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The Kennel Conspiracy

This short story was May 2016’s Short Story of the Month! If you enjoy it, and would like to support more, please consider throwing me a buck here.

This story is part of a serial project called Terran Action News Feed (or TANF)! It’s a world of Bondesque action and romance in a sci-fi world. The previous story was “Targeted for Success”, but the stories are fairly stand-alone. Please let me know if you like it: there’s lots more of Mary and Zil to come!

I gripped the sheets tightly. I was trying not to be too noisy, simply because I knew my silence would bother Cyan, and they’d be working even harder at it. Not that they particularly needed to. They’d buried their face between my legs enough to know their way around, so to speak. But eh, more fun if they work for it.

“Thought you wanted to make me cum,” I panted softly.

“Mmhmm,” Cyan said against me.

“Should act like it then.”

They looked up and grinned. “I can stop, you know.”

I pushed their head back down. “Don’t you dare.”

They just chuckled and got back to it.

They were finally getting the moans they wanted out of me when my wand went off.

Cyan gave me a look.

“Thought I muted everyone but…” I started, frustrated, before seeing who is was. “Zil…”

“Need to take it?” Cyan asked.

I laid there and thought about it.

“I’m going to take that as a yes,” they said, smiling and standing.

“Booooooo,” I said.

“Let’s face it, you actually have a partner now, gotta act like it.”

“No fun to act like it,” I said. “I’ll just have to love you instead.”

“Nah,” Cyan said. “And I’ll still be here afterwards.”

“Fine…” I said, and picked up.

“Mary…” Zil said. She took a moment to look at the fact that I was naked and still breathing hard. “Mm, you didn’t have to pick up if you were busy… was going to leave a message…”

“It’s okay,” I said. “What do you need?”

“I just… I know this is your date with Cyan night… but I’m just… “ Zil all the sudden broke into a loud, terrifying coughing fit.

“Uh, Zil? You okay?”

She tried to catch her breath. “Not… feeling well… is all…”

“Got worse since work?”

“Yeah…” she said.

I sighed. She seemed a little out of it today but I figured if she’d gone home and rested she’d be fine.

“Was hoping… you could bring something to eat… when you come home… I feel really dizzy when I stand up…”

“I… wasn’t planning on coming home tonight,” I said, immediately regretting it.

“R-right… forgot…” Zil said, and started coughing again.

Cyan was leaning in the doorway to their bedroom. They mouthed “Go home, idiot,” to me. I glared at them. They shook their head and walked out of the room.

“It’s okay,” Zil said in between coughs. “I’ll be okay, I’ll just rest…”

“Hey, look,” I said, collecting myself a bit. “Do you need me to come home?”

“It’s okay…”

“Just tell me if I should come home.”

“It’s okay, Mary…”

I rubbed my forehead with my free hand. “That means I should come home, right?”

“I know you need this time…”

I took a breath to keep myself from being too frustrated. “Zil, I picked up because you’re important, right? So I am asking you, would you like me to come home?”

Zil just started coughing again.

“Fine, okay, I’m coming, just hold on, I’ll bring soup or something.”

I ended the call and flopped back onto the bed, sighing loudly.

“You actually said she was important,” Cyan said, ducking their head back in. Clearly, they’d been listening right outside the door instead of actually giving me privacy. “That’s good for you.”

“Fuck off, Cyan,” I said.

“Sadly, I’ll have to take care of all the fucking by my lonesome now, woe is me,” they said, fainting onto the bed beside me.

“You’re the one who wanted me to go,” I said.

“Purely selfish motivations, I assure you,” Cyan said, turning to smile at me. “When you’re having girlfriend problems, all we do is talk instead of fuck. Which is nice. But I have needs, Mary.”

I sighed. “So do I.”

“So a little preventative medicine and then we can get back to fucking soon.” They leaned over and kissed my cheek. “Now go put some clothes on.”

“No.”

“Mary.”

“Don’t wanna. You dress me.”

“I’m no good at that, only undressing you.”

I sighed again, and finally got up.

