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Chapter 1

Written by Deft Beck
Illustration by Janiko

Prologue

If you’ve been around Imperial space, you might have heard the name Nicor.

Nicor was the name sewn onto the jacket of the planetary colonist. It was a name flown to a frontier planet on an Imperial colony ship that carried many names never heard before on its surface. It was a name shouted between laser blasts, between bouts of laughter during down-time, and in hoarse yells following victory. It was a name laid to rest, and almost lost, but a name that was carried onward, nonetheless.

Nicor was the name attached to a military dog tag, dangling from the neck of one who never cared for the gun he was given. It was the name carried without much passion, in a fight for everyone’s lives. Then, it was laid on a hospital bed by a nurse who cared more for the name than her job warranted. It was a name that she took, and which became the name of the couple who left that colony, leaving for the capital city of their local sector. It was the name that was planted into the sand of a desert where names went to die.

Nicor was the name on the restaurant sign, raised with the help of friends, glowing bright in a dust-whipped city district. It was the name carried by the hedonist, who both flaunted and resented the name. It was the name carried by a man who grew close to another, whose name sprouted anew and overfilled with love for the name he could always trust. It was a name carried over by proxy of one who wanted to stem the poison of her own name. And it was a name that almost saw complete ruin, under the force of the name that no one dared to speak.

Nicor was a name that rang of hope, of despair, of rebounding, of pride, of embarrassment, of earnestness, of everything that could have gone wrong, and everything that went right. Those with the name Nicor carry more than just the name.


Chapter 1

Tito Nicor carried groceries. His hands strained under the weight of the shopping bags as he approached his family’s city property. He would go to the back and drop the groceries off at his family’s apartment before going to the front to open the family restaurant for the day, like every day that Tito had known. He went into the alley and passed by his father’s aging scooter, parked on its kickstand. It was as thirsty for gas as his father was thirsty for most other things.

He reached the door that led to the apartment in the back and tested the doorknob, hoping it was unlocked. Nope. Seems like his father skipped his morning smoke. And if this door was locked, then there was a very good chance that a certain door further inside the apartment was locked, too. Tito sighed and put the groceries down, digging in his pocket for the apartment key. His hands jittered as they unlocked the door, craving a hit from the vaporizer charging on his bedroom bureau. Tito took the groceries again and nudged the door open with his foot.

He gasped in relief when he put the groceries on the kitchen island. His scaled arms ached with effort, but soon regained their strength as Tito stretched out his hands. After years of dashing around a large kitchen, lifting heavy boxes of every type of noodle, balancing bowls of cooked noodles and broth on his arms, and dragging his father home from a night of too many beers, Tito’s figure was as wiry as any city repton. He might not have been as muscular as those career military guys, but they had to be on some crazy government supplements to look that ripped. For a second, Tito felt a twinge of something between jealousy and arousal.

He stared at the rows of wrinkled reusable grocery bags. The content of the bags varied upon the generosity of the current rations and the luck of the local smugglers. His uncle Brudon, running the corner grocer, did his best to fulfill at least the basics for Tito’s family. Him and his big, furry figure, surrounded by all of those half-empty shelves, made Tito sigh. Tito remembered one of those posters he’d see on the city walls, with a beaming blassnaught family surrounded by a mountain of food. As for Tito’s food, some of it had to go in the restaurant cupboards, some of it had to go in the apartment, and all of it wasn’t something he felt like dealing with right now. But, maybe there was a certain younger brother that could help him.

Tito knocked on Rocky’s door.

“Rocky, you up?” Tito asked. He waited a few seconds. Unlike his adoptive father, Rocky liked to hibernate on the weekends. But, even by now, it was before Ray’s usual alarm. Tito knocked again. “C’mon, I need some help putting these groceries away.” Tito heard Rocky groan, but there were no sounds that indicated he’d left his bed. Tito leaned on the wall next to the door. The longer that Rocky stalled, the longer that Tito’s vaporizer would go neglected, and the further that Tito’s face would curl up with every resulting twitch. “I’m not leaving this hallway, ‘till I hear some sign of life.”

Rocky grunted and left his bed. He opened the door and Tito saw his teenage brother, his lidded eyes staring at him.

“Good to see you’re alive,” Tito said with a smile. Rocky rolled his eyes and left down the hallway with Tito.

The two began to sort the groceries and put them away. There were the staples, like instant oats and loapmilk, that went in the apartment, vegetable oil and grill starter, for the noodle bar, and plenty of alcohol, which would be emptied half-way and scattered throughout the apartment at random throughout the next few days. In theory, the alcohol was for the restaurant, but most of it would find just one customer. Tito glanced over at Rocky, who seemed to stumble about as he worked, almost tripping over his long, bushy tail and whatever bags he put down just a few seconds ago.

