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Manifest Density

by Jason Tracer

Yes, it's late. That's ON PURPOSE.
When you read the story, it will all become clear, unless I've done my job properly.
The title is NOT misspelled, by the way.
Enjoy at your own risk.

I stumbled wearily down the poorly lit road, and for fun I made an effort to stay on the yellow lines streaked down the center. I reflected that if this were the middle of the day, I'd have been flattened by now, but it was the dead of night, and the vehicles I'd seen in the last half-mile could be counted on the fingers of one hand. I checked my watch, which read three thirty-three in the morning. Damned silly time to be awake, and an even sillier time to be walking home. I should have left the party sooner.

I chuckled lightly at the mere thought of the party. "Hell of a party," I mumbled to myself for no reason at all, other than to state the truth. It had been hell. Everybody was standing about chatting about the most inane topics: the status of the local high school baseball team, the mundane difficulties of employment at a grocery store, and what calling a telephone psychic was really like. These conversations were totally at odds rhythmically with the music, which was drab and pedestrian; in fact, the self-proclaimed DJ erroneously put some *good* music on, and when informed of this, quickly and discreetly switched the disc for the comfort of the other party-goers. I stood alone the entire time, in a corner, wondering if perhaps the invitation were a mistake, since I hadn't even seen the person the party was being held for, and not once had his birthday cake been seen, nor had any candles been extinguished with his hopeful breaths, nor any of his wishes made. Wrong address? Wrong friend? Whose chip dip had I been eating all night?

Nearing the intersection of Plymouth Road and Huron Parkway, two of the busiest streets in the local area, I spotted a lone car in the distance. I paused to watch as it speeded by. It was a tiny foreign deal, metallic blue and rusted out, a clone of so many cars I'd seen about. It looked like an odd bug scuttling quickly away from some imagined peril, and the peculiar soprano whine of the undersized engine gave it an even more severe comical effect. Distracted by the amusement of the image, I simply stood there for a minute, in utter silence.

Two foot steps echoed close behind me. My heart seemed to seize up, adrenalin shot through my system in a terrified burst, and I spun around, automatically crouching into a defensive posture. "Who are you?" I shouted, to the silhouette of a man standing in the shadow of a tree.

He stepped forward slowly into the orange-tinted glow of the sodium-vapor streetlamps. He seemed just a little under six feet tall, of a slim build, dressed in a blue business suit and a red tie. His dark hair was slicked back, and it shined orange brightly along with his highly polished shoes. He almost seemed artificial and stiff in his movements, and his chillingly firm smile, and the pipe he was smoking.... I'd seen some strange people in this college town, but this fellow was the first to actually make me uneasy. The uneasiness carried with it, though, a sense of familiarity. My curiosity, by now, was overpowering my survival sense, and I relaxed, stood up straight, and squinted to get a better look.

"Hello there," he bellowed in an overly friendly tone, as he continued to approach me. "I'm looking for somebody, and perhaps you can help me." Instead of responding immediately, I just listened and tried to place his accent. He sounded fairly Mid-Western, but there was the tinge of a Texan drawl... and none of his words seemed to fall in sync with his mouth, as if everything he said was dubbed! I set aside the thought as he started speaking again. "You might have seen him lately, unless it's too late. A few inches taller than me, same hair and eyes as you... moves like a water buffalo, kinda." At this, he lumbered around a bit exaggeratedly, putting on a display I'd not have expected in anything but a cartoon. I grinned, not letting on that his caricature of myself was fairly insulting, if only for its accuracy. "He looks a lot like you, in fact. He goes by the name Jason Tracer."

I raised my eyebrows at this. He didn't say it sarcastically, but with all the honesty of someone who really wasn't certain that I was the man he'd been looking for. To top it off, he'd gone looking for me at this hour, and had even managed to find me! Either this was astronomical chance, or astronomical purpose and method. I replied in my classicaly flippant style, "Well, not that I've talked to him lately, but... that would be me, yes."

The man's smile took on another degree of fakeness and sincerity, and he nodded like a spring-necked toy on a car dashboard, holding out his hand for me to shake. At the slightest motion of my hand in return, he grabbed it and shook far too vigorously for any semblance of etiquette. "Damn glad to meet ya," he gushed, as I released his clammy, almost plastic hand. "Didn't expect to find you here, though. We have a lot to talk about!"

I eyed him cautiously. "Likewise, mister...?"

