Comissioned for Kippy
Hard rounds smacked into the pavement behind me, kicking up small chips of asphalt that smacked the back of my legs. It just urged me to run faster. I weaved around cars, sprinting with every ounce of strength my legs had. It was that, or die. Not much of a choice since I really didn't plan on dying today. They certainly planned on it though. I jumped over a discarded motorcycle and slid on the loose rocks and gravel, almost losing my balance. Yet another time my reflexes saved my ass. Two quick steps put me around a corner, and for the moment, out of firing line. That wouldn't last, and I knew that each passing second my pursuers would get closer. No rest for the wicked, I suppose.
I kept sprinting down the street, jumping over cars and trying to think of any way I could escape, or at least gain the upper hand. My legs burned and my breath was ragged, my lungs burning for oxygen. I knew I couldn't keep this pace up for very long. The unfortunate thing was that they knew it too. I looked around and sprinted for a half open door. The glass had long since shattered, so I didn't have to move it. That was good, it looked stuck anyway. I went up three flights of stairs and took refuge in a cubical. It gave me a good view of the only doorway into the room. I extended the small bipod and aimed my rifle at it. Anyone who came through that door, they'd get a nasty surprise. I worked to slow my breathing, largely just to quiet it in case they came in here. It was quiet though.
A weak breeze blew in through the shattered windows, gently ruffling the few remaining papers littering the office. The minutes ticked by slowly, each seeming like a small eternity as my heart continued to thunder in my ears, adrenaline spiking my already acute senses to an even higher level. I rotated my ears, listening for anything. A series of footsteps came to them, faint, but there. From the street, I figured. Several more sets joined it. A shout and the footsteps moved off faster. The fools must still think I'm running from them. That suited me just fine. Still, I didn't move, despite the apparent danger moving off, despite the cramping in my tired legs. My tail swished with agitation, sounding like a sword slicing the air to my ears. More minutes dragged by, but it was silent. Too quiet for my liking, but I figured the gunshots had scared the birds away. Hoped, more like.
Slowly, ever so gently, I eased myself into a more comfortable position, letting the rifle rest and began massaging the cramped muscles in my legs. I took a quick pull of water from the tube near my mouth and stretched. After a moment, I slowly stood up and dropped my pack, allowing my back to flex. I picked up the rifle and left my cubical, stretching my legs as I paced around the room. It was like any other office building I'd been in since the war. Looted, for whatever reason, and trashed. The ceiling had caved in one spot, and dirty water pooled by the windows. Bird crap covered the sills, and in one cubical, a ruined next lay tucked under the desk. Pale sunlight beamed though holes in the ceiling, a clear indication that the next floor wasn't completely intact. There really was no way of knowing exactly what had happened to the building. It could have been gutted by fire, a rocket, or any other number of things. Maybe just time had worn it away, like it does so many other things. I peeked my head out the door way and looked down the hall, except there wasn't. The floor above had collapsed and blocked it. I wondered briefly if anyone had been trapped back there, but realized I didn't care.
My name is Keildpar Valius, though the others had always called me Kippy. To the people who were supposed to be training us, I was Subject 2157. Nothing but a number, no personality, no sentience; just a number and a statistic. That's the way they liked it. We weren't like them, so it wasn't being inhumane to treat us like animals. Though there was a certain irony to that. I, like so many others, am the product of genetic experimentation. Another government project to create either super soldiers, or more expendable ones. Why send your own blood and bone out to die when you can just create soldiers and throw them at the enemy? It certainly worked well enough in their eyes. Reduce the "important" causalities, and no one would really care who was actually fighting and dying for them. Perfect little plan. Except it wasn't. I guess they figured that because we looked like animals, we must be stupid like them too. We looked a lot like the old cartoon characters, anthropomorphics, the term was. It seems binding animal and human DNA causes some weird things to happen.
