushing buttons.
  7345.  
  7346. “Uh, that's not good.” She says.
  7347.  
  7348. “What?” You ask, unbuckling yourself.
  7349.  
  7350. “We're on a course for Vex.” She tells you. “I can't stop the shuttle.”
  7351.  
  7352. “Can you contact anyone?” You ask.
  7353.  
  7354. “No.” She replies. “Nebula dust is blocking coms again.”
  7355.  
  7356. “Well, we should land and try to clean the shuttle. We need to get back to secure Katric.” You tell her.
  7357.  
  7358.     You get up and walk over to the cabin, seeing the shuttle exit FTL and reveal a planet that looked remarkably similar to Earth. Your coms immediately pick up radio chatter.
  7359.  
  7360. “Contacts front! Lance corporal, keep that fifty firing!” A man yells.
  7361.  
  7362. “Lance corporal?” You ask.
  7363.  
  7364. “I got more men coming in to the right! How's ammo looking?!” Another man asks.
  7365.  
  7366. “400 rounds over here!” Yet another man yells.
  7367.  
  7368. “Those are humans!” You yell. “Take us next to that signal!”
  7369.  
  7370. “WHAT?!” Vikna asks. “We're cleaning the ship off and leaving!”
  7371.  
  7372. “I am not leaving men to their death!” You yell, getting on the radio. “Who the hell is this? What's your position soldiers?”
  7373.  
  7374. “Holy shit, we got a new radio contact! Identify yourself!” He yells, more gunfire coming in.
  7375.  
  7376. “Staff Sergeant Haigs of the United States Marine Corps. Who's the officer in charge?” You ask.
  7377.  
  7378. “Holy shit we got an NCO! We're saved!” They yell. “He'll know what to do!”
  7379.  
  7380.     You get off coms and walk up to Vikna, gritting your teeth.
  7381.  
  7382. “Take us the fuck down or I'll do it myself.” You tell her. “Don't make me ask again.”
  7383.  
  7384. “Fine. If this shuttle gets damaged, we're fucking stranded.” She tells you.
  7385.  
  7386. 30 minutes later
  7387.  
  7388.     The shuttle hatch opens and you clear the area around the rear of it, waving Vikna out. She gave you a portable radio that had the encryption codes on it. The odd thing was, half the radios didn't use encryption. You get on coms and press the push to talk button.
  7389.  
  7390. “Where are you?” You ask. “We hear gunfire but we need to know where you're shooting.”
  7391.  
  7392. “We're triangulating your signal right now. Got it! We're about a mile west of your position!” One of the unencrypted radios tells you. “Hurry sarge!”
  7393.  
  7394.     You take out your compass and point yourself west, beginning to jog towards the target. Vikna was hot on your tail, a pistol in one hand and her hat in another. It kept falling off when she ran, so she elected to keep it in her left hand. You both break out into a sprint as you hear explosions go off, seeing men in the distance.
  7395.  
  7396. “Closing on your rear Alpha. Watch your fire.” You tell them.
  7397.  
  7398.     You see one turn around and wave you over as you take out your M21. When you get within 25 yards, you stop dead in your tracks and just stare. Soldiers from all different eras are sitting in front of you, all of them enlisted men. Soldiers from the Civil War, World War one and two, Korea, Vietnam, and even gulf war. There was exactly one modern soldier there and he was Army wearing UCP. You rush up to their position and hit the dirt behind the raised piece of land.
  7399.  
  7400. “STATUS!” You shout over the gun fire.
  7401.  
  7402. “We don't know what the fuck is going on! Our Humvee was teleported through a vortex and we ended up here!” The UCP adorned soldier tells you. “We're all kinds of fucked sarge!”
  7403.  
  7404. “My jeep came through and we've been pinned here for a while too!” The Army boot from WWII pipes up. “We're not able to make an effective resistance because none of us know what the fuck to do!”
  7405.  
  7406. “Who's the next in command?!” You ask.
  7407.  
  7408. “You are Sergeant!” The UCP soldier tells you.
  7409.  
  7410. “Who was in charge before we got here?!” You ask, clarifying your previous question.
  7411.  
  7412. “That would be lance corporal Smith over there! Our Humvee gunner!” He tells you. “He doesn't know what the hell to do either!”
  7413.  
  7414. “Fuck, Vikna, you got any ideas?” You ask.
  7415.  
  7416. “N-no! I'm not infantry, I do ship on ship combat!” She tells you.
  7417.  
  7418. “Why the hell are Marines paired up with Army?” You ask. “What the hell happened?”
  7419.  
  7420.     A grenade lands next to you with a thud and your eyes go wide, taking it in your hand and chucking it back as hard as you can. The grenade explodes just as it crests over the burm. You hear the M2 thumping away as another weapon you don't recognize fires along with it.
  7421.  
  7422. “Right now isn't the best time Sergeant!” He tells you. “Is there any way we can get the hell out of here?!”
  7423.  
  7424. “How many are we up against soldier?!” You ask, inching up the burm.
  7425.  
  7426. “A platoon sized element moving at us from the west! We gotta move before we get fucked!” He tells you.
  7427.  
  7428.     You get to the crest of the burm and take up a shooting position, seeing a bunch of irregulars bearing down on everyone.
  7429.  
  7430. “GET YOUR ASSES UP HERE AND OPEN FIRE!” You shout. “OPEN FIRE!”
  7431.  
  7432.     The entire squad sized element moves up the burm and begins opening fire with rifles of varying types and actions. A musket type, a Springfield, an M1, an M14, and a few M16s from various eras. You all fire and begin cutting into the enemy as their shots fall short or go long. Lasers impact the dirt in front of you and you curse under your breath.
  7433.  
  7434. “FOCUS THOSE LASERS!” You shout. “THE GLOWING GUNS!”
  7435.  
  7436.     The Civil war Marine gets the first laser rifle man while the WWI soldier gets the other. The irregulars halt their advance, having not expected a coordinated resistance from so few men. Fire continues to pour in from the tree line in front of you, but you're laying it on thick yourself. Your M21 is picking off targets left and right as if it was aiming itself. All that time in VR really was worth it. You end up dry and get below the burm.
  7437.  
  7438. “RELOADING!” You yell.
  7439.  
  7440. “COVERING!” The UCP soldier replies.
  7441.  
  7442.     You rack a new magazine in and stuff the used one inside the ammo pouch, crawling your way back up before chambering a round. You continue to pick off more targets as the wall of accurate fire whittles away more and more combatants. The fire begins to thin before eventually stopping, the men who were left from the platoon beginning to retreat. This allows everyone to breathe for a second.
  7443.  
  7444. “Everyone get to your vehicles! We're withdrawing and moving to the shuttle!” You tell them.
  7445.  
  7446. “Shuttle?” UCP asks.
  7447.  
  7448. “You heard me. Mount up!” You tell him.
  7449.  
  7450. 15 minutes later
  7451.  
  7452.     You all make it back to the shuttle and dismount the vehicles, waving everyone inside the ship.
  7453.  
  7454. “GET IN THE SPACE SHIP! GO GO GO!” You tell them, waving them all in.
  7455.  
  7456.     Everyone rushes inside the open back of the shuttle, filling up the seats slowly before everyone is inside. You cover the driver of the jeep and Humvee as they drive into the back of the shuttle before Vikna rushes inside. You get inside the shuttle and hit the close button on the door, looking out as the door closes.
  7457.  
  7458. “Everyone's in! Punch it!” You yell.
  7459.  
  7460. “I'm on it!” She yells.
  7461.  
  7462.     The ship lurches as the Lance corporal exits the Humvee, watching out the window as the planet retreats from away from all of you.
  7463.  
  7464. “Holy shit, are we in a plane?” He asks.
  7465.  
  7466. “Even better Terminal Lance.” You tell him. “It's a space ship.”
  7467.  
  7468.     The Civil War Marine looks out the window and is in awe as the sky slowly darkens into a black cloud with stars marking the sky. The Marine from World War one looks back at you and chuckles.
  7469.  
  7470. “We in some kind'a flyin' machine?” He asks, having been too preoccupied to hear you say it was a space ship.
  7471.  
  7472. “We're in space Marine. Outer space.” You tell him.
  7473.  
  7474. “Jesus H. Christ we're in space like John Glenn.” One of the Vietnam soldiers says. “I feel like an astronaut.”
  7475.  
  7476. “We ready for the FTL jump back to Katric?” You ask Vikna.
  7477.  
  7478. “Yeah, I finally got the shit cleaned off the shuttle. It's gonna take us about an hour to get back to my ship though. Have to fly around the supernova.” She replies.
  7479.  
  7480. “Is she a fucking commie?” The Korean war Marine asks.
  7481.  
  7482. “No, she's a space cat from planet space Russia. They're good people.” You tell him. “No communism here.”
  7483.  
  7484. “So communism is gone?” He asks.
  7485.  
  7486. “Pretty much.” You tell him. “Alright guys, sound off. Need a name, rank, age, and year you came from.”
  7487.  
  7488. “Parker Adrian, Private, 18, 1864.” He tells you. “Union Marine at your service Sergeant.”
  7489.  
  7490. “Lewis Downes, Private First Class, 21, 1918.” The WWI Marine tells you. “US Marine at your service. Oorah Sergeant.”
  7491.  
  7492. “Daniel Argus, Private First Class, 18, 1951.” The Korean war Marine says. “I'm here for you Staff Sergeant.”
  7493.  
  7494. “Sam Lyle, Private, 18 if you're asking professionally, 17 if you're asking a friend. 1970.” One of the Vietnam soldiers tells you. “Ready to git some commies.”
  7495.  
  7496. “Dave Peterson, Private First Class, 19, 1945.” The WWII Marine tells you. “From Iwo Jima to Okinawa, I was there, sarn't.”
  7497.  
  7498. “Keith Daniels, Private First Class, 23, 1972.” The Vietnam Marine says. “Hope you don't NJP me too, already cost me Lance Corporal.”
  7499.  
  7500. “Seth Delmonico, Private First Class, 18, 1991.” He tells you. “Was steaming through Iraq when I saw a sort of disk swallow my ass up. Glad you came for us Staff Sergeant.”
  7501.  
  7502. “Danny Senovo, Private First Class, 20, 1968.” The other Vietnam Marine tells you. “Ready to fuck up some space gooks sarn't.”
  7503.  
  7504. “Peter Decker, Lance Corporal, 21, 2003.” The Lance Corporal tells you. “1st Marines sir, found this fucker sitting on the side of the road and tried to help, but the portal sucked our asses through.”
  7505.  
  7506. “Ben Darsen, Private, 20, 2009.” The UCP soldier tells you. “Don't even know how I ended up in Baghdad.”
  7507.  
  7508. “Senk Graham, Private First Class, 19, 2005.” A Marine tells you. “Oorah, let's get some sarn't.”
  7509.  
  7510. “Chuck Euler, Private, 17, 1945.” An Airborne soldier tells you. “My jeep got pulled through a portal in the armor column. Some action comics shit, sarn't.”
  7511.  
  7512. “Jackson Haigs, Staff Sergeant, 27, 2023.” You tell them. “Came in through a portal to save my friends. The woman in the cockpit is Kavkor, er, Colonel Vikna Ramenskaya, 24. She's the Captain of the vessel we're steaming towards.”
  7513.  
  7514. “Holy shit, 2023?” Seth asks. “They got flying cars yet?”
  7515.  
  7516. “No, just really nice cars with GPS and touch screens.” You tell him. “They have flying cars here though.”
  7517.  
  7518. “They technically hover.” Vikna tells you from the cockpit.
  7519.  
  7520. “Focus on flying, will you? Don't need you flying us into a black hole or some shit.” You tell her.
  7521.  
  7522. “I'm very sorry about asking this, but what in the world is a 'car'?” Parker asks.
  7523.  
  7524. “A horseless carriage.” You tell him. “An engine that runs off a derivative of Kerosene. That stuff you put in your lamps. Really fast too.”
  7525.  
  7526. “Amazing. Is that what these things are?” He asks, pointing to the jeep and Humvee. “I just thought they were magic.”
  7527.  
  7528. “Well when you see what it looks like inside Viknas ship, you'll have a fit.” You tell him. “Don't hold your breath. That goes for all of you. If the robots want to fuck you, let them. You've probably all had a rough day. Don't mind the fur.”
  7529.  
  7530. “Isn't this bestiality?” Daniel asks.
  7531.  
  7532. “Sorry, I forget that not everyone likes furry women.” You reply. “Alright, if you got any food, eat it now. I don't know what the situation is back at the ship and I don't need you all fighting on empty stomachs. Share MREs with the old guys if you can spare them.”
  7533.  
  7534. 1 hour later
  7535.  
  7536. “Alright, check your weapons and ammo, we don't know what's waiting for us on the other side!” You yell out, checking and seeing you had 3 mags left for your M21.
  7537.  
  7538.     Everyone says they're good in one form or another and you walk up to the cockpit, seeing the shuttle begin to slow down.
  7539.  
  7540. “Alright, we're here. Just gotta slow down and...” Vikna says before she's met with something that makes her stop in her tracks. “Oh god...”
  7541.  
  7542.     Just as you drop out of FTL, you see Viknas ship get destroyed, blowing into 5 distinct pieces as a shell passes straight through a structural weak spot.
  7543.  
  7544. “-Five nine, we have left the ship! All Apex units are aboard and safe, returning to the surface.” Fluff says over coms. “We have a ship dropping out of FTL.”
  7545.  
  7546. “Fluff, what the fuck happened?” You ask, getting on coms.
  7547.  
  7548. “Where the hell have you been?!” He asks angrily. “We waited 2 days for you!”
  7549.  
  7550. “I was stuck dealing with a problem!” You tell him.
  7551.  
  7552. “Well we just got through the last gap in their defenses, so you're fucked if you try and come back down the way we did. The Tower has closed itself off as well, nobody in or out.” He says.
