Vanarra ushered the nervous Nephti into her lair once they entered the garage and closed the door. “Come in, kit, come in,” she told her friend. “Like I said, I’m not going to stun you without your permission, and certainly not without warning.”
“Okay, okay, okay,” Sahnassa replied, walking into the room trying to steady her nervous tail, not to mention her still racing heart.
“Would it make you feel any better if I told you that all law enforcement is required to be stunned prior to completing their training?”
“They … they are?” Sahni asked, her voice cracking at the end. “I’m sorry – I just … I’m scared, that’s all.”
“Right,” Vanarra explained, taking the bags she had in her paws to the table and opening them up. Pulling out the stunner they had purchased, Van commented, “I like yours better, I think. They’ve made some refinements. Feels more solid in your paw.”
“Really?” Sahni asked, approaching the table cautiously.
Van pulled her own purse in front of her and pulled out the very stunner which had been used on the Pantera. “Here, hold them. Keep paw fingers off of the triggers, please.” Sahnassa carefully took them and then actually felt and compared them.
“I … I don’t know. Yours feels a bit more flexible. Was this the one that Sarl gave to you?” Vanarra nodded. “Are you attached to it because of that?” Van smiled and shook her head. “It has a very good feel. Do you like holding the one I bought?”
“Actually, yes, kit. Well, after this, maybe we trade for awhile. However, now we come to the part that you and I have to agree on: who gets zapped with whose stunner. I mean, no chance of getting anything disease-wise from the one who was nailed with it before, as the cartridges are replaceable.”
“Is one better or … worse than the other?” Sahnassa asked.
“Nope, we saw when he and you checked out yours in the store, so it’s going to be just the same either way. Now, as far as who goes first, I want you to. After all, I have to more experience, and I can help keep you safe. You and I will need to talk awhile before you hit me. Besides, I think you might be happier to just get it over with.”
“Oh, I … I don’t know! I trust you, Van, I do. I’m scared.”
“What’s funny is that Sarl told me that the biggest, burliest Pantera you can imagine might just be the one who pees his pants before anything even touches him. You are holding up a lot better. Why don’t you hit the facilities and empty out, take anything sharp or pointed out of your pockets so when you land in the bed or on the floor, there’s no chance of anything poking you. Alright?”
“Alright, Van. I … I trust you,” the Nephti repeated, although Vanarra could easily see she was trying to convince herself as much as reassure Van.
After a few passes, Sahni stepped out of the bathroom and looked around. “Van?”
“I’m in my bedroom, kit! Come back this way.”
“You’re … not going to surprise me, right? Oh!” Sahnassa saw that her boss had changed into soft pants and a soft sleeveless shirt. She’d also added a comforter to the floor with several pillows. “Looks kind of comfortable, actually. I guess I’m going to take a nap, then.”
“In a way. Kind of a hard way to settle in, I suppose. If you were totally desperate, maybe. Step out of your paw shoes, kit, and take off your belt. I want only soft stuff on you for this. No problem if I put a small hole in your pants? I have to hit you in your thighs or, well, your backside, after the stun charge drops you.”
“They’re not my nicest. I think … I think it will be okay,” the Nephti offered, seeming to settle down a bit. “You know, there were some nights in academy I was so revved up for a test the next sol I might have wished someone could do this to me.”
“Well, even with modern sleeping aids, you could wake up from it if the fire alarm or something went off. However, not so with this stuff – you’ll be down hard. So, you have my promise that I’m going to stay right by you, especially when I see you’re waking up. I’ll keep my distance until you’re in good enough shape not to lash out. Sound fair?”
“Fair,” Sahni replied stepping forward onto the comforter with her bare hind paws. “You, Van, are … my best friend ever. I know you’re doing this because you want me to be safe. Thank you for coming by and checking on me to make sure I was okay. I wasn’t, and I would have been a lot worse off if you hadn’t.”