By the time I got dressed, ordered food, got a pod, picked up the food, got another pod… well, it was probably later than I wanted when I got home. But whatever, I came, right?

“Zil?” I said, carrying a big container of soup and a big sandwich for myself.

“Mary,” I heard Zil say, before she started coughing again.

I dropped my purse on the kitchen counter, grabbed a spoon, and headed into the bedroom.

Zil was hidden under the blankets, trying to use them to mask her deadly cough that, especially now in person, sounded like her entire insides were attempting to leave her.

“I brought chicken soup,” I said when she could breathe again.

“Thank you…” she said, taking the container in her claws and opening the lid, smelling it. “I don’t think we’ve ever eaten this…”

“Oh, it’s like… Terran sick person food… dunno if it’s helpful for you, but that’s where my head went,” I said, handing her the spoon.

She had some. “M-mm… thank you…”

I nodded. “Really seem to have gotten worse… just seemed tired this morning. Did you get someone to check it out?”

“Oh… yeah… on the way home…” she said, eating very tentatively, scared she was going to start coughing again. “Said it wasn’t a big deal if I rest and take some basic meds… said it was… what did they say…” Zil said, thinking, before starting to cough again.

I sighed and sat down on the bed, putting a hand on her shoulder. “Take your time and breathe and stuff, okay?”

Zil nodded. “Said it was a mutated form of Kennel Cough…”

“Wait, Kennel Cough? The thing the little dogs get?” I asked.

Zil looked into her soup. “I guess so.”

I was trying really hard not to laugh at this. “And I guess we were at those pet breeders four days ago to ask about the illegal intelligence splicing thing.”

“Yeah…”

I finally let out a laugh. I couldn’t help it. Zil really was the little dog pet of xenos, wasn’t she? “S-sorry, sorry… just never even thought about this…”

“I’m sure there are plenty of embarrassing things you could get sick from on Dougal,” Zil said, looking frustrated.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m sure… sorry.”

Zil just sighed and tried to eat.

“Should I let you rest, or grab a chair and eat in here?”

“Whatever you’d like, Mary…”

“That means chair,” I said, and went and got it.

We just ate for a while, mostly in silence, though occasionally broken up with Zil’s loud coughs. After she was done, I cleaned everything up.

“Just rest, I guess… I can sleep on the couch?” I said. I’d rather be sleeping in Cyan’s bed, but what are you going to do, I guess.

“Why?” Zil asked, thinking. “Oh… I guess I’d keep you up coughing all night…”

“I was more thinking so I don’t get sick,” I said. “But now that I think of it, that’s silly, I’m not going to catch something you have. So yeah, probably the coughing thing.”

“Right… okay…” Zil said. She pulled the covers around her to lay down, and made a little quiet whine. She looked so fucking pitiful.

I sighed, and undressed, and got into bed beside her.

“Mary…?” she said as she felt me on the other edge of the bed. “You don’t…”

“Just hug me already, like you want to,” I said.

She rolled over and pulled me into her big arms. I was going to have a lot of trouble extracting myself when she finally fell asleep. “Thank you…” she said softly as she closed her eyes.

I tried to let myself relax. Pressed up against her, it was obvious she was having trouble breathing. I just hoped she’d get better soon. I had work to do.

“What’s making you late this time?” Julian asked as he picked up, not even looking away from whatever he was working on.

“I’m calling in sick, actually,” I said.

“Uh huh. Don’t sound very sick to me,” he said.

“I’m also calling in for Zil, who is also sick,” I said.

“Of course. What are you two going to do that you couldn’t file proper time off paperwork for?”

“Fuck off, Julian.”

He finally looked up at me. “I’m serious. The whole dog thing you were doing hasn’t turned up anything, and you’ve been turning down all my softball story offers. The last thing you need is to waste another day not filing a story, Mary.”

I sighed. “I understand that, but Zil is sick, and I have never seen her sick before, and she can’t really stand, so I’m staying home and taking care of her, okay?”

Julian looked me over for a moment. “Huh.”

