Nine of Saturn

Synapse: Prologue

There is no such thing as luck.

published: May 7 2021
edited at: Jan 23 2022

His hand is an iron clamp taut around the little one’s meagre palm. He steps to and fro in a brisk, clumsy march, tugging the child behind him through corridors of warm, golden light. It bounces off of the various superfluous vases held up by obsidian pedestals on either side of the hallway. They hold exotic and expensive plants of all shapes and colours from different planets within the interior. The enormous man’s footsteps are softened, only slightly, by a lavish red and gold carpet that lies along the hall’s dark-wood floorboards - the pattering of the kit’s pawsteps nigh silent in contrast.

The pair turn left at a corner, passing locked, polished wood doors each embossed with a golden sigil depicting a three-headed dragon - the logo of the casino. Up ahead, at the end of the hallway, is a final, wider door. This one has a similar engraving, but just the heads were showing and they were looking directly at those who approached. They have eyes like fire, staring down the hallway, facing up the mass of meat and his tiny companion as they thunder towards it.

A slender figure stands beside the door, offset from the carpet. She is an anthro, vixen variant. She stands straight, wearing a silky red dress that only covers her front and back from the torso down, leaving the orange-coated fur along her thighs exposed. She’s wearing a unique style of paw decor, a pair of shoes that send strands of silver and gold up her forelegs in blooming patterns. A red pillbox cap sits between her foxy ears which twitch with anticipation as the man bore down on her. The kit sees her eyes flash up, and she smiles with the most artificial beam he ever did see.

“Greetings, sir!” she curtsies, sighing in relief as the man finally comes to a stop before her, the kit beside him tumbling forwards at the sudden drop in speed. “Passphrase to enter, please.”

The man’s brows ruffle into a scowl.

“You should recognise me, mutt”, he booms in a deep, gruff voice that the kit feels vibrate through his grip.

The vixen ignores his curse. “I’m sorry, Sir, but it’s required that you say-”

Vagrant thieves wander the steppe of Lekor,” he recites, and adds with a tug on his poor kit’s hand: “Now let me through.”

“I-I’m sorry, Sir,” the vixen stutters, frowning, “but I must also enquire about your companion.”

She looks down anxiously at the kit, who returns her gaze with giant, wishful eyes. His fur is an ashen black, dotted with various red and blue highlights - namely three red dots beneath each eye. His ears are drooping so very low and are tipped with the same coloured highlights as the rest of his fur. He looks young, perhaps six or seven, and she notices that his tiny paws and hands have clipped claws.

“It’s not my companion,” the man grumbles as his eyes narrow on the vixen, something darker brewing deep in his throat. “It’s my bet.”

The kit sees the vixen’s heart stop. She doesn’t dare move, even as spit from the man’s last word lands on her dress.

“Understood,” she shakes, finding it hard to keep her gaze away from the poor thing. She raises her back straight again, regaining composure. This isn’t completely out of the ordinary, but for a small, fickle thing like him…

She finds the strength to lift an arm and swipe over a thin, silver bracelet. A holographic screen presents itself, hovering over her wrists with a white glow. She swipes again, pulling out a list of names. She taps one and it turns green, and with another swipe, the door erupts to life.

The engraving’s many eyes light up a brilliant red. Three yellow-scaled dragons phase through the door, long and slender, each letting out a loud, beastly roar. It is realistic enough that the kit lurches back in fright, kept still by his owner’s steel fist. They rear their heads at the those who so eagerly awaited their rite of passage. Steam pours out of their noses and the door begins to part with with a slow, deliberate hum. Through the breach is a blackened, threatening abyss that the kit can’t see into well and the man raises his many chins. The dragons become translucent, fading from existence, granting passage.

“Good luck with your game, Sir,” she wishes, performing a hesitant chuckle as he bulges past. She catches a strong wiff of his scent and recoils back into the corner clutching her maw, expecting to gag.

“I’ll need it,” he shoots back, not paying much attention to her otherwise insulting act.

The kit, being dragged in tow, stares back at the vixen. He gives her a look that she’ll never forget for the rest of her life - a stricken wariness, a plead for help. He doesn’t want to be here. He doesn’t know what’s going on.

