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Title: Kinsey's Mimic
Description: A Darwin's Soldiers Story


Serris - January 4, 2014 04:19 AM (GMT)
Hello y'all. This is my second Darwin's Soldiers story. It is centered around Sharon Varma and it takes place between the first RP and the second RP.

Now, I, Serris, proudly present:

Kinsey's Mimic

This story is rated PG-13 for profanity and intense violence.




Chapter 1:

Sharon Varma panted as she wrestled with a broken lamp from one of the overhead catwalks. Smooth saxophone music — as well as the odor of beer, slightly rancid frying oil and sexual arousal — wafted up from the dance floor. Through the small crevice exposed by the lamp’s removal, she saw a two completely nude Black Mambas coiling around a metallic pole.

Deftly switching from a wrench to a screwdriver, she was partway through unscrewing the lamp assembly when the voice of her supervisor echoed up from the ladder.
“Joan Kierwal! You’re next on the performance roster!”

Sharon Varma — or Joan Kierwal as she was known to everyone — groaned. “Let me finish fixing the light first!”

“Understood!” The supervisor’s footsteps gradually faded away as she went to attend to some other business.

Sharon unscrewed the lamp and managed to replace the burnt out bulb in a few seconds. Two sweaty minutes later, the spotlight was plugged in, focused and properly trained on the stage. The woman tucked her tools back into her tool belt and climbed down the ladder.

When she reached ground level, her tongue lolled out of her muzzle as she panted deeply, trying to cool herself off. Thankfully, her fur wasn’t too sweaty. She helped herself to some water from the nearby fountain. She sighed as she drank; the overhead catwalks were incredibly hot and stuffy from all the stage lights crammed into them.

Her supervisor, a lithe Key Deer, burst out of the office. “Joan! Your show’s starting in two minutes! Get dressed now!”

“Hey! I’m trying to cool down a bit!” Sharon snapped as she took a break from lapping up the water. Her ears splayed back slightly at her supervisor’s horribly grating voice. Hilariously, she also served as the MC for the strip shows. How she managed to attract — let alone retain customers — with that voice remained a mystery to the Dhole.
“On stage or you lose spot in line!” The Key Deer took a quick look in a nearby mirror to ensure that her makeup was still intact before she returned to her office.

Sharon scowled and her lips involuntarily peeled back, revealing her fangs as she finished drinking. She said nothing as she headed to the dressing room and opened the door.

____________________________

“This is fucking undignified!” Sharon fumed as she took off her tool belt and hung it from a hook near a box filled with all sorts of lighting bric-a-brac. A slightly stained T-shirt and some beat up blue jeans joined the belt.

The Dhole looked at the faded poster of a very buff Percheron mare with several coils of cable draped over her well toned shoulders. The mare in question was the lighting technician before Sharon was hired. The woman scowled as she looked at the picture; it was quite clear that this wasn’t a candid shot.

Mindful of the ticking clock, Sharon quickly donned the sari that was her “uniform”. Luckily, a helpful guide was taped onto the mirror. After a few final adjustments, she gave herself a once over in the full length mirror. The garment’s orange and red embroidery meshed perfectly with her reddish fur and brown eyes. She shook her head. The supervisor probably gave her this uniform and routine because she was of Indian descent — never mind that fact that Sharon had never left the United States in her life and knew little, if anything about the culture of India.

“Joan! You’re on!” a stagehand shouted from outside the dressing room.

Sharon sighed as she walked out to the stage. She could already hear the lilting sitars from the Bollywood music that they saw fit to accompany her performance with.

____________________________

The Dhole stepped onto the stage and sniffed the air. The scent of turmeric and incense wafted through the air, mingling with the scent of greasy bar food and cheap alcohol, forming an unholy olfactory mix between a Hindu temple and a strip club. She frowned as the overly strong scents stung her nostrils. Coiled around the stripper pole — decorated to look like a mango tree, complete with fake mangoes at the top — was one of the stagehands/performers, Vivek Chottara, a slender Common Krait.

“Ready to get this show on the road?” he asked, slithering down the “tree” and wiping his hands on a rag he had dangling from a belt. As was his custom, he preferred to work naked. Granted, being a reptile, there wasn’t much to see, just bluish black body with contrasting white stripes that slashed across his back.

“Bite me,” Sharon muttered.

Vivek, not having heard her, simply slithered into the backroom and retrieved a large wicker basket, which he placed in the middle of the stage. A dulled talwar in its sheath rested atop the wicker basket. The Krait quickly checked a nearby mirror to see if his fang guards were in place and the headband was secure. The fang guards were soft silicone sheaths intended to cover the fangs of venomous snakes to both protect them from being broken by impacts or accidentally poisoning someone. Consequently, they found numerous uses in everything from law enforcement to healthcare to performance and martial arts. Satisfied that everything was in place, he tossed his rag aside, replaced it with a dulled short sword and slithered into the wicker basket and covered himself with the lid.

“And now presenting, the two deadly beauties, Joan Kierwal and Vivek Chottara!” the MC boomed.

“Let’s do it!” Vivek said, his voice muffled by the basket.

Sharon sighed and picked up the talwar as the curtains rose. The sitars were joined by the buzzing drone of a pungi and the hollow beat of the drum. She moved slowly to the music, taking care to emphasize her curves and the fluid movements of her sari as she slowly gyrated to the music.

She bared her fangs and flattened her ears as she danced, emphasizing her predatory nature. Everyone gasped as she unsheathed her sword and flipped the lid off the wicker basket in one lightning fast movement. As soon as the lid was off, Vivek rose from within the basket. He flicked his forked tongue in and out as he weaved to the music, his white stripes seeming to glow under the stage lights (no thanks to the oil he had covered himself in). His baton was a blur as he adroitly gyrated, tossed and caught the spinning object.

The two performers seemed to slow down as the music descended in intensity. The guests held their breath as the music rose to a crescendo with heavy piano beats and a fortissimo choir — in Hindi, naturally — joining in. The two performers immediately struck fighting poses. The music suddenly slowed down, causing the audience to hold their breaths once more…and then it happened, hammering electronic beats and a lone female singer burst onto the track.

