I step into my unit at the med barn like any other day and set down my toolkit. I wipe the sweat off my forehead and the hair sticking to my face to the side. Standing alone in the room, I look around and remember the events of the other night; the bones and intestines soaking the floor in blood and the unaffected piglet sitting in between two lifeless human bodies. It’s as if nothing ever happened.
I’m startled with I hear two voices, Panacea’s and one unfamiliar female’s enter the unit. They are both so enthralled in their conversation they don’t even acknowledge my presence upon entering. I see a girl shorter than me, with longer hair, bright red almost violet. She has big, brown eyes attentive and focused on every word coming out of Panacea’s mouth. She is holding a clipboard and writing down notes at lightning speed.
Finally, Panacea breaks her concentration and decides to address me.
“Oh, Chinatsu! I didn’t expect you to be here today. Did you forget to collect your things?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I was informed that you were longer going to be with us.”
“Was I assigned to a new unit?”
“No, you’re being assigned to a new station; Romano’s station.”
All these decisions are being made for me without my consent. In a matter of a few days my life has been turned upside down. This can’t be happening to me.
“Then who’s she? My – my replacement?!”
“This is Fujita. She isn’t replacing you, but she is my new apprentice and she will be taking on your duties from now on.”
“Sooo… my replacement.”
“Oh, Chinatsu you always did see the glass as half empty didn’t you?”
How could she be so cold? The woman who’s basically been my mother for the past five years suddenly acts as if I’m just another vet in the barn.
“Can you let us talk in private please, Fujiko?”
“Um, it’s Fujita.” She says in a mousey voice.
“Just get outta here before I take that little clipboard and hit you upside the back of your head! You’ll be leaving with a bump on your head and such a bad concussion you won’t remember who did it or why! Is that what you want?!”
She looks at me with her big, brown eyes welling up with tears. She drops her clipboard and runs out of the room crying.
Who does she think she is?
“Wow Chinatsu, when will you learn to stop being so selfish?! Unlike you, Chinatsu is eager to become an accomplished vet who helps the mammalians be in tip-top shape so they can continue to run this place and not let in fall into the wrong hands. If any of the other ranches sees the General’s family or the other mammalians ill, they will see it as a sign of weakness and-“
“This ranch is already in the wrong hands!”
Panacea gasps and hurries to shut the door.
“What are you talking about? I was told you requested an audience with the General yesterday evening.”
“I heard he granted your request to be his personal veterinarian after Ricci’s parents… disappeared. It’s a lot more responsibility than you’re used to here, I was surprised.”
“I – I didn’t request any of that! I demanded answers about his son’s monstrous behavior, Ricci’s parents, and all he granted me was this!”
I turn around, untying my uniform and pulling down the top half of my dress just enough for her to see his insignia burnt into my skin.
She gasps, then tries to compose herself once again.
“Have you seen this before?”
She shakes her head ‘no’.
“They say we are incapable of experiencing pain the way mammalians do. Even though we share the same nervous system, neurochemicals, and receptors, we’re somehow different than them? We’re less than them? If we don’t experience pain the same way as they do, what they did to me I – I’d never want to experience in a mammalian body.”
“Well, according to the grimace scale, if you didn’t narrow your eyes or strain your chewing muscles when they… did that to you, it could not have been that bad.”
“Me screaming and blacking out wasn’t enough of an indication? And they called it ‘branding me’ it was like solidifying his… ownership of me. He said I would be relocated to his manor, but I didn’t think it’d be so soon.”
“I think this’ll be good for you Chinatsu. They are a lot of perks to working on the manor like more protection and cleaner living spaces.”
“Don’t forget being dragged away from my coop mates and all our patients who are still in the triage and haven’t received any medical attention yet. And now when they finally can get help it’ll be from an apprentice on her first day? They deserve better than that! Besides, how would you know what’ll be good for me? It isn’t like you work on the manor. The humans that do are almost completely segregated from us.”
“Just trust that I do. You need to go along with this Chinatsu, no matter how hard it may be. And please, have faith in Fujita, I can’t properly train her with a clear mind if I’m still busy being worried about you.”
