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User:Michael Bard/Flying Free
|Xanadu story universe|
Of course the elevator took forever. I kept checking my watch, glancing at the door, checking my makeup and face prosthesis in the small mirror beside the elevator. All the while I was tapping the hoof that tipped one of my leg extensions impatiently. Fortunately the rubber of my 'flight suit' -- it was a wetsuit then -- kept my assets from bouncing. Finally the elevator dinged, and I ducked and thudded in as the doors slid opened.
"Nice costume!" His voice grew suddenly louder as I turned my head to look at him and the costume ears cupped the sounds and ran it through the electronics. Being a computer support tech gave one lots of contacts for electronics work.
I blushed, but he couldn't see it behind the makeup. And then I winced at the stench rising from the teenager and filling the elevator. It was so bad I could smell it through my prosthesis which covered my nose! Didn't teenagers ever shower anymore?
"Some kind of horse I bet!"
I clenched my fists. This was just what I needed. At least he couldn't see me blushing. "I'm an anthropomorphic pegasus," I stated, through clenched teeth, biting off the urge to apologize for the tiny little white feathered wings. They were the one part of my costume I was not happy with and hoped to find a solution here at Xanadu. Being one of the few females involved in anthropomorphic costumes, I dreaded what I knew was going to come next. Don't hit on me-- don't hit on me--.
"Whatcha doing for dinner?"
So predictable! Why couldn't I be stuck with one of the shy ones? And, of course, he wasn't wearing any costume at all.
That was when it happened.
Down in the main hall, Eric Winters stood on the main stage. An ancient magic, long suppressed, knew that it's moment had come and swept outward across the convention, it's power transforming everybody into the costume they wore--
Dizziness swept across me, my vision blurred, and I reached down and grabbed the railing in the elevator to keep from stumbling. The dizziness passed quickly and I stood up, steadier and a bit taller, and flicked my ears in annoyance. The stench from the fanboy grew more and more intense, became like a wall of stink, and I snorted--
I stomped my hooves in annoyance and shook out my wings--
What was going on?
I stopped, and stared, my range of vision much larger than it'd been before. At either edge I could see my gorgeous massive feathered wings. My gorgeous black feathered wings.
I had to get out. Get out. Get out. Get out of this tiny box.
Frantically I punched at buttons.
"You have somebody else waiting, don't you. Fuck!" the fanboy said, but I wasn't listening.
The elevator jerked to a stop and I flexed my wings to keep my balance, cool air hitting my gills, as I fled into the hallway.
I ran down the hallway, wings held partially open for balance, my rubber-shod hooves thumping on the carpet of the narrow tiny tiny dim hallway. Strange scents wafted through my nostrils and the hallway seemed to grow smaller and smaller. It ended at a window looking out over a grassy area beside the hotel, and I could see all kinds of mythological and science fictional freaks and madnesses running and screaming. I could hear their sobbing through the window, the tones rising and falling as my ears focused on first one and then the other.
And I was trapped, trapped in this tiny hallway, this narrow shrinking hallway--
I began banging on the glass with my fists, banging and banging as the glass thudded. Tears fell from my eyes, I panted with desperation. I had to get out I had to get out get out get out--
I broke fingers and blood stained the glass that refused to break as I pounded and pounded. The madness of insane need filling my body as I pounded and pounded. Pounded and pounded before finally collapsing at the bottom of the window, the hallway tiny and cramped and crushing me, my hands dripping blood, sobbing uncontrollably--
I don't know how long I lay there in a crumpled heap. By the time someone found me, the hall was dim and shadowy. The only light was from the fluorescents overhead.
"Are you all right Ms...?"
I didn't move until a warm hand touched my shoulder. Then I turned and looked, nostrils flaring, glad for the contact, for any contact.
Looking up, my eyes met the concerned face of a female EMT human, dressed all in blue. I snorted, blinked tears from my eyes, and only then did I realize that my hands were all covered in blood, dark and thick and dried on the fine black fur of my palm. I had to be looking like a mess.
"I-- What-- Who are you?"
"It's all right, I'm not going to hurt you."
I saw movement down the hallway and my view focused on a police officer, or maybe SWAT, in black, carrying a rifle at the ready. My veins pulsed in fear and terror; my wings stretched out and banged painfully against the walls on either side of the tiny hallway. I had to fly; I had to escape, I had to get away! My breath pulsed in and out through my nostrils; I could hear my heart beating in a buzz in my ears.
"I want to help you," the lady said.
The rich odor of manure overwhelmed my nostrils and I knew I'd voided myself. Online I'd joked about voiding myself, like a bird, before taking to the air and fleeing. Evidently that had carried over too.
There was no room, no room! The walls were--
I swallowed, dry, my breath whirring in and out through my nostrils. Looking past her, through her blurred form, eyes wide, all my vision focused on the man with the gun down the hallway.
My ears twitched and focused on a fading thump and then a needle pricked my shoulder.
Screaming I leapt up, trying to grab the air, wings banging against the wall. The woman backed away and then I quieted, the world spinning, and I slumped to the ground.
I woke up in my hotel room, the morning sun streaming through the window. They must have gotten the room number from the key I was carrying in one of belt pouches. I was in my bed, lying on my stomach, and I had to go!
Still half asleep; with every muscle aching, I yawned and got out of bed and stumbled upright-- And felt my wings touch the ceiling.
I just stopped and turned my head, and stared at the soft black feathers.
I spun for the window; the world shrinking. My eyes wide open; my mind desperate to get outside--
Then I felt liquid oozing down my legs inside the wetsuit.
That shocked me to sanity. I hadn't-- not for years! Not since I was five!
I slapped myself, hard.
Whether or not this was a dream, this was me, and I had to live with it for now. Whining and sobbing and denial wouldn't achieve anything!
Angry, I stomped over to the mirror, nostrils cringing at the scent of urine escaping from around my legs. I could feel my ears turning beet red; I could feel my muscles trembling. I could feel my wings opening a bit and then closing again and again. I could feel the movement of each feather as air brushed against it.
Looking in the mirror, I saw myself. My new self. I was pleased to see that I didn't look much different than when I'd been in costume, except for the wings of course. Gently I ran a hand along the side of my muzzle and felt the satiny ebon fur.
This was me.
I hadn't wanted this-- hadn't I?
But then why was this the fursuit, the costume, I'd made?
I was still female, though not as obviously. My breasts were smaller than they'd been, supported by the massive pectoral muscles wrapped around my chest below them. I looked at the hard corded muscles that joined my wings to my keel so that I could fly.
Could I fly?
I fought down the urge to escape this prison. It was a bit easier than before.
I shivered, feeling the cooling liquid inside my flight suit -- I couldn't believe I'd done that! I needed to shower. And had I voided myself? It was a dim memory-- and then I could feel it inside the flight suit. Disgusting!
My ears turned redder than before.
First thing was to get the wetsuit, the flight suit, off. It didn't look quite the same -- it looked softer, more like what I'd imagined a high tech anthro-pegasus flight suit would look like. I felt around with my hands for the zipper, and found nothing.
How was I supposed to get this off?
The zippers had gone. Okay. Fine. It looked more like what I'd imagine. Okay. Fine. Run with that. I'd imagined the flight suit not having seems for better aerodynamic effects. In IRC roleplay I'd taken it off by-- by pressing a seam that went down from my neck along my spine, and then split to each side to the slots for my wings. Then I would unpeel it.
Still breathing quickly, my ears still hot from embarrassment, I reached back to my neck and felt around. Nothing. Fine, assume it's there. I pressed down with a fingernail and ran it down. I could feel the material loosening. Tracing the left seam along to my wing, I stopped when my fingers touched the fine feathers at the base.
I could feel a duality-- My fingers touching the soft down, and the soft down pulling on the sensitive skin it grew out of.
I almost wanted to pet myself.
Angrily I traced the seem along the other side and felt it loosen. I forced myself to ignore the touch against my feathers of my right wing. Pulling the two flaps of the flight suit over my shoulders released the, my compressed mane that I could feel going down along my spine. It'd been there in my mind before, now it was real.
One thing at a time girl.
I stopped, and felt the soft rubbery material of my flight suit. It was not the foam rubber it'd been. It was far softer, almost spongelike. Just like what I'd imagined.
Whatever had transformed me, if I was transformed and not insane, had been very thorough.
I identified more new sensations, and I realized that I was starving. That, at least, made perfect sense, as I'd imagined that I'd have a very rapid metabolism to allow flight. Somehow -- scent I think -- I knew there was nothing edible in the room.
The candy in the pouch!
Leaving the suit loose I looked down, cocking my head to see around my muzzle, and reached down to the right pouch. Somehow I knew that there was a circle of three triangles of stiff rubber that I could press my hand through. Instead I undid the clasp and opened the lid.
There were no candies inside. Instead it was full of what looked like large red balls, but I knew they were soft and easily chewable. My stomach gave me no choice and I shoved it into my eager muzzle. If these were what I'd imagined, then they were a high energy concentrate. Horrible taste, dangerous to use in quantity, but perfect for short term energy replacement.
Like I said, I'd thought far too much about what I was pretending to be. No, far too much about what I'd become.
The candy did taste horrible. It melted in my mouth into an oily gel that almost wiggled its own way down my throat. I felt better, but popped one more just to be safe. I was starving!
My stomach wasn't happy, but I felt a lot better, and I felt a lot more alert.
I sealed the pouch and then opened the other one -- that had my ID and key -- and found it was empty.
If it was empty, then why was the concentrate still here?
I couldn't think of a reason.
I undid the belt -- it had the same kind of pressure release as the flight suit did -- and put it on the dresser top, and then unpeeled the flight suit down my arms and pulled them out, and then rolled it down my body. All the time marvelling at the soft spongy warm texture. Stepping out of it, I tossed it onto the bed. I couldn't help but turn away from the stench of the urine and manure I'd left on the inside of the suit, my nostrils wrinkling in distaste.
That was when I noticed the typed letter taped to the corner of the mirror:
I'm sorry that we tranquilized you, but we didn't know if you were still sound of mind. Other victims of the Xanadu Event have forgotten who they were -- we hope you haven't.
If you do NOT know the name 'Ms Reynolds' then we apologize.
When you're ready, call 888 on your room's phone and somebody will respond soonest.
We apologize for this, but we don't know how violent you are, or what your capabilities are. You're locked in your room for your protection, not anything else. When we can talk, we'll explain more.
Don't panic. We're here to help you.
I just stared and read the note again. Not know my name? Not sound of mind? Forgotten who I am?
It made no sense!
But then none of this did.
I looked at the phone and thought about dialing, but the scent wouldn't let me think of anything other than getting clean.
Turning around I thudded over to the tiny bathroom and ducked through the door, and looked at the small linoleum tub.
The shower head was no where near high enough and there was no mat of any kind in the bottom.
I stretched out my foot and watched my pastern straighten out. Originally it had been surgical tubing and hinges, now it was flesh and blood. One wonders about these things, but then the reality comes--
I let my foot-- hoof thud to the floor.
Shower. I had to shower. I was a mess! But I also didn't want to slip and fall. I had enough troubles.
Looking around, the only thing I could see were the towels the hotel had provided, and I tossed the largest onto the bottom of the tub. At least it was something. I turned the shower on and carefully, with a secure grasp on the curtain rod where it contacted the wall, ducked and stepped into the tub.
I could feel the wet towel shift a little, could feel a hint of the texture distantly on the bottom, the frog, of my hooves. I washed myself, after first setting the showerhead to pulse and letting it beat against my sore wing muscles.
It took a lot of ducking and crouching, and a lot of banging of wings and limbs against the wall, and most of a bar of soap. The bathtub was so tiny! Finally I was clean. I could see that there was some kind of salve on my palms, but they were pretty well healed. The gills beneath my wing stayed tightly shut -- I cleaned around them carefully, afraid to try and pull them open. And my wings.
My wings didn't like it -- washing them felt wrong. The feathers actually repelled the water and I watched beads form along the feather surfaces. Angrily I scrubbed along the feathers until they were soaked and drooping.
I scrubbed and I scrubbed until all I could smell was the soap.
It stung, not my eyes as I felt my inner eyelid close and keep the soap out, but my wounds, and its chemical stench stung my nostrils. It didn't matter, as I would not go and see whomever it was who'd left the note stinking of shit and urine.
When I finally felt clean I shut off the water and started grabbing towels to dry my soaking fur and feathers. Water dripped off me, tinking into the tub and plunking onto the linoleum floor from my wing tips.
With one towel after another I scrubbed against my fur and stroked along my feathers, drying myself off.
There were nowhere near enough.
Sighing, I stepped out, and the wet rubber of my horseshoe slid out from underfoot-- hoof, and I slammed backward against the wall. My wings slammed painfully against the plaster and I screamed and I slid partially down before I grabbed the curtain rod, almost yanking it out of the wall.
Fine! I'd practiced enough, I had a sense of balance, and the actual room was carpeted. This was my new body and I'd master it! I'd practiced enough.
Blinking tears of rage and frustration from my eyes, I gingerly, carefully, got my other hoof out and onto the tile, and from there I made ginger little baby steps over to the carpet, and secure footing-- hoofing. Then I grabbed my hairdryer, which was still on the little counter beside the sink where I'd left it, turned it on, and started drying myself.
I don't know how long it took. I was hot, angry; pain from my wings, my wing shoulders, one leg, pulsed through me. My fur was a mess, all tangled. I tried my brush, but it was useless. Angrily I dragged it along my mane, along my hide, along my tail. It was all I had and I refused to look a mess.. My feathers were ruffled and disordered, though I was able to run my fingers, and my long nails, through them to groom them into order. That I'd also worked out during roleplay sessions.
