A day shy of a week ago Robotech Master was out on his e-bike when an SUV struck him and drove off. According to the most recent news available, he passed away from his injuries at around 2:00 this morning. I have kept some news up on his user page and, at this point, ask that anyone wishing to leave messages or tributes do so on either his talk page or another page that can be used for such things. His account here and all of the stories he has gifted the Shifti community with will be preserved in memoriam, as we also did for Morgan.

User:Michael Bard/The Horse in the Glass Bubble

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The Horse in the Glass Bubble

Author: Michael Bard

It had been 2011 when it was sighted. Fanatics and cultists went mad when it was initially identified as a rogue dwarf star that would pass near the Earth in March, 2012. Even though the chance of a collision was only set at fifteen percent, they knew better.

It didn't take long for calmer heads to prevail. Further readings showed that the thing was decelerating. Slowing down from its initial unimaginable velocity with unimaginable energies. Nothing natural could do that. At least nothing natural that humankind knew of. Time passed, and better and better readings firmed the date where the object would reach a near rest state, assuming nothing else changed.

December 21, 2012.

The end of the Mayan Calendar.

So much for calmer heads. The fanatics and cultists went ballistic with that info. "It's the end of the world!" they screamed. "The Mayans knew!"

As it turned out they were both right, and wrong. The object, spherical, covered with unknown protrusions and depressions and shapes, entered a stable orbit around Earth on December 21. The day that everything changed.

No-one could doubt.

It was so big you could look up and see it twinkling with the naked eye.

The old world, the world where we'd been alone, where humanity had been the pinnacle of creation, shattered. A new world, a new realization, burst into existence on that day in 2012. That day when the evidence could not be denied.

The aliens were old and wise. They hadn't visited before, at least not within recorded human history. The coincidence of their arrival with the end of the Mayan Calendar was just that. Coincidence. Nothing more. Not that the fanatics and desperate believed it.

In the long run though it didn't really matter. The world went on, as it always had. Even as the realization that things would never be the same sunk in. People slept, woke, ate, worked, and went about their lives.

As to the aliens, well, they never showed themselves. They just remained in their ship as people speculated. Some were afraid that the alien culture would overwhelm that of humanity, like Western Culture had done to everything else. Others feared horrible plagues and diseases would decimate the world.

None of that happened of course.

Instead, the aliens just taught. Taught what humans asked them about, what homo sapiens sapiens wanted to learn. Basic knowledge that one still had to study to unlock. Building blocks and keys that led to greater understanding, but that we could take at our own pace.

And, those who learned asked for volunteers. People who wanted to try things out, to see what could be done with the science the aliens had at their command. Individuals with a wider view that could accept what could be done, and prove that humanity had mastered at least some of the cornucopia offered.

One of these was Michael Bard.

He was an odd man, human, like everybody else up to that point. Flighty, drifting from one interest to another, trying things out and wondering and dreaming. He'd gained some small success in the science fiction community. A few short stories, but no awards. Readers expected great things of him.

And, like many other dreamers, he volunteered to try something out.

In his case, it boiled down to the fact that he wanted to be different.

The alien knowledge included wondrous keys to the biological sciences. Building blocks and tools that could do things only imagined before. Humans thought they had understood. They believed they comprehended what the aliens offered. They believed that their dreams of tools they could use but never build could finally be realized. To them, the alien science made fantasy into reality.

The way to understand, truly understand, the biology that was homo sapiens sapiens was to change it. To change it safely, successfully. Make it something new. Unlike some of the physical gifts, the aliens offered this openly, offered more support than for anything else. But not complete support. They gave keys, tools, what was asked for.

They refused to do any of it, just to offer advice.

Back to Michael Bard.

He wanted to be different. Something other than human. For him, it wasn't something specific, more just the idea of seeing things he'd imagined be real. Comparing the truth to his dreams. And, for reasons even he didn't understand, he wanted to be a horse.

Not a pure horse! After all, he had a strong belief in the wonders and gifts and powers of science and mind. And in the ultimate and mystical usefulness of hands. He didn't want to just be a horse -- which would have been easy as evolution had already done all the design work -- he wanted to be a fusion. He wanted to be an equine that stood upright, that could see and listen and manipulate the world with hands and mind.

Sure, there were those who called the very idea an abomination before God, something evil that should not be allowed to exist at any cost! But then, things were changing so fast, in so many ways, that there were so many things to riot against.

