Bad Day

27 June

       "Tell me again."

       ...

       "How many shots does it take?"

       ...

       "As many as you need until the threat is eliminated."

       Two men had their eyes on the suspect vehicle. It was stopped just in front of their own. Red and blue flashes of light bounced off the sheen of the finish, in addition to a flood of bright white light that washed over it.

       "Alright. With me." The driver carried a tone of experience; cautious dread included. The driver-side door unlocked itself, as the old lundehund let himself out of the mid-size cruiser.

       "Sir," his younger partner, a demure black housecat, interrupted. Mid-exit, the older man paused to take a look back, raising a brow. The partner continued, apprehensively. "Are we planning to..?"

       A light sigh slipped from the canid. "Just keep an eye on him, and follow my lead." He assured, then stepped out onto the road.

       As the doors thunked shut, they marched towards the stopped car, with their hands on the front of their tool belts. As many lanes of high-speed traffic passed them by on their left, they approached on both sides. The leader of the unit stopped and faced the dark window. They could only see a vague shape of a driver in there. He tapped the glass a few times with the back of a finger.

       Like a startled goldfish, the lone driver stiffened up and looked around. Then, the front windows were slid all the way down. They could see him finally, a thirty-something arctic hare with a black snout; black eyes; male; tall and skinny. Fit right in the description, except for the wet cheeks.

       "Evening sir. License and registration, if you will." The dog politely ordered. His breath sent cloudy wisps into the air the whole time. The driver nodded silently, and then reached, carefully, into his pocket and then into the glovebox, all the while being stared down by the two uniformed men.

       The hare took the requested items out and gave them up to the man, who took a moment to look the items over. "Do you know why I stopped you today?" The lead questioned in usual fashion.

       The guy took a moment to reply. "Am I being detained?"

       The police dog took his focus off the documents. He lowered them and looked the civilian in the eyes. "Excuse me?" He pardoned himself, slightly irritably.

       The driver couldn't maintain eye contact for longer than an instant. "Am I being detained?" He repeat himself. The guy looked straight ahead, with a hint of a wince on his face.

       "Step out of the car please sir." The policeman said firmly.

       The leporid's troubled expression only got worse. "I'm not-"

       "Sir." The patrol asserted quickly. He tilted his head down toward the driver. "Out of the car." The tone became slower yet just as firm. "I'm asking nicely. Please."

       The arctic hare silently grumbled against the order, but grabbed the door handle anyways, and once the cop stepped out of the way, he too stepped out onto the cold street.

       The old dog looked up and over the vehicle, at his partner. "Check the car, I'll be a minute." He said to them, who then nodded and took a look over the suspect's car, before reaching in and unlocking it from the inside.

       The policeman and the civvie split off on a short walk. Very short. "Got anything on you sir?" The policeman addressed them firmly again as they stopped in front of the cop's SUV-like cruiser.

       "What?" The hare nervously turned and faced him. "A weapon? No." They denied.

       The cop put his hands on his waist, making sure to still keep them close to his belt. "That right? Well what did you have then, a breakup? A bad day?" He pressed.

       Despite consciously keeping their hands visible, the guy was still on edge and barely even gazing in the cop's direction. "I can't tell you." They declined to answer.

       "Not true. You can tell us anything." The metro cop corrected. He then brought his attitude down to a more sympathetic level. "You're not looking so hot; what's going on?"

       "...It won't matter." The driver shrunk.

       The policeman adjusted his footing. "Ron, you're concerning me. Now if you don't tell me what's going on, I'm gonna have to-"

       "Unit Twenty-Three." A feminine voice suddenly made itself known over the cops' radios, including the one in the cruiser. She continued smoothly, "The owner of that car is four-nineteen in his home, suggest the driver be four-forty."

       Upon hearing the news, the cop lost his expression. Everybody; everything went silent. As far as they were concerned, the world beyond them; the bustling road racing more than a mile a minute, didn't even exist anymore. This was the only time the pair locked eyes for more than a second; a sorry face against a disbelieving one. The younger policeman on the farther side came forward in a short-lived hurry, as the two stared each other down...

       With natural swiftness, the civilian's hand flew to the cruiser's door handle. With the littlest delay, the cop yanked his sidearm out of its holster and brought it level with the blur in front of him.

       BANG!

       "augh!" The cop fell on his ass, as the long-eared civvie hopped inside the cabin of the metro cruiser. The side window was cracked to hell. Not even a moment later, the door was pulled shut with a slam, its engine roared to life and its tires screamed along with it.

       The downed policeman scrambled to both get away from his own vehicle, and to get back on his feet. The civilian vehicle down in front caught a bullbar to the bumper, as its previous driver forcefully knocked it to the wayside. At the same time, the dog kept his sidearm aimed as best as he could at the thief in his place, and squeezed off one, two, three more shots into that window. Each one blew off bits of plastic and glass as it trapped a bullet. The accompanying cop flattened himself against the guardrail behind them, narrowly avoiding touching anything moving.

       The cruiser blew past them with a billow of white smoke tagging along. Rather aggressively, it joined in with the rest of the traffic on that busy road.

       "FUCK!!" The leading cop barked. Frantically, he grabbed the transmitter attached to his shirt. "Code red! Four-eleven paul; unit twenty-three! He just drove off in my cruiser!"

— — — — —

       A sturdy bipod hit the table; and the boxy-braked barrel stuck out far beyond the edge. A gloved hand grabbed tight around the fore-end of the magazine well, while the right one unstuck a switch on the digital camera scope.

       "Ready." A young masculine voice casually announced.

       The heavy bolt was tugged back by its jutting handle, just enough to expose a bit of fourteen-five casing. The screen of the weapon's scope lit up with the clearest focused view of everything hundreds of meters beyond his position. "Ready." A deeper voice responded firmly, as the bolt was shoved back into place.

       A third voice piped up on boys' radios, swimming alongside a bit of noise, and guiding the marksman and spotter atop the border gate. "Aight, we're on the lookout for a cop car with the number twenty-three on it."

       "I see him!" The spotter called out the speeding cruiser. Steadily, it was accelerating.

       As the rifleman laid his reticle upon the vehicle, its computerized optic took it upon itself to place a red targeting square around the it, and along with it, a compensatory point to aim at for the desired effect.

       "Shoot it! Aim for the hood!" The radio blurted.

       "So long and good night..." The soldier idly remarked, while squeezing the heavy trigger. In a flash, a deafening blast burnt through a fireball that pushed the man back in his seat.

       By the instant they could just make out the face of the driver through the windshield, the next instant...

       Crack.

