Kayla: A The Fallen

The 28th century was but a single stop in time for the technology of rejuvenation, when the social systems created around it had already made billions see more sunrises than a single lifetime had to offer. From its earliest inception did it incarcerate Earth’s convicts, forming generations of Penitatas who served their time until the day of their parole began an adventure anew. From the first Melody sung by a Lurking Dragon, their various stories made for countless memories – and at least one thankful fox. (Story Sixty-Three)
Concept by Lurking Dragon
Kayla and story by Professor Bob
More Kayla Stuff!: www.Professor-Bob.net

Between curtains of plain white against bare rustic wood, an open bedroom window looked out upon the gentle hills of an English countryside. The colorful wildflowers of summer had since come to pass, and an aging year had dulled the once thick fields of farmland into swaths of brown, bordered by the lasting green of brush. A cool breeze carried on the morning sunlight, drifting over the unpainted lip of the windowsill to stroke the thicker, darker strands of gray fur along Richter’s spiked spine as he laid on his stomach in bed. With a paw propping his muzzle up and nothing upon his lithe Roferian frame but a pair of briefs shaped for his smooth-fronted anatomy, tail resting against its white seat, it was where where he had promptly returned as soon as he had finished his breakfast; a book thrown open beneath his emerald eyes. There had come to be several stacked beside the edge of his bed alongside a faintly messy pile of printed news articles atop his nightstand, forming a collection of noteworthy events and tomes alike. Not one to share the things on his mind, it was only incidental that the Tanner’s picked up on his affinity for literature by spotting him examining their bookshelves, and they made an earnest effort to help the five year old that never seemed to truly play find something leisurely to do – and it surely worked, seeing him set aside time to lose himself in the pages he had been given like a child sinking into a quiet toy.

It was a ‘Sandy Day’, which meant a trip to his court-ordered therapist if she wasn’t coming to them, and, most importantly, no chores to run out and do before they’d go; not his usual, nor the more purposefully grueling ones that occasionally cropped up out of the blue like his other “unearned” punishments. Those bouts of preordained discipline from the justice department had the potential to come down every single day for what he had done to earn his black letters, making the morning’s respite all the more welcome for the twinges of bruising beneath his tail that were seemingly never allowed to heal. The book on top of his bedside stack had been his recent go-to, but it was an old Earth tale of fantasy and adventure that had drawn the rough-edged lad into his reading spot, engrossed in a story about humans and these pointier-eared humanoids they called elves, slinging their magics and bloodying their blades in a quest for power, glory, or to defend what was theirs. The sweet, fresh cold air filling the room and seeping through young Velius’ fur became the wind of a mountain grotto, where a band of ragtag guardians stood against the advancing hoard of

Richter blinked, squinting his furred draconic brows with a growing note of frustration. A sharp green eye crossed the text sprawled against his mattress and over to his doorway, where his “mother figure” of punitively-assigned sorts stood, having been watching him read since her footfalls stopped short in the hallway.

“… Yes, Elizabeth?”, the boy questioned of the interruption with an underlying growl.

It’s just nice to see you enjoying yourself, all settled in like that. It’s a touch chilly for me, but it’s good to know what you find calm and comfortable.”, Misses Tanner happily spoke up to the sight of Richter losing himself in a space he made his own, healthy as it was, as she came into the outdoor air of the bedroom. “Though I’m still very much not used to a Penitatas doing things like opening windows without asking if it was okay first, my lad.”

Tch’. It’s my window.”, came the sort of retort that had become commonplace between the once Velius and his parents. His mother merely shook her head on her way to his closet, unfazed from her lively demeanor; her long strands of red hair catching the breeze.

I was only pointing it out to teach the proper ways. You have my permission.”, Elizabeth extended without scold, having needed to adopt a very abnormally wide berth of tolerance when it came to Richter’s behavior. To flay him for every verbal slight would be impossible and torturous, though that wasn’t to say that Richter hadn’t calmed down or settled in at all. The angry little hellion had toned himself back enough to reach an equilibrium with she and her husband, knowing where his shifted “red lines” laid, and what happens when they’re crossed. He wasn’t keen on breaking those personal cardinal rules, and that created the foundational basis for his routine as a Penitatas.

It was such punitively-ingrained training that had Richter feeling suddenly tense, watching his clothing bins be slid open at the wrong hour from his prone perch.

You ended up running off from the table before I could talk to you, though. We have to be at Sandy’s office early today.”, confirmed his suspicion with the emergence of his nice outing trousers.

What?!”, Richter cried out, furling his muzzle into angry wrinkles that bared his Roferian teeth. “Why?! That’s not fucking fair!”, fell well into the realm of a five year old’s scalded mewling as he shoved himself up on his forearms, smacking his book closed.

I know, I know… ”, Elizabeth turned when she figured he’d get legitimately upset, watching him work to close his window above the bed and return his book to his pillow in a huff, “I didn’t want to interrupt when I saw you all cozy for your downtime, and I’m sorry for that, but I promise the rest of the day will be nice once we get moving. You’re due for a dermal regenerator treatment to keep your bottom from callousing, since I can’t use any nano-lotion on you – that nanite and empathic suppressant drug you get and all. The cream is more than just for pain relief, I’ll have your judge know. We’ve got a nurse meeting you at the office, and then Sandy’s got something big in store for you today that I think you might warm up to in time, if you gave it a chance. Besides, you’d like to have your bottom not sore for a little while, hmm?”

By then Richter’s foot-claws were returning to the hardwood floorboards, lashing his tail’s tinier spines free of the trailing bed sheets he was pulling. He provided no further protest with the explanation, managing to hold up his agitated facade even if he had no objection to having his forever-bruises finally healed; arms crossing to wait for his chosen clothing. And while other Penitatas would be promptly punished for using such language as he did, it was ignored as yet another compromise – Richter’s core mannerisms tolerated as baby steps were taken, so long as he didn’t swear at anyone. It was at Sandy’s request, to encourage Richter to share without fear of reprisal.

I was thinking that maybe we could swing by a park in Liverpool’s penny district when we’re done, too. It’s due time you stretched your legs and had a proper day off the farm. Maybe you’ll like playgrounds?”, Elizabeth kept a positive forward outlook in her voice as she pulled out the last few pieces of Richter’s outfit, though that only made the Penitatas increasingly wary.

You’re trying too hard to sell this. What’s the catch?”, his distrustful, guarded nature had him questioning… and, for once, appeared to have merit, reading into Elizabeth choosing to close his clothing bins before answering.

The department wants to take advantage of your treatment coming this morning, and make you pay for it with tears, I’m afraid. You’re getting one of those spankings before we leave.”, the strong, motherly woman admitted of the looming Penitatas business with her back still turned to the lad. ‘One of those’ was what she called an unearned punishment from above, scheduled or otherwise, and its imminence was something Richter could sense, seeing his folded clothing articles set aside instead of given to him. He spat a sound of disquieted agitation from his maw, sneering off at his marbled wood-tone wall to avert his eyes.

Of course I am.”, he uncomfortably grumbled. “So what am I get-… ”

The reach of his mother’s hand to the closet’s top shelf made Richter freeze the moment her fingertips touched one particular grip-wrapped handle out of all the spanking implements that stood out, far above his reach. His draconic features all melted out of their ornery furls as the scrape of wood became the only sound in the deafening stillness of the farmhouse. The moment the tool of pain was free and brought down to be wielded within Elizabeth’s hand, she turned her head to see Richter’s broken, wide-eyed shock just staring up at her; tail limp in silent, mortified plea.

It was a simple black painted paddle with a slightly rounded shape to its reach, just the right size for a five or six year old. What made it special, was holes. Eight of them, bored right through a harsh, heavy thickness better suited to the likes of an older Penitatas. It was meant only for a judge, to be used in the judicial paddling of someone Richter’s age.

That scourge came down when the Justice Department said so, suspending the rule of ‘no blisters until eight’… just for him, and the Tanner’s safe hands.

While it would have looked to anyone that Richter was barely a Penitatas, getting away with so much, the reality of the matter was a whole lot different when his punishments were compared to others wearing his letters – the punished life of the little boy who took the lives of seven-hundred and fifty-eight people, and attempted to steal far more. Richter stared at Elizabeth’s somber face with such wounded, helpless sorrow, looking so much like the five year old he was underneath his layers of ‘Velius’. So small, and so fragile, that child’s paddle was pure, inescapable agony… matters only getting worse when he crossed his biggest red line, and failed to endure a punishment as told. In the coming seconds, overwhelmed by fright, trepidation, and his body preparing itself to be mauled; stomach knotting and throat vicing; the little Roferian’s jaw locked up into a tremble above the guarded squirm of his claws against his lithe, thinly-framed chest. Wishing for it to not be true soon faded away beneath his mother’s gaze, gnashing his teeth with a visible, deeply obvious pour of tears into his green eyes, all before a mixture of acceptant rage and inconsolable grief tore him apart. With a shrill, childish growl, the boy grabbed the waist of his underwear and yanked them roughly down his legs, spinning around to throw himself over the edge of his bed; tail thrown forcefully upward as both of his fists came down, slamming his mattress. A hard scooping sweep of his arms brought a wad of his sheets up to his muzzle, burying his face as he broke out into a sobbing, nearly bawling fit beneath the once restful colors of his window.

Hastily forcing himself into position only to start crying that earnestly made Elizabeth frown, even if her son was Richter Saccard. At the end of the day, he was still a five year old in that head of his.

Lad… ”, Elizabeth gingerly cut in with her voice, pulling the boy’s desk chair over to his left hip, “This is when other young Penitatas would ask their mums and dads to please not do what they said they were going to do. They ask for mercy, Richter, even if it can’t come because it’s ‘one of those’. They know it’s not going to stop what’s coming, but they get a few extra reassurances from their parents out of it to help them cope… a little something to feel like it’s going to be okay, once it’s all done.”

I-I’m not g-gonna’ beg f-’hic’-for thi-things you can’t ch-cha-ange!”, Richter’s young voice broke again and again, muffling his syllables into his bed and sheets as Elizabeth took her seat. The feeling of a hand came upon the thinner end of his thick tail, taking firm, resolute hold, and a more unfamiliar sensation of restraint came across the Roferian’s calves… his limbs becoming braced by his mother’s leg as she sat on that chair beside him, pinning him without the ability to kick.

Just… ”, he hiccuped and blubbed again, “get i-it over w-with… ”, was the only true mercy there really was to ask for, as pragmatically as Richter seemed to process the universe around him. Behind the rearward point of his Roferian ears, the gentle reel of Elizabeth’s right hand caught a gleam of morning sun off the edge of the hellacious paddle.

Alright.”, she sedately obliged.

The blackened instrument never seen outside of a courtroom jerked with a twist of Elizabeth’s wrist, and in the same motion snapped through the air to the whistle of its holes. Wieldy and without drag, it smacked instantaneously against the thin gray fur of Richter’s bottom cheeks and the fluffier base of his tail, harsh as could be upon one so little. The resulting clap came at a sharp pitch with the throaty undertone of wood drilling into lithe, nearly babyish flesh at velocity; an organic sound as jarring as the guttural choke it nearly drowned out. Eyes gnashed shut and teeth viced into an incredible snarl, Richter’s sheet-burried muzzle dug into his bed to be jolted forward a second time in steadily paced succession, and then ground into the cotton strands for a third with hardly a whimpering squeak for how unbelievably painful it was. Such was the Roferian’s way – to curl up tight, gritting and bearing until his muscles and constitution collapsed as would be inevitable, dulling the blows with the sheer force of his will for as long as he could hold out.

Deafened by the pops of the paddle and his immediate agony, piercing in both sting and throb of bruise, it was by only the fifth quickly-delivered blow that his curled muzzle-lip began to tremble the same as his paws, going white-knuckled in squeezing his bed sheets. It wasn’t like him to fold after a mere couple seconds of corporal punishment, always seeming to seethe and growl longer than others, but there was no holding back the unbridled intensity of a near judicial-grade spanking; his ‘nine’ on the pain tolerance scale be damned.

M’ruuf!”, shrilly escaped in a muffled cry through his draconic teeth at the same time the paddle clapped against his rear again, mixing the loud sounds with the scratch of his claws thrashing against his bed.

A-arr’ruuuf!”, screamed from Richter’s throat into a still closed maw as the strokes continued unabated, shuddering his body with violent urgency. His legs shook against Elizabeth’s pin, and his foot-claws kicked and writhed helplessly above the wood floor; toes reaching out with every searing smack of the paddle to his backside, rhythmically jerking to his spanking.

Watching from her seat as she paddled her penny son in the severe manner the Justice Department entrusted her with, Elizabeth kept herself steadfast when the little boy’s arms scrambled out of his bedding in a guarded dart for his face. As if curling up into a ball of agony, paws jammed into fists, Richter screamed out the most heartfelt howl a five year old could make; his maw unable to stay clamped any longer, even if his eyes couldn’t vice down any harder if he tried. Streaming tears upon his thin fur, the resulting cry was panicked and boisterous from a wide open muzzle, well fitting the sheer flaying that paddle was giving his tiny, soft mounds of bottom-cheek. His resolve all but shattered, the piling pain; venomous and battering; brought Richter’s bawling to new heights as he made every awful sound imaginable. Screeching and sobbing, his delicate young skin stung to the highest of heavens, and a driving weight soaked deep through muscle as far as the paddle’s face could touch, slathering his clenching bottom in a sea of growing crimson from the base of his tail to the crease of his thighs. Where the underside of his tail tucked into the swelling, welted shape of his hot backside, the furless peek of his tailhole just barely escaped the slapping whip of his mother’s worst paddle, as flat and deep as the instrument could sink into his flesh. Still, the occasional glancing nick upon the peaks of his squeezed hole’s little pink wrinkles added the tiniest, most fine of flame-kissed needles to everything gouging at his nerves.

Not being the type to collapse into a weak bawl once exhaustion set in, his tears kept up in earnest all the way through the harsh rap of the paddle beneath his squirming tail, speckling his sheets from the sheer force of the blows spattering droplets from his eyelids. The Roferian howled like he was being mauled even after his throat began to fail him, and his tense muscles begged for him to stop fighting against the pain – his clawing attempts to roll over or crawl forward utterly futile, spanked so far past any reasonable limit a five year old Penitatas would be allowed. For an act of punishment that broke him within seconds, the paddling resounded against Richter’s bedroom walls for a passing minute… and then well into another, turning his lament into something that sounded little different from a Kindern toddler’s, mixed with that of a tiny adult’s. Loud, raucous tears, amidst the thrashing of arms. As his bottom took swat after swat, turning the glowing metal brand of that judicial paddle white hot, the blistering sting of its ebony touch became exactly that.

Through his thin fur, reddened to the point of mottling into a splotchy swirl of purple and blue, the white of blisters easily cropped up upon the peaks of Richter’s twin cheeks, as effortless as it was to do something so cruel to someone so little. And though the tiny hacker never said a word through his powerful, sobbing wails, saving his oxygen from yowling useless pleas, those blisters bubbled and grew with every single stroke, sharply spanking fluid out of weeping tissues. It hardly took but a few more snappy flicks of Elizabeth’s forearm to carefully and painstakingly peel more skin away, pushing the blister’s borders further out until they became large, irregular patches straight across her boy’s little backside – each one launching a tiny puff of lost Roferian fur through the air once their follicles succumbed to the blister’s ripping advance. It was enough for Richter to rear back his head and cry out in infantile anguish.

Then, just like that, the hateful metronome of the paddle simply stopped.

The very split second that Elizabeth eased her restraint upon Richter’s tail and legs, the Roferian Penitatas tore from his position with the fervor of a child that just had just pressed his paw into a stove burner. In a blur, lost in his unceasing throes of pain, Richter launched sideways out of his mother’s clutches, banging his shins against the bed frame before landing upon the ground with a clambering scratch of limb and claw, tearing at the floorboards in desperation. That scramble didn’t get him far before smacking his forehead against the floor to bury his face; his paws darting under his tail to grip his backside for dear life, crying in absolute hysterics. His spinal spikes and their fluffier, darker stripe of surrounding fur down his back sputtered and heaved, and it was difficult for Elizabeth to feel much different, having her penny throw himself to the floor, rather than her consoling embrace. As the ebony paddle slid from her fingers to rest upon Richter’s mess of sheets, she watched him roll limply onto his side, holding his scorching bottom as he melted into such an incredible bawl… all in his lonesome misery. To paddle a child like that and not even get to comfort them afterward was the worst feeling in the world, for a disciplinarian that cared.

Swallowing uneasily in her thoughts, unable to find it in herself to chide him for reaching back to rub something as bad as that was, Elizabeth took in the sobering aftermath of her handiwork for a moment before she got up out of Richter’s desk chair. Wanting to switch promptly to ‘mum mode’ and make things better, knowing well that Penitatas who broke major rules got much lesser spankings than her special-case son just did as an unearned punishment, she hastily went back to Richter’s closet to stuff his clothing for the day into a carrying bag, opting to do what the little pragmatist would prefer she did – get him to the relief of that dermal regenerator treatment as expediently as she could, when stroking his back could never hope to ease just how badly everything under those lifted blisters hurt. It felt macabre to race by Richter’s slumped figure and anguished face, gathering her things, but once that bag and her purse met with the salmon, flowery frills upon her stout shoulders, Elizabeth swept herself down to Richter’s side with the scoop of her hands.

I know getting picked up annoys you, but… upsy-daisy!”, she lifted his small stature with ease, cradling her Penitatas by his back and unmarred thighs. And, as she walked with purpose for the front door, settling Richter into her chest, she couldn’t help but notice that he merely opted to continue his cry, not even bothering to growl or whine that he was being carried. It seemed she had made an acceptable choice.

That eagerness to leave created a level of cooperation that extended further than she thought was rationally possible, not so much as feeling Richter flinch when she went to maneuver him into his rather atypical car-seat. At the bottom of its bolstering shape, the velvety black of padding gave way to the harsher three-sided pyramids of a black letter penny’s wooden punishment stool… something that made him sharply intake air through his sopping wet nostrils, squeaking quietly and pathetically once his weight sank into them. No penny ever accepted being placed on their stool after a sound spanking, and what Richter got made the pointed wooden studs of his portable seat far more piercing than anyone could tolerate; his blisters screeching, and bruises like hard, horrible stones against the tips of tenderizing spears. Without howling a syllable, the five year old seethed with rapid breaths until his lap restraint was buckled down and he had a nice padded armrest to slump into and sob.

After a purposely gentle lift-off and auto-pilot ascent into the upper-altitude commuter lanes meant for distance travel, Elizabeth settled her hands into her lap and kept an eye on the draconic lad in back. Enduring his seat, he steadily composed himself in time as best as one could expect under the circumstances, easing his hiccuping snivel back behind the clench of his teeth amidst their serene sail among the morning’s white puffy clouds. Still, his contorted muzzle looked anything but peaceful, rubbing so profusely at the tepid remnants of his tears.

Fucking hell... that hurts.”, he eventually managed to weakly moan through a strained, well-punished voice; the sopping wet sparkle of a reddened green eye peering out from behind the wipe of his paw in the rear-view mirror. His pain-racked, agitated snout gave rise to a growling scoff.

“… You’ve made me break my back digging holes for no reason… clean animal filth out of every stall… ”, suddenly came out without context, earning the turn of Elizabeth’s head.

That time you made me stand in the corner of the metal cow barn when it was so fucking hot, and didn’t let me out until I sweat all the way through those stupid overalls and cried like a bitch… ”, Richter’s grumbling revived the memory of the prickling heat, formulating a list through his nagging need to blubber and sniffle.

Or when you caned my damned feet and still sent me out for chores… or even the first time you pulled that shit-forsaken black paddle down for five of the worst whacks I had ever felt, just for you to use it today for real, like I didn’t scream then over just five… ”, got Elizabeth’s face to wilt, considering the boy rarely shared even his grievances.

Do you seriously need to keep doing these over-the-top fucking things, like every day isn’t awful enough?”, he spat, voice shaking and squeakily upset enough to become airy, even from his intimidatingly sharp-fanged maw.

It was good to finally know what Richter considered to be a “bad” punishment in order to relegate them properly, but it wasn’t when or how she would have preferred to learn; glared at by eyes that watered too hard to even see the sympathy on her face. Pushing him too far was on purpose on days like today, being who he was, but not all the ones the Roferian noted were unearned from above, or meant to be so rough – like the time he was caught playing with the controls for the farm’s irrigation system in the summer, wanting to fire up the sprinklers on a hot day, prompting that very long, sweltering stint in the barn. So soon after his arrival and incident with the barbed wire, she hadn’t yet realized how much Richter could still swallow past his breaking point… the sort of thing that eventually earned him a nine on their pain tolerance scale, seeing him respond atypically or in a delayed manner to duress. The pain and misery was all the same on the inside, but a disciplinarian wouldn’t be able to gauge its outward presentation accurately due to guarding and coping mechanisms at that point on the scale. By the time she let him out, he must have been beside himself, dripping and wretched as he looked. It was pennies like him that made the scale so crucial for safety’s sake.

I made an honest mistake on that one hot afternoon. I didn’t know you well enough then, and didn’t judge when to take you out of the corner correctly. It wasn’t meant to be so harsh just for toying with your father’s water settings, and I’m sorry. Thank you for telling me.”, Elizabeth didn’t allow the following uncomfortable pause to last long as the car’s engine warbled soothingly around their views of the blue skies, wanting to set an example of humility.

But… Richter, a lot of being a Penitatas is affected by your day-to-day merit, not just what you did as an adult to get here. If you were a good lad, behaving well and doing nice things, days like this might not come so often, or be so hard. Your little mistakes catch up with you, and they will again with Christmas coming in a month.”, she used the opportunity to parentally level with her penny, though exasperation threw Richter’s tear-dampened paws out to his sides.

Why does your backwards planet even have a holiday where you beat your children?!”, he contested the sheer audacity of this ‘Christmas’ she recently began mentioning, crooking one end of his mother’s mouth awkwardly.

It’s… really not like that. Pennies get their own version of it, based on old cultural concepts. You answer for your behavior for the year as a whole, weighted against your crimes, while other kids have fun.”, she corrected through elaboration, understanding that he lacked the insight often provided by others wearing his letters. He was too young for school with there being no Kindergarten for Penitatas, and the farm was really all he knew.

Like… young Miss Ackart, that you know. She would have been looking at a fairly light Christmas for herself this year, but her merit did more than that. It got her paroled entirely, if you’d like evidence of what your deeds can do.”, getting to invoke the likes of the fox made Elizabeth smile motherly, as noteworthy as the once-penny was in Richter’s life – especially the part where she allowed him to continue living it. The moment she had mentioned the girl’s seemingly inescapable name though, Richter sighed and buried his muzzle into a paw, slumping forward to ease some of the stud-points jabbing him around the base of his tail.

Packet-Storm. Why wouldn’t you use her as an example?”, he groaned, lower and quieter, ever so familiar with all the news articles of her that he had in his nightstand pile, “She’s basically free because of me… and now rich because of me, too!”

You’re fucking welcome!”, Richter told his personal nemesis across the ocean with a rearward tip of his head, griping up into the hover-car’s cloth roof. It lacked any real hostility, coming off as sarcastically self-loathing from the worn, dampened voice of a small child; his head falling lower than it was before, coming atop his forearms in a forward slump over his padded lap-rest.

“… I’m not fortunate enough to get the things I want. Not like she is.”, came out of his curled maw far more despondently than usual, peering over his toe-claws at the carpeting near the door as the clouds above seemed to drift away in the car’s transfer to a lower altitude lane.

His little brows squinting, yet snout going mostly smooth beyond what teeth-tips naturally stuck out from under his muzzle’s lip, Elizabeth saw a morose face she only got to see on certain occasions – such as when she turned around earlier, paddle in hand. Richter’s weary green eye, still wet as could be, staring off into nowhere, deep in some sad inner thought. He seemed so lost and hopeless when he got like that. The lad usually looked somewhat tired and irritable by nature, like his mind was always going and never let him stop, but when the walls fell, by goodness did Richter look just like any other rejuvenated child that needed a parent’s guidance. His mother couldn’t help but notice his jaw stiffen to fight a quiver that struck it in the moment of quiet that befell his restless slump, coinciding with a crossing of his foot-claws… losing what drive he had inside of him to steel his resolve against the pain of his car-seat, despite trying so hard not to sputter. Talking like he couldn’t have the things that Kayla, another Penitatas earned, Elizabeth sighed; a few other vehicles humming by their windows as they fell into Liverpool’s traffic.

I do understand we’ve made your life very hard, and you often choose to struggle quietly.”, compassion had her trying to comfort the isolated rejuve, even if her parental lesson on merit had fallen short, “Sandy’s surprise today has a lot to do with that, though. We’d like to help brighten your days.”

It wasn’t but a few further moments until the bright blue world outside the car windows went abruptly dark, passing into a tall building’s parking garage just one level down from where other vehicles shimmered along its roof. The car automatically negotiated a landing space with the structure’s computer systems, hovering them along until their landing struts eased the swept “sedan” of sorts into a feather-light vertical landing. Richter was beyond being merely low-key eager to get out of his car-seat, and made it obvious by extending his arms to be picked up without being asked once his lap-rest was unlatched. All the careful consideration in the world didn’t save the Penitatas from the sort of sting that came once his foot-claws were eased to the ground, experiencing a perfect grid of red, marring indentations of fine points across his bottom for the nearly twenty minutes he was on his makeshift punishment stool. He briskly pawed at his bottom again with a whimper of pitiful frustration, needing Elizabeth to keep her hands under his arms just to steady his buckling knees.

If you feel anything wet, it’s just blister-water, okay?”, she was quick to reassure as a teardrop rolled over the shiny, messy streaks of trails leaving Richter’s right eye.

As soon as her penny son could stand on his own, Elizabeth pulled a handkerchief from her purse and moistened it with a bottle of water leftover in the car. In the dimmed light of the parking garage, knelt down upon its glossy concrete, she placed a hand on the back of Richter’s head, fingers between his first spikes, and reached up to clean his muzzle without too much worry over how the boy would react. Richter did first initially grimace, wrinkling his snout into one of its many common looks of agitation, but the soft, wet feeling of cloth rubbed against his fur made a grunted sigh escape his throat; his eyes closing in acceptance of the mothering. Always the feisty stickler over his personal space, abhorring any sort of “touchy doting”, bath time grew to be an exception – despite the fact he didn’t take baths any longer, insisting vehemently on being given showers. Those were the only times Richter never appeared to mind being touched, and it didn’t matter if it was she or Harvey, or where their hands went amidst their cleaning. He’d close his eyes all the same as he did now, gently wiped across his eyelids by Elizabeth’s touch, sinking into some more relaxing place within his thoughts. Why that changed, though, she could only guess… was it because it gave him a moment of reprieve, requiring no effort on his part, or simply because his pragmatism told him it was the only way he’d get properly clean? That boy did really hate being damp or dirty, after all.

There. All polished up for Sandy.”, his mother cheerfully announced with a few last swipes at Richter’s nose.

Though as the car door closed and that handkerchief went back into her purse, Richter shot a brow upward in confusion the moment Elizabeth turned and beckoned for him to follow along toward the lifts. She had mentioned in the past that the Penitatas Justice Department’s building was a “penny-approved space”, allowing for public displays of spanking and bare fur as if he was back home on the farm, but it was the first time she ever actually seemed to intend on leaving him in the bare. Not in the mood to question if it was a mistake, the young boy trudged alongside his mother stoically, echoing the sniffles his heavy punishment left behind across the floor. The garage was cold against the pads of his feet, which felt really strange when out and about, and the fresh air stirring the fine, sleek fur of his pelvis made him feel unusually timid. His reptilian sheath slit between his legs was hardly any more obvious than a female child’s immature vulva, but its thin veil of gray fur did little to help the awkwardness, especially when their chosen lift’s doors opened to a man already standing in the back corner. Richter was quick to shuffle in with a stiffened snout, turning his spines and battered bottom to the suit-wearing official that hardly batted an eye to the sight, aside from the curious surprise to see a non-human Penitatas. Despite, the whole ride downstairs, staring at the lift’s closed doors, the lad’s paws could never figure out where they wanted to be – at his sides, near his lap, behind his back, or tucked across his chest to pretend he didn’t at all care.

Once let out into the lobby of the 17th floor, Richter’s fidgeting tail-tip ushered him toward one of several mahogany office doors; ‘Sandy Hill – P.J.D Psychologist’ in rather official gold lettering across its ornate face. His ever-so-slightly hunched scamper of little claws slipped ahead of Elizabeth in something of a hurry, failing to properly hide his sheepishness as much as he avoided eye contact with passers-by. It took the throw of an arm and a tippy-toe’s reach, but the short Roferian cub smacked the child-unfriendly control panel beside Sandy’s door on his own, sliding it aside to the jingle of a pleasant door-chime; his mother making a face, seeing as the lad didn’t get there much faster than she did. There emerged the warm, welcoming colors of an office that served the special needs of certain incarcerated rejuves, and dead ahead, the dark leather of a very familiar therapy couch.

Streaking nude through an office building wasn’t my idea. Don’t add that to your little list of things wrong with my head.”, Richter announced his presence as blasé and deadpan as his grumbling little voice could muster, trudging through the doorway with a tip of his muzzle toward Sandy and who was presumably his assigned nurse, both sitting at her desk.

It was just to spare your blisters from your shorts and undies’ waistbands.”, Misses Tanner sighed with a wave of a hand, seeing as her son usually became more confident in his bare fur at home. She meant well.

And come now Richter, you know there’s no list.”, Sandy kindly reminded with her soothing, casual voice as she arose from her seat, watching the aching Penitatas crawl stiffly up onto her therapy sofa on his belly; the younger human woman’s short golden hair cut as smart as her chic attire for her young patients.

A good relationship is built on trust, so I’ll always be forthright with you when it comes to your treatment. While you do have some degree of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, I think, I’ve not officially diagnosed you with anything at all. You don’t always tick every box, and that’s okay – you’re a person, not a problem! We’re not going to rush to anything, or call you something that you’re not.”, she happily dove right in while Richter adjusted himself, trying to get any semblance of comfortable on his stomach.

You could rush to fix my broken ass, and call me the receiver of excessive beatings, if your professional opinion is open to apt suggestion.”, his quip muffled into the therapy couch’s seat; worn green eyes peering up from the dark leather.

The shuffling sounds of steps and Elizabeth setting down her bags made the clutch of a hand near the base of Richter’s tail all the more abrupt and startling, barely registering the nurse’s blue uniform in his periphery. With the aptitude of someone not particularly familiar with thick draconic tails, she yanked it exaggeratedly away from his bottom with a twist of her wrist to vice it over his back, causing a seething yelp into the couch as much as that disturbed the boy’s blistered backside; the haphazard bend of the limb splaying all the fine strands of fur surrounding his tailhole, baring it blatantly to the world.

Don’t be so rough with my tail! That hurt, dammit!”, Richter tried to snap over his shoulder, though it came out far more like a whimper than he would have wanted.

I can certainly see why.”, the nurse finally spoke up, sounding awfully surprised to see such blistering on a five year old; normally illegal as it were. “This will take a minute or two, Miss Hill.”, coincided with the chirp of a dermal regenerator and its first soothing tingle, right where Richter’s left cheek melded into his thigh.

Growling tiredly under his breath, Richter settled the chin of his muzzle back down upon the cool leather of the couch. Before he could start staring off into space, sinking away to some distant place, Sandy knelt down beside the therapy couch and joined him just ahead of his snout, stealing back his green, reptilian slit eyes. Beneath her trendy bangs was a soft face that smiled less than usual, seeming to scan his expression.

Are you having a harder time coping with this one you got, as bad as it was?”, she asked gently, leaving Richter to wonder if he looked as beaten up as he felt. Gathering that Sandy knew about what was to befall him before coming into her office, and being so unsure of himself; his sharper fanged, confident mannerisms escaping him; the young Penitatas took a slower, heavier breath in thought.

“… There’s something to be said for being fine one minute, and intentionally injured by the end of the next, because the person who made me breakfast tore out bits of my fur.”, Richter’s internal musing leaked out to actually be shared, uttered far quieter than most ever knew him to speak. The gravity of such solemn words told Sandy a lot, unfamiliar with such philosophical pictures being painted by her penny patients; the high-pitched whine of the nurse’s medical tool filling the dead air.

Your mother means you no harm at all, even on the worst days. The only thing she takes pride in is being able to spank you that harshly safely, and being entrusted with doing so. I’m not one to get between a penny and their guardian, overstepping where I don’t need to be, but surely you can tell that she’s not an ordinary parent. No average person is allowed to touch that special paddle of yours, and she knows how to take care of you both during and after.”, her positivity brought back her reassuring smile, wanting to say a little for comfort’s sake, but not too much beyond what Elizabeth might have preferred she reveal, “She even rushed you down here without dawdling over pants!”

Thank you, Sandy.”, Elizabeth couldn’t have said it better herself, but it still made Richter huff in a fluster like something was lost in translation.

It’s still nothing I’d ever want to deal with again, no matter how coddling everyone tries to be afterward! How do you expect me to-… ”, he tried to argue for the sake of all the skin beneath his tail, never ever again wanting to be paddled to such extremes, but cut off with a shrill cry of pain through his clenched, bared teeth – the nurse having thrust her hand upon his right butt-cheek, spreading his cleft with a dig of her thumb into the very rim of a yet-to-be healed blister. She was like a hairdresser that would pull your hair and jerk your head around, and this hurt a hell of a lot worse!

You need to be still! Why won’t you stop your fussing?”, came from behind his head as he wriggled against the therapy couch; his eyes trying instantly to water, having lost so much of his constitution. Swallowing and taking a few rapid breaths, Richter turned his muzzle toward his shoulder again with a teeth-gleaming snarl.

Maybe it’s because I’m fucking five!”, he accepted as to why he suddenly felt so vulnerable and weakened, and it showed in his voice.

Five and then some. Tough it out.”, she corrected rather plainly, shifting her hand for a pass of the regenerator’s shimmering blue rays over the last lingering spot of white.

Richter couldn’t wait for the woman to be done, and he told Sandy that with a squint, once he had eased his muzzle back to where it had been. Thankfully it wasn’t much of a wait after the pair shared that seemingly mutual glance that the trill of the dermal regenerator cut off, and the choking squeeze of her hand left his tail; a warm, fur-ruffled discomfort from where her fingertips had been.

Alright. I’m done.”, the nurse announced, taking her leave right with it, “Have a good morning, Miss Hill.”