Taking it to be their cue, Vivek and Sharon rushed into battle. The crowd gasped as Sharon leapt backwards and twisted away from one of Vivek’s strikes. The Dhole retaliated with her own slashes, which the Krait adroitly weaved between, intentionally showing off his oiled body.

The crowd cheered as the fight continued, with neither combatant getting the upper hand. The clashing of the weapons was easily audible over the loud music and cheers. Again, the music slowed down. Sharon took this cue to slowly begin stripping off her sari, while at the same time, warding off Vivek’s attacks. The crowd hooted and cheered as they saw more of her red fur exposed.

Sharon took a breath as the music began to rise. She got her sword ready and took a swipe at Vivek, who easily dodged it and retaliated with one of his own. The Dhole twisted her body away eliciting several cheers as her tail whipped through the air. By now, the music had come to its height with the female vocalist practically screaming in ecstasy and the two dancers swiping and parrying with such speed that their weapons were barely visible. Soon, the strip club became a gladiator’s arena with the spectators betting on the fighters.

And then it was over. The clatter of the weapons was replaced with appreciative whistles, claps, hoots and cheers as the two bowed and posed with their weapons amidst a shower of cash.

Sharon bared her teeth as she felt someone stuff something in her panties. The hand holding her talwar twitched; for obvious reasons, its edge was unsharpened but it was a real sword and a blow from it was perfectly capable of breaking bones. She reminded herself that in this strip club, tipping dancers by putting money into their underwear was not only accepted, but expected.

As for Vivek, the patrons stuffed their tips into his belt or into the headband of his fang guard.

____________________________

Sharon washed her face in the locker room as she changed back into her jeans and t-shirt. All in all, she had made about five hundred dollars in tips — and that was after the house fee and the club’s cut. All in all, it made the wages she got as a lighting technician look like nothing — hell, it was well below minimum wage! No wonder so many of the workers also pulled double duty as strippers!

“Looks like those fencing lessons I took for shits and giggles back at Pelvanida were useful after all,” she muttered.

Next to her, a Gypsy Vanner mare was busy adjusting the feather plume on the incredibly gaudy nylon halter she wore. Judging from her lean muscular frame — and belt with a Beretta 92 pistol, Taser, handcuffs, canister of 2x spray (effective against mammals and avians) and flashlight resting in the open safe — she was probably one of the club’s bouncers.

Sharon said nothing as she gathered her belongings. She looked at the clock — 7 PM, the end of her shift. The Dhole watched as the security guard turned stripper exited through the door to the stage. She exited into the parking lot and into the hot desert air. The Dhole sighed; the sun was still up — albeit lower in the sky. She shook her head; she had enough erotic dancing for one night.

The Dhole got into her pickup truck and started the engine. She smiled as she heard the low growl of the diesel. Shifting the truck into gear and turning on some industrial rock, she pulled onto the road and headed for the Vegas suburbs where “Joan Kierwal” lived.

____________________________

Sharon pulled into her cactus and gravel lined driveway. It was the same house she owned when she worked at Pelvanida but courtesy of a few well-greased palms, it belonged now to a Joan Kierwal who bought it from a certain “Rama Vashron”. Unlocking the door, she stepped into her foyer and inhaled. Even though to a Human, the air was bland and scentless, to Sharon’s canine nose, she could smell the cumin and turmeric that permeated the air — leftovers from last week’s dinner of catfish and shrimp with yellow curry. There was also the scent of gun oil wafting from her upstairs safe, where she kept the AK-47 she “liberated” from one of the terrorists at Pelvanida when she helped repel the assault.

All in all, it smelt like home. She flopped down on the couch and turned on her TV. She scowled — nothing but crappy talkshows. The Dhole sighed as she dipped into the half eaten bag of catfish jerky on her coffee table. As she did so, she uncovered what looked like a piece of aluminum foil folded into a pamphlet.

She picked up the pamphlet and opened it. Maybe a night at the Vegas Strip would help. But first, dinner.
____________________________

The sound and scent of exotic spices frying permeated the kitchen of her house as Sharon tossed some tomatoes and eggplants into the sauce.

The Dhole tossed in some catfish filets and squid pieces and let them marinate. Hanging in her combination dining room and kitchen was a metal plate with a rainbow patina on it. But this was not any piece of metal; her fellow Pelvanida mechanics bestowed this on her when news came of her acquiring a new home. On it was her name carved in superhumanly fine calligraphy — courtesy of a CNC laser milling machine. She smiled but then sighed as she realized that for as long as she lived, she would never be able to set foot in that location ever again.

Saying nothing, she ladled the savory mixture over some rice. The Dhole took a bite of the mixture and smiled. Just right. She slowly ate her meal, wanting to enjoy the fruits of her labor.

Her clock chimed — 8:30 PM. Leaving her plates to soak in a sink full of soapy water, she wiped the sauce off her muzzle and headed upstairs to change into some clothing that wouldn’t get her mistaken for maintenance or thrown out for violating the dress code.

A few minutes later, she was clad in a basic long sleeved shirt and some pants. Her heavy work boots were traded in for some basic sneakers. Throwing some spare cash into her wallet and pocketing it, she headed out into her truck and started the engine.

The Dhole smiled as some music (industrial rock as usual) came on and she pulled out of the driveway and into the surprisingly empty street.

____________________________

A few minutes later, she was on the busy highway to the Vegas Strip. She cursed as she slammed on the brakes to avoid rear-ending someone who abruptly pulled out of an onramp and in front of her.

Heart pounding, she signaled and got onto an offramp where she joined the many travelers to the Vegas Strip. Soon, the dark desert highway gave way to the psychedelic neon lights of the Stripe. Even the drugstore she passed was neon lit. As she drove through the billboard and marquee lined street, one particular advertisement caught her eye. It was an electronic billboard, with digital green — the color reminiscent of the earliest computer monitors — hexagons slowly fading in and out of existence as a casino-hotel’s name appeared on it.