       A man urgently startled himself awake with a snort, a thirty-something arctic hare with a black snout, black eyes, and of the tall and skinny build. He picked his head up off the railing, and brought his hands up to his face. The continuous rumbling and the clattering of rail tracks greeted him back to reality.

       "Still got those nightmares huh Ron?" Said a similarly-aged voice right next to him.

       "Yeah..." Ron replied with the dragging tone of a coffee-deprived office worker.

       "You know you still snore a lot." The other person continued, while Ron rubbed his eyelids.

       Ron groaned a little and sniffed. "I know..." Coming to his senses, he took a hold on the pole beside the sliding doors. Ron glanced to his side, trying not to make his snoopiness obvious. "So uh...You gonna tell me what's in the case?"

       The other guy kept looking the other way, as if they suddenly couldn't hear him anymore. They were just like him, if not just a little taller.

       "Hey. Ryan." Ron tagged the man on the torso with the back of his hand.

       "Yeah?" They turned back and pretended not to know what the problem was.

       "No 'yeah', what's in the case?" Ron pressed.

       "C'mon, where's your element of surprise?" Ryan scoffed. He reached down and hefted up the silver, professional-grade briefcase from between his shins. "Just think of it as..." He hesitated, while laying the luggage out flat on his lap. "As a...late birthday present!" He pat the outer shell couple times.

       Ron made a skeptical face. "Pff, yeah several months late." He leaned against his side of the train bench and let off a short little laugh.

       "Gimme a break!" Ryan puffed at them. "I couldn't afford anything til now..."

       "heh, Yeah, I know." Ron verbally nodded. He started to lean his head onto his own arm, and close his eyes.

       "Promise, man, after this you won't have to worry about helping me out anymore." Ryan mused.

       "...Ron?"

       A light snore bubbled out of Ron's throat; fast asleep again.

       Soon enough he shot his grey eyes open again as he was seemingly pushed into the rail, while the train let out a muted screech from outside.

       The PA system chimed, and Ryan's long, black-tipped ears stuck up. A womanly voice came online.

       "Станция Маяковская."

       "That means us, bro." Ryan said idly as he stood up on his feet. Ryan let the case hang at his side in his grasp, peeking at it a couple times.

       Yawning, Ron got up as well. The PA chimed again, and the doors slid themselves aside for the passengers. The bunny-eared men stepped into the station, and Ryan hastily took the lead through the crowd. Ron had to jog a little to catch up, and stuck to Ryan's side as they made their way out of the station. The two largely ignored all the grand decorations and advertisements hung from the ceiling and dotted around the walls, as they ascended multiple flights of stairs to ground level.

       Ron grabbed his wristwatch and turned it towards himself. 19:50, it read in the corner under the hands. "So how far are we?"

       "You're the tech guy, I figured you already made your itinerary." Ryan snarkily snickered.

       Ron scoffed, and put his hands in his jacket's pockets. "Server handlers don't make itineraries, genius." He shot the joke right out of the sky.

       "Heh..." Ryan kept a smirk on for a second. Ryan opened the exit door himself, wide enough for Ron to follow comfortably through as well. They stepped out onto the grey concrete, lit just well enough for the people to see where they were going. "It'll be ten minutes." He finally gave a straight answer. His breath clouded up the freezing air around him.

       As soon as they had left the safety of the station, they were flanked by an endless stream of multi-story buildings in both directions, down each cross-street, and down every other connecting street. A majority of them prominently displayed a number of signs and advertisements on or in the windows with either Russian or English text, sometimes both on them, telegraphing what businesses occupied what floors. While they strolled down the sidewalk, bright white headlights sliced through the darkness as cars sped through several lanes of road. They could hear even more of them travelling above them; through the major freeway stood tall above all the buildings.

       Ryan didn't pay much attention to the surroundings, they didn't surprise him. Ron however, couldn't help but look up and around quite frequently, getting caught up in all the lights and storefront sounds. They didn't have to weave through many people, as most were holed up indoors, where it was warm and humidified.

       Ron scratched along one of his long ears. His eyelids kept drooping as he walked, but he consciously kept them at least half-open. "So uh..." He turned his head towards Ryan. "How's the, 'government assistance' going?"

       Ryan's ear lifted a little while he listened in. "eh, Bare minimum, you know how it is."

       Ron looked ahead again, down along their path. "I don't know how it is, actually."

       The taller hare put his ear back down, and made a quiet sigh. "Well, the long and short of it is the government provides you with what they think is 'basic necessities'." Ryan brought the case over to his other hand, and idly stretched his relieved palm while he continued. "mh, The DCA hands you select things from a list; each one you gotta qualify for. So far I got a subway pass, the lowest kind of healthcare, and a set amount of MREs a week." Ryan scoffed and sneered after the last item in the bunch. "Makes you learn to ration the hard way, that."

       "I'm guessing you don't qualify for housing yet." Ron probed a bit more.

       "pah, I haven't been evicted yet, so I don't get to ask for housing." Ryan huffed, scratching his cheek. "Besides," he glanced over to his brother, "would you really want to have to share a dorm with a ton of strangers?"

       Ron met the gaze, but mostly just shrugged. "Guess not."

       There was a glimmer in Ryan's eye, as if he knew something most people didn't. "Yeah, and y'know I've heard stories about people that've been too reliant on on handouts..." He started.

       A hushed sigh strung out of Ron, while Ryan was started getting carried away.

       "You know they get conscripted right?" Ryan raised a brow. "It makes sense don't it? People take advantage of the system, then the system takes advantage of them." He switched hands again. "They wait til you're snug in their pocket...next thing you know you're getting escorted away by some pretentious skinners. Not gonna happen to me, I'll tell you right now."

       "Yeah but..." Ron looked across the street, following the recruitment office with his eyes as they were passing by. "Don't you think, wouldn't joining them mean a guaranteed job and place to stay?"

       "Hah! Hahah!" Ryan couldn't shake the smile off his face even if he wanted to. "That'll be the day! I'm not about to be part of the problem. Besides..." Ryan switched one more time, then came closer to Ron, putting an arm around the other hare's shoulders. "If I enlisted, don't you think I wouldn't be able to hang out with my little brother?"

       A gentle squeeze was added, which managed to crack a hint of happiness out of the more gloomy sibling. "Yeah, you're right." Ron faintly smiled.

       "'Course I am." Ryan beamed brighter, then let Ron have their personal space back. "Hey, look," he pointed into the distance, "that's our stop."

       Across the street, and about one crossing down, there was a rather tall, rectangular, and secured parking garage with a vertical Russian sign on it. конфискованный, it read, plain and simple. Seamlessly embedded in its closer side, there was what looked like a well-lit office, as seen through a glass window and door.

