Darek's War Part I
© 2004 by pantherevolution

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:
This is a revision of my first attempt at writing this sort of stuff, which I made several years ago. The first time was a literary disaster, making at best a failed attempt to challenge your brain. But I have rewritten it, using my powers of empathy to guide my keystrokes, and I think it has some literary merit now. It contains a whole lot of deep ideas, which probably makes it strange even by the standards of you, the reader, given your expectations, and makes it stand out among that which I have been able to find in the way of stories similar to this one.

Let me put it this way: do not read this if you are offended by any of the following: religious doubt, sex, war, oral sex, racism, male-on-male sex, bloodshed, inter-species sex, sexual psychology, or political theory. Oh, and none of it involves humans (that should make the racism and bloodshed lesser than they otherwise would be, keeping in mind that the races portrayed here do not directly correspond to actual human races).

This book may get you -- uh, excited -- in places, but it's intended more for your mind than your crotch. In between the various interludes and encounters, I hope you will get something out of it, as I have many messages I wish to offer to the world. I should also warn you that this is the size of a novel (about 45,000 words from beginning to end). Don't start, because I have not written it with the expectation you to quit in the middle, in fact, just the opposite.

Now, if you're still interested after this note, enjoy.


Darek's War: Part I

"Long ago, there were a group of creatures that roamed the earth. They called themselves 'humans'. They populated this planet for many years, having periods of peace and prosperity, and war and conflict. Their years here were countless, and, even after they became extinct, they affect our existence now in a manner too direct for anyone to ignore.

"These creatures were indeed rather strange. They had no fur on their bodies at all, and walked on their hind legs all of the time, not just when needing height to fight or reach. Furthermore, their structure was built to do so, rather than simply having to learn good balance like we do. Their paws were not paws at all, but rather large bony structures with each digit an additional paw-length long. They have five digits, one able to circle back and touch the pad like we have on our front paws, and they didn't even have pads on their paws. These 'hands' were obviously not for walking on, and the hind paws, 'feet', obviously were. Their ears were rounded cups on the sides of their heads as opposed to the points we have near the top, and their faces were indescribable compared to ours. Even stranger, they had no tail at all. If anything, we were more like their 'panthers,' but those creatures who looked like us were not nearly as intelligent as we are.

"But, these humans have created things. They had large brains, it appears, even more advanced than ours. This allowed them to make things which they could use to enhance their natural abilities. Soon, the power of 'technology' shaped their lives, permitting them to discover things about the universe and its workings which we could possibly have never learned on our own, and many of which are still beyond us.

"It is their technology that you see all around you. That is the forced which has made us so great, and different from all of our rivals.

"Alas, there is much we cannot understand. There are written undecipherable ideas to explain things: 'chemistry', unknown medicines, 'calculus', 'relativity', and more 'higher' mathematics and 'science'. Apparently all we understand is 'basic physics' to them, something done fairly early in their history. But, amazing as they are, even if we could recreate and understand these, we could find no purpose for them.

"Never the less, there is so much we have learned from them and can understand. We can obtain raw materials: leather to armor our troops, bricks and mortar to build our walls, bronze for our tools, iron for what little machining we have discovered, and, thanks to a breakthrough by one of our top human specialists, glass and oil for our lamps. We have found recipes ink, parchment and pens for writing things down; recording ideas and notes revolutionized our entire city's workings.

We have learned of plants we can grow and feed lesser creatures, which we use to maintain a continuous food supply. This prevents us from being forced to scavenge as do the more pitiful races. And, the newest achievement by our own research of trial and error, electric power, although it's still experimental, and many uses have yet to be found.

"The greatest gifts of the humans, however, are the lessons we can learn from them. Many times, different kinds of humans went to war against each other. They went to war to attain peace, calm, and prosperity for themselves. That is why we have gone to war against those hated wildcats. And now, we are at peace, calm enveloping our domain. We don't have to worry about our children and mothers being killed by those savages. No, their efforts to stem our race off with attacks of stealth have stopped since the walls were built, and since they are now nearly extinct, thanks to a brilliant move be some a few of the Leaders.

"But alas, we are now going to war against a new enemy. This time, one organized; one who assembles armies to tear down our walls, for they know where we are. We have gone to war before, and we are going to war again for the same reason: to win peace."

Darek would never forget that speech. It caused such an uproar, it showed him what it seems the character of every Panther is like, if you can bring it out.

That speech, however, was ten years ago. The war had long since been won. But the Head of State was wrong; the lions were not driven to extinction. They were held captive. They are what moved Darek into where he was now: a separate prison the size of the whole panther city, practically, half a mile away from it. Every single lion was now in captivity under this fine structure, the iron of which Darek heard creaking over his head under the thin coat of white pigment that covered walls and ceiling. One of these days it's going to collapse on him, he was sure; such noises weren't heathy for a construct like this, and were a probable symptom of metal fatigue. Everything here was made of iron, even the floor; they didn't want the prisoners tunneling out. It was a giant box, choking off the outside world, barely a crack for the light of day down an edge or two which Darek was lucky enough to have in his office. That's why there were so many lanterns up and down the halls. Not to mention the fact they were in every office, sleeping quarter, and prison cell.

Darek was thinking all of this early in the morning before dawn. At least he was one of the lucky ones, he thought, with five white stripes on his arm; forever. Not only was the die unremovable except with a very painful process which amounted to shaving off the fur and a fair sized chunk of the skin under, but he knew his rank would never increase, either. The last four times, he'd been turned down for the same reason: something about meeting a quota of sixth rank standard Corps officials. Yet Gareth got a promotion. It's a shame, Darek thought, because now their offices were an entire row over instead of being right next to each other.

Oh Gareth, Darek continued, his thoughts shifting once again. There was just something about him that brought out a side of Darek he didn't recognize himself. Gareth's general features, the calm demeanor, the introspective mind, the general lull in his every move, just added up to something which got a rise out of him. He was just different, somehow. Darek was a big fan of girls, so he figured he knew what that something wasn't, but that didn't help him out very much with what it was. He had a friendly rivalry with Gareth, and he guessed that was the best cause for these observations. Or maybe it was the other way around.

Darek got up from mattress, spun cloth stuffed with grass, and just sat down at his wooden desk. The chair he sat in was incredibly hard, the wood cheaply cut. It nearly gave him splinters many times, but padded chairs were only allowed for the higher-ups. The desk was even worse. The bark was still on most of the pieces, and the wood was so soft that he made permanent scratch marks in it just his writing. Actually, it was signing. That was most of his day; signing release forms and turning down leave for various third rank officers he'd never heard of. Oh, there was the occasional torture of a prisoner once in a while, but he didn't see it as doing any good. The war has been over for ten years, he thought. Who cares about the plans for the lions' old city or a battle formation for some counteroffensive?

Torture reminded him he had to get to work. He was too compassionate to injure or pain anyone who didn't deserve it in his mind, for that would just be terrible and pointless. He didn't believe the lions deserved it unless they attacked him; he judged individuals by their behavior, not groups by their looks. He felt he was quite a rare member of his race just for that. No, he would not harm. He gave them their freedom if they could get on his good side. He figured it this way: the Leaders, those ninth rank fools, are going to pull something and put together an Oligarchy instead of the Republic they had now. He could hear the language in that speech, calling upon fear and hatred; that's why he remembered it. But he was, unfortunately, a minority view point, as he was for so many things. He had to put those thoughts away in the back of his mind as he quietly made his way over to the door.

He slowly turned the handle of the heavy door to get the latch out of place. The ratchet was deafening in the silence. But he turned slowly, click by click, until the bolt was back. Machining appeared to have gotten better, and rust worse. He could feel the resistance in the open door as he tried to slide it along its track, letting it fall in behind the wall. When it was finally open, he crept through it, and shut it just as skillfully. He didn't want to bother with the ratchet racket again right now, and since the doors were to protect the officers in case of a prisoner attack, he didn't care about leaving it unlocked.

The door seemed like an exercise in itself, but the real exercise was just down the hall and around the corner.

***

Darek crept down the hall out of habit. He knew he would be seem by the two Elite Guards that waited in their cubby holes at the doors. It was really a smart tactic. From the doors, there appear to be two cracks in the opposite wall, but they are actually floor-to-ceiling slits through which the elites can watch and pounce if necessary after someone passes them. Darek had always been unsure about their tactics. We won the war because of the training of the regulars, he thought. On a hand-to-hand combat basis, we defend ourselves while they attack, sliding in an extra offensive move in between, thus faking them out and taking them out. But the Elites were taught to use the element of surprise and to be the agitators. It was possible to use, but he felt his take was better.

Indeed, he saw them in the darkness, his night vision in full swing. Two pairs of eyes and two blood-red stripes of rank were all he could pick up; It was rather spooky. All of the lamps in the hall were lit, as they always were, but that didn't let him see anymore inside the boxes than did his night vision. Each time he would walk by, he'd look at them and would have an understanding: it's strange, Darek would say with his eyes, but we both see a lot of strange things, and a lot of guys in here use the time of night to their advantage. Don't bother writing this down on your notepads.

Once through the doors from the officers' quarters to the main compound, doors twice as heavy as his office door that latched together instead of to a wall, he avoided the central room, the home of all parchment work, and continued to the left. It was the left wing of prisoners that he wanted. He wanted one very special female in particular.

