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chapter.one


Naza Sutera

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chapter.one

the birth and death of a day


Each morning as Amber maneuvered her cocoa silver metallic Buick Envision up the ramp into the Liberty Park Office Complex, the experienced drivers knew they had best keep out of her way. She scanned her monthly access card and waited, her fingers tapping the leather-wrapped steering wheel, as the robotic arm lifted. She made a tire-peeling straightaway for the C-level spaces, which gave her direct access to the elevator and the catwalk to her office building.

Experienced drivers had learned to practice their list of AAA defensive driving tips whenever they encountered Amber Rose. When she was behind the wheel, they put their pride in the back seat and did not provoke her. They did not speed up to try and overtake her or hold their own in the climbing lane. Above all else, they fastened their seat belts. Because they all knew that Amber believed that the sky was the limit and life was for the taking. She herself would admit to an aggressive streak.

Amber wanted the best out of life, including the best parking space.

Newcomers would find themselves weaving around pylons, darting around blind corners, trying to find a way to cut through. But it was impossible to get ahead of her. Try as they might, Amber would take them in that new luxury crossover SUV. She would drop the automatic transaxle into a lower gear as she sped up the ramp to the next level, slip into the space that she wanted, and switch off the engine without even glancing in your direction. She would check her lipstick in the vanity mirror in the sun visor without giving a second look. If she found a smudge on her lips, she would touch it up with something called Cherry Bomb, blotting it in a placid lady-like manner, and tuck the tube inside her purse.

Most infuriating of all, the whole time you tested your driving skills against her, she would be talking umpteen to the dozen, conferring with clients on her smartphone. She would be setting up her schedule for the day, conversing with colleagues, instructing her assistant, Leo, to send out price memos to everyone on her email list. She would be mentally comparing currency exchange rates, futures prices, and trading approaches, trying to predict a market that had run amok--prices vaulting up and down, terrifying the clients who depended on her.

She liked to arrive early.

She like to stay until the bitter end of the day. You could bet a royalty that she would be the last to turn off the lights in the office at night. She would be the last to leave the parking lot. She would not leave until she has dotted every i and crossed every t.

This morning, ready to leave the comfort of her vehicle and stroll into the building, she would speak one voice command, and as simple as that, the premium sound system in her Buick would turn off.

She would tuck her smartphone away, keeping it near in case it were to ring or alert, and remove the keys from the ignition, depositing them into her Prada bag. She would step out of the SUV, adjusting her cropped pinstripe blazer, sling her computer bag over her shoulder, and remotely lock the doors. That is when you would see for the first time that she had done all of that perilous driving, that tire squealing around concrete pillars and racing up multistory ramps, in a pair of Christian Louboutin heels.

Each time Amber entered her offices in Corneria City's financial center, you could see someone teasing her about performance in the Liberty Complex. They loved to laugh about it on the trading floor. They joked about it as she entered the pit. They pestered her as she connected her nest of cables, wires, speakerphones, and screens. How did she manage to snag a space with her name engraved on a gold plaque on the curb? Did she ever think of signing up to drive Formula 1? Who did she think she was? Michael Schumacher? And she would shrug all of this attention with a puzzled smile. Why was everyone making such a big deal? She lived life in overdrive, but it was a matter of course to her.

Edited by Naza Sutera
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*Bzzt*

“Son o’va bitch.” A certain bitter man mumbled as he tried to figure out just what the hell was wrong with his damn starfighter (As well as bandage a bleeding hand), it was always like this for Casey’s “Mornings”, when he took something apart in an attempt to repair or upgrade anything that didn’t have simple point A to slot B instructions (Not that he’d read them when he had ‘em) it either worked without any troubles or just sputtered and died.

Sure, you could argue that maintaining your ship on the daily was just something you’d have to do, but, the middle aged fortune hunter who was now juggling the roles of bounty hunter and smuggler, time was money.

A couple more minutes later proved to be enough for the near-raven haired man, who then decided to bite the bullet and admit defeat, throwing aside an oil cloth with as much force as he could muster (Sadly, for him at least, the cloth didn’t make a satisfying plop as it hit something).

“Hey R-Six,” He called to his nearby repair droid who had been focusing on up keeping the fortune hunter’s neglected equipment. “You make sense of this damn thing, I’m wastin’ time ‘ere.”

Perhaps he’d have better luck finding the man he was hunting down this week, that is provided that the bounty wasn’t caught already.

His afternoons were just a little more troubling, at least, depending on the world he was on, today he was on Titania. If it wasn’t for all the sand, it’d be just like home, hot, dry with a sun (Or in this case, two suns) constantly beatin’ down on his head, and what should a man do in conditions like this? Well, stay hydrated of course! With this in mind, Casey made his way through the spaceport he had landed in to better deal with this morning’s… incident, and walked into the local watering hole (He didn’t catch the name of the place do to them using some sort of moon language he wasn’t familiar with.).

Cool air hit him the moment the doors opened and he laid his eyes upon a surprisingly welcoming (That is, more welcoming than usual.) atmosphere, from what Casey could tell, everything had been recently cleaned and outside of the clientele the place looked reputable. It was like he stepped into another realm of existance or something, the walls had a salmon pink coloring and the tables were all shiny and with very few blemishes on it, not to mention the stools used for sitting were all in pretty good shape, in fact, the only thing in the bar that reminded him he was on some near lawless sand world was the fact that everyone in the place looked like they just got done rolling around in mud (As well as did a bit of rolling in some other brown sticky substance, by the smell of 'em.).

