It was a hot, dry day, typical as always for Ralothburg, capital of Earth and the center of all imperial administration. Built in an arid savannah in a remote corner of former Angola that occupied little more than gazelle, zebra, and large predators, and not many of them at that; it had sparse water, game was not sufficient, and edible indigenous plants were few and far between.
For the invading Regulians, looking very much like the lions of the savannah themselves, the heat was no obstacle, in fact they thrived in it. The lack of human-made infrastructure was actually a boon to them, as it allowed them to build up a brand-new capital with all the amenities and infrastructure they had back home, a comprehensive road and transit system, climate-controlled towers, water supply pipes and treatment facilities…
In the shadows of the space elevator, which towered up into the atmosphere, a Man sat on a round stool at a food stand. Twenty years ago, in any city on Earth he would have not stood out, but here, in alien-made and ruled Ralothburg, the Man stood out like a sore thumb, surrounded and passed by Western Regulians with thick manes and tufted tails, and Eastern Regulians with their orange fur and sharp, black stripes; both of which were averaging at seven feet tall, when the Man would be slightly dishonest if he proclaimed to one of these felines that he was six feet tall.
“...a terrorist attack has been foiled at the Duchy of Europa's federal administration center. The Kingdom of Earth's anti-terrorist cooperative was successful in disabling three bombs in the building. A fourth bomb detonated, releasing a noxious gas that seems to irritate the mucous membrane of Lupiads and Sirians but otherwise has no known effects. We implore any citizens who know more about this crime to report the incident to the nearest Guard of their Lord."
“In other news, the Regulian Imperial Navy has won a decisive victory over the Lacertan menace, annihilating one carrier and three escort ships. An escape pod with ten Lacertans was captured and the cowardly reptiles were mercifully executed by exposure to space..."
The cook, a lion-like Regulian who looked like he weighed as much as a car, slapped the television resting against the counter. The channel flicked, changing to a still image of a Vulpeculan female, red and white fur bristling in the wind.
“We now return to, 'Vulpeculan Nights.'"
“Oh!" the cook exclaimed with a gruff voice to one of the patrons. “They say Yi'la is going to finally choose between Prince Tilo and her childhood friend this episode! My heart can't take this..."
There weren't a lot of humans in Ralothburg and those that lived there were often confined to their master's manors. To a human who dared to consider escaping, this was a daunting obstacle. Even the rare free human, like the Man himself, would fear harassment or unwarranted arrest and interrogation, but the Man knew how to compose himself and avoid suspicion.
He sat at the food stand, casually eating skewered grilled beef that was far too salty, but ate it without complaining, as that was how the Regulians liked it; he didn't lock eyes with any of the large felines on the stools next to him and he casually ignored any curious sniffs he got, even if their broad noses brushed against his neck.
The Man made himself look like a human who had every right to be here, whether he was a free human here on business or a slave who was given permission to go into the city by his master, and gave off the impression that if they dared call security on him, that it would end with them getting humiliated and wasting their time. He was clearly not a tourist out shopping for a postcard, even if his total experience with Ralothburg was only slightly more than this hypothetical traveler.
He did this well enough, or perhaps the patrons were too distracted with the sappy Vulpeculan soap opera, that no one even paid attention when he dropped the wooden skewers on the counter with a clatter and got up from his seat, spun around and crossed the busy streets. He caught a few stares from the drivers of the vehicles stopped by the crosswalk, including a wolf-like Lupiad, one of the Regulian client species and a prominent fixture in their military, who leaned out of the side window and held his mouth open slightly in confusion. Still, it did not matter for the Man, as they continued on their way as soon as he was on the other side of the road.
The Man quickly brushed a bit of dust off the breast of his brown suit jacket, and raked a thin, black comb through his thick, obsidian hair, slicking it back and letting the long ends rest against his shoulders, forming a make-shift mane. It gave him some authority, whether the Regulians realized it or not. The Man also has light brown skin, which was considered attractive in humans by the Regulians in the capital, and he had a youthful appearance, only natural, for the man was still attending college.
