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My Duty is My Pride

Part One- The Gryphon is the Death of Duty

By Kelley SteadPublished 4 months ago 18 min read

If there was an assignment Kobe hated, it was an arena raid. He wasn’t fond of most of his assignments, actually. But the smell of chemical fires cutting through the warehouse district was especially nauseating. He took one last breath of polluted city air and pulled his visor over his face. His weapon read his thumbprint silently, powered up and hummed as it readied for battle. The night was hot and sticky, causing sweat droplets to course down his back beneath his uniform.

Low bass vibrations thrummed through the walls of the dilapidated warehouse-- someone was having a party. His captain’s voice rang through his ears, “Comrades! Ready your weapons and enter on my mark!”

The sides of his visor screen lit up with the Anti-Crime Force report. Estimated fourteen armed hostiles, five illegal animals and hormone D23 on premises. Kobe’s assignment was to take out the four hostiles on this side of the building and tranquilize one of the illegal creatures if he could. Comrade Kyll was to his left, poised to cover him against any surprises.

The rest of the Nexus City Anti-Crime Force was positioned strategically around the warehouse, armed and ready. Captain Hymes gave the word and the entire force snapped into action. Kobe rammed the door open with his boot and fired immediately into the chest of the guy standing there. His target fell, rolling around, electricity coursing through his body and shutting down functions. By the time he was dead, Kobe and Kyll had downed two of his friends.

They moved, slowly and efficiently through the dark hallways. Fifty years ago the warehouse had been home to hundreds of workers. What they’d manufactured had been long-forgotten in the wave of automation. Machines did things better. The building was abandoned, used to store garbage, and recently taken over by the SkunkHead Gang. Their symbol, a sloppy red skull with one eye hole, was painted on every wall. Trash littered the floor, illuminated by red and blue neon lights from the back hallways. Bass driven music beat louder into Kobe’s ears, giving him a slight headache.

“Illegal animals ahead,” his visor chirped. He slipped the calibration into HIGH on his e-gun and rounded the corner, assaulted immediately by the smell of feces.

A creature the size of a large dog paced back and forth in a sloppily constructed cage. Its feathered wings were pressed firmly to its sides, muscular legs pumping as it walked. Kobe’s first shot missed, ricocheting blue light off the bars. The creature shrieked and its wings expanded, extending through the bars of its make-shift prison. The second shot was a direct hit, illuminating gold eyes with slitted pupils that shrank in the light. It fell over, chest muscles spasming, wings opening and closing as it lost control. The overwhelming smell of urine made Kobe cough and sputter as he watched his target finally lay motionless.

Kyll kicked some trash out of the way and knelt over a brown tool box streaked with dirt and grime. He opened it and pulled out an empty syringe for his visor to scan and transmit to headquarters, “D23. Must have just shot this one up.”

Gryphon fights weren’t uncommon in this part of town. The warehouse district spread over miles, the only part of the city that wasn’t taken over by high-rises where people lived on top of each other like reptiles in terrariums. The Anti-Crime Force shut down at least six warehouse arenas a month and still they kept popping up. The betting was lucrative, especially in the wealthier gangs, and gryphons that fought well could be sold for thousands of credits. There was an entire underground market for D23, the hormone they gave the animals to change their muscle density and make them more aggressive for fighting. Anyone found manufacturing D23 was jailed for life, and all gryphons were killed immediately-- the State had ruled gryphons were too dangerous to exist.

There was the sound of more e-fire from further inside the building and then the music stopped.

“Battle arena cleared,” someone’s voice rang in his helmet. They had taken out fourteen gang members-- four were dead, the rest in custody.

Kobe and Kyll made their way through the corridor to the main arena, where the rest of the force was busy doing a final sweep. Neon lights buzzed across the rafters, wires dangled and sparked. Two dead gryphons lay in the center of a floor covered in dirt, eyes glossed over and tongues spilling out of their sharpened beaks. A slight breeze from the air shaft ruffled their feathers. The room smelled of men’s sweat and animal waste.

Kobe scanned the room, searching for the familiar gait of his most treasured comrade, Joni. He was difficult to spot when wearing a helmet-- wild mop of blonde hair hidden and green eyes almost always pointed down, engaged in whatever work he’d been assigned. They’d been children together and Kobe had watched Joni transform from a hyperattentive, wild boy to a disciplined man of duty.

He spotted Joni across the warehouse, scanning a fallen gang member’s face through the visor cam and making vocal notes to headquarters. He couldn’t see his face but he knew what it looked like when Joni was working. Knew the way he did everything-- careful, precise, always by the book. Kobe made his way over, stepping over glass and broken boards.

