by Michael Bard
part 9
 2 3 4
5 6 7
8 9

  Based upon requests of various interested persons, I've started a diary of my experiences after the EVENT. Hopefully they well help other centaurs with problems. And, of course, any others who have other problems that need solutions or have alternate suggestions should feel free to contact me at mwbard@sympatico.ca.
  And, since I at least try to write, I've tried both to keep true to my experiences, and make it at least a little enjoyable to read.
  Oh, and (of course) places and names of others have been changed to protect the innocent and all that. So let's get started and this time go through months in wild swirls of excitement!

#9 -- meetings

  Feb 18
  Being in a hospital on intensive care does have its advantages. Most of the time you just end up sleeping. However they did bring me a TV and I was able to see some Star Trek that I hadn't seen in almost a decade, but, unfortunately only in the afternoons. With all of my bodily functions automatically dealt with it did provide relief from the nagging problem of 'hold it until the commercial' though I wouldn't recommend it.
  Anyway, enough rambling.
  The first visitors I finally got to see, other than interested medical practitioners (I've heard rumours of veterinary students examining me while I was knocked out -- if they have been, then I don't want to know) were my parents. Apparently they'd been in earlier, but I hadn't been in any condition to notice. For their own protection I'm not going to go into details.
  What we did was just talk. At first they showed disbelief but after a couple of leading questions the last remnants were cleared up. Other than that it was the usual questions of how do I feel; will you be home for Easter; and my return questions asking how are various cousins, nephews, and nieces doing; can I have the projection TV yet; etc. As to Easter I couldn't answer but they told me that the doctors had told them that I would likely be out by then, but they weren't sure.
  Yes, there was a lot more, but I'm not going to put it here. I'm never going to have a private life ever again, but I'm going to try and keep the same thing from happening to others.
  Fortunately there was one other bonus from this meeting -- I arranged for them to transfer rent money from my account to the building owner of my apartment so at least I would have a place to go back to.
  Feb 19
  I seemed to have learned a new skill: Sleeping the correct way. It seems that the enforced practice sleeping standing up over the last few days has taught me how to do it. It's actually amazingly relaxing, and for all you others who ended up with four hooves I highly recommend it. Besides, think about what you'll save on beds and bedding.
  There was another important, or possibly disturbing, thing I learned quickly enough. The rule is that if you have tubes stuck into certain private organs for urine disposal -- don't get excited. The excited part is fine, it's the relaxing part that is, shall we say, less than pleasant. I had the same problem when I was human but now the greater length made it, let's just say, worse. The disturbing part was what got me excited -- no it was not dirty channels -- it was watching a nature show depicting horses mating. I'd hoped my forced loneliness wouldn't be a problem, but who could know? I've never felt a need in the past, but now that I had different hormones I might no longer have a choice. Hopefully it could be managed. It would have to be. Anyway, back to the Diary.
  My visitor today was totally unexpected -- it was my manager from work. I noticed her when I woke up from my most common state (sleep) and saw her sitting and calmly waiting. What the blank was she doing here?
  "Mr. Bard, how are you feeling?"
  Was it just to see me? "Ah, better than yesterday anyway. Not as good as in January though."
  She smiled. "I just thought I'd stop by and say hello, see how you're doing..."
  "I'm doing fine, thank you very much. I don't need..."
  "Stop that right now."
  I stopped.
  "I apologize for the misunderstanding when you left. We didn't fire you, we had, and have, no intention of ever letting you --"
  "Then why did you lock me out?"
  "If an employee leaves in an emotionally disturbed state, it is just sensible to take precautions. It was obvious that you thought we were firing you, and it is possible in your state that you might take actions that both of us would have regretted."
  Could it be? No, I'd already had my dose of good things for the year. "Why should I believe you?"
  She shook her head. "Mr. Bard, Michael, just listen to the truth for once. Yes, you were distraught and I can't say that I blame you. I can see your position and it was mentioned but Mr. Taylor --"
  He's the CEO.
  "-- was quick to squash it. You fulfill a needed position well and efficiently, and nobody has any complaints about you. If any of our contractors want to leave because of you, then that is their choice and we will look into legal action."
  I could feel warmness flow through me and had to concentrate to keep my breathing shallow.
  "Are you all right."
  "Sorry, I almost lost it there -- I have to keep calm to give my..." I pointed to my side, "...time to heal."
  "As I was saying Mr. Bard, I'm here for a number of reasons. First your job is still yours as long as you still want it. Secondly, it is nearly the time for the January month end and we need you to either run the reports, or show somebody how to do it."
  "That could be a problem."
  She raised her eyebrows.
  "Well, I can do it, a bit anyway as long as I can stay awake, but I doubt they'll let me bring anything electronic in here. Maybe in a month or so, but not now. I guess I could dictate what to do though."
  "That's what we need."
  For a second I frowned -- yes, I could tell them, but then they would no longer need me and then what kind of job would I have? Quickly I quashed that thought as I am not, and refuse to become, that kind of person. If they wanted to dump me, then they would. If not, then they wouldn't. "Do you have paper?"
  "I would have brought a microrecorder, but they wouldn't let me."
  I started dictating. "You know that I may miss something."
  "Then I'll have to come back, won't I Mr. Bard?"
  I had that wonderful warm feeling again.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