“Hmm,” Sharon said, reading the billboard as she slowly drove down the crowded streets. “I’ve never been to this casino before.”

She made a left turn down one of the streets, and continued down until she could see the casino’s sign.

The Dhole rolled her eyes as she saw the sign, a gaudy affair of “digital green” hexagons and the casino-hotel’s name — Neo Hong Kong. She pulled into the parking garage and paid the attendant. She did a double take as she saw that said attendant was wearing a head mounted display attached to his glasses. Head mounted displays had been on the market for the last few years but weren’t common outside certain professions like mechanics, surgeons or other similar jobs. But despite their unpopularity, they still had a certain futuristic cachet that appealed to a certain niche. Nevertheless, the average person didn’t want to wear something so obviously expensive and inviting to thieves — hence their low popularity amongst the general public.

As she drove into the garage, she noticed something. Compared to the somewhat clean and finished garages of the other casinos, Neo Hong Kong’s parking garage had a very rough look to it with exposed pipes and electrical conduits, as if the construction crew had left their job half-done.

When Sharon parked her car and got out, the hot dry air — despite it being nearly 9 PM — caused the Dhole to start panting. At the same time, she noticed the odor was very different than that of the other parking garages. Instead of the smell of exhaust and desert air, this garage had only what could be described as “the stench of an industrial city’s underground”.

Scowling, she entered one of the rooms containing the elevators that would take her to the casino and hotel proper. The Dhole groaned as she looked at the floor. Corrugated steel. She was already beginning to regret this idea.

____________________________

Emerging from the elevator, she stepped onto hallway that was decorated to look like the concrete sidewalk of some gritty city. The Dhole moved near a trash can to avoid the crowd as she pondered what she should do. Curiosity overtook her and she peered over the side of the railing. Thanks to artfully concealed projectors and skillful architecture, the hallway was crafted to resemble the elevated walkway of some futuristic megacity. She could even see flying cars and jetpack wearing figures flying “below” and “next” to her. Hidden speakers provided the droning hum of these imaginary flyers. Flashes of tourist cameras contrasted with the “streetlights” that bathed the area in a sickly blue-white glow.

Looking out over the railing, Sharon could see projections of said futuristic city’s skyline with black neon-drenched monoliths soaring into the smoggy dusk sky (courtesy of fog machines). Above her on nearby “skyscrapers”, fake ads for various augmentations and cybernetics bathed the area in a pallid neon glow like beacons from a future that never was. Exposed pipes, electrical wires and conduits slithered along the walls like metallic worms; she had no idea which of the wire and conduits were real and which were props. Even the stores got into the act with faux-grungy storefronts and Chinese characters adorning the signs. All in all, it was William Gibson’s wet dream.

Sharon shook her head. Theme hotel-casinos were a trademark of Vegas. This cyberpunk styled hotel-casino was no different from the Luxor hotel with its faux ancient Egypt theme.

The Dhole passed by a vendor selling snacks and all sorts of trinkets from a stand that had been crafted to look like a street vendor’s cart. Rolling her eyes, she purchased a cheap keychain. The metal charm was surprisingly heavy in her hand. Curious, she took a closer look at the keychain, finding it to be a simple metal tube with LEDs that flashed “Neo Hong Kong”. She pocketed the keychain and continued on her way.

Her stomach growled as she walked along the “elevated walkway”. Sighing, she scanned the area for a restaurant. A stained and blinking neon sign bearing Chinese characters and the name “Big Wong’s Café” attracted her attention. She rolled her eyes as she dodged a Shetland Pony mare, leading her colt by the wrist; Las Vegas was not a family-friendly destination. A crack was heard as she stepped on a discarded soda can.

Sharon kicked the can aside, letting it fall into the gutter where it joined a bunch of other debris. Apparently, some of the patrons got a little too into character and threw their garbage right on the floor, forgetting that Neo Hong Kong was actually a rather expensive and fancy hotel — not a shithole city out of some ‘80s cyberpunk flick. The Dhole peered through the restaurant’s greasy window plastered with tattered and stained papers advertising assorted Chinese dishes. She sniffed the air; she could smell General Tso’s catfish, stir-fried rice with dried squid and shrimp, catfish chop suey and other low-class Chinese-American dishes. Her stomach growled. The Dhole gave the food one last look. The catfish slabs and fillets dangling from metal hooks in the window looked rather dried up and the reddish paste that passed for “sauce” that covered them appeared to be mostly grease.

She sighed. The food was cheap and she was too hungry to really give a damn. She pulled open the glass swinging door and stepped inside. The inside was almost as nasty as the outside. Stained and cracked red tiles gleamed in the dull light that streamed from industrial style caged lamps fixed in the ceiling. A mélange of languages — English, Spanish, Cantonese and a whole lot of others she couldn’t identify — mixed with the pounding breakbeat that emanated from a greasy, beat-up boombox on the counter. The odor of rancid grease threatened to make her empty her stomach and the music was starting to give her a headache. Despite this seeming squalor, the restaurant was actually quite crowded.

Sharon stood in line for takeout. When it was her turn, she placed her order of white rice and General Tso’s catfish. In mere minutes, her meal was packaged and handed to her. As she passed over the cash to pay for the order, she got a good look at the cashier’s face. He was relatively young Chinese man with his half of his face slightly scarred up and a distinctly artificial left eye that glowed a soft blue in the dim lighting. While she had previously seen the cashier when she placed her order, she didn’t get a good look at his face. Sure, she saw the artificial eye, but she assumed that the eye and scars were part of a mask intended as a costume for the staff.

They weren’t. Now that she got a good look at the man, Sharon was now almost certain that the man’s artificial eye and scars were completely real. The Dhole simply shrugged as she exited the café. Artificial eyes did exist and were commonly used to repair blindness. Of course, the eyes were not perfect and the user did end up slightly near-sighted — not to mention, most of the users preferred their artificial eyes to look nearly identical to natural eyes.

