In some ways, a servant is more free than any king could ever hope to be.

Chapter Three : Protege.

Seeing as it consisted of little more than four walls, a kitchen and a bed, King’s apartment served as a window into the soul of a bachelor. Devoid of anything that required more then the bare minimum of effort to clean, it fulfilled its true purpose nicely, and since it was just one of over a dozen such safe houses that were located throughout the Sector Seven slums, King saw little need to decorate.

Helping himself to a seat at the table in the center of the room, Hien Ko asked King. “We didn’t wake you, did we?”

No.” Said King with a weary smile. “I was just in the middle of getting ready for work, that’s all.” Opening the cupboard above the sink he thought to himself. So long as ‘work’ is a euphemism for ‘I’m the head of a criminal organization and one of the most wanted men in SynCity’ then yes, I am getting ready to go to work. “I need coffee.” He said with a sigh. “Do either of you two want any?

Too young to appreciate the taste both Sara and Hien Ko were quick to shake their heads.

Suit yourselves.” Pulling out a can of Chimera Brand instant self heating coffee before he moved on to the fridge, King asked them. “What about a cup filled with cream?”

Well,” Said Sara. “If your offering.”

His tail swaying slightly, King closed the refrigerator door. “I am offering. So drink your fill before I start to look like a bad host.”

Setting the cream, sugar, and cups onto the table before pulling the tab on the bottom of the can that activated the exothermic reaction that heated the coffee, King smiled. Making a commercial success out of that little novelty brought in a cool million in revenue almost yearly.

Pouring the now scalding hot contents of the can into his cup before adding an unhealthy amount of sugar, King mixed it all together with a stir stick made out of catnip. “Mmm,” He said. “Just short of a lethal dose.” Blowing on his coffee to help cool it off, King saw just how much cream they actually drinking and said. “Whoa, take it easy there guys, that stuff is expensive you know.”

Helping himself to another glass, Hien Ko said. “Hey, some of us here are still growing, so we need all the nutrition we can get.”

Adding cream to his coffee, King said. “Says the kitten who doesn’t even drink it slowly enough to enjoy it.”

Holding his cup with both hands, Hien Ko started sipping his cream, if only to prove that he could.

So what do the two of you want to eat. I’ve got reconstituted eggs, reconstituted bacon,” Struggling to keep a straight face as both Sara and Hien Ko started to gag, King said. “I’m kidding, I’m kidding, it’s all fresh. Personally, I can’t stand that reconstituted stuff. There’s just something about people eating powdered meat that strikes me as being wrong.”

Licking the last of the cream from his lips, Hien Ko said. “I’ll say, my mom says anyone who enjoys eating powdered meat is a freak.”

Oh she does does she?” Prompting him to go on, King started to pour him another glass of cream. “And just, how is your mother doing these days?”

Watching as his cup slowly began to fill, Hien Ko said. “She says that if all goes well that I should have a baby brother or sister soon.”

So she and Shinji are trying for a child of their own are they?” King smiled. “I’m glad to hear it.” Taking the cup away, King drank the cream himself and said. “There are times I miss being able to eat her cooking.” Watching Hien Ko’s jaw drop as he placed the empty cup back on the table, King knew he had left him without anything to say.

You should have seen Hien Ko today.” Said Sara in order to fill the silence. “The way he protected me from that nasty police officer. He was brave, handsome . . .” Licking his face affectionately, She had managed to get him in a head lock, and was refusing to let go until she was good and ready.

I see, so the two of you decided it would be a good idea to go out and wander the streets at night did you?” Knowing that the best way to elicit information from them was to wait for an opportunity to arise, King said. “You weren’t getting into too much trouble I hope.”

Well,” Said Sara. “Maybe just a little, here and there.”

Gahhhhh!” Finally managing to squirm his way to freedom, Hien Ko started wiping his cheek and said. “She’s covered me with girl germs! King, I need to be clean.”

Sipping his coffee as he pointed to the bathroom at the end of the hall, King watched as Hien Ko took off like a shot. “That wasn’t very nice you know. Teasing him like that. In a lot of ways, he is still just a kitten.”

I know that.” Blushing beneath her fur, she averted her eyes from King’s gaze and took a sudden interest in the table. “But one day, when he’s older,” Sara had a dreamy look on her face when she said. “I’m going to make him marry me.”

Forcing himself to swallow his coffee before he started to choke, King couldn’t help but laugh, as from the bathroom there came a cry of such horror, such, soul wrenching agony, that it would echo throughout the hearts and minds of men everywhere.

Shaking his head in wonder at the joys of youth, King said. “Give him a few years. He’ll learn to sing a different tune.”

Coming back from the bathroom, He had barely seated himself at the table when he saw it. “Whoaaaa!” Said Hien Ko, his eyes growing huge as he noticed the stylized image of a sword piercing a crown surrounded by flared wings for the very first time. “That tattoo on your back,” His words were teetering dangerously close to the edge of hero worship when he said. “King, can I get one like that?”