  7553.  
  7554. “Well, we'll figure something. We always do.” You tell him. “Haigs out.”
  7555.  
  7556.     You get off the radio and see Vikna looking back at you with hatred in her eye.
  7557.  
  7558. “If we get out of this, I never want to see you again.” She tells you. “Ever.”
  7559.  
  7560.     You nod, understanding that she would never want to see you again. This was your fault after all. You point to a ship over there and she nods, understanding what you wanted to do. You walk back into the shuttle's passenger compartment and whistle, getting everyone's attention.
  7561.  
  7562. “Marines, soldiers, we're going to be doing what we were trained for back in the old days of the revolution. We're boarding a ship.” You tell them. “I don't know how many people in there are just captured civilians and crew members, so only fire on anyone I fire on. It's pretty safe to say I know who to shoot.”
  7563.  
  7564. “Do we have a plan of attack Sarge?” Seth asks.
  7565.  
  7566. “No.” You reply solemnly. “We'll be playing this by ear. Adrian, are you going to be okay with that rifle of yours?”
  7567.  
  7568. “Sergeant, I don't know if I could conserve ammo if I was given one of your fancy repeaters.” He tells you.
  7569.  
  7570.     You take your M16 off your back and affix the bayonet, handing him the rifle and magazine bandoleer. He takes the rifle in his hand, looking it over as he feels the hand guard.
  7571.  
  7572. “It feels like a toy.” He tells you.
  7573.  
  7574.     Sam chuckles at that, holding his own M16 close to him.
  7575.  
  7576. “Sam, since you think it's so funny, you can teach him how to work it.” You tell him.
  7577.  
  7578. “Fuuuck.” He groans. “Fine.”
  7579.  
  7580.     You relieve the Marine of his single shot rifle, ammo, and bayonet, slinging them over your back as you sit back on one of the seats. You begin humming a tune to yourself that you forgot the name of. Argus takes a seat by you, setting his Garand between his legs.
  7581.  
  7582. “Minstrel boy?” He asks.
  7583.  
  7584. “Yeah, how'd you know?” You ask.
  7585.  
  7586. “I'm Irish. We used to sing it in the company all the time.” He tells you. “So, we're boarding another space ship?”
  7587.  
  7588. “Yup.” You say.
  7589.  
  7590. “Got a plan?” He asks.
  7591.  
  7592. “Does killing the enemy count?” You ask in return.
  7593.  
  7594. “So we're just going to storm the ship and hope we don't die?” He asks back.
  7595.  
  7596. “If you have a better plan Private, I'm all ears.” You reply.
  7597.  
  7598. “Christ, you okay man?” He asks.
  7599.  
  7600. “No.” You reply simply.
  7601.  
  7602. “What's wrong?” He asks.
  7603.  
  7604. “I'm fighting an insurgency against magical fucking animals that walk on two legs, fuck like there's no tomorrow, are corrupt as a mother fucker, and hate anything that runs on fucking electricity!” You shout, taking your helmet off and throwing it down. “I feel like I've been doing this alone. Nobody in this fucking galaxy can fight a ground war worth a damn and I'm the only one who seems competent enough to not just throw people at the problem and hope it goes away. I'm not an officer, I'm an NCO. Not even a good one either.”
  7605.  
  7606. “Does anybody here know how to fight on land?” He asks.
  7607.  
  7608. “NO!” You shout. “You know why? Because everyone gets so comfy in their little ships, they don't ever want to touch the ground after they go up. Nobody wants to ever ENFORCE ANY GROUND THEY'VE GAINED!”
  7609.  
  7610. “Jesus, is this guy supposed to be our savior?” Sam asks as he shows Parker the selector switch.
  7611.  
  7612. “Quiet Sam.” Argus tells him. “This man has obviously been through a lot.”
  7613.  
  7614. “We're coming up on the ship now!” Vikna yells. “Nobody even hailed us, do they know we're not supposed to be here?”
  7615.  
  7616. “Alright Marines! The hall should be big enough to fit the Humvee and jeep. So mount up and follow me!” You tell them.
  7617.  
  7618. “Sarn't, if this is an insurgency, are the civilians going to be targets?” Ben asks.
  7619.  
  7620. “They have proven to be extremely cooperative compared to the hadjis we're used to. Just be on the look out for anything suspicious.” You tell them.
  7621.  
  7622.     The shuttle door opens and you give the okay to back up, watching as everyone backs out of the shuttle. Peter turns his gun around and immediately begins tracking a target.
  7623.  
  7624. Vikna
  7625.  
  7626. 2 hours later
  7627.  
  7628.     You've been hovering around outside of the ship for a while now, having no guns pointed even remotely in your direction. You even tempted fate by standing in front of the main turret of the battle cruiser. It didn't fire, just like you knew it wouldn't. You look back over to the section of your ship that was careening out into space. This was all his fault, tying up your time and not allowing you to go back to your ship. He nearly killed ARA! Your anthroid and best friend!
  7629.  
  7630.     You make your way up to the bridge and take out some optical amplifiers, peering inside and turning on the nanometer scanners. The main 5 AI were all laid out on the floor, in a sort of sleeping posture as you had expected. However, there was nobody in the bridge, which was strange. Just as you were about to look away, the door opens to the bridge and you see a knife attached to the end of a gun as one of the humans clears the bridge. He begins speaking and the optical amplifier translates.
  7631.  
  7632. “Bridge clear.” It says.
  7633.  
  7634.     Another one walks into the room and waves everyone inside. Jack comes in next and the rest of the soldiers follow. Jack spots you and waves, prompting you to turn off and get away from the bridge. He calls you on your earphone, which you immediately decline. You don't even want to talk with him any more. He's such a scum bag and a bastard and you hated him so much! He then manages to reach you on direct coms, hailing you.
  7635.  
  7636. “What?” You ask, annoyed he didn't take the hint.
  7637.  
  7638. “I need the activation codes for the Kaltag AI. Nobody is on board except the civilians in the cargo bay.” He tells you.
  7639.  
  7640. “Fine, sending the codes now. Bye.” You say, turning off the transmission. “Asshole.”
  7641.  
  7642.     He tries to hail you again, but you decline and block coms with him. If he gets in trouble, he can get fucked. You're done caring about him.
  7643.  
  7644. Jack
  7645.  
  7646.     You try and hail Vikna again, but the communications show up as blocked. Guess that settles it.
  7647.  
  7648. “Ben, go see if you can get some more ammo from the quarter master. I'm gonna wake up our robotic friends.” You tell him, walking up to the 'sleeping' anthroids.
  7649.  
  7650.     You link your earphone up to their signatures and input the activation codes, watching as they power on for the first time in weeks. That's when you notice they're all Kleyka.
  7651.  
  7652. “DEMONS!” Parker yells, leveling his rifle.
  7653.  
  7654. “Holy shit yer right!” Lewis yells as well.
  7655.  
  7656. “Lower your weapons Marines!” You yell. “They're just robots.”
  7657.  
  7658. “New commander accepted, welcome aboard~.” The ARA unit tells you.
  7659.  
  7660.     She walks towards you, swaying her hips and bringing her tail from side to side. When she reaches you, she grasps the back of your head and pulls her lips to yours, giving you a kiss before pulling back.
  7661.  
  7662. “Excuse me, what the fuck was that?” You ask.
  7663.  
  7664. “Greeting protocols set in place by my previous commander~.” She tells you. “I can do other things as well, if you know what I mean~.”
  7665.  
  7666. “Are you actually an ARA unit?” You ask.
  7667.  
  7668. “I'm offended, sir. Of course I'm an ARA unit.” She says. “That doesn't mean I can't be...multipurpose~.”
  7669.  
  7670. “What the hell was the previous Captain like?” Sam asks.
  7671.  
  7672. “Some kind of freak, that's what he was.” You say. “Everyone, to your stations! Marines, take a seat wherever and let the ladies work. They seem so eager to please, let them please me by doing their work-”
  7673.  
  7674.     Before you can finish your sentence, you feel the ship shake and shudder as it lurches forward. You're thrown to the floor and scramble up, looking around the massive bridge.
  7675.  
  7676. “ZTA, status report!” You yell.
  7677.  
  7678. “We've taken a hit from a friendly vessel. Belay that, it's an enemy vessel!” She replies. “They know we've been retaken!”
  7679.  
  7680. “Marines! Stand by to repel boarders!” You shout. “VST, get those big guns firing! TDK, get us the fuck out of here!”
  7681.  
  7682. “Sir, there's a problem with the big guns! Nobody is loading them!” VST replies. “What do we do?!”
  7683.  
  7684. “Do we have anyone or anything that can load the guns?!” You ask.
  7685.  
  7686. “No! All the civilians are too frightened and none of the anthroids have the strength to lift the shells!” She replies, getting flustered. “We can't fire those guns unless someone loads them!”
  7687.  
  7688. “How heavy are the shells?” You ask.
  7689.  
  7690. “W-what? You don't have the strength to do it alone!” She replies anxiously. “You'll hurt yourself!”
  7691.  
  7692. “Who said I was alone?” You ask, looking back at the Marines. “Congratulations Marines, we're Navy now.”
  7693.  
  7694.     All of them groan and you walk up to Danny, patting him on the back.
  7695.  
  7696. “You're going to help me load these shells that weigh how much?” You ask, looking at VST.
  7697.  
  7698. “400 pounds!” She yells. “Jesus Christ, you're going to fucking die!”
  7699.  
  7700. “So be it!” You yell. “Evacuate the civilians, we'll draw fire for the escape pods.”
  7701.  
  7702. “No sarn't, I'll go with Danny boy.” Sam tells you. “You stay here and command the ship, 'sir'.”
  7703.  
  7704. “Alright, get moving! ZTA, guide them!” You yell. “TDK, hand me the stick!”
  7705.  
  7706.     You get a digital display with a tiny wheel, which you expand into something more conducive of a ship this size. You take another shot, the ship shaking as you sit down in the Captain's chair.
  7707.  
  7708. “Turning starboard, 150 degrees! Keep the ship angled steady to bounce shells! ZTA, get the shields up!” You yell, turning the wheel over and feeling it begin to turn. “Hold onto your lunches sailors!”
  7709.  
  7710.     The ship begins to groan as you push it to the limit. 10 minutes of getting battered go by without a single fucking shot being fired by VST.
  7711.  
  7712. “Engage with secondaries until the primaries are loaded! Target anything declared hostile!” You yell. “Engage, engage!”
  7713.  
  7714. “Firing secondaries!” VST informs you.
  7715.  
  7716. “TDK, keep the ship angled to bounce incoming shots! 30 degrees starboard side!” You tell her.
  7717.  
  7718. “Sarn't! We've loaded the shells in! How much powder?” A message asks over the radio.
  7719.  
  7720. “Full load! 6 bags!” You yell. “Waste the mother fuckers!”
  7721.  
  7722. “Aye aye skipper!” They tell you. “Charges up on both guns!”
  7723.  
  7724. “FIRE MAIN BATTERY!” You shout.
  7725.  
  7726. “Firing!” VST yells.
  7727.  
  7728.     The ship shakes as you watch 2 massive shots streak towards the ship engaging you. They slam into the front of the ship, penetrating the bow as a shot streaks in towards you. It shakes the ship and bounces off the side, just as you expected.
  7729.  
  7730. “Shot bounced!” SRK tells you. “Enemy ship is critically damaged, bridge is destroyed!”
  7731.  
  7732. “Load 2 rounds of armor piercing!” You yell into the radios. “Double time Marines!”
  7733.  
  7734. “Aye skipper!” They tell you.
  7735.  
  7736. Vikna
  7737.  
  7738.     You were about to reenter the atmosphere when you looked behind you and saw the ship turning. Actually turning! They commandeered a battle cruiser! The main guns then begin turning to engage another battle cruiser, pelting Jacks with high explosive shells. If he turns the ship straight towards the enemy, the bridge is vulnerable to attack. Then you see life pods begin ejecting from the sides, heading planet side as you see the vessel stop at a 30 degree angle. He's angling the armor? No way, it's just a fluke. He's too stupid to think of something like that.
  7739.  
  7740.     Fuck this, you're opening a passive com link.
  7741.  
  7742. “Engage with secondaries until the primaries are loaded! Target anything declared hostile!” He yells. “Engage, engage!”
  7743.  
  7744. “Firing secondaries.” An anthroid, likely a VST unit, tells him.
  7745.  
  7746. “TDK, keep the ship angled to bounce incoming shots! 30 degrees starboard side!” He tells her.
  7747.  
  7748. “Sarn't! We've loaded the shells in! How much powder?” One of the humans asks.
  7749.  
  7750.     Powder? Does he mean the propellant?
  7751.  
  7752. “Full load! 6 bags!” He yells. “Waste the mother fuckers!”
  7753.  
  7754.     6 BAGS?! He'll damage the guns with that much propellant!
  7755.  
  7756. “Aye aye skipper!” They tell him. “Charges up on both guns!”
  7757.  
  7758. “FIRE MAIN BATTERIES!” He screams into the radio.
  7759.  
  7760. “Firing!” VST yells.
  7761.  
  7762.     A massive fireball erupts from the muzzle of both guns, throwing a projectile out of the barrel and into space. It's heading straight for the other battle cruiser! Just as the shots hit the half way point, rail cannons from the newer battle cruiser fire at him, going straight for his angled side. They ricochet off, heading directly for your shuttle.
  7763.  
  7764. “OH SHIT!” You shout, maneuvering out of the way as the magnetic wake throws you around like a leaf in the wind.
  7765.  
  7766.     He just bounced a rail gun shot! How the hell does he know what to do?! He should be panicking right now!
  7767.  
  7768. “Shot bounced!” Another anthroid informs Jack. “Enemy ship is critically damaged, bridge is destroyed!”
  7769.  
  7770.     On the first salvo?! Lucky shot.
  7771.  
  7772. “Load 2 rounds of armor piercing!” He yells into the radios. “Double time Marines!”
