by Michæl W. Bard
Text ©2007 Michæl W. Bard
Illustrations: Speed Lives ©2007 Cubist,
Zoomin ©2007 Ian Williams
|This is a TBP (Tales of the Blind Pig) story whose main character first appeared without a name in Evolution in Action, chapter 43 of The Downward Spiral (TSAT #45 and Anthro #8), and acquired the name Isola Garrett in Homecoming (in Anthro #1). Go here for info on the TBP setting|
I felt like an idiot.
Standing outside BobnBills Bouncing Bicycle Shop, also known as the Four-Blooking at the new bike Id been talked into buying, wearing the dedicated equipment Id been talked into buyingI looked like an idiot. A sable antelope SCAB had no business looking like this.
With a stink of internal combustion, a car roared by, kicking up snow.
Itd been snowing fairly heavily all morning, but itd died down, along with the wind, to an almost nice day. Not that my instincts thought so. But then their reaction was to flee from everything. Something I refused to do. So why was I buying a bike? I was fit and would stay fit, and calisthenics got boring. Not to mention that my new apartment had no parking, and local transit sucked.
The bike by itself had cost far more than first and last months on the apartment. And it was almost cheap compared to some of the gear. But the salesperson had talked sense: Id have to use the thing in sleet, hail, snow, wind, and rain; fight cars that didnt give a fuck; flee from SCAB haters; and carry it up stairs. Not to mention that a bike was surprisingly maneuverable, so if a sniper ever gave me a second chance, Id need every advantage I could get. Besides, the windscreen that wrapped around the front was bullet-proof as a side effect of its tensile strength. Gotta love modern materials tech.
I looked at the saddlebag holding the heavy winter clothes Id worn, and had to admit that I was warmer in this skin-tight thing than Id been walking through the streets. Scratching my thigh, my gloved hoofnails sliding along the slick material of the thing I now wore, I had to admit there were some advantages. Even though the damn thing itched all over, pinching and pulling at my fur.
My ears blushed as I thought about it again.
If Id worn thisthis bright yellow abomination when I was in the military, Id have been killed by the others as an embarrassment to the unit. Still, I had to admit that the practicality of easy visibility to motorists was a sufficient reason. And it supported my breasts better than any of the exercise bras Id tried.
I checked the centre brace of the tricycle to make sure it was secure. The bike was a so-called recumbent; you sat on it like a chair, and it was designed to fold up horizontally for ease of storage. It was the best design for digitigrade SCABS like me, due to our legs proportionally greater length. Not to mention that it was mechanically more efficient than a more conventional bike.
Anyway, it wasnt doing me any good just sitting there, so I carefully settled myself into the seat, sliding my ropy tail through the hole provided. There was a padded plastic box theyd screwed on, after selling it to me, that my tail could curl up in, staying nice and warm and dry. I had to admit that the bike was comfortable, far more comfortable than it looked. More comfortable than Id remembered from when Id tried pedaling it around the warehouse behind the Four-B. Theyd refused to sell it to me until Id tried it out.
Settling myself onto the comfortable seatnot saddle, theyd corrected me too many times for me to forgetI leaned forward to snug my hooves to the pedals with the quick release straps. Id tried biking once after Id changed, and it was impossible on a conventional bike. Hooves and pedals just do not mix. Id had to pay extra for the mechanism to tighten the straps properly with my limited manual dexterity, but I could easily afford it.
I refused to depend on anybody.
Fumbling a bit, I plugged my voder into the generator on the front wheel so it would recharge as I traveled. The thing was securely strapped to the frame, and I had to admit that arrangement was probably safer than having it on a shoulder strap. Getting the cord plugged in was awkward, and I fumbled and dropped it again and again before I finally got it right. After that it was the helmet that fit between my horns with its big levered chin strap I could tighten easily, and then the goggles to keep the snow and ice out of my eyes. My hands were already gloved.
It was as bad as getting ready for a special ops.
I did have to admit that the bike was cool. Best way to describe it, really: Shiny red, black plastic fenders, wide studded tires, a hard plastic shield at the front for aerodynamic purposes, the damn thing looked like a sleek jet fighter.