“I’ll take care of it, kit. I promise. I’ll take care of you. Now, are you ready?” Biting her lip, the Nephti nodded, tail still twitching. “Okay, now I want you to close your eyes and turn away from me, towards the bed, and I want you to relax your mouth. I saw you nibbling your lip a little there, and when I hit you with this, the nibble could turn into a bite. Put your teeth together with your tongue inside, just like normal. Now, a few deep breaths.”
When the Nephti was in the middle of her second breath, Van pushed the stunner into Sahni’s right side and keyed the switch. “Eeeeeyeeeeeeee!” Sahni squealed as her whole body seemed to just tense up and vibrate uncontrollably, all of her muscles contracting at once. Disoriented, she toppled to the bed and rolled onto the floor. Almost able to tell what was going on, she felt the sting in her thigh. Moments later, everything went black.
Sahnassa came to with her head hanging over a trash receptacle. “It’s okay, kit. It’s going to be okay.”
“Wha? I … happened?”
“Yep,” Van replied with a little regret in her voice, “you certainly happened, kit. You don’t seem to do so well with this takedown drug.”
“Oh,” Sahnassa replied, shakily. “I feel sick. Like throwing up sick.”
“Well, we’ve already done that. I don’t think you have anything left. You haven’t been fully awake until just now, but your body didn’t do too well with that in your system.” At that moment, a hard compulsion to heave hit the Nephti, and she gagged again into the trash bucket. “Yep, and that’s what it’s been like for about ten passes.” Sahni felt her world starting to go black again, but Van shook her a bit and whispered, “Breathe, kit. Please try.”
It took the Nephti great effort, but she rasped breaths in and out against the compulsion to just stay locked in the intense spasm to eject the contents of her stomach. Thankfully, that hard effort paid quick dividends, and the swirling stars in the Nephti’s grayed vision cleared. “Atta kit. Atta kit,” Van encouraged. “As you can see, you aren’t dead, but you might wish you were. Still, there are worse fates than causing someone to get sick.”
“Pretty … much makes it … bad for just trying to get sleep,” Sahni rasped. Van gently put a cup to her lips as she held her. Another gagging spasm hit, but she was able to push Vanarra’s paw away just in time. Then, after she’d resettled herself, Sahnassa took sips.
After a good half interval, the Nephti had to admit that she was starting to feel relatively stable. “Not a good experience,” she summed up, looking up at Van’s ceiling.
“You had it as tough as anyone I’ve ever seen. Still, you’re coming out of it. We’ll take it easy the rest of the sol; however, now’s the big question. Did you learn anything from this?”
Sahnassa closed her eyes. “Not … good, not fun, but not dead. Shouldn’t do this to someone as a joke or something, but if I had to, I … I would; only to protect myself or someone like you. Call enforcement, after, yeah, but call medics, too.”
“A good policy,” Van agreed. “I checked our Pantera out to make sure he was breathing and wasn’t in any real distress, but you can bet they had a doctor look at him while they were waiting to book him. I’m proud of you, kit. Sarl would have no complaints, either, I don’t suppose.”
“You’ve never … never talked about him around the office before, but you learned a lot from him. Why not? Not even to me before now.”
Vanarra offered Sahni another water a put a cold cloth on her head. “The truth is that I don’t know what Sarlankar really was or who he worked for. I don’t know his friends or his enemies, but if I start mentioning his name or trying to find him, they might find me. That’s trouble I don’t need. If my intuition serves me right, Sarl’s trails were dangerous ones, and as I said, I think those hazards claimed him in the end. However, there’s this Nephti I’ve really come to trust, and I know that she won’t ever share anything that would put me or anyone else in the office in danger, so I feel okay talking with her and telling her about it.”
“Well, not that she would, but if she ever did, you could just stun her. Even the threat of that would send her running into the corner!”
“Nope,” Van chuckled, tousling the fur between the Nephti’s ears, “I trust her. She’ll take care of us. You good enough to try and stand up?”
“I think so. Wow, so … if someone were to stun me,” Sahni groaned as Van helped her to her hind paws, “and I’ve been down for how long?”
“About three intervals. You were a long time coming out of it, and you probably won’t be back close to normal for a couple more at least.”