As the door begins to close, she realises in this moment that she has to do something.

The kit trembles, unable to see. The doors had slammed shut with a deafening thud, sealing all the world’s light from this vast, terrible place. Even though the room feels endless, the noise didn’t echo, as if one were outside. He and his owner now walk across the black expanse. Time feels slow. Everything is still.

As the kit’s eyes adjust, he can make out a faint glow ahead of them- no, above them. It is suspended in the air, a spotlight with no visible source. It illuminates a raised platform, made from the same obsidian that held up the ornaments outside. Upon it, now shining in the light that feels so out of place amongst this empty void, is an oval-shaped table made from the same material as the floor, curving in on itself to provide legroom. Four figures, all wearing expensive-looking suits, one wearing a jade masquerade mask, sit around it on stools forged from gold and cushioned with red fabric. They are all leaning forward, arms planted on the obsidian table. They turn to look at the man - three men and one white-haired woman. The table is too high for the kit to see what they’re doing.

One stands up, his eyes wide with glee. His combed over hair is jet black, complimenting his brown skin tone and sharp jawline.

“Ah, ███████████!”, he cheers, opening their arms in greeting. “Welcome back! Please, take a seat. Perhaps you can tell us about your little friend.”

The man steps up to the same level as his greeter, lifting the grumbling kit off the ground with one hand.

“I’m here to get my money back, Klevnok,” he announces as he glares back at the slim man, not returning his peer’s joyful attitude.

He walks around the table, the little kit following beneath the eyes of many unfamiliar faces, before finding an empty stool across from the slim one, next to the masked man. He eases himself down with care, the chair creaking, suffering beneath his weight. He glooms down at the kit from his seat, the spotlight shadowing every wrinkle on his face and every chin down his throat. He stares him in the eyes, driving a sword-sharp chill down the kit’s spine, before letting go of his hand. It limps to the his side, aching and swelling, but he makes no noise. He places his own hands on the table, leaning further forward.

“So!” the man named Klevnok begins, still standing. His hands clap together, catching the attention of everyone in the room. “I’m glad we could all gather here today. I’d be worried for anyone who missed this appointment. As the gentleman over here suggested, I believe we should get down to business immediately.”

He sits down, his stool comfortably supporting his weight. As the fat man looks towards Klevnok, the kit takes an opportunity to peak at what is on top of the table. His attentive ears rise from over the edge before two beady eyes peer over to scan the surroundings. The tabletop is inlet, topped with maroon velvet with various white markings drawn onto it. Gold plates are secured into the table in front of everyone’s stools with their names etched into them, but it is probably an illusion caused by the giant holograph hovering above the table. It displays the logo of the casino as a hyper-realistic floating gold coin that shone in the spotlight, drawing glowing spots across the obsidian. He could just as well reach out and feel it - this is some very sophisticated tech.

Klevnok catches the kit’s gaze. The kit’s ears droop, but the slim man smiles.

“Do you care to tell us more about your furry friend here?” he asks the fat man.

The fat man glances down and the kit meets his gaze, pupils shrinking. The man doesn’t do anything, instead turning back to Klevnok.

“Its name is Caidim,” the man responds, still gruff, but something about the way he says it is different than normal. He is analytical, reserved. “I bought it five years ago, and it’s eight-”

“Augh, stop calling him ‘it’!” Klevnok interrupts to the visible annoyance to the man, raising his hands. “The poor kitten doesn’t know what’s happening or why he’s here, give him a break.”

Caidim gawks back at Klevnok, stunned, maw ajar. But Klevnok simply winks back at him.

The man waits for him to finish. The little kit feels a warm stream of air from his nostrils.

“It’s eight years old,” he continued, “and its original retail price was ten thousand credits on its own.”

Klevnok frowns, eyes narrowing. “So, what you’re saying is that he’s your ante?” he quizzed.


“This is a high stakes game, ███████████. What’s he worth to the one who wins him?”

“Think of it as a long-term investment,” the man explained with a level of professionalism Caidim had never seen in him before. Not that he understood the long words being used. “His perceived value will triple by time he reaches twenty years old. Another detail of note is that he’s a custom design, raising that to sixty thousand, give or take a few K’s.”

