New Account Registration re-enabled - apparently the extension we use for ReCaptcha service had a configuration change and to utilize the more secure form it needed different parameters. We did not notice this when it occurred. Sorry folks!

PAW Collab

From Shifti
Jump to: navigation, search
This page contains the entire setup and story for a collaboration/round-robin story set in the Pig and Whistle universe. As much as Little Things is the opening story in the universe, this is intended to fill in some details of the universe and as the "opening salvo" - ie: it's what is intended to introduce Pig and Whistle to TSA-Talk. The participants are Devin Hallsworth, ShadowWolf, Michael Bard, Felix, Cubist, Arrow Quivershaft and Mr. Peaches.

The Pig and Whistle universe is open and this collaboration is just one story using the setting. Feel free to read the Pig and Whistle universe guidelines and write your own stories!
Icon
Pig and Whistle story universe
Icon
This story is a work in progress.
Icon
Work on this story is on hiatus.

The Story

Separator k left.png Alex Separator k right.png

"I'm hot-blooded! Check it and see / Got a fever, two hundred and three..."

It's a real old song, yeah. Old... but appropriate. Well, it is for me, anyway. My name's Alexander, but my friends call me 'Alex'. Or at least most of them do; for whatever reason, Scott seems to take a positively perverse delight in coming up with weird handles for me. That's okay; he'll get his, heh-heh-heh!

"Can't keep up -- won't catch me / Only thing you'll ever see / Is my Afterburner / Glowin', glowin', glowin', glowin'..."

It's all good, though, 'cause dumb nicknames don't really bother me. In fact, when you get right down to it, nothing bothers me. And no, it's not because TFOR made me some kind of emotionless zombie. It's more like... hmmm... I guess the best way to say it is, "Don't sweat the small stuff."

And frankly, once you wake up other-than-human, it's all small stuff.

"When you're hot, you're hot / An' when you're not, you're not..."

Oh, you noticed a common theme to my tunes? Like I said, it's appropriate. When blowtorch fever hit me, I never cooled down; my temp just kept rising. Leveled off around 195 Fahrenheit, plus or minus a few degrees.

Right now, it's hot enough that I actually considered not wearing the bodysuit; then I remembered what day it is. Maybe the ambient temperature's high enough that I wouldn't freeze to death... but the suit doesn't just protect my health.

It also keeps me from unwittingly giving first-through-third-degree burns to anyone who gets too close to me.

"It's like a heat wave / Burnin' in my heart..."

And what's so special about today? Just my social life, such as it is. A long-running roleplaying game; me and, like, five or six other guys, including the GM. Most of us are teefers ourselves. We wouldn't reject a norm if they asked, but... they generally don't ask. It's been a few decades since the torch and TFOR came to town, but even so, a lot of norms find it difficult to warm up to us teefers -- even the ones who aren't intrinsically physical hazards to your general well-being. Go figure.

So we do the RPG thing, once a week. And we don't worry ourselves about why a person might've chosen to play exactly whichever kind of character he's playing.

"Give me steam / And how you feel to make it real / Real as any place you've been..."

Separator k left.png Scott Separator k right.png

Call me crazy, if you want. Here I am wearing a full fur coat during one of the hottest summers since the Collapse. But I can't just take it off - that fur coat is part of me, just as the muzzle and ears are part of me. Yep, I'm a teefer - one of the numerous sufferers of the disease known as "Transformative Failure of Ontogenetic Regulation". In this case the transformation left me with a matte-black fur coat and all kinds of other features normally only found on a member of Canis Lupis or Canis Familiaris.

Sure, it's made me immortal - I haven't aged a day since the aptly named "blowtorch fever" progressed into TFOR and left me the walking, talking fur-coat I am today. Sure, it's a hard life, I changed during the height of the collapse, before Canada invaded, so I've had a long time to get over any mental problems I may have had. Yeah, that did take a long time.

Separator k.png

I opened the door to the "Pig and Whistle" and waved to Gordy as I crossed the floor, heading for my normal table. There was one figure seated already - and the insulating suit was the only thing I needed to know who it was.

"Hey Hephy! Wish I'd had you on site today. Idiot I was working with seemed to barely know which end of the torch to point at the wires." His name's Alex, but there are so many nicknames that have gotten attached to him its pitiful.

"Your usual, Scott?" Gordies almost subsonic bass rumbled across the room to me.

"You know it!" I yelled back as I took a seat across the table from Alex.

Knowing that I couldn't have been only the second of my usual group of drinking buddies to arrive I sniffed the air. It carried all the normal scents of the bar, but there was the distinct undercurrent of something else - an animal that shouldn't be in the bar itself but often was. So I looked up into the exposed beams of the trestle roof and caught a glimpse of brown fur and black-striped tail. That'd be Coati - don't know what her name was before TFOR got her (or even if she started life as a female), but us teefers are a hardy bunch. Her only problem is that she's all but given up on life - her fur is nasty, matted and uncared for and she is scrawny, as if she doesn't get enough to eat.

But that doesn't stop me from being her friend. With the torch and the collapse having consumed an estimated fifty percent of the worlds population we've got to stick together. At least we aren't persecuted…Well, at least not here in Polyton County, New York—I faced my share of small minded idiots during the war that destroyed the "New Confederacy" and made it part of the NAR.

But that's besides the point. If things hold true to form Coati will stay up in the rafters until the other members of our tiny group of friends shows up. And no, we aren't all teefers—Susanna Douglas, our groups youngest (we think) is still human, even though she does testing of leg prosthetics made for teefers. If she ever comes down with TFOR, I'm hoping that it's kind to her and she gets her legs back. A healing power would be a nice bonus for her—seeing as she lost her legs before she graduated high school.

"Well..." I started to say something, because I didn't know when the rest of our group would show. Dashiel was in town, but as much work as he does on those documentaries of his means I can't be certain of when he'll get here, and Susanna would probably be the next person through the doors—if she wasn't over in the Hotel talking to one of the teefers that had benefited from the prosthetics testing she does.

"How's life treating you, Tuvok?" Don't worry if you don't get that nickname of Alex's. It refers to a pre-collapse TV show—the character Tuvok looked to be of African descent, but was an alien from the planet Vulcan. And Vulcan was the Roman name for the Greek God Hephaestus—fitting moniker for a guy that looks like a living pile of lava, no?

Separator k left.png Susanna Separator k right.png

Normally I can hold a good pace and reach anywhere in the city on foot in less than three hours and I like jogging so I do this a lot. Not that I have too many appointments out on the city limits.

Normally however my computer firewall catches most of the viruses out there before they get into my computer or worse, into my legs. I dont even know who in the hell would design a virus to target people who have leg prosthetics but it pisses me off.

Reinstalling the OS was a pain but didnt take any more than five to ten minutes. The real pain would be getting the software reconditioned to not only my gait but to some of my dance moves. Walking is one thing, backflips? Nuhuh, forget it.

"Hey Kimberly?" I said, calling up my teacher at the dance studio. "I got a virus and my prosthetics are completly wiped. It'll take me a week just to get them to recognize my hip movements properly, I dont even want to think about stressing them with anything else until they get used to the normal stuff again."

She understood. Well of course she does. A student with two prosthetic legs calls in and tells you she cant come in to practice because she has to relearn walking what are you going to say? Not that she needs to say anything. A dance tournament coming up in a month and this would effectivley cut my practice time in half. If I dont place in the top three I dont get any cash. If I dont get any cash I am living off macaroni and cheese for a month.

BLEH!!


Separator k.png


Times like this I wish I hadn't had to sell my old human style prosthetics. My parents had to pay for them after that crash. When I was sixteen I couldnt even tell you what the hell a transfemoral amputation was. Seventeen to eighteen I was relearning to walk with steel and elastomer legs that started just shy of my hips.

Not that I missed them, they were a hand me down from the mid twentys and were embarasingly clunky. But when your legs are vunerable to stuff like computer viruses you begin to appreciate how handy it can be to have a second pair around the place.

I suppose I could get a job at a burger joint or something, stop spending eight hours a day with my routines at the dance studio. I'm not even really sure how far I can take dancing professionally, as it stands now I make enough from competition wins and tutoring to cover some of my rent and most of my food expenses. But if it wasn't for the job I got testing out leg prosthetics for teefers I wouldn't have any other choice but to.. oh what was it my mother said last time I visited? Oh yes 'Get real' with my life.

Too illustrate how likely that is too happen. Here is what in my imagination would be a brief montage of me tackling a flight of stairs with digitigrade legs ending in hooves set to some music from a Benny Hill skit. Ow...

Separator k.png

Wake up at seven am.

Discover legs are gimped. Use profanity.

Eight am to two pm.

Walk around a park on a fairly good side of town so I dont have to worry about running away from any potential muggers while I reteach the computers in my legs my mannerisms.

Three to five pm

Attempt at jogging.


Five thirty pm.

Face plant into pavement. MUCH profanity. Call it a day.

Five thirty to six thirty pm.

Slow paced walk to local bar.

Six thirty pm.

"Hey Goordy. Can I get a water and some tylenol?" I ask as I walk over to my ussual table. Some of the gang is already here. I cheer myself up by tormenting one of them, what are friends for?

I make as if blowing warmth into my hands as Scott and Alex look up. I wave at them and walk over to Alex, putting my hands lightly on the outside of his insulation suit. "Ahhhh.. thats better." I say with a grin before taking my now fairly warm hands off his helmet type deal. I sit down, and without missing a beat, he looks at Scott and quips: "When you're as hot as I am, it's hard to keep the women away!"

A shitty day always gets better around friends.

Separator k left.png Coati Separator k right.png

Getting up after a long afternoon nap, I poked my muzzle out and sniffed the darkness. Hmph. Draft. Have to mention to Gordie there's a hole up here somewhere. Somewhere below a small clock finished dinging. Sometimes I hated these damn ears, but far too many times they'd saved me from more pain. Not that I didn't deserve it.

I refused to go down there. Not tonight. One night a week ever since that brat Arrow dragged us into that game of his. What was it? AGILD. Stupid waste of time. Never hurt to humour the kid though. Keep a bit of light in this fucked world.

It didn't take long for me to wiggle along the rafter, trying not to scratch it too much, and down the little hole in the back. Kept it in the shadows, had a cover for it in the winter. Kept the bar patrons happy. I kept the rodents down, Gordie got a cleaner place, and everybody was happy. The wood squelched easily under my claws as I pulled myself up and onto the top of a rafter. Always liked the sweet scent of new wood I clawed along.

Ah, there they are. Just Scott and Alex. Drat, Scott noticed me. So much for my usual surprise. So I sat down and waited, cleaning my tattered whiskers. Not sure why I cared, they'd just grow back anyway. Pretzels were lots, just not anything living. Local cats loved me, what with all the dead mice and rats I left out for them.

Huh, there's Suzanne now. Who'd have guessed? What the fuck happened to her? Even though I couldn't smell it, knew she wouldn't do it, she walked like a drunk. If something wrong with her legs, why come in? We're not that important.

A virus? A fucking virus. Jesus fucking Christ. What the hell is this world coming to?

I jumped down from the rafter and thumped on the table. A stab of pain shows I broke a toe, or an ankle. Don't know anymore, don't care. 'Voder was fine -- it could be hit by a nuke and keep working. They'd tested that once. Hissing and clicking, I began my lecture Susan really needed:

"He's too hot for you Susan. It would be a steamy romance, a scalding honeymoon, and then a slow cookery of a marriage. But, I do have to say something-- You'd think by now that stupid bitches would know enough to make backups."

She stared, yanked out of her fucking self pity. She has no idea what self pity is.

"Oh come on! Don't look at me like that. None of you. I though there were more than three brain cells here." I turned back to Susan. "You've got a firewall so you know the fucking things exist. Remember when they upgraded to Internet 2.0? Said it would stop viruses and spammers? Lasted less than two days as I recall. You must have something for when an upgrade fucks the legs up worse than they were. Oh come on! Jesus, Darwin's having a fucking field day--

"Look. I hate virus writers as much as any of you. Maybe more. I have no clue who gets their jollies out of crippling cripples. Hell, the bastard is probably at a bar right now, drinking with his idiot buddies and bragging about how many cripples he's sealed in their homes. I just hope the cripples have basic care setup -- otherwise they could be stranded in a lonely apartment, and slowly starve to death because they can't afford basic medical care in today's fucked up society and universal health went down with Canada.