       As the brothers walked up to the entrance, they could see it seemed to be devoid of people inside. Ryan opened the door; which sounded less like a door and more like a hefty ship hatch. A strong gust suddenly let itself out across their persons, as the much warmer air rushed out in a hurry. Against the wind, they trudged inside.

       The heavy door rather gently shut itself behind Ron's puffball of a tail, and with it, the outside noise was cut off; silenced. There was only a faint tune, what sounded like some old Slavic folk song. The interior was built like its only purpose was to be the most bland bank; well-lit to a cool color, and populated by a few electronic kiosks, simple benches without backs, and a line of metal-edged, thick glass-windowed teller booths separating the room they were in from an employees-only office space on the other side.

       Ryan walked ahead again, following the quiet song. It led him right up to one of the counters, where he spotted a dated, battery-powered airwave radio. They could hear it somewhat clearly, despite the huge transparent barrier between it and him. Across the desk, sat a can of cold NJ Legion branded tea, put dangerously close to a keyboard huddled in the corner with both Cyrillic and Latin characters printed on its caps, and a computer monitor just above it.

       There was a lone person in the cubicle; the only personnel they could find in the place. They were a young uniformed man; a totally furless cat with big ears and a blue pixel-flooded uniform, laid back in a leaning office chair. They must have been glad to be cooped up inside where it's warm. They were looking real comfy, reading their aviation magazine, with their legs crossed and boots propped up on their side of the counter.

       Ron silently wandered about the place, curiously leaning in and checking various things things up close. Meanwhile, Ryan stood at the counter for a few unceremonious moments, then eventually cleared his throat to announce his presence. "uh...Excuse me."

       The suited cat gave a casual peek over the top of his reading material, then took their sweet time getting back into a proper seating position, and turned the radio's volume down. "y'eh, What can I do ya for." They nonchalauntly greeted all the while.

       With the magazine out of the way, the baggage-toting hare got a good look over the teller's uniform; definitely military, judging by the patches across the shoulders and chest. Ryan read the breast patches silently from left to right; last name Morterero...holding the rank of a single chevron...working in the Civ. Affairs department.

       Ryan continuously rubbed his thumb across the handle of the case. Eventually, he noticed that he was staring a little too long. "mm, Here to pick up a car." He finally answered, trying not to mumble.

       The sphynx eyed Ryan, obviously picking up on the awkwardness. "uh huh..." They scooted their chair in closer to the keyboard, and began typing away. "Which one is it then?"

       Ryan scratched behind his neck. "A '49 Nikita, under Ryan Coppernick."

       Mr. Morterero deftly keyed in the given parameters and moused through some files on his monitor for a few seconds, eventually finding and opening the right one. It prominently listed off several lines of sensitive, identifiable characteristics, chief among them being the hare's photo. He studied the photo ID for a second, before intently setting his snake eyes on the skittish leporid one more time. Ryan gave his best look of innocence.

       "...Alright." The lazy cat readjusted his position, seemingly satisfied with the results. "That's five thousand dollars."

       Ron's ears rose a little upon overhearing the dollar amount. "Five thousand?" He said from across the room, as he squinted directly at his brother. Ron brisky walked up to the counter beside Ryan. "You said it was only gonna be three thousand." He confronted Ryan all the while.

       Morterero shrugged. "It could have been if you got here faster." He cut in on the brothers' little quarrel.

       A look of disbelief washed over Ryan's face, as if he were shocked at being ganged up on. "Hey! I didn't know, honestly!"

       Morterero idly turned back and forth in his chair with his feet to the floor. "Three thousand for the violation; one thousand for the towing fees; five hundred per twelve hours impounded. Them's the laws."

       "ugh..." Ryan quietly scoffed as he turned to his sibling. "See what I mean?" He complained just as hushedly.

       With his eyes locked on Ryan's, Ron subtly nodded. He then fished around in his pocket, picking out a rather thin wallet shortly after. Through minimal extra hassle, Ron went ahead and paid for his brother's accrued fees, being given access to the impound's parking garage as a result. Using the directions that government-issued cat gave them, the brothers soon enough located Ryan's car, and Ryan securely wedged the briefcase between the back seat and the driver's seat, where it couldn't slide around anywhere.

       Ron got into the front passenger seat as soon as the doors were unlocked. He glanced over towards his sibling a few times, not saying much of anything, until the car was started and they were headed out towards the automated exit gate. "So, is it time to open it yet?"

       "What? Open what?" Ryan regarded Ron for just a second. He took a moment to look out for any incoming high-speed vehicles, before turning onto the main street and speeding off himself.

       Ron ran a hand down over his face. "egh...You know what I mean! What's in the case, man?"

       "tsk..." Ryan scorned a little. "okay, Tell you what...I'll show you when we get to my house, okay?"

       "Alright." Ron silently sighed. He adjusted his place in his seat, getting hisself comfy. As he leaned against the door and relaxed, he took in a deep yawn, then gave into the incessant nagging urge to just let his eyes seal themselves shut. He never even felt it.

       ...

/ / / / /
/ / / /
/ / / / /

       There's a massive trench beyond the border. Bigger than all the rest.

       It's extremely steep; a person would fall a hundred feet before hopefully avoiding the mines at the flattened floor. Only a few select roads are privileged enough to extend beyond the border wall, and all the way out across the three mile stretch, before connecting with Ramiel military base. Of course, there were heavy precautions in place to regulate who gets to travel these roads and when.

       What dictated access were structured lanes that looked like toll booths; checkpoints teeming with armed guards, most of them dressed in bulky black uniforms and equipment. As vehicles pass through, military and civilian alike, they are ordered to stop and yield identification. As one of the men turned, the label ПОЛИЦИЯ was conspicuously displayed front and center across their backs. Not only on theirs, but on the backs of all the other troops moving about as well. Every one of them had opaque metal visors obscuring their eyes, each one with a number on them.

       The men were homogenous, and worked as a unit, except for the two on top. They were the special ones, dressed in plain blue under black helmets and strike vests, without the need for fancy labels. One of them was a fluffy Alaskan coyote, with the surname Burale printed across the front of his vest on a velcro patch. He was meticulously wiping clean the objective lens and eyepiece of a rather large spotter-marker scope stood idly on its own tripod.

       The other, was a tall snow leopard with long white dreadlocks and striking red eyes. Eversnow was his label. He was slumped in his chair, hugging against himself a bulky, oversized rifle longer as he was tall, all the while he fought off the compulsion to render himself unconscious.