I sent him the information from the doctor. “Here’s what you need to show she should not get out of bed.”

I could see him looking at it, nodding. “Fair enough, I stand corrected.”

“Yeah, that’s right. I wouldn’t lie to you, Julian.”

He laughed. “Uh huh. Tell Zil to feel better for me.” He ended the call.

I rolled my eyes and sighed. I moved on to my other task: ordering breakfast. When the pod came, I carried Zil’s into the bedroom.

“Hey,” I said. “You awake?”

“Mmmph?” she said.

“Breakfast. Eat something and then get back to sleep.”

Zil pushed herself up, looking at the breakfast sandwich. “Thank you…” She took it in her claws and bit off about half of it. “Is this sick food too?”

“No, just… what I always order us for breakfast,” I said, shrugging and sipping my coffee.

Zil chuckled a little. “Right…” Her chuckle turned into another powerful series of coughs.

We ate.

“Shouldn’t you be at work…” Zil said, realizing the time.

“Someone has to stay home and take care of you,” I said.

“I’m feeling a little better, if you…”

“Just stop it, okay?” I said. “I made up my mind for better or worse, so here I am.”

Zil nodded. “Okay… I’m… going to go back to bed though…”

“Yeah, get better.”

She got back under the covers and I left the room. I sat down and was immediately bored. I opened what I could get to from my wand and tried to catch up on what work I could from here. There wasn’t a lot.

Eventually, Zil came into the main room for lunch.

“Woah, hey now, you okay to stand?” I said, getting up and hurrying to her side. Not that I could really support her for very long, as big as she is, but it’s the thought that counts, right?

“I’m a lot less dizzy,” Zil said. “Thank you…” She kept switching what eyes she was looking out of, like she couldn’t make up her mind. Still disoriented, at least a little.

“Well, if you’re feeling better… let me get some lunch…” I said.

I reheated some leftovers (I can handle that at least) and we ate.

“Think I should be okay to do a little something tomorrow…” Zil said. “Could work on package stuff at my desk, maybe… I already feel a lot better…”

“That’s good,” I said. “Though I guess that means I double have to come up with a new story before tomorrow… been trying today, but haven’t been able to shake out any leads sitting here.”

“Sorry I’m making that difficult…” Zil said.

“Nah. I deserve a break anyway, probably,” I said.

“Sure,” Zil said.

I had just gotten her back to bed when my wand went off.

“Rest, I’ll take this in the other room,” I said, and walked out. I looked. I didn’t recognize the caller. I picked up anyway.

“Hello?” I said.

“Hi…” A Terran was on the other end. He was fidgeting with his hair nervously. “Are you… you’re the reporter from TANF, right?”

I wondered if my private work contact info had gotten leaked again. But I was bored enough to give him time to explain himself. “That’s right. Mary Kasyanov. And you are?”

“Hitoshi… oh, maybe I shouldn’t give my last name…” he said, thinking.

“Might be a good idea, depending on why you called,” I said.

“I talked to someone at the breeders’ and he said you were asking around about illegal intelligence splices…”

“Yes, I most definitely am. Do you have something for me?” I said, grinning, turning on a recording of the call.

“I… we should meet and talk… somewhere safe. Tonight,” he said.

“I agree, as long as you have something actionable for me.”

“I do… I think… I think you will want to see what I have for you…”

He was clearly nervous. That means he was either scared or lying, and lying probably meant I could make something out of his reason to lie. I mean, maybe he was just a fan who wanted to meet with me and was lying about having a lead, but eh, I was bored. “Someplace safe? Someplace public, then. How about The Mines? I know people there, and it should be busy enough tonight for some anonymity.”

“No… it has to be outside,” he said.

“Why?”

“It… will make sense when you get there…” he said, tugging at his hair.

“Well,” I said, thinking. “Nothing is going to be more populated than Signal Park, I guess? At 7? At the rose gardens?”

“Yeah… yeah, that should work…”

“Okay, excellent. Looking forward to seeing you, Hitoshi,” I said, putting on my most “you are very important to me and also maybe I like you” smile.