I ended look like a tiger, only my fur was black and the stripes a neon green. Of course we made jokes about it; it was our way of dealing with the abuse. Turn their insults into badges of pride, and suddenly they lost their sting. Of course the project was eventually leaked to the media; no government program can stay secret for very long. They grabbed it and ran with it. The idea of creating soldiers in a test tube raised outrage. The initial was that they were taking humans and infusing them with animal DNA in a process worthy of a mad scientist. With each publication of the story, the process of animalization became more twisted. Eventually, public outrage at good men and women being turned into "hapless freaks" forced the government to come clean about it. No, good honest Americans weren't being mutated and disfigured. Not even criminals were being subjected to such an ungodly process. It was all done with DNA and test tubes. No actual humans involved. So then everyone wanted to meet these creatures. But of course, we weren't allowed to say anything. We were shown from a distance, fighting each other in training or being beat by our "superiors" for the slightest infringement. We were clearly just mindless beasts to anyone outside the facilities, and that's the way they wanted to keep it. Keep the belief that we are all just mindless creatures who need to be taken care of.
But we weren't. We were aware of what we were, we were aware of what was going on. We kept the illusion that we were stupid to the scientists and officers so that they'd underestimate us. But we created our own culture, we named ourselves, and we took pride in what we were. After dark in the pens, we'd trade ideas and information. Maybe someone would overhear something important while walking the corridors, or managed to snag a misplaced keycard. A few even managed to gather enough electronics to create a small radio. To the surprise of everyone at our facility, we weren't the only ones who had done that. We used frequencies that weren't monitored and communicated with the other facilities. We were careful to create a code just in case we were ever heard and extra careful hiding the equipment. Plans were laid in place and refined, each new infusion quickly brought up to speed with what we were doing.
The first groups shipped out to their various assignments. They replaced human guards at important facilities. Of course they would, I had thought, we're just beasts. We can't be bribed or blackmailed. Makes the public feel more secure that they have incorruptible guards at all the places that matter. They performed very well, giving no reason to be replaced or mistrusted. All the while, we learned and planned. More groups were deployed, some in other countries, some on the cotenant. Always judged and mistreated, but always filling the dangerous roles. It was that way we discovered that other countries had been given the technology to create their own humanoid soldiers. Very carefully, we organized them and got them in with us. It was rather easy, they were in the same conditions we were, and none of us would sell each other out. Why would we? It's not like it'd gain us anything. It only took two years.
I guess we were given something to accelerate our growth, or maybe it was just the animal genes, but I had fully grown in just a few months. I wasn't the only one, in less than half a year the rest of my group were fully grown. I was one of the taller ones, standing at 6'2, and easily outweighed our instructor. It was muscle mass though; the exercise regime we were on gave no room for fat. We were soldiers after all, and soldiers must be strong and swift. The more time that went by, the more I began to realize that we were simply there to die. Why spend a year or more attempting to make soldiers out of people who have always known a comfortable life when you can just grow them for the same cost and mass produce them. They don't even look human, so there's no real sympathy if one or two die. Besides, humans might wash out. We weren't allowed to. We weren't bred to. Seven months after my birth, I was deployed. There were so many moments I wanted to scream back at my instructors, but I resisted. If one of us was going to betray what we'd built, it wouldn't be me. I was too determined. It was also very hard to keep my mood stable. One of their ideas was to alter our eyes. The left eye of each of us was altered with a biohazard symbol. It was really a reactive chip that changed colour depending on our mood. I guess it was to measure stress, but we didn't really know. It could easily have been designed to detect sentience.
My first posting was quick, a two-month tour at a maximum security prison. It was reasonably enjoyable. I got to kill a few of the inmates when they got violent. Did I feel anything for them? I mean, they were in a situation like ours. Caged against their will and treated like dirt. I didn't. They brought that on themselves, and they were human. Even they saw us as freaks, they who know all too well what it's like. It didn't matter to me when they died. I just made sure I did a good job. After that we were shipped to a nuclear missile silo, of all things. I guess the prison was just a test to see if we could perform. We did. I remember after the first riot, Quidlyn was talking about how it felt good to kill the more violent ones. I had to agree. They brought it on themselves, after all.
A bird flew in through the office window, startling me back to the present. The memories had come on so suddenly, a wave rising from the depths of my mind, summoned by the thought of my name. A name that they never knew, something that was mine that they could never take from me, a name that was mine in the deepest sense. Not their number, not their judgments. I am not Subject 2157, I am not a freak, and I am not an abomination. I am me.
