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Faith isn't easy

On the other side of the gate, Larisa was helplessly pulled about by the constant current of a city several sizes too big for her comfort zone. Odell's brochure, while admittedly informative on the workings of the culture, failed to provide the directions she needed. The citizens, in the same manner, were equally as feckless. Tripping as someone stepped on her heel, Larisa grasped at the nearest solid object - a fence for a park she hadn't even realised she was passing. The pedestrian rapids surged on, carrying her with them. Larisa kept a close eye on That fence, waiting for an opening she could slip through - both figuratively and literally.

The gate to the park was minimalistic and modern, guarding a stretch of almost artificial green peppered with flower beds and well-pruned trees. It was an idealistic perfection with a rather strangely small population of civilians, but even here the white masked soldiers stood at every corner. One slow step after another Larisa slunk into the park feeling like some sort of criminal. She mentally chided herself for being ridiculous, but under such constant surveillance when she'd spent years in isolation was beyond unnerving. It was terrifying.

The fox-woman tucked herself in as small as possible at the roots of what appeared to be the oldest and tallest tree in the park. Not that any of the trees were particularly old or tall. With her forehead resting gently on her knees, Larisa gave in to the stress and anxiety of having been so suddenly relocated, and then abandoned by the one person offering help. Tears slid down her pale nose, unnaturally cold and lifeless. A side effect, she supposed. After all, how was she to know the jump hadn't rearranged her anatomy. A quick hand to her chest reassured her that at the very least, she did still have a heartbeat.

Larisa's internal clock failed to count the time she passed beneath that tree. Slow tears continued to fall from the bridge of her nose, dislodged as she sniffled. A gentle hand on her shoulder gave her a start, freezing solid in terror.

"Hey there. You must be new."

She glanced up to see a woman in another of those white soldier uniforms, but this one had a different badge on it. Staring intently, Larisa struggled to find her voice, although when she did it sounded much more confrontational than she had intended. "Who are you?"

The officer laughed, as though the answer should have been obvious. "I think the real question is 'who are you'. You look lost. In a lot of ways, Sugar. Maybe I can help?"

Something about the stranger gave Larisa a deep seated feeling that she was missing something, something that Odell still had, but others didn't. Whatever the cause, she was hesitant to accept aid agian. Not after the first abandoned her to the dizzying wrath of a busy city.
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"Master Sergeant Petra North."

Larisa's ears twitched, the sudden confession catching her off guard.

"My name, Sugar. Master Sergeant North. Or Madame North, if the former is too much of a mouthful. Come, I'll show you to the administrative offices."

Stunned, Larisa stood on shaky legs. North walked off at a quick, disciplined pace without making sure that she was being followed. With a subtle noise of distress, the fox scampered after her before she became even further lost in her own mind. The Master Sergeant never once looked over her shoulder, as if she knew all of Larisa's moves as they were made. The path lead them back the way Larisa had come, across the front square where the Gate stood. More soldiers held open the door to a grand building, saluting North without any recognition in return.

Larisa's ears perked up at the sound of a familiar voice, immediately lunging to his side. Odell's startled shout calmed to a relieved sigh, his hand gently falling to the top of her head. "You had me a little worried, Kid." Odell eyed North, his free arm pulling Larisa to his other side, placing himself between them. "Sergeant North."

"Odell~" North trilled, laying on a thick shimmer to her voice. "I see you found yourself a new pet. She'll be joining our forces soon, won't she? A little on the weak and pathetic side I suppose but we can have R&D fix that."

Larisa glanced up at Odell when his grip tightened, leaning into his strength. Odell felt like safety. North felt more like espionage and burning buildings. Without any hesitation she declared her allegiance by wrapping her arms around her protector. As if only now noticing her, Odell gave one last parting glare to the woman before pulling Larisa to a large and cluttered desk.

"This building is holds the offices of every important city employee, and a few military personnel. Before you run off agian, Leanna will sort out an ID card and living arrangements for you. People like Master Sergeant North like to push new primes to join the military, or the affiliated research labs, but." Odell eyed her fluffy ears. "Something tells me you aren't cut out to be a soldier. You'll be safer if you stay low, keep your head down. No offense, but fragile hearts like yours shouldn't be here. It's dangerous."