“Y-yeah… see you then…” he said, and then disconnected.

I grinned. Finally, something moving on this.

And then I realized I’d be leaving Zil alone and maybe I shouldn’t have been making plans.

“Fuck,” I said, leaning against the wall.

Well, nothing for it. She’d probably be asleep the whole time anyway.

The contrast of Signal Park to other places in the general vicinity was always odd. It was one of the few places you could go and enjoy natural lighting, for example. The sunset was casting weird shadows through the frame of the antenna that towered over everything, a metal webbing that managed to look both out of place in a space of green and also kind of pretty, in it’s own way.

I had arrived early to watch the Rose Garden for a while and make sure everything was going to be fine. Zil, as I had hoped, was asleep when I left, so that was one problem I wasn’t going to have. I wanted to make sure I didn’t have any others. Had my Athenian holstered at my waist and my eyes out for anything weird. It never hurts to be careful. Also I was just astoundingly bored at staying home all day so watching people walk in and out of a rose garden was somehow slightly more appealing.

It wasn’t long until I saw the man I had talked to earlier. He was walking a dog into the rose garden, and looked very nervous about it, looking this way and that. Finally, he sat down on a bench and sat the dog in his lap. The dog was wearing a really big collar for such a tiny dog that jutted from its neck.

I fiddled with my wand to turn on my voice recorder, and headed over.

“Hello,” I said to Hitoshi as I approached.

He jumped a little, but turned to look at me. “O-oh, hello. Hi… thank you for coming?” he said.

“It’s no problem,” I said, trying to put on a reassuring smile.

“You’re… armed?” he asked, looking to my Athenian.

“You didn’t want to share your full name and worried about safety, so…” I shrugged. “Let’s walk and talk.”

“Alright…” he said. The dog hopped out of his lap and he stood.

We walked out of the garden and along one of the walking paths. It was nearly dark. Soon a soft safety glow from the tower above would be all that was lighting the place.

“Whenever you’re ready,” I said.

“Okay… well… this is Allegro…” he said, pointing to the dog.

One of those types about their pets, I guess? I figured I should play along. “Hello, Allegro,” I said to the dog, taking a closer look. Like basically all pets he was very small. Short, brown fur. Big eyes.

“Hello, Mary, I believe?” came what sounded like a really cheap synthetic voice from the collar.

“…yes, that’s my name,” I said.

“Excellent.” The dog looked up at me, and then turned back forward as we walked. “As you may guess, I’m one of the dogs you were searching for.”

“So you are,” I said. “How’d all this happen?”

“I… it was an accident?” Hitoshi said. “I wanted a pet, and bought Allegro… but he was acting really strange. The breeder said that this genetic variant of dog was very obedient and intuitive and things, but Allegro was… it was very clear he could understand way more complex things that I thought he should be able to?”

“As a dog, there are only so many forms of communication open to me,” Allegro said. “I’m not sure about others in my situation, but I was pretty desperate to get Hitoshi to understand me. The moment I worked out a significant portion of his language I was attempting to get his attention.”

“Once I figured that out… well, I… well…” Hitoshi said, looking around nervously. “Well, I work in wand installation… so I figured, if he really was understanding me, if I could modify a wand and install it, he could, you know, work things, do things…”

“The surgery was very terrifying,” said the dog. “But it worked. And once I had a wand, I could manipulate a lot more things, and it was clear I could think.”

“So I worked out this synth speech program…” Hitoshi said. “And we’re still working on the wand software… but… well…”

“Yes,” Allegro said. “I’m lucky here. I know my existence is illegal and I don’t want Hitoshi to get in trouble, seeing as he is doing what he can for me for now. At least until there’s some proof he was not involved in knowingly buying me like this, I would prefer to stay hidden. But I have no idea if the other members of my litter were so lucky as to find someone willing to believe they were intelligent. Terrans, I have found, are not, on the whole, perceptive. I could see most ignoring the signs of intelligence as ‘cute’ or similar.”

“I see. That makes sense,” I said, trying to keep the grin off my face and stay serious. “So what do you want me to do?”