“Couple that with feeding him and giving him water,” the woman to the left of Caid questions, sifting a strand of white hair away from her eyes, “wouldn’t that dampen the returns?” Her hair is milky and pearlescent, moulded into a beehive, refracting all colours as she twists it around her wrinkly, black-nailed fingers. She also wears a suit, much like the men.

“Only if you bother.”

Klevnok’s brow furrows as everyone in the room, including the masked man, studies Caidim, whose eyes dart around at the many faces around him. His paws shuffle around and he sways from side to side, unable to stay still.

He crosses his arms. “I’m not convinced, ███████████,” he announces grimly. “I want to see more than this. We agreed that the ante would be one hundred thousand, and the demand for anthros is low currently thanks to the recent Red Parade-”

“One hundred thousand on top of that,” he relents, quickly so that he doesn’t raise more doubts.

“You now raise the ante, yet you’re low on funds.” The slim man leans forward, drilling into the fat man. “Are you sure you don’t want to pull out to save yourself? I wouldn’t want to see a titan like you suffer.”

“I’m getting my money back, Klevnok.”

Even Klevnok, never mind Caidim, backs away at his dark, insidious change of tone. He pauses, considering his next words, then smirks.

“Let us find out if that’s the case,” he challenges. He turns to the masked man. “We are ready to begin.”

The masked man announces something in strong Yanlese, his well-rounded voice full of expression. Caidim wouldn’t be surprised if he was also a sports announcer. He raises a white-gloved hand and waves it across the table. White, glowing screens appear before the players, including the fat man, just above the gold plates on the table. Another holograph appears, hovering in the centre of the table. Five numbers, one big and four small, all with the symbol for Credits in front of them - the unmistakable circle with four lines jutting out of each corner.

The fat man’s sausage fingers paw at the screen below him, raising the amount of Credits next to his name on the board. One thousand, five thousand, fifty thousand, up and up. The other players follow suit, similarly paying more money. Klevnok, however, hesitates. He’s looking at the kit.

“Caidim,” he begins, his voice soothing.

The kit’s eyes shoot up in anticipation.

“This may look like a game of luck, but there is skill involved. If you wouldn’t mind, could you step down from the table to give us some room?”

His owner let go of the screen and glared at Klevnok, eyes piercing him like knives into the skull. The kit could see his arms ripple and tense beneath his skin-tight suit. The kit doesn’t move immediately, and now he’s worried of what’s going to happen if he hesitates even longer-


One of Caid’s ears lifts, pointing towards Klevnok. He shudders, but he steps back from his owner, watching him carefully as he treads down the platform and towards the step. One pace, two pace, step-

A paw slips and he tumbles backwards, heart leaping, crying out, but he catches himself and regains his footing on the flat plain. He glances back, sheepish.

Klevnok smiles. “Thank you, Caidim,” he says, before turning up his own slider.

For the first time in forever, the kit’s tail is swaying. Despite the threatening room, the strange game, and his lack of understanding of why he’s here, Caidim feels an unorthodox calmness - a hope. The slim man seems so much nicer than his current owner - he even said please! And, if he understands right, he is being put forward as a prize for whoever wins. He doesn’t yet know the consequences of his owner losing, but he already knows the consequences of Klevnok winning. So he thinks.

The total is finalised. The masked man waves his hand again, and everyone looks down at their screens. The kit stands on his tip-toes to try and see, but that doesn’t do much. He shuffles to the right, directly behind his owner, but it’s as if they’re made so they can’t be seen from different angles.

“Check,” Klevnok says.

“Check,” his owner repeats, exercising caution. The woman says the same.

“Raise,” the other man demands, as the number grows higher.

“Already?” the woman probed.

“Why not?”


Caidim simply tilts his head to the side, swaying to and fro.

Then, the room lights up in a brilliant flash of warm light. Caid stares up and boggles as strange, esoteric symbols begin to appear in the air, sparkling gold, reflecting off of the obsidian and breaking the bleakness of the surroundings. Numbers are emblazoned next to them, their meaning lost to the little one.