The guard watching the door was asleep, so Darek closed it with the loud clang normally expected from iron. Then, the guard woke up. "Somethin' I c'n do f'r you, sir?" he mumbled drowsily without almost any volume, obviously still asleep. "I need the torture room." Darek found his vocalizations surprisingly loud and crisp compared to the guard's, based on the effect it had on the guard's ears. After they twitched with every change in pitch, the ears pulled the guard upright, thrust the book of parchment into his left front paw, and got his other one to give Darek a pen after dipping it in ink. Darek sighed as he signed it, trying to avoid laughing at this particular pitiful panther. Darek then put the pen back in its holder, and then went to the ring of cells, the guard back almost asleep almost before Darek could get out of sight.

The rings were indeed huge. Darek had learned this when he first came down here right after the war, but he seemed to forget every time. Every cell was about 20 feet wide and 15 feet long, with two double bunks, a hole in the ground for a bathroom, and a cheap shower head in the corner that ran into a drain. This often caused the dye on the floor to wash off, and the rust was often terrible as a result, sometimes clogging the drain. Each wing had a few dozen of these cells, organized in rings around each other three deep.

The result was that quite a lot of territory to cover in order to find cell 12A. Fortunately, Darek happened upon a guard, fully equipped from armor to chains, and asked him to take him to there. The guard gladly complied, surprisingly perky for this time of night, and gently continued his way down the hall, wandering with his gait like one wanders through a field. Darek followed. It looked to Darek as if the guard didn't know where he was going, but the two of them got there anyway. The guard slowly turned the handle, making the gears in the giant door whirr. The cell doors were as thick as the ones in the hallways.

When the bolt finally clanked into its retracted place, the guard swung open the hinge slowly, and three female lions bounded for him. Training obviously still fresh, he tackled one, jumped back to his feet, and spun to kick the another as she tried to attack him. Darek, almost reflexively, grabbed the third, the one he wanted, and forced her onto the ground. The guard then ran around and slapped chains he had on his equipment belt on one wrist of each of them. He handed Darek the chain for the one he wanted with a word of thanks, and started dragging the other two back into their cell.

Darek just stared at her. Her fur was terribly mangy and uncut, but her eyes were deep. They looked up at him with all of the fatigue, fear, and submission he had ever seen in anyone. However, it was the submission that called upon him strongest as his protective, thick, leather strap around his privates started getting very tight. "Move," he watched himself order, trying to still appear disciplined and spiteful. He started walking. She obediently followed at chain's length, about three feet.

He got her down to the torture room, took her in, and locked the door with the usual ratchet, strap tighter than ever. The ten-foot wide cylinder, the inside of the inner ring of cells, was filled with pain inflicting devices of various sorts. Included in these was the only use for electricity he had seen so far: a shock machine. But there were other more practical things as well, like blades, claw-slid razors, and "the rack", a human-made device the Head of State seemed to have forgotten in that speech he gave. But Darek was not here for any of that. He was here to get paid for her ticket out of this prison.

She was just lying there, rolled onto her back, looking up at him, eyes begging for him to take what he wanted and get her out of here. But, he had to give the pep talk first.

"You know what you're getting in exchange, yes?" he growled, slowly approaching. She nodded meekly. "And it's worth it to you, yes?" he demanded, it being the most important question; he wanted to make sure she was agreeable at some level. Again, she meekly nodded. So, he took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and let his instinct take him over.

Before he even saw anything, her scent was filling his nose. It was far from perfect, full of grime like her fur, but it was there. It was a girl. It's host had something very special. He started struggling violently at the buckle for his strap, know that she wouldn't use her claws on his now unprotected member. She agreed to this, he thought, so she wouldn't do something like that. It had never happened the first 490-some-odd times he had released prisoners, and it wouldn't happen now.

Right away, with his strap off, hanging on his tail (the last ring on which it was secured), he opened his eyes, spotted his prey, and pounced. Digging into her without claws. He rolled her over with all the force built up inside him, and thrust his sensitive organ into hers. Oh god, that feels good. The hot, pulsing skin on the inside of a female gripping him. She seemed not to mind so much herself, starting to pant a bit. He, of course, was panting a lot. He just grabbed a hold of her, pressure building up inside him. Finally, the pleasure was so exquisite, he exploded, grabbing her body as he felt his semen pump out of himself. A tidal wave of emotional satisfaction washed over him, the high of this activity. The entire world left focus, and only him and her were left. They were all that was important, she basking in a glow of her own, and he enjoying its warmth. The tidal wave went out to sea as quickly as it had come, and he reopened his eyes, unaware until then that he had closed them.

"You enjoyed that, did you?" he whispered when she had calmed down a bit. Even though he nver saw her orgasm, he felt the rhythm inside of her change. It was slowed, now, so he withdrew. She couldn't help but show a hint of a smile and nod. "See?" he said gently, reacting to it, "I'm not so bad. I don't hate you. I just like to have fun." Then, she did something rather amazing: she started purring. He just couldn't help but pat her head, thinking about how terrible it must be in those cells. He'd hate to be in one, all cooped up with three others of his own kind without any serious cleanliness. The shower's didn't do much, he was sure. He'd often wondered why this action was taken in the first place. Ross, that same Leader, wanted to kill them all, but the Head of State held firm. So, they compromised to the worst decision in history: lock them all up. Don't kill them, make their lives a living hell. Darek swore Ross was dangerous. He could feel the hate Ross had every time he even thought of him. He had a burning hatred, a strong personality, and a drive for power. All things that would do someone some harm someday, assuming they already haven't.

"Can we go now?" she suddenly whined. Darek was rather startled, not expecting to hear her speak, but she did raise a valid point. So, he put his strap back on, it fitting much better now, put the chain back on her, and opened the door again.

Now came the hard part: getting her out of here. He had to say that the torture was an hour or two so that the same guard wouldn't be on duty, and put everything back in its place. He walked her down to the East wing of prisoners, and a few feet from the door (just outside the sight range of the elites) he had managed to get a hole in the plate made. He just walked her over there, and, making sure no one was at the door, he pulled on the thin line that looked like a rust crack through the dye, and a door-sized piece of the plate came off, as he expected. He just looked out, mesmerized by the night sky, something he so seldom saw anymore. All of the stars like tiny eyes, watching down upon him. Every time he released someone, he found himself staring up there at all those dots, thinking about how even in humans (according to their records) it inspired wonder. He guessed he was pretty human, if that was the case. It got him to dreaming, to thinking, to imagining all that which must be outside this world; even outside this town. The panthers had never even explored their own planet yet, just keeping to themselves in a compound of a with its calm grey walls shading the view of the plains from all but the lookouts.

When he felt her tap him on the shoulder, breaking his trace of the sky, he unchained her and pushed her out the newly created doorway. As he sealed it up, the walls seemed to close in on him, blotting out the night sky and the moon. He felt lonely. He was alone with thousands of other cats, cut off from the city, from the fields, and from the sky. Even the panthers in the city didn't feel that way, he thought; they got to see the sky.

After the wall was restored to its intended condition, he put the chains in the equipment room, a small room past the elites where it was collected from people who happened to be walking by like him, and navigated the halls back to his office. The brief glimpse of that night sky got him thinking about what all the humans learned, even sometimes without proof. Their writings are so diverse, he thought, it's hard to make anything out of them. But most of them seemed to believe there was an entity up there, a notion that made no sense to him. Nature could have done all this; it was enough of a force in itself for him. But alas, some of their more creative works had started getting new teachers among the panthers of today, spreading as truth what the humans had written. Darek secretly had to admit he admired religion, though, because of it's power to enslave. He figured that if he ever needed something badly enough, he would try and invent a religion one day to get it. But, since that day had not come, he decided to go to sleep, his mind as calm as his strap.

***

Darek awoke right as the parchment delivery grunt was going by. He could hear him coming through the crack in his open door. The grunt, a Special Services work with only a sky-blue stripe or two, would rap on the doors, one at a time, yell "parchment work" in an almost sing-song manner, drop the pieces parchment into the holder on the door (which Darek had missing because he somehow never got one!), and move on. He heard the second rank coming, step by step, up to his door. But then, there was a pause. It was all Darek could do to keep from breaking up into laughter as he imagined the poor panther standing there in utter befuddlement. So, Darek saved him trouble by just opening the door and taking his stack from him. The second rank regular seemed relieved, his sharp green eyes showing a hint of what seemed like genuine fear, but maybe he just misread nervousness, Darek thought. In either case, Darek closed the door, and sat down to work on what he had handed him.

It was the same stuff he got every day, form after form. Just saying that he knew materials were here, that records were accurate, or that a roster was fine, even though he didn't bother to prove any of it. His signature was the one that would be questioned if they weren't there, but it was expected that, because a fifth rank officer got so many perks (like an office), that officer was expected to lay his reputation on the line for things that he had no knowledge of. Darek just considered it part of the "responsibility of command"... whatever that was at his level. He thought it was something the Leaders had, and no one else.

Responsibility got him thinking, however, as he finished denying some third rank's two-day leave, that he had to account for his new prisoner who had disappeared. Figuring he shouldn't waste time, he left his office and headed down the hallway toward the center of the prison where all of the parchment work was done.