While there was nothing at all wrong with her tone, if not still friendly, they were words for Sandy alone. When Richter turned his head and tried to get a look at this nurse, she never made eye contact with him as she turned for the door; he himself the only one to be treated differently. She obviously wanted nothing to do with him, and being a stranger, the only feasible reason was because of who he was. The lad quietly sat up and watched as she left the room, and once she was gone, couldn’t help but notice that his mother and Sandy were both staring at him.

Did I, umm… ”, he sounded on the spot, eyeballing the door.

Did I do something to that woman that I’m just… not grasping?”, the asocial likes of Richter wanted to make sure of, raising a claw of genuine question in the absence of his empathic senses; no longer bothering to hide his lap, once back in the company that would normally occupy his home. Sandy’s mouth stretched out toward a cheek, knowing a certain air had been left in the room after all that.

No, you didn’t. She was out of sorts before you even walked in. I’m not used to her acting so offish. She didn’t even introduce herself.”, she kept true to her transparency, choosing not to defend her compatriot as she slipped into her chair beside the couch. Then, came the hesitant sigh.

And… I’m assuming it’s for the same reason you’re thinking, too. We can turn that around and make a discussion out of it, though. How does her cold shoulder make you feel?”, she affirmed, making Richter lower his snout, looking off into the carpet with a disquieted scowl.

I don’t like being hated. I don’t even like the idea that someone thinks poorly of me.”, he admitted of his intense aversion with an uncomfortable growl to his young voice, “There’s a lot of reasons to despise me, but if I have to put up with being alive, I expect them to deal with it as well.”

No one likes the passing of judgment, but you must have known that your assault was always going to bring out those feelings in people, even if you were successful that day. More so, if you did manage to kill more people, Richter. How were you going to face that, if the course of events didn’t change?”, Sandy’s cautious and calming voice leveraged as a simple reality. It brought a ‘tch’ out of Velius’ mouth, same as when his bedroom window was questioned.

By not.”, was the simplest answer. He looked around the room a tad, crossing his arms with but a moment of quiet.

I… had originally hoped that I could put the resulting chaos on Earth to use, and scoop some credits out of DeltaStar when everyone was too busy to notice me relinquish control of the station. I wanted to buy myself a shuttle, supplies, and just… go. Some nice place, far the fuck away, all by myself. I’d only pop back up to interfere in the matters I saw fit, once my name had influence.”, his head tipped, giving Sandy his attention with a full admission of what he wanted out of his bloody siege. Elizabeth blinked out of sight, shocked to hear Richter share such long hidden details, but Sandy knew better than to sully the moment; the young woman choosing to nod her head and stay with him.

You do tend to distance yourself from your own actions. You were even hoping to do so physically, to escape your ends and means.”, she hummed in observation, “So now you feel like you’re stuck facing everyone, when you certainly didn’t plan on it.”

No. I’m not a ‘people person’.”, he gruffly pointed to his reclusive shortcomings as a fact of his nature, though the way his pupils strayed down to the carpet made Sandy lift a hand.

You mustn’t want to be entirely alone though. You’re being talkative with me today, at least after the morning you’ve had.”, she warmly coaxed, but Richter failed to lift his muzzle.

“… And all I wanted to do was just read, too.”, he dejectedly mourned at the mentioning, pouting no different from any other rejuvenated child when the world got to be a bit too much for the mind.

There was no five year old in the quadrant that could endure the sort of hurtful punishment Richter was given without a whole lot of love and consoling – even Velius having a breaking point, and it appearing to have been reached. Looking so downtrodden and outside of his peevish norm, he clearly needed comforting, but would never leap into a cuddling embrace from his parents. The toothy, wayward little soul wouldn’t even offer his paw to be held. His social isolation was incompatible with his age and letters alike, and it really showed, the way he sat there on the therapy couch like he was all by himself; there being internal obstacles even when he allowed himself to interact with others, trying to reach out to them. She knew that was why he was cracking through his shell, sharing the way he was…

And that made her smile excitedly.

You’re allowed to want a little lifting up after a tough time, as well as companionship. My surprise for you covers both of those things – so you wait here, and I’ll be right back!”, Sandy jumped up from her seat with the wave of a finger, exuding the positivity only a big-hearted penny-therapist could.

Already knowing what was in store, Elizabeth smirked at the gawkily puzzled face that Richter made, watching Sandy hurry off into her personal office behind the therapy room’s desk. His back-swept ears catching an unusual metallic jingle, the boy cocked his head to try and get a better look into the office for this so-called “surprise” he had been dragged out for, only to unexpectedly see something other than Sandy emerge from around the frame of the door. It was a black and white creature with long, fluffy fur, walking on four legs with a blue collar around its neck. Its ears softly drooped behind its striking brown eyes, and a streak of white fur went up between them from its particularly gentle looking muzzle – the signature two-toned pattern of a Border Collie.

Richter, meet your new therapy dog – Miles. He’s fully trained and licensed, and all yours!”, Sandy’s ecstatic sort of giddiness couldn’t be contained, following behind the canine’s tail, bangs bouncing. Finding the turn of events to be as surprising as he had been promised, Richter’s expression became all the more inquisitive once the dog came right over and sat down in front of him without being so much as directed.

See, he knows right away who needs a spot of cheering up! He’s real good at reading faces, body language, and breathing to sense when you might be feeling anxious or sad, and I’m sure he can see in your eyes that they were just recently wet. That means you must be his new ‘person’ – he’s quite smart like that!”, her hands went to her hips in full introduction of the canine she’d prescribed and requisitioned, letting Richter slip off his mended bottom to stand before the calm collie; a paw cupped beneath his chin in examination, barely any taller than the dog.

He’ll stay at your side and make himself available to your touch the moment he thinks you need support, or sit down like this and see what you might like of him. And, when all is well, he’s still your friend – never judging, and always willing to spend time and play.”, she wanted to emphasize that ‘lack of judgment’ after their prior talk, all the while Richter had the dog following his right paw to and fro, watching its eyes as if getting a gauge on its intellect.

I’m familiar with dogs. Where ever humans have gone, they’ve left them in their wake.”, that same paw flicked forward into a gesture for Sandy, only to be touched out of the blue. In offering his paw by accident, the Border Collie happily raised his own and placed it right into Richter’s palm; his soft pads warm to the touch, and the motion fluidly gentle. It made the boy blink in surprise, neither startled or inherently bothered by what Sandy or Elizabeth could tell, and it was his mother to hold back a tiny laugh and speak up.

Sandy has wanted to try this for you, and we thought now was the right time. You’re a very lucky lad, I’d say. Penitatas aren’t permitted pets, so you’re one of the only pennies on the whole planet with a pup!”, she pitched how special of an arrangement having a therapy dog was, and the sort of boon they hoped this would be for his well-being. While Richter didn’t squeal with joy the way most would, with that being one reason why he was getting a therapy dog, there was something about the look of tickled curiosity across the Roferian’s muzzle that gave hope; the dog’s paw getting a moment of inspection, before letting go with a slow, careful reach for the collie’s muzzle…

Wait a second.”, he abruptly grimaced, stopping his paw, “This isn’t you trying to pass another animal off to me, is it? More chores?” Elizabeth waved it off with a hand right away, and Sandy shook her head with an amused simper; neither getting to speak before the collie did as he did before, maneuvering his muzzle so that Richter’s paw would rest atop it.

We want you to see him as just your personal friend, so your father and I will feed and care for him – at least until you might want to jump in, as you may!”, Elizabeth dispelled of his typical cautious skepticism, but fell quiet as Sandy balled her hands up against her chest.

In her wish for Richter to accept Miles and be willing to give this a try, watching on with baited breath, the young therapist was gifted tangible relief in the form of a small paw petting itself across white fur, trailing into the thicker black of canine cheek. The calculated child tested the waters to see how the collie would react, as if ensuring it wouldn’t recoil or snap at him, keeping his eyes well upon the dog’s own all the while. When it merely continued to look at him right back, clearly accepting of his touch and the person he was peering inside to see, docile as could be, Richter hummed a thoughtful sound.

His black, and his white… he reminds me of that box on top of the bookshelf, back on the farm. The board game with the black and white pieces.”, he likened to the Border Collie’s stark colors, musing aloud.

So, that’s what you are to be called. You are now Othello.”, Richter announced to Othello and the room as a whole, crossing his arms in declaration – his open approval being granted.

While that was a wonderful thing, Sandy did shrink a tad, making a face, “Oh, but – Richter, he’s been trained with the name of-… ”

It’s Othello.”, Richter regained a bit of his teeth, wrinkling his muzzle in insistence, “If he is as sharp and talented as you claim, he will adapt, and you should have faith as such.” The boy’s attention shifted back to Othello before him, placing a single pearly-clawed digit upon the collie’s black nose.

Othello.”, he affirmed, as if to teach the dog his new name; the scene looking and sounding much like Velius acting his physical age, the way Richter’s inner five year old could come out.

Well, you do have the next forever to see that he knows that. Othello, is pre-authorized for rejuvenations, and that never expires for a specialized service dog like him. You can have him for as long as you’d like.”, Sandy relented for the sake of progress, if that’s what it took, “But, the rest of your therapy session is going to be a field trip with your mother from here out! She’s got some plans for your day, and I’d like to give you plenty of time to start getting to know Othello… once you’re dressed for a ‘no naked pennies’ sort of place, that is!”

Richter tried to keep an eye on Sandy as she went and fetched a lead from her desk, magnetically attaching it to the back of Othello’s collar, but his attentions inevitably had to go to Elizabeth once she began pulling his chosen clothing out of the carry bag she had thrown together in haste. He stepped first into a fresh pair of white, Roferian boy-cut briefs, finally ensuring that he’d not be shuffling through the public parts of the building with his sheath slit exposed again, risking an unwanted erection from the daft crassness of it all, and the rest went on smoothly with that out of the way. By the end he was sitting on the therapy sofa once more, tying his shoes in a dark red henley and black trousers when Sandy took a seat beside him, ready to hand over the loop at the end of Othello’s lead. Richter took one look at it, then up at the young human woman – her face nothing but pleased, if not outwardly happy for him to get out there and have something nice. It gave the Roferian pause.

You getting me a dog sounds like a really big deal… but why go that far for me? Surely I’m not the sort of… ‘patient’, that you want.”, the likes of the boy probed, making his typically surly voice sound calmer and more subdued in its undertones. He participated poorly most of the time, and he knew that well considering it was on purpose.

No need to depreciate yourself; especially not there. Most Penitatas come in here and tell me what they think their parents and I want to hear. You don’t pull that. When we talk, I feel like I’m getting somewhere, and actually helping.”, Sandy did a little sharing of her own, if Richter was going to continue being open, “So thank you for giving Othello the time of day. I think he’s just what you need.”

By the medical authority that she carried, Sandy placed Othello’s lead into Richter’s paw. It was perplexing to him, sitting there without some convoluted way to dismiss her motives as being disingenuous. Sandy always advocated for him like that. Joining his mother while the two women gave their farewell pleasantries, the young Penitatas slipped a little out of his comfort zone, even if his mouth wouldn’t move. With a look over his shoulder, going out the door with Othello at his side, the Roferian risked a shy, clumsy wave goodbye. Sandy seemed to enjoy it, giving a silent one back of her own.

In a thoughtful state of mind, not fading into the sort of misanthropic loathing he would have expected after his incredible thrashing, Richter minded his new canine companion as he walked. Usually he’d not want to see anyone for the rest of the day. Sandy had done well in selling him the idea of a therapy dog, as well as making him feel better when life’s endless stream of bullshit had cut him down; actions always speaking louder than words, with him. The youngest parts of his mind were innately enamored by Othello, looking like a big, warm, plush toy, though his elder side had him curiously picking him apart, under the impression that he was far from being a foolish, inferior animal. Othello was already showing him that as they got back onto the floor’s lift, turning around to face the doors just as Richter did without direction; that lead he held always slack, and merely a formality, when Othello was staying beside him on his own volition. That, was the life-spark of free will.

I’ve wanted to ask… are you sore with me, for the spanking I gave you?”, Elizabeth spoke up as soon as the lift began to move, as upset as her son had been. Richter made a gruff, dismissive hum, lifting a claw along with his snout.

It would be very convenient if I could be, and have an outlet for as mad as I am about it… but you’ve made it abundantly clear that you don’t have a lot of say in matters of that nature. You can’t be blamed for what isn’t your fault. I’m sure you’re as obligated to do your chores as I am.”, was inevitably all ‘one of those’ spankings really were, interrupting Elizabeth and Harvey’s day with the labor of making him howl.

I’m fortunate you’re such an uncanny realist for a penny. I’ll be making sure you have a good day from here on out!”, the mother borrowed a tad of Sandy’s contagious positivity, raising an adventurous fist before her breast as the lift’s doors split open to a place far too bright to be the garage.

Falling victim to his age’s fallible attention span, having had his focus split between his mother and Othello, Richter never noticed that Elizabeth had pressed the button to take them down to the first floor. He followed her out into a bustling atrium with the seal of the Penitatas Justice Department resting gaudily atop an indoor fountain; the whole place reeking of official government bureaucracy, from the uniforms to the reception desks.

Now, I do still want to take you to a nice penny-district park so you can enjoy yourself freely, but first I thought it was high time I showed you a bit of what Earth was like – not to mention your home here in Britain! So, we’re going to have ourselves a full morning here in Liverpool!”, Elizabeth got to become a sort of motherly tour guide, though she stopped short of the building’s front doors; the hazy privacy glass giving the impression of a rather bustling street on the other side.

That does mean one quick little talk.”, she shifted to a tone of warning, extending a finger that both Richter and Othello took heed to, “Out there, in this part of the city, there can’t be any penny-business. It’s not like the inside of the building here, or the farm. Stay close to me and mind yourself, or else we won’t be able to stay… and you’d lose all that comfort your bottom is in, once I find a private bathroom to pull my hairbrush out. Don’t wish to be a damper, lad, but the rules are heavy for us both in non-penny spaces.”

Duly noted, I guess.”, Richter shrugged.

But, if all I have to do is keep you by me, I do have a second paw. Come along, Elizabeth.”, he said as he casually took her by the pocket of her trousers, trying to guide her toward the doors as if it was another lead. All Elizabeth could do was sigh, long and hard, out into the sights and sounds of central Liverpool.

It was a sight to behold for an off-worlder from the outer colonies like Richter was, shocked as hell that they’d even let their prisoners out into their general population. Tall, sleek buildings of Earth’s high-technological design mixed with the fluidic geometry of parametric architecture in an array of whites, reds, and all of the shades of tan in between. Cars and lorries of all sorts hummed above in slower, neatly lined lanes above, while the wide streets themselves; darkened squares of chic, stone-like tile; were reserved only for walking by the looks of it. There were lights and signs for all the shops and eateries dotted down the lane, and much of it was decorated with these shimmering baubles of red and green that people were still working to hang. They matched some of the motifs used by the sales displays making note of that ‘Christmas’ phenomenon, and for the life of him, cocking his head, Richter still couldn’t grasp what any of these tinsel-y balls had to do with getting his ass flayed; Othello eyeballing him just as curiously, as bewildered as he suddenly became.

Can’t lead me far when you don’t know where to go, hmm?”, his mother made light of, motioning with her hand for Richter to tag along down her chosen street; the signs nearby calling it Basnett, “We’ll be someplace a wee bit more special in a couple minutes!”

The walk itself wasn’t going to be any issue, having literally worked on a farm to build his stamina, but as soon as he was brought into the thick of the passing crowds, Richter started to think less about the smell of foreign food wafting by, and more about all the people. While mostly adults, there were other kids wearing letters. He saw a lot of teenagers with ‘V’s on their hands, and even a girl a few years older than himself with a ‘K’, but no others with a ‘P’, and surely not his black one. There was the occasional side-glance, or stare at his paws when walking past, and it took little imagination to figure that some were correctly guessing who he was, based on his race and eye-drawing letter color. He tried to hide them in the pockets of his trousers to get them to bugger right off, but Elizabeth noticed and tapped the back of her right hand, directing him to keep his ‘P’s visible as he apparently had to as part of being here. As soon as he did, the swoop of Othello’s head caught the paw holding his lead, sliding Richter’s fingers into the plush fur behind his ears to give support; brown eyes peering over, tucked against him in step. The boy took a deep breath, and after staring back a moment, decided to pet the back of Othello’s head as he had invited.

“… You sure you’re not an empath?”, he mumbled to the collie, privately permitting his voice to sound as uncomfortable and anxious as he actually was – not having an easy time being in such a crowded public place, and his letters only being a symptom of his wavering confidence. He’d have told anyone who turned their noses up to fuck off, typically, after all.

His paw remained within his new companion’s fur for a time, and fortunately for him, the street soon began widening once they passed an open square with street vendors, opening up into a fancier, yet increasingly aged looking plaza with progressively shorter buildings. It was the moment they rounded the bend from there that Richter threw a brow up to the heavens, seeing something so out of place that it shouldn’t have existed. A broad chasm within all of the towering, geometrically twisting buildings erupted around what looked to be an ancient, incredibly ornate stone structure with columns, far, far unlike anything else, and there looked to be more old landmarks surrounding it. It was like time had stopped here, with not even hover-vehicles being allowed to cross above – the sky as open as it once had been.

We have a quarter here in Liverpool that we’ve tried not to change much in the last millennium. This, here, is Saint George’s Hall.”, she introduced with an outstretched hand as they got closer and the crowds thinned within the grander space; the streets of old for vehicles becoming more courtyards and paths in their era, budding up against weathered stone walls and greenery.

A palace, I presume?”, Richter pitched as an educated guess, especially considering the stately building to its right struck him as the sort of government building you’d never leave, if dragged into.

A concert hall, actually! A civic center in general, but mostly for that sort of thing now.”, Elizabeth lifted a chipper finger.

Oh, what are they playing?”, he inquired with interest, though Elizabeth could only hum.

Nothing right now, I suppose.”, made Richter slump, glaring at her.

“… So it’s an empty building.”, he growled, sounding woefully unimpressed, “Moving on!”

With a direction of his own and things to see, Richter set off for the old stone wall lined with trees, just off to the side of the hall; Elizabeth stammering and picking up her feet, not having expected that kind of response, or for her oddball son to just start wandering off with his dog.

It’s more than an empty building lad, we’re a people of our culture! It’s always good to let a bit of the past into the present!”, brought Richter to ‘snrk!’.

I’ll consider that excuse the next time you yell at me for forgetting to flush after I take a piss.”, he quipped with snark, wiggling the end of Othello’s lead like he was pleased with that one. Used to Richter or not, the haughty attitude making her take up the rear was unbecoming enough of a Penitatas to ruffle even Elizabeth’s feathers. Slipping back alongside the young Roferian as he passed between two stone pillars, forming an entryway into the time-worn walls and the walking paths of Saint John’s Gardens beyond, she crossed her arms and gave him a look before he and Othello began hopping up a set of steps.

You feeling better is the point of all this, but don’t go too far. At least not worry me into thinking you’re going to run away, would you?”, she scolded without fully committing to the tone, setting off down a clean path with well-kept trees abound. Richter paid it mind, actually looking up at her instead of off someplace else; his lead-holding paw patting itself atop Othello’s back.

Any dumbass with half a brain-cell and some scanning equipment made for children could find me, and I’d expect someone to pull my claws out with pliers for trying. That isn’t a worry you need to have.”, he casually threw out in conversation despite the connotations; Elizabeth making a face, unsure if the pliers bit was sarcasm or not. There wasn’t any time to consider it when Richter flicked Othello’s lead in gesture ahead.

That’s a very impudent looking bastard, Elizabeth.”, he commented rather critically of a very old statue set atop a decorative, honorific pedestal, with one hand outstretched.

His mother groaned under her breath again, trying not to clench her teeth, as unhealthy as the practice was. Richter calling anyone at all impudent was ironic, and she intended to introduce the old city leader and correct him a tad, but the boy stopped alongside his dog on his own, getting up onto the tips of his shoes to read the closest of the man’s green plaques. And though he started walking again rather promptly, he read the next against the pedestal’s front, and dawdled to quickly take in the ones behind him and around to the statue’s rear before pivoting right back to his original course; Othello having to bounce on his paws a tad to follow the five year old’s sillier seeming motions. There was a lot for him to look around at over the decorative walls and lawns when such memorials were dotted all over the plot, and the other visitors passing by no longer seemed to trouble his attention. His paw would occasionally pet Othello, or just rest upon him, sometimes obviously coinciding with passing through a clustered group of people, Elizabeth soon realized; the boy keeping up his quips and remarks, reading everything that he went by like a sponge for written word.

Not squirreling the whole way through the gardens, Richter’s self-wandering had led them toward its opposite side and the whole row of austere, column-bearing buildings in the square beyond. Old style brick from a bygone era still lined the whole thing beneath their feet, and once again, Richter’s head peered to and fro, not knowing enough of what anything was to determine the next place for his meandering to head toward. It just made Elizabeth smile, simply glad to try and take back the lead from Richter’s snark.

We have our big museum on the left, art gallery to the right, and our central library right dead center – the round one and bit next to it.”, she pointed to each, though her penny son stared dumbstruck at only one in particular; the one any other five year old could have cared less about, of course.

This is a library? How many books must you have?”, he threw a paw out at its tan, carved exterior.

More than a lot! The Liverpool Central Library is the biggest one here.”, Elizabeth finally got to declare proudly in teaching something… and the way her longing bookworm continued to stare at its modern doors contemplatively made her grin, looking down with a cutely tempting tone creeping into her voice.

I’ll have you know… Penitatas are allowed library cards, and you can borrow some if you’d like.~”, the stronger, stouter sort of woman played about with her pitches.

Richter made a firm blink, turning his head up with a wide-eyed expression of piqued interest. It stayed like that for a short time, until the Roferian’s maw stretched toward his cheeks, wrinkling his muzzle.

Elizabeth, are you seriously going to make me ask? Yes, I would like to go to the library! Come!”, he inevitably barked with a young one’s adventurous energy, stealing the lead back by snatching Elizabeth’s pocket once more to briskly pull her along, “You could learn a thing or two from Othello!”

Not particularly minding the crasser version of enthusiasm when Richter was capable of far more degenerate displays of mouthiness, Elizabeth pretended to be dragged up to the library’s entryway, when in reality she could walk quite a lot faster than his little feet could. It was oddly rewarding too, since getting to be a half-step behind her difficult son allowed her to see his spine-topped tail begin to idly sway, likely outside of his notice, the moment they went inside and his eyes were drawn upwards. While completely modern in design and artistic choice, and potentially ordinary beyond its prettiness at first glance, a rounded opening above went up four more glass-walled levels with stairs crisscrossing all the way up to a dome skylight. That, as Richter figured, was going to be a ton of books to rummage through – and Elizabeth knew exactly where to take him.

Up the stairs and by more of the library’s various sections, including computer terminals Elizabeth didn’t even want Richter to look at with the restrictions he had in place, she pointed him toward distinctly ornate doors of glossy wood that didn’t match the rest of the décor. With two of the three old-style doorways left open and ajar, Richter’s jaw went slack well before he crossed their threshold, stepping into a literal world of fantasy for the likes of his mind. Incredibly well lit, it was a large, perfectly circular room of darkened wood bookshelves going up three levels high, all within an intricately inlaid dome with a skylight at its peak. A decorative wooden pillar stood in the very center with a grand lamp upon its crown; its metal filigree of gold matching much of the dark hues of ostentatious threaded swirls that adorned the railings and sconces above, unchanged for countless hundreds of years. Maximizing the sheer number of books the dome held, its second level jutted additional shelves toward the center with extended railings to match, and quite a few more dotted its open center between reading tables; all filled to the brim within its warm, opulent sphere. It blazed headlong into the youngest reaches of Richter’s imagination, looking like something clear out of a storybook – some realm’s grand bastion of knowledge, guarded by the keepers of truths that shall not be forgotten. Endless hours of contented learning and entertainment, all concentrated into one place. There was even the occasional bust and historical display piece, right up to an old analog clock that still appeared to tick!

Well, are you impressed now?”, Elizabeth genially prodded with her arms crossed, figuring she must have done better than earlier when the Roferian looked like he was about to start catching flies.

Yes… yes, I do believe this will do.”, he wholeheartedly approved in a mumble.

This is going to take me a while to go through… in fact, you can just leave me. I will be living here from now on, and Othello shall be my new caretaker. Farewell Elizabeth – tell Harvey that I’m in a better place.”, he turned for the nearest expanse of bookshelves along the wall, walking away with a wave over his head.

I think not, lad!”, Elizabeth muffled through her teeth as to not be too loud in her admonishment, jumping out to snatch her errant son by his upper arm; Richter taking a fair startle from it. His muzzle whipped over his shoulder with a rattled snarl that immediately melted to something more taken aback, twitching his eye.

Elizabeth, I’m joking.”, he stopped, ensuring no pull upon his mother’s hand.

I’m not going to be doing a single thing to get thrown out of this place. I want my books, and I certainly want to be allowed to come back!”, a claw came up in reasoning as he often would when firmly explaining something, scrambling Elizabeth’s parental whims, “I intend to stay away from everyone, keep to myself, and stay quiet. I have a lot of practice with that, and it’s what I’d prefer out here, anyway.”

Well… ”, she hesitated, very unaccustomed to him making jokes or assuring good behavior, “That’s all well and good, but I do need to stay somewhat close to you, if you’d be sure to not wander quite like that.” While she did release Richter’s arm; Othello watching contentedly from his side; the boy made a hum of contemplative dissent as he started his walk back off more slowly, with eyes upon his parent.

Might we be able to come to a compromise, for my sake of being able to browse with the solitude a normal person would be extended in a library?”, his blunted tones bargained cooperatively, sidestepping a paperback that softly tumbled to the carpeting off the end of one of the room’s big occupied tables. Just as they were about to step by, Richter dived into a bow, sweeping the book back up and onto the table in stride; his clawed fingertips spinning the paperback into an orderly ninety degree angle with the table, just out of the way of the elbow that absentmindedly nudged it off. With its owner facing the other way, the man would never discover that it briefly went missing – only Elizabeth witnessing the act, to her absolute parental consternation.

I wish to stay in this room, and its shape should allow you to keep watch of my movements as you require, if you would agree to observe from a distance and let me roam.”, Richter’s eyes returned to her as if nothing had happened, lifting that same claw back up in trying to convince her. Though, considering she was looking at him as if he had two heads, his muzzle lightly wrinkled as it would.

Would it be more reassuring if I offered harder penalties for my conduct?”, he grumbled in the extension of a further concession, if that was what it took to tell her he wanted this and was quite serious. Elizabeth shook her head, lifting up a hand to wave off the thought of having to do that to himself.

No, it’s just… I’m not used to you doing things unprompted like that. It was courteous.”, she pointed back around her side at the table they had passed, paying note to Richter’s little deed.

Well it doesn’t belong on the floor, Elizabeth. Besides, it wasn’t a bother, and he didn’t know I did it.”, he responded as if she didn’t think the object should have been returned to its rightful place, though the part about not being seen by the owner of the book crooked his mother’s mouth. Her face mellowed into one more compassionate, thinking about what she was – there being a consistent pattern to the things Richter had been saying today, out in the world for the first time with her.

“… Social interactions make you very uncomfortable, don’t they?”, Elizabeth risked asking, knowing well how hostile and defensive he could get when his mind was questioned… but the lad merely looked over to the Border Collie at his side, toying with Othello’s soft ear’s tip between his thumb and forefinger.

That, as well as the fact he would have inevitably said something stupid.”, he both admitted and dismissed at the same time; still Richter, even when he was calmer and more thoughtful. A moment of the library’s quiet came over them, broken by a deep breath above the Penitatas’ ears.

Alright. I’m going to take a step back and lengthen your lead, as nervous as it makes me. I’ll take you at your word. Enjoy your time, and don’t betray this trust.”, Elizabeth relented gently, with the subtle reminder that there was still a stern authority behind her softness.

And while all Richter provided her was a nod of acknowledgment like a tiny adult, he showed his mother something unintentional again once he set off without her at his side – the tip of his thick, long little draconic tail flicking back and forth at the mere idea of getting into a favored leisurely pastime. It was really the only one he had left when all technology had been barred from him, and playing the way his five year old mind truly wanted was something he struggled with. It was difficult not having a single toy, being in what had to be one of the planet’s harshest places to live. Sandy might have thought it to be more of his escapism, but he could drift away into a good story for hours, and that still included non-fiction; as what was reality, but just another really good tale to be told. With Othello as his quiet company, a book on ‘quantum dissonance in artificial intelligence’ was the first to come into his paws, and he thumbed through it right where he stood until it was time to return it home… followed by a disapproving growl and a Velius-class sneer, snatching two other nearby books to put them back to their proper places after others hadn’t been so thoughtful about the clear and evident organization system in place. He’d never even seen it before, and still grasped the damn concept!

It was a process that was repeated a fair few times, trying to find just the right thing to go settle into and lose himself in. He’d find an interesting subject matter on a shelf he could reach, ensure no one else was within his broad personal space bubble, and test the waters to see if it would tickle his fancy before stumbling across some other misplaced or abandoned book that he’d feel compelled to rectify. One from another part of the library broke his brain entirely when he couldn’t leave the room to put it back, leering at it with heavenly defense platform hellfire in his eyes for its perpetrator. Those distractions only let up once his own ‘play-time’ took over, and that happened the moment he climbed a narrow spiral staircase up to the second level encircling the room.

Right at the landing of the steps was an intergalactic section with bookcases containing titles from elsewhere in the quadrant, earning a flick of his tail before Othello had even gotten up the last step himself. Because it was sorted by region instead of subject, Richter was treated to a broad sample of popular works from many genres throughout the Federation all at once, and all it took was for a row of vibrantly colored, fun-looking spines to catch his eye. He took into paw the first volume of what ended up being a Drakonian graphic novel series, and their people’s renown for artwork and animation in storytelling certainly preceded them, just by the cover-art alone. Four valiant, hulking Drakonian women in full armor and old-style combat regalia, blades attached to their forelimbs or steel claws augmenting their own, were tearing over a long, grand table in leaps and bounds to blissfully rend whatever they were hurling themselves toward; the title of ‘Ironscale’ scrawled above in untranslated Drakonian text. That was just the thing he was-…

Richter took a weighty bump against his shoulder and side, and being five, experienced it on his end more like a slam. He staggered to his side and toward the bookshelves, bouncing into them and almost falling onto Othello; book knocked from his paws by the shelf it smacked against. His maw of teeth was the first thing to recover, though his animosity didn’t get to fire off before the apologetic motion of a human hand came into his periphery.

Sorry, sorry!”, the barely college aged fellow quickly said in a thicker regional accent, having came up the stairs and unsuccessfully tried to slip by Richter onto the narrow catwalk lining the bookshelves. He crouched part of the way down and reached for the Roferian’s lost book, but abruptly spat.

Oh – I thought you were a bloody Medi!”, his tone flipped hard at the sight of Richter’s paw, standing back up with a resentful flick of his hand; having assumed someone so little with a dog was a Medicalos, not some black letter Penitatas, “Stay out of people’s way, ya’ gobshite!”

The local slang dialect being lost on Richter didn’t stop the antagonism from being received loud and clear, and that snide, shitty face brought Roferian fang out in force, even as the man turned his back to him. He wasn’t about to be told off and insulted, balling his paws into fists in an instant.

Go fu-… !”, his muzzle barely got to fly open with his initial syllables before Othello snapped his teeth softly-yet-hastily around Richter’s forearm, letting off a sharp whine of pleading protest.

Stumbling into silence from the startle, grabbed and held by Othello’s maw, Richter’s stolen breath caught itself as he whipped his snout over to the collie’s black and white face; his brown eyes looking right into his, so soft and sorry looking, before making a hard, hostile huff from his wet nose in the man’s general direction. By the time the Penitatas looked back over to where Othello peered, the man was already out of sight, as tight as the walkway was through the ring of bookshelves going around the room. Once he had seen that for himself and his state of rage loosened up, so did Othello’s mouth, letting go of him with a few licks to his paw in amends.

It took a moment to process and come down from, but as he did, a multitude of creeping thoughts and emotions had his muzzle weakening into a slack stare – so much dawning on him at once.

“… You knew there wasn’t enough time to calm me down. You stopped me, instead.”, Richter mumbled to Othello in realization of what had just happened, who sat beside him wagging his tail against the carpet in reassurance.

You… grasped that I didn’t want trouble, and would have lost everything if I yelled? How? And… hold the fuck on.”, he attempted to rationalize; his amazement having him spin to face his dog.

Elizabeth grabbed my arm and snapped at me down there, and you didn’t do a thing, but you could tell that dickhead was a problem? You understand context? How intelligent are you?”, he compared Othello’s two very different reactions and what that meant for his comprehension capacity, throwing his paws upon the canine’s shoulders with his powerful question. His therapeutic companion stepped his fore-paws against the floor, straightening his posture to be attentive, looking on with such life within his brown eyes… something that Richter took in, before sliding his paws off his companion’s fur.

Nevermind. That was an ignorant question, and one I’ve already answered for myself. Of course you’re rather intelligent – I’m talking to you, and you’re obviously listening.”, the Roferian more calmly deduced through his own logic, weighing his observations against the philosophy of what sentience was. Richter reached down beside them and fetched his chosen book off the lip of the bottom shelf where it had landed, tucking it against his red henley with a step toward Othello’s side.

Let’s find a spot to enjoy our novel.”, he welcomed on his way by with weary accord, wanting to get the hell out of the way of other people before anything else made him uncomfortable.

Following the second level’s narrow walkway in the opposite direction the other man had gone, one of those center-reaching bookshelves came alongside them like a divider, with an extension of walkway branching off for each side of it. It was the back-end of the second dividing arch of bookshelf that Richter turned the pair onto, taking the few steps to the end of the shelf-length path before getting down to take his seat. With no one else around, it was an ample place to people-watch those on the bottom level through the ornate railing once he had sank his back into the books behind him. He skimmed the room below for Elizabeth, but turned his head to Othello as he laid down upon the carpet beside him; facing him as he seemed to prefer, and taking up the whole little catwalk like an obstacle between he and anyone else. Richter could no longer question if that was on purpose or not, having experienced Othello’s level of awareness and cognition… not to mention his unblinking loyalty, from the moment he first sat down in front of him to see how he could make things better.

I’ve been relying on you all morning so far. I’d have never made it through those crowds without snapping, and I’d be off in a bathroom right now feeling sorry for my stupid ass while Elizabeth beat it. I wouldn’t be here, holding the book I wanted.”, the gray-furred boy tipped his snout down to the colorful novel in his paws, quietly admitting with a placid sense of gratitude.