There never seemed to be enough to stop any single change.

Thus, Michael Bard found himself in a sterile operating chamber. The tank, the nanites, all were ready to kill him. Kill him, and then rebuild him.

The last thing he knew as homo sapiens sapiens was the injection of a needle.

Michael awoke, still a little groggy, but he could feel that things were different. Very different. His sight was different, wider, tinted in browns and greens. Almost exactly like he'd imagined. But, everything else was wrong. Where was the scent he'd imagined? The cacophony of odours and wonder. Where were the sounds he'd imagined? There was nothing, no voices, no birds, no wind, no changes in the audio texture as he felt his ears twist and swivel on his head. Nothing but silence.

He felt himself, slowly, carefully. He'd written about over sensitive skin. About surprise, about amazement. But, there was none of that. He'd known what was supposed to happen going in. And, he could feel his sleek fur, his ears twitch under his touch, the long hairs of his tail flicking away as he grasped and ran a sensitive fingertip along them.

And yet-- and yet-- something was wrong--

Things were blurred. And his lungs were heavy, filled. Now that he was aware of it, he could feel something thick, almost a jell, oozing through his nostrils. He could feel it pulling and pushing at the sensitive skin.

From what he'd been told, and from what he'd imagined, the understood technology consumed his body, ate everything, except for his nervous system, his brain. Those were not consumed, but instead modified as they floated in an oxygenated liquid. And then the nanites had slowly built, grown, a new casing, a new shell, for the nervous system.

A new Michael.

So-- why was he still in the fluid?

A shadow fell over the tank and he looked up at a wavery form. He could recognize it as human, but nothing more. There was a click, a crackle of static that his ears spun and focused on, pushing their way through the thick liquid.

"Mr. Bard? Can you understand me?"

Michael tried to speak, he could feel the thick goo pushing up his throat, out his nostrils, but there was no sound.

"You can't speak. Nod."

That was when Michael realized he was on his side. Resting on something. It didn't really matter what. With an ironic sinking feeling, his heart pounding in his chest, he nodded.

"Thank God! Mr. Bard-- Things didn't quite go according to plan."

Michael blinked and tried to focus but couldn't.

"You're fine. Everything works. Mostly. It's just-- Your lungs. The other trials were either a complete success, or a complete failure. But-- you-- yours--." There was some sound he couldn't identify. And then, "Your lungs didn't develop right. We don't know why. It could be a programming fault, it could be an undetected genetic error in your DNA. But-- well-- they can't process air. Or water. Just-- just the neutral medium you're in now."

Nobody knew what had happened, what had gone wrong, what had gone right. The aliens probably did, but they remained silent. The scientists didn't want to do anything until they knew what'd happened. Didn't want to risk going from a stable state to one that couldn't survive.

It wouldn't take long they said. But then it stretched into days, weeks, months--


Oh, Michael was supported. Kept alive. Fed thick syrups like astronauts as nobody wanted to risk solid food getting into his breathing medium. He was given airfilled goggles so that he could see clearly. They leaked though, due to his fur, and so were connected to a small air tank that would pump air in every so often to push out the liquid.

And time passed.

Michael sat there, on the edge of the brook, looking, staring. The world had a crystal quality, scentless, sounds distorted and remote. Sun glittered in front of his eyes and warmed his fur as he sat there, the grass pricking against his black digitgrade legs.

How could it have gone so wrong?

He snorted in sad self-mocking amusement, the liquid gushing and oozing through his nostrils. A bubble oozed out from around his eyes and drifted to the top of his plastic sealed world.

It had seemed like a dream come true--

Michael pushed himself up to his hooves, balancing the mass of the liquid filled bubble that surrounded his head, his muzzle. It was easy in the light lunar gravity. Above him the transparent dome gleamed, blocking enough sunlight so that it was like on Earth. Though the stars didn't glitter at night.

Turning, he walked through the long grass, feeling it brush against his thighs. But, he didn't hear, for the liquid that he breathed dampened sound. It kept him alone, silent. Separate and isolated. It was only around his head, his muzzle. A bubble he wore like an astronaut. A helmet.

The helmet had been a necessity. His skin couldn't survive continual immersion, nor could his hooves. It was painful around his muzzle, and yet, he had little choice. Healing nanites kept the damage from building beyond a certain point.

All he had to do was wait. Some day-- Some day his dreams would come true.

He hoped.