The center was a large cylinder itself, effectively a third wing of the prison by design. but instead of cells, there were wooden desks jammed into their own rings-within-rings of rows, only holes to walk between them. The mass of Special Service workers, with their one to three stripes (sky-blue -- each branch of the Republic had its own color), were slowly working their way out from under piles of parchment. They had to fill out and/or route every single piece of parchment in the complex. Darek was used to the desks, but the parchment piles had always seemed like mountains that would be impossible to climb, or much worse, to move.

Never the less, all of the poor souls tried. There was nary a time when a single pen stopped writing down routing numbers or recipients, the output sorted at the very end for all of the messengers by office. How tiring it must be, Darek thought. His heart went out to them, especially the one he was looking for.

Darek found his only friend in the entire complex, Miles. Miles was a young one, an enlister to the Republican bureaucracy, not the military, who ended up being sent here on the grounds that this was now a government project. He was young, half Darek's age, not very large physically, obviously not built to be a solider, but he shared a touch of Darek's cynicism. Darek didn't think enough; there was still a lot of innocence in him. Further, what cynicism was more rumor than substantial thought, though, because he was a fast talker like most of the others. When Darek caught sight of him, his face, so fuzzy that one thought one's eyesight got blurry just looking at him, and sharp brown eyes were over a piece of parchment drawn from the stack taller than he was sitting down when both were to the floor.

Darek waited until he finished the routing number he was on before he interrupted him. "Have you got a minute?" he asked, letting a chuckle slip out as he once again glanced over the stack of paper and his frantic pace. Miles very nearly jumped out of his chair when he spoke. "N-n-no, I've got a minute, what?" The words shook as they came from his mouth at high speed. Darek's empathy got to him when Miles looked at him. He reminded Darek of a huddled up kitten shivering in the cold the way he was shaking, and the way his eyes struck him. Darek blinked hard, returning Miles to a poor second rank clerk. "Uh, would you bring up a file for me?"

"If I can find it. Who is it this time?" The question struck a nerve. Darek had done the same thing before 490-some-odd times, but never had Miles used that tone of voice. He didn't seem like the type to put things together, but Darek knew Miles had to be having some sort of idea as to what he was doing. Miles didn't know why, Darek knew, but Miles knew Darek was up to something; that was obvious.

"12A-2," Darek replied rather sharply, the code number easy to remember as the second prisoner in cell 12A. Miles rifled through a second pile, apparently his outbox, and pulled out a single sheet, a quarter of the way down. "Dead, right?" Miles asked with a hollow perkiness. "Right," Darek growled, getting agitated at this. He didn't like Miles using his darker tone right now. It seemed only a matter of time before Miles would ask why. He surely must be very interested. Darek added, for his own comfort, "there were power problems in the shock machine."

"Are you sure?" Miles asked condescendingly, "they've had a specialist just fix that." Now Darek was annoyed. In a flare up of his anger, he grabbed Miles' head and made him look him straight in the eye. "Now look," he snarled, "I'm doing this. I'm in charge. You don't ask anything," he added, pushing Miles back to his chair. "Do you understand?" Miles just stared back, his eyes in utter terror. Slowly he nodded, eyes never leaving Darek's. "Now do it," Darek ordered sharply. Miles just nodded. Darek could see a tear forming in the corner of Miles' left eye. It was then he realized how badly he had scared him. Miles was practically a kit(ten)! Why couldn't he remember that? He was his only friend. Darek felt absolutely awful, having been grabbed like that in training by his drill instructor when he had first gotten drafted. It scared him nearly to the point of wetting himself. He just put his paw on Miles' shoulder. "I'm sorry," he sighed, empathy clawing into him, "I just was worried you'd ask about this. I can't tell you." Then, he slapped himself; wrong thing to say. Why did he have to mention the asking again? "Okay," was Miles' reply, a sigh of hanging sadness still there. "I'm sorry," Darek repeated, hating himself for not being able to get rid of it, and hustled quickly away.

He felt terrible for doing that. He usually had great control over his emotions, and this was not at all like him. At the same time, however, a piece of him liked it, glad to tell off someone out of line. That piece, however, he quickly ignored. He should feel sorry. He dragged himself back to his office, his brain still standing over his only friend, the poor kit, looking down at him. He wished he could make it up to Miles, somehow.

But at this point, he found other things to worry about. In the Officers' quarters, when he was heading for the corner mess hall to eat, the two hidden elites jumped out in front of him and stopped him. "You 5-00-0138329?" One demanded coldly, his sharp green eyes all but holding a knife to Darek's neck as he spoke. "Yes," Darek answered resolutely, recognizing his own identification number. "Well you're coming with us," said the other, and their four muscular arms wrapped their way around his two before he could even blink. He decided not to resist, know that if it was that serious they wouldn't do anything to him.

They picked him up off of his feet, and marched down the hall. They certainly were tall, and their ability to carry such a weight as himself on only two legs was a feat to be recognized for. But then, he suppose they did pass the test to becoming Elite after all. Darek was worried about this; what could he have done? Had they found out about his aiding in escapes, and were just keeping count all this time? Were they wondering about him thinking bad things about the Leaders?

Darek would soon have his answers, for he found himself standing at attention before the great Ross himself, the highest ranking elite officer in the whole Corps. Ross' fur, black like every male, was shedding and frizzy like someone on his deathbed, but the rest of him looked like an adolescent at the far edge of maturity. Even the eight red stripes on his arm were nearly bent into arrows thanks to his muscle mass, leaving only the ninth on his broad snout straight. His entire demeanor gave an aura of raw power and strength, and just by looking at him, Darek got the impression he was the humans' man-god himself in a new form.

"Darek," Ross snapped at him sharply in his raw, gravely voice as his charisma dealt Darek a punch in the arm, "you appear to have been stealing equipment. Have you?" Darek was somewhat relieved that the charge wasn't more serious, and this calm permeated his answer. "Of course not, sir," Darek began, but Ross interrupted. "Then why is it that elite guards over the past week have seen you taking in -- let me see --" His glace at the arrest order was a relief for Darek from his ire, if only temporarily. "10 chains. That was one per day of the week!" he yelled, making the information sound as new as the humans' calendar was in the middle of their French Revolution. "Well, sir, you see, I was taking them to the equipment room. If you check the inventories for those days, I'm sure you'll see they were redistribu--"

"But in the mean time, until your evidence of innocence surfaces, what am he going to do with you!?" he snarled. Darek was stunned. Not only did he have no answer for that, but never had he known justice, even military justice, to work that way. He did nothing but remain silent, sure that air would soon not work in his lungs and he would collapse. "Well?" Ross demanded, his charisma sucking everything from Darek, "have you got anything to say in your defense?" Even if Darek did, he knew he wouldn't be able to say it. He felt so worthless it was beyond words. Ross' aura did it; that's all he knew. It emitted a feeling of supreme strength which left him with the feelings of weakness and emptiness.

"In that case, you shall be punished," Ross roared, a roll of thunder rumbling from his throat. Darek continued to stand at attention, but was quivering by this point. "You shall spend a bit of time with a few of the prisoners until I can determine your fate. Dismissed." Before Darek could even turn to walk out, the same two elite guards picked him up a second and hauled him out of the office and down the hall. The entire incident was so intense, Darek didn't even get to look at how that office was furnished. He could guess that it was the best he had ever seen, though.

Darek next found himself approaching a cell, direly concerned about his new room mates. His mind squirmed and thrashed in concern as to who they would be, and what they would be like. The very guard who had helped him take out that last girl was unspinning the bolt already, without a word, when Darek arrived. The guard was far more methodical than casual in his demeanor, a change obviously brought on by fear of something. Darek guessed it was the elite guards who held him up. The door peeked open, and Darek was thrown in. Without a word or an attempt by anyone to escape their confinement, the door slammed, and the bolt was rotated back into place.

Indeed, this was a cell of average condition. Two white iron frames for double beds with hay-stuffed mattresses on them sat there in the corners closest to the door, the paint seeming to flake off of every corner. The sheets were thin cloth, not nearly thick enough to provide any warmth in this 19 degree (centigrade) room. The walls were also white, giving the illusion of a thin fog. The only things that weren't white were the pen and inkwell on the desk, a feature Darek never knew was in here. The pen was terribly blunt, and the inkwell and pad were mounted to the surface upon which they rested. There were two small lamps clamped to each wall over the bunks, and one over the desk. The flickering flames gave an odd glow to this sealed room. While there was nothing to light them with, they had a strange flint piece in the center rubbed by the switch to light them automatically. Any smell was negligible; the air was stuffy, thick with nothingness. The two vents over the lamps did nothing but clear the smoke. Darek could barely even smell the two lions a few feet away or the mess he knew was lying at the bottom of the hole in the far corner. Both smells were probably similar enough, anyway, he thought, given the conditions after a few years, so it was probably better this way.

He chose the neatest of the four bunks, the top left corner, hoping it wasn't possessed by one of the two, and lay down on it slowly in a simple, relaxed motion. "What'd you do, mighty panther?" one teased, walking right up to him. His blue eyes looked right into Darek's. His mane was terribly overgrown, as was his fur, both seeming to make him seem more like a wild lion than a prisoner. His wry grin hung on his face like a scar, while his multiple scars grinned from ear to ear along his chin.

