Kayla: Red Sky
In the 28th century, the technology of rejuvenation allows for immortality. This device is also used for sentencing as well. A penitatas; a criminal that is sent back to childhood to live a highly strict and disciplined life to start anew. (Story Fourty-Eight)
Concept by Lurking Dragon
Kayla and story by Professor Bob
More Kayla Stuff!: www.Professor-Bob.net
The sickly darkness was broken by sounds of unrest, carried on a moderate wind down lengths of street and alleyway. Back to a wall around the corner of a building, a young woman panted, catching her breath while the wind caught her tattered brown cloak; lightly flapping near the ground, where the dust and particles of filth swirled. Swinging her long orange furred tail to her opposite side, she turned her head to peer around the corner while showing as little muzzle as she could in the dim, red light. Down the stretch of street others were running, seeking shelter as bullets made of pure disruptor-based energy ripped through bodies, making flashes of red and green light. Pivoting her ears strategically, gripping the grainy wall behind her with chipped, marred claws, she could hear screaming, shouting, and cries for mercy echoing through the industrial corridors they called streets. In a flash, the woman flinched, baring a few teeth towards the back of her maw, turning her head up at the droning sound of a military sub-orbit pacification vessel.
Folding her ears back in fright and frustration, the woman growled as the ship passed by, signaling she needed to keep moving. With a thrust off the brick wall, the furred woman grasped her cloak and sprinted, running as quick as her agility could maneuver her thin, tired body. It seemed the military was moving around a further radius than she thought, placing her inside a conflict that was not her own. However, on her world, one was to shoot and ask questions never. When eradicating rebellious forces against their leader and ruler, entire areas would be invaded. Running through chaos, bumping into men and woman fleeing certain death, it surrounded them. The air smelled of burning fire and blood, beneath the rotting chemicals that filled the atmosphere. As they ran, some fell. Struck by an energy rifle blast or simply tripped, their bodies were quickly rendered lifeless under the trample in the streets. Beneath the blow of her own footpaw, the woman felt a warm, wet crunch; the blood soaking the pads of her feet filling her with inner pain, as well as determination to survive.
Shoving her way past other homeless and unfortunate residents, the woman ran an alternate route after a grueling trial down that street, breaking off from the crowd. Looking back, the group grew smaller as they ran by the street, sandwiched between two brick structures. Breathing irregularly, her running became more of a stagger as she trudged on. Eyes fixed on the clear, windy street ahead, she let out a sharp grunt as a powerful force knocked her off her bare feet. Landing in a twisted lump on her side, the woman squinted, blinded by a blue light and a shockwave that blazed through the streets, scraping her face with sand and debris. A two story complex, home to many, blown to shreds; emanating the tell-tale heat of a compressed plasma grenade. Scorching the dilapidated walls, the red streets were lit up more brightly, showing ominous black forms in the distance with rifles. Witnessing the deaths of entire families vaporized in an instant by a cloud of plasma, the woman got to her feet, paws trembling - blue glow reflecting off her eyes.
With a spin on her right footpaw, she clenched her eyes shut, ignoring the moisture that burned at them as she again continued her flight. Her steps clacked loudly down an alleyway, ears constantly shifting and scanning for other signs of life, and those black shadows of military pacification forces. Once she ended up on the other side, those ears again folded, finding herself too close to such personnel. Standing in frozen fear, she watched men in armor and tactical suits walk down the street with their weapons held high, firing rapid bursts of disruptor-based energy that riddled the walls. Stopping at a door some distance away, one of the men tapped his black, armor covered mask upon his muzzle, making a hand motion before giving the latch a swift kick. The thin door snapped, and as it struck the wall behind it with force, both men fired their weapons into the home; cries of children and parents filling the foul moving air, until silence began to fall.
Taking their moment of distraction as a means of escape, the woman grabbed her cloak once more, making a sprint for the alley across the way. Feet kicking up bits of dust from the rocky street, she growled sharply at the shock of two shots hitting the corner of the wall at her left, knocking brick free to clatter to the ground. Panicking, having been seen, she whimpered beneath her breath to herself. Tail streaming behind in the open air, she ran as if she had reason to live. Clearing the alley, she ended up in a wider intersection, looking around with eyes and ears to figure out where to run next. It was quieter, and possibly the edge of the pacification operations. So close to escape.
Her right ear twitched.
Sliding on her footpaw's pads in the coarse, rocky dust, the woman spun around, taking staggered steps backwards. A man landed on the ground with a bone breaking thud, having leapt from the second story of the building beside her. Taking a step back with another foot, stilling her tail nervously, the other's below her moved with a pained twitch. The man groaned loudly, curling his muzzle and trying to move his legs, working to get back to his feet to continue his own escape. Hearing the pound of footsteps in the alley she traveled, the woman grit her teeth, taking a few steps and making urging motions for the man to run. Join! Come on! Get up! Her paws flung in a flurry of waves, desperately trying to get the man to come. Landing so hard hurt him too badly, and she was in no health to carry someone.
Delayed, she bit her lip, trying again to run even with pursuit so closely behind. Her ears were pointed towards her back, head down until she heard a loud order to freeze. Stopping, terrified, she turned around beside a concrete-like barricade at the entrance to the street she was aiming to enter. At the mouth of the alley, the two pacification officers from before stood, clearly in their suits and armor. Wind had lifted dust into the grooves of their energy ammunition clips and straps, wafting off their bodies as their weapons flung to ready positions. The man that had fell was mere feet ahead of them, turning defiantly to run away, even as his leg twisted; broken under his own weight. Flowing with the emotions of death and despair, the woman opened her maw, giving a tiny quiver, before the inevitable.
Red blasts of energy shot against the man's back, dilating his pupils as the last moments of existence was filled with searing agony. The bullets of compressed energy struck his body with a spray of blood, making sickening sounds as they blasted through him; sending blood and bits of tissue out his abdomen and maw. As quickly as he had fallen from the roof close to freedom, he had fallen to the ground in a clump, robbed of his life in a pool of his blood. Eyes seeing the glimmer of light off the tips of their rifles, knowing they were moving for their next target, the woman's muscles took over instinctively, flinging her body down behind the barrier.
Crouching with her head between her knees and paws covering her folded ears, tips between her fingers, the woman's scream traveled the streets. Their energy weapons shot at the barrier in their full-auto mode, firing pieces of rock from it with massive speed. Chipping it, and shooting straight through it, shockwaves of strikes and heat filled the fox's senses. A brief moment turned into forever, until her shrill cry faded to nothing. Crouched frozen, eyes fixed, the woman did not even dare breathe in the face of terror in which she became a part of. However, she crouched alive, and unharmed, even a pieces of the barrier slipped free to make high pitched taps against the dusty rock below.
Her paws slowly began to leave her head, allowing her ears to carefully raise up over the barricade. Turned towards the intersection, she heard footsteps fading away in a casual stride. The pacification forces thought her scream was a scream of death, having punctured her body through the numerous holes they left in the barrier. Trembling first, she took a deep, subdued breath, waiting a moment for silence before running off; knocking some of the shattered barrier off her dirty footpaws.
The woman ran, body and chest muscles tight. Moment passing after moment, counting each instead of the hours and years. Silent streets, filled with nothing but the dusty, polluted wind accompanied her desperate race as a look of choking torment took over her expression in the secluded lonesome of the abandoned buildings and those hiding far away from the weapons fire.
Falling upon her paws and knees, there was a rocky clatter beneath a thunderous cough, raspy and deprived of air, as the fox violently coughed up blood upon the dry pebbles and sediment. It sprayed out in force, with the rest rolling out of her muzzle in a gushing drip. Gasping exhaustedly for air, the woman refused to allow her arms to buckle; staring down weakly, overcome by dizziness and a blur of vision. Her sensitive ears rang, forcing them down upon her head to cease the cries of terror the sound reminded her of. A lifetime of breathing polluted, chemical infused air had burned and destroyed fleshy lung tissue into a blackened, potentially cancerous mass. Her racing heart tumbled over itself, in the throws of arrhythmia and frequent multiform premature ventricular contractions. There was no such thing as a doctor to tell her any of this, but those whom lived here all knew they were in poor health. Only the fortunate did not experience such pain, as the poor woman attempted to calm down; soothing her pounding heart, and allowing air back into her swollen lungs.