“Well, looks like you won’t have to be worried much longer.”
I grab my kit and head for the door without giving her a second glimpse.
“Chinatsu! It doesn’t have to be this way!” Those are the last words I hear as I exit the med barn for the very last time. That’s when the voice of that female from my memory fades into my mind.
This is just the way things are.
First Tomo, now Panacea. I have no one left except for… Rio. We haven’t spoken since that day in the cellar. We need to pick up where we left off if that is even possible at this point.
I look around to see if I’m being watched, then I make a break for the abandoned building. I walk swiftly constantly using my peripheral vision to see left, right, left, right, left-
And I’m there at the doors. I open them, leap into the darkness, then close them behind me as I did last time. This time, however, I am prepared and careful not to be knocked unconscious by a bunch of rebels.
I step forward slowly and shout, “Is anyone in here?!”
My voice echoes throughout the hollow basement walls, making the room feel emptier than it is.
“Hello?!” I shout again when finally, a shadow appears from around one of the separate rooms. It’s the brownred who defended Rio the last time. He should know where she is. They seem close.
“Hi, I’m sorry, I don’t remember your name.”
“Yes, that’s it! I need to talk to Rio, I might not get another chance after this. Is she here?”
“Well do you know where she is?”
“No, and why would I tell you even if I did?”
“Because she’s my best friend, or, was at least.”
“She’s never mentioned you.”
She hasn’t?! After all we’ve been through together?!
“Rio’s never been one to open up.”
“Well, she has opened up to me… many times.”
He steps into the light, closer where I can see his full face. I notice for the first time his ears are cropped. Ear cropping is a common practice for brownreds to prevent injury when they are sent to fight. Sometimes they die not too long after due to post-surgical infections. If they survive, they are left with permanent scarring and pain that never truly goes away.
I’m starting to feel uncomfortable.
“If you aren’t willing to help me, then I better-“
“What did you mean you might not get another chance to tell her after this? Planning your escape?”
“Escape? Where is there to escape to? Another mammalian’s ranch?”
“You say it as if it were the most insane idea you’ve ever heard. Plenty of humans have tried, and succeeded.”
“Is that what you and Rio’s little group of thugs are planning?”
“If Rio was truly your best friend like you say she is, wouldn’t she have told you what we were planning?”
It’s true. Who does he think he is?!
“I got you there, didn’t I?”
“You didn’t get me, and don’t think you ever will.”
“You and Rio couldn’t be more different.”
“How long have you two known each other?”
“And yet you feel as if you know her so well.”
“It isn’t about the amount of time you spend with someone, but what you go through together during that time.”
“What have you two been through?”
Suddenly, he winces. His hand instinctively reaches to rub his right ear in an attempt to soothe it. I’ve seen this often in the med barn. Although, it’s hard to believe a man of his height, stature, and built, so strong, can still experience the same pain as the rest of them.
Fully developed brownreds with come in complaining of aches and ringing in their ears, even if they had their ears cropped as a humanlet.
Even if they didn’t suffer from a fatal infection shortly after the procedure, they will still suffer constant ear infections as adults being that the outer covering of the ear that is clipped is what humans need to protect debris from entering their canal.
Finally, he removes his hand and opens his eyes once more.
“Are you okay?” I ask
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
We stand in silence for a couple of moments before the cellar doors creak open allowing a ray of light inside the basement.
I squint my eyes and Koshi grabs a nearby blade in case it isn’t who he was expecting.
“I told you not to come back here Chinatsu.”
“I know, but I might not get another chance to speak with you after today.”
“Koshi, here, more provisions for the scouts.”
She tosses him a duffel bag that looks extremely heavy, yet he catches it with ease; ignoring me in the process.
“I need to tell you what I witnessed the other night. If you would just listen for two seconds-“
“One, two. There, I listened.”
“Please I’m begging you to just hear me out!”
She sighs, but she gives in.
“This better not be a waste of the time I don’t have.”
“The General’s son, Aiguo, is ill. He’s… monstrously ill.”