Darek was not surprised at the tone of the question. He could hear enough hatred for the two of them in it. "Nothing," was his calm answer as he tried to get the lion to ignore him. Technically, it was true, after all. "Well, you got thrown in with us brutes," the lion spat with the most spite Darek had ever heard, "so you must have done something."

"Nope," he casually replied, trying to diffuse the tension. But alas, it seemed like the lion was looking for a fight. "So, what are you doing here?" was the next demand, each question getting more angry. Darek sighed. "I don't even know," was the answer he gave. He knew the root cause, but he didn't know exactly why this punishment was chosen; it was true enough. "Why don't you shut up and go to sleep?" the other lion yawned from his bunk to the first. "Because I'm curious about our friend, here," the first growled. "Can't you be curious about him more quietly?"

"Quietly?" the other yelled loudly, directly at him, "Where's the fun in that? We get a panther. A real, live panther in our midst who's not attacking us, and you aren't even interested?" His mocking tone was starting to hurt Darek. Not because it was strong or painful in itself, but because Darek's empathy reached out past all the hate and felt the pain his race must have caused that lion. "Calm down," the other instructed. The first growled, grunted, and lay down on the bunk under him, grumbling.

Darek finally got a chance to look at the other one, now that he could relax a bit. The other's mane was completely gone, along with the fur around his face and neck. The black marks indicated it must have been burned off, either by torture or by accident. The rest of him appeared to be pretty must alright, the fur overgrown and hanging off his body like fat. He seemed far calmer than his companion, trying to go to sleep, apparently unaware of the time. The room was sealed, not even the light crack Darek got in his office was there, so Darek could understand this misconception of time. He looked at the lion again, and found he couldn't find anything to empathize with. He found no pain, no sorrow, no power, nothing. He was calm, showing only discipline and resolute endurance. That lion, Darek thought, was like himself.

This realization was quite a comfort. His more aggressive companion's leash needed a stake in the ground, and he would be it. Further, something about him, perhaps similarity, stirred up something. It was just a tiny want in the back of Darek's brain to just truly meet this majestic beast. It transfixed his eyes upon his image as he curled up with himself in his bunk. He wanted to learn about him.

Darek finally decided to take a risk, having nothing else to do: he would sleep. He wasn't tired yet, but he could do nothing but hope that wouldn't stop him. He turned off the lamp closest to him, watching the flame go out from lack of fuel, and he found himself lying there awake for what seemed like hours. It was very boring in the cell as he tried to suppress his urges, and, after a number of minutes he couldn't count of laying in bed and trying to get warm in this very cool room, he finally fell asleep.

***

Darek found himself young, barely mature. He was back at the surface; before the war, before the turmoil, before the hatred, even before the city. He was under a large tree out in the field, lying next to his sister, Stephanie.

They were both silent, enjoying the sunset, with all of its hues. It was something he did often with her, the only family he had. Of course, this was often true; it was how the society worked. The kits learned everything on their own, their parents gone as soon as they could be, so that the fittest would survive until they could find a place in city life. Since everyone did his job, no matter how menial a task it was, to keep the system going, finding that job was important, and that often took years of trial and error. But he was not quite old enough to start that process, so his sister was taking care of him for right now.

"Nice sunset, huh Steph?" he asked gently. "Yeah," she sighed dreamily. It was obvious to Darek her mind was somewhere else. She started petting his head. Her paws were so gentle, soft and fuzzy like thread, that he couldn't help but purr in enjoyment. It was comfortable; his sister nearby the sunset so far off, and it seemed like nary a panther walked by. It was a gentle, comfortable, private moment. She moved down a bit, petting his fuzzy chest. He rolled onto his back right next to her reflexively so she could reach better. He loved this, serenity and security covering him like a blanket as her strokes moved down to his stomach.

But she kept going. She got down to his pelvis, and then a single stroke an inch lower caused him to yip, breaking the entire picture. "Steph," he shook her shoulder, trying to break her trance, "what are you doing?" She shook her head sideways, as if it were soaking wet. "Oh, I'm sorry," she said gently. She resumed petting his chest. However, Darek just couldn't calm down. The single touch awakened something in him. It had guided him there before on a few lonely nights, but having someone besides him touch that was new. He found himself fixated, curiosity sparked by this accidental gesture. And who was there to talk to but Stephanie?

He was rather uncertain how to approach the matter, not knowing if a girl would understand. "Uh, Steph," he whispered, "would you mind -- uh, petting me again the way you just did?" She petted his pelvis once. It didn't do much for him. "No no, I mean, when you -- went a little lower than that."

"Oh, you want this --" she ran her furry paw the entire length of his prick, making the hair on his neck stand on end. He mrrred, reflexively as his heart skipped and then started going double time. She just giggled. "What, that's funny? It nearly gave me a heart atta--"

"Shhh," she hushed, and pulled him closer to her.

Darek's instinct told him to follow her, which concerned him even more. He had no idea where all this was coming from, much less where it was going. The path since and before him lay buried in a forest of concerns. "Trust me," she whispered. Darek felt he had no choice at this point.

She started rubbing his leg. "That feels good, doesn't it?" she whispered gently, looking into his eyes and noticing their lack of external use. He managed to get a "yes" out, as his nervous system was flooded with little waves of pleasure emmenating from the strokes. Her smell suddenly tickled his nose in a way he had never smelled it before, and it just made an inking of a desire stronger. She slowly went upwards with her rubbing, bringing it close to the junction of his hind legs. He liked this a lot, and wanted to continue forward, but was afraid. Not only of what may come, but the fact he was her brother was just one of the trees of doubt in the forest. She finally reached his more central appendage and squeezed it. The feeling of the strangest pleasure surged through him, reverberating throughout his entire body, and logging a large part of the forest. He let out a deep exhale of feeling. "You like it, don't you?" she whispered. He answered with a small nod and growl, letting his head follow his now rapidly breathing chest. He could feel his cock swelling. She squeezed his parts again, and his nerves took another surge of pleasure. He endured it as a question came, the pause allowing for his mind to think of what he tried to forget. "Steph," he called out, "stop. This just -- feels wrong. You're my sister."

"It's okay," she whispered, "it's the best way to teach you." She changed her manipulations, grabbing his sensitive parts with both paws and alternating slow squeezes. This was getting him higher. He started growling, his brain taking shot after shot of this new and exhillerating drug.

Then, it got even better: she gently turned him around, his head at her feet, and started blowing him. The lips and pressure got him moaning, his cock now long, the pressure building up to something he could feel tremors of. All of his worries faded into the distance, his mind consumed by this desire since he let it be. The only thing that was important were those two paws and his body. With every breath, he begged for more under it, almost to the top. She obliged every time, lapping and sucking him gently. Finally, she pushed him over the plateau, and his orgasm started. His pleasure doubled, and doubled that, and doubled that. He was breathing as best he could; it was irregular gasps, but it kept him alive. He embraced the immense feeling that came over him as he hit his peak. It was a nerve-flooding, pleasureful, exhasporating, invigorating, engulfing, tidal wave of the purest feeling, neither pleasure nor pain, that was possible. He was swept up in it, closing his eyes and falling back. He enjoyed it for the few seconds it lasted, washing over all of his senses. Then, as the feeling subsided, his awareness returned. He could feel more sucking, not to mention swallowing, from her mouth.

When she let him go, he immediately turned around, and pounced on her, muscles suddenly so fatigued he nearly missed. "I love you Steph," he cried out, hugging her, she seeming so far away in his after-glow. He was one with himself, the rest of the world just moving by. He was trying to get Stephanie not to do the same. "Shhh," she whispered, "I'm here."

Darek was too weak even to purr. He just left his arms hanging around her neck, enjoying the soft fur of her belly. Sleep was calling him in a throaty whisper inside his mind. "Steph," he whispered, hoping to get to the usual story before going to sleep, "I'm really tired."

"I know," she whispered. "But doesn't it feel good?"

"Of course," Darek whispered back. The silence all around them was noticeable, and Darek didn't want to break it.

"Would you tell me a story?" he asked, wanting to go to sleep. "Okay, I will." What she talked about was girls. She talked about how girls loved boys for their souls and minds, rather than just for their bodies. She talked about the pleasures and pains of love, whatever that was, and how boys should learn to like it more. She talked more about mating, and what a girl got out of it, in addition to all of the hurdles they put before boys because of the immediate consequences. She decorated this with ream after ream of ribbony words.

Darek listened, but despite the packaging, he didn't like what he was hearing. She gave girls control over the mating process, something he didn't like. It made sense, but he didn't like it. He was, if anything, finding reasons to hate them, despise them, stay away from them, or not bother them. But what tormented him was the fact that they were the only ones seemingly to give him that sort of pleasure, one he desperately wanted to experience again when he was more energetic. He didn't know until later that she had left out entire categories, only talking about the "best" kind of girls.

He would get more lectures like this, but with the city construction, establishment of the government, and then draft, he would never have a chance to prove the existence of these girls or interact with them. On the other hand, he would have more than enough experience with female prisoners. In the end, Darek would come to a simple agnostic conclusion: there was a better way than all of this love stuff just to get mating done, so who needs it?