  7773.  
  7774. “Aye skipper!” They tell him. “Jesus these shells are heavy!”
  7775.  
  7776.     These men are just hand loading 400 pounds shells into the breach? What are these men made of? Then, he does something you didn't expect. He starts fucking singing.
  7777.  
  7778. “The minstrel boy to the war is gone~
  7779. In the ranks of death you shall find him.” He sings.
  7780.  
  7781.     You cringe at it, he sounds like a fucking idiot.
  7782.  
  7783. “His father's sword, he hath girded on,
  7784. And his wild harp slung, behind him.”
  7785.  
  7786. “Land of song! Said the warrior bard!
  7787. Tho' all the world, betrays thee!” Another joins in.
  7788.  
  7789. “One sword, at least,
  7790. Thy rights, shall guard!
  7791. One faithful harp, shall praise thee!” Yet another chimes in.
  7792.  
  7793.     The crew begins humming what you assume is the tune to the song, which doesn't sound half bad. The guns fire again, slicing through the hull of the battle cruiser like it was butter. They continue to take fire from the ship, not wavering in the humming of the tune.
  7794.  
  7795. “The minstrel fell!
  7796. But the foreman's chains,
  7797. Could not bring this proud soul under!” Jack continues
  7798.  
  7799. “The harp he lov'd ne'er spoke again!
  7800. For he tore it's chords asunder!” The first man said in the same accent as Jacks.
  7801.  
  7802. “And said 'No chains shall sully thee, thou soul of love and bravery!'
  7803. Thy songs were made for the pure and free, and shall never sound in slavery!” Another yells.
  7804.  
  7805. “Kick their asses boys! Fire all weapons at will VST!” Jack yells.
  7806.  
  7807.     It seems that someone had loaded the rear battery as well, considering all of the main guns fired in a volley of fire. You look at the transmission status and see the entire song was public. He transmitted that all across the planet. You cringe a bit at that, but you couldn't cringe at their results. The enemy battle cruiser begins to vent fire and air, the engines being crippled by the volley and the frontal turret being destroyed by secondary fire.
  7808.  
  7809. “OORAH! GET SOME!” One of the men shouts. “GET SOME YOU FUCKING SPACE GOOKS!”
  7810.  
  7811.     Another volley fires from the front guns and exactly what you thought would happen, happens. The barrel of the guns banana out, leaving only the rear guns effective. Luckily, the supercharged shot is enough to destroy the ship. It blows to smithereens, parts of it smashing into Jacks cruiser and others smashing into other members of the blockade.
  7812.  
  7813. “Battle cruiser sunk!” Jack yells before going quiet again. “That's for my friend, you bastards. TDK, take us to the Tower space port.”
  7814.  
  7815. “You got it, sir.” She tells him. “Taking us in.”
  7816.  
  7817.     He thinks destroying a ship for you is going to make everything all better? Nope, not even slightly. You go back in for reentry, switching off coms as you make your decent.
  7818.  
  7819. 2 weeks later
  7820.  
  7821. Zofie
  7822.  
  7823.     You're getting worried about Jackson. He's been on a mission every single day ever since he brought back more humans and a war ship. You'd come to greet him every day after he came back, giving him a big smile and a friendly wave, but it was almost like he didn't see you. Every time he would turn to his room, tears would start to trickle down his face. Every single time.
  7824.  
  7825.     A few days ago, you tried stripping in front of him, ready to give your body to him again, but he just stared through you. Not at you, not past you, but through you. You tried again the next day and he dressed you rather forcefully, pushing you out the door before locking it behind him. He talks with nobody except another human and Nytro. You were hoping to get some answers out of your best friend since as far back as you can remember.
  7826.  
  7827. “Nytro, vats wrong with herr Jackson?” You ask.
  7828.  
  7829.     Nytro tenses up, looking off to the side and scratching behind his head.
  7830.  
  7831. “He...told me not to tell anyone.” Nytro replies.
  7832.  
  7833. “Why not?” You ask. “I'm worried about him. I want to know what's going on so I can help too!”
  7834.  
  7835. “Spots, this isn't something you can help with.” He tells you, putting a hand on your shoulder. “This is really deep stuff. He's broken.”
  7836.  
  7837. “If you tell me, I can try and fix him!” You say, giving him a smile. “If he's hurt, I can help-”
  7838.  
  7839. “He's broken mentally, cakes. There's nothing you could-”
  7840.  
  7841. “You don't know that!” You yell. “I-I care for herr Jackson. He was-”
  7842.  
  7843. “Your first time, yeah. I know how much he means to you, but you need to understand that there's nothing you can do.” He says.
  7844.  
  7845. “C-can you at least tell me why he's so sad? Why he pushes me away when I try to get close?” You ask. “A-at least tell me zat.”
  7846.  
  7847.     Nytro sighs shakily, rubbing the bridge of his nose. This was very much unlike him to not make jokes and try to make light of a situation. However, mister Jackson seems to have taken all the joking away from him.
  7848.  
  7849. “Jack doesn't want to get close to any of you girls right now. He's even keeping away from Red, and you know how much he likes spending time with her.” He begins to explain. “He only mentioned it once, but he's afraid he'll hurt the rest of you like he hurt Vikna. Told me he never was much for women anyways. Too scared something like this might happen.”
  7850.  
  7851. “How did he hurt Vikna?” You ask.
  7852.  
  7853. “He wouldn't tell me. Just said she didn't ever want to see him again.” He replies. “I tried asking Rei, but he wouldn't say anything. I think blue got to him before Jack could explain his side. I asked Warning what happened and, with a little persuasion, got her to tell me what happened. Basically, blue went off to go and find Jack and they got attacked a couple days after that. Rei was able to get all of them onto an escape pod in time, but I'm guessing blue blames him for the destruction of her ship.”
  7854.  
  7855. “Why did he leave?” You ask.
  7856.  
  7857. “Warning told me he had no choice in the matter. It was royal business. Neither blue nor Jack will talk about what happened there, but Jack said it's for different reasons. I'll ask the princess next time I see her.” He replies.
  7858.  
  7859. “That's not fair!” You yell. “How could Vikna do that to him?! Especially after all the things he's done for her. FOR US! Doesn't she understand that he needs her?! He needs all of us!”
  7860.  
  7861. “Zofie, please, calm down.” He tells you. “There's no use in getting upset.”
  7862.  
  7863.     He called you Zofie. He never calls you Zofie anymore. You immediately calm yourself, much to the relief of your dear friend.
  7864.  
  7865. “W-what about the look he gives me? It scares me when he does it.” You tell him.
  7866.  
  7867. “It's what he calls a thousand yard stare. He doesn't think of anything, doesn't look at anything, just stares.” He tells you, shivering a bit.
  7868.  
  7869. “What caused it? What did he do?” You ask.
  7870.  
  7871.     You feel the air in the room stand still, as if you had just asked to shoot your best friend. Nytro looks over at the wall, just shaking his head.
  7872.  
  7873. “Please, don't ask that question again spots. I don't want to repeat some of the stuff I've heard and seen.” He tells you. “You should get some sleep.”
  7874.  
  7875.     Nytro gets up and you reach for him, making him grimace at your touch. He hurries out of the room, leaving you alone with yourself and the holo-screen. No, you're not taking no for an answer again. Not this time. You get up in a huff, steeling yourself for what's to come. You were getting an answer out of Jackson whether he wanted to speak or not. That blue bitch be damned.
  7876.  
  7877. 10 minutes later
  7878.  
  7879.     You finally get the last bit of code right, smiling as you crack the door code. Guess all that time you spent with Nytro really paid off, even if it was a bit naughty. When the door opens, you see Jack staring at a holo-screen, half watching a video that was on the screen. You walk in and close the door behind you, walking in front of him. He seems to stare through you, as if you didn't exist.
  7880.  
  7881. “Jackson?” You ask. “Can you hear me?”
  7882.  
  7883.     He doesn't even reply, let alone acknowledge your existence. You grab his face, doing your level best to keep your claws at bay. You point his face towards you and he blinks a few times. His eyes go wide and you grabs your hands painfully. He throws you down on the floor, making you hit it with a thud. You're in a daze when he gets on top of you, a hand on your neck and one reaching for a knife. You begin to struggle, pushing him away as you begin shouting.
  7884.  
  7885. “Jackson! NEIN! HÖR AUF DAMIT!” You shout. “PLEASE STOP!”
  7886.  
  7887.     You continue to struggle as he brings the knife to your neck, his eyes not even focusing on you. He was operating on instinct. You had to snap him out of it! He leans in close to your face, face unchanging as he presses the knife down on your throat.
  7888.  
  7889. “STOP!” A voice shouts above you.
  7890.  
  7891.     A flurry of black and grey fur shoots over you and Jackson is nowhere to be seen. You look down and see Nytro get thrown to the ground by him. Nytro manages to kick him off and get back into a position above him.
  7892.  
  7893. “RUN SPOTS!” He yells.
  7894.  
  7895.     You were frozen in fear. Even if you could move, you wouldn't leave your friend. Not when this thing that is pretending to be herr Jackson is in the same room.
  7896.  
  7897. “Sergeant!” Another voice yells. “What the fuck are you doing?!”
  7898.  
  7899.     Jack freezes, knife to Nytro's throat as he blinks a few times. The knife falls from his hands as they begin to shake.
  7900.  
  7901. “A-Ark?” He asks.
  7902.  
  7903. “It's me buddy, it's all gonna be okay now.” He says, giving Jack a gentle smile uncharacteristic of him. “Just take those deep breaths we talked about.”
  7904.  
  7905. “Y-yeah, deep breaths.” Jack repeats, taking a couple. “D-did you get the two insurgents?”
  7906.  
  7907.     Jack looks around a bit before he sees you beginning to panic. He points to you, going for the knife again.
  7908.  
  7909. “THERE!” He yells. “IT'S...Zofie?”
  7910.  
  7911.     You can almost see the wave of realization slam into his face, as he looks back up at Nytro.
  7912.  
  7913. “No, please, tell me I didn't...” He says, dropping the knife on the floor. “P-please.”
  7914.  
  7915.     Nytro shakes his head and Jack slides out from under him. He gets up off the ground and looks behind you. You do the same and see the human he usually talks to standing in the doorway, gun slung over his shoulder. Jack walks over to the door, pushing past the human and breaking into a sprint down the hall.
  7916.  
  7917. “Jack, wait!” Nytro yells, running after him. “You need to calm down first! God dammit, GET BACK HERE!”
  7918.  
  7919.     The two of them run out of ear shot, leaving you and the other human laying and standing in the doorway respectively. That thing, the monster herr Jackson has become, it just tried to kill you.
  7920.  
  7921. “If only that blue cat hadn't told him to leave her alone. He probably would've been fine.” The man tells you. “She kinda broke him down. We've been going on patrols every day for the past few weeks doing nothing but clearing buildings. If I had to figure, I say we've cleared out at least a quarter of the entire city. A few of us are starting to break down, but he's been easing up when we told him.”
  7922.  
  7923.     You feel something inside you break as well, almost like a dough bubble popping, but with enough force to coat the entire oven with batter. You get off the floor, dusting yourself off and push past the man, storming out of the room. Vikna and you were going to have a little chat.
  7924.  
  7925. 10 minutes later
  7926.  
  7927.     You reach Viknas new room on the upper floors of the Tower, walking towards it and watching the door open. When it does, you see her lounging on a couch with a bag of chips in her arms. She notices you in the door and smiles.
  7928.  
  7929. “Hey Zofie. What's up?” She asks.
  7930.  
  7931.     Then she gets a better look at you and her ears fold back.
  7932.  
  7933. “You destroyed herr Jackson.” You tell him.
  7934.  
  7935. “I can't believe you still like that prick.” She tells you. “Especially after that stunt he pulled with-”
  7936.  
  7937. “YOU KNOW IT WASN'T HIS FAULT!” You scream in anger. “Ich sollte dich lebend enthäuten Du schmutzige Katze!”
  7938.  
  7939. “What is wrong with you?! I thought you could never get mad!” Vikna yells.
  7940.  
  7941. “Even someone like me has a limit.” You tell her. “When I reach mine, Du solltest beten, dass ich barmherzig bin.”
  7942.  
  7943. “Is that a threat?” Vikna asks, getting off the couch.
  7944.  
  7945. “It's a promise, katze.” You reply. “I'm going to tear your throat out kitty.”
  7946.  
  7947. “IT'S FELINE!” Vikna screams, charging you.
  7948.  
  7949.     You just remembered you don't know how to fight and Vikna is a trained soldier. Why didn't you think this through?!
  7950.  
  7951. “STOP!” A voice screams behind you.
  7952.  
  7953.     You turn around and see Jack towering above both of you, Nytro rushing down the hall after him. You turn back to Vikna and see her looking back at him with hatred in her eyes. What the hell was her problem?
  7954.  
  7955. “I told you I didn't want to see you again.” She tells him. “What the fuck are you doing here?”
  7956.  
  7957. “I told you not to hurt any of our friends.” He replies. “Come on Zofie, I have something to tell you.”
  7958.  
  7959. “But-”
  7960.  
  7961. “Don't try and fight her. She'll kill you.” Jack tells you. “You didn't think this through, did you?”
  7962.  
  7963. “W-well, you tried to...never mind.” You say, looking back at him. “What is it?”
  7964.  
  7965. “Let's leave first.” He tells you. “I don't want to cause any more trouble.”
  7966.  
  7967.     You nod and give Vikna a nasty look before turning back to Jack, giving him a sweet smile. His heart melts visibly as he pulls you close to him, rubbing your hair as you giggle profusely.
  7968.  
  7969. “You and I need to talk, blue.” Nytro says behind you, closing the door.
  7970.  
  7971. 1 hour later
  7972.  
  7973.     You're standing up, making a pie for herr Jackson when he comes up behind you, doing what you hope is human courtship. However, he just gives you a couple pats on the head and puts a hand on your shoulder, coming to your side.