Sahnassa wobbled a bit, even with the mixed blood’s assistance, as she made her way out of the bedroom and into the living room. “So, that’s five intervals that I’m basically helpless – wow! So, there’s a bit more to think about. If you do this to someone and help, like enforcement, doesn’t come, you’d have to keep an eye on them for a long time. If you have to save your life, yeah, but again, it’s not something to do for fun. Van… I don’t want to stun you. I really don’t. I’m good. I practiced enough.”
Vanarra sat next to the Nephti and held her paw. “I understand, kit. To be truthful, I was trying to talk myself into it while you were out. I’m … seriously worried I might hurt you. I was trying to be fair about it, but—“
“Nope, don’t need fair,” Sahni replied, laying back and closing her eyes. “Need safe. Safe is good, oh … mercy! Hey, can you tell me more about all that happened after that incident?”
“You don’t want details on the rutting, do you?” Van teased.
“Uh, no, but like the stuff you were talking about before – like the circles around you and stuff like that. How he trained you.”
“Okay, kit, I will. Just sit back and relax, and I’ll get you some tea.”
Vanarra struggled back to consciousness, not fully remembering where she was or what had happened to her. Instinctively, she strained against her bonds – soft but firm cuffs that held both her wrists and ankles together, both seemingly connected by some kind of rope behind her back as she lay on her side. “Wha?! Dammit! Let me go!” she howled, her words slurring.
“Not a chance,” Sarl replied behind her from a safe distance. “Not till you’re a bit more awake and a bit more calm. Then, I could always just stun you again.”
That brought Vanarra around a little more. He had told her she had to be stunned so she would understand what it was like, and that it was exactly what all of the civilian and military enforcement did during their training. “Why … can’t I move?” she growled out.
“Your instincts when trapped are to go for the throat, as I recall. Decided it would be better to wait until you could be talked down a bit. Just relax. Only a few more passes now. We’re past the worst of it.”
The mixed blood screwed up her brow in concentration. “Wait a tick,” she asked, craning around to see him sitting on her bed, “I just woke up a tick ago.”
“Not exactly. By my count, it’s more like a quarter interval, and you’ve been a growling, snarly mass on the floor. Combative is … the polite term for it.”
Van laid her head on the soft comforter he had put beneath her. “Yeah, a really dangerous bitch is more appropriate.” His silence was agreement, she knew that by now. “Everyone react this way?”
“No, and not even the same way every time.”
Van closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Staring across the floor, she sighed, “I missed a spot when I vacuumed, and … the trim boards need painting. Carpet is getting worn over by the door.” She felt his paws gently take her wrists and loose the cuffs, and then he got the ones on her ankles. As she rolled over, he stepped back. “Well, damned if that wasn’t fun,” she groaned.
“So what did you learn?” he asked, evenly.
“Hurts like mange when it hits you, then … nothing. I don’t remember anything until just now. My response was … violence, which fits me, I guess, but what else can happen?”
“Some will get sick, throw up, which is a problem if someone isn’t watching over them. They’re not awake enough, and they can choke and die. That’s only one way a stun prod can kill someone.”
Sitting up slowly, she asked, “There are others?”
“You can cheat the safeties, bypass them. Dump the full charge into someone for more than a couple of ticks, and the longer it goes the greater the chance their heart will stop, not to mention burning their skin down to the muscle. Same thing for the drug – dump it all, and the heart or breathing or both might stop. Never consider a stunner as non-lethal unless you own it and have looked at it, yourself.”
“So, it’s all a big lie,” Van nearly growled, working her way up to sit beside him on the bed. “This … you can’t have lethal weapons thing. I can buy a stunner, and if I know what to do, I can make it lethal. Is it difficult?”
“Makes the whole thing about only owning non-lethal weapons a bunch of crap, huh?”
“Only that you can get incarcerated if you found using them or possessing them.”
Van chuckled a bit, “Yeah, only that.”