Turning her head up, tail draped down the back of her tattered, dirty brown cloak, blood lined her maw, dripping now slowly from the fur of her chin. She was at least alive. Having avoided falling directly upon her front, the fox reached under her body to place an open paw upon her belly, through her single piece of clothing. It was as if to check and make sure her child had come with her. The bulge of her offspring having been protected, she worked with difficulty back to her feet, resuming a normal, tired walk.
Tucking her hood well over her head to conceal her ears, all that stood out in the red light of the evening was her orange muzzle and a bit of her soft blue eyes. Her fur was caked with dust and dirt, even on the inside of her cloak. Living on these streets did not allow for much bathing, when the water was so badly polluted. Thirsty, hungry, and in need of sleep, this was her journey home to a little alley niche she called home, beneath the red atmosphere of her planet - Aspatria.
It was not long through the empty streets and quiet alleys before she began seeing people again, now just a wanderer down the open walkways. Soon hints of light on the sides of buildings appeared, and curious urchins pointing up at the blue remnants of plasma fire that illuminated the smog above the corridor now pacified by the military. Blood thirsty, selfish acts of violence by a dictator, who's image mocked her as she stepped past posters of Grand Senator Renacross. Francias Renacross ruled his people with brutality, committing genocide in areas with even the hint of opposition to his control. A world, polluted and stripped of it's plants and life, where it's inhabitants were little more than fodder to the rich and powerful. Cheap labor, uneducated followers, and disposable. Children worked to their deaths in the factories, and the workers at the chemical plant suffered disfiguring burns that left them without coin, to die of hunger. Prostitution, crime. Any way to survive, no matter the cost. To eat even the smallest crumb while the wealthy sat comfortable, free from pollution inside their technology-filled homes as men, women, and children slaved in their factories and plants that filled the cities with carcinogenic smog.
Above, the sun was a small circle near the horizon down the road. So far from their sun, the heat was contained within the gasses of their atmosphere, leaving them with a red sky. Fur, and sensitive hearing, adapted to the cold and loss of light. In the harsh environment of their world, they were descendants of the mammal best suited for survival. Today, millions of years later, their world was just as harsh and predatory. As life returned to the street, and others began to pass, so did the things that were so common. A street vendor selling cheap wares, so that he may eat that day. A father standing with his young, pre-pubescent daughter, forcing the unwilling girl to sell herself sexually to pay her keep. Woman had no rights in their society, and a man such as he could do that sort of thing on open daylight. Boys followed similar routes, standing bare like their female counterparts, as per their customs. A pair of them worked a corner by her alley, bringing their meager profit home to their factory working parents. There was once a third, but the woman did not know if the little lad was kidnapped, injured, or killed. Such was life.
But, not for her child. She wanted her young to have nothing to do with standing on the streets. No, the life within her belly needed better. She had no idea how to provide it, but, the least she could do was birth her child and try; be it boy, or girl. Without medical technology there was no way to know. Some day soon, she could feel, would be the day the surprise was revealed. Blood drying upon the fur and pads of her footpaws, and upon her muzzle, the sounds of life and activity amidst the dreary brick structures made her smile weakly; flashing, glowing lights of the cargo vessel landing pad down the way lighting her street. It was a tiny smile, but it was there, stepping past the male fox kits before her alley to listen to them discuss child-like things while they waited for a customer. The Aspatrian language was rough, and sharp to a point, but the voice of children was heart warming to a mother racked by pain and shallow hope.
Walking into the darker recess of the small, cut-off alleyway she called home, the woman gently lifted the hood of her cloak off her head, flicking free of her black tipped ears. The ebony fur continued down the back of her ears a short ways, before breaking off into unclean orange fur, matted down her body. Catching glimpse of one of the other corridor's homeless, a comrade that often stayed in the alley, the woman approached her to sit.
"Another day.", she spoke to her comrade-in-adversity, voice older and feminine, but also tired, raspy, and dry. The Aspatrian language was not kind on the dehydrated. Using her paw upon the coarse, wind and acid rain worn wall, she eased her battered, ailing body down to sit upon the dusty, smoother slab that made up the alcove between the brick buildings.
"Well look at you! When I heard the east corridor was being pacified, I didn't know if you would be coming back.", the slightly younger sort of woman growled out, speaking quickly, and with a chipper sort of energy while tapping a loaf of synthetic bread against her lap. Her cloak was darker in color, tattered to the point it ended just below her knees, showing "socks" of black fur upon each of her feet in the sickly red glow of the alley. The woman whom had already been through enough that day, turned her head with a glare.
"Shut up Mel. I barely made it out of there, and I didn't make a single coin.", she snapped, using her right paw to gesture firmly to her friend that she was in no mood. Her volume of voice could not go up that high, and expressing the strong 'V's in their language made her cough weakly again, sounding hoarse from blood drying in her throat. Mel leaned in towards the woman, examining the blood around the line of her maw.
"Not doing so well?", the slightly younger fox asked, still speaking with the increased speed to her voice. The woman sighed as she released air from her lungs slowly, trying to relax the tissue that was failing on her. Those who lived in poverty and the slums all had their illnesses and disease, but the best they could do was ignore them and live despite. When there was nothing you could do, and you didn't even know what was wrong with you, it was an accepted thing that death came to those that did not sit in the tall buildings. Rejuvenators were merely rumor - that the rich could be immortal, and did not get sick.
"As long as my child and I are alive, I am well.", she spoke after a pause, looking down while resting her head against the wall, paws in her lap as if she would sleep. Soon, but not yet. Pollutants were aging her skin, placing bags beneath her eyes as her body struggled to live just as any other's. Mel stared, tapping her bread with a look on her face, before making an awkward growl. Grasping the loaf with her other paw, she ripped it in half, giving it a pat to her fellow's cloth covered chest, just above the breasts.
"Go on, take it. I did well today, and you've got that thing inside of you.", Mel seemed to gripe even as she offered charity willingly. Reaching up with her right paw, the woman took the artificially made bread and reached it up to her maw to take a bite immediately, hoping to sedate a little hunger, and remove the taste of blood from her muzzle. Their planet could no longer grow real grain, leaving the bread chewy, and for one to imagine what real bread might have tasted like hundreds of years ago.
"I don't know why you're putting up with that leech. It can't make coin. Come on, one good kick; you'll feel better.", Mel began talking again, giving the piece of bread she kept a casual wave even as she suggested terminating the life of her child. That voice, so energetic and fast. Quickly swallowing the piece of bread she ripped from her half of the loaf, the woman reached over and gave the younger a harsh shove from her right paw to knock her off balance where she sat.
"What are you on tonight?", she spoke angrily, making it a point to show her displeasure while asking if the other girl was intoxicated. That non-providing leech was her one and only offspring. Children were often considered expendable, and the woman was not selfish enough to consider killing her son or daughter just to make life easier. Beneath her paw, inside her belly, was the only thing she truly possessed on this unforgiving planet. As she could have guessed, Mel laughed strangely, tapping the bread against her lap again after up righting herself. The non-intoxicated of the foxes went back about their eating, wearily.
"I don't know! I found a finger-cake on the ground and decided to have a mystery night. Free means fun.", the fox giggled and snickered awkwardly, waving her bread again out of amusement. A finger-cake was essentially a pill, created from condensed homemade hallucinogenic drugs. It was cake shaped and fit upon the fingertip; a natural nickname. Without mass medicine, street drugs ended up naming even the most basic of components on their own. Leaning against the wall, like her slightly older comrade, she took a bite of her synthetic bread to share a relaxing moment of silence with her food and wandering mind. For a homeless Aspatrian, she felt as if she was having a feast.
"What'll it's name be, Sophia?", Mel asked more calmly, using another gesture of her remaining bread after a few moments of their quiet eating. Food, the thing they never had much any of, appeared to bring forward more mellowing effects from the finger-cake she took. Relenting to more somber banter, the woman lowered the synthetic bread from her maw, giving a few idle licks of her tongue to her teeth to savor each crumb before answering.
"Kenneth if a boy, and Kayla if a girl.", quietly responded the young Aspatrian, Sophia Ackart. She wanted to add more pride to her voice, but she was so tired, and had seen too much death today. Getting to wash the blood of that poor trampled man or woman from her footpaws was a luxury she wished she could afford. Hidden by the dim light of the coming Aspatrian night, there was a fine misting of blood across her brown cloak she could not see either. It would dry to become just another unrecognizable stain in the discolored, dirty cloth.