There’s no cheering, however. Instead, a tense, dreadful silence. The sudden, haunting quiet feels louder than the buzz of the holographs just moments before - a knot growing tighter, winding around itself to deepen its complexity, before pulling taut once more. The players stare each other down, animalistic and hungering, predatory, no better than the beasts from which many millions of anthros are made from.

“Check,” the other man states, shattering the silence.

Klevnok glances around before saying, “Raise.”

“Call,” announces the woman, numbers flickering faster floating above them.

A pause. Caidim’s owner hesitates, shifting his mass across the struggling stool.

“Check,” he growls.

A bet is made. Caid watches with wonderful eyes as another symbol appears next to the other three, brightening the room once more. The same, heavy quiet happens again. He wonders what they might be doing in those seats. Perhaps it is a mindgame - one that tests the physical strength of one’s consciousness, much like a Simulacrum title. Or perhaps it is a game of snap. An intense, gruelling game of snap.

Another exchange of words. The unknown man says “Fold,” which Caidim interprets correctly as someone ’losing’ the game. Klevnok ‘raises’ the amount of money once more, his owner says “call”, and the woman ‘checks’. The money goes up, another symbol appears.

“You feeling lucky?” the fat man snarls, a glint in his eye. He’s leaning in towards Klevnok, who looks up from his screen.

“I explained to the little one that it was a game of skill”, Klevnok dismisses, analysing his opponent with a real glint in his eye, as if a screen were flashing information across his retina for a brief moment. “Don’t confuse him.”

“I know,” the wall of meat replies. “You’re just going to need it.”

“You’re bluffing,” Klevnok calls, scowling back.

“You’re dramatic,” the women muses, staring blankly at her screen.

The fat man only smiles in response, looking down at his screen again.

“Raise,” he announces with a drive that looks to catch Klevnok off-guard. The numbers above them flicker up again. Caid doesn’t know many numbers past the hundreds, but he can certainly count the six zeros trailing the number seven. The slim man glares, but he sits back and turns to the masked man, his expression cool as ice.

“Raise,” he parrots. The numbers flicker some more.

“I thought you didn’t want to see a titan like me suffer,” the fat man challenges.

“I never said I didn’t want to win,” Klevnok parries.

You’re bluffing!” The man attacks again, slamming his fist on the table. It rocks his stool, Caid feeling the power ripple through the obsidian floor even five paces away.

“You’re desperate,” Klevnok observes, nonchalant.

“You’re a fool.”

“Fold,” the woman sighs with defeated breath. Both men ignore her.

Klevnok’s words must have hit home. When the final symbol on the board appears, the fat man stares back at his hand. Caid could see his eyes dance from the screen where his hands rest and the symbols above them. Three tense, agonising, suffocating seconds pass.

Two flashes, one on each side of the table. An angelic chime plays through the arena as two more symbols for each side of the table are revealed above their heads. The fat man speaks first, his booming, violent tone oozing with pride and triumph.

“Full house,” he shoots.

Klevnok doesn’t move. He looks at his hand, then back at the board.

“Full house.” He nods as the fat man’s hand, a wily smirk carving into his stone-cold glare. “Nine of Saturn.”

There is a whisper amongst the two players who folded. The woman looks relieved, while the other’s face is bright red, cursing under hushed breath. However, that doesn’t compare even slightly to the blank, distraught, thousand-lightyear stare of Caidim’s owner. His chins heave as he gawks, staring deep into nothing. His visage has changed from a desperate titan of industry, physically and metaphorically, to one of a husk - hollow, dead. All that weight he carries seems to feel lighter, meaningless in the face of total, absolute catastrophe. The little kit’s heart beats faster as a shrill fever of dread rises from his chest to his neck. He is looking at the ghost of a once-man.

The masked fellow states the blindly obvious in Yanlese: Klevnok is the victor.

The slim man in question studies the fat man. He ponders, glancing down.

“I don’t want to see you on the streets,” he offers.

The fat man stares back at him, eyes wide. His breath shakes, as do his arms. The stool nearly snaps as he slumps forwards, listening with great intent.

“I will let you keep your money,” Klevnok states. “For now. I expect a full payment by the end of your life. If the debt is yet to be paid by then, it will pass down to your next of kin. If they don’t pay, there will be serious legal repercussions.”