“The model I’m going to set up you with has at least five quick detach barrels. Projectiles are identified to their respective weapons by the pattern made on the rounds as they leave the barrel. Different barrel, different pattern. Barrels on short range are only three quarters of a track long. Give someone an extra hole, pull the barrel, replace it, and then find a convenient place to discard the barrel. Some professionals actually keep an acid they can slip the barrel into; however, it’s far more cost effective to just toss the barrel in with a huge pile of metal scrap that’s going to be recycled anyway.” He looked at Van and saw that she was thinking that through, despite the fact she was still recovering from the effects of the stun, and it made him smile, slyly. “Have a few places in mind?”
She nodded. “Hope I never have to use them, but … beats going to jail.”
“Jail happens anyway if they catch you with one; death is what happens if they find you with the one that ventilated an avowed, even in self defense. That’s the problem with them. You need to have a stash place in your lair that enforcement isn’t likely to locate, and it also needs to have a vacuum seal around it – something one of their trained prowlers can’t sniff through.”
“Solvable problem,” Van offered, laying back on the bed, a specific urge nagging at her now that she was feeling half herself again. As she predicted, his eyes followed her down, specifically certain parts of her body. “Not that I actually want to kill someone. It’s a lie to say I wouldn’t – I almost did.”
“You … are a passionate Thurian,” he observed, coolly, leaning over her.
“Fat lot of good it will do me if being passionate gets me killed,” Van sighed, teasing Sarl with a deferral – something that didn’t angle towards the direction he wanted to go. It was everything she could do to keep herself from pouncing on him – she’d grown quite fond of his attentions despite his perfunctory attitude to her willingness as regards intimate relations. He was going to take her like prey, and she liked that.
He smirked a little, seeing her tack. “Then I’ll help teach you, so you learn how not to get yourself in those kinds of situations. You have the method of defense, the stunner, and you understand it. Now, you need to wrap that skill with … the right technique, a special awareness, a careful finesse.” His paws kept time with his words, making her purr and yield any pretense of trying to hold him off.
“Something else to look forward to,” she told him, sensuously, and no further training progress occurred that night.
The next evening, however, was much different. Vanarra found herself entering a local gym called “Claw Strike.” According to the clerk at the front desk, the owner had been seemingly well paid to add the mixed blood to the approved guest list, and in truth, she wasn’t the first. There were a couple of other somewhat successful mixed bloods who trained there. In a private exercise area, Van found herself standing with a Vulpi female Van didn’t know, Sarl at her side.
“I looked for someone crazy enough to train you, because what you need to know can’t be learned in a few sols. It takes a moon or more,” he told her. “I’ll let you two make introductions, later. Just so you know, she’s qualified to teach you. I’ve put in a good word for you, too.”
“Thank you,” she told him, reaching her paw out and clasping that of the Vulpi’s.
“Now, I’ve marked out areas on the floor,” he told her, walking her to the center of the bright orange construction tape circles. “The first one is at a radius of zero to one point five tracks. This is what’s called intimate space, but when speaking in self defense terms, it means that someone has to exert very little effort to kill you if they are in this range. Obviously, one should be very careful who gets in that circle.”
“Obviously,” Van agreed, trying not to smirk giving their raucous and extremely intimate activities the night prior.
“Next circle – one point five tracks to four tracks. This is called your space,” he told her, moving into that circle. “It’s generally within arm’s reach, and it is usually reserved for those we’re especially close to, socially. Think of someone walking up to you and telling you a secret. Let them into this space, and while it’s not as easy to kill you as in the prior circle, it’s not difficult. The other term for this range is claw strike distance, something I believe you’re quite familiar with.” His allusion to her uncontrolled clawing of the three purebred males sobering Van quickly.
He nodded at the Vulpi, and she stepped a little further out. “He’s put me in the four tracks to twelve tracks circle. This is our social space. Do you feel how much closer he feels to you than I? There’s a reason for that. This is the normal distance we use when talking with someone we don’t know or even our friends. Friends we let in closer, those of higher rank or those we aren’t sure of we feel comfortable having a little more distance. The problem with this range is—“ Van watched in horror as the Vulpi swept a stunner from behind her back and shot a bolt right at her.