Her ears pricked up at the faint whine of servo motors. She turned her gaze to one of the cooks, who was cutting up a catfish slab. Sharon noticed that the big Water Buffalo’s right arm was a powerful gleaming construction that looked more at home on an industrial robot that on a living being. And that arm didn’t look like a costume.

The Dhole exited the little restaurant. She had seen two people with prostheses openly flaunting them; most users of prostheses preferred to keep them as natural looking as possible. Sharon scratched her head, maybe keeping inline with the dirty cyberpunk theme, management encouraged workers with prostheses to flaunt them?

Oh well, it wasn’t her concern. Weaving her way through the crowd and being careful not to spill her food, she made her way to a small dining area that was set in what was made to look like a city park.

Sharon opened her package of food and took a deep whiff of her meal. She sighed. Low quality spicy sweet sauce and frozen catfish filets fried in slightly rancid peanut oil. Well, that’s what you got in a Vegas casino-hotel for $6.00 — crappy food.

Snapping her set of chopsticks, she began eating her meal. She sighed as she saw the fake neon ads for augmentations. If only she hadn’t been fired and blacklisted from nearly every research institution in the USA, then she’d be working to bring those ads to life. The Dhole shook her head as she cracked open the bottle of ice-cold soda and took a sip.

A few of the staff passed by her as they emptied the garbage cans. The Dhole said nothing as she finished off her meal and got up to throw her garbage away. She suddenly stopped she passed one of the janitors; a familiar scent had suddenly wafted past her. She discreetly sniffed the air as she approached the man. She bared her teeth as she suddenly realized where she recognized the scent: Howard Hicks, the disgraced Pelvanida scientist who held Doctor James Zanasiu hostage during the Pelvanida Incident.

Wait! Hicks’s a Dragonstorm scientist! But I thought he went to jail for the Dragonstorm debacle! I was at the trial and I distinctly heard the verdict of “guilty”. Sharon thought as her gaze lingered on the thin Human.

“Can I help you?” Hicks asked as he tossed a trash bag into his cart.

Sharon’s ears flattened against her skull as she tried to think of something. “Uh, no I’m just pondering where to go.”

“I suggest the casino floor. It’s below this one.” The man headed off to continue his duties.

That’s definitely Hicks. Not only does the scent and appearance match, so does the voice, Sharon thought. I just hope he didn’t recognize me.

She then sniffed her clothing and her eyes widened. She didn’t wear any perfume. Oh well, most Primates — Humans included couldn’t detect, let alone track a scent. Unfortunately, their vision was much sharper than of Canines — especially when it came to close-in detail. And Hicks had a good, long look at her face.

The Dhole sighed, something was up and she was going to have to find out. She looked around the mass of people. Hicks had melted into the crowd and vanished. Sharon rubbed her temples with her hands. Maybe some gambling would relax her.

She got up and merged into the crowd on the “elevated walkway” as she made her way to the casino level.

LettuceBacon&Tomato - January 5, 2014 06:23 AM (GMT)
Great start! I love getting some insight into what Sharon had been up to during that time. The stripping scene was...unique. Do they actually strip like that somewhere?

I'm excited to chronicle all this new data on the Darwin's Soldiers wiki :D Unless you were hoping to do so yourself?

Serris - January 5, 2014 05:40 PM (GMT)
QUOTE (LettuceBacon&Tomato @ Jan 5 2014, 01:23 AM)
Great start! I love getting some insight into what Sharon had been up to during that time. The stripping scene was...unique. Do they actually strip like that somewhere?

I'm excited to chronicle all this new data on the Darwin's Soldiers wiki :D Unless you were hoping to do so yourself?

Thanks!

The striptease for this scene is purely made up. I drew inspiration from Indian snake charming as well as sword dances and burlesque shows.

LettuceBacon&Tomato - April 7, 2014 12:16 AM (GMT)
So is this still happening? I'd love to read the rest.

LettuceBacon&Tomato - May 13, 2014 12:31 AM (GMT)
Hello?

Serris - May 28, 2014 08:50 AM (GMT)
And here we are. Chapter 2 of Kinsey's Mimic!

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Chapter 2

The stairs to the casino level of Neo Hong Kong were dimly lit with faux-dirty concrete steps and graffiti (real or not, it was hard to tell) scrawled on the walls. A scuffed sign on the wall read “Platform 49” It was here that Sharon Varma carefully dodged around the crowd.

The Dhole cursed as someone slapped her tail with their bag. Sharon, think! Maybe Hicks got off on a technicality and got fucked so bad he’ll never be able to work in the scientific field again. But then…

Sharon’s thoughts were interrupted as she stepped out of the stairwell, which opened to a surprisingly gloomy looking casino level. Slot machines were bolted onto concrete blocks that looked like they had been stolen from a construction site. Caged industrial style lights dangled from the ceiling, casting a pallid light everywhere. The ringing of slot machines contrasted with the depressing atmosphere.

She scowled. Why would anyone make such a dreary looking casino level? It was when she looked up that she saw cables, conduits and pipes lining the ceiling like worms. That’s when it hit her — they were intending to evoke the atmosphere of an illegal gambling operation tucked away in a megacity’s subway system.

Well, she was here to gamble, not ponder some architect’s design choices. She approached a nickel slot machine and was about to take a seat when the odor of urine assaulted her nostrils. She looked down and noticed a puddle of liquid on the concrete block that passed for a seat.

The Dhole moved away to another slot machine. This one was clean, except for the wrapper of a fish and shrimp burrito and an empty plastic shotglass. Ignoring the garbage, she sat down and placed a penny in the slot. She pulled the handle and watched the wheels spin. She groaned as the last wheel stopped on a diamond (she had two cherries previously lined up).

Oh well, she thought. It’s a penny slot machine. A single dollar will land you a hundred plays. She inserted another penny and pulled the lever. The Dhole looked around as she waited for the wheels to stop spinning. Just a throng of gamblers. And no sign of Hicks.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________
____________________________________

Hicks grunted as he hoisted the garbage bag from the women’s restroom into his cart. He turned his head at the sound of footsteps.