       "Checkpoint South this is Overwatch, radio check, over." A loud and deliberate voice over the cat's transceiver made him suddenly stiffen in his seat. It gave him just barely enough of a waking jolt to sit upright, tilt his helmet back, and shift the heavy rifle's weight more onto its buttstock on the floor.

       "Loud and clear Overwatch." A different voice responded on behalf of the troops. The cat pulled back his left sleeve, and peeked at the underside of his wrist. 20:30.

       "Copy, out."

       "Fallin' asleep again eh?" The coyote casually addressed his partner, without even needing to look over.

       Eversnow closed his eyes and rubbed them. A cloud of condensation billowed from his wide snout as he sighed. "Better off guarding bunk yah." He rumbled, his voice especially deep.

       Burale whipped his handkerchief in the frozen air. "That coffee don't work too good."

       "You telling me brother." Eversnow grit his teeth, attempting to stifle a yawn, but only managing to make it come out worse in the end.

       The other man stuffed the kerchief back in the only free pocket on his plate vest. "Say you go to sleep, and I'll wake you up if I see anything."

       "kheh." The cat scoffed, then shook his head. "Not falling for that again."

       A black car came in from the East; outbound traffic. They were soon halted in one of the ID checking lanes. Shortly after the dark mirror of the side window slid down, the checker was quick to stand up straight and take their hand off the grip of their weapon, flashing a proper salute.

       ...

\ \ \ \ \
\ \ \ \
\ \ \ \ \

       The sleepy hare could feel the car stop, seeing as they gently picked their head up off the window.

       "Finally awake." The driver commented, while Ron rubbed his face. Ryan turned the car off, and let himself out on his side.

       They were stopped in the driveway, just in front of a small, cheap, one-story house, one of a multitude of others just like it along the streets. It took a short while for Ron to reconstitute himself, a while in which his brother spent reaching in the back seat and pulling out their shiny briefcase. After shutting and locking the car, the guys made their way to the front door. Without a second thought, Ryan snatched and crumpled a sheet of yellow paper that was stuck onto it, then made his way inside.

       Stepping inside, Ron shut the door softly. Things were clean, but they were not orderly. The place could use a little bit of picking up. As Ron took in the looks, he slowly walked through the short hall. He looked back down, being drawn to a picture frame that had been set face-down on a little decorative table.

       Ryan himself went ahead, past the living room, and into the kitchen. "So how do you like it?" He questioned curiously, albeit with a tone that acknowledged the disarray. "Same as last time eh?"

       "Just like I left it." Ron rubbed his shoulder. The two made gentle laughter.

       Ryan cleaned off the kitchen counter a bit, relocating a knife back into its proper slot. He then lifted the hefty case, and plonked it down right on the emptied space, making the dirty dishes clatter in the process. A long sigh slid from his muzzle.

       "Is it finally show and tell time?" Ron said as they walked up to the other side of the case.

       Ryan planted both his hands on the front edge of the briefcase. "Okay..." He took in a quiet breath. "Before I show you, you have to promise me you will not tell anybody else. Act like you never even heard of it."

       Ron furrowed his brow, staring at his brother's hands, all the while he listened keenly to the rather simple terms of service being issued. "Yeah, I won't." He nodded a bit, then looked Ryan in the face.

       "You promise?" Ryan angled his brows back, finding concern in his brother's response.

       "I promise." Ron affirmed, with a solemn look.

       "Okay..." A second passed, for what felt like an hour, as Ryan thumbed the case's metallic clips apart, one at a time. Gripping it by the corners, he lifted it right open, and held it there with one hand, open for comfortable viewing.

       After only a slow glance, Ron's shoulders drooped, his tired eyes widened, and his jaw slacked. After Ron put himself back together, he swallowed nervously, and pointed an unsteady hand towards the spectacle before him. "Ryan..?" He started, in a quieted, unsure, and uncomfortable tone.

       "Yeah." Ron's brother nodded his head slightly. "Awesome isn't it? We're gonna be rich, man!"

       "Ryan where did you get this?" Ron spoke up in a hurry. "Why do you have that on you?" Ron needed answers, and needed them fast, because the questions kept on piling on top of one another.

       Ryan's expression was turning progressively more perturbed, just as Ron's was, albeit for alternative motives. "Hey, calm down man..." Ryan reached out his free hand, and laid it gently on Ron's farther shoulder. "I, relieved it off a couple uniformed dudes, on my way to the station."

       "So you stole it from the military?!" Ron narrowly interrupted his brother's reply, while shrugging off the otherwise soothing hand.

       Ryan frowned over a short, frustrated growl. "I did what I was asked to do, Ron!"

       "Who even?" Ron only made progressively disbelieving faces. "Who's asking you to steal from the military?"

       "The people that are gonna pay me!" Ryan raised his voice some. He let go of the case, having it hold itself open at almost a right angle. "Listen, Ron! This is my ticket to fixing everything." Ryan balled fists, shaking them towards his brother in a pleading stance. "Everything." He needed both hands to animate his rant, while he slowly paced around in a little circle. "Everything that I fucked up over all these years, is going back to normal because of this little gig. I'll be back to a clean slate, finally. And all profit beyond getting me back on my feet, is going to you. So please...let me do this. For both of us, Ron."

       Ron had his arms crossed all the while. His gaze had to wander all over the room; he couldn't look at his brother for too long. Ron had gone silent, not a word escaped from his mind, even after his sibling appealed for a chance, until, "Man...I just-" the doorbell rang.

       The long-eared brothers looked at each other, then at the wide-open case.

       Outside in the frigid air, the locks on the front door could be clearly heard being undone from the inside. Then, the door opened up just enough for a grey-eyed hare to peek their head around, while hiding the rest of himself. "uh...Can I help you?" He said, just managing to keep his composure tight.

       "Ahh, The White Rabbit." A deep voice of refined confidence greeted. They cast a long shadow along the concrete walkway, tipped with straight pointed ears. The dress code was sharp tonight; from the black polished shoes and the white slacks, to the white tux and red shirt. He slicked a hand back along his stiff black hair, deftly avoiding his own ears. His lips strung across his dark canid muzzle in a cocky smirk, fit for his haughty timbre. "I do believe you've picked up something of value, to hand to me."

       It was obvious that the 'White Rabbit' felt more and more uncomfortable the longer they were graced with this canine's presence. "I'm-" He faltered, trying to make it look like he was keeping eye contact. "...I'm sorry, you got the wrong guy."

       The door shut. It shut on what felt like a brick wall that wasn't there before. The hare dreaded to look up.

       What he found was man's large hand was gripping the door around the edge, forcing it to stay open just that little bit.