After a bit of standing at the door way for long enough, the outlaw finally made his way into the saloon and straight to the counter, where there had been a lylatian vixen of some sort (If he were to guess, the girl was probably a looker by their standards) wiping out a cup, only looking up to acknowledge him when he sat down between two other lylatian of the canine variety. To his right, there was an older bitter looking man who seemed to be drinking away a sorrow of his, while to his left there was a younger man who looked to be writing on one of those new lylatian gizmos and it was this young man who looked up at the human, the kid's facial expression changed from one of boredom to one of surprised recognition.

"Hey, wait a minute mister," The younger one said, catching the fortune hunter's attention, earning a look from the human (and one from both the drunkard from the right and the attendant behind the counter as well as well.) "I know you, yer that alien guy I read about 'while back... yer, uh..."

This earned a chuckle from Casey as the young dog started snapping his fingers as he tried to recall the name, all three at the counter looked at the canine expectantly.

So, the exploits of ol' Casey Mcgrath are starting to get 'round huh? What're they callin' him now? The alien outlaw? The E.T. gunman? The deadey space ma-

"Monkey man, you're the monkey man!" The young man said loudly, Casey frowned as the two others stifled their laughter as best they could, the young dog gave the human an apologetic look. If Casey was any other man (Or at least, a younger man), he'd might've punched the kid right there, but he'd like to think (if nothing else) he the reasonable sort.

"I s'pose," The fortune hunter mused thoughtfully. "tell ya' what, you buy me a drink, I'd I'll give you a tale from the life of yours truely."

"Sure thing monkey man, Mercy, can ya get this guy a bourbon? I'll pay for it." The kid asked politely to the vixen, 'Mercy', who gave the young man a sweet smile and nodded, before ducking down to fetch a bottle of the requested liquid.

"It's Casey, kid, Casey McGrath, if I'm gonna do this ya' might as well know my real name." The young dog gave him another apologetic look before offering his paw or hand or whatever they called it here.

"Tanner, Tanner Dunken, sir." The human took the appendage withing his own and gave it a good shake.

"Here ya go, mister McGrath, an' that'll be fifteen credits, Tanner." The fox set the glass in front of him as she waited for the credits to go to her account via the wrist mounted thingy-mah-doo-hickies they both had.

Casey took a sip of the liquid, letting it burn as it made it's way down, before giving a sigh as he thought of a tale to tell, he figured it should be one of his more recent ones, as well as his most exciting. He suppressed a smile as the right memory came to mind.

"Well, I may as well tell you one of my more recent tales of dodging death an' other darin' stunts." Upon hearing that, the old dog on the right snorted loudly, then spoke up.

"Oh, ya' mean ya' actually aren't some swindler?"

"Mister Reid please." The vixen chastised the old dog, who mere hummed out a response.

"So..." The human started and then coughed to get ready to tell a tale. "Me an' a few other boy's got together to do a job we all'd gotten contacted for, some mercy mission-"

"Who put ya' up to it?" The older dog, Reid, spoke up again.

"Some Cornarian with deep pockets, 'Norman Tate' I think 'is was, the guy got a letter a while back statin' that they had his daughter or niece, or whatever she was to 'em, they said if 'e didn't pay the ransom they'd sell 'er off to some slaver ship." He took another sip of the drink in his hands, before continuing on.

"So I got a lead that some unfortunate souls've been taken on this slaver ship on it's way to stop at Sargasso hideout..."

This was gonna turn out to be a rather long afternoon, but he figured that unless the bounty made their next move anytime soon he had some time to kill, an' who knows, maybe he could get a few more drinks out of this?

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" Getting better, Ren."

The ringing note of crystal blades crashing together was sonorous, deafening and terrifying all the same. He has done this fight numerous times and as usual, in hindsight, it was a spectacle.

 The uncanny sparks their sword made scattered like prismatic butterflies, alive only for a second before sublimating into nothing. Flames scorched the earth, lightning and blows alike rent stones asunder. A convulsion of elemental fury threatened to wipe everything in the field from existence.

"You've gotten much faster, but-"

He couldn't contain his surprised yelp as his saber was knocked from his hands with a sweep from that massive sword his opponent swung with a single hand, almost flippantly. A sword he has seen so long that he'd recognize it anywhere.

 

It landed in the soft earth nearby rather unceremoniously as the man shouldered the massive slab of crystal he called a sword. This particular engagement was over. His enigmatic "Blessing" already healing the wounds their battle had wrought, leaving the locals nothing to tell the news other than loud noises and bright flashes. As usual, Those damn flowers bloomed in his around his feet and in his wake as he approached Ren.

 

"You're still much too rough around the edges. Go out and learn more..."
 

Ren would only spit out the small amount of blood he didn't even know was collecting in his mouth till them.

"Nice try, son." And with that, His father brandished his sword and struck Renard with the flat of the blade, knocking him out cold for what had to have been the third time in the last six months.

His vision blurred
, then faded as he fell to the grass in a heap, The perfume of those peculiar blossoms lingering as he slipped down to momentary oblivion.




He awoke with quite a start, Yelling out a hearty " Son of a bastard!" at the sudden pain coursing through his head, followed by a mighty yell at the rest of his aches and pains as they settled in, lighting up his nerves like a Star Festival tree. He looked around, frantic ready to blow any adversary to hell, back, then back to hell.

Gratefully, he realized his fear was not currently warranted. Apparently his father was very pleased with his performance this time around, as he had been so gracious as to dump Ren into a rather comfortable suite on one of the higher floors of the Luna Stone Hotel. Shielding his eyes from Lylat's heady glare above with artful use of the shutters, he gazed down at the city below. Being in this hotel placed him in the very heart of Corneria City. Square one.