"What ever makes you happy living in this alley. Just find another place to work, girl. East corridor is going to be too dangerous to walk.", Mel went on casually, until she stuffed the remnants of her dinner into her maw. Sophia lightly nodded her head. In the panic for her life, she hadn't yet realized her area where she made coin was now going to be teaming with pacification forces for a while. Her work used to always be self prostitution, for those seeking entire nights of companionship. Demeaning as it was, it stopped her from starving. These days, carrying a kit, her services were not as popular. When she needed food the most, it suddenly was not there, forcing her to turn to odd-jobs for hire. East corridor was well populated. Now, perhaps not, as the dead lined the buildings and the street.
"I'll try to make do in the morning.", Sophia replied with weight in her voice; sullen and worried. Slipping the last of the chewy synthetic bread into her muzzle, she chewed it slowly, to enjoy the little charity one would receive on these streets. Mel just had a favor or two to repay. No one would ever dream of giving food or water away, as hard as they clung to what little they had, and their constantly declining health. Swallowing the last of her exceptionally meager meal, the only food she had all day, her stomach churned in aching desperation for more sustenance. Throat dry, seeking water more than ever that cool, merciless day, all the fox could do was sleep it off.
Making a common motion with her right paw, an exhausted tap to her shoulder, Sophia slid onto her side to fall asleep. The shoulder tap was a quiet, long standing gesture in their culture, to tell another you were going to sleep. Mel, off in her own less foreboding world from the drugs she ingested, did not move in the wake of eating. The pleasures of food lowered her vigor into a relaxed state, sitting with the most idle and blank of smiles. Content with peace and quiet, only hearing the rustle of open air against brick and debris, Sophia tucked her muzzle into her arm to fall asleep; haunted by images of the man that did not survive, and the pain wandering around her body.
Sleeping in an alley left much to the unknown. Would sickness steal you away in the night, or would a crazed passer-by, hoping for coin? Such worries did not come to the experienced homeless Aspatrian. Once sleep took over the woman in her early thirties, the fears melted away, bringing rest to muscle demanding oxygen and recovery.
The fox did not stir beneath the warm blanket in which her cloak made until the next day. Nose irritated by a small gust of soot pelting it, Sophia opened her eyes to have light shine off them another day. Smog gathering as low as the tops of the roofs, the light of the sun did not shine down to rouse her from sleep. Air noxious of foul chemical and fuel processing odors, the woman lifted herself with her arms to sit up. She slept sounds, but her heart still palpated beneath her ribs, leaving a tired feeling despite. Escaping death at the paws of the military pacification force took a lot out of an already taxed body. Leaning her head back, she clenched her eyes as the much shaper pain in her legs. The muscle was so sore, she didn't want to move.
But, alas, there was a tap against her belly. Lowering her head back down, Sophia chuckled softly, sort of beneath her breath as she took a deep one.
"I have not forgotten you.", she spoke to the stiff lump of child beneath her cloak, stroking down it with an open paw. The kick may have well meant her young was as dehydrated as she was, ill content with her weakened state. Not knowing exactly what the life inside of her was saying was part of the enjoyment of carrying it, and caring for it.
Waking up a bit faster thanks to her pregnant belly providing some company, the woman turned her head to both sides, checking the closed and open ends of the alley. All alone, Mel must have left earlier that morning. The clouds of pollution were dense that day, dulling and diluting the light before it reached their streets of filth. Sophia could not quite tell the time simply by looking up at the red sky.
As soon as she began to stand, settling her eyes back down towards the alley floor, a shimmer of metal caught her tired blue eyes. Self preservation shoving her morbid memories of the prior day to the back of her mind for a moment, the dried blood at the ends of her maw cracked free of her fur as she smiled a look of delight. Near the entrance of her niche, aside the street piled along side scraps of trash, a hint of light that passed the clouds made the familiar smooth twinkle of cobalt; the Aspatrian currency. Looking around cautiously with her eyes, the woman crawled through the dirt and dust on her paws and covered knees to fetch the carelessly abandoned coin.
Standing on to her own two feet, Sophia giggled the sort of joy one would get once quietly winning an award, sliding the gray cobalt coin into the a holding pocket in the right-side abdomen of her cloak. Placing her paws at her sides, she stepped out of her alleyway to look out into the street to greet a seemingly lucky morning.
"Feel that? We're going to eat well.", the mother-to-be joked with her unborn kit, patting the coin to tap it against her pregnant belly concealed away by her cloak. It must have been dropped by someone walking by, or perhaps even by Mel in her stupor. When it came to survival, finders were keepers, and Sophia did not have to feel like a thief by making good use of someone else's forgotten coin. It wasn't even a simple piece, it was the whole coin. Nothing to the rich, but everything to the poor.
Across the way, on the other side of the road at the corner of the adjacent street, stood already one of the boys. It could not have been exceptionally early if his brother was already off with a customer, assisting some frustrated man in "waking up". Not being a stranger on her own block, the woman reached up to lift her hood over her head, while giving the small, bare-furred eleven year old boy a friendly wave. As a male was taught to greet a female inferior, the child smiled and gave a single nod of his head - simple, yet polite to an elder. Brown cloth draping over her ears to shield her from the random puffs of air that stirred the dust and processing plant soot, she started her feet off southward, down her own street to a place she knew well. Out in the distance above stood tall black buildings and skyscrapers of the city, built to properly withstand the harshness of wear and protect their wealthy occupants as they looked out over the endless smoke stacks that stood above the sickly blanket of smog and unclean air. Life went on for the less fortunate and homeless, living out of these poor brick buildings that crumbled around them.
Be it so, Sophia wandered down a street lined with activity. Those whom were sick, or having hangovers from the prior night, sat against the walls. A few children played with their few moments of free time; their thin unclothed bodies showing bits of missing fur, due to sickness or hunger. Vendors whistled to any person that looked like they had currency, even if it was a scrap of a coin, as the exchange of tiny amounts moved their almost barbaric little community.
Grand Senator Renacross may have been the dictator of the planet, but aside from the factories many wasted their lives in, and the images of his likeness posted to the walls and fluttering down streets from time to time, there was no representation here. The homeless lived by their own law, having no police force. Only the military patrolled the streets, and as Sophia was learning while she walked, their presence had greatly increased in numbers since yesterday. A solider in basic blue and black thin armor asked a small water vendor questions across the street, paw never seeming to leave the sidearm attached to his belt, intimidating all around him. Even then an armored vehicle rolled by, plated with dark gray metals as soldiers with rifles sat or stood on top - sending dust and powdery sand into the air. Sophia raised her paw to her muzzle, turning her head to shield her eyes from the caustic sorts of soot that built up upon the ground. The clattering noise of their combustion engines in those vehicles was enough to let the slums know they were there to keep each of them in line.
Obey. Hail Francias Renacross. Praise god, Hakra. Remain uneducated, and spread no news or information.
It was his will, to keep the people malleable and simple laborers, clinging to power and traditions of old that no one truly remembered. The origins were lost through time, and the burning of books. Never having seen a school, and being that a woman had no rights to begin with, Sophia's mind surrounded what she learned from others; the homeless struggling together.
Sophia stepped through the open stone doorway to the hovel of an establishment she was seeking to spend time in. She made it in time to step past a man beside the door, giving his daughter a fairly firm whap upon the muzzle, going right into a scold before the girl had even finished her small squeal.
"You do not interrupt two men when they are speaking. Know your place Fara, or I will take you upstairs and teach you it.", the father threatened quite sharply, but lacking the sort of malice many seemed to have. It was hard for Sophia to listen to someone speak of a girl's "place", but even still, this was one of the kinder places to come for services. The entire first floor of the old building, their home, was made of brick and stone, slathered with mortar. A stone counter, places to sit, old rocks used as tables, amidst basic living with a couple lights and small, pane-less windows. Two customers were already sitting at a separate table, clay bowls in their paws.
"Sophia. It's good to see you.", spoke a woman about her age as she stood upon a ragged mat behind the tan stone counter. Sophia grasped her cloak, correcting her clothing as she sat down upon the semi-smooth seat of rock in front of her old friend. The scent of previously cooked food, though small, wafted past her nose and made her dry mouth want to water.
"Same to you, Ren. Collard in a bad mood?", Sophia greeted, asking casually with a hushed voice while the young fox, tail between her legs, submissively apologized to her father. Making a discreet gesture towards Ren's husband and daughter by the entrance with a tilt of her muzzle, the poor business woman shook her head with a dismissive wave of her paw.
