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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Of What Measure Chapter 4b by Ken

Carter spent nearly a week in bed before Dr. Smythe pronounced him fit. He had spent the time reading selections from the fox’s library. As to be expected, most were medical texts. They proved to be an interesting read. While not as advanced as Terran medicine, many concepts were well understood, including germ theory, though prevention hadn’t gotten far beyond urging cleanliness. Drugs were blunt objects, with heavy reliance on painkillers like morphine. Carter wondered if he could send a letter to the Colonies for a med kit.
            The most intriguing read by far had been Magic: a Guide for the Everyman by one Tobias Buteo. In it the author laid out the basics of magic as he understood it.
            “The magical arts are divided into four broad Arcana, or Arts. Each manipulates a different aspect of our universe.
Forces has been described as ‘physics, and the breaking thereof.’ Indeed, the conjuring of fire and the inversion of gravity makes a mockery of the theories held so dear by the Royal Society. It is the least subtle of the Arts, and is what many gentlemen think of when they hear the word Magic.
Mentalism is a much more subtle discipline, focusing on illusions and mental powers, as its name would suggest. Mind reading is a quintessential example of this Art.
            Connection is most famous as the magic of travel. The popular image of the Magician snapping his fingers and disappearing, only to reappear somewhere else is the classic expression of this Art. Many labor for years to reach that level of mastery, but more complex rituals achieve the same result.
            Alchemy is the changing of states. It involves the transmutation of certain elements to achieve various ends. Certainly an adept can make lead into gold, but a true master can effect living matrices. All have heard tales of Magicians who change an animal’s gender, or even their species. Such Arts exist, but they are difficult and often dangerous.
            I must caution you dear reader, that these divisions are made for the sake of convenience, and that the Arts of a Magician often overlap. Rigid thinking is the bane of the Magician.”
            When he was alone, lying awake late at night, Carter would try some of the exercises. They were supposed to be the basics of the basics; he couldn’t so much as conjure a ball of light. He kept the book around though, figuring it would be useful as reference.
            One morning he had awoke to find new clothes on his bed, nothing fancy, a simple shirt and pants, with the tail hole thoughtfully sewn shut. Boots and a blue jacket added a small measure of style. He found a surprise in the coat pocket.
            “A day pass.”
            Dr. Smythe nodded. “With that you’ll be able to move about the city without being grabbed by every constable on the corner.”
            “Even a curfew is better then being stuck in bed all day.”
            The fox laughed. “Indeed! Say, there’s a café that I know. Care to join me for breakfast?”
            “Doc, after a week of your soup I’ll eat anything!”

            The café was called the Wild Wood. The coffee was good, the bacon and eggs even more so. Carter had expected the Doctor to order poultry. What he didn’t expect was for him to order a salad with his chicken and biscuits, and eat it with no trouble.
            “Man, anatomy must be really robust in this world.” Carter thought to himself. The human was all too conscious of the stares of the patrons as he ate, but it couldn’t be helped. The dining room was filled with the sounds of their whispering. At least they didn’t throw him out as a freak.
            A chipmunk called over the head waiter, a stuffy looking hare, and whispered into his ear. So much for that thought.
            The hare made his way over to their table. His face was blank, but Carter knew in an instant what he was going to say. When he finally spoke, it was to Dr. Smythe. “Sir, your companion is disturbing the other guests.”
            “I’m right here sir.” Carter said, putting down his fork. “If you have something to say, say it to me.”
            The manager’s ears drooped. He acted like he genuinely didn’t expect Carter to be able to speak. “Well, that is…I…” He looked visibly intimidated. Most natives stood slightly close to human height, but a hare was tiny compared to say, a bear.
            “I haven’t done a thing to harm your guests.” he went on. “The Doc and I just wanted to enjoy breakfast on a beautiful morning. But, if you truly feel like I’m disrupting things, I’ll leave.” Carter stood up. “Doc’ll foot the bill.”
            “Hold up there! If you’re leaving then so am I!” Leaving several bills on the table, Dr. Smythe followed after him.

            “You were awfully quick to leave when they asked you to.” The fox said when they were outside.
            Carter put his hands in his pockets. “There were people like that in my own continuum, before the Crash. They can be nice about it, but the message is the same. You’re different, you’re strange, and even though you’re doing harm to no one, you can’t stay because you’re bad for business.”
            The doctors ears drooped. “Humans are bigoted against humans?”
            Carter nodded. “Not as much as before, but it’s still there. When we arrived here there was suddenly something else to be afraid of.”
            “I see.”
            Suddenly there was a sound from across the street, a sound that to Carter was eerily familiar. “Capacitors? But I’m thousands of miles from any…”
            He didn’t get to finish the thought as the wall of the bank exploded outward. A searing column of green energy enveloped several pedestrians.  The air was filled with the stink of ozone and burning fur.
            “It can’t be!” Carter cried, taking off at a run.
            “Where are you going?! You’ll be killed!” Dr. Smythe shouted, following after.
            The explosion had slowed traffic to a halt so it was quite easy to get to the other side of the street. That was a small comfort though. When he looked through the gaping hole in the building his worst fears were confirmed. What he assumed to be bank robbers were holding up the tellers. Most were stoats and weasels. They were armed with lasers, both of the pistol and rifle variety. But one, a bear, held something far more dangerous.
            “No. A plasma caster.”
            A plasma caster was the most powerful weapon the Colony militias could bring to bear. They could obliterate anything they were aimed at, and when they charged for a shot, they were loud. That was the sound Carter had heard. Some poor fools had tried to be heroes, and were now in blackened pieces on the floor.
            “Anyone else wanna try to save the day?” The ursine bandit asked. “Man, these naked ape toys are awesome!”
            “And playtime’s only just begun!”
            Out of nowhere, upbeat, frenzied music began to play, though there was no one to play it. Figures bounded through the hole the bear had made in the wall. They were quite bizarre figures indeed. There were at least a dozen of them, of various species, a pig, a duck, quite a few rabbits, and one kangaroo. They smiled manically. All were outlandish, impossible colors, and had what looked to be some kind of malleable, rubbery flesh in place of fur. Their eyes were the size of soup plates, and wide open. Quite a few had no pants, though they didn’t have any genitalia either. A couple had no clothes whatsoever, save for a tie. The one constant were the strange white gloves all of them wore.
            “Howlers!” someone shouted.
            Carter and Dr. Smythe, who had joined him by this point, watched as one by one the robbers where made a fool of. What was strange that there didn’t seem to be any reason why they were being made to look foolish. In the presence of the howlers, it seemed as if the bottom had dropped out of their brains. Their weapons were twisted into knots, yet they would still try to fire, with explosive consequences. The bear had his suspenders cut, got tripped up, and fell on his face. His men fired at the ceiling, and tripped over comically placed banana peels. All the while the Howlers bounced around like living springs, smiling and well, howling with laughter.
            Surreal and bizarre as all this was, it gave some prudent fellow time to hit the alarm. When the bell sounded, the Howlers bowed melodramatically and skipped out the way they had come in.
            “Tttt-That’s all folks!” The pig said as he bounded off after his fellows.”
            Carter summed it up. “What. The. Fuck.”


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