Major Roslin bathed under the cold cascade of water. Her hooves were firmly planted on the slippery rocks below as the small waterfall pounded down, washing away the smell of metal and male musk. She hated having been stationed with these men. She was the only female in the whole platoon, and it drove her nuts. But then again, if it weren't for her, they'd have lost the last few fights with the humans. Damn humans!
The water pounded at Roslin's knots in her shoulders and back, bringing a soft groan from her. They'd been fighting the humans for the last year. The humans kept saying they only wanted the unused land on the southern most continent, but everyone knew they'd soon want more then that. It was obvious considering how long they'd been fighting. All monoshifters of human decent hate their predocessors. They see humans as filthy, greedy, worthless, and weak creatures made by an evil god. And then Monos, the God of the monoshifters, reached out His hand to Earth to transform only those who were worthy and had no greed or evil in their hearts. At least, that's the mythological version. What it really was was nothing more than an alien virus that had fallen from space on a comet. It had space for two strands of DNA, and when it latched on to one, it latched on to the next one of any similar species and combines them to create its perfect host. The host can change back and forth between fully one creature or the other but the default form becomes one that mixes the two. It must always find a humanoid host and an animal host.
So Roslin figured her anscestors were a hunter and an unfortunate deer who became dinner. Her parents had long hammered into her mind that humans were bad and evil, and thus far nothing had proved Roslin's prejudice wrong. In fact, this recent war only reinforced it.
As she finished up, Roslin took the towel she had brought with her and held it over her head as she shook her body. The water sprayed everywhere around her, which was why she had to make the towel higher then the spray. She then rubbed herself, trying to dry as much as possible before having to put the armor back on. She hated armor on wet fur. Unlike the wolves, deer didn't like fighting with M.A.S. machines. The Moblie Armor Suits felt constricting. So they wore armor that resembled the ancient knights, but with different metals and new upgrades.
She was rubbing her creme colored belly when she heard a twig snap. Her large, ripped, pierced ears perked immediately. Her black, pierced nose flared, and her huge golden eyes scanned the area. The short hairs on her body stood on end and her short, white tail jerked erect in alarm. She was about to leap for her gun when a wolf emerged from the bushes. He seemed somewhat disoriented and confused.
Roslin hurriedly wrapped the towel around her body as she barked at the wolf that was easily twice her size. "You there! What do you think you're doing? There's a war going on! Where'd you come from? There aren't any villages near here." She narrowed her large round eyes at him, staring at his green ones. Green was rare among wolves. And his fur was a bright red. He had a white chin and his paws where white, but he was otherwise the reddist wolf she'd ever seen. His fur was somewhat curly, which was an odd feature she'd never seen before.
The wolf blinked at her a few times, as if he couldn't understand her. Then he mumbled something and pointed behind him. "What was that?" Roslin took a step closer, still tense. " ... join the war..." was all she heard from the young wolf, and she snorted. "Well, you look like you could use a few years more to grow, but I suppose we can use every hand in fighting off those parasites. Head north for about a quarter mile and go to the big tent on the hill. If anyone gives you trouble, tell 'em you already talked to Roslin. I'll be there to deal with your paperwork soon as I'm done here. Off you go!" She waved her hand to dismiss him. Dispite how confused he looked, he gave her a decent enough salute and headed off the way she'd pointed.
As she strapped on her armor, she thought about the encounter. The young wolf was little more than a boy, maybe no more than 18. And it wasn't so much confusion on his face as concentration, as if he was listening to a language he'd just learned and trying to remember all the words as she spewed them out at him. She shook her head, sure that it was just that he was scared and probably forced to join by a stubburn father who cared more about family pride than his son's life. Oh well, it wasn't her problem. She'd only lost a dozen men under her charge, and that was spread out over more than three dozen fights, most of them just squirmishs. The humans seemed like they were getting tired, and just wanted to prevent the monoshifters from killing them all. Their ships had left them, driven away by otter ships. Roslin really had no desire to slaughter them, and would rather wait for their ships to come back and get them. So the boy had a good chance of surviving under her command.
Roslin made her way back to camp and marched up to the command tent. The soft black paws on her planning table was not what she had been expecting. The black form that melted into the shadows of the tent corner was obviously well muscled, and the golden eyes that stared out at her from that darkness sent chills down her spine. The only part of him really visable was the red collar around his neck that boasted all his awards and metals.
Roslin saluted ridgely, looking straight ahead. "General Desire, sir, I was not expecting you, sir!"