"If you find any, you let me know. I've got a particularly vicious way to make the bastards die. Until then, all we can do is take precautions and live with it. Because, god knows, there'll always be somebody who finds a way to get through anything."

"Just how many ways can a raccoon viciously kill someone? NO! No wait, on second thought don't tell me."

If only she knew--

With that she smirked and threws back her tylenol and some water. "Its not as bad as it sounds anyway," she continued. "The basic OS unconfigured for an individual biped can get you too the door or the phone at the very least. But yes a backup would have been nice this morning."

"Fucking right. And you won't not have one again, will you? Though so." I hopped over and grabbed a pretzel. "Hey Gordie, where's my Guiness?"

Separator k left.png Robert Separator k right.png

I fluttered down to the door of the Pig and Whistle from my mews on the roof of the hotel. My mood wasn't the best; I'd gotten injured at work that day. Golden eagle decided to try and take me down; it didn't kill me, but did give me some cuts and a bruise on my wing. Had to fill out an injury report, dictating the problem to the vet to write down, and then she took the report to my boss. Healer's off this week, and so the boss put me on one week unpaid medical leave to make sure I'm ok. I really don't like that. Another week until I can get that specialized computer and get online again. And hell, yes the vet is responsible for me, but I've really had worse. Sure, there's a dull throb of pain, but what's an average bird do when it gets hurt? It doesn't call in sick, I can tell you that. And when I got back, boss’d be riding my tailfeathers to get the birds back off the runway, because if I’m gone for a week, the suckers will take right over the thing.

The bandages didn’t feel right, either. Crushing the feathers under them…sometimes it surprised me how used I’d gotten to not being human. Kinda disturbing at times, but it wasn’t like I had any choice in being what I was…

I cruised down to the door, of the tavern, tapped twice with my beak, and sent out a general telepathic message. <Could someone open the door, please?> One of the regulars opened it a few moments later and I hopped in. He nodded in greetings to me.

“Heya Rob…you ok?” He said as he glanced at the bandages on my left wing.

<I’m fine. Got clipped by a golden eagle at work today; coulda been a lot worse.> He nodded again at the mention of what happened. I hop-fluttered over to the bar. <Heya Gordy, got my drive?> Gordy nodded and got it out of the safe box. Storing all my game notes that weren’t in my head, it was essential to the game night, since I’m the GM…I gripped it in a talon a bit unsteadily and flew into the back room at low speed, landing on my normal perch that’d been set up, and stuck my drive into the table. <So, how is everyone tonight? See we’re still missing Dashiel, but that’s fine right now…anyone else?> I glanced around the table; everyone was getting ready.

Separator k left.png Scott Separator k right.png

Would you believe I remember the release of the first dual-core processors? True, it wasn't that long ago - only thirty years or so, but I was in college when it happened. And before you make some smart-ass comment, Coati... Yes, I did go to college. The Collapse ruined that for me - I was a year away from a Masters in Engineering. Back then I was what you'd call a "Pacifist" - I didn't thing violence or war solved anything. But when the dorms were hit by one of the roving loot-gangs, well...

I was raised on a farm. I'd never been a small person—bailing hay and other farm-work builds a lot of muscle. They killed people that had surrendered, and that was the last thing I needed to see to know that the only way to combat violence is with violence. So I joined the new Pennsylvania National Guard - that is, the Pennsylvania National Army - and went into training a few months later. Then, in December 2010, a week before I was due to head out and start defending the borders I came down with the Torch. When I came to I was assigned to the second special operations company.

Anyway... New technology is a wonderful thing. A sign that humanity, at least, is back on track towards the future that was a large part of the entertainment of the Twentieth Century. Look at this table - a complete, three-dimensional display! I'd read articles in magazines about the early work done on these before the collapse, but who would have imagined that the decade halt in scientific progress that the fever and collapse caused would lead to leaps of technology like this?

But, just like before the collapse, technology hits the market before all but the nastiest of bugs are fixed. And Suze, if I didn't know better I'd swear your legs were running Windows. But these days, even with the maturity of the BSD's and Linux the OS people are lagging so far behind the assholes who write viruses that its pitiful. Thirty years ago I'd have laughed if you told me that Linux viruses would be widespread. Now? Well... I guess it's all just backlash because of how MS killed itself with all that registration bullshit that they built into their operating systems before the collapse. When the MS servers were stolen or destroyed during the riots their fate was sealed.

Still... I often wonder if the virus problems aren't because the people that best understood the source code to the various operating systems died in the collapse. But then, it could just be because all the manpower that used to focus on exploiting Windows is now focused on the OS's we use on everything where they used to be ignored. Hell, I don't know...


Separator k left.png Dash Separator k right.png

I finished the final review of the current chapter, saved it, duped it to DVD, and leaned back, purring. The new book was coming along very well, with the pictures from a new area of the NAR I hadn't been to before. I got up from the pad I have in front of the computer I use to write on, then got in a good stretch to relieve the stress. I enjoyed the writing, but was really looking forward to going back to the wilderness next month.

You'd think that living in a basement would give trouble, but for a den dweller like me, the somewhat cramped space felt right. The building super knew where my place was, and left the area alone. The somewhat primitive toilet and water supply met my needs, and the shelves outside the entrance kept my research materials close enough at hand without crowding. The computer, a small kitchen, my sleeping nest, and a couple of chairs for human friends was all there was in here. Comfy, as I said.

I licked a hand/paw and washed my face, thinking. The next chapter...how to set it up to flow. I continued my toilet, letting my bodies instincts carry on while I blocked out the chapter in my mind. Sometimes, being a cat has advantages. I'd been a Canadian Lynx for enough years to have gotten used to it - if a human ever can. I drifted into a semi-sleeping state, and remembered...

Separator k.png

I'd been out on a wilderness trip when the Torch hit me for the third time - and I Changed. Thank God there was a trained nurse along on vacation; when she recognized the symptoms of the Torch starting, she called an airevac and got me to a hospital in time to survive. It had taken a while to get used to the changes, and figure ways around the worst features. Retaining my hands and some flexibility in the shoulders at least allowed me to write, and the speech specialist I'd found had fitted me with an artificial palate, allowing me to speak almost normally. So far, I hadn't found any 'powers' like some of my friends had, but, being a lynx I could be incredibly stealthy.

The first time I'd been out to the wilderness after the change, I found that, with care, I could sneak up on a deer and touch it before the deer knew I was there! I'd invested in a video cam and solid state recorder with a huge memory and had it installed on a collar mount aimed to 'see' between my ears. When I showed that video and other footage I'd taken while prowling the woods to some of my Green friends they about went crazy! They called in people from a wildlife network, and when they saw the videos, they offered me a job as a stringer on the spot. I was in heaven, being paid to do what I'd always loved, walk the wilderness!

When the network people saw what I could do, and heard my commentaries on the videos, they saw a chance to beat out their hated rival show, and offered me a position as a Host as well, recording my comments on the types of animal I was going to show them, and then adding an audio track to my hunts. I'd climb a tree and get video of rabbits and other small animals just living, something the human crew could only do at a distance with a long lens, but I was far closer, being a part of the environment as they never could. Before long, I was a real Star, recognized and accepted wherever I went. And my books sold too! I could plan my own trips, and go wherever I wanted.

Separator k.png

Something was bothering my catnap though, and I couldn't figure what it was. I sighed and came fully awake, then looked at the clock - almost seven. What in the world was my subconscious nagging me about? Then it hit me - Sweet Bastet, it's Game night! And I was late! I scrambled around and grabbed a pair of clean shorts, struggled into them, them fastened the buttons. I snatched up my belt and got it on, then shot out the entrance to my den and flew across the basement to the stairs at a dead run!

Up the steps, through the 'cat door' and across the kitchen at a blur, then into the lobby, a skidding turn, and headed down the hall to the Pig and Whistle. I slowed before coming to the door and took a moment to catch my breath. Then, according to the Cat Code, I sauntered through the door and over to the table. I jumped up to my normal seat, took a moment to wash my face (got to look cool before my friends, after all!) then fumbled in my belt pouch for my false palate. I got it seated to my satisfaction, then found and inserted my game thumb drive. Everyone was there already, so I said, "Good evening! Arrr we rrready to play?" and listened to them laughing with a smile.

Separator k left.png Scott Separator k right.png

I'm a bit dumbfounded. Sure, I'm canine and Dash is feline, but all those problems they talk about existing between canines and felines are just myths. Still, I'm dumbfounded that he comes tearing in barely on time and acts like its nothing. I mean, is this normal for cats or is it something that humans do too?

Maybe I just never saw people acting that way, but that still doesn't excuse the act. Not like I should complain about it, so... "Napping again, Dash?"

"Hey, I'm a cat, you know?"

"Don't gimme that bullshit! You're may be more feline than I am canine, but even Coati and Rob here both are fully animal and they don't give into every whim of the instincts that came with their bodies. And don't gimme that shit about whatever cause TFOR's and the Torch doing this to you."

Okay, so I'm being a hard-ass tonight. Chalk it up to me having a nasty day at work and not being able to make it to a shielded range to burn it off with some plasma tossing. And that, people, is why I'm convinced TFOR's isn't natural. What? Don't believe me? Think about it for a minute then I'll fill you in on my own cogitation…

…Done? Okay…

It can't be natural, you know? Look at the facts – it's rare for a fever to hit 104° and the torch has been recorded as high as 110°… Hell, look at Alex here–with him the temp just kept going up and now it's what's normal for him. Not that I'm complaining—you should see how fast he can make a solder-joint between cable-ends. That slag-like skin of his has a purpose, that's for sure–he can handle molten solder with his bare hands as easily as he can melt the stuff.

But really… When I went through the torch the only thing that kept me alive was the snow on the ground. Yep – it was the middle of December in the Blue Mountain region of the Appalachians. Naked, laying in the snow outside with a cold saline drip. At first I wasn't going to do it – the doc's had to have a better way, right? Wrong. The US National power grid had been severed by then and the power plants that existed locally couldn't fill the demand, even with only emergency services connected. Hospitals were running their generators into the ground and the fuel supply was already highly rationed.

And then came TFOR. At that point I was glad my parents had died during the first wave of panic at the head of the collapse. They were strict Mennonites and what TFOR did to me would have had them convinced I had been cursed by God. And even if they'd been able to accept that it wasn't some curse for some imagined sin I wouldn't have wanted them to be around while TFOR turned me into the handsome beast I am today. And I'm sure that the brains working on the problem will find the cause of TFOR soon–not like it could be some alien bug, right? It's either a man-made thing – which, admittedly, it pretty much has to be – or it's one of the strangest bugs to ever come out of Africa.

Huh? The stranger forms, like Alex? Well… Sure, I guess that is a point in favor of the bug that gave us the torch and TFOR being alien. But where are the aliens that brought it to Earth? Surely we'd have found their ship if they'd crashed and anyway, how could a bug specializing in one species make the jump to a species that evolved in a completely different biosphere? And if it's not a natural bug – and I don't think even a naturally occurring alien bug could do what this one does – then why unleash it and disappear? Isn't it more likely that they've unleashed it to make us easier to conquer or something similar?

Separator k left.png Alex Separator k right.png

Well, sure, the torch is weird. And TFOR is weirder. But still... a deliberate creation? Come on, get real! Seriously. Okay, blowtorch fever's wiped out something like half of the human race, so let's say that whoever created it, alien or human or mad scientist or whatever, was trying to wipe out half the human race.

In that case, okay, it's a biological weapon -- but why the hell would whoever it is have bothered to build TFOR into their weapon? I mean, why not just tweak Ebola into a more-dangerous version? Wouldn't that be easier and cheaper than creating a body-changing bug? And the same goes for pretty much any other reason someone might have for creating TFOR and/or the torch: Whatever your goal might happen to have been, there's got to be an easier way to achieve that goal than by creating blowtorch fever!

That doesn't mean the torch evolved naturally, though. What the hell kind of selective pressures even could end up causing something like TFOR to exist, you know?

So if deliberate design is out, and natural origin is out, what's left? Me, I think the torch was a mistake. Maybe it's an alpha-stage prototype, maybe it mutated after it was released onto Earth, maybe something else in that general neighborhood. Beats the hell out of me!

