Despite the weariness of her team, Vanarra was almost ecstatic as she appeared at Sahni’s shoulder. After acting as a drink serving hostess for most of the night, the Nephti’s own fatigue and frustration with Thurians, in general, was starting to wear her down, and it was difficult for her not be annoyed at Vanarra’s near giddiness as she thumbed through the messages on her PawLink. “Happy, happy, happy, kit!”
“Was a good event, then?” Sahnassa strained to ask as she sealed the last bottle in her station.
“Amazing!” Van breathed, her grin wide and feral, her eyes almost wild. “It’s a complete step beyond!”
“Forgive me,” Sahni put in at her most patient, “what are you so excited about? It was … a pretty draining event – a lot of over fermented Thurians, honestly.”
“Oh, I know all about those!” Vanarra sniped back at her friend’s tolerant tone. “This is all about you, kit! That new PawLink version of the site! I have always taught you all to make an event recommendable, true, but I’ve never walked away from any event with three major bookings added, with deposits, during the event! Didn’t you see me walking around and sitting down with all of those Thurians? I’ve got six strong prospects and, like I said, three events in … the … pipe! And this wasn’t even that big of an event!”
That shook off the Nephti’s fatigue in favor of stunned amazement. “You’re kidding! Really? I … I can’t believe it?!”
“This changes the game, entirely, Sahni! I don’t think that Flint even believes me, yet, but look!” Sahni looked dumbfounded at the history screen she had written that indeed had a summary of Van’s exceptional sales work.
“Wow, just … wow, Van! You’re amazing!” Sahnassa offered, just shaking her head wondering how her boss had managed to both keep them all organized and do this much sales in such a short period of time.
Vanarra shoved her a little with her shoulder and scoffed, “Oh, that’s not news, Sahni; I’m always amazing! What’s different is what you did! I’ve always talked to Thurians at events, especially when they ask, but I couldn’t close the deals! I’d have to hope they would remember to look at my card or remember me or not lose my number – all that stuff kept us from bagging a bunch of clients. Now, we can get them!” Van looked at the Nephti’s expression, and once again, her admiration for her friend grew.
It wasn’t that getting more clients would mean something to Sahni’s paycheck that impacted the Nephti’s psyche. It was, solely, that she had managed to make Vanarra happy, and, moreover, knowing the real reason why Vanarra was so excited. More clients did mean more money, granted, but it was as if her purebred friend could actually see the kits and cubs at the orphanage with new books, new toys, and even more of them with a safe and healthy place to live. Sahnassa knew her at her soul, and her expression of admiration and those indigo eyes squeezing out happy tears made Vanarra issue a confession. “It’s … because of you, kit, and I am so very grateful to you. I don’t say it enough and, yes, nag you while waiting for something like this to come to be, but you…”
“Is she making this up?” Flint asked, having walked up beside Van. “Is it actually a … system error or something?”
“I don’t think so, Flint,” Sahni offered, wiping her eyes. “None of that data was in the application when I restarted it this morning to launch it. It all looks new.”
“May I?” Flint asked, and Van smugly presented him with the device. “Aw, crap – triple booked less than five sols from now!?”
“They are all small,” Van told him, sternly. “Good margin on those when there was a glaring bald spot on our calendar. More than that, though – think longer term, Flint. We can book events when we’re doing a good job and guests are happy … whenever someone asks! We can qualify! We can take deposits!”
“You did this?” Flint asked Sahni as he started carefully going through the details on the PawLink. Her shy nod caused him to comment, “Looks good. I wasn’t aware we were doing this as a project.”
“I was able to use a transformation template to take Van’s existing sales website and, well, shrink it down to this. I get to choose which fields display, like name and so forth, and leave off the longer fields on the application which we can fill out, later.”
“However,” Van posited, “even without capturing every detail, we can still take payment and take down the essential points, book their interview appointments – which I have done already by the way, and check it against our calendar! I can even take pictures and put it on the account.”
“Okay, and you did that without having to create a whole different website?” Flint queried, shaking his head as he proffered the device to Van.
“Just small incremental changes to our current one, and I did test it to make sure there wasn’t a problem doing that.”
“You’re a genius, Sahni,” Flint offered quietly. “We’re privileged to have you here.”
“Thank you, Flint, and thank you, Van. I’m glad … you like it!” she replied, stifling a yawn.