“Sorry. Did not see sign.” A Samoyed bitch wearing a very nice yellow cocktail dress and clutching a designer handbag entered the bathroom. Judging by her accent — and expensive clothing — she was probably a Russian businesswoman on an overseas business trip.

The Human momentarily stopped sweeping the floor to stare at the Samoyed’s tail, which elegantly curled up and to her left. He smiled as he felt his loins twitch. All of a sudden, he wanted to—.

Hicks shook his head to get the impure thoughts out of his mind. He resumed sweeping the floor.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________
____________________________________

One hundred plays later, Sharon was in possession of two dollars worth of quarters. She sniffed the air. Her lips peeled back in the characteristic Flehman’s sign of Felines, Canines and Equines whenever they detected an interesting scent. Hicks was here!

The Dhole looked around the gambling area. She couldn’t just drop to the ground and start sniffing for his scent trail; that would be most uncivilized — and she’d probably get trampled by the throngs of people who were here to gamble or just passing through.

She touched a hand to the end of her muzzle. There was still a little bit of the catfish sauce on it. With a sigh, she headed for a bathroom.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________
____________________________________

Hicks removed the “closed for cleaning” sign from the bathroom and put it back on his cart. He maneuvered the bulky object around a concrete block that served as a chair. A sigh as he picked up the previous gambler’s garbage from a slot machine’s seat. Another sigh as a wet rag came out to remove a puddle of soda.

He contemplated giving the machine a whirl but he then noticed the camera in the corner. He did not wish to explain why he was gambling while on the clock to his supervisor — and possibly lose his job. He got from the seat and headed to the “maintenance tunnels”. He sniffed the air; a subterranean dankness hung in the air — courtesy of the scent pumps in the ventilation systems.

A beep and click were heard as he waved his keycard near a scanner. He pushed open the door and entered the well-lit corridor. Like the casino level, pipes and wires lined the walls. But they in contrast to the grunge of the casino level, they were immaculate as if the casino had hired someone whose sole job to clean and polish them. A duo of armed Dobermans pushing a cart containing several thousand dollars in cash passed him. The mirrored sunglasses resting on their muzzles, ballistic vests, bared teeth and holstered 9 mm Glock 17 pistols sent off the unmistakable message: fuck with the cash and die.

He rounded another corner to a non-descript communications closet labeled “Property of Silverstream Communications. Unauthorized entry forbidden.”

A surprisingly deep thunk was heard as he waved another keycard. Grunting with effort, he pushed the heavy door aside and stepped into something that was most certainly not a communications closet.

Rows upon rows of various server racks blinked in symphony as they processed terabytes of Dragonstorm’s experiment results, personnel rosters, maps and other data. Several casually dressed IT personnel were examining the machines.

“Hicks?” a thin Coral Snake slithered out from behind the server racks with bundle of wires in hand. “What brings you back here? Usually, you’re off playing janitor.”

“We’ve been compromised,” Hicks replied.

“Can’t be,” a Golden Retriever replied as she wrote down some notes on a tablet.

“Believe it. Sharon Varma’s here. And she knows I’m here.”

At those words, the room grew silent, except for the whirring of the server racks.

“You sure it’s her and not some other Dhole?” the Golden Retriever piped up. “I mean, let’s face it, all us Canines smell the same to you.”

Hicks scowled as he leaned against a “crash cart” containing spare server parts. “You forget that Humans can see color and detail nearly as well as Avians can.”

It was true, while almost all species were capable of seeing the three basic colors of red, green and yellow, Humans, Avians and Reptiles were among the few capable of seeing minute changes in shade. In addition, Humans had visual acuity and an eye for detail exceeded only by a few Avians.

“Anyways,” Hicks continued as he gestured with his hand to the racks. “We need to make sure she doesn’t find this area. If she does find this area, kill her and dump the body somewhere.”

“How can we tell her apart from all the other Canines around here?” a Human asked.

Hicks went up to a computer and bought up her profile from Pelvanida. Two pictures, one from a side and the other from the front appeared along with her resume, background check data and other relevant information. The picture was of a Canine with an oddly short — almost Hyena-like — snout. Even more interesting was that she had rounded, not pointed ears. All of the fur visible in the picture was intense orange-red, save for the throat and part of her chest which were white. Brown eyes that conveyed displeasure stared out through the LCD screen. But the most distinct feature of her was the jagged scar on her nose, the result of a ricochet during the mandatory monthly weapons qualifications.

“Study this picture carefully.” A nearby printer spat out color pictures of the Dhole, which Hicks distributed to everyone present.
____________________________________________________________________________________________________
____________________________________

Sharon yawned as she splashed some cold water on her face. “Fuck this. I’m going to get nowhere.”

Wiping her face with the paper towel, she groaned as she looked the bathroom. From the rough concrete to the exposed pipes and caged industrial style lights, it was evocative of a transit station’s grimy public bathroom. Like other parts of the casino level, graffiti was scrawled on the walls. Some of it appeared to be (fictional) gang tags; others appeared to be boasts about the artist’s sexual prowess or invitations for prostitution. She chuckled as she saw “Call me for a ‘fucking’ good time!” along with a phone number on the countertop. This being Vegas, Sharon had no idea if it was “atmospheric graffiti” or an actual prostitute’s number. She shrugged and threw the paper towel away. As she did so, she noticed a long, rambling screed about the evils of augmentation. Below it was the blood-red emblem of a cracked gear.

The Dhole shuddered as she exited the bathroom. That particular piece of atmospheric graffiti hit way too close to home. Augmentation was an emerging science and advanced prostheses — sometimes with greater capabilities than natural limbs — were already in existence. There were already a few augmented beings walking around at this time, but not to the degree that was implied in Neo Hong Kong’s “backstory”. But they usually got their “augmentations” as a result of accidents or disease claiming their natural organs, not by voluntarily amputating them and replacing them. Of course, there was no dedicated anti-augmentation group but there were occasional acts of violence against researchers in the field.

But it was only a matter of time fact caught up with science fiction.