Separator k left.png Robert Separator k right.png

I looked at Scott and Alex presenting their views on torch fever. After they were done, I started speaking with a general broadcast telepathy. <I really don't know whose opinion to fall in with. It could be artificial, it could be natural, I really don't know. It's been a fact of my life since I was a kid…lost some classmates to it at all levels of school.

Myself, I caught it my first time when I was 21 in college. And after the fever got bad, I just started shrinking. And shrinking. And shrinking. Except my arms, they only lost a little bit of length. I've seen the pictures they took at the hospital; kinda disturbing. Of course, I wasn't exactly lucid at the time; delirious with the fever.

So…yeah. Probably the worst bit initially was being unable to talk or manipulate things in any usable fashion; I was a comp sci major. But the medical bill wiped out my savings, and I didn't have hands anymore, so that was difficult. Nor could I even talk. So really, I just consider it a fact of life, having grown up with it.>

Separator k left.png Susanna Separator k right.png

Sue looked at her thumb drive despondently. Even after everyone else had inserted theirs and uploaded their characters info she still glared at it. "You know whats wrong with this game?" She asked.

"The lack of rules preventing a CERTAIN member of the roleplaying party from getting greedy and taking off with the dragons gold while the rest of the party fights said dragon?" Coati asked venemously.

Sue winked back at her. "I was playing a thief. I had to stay in character." She chuckled and then inserted the thumbdrive into the table slot nearest her. "It has to be played on a holotable. Now holotables are great and all, I mean its just like miniatures from way back in the old days of tabletop gaming but it doesn't leave enough to the imagination and it doesnt always quite get your intent when it shows the character animations."

"It works fine for doing stuff like... oh I dont know... Assisting your teammates in defeating highway bandits." Coati observed. Sue nodded to the coon.

"Indeed. But what about the more grandiose? For instance what if I wanted to surf on a shield down a flight of stairs lopping off soldiers heads as I went..."

<You're still banned from doing that again Sue.> Robert said quickly, being responsible as the GM to keep an eye on her...

"Oh I know." She grinned mischievously before getting 'serious' again. "But remember how sucky the animation of that was? I mean in my imagination at least it was a hoot but it wasn't much to look at on the table. At least not until I took that massive dexterity failure at the bottom right into that group of Paladins. That was very well animated." Sue cackled evilly. "Of course I think I've found a way to help this game be a bit more..."

<You are prebanned from uploading animations of your choosing to the game.> Robert jumped in quickly, seeing where she might be heading.

"What!? No! Foiled again!" Sue banged her head softly on the holo table before standing up. "I'll be back in a second. I just gotta get a drink and talk to Goordy about something."

Separator k left.png Rosa Separator k right.png

"Bzzt. Bzzzz.... Bzzt..."

She was a gem-cutter, and damn good at it. Leaning forward against the back of her chair, she peered through her crafter's lens with an obsessive eye, delicately touching the raw ruby to the spinning steel/diamond plate, creating the facets that would form the all-important shineyness.

Her whiskers twitched thoughtfully.

Her leg started squirming. Like a bout of infectious laughter it moved up her body until she squirmed out of her chair, threw on the phosphorescent light, and scampered over to the over sized hamster wheel in the corner. Throwing off her dark work clothes, she hopped onto the wheel and ran for dear life, mouth hanging open manically. It was one of the more drastic changes she's experienced since the fever... well, other than the obvious. The energy that hummed in her lithe body needed to be burned off every now and again... luckily for her, GemCorp had purchased her this handy wheel.

A knock at the door, and her in the nude! Rosa Myers rolled out of the wheel and threw on her clothes, crying:

"Just a moment!"

When again decent, she opened the door with a black-furred paw, admitting the manager, one Kevin Collier by name, a towering African American man with a pleasant face. Smiling down at her, he stepped into the room and crossed to her work-station, examining the ruby she was cutting. It practically exploded with light. Kevin was pleased indeed... as always.

"This is good, stuff, Rosa." He shook his head in amazement. "I think, if you can cut the rest like this, you're ready to start on diamonds."

"Really?!" Her ears perked up and she clapped her paws together with joy.

"Really," the man reassured her, "but, ah... there *is* something else we need to talk about..."

"Oh?" Her ears drooped nervously.

"You see..."

"Is it the musk?"

"Huh?"

"I... sometimes I... I *use* a lot of shampoo..." she looked despondently downward, ears flat in embarrassment. To her immense relief Kevin laughed.

"No, Rose, it's not that. We want you to start working less overtime."

"Oh?"

"Yeah. You signed up for the 6-2 shift, right?"

"Uh-huh."

"Ah... it's about five-thirty now."

"Oh! Really?!" Rosa skittered over to her purse and dug through the bits of tinfoil and stray dimes until she found her cell phone. "Oh! I'm sorry!"

"That's all right," Kevin replied. "but in these past four weeks you've logged about 80 hours of overtime. Now, your work is great--the best I've ever seen, in fact-- but the company honestly can't afford to pay you *so much* overtime. Let's try and cut it down to maybe five hours overtime *max* per week, okay? Or even better--it's really OK if you just want to work your scheduled shifts."

"Ok," Rosa glanced at *her* ruby... that deliciously shiny ruby. "I guess I'll finish... Monday?"

"There you go. Go home. See your friends!"

"Right..." At "friends" the small mammal drooped visibly and Kevin was afraid he'd accidentally struck a nerve. He was well aware that people with her... condition sometimes lost the friends they'd known... before. Hell, God knew that Kevin loved her (in a purely platonic and friendly manner), but, well... people just don't want to be friends with their managers.

Awkwardly, he put a hand on her shoulder. "See you Monday, Rosa. We're... I'm glad you're with us."

Separator k.png

The bus rides were fine, all in all. TFORs were common enough now that people were cool, by and large. It was always nicer, too, when she wore her favorite shirt, which read:

Yes, I'm a FERRET

With the word FERRET over where her breasts would have been had they and their new sisters not been a bit lower down and utterly invisible under the fur. She leaned back and watched the city go by, afternoon sun playing off her furry face. She switched positions as a punk got on the bus and laughed at her. She hissed at him. He got off the bus.

Separator k.png

The little ferret, home again home again (jiggity jog), deposited her daily collection into her Shineys room, then pondered her manager's advice, gnawing fried chicken.

Go out with friends.. well she hadn't gone out in a while, it was true... not since she'd caught the fever this June...

June! She snapped her clawed fingers. Her birthday had been in June! She'd caught the fever just three days before and lost track! She was twenty-one now! That meant--

"BOOZE!" She pumped a fist in the air. "I gotta get to a bar!"

She clapped her paws in delight... and then wished she had some friends who would celebrate with her.

"Well... well... I'll just make some *new* friends, then! Hmph!" Sticking her pink nose in the air and swishing her tail, she marched resolutely to her bedroom to prepare. She'd be fine... having no friends didn't hurt! ...Horribly! ...Most of the time...

Separator k.png

A couple of taxis passed by before one picked her up, but not too many. She hopped in and simply asked the driver to take her to a nice, friendly bar. The ride was over quickly, and she found herself in front of a friendly-looking establishment vaguely reminiscent of those fantasy movies that came out now and again (how long had it been since she'd been to a movie?). The charming sign read "The Pig and Whistle." She sniffed the air inquisitively; smelled like they made some good grub. She kept sniffing. Apparently, they also had a petting zoo or something. Cool.

The door towered above her, and it took awhile before she found a smaller door-within-the-door to squeeze through. Into the light and sound and merriment she stepped, her first excursion since June 14th, 2038.

Separator k.png

"Wowwww!" Her jaw fell open as she entered the joint. The inside was huge and there were TFORs and people *everywhere!* There were people playing some kind of video game, and other people hanging out, and there was even some weird sort of doll house in one corner! Her ferret nature wanted to start scurrying around, sniffing and investigating everything, but instead she forced herself to walk calmly to a corner table with chairs that looked like they'd seat her perfectly. On her way, she passed the gaming company, which consisted of a cyborg, a mangy cat and a bird, amongst others (she didn't stare long because that would have been impolite and she wanted to make a good impression.) As she passed, they looked her with interest.

"Hee." She smiled at them, brandishing her huge canines.

She sat at the table for about five minutes before she figured out there were no waitresses here. Wringing her hands nervously, she hopped up on a box in front of the bar and hailed the colossal cow-thing that was behind.

"Ahem... I guess I'll take a thimble of everything?" She smiled again. "Hee?"

Separator k left.png Scott Separator k right.png

"I'm going to finish practicing that move I saw that Paladin use last time." The game was just getting under way, and the party wasn't all awake for the day yet. With my action for the turn done I sat back a bit and looked as the Whistle's door opened. A very young looking ferret-morph teefer nervously stepped inside and looked around in awe, her eyes coming to rest on the dollhouse version of the bar jokingly called the "Small Critter Zone". Then her eyes scanned the game table and I thought she was going to lose it to the ferret side of her body and start running around the room exploring.

She was cute, but she was too young and definitely too excitable for me to have anything more than a passing interest in her. So I turned back to the game in time to see something moving in the shadows of the dawn. It wasn't the right shape to be any member of the party, and didn't move like an animal would. "Rob, I'd like to make an emergency perception check to see if my character sees what I've spotted."

He glared at me and was about to respond when I heard the ferrets order and tapped the pause button for the table. "Let's take a break real quick. I just heard someone make a poor choice in orders." They all nodded as I stood and I heard Rob's voice in my head.

<She's cute, but way too young for you, old man.>

I chuckled, because Rob shows a sense of humor fit for a grunt at the strangest of times–and he's never served! Three loping strides took me to the bar and I smiled at the ferret. "Miss, you might want to read the sign behind the bar and rethink your order. And Gordy, refills for the game on me."

With a girlish squeal the ferret jumped in surprise and looked at me. "Wha? What sign?"

Gordy smiled as I pointed to the large signs hanging behind the bar. One reads "We have almost anything you're ever likely to order" and the other says "Bar Policy: You get exactly what you order, so order carefully."

The ferret read them and looked at me puzzled. "This... is bad?"

That made me laugh. "Of course it is, miss. Some of what he has behind that bar could kill you pretty quick. Alex over there..." I pointed to the table. "The one in the thermal suit. He drinks a concoction that is made with stuff that is normally used to keep lubricants from boiling. Very nasty stuff – class 3 poison – but it doesn't do a thing to him." The tray with everyones drinks had appeared while I was explaining the mistake she'd made. As I picked it up my brain caught up with me and I set it back down.

"I forgot my manners, Miss. Welcome to The Pig and Whistle! The name is Scott Jameson." So I'm a bit of an old-fashioned fool. Not that it matters that I didn't have those manners thirty years ago—the military had drilled them into me.

"Rosalinda Myers. Call me Rosa." Her answer came out fast and nervously. That bothered me to no end, but also confirmed that she hadn't been a teefer all that long. She was still fighting the ferret and hadn't managed to conquer it and become a single being again.

"If you're here alone, we've got room at our table. We may be playing a game, but we're good company." She looked shocked and a half-minute later she opened her mouth to say something. "No, don't answer. Get your order and if you want, just come over and take a seat."

The tray seemed heavier than it ever had, but it had to be all psychological, because there was nothing on it that I hadn't carried to the table dozens of times. As I sat down I tapped the pause button and brought the game back to life. Sure, I was worried about Rosalinda, but if Gordy was serving her she was an adult and could make decisions on her own.

Separator k left.png Rosa Separator k right.png

Oh God I'm so embarrassed...

Rosa wanted to slink under her barstool. She was so out of place here. God... she was twenty-one already; why couldn't she feel her age? While Scott had been nice, she'd felt like a child being pulled back from a hot stove. They all must think she was such a doof! Of course this place had dangerous stuff! Why not?! Hell, she hadn't even known that TFORs could be anything but animals... what did that guy Alex think?!

That huge cow guy, "Gordy," was looking at her expectantly, and she earblushed further. Hell, what kinds of alcohol *were* there anyway? She hadn't the foggiest idea...

Oh God I should just leave right now...

But no! Her brain admonished. This was her night out, damn it! She was going to make friends! Or something! She put a paw to her muzzle and cleared her throat petitely, addressing Gordy.