The man nods, frantic and manic, taking whatever offer he could get.

“I do, however, want interest. I will take up your offer on the anthro.”

Caid’s ears perk. He stares at Klevnok, butterflies fluttering in his chest. His tail flies, a beaming shine of joy erupting from his expression.

“When he’s old enough to be sold, of course. Perhaps he’ll go for more on the black market, buyers are always paying more for anthros there. No official obligations to protect them when there’s no scripwork involved.”

The tail stiffens.

“No!” the fat man shrills, slamming his first on the table again. His shifting mass finally snaps the stool with a metallic crack and he stumbles forward. His weight lifts the table and all back away from the tumbling mess of a human being. “Take him now! It will save me cred later on!” His pleads are wrought with mania.

“If I take him now, that’s simply going to cost me,” Klevnok explains to the sorry display. “I trust you’ll be able to keep him alive, ███████████. Unless your situation is more dire than you let on.”

A different atmosphere descends amongst the room. Both men turn to look at the kit, unaware that the door to the room was opening, letting light stream in from behind them. The kit’s legs trembled, his breathing erratic. He holds his hands close to his chest, fight or flight enabling. He doesn’t want to go back. He doesn’t want to be with that rolling ball of hatred anymore. For a moment, he thought he had struck it - a way out. A way to be free from the clutches of that spiteful, putrid man.

Which is why when he sees the vixen in the doorframe beckoning him, he breaks into a sprint.

All players stand up. Caidim falls forward onto all-fours, panting, rocketing across the black expanse to the now fleeing vixen. She’s darting away from the exit before the men can see her and out of Caid’s sight.

“After that runt!” the fat man screams.

“Security!” the masked man hollers.

“That’s my interest running!” Klevnok shouts.

He breaks from the mouldy, inky blankness and welcomes the warm light of the golden corridors, the carpet giving his claw-cut paws traction. He drifts around a corner, paws skittering as he overshoots and slides onto the wood. Adrenalin coursed through his limbs, a wild exultation fuelling him, fear encouraging him on. He reaches full speed again, ears folded back, tail between his legs, faster than any of the men could even dream of running.

At the end of the corridor is a large glass door, flanked by two ceiling-mounted turrets facing the other side. He’s going to have to sprint past them and set off the alarm. He’s going to need to-

Something grabs his arm. He yelps as his inertia carries him into the air, a hand clasping onto him. It pulls him to the side through one of the dragon-signed doors, and it shuts as quickly as it opened, plunging him into darkness once more.

Two arms tighten around him and bring him close, clutching him against their chest. He sniffs, finding his nose tickled by fur. The vixen! He opens his maw to say something but it’s quickly clamped shut by her hand with a shush, just as the men outside rattle past in muffled audio.

“Damn chikor!” the woman blurts.

“An anthro child is on the loose, keep an eye out!” announces the voice of Klevnok.

A moment passes between them in silence as the collective sounds of footfalls rumble past. There is commotion in the other rooms, but it feels far, far away from the vixen’s warm, protecting embrace.

“I think we’re safe,” she reassures, lifting her tender hand from the kit’s fragile jaw and letting go. She steps back and something clicks. The room is engulfed in harsh light, blinding Caid for a few moments. He rubs his eyes as they adjust, and looks around with a wary gaze. It’s a lot smaller than the other one, just big enough for the table in the middle, but something else about it stood out to him.

The walls, ceiling and floor are covered in a criss-cross pattern of tight, white lines across a glossy black surface. The table, the stools, even the light shades. There is no gold or obsidian in this room, only a sheen over odd-patterned furniture and walls. It is nauseating to the vixen, but Caid seemed to be okay with the amount of lines around him.

He looks up her, and she returns his gaze with a wry smile.

“I know a way for you to run!” she yips, feigning excitement for the kit who tilts his head, inquisitive. “You’ll be safer on the rooftops than down on the streets - that’s the most obvious place they’ll look.”

“Are you letting me escape?”

The vixen’s heart melts. His hushed voice is soft and tender, even after he had just tried sprinting.