While it made her scream and jump, it was only from surprise. Sarl put his paw on her shoulder. “From that range, you have no reaction time if the opponent is even equipped with basic skills and equipment. When Thurians are in this range, you must always be studying them closely – the position of their paws, their stance, what they are looking at. While some call it the social range, this is the close conflict range – just remember the lesson: no reaction time.”
“I’ll remember,” Van stated, her voice still shaking.
“Finally,” the Vulpi told her, “the public space, anywhere from twelve to twenty five tracks. This is the area where our senses generally are attuned to those nearby, but it’s too far away for normal conversation. However, it does have a difference.”
Van saw what she was doing and jumped out of the way before the second stunner bolt thumped into her. “You have some reaction time – not much, but some. When confronting an opponent, this is the reasonable distance to tell someone to back off. Say, a male is stalking you, and you’re over it. He follows you out to your hover, and he calls out to you. You need to address him and get his attention while he’s still in this outer zone, further if you have to, but certainly within it. Then, you can make it clear that you don’t want him around.”
“There’s some legal foundation for this, also. Someone outside of the range of twenty five tracks who isn’t heading towards you, confirmed by witness, makes a real hard case to prove self defense.”
The Vulpi added to his explanation. “When someone enters this circle, you have every right to tell them to stop and back up a little, if you’re not sure of them. Good cubs and kits will at least stop and might even take a few steps back, especially if you slip into a ready, alert, or defense stance – something I’ll teach you later. If someone doesn’t respect your request, then it’s time to pull your weapon on them. The optimal range for wired stunners is no more than fifteen tracks – this mark here. Stopping your opponent at twenty five gives you time to warn them off before they slip into range.”
“Bolt stunners against the normal creeps you’d be facing would be the same range,” he told her. “That’s why you want to be well practiced and smooth and sure with firing the stunner. You want to give that attacker approaching you no chance to dodge what’s coming at them. As you’ve seen, stunners are expensive, and there are a lot of muggers and robbers and other creeps that can’t afford them. They might have stolen them, but that’s why you’re going to be much more aware of what’s in your public space, right?”
Vanarra nodded. “I get it. Makes pretty clear sense, actually. Do the Thurians who come to see you,” she asked the Vulpi, “have they ever had to fire a stunner in self defense?”
“Several have, and they do on a regular basis – as I train enforcement officers. However, many private citizens do, too. They work as transport drivers or as something else that puts them in places that aren’t always that wonderful. The stunner has saved more than a few kits and cubs, for that matter, from a very nasty experience.”
“What happens afterwards?” Van asked.
“Carry a bunch of long plastic ties in your purse or in a pocket,” Sarl told her. “They’re light, and they allow you to bind someone at the wrist and ankles pretty easily. Carry like three or four. It’s not likely you’re going to have more than one or two you’ll need to take care of. Stunning two attackers is generally enough to drive off the third. If you have four against you, well, you’re luck is pretty good to have gotten two down, and now the odds are in half. Hopefully, your attackers can also do the math. Remember, you’re saving their lives, in all likelihood, by downing them this way.”
“Saving their—“ Kylie started to ask, but Sarl shook his head.
“Vanarra’s fighting instincts are some of the most dangerous and violent I’ve ever seen, and exceptionally effective – nearly deadly for a trio some sols back. Van’s looking for a way to keep those conflicts from happening, and if they do, end them without maiming anyone.”
Van was embarrassed by what Sarl had just said, but the Vulpi’s reaction was curious. In her eyes, there was some level of interest, fascination. She’d obviously been sized up by the fitness instructor and self defense coach, and she’d fallen into one of the standard, more pedestrian categories. Sarl’s statement had been due warning that Van held more danger than this trainer at Claw Strike might have first perceived. The raised eyebrow fur over the bright blue eyes said as much, and Van, feeling the need to, confirmed it. “He’s not lying. I wish he was, but … he’s not.”
The Vulpi walked over and look at her, still curious. “Would you mind expressing your claws for me?” Vanarra turned over her left paw and gently pressed at the trigger spot which helped draw out her claws. “That’s all the way?” Van shook her head and pressed firmer, closing her eyes against the discomfort and the instinctive feelings that were rising in her as she did as the Vulpi asked. After a moment, suppressing a snarl, she opened her eyes to see the Vulpi gawking at the additional length. “Okay, that’s … enough.”
