{16} Dog

Dog knows exactly what the unheralded wrist-grab will do to Maude, so they’re ready when she opens her mouth to scream. Springing up to their full height, they clamp their hand over her mouth and whisper, “It’s me. It’s Dog.”

Every nerve in their body is on edge, so they’re infinitely grateful when Maude relaxes immediately. She jerks her head free. “What the hell?” she whispers, glaring down at them. Maude’s stronger than they’d guessed, and Dog makes a mental note not to underestimate her again.

They haven’t let go of her wrist, and tug her a little further from Dragon and the attendant. Dog knew Dragon had spotted them as soon as they rose up from their cover behind the shelves—the delighted twitch of her left eyebrow always gives her away.

Dog keeps their voice low as they address Maude. “Right after you went dark, Fray contacted me and said there was a swarm of strange activity around the station and I needed to get down here. Fast, and dark. No comms at all.” Dog looks over their shoulders, one after the other, as if browsing the sweetbars and chewers and chips. “The Regent’s right about one thing—everyone’s on edge.”

“You’re telling me,” Maude says. “We just about bled out in the locker room thanks to a few slimy lowlifes.” She makes a show of fluffing a patch of her helmet-flattened hair, turning as if to examine herself in the security mirror above the door. She makes eye contact with Dog in the mirror, both their images warped eerily, and Dog nods. Maude’s one hell of an ally.

They scatter without further consultation, Dog towards Dragon and Maude towards the door. Snatching a package of Speakeasies off the rack decorated with the candy’s slogan, “Need a Moment? Pop a Speakeasie,” Dog steps into line behind Dragon and tries to catch the attendant’s eye.

“Well. He’s not exactly someone I’d take selfpics with to send to my ma. But I like him,” the girl is saying. “Best of all, he’d never fall for something like Silver money. Mm-mm. No way. He’s too noble for that.”

Dragon feigns notice of Dog, turning without leaving her lean. “Oh, sorry, did you need to buy something? I’m just asking Brezza here a couple of questions. And I need to buy my Bennys.”

Dog raises the package of blue candy balls. “Speakeasies. Wife needs a fix. Mind if I cut in line?”

“Yes, actually,” Dragon says. “I do mind. Got an itch that needs scratching myself. Tested positive for Bennys addiction recently.” She turns around so she’s resting both elbows behind her around the MiraKids change jar, jerking her head at the box of noodles. A bit of her midriff shows under the shirt, and Dog almost starts panting, but gets control of themselves in time.

Five years of a happily open relationship, and she’s always the hottest being they’re ever with. They shiver and direct their attention back to the attendant with some force. Brezza, the attendant, has scanned the box of Big Bennys and is staring at Dragon incredulously, hand extended in a dramatic twist as she awaits payment.

Ignoring Brezza’s hand, Dragon swipes a small gift chip across the reader—an anonymous payment method, Dog notes with pride. They move up beside Dragon and set the Speakeasies on the counter.

Brezza reaches for the Speakeasies and the register beeps. “Three point six,” she says.

Dog gives the attendant what she wants in the form of a handful of obscure old money, and while she’s distracted at the register picking through coins and lint, Dog leans towards Dragon and whispers, “Steady on, don’t rush, but you need to get out of here.”

She gives them a long, slow blink that’s equal parts insinuation and acknowledgment. “Yes sir,” she says, out loud, and vaults off the counter. “Bye, Brezza,” she says, waving to the girl, “I’ll vid you sometime. Name’s Dragon, by the way.”

Brezza pulls a face. “Isn’t that kinda…racist?”

That pulls Dragon up short. “Racist?” she asks incredulously. “How? I’m mostly Japanese-Thai descent and I call myself Dragon because it’s my zodiac sign. How is that—racist?”

Dog has to muffle a laugh, even under the considerable pressure. The attendant squirms under the barrage of confused comments from Dragon, and she focuses hard on the coins and lint in her hand. But Dragon’s already high-tension, and this is a good way to blow off some steam and to make them targets for a very different reason than they should actually be.