The man still buried in me loved it.
Hell, the thing was so different from what I normally usedmy hoovesthat it would probably make it harder for my numerous enemies to find me. All in all, a good thing.
It was early in the afternoon. Traffic wasnt bad, and I wondered what the odd driver thought of me. Giving the appropriate hand signal I pedaled out into traffic. The wheels crunched on the packed snowthe street had just been plowed, and the snow hadnt melted off the pavement yet. The pedals moved easily and I heard a click as the automatic gears shifted down. Yes, it was more expensive, but my limited dexterity didnt leave me many options.
A horn screamed behind and beside me, and then a car roared by, spraying slush and dirt over the bikes windscreen, a few globs splashing onto my side, the vehicle leaving behind a cloud of carbon stench.
Fleefleefleefleefleeflee!! my instincts screamed, but I ignored them as my ears flipped and jerked all over the place, the winter air cold on them, though the rest of me was toasty warm.
Yipyip! Bastard! I barked at the idiot as he roared off, the fumes making me cough. Upgrade to a hydrogen car, you moron!
I started cranking my legs up and down as my tail jerked and banged in its padded plastic box, and moved into traffic. The bike was easy to maneuver, and the pedals moved easily under my hooves, the soft straps holding them tight yet comfortable. The bike moved almost silently,the only sound the hiss and crunch of the wheelsthe chain was so well oiled, and sealed off against the elements, that it made no sound at all.
Soon I settled into the rhythm of the motion, pressing back against the padded seat, mane itching and tugging at my skin as the suits insulated material yanked and clung to it. The hiss of snow and ice being thrown against the fenders. Cars gave me lots of room, which was fine with meI was still getting used to this. At least there was a roll bar just in case some idiot did try and kill me accidentally. The wind was beginning to pick up again, but I felt safe and in control.
I kept an eye out on the streetsId have to turn soon. Strathmore, Milverton, Frater Next street? Ah hah! Fourth! Giving the signal, I blared the horn, braked a bit, turned, and smoothly moved onto Fourth. A car roaring behind me blared its horn
and I give him the finger. He probably thought I was just waving.
And then silence, except for the hiss of my tires as a soft gentle snow began to fall.
Fourth was a side street, but recently paved. It hadnt been plowed, but the strong wind through the morning had cleared it just as well. Cycling down it waswell, it was like flying, or at least the freefall part but without the wind howling against you. The travel was so smooth, the world so silent, the only sounds being the soft hiss-crunch of my tires on the new fallen snow, and the distant honk and roar of the main street I was leaving far behind.
And then some idiot, another freak on a bike, came zooming down the street, almost sideswiped mebastard was so close I could see the glitter of oil on their chainand then was off, spraying snow over me. I couldnt pick out any scent, and my limited eyesight showed that the SCAB was wearing some kind of biking suit, same as me, and there was a funny logo on the backbut it was gone too fast for me to make out.
That did it!
Every time I relaxed, something had to happen. Shooting at me, snipers, that was the price I paid for fighting in the war between SCABs and norms. But, thisone lousy moment of peace andwell, I was going to give that fucker a piece of my mind!
Yip! Yipyipyip! burst out of my muzzle as I started pedaling for all I was worth. The barks of a dog were the only noise I could make any more.
The other bike was just traveling at a, for them, leisurely rate, so it wasnt long until I was overtaking, pedaling furiously. The wind was cold in my ears, the snow falling thicker. But my bike was so well tuned that all I could hear was the shush of the wheels, and the occasional click as the gears changed. The snow had deadened my nostrils, so I didnt scent what the other rider was until I saw her grinning muzzle glancing back at me.
Not only was the twit a girl, she was some kind of feline morph. Leopard maybe. Her fur looked entirely black.
My instincts recognized her before I did and screamed in my mind, scratching and kicking: FleeFleeFleefleefleefleeflee!
Oblivious, she winkedand started pedaling faster on her more conventional bike.
Ignoring my instincts, something Id had long practice at, I pedaled harder and faster, the gears holding, then clicking down two or three stops all at once, as they tried to keep up. Slowly, my inhalations cold in my nostrils, puffs of steam being blasted past me when I exhaled, ears half frozen and blown almost forty-five degrees back, I began to catch up.