Vanarra was immediately gritting her teeth, willing away the impulse, and frowned when both of them looked at her, knowing full well what she was doing. “Alright, you two – total buzz kill. Let’s get things picked up and out of here, and we’re pretty well done until after the celebration of feasting.”
“Fair enough,” Flint chuckled, knowing that he had to pull his boss out of her excitement to actually make her productive once again. “Good job, Sahni. Want to help me get the bottles out?”
“Alright, you two. In the meantime, I’ll get our pay and see if there’s anything else our host needs,” Van told them.
An interval later, Vanarra and Sahni were walking out to their hovers, the office closed and locked behind them. “Any plans tonight, kit? For the celebration sols?”
“Well, I had toyed with the possibility of reaching out to Triana, my older sister, now that Mom and I have made up a little, but she wasn’t available. So, not so much. I’m just going to go home and rest. What about you? Seeing Trallar, again?”
Vanarra sighed and then shook her head. “You know, we kind of … called it off. My attempt to see if a Nephti cub was the scratch to go with my itch didn’t work out so well. I think his matron spotted me hanging around at his place and, well…”
Sahnassa walked up and put her paw on Van’s shoulder in sympathy. “Isn’t fair.”
“True, but I have to be brutally honest here, he wasn’t a very good itch scratcher, if you follow my meaning. A bit … tame in that department and … afraid – well, I am a lot to manage, after all. I’m going to slip home and spend some quiet time, think about things. I’ll probably go to the orphanage, tomorrow.” Sahnassa embraced Van, as it was just the two of them, as she knew that Van often used the children to help her mood when she was feeling lonely or rejected. “I’ll be okay, kit. Kind of you, though – thanks.”
“Anytime,” Sahni replied as she let go of the embrace.
“Good night, kit.”
“Good night, Van,” Sahni told her. Getting in her own little red hover a moment later, she watched as her boss drove her golden one quickly out of the lot. “I’m so sorry, Van. I wish you could find someone wonderful.” Leaning back, she added, “I wish I could, too, for that matter. Oh, well.” Pressing the various switches on her dash to start the hover resulted in an unfortunate result – silence.
“Uh oh,” she breathed. “What’s the matter with you?” Pressing the controls again rendered the same result. “Not only no, but … nothing! Not even trying!” A third attempt after a complete recycle of all of the hover’s systems did not help in the slightest. “Not … any warning lights? It’s just like you think you’ve started but you haven’t! What the mange is going on with you?” she complained, too tired to truly deal with the failure. Getting out of her hover, she released the cover of the engine compartment and looked in. It was, as it had been, an engine with power packs and compressors and flow directors and everything else. “I don’t see anything … obviously wrong.”
It was with a little self honesty she admitted that if the engine wasn’t actually on fire, she’d have a hard time figuring out what was the matter with it. Still, using her PawLink as a light, she scanned the engine compartment and didn’t see anything obviously out of place. About that time, Vanarra’s golden hover shot by at a pretty good clip, but Sahnassa could tell from the sound that Van was coming back around. A moment later, the sleek golden hover sidled up beside her and landed, and the mixed blood was getting out. “Okay, what’s going on?”
“Thank you for stopping, Van. Oh, I don’t know. I’ve tried to start it, like three times, and it just sits there and pretends to be running, but it doesn’t move.”
“What?” Van asked, confused. “That’s a little odd. Can I try?”
“Please,” Sahni shrugged, giving up the activator. “I’ll close it up so you get a green panel.”
“Good, good, kit.” Vanarra slipped into the seat and tried to keep her opinion about the sad little hover to herself. Taking a moment to figure it out, she closed the door and watched to make sure Sahnassa had stepped back. After running through what should have been the activation sequence, she just blinked and shook her head. Every indicator on the dash showed that the hover was running and ready to lift off. Realizing that she might have to cover the expense, later, in case her intuition was wrong, she steeled herself and pressed the skid retraction control. Dutifully, the somewhat simplistic display showed that the skids had retracted after a few ticks. “Problem is, you … didn’t actually retract anything. We’re still sitting here. I wonder…” Motioning Sahni away from the front of the vehicle, she grabbed the controls and pressed the thruster control forward. To her surprise, the speed indicator jumped smoothly ahead, as if she had loosed the sad little hover onto the trail. She pulled back and pushed forward, and the speed indicator kept pace. “Only we’re still not moving, not even a little.” Pressing through some selections on the center panel, she looked at the small screen which showed system status. “Happy as can be, just not doing anything.” With that, Van placed all of the controls back where they should be and shut down.
