Chapter 1:

Papers Please



Signed, state sealed papers. Without the long ordeal required to obtain them, a Neko couldn’t easily live in this country. Interviews, psychological tests, and physicals awaited anyone renewing them every ten years or when a Neko turned six. It all really depended on which offices you went through. Some were better than others. Some were purposely slow and monotonous. Worse, you almost always failed the first time.

Sal Regis sat back in an uncomfortable chair; the kind plucked from a shuttered doctor’s office. A fraying fabric covered its steel frame, which offered little support or flexibility. It had been two hours; Sal adjusted, having lost count of how many times, to keep his legs from falling asleep. The gray walls of the District 13’s Neko Resource Management office reminded him of the uninviting and sterile hospital he once worked as a porter in.

Before he went to prison for two years…

That was a different time.

Suffering through the same pains of waiting was some girl in her teens. She swiped along a brick of a tablet; eyes glued to it, unaware of her situation or surroundings. He too would have loved to curb his boredom, but who could afford such luxuries in this day and age? He guessed that she stole it. Sure, it was an older model from what he could see, but they still cost a pretty penny. That or she plucked it from a pawnshop. It was probably stolen and sold to them too, so what was the difference?

In this prison, there were only two doors: one that would free Sal from this boredom by dumping him into a stairwell that would lead to the uncaring Yorktown streets. The other led to the heart of this hellhole. Blinds covered the reception window, and when he had knocked on it two hours ago, they pulled back, and the receptionist slid him a clipboard without a word. She tapped on the first open line and said it would be no longer than thirty minutes. They missed his appointment by an hour and a half.

Finally, the door into the offices opened. Glimpsing inside, Sal could see a long hall that droned on endlessly. Cookie-cutter doors lined the walls, each containing a sterile office with a social worker prepared to conduct the screening. He almost felt bad for the soulless bastards that let this become their life. It was even worse when the social worker was some young kid, fresh out of school with the face of a high schooler and the posture of a broken manikin.

Wearing a suit far too large for him, this “baby” of a social worker stood in the doorway. With his pimple covered face, he glanced down at a chart. “Mr. Regis. Is there a Mr. Regis here?” Sal stood and followed him back.

His office was “government chic”: simple, cheap, and crafted to make things as uncaring as possible. This young man had a single desk, complete with a boxy computer - the kind that didn’t go bad during the war. The desktop was a mess with scattered documents littering every inch. White, fluorescent lights buzzed and flickered as stale air was pumped through the ventilation. His window did look out at the Yorktown skyline, but the city smog, thick and sickening, blocked most of the view.

The young office worker clicked on his keyboard. “Pardon the mess. It’s been a day. My name is Eric Callover. I’m the social worker assigned to your case.”

“A pleasure,” Sal responded with a smile and a dose of fake kindness. “I get having a ‘bad’ day.”

Eric laughed; the clickity clackity of his keyboard filled the gap between each drawn out chuckle. “The department’s got us understaffed recently. I got more cases than I know what to do with. So, I’ll try and make this quick.”

“There’s no such thing as ‘quick’ with a renewal,” Sal said, “This will be my… fourth time going through it all. Been a hassle every time.”

“It’s the process, you know.” Eric was quick to defend. “Lots of red tape. Then, they got to approve it, print it, ship it. Oh, would you like something to drink? A coffee?”

“Sounds great.”

Eric was already on his feet and pouring a sludgy looking liquid from a cracked coffee pot and into a stained mug. He reached for the powdered cream and sugar.

Sal stopped him. “Black is fine.”

Eric confirmed with a nod and handed him the mug. “One coffee for you, Mr. Regis. Faster than the government’ll get you back your papers.” There was little humor to be found in his joke.

Sal shifted his wrist, moving the coffee around in a circle motion. Viscus… Old… Made three or four days prior. Eric was not a coffee drinker, and judging from the amount in the pot, most of the Nekos coming through wasted no time with such pleasantries. He put the cup to his lips, “I thought Neko Resource Management was a subsidiary of the Coolage Group, not a government agency?”

Eric paused for a moment before returning to his keyboard. “I feel sorry for you Nekos having to go through all of this. Really, I do. But, you know how it is. I don’t make the rules. All the info still has to go through the government, you know. Faster we get this done, faster I can get you out.”

“Of course, Mr. Callover. Please. Ask what you need.”

More clacking from the keyboard. “Appreciate that! Now, I just need for you to confirm a few things for me. Your name: Sal Regis. Age 36.”