Rio’s eyes widen with interest as she and Koshi look at each other with the same facial expression.
“Okay, you have my attention,” she says, “go on.”
“The reason Koshi wasn’t able to receive treatment the other day was because he shut down the entire vicinity so every vet on duty was dedicated to treating his son.”
“That selfish bastard exaggerates every situation.” Koshi mutters.
“That’s the thing, he wasn’t exaggerating. I saw the piglet do horrific things, well I didn’t actually see him, but I know what he did. When no one was watching him, he completely consumed two breeding technicians.”
“What do you mean ‘consumed’?” Rio asks.
“I mean, he – he tore them apart and ate everything that was leftover. I have no idea as to how or why, but I know it was a bloodbath. It was as if he was taken over… by a demon.”
“The demonic male complex.”
“What the hell is that?”
“Some say the mammalians learned it from our ancestors, some say it was the other way around. Either way, it’s… it’s horrific, unimaginable violence.”
“The way those Boards executed all those vets using bolt stun guns isn’t horrific enough?”
“Genocide? That was only part of it. It was way worse. It was against other mammalians, even their own kind.”
“How is an act against your own species worse than that same act against another?”
“There was also infanticide, males forcing themselves upon intragroup and extragroup females, many believed these people were possessed by demons. Some females believed it was just an excuse males would use because they struggled with rehabilitation and behavioral change.”
“Maybe it was.”
“But both male and female mammalians share a prefrontal cortex. Many ancient scientists believed this was the link between these… coalitional killings, perverse behaviors, and the mammalian brain.”
“But don’t we humans have a prefrontal cortex also? We don’t act this way.”
“I’m sure if the scientists back then figured it out, we wouldn’t be slaves to these swine right now.”
“Or maybe they did figure it out,” Koshi starts, “but it was too late.”
Silence fills the room.
Voices near the cellar door, I see Koshi ready his blade once more. I see Rio grabs a long, rusty pitchfork hanging from the wall. The conversation persists muffled on the higher ground. We wait, motionless in anticipation; until after a few minutes, they continue to become distant in the opposite direction.
I remember to take a breath.
“So you’re telling me General Romano’s son is quite possibly possessed by a demon?”
“You have any better explanations?”
“How would a veterinarian, someone immersed in science and facts prove to a tyrannical baconer, that his son is possessed?”
“Maybe you don’t tell him.”
“You wanted me to explain what was going on here, right? You wanted to be a part of this and now I think you could be of use to this operation.”
I’m finally getting the answers I wanted.
“You have some extremely sensitive intel that would disrupt the order of every ranch in existence. If word gets out about this, Romano becomes an easy target.” Rio explains further.
“All these people here, Chinatsu, are a part of Koshi and I’s mission to dismantle this dictatorship and every other ranch abusing humans for their own selfish needs.”
“Maybe telling her so soon isn’t a good idea Ri.” Koshi interrupts.
She contemplates this for a second.
Then, she walks over to me.
“We could trust her Koshi. I promise. Don’t make me have to break my promise to him, okay Chinatsu?”
Her voice is a mixture of threateningly and pleading.
“I won’t.” I assure her.
“Good, now tell me everything that happened and don’t leave out a single detail, you got me?”
I go on in graphic descriptions of the sights I saw, how Panacea witnessed it too, and how I had confirmation from the General himself that his son was responsible for the deaths of Ricci’s parents.
“Poor Ricci.” Rio says.
“I know,” I reply, “Tomo and I haven’t seen him the past two days, so we aren’t sure if he even knows or not yet. And Romano spoke about them as if they were just specks of dust.”
“Well, he won’t for much longer.”
“How exactly do you plan on releasing this information in order to manufacture this feud between the enemy ranches and Romano?”
“Don’t worry about that, we have contacts in every other surround ranch, and they have their own as well.”
“How long have you been planning this elaborate scheme?”
“Honestly… ever since my mother was put down.”