“Well?” Sahni asked as Vanarra raised the squeaky door.
“Acts as if it’s flying, just doesn’t actually do anything. I wonder… You have the manual for this thing?”
“No,” Sahnassa sighed. “We got it second paw. I’d have to look it up on-line. What are you thinking?”
“Could be stuck running some kind of test, maybe? I mean, the display shows that I pulled up the skids and took it for a crazy drive – never moved a track. I think we may have to leave it. Why don’t you lock it up, and you can come with me.”
“Oh, I hate to inconvenience you, Van. I … I know you’re kind of…”
“Lonely, and after dropping off that check and not having anything at all to do, even worse,” Van confessed, quietly. “I don’t want to be lonely, Sahni. We did our little office and friends party last night so … there’s nothing else until the sols of feasting are done. Would you consider it a bad thing to come spend the night over at my place? My couch is really good to sleep on, and I totally wouldn’t mind it.”
“Truth is,” Sahni shared, “I’m kind of in the same state. I was just going to look for a book to read or … I don’t know…” Van could see something in the Nephti’s expression and stepped closer. Sahni turned away, leaning against her hover and bowing her head. “My sister is not available because they … they’re all at Mom and Dad’s lair tonight. I don’t get to come.” Vanarra slipped her paw on Sahni’s shoulder, just as she had done earlier, and Sahnassa nodded in recognition, repeating her own words to Van. “Isn’t fair, but it is how things are. I have a family, Van – a sister and a mother, mostly, but … only when they want me. I’m a disgrace to my dad, and mother has only warmed up to me because I sprayed some honor on her fur.”
“You need a hug, and you don’t need to be alone. Me, too.” Van surrounded her in an embrace and told her, “You’re coming home, and I’m catering for us, tonight. We’ll have our own feast and leave everyone else out of it. I’ll-“
“Did you ladies need some help?” Van had picked up on the intruder’s presence a mere tick before he spoke, but she smoothly disengaged and was facing him, ready and alert.
“We’re fine, and you are on private property,” she told the Pantera male. “It’s after closing, so if you need an event catered, you’ll need to come back when we open three sols from now.”
“Well, I was actually just walking this way and…” he started, trying to work in closer.
“Far enough!” Van warned, pulling something out of her pocket and using her paw to move Sahni back out of her way.
“Hey, no reason to get upset, cuddle kit,” he offered, trying to look innocent even as he took another step towards them.
Van depressed a switch, and blue crackling energy sparked the air in front of her, lighting her now snarling face and very sharp teeth. “Go away, now, or else!”
“Or else … what?!” he taunted, but then tried to jump to the side as Van aimed the stun prod at him. To his great surprise, not to mention Sahnassa’s, the stun prod shot out a bolt that hit home dead in the Pantera’s chest, making him scream in agony. In less than five ticks, he was on the ground, twitching. Without even seeming to think about the action, Van walked over, slammed the prod into his backside and keyed the trigger once again, making his whole lower body jump and twitch. As urine started to flow from underneath his legs, Sahnassa watched almost as stunned as the Pantera, while the stun prod injected the Pantera with a dose that would keep him down for intervals.
“Or else that, cuddle cub,” Van retorted as she withdrew the prod, its needle neatly retracting. Pulling out her PawLink, she pressed a single control and held it to her ear. “Hi, I’d like to report an attempted assault and trespassing. We had an unruly male come on our property, and he didn’t leave when we asked him. Oh, he’s stunned – peed himself a little, too. Oh, a name, here, let me give you to my associate. I’m going to make sure he hasn’t harmed anything.”
A little numbly, Sahnassa took the PawLink and said, “Hello?”
“Yes. This is Officer Calisair de Massar. With whom am I speaking?”
“Uh, hi. My name is Sahnassa de Orturu, and I was here, too. He … it was just like what Vanarra told you.”
“Will you be filing charges?”
“Van, will we be filing charges?”
“Mange, yes,” Van replied, taking the Pantera’s paws and gathering them behind him at the wrist. “Don’t want him ever visiting again.”
“Yes, we will be filing charges, or rather Vanarra, the owner of the business here, will be filing charges.”
“Are you in any danger right now?”