“Joni boy!” he said, patting him on the back, “How’s life man?”

“Since lunch? Good,” he spotted a solitary refrigeration unit against the wall and moved to investigate.

Kobe helped him wrestle open the rusted door. Inside were rows of syringes full of yellow serum, boxed up nicely as if a doctor had prescribed them. No labels, of course, but all too obvious.

“Twelve boxes of D23,” Joni said. “Approximately ten per box. Some used.” He rummaged through the shelves and picked up another syringe, this one was clear. “One unit of clear liquid, probably a breeding syringe. Shipping all contents to headquarters. Continuing sweep for additional animals and possible eggs.”

“Aw, Joni. Let the rookies finish the sweep. I’ve been up since five, I wanna go home and get some sleep.”

“It’s your job, man. Lazy son of a prick. Alright, go. I’m going to finish up here. We’ve got five dead animals, tons of hormones, probably eggs, and some punk shot Dobbs in the leg. I couldn’t sleep if I wanted to.”

Kobe couldn’t remember Joni ever sleeping. Even as kids chasing each other through the sandy streets, he was always focused, unwavering, always doing, never resting. Like his boots would mold if he stood in the same place too long.

“Alright, I’m out then.” Kobe shut off his visor and locked his weapon. “Have fun, achi. My duty is my pride.”

“And my pride is my duty.”

He walked a few paces, then turned and looked back at his comrade. Joni was buried in his assignment, scanning everything in sight. He wouldn’t be finished until the early rays of morning light started filtering into the warehouse.

Kobe had his own duty to attend to. It was a project laid strewn over the floor of his small apartment across town— wires, gadgets and pieces of machines he’d ordered slowly over the years. He’d never been cut out for the ACF. He’d joined because in his early twenties, Joni had convinced him tinkering with scrolltrons and computer codes was a useless endeavor.

“We need direction if we’re going to be more than farmer boys,” he’d said.

Kobe had brushed him off, but the idea of Joni moving into the heart of Nexus City and putting himself in dangerous situations was secretly unbearable. They took their oaths a year later, side by side. Since then, it’d been a decade of arena raids, gang bangers, D23 confiscation, and exhaustion. He’d seen Joni shot, attacked, burned, and held his hand as doctors reset his broken leg. But hopefully, not for much longer.

Kobe did what he had to do to fulfill his oath to the force. But at night, while Joni worked overtime and scoffed at his “laziness”, he’d been building a program to gain access to the ACF network.

It wasn’t easy. Criminals tried to hack the system every day. But they didn’t have the ins he did, or the determination. In the last six months he’d made great strides. He could gain access to State files fairly easily, depending how confidential they were kept.

Joni knew about some of this (it was hard to for Kobe to completely lie to his face) but he’d never allow him to hack the force. Kobe wasn’t sure if he’d turn him in to the authorities, but he never wanted to compete with duty for Joni’s loyalties.

If Kobe could hack into the ACF network undetected, he could control the assignment load. He could have them both transferred to a cushy department in North Nexus, far away from the warehouse district and all the troubles breeding there. They could work security for some of the richest people in the city, shut down parties, avoid arena raids altogether. He could control which assignments they received, who they worked with, and give them both a better chance of survival.

The Nexus City Crime Force lost officers every day in the warehouse district. As he sped towards home in a self-driving pod, Kobe thought about the day when a greenlight would finally appear on his home-made hardware screen, telling him the program was fully functional. When he could finally control their fate, and sleep well at night, knowing he’d never have to learn to live without Joni.


At first Kobe thought the sound of the buzzer had been part of his dream but it rang again and he came fully awake. He glanced over at the one window in the place. It was covered with a thin curtain and no light was sneaking around the edges. Still the middle of the night.

He checked the camera screen through squinted eyes. Joni was outside, pacing and holding a pack in his hands. It looked heavy.

“Joni, what the hell?” he said and opened the door.

He’d changed from his uniform to a black jumpsuit, but his hair was falling around his face, still covered in a light gray dust from the warehouse. His arms were streaked with dirt and there was a long scratch extending to his elbow.

Achi, you couldn’t take a shower before you came to wake me up in the middle of the night? You smell like ass.” He let Joni inside, keeping an eye on the lumpy pack he was still clutching to his chest. His eyes were wide and his mouth, which was usually just a thin straight line, was slightly raised in a half smile. “And you look insane. What’s wrong with you?”

“Kobe I don’t know what to do.”

“You always know what to do. What’s in the bag? You killed a guy and put his head in there? What?” Kobe reached for the pack and the lumps shifted position. He peeled the cloth back and held his breath.