I’m… enjoying your company. You’ve basically been my coprocessor, but… still very much your own person.”, he put what he felt to words for his partner-in-fur and the spark of being he liberally put forth, sharing for his floppy black ears. Richter came to ‘snrk!’ as he did earlier, cracking a smirk.

You even did that angry huffing thing at that fuck! You expressed an opinion! Sandy was wrong – you do judge!”, the boy’s paw flipped up in a gesture of amusement and consideration alike, though he came to look a lot more thoughtful once he had paused.

And since you defended me like that… does that mean I’ve passed your review? Perhaps you can sense that I don’t always intend to sound as I do, or… see that there’s something worth liking in me?”, Richter’s introspection rang with both positivity and a nagging note of self-depreciation, but that last bit only brought his emerald eyes to trail down to his paw, petting across his black ‘P’ as if to show his mark upon this world to Othello.

There being a weight upon him, wanting any semblance of acceptance when it felt like no one could see his story’s book without being repulsed by the chapter that had been highlighted, the lad nearly fell into one of his silent, far away lulls in time and space once the gears of his mind began to anxiously drift. But, not this time. For his downward stare, Richter was treated to a warm, wet lick across the side of his muzzle – and the rarest thing in the universe happened at that very moment.

Richter laughed.

Othello had scooted himself forward on his fore-paws and made himself much closer, flipping his tail up and down as if to tell Richter that there wasn’t any reason to feel down on himself, here in the moment. That same black ‘P’ rubbed across the wet spot on his muzzle alongside a simper, as low as tiny-Velius’ defenses had been caught; the lad’s imposing maw of Roferian teeth showing their tips for a very different reason than usual.

Yes, Sandy did well today, didn’t she?”, he spoke as if answering his dog, wholeheartedly agreeing with some unspoken assessment. When that left them sitting together with a lighter air; discomforts and jackasses forgotten; Richter looked on the same as Othello, tapping the end of his tail against the floor.

Could you just, uhh… ”, the look across his snout turned sheepish, yet reserved, “You know – hold still for a second?”

His book went to his side, and with an awkward slowness did Richter crawl out of his seat on his paws and knees. The motions were stiff and insecure, and his emotions on guard, but the five year old’s arms went around the base of Othello’s neck with a slight lean – the lad trustfully giving his dog a hug, as best he could initially try. He knelt there in Othello’s warmth, feeling all of his fur up against him… he blinked, and he breathed… and with a close of his eyes, Richter lowered his muzzle and tucked it right against Othello’s neck for an actual cuddling embrace. The slight nuzzle of draconic snout into fur buried it slightly, and above his slicked back Roferian ears, Othello’s muzzle split open to a big, smiling pant, happier than could be to have his affections returned. The feelings were all quite mutual.

The next time Elizabeth went for a walk to check up on them from the level below, circling the room with an old cookbook under her arm, she found them in that same spot, snuggled together while Richter read. She wasn’t wholly sure about him laying there on his side, head on his dog to do it when there were legitimate reading chairs on the first level; blocking a bookshelf as they were; but she did come to accurately imagine why he chose such a place – Richter’s predictable behavior of wanting to be alone, yet not, when he could still see and hear everyone else from that spot, sticking out over the first level. Seeing him attach so well to Othello made her too happy to care anyhow, yanking her datapad out of her purse like a giddy school-girl to tell Sandy. She didn’t have a lot of motherly victories, so that sight hit home for her protective whims to be a good mum.

She let Richter have all the time he wanted, and that had to have been at least two hours, grand total – more than long enough for her to have melted into a chair, having no clue what else to look at by the time Richter and Othello approached her on their own accord. Elizabeth hopped up to meet them, and was promptly offered a stack of books from Richter’s arms.

Would the three of these be acceptable for borrowing, Elizabeth?”, her penny son seemed to be continuing his promised behavior for the library, seeking her permission with the business-like approach he used when asking for his extended leash.

I can’t see your borrowing limit being less than three, so, let’s see… ”, she happily said aloud, like getting to see what he had picked out was a splash of curious fun for her – because it was.

A scene of vibrant, meticulously detailed Drakonian warriors greeted her at first glance from the cover-art of a graphic novel; this one labeled volume two, and giving her a strong clue as to what he must have been reading with Othello. It had her thumbing through its pages with a smile, though it bent quite a lot as the scenes of blood and violence blurred by. Stopping on a page to find a scantily armored drake woman attempting to bludgeon a Klingon with the handle side of his own bat’leth gave her some hope that there would be some life sparing and chivalry, but the mother’s cheeks tightened when she flipped the page. Oh, that man was very, very not okay – and neither was anyone else nearby once she got the thing in her maw. There looked to be a lot of story and character dialogue in between, and was exceptionally well involved for the likes of adults and rejuvenated people, so she looked past its questionable nature to find volume three beneath it as well, and…

Elizabeth froze where she stood. The third book was ‘The Abridged History of Great Britain’ in a blue, faux-leather cover. She didn’t think he had cared much about their walk together, but… he liked it? Did that mean that his snarky quips was just him trying to be social, not ornery? Humorous?

Had he been trying to play with her?

I saw there was a period with swords and significant imperial subjugation. I look forward to seeing how the story unfolds into the present.”, Richter said of his choice, perhaps because of the way she looked at the book.

A penny who’s willing to learn is always a welcome sight.”, she perked a whole lot of life back into her face, “Just glad to see you’ve enjoyed your time out here with your mum.”

Richter had to look back on his way out to burn the image of the room into his mind one last time, but the trio made their way back downstairs to fetch Richter his library card and check him out. The process was brief and took nothing more than his prisoner number with the P.J.D, and in less than a minute they were headed out the door with his stack of books going into the spare carry bag over Elizabeth’s shoulder – a free bookmark coming along for good measure, after Richter noticed a table by the exit offering them. The light and color of the day had shifted away from its early morning tones and so did the crowd, prompting the avoidance of Saint John’s Gardens in lieu of the far wider street going around its perimeter, the moment they had left the central library’s front walk. It would have been a noticeable relief to Richter, but his focus was elsewhere, toying with Othello’s lead in his paws as he walked.

I’d like to encourage you to do this again, so… would it be tolerable for the library here to be a regular thing? Even if I do have to spend the twenty minute ride getting stabbed all over my ass by my seat?”, he requested and quipped at the same time, and with his mother in such a good mood, she smirked slyly to it.

Your car-seat does come with a normal cushion, I’ll have you know. You’ve just never behaved well enough to warrant putting it in.”, Elizabeth so matter-of-factly tossed back at him, leaving her Roferian son aghast.

Elizabeth! What the hell?!”, he firmly bitched in the tone of their banter, making it half sound like a young rejuve’s whine – a reaction that got Elizabeth to laugh at almost a giggle’s cadence.

I’ll be installing it for you as soon as we get back to the car, and yes, we can come here every week as long as you’ve behaved yourself! You’ve done very well today! I’m proud!”, she showed well through her face and voice alike, as lively and enthused as she was. Richter ‘hrmph!’ed, turning his head away with a grin that looked more like a smile; something that might have made Elizabeth faint on a different day.

Obliged.”, came out of his toothy maw only somewhat different from how others would simply say ‘thank you’, though he naturally couldn’t resist tipping his snout back her way, “So long as I don’t eventually change your mind on that.”

Before you and Othello figure out how to manage that tall order, why don’t we get ourselves some lunch? I can’t take a Penitatas to a restaurant, but we’ve got take-away food in our heritage here! How about we bring some with us to the park in the penny district?”, she wanted to invite for the sake of bonding together, on the note they were having.

You know what I like – meat and eggs, and nothing spicy, unless you’re pouring it down my throat.”, Richter returned as was to be expected, but in the middle of it Elizabeth’s stomach gurgled, prompting an uncomfortable breath and the bracing catch of a hand to her belly.

I really need to find myself a restroom while we’re at it. My stomach isn’t as happy as I am, now that I’m up walking again.”, she tried to make light of, pepping up her voice despite.

But, while you’re being so talkative… ”, she more playfully traipsed into, tipping her head back with a grin for effect, “What’s your favorite color?”

Oh, that’s trite!”, the tiny professor-at-heart spurt, flipping an open paw up to his parental figure.

It’s purple.”, he replied the moment his snout pointed back forward; perfectly normally.

Becoming a casual back and forth exchange between a Penitatas and their parent, getting to know Richter a little better, it continued until they passed by the final stretch of Saint John’s Gardens’ outer wall and deviated off the old avenue. Elizabeth guided them through a path between a cluster of commercial spaces, looking like newer shops with an olden days flair, and a coming sign called the spot ‘Queen Square’. It was more more sparsely populated than the beaten path, with most of the small crowd seated at the tables outside a nearby cafe, and that made it all the easier for Richter’s green eyes to wander about like a child his age’s normally would, having Othello to to bolster his sense of security. There looked to be nothing but eateries in the cramped little plaza, aside from a bar that wasn’t yet open, but their trek toward any of them faltered with a stiffened slowing of Elizabeth’s feet.

Alright, I need that restroom first I think.”, she prioritized with some disquieted urgency in her voice, making awkward haste for the only public bathroom she could spot.

Skipping past most of the small take-away joint’s doors, a shaded alcove along the wall had your typical bathroom door on each side, with a water fountain in between. It wasn’t much of a detour and never should have been any sort of problem, but the moment Elizabeth pulled the heavy women’s room door open, a frustrated “Dammit!” was the only thing that could be said for what she found. She expected a proper bathroom with stalls, and instead got one of the single-occupant variety to her penny-parental horror. Standing there in enough desperation to sweat from how unwell she felt, holding the door ajar, she turned her head of red hair over her shoulder, giving her son a side-eye of silent plea, but Richter crossed his arms.

I’m not going in there with you.”, the lad settled right there and then, to Elizabeth’s wince.

Richter, I have to stay with you! I don’t like it either, but couldn’t you just… stand in the corner? For an actual reason, for once?”, she begged and strained.

Not with the sounds your insides are making.”, he balked, flicking a paw, “Just go, Elizabeth. I will stay here with Othello.” His mother’s frustrated squirm made a single shoe clap against the concrete.

Please don’t be difficult, I can’t make it to another bathroom!”, her begging turned to scolding, unwilling to be so uncouth as to grab him by the arm and drag him in against his will, but Richter wasn’t having any of it regardless.

Elizabeth!”, the fur of his muzzle wrinkled in snap, putting Othello at the ready.

Do a quick scan of your memory for any time that I have lied to you, and when you realize there haven’t been any, I want you to hear these words again: I – will – stay. Understood?”, his teeth baring, surly temperament rapidly fired off with a forceful tone to his little voice, though it came to ease off once he had made his intentions, and subsequent assurance, clear to the woman standing above him, “Do your business in peace, and I will be here when you return.”

Elizabeth hesitated. She honestly couldn’t recall a single time that Richter had been caught in a lie, seeing as the Roferian openly admitted to questioned misdeeds with a, “Yes, what of it?”, sort of insolence. When he’d actually claim that he didn’t do something, it always turned out to be true, just like his chores when he’d come inside and declare them to be complete. Staring down into his sharp, emerald little eyes, she swallowed and took a hard breath, unable to continue the exchange even if she wanted to.

“… Be a good lad.”, slipped from her tongue softly, cautiously trusting that Richter would continue to be faithful to his word, before entering the bathroom; that heavy door thumping closed behind her. Once it did, Richter’s muzzle loosened up with a sigh, turning to Othello to pet between his floppy black ears.

She gets herself wound up over the dumbest shit sometimes. Toilet yourself already.”, he quietly spoke to his dog with a gruff note of amusement, “I told her not to worry about me attempting escape, did I not?”

The stark reality of that matter, especially here in the moment, was that Liverpool was far too imposing a place to fathom even just a minute’s wander into the square for some sightseeing, much less absconding off entirely. Their little bathroom nook was his shelter from everyone and everything out there, and he’d much rather stay there with Othello. With the outdoor air bringing the scents of the restaurants past his nose, Richter ceased his petting and dropped Othello’s lead at his forepaws, gingerly stepping forward to the edge of the alcove’s front wall to peek around the corner and make sure they’d be alone for a spell. There wasn’t anyone nearby or walking their way, and that let him breathe a tad after the sort of morning he had with people. When he turned back around to use this as some quality time with his new companion, friendly as his living reading pillow was in the library, he found the black and white collie giving some curious attention to the water fountain, sniffing up at its spout.

You looking for some water, Othello?”, Richter asked, figuring he must have been smelling it.

The silvery, self-sanitizing fountain was on the tall side for either of them at their statures, requiring a moment of trial and error before the little Roferian figured out how to catch the falling stream of water in his paws and still be able to lean on its dispensing button. For someone who initially fretted over the possibility of having to care for another animal, Richter lowered his cupped paws before Othello’s muzzle to personally offer him a chilled pool of water.

I can help you, just as you help me. Proper symbiosis.”, the boy contentedly built upon their camaraderie, letting Othello lap the water out of his paws. Water dripped from his fingers with every splash of canine tongue, and it became nice to simply feel and watch, spending the time together as he wanted. “I imagine you’ll communicate your other needs as-… ”

What’s your name, wee one?”, made Richter jump, sending the darker fur along his spiked spine on end.

The deep, grandfatherly voice out of the blue spooked him, as horribly unnatural as being snuck up on was to an empath. He lived his whole life being able to sense other lifeforms at a distance, until Judge Ulera went to the extreme and had it drugged away – the dickwad. Though he specifically checked to see if there was anyone nearby only a moment ago, he flung his snout over to his shoulder to see an older, smiling human man standing in the mouth of the alcove just behind him, wearing nice clothes and a big tan coat.

“… It’s Rick.”, he phonetically shortened his name to veil it while Othello finished his drink; the Border Collie listening all the while.

Rick! Mind if I slip by for the water fountain?”, he politely beseeched, though it didn’t do a lot to quell Richter’s social anxieties. The boy wiped his paws on the front of his trousers and stuffed them into his pockets to properly hide his letters this time, whether Elizabeth liked it or not, before stepping to Othello’s side in the women’s room corner. He utilized his companion as a physical and visual divider, discreetly slipping his right paw free to pet Othello’s side where it couldn’t be seen as the man came forward in his wake.

Lovely day here, is’nit?”, he looked over and asked placidly, placing his hands up onto the water fountain. Richter’s inner recluse cringed, having been hoping that the man wouldn’t talk to him.

Yes, uhh… nice weather?”, the Roferian returned stiffly, uncomfortably parroting a topic he had heard more than once in the crowds of people today. It got the man to hum affirmingly.

I’d say! I left my wife and kid on our trip here to go for a stroll. They can enjoy a clothing store or two without their old man.”, his older voice prattled on despite Richter’s brain screaming for him to get his water and leave already, “How do we have more days like this, you think?”

Build more weather stabilizers? Pay and educate their operators better?”, Richter tipped his head, making them sound like the vaguely annoyed, mildly disinterested answers they truly were without outright pissing off another stranger. It only made the gentlemen chuckle, low and soft as he bent over and reached for his shoe – Othello lifting a leg to scratch at himself all the while.

I just think it’s only right that my loved ones can have these lovely days, safe and sound, as good people should be. Not a care or worry in the world.”, he began while he was still reaching down, shifting his vocal tones to something slower and softer. As he came back up, looking over Othello’s ears flopping about with his scratching, a discreet hint of blue blurred up to the water fountain’s spout, jarring Richter as the looped end of Othello’s lead was wrapped around it and lashed tight in nary a second.

No one to point guns at them… ”, the man’s voice degraded, sounding less cheerful as he turned from the fountain toward Richter; the boy baring his fangs, “up close, or from afar, as one terrible man did to them, not long ago.”

That was telling enough to shock Richter’s muzzle into a fully wrinkled furl, taking a single step back. The man already knew who he was, and deceived his way into getting close. Even asking to use the water fountain was a purposeful ruse, just to corral him off into the corner of the restroom alcove without causing a scene. His story about being in the quarter with his family only made Richter’s heart race harder in the split second it took for everything to make sense.

You left them to follow me?!”, he exclaimed in the realization that he himself was the reason this man ‘took a stroll’ away from his wife and child – he was indeed identifiable, and had picked up a trailing shadow. When?! The library? The walk here to the square? Overwhelmed with anxious fear, it was yet another thing an empath would have never experienced in all their days, normally being able to sense hostile intentions at a distance. Judge Ulera just blinded him to a threat he would have seen coming, well before he was even being stalked yet.

Richter’s apt deduction, however, didn’t affect the man at all. Not his narrowing expression, or the next step he took toward him; getting in front of Othello.

That man threatened to take away their lovely days… ”, his grandfatherly voice condemned solemnly, reaching into his coat with a hand, just as a jingle Richter heard before hit his ears.

Exploding from where he was, jammed up against the side of the water fountain, Othello’s four paws slammed past the man’s legs in a flail of limb, blazing out into the square with a furious bark of alarm… his lead left on the ground, still attached to the fountain’s spout. He wasn’t scratching, he was trying to uncouple its clasp the moment he saw the man’s fingers reach for the end of his lead – calling now for attention, and help. Richter needed it dearly, having his throat vice and his insides all sink as an improvised weapon was drawn from the man’s coat; that fleeting moment locking up the boy’s joints.

And then they went and put that man in my backyard? My home? Where my family lives, is their rubbish bin?”, the old man’s righteous rant turned vitriolic, swinging a metal pipe he found while following Richter to the ready at his side.

Richter’s eyes didn’t have enough time to narrow and gasp, tiny as he was, before black and white returned with the stream of tail. Dived into a canine’s attack posture, Othello leapt between Richter and his assailant at the last second, sliding on his paws from the sheer inertia of his sprint. The bark he made was rabid, and his muzzle curled into the fang-gleaming snarl of a wild animal, all in the defense of his ‘person’. A single spark of awe and gratefulness snuck into the racing salvo of electrical impulses overwhelming Richter’s mind. Othello was a trained therapy dog… there wasn’t a chance in hell that anyone ever taught him to attack. With the gap and split second that his unarguably sentient partner had bought, Richter flung himself backward, striking the women’s bathroom door with both his back and the swing of a closed fist – the heavy door making a powerful bang from such a small paw.

Elizabeth!”, Richter urgently screamed her name.

I’ll sort you out… ”, the man threw his pipe overhead, unabated, “and put you where you belong!”

Just as he lunged, arm tightening to swing the pipe down over the dog-sized gap he forced himself into, kicking Othello in the process, Othello and Richter both did the same in desperation; out of room, and out of options, with a unified mind to protect one another. The two of them put their weight together to push back a larger man; the collie leaping into his hip with a voracious bite of the old bastard’s belly, and Richter with a fang-baring overhead swing of his right claw. He’d never know if it was merely the adrenaline of a ‘fight or flight’ response, or if working on a farm had made his usually weak self a tad stronger, but his claws pierced right through the man’s shirt and into his flesh with a hammer’s blow for a five year old; each one of his five, pearly white claws disappearing entirely within him. It staggered the man back, filling the alcove with loud grunting and growling, to the scraping slide of a shoe against concrete – the old human catching himself from falling with the backward sweep of a leg. There was a bang of a hand against the water fountain, and once the man had braced himself for leverage, the grotesque sound of metal to bone nearly blacked Richter out.

Struck right atop his head as hard as the man could swing, a spray of blood spattered from his gray fur, making for a massive pain that wavered and dulled; the moment of impact hardly able to be registered by his brain from the concussion, blinking his sight out before it rushed back in a nauseous, broken daze. His world wobbled like he stumbled, filled with muffled barking and underwater-like bubbles, before a heavy-handed blur of something like a bat streaked through the muddy haze of his remaining vision. There was no sensation of falling, or even being hit again… nothing beyond the tickle of wind against his left temple before his consciousness disappeared, like he had just stopped ‘being’.

His memories scrambled, experiencing an occasional void that one might have called spiritual. Blackness with the eerie sounds of rumbling, squealing, or rushing water, no different from a glitched computer audio circuit emitting garbage waveforms after a kernel fault. There was ‘light’ every so often, akin to a flicker of white, or colorful disturbance rippling through the nothingness. No thoughts, no life… just the base notion of ‘existence’. When actual feeling and sense awoke, it did so on a light, floating air, as if his mind didn’t know where to begin rebuilding his consciousness. Uncertain as to where he was in place and time, and in a deep enough fog that he couldn’t properly process his last cataloged memories from Saint George’s Quarter, Richter found himself laying somewhere, limp, staring out through barely open eyes. There was no longer any pain, but instead this vague sensation in several spots around his head, and a numbness on the left side of his face. He was seemingly propped up in a creamy beige room with few decorations, and not far from the end of his snout was the side-rail of a bio-bed.

Richter? Are you coming back to us?”, he was asked by a familiar voice, and the resulting stimulation allowed him to groan and lift a jelly-like paw to his face.

“… Where the fuck am I now?”, his little throat griped, low and surly as always, but with a hell of a lot less energy. With a turn of his head, he got to see Elizabeth fly out of a chair beside the door of the room, and Sandy up at his side, having been checking up on a shift in his breathing. He was certainly not expecting to see her again out of nowhere looking so shaken, and his mother-figure markedly upset, hurrying to his side like she did.

You’re in the hospital… you’ve been in surgery for hours. They kept a rejuvenator spooled up and ready for you the entire time, you were doing so badly.”, Elizabeth had trouble spitting out, giving Richter the distinct impression she had been crying over him. It made him sigh through his nostrils.

This isn’t your doing, if you’ve been blaming yourself. What exactly happened, if I could get a status report?”, he rested his head in his paw, feeling haggard. Sandy crossed her arms and took point, wholly unable to bring forth the positive cheer she always carried about herself.

Attempted murder, is what happened. Extensive brain damage and bleeding very nearly killed you… technically did at one point, briefly, when your neurological activity ceased. You ended up with four major skull fractures from how many times they hit you. One also… shattered your left orbital socket.”, she seemed to explain to him mostly alright, until suddenly she wasn’t, frowning more deeply. Elizabeth swallowed, taking a shaky breath as she placed her hands on the railing of Richter’s bed – this part warranting a mother’s touch.

“… They couldn’t save your eye, Richter. I’m so sorry.”, came from her mouth sadly, rife with empathy and guilt.

Curious, the Roferian shut his right eye and held two claws extended in front of his left. The image was there and seemingly appropriate, but knowing his way around the cognitive aspect of neuro-mimetic devices, Richter relaxed his mind in the same way he used to be able to “feel” his head-computer. His vision shifted in brightness before briskly circling through the entire rainbow of the color spectrum, including infrared; the classic response of an ocular implant cross-talking between his frontal lobe and optic nerve when the brain gave it odd signals, like one trying to cross their eyes. His eye looked rather natural to Elizabeth and Sandy until that moment, seeing his slit Roferian pupil expand with a visible rotation of his emerald iris’ tiny components.

“… I’ll get used to not being able to feel my eye. It’s almost like a ball was shoved in there, and I’m looking around with it. I’m sure I’ll be more pissed off when you throw me in a rejuvenator again and I have to give it up, once I’m accustomed to it. It’s a quality implant.”, was a subdued, quiet, yet far less negative reaction than either of the women would have expected out of the fireball of fury. There was still something in his voice, having had a body part gouged from him, but he at least had an affinity for neurological implants. Aside from computer systems and hacking, that was his other major skill, after all. Still, the boy sighed, looking down over the blanket covering his seemingly bare fur.

I can consider the lasting ramifications of your people being displeased that I still exist later. How is Othello doing?”, Richter inquired of his partner.

Both Elizabeth and Sandy stood where they were, sharing a glance before looking off in different ways. Richter squinted at one, and then the other… and when nothing was being said, he uncomfortably bared the tips of his teeth.

Elizabeth, where is Othello?”, he forcefully broke the unnerving silence.

We… ”, her voice stumbled at a whisper, “...We’ll get you a new therapy dog.”

None had ever seen Richter’s features melt as hard or as fast, to words like that. They shattered every one of his stoic mannerisms… even his swept back Roferian ears drooped, limply folding downward like an Aspatrian’s. A five year old’s anguish was all that was left in the stare of his eyes.

“… He killed Othello?”, his boyish, devastated voice broke, damningly questioning in disbelief. Elizabeth tried unsuccessfully to steady her jaw at the face he made, bowing her head.

I found him on top of you.”, she affirmed, unknowingly needing to force he and Richter’s bloodied bodies aside just to get the bathroom door open.

Imagining Othello protecting him until he succumbed, Richter’s maw curled… but, the moment his eyes started to water, that rush of pain and grief began transmuting themselves to be processed in the manner Richter tended. His incredible sadness was steadily replaced by the creep of fang; his muzzle wrinkling and furling to a bloodthirsty snarl, gripping and pawing at his face with his claws. He whimpered and growled, mixing rage with tears, writhing beneath his blanket.

I know it hurts… ”, Sandy encouraged with melancholy, “We’re sorry, and here for you.”

“… Dead.”, Richter sniveled at a mumble, before flinging his snout back up out of his paws with the visage of Velius himself – pupils narrow, and toothy, draconic maw practically dripping with saliva.

I want him dead!”, he screamed.

You know that isn’t how we do things!”, his mother countered, but Sandy opted to get closer to the boy, leaning on his bio-bed’s side-rail.

Richter, you’re going to get justice because of the wonderful job you did of defending yourself! When the authorities found human blood on your claws, they got a really good sample for their scanners! They’re very confident they’re going to catch him, and there were so many witnesses to him running away!”, her chic bangs bounced in her haste, fighting his anger with reassurance.

He’ll be a penny.”, Elizabeth said of him firmly, “He can face what you go through. Let him live the life he thought wasn’t hard enough!” Poignant as it might have been, Richter growled shrilly, like a small child having a tantrum.

You can do whatever you fucking want to him, just… just don’t let him get away with killing Othello!”, he barely looked and sounded any less enraged, but his maw quivered and curled like the five year old he was underneath it all. The tears he wept crept into the thin gray fur of his cheeks above the pained gleam of his teeth, so clearly unable to stop thinking about the black and white collie he spent the day getting close to, and the thought of him being gone. It brought Sandy to crouch down and rest her arms on that side-rail, placing her chin upon them; face saddened, yet strong.

“… I heard how good you were doing with him. I’m glad you liked him so much. There’s more companions out there for you, and I can match you with another Border Collie too, if it helps.”, the young therapist sought to validate and comfort his emotions, but all it made was for Richter’s broken snarl to sputter with a child’s sobs.

I don’t want a dog, I want Othello!”, his tearful voice squeaked and wobbled; his maw failing him, as a boy’s sorrow overwhelmed a man’s fury.

He… he was a person! One that was unique, and… actually liked me!”, Richter proved through his lament that he could value life that wasn’t his own, elevating Othello to that of an individual. He choked up, fighting to share words he needed another being to hear.

He was my friend.”, the lad broke down, with the last of his anger all but gone from his voice – there being nothing left but mourning tears, crying for a companion he wanted to hug once more, and spend his years getting to know. To hear such emotion and respect out of Richter Saccard made Elizabeth tear up again, forever doomed to regret her decision to use that restroom, while Sandy held back, wanting to do anything to help him cope.

They did everything they could to try and save him, just like you. In the same ambulance, even, without a proper vet. By the time he got here though, he was hanging on by only a cortical stimulator… the only thing that could be done, was try to rejuvenate him.”, she calmly talked him through, so he’d know that Othello was given their best. It resulted in a moment of subdued sobbing, until a hiccup brought the peer of Richter’s artificial eye; dripping yet not shimmering wet, or reddened, like his other. He grit his teeth, whipping his muzzle out of his paws with the deductive mind he carried.

Wait, what the fuck do you mean? If he was hanging on, he was rejuvenated – and alive!”, the carefully listening Roferian snapped at her choice of words, and with the revival of his harder tones came the fervent shakes of both Elizabeth and Sandy’s heads.

No, Richter… ”, Sandy softly assured, while Elizabeth herself stepped closer to have a heart to heart over the matter; one she wasn’t sure was even wise to go into, out the fear of making this more painful.

The minimum leap for rejuvenation is three years, and Othello had only just turned three, the staff found out when they tried for him. They ended up with a puppy that wasn’t even a full month old. That’s far past a dog’s infancy cut-off point. Beyond that, your memories and ‘self’ can’t reestablish in your new brain because it’s too young… and, when that happens, the person that was lost is considered to have passed away.”, she explained the concept of ‘rejuvenator-death’, and the fallibility of their technology once taken to extremes. Be it human, alien or animal, no race could safely rejuvenate that far into infancy and still survive intact as they were, and Sandy followed up right behind.

And I tested him still, just in case, with the help of those that trained him. He wasn’t able to respond to any of his commands. I couldn’t even get the puppy to pay attention. It’s… a brand new dog – a Kindern born today, where Othello used to be.”, was what happened when such a death occurred, leaving behind a body with a fresh consciousness, while the former disappeared. Richter swallowed with a whimper, gripping at his blanket.

“… I want to see him.”, the Roferian had no difficulty in deciding.

Lad, that’s going to hurt.”, Elizabeth tried to seriously warn, but Sally stood up and waved her hand.

Everyone grieves differently, Misses Tanner. I’ll fetch our puppy, and be right back.”, she didn’t sound proud to do, but did as she knew she must. Richter would never accept Othello’s loss, without determining it for himself.

The young therapist left the sterile hospital room, leaving a morose silence in her wake that Richter used his blanket to isolate himself from. He pulled it up, wadding it against his muzzle until it covered his eyes, and stayed that way until he heard the cloudy privacy-glass doors part open again. Dropping the blanket from the clutch of his paws, the sight of Sandy emerged, carrying the tiniest dog that Richter had ever seen. The puppy was a fluffy, lively little thing in her hands, with a pattern of black and white matching Othello’s. The Roferian boy sat up off of the prop of his pillow, steadying his wobbly equilibrium so soon after having had his head put back together, and accepted the wiggling pup into his lap. He tried to get a fair glimpse into its eyes, looking for that spark of life and intellect he found earlier, but the puppy bounced out of his lap with a playful yap, toddling over to the side-rail of his bed. Richter’s teeth clenched, holding on to a weary hopefulness.

Othello?”, he uncomfortably asked of the puppy, calling to his friend… but it didn’t turn around; its clumsy paws wandering further down the bed.

Othello, its me… we both made it, right?”, Richter tried again, sounding his age; just a boy wanting his companion after he fought to his last breath to protect his head from being struck any further. He shakily whimpered once the puppy flopped onto its side and tried nipping at his feet through the blanket, seeking something to toy with and teethe on. Being touched, but not responded to, locked his jaw up instantly – the puppy being quite warm, and quite real, but…

Oth-… ello?”, his voice cracked in pain, assaulted by the creep of a grim reality. The puppy wasn’t Othello. That sentient spirit was deleted from this universe inside a rejuvenator, and no longer existed to see him again.

Othello, had died.

The man who took countless lives, had a life taken from him. He felt what it was like to have a loved one stolen by another, and what was left behind when they couldn’t return to those who were waiting. His heart was broken, and Elizabeth no longer able to watch, when speaking Othello’s name to the puppy was the modern day equivalent to asking a lifeless body to get up. A long, quiet, yet sharp whine wobbled until a hard sob broke Richter into openly crying, just trying to watch this little newborn puppy play about by his feet. The sight would have been no different from a baby Othello, having been this age once, and this an afterimage of what once was. He pulled his blanket back up to his face to stop staring and grieve, parting his maw open to sob in some muffled peace as he would at home, but there was a pull at it a moment later, like the puppy had scampered over to pounce what had moved. Richter hastened his breaths to calm his crying, and when he lowered his blanket to check up on the little thing, his every neuron stumbled to a halt.

The black and white puppy was sitting on the blanket in front of him, proper and attentive, as if asking how his tears could be comforted. It looked up, staring with the notion of thought. Feeling deja vu, and fearful of coincidence, the wide eyed, anxious Roferian slowly offered his open paw, just like in Sandy’s office, to see if it could be true.

And Othello placed his paw into his palm, once again.

He didn’t respond to any of Sandy’s trained commands because he was tired of that old game, and didn’t heed his own name because he had the attention span of a newborn. All Othello wanted to do was play – and, as it still was, be there for his ‘person’ when he was needed.

Othello!”, Richter outright screamed like a five year old, flying down to grasp his now pint-sized companion and shove his muzzle right up against him. Amidst elated sounds and little sobs, as well as the happy, frisky growls of Othello, Elizabeth spun back around where she stood, and Sandy rushed to the side of the bed.

Richter, that’s impossible!”, Sandy exclaimed, no matter what she just witnessed. But, encompassing the one he thought he lost forever, Richter’s first public display of outward happiness went unabated.

It is! I can feel it! Familiarity! He recognizes all of us!”, he was surprised to empathically read from Othello’s spark, while the pup lapped at his nose, “I couldn’t sense him until our heads were close enough to touch, but it’s him!”

It’s seriously Othello?! Your empathic sense isn’t fully suppressed?!”, the young woman did nothing to hold back her amazement and confusion, and it took her a long moment with her hands over her mouth to process.

The surgeons gave you nanites to gather up all of the debris left over from treating your brain injuries. They’re likely unbinding the justice department’s empathic inhibitor and flushing it out. If your levels of the drug have gotten that low, your sense is going to come back entirely until your next dose.”, Sandy extrapolated from her field’s medical knowledge, sounding relieved, considering the innate abilities of an empath helped for sure in determining whether or not Othello was still in that bubbly little head. Watching Richter play about with Othello in front of his lap, so fixated, she got the impression he was intently getting to know his friend in a manner only an empath could, basking in every state of mind that tiny collie exuded.

If Othello’s gone and made himself a medical marvel as the youngest rejuvenated dog ever, I’m going to have to figure out how to ‘un-dead’ him from the service animal registry… and get him a smaller collar, until he grows back into his other one.”, that relief of hers turned into a thankful, quiet chuckle. Richter grinned, rolling Othello about on his back; his empathic sense telling him that was a fun one, making Othello’s inner infant giggle.

Now I get to help you! You can do this ‘growing up all over again’ bullshit, just like m-… ”, the first bits of the Penitatas’ sharp-witted confidence crawled back, until the word ‘me’ stopped mid-syllable.

His ears looking to have abruptly flinched, freezing as he was, Richter lifted his muzzle from Othello’s squirrely waggle of white paws. The ‘deer in the headlights’ expression that must have come over his face brought Sandy to raise an eyebrow, and once she noticed his slit little pupils staring, she turned her head to where he was looking. If humans had fangs, Elizabeth would have had them at full snarl, twitching her upper lip.

