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User:Phil Geusz/Transmutational Transcontinental

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Transmutational Transcontinental

Author: Phil Geusz

I spent hours poring over the rules, looking for loopholes, errors, and inspiration. The purse was well worth a little study. But this year's Classic regulations were entirely straightforward. It looked to be a straight run for the money. Damn! I had won quite a few easy victories in the past by outhinking race committees, but they were learning. If I was going to keep my champion status intact I would have to do it the hard way.

I hate the hard way. It's a lot of work.

The year's biggest event was a toughie- New York to San Francisco by paw, hoof, or whatever, racer's choice. You set the course yourself, you choose your form yourself, you take your chances yourself. Like all the rest of the transcontinentals. A separate seaborne event was being held, but I don't particularly care for cetacean life. Besides, the big money and fame are to be found by the traditional land route. And, I have to admit, I rather enjoy matching wits with my competitors. This is rather hard to do as a whale- seaborne competitions are more tests of endurance than anything else. Land races, though, those are a different story...

Humans have always raced by every available means of transportation. Cars, boats, carriage, foot, pogo stick, you name it, we race it. With great intensity and enthusiasm. And when transmutation technology became widespread and cheap, well, new forms of racing came along pretty quickly. At first it was human horses, but soon it was cheetahs, pigeons, hawks, frogs, whales, gorillas...

Well, you get the idea.

And since the sport was a natural for tridee, the competitions soon became intense and frequent, with big money and endorsement contracts on the line almost weekly. A "big name" Transcontinental racer like me, well, I rarely have time to take on human form anymore between events. Even as I prepared for the Second Annual North American Classic, I was still in jackrabbit form from the Outback Dash, where I had placed a very close second to a rival of mine who had made the obvious choice of camel. Camels had also finished third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth. I thrive on not choosing the obvious and succeeding anyway, and the second place finish kept me well up in the point standings for the year. Besides, the sponsorships are so much more lucrative when you pick a different animal than everyone else...

Especially one that might not live through the event, given natural predation, unless the racer was a very skilled and experienced survivor indeed. Which, of course, I am. To my opponents frustration and dismay. At the finish line of the Outback, I had actually managed to draw more media attention than the winner...

Carefully, I used a pencil in my mouth to pick out the "page back" key on my perscomp and reread the rules yet again. Race was to run from the foot of the Empire State building to the Golden Gate bridge. Except for clearly marked paths through the cities at both ends of the course, travel by road was forbidden and racers were free to choose any route. Competitors must live off the land entirely, and must not have any contact with humans except for allowing media filming en-route. Sign-reading was allowed- you could hardly avoid it, after all. And water and shelter were where you found them. But otherwise, racers were forbidden from using any human technology. Bridges must not be used, for example. These are the usual guidelines for Transcontinental racing. Basically, we have to live as our chosen species for the duration of the event. We are even required to be mute.

Forms were relatively unlimited for this event as well. I could compete as any mammal, reptile, or flightless bird known to be alive in 1900. I smiled at this last requirement, or would have smiled had a jackrabbit been able to. Last year I had utilized the "any reptile" provision to become a pterodon with a 40 foot wingspan and win the first-ever race in an easy glide...

But it wasn't so easy this time. Try as I might, I could find no way to "cheat the system". Sighing quietly- hares sigh VERY quietly- I turned off the perscomp and laid down on the carpet. Trying to read the screen through jackrabbit eyes was giving me a headache, and I wasn't learning anything new.

Picking your form is THE key, of course. It was then, and still is today. A competitor has to be able to easily find food, escape predation, and travel quickly through the terrain and biomes in question. But there are so MANY biomes in this event! From the East Coast suburbia, to the cornfields of the Midwest, then the plains, the Rockies and the desert beyond. It is awesome to contemplate. You can starve, be eaten, fall off a cliff, drown, be shot, or even end up road kill if you aren't careful. And we haven't even CONSIDERED trying to win yet...