Ask me again when your older.” Reminding himself that his mother would have his hide adorn her floor when she found out that he’d given her son permission to modify his body without asking her first he added the words. “Much, older.”

Accepting his answer in stride, Hien Ko asked. “But how come you’ve never told us that you have tattoos? You tell us about everything else.”

Preferring not to answer any questions that led into dangerous territory, King countered with. “And just how often have you seen me without a shirt on?”

Hien Ko thought about it, and started counting the number of times on his fingers.

You’ve been sneaking into my dojo to watch me practice my katas again haven’t you?”

Of course not. I wouldn’t be caught doing that . . . again.” The truth was he had caught his mother doing it, and in exchange for his silence, she had started teaching him the ways of Chinese Kenpo.

Well I’ve known about it for years now.” Said Sara in a superior tone of voice. “Besides, a tattoo like that wouldn’t look good on you anyway.”

Well,” Said Hien Ko, refusing to be swayed. “Then what would look good?”

Sara just spread her hands. “I’m thinking, Sara’s property, in big bold letters across your forehead. So everyone will know just who it is you belong to.”

Great.” Said Hien Ko, crossing his arms in front of his chest. “I’m not even six years old yet and already I’ve been branded.”

Could be worse.” Setting a clean skillet on the stove, King pulled a rasher of bacon out of the fridge and said. “You could already be married.” Pretending to turn the heat to high as Hien Ko groaned, King cracked an egg over the frying pan and started counting down in his mind. Three, two, one . . .

Alright, I can’t sit here and watch this.” Pushing King out of the way, Sara adjusted the heat. “You’re going to end up burning it at this rate.” Adding a strip of bacon to the pan she said. “Men. I swear, you’d all be useless if women weren’t around to take care of you.”

Taking a seat at the table King leaned over and whispered. “Here’s a tip from me. If you really want to get along with women, just nod and agree with everything they say.”

There was a hint of disbelief in Hien Ko’s voice when he said. “That doesn’t really work though, does it?”

That depends.” Pointing to Sara, King said. “Who’s the one making me my breakfast?”

His eyes wide, Hien Ko’s voice was filled with wonder and amazement. “King, you have to teach me how you did that! Please, its the only way I’ll survive!”

Okay, now listen carefully, the trick to it is . . .”

As Sara began setting the table for three, King switched gears and said. “So, what brings the two of you out here tonight? And don’t tell me you came because you wanted to make a social call.”

This.” Said Hien Ko, placing the stolen police helmet on the table in front of him. “We stashed the rest of it somewhere safe.”

Suddenly losing his appetite, King pushed his plate away and said. “You shouldn’t have brought that here. Do you know what the penalty for getting caught with stolen goods is?”

But. We disabled the locater beacon just like you showed us.” Refusing to meet King’s eyes, Hien Ko started to look like the kitten who had been left out in the rain.

You two should be at home, preferably safe in bed. Not wandering around the slums at night pulling off cons on the cops.” The moment the words had finished passing from his lips King already regretted saying them. These two have grown up watching their parents struggle just to make ends meet. These streets, this way of life, its the only world they’ve ever known.

Seeing the sullen and unrepentant looks in their eyes King redeemed himself by saying. “I’m sorry. It’s just, its easy to forget that the two of you are already older then you look.” Swallowing the rest of his coffee without even tasting it, King knew the problem wasn’t nearly as simple as it seemed.

Shortened telomerases, decreased lifespans, a full seven generations have passed since Chimeras were first introduced, and we still haven’t seen the full range of effects passing on unstable genes will have on our children. Bad enough to be born with a finite lifespan, but with the lingering aftereffects of the maturation treatments that had been used on the very first generation of chimeras being passed on to their children, second and even third generation chimeras were still reaching physical and emotional maturity at a far faster rate than that of their human counterparts. And with all of the dangers that that implied, it was just one more thing that King intended to put a stop to.

Staring into the the dregs of his coffee, trying not to think about what it must be like for the thousands of Chimeras being born around the world; those who even now remained unaware of the dangers that they faced, and the control that it gave Exotica Geno-works over their very lives, King struggled to stave off the powerlessness he felt. It had already been five years since he and Lady had parted ways, and he was still no closer to finding a way of breaking chimeras free from their accursed destiny.

Feeling a sudden warmth at his side, He was surprised to find that Sara had wrapped her arms around him and started to purr.

Coming back to himself with a start he asked her. “When did you?”

Purring even louder, Sara simply said. “You had this faraway look in your eyes. Like you were thinking about something sad. My mom always hugs me when I’m sad, so I thought.”

Reaching down, King began to stroke her hair as gently as he could. His words offering her all the comfort and safety he could provide. “Its nothing you need to worry about little one. This is something, that I have to take care of on my own.” Feeling the passage of time all too keenly as Sara nuzzled into his hand King thought to himself. Our children deserve better then this. They deserve the chance to have real childhoods, not this . . . shadow of a false life.