This would be an easy job.
He stepped through the glass doors of the records building, finding himself in a lobby lined with sandstone pillars reaching up three stories high. Each column had some variety of poster hanging from it, demanding every citizen to, “Do their part," “Report all suspicious behavior," and to, “Join the Imperial Army for the glory of the Empire." Three Regulians, an unusually scrawny male with a thinning mane, and two females: one young and bright-eyed and the other tired, with a heavy scowl in her jowls; were standing behind reception with snaking lines reaching out towards the entrance.
The Man opted to line up in the young female's queue. It was by far the longest, no doubt at least a few of the Regulians in line had romantic intentions for the pretty young thing behind the counter. Still, she was the perfect mark and it gave the Man some time to think.
Rico Suarez. Rico Suarez. Rico Suarez. Rico Suarez. Rico Suarez, the Man repeated in his head. It was time to become Rico Suarez.
Eventually, the Man was at the front of the line and the Regulian's bright, cheerful yellow eyes fell on him. She was cute, having short fur very similar in color to the Man's tan skin. Knowing something of human culture, she attempted to make a smile, something Regulians did not do among each other, but only succeeded in baring her massive fangs. But the Man was used to these by now.
“Name and purpose of visit?"
“Yeah, uh," the Man cleared his throat, “my name is Rico Suarez. I was told you'd be expecting me."
“Hold on," she pawed away at her keyboard, narrowing her eyes. “I see we received a record of a call about this meeting, but we never agreed on a booking."
“What is the meaning of this!?" the Man crossed his arms angrily. “I'm here on business from the Imperial Armaments Foundry and my boss made an appointment for noon today!"
This was a lie. The Man had called himself in front of a noisy fan so that the noise might disguise his poor attempt at sounding like a Regulian. They had, indeed, said his appointment was pending and the call was no doubt recorded, but the Man knew that they wouldn't have the time nor inclination to check.
She was getting nervous and her eyes darted to the right and left, towards her co-workers. They were far too busy and far too jaded to give her any heed.
“There must be some kind of a mistake..." her force smile faded and her lower teeth were nervously biting at her top lip.
“Any delay in getting those records is a disruption to the war effort! Get the General on the line!"
The Man was almost thankful for the war between the Regulians and the reptilian Lacertans, who had their own collection of client aliens kneeling before them, it made people act stupid and made jobs like this so much easier.
“Extension 93568. Go on, call him!"
She slowly picked up the phone receiver and tapped in the numbers. Her pupils narrowed when it started ringing. She was nervous, she didn't want to be doing this. The Man was not nervous, why should he be?
Relief washed over her when the General's voicemail announced that he was unavailable. It was the one weak link in the plan. The Man knew he would not be on the phone, he just knew, but it was still a weak link.
“Don't leave a message," the Man ordered, grabbing the top of her paw and gently placing the receiver down. “The General hates listening to his voicemail messages."
“I'll go grab him, he's just in the building next door. He won't be happy, not at all..."
“Well, no, I mean, what d-does he want you to do here?"
She was relenting. The Man let himself calm down, an easy task. His anger was real, though spiced with an outrage that only an upset VIP could muster. She would never know that his anger was of a far more personal kind, “He just wants me to go over the personnel records for the conscripts in the latest batch."
She reached down, opening a drawer with a clunk and pulled out a white, plastic card. With a few taps on the keyboard, she passed it to the Man.
“This will get you access to the Personnel Records Room. It's on the fourth floor, just to the right of the elevator. Please make sure to return the card to a security slot."
“Thanks, uh, what's your name again?"
“Lathia, you have done your part today. The General will be pleased."
She smiled once again, which was meant to be reassuring but like before, she looked more like a lioness about to rip out a zebra's throat. It was honest, the Man thought, more honest than she would ever know. That's what we are to them, zebras, isn't it?