She heard the purr of his wicked amusement and it made all her hairs stand on end. More than likely he was here because the humans had not yet been wiped out. The general was a cruel panther, and that was how he had gotten to the top, by not caring about the charges below him and sending them all to their victorious, but tragic deaths. If ever there was a metal for killing more of the army while hiding behind everyone and barking commands, he'd be the first to get it and add to all those other shinies around his throat.
"I rather like what you've done with the place, Major. Given it a 'feminine' touch." He batted at a golden scarf hanging from the top of the tent.
"Just thought it'd give the place a more home feel, sir. I'll have it removed immediately." Roslin could just leap over the table with her knife drawn and place it between his ribs. If only, if only.
He purred that evil purr again. "No, no. I think it's fine. It keeps the men from missing home and not getting to the real business at hand." His soft voice turned hard as his paws slipped to the floor and his black form oozed out of the shadows, his broad, unmarred face very suddenly inches from her scarred and knicked muzzle. If only she'd had warning she'd have removed her piercings. She'd learned her lesson the first time she'd lain eyes on him not to have them in his presence. She resisted flicking one of her scarred ears where it was obvious a few of the pierces had been torn out.
"The humans are still threatening the western flank! They're spreading out onto the land, and from what we can tell they look like they're digging in and getting ready to settle! And you know why?" Roslin steeled herself. "Because a cute little doe decided that she was going to raise up the ranks by raising her fluffy little tail for all the superiors and then slack on the real work once she got where she wanted to be. Tell me, Roslin, are the men here so satisfied with you that they don't want to get this war over with and come home?"
Roslin grinded her teeth. What a snake! Killing him would be such a pleasure. But she had to speak, no matter how choked with the anger she was. "The humans are putting up more of a fight then we thought, sir," she spat the word. Her ears burned with anger at his words. She had once been a little tipzy with a superior officer and Desire had found them in the back alley at an awkward moment. But that was certainly not how she had made her rank.
Desire showed his pearly fangs in a cruel grin. He knew he'd struck a nerve. "I expect the whole battalion to up tomorrow first thing at sunrise for inspection. If one person is missing than..." He stood straight and let the sentence trail. She knew what would happen. He'd have her shipped back to the capitol and he'd toss her into a court marshal.
Roslin saluted as Desire moved toward the flap. "I wonder if other areas of your body are as pierced as your face?" He said it softly, and Roslin knew that if he saw them on her again she'd likely have another scar to explain to the newbies. Desire vanished out the flap silently, like the panther he was.
Roslin grabbed the nearest thing she could and threw it against the ground. The ancient telescope shattered at her hooves. "f$%k!" She knelt down to pick it up when some large white hands reached down as well. She looked up to see the young red wolf. He didn't look into her eyes. He picked up the pieces and stood up with her. "Thanks," she said as she took all the pieces from him and set them on the table. "I'll guess you heard all that."
The boy didn't really make any movement. "Some of it," he said simply, though she caught a bit of an accent. Obviously he must be from one of the outer villages that had come up with there own language. Yeah, that was probably it. And in order to join the army you had to know the common language used by all the monoshifters. He'd probably just learned it.
"Well," she sighed, scratching at her ear, "I think I won't accept you today. With Desire here, life will be the nearest thing to hell on earth as is possible, and I'd rather spare you the torture I went through as a rookie under him. I think you'd ought to go home and come back in a few years when you've learned the language better and can grow in the mind a bit more. If you want I'll write an official letter to your parents if they are the ones who made you come." The boy gave her that odd look again, and it took him a moment to reply.
"No parents. I have nowhere to go." He raised his hands helplessly. He seemed relieved that she at least understood he didn't speak the Common Tongue fluidly.
Sighing, Roslin began to remove her piercings. "Well, then, I suppose you can stay. But now that the general is here, you'll have to really work hard and you might actually be sent out to kill the humans. I'd much rather let their ships come back and get them, and get the war over with that way, but as long as Desire has a say in it, there will be no ending this until every last human is dead."
The wolf looked down at his paws. "We want home," he said softly. Roslin looked at him strangely. "They. They want home," he quickly corrected himself.
"They want to go home," she corrected him fully, hoping to help him learn the language faster. "Alright. Well, I'll get the paperwork for you to sign and them I'll have Smitherson get you suited up."
The sun rose on a little less then a thousand troops. All M.A.S. machines had been polished and oiled, all armor shined, all weapons loaded and oiled. Desire walked the ranks, everyone standing at ridgid attention. One young wolf was slouching just a bit. As soon as Desire passed him, he gave a roar. "50 laps around the perimeter! Now, soldier!" Terrified, the wolf quickly made his way out of the ranks and started running. "Anyone else wish to slouch?" Backs stiffened just a little more.