“… I’m glad you’re able to feel just how furious I am.”, the mother who had been quiet relished in the awakening of Richter’s empathic sense – the depths of her bubbling parental anger cutting through the room, despite the boy’s presently limited range.

It was a dark day, and an eye was lost, but now that everyone is still here and accounted for… I have words for you, Mister Saccard.”, came with the most cutting tone she had ever dared use on her son, slowly stepping to the end of his bed as his snout wrinkled.

You were going to cry your damned eyes out, thinking that Othello was dead. Where were your tears over the people you killed? All the sudden you aren’t indifferent to death? Or is it only theirs?”, Elizabeth harshly spat in damnatory question. The second Richter bared a hint of his teeth with a ‘tch!’, be it contemptuous or merely anxious, the red haired Englishwoman took her purse from her shoulder and thumped it down upon the end of the bio-bed with a single strong hand, never breaking eye contact with the Roferian until she tipped her head toward Sandy, standing there like she was stuck in the middle.

Be a dear, and hold on to Othello for me. This is a teaching moment, and mum is going to be giving a lesson.”, she made her intentions perfectly clear, flipping her purse flap open to dig inside of it, “While all that pain is fresh in your mind, little Velius, we’re going to have a ‘talk’ about how selfish you are, and all the killing you’ve done.”

Despite her words themselves having quite the sting to them, far from her calm and accommodating norms, what she drew into her hand was incredibly adept at causing sting as well, and wouldn’t require Richter to leave his bed; the lad’s toothy furl grimacing at the sight. Shaped no differently from your typical ruler, it was a maroon colored implement with a rubberized coating, sporting a dense, yet slightly flexible core. Unlike a wooden ruler, however, it was purpose made for spanking, and hurt markedly worse as a specialized piece of hardware for a black letter Penitatas of Richter’s caliber. While Othello laid on his back, bewildered from the ruckus stopping his play; paws idly going back and forth; Sandy scooped him up like a ball, nearly biting her lip at Misses Tanner’s ability to be master-tier strict, even under these circumstances.

Elizabeth, are you fucking kidding me with this?”, Richter snapped at her timing, clutching his right paw to his chest out of instinct as his penny-parent stormed up to the side of his bed.

She didn’t say a single word, and stood where she needed for her chosen implement, glaring in wait. The two had a silent standoff little different from a staring contest, but when Elizabeth remained unfazed and failed to remotely yield to Richter’s nervously annoyed display of fang, the boy made a subdued, though gruff growl, giving up his right paw. Turning his head slightly to look away, he lifted his arm out straight, fingers together and perfectly flattened with his padded palm exposed skyward, hovering just over his bed’s side-rail from where he sat. The choice to not keep his misty eyes on his paw was typical of him, holding to a face of wary defiance when he couldn’t see the blows coming to anticipate them, but that expression sharply winced without a moment’s wait – a powerfully loud slap resounding through the room.

The maroon instrument smacked Richter’s small, five year old paw almost as hard as one might have struck an adult, deflecting his whole arm downward from the forceful follow-through. His palm hardly looked any different from a human’s when a Roferian’s whole-palm pad was so thin, and its entirety felt the ruler facsimile's venomous width; that vaguely rubbery coating making for a shriller sting, and giving just enough versus that of wood that it felt almost like an incredibly hard strap to the person unfortunate enough to experience such a thing. And, as light and simple as it was, Richter’s teeth-baring winces just kept coming, squinting harder and harder until his already wet eyes easily spilled a tear by the fifth time his paw was smacked out of its position – returning to ready like a spring.

It makes me hopeful to see you cherish a life… and glad that you didn’t have to say goodbye… ”, Elizabeth paused to speak, collected yet stern, as those first five licks burned deep into Richter’s palm. The stripes all blended together, coming to their peak at the moment the maroon implement blurred in his periphery again; his head sinking into his shoulders, gnashing his pained expression in the successive slaps to his dominant paw.

But you are heartless beyond belief, picking and choosing who you care about living or dying. Countless people no less valuable than you, or your Othello, are gone because this hand took them away.”, she aptly paired with a crisp, harsher smack across the base of Richter’s fingers, forcing a yelp to stifle within his muzzle, “Does that literally mean nothing to you?”

His breaths hastened and sputtering, already having a lot of difficulty in keeping from crying out, Richter swallowed and opened his eyes back open to the tear-blurred crumple of blanket in his lap. With a tremble in his jaw making his teeth-bared snout look all the more riled to the somber lecture, the Roferian picked his head up and peered over to Elizabeth standing in front of his scorching, throbbing little paw, waiting for an answer. To the expectant look on her face, the Penitatas scoffed in ire.

As a matter of fucking fact, it does mean something, and no, I don’t like it! For all the shit that comes out of my mouth, I’ve never said anything disparaging about them, even just to piss someone off! I never even mention them! I don’t want to, if you haven’t noticed!”, Richter shouted what he thought should have been openly apparent to his red-headed mother-figure, throwing the whole lot back at her if she thought he was going to give any other sort of response in regard to the dead.

However, the moment his barking had ceased, Elizabeth threw her right arm and what she held straight into the air. Richter’s squinting glare didn’t have enough time to break and avert his eyes, and he was forced to see just how terrible that awful rubberized strip looked when it snapped all of his grown mother’s strength into such a tiny palm, and just how much his paw was violently blown out of position. The sound alone was enough to make Sandy wince repeatedly across the room, cringing when she was literally a member of the P.J.D and no stranger to corporal punishment, but what Richter could get, and apparently Elizabeth provide, were on another level.

Oh, but you weren’t done with the killing when that day of yours came to an end.”, she began to speak while spanking, more slowly whipping Richter’s black, reddening and swelling palm-pad, “You almost flipped our defensive shell of orbital weapons back at us, with the intent to fire.”

And, with those words delivered, those actions too were punished – five more very fast and crisp smacks to Richter’s squirming squeal. The five year old was nearly balling himself up where he sat in that hospital bed, trying to bear it as best he could, but all of his focus had to be spent on not pulling his paw away. Sting evolved itself into a pain that didn’t dull when a slap to the palm tended to linger and burn, and all the times his fingers had been clipped left an ache all through his joints. He tried to breathe in their wake, loosing a series of sobs he couldn’t hold in any longer; shuddering his back and all its spines… and, again, he found Elizabeth waiting for him to calm his writhe enough to lend her his eyes – a solemn, almost sad look across her face.

Richter Saccard, if you had your way five months ago, you would have killed Othello.”, she wanted to sink in, long and hard, in the silence that fell. It made Richter’s gray muzzle tremble in unsettled anger, little different from the quiver of his pearly, outstretched claws.

I’m not fucking feeble minded! I’m aware, Elizabeth! Obviously I’m not okay with that!”, the fiery lad screamed at her with a wobbling, nearly mewling voice. His tune changed with a hard sob, however, the moment his mother so much as moved without ordering him to turn his paw over – his palm already well beyond the highest number of swats it had ever gotten, when she would have started working on his knuckles by now to spread the punishment out. Once more he was treated to five consecutive snaps of the implement, quick and even, and his wrist seemingly intentionally licked by every one; his left paw darting over to brace his arm, leaning forward with a muffled howl.

Then what reason did you have to destroy a Federation starship with hundreds on board who weren’t fighting you, and tried to run away? Or shoot dead one of their officers who came to take you in – not kill you? Their deaths are different?”, Elizabeth brought as another question warranting his answer, and it was getting frustratingly difficult for Richter to keep fighting back his tears to gain control of his maw. His left paw fell from his right arm and smacked his blanket, hiccuping with a whip’s throw of his snout up to the stern farm-woman.

Their deaths were pointless!”, he shrieked from the duress of crying.

I was fighting for what I wanted! Getting what I wanted – that was the point! I treated them like stepping stones to becoming a God – of hackers, and people, once I was feared! And when everything fell apart and I couldn’t even kill myself right, the whole thing became pointless – even the stupid shit I tried to do to get there! Stepping stones to nowhere is what they turned into! Every bit of what I did was completely meaningless… especially once I lost the will to even go through with a plan like that anymore, after deciding that I… liked you, and Harvey, and… ”, Velius rapid-fired from his rattled emotions and hindsight until his voice, and resolve, both weakened. He paused, sniffling up at Elizabeth; someone who was no longer faceless and far away, in this place that was very real.

I’d like them all to come back… and have things go differently.”, Richter confessed, when nothing had to turn out this way.

As a meticulously calculated realist, it was how he came to see that chapter of his story. If he didn’t wish to rain hellfire in a power-grab, then the entire chain of events leading up to it was unnecessary, all the way up to stealing control of DeltaStar’s weapons. From the way Elizabeth looked down at him, calmly and intently letting him speak his piece, Richter outright gasped when she hardly lifted her maroon spanking implement and swung it at his paw as briskly as she could.

Ow!”, she actually managed to make her son scream out, which he did several times in the beating of his paw.

Then where is your remorse, if you truly regret that day? You’ve refused time and time again to say you’re sorry, even for the simplest of things – much less for the most horrible of your actions.”, the lesson was surely not over, despite his psychologist looking absolutely amazed at how much she got Richter to open up about through her ‘mothering.’

Elizabeth, let me turn it over!”, Richter cried, breaking down to plead for his palm, so intensely slathered in dark red stripes and lines and visibly swollen the whole way around; his body crumpling toward the side-rail in the shaky weakening of his arm. His request to shift the spanking to his knuckles was replied with the hardest rap he had received yet, knocking his paw down hard enough for his wrist to smack the bed’s rail.

On topic, Richter.”, his mother’s voice firmed up in scold, not permitting anything but proper answers or howls – and howl the lad did, practically kicking his feet in tantrum beneath his blanket. Spanked to the point of being beside himself, having his paw hurt like it had been smashed, and burn like a candle’s flame, Richter had to be extended a solid moment of open muzzled bawling before he could ever fathom answer to her wish for futile ‘sorries’.

I don’t say crap that I don’t mean, or empty bullshit words like ‘sorry’!”, he forcibly shouted through his crying down into the bed, picking up his muzzle only enough to squint his new ocular implant upward; a tear rolling out of both ends of his eyelid, as another dripped off his cheek.

And I’ll never regret wanting to be something bigger and better – I can be, and I deserve to be!”, the firebrand snapped from the depths of himself that apparently spoke only truths, and the content of his mind, “But, for what I fucked up then, or even when I fuck up now, I try to make up for through the things that I do!”

The Penitatas’ heart sank at how fast Elizabeth bolted from that one spot she stood, and the instinctive tightening of his core proved to be the right thing to do when she got a new angle on his paw – spanking hard from the side, instead of in front, putting the entirety of each powerful lick into the soft bit of pad at the bases of his fingers. How enthusiastically he cried didn’t abate the amount he got either, still getting a harsh, tear jerking five. Once he endured them all, his paw wobbled and wavered in the air, curling and twisting at its wrist.

Things that you do?”, Elizabeth wasted no time in chiding, “You do most everything without permission, and do whatever you want, regardless of any boundaries that are set. That’s your apology?”

Trying not to bawl in his curled, guarded slump, Richter didn’t feel a fresh blow come to his outstretched palm. Not his fingers, their tips, or his wrist. Reprieve was welcome, but even with his eyes shut and wholly blinded by tears, his sixth sense felt her leave the spot she stood, moving purposely and quietly with no shift in how she felt. Not angrier after her questioning scold – nothing. But, as the glowing aura of her neurological electrical field returned, a different sense shocked the Roferian. The sensation of something cool and wet came over his palm, and he tried his damnedest to see, wiping at his eyes with his left paw. His mother held a little water cup in her hand, and was gently pouring it over his paw; all of it running off, leaving his pad and fingers sopping wet.

What are you doing?”, he asked warily as she set the empty cup beside his leg, calmly moving back to where she stood before. Richter whimpered, whining aloud at the sight, and sure enough, she raised that stripe of maroon.

What came, stung.

When the rubbery implement smacked the small target of his palm, crisp and with a mother’s talent, the sharper, almost ‘wet’ sound it made created the same kind of feeling in every nerve it touched. Nothing enhanced a spanking to a hand more than wetting it, and for the creativity, Richter screamed on only its first lick of five.

Eliz’beth!”, flew broken from his maw, bearing down just to make it through to her fifth stroke… and, even then, because of how the hand liked to ‘remember’ such pains, the sting didn’t get better, remaining unbearably white hot. Through desperation, his arm remained outstretched, and his eyes didn’t dart away from the watery silhouette of Elizabeth’s salmon colored top, damn well ready to explain ‘do’ to her.

I hol’-… I hold still and s-stay when you have to hit me! I do my chores e-every day! I go when it’s time, w-without being t-told! I do every single thing right, and-… !”, he could barely speak, and lost his voice to a tearful yowl when his whole paw was treated to a whip, straight down to the tips of his fingers.

Those are all things you’d be punished for if you didn’t do!”, Elizabeth scolded.

List’-ten tah’ m-m-me!”, Richter shouted in a tantrum, trying to use his new eye to track that maroon-colored demon when it wasn’t clouded by tears as easily.

I coul’ fuck off on every chore! Half-ass ever’ry one an’ not c-care, but I don’t! I’ve found things f-fallen over and a mess that you’ve never even known about, and I’ve cleaned it! I’ve dropped the rabbit feed, and picked up every piece! I fix things that I know how to fix, and find things to do when I’ve felt bad for screwing something up! I do a good job, and I try really hard on whatever you tell me to do, even if I bitch!”, he cried out in defense of all of his efforts, and, as he said, the things that he does. It was so much to say all at once, and rattled off so quickly to get it in before having his paw rapped, Elizabeth hardly had any time to absorb even the concept of her son ‘feeling bad’ for making mistakes before he continued.

I never had to dig you all those holes that one day either! If I threw the fucking shovel down, you’d have taken me inside and beat me – but that’s what usually happens anyway! I chose to stay, get filthy, and hurt my everything! I obeyed you, even if disobeying would have sucked less!”, the punishment he mentioned as being top-tier awful in the car came back again, with what was ultimately a simple reality – his participation was his choice, if they couldn’t chain him to a wall.

I laid down for that paddle this morning and didn’t say a damn thing, even knowing how bad you’d hurt me with it!”, he even explained as to why he didn’t ‘ask his mother for mercy’ as Elizabeth tried to put it, just wanting to take what he had coming to him without fussing beyond punching his mattress. His mother’s expression changed the more she heard, and with the floor having been extended to Richter, he just kept using it, even as explaining himself was making him sputter and cry harder.

I’m doing it r-right now! My fingers – I’ve not let them curl to my palm once… j-just so you know I’m… ”, his artificial eye could no longer stay open, breaking down like a five year old when his elder fire couldn’t keep a boy’s emotions at bay forever, grilled and spanked so hard. There was a lot in what he said, and in reality, more inside what he didn’t say. ‘Just so you know I’m’: taking this seriously. ‘Just so you know I’m’: sorry.

And with one tip of her forehead, his mother had to acknowledge the truth in his words, when they lined up with what she saw. Richter’s paw was still extended, with his fingers flat. He never pulled his paw away, or closed it, when that was almost expected out of reflex. The boy fought from doing that the entire time, just to send a wordless, silent message – something he did, instead of said. It left his mother staring, and thinking all sorts of things inside of her that Richter must have been able to sense, considering he opted to cry without being curled up into a ball, anticipating a smack.

“… Are you trying to tell me that you express being sorry by working hard for your father and I, and being acceptant of your discipline?”, she deduced from his words, and all of their clues.

Keeping his palm perfectly bare at all times, taking a blistering without question, and participating in punishments he would have accepted alternative consequences for, was him practicing obedience to his parents and permitting himself to be punished – accepting of his discipline, as only the best of Penitatas are.

Then, what he said about working around the farm was even more complicated, and, in a way, made Elizabeth upset the more she thought about. She didn’t know he found his own tasks to do, much less after getting in trouble… but, with the clues she now had, wished she had noticed sooner. One morning about a month ago, she awoke to the living room having been tidied, with she and her husband’s things all sorted on their respective end-tables where they sat for their downtime. After thanking Harvey for picking up, he told her that he thought she did it – and that only left Richter, who would have had to do it in the middle of the night, and he would have been mighty sore from a switching he got that evening for violating his rule against ‘swearing at’. His getting into their stuff didn’t turn out badly, so she let it go… not thinking it might have been Richter saying he was sorry for calling her something in anger, when she didn’t know him to do such things. That was the only clear cut time she could think of too, when the rest were merely suspicious coincidences. The farm’s irrigation system, for one, had been fouling up regularly, but would always come back online on its own… they thought it was being glitchy, but what if the ‘glitch’ was Richter getting it running again? He did know how to toy with its settings – how else could it be explained?

It made so much sense it hurt. He didn’t say sorry, he did sorry… and he did so out of sight, with how uncomfortable social interactions made him. What he did today at the library, picking up the man’s book behind his back because he wouldn’t know he did it, was something he had been doing to them. She couldn’t even guess how many times it could have happened, going above and beyond toward his penance without credit. For everything she had learned about him today, discovering that his mouth and tones didn’t always match his intentions on top of it, she felt as if she could safely say that Richter was trying – and with the potential for success, giving effort like that.

Elizabeth, don’t!”, snapped her wandering mind back into reality, once pathetically squeaked from Richter’s mouth.

The mother had found her hand on Richter’s paw out of force of habit, not having turned it over yet to spank his knuckles as would be the usual order of operations. She wasn’t sure if she had ever seen the draconic bundle of fur and spine looking so trounced after such a dressing down, talking about the uncomfortable things that they had; his dripping eyes so uncharacteristically meek.

“… Please?”, fell from his stiff lips for the first time since being rejuvenated, so obviously seeking her forgiveness in particular. Elizabeth allowed herself to smile a little, though like Sandy, she knew when she had to hold back and let something ride out.

I will stop, on one condition.”, she told him softly, If you let me hold you, and cry against your mum for once.”

Even though Richter should have been able to sense that she actually had no intention of continuing, her maroon spanking implement tumbled to his blanket as soon as he reached his arms out in “acceptance of her terms”, as he would have surely put it. With a crouch against the bed’s side-rail, her son thumped right into in her embrace, sniffling and sobbing against her with a somewhat vigorous rub of his over-smacked paw. She pet the darker gray fur around his back’s spines, comforting his hiccups, and Othello toddled in to join as soon as he was set back down, trying to do the best he could despite his size. The pup’s reappearance brought Elizabeth to peer across the bed at Sandy, grinning ear to ear that she finally got to console Richter.

Was I a decent therapist, you think?”, she asked as a motherly sort of joke.

Your… ‘special title’, is very accurate.”, Sandy sheepishly shared, traipsing about the same as earlier in regard to Elizabeth not being an ordinary parent. Lighthearted and exceptionally placid after all of that, Elizabeth tipped her attentions back to Richter in his bed.

I’d like to mend his hand as quick as possible, and nano-lotion should do the trick if that drug of his isn’t working anymore. Could you fetch one of my old backup break-tops from my purse?”, she asked of her fellow, who was more than happy to help that poor paw she watched get thrashed, “There’s been far too much pain today, and there won’t be any more. With that much needed ‘little discussion’ behind us, I say we focus on some good – and what does that better than a penny’s favorite cream?”

The act of a parent delivering clemency to their Penitatas with that cream was normally an important part of their bonding, showing that they could be forgiven and loved, so being handed that lint-covered white plastic tube made Elizabeth simply glow. It felt so strange to her; distant, even; to be judicially disallowed from performing a cornerstone of her duty as a mother. Breaking the tube’s twist-top off, she had to contend with Richter’s disconcerted guarding of his paw as she went about squeezing its portable dose of nano-lotion upon his palm-pad, and an absolute snarl of a pained expression once she began a gingerly massage with her thumbs, but his whimpers and growls eased fairly quickly. She wiped it all around to let the nanites dive deep and not leave a trace of her ‘talk’ behind, smiling like a fool… but, by the time she figured the initial itch would have stopped and he’d be feeling a touch better, Richter’s head continued to hang; his wet eyes staring off into space, even with Othello drumming his paws against his thigh to be noticed.

Oh, lad… I know that was a lot out of me all at once, and on a terrible day, but that was just some parenting meant to help you in the long run. With that special sense of yours, you must have felt me go straight back to normal when it was over – I’m not mad in the slightest. I’m pleased as a peach with you, actually. You’ve obviously put thought into why you’re here, and I’m always more interested in preparing you for a future beyond your mistakes. That’s what a mum is really for. Chin up!”, Elizabeth warmly comforted that sullen droop with her motherly views while stroking his paw, seeing as his letter ‘P’ offered a path to absolution, and a ‘C’ one day, should he choose not to repeat his sins. It made no difference how much tension it removed from the air, being kind and gentle; the boy still appearing to have the same amount of trouble, sniffling and trying not to continue his quiet, stifled cry, even as he attempted speaking.

I am no longer accustomed to my sense, and I’m reading others well beyond this room now. You have a tenancy to carry backups of many things… would one be my drug? Perhaps the nano-machines in my brain can be out-dosed, if we attempted to re-suppress my empathic abilities?”, his weakened voice went somewhere far unexpected.

You want to be-… ?”, Elizabeth wiped the cheer off her face, stumbling in shock, “Why would you ask for that?”

We’re in a hospital. No one is here for a positive reason. The only states of mind to be sensed here is fear… dread… sadness – there’s just too much going on, and it’s bothering me.”, Richter managed to remain so strangely teary sounding, as if he wasn’t innately stoic, or a ‘nine’. It might have been sharply confusing to Elizabeth, having always found that hypospray she had to give as being inhumanely vile, but on the other side of the bed, those words caused alarm.

No… no, that isn’t right.”, Sandy uttered in concern when that was like saying ‘it bothers me to see’, hastily crouching down to fully lean on the bed’s side-rail as she did before, “It’s keeping you from feeling better? Wanting to stop crying?” The Roferian nodded his head.

Correct. It has been too long, and I’ve not felt things with this mind yet to know how to harden my will against discomforts. A hospital is too difficult a starting point.”, he easily answered of his inability to tolerate where he was without warming up and acclimating after so long, keeping to his mannerisms despite the odd loss of a thin, half-hearted tear from the artificial eye he peered over to her with. Far removed from her positive attitude, Sandy became somewhat serious.

Richter, I’d like to test something.”, she requested immediately, settling in against that side-rail, “If I stay nice and close like this, can you focus on me as hard as you can?”

I will humor it. Your field is the strongest, and will drown out theirs.”, Richter accepted, at least for the sake of squelching the rest of the hospital from his mind.

As Sandy shifted her stance so she could bring her hands to her face and prop her elbows right, she looked past the end of Richter’s muzzle to Elizabeth on his other side. Taking more than a mere glance, the young woman stared, direly and piercingly for as long as she felt she could get away with, in order to share a strong message without altering her state of mind too far for her patient to notice. Without mistake, it was a warning. Something was very amiss, and it put Elizabeth on guard.

Taking a deep breath, long and steady, Sandy closed her eyes and exhaled, placing her hands together just beneath her nose. The hospital room fell silent, with Othello’s distracted teeter-totter about the bed becoming the only movement for Elizabeth to watch. She tried to keep gauge on her sniffly penny son, who looked at Sandy, the wiggle of his puppy’s straight-up tail, and about the room a tad… until he took a harder breath, altering his respiration rate seemingly unbeknownst to himself. That didn’t last more than a few moments further though, catching a tension crawl into Richter’s face, and how his idle, five year old attentions began to falter away from the room itself. In time he squinted, turning his head back to his therapist’s unmoving face, lost in her trance.

Why are you-… ?”, his voice questioned uneasily of something unseen. Again, his breathing shuddered, forcing the Roferian to swallow. His still-mending right paw gripped at his blanket, and his pupils narrowed into tighter reptilian slits, looking perturbed enough to break out into a sweat just sitting still where he was. Richter whimpered under his breath, roiling into a panting, upset panic as he stared, squirming with an urgent need for his inquiry to be answered. Without warning, like a switch had been flipped, a quivering twitch struck his muzzle, slowly and shakingly baring his teeth into a mangled snarl; his fretful, harmed rile collapsing into outward anger, little different from how he processed his grief.

Stop it.”, he sharply spat from his lips, forcing Elizabeth to throw a hand over her mouth to stifle her reaction to what she was witnessing. There was literally nothing going on in the room, but her Penitatas acted as if he was falling apart, shaking to a torrent of things she couldn’t perceive – and it was jarring, if not demented, to see the Roferian gleaming his fangs threateningly at someone who was tranquilly meditating with her eyes shut. Hard, and explosive, Richter sputtered out two incredible sobs out of the blue unlike anything he could ever make, turning it into a furious thrash of his paws. He slammed them both down onto the bed, thrusting his snout into Sandy’s face.

Stop it!”, he screamed like an absolute child, with only distressed rage left in his voice. Sandy didn’t flinch, forcing Richter’s tearing eyes and enraged display of draconic teeth to intensify, gnashing everything in his body. The moment he sounded as if he’d cry out again, a zip of air going into his nostrils with a vicing of his throat, his right arm flung itself into the air, stopping his mother’s heart cold the millisecond he curled his fingers and brought his once-bloodied claws to bear on Sandy’s face.

I said stop!”, Richter screeched in command, swinging his arm with the same furious strength that pierced clear into his assailant. Elizabeth didn’t get a single syllable out, much less throw her hand forward to grab her son, before contact was made.

Sandy snatched Richter’s forearm in mid-air with one eye open, and the instant she made physical contact with her patient, the boy gasped violently; his entire expression, and the look in his eyes, startled out of where they had been, going as limp and still as his claws.

Shh, shh… I’m clearing my mind, it’s okay – everyone is perfectly okay! Happy thoughts, now!”, Sandy hastily cooed for Richter’s mortified face staring into her own, heaving like he was in pain. Her hand slid down to his paw, violating what would normally be the lad’s strict personal space barrier to squeeze it before letting Richter dart it to his chest.

Sandy… ”, he squeakily mewled in disbelief of his paw, “I’d never do that to you! You have my word!”

I know that wasn’t you, because I know who it was. I’m afraid I finally have something to diagnose you with, Richter.”, Sandy’s voice spoke with gentle empathy, knowing Richter would have trouble swallowing it, “You have an empathic disorder… it’s called Rikson-Barrister Syndrome.”

Tch’!… ”, his maw snapped defensively, flooding his wounded expression with a disquieted note of ire, but a lightly scolding finger came right up like it was waiting for it.

Person, not problem!”, the young therapist repeated of herself.

When you were growing up, it was hard being around too many people, wasn’t it? Everyone’s minds were always too loud, and you could never seem to tune them all out quite right – sort of like you were picking up everything, whether you wanted to or not?”, she tried questioning Richter’s memory with the symptoms it would have caused, leading to the birth of his severe introversion; slackening the muscles around his eyes.

It got worse when people had stronger states of minds. When people were bottling up their emotions, you absorbed it all like a sponge. You had to bottle what everyone around you was bottling. The sponge kept taking more in, even when you wanted it all to be squeezed out… and, when a powerful emotion assaulted you, it came over you with enough force to push your own out… right? If you weren’t careful, your thoughts, feelings – your entire state of mind could be overwritten by someone. Their feelings became your own, and it was a horrible, frightening experience.”, Sandy described with compassion, and it must have been strikingly accurate, the way Richter became so disarmed and dumbstruck.

That sense of yours isn’t supposed to have the ability to affect you like that, so when it sounded like you couldn’t dry your eyes because of the others here in the hospital, and weren’t surprised, I became suspicious enough to see if I could cause a full Rikson-Barrister overwrite and confirm it. Ironically, I… replayed a part of a movie that disturbed me in my head, where a dog was tortured and killed rather… graphically. I struck you with all of its horror and violence, as well as how angry it always makes me to remember walking into my parents’ living room when I was little, to see that.”, ended on a more harshly spoken note for the likes of her, unveiling the degree and multitude of overwhelming emotions that she showered his empathic-center with, to break him in the manner she did. By then, though, Richter was already wilted into a dejected slouch, contending with the all the evidence his deductive reasoning had been presented.

You thought needing to ‘harden your will’ and acclimate against it all was normal by the sound of it, but you were just conditioning yourself to cope with what ‘R.B.’ was doing to you. Since it wasn’t caught by someone sooner, and went undiagnosed, you missed out on getting the help you needed.”, she only wanted to comfort him on why he hadn’t noticed that he was different, being so reclusive and clearly not taken care of right, but it brought an almost saddened, defeated baring of a few teeth from the curl of his muzzle.

Help I needed to what? Be less broken?”, Richter whispered in hurt, accepting reality.

Help feeling better, and having a happier life.”, his self-depreciation was swept aside with the optimism he knew Sandy for – reassuring smile and all.

It wasn’t always easy to be that way, especially as morose and beaten down as the boy had become from his day, his ‘talk’, and his awry Roferian senses, but there was so much good she could do with her upsetting diagnosis. She’d turn it all around and make use of it, just as she did the nurse’s cold shoulder in her office; her hands coming together against the spot of bed his sullen features stared down at.

Richter, if I said I could make your judicial drug go away, and I prescribed you medicine – real medicine – would you take it?”, she posed as a very serious question, imploring his consideration. That certainly got his shiny eyes to look up, and Elizabeth to smirk as if she wasn’t at all surprised to hear it; hoping that damned hypospray was as dead in the water as she imagined.

The syndrome you have is completely treatable. Those signals from your empathic sense going to the wrong places in your brain can be regulated out. You can have your sixth sense, and have it be no different from your sight or hearing. I can prescribe it in capsules, and give you the bottle. You’d be in complete control. No more drugging. It’s your mind.”, Sandy put her foot down against the justice department maltreating a medical condition now that one had been diagnosed, nearly pleading for Richter to not balk the idea of taking medication.

I… ”, he mumbled, stunned, “I have no objection to your professional recommendation.”

He’d never seen Sandy move as quick as she did, jumping out of her calm, cozy position against the bed at his side; her bangs flying into the air. A datapad darted out of her pocket into hand, getting forcefully tapped at like a teenager rapid-firing text messages to all of her several dozen friends; making Richter a touch wide-eyed from the display, no matter the disjointed cacophony of feelings still disrupting his mind.

You’re using medical grounds, I take?”, Elizabeth asked with a tone of sly cheer, when no punishment was ever permitted to interfere with the treatment of a medical condition. Sandy didn’t look up from her pad, and the way she hiked a lip with a little disdainful sound, one would have thought she was doing an impression of her patient.

I don’t even have to. I’m invalidating his entire special condition flag at the source, so his technology restrictions are going right out the window too.”, her vague mentioning of PACS didn’t make any sense to Richter, but hearing that his rules against technology were going away shocked him almost as much as it did Elizabeth.

Wait, what – why?”, the mother stumbled on her hurry over.

Judge Ulera is why.”, Sandy rebuked the man in defense of her patient.

He made it very clear in his sentencing documentation that his main reason for throwing those extras on as harshly as he did was because of Richter’s courtroom behavior. All of his hostility, and inappropriate responses? That was a packed public courtroom, occupied exclusively by people who had major hostility toward him, and there he was with Rikson-Barrister, right in the middle of it! He was never going to give them any other responses! He was going to spew out the same thing they were mentally throwing at him, like some sort of psychic parrot! I don’t even know how he got through his trial!”, she justified with a caring bite to her voice, pointing out the glaring fact that he was likely sentenced to his special conditions with undue bias for things he couldn’t control.

Now, don’t get me wrong.”, a hand came off her pad for a moment in gesture as she typed, “Richter did what he did, and his ‘R.B’ didn’t play as a factor when it came to committing acts behind a computer screen. The only thing it would have impacted was the firefight on Gerias between him and Starfleet, but he fired the first shot anyhow – this doesn’t excuse him of anything. What was done to him because of his mouth afterward though, that all has to go. A board can convene to re-examine if they’d want a new technology restriction of their choosing now that Ulera’s is out… and I imagine that would happen at your level, Misses Tanner, if you and your colleagues would object to him not having one.”

I suppose I could call our Captain-Commander and see if she’d want to set a meeting up, but… ”, Elizabeth trailed off into veiled things again with a drawn out sigh, “Oh bloody hell, that old scaly spanko is just going to laugh when I tell her what you’ve just done, and then ask me what I want to do. So much for ever being impartial.” Her helpless, lighthearted griping over matters Richter didn’t understand was cut short by several chirps of confirmation from Sandy’s pad. She bounced ever so faintly, lighting up giddily once she was able to wiggle her datapad in victory.

Filed that nonsense right into the rubbish! Time for actual medicine!”, Sandy announced, heading rather briskly to the hospital room’s privacy glass doors, “I’ll be right back with your first dose, Richter! Focus your sense on your mother for now – she’s got to be a happy one!”

The doors parted and closed behind her, as hasty as she was trying to be for her uncomfortable patient, and all of that effort on top of getting him a therapy dog made Richter droop. She worked so hard for him, and for absolutely nothing in return. Othello’s bounding little hops taking himself into his lap, responding to the face he made, the Roferian lad eased the expression on his snout and lost himself in a moment of petting.

You look so tired.”, Elizabeth softly commented.

As hard as you whipped my paw, you should be too.”, his quipping returned with a weakened flavor of their prior bantering in Saint George’s Quarter, sounding worn out.

Considering she wasn’t sure he’d even reply to her after doing that to him, the fact that he chose to make one of his little remarks left his mother wondering if he was upset with her at all. Maybe this was another instance of him being low-key acceptant of his discipline, and it was finally getting easier for her to read into. Still, for the sting she instilled upon a paw that had so recently fought for its life, taking advantage of a teaching moment that she’d never see again; she hoped; Elizabeth sighed with a touch of guilt, running a thumb around her palm in sympathy.

Don’t overthink it. My bullshit had to come up sometime.”, Richter voiced toward her unsaid ping of remorse, shrugging his exhausted shoulders, “But, I do believe the regenerative surgery inside my skull has taken a toll. I’m going to get some sleep – especially until Sandy medicates my apparently defective brain.”

Without any sort of fanfare or customary platitudes, the five year old set his tiny companion back out onto the bed to become preoccupied by the first wrinkle of blanket he could pounce, and nestled his head into the pillow he had been propped against. His mother certainly didn’t mind him ditching her to take a likely well-required nap, cracking such a smile to his crass yet accommodating response to her emotional shift. Parenting an empath was going to be different, for sure. Wanting so badly to mother the poor thing after his day and make up for their ‘talk’, Elizabeth wandered over to the bio-bed’s side and risked breaking a “rule.” She placed her hand on Richter’s shoulder, and slowly stroked along his upper arm… and, when he didn’t so much as flinch, continued her soothing pet until he fell asleep; her hand no longer completely barred from his personal space bubble.