Still slightly damp, I stomped out, almost banged my head on the lintel, and yanked open the drawer and looked at my clothes--
Blouses? I had wings! They wouldn't fit anymore. I hadn't brought any dresses -- I'd planned on going to the dance in costume.
My vision blurred with tears and my lips trembled.
Why had this happened? Why?!
Angrily I grabbed something, a blouse, and wiped my eyes, and then threw it against the window.
I needed to be outside. I--
I fell to my knees -- were they even knees anymore?! -- and banged my fists on the dresser top again and again and again. I leaned forward and held my head, my muzzle, in my hands and sobbed, each one wracking my body, shaking my wings.
My god damned wings!
The sun was high in the sky by the time I'd gotten it out of my system. I was stiff, my stomach was growling, my muscles were sore, my mane and tail not quite a tangled mess.
At least I was pretty well dry.
Angrily I shoved myself back up onto my fee-- hooves and glared at myself. At my red bloodshot eyes, my tangled cheek-- fur-- hide--
Yanking the drawer out until the catches inside banged against the frame, I started grabbing and tossing the useless crap across the room. I hadn't brought much -- a few blouses, some pants, a skirt, stockings, bras--
I tried putting the first bra on but it was tight, the straps pinched my wings, and the cups hung loose and flaccid over my tiny breasts that peeked out above my pectoral muscles.
I whipped the bra against the window with a thump.
What was I going to wear? What would fit?!
The skirt, at least would work. I grabbed one of my longer panties--
But what about my chest. I would not go topless! By God I was a sophant, not a whore!!
The only thing I could think of that might work was the one piece bathing suit I'd brought. I swam each morning for exercise so that my fursuit would fit right, but now--
Angrily I rummaged around and yanked it out, scattering panties and stockings over the floor, and looked at it.
It was black, but that was fine. I'd always liked black against my white skin. A nice contrast--
I looked down at my black hide and snorted. Well, now it matched.
I stepped into it and yanked the stretchy lycra up my long legs, painfully tight against my crotch, and shoved my arms under the shoulder straps. Thank God it had a low enough cut in the back to leave room for my wings. Then I grabbed the one skirt, thankfully it was a long one, and stepped into it and yanked it up and around my waist, snapping the elastic to make sure it was tight.
It still went to my ankles, or was that my fetlocks now--
I didn't know!
--and there was still a good foot between the hem and the floor. And it didn't go with black--
Of course not!!
My stomach growled again.
I spun around, the bathing suit tugging painfully at the tangled fur of my hide, the skirt shishing around my legs, and clomped over to the phone.
Room service-- room service--
Lifting the phone up I yanked out the hotel directory and slammed the phone back down with a clang. Food delivery-- food delivery-- Ah! 322. I dialed it, my stomach growling again.
And got a rapid busy beeping.
I slammed the headset down, yanked it up, and dialed again.
Same stupid thing.
Slamming it down with a bang and a clang I grabbed the directory. Room service, front desk, information... I tried them all and every last one got the same thing!!!
My vision narrowed and I reached down to yank out the phone and whip it across the forsaken hellish room--
The note. The damned note!
Throwing the phone down on the table with a crash and a rattle, I clomped over to the mirror, tossed a pair of pantyhose across the room, and ripped the note off.
Number, number-- call 888--
Crumpling the note and throwing it away I clomped back, picked the phone up and dialed 888.
Normal busy signal.
I dialed again. Busy signal. Again. Busy signal. Again--
And it rang. Thank God it rang!!!
And rang. And rang--
The phone was awkward in my hands, pressed painfully against my ear as I held the mouthpiece away from my chin hoping I could speak into it.
Answer God damnit!
It kept ringing--
Someone answered: "I'm sorry, but we're really busy--"
"What the fuck is going on?!?!"
"I'm sorry Ms-- Reynolds. We're really busy -- someone'll get back to you as soon as they can." <click>
I screamed, a loud shrill horse scream.
My stomach growled angrily.
I was hungry, thirsty, damned hungry!
I dialed 888 again, and got a rapid busy tone--
Shit! How could I have been so stupid?!
I dialed again.
And it rang. And rang--. but not as much as before.
"We're really busy, I can't--"
"I need some food! I'm starving!"
"You don't understand! I need food!"
"I'm sorry, but-- need?"
Years of tech support and dealing with idiot customers enabled me to force a semblance of calm.
"I need food. To eat. For this body--"
"Ma'am-- Ms-- Reynolds-- I'll get something up, but it'll take a while-- Breads, buns--"
Idiots! I flew and that meant I needed to be able to process high energy foods -- and grass was not high energy. "I need meat. Lots of meat." My stomach was a raging agony. "And-- grains. And bread. Just-- lot's of it!"
"Ms Reynolds, I'll see what I can do." The voice was nervous, turning angry. "You'll just have to hold on--"
I just collapsed on the bed, unable to stand anymore, eyes wet. The rage had burned itself out. She was just an angry customer. Don't let her get to you. "I'm-- sorry. But I really need something. I really do. Just-- just do what you can-- please--?"
"Ms Reynolds, ma'am, we're doing the best we can. But nothing like this has ever happened-- I'll try to get them to rush it. That's all I can promise."
"Thank-- thank you. That's-- that'll have to do. I'm-- sorry. It's been a trying day."
"It has for all of us. I'll get the food up as fast as I can. Now I need you to free up this line -- other victims need help too."
"I'm sorry. Thank you. Thank you very much."
"No problem Ms Reynolds. Good bye."
There was a click and the line went dead.
I let the headset fall out of my hand and slide along my skirt and thump to the floor.
It seemed I wasn't sobbed out yet and fell on the bed, hugged my old and worn stuffed horse tight against me, and lost it again.
A wondrous odour of hot meat, grains, of food, massaged my nostrils and I looked up, blinking tears out of my eyes.
The door was opening and a hotel orderly was pushing in a cart.
My wings flapped to help me onto my fee-- hooves and I ran-- galloped over.
His eyes widened, he shoved the cart forward and then fled. The door thudded shut behind him. I was barely able to pull the cart over and sit down on the bed before I yanked off the plastic covers. Somehow I managed not to throw them away and grabbed the fork and knife and dug in!
Oh God it was good. Sure, it was hotel food, badly cooked hotel food, but my need made it like ambrosia. Before I knew it I'd finished off the two hamburgers, gulped down the soup, and eaten every slice of bread and every bun. I didn't even stop to butter them.
My stomach was finally happy.
Calmer now, almost sane, I looked around. Looked around at the scattered bedclothes. At my clothes tossed everywhere. At the wet spots on the floor. At the damp trails from the cart wheels from where they'd rolled across the still wet carpet in front of the washroom.
Why had this happened to me?!
I got up to try and do some cleaning when there was a knock at the door.
"Ms Reynolds?" a male voice called out. "I can come back--"
My ears focused on the voice.
"If you're still eating I can wait--"
Did I want to see anybody--? I checked myself in the mirror -- I didn't look too bad, and there was nothing readily available to make me look better. "Come in, I'm done!"
There was a tink of a key and the door opened. A man stepped in, neat and impeccably groomed. He was dressed in a strict professional suit, but it was rumpled, there was a stain on it of something-- I sniffed-- cat?
He closed the door and I heard the turning of a key from outside.
"Ms Reynolds? I'm Dr. Archibald Cummings." With that he opened a binder that had been under his arm, flipping through papers. "Let's see now-- Ms Angela Reynolds, age 28, found in the east hallway 3rd floor in near psychotic state-- EMT talked to, subject panicked, tranquilized. Extreme bruising and abrasions to both hands-- wounds cleaned, medicated with-- subject not thought violent or excessively dangerous, taken to room, left to recover-- hysteric on phone but--"
I could smell him almost clearer than I could see him. He was tired, flustered, nervous, a little afraid. How did I know all that? Was it all from scent? "Mr.-- umm Dr Cummings? What the-- what's going on?!"
Calmly he calmly turned a page, and then looked up adjusting his glasses. He pulled a pen out of his shirt pocket beneath his jacket and clicked it open. "You really don't know?"
"Don't know what?! I was in the elevator and then I became-- became this!!"
"How would you know--" he muttered, and then he explained.
Explained how everybody in the convention centre, in the grounds around the convention centre, in the hotel, they'd all become their costume. There were superheroes, klingons, aliens, villains, monsters--
Two days ago I'd never have believed him. But with what had happened to me--
Some had lost their minds, forgotten who they were -- become who they were dressed as with no memory of what they'd been. Some could perform magic--
"I'm sorry, really sorry, for not getting back to you, but we're overwhelmed. Nothing like this has ever happened--"
Of course not.
"I hope you understand, but I need to ask you some things. Get some baseline data--"
Of course he did. He needed to know what I'd done. What I was. This time I was the brainless customer who'd screwed up their OS. "Sure, sure-- ask away--"
He started with the simple questions, my name, my age, what I remembered. He seemed quite relieved that I recalled everything seamlessly. Given what he'd described I was kinda relieved too.
"Now Ms Reynolds, I need details of what you've become."
Starting slow, ears blushing, I told him everything I could recall. I knew why he needed to know. Get a baseline, get all the details of the problem and then try and solve it. So I started telling him everything I'd imagined --
"Why Ms Reynolds?"
I blinked at him and my stomach rumbled.
"Why this form?"
"Why? I-- I'd helped friends with their fursuits, costumes, for years-- but I'd never done one of my own."
"Why this one? Why this horse--?"
"Not a horse. An anthropomorphic pegasus. You know the myth? Pegasus and Belleraphon?"
"Pegasus was a winged horse--"
"I know that!"
"Anthropomorphic means human--"
"I know that now too you god damned wack--"
"I'm sorry Ms Reynolds. That was totally uncalled for. It's just been a very long day."
I swallowed, wishing I had a glass of water. "That's-- that's all right."
"I do need to know why though. I need to get a psychological model of you. Some of the people have psyches completely alien to anything I've seen. They sound normal, but then they say things with absolute convic---" He shook his head and smiled, slightly. "You're far more normal than a lot of them."
I earblushed. "Thank you. Why? You know, I'm not really sure why. Why this-- I've helped friends with their fursuits--"
"You already said that."
"Oh-- right-- But, anyway, I've never done one of my own. Never had any interest."
"Why--? A friend pointed out the website of this company that made high end prosthetics, all kinds of animals. I browsed the site, curious, and then I saw a horse muzzle and it all-- it all clicked."
"You've never been interested in horses before then?"
"No-- well-- when I was young I read all the horse books I could get. No, not the pulp novels they grind out, the older ones. Brighty, Black Beauty, Justin Morgan--. They fascinated me. My parents thought it was the typical little girl horse fascination and maybe it was, but it always stuck with me. I grew up, read other things, lots of SF, a bit of fantasy-- but certain books stood out, grabbed me more than others. Dun Lady's Jess-- always horses. You know, it’s funny, I never really realized this before--"
"Uh huh--" his pen scratched as he jotted things down.
"In my mind I'd played for years with how to create something that would simulate a digitigrade stance -- like a horse -- walking on one's toes. It just seemed like an interesting puzzle to me. Then, once I saw the muzzle, I started looking into it, seriously. Somebody I knew pointed me to a Yahoo group and I found a bunch of possibilities and chose one. Maybe the most extreme one, but--"
"You didn't like your human body?"
"Didn't like--" I'd ran across a bunch of people like that. "No, no, nothing like that. I was happy with my life. Well-- mostly. I think I just dreamed and-- well, wondered."
"Wondered what it'd be like. To be a horse. To sniff the air, to run on hooves-- that kind of thing."
"Why not a full horse then?"
"Because I think civilization is a good thing. I like hands. I like technology. I saw no reason to give those up."
"Oh, that's-- good. So why not an-- ah-- anthropomorphic horse?"
"I started working on that, but nothing would jell. I had the hoof extensions working and could walk in them easily. I had the prosthesis painted, but it didn't grab me. I had no-- soul to go with the concept. Nothing to drive it. Lots of bits and pieces but with nothing to unify it."
"In an online chat, IRC, somebody gave me a set of wings--"
"Huh? Gave you?!"
"No, not in reality. In a roleplay-- an imaginary story we created."
"Ah! Some of the others mentioned that."
"So Arrow -- that was the man's nick -- gave me the wings and I put them on and, well, I flew. And that was what I needed. Suddenly everything clicked together. A whole individual form. Ideas flowed through me, how it could work--"
"And where'd the fish come in?"
I stopped and snorted and stared at him. "Fish?"
"The--" he looked down, "gills. The EMT that examined you found some kind of gills under your arms..."
"Oh, those. Nothing to do with water. Ever hear of the Ythri?"
"They're a race of sophants created by Poul--"
"It's a term created by the author Poul Anderson as a collective term for any tool making race."
"Oh," he nodded and scribbled something down.
"The Ythri are a sophant race, human sized, capable of flight, and native to a terran normal-- earthlike environment. There's a rumour that he created the Ythri on a dare from another writer to create a human sized flyer that could be believably capable of flight. The gill slits act as a kind of supercharger. With each downstroke of the wing, the gills open and the air flows through them supercharging the blood with oxygen."
I could tell he didn't understand-- idiot. "There's other things too. An extremely fast metabolism to support the high muscle activity -- it's why I needed the food so badly -- hollow bones, my mane on my head is a kinda punk haircut for aerodynamic reasons, not looks. It acts like a rudder. Then there's nictating eyelids to keep the dust particles out during flight. I think that's most of it." It wasn't, but some things I wasn't sure of and a part of me was suspicious enough to keep my thoughts to myself.
"Nothing else that I'd thought of. Who knows what else has happened to me."
"And why the rubber?"
