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A Trickster's Tail - Part 9

Copyright (c) 1997 Phaedrus; All rights reserved

This was originally posted in two parts; the dividing line in the middle is where 9a ended and 9b began.

(Note: I'm calling this one "9a" because it sort of drops off in the middle; 9b, which I'll post on Friday night, has the good stuff that should be on the end of this. This is just mushy character-development stuff. :-) )

Kickaha flew across Puget Sound, black wings slicing through the rain. He didn't even try to talk to Keith; after that thing with the Song this morning, Keith was deep into thinking about something. If he butted in now, Keith would bite his head off. Or worse yet, he'd want to talk about it...

Keith looked on, watching the clouds, the water, the occasional beam of sun. It was all so beautiful. It was all so... right.

And that was what bothered him.

He thought back to Halloween night, to the panic of realizing that he was trapped in a form that wasn't his own. He could remember that clearly, just as he could remember the terror of being alone in a dark room as a child. But he couldn't recreate either one in his mind; one fear seemed just as detached, just as irrational as the other. He could think of any number of reasons why that shouldn't be; he just didn't feel them.

And then, beyond the lack of fear, there was this sudden feeling of utter competence--normalcy. On the way across the Sound this morning, he had felt like a pretty good flyer; but now, he knew he was--just as he had known that he could run as a coyotemorph, just as he knew that, if Kickaha decided to dive and go the rest of the way as a fish or a dolphin, he could handle those too.

On a certain level, he was happy with all this; as long as he was in this situation, and as long as there was no sign that it was going to end soon, it didn't make a lot of sense to waste time being afraid of it, and not having to learn to walk another fifty times was certainly a plus. If someone had offered him those things, he would have given a lot for them. But the implications of having them just show up unannounced... If something about him--about the way he thought--could change that quickly, what else could change? What else might already have changed, without him realizing it? And if he could suddenly learn so much, so quickly, what might he have forgotten equally quickly? He couldn't think of anything he couldn't remember, but then again, what did that prove? Was he even still human?

He had to think about that one for a while.

Finally, he decided not to think about it so much.

Whatever it was that he had just contacted, it certainly wasn't hostile; if it was, he'd be dead. And if it wanted to change him without worrying about his opinions, why wouldn't it have just made him not realize he'd been changed? Besides, when it came down to it, he'd already changed, and he was probably going to keep changing, and there wasn't a damn thing he could do about it; so he may as well stop worrying about it and hope things work out for the best.


Maybe Kickaha had all this right after all.

And then they were over Seattle.

{Does that spell you used to pay last night work for something a little more expensive?}

{{No reason why not.}}

{Good. I think I need to do a little shopping.}

{{Cool. Can I go shopping later?}}

{Sure--this shouldn't take long. I just need to grab a couple of things, and then spend an hour or so at the hotel; we can get back out before the stores close.}

{{No problem. Unless I miss my guess, the places I'm after are open all night.}}

{Kickaha, that's not even a thinly veiled threat. Do I look like someone who needs more trauma today?}

{{As a matter of fact, yes.}}


Keith had never really liked Computer City; the selection was good, but the help always seemed like they didn't really care what was going on. Now that was exactly what he was after. He picked out a high-end Pentium laptop, then loaded up on software--Developer Studio, Procomm, a good selection of games "for Kickaha"... It made quite an impressive pile at the counter, and Keith blinked hard when he saw the total--the last time he'd spent $5K at one time was when he'd paid the down payment on his condo. This time the Visa card was gold and in the name of Howard Hughes--again, no reaction, from the clerk or the register.

Outside, Kickaha started pushing the boxes into a small pocket in his cloak; even the smallest box had no business fitting in there, but they didn't seem to object.

{Kickaha, how is it that nobody seems to care what's on that card you use?}

{{Great spell, isn't it? You've gotta learn it. You can walk up to a total stranger, lick 'em in the face and call 'em Mommy, and they wouldn't think twice about it--probably wouldn't even remember it afterwards. I mean, it's the sort of thing that happens a million times a day; nothing worth remembering, right?}}

{Not bad. But isn't someone going to notice it when they're adding up the charge slips at the end of the day?}

{{Oh, it turns into boring stuff in a few minutes. After you get thrown out of places a few dozen times, you start thinking about stuff like that.}}

{So you're an expert at getting thrown out of places, then?}

{{A lifetime of experience.}}

{Not surprising. Can we go back to the hotel and play with my toys for a little bit while I ponder my fate?}

{{Ponder whatever you want, as long as you're done by tonight. My turn then...}}

{You know, something tells me that I'm never going to worry about having nothing to do in the evening from now on.}

{{Anything I can do to help...}}

This is very interesting stuff; and it bears absolutely no resemblance to the stuff I had in mind when I sat down to write it. Can someone give me advice on what to do when my own characters start shoving me around? :-)

Keith had never been so glad to see "Hello, world..." in his life.

As soon as he'd gotten back to the Hilton, he'd set up the laptop, fired up Developer Studio, and started programming. To his immense relief, if something was missing in his head, this didn't seem to be it; the code flowed out of his fingers (after a few minutes of claw-induced typos), and in no time he had those magic two words bouncing around the screen. He looked through some of the sample code provided, and found that it made as much sense as Microsoft code had ever made to him. If he could ever find someone to hire him, it looked like he could still work.

Kickaha found this fascinating, for about five minutes. Then the TV suddenly turned itself on, and started slowly flipping through channels. Eventually, it came to the Cartoon Network, and settled to a stop.

{{Now this is entertainment.}}

Keith had hooked up the modem; with some degree of professional embarrassment, he fired up the AOL trial disk that came with the machine.