The ringing of slot machines broke the woman out of her reverie. She looked at the digital clock alongside the digital “train schedule” mounted on the wall and sighed. It was a fake; no casino had clocks on the gaming floor.

Seeing as she was getting nowhere, Sharon decided to head back up to “street level”. Passing by an electronic roulette table, she pressed the button for the elevator. A chime sounded and she entered the faux-grungy elevator. As the doors slid shut, she sighed. This was a bust.

The doors opened with a chime. She stepped out and onto the “sidewalk”. She looked at scrolling neon marquee on a nearby “cybernetics shop”. Advertisements for luxury restaurants, erotic shows and other casinos flashed across the sign, adding contrast to the dull grey concrete atmosphere.

A shadow flitted overhead with a low droning hum. Instinctively, the Dhole looked up…and saw the faux overcast night sky. She looked around with her ears splayed in embarrassment; the projectors and sound system were so convincing that she really thought a hoverbike had passed overhead.

Amazingly, despite the late hours, Sharon was jostled by gamblers, shoppers and tourists as she made her way to the elevator to the parking garage.

As the doors slid shut and the elevator ascended, Sharon collected her thoughts. She knew that Hicks was present, which strongly suggested that there was a Dragonstorm influence here. Unfortunately, she had no other evidence…unless she got into the back areas of the casino. But how to do that? She most certainly couldn’t just walk into the back areas dressed like this. She’d be kicked out or even arrested.

A gentle ding and a synthesized voice stating “Parking Level Five” announced that she was at her destination. As she stepped out into the pungent area, she made her way to her truck.

As she did so, she detected an unusual odor over the funk of the garage. It was the scent of a male Canine and he was apparently horny. Her hackles stood up as she realized that this particular odor was fresh. She reached for her pistol…only to forget that her only firearm was the AK-47 she liberated during the Pelvanida Incident and that was in her safe at home. The 9 mm Beretta 92 pistol she used during the monthly marksmanship tests was Pelvanida property...and she no longer worked at Pelvanida.

Taking a cue from Vic Summers — one of the soldiers stationed at Pelvanida — she slid the keychain into her right hand and curled her fingers around it. Her left hand held her keys like a pointer. The Dhole’s ears pinned themselves against her head and her lips curled back, exposing her fangs.

She looked around. The parking garage was empty, save for a Wolf standing near one of the exits a good distance from her truck and leering at her but he made no attempt to approach her . Oddly enough, the man wore clothing similar to that worn by US servicemen but with many more pockets than standard ACUs. Sharon shrugged; maybe he just came from a comics convention. She paid him no heed and got into her truck, locking the door behind her.
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Sharon pulled into her darkened driveway and unlocked the door. She stepped into her house and sniffed. The scent from dinner several hours ago still hung in the air. The Dhole flicked on the lights and sat on the couch with a bowl of lentil chips and a steaming mug of green tea. She wrinkled her snout as she thought.

“I know that my maintenance worker’s outfit will get me into the back areas easy. Now what cover story could plausibly let me snoop around without arousing suspicion?” She munched on a few chips as she thought aloud.

Her ears pricked up as the air conditioner started up. She smiled. A HVAC technician or plumber searching for a leak was pretty much granted free reign of a building. Grabbing a notepad, she began to jot down the supplies needed.

After several minutes, she yawned, her tongue lolling out of her muzzle. Shutting off the lights and giving her dishes a quick wash, she headed upstairs to shower and go to sleep.
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Sharon yawned as she slithered out from her nest of blankets and pillows on her bed. She looked at the clock: 10 AM. Time to get moving.

She stripped off her nightwear and threw them in the hamper as she went to take a shower. The warm water cascaded over her fur and washed her stress from yesterday away.

The Dhole shook her body, flinging water everywhere in the shower stall. After toweling herself off, she finished off with a burst of warm air from the integrated full-body dryer built into the shower.

Sharon sighed as she looked at herself in the mirror. Her fur had been blown in every which way by the dryer. She picked up the grooming comb and began to comb her coat so it was flat against her body and parallel. Normally, she wouldn’t have bothered but a nice coat bought in the tips at the club.

After the painstaking task of making sure her coat was shiny and smooth, she dressed in her usual outfit: heavy work boots, blue jeans, t-shirt and tool belt.
She turned on the news as she ate her meal of catfish sausage and eggs. The Dhole shrugged. Same old, same old. Leaving her plates to soak in a sink full of soapy water, she headed out of her house and to her truck.
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Pulling into the parking lot of Golden Sun — the club where she worked at — Sharon noticed that the lot was filled. A part of her rejoiced and another part of her groaned. Lots of customers meant lots of erotic dancing but also lots of tips.

She hopped out of the vehicle, her tool belt jangling as she did so. Showing her ID to the big Boa Constrictor doorman, she entered the building. Despite it being only early afternoon, the strip club was abuzz with activity. Namely an erotic gymnastics routine with two Howler Monkeys that was just finishing up. Once the two dancers descended, the patrons began stuffing money into their outfits as the duo bowed to thunderous applause.

“Just in time!” the Key Deer exclaimed as she stepped out from behind the DJ’s booth.

“For what?” Sharon asked.

“You take down equipment!” The manager pointed to the fake trees. An Orangutan was hanging from an upper catwalk as he unbolted one of the branches. The piece was then carefully lowered to the ground as he swung back to the catwalk.

The Dhole sighed. It was do this and get paid as well as get a slot for her routine or not do this and go home with no money. She looked up and saw some simian workers disassembling the branches some twenty feet off the ground. “Fuck me, I’m not climbing that.” It was then she noticed that several of the branches had been lowered to the ground but not fully disassembled.

She pulled out her wrench and got to work unbolting the metallic “branches” and sorting them into piles.

Thirty minutes later, the fake trees were taken down and put into storage. Next up was a dance routine involving lots of fruit. Sharon shrugged and headed backstage to her dressing room to prepare for her own routine — the sexy mechanic routine.
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The Dhole — clad only in a set of lace panties and a red bandana around her neck — had just gotten out of her dressing room with a large and rather phallic looking crescent wrench when she heard a voice. “Hello, my beautiful flower.” The scent of sexual arousal lingered in the air like a miasma. She peeled her lips back as she realized where that odor was coming from. Turning around, she spotted the source of the voice.