“I don’t think so, officer. So … what happens next?”
The male on the other end of the line chuckled a bit. “Well, we will come by and pick him up, take a statement from the two of you, and help him sleep off his experience in the city lock-up. Is that at Celebrations by Vanarra?”
“Oh, okay, we’ll get someone down there right away. She caters our awards dinners. Damned good stuff. Just a moment.”
“He knows you,” Sahni told Van who was just finishing up with the Pantera’s ankles.
“Calisair de Massar,” Sahnassa replied.
“Oh, the cute one! Awesome! Tell him he gets an extra scoop of the pudding we did last time if he can get someone over here quickly.”
“Uh, she said…”
“I heard her,” he chuckled. “Damn her memory, and her pudding, actually. Had to jog for ten sols to work that off. We’ll have someone over right away.”
About half an interval later, a still unconscious Pantera was being loaded into an enforcement hover as one of the officers finished taking the report. “We’ve seen him before, I’m afraid,” he told them, looking at Sahni. “If you would be willing to testify in court, he … might not be around for a long time to come.”
“I’d be happy to help. I will, of course, let my house know, as well, should I need representation.”
“I understand, but I don’t think that will be the case. We’ll reach out to you with the details. Have a good evening.”
“Thank you, officer,” Vanarra told him, but he barely paid her any heed.
“Have a good evening, Miss,” the Nephti officer told Sahnassa, clearly interested.
“In honor,” she replied and turned her back on him to go and stand beside her friend, still leaning against her little red hover. Bemused and confused, the officer turned away, and soon, the enforcement hover was gone.
“He liked you,” Van told her.
“I didn’t like him. He pretended you didn’t exist, nearly.”
Vanarra chuckled, opening her paws. “And such is the way of things, from time to time. Hey, I should have you around whenever someone tries to mug me. Would save a ton of trouble. You ready to go?”
“Completely,” Sahni breathed. “I was wiped, but now it’s like I’m both tired and nervous.”
“You’ll feel better once you get some good walls between you and the outside world,” Vanarra told her as she pressed the control to raise the golden hover’s doors. “Always helps me.”
Sahnassa thought about that for a few moments as she got in Van’s hover, putting the five point harness on with a relative degree of ease, having been in the hover a number of times. Gently reclining a bit, she made sure that she was comfortable and thought through what had just happened as Van slipped into her seat. Feeling the hover come to life and lift off the ground made Sahni close her eyes. “I’ll take it easy on you, kit. No crazy maneuvers, tonight.”
“Not that. I … wasn’t prepared. My hover wouldn’t go, and that guy would have walked up, and what would have happened, then?”
“You don’t have a stun prod, kit!? Damn! I can’t believe I haven’t made sure of that! Dammit!” Van swore, angrily.
“I should have bought one, Van. I’m … the one to blame. I should have known better.”
“Well, yes,” Van hesitantly agreed, “but I haven’t taken care of you. I’ve made sure everyone else has a stunner. Why not you? I … I guess I just assumed you were taken care of. Oh, kit, I should have known better! We’ll fix that for you – don’t you worry.”
“But Van, I am worried. I was just … frozen when he came up to us. I couldn’t have done what you did.” Vanarra’s eyebrow fur dropped, and her back fur went up. After a moment, Sahnassa noticed and asked, “What?”
“You would,” Vanarra stated quietly, “if you understood what not protecting yourself could cost you.” The silence that followed was literally deafening to Sahnassa, and it was as if she was just catching the barest sense of something really horrible that Van had lived through. Mercifully, the mixed blood began to talk just above the volume of the hover’s engine. “You think you might have hesitated? Not taken him down so quickly because maybe it was all just a misunderstanding? If you ever are approached by someone who won’t take no for an answer and won’t leave when you tell him to, then there is no misunderstanding.”
“And because he was on your property, approaching us when we were telling him not to, that – what you did to him – was okay?”
“Good cubs will even back off from me if they are interested in me, if I show them teeth and back fur and flat out tell them. That’s just it; they’re good cubs. They don’t use someone as a … thing! A stunner, sometimes, is the simplest and safest way to end a problem so that everyone walks away with all of their parts, and I don’t mean just you; I mean him, too. That can save you … enormous grief.”
“I don’t understand, at least, I don’t think I understand in the way you are trying to tell me.”