"You know him. Not the most traditional, but he still expects a few things from Fara. Besides, it's not a good time to look liberal, so many armor suits and guns moving past my shop.", Ren spoke quietly, keeping the conversation to her friend. The pair had grown up on the streets together. Ren had a larger family, leaving Sophia a friend. Misadventures in thievery included, as street urchins were prone to.
"If you're worried about the military, you shouldn't call it your shop.", Sophia added for humor, though it was still a serious subject. Out in the slums, women were still not supposed to be running a business. It was by all means the place Ren had made, but in the face of certain people, Collard had to become the owner, with her acting like the subservient wife. He believed in equality to an extent, demonstrating a few of his more traditional points upon his daughter, hearing him send the girl off upstairs to not bother his conversation. While Sophia lifted her hood from her ears and got comfortable, the bare orange, black, and white furred girl ran behind her, straight up the stairs on the other side of the counter to their living space. Poor thing, the soon-to-be mother empathetically thought in the little one's defense. It was hard to receive mixed signals about what was acceptable for her, and what wasn't.
Returning her eyes to Ren, light touching her face entirely, she noticed a more somber, held-back expression upon her friend's orange topped, white chinned face. A moment of silence between the two came to pass, with Sophia remembering the blood that must have remained upon the line of her maw. Reaching up, she brushed it shamefully with the back of her right paw, turning her head out of respect.
"You don't look well.", Ren spoke out of concern, leaning forward with a paw upon her makeshift stone counter. Blood aside, she could see a lack of energy and droop of her face. Sophia cleared her dry throat nervously, which only served to feel scratchy and uncomfortable without water. It was difficult to discuss one's health. They were all thin to some degree, with others that could not earn coin becoming bony. A fact of the slums, that sickness followed hunger, and unsanitary conditions.
"I just need to eat.", she responded much more meekly, and quietly, before rustling into the fabric of her cloak. Taking the moderately sized cobalt coin between her fingers, she took it out and placed it down on the counter in front of her friend, giving a nod of her head.
"Could I get some water, a moment to bathe, and a little hot food with whatever is left?", Sophia made as her request as a friendly patron; the two men at the table a ways behind her laughed weakly about the contents of their own conversation, filling the establishment with ambient noise. Ren made a hum as she flicked the coin from the stone with her claws, catching it in her paw to fulfill the request. Such was the way at Ren's, a place for the homeless to enjoy. Ren may not have had much, taking care of her family, but she had the gift of a roof over her head, and the means to make coin without selling her body or livelihood away.
"I'm surprised you made an entire coin yesterday! I heard you had quite the run-in with pacifiers in east corridor. Mel told me about it this morning.", the mild mannered business woman spoke, turning to kneel down and get to the shelving behind herself - blue flowing sort of robe brushing the swept ground at her feet, while her black ringed, white tipped tail stopped only an inch from joining it. Sophia scoffed, dropping her head into her paw out of annoyance.
"Mel needs to learn when to shut up.", she sighed, not needing such information to be spread. It was dangerous, and not flattering either. Ren poured their home-filtered water from a larger clay pot, into a tall drinking cup. It was discolored as she poured it, imperfect, but much more drinkable than it would be normally.
"Told her that. She seemed jumpy, like she was coming off of something.", Ren followed suit in her way, looking over her shoulder as she stood back to her feet, placing the clay cup in front of her patron with a clack against the stone. Mystery night with finger-cake doesn't sound like something an already edgy girl needed, Sophia was forced to deduce. Should have sold the stupid thing.
"She was. Mystery night.", Sophia shed light upon, rolling her eyes before tilting the cup back to her lips. The water was cool, having been taken from the ground only that morning to be ran through the salvaged filter system in the basement. It tasted sharp, but, it was water, soothing every dry spot of her tongue and throat. Ren shook her head, knowing Mel as a frequent customer and visitor within her walls. While her friend chugged on her water, barely taking a breath, she turned her head up towards the stairs to her left.
"Fara! Fara, come down here!", Ren called, placing a paw to her muzzle. Collard sent her up there most likely, but the girl could still do her job at least. Lowering her cup with a deep breath into her ailing lungs, that comfortable moment fro Sophia turned aching once it made her cough again. It was softer, fist to her muzzle, but a touch of blood was something she could taste. Opening her eyes, she quickly downed the last of her water to flush the taste away; seeing the young girl she had known the past five years step cautiously back down the stairs. The bare furred girl peered around the corner from the stair she stood on, white fur down her chest and belly, and a black and white tail-tip like her mother. Ren's look lightened, catching the bit of tear from her girl's eye she could see.
"Fara, your father is not going to punish you. He only wants you to behave respectfully. A girl can do as she needs, but don't interrupt men talking, okay?", Ren slipped into her parental mode, being one of the few in the corridor that cared about her offspring. Perhaps it was something she and Sophia shared, growing up together and facing the things they did. A quiet girl, Fara sniffed as her only real acknowledgement.
"Go downstairs and fill two buckets with water from the reclaimator. Ready the bathing room for our guest.", she instructed her daughter, pointing over to the open doorway that went down a small flight of stairs to the space beneath the two story structure. Right beside the stairs going down to the basement, was a rickety wooden door for privacy; Ren's room she rented for bathing, complete with reclaimed water. Once again, not perfect, but cleaner than you can fetch yourself. Preparing such things fell upon Fara, being the young lady of the establishment. At five, you were not too young to help with chores, and Ren did not have the time to leave her counter like that.
Fara clapped her little footpaws down the last of the stone stairs, heading straight for the open arch to the other set of stairs on the side wall. Her tail waved immaturely, being a pure five year old. There were no such things as rejuves here; all legend, and forbidden myth. Once her girl had left to do as told, quiet as always, Ren turned her head back to her friend and patron with a friendly, open pawed gesture for the wooden door Sophia was familiar with.
"You can get situated if you'd like. Fara will have your water up quick; she's gotten good at helping. I'll cook for you, and it'll be ready by the time you're done.", she spoke half in her business mannerism, and the other half in a casual, friendly way. Having a familiar face at her counter to do business, no charities necessary, was always a welcome thing. As Sophia stood to her feet, paws on her cloak, Ren was busily kneeling down to begin her duties. Metallic bowl and rod, to a scrap of re-used metal grating, she was preparing a simple, small, stir-fried meal of broth and local gamey meat with a heating element beneath the lot of it.
Pressing lightly with her paw, the wooden door creaked. It's planks and hinges were so old. You would be hard pressed to find a tree these days. Sheltered from the wind and sting of sand, dust, and acidic soot, the wood was crumbling much more slowly over the years. Closing the door behind herself, minding her tail, the fox was enveloped in darkness and a stronger sense of quiet. The sound of banter eased from the gathering place this establishment was, as well as the noise of vendors replied by the clang of a processing plant, or a wisp of dust. Reaching up from memory, the woman touched a tiny Aspatrian light bulb that clicked on by her tactile command. Made up of many softer filaments, it filled the small stone room with dim comfortable light. Here, Ren had a shallow, small tub in the stone floor, as well as holes in the floor beside it for water to return to her reclaimator. A cloth for washing, left laid across the side of the rocky basin. Aching and weary, Sophia knelt down beside the basin, tugging her cloak up high enough that her knees would be against the cleaner beige stone below.
Fara returned as promptly as her mother had assured, nudging the wooden old door open with her foot. Heavy in both her paws, connected together by a rod, the small girl carried two buckets filled with used, reclaimed water. She may have been better off than the children on the street, but every young one in the slums was prone to sickness and malnourishment. Her poor arms trembled under the weight of the water; her legs waddling to the edge of the basin to kneel down and set the buckets upon the floor. A dull, water-in-metal sound drummed through the small enclosure of a room - Fara lowering her head to pant, paws together after the weight of the buckets dug the metal rod into her soft skin.
Thinking of the small life she carried within her belly, the sight blessed Sophia with warmth in her ailing heart. Making a soft smile, the older fox reached to her side with both paws, taking the smaller Fara's into each. With her thumbs, she rolled around the child's palms softly, to rub any sort of ache bringing her water had caused.
"Good child.", Sophia complimented in the private solitude of the bathing closet. In the soft, dull light of the tiny bulb above, and the bit of light that came in through the tiny spaces in the wooden door planks, Fara made a shy, timid smile. A twitch of her tail better indicated that her words were appreciated, as the girl expressed her feelings through the bushy furred appendage.