Larisa nodded, holding tighter while she settled her nerves. Odell's hand, resting atop her head, brushed against one of the twitching fox ears. Then with more confidence, gave it a light stroke. He almost laughed when she melted in her arms, hiding the grin as she pushed away full of embarrassment.

"I'll, I'll get this done. I'm going to see you agian, right?"

Odell ruffled the hair between her ears, grinning at the reaction. "Yeah, kid. I'll keep an eye on you. Go settle in."
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As Odell stormed out after Master sargeant North, Larisa slunk over to Leanna's desk.

It was clearly well loved, and so was its owner, with all manner of baubles carefully arranged on the shelving behind her. Leanna, a matronly woman in yet another kind of uniform signifying a status Larisa was unfamiliar with, smiled brightly and patted the desk in front of her. "Sit, dear, I almost have everything sorted out. As a Prime, you won't need to worry so much about consistent employment but the Empire is always hiring if you find yourself in need of company."

"Hold on." Larisa interjected, leaning forward with a nervous tail twitch. "I saw that word a lot in the advertisement thing Odell gave me. What is it?"

"Which word, dear? The Empire?"

Larisa's ear twitched to the side, both of them nearly flattened while she adjusted to the presence of yet another new stranger. "I think I know what The Empire is fairly well, but.." She cleared her throat, not entirely sure if this was something she ought to have already known. "Prime. I don't know what a Prime is."

Leanna laughed. It wasn't intended to be malicious, likely just surprise, but Larisa still shrunk backwards.

"Oh forgive me, we don't get very many primes so fresh off the fountain here. Primes are summoned by Omni himself, the great god and mastermind of this world. We are all subject to his whim, but as a Prime you have a few perks to help along the way that people like me and Sargeant Odell don't. We were summoned by the Emporer Palpatine, though partially by accident."

Leanne took Larisa's hand, holding it palm up. She placed a pen in her hand and closed her fingers around it. "You have the ability to absorb Omnillium from the world around you, and if you focus hard enough, you can absorb the omnillium from objects nearby, too."

The pen in Larisa's hand seemed ordinary. It felt like all the other pens she had ever held, yet Leanna's words were true. When the fox focused on making the pen dissolve it melted like spun sugar in her hand. Larisa gasped as Leanna clapped, opening her palm to look at the small bead of omnillium in the center.

"This dear, is Omnillium. It makes up our whole world, and even our bodies. It can be used to create anything you wish for, if you have enough of it. Try, dear. Create the first thing that comes to mind."

Leanna radiated faith, causing Larisa's ears to twitch. She was not used to being the center of such exaggerated focus. It took her a moment too long to realize she wasn't breathing anymore - and even longer to realize it didn't affect anything. Taking in a deep, shaky breath, Larisa gripped tight to that little bead, searching her mind for any reasonable replacement for a pen. The second her mind settled, she felt the omillium in her hand shifting. It was Leanna's turn to gasp now, as a stunning and rather inconveniently large feather quill lay across Larisa's palm. Delicately, the secretary picked it up and placed it on a stack of files in the shelves.

"Exactly like that, dear. It seems you have a decent grasp of what to do, now, so let's get this paperwork finished so we can find you a house, okay?"
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The city streets were no less intimidating 7 hours after she'd entered the city than they had been when she arrived. The bustle of civilians and guard troops never slowed, not even as the sun began to vanish.

Larisa struggled to navigate the throngs of people, keeping a death-grip on Odell's hand just to avoid falling behind. He'd come to pick her up after Leanna had finished with the paperwork, after a trip home to change out of his official uniform. He still looked like a guard, with The Empire's insignia over his heart and his rank embroidered into the colour of a crisp clean shirt. It made Larisa wonder if maybe he had a wife at home, or if he did it himself per regulations.

Odell stopped, with Larisa in close step, yet he threw out his arm as if to stop her from going further. Shaken from her inside thoughts the noises of the city were overwhelmingly clarifying, especially down on the third tier. One of those sounds matched with the flashing red leds across the intersection; it was unsurprising that Odell thought even that was too much for her.

"Odell. All due respect, but I'm unsettled, not dumb."

She could practically feel Odell's grin, she could definitely see his shoulders shaking in an attempt to control laughter.

"Seminov. All due respect, but I'm doing my job, not parenting."

Larisa couldn't help but laugh, leaning on Odell's still raised arm. The tension in her shoulders never slipped, a fact that Odell could see in her eyes. Why it disappointed him, she couldn't seem to rationalize.