He shuffled back to his bed and flopped down to rest his aching muscles, looking to his left, he saw his copy of the family portrait propped carefully against the lamp, and his sword leaning against the end table itself. a thin veil of momentary disgust came over him as he looked up at the ceiling. "Damn it..." He said with a sigh he had been holding since he woke. " Four years tracking him to all sorts of odd places.. fighting baddies and monsters and what not. and I can't even get through his guard. To make matters worse, he's put me all the way back here when he could already be off-world for all I know."

His mind wandered, Vaguely dancing along the thought. " What would I even do if I won?" like he did every time this happened. He shrugged off the thought, that was for another day.

Once he managed to get himself in some semblance of order, he was on his way out, but not before some poncy looking coyote tapped on his shoulder. "Excuse me, sir. But here is your bill."

Renard took a look at the drink charges that were amassed somehow despite him being knocked out.

He felt his Patience implode, along with his wallet as he paid the man with his card. he made quick his exit, receipt in hand. Though once he got out of earshot, into a nearby park. he let it all out.

"Are you Kidding me, Old Man?! You should have eaten the damn bottles for good measure, you Alkie Bastaaaaard!"

Birds scattered as he rubbed his temples. He knew one thing for sure.

" Today is gonna be a long day."

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Elias woke up from his peaceful slumber, his first sight being the ceiling of his bedroom. He was sure he had a dream, but his recollection of even a single moment of it was nowhere to be found. The vivid memories seemed to dissolve the moment his eyes opened. Such a shame. He turned his head to the left, catching sight of his simply gorgeous wife, Joanna. Elias sat up, a then monumental task, as his groans can attest. His dormant body was slow to awake, as opposed to his mind. He put his hand on Joanna's shoulder, who was sleeping on her side. She stirred, and looked back to her husband. They both smiled. "Good morning," greeted Elias in his unshakable Abyssinian accent.

"Morning," replied Joanna lazily. The two managed to escape the comfort of their bed, and stepped out onto their exquisite oak wood flooring, with Elias's bionic legs making a slight clanking sound as they landed. Elias's white tank top and plaid pajama pants were struck by the morning sun. He learned back and outstretched his arms, with various bones cracking. He sighed in relief. His wife was garbed in a t-shirt and sweatpants. Elias stepped towards the window, staring out of it and into the skyline of Corneria City. Joanna approached him from behind, and wrapped her arms around her husband. Elias held onto her hands. Joanna placed her snout on his left shoulder. "Come on, let's eat breakfast," she said.

"Alright," Elias said. The couple left their bedroom and proceeded downstairs. Then, they entered the kitchen, with Elias opening the refrigerator. Joanna pulled out a mixing bowl, whisk, and two pans from a bottom drawer. She placed the bowl, containing the whisk, on the counter, and the two pans on the stove top. Elias took a carton of eggs and a packet of bacon from the fridge. He closed the door with his artificial foot, and put the ingredients on the counter. Joanna eyed him with an almost disappointed look.

"Eli," she began, "the milk." Elias instantly remembered the milk needed for the scrambled eggs.

"Oh yeah," he said, embarrassed that he could forget such an integral part of their meal. He reopened the fridge, grabbed a jug of milk, and closed it. He slammed it down onto the counter. "Aha!" yelled he. Joanna rolled her eyes, chuckling. Elias then moved to the stove top, and turned it on. Joanna cracked some eggs and poured their contents into the mixing bowl, and then took the jug of milk, opened it, and poured a cup into the bowl. She closed it again, and placed it to the side. She vigorously mixed the contents for about a minute. Elias stared at her, almost lustfully. "You know, you look so sexy when you mix..." He began chuckling. Joanna shook her head, smiling. After she had finished mixing, she poured the bowl's contents onto one of the pans. Elias then took out four pieces of bacon and placed them onto the unoccupied pan. The sizzling of bacon and bubbling of egg mix filled the air of the kitchen with the aroma of breakfast. Joanna then took out from the spice cabinet a container holding some sort of green powder, and sprinkled it liberally onto the egg mix. A few more minutes later, Elias took out two plates and two pairs of forks and spoons. Joanna placed the now scrambled eggs and two pieces of bacon on each plate. Elias whisked them away to the dinner table, where he placed them beside on another. Joanna soon joined Elias, and they both sat down together.

"It looks amazing," Elias commented. They began to eat, with the green powder giving off a delicately spiced taste. "Just like home," said Elias. The clacking of utensils onto plates echoed throughout the dining room. The sun cast its warm light onto the couple, reflecting the warmth they both felt of each other. Joanna picked up a piece of bacon, ate some of it, and put it back down on her plate before she posted a question to Elias.

"So, you're going to the consulate today?" she asked.

"Yes," replied Elias. "I think I'm breaking through to the Senate. Perhaps today they'll actually swallow up my treaty." Joanna nodded.

"Well, this is a great thing you're doing. You're saving lives." Elias smiled at her compliment. When they had finished their meal, Joanna walked to the kitchen and placed them in the sink, preparing to wash them, along with the cooking tools. Elias, meanwhile, headed upstairs to their bedroom's bathroom. Upon entering the bathroom, he took off his tank top, revealing a toned body, but not buff, body. He examined himself in the mirror, and then took off the rest of his clothing. He stepped into the shower, and turned on the shower head, its water cascading onto him. Elias promptly cleaned himself with soap, whistling a popular tune he heard on the radio. His robotic legs were waterproof, so there was no fear of a short circuit or electrocution. A few minutes of cleaning went by until he stepped from the shower. Grabbing a towel from a nearby rack, he dried himself and wrapped the towel around his waist. Elias took hold of his green and white electric toothbrush, and poured out some toothpaste onto the bristles. He placed the brush in his mouth, and turned it on. Once he was satisfied, he spit out the remaining paste and washed his mouth clean. Elias then poured some mouthwash in a cup, and then put the contents of the cup into his mouth. Swishing the mouthwash, he felt his mouth become minty fresh and clean. After a few moments of that, Elias spit out the mouthwash into the sink. Looking up, he saw Joanna behind him in the mirror. He turned around. "You done?" she asked.