"The suit you were wearing. They thought it was rubber, but they couldn't figure out how to get it off." He blushed and looked away. "Some of the victims had-- umm-- fetishes--"
I laughed, a loud nasal braying laugh, and he looked at me, pushing his glasses back up his nose.
"Nothing like that! I came up with it as an aerodynamically superior flight suit. It's made up of a soft rubber-like compound, but far tougher. I imagined it as some kind of expanded carbon foam--"
"I don't know the details -- I just had ideas."
"But, so much--"
"Waiting for the next moron-- customer, gives one a lot of time to think."
"Oh. Go on then."
"I imagined it was kinda like dolphin skin -- supposedly their skin feels like warm rubber -- but for air instead of water."
"Oh. I'd guess that'd explain the watch we found on you."
"Where is it anyway?"
"They took it -- didn't know if it was a bomb or a weapon or what. Hell, there're Stormtroopers with working blasters for heaven's sake."
"They couldn't open it, but it had all kinds of things." He flipped a page and looked down. "Digital watch, altimeter, magnetic compass, something called an inertial compass--"
"You zero that, and it keeps track of your movement -- direction and speed -- from that point on, so that you can go back to where you started from."
"Oh-- Apparently it even had an FAA Identification Transponder--"
"It generates a unique ID for an aircraft, or in this case anthro-pegasus, for air traffic controllers."
He nodded. "The ID wasn't in the national database, and it had an unusual prefix--"
I bet it did given what it was IDing.
"--but it was compatible with the existing system. And-- let's see-- I need to ask you about those pills in your one pouch. They couldn't figure out how to get the belt off, or the flight suit, and the pouch kept refilling--"
"They took some for analysis and it was a complex sugar--"
"Remember what I said about having a high metabolism? Those are an emergency high energy supplement. Sugars and stuff to feed my metabolism so I don't over extend myself."
"I'll pass that on with the sample-- But why was the pouch always full?"
"I-- Honestly, I don't know. They were just there in case I needed them--"
"Just there? Always just there?"
"I guess-- maybe--"
"Thank you for that information Ms Reynolds. But there's one more thing. How did you get out of that-- umm-- flight suit of yours? Nobody could figure out how--"
"It's got a molecular-bound seam. You have to press hard at the back of the neck and along the seam to open it if closed, to seal it if open. Same with the belt. It was the best I could come up with to avoid zippers screwing up the air flow."
"Uh huh--" He scribbled a bunch of stuff and I waited, tapping a hoof back and forth. Finally he finished. "Well, thank you very much then Ms Reynolds. I'll pass this on and somebody will get back to you--"
"You're going to leave me? For how long?"
"It shouldn't be long -- you don't seem dangerous but we need the results of blood tests -- they took samples while you were unconscious -- and analysis of those pills--"
I sighed and looked out the window. A few days. "Can I have my ID back, and the watch--?"
"They'll be returned to you, I assure you. Now, I need to be going--" he started getting up.
"Wait! Can I get some other things--?"
"What kind of things?"
"A brush, I guess a horse brush. I--" I earblushed. "I really need it. And I need lots of food, two or three times a day."
He jotted some stuff down. "Just a normal meal?"
I remembered the big mass of food-- "What I had earlier."
He just looked at me, sighed, and then wrote something down. "The food is fine -- it's on the government. I'll see about the brush. There're veterinarians around -- one of those should have one. And there'll be one up to examine you at some point--"
"Umm-- you do look more horse than human you know."
"And I need to take that flight suit, and the belt and the pouch with me-- For analysis--"
"Wait a minute! What'll I wear?!"
"They'll be returned. I promise. We just need to check, to try to understand."
I nodded. "You sure I'll get them back?"
I looked at my flight suit, wrinkled my nostrils at the stench -- I should have rinsed it--
"Can you get me some clothes then -- some skirts. Almost nothing fits anymore."
"I'll see what I can do-- Somebody will call. Get your size and all that."
"The TV is fully activated. This'll be over soon. I promise."
"Soon-- Okay then. Thanks-- And--"
He looked at me.
"No problem." He grabbed my flight suit, the pouch, turned and knocked on the door and called out his name. The key clicked, and the door opened, and he went out. And the door was locked behind him.
For a while I just stared at the door, sitting on the bed and rocking my hooves back and forth on the floor. Part of me wondered why the terminology was becoming so easy to me-- I hadn't created a fursona, personality, but I had created a race. And concepts--
How much was that inside me?
And there was more. A really scary more.
I'd never gotten around to deciding how long this fictional race lived. A part of me had always wanted to live forever, to visit the stars, to see where humankind went.
I shivered as I wondered if that wish had been copied over--
Or maybe I'd have the lifespan of a horse -- 20 years or so. Or even shorter due to my hyper metabolism.
I had no clue--
I looked at the door again.
I had no clue what I really was. The government had taken everything they could from me. I knew people who'd be mad as hell knowing that the government was about to screw them. I couldn't believe that--
But then why hadn't I shared my speculations as to life span--?
I swallowed as my stomach growled.
They were just being cautious. Really they were--
I was stuck in Xanadu, me and a whole bunch of others, for a month. Our guards weren't mean or anything, but they were cautious. I guess I couldn't blame them. The next day they unlocked my door as I'd proven to them that I was in control and wasn't dangerous. I could move through the hotel, but not go out, and not call out. I managed to at least get them to call my workplace and tell them I'd be absent an unknown amount of time due to 'government quarantine'. Once I was allowed to call my parents. Talking to them wasn't easy -- I couldn't speak at first, nor could they. I reassured them that I was fine, and sane -- I'd been told I couldn't say any more than that -- and that I'd be home when I could. They promised to pass it on to the few close friends I had. As some of those went to the same chat groups I did, word would get around.
There were a bunch of us, but not as many as I'd expected. Some SF characters without their hardware -- none of the aliens. A bunch of fantasy characters, and a bunch of furries. We met for meals, but not really much else -- I think everybody was still shell shocked.
We went through tests, had veterinarians look at most of us. I got long lectures on important things I'd never known before like hoofcare. Though I'd always been fascinated by horses, I'd never really ridden one, and had never cared for one. It was enlightening. He managed to get me a pair of 'hoofboots'. He also gave me a horse brush, and for that he was my friend forever. And then he and an MD gave me a medical examination. The doctor couldn't find my heartbeat and first blamed his equipment -- until he and I realized that the regular buzz he was hearing was my heartbeat. Hummingbirds had nothing on me. Of course, there is some evidence that lifespan is a fixed number of heartbeats, and that didn't make me any happier.
I also found that my new weight was barely 80 pounds. That was kinda frightening -- they had no idea how that was even possible, and I declined their request for x-rays and surgical examinations as I was afraid of what they'd find. Besides, I told them, if there was something wrong with the physiognomy I'd created for myself, I'd already be dead.
One thing I learned, in addition to my prodigious appetite, was that I couldn't sit still. After introductions between me and the other inmates, there wasn't much to do other than watch TV and read. I could do those, but I couldn't stand still whilst doing so. Always I ended up pacing, or rocking back and forth, or just tapping a hoof. It was almost embarrassing as I almost never realized I was doing it until somebody in a room below me started banging on their ceiling.
The government refused to return my flight suit -- said it was being studied by 'top men'. Same for the stimulant and my watch -- whatever it'd become. And I wasn't the only one. Most of the remaining guests had had any high tech stuff their costumes had been equipped with confiscated. There were rumours that a lot of it refused to work for anyone other than the owner. I didn't know what to think.
They'd even confiscated the sewing kit that I'd brought in case I needed to make repairs to my fursuit, unlikely given the lack of cloth involved in it. They'd been afraid I might use the pointed needles to hurt myself or others. Guess I couldn't blame them. I managed to get the kit back and began modifying my clothes so I'd have something that would fit me other than the damned bathing suit. I couldn't get anything to not drag and pull painfully at my fur, but I modified my blouse and my two t-shirts so that they were wearable. A number of the others had similar problems and I ended up helping them out too. To my surprise, a lot of people at Xanadu didn't really need my help. Or anyone else's, not when it came to clothes as theirs would change to fit as soon as they put something on. I saw a medieval swashbuckler fox trying to put on a 20th century shirt and have it swiftly morph into a frilly renaissance shirt. Lucky bastard.
Regardless, I needed this month of rest; needed this time to come to terms with myself. My new self. I only lost it twice, once sobbing on the floor, and another time banging my fists futilely against my window. At least my metabolism let me heal fast. Time passed and I got more and more antsy and nervous -- I needed to get outside. I spent more and more time in the larger conference and ballrooms on the main floor which kept me somewhat sane.
I was really glad I'd missed the awards ceremony -- that was when the event happened. All the people becoming their costumes... If I'd been in the middle of that, if my claustrophobia had kicked in, I could have killed people with my wings. Or, at least I figured I could have. I'd heard about swan wings being able to snap limbs. Mine were bigger and my muscles were far stronger.
Time passed. Contrary to some of the stories you've heard, the government was actually quite helpful -- changing identities was one of the earliest things they did, and that percolated through the system, IRS first. They kept us fed -- which for me couldn't be cheap -- and put us up in the hotel free. Probably they had to as they wouldn't let us leave.
Towards the end of the month they started letting people go. The more normal ones first. I'd found out that the really minorly changed ones -- those who'd been wearing nothing but animal ears or a tail -- had been let go while I was still in my room. Of course, a lot of people had left in the first few hours of confusion -- mostly the more powerful ones. There were stories on the news, rumours. Superheroes fighting crime, and fighting supervillains. I remember watching a discussion on CNN after a battle in New York that caused an estimated 1.3 billion dollars worth of damage.
Anyway, just before I was let go, I was taken to see a Dr. Sands-- who looked just like Dr Quest! The original, not the new crap knock off. Boy was he handsome! I kept calling him Dr. Quest even after he admitted the truth.
"Yes, Ms Reynolds, I was a guest at Xanadu, and as you've surmised, I came dressed as Dr. Quest. I still miss my son, even though I know that intellectually he's never existed."
"Holy Crap!" I responded. "I... I don't know what to say."
"No matter. What's done is done. Now you're likely wondering why I'm talking to you--"
I snorted and started rhythmically thunking a hoof against the front of the desk he was sitting at.
He raised an eyebrow and stated simply, "I know that you have issues with hyperactivity due to your unusual metabolism, but it would be easier to talk if you kicked something else."
Ears blushing furiously, I stopped, and rocked my hooves alternately back and forth on the floor.
Dr. Quest... Sands... opened a binder. "The government has interviewed me and I've agreed to their request to create a special task force and think tank to deal with the Xanadu Effect. We provide a home to those whose physical requirements would make resuming a normal life awkward, and provide special facilities to those who need them. We study the equipment, monitor the more dangerous or exceptional individuals, and have special operatives that can be sent to troublespots when needed. Troublespots that conventional authorities are unable to deal with."
"I don't think I need any special treatment." I looked out the window from my side vision, felt the outside calling me, and forced down a panic attack.
"If you're certain you can handle it. Based an analysis of your dental work, and your diet, it seems that you can eat whatever a human can, so that will make your life easier, though it might be expensive."
I was a tech support specialist and floor sales manager at one of the giant computer store chains -- money was not that much of an issue for me. "I'll be fine."
"Records of your income suggested that, but I had to ask just in case."
I scratched at my side -- damn clothes pulling on my fur. "Why do you want me then? And, do I really have a choice?"
"Ms Reynolds, of course you do. This is the United States of America."
"Then where is my property?"
Dr. Sands frowned and I could smell a bit of embarrassment on him. Somehow I'd had no trouble identifying the meaning of new scents -- possibly because I'd put so much thought into how this form would work. "I'm sorry Ms Reynolds, I have it here with me. We kept your watch, but created a new one for you with conventional technology. And, we removed a very small piece of your flight suit for analysis. An amazing material actually--"
My stomach grumbled. "And the stimulant?"
"That? They didn't want to give that back, they called it a dangerous poison. I had to point out to them that it wasn't dangerous to you, and that you really needed it."
"Dangerous? What is it exactly?" All I'd imagined was a high powered stimulant/high calorie food.
"It contains complex chains of amino acids--"
I could almost hear him mentally switching gears at the blank look on my face -- I'd never cared for chemistry.
"In essence Ms Reynolds it's both an extremely strong stimulant, and a high calorie complex of starch and sugars. Nothing previously unknown, and there are some unique chains--"
"Then how's it a poison?"
"It isn't, not really. It's just extremely strong. So strong that almost anybody other than you who swallowed one would have a high risk of their heart exploding, or suffering total metabolic collapse. I would strongly recommend never taking more than two under any circumstances."
"Oh-- I won't then." Definitely, absolutely I wouldn't!
"I also need to ask you a question. Don't feel required to answer, but if you have any information it would be a great help."
I turned my ears towards him.
"There is one victim of the Xanadu Effect that we, and the FBI are looking for. I'm sorry, but I can't tell you why unless you join us. However, if you have had any interactions with him, any information at all would be useful." He opened a desk drawer and pulled out a grainy black and white photograph that looked to be expanded from the video of a security camera. It showed a large humanoid rabbit, likely white but there was no way to be sure. "I have reports that this individual's fur is pure white, and he has blue eyes. Other than that--" he shrugged.
"Dr. Quest, I can assure you that I've never seen him. You've known where I've been all this time!"
"Did you encounter him before the Xanadu Effect? We know his first name is 'Phil' but not much else."
I shook my head. "Sorry."
"I didn't think so, but I had to ask. Anyway--" Dr. Quest pulled out a thick official government package stamped TOP SECRET and handed it to me. I was afraid to touch it.
"Don't worry, your stuff is in there -- it was just the handiest package I had of the right size."
I flicked my ears at that one.
