Chapter 4:

How Could You Kiss at a Time Like This?!

Ranch Royale!

I wake up to the sound of combat boot footsteps, yelling, and glass breaking. I sit up and wipe the sleep out of my eyes to clear my vision. I see the submissive coop mates I have spent the last five years of my life with flipping over their beds and throwing their toolkits into a bonfire right outside the main entrance of the coop. Why are they wasting supplies?! My adrenaline spikes and I run into the crowd of rioters surrounding the fire. I try to plea for them to stop, I even wrestle with some of them, and I jump into the air attempting to grasp the kits by their handles but miss. I’m outnumbered. What has caused this sudden act of defiance? Bookmark here

I walk back inside the coop in search of Tomo, when I spot him in the midst of all the chaos throwing a rubber ball against a wooden palette over and over in a state of complete calmness. He has been my eye of the hurricane ever since I’ve met him. I’ve never understood how he can stay so even keel in the most tumultuous situations. As the yelling continues to grow louder and the fire continues to grow taller, I sit next to him. Bookmark here

“Do you know what’s going on?”Bookmark here

“What’d you say?!”Bookmark here

A wave of exhaustion has hit me, and I’m straining to yell loud enough for him to hear me over all the commotion. Bookmark here

“Do you know what’s going on?!” I ask a second time, shouting so he can hear me.Bookmark here

“They’re rioting!”Bookmark here

“Way to point out the obvious Tomo! Why though?!”Bookmark here

“Ricci’s parents went missing two days ago!”Bookmark here

My stomach begins to swirl and I think I’m going to throw up. I thought it was all a bad dream. Nightmares were something I was so accustomed to, it was easy to chalk up the events of last night up to another bad dream. I take my trembling hand and lightly brush it up against my lower back and feel it; the blistered and peeling skin in the shape of General Romano’s insignia; a curling swine tail. I feel to vomit. It couldn’t have been real, I think to myself.Bookmark here

I gulp to try and gain the courage to ask, “Do you know what happened?”Bookmark here

“What?!”Bookmark here

“Do you know what happened?! To Ricci’s parents, I mean!”Bookmark here

“No, nobody does! There were rumors they were kidnapped by General Pol’s ranchers because the rodent ranchers spread something they call the Black Plague to the humans, so they were in desperate need of more veterinarians to care for Pol and his family. His wife produced a litter of twenty last I heard!”Bookmark here

“But those are just rumors?!”Bookmark here

“Some people think the General killed them!”Bookmark here

“Why would he do that?!”Bookmark here

“Beats me!”Bookmark here

“Have you spoken to Ricci?!”Bookmark here

“He wasn’t here when I woke up this morning! Bookmark here

Nobody knows where he is!”Bookmark here

I wonder if Ricci knows the truth behind his parents’ disappearance yet, he deserves at least that.Bookmark here

“So why does the coop think they’ll get answers by destroying the place?!”Bookmark here

“I’m flattered you think I have all the answers, but that’s only half of it! Supposedly two breeding technicians went missing last night as well!”Bookmark here

This just gets worse.Bookmark here

“Well then, what do you suppose happened to them?! Nobody just goes missing around here without it being accounted for?!”Bookmark here

“Maybe he sold them to Pol as some sort of peace treaty. They definitely need it right now! Maybe that’ll make them think twice about using our own soldiers against us to raid our supplies, or at least hold them off long enough until we can get payback!”Bookmark here

“Do you really think Pol’s the one who ordered the raid on the med barn?!”Bookmark here

“Well, who else would it be?! Whoever it was I’m sure General Romano has a plan. He’ll know how to handle the situation if there even is one!”Bookmark here

“You sure have a lot of faith in him!”Bookmark here

“Why wouldn’t I?!”Bookmark here

“What has he done for you – for any of us – to make you trust and believe in him so strongly?”Bookmark here