That was the moment she understood she was more than just ‘Elizabeth’, to him. As badly as he seemed to abhor her being upset with him, she may well have been ‘mum’.

Richter found himself practically riding atop of her when he groggily awoke, having passed out into a post-surgical stupor. With strands of red shifting in front of his nose and not a scrap of clothing on his body, he was maneuvered past the familiar color of their car’s door to be placed into his seat. Instead of wooden points, his bottom sank into a rather supportive memory foam cushion, as he had been promised, and spent their take-off reading his new pill bottle. It came joined with two containers of syrup to manage his injuries, supporting his intracranial pressure and his new implant’s optical nerve connection – both flavored ‘cotton candy’, apparently, though it seemed cruel to be doping his medicine with the flavor of textiles, only to refer to it as ‘candy’. It was predictable of a planet that tormented its youngest with red and green baubles once a year.

Slumped into the lap-restraint of his car-seat with Othello curled up at his side, he toyed with his new medication in his fingers, letting the capsules clatter in their bottle while he lost himself in thought. He seemed to have been given a hypospray of the substance as his initial dose while he was asleep, as its affect on his empathic sense was just like a child getting their first ocular corrective treatment and discovering that the trees had leaves. Elizabeth’s neuro-electrical field was so much more vivid, and so easy to focus on when it didn’t invade other parts of his mind as if they were pulses of his own. It was almost as if he could reach out and touch it, and it was absolutely life changing, but…

Richter? You haven’t said a word since you woke up. Are you okay back there?”, Elizabeth had to ask, up into the rear-view mirror; the twinkling shimmer of hover-vehicle lights since fallen away, leaving Liverpool on an outbound lane for the high skies. The Penitatas continued to look at his new pill bottle, flipping it over like a little kid’s fidget toy.

As it stands, we are headed back to the farm – the place my day began at, getting battered by that fucking black paddle with holes. It’s where I’m punished, day in and day out, and I never know when, or how badly I will be. Will it be the day I’m on ‘hole duty’ again? Hit with a stick so hard it breaks, just to be told I have to go get you another?… Hurt so badly by something that I lose my shit just seeing it taken off the shelf, when I could potentially be one of your Penitatas for two and a half centuries?”, Richter released unfiltered from his stream of consciousness, sounding worryingly like his prior ‘penny melancholy’, but his eyes both came up without drifting into space.

Elizabeth… how does your ‘merit’ system work? How can I make things better for myself, if I wanted to keep the morning I had from coming back?”, he beseeched of her, wanting more details on what all she meant by ‘behaving and doing nice things’ to ease his overall punishment.

Seriously?”, his mother turned in her seat, absolutely flabbergasted to even be asked.

Yes – seriously! I can’t let things hurt this bad! I can’t take it, and it can’t stay this way forever!”, he more forcefully argued the sorts of things he was prevented from saying in Sandy’s office, interrupted by a rude nurse as he was. Being a ‘nine’ on the pain tolerance scale meant that he could swallow pain without outwardly displaying how much he was in – not that being in pain didn’t greatly bother him, or frighten him. Paddled so far past his breaking point, Richter had a lot of motivation to improve his living conditions after Othello calmed enough of his rile to see what a nice day was like.

Well then… let me think of what all would help you get started toward some easing… ”, Elizabeth put a hand to her chin, though it came off in gesture rather quickly.

Step one, first and foremost I’d say, is to start asking permission to do things, and be mindful to always stay within your set boundaries. No more doing whatever you want, lashing out, or acting out. Simply put, behave yourself proper so nothing bad gets mentioned to the people who decide when and what you get. Being extra good for your various punishments is another big one, so keep doing what you are, there.”, had to be a focus when good behavior was critical to having his unearned discipline lighten, considering the boy’s often overly defiant attitude.

I will work to achieve that, difficult as it may be.”, he hummed with concern, at least being honest; tapping his new pill bottle against his seat. He copped too many earned spankings to think otherwise.

Secondly, when you do good things, stop hiding it! You deserve credit for them, and they help you! Your father and I talked while you were asleep, and he has a solution for that.”, Elizabeth alluded to, though the subject fell away in Harvey’s absence, “But, seeing as you are a hard worker, and already do well on the farm in a fair few ways… perhaps step three could be some ‘extra credit’ in the form of volunteer work? Basically what you do on the farm, but as a good deed for someone else? There’s programs for Penitatas that go woefully underused!”

Richter raised a brow, “I imagine that would be exceptionally helpful. Approved; we will explore that avenue and choose something.”

Oh, and… ”, was going to be ‘step four’, but refrained from going that far with a low hum, “Well, you might not like this one, but voluntary punishments and work assignments show a lot of effort on the part of someone trying to be a good penny.”

That sounds abysmal.”, Richter literally turned his nose up, rather surly, but, “Approved; I will provide tangible effort, if more minor inconveniences can eventually equate to a more tolerable lifestyle.”

Elizabeth needed to be pinched to ensure she wasn’t dreaming, hearing Richter Saccard basically assuring her that he intended to try and be good, and do good, in the professorly manner that he spoke – swears and all, most of the time. Despite there obviously being some desperation urging him toward this new supposed ‘goal’ of keeping his black paddle on the shelf and having nicer days with them, it sounded too good to be true, and worried her that he might have been expecting too much.

I’d never want to discourage you from betterment, and this is all wonderful to hear you consider, but… I feel like I need to warn you that lessening your punishment isn’t a quick process. For your crimes, it’ll be very, very hard even, just to get to where a different black-letter penny might be. You’ll only notice me sometimes picking up lighter things to spank you with at first, or getting a couple less strokes, if your merit maintains. It could take a long time for you to see bigger changes, like days off between getting ‘one of those’ and having to bend over for another. I also can’t promise you that your black paddle will ever go away, I’m afraid. I’m sure you’ll be sentenced to it for your holidays, and sometimes still as ‘one of those’, even if it’s so rare it only happens once in a blue moon.”, she submitted to her realist the reality of his station as the most infamous Penitatas on their planet, and what that could mean for his hide, no matter how perfect he may be. At some point during her little speech she figured he’d scoff and furl his muzzle in agitation, but he never did.

At the moment I have no days off between ‘one of those’ or their laborious alternatives, and can see that paddle at any time. If my affairs can be improved to the degree that you described, this is a very worthwhile long-term goal – and I am particularly goal oriented, if my greater failures are any unfortunate indication.”, Richter evaporated Elizabeth’s doubts by quipping, oddly enough; her realist very much on planet Earth, “So, if I were to summarize ‘merit’ in the context of being a Penitatas, it is one’s overall conduct, plus their ‘good deeds’, minus their fuck ups – correct?”

We phrase those elements differently, but yes, that’s exactly it.”, his mother was humored by, considering he essentially described his ‘blue column’ and ‘red column’. Richter nodded his head, reaching down to tuck his new medication against Othello’s tiny little side as he slept, like the youngest part of his mind was having the puppy hold on to it for him.

Excellent. My first ‘good deed’ is in order then, if you would pass me your datapad.”, he requested now that he wasn’t explicitly barred, though his mother didn’t move, choosing to squint at him; something he returned in kind, “Elizabeth, I cannot enact domination over your people with a pad. I need to type something that cannot be relayed verbally, and will need you to convey it to the proper authority once I’m done.”

Elizabeth’s squint became more of the questioning sort, and she passed the requested pad back as a trial run to see how trusting him with it would go. The Roferian held it partly propped on his car-seat’s lap rest, and with one paw, he tapped his clawed fingertips at the display; the chirps constant and quick at the speed of one well practiced, until the pad was handed back in time as assured. What was placed into her hand made her jaw slacken the same as Richter’s when he fell in awe of that grand room at the library. A light flutter came to her chest, and her wrists turned to jelly enough to make the pad heavy in her grasp.

“… You’re serious?”, her weakened voice squeaked in astonishment, surely dreaming, “You’re really this serious?”

Rather.”, Richter gestured his empty paw, claws up.

I am surrendering my arsenal of programs, zero-day exploits, logs, and anything else that could be analyzed or decompiled for the purpose of creating counter-defenses.”, he declared little different than usual, despite the magnitude of what he’d just relinquished, “You are indeed holding the encryption key to my primary computer system.”

You’re going to cooperate with the authorities?!”, Elizabeth lit up like Sandy up in the front seat, having the boy make such prompt and incredible good on his words, “Richter, not even Kayla gave up her codes!”

This was the most logical first step to be taken, and you’re telling me your little miss perfect skipped it?”, Richter cocked his head and nearly groaned as the car’s hover-engine slowed its warble for a vertical decent.

The only harm in giving you this is to my privacy, and for that I’m going to implore for there to be some degree of cooperation in return.”, he leaned forward on his lap-restraint, putting an open paw out in firm request, “I want Ackart Enterprises to be the entity to decrypt my data-store. Packet-Storm will be able to make use of what she finds, and have the skill required to remove the Recursion Bomb mathematical errors I’ve protected my file system with. She’s also only one person, which is ideal to me, as I would greatly prefer there not be an entire team going through the contents of my life.”

I’m sure she’s got the job as is, but I’ll stress that she’s necessary! This is excellent! With all of the dangerous things you figured out how to get into, you’ll do a lot of good sharing all of your expertise like this!”, his mother absolutely beamed, as massive of a shift as this was for Richter. When he said he meant to do good, the doer certainly did.

The dimmed silhouettes of farm buildings rose into view against the dusky backdrop of a setting sky, and before the car’s landing struts even finished extending, Richter began sensing the scattered presences of their animals, and Harvey near their farmhouse’s front door. The rabbits were all hungry, though he figured that was normal for them based on their typical behavior, and there was the distinct intertwining of two field mice fornicating under a nearby bush, to his amusement. He unlatched his lap-restraint on his own now that he wasn’t the sobbing mess he was that morning, and after hopping his thin, bare furred self out of the car and into the cold evening air, he assisted Othello in doing the same; the puppy wiggling excitedly in his paws all the way down to the ground.

Yes, yes, I know you want to go and run around this big-ass farm and sniff every plot of dirt, but go to the bathroom first!”, Richter attempted ‘parenting’ Othello when he could sense his infant whims and needs alike, “You’re as bad as Elizabeth!”

Richter-boy!”, his burly, kindhearted-yet-strict father-figure called as he came briskly down off the front porch, still putting his robe on, “It’s a bloody relief to see you! You’re a brave lad, and good on you for putting your claws to that bastard!”

Dear! Get a look at this, and yes, it’s what you think it is!”, Elizabeth rushed around from the other side of the car with her datapad in hand, throwing it up for Harvey to see.

Now that’s a good young man!”, a big, proud smile exploded across his clean shaven face. So profoundly unused to hearing such parental praise, much less empathically perceiving every bit of it, Richter couldn’t help but feel a little self-conscious and awkward, having an act of his in such a spotlight.

We’ve simply been discussing various means of showing merit, and I figured this was a proper starting point. I’d like to begin a path to easing my… corporal punishment load, sort of speak, and keep that black paddle where it belongs.”, the boy twirled a paw in explanation, but for some reason it brought his father to kneel down on the grass in front of him.

I’ve been wanting to talk to you about merit ever since your mother and I spoke earlier.”, his voice came down into a fatherly timbre, face to face with his Penitatas, “Son, are you the irrigation system’s helper-sprite? Have you been fixing it for me when it fouls?” In looking to see if Elizabeth’s hunch was correct over one of the things he might have silently been doing, Richter’s throat visibly rolled in swallow, cracking an ornery-looking, though nervously defensive expression across his draconic muzzle.

“… I really don’t fucking want to be beaten for assisting you, but yes.”, he softly growled in frustration to admit, considering he was consistently violating Harvey’s rules to do so; needing to check the controller to see what valve had gotten stuck, head over to free it by paw, and subsequently return to reset the system. The prompt grip of a hand came to his shoulder, and if it wasn’t for his empathic sense, he would have thought he was about to be pulled forward for several of the man’s best.

I’d never fathom putting the rod to you for showing me some dedication, Richter. You’re excused, and welcome to help me around the farm in any manner you like! Get your paws into anything you think you’re capable of, and if your best try fouls up or just doesn’t work, come and get me, and we’ll fix it together with no risk of a sore bottom afterward! These are okay mistakes to make, and you’ll know how to do it for next time!”, that hand of his gently squeezed before letting go, blindsiding Richter with all that leeway, “I know you don’t even like farm work, griping up such a storm after a dirty day when I’m getting ready to give you a shower, so… I can imagine it’s just you wanting to be a part, and I’d love for that.”

“… Obliged.”, Richter’s awkwardness bled thickly into his voice, and Harvey’s finger wagged after.

But, from now on, with you doing things beyond your chores, you’re going to have to report back to one of us what work you did when you’re done for the day. We’ll not make a fuss like we are now, so that it’s more comfortable for you to share if you’ve done something kind, or put sweat-equity into any penance or apology of sorts. You’re simply a part of the Tanner Farm, and we work together, alright?”, the big, cheerful man pitched on that thoughtful note, to Richter’s stiffly shy sort of asocial nod. His empathic sense felt Harvey’s inner tone gradually shift to a gray area that he couldn’t discern without being familiar with his mind yet; the man leaning on his knee.

There’s just one other thing I want to say, if you’ve finally decided to listen to your mother about making your time here a little easier. Always remember that it’s your ‘out of the blue’ sorts of punishments and holidays that are impacted by your merit – not so much the ones you get from us. If you ever do something bad enough to warrant your special paddle, even if you’ve been a wonderful lad otherwise, we won’t hesitate to punish you with it. Everything on the farm is earned – good, and bad.”, he cautioned over the harsh discipline every Penitatas faced for their misdoings, though that inner tone of his continued to shift somewhere even more darkened, having a son who’s punishments could go far beyond what would ever be allowed, “And I think it’s only fair to let you know that there’s something worse than your black paddle, too. A thrashing we’re authorized to do that’s so bad, you can only get if you specifically earn it.”

Not expecting such a warning, individual strands of fur along Richter’s spinal spikes tingled, making the irritable wrinkling of his muzzle look as anxiously leery as it actually was, “What… is that… exactly?”

It involves a nasty rattan cane, and your back.”, Harvey seriously, though gingerly warned, when his son had already earned himself that ghastly fate, unbeknownst.

While such a horrifying lashing was too extreme to come to him as an unearned punishment, the foul state of his merit could push his holidays to include it, and his betterment plans were coming far too late to save him from it this Christmas. Surely the overall lash counts for his spankings would fall a tad for giving up his weaponized knowledge to a white-hat hacker such as Kayla, but for all his angry misbehavior these past few months and incredible crimes before, his present ‘merit’ might as well have been a negative number, if quantified as such. He would have no choice but to answer for his actions, and simply hope to do better next time, with his efforts… though for what Richter must have been picking up from his mind, Harvey began to see a fear in his eyes that he didn’t wish to bother him with in the immediate, so desperately needing comfort and time to heal. Instead he cracked a smile, and thought positively, when it was just good to see the lad’s face again; that new eye of his catching the glow of the farmhouse’s lights differently enough to be noticed, and show faint seams in his iris.

We will cross that bridge as a family, if it arises.”, he benevolently shielded from his ailing Penitatas as Othello bounced by, “For now, I want you to rest your head, enjoy your time, and re-raise your rowdy little therapy-friend there while we stay on top of your medicine. No chores for three days at minimum, and no punishments whatsoever! I don’t mean making them up later, either! You’re a Medicalos as far as I’m concerned, and we can ease back into things once I’m certain you’re completely up to it.” Richter’s ears didn’t have a moment to lift for his first ‘days off’ since rejuvenation, before Elizabeth leapt in with more of the same caring parenting.

You also earned yourself a toy today in Liverpool, and a second one with this key of yours! You’ve gone without for so long, but you can finally pick some out, fair and square!”, she sounded so happy to be able to say, having held out and enforced their policy of ‘all things earned’, even if it hurt to never see him play. Thrilled, motherly, proud – so much for the Roferian to hear, and feel, all with the complete inability to skeptically dismiss any of it as an “angle” with his sense restored and pharmaceutically clarified.

Still, for all the relief that came over his face, already experiencing the positive effects of ‘doing better’ for his parents despite the anxieties he had with the verbal doting, Richter paused to the generous promise. His snout tipped a touch toward the ground in somber thought; tail shifting behind him to the peek of tiny spines.

I am very much not averse to having toys, and couldn’t care less if either of you saw me absorbed in something enjoyable to my five year old brain, but… I cannot say that I know enough about this side of the quadrant to know what’s here, or fun to play with, or… what I would even be permitted, given my place and status. While I’m certain you could simply let me look around in some manner and tell me if my selections are off base, it does make me wish that I had a fellow letter-wearer to ask questions of. Discover what belongings they have for frame of reference, and seek recommendations.”, he shared his increasing need to have some sort of contact with other Penitatas outside the farm, having questions best suited to the insight of his distant fellows if he was going to be working toward easing, “It would at least be nice to ask one how their own days go, or what disciplinary measures they answer to, versus my own. Some relatable camaraderie in a shared classification.”

We never made it to the park, but that was something I wanted to help you with today. I knew you’d keep to yourself at first, but Othello was going to attract every penny on that playground to you. One might have been friendly.”, Elizabeth had hoped, knowing that even an asocial rejuve like him was going to long for another child’s company eventually, even if it was just to talk; coping together as Penitatas did. She wasn’t sure how admitting that would be received in the event that Richter interpreted it as an ulterior motive; a real one too, potentially; but the boy merely raised a brow the same as he did in the car when he liked her ideas.

While commendably brilliant, you and I both know how it would have ended. I still would have said the wrong thing even with Othello keeping me calm, either being inept or a fuck, and there would have been a fight despite my efforts to bail out of it. I’d have lost, as I always did, and you’d have taken me over to the nearest tree with reachable branches.”, was far too easy for him to imagine of his piss-poor social aptitude, returning a few wrinkles to his muzzle with his more professorly, self-depreciating take on his own inevitable failure. It stung a tad for his parents to hear, considering he saw himself getting in trouble wholly on accident, and to what surely sounded like his irritation over not being able to make friends.

I’m sure we can think of something. There must be some way for you to socialize and still be comfortable.”, his mother was certain, having a will and a way. Elizabeth might have only said a few words, but for the ones she chose, Richter blinked, raising a paw to his snout in a curious moment of epiphany.

Harvey, Elizabeth, I have a solution in mind that violates our established norms, if you’d take it under consideration.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Starfleet had an uncanny knack for knowing when Kayla was going to be engrossed in her own leisure plans, but the interruption was given a sunnier pass than usual when the urgent request came directly from Commander Santorae. An unexpected turn of events had brought Velius’ captured computer equipment out of storage and into the center of Starfleet Central Information where her own console once stood, wired up for her expertise, and her day had since been spent working with all the data that she remotely extracted from their innards. Though she had been becoming increasingly versed in counter-hacking analysis, having needed to tear apart the defense platforms and DeltaStar to figure out what all Velius exploited from a third-person sort of perspective, getting the true first-person view of Velius’ attack vectors made her paws feel clumsy, stopping to stare at many things instead of letting her pupils zip by at the speed she could parse raw information. The fox had never imagined that she’d gain access to the system she fought so desperately against, much less with a voluntarily shared encryption key. Even the forewarning of Recursion Bombs ended up being true, when those were meant to go undetected until an unsuspecting person tried decrypting the data; thus triggering an overflow into their own read-write procedure, resulting in a series of events meant to destroy the target data-store by accident before it could be compromised. Being told how to safely recover his work intact, undoubtedly by Velius himself, left her speechless most of the day, being able to physically run a perfect copy of the machine he used; his programs, right down to his own connection bounce trail display, revealing themselves to her eyes. Prying the lid off of any piece of it left her with an absolute treasure trove of code, finding things on her own skill level that were approached in vastly different ways.

The caveat to the amazing opportunity was the day of fun with Jacob and Zachary that she had gone and ruined with her tiresome hours of work, getting so engrossed in Ackart Enterprise’s next big venture. As friendly as the two boys had become since those rainy days of fall, Jacob took his frequent playmate across the street for the afternoon to roughhouse and hang out over his lab set; a video game controller and half-sketched fox left behind on her desk once duty called. It wasn’t until after Emily had brought her a console-convenient sandwich for dinner and the light coming in her window had turned a deepened shade of orange that the Aspatrian and Karrian returned. They split up, each taking one side of her bedroom doorway to stick their heads in.

Va’sk!”, Zachary enthusiastically greeted at a very hushed volume, tainted by a familiar nose-clearing sniffle.

Is it okay if we come in?”, her mate playfully asked in the company of his sillier sort of mature friend, wanting to be conscientious of her work, even if her muzzle and a black-tipped ear were already pivoted over her shoulder.

Definitely. My paws feel like I’ve been writing lines all day.”, the vulpine girl sighed, slumping in her seat until a single paw came back up, “I mean, I have, but not the sort with a pencil that I meant.” Having fallen into the throes of age-related boredom, likely to the soreness beneath Zachary’s tail, that good news had both he and Jacob in that doorway before she even finished speaking; the fox fully bare as he always was around them nowadays, unbothered by his sheath as they were.

Did you find anything good at least?”, Jacob had to ask as he came aside to look over her screens, curious as he was.

The whole thing is good, scary enough.”, her nose returned to her console, grumbling tiredly, “There’s a reason Velius caused the worst day of our lives. He found tons of vulnerabilities in common architectures that no one had discovered yet – even me. There’s a whole database of theoretical attacks like that, and he could run them heuristically on a target to see what if anything stuck… a really hostile way to find a chink in their armor beyond just scanning for them. I’ve narrowed down some of the ones that worked on my baby from his logs of that night, but his ability to manipulate carrier-waves is going to take a lot more research to figure out entirely. His programs are all designed to be operated by a computer linkup to his head – he types almost nothing, and basically uses his brain to control a network of consoles in tandem like they’re one. It’s all so different, and so specialized, I can’t even operate them by paw alone. It’ll be a while until I’m done combing every byte of his system and make the new security patch that Starfleet wants.”, she explained with her usual level of detail, but her wandering tone made it sound like everything she learned was bothering her.

You okay there? Hacker stuff never bums you out.”, Zachary checked, not knowing her for being anything but excitable and positive when it came to her work. Kayla leaned forward onto the glossy surface of her console’s key-panel, tepidly waggling a couple of polished claws at her central display; there being a fair few windows filled with kernel events and memory addresses, and at least one that didn’t look native to her machine.

I didn’t do so good when I read a few parts of his system logs… mostly the commit that was transmitted to DeltaStar, giving it the command to fire on the Capitol. I teared up, I can’t help it. The ones meant to kill me weren’t fun to relive either, but there were some highlights for me to find in there too. I squealed like an idiot when I found the first traffic originating from my console under Starfleet Headquarters later in the file, and just lost it when I got to the timestamp where I executed my defense platform emulator. His system went from stable to gone – the absolute best wall of critical faults I’ve ever gotten to see.”, she was wholly honest, picking up her voice as she went on until a dash of sly, pleased fox rang off her tongue, swiping a finger to reveal the seemingly endless block of red text in the debug log.

Okay, that sounds a lot more cheerful.”, Jacob chuckled a little, to the dismissive wave of an orange paw.

Yeah, no, I’m fine. The only thing that’s really been bugging me today is the fact this was clearly Velius’ personal machine, like my baby is mine. There’s things in here from somebody’s daily life, and it just keeps reminding me that monster was an actual person.”, she ended with a bit of a disdainful sigh, correcting her slump to properly dart her paws about her key-panel once more. Wanting to display an example of what all else she had been learning about Velius, a couple of chirps brought forward a file browser showing the audio-track contents of a sizable directory.

Like this – his favorite music I have to guess, with access dates up until the DeltaStar takeover. They’re all video game soundtracks, anally organized by title. Or… ”, she leapt through the directory tree, passing a library of fiction stories, “This huge collection of RPG’s he looks to have spent a lot of time in, sorted all the way down to their planet of origin. There was only one in the Earth folder though, and it looks old as dirt.” A keystroke executed the game’s code into a universal emulator, blinking a ticking clock pendulum against a black background into existence before its window disappeared back into time.

I saw ‘Outlander’ on that list, too. The thought of our genocidal maniac having played the same game as me feels… strange, as nice as the story ended up being.”, Jacob echoed the same sentiment, as if Velius having interests fell into some kind of uncanny valley.

You don’t think of Velius and imagine him being normal, but… all I’ve got here is some innovative hacker that went on to casually slaughter people one day. The rudest things I could find ended up being in the logs of his online games, as benign as that sounds.”, Kayla could have figured of his toxicity, flicking a paw at her console again, “Hell, even the jerk’s smut collection is kind of normal aside from it being fourteen petabytes. Not that I’m much of a judge at that sort of thing – you know me.” Considering Jacob certainly did, being well aware of her sexual ignorance and innocent kinkiness alike, the mere way she had chosen to mention the porn stash had the Karrian’s brows scrunched.

Not to nitpick, but what does ‘kind of normal’ mean?”, the doctor’s voice questioned almost as much as his face did, with Zachary cracking a grin on her opposite side.

Does your super-villian like the dick?”, that boy in particular simply had to know for amusement’s sake, swishing his tail all feminine-like to the prompt roll of Kayla’s eyes.

Here, one sec.”, the beeps from her taps resumed, “It’s probably easier if I just let you two have a look.”

That directory tree rapidly expanded until a singular chirp lit up her primary display, reflecting a colorful image off of Jacob and Zachary’s widened, fixated eyes. The boys lifted their paws to their muzzles in their own ways, pondering that which they stared at; Jacob coming to squint, while Zachary’s right ear folded backwards. After a lengthy pause, Jacob pulled his paws away from his lips and opened his maw to speak, but the tiny intake of air was shut back within his muzzle, fingers returning to where they were between his reptilian nostrils.

You see?”, Kayla asked of her conundrum, turning her head toward both of her shoulders, “All of the pictures are like this one. There’s nothing at all wrong with it, and I do admit she’s fun to look at with that thick tail and everything, but… I’m not used to these sorts of pictures being drawn.”

Old Commander Vasse, in all his worldliness, took his claws from his snout and gestured them awkwardly to the fiery red, yellow-striped woman, “I think she’s supposed to be a Bajoran marsh salamander.”

Eyeballing him at her side, Kayla reached across her key-panel and tapped a colored square with the tip of an ebony claw, flashing a new image onto the screen with an affirmative beep. Both her boys merely blinked for a moment.

Well, I think that answers your question, Zach.”, Jacob mumbled to the pair of anthropomorphized men he was left looking at, one topping the other, drawn with exaggerated pools of bodily fluids dripping all over the sands of a beach. The artist even had it filling the moat of a sand castle. Zachary immediately snickered to his friend’s tone, wiggling where he stood.

Fox boys!”, he gleefully declared, knowing a fellow vulpine when he saw one, “But… why are they blue, and all these bright colors?”

They’re Halkatian sea foxes; an animal from a Karrian colonial planet that went independent centuries ago. I’m sensing a theme here – and by theme, I mean fetish.”, the reptile’s claws slid abashedly up his snout, pinching near its bridge. Again Kayla tapped her controls, this time to a quick succession of chirps.

The new resulting image was less colorful, but confirmed Jacob’s suspicion with one look over the green scales of his fingers. This one ended up being a targ from the Klingon Qo’noS system; a dark furred boar-like fellow, brawny and imposing with his broad, muscular build, and thick mane of strong gray fur wrapped around his upper body like a shawl over his shoulders. Two small tusks erupted from the sides of his muzzle-like snout, and the classic back spines of a targ were made even larger and darker, with the topmost one protruding into view from behind his neck; a motif that reemerged not much farther south in the form of a thickened, girthy slump of flaccid phallus atop a well-filled scrotum. He leaned upon his leg, grinning adventurously, and in his other hand held a broadsword with its tip jammed into the ground. The only color that wasn’t a shade of black or gray, aside from the sword’s gleam of silver, was that of a purple bandanna tied around his neck.

That strap of my dad’s that I hate is made out of him.”, Zachary commented, being well able to identify a targ these days, as noteworthy as they were in their part of the galaxy. Kayla’s maw stretched toward her cheek.

The most interesting part is actually down here.”, she mumbled a little differently, pointing to the lower right corner of her display at a tiny note of text written by the artist.

VeliusTheTarg’ (c) his Player.

I found that Velius calls himself this in his online games, and apparently the community net-sites all these sorts of pictures come from. It’s a character he plays as, I suppose? The filenames for most of these refer to this guy as a ‘targ-sona’.”, the innocent-minded fox explained as if she was still partly trying to wrap her head around their once adversary’s online social life. In the midst of it, Zachary cheekily leaned over her armrest to get a paw near her controls, one footpaw in the air and tongue sticking out, to fervently tap her ‘next’ key.

Should you really be ogling this stuff without pants, Zach? What if my mom walks by?”, Kayla put a paw to her face with a groan considering she was being ‘bad’ herself for even showing this stuff to a Penitatas, much less one who couldn’t hide getting stiff, but the images just kept flying by to the smacking of his vulpine finger’s pad. There were a fair few starring the infamous targ himself in that particular directory, paired with dragons, animals from across the quadrants, and yet more tropical blue foxes and their kits alike, both male and duller female.

Zachary giggled as a trilling chime began ringing aloud, “Super-villian really likes his sea foxes, doesn’t he?”

Kayla listened to her younger friend with one ear and flicked her other, pivoting it off to her side where her datapad rang against her console’s mechanical buttons. She fetched it into paw with a low, judging sort of hum; her console continuing to beep in being made to display yet more anthropomorphic pornography for Zachary’s entertainment. Her pad’s display showed an incoming call on the messaging program that she and Jacob used to talk to one another and their parents, but it wasn’t coming from anyone that was on her contact list.

Who on Earth is ‘Mister and Misses Tanner’, and why are they calling me on here?”, her maw curled with a gruff sigh, swiping at the screen until she stopped her console’s profuse flicker of artistic smut with a panicked yelp.

Oh, fuck!”, she swore for the first time in forever in front of others, thrashing her bushy tail out the back of her computer chair’s seat. As promptly as that startled Jacob and Zachary to attention, she thrust a claw at an unusual insignia of the Penitatas Justice Department accompanying their name; its scale and ‘P’ surrounded by a winged crest of gold.

They’re justice department officials! Ranking ones!”, she exclaimed in haste, clutching the pad with a snap of her muzzle to Zachary, “Somebody found out about my screw up with you and the soap! That has to be it! I don’t even have a license for them to strike yet! Fuck-fuck-fuck!”. Kayla nearly tossed the pad aside and briskly smacked at her console at speed, shifting the messaging program’s focus onto the bigger screen of her computer before thrusting her paws out to grab both her boys.

Both of you, down!”, she barked for them to duck below her console controls, only to catch how awkward Zachary’s squat came to be beside her chair; paws balled between his legs to hide his crotch, “Zach, what did I tell you?! You’re going to get me grounded!”

It was an accident!”, the fox whined in the clutch of himself.

No – it – wasn’t!”, Kayla snapped with vulpine fang when he had been literally thumbing through porn.

The eight year old shot her posture upright and took a deep breath, scooting her chair forward with a little rake of her claws through the fur of her bangs. Forcing her ears perfectly erect, proper as she could muster, Kayla put on her best Ackart Enterprises CEO face and answered the incoming call with a trembling fingertip. An affirmative chime brought a much darker sort of room than she would have expected across her central display, and to the faintest squint of her eyes, three wholly unfamiliar individuals in their nightwear of all things. Far separated from the commanding authority she anticipated getting stared down by, the likely Mister and Misses Tanner were seated on the edge of what looked like their bed, tiredly smiling in line with the pitch black nature of their windows, and between them was a fairly young gray-furred boy in dark checkered pajamas with a border collie puppy in his lap. Without changing her expression, the fox’s ears fell backward like rag-dolls, befuddled by the unexpected scene and whatever the heck species that emerald-eyed boy looking at her was; the slender draconic child lifting a claw with a nervous clearing of his throat.

Packet-Storm.”, Richter greeted with a studious, yet socially awkward voice. No matter how young his pitches had become since echoing them through the corridors of DeltaStar, the mere way that pseudonym rolled off his tongue was promptly recognized, melting Kayla’s prim and proper demeanor.

“… Velius.”, she grumbled with antipathy. Jacob and Zachary ascended partly into view from her sides with the same sort of surprised and confused looks to their eyes, and that made the Roferian on the other end stumble on his words.

It appears that your cohort with the medical tricorder is well, and, eh’rm… you do not have prosthetic fingers.”, Richter haphazardly tried his paw at pleasantries considering the two of them were alive and intact, no thanks to himself, “And look, you’ve multiplied.”, he gestured to her fellow Aspatrian. Zachary’s black ears flicked back with a hard ‘snrk!’, catching himself a scolding glare from Kayla.

How did you even get permission to call me?”, she had to look at his parents and wonder, before Richter’s self-comforting pet of Othello drew her eyes back, “And why do you have a puppy?!”

While it is exceptionally late where I am located on the planet, I had requested the ability to deviate from our routine curfew procedures in order to rouse from bed and contact you during the convenience of your evening hours. For their consideration of this opportunity, I offered the concession of a severe penalty in the event that I am deemed to be uncivil with you. As a penalty of my own devising, it is not one that I would permit myself to trigger… and I do have the assistance of my coprocessor, Othello, to help me with that.”, he explained, already relying heavily on the pup to quell his anxiety over reaching out as he was.

Would you… have a moment to talk?”, the tired-eyed Roferian asked of her audience as calmly as he could muster. As unassuming as it sounded, Kayla relaxed her brows a tad, leaning her elbows onto her console.

We could try. I’m known for being very forgiving, but… with you, it’s hard. I do realize you gave up all of your coding willingly today, and you don’t seem to want to tell me to choke on anything or bleed to death this time around, but I can’t look at you without remembering the faces of everyone on the Capitol.”, was candid as to how she felt, but as she didn’t say no to the idea of conversing, Richter gave a single acceptant nod of reply, even as the outward notion of being disliked brought his free paw to grip his parent’s bedding.

Understandable. I did wish for my data-store to be of some recompense to you, for all its worth, and if it’s of any consolation, I could share with you that I was beaten to what you would refer to as ‘a blistering’ this morning as one of those random acts of corporal punishment that Penitatas receive. I’m not under the impression that’s normal, so perhaps you would like to know the sorts of prices that are being paid.”, he detailed in the frank manner which he spoke, catching a side-eye from Elizabeth once she realized he had an unspoken secondary motive for requesting that Kayla handle his computer system; giving his work to her as an act of ‘doing’, and likely his first subtle apology to the fox, now that she understood her son proper.