“Yes, I am,” she replies, her golden eyes shining as she gently takes his hand. The kitten hesitates, but he loosens his tension and moves in closer. The vixen’s other hand reaches into her dress, fumbling underneath a strap, and she pulls out a stretchy, reflective band.

“Put this on and come with me,” she pleads, her paw shoes sparkling in the harsh light of the strange room. “It will stop them from finding you.”

Caid nods and turns his hand over as she stretches the band over his fingers and wrist. It tightens itself on its own, making Caid jump, but it doesn’t do anything.

The vixen’s hand squeezes Caid’s and she motions to the other side of the room. She puts one paw in front of the other, kit in tow, gliding past the eye-sore inducing table. Her red, silken dress reflects across the otherwise black and white texture, making her stand out in the light. They reach the far end of the room and she swipes her hand across the air towards the wall, claws arcing in the dazzling light. A sudden, large holograph appears, displaying in square, bold text:


Part of the wall concaves on itself with a mechanical whirr and slides to the left, revealing a maintenance tunnel on the other side. Caid gasps as it opens, much to the vixen’s silent delight. It’s walled with white metal, decorated with various holographs displaying crucial information about the building’s internal functions. Pipes are bolted to the ceiling, potentially feeding resources such as water and food around the casino complex, and bright white lights are built into the walls as thin strands.

“A secret door!” Caid exclaims.

“Shh, not so loud!” the vixen hushes, grimacing. “We need to keep moving.”

This time she is serious. She squeezes his hand again and breaks into a jog, ducking left into the tunnel. The air changes. It tastes richer, colder, Earthly. Caid’s fur stands on end at the change in temperature. The vixen’s paw-shoes clank against the metal as they jog down the well lit, yet thin space, tiny holographs appearing as they move through. Monospaced text displays information about each little part they walked past, from nuts and bolts to internal computing units.

Ahead of them, against the far end of the hallway, is a ladder going up and into a duct in the wall above. The honeycomb-patterned grate is lying on the ground beside the first step, as if it was used only recently.

“Okay, pup, you’re going to have to climb that ladder and crawl through,” she explains, panting as she and the kit come to a stop by it “I’ll climb up after, alright?”

“Yip!” he barks, and not a moment after he’s already on the ladder and climbing up. The vixen lets out an anxious whimper and holds out her hands as he clambers his way up towards the duct in the wall, faster than she ever could as a kit. He makes it to the top, tail wagging, and perches himself in the duct in a squat.

“Impressive,” she sighs, more relieved than anything. As she climbs the ladder herself, one paw after the other, she realises that he might just be able to make it. Her plan might actually work.

Caidim moves backwards to make space for her, out of the other side of the duct. As he scoots back, the surface beneath him changes to a rougher, courser metal. He looks up and his heart sinks.

The elevator shaft. A gargantuan vent of inky darkness. What little light he could see around him came from inside the duct he had just climbed through. Two thick, metal rails lined the wall to the left of him, affixed with heavy-duty bolts and disappearing into the void above. It was the same on the right, for the other elevator no doubt. He sat on his back on a wire-mesh platform with only a wired railing stopping him from falling straight-

“Don’t look down,” the vixen suggests, her head popping through the duct, her voice echoing far and wide across the mighty space. She grunts as she heaves her way through and clambers out, standing to full height, as if unfazed by the sight of the elevator shaft.

Caid looks around him instead, slowly getting to his feet. The railing continues around the perimeter of the shaft, granting access to both elevators via two barriers that looked to slide open when an elevator arrived. There are buttons on the side of each one to call the elevator to their maintenance access. The vixen steps over to the closest one, just to the left, and pushes it with a deep click.

They waited, side by side. Otherworldly humming emanated from the elevator tracks as carts could be heard moving above and below them. The kit sparingly glances down, and gulps immediately. The drop looks infinite, sinking into the same darkness as the space above him, just below the grates. The vixen squeezes again, noticing his wary eyes glancing around him, and bends over to tilt Caid’s chin back up with the tip of her finger. He seems to calm a little, his tail swaying from side to side as he waited. She smiles. The kit doesn’t notice the tear in her eye.