  7974.  
  7975. “I'm sorry for doing what I did earlier. I was stuck in a loop and was trying to get out. I just-”
  7976.  
  7977. “Shh, it's okay. I understand.” You tell him.
  7978.  
  7979.     You really didn't understand, but hopefully you could put his mind at ease. You didn't need to be magical to know he was under a lot of stress. Maybe some good food might put him at ease.
  7980.  
  7981. “Whatcha making?” He asks.
  7982.  
  7983. “Blueberry pie from when you gave me those berries. They make excellent pie.” You reply.
  7984.  
  7985. “Those are still good?” He asks.
  7986.  
  7987. “Yeah, bio stabilization is basic stuff for cooks nowadays. I can tell you don't have it back where you are, considering you had a refrigerator full of ingredients. Nowadays it's just used for some meats and drinks.” You reply.
  7988.  
  7989. “Well, I'm not really a cook, so I wouldn't know anyway.” He says. “When you're done, come sit down. I have some memories playing on the TV.”
  7990.  
  7991. “TV? You mean the holo-screen?” You ask.
  7992.  
  7993. “I'm sorry, space TV.” He replies jokingly.
  7994.  
  7995.     The oven beeps a few times and you put on your oven mit, taking the pie out and letting it sit for a bit. You walk over to the couch and see many anthros surrounding the humans, dressed in uniforms. There were red spots in various places on their bodies, varying in size and severity. You then realize that these were bullet wounds.
  7996.  
  7997. “See that guy with half his guts hanging out?” Jack asks, smiling as he points to a very gruesome looking sight. “That was from Parker's rifle. Big rounds that look like slugs and blow you apart. It's really wicked.”
  7998.  
  7999.     You look back at him in disgust and his smile drops immediately, being replaced by a sulk.
  8000.  
  8001. “Right. I forget things that are funny to me aren't funny to everyone else.” He says, skipping past it. “Sorry.”
  8002.  
  8003.     You rub the back of his hand with your own and smile gently, hoping to lift his spirits as the images flash on the screen. The 'space TV', as Jack calls it, shows a group of civilians huddling in a corner as a weapon is pointed at them. He corrals them into a truck, slapping the side before the memory ends, making him sigh.
  8004.  
  8005. “Are you able to tell me what happened in Siania?” You ask. “Or is it too much?”
  8006.  
  8007. “Why would it be too much?” He asks. “We saved people and freed the queen.”
  8008.  
  8009. “Oh?” You ask.
  8010.  
  8011. “Here, let me put the memory up.” He says, scrolling through recent events.
  8012.  
  8013.     He puts the memory on screen, showing him rushing into what you assume is someone's room. You see the shape of princess Ayn on the screen with a gun pointed to her head. The screen seems to focus on the gun.
  8014.  
  8015. “W-what?!” The gunman asks.
  8016.  
  8017.     Time seems to slow as Jack puts the gun on target, firing 3 shots as ringing begins to dominate the speakers. He rushes up on the dog as he whines, making your tail fall to your side instinctively. Jack puts 4 more shots into the man, making the speakers ring even louder. The gunman's head was now a bloody mess, which made you cover your mouth in horror. The video pauses and skips forward, making you sigh with relief. It stops at a point where the vision was blurry, more than likely from tears in his eyes.
  8018.  
  8019. “Wait.” Ayn says. “Look at me.”
  8020.  
  8021.     He wipes his eyes and looks back at Ayn and you're taken aback. It seems Jack is too, as he drops his bag in surprise. You've never seen Ayn look so defeated and afraid. She was pleading with her eyes. She looks off to his left and he looks over to a definitely illegal brainwave manipulation device. Her eyes blink and she goes back to whatever state she was in before, giving him a disgusted look that made your heart sink.
  8022.  
  8023. “Ears.” He tells everyone. “Cover them.”
  8024.  
  8025.     He draws his pistol and Ayn says something, but you can't hear it as time slows again.
  8026.  
  8027. BANG
  8028.  
  8029.     The shot destroys the cylindrical device and you look over at Jack, seeing him smile.
  8030.  
  8031. “Nailed that fucker with a 45. Oh, oops. I shouldn't be swearing in front of a lady.” He says, looking down at the floor.
  8032.  
  8033. “It's fine. My old boyfriend used to be like that. I'm used to it.” You tell him, rubbing his shoulder.
  8034.  
  8035.     You then look back up and see a crosshair aiming at a similar device before Jack shoots it.
  8036.  
  8037. BANG
  8038.  
  8039.     The scope pulls itself away and Jack looks over at queen Kesis, who's now writhing in her seat as she screams angrily. You look over at Jack and he seems unhappy. Just as you're about to say something, the timer goes off and you whuff a bit, smiling as you get up. When you reach the pie, you cut out a couple pieces and smile. A little cheating never hurt anyone on a diet. You walk back over to the couch with 2 plates, allowing Jack to begin eating his pie. It was then apparent he had never eaten pie before when he picked it up like a piece of pizza.
  8040.  
  8041. “Nein, you use a fork and knife!” You tell him, blocking his mouth. “You'll make a mess of yourself.”
  8042.  
  8043.     He nods, picking up a fork and knife before cutting pieces of the pie off. He sticks it in his mouth tentatively, as if he didn't want to eat it. He begins to chew and grimaces at it, making your ears droop in response.
  8044.  
  8045. “I-I like it.” He says, swallowing reluctantly.
  8046.  
  8047. “You don't need to lie for my sake.” You tell him. “I must've done it wrong or the berries must've gone bad.”
  8048.  
  8049. “No, it tastes fine, it's just not my thing.” He tells you. “I just feel bad because you went through all the trouble to make it and I can't even finish what's on my plate.”
  8050.  
  8051. “That's okay.” You say, perking up. “I can-”
  8052.  
  8053. “No, please, stop doing this for me.” He tells you. “I don't deserve any of this.”
  8054.  
  8055.     You sigh, looking back down at the floor as you hear rumbling come from the holo-screen. Then, you get a devious idea. A wonderfully devious idea. You look back up at him with the sluttiest and most sexy gaze you could possibly muster.
  8056.  
  8057. “If you don't eat the rest of your pie, you're going to eat me out~.” You tell him, hoping that your sultry voice is good enough to make him excited.
  8058.  
  8059. “Z-Zofie...” He says.
  8060.  
  8061. “No buts, choose.” You tell him.
  8062.  
  8063.     He sets the plate aside and looks towards the door, waiting for something before looking down at you.
  8064.  
  8065. “I guess I should do something to apologize for brushing you off that one time.” He tells you.
  8066.  
  8067. “Twice.” You correct. “You did it twice.”
  8068.  
  8069.     You already feel yourself getting wet at the thought of his short and muscular tongue stirring up inside as he looks at you in shock.
  8070.  
  8071. “I-I didn't-”
  8072.  
  8073. “Shh, just go with the flow~.” You tell him, pulling down your skirt and panties. “I want to make all the other girls in this elevator jealous of me~.”
  8074.  
  8075.     He nods and gets off the couch, kneeling in front of you as you blush profusely. He moves his lips in close until they touch your snatch, sending an electric sensation up your body as you let out a moan.
  8076.  
  8077. Nytro, 1 hour ago
  8078.  
  8079.     You watch as Jack leaves the room with Spots in tow.
  8080.  
  8081. “You and I need to talk, Blue.” You tell her as the door closes.
  8082.  
  8083.     When it does, she grips her fists tight.
  8084.  
  8085. “How dare you come in my room and talk down to me like that.” She tells you, looking up with all the fury of a pent up little girl.
  8086.  
  8087. “It's not hard.” You joke. “Seriously though, what's the deal with you and Crayola?”
  8088.  
  8089. “Crayola?” She asks. “You mean that diabetic fat body?”
  8090.  
  8091. “He's been working hard and you know it.” You say, containing a growl.
  8092.  
  8093.     You had a friend who was struggling with a weight management issue like him before being offered treatment for it. It was the polar opposite of his problem, but it was equally debilitating.
  8094.  
  8095. “He didn't have any drive to better himself before I gave him a kick in the ass, which was pathetic.” She says.
  8096.  
  8097. “Would you have any conviction to do anything if your mother and sister left you to fend for yourself with the mental deficiencies he suffers with? Tell me all about how you'd totally be out and about trying to make yourself into a model when you had no motivation to even keep yourself alive.” You tell her. “Tell me how you'd become the next miss Katric while struggling with the depression from killing so many people that you lose count.”
  8098.  
  8099. “You say that like I don't have problems of my own!” She shouts at you. “I have to deal with my own shit! I have 2 ships to command and was stuck in my apartment for the whole day while rioters roamed the streets killing anyone in sight! This doesn't even begin to describe the shit that I had to go through during the civil conflict!”
  8100.  
  8101. “Oh, boo hoo. You always bring up the civil conflict like it was this big war. It wasn't, only 300 people lost their lives and most of those were idiots who shot without being given a command. The only notable casualty, that being your dad, isn't even dead.” You tell her.
  8102.  
  8103. “THE CIVIL CONFLICT WAS A BIG WAR TO ME!” She screams. “You wouldn't understand you stupid fucking cop!”
  8104.  
  8105. “I'm not a cop.” You tell her.
  8106.  
  8107. “Bullshit. You think that cute little name of yours is fooling anybody? No, it's not.” She says.
  8108.  
  8109. “Then what's my real name?” You ask. “You don't know because I've never told anyone here my real name. The only one who knows is Jack and that's because he's from another universe.”
  8110.  
  8111. “I-I don't know your first name, but I know your name isn't Nytro!” She yells.
  8112.  
  8113. “What the hell did you do during the civil conflict anyways? You were barely old enough to serve, let alone fight.” You tell her.
  8114.  
  8115. “What are you implying?” She asks, gritting her teeth.
  8116.  
  8117. “I'm asking you what you did.” You tell her. “What did you do?”
  8118.  
  8119. “I watched-”
  8120.  
  8121. “You watched. That's all you did was watch. You got hit by shrapnel from a stray bullet and you got out without another scratch.” You tell her.
  8122.  
  8123. “I shot back.” She tells you. “I've killed before.”
  8124.  
  8125. “No you haven't.” You tell her, lifting your shirt. “You see these scars? These are from going blade to blade, gun to gun, and claw to claw with fugitives, soldiers, and terrorists. I got these scars from combat. You got those scars from a lucky hit.”
  8126.  
  8127. “You don't know anything.” She says. “You pretend to know and use your charisma to pass it off as fact. You don't know a god damn thing. The shoes I had to fill, the things I've had to do, the people I've had to do them with.”
  8128.  
  8129. “What do you think Jack did?” You ask.
  8130.  
  8131. “Nothing. He did nothing but sit in a fox hole and cry while his platoon carried him through battle.” She replies.
  8132.  
  8133. “Wrong.” You tell her.
  8134.  
  8135. “Are you going to disprove my claim?” She asks.
  8136.  
  8137. “Let me show you something Jack showed me.” You tell her, flicking your fingers and turning on the holo-screen.
  8138.  
  8139.     You link your neural interface up with the screen and flick it over to the memory from a week ago. It shows you watching a holo-screen with Jack as a man is shown dying on screen. The memory was corrupted, but you could tell he desperately tried to salvage it for you. A man with a bullet and some ceramic inside a wound was crying, telling Jack to tell his wife and kid he loved them.
  8140.  
  8141.     He then proceeded to show you more memories of similar events, which makes you shiver when going back through them. He said they all made it home, but you doubt they made it home alive. He comforted every single one of them until they made it onto an evac 'helicopter' as they were called. He even took some shots to his armor keeping them safe from enemy combatants. Most of the time the memories were blurry, usually from tears being shed or general corruption.
  8142.  
  8143.     This goes on for an hour as you relay memories to Vikna, who seems stunned by the violence and gore he had to witness.
  8144.  
  8145. “Imagine having to see all of this and not being old enough to drink yet.” You tell her. “Imagine not being able to wash it all away with alcohol like you and I did. He had to sit and let that garbage fester until he turned 21. Told me he became an alcoholic right then and there.”
  8146.  
  8147. “So what? Is that going to bring back all those people that he got killed?” She asks. “I had to make sure he wasn't causing trouble, so I had to take time away from commanding my ship to check on him. Then he made me take a detour to Vex to gather up all his friends before we could get back just in time to witness my ship explode.”
  8148.  
  8149. “That wasn't on him and you know it.” You tell her. “He was forced to go.”
  8150.  
  8151. “He was not-”
  8152.  
  8153. “Don't lie to me blue. Warning told me everything.” You interrupt.
  8154.  
  8155. “THAT LITTLE-urgh, whatever. That still doesn't mean he doesn't have anything to do with this. He couldn't be trusted to keep to himself, so I had to go and check on him.” She tells you, annoyed you knew.
  8156.  
  8157. “You know he cares about you, right? He feels like it was his fault even though you left your ship unattended.” You tell her. “Not only that, but he cares about Spots, Red, Ayn, and even me. Jesus, why can't you see that what you're doing is wrong? You're killing him.”
  8158.  
  8159. “That's because it was-”
  8160.  
  8161. “No, it wasn't-”
  8162.  
  8163. “STOP INTERRUPTING ME!” She screams, smacking you across the muzzle. “YOU FUCKING PRICK!”
  8164.  
  8165.     You put a finger up to your muzzle and bring it away, looking and seeing she drew blood.
  8166.  
  8167. “We're done here.” You tell her, getting up. “You'll be lucky if I forget this.”
  8168.  
  8169.     You walk out the door, tuning her out as she begins shouting and telling you to stay put.
  8170.  
  8171. Jack
  8172.  
  8173. “Did it feel good?” You ask, wiping your face off with a napkin.
  8174.  
  8175. “J-ja.” She says, pulling up her panties and skirt.
  8176.  