  After she left I had time to wonder before I nodded off. Was what she'd said the truth, or were they simply trying to capitalize on my notoriety or recognition for saving that girl? But then, did it matter? In either case they would keep me around. I hoped it was the truth that I'd been told, but I knew that there was no way I would ever know for absolute sure.
  Feb 21
  I was feeling better today, and I managed to let the doctors and nurses hovering over me let some friends in for an extended period (yes, the same ones I mentioned before my accident). I needed a break and stomping around as a dwarf seemed the best way.
  They did bring one interesting thing which I looked at before we started -- an issue of Newsweek from Feb 5th with an article by a Quentin G. Long about how he viewed the humanity of Changelings, as we TSAers seem to be called now.
  It was interesting, and a little frightening. Yes, I did recognize the satirical intent -- like J. Swift's A Modest Proposal. What worried me was that there were probably kooks in the US who would take it literally, and that would mean annoying things that Mr. Long didn't mention such as the fact that it is not illegal to shoot an animal dead -- or at least it is not anywhere near as bad as murder.
  All I can say is, thank God I live in a civilized country.
  After that we sat down and gamed and relaxed. I had to keep my excitement down for health purposes, but I did enjoy myself which was the important thing. Of course, poison needles in my dwarf's fingers made me envy the magical healing available, but that's the price for living in a challenging reality.
  Late Feb
  My last three weeks in intensive care continued about the same. I spent probably 80% of my time asleep, and the rest watching some TV, or relaxing with friends. It was a time for healing.
  March 12
  They finally let me out! Well, not out of the hospital, but unstrapped, cast removed, and out into a private room. No more critical care, and no longer more electronics than the shuttle has. Of course I've still got tubes, but no more monitors so the worst is past. Now I just need to rest, heal, and exercise after a month of immobility.
  No, I was not steady on my hooves. Each step was a concerted effort requiring all of my mind to force one hoof to lift up (a little anyway), scrape across the floor, and then settle down. Fortunately they had two large orderlies beside me just to be safe and to prevent any unpleasantness. I had a lot of work to do to get back up to the point the Event had left me originally.
  My new room has a nice view, and they've moved the bed out of the way since I told them that I prefer to sleep standing up. It seems that even with my loss of musculature I'm not in great danger of toppling over, although they have put some straps around loosely just in case. I can't really argue. They also finally gave me some solid food which felt really odd going done, not to mention highly labourious to eat. It seems that while I was out, some tests were done and my digestive system is almost entirely human (although larger). Thus I can eat whatever I used to eat, but grazing is completely out.

  WARNING: For those of you reading this, don't assume your case is the same as mine! Horses have symbiotic bacteria in their stomachs to aid them in digesting grass, and these bacteria can be killed if meat is eaten. Each of us Changelings are individuals, and even if we look the same, biologically we may be completely different species. Be careful and check into this for your own unique case! Back to the diary.