“Well… I know the breeder Allegro came from…” Hitoshi said. “And I was hoping you might out them… and then I won’t be in trouble and he can have a more proper life for an intelligent being that doesn’t involve pretending to walk him on a leash… and maybe his siblings will be saved too…”

“Sensible. I’d love to do just that,” I said. “But I hope you’ll understand, I’ll need to confirm that Allegro isn’t an AI or otherwise having his voice artificially run from elsewhere before I act on that.”

“I promise you, I am very much real,” Allegro said.

“Can she check, though?” Hitoshi asked.

“…I suppose,” Allegro said, sitting down and looking nervous.

I bent down, took off his collar, and took a look at it. I couldn’t locate any signal besides being hooked to a nearby wand that was on the dog itself. But I’m no expert. Zil would be better at this. But no Zil tonight. Oh well, surely that was enough to look into their claims, at least.

“Thank you,” I said to Allegro, putting his collar back on. I reached out, instinctively, to pet him, but stopped myself. That’s probably rude, right? I stood back up. “So, love to get proper interviews with you once you’re both safe, and so on, so I am going to keep your contact information on file, but for now, where am I heading?”

“Uh, it’s a place called Companionship Plus… let me send you the location…”

I hid a frown as Hitoshi fiddled with his wand. “No need, I know where you’re talking about.” It had been one of the places I’d been asking around at. They’d seemed just like any business would be with someone asking these kinds of questions, and I didn’t read any deception, but then again, the person behind all this might not have been the person I talked to. “How did you hear I was asking around about this?”

“Uh, well…” He was blushing, embarrassed. “I was trying to ask who else had purchased dogs from Allegro’s litter… but they wouldn’t tell me, overheard them complaining about you being in there asking questions too, and what was up with so many people pestering them…”

“That… wasn’t a smart move,” I said.

“Well, I mean, I was trying to be cool about it…” Hitoshi said, obviously understanding how this wasn’t a great idea. “I asked if there were any left, and then started asking about who else had bought them… and just… you know… maybe went too far…”

This guy clearly couldn’t extract information from a willing subject, much less someone hiding something. “And so you think they’re onto you, then?”

“I mean, maybe?” Hitoshi said.

“If they are creating intelligent life and then dooming them to a sub-intelligent existence, I cannot imagine they are nice sorts,” Allegro said. “So it seems prudent to be careful.”

“That’s fair,” I said. “Well, be careful. I’ll look into it.”

“Thank you,” Allegro said.

“Thanks…” Hitoshi said.

We came to a split in the path, and I headed off in the other direction from them.

I hadn’t really gotten that far away before I heard a loud yelp, clearly from a dog.

I turned. Hitoshi was yelling and running after what looked to be a Terran man, carrying Allegro, who was barking. Hitoshi already looked winded.

I pulled my Athenian and started sprinting. Hitoshi, stopping and panting, looked at me in shock as I ran past him. Suppose I couldn’t blame him. My engineered genetics make me a lot more than I look in a lot of areas, running being just one of them.

I was breathing hard as I was closing the gap, but I clearly wasn’t going to make it in time. There was a pod landing ahead, and clearly the man carrying Allegro was heading for it. I gave up, stopped, and held my Athenian in both hands, taking aim.

My shot was slightly off, and the disruptor blast sparked against the pod to the left of the hatch. It was, however, enough to set him off-guard. He flinched, and his head turned back towards me, before he cried out in pain from the claws Allegro was able to sink into him. Allegro dropped to the ground, hitting his back at an odd angle, but he quickly scrambled to his paws and dashed off the path.

The man hesitated for a moment, unsure whether or not to run after Allegro, but quickly realized I was lining up another shot. My next blast hit the hatch as he pulled it closed and the pod flew away.

“Fuck!” I said under my breath, and pulled up my wand.

“A-are… is everything…” Hitoshi said, panting, catching up.

“Allegro ran away into the bushes that way, you’ll find him, I have to go now, before they destroy all the evidence,” I said, calling a pod, and then calling Zil as Hitoshi went to look for his friend.