Roslin followed behind her general, praying that his inspection would not last much longer. Just about everyone had stayed up all night to make sure everything was perfect. She was angry. Angry at his undeserved pride and rank, and angry at the way he treated other people. As long as he wasn't in pain, he didn't care about others.
At the back of the line, the young red wolf stood, carefully mimicing everyone else. The buck beside him gave him a sidelong glance, his round eyes wide in fear and puffy in exhaustion. When he caught a glance of Desire, the buck started to tremble. The red wolf's nose twitched with the strange scent of fear. Desire sneered at the small buck, and at a soft growl, the buck could no longer contain himself. Just about everyone in the camp could smell his release. Desire, with a smug, cruel smirk, sent the buck to follow suit of the other young wolf around the camp before he was allowed to wash himself, which was torture for a deer, one of the cleanest of the monos.
Finally, with the sun high in the sky, Desire dismissed the troops and retreated into the command tent. "I just can't believe that man," Roslin said angrily, her ears laid back. The red wolf came to stand next to her. "He comes from a planet where predatory monos hunt prey monos. So does Balik, and he knew that! At least he didn't pick on you, Paltrick. I was really worried he'd pick you out of them all because of your fur. Guess he was too busy enjoying Balik's torment." Paltrick touched her armored shoulder tenatively. She looked up at him.
"He is angry to himself. He is coward. And he is angry." Roslin gave him a bewildered look, then smiled. "You are wiser than your years. I guess he is mad at himself. Well, we'll have to put up with his anger until the war is over. He has orders to stay."
A month had passed. Every morning everyone was up with the sun to be inspected. No matter how Roslin tried, Desire would not relax the command. And he found great delight in tormenting Balik, who always stood next to Paltrick. As the days wore on, the poor little buck was on the verge of breaking down under the abuse, which Roslin was helpless to stop.
In another week, Desire ordered a small company of soldiers to march to the border where the humans were holed up. He wanted to launch a sneak attack after a few weeks of no fighting.
Paltrick was one of the ones chosen. He had insisted on wearing the type of armor the deer wore. The bright green, gold trimmed armor suited him much better. There weren't as many buttons and levers to learn. Roslin insisted on joining her troops out on the field, while Desire stayed behind in the safety of the camp. So they packed up their supplies and marched out onto the battlefield.
After several days of searching for the humans, they very nearly stepped on them. Gunfire was sudden and took the monos by complete surprise. Firing back, the monos raced for cover, several of them falling along the way with screechs of pain. Paltrick was caught in the middle of it, unsure of where to run. He jumped behind a M.A.S. that was firing back, offering cover to those running. He's heart pounded and everything seemed to slow down, all the creatures running past him, gunfire and death and blood all around him.
Looking up, Paltrick noticed Roslin zipping between trees. Paltrick tried to stand to yell for her, but a bullet whizzed past his head and he tucked back behind the machine. He turned to return fire when he heard a screech and looked back to see Roslin fall. A human rose up from the ferns, a machine gun pointed at the doe's head. His heart pounding, not caring about the bullets rushing by, Paltrick leapt up and dashed at full speed toward the man. He gave a primal snarl as he drew near, which startled the human. He raised his gun only to have it grabbed and torn from his hands and a big clawed paw slammed into his chest, throwing him to the ground. Paltrick put his paw on the chest of the man and held his gun to the human's head. In that moment, looking down at the man, peering into his eyes, as green as his own, he knew for a second what it meant to truly be a beast. He squeezed his eyes shut as he pulled the trigger once, feeling the body under him go limp.
Without looking at the man, he turned and quickly slung his gun over his shoulder and grabbed Roslin. He lifted her, throwing her over his shoulder and running for cover, one of the last as the M.A.S. lumbered into retreat after the other troops, trying to make themselves the targets as the bullets weren't strong enough to penetrate them.
Paltrick didn't slow down, not even when the gunfire was far behind him and he was out in the open woods. He could feel hot fluids running down his armor. He dared not stop until they got back to their small camp. He rushed in amongst the small tents and right past the guards, straight to the tent set up for medical use. He dropped her to the bed and quickly rumaged through the medical suppiles. With expert hands, he picked out all the right tools and proceeded to remove the bullet from Roslin's shoulder. Several soldiers came after him, looking on in disbelief. When Paltrick had fished out the ball of metel, he quickly shaved the area, disinfected, sewed and bandaged it, all the while ordering the other soldiers to quit gawking and hold her down as she thrashed.
Finally, when she was peacefully passed out, he sat back and stared at her, thinking about the man he had murdered. Leaving behind an old life. He closed his eyes and stayed beside Roslin, night after night, through her fever and her screeching. Through gunfire and explosions which always drew closer and closer, his gun in his hand, but he didn't leave her side.