"Hmm..." Elias uttered. "Almost." He then kissed Joanna on the lips, before moving onto her neck. Joanna, however, had to be the responsible one this time.

"Eli, come on," said she, "we both have to go to work." Elias reluctantly acquiesced.

"Alright, honey, but next time."

"Next time." They kissed, then Elias stepped out into the bedroom. Still with the towel wrapped around his waist, he took out a clean, bright white shirt, a gold-colored tie, a grey blazer, and matching grey dress pants. He took off his towel, and put on his clothing. After examining himself in a mirror on a large cabinet in the bedroom, he heard the shower running in the bathroom. Elias then took a bag with him, which contained several documents, and proceeded downstairs. He grabbed his wallet, keys, and phone, and left the house. Elias, pressing a button on his keys, unlocked his beige sedan, and stepped inside. He closed the door, shifted the gear into drive, and went off to the consulate towards the center of the city.

Edited by Arminius H O Fiddywinks
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The morning began with the shrill buzz of an alarm clock in his ears, an abrupt and startling awakening. Ezra's groggy hand fumbled clumsily to find the right button, silence telling him he had found it. He yawned softly, blinking animatedly to force himself awake.

With a soft groan, he pulled himself out of bed and gave a stretch, each vertebrae in his back popping in a neat line up his spine. He tossed the enticingly warm comforter off of him. The cool air chilled him, having only worn his boxers to bed, and he shuffled into the adjoined bathroom, turned on the shower, disrobed what was left, and stepped into the steamy shower stall to clean up.

A few suds and rinses later, he was out and toweling off. He could feel the steam clearing his sinuses and breathed in deep. He could smell his coffee brewing in the kitchen and picked up the pace. He ran a comb through his hair and pulled out an orange bottle with his name on it from his medicine cabinet.

"EZRA HAYES: TAKE 2 PER DAY"

He shook the bottle to produce one pill and popped it into his mouth for a dry swallow. One for the morning.

Stepping out of the bathroom. He walked over to his closet. He didn't bother covering up. It was just him in the apartment. He pulled on clean boxers, a pair of black slacks, and a navy blue polo.

Exiting his bedroom, he stepped out into the living room and over to his small kitchen. First was coffee. He took the fresh pot, grabbed a mug from his cabinet, and poured himself a cup. Adding some Irish Creme creamer and a cube of sugar, he took a calming sip and sighed in contentment. He could feel its warmth travel all the way down to his stomach. Next, he grabbed a bowl and poured himself some cereal with milk. Walking to the table, he set his breakfast down and turned on the TV with the remote to watch the news as he ate.

It must have been a slow news day. There was hardly anything of significance happening. He finished his meal after a few minutes and set his dishes in the sink with some water. He quickly brushed his teeth, strapped his watch to his wrist, poured a second cup of coffee into a travel mug, grabbed the briefcase sitting at the door and headed out the door.

The morning air was cool and somewhat humid as he hopped down the stairs to his deep plum Cadillac. With a click, the trunk flew open, and he  set his briefcase inside. Placing his travel mug in the cup holder first, he slid into the driver's seat, started up the car and pulled out of the complex parking lot onto the main road. With six appointments scheduled for today, he was going to be busy.

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The alarm kicked on in the morning with an opera track.

Io e la mia, i miei e me
tutto ciò che luccica è oro
io e la mia presto sarò, ricco
Ho visto quanto i ricchi sorridono
la ricchezza porta dritti alla felicità 
il seme d'oro diventa frutto che mi da vita

Simon got up with a groan. While the day had to begin early, he didn't have to like it. Money doesn't grow on trees and he couldn't make it lying in bed. He started with some light exercises, push ups and sit ups and the like. When those didn't quite wake him, he got into the shower and turned on the cold water to try and shake him awake. 

Mi fa male vederti vagare
L´invidia in te germoglia
Sei condannato a bramar di più
Niente placa questa sete

He sighed while showering. Things hadn't quite gone the way he had hoped they would. He thought about what he had done to get where he was and where he had to do to keep going. Maybe in another life, things could've been different. Things could've been a little cleaner.

No! Questo è tutto ciò che sogno!
Quel che voglio e per cui vivo!
Ciò che non ricevo io me lo prendo

Ha! But then, he wouldn't be on the trail if things had gone cleaner. One shower later and he's dressed in a suit, driving to his favorite restaurant, a local diner. A little bit surprising for a man who just left a 600K house wearing a $2K suit.

"Not that I'm complaining, Mr. Bainsworth, but why do you keep coming back here?" Said Cookie, the, well, cook.

"No one really makes eggs and bacon the way you do," Replied Simon.

"Ha! Sure, the big business man likes my eggs and bacon."

"Now, now. I'm just a project manager. I just make sure the team goes where it has to and we all have what we need."

An hour or so, later and Simon is sitting in front of a mass of computer monitors in a dark room. He checks the boom on his headset before speaking into it. "OK Gang. The dead drops are in place, the escape pilot is ready and the bank is unaware. It's been a slow news day. Let's give the public a show."