Curled inside was a beast, a small one. Its wings were folded, barely covered in tiny puffs of feathers, the skin peeking through like a dead chicken. Its front legs were talons, flexing against the bottom of the pack and leaving tiny holes. Its back legs were coated with golden-brown fluff and ended in claws like a lion’s. Its beak opened and closed like shearing scissors- a beak that could tear Kobe’s fingers off faster than he could pull them away. It made a squeaking sound and its pupil widened.

“You brought an illegal animal into my apartment?!” Kobe leapt back and nervously brushed his hands through his black mat of hair. He’d already started to sweat.

“I know, I know!” Joni pressed the pack to his chest. “Listen, I went to finish the sweep. There was a back room with some eggs-- I cracked them, they weren’t even fertilized. Then I saw one, it was cracking by itself…” he opened the pack and stared into it. A smile stretched across his face again, strange and comforting. It wasn’t normal. Kobe’s stomach churned.

“Joni.” he spoke to him like a child, slowly. “You need to get rid of the illegal. Before it rips your smiley little face off. Or worse.”

“But… it’s so small and fragile. Look at it. I don’t think they can give them D23 until they’re hatched. Maybe it’s not aggressive.”

“Look at your arm, achi.”

“Yeah well, she’s a baby isn’t she?”

“What she! It’s not a she, it’s an it! D23 or not, gryphons are dangerous and unpredictable and you need to get rid of it. You get that, right?”

Joni reached into the pack and gently pulled the creature out. It looked around with its ridiculous, nearly bald head and scrambled from his lap to his shoulder. He winced as its claws tore little holes in his jumpsuit. It regarded Kobe from its new mount, unsure, golden eyes blinking as if it was just learning to see.

“I can’t take her back to the warehouse. I can’t take her to the department either. I’d have to answer for why I kept an illegal for five hours.” Joni rubbed its head as it nibbled slightly on his finger. “And I’m not killing her.”

“So why are you here? You want me to help you raise it? Be a gryphon mama for you? You don’t know what it eats. It’s going to get bigger, you can’t hide it.”

“Help me find out where to take it.” Joni shuffled through some techware on the floor and picked up a fairly new scrollcon. He tapped it and the display came on. The gryphon recoiled from the light.

Kobe shook his head in disbelief. “You want me to find documents on where to take illegal gryphons in Nexus? Answer- dump it in the desert.” He snatched the display from Joni’s grip, jumping backwards as if the tiny animal was going to destroy his face at any moment.

“I want you to find out what they eat. Maybe there’s somewhere they live. Like a herd or something. We could take her there. She’d have a chance.”

His eyes were full of longing-- it wasn’t like Joni. Duty was the death of longing. It was the hammer pounding the final nail into the coffin of everything you wanted or thought you could achieve. The letting go of your fate, throwing it into the hands of the Gods or the State or the chaos that no one understands. Kobe had sat many nights on his apartment floor, running his fingers through miles of wiring, pummeling lines of coded language into display screens that made his eyes water-- and he had thought of Joni shuffling through dusty shadowy buildings long after his comrades were tucked into their beds. Logging every drug, every vial, every tiny knife, stopping only when his duty was fulfilled. He knew Joni would find a way to get what he wanted, with or without his help.

The display hummed as it started up. Kobe ran a diagnostic to be sure there were no State spying programs active. There weren’t. He worked for the State, he wasn’t high on any lists of possible threats. Only then did he get into the real grunt work-- cracking into scientific documents stored on encrypted servers.

“I doubt there’s even any information on these things. No one is doing experiments with dangerous animals. Maybe if you brought home a rat or an ape. A bird would even be preferable, and I hate birds…”

He broke through their firewall, scrolled through categories, and clicked on one. A document appeared on his screen, twenty-seven pages long, all encoded. His brow furrowed as his fingers grazed the screen. Then he read aloud;

“Report 4887: Gryphus garuda. The world’s only known mammalian-avian hybrid creature.”

Joni rushed over and snatched the display from his hands. The gryphon stayed put, balancing on his shoulder.

“Good! Coby said. “Take the whole display. Go. Take that walking scissor mouth too.”

“You’re not interested in this?”

“No. I’m interested in sleeping and trying to forget my comrade is harboring illegals. The less I know, the better. Do me a favor and pretend I was never involved. What’s your name again? No idea. Go.”

Joni carefully pried the baby gryphon from his shoulder and re-sacked it. “Fine.”

He checked the camera for wandering witnesses, saw none, and started the short walk to his own unit. Kobe shut the door. He lay awake until the sun rose, wondering how he could convince Joni to do his duty


There are notably different kinds of cities in the world. Some are historic, the air tainted with smells of decades of things happening. Old brick buildings are award-winning confidants--holding their secrets, revealing nothing, taking hundreds of years to crumble.