"Ahem. OK, ahm... well, I suppose I'll take, ah... just, like, three random types of alcohol that won't kill a ferret? In little glasses? You can surprise me... you're the barkeep..."

She smiled hopefully at the end of this sentence, and to her cosmic relief Gordy nodded and turned around to the bar, pouring stuff out. She sighed in relief, rubbing her cheek fur idly. In short order the bovine presented the ferret with said glasses in an easy-to-carry... carrier.

"Thank you!" She stepped off the box lightly and made her way to the table where the gamers where hovering over their flickering lights, lights which absolutely delighted the mustelid. Walking with as much poise as she could muster, she scrabbled onto an empty seat at said table and addressed the company.

"Ah... hi. Scott said it was OK if I...?"

Meeting with approval, she smiled and said "Well, um... my names Rosa. Rosa Myers. I work at GemCorp, cuttin' stones."

"Rosa, this is Alex," he said of the lava dude, "this is Susanna" (The human with the cybernetic legs,) "Robert" (the hawk that made the ferret jump with his psychic <hello,>)Coati (The... well, the coati) "and Dash" (the lynx.) Introductions were made all around. "So... what're you guys playing?" Rosa inquired, eyes watching the flickering shapes with great interest.

<It's AGILD,> Robert telepathically explained, <A fantasy role-playing game.>

"It's more an excuse to hobnob," Scott added.

<For some more than others,> Robert quipped.

"Your wing is bandaged!" Rosa noticed. "Are you OK?"

<Oh, yeah, I'm fine,> the hawk said. <Got tagged by a golden eagle today.>

"Oh, man! How'd that happen?"

<Occupational hazard. I keep smaller birds away from the airport, and today I was the smaller bird.>

"Ow..." Rosa sniffed at her first alcoholic sampler. "Well, um, don't let me hold you guys back! I like watching games as much as playing them."

"You could create a character so you could jump in later," Susanna suggested.

<Most excellent.> Robert pulled up a little character creation screen on Rosa's side of the table, and she started tapping options on it as the game continued.

So far, so good.

Separator k left.png Alex Separator k right.png

Okay, that ferretty girl. She's been looking at me on and off ever since she walked in...

Well, that's alright; I fully understand why. I mean, I do look weird, what with the bulky insulated suit covering damn near everything, and the solid black bits showing up anywhere you can see my bare skin. So it's all good, far as I'm concerned — but she's all embarrassed, trying not to let her looks stray over the line to 'staring' and all.

"Hey there," I say to her, keeping my tone light. She twitches all over like she's having a momentary petit mal seizure. I smile; that, at least, she can plainly see through my faceplate. Not giving her a chance to slink away, I wave at her to approach and continue, "Come on over -- my name's Alex, what's yours?"

I'll bet she's blushing, not that you can see it under her fur; she mumbles something too quiet to be heard over the background noise. I cup a hand around one ear: "What's that?"

She kinda crumbles in on herself, but does speak up: "R-rosa."

I nod. I also heard her say so earlier, of course, but if it helps her open up, I don't mind playing dumb. "Well, how you doing, Rosa?" I raise my right hand for a shake. Rosa looks at it like it's a kilo of fuming nitric acid. I've got a pretty good idea why, but again, if playing dumb will help... I blink and raise my hand. "Oh! Right — you're wondering why I didn't take off the glove, aren't you? Okay, lemme show you..."

I pull off the glove. Heat rises. And now Rosa is flat-out staring. Air dances over my palm like it does over your stove's burners, and for the same reason.

"My hand's pretty hot — 180-something degrees," I say as I slip the glove back on. "So I figured it'd be more polite to leave it on, you know?"

Separator k left.png Susanna Separator k right.png

I took another drink of water. Scott had brought back my strawberry cooler's on the tray with him but high school had if nothing else taught me to avoid mixing pain killers and any amount of alcohol, not because it tastes bad but because it will frikkin kill your liver. Luckily I hadn't been the student stupid enough to set that example for everyone else, that kid was lucky he didn't die.

I grabbed some pretzels and surveyed the table. Whatever unknown object was on the outskirts of the group it wasn't enough to wake up my centaur yet. Bulky like a horse but same sensory organs as a human. It never made sense to me that characters with noses shaped like a humans could smell as good as something with nose out to Washington. That and my character had a reputation of being hard to wake. Heh, I love role playing.

"What did you have to talk to Gordy about Susanna?" Dash asked, looking up from the table.

"Just if I could put up a small ad by the door. I guess he hadn't thought about having a billboard up anywhere yet, I just left it with him and he said he'd throw it up when he figured out where he wanted it." I leaned back in my chair, rubbing my temples slightly as I tried to concentrate. Although I couldn't figure out what I was trying to concentrate on.

"What kind of ad?" Dash was back to tapping something on the holo table.

Oh right, conversation. That and gaming. "Just looking for a roommate. It's a pretty small place but not much smaller than a dorm. I specified that in the ad, that it was small but cheap I mean."

Alex chuckled. "Of course its cheap. The economy tanked during the collapse. People don't want to move somewhere where there's no jobs and if no one moves in jobs are easy to find. Why do you think this city attracts so many Teefers? Cheap living and jobs that have to be willing to take what they can get, that sounds like exactly what a Teefer fallen on hard times would look for when he's got no other options left." Cant argue with that, I thought. Not that I was looking all that hard for good employment really. God damn pursuing the arts does not help your bottom line very much...

Separator k left.png Robert Separator k right.png

I glanced over all the players at the table. Rosa was making a character, everyone else was waiting to see how Scott's perception roll turned out. I'd already rolled that, and while it was good for them, the roll was no conducive to my plans; I'd been hoping to make the inside of the temple a bit harder by softening that up with a surprise minotaur attack.

<Yeah, you see it Scott. It's a minotaur.> I said in a private telepathic message. Scott's expression changed to one of mild concern; while it would've been a tough fight with the party waking up, being able to get the whole party in would make it a beatdown.

"I go to try and quietly wake up the others," Scott said. He'd easily succeed at that from a high stealth skill, so I didn't even roll. I let him get most of the rest of the party up, and then had the minotaur charge out at them.

Gordy musta saw it out of the corner of his eye, because he scoffed and said, "Blasted games, we aren't dangerous! 50% markup if you win."

I chuckled mentally; if he was serious, I'd be the one to suffer least. 50% markup on water isn't bad, but on alcohol, it adds up fast. I started rolling the dice for the battle, playing out the monster in the fight.

Separator k left.png Rosa Separator k right.png

The wily ferret's nose sniffed the air as she daintily sipped her beverage, crafting her kung-fu-master monk on the screen display below her. Thus far she was extremely pleased with the preliminary success of her friend-making venture. Now the trick was to keep the momentum going.

"What are you making?" The volcanic Alex inquired.

"It's a monk," Rosa replied.

"Cool. What's his/her name?"

"Oh, I'm thinking 'Saka Bato.'" the mustelid replied.

"Nice."

"Hee." She sipped her alcohol again and coughed lightly to coax it down. She was starting to feel warm inside. A paw on her furry cheek, she watched the fellow players fend off a minotaur. "Heh. That minotaur reminds me of Gordy."

"I think this minotaur is in slightly better shape," remarked Scott, eliciting chuckles.

"I think Gordy's cute," Rosa continued. "I just wanna squeeze 'im."

"Don't let him catch you calling him 'cute.'" Scott winked. Rosa grinned, then fell more somber.

"I'm kinda bummed he was about to give me dangerous stuff when I asked him for 'everything,' though," the mused. "I mean, what kind of looney would walk in here *wanting* to hurt themselves?" She adopted a mocked-up version of her voice. "A-durr, why doncha gimme some battery acid, there, Gordy! 'm I right?"

A silence fell over the table like a fifty ton rock, and the ferret's ears drooped. She had the most terrible feeling she'd stumbled upon something awkward.

Separator k left.png Dash Separator k right.png

I'd seen the little ferret come in and head for the bar – then watched as Scott abruptly froze the game and headed over to talk to her. He spoke quietly to the ferret, so I only caught enough to get that she'd made an open drink order. Great, a newby to the bar, and one who wasn't very observant. I mean, the sign is in plain sight, after all. The Pig and Whistle isn't a regular bar in many ways, and some of the people Gordie serves drink stuff thats not smart for a 'normal' creature!

Scott returned with a tray of drinks, and I thanked him. A few moments later, the little ferret hopped up on a stool. She said Scott had told her she could watch. Scott introduced the rest of us to her., then she said her name was Rosa. She talked with Robert for a minute, then Susana invited her to roll up a character and join the game if she wanted. Rosa was obviously delighted, and started working on a character. Didn't bother me, the more the merrier, and if anything, I'm getting way too solitary these days.

Scott had asked for a perception roll on something, and while we were waiting, Susanna went over and talked to Gordie, then got a glass of water and a basket of pretzels for the table. I was reviewing the stats on my half elven archer, seeing how many points remained till he moved up again – depressingly, far too many. I asked Susanna when she sat down what she'd asked Gordie about, not really expecting an answer. She said she wanted to put up a Roomy Wanted notice – she had extra space, and could use some help with the rent. I remembered my younger days, smiled, then wished her luck.

It looked like Rosa's character was coming along well, and Robert asked her about it. Oh my, a fighting monk? Ought to be interesting...see how long he lasted, anyway. Rosa was sipping her drink with a wrinkled muzzle, as though she wasn't sure she liked it. Odd. Scott got his perception roll – a minotaur! He quietly woke the others, and Tienlas, my character, drifted up out of an elvish trance. The Minotaur charged and we scattered away from it, then swarmed in when it turned to come back. I hadn't had time to string my bow, so I attacked with my short sword and buckler.

Gordie made a comment about Minotaurs (like him!) not being dangerous, then threatened to raise our drink prices if we won. Doesn't bother me; as small as I am, I don't drink that much. Then Rosa started making some rather silly comments, Then she dropped a real clanger. Silence fell and we all looked at her, and Scott paused the game.

“Um, Rosa,” I said. “Just what are you drinking?”

“I don't know,” she giggled. “I asked Gordie for something alcoholic-ic, an' he gave me these. The first one was nice, but this tastes like medicine.”

“May I try it?' I asked and she handed it over. I sniffed, then a taste – neat raw whiskey. Oh boy, for someone as small as she is?

“Rosa, have you ever been drinking before?” I asked. “This is whiskey, and full strength.”

“Nope,” she replied, “I turned twenty one and changed almost at the same time, before I had a chance. This is my first time in a bar.” She giggled again.

I looked at Scott and we both knew – she was drunk! I winced, remembering my first time getting wasted, but I at least knew what I was doing. She'd wandered in here, not knowing anything about alcohol; being a small creature, she'd gone well over her limit without even knowing it was there.

Scott jumped up and ran over to ask Gordie what the drinks were. He came back and said 'The first one was a creme sherry, so its the whiskey on top of that that's where the problem is. Rosa” - she raised her head and stared blurredly at him - “I want you to drink a glass of water. It'll help dilute the alcohol. I'd have you spit it back up, but I don't know if ferrets can do that. Here, take a good long drink.” he said, then handed her a glass.

She reached out and missed it twice before she got a paw on it. Scott had had enough sense to get her to face away from the table first, so what she spilled just went on the floor. She drank a lot of it though, then got down and headed for the bathroom. “Susanna, can you help her?” I asked. Susanna got up and carefully went after the ferret. I shook my head and looked at Scott. “She needs a keeper,” I said. “She may be smart about some things, but, jeez...”

Separator k left.png Rosa Separator k right.png

"HURRRRRRF! AK AK!"

Ugh... never again... *never again...*

"HURRRRF!" The poor little ferret wretched again, the toilet bowl pressing coldly on her chest. Everything was the smell of industrial cleaners and toilet water and that *wretched,* *wretched* alcohol! NEVER AGAIN.

"Ak! Ak!" Finally the stuff seemed to be finishing but it hardly helped. The room was tipping and spinning like she was a marble in a cardboard box being rocked around by cruel hands. Her thoughts bubbled up through a thick mire of drunkeness, stumbled and ran into one another. She dabbed the gunk off her mouth with toilet paper, hidden away in one of the restroom's green-painted stalls. Drooped sadly over the toilet rim, she cursed Gordy's name. What a prick! First he was gonna kill her, and *then* he slammed her with this top grade... *horrible, horrible* booze! Didn't he... didn't he know about labor laws or whatever they were!? She should sue! He was a murderer! A filthy, filthy murderer! He'd kill her if he could, if he had a chance! ("Urk...")