“When … when we get home, and when I’ve had at least one glass of wild berry fermentum, I can tell you. It’s a little too difficult to tell you and keep my mind on the trail, okay? But yes, you need to hear that, so you’ll know.”
“Thank you, Van. I don’t know what you saved me from, but I’m very grateful that you did.”
Vanarra glanced over at her and smiled, relaxing a bit. “Thanks, kit. Happy to.”
A quarter interval later, Sahnassa walked into Van’s lair, following the mixed blood who turned on the lights as she went. “I can’t thank you enough for this, Van,” she stated gratefully.
“Well, you might not when we finish, but I want to make sure you are protected,” the mixed blood explained walking into the kitchen. “I would never want you making the mistake I did. Have a seat, kit, I’ll bring us something. How about a dark blue mix? I notice you don’t drink that much.”
“I could never afford to pick up the habit in academy. Water is cheaper,” Sahnassa admitted, sitting down. “Most of it, honestly, I don’t like too much. However, and I’ve … I’ve never been able to find something like this…”
“Like what?” Van asked, sticking her head around the corner, curious.
“StarThuria Brands made a cough syrup with a berry taste I liked when I was growing up. I even got in trouble once because I got some of it out of the bathroom medicine cabinet when I wasn’t sick. I think they called it dark blue, come to think of it.” Van was smiling as she slipped a small glass into her friend’s paw. “Oh, thank you!”
“I have to admit buying some of that, back in the sol, and it’s one of the ones I like, even now. Look at the color, too – very pretty.”
Sahnassa smiled, looking down at the deep blue, almost indigo tint to the mixture. “Oh, nice.”
“To dear friends, and keeping them safe,” Van said softly, offering up the toast.
“Thank you, Van,” the Nephti replied, her blush fur riding up, and gently sipped her drink in time with the mixed blood. “Oooo,” she crooned. “Good, makes me feel a little guilty, though.”
“I promise not to tell your Mom,” Van chuckled after downing her glass. “Now, you just sip on yours. I … I need the help for what I have to tell you, and I’m not going to totally look at you in the eye when I tell you this. I just hope you won’t want to run away from here, afterwards.”
“Van?” Sahnassa questioned softly. “You know I care for you, right? You know you’re my friend?” Vanarra was already not looking at her, but she closed her eyes and nodded. “I know you’ve dealt with some really horrible things, but I’m willing to listen and learn from you.”
Vanarra smiled a little, still not looking at the Nephti. “I know, kit. It’s just hard for me, which I suppose you know well enough. So, this all happened about a season before we moved into our new office. We had a great business going with the primals, and I had been giving steadily to the orphanage. I even had a small rental lair. Stuff was going great, until one night…”
Vanarra came back to her senses, a bloody haze fading from her mind, and for a moment, she didn’t know where she was or why she was there. She was upright and unharmed, but crouched in a fighting position with her back fur up and claws fully expressed. Her lips were snarling so hard they hurt, and every muscle in her body seemed taught and ready to fight. “Fight … what?” her rational mind managed to ask as it reasserted itself. Looking around like a feral animal, she didn’t see anyone, but now Van started to register a sensation. The front of her chest and paws were soaked with something, and splatters of it were all along her fur, even on her muzzle.
Shaking herself, she looked down at her paws. “Blood! No … I…” A female’s scream from the other end of the alleyway where she was standing dragged her eyes in that direction to three still forms lying in front of her – two Vulpi and a Lupar. All three were bleeding from harsh claw strikes all through their fur, along their muzzle, even a bad gouge at the neck of two of them. “Oh … mange!” she bleated and was terrified, trying to remember what had led up to the encounter. Now, she was standing in an alley, in her best business suit, covered in blood.
Vanarra wanted to run away, but it was too late. Both enforcement and an ambulance sped into the alleyway and stopped. Before she could take a breath, the hover had landed and two guards held her in the sights of their military grade projectile weapons. Slowly, she raised her paws. They ordered her to the ground and then were on her in an instant, searching her and then tightly securing her paws behind her back in binders as the medics sprinted in to try and save the lives the three she had apparently downed. A hint of that blood lust tried to make itself known again, but Van begged herself to not give in. Her inner battle finally was won when she realized that she was being taken to the enforcement hover with a projectile weapon pressed deep into her back. They were ready to kill her if she resisted.