“You okay?” Tito asked. Rocky stood there and rubbed his eyes, not replying. He stood almost at Tito’s height, but the way that he was growing, that wouldn’t stay the case for much longer. “And here I thought your species was nocturnal.”

“I wish,” Rocky said, stifling a yawn. “I’m gonna go back to bed after we’re done.”

“You wish. Maybe you should make your bed for once, along with the other chores you tend to skip.”

“You sound like Dad.”

“Which one?”

Rocky narrowed his eyes at Tito. They finished putting away the groceries and Tito saw Rocky try to sneak back to the hallway leading to his room. His dark brown fur almost made him blend into the dark hallway, but even Tito’s weary eyes could see his escape attempt. But, in his state, the kid might not be very useful.

“If you sleep in, you’re doing trash duty later on,” Tito shouted. Rocky gave a thumbs-up before letting his arms fall slack to his side. He slipped inside his room and shut the door hard. Man, Tito thought, it seemed like that kid was always tired. Did he sleep this much a couple of years ago? It could have just been a teenager thing, but maybe it was just something about furneseans. His evidence for the latter theory was sleeping in the room just a few steps away.


It didn’t matter how often Tito knocked on his fathers’ bedroom door, because there was a very good chance that no one inside was awake to answer it. He turned the knob, and for once, it was unlocked. He opened the door and saw his father being spooned by his other father, both curled up in a layer of blankets as they slept facing the hallway door. Otto’s small, lean frame betrayed his deafening snore, which did not seem to bother Ray in the least. For once, he looked to be at peace. Tito stood there and tapped his foot, causing Ray to open his eyes and stare at Tito.

“Oh, Tito, good morning,” he said, holding back a yawn. “I guess I should’ve locked the door.” He untangled himself from Otto and got up, his tail swishing around as he pulled on some undershorts. Tito turned and leaned against the door frame, crossing his arms as his father got dressed.  “How’d you do at the store?”

“Alright,” Tito said, facing Ray again. “Got enough to get us through the week.”

“Thanks for doing the shopping,” Ray said, brushing Tito’s head. He stood tall and wide, unlike the compact and tight-packed figure of Tito and his father. “You really didn’t have to.”

“It’s fine,” Tito said. “I just felt like it. I was up, anyway.”

“Oh, alright, then,” Ray said, scratching his scalp. “How’s Brudon doing?”

“As well as he’d ever be,” Tito said. He made a blank face like his uncle Brudon, Ray’s middle brother, who seemed like he carried the whole world on his broad shoulders. Despite himself, Ray snorted.

“Quit it, Tito,” he said, trying to hide his amusement. Tito smiled before he stretched his eyes wide open, making Ray’s ears perk up.

“You been sleeping okay?”

Tito shrugged.

“Sure. I’ve been getting a couple more minutes of sleep each night. I figure I’ll be up to five hours soon.” Tito looked over at his father. “You up, Dad?”

“Does it look like I’m up?” Otto groaned.  He continued to lay there like a lump of concentrated sass. He wrapped himself in the blankets, missing the warmth of his partner.

“What about Rocky?” Ray asked.
“For ten minutes, he was up,” Tito replied. “But, he went right back to bed.”

“Reminds me of him,” Ray said, pointing back to the bed with a smile. “If he had his way, we’d be in bed all day.”

“Not too far from the truth, then,” Tito cracked. “Meet me out front,” he said to Otto. “I’m gonna wash up and get a smoke in first.” Ray shook his head as Tito left the bedroom. Tito’s hands trembled as he headed down the end of the hallway, to his bedroom.

Sure enough, the vaporizer was charged. He snatched it off of the table and unplugged the charger. He sat himself down on his lumpy bed and started to dig through his drawer. When he found the bag of fleeja leaves, he took a whiff, smelling their heady, spicy scent. He shook out a serving of the leaves into the cartridge, careful not to spill any of it onto the floor. This stuff took too long to get, so it had better be good.

Once the cartridge was loaded, Tito dug out his earbuds and got himself up onto the windowsill. The windowsill was much more comfortable than his old bed. Too many things happened on that bed. Too many guys, too many girls, and too many long, sleepless nights. The windowsill was just a flat, cold surface, with a solid wooden wall for Tito to rest his back on. He pressed play on his mobile, and steady, slow beats and warbling synthesized pianos danced their way into his ears.

Tito began to smoke, staring out of the large window that faced the street. Strings of silver vapor began to escape from the end of the vaporizer, making an exotic smell fill the bedroom. Tito’s eyes began to dilate and his pulse began to increase. The chill music continued to play, thrumming in Tito’s ear patches. After a few moments, he felt like he was going to float right out of the window.

People were beginning to filter out of their apartments and open their businesses. There were reptons of all shapes and sizes, furneseans of all colors and fur textures, and the occasional blassnaught, towering high and muscled above everyone else. Ground vehicles, from mopeds to motorcycles to full-on military transport vehicles, made their way down the street. Tito closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

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