  8177. “Good.” You say, sitting back down on the couch.
  8178.  
  8179.     If anyone were to come in right now, they'd definitely smell the aftermath on your clothes and in the air. She's a squirter, but it isn't piss she squirts. Some other liquid that's much more pleasant to lap up. She lays her head down on your shoulder and you pet her hair gently, keeping her close as she basks in the afterglow.
  8180.  
  8181. “V-vats that stuff on your face?” She asks, rubbing against your cheek and under your chin.
  8182.  
  8183. “It's a stubble. You didn't notice it?” You ask in return.
  8184.  
  8185. “No, but I certainly felt it.” She replies. “Sorry about not warning you. It felt so good zat I just...well, came.”
  8186.  
  8187. “Are we even now?” You ask.
  8188.  
  8189. “I-I'll say.” She says.
  8190.  
  8191.     You hear the door to your room open and see Nytro enter the room, looking like shit. He sniffs the air a bit and walks over to the side of the couch, sitting beside you.
  8192.  
  8193. “I see you've been showing cakes some of this.” He says, giving you a disapproving look. “I hope it's nothing too gruesome.”
  8194.  
  8195. “Nah, I only showed her the more mild stuff.” You reply.
  8196.  
  8197. “That was mild?” She asks. “Mein Gott...”
  8198.  
  8199. “How'd the talk go?” You ask before noticing a bit of blood on his muzzle. “Wait, is that blood?”
  8200.  
  8201. “Blue's not budging. Keeps insisting it was your fault when it's not.” He replies. “I think she's trying to cope.”
  8202.  
  8203. “Well, it was technically-”
  8204.  
  8205. “Shut up. Stop that talk right now.” He tells you.
  8206.  
  8207. “Why?” You ask.
  8208.  
  8209. “Because I'm sick of it. You're like a broken record, never able to say anything that isn't demeaning about yourself. Never give yourself any credit for anything you do. I get sick of hearing it.” He tells you, gritting his teeth. “I just spent an hour upstairs showing Vik all the things you showed me, and she just spat in my face. Slapped me and gave me a nasty cut right on the muzzle.”
  8210.  
  8211. “I'm sorry man, I just-”
  8212.  
  8213. “You need help. You need help badly. We can get you a therapist if-”
  8214.  
  8215. “I DON'T WANT A FUCKING THERAPIST!” You scream, tossing the remote across the room. “I don't want someone who's paid to care! Paid to listen to me say stupid shit and talk about killing women and children!”
  8216.  
  8217. “Nobody here wants to hear it either.” He tells you. “You just never stop. Never stop talking about those feelings. It's like you can't think of anything to talk about.”
  8218.  
  8219. “You want me to talk about how I made porn of all of you guys? That's about the only other thing I've done of note in my life and I'm fucking ashamed of it.” You tell him, pointing to him and Zofie. “Is that what you want? You want me to sperg out about writing about 2 legged dogs, cats and other animals fucking? I sure as hell don't. It's not even any fucking good.”
  8220.  
  8221.     Nytro just gives you a disgusted look, as well as Zofie. You snort and get off the couch, grabbing your shit.
  8222.  
  8223. “Where are you going?” He asks.
  8224.  
  8225. “Leaving.” You tell him. “I know when I've overstayed my welcome.”
  8226.  
  8227.     He grabs your shirt and pulls you back in the room.
  8228.  
  8229. “Where?” He asks again.
  8230.  
  8231. “Outside.” You reply. “To do one of the only things I'm good at.”
  8232.  
  8233. “No, you're not going out there again.” He tells you, not allowing you to leave.
  8234.  
  8235. “Why not?” You ask him. “I thought you didn't want me around any more.”
  8236.  
  8237. “I said I don't want to hear you wallow in your own misery every time I come in here. Talk about guy stuff, like how you'd rail the barkeep or how much you can bench. Talk about cars and sports, not war and violence. Jesus dude, just stop being a broken record and talking about Iranistan or whatever the hell you call it.” He says, pushing you back in the room. “Hell, if anything, you can go to town on spots. I'm sure she wouldn't mind going at it again. I could smell it from down the hall.”
  8238.  
  8239. “I don't want to go to town on Zofie. I just want to sit down on the couch and sip whiskey until I drop.” You tell him. “Took up smoking ever since you took my bottle away.”
  8240.  
  8241. “Jack, that's no way to live your life. Substance abuse will only get you dead faster.” He tells you. “You got a lot of living to do for all of us.”
  8242.  
  8243. “Why do you all want me alive anyways?” You ask. “Never been any good to anyone alive. Why do you all care so much?”
  8244.  
  8245. “You're an asset, first and foremost. Second, well, don't let anyone know, but I...well...never mind. Just know I care for you.” He says.
  8246.  
  8247. “Uh...thanks.” You tell him.
  8248.  
  8249. “Besides, I thought you said you repaid a kindness for a kindness?” Another voice asks. “Isn't that what you said?”
  8250.  
  8251.     You look past Nytro and see Ayn standing in the doorway, dressed up in a red silk dress. No piercings and no crown, just her in a red dress.
  8252.  
  8253. “Y-yeah, I guess I did say that.” You say, walking back into the room. “Not to sound ungrateful, but why are you here? How'd you get here?”
  8254.  
  8255. “Mom let me go for the week. Said my duties included making sure my friends both foreign and domestic were okay.” She tells you. “I also got a call from Nytro over here. Said it was urgent.”
  8256.  
  8257. “Yeah, blue is having a temper tantrum and-”
  8258.  
  8259. “Nothing, it's nothing.” You say turning back towards him. “Nytro, come with me real quick. I gotta talk to you.”
  8260.  
  8261.     You pull him out into the hallway and close the door, turning back to him.
  8262.  
  8263. “What's the problem?” He asks. “I thought you'd be excited.”
  8264.  
  8265. “You can't just call Ayn over here to talk with Vikna. They're both ready to kill each other. If you give Ayn an excuse, she will take it.” You tell him.
  8266.  
  8267. “I think you underestimate how forgiving Ayn is. Especially after she's gotten a good night's sleep. Believe me, I heard about that too, but she's calmed down now.” He tells you. “She's only going to talk. Nothing else.”
  8268.  
  8269.     You highly doubt that she would just talk to Vikna, but you have confidence in Nytro, if not only confident in his charisma. You nod, walking back into the room as the doors hiss open. Nytro thumbs out the door and Ayn shakes her head, putting a hand on your shoulder.
  8270.  
  8271. “You want to talk?” She asks.
  8272.  
  8273. “N-no.” You tell her. “It's better if I-”
  8274.  
  8275.     Just as you say that, the TV turns on without you touching it, showing static as it does.
  8276.  
  8277. “What the hell is that?” Ayn asks.
  8278.  
  8279. “Static.” You tell her. “Why?”
  8280.  
  8281. “Wait, something's coming-”
  8282.  
  8283. “Grandson!” Your grandpa yells. “Come here!”
  8284.  
  8285.     You rush over to the holo-screen and stand at attention for your grandfather.
  8286.  
  8287. “At ease boy, I've come to tell you something of grave importance. So you must LISTEN!” He tells you. “You need to come back to earth and look in the walls of your basement! I have something in there that you must keep on you at all times!”
  8288.  
  8289.     Just as he says that, a portal that looks much different to the others pops up in front of you.
  8290.  
  8291. “Go! There's little time!” He tells you. “Git movin'!”
  8292.  
  8293.     You look back at your friends and they nod, allowing you to go through. You step through the portal and stand back inside your basement, looking back to see the portal still open. A sledgehammer you left downstairs is sitting upright, waiting to be used as you look back on the table. There's a stud detector sitting on it that you don't remember keeping here. In fact, you lost the thing long ago. You look back again and see Nytro has come through as well.
  8294.  
  8295. “What're you looking for?” He asks.
  8296.  
  8297. “Sword.” You tell him. “Big sword.”
  8298.  
  8299.     You bring the stud detector up to the wall and begin scanning at knee level. You see a stud pop up every foot, as you expected. Then, about 3 feet from the door to your sister's room, you see a stud that looks too big to be a stud.
  8300.  
  8301. “Got it.” You say with a smile, grabbing the sledgehammer.
  8302.  
  8303.     You slam it into the wall high up, breaking the drywall and pulling the sledgehammer back. It rips out more drywall and you rip the rest away by hand, a cloud of dust erupting from the wall.
  8304.  
  8305. “Don't breathe this shit in. It'll kill ya!” You tell him.
  8306.  
  8307. “Really?” he asks, holding his nose.
  8308.  
  8309. “No, but it'll taste like shit!” You tell him, laughing heartily at the destruction you have wrought.
  8310.  
  8311.     When you pull the last piece out, you recognize a scabbard you used to see in all the photos your dad showed you when you were little.
  8312.  
  8313. “What's that?” Nytro asks.
  8314.  
  8315. “My grandfathers sword.” You tell him. “His broadsword.”
  8316.  
  8317.     You take it out and see a rifle behind it with a massive crate of ammunition sitting between the studs. You pull the rifle out and heft out the crate of ammo too.
  8318.  
  8319. 2000 CARTRIDGES CALIBER .30
  8320. BALL M1
  8321. 5RD STRIPPER CLIPS
  8322.  
  8323. “Jesus Christ he left me a Springfield.” You say, taking the old wooden rifle out.
  8324.  
  8325. “There's more.” Nytro says, pointing to the other side of the wall. “I see more gun metal.”
  8326.  
  8327.     You nod and rip open the wall, revealing another rifle and ammo for it. You grab it and hand it to Nytro, who takes it and walks back through the portal. Ayn comes through and grabs the crate off the ground, lifting it onto her shoulder with the Springfield on the other. You continue to peal back the drywall and reveal a massive tube. Is that a fucking super bazooka?
  8328.  
  8329. “Hell of a sword.” You say with a smile, pulling out the metal tube. “Don't even know how to fire the fucking thing.”
  8330.  
  8331.     You take the rocket launcher out of the wall and hear some commotion upstairs.
  8332.  
  8333. “WHO'S DOWN THERE?!” Someone screams.
  8334.  
  8335. “What the hell are you doing in my house?!” You ask.
  8336.  
  8337. “Don't you swear at me Jackson!” A woman screams down at you. “What are you doing down there?!”
  8338.  
  8339. “Grandpa Haigs told me I had some things I needed to retrieve. From the wall. Who are you?” You ask.
  8340.  
  8341. “Your mother! What are you doing in my house again?!” She asks.
  8342.  
  8343. “I don't have time for this! I have a war to fight. Ayn! Get in here and carry these rockets!” You yell into the portal.
  8344.  
  8345. “Coming!” She says, walking back through the portal and towards the wall.
  8346.  
  8347.     You hear stomping come from the stairs before seeing your mother with her crazy blonde hair walking down to greet you.
  8348.  
  8349. “WHAT IN THE HELL ARE YOU DOING TO MY WALL?!” She screams.
  8350.  
  8351. “Grandpa Haigs-”
  8352.  
  8353. “Jackson! HE'S BEEN DEAD FOR YEARS!” She continues to scream. “HOW AM I GOING TO SELL THIS HOUSE NOW?!”
  8354.  
  8355. “Fix the wall.” You tell her.
  8356.  
  8357. “What the hell, did you find one of those disgusting things too?” She asks, pointing to Ayn.
  8358.  
  8359. “That's very offensive. I'm, at the very least, a slut.” She says smartly, walking back through the portal.
  8360.  
  8361. “Where'd she go?” Your mother asks, walking through the portal and towards you.
  8362.  
  8363. “Through there.” You say, pointing to the portal.
  8364.  
  8365. “WHAT?!” She screams. “This is witchcraft!”
  8366.  
  8367. “Mom...”
  8368.  
  8369. “You destroyed my wall!” She yells. “What is that on your back?!”
  8370.  
  8371. “A sword.” You tell her. “Move, I need to-”
  8372.  
  8373. “You're not going anywhere!” She yells.
  8374.  
  8375.     You pull out your pistol and point it at her head, staring her down as she looks on in shock.
  8376.  
  8377. “Don't point that gun at-”
  8378.  
  8379. “SHUT UP!” You scream. “SHUT THE FUCK UP OR I'LL FUCKING SHOOT YOU!”
  8380.  
  8381. “JACKSO-”
  8382.  
  8383. “I SAID SHUT UP!” You scream, pulling the hammer back. “You were never there for me, leaving me on my own for almost 4 years! Now you come back after I've left to fight a war and start making demands?!”
  8384.  
  8385. “You won't shoot me.”
  8386.  
  8387.     You point the gun at the ceiling and fire.
  8388.  
  8389. BANG
  8390.  
  8391. “JACKSON HALIFAX!” She screams.
  8392.  
  8393. “Shut your fucking face! I've been killing people for three weeks straight. Murdering men and women who have been brainwashed by some Muslim-esque shit bag into believing technology is bad. So when I say shut your fucking face, you shut your fucking face!” You shout, pointing the gun back at her. “Want to chance being a smart ass again?! I know I'll regret it later but god damn do I not care right now.”
  8394.  
  8395.     She shakes her head and you look back at the wall, seeing it is empty now.
  8396.  
  8397. “Get out of the way. My friend and I have supplies to deliver.” You tell her.
  8398.  
  8399.     She moves to the side and Ayn steps through first, taking the bazooka as well. You step around the portal, going back into the old toy room to gather the rest of your ammunition and explosives. When you come back out, you're carrying the trunk full of stuff, including dress blues you had to purchase. You walk through the rear of the portal and turn around, walking through the portal for real. When you set the trunk on the ground, you take out your wallet, tossing 500 dollars at her.
  8400.  
  8401. “Find someone to fix up that drywall. You touch any of my shit and I'm kicking you out of the house permanently.” You tell her. “Coming back after abandoning me like that, what a fucking joke.”
  8402.  
  8403. “O-okay.” She says. “Love you.”
  8404.  