  I was able to relax alone through the afternoon but in the evening they finally let the reporters in. Fortunately after all this time there weren't many, but those present asked the usual questions about Changelings and about why and how I'd saved the girl. Had I done it as a callous effort to gain public support? That one almost made me collapse in disbelief. I told them, and for you readers I will repeat: I did not do it for any special cause, goal, or agenda. I did it because it was the right thing to do. Life is precious, especially intelligent life. This was true for me before the Event, and is still true. Neither human, centaur, or other, makes any difference. I already caught a little girl who stumbled on an escalator when I was human, and I am only happy that the Event allowed me to save somebody else.
  The other interesting question was about the lizardman Bluenight. It seemed that Michael Jackson (yes, the famous one) had also been on the TSA list and had also been changed. He'd joined up with Bluenight and now they were trying to gather all of the Changelings on Michael's ranch for their protection.
  I couldn't believe it.
  I thought that it was a monumentally stupid idea then, and still think so now. Isolating a problem does not make it go away, it just makes both sides imagine more and more horrible things.
  Once again I was glad that I lived in a civilized country.
  March 14
  I'm feeling much better now and haven't fallen yet. In fact I've been pacing around my room when I can -- it's a tight squeeze but I need to get started somewhere. The nurses have been encouraging this and tell me that I 'll be starting more intensive therapy in about a week. More worrisome though is that my right hind leg is still stiff. There is also scarring on my right flank, but then that was expected. At least I'm growing hair back over it so although it will be noticeable, the bare skin will be protected from ultraviolet radiation.
  My manager came back today and brought a new laptop with all of my work stored on it. No, it may not be the nicest thing, but I did thank her as I needed something to keep occupied. Walking doesn't do it, and there's nothing but crap on TV almost all the time. That's why I got rid of it at home in the first place.
  Anyway, once she left I got on-line and checked my e-mail of which there was lots, both hate (which I killed be searching for the word as before) but also a surprising amount of support. The TSA list was effectively dead with the only posts being newcomers who keep asking if anything was happening to anybody else yet. I didn't post because I figured that the governments have so many guys watching the list that I might as well shout it off the rooftops. Checking my websites, including this one, I found out that yes, they had all been destroyed. Fortunately an easy thing to fix. I called a friend and arranged for him to stop at my apartment and copy my original web source onto a zip disk and bring the drive; then I'll just restore the whole thing from here. He was coming today anyway, as it's Wednesday, and we've been roleplaying every Wednesday since February.
  Oh yes, and Mr. Bluenight called me today. I'm not sure how he got the number of my room in the hospital, but he likely has sources through Mr. Jackson. Anyway, after listening to his speel about my needing to come there for 'my own protection', and that any medical bills would be paid for, I told him a number of things. NOTE: I'm not going to transcribe this word for word as not only do I think Bluenight is dangerous, some of the language I unfortunately used was not what I probably should have chosen.
  The first thing I told him was that since I live in civilization, not only do I not need protection, my medical bills are automatically paid for. Secondly, I stated that I thought he was an idiot. Ignoring the fact that putting all Changelings in one place just makes it easy for some terrorist to blow us all up, it will only make the situation worse because if we're out of sight, then any ugly rumours will be easy to create as the hatemongers will be able to say whatever they want without any physical evidence to contradict them. Bluenight might want to start a war between Changelings and humans -- which was the only reason that I could conceive of for his actions -- but I didn't want to. I was taking the proper course, so far more or less successfully.
  He then brought up the injury and the hate. Well, I told him, there is that. But, as I am still here, and as I have not reacted, the majority who are undecided see me as the civilized being that has shown restraint and maturity, and the hate mongers as children looking for attention. That means that in the long run I will be accepted and help make all Changelings accepted.
  And then he stated that he felt a need to protect all of us. Protect all of us? At that point I became, unfortunately, a bit less than civil. I pointed out that as the majority of list membership was younger than I was, likely he was too, and that I was quite capable of taking care of myself in my civilized country in a successful and mature adult fashion.
  Next he pointed out that most of the Changelings in the US had, or still were, being 'taken care of' by the US Centre for Disease Control. I'd avoided incarceration over fears of a virus, but that may not have been the best choice -- I personally had decided that it wasn't a disease and acted accordingly. What if I'd been wrong? Fortunately, it seems that I wasn't, but it was a sobering though.
  As a final attempt he pointed out that there were others, some that might be fully animal, elsewhere in Canada, and that I was doing nothing to find or save them. That it was my responsibility to help them, and to help him help them. My responsibility? My responsibility to go out and chase around after a group of strangers, breaking into their lives and tearing them away from their families?! After taking a second to calm down, I pointed out that I didn't know of any in Canada other than out west, and that I unfortunately was not in the best of positions to help anybody out on a physical level. If he wanted to provide an isolated home for those who choose to go there, then that was fine with me, but I choose not to go.
  Then we said our good-byes and hung up.
  And then my brain started working. Yes, there were likely others in Canada, possibly some nearby. I hadn't heard of any on the news but then I'd been out of it. Hopefully they would do well, but, unfortunately, as I didn't really know anybody else on the list, I didn't know what I could do. Sure, as a stranger, I could call to talk, but what help could I offer? I was posting my experiences as a learning aid and that was hopefully helping.
  Maybe Bluenight had a useful idea after all, as long as he didn't take it too far.
  After that it was a lot of water drunk, a lot of unsteady pacing, and finally a bit of writing to calm down.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