***

Darek awoke, realizing it had all been a dream. It was quite a piece of history his mind had dragged up. He realized he had nearly rolled off the bed in his sleep, probably as he squirmed around in that dream, which worried him. Never the less, he had to admire the historical accuracy of his dream. Stephanie's talks changed his outlook toward girls, seemingly a race of their own.

He got up used the drain, and found it was impossible to get his strap back on afterwards. The swelling often happened when he woke up, but in this particular place, with an aggressive lion, this morning malady was somewhat dire, for fear of damages. Fortunately, the aggressive lion wasn't awake yet, despite the fact that the lamps were already on, so it wasn't urgent.

"Sorry about my friend," came a voice from the other bunk which gave Darek a start, "he's always been bitter about something."

"Oh, that's okay," Darek sighed, his heart resuming normal rhythm, "I could see why." Yes, Darek thought, that passive lion was a lot like him; calm, enduring, and not judging by appearance.

The desire to know more about the lion was still bothering him. He thought he would ask a few questions. "What do you spend your time doing in here? It seems downright boring to me," Darek added with a gentle smile. "I write. I've written quite a few letters, a few short stories, and a few notes to the guards running around outside." The last one got a real laugh out of him. Darek couldn't help but smile, knowing he would probably try that if he were locked up by someone. He wasn't usually whimsical, but after being locked away for so long, he guessed, he would feel that way at least once in a while. "My aren't you a strong one," the lion suddenly noted, looking at Darek's detached strap, "I take it you had pleasant dreams." Darek turned around, both to hide his blush and his enlargement, and bounced back into his bed, landing with a fluff of hay. "No, I dreamed about my sister," he replied carefully, hiding the fact that the lion was right. "Oh," was the lion's only reply, his smirk quite audible.

Darek wanted to return his enlarged growth to normal size, but he wasn't alone. He didn't feel comfortable about doing such a thing. However, the lion piped up again. "You know, you seem too smart and nice not to keep us trapped here." Oh, was that true, Darek thought. He had so many, he didn't know which one the lion saw in him. "And?" he said calmly. "Well, I feel I owe you a favor."

"For what?"

"For putting up with him," he chuckled, pointing to the snoring lion. Darek didn't ever mind favors, so he thought he might as well take this one. "Okay," he shrugged. "What do you intend to do to pay me. "Sit up on the bed and close your eyes." This sounded quite strange. If the lion was anything like him, Darek thought, he must be plotting something. "What?" Darek demanded. "Just do it. Trust me."

"Not with that smirk I won't," Darek said with a laughing smile. "Oh c'mon, I always wear one of these. It's like your strap; it's protection from attack." THat got another blush out of Darek, but he nervously agreed, knowing the lion had something up his sleeve.

He turned around, hanging his hind legs off of the edge of the bed, covering his privates, still feeling embarrassed about it. The lion stood up and sauntered closer to Darek, ending up about three feet away. "Now come on," he prodded warmly, "close your eyes." Darek reacted to the lion's breath reflexively, and the lion turned his head away as a result. Darek then sighed and did, uncovering his privates since the lion wasn't looking.

That turned out to be very convenient. Before Darek knew what hit him, his testicles were grabbed and his dick was being sucked on. Darek's eyes snapped open, a gasp slipping out at the suddenness of the event, to see the lion vigorously sucking his member while massaging his nuts, one in each hand. "Please -- please-sto--" he huffed, it feeling so good he couldn't even get the command to stop out of his mouth. THe circular kneeding of his balls and sucking of his already-swollen cock proved in short order to be too much. With a moan, he started pumping, grabbing hold of the lion's head as his balls emptied into the lion's mouth. He closed his eyes as he felt the wave of pleasure rush through him, his muscles still pumping vigorously. But alas, as quickly as it had come, it left, leaving behind Darek's body and mind burned out.

Darek just sat there as the lion licked him clean, his sack empty, and the least important thing in the universe. It was a trance of calm he found himself leisurely entering.

Alas, he felt resentment. Not that he emotionally felt it, but he intellectually felt it, managing to penetrate the state of mellow well-being he was in. "I'm sorry," was all Darek could say, ashamed he enjoyed that. "Don't worry," the lion stated calmly with a smile, "everyone gets too horny for his own good, sometimes." Darek took a deep breath, and realized the lion was right. But nevertheless, something was troubling Darek. He had only made males pay like that only in fits whose strength even all of his discipline could not resist. It felt wrong every time. He wasn't a wrong-way mater, as it was called. He'd always liked girls; a lot. Never the less, he couldn't help but believe that males were sometimes satisfactory. What did that make him? He was never quite sure. Was he a wrong-way after all? Was he just an opportunist? Or was he just too practical for his own good? His best guess was that since he didn't "love" males, he wasn't a wrong-way, but what that did make him was beyond him.

Every time, male or female, it was all the same. The feeling itself was all but divine. What surrounded it, before and after, was just dragged along with it, like an early parent with its child.

All of this furious self-thought was interrupted by the lion. "So how are you going to get me out of here?" Darek dragged his mind back to his senses, and answered with a chuckle, "I have to get out of this cell, first."

"How do you intend to do that?"

"I figure I'll be released. I just got thrown in here until they could see if I really committed what they accused him of."

"Sounds just like your military, if you don't mind me saying so," the lion chortled. Darek chuckled, since it was good natured. "I don't; I feel the same way sometimes." He saw an idea brewing in the lion; the lion's eyes looked down and shifted, starting to get wide. "Who did this?" He asked Darek.

The conversation was interrupted by a bottom panel of the cell door scraped open, a small blast of warm air rushing in from the outside. A metal tray with three pottery bowls of soup slid in, and the slit slid shut again. Darek got down from his bed without a word and picked up one of the bowls. Indeed, it was the standard soup. It was like puddling than water, was mud-brown, and had chunks of meat in it. The slit at the bottom of the door's scraping also got the other lion, the aggressive one, to roll over and yawn. Fortunately, Darek was in the middle of eating his soup, so nothing looked awkward. The soup tasted rather good, actually, although there was a sweet, greasy undertone like the oil in the lamps that ruined it. The passive slid off of the bunk and picked up another bowl, drinking it like water. The aggressive lion used the drain, meanwhile. Darek noticed the aggressive lion awoke in a state similar to his own, but turned back to his soup. "When your through licking that bowl," the aggressive lion suddenly said to the other, "why don't you do the same for me?" What! Darek was shocked. So the lion like him had done this before, he realized! He had done it for the aggressive one who-knows-how-many times! As he was recoiling in disgust, the passive lion finished, dropped his bowl on the tray, walked over to the aggressive one. Darek bounded up to his bunk, turning away and trying not to think about it. Alas, empathy reached out and put that tongue and mouth on his own pole. Between the moans, grunts, and growls, slurping sounds, and mental imagery (which was probably worse than the real thing), Darek found his strap getting tight again. It felt so good the first time, he would have liked a second. He finally gave in and stared. There was the passive, kneeled before the active. The active was standing as erect as his rod and enjoying the mouth working him over. His entire face seemed like it was open, eyes, nose and mouth gaping, and his gasping, groaning, and growling were indicating hew as having quite a good time. It wasn't long before he orgasmed with a roar, and the passive one had to start swallowing every few seconds instead of every half minute. After the aggressive lion was all cleaned up, the only reward the passive one got was a pat on the back -- literally.

Darek was stunned. Not only was the aggressive one a selfish bigot, but he didn't care about that sort of thing either! Worse yet, the passive did nothing but accept his reward and went over to the pen and parchment to start writing. The aggressive one, meanwhile, had his breakfast. It was obvious this was a ritual of sorts. That, of course, implied the question: what did the passive one get out of it? Was he really that scared of the aggressive one? Did he enjoy it? Whatever the case, Darek found it a curiosity as his strap began to relax again.

The next few hours were complete drudgery. The chill of the room kept him wide awake, senses acute to a boring world. Normally, Darek could at least sign papers in his office to pass the time, or some other menial labor, but not even that was allowed in the cell. He did write a letter to Miles requesting a copy of The Code, because he remembered something about not being punished "without direct and plausible evidence of guilt". The letter got the passive one talking again after the two of them managed to shut up his aggressive companion by thoroughly ignoring him. "Why would you want that?" he asked. Darek felt he could tell him at least that much, so he did. "I am here as a victim of justice I didn't recognize, like I said. I think someone's changed the rules on me, so I'd like another copy of them." The louder companion to the gentil lion yelled something about him being able to expect that because of the race he was part of, but Darek didn't even listen to it. "Do you had any idea who could?" the passive lion asked. Darek gave his hypothesis right as he formulated it: "One of the Leaders seems hungry enough for power. He could do it."

"Ah," the lion nodded, "we had someone like that who ended up running the place and tried to take your city instead of sitting on defense. I think we would had won if the old General was still there at the time." Darek had never thought of that; he had never even known that such a change occurred in the ranks of the lions. He just knew that, for some reason, they suddenly started marching up to the towering walls of the city, and the panthers easily killed them off due to their immense advantage of height -- and having big, heavy, metal things to drop. He always knew one over-zealous Head of State, General, or -- what did the wildcats call them -- Emperor could run the entire race into the ground, but one Leader? It should still require more power than that.