Nexus City wasn’t historic. Sure, the land it was built over was historic, but one cannot base the age of a city on the age of the sand beneath it. It’s the way it feels when you walk around, when you breathe the air. Little whispers from old brick and mortar. There wasn’t anything old in Nexus. Everything was built fast and cheap. The desert was harsh and unforgiving, the sand came like waves crashing into everything, eating paint and convincing structures a little at a time to join it as it washed over the world. When it had worn away too much, they built over it. They built on top of it. They encased it with more cheapness until there were stacks on top of stacks like termite mounds rising from the dirt.

Kobe thought about this as he and Joni raced toward where the city kissed the desert. On this side of the city, the skyscrapers rose like silver monoliths from the dirt. They were polished, painted and shining in the sun. Miles of road stretched between them, sand covering it like a hidden snake in wait. The podcar kicked up dust as it raced along, hovering just above the ground.

As a child Kobe had nearly broken his spine stretching to gaze up at the buildings here, his large brown eyes reflecting in the windows. Joni never cared to look. He was always observing the immediate world around them, mainly watching the people. He could always tell if someone was following them or if the store clerk was looking before they stole chocolate stickies off the shelf-- back when the stores were run by humans instead of bots that saw everything through the camera feed. Kobe was always lost in his thoughts that flitted like hummingbirds through his brain. He’d fall off the sidewalk if it changed direction too quickly.

“They sleep during the day.” Joni said, breaking a comfortable silence that only people who have grown up together share. “That will be useful when we get to the border.”

He’d gone home and read the entire file his comrade had provided. All twenty-seven pages. Gryphons were a product of evolutionary tampering during a time in which science was obsessed with combining and cloning species. They’d created living dragons using dinosaur DNA and even brought back the wooly mammoth-- all to discover mutilated DNA was fragile and fell apart after only a few years.

Gryphons were a project of Devereaux Labs, headed by Claude Devereaux, a genius scientist obsessed with mythology. He believed the ancient depictions of the half-eagle half-lion creature was a prophecy he was meant to fulfill. Because the DNA was fresh and not frozen in ice for millions of years, gryphon DNA became a reality after twenty years of manipulation. The documents did not disclose the fate of Devereaux Labs, only stating it was dissolved shortly after the founder committed suicide.

Being the first living thing a gryphon sees makes you its mother. It’s attached to you like a baby duckling, following you to the ends of the earth. The documents described them as “aggressive and unpredictable” with anyone they weren’t bonded to, and “as intelligent as a five-year-old child”.

He’d met Kobe at the department the next day, eyes blood shot but with the same sickening smile. He’d sucked down cold, black coffee, gave his comrade a full report on what he'd read, and whispered across the table, “I know where to take her. There’s an oasis two days out from the city. Small one. The documents said there were known prides there, escaped from the city and breeding. The last report was six years ago.”


“A group of gryphons is called a pride.”

“Right. Those documents are old as sand. Who knows if there’s even an oasis anymore. Could have been swallowed up by desert for all we know.”

“Well she can’t stay in my bloody apartment!”

“Alright alright, achi,” Kobe rubbed his eyes. “I have the next three days free for the holiday. Guess I’ll be taking an extra one. You have enough sick days saved to take a year off. Put it in something better than a sack and I’ll hack a podcar so they can’t track where we’re going. We’ll drive it to this place and drop it off with the… pride or whatever. If there’s no oasis,we’re leaving it in the desert. No crying. No bullshit. It’s not coming back with us, got it?”

“Got it.”

“What’d you feed it anyway? Bird seed?"

“They eat meat.” Joni bit his crusty bread, “A lot of it. She ate every piece of meat I had. Have to get more tonight or she just might eat my hand.”

“Sounds great. Just great. So glad you’re dragging me into this solid decision.”

The next morning Kobe had woken up hoping the thing had died from Joni’s cooking and he could spend the day working on his project. But sure enough, duty had Joni at his door at the break of dawn, clutching a sturdy box. He’d dressed for desert weather-- boots, thick jump suit with a hood and sun visor so his eyes wouldn’t fill with sand. He had a sack filled with food and containers for urine. Two days in a self-driving podcar was going to be hell.

Kobe slapped some gloves in Joni’s hands which he noticed were covered in more scratches. “That thing is scratching you to pieces. Wear gloves, maniac.”



Sci FiSeriesShort StoryYoung AdultFantasy

About the Creator

Kelley Stead

Grew up on a steady diet of Anne McCaffrey and Stephen King.

Published in DreamForge Magazine.

A mixture of fiction and insights from the perspective of a writer, business owner, and casino person.

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