So Dragon sweeps back to the counter and points hard at Dog. “I mean, they’re named Dog because they were born under the sign of the dog. Maude!”

Maude, still hovering inside the rest-shop, turns her head, looking bemused to have been called out by name. “Yeah?”

“What year were you born?”

“Uhh—twenty-five twenty-seven.”

“Twenty-five twenty-seven,” Dragon repeats immediately to Brezza, who’s now wilting against the register. “Do you know what that makes her? A rabbit. I’m going to call her Rabbit from now on. That’s her new nickname. Is that racist? Huh? I didn’t think so.”

With a last harrumph, Dragon folds her arms across her chest and skulks out of the rest-shop, leaving the flirtation behind. Dog knows they’ve given the attendant more than enough money for a pack of Speakeasies. “MiraKids can keep the change,” they say as they spin on their heel and sweep the room again. Maude—Rabbit, now; Dog’s already making the change in their head—is already gone. Is that a shadow in the corner? No, just the overflowing basket of the drunk couple shopping for more intoxication.

“Don’t you want your receipt?” Brezza squeal-whines after Dog, clearly miffed her spurning at Dragon’s hand.

“Keep it,” Dog says over their shoulder.

It’s a mistake to look back, because they run full-body into a hulking bipedal alien with a cat-like face and ears. It hisses, showing its barbed tongue through its long fangs, and flips him off with a fingernail the size and sharpness of a claw.

Dog gulps and backs off, instinctively putting their hands out in front of them. “Sorry about that.” They note the creature’s ragged vest, the unfamiliar mark of the fish skeleton on its faded shirt.

Still staring at Dog, the alien snarls something unintelligible and, without blinking its luminous green eyes, raises its wrist to its muzzle. Dog ducks under the creature’s arm, which is higher than their head, and sprints through the automatic doors. It takes everything in them not to look back.

The Speakeasies disappear in their pocket, an excuse to clutch at the sidearm already there. Dog sweeps out into the hallway, which is less deserted than when they came in: helmeted security guards saunter idly between doorways, never leaving more than a few dozen feet between them.

It’s full coverage of the shopping area.

Something’s going on. Terrorism? A bomb threat? Dog thinks the security people, unmarked other than shirts bearing the same fish-bone symbols as the cat, are too languid for this to be something really dangerous. Either that, or they’re the threat, which isn’t out of the question. Dog hasn’t seen any silver armbands, but that doesn’t mean Silver isn’t using a new—

Their heart skips and they freeze mid-thought. Could it be… Dog has a past, and they’ve been waiting for it to catch up to them. Loosely organized militant ground unit…maybe…

They jump as someone steps out of the shadow of a fake plant installation, and their grip on their pocketed sidearm tightens—then loosens. “Dragon,” they breathe, and she says at the same time, “I haven’t called anyone,” and they know, as they always do, that they married the right woman.

They risk reaching for her hand with their free one. “I love you.”

“I never doubt it,” she says, smile bright even though they know she’s scared, because her heart’s beating furiously in her fingertips. “I love you too.”

The newly-dubbed Rabbit materializes, looking uneasy. “What’s the plan, Dog? Where’d you land? Is it gonna be easy getting out of here?”

“I’m on the same pad as Friday,” Dog says, wrapping their arm around Dragon’s waist and walking in a straight line, eyes front. They trust Rabbit will keep up. “Told control I suddenly needed an—emergency landing. Bit of smoke helped make that convincing.” They shoot a sidelong glance at Dragon.

“The puffbox?! Really? Aw, man. I knew that would come in handy,” Dragon says with a little fist pump. “Dumb experiment indeed.”

“Fine, you were right,” Dog says, slugging the top of Dragon’s shoulder gently. It puts to bed a verylong argument; they feel there should be some ceremony to the moment. Dragon grins and bats at Dog’s hand, then winces and sucks in her breath as she touches her side.

“Ow. Still shouldn’t do that.”