The Man flashed a more human smile and stepped off to the elevator, tapping the button and stepping into the first door that opened. He pressed the button that had the Regulian number ten on it and with a slight rumble, the elevator rose.
With a ding, the doors opened and the Man was greeted with the words, “Operations Records," with an arrow pointing to the right. This was the real floor that he wanted. He stepped out of the shaft and lowered his head as he passed a group of three Regulians happily chatting, none of them paid him any heed. He didn't waste any time stepping into a broom closet and closed the door behind him.
He was in luck, there were several spare janitorial jumpsuits and a few were made for humans. This meant not only that he had a disguise, but that humans worked here on the cleaning staff. He took off his jacket and suit pants, stepping into one of the gray uniforms and zipping up. It was loose, but it would do. As one final act of changing his appearance, he took out a thick pair of eyeglasses and slipped them over his face.
Grabbing a vacuum, he stepped out, casually walking down the hall and ignoring any glances he got. His attention was on any key pieces of information he could glean from the walls and boards: office announcements, phone numbers, events...any of these could help him. A white sticker with a cartoon Regulian pounding away at a busted computer with the words, “IT Issues?" below caught his attention, especially the phone number at the bottom.
“Hey, you hear Terry MacGill is flying in from the Johannesburg office today?" a Regulian with bright, orange fur and solid stripes muttered to his friend, a black Lupiad who was busy dipping his muzzle into a large, white coffee mug.
The Lupiad shuddered as he pulled away from the mug, coffee dripping from the fur around his mouth. He lapped it up with his pink tongue.
“That upstart little human?" the Man felt his skin burn as that last word came out, dripping with poison.
“He's General Manager of the Johannesburg records office and, get this, they're sending him here to show us how to do our job!"
“What a fucking disgrace! A human!"
The Man shuffled away when the two aliens started to notice him. This was no place to start a fight, righteous though it might have been. As soon as he was down the hall, they went back to complaining amongst themselves.
Terry MacGill. Terry MacGill. Terry MacGill. Terry MacGill. Terry MacGill, the Man let that name repeat in the back of his head. A new plan was forming in his brain and it would soon be time to switch names.
At the end of the hall was the goal: the Operations Records room. The door was made of thick metal and a small card reader was at the side. The Man clicked a button on the vacuum, bringing it to life with an irritating vroom, as the Man took out his cellphone and dialed the IT support line.
After a brief wait, a voice came on the line: a human male.
“Government IT, this is Nate speaking."
“Nate! This is Terry MacGill here!" the Man barked into the phone with his best attempt at a South African accent, which was even poorer than his attempt at a Regulian one. “General Manager of the Joburg Records Office!"
“Mr...MacGill? Sorry, there's a lot of noise..."
“What the fuck are you talking about!?" the Man peered down the hallway, making sure no one was coming. “I just got to Ralothburg and my fucking keycard isn't working!"
“O-okay, well, I see that the request has been submitted to the board, but..."
“No buts! I need to get into the Operations Records right fucking now so that I can see just how badly these fucking cats are organizing this place! If I can't turn around this place in a week's time, it'll be my ass!"
“A-alright, uh," the IT guy paused and the line was silent, except for a few clicks and clacks. “Are you calling on an outside line? We need to verify..."
“What floor are you on!?" the Man screamed. “I'll come on up there and kick your ass!"
“We're, uh, we're remote support based in Vancouver. We'll need you to call on an internal line and..."
The Man hissed and waved the card across the reader, which beeped twice and didn't unlock the door. The Man was disgusted by the tech on the phone, everything about him, from his whimpering voice screamed “Slave," if not in title but in attitude. Perhaps the tech merely was trying to make ends meet, but the Man had a hard time sympathizing with someone who worked for the enemy.
“I'm at the fucking door, you incompetent hack! I want my card working right now!"
