...If I could find a souvenier
Just to prove the world was here.
And here is a red balloon
I think of you and let it go.

- Lyrics from 99 Red Balloons


This is the end. Or the beginning. Either way, it is a change. Can't change anything, but this changes all. What will she think? I can't hide it from her, that just wouldn't be right. But what to do? I don't know...

A blue fox sits in a chair surrounded by darkness. The only illumination in the room is a window looking out to darkened streets with street lamps lit.

She'll be home soon. Home and then I'll have to tell her something. But what? ...The truth. If I tell her anything else, she'll know instantly. Damn telepathy, can't even lie to her. ...I don't want to lie to her anyways, but it would be nice to have that option. Better turn on a light, don't want her worried over nothing. What I have to tell her is bad enough.

The blue gets up and walks across the room, switching on a small light on a table. She then sits down on the couch next to the table.

All this time, we thought he was dead... But he isn't. And I have to tell her. She is his sister, after all. They're practicaly twins... I can't tell her that. Not about the accident. She doesn't need to know that. Oh, so much has changed... Rashon's dead, the castes abollished... Kari's grown up. Still don't get why she works there. At that stupid store. So stupid, that. She has a perfectly good qualification in pschology, and she works in retail. By her own choice! I don't understand that. I can't stand retail.

The blue picks a remote up from the table and flicks the vid screen on the wall on. Switching from channel to channel, she finaly flicks it back off and sighs in discontent.

At least that girl was nice enough to tell me. Probably wouldn't have noticed her if she wasn't a fox, and a blue too. Just visiting a friend, she said. That new doctor Charla, I think she said... Doesn't matter. So strange, her name being so similar to mine. Rena. Larena. Probably coincidence, but with the company I keep, who knows? Such a nice young vixen. Ok, so she's only a few years my junior. She hasn't raised a child. I have, sort of.

The vixen sighs and gets up, tossing the remote into the couch as she walks away. Heading into a small kitchen, she pulls out two types of root vegetables and starts peeling them. A few seconds latter, a small scratching noise is heard at the door and she smiles.

A tall, grey furred female walks into the kitchen, carrying a small bag and smiling to the fox. "Hiya, Larena. Brought home some chops for dinner... What's wrong?" The female sets the bag on the counter and frowns in concern at the blue.

Larena smiles weakly at the female and then hugs her. "I ran into someone today at work, another blue fox. She was visting that new doctor I told you about. Anyways, we got to talking, and I told her about you... And then she told me about a sirac she knows." Larena lets go and stands back, taking a deep breath before continuing. "Ryalto is alive, Kari. He's been living in a wolf city called Zantos since he escaped, and he's alright."

Kari smiles and starts crying, then grabs Larena in her arms. "That's great! He's alive, my brother's alive... Oh, this is so great!" She stops imbracing Larena and holds her shoulders. "Where is he? In Zantos, I mean. We have to go visit him!"

Larena shakes her head. "He's not in Zantos anymore. Ryalto got a place at some academy off Cyantia, on a planet called Mars."

Kari looks at Larena in puzzelment. "Academy? He's still in school?"

"Yes, appearantly he hasn't aged as rapidly as you have. Rena said that he looks about 18 or 19. She's that blue I told you about, and she's very friendly."

Kari just smiles on. "Still my younger brother, then. Still... I'm gonna go see him. I can't just stay here knowing that. I'll drive my self insane thinking stuff."

"Kari, is that such a good idea? We don't know how he'd react to that. It's been over nine years since he last saw either of us. We don't know how he's changed, he could hate both of us." He would hate me...

"He would not hate you, so stop thinking that. If you're afraid of seeing him, then you don't have to come with me. But I am going. I haven't seen any of my siblings since we left, and he's the first one either of us has tracked down. Heck, I'd be going even if it was Tarn, I miss seeing them all so much."

She has a point, he is the first we've found... He might know where some of the others are.
"Kari, if.. No, when you do see him, don't tell him about me if he hates me. I don't want to ruin it between you two."

Kari looks at Larena, black hands still on her shoulders and seeming to study Larena intensly. "Larena, what are you not telling me? You know something more, and that isn't my telepathy that's showing it."