A-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a!
Cos´ha risvegliato dentro te l'avidità?
A-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a!
L'avarizia, che ti ha spinto a fare..?
Ascoltami!

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Amber liked everything in her life spic and span, from the progression of her taste in music on her Spotify app (from the latest pop and hip-hop charts to some smooth jazz, soul, and R&B), to the line-up of Papermate InkJoy pens--three black and three blue--in the little trough built into her desk drawer. From the baby soap samples and finger snacks she stored in the diaper bag (so Endia could be dropped off at the sitter's in a moment's notice), to the entryway of her house where she kept Kenni's shoes, knapsacks, rainboots, and jackets in easy reach for a little boy darting out the door. From the colored tupperware containers in the refrigerator (a few of which she prepared ahead on weekends, others she purchased from the caterer's or the grocery store), to Dami's shirts, ironed and arranged in such a way where he could find them by sleeve length in the closet.

Having everything organized was a matter of survival for her, a necessary habit. She felt determined to be a super mom, as efficient at home as she was successful at her job. She wanted to squeeze everything she could out of her days. And when you were as busy as Amber Rose and you had all those plans, things must never be taken out of order. She liked to keep her schedule as fine-tuned as the engine in the Buick she drove.

This morning, as Amber entered the Smith and Fortnum Trade Group offices, an alert went off on her smartphone, reminding her of an upcoming conference with one of the firm's senior brokers. At the same time, she would be talking shop with a client, her Bluetooth earpiece barely noticeable: "...If you wish to do this, we will have to do it later in the week. You will have to contact my assistant, Leo, and set up an appointment." Anyone who did not realize she had an earpiece on would have thought she was talking to herself. In addition to that, she was leafing through a report, searching the latest market forecast for any prices that looked like they might rise.

"You got that parking spot again?" a guy from personnel resources teased her. "Wouldn't want to start things off wrong. Sorta like getting up on the wrong side of the bed."

"How's it going, Schumacher?" someone added. "Ready for another day at the races?"

Amber ignored the parking space remarks and dropped a box of folders on her assistant's desk. She backed halfway through her office door and eyed the intern, a small, nervous-looking Vulpine youth named Leo Callister. Leo took care of the administrative duties; he had undergone at least twelve different interviews to get the internship. She could get away with asking him to do anything because he was in training, but she didn't do that. If luck held out and the market maintained, then he would also be a trader one day.

Call me in a minute. She pointed to her earpiece and cocked her thumb like the hammer on a revolver. I need to get off this thing. she mouthed. "No," she told her earpiece as she retrated into her office. "I am unable to do it this evening." And for a moment, she pondered telling why, that she was planning to see her little man in her life at his school play, that something always got in the way when she tried to spend time with her family. But she was really looking forward to it this time.

She swapped her cropped blazer for a trading jacket and, still on her phone, attached a bird's nest of wires to a headset that curved under her muzzle and referred to a small mirror as she pulled her kinky curly mane up and out of the way into some semblance of a bun. With bobby pins aligned in her chops, she examined her hazel eyes and feline features with pessimism. The trading floor rules required a smooth, contained hairstyle that would not provide a safety hazard around those miles of cable. She hated to admit how much hair she had yanked out when trying to get untangled at the end of each session.

What is taking Leo so long? She gestured through the glass panes trying to get his attention, but he was busy distributing cups of coffee from that overpriced chain that she willingly spent her money at, so he didn't see her waving. Oh well.

If she could not get off the phone, she could at least check on Endia. Amber situated herself in her leather chair and briefly noted the photograph of Dami with his dishy Vulpine motif smiling back at her. On the other side of the computer sat a snapshot of the kids taken last month. Kenni with his new glasses perched atop his muzzle, while Endia (feline with her father's coloring) looked desperate to wriggle from atop her brother's knee.

Amber logged into the computer and opened the browser to enter www.nannyrating.net, a Website. She punched in her ID and password and waited for the site to load. The information loaded, and Amber began to scroll through. Amber had signed up for the service the same day she had employed Mrs. D'Alessio. And even though Mrs. D'Alessio had pitched a fit, Amber would not back down. Every piece of equipment associated with with the baby--the diaper bag, Endia's favorite stuffed animal, the canisters of baby wipes--had the same visible placard fastened to it: "How is my nanny doing? Email to 11435@nannyrating.net." Even the stroller sported the bumper sticker. Amber could understand Mrs. D'Alessio's outrage, but she prefered punching in a password to disrupting her flawless schedule.

"You have three new messages." a dialogue announced after completing its search. Amber scrolled down and read the messages, all from strangers who happened upon Mrs. D'Alessio and Endia in the park.

The first one was from a crackpot: "This is ridiculous. Get off your ass and have a real relationship with the woman who looks after your kid." Amber promptly deleted that message.

The second one read: "It was a delight to see your baby playing on the slide." Amber didn't know how to feel about that one. Slides are dangerous, right? But the writer had chosen the word "delight". You wouldnt say "it was a delight to see your baby playing in traffic," or "it was a delight to see your baby juggling chainsaws". So, she might let that one go.

The last message provided some information she could use. "I dont know if you mind this or not, but I saw your nanny feeding your child peanut butter as a snack. Isn't she too young to determine if she has a peanut allergy?"

The phone had finally beeped, signalling another caller. Through the glass panes, Amber could see Leo holding his phone in his hand. Finally! And opportunity to break in! Took you long enough, she mouthed to her assistant. Where have you been? Why didn't you do this sooner?

"I need to let you go for now," she told her long-winded client. "I have another call I need to take."