He finally managed to sleep, all of these thoughts drifting around in his head. Maybe Ross was up to something; Darek had a feeling that he wasn't the only one who was now suddenly being arrested for un-disproven crimes after perpetrating them for a long time. He was even more concerned, because if this was a trend, he would had to leave. His best guess was that he had aided 497 escapes. after these two, he would be number 500.

***

That morning, right after he awoke, Darek fumbled his way over to the hole (barely avoiding falling into it due to the darkness), and used it. RIght after he stood up, a loud whirring started up in the door wall. It was the worst-sounding, best-feeling whirring noise of metal on metal he had ever felt. He sprang up, heading for the noise instinctively. A few steps away from it, a blinding light skewered his eyes. "Darek, you've been found innocent. Step outside," came the order by a shadow in the light. A gust of warm wind hit him as he walked out, and a burden was suddenly lifted from his lungs which he had barely noticed before. The air was as light as air should be again. He breathed in a lung full, and while a twinge of the rusty metal and a hint of sweat were mixed in, it was still far better than being unable to smell anything at all.

When he was outside, he found the shadow to be the guard (the same one!), and standing behind him was Miles. "Boy am he glad to see you," Miles said perkily as the guard closed the door solemnly. "What'd you do?" Darek gave his straight answer, adding a smirk for good measure: "Nothing."

"But they locked you up in --"

"Does that mean I did something necessarily? That was just detention until they could figure out if I *really* committed a crime."

"Oh. I'll never get used to these new changes..." So Miles knew things had changed, Darek realized. "What changes?" he asked as the two of them started leisurely walking down the hall. "They're all in the Code. Here's your copy," he added, handing him a book of parchment about 50 pages long, "and here are the new revisions." The revisions were about ten pieces of parchment. Darek flipped through the yellowish pages, seeing the familiar document with everything in place. The modifications, however, even at a glance, removed a fair bit of even the general guidelines. "Oh," Miles added as they two of them got to his desk, "one more thing." He dug through his stack of parchment, which was at least four inches shorter, and found a small bundle of papers rolled up. "You might want to look at these also." Darek thanked him, and returned down the brightly lit hallway to his office. He was anxious to find out what Miles had given him, but his angst was tempered by fear.

The door had at least been closed during this time. Darek opened it, and found his office exactly as it was. Not a piece of paper had been moved. He had no idea whether or not they had searched it, but if they did, they were very careful about it. He wasn't worried about that, though, because the only things he had to hide were in his brain.

He sat down, and started to work on the Code, knowing that less important things could wait. He struck through, added, inserted, and rewrote the words on that parchment for about an hour. There were so many clauses added and numbers changed that just writing it all down took that long, even though the ideas shaped up much more quickly. It was obvious this document was quickly becoming repressive. But finally, he got it all down. He found himself worried about what it said as he read the mere first few of the dozens of changes:

Clause 10: Preemptive Action [new clause]

Any super-level [8th or 9th rank] officer has the right to preemptively arrest any solider under 6th rank on any charge if he foresees a threat before a trial can begin.

Actions are only limited to the condition that they impose no long term effects. Some include but are not limited to:

1. Detention for any length up to seven days for each year the solider would spend in prison if convicted.

2. Temporary Demotion as set fourth in Title III Clause 17.

3. Torture classified as Minor (see Title III) for interrogation purposes only.

Darek remembered the broad-brushed statement, it quickly accessible from the days when he had to take on the role of interrogator: "'Minor torture' is hereby defined as anything causing physical pain without long term consequence...".

Clause 17: Demotion

Any solider having any authority [was two ranks higher] over any other solider has the power to demote him temporarily or permanently with good reason, which must be stated in the order instructing the action. Maximum temporary demotion is five [was three] ranks, and there is a maximum of two ranks [was one] for permanent demotions. Maximums are the maximum demotions that can be ordered by one superior.

That was a rather tricky one, but the system for giving orders allowed for a loophole Darek spotted; you can order someone to order someone to order someone, and so on, to demote the same poor solider, so there's no limit really if you had people under you and you can supply them a reason.

He also noticed the effect of the last amendment, even though it was too long to update the copy: "all durations of time in prison for crimes under clause 34 are increased by one and one half times."

Darek wasn't scared, merely worried. So, not wanting to do paperwork for a while, he opened the bundle Miles gave to him. The first document was his arrest order:

Order of Arrest by 9-01-1524847

For: 5-00-0138329

Charge: Theft

Summary of cause:

Two elite guards witnesses (3-01-1939476, 2-01-2145325) wrote in the log: 'Solider walked past the checkpoint at entrance hall to east wing with two claw locks and a head chain. Soon walked back, did not had them.'

Daily Equipment Control: Guard 2-00-0339485 reported he had released a prisoner to the arrestee with two claw locks and a head chain on him. Neither were returned to him.

Under the type section, the boxes "special", "pre-trial", and "immediate" were checked.

That was only one day's evidence! It was terrible, he thought, that they could arrest him for one day and slam about a week of charges on him while they were at it. The same two guards probably wrote down all the others, too, waiting for a week to report it just to increase his prison time! It seemed like all of the elites were in league with Ross and against him. However, he quickly stopped that train of thought, because he realized it was all speculation. Instead, he read a second document. It was a roster update of 9th rank officers. It was a list of changes over the past month:

Serial Status Changes Superiors

9-00-0228482 Active None 2

9-00-1029394 Active Demoted 93

9-00-1747294 M.E. Treason

9-01-0452876 Killed Combat

9-01-1312757 Killed Cons. Assas.

9-01-1524847 Active No 3

9-02-0558374 Active No 1

9-02-1422853 Active Demoted 72

9-02-1745594 M.E Att. Murder

9-02-1824275 Retired Resigned

M.E. stood for martially executed. It was still speculation, but the picture was becoming very clear to him. Treason, of course, would be the hardest charge to disprove since the definition was so vague, and the conspiracy to assassinate someone could had been Ross. Ross now had only two superiors, one of whom was the Head of State. It seemed that 9-02-0558374 was next if such a thing was going on. Never the less, Darek had to keep reading, a burning desire to find proof driving him on.

The next was a copy of a memorandum:

To: 5/6/7/8-00-ALL

New policies:

Due to a rash of deaths in the electrical torture machines, only Minor forms of torture with given mechanical gear are permissible unless a specialist is present.

In an attempt to increase security, elites will patrol the halls randomly. This is a notification that you should not be concerned about the increased number of troops.

Because they had been abused, any emergency withdrawal of troops (by 5th rank or higher as per The Code title IV Section XXI) will now require the signature of a superior unless the order is executed by 7th rank or higher.

Also for security, any officer 6th rank or higher will be granted the power to assemble a task force of troops off duty at any time with 5 days notice.

That's all.

Darek hadn't gotten that one yet. He dug through the stack of papers, and sure enough, it was near the bottom. It seemed to be the end of his prisoner release operation.

And to make matters worse, the proof he needed was written on parchment with the original stamps. These original documents would have to have been "lost", if anything. He just gaped as he read them:

From: Head of State Advisor 32

To: 9-01-1524847

Ross,

I got your changes to The Code pushed through. It was easy; they think all an army needs is discipline and justice, that the rights they enjoy first set up by the human governments shouldn't apply to soldiers, who seem to be surreal figments of justice itself. Since The Code doesn't apply to the rest of the population, it was nearly unanimous.

The Preemptive Punishment clause barely got through, though; they didn't like the name. Nevertheless, it did pass.

Just wanted to let you know.

Signed,

Jack

P.S. I know it's close so I thought I would give you a friendly reminder: second in command, right?

---

To: 9-00-0228482

Fellow Leader,

I would advise, sir, that because of a possible attack (which we learned from a prisoners) that you support his policy that we give ourselves permission to call upon troops for task forces. He am aware that you do keep the men in mind, and the delay will account for that.

Thank you.

Ross

---

To: 9-02-0558374

Fellow Leader,

I ask you to be another vote for his new policy which would permit those in power to call up troops within a few days' notice. It would reduce the labor endured by your department and yourselves. In addition, there could be some new specialist positions temporarily, and he know you want more units under you.

Thank you.

Ross

---

From: Head of State Advisor 32

To: 9-01-1524847

Ross,

We got the second motion, and all of your policies had been put in place. The cause is the same as always. This was partially due to his work, but it was implanted in them successfully.

We have all of the tools we need. It will be so much easier to craft this mass of pitiful panthers into the ruling race it deserves to be. We were the first ones to discover the human technology, and actually to use it in any practical application. We were the ones whose researchers worked so hard. It is a strength we can call upon, this dedication to power and hard work, which must surely be, as the humans called it, 'genetic'. No one else even tried.

I cannot wait for the day of triumph when I shall join you at your side, and together, we shall build the foundries of innovation long destroyed by the humans once again.

Signed,

Jack

The words of that speech from the Head of State came echoing back to him: "we are going to war again for the same reason: to win peace." It seemed to him that each peace we won, we were better off, and someone else was worse off, than before every time. Besides, he didn't usually talk like that. He had a tough persona, a leathery texture to his spirit, but he was never violent or charismatic. That had to be Ross talking, or Ross's justification talking.