Hugging him even tighter, Sara said. “But . . . we can still help you, right?”

If you really want to help me.” King watched as both Hien Ko and Sara began nodding vigorously. “Then you can start by telling me what the two of you have been up to.”

Well, it all started when . . .

When Sara had finished telling King about the nights escapades Hein Ko asked him. “So, is it worth something?”

Well . . . you see the thing is.” King just stared at the helmet as he considered his words carefully. “They’ve started to add scrambler circuits. So if you try to open or tamper with the casing in any way, the whole thing will explode. But if you can get your hands one of these.” Taking the multi-tool that he always carried with him out of his pocket, King used the sonic screwdriver to short out the scrambler circuit. “And voila, you’ve got yourself a working police helmet.” Passing it to Hien Ko he said. “Take a look.”

This is so cool!” Switching between the infrared, x-ray, and night vision modes before finally settling on the zoom function, Hien Ko said. “Whoa, Sara, your huge.”

Rolling her eyes, Sara just just took the helmet off of Hien Ko’s head and said. “So now that it works, how much would you say its total worth is on the black market?”

Looking her squarely in the eyes, King just leaned in and said in his most imposing tone of voice. “Now why would you want to know something like that?”

Sara was the very picture of sweetness and light when she said. “Oh, no reason.”

Uh huh.” Looking at the innocent little girl that was sitting across from him at his own kitchen table, King was suddenly forced to reevaluate his opinion of her. Better men then I have fallen for that trick. “Your going to go look for a buyer even if I don’t tell you, aren’t you?”

Maybe.” Placing the helmet on the table between them, Sara said. “The thought might have crossed my mind. That is, unless you can provide me with a reason to do otherwise.”

Oh your good.” Awarding her with one of his best smiles, King said. “Are you sure that I can’t interest you in a more legitimate career? Maybe as an inside trader, or a politician’s assistant? Dealing with the local black market, its a risky business.”

Hein Ko started tapping the helmet impatiently.

No huh.” King’s voice turned deadly serious. “With the right buyer, you could easily get a few hundred credits for it. Maybe more if you decided to sell it in pieces. Deadheads and Lo-Jacks will buy the scanning equipment for a good price. But you need to find the ones who won’t ask you any questions about where it came from. And stay the hell away from anyone looking to buy a service contract. I know that I’ve told you this before, but the two of you are far more valuable then any stolen goods will ever be.”

Sara simply nodded as King spoke. Absorbing the information in silence she filed it away for future use. “What about if we tried using it ourselves? There’s a lot of places we can go that other’s can’t.”

While its true that there are people who are willing to pay good money for information, the best chance you have of breaking into that market is to try and find work with a broker. Preferably one who already has established contacts within the underworld, since it saves you the trouble of trying to develop them yourself.”

So what your really saying is,” Delicately, gracefully, without arousing any unnecessary suspicion, Sara began baiting the trap. “That we should go to work for someone like you.”

It was King’s turn to cross his arms in front of his chest. “Someone like me?”

Watching as Sara took the police helmet off the table, Hien Ko had to go and blow it all to hell by saying. “That means that if we do a good job spying on people, then we can join your organization someday, right?”

Is that what you think this is about?” Rising to his full height, King hissed. “Some kind of initiation test?” Growling low in his throat he put his hand down on the table. His claws digging deep furrows into the wood, He said. “You put your lives in danger tonight, for no good reason, and you think that makes you qualified to work for me?”

Withering beneath the force of his glare, Sara said. “We were only trying to—”

King silenced her with a look. “What you did was monumentally stupid. Pissing off the powers that be won’t change a damned thing. If anything, it only makes what I’m trying to do even harder.” Cutting Hien Ko off before he even had the chance to open his mouth to say otherwise, King said. “And proving that you’re stronger then someone does nothing to change their way of thinking. The cops already treat chimeras like criminals, and tonight, you proved that their way of thinking is justified.” Shaking his head in disgust, King said. “So go ahead, tell me that life isn’t fair, that I shouldn’t treat you like children, even when you act like one.”

It isn’t stupid to fight for the things you believe in.” Matching him glare for glare, while Sara stood behind him and silently offered him her support, Hien Ko stood firm and said. “We want things to change just as much as you do, and just because we don’t know how to help doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.”

Oh of all the naïve, overly, idealistic things to say.” King’s shoulders fell as he slumped back into his chair. “You really are your father’s son, you know that?”

Seeing himself as a much younger man reflected in Hien Ko’s eyes, King knew that even if he couldn’t stop them from choosing to follow in his footsteps, then the least he could do was teach them the skills they’d need in order to survive in his world. “Sure, why not.” He said at last. Bad enough that your parents are going to kill me when they find out what I’m going to be teaching the two of you, now I have to worry about you bothering them while they’re at work. Sighing as he started massaging his temples King said. “Just, promise me that whatever you do, don’t tell your parents I said you could, okay?”

Both Sara and Hein Ko shared a look that made King’s blood run cold. “Oh, we won’t.”