It was that creepy Wolf she had encountered in the parking garage of Neo Hong Kong. And he was wearing the same outfit he had on too. To make matters worse, he smelled very intoxicated.

“Hey! Patrons aren’t allowed here! Get out!” she barked.

The Wolf leered at Sharon and approached her. “Let’s say we do a little ‘performance’ of our own?” Both his hands were open in the classic inviting posture but Sharon knew better. This man was up to no good.

Sharon’s heart raced as she realized that the Wolf was clearly larger than she was and he might be carrying a weapon. It was then she realized what she had in her right hand.

“Get the fuck away from me before break your face!” She brandished the large wrench.

The Wolf chuckled. “Feisty. That’s how I love my bitches.” He put a hand inside his pockets. That was when Sharon swung the wrench at his arm. He howled in agony as the heavy metal object collided with his limb.

“You—” He tried to move his right arm only to scream in pain. The blow had broken his arm. She watched to make sure he wasn’t planning to use his good arm to draw a weapon. Luckily for her, the Wolf seemed too busy screaming to do anything else.

Footsteps echoed through the area and Sharon saw a burly clean shaven Human and a large Belgian Malinois, both with guns drawn, charging through the entrance.

“Joan! Is everything all right?” the Belgian Malinois asked. She sniffed the air. Sharon’s scent told her otherwise, but she thought it would be polite to ask the Dhole.

“Fine.” Sharon's ears were splayed back against her head and her lips were peeled back to reveal her fangs.

The Human handcuffed the intoxicated Wolf, not caring that Sharon had just broken his right arm. He looked over the perpetrator. “It’s Kojuuro. Again.”

The Belgian Malinois sighed. “When will that fucker ever learn?”

The duo rather roughly hustled the Canine out the back entrance where a Las Vegas police cruiser would soon be waiting for them.

“Joan!” another performer called as she stuck her head out from her dressing room. “Is everything okay?”

“Fine!” Sharon replied. “You know what? I’m gonna clock out early. My mojo’s gone to shit.”

The performer shrugged as she retreated into her dressing room.

The Dhole entered her dressing room, took off the panties and put her own clothes back on. She exited and scanned her ID on the reader.
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As Sharon was stopped in traffic, she looked at her shopping list. She had all the requisite tools. All she needed to buy were some pipes and plumbing equipment. She put the list away as the traffic began to move.

The Dhole bobbed her head to the industrial rock that came out of the speakers as she looked for a hardware store. Signaling right, she pulled off the main road and onto a smaller road that led to a neighborhood on the outskirts of Vegas.

The hardware store was a grubby looking structure that looked more like a sleazy strip club than a store. A beat-up sign reading “Apex Hardware” greeted her as she pulled into the parking lot. Several large pickup trucks with company names on the side hinted that this hardware store wasn’t aimed at the do-it-yourselfer.

She was still wearing her jeans, t-shirt and tool belt, so she fit in perfectly with the clientele. The doorbell tinkled as she entered. The scent of grease and dust hung in the air as did the odor of various solvents and cleaning solutions.

The Dhole made a beeline to the pipe section. She examined the variety of pipes in iron, galvanized steel, copper and plastics. The woman pondered what her disguise would be: plumber was right out. She knew almost nothing about plumbing. She sighed; HVAC technician it was.

Heading over to the HVAC section, she examined the large variety of tools and supplies. Most of which she figured to be superfluous for her task. She grabbed a pack of smoke candles intended to track airflow through a building’s ventilation system.

Standing in line to pay for her materials, she pondered what else she would need. Weapons would be useful but she couldn’t bring defensive sprays, let alone a gun into a casino.

“Next!” the cashier called, breaking her out of her ponderings.

Supplies paid for, Sharon entered her truck and started the engine. Looking at the shopping list, she had one last item to buy: grit. A dietary supplement for some Avians, it was little more than fine food-grade quartz sand — perfect for ruining machinery.

The Dhole nodded as she tucked the shopping list back into her pocket and pulled out of the parking lot and back onto the main road. A few blocks down and she was at a small supermarket. Entering the store, she passed by several shoppers, none of whom paid her any attention.

A few minutes later, she had found the supplement aisle and had a shaker of the store brand grit in her hand. As Sharon stood in line to pay, she decided to read the frankly trashy magazines and tabloids with their lurid headlines to pass the time. After passing over an issue of The National Inquirer with “Folf Discovered! Escapee from Pelvanida?” splashed in red all over the front page, she settled on Grit and Steel, an Avian-centric martial arts magazine targeted towards street brawlers and would-be “tough guys”.

She flipped to a random page and was greeted with a dual page centerfold advertising all sorts of martial arts and self-defense weapons ranging from prosaic staves and swords to probably illegal spur knives and gaffs that were intended to be strapped onto the user’s feet, sheathing their natural claws and spurs.

“Next!” the cashier called. Sharon immediately put the magazine back in its rack and deposited the shaker of grit on the conveyer belt.

The bored looking Kiger Mustang teen scanned the shaker and bagged it. “Really?” he asked with a smirk.

Sharon sighed as she took out her wallet. “What I buy is none of your damn business.”

The cashier simply shrugged and accepted the cash from Sharon. As the Dhole left, he turned to an elderly Okapi with a shopping cart full of vegetables.
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Sharon was back on the road, listening to Zeromancer’s Industrypeople as she exited the onramp. She chuckled. The pulsing, broken, staticky bassline seemed to match the start-stop pattern of the traffic choking the road. She bobbed her head to the music as waited for the traffic to get moving.

Just as the traffic began to move, a high energy guitar solo kicked in. The Dhole pushed the pedal, adding the growl of her truck’s engine to the track’s dirty bassline. It was quite remarkable how well the two sounds went together. Then again, there was a music video that she and a few of her friends shot in the Pelvanida machine shop. The video’s hammering industrial rock soundtrack was actually recorded onsite, using the various tools as instruments and then using a program to add in “conventional” instruments.