The tech swallowed, furiously typing away at his computer. Finally, he continued, “Okay, it looks like you're at Door 49 in the building. Let me just make a few changes...and there! Could you try it out?"
The Man swiped the card again and the lock clicked open, the Man grabbed the handle, hung up the phone, and shut off the vacuum; heading inside.
The room was dusty and filled with stacks and stacks of records. There had been a breach in their network a few months ago by the Lacertans and this resulted in a re-papering of several offices. A desperate measure and one that was the Regulians admitting that they couldn't secure their network, but one that was working, after all, you can't hack paper and a Lacertan couldn't just step inside her like that Man could.
The Man had to admit that their records were organized well. Terry from Joburg would likely have a hard time making this place more efficient. It wasn't long before the Man found what he was looking for and pulled it from the shelf, opening the folder and reading the words:
“Slave Camp #15: Human Resources and Staging."
This was exactly what the Man was looking for. Something that would be more honest about the mysterious Lacertan slave camps that had popped up on Earth beginning five years ago, after that media circus over in Canada, when the Regulians 'rescued' several slaves, creating a PR event that somehow had managed to succeed in some ways. “The Regulians have slaves, yes," the propaganda shows would state endlessly, extolling the virtues of servitude, “many humans, yes! But it's an equitable arrangement, one that benefits both Master and slave with numerous regulations!"
What a load of shit!
This document had records of slaves purchased from nobles, Regulian, Lupiad, Sirian, there were even a few purchases from Vulpeculan Princes. There were records of their transfers to the location and references to the timeline of the mock-liberation, even references to their minds being conditioned, altered so that they don't remember their time among their former Masters. They even brought over a few Lacertan prisoners of war, gave them guns, and let them try and fight back. It was very elaborate and very expensive.
Humans were being freed, but it was fueling an oppressive system and dragging humanity into a bloody war that they had nothing to gain from except for maybe some cushioning behind their collars.
This was the proof that the Man wanted. It was now time to leave.
Exiting was even easier than entering. The Man tucked the record into his jumpsuit and dragged his vacuum back to the broom closet through the now-empty hallways. He changed back into his suit, tucked the document away in his jacket's inside pocket, took off the goofy eyeglasses, and, with a quick adjustment of his suit to make it look neat, stepped out of the closet and into the elevator, which arrived almost instantly.
A Regulian guard was in the elevator, scowling angrily and keeping his rifle at the ready. He was tall, even for a Regulian at about seven and a half feet tall, and although fear was welling up in the bottom of his stomach, the Man would not dare let this creature smell it.
The door swung open on the lobby floor and the Man exited, followed by the guard. Relief washed over the Man when he peered back and saw that the guard went the opposite direction. He quickly stepped towards the exit, flashing a wave and a wink at Lathia as he passed her desk. She was quite…
No! the Man shook his head. That's the education! The brainwashing!
Not even my own thoughts are safe from Regulian dominion.
He exited into the dusty streets of Ralothburg, rounded the corner, tossed his phone into the trash and headed towards Imperial Station to catch a train.
“This the place?" the Regulian motioned out the car window. The Regulian had dark brown fur all over his body, like mahogany, which matched his mane seamlessly.
The young Procyonid Chaplain nodded, pushing his thin, round glasses across his ashen muzzle and framing his gray eyes behind the lenses. His other paw was twisting his ringed tail nervously.
“Something wrong?" the Regulian asked.
“Yes! About a thousand things!" his black paw tensed up around his tail. “By the Hierophant! I must be losing my mind!"
“If you don't trust me..." the Regulian shifted in his seat and began opening up the door.
“No!" the Chaplain tugged at the Regulian's mane pitifully, like a child trying to get his parent's attention. “I trust you, but...my Gaze! I fear they won't be as understanding!"
The Regulian rubbed his heavy paws up against the Procyonid's thin face. The gentle, woody scent of Angralothian cedar wafted past his nostrils, the Chaplain was happy but also a little sad, judging by his scent, and more than a little scared.