“Mary…?” A sleepy Zil said.

“Zil, okay, I need you to get at least one lens and head to the location I am sending you asap, this is important.”

“Mary, you’re… when did you go out…?”

“Zil, please, come on.”

“All the lenses are at the office… I have my consumer-grade ones, but…”

“They’ll do. Just come, okay? Grab a pod right now.”

“But Mary…”

“Now!”

I hung up. The pod I had just called was coming in for a landing. I hopped in and hoped it’d be fast enough.

Companionship Plus was, as last time I saw it, trying way too hard to look professional. Very clean. Maybe now I knew why.

I was trying not to get worked up as I waited for Zil. I knew every moment I wasn’t busting in there was a moment they got to destroy something potentially incriminating. But going in there without footage served no purpose. Can’t make a story without footage.

Finally, I saw her pod land, and immediately, I remembered what I had forgotten in the excitement.

Zil was coughing hard as she got out, looking to me. She looked drained, but at least she didn’t look like she was going to fall over. “Are you okay, Mary?” she asked as soon as she got control of her breathing.

I debated what I should do. But for better or worse, she came, so I was going to do it. “We’re going to kick down this door and catch these splicers before they destroy everything,” I said. “Lens on me, follow behind at a safe distance, keep one behind you to watch out, and… do you have three?”

“No…” Zil said, looking at me with one eye, a bit frustrated.

“Okay, then we’ll not leave one outside, better to watch your tail. Ready?”

“Mary… do we have to do this…? We should go home and I should get back to bed…”

“They’re going to destroy the evidence, Zil, and there are lives potentially at stake here?”

Zil tried to determine how honest I was being. Finally, closing all her eyes and focusing on breathing, she brought up her wand. “Let me…” Zil coughed. “Mmmph… let me get the lenses set up…”

I could hear a lens forming and hovering behind me as I went and tried the front door. It was locked, and metal shutters were down over the windows. I started heading around the back. Stacks of boxes were being built in the alleyway, near an open back door. Perfect.

“Can you take a look in these boxes while I’m inside?” I asked Zil over my wand.

“Mary…”

“Right, right, just film, that’s fine.”

I headed in the door, Athenian drawn. The room I was in looked mostly like a storage room. There were large bags of pet food and other sorts of supplies one would try to upsell someone on if one was selling them a pet. Looked pretty standard. To the right was a door that lead into the storefront, but to the left was a door with a set of stairs. I could hear voices below.

“…want me to do, burn the place down? Lose all our research?”

“Yes, that would be much faster!”

“But the dogs…”

“Who cares about the dogs at this point!”

Their voices were backed up by a bunch of whining and barking dogs.

I moved down the stairs as silently as my boots could take me. I could hear the sounds of something being disassembled.

“Stop being so careful with it!”

“This stuff is expensive, Trevor…”

I could see them. One was a Terran man, probably the guy I had seen running earlier. The other was a xeno I couldn’t quite remember the name of. Yim, maybe? Whatever, I’d know it by the time I was putting together voiceovers.

“We are seriously past the point of caring about that!” the Terran man, Trevor, I guess, yelled.

“Look, I’m working on it…” the xeno said, two arms working on unplugging things from the inside of a massive industrial-looking machine in between the rows and rows of cages with worried dogs.

“Working on what, may I ask?” I said, Athenian raised at them both.

The xeno jumped and dropped a tool with a clatter on the floor. Trevor looked up at me, their expression quickly changing to recognition. “You’re the girl who was shooting at me!”

“Mary Kasyanov, Terran Action News Feed. Now, if you’d please, what is that machine you’re taking apart?”

“It’s just a standard splicer,” the xeno said, tugging at one of its antenna, “very standard in this sort of…”

“Shut up, Four,” Trevor said.

“But…”

“Shut up, Four!” Trevor yelled.

“Fair enough. Then, sir, if I could… Trevor, was it? I, as well as several witnesses, saw your attempted kidnapping of the sentient dog, Allegro, just an hour or so ago. Do you have any comments as to why you committed this crime?”