And there are river crossings. Big river crossings, unless you go 'way up North to get around the Mississippi system. Personally, I figured just about all of my competitors would choose that route rather than face the possibility of drowning. Just like it was a pretty safe bet that almost everyone else would choose some variant of either deer or equine form to make finding food relatively easy and long-distance running natural. Which meant that these options were closed to me. I had a reputation for originality, after all...

Predators never worked out. Hunting took too long.

Hmm....

A buffalo, perhaps? I would have no predation worries, and would have the advantage of being in natural habitat all the way. And the good ol' American Bison could make pretty decent time too. I'd have to avoid the river crossings like every one else...

Nah. Not original enough. Let the also-rans take that route. Victory was to be found in figuring out a way to both take the direct route AND go fast...

What about that Chinese water buffalo I'd once read about- the one that was bred long ago to pull small barges in canals not by walking along a path the way any sane person would arrange it, but by swimming? This form could handle the river crossings sure enough, but would be slow, slow, slow overland...

Close, but no cigar.

It was really too bad about those rivers. If it weren't for them I'd have been half tempted to stay a jackrabbit. I was well adapted to being a hare, and it suited me. I could avoid time in the tank, freeing me up to do more extensive route research than any other competitor- almost all the ones I was really worried about were still camels at the moment and would certainly have to transmutate to meet the demands of North America. The form was good for covering ground in a hurry, and easy on water. Food was a snap- even in the Australian desert I'd eaten decently. While I'd be out of my natural habitat part of the way, my form would be pretty close to the native lapine varieties for the entire route. What with the race being held in Summer, my form could survive easily anywhere on the continent.

Except in the rivers. I felt a wave of fear at the very idea of all that water clearly emanating from my current form's natural tendencies. No, I couldn't face the Mississippi as a hare. I'd never work up the nerve, and even if I did I'd almost certainly die. We competitors all had built-in panic buttons and tracers, of course, but you can drown awfully fast...

Hmm....

Raccoons could swim. And they were native almost everywhere too. If your species survives in the wild in a region, you can be pretty sure of eating while passing through their range yourself. And I just might manage to handle the Big Muddy as a 'coon. But could I cover the rest of the distance fast enough? I had a deadline to beat, one set by galloping horses and swift deer...

No. I would be too slow. Damnit.

Wait!! Maybe I could use all that water to my advantage! What if I took some sort of otter form? I could swim most of the way, using the Ohio, Mississippi and Missouri as highways instead of having them act as barriers. And that wasn't even looking at the minor streams that might allow me to work closer still to my goal. After all, the West slope of the Rockies was pretty wet- probably the only parts I would have to walk would be over the Divide itself and across a few interstitial divides in New York and California. I could fish as I traveled, live predator free, and let the current help me along a good part of the way...

And have the current work against me for an even larger part. And, have to travel all the curves of the rivers instead of having a straight shot.

Hell AND damnation!! This was going to be tough...

Thinking back, I remembered last year's contest. I had picked out a series of cliffs and river bluffs before I ever left the starting line, and had let the warming morning air lift me effortlessly to altitude. Then I had simply glided west to my next roost, using little or no effort to melt the miles away. My metabolism had been EXTREMELY efficient, though I had been forced to hunt a bit from time to time. Two deer and some carrion here and there had seen me through well enough. And the carrion had actually tasted quite good- a rather unique experience in itself. The rivers had been nothing, no trouble at all...

This was why the officials had ensured there would be no flying forms this time around- it had not even been a contest. A flying form was cheating, in a way...

Wait a minute...

Carefully I checked the rules again. No species extinct before 1900. Avian forms OK, but must be flightless. Reptiles And mammals...

I stood up on all fours and kicked my hindlegs in sheer joy, then dashed madly about my apartment in circles as I poured out my feelings in the only way my voiceless state would allow me. I had them, I had them, I had them! I was going to win again, And nothing could stop me! They had left another loophole!

Finally I calmed. Kicking again one last time for the sheer joy of it I headed back to the study. I had it, damnit, had it for sure. My heavy breathing still making me a bit unsteady, I powered up my perscomp to do a little research.

I was really eager to see what kind of bat I was going to be...