Slowly, the Regulian leaned forward and brushed his face up against the Chaplain's tiny, black nose. The Chaplain gasped and wrapped his arms around the Regulian's powerful, stocky chest, running his hands under the loose, yellow jacket he was wearing and feeling his short fur between his fingers.
The Regulian tensed up when the Chaplain's hand brushed up against the bulge in his inside pocket, despite the heavy cushioning. The Chaplain did not notice it.
“This is right," the Chaplain whispered with a moan as the Regulian gently nibbled at his neck. The Regulian sniffed at his neck, inhaling the growing scent of cedar.
Gently, the Chaplain pushed the Regulian away.
“I have no doubts anymore."
“Are you sure?" the Regulian asked.
“If the Hierophant objects," the Procyonid blinked slowly, “he wouldn't have made someone as handsome as you. I want to leave with you, together."
“Your Gaze will understand," the Regulian muttered as the two of them exited the car. “They're complying with the Ecclesiastic Council, aren't they?"
The Chaplain shook his head, “Some are grateful for the more liberal leaning of the Council, some secretly pine for the more traditional path, in defiance of Regulian law; but most..."
The Regulian stared up at the sky. The Great Emperor was beginning its daily descent beyond the horizon, casting its blue rays across the dusty town. The Crown Prince was not visible, the smaller white star obscured by the light of its twin.
“...most don't know who they are. Our planet has been destroyed, turned to desert, only those damned lizards can live there now. We're scattered, half of us slaves to the Lacertans and half subjects to the Regulians," he sighed, rubbing at his head, “with no home, we're pulled between different worlds."
The Chaplain's hand was tiny in the Regulian's paw as he gripped it tight, “We'll find a home together."
“That's what our contact hopes," the Chaplain sighed. “Alright, let's go"
They walked away from the car towards a run-down church. It was perfectly square, in spite of its poor condition, and made of roughly-hewn brown bricks that had dried-up, tan branches of savanna ivy twisted around them.
The Regulian watched the Chaplain pause as they reached the thick curtain hanging from the square arch doorway. The Undying Hierophant's churches never had doors, they were always open, but for the Chaplain it clearly felt like they were barred shut.
Swallowing, the Procyonid brushed the black fabric aside and they entered the small cleansing room. The two of them kicked the dust off their boots and washed their paws in a stone washbasin full of water before slipping past another curtain meant to keep the dust of the Regulus savannah out of the consecrated ground.
Ten pairs of shining eyes blinked in the darkness were all the Regulian saw until his eyes adjusted and was able to see the dark-furred Procyonids that they belonged to. Most were sitting at pews in pairs but two were hauling a crate from one end of the room to the other, while another was standing guard with an IA-40 light rifle, adjusting his grip on the black, polymer underbelly of the barrel upon seeing the Regulian. A legal weapon for personal use under normal circumstances, assuming he went through the right channels.
“Chaplain Chikal!" an older Procyonid female with graying fur came up from the altar, which portrayed a mural of a shadowy figure in heavy robes underneath rows of stripes, and kissed the priest on the cheek. Her nose started twitching when she pulled away and instantly looked at the Regulian with surprise.
“Ri'Ritha," Chikal motioned towards the Regulian, “this is Brolath. He is, that is, he will be accompanying us on our journey."
“But he's…!" Ri'Ritha's tired eyes went wide. “But dear Chaplain, I'm happy for you, but he's-"
“The enemy," another Procyonid broke away from her mate, paws stuck in her pockets. Something was bulging in her left pocket, it looked stiff, was about a few inches, and the Regulian had a feeling she wasn't happy to see him.
“Ri'Latha!" the Chaplain scolded. “Brolath is here to help us! He's the one who I've told you about!"
“He's the one who'll get us sentenced to life in a gulag on Beta Vulpeculae!"
“Look, love," Brolath patted Chikal on the shoulder, “I think I should leave."