  8405. “Don't fucking patronize me.” You tell her, the portal closing afterwards.
  8406.  
  8407. “Harsh.” Ayn tells you.
  8408.  
  8409. “I don't even know why I'm so angry. .” You tell her. “Thanks for the help. Would've taken me longer if it wasn't for your help.”
  8410.  
  8411. “I do my best.” She tells you. “That still begs the question, how did your grandpa-”
  8412.  
  8413. “Talk to you all? I don't fookin' know. I just am.” Grandpa Haigs tells her. “Was up in heaven when I got a call from some goddess. Had to tell you that my sword was the key to saving this planet.”
  8414.  
  8415. “Well, who's going to wield it? Maybe Ayn or Nytro-”
  8416.  
  8417. “NO! You gotta wield it, my little soldier boy.” He tells you. “You and you alone.”
  8418.  
  8419. “Grandpa, I don't-”
  8420.  
  8421. “Learn! You gotta learn to wield this blade because bullets are nay gonna be enough.” He tells you. “Your first opponent is going to be a pawn. He can't be shot and's real strong. He hates your girly, her friends, and you. He was taller than you by a foot or two. The man's a myth, a legend to some. A similar religion to ours, he is from. Every day you will need to train. He shall come on the day of incessant rain. Now go my little soldier boy, learn from Nytro. For the next man you shall face is a real psycho.”
  8422.  
  8423. “I...don't understand.” You tell him. “Who is it?!”
  8424.  
  8425. “I can't tell you any more. Just go train my grandson. You've made me proud so far. Kick some arse fer me.” He says giving you a salute. “Haigs out.”
  8426.  
  8427. “Wait!” You yell.
  8428.  
  8429.     He doesn't wait, the screen going blank before flicking off. You stand there for a few minutes, wracking your brain. What did he mean by a pawn? Can't be shot and is really strong?
  8430.  
  8431. “Jack, you okay?” Ayn asks.
  8432.  
  8433. “Y-yeah. I'm fine.” You tell her. “Do you have any idea who he was talking about?”
  8434.  
  8435. “None at all. ARA would know, she's really good at riddles.” She replies.
  8436.  
  8437. “Yes, I am.” ARA says, turning your attention to her. “Hello friends! I have come to check in on you all and it seems you have conveniently gathered together! Now I-”
  8438.  
  8439. “ARA, wait. Can you answer a riddle?” You ask. “Please?”
  8440.  
  8441. “Well, sure. I could figuratively 'flex my stuff' as it were.” She tells you all awkwardly. “Shoot.”
  8442.  
  8443. “Alright, here it is. Your first opponent is going to be a pawn. He can't be shot and is really strong. He hates Ayn, her friends, and you, as in me. He was taller than you by a foot or two. The man's a myth, a legend to some. A similar religion to ours, he is from.” You tell her. “I'm Christian and Celtic. I'm guessing he means Celtic.”
  8444.  
  8445. “Well, is it anything like Norse mythology?” She asks.
  8446.  
  8447. “Yes, sort of.” You tell her.
  8448.  
  8449. “Hmm, oh. He can't possibly mean...” She says, walking up to you and putting a hand to your head. “This is very troubling indeed.”
  8450.  
  8451. “What's troubling? Who is it?” You ask.
  8452.  
  8453. “Loki.” She tells you. “I hope it was just a practice riddle and not a regular one.”
  8454.  
  8455.     You drop your wallet on the floor, taking a knee as Ayn rushes to your side.
  8456.  
  8457. “Come on Jack, don't worry! We can take him together-”
  8458.  
  8459. “Not yet we can't. I'm useless right now.” You tell her. “We need to train hard. Nytro, you up for it?”
  8460.  
  8461. “As long as you don't start complaining about being bad at first, I'll be fine.” He says. “We'll use sticks at first and move on to swords later.”
  8462.  
  8463. “Alright.” You say, setting the sword down on the couch. “Let's begin.”
  8464.  
  8465. 1 hour later
  8466.  
  8467.     You feel your feet give out from under you and hit the floor with a thud, having the stick being pointed at you for the seventh time today. You're out of breath, angry, and your entire body hurt.
  8468.  
  8469. “You're using the stick like a staff and a spear. Use it like a sword.” He tells you. “I thought you carried a saber with you.”
  8470.  
  8471. “I did, but it's mild steel and for decoration.” You tell him, using the stick to help you up. “Jesus, why the hell can't Loki just be shot?”
  8472.  
  8473. “Hydrokinesis.” Nytro tells you. “He can-”
  8474.  
  8475. “Yeah, he can bend water to his will, but water isn't bulletproof.” You tell him. “Also, can't he shape shift?”
  8476.  
  8477.     Nytro shivers at that, looking up at the ceiling. Your eyes go wide in realization.
  8478.  
  8479. “No way.” You say.
  8480.  
  8481. “Jack...” He tells you.
  8482.  
  8483. “Oh my god! You fucked him didn't you!” You say with a dopey smile on your face. “Holy shit you fucked a dude!”
  8484.  
  8485. “Shut the fuck up you homophobe!” Nytro shouts, smashing the stick on top of your head as you fall to the ground in a daze. “Getting real sick and tired of you calling people and things gay! Stop it right god damn now!”
  8486.  
  8487. “Jesus fuck, calm down! It's just a joke man! I'm fucking with you!” You yell back.
  8488.  
  8489. “It may be funny where you come from, but things are different here.” He tells you. “No more of it or I'll beat you into a bloody mess.”
  8490.  
  8491. “Oh, I get it. You're letting your personal feelings get in the way of training.” You say. “You feel attacked.”
  8492.  
  8493.     You shake off the daze and get up off the ground, seeing him gritting his teeth as you rise to meet his gaze.
  8494.  
  8495. “If you had told me, I would've toned it down a bit.” You tell him, making your way toward him. “If any of you just fucking tell me what I'm doing wrong, I will fix it. Yet you insist on keeping up this air of friendliness like I'm going to snap if you tell me I'm fucking up. You know what actually makes me snap? This right here.”
  8496.  
  8497.     You make your way to Nytro and smash him with the end of the stick as if it was the butt of your rifle.
  8498.  
  8499. “This shit right here pisses me off!” You yell, kicking him as he tries to get up. “Taking out your frustration on me by threatening my life is going too far! Over a fucking gay joke!”
  8500.  
  8501.     He sweeps your legs and you slam your stick in the way of his own, stopping it dead.
  8502.  
  8503. “You don't have to like me Nytro. What you do have to do is work with me.” You tell him. “I'll stop making gay jokes if it makes you feel better about yourself, but you do NOT threaten my life again. I will snap you out of existence with speed and power you can't begin to imagine. So shut your mouth and start acting like an adult. Okay?”
  8504.  
  8505. “I...I'm sorry man. Today's been a stressful day and we all are willing to roll both ways here. It's kind of rude to go around making gay jokes like it's ancient times.” He tells you.
  8506.  
  8507. “All you had to say is stop and I would've stopped.” You tell him. “Let's get back to training before something else comes up.”
  8508.  
  8509. 1 month of hard training that has yet to be explained later
  8510.  
  8511.     The clang of your sword hitting Nytros is heard throughout the 'dojo' you two had set up. It was a conference room with all the tables thrown out as well as all but 2 chairs removed. You parry Nytros sword off to the side, hooking his large sword into your catch, disarming him and pointing the sword at him. He smacks the sword aside and pushes you down to the ground and you manage to kick him away before hopping back up.
  8512.  
  8513. “Finally learned that disarming someone doesn't mean victory?” He asks. “Gotta touch me with that sword and you'll never catch me on foot.”
  8514.  
  8515.     You nod, setting the sword down.
  8516.  
  8517. “Guess I lose this round.” You tell him.
  8518.  
  8519. “Hey, you've learned a lot since we first started. You can definitely beat me in sword on sword, but you'll never be as fast as I am. Gotta end it while you still have the advantage.” He tells you.
  8520.  
  8521. “Yeah, right.” You tell him. “Just don't want to cut you.”
  8522.  
  8523. “Well, back to it I guess.” He tells you.
  8524.  
  8525. 2 weeks later
  8526.  
  8527.     You were tired. Hungry, tired, and hurting all over. You finished training with Nytro yesterday and the fight went on for hours. There was still no way that you were going to beat Loki. He held most of the cards. The only thing you had going for you was the fact that there was no way he was faster than you. Ayn had suggested the SS program, but you didn't want to go through more pain than you already were.
  8528.  
  8529.     Nytro said your fighting style was unique. You used a combination of hand to hand as well as your sword, taking down your opponent with hand to hand combat and finishing him off with your sword. It was a whole lot of disarming, due to the blade catch on your sword being, well, there. However, this would be useless against someone who weighs about as much as a fucking jeep. Nytro told you this, and practiced pure swordsmanship with you instead. He also told you that you'd be backed up by him and Ayn.
  8530.  
  8531. “You know they say there's a massive storm due in a few days, right?” Zofie asks, snapping you out of thought.
  8532.  
  8533. “Y-yeah. I heard.” You reply. “Guess he's coming.”
  8534.  
  8535. “Are you sure you want to do this?” She asks.
  8536.  
  8537. “I have no choice.” You tell her. “Ayn and Nytro can't face him by themselves. Even if they could, I wouldn't let them.”
  8538.  
  8539.     You finish scrubbing out the barrel of the super bazooka and run the towel down the inside, cleaning off the last of the carbon left from the multiple rocket launches. You don't even know how gramps got his hands on one of these or why he stuffed it in the wall of your house. Thankfully the 3d printers were able to print an entire stock of 200 rockets for you. Hopefully you wouldn't run out any time soon.
  8540.  
  8541.     You move back over to the old Springfield your grandpa left you, which had a light coat of cosmoline on it you had to clean off. The rifle was a great weapon to shoot, hitting accurately out to 900 yards with irons. You probably could get even better groupings with a scope, but you didn't have one of those. At least, not one that fit. You pull the rag back through the barrel and see it comes back clean, as it always does. The bolt is completely clean and polished, greased to perfection as well.
  8542.  
  8543. “Zat oil is very smelly.” She tells you.
  8544.  
  8545. “Yeah, sorry about that. Computer, vents.” You tell the room.
  8546.  
  8547. “I told you I'm an AI, not a computer. Turning the vents on.” The computer tells you.
  8548.  
  8549. “It sounds so much cooler when I say computer though.” You tell it.
  8550.  
  8551.     You cycle the bolt a few times as you put a bit more grease in the bolt, taking out a clip and loading the magazine with it. You shove the bolt forward and put it on safe, setting it down beside you. This was going to be the weapon you would use. The weapon of choice for all the devil dogs between 1914 and 1943. Even came with a bayonet that you had polished to a shine. Downes had taught you how to shoot with a shooter sling properly, since it was just a 1 hour instruction when you were in boot camp. Now you could properly shoot standing up at 500 yards.
  8552.  
  8553. “Jack, how are you?” Ayn asks, coming into the room. “Have you been able to sleep?”
  8554.  
  8555. “Not really.” You tell her truthfully. “I've slept a grand total of 10 hours this week.”
  8556.  
  8557. “Jesus...” She tells you. “Why?”
  8558.  
  8559. “I've been in too much pain to sleep. My muscles ache and my bones do too. I probably couldn't lift Zofie if I tried.” You tell her.
  8560.  
  8561. “A-are you calling me fat?” She asks.
  8562.  
  8563. “No, I'm saying that I couldn't even lift someone as light as you.” You tell her. “You know I'd never say something like that.”
  8564.  
  8565. “Ah, I see.” She tells you.
  8566.  
  8567.     Ayn sits next to you as you take your M16 and begin to clean it as well, scraping the barrel out with a wire brush.
  8568.  
  8569. “God, I hate that sound.” She tells you.
  8570.  
  8571. “I don't like it either, but I gotta do it.” You tell her. “Need to clean my weapons so it performs well. Wouldn't want it to jam up, right?”
  8572.  
  8573. “Right.” She tells you, her ears folding back as the scraping continues.
  8574.  
  8575. “Did you reinforce your staff?” You ask, finishing the scraping of your barrel. “I don't need it being sliced in half again when you're the only one strong enough to beat Loki.”
  8576.  
  8577. “Yes, I've given it over a hundred extra layers of nano-woven graphene sheets. Took me 2 days to fit, but his sword won't cut through it in a million years.” She replies.
  8578.  
  8579. “Good.” You tell her, taking out the sword your grandfather had given you.
  8580.  
  8581.     You bring out the whet stone again and begin to sharpen the sword as you wet the stone down. You rub off the burrs with the stone and set the whet stone back down, beginning to polish the sword to a shine again. There were tons of Celtic runes on it that looked like they weren't stamped or carved. Rather, they looked like they came with the metal itself, as if the metal had the runes in it already. This puzzled Nytro as well, as he couldn't find any tool marks even on a nanoscope. They looked perfectly carved by impossibly precise means, even in this day and age.
  8582.  
  8583.     You run your finger over the runes and you could swear you saw them glow, but it was probably just a trick of the light. You polish your oily finger prints off and put the sword back in its scabbard.
  8584.  
  8585. “You know we have a meeting with Radoslav tomorrow, right?” Ayn asks. “Vikna, you, and I. We need to make sure we're dressed to impress. He'll take it as an insult if you show up in those.”
  8586.  
  8587.     She points to your BDUs you have on and you smile, thumbing over to the trunk.
  8588.  
  8589. “I have something that might fit the bill.” You tell her.
  8590.  
  8591. 1 day later
  8592.  
  8593.     You finish mounting the ribbons you had to purchase after having them stolen by someone in Montana. After it's mounted, you put on your dress coat and look in the mirror, straightening your collar as well as your globe and anchor. When you put your hat on, you make sure it's on straight before giving a crisp salute. Your white gloves seemed to glow as the uniform fit your new body perfectly. Most of the fat was gone through hard work, but the nasty stretch marks and some flabby skin still remained. That didn't matter, as you were completely covered by clothing that was made to fit you. Well...sort of. You walk out of the bathroom, boots clacking on the floor as you take the saber off the couch, mounting it to your belt before doing drills.