"I wouldn't be able to tell if you were, Sargeant. I've never had particularly good parents. Well," Larisa paused, ears slightly drooping as she considered the thought. "I'm not entirely sure I've ever actually had a real family. It's hard to say."

Odell shrugged her off his shoulder, pulling her across the street in the brief window of opportunity marked by a little green stick figure in the lights. She glanced around, referencing back to the map in her friend's hands. The place Leanna had marked for her residence was nearby, if Larisa had read the map right. Just around the next corner.

It was her turn to pull Odell along now, eager to get out of the massive crowd. She paused beneath a metal awning, stately double doors showing the lobby inside. From the outside, it looked like any other towering building in uniform steel grey and polished glass. The inside however, was decorated with exposed brick and shimmering 'retro' furniture.

"This place has been empty how long?" Larisa turned to Odell, eyeing the rest of the folder for any sign this might be the wrong address.

"I think the last apartment was vacated eight months ago. The owner still lives in the penthouse, supposedly, but no one actually knows him. Not on the top three tiers anyways." Odell propped open the door for her to follow him in, one brow cocked at her wrinkled nose.

"I don't understand why people like such old things. They weren't pretty back then, they certainly aren't pretty now."

Odell grinned, crossing the lobby to the elevator with gilded, gold painted folding doors instead of proper modern reinforced box she'd grown used to. Larisa groaned, loathing the idea of using antiquated machinery even though she knew the architecture could hold it steady. She shuffled in beside Odell, gripping his arm tight once again as it began to rise.
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Larisa stepped into the apartment behind Odell, allowing the door to swing shut behind her. Despite the noise outside, inside the apartment was silent with only a gentle hum of electricity at work. Curiosity got the better of her, and she crossed to the closest window. It was thick, double pane glass. It didn't seem any different than a typical window, yet no sound seeped in from the outside street. Surrounding it was what looked like sturdy brick, but a quick graze of her fingers above the window proved that to be false.

"Did they soundproof the whole building or just around the windows?"

Odell shrugged, setting the file of paperwork down on a coffee table, plunking down into an excessively large couch. Compared to the room, though, that couch was rather small.

"I don't recall if the building was built with hammer and nails or put up over night. I don't usually come to this side of Tier 3."

Odell leaned back, relaxing while his high strung ward took in every detail of the two story apartment, from the tile backsplash in the kitchen and the false brick in the living and dining rooms, to the iron staircase connecting the two floors, stopping to settle in on the hearth of a fireplace she could easily climb into. Larisa could feel Odell's eyes on her, clearly waiting for her to relax before leaving her on her own agian.

"You don't have to wait for me. I'm sure I'll be safe here."

Odell grinned, but didn't move. "Primes have a habit of getting dragged into trouble whether they like it or not. I'll stick around some more."

Larisa leaned against the cold stone of the hearth, staring out at the large open space designed by whoever owned the building.


The older man gave a tired humm in response, remaining sprawled out on the couch. It was a drastic contrast to the tiny girl curled up beneath the mantel.

"Why is the empire doing this for me? Finding the apartment and all."

Odell was silent for a long moment, choosing his words. When he sat up, there was a look in his face he hadn't seen before.

"The short answer is… they don't. They barely know you exist and frankly, I'd like to keep it that way. Lieutenant Carson saw you under the fountain and we all assumed you were a child."

Larisa tilted her head, giving him a confused look at the name.

"Carson was the officer on my left, kid. I think you'd like him, he's a sweet kid.. I know the Empire can be a little harsh, and a few of those soldiers would have shot had you been less… civilised. But there are a lot of good people here who make up for all the trigger happy sociopaths in the ranks. Master Sergeant North is one of them, Larisa, I want you to stay away from her."

She nodded, thinking back to the last time she saw the woman. It seemed like North viewed her only valuable as a disposable soldier or a lab rat. As much as she treated herself like one, allowing others to do the same was not in her agenda.

"That's kind of how the world works, though. Especially amongst humans."

The soldier nodded absently, considering her phrasing. He eyed her fluffy ears as he spoke.

"Are you trying to say that you aren't human?"

"Not really." The fox shook her head, chewing on her bottom lip as she was faced with the same dilemma of words she had put Odell in earlier. "I have a human body, sure, but it's much more complex than that." She paused, but the silence from her companion urged her on.