The door was opening! Someone was coming in! Quick, hop up on the toilet so your shameful paws can't be seen! Flush the crapper!

A knock on her door! Horror of horrors!

"Hey, Rosa? You all right?"

It was... it was... oh hell what was her name... ugh, she couldn't remember. She could hardly remember her *own* name in this state. Had to get her out!

"I'm fine! Just... just cleaning up now, k thanks..."

"...You sure you're OK?" the mystery woman replied.

"Yep." The ferret couldn't trust herself with any more syllables.

"... are you sure?"

"Yes! Please... *please* don' wurry..." Rosa pleaded.

"...Well, I'm going to check up on you in a few minutes, OK?"

"Fine..." to her immense relief, the door closed, and the ferret's mood swung right into deep despair. She hugged her tail to her face on the toilet lid and sobbed silently in the harsh uncaring florescent light, rocking back and forth. She'd *ruined* this evening. Now everyone thought she was a drunken floozy; her social reputation, the first one she'd cared about, was absolutely stained. Now she'd made a spectacle of herself in front of everyone and they all thought she was stupid and dumb. On top of that, she was *scared;* she'd never *been* drunk before, and not being totally in control of her senses was terrifying. She was in a strange place with strange people, and now all she wanted was to run home, hide under her soft nice-smelling blankets and let the world forget that she existed.

She had to get out! She had to get out! Her rocking intensified as she buried her muzzle between her knees, breathing frantically. She dragged her thoughts kicking and screaming through the cracking rusty gears of her soused mind, stray pegs and teeth snapping off with a *ping.*

She'd clean up. Then walk out of the bathroom. Then drop a twenty on the bar for the cow (although at this point she'd much rather chuck an ashtray at his head...an ash tray that was *on fire*). Walk out the door. Catch a cab. At the least she could remember her address. Did she remember her address? Yes she remembered her address. OK. Just get a twenty... no. Wash up first.

So she did, cleansing herself meticulously once more with cool water, managing more or less to stay upright. Then--DAMN! Her money was in her purse--draped over the stool at the table! The table with all their no doubt scornful eyes! Damn, damn, DAMN!

She clutched her furry head in her paws. Fine. Fine. She had to go away on sudden business is all. She just remembered that work wanted her early tomorrow. Where did she work? ...well it'd come back later. Just tell 'em you have to go, grab your purse, don't look back--no! Twenty for the cow, purse... no, wait... purse, *then* money, then water... oh balls...

A few long minutes later she had it straight: approach the table, make the excuse, drop the money, leave, catch the cab, stay inside for the next fifty years. All right. Woo... still dizzy. Not too dizzy! She would *make* herself not be dizzy!

She took a deep breath, put an expression of peaceful resoluteness upon her furry face, and opened the door.

Separator k left.png Susanna Separator k right.png

I didn't hear her throwing up in there anymore but I did hear the sink. She's fine, I thought. I'd still wait for her to come out but she might be a little bit, might as well get something to drink. I hadn't been planning on drinking tonight but my mild headache wasn't going away. If the pain killers weren't going to do anything I might as well see if a bit of liquor would.

I walked over to the bar and leaned over it, legs dangling as I reached down to grab a bottle of whatever beer was in reach.

"What have I told you about getting beer from behind the counter." Gordy grumped. I waved a hand back over my shoulder at him.

"Tab me." I smirked.

"Oh don't you worry about that." He muttered at my back. I grinned as I sat down beside the womans bathroom door. I knocked the top of the bottle off on the door frame with practiced ease, again I hadn't been planning on getting drunk tonight.

A few minutes later I was almost about to head in and check on her when she came out. I looked up at her, though even sitting down on the floor I didn't have to crane my neck much.

"Sucks to be us, doesn't it?" I asked her. She gave me this weird look, but to be honest I'm not entirely confident at my ability to read a ferrets face. "The drinking bit I mean." I waved the bottle in my hand as if to illustrate something but it was just useless articulating. She looked a little confused at this.

I lazily got to my hooves and clanged the bottom of my beer bottle against the metal where the stump of my leg gave way to the connector for my prosthetics, just a few inches short of my hip. "I may look like I'm all here but I can only drink about half as much as I could in high school. These prosthetics are good for getting around town but I'm still short about half the body mass I used to have when I was partying more, so trust me when I say I can understand how hard it is learning where your limit is again."

Rosa seemed to fluctuate between confused, embarrassed and then finally sadness. "I.. I'm really sorry for making a spectacle of myself." She said very quietly.

I blinked, what was she... Oh! I thought to myself, suddenly realizing what this was about. A complete beginner, not just new to the body. "A spectacle? Nonononono. Come here." I put a hand on her shoulder and led her over to the bar.

I grabbed another beer from behind the bar. "Hey, what did I just say?" Gordy asked. I ignored him and tried to remember how I used to do this old trick. I grabbed the bottle with the same hand that was still holding my already opened one, holding each with two fingers. I got the top of the opened one underneath the lid of the one I just grabbed and holding them like that banged the bottom of the opened one on my hip. The lid shot off on the first try and I lifted both up. Luckily I remembered the grip that I had figured out in high school and was able to take a drink holding both bottles in one hand without spilling more than a little.

I wiped a bit of beer off my chin and couldn't help but grin down at the ferrets hanging jaw. "Now... When you can drink out of two beer bottles at once with one hand, THEN you can make a spectacle out of yourself in public like me. Until then pace yourself and don't be afraid to accept help, we've all been through the relearning a new body ordeal even though the details may vary amongst us."

Separator k left.png Rosa Separator k right.png

"Sigh..."

It was a plain glass of water; the ferret made sure of that. Plain, beautiful, clear, non-alcholic water, without ice cubes, no frills. Plain, safe, delicious. She put the finishing touches on her little character, tweaking the outfit, re-reading the instructions for specific areas, in no hurry to play, content to let the group talk while she caught her breath. She'd let Susanna bring her back to the group, back into the circle as it were. It didn't stop the shame, but the lack of condescending allowed Rosa to slowly settle down.

The alcohol had taken her on a rocket ride to dizzying heights of paranoia and nausea; now at the table she had splashed down into a pool of introspection. Her life over the last few months drifted slowly by as on an autumn river; the horror of awakening in the hospital, the slow rehabilitation, her sensei's iron grip on her small shoulders, shaking her, refusing to let her quit. She remembered his crinkled blue eyes, the creases in them so deep they showed black in the sunlight.

Then had come the job at Gemcorp, the glances, the looks, the agonizing stillness of the bench, then the blessed release of the oversized wheel. Then had come the friendships, the office parties, the gradual acceptance. Then, The Alleyway.

Her paws tightened on the glass. Yes, there had been The Alleyway. A silence fell in her heart, a cold and hard silence. Soon she felt a nudge. Scott was speaking to her under the main conversation and she realized she'd been staring icicles at the computer screen.

"You all right?"

The ferret nodded. "Mm hmm. I think I'm just an introspective drunk is all." She smiled and stared without seeing at the game board, soaking in the atmosphere, reliving shades of the life that this new body had lived.

Separator k left.png Scott Separator k right.png

Rosa did not look happy, but at least she was doing well. The military had stripped me of the urge to leap in and stop people from drinking more alcohol than their body could handle—after all, they rarely stayed conscious long enough to drink a dangerous amount, and it might be the last thing they ever did. But I wasn't in the military anymore—not that they felt that way—and not catching on to Rosa's dangerous level of intoxication had me feeling a bit guilty.

"You all right?" I asked her.

I didn't catch her mumbled reply, but I'd been around long enough to know the signs. For the first time since they'd released her from the hospital, the reality of her situation was hitting her. And, from the severity of the reaction–the introspection, the sullenness, the thousand yard stare–she'd had some bad experiences since her release. I guess it was because I'd gotten used to doing it when I was assigned new troops that were fresh teefers, but I found myself smiling.

"Rosa, you need a hobby. I've got Suite 10F in the hotel next door. Stop by tomorrow and I'll take you for a walk around the town so you can find something to do."

Separator k left.png Rosa Separator k right.png

"Heh heh! A hobby? But I've already got one! Erm-- you know, not that I didn't mean I didn't want to go on a walk with you! That'd be great! And I have the day off tomorrow too! So that's... that's nice!" The ferret giggled again and was glad that she couldn't visibly blush; he *was* quite the dashing wolf, after all.

"I knew what you meant," the lupine grinned. "So what *is* your hobby?"

"Oh! Well, cutting stones of course!" The wolf looked skeptical. "No, really! It plays in perfectly with my, um... you know. I just love shiny things! It's all I can do to keep myself from taking the wrapper of someone elses' hamburger at lunchtime, crumpling it up into a little ball and chasing it all over the building! I just love the way that some lumpy, dirty chunk of rock becomes a brilliant gemstone underneath my paws as I shape it! I gotta have a little hamster wheel in the corner though, you know. Just to burn off energy..." Wondering if this was perhaps too much personal information to burdening onto her new friends, she decided to wrap up her statements grade-school-essay style. "But anyway, I just like what I do, I suppose."

"Is there much market for gems nowadays?" The kitty Dash inquired as the players moved their pieces.

"I'm sure there is. Even with the world falling to pieces around their ears, mankind must always have its shiny bits of junk," the mangy Coati scoffed.

"I dunno, really," Rosa said to Dash, taking another sip of delicious non-lethal water. "I've never been too good at that kind of corporate stuff. We're not shipping out barrels of jewels, but they're not cutting back my hours or anything." Remembering the conversation with her manager, she earblushed a little.

"That make enough money to pay the bills?" Inquired the steaming Alex.

"Oh yes," Rosa replied. "It's pretty nice. They're very nice to me. They say that the gems I make are some of the best they've ever seen, and soon I'm going to be able to cut diamonds! Beautiful shiny diamonds..." Her twinkling eyes glazed over momentarily, and she shook herself off, playing with her little drink umbrellas.

"Well, that's good," the heavily suited being responded while he attacked the virtual minotaur. "Nice to know that in this crappy economy not *everybody's* got to work themselves to death just to get by."

The little ferret frowned, hoping ardently that she wasn't inadvertently making light of her friends' situations by gushing about her relatively comfortable set-up and how she liked her work. She resolved to try and keep amicable conversation going. Turning to Robert, the falcon, she leaned onto the table. "So, um... if you don't mind me asking... you're a hawk, right? That must be interesting." She flashed a smile.

[I'm a red-tailed hawk, yeah.> The bird fixed her with his sharp yellow eye. It was a little disconcerting hearing a pleasant tone from such a serious face. <And sure, being a total bird has its perks. Flying, for one.>

"I'd imagine!"

<But there's negatives to this too. For one, I already mentioned the hands issue. Aside from that, flying isn't intuitive; gotta learn it all. And then there's the diet...I literally can't consume plant matter. My body can't handle it properly.>

"Yeah... I know how that goes." Rosa recalled the memory of pineapples fondly.

<But probably the biggest negative is the durability of the body. Or rather, the total lack of it. You know how the human body can take a few hits, jarrings, falls, and keep going?>

The ferret nodded, chin on hands, her OCD-ish attention wholly attuned to the charming talking bird.

<Not this one. Birds are fragile, and it doesn't take much to damage or break something. Breaking a wing is incredibly painful, much easier than breaking an arm, and incredibly debilitating.

Then there's the lack of recognizance. I'm sure Coati and Dashiel can sympathize. If I get killed or die away from people who know me, I probably won't get a burial. Probably be eaten by the first scavenger who comes across; that's how nature works.>

"Aww..."

<And then to top it all off, you've got the other animals, who can't tell the difference between a normal animal and a Teefer who looks like one. Hawks may be predators, but they aren't apex predators. Try escaping a golden eagle who's decided you're on the menu, and you begin to understand how violent the animal world can be.>

"No doubt about that, hee." She noticed Susan waiting to announce a turn action or something to Robert. "Oops. Sorry."