“I left my suit in the locker next to yours, Rabbit,” Dog says while they try to catch their wife’s hand. “Convinced the clerk you two belonged to me, so I could figure out which was yours. We’ll suit up, I’ll go out on the pad first, get in Willo, and cover for you while you get Friday and get back to Falcor and away from Ararek. Even if that mechanic wouldn’t turn us in, we’re too conspicuous to repair here. There’s a manhunt going on out there and if it isn’t for us already, we don’t want to turn it on us.”

They’re trying to act as naturally as possible while they mutter logistics, trying not to draw attention from the guards or the timid clientele trickling out of the shops, garages, and hangars. Rabbit brings up the rear of their little party, and Dog wishes they all had firearms right about now.

Admittedly, Dog’s been in much tighter situations. Compared to the showdown on the Maelstrom or their three months of hell on Pyro III, this is like sauntering across the Moon’s protected zones. These odds are something like 50 security personnel to three coverts, and that’s far better than Dog’s had in some of their more hair-raising missions.

Nonetheless, it’s making them nervous to be under the eye of so many guards on edge. The lot’s clearly working together, and not for the benefit of the station’s patrons. One guard leans too close to the women exiting the vidstore, leering within inches of their frightened faces. Dog’s fists bunch at their sides.

“Fucking pricks. Gods, I hate to just keep walking.”

“We save the ones we can,” Dragon says just loudly enough for Dog to hear. She brushes the outside of their hand with hers.

They know she’s right, and they hate it. Dog holds their head straight, determined only to see what they need to in order to survive this mission. It’s right as they decide this that someone on the level above brings their long rifle to bear on Rabbit and fires.

Dog’s moving long before the bullet has left the chamber, flinging themselves across the tiled floor and body-slamming Rabbit onto the ground. The impact jars the wind out of Dog for a split second, but they know they can’t afford the pause and roll to all fours before the gunman can recover and aim anew. Their sidearm is out of their pocket and pointed at the guard, whose helmeted face is pressed to the sight of the rifle. Crack. Dog’s gun discharges and the helmet shatters, revealing a bloodied male human face before the corpse tumbles over the rail and hits the ground in front of them.

Dog finds Dragon and pulls her to her feet, then turns to help Rabbit up too. Then they’re all three running as fast as they can, Dragon clutching her side and moaning as she hobbles double-time. Dog paws at their comm, orders for silence be damned. “Falcor! Falcor, do you read?” They hope the Shames on that far-away Starfarer can understand what they’re trying to say through their labored breathing.

A gun goes off. The bullet whistles close to Dog’s head. The comm squawks in their ear; it’s Fray, calm as can be: “Falcor here—did you find trouble?”

“I’ll say,” Dog says. “Hell, this is something else. I’ve never seen a security team open fire in a crowded spaceport.” Well. Except… They don’t finish that thought, not aloud nor to themselves. Another bullet whizzes nearby, this one flying wide. “Shit! We’ll be lucky if we make it back to the ships in one piece, Regent.”

“Hold tight, kids, not sure we can bail you out,” Fray says warningly. “At least get to your ships. I can’t promise Falcor is up for charging to the rescue.”

“Roger that.” Dog’s got one eye on Dragon, who’s bravely limping along as best she can, and the other on the armored figures of the guards all around. Most of them are still lurking at their stations, unwilling to join the fight. They curse Fray in their head, but only very gently. They might need her very soon.

Yet another bullet wings wide, hitting a glass O dead center. “Warning shots, maybe?” Rabbit says very near Dog’s ear, and they think she might be right. The shooters are too good to be missing them this close—they must be firing wide on purpose.

The next shot splinters Dog’s comm unit. Dog gasps as shrapnel slices through their clothing and embeds in their leg and side. Nothing goes too deep, but Dog can feel their pants dampening with blood, and that makes the back of their neck crawl. It’s almost worse than the inferno of pain in their skin and muscles.

Dragon shrieks, but Dog waves her on. “Go! Get to the ships!” There’s nothing more important right now.

There’s a lull in the gunfire. Maybe they were just warning shots, but either way, the gunners are reloading. There are only two of them, which is at least two fewer than Dog first estimated, and they seem to be operating independently of the rest of the guards. Infiltrators, perhaps? Dog’s not sure. All they know is no one’s shooting right now.