I said I wouldn't! I can't... I must.
"Kari, he is your brother. Really your brother. Geneticaly, you two could be twins if not for the gender difference, but you are certainly brother and sister. There was an accident when Ryalto was created, and so another embryo of that template was made. You. He should have been a she... That's why you two always seemed so close, you two were practicaly twins."

Kari smiles. "If that's it, then fine. So I can't ask him out on a date, I wouldn't anyways. He is my brother first, mentaly as well." She straightens up and looks over at the chops. "Let's get these cooking, or we'll never get any food tonight."

Changing the subject? Fine then, we can always talk as we cook.

Kari slips some gloves on and takes the chops out of the bag, grabbing some seasoning from out of a cupboard. As she rubs the seasoning into the chops she smiles a bit more. "I wonder what's happened to him? I mean, nine years... That's a long time. Look at what's happened to us in the last nine years. You had that red propose to you, and there was that bounty hunter..." Kari smiles evily, while Larena shudders, cutting the roots into small chunks and dropping them into a pot.

"What you did to that bounty hunter was just cruel, not even Tarn could have been that nasty."

Kari turns and blinks once before looking at Larena in complete inocence. "I only shaved him and dyed his skin flourecent green."

"With the message 'Beware the Sirac' tatooed on his back in bright orange. No fox deserves that... Forget that, I can think of one straight off."

Larena and Kari smile and say the name in unison. "Makkus." They both laugh loudly, returning to preparing their food.

Kari plops the seasoned chops on a wire rack, sprinkling a little salt on top of each one in turn. "Still, I wonder if he had any run-ins with bounty hunters. With that strength of his, he probably knocked them in half."

"You're assuming that he can control that. We both know that he couldn't control any of his abilities back then. If he could, he would have blocked Tarn out of his mind way before the incident." Larena places the pot on a small pad and turns a dial next to it. She wipes her hands as she turns around, leaning against the counter next to the pot. "I'm more interested to see if he's found anyone special. You sure haven't."

Kari sticks out her tongue as she places the rack under a grating and lights a flame under it. "It's not my fault that all the men that I attract are complete jerks."

Larena just smiles. "Maybe you should start screening them. You had no compunction with that red, I noticed."

"Yeah, but he was good for you! Why did you say no? Really. Not that lame excuse that he was too immature."

Boy, aren't you the little topic turner today? "If you must know, Kyle had a crush on me since we were kits. I have never recipricated, and still don't. I have never encouraged him, and tried to explain that I don't feel that way towards him. It was a shock to see him last year, I hadn't seen him since before I joined EG, and his proposal was completely surprise. Though I should have realised something was up, he kept on giving me loads of skunk cookies, and then there was those 'Resolution day' gifts..." Mounties don't even celebrate that, I should have known better...

"You broke that little red's heart, though. He really liked you."

"He was a good friend, never more than that. I just wish Kyle had realised that. Good thing he got that job on Avistar, though. I don't think I could have stood his pleading much longer."

Kari turns from the grill and sticks her tongue out. "You mean that he almost had you?"

"About as close as that bounty hunter had you." Larena retorts.

"Actualy, if that fox wasn't so prejudiced and mean, I would have let him catch me. He had a real cute butt..." Kari smiles.

Larena looks at her blankly. "There is no hope for you, you're attracted to the wrong males. Those that want to use you."

"Hey, the last one just liked my tail, that is hardly using me."

"Skunks do not count, they're EG creations like you. And he just liked the fact that your tail was as exotic as his. Besides, you can do better than Stinky."

Kari snorts "His name was Stave Kae, not Stinky. And you scared him away."

Larena smiles. "That's what mothers are supposed to do. Just be glad that I don't have any baby pictures of you, or Ryalto for that matter." Such a pity. They were such cute kits...

Kari smiles, and takes the chops out from under the grill, flipping and sprinkling more salt on them before placing them back under. "How's the veg coming?"

Larena pulls the lid of the pot up for a second, the drops it softly back on. "Doing fine. Should be done about the same time as the chops."

Kari nods her head and starts peeling the gloves of her black hands. Rising them off in the sink, she sets them to dry on a rack before turning to face Larena. "Larena, do you think he still remembers us?"