“No!" Chikal slammed his tiny fist against a pew. “I trust him with all my heart! It's thanks to him we're even this far! He's got the craft we need to unite with our benefactor!"
“You can't trust a Regulian!" Ri'Latha snapped her jaws as she stormed around the church. “Fuck it! It's over!"
“What do you mean!?" Chikal chased after the younger Procyonid.
“I'm not telling you where our benefactor's ship is! This journey is over!" she shrieked. “As long as you and that cat are here, we're not going anywhere!"
“Chikal, my love," Brolath snuck up behind the young preacher and wrapped his thick arms around his chest, dwarfing him, “lets give her some time. Is there a private room we can talk?"
“Yes," Chikal nodded nervously, “yes, there's an office just over there."
Brolath gently grabbed his lover's hand and led him away. While passing Ri'Latha, he nodded, “I hope to gain your trust one day."
“Chaplain!" Ri'Ritha bowed shakily. “I'm very happy for you, despite everything! Don't give up on love!"
Chikal choked as Brolath pushed the office door open and led his lover inside, closing the door behind them.
“It's hopeless!" Chikal threw up his arm as he collapsed against a rickety wooden swivel chair that slid across the room, colliding with the wall.
“I'm sure it's not hopeless, she just needs-"
“No, it's hopeless!" Chikal rolled up to a dull metal desk and pulled out some headache pills from the drawer, popping one. “Ri'Ritha is the only one with the coordinates to the Exodus project! She was the one that the benefactor contacted!"
“Perhaps she can be persuaded?"
“She won't budge! I know her too well!" Chikal lowered his head into his palms. “What am I going to do?"
“Chikal, I love you, but if you feel so strongly about leaving Regulian space-"
“No! No, no, no!" Chikal ran up to Brolath and hugged him, burying his face into the Regulian's chest. “I've never met someone I loved as much as you! I'd risk Regulian oppression just to be with you! I'd rather be your slave than to live without you! They probably wouldn't even let me come along anyways, even if I left you!"
Brolath silently tapped at the side of his ear and sighed, lowering himself and holding the Procyonid's face in his paws. The two stared deeply into each other's eyes.
Finally, Brolath slowly spoke, “That can be arranged."
Chikal's mouth hung open, “What do you mean?"
“I'll put in a good word for you, make a deal. You won't serve time in prison, we can change it so you're indentured to me."
Brolath rubbed the side of his face up against Chikal's and slowly purred, “We can be together, just as you wanted."
Chikal slashed his claws across Brolath's face, which surprised the Regulian so much that he was forced to let go. Brolath's training kicked in and he ripped open his hidden pocket, pulling out a Slimline Needler, priming the gun with a loud beep. The Regulian grabbed the Procyonid by the shoulder before he could reach the door but hesitated to aim his weapon at the Chaplain.
“The army will be here any minute!" Brolath growled. “Don't be stupid! I can protect you, but only if you stay here!"
Chikal spat with contempt, “Why would you think that I'd want to be with you? To be your slave?"
“You said so earlier, I thought..."
“That was…!" Chikal snarled, “...that was before you revealed the truth! Before you betrayed me! Do you think so little of me, that I'd let you rob me of my freedom in exchange for clemency!?"
“I don't understand," Brolath nervously scratched at his mane, “you can either be a prisoner of love or a real prisoner. I would pick the former."
“Would you!?" Chikal took another swing at the Regulian, but Brolath caught him by the wrist before it connected. “Would you submit at the end of a gun barrel? Deny yourself freedom in exchange for an eternity with someone you don't know!?"
“I love you, Chikal," Brolath gently rubbed at the Procyonid's tiny paw, “everything else was a lie, but that was true. Please trust me."
“Let me go."
“If I let you go..."
“Let me go!"
Brolath released his grip and the Procyonid immediately swung around to the door.
“I'm going to be with my kind, Regulian," Chikal choked as he placed his palm on the doorknob, “I hope you learn..."