Finally, a louder hum came from above them. Caid gawks up as a metal box comes swooping down from the void above, its maglev tracks letting it glide elegantly to a stop just before them. Its sounds almost like a space vessel coming in to land, whirrs and hums lowering in pitch as the box halted just beyond the barrier, which then opened too in a similar, elegant fashion. The doors to the elevator parted, revealing a very plush space inside. The familiar warm light of the hallways cakes the two anthros as they step into the polished-wood space, organic life growing from gold pots embedded in the walls. The vixen guides the kit into the elevator, carefully stepping over the gap and turning around to lift Caid inside with a heave and ho.

“Eighty-two, please,” she announced clearly to no-one in particular.

Caidim tilts his head, before the door shuts behind them. A holograph appears in front of it: the number two-hundred and six. The elevator hums to life again, the leaves of plants lifting as it begins to fall, the number dropping. Caid feels his tummy lurch as it descends faster than he’s used to, clinging onto the vixen for support. He nuzzles his face against the silk.

“It’s okay,” she says, ruffling Caids head tuft with an open hand, his ears flopping around. “We’re almost there.”

“Camera,” Caid says, looking past her.

“Hm?” She tilts her head, letting go.

“Camera!” he exclaims again, pointing up and past her with wide eyes.

The vixen turns again, looking up at where he was pointing. She stiffens. He’s right - there is a camera, a black-domed eye, staring deep into the vixen’s soul from the top corner of the elevator. She shivers, the kit growing anxious and fidgeting as she steps back, looking back at Caid with narrowed pupils. Her breathing hastens as she analyses the small anthro, up and down.

She snatches her pillbox cap from her head and holds it to Caid. Her face is shadowed by the ceiling light.

“When the doors open, run,” she commands, fear oozing from her tone. “Run as fast as you can, straight ahead. There’ll be a door at the end that leads into a garden-” She drops down, grabbing Caid by the shoulders. “-Don’t stop running, keep straight. You’ll reach the wall, and you have to jump to the other side. Understand?”

Caid tentatively takes the cap and cradles it in his hands. “Straight ahead, doors, garden, wall, jump,” Caid copies, frowning. “How… far?”

“Not far,” she pleads, “just don’t look down.”

“I won’t,” he says, meeting her gaze with a confident grin.

“Thank you.”

The elevator is slowing down now. The kit feels his inertia push into his legs as he turns to face the door, crouching into position.


“Are you ready?” she asks, choking - holding back tears.


“Yip!” He holds the cap in his maw, oblivious to her grief.


The doors open. Caid spots three large figures in front of him.

“GO!” she screams.

Caid bolts between the largest one’s armoured legs on all fours. Frantic, filtered shouting could be heard over the vixen’s cries, spilling into the air. He hurtles down a corridor similar to the ones from the casino, not looking back.

The kit’s fur raises as a blue bolt of lightning, punctuated by loud cracks, fires past him. Then another. Stun-guns! He yelps, dodging to the right, as one lands just next to his paw, sparks flying.

“Halt!” he hears one call.

The open door at the end of the hallway grows larger and larger, faster and faster, as the kit thunders towards it. He sees outside, the garden balcony, and-

It’s glass!

He can’t stop now. He braces for impact, little arms covering his face. He slams into it side on at full velocity, piercing it like a projectile, howling as it shatters with a cascading crash. He hears passers-by gasp and leap from their outdoor seats as he skids across the red carpet leading outside, the cool air of the city night engulfing him, as well as the shards that pecked and tore at his fur.

“Don’t stop running…”

He clenches his jaw, pillbox cap swirling, as he rolls back onto all fours. He catches a glimpse behind him - a large, armoured guard running towards him with a stun-gun, sleek and yellow, contrasting with his bulky, utilitarian suit.

The vixen. She was in the elevator, lying on the floor. One guard held her down by the knee…

Clutching back tears, the kit breaks back into a sprint. The garden looks vast and wide, blue and red trees growing all around him. Ornaments hang from strands tied to branches, all with similar symbols to those back in the gambling room, well-dressed humans scattered around with shocked, anxious faces. He doesn’t stop to gawk - he runs like the wind. The guard barges through the door, shattering the glass also, but he doesn’t falter.