They break into a dead run. Behind them, they hear Rabbit yelp wordlessly. She pulls up alongside Dog, her arms and legs pumping, then edges ahead. Dog stumbles, recovers. Dragon’s grabbing their wrist. It’s hard to hear. They toss their head, trying to clear the wool from their ears, but it’s in vain.

Suddenly they’re in the lobby, and Dragon tears away to bang like a madwoman on the locker. She narrates the code as she types it: “…six, five, FOUR!

The locker door pops open and the spacesuit, compressed into the tight space, hits Dragon in the face. She untangles herself and scrambles to pull it on as Rabbit slams bodily into her own locker; she’s pressing the keypad even before she’s stopped moving from bouncing off.

Dog vaults up and over Rabbit, brushing her shoulders as they pass, and lands in front of their locker. Out comes the spacesuit, and it’s a breathless three minutes for them to shrug into the restrictive material.

Dragon’s suited up first, and she stands watch, poking around the corner occasionally with Dog’s sidearm in both hands. “Oh gods. Here they come,” she says after a few seconds. “Two guards. Slowly sweeping the hall.”

“What about—wait, there!” Rabbit’s pointing at something away from the main doorway, the only exit Dog’s certain about. And that’s not how they’ve survived all these years.

But if there’s anything certain about the front door, it’s certain exposure—the long trek across the landing pads is taxing even in ideal circumstances. With at least two wounds and one sidearm between them, this is anything but ideal. Dog stares hard at what Rabbit’s pointing out: it’s a tunnel, service access by the looks of it, and it leads off in the direction of their ships.

“Fuck. Alright. We’ll go that way.” Dog shoves their hand through the sleeve and finds the zipper and the series of seals. They shove their helmet over their head and reach for their wife’s hand.

She slaps her gloved hand in theirs, and they pull her close enough to knock their helmets together. Dog closes their eyes for the briefest moment, savoring Dragon’s nearness. It’s what sustains them even when their old life comes back to bite them.

When Dog’s eyes snap open, they see nothing but the objective. They charge into the service tunnel without a sound.

For fifteen breathtaking minutes, they lead Dragon and Rabbit down a dark hole lined with eerie red bulbs and gurgling pipes. For fifteen minutes, they don’t dare think about what might not lie at the other end.

Then the tunnel branches off three ways, and there’s light at the end of the tunnel to the right, and to Dog’s discerning eye, it’s the correct color light to be the floodlights on the landing pads. They turn sharply on their heel and march that way, and Dragon and Rabbit follow without speaking. No one turns on their shortwave.

The tunnel spills them out into the corner of the landing pad. Friday’s perched on the awkward exile pad, up to the left. Will o’ the Wisp hunches on the pad nearby, a several hundred-yard dash.

Dragon presses the sidearm into Dog’s hand. When they look up at her, she gives them a brave smile through the helmet. “Guess we’d better make a break for it,” she says without activating the comm. They just read her lips, and nod.

I love you, they tell her again, with their eyes this time.

I love you, she says back, with her smile.

Rabbit hunches down so she’s Dragon’s height. Dog moves to the front, holding the sidearm out in front of them. There’s no sign of movement around the two Auroras parked to their right, nor in the Freelancer parked kitty-corner.

They run.

——————–

Source image captured in-game (Star Citizen).

CIG-approved disclaimer: Please note that this is a work of fan fiction, set in the Star Citizen universe. The marks and properties, ‘Star Citizen’, ‘Squadron 42’, ‘Cloud Imperium Games’, and ‘Roberts Space Industries’ are property of Cloud Imperium Games Corp. and Roberts Space Industries Corp (“RSI”). All rights in content, including places, characters, concepts, and ships produced and created by RSI relating to said marks and properties belong to RSI.

The Damn Shames online:
Website
Twitter
YouTube
Twitch

Join us in Star Citizen with referral code STAR-PQ6L-9R4B!