"Now, as I was saying about the organization--"
"Dr. Quest, why are you telling me all this? Do you want me to help you hunt down this Phil?" I took the package from him.
"Not at this time. I would like you to consider joining us though."
Huh? "Me?" My voice came out more as a squeak than my normal tone. Or my normal tone now.
"I think you can be helpful in a minor role. Technical aid for our computer hardware, low profile remote reconnaissance--"
Dear God! A vision flashed through of myself as a black flying commando in the sky... And then I remembered footage of that battle in New York and saw myself being blown apart by an energy blast projected from the rabbit's eyes. "No!"
"The benefits are excellent, and you can help us analyze--"
"No-- I'm sorry Dr. Quest. It's tempting, I admit--" My ears blushed and I knew that I wouldn't tell him the real reason. I could feel the outside calling me. "--but right now I just want to go home."
He frowned. "I didn't expect you to agree given your psychological profile, but I've been wrong before. Not often though. Well, I would like you to keep it in mind. You can call us," he pulled a card out of the binder and held it out to me, "at any time. Either decision is fine with me, and with my superiors."
I shuffled restlessly, I could feel my panic growing, and I didn't know how I could stop it. Why now? Was it because I was so close to getting outside--? I could hear it calling me-- "I-- I'm sorry-- Can-- Can I go now?"
"Certainly Ms Reynolds. Just think about my offer. I got all the processing completed before I called you in because I figured you'd need to leave quickly."
I just nodded as he held out his hand and I clasped it and we shook. His grasp was snug, not too tight, and his palm warm. Mine was wet.
"Thanks doctor. I wish-- I have to go-- I'm sorry--" I grabbed the package and turned away as a man in a suit opened the door for me.
"Follow him Ms Reynolds -- he'll lead you out."
"Thank you Dr. Quest. Thanks very much." I turned and rushed out, wings raised behind me for balance. The man had to hurry to keep up. Because of his presence, I guess, nobody stopped me, and it wasn't long until I was finally able to go out through the main doors of the hotel--
My package almost slipped from my hands-- And my luggage--
The sights! I closed my second eyelids and the world softened for a moment and then became sheathed in translucent zephyrs that curled and flowed and streamed around me in patterns. It took me a second to realize it, but then I knew I was seeing air currents, temperature differentials--
And the scents! The sweetness of grass. The bitterness of fertilizer. Maple and oak trees lining the grounds. Faint stench of carbon monoxide and car exhaust. Odd spicy scents I didn't recognize, faint and old. I panted, sucking in deep short gasps of air to sample the scents, to feel them, to swim in them--
And the sounds! The hiss of wind in the grass and leaves. The cacophony of birdsong. A distant growl. The dim roar of cars and trucks on the highway. My ears swiveled, focusing on one and then the other and then the other--
Behind me I dimly heard, "Ms Reynolds--?" but it meant nothing to me.
I outstretched my wings, letting a faint breeze I could see rustle the tips of my primary feathers. Each movement sending pulses of information down nerves and into a portion of my brain I hadn't had a month ago.
The doors softly hissed shut behind me.
My pectorals yanked and my wings stroked downwards. My gills pulsed open and oxygen roared through them sucked into my blood, pulsing through my body as I became alive like I'd never been alive before.
A couple steps forwards, my hooves clacking on the walkway. A quick upstroke, wings curved to minimize resistance as they hissed back to their aphelion, and then they outstretched, cupping the wind, and my pectorals yanked them down. More steps, almost a gallop as my wings beat faster and faster. I could feel the mohawk cut mane on top of my head pulling tighter from muscles in my scalp as the wind of my passage pressed against it. I stopped galloping and started bounding, leaping up with each downstroke, moving faster and faster--
Until I wasn't running or bounding anymore.
My legs pressed together behind me, my lower leg joints stretching until my legs were horizontally behind me as a bird's tail.
My wings beat faster and faster and I stretched out my body, my hands clasping my package close to my chest. Breezes pulsed through my nostrils as I panted for breath; oxygen whirred through my blood as my heart beat faster and faster until it was just a tingle as was my whole body. The breeze of my passage massaged my fur.
Cocking my head I looked down, the wind hissing past my ears now pointing behind me. Xanadu spread out below me, smaller and smaller. Figures turning to tiny sticks, though I found I could focus on one and see them as though they were only a few feet away.
Oh my God--
I was FLYING!
I! WAS! FLYING!!
I'd descended from my first flight when my wings grew sore. It'd had been hours, how long I couldn’t really say. But I felt better, infinitely better. The desperation, the insanity, that had been scratching at my mind, was gone, and for the first time since the Xanada Effect I felt comfortable with myself.
Of course landing wasn't as graceful as my takeoff, and I ended up curling my wings around me and rolling and tumbling across the lawn. Sheepishly I walked back to the hotel, stomach growling angrily, and went to the cafeteria and grabbed about 15 pounds of hot juicy meat. When I was finally full I took the elevator to my room and packed my stuff and left. My blood was whirring through me, it was like I was high on drugs. I ran into a white-furred otter that'd been trapped too -- I knew him from IRC as, oddly, SnowOtter.
After I didn't say anything, still lost in the memory of flight, he burst out with, "And what are you so happy about? Going home?" He snorted and dooked angrily at me.
I just looked at him and smiled wider, wider than I thought my face was capable of. "I-- I flew--"
"Holy shit?! You did! You can?"
"Oh God can I!"
"They let you then?"
"I don't think they could stop me now."
He shuffled his feet as I burst into a loud piercing bouncing whistle of the brassy opening theme from Star Wars, hopping from hoof to hoof as the elevator slid downward.
"Could you keep it to yourself a bit maybe? Some of us are still stuck here you know."
I earblushed, but couldn't stop.
My bag was large, as I'd brought more than I really needed as usual, and it got really heavy before I got to my car. My clothes were finally comfortable, not tearing or pulling at my fur as I'd put my flight suit on underneath like an old friend, and it had made everything good. I'd seriously considered flying home, my body eager, almost desperate, to get back into the air. However, I managed to force myself not to as I needed to take my car back and my luggage. Getting into the car was a pain, and it was fortunate it was a hatchback. I had to push the seat as far back as it would go, twist my tail around so that it painfully bent up my back, and wedge my wings over the back of the seat and against the rear window.
Getting back home took about two hours as I lived fairly close. I think I drove a little fast, but I didn't care. I put in a CD of The Empire Strikes Back and let it's themes pound through me as I wove through traffic. I was so happy I wanted to explode! Driving with both windows down, the sunlight streaming through my glossy black fur, it was probably a good thing I didn't run into a cop. I had to force down the urge to hang my head out the window like an overeager dog.
I guess people stared at me as I parked in the underground lot under the apartment building I'd lived in, but I was oblivious. Taking the elevator up to the 29th floor, I was still whistling to myself as I let myself into my apartment. It was still cluttered, and badly needed to be dusted and aired out. Instead, I just dropped my luggage and strutted across the room. Yanking the sliding door to the balcony open, I stood out, leaning over the railing, letting the cool winter air pour over me.
It was great to be alive!
I'd been let out on a Wednesday, and slowly I came down from my high and got things organized. Apartment cleaned, clothes put away, a prioritization of things to be modified so that I could wear them in my new body. Picking up the big pile of bills and writing the assorted checks to get them all paid and up to date. Calling work to let them know I'd be in tomorrow--
The phone was annoying. I'd forgotten as I hadn't used one in weeks. The best I could do was hold the earpiece near my ear and just speak loudly and hope the mouthpiece picked it up. I imagine it looked funny, the tiny phone against the head of a horse, one part just below one ear that was twisted down to try and hear from it, and the other part listening to my cheek.
After tossing the spoiled leftovers and running them down to the garbage bin, still whistling, waving cheerfully at the people who stopped and stared at me, I put together a meat rich casserole from frozen meat I had in the freezer. My stomach almost couldn't wait; it was fortunate I'd grabbed a Burger King takeout on my way back.
Late that night I got to sleep on my own bed, curled up in a mound of fur and tail and feathers, feeling absolutely that all was right with the world.
Life settled down after that, or so I thought. I went back to work, explained things (the government ID really helped) and went back to technical support for customers, setting schedules, and helping with sales on the floor. After some thought I sold my car, I found that I never used it anymore, and ended up flying back and forth from work, and to almost anywhere else I wanted. When the weather was really bad I used transit. Small, crowded, and with some highly annoying people, I found it easiest to move to the back, sit on an empty seat, and ignore everybody as they shifted away from me. I gradually converted my clothes, donating what I couldn't use such as the bras and panty hose. Almost always I wore the flight suit underneath as it made sure my fur was never bothered by what I was wearing. I washed it in cold on delicate. And, it was probably a good thing that I didn't need to worry about cold winter temperatures, being in Florida and all. I doubt that would have stopped my flights even if I'd lived up in Canada somewhere.
Christmas came and went, and a visit with the family. My two nieces loved me, my parents were more skeptical, but they could still see what I'd been in what I'd become, and by the end of the holiday love had conquered all. The government ID, and the television reports about Xanadu, certainly helped.
Winter ended, and spring began, and slowly, almost unnoticeably, things started to go wrong. I was assigned less and less time on the floor as customers seemed to hurry to the other salespersons. When I ran to help somebody, they almost always said they didn't need help, and after I'd left I could see them go to someone else out of the corner of my extraordinarily wide field of vision. Most of the technerds didn't, as only my knowledge was comparable to theirs. But everybody else--
I wasn't stupid; I could see the writing on the wall. The odd time I had to take transit only reinforced it. Subtle stares and hints, body language, whispered comments that I could often make out, all drove me to the back of the bus. Even the blacks whispered about me, a lot of them glad that they were no longer on the bottom. The growing reports of supervillains causing mass damage didn't help matters at all.
So I updated my resume, and started fishing around. I got interviews, but when I arrived they were short, and always ended up with a 'we'll call you'. It was discouraging, but chats online helped -- I wasn't the only one facing problems in society.
And there was always Dr. Quest's offer if it all fell apart. But I really didn't want to get involved in that. Some of the newsreels of supervillains, and even heroes, in action, scared the crap out of me. A lot of those who'd gone were gadgeteers, and they were making their skills felt with all kinds of horrific devices. Somebody who'd become Iron Man had formed a League of Justice that helped a lot, and they even started working on their own orbiting Watchtower. There were rumours of Dr Quest and his team floating around, of some whom had become 'Men in Black' co-operating to cover up the most extreme events. News was less often live, and more often taped.
At least the economy was booming. Eric Winters started it when he brought out a rubber-composite fibre optic. And then a corporation calling themselves Real Stark Industries started coming out with all kinds of new technologies. Other Xanadu 'victims' started following suit.
The superheroes were almost never out of the news. DC and Marvel went after them, after all the heroes, claiming that they owned them. Thankfully the Supreme Court finally ruled against their ownership of the people who'd become superheroes and supervillains the two companies had originally created. Of course, this was then appealed as genetically engineered life forms had been patented, and what was a superhero/villain and their unique DNA other than a new patentable life form?
Oh, I could have kept up with the technological revolution, but I found my heart wasn't in it anymore. Where once computers had fascinated me, now they were just a job. For years I'd driven myself to be the best in a man's world, and I'd succeeded. And now I didn't care. Instead I flew, spent my weekends in parks. And I grew depressed. It was a slow fall, I can see that in hindsight, but then I was oblivious.
Then it all fell apart. I was fired. Their reasons were a list of minor offenses -- being late, body odour -- I was showering daily, but I did smell a bit like a horse -- inattention, lack of willingness to apply myself. All kinds of little things, but together they were damning. I was escorted out, trying to hold back tears.
Nobody even said good bye.
And waiting for me when I got back was an eviction notice. I ripped it off and read it, disbelieving. Again, it was a list of minor reasons -- noise, lack of cleanliness, complaints from other apartments--
I had to get out. I had to get out of the closed in room, away from the walls, the ceiling-- Throwing myself off the balcony I flew into the developing storm, not caring. Not knowing what to do. Only knowing that I had to get out, get away--
All around me the sky was black as hell; howling wind tore at my feathers; hail smashed against my rubbery flight suit--
I didn't know if the water in my eyes had leaked through my flight goggles, or was from my tears.
I hadn't done anything wrong! Why me?!
A jagged line of electrical fire tore across the sky; the sound pounded through my body even though my ears were pulled tight against my skull. Like hitting a wall, a downdraft slammed against me, the air somehow thicker and darker in the near blackness to my vision, and I shot down like an express elevator. Flapping frantically as each twitching feather fed me information, I let the wind drive me as I fought for control. Fighting the howling wind, feeling the oxygen pulse through my gills and roar through my blood, I let the wind drive me.
Suddenly I was out of it, and momentarily out of the rain. I flapped frantically, not able to see anything, but knowing I needed height. I needed to get above the howling maelstrom if I wanted to ride it out.
If I wanted to ride it out.
I was back in the rain, and it burst into me like a wall of water, oozing down my face, dribbling around my goggles, tickling my gills with stabs of ice cold. I could feel my feathers beginning to absorb water, and if that happened then I was toast. At least the flight suit kept most of me dry. My muscles ached, especially my pectorals.
Absentmindedly I reached down through the hole into the pouch of high energy concentrate and grabbed one, no two, and shoved them into my mouth as my wings beat frantically. They oozed down my throat and I almost gagged at the taste, but then I felt their energy burst into me. My vision sharpened and my wing beat steadied.
Desperately I looked around, peering through the driving rain, the after image of the lightning still speckling my vision. The air was a morass of hot and cold spirals and currents, a tangled nightmare. I looked for an updraft. There had to be one-- I needed there to be one--
Another shock of lightning, distant and quieter, but for an instant I thought I'd seen something. An updraft, though it was hard to tell in the tangled mess.