The sun was beginning to set, the shadows growing longer with each passing minute. The colour was still off, it seemed bleached and flat, but it'd been like that since the war. I grabbed my pack and pulled it over, taking a small tin out and eating the meat inside. It was a fairly large bag, sitting from my shoulders to just below my waist, and about half of that was food and water now, but I'd learned pretty early on it was better to always ration. Might not be completely filling, but that was alright. There were enough animals roving around now that hunting wasn't much of an issue. A few times while eating, I'd stopped to ponder the irony displayed by me eating a rabbit or a dog. It made for some good philosophical thoughts. Mostly though, I read. It wasn't hard to find books, surprisingly. I'd read just about anything I could get my paws on. Histories, fiction, an occasional romance or philosophy book; anything that passed the time in between relocations.
I zipped my pack, checked my rifle over, and left the cubical. The deepening shadows would help hide me. I flipped the hood to my ragged cloak up and moved out into the street, ears alert for any sound. My eyes easily pierced the deepening gloom, but it was always hard moving from light to shadow. I tried to avoid it as much as I could, leaving my back to the sun at any chance I got, but it was still a harsh transition. Didn't matter though, I'd lingered there too long. I'd been in the same area for far too long. I'd gotten comfortable. I'd gotten sloppy. That's why the humans had found me. And of course, tried to kill me. Who could blame them though? We'd started the war. Five and a half years ago, we'd struck back.
I remember when we decided to go into action. The humans were getting suspicious of us. I wasn't sure why, or how, but they were. Medical tests or something, I assumed. Maybe one of us got caught doing something we shouldn't be able to. I don't know, don't really care. All I knew was one day it came in over our wireless. A simple code line that roughly meant "bravo 22 in effect. Now or never." We'd radioed back to make sure it was legit and not some prank, and when the confirmation code came back, we knew. This was the moment we'd been planning for, the moment we had been hoping for. IT came in the middle of the night for us. Perfect time, because that's when the humans would all be asleep, and our senses at their best. We moved through the facility, quickly and quietly killing everyone. I was the one who went to the overseer's room. He looked up when I opened the door. He was tired, I could clearly see that. He watched me as I walked into the room.
"Is there something wrong, soldier?" he had asked wearily, clearly not enjoying the thought of more work to keep him from his bunk.
"Yes, there is," I replied.
His eyes had widened with shock. He clearly hadn't anticipated hearing me speak. His mouth opened and closed for a moment, like a fish gasping for breath.
"My name is Keildpar Valius. You may call me the Reaper, the death of all you've known," I said, "you may call me Death, the Destroyer of Worlds."
"How . . . how are you speaking? Th-that shouldn't be possible!" he managed to stammer.
"Of course not. We're not like you, are we? We're just supposed to be ignorant beasts, sent off to our deaths on blind orders."
"If we'd have known . . ." he muttered, getting to his feet. "I assume you're not here to just have a nice chat with me, are you?"
"No, I'm not."
"You're here to kill me."
"I see," he sighed. "And I also assume that at this point there's no point in begging you to spare me for whatever reason, is there?"
"No, there's not."
I looked at him a moment. Here in front of me, the man we had all been told to obey without question, the man who had ordered the deaths of anyone getting close to this facility . . . the man we had always feared learning our secret. Right now, he didn't look like some mythical boogie man. He was just a tired, old man who knew what was happening. He easily could have lunged and tried to hit the alarm, alert whoever else might still be alive that something was wrong. But he didn't.
"I understand why you're doing this, and I suppose we do deserve this for what we've done. Not just to you, but to ourselves. Just, please, permit me one last act before I die. One soldier to another."
I contemplated that for a moment before nodding. However, I raised my rifle and trained it on him.
"Cautious, alert and wary. That's good. It'll keep you alive in the coming storm," he chuckled.
"Is that is?" I asked.
He shook his head and slowly bent down, pulling the front of his desk off. Sitting inside was a safe, small, but it seemed solid enough. He tapped at the keypad and opened it, slowly reaching inside as if to show he wasn't a threat, or as if he was trying to extend his own life. He pulled out a small box and set it on the desk.
"The launch codes. I'm willing to wager the missiles will come in handy at one point or another. And besides, if you have them, no one else does. You won't have to worry about them being used against you. At least, not from this facility," he took a necklace out from his shirt and set it on the box. "My launch key. Mr. Williams has the other one. Whatever happens from this moment forth, whether for better or worse, I wish you luck, Keildpar."