"I made a deal with a demon, and there's no turning back now."

Larisa waited for Odell to calm down again before trying to validate the decision. As it was, the soldier was giving her a long and exhaustive list of all the reasons why that had been a horrible idea. When he ran out of things to give her trouble about and realized he was starting to repeat himself, Odell put an abrupt stop to his pacing by dropping down into one of four pot chairs next to the couch.

"Are you done."

Odell glared down at her, mildly winded from his tirade. "Absolutely not." He paused. "But it's your turn now."

She sighed, pulling herself off the floor to perch on the coffee table in front of him.

"I wanted a way to fix my mistakes, but it didn't work the way I wanted to." She held up a hand to quiet Odell. "He wasn't a demon in the sense you know. We call him the man with no name, because his power was unbound to any title. He was… probably still is the most powerful and most dangerous creature in history. But, that deal was years ago. I've made my peace with it, just, " Larisa swallowed the lump in her throat, avoiding eye contact with Odell. "never made peace with the actions before then, or the mistakes I repeated afterwards."

The soldier sat forwards, gently pulling the smaller girl in towards him. When she refused his comforts, he stood instead.

"Will you be okay on your own?"

Larisa nodded, still avoiding his face.

"Right. I suppose you don't need me here anymore, dredging up the past. Get settled in, Kid. My number's in the file if you need me."

Odell paused in the door, watching her slowly sink from the table to the floor. She knew it hurt him to leave, but it would hurt him more to stay. He had a life to get back to and a job to attend to in the morning. She just had to avoid dying or getting arrested. An easy task when she didn't plan on leaving the apartment.

"I'll be okay, Odell. I promise."

The thud of the door resounded through the apartment and the aching pain of resurfacing memories.

"By ward of Asyani, god help me."
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Weeks passed before she heard from Odell agian. Her phone rang twice a day, precisely five minutes before Odell's shift and agian precisely five minutes after. She never picked up, choosing instead to sit next to the apparatus to hear it ring. She told herself it was easier this way, to simply stay out of trouble. Odell had no reason to be worried if he knew she was safe, right?

Larisa hadn't been idle, either. The once clean kitchen area had been stocked overflowing with equipment. Everything from a microscope to a large centrifuge. The fridge, instead of being stocked with food or drinks, held nothing but a few racks of blood vials, each with different labels. The way omnilium fused not only with reality but with her own genetics was confounding, she failed to wrap her mind around the process no matter how many experiments she conducted.

An insistent knocking on her door pulled her away from filling yet another notebook with theories and mathematics, diagrams sprawled across several loose pages. She leaned against the door jam, blinking at the tall brunet at her door.

"Good afternoon ma'am. I am Lieutenant Carson Graham, in Sergeant Odell's patrol?"

Larisa nodded, recalling the name from Odell's last - and first - visit. The young soldier continued on.

"Look, I'll be frank with you. The Sergeant is worrying himself sick because you can't pick up the phone." He peered through to the kitchen behind her, and the papers sprawled across every table. "Or because you can't find it."

Larisa's gaze dropped to her bare toes, a contrast to the polished boots across the threshold.

"I've been keeping myself… preoccupied."

Carson raised an eyebrow at her. "It seems like you could use a distraction from your distractions." He reached out, trying to wipe a smudge of ink from her temple. "You could definitely use some good soap, and a comb. What have you been doing?"

The fox held the door open so that he could really get a look at the equipment she had, dodging his fingers in the process. "Trying to figure out if my blood is made of omnillium, or if the omnillium is bonded to the cells."

"Any luck?"

"Inconclusive." Larisa swung the door shut with an emphatic thud, drawing another cocked eyebrow from the lieutenant. "The tests are giving contradictory results. If I try to prove one, it succeeds, but I don't have any tests to prove one way or the other so I have a lot of definite results and nothing conclusive."

"So you have nothing to do with your time but redo those experiments right?"

When she turned around to give Carson a confused look, she found him grinning at her from the kitchen.

"You look like Odell, doing that. I'm not sure I like that."

He gave her a deep, rich laugh, one that she definitely wouldn't associate with the Sergeant.

"The whole crew is having drinks tonight. Go shower and change."

"I'm not.."

Carson cut her off, pushing her towards the stairs. "I wasn't asking. You need this and so does the captain." One last shove placed her on the first step, with the lieutenant shooing her up.