Water poured off me, but not as fast as it poured on. I struggled to reach what I thought I'd seen. One good updraft could carry me through the cloud cover and above the storm--
I had no job. I had no home.
My steady wingbeat faltered, and it wasn't exhaustion.
It would be so easy to just give in, the let the storm drive me to the ground. A quick easy death--
I fell closer and closer to the ground, rain hissing around me. I could see the updraft now, a roaring twister of power and energy that I knew was what I needed. New energy, buoyed by my dreams, by my memories of my first flight, burst through me. I tucked my wings close behind me and dove through the air towards the updraft. Below I could see dim ghosts of streetlights and they were close. Far far closer than I'd have liked--
I burst into the howling updraft, feeling the whirling force of its heat like a thin film as I pierced its edge. My wings snapped open and I was yanked upward, hot misty air condensing on my cold goggles, my cold flight suit, and I was spun up and up. Screaming in excitement, I heard my wings creak and moan, pulling at my shoulders with a cleansing agony. I was on an express elevator, but not to hell, to heaven!
And then I was flung free, thrown out like flotsam from a fountain, tumbling and falling through the air, my wings tangled around me. For a second I just let myself fall, the world spinning around me, and then I stretched out my other arms, my wings, and grabbed the sweet air. A couple of quick wingstrokes to steady myself, and then I held them steady and just soared.
Above me in the crystal clear air was a half moon and millions of twinkling stars. Points of warmth and nurturing so far away that I could only dream of them. Below me an irregular twirling sea of black cotton lit by intermittent pulses of lightning deep that roiled and bounded inside like an overcharged strobe light about to explode.
How could I have even though of giving this up? How?!
With my wings outstretched, my gills remained open, and the cold cold air silently whistled through them. It wasn't the same deep richness of oxygen that a wing stroke generated, but a warm caress. My flight suit was amazingly insulated, when it needed to be, and I'd be fine for a while. Rapid pulses of exhalation burst from me in clouds of mist that were whipped behind me and lost.
But was this worth it? Worth the pain? The humiliation--?
Oh God, what was I going to do?!
I stayed above the storm for hours, a timeless flight trapping me between heaven and earth. I couldn't go any higher, and going down through the storm wasn't the best of ideas. The only movement I made, other than breathing, was the occasionally stiff flap to break off the ice that was crystallizing on my damp wings.
I didn't know what to do.
Go back to what? Staying on until they kicked me out? I had no job, and rapidly diminishing prospects of getting a new one. If I even could -- I was having growing doubts. Sure, I could take them both to court, probably win, but the resulting environment was not one that appealed to me.
Clutching my arms in front of me I shivered. I was getting cold and would have to go down soon-- At least the storm was finally starting to clear.
Or I could just stay up here until I was so cold I couldn't fly, and then I'd plummet, falling from the heavens like an angel rejected by God, until I thudded into the ground making a mess for somebody.
But I didn't want to die!
I checked my inertial compass. I hadn't reset it when I'd gotten home from work, but I knew that distance and mentally subtracted it. I'd come a long way.
A shiver burst from my legs and I jerked in flight, losing some altitude.
Why me? Why did I deserve this?
"I don't want to die!"
My teeth chattered and I forced myself to put them together. Dr. Quest had advised against it, but I had little choice and grabbed another stimulant and swallowed it. I didn't even taste it, but warmth swept through my body and I steadied my tumbling flight. The clouds were only a short distance below me, billowing masses of mist and cotton, slowly breaking up. I pushed my wings up into a v shape so that air spilled off their tips, curdling around the primaries before spilling off. The mist was thick around me, fogging my goggles with warm moist air. I could feel the warmth falling into my bones as I fell downwards, ever downwards. Hot breath pulsed in and out, my goggles fogged completely and I carefully pulled them off and grasped them, crossing my arms back over my chest. I wanted to make sure the wind didn't rip them off never to be seen again.
I could just see the add in the local paper: Lost, a pair of rubber goggles for anthropomorphic pegasus. Black in colour and made out of an unknown fantastic material. Please return to Angela Reynolds, somewhere above the clouds.
I laughed out loud as I fell in a semi-controlled fashion, feeling almost drunk.
Bursting through the clouds, I looked down upon farmlands and scattered woods. There were a few house lights, but not much to see by as the clouds hid most of the moonlight.
Maybe I could fly on the moon-- Heinlein had people do it.
I giggled again, still holding my wings up, spilling air and falling, the wind whistling past me. I wondered how fast I could go and raised my wings higher, spilling more air. Wasn't terminal velocity 100 mph?
It sounded like fun!
What was wrong with me? It's almost like I was drunk.
The third pill?
But I needed it.
So? What's to live for?
What's to live for? Well--
Flying? I'm flying now, and I'll be flying until I die. Isn't it fun?!
The wind whistled past my ears and I strained to pull my wings down a bit to get some control. Air howled past them and I was spun round and around, faster and faster like a propeller.
This is even better!
The ground was close now. So cold and hard and annoying.
I didn't want to die!
The pain won't last long!
But think of what might have been.
Nothing better then what has been.
It will so be!
I slowly, painfully, pulled my wings down and further and further outright. With a crack that slammed into my ears, I snapped out of the spin and shot out across the grass below. The wind squeezed against my feathers, my primaries bent sending stabs of pain shooting through me. I could feel myself slowing, arcing out into leveler and leveler flight. But the ground was so close. Too close. My body buzzed from the oxygen roaring through its blood. I dragged my wings down, bounced up. Another flap, another. I could feel my head clearing, a little. Air howled past me, a primary was ripped off and I screamed, but couldn't hear myself. I tumbled, leaned back, dragged my wings down again, let them be pushed back up, down again, up, down, up down-- I slowed. I felt grass yanking against my pasterns. I was going too fast, too fast! I stroked again and again, fatigue burning my muscles, the ground slowing, slowing-- Almost safe to land-- I bounced up--
And then I lost it!
All I could do was curl up as I spun into the ground, the tall stiff grass catching me and accelerating me into a roll. Faster and faster, lower and lower. The grass pressed around me. The spring ground yanked at me, the damp earth tearing and clutching--
I woke up, shivering, cold, damp, with a whole-body dull throbbing pain. Something nibbled comfortingly at my neck and my mouth squeezed and sucked. Warm liquid oozed down my parched throat into my empty stomach.
Blinking open my eyes, I waited as my vision cleared, and the reality around me slowly faded into existence. I saw the dusty hide of a horse just above me, and realized that I was sucking, suckling, drinking, whatever, at a mare's teats--
I screamed, a loud piercing cry of blind panic and tried to crawl away on my back. Instead I fell on my side, instinctively curling up. Spikes of pain shot through me. Shocks from the ends of my wings, stabs of pulled muscles in my arms, and a hot red burning poker from one leg.
All around me the horses, there were seven, stopped eating the choice bits of grass and looked up. A stallion, night black like I was, reared up and neighed loudly, and then I felt relaxation flow through the herd.
And through me.
The mare I'd been beneath stepped away so that the blinding sunlight shone on my muzzle. Turning, I looked straight into her muzzle.
It was huge!
The horses, the entire herd, were all around me. Huge, monstrous--
The mare exhaled and blew her scent across me, and then took a step closer and nuzzled again at my neck.
I dragged myself backward, my torn wings digging into the muddy ground, my snapped leg straightening painfully. I gasped for breath, eyes wide, nostrils quivering.
The mare stepped over me, easily striding past what small movement I could muster, until its teats were once again in easy reach of my muzzle.
My stomach chose that moment to growl but I refused the obvious and fumbled around with one hand and grabbed some grass -- it was something -- and stuffed it into my lips. I could taste the rubber of my goggles -- I'd managed to not drop them -- and carefully pulled and sucked the grass from my grasp and absentmindedly chewed on it. It was soft, green, and slightly minty, but bland. Like softer thinner celery.
My eyes were only on the mare that towered over me.
"Pansy! Whatcha got there girl?!"
The mare, Pansy?, stepped away from me, and I heard the horses shuffling a bit, but they weren't uncomfortable, just nervous. My ears flicked around looking for the source of their nervousness and I picked up the sound of bootsteps slurping through the mud and dirt towards me.
The mare stood beside me and nickered, and nickers and sighs echoed through the herd. I looked up at the man. Here I was, covered in mud and grass, grass sticking out of my mouth. My wings were muddy and torn, one leg bent at an unnatural angle. Blood was oozing from my lower legs and hands where my flight suit didn't cover.
"By God Pansy, what the hell did ya find now?" He shaded his eyes from the early morning sun. "Could it be an angel that has fallen from heaven?"
I tried to say something, but the only thing that came out was a ragged coughing that shook my body, sending stabs of pain through me, along with specks of milk and blood. I couldn't stop, coughing, shivering, and then I started sneezing on top of everything else.
The next thing I knew I was being carried, every step sending pain stabbing through me as my one leg wobbled in a horribly unnatural fashion. I was still shivering uncontrollably, but at least the coughing and sneezing had stopped. I could feel my ears, my muzzle, my chest, burning with fever. My sight was blurred and uneven. A screen door was pulled open with a creak and then the inner door was pushed open with a wrench. I was swept inside, the screen door banging shut behind me, and carried up old creaking stairs and gently set on my side on a soft bed that groaned at my slight weight. Gently he stretched out my wings, but each touch felt like a knife stabbing into me and I couldn't help but scream, and then cough and shiver uncontrollably.
"I don't know what ya are, an angel or one of them demons, but by God I won't let a livin' bein' suffer. Now where be the seams in this thing you wearin'?"
I couldn't see clearly, my body was wracked with pain and shivers, but somehow I managed to drag an arm around and press the seam behind my neck. I couldn't get all of it, just enough to give him the idea.
"Ach! What am I thinkin'?" Gently he wrapped blankets around me. "Now ya just wait right there, I'm goin' call a doctor, a vet, somethin', and I hope ta God he'll know what ta do here 'cause I sure don't. Just rest, I'll be back--"
He turned and I heard his foot steps cross the creaking floor as my body shivered and shook. Relaxing, my heat trapped by the blankets and held against me, I let my rubber goggles thunk to the floor.
The next thing I knew was a hot stiffness, pain, and a familiar voice speaking over me. "Who'd have thought?" It wasn't the man who'd carried me in, it was the same veterinarian who'd examined me at Xanadu. I found out later that it wasn't such a coincidence as he was the only vet specializing in equines in this area of Florida. Gently he clasped the sides of my muzzle in soft warm arms and I blearily focused on him. "Angela, isn't it?"
I nodded just a little bit, even that movement sending stabs of pain through me, and starting the shivering all over again.
He unwrapped the blankets from around me, dried mud clinging to them but pulling easily from my flight suit. Not from my feathers -- they were yanked, sending new stabs of pain through my wings. My stomach growled unhappily too.
"David, you get some porridge made up for her. Rich and thick -- add some horse feed, grind it up if you can. She needs food. I've got to take a look at her."
"Right away doctor. I'll add some of that there cinnamon and--"
"Add nothing -- just bring the porridge as I described."
"It'll be as ya say doctor." Dimly his footsteps creaked out of the room.
"Now, lets take a look at you--" He felt around and I neighed and gasped in pain. "Some broken or bruised ribs, I think, and the leg--. I need to get that thing off you."
I tried to reach the seam but I couldn't move my arms, and another bout of shivering shook through me.
"Make it nice and hot David!"
"Press-- back--" I managed to croak out faintly, but he heard, or he figured it out. "Don't cut!" I felt fingers around my neck, around the seam I'd started to open, and then I felt the slight release of pressure as he run his finger down and opened the seam the rest of the way.
"I'm afraid this is going to hurt, but I have to get this off and I don't know whether or not I can even cut it. All the damn crap coming out of Xanadu -- nobody knows anything 'bout things any more."
I just panted for breath, the room spinning gently as he gently lifted me up and unpeeled the flight suit from me. By the time it was half way off, I started screaming, screaming again and again. Only when the thing was off and tossed into the corner, did I sob with relief.
Gently he set me back down on the bed as my agony decayed to dull burning.
"You're a mess. What the hell happened to you? Never mind, you just need to rest."
I felt his fingers run along my ribs, my upper legs and arms, and the base of my wings. All I could do was screech out choked sobs at the agony that burned through me at the touch.
"I bet it feels a lot worse than it is. The only thing that seems broken is your right postern bone, and that hasn't broken the skin. You body though is just one giant bruise, and your muscles are like iron. Your wings, I think, are fine. Missing feathers, but other than that -- hell, I don't know. They don't look wrong's all I can say."
The floor creaked--
I snorted, something rich and wonderful and hot filling my nostrils and my stomach growled its eagerness.
--and I heard the other voice. "I got that porridge ya asked for doc. Added a pound or so of that rich feed you got me for the nursing mare."
Smelling the bowl being put in front of my face, I stuck my muzzle in, and started sucking it up even before they could try and spoon it in.
"David, you gotta feed her as much of this as she'll eat. At least once every other hour. If she's asleep don't wake her, but otherwise force it down her throat if you need to. From what I remember reading about her she's got the metabolism of an enraged bull -- I don' think you can overfeed her. You keep at it -- I gotta get something from my truck."
I heard footsteps leave but was licking the last bits from the bowl, the porridge a hot lump in my happy stomach.
"Now angel, don' ya fret none. David here'll take care of ya. Just ya rest and heal. T'is the best thing there be for ya." One of his hands patted my shoulder. I was too tired to snap at him treating me like an animal, but I think the gasp of pain did the job for me.
He pulled the clean bowl away from me, and I stretched out my muzzle to try and get more. Until a stabbing pain in my neck stopped me and I gasped.