“What’d you say?!”Bookmark here

The rioters only grow louder and more rambunctious. I don’t want to appear out of line, so I don’t bother finishing my thoughts with him.Bookmark here

“Nevermind!” I say.Bookmark here

That’s when a thunderous noise much more earthshaking began nearing our coop. The rebellious, protest cries of the rioters transformed into screams of fear and warning. The Boars arrived.Bookmark here

The Boars were an elite force of mammalian militia, whose only purpose was to control the human masses if they ever rebelled or even simply stepped out of line. They wore all camouflage and protective gear. They had four tusks; two at the end of their snouts along with another two protruding the rooves of their mouths going in a crisscross direction.Bookmark here

Armed with stunbolt guns, they begin dragging male humans by their shirtsleeves and female humans by their hair using their powerful tusks. Thank goodness I had cut mine short to save on time and supplies for grooming. Bookmark here

They gather the ringleaders of the rebellion and circle them around the fire still burning the ashes of the toolkit, mattresses, and whatever little else we had to burn. They pulled out their stunbolt guns from their sides and put them behind the heads of the six humans pleading for their lives. Bookmark here

I close my eyes, unable to watch. I curl up my face in my hands staying sat wondering if this is going to happen to all of us humans present. I then feel Tomo’s hands firmly grip my shoulders and pull me into his body. My ears against his chest and arm almost muffle out the next faint, six shots I hear that in the distance on the field. My tears wet Tomo’s shirt as I clench onto his body tighter. This method was described as merciful and painless by the mammalians. They were doing us a favor, but it wasn’t for the people left behind to watch it happen frozen in terror that they might be next.Bookmark here

If only the workers knew the truth about what happened to these four ‘missing humans’, although it’d probably only make them angrier and more violent that nothing was being done about it. The only thing being done was appointing an eighteen-year-old girl with the task of curing a mammalian with abilities and an appetite unlike any she’s ever seen. That wouldn’t give me hope at all if I was them. I contemplate if I can trust Tomo with keeping the events of the last 48 hours a secret.Bookmark here

“Hey Tomo, I need to tell you something just in case-“Bookmark here

“Hey hey, just in case nothing. We weren’t partaking in the protests, so there’s no reason to worry.”Bookmark here

“It’s not about that.”Bookmark here

“Then what is it about?”Bookmark here

“Well it’s kind of about that, but-“Bookmark here

I feel Tomo’s embrace weaken as he stands up beside me now towering over me as I sit with damp cheeks and a back on fire still on the dirt. I look up and see Tomo saluting the three Boars enclosing on us in a circle. There’s no escape; no way around the Boars or their long, menacing stunbolt guns.Bookmark here

They look us up and down and Tomo motions for me to stand up the same as him, so I do with my arms crossed. He whispers for me to salute the same as him, and a sense of shame fills up my heart. To salute would be a sign of respect, and the last thing I feel for these mammalians is respect. They killed the workers without even attempting to calm them down by offering a solution, or even just answers. The truth would be nice. Bookmark here

Begrudgingly, I bring my right hand up to my forehead in a salute and wipe the tears still clinging to my cheeks with my left. The Boars give us two threatening grunts and move onto the next group of humans running for their lives. Bookmark here

I exhale and sit back down on the ground. Tomo joins me.Bookmark here

“How are you so good at dealing with these situations? How come you don’t seem angry with them?”Bookmark here

“What’s there to be angry about? So angry to the point of destroying life-saving supplies? They’re not only going to allow for mammalians to die by the shortage, but they’re killing themselves in the process. It doesn’t make any sense.”Bookmark here

“When we get too emotional, we humans never seem to make any sense.”Bookmark here

“You’re never too emotional.”Bookmark here

“And I always make sense.”Bookmark here

“Maybe you should try not to sometimes.”Bookmark here

“What’s that supposed to mean? I mean, is that such a bad thing?”Bookmark here

“When you rarely express concern for anyone or anything, it’s hard for others around you to tell if you care about them or not. That’s if you care enough for them to even know.”Bookmark here