I… suppose that’s a start.”, Kayla had to concede, illicitly young as he was, but Richter hardly paused.

I’ll additionally note that an attempt was made on my life today in the form of a revenge killing, resulting in my therapy dog becoming a therapy puppy, and the loss of my left eye.”, he gestured two Roferian claws to his implant, better explaining why he ‘had a puppy’ at the same time, to the hard shift of all three rejuve’s faces on his parent’s propped-up datapad screen, “To my understanding, one of the Starfleet officers on Gerias ended up with two of these. This may bring you some comfort, should you subscribe to any of the quadrant’s various belief structures regarding the concept of ‘karma’.” Kayla’s ears had already weakened, but referencing his own maiming as some sort of celestial punishment forced them back.

“… Karma is one of those things people think they believe in, until it literally becomes an eye for an eye. I would have rather that didn’t happen to you.”, a palpable degree of guilt crept into her voice, as if she had indeed wished for some sort of comeuppance upon him at some point – the result being more bitter than she could swallow. But, blunt and ‘Richter’ as the boy could be, his attention wasn’t on the pity, but rather the astounded, deeply inquisitive face the Karrian next to her was making as he tried to get a better look at the impossibly intact canine rejuve.

Yes ‘medical tricorder’, Othello is still present, and no, you may not study his pleasantly atypical head.”, the paw that was petting his dog came up in one of his explaining sorts of gestures, milking yet another forceful snicker out of Zachary to the snarky absurdity of the entire statement.

Did they at least catch who did it?”, Jacob sighed a tad, as questionably offensive as being called the object he was seen traversing DeltaStar with was. That placed a few of Richter’s more ornery looking wrinkles atop his muzzle, grinning to the display of Roferian fangs.

As a matter of fact, that old fuck isn’t going to be old for very many hours longer. He was arrested at home, eating dinner with his family like he didn’t bludgeon a local boy and his dog to their presumable deaths.”, his bemused satisfaction came through loud and clear, flashing that once-raised paw’s black ‘P’, “He’s just in time to get his ass candy-caned on Christmas with me!”

That entire declaration was more than enough for Zachary to absolutely lose it, breaking out into the higher pitched, damn near giggling laugh of a six year old; his black ears folded back, and his tail wrapped around his leg. As abrupt and interrupting as it was, slumped near the edge of Kayla’s controls, he threw his paws up in a pleading wave toward the console’s display where Richter’s maw laid cracked open in a stare, “I’m sorry! You’re really funny!”

“… I am?”, Richter blithely questioned, removing every wrinkle from his snout. A faint, nearly inaudible tapping turned Harvey’s head to find the tip of his son’s draconic tail thumping against the bed, leading him to blink before a more feminine huff pulled him back to their datapad’s screen.

Are we seriously ignoring his mouth? I would have gotten soaped and paddled from every angle for talking like that.”, the parentally-minded Completatas seemed irritated that the two of them didn’t pounce on their Penitatas, getting chuckle out of Elizabeth.

It’s all well and fine, Kayla. Richter lives under a modified rule set, to help him grow and thrive in his environment. Not every penny always has the same, because not every penny is created equal.”, the apparently ranking mother extended as a point of upper-level teaching, seeing as working with Richter in such ways brought them to where they were now; the boy trying, so far from the lad that first landed on their farm who hit and refused to say a word beyond his hatred. It was a sentiment that her husband was happy to join her on, sounding pleased to be able to detail.

We hold your typical Penitatas accountable for their word choices in order to give them structure and foster discipline; not so much because a swear not directed at others is the worst thing in the world. A penny who has to mind their words is one who pays attention to them, helping them to be more respectful to their authority, and ultimately talk to people better with that mindfulness. I’m sure you can remember your fair share of unkind Penitatas! The goal is no different with Richter, we’re just taking a different road to the same end. I know you want to be a parent yourself someday, so it’s good for you to consider that not every penny will end up being a carbon copy of the one you were lauded for being.”, had Kayla nearly pouting at Velius’ softened treatment versus the sheer amount of soap she swallowed during her time, jealous and perturbed, until the strangely familiarized statements caught her off guard and shifted her expression; there being no reason for him to know her parental aspirations, much less the specific contents of her old penny-record. Between the two parents, having his behavior called out like that made Richter’s maw curl in a shy, self-conscious sort of annoyance.

I’ll also note, since my gestures are often too silent to be noticed, that I’ve not spoken that way in our own conversation. I didn’t think you’d like it, as you do not speak in that manner yourself.”, he opted to point his courtesy out directly, having only freed up the squelched half of his verbal mannerisms because he was responding to Jacob.

See? Richter has a fair head on his shoulders.”, Harvey highlighted, when having a problem, and having a personality, were two very different things. Elizabeth was already rubbing Richter’s upper back a tad, wanting to try and provide a supportive touch that wasn’t too overstepping in looking to see if she could loosen that hint of frustration back out of the boy.

Why don’t you soften Kayla up for what you want to ask her by telling her about your ‘merit improvement plan’? I’m sure she’d like to hear that you’re putting up a good effort, with the two of yous history.”, she figured would be a great way to clear the air and make Kayla more amiable to the request this call was ultimately about, leaving the fox squinting curiously as Richter followed through.

In, umm… ”, he began very stiffly; Othello getting squirmy in his lap until the Roferian empathically responded to the pup’s silent desire to be flipped onto his back for a spot of paw-wiggling play. Symbiosis, as the Roferian would call it, now that they both needed a little help from the other.

In wanting to improve my conditions and settle in more properly, I’ve decided to utilize a program that most Penitatas are apparently too lazy to consider, and perform community service. I’m going to be a volunteer librarian at the Liverpool Central Library, a few days a week.”, Richter felt uneasy to share such matters outside of his home, having pounced at the opportunity he and Elizabeth found with a lot more enthusiasm than he usually showed toward anything, “And, as much as I read, I shall be writing book reviews for fiction stories, and book reports for non-fiction, to be provided to my overseeing minders. These two plans shall go hand in hand, providing an infinite loop of ‘positive effort’. The only limit shall be time, and stamina, when there’s still my chores here on the farm.”

We’ll work with him though. Can’t have him head off to his job all sweaty.”, Harvey chimed in, wanting even Richter to know that they weren’t going to drive him to exhaustion. Though Kayla looked more skeptically reserved to the concept of ‘Velius the Librarian’, Zachary popped himself more into the frame of the call with a saddened look of sympathy.

Like… book reports all the time, though? That sounds so harsh.”, the younger fox expressed with a folding of his vulpine ears.

I imagine it will be more tolerable when done voluntarily. Besides, writing information in summary is the best way to retain it, and I’d like to retain the books that I’ve personally chosen out of interest.”, his raised claw of explanation returned with a lighter, studious take.

It just makes me feel kind of bad. Would you ever have time to play?”, Zachary’s child-side wondered with a sorry voice, factoring in corner time too as a matter of course, and that question in particular brought Richter’s maw to softly stretch toward his cheeks with a slight curl.

That, I can only hope… and, as it is, part of the reason that I have reached out to the Ackart of Ackart Enterprises.”, he reached his claw out in gesture to Kayla, who lifted a brow and flicked an ear.

You are the one and only other person that I know on this planet. I’ve essentially been in ‘solitary confinement’ since I became a prisoner of Earth, up until today when I finally got to see public spaces. This is, I know, largely in part to how I act… I’m an unusual prick… and have trouble socializing. Even if I did live in one of these so-called ‘districts’, I’d just be hiding in a corner while the other Penitatas went about their day. I’d be avoiding making friends, and telling everyone off, despite wanting to have someone to discuss affairs with. So, when seeking a solution to how I might be able to socialize with them, I looked to how I used to talk with others before.”, had Richter speaking in his more self-loathing tones, stirring Othello out of his play to throw his forepaws upon the Roferian’s chest in support, trying to lick and nuzzle at him. So unlike what they all would have imagined out of Velius, the boy snugged his dog back, muzzle atop his head, before taking a breath to reach behind himself; a datapad returning in his paw, swept from the bedding.

Elizabeth and Harvey have agreed to let me have a pad, so that I might be able to have an online friend again. I’d like a fellow Penitatas that I can talk to with text most of the time, and work myself up to doing more face-to-face stuff as I feel more ready, and less likely to screw up our friendship. A screen, and text, give me that extra moment of ‘filter’, since I don’t type the first stupid thing that would usually come to my mouth.”, was in essence what he had told his parents in pitching them this idea, wanting the tool of a seasoned roleplayer back, and despite their approval, Kayla’s face faintly balked at the extension of such privilege. It went unnoticed as Richter placed the pad to his five year old chest, looking the fox in the eye.

This is where I shall be submitting a personal query for your consideration, Kayla.”, he went as far as to make certain to use her true name, “I knew you’d prefer not to have casual messenger app conversations with me after the sort we had on DeltaStar, but I trust that you may know of a current Penitatas who might be agreeable to such an arrangement. Do you happen to have someone you could refer us to? I have a lot of things I’d like to ask.” He was always told how approachable she was when Elizabeth would draw comparisons, and seeing as he had no one else to ask, much less any neighbors, the nervous Roferian went out on a limb – one that wobbled uneasily, once the fox slumped forward in her computer chair and buried her muzzle in her paws.

“… You want me to help you make friends.”, Kayla mumbled in disbelief down into her key-panel, low and muffled, to be asked such a thing by Velius.

Whoever you choose will have their rules modified, and their parents directed to accommodate.”, Elizabeth pitched in, further alluding to what was likely her own authority, “We’ll get them the same restricted-access pad that Richter has. They’ll even be allowed to play some actual video games, so feel free to pick someone you really like! Simple board games are competitive, and I’d like to see him play cooperative ones with his friend – it’d be good for him! Think of it being regulated like how the rules used to be when you had friends over, but rather than having them in person, they’re online. Talking, playing… getting grounded from it all… ”, she chuckled again, lifting a finger with a twirl when misbehavior so easily took those things away from a penny. It was intended to be a sensible alternative, which was why she and Harvey wanted to add the ability to play with any newfound friend, as a well adjusted Penitatas should always be able. It’d simply become a boon for any suitable acquaintance of her choice, if she could lend a paw.

Unfortunately there came to be a noticeable, uncharacteristic pause from the legendary fox of forgiveness. Those blue eyes glared over her orange paws, spelling out the critical nature of her inner thoughts – Richter Saccard, mass murderer, being given the things she always wanted and could never have until the day she shed her punitive letter. Yet here Richter’s blackened one was, holding on to a real datapad with games to soon play. Unearned blisterings or not, that irked her after all she’d been put through by him… but, as the Tanner’s were seemingly aware, she was kind to those who would wrong her, and with all of her parental aspirations, was expected to still be a proper guardian to Penitatas who were guilty of atrocious things. As such, once she had attempted to compose those thoughts of hers, they came out with a flip of her paw to the side of herself that Zachary was on.

My first choice would have been Zachary, since he’s also new here and wasn’t impacted by your assault on Earth.”, she underscored, with a caveat, “But, seeing as Zach wants to be a Starfleet officer and you’ve killed several hundred of them, I think that rules him out after you also tried to off one of his best friends.”

Zachary merely leaned himself back toward her key-panel, “I’ll be your chat buddy!”

Zach?”, Kayla spat in consternation, as incredibly friendly as those words came out of his maw right after reminding him of what this draconic Penitatas had done.

I wasn’t prepared to meet who Kayla would suggest face-to-face. You’re… alright with this? Being a friend of theirs?”, Richter reacted similarly, lifting his brows with a few awkward syllables that had Othello attentive. Zachary nodded his head, leaning onto his fellow fox’s console; one elbow on her armrest.

People have died because of the stuff that I’ve done too, and I’m not okay with it. You’re not okay with yours either, are you?”, he brought his tone down a bit to ask, while putting his own crimes bare into the open with Richter’s. It left the Roferian silent for a moment, drooping where he sat, but once he closed his eyes, he shook his head slowly.

I figured, with all the stuff you’re doing, and the stuff you’ve said. You haven’t… sounded like a super-villain. You’re nice, and trying to be better, so you’re just like me. We could totally talk.”, Zachary gave in calmer, welcoming cheer, when he could tell that Richter was walking on similar eggshells to the ones that followed him.

I do believe that there’s still something worth liking in me. Very much obliged.”, Richter could hardly believe he was called ‘nice’, and it came through his voice, “But, no, I do not mean further harm. Errors have been made that cannot be undone, and I am not prepared to commit further errors on top of them.”

You wouldn’t have called Kayla either if you weren’t sorry. You even gave her all of your super-villain hacker stuff!”, his so-named ‘chat buddy’ simply continued to ‘get it’, relieving his asocial anxieties despite the playful, if not rather appropriate use of the term ‘super-villain’.

She’s now in possession of enough research to put her ahead of the curve for a long time, and a pre-written framework if she were to add a neuro-computational bridge to her machine.”, Richter tapped his temple where his head-computer once was, trying to make it a subtle recommendation that the fox get a wearable version to make the most of her tear-down. He was afraid she’d bite his head off if he sounded at all like the ‘be acceptant of your betters’ flavor of Velius she once heard mocking her, even though she’d likely need legitimate assistance in learning how to control systems with her neural activity.

Although, the Roferian made a grunting sort of sigh afterward, managing to actually look sheepish in his toothy frame, “She’s also in possession of my dignity if that means anything, for reasons that I won’t-… ”

I draw really good by the way!”, Zachary enthusiastically blurted as if he’d suddenly been reminded, stopping Richter dead from the far too telling context clue. While it didn’t contort, his face had this ‘look’ to it, somewhere between an Aspatrian with their ears folded back and a deer two seconds from impact. In his lap, Othello cocked his tiny head to one side, being unsure even himself as to what emotion that expression meant.

I’ll be doing practice sketches of the ever-exclusive two-legged sea fox tonight!”, the fox delivered after a moment of quiet.

Elusive, Zachary.”, Jacob corrected the sound-alike word, politely trying to keep his smirking snout in his claws while Kayla rested her forehead on two fingers, splaying her vulpine bangs. It did absolutely nothing to change the gray-furred dragon’s expression, to Othello’s questioning pat of a tiny paw against his stomach. Zachary merely kept smiling, practically to the display of teeth.

You’re looking really furry today.”, popped from his muzzle again, sending Richter’s into his claws.

Oh, for the love of fuck, I get it.”, his snout came back up, wrinkled and furled with his far more usual surly tones, “Are you taking the piss out of it, or… ?”

I’m ‘gonna be a sea fox!”, his ‘chat buddy’ outright cheered his answer, throwing his black paws skyward with a tiny bounce off his foxy toes; pure Kindern at heart, and enough to instantly fire a snicker out of Richter’s snout. It didn’t even finish traversing the air before his maw fell open, tipping his head down in a laugh – something his parents had never heard before, turning heads with a strong enough ‘state of being’ response that they would have knocked their son out cold if he still suffered from Rikson-Barrister.

You certainly act how I imagine them!”, he waggled a paw out at the datapad not far from the end of his parents’ bed, taking that response as wholesale acceptance – something that made him a little more outwardly happy, thinking that he might be able to fully be himself with this strangely accommodating fur-showing fellow.

Am I missing something?”, Elizabeth decided to be the one to interject with a simper.

Yes. Continue to do so.”, he tipped a claw toward her in point.

Amused, Zachary flicked his tail, “By the way, you said you had questions! Did you want to ask any while you’ve got me?”

If I am being welcomed to do so, a fresh one did come to mind. Are you nude?”, came out studiously, despite the questioning brow and claw motion at the end; the Roferian having noticed a hint of sheath come above Kayla’s console controls with Zachary’s little hop.

Kits don’t normally wear clothes on Aspatria. I’m comfy!”, the fox pivoted on his hips, posing to show off the edge of his white underbelly and the stripe of black that went down his spine.

I see.”, Richter hummed with bemused intrigue, and with a scholarly glance to the t-shirt at Zachary’s side, lifted a paw, “Kayla, you should be more cultured.”

The face she made looked a fair tad more feral after having sat there quietly for so long while he and Zachary hit it off, showing enough fang to look more like Richter’s ornery side the way those blue eyes simply glowered. And while that vulpine muzzle failed to evoke a growl, Jacob got to see all the fur on the back of her neck part and stand on end like a wild dog; the girl doing all she could to behave as necessary in the face of someone so infuriating. In the awkward silence that befell, Richter hugged Othello into himself with both paws, trying to lock his eye contact solely back upon Zachary to keep from showing his own peek of irritable teeth.

Perhaps not.”, he lightly quipped, more or less for his own self-comfort, “Though, Zachary, I do have a prudent question related to our datapad arrangement. Today I discovered that my exceptionally young little brain seems to prefer graphic novels now over others – because who would have guessed that pictures and bright colors would stimulate my neurons. There’s this popular Drakonian one called ‘Ironscale’, and in my age-related obsession with the grisly realm and characters it portrays, looked it up as my first means of testing this pad. I found that it’s a significant Drakonian anime series on their world and has several cooperative video games well suited to pad-play, if you’d find a dungeon crawler with drake-style ARPG elements to be acceptable?”

Oh, I’ll play anything you want!”, Zachary demonstrated the ever-agreeable nature that Jacob got to enjoy, always being down for whatever his playmates would like the most. The Roferian wanted to ask if the boy was always like this, but couldn’t get his social anxieties to do anything beyond pleasantly appreciate it.

Well that’s already something of a relief, seeing as it’ll be the only way for me to further explore my new favorite series. Apparently I have no holovision privileges whatsoever, and am subsequently forbidden to watch the actual anime.”, Richter grumbled with dour resentment, turning to Elizabeth to share an indignant scowl that she promptly and parentally returned.

That’s how badly it’s supposed to sting for a Penitatas of your tier, lad. You’ve just never cared about the silly holo until now, with that ridiculous tantrum you threw. Not every attempt of yours to ‘negotiate’ will turn out in your favor, and you can’t yell and argue when you’re told a firm no to something. You’ll have to wait until we maybe one day treat you to it, and take that for a final answer.”, sounded a whole lot like there had already been quite the heated discussion on the matter to those on the other side of the call, with the looks and harsh tones that came out. Richter growled with still-wounded annoyance, crossing his arms with what could be best described as his version of a pout.

I didn’t take well to being told I couldn’t even earn it, as greatly as I want to see it. Fortunately Harvey is a man of his word and forewent disciplinary measures in light of my injuries, or else I’d not be sitting right now, and wouldn’t for some days.”, he openly admitted to Zachary just how hard he was capable of lashing out, sighing.

Bad as that one was out of you Richter, you can expect to not be doing your chores comfortably for a while once we get back to normal around here.”, Harvey disclosed as a penance to come, to Richter’s wince and ‘tch!’.

How thinly veiled.”, his muzzle toothily furled in a tip toward his father, making Kayla’s lip twitch at how uncomfortably familiar those slower, lower-toned words were, “Wearing those fucking ‘sacks’ of yours that I loathe while doing them, correct? The ‘wools’?”

For a week. Two hours a day at minimum, so expect to keep them on for a while after you finish.”, the man soberly sentenced to the disquieted shift of how the Roferian bared his teeth; the boy looking pained with the sort of regret that hit hard and fast for a Penitatas.

Fuck me.”, Richter gruffly bemoaned with a very noticeable curl to his maw.

Is it something bad?”, his fellow Penitatas empathetically asked of the punishment.

It’s certainly a strong disciplinary action, but he could be dolling me worse. It’s… creatively uncomfortable, as described.”, came out of Richter’s lowered snout with a sullen, acceptant flavor of orneriness, shying away from detailing his own castigation in front of an audience. It was hard enough to break out of his shell and speak like this as it was.

I should have gathered on my own that I couldn’t watch ‘Ironscale’ when my only means of non-literary entertainment these past months was to try and bunch my bed sheet into the shapes of animals, not having any toys. I tried making a figure out of hay in the barn to play with, but I’m not good with my paws. It fell apart every time I tried bundling the fibers together.”, was merely meant to come across as an admission of guilt, per say, when the writing was on the wall, but it ended up slamming his empathic sense with a mixture of sadness from both his sides, just as Zachary’s ears absolutely melted. Richter quickly glanced at his parents to find those feelings hidden from their faces, knowing then, very well, that upholding their farm’s rules to that end was never something they wished to do.

I may select two as of today though, and will be seeking your advice on the matter.”, the boy promptly appended, wishing to dispel what his social ineptness brought into conversation. It lifted the young fox’s black ears back up a tad, but goodness could that friendly muzzle of his frown.

I’m glad you can now, but… that’s still so sad.”, Zachary uttered sorrily, adding guilt to the morose aura Richter’s parents were emitting, and in turn, to the Roferian himself for having even mentioned his broken attempts to find play before all this. In an answer to all of them, wanting to leap in firmly before either Elizabeth or Harvey felt the need to explain themselves needlessly, Richter shook his head and lifted a paw; claws to the sky, as he would.

On this farm, all things are earned.”, he recited their mantra, declaring in his own way that he accepted his lack of toys was his own fault at this point, going from zero to two in one day with minimal effort, “This is hence why I’m attempting to earn lighter day-to-day conditions by being a ‘good penny’, as they’re colloquially called, if I could do some charitable things and learn to mind my conduct even just a little while I’m at it.”

But can you?”, Kayla spat without warning, quick and hard, to the blindsided flinch of everyone, “Would you really ever?”

Boiled over the edge, the girl leaning upon her console stopped trying to veil all of the fang-baring furls of her muzzle in the face of this gray-furred child. Her sharp tones and exceptionally hostile word choices made Jacob grimace, and did far worse to Zachary, who had never heard Kayla outright snarl before; the poor boy nearly recoiling in dismay, sending his tail between his legs. Unprepared for any sort of confrontation, a wince brought wrinkles to Richter’s snout out of instinct, leaving his face somewhere between ill-tempered and anxious, as much as he had been startled – and that vulpine firecracker had hardly begun.

Where do you even get off telling Zachary or anyone that you want to be a ‘good penny’? You’ve done absolutely nothing but disrespect your parents! No proper titles – no anything that a Penitatas should be saying, if they were at all actually sorry for the things they’ve done!”, the stern mother within Kayla railed against the massive culture-shock, bending Richter’s Roferian ears in both rile and upset that his parents took heed to. They both thought about giving the fox a tongue lashing of her own since she’d already been told that Richter wasn’t breaking any rules or meaning malice, but having an empath for a Penitatas put a halt on that, seeing the boy lift his paws open to his sides in gesture for them to stand down.

I merely intend to be sociable, I’m not maltreating-… ”, he tried to explain on his own.

Sociable?”, Kayla again harshly spat, like the word alone was offensive.

Is ‘sociable’ using the most difficult words in the dictionary with someone who’s first language isn’t panglish, so they only understand half of what you say?”, her fiery vulpine expression turned with a flip of her paw toward Zachary, who looked outright bothered by the insinuation; always eager to learn those tougher, less-used words.

Richter swallowed the ornery sound he wished to spurt from his maw, clutching Othello as the puppy began to act worried, “I-if… it’s a problem, I can write a script in our messenger app to let him tap a word and see-… ”

No one is going to trust you to code as much as a ‘hello world’!”, Kayla cut him off, looking and sounding far more her own age than parental, “You might have strung Zach along, getting a free pass for ‘seeming’ sorry, but you’ve not actually apologized for a single damn thing! Not for making me watch you kill Captain Ti`krex and his crew, or for trying to eject me into space, or for shooting that turret at my forehead, or for blowing my paw to a bloody pulp so I’d know what my own bones look like!”, had Richter gritting his teeth to take in, and Zachary throwing a paw out to her console screen in a fluster.

It’s not stringing! I just know what he’s-… ”, the boyish fox tried to argue when he personally understood what Richter was going through, but the punishing side-eye Kayla gave him forced him to stop; black paws huddling to the white of his chest.

It was the most frightening day of my life.”, she growled, low and firm, if Zachary needed to be reminded of just how much of a monster the person he was defending was, “He hurt me. He hurt a lot of people. It was a bloodbath, and I could barely stop it.”

Coming from a place in her heart where the alarms and casualty reports still rang, Kayla’s blue eyes returned damningly to the puppy-clutching dragon on her console display, “And here he is, worrying about video games and cartoons while he swears in front of his parents… like everything he did didn’t matter.”

In the wake of that cutting glare and judgmental flaying, Richter’s muzzle wrinkled and furled in a disquiet that felt more morose than his parents were used to seeing. Othello could sense his tension and shaken breaths, whimpering as he slipped free of his person’s clutch to throw himself up against his torso like a tiny, warm little plea. The young hacker seemed ready for it, nearly catching him into a hug.

I know Othello, I know… I’m trying.”, he whispered to his coprocessor, when his mind could hear that which couldn’t he heard. Not wanting to create an uncomfortable lull and make this any more harrowing for his social anxiety, the Roferian’s slit pupils tipped back upward from he and his companion’s mutual comforting.

At least now that I know what this outburst is really all about, I might be able to answer for myself.”, Richter traced the fox’s animosity back to its source, trying not to growl himself as Zachary and ‘medical tricorder’ all looked at him to see what he’d say.

There is nothing in your recollection that I am poised to deny. I intentionally destroyed that Federation vessel, attempted to stop you from retaking DeltaStar by all means necessary, and acquired Earth’s defensive platforms to use against it in a plan for dominance and superiority, granting me the ability to steer the quadrant once I had slipped away to my retirement of sorts. I then maimed the teams that came to apprehend me, thinking that I’d soon be dead anyway. At the time, it truly did mean nothing to me to kill them, so long as I ‘won’… but things tend to change when you can’t escape the things that you do, and have to see what has been done. Death failed to become my release from the reality I created. I am as left with the aftermath as you are, from the other end, when I too would prefer to undo my own actions, and return those who were lost.”, Richter tapped into the undying confidence of Velius to declare with full transparency, lifting his head, and a claw.

However… as that is impossible, there is only one thing left to do… and I will firmly preface my coming words as having proper civility if listened to in full, as it is not going to ‘sound good’ as I begin.”, certainly came out of his mouth with his lower and more firmly spoken of surly ways, turning his head to both Elizabeth and Harvey at his sides in assurance before giving his fellow hacker on the datapad screen his emerald eyes’ undivided attention, “And that, Kayla, is that everyone is going to have to get over it.”

Excuse me?”, Kayla hissed venomously to the gleam of fang; Jacob’s own muzzle tightening with a cross of his arms, and an uncertain blink from Zachary. Richter treated the scene to a single nod.

In this instance, as a statement not intended to be inflammatory, the words hold their literal meanings. I’m focusing on my present and my future, worrying about having friends and enjoying myself as it were, because I am being forced by my own pragmatism to move on and continue being. You will have to do so as well, when the scars I’ve left upon time and space will never be rectified. No matter how badly I am beaten, or how long, no one that I’ve murdered will be coming back. You aren’t going to forget the memories that are presently making you angry, as I am not going to forget what I’ve done to leave those lasting marks – especially the ones I’ve given myself, when I have to live with the events of that day for the rest of my potentially immortal existence.”, came from the heart and soul of a realist who understood that his life’s story would have so many more pages to come, and his sullied chapter would always exist with them.

Such matters aren’t so convenient for us, in this day and age of rejuvenation. You won’t be taking your grievances to the grave after a lifetime, and my greatest of mistakes will never be expunged by the erasure of my consciousness. Nothing we remember has a finite ‘expiration date’, and thus requires us to work through them. If I have no intention of escaping or killing myself, that means I am going to be a Penitatas on this world for a very, very long time. It will be my sole reality henceforth; my coming ‘eternity’; and I must accept that and continue forward, enduring the penalties I’ve been assigned until the century I am deemed worthy for release… something that is going to happen, regardless of what I’ve done, as the ‘Penitatas at your side’ you once desired.”, Richter’s complex means of speaking tried to articulate the philosophical picture he envisioned and why he didn’t seem to languish in any outward guilt-ridden self-hatred, noting a lasting memory of his own from that day; the words of a young girl who swore to place him where he was, and made good on it. He thought it was well put together, but Kayla’s maw let off a sound he was more familiar with his own making.

Getting over it and moving on would call for you being really, really goddamn sorry, and me forgiving you. You want forgiveness as a foulmouthed brat of a Penitatas? For everybody else to just brush your death-lust under the rug, if you can’t run away from it like you wanted?”, such derision joined with her sneer, condemning the whole thing like he was seeking an easy out. It was frustrating, and it stung – something Richter couldn’t hide when his Roferian teeth came bare from the agitated furls of his muzzle; so ripped apart by someone who didn’t even know him.

“… Your reaction remains understandable, but… ”, Richter caught coming from his mouth with a harsher tone than he wanted, rolling a growling whimper of frustration out of his throat. The ends of his maw hooked, and with uneasy sympathy did Elizabeth begin to see some of her son’s irritability be replaced with a little boy’s upset exasperation.

Look. No, you don’t ever have to forgive me, and I’m not going to ask that of you. I just had to deal with thinking Othello here had been killed, and I’m not going to simply forgive that old man for hurting him either. At the end of the day I just want to be fucking… ”, the Roferian stumbled in his own morose rile, cradling Othello until there was nothing but sullenness to his voice, “I want to be accepted as being alive. That my existence alone isn’t so unpalatable that I can’t ever be looked at again, or spoken to like a proper person.”, he summarized in one sentence how he felt about his nurse, the man at the library, and his assailant, when the same thing linked them all together.

I’m still here in this universe, with my regrets. Our arrangements here on the farm are obviously different to what you’re accustomed, but I put in work here, and take my penalties no matter the extreme forms they may take because of who I am. I can be a decent Penitatas that still gets in trouble and struggles, if everyone can trust me to make good of my mistakes and understand that I don’t mean them ill. I’m even willing to volunteer and do extra to show everyone that I’ve got a bit of merit in me, if it means lighter penalties for clearly being less of a bastard! I want to have my duty at the library – for me, too! I’m looking forward to it!”, he stressed his will to ‘do’ and ‘be’, and that his words of wanting to be a ‘good penny’ weren’t the vile things she thought. Unable to keep eye contact, Richter trailed his sight down to his coprocessor, lifting the pup into his arms to snug him against his snout.

I don’t want to be hated forever. I can’t be. Forever is… forever. I want to keep trying, and make up for what’s been done.”, the five year old slowly uttered his fear and intent, as if the void in space his mind would sometimes drift off to opened up to let out something vulnerable.

For it, the fur along his back’s spikes shot on end beneath his pajamas, flinching to the smack of Kayla’s paw against her own console.

There is no making up for lost lives, Velius!”, she outright snapped from her own inner core, when his mass murder was inexcusable; Jacob standing steadfast at her side, stern and odious, while Zachary’s muzzle went slack ahead of folded ears that began to quiver. Richter let out a shriller growl of roil, and above his head, his parents shared a look.

That’s… !”, the Roferian tried again to speak in defense of himself, but Kayla wasn’t having it.

You said it yourself – you’re going to be living with what you did for the rest of your life! You can’t fix death, and you can’t make people look past it all either! Pay all the dues you want, but all I’ll ever remember you for is making me watch you blow the Capitol apart and kill all those people! There is no penance – no forgiveness that just erases that!”, his scarred, grudge-bearing victim slammed his efforts as too little, too late. In the deadened air that befell the two rooms on the call, a there came to be a tiny, high pitched whimper of lament that choked itself nearly out of being heard at all; the shaky warble of a young boy holding back tears.

“… Is that what you fucking think of me?”, so obviously didn’t come from the audio circuitry of Kayla’s console.

Snapping out of her screen-squinting trance of anger with an electrical zip of shock, Kayla’s ears leapt and pivoted like they had flinched. Both she and Jacob turned their heads; Zachary shrunken where he stood, baring fang not out of malice, but from the pain of a deep, destructive wound. His voice alone hurt just to hear the timbres of.

He and I did the same exact thing! The Bah`vira destroyed a lot more than one ship, and even if we didn’t kill hundreds, does that really fucking matter? How could you say any of that?”, flayed Zachary’s feelings with betrayal when all of Kayla’s words directly applied to him as well, fixating on the U.S.S Capitol and the slaughter of its crew – that thing that pirates did, too. The fox’s jaw stiff, his dark blue eyes bitterly stared Kayla down in her chair, leaving Richter wondering if his ineptitude had caused another problem.

I’m sorry for what I did, and I’m trying to redeem my coward ass into being a good person, and now you’re saying that I can’t? I can’t atone for a damn thing no matter how much I cry? You’ve always supported me – how could you?”, Zach’s voice squeaked and shook with such unfamiliar rile for someone who didn’t have a drop of unpleasantness in his bones, purposely using a word like ‘atone’ to exemplify the sort of panglish he had learned from she and Jacob. Now that it was Kayla’s turn to have her fur ruffled and summarily ripped into, her ears folded back uneasily behind her agitated grimace, and before she could interject, Zachary looked past her.

And you!”, he shot over to Jacob, making the Karrian wince in complete disarm, “You’re the smartest person I’ve ever met! I know you always stand at Kayla’s side, but… you weren’t going going to say anything? As much as I’ve talked to you about the Bah`vira, you didn’t put two and two together to think that I’d be hurt by that? You’re supposed to be my friend.”, his harsher sounds grew far more upset as he went on, to the guilty, saddened lift of the good doctor’s claws.

I’m really sorry! I didn’t mean for that!”, honestly never occurred to Jacob in the moment, tunnel-visioned as Kayla was when she was so locked on finally giving Velius what-for. Jaded by his own memories of Kayla slowly bleeding to death and being unable to help her, it didn’t even dawn on him that his fox might have been taking things too far, and he made good on his reassurance with a dart behind her computer chair to snatch Zachary into a hug; something the fox loved getting from him, especially after a hard spanking. There was a lot of comfort in the touch of a male friend for an Aspatrian boy, and he showed it well by throwing his muzzle against Jacob’s shoulder with zero protest.

You know I want to get you into the academy. Every Penitatas is entitled to a fair shake at righting their lives, and I’m not going to say otherwise – not after I’ve seen one of them work hard, and right theirs.”, Jacob dissented as repentance of his own, as Elizabeth leaned down toward Richter’s ear.

This is a fair example of what acting like that gets you.”, she quietly let the scene Kayla created be a parental lesson, with not a drop of surprise within her mind for Richter to detect. The moment Kayla went down that route without thinking, she and Harvey knew what was going to happen – life punishing her in a different way than it used to.