"Bob," he said. "Just call me Bob."

I turned to face the direction I'd been walking previously, half because I wanted to get home soon, and half because whatever was burning in this guy's pipe was extremely pungent, and my eyes were starting to water. "What can I do for you, Bob?" I replied nonchalantly.

He ambled alongside me in his awkward way, which reminded me of when I was young, and would try to get my various action figures to walk reasonably well with their mildly articulated plastic limbs and unbending boots. "Tell me, Jase," he started, unaware of the fact that I wasn't too keen on contractions of my name. "When you walk down these streets, what do you see? During the day, that is."

"You want me to be frank?"

"No, I want you to be Jason."

I smirked, and then motioned with my hands. "I see a lot of the same old stuff. I once described it as a 'sea of empty, bobbing heads,' and it is.... lots of college students, all trying to be individuals in the same ways. They all drive black sports cars and purple trucks, you know. They eat expensive sandwiches and drink imported coffees at pretentious cafes, and watch hip, alternative television shows. They make fun of commercials for Brand X shoes, then go out and buy exclusively Brand Y. I was at this party, tonight, and there were people talking about telephone psychics, for cryin' out loud!" I looked over at him, following my pace exactly with unnerving accuracy.

He met my eyes squarely. "And you feel weird? Lonely, maybe?" His eyes opened wide for a second, then returned to their half-closed, drugged-looking dullness. "Perhaps even bad?"

I paused in mid-step, feeling the strongest sense of deja vu I'd ever known. "Yes," I whispered. "Yes, those exactly. Weird, I've learned to deal with, I even like that, but lonely...." For some reason, I had this gnawing sense of trust in this fellow. "And even bad. Like there's something I should be doing that I've not figured out yet, connected to the people around me but not because it's what they're doing. I just want to take all of them by their force-fed pansy-assed collective throats and shake some sense into them -- uh, I really shouldn't be rambling about this, should I?"

He seemed to ignore my last comment. "Perhaps you'd like to do just that, if given the chance?" he asked, glaring at me, thick smoke swirling around his head strangely. I could have sworn that his grin got even wider, and more plastic, and that his head took on a distinctly two-dimensional appearance... but I chalked it up to the effects of whatever bizarre herb was smoldering in the bowl of that pipe. "But first, I have something to offer you, something I know you've wanted for a while. You deserve it, kiddo!"

Before I could object to his demeaning manner of referring to me, I felt slightly queasy, and turned away to get some fresh air. The clinging, noxious smoke followed, though, and I found that for a brief moment that's all there was to breathe, and once I accepted that, I felt better instantly. "What... the blazes... are you incinerating... in that pipe, man!"

Again, I was gleefully ignored. "You know, I wasn't certain about you at first, which was the biggest indication that you were the right man for the job. The next indication was that you weren't certain about me, and now, I see that your curiosity is right where it oughta be. Did I mention that I've got a task for you, son?"

I cast an odd glance his way, in part because I had no idea what he was talking about yet, but mainly because my eyesight seemed to be changing, and he was even flatter-looking than before. "I wish you'd get around to telling me what that task is," I chided, noting that my teeth were starting to get in the way.

"Let's put it this way," he replied in a disheartening sing-song manner. "You're extremely good at being confused, and that is a positive trait, believe you me! Most people don't have that capacity. They take what's given to them as pure fact... well, sometimes they'll weigh one option over the other in completely irrelevant terms, and that can be relied on rather solidly. But the point of the matter is, when they're not sure about something, they choose one or the other. You, my fine friend, choose neither! That's the secret, the spark I'm looking for."

I found myself increasingly annoyed by his infomercial-esque televangelist voice, which seemed to get louder. The building soreness in my legs didn't help matters much, either, and my back was starting to itch; I thought that perhaps I was allergic to whatever charred substance at which he insisted on puffing away. My logic was clouding too, but I chalked that up to the bizarre array of statements he was tossing forth. "So you want me specifically because I can be confused?"

He nodded again. "Well, that and you're not horribly obsessed with money."

At this, I reached back to check for my wallet, realizng that this guy was probably slick enough to make off with it, and dumb enough to alert me to it. I found the contents of my pocket intact, and I also discovered with a dull start that my jeans had torn and I had a brand new tail. Before I could ask about it, however, he resumed with his booming voice. "Only mildly obsessed, I see. Perfect. It does bother you that most other people are so incredibly gullible and like-minded, right?"