"Obliged.", the little one spoke in her lispy, small voice. It was a hard word for a five year old to say even in the Aspatrian language - 'Tsukra'. Ren must have taught her to say it, to thank customers. It was a common word for a young apprentice to say, when acting under the guidance of a master or parent. Believing in deeper freedoms and equality did not mean abandoning all traditions - just the foolish ones. Letting go of Fara's paws, the young fox tipped her two buckets over simultaneously, pouring their semi-clear water into the cool basin with care not to make a mess. Duty done, Fara did not waste time in Sophia's way, picking up the now light buckets and taking her leave.
The wooden door clapped twice against the stone side of the wall twice as it closed behind her, barely missing the lass' tail. Sophia chuckled to herself, grasping her cloak with both paws to pull the covering of worn cloth up and over her body. Without her knees to pin it down to the ground, the older fox was as bare-furred as Fara in only a few brief seconds; a white tuft of fur just above and between her breasts. It was discolored from not having a decent wash in some time. Leaning forward like an animal at a fresh watering hole, Sophia dipped her paws into the water, closing her eyes half way at the feeling of semi-warm water. It was a rare treat on such a cool planet, as the electrical components of Ren's dilapidated reclaimator inadvertently warmed the water through heat transfer. Not educated enough to understand that herself, Sophia just felt comforted, cupping the softly moving water to splash it up against her muzzle and cheek-fur.
By far, it felt as important as the cup of water she and her young were desperate to down. Grit and dried blood becoming freed from her fur, a good wash of her face brought a younger sense of invigoration. Opening her maw to take a deep breath, she held back the urge for her lugs to spasm and cough, catching a bit of extra air while looking into the barely lit water. Let the death flow away with the grime. That man's terrified face, and the screams of children. Again, she cupped the water into her paws, placing it to her muzzle and sort of rubbing it longingly against fur and flesh that was wrinkling and aging through toxins and pollution.
Taking the cloth laid against the side of the basin, Sophia dipped it into the reclaimed water, soaking the fabric to wipe down the rest of her fur. Torso to her arms, working it through her fur to un-cake it and loosen dirty bits. Groin to tail, legs to footpaws. What she originally planned to be a quick washing, Sophia ended up enjoying, finding peace in a luxury she did not often get to have. Feet on the edge of the basin, knees close to her body, she dipped in her foxy toes and claws, scrubbing to remove the dried blood of another innocent, much like herself. The dark quiet place, filled with the sound of moving water, removed her from Aspatria for a time, to cleanse away worry and disease. She knew her body was no longer in such good condition. Instinct told her that. But, the child protected within her needed her to survive; the fur of her belly having been washed slowly for his or her benefit, as well as between her legs for the birth that was to come soon - working the cloth up in firm stroking motions, dripping back down into the basin from wet fur.
Catching a sound felt out of place, Sophia flicked both her ears, staring forward with her eyes as if she was spacing out. Sense of sound taking full control, she listened for anything else she did not like. Another thump and metallic jingle, was what she heard, causing her ears to lower with a look of fear crawling into her face. Turning around with a snap of her body, holding the bulge of her belly, Sophia dropped the wet rag with a wet flop against the ground. Crawling to the door, she pushed it open ever so slightly with the tips of her fingers, trying to peer around the corner over to the counter through the tiny slit she made. A man in a blue and black armored suit stood too close for comfort, bringing about a silent growl as the woman's muzzle curled, baring her teeth. Black muzzle mask held beneath the man's arm, he looked too closely to the pacification officers from yesterday evening in east corridor. The crack-down upon the slums was only intensifying, bringing in more corridors to be subject to Francias Renacross' genocide. As if not enough homeless, oppressed Aspatrians did not die in the streets.
"Are you the owner?", her partially folded ears heard the military officer ask with force in his tone, as if to accuse Ren of running her own business as a woman right from the get-go. Sophia's chest tightened, making her want to cough. Fear superseded disease. She would not make a sound, nearly trembling at the sight of a rifle barrel hanging in the light off the soldier's back.
"No sir. My master, Collard, runs this shop. His daughter and I perform the labor.", Sophia heard Ren answer, likely kneeling obediently behind her counter while being addressed. Her voice was soft, and submissive. Quite the actor, right down to her choice of words, calling her husband master, and Fara "his daughter" instead of "my daughter". Right where a woman should be, knowing her place. Though, by what she could see through the slit of the barely ajar door, the shimmer of gun-metal, made the fur on the back of her neck stand up with a gasp. Caught in the muzzle by the butt of a metal energy rifle, the older female fox made a sharp yelp of pain. Sophia hoped to Hakra that Fara was upstairs, and did not have to witness something so brutal. Collard was not as fortunate, forced to hide his emotion. After the violent blow to the maw, she saw a lot of changing colors and light from the slit she looked out of; the man struggling to grasp the chest of Ren's blue cloak, hauling her back to her knees with his face to her's.
"Then why do I hear the filth of this corridor call this building Ren's?", the solder shouted into her face angrily, making Ren tremble as her muzzle began to bruise, and her nose trickle blood from the force of the blow. Once standing strong, Ren's paws trembled in the face of torment and oppression, stammering as she began to speak, only to be shaken again. The slums were being interrogated - military slipping into even the smallest crack. West corridor was no safer than any other, beneath the sprawling outskirts of the city of metal and smoke.
"I only serve - it is a misunderstanding!", Ren spoke in a begging, pleading manner. For this, she had to act less. Never before had she been seen through so easily, all thanks now to increased military presence and oppression. Sophia's claws dug against the stone floor she knelt upon, scowling and breathing shallowly.
"What do you know of opposition? Rebels against the Grand Senator? The spread of lies?", the soldier demanded to know, shouting into the normally humble woman's wounded face. He spoke quickly, subject to subject all at once. Those who spoke out, those whom acted against, and those that spread news and free press - they were the small groups and individuals entire corridors died for. Genocide was not far off, and now there was no escape as it flowed into the remaining slums. Sophia had to protect her child at any cost! The sound of more armored vehicles rolling thunderously down the street she considered home, made her grit her teeth and shrink down towards the floor. While Ren began to stumble over her words, trying to make some kind of answer, the male soldier's ears shifted, and his eyes removed their focus from Ren's bleeding nostrils.
At the same time as he flicked his entirely black furred ear, the man shoved Ren backwards in a heavy throw; the woman falling through the air. Before she had any chance to crash upon the stone wall and floor, he had spun on one of his firm boots, swinging his rifle into his paws as it hung over his shoulder. Ren landing harshly upon stone, fracturing the bones inside her tail once she landed upon it, her cry was negated by the loud blast of the tall fox's weapon. Shrill, as energy weapons were, it fired yellow sparks from it's ammunition battery at the same time a red bullet of concentrated disruptor plasma left it's metal barrel. In an instant, as quickly through the air as the discharge burned, it shot clear through Sophia's wooden door. Sending splinters, it grazed Sophia's left shoulder, searing fur and nicking flesh. As sudden as it was, the pain was followed by intense tightness and fear, yelping as she fell to her side, away from the door to clutch her belly protectively.
Just as fast, the old wooden door was kicked, breaking it free of the hinges that held it for decades. All too fast for her clouded mind, a pair of burly, strong paws lifted her up by the neck in a hurry, tearing at fur. Pulled to her feet and into the shop, standing bare with her toes hardly upon the ground; trembling as they tried to get a better footing.
"Harboring fugitives? Rebels?", the soldier then screamed, saliva falling from his maw; turned away from Sophia to shout at Ren collapsed upon the ground, and Collard standing at her side in his white male's robe. While Sophia gasped for air, squirming in the oppressive soldier's grasp, Collard threw out his right arm.
"No! That is a customer!", he promptly returned in defense of "his" establishment. The soldier focused his eyes on Collard, giving the man a canid snarl.
"We'll see about that!", so threatened the man with the gun; rifle hanging from his shoulder, back around his back. Other men in black suits of thin armor walked in, one with his weapon held ready in his paws, with a vehicle parked directly outside. There were so many of them now, corralling other homeless with violence. Turning on his boot the same way he threw Ren with, the man launched Sophia's feet off the ground with a shove towards the other military officers. Caught in their grasp, Sophia growled out of fright and anger, having her arms pulled behind her back. Held in place, the first soldier of the Aspatrian military raised his right arm and pointed straight for Collard's neck. Keeping up his façade, the husband stood still - showing no disobedience in the face of Grand Senator Renacross' will.