“It had better be; her back fur was starting to ride up,” Sarl warned the Vulpi. “Push her too far, and your own hide will be in the balance, I promise you, if not your life.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” the Vulpi replied, although there was still a very interested tone in her voice. It seemed that the discussion, and perhaps a demonstration, wasn’t going to happen immediately, but the fitness instructor clearly was filing that little fact about Van away for later.
“I don’t want to fight anyone ever again,” Van told them, shaking off the spell.
“I don’t think that’s going to be an option for you,” the Vulpi female told her. “Like it or not, based on what Sarl told me, you’re likely to get into some situations every now and again. My training and your new stunner will do a good job of helping end those conflicts peacefully, but it doesn’t eliminate the risk that – should it fail – you aren’t going to take someone else apart. You have to know what your goals are before I start training you.”
Van walked over, fairly close to the Vulpi and asked quietly, “Could you do that? Could you actually teach me to fight someone and not leave them dying on the pavement?”
“Yes,” she told her. “I can. If I can have a sane conversation with you right now, then I can train you to harness that power and even those claws. I want you to get yourself medically checked out, first. Make sure that we’re not dealing with something else here that a doctor needs to take care of. Do you have these violent tendencies often?”
“It was only when I smelled him…” She confessed. “I knew he was one of those who had, well, rapemated me some time ago.”
“You didn’t eviscerate him then?”
“No. They … they drugged me. I woke up when it was all over.”
The Vulpi just shook her head. “I’ve got a lot I can do for you, but it’s going to take time. Can you make that type of commitment?”
“I have an orphanage full of little faces and an office full of grown ones who really need me to be there and not dead or in jail,” Van told her. “I have no problem with commitment.”
“Sounds like a good arrangement,” Sarl commented. “When would you like to see her next?”
“As soon as she gets her clearance by the doctor.”
“Very well,” Sarl said, and proffered the instructor’s card to Van.
Van took it and, instantly, averted her eyes down. “I’m sorry. I had no idea.”
“No. In my gym,” the Vulpi told her, “we leave the manners for the outside world. Here, we get things done.”
“Thanks. Good evening. I’ll be in touch in no more than five sols.” After clasping paws with the Vulpi, she followed Sarl out of the room.
“There, there, kit,” Van asked, “you feeling better?”
“Just about,” Sahni answered, standing up. “I’m actually kind of … hungry, come to mention it.”
“Ah, well, then have you picked the right time of the season to get stunned by your boss,” Van chuckled. “Come on, let’s put some feasting into these sols – of course we have to cook it, first.”
“Oh! Think I could pick up a few things from you? In academy, I never had to cook – or never got to.”
“What did you live on, then?” Van asked.
As she followed Vanarra into the kitchen, she replied, “Well, whatever I could find, honestly. More often than not, I’d get a quick meal out of the dispenser in the commons. Every once in a grand while I might go to a restaurant, but that was like a pawful of times, tops.”
“At one point in my life,” Van confessed, “I thought quick meals in a wave cooker were the best food you could ever get. What do you eat, now, kit?”
“Well, when we’re doing events, I eat very well, afterwards. There are also a few times, here and there, in a moon that I’ll go to de Kestos or something like that. I still have a pretty fair stock of quick meals at my lair, but I try to pick the healthier ones. What?”
“I really haven’t done right by you, kit,” Van replied, frustrated. “I’ve just locked you in that server room or your office and haven’t exposed you to what everyone else has to do – cook!”
“No, Van, you’ve been very kind to me! I eat better than I have, I think, at any time in my life.”
“I think it could stand a little improvement, kit. If you’ll let me show you, I’ll teach you how to cook yourself a good meal in only a few passes – something you can put away for later and just heat up, too.”
“I’d … love to learn that from you,” Sahnassa offered gratefully, but then her smile grew sly. “It might even make up for you stunning me.”
Vanarra laughed, and the two began to spend the rest of the afternoon and evening cooking, and learning to cook.