"I'll get downstairs and make some more of this stuff for ya then. Doctor--?!"
"David, I'll be up in a couple of minutes! I need something to make a splint."
"I'm gonna make her more of that porridge stuff ya recommended!"
"Great! The more the better!"
I heard David's bootsteps creaking away across the floor and just gasped for breath, moving a little bit to try and find some kind of comfortable position, but only finding lesser and greater amounts of pain. I started shivering, and didn't even have the breath to scream as pain tore through me.
The doctor came back. "Shit! Leg then blankets-- David! Hurry up with that porridge! And I need you up here! I just hope this works--"
He lifted up my one leg and I screamed, my cries fading to a hoarse gurgle as he pulled my leg outward, red hot pain filling my vision. I just gasped for breath. An ice cold rod stabbed itself along my pastern as I fought to breathe. Soft straps were wrapped around and tightened almost to the edge of the bearable. My gills flared open as I tried to get enough oxygen into my blood and my wings struggled feebly.
"Stay still! I got to do this if you ever want to stand again! And I don't even know if it'll work--"
Finally he lowered my leg back onto the bed and I gasped for breath as the pain subsided to a loud roar.
"Doctor, I got her some more--"
"Great! Grind these up and mix them in and then feed her all she'll eat."
"What're ya doing to her doc?"
"Painkiller and sedative. It'll help her sleep, I hope. Stuff I normally use for horses but she's more horse than human now. As far as I know it'll work on her."
"If ya'll be sure doc."
"You feed her -- I gotta talk to somebody and hopefully I'll be back in less'n an hour. Just keep feeding her until she sleeps, and feed her whenever she wakes up."
I felt stabs of pain as he drapped the blankets over me, but then all I could sense was the hot porridge and I shoved my muzzle into it and sucked it up.
"Keep her warm."
The sun was setting and its light blasted through the window making me blink. I was without pain, without any pain, and I didn't feel feverish. Somehow I knew it was fake though. My body felt like sluggish china, like a computer with a bad virus. There was a weight on my leg and I could see some kind of large bulk under the blankets wrapped around me. I decided not to move it. My stomach was painfully empty, and my throat painfully dry.
Unfortunately, I was on my side, stiff, and facing the window. With wings growing from my back, my options were limited, so I decided to very carefully roll over onto my stomach and then onto my other side. Trying to keep my legs straight, I rolled slowly and painfully. I felt some twinges, but nothing really painful.
Feeling around, I realized that I was on my stomach and had ran out of bed to roll on to.
At least the sun felt nice on my back.
My voice was a horse croak, barely intelligible, and barely above a whisper. I tried to clear my throat, a horrible growling sound like a badly tuned car starting up.
"Hello!" I gasped for breath. "Anybody?!"
"Just ah tiny minute angel!" came up faintly from downstairs.
I guess I couldn't expect to be waited on hand and foot. But then why wasn't I in a hospital? I had paid for medical coverage!
My stomach growled angrily.
"I'm hungry!" I gasped out. Sometimes I hated my appetite--
A wondrous aroma blasted through my nostrils and distracted me from the man walking in, the floor creaking under his steps, as he shoved a bowl of that hot steaming porridge in front of me. Before I could even think my muzzle was in it and I was sucking it up. It didn't take long and it wasn't enough, but it was enough so that I could think.
"How'd tha angel get all a tangled up there?"
Turning my head, I looked at my saviour, really looked for the first time. He was a largish man, well tanned, his balding hair tangled, and I could smell horse strongly on him. He was wearing a dirty lumberjack shirt and jeans, and I could smell hints of mud and manure coming from them.
The scents didn't bother me; they actually made me relax.
"I got some milk for ya to drink, if ya want. Doc said ya should." He looked from me to the glass he was holding. "I don't think this here is goin' ta work." Shrugging, he poured the milk into the bowl I'd just finished.
I turned and looked at him.
"Nothin' in there ta harm ya."
I didn't have much choice, and, given how sluggish I was, didn't want to risk moving my arms or sitting up, and spilling it all over the bed, which was thankfully still dry. So I carefully sniffed at it. It was good, really good, so I stuck my muzzle in and started sucking it up. I'd tried lapping shortly after my change, but it seemed that sucking through my muzzle like a straw worked best.
It was warm, but sweet and rich. It didn't taste like milk. It tasted like--
I yanked my muzzle away and spit out the milk, and then squealed at the explosion of pain before falling onto the bed and gasping for breath.
I remembered waking up. I remembered the mare. I remembered her milk. It was this milk. "Are you trying to poison me?!"
"Poison ya? Why would ya think that kind o' nonsense?"
"It's horse milk."
"Of course it t'is. Poor Pansy lost her little foal -- I milk her each night and use tha milk for maself."
Poor little mare-- Still, it seemed that I was in the hands of the village idiot! "I want to see a doctor, a real doctor! And I want to be in a hospital! Now!"
He just looked at me and sighed. "Ms Reynolds, I've had doctors here and they've examined you. Dr. Haynes braced your leg and provided medicine, and he brought a regular MD, Dr. Gilson, and together they put a cast around ya leg. They both told me to tell you that your only job was to rest and eat. And that a hospital wouldn't give ya any better service and that the publicity would just keep ya from healing.
"Now, I know you be in pain Ms Reynolds, so I'll forgive ya this once. I assisted the good doctors as I have my own fancy degrees in veterinary medicine and animal behaviour. I may not know all ya new fangled technology, but I know humans, and I know animals, and right now you're less'n either."
He reached down and roughly grabbed the blanket I was tangled up in and jerked it off as I winced and gasped. Before I could react he picked me up and set me on my side facing him, and then he gently tucked me in, making sure I was nice and cozy.
"I'm gonna go down and make some more of that porridge for ya, Ms Reynolds. And then ya'll eat it down. And I'll bring the last of tha milk from poor Pansy and I'll pour it down your damn throat in a funnel if I have to. And, just for ya high and mighty city education, mare's milk is almost identical to human milk, and is far more healthy for ya than the crap ya buy in them thar supermarkets!" With that he grabbed the bowl and glass and stomped out, the floor creaking loudly beneath him.
I could feel my ears blushing as I watched him go. Here I was prejudging a country bumpkin who had multiple degrees.
I blinked back tears of embarrassment, of depression, of pain. My life was falling apart and all I was doing was making it worse. The tears didn't stop.
I smelled him as he came up and heard him drag a chair loudly across the floor but I couldn't see a thing. I felt a soft hankie touch at my eyes, and then he spoon fed me the porridge and I didn't complain. And when he filled the bowl with the rest of the milk, I just sucked it down. I was feeling drowsy, drugs maybe, and the dull ache slowly faded, even as he put me on a couch, changed the bed sheets, put me back and tucked me in.
Over the next week, I didn't get much thinking, or anything else done. I drifted in and out of consciousness, mostly out. All I did was just lay and ate and drank and slept. David never stayed. He just dutifully fed me, changed the bedpans, changed the bed clothes, and left me alone.
Oh God, I hoped I hadn't made him angry or anything. But what was wrong with a hospital? X-rays would make me feel better. And a mirror so that I could brush myself properly.
Slowly I got stronger, and slowly the pain faded, though my confusion didn't. It finally came to a head one day as David brought me another bowl of the enriched porridge.
"Can I have my stuff?"
"Excuse me Ms? Do you mean them thar possessions of yours?"
"I need to call places, let people know I'm all--"
I looked at him and blinked.
"I couldn't help but overhear ya -- sometimes when ya were sufferin' from that delirium ya had, ya mumbled, and screamed. Nobody deserves losin' both job and home at the same time."
He turned away.
"Wait! But I should call my family--"
"'Fraid I can't help ya there."
"My cell phone!"
He just sighed and walked over into the corner and picked up one of my belt pouches and dumped it on the bed. My ID fell out, my billfold, makeup, perfume, and my cracked and shattered cellphone.
I looked from the phone to him to the phone to him. "May I use your phone then?"
"Don' have one."
"How the hell can you not have a phone?!"
He just looked at me, and then blinked. For a second he clenched his teeth. "Ms Reynolds, you're here as my guest. Ya may wish to think about that."
"Then why am I here and not in a hospital? And why don't you have a phone? And a TV?! You at least have to be able to get satellite out here!! Or are you one of those," I held my fingers out to form quotes, "blinking twelves?"
He turned and walked out of the room. "I'll be back with your final bowl, and then ya can sleep."
"Get back here! I'm talking to you!"
All I heard was his footsteps going downstairs as I screamed after him. A few minutes later, by the time I'd screamed myself out, I heard him coming back up.
He sat down on a chair he'd put near me and held the bowl of porridge under my muzzle. I wasn't that hungry so I ignored it. Time to try a different tact. "I'm sorry-- I may have been a bit rude to you. But is it too much to expect civilized treatment?!"
He just looked at me and sighed.
"Is a phone too much to ask?!
"I told ya that I donna have one."
"Then get mine fixed! Or call them and get them to send a replacement here!"
"I said that I donna have a phone."
"Well then, go and tell them in person!!" I glared at him, my breath pulsing through my nostrils. He just looked back.
Then he put the bowl on the bed and got up to leave. "I'll be back later." Turning, he walked out.
"I'm talking to you!! Don't you dare walk out on me! Don't you dare!"
For the first time he closed the door to the room I was in and walked off as I yelled and screamed after him.
I finally shut up when my voice was hoarse and weak, and my growling traitorous stomach made me eat the cold porridge. A few minutes later I was out like a light.
The next few days passed very slow and boringly. I had no company, no TV, no computer. Hell, not even a radio! I couldn't even get a hold of a book!
I slept when I could, otherwise I just stared at the wall, or out the window, and fumed. All I could do was watch the world quietly drift by, the horses in the fields, the chickens eating their morning grain. I needed to get on the internet!!
For all I knew aliens could have landed!
David just came up four or six times a day with food and milk for me. He just ignored me, fed me like a petulant child with a large wooden spoon, and kept a funnel on his belt just in case.
Three days later somebody creaked their way up the stairs. I'd decided to give David the Silent Treatment. Nothing else had worked.
"So Ms Reynolds, feeling better?"
I scrambled around and looked at Dr. Haynes, my surviving primaries tugging painfully as I moved my wings under the cover. I looked like a mess, but I didn't care.
"Finally! Somebody who has a foot in the real world!"
He looked at me, surprise on his face.
"You've gotta get me out of here! To a hospital, or something! Anywhere!"
Dr. Haynes looked at me. "Why, has David done anything wrong?"
"Done anything wrong?!"
"Has the food tasted bad? Has he not fed you enough?"
"He's abused me!!"
"How? By keeping you warm and clean?!"
"Just shut the fuck up Ms Reynolds. David hasn't complained, hasn't said a word, but I can see it in his eyes."
"See what?! How he's abused me?!"
"Ms Reynolds, if we were in a hospital I'd have called a Code White on you, and then thrown you at the reporters. David has gone out of his way to help you, has listened to your hatred, your anger, your God forsaken attitude!"
He stood up and turned away.
"I came here to check on how you were doing, to see if you're ready to lose that cast. But now, now I don't care -- I'll get Dr.Gilson over tonight and cut you out and then we'll just throw you out the damned window!"
He turned and slammed the door of the room shut so hard that I could feel the whole house shake.
Hmph! Well, good riddance! At least I'd finally get home.
And, I'd be magnanimous in my victory.
A few hours later I heard footsteps from the hallway, and my stomach growled its eagerness so that I knew it was David. I'd show him how reasonable I could be.
My stomach growled again as the scent of the porridge caressed my nostrils. Odd, how I'd never grown tired of the same taste day after day--
"Well, Mr--?" I asked him as he closed the door.
He stopped raised an eyebrow.
"Call ma David Ms--"
"Ummm... okay. Dr. Haynes was by earlier. He said I should be able to get back to civilization tonight."
"I saw him from out in tha field."
"Well-- there you go. I just wanted to thank you. You did the best you could, and I'm grateful. A hospital would've been better, but I guess I was in desperate shape."
I could swear that his face was flushing red. I guess he was embarrassed.
Reaching out, I patted him on the shoulder.
"Don't worry, I'm grateful. Really."
At that point there was a knock on the door. "David, you in there? It's Albert."
I recognized Dr. Haynes' voice. Thank God!
"Come on in here doc! I'm not much for these here formalities ya know."
The door creaked open and Dr Haynes and Dr Gilson squeezed their way in. Dr Gilson was carrying a small saw with him.
"Don't worry David, we'll get this monster out of your life and pack her back to the city where she belongs."
"Albert, I donna mind. Really--"
"I don't know how you put up with her. I'd have thrown her out the door after a single day!" Dr. Haynes yanked the blanket that was covering me off, pulling at my feathers painfully.
"Hey, do you mind?"
Dr Gilson answered with, "Oh shut up! We've seen it all before. Now don't move or I might accidentally cut your leg."
"Be careful with that there saw Daniel--" David said.
"The doctor knows what he's doing!" I screamed.
Dr Gilson turned the saw on with a soft whirr and started running it down the cast. I could feel it tickling against my skin, but it didn't cut or hurt.
"She's not that bad Albert--"
Dr. Haynes grabbed my hoof roughly and held it as the saw slowly moved down my cast.
Closing my inner eyelids, I watched the blade slowly move. I was finally going to get out of this madhouse!
"I'll buy you a drink when this is over David. I wish she'd crashed anywhere else," Albert said but David just shook his head.
Dr Haynes wrenched my leg up and Dr Gilson started cutting down the other side. At least these two were doctors and knew what they were doing. Finally the saw reached the far end and was clicked off, whirring to a stop. Dr. Gilson yanked the two halves of the cast off, painfully tearing out some of my fur, revealing my thin dusty leg. Dr Haynes roughly pressed his fingers into my leg at various places along its length from top to bottom.