  8594.  
  8595. “DRAW...SWORD!” You yell, drawing your sword and putting it to the carry sword position. “PRESENT...SWORD!”
  8596.  
  8597.     You flip the sword down with the flat side of it facing towards your front as you stand up straight, keeping the sword like this for 5 minutes before giving the next command.
  8598.  
  8599. “ORDER...SWORD!” You yell, facing the blade away from your front and keeping it at a 30 degree angle going forward. “CARRY...SWORD!”
  8600.  
  8601.     You put the sword back at your shoulder in the carry position, hearing the door to your left open.
  8602.  
  8603. “LEFT...FACE!” You yell, turning yourself towards the door.
  8604.  
  8605. “Jesus, you clean up nice.” Ayn tells you.
  8606.  
  8607. “RETURN...SWORD!” You shout, startling her.
  8608.  
  8609.     You click the sword back into the scabbard and stand at attention for Ayn, watching as she moves closer to you. You keep your eyes pointing towards the door, as you haven't been relieved yet.
  8610.  
  8611. “You look great sweetie. Black, blue, and red really go well together. I'm guessing you're ready to go to the hearing?” She asks.
  8612.  
  8613. “Yes ma'am!” You yell.
  8614.  
  8615. “Why are you talking like that?” She asks.
  8616.  
  8617. “This Marine has not been relieved of his attentive status, ma'am!” You yell.
  8618.  
  8619. “As you were soldier.” She tells you, returning to your front.
  8620.  
  8621.     You relax yourself and look her over, seeing she was wearing something that actually covered her up. It was a green dress with actual sleeves and leggings that covered her legs.
  8622.  
  8623. “Your friends are invited too, so I hope they have something decent to wear.” She tells you, walking out the door.
  8624.  
  8625. “Parker already wears what could be considered a dress uniform, but I don't know about any of the others.” You tell her, following her out. “You sure covered yourself up for this.”
  8626.  
  8627. “Like I'm gonna let that disgusting boy get even a glimpse of my body. I'd never bed him in a million years.” She tells you. “He's got plenty of other brown nosing sluts he can bang if he feels the need.”
  8628.  
  8629.     You nod, seeing Vikna and Nytro waiting at the end of the hall. They both look surprised to see you as they've never seen you in your blues before.
  8630.  
  8631. “I didn't recognize you for a second. You really do clean up nice.” He tells you.
  8632.  
  8633. “Well, everything hurts. Like, a lot.” You tell him. “You coming with?”
  8634.  
  8635. “No, I wasn't involved in any of the fighting.” He tells you. “I'll be keeping spots company.”
  8636.  
  8637.     You nod, continuing to march past as Vikna tails you and Ayn.
  8638.  
  8639. 1 hour later
  8640.  
  8641.     You reach the top of The Tower and enter the meeting room, which was completely empty, save for some goons and a purple haired man turned away from you. Your men all take positions behind a seat, claiming it for themselves before waiting to sit. The purple haired man turns around and you give him a crisp salute.
  8642.  
  8643. “Squad, present...arms!” You yell.
  8644.  
  8645.     Everyone salutes the man before you and he smiles at the display.
  8646.  
  8647. “Sit.” He tells you in a cool and collected voice.
  8648.  
  8649. “Order...arms!” You yell, your squad going back to attention. “Squad, take your seats.”
  8650.  
  8651.     Everyone in your squad sits, along with Ayn and Vikna. You sit at the other end of the table, sitting up straight and proper as your grandmother had told you to do.
  8652.  
  8653. “You're all dressed rather uniquely. I'm guessing this is your idea of formal dress?” He asks.
  8654.  
  8655. “Yes, sir.” You tell him.
  8656.  
  8657. “Interesting. So you are, uh, Staff Sergeant Jackson H. Haigs of the United States Marine Corps?” He asks.
  8658.  
  8659. “Yes, sir.” You reply.
  8660.  
  8661. “Interesting title. I will call you Jack for short, as that's what your friends seem to call you.” He tells you. “So, now that I have you here, I must ask you questions.”
  8662.  
  8663.     You nod and he just stares at you for a while, making you extremely uncomfortable. He blinks every now and again, but that's the only movement you get from him. You see Vikna and Ayn looking around the room out of the corner of your eye, as well as seeing your men look at each other in confusion.
  8664.  
  8665. “Uh, your excellency, are there any questions you would like to ask?” Ayn asks.
  8666.  
  8667. “Yes, I am thinking of some. I wish to devote all my time and energy into listening to Jack's responses, not thinking up more questions for him.” He says. “Ah, I have them. First question, why are you here?”
  8668.  
  8669. “Sir, I'm here to protect my friends and the citizens of Katric from a war nobody seems to know how to fight.” You tell him.
  8670.  
  8671. “Is there anything I can do to help?” He asks. “Anything I can send to aide in the fight? The Kavkor has informed me you have been having trouble taking the city and requested assistance.”
  8672.  
  8673.     You look over at Vikna and she crosses her arms, looking away from you before returning to a blank face. When you look back at the Emperor, you nod.
  8674.  
  8675. “Soldiers. I need men to cover a larger area than a city. They need to be specially trained for ground combat. None of this master at arms BS. I also need an officer. I'm not an officer and the burden of command weighs heavy on my shoulders. I can not plan assaults, only raids with the men in this room.” You explain. “I would appreciate you sending soldiers and an officer specializing in ground combat. Thank you, sir.”
  8676.  
  8677. “I will get on it right away. This leads to my next question. Do you think the population fears you?” He asks.
  8678.  
  8679. “Sir?” You ask. “I don't understand your question.”
  8680.  
  8681. “I've been hearing stories about 'terrifying aliens' from defectors, saying they kill anyone who raises a weapon to them. They have no fur, minimal hair, have no snouts to speak of, and carry weapons made of wood, steel, and plastic. I think that accurately describes every one of your 'Marines', is this correct?” He asks.
  8682.  
  8683. “Yes, sir.” You tell him. “I had no idea the kind of fear we struck into the terrorists.”
  8684.  
  8685. “Hmm, quite.” He says. “Well, how have you been getting along with everyone? I trust they treat you well.”
  8686.  
  8687. “Yes, sir.” You tell him.
  8688.  
  8689. “Even the Kavkor? She seems to get along with very few people.” He tells you.
  8690.  
  8691. “Yes, even the Kavkor.” You tell him.
  8692.  
  8693. “Good. That will be all.” He tells you. “You and your men are dismissed. The Kavkor and I have something to...discuss~.”
  8694.  
  8695.     You look over at Vikna and she looks back at you scowling fiercely before returning to her blank and militaristic face. You nod, getting up off the chair and saluting.
  8696.  
  8697. “Squad, atten...HUH!” You yell.
  8698.  
  8699.     They all get up and stand at attention.
  8700.  
  8701. “Form up!” You yell, your men forming up on you. “Forward...march!”
  8702.  
  8703.     Everyone marches out of the room as you lead them to the lobby of the space elevator.
  8704.  
  8705. 3 hours later
  8706.  
  8707.     You're dusting off what little sediment made it onto your uniform, as well as the fur that was left over from some of the chair's previous occupants. All of the Vietnam era Marines and soldiers were glued to the window, watching ships come and go as anti ship cannons pummeled any terrorist ships that got too close. Parker was also over there, along with Lewis. Argus was sitting by your side, content to observe from a distance.
  8708.  
  8709. “Your rifle, Sergeant.” Chuck tells you.
  8710.  
  8711. “Thanks Chuck.” You tell him, taking the rifle and bayonet.
  8712.  
  8713. “So, your grandpa left you a rifle that's aging even by my standards?” He asks.
  8714.  
  8715. “I don't have a bolt gun, especially one that's as nice as this.” You reply. “I'm guessing it was a sniper at one point, considering my grandpa actually got his hands on it and brought it back.”
  8716.  
  8717. “Is that why the ammo is all M1 instead of M2 ball?” He asks.
  8718.  
  8719. “Must be.” You reply. “Heard the boat tail makes it more accurate.”
  8720.  
  8721. “It really does. I had a few clips of it, kept some for long range shooting.” He tells you. “You willing to share some?”
  8722.  
  8723. “Sure thing private. Take 80 rounds if you want. I don't mind.” You tell him.
  8724.  
  8725. “HEY!” A lady screams. “STOP THAT MAN!”
  8726.  
  8727.     You look back, seeing a wolf running away with a woman's purse. Even in a place as secure as this, people still snatch purses. You look back at your men and smile.
  8728.  
  8729. “Fucking thieves.” You tell Chuck, affixing bayonet. “Time to win hearts and minds.”
  8730.  
  8731.     You get up and charge after the man, letting out a war cry as you hold your rifle under your shoulder. He looks behind him and yelps, dropping the purse as you continue to run him down. You pick up the purse and take aim, flicking the safety off the rifle as you steady your aim. He keeps running, not bothering to look back as he hopes to outrun you. Little did he know you weren't running. You put your finger over the trigger and begin to pull, letting a breath out.
  8732.  
  8733. “Sergeant, no!” Chuck yells. “Don't shoot!”
  8734.  
  8735.     You let the gun down, flicking the safety back on before taking off the bayonet. The thief continues to run, oblivious to the fact you were ready to shoot him in the back. You sling the rifle and turn back around, seeing Chuck standing in front of you.
  8736.  
  8737. “What the hell are you thinking Sergeant? We can't just go around shooting petty criminals. We shoot insurgents, not civilians. Remember that? Remember when you said that to us?” He asks.
  8738.  
  8739. “I-I remember.” You tell him.
  8740.  
  8741.     The lady walks up to you tentatively, allowing you to see she's a golden retriever. You hand the futuristic looking purse back to her and smile, causing her to back away skittishly.
  8742.  
  8743. “T-thank you.” She tells you.
  8744.  
  8745. “You're welcome ma'am.” You tell her. “Happy to serve.”
  8746.  
  8747.     You walk back to the seats and see your squad watching as you make your way to the seat you were sitting at. Before you could sit, you hear the door burst open to the meeting room Ayn and Vikna were in. Viknas clothes were being hastily put back on as Ayn shook her head.
  8748.  
  8749. “Ta-ta.” Radoslav tells them. “It really was a treat having you two in here.”
  8750.  
  8751. “T-thank you, your excellency.” Vikna says shakily, sounding as if she has liquid in her mouth. “I'm grateful you see me in such high regard.”
  8752.  
  8753. “Yes, well next time I hope the princess can comply with my request.” He tells them. “I am not a very patient man.”
  8754.  
  8755. “Not much of a man at all.” You say under your breath.
  8756.  
  8757.     Argus snickers at that and so does Chuck. You see the door behind Radoslav close and Vikna drops to the floor, spitting out blood and looking defiled. You rush over to her, seeing Ayn put a hand on her shoulder. You take her in your arms and she begins trying to push away.
  8758.  
  8759. “Let me go! I don't want your sympathy!” She yells, struggling to get away. “P-please, just let me be!”
  8760.  
  8761.     You shake your head, keeping her in an embrace as she tries to wiggle out of your grasp. She eventually lessens her struggle, only pushing against you a little bit as she begins to sob.
  8762.  
  8763. “What'd he do to you?” You ask.
  8764.  
  8765. “He made her strip naked and pleasure him until he was satisfied. Literally the first thing he did as soon as you left.” Ayn tells you. “Her mouth is bleeding too.”
  8766.  
  8767.     You think thoughts of breaching the room, gassing it, and going in with a gasmask on. You could definitely get the 5 body guards before needing to load and could take Radoslav out for a...personal apology before sending him on his way. You keep your cool, however. He can't be touched right now. You feel Vikna throw her arms around you and continue to cry into your shoulder.
  8768.  
  8769.     You hold her tight, not letting her go as she keeps crying, trying her best to say something but always falling short. You rub her hair with your white gloved hand, running your fingers through her ice blue locks as she wets your dress blues with tears. You hear the door open behind her and she buries herself further into you as you look up, seeing Radoslav giving you a smug smile. You pay him no mind as he walks off to the side of the station towards a docking bay.
  8770.  
  8771. “Broke another one.” He tells his body guards. “Well, back to the station it is. Long live the Empire.”
  8772.  
  8773. “Yeah, heil Hitler.” You tell him, lowering your voice. “Fucking shorty.”
  8774.  
  8775. “Hmm? You wish to make something known?” He asks.
  8776.  
  8777. “I'm comforting my friend, sir.” You tell him. “I don't want to speak too loud into her ear.”
  8778.  
  8779. “Understandable. Your troops will arrive in 4 days, trained and ready to fight.” He tells you. “The officer who will command them is the best of the best.”
  8780.  
  8781.     You somehow doubted that, but it was better than nothing. You keep holding Vikna as she sobs into your shoulder, staining your blues with tears as she tries to pull her head back for a retort. You keep her head firmly pressed against your shoulder so she couldn't kill everyone in the room. As soon as Radoslav gets into the shuttle bay, you, let her head go and she pushes herself away from you gently. You oblige, letting her go as you both stand up.
  8782.  
  8783. “I-I'm sorry.” She tells you.
  8784.  
  8785. “You have nothing to be sorry about.” You tell her. “I was the one who-”
  8786.  
  8787.     You feel a hard smack on your left cheek, sending you reeling back.
  8788.  
  8789. “NO! You're not pulling any of that again! Stop taking the blame for my stupid decisions!” She yells. “I-I need to be responsible. I-I'm an adult, not a toddler throwing a tantrum, right?”
  8790.  
  8791.     You look down at her and see her wipe the blood from her mouth, spitting into a napkin as she hisses in pain.
  8792.  
  8793. “Spines?” You ask.
  8794.  