Larena looks Kari in the eyes. "I honestly don't know. I hope Ryalto does, but then I fear that he might not remember us fondly... And I don't want him to remember me for what bad happened to him. I'm sure he hasn't forgoten us, though."

Kari smiles faintly. "I bet Ryalto made lots of friends when he got to Zantos. If he made friends with a fox, then he must have gotten more social. Maybe he even has a girlfriend... I wonder what type of girl he would go for."

Larena raises an eyebrow. "I can think of one he wouldn't go for. Strong, foreward, over-eccentric and bouncy."

"What makes you think that?"

"As nervous as he was? Ryalto would be scared stiff of her. That's more likely to be a wolf or one of the big mounty types. Bet he's got a mouse or a smaller mounty as a girlfriend." Larena smiles.

"That is assuming that he is into girls." Kari sticks her tongue out at Larena as Larena gags.

"Not funny, Kari. I doubt that anyways, since he always had more sympathy from us females than from the boys of your group." Larena shudders the remenants of that thought away. "No, he can't be gay. And if he is, I charge you with the task of setting him back on the right path. I want to see lil baby sirac, and I doubt that you're gonna produce any with your luck in men."

Kari winks. "You know perfectly well that that is not a psychological problem. But I get your point, I will find a suitable male. Sooner or later."

Larena smiles. "Good. ...Bet he's studying some sort of science, there at that academy. Ryalto was always doing best in those subjects."

Kari raises an eybrow, then turns back to the grill, poking one of the chops. "Didn't he blow up something on his way out? I bet he's studying demolitions or weapon development. 'Explosives 101' must be one of his classes..."

"He did have a knack for blowing things up... He managed to make a toilet explode when he was really young, but you were all too young to remember."

Kari blinks and turns back towards her. "Just how did he manage that?"

Larena stands taller for a second. "I don't think anyone really figured out how he did it. They even asked him how, and all he did was point at the cistern and say 'It went BaBOOOOM!' He didn't let it affect him in any way, still went to the toilet, didn't shy away from the rest rooms. It's one of the mysteries of my time at EG. Right up there with what they put in that mystery meat."

Kari fakes a gag. "I remember that stuff. And I remember that only Ryalto would eat it all. Can you actually believe that he said he liked it? Must have affected his brain or something..."

"Or he could just be more scavanger than the rest of you. Raccoons are scavangers, you know."

"Must grab a book on raccoons... Bet it would explain a lot of my quirks, like sleeping curled up."

"Nope, that's something all of us do. We just don't do it as frequently as you do."

Kari takes the chops out from under the grill. Then taking out two plates, she slides one on each plate. "I wonder if he like firefruit juice like I do. You did say that we're practicaly twins. But he liked that mystery meat..."

Now Larena sticks her tongue out. "I never liked firefruit juice, so I hope he doesn't! I don't think I could stand the sight of seeing the two of you guzzling that fiery stuff down."

Kari laughs and walks over to the fridge, taking out a red can and opening it. She drains the contents down, smacking her lips in satisfaction. "Mmm, yummy!"

"You are sick! And to think they gave you qualifications as a counsler. Which you don't even use."
Waste of your talents, working at that shop...

Kari slips the emptey can into a small bin. "I like people, that's why I work there. I like meeting all the different shades of sentients that walk on this planet. The Digni, Wolf, Mounty... Even the few fox that come in. They all have a slightly different take on life, and I like seeing their slice of reality. And I can honestly say that I always know what the customer wants, even if I can't always get it for them." She pauses for a few seconds, looking very thoughtfull. "I'm gonna take Ryalto shopping, when I meet up with him. Get him a whole new wardrobe, if I have to. I bet his taste in clothes are awful..."

Larena raises her eyebrow again. "What makes you say that?"

"Cause I have yet to meet a male that could shop properly for clothes."

Larena grabs a spoon out of a drawer and takes out several of the vegatable chunks, draining them over the sink before placing them on the plates. "You might have a point there. Come on, let's eat." She picks up both plates and heads into the main room.

Kari reaches back in the fridge and pulls out a red and a green can, and then grabs two glasses from one of the cupboards. "I'll second that." She follows Larena.

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