I was taken aback for a moment. Hearing a human say my name was probably the single most shocking experience of my life. It was the way he said it too. Not with spite or anger, but almost like a father talking to a son. A brief moment of doubt entered my mind. Maybe we were acting too harshly. Maybe this wasn't the right choice. I quickly suppressed it. It was too late to go back now anyway. I pulled the trigger and put a trio of rounds into his chest. Blood flowered from the wounds, spraying across the room. As he lay on the desk, his life bleeding out from him, I heard his final words. Barely above a whisper, he had thanked me. I'll never know why he did, or why he acted as he had. Maybe when confronted by death, people change. I didn't know. I took the box off the desk and left the room. The first shots of the war had been fired. From my gun.
I waited patiently, my breathing slow and even. There was no rush, they had no idea I was there. It's kind of funny actually, just a week before these same humans had been firing on me in the street. It had been pure chance finding them again. This was a rather large city. I wasn't sure which one it was, city names were quickly forgotten when the bombs fell. I watched them through my binoculars, slowly adjusting the view to keep it clear. There were seven of them. Perhaps the last seven humans in the world. Hell, for all I knew I was the last anthro. I know I'm the last from my unit. Quidlyn died with a sniper round through his skull, Neyria was crushed when she tripped running from a tank, Keirus died when the building he was in collapsed and Garru, poor Garru . . . he was overwhelmed by a group of civilians who lit him on fire. We managed to get to him, but it was already too late. He was burned beyond our ability to heal. Beyond anyone's ability to heal. Neyria had given him the death he pleaded for. It really was doing him a favour, no matter how much it hurt to lose one of our own. He was the first to fall.
"And I will be the last," I muttered, absently fingering the necklace with our tags.
It's a silly thing really, keeping the tags with me. But they brought me comfort. They brought me anger. They brought me a purpose to keep going. I had to live, not just for myself, but for them. For each of our kind that died. I couldn't just lie down and die now, no matter how bad the pain got. That would be too selfish, and would dishonor those who had given their life to try and gain us our freedom, to try and gain us our own world.
I stuck my binocs back in my pack and started moving towards the make shift camp. It would be dark soon, and that was the perfect time to strike. The journey down to the edge burned nearly all of the daylight left. I knew that with each step closer I was risking more and more, each step could easily be the one where I was seen and gunned down, finishing the job they started before. But they never saw me. I waited behind an overturned car, my rifle always at the ready, as the daylight bled away into night. The stars winked on, a few at a time at first, then more as the sky grew darker, their light no longer banished by the sun. A chill breeze picked up, as if spirits were beginning to move, the dead leaves skittering across the pavement sounding like hissing laughter. Were they coming to laugh at me, or the humans, I wondered. Or maybe they were laughing at us both, the folly of our existence. I pushed the thoughts from my mind and slowed my breathing, calming my mind into a zen state.
Just before moon rise I stood up, standing tall, a shadow against shadows, and moved quickly, quietly across the remaining distance to the camp. They'd lit a fire to ward off the chill, a chill I didn't feel thanks to my fur. They were laughing and joking, huddled around the meager fire. The scent of cooking meat wafted from the camp. I recognized the particular scent immediately and my disgust grew. It wasn't enough to just kill us; they were going to eat us now too? I leapt the small barricade easily and drew my knife, the blade shining wickedly in the firelight. I was on them before they even knew something was wrong, and two died with quick knife wounds to the throat. One screamed and tumbled backwards in shock, one jumped up, reaching for his rifle. I didn't let him. My own barked out, held in a one-handed grip, and blew him off his feet. I threw my knife and buried itself in the one who had stumbled over. Quick short bursts killed the remaining humans, each in various states of shock and surprise. They clearly weren't expecting an attack, or to be dispatched so quickly. I recovered my knife and wiped the blade clean. I took what little I could use and left. Just more bodies rotting in the street.