  8795. “Yeah.” Ayn tells you. “Wait, how do you...oh Jack, you dirty boy~.”
  8796.  
  8797. “It was purely for science. I'm a writer and all information is welcome.” You tell her with a smile.
  8798.  
  8799. “You're both idiots.” Vikna says, getting off the floor as she finally gets tired of spitting blood and just shoves the napkin in her mouth.
  8800.  
  8801.     You and Ayn chuckle at that and you walk back over to your Marines, Vikna and Ayn in tow.
  8802.  
  8803. The next day
  8804.  
  8805.     You're sitting in the chair next to ARA, watching her work while Vikna gets surgery done on her mouth. She'd never tell anyone how she really got the cut, so she just said she ate something called a Cupi pod. Said they're really dangerous to eat if they aren't prepared by a professional chef who specializes in the dish. The pod is covered in spines that extend when the pod senses moisture. It's a sort of defense mechanism to keep creatures from eating and digesting the seeds, since they don't have a tough enough shell to keep the stomach acid from dissolving it.
  8806.  
  8807.     You felt so bad for her, since you had to guess it was only normal for her to put up with this kind of thing. The fact that she's a mid-tier officer and that she's shorter than almost everyone else, including Radoslav, must make her a prime target for sexual harassment. At least she's not a push over like most girls you've met. She's pretty tough...until she's not. All it could take is one person getting a whiff, a hint of her vulnerability and they'd take advantage of it. That's why she needs to find the right man, before it's too late.
  8808.  
  8809.     ARA continues to move things around the half circle of a screen, smiling as she does. The glow of the hologram lights up her fur as she smiles brightly, enjoying her work. At least ARA couldn't get sad. At most, she might get upset, but never sad or depressed. She could absolutely go through life being nothing but happy, though she could also go through life being angry just as easily. She's got a bad temper on her and her mood switches constantly. However, you had the insider's scoop on what makes her angry, so you tend to stay away from those topics and try to steer others away from them as well.
  8810.  
  8811.     One thing you learned about ARA is that she absolutely HATES being touched by anyone she doesn't know personally, and hates hugs from anyone but a select few. Anywhere below the belt and she can get violent, threatening and even attempting to maul anyone who doesn't have proper Kaltag clearance, such as Nytro. Her claws are much sharper than any of the others you've seen yet, having her shave your facial hair off to prove they're “razor sharp”. What makes it even more frightening is that she wouldn't even get punished, as it's in the rules that you don't touch the AI at all. So she could technically get away with murdering someone if they bump into her. However, she's much more forgiving than that, being programmed to know that killing people is ultimately wrong and not productive at all.
  8812.  
  8813.     You remember when she came in on you and Nytro sparring and nearly electrocuted Nytro to death in defense of “authorized organic personnel of extreme importance” or something to that effect. You told her to go and put this room on her “do not enter outside of dire emergencies” list. Other than being a temperamental ball of potentially perpetual anger, ARA was a really sweet, uh, “girl”. Not too big, not too small, perfectly proportioned body, soft fur, though you were told it was actually ranked as mediocre for an anthroid, and an innocent personality that just makes you want to take her out and teach her about normal people things. She said that was a very odd trait you had, “caring for others so selflessly” as she had put it. You brushed it off, as she definitely did not know the full picture and the depths at which you could go to hate someone or something.
  8814.  
  8815.     That leads you to yourself. You weren't in the best shape, and you definitely weren't in the best state of mind. Why anyone could want you is beyond you, since the only thing you had going for you is being somewhat funny. Right now you were dressed in your blues, which made you look more official. People didn't even ask for an ID any more, assuming you had one due to your uniform. Good thing you made an effort to purchase it and put ribbons on it. Made you look important even though you weren't. ARA continues to work before glancing over at you and smiling.
  8816.  
  8817. “You're still here? I thought I would've bored you by now.” She says.
  8818.  
  8819. “I'm easily entertained.” You tell her. “Once, when I was young, I would just sit on the counter and open up the door to the cabinet and close them for hours. So if I can be entertained by a wooden door, I can be entertained by anything.”
  8820.  
  8821. “Interesting.” She says, going back to her work. “I have a massive backlog, lots of data needing to go all over the place. It's quite a handful, but I've been waiting for the opportunity to stretch my metaphorical computational legs. This is actually going to be challenging to get done within the allotted time. However, I'm confident I can get it done.”
  8822.  
  8823. “Great.” You tell her.
  8824.  
  8825.     You both just sit there for a while, you watching ARA work and her relaying at what she called “max speed”, which you could barely follow. Steam begins to vent from her ears and nose every time she breathes out, leading you to believe she's working hard. Then it begins to force itself out, bellowing from her nose, ears, and mouth.
  8826.  
  8827. “ARA, are you okay?” You ask.
  8828.  
  8829. “I am overheating.” She tells you. “This is new to me. If this keeps up, I may need to shed my clothing.”
  8830.  
  8831. “Do you think you could take a break and cool down? I can go get you some water or coolant of some kind.” You tell her.
  8832.  
  8833. “Water would be fantastic.” She tells you. “If you could, mix it with glycol so it doesn't boil off as fast.”
  8834.  
  8835. “Sure thing, I'll be right back.” You tell her, getting up and walking down the metallic halls.
  8836.  
  8837.     As you make your way towards the bar, you run into warning on accident, knocking her over.
  8838.  
  8839. “Warning! This unit has fallen and requests assistance getting up!” Warning yells.
  8840.  
  8841. “Sorry about that.” You say, crouching down and giving her a hand.
  8842.  
  8843. “Thankful response! This unit must apologize for not making herself known.” Warning tells you. “She must be on her way! There are many alerts and warnings that have been piling up!”
  8844.  
  8845.     You nod, getting off the floor and continuing down the hall towards the bar. You know they have glycol there because it's an alcohol substitute for anthros. You make it into the bar and walk over to the drink mixer, grabbing an ice pitcher before putting it under the water faucet. The faucet automatically fills the pitcher up half way, allowing you to take it out and put it under the glycol faucet. When you begin pouring the green chemical into the water, it automatically stops, requiring authorization for more glycol. You put your ID up to the machine and it accepts it, allowing you to fill the pitcher with glycol and water. You cap the pitcher off and shake it vigorously, mixing the two liquids into a deadly cocktail that would most certainly kill an organic drinker.
  8846.  
  8847.     You exit the bar, making your way back down the hall as anthros pass you by. When you're about half way down the hall, an anthro stops you.
  8848.  
  8849. “Hey buddy, you know that's a lethal amount of glycol in there, right?” She asks.
  8850.  
  8851. “Yes, I'm not drinking it. An anthroid is.” You tell her. “I'm not going to poison myself.”
  8852.  
  8853. “Alright, be careful not to spill it. Some of us can't help ourselves.” She says, continuing down the hall.
  8854.  
  8855.     You nod, continuing down the metallic hall as you near the door to the Apex AI room. When you reach it, the door opens automatically and you see an anthro standing in front of her.
  8856.  
  8857. “-such a tease. You never let any of us anywhere near you and it's so frustrating!” He says, stomping on the floor. “You know what? I think I'm gonna take you for myself.”
  8858.  
  8859. “Uh, no you're not.” She says, getting off the console and unplugging her tail. “You don't have the clearance to make that decision.”
  8860.  
  8861. “Like hell I don't. I didn't buy a Faraday field for nothing.” He says slyly.
  8862.  
  8863. You set the glycol pitcher down on the console as he grabs her shoulder, prompting her hair to raise. Electricity arcs from the tips of her fur, not doing anything to the perpetrator as he begins to chuckle.
  8864.  
  8865. “You're so hot ARA 0-1-1. You're the perfect size and shape for me. Once I break you in, you'll be my little fuck buddy too.” He says holding ARAs arms at bay as she tries to struggle against his grasp.
  8866.  
  8867. “Buddy, I'd let her go if I were you.” You tell him.
  8868.  
  8869. “Hmm? Why? Don't tell me you're here to stop me. I know every single person who works with this little tease wants to plow her into the ground. Nobody else is allowed in here but the Kavkor, and she's out getting surgery for eating a Cupi pod. So come on, I'll let you go next if you let me give it to her first.” He says. “You can even jack off, I don't give a shit.”
  8870.  
  8871. “I don't think so.” You tell him, unslinging your rifle you had slung across your back. “I'll let you in on a little secret. You feel how hot she is right now? Almost too hot to touch?”
  8872.  
  8873. “Yeah, what about it?” He asks. “I think she just has the hots for me and wants me to go to town on her~.”
  8874.  
  8875. “N-no I don't!” She yells.
  8876.  
  8877. “No, you got it all wrong.” You tell him, affixing your bayonet. “She's hot because she's been running at max power for an hour straight with no breaks. The steam you see coming from her ears? Think about how hot it has to be for steam to be produced from coolant.”
  8878.  
  8879. “Oh...” He says.
  8880.  
  8881. “That steam you see coming out of her? It's hot enough to melt the fur off your flesh, and the flesh off your bones. Now considering I'm definitely a higher rank than you, I could, for instance, tell her to restrain you in place.” You tell him.
  8882.  
  8883.     ARA takes the hint and smirks, grasping his arms as he is now the one trying to get away.
  8884.  
  8885. “Then, I could, theoretically, tell her to melt your face with steam so hot it can melt plasteel.” You tell him.
  8886.  
  8887. “N-no, please!” He yells.
  8888.  
  8889.     ARA begins to grin, her eyes half shut as she begins to open her mouth. His ears fold back and his tail tucks under his body in fright. He begins to struggle, but ARA grips him like a vice. She lets more steam out of her ears and nose, presumably for dramatic effect as he begins to struggle even more.
  8890.  
  8891. “Isn't this what you wanted? More affection?” ARA asks with that same grin plastered on her face. “Why do you organics never want what you ask for?”
  8892.  
  8893. “NO! PLEASE! DON'T DO IT! I BEG YOU!” He screams, struggling as if his life depended on it. “I'LL LEAVE HER ALONE, JUST DON'T MELT MY FACE!”
  8894.  
  8895. “And if that doesn't kill you before she's cooled off, I could run you through with a bayonet.” You tell him. “Wouldn't that be fun?”
  8896.  
  8897. “JESUS CHRIST! YOU'RE CRAZY!” He screams. “I PROMISE I WON'T TOUCH HER AGAIN! PLEASE LET ME GO! I BEG YOU!”
  8898.  
  8899. “Since you asked so nicely...ARA, let him go.” You tell her, aiming the rifle at him.
  8900.  
  8901.     She lets the man go and he turns around, seeing a rifle being pointed at him. He puts his hands up and you thumb towards the door. He moves slowly towards the door as you strafe left, allowing him to pass as he continues to keep his hands up. When he makes it out the door, he breaks into a mad sprint down the hall, slipping and falling before he scrambles around a corner. When the door closes, you chuckle a bit, unhooking your bayonet and putting it in the scabbard.
  8902.  
  8903.     You sling your rifle and grab the glycol cocktail, walking over to ARA. Her fur is now back to normal, but steam is venting from inside of her still.
  8904.  
  8905. “Here's your antifreeze.” You tell her. “Make sure to finish it, the mixture is lethal to anthros.”
  8906.  
  8907.     She nods and takes the pitcher, uncapping it and putting it to her mouth, she begins to chug the liquid, steam flaring out of her nostrils and ears as the coolant works its magic. She continues to down the mixture, steam hissing out of her various openings. You step back as she continues to ingest the coolant, for fear of burning yourself on the steam you threatened the man with. When she finishes the pitcher, the steam has subsided, which means she's either boiled it all off, or she's completely cooled down.
  8908.  
  8909. “Thank you Jackson. I appreciate you helping me with that thug and my overheating problem.” She says before burping a bit. “Oops, excuse me.”
  8910.  
  8911.     You snicker at that, walking back to your seat as you do.
  8912.  
  8913. “You're welcome.” You tell her. “Holy shit, that was so edgy I think I gave myself a paper cut.”
  8914.  
  8915. “Really? Where?” ARA asks, looking you over.
  8916.  
  8917. “It's a metaphor. Ayn can explain it better than I can.” You tell her. “Well, back to it, right?”
  8918.  
  8919. “Right!” She says, sitting back down and getting to work.
  8920.  
  8921. Chapter 7: The Sianian, the Irishman, and the Frost Giant
  8922.  
  8923. Day zero
  8924.  
  8925.     You finally get the last piece of the armor Ayn and Nytro insist you wear onto your wrist, making sure it was secured in place. You strap your scabbard to your back and take the sword out, seeing it was perfectly polished. Hopefully it served a purpose other than being pretty and shiny. You put the sword back in the scabbard and sling your rifle on your shoulder. You had filled up a bandoleer with about 20 clips of 30-06, meaning you wouldn't be running out any time soon. Not that you thought you'd need it, but it's better to be prepared.
  8926.  
  8927. “Are you ready?” Ayn asks, much more serious than usual.
  8928.  
  8929. “Yes ma'am.” You tell her. “How about you?”
  8930.  
  8931. “As ready as I can get.” She tells you, stamping the ground with the bottom of her staff.
  8932.  
  8933. “Take that fishing line off your staff. It adds weight and Loki is just going to cut it if you use it.” You tell her. “Then you'd be out a weapon.”
  8934.  
  8935.     She cocks her head, looking down at the winch assembly. She then nods, bringing a foot up and slamming it back down on the contraption. The winch breaks off and you offer her your bayonet to cut the rope off the anchor point. She takes it, snipping the rope off and handing your bayonet back. You sheath the bayonet and follow her out the door, stepping over the jankily made winch on your way out.
  8936.  
  8937. “You can do it me boy. I believe in you.” Your grandpa says as you exit the room. “The goddess of war protects yeh.”
  8938.  
  8939.     You nod and the door closes behind you as you see Nytro at the end of the hall. He has the same somber expression Ayn has.
  8940.  
  8941. “Cheer up ladies.” You tell them. “If everything