There was something exhilarating about the chase, something I remembered from my years as a human, and had feared lost forever with my voice and thumbs: The hunt. Here it wasnt for murder, it wasnt for life or death, it was for something more importantpride. She glanced back and I grinned, pedaling for all I was worth. For a moment she turned away, leaning forward, her behind lifting off her seat, her tail straight out behind her, pedaling like mad and beginning to pull away, but then she suddenly slowed, like shed hit the brakes.
Stop! she screamed, but I roared past her.
The snow was thicker now, but Id done it! Id done it!
With a cruel twist of wind the snow swirled, becoming a glistening shimmering field of white, and then it was swept away andoh bloody hell, Fourth turned sharply!
Hitting the brakes, I tried turning, but it was too late
A thick, cloying scent tickled my nostrils.
Shut up, you!
Ignoring what my body quivered to do, I fought to open my eyes.
Are you all right, Miss? The voice was quiet, my ears had to strain to hear ittwisting to cup the sound, they ached. I could feel snow falling off them. There was a faint hiss, or a rumble, buried in that other voice too.
Panic would do me no good. Only steel coldness could save me now, as it had before.
Opening my eyes I saw only darkness, and then fumbled around and felt the gogglesthey were still on but shifted. I managed to straighten them enough that the bright light of the afternoon soon shone into them, silhouetting the form of something, somebody, looming over me
I let out a loud piercing whistle, and started barking for all I was worth before I shoved my instincts aside and clamped my muzzle shut.
She, I recognized that cloying stench, took a step backward and I felt my body relax a bit. Are you all right? I can call an ambulanceI tried to warn you
She was a SCAB, and she wasnt going to eat me. And if she wanted me dead, Id be dead. So she was a friend. I started nodding, but then realized that that could be misconstrued. Couldnt shake my head either. I saw her reaching into a pouch and I shook my head, violently, shaking my earsowow! They didnt like the sudden movement so I stopped, my ears hanging loosely in the snow. Fumbling around I tried to find my voderFuck! Not at my sidebutright, it was clamped on the bike, plugged in to recharge.
The thing was buried in the snow. Fuck, I was buried in the snow. At least it was soft powdery stuff. And, I was warmexcept for the trickle of ice against my spine. Some snow must have gotten inside. Shivering, I felt around for the voder; feeling through the snow, I touched it, recognized its orientation. Long practice had taught me to get everything possible out of what I had left of my hands. I pushed one of the hot-key commands:
Her scent changed subtly, and her ears relaxed. My instincts screamed before falling into a terrified silence. She must have recognized the cold emotionless tone of the word as coming from a voder, as she remained silent while I held up a hand and frantically toggled its lever. I knew I was making mistakes, but I trusted the spellcheck/grammar feature built into the AI.
FEEL FINE NO PAIN WARM SORE MUSCLES WHAT HAPPENED.
We were racingyoure very good, by the way, like your bikeI saw that the wind had blown up a big drift where the street turned. I warned youReally! I yelled at you to stop!
I held up one hand again while the other flicked my voders lever some more.
UNDERSTAND NOT YOUR FAULT.
You sure? When you first saw me, you reacted
INSTINCTS. That was another one Id hot-keyed in.
She nodded. Ah. Would itshould I, like, give you some distance? Id like to help, but
With my free hand I fumbled around for the belt release, pushing aside the snow. Some more got inside the seal and melted against my furred hands. I ignored itthe pain was nothing compared to a bullet in the chest. Finding it, I pulled it loose.
IN CONTROL GIVE SEC GET UNBUTTONED.
Sure. You arent, like, going to sue me, are you? Like, it wasnt really my faultyoure the one
A strangled laugh stabbed its way out of my muzzlea quick burbling yipand she just backed away, confused.
NO HARM DONE.
My free hand found the quick-release strap for my left hoof and pulled it loose, and then the same for my right. With both hands I grabbed the roll bar overhead and started wiggling out, pulling my tail from its warm box and into the icy snow.