“All correct.”

“Excellent. Currently, you are residing in Undercity District 13?” He gave the address.

“I wouldn’t be at this office if I wasn’t.”

The rhythmic sounds of typing slowly droned on. “Now, Mr. Regis, I hate to bring this up, but I am seeing a criminal record on your file. You served two years in federal prison?”

“That is correct.”

Eric pulled away from his keyboard. “Can I ask why?”

“Is that required for the renewal?” Sal knew it wasn’t despite happening in the last ten years.

Eric nodded. “I know. I know. Remember, I’m your friend here, Mr. Regis. Help me help you. I am conducting a psych evaluation while we speak, so any piece of information you can give me will speed this process along. Make sense?”

Eric’s shit-eating grin was pathetic enough to make Sal return the same. This stupid kid… talking like Sal believed any of it. “It was for assault.”

“Well, that is serious. What caused the incident?”

“A human decided to get in my face,” Sal replied, never letting up on the gas that fueled his smile, “He didn’t like that I was flirting with his daughter. What dad does? But, I’m a Neko, you know. It was worse. He got up in my face, made a few threats, took a swing; I clocked him across the jaw. Pretty reasonable, wouldn’t you say? Someone attacks you, so you defend yourself. I’d call that self-defense.”

Sitting across from each other, if one were to look, very few could tell the difference between Sal and Eric. The only dead giveaway was the twitching ears upon Sal’s head. “Striking a human is serious.”

Sal took another drink of the stale coffee. A strong, white light from outside reflected through the window and off the surface of the drink. It rhythmically blinked over and over; Sal eyed it. “The judge reasoned the same. A bit of planted evidence made sure I did time.”

Eric ignored that last bit. “Would you say you have anger issues, Mr. Regis?”

“No more than any man.”

“Striking someone is serious.”

Another drink. “Would you not defend yourself if someone hit you?”

“Is violence really the answer? Now, I get it. Animalistic instincts and urges. That’s why we’re doing this. We’re making sure you’ll continue to be an upstanding member of society.” Eric’s eyes scanned over his screen, most likely a bright blue text plastered upon a black screen. “I see here that you were to serve five years.”

“I served two. Even Nekos can get off on good behavior.”

“I’m sure that’ll help in the process,” Eric assured, “It’ll still take longer. You know, all the extra processing and background checks, additional interviews. It can be a lot. I’m your friend, Mr. Regis. If I could make this all go away, I would.” Such a nice sentiment; it almost brought a tear to Sal’s eye.

The shining, white glimmer continued to radiate atop Sal’s coffee. The blinking slowed, now coming in about every three seconds. Sal turned his attention to the window behind Eric. The light reflected in, bouncing off the walls and into his cup. Sal flicked his wrists again, swirling his drink. Even Eric turned to see what his client was staring at. The lights were obvious, but traffic was heavy at this time.

Sal pulled him back in. “Can I ask you a question?”

That surprised Eric. “Uh… sure? Shoot.”

“What do you think of me?” Sal asked; his foot tapped against the tiled floor. “You wanted to know about my past. Does it change anything for you, friend?”

“People make mistakes and learn from them,” Eric replied, “Really, it applies to both humans and Nekos, don’t you think?”

Sal leaned back in his seat, setting the cup on the ground, folding his hands, and placing them on his lap. “Do you know the story of the first Neko?”

“Can’t say that I do? I’ve always heard you just sort of popped into existence.” Eric gave another laugh, but when Sal’s face turned cold and serious, he trailed off with it, refocusing on his computer.

“That’s what they say,” Sal replied, “Could have been after World War III. Could have been after the virus. Regardless, a Neko popped into existence. Some people claim that it was a side effect of the vaccine, a necessary evolution for humanity to survive. Others think it was from the radiated earth after the nuclear fallout. Just think, had things gone slightly different a hundred twenty years ago, we may not even be having this conversation. Obliteration through nuclear war sounds fitting almost. Oh well. Least we got Nekos.”

“Ok… so what is the story of the first Neko?”

“That’s just the thing, Mr. Callover. There isn’t one.” The light in the window danced wildly. It was nearly time. “Even if there was, would it matter? Look at our neighbors in Eden. They believe ‘god’ just dropped humans on this earth. Last month, they celebrated the twelfth anniversary of their ongoing civil war and the death of millions. All over exactly how that mystical sky man dropped you humans on this planet. I like not having an origin. It’s simpler. It's sexier.”