"Your woman. Beat her. See that we don't come back.", he spat in aggression towards the unarmed fox, swinging his arm out to lower it with a snap of his long Aspatrian tail. Collard turned his head to his beloved wife, mother of his child. Curled up on her side upon the ground, tail broken near it's base from her fall, Ren stared upwards with an indescribable look. Tears in her eyes, they went straight down to her soul, looking up into her husband's as blood trickled from her nose and lip, clutching the agonizing point of rifle impact. Desperation, fear, and a mellow sort of sorrow. Puppy-dog eyes.
As ordered, Collard slid down onto his knees in a quick motion, lifting Ren by the fur between her ears. True, and with strength, he slapped and punched, wailing on the face he loved. If they were to survive, Ren would have to suffer at his own fist. For that, he was sorry. Sorry, for eternity.
Sophia winced, flinching and curling her muzzle, trying to turn her eyes away from such a sight; knuckles beating into bone. Ren's cries echoed through the small, stone shop, turning a happy, giving place into sinful ruin; screaming at the blows to her muzzle, cheeks, ears, eyes, and any where else her husband sought fit for a real beating - blood slowly coating his fingers. The bare-furred patron's last glimpse was that of Fara, peering around the corner of the stairs. Wide eyed, tearful fright, simply frozen. Terror and violence, watching her family crumble.
With a yank by the solider taking her into custody, Sophia was turned violently around and ushered faster than her ailing legs could walk, out of Ren's shop. Staggering, the beating she left behind went on as the soldiers and she left. At Ren's flailing footpaws, the promised lunch for Sophia sat abandoned and getting cold, to never be eaten. Modesty as an adult kicking in, the poor pregnant woman growled sadly, paraded into their military vehicle through it's wide rear entrance naked as the street urchins. Her breasts were not for public viewing, unable to cover them with her arms behind her back. The least she could do was walk with her legs tight, to keep as much to herself as possible, until being shoved onto the metal floor of the personnel carrier. Metal banging with the impact of her hip, Sophia pushed her body away from the men with her footpaws, sliding her fur across the metal to back up.
A sharp pain in her belly made her stop squirming her legs, making her wince and grasp the bulge of her stomach. Oh no. Damn it child, please, not now!
Followed onto the truck by the soldier that shot at her and his accompaniments, Sophia was quickly picked up off the ground and thrown into an old chair they had situated towards the back of the armored truck, while another lifted the metal hatch and closed it. Suddenly, it was dark; only light coming from bulbs that were behind her on the driver's end of the vehicle. With it's engine off, her sensitive ears were filled with the moment of many boots against the flimsy metal. They surrounded her, and in fear, the soon-to-be mother did not dare move. Her eyes moved rapidly, watering with tears as she again feared for her life. Inside of her, the stress, tension, and fear had disturbed the muscles surrounding her child. Inadvertently, and enough to make her cry alone, Sophia had stimulated her offspring's labor. The muscles twitched, beginning small, distracting convulsions as it fought against her will to contract. Today would have to be the day, but not here! Not into the hands of murderers! Crossing her legs, Sophia clenched her eyes shut and whimpered softly.
It was a lucky morning. She found a coin. Why, why did this keep happening? Would every corridor face genocide? Is this going to be mass death, surrounding the city? Sophia gulped, enveloped by racing thoughts and fear. The animal caught in the trap. Her predators swarming, not saying a word until it was time to strike. Sounds and the smell of dirty, musty sheets of metal overwhelmed her senses.
With another shock to her fluttering heart, some sort of rope appeared with great force around her neck. Wrapped around his wrists, the solder holding it behind her pulled; Sophia's paws flinging up to it to grasp it as she struggled and kicked for air. It was a long clipping of a vine - it's thorns digging into the flesh of the young woman's neck. Even as she pawed and scratched at it, the cord-like plant did not give, simply cutting at her fingertips with each attempt. After some moments, the first soldier motioned for his comrade to ease the pressure. Instantly, Sophia made a sharp, hoarse gasp for air, barely getting any into her already poorly working lungs. Maw open, filled with saliva, Sophia's eyes squinted to see what was going on in her desperation; toes scraping against the metal beneath her chair that she was now restrained in by her neck. Pressure in her eyes, and a throbbing sensation from the arteries in her neck, this was certain to make her weaker than she already was, even if she had nothing important to tell these men.
"Who are you, street whore, and why were you in a suspected opposition location?", the soldier that struck Ren down demanded an answer to, getting into Sophia's face. Curling her muzzle to growl, she set her teeth together, to snarl at the man as he did Collard.
"I'm no whore. I was bathing!", she growled out, adding force to her voice to play the military's own game. There were other reasons to be disrobed, other than making coin. In his violent nature, as Sophia expected, her answer was replied with a punch to her face by a tightly closed fist. Held in the chair by a jerk of the thorned vine around her neck, the plant cut more deeply, seeping blood into her fur as the flesh around her left eye quickly began to beat with her heart, bruising at the site. Sophia's head hung more limply, needing to focus on breathing if she was to get air in their cruel interrogation.
"Not good enough! Tell us what you know about opposers to the dictator!", he shouted with angry force, spitting into the face of his captive prisoner. Sophia growled lower and slower, frustrated with such questions. She was not clever like Ren was, and did not know how to act.
"I don't know anyone, or anything! There is no rebellion here!", Sophia screamed back, paws balling and clenching at her neck as the vine dug in. Getting tighter, her growl ceased, replaced by a more subdued pained sound as her face scrunched up again from the lack of air and blood flow. Her vision was gaining a static-y, fuzzy appearance as pain enveloped her body. Again, with it, her uterus contracted firmly. It was torture to have your body manipulated by outside influence. A tiny amount of fluids smeared onto the seat she sat upon from her vaginal opening; Aspatrians not having a dramatic breaking of water as other species did. Her labor was a private pain.
Walking around, thinking of what to say perhaps, Sophia listened to the man's wandering clops of his boots against the metal and their resulting deep sounds. As suddenly as he always moved, or as slower as her reactions became, his paw wrapped around her muzzle, giving it a toss to the side - thorns digging deeper into the right side of her neck with a tiny whine of pain.
"Think! I want information!", he shouted again in her face, meeting his eyes to her's in the dim light. Moving his muzzle away a few inches, he made a snide, clever snarl. The fur on his neck seemed to stand on end, caused by aggression.
"Is Ren the owner of that establishment? Are they liberal? Possess written word?", the soldier shot off in rapid unison, like he did with Ren. He sounded desperate to find anything he could. Was this why so many were being round up? They wanted to find reasons to... oh god. Pacification. Trembling her paws as they weakened further, Sophia seethed through her teeth.
"No!", Sophia choked, trying to pull on the vine to breathe. The pain of the thorns made it so hard. Her lungs were sinking into agony. On queue with her sharp words, the movement contracted her uterus, forcing the woman's head up.
"Good people...", she growled awkwardly out from between her clenched teeth, barely enough air to speak. Under the fur of her cheeks, her muzzle was reddening from the restriction of blood. As were her eyes, as her right one lost a single, pearly tear into her dry fur. The soldier growled with intensity, clenching his fists. Slum runners like the whore before him always knew the deep secrets, and it frustrated him that he could not easily milk confessions from her. It was a witch hunt - everyone knew something, and was guilty.
"Then you are a rebel! What do you hide?", he accused sharply, ringing loud in the small enclosure of the military transport vehicle. His paws grasped the strap of his rifle, pulling the metal weapon ready to swing and attack. Seeing it's dull appearance in the light, and hearing the jingle of metal components that the strap attached to, Sophia refrained from speaking. The woman was not a strategic person, but if he was interested, the bastard could stay interested. Holding tight to his energy rifle, the soldier raised it over his head; Sophia lowering her's with a firmly scrunched and toothy expression to accept the blow.
Across her left eye and forehead, the butt of the rifle dug in deeply with it's corners, nearly knocking her from the chair if it wasn't for the durable vine cutting into her neck. Her cry of pain was choked back by a strong pull, sending her head far back and her arms to follow - blood flowing down around her eye, from a wound above it. So strong, the blow to her head had the world spinning. But, with her arms out of the way, the solider slid his right boot back on the gritty metal and swung the dark gun like a bat. It's impact would be dire.