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Renard stood on the beach, kicking at the sand. That son of a bitch had given him the slip yet again. He asked the Hotel manager, tried every bar he remembered in this city, hell he even tried asking random passersby at that Persimmons store until he was asked to leave.

" Gah! This getting me nowhere!" He cried out to the empty beach, into the bank of fog over the ocean that blocked his view of the horizon. A heavy sigh did not even so much as stir the mist. He sat in the sound. He had been tracking his father all over the worlds for four years. he didn't even really want to fight him, to be honest, that was just the unfortunate side effect of having a father like Aesop Frost, The legendary Blossom Knight... well Legendary where he's from, anyway. What he really wanted was-

" Answers...." He stated blankly to the empty void in front of him, the marine fog giving only the faintest hints of the water below it. It was rather thick.. almost as thick as it was on Zoness or Aquos. " I just want answers."

Where was all those years? Why did he leave his children to fend for themselves when the youngest was five? He said he was on a journey.. But journeys usually don't take ten years.

He was twenty now. So, he was five when mother died, shortly after giving birth to his little brother. and ten when the old man had hefted his sword over his shoulder and walked out the door, never intending to come back. He was fifteen when he and the others decided to go their own ways, leaving the caretakers in run of the estate, the two elder brothers making sure everything stayed in working order. Time was a cruel illusion.. things so distant could be recalled so vividly, making the young hound's blood threaten to boil over once again.

 

"Easy, easy..." He chided himself. "That won't get us any closer to figuring out anything..  Just, find a nice cafe, get your bearings."

 

He sighed, for once he actually took his own advice.

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Elias entered the consulate garage after showing his identification at the guard post. He drove up two levels before finding his parking spot. A dark red, old sports car was parked two spots to the right of him, as it always is when he arrives, but when he clocks out, it is no longer there. Elias, by now, found his spot not by reading the signs or the numbers on the walls, but by that dark red sports car. He even memorized the license plate: 55J-9PO. As Elias pulled to his spot, the same dark red sports car, a Mazda RX-7, greeted him. Facing the corridor, its bumper smiled, although its headlights were down, as if it were sleeping and dreaming a happy dream. Elias parked his sedan, turned it off, disembarked, and closed the door. Locking it, he glanced at the Mazda, whom he named 'Jones'.

"Hello, Jones," said Elias, as he always did on a normal day. With his suitcase in hand, Elias walked to the elevator on the level. Entering it, he pressed the button labeled 'G'. A few moments later, the elevator reached its destination, and opened its doors to the consulate. There, a guard at his post looked at Elias, his sunglasses analyzing his genetic marker. Satisfied, the guard nodded, and Elias stepped out. After going through a few doors, he reached a large hallway, populated by guards and consulate workers. There was a short line gathering in front of the reception desk, where a receptionist, protected by a guard, sorted out the various wishes of the visitors. The majority clamored for visas or passports. The remainder wanted to file complaints of various degrees.

"Morning, CG Zagwe," stated a guard passing by.

"Good morning Walt," replied Elias. Elias then went up a staircase to his office, which was large and decorated with various Abyssinian furniture and kitcsh. A portrait of the current Abyssinian Emperor, Yemrehanna V, dominated a large part of the wall where the fireplace was located, to the right of the door. Elias closed the door behind him, went to the desk, placed his briefcase on it, took off his blazer, and draped it onto the leather chair. Rolling up his sleeves, he plopped down onto the seat, and opened his briefcase. He took out several folders containing multitudes of paper. He began reading them over, scanning the documents sentence by sentence. His eyes glided over each word like an ice skater flying across a frozen lake. He muttered unintelligible nonsense as he read them quietly. There was also a stack of papers that needed his signature. He decided to put those off until he got through reading the documents from his briefcase first.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Ezra listened to the smooth beat of an indie folk song as he navigated traffic to a center of office suites. He pulled into his regular parking spot and stepped out with his coffee and briefcase. Stepping through the front door, his name among the list of names painted on the door, he breathed in the clean smell of the lobby.

"Good morning, Dr. Hayes." came the sweet chime the receptionist, a young shiba inu in her mid-twenties.

"Good morning, Charlotte. You can call me Ezra. It feels weird calling you by your first name when you're so formal." Ezra smiled, stopping at the desk, "Any messages for me?"

"Sorry, Ezra." She laughed, "Your four o'clock appointment had to reschedule for next Monday." she looked through her notes, "That's about it."

"Oh joy, early day today." Ezra chuckled, "Guess I'll have some spare time today after all."

"Oh god, I know what you mean." she laughed, "It's so hard to get an evening with nothing to do. I'm actually free this evening too."

Ezra missed the subtle blush on her cheeks and nodded amiably. "Nice, I hope you have a good one. If you'll excuse me, I need to get ready for my first appointment."

"Oh right, have fun today." she smiled, waving him goodbye as he walked down the hall to the last door on the left.

His name was engraved in a gold plate on the door.

"DR. EZRA HAYES: CHILD PSYCHIATRIST"

A good chunk of his work with children revolved around identifying and diagnosing mental disorders in children, but he also helped children sort through trauma like abuse or loss, things a child wouldn't necessarily have the ability to express or understand fully.

He unlocked the door and walked inside, flipping on the light. His office was small, his work done in a playroom located in the same building. There was enough room for a nice cherry finished wooden desk in the corner, an adjacent filing cabinet, and a cushioned swivel chair tucked in nicely underneath. A large iMac monitor and wireless keyboard sat on the desktop, along with a pair of framed photos, one with a trio of wolf children–one a teen boy, and the other two a very young boy and girl–and the other of the same teen boy and young girl but many years later. His diploma and other credentials were framed and neatly hung on the wall for all to see, and a pair of plush armchairs sat in front of his desk.