With an exaggerated sigh Larisa climbed to the top, pausing on the landing to turn back. "Casual or Formal?"

Carson shrugged, motioning to his uniform-like outfit with the rank on the collar and insignia above his heart, just like Odell's civilian clothes. Taking the moment to process it, Larisa tapped her fingers on the railing before whirling out of sight.
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Carson led her further beneath the city, to what seemed more like an entertainment district. Flashing lights and loud noises called out from every available surface. It was obnoxious and overwhelming in a completely different manner than the first three tiers, leading her to cling to Carson's arm like she had clung to Odell. He frowned down at her, noticing the distress so clearly displayed by her flattened out ears. Carson's arm slipped from her grip to wrap around her shoulders instead, pulling her tight to his side.

"The bar isn't far, and it's usually a whole lot quieter in there."

Larisa nodded and fell in step with her escort, trying to ignore the occasional whistle at the two of them, or more frequently, a drunk attempt to touch her ears or tail. Carter pulled her in closer, as they continued, but after the first corner opted to carry her, with the bushy tail curled up in her lap and ears daintily tucked underneath his chin. It was awkward and uncomfortable, yet she was grateful for the effort put in to keep her safe.

Even if the constant movement rubbed the soft fur of her ears against his jawline.

She burrowed into a more comfortable position, one arm reaching across his chest to grip his shoulder while her head dipped low enough that only the tips of her ears would graze against his skin; bringing a small chuckle out of him every time they twitched. Only a few minutes later, she was rather unceremoniously dropped on her feet beneath the awning of a pub with a squeak, the surprise jolting her fully awake and fluffing out her tail as all the fur stood on end.

Carter grinned and held the door open with an 'after you', not so subtly laughing at her attempt to smooth out her tail. Larisa stepped inside the door to a rowdy drinking party consisting mostly of men, though she couldn't pin down any particular clique that seemed like a troop of soldiers. She could, despite the mess of people, pin down what looked like Odell drinking alone at the bar. Larisa looked up to her soldier for confirmation before bolting to Odell's side in a flighty sprint. She wrapped her arms around him in a hug as she collided with the man, startling him and causing his beer mug to slosh dangerously close to the rim.

"By the force, Larisa, what is this about?" Odell frowned down at his tankard, then up to her still slightly damp hair. "You almost made me spill my beer."

Larisa gave him a breathless laugh as she lid into the bar stool beside him, leaning against the countertop to properly see his face.

"Carson brought me."

Odell shook his head and pointed behind her. "Carson is the one wearing the bright red stetson." He glanced around the room, likely trying to find the man who'd brought her. He nodded and waved to the lieutenant settling down at a table with other men she didn't recognize. "That's Graham. It's confusing, yes, but less confusing than private Trevor and Lieutenant Trevor." He pointed to a pair of identical boys clapping Graham on the back. "I swear, some days they swap uniforms to confuse me."

"I like this place. It has warm and fuzzy feelings to it." Larisa still had her head on the counter, the warm and only slightly-sticky wood beneath her palms comforting in the steel and glass megacity. In truth, she couldn't tell if she liked the bar itself or the rowdy cacophony of cheers that reminded her of a cousin she hadn't seen in far too long. "I think Hercules would have liked it here."

Odell coughed, nearly choking on a swig of beer. "Hercules? As in, legendary greek hero, Hercules?"

The fox gave Odell a confused look before putting the pieces together. "No, he's neither greek nor legendary. James Alcides. My only living relative before moving… here. I think I miss him."

Her companion stretched out a hand, thinking twice when her ears twitched, but continuing on his chosen target. Odell's fingers gently brushed through her hair and against her ears. The reaction was nearly instantaneous; Larisa melted against the counter with a contented sigh.

She whined when he stopped like a begging puppy, not even paying attention to who he was beckoning over. Larisa yelped when she felt herself lifted up from her seat and plopped down into a lap she promptly attempted to wriggle away from. A strong forearm around her midriff kept her from sliding to the floor, but it gave her enough distance to pout at the familiar face grinning down at her.

"Don't be like that, kitten, I've been wanting to officially meet you since that day at the fountain." His breath reeked of booze, enough so to make her gag. With the failed escape attempt, her option now was to seek rescue. The red stetson was in easy reach so Larisa snagged it and tossed it at Graham for his attention.