"She gonna be all right there doc?"
"She'll be fine. Looks like it healed fine." He reached the point of the break and I felt a faint stab of pain as he dug a finger into it. "Shit. I don't think we got the bone quite right."
"What?!" I screamed.
"You can barely notice it," Dr Gilson said. "She'll walk. Maybe a bit of a limp--"
"Why the hell didn't you idiots take me to the hospital?!"
They all turned and looked at me.
"You're all idiots! A limp?! I'll sue you. All of you!! You don't deserve to practice!!"
I could see Dr. Haynes about to speak, but David quietly spoke first. "She's not healed up yet."
"Of course I'm not due to your incompetence!"
"Shut the fuck up you--" Dr Haynes burst out but David interrupted him.
"Leave tha poor los' soul here doc. I'll heal her up all nice and friendly like. The city sucks them in and grinds them down. Hell, she's worse'n I was!"
"David, you don't have to put up with this bitch anymore!" Dr Gilson burst out.
"She needs ta rest here. Ya all know that. Besides, Pansy likes her."
"Pansy?" I squeaked out.
"Now shoo. All of ya shoo out of here! I'll take care of her and make her soul all nice and better."
I was trapped in the asylum and the inmates were in charge.
With that the two doctors left. David closed the door behind them, and turned to face me.
"You know that I'll find a way escape," I said.
He ignored me and walked over, pulling the chair up beside the bed, it's legs scraping on the wood, and sat down.
I just stared at him and crossed my arms over my chest.
"That there ya have wrong Ms Reynolds. Ya can leave whenever it is that ya want."
I snorted. "Then why didn't you let them take me?"
"Ah Ms Reynolds, or Angela... Mind if a call ya Angela?"
I just glared.
"Well, it seems ta me that you be where I used ta be."
"Hah! Since when did you have wings?!"
"Ya know Angela, ya can go. Abandon Pansy, the herd. I'll be here to take care of them all. Yup. Go back to your apartment from which you've been evicted. Go and keep lookin' for a job. Or, ya can stay here."
"And why would I want to stay here?!"
"Got me Angela. Hell, I don't think ya got the intelligence, or the skill, ta take care o' tha herd. I bet you're just goin' chicken out and flee back to ya city and ya city life because you're afraid. I--"
"Shut the fuck up! I can go back whenever I want! You think I can't take care of some horses?! If you can do it, then I can absolutely do it!" I glared at him, eyes wide, ears pulled against my skull, breath panting in and out through my nostrils.
He didn't smell afraid. Not in the least.
"Well then Angela. If that there's tha way ya think, then," he motioned toward the door, "go and feed them. Ya'll see tha barn easily, and tha feed is clearly marked. And if'n ya need any help, there's a vast library o' books down tha hall. I'll leave the door open so'n ya can find it."
I just snorted and threw off the covers and clomped across the floor and yanked the door open, wings streaming behind me. There was a worn wooden staircase going down and an open door down the hall. I could faintly smell the warmth of old books. Well, they could wait. Feeding horses-- How hard could it be?! Hmph! I spun around and clomped down the stairs, wings raised behind me for balance. Yanking open the wooden door, I shoved the screen door out of my way and clomped onto the porch.
It was late in the day, and I could smell grass, leaves, and the glowing scent of horses. The barn was easy to find and I clomped down the stairs and stomped along the path. There was a small door to the barn that was closed, and I yanked it open and ducked my way through it and stepped into the dust betwinkled dimness of the barn. It didn't take me long to find the grain -- there were a number of big bins of it, each with a trough at the bottom which it slid into. Wooden buckets were beside each numbered bin, and in each trough was a plastic measuring cup.
Measuring cup?! Why would you need that?
Unfortunately it was all there was so I used it to slowly fill the bucket half full -- which was all I could manage to carry -- and then I clomped along the well swept wood looking for the stalls. The looseboxes -- large stalls with more room for the horse -- weren't hard to find, arranged in rows beneath large skylights that made the little dust in the air shine and tinkle. Angrily I clomped to the first one and reached to open the door--
And saw a small picture of a horse's head, a name, and a long list of instructions for feeding and watering. A long list. The bucket fell from my hand and thumped on the floor as I leaned down and read. Half a cup of grain two, quarter cup of grain five, no supplement, Five scoops of bin three hay. Water as required.
At the bottom it said in large bold letters "Remember to muck the stall first -- dust is the enemy of horses!"
Maybe there was more to this than I'd thought-- Well, if David could do it, I could do it!
I took the bucket back and poured the grain back into the appropriate bin, and went looking for the pitchfork. I found it, along with detailed disposal instructions, and rubber boots.
I looked down at my naked hooves. And my naked body. I was still far too angry to care about the later, so I just looked around for horse boots. By God he better have some! I had a pair at home that I'd picked up for the winter, but they weren't here. I didn't have to look far -- beside the pitchfork neatly placed were a pair of big human rubber boots, and a pair for me.
Bastard had thought of everything! Fine! I'd still show him!
I put them on and grabbed the pitchfork, and stomped over and went to work.
To make a long story short, it was hard. God damn hard! Horse muck is heavy. Horse muck stinks. And horses make a lot of it. By the time I'd finished four stalls I had to take a break, so I made my way back to the feed bins and grabbed a couple handfuls of grain from bin three for myself. I turned on the water hose and filled a bucket from which I drank deeply. Then I finished the other three looseboxes. And then I put the feed, in the exact quantities stated in the proper bins and locations, but only after I'd shoveled some new hay onto the floors of the looseboxes. The last thing was the water and, of course, the hose wouldn't reach far enough. So I had to do it bucket by bucket. By the time I was done, the sun was setting, the horses were at the stable entrance waiting to be let in, and I could barely move.
I stopped and stared. I'd forgotten how big horses are. Sure, I'd seen them when I was lying on the ground, but I'd expected the perspective to make them big. Now, even though I was almost seven feet tall, they still looked big. I swallowed nervously, afraid, and then forced it aside. David thought I couldn't care for them, did he?! Well! I limped over -- had I been limping before? I couldn't remember -- and led each one in to their stall. They came docilely enough when I opened the door from the fields and they seemed to know where to go, though I checked the pictures to make sure. The black stallion that had neighed when I'd first arrived pushed his way in first, and the others followed in their own order. I couldn't help but file at the fuzzy little colt, but he avoided me. After doing a last check of the looseboxes, I closed both doors. Then I grabbed some more grain for myself, took off the boots and rinsed them out and put them aside to dry, and made my way back to the house.
It was obvious that I had a lot to learn, and by God I'd show him that I could do it better than he could! Stupid country bumpkin--
The house doors had been closed, but not locked, so I went inside, and clomped my way upstairs to the library. Somebody, David damn him, had put out a big bowl of apples and a comfortable seat with a slot between the back and the bottom, and a lantern. There was a book on the table beside the chair so I thought I'd start with it.
All I can say is that caring for horses is hideously complex. The book he'd left for me was very basic, so I soon abandoned it and grabbed a big heavy volume by a Dr. David Milne and it went into detailed charts of the vitamin ratios for different breeds by lifestyle, along with monstrous graphs and studies-- Sheepishly I shelved that book and went back to the one he'd left me.
I read late into the night, leaving only after reading a recommendation to leave the top half of loosebox doors open so that the horses could socialize. Panicked, I galloped down the stairs, but fortunately the loosebox doors were open, so I limped back to the library and back to my studies. I only went to bed when I could no longer keep my eyes open, and went back to my room to find an alarm clock and posted feeding time. I'd already learned that horses liked a regular routine so I dutifully set the alarm for half an hour before morning feeding, time and crashed into slumber.
It went on like that for weeks as I went through the daily regimen. Up early to groom myself, and then morning feeding, and then letting the horses out. Milking Pansy. Adding creep -- a special food mixture -- for Felena's foal Darius. Making sure Felena didn't sneak the feed that was for her foal. Keeping the water troughs full. Starting up the gas powered brush harrow and running it through the corner of the field the horses used for droppings to keep them from ruining the grass with weeds. I taught myself to brush the horses, but then found that they didn't need it as they were fine rolling in the grass. What I did have to do though was to check each hoof each evening for cracks, stones, and to clean out the mud and dirt. I knew how to do that in theory, but I learned that I hadn't been taking proper care of mine and started doing so. I also learned that none of the horses were shod, and that shoes weren't needed unless the horse spent a significant portion of its time on pavement or stone. After a week when my hooves needed trimming I took off my rubber shoes, trimmed each hoof, and then left the shoes off.
Each horse had a unique personality, and I learned to recognize their habits, just as they adapted to mine. Joxur, the lead stallion, was always strutting around like a show horse. He always wanted to be brushed, even when his hide was glossy and sleek. I brushed him the rare time I had free time. Pansy always stayed near me. She'd nudge me and try to groom me with her mouth, and she always encouraged me to take her milk directly. I did milk her with my hands into a bucket, and drank that milk, but I never again took it from her teat. White Dove was flighty and the oldest of the mares. She took the longest to trust me, and even then she was always nervous. I don't know if it was because of her pregnancy, or if that was just the way she was. Madame Pixi was a prankster, a troublemaker. She'd sneak up behind me and nip my tail, or nibble on my feathers. She just loved to make me jump. Felena always watched me, but eventually she did let me approach both her and Darius. Darius was a child, running, hopping, skipping, rolling in the mud and grass. He would walk up to me, look at me, and then flee in mock terror. Robin's Moontwist was a pig. Not literally, but she was always dirty, always had hay sticking out of her mouth on which she was nibbling. Her I had to brush every so often, and her hooves were always the dirtiest. And finally there was Hera, the herd's matriarch. She was-- overweight, and always moved with a slow and unstoppable dignity. She just looked at me and snorted, and tolerated me. Eventually they all accepted me, maybe because I smelled like them, and eventually they'd give way to me, even the lead stallion.
I don't think I loved the work, but I always did the best I could at any task I was given. And I found the work comforting. I never had a chance to fly, instead I made sure to do a perfect job just to show David! Just to show him that I was better than he was!
Oddly, I never saw him during this time. Oh, he was around. The chickens were fed. The house was kept clean. Little changes were made to the instructions for the one pregnant mare, so he was around. Food was put out for me -- mostly thick stews -- and I supplemented the daily meal with snacks from the grains. Each grain was indeed different, with different levels of dryness and from different grasses, and I found that I preferred the barley and corn grains.
And yes, I did limp. So little that I almost never noticed it. By the end of the day with my muscles aching, it was noticeable, but I dealt with it and cursed the doctors, and cursed David. It was surprising, given how I'd landed, but then I hadn't been going that fast, and the ground had been soft and rock free. But still, I'd been lucky.
I still hated David, and I still was going to leave as soon as I'd proven to him, and to myself, that I could care for the horses as good or better than he could. My reading had given me a faint bit of insight into what was involved in the carefully listed instructions I'd found. Really, I was going to leave any time now. Really I was, though I kept putting it off as I couldn't bring myself to leave the herd--
And so it went until the night that White Dove decided to give birth.
I was in the barn, the horses had been fed and their hooves cleaned, and I was reading one of the many books on horse care from the library. It was late, and the horses were sleeping or standing quietly, and I was about ready to go to bed. I'd been spending more and more time in the barn as it relaxed both me, and the horses.
That was when I heard a loud scream from White Dove in her stall. I stopped, ears twisting to hear. There was another scream, not as loud, but distinctive. White Dove never screamed.
I turned and looked. There was White Dove lying down in the hay, panting for breath, and I could see something--
It was a muzzle sticking out of her rear end, glistening inside a bag of water, like magic.
For a second I thought about taking care of the birth myself, but I'd become painfully aware of the gap between my expertise and David's. So I swallowed my pride and galloped/flew over to the house, screaming for David. I had no idea what time it was, but it was certainly after midnight. Clomping up the stairs, I banged on David's door.
"I think White Dove's giving birth!"
"Well, t'is about time that there mare did. Sometimes I wish that God hadna made those horses so flighty about when they felt like pushing the wee little foal out. I've been expecting this miracle to happen any old day now--"
"Get a move--!!"
He burst out of the door before I'd finished, and almost fell down the stairs as I followed. He was only half dressed, but he had rubber boots, a coverall and a coat on. I just had my rubber flight suit.
I galloped with him back to the barn. "I donna know what ya think of me, though I hope it's improved over these last few weeks. I must admit, ya did far better than I thought ya would."
"Do ya think ah'm so stupid as ta trust ya without supervision Angela? There be all kinds of monitoring cameras in that there barn. As long as ya did it all right, I was leavin' ya alone. Ya did fine for a city kid."
City kid?! Hmph! Still, more important things were happening, and by now I'd gotten in front of him. Looking back I shouted, "Get a move on!"
"Don't ya worry yourself none there Angela -- it'll be a few minutes yet. I took a look at her as I was putting on these clothes that I'd kept ready--"
I held the barn door open for him and followed after as he led the way to White Dove's loosebox. It didn't take long to reach, and things hadn't changed much. A bit more of the head was visible but that's about it. David crouched down by the foal and just watched.
"What the hell are you doing?!"
"Angela, horses have done this here kind o' thing for thousands upon thousands o' years. White Dove knows what she has to do. We're just here, well, in case somethin' goes wrong, and then we do what we can."
I looked down at the miracle before me. I could smell blood, sweat, horse, water, salt-- but all I could watch was the glistening sack of life slowly, ever so slowly, being squeezed out. It was like magic, even though I knew it wasn't. The water around the mare twisted and slid, catching the light in shatterings of reflections like brilliant crystal. Then David, looking worried, popped the sack, which snapped like an overstretched elastic band, and the water spilled out, exchanging one magic for the magic of the foal itself. Some owners left the sack sealed till it broke on its own, others popped it so they could make sure the foal was all right. The foal-- It was coal black just like me.