“I didn’t kidnap anyone,” Trevor said.

“Right, because I stopped you,” I said, grinning.

“Look, we’re just…” the xeno, Four, started.

There was loud coughing upstairs.

“Who’s that…?” Four said.

“Backup. Now, you were saying?”

“We’re just… I mean, I was just hired to run some trials on some…” Four let out a hissing sound as Trevor kicked him.

“Shut up already!”

“Mary?” Zil said over my wand. “Please put down your disruptor and come upstairs…”

“What’s wrong?” I said.

“She’s got a disruptor at my head, Mary… and I…” Zil broke into coughs.

“Well, tell her to drop her disruptor, or I shoot her guys,” is what I wanted to say. It was the right power move. And if the disruptor was really to her head, well, unless the woman in question was another xeno as big as a Dougan, Zil could probably overpower her safely if she had an opening. Not that Zil was a fighter, per se, but those were the benefits of being a Dougan on a world of mostly Terrans. You get to be bigger. For better or worse.

But Zil was sick. Normally she’d be looking for me for hope, but her voice sounded like she was already beat.

It may have slightly been my fault.

I set my Athenian down on the stairs. “I set it down. Her guys down here can confirm it. I’m coming up there to you,” I said, and turned to head up the stairs as Four looked, confused, to Trevor, who was smiling.

A bored-looking Terran holding a disruptor was standing next to Zil. She was dressed like someone who doesn’t particularly care about how they dress, and her head was shaved in a similar gesture. “Oh, it’s you. From the feeds,” she said as I came out of the door.

“Yeah, it’s me,” I said.

“Never watch your stuff, but I have seen footage of that fight where you lose your top,” she said.

Everyone has seen that fucking clip. “Yeah, sure,” I said. “I did what you asked, so how about you let my camera go.”

“Nah,” she said. “Not until we’ve got all the stuff out of here, anyway.” She sat down on a pile of dog food bags. “So let’s just chill until Four gets that machine apart.”

I looked to Zil. She looked miserable. But she was still filming. Fuck, I do not deserve her.

“Sure,” I said, sitting down on the floor across from her. “What’s the machine for, anyway?”

The woman just chuckled. “I’m sure you know, or you wouldn’t be here.”

“That’s fair,” I said. “Just not sure what you have to gain by messing around with dog genes.”

The woman shook her head, smiling. “Then you clearly don’t know the gene market, Miss Reporter.”

“I’ll have to read up on it.”

Zil broke into a horrible coughing fit.

“You okay?” I asked her.

Zil looked at me with one narrowed eye. “I really should be in bed,” she said.

“What’s she got?” the woman asked.

“Kennel Cough,” I said.

The woman laughed. “What, like a little dog?”

“That’s exactly what I said!”

“Come on,” Zil said before falling into another coughing fit.

I rushed over to her, putting my hand on her back. “Zil, come on, breathe…”

“Why did you drag me into this?” she said softly as she caught her breath.

“Who else am I supposed to trust?”

The woman laughed. “What, you two dating or something?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Hear that’s a bad idea for coworkers,” she said.

“So I’ve heard,” I said.

Zil started coughing again. Probably all worked up from the tense situation.

The woman looked to Zil. I had closed the gap and now she was distracted by the coughing fit.

I spun and kicked the disruptor out of her hand. It went flying and bouncing across the room towards the back door.

The woman looked stunned, but stood. “Well, I thought we were going to be nice about this,” she said.

I shrugged.

She rushed me. I tried to sidestep it but she was too close, and still dragged me to the floor and we started trading blows. She wasn’t really very strong, honestly. Just reckless, I guess. Maybe she didn’t watch that clip too closely, or she’d know I knew my way around a fight.

The fight ended abruptly, though, when Zil grabbed her leg and dragged her off of me.

“Thanks,” I said, getting up quickly and retrieving her disruptor.

Zil switched from one eye to the other as I pointed the disruptor at the woman. “Yeah…”

“That’s why I wanted you here,” I said. “Knew you’d have my back.”