“Halt, mutt!” he hollers, drawing his stun-gun and firing with a crack! It misses Caid by a few centimetres. The crowd panics, their screams and shouts reverberating around the walls of the building. They start stampeding towards the door, the only apparent exit.

The wall. Jump. Simple instructions. Don’t look down.

The kit speeds past the last few trees and sees the chest-high wall up ahead. Another building looms over him, but there’s an inlet level with him where a block of windows is, much like another balcony over an office block. He can’t see the drop. He shouldn’t see the drop.

“Stop, chikor!” the guard curses.

“Don’t look down!”

The words ring like tinnitus in his head as he leaps for the wall. He grabs it, tucks his legs in, and uses his combined velocity to shove himself into the air, launching him over the edge.

The blaring, obnoxious blue lights from the Local Authority AV outshine the usual neon-yellow glow of the holographs along the aptly named Low Street. The large, chunky vessel sits clumsily in the middle of the street, overshadowed by towering, oppressive structures on all sides and flanked by the Tri-Fire Casino Complex. A mighty structure it is, three-hundred stories tall with three dragons swimming down the side of the building in a vivid, bright display.

The air vehicle’s four quadrupedal thrusters sputter, spitting out blue streams of hydrogen fire, before blazing to life in a hum, preparing to take off. A large, hovering warning screen of black and yellow lines prevents citizens from wandering too close to the crime scene outside of the Tri-Fire. Authority knights, all clad in black-plated, plasteel armour, scuttle around the taped-off area, interviewing passers-by and guarding the AV. Their armour shunts with hydraulic, mechanical hisses and hums, an acrid smell piercing the air.

“No,” the fat man says. “No… I don’t have enough to pay him his winnings.”

He doesn’t need to see past the knight’s smoked visor to imagine his inquisitive, though pitiful gaze.

“And the anthro that caused all this trouble,” the knight says, his voice heavily filtered through the rounded helmet. His hands went to his hips. “He’s yours?”

“Yes, Caidim,” the fat man replies. His expression is empty. There is no emotion left. “Did you find him?”

“His chip went dark during the chase, I’m afraid,” he sighed, his head bobbing towards the AV. “Our foxy friend here must’ve gave him a dampening device of some kind.”

The fat man turns towards the vessel and sees her. The vixen attendant, escorted by two knights, with a plated metal muzzle locked over her maw and her arms locked together by magcuffs. Her dress is torn, face scarred, eyes devoid of emotion. There’s an open gash running from the top of her thigh to her paw, staining her dressed with something darker. She’s headed for the open cargo door in the AV.

“I hope that wench gets taken to ReForm,” the man spits.

“Oh, she will.” The knight shifts his pose. The armour whirrs with his movement, strength-enhancing motors purring. “She and that kit of yours set off so many alarms we thought it was a terror attack - partially why there’s so many knights here.”

He stares at the casino whore as she’s shoved into the one of the prisoner seats inside the back of the AV. A metal bar is lowered over her, holding her in place. She looks out, and catches his gaze, locking on. They stare each other down, exchanging a silent acknowledgement, before she nods upwards.

The fat man blinks, unnerved. He turns around, looking up at the skyline that rose over him - the matte-black skyscrapers that filled the sky-city of Nenocheng with life, topped with giant holographs that hot-stuff starships slalomed around and between, lit underneath the domed nightscape.


A spectre looms far above him, crouching over the edge of one of the shorter buildings in the bright yellow light of a holograph for Yevcom. Beneath the left wing of the letter Y, they catch eyes, the poltergeist staring back, communicating through expression alone. Sorrow, repentance, justice. Freedom.

“T-There!” he exclaims, pointing up frantically, as much as his T-Rex arms could reach. “He’s there!”

The knight whirls around, mechanics spooling, locking on in his direction with a hand on his belt holster. The fat man could hear the beeps of the scanner from inside the knight’s visor, analysing the surroundings.

He’s gone.

“Sir,” he says, looking back. A metal hand lands on his shoulder, but its grip is soft. “You’re in bad shape. Don’t take offence, but… see a therapist.”

The man grunts loudly, bemused. He looks away.

“I’ll need a loan for that,” he grumbles.