“I am grateful we live in the United Coalition,” Eric replied, straining for words. This… Neko was a strange one. Most would sit quietly and answer the questions, wanting out as soon as possible. “You should be too. They don’t treat Nekos well in Eden.”

“They don’t treat Nekos well here.”

“Well, I won’t argue with that.” With each clacking key from Eric’s typing, the light went wild off the walls; even Eric commented on it. “I would much rather go through all this than risk the constant threat of death though. Don’t you think? In Eden, they’ll string you up.”

“Mr. Callover, the threat of death is a constant,” Sal explained, “For a Neko, it’s a reality that you wake up to everyday. Doesn’t matter where you live, who you are, or what you do. You are a human, and I am a Neko.” Sal stood, taking Eric aback. He also jumped to his feet. “Mr. Callover, let me ask you one final thing before we finish here?”

“But we’re not even-”

“Do you think Nekos are superior to you humans?” The entire question threw Eric; Sal was not surprised. “We are more physically capable, the survivor species of a terrible war or deadly pandemic. Doesn’t all this feel strange that I’m the one that needs papers?” Sal headed for the door. “Our time here is done.”

“Sir, if you would wait for-” Eric couldn’t finish his sentence. With a blink, the white light flashed, and a single, silent shot pierced the window glass and found a home within the back of Mr. Callover’s skull. The young man fell forward, draped over his messy - and now blood covered - desk. It drained off onto the tile floor and dripped into the partially filled mug. A sludgy mixture of coffee and brain matter threatened to overtake the rim. Sal could only hear a slight gurgling from the young man before life finally left him.

Sal stepped over to the computer, listening as a range of gunshots filled the halls of District 13’s Neko Resource Management office. Screams were drowned out by rapid machine gunfire. Lights flickered, then burst, as bullets littered the hallway, leaving behind a sticky soup of blood and viscera.

It had been an easy incursion to set up. The offices of NRM were so poorly funded that they rarely had security beyond an old, retired officer, the kind who were long divorced and bitter. It started simple: gunmen on the skyscrapers overlooking the officers, a few well-placed shots, a ground force bursting in to “clean up” while the snipers fled into the night. Yes, a simple plan.

There was still so much to do however.

Sal glanced over his file on the computer screen. The vibrant blue text clashed terribly with the all black background; it was enough to give even the hardest of computer junkies a headache. Everything was in order in his file: name, age, address, last renewal, and a length notes section detailing Sal’s history.

“Huh, you little bastard,” he said, giving Eric’s carcass a solid slap on the back. At the end of the notes section, written out: Subject appears to be in fine order, remorseful, and incredibly kind. Request to strike criminal content from subject’s citizenship papers. “You weren’t lying about the whole friend’s thing. I’m sorry, buddy. This is the way it had to be. You’ll understand.” He offered one final pat with his left hand while his right cleared away the file. No birth… no death… no existence… Sal Regis was nothing more than a fragment of a memory to those that knew him.

The office door opened; the gunmen venturing in pointed their assault rifle to the floor. Dressed in all black, a mask covering their face, and a helmet unable to hide their ears, the shooter stepped inside and saluted: an open palm over his chest. “Sir, the operation is complete, and the office is secured.”

“Any survivors?”

“None as you commanded. Well, human anyways. There is a girl in the lobby. What would you-”

“No witnesses. Don’t want them to think this was caused by Nekos,” Sal said. The shooter began stuttering at the mere thought of it. “There will always be martyrs, Veet. Good, wholesome martyrs.”

Sal flipped the computer off the desk. It crashed against the tile, shattering the screen. “This is the message we send. This is just a precursor. A warning shot. Nekos will not rest and soon they will know our name. Now go, tell the men to set the fires.”

“Understood sir!” he saluted again and turned to give the orders to the others.

“Oh, and Veet!” Sal stopped him with a light tap on the shoulder. “Your papers, please.” Veet cocked his head slightly before reaching into his pockets and pulling out a small green booklet. Sal swiped it from him, flipped open to the page with Veet’s handsome picture and information: The Neko passport, some called them.

Sal ran his fingers along the glossy pages before pulling out a lighter from his back pocket. With three cracks at the igniter, a small flame flickered at the top. He hovered the booklet over it until the corner caught fire. Sal released it, and the small ball of fire drifted to the floor, mixing with splatters of blood that extinguished it to ash.