“Wish you’d have mine,” Zil said.

I frowned. “Come on, I took the day off of work.”

Zil just stared at me, attempting to get through my thick skull that we were working, right now.

“Right… anyway, lady, come with me. Going to round up your friends,” I said to the woman, motioning towards the stairs.

A disruptor blast nearly hit the woman as I lead her down the stairs.

“Trevor, what the fuck,” the woman said.

“Sorry, Anastasia… Thought it was the reporter,” Trevor said. “And it was a warning shot.”

“Nearly killed me,” the woman said.

“Anyway, it is the reporter,” I said as I pushed her farther down the stairs. “And I would like my Athenian back and an explanation, please.”

“I’m just a researcher…” Four said. “We’re just doing research.”

“Uh huh,” I said.

“Trying to find new genes to patent, you… “ Four said, but then Trevor kicked him.

“Shut up already!” Trevor yelled.

“Zil, you are calling the police, right?” I asked into my wand.

“Yeah, they should be coming soon…” Zil said.

I held them there until the police showed up. There was a lot of discussion as I tried to explain exactly why the police should be there to the confused officers before they finally decided to take the three of them in. Once Allegro was on them pressing charges, it’d be easy, but in that moment? Less so. I’d have to send a message to him and Hitoshi to get on that tomorrow.

“I don’t know how great the footage we got is going to be,” I said, calling a pod on my wand. “But hey, surely we can make it into something. Get Julian off my ass.”

“Why did you call me here?” Zil asked. She was sitting on the curb, having trouble breathing. She had over exerted herself coming here, it was obvious.

“I needed a camera,” I said.

“You knew I was sick, though…”

“I kind of didn’t think about it,” I said. “You’re always my backup.”

“We haven’t been dating that long…” Zil said, looking at the ground. “We haven’t even been working together that long.”

“Feels like it, maybe,” I said.

“…yeah, maybe,” Zil said softly. “I would just like to not be a resource… that’s all.”

“You don’t want to help me out in this stuff?” I asked.

Zil looked up at me with all her eyes.

“Right…” I said.

The pod showed up.

I helped Zil into the pod. She still seemed frustrated, but eventually gave in and leaned against me a bit as she worked on her breathing. She was heavy, but I did my best to handle it. Just a short pod ride, after all.

Finally, back at our apartment, I got her into bed.

“You know how much I need you, right?” I said to her.

“That’s not the same as valuing me,” she said.

“I would hope that would be obvious,” I said. Zil didn’t say anything. I looked away. “You’re way more than a camera to me, Zil. It means a lot to me that you help me with this shit, okay?”

“Thank you…” Zil said.

“Just… get to sleep. Need you feeling better so we can get this story out,” I said.

Zil nodded, and rolled over.

I sighed and walked into the other room. I poured myself some whiskey and sat down on the couch. “Resource, huh.” I said. I pulled up my contacts, and just looked at them.

“If it’s bothering you, just send a message,” I said out loud, picked someone at random, and started writing.

“Hey, Jackie. Been a bit. Just wanted you to know that I value you…” That wasn’t right. “That I enjoy our time together…” That didn’t sound like me. “That I appreciate your help with Natasha…” I stared at the words. That was true, but was that what I wanted to say? “That you have an amazing body…” Now I was just being creepy.

I switched to someone else.

“Cyan, we should really reschedule our…” Well, yes, I needed to send that message too, but that wasn’t what I was trying to do. “Cyan, you mean a lot to me…” I sat there and debated that. We were good friends, but that sounded more romantic than I meant. “Cyan, you are…”

I spent an hour like that, trying to write a message to send to people I was seeing that said they weren’t a resource. I couldn’t make a single one sound right.

Maybe that was how I thought of them.

I sighed, closed my wand, and poured myself another glass.

Thank you very much for reading my story! If you liked it, please share it with your friends and stuff. That would mean a lot to me. There’s plenty more stories and things coming, so I hope to entertain you again soon!

Published inShort Stories