I realize I’m making this situation start to revolve around our relationship rather than his with the ranchers, so I try to retract back to my original point.Bookmark here

“Look, all I’m saying is, maybe if you told me or showed me the thing that makes you believe so strongly in Romano’s regime, I might not feel the way that I do. Out of all of us, you’re the one who’s worked the closest one on one with the General. What’s he like when no one else is around? How did he treat you when you helped him with his rehabilitation? Or when you’re struggling to rehabilitate a brownred or one of the ranchers? Wouldn’t he punish you?”Bookmark here

I know the fate that lies ahead of me. I want to know what I’m in for.Bookmark here

“You’re sure asking a lot more questions that usual today. Are you sure you’re okay?”Bookmark here

“Yeah, I’m just curious.”Bookmark here

“Well firstly, I’ve never struggled to rehabilitate any mammalian or human, mentally or physically. I’ve always succeeded without any error. I know it’s hard to believe, but that’s how it’s always been. Therefore, I’ve always been met with the utmost praise from the General. He’s even invited me to dinner this week. I will get to eat at his table; I will get to eat mammalian food.”Bookmark here

“You sure he’s not trying to poison you?”Bookmark here

“Oh please, enough of this nonsense Chinatsu! I’m disappointed to see you siding with those savages over there. If you keep up this mentality of yours, you might be the next one with a stun bolt in your head.”Bookmark here

I gasped, in shock that he would even think something like that.Bookmark here

“Wow.” Is the only word able to escape from my mouth.Bookmark here

He looks down on me with remorseful eyes and sits back down next to me. Bookmark here

“You know your safety is one of my greatest concerns Chi. I don’t want you to have to learn the hard way trying to change things that can never be changed. Haven’t you been through enough? Your main concern… should be yourself.”Bookmark here

He was right. I always thought of the greater good before I thought of making myself happy. Maybe if my mother had put herself first instead of the ‘greater good’ she would still be here. Maybe there is no ‘greater good’ that can be achieved in this system at all; at least not for us humans. Bookmark here

“Maybe… maybe you’re right,” I say between sniffles.Bookmark here

“As I said, I always make sense.” He says with an arrogant, self-satisfactory smile.Bookmark here

I quickly wrap my arms around his waist and bury my face into his chest once more. He embraces me and caresses the back of my head. I hold back the tears this time. Trying to hold onto him tighter, I accidentally raise his shirt and my hands fall upon his lower back. That’s when I feel it. The raised skin of a scar that surely isn’t new. I trace the shape with my finger and visualize the image of Romano’s insignia in my mind.Bookmark here

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It can’t be.Bookmark here

What was supposed to be my peace, my protection, my voice of reason, my stillness in the storm, became the storm in a matter of moments. My mind became far louder and chaotic than any of the med coop’s martyrs cries out on the field. If he is branded as the General’s, who else might be? For how long? Has he known what’s taken place the past two nights between me and Romano and his spawn without letting me know that he knows? What would be the purpose of that? Everything Tomo has ever done since we met when we were thirteen, has been with purpose.Bookmark here

I pull away from his embrace, and his face looks puzzled as I sit frozen staring at him.Bookmark here

“Chinatsu, what’s wrong?”Bookmark here

I can hear deception all over his voice. It all sounds rehearsed.Bookmark here

“Nothing, I just don’t think exposed in a med barn where all of our co-vets and friends are being shot down is the best place to be hugging.”Bookmark here

“Fair point, but I thought it was kind of poetic.”Bookmark here

And despite all the screams, stun bolt guns being discharged, and the squeals and grunts of pleasure as the Boars make examples out of more humans; he leans in to kiss me. He pushes a strand of hair out my face.Bookmark here

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This is something I had always longed for up to this point, but in a matter of seconds, I feel like I don’t even know Tomo anymore. A stranger’s lips are on mine and all I want was to run as far away as possible. But it isn't possible.Bookmark here

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