I thought you said she was friendly?”, the Roferian grumbled back under his breath, to his mother’s smirk.

She is. She also has a potent temper… I just left that part out.”, made Elizabeth sound cheeky, to her Penitatas’ groaning hum. That huffy firecracker of orange fur stewed where she sat, not sure of what to even say if Jacob wasn’t in her corner.

Zach, you need to stop comparing yourself to him.”, she pressed firmly, attempting to lower her voice and correct her tones, but her fellow Aspatrian hiked the lip of his muzzle against Jacob’s shoulder.

Kayla, you forgave even Stephanie, and she still treats you like shit! That’s not someone who’s sorry! Why does she get treated with respect by you guys, but someone who’s actually trying to tell you he’s sorry and wants to be friendly gets this degree from you? Since when are you hateful?”, Zachary sought to put the final nail in this awful outburst’s coffin, pushing Kayla’s ears the rest of the way down.

Obviously he really hurt you, but… that’s never stopped you from being the good person before. I’m just… trying to be like you, ya’ know?”, the boy’s timbres trembled again, having merely wished to be like his favorite role model, if she was going to be mad at him for giving a repentant Penitatas the time of day.

He – isn’t – sorry, Zach.”, Kayla weakly tried explaining of herself, leaving only her most rattled of tones behind, “This man… boy, sent a phony apology letter to the department that I only found out about on my parole day. Snuck some insults and ‘well wishes’ in there for me to find, just being cruel. He made it really clear what he thought of me, and how sorry he was.”

Did I?”, Richter rolled the syllables between his teeth if that mockery of a letter was going to be given a single thought. He stared at the screen for a moment in serious, calculated thought, looking more and more like his usual rougher self until he peered down to Othello’s restless little face.

“… Go on Othello. I’ll take this from here.”, the five year old welcomed of his coprocessor, touching the end of his muzzle to the pup’s own before setting him down to stand.

Richter.”, Harvey was the first to warn with parental weight, followed by Elizabeth’s, “Lad.”, when Othello had been clearly managing his fury. Richter lifted his right paw with two claws extended to the sky as another gesture for the pair to ‘hold’, tipping his snout toward his shoulder.

If I am deemed uncivil from this point forward, you may double my devised penalty.”, he provided reassurance in what was, in a sense, an act of ‘doing’, though his voice greatly softened with words only for them.

Have faith.”, he asked, before turning his slit emerald eyes to the propped datapad before him; paws going behind his back with a strong, willful posture.

So… Kayla, Kayla… you want to know what I truly think of you?”, Richter did nothing to hide his teeth or tones any longer, sounding exactly as the fox would remember his elder self; a paw coming back up front in an open gesture like the ‘super-villain’ Zachary called him, “I’ll tell you exactly what I think of you.” The fox became all ears, though folded as they were, in her uncomfortable seat.

That so-called apology letter was penned very shortly after my arrival on the Tanner Farm, and I was particularly livid with you. You were the primary reason I was even made to sit and write it, having been the individual to facilitate my capture and subsequent induction into your world’s Penitatas Justice System. You were the literal pain in my ass, and shall be forevermore. My place here is due to your actions, and is the cornerstone of my opinion of you.”, the uniquely-tongued Roferian verbally painted, wholly himself.

You aren’t the only one to be haunted by DeltaStar. I fucked that day up royally, ruining my life at one critical juncture. When I energized the phase cannon near your corridor section and brought it to bear on that Federation vessel, I closed the door on any good outcome I ever could have had. From the possible outcomes that remained, the one that you provided me was the best one left.”, made Kayla squint; everyone listening to every word.

I was hellbent on what I saw as ‘winning’. I would have never stopped doubling down, and would have continued to my death, as much as I viewed dying in a blaze of misconstrued glory to be a victory. But, since then, I’ve been with Elizabeth and Harvey, and the two of them can be very persuasive.”, he turned and gestured a paw to them both, leaving even his penny parents squinting with curious confusion.

Following the letter you made note of, there was a day when Elizabeth gave me my first spoonful of Harvey’s homemade pepper mash as a penalty. She wished to hand me a glass of milk after, but rather than comply with a request she made of me, I writhed on the floor, just to ‘win’ the interaction… to which I was shown that I didn’t really win anything at all. Taking this into consideration, I reevaluated what I considered to be ‘win conditions’, and came to agree when I didn’t feel like I won either. From there, I corrected my pointless obstinance and promptly decided that day that I didn’t wish to die any longer as well, when that too fell into the same vein of meaningless.”, he explained of why he stopped doing such things, turning those curious squints into ones of astonishment. It meant that he had been accepting corrective input, and actively learning lessons from his punishments; his mind the sort to give thought to anything presented to it.

Even just today, Elizabeth and I had a conversation that was extremely painful for multiple reasons. Much of it I had already considered, but I had to think about it a tad harder due to the nature of our ‘talk’. If I was victorious on the day of my assault on your world, there would have been far more scars than there already are. I would have killed my friend, Othello. Elizabeth and Harvey would have died as well, and that’s nothing that I want, or would ever accept at this point. As such, I now consider my prior ‘win condition’ of keeping control of the defense platforms and succeeding in my assault to no longer be a victory, but instead a critical loss… my failure that day mandatory, at all costs.”, he declared that Velius had to fall, to the continued weakening of others’ faces.

Kayla, you stopped the error I now reject from progressing further, while foiling my suicidal ideations in the process. That, is the best outcome I could have been given – my loss, and my life.”, the typically ornery-looking Roferian looked no different as he articulated such lofty words in his own particular way. Sort of like the professor he was somewhere in his heart, Richter lifted a studious paw to the savior of everyone he cared about.

And what came out of his mouth…

With it, you’ve given me a second chance.”, Richter Saccard acknowledged to the complete wilt of Kayla’s everything, when those words once meant the world to a little Penitatas.

A… a what?”, the fox’s voice weakened, tiny and slack as the rest of her face and rearward ears; Richter’s parents grinning into a knowing little smile while the Roferian himself swung his tail in an embarrassed fluster if he wasn’t being clear with his words.

A second chance! To live, and still be! I’ve certainly made a bed that I have to lie in, but I can come out of this and try again someday, not having to hide or fuck anything else up! Even right now, I can find purpose and make due with what I have, living a life I want to live, when the alternative would have just been not existing!”, the once-Velius tried to argue the importance of what she’d given him, when there were surely worse and more permanent things to serving time as a Penitatas. He’d even try to find his element in being one.

I won’t waste this. No more mistakes. So, for what little such words are worth… I extend you my thanks.”, his paws returned behind his back, “And my apologies.”

It left his old nemesis slumped into her paws on his parents’ datapad screen, holding her head to the messy splay of her half-girlish, half-boyish bangs. There didn’t appear to be any life left in her argument and anger, and off to her side, Zachary and Jacob stared at her with softer eyes to see what she’d do.

Richter might soon be called ‘acceptant of his discipline’, just like you, too.”, Elizabeth slowly, calmly, and rather happily added in a motherly way for Kayla as Harvey gave his son’s shoulder a squeeze. It was without a doubt part of the lesson she and Harvey allowed her to have, and yet another strong hint to how much they knew about her. After a lengthy pause, the fox sighed without lifting her head.

If our roles were reversed… would I have been punished for being uncivil?”, her downward-pointed muzzle muffled into her key-panel and paws, making her unable to see Richter’s parents share a communicative glance to question the other before nodding their heads.

I’m afraid so, Miss Ackart.”, Harvey sounded almost sorry to admit.

Kayla’s arms folded against her key-panel, burying her face in them to the tune of a few error beeps from having so many keys touched at once. The ears that remained radiated shame; embarrassed, guilty, and mortified. There came to be no hiccups or tearful sounds, but a dull, arm-stifled sniffle from a Completatas that tried to get a handle on her runaway young emotions, having faced and ‘worked through’ memories as Richter said was inevitable. She wasn’t sure if she’d ever be able to like him, but after everything she had said, the fox who was as legendary for saying ‘I’m sorry’ as she was for forgiving, swept aside her hubris and accepted Zachary as being right. He was a better ‘Kayla’ than she was today, and damn did it make her want to cry after what she did to him. A soft touch came to her crumpled forearms and folded ear, wiggling and nuzzling until she lifted an eye above her arm to see the plush orange of Melissa, and the black-furred paw holding her. Zach was still being Zach, and apparently forgiving better than she was too; already a good person, even if he thought he still had a road to travel before he became one. Kayla whispered him a private ‘sorry’, to the reply of a nosing against her whiskers from Melissa to cheer her up.

Can I get Richter a stuffed toy to apologize?”, she decided to sorrily ask with pat of Melissa’s head, as would be her way, though the question had the two parents looking at one another with uncertainty, “I know your rules about earning things, but I believe every Penitatas should have a companion. His dog might not always want to be cried on, and it’s not a toy-toy. Getting them is something I do, and a penny who wants to be a penny deserves one.”

I think we can allow that. It’d be healthy to see less hard feelings between the two of you.”, Elizabeth approved of the generosity, leaving Richter sheepish now that there wasn’t a black cloud rousing his confidence through his awkwardness. Kayla getting him something was a very social act, and holy hell did his asocial mannerisms not know how to take that.

But… Mister and Misses Tanner… I do have to ask, who exactly are you? You keep talking like you’re familiar with me, and know way too much about how I was as a Penitatas.”, Kayla slumped backward into her computer chair with a tired sigh, throwing a paw up in question. Noting that she was acceptant of her discipline, one of the things she was best known for in her close, personal circle was the final straw – ranking justice department officials or not. Unsurprised to be called out when they were veiling absolutely nothing, Elizabeth crossed her arms with a grin to her husband.

What do you say to telling her? Richter is going to be meeting us all eventually, and Zachary would end up knowing too because of it at some point.”, she proposed lifting the mask.

So long as everyone knows not to repeat anything they’re told.”, Harvey softly asserted, stirring circumspective intrigue; Richter leaning against the end of the bed as all eyes fell upon Elizabeth.

There’s a small group of command-level parents here on Earth; roughly a hundred of us. We represent the department’s highest tier of disciplinary and parental proficiency, and are called ‘Masters’.”, her ‘special title’ came to light against the backdrop of the P.J.D’s secretive hierarchy, “We’re basically Captains. The only authority higher than us is the Corrections Council. We hold open forums as a group to discuss affairs, ethics, parenting techniques… and you might be surprised to hear that you’ve been at the center of those constantly since shortly after you became a Penitatas, when a certain someone has used you as a case-study example for our analysis at any point she could.”, revealed the microscope the fox had long since been under, leaving her aghast, and Harvey grinning.

You have a Master just sort of… ‘adjacent’ to you. She’s quite smitten, and a big fan. You were usually referenced as the sort of Penitatas we wanted to foster. We dived into your traits to see how we might be able to encourage them in others, and took a good look at what environments a penny like yourself did best in.”, the fatherly man followed up with the rest of the reason she was such common Master knowledge, until he laughed, “Though sometimes she’d bring you up as a case-study in how to approach a normally excellent Penitatas when they did some rather bad things! Then it was just a forum of us all debating how we’d punish you!”, brought Kayla’s paws up to join with her contorted grimace; Jacob, Zachary, and even Richter eyeballing her expression with an odd brow.

What in the hell?”, the ex-Penitatas whined out of embarrassment and utter consternation, “That’s how you know everything about me? I was being picked apart by a panel of penny super-parents?”

Oh, you still are!”, Elizabeth announced so easily and merrily, Kayla’s jaw slacked even lower to a faint vulpine squeak, “Our last rousing discussion about you was on what we would all do if a Completatas training herself to be a penny-mum unknowingly breached protocol for a soap trial by skipping right to type-two, because she picked up a tool of our trade with assumptions and not actual safety knowledge.”, thumped their said Completatas’ forehead against her key-panel to a tiny chirping cacophony of keystrokes. When she didn’t say anything or move afterward, Zachary softly pressed Melissa against the side of her head and wiggled the teddy-fox to a flail of her limbs.

Who is doing this to me?”, Kayla gruffly muffled into her computer console with a flaming, cherry-red muzzle, “Who? Why? From where?”

That would be telling, and I wouldn’t out another Master. Especially not that one!”, Elizabeth perished the thought with this knowing, clumsy little chuckle that she turned to share with to her husband, “Speaking of which, I still haven’t told the Captain-Commander that Richter’s technology restrictions were expunged.”, she flashed with a toothy, anxious sort of simper.

You know she’s already noticed, and letting you act independently… which we did, giving him his pad. There was definitely a ‘ha!’ of some kind if she looked at any of the rule modifications filed today, and saw we did that as quick as we did.”, Harvey couldn’t help but sound a similar flavor of awkward and bemused, though Richter lifted and wagged a finger to interject.

Do feel free to explain why I am ‘going to be meeting you all’, if you’re going to be divulging information that I can’t readily categorize as positive or negative.”, his usual surly tones had returned to press in question; the Roferian turning to his father at an unseen cue.

In your case in particular, you have assigned disciplinary provisions that go past safety limits. We’re the only ones who can cross those uncrossable lines, and use judicial-grade tools like your black paddle outside of a courtroom. You’re stuck with us!”, greatly narrowed down who could parent him, to a hooking of the boy’s maw and a lift of Kayla’s face from her console at hearing the words ‘judicial-grade’ in a casual, every-day sentence.

Masters have some pretty broad authority, especially over parents with the way we oversee certain matters. And, of course, we can modify a Penitatas’ core rules to adjust their home’s parenting environment as necessary when they don’t fit into the mold, like we do for you.”, Elizabeth chipped back in to further answer her son, “But, that scale can also be tipped the other way, to add more restrictions, sentence punishments, and break the sorts of Penitatas that don’t respond to any of our attempts to reach out. The Tanner Farm is usually that kind of place. We’re the end of the line, at the end of the world.”, made them sound like the leaders their rank suggested.

Seems I responded acceptably, if that didn’t happen. I do at least appreciate the family dynamic your purported ‘modifications’ came to make for us, versus the relationship of subservient pretense that Kayla described.”, Richter rejected of the submissive focus upon language and titles that she earlier wanted him to subscribe to. His choice of words brought the strangest of flutters across his empathic sense; his parents flabbergasted that he’d use the term ‘family dynamic’, even if he couldn’t tell that was why.

What? I observe us as having a more level field than that. You have your rules about my conduct, but we spoke freely and came to understandings after the change, even when I wasn’t saying much. Standing with, rather than beneath, allowed me to be a part of your familial unit, and… I suppose I found that motivating, being able to pitch in and find my own ways to work with you without being pushed down. You’re my mum and pop, and this is my home, yes? How could we have achieved that unity if I was required to behave like I’m scared shitless of you, when I’m not?”, the likes of Richter Saccard argued as if it was a self-explanatory given, melting Elizabeth and Harvey on the inside to be blindsided by the parental titles they called themselves in his presence.

For everything Elizabeth had learned about Richter over the course of the day, those few yet powerful statements were the thread that tied them all together. When a hateful, anxious Penitatas no longer found himself needing to fight just to be accepted and left a little be; taking the chiding over his language personally, as bullying attacks upon his personality; he slowly, subtly, and silently began to change in ways as he stuck his own head into the socio-disciplinary foray of their farm. Glimmers of cooperation emerged, like when had become agreeable to being bathed out of the blue, and oddly trusting for a distrusting lad, to have hands in private places… but that was something one expected a parent to do, and marked the point that their son began to see them as such. He responded to being elevated socially closer to their ‘team’ by showing some teamwork in return, first by complying with directives, and in time by finding his own unseen ways to shyly lighten his parental figures’ workload and ‘be a part’ as Harvey so put it – all willingly, with unspoken lines drawn in the sand, when even on his most willful days he never disrespected or took their belongings, uttered lies, or comfortably accepted wronging them. These weren’t motivated by fear, submissive respect, or pain, but by a desire to do right by those who extended wings for him, and the lessons they taught him as ‘a member of the family’.

Kayla was a subordinate Penitatas who thrived in structure. Richter, on the other hand, was a loyal Penitatas, who thrived in solidarity.

Self-motivation drove him to subtly return his own forms of respect and shape the penny he was for them, if it meant standing beside and helping the mother who always had a hot meal for him, no matter if he said hurtful things, or the father that would come in after a hard day’s work and still look forward to giving him his shower. That one little rule modification over his mouth brought them to this very point, when Richter may have still been lost in his furious rile if they had not; his personality archetype leaving him to feel alienated in his own home, pushed away and rejected into ‘his place’. They would have missed out on fostering a Penitatas with the potential to be on Kayla’s level, who would have wanted to learn how to be good for them all on his own if they’d only just stop ‘picking on him’, and tried to get to know the oddball who came as he was.

Guardians to be respected, are not ones to be feared.”, Richter articulated his beliefs, tones and all, to the lift of a paw; the two of them being the entire reason he was now in a position to make an effort. All that was left for his empathic sense to pick up beyond Othello’s infantile effervescence was that of calm, happy, parental accomplishment.

I just thought it was nicely said, and a very fine example of why we help all Penitatas find their way to thrive.”, Elizabeth knew him well enough now to avoid making a big deal of his use of ‘mum and pop’ for his social anxiety, smiling with a turn of her head back over to Kayla now that she had a case-example of her own to show. Considering Richter’s words weren’t at all objectionable, and did suggest that he held his parents in regard, the fox sighed out of her ebony nose, leaning her muzzle upon her propped paws.

Point taken. You’re called a Master for a reason. I’m sorry I lost my cool. You too, Richter. Thanks for letting me have your work, with no strings attached. I hope you feel better soon, and I’ll have your apology present sent your way as soon as I can. I still don’t know how to feel about everything, but I can’t expect to just yet, I guess.”, she decided to let be and take the lesson she’d been given on the cheek; if not both cheeks, beneath her tail, “I’ll see about getting Zach his favorite drink, and ‘be cultured’ with him for a bit to make up for hurting his feelings. ‘Standing with’, and all.”, her softer, apologetic tones came with a tip of her muzzle to her side in gesture to Zachary, who at least began to move his tail again at the thought of some ice cold chocolate milk. Perhaps her guy really would like a spell of bare-furred Aspatrian company, putting the two of them on the same level with a clear, visible act of ‘doing’. Richter had only begun to give her a nod when his father touched his shoulder with a light tap.

We’d best be getting ourselves back to sleep though, lad. It’ll be time for another dose of medicine before you know it, and those nerves your new eye’s connected to need their rest.”, Harvey sought to wrap up their call; the two potential long-distance playmates bidding but a temporary farewell, complete with a finger wiggling wave from one, and a shy reply from the other with sharper claws. There would certainly be a lot for them to talk about after this.

The only one left with lingering uncertainty was Kayla, and that went beyond her guilt over her temper. This other Master, the ‘Captain-Commander’ that’s supposed to be “adjacent to” and “smitten” by her…

Why did that sound like Ki`rene, if it couldn’t have been Ki`rene?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Resting reprieve could only last so long for any Penitatas on the mend, regardless of their letter’s color. Those few quiet days of reading in bed and enjoying the comforts of home dwindled the sweet syrup in Richter’s medicine bottles, and slowly began a transition back into life. When he first returned to his morning chores as a trial-run under the supervision of his father, a clean bill of health resumed his disciplinary affairs the day after; sentenced to the punitive undergarments he was to wear during his work, with the surprise of an unearned switching before lunch. Despite those familiar stings welcoming him back, nothing in Richter’s world remained much the same for a multitude of reasons.

It had since been a week and a half since the day he became a duo with Othello, seeing the outside world and what could be defined as a nice day before he nearly left his mortal coil and subsequently faced his past. Snuggled beneath his blanket in bed, Richter slept on his stomach with his snout nuzzled into his pillow, sparing those faint, nagging little aches and sore-spots his backside had been reacquainted with. Too early for sunrise to let any light in through his window’s curtains, Othello remained tucked between his leg and the loose slump of his tail, raising his head when there was a shift in the glow coming into the room from the hallway. Harvey’s darkened figure slowly stepped across the room as to not startle Richter, placing a big, strong hand upon his penny’s plain white bedding and his sleeping lump beneath.

Richter-boy?”, he roused of his light sleeper, getting a hint of movement out of the lad before the click of his old-style bedside lamp lit up the room and brought the five year old to wince into a groan, “Rise and shine, son! I need to slap your tail a good one before I head out to work!”

“… Did you seriously just fucking wake me up to beat my ass?”, he grumbled half awake, somehow ornery-sounding and blasé at the same time. Chipper and full of the early morning vitality he began his days on the farm with, Harvey clapped his hands twice, beckoning his son out of his covers with the same sound he intended to make upon his gray fur.

No beating, only slapping!”, the fatherly man lightheartedly wisecracked to imply it was hand-only, tapping his palm. As he grasped the back of Richter’s desk chair to pull it out into the open, the Roferian pushed himself up off his pillow with a forearm; blanket slipping down his bare furred shoulder to get hung up on his spines.

I’m male, and just woke up. Can we really not wait a couple minutes for my dick to get back inside of me?”, Richter grumbled coyly over nature’s woes, rubbing the half-hearted scowl across his drowsy muzzle, but Harvey chuckled away the unnecessary modesty, spinning the wooden chair around into center stage.

I’m the one who helps wash the thing in that little front pocket of yours!”, he genially reminded he was ‘pop’, sliding the denim seat of his pants into a chair that was used more for spanking than its actual purpose, “Come-come! It’s the last day of you wearing your ‘wools’, and your mother has a very busy morning ahead of you to make the most of it before you’ve got to scarper off for your volunteer shift! Just one last little push!”, was both cheerfully encouraging and quite the promise of a long, tough day of punitive work, getting up so early. None the less, Richter didn’t dally whatsoever, scooting Othello off his blanket while his father was still talking to pull his bedding down and bare the rest of himself, having gone to bed without so much as underwear after a later than usual shower.

I’ll consider that consent for when I poke you, so you’re aware.”, the penny’s paw flicked open with his quip, wholly acceptant aside from a sprinkle of shyness to slip himself out of bed on full display. It was at least only Harvey that he showed his tapered Roferian stiffy to, protruding from his furred draconic sheath slit, reaching out a fair tad longer than one might expect of a five year old as its thicker base gradually thinned out to a slightly upturned, dulled point. His anatomy’s tapering, dragon-like shape aided in that extra size, stiff as a board in the manner a growing boy might find themselves – so much so that the smooth, pink length hardly bobbed as he hopped to his clawed feet.

Just means you’re a healthy lad! Find a cozy position as best you can, and I’ll square us away!”, his father invited him right over his lap without batting an eye, basically quipping back in the rapport that could be shared.

I’d ask you to share some of that energy with me, but you’re already going to do so kinetically.”, Richter gave him a squint as he climbed his short stature up over Harvey’s left thigh, knowing the man to be left handed and Elizabeth to be right; the two immediately sharing their warmth. There wasn’t any hesitation despite the boy not looking at all enthused to be moments away from being spanked, as one might expect, grunting and wiggling his way across his father’s lap until the more sensitive addition of his rogue penis to the equation required uncouthly pinning it between his pelvis and his father’s leg. His last few shifts to get comfortable like that came with the anticipated lift of his tail, helping to raise it up as Harvey took it into hand; fingers between his smaller spines, as always.

Alright Harvey, give me something to cry about.”, he tried to lift his snout and snark over his shoulder as a way to say he was settled and ready to take it, apprehensively gruff sigh and all.

Richter lowered his head into place, feeling an all too familiar tension creep through his body in soberly anticipating the first smack of penny-penance. He had barely glanced back down at the wooden floorboards though when his eyes snapped closed, wincing fiercely and toothily to the searing slap of his father’s bearish human hand leaping right into a brisk, vigorous spanking. Reddened hand-prints stacked to overlap one another before Richter could even finish swallowing down the lamenting whimper his inner five year old wanted to squeakily ‘ow!’ aloud, as badly as it immediately ached against the residual bruises he had from his prior days’ unearned thrashings. It brought an unwanted rhythmic rub of fabric to the underside of Richter’s erection, adding an element of humiliation until it would hopefully soften back between his legs; knowing damn well that Harvey must have felt the thing. His backside was boyishly small, straddling the thick base of his tail where his pink little tailhole clenched into the thinly furred recess of its shadow, and his father’s burly, labor-honed hand dwarfed it to the point that every smack could cross well more than a single cheek at a time, spanking his son as if he was a smaller toddler in comparison – and it hurt like it, too. Richter’s face was locked into an agonized snarl that didn’t make a sound, pawing at the air while his legs squirmed, crossing his foot-claws over one another in his wish to keep perfectly still and not kick as others might, despite the incredibly grating pain. When Harvey was as strong as he was, spanking so heavy and hard, his title of ‘Master’ meant that he may well have had the most blistering hand in the world, to Richter’s utter misery. Hand-spankings were never brief, for any Penitatas.

All that enthusiasm and fatherly dedication kept the preordained punishment coming at that same hardened pace as Richter’s rear went from hot and tender to sharply sizzling, challenging the grit-and-bear-it attitude of his son. Richter’s muzzle’s lip trembled and his maw hooked, quivering tighter and tighter the closer he got to not being able to keep the sobs down; his leak of tears being totally silent, even as they were squeezed from his eyelids to run down his snout. Time and tough love made the entirety of his bottom a deepening shade of red from the base of his tail to the tops of his thighs, intensely prickling with slapped, swollen skin, and all of its fiery burn made every spank sting that much more. There was always something so personal and intimate about a hand-spanking, feeling the familiar shape and touch of a parent’s hand with every purposeful, correcting slap. From side to side, over the cleft of his butt, or around the base of his tail where the skin would stretch with every motion of it, Harvey ‘slapped him a good one’, to his word; Richter drawing his arms and paws in close, wanting to curl up into a ball. His breaths shook and sniveled, squeakily taking in teary gasps that made his back tremble, but the saddened, pained warbles that sounded like a young child about to cry failed to break out into the full-on sobs one would have expected of a boy who had already gone stoically past the point where others would be bawling.

In fact, his eyes cracked back open, loosening some of his face because of how bad it stung at him; looking over his tears at the faint marbling of the wooden floor. His body took the driving weight of smack after smack, making the watery image wobble with every loud, heavy clap, but in his tearful frown, hiccuping with these tiny, low, whimpering whines, Richter wistfully waited for his father to stop whipping the glowing ball of hurt that was his rosy-red bottom. The boy’s jaw trembled, and his imposing teeth nibbled on his lip with the most sorrowful of faces in the drone of minutes that he lacked the capacity to count, noticeably less ornery than his usual; like a fight inside of him had been soothed into a slightly different form of strength. It was as if he understood and accepted the coming pain with some uncanny form of pragmatic realism, where all he had to do was lay still until the time came when it’d be over. His stubborn nature to grit and bear it all without breaking down mixed with that dash of ‘good penny’, willingly taking his lashes with a minimal desire to self-pity and fuss. He’d just plaster his feet together to keep his knees from bending, clench his bottom tight, and ride out the harsh, caustic tick of the clock until Harvey was done. Richter was forced to sputter and close his eyes a few times, dripping tears onto his paws with a whisper-like sort of crying, but the quietly lamenting little Penitatas curled up over his pop’s lap soon suffered through to the sweet end he so anxiously awaited.

And – done!”, Harvey heartily announced, driving home one final loud smack beneath Richter’s tail, right dead center; the boy’s frame jostling that one last time to his plowing might.

The Roferian replied with a tearful, high pitched whine of relief, darting his paws up to hastily hoist himself down as soon as he had gained purchase over his tail. That was the point where he’d typically trudge away to escape the scene of his punishment, crying off somewhere alone, but once his feet found the floor, Richter placed his forearms atop the denim of his father’s thigh and leaned in to receive an encouraging grasp of his shoulder from the same hand that had pained him; his head hanging as he so hushedly, yet earnestly wept with his tail outstretched from his smoldering bottom. He had begun allowing himself to be consoled, and sought it on his own terms as soon as his discipline resumed, turning around that first day to clutch Elizabeth’s switch-holding hand once his lashing was over. Cuddling embraces might not have been his preference, but after breaking a little ice, opening up as he did, Richter used his own touch to find solace. As usual, the oddball was just a bit different, and his parents responded to his reverse-consoling with the touches he had signaled to them were okay, like a rub of his back, or squeeze of his shoulder.

That’s my young man! Taken with perfect penitence! Any other boy would have been crying for me to stop minutes ago, and you powered right on through! No rubbing or anything!”, Harvey heartened Richter for his acceptance and accomplishment, firmly patting the back of his shoulder for demonstrating such exemplary penny virtue; Richter left hiccuping his soft, sniveling cry.

Good lad. Real good. I know it’s burning you bad. It’ll die down.”, he assured of the embers making his draconic tail quiver, being aware of how terribly his hand hurt when so many of his past Penitatas had mewled all about it to him. He and Elizabeth had taken to bringing their affectionate parental feelings forward during these times of encouragement for Richter’s sixth sense, imagining it to be a needed comfort for a Roferian… but, this time around, it also let his son feel an ‘inner grin’ that crept up inside of him.

By the way, it seems you’re not into spanking! Who would’ve guessed that’d get your equipment back into its’ pocket so fast!”, Harvey sarcastically quipped to distract him from his sweltering bottom, joking about the stiffy that absconded off his thigh rather promptly after the session of discipline began. Richter’s weepy cry sputtered like he was about to finally sob like anyone else would have a long time ago, continuing the back-leaping hiccups until the unusual teary sound began to come out of his closed maw more like a drawn out snicker.

How fucking astute of you to notice!”, he squeaked out a tainted laugh, nearly managing to curl his stiffened maw into a smirk as a teardrop ran across the lip of his muzzle for his jaw.

What’s a pop for?”, his father freely chuckled now that he had a fair idea of the the kind of affable, trusted dad Richter sought, keeping up the soothing strokes of his son’s back. It was something he did for only about a minute further before the sniffling, teary Penitatas stood back up and wiped at his eyes, having at least caught his breath and lowered his tail.

Glad I could play about with you and lighten the mood a tad before your stint with your mum. Feel free to do your morning bathroom business while you get ready in your ‘wools’ and chore clothes, but keep in mind that she’s waiting. I’ll handle feeding the animals for you while you’re busy with her.”, came warmly as Harvey returned the desk chair to where it belonged and Richter stepped over to his closet, minding to keep his paws away from his bottom by reaching down to pet Othello on his way by.

Acknowledged. I’ll make it quick. Don’t let the cows eat you.”, Richter pledged, sliding his lowest clothing bin open. A feeling came over him not but a moment after, stopping his movements with a turn of his muzzle toward his bedroom door; Harvey standing there, one hand on its wooden frame, giving him a soft face.

Be a champ for this last one, okay Richter-boy?”, sounded less jovial. The faint shift in tone would have been enough to give a non-empath pause, wondering what was in store, and all Richter could find in his well-spanked mind to give in return was the affirmation of a nod before he was left to his own preparation.

He gathered up his usual denim overalls and white undershirt, but instead of a pair of Roferian boys’ briefs, two homemade and purposely stiffened articles vaguely resembling wearable garments followed right behind, all tucked under his arm for the few steps across the hall to the bathroom. The light came on with a flick of a claw, gracing Richter with his own misty-eyed gaze in the mirror; a sniff following right behind on his way to meet with nature’s early-morning call. The thin, tapered end of his cock slid from the slit of his sheath into the grasp of his fingers once the inner will to urinate readied his bladder, and while managing the pale stream of yellow that erupted from the tiny opening at its tip, a clattering rattle came to the boy’s ears as a bubbly little mind approached out of sight. Surly enough, Othello scampered out from his room and straight up to his side amidst the splash of fluid in the toilet, carrying his Rikson-Barrister medication bottle in his maw in an apparent attempt to bring it to him.

“… I didn’t take that, did I?”, Richter mumbled, still shocked to all hell at how much Othello could pick up on, even at his incredibly young age. He always took a capsule before leaving his room, and his little black and white shadow must have paid note to his failure to do so. Once the tip of himself finished its last dribbling drop, he knelt down to accept and take his medication right in front of the pup to show that he was correct, but there came to yet another surprise when he attempted to stand up with the bottle still in his paw. Othello yapped with a bounce off his fore-paws, looking straight up with his tiny mouth wide open.

I can put it back too, you know.”, his ‘person’ sighed with sheepish amusement, understanding the intent he was sensing. Still, he reached back down to let Othello take the bottle as he wished, resulting in a playful, tail waggling prance back to his room to return it to its place; his loving doting mixed in with having a puppy’s fun. Richter’s inner five year old and grown adult alike both smiled to the kind of comfort that sight made.

Such made putting his ‘wools’ on a touch less dreadful, lifting a brown, bristly looking ‘top’ off the counter to join with his own bare-furred image in the lowest part of the mirror. Its extremely stiff and scouring hairs prickled roughly at the pads of his paws, and was the purpose of the crude, wooly-looking shirt; the abrasive material scraping through his fur the whole way down his arms and torso as he put in on. It barely flexed to the movement, making it difficult, and immediately became cumbersome as soon as it was in place, digging sharply into his underarms with just enough wiggle room to shift and scratch about with every little motion. The underwear half of the punitive ensemble was worse in that regard, tugging the rigid sack that his parents tailored for his Roferian anatomy up his thighs, rasping ruffled lines through his thin fur up to the point he had to tug to get it high enough to be latched above his tail; something his sensitive sheath slit never appreciated, much less his bottom when it was tender. Those stinging scratches back there brought a fresh heat that the thick undergarment quickly insulated, fitting him like panties with lengthened boxer legs to ensure the constant irritation of his inner thighs when trying to walk. There was a very good reason his parents specifically made them to enhance punitive work on the farm, and calling them “uncomfortable” was often an understatement, depending on the tasks assigned.

All of that grating effort made Richter whine out a sigh, clutching his paws beneath his tail… his common sense urging him not to rub the sharp, familiar prickles tormenting his spanked skin, as worse as it would be to grind the hairs any further into himself. But, when Elizabeth was expectantly waiting, as he could certainly detect of her in the living space of the farmhouse, the five year old went through the strife of getting his usual clothing on atop his ‘wools’, making them snug before hurrying to himself present. Out past their macabre, bauble decorated cutting of dying flora his parents called a ‘Christmas Tree’, he found his mother leaning over a plate on the kitchen counter as he stepped over.

Your Penitatas is reporting for duty, Elizabeth.”, he announced with his best composure, “And he smells beans on toast.”

A breakfast you won’t be able to join me for today. You’ll be missing out as part of your punishment.”, the stout redhead’s somber, direct delivery dulled very little of the blow without any greeting, catching Richter way off guard. He stopped and stared with this disconcerted look across his face, like he could hardly believe what he’d been told – but there were Elizabeth’s intentions right there for him to sense, sharp as nails.