"It's fine," the hawk replied. "Is your character almost ready to join in? It won't take too much work to figure out a reason for your character to come waltzing in here. A treasure hunter, maybe."

"Oh, sure! Let me just-" A raucous chorus of laughter arose from somewhere on the other side of the street, from some band of revelers off to a long night's rest. When the little ferret heard it, a full-fledged body shudder traveled all the way up her tail and shook her to the ears. She sat down roughly on her stool, wringing the handles of her purse. A little ball of tinfoil bounced out onto the floor. "Oh! Let me get that." She quavered. She flowed ferret-like off the stool and came back up, depositing her shiny back into her purse. She took a drink of water, a shaking hand spilling a few droplets onto the table. "Anyways. Um. I guess I'm ready if it's going to interrupt your guys' game or anything." She clutched her purse to her chest tightly.

Characters

"Coati"

(Bard's character)

  • Age: Unknown
  • Species: Female coati (non-morphic, normal sized - 25" long including tail, about 5kg)/(non-differentiated cell collective (think "Who Goes There" but without any shapechange ability).
  • Powers: All cells are non-differentiated objects that can pretend to be specialized cells - muscle, bone, etc. She appears to have incredible regenerative powers, but that's really just cells changing to fulfill the function of the damaged/destroyed cells. Careful measurements would reveal a slight loss in mass whilst she heals damage. Her cells possess the capability of utilizing other biological material (consuming like most other life forms), but ALSO absorbing stored information to improve their own survival. This ranges from instincts from DNA for base cells, to actual memories and even personality for specialized neural cells. Her own memories are stored collectively within the cell "hive" -- destroying her brain won't actually hurt her that much. Destroying cells will destroy her memories -- important/frequently accessed memories require mass destruction of her body to destroy as they are stored redundantly.

She's a regular at the bar. Nobody knows where she lives, speculation is under the roof or some other appropriately small lair. She has employment of some kind. Note that she does not spread around the fact that she has powers, thought her healing is well known. The absorption of information she does not talk about.

Susanna Douglas

(Devin's character)

  • Age: 26
  • Species: Human


Susanna Douglas or 'Sue' as she prefers to be called is a student and part time tutor at a dance studio in town. This fact is not unusual in itself until you consider that at the age of seventeen when riding home from a party with her friends she lost her legs in a car crash.

Her injuries required a transfemoral amputation of both legs,(cut above the knees) but left the rest of her body intact. Before the turn of the century or even at the very beginning of it such an injury would have left her wheelchair bound for the rest of her life but with the middle east and post collapse wars of the time came a new wave of investment and research into the field of prosthetics. Today thanks to advances in elastomers capable of matching the performance of organic muscle tissue and small yet highly advanced computers that can predict what motions the user will be going through and compensate Sue isn't just able to walk, she has competed in at least three dance tournaments.

After a few years of getting used to the human model and realizing that she needed a bit more stable of an income Sue got in with a local prosthetics company to test out a transfemoral prosthesis for Teefers as the company had been unable to find any Teefer transfemoral amputees to test their designs with. Her current prosthesis is based on a common leg design that occurs in many mammal Teefers http://deer.transform.to/SL/FullFox.jpg but with hooves instead of paws in order to provide more traction. As the prosthetics she is currently using have not yet been refined for commercial use they do not have a synthetic skin over top the actual leg and resemble similar prototype prosthetics from the beginning of the century instead of an actual furred leg as they will when they are put on the market. http://www.engadget.com/2007/08/24/festos-fluidic-muscles-make-us-all-look-weak/

Robert Gallian

(Arrow's character)

  • Age: 25
  • Species: Nonanthro Red-Tailed Hawk. Incapable of speech, no outwards human features. Normal hawk size.
  • Powers: Weak Telepathy(One way at ranges of up to 50 feet, becoming progressively weaker with range beyond 20 feet; two way only with total concentration and at no more than 10 feet), Weak Telekinesis(No more than 1 kilogram, range of 5 feet, at a range of 1 foot or less, can grip and hold objects decently enough to write shakily.)

Robert is an ex-computer nerd/gamer(lack of hands really puts a damper on those hobbies). Admitted to the hospital at 21 with Torch fever, he had to put his college plans on hold after he lost all code writing capability. He did discover his special abilities, but as weak as they were, it took a good year of practice before he really could use them effectively, and he still slips up from time to time.

Rob maintains a job as a runway keeper at a local airport; the presence of a predatory bird scares away smaller birds that may be hit by planes. The job pays fairly well, especially considering Rob's low level of personal expense, and has several perks associated with it.

Rob still manages to read books and such, and continues to GM, maintaining most of his notes in his head and crafting adventures during his long hours on patrol above the airfield.

Alexander Henninger

(Cubist's character)

  • Age: 37
  • Species: Altered human
  • TFOR-derived traits: TFOR seems to have inflicted on Alex many of the metabolic quirks of an exceptionally high-temperature-tolerant extremophile. As a result of these changes, Alex has a stable body temperature of a bit over 190° Fahrenheit. It is unclear whether or not Alex still ages in the usual manner.
  • Appearance: Alex is a 5'11" tall humanoid; he weighs 425 lbs, but given his overall body type/build, he looks like he's not an ounce over 180 lbs. His skin is not unlike solidified slag; it's rough, craggy, and black. That's chromatic-black, not skin-tone-black. He has no hair. His eyes are solid red, and they can be seen to glow faintly when the ambient lighting is sufficiently weak.

Alex was an undistinguished hardware specialist when he came down with a case of 'the torch'. Unlike most victims of blowtorch fever, Alex never cooled down; rather, over a period of two weeks his temperature just kept climbing until it leveled off at 193 degrees. Alex must now wear an insulated body suit at all times. This suit serves two purposes: First, it prevents him from causing second-degree-burns to any normal person who inadvertently comes in contact with him. Second, the body suit ensures that Alex does not freeze to death in what others regard as normal temperature.
Alex's condition can be considered helpful to his profession, inasmuch as he can melt solder in his bare hands; by the same token, however, he must be careful about where he touches circuit boards and such.

Scott Summers Jameson

(ShadowWolf's character)

  • Age: 35
  • Species: Wolf
  • Fur: Black
  • Powers: Slow aging, creation and projection of balls of plasma

About 2 meters tall with matte black fur (a true black - it doesn't show up dark purple under any light like most does) he was employed by PPL (Pennsylvania Power and Light) as a lineman before the collapse. Six months into the collapse he was admitted into the hospital in the opening stages of blowtorch fever. Leaving the hospital after the completion of his change he joined the Pennsylvania National Guard and was rapidly promoted to Sergeant and transferred into their new special operations unit. When the Canadian Army invaded his unit did a lot of damage before receiving orders to stand down, because the 'Commonwealth of Pennsylvania' was joining Canada.

His "Plasma Ball" power is very limited. At their most normal energy level they are able to go through most wood and will shatter brick when they explode on contact. He can throw a maximum of 10 at that level, but doing so leaves him in a coma for a week. At their highest energy level he's ever used they will go through a single layer (ie: one piece of the plating) of Chobham armor before detonating. There is a maximum of five of that level at his command before a coma that can last up to three weeks. Another level exists beyond that, but he's never tried it - fearing that doing so would kill him.

Rosalinda "Rosa" Myers

(Mr.Peaches' Character)

  • Age - 21
  • Species: Ferret-- morphic, standing four feet three inches tall and weighing approximately fifty-two pounds. Her limb/torso proportions are more ferret-like than human-like, so when walking she has to take care not to waddle. Four-footed travel is comfortable. The fever left her powers of speech intact.
  • Powers: None known. (Yet)

A child of the new Canadian rule living in a more rural part of New York, Rosa's life has been more peaceful than most. She worked odd-jobs in various things before contracting the 'Torch three days before her twenty-first birthday, at a professional martial-arts tournament--one of the first of its kind since the Collapse. Retaining all her martial skill in her new furry figure, her attention to sparkly objects led her quickly to a TFOR-employing gem-cutting company, where she makes a nice living with lots of room for advancement. They're going to let her start on diamonds soon.  :3

As our story begins, Rosa realizes she never properly celebrated her twenty-first birthday. She goes searching for a friendly bar...

Dashiel Peters

(Felix's Character)

  • Age - 34
  • Species: Canadian Lynx Has stubby hand/paws, and more than normal flexibility in the shoulders. Looks like the real cat. Uses a false palate to talk clearly.
  • Powers: none known (yet)

Dash peters had the torch three times before changing. He is a passionate Green, and does a wildlife TV show as the host for a living. He's also a writer of wildlife books, with several to his credit. His show combines images shot with his collar cam with tracking shots done by a human crew. Dash lives when in town in a lair/den in the hotel. He wears shorts for modesty in town, and a belt which carries a number of accessories. When in town, he's a regular at the bar, although he has to drink from a bowl.

During the Collapse, was an enlisted man in the U. S. Navy overseas. When the Navy was absorbed by the NAR, returned home and went to school, gaining a BA in Forestry.

Story Snippets (to add in where appropriate)

Rosa's Snippets

Rosa on Working Retail.

"I worked retail once one summer vacation. I think that's what hell's like, if there's a hell. It's a lot like being in prison, too. You have to ask someone for permission to go to the bathroom, you have to wait for them to tell you you can take a break... yeah. You can't even sit down... there's not so much as a hard wooden stool to rest on when it's not busy. Looks unprofessional, they say. Well, it only took one summer of *that* before I decided I wouldn't ever work that type of job again. And I went through some thin times because of it, but lemme tell ya, it's more than worth it."

Rosa on Her Transformation.

The little ferret fidgeted with something on the table. "It's the eyes you miss most," she said into her glass of water. "You remember that movie, the one where that mean prince got turned into a beast for not letting the old woman take shelter from the winter cold? Well, you could tell it was him at the end of the movie, because his eyes were still the same. And... you spend your whole life looking into the mirror, and you're looking into your eyes. You know them, what they look like, and your friends know them, and even if your chin and mouth are covered they can tell it's you by your eyes.

"They used to be green, I think." Rosa stared through the table. "That's right. Green eyes. Like an emerald." Her two black onyx stones of eyes stared up at her from the surface of her drink. "I guess when I first saw my... new face. It was the eyes that was hardest to take."

The small mustelid stirred her drink idly with a claw, watching herself as if she was making a delicate brew. She was aware that she was going to ruin everyone's good time if she kept up with the melodrama.

She cleared her throat and smiled bravely. "But hey... I'm adorable!" She winked.

Rosa on Pop Tarts

Sometimes I miss Pop Tarts. Cherry Pop Tarts, mostly. Now, not only can I not have fruit, I can't have many sweets either. Oh well... one grows to like what they eat. And it helps me keep my girlish figure, I guess.

But they were just so adorable! They had pink frosting and red sugar sprinkles! It was like opening up the package-- the *shiny* package-- and getting two little Valentines every time!" She smiled adorably.

Susannah's Snippets

Susannah on the limitations of gaming technology.

(used here)

Sue looked at her thumb drive despondently. Even after everyone else had inserted theirs and uploaded their characters info she still glared at it. "You know whats wrong with this game?" She asked.

"The lack of rules preventing a CERTAIN member of the roleplaying party from getting greedy and taking off with the dragons gold while the rest of the party fights said dragon?" Coati asked venemously.

Sue winked back at her. "I was playing a thief. I had to stay in character." She chuckled and then inserted the thumbdrive into the table slot nearest her. "It has to be played on a holotable. Now holotables are great and all, I mean its just like miniatures from way back in the old days of tabletop gaming but it doesn't leave enough to the imagination and it doesnt always quite get your intent when it shows the character animations."

"It works fine for doing stuff like... oh I dont know... Assisting your teammates in defeating highway bandits." Coati observed. Sue nodded to the coon.

"Indeed. But what about the more grandiose? For instance what if I wanted to surf on a shield down a flight of stairs lopping off soldiers heads as I went..."

<You're still banned from doing that again Sue.> Robert said quickly, being responsible as the GM to keep an eye on her...

"Oh I know." She grinned mischievously before getting 'serious' again. "But remember how sucky the animation of that was? I mean in my imagination at least it was a hoot but it wasn't much to look at on the table. At least not until I took that massive dexterity failure at the bottom right into that group of Paladins. That was very well animated." Sue cackled evilly. "Of course I think I've found a way to help this game be a bit more..."