       "I don't appreciate being lied to." The man's entire aura grew darker, actively sapping the color from the hare's face. They came closer, keeping the door frozen in place, and stared their timid host right through the eyes. The visitor's gaze was unwavering; icy. He nearly became a statue of himself, silent and unforgiving. It hurt to be targeted, but Ron couldn't tear himself away from the hunter.

       "Ron?" That familiar voice finally snapped him back to reality. "Ron, who is it?" Ryan walked up behind their brother, who straightened up as best they could. The visitor graciously let go of the door, along with Ron's soul, just before it was opened all the way by the owner of the place.

       "Ah!" Ryan exclaimed, as if he had found something he'd been searching all day for. "You're uh...early!" An awkward little chuckle came out of Ryan, then he quickly stepped aside. "Come in, come in!"

       The man was back to smug smiles and wide-shouldered style in an instant. Ryan could be none the wiser. "A pleasure it is, March Hare." He gleamed directly at Ryan, while striding across the threshold. He walked just like he dressed; making no effort to silence his bold footsteps, unlike the two brothers.

       Mister Mystery led his own path through the house, as if he already knew where he was going through all the disarray. He eventually stopped in the kitchen, turning his nose up. The case was gone, like it wasn't even there. "Hmh." He fussed. "Since your brother pins me for a fool, you can show me where the package went, then." He addressed Ryan, who soon followed after them like a loyal puppy.

       Ron trailed behind his brother back towards the kitchen, having fallen silent again while the other men had their talks. He tried to stay a few steps behind the dressy guy, leaning his back on the refrigerator all the while.

       "Of course!" Ryan smiled wide. "So sorry for the mess, aha, I just wasn't expecting you so soon!"

       "A shame about the lack of small talk," Their visitor became firm with their tone. "but I hadn't scheduled much time for game. Now, where is it?"

       "Ah..." Ryan could feel his hospitality being motioned aside. "Yeah it's, in the cupboard."

       Wasting no time, the man in white turned his back to Ryan and reached up to part the cabinet doors.

       Ryan tried not to hesitate, before big canid noticed. "No, the one by your knees." He corrected.

       Much to Ryan's relief, the man made no remarks about the disruption. They opened up the knee-level cupboard and pulled out the biggest valuable-looking object in there. Before long, it was planted right back on the counter where it first arrived. Taking his sharpened claws, he pried and flicked open the two locks at the same time.

       The moment the case was opened was the moment the long-eared brothers couldn't breathe anymore. They held their place, more silent and petrified than they had ever been in their lives. Ryan's gaze snapped between the case and its inspector, and Ron swallowed.

       The visitor took a hard look over the goods, analyzing its features. "Hmm, Looks like you've got the right stuff after all." He approved, then shut the case for the last time.

       Life returned to Ryan's eyes once more, but he kept his excitement under control as best as he could. Try as he might, he couldn't seem to wipe the smile off his face. "So I did a good job after all, ey?" Ryan shined. "The payoff's gonna be so worth it."

       Their guest began to casually crack his knuckles. "You've done your part." They affirmed, in a business-like manner. "And so, you'll be getting what you deserve." They reached into their coat, while Ryan began to smirk again.

       Ryan felt the need to show his gratitude in the form of more hospitality; however, that was cut short when he witnessed a blur of white and silver, and suddenly felt a deep searing pain in his belly. The two brothers jumped out of their skin looking as if they had seen a ghost.

       "Did you really think we wouldn't know?" The visitor asked, through a wickedly long smile.

       Ryan struggled to find his own voice. He struggled to even breathe. The only thing coming out of him was a few grunts, and a lot of spilling warmth.

       "Foolish, hare." They wrenched their wrist, which got Ryan to groan shortly in a burst of agony. One of the hare's hands gripped tight around the man's fist, and tried to pull it away from his abdomen. The visitor laughed under his breath.

       Ryan instinctually grabbed onto the businessman's shoulder with his free hand, as he felt his feet slip from the tile, and his body being lifted up from the inside. Ron covered his muzzle in both hands, bumping into the fridge as he backpedaled, slipping and then falling on his rear.

       That wicked smile opened smoothly around his unnaturally perfect teeth. With just a single arm, the visitor had Ryan effortlessly hoisted on a pike. Fresh blood was pouring down Ryan's shaking legs, and dripping into the small puddle of red on the tile floor. Ryan dug his fingernails into the man's suit. His body was so desperately screaming for oxygen to fuel his racing heart, but any fraction of an inhale only made his diaphragm push further into the tip of that blade.

       "All of the yelling made it easy." The man said slyly. "You knew this was coming." He stared right into Ryan's shrunken pupils, as he slowly licked his own fangs. "I hope the payoff was worth it." He mocked, then hiked the hare up higher, driving the knife deeper and deeper, and forcing them into a panicked state. Several excruciating seconds of thrashing and muted grunts only led up to Ryan finally finding his voice in the form of a long, chilling howl of pain, and a flood of extra crimson flowing down the visitor's hand and soaking through Ryan's clothes. Ryan was shivering like a kid on a snowy day, but gradually, the motions lessened and waned, up until they left behind only the sound of drops of blood and tears hitting the floor.

       Ryan, what was left of him, was unceremoniously tossed forth, just enough to get it off the bloodied blade and the fist that clutched it. The body flumped onto the tiles with a loud thud. The kitchen knife, that very same that the hare had relocated before the visit, was cast forth as well. The callous canid barely regarded the gored corpse. Before the widening puddle of blood could touch his good shoes, he turned about face and walked away.

       Ron was still there. He was quaking on the floor, still holding his own muzzle shut; keeping the screams and the cries in. The visitor came closer, leaving fresh blackened blood behind, dripping along his path. His unsettlingly warm gaze began to carve itself in to the lone brother's psyche.

       Ron began to take his hands away, to show his palms. The man stopped, uncomfortably close. "So sorry you had to see that." They addressed Ron casually. "Just business, I assure you." He added. All the while, the blood that once soaked his hand and forearm continued to shed impossibly from the fabric and fur, like pure water beading up and sliding off a new windshield. Stray droplets kept falling upon Ron's shoes and pant legs, where it smeared and stained.

       The surviving hare was far too scared to move away; too scared to even shiver anymore. He couldn't look the man anywhere near the face any longer, it was all too much. The man used his clean hand to reach into his coat once more. Ron shut his eyes tight, and began to breathe in shorter, shuddering breaths.

       "They'll be looking for you..." The man continued. "I would start learning how to vanish, if I were you." They pulled their hand back out, then deliberately dropped something on the hare's lap. "If you find yourself needing help with that, let us know."