{Hey, Kickaha, can you fire up that Visa card of yours?}

{{It's in the cloak,}} Kickaha said distractedly, clearly enthralled.

{How are you watching that, anyway? I'm not even looking at the screen.}

{{Magic. Go 'way.}}

Keith shrugged, reached in the small pocket in the cloak, found the card. "STEVE CASE," it said. He grimaced, but dutifully typed in the info anyway; in no time, he had an account. He headed immediately to Usenet; he was expecting the Raucous Chicken incident to be the talk of the town. And, to a certain extent, it was--but not nearly as much as he expected. He scanned somewhat wistfully through the headers of misc.jobs.offered, wondering if being a coyote qualified under the Americans With Disabilities Act. With a grin, he looked in alt.fan.furry, knowing what he'd find; sure enough, several groups were furiously constructing costumes and organizing pilgrimages. Keith resisted the urge to post "Be careful what you wish for..."

On the TV, a Road Runner cartoon came on. Two minutes passed. {{Hey; what kind of crap is this?}} The channels started clicking again.

Keith grinned, logging off. {Why, Kickaha, whatever happened to entertainment?}

{{It's blatant speciesism. Everybody thinks the dumb birds are cute.}}

The TV clicked to the news. The owners of the Mariners were threatening to sell again; the forecast was for rain through Thursday. Typical.

{Shit; is it five already? Sorry; I sort of lose track of time when I'm on the computer sometimes.}

{{So I see. Well, are you done pondering?}}

{Yep; as near as I can tell, I'm still me.}

{{Really? How sad. Well, let's go work on that...}}

{Gee, thanks for your support.}


Kickaha's first stop was at KFC, for an eight-piece Extra-Crispy bucket, to go. He stashed it in his cloak, shifted to raven, and flew to Woodland Park, a few minutes to the north. There, he landed in the top of a big tree, shifted back, and mercilessly attacked, finishing off the chicken in ten minutes flat.

{Still working off that latent roadrunner hostility?}


It was getting dark, and the rain was picking up; the few picnickers left in the park headed home. Kickaha waited for the place to clear out, then climbed down.

{{You're not going to freak on me when I do this, are you?}}

{I promise.}

Kickaha nodded, and Sang, tentatively at first, then with greater confidence. He hadn't used much power; it didn't take long--a minute at most. As he finished and Sang his thanks, he hoped the Olympics would forgive him for forgetting earlier.

{See? No problem.}

{{Sure about that?}}

{Why should there be a problem?}

{{I'm glad you feel that way. Your turn.}}

{Ummmm. My turn.}

{{Yep. Cool, huh?}}

{Ummmm. Shouldn't I find out how to do this first?}

{{I guess this is where I just wait for realization to slowly filter in.}}

And then Keith realized that he did know how.


{{That was what you were supposed to be learning, you know.}}

{Kickaha, is there anything else in my head that as its owner I should be made aware of?}

{{If there were, and if I knew, I wouldn't tell you. You always want to spoil the surprises...}}

Keith just sighed, closed his eyes, tried to clear his thoughts, and Sang.

Instead of letting the world crash in on him, Keith tried to reach out, expand himself to meet it. He felt the park wash over him, the beat of the rain on the pine needles, the gentle squabblings of the birds picking through the picnickers' leavings. There was no panic, no sense of loss; just... belonging.

He drifted for a while, absorbing it all, dimly feeling the power washing through him. After some time, he realized that he was full, that it was time to go. He focused, found his body, pacing around a tree. He Sang his thanks, without hesitation; then he contracted, rushed in...

{{SHIT! Are you okay?}}

Keith blinked. This wasn't the reaction he was expecting.

{Yeah, as far as I know. What's the problem?}

{{That was weird.}}

{Ummm, isn't that supposed to be my line?}

{{Keith, you were... gone. For, like, half an hour. I would have gone in after you, if I had the damnedest idea how to.}}

{Was that half an hour? It didn't feel like that long at all.}

{{That's not the point. That's not the way it's supposed... Wait a minute. How did you do that?}}

{Kickaha, if you don't say something coherent in the next ten seconds...}

{{You got magic, didn't you? How did you do that?... Shit. You got a lot...}}



{Kickaha, I want you to stop. I want you to think about things for about five seconds. Then I want you to tell me exactly what you're talking about. And if you don't, I'm going to whack my head repeatedly against this tree until you do.}

{{Okay.}} A pause. {{Your Singing is different from mine. I expected that. But yours is... really different. And... I didn't think that having two people with magic in the same body was going to work this way. I thought we were both working out of the same pool. After I finished Singing, I thought we were both already full; I didn't think that you were going to be able to get any magic from the Song... I just wanted you to Sing to get used to it. But you got... a lot of it. Not, like, mindshatteringly a lot... but a lot. More than me. I think. It's hard to compare; it feels like it's... not quite the same type. And I would really, really like to know if you think you can do it again.}}

{Oh. Well... I think so. I mean, not right now... but I don't see why not.}

{{Do you feel weird? Is there something you suddenly need to do? Do you feel any sudden urges to sacrifice anything?}}

{Umm... no. I don't think so.}

{{Keith, have I mentioned lately that you're my favorite person on this planet and a helluva nice guy?}}

{Shit. Now you've got me worried.}

{{No. No worrying allowed. This is great. This is important, I can feel it. This is the beginning of a truly beautiful relationship. Tomorrow, we start teaching you some serious stuff. But tonight, we party like crazed weasels!}}

Kickaha shifted to raven, in such a hurry to get off the ground that he was flapping his wings while they were still arms. He darted towards downtown like a black arrow.

Keith, still a bit stunned by the evening's turn of events, silently hoped that Kickaha meant that last line figuratively.

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