Shoved in the cage-like back of the enforcement hover, she didn’t utter a word. The officer had quoted the rights statement as he walked her forward, but it was obvious he wasn’t interested in doing anything other than getting her locked up. Once alone, she looked through the plastiglass barrier at the medics working feverishly to save her victims. “Please, please don’t let them die,” she breathed. “Please, no!”
One of the officers ran back to the ambulance and grabbed a blanket, and horrified, Vanarra watched as it was draped over the Lupar’s hind paws, his waist, and then his chest. Thankfully, it was not pulled over his face, and the blanket allowed her to see, even from this distance, that the big male’s chest was rising and falling in shallow waves. One of the Vulpi she had downed was even sitting up now, getting a chest bandage wrapped around his torso.
Vanarra, now that her panic was starting to fade, tried again to recall what had happened to her – why she was suddenly standing in an alley with three horribly wounded Thurians. It was difficult to focus as she still reeked of their blood, but after a few moments, she started to piece some things together. She had been attending a small business exposition at one of the mid-grade hotels intended to provide charitable assistance to struggling companies. Dressing up nice, unfortunately, didn’t keep her from being last when getting the attention from the so-called charitable organizations sponsoring the event. Moving from table to table in the banquet hall, she was soon able to sort what the event truly was – namely an opportunity for someone in a house to try to improve their “honorable” position through “charity.” However, their charity was obviously selective, and Van, disgusted, had done little more than collect the hungry eyes of a few males – something she had little appetite for, given the circumstances.
Walking away from the event in disgust, she had actually gone out the wrong exit and ended up depositing herself into an alley in the back of the hotel. Looking up, she saw several levels of rooms above and behind her, but the clunking of the fire door’s lock told her that she now had to walk around the entire structure to get back to her hover. Sighing in frustration, Vanarra started making her way towards the moving traffic crisscrossing ahead of her.
After only a few steps forward, another fire door opened just in front of her exiting from another part of the building. To her great regret, Vanarra saw three of the males who had been following her throughout the event emerge – a Lupar accompanied by two Vulpi. Groaning inwardly, she sped up her steps trying to slip past them before the door shut. “Excuse me,” she offered, eyes ducked, as she tried to slip past; however, the Lupar’s arm barred the way while one of the Vulpi closed the door.
“Now, now,” he smoothly chastised. “No need to rush. See, I remember you from … another delightful occasion. You were working with like a … fat Faelnar back then. You’ve gotten even more exotic over time.”
As he shoved closer to her, Vanarra picked up his scent, and even after all of the seasons, it was still recognizable. His musk was burned into her memory amongst so many others one night when she had been drugged and brutally rapemated by many different assailants, assailants she couldn’t remember nor recognize save for the evidence their bodies left behind – the residue of their enjoyment of her. “She’s a good lay, fellas, a really good one.”
“Let me go!” Vanarra demanded, slipping free of his grasp and backing up, trying to put distance between them. “I should kill you where you stand for what you did to me! You had no right!”
“You’re just an Anati, cuddle kit,” one of the Vulpi told her matter-of-factly as he and the other two males started stalking towards her, spreading out to keep her from darting past them. “You should be gratified that anything with a pedigree would even want to plow you.”
“No,” Van growled, angrily, and her claws were starting to express.
“Aw, thinks she’s got some fight in her,” the Lupar chuckled. “That’s just too damned cute – I love it! I’m going to really enjoy this, probably more than last time! Come here, bitch!”
The Lupar advanced on her, and tried to forcefully grab her arm. That was the point where rage took control, and her rational self disappeared in favor of one fed by the pain and fear and misery and anger and vengeance that had been burning quietly in her since that event. She could almost remember the rending of flesh as the three tried to take her, but to judge from her clothes, Vanarra had barely been touched. As she watched them wrap bandages around arms, across muzzles, and place a severed ear into a cryo-cooler, she knew that she had dealt them injuries that would scar them for the rest of their lives.
For nearly a full interval, Vanarra sat in the hover watching them work on the three. Additional ambulance hovers screamed into the area behind them, and their crews ran out with hover gurneys to start collecting the injured. One-by-one, her victims were removed from the scene with the enforcement officers taking numerous images and talking to the female who had seen them and screamed earlier. A finger pointing back at her made Van lower her head and start to cry in fear for all she might lose.