<You are prebanned from uploading animations of your choosing to the game.> Robert jumped in quickly, seeing where she might be heading.

"What!? No! Foiled again!" Sue banged her head softly on the holotable.

Coati's Snippets

On Computer Viruses

(used here)

"You'd think stupid bitches would know enough to make backups. Oh come on! Don't look at me like that. You've got a firewall so you know they exist. Remember when they upgraded to Internet 2.0? Said it would stop viruses and spammers? Lasted less than two days as I recall.

"Look. I hate virus writers as much as any of you. Maybe more. I have no clue who gets their jollies out of crippling cripples. Hell, the bastard is probably at a bar right now, drinking with his idiot buddies and bragging about how many cripples he's sealed in their homes. I just hope the cripples have basic care setup -- otherwise they could be stranded in a lonely apartment, and slowly starve to death because they can't afford basic medical care in today's fucked up society and universal health went down with Canada.

"If you find any, you let me know. I've got a particularly vicious way to make the bastards die. Until then, all we can do is take precautions and live with it. Because, god knows, there'll always be somebody who finds a way to get through everything."

On Flight

Fumbling around at her matted fur, she pulled out a battered microphone and begin making what sounded like croaks and hisses into it. It didn't take long for her more familiar voice to work its way out of her voder.

"Yea, flying has its moments. But then, everybody knows about the freedom, the power. What was that book somebody wrote-- A Gull's Life-- Anyway, there are other things.

"I'm sure you've ran into them. Stupid bastards so full of their own importance that they're always right. And then there are those who's car has to always be perfect. Spotless. Absolutely pristine.

"Ran into one of those idiots when I was a raven. Brought back too many memories of minimum wage crap jobs. Especially those involving gas pumping and spending half an hour scrubbing the bird crap off a window because the bastard's too cheap to pay a carwash to do it."

The coati clasped her paws together.

"Too long a life, too many bad memories. But leading an entire flock, technically an unkindness, and painting the bastards car white was priceless.

"He just got caught in the fallout you might say."

She looked around, tapping a hind paw on the table, awaiting the expected reaction.

On Government

"Government? Pah! The only reason I'm not all for anarchy these days is that modern weapons are too destructive. Hell, I'm all for making up a Colossus and letting him worry about it. Keep a trained army in reserve in cryogenic storage, and bring it out when needed. Otherwise, let happen what may. Can't be any worse than what we got now.

"The only smart thing government's ever done is when the got rid of the old income tax as their records were all bummed up. Of course, it took them all of 6 months after finishing paying for WW1 to re-institute income tax to pay for Teefer Recover. If figure that'll take till 2400 or so.

"As to local government, pah! Only worthwhile one I ever heard of was pre-torch Toronto. They got amalgamated and the new city council was so big that all they could do was argue and debate, year after year. Pass laws? Never! Their salaries were worth it just because it kept them busy and not doing anything. Instead private enterprise took over the void and now Toronto's one of the most beautiful and most wealthy cities in the NAR.

"I just say go with Heinlein. Select people at random and e-mail them laws to debate and vote on. No monetary remuneration involved. Drag them kicking and screaming and they can get the job done and then go away."

On Gun Control in the NAR

Holding the microphone upside down and shaking some of that foul smelling liquid she was drinking out of it, she tapped it and hissed into it.

"Testing-- testing-- damn cheap tech. Anyway, you were talking about Texas. I was down there once, just after the wars. Damn suspicious bastards, didn't trust anybody then. Shoot first, ask questions later. So I'm sneaking around, not spying or anything, just don't trust men with guns. It's a girl thing.

"And stop that sniggering!

"You ever been shot at? Felt bullets hissing across your back? Felt, not hate, but just uncaring annoyance directed at you? It's not pleasant, let me tell you. I was young and foolish then, just trying to find a rat or something to eat. Let me tell you, buckshot through the backside hurts like a son of a bitch! Still now sure how I dragged myself to someplace safe to heal. He'd probably have torched me otherwise.

"So don't you joke about guns, not around me! Canadian gun laws are the best thing that ever happened to us. What the hell need is there for concealed pistols to defend personal liberty anyway? And now they want to register teefer powers? I'm all for it."

She took a drink and a few vapours wisped from her nostrils.

Mumbling something to herself, the microphone still picked it up and the voder translated: "*crackle* memories-- always *hiss* always--"

On Immortality

She sat there, staring past and through us. Her voice, even through her 'voder was cold and emotionless.

"Have you ever wondered," she began, not talking to us even though we were all listening, "what it would be like to live forever. To be cursed with your regrets, your hates, the things you always try to forget but never can, forever. For all time. To watch all your friends, even your enemies, turn to dust and vanish, lost in time as your memory of them fades and vanishes as if it never were? To stand there, on the sand-filled beach of eternity watching humanity die, watching the animals, the plants die. To stand there on an empty beach of dust as the moon moves away, smaller and smaller. As the sun grows dimmer and larger, hotter and redder year by year.

"To be there on the beach at the end of time when the Time Traveller appears, freshly escaped from the Morlocks, knowing that he can go back, but you never can?

"And it will only end when the sun expands, and the oceans boil, and the atmosphere is blasted away by Sol. Only then will the pain finally stop in blissful nonexistence."

Turning away she took a long draw on her drink.

End of the Night for Coati

"Hey Coati, Phone for you," Gordie boomed out.

Who would call Coati, and here?

She hissed into the microphone. "Ack in a bite." God alone knew what the concoction was she was dripping on the microphone. Some nights she seemed to have a death wish. At least she wasn't too bad tonight. Some nights--

I took a sip and watched her click and claw her way up the rafter and along one of the beams, jumping down by the phone Gordie was holding out to her.

"Just be glad I'm a nice guy and let you use my number," Gordie said.

She just mumbled something, and fiddled with the thing. Must have screwed up the volume as we could hear everything she said.

"This better be important, I've told you--"

"What? The quality isn't good enough? Given what we've spent on the damn 'voder--"

"The backers? Jesus, I told you to have them sign--"

"Yea, you needed the funding. Fine. What--"

"You want to fly me down? Fuck! At this time of night?"

"You know as well as I do that there is no detectable difference in the sound quality." Her voice changed into a high squeaky child's sound. "This is so cute! Even on this wonderment of tech over this amazing phone line you can hear how happy I am!" She was literally bouncing in place.

God, she sounded like the happiest child on earth. It was almost terrifying.

Her voice changed back to normal. "Fine. You have the flight set up, not just a third class parcel with air and water? When is it?"

She turned away from the phone. "Hey Gordie, what time is it?"

Gordie just looked at her. "Almost 10. You know you got the volume cranked way up?"

She blinked, and looked around at the bar, all looking at her. "Fuck. The things I do to try and make up for--"

She fiddled with the thing and we couldn't hear anymore. A few minute later she managed to lug the headset and hang it up -- sometimes the muscles she had on that scrawny frame surprised me. "Sorry guys, gotta go."

Scotts Snippets

On the "New Confederacy"

I never agreed with the decision to invade and annex the New Confederacy. And my reasoning is simple - I remembered the history I'd learned in school, and had taken a few "American History" classes in college. The "American Civil War" had such far reaching and long lasting consequences that the end of them hadn't been seen more than a hundred years later. With the even heavier arming of both sides - and the level of training on both sides - I couldn't see the war with the New Confederacy being as easy as the politicians claimed, nor would it end when the politicians signed their treaties.

Sure, there was some really nasty shit going on in there, but the way I saw it was that it wouldn't be that way if the people didn't want it that way. But I wasn't a politician - I was a grunt. What's that old phrase... Yeah, "Cry havoc and loose the dogs of war!" That was me and my men - literally. The name of my company was "The Dogs of War", though more than one general called us "Havok's Hound's"... Must have been comic-book fans - my name 'Scott Summers Jameson' is quite similar to the name of an old comic book character - Cyclops. His brother was "Alex Summers" was Havok, and "Havok's Hounds" has a ring to it.

Anyway, there were only a few times when I was happy to have been in fights with the New Confederacy. One of those was when I found a "Teefer Slave Camp" - literally a camp where they broke teefers wills so they could be sold as slave labor. The other time was when we stumbled into the staging area for a Tank Division just before the Battle of Atlanta. They were in the underground level of a parking garage - and opened fire before I could let them know that I was going to let them go. After all, I didn't agree with the war and had done the same thing a number of times.

The first barrage hit Jennifer Long, a feline morph of some sort that had a hyped-up healing power. She was the first and last soldier I lost, and it almost drove me mad - we'd been discussing marriage after the war at breakfast that day. I don't remember the battle all that well, but I do remember that I didn't use my rifle. What I did left those tanks with holes melted through them and soldiers with third degree burns.

What? How did I manage that? Susanna, I wasn't feared by the Canadians during the fight for Pennsylvania just because my men had never been seen before the attack began. I don't like to advertise the fact, but I can throw very hot balls of fire. Hot enough to melt through the composite 'Chobham Armor'.

Separator k.png

I stop for a sip of my beer and look around the table. Coati seems the most surprised by the revelation of my power - or maybe it's the revelation that I'm not the "Pro-NAR" automaton most people think I am. Not that it matters - if I'm declared a criminal because of what I've just revealed of my actions during the "Battle for Atlanta" I can always head south and disappear. There are places down there that will take me in, just because I'm known to have been sympathetic to their cause.

On "Blowtorch Fever"

(partially used here)

It can't be natural, you know? Look at the facts – it's rare for a fever to hit 104° and the torch has been recorded as high as 110°… Hell, look at Alex here–with him the temp just kept going up and now it's what's normal for him. Not that I'm complaining—you should see how fast he can make a solder-joint between cable-ends. That slag-like skin of his has a purpose, that's for sure–he can handle molten solder with his bare hands as easily as he can melt the stuff.

But really… When I went through the torch the only thing that kept me alive was the snow on the ground. Yep – it was the middle of December in the Blue Mountain region of the Appalachians. Naked, laying in the snow outside with a cold saline drip. At first I wasn't going to do it – the doc's had to have a better way, right? Wrong. The US National power grid had been severed by then and the power plants that existed locally couldn't fill the demand, even with only emergency services connected. Hospitals were running their generators into the ground and the fuel supply was already highly rationed.

And then came TFOR. At that point I was glad my parents had died during the first wave of panic at the head of the collapse. They were strict Mennonites and what TFOR did to me would have had them convinced I had been cursed by God. And even if they'd been able to accept that it wasn't some curse for some imagined sin I wouldn't have wanted them to be around while TFOR turned me into the handsome beast I am today. And I'm sure that the brains working on the problem will find the cause of TFOR soon–not like it could be some alien bug, right? It's either a man-made thing – which, admittedly, it pretty much has to be – or it's one of the strangest bugs to ever come out of Africa.

Huh? The stranger forms, like Alex? Well. Suze, I guess that is a point in favor of the bug that gave us the torch and TFOR being alien. But where are the aliens that brought it to Earth? Surely we'd have found their ship if they'd crashed and anyway, how could a bug specializing in one species make the jump to a species that evolved in a completely different biosphere? And if it's not a natural bug – and I don't think even a naturally occurring alien bug could do what this one does – then why unleash it and disappear? Isn't it more likely that they've unleashed it to make us easier to conquer or something similar?

So, Suze, I'd have to say that it's fun to think that the TFOR bug might be a gift from ET, but I'm pretty sure it originated here on Earth. Somebody created a bug and it got free. It probably killed him and everyone else involved with the project, but that's besides the point.

On Technology

(partially used here)

Would you believe I remember the release of the first dual-core processors? True, it wasn't that long ago - only thirty years or so, but I was in college when it happened. And before you make some smart-ass comment, Coati... Yes, I did go to college. The Collapse ruined that for me - I was a year away from a Masters in Engineering. Back then I was what you'd call a "Pacifist" - I didn't thing violence or war solved anything. But when the dorms were hit by one of the roving loot-gangs, well...

I was raised on a farm. I'd never been a small person—bailing hay and other farm-work builds a lot of muscle. They killed people that had surrendered, and that was the last thing I needed to see to know that the only way to combat violence is with violence. So I joined the new Pennsylvania National Guard - that is, the Pennsylvania National Army - and went into training a few months later. Then, in December 2010, a week before I was due to head out and start defending the borders I came down with the Torch. When I came to I was assigned to the second special operations company.