He walked around to sit at his desk, tucking his briefcase away in the bottom drawer of his desk. He took a drink from his travel mug as he booted up the computer. He had some time to check his email before his first appointment.

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Ren sighed contentedly as the smell of ground coffee hit his nose. Funny. he used to detest the strong stuff when he was younger, but now the mere smell of it was enough to put him in a better mood as he waited in line,  Looking around and soaking the in calm atmosphere that would be expected of a coastal café. Low lighting, grey wood floors, and a bank of windows that overlooked the foggy ocean. it would be a good hour or so before the sun burned through the marine layer, so he would enjoy the cold while he could.

"White chocolate mocha... Iced."

Cold, caffeinated drink in hand, Renard sat down near one of the windows and tried to relax, ignoring the stares his clothing got, not many people in this part of town would wear a jacket and scarf, but he didn't particularly care. he had the rest of his day before a shuttle left for Katina. That was usually where he got better leads on his father.. a man who sprouts prismatic flows whenever he fights definitely stands out in the heads of the denizens of outposts, some of the last folk who fight for fun in this day and age.

Conversely, he could just stay here a while.. He had some decent money stores left even after that escapade at the hotel. and it had been a while since he had given himself a break.

" You know what? Screw him." he said mainly under his breath to himself. " I'll leave later when I need some missions. If I chase after him now I'll burn out. Let him do.. whatever it is he does when he's not eating, fighting, or sleeping ( Which is all he's seen him do.)

And thus he considered his vacation begun.

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Amber believed in getting the best out of other things than getting the best parking spot. When she visited Starbucks, she helped herself to a number of stirrers and sweeteners for her desk; you never know when you need a packet of Truvia. When she came upon the cosmetics counter in Bloomingdales, she selected an assortment of disposable applicators and mascara wands for her personal use. When she and Damienne got the babysitter and had a night out at Sapa in Fairmonte, she always managed to slip a couple of those rose-shaped chocolates at the hostess stand into her purse. But Amber's knack for getting the most out of everything became most evident when--armed with her smartphone, her laptop, and her headset--she tried to make sense of Corneria's turbulent economies on the crowded floor of the Corneria City Board of Exchange.

Amber usually arrived at the office by seven in the morning. An hour before trading started, she would leave her desk, trot up Carmello Canyon, and march through the modernistic glass doors that guarded the building's sacred halls since before the Lylat Wars. Her stiletto heels would click purposefully across the polished concrete floor. A bell would chime once the elevator reached lobby level, and a moment later, she would disappear behind sliding doors of brushed aluminum.

The quotes on the board would already be blinking when she hit the scene. Prices would be showing in red, orange, yellow, green, and blue. The pit would be amok with frantic traders ready to buy and sell, trying to lock in price quotes, and making hand signals to show the quantity of their bids

Amber thought nothing of jumping into the crossfire. According to Richard Fortnum from the brokerage firm, that was when her intuition became extraordinary. In a place where you could lose a shirt by holding your hand the wrong way, Amber had the amazing ability of knowing what to buy and when to sell.

By the time she arrived that morning, she had already shot an email to Mrs. D'Allessio about Endia's inappropriate snacking (No more peanut butter, thanks) and had forgotten about it by the time the market opened. These days, Amber was quick to correct any problem she perceived in others she worked with. But at least, she made an effort to at least say thank you. She was a busy woman who wanted the most out of life; she didn't want to seem mean-spirited.

"Let's get going."

She tapped Leo on the shoulder and pointed towards a number streaming overhead.

Leo followed behind her, frantically jotting down his observations in his notebook. Amber's focus switched between the boards and her laptop screen. She typed madly on her keyboard for a bit before she stopped and readied herself. Crouched like a jungle cat waiting to pounce.

When the board changed, Amber didn't hesitate. "Here we go!" She held her hand up with four fingers. her palm faced towards herself. "And we are taking!" she hollered, jumping onto her tippy-toes. "We're taking!" Although buying could be a risk. "All the way!"

There wasn't much time to celebrate before another bargain presented itself. Followed by another. Then, another. And, after that, something else looked like a good sell. By the end of the closing bell, Amber had locked in a favorable price on a good share of raw hydrogen futures as well.

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Elias took a quick nap on his crossed arms sat atop the papers on his desk. He snored lightly as fire crackled and blanketed logs of wood in the fireplace. The floor was green carpet, and the walls were dark brown, with various painting of Abyssinia adorning them. The plasma windows gave a perfect view of Corneria City's Central Square, with the hum-drum of the city buzzing outside, and Elias's peaceful nap inside. For several minutes, Elias snatched quiet respite from his busy day. That is until his secretary, Tasha Bworo, interrupted his sleep.

"Excuse me, Mister Zagwe?" she asked, peeking her head into Elias's office. Elias then suddenly shot his head up, inhaling sharply. Some papers stuck to his arms, and he brushed them off.

"I am awake," announced Elias.

"Sure, Mr. Zagwe," said Tasha. "You're meeting with the Senate has been moved an hour forward. You will be meeting with them at 4 pm." Elias slouched back in his chair.

"They're stalling," reasoned Elias. "Trying to formulate a response to my treaty proposal, but they haven't seen anything yet!" He looked to his briefcase on his desk, which was now closed. "Oh, I think they'll find it very reasonable."