I begin to feel guilty all over again. Rio loses her mother and has to sear in the fields double the amount of time until she is out of debt, which’ll be never. I lose my mother, and I’m offered an opportunity to become an apprentice. Now I’m being offered, no, forced into becoming a right-hand to a fascist swine. Would I be better off in the luxurious, air-conditioned manor with a demonic piglet than down here; delusional, thinking I can bring down centuries of a solid, mammalian hierarchy with an injured brownred and a few extra bandits?
I need to find out for myself.
“I need to go.”
“There’s nothing else you can recall that may be important to our cause? Anything detail, no matter how minor.”
“Nope, that’s about all I know so far. If I see or hear anything else through the med barn vineyard, I’ll advise you.”
I start towards the cellar doors, anxiously hoping to get caught.
Rio says right as I press my hands against the doors to push.
“You understand, you’re one of us now. You’re one of us again.”
How I wish I wished to be one of them when in reality, I didn’t. But there was no going back now. Helping Rio with this ill-fated crusade was the only way back to her friendship and her trust again.
Although, me omitting the part about being branded by the General and replaced as Panacea’s apprentice isn’t a good place to be in when it comes to trust.
“But also understand this; Tomo isn’t. You can’t reveal any of this to him, especially about us.
I pause for a moment before responding, not knowing what to make of her final statements.
“Understood.” I reply as I open the doors and pull myself up outside.
I hop onto the surface of the Earth’s crust and mud splats up all over my uniform.
“Ugh!” I shout.
I stomp through the dead grass and mud, frustrated and lost in my thoughts. I continue staring down at my ruined outfit as I walk in the direction of the coop where I can change into a new one when-
I bump into a familiar body and nearly trip. I gain my composure and look up to see the crystal blue eyes I know all too well, but can’t ever look into the way I did before; Tomo…
“Where are you going in such a rush Chi?”
“Nowhere, I mean-“
“Perfect, so you’re not busy. I have something I would like to show you.”
I’ve already seen enough, I think to myself.
He takes my hand and pulls me in the direction of the hill leading up to the manor. We stroll and he doesn’t let my hand go once during the stroll. Before, I would have thought of this as romantic, but now, I feel as if he is only trying to control me.
Time passes like watching sand in an hourglass without either of us speaking, until she stops in his tracks, his shoes making a mark in the dirt and as halts.
“This isn’t like you Chinatsu. You’ve been quiet for the entire walk. What’s the matter?”
“Nothing.” I say with a fake, over-exaggerated smile.
“I thought you would have learned by now that I can see through you better than anyone else, haha.” He squints his eyes as he smiles, but it’s a genuine smile. “If you don’t feel to talk, that’s okay though. With everything you’ve been through, I can’t expect you to be strong all the time. That’s why you have to let other people do the heavy lifting and make the decisions for you sometimes. You know what I mean?”
I don’t know what he means by that, and I’m scared to find out.
Finally, we arrive at the manor and he lets go of my hand.
I stare at all the prim and proper, well-dressed mammalians socializing and ‘working’ in different windows of the manor.
“I can’t go into the General’s manor a mess like this. Let me go back to the coop so I could-“ I tell Tomo in a distressed manner.
“No worries, you won’t be needing that dingy uniform for much longer.”
I never noticed how dull and dirty my uniform was until now; even without the mud splatters. What does he mean I won’t need it anymore? This has been my same uniform for five years and I cannot just give it up like that.
We approach the frosted glass window double doors guarded by two Tamsworth. I’m ready to be met with the same hostility as my last encounter was with this particular swine, until-
“Mr. Kobayashi, the General’s been expecting you.” One says as he opens the doors for our entry.
“YOU GUYS COULD SPEAK THIS WHOLE TIME?!” I scream.
They pay me no mind as Tomo escorts me inside.
“Calm down Chinatsu, the more they see you the more they’ll warm up to you.”
“Why did they refer to you by last name? Humans aren’t assigned surnames! And how do you know they’ll be seeing more of me?”
“Because Mr. Kobayashi is the one who referred you to me to be the Romano family veterinarian of course.”
I hesitate to turn my head away from Tomo to see who the voice belongs to, but I don’t need to. It’s the General, and he’s been expecting us.