"Absolutely," I mumbled, my teeth no longer in the way because my face had expanded outwards to accomodate them. I stared at my fur-covered forearms with uncharacteristically mild interest, and then at my strange new feet, the boots previously covering them gone. It had to be some manner of hallucinogen he was polluting my air with, and its most interesting effect was that I really didn't mind.

"You mentioned purple trucks," he rambled, stopping briefly to laugh at a Do Not Enter sign posted at the end of a corporate driveway. "Well, I know the first guy who had one. Now, that fellow really had something for the color violet, so he painted his truck by himself, 'cause he had a free weekend. Damn fine job he did too, looked really nice. Suddenly, everybody was doing it, because he made the mistake of being filmed as an extra for a movie. I visited him earlier this afternoon, and gave him his mission. Ya know, he looks really cool now, this big purple monster truck, massive eight-foot wheels, big chrome spikes, and what an attitude. Right now, he's busy destroying icons of materialism. And you... well, you're a kangaroo."

By now, I was hopping at a medium clip next to him, and he was running effortlessly to keep up. "Hey," I exclaimed confusedly, "I'm a kangaroo!"

"I know! That's what you wanted, right? Of course, nobody else understood, so they usually labelled you as a freak or a fool, for not being so down-to-earth as they were. Well, you have your dream... and I want you to help me fulfill mine."

I was quickly getting the hang of this sort of motion, and enjoying it, because at this rate I'd be home in less than two minutes, likely. "Sure, what can I do for ya?" I chattered.

"Confuse people."

"Confuse people?"

"Exactly. See, it's about time we started weeding out those who can't really handle the future, those who aren't up to the task of adjusting to their environment. We're at the point now, Jason, that technology is close to accelerating faster than it can actually be researched, meaning that unless humans become *more* human, the machines will take over. Machines can't be confused, and that's where you come in. You have to confuse the entire world of humans, to form a barrier of chaos... this way, you're all safe. Got that?"

Actually, I didn't get a word of it, but as I thought about what he'd said, it seemed that maybe it was a good thing I couldn't understand. Plus, I was just so happy that he used my real name.... "Sure thing, Bob. Confuse the hapless citizens of the planet, right?"

He laughed in a way that probably should have sent chills through my spine. "I knew I could count on you. Happy trails!"

I glanced over and intoned, "Hey, how should I--" But he was gone. And I was nearing home....

The next thing I saw was my sunshine-warmed pillow. The encounter with the undeniably odd Bob had all been little more than an amazingly vivid dream. That explained why I hadn't panicked when he turned me into--

I panicked.

I *was* a kangaroo.

I jumped out of bed and looked out the window, and saw a horrendous mechanized landscape, all the trees gone and nothing but crude automatons milling about. So this was the future he spoke of.... Then I rubbed my eyes, and there was the green, lush landscape I'd always known, even greener this morning, the sky bluer, and the people that much more real, and in need of my help. I threw on a handy t-shirt, turquoise in color as I recall, and then cut a tail-hole in a pair of denim shorts.... Now I was ready to carry out my Bob-given mission, for certain. I headed for the door.

On the sidewalk outside, I was a pair of modern women, in their stylish pastel clothing, with their bottles of overpriced water. One pushed a baby stroller, as they chatted and giggled. I quietly hopped up to them, and with my best and most polite voice, churred, "Hello there, ladies."

One got a very horrified, confused look on her face, and promptly fainted.

The other screamed and ran, leaving the stoller behind.

I felt very satisfied with my first attempt at following Bob's plan. As I watched the frantic mother head in no particular direction at all, I heard the soft noises of a baby.... I peered inside the stroller, and found a gentle child, not more than a couple months old, smiling back at me. "Don't worry, little one," I whispered, as it giggled. "The world is safe now."

If you don't know who "Bob" is, then visit www.subgenius.com and learn.

"Got the fox, got the blue paint, it's time to take over the world!"

\\ Jason Tracer - tracerj@cat.net - http://cat.net/~tracerj/
\\ Pastor "Macho" Sandwich - fully ordained SubGenius minister

// Jason-Roo - the one and only grey ice-kangaroo on FurryMUCK
// Electric Keet - musician/composer of MOD, S3M, and IT modules

Copyright 1997: Jason Tracer / Electric Keet <tracerj@cat.net> . If you want to post this anywhere else, please ask the author for permission first.       Thank you