The end of the energy rifle slammed into Sophia's chest, straight across with enough forward momentum to cause deflection of her ribs; breaking two, and sending a destructive shockwave into organs riddled with disease and wear. In an instant, Sophia's pupils dilated, overcome with agony. As if by instinct, even if it made the vine choke her air and blood off entirely, her body lurched forward with a gurgling spatter of blood from her maw. It flew a short distance to land at the soldier's feet, covering her legs and belly. Flowing freely from her muzzle, Sophia choked on it quietly, without energy, and lacking life.
With a 'kah!', an Aspatrian sound of mocking, the solider set the butt of his rifle down against the metal floor with a clang. Sitting slumped over, the woman looked pathetic. That much blood from one blow. Limp, it came from her face and maw, dripping and continuing to flow. With another motion of his paw, he directed the soldier with the vine to let go and give up. Once the vine left her neck, Sophia barely moved. Her head only fell to the side, eyes half open, but staring into nothing.
"Leave her. Let's report back and make up something.", the solder snapped with a shake of his head, throwing his rifle back over his shoulder. Giving the hatch a shove, light filled the truck's inside, until the heavy door banged loudly and kicked up dust and debris into the air. The musty smell was replaced by polluted Aspatrian air; the men taking their leave.
"You. Stay with her. I want her.", the lead soldier commanded with a closed fisted pat to his armored chest as he walked, to the black masked fox that choked Sophia. 'Tav, kana', he had responded, with 'kana' being a formality like 'sir'. That solider remained standing upon the lowered hatch of the transport as the others left, looking out over the now empty looking street as a light gust of wind kicked up some dust without resistance.
Ears not pivoting or moving, and eyes fixed, Sophia looked half dead. Inside her chest, her lungs filled with blood - poisoned tissue rupturing to bleed out with such a forceful blow. Her heart skipped, beating erratically. Having coughed up blood once already, that was the icing on the cake. Shallow breaths sounded as if they popped and gurgled, as air tried to fill bronchioles filled with fluid. Tail and all, the young fox was motionless, aside from the contractions within.
Time passed. The armored soldier walked around her in circles, keeping an eye on her idly as he wandered and paced. Sophia's eyes slowly gained some sense of sight, coming back to her in a haze and double vision. Pain, was all her mind could process in it's cloudy, milky thoughts. Tap, tap, came the sound of her warm red blood landing against the unrefined gray metal below, over her right side where her head hung. By now it was soaked into the fur around and below her left eye, flowing in channels around both sides from a gash that left her fur mangled and pointing all directions. Maw open slightly, her teeth were staining red, with a slow drip from each choking breath she took. The only feeling that was not pain, was that of her child. Contractions and twitching, weak convulsions of her groin muscle and uterus distracted her from the beating and warmth of blood.
Life could be so unfair. If she was to die, it should have happened yesterday beside that man in east corridor. That way such pain would have not befell her, and this all would have ended before she could witness the fall of her own corridor.
Sophia's injured left eye twitched, without so much as a blink.
No. That was a selfish thought. She ran because she wanted her child to live. So she could be a mother, and show her offspring all the things that made her happy. Sick or not, young kits at play was a happy sight. Washing her body with warm water, brought her happiness. Sharing a meal with a friend, open and generous in their plight, brought her happiness. Sophia had so many memories, those thirty-two years. From when she was born, to right this moment, trapped in the fog of her failing mind. Inside the contractions of her uterus, her child hugged within her warmth, had not yet had any. Not even a chance to skin their knees, and enjoy what could be enjoyed in such a terrible world. Life of adversity was better than none at all.
Finally, Sophia's eyes blinked, pupils shrinking slightly. It was darker than it was before, suggesting she was out for quite some time in her catatonic state. Although, her surroundings were so bright. Not moving, her eyes noticed the soldier standing in the truck right in front of her, leaning against the side just prior to the ramp. Out in the sky above, it looked as if dense clouds had moved in. Not the kind from the factories, but real ones. Her ears picked up a muffled rumble as that sense returned, ringing strangely in her ears as lightning skittered across the sky. Beautiful yellow, orange, and red bolts; the electricity igniting naturally occurring gasses in the planet's red atmosphere. It used to be called a dancing flower, for a plant that was long since gone from their soil. Shimmering off her dull eye and blood surrounding it, Sophia wanted her child to see it.
It was why she clung to life. This was her chance, the man was not looking! In the throws of death, Sophia needed to dig deep into her spirit to find energy. It was energy that she found.
Laying upon the floor, a few clips of energy rifle ammunition were left haphazardly by their owners. Only having heard rumors over her life, it was a gamble she would have to take. Barely able to see or move, this would sap her of the little fight she had left. Upon the next crack of lightning and strong rumble of thunder, Sophia moved with an explosion of agility. Her child would not end like this, struggling to be born!
Pupils immediately correcting themselves, her right paw scooped the heavy rifle battery off the metal floor with a reverberating scrape, using her forward momentum to launch to her feet. The soldier's ears stiffened straight up, spinning around with his paws going for his rifle. It was a slow motion, heart stopping moment. One would die. Ammunition clip clutched tight in her paw, Sophia lunched towards the man in armor; the reeled back brick of ammo, bring forced through the air like a punch. The man's rifle got only as high as her side, beneath the block of her left arm. Will to live taken over, the end of the clip that would have went into the disruptor-based energy rifle was punched into the soft left side of the fox's neck.
Like a clap of lighting above, the military truck's panels of metal shook with an ear splitting bang - red bolts streaming from the ammo clip into the soldier's neck. With a fall backwards, the soldier landed with a dull thud against the lowered hatch of the vehicle. Inside his mask that covered his muzzle for breathing, the clear covering over his eyes were spattered with blood. Sophia staggered, falling to her paws and knees with another burst of blood from her muzzle which she covered with her paw, battery falling at her side with another clatter. The energy contained within killed the male fox with vicious gruesomeness, just as the tale she heard long ago went, about the safety of the rifle clips. Cheap Aspatrian technology.
World spinning around her, Sophia urged her body up. Footpaws taking a swagger against the floor of the truck, she found her footing and started running. Street empty, she paid no mind to all the blood, or her lack of a cloak. In the shade of the coming storm, she worked her way down the street to her alley. It was all she knew, needing a safe place to birth her child. Best speed being an erratic stumble, she moved along the side of the buildings on her side of the street, using her paws to brace herself as she dripped a trail of blood behind from her maw. Popping, gargling; she had to cough up blood frequently in order to have room in her lungs to breathe. Chest crippling her with pain, Sophia was drowning, and ischemia was suffocating her heart. Sobbing once between her chokes, her eyes filled with the admittance of her situation. She was dying.
This street had been her home for so long! Now it was silent, same as the outskirts of east corridor yesterday. In the distance, she heard weapons fire, and the rumble of plasma grenades. They were tiny flashes in the sky, compared to the brilliance of an Aspatrian lightning storm. By the time she had returned to her alley, Sophia could barely walk. Her tail was limp and numb from loss of blood flow to it, and her vision had broken into a terrible blur. It was as if her mind was turning off, piece by piece, as her body failed on her.
"Sophia!", she heard called, making that shrill sound in her ears as they rang. Claws gripping on to the coarse exterior brick beside her alley, panting for air, her eyes looked up listlessly as the form running towards her. It was Mel, racing in a hurry down from the other end of the street. The slightly younger fox gasped the upper arms of Sophia, looking at her condition with fright. Blood covered and smeared all over her fur, with her face and head wounded severely. Thunder clapping above, Mel's paws trembled.
"Sophia, they're coming! Please, the pacifiers - we need to run!", Mel spoke quickly in a teary panic, not mellowed out by any further drugs. Making a quick, coughing sort of sputter, a few further dribbles of blood slid from Sophia's tongue. The shake of her head was so slow and weak, it spoke loud and clear.
"I can't.", the battered woman spoke softly, her voice popping as air blew bubbles with the blood in her airway. Mel bit her lip, looking down all three ways they street could go from the intersection. Motions so rapid, tears flung from her face.
"Come on Sophia!", Mel begged, tail quivering. With her paws upon her friend's arms, she helped Sophia stay up as her body began to slide down the brick.
"Get me in the alley.". Sophia spoke as she tried to breathe. Mel opened her muzzle to beg again.
