SEQUENCE 1: Phosgene Dreams ----------------------------- Green fog hung low over the fields of muddy shell holes and trenches. Even here, on this incomprehensibly remote alien world as the roar of starfighter engines split the skies overhead these aspects of warfare endured. The young albino furred red-panda crouched and crept through the splintery, corpse-riddled trenches, beads of yellowish poison condensing on the lenses of his gas mask as his black and alien figure moved like a demented spirit through the rotting swamp of no man's land. Corpses, blood, piss, shit, and chunks of flesh mixed into the soil with days of rain and turned the battlefield into a mass of insects. Everywhere you looked, the dead were crawling with life. Without regard, the trooper continued down the line of advance toward the enemy - occasionally hopping over the top of one trench to take a brief sprint and hop into another. He always kept low to the ground, guarded by the fog and the darkness as he crept behind a dead tree and looked off into the distance, spotting the feint glow of a camp fire. A brief flash of gunfire in the distance, and somebody on the other side fired a mortar flare that turned night to day. The Panda froze, keeping low and sitting next to his tree, avoiding any movement to keep from drawing attention now that he was illuminated. He saw other dark shapes on the edges of his vision, slowly creeping toward the enemy lines before freezing like him - some searching for cover. Bright bolts of plasma fire lanced out from a trench in the distance and bit into a platoon. The Panda raised his rifle, took aim into the dark void and tried to guess where the shooter was based on the muzzle flashes before spraying the general area. He had the thought to take cover, but as he went for it, something hit him in the belly and knocked him down. He instinctively reached for the wound, bringing his gloved hand back up and finding it slicked with dark red arterial blood. Some of the black shapes rushed near him, his fellow troopers, and he reached a hand out - voice coming out as a gargling choking sound while he tried to ask for a medic. His comrades rushed past him, into the firefight, ignoring his desperate please for help and bleeding wound. He reached out for them, wanting to scream as he found himself at eye level with the dead eyes of a fallen trooper. The panda struggled to get on his feet, to get his bearings and limp back to safety, but as he got up a boot pressed down hard on his back and pushed him into the mud. His mind nearly shattered from the pain of a full grown person using him as a dry place to step, mistaking him for a log. He looked up to watch them leave, and just then, another boot came down on the back of his head and pushed his face down into the mud. Somehow, against all logic, it forced its way into his suit and he felt himself unable to breath. He was drowning! Drowning in mud! The more he struggled, the more he desperately tried to breath, the more got inside him and fought to fill his lungs. Somehow, he screamed - and screamed, and screamed, and bolted upright in the bed. Cyril was sweating, panting, looking around his bedroom and then the tears came. He folded his legs up against himself, burying his face in his knees and cried. He hid it well, sobbing quietly into his bare fur to avoid waking his roommate. He did that for a few minutes before turning over onto his side, wrapping his arms around the pillow and hugging it close, burying his face in that to cry instead. He stayed that way for an hour. It was worse than usual, and had been getting that way for a while now. Why hadn't they been there when he needed them? He finally stood up and wiped his tears away, wearing just his PJ shorts. His throat was tight, too tight to speak, but it was already 3am. They'd have to be leaving in just two hours if they wanted their bounty. He had to get his head straight before that ... Some coffee might help him stop wanting to cry, maybe something to eat ... SEQUENCE 2: Security through obscurity The Panda left his small room, sighing with relief to spot his partner's door still closed as he slinked into the kitchen of their X.I. Security Group provided corporate apartment. Just nice enough for the two of them, perfect strangers before they each came here a few weeks ago from their own corners of space, to live above the squalor of this miserable impoverished world. He thought about that while he dropped the insta-caff into his mug, filling it next with *** water and then taking a painful slurp before it could cool down. He regretted it, narrowing his eyes and splaying his ears back as it burned his tongue and throat, but the wave of bitterness and sugar in his mouth tasted nice. "Fuck ... " he wiped his few remaining tears away and took a deep breath, trying to compose himself before he had to face that near stranger. He wasn't bad, just, didn't want the guy to see him like this. Especially when they barely knew each other. As he got himself ready for the morning, his new partner Mathis began to stir. He was waking up from a dream too - not one of tragedy but of new beginnings. A dream of hope and regret. You see, his partner had a somewhat checkered past that started on the streets of Osmarch, where he picked pockets for cash. The feline's teenage years, now behind him, had been filled with drugs, abuse, and juvenile detention - along with allegiance to some of the more famous criminal organizations in the Solarian Empire. However, the path of a criminal isn't always bathed in the golden glow of stolen coin. Sometimes it's mired in the shadows of betrayal and deception - both from strangers, and your own closest friends alike. Despite the saying, there really is no "Honor amongst thieves". A bad robbery led to him losing everything; his best friend, his crew, even his status as a citizen (at least he learned his lesson not to mess with Solarian "nobility", even if they were just mechanical) So, he fled to Kaltovar, trying to leave his past behind. Still mistrusting any governments and their operatives, he found this place: TOI 700D. Found the place along with a job offer that could take him far enough away from the shadows of his tainted past that his problems might not find him. A place where the people in charge weren't breathing down his neck all the time. As he got up he stretched in that feline way before sliding out of the covers, looking in his dresser drawers for the new clothes he'd been issued and slipping into them. He'd added a bit of "personal flair", cutting off the sleeves and tightening down his pant legs with scraps of old leather belts to help keep out bugs and water by sealing them against his combat boots. Soon enough, he joined Cyril in the main area of their shared apartment, his tail hanging in a low and docile manner as he does a small wave! "You alright? You look like you slept on your head all night.." "Hangover." he lied without thinking, despite the fact they had been together working for most of the last day and the feline never saw him buy nor drink any alcohol when they got home. It was possible he had some stored in his room, or something. "I'll be fine, just not looking forward to arresting a corpo at five in the fucking morning." he took another sip, still just wearing PJ shorts that looked like boxers. He thought of getting his clothes on but didn't want to yet, and he woke up early enough to be lazy. "Did I text you the briefing files? I got them late last night." Mathis held up his phone, looking suspiciously at the red-panda and grabbing some stuff from the fridge. An egg, tobasco, and Worcestershire sauce all got put in a shot glass. "Got the files, thanks for sending them over. You'll get used to early mornings ... I know I am." He slid the shot over to Cyril, "It's a prairie Oyster, it'll cure that hangover of yours."