While she was crying, the officers got back into the hover and drove, lights flashing, straight to precinct headquarters, pulling through the secure entry into the booking area. When the hover stopped, a disconsolate and terrified Van waited until two burly female Pantera officers stepped out, stun prods at the ready, and opened her door.
“Out!” one ordered, and Van tried her best to shuffle along the seat to get her hind paws out, but the moment she was in reach, a powerful paw grabbed her by the back of the collar and hauled her to her hind paws. They were treating her like a wild animal, and they didn’t bother asking her anything as she was taken to a semi-private area with a hose, a drain, and a small bench.
“Turn and face us!” the larger of the two ordered her after shoving her against the wall. Image after image was taken of her while she was held at stunner point. “Bend over, paws out!” she ordered, and Van complied, bending over and pushing her arms so high they hurt. She yelped when the guard pulled them up even further and loosed the binder from her right paw. Pulling her, helpless, back towards the wall, the free binder was locked onto a heavy metal ring. After a shove that caused her to slip to her knees, Van was then told, “Stand and strip! Everything off!”
Pulling herself shakily upright, Van tried to comply with her free paw. “If you have any identity documents, put those to the side,” the smaller female advised her. “Put all of your clothing, below the waist, in a pile on the floor. Slide your jacket, blouse, and undergarments down your arm to your wrist.”
Humiliated, Vanarra did as she was ordered, knowing she had no choice. Tears rolling down her cheek fur, she complied, putting her ID card on the small bench. Soon, nude save for the clothes hanging off her arm, she was just standing there waiting for them to do the next thing. One of them went to an area off to the side and procured paw gloves and a dispenser. Putting those on and placing the dispenser on the bench, she ordered, “Free paw forward.” With that, another binder was attached and hooked to the same ring. The one with her clothes was unhooked, and the clothes were removed. Instead of being reattached, the Pantera pulled her arm to another ring and secured it, a lower one to the side where it forced Van to face away from them. Then, the second binder was moved lower as well, leaving her in a stooped over position.
“I’m going to check inside you for contraband,” the smaller Pantera told her. “Anything in you that might hurt me? If you fail to tell me, it’s an assault charge on an officer.”
“No, no… Nothing that would hurt you,” Van said, trying to steal herself for what was to come.
“Officer?” a male voice from behind the partition called. Left in that vulnerable position, Van just simply waited while a discussion happened, nearby.
The larger female officer’s voice replied, “Oh!” to some words which were spoken at a level too quiet for Van to hear. “Okay, we … we will.”
The other Pantera was called over, and another whispered conversation took place. “Dammit, why don’t they ever tell us these things!” she cursed. When she came up behind Vanarra, she said, “Regulations require us to check you out. I’ll be as careful as I can. Were you hurt during the … attack? Did any of them touch you down there?” Van shook her head, still terrified. “If something really starts to hurt, tell me. Again, I’ll be as gentle as I can.”
Vanarra felt the gloved hind paw on her rump, and then felt pressures in places deep inside of her that made her blush furs stand on end to the point of pain. However, the officer had not lied; she had been gentle with her. Soft wipes cleaned away the excess lubricant that had been used, and after a moment, Van’s paws were again secured behind her but not as harshly. “You’ve got blood on your chest,” the officer told her. “All in your fur, in other places. We have to wash you, and, I’m sorry, it’s not always pleasant. Again, I’ll do what I can to make it easier.”
“Thank … thank you,” Van whispered, still humiliated. The shower was more like being sprayed by a high-pressure fire hose, and the intensity of the spray reddened her skin underneath her fur wherever it hit, but in a few passes, every square track of her body had been cleaned of the blood. Sopping wet and cold, Van accepted their guidance into a fur dryer with all metal walls and two plastiglass windows. After several passes, she was led out and presented with two plastic bags.
“These contain your required clothing. There are soft pawshoes, underwear, pants, and a top. After you get these on, we’ll take you back and get you settled. Booking is a little backed up right now, so … it’s going to take some time to get to you. Do you need to go to the bathroom?”
Van’s blush furs shot up, and she shook her head “no.” Van hoped they hadn’t noticed that she hadn’t been able to control herself during some of the heavy spraying, and that her body released of its own accord. Thankfully, it was only urine, and she didn’t feel the need for anything else. In a few passes, she was taken to a small cell with a long bench/bed and left there, her wrists still in binders.
Vanarra hazarded a look at Sahnassa who was just staring at her, mouth opened in horror. “No!” the Nephti breathed, her eyes frightened and sad. “Van! How horrible! Were you okay?”