"Alley.", the mother-to-be reaffirmed. With another cough, a light spatter of further blood ended up upon Mel's clothing as the girl helped Sophia into the alley to lean against the wall as they had just the previous night. Where they shared half a loaf of synthetic bread, Sophia was assisted into a sitting position, allowing her thighs to spread wide. Eyes dulled, her head hung weakly, gasping for bits of air. Having lost so much blood, and her heart pumping less, the world around her was getting blurry - from all her senses. It was like listening through water, moving her ears around to analyze what was around her. Mel placed her paw on Sophia's stomach, looking down at the bare groin that caught her attention. With a worried, scared sound of desperate emotion, her muzzle flung straight back to Sophia's to avert her eyes.
"Not now! We have to go!", she pleaded, as if Sophia could stop the coming of her child. Sophia let out a growl of pain and suffering, sad in her time of need. Paws limp at her sides upon the ground, the only thing keeping her up was the wall behind her.
"You need...", Sophia's feminine voice shook, broken and full of fluid, as another bit of red gushed from her lungs down her neck. It didn't even seem like the fox was noticing it any longer.
"To... take care of my child. Take them away.", she asked as a dying wish. To make a dying wish was a rip to her proverbial heart, which ached like her real one. It was slowing steadily, too badly aggravated from a violent blow to organs that were already sick. Mel sobbed, crying as she placed her paws together and lowered her head into them. Sophia did not have much strength to push, but she assisted her contractions as best she could. Pain was going away, making it easier. A pair of ears began to crest between her legs, with a gentle drip of fluid. The blue shockwave of a compressed plasma grenade rattled the buildings that made their alley, leaving pebbles and dust to fall from the roofs. Throwing her head to one side, Mel grit her teeth and squealed in agony. They needed to go, now!
"Sophia, please!", Mel cried, scraping her claws against the dirty ground at her friend's side. Sophia's breathing was awkward and labored, body trembling randomly as she worked to birth her child. The small fox's decent was slow, and Mel simply wanted to save her old friend. She was there with Sophia and Ren both. Shared memories, good and bad. Upon the ground, Sophia's blood was slowly ending up there, getting upon Mel's fingers. But, her friend did not reply to her plea, as agonizing as it was. Sophia's eyes blurred the wall in front of her, trying to look down at the life she was giving. With a teary growl, Mel rushed and got a shard of glass from the same pile of debris Sophia found a coin that morning, rushing back to Sophia's side to collapse upon her knees. This was difficult. The things they had seen did not prepare her for this.
A small cry came echoed and muffled in Sophia's ears. They pivoted so slowly, as if calmly. Looking down in a swaggering stupor, barely able to hold her head, a smile still managed to come across her muzzle. She was a mother. A lightly furred, soaking wet bundle of life was being helped from her; only it's legs still inside her body. As if a dream, Sophia lifted her right paw, her fingers shaking. She placed her index finger against her child's right paw, feeling the touch of boney little fingers. The sensation brought the little one to squeeze the tip of her finger, bringing willing tears to the parent's blue eyes.
"Kayla.", she whispered above the blood, and the weakness. Finally she knew the name of her child. Kayla, her beautiful daughter. To her, she wished a good life. Act right, and be yourself. Try not to get in trouble, and see what the world has to offer. It's not easy, and has it's twists, but it's life. Remember, mommy loved you, and will forever.
Mel had been working to cut the child's umbilical cord with the glass, having trouble cutting through the fibrous line. The baby cried softly upon the ground; an infant's newfound wail. Once cut free, Mel quickly scooped the newborn kit into her arms, standing up in a hurry. Looking down, she then stood silent, and still.
Sophia's head hung downward, limp. The trickle of blood had slowed to a drop every few seconds. Thunder rumbled along the brick buildings, and energy rifles fired in the closing distance, with the cry of a newborn child. At her black furred feet, Mel stared down at her friend. Devoid of life, she was gone, leaving with the sound of Kayla in her erect ears. Mel clenched her eyes closed, holding back a muffled sob. Sophia had been murdered, her life stolen, and in her arms was her last remnant. She didn't know what to do, but run.
Mel clutched the newborn kit to her chest, taking off in a sprint. Tears soaked her orange fur, covering Kayla's muzzle with a paw to muffle her cries as they ran opposite the direction of the sounds of rifle fire. Sophia, was left in her blood - a casualty of a dark world.
As she was held, jostled by running, the newborn opened her eyes, seeing a colorful array of lightning creep the sky above.
* * * * * * * *
Kayla stared up at her ceiling with a contemplative sigh. It was one of the rare times Jacob was at her house, and not the other way around to take advantage of Lory's lack of parental interruption. In the middle of a school week, it was all Emily would allow on such short notice. The fox was lucky to have been granted the request at all after getting in trouble with her only that morning.
"You know, I don't usually talk about that. Sometimes, I don't even remember it.", Kayla continued the conversation, with Jacob sitting with his claws behind his head beside her bed. With Emily around, he couldn't get away with sharing it, leaving Kayla relaxed on her back. Jacob hummed, tilting his head curiously. All he had done was ask if she had a middle name. The tone of her voice suggested he asked the wrong question. Kayla's sigh up towards her white ceiling added to that feeling.
"Aspatrians did not really have middle names, but I guess I was given one by Earth standards. It was my mother's name, apparently. Kayla Sophia Ackart. It was supposed to be in her memory.", the soon to be eight year old spoke softly, idly tapping her soft furred tail against her bed. It was a hard thing to remember, never having known her parents. So young when she escaped Aspatria, Kayla could barely even remember stories of her. It was such a dangerous and sad place, frightening her to the core when she wasn't trying to play. The same cargo ship landing lights her mother would see every day as she stepped into her alley, ended up being the same ones Kayla did, on the night she stowed away on a vessel and made it to Earth. She had walked past the alley her mother lived, and died, and never knew. Jacob looked down between his legs with a note of guilt, knowing very certain he touched upon something Kayla had not found peace with.
"I'm sorry. It's a pretty name.", Jacob adopted the same somber tone, making sure to at least add a happy note to his words by complimenting it. Kayla turned her head onto it's side, muzzle to her pillow. She looked at her close companion with the same blue eyes Sophia had, those forty-one years ago.
"Emily is the only mother I've had. Those who cared for me on Aspatria came and went, and the man I found on Earth met the same fate. Never having known her, it had never hurt me until I became a penitatas and had a parent. Now I wonder what I missed out on, and who she was. If she'd be proud of a criminal.", Kayla spoke with a surprising lack of self-confidence, as if she was beating herself up. The Karrian could see it in her face, the sort of loss she felt. In the end, there was nothing he could say.
"I can imagine she would be. You're famous, in good ways and bad, and you're very smart. Parents forgive mistakes, they're great for it.", the boy chuckled softly at the end, taking his claws out from behind his head. Leaning forward, he tucked them into the lap of his slacks, wearing his usual look of casual seriousness. Kayla called it his doctor face. The bit of care got a smile to come slowly back to her muzzle, giving it a scratch from her right paw.
"Here's hoping. She's missed, at least by me.", Kayla expressed as a warm thought, on that sunny day in Sol. The days beneath a dim red sky were so far away. Jacob lifted his right claw, making a dismissing, waving sort of gesture to open a humorous thought.
"You need a pet. Ask Emily for a cat.", the reptilian rejuve offered as a solution to her longing feelings, playing therapist for a girl needing an outpouring of affection. Kayla made a groan and stuffed her pillow over her head. Jacob thumped the back of his head against the wall with an awkward expression on his green muzzle. Girls were difficult things.
"Penitatas don't get pets. I don't get toys, or candy either. Sometimes I'm surprised I can sneeze without asking permission.", Kayla spoke with the same chipper sort of tone she had, thankfully, though muffled under the synthetic, comfortable fibers of her pillow. Jacob sighed with relief. Bullet avoided! It made him snicker a little, as Kayla trailed off into being sour about getting in trouble that morning. A good swatting from Emily's hand right before you get on the hover-bus was apparently an unwelcome thing. Who knew?
"Try it sometime. Ask for permission to sneeze.", Jacob laughed, shifting his Karrian tail against the carpet. Kayla found a foul taste in her maw at the thought.
"I'd have to swallow too much soap to make it worth it. Even my dad wouldn't find that funny.", the fox lifted her pillow off her head to grin at her well behaved companion's more mischievous ideas. This was life, and it was her's indeed. Sophia would have been happy.