“… You’ve never not fed me before.”, he uttered with a young boy’s wounded surprise, knowing her for being the mom that made sure he had a full belly no matter the day. When she didn’t reply, the total absence of her softness within her glare weakened the rearward reach of his Roferian ears and bared a few of his teeth, tipping his muzzle downward slightly. “Understood.”

Good. You’re going to need all the time you can get, because if you aren’t able to finish this morning’s set of chores by the time you have to leave for Liverpool, you’re going to be grounded to your bed for the rest of the day when you get back. You’ve done so well this week, I’m going to be expecting a perfect job on everything I give you to do. No rushing, no shortcuts, or those ‘wools’ stay on and we repeat this tomorrow.”, her no-nonsense mother-mode harshly imposed, very much reminding Richter of the stern mum who stood over his outstretched paw in the hospital.

It will all be done to your specifications. You have my word.”, he tried to speak with confidence in his ability to continue the streak of ‘positive merit’ he had going since his hospitalization; a good foot-claw forward, no matter how nervous the threat of those penalties actually made him. Elizabeth gave the counter an affirmative, authoritative pat.

Then lets start by getting the long, boring part out of the way. Corner time, Richter.”, she sentenced with the added discomfort of the ‘wools’, giving a two-fingered point to the open corner of the kitchen she typically sent him to before sweeping her egg-timer off the counter to set it.

Oddly enough, that particular order struck Richter with a great deal of relief as he stepped toward that dim intersection of red-hued wooden walls and the glossy dark oak he’d stand upon. He had been a Penitatas long enough to know how his daily unearned punishments were generally comprised, and having a stint in the corner after Harvey’s hand-spanking suggested that there would be no further penance to be served from the justice department afterward. He’d be free and clear for the rest of the day once his last punishment beneath the ‘wools’ was satisfied! Well accustomed to Tanner Farm expectations, Richter tucked himself tightly into the corner until his shoulders touched the two walls and his muzzle was wedged between them, practically sniffing dust off the wood. His paws went modestly behind his back, clasped above the first spine of his tail, and as his slit pupils stared into the dark cranny of nothing in front of him, he listened carefully for the egg-timer; its initial rip allowing him to estimate how long he’d be there… and, sure enough, it sounded like she turned the dial the whole way around for a full hour, as he anticipated. She set it not far from him at the end of the counter, per their routine, and though she had never said so, Richter believed it was so the faint rasping tick of its gears would add to the punishment, making it feel that much more like a wait.

Lucky for him, though, corner time wasn’t as hard on him as it might have been others. It was dark, quiet, and gave him plenty of time with his own mind and imagination – those things he voluntarily sought most of his reclusive life. These were the times he would try to write his own fiction stories for fun in his head, often with his targ fursona going on adventures in an unseen, private little world of his own making, turning it all into a vibrant cartoon for his young mind’s eye. Simple pleasures could be indulged upon to kill the time, and that of course often wandered off into smuttier musings when such things had always entertained his brain-cells. He resumed a scene he had progressed through in bed before falling asleep, where he was being offered a ‘quest reward’ from a cute young little targ he had rescued from the clutches of nefarious forces. Where the boy lacked in gold piece, he had an abundance in ‘thankful hospitality’; Richter grinning in his shadowy nook all of the generous, kind things the lad might do to comfort his combat weariness. That warm hide, and thick-yet-stubby tail…

Richter’s fur shot on end, jolting him out of his fun trance with a ridiculous muzzle wrinkling grit of his teeth. The first hint of his prior erection’s revival had ground the underside of his tapered tip against the sharply scouring hairs of the ‘wools’, wiping his mind with the panicked command for his genitalia to calm itself before his arousal sandpapered his dick any further. He was the sort of boy to wank frequently, and had padded how long it took to feed the cows in order to sneak a moment alone during his chores when he pleased, but an unusually lengthy dry spell had made him far too easily excitable, it seemed. Being kept from his chores and then ordered into his ‘wools’ made the self-serving task impossible, being unable to get back into them fast enough if someone were to approach the barn. Not having rubbed one out in the past week and a half completely screwed up his ability to enjoy his corner time, and after the monotonously dull forever it took for the egg-timer to ding; itchy and prickling all over; Richter backed out of the corner looking far more miserable and punished than usual, as blank as his mind had to be to keep his penis away from his inadvertent chastity device. Even just trying to make his own ‘Ironscale’ anime to watch inside of his skull had his focus wandering to the bases of the drake women’s tails, for fuck’s sake.

In the sluggish moment it took for his sole biological eye to adjust to the light once he turned around from the darkness, Elizabeth placed a small orange bucket at his bare-clawed feet, “Since you look like you’ve had a far longer ‘break’ than you would have liked, I’d bet you’re more than ready to stretch those muscles. The kitchen floor is a fine place to begin a morning of housework.”

Consider it done, Eliz-… ”, Richter’s assuring statement stopped short as soon as it began, the moment he had reached down. With confusion and palpable frustration written all over his face, he lifted the sponge that sat in the bottom of the dry bucket – one of his mother’s dish sponges, but purposely cut into a smaller piece with a knife. It was easily only a third of the actual sponge, and was laughably, impossibly small in even his own five year old paw.

The two bottles you need to get your bucket going are underneath the sink. It’s one cup of the floor cleaner, one cap-full of the polish, and then water up to the line.”, his mother provided in strict instruction like he wasn’t staring his slit little eyes in rattled agitation at the cut-down sponge, as massively harsh and complete bullshit as it was for the sheer size of the farmhouse’s kitchen area; curving decoratively out toward their dining room table, even past the ends of the counters.

Richter had prepared to dutifully repeat an abridged version of her instructions, including slipping in an ornery tonal growl to show how he felt about them, but Elizabeth turned back for their family space without waiting for any response. He bared more draconic fang than usual behind her back, furling his muzzle with a wrinkling around his eyes for how hard she was being on him for no reason. There wasn’t a drop of hesitation or sympathy anywhere in her electrical field for him to detect, and her intent didn’t waver. She meant every hard-nosed word, and expected them to be heeded to the letter. His youngest side wanted to ask his mum what he did wrong, feeling certain that he had complied with all of her rules since his ‘merit improvement plan’ began, but he held his tongue and got to work.

The cleanser and floor polish went into the bucket, and with a bit of a struggle on his step-stool, the rush of water from the sink mixed it all together while Richter stared at the stream, wondering why the goddamn five year old had to do this part. None the less, in less than a minute the orange plastic was back upon the gloss of the floor along with the Roferian’s paws and knees; the pathetic excuse for a cleaning instrument dunked in the sudsy water. Every little movement up until that point was already stiff, scratchy, and rather uncomfortable with his ‘wools’ on beneath his clothes, but his father’s words came back to him loud and clear the moment he started his job in the corner he had just stood within. His mother intended ‘to make the most of’ his last day, and this task was absolutely that, when the act of scrubbing the glossy floor made his punitive shirt scrub him at the same time. The back-and-forth rub of the sponge scoured the rough, sharp brown fibers under his arm and all down his right side. It stung, burned, and it didn’t take more than a minute and a few crawls further along the kitchen floor before the surprisingly intense pain of it was written all over his snout; scraped and irritated all over. Needing to crawl along on his knees punished his inner thighs and sheath slit way worse than walking around doing his normal chores did, too.

He got nowhere fast. Still, he worked diligently, despite the chafing strain and useless sponge. Richter paid keen mind to go along the edge of the counters and scrub anything that could be reached, using the shine of the wet floor to know where he had covered in his backward, literal inching toward the dining room. The abrasive fire was swallowed down as he best could, needing to really fight past that shocking, trilling flinch that’d hit him every time he had to move his arm again after stopping to re-moisten his sponge. Scouring himself to the point his eyes watered against the struggle, he told himself that he was so close to the end, and it’d come that much faster if he showed Elizabeth his best effort. ‘Good penny’!

And though it took a ton of very blotchy and raw skin, as well as an hour of chore-time he wasn’t sure he had to spare, Richter painstakingly made it to the makeshift finish line where the dark oak ended against a raised lip of trim in the dining room; Othello having been laying there to watch him, more than sharp enough to keep clear and entertain himself with a blue teething toy.

One down, Othello!”, Richter positively encouraged himself with a breath-catching seethe to his voice as soon as the ratty scrap of sponge fell back into the bucket, squinting with a grip of a paw to his fiercely punished side; further pricked by the ‘wools’ hairs because of it or not. With a faint sniffle and sting to his eyes, he gave Othello a gingery scratch under his chin with his claws while Elizabeth came over from her armchair.

I’m prepared to receive your next assignment, Elizabeth.”, he wished to power forward.

She stepped over to his side with her arms crossed, taking a solid visual sweep of the entire kitchen floor. The Roferian began to sense something peculiar as Elizabeth glanced about, feeling the steadfast aura of an unblinking disciplinarian melt away from her consciousness until pride bubbled up to replace the entire thing out of the blue.

There won’t be any more chores. You earned yourself an early-out, and a lovely morning with all your hard work.”, she exonerated with robust motherly cheer, washing the stoic drive off of Richter’s face with a tidal wave’s force of unexpected relief.

How did I manage that?”, a brow came up in surprise where he knelt, making Elizabeth’s smile look more like a simper.

I never actually thought you’d scrub the kitchen floor like that. It was a ‘trap’ to make a teaching moment. Because this whole week with your ‘wools’ was about you having lashed out at us, I was trying to make you yell at me again. I had been since you came into the room! I expected you to growl and lose it when you saw that sponge, or at least scream at me once you got started and realized how abysmal that chore would be. You’ve always gotten mad and snapped when pushed! I had this big ‘mum lecture’ lined up about needing to talk to us when you’re upset instead of going off, and I was going to start you on your real chores afterward, but… you suffered through and gave me what I asked for, even if it was unfair and must have hurt like hell. When your father hears that you made this floor sparkle with what I meant to be a prop, he’s going to be so proud of you!”, she beamed over his exemplary obedience, never having been foiled by a penny’s compliance before. Richter didn’t even have Othello at paw’s reach to keep him calm – that was all him, just being good! Her son made a ‘tch!’ that puffed from his teeth like an allayed sigh.

Quite obliged.”, he promptly took after how terribly he punished his own skin, relaxing back into his casual, surly-like tone. Considering Elizabeth’s directive to clean the floor wasn’t a lie, and an empath couldn’t actually read minds in order to know underlying details, there was no way for him to know that she assumed he’d disobey. She must have been able to figure out an empath’s limit over the course of his various punishments, realizing that he still never knew ahead of time when a spanking would end; their ‘intent’ not changing to clue him in until the moment they actually shifted gears and decided to stop. The sly act of subtly defeating his sense in a ‘motherly way’ stretched his maw toward his cheeks, bringing a tonal hum out of his throat. “Though my urge to bitch about it remains present and accounted for.”

Toss those ‘wools’ off and I’ll get some nano-lotion to cure that with!”, Elizabeth chuckled again, stepping across the kitchen, “You’re really taking your goal of improving your behavior to heart. When you set your mind to something, that’s that, isn’t it? You were going to see your week through and do whatever you were told to stay on track, weren’t you?”, she asked of that goal oriented nature Richter claimed he had to a fault, unlocking an upper cabinet with a fingerprint scanner hidden beneath it. A white, penny-parent issue jar of nano-lotion came into her hand, and by the time she thought it was odd that her son hadn’t quipped to such a complimenting question, she turned to find a nearly self-conscious, hesitant look across his unwrinkled snout. His emerald eyes stared down as he pulled his overalls and scratchy underpants off his toe-claws, and they didn’t come back up even after he sighed and crossed his arms over his woolen shirt.

“… It’s also because the fight that I had with the two of you over that anime didn’t sit well with me, and I wished for you to know that.”, he openly admitted what would have normally gone unsaid when an act of ‘making up for things’ was performed, sounding his own flavor of gruffly apologetic, “You and Harvey were being very good to me that night, and I went and did my ‘inept fuck’ thing, blaming you for the restrictions of my station like they were ever your fault. The only reason I even found out about that holo-series was because you gave me my pad and let me use its net-browser. You didn’t deserve my bullshit.”, he knew he had taken for granted, and had since come to accept why ‘no’ simply had to be ‘no’ when it came to watching his favorite drakes in their animated glory.

His tones rang with a sort of penny-proper guilt that Elizabeth wasn’t used to hearing around her farmhouse, warming her motherly whims. It sounded different from most other pennies for sure, but now that she was better familiarized with ‘Richter-speak’, what she heard was: “I’m really sorry.”

In that case, it wasn’t only you being focused on your goal, then. You’re also a far better lad than you realize.”, she happily reassured her ‘good penny in training’, learning lessons for his mum and pop as readily as he was.

The moment her son’s punitive top was wrestled off, slumping stiffly to the floor, Elizabeth was knelt at the ready with two fingertips slathered in cool nano-lotion. They went to his right side along his ribs as the first place of his left paw’s choosing, resulting in a sharp, seething intake of air and a hellacious wince. He held his whimper in against the sensation of wetness coming against the blood-red skin his thin fur hid, wrinkling his snout with this pain-fighting frown that eased once the initial shock faded and the nanites began their work.

I shouldn’t be surprised you pushed yourself this hard for me. You were perfect this week – and I do mean perfect.”, she lauded encouragingly in the face of his pain, having watched him mind himself to the letter and ask permission for anything she would have expected, in a major shift from his independent, willful norm. Richter took a rough breath as her fingers circled further out, and up toward his underarm.

Until I inevitably pull some other inept nonsense, or screw something up so bad during my daily chores that Harvey takes the first stick he finds to my back, since that’s apparently a potential penance.”, the Roferian could easily say of himself in a grumble, easing those muzzle wrinkles after a moment of quiet lotion rubbing, “But, in all reality, I envision myself breaking my streak of merit by doing something stupid that I didn’t even notice.”

One end of Elizabeth’s mouth pulled upward, loosing a tiny huff of amusement, “Honest mistakes are how ‘good pennies’ usually find themselves in trouble, actually. It’s interesting that you’d imagine that first.” She dipped her fingers into her trusty jar and moved to Richter’s upper arm; the boy’s reptilian eyes meandering until they could meet with her own again.

Be persuasive when I finally fuck up, and I will attempt to resign myself before causing further issue for you or myself.”, he both requested and assured, hoping that she and Harvey would stand with him long enough to convince him of his error before dropping the hammer, as irately upset he feared becoming in the setting of his best efforts failing.

Introspective and thought provoking as those words were, clearly wanting to do better all around, Othello’s scratching scamper stole their attentions in time to witness the black and white ball of collie leap off all four of his stubby legs and rag-doll in a dive past them, sliding briskly along the kitchen floor upon his side; apparently wholly approving of the glossy polish. Elizabeth blinked, inadvertently tickling Richter under his arm slightly when her fingers’ massage slowed. She didn’t even have to be an empath to sense all of that strangely intelligent childish glee, and the pup kept it up as she continued on to Richter’s well-scoured inner thighs; Othello sliding back and forth, tumbling over himself to the wiggling blur of his own paws.

Not to insinuate anything about your body my lad, but most of the pennies on our farm have been girls. I know what our ‘wools’ can do to certain creases down there, so do excuse my touch!”, his mother tried joking a little to ease any embarrassment she’d end up causing, going right up the inside of her Penitatas’ legs until the touch of cold cream made contact with the warmer than usual lips of his sheath slit for a gingerly rub. The boy made a face, letting off the faintest of ‘tch!’s when the sound was unmeant for Elizabeth’s ears.

I anticipate human Penitatas to do a significant deal of ‘insinuating’ once I get into school, misgendering and harassing me for my appearance when I’m beaten in front of them. Zachary is called a dog at times, for his own.”, he griped sourly of events that hadn’t yet occurred, having properly learned from his chat buddy how a penny classroom tended to work, and how boys that were different could be harshly teased.

And believe me when I say that we thoroughly enjoy thrashing those pennies when we catch them, and pretend not to see when it makes the lot of you smirk. There’s never any tolerance for that.”, his redheaded mother stopped her work to put down firmly, surprising Richter with how much the thought of the fox being called a dog riled and bothered her; her electrical field snapping alight, “Have him message me with a name, if someone ever calls him that over his sheath again.”

She eased her expression to the rather affirming nod the Roferian returned, seemingly taken aback in a good way by her protective stance. Those two salve coated fingertips of hers swiped through her jar without Richter gesturing toward any other irritated hot-spots, choosing on her own to reach around his side and give a hearty dose to his bottom; his tail moving out of the way instinctively, like he was being washed.

You’ll do better than you think in school, at least by the time you make it to first grade. Everyone at the library likes you already, I’ll have you know. They weren’t expecting such an enthusiastic volunteer from the penny program, even if you keep a lot of that enthusiasm to yourself.”, she figured was the perfect time to tell her asocial anti-butterfly of the impression he made at the Liverpool Central Library.

They also weren’t expecting Velius. I believe the popular consensus was that the entirety of Saint George’s Quarter was going to be in ruins by the end of my first shift, and opinion began to drift when I failed to deliver on their anticipated calamity.”, he articulately wove, and though his focus didn’t break from his mother at all, he still managed to catch Othello sliding behind him with his tail once his bottom’s rub of lotion was finished, sending the pup skittering where he came from on his back like a fluffy hockey puck.

The staff told the department you’re very well spoken, on that note.”, Elizabeth couldn’t help but enjoy some of the things that came out of her oddball son’s mouth at times, “I imagine your manner of speech fairs well there when you keep to your ‘negotiator voice’. They reported back that you’re self-motivated, do good work, and don’t even have to be watched… to their shock, they added! You see what a good reputation can do against people’s first assumptions?”

After demonstrating that I would be acting in good faith, they’ve treated me cordially, yes. I appreciate being… appreciated, I suppose would be the most accurate thing to say after my first excursion into your free populace. I do sense that the things I’ve done weigh upon their states of mind when they look at me sometimes, but… it’s a second chance, and they’re at least letting me have it.”, made it seem like it really wasn’t too late to turn his coming future around despite his inability to change what’s been done, paying his dues as this world’s Penitatas Justice System intended. For a moment, looking into the softer, chipper sort of face that Elizabeth could make when his irritability disappeared, Richter seemed a little more his own age, and a little less reticent.

I really like working there, and getting to go.”, the Penitatas quietly professed, toying with his claws; tranquil, contented, and fulfilled. Oh how those simple, sweet syllables overjoyed his mum.

Glad to see you finally found your happy-place.”, she glowed, “But, you’ve got a whole free morning until you head there to impress everyone some more! Go play and have fun, and I’ll make you breakfast like always and bring it to you!”

That was a real breath of fresh air after thinking he’d be toiling under his ‘wools’ for hours without one of her faithfully prepared meals, and Richter readily gave her a nod before peering around to his tail; Othello attached to its tip by his paws and a nipping play-bite, having been getting silently spun in circles at his empathically communicated behest while his ‘person’ was busy speaking. He took his leave by sweeping the playful puff-ball of a rejuve across the kitchen floor with his tail on his way back to his room, delighting the little life that saved his own.

While the disciplinary and familial aspects of his home life had certainly changed since his fateful day, the biggest shift in his ‘new normal’ came in the form of other good things – the sort that made the tip of Richter’s tail flick to and fro once he was back within the cottage walls of his bedroom, feeling its rustic warmth as a place of play now, and not merely one of punishment. With nothing looming over him and more than three hours until he needed to get ready for his volunteer shift, all of that rare, precious leisure time to simply be a child had him scuttling past the book report on his desk to fetch his brand new toy from the closet. It came suggested by Zachary as one he thought he’d really like after they discussed the sort of thing he was looking for, and was apparently something his Karrian Medicalos friend owned too. It did turn out to be a toy that was considered a little inappropriately fancy for the likes of a Penitatas, but in light of there being few alternatives for such quiet, imagination-based play, Elizabeth and Harvey compromised by allowing him to use his two toy requests to make one decently usable repertoire of parts. As such, the young penny was the proud owner of a burgeoning Lego set, and by fuck did he love the things!

Picking up the green board where he had built a “base” for his characters to exist within; the lot of them left standing where their prior story of adventure and adversity ended; he swept a small red bucket of loose pieces into his other paw and scurried them over to his bed with a five year old rejuve’s delight. He arranged his play space atop his bedding so he could lay on his stomach and relax, but as soon as the curtain above it was thrown open for the morning sun, the Roferian scooted back to fetch his restricted-access datapad off his nightstand. Its net-browser, his new ‘Ironscale’ co-op game, and every other feature was grayed-out and locked by a dashboard on his parent’s pads, all requiring their remotely-granted permission aside from one that they left alone to be freely accessed, so long as he wasn’t grounded. Richter swiped that sole colorful icon, bringing up the chat screen he talked to Zachary with; the last of his prior conversation from yesterday returning to the screen, ending with ‘Goodnight Richty!’.

His fellow Penitatas ended up being a great ‘chat buddy’ as his sprightly social demeanor suggested he would be, rather getting into his many questions before bantering over their colorful days and lives; both oh-so different. It did eventually require Richter to uneasily answer as to the level of hell he put Kayla through, and having indeed maimed his friend, but the fox did at least accept his responses… before then of course asking what it was like to briefly be the ruler of Earth, as if ‘super-villainy’ was a just another neat occurrence. Richter supposed he couldn’t fault that when he himself treated Zachary’s piracy like one big space adventure story to be told, filled with battle and feats of smart-yet-brawny engineer cunning, scraping victory for the deadly underdog that was the Bah`vira. It was oddly comforting to discuss the errors of their ways in that unexpectedly lighter tone, perhaps because of those ‘eggshells’ the Aspatrian saw them as walking upon. In a way, their mutual culpability in the deaths of others allowed them to talk openly about the things they’ve done with someone who would understand, not passing judgment when they “did the same thing”, as Zachary put. Richter figured they both needed that kind of person to talk to, and Zachary being so approachable and fun always helped to pep up the mood after discussing more serious matters.

It was still deep in the middle of the night over in Calleet, but seeing as he’d be in Liverpool when Zachary was roused for school, Richter’s fingers began to leave him a message to find when he woke.



Got some good news to start your day with! I was an overachieving git and made it out of my wools early. No terrible morning of busting my ass to tell you about, and I got enough cream that I don’t feel like I was given a long ass shower with a scouring pad. Going to keep the rest of my wool burns cool by staying undressed while I play with my Lego set. Excuse my cultural appropriation, LOL.

Also learned I can’t think of dirty shit in the corner while wearing them btw. D:

But since I’ll be doing my thing at the library when you get up, I wanted to leave you a note of encouragement for your midterm exams. You have a proven history of success while under pressure, and I have no doubt that an individual such as yourself is capable of a perfect score. But, even if you get a few wrong, it’s only one paddle smack each in front of your peers. You can, and will, achieve your goal of not crying in front of them. Just tell yourself that it’ll be nothing, last three seconds at best, and walk back to your desk in style!! Make those shitty pennies grovel before your big PP. Sharp as you are, you’ll be the only fucker who ISN’T a crybaby today! XD


In the reality that was his bed, Richter had slowly cracked an authentic smile as he typed. It was far easier for him to converse and be himself this way, coming off so much more casually and playfully through text. In fact, seeing as their conversations were going to be extended the same privacy as a pair of Penitatas in one’s bedroom for a quiet chat; Elizabeth noting that they always expected those private talks to occur and low-key encouraged them as part of an overarching growth and coping mechanism between pennies; the Roferian could really be himself.



*Targ glomps his silly sea fox.* :3


The nerdy furry popped the end of his tongue out with a similarly silly ‘pfft’.

Naturally knowing where the glow of Elizabeth’s presence was as she moved about, Richter set his pad down to get ready to eat once she drifted away from the kitchen replicator to seemingly finish her plating. That began to not seem the case when she left the kitchen entirely, and his good-humored expression from goofing about turned more inquisitive when his mother’s state of mind did the same, over by the farmhouse’s front door. That ping of curiosity left the young empath “watching” his mother with his snout tipped toward a solid wall, wondering what had her interest up until the point he blinked and went wide-eyed from the firecracker’s pop her electrical field made.

Kayla Ackart, I’m going to kick your ass!”, resounded clear through the farmhouse, sending the baffled penny sailing off his lotion-matted bottom fur to investigate; Othello toddling in tow with a squeaky toy softly quacking in his maw.

I believe I’ve said the same thing at one point or another!”, Richter wryly quipped his way into the room with a lighter form of his usual tones, passing the Christmas tree to find Elizabeth leaning over a freshly delivered parcel on the dining room table; face in her hand. “Should I assume that she mailed me a bag of excrement in lieu of the stuffed animal we’ve been expecting?”

Eliciting something between a groan and disapproving growl, Elizabeth reached into the box and lifted its plush, dark-hued contents to scold with a Master’s might, “That lass knows very well what’s penny appropriate! This is custom made, by hand!”

The sight of what came into her grasp stopped Richter’s foot-claws before he even reached the table, brightening his tired eyes with a child’s overwhelming wonder. Just like the teddy-fox he saw Zachary holding that night, she had sent him his very own teddy-targ – one modeled to be exactly like a certain adventurous targ in particular, right down to his atypical colors and the purple bandanna around his neck. It was a faithful recreation of his fursona in plushie form, given a cute boar-like face, fluffy mane and hair, and a stubby-yet-thick tail that immediately made him imagine the toy to be a lil’ targ cub version of himself. As close to him as the plush hit, it flooded his heart with absolute glee… as well as sweat-inducing mortification.

Accurate as the teddy-Velius was, Kayla must have sent his reference sheet to a professional plush maker. That ref-sheet was for the purpose of commissioning porn, and showed off his targ’s dick in great detail. There were so many dicks on that ref-sheet! Richter might have been elated to see his targ-sona in a cuddly, tangible form to be held, but in the back of his mind he was still screeching like a little girl.

At what point could she have thought something this extravagant was permissible for you to have?!”, Elizabeth harshly scrutinized Kayla’s brazen choice from the standpoint of a parental oversight official, feeling about the targ’s velour construction, “Now I know why she took so long to send-… ”

She paused when she turned to share those words with her son, finding Richter still a few paces back with this wistfully apprehensive look across his draconic face, and his paws balled against his thin chest. He looked up at her and the dark, fluffy maned targ with these fearful, pleading eyes that silently begged the universe to keep her from banishing the toy back into its box; too worried about misspeaking to even quip in his own favor. Knowing she needed to give the poor lad a direct answer as to whether he could keep it or not, invested as he seemed, Elizabeth sighed and lightened her tone.

His little bandanna is your favorite color. I suppose it’s just meant to be.”, she relented, offering the plush for Richter’s claws to rightfully claim, “Enjoy your targ fellow!”

The penny took the facsimile of something he identified as, staring at the goodwill toy almost shyly until he pulled it into a hug against his bare chest; surely neither stoic nor surly in that moment, without a wrinkle upon his snout. He knew that Kayla by no means liked him, and probably never would, but the thoughtfulness of her gift far better matched the fox his mother had spoken so much about. While he happily examined his soft targ-self by test squeezing his back’s spines, Elizabeth hummed, plucking a folded piece of writing paper out of the box where the plush had once sat.

Oh… Zachary slipped a note in here for you to find. You can tell he’s still learning how to write in panglish.”, she couldn’t help but note of the boy’s rather grade school handwriting before reading his few words aloud, “I call him Velly! I don’t think Kayla likes it.”

No, I would imagine not.”, Richter tittered, lifting his plush self to be snout to snout with him. It was neat to imagine that Zachary might have held him all the same before he was sent across the ocean, and even neater to the typically reclusive little lad that the plush had been given a title by someone he had come to consider a long distance friend.

If I can be Richty, you can be Velly.”, he readily adopted Zachary’s given name for his stuffed targ-sona, hopping off for his room with a bit of pep to his rather young step, “So, Velly it is!”

The sight of her oddball son scampering off with his puppy was a warm one for Elizabeth, so unused to these lighter moments within her home; from him, or even her past pennies, being a parent only to the world’s worst. It made her glad that she could hold back and enjoy being a mum for him like that, delivering upon some earned good instead of only bad. She went about folding Kayla’s box closed so she could take it outside, but…

Elizabeth?”, lightly called across the room with a questioning ring to it. When the Englishwoman turned, Richter was standing beside the Christmas tree at the mouth of the hall with Velly held in his paws; the plush being lifted and wiggled in gesture beneath a still-shy seeming snout.

Thank you, by the way.”, made his surly tones sound airy and calm, seemingly demonstrating how readily he could learn lessons once again; appreciating her letting him keep Velly, quite unlike how his pad was initially taken for granted, spouting off about that ‘Ironscale’ anime in the midst of being given something she didn’t have to give him.

Never having heard that out of him before, Elizabeth couldn’t help but smile, “You’re welcome, lad.”

He was such an intriguing Penitatas; his spiked tail swung, streaming back toward his room. She felt fortunate to have fostered a boy quite so unexpectedly mindful, like she had been given her very own ‘off-flavor Kayla Ackart’. Now that it was easy for her to tell how hard he tried, even if he were to make a mistake or misbehave; bad one or not; she knew he’d bounce back like a ‘good penny’, same as her, potentially being one for real. All it took was cracking his shell, a therapeutic companion, and a psychologist and family that cared enough to guide him out of the dark. The Tanner Farm had brought so many rotten, contemptible Penitatas to beg on their knees for it all to stop, and here was Richter Saccard of all of them, being properly behaved and trying to be her son.

She supposed that made Richter some sort of… spiny blessing, upon her home?

And in time, with an empty plate upon his desk, Richter finally got to lay on his stomach to play with his Legos in the buff, just like he told Zachary he would; Velly and Othello at his side, treating him to the occasional squeak of a toy as the puppy rejuve fulfilled his needs all the same. Like any impressionable child with an overactive imagination, the two Drakonian Lego people he had were turned into his own characters based on the ‘Ironscale’ universe, and subsequently given a great deal of “borrowed” special powers and abilities from other creative mediums that turned the girls into super cool, phaser deflecting powerhouses – because what boy could resist having guns and spaceships mixed in with their fantasy realms? His set’s one sword had to of course be the grand artifact for the good guys and bad guys to fight over, powerful as it was, being technologically imbued with an artificial consciousness from another world. By the time that the ladies had sought out a brilliant space-faring hacker to repair it back to its full power, and the otter-like Whyslian’s talking pet targ was darting about with the weapon in his maw, saving them from the forces that came to take it back like any good furry would fantasize, the contented penny wondered if this was how so many of Zachary’s free days went. His friend might have still copped more unearned punishments than others, being a step closer to his blacker station than they, but… what would it be like to have a day where he could wake up, do his chores, spend the day however he liked, and go to bed without ever sniffling or wasting time in a corner, so long as he didn’t fuck up? If he could have just one day off a week from his daily punishments… could such mornings always be like this, playing with his Legos? Time in the afternoon to read and work on a book report, with more to spare if he simply wanted to hang around with Elizabeth in the kitchen, or head out to see what Harvey was doing? Maybe he’d earn that day sooner or later, if he showed he deserved it.

Richter had come to find it disingenuous to call himself a “prisoner” of this world when he didn’t feel like one. He was merely a child that was in trouble, perpetually on restriction, and punished for his doings. He got to play, make friends, form goals, and have a life – one that had his paws straightening the collar of a charcoal polo in the mirror as the afternoon approached, ensuring his paw-picked purple lanyard was tucked perfectly beneath it. It dangled his Liverpool Central Library volunteer ID upon his chest, as well as his library card slipped in behind it; the whole ensemble making him look like a tiny IT administrator, with his own light gray fur getting to be the highlight against its dark colors. Permitted complete independence with his preparation, as pennies who voluntarily gave service typically were, even his tracking bracelet was put on and magnetically locked with his own little digits before Othello was given his lead and collar for their trip; the puppy still a licensed therapy dog, or clumsily trying to be, growing up again.

Sensing Elizabeth in her bedroom, as well as the lively passing of birds over their roof, Richter went out into the farmhouse’s living area to wait by the front window for the first gleam of silver against the noon sun. A thick, fully-automated gray hover-craft greeted his punctuality, sweeping itself into a semi-vertical landing not too far from their front door; slightly sizable as a versatile, unmarked transport “bus” from the Penitatas Justice Department, capable of carrying full volunteer crews to help clean up after football games. But, for the library off in Liverpool, its boarding door clam-shelled open to empty seats all for its sole Roferian passenger – destination: Saint George’s Quarter, north-eastern perimeter landing zone ‘B’.

Elizabeth!”, Richter casually called through the house to her, not breaking any rules as part of the unexpectedly equal-footed family dynamic that arose from altering how he was allowed to speak, “Shuttle’s here! I’m doing one of your ‘scarpers’!”

You won’t be taking the shuttle home today, though!”, she yelled back more muffled, slipping her head out of her room’s doorway, “Your pop and I are going to come and visit you at work! I was thinking that maybe we could get that take-away we didn’t last time, and enjoy the quarter as a family!” Acceptably pleasant as that sounded, especially with a restored and repaired empathic sense to make his surrounding reality that much more genuine; not to mention safe; a smirk of a slyly ornery flavor crept across the Roferian’s muzzle after Elizabeth went back to what she was doing.

Perhaps we can pay our bathroom in Queen Square a visit! We could attempt to locate Othello and I’s leftover gray matter stains, or a fragment of my cornea!”, the lad pitched with a tone to his voice, closing his eyes to enjoy the harsh shift of his mother’s outward mental state – essentially knowing what would come next.

Richter Saccard, that is morbid!”, she admonished from the muffled confines of her bedroom, merely making her Penitatas smirk all the harder.

Well, seeing as Harvey used those big-dick Master powers of his to give that not-so-old fuck the sentence of going there to clean up his own mess, I figured if we found any spots that he missed, you could send him back with a few welts to do a less half-assed job on his little chore!”, Richter twisted in crass, crafty amusement, as a boy who certainly completed his own tasks.

And, on cue, the Roferian grinned to the gleam of draconic fang, “evilly” wrinkling his snout to the expected ping that crossed the back of his mind next. When Elizabeth stuck her head out of her bedroom again, Richter was already looking over his shoulder in wait.

Nevermind, I like that idea. Lets!”, she changed her tune, assuming her own sort of ‘parentally devious’ voice.

I thought you would.”, her miniature ‘super-villian’ lifted a paw in gesture; claws as pointy as his well-bared teeth.

With places to be, and a life to live, that same paw gave a slightly less clumsy wave of goodbye; Othello’s lead jingling before the front door clacked closed.