“At the time, not so much … no. However, kit, that’s my point. I made the error of getting backed into a corner by several dumb mistakes. I should have paid attention to where I was – namely, I should have controlled the situation. Second thing, there were some boxes and other things I could have stepped behind had I chosen to rather than trying to slip past three randy males. I could have controlled the contact. Finally, if I had been armed, I could have displayed a deterrent from a range that still gave me time to react. I could have controlled the conflict. Instead, I let the situation, the contact, and the final conflict control me. Now, it could have gone one way, and I would have just been raptemated all over again. Not great for me, but there wouldn’t be three Thurians walking around right now with great big scars the exact size of my claws, either. One with a droopy ear, too.”
“Sounds like just punishment,” Sahnassa breathed darkly, “but I take your point. Still, how exactly would you have controlled the conflict with the odds of three against one?”
“Even having the potential for conflict, being in that place, put me at a disadvantage. Running is always an option, or should be. I could have screamed for help, buying time – there were a lot of windows facing where we were. I could have actually charmed them into a position where one stun prod would have done the job. Letting them get inside of a range of about six tracks of me cut my reaction time, leaving me only one option. Now, another thing I have done since that happened is actually get some self defense training.”
“Doesn’t exactly sound like you need it,” Sahni smiled at her, ruefully, taking another sip.
“I needed to know how to fight and disable someone without maiming them for life, and with a lot of help from a good trainer, I’ve been able to do that. I – just being honest here, kit – don’t think that is your problem. I want you to hang out with me here long enough for us to get you a stunner and for you to know how to use it. I want you to understand it thoroughly. I … I don’t want bad things happening to you. I don’t want bad things happening to others, either. Even that low-life who jumped us tonight deserves to go home with all of his parts. He’ll feel like crap when he wakes up, but in a few intervals, he’ll be fine – well, except for enforcement booking him, that is. So, you convinced enough to let me get you a stunner and show you how to use it?”
“Yes, and I’m grateful, Van. Also, I want you to know how much it touches me when you tell me stories about your past.”
“I figured it would just make you want to run out the door,” the mixed blood replied, not entirely joking.
“Uh, I kind of knew you were … dangerous, already,” Sahnassa mentioned softly, not looking Vanarra in the eyes, her blush furs up.
“Oh? Why? Others been talking?”
“No. I … I was on the receiving end, once – when you were angry at me. You … you are terrifying when you’re angry.”
“What? When was this – I … oh, yeah, when … when we fought, when I yelled at you. Hey, I didn’t strike you, right?”
“No, but I have never been more convinced that my life was in danger than at that moment. It was one of the reasons I didn’t want to come back, why I didn’t want to stay.”
“I should say, kit,” the mixed blood acknowledged, her expression bleak. “Can’t see why you ever chose to stay after that.”
“I saw past it. I saw you.” Sahnassa stood and sat beside Van, placing an arm around her. “I became your friend, and you are a dear friend to me. That’s why.”
“What did you see, Sahni?” Van asked, quietly. “What did you see?”
The Nephti’s eyes closed, and she turned her head towards her friend as her eyes welled. “You … as a young kit. Get to know an adult well enough, and you’ll eventually meet the child in them, I think. When you were heartbroken by what had happened between us, she was … she was real close to the surface. Mine, too.” Her indigo eyes slipped open. “You saw me, too, right? Maybe just a little?”
“Yeah, kit. I … I think I did. Pretty neat, actually. I was so damned lonely for a friend when I was a little kit, makes me kind of happy that she gets to have a friend, now. Makes me really happy, in fact. Thanks.”
“My pleasure; you’ve brought a lot of fulfillment to my life.”
“Ah, but now that might be improved even more by some good dinner. Shall we?”
“I’ll help,” Sahni offered. “And, later, I’d like to hear what happened to get you out of that awful situation if you’d be willing to share it with me.”
“Sure,” Van agreed, standing up. “Actually, I met someone who taught me a lot of what I plan to teach you. Good cub; I miss him. Taught me a lot – like driving.”
“Okay,” Sahnassa breathed, her eyes widening, “now I definitely want to hear about that! I’ve never met anyone who can drive like you!”
“Well, if you met him, you would have. Come on, let’s get started on dinner.” Sahnassa nodded and followed her into the kitchen.