She looked at the truck’s clock: 1500 — 3 PM. Plenty of time to get into Neo Hong Kong and start snooping. The Dhole signaled right as she saw a sign for the casino come into view. Soon, she was in the neon-soaked Vegas strip. All around her were tourists and people brandishing flyers advertising casinos, escorts and various other services.

The Dhole said nothing as she pulled into the grounds of Neo Hong Kong, but instead of heading into the parking garage, she headed into the employee parking lot. She stopped at the guardhouse when a dour looking Clydesdale gestured for her to roll down the window.

“This is the employee parking lot!” he said.

“I’m the HVAC repair technician that they called for,” she replied.

The guard looked into the backseat and bed of of her truck. Seeing a tool box in the backseat as well as copper pipes, he was satisfied with her explanation and waved her through. Sharon breathed a mental sigh of relief. She was in!

Scanning over the sea of parked cars, the Dhole searched for an empty parking space and found none. She then decided to pull up to the curb and park there. As she opened the door, she made sure to grab her pack of smoke candles and the container of grit and stash them in her toolbox. After all, who would consider a Dhole clad in work boots, blue jeans, t-shirt and tool belt with a toolbox in hand as anything other than a contractor?

She strode into the employee entrance. There, she passed by several casino workers relaxing in the break room. Several other employees, including a few armed guards, passed her. Figuring that she was a contractor, they ignored her. As was appropriate to any casino, there were several cameras scattered about the hallways. The Dhole noticed how bland the back area of the casino was compared to the overt cyberpunk theme of the public areas — it was all institutional white, off-white and beige tones with a few colorful posters on the walls to break up the monotony.

She sniffed the air; Hicks’s scent was here but faint. The Dhole opened a door and found herself staring at a group of employees who were eating lunch.

“Can we help you?” an Iguana asked as he put down his hummus and vegetable sandwich. Sharon could hear the faint whirring of the electric motors that powered his robotic left arm.

“Yes. I’m here to inspect the HVAC system,” Sharon replied. The scent of various foodstuffs mingled with the scent of the workers and the ever so faint “faux industrial funk” that was piped into the casino’s main floors.

“Go right ahead. The access room’s two doors down.”

Sharon nodded and went to go get a ladder. When she left, a Human reading a computer magazine nodded. He looked back at the printout concealed within the magazine. The Canid he saw had rounded ears, bright reddish fur, short Hyena-like snout and the open front of her shirt revealed a white-furred chest. It was most definitely a Dhole. Now all he had to do was get close enough to the HVAC technician to see if she had the jagged scar on her nose. He got up and tucked his magazine under his arm as he followed the Dhole. His catfish fillet sandwich remained on the paper plate.
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Sharon passed over the access room to the HVAC closet. Most of the staff that passed by her ignored her. Though there were a few that seemed to spend a little too much time looking at her face. But she ignored it.

It was then she came to a communications closet with a sign reading “Property of Silverstream Communications. Unauthorized entry forbidden.” She examined the door. No doorknob and no hinges were visible. The only thing nearby was a RFID keycard reader.

Odd,” she thought. “That usually means a high-security electronically locked door. Rather unusual for a communications closet.”

She then examined the door more closely and saw that it was seated in a heavy metal and rubber gasket. She tilted her head in the classic “questioning Canine” pose as she digested the latest information. The gasket that she saw was very commonly used in Pelvanida’s armories and laboratories to keep potential contaminants in — or out — or to thwart intruders from prying the door off its hinges. There was no way someone would place this much security on a door to a communications closet! There had to be something more!

As the Dhole examined the door more closely, she gave it a discreet sniff. She smiled. Hicks had touched this door very recently. Now she knew where Hicks was! Now all she had to do was get through the door — and not get killed by the pissed-off Dragonstorm personnel that were undoubtedly behind the door.
She then shrugged and passed it to see if there was another entrance.
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The Human peered out from around a corner as she approached. When he passed by her, he made sure to get a look at her face. It was then he noticed the scar on her nose. He nodded. That “HVAC technician” was most certainly Sharon Varma — and judging from her behavior near that “communications closet”, she was up to something.

He waited until she rounded another corner and then he radioed Hicks. “Hey Hicks, I’ve confirmed it, you know that ‘HVAC technician’ you’re seeing on the camera feed?”

Hicks’s staticky voice came through. “Yeah.”

“It’s Sharon Varma.”

“I’ll send some guards to grab her. Good work. Hicks out.” The Human put his radio away and returned to the break room to finish his lunch.
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Sharon was inside the employee’s female bathroom and busy inspecting the ceiling, fixtures and pretty much everything she even remotely suspected could hide a potential entrance. Several employees entered and used the facilities but most of them paid the Dhole no heed.

She sighed as she replaced the ceiling tile and folded up the ladder that she had taken from the janitor’s closet. Nothing. She returned the ladder and stepped out of the bathroom.

The Dhole rounded a corner and soon ran into three armed guards.

“Sharon Varma,” the first guard said. “Please come with us.”

Sharon tried to keep her face neutral but her pinned ears indicated that the guards had stumbled upon something that she wanted to keep secret. “Wait, what’s going on?”

One of the guards drew a pistol. “I’ll ask again. Please come with us.”

Sharon scowled. Seeing as she was outnumbered and had two pistols leveled at her, she had no choice but to comply. The Dhole sighed and raised her hands in surrender. One guard picked up her toolbox while the other two kept their pistols trained on her.

The two guards flanked her as they marched her down the hallways. She silently hoped that they would usher her through that “communications closet” but those hopes were dashed when they ushered her past the “closet” and down a corridor with a sign bearing the words “Detention Area”.

The Dhole looked around the plain white hallway as she pondered a way to get out of this predicament.

LettuceBacon&Tomato - May 28, 2014 03:48 PM (GMT)
Cool!

I like it.




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