"I don't know about your wild west, but my world has a thing called consent." She writhed and shoved at his arm with all the force her slender twig arms could muster.

Hercules was right, she did need a good workout routine.

One rough set of hands pried Carson's grip away while another lifted her up and then settled her into one arm like he was cradling a child. Odell placed the red hat back on Carson's head with a little too much force. "Carson how much have you had to drink tonight?"

The artificial cowboy gave a slow, lazy grin, shrugging to his captain. "Lost count a few rounds ago. C'mon, give her back Graham. I wanna see how Odell made her mush like that. I've got magic fingers too y'know."

Larisa was pleased to know that she wasn't the only one upset by the drunk soldier's behaviour, but a crowd had gathered to see what happened next, and a few genuinely supported Carson rather than Odell or herself. "So much for upholding the law." She muttered, not paying attention to who could hear her.

Carson 1 - Graham - sighed heavily, gently sitting her atop the bar on the opposite side of Odell. "Carson's one bad egg in the basket, Larisa. Can't judge all of us with the same glasses on or you'd make yourself an enemy of the Empire. And frankly, I'd like to keep a pretty little thing like you safe as long as possible."

Larisa blinked, knowing Graham was right, but currently too preoccupied with watching Carson's buddies carry his sloppy drunk cowboy ass outside for some fresh air. Or possibly a nap. He could use some sobering up. When he was out of sight, Larisa turned back to Graham and nodded, settling in on the bar.
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While Larisa's first outing to the fourth tier entertainment district had been rocky and unnerving, the following week's activities began with a solid truce between her and Carson. She refused to wholly trust him after their unpleasant first meeting, though having spent more time with the group as a whole she began to understand his reaction.

Odell's patrol welcomed her with open arms and a great number of crushing bearhugs. She learned that Odell and his ex-wife shared custody of three almost-teenage boys; all of whom were head over heels for Private Anastajia Nesrahda, the strongest soldier in Odell's patrol, and since Lieutenant Trevor had left the patrol for an inner city division ten months ago she was now the most strategic member as well. In a few years, it was assumed that Nesrahda would have climbed in rank even further than Odell. Some of the soldiers had even been placing bets on it.

She learned that Graham was engaged, with a baby expected in the next four months, and that Carson's signature red stetson had been a gift from his first boyfriend. The more she understood, the more she became attached to them, and them to her. Only a few weeks after that first night spent in the bar, Larisa was starting to spread solid roots. Regular gym sessions with Nesrahda and the other two females in Odell's patrol, Janssens and Perez, became the highlight of her mornings. Carson and the Trevor twins, coming to understand that the deafening noises and blinding lights of tier four would never cease to terrify her, helped to regain control of her apartment's space. With her failed experiments once again confined to her kitchen, the three boys revamped the dining room to add in a bar counter complete with empty shelving behind it and a fridge beneath it. If the cases of beer they had brought with them had made it into the fridge, it would have been a rather impressive accomplishment.

Odell and Graham brought her on several trips to the top two tiers, visiting well known landmarks of the city. Each tour taught her about the history of Coruscant - their customs and the explanations behind the ever-constant security. The watchful eyes gradually became a comfort, while the roiling turmoil of city streets kept growing to be an ever present danger.

Odell acted as much like a father figure as James had been her only family when she lived in Russia's north. He grew accustomed to her panicking and skittishness in public, even if it disappointed him that she wasn't adapting well. Larisa could see the dismay when she turned down a dinner or a night out with the patrol, but she knew he hated it just as much when Nesrahda and Carson gave her no options. Odell knew that while the patrol was working, Larisa stayed inside her apartment with the door locked, studying experiments when she already knew what the results would tell her. Lieutenant Trevor was the first to try remedying this, escorting her to the fifth tier before his work day to visit the Gold Cross's field base.

"I know you aren't that kind of doctor," He'd told her, "But if you can't serve in the army, this is a good way to protect the citizens. It'll keep you on your toes, you'll be protected at all times, and the work will keep you out of your head."

Phazed by the drastic differences between Tier one and Tier five she had simply nodded, allowing the armed guards in front of the building to guide her stumbling through the doors.
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"Do you have any prior experience in this field?"

The fox shook her head, shaking free the dizzying anxiety. "None that would likely apply here."