Suddenly the most frantic scratching he'd ever heard started moving along his door. It wasn't claws, it was softer, and didn't sound like it was on the metal itself. Something then slid under his door, and then there was yelling, yelling in deep voices. A scream penetrated the noise, and then a struggle, scratching, slicing, chains, high-pitched fervent cries, and then marching of feet. The final screams and cries were dragged down the hall by the marching, the last one making fur on the back of Darek's neck stand on end from its shrill quality. Whose was it? He knew he recognized it, but he didn't know whose it was! He was now quite scared, adrenaline pumping, waiting for something else to happen.

After the feet left, only a grim silence greeted him, the silence of solitude. Darek, finally, pulled his door open to find a note scrawled on a scrap under it. It was barely legible, except for a row of numbers which seemed very carefully done:

Darek,

I've told a few about you at least what he know about you Here are their numbers:

2-02-1039488

3-02-2239417

3-02-1743394

We've been collecting some stuff from this leader for a long time as you can see

Here they come I will probably be dead when you get this goodbye forever friend don't worry I won't tell them anything.

The signature was illegible, but the scream running through his head found its owner: Miles.

He flopped down on his bunk, trying to calm himself down. That was when he decided he had to escape.

***

Darek suddenly found himself sitting before the desk of a Human specialist. His office was quite comfortable looking, shelves made out of a fine wood housing row upon row of books, many in languages he had never seen before, and about half in materials which were a mystery to him. Rather than simple parchment in leather, they had stained yellow thin pages in all sorts of housings. He guessed that all of these were human books, and many were originals.

The panther who sat behind the desk seemed almost as tattered as his books. He was quite aged, fur practically molting. He had the kind of frail body that seemed it would, if you pushed it the wrong way, fall onto the hard iron floor and shatter into pieces. But, despite his outward appearance, his face was sharp and elegant, and he had an heir of knowledge and experience that radiated from him like a scent all its own.

This, of course, was part of answering the draft. Darek was half his age again, in the middle of that at the moment. This office was in the governance building in the city. Everyone in the Corps was, at one point or another, judged mentally fit and capable by a specialist of such a high degree. IN fact, many specialists of such high rank had made a career out of this if they were in a relevant field of study. It was obvious to him the one he sat before was a career-type.

Darek remembered everything they had talked about: his feelings on life, death, the universe, other panthers, and almost everything metaphysical. The panther didn't seem to mind that he was never too comfortable with death, and Darek's outlook on life as a forces-of-fate experience in which one took what one could didn't seem to bother him either. In fact, nothing seemed to. Every time Darek made a statement, the elder could dredge up from the depths of his probably very cluttered mind a human who thought that way too.

The two of them were just wrapping up. "Now," the old one said in a gentle wispy tone, "is there anything else you'd like to talk to me about?"

Then, the rush hit Darek. He remembered into the future, seeing his contact with the lions, with the prisoners he released. He remembered his sister, it being in the immediate past. He was very worried about himself, and hope this specialist would be reassuring since nothing seemed to bother him.

"Well, Sigmund," Darek watched himself say nervously, addressing him, "there is one thing." He started getting very nervous, empathizing with himself when Sigmund reacted strongly, told him he was deranged, and sent him away to get executed. He felt awful, his gut turning over even as he mentioned it. "Yes?" Sigmund asked when Darek left a pause as he endured the pain. "I -- uh -- want to talk to you about girls." The embarrassment bubbled up stronger than ever. He couldn't bring all this up in front of someone he hadn't known but for half an hour! It was far too personal. So, he listened to see what Sigmund had to say. "Girls, hmm?" he replied with a soft smile, a hint of mischevious smirk lurking around the corner of it, "I assume this has something to do with their role in breeding?"

"Uh, yes," Darek jumped in, trying to get the focus off of him. But, it didn't last long. "Go on," Sigmund gently prodded. "Well, I like girls. I like them a lot. But -- " It was tough for him to say, as his heart rose up into his throat. "-- why can a -- uh -- male -- uh -- make me feel just as good when he -- uh -- licks me?"

"Oh come now," Sigmund laughed, "that's not a big deal. Every male likes that sensation." Darek breathed a sigh of relief, but felt it a bit premature. "But I'm not a wrong-way mater --"

"I know that. Everyone who is a right-way mater has yearnings of sheer pleasure just like the wrong-ways. Why on in the world are you so deathly worried about yourself?" Darek couldn't help but laugh, a heavy burden lifted from his chest. He felt free to talk about it, now. "Because no one has ever said this to me before." Sigmund sighed, a laugh still lurking around his face. "However males end up, there is nothing 'wrong' about most things. That's everyone else's words. I mean, the humans had discrimination like that for most of their lifetimes just because of a little intolerance like we've got." Darek relaxed a bit, not knowing where the marvelous cat was headed. He was interested in what the humans did about this; perhaps it would work for him too.

"Let me tell you about one of the most discriminated groups of humans that they had ever written about. One of the most hated groups of humans were those who made the practice of mating with our ancestors." Humans mating with those primitive lions and panthers? What an interesting thought. He was starting to wonder how that would feel, when Sigmund continued. "The other humans thoughts those people were crazy, possessed by daemons, or just plain sick, depending on the time in history. Most of the time, they were killed or had other severe punishments by their system of law. But, I see them, based on what they wrote themselves, as actually better than most of the members of their race. They were usually more gentle to others, more thoughtful, more open-minded, more intelligent, more hard-working and more successful than average." It would be practical, Darek supposed, since a human's parts were about as large as ours. Of course, he realized he was assuming the parts of their ancestors were the same size as ours now, but he felt that was a safe bet. "So you shouldn't feel ashamed," Sigmund continued, returning to focus to Darek, "just for trying things or even enjoying them. I think you're similar enough to them that you have an advantage, whether others of our race acknowledge that or not. I can already tell you think of things so many other's I've met wouldn't." There was one last question. "What about my sister? She licked me too." Sigmund sighed. "Whatever it is, it's not a problem unless it harms others. Now, whenever someone licks someone else, for whatever reason, as long as its of their own free will, is that harmful?" Darek decided to answer that. "Well, I guess not, since the one using her tongue is doing it freely, and, well, it sure doesn't hurt the recipient," he chuckled. This finally got the point through to him.

However, an irresistible question about humans boiled up to Darek's mind when it was taking in all of this human studies information, and he found himself asking it quickly. "What's the latest theory on why the humans died?" The panther chuckled. "Oh, there are several. I'm a subscriber to the total radiation theory. That's the theory that --" he paused, apparently to collect his thoughts. "You see," he began after a moment, "we've found this bizarre material, Ura--Uren--Ur--" he struggled to pronounce it, but got it right after a few tries. "Yu-rain-ee-um. That's right. Anyway, this material that made them terribly sick because of a process called 'radiation', and it even made us sick in large deposits deep underground near where we used to excavate. This was all before the city was built, mind you. When the walls went up, they stopped the excavation, a real shame, I think. Anyway, some researchers found a device buried in a box, obviously intentionally, which managed to survive. It could measure this radiation. When we measured radiation in the air and worked backwards based on the data of it's rates in the books, it would have been more than enough to kill humans when they breathed it at the time we estimate they lived. The humans wrote so much of war and hatred for each other that it makes perfect sense to me they distributed this material all over the world in the air in an attempt to destroy some humans, but ended up killing themselves off." What a thought that was to Darek. If hatred ended in anihalating the entire race, Darek thought as the wildcats came to mind, then what would become of us if Ross were to take charge?

It was at this point that he heard a voice. "Sir?" it called. It was higher than average in pitch, and was from everywhere and yet nowhere. He saw nothing but the office, and the panther sitting at his desk. But Darek suddenly realized he was dreaming. He dissolved the office and the old fellow and found his closed eyes.

***

Darek awoke to a repetition of the voice. "Sir? Are you there?" He struggled to slap himself awake from the cat nap he had taken, and called back for whoever it was to come in. The door grated its way open in its track and in walked a young plucky special service worker with a lone stripe. He was considerably shorter than Darek, and his face glowed with innocence. In Darek's estimate he had to be balancing on the tightrope of maturity, wobbling on the late side, since he was here after all. His fur was soft and fluffy like a kit, and his eyes glowed, not yet darkened with cynicism. He walked in, and stood at attention.

"At ease," Darek said with some levity, feeling like they were playing soldiers rather than being them. "Now, what is it?" he demanded, his tone suddenly changing to something he was amazed at. It was dark and cold. Darek thought this kit's innocence did it to him, but he wasn't sure; he had the feeling of wanting to rip it right out of the kit, because he was in the Corps, which was not the place for little boys. "Allow me to introduce myself; I'm Scott," the kit said, his voice surprisingly strong, albeit high pitched.

Darek tapped him on the shoulder, as was the customary greeting, hiding this great new emotional urge that was building up inside. "So, Scott, you wanted to see me about something?" He spoke as if he were giving a speech. The strength of his voice was making Scott quite nervous. "Yes sir, you see --"

"Darek, please," he conceded, as instructed by his new persona. It wanted him to pretend to be nice. "Very well, Darek. I assume that you know about Miles."