       The dapper dog turned and walked away again. Flicking the last of the blood off his other hand, he grabbed the case by the handle and began to take it with him. As he left Ron behind on his way to the door, he adjusted his suit. "It's a horrible night to have a curse." He mentioned in passing, while the hare began to break down and cry.

× × × × ×
× × × ×
× × × × ×

       The engine rumbled. "...and that's why I don't like owing anything to anyone." The driver commented. The red light that washed over their uniform turned green, and the engine revved well as they set on their way again. The passenger had the same uniform, clad in beige outlined with a black stripe up along the legs, sides, and arms. They wore utility belts chock full of tools the likes of a flashlight, stun gun, handcuffs, pepper spray, a well-secured handgun, and more.

       The man in the right seat plucked a piece of lint off his forearm. A tag situated across the right side of his spelled out the name 'Kaur' in silver. "That's why you don't own any credit cards?" They asked in an incredulous manner, and otherwise gazed into space before them.

       "Exactly." The driver replied. The dog scratched his toasted cheek fluff while he scanned the road. His own tag had 'Hewitt' engraved in it in gold. "Never had one in my life."

       Kaur scrunched his feline face in a skeptical look. "So, what, you don't care about your credit score?"

       Hewitt pursed his lips and shook his head. "Never checked it."

       "That's ridiculous." Kaur retorted.

       "Is it?" The dog tilted his head at his partner, then soon put his eyes back on the road. "How many times does your credit even get inspected in a year; in a month even?" His focus flicked between a number of other cars while he spoke.

       A short and exasperated sigh flew out of Kaur. He pinched the bridge of his muzzle. "It's not about how many times it happens, it's about looking your best when it does hap-"

       "Hold up." Hewitt interrupted with a wave of his hand. "Look." He pointed off to the left, directly at a vehicle at least a decade old. It was passing them a few lanes over, which would be trivial, if not for its headlights being switched off at this time of night.

       Hewitt signaled himself all the way over to the dark vehicle's lane, getting up just behind it. "A'ight, lights and sound." Hewitt ordered.

       With little dawdling, Kaur reached up to the ceiling and flipped three metal switches in quick succession, the first of which lit up the car in front of them with a flood of bright white light, the second turned on the red and blue flashers, and the third activated a wailing siren.

       Hewitt kept on the car's tail, following it closely. The other vehicles on the road began to avoid being stuck too close to the either of them, and the suspect vehicle eventually took the open space and pulled over all the way to the right shoulder.

       At the same time, Kaur picked up the microphone from the radio in the center of the dash and depressed its switch. "Dear Eladard dispatch," Kaur began to announce without missing a beat, "patrol two-three at blue diamond requesting pullover for plate baker seven one niner x-ray king."

       Hewitt reached up and flicked the siren switch to the off position. "See, you're gettin' better at that." Hewitt complimented his partner, as he parked at a bit of an angle towards the street.

       "I'd hope so." Kaur replied.

       A feminine voice quickly responded over the radio, with just a bit of static to it. "Unit two-three set for baker seven one niner x-ray king advise pullover complete." They said, speaking even faster and more formally than Kaur.

       Kaur tried not to take too long in getting a confirmation out. "Continuing with pullover will advise when complete, unit two-three." Meanwhile, he had been entering a line of text into the computer between them.


В 719 ХΚ 256
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       In short order, it brought up the owner associated with such a license plate. It showed an photo ID that took up a good quarter of the screen, and a wall of organized text detailing various identifying information supplementing it. There were more pictures lined up beyond the first one, and one swipe over brought up a mugshot of a rather sad-looking leporid, all white in the fur except for the dark snout and black markings around the eyes. The text was more specific. AGE: 37, SPECIES: ARCTIC HARE, HEIGHT: 6'1 [185CM], BUILD: SLIM, and most importantly, NAME: RYAN COPPERNICK

       Hewitt took his eyes off the number plate before them, and took one glance at the picture. "ach, This guy..." He huffed.

       Kaur raised a brow, looking off the screen. "What, you know him?"

       "He's one of our 'regulars'." Hewitt affirmed, scratching his head through that short hairstyle. "Ol' Ryan's been getting less and less stable over time," he added, while looking over the descriptors, "pretty sure he's picked up a gun recently too, for god knows what purpose..."

       Hewitt adjusted his position a bit, letting out a long and drawn out sigh. "Tell me again." He said, looking straight at the vehicle parked in front of them.

       Kaur sat up a little more formally, then mirrored his senior's gaze.

       "How many shots does it take?" Hewitt asked.

       Kaur could feel himself getting colder, despite being in a warm cruiser. Regardless, he answered by the book, "As many as you need until the threat is eliminated."

       "Alright. With me." Hewitt ordered. The driver's side door unlocked itself as the began to step out of the cruiser.

       "Sir," Kaur interrupted. Mid-exit, the canid policeman paused and looked back, perking a brow. Kaur continued, apprehensively, "are we planning to..?"

       A lighter sigh slipped from Hewitt. "Just keep an eye on him, and follow my lead." He assured, then stepped out onto the road.

       Two sturdy thunks of their car doors preceded their march towards the car they pulled to the side. As several other lanes of high-speed traffic endlessly pass them by, they approached the vehicle on both sides. Hewitt stopped and faced the dark, tinted driver's side window. Either of them could only see a vague shape of a driver in there.

       Hewitt tapped the glass a few times with the back of his finger, and like a startled goldfish, the lone driver stiffened up and looked around at either of the men. Then, just a moment later, the front windows were lowered all the way down. They could see him finally, a thirty-something male arctic hare with a black snout, black eyes, and a skinny build. Fit right in the description, except for the wet cheek fur.

       "Evening sir. License and registration, if you will." Hewitt politely instructed, with his breath sending wisps of fog from his snout. The driver nodded silently, and then reached, carefully, in to his pocket, and then into the glovebox, to grab the requested items, all the while being stared down by the two patrolmen.

       The hare took them out and handed it up to Hewitt, who took them with minimal fuss. He looked the documents over, studying them in all the usual places, yet taking a bit longer than normal with it. Hewitt squinted a little. The birthdate checked out; the appearence even looked spot-on. Yet, the ID had in clear print, the name RON COPPERNICK. These names didn't match.

       "Do you know why I stopped you today?" Hewitt lowered the cards as he questioned, in usual fashion.

       "Am I being detained?" The driver just narrowly interrupted Hewitt.

       Hewitt took his focus off the documents and looked right at the suspect driver. "Excuse me?" He pardoned himself, slightly irritably.

       The driver couldn't maintain eye contact for more than a fraction of a second, and had to look straight ahead instead. "Am I being detained?" He repeat himself, with a hint of a wince in his face.