The doctor - or at least, what Larisa presumed was a doctor - wrote down notes as the interview continued.

"Do you have any medical experience, either scientific or magical?"

"I have experience in both, I suppose, but nothing more than field surgery in the former. I'm a research doctor, not medical."

The doctor paused, analysing her fox ears as if wondering what kind of research had led to those. "And the latter?"

"I don't do that anymore."

He paused, then wrote down a final note and signed the document. "You'll do just fine, as volunteers go. You could probably find a paying job in any number of companies upstairs, why come all the way down here?"

Larisa wiggled her shoulders to release the tension, without any real effect. Her ears twitched at every slight sound while she held her tail still on her lap to avoid the nervous thrashing that tended to happen under pressure. "Lieutenant Trevor thought I could use a break from my own experiments, I think. I didn't know I would be here today until I was."

The doctor stood up, signalling for Larisa to follow as they left the office. "I don't know Lieutenant Trevor but we can use the help. The city may seem peaceful where you live but these bottom three floors are under constant war. Rebels don't think about who they hurt, neither do the gangs fighting over space. We in gold cross have extra protection at all times but even that isn't enough."

The doctor led the way to what looked to be a cafeteria, though with the number of people seated it was more likely used for feeding the citizens who sought help than feeding the volunteers. Larisa wrapped her tail around her waist, not eager to have any sticky grasping fingers in her fur.

"This is our community kitchen. Local volunteers, generally the mothers and wives of tier five, do most of the cooking but if you know how and can keep out of their way, you're free to join them."

Larisa gave the doctor a weak smile, dropping it at the older man's frown. "I'm not very good at meal cooking."

The doctor paused, gently resting a hand on Larisa's shoulder as if trying to reassure a small and terrified animal. "Are you doing alright? You're shaking like a leaf."

The fox nodded, stepping away from his reach. "Not really good in crowds. I've had a lot of time alone so I just… don't deal with people all too well. "

The doctor nodded, pushing her through the large hall to the doors. "We'll start you with something more familiar then."

Larisa was lead down a long, concrete gray hallway. Everything in the building, she was starting to notice, was utilitarian and drab, like some kind of prison. In a way, she supposed, it was - just like her self imposed exile of the northern lab. The doctor stopped to unlock a door set in the innermost part of the building, showing Larisa the rows of bottles and boxes contained within.

"We try to keep this room stocked with everything we could need, but sometimes things go overlooked. As a prime you shouldn't have any trouble making your own tools, should you need them, but all medications should go through me first."

The closet was locked and Larisa was whisked away at a brisk pace to the end of the hall. Double doors opened up to a combination emergency ward and health clinic, with several volunteers working rounds. The doctor called out to one of them across the room, delicately navigating a path between patients, beds and tables.

"Larisa, this is Doctor Nandita Mikkelson, our most adept doctor in the clinic. Tali this is Larisa Seminov. She's a new volunteer who has practical experience as a technician. I'm sure you can make great use of her here more than we could in housing. Teach her well."

The doctor - or perhaps more accurately the acting chief? - left with a stiff nod, swiveling on his heel and marching back out the way he had come.

Tali grinned at her, a gentle hand atop Larisa's head served as a reminder that these people genuinely did come from all places. Her new supervisor seemed completely unfazed by the presence of animal features as opposed to standard human.

"We're just doing checkups today. Not everyone can visit us here at the clinic so we do occasional house visits too. If you don't feel safe leaving the compound I understand, but this is work that needs to be done."

Larisa nodded, reaching through her memories for the appropriate image. As much as she adored the almost egyptian ankh like logo of Gold Cross, a lab coat that didn't fit was a recipe for disaster. Nandita gave her a smile as Larisa fixed the collar of a crisp white coat, making sure her hair was properly tied back in the process.

"I may not be a real doctor, like you, but I can still monitor vitals and diagnose a simple flu like any other assistant. Whatever you need, I'm confident I have the knowledge to assist you."

Tali handed her a clipboard with a large stack of papers, each one with patient notes. Some had an occasional sticky note affixed to a corner, but there was no pattern as to what the notes were for aside from signatures that clearly didn't belong to a Doctor Nandita Mikkelson.

"Where should we start, Miss?"

Tali picked up a variety of tools, which were then distributed to pockets, and a stethoscope draped across her shoulders.

"Isn't it obvious? We start at the top of the list."
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