"Yes," he sighed, still keeping his voice strong, "I got a note from him." He watched himself projecting an heir of undue confidence, a strong personality showing off his rank, waiting to pull it on Scott at any time. Scott, meanwhile, Darek could see was falling into weakness and submission. "Well. I just wanted to tell you I would be willing to take his place," Scott admitted in the tone of a confessional, his voice starting to wobble. Darek was more surprised by himself, though. He was concerned about whether or not Scott knew about his "deaths". "What do you mean, 'place'?" He asked, suddenly painting a quizzical look onto his face, one he didn't even recognize. "Well, he told me that you had him write off a lot of people as dead for some reason." That was it; Darek recognized his persona. It was his drill instructor personality that he developed as a third rank. Why was he using it now, though? Scott certainly didn't seem like a solider out of line. Darek continued using it, trying to get it to tell him why it was coming up now. "Well, I don't think I shall be doing that anymore," Darek stated calmly with a strong tone of voice, "so you don't have to worry."

"Why not?" Darek was ordered to drive that question out of Scott's mind by scaring him to death. He didn't want to do that, but he couldn't tell him the truth. "I'm sorry, but I cannot tell you that, because that is not for you to ask." His voice got hotter and hotter. "Your job is to take orders." He found the temperature increasing drastically with each new sentence. "When I told him to do it, he did it. I'm not telling you to do it, because I don't need it done! Now, if you think it needs to be done, explain to me why, and I'll tell you why you're wrong!" Scott snapped to attention reflexively. Darek wasn't done yet, but a look of dutiful fear in Scott's eyes appeared, the innocence and joyfulness burned in the hot flames of Darek's false temper. Darek felt he should stop this now, so he wrapped up. "Do I make myself clear?" he thundered. "Yessir," was Scott's meek reply. Darek sighed, trying to stop this. "Thank you," he said, much more calmly.

This was the second time he had done this. First he did it to Miles, and now he had done it to Scott. His empathy went out to Scott once again, making him feel terrible about breaking the poor kit's resolve. "Listen," he sighed, "I'm sorry. And at ease," he added after he realized Scott was still at attention. "It's just that I can't tell you why, and when you ask me a question like 'why not' it gets on my nerves." Scott, then, took a deep breath. "I should have seen that. I apologize." The sense of fear was gone from his eyes, but the sense of play did not return. He now seemed to endure the cold world as a test of his willpower, no longer capable of enjoying anything. "Is that all?" Darek asked, wanting to get Scott out of here before he did any more damage. "Yes," was Scott's calm reply. "Then, dismissed." Scott walked out of the room, dragging the door behind him shut with difficulty.

Now that he was alone, Darek turned on himself. Why did he do that!? What about those poor kits made him take up his old drill instructor personality!? It made no sense! He didn't think he'd done that since he got his fourth stripe. Well, he did do it to a few people who did something serious, like disobeyed an order or fell asleep on watch, but never someone who did something so minor as Miles and Scott, questioning him. He knew that it had a power to it, and he had to admit using it felt good sometimes, but he was far more in control of his emotions than that. All at the same time, it felt natural. He understood they were soldiers in his head, but he didn't really believe it in his gut. Perhaps that was the problem. He did indeed hate their innocence, wanting them to be rid of it for their own benefit. But even so, how would this help to accomplish the goal? After going back and forth to himself enough times, he just left the idea alone.

The rest of the day signing papers was one long hard slog. A pen had never felt so heavy in his life. It was even worse after his imprisonment, of course, because there was more work, the stack of paper ending up at several inches. It wasn't like a paper tomb the special service workers had to dig their way out of, but it was sizeable none the less. He promised himself to release his 498th and 499th prisoners today, and he would go with them.

When he had reduced the stack by a few dozen pages, Darek realized that if he was going to escape, it would be pointless to do any more work, because whatever charge would end up against him (if he were caught) would not be lessened by another sheet. So instead, he left his office and went down the hall to Gareth's, wanting to say good bye before he left. But when he knocked on the door, there was no answer. That made him resolve to come back and see him again. Darek sighed, saluted the door in his place, and headed for the prison wing.

However, when he started out the door, the two elites in the hall stopped him. "And just where do you think you're going, sir?" one demanded, the imaginary knife again to his throat. Darek decided to try out his persona again, just to get that knife away from him. "I am going to continue with my duties, and before you stop an officer you should tell him why in your first breath!" That sent the knife flying into the air. It worked. But not for long. "Alright," the first growled, "treason!" He bounded at Darek's throat, claws extended, but Darek drove a quick slice into his arm. That sprung the other into action, who then tried to kick Darek as the first tumbled to the floor in pain. Darek jumped over the sprawled panther, dodging the move as he did so, and tried to land a blow on the one more fit to fight. The second elite dodged it and tried a complex series of punches, which Darek used the opportunity of to nick him in the face when he was unable to dodge. The wound was minor, but it stung the second elite enough to get him to drop his guard. After jumping over a kick aimed for the knee by the first who had gotten to his feet by now, Darek then pushed him down, and bounded back to his feet. Then Darek started dodging blow after blow from the second elite, the pain of his injury now dealt with in his mind. Darek looked for an opening, dodging move after move. All moves were done in quick snatches, so he only had a fraction of a second to get one in. He found a gap between an attempt to knock him down and a punch-kick maneuver that left the elite's right slide vulnerable for that fraction of a second. Darek used it, and managed to slip in a gash to the chest, since they didn't wear armor. With both elites now down, he ran around behind them, drew his claws up to their throats and demanded they stay quiet. One tried to flip Darek over his back, but failed, and all three of up ended up tumbling on the floor. Darek reflexively put out his hind claws in midair as he fell, and when he rolled to his feet, he realized he had just slashed something with them. When he looked at the two elites, he realized what it was: each foot sliced one of their faces straight up the middle from neck to ears. The sight of blood and the dest returned the complete sensations of war to him, transforming him from a desk-chair officer to a front-line officer. The war was much smaller and a guerilla war, but he had made his silent declaration none the less.

Everything came back to him: the reflexes, the timing, the precision of strikes, the reliance on your wits, the smells -- one of which would soon be in the hallway if he didn't do something about these bodies!

He did what his wits told him: get the bodies out of sight. They were in his office under his bed before he even realized he had dragged them there. He knew the guards would probably rotate soon, and if any elite didn't report after a while, there would be major problems soon. So he had to move fast and get out of here with his prisoners in any case.

He bounded out the door and down the hallway, no one to see him in his hurry, and then casually walked down the hall when he approached the center. He felt the adrenaline running through his veins, but he had to remain calm. He concentrated on the ground before him as he walked at a gentle gait, trying to make himself believe no one knew about what had just happened. Claws retracted to hide the blood, he sauntered his way to the ring and the cell, and took out the two prisoners with the help of the usual guard. "You know," said the guard pointedly, "you haven't been very good at returning my equipment to me." Darek used his persona again. "So what? I've been returning it to the equipment room, and you get a new one every day, so what's the big deal?" he yelled. "Well, sir, it's just --" Darek glared at him, creating a field of Ross-like charisma, channeling all of his energy at him in a bolt, calling out the sense of duty in the other. That shut him up. "I'm sorry, sir," he whimpered, "continue with the interrogation." Darek took the two prisoners down the hall, and peeked around the corner, looking at the guard who was watching the torture room. The guard was snoring soundly, cuddled with himself up against a wall like he was lying on the ground. So, Darek and the prisoners just crept by him. The lions were also nice enough to hold their own chains off of the floor to keep them from rattling.

The three of them crept out of the prison wing, to the greatest challenge of all: the center. There was no logical explanation for why two prisoners would be being escorted from the west wing to the elites' quarters, especially when they were holding their own chains. Never the less, he opened the double iron doors a crack just to see what was going on. There were four elites walking around, marching in circles around the ring of workers and each other. Not only had the number been doubled, but their pattern would cover the entire area. He felt he should go in there, sure he would surely think of something under pressure.

However, just as he was about to open the door, there was yelling from the center of the circle. All of the elites rushed for it, standing up with their claws ready, and Darek made his move. He ran quickly behind them all along the wall, the elites quarters fortunately the next door over. As he opened the door, he saw what the commotion was. Scott and someone else had gotten into a fight, claws and all. He felt he should thank them, but he felt he had to keep going. Scott managed to look at Darek when one of the elites picked him up facing that direction, so Darek glanced at him with pause in silent thanks. He then jogged through the door, the lions following him quietly.

He shut the door quickly, and ran over to the wall where he had made the exit, but then the two elites who reported him before jumped out and attacked the three of them. The aggressive lion did at that moment the only good thing he had done so far, mightily swinging his chain at them with a roar all but decapitating both of the guards. That roar probably alerted every elite in the area to their presence, and if any missed it, the iron chain smashed into the iron wall, slicing a gash in the white paint with a deafening clang. This made matters worse, but Darek had to make the most of any situation. He did the only thing he could: he pulled open his secret door, shoving them out, and jumped out sealing it up as best he could behind the three of them.

Then, outside, under the night sky, a gentle cool wind blowing over the three of them, Darek's heart pounding, and his veins nearly bursting with the blood it pumped, something amazing happened.

All became calm.

Continue with Darek's War - Part II