White Dove looked up at me and I looked down at her, and saw a quiet confidence mixed with pain in her eyes. And, below that, a hint of loneliness, a need for comfort. Or maybe I read it in her scent. I don't know. So I crouched down and rested the chin of my muzzle along her neck, and gently ran my fingers between her ears. I know it sounds odd, but horses comfort each other by resting their heads on each other's neck and that's why I did it. White Dove turned her upper neck and head and gently lipped at my neck and at the base of my wings. Yes, I was wearing my flight suit -- the only clothes I had -- but I knew that she couldn't tear the material and it comforted her. Her breath was hot and passed in and out through her nostrils, sliding through the hairs of my neck.
"Shit--" I heard David mutter.
My heart stopped beating for a second, and I leapt up to see what was going on, wings flapping to help. Most of the foal was out now, and I could see the placenta coiled on the floor, squeezed out by the straining mare. Thick hot blood was oozing out alongside the foal and I could hear a neigh of pain and agony from White Dove.
It took me a second to figure out all that was going on, but part of it hit me even as David was grabbing the foal to yank it out.
Horse birth is different from human birth. When a foal is born, it gains its oxygen through the placenta, only losing that connection after fully birthed. Sometimes, the placenta separates prematurely depriving the foal of oxygen--
I leapt over David, wings beating down to help me, as he finished yanking out the foal. David listened at the foal's chest and I listened at its mouth. Nothing. Nothing! I grabbed its muzzle and kissed it, pressing its muzzle against mine, and then I exhaled. I saw David press down its chest and water gurgled out of the foals mouth and into mine, and I gagged and spit it out. Then I pressed my muzzle against its and exhaled again. And again. Breathe damn, you, breathe! Again and again we did it. Nothing, nothing!
Finally David stood up, eyes damp, and put his hand on my shoulder. "It's too late Angela--"
I could see the foal clearly. It had been night black, like me, with a white star between its eyes. Exhale. I still kept trying. It was my fault. Exhale. Something I'd done wrong. Some little damn thing that I'd done wrong. Exhale. Me! But I'd been left in charge, unwatched, unguided. Exhale. How the fuck could David have done that? How could he have trusted me?! Exhale. Tears filled my eyes. God damn him! God damn him to fucking hell!
And then a miracle happened. The foal coughed, blood and spit gurgled out of its mouth, and it breathed. By God it breathed!
I hugged the foal, felt it struggling to move; through tears I watched its eyes flicker open and look at me.
Then I remembered something-- the foal needed to bond with the mother. Why had David let me stay near? Tears in my eyes I forced myself up, tore my sight away from the glistening blackness of the foal.
And only then did I notice the stench of blood and death in the air, and the thick steaming blood pooled on the floor.
I looked at White Dove and she looked at me, eyes pale and dim. She nickered gently. Was she asking me to take care of her foal? Her breath gurgled, I saw blood speckling her muzzle.
And then she breathed her last.
"No! No! No! No! No!"
"Angela, ya have to be strong right here, right this minute! The foal needs you, the living need you. I'll get a rag over here and some warm water so that ya can wash off its afterbirth, but ya have to be there for the wee creature. Let it stand on its own. Just be quiet. I'll bring milk too, a bottle. When it's ready to feed then ya'll know."
I just nodded, numbly, seeing the world through the wavering water of tears, as the foal struggled to stand, its head weaving to try and keep itself balanced. Oh God but I wanted to help, but I trusted David--
By the time David came back, the foal was shakily standing on its four legs, cute, fuzzy, helpless, tender, needy. It pressed its muzzle against mine seeking milk, and I suddenly felt a warm bottle in my hand and held the nipple towards the foal. I fell to my knees and it found the bottle and began suckling.
It was so beautiful. So small, so tiny, so helpless--
"Angela," David whispered. "It's a he, a colt. And ya saved it."
I saved it. Me. I did. Me. But poor White Dove--
As it greedily sucked at the bottle, I let it rest its chin on my lap. Leaning forward, I breathed in its scent of blood and water and salt and life. I felt a warm rag in my hand and began rubbing it against the colt's hide, wiping off the blood and salt, wiping off the afterbirth, wiping off the last of its mother. Freeing it from her shadow, warming and drying it as it suckled. I could smell a hint of iodine, but all my attention was on the colt, and all the colt's on me.
Finally we curled up together and slept, my wings wrapped around us both to hide my colt, to hide me, from the death outside.
Dr. Haynes came the next morning and checked the colt and could find nothing wrong. A miracle. To the colt, I was his mother. It followed me everywhere. Copying Felena I would nuzzle it, nibble at its neck, along its back. A month ago I'd have been horrified by what I was doing, but now it felt right. The colt was a horse, and I was part of what it was. It deserved the best care I could give it.
It deserved everything I could give it.
I lived in the barn, sleeping with him, keeping him warm and safe. Keeping the herd warm and safe. It seemed that somehow I'd become the alpha horse, even though I was female. Figure that one out.
David quietly took over most of the chores, and I let him. Proving my skill didn't matter any more, all that did was the colt. He was demanding, but he also let me have time alone as he just leaned against me, learning about the wide world around him. I would gently scritch his ears, taking the time to think. I had a lot to think about.
It was almost a week before David came to talk to me. He touched me lightly as the colt slept, and I just nodded and carefully stood up and moved away.
Yes, we had to talk and I was finally ready.
I followed him out towards the grain bins. Pansy softly nickered as I went by and I nickered back. The horses had grown on me. He motioned towards one old wooden stool and I sat on it as he sat on the other.
"Angela, Dr. Haynes says that tha colt should be fine. There's no way ta be certain. There might yet be some brain damage, it all depends on how long the placenta was detached."
I nodded, blinking tears from my eyes as I remembered White Dove.
"And now comes tha question of what we're going to do with you, little Angela."
I snorted -- I towered over him. "I'm not leaving."
"Ach, I never said you'd have ta, and I'd never do that to a carin' women such as yourself."
"You're that Dr. David Milne that wrote some of the books in your library, aren't you?"
"That was who I used ta be, a long time ago."
"I've been a real bitch to you, haven't I?"
I looked down at him, blinking tears of sorrow and embarrassment out of my eyes. "Why did you help me?"
"I couldna leave a poor broken thin' lyin' in ma field now, could I?"
"No, not then. Later. You could have let me go home."
"Ah, that ya have wrong Angela. There was too much of the old me that I could see in ya. I used ta be like ya -- workin' hard, snappin' and fightin' me way ta tha top of ma profession. T'was a cruel and hard world that was. But I was at tha top!"
"Top of what?"
"Veterinary medicine Angela. Oh, not tha pets and crap ya run inta in tha city-- horse racin'! That's where tha real money was. The stories of ma days there that I could tell ya -- t'would raise tha hair on ya spine they would. There was no love, just seein' how much that ya could get away with under tha eyes o'tha inspectors. Fakin' tha genetics, steroids that had ta be flushed before tha race, bribes-- Sure, most o'tha owners were honest, mostly, but when ya get to tha million dollar purses petty little things like that there morality just get tossed out tha window."
I watched him in rapt fascination, ears focused on his voice. This was something that I'd never even thought of. Sure, I'd hacked into some systems when asked to, cracked some software when I needed it and couldn't get it otherwise, but I was more honest than a lot of people I knew. You'd have thought I'd have known that computers weren't the only profession which corruption had tainted.
"I used ta get five hundred grand ta fake results, ta slip false records of breeding and ancestors. Thoroughbred racin' is not a sport, t'is a prestige game amongst the owners. So many people think that any half decent horse can compete, but t'is never been like that. A horse is only allowed to compete if it can trace its whole ancestry back ta either tha Darley Arabian, the Byerley Turk, or the Godolphin Arabian. If a horse doesn't have its lineage documented for all those generations back to the 18th century, then t'aint no Thoroughbred and t'aint no way it can race.
"Or at least that's tha theory--
"Anyway Angela, I was way more than shoulder deep in that there filth, takin' money, bribes, payoffs, doctorin' records and drug tests, and still I pushed ma way higher and higher, or maybe I should have said deeper and deeper, into those there filthy depths. Hell, I even had a heart attack at 30. Not a bad one, but still t'was a sign. I just put it off and dove back in, reapin' in tha money and dark fame, gainin' prestige.
"Fortunately I had friends. Doctor Haynes, and others, dragged me out o'there kickin' and screamin' like you've been. They naer imprisoned me at an old run down farm and I had to take care of all them there horses. They left me, without phone, radio, car-- Just a well stocked house and that there needy herd.
"Horses donna take care o' themselves Angela. Ya know that now. Wild ones do, but these here were never wild. They had ta be watched, groomed, cleaned, fed, watered-- T'was almost an entire week before I dragged meself out of me funk and fed and watered them. They were naught but skin and bones by then.
"Angela, them there horses brought me out of madness. Ah had to care for them -- what was left of ma morality, nay soul, couldna let them suffer so ah stayed and brought them back. And in return they brought me back.
"And then ya came, and I saw before me another lost soul, a poor leetle one who was goin' down tha same path. If t'wasn't for Pansy I'd have let the doc take ya. But she see's ya soul and I'm obligated ta her to try and bring it back."
I just looked at him, his words sinking through my anger, my pain, my guilt. "You trusted me with the horses-- How the fuck could you do that?! I didn't know a God damned thing about them!"
"Angela, I trusted ya, but I also watched ya. Do ya remember when I said I'd checked White Dove--?"
And then I knew. Oh God but I knew... "You idiot! I killed her! It was something I did. Something I did wrong. It was my fault! Mine! Something--"
"Angela, sometimes these things just happen."
"No!" I swallowed. "Don't you dare try and take the responsibility away from me! It was my fucking fault!"
"Angela, ya did nothing that I wouldna have done. Nothing!"
Through quivering lips I spat out my response. "And how the hell do you know that!"
"Angela, I had this here barn wired years ago 'cause I couldna be here all the time. I watched, and I made sure you did things the right way, tha way things have ta be done. Donna worry, if ya'd screwed up, I'd have been here 'fore ya could say three words! The first night ya closed the upper doors and I came in later and opened them. I know because I watched ya in the barn. At first ya hated the task, but ya refused to do it less than perfectly. There is nothing ya did that could have caused it!"
"It had to be me! It had to be!"
He stood up and walked over and hugged me tightly. "Child, t'was fate. Nothin' more, nothin' less. Nothin' ya did could have caused that! She was old. It was her time. It--"
"Then why? Why the fuck did she die?!" I fell into his grasp, sobs racking my body as the pain, the guilt I'd bottled up ever since she'd died poured out of me. "Why?! Why--?"
He rocked me back and forth for a long time, his strong body holding my frail one as I shook and wailed. After a long while he spoke. "Angela, I donna know why she died. As to the how, Dr Haynes examined her -- something broke in her womb as she was givin' birth. The birth was taking too long and I worried. I was close to panic, but I drew strength from you, yes you, and White Dove. And then ya acted. I donna think I could have saved the colt, but you did."
"I donna know. She was old. It was her time. She had to go to heal ya. It just happened. Ya have to find your own answer to that Angela."
"But it's so hard--!"
"I know, I know-- All any of us upon this Earth can do is to go on--"
Sniffling I nodded, and then whispered, "Go on--" I paused and then whispered to myself, my voice unsteady at first, but drawing strength from the words I remembered between Delenn and Sinclair. "Why Babylon 5? If the first four stations were sabotaged or destroyed, why build another? Because if we value something, we rebuild it. If it's destroyed we rebuild it again, and again." I stood up, unsteady on my two hooves. My voice was quiet, but steady, firm. It was hard to get out, I was afraid to ask because I was afraid of the answer. I had a duty, I had to honour a memory. And I had a herd that needed me. "David, can I stay?"
He nodded. "As long as ya wishes. Though ya'll have to help out with tha herd--"
Relief filled me, relief, happiness, joy, pleasure-- But most of all satisfaction.
I nodded and hugged him, squeezing him tight, sobbing. Not with pain or hatred, but with satisfaction and joy.
There's not much more to tell beyond that. It took some legal wrangling as I'd been gone over a month, but I got my stuff from my apartment. I got the farmhouse connected for wireless satellite internet, and got a phone. For emergencies only. David and I became friends, not anything more. We were too different, but we loved enough of the same things to admire each other. The colt -- I named him Sinclair -- grew strong and healthy. I learned to ride him. It wasn't the same as flying, but it had its own joy. And yes, I did fly again -- the only thing the crash left me was a slight limp. I would fly above Sinclair, calling him to go faster and faster, as fast as he could. When he was tired he'd collapse and I'd land and we'd nibble each other--
Xanadu was over a decade ago now. I'm still with the horses, they take most of the time. And I do some work from contacts on line -- mostly sewing clothes for those with wings like me. Not much, but it helps keep me busy. There just aren't enough of us to create a commercial demand.
And yes, Xanadu changed my soul. It changed all of us. It changed the world.
Was it a good change? I don't know. For me, in the end, it was. Not directly. It just created a possibility, a potential, to save my soul. And I thank the universe every day that it happened. It's caused me pain, turmoil, destruction.
And it's caused love, and joy, and it's widened my horizons, all of our horizons. It's redefined what it means to be human, made it wider, made it more glorious.
At first I didn't want to write anything for this ten year anniversary, but I was asked by Time, as were all of us victims, survivors, heroes. David helped me remember the pain, the glory, the healing. I could have gone on, probably died of a heart attack at 35, Instead, with his help, I finally learned to fly free!