       "Step out of the car please sir." Hewitt said firmly, standing out of the way of the door.

       The driver's expression only got more troubled. "I'm not-"

       "Sir." Hewitt asserted quickly. He tilted his head down toward them. "Out of the car." Hewitt's tone then became slower, yet just as firm. "I'm asking nicely. Please."

       Mister Coppernick stifled a grumble against the order, but grabbed the door handle anyways, and let himself out onto the cold street.

       Glancing over to Kaur, Hewitt briefly caught their attention. "Check the car, I'll be a minute." Hewitt directed Kaur, who then took a cursory look over the suspect vehicle, before reaching in through the window and unlocking it from the inside.

       Hewitt meanwhile pointed towards the driver's side of his cruiser, then he and the hare split off on a short walk. Very short. "Got anything on you sir?" Hewitt addressed them firmly again.

       "What?" The lapin stopped just beside the cruiser, and nervously turned to faced Hewitt. "A weapon? No?" They were quick to deny.

       Hewitt planted his hands on his waist, making sure to keep them close to his belt. "That right?" He pressed. "Well what did you have then, a breakup? A bad day?"

       Despite keeping his hands visible, Ron was still barely even capable of looking in the cop's direction. "I can't tell you..." Ron refused to answer while looking out into the distant street.

       Hewitt tilted his head. "Not true," he corrected, "you can tell us anything. You're not looking so hot; what's going on?"

       It took a conscious effort for Ron to refrain from clenching his hands. "It won't matter..." He continued to deflect.

       Hewitt frowned and puffed through the nares. "Ron, you're concerning me. Now if you don't tell me what's going on, I'm gonna have to-"

       "Unit Twenty-Three." That familiar feminine voice spoke up over the cops' radios, including the one in the cruiser. "The owner of that car is four-nineteen in his home, suggest the driver be four-forty."

       Ron's whole body went cold, as if all the body heat simply evaporated. He knew she couldn't be talking about anyone but his brother, and himself. Everybody; everything went silent. Ron's otherwise wandering gaze rose, very slowly, to meet Hewitt's. The hare couldn't hear anything anymore, except for the beat of his own adrenaline-filled heart.

       Stripped down to his bare burning instincts, seconds felt like hours. He could feel the target between his eyes. He had to do something, anything, to get out of this situation. Ron began to shrink away, but then, as he lost all self-control, Ron's hand found the door handle in a flash, and he ducked as he flung it wide open as hard as he could.

       BANG!

       Ron squeaked, but he couldn't hear it himself. The hare frantically bolted right into the vacant driver's seat, his only way out. Ron heart bounced around in his chest, and his ears rang as he altogether pulled the door shut, jammed his foot on the brake pedal, and yanked the column shifter into gear at the same time.

       Not even a second later, Ron stomped on the gas, making the tires squeal and ramming his brother's old car forward and off to the side, on his way to rejoining the traffic along the busy street.

       Ron began to groan, multiple times. Only now, did he begin to notice what he had done. He could barely see out through the rear window; cracked to hell, yet otherwise intact in a spider web-like formation. He couldn't even see his side mirror through all the fissures and compressions in the window.

       "Code red!" The car radio blurted, causing Ron to jump in his seat. "Four-eleven paul; unit twenty-three! He just drove off in my cruiser!"

       Ron started to rock forward and back in a seat that wasn't his, wringing the steering wheel in his hands. He spat, and wheezed, and whined, as tears obscured his vision. Unaware drivers along the road continued to signal their way out of the path of the speeding cruiser. Onlookers were unable to discern who was driving, with little to no interior lighting revealing Ron's soaking face.

       But that's what Ron wanted. To be invisible. To disappear. To cease to exist.

A big handheld radio sat on meeting table in the middle of a room broke the ice with a chirp of static. "All Checkpoints this is Overwatch, be advised, Metro reports a hijacked interceptor nearing Checkpoint South; break; all Checkpoints look out for a police vehicle with the number 23 label, out."


Ron had managed to find what switches to turn the flashers and extra headlights off with. Even still, he continued to speed and weave through traffic, spotting and taking openings in the lanes of cars to his advantage, to get away from it all.


"It's on, boys!"
The man with the rifle jolted awake to another exclamation over his comms. It took him a second to realize what was going on, and subsequently bound into action. He quietly grunted in the process of hefting that massive rifle off the roof. Gripping it by the handle, he stuck his index forward and let the bipod cushion the fall of the weapon onto the table before him. His spotter already had his eye glued to their own scope.


To avoid populated areas, Ron turned onto streets with less and less traffic to them. Alternating hands, he rubbed the tears out of his eyes, and dried the palm with a quick wipe on his clothes. But more of them kept coming.


A man in a blue pixel-patterned uniform held a walkie-talkie to his muzzle. "Aight, we're on the lookout for a cop car with the number twenty-three on it." He ordered, as his voice sharply bounced off the office walls. The radio quickly answered back, "I see him!"


He finally found an empty street; Ron almost lost control in the process of making a ninety-degree turn onto a wide open and well-paved road that extended out from what seemed like a gate to a city-sized castle. There were so many guards at the gate; men readied with rifles and formations. Even so, Ron found himself putting the pressure on the pedal.


With the help of the spotter, the rifleman found his target easily. The digital scopes and the invisible tether between them made it easy to mark the oncoming vehicle. "Shoot it! Aim for the hood!" Their comms blared.


The inside of the speeding cruiser lost its sounds of sorrow. There was no sobbing, no whimpering, not even shivering. It was calm, it was peaceful, and Ron looked out ahead, leaning a little closer to the clean windshield.


       A simple flash of light caught his eye. A flash, that turned into frosted glass in an instant. Frosted glass, that turned into an explosion of numbing pain in his chest. Ron was thrown back in the seat, and lost any control over his own body. He couldn't hear through the stinging tone in his ears. He couldn't breathe enough to even grunt. He couldn't even smell his own blood and bone fragments splattered across the dashboard.

       Paralyzed in the seat, and with his vision quickly fading into pure white, Ron could only watch himself careen farther towards edge of the street. The formation of men in black at ground-level lowered their weapons. Every one of them had their eyes on the coasting car with a big hole in the white windshield.

       All of them turned their visor-occluded heads in unison, tracking the cruiser as it trailed off-course from the gate, then helplessly smashed itself in against the sturdy border wall. It whipped around and bounced along the wall as it so abruptly came to a complete stop, flinging shards and metal pieces all over the place, and soon enough piddling various machine oils all over the sidewalk.

       They couldn't move it for a while.