More muscles cramped and complained. I shuddered to think what could have happened, but both engineering and materials tech had improved over the last four decades, even if almost nothing else had.
She took a step closer
Stabs of pain told me that my ears were flicking all over, and my tail wasnt still either. Muscles complained, but I knew, from years of experience, that it wasnt serious.
Like, let me help
Gritting my teeth, I clamped own on my bodys urgeno, needto run, and struggled onto my hooves. None of the doctors Id seen had believed I could walk until I showed them, but Id be damned if I was going to trot about on all fours like a bloody animal.
I didnt need anybodys help! Yip! I barked angrily, and she stepped back, feet, paws, skidding on the snow. She was wearing some kind of rubberized footwear, and I snorted in satisfaction as the spikes clamped to my hooves dug into the packed snow underneath the soft new-fallen stuff.
With a screech she lost her balance, feetpawsflying, and landed on her back with a yowl that made me yank my ears tight back against my helmet.
She looked up at me, and I could see the blood flow into her ears in embarrassment.
And then she started laughing, a high-pitched screeching giggle.
What the fuck?
It took a while as I stared at her, but finally she stopped, her eyes wet with tears. Stepping around my bike towards her, I offered her a hand up. She took it, and got up, but faster than Id thought and we overbalanced. I leaned to my right, hopefully, and thankfully, away from my front wheel and we both ka-flumpfed into the drift of soft fluffiness. As snow nearly buried us, she screech-giggled again.
Then she started laughing as I struggled through the snow to stand upright, the soft fluffiness sliding off my bright yellow bodysuit. I just watched and waited as she screeched and giggled. It was snowing harder, and the wind was picking up. Standing, I brushed the snow off and shivered as my tail and ears crinked and complained. Other than that, I was wonderfully warm. Bracing myself this time, I helped her up.
Oh, shut up!
This time, we didnt fall down.
She smelled embarrassed, and I could feel her hand shivering a bit in the cold. I should, like, get going she checked her watch Im running close to my delivery deadline.
Cocking my head, I looked at her for a second before starting to dig my new bike out of the snowdrift. Might as well see how damaged the thing was, then flag down a cab or something and get home.
Let me, like, help you with that.
If Id had a voice Id have told her just where to go; instead, I just shrugged. Together we pulled it out of the snow. We tilted it and shook most of the white crap off. Damn! The bloody thing was half-folded up on itself!
The cat looked regretfully down at the wreck. If you ever get it, like, fixed, Id really like to try it.
Reaching down, I pressed commands into the voder. SURE NAME.
Something occurred to me. I gave my bike a second, more careful, look. Its body panels werent even scratched; perhaps Hah! The centre brace to open the bike up had come loose, but that was it. I pushed it down, it clicked into place, and my vehicle was as good as new. Gotta love modern engineering.
Nameoh, right, like, my name. Im Electra. And
Sitting down, I threaded my tail into the box which had icy snow in it. Fuck! My tail was not happy about it at all. Well, the Pig wasnt far
Hold itlike, youre that SCAB who showed up at the Pig on New Years Eve!
I nodded as I strapped my left hoof onto the pedal, ignoring the panicked screams of my instincts.
Ive been looking for you, actually.
Cocking my head, I looked at her, fumbling around with the other hoof.
Managements been talking about self-defense training for us couriers.
My hands found the strap and I snapped it closed, still looking at her.
Do you have any forms with you?
I shook my head.
I havent seen any posters or anything
NO PLACE YET.
Keeping my hand on the voder, I looked up at her.
Like, that just sucks. WaitI might know someplacelike, theres that warehouseoh, crap! The time! I gotta go. Look, can I, like, buy you a drink at the Pig?
I blinked in surprise before toggling my voders lever to create my next remark. THE BLIND PIG.
Like, thats the place. I got the delivery to drop offDonnie has, like, room in the back for the bike, Ill get him to make room for yours. You, like, all right?
I nodded and strapped myself in. All systems checked.
Like, follow along then and well talk.
And with that she hopped onto her bike and started off, moving fast, and I pedaled to follow. If she knew of a space I could use Following her, I was finally able to read the logo on her back: Zoomin Beings.
I snorted. Go figure