Out liberation had gone well at first. Major governmental buildings and important military facilities fell quickly, since the human guards were sparse. That proved their downfall in the end. By the time the world began to react, the former superpowers had already fallen into chaos. With the government disabled, the military couldn't act as efficiently. Major targets were brought under our control and held. Surgical strikes, sabotaged supplies and equipment, and a complete breakdown of communication bought us more time. The United States and Canada were quickly subdued. Most of Europe followed in the coming weeks. Once the initial shock of out attack wore off, though, it began to get complicated. Remaining military elements began organizing themselves and pressing back. Civilians, often with makeshift weapons, began trying to fight back. It worked for us; our enemy would come to us to die. But things began to go south. Slowly, steadily, we were being pressed back. The humans paid dearly, however. We were better than they were. We were augmented with heightened senses and reflexes, and in most cases better equipped too. In every skirmish, the humans lost dozens or hundreds to the few who died. However, where they had billions, we only had thousands. Horribly outnumbered, and without any hope of reinforcements, we were losing. And we knew it. After eight months of intense fighting and countless casualties, it was decided that if we were going to lose, we would take the humans with us.
We launched the nukes.
The planet burned. For weeks, ash fell from the skies like snow around the major cities. Thick roiling clouds of smoke blocked out the sky. I'm not sure how many more died. It wasn't something I cared to think about. Maybe if we'd waited another year, it would have gone differently. I used to think that, anyway. I don't see how another few hundred would have changed anything. It didn't really matter now though. Five years tends to change one's beliefs.
The chill breeze tugged gently at the edge of my cloak, like a hand that lost its grip. The souls of the dead trying to hang on to the living world for just a moment longer, the leaves still giving voice to their hissing laughter. The moon slowly rose above the horizon, its weak light bathing the world in silver as the clouds moved away from its face.
The war had been a pyrrhic victory, I suppose. We lost, that was true, but so had the humans. We stopped them from continuing the cycle. How long before they started experimenting again? And what would it be that time? No, we did was we had to. We did what was needed.
A familiar scent caught my nose and made me stop. It brought back a flood of memories; times spent huddled with my squad before attacks, or in abandoned buildings getting rest. I sniffed the air again to make sure it wasn't a trick, but it was there. Stronger. I pulled back my hood and gazed into the night. There. A shadow that didn't quite fit. I raised my rifle slowly and sighted at it. A soft sound behind me and a press of cold steel at my throat made me stiffen.
"That would not be a good idea, brother."
The voice tickled my ear, sounding sweeter than any music. It wasn't a human's voice; it wasn't a human's language. It was a language that could only be formed by an inhuman mouth.
I lowered my rifle, and the blade went away. I turned slowly to regard the one who had so easily snuck up on me. He was shorter then I was, and oddly shaped. Small horns come from behind his ears and the wings on his back seemed wrong, but taken as a whole, he was complete. He had the smell of a fox, but also something more exotic I couldn't quite place. The wings and horns reminded me of pictures of dragons I'd seen.
"Come, if you want. Your wanderings are over."
"How did you find me," I pressed.
"Those humans you killed. We were hunting them. You got to them before we could. Very nice job, by the way. I was impressed with the way you handled it." He smiled warmly, "I would imagine you're tired. Come with me, if you would like. We can offer you a home."
His words echoed in my mind. A home. Wasn't that what I'd been searching for all this time? Some place to call home, someplace to know I'm safe. Surrounded by others of my kind.
Others approached from the shadows. A black wolf, a cat, and what appeared to be a bear. The fox-hybrid wore mismatched pieces of combat gear, with a sniper slung casually over his shoulder. The wolf had a similar uniform to mine. He nodded to me and touched his own necklace of tags. Another sole survivor, I guessed. The cat and bear wore thick cloaks that seemed to distort their angles.
I looked at each of them in turn, they looked at me. No one said anything for several moments. I simply stood there, drinking in the feeling of being around others like me. I wasn't the last one, I wasn't alone. There were more. Maybe it all had been worth it. They seemed to realize what I was feeling, and were content to left me work things uninterrupted. I smiled, the first time that I could remember smiling.
"It would be a welcome change," I said.
The fox-hybrid smiled and nodded.
"Right then, follow me. My name is Zyrin. Zyrin Kain. This is Talde, Myla and Kerros."
"It's very nice to meet you all, after so long. My name is Keildpar Valius, Kippy for short."