       By the time they closed off the intersection with waist-high fencing, and another fluffy cat in a plain blue uniform brought over what amounted to a massive set of mechanized pliers, they were all pretty sure they already knew what was inside. Many of the black-clad guardsmen that were crowding around the crashed cruiser had been placing informal bets between each other on what species the hijacker was, and cracking various jokes here and there.

       A long, boxy truck kept flashing with red and blue strobes all over, stopped just outside the barricade. A smaller, just as boxy truck stood just beside it. A few servicemembers in different uniforms stood divided by the simple roadblock; two in blue and black nearer the crash, and two in beige and dark green closest to the flashy truck. The four continued to engage in a mild argument over whose department had jurisdiction over the scene.

       After taking a second to put on a pair of workman's gloves, the man with the industrial pliers hefted them up by both the handles. With a bit of a wind-up, he then jammed its pointed nose into the gap between the cruiser door and the rest of the crumpled frame. He flicked a switch, twisted the handle-mounted dial, and subsequently the machine's jaws wrenched open slow and staunch, cracking and creaking the twisted metal around it.

       Luckily for him and his audience, it didn't take too long for the car door to give away and soon pop off of its otherwise stiff hinges, hitting the ground like nothing but scrap metal. He scowled when the stench of blood hit his sensitive nose. Clearing it with a quick puff, he turned away and hauled the metal jaws off along with him.

       "Hey, at least he put a seatbelt on!" Someone in the crowd quipped. The rest of the men chuckled and sneered at the scene.

       "He's a rabbit?" Another man said. "Sheeit, anybody got rabbit?"

       "Man I figured it'd be a horse or something!" Yet another man said.

       As the commotion went on, the marksman atop the gate was finally allowed to climb down from his post and investigate the wreckage. Eversnow took his bulky rifle with him, and the crowd eventually opened up for the snow leopard to pass through when they saw that weapon. He tilted his helmet back a little, and set the tall rifle on the ground by the buttstock.

       "Fuck man, you did this?" One of the men passively commented.

       Eversnow didn't respond. As he held onto the barrel of his rifle, he took in the gory scene with a rather blank expression. He stared at the twisted metal; at the crunched glass; the deflated airbags, the blood splatters; the lifelessness. The metal frame curved in on itself in so many places. Smashed to hell, the cabin seemed to have shrunk quite a bit. If the vehicle had been going any faster, the steering wheel would have crammed itself into the occupant's chest. The once-living driver sat strapped, motionless and limp in the driver's seat, with their head turned, looking almost as if it were watching the crowd watching it. Their own blood soaked well through their otherwise white fur, and the shirt, and the pants as well.

       Something about the whole scene made him feel something he hadn't ever felt before. The moment he locked eyes with the body's faint thousand-yard stare, he could not look away. It wasn't pleasure, nor was it pain. The dead's gaze didn't put him on edge, and it didn't make him feel guilty. Eversnow furrowed his brow, and the young man looked inside himself. The commotion was drowned out by a thoughtful silence; a post-mortem staring contest; coming ever closer to the realization that he didn't know he could feel so...sickeningly normal.

       "Snow." Someone firmly stated. The hand gripping on the feline's shoulder suddenly made him remember hearing his name multiple times over. It was only a few seconds ago. At last, he turned his head away from the corpse, finally acknowledging the fellow servicemember that was trying to get his attention.

       It was Burale, his spotter. The look on the coyote's face was as devoid of jest, as was his character. "Sergeant Major wants to see you."

       Carrying his rifle with him, Eversnow walked straight to where he was pointed alongside Burale, towards an all-black, mirror-tint windowed escort vehicle. Just in front of it, stood a middle-aged doberman with his hands planted on his belt, elbows out. He wore a blue pixel-patterned uniform from top to bottom, the last name HENDERSON was attached on the right of his chest, while DEFENSE labeled the left, and a tower of four connected chevrons in gold decorated the center of his chest.

       Getting eyed by the man, and in proper fashion, Burale and Eversnow stopped two meters away. Eversnow balanced his weapon in one hand against his chest, while the other flew up to the side of his brow in a stiff salute. "Sergeant Major, sir." He greeted formally.

       "Ease it." They replied quickly and sharply, prompting the junior enlist to put his arm back down. "Now what's this I hear 'bout some SF kid killing a civil'yin in public, and endangerin' the lives of my men?" They continued with such an odd accent.

       Eversnow shifted his weight, which was easily enough for the non-commissioned officer to interrupt whatever the enlist was going to say. "Don't get to tellin' me it wasn't you, Private." The older, accented man loomed and pointed at Eversnow. "'Cause you's the only one here with a weapon thick 'nuff to crack open that bitch any way."

       Eversnow kept a straight face. "Sergeant Major, I-"

       "You what?" They heckled some more. "You was just, 'followin orders' was yeh?"

       "That, is exactly what he did, Sergeant Major." A fourth man spoke up, a silver fox in blue pixel garb, walking to the otherwise one-sided conversation. This one only had one gold chevron to his name, a Staff Sergeant with the surname Conner stitched atop his chest. "I personally ordered Private First Class Eversnow to aim directly at the hood of an oncoming car," Conner continued, with his wrists respectfully held behind his tail, "and in the error of my judgement, this resulted in the death of that civilian, as opposed to the intended effect of disabling of the vehicle." He subtly hung his head in the direction of the senior NCO. "I am willing to take full responsibility for the actions of my PFC, sir."

       Sergeant Major Henderson got quiet, as he frowned even more and side-eyed the rather benevolent Staff Sergeant. Eversnow and Burale looked between the two higher-ranked men, making sure to stay just as silent themselves.

       Henderson growled. "S'ppose you gon' take responsibility for Private Snowball here violatin' the groomin' standerds as well?" Henderson gestured towards the marksman.

       The Staff Sergeant nodded once, short and sweet. "Captain Tyali already granted PFC Eversnow his personal pass and compliment, sir."

       Henderson scoffed and kicked the dirt beneath his boots. He turned his back and opened the passenger door to that shiny black car while he raised his voice. "Y'all's got til sun up to get this beauty pageant squared away, you reach me?!"

       "Yes, Sergeant Major!" They hollered in unison.

       Conner, Burale, and Eversnow stood together as they watched the black car drive off on the road to the castle. Conner sighed, took off his cap, and scratched his head with the same hand. "Dodged a bullet, huh?" He briefly vented to his fireteam.

       "Yeah..." Burale seemed to shrug, and scanned his bustling surroundings, eventually laying eyes on the wrecked police car once more, and the crew surrounding it. Those men in black were still cracking jokes, while other, less armored men in beige began to disperse them.

       "But that guy didn't."

       Eversnow hung his head.