Anyway... New technology is a wonderful thing. A sign that humanity, at least, is back on track towards the future that was a large part of the entertainment of the Twentieth Century. Look at this table - a complete, three-dimensional display! I'd read articles in magazines about the early work done on these before the collapse, but who would have imagined that the decade halt in scientific progress that the fever and collapse caused would lead to leaps of technology like this?

But, just like before the collapse, technology hits the market before all but the nastiest of bugs are fixed. And Suze, if I didn't know better I'd swear your legs were running Windows. But these days, even with the maturity of the BSD's and Linux the OS people are lagging so far behind the assholes who write viruses that its pitiful. Thirty years ago I'd have laughed if you told me that Linux viruses would be widespread. Now? Well... I guess it's all just backlash because of how MS killed itself with all that registration bullshit that they built into their operating systems before the collapse. When the MS servers were stolen or destroyed during the riots their fate was sealed.

Still... I often wonder if the virus problems aren't because the people that best understood the source code to the various operating systems died in the collapse. But then, it could just be because all the manpower that used to focus on exploiting Windows is now focused on the OS's we use on everything where they used to be ignored. Hell, I don't know...

Well... Birdie! I'm going to try to ash these vamps with that "Gods Judgement" bit. Shall I roll, or is have you thought of a way to make the act of rolling pointless ?

On Politics

The Earth may look the same as it did before Blowtorch Fever came around, but if you took someone from the "Nasty Naughties" - well, that portion ending on Dec. 31, 2007 - they'd be lost trying to navigate the world as it exists. There is no "United States of America", the Internet, even today, hasn't fully recovered from the damage done during the collapse and, of course, they've never seen a Teefer.

But it goes deeper than that. Until the Torch and TFOR showed up the only proven sentience on earth was Man, and even then there was hatred by some of anyone that had different beliefs, different skin color, different sexual preferences - you name it and it existed. Sure, in some large portions of the world that form of hatred was hidden behind smiling faces and expressing it in most forms was illegal, but it still existed. But now what hatred exists is aimed at political affiliation or at Teefers. And even then it's not common for there to be violence or open displays of that hatred - the "New Confederacy Resistance" not withstanding.

Communications with Europe, Asia and even South America are still rare and wonderful things, so that leaves the NAR, Quebec, Texas alone as governments. Quebec is a fully parliamentary system, though there was some chattering from them about instituting a monarchy. Here in the NAR we have a parliament and both a Prime Minister and a President. Texas is officially a democracy, but from reading between the lines I can tell you it's a lot closer to what could be called a "functional anarchy".

Which is the best? Personally I think that Texas does things in the right manner - they give a nod to humanities almost built-in need for a structured society and, at the same time, place very real and very strongly felt restrictions on the power of the politicians. The NAR is about the best that could exist and not collapse thanks to differences of opinion in the people of a nation of this size. And it does do very well, with the "Autonomous Zones" set aside for the native aboriginal people of the continent and the way that neither the PM or President has absolute power.

Snippets from Alex

Intro

(partially used here)

My name is Alexander, but my friends call me 'Alex'. Or at least most of them do, anyway; for whatever reason, Scott seems to take a positively perverse delight in coming up with weird handles for me.

That's alright, though; it doesn't really bother me. In fact, when you get right down to it, nothing bothers me. And no, it's not because TFOR made me some kind of emotionless zombie. It's more like... hmmm... I guess the best way to say it is, "Don't sweat the small stuff."

And frankly, once you wake up other-than-human, it's all small stuff...

Alex on TFOR

(partially used here)

Well, sure, the torch is weird. And TFOR is weirder. But still... a deliberate creation? Come on, get real! Seriously. Okay, blowtorch fever's wiped out something like half of the human race, so let's say that whoever created it, alien or human or mad scientist or whatever, was trying to wipe out half the human race.

In that case, okay, it's a biological weapon -- but why the hell would whoever it is have bothered to build TFOR into their weapon? I mean, why not just tweak Ebola into a more-dangerous version? Wouldn't that be easier and cheaper than creating a body-changing bug? And the same goes for pretty much any other reason someone might have for creating TFOR and/or the torch: Whatever your goal might happen to have been, there's got to be an easier way to achieve that goal than by creating blowtorch fever!

That doesn't mean the torch evolved naturally, though. What the hell kind of selective pressures even could end up causing something like TFOR to exist, you know?

So if deliberate design is out, and natural origin is out, what's left? Me, I think the torch was a mistake. Maybe it's an alpha-stage prototype, maybe it mutated after it was released onto Earth, maybe something else in that general neighborhood. Beats the hell out of me!

Alex on the cost of (TFOR) living

Well, the world is built for people within one or two standard deviations of the mean, isn't it? So of course, most of us teefers have a higher cost of living than norms. Different anatomy means higher clothing cost, different diet means higher grocery bills, all that good stuff. Me, well, what with the 'insanely high body tempterature' thing, you don't want to see what I spend on utilities...

On the plus side, a lot of teefers have commercially-exploitable genetic quirks. Taking me as an example, I got a metabolism that runs at just under the boiling point of water -- which means I got lots of enzymes and crap that can tolerate real high temperatures, okay? If you think there's no industrial uses for that sort of thing, you need to read up on biotechnology. So I get some decent royalties from processes and products that are derived from my DNA! Basically, the torch may have jacked up my expenses, but it also gave me a new income source.

Well, sure, they tried to get away with not paying. There used to be this company called GenApp that did exactly that; they collected TFOR gene samples, paid a joke of a fee for all rights in perpetuity, and made a shitload of money off of teefer-derived stuff. And it all went real smooth for GenApp, until their chief PR executive got the torch, became a teefer herself, and noticed that GenApp was making serious money off of her genes without paying her anything more'n that cheap-ass fee. She resigned, then got herself a shark of a lawyer and sued GenApp out of existence.

It wasn't as quick or easy as I make it sound, mind you. GenApp's execs knew they were sitting on a fucking gold mine, so they appealed it all the way to the Supreme Court. And when the smoke cleared, the right of teefers to their own DNA was established in all NAR jurisdictions. Yay for greed!

Alex on carnal knowledge

Sex? As a teefer? Sure, I've done it. Once. Never again -- but not for the reason you're probably thinking.

See, I know this guy works for a chemical company in New Jersey, okay? And no, I'm not going to name any names, so don't bother asking. Anyway: This guy's a norm, but he's a good egg. So me and him were shooting the breeze one night, and eventually the conversation got around to Sex And the Single Teefer. Well, of course I said that wasn't in the cards for me -- I mean, what woman's going to be crazy enough to stick around for third-degree burns in a very sensitive location, you know? But my friend said he thought he might have a way around the heat thing. Seems his employer had just come up with a new silicone formula, real heat-resistant...

Yep, you can see where this is going.

"Of course! Sounds like you had a hot date," deadpanned Coati.

Yeah, well, every date is hot, Coati. At least, for me it is. Anyway: I dunno how he got it past his supervisor, but a couple weeks later, my friend asked me to drop in on the company campus for what he called a, quote, 'experamental beta-test', unquote. So I figured, what the hell? Whatever happened, it'd be a real interesting experience, for sure! And when I got there, my friend had some paperwork for me to sign -- legal releases, absolving him and his employer from any responsibility for injury, yada yada yada. And there was a brunette, she'd signed the releases, too --

Jeez! I said I wasn't gonna name any names, alright? Anyway...

That silicone goop, they sprayed a quarter-inch layer of the stuff all over my body. Basically, it was a whole-body condom. And it did the job, sort of; sure, it heated up, but slowly enough that we had time for one round of the horizontal mambo before she got burnt.

"Let me guess," said Coati. "They had heat vents at the back of your shoulder blades so that, by the end of the experience, you were really steaming."

Aw, come on! Heat buildup just isn't a problem for me, you know? It was actually pretty comfortable, temperature-wise. As far as the texture and dexterity was concerned, it felt pretty weird, though... kind of like trying to assemble a jigsaw puzzle with thick canvas gloves on. Not much fun for either her or me.

Still and all, it wasn't a complete waste of time. I mean, how many one-night stands have you had that require an NDA?

Alex meets the new girl

(used here)

Okay, that ferretty girl. She's been looking at me on and off ever since she walked in...

Well, that's alright; I fully understand why. I mean, I do look weird, what with the bulky insulated suit covering damn near everything, and the solid black bits showing up anywhere you can see my bare skin. So it's all good, far as I'm concerned -- but she's all embarrassed, trying not to let her looks stray over the line to 'staring' and all.

"Hey there," I say to her, keeping my tone light. She twitches all over like she's having a momentary petit mal seizure. I smile; that, at least, she can plainly see through my faceplate. Not giving her a chance to slink away, I wave at her to approach and continue, "Come on over -- my name's Alex, what's yours?"

I'll bet she's blushing, not that you can see it under her fur; she mumbles something too quiet to be heard over the background noise. I cup a hand around one ear: "What's that?"

She kinda crumbles in on herself, but does speak up: "R-rosa."

I nod. I also heard her say so earlier, of course, but if it helps her open up, I don't mind playing dumb. "Well, how you doing, Rosa?" I raise my right hand for a shake. Rosa looks at it like it's a kilo of fuming nitric acid. I've got a pretty good idea why, but again, if playing dumb will help... I blink and raise my hand. "Oh! Right -- you're wondering why I didn't take off the glove, aren't you? Okay, lemme show you..."

I pull off the glove. Heat rises. And now Rosa is flat-out staring. Air dances over my palm like it does over your stove's burners, and for the same reason.

"My hand's pretty hot -- 180-something degrees," I say as I slip the glove back on. "So I figured it'd be more polite to leave it on, you know?"

Snippets from Rob

On being animalistic/nonanthro

<Sure, being a total bird has its perks. Flying, for one. But there's negatives to this too. For one, I already mentioned the hands issue. Aside from that, flying isn't intuitive; gotta learn it all. And then there's the diet...I literally can't consume plant matter. My body can't handle it properly.

But probably the biggest negative is the durability of the body. Or rather, the total lack of it. You know how the human body can take a few hits, jarrings, falls, and keep going? Not this one. Birds are fragile, and it doesn't take much to damage or break something. Breaking a wing is incredibly painful, much easier than breaking an arm, and incredibly debilitating.

Then there's the lack of recognizance. I'm sure Coati and Dashiel can sympathize. If I get killed or die away from people who know me, I probably won't get a burial. Probably be eaten by the first scavenger who comes across; that's how nature works.

And then to top it all off, you've got the other animals, who can't tell the difference between a normal animal and a Teefer who looks like one. Hawks may be predators, but they aren't apex predators. Try escaping a golden eagle who's decided you're on the menu, and you begin to understand how violent the animal world can be.>

On the cost of TFOR specialized gear

On air pollution

On feather maintenance

On instincts

On currency

On torch fever

(partially used here)

I looked at Scott and Alex presenting their views on torch fever. After they were done, I started speaking with a general broadcast telepathy. <I really don't know whose opinion to fall in with. It could be artificial, it could be natural, I really don't know. It's been a fact of my life since I was a kid...caught it my first time when I was 21 in college. And after the fever got bad, I just started shrinking. And shrinking. And shrinking. Except my arms, they only lost a little bit of length. I've seen the pictures they took at the hospital; kinda disturbing. Of course, I wasn't exactly lucid at the time; delirious with the fever. So...yeah. Probably the worst bit initially was being unable to talk or manipulate things in any usable fashion; I was a comp sci major. But the medical bill wiped out my savings, and I didn't have hands anymore, so that was difficult. Nor could I even talk. So really, I just consider it a fact of life, having grown up with it.>

On lack of hands

On the NAR and its predecessors

Basic Premise

The premise of this story is that a group of friends gather once a month or so for an gaming session. During this session they talk to each other and tell the stories of their lives. Playing the game has been the reason for the get-together since Rob - the GM - convinced them to play. Before that it was an informal deal that would sometimes happen and sometimes not happen.

This is a meeting taking place about halfway through a long-running RP, but the focus isn't on the RP at all, but on the stories the characters are telling each other. We, the authors, sincerely hope you enjoy the story and this look inside the process of writing a collaborative effort.