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Simon kept watch of his team. Two of them were waiting outside the bank, chatting to each other about what sounded like past high school experiences to passerbys. The other two were masked and moving around the back, getting access to the roof. One paralyzed the guard with a shot from his blaster while the other started work on the lock leading inside.

Simon mentally facepalmed, the other guy was just waiting for him to finish. He pushed the button for their comms and spoke. "Guys, the thermal lance. Go get it," And closed the comms as soon as he finished.

The heister on the roof groaned as he went back down to get the planted lance from the parking lot. By the time, he as back with the lance, his buddy had opened the door. The two snuck inside down to the ground floor. From here, they were behind the teller floor and by the offices. But most importantly, they were by the back office and security room. With the thermal lance placed in the corner, the heister had unholstered his blaster and stood by the door. His buddy pantomined a count down. Three, two, one. He then placed the ECM over the door's card scanner, the failsafe disengaging the lock before it died. The door swung open and the heister covering the door fired, knocking out the guard manning the cameras.

"Bank is blind. Moving to phase two," The heister whispered into his comms while his buddy retrieved the lance.

The two on the outside took note and started looking through the bags they carried. "Grin. We're moving," one said as he put on his mask and rifle.

"Gotcha. Let me know as soon as your in the vault," Simon replied.

The two rushed into the bank, screaming for the patrons to get down while firing into the air. These rifles weren't on stun, they burned clean holes in the hanging ceiling. The Bank collectively hit the deck. The heisters move with practiced grace, cable tying the tellers and office workers to stop them from hitting the silent alarm, assembling the thermal lance and keeping the civilians away from the windows.

Simon grinned from his set up far away from the scene of the crime. Everything was going according to plan.

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Renard had decided to go native for the time being. No point walking around in his traveling clothes unless he was actually traveling. He called the hotel to extend his stay, and had hit up a clothing store. Now clad in a rather loose blue muscle shirt and a pair of olive green board shorts, he stood once again on the beach. it was High noon and people were already beginning to show up to enjoy a small break from a nine-to-five or possibly longer everyday and just forget their worries, much like the young man, himself.

He reclined at the shoreline, letting the water wash over his legs and just enjoying the sun on his face. He couldn't help but wonder if any other folk from Axia would show up. It had been a while since he had decided to stay a place longer than three days, let alone the month he had planned for himself.

He lay back, visualizing what he would be up to for this month, what odd jobs he could take, all sorts of good stuff.

"Who knows, with my luck, the old man could end up coming back during that time.. makes my job easier."

With that, he whipped off his shirt ( Much to the delight of a gathering of nearby teenage girls that were obviously skipping class) and dove into the ocean
 

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Elias stood up from his desk, not bothering to don his blazer, as he was more comfortable in his rolled up white shirt and gold-colored tie. He brought with him his briefcase containing the important documents he was to present to the Senate later today. He walked to the consulate limousine awaiting in front: an Abyssinian imported vehicle called an "Aklilu", or "Crown". It looked vaguely like a Lincoln Town car stretch limo. There was a chauffeur in the driver's seat, and Elias's bodyguard, Gideon, a tall yet patient lion, opening the door for him.

"Thank you Gideon," said Elias in Ge'ez, the official, and most widely used, language in Abyssinia. Gideon nodded, and then entered the limousine with Elias in the passenger compartment, closing the door behind him. "To the Senate, please," said Elias to the chauffeur in Cornerian.

"Yes, sir," replied the chauffeur as the limo drove off towards the Senate, not but a few kilometers away. The limousine passed a massive square, called Corneria Center, which was situated smack-dab in the center of Corneria City. It was immense, and had a massive monolith in the center, which was tinted metallic blue and grey. On it were the names of all those who died in service of Corneria, military or civilian. The square itself was lined with concrete, but there were designated areas of green lawn. On the lawns, there were families enjoying a picnic, children flying kites, young men playing various sports like football and soccer, others were committed to yoga or other exercises, and a handful were sight-seeing or simply enjoying the fine day. Small food stands were like little outposts in the sea of tranquility, selling various sandwiches or drinks to throngs of hungry or thirsty pedestrians. A pair of CDF officers carrying assault rifles walked casually along the perimeter of the monolith, garnering curious looks from passing children. One of them was smoking an electronic cigarette, while the other tried to fan away the smoke, peeved. The limousine entered the square from the north, turned right, and then left again, reaching the Senate located along the square's western avenue. It stopped, and Gideon stepped out first. After a brief scan of the surrounding area, which was deemed safe, he held the door open for Elias, who promptly stepped out. The limousine then puttered away to the Senate parking garage a block down the street. A news reporter, holding a microphone, and her cameraman, approached Elias.

"Excuse me, Consul-General Zagwe," she began careful not to obstruct Elias's path. Gideon stood close to Elias, ready for anything. Elias, continuing to walk up the steps of the Senate, still managed to turn his attention to the reporter. "You're arriving at the Senate to propose a new peace treaty between the Empire of Abyssinia and the Republic of Corneria, is that correct?" She placed her microphone close to Elias's snout.

"Yes, that's right," he replied.

"Can you give us the details of the treaty?" inquired the reporter, first putting her microphone towards her canine snout, then back towards Elias.

"I'm sorry, but most of it is confidential, but I can tell you it has to do with the sovereignty of the Empire in relation with the other nation-states of Katina, as well as territorial claims. Now, if you will excuse me..." Elias began to approach the massive entryway to the Senate, the massive wooden doors lavishly decorated and beautifully carved.

"That is all the Consul-General can say at this time," said Gideon in a deep voice, shielding Elias from the camera. They entered the Senate, and the news reporter and her cameraman were stopped by Senatorial Guards.

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