Chikal never finished his sentence, shaking his head and silently slipping out the door, which closed with a gentle thud.
Not even a minute later, Brolath heard a flashbang explode in the church, followed by gunfire.
It was nighttime when the Man's house came into view, a modest manor on the outskirts of New Angrolath, another Regulian commissioned city on Earth. He had taken a cab after exiting on Perimeter Station, a rickety old gas-guzzler from before the occupation that was driven around by a Vulpeculan in a plaid polo shirt and wearing a brown flatcap atop his brow that forced his pointed ears back into a fold. The driver was unusually obese for a Vulpeculan, who were normally skinny by human standards.
“Nice place!" the fox-like alien whistled as he slowed down.
“It's not mine," the Man muttered.
An ad flashed on the screen hanging from the ceiling, a short monologue from a hideous, sneering Lacertan with muddy-brown scales, imploring, begging even, the viewer not to buy war bonds. The reptile gave a very good performance, especially considering the fact that, although it was very difficult to see on the small screen, there was a silhouette of a gun barrel creeping on the left side of the stage.
“Ah, got yourself a sugar daddy?" the cab driver slapped the steering wheel jovially. “Man, you've got it made! I'd kill for that kind of life!"
Light flashed through the cab as they passed under the streetlight and the Man could see worn fur around the Vulpeculan's neck and wrist. Odds were the cab driver wasn't treated so well once he was off the job, if he was allowed any freedom at all.
BING! The screen flashed, showing an animated taxi coming to a gentle stop in the middle of a jungle while cartoon lions peeked out from the bushes curiously. A number popped up below the scene.
“Alright, that'll be twenty-fifty!"
The Man handed the Vulpeculan his credit card and was given a flat datapad to enter in his PIN. The word, “Tip," flashed onscreen, along with a prompt to add extra money.
“Just between you and me," the Man put down the datapad and whispered, “do you get the tips?"
The driver hissed and laughed nervously, “O-of course we do! Safari Cabs is a good employer-"
“But you're not an employee," the Man pointed to the circular groove in the alien's pelt around his neck.
“T-they give us the chance to buy our freedom!" he laughed once again in a very awkward manner. “They don't have to do that, you know! I-I'd be happy to work for them for-"
“Cut the crap," the Man growled and waved the datapad. “If I put down ten crowns on here, how much do you get?"
Quietly, the driver turned off the lights and shut off the vehicle. Swallowing loudly, he tapped his claws along the rim of his steering wheel. Eventually, he silently raised his paw with only one finger pointed up.
“One crown, huh?" the Man sighed.
“I never said that!"
The Man added a ten crown tip, fearing that the slave might be punished if he didn't bring in sufficient amount of money. When he passed the datapad back to the driver, he slipped a twenty crown note into his palm.
“Keep it someplace safe, don't let the company hold onto it for you, alright?"
The driver's chubby face nodded and the Man left the cab quietly.
The Man opened up the security gates, nodding at Sarguth, the Lupiad guard leaning back in his chair in the gatehouse, before crossing the cobblestone path along the violet garden leading up to the doors which had oval stained glass windows on them depicting idyllic scenes of Regulians helping humans to their feet in the wake of the occupation.
Cursing at the sight of such bullshit, the Man pushed the doors open. The dark foyer had a double, winding staircase leading upstairs but what caught the Man's attention was the ray of light shooting in from the left, where the den was.
“Abel?" a voice called out from the den. It was full of world-weary exhaustion, despite it still carrying the typical deep, guttural Regulian growl.
Abel slipped the documents he carried into his jacket pocket as he entered into the den. A Regulian with tan fur, slightly aged with gray, and wearing a silver robe was sitting at the bar counter, swirling a glass of brandy that was in a round snifter.
“You're back late," the Regulian grumbled as he brought the glass to his muzzle, which was covered in ancient battle-scars.
Abel cleared his throat and bowed respectfully.
“Good evening, Father."