  That night, my friends arrived with the backup, and, as usual, with the roleplaying material, and I was able to at least partially forget my problems and just play. After they left I installed the drivers, connected the zip drive, copied the information, configured my FTP program, and then cleaned up and restored my websites (with a suitable apology). I even got some more added into the diary (not up to date, but at least I was working towards it) and got that posted too.
  After that I was finally able to drift off into an uncomfortable sleep by three in the morning. Bluenight's call had started unsettling thoughts in my mind. Was any of this real, or just a nightmare?
  March 19
  Today I had another pleasant surprise. It seems that somebody from a book publishing company had found my website and arrived to talk to me. Apparently after the restoration they'd come across it and were very very impressed by my work.
  Sure they were. Still, talking couldn't hurt.
  As I was finishing lunch (I refuse to complain about the hospital food -- they pasted me together so they deserve some consideration) their agent arrived. "Glad to meet you finally Mr. Bard. I'm David Rasmussen and I'm from..."
  "Yes, I've been expecting you. Would you like a chair?"
  "Certainly, certainly. Anyway I have the contracts here ready for you to..."
  Contracts? My but they were eager, and that worried me. "Contracts? Let's just slow down for a moment."
  "Slow down? But you were eager..."
  "On the phone this meeting was set up because you were interested in publishing some of my work, and I certainly have no complaints against coming to a reasonable agreement. But the fact that you already have contracts..."
  "Mr. Bard, don't you worry! We've been so impressed by your work that we want to grab you right now before somebody else does. Now..."
  "It's not my fiction is it."
  "What? Mr. Bard, let me assure you..."
  Shaking my head, I sighed. "Let's just stop with the falsehoods. You're here to sign me not because my work is so outstanding, but because you want me."
  "But of course we do, a writer of your..."
  "Sure. I believe my writing is at least competent -- but, you want me because I'm me. Let me guess, you have some story requests?"
  "Of course. We want stories about centaurs..."
  "My stuff has been on the internet for years, and yet you've only picked now, after the Event, to come and recruit me. And now, oddly, you want stories about centaurs. Doesn't that strike you as just a little coincidental?"
  "No, not at all. We just hadn't noticed your work until just recently..."
  That was possible -- I've always kept my site with a low profile to try to allow future publishing possibilities, but still... "So what did you like?"
  "Well we think you have a gift, but we want you to start something new. Something that can take advantage of your situation."
  "Something that you can capitalize on to sell books."
  "Well, yes."
  I swallowed and looked at him. This was something I'd wanted, dreamed of, and now it was being dragged through the mud. Any joy, any sense of accomplishment that I might have gotten, was gone. They were doing it because they thought that my picture, my moment of fame, could help them make money. Well, they were right, it could. And, unfortunately, being published, I've both found and been told, is extremely difficult and often a matter of luck. So... "You really want me?"
  "Of course we do, that's why we're here. We..."
  "Just stop. We both know you want my image and my fame to make money off of. Well, that's fine with me --"
  He smiled.
  "-- but there are certain conditions."
  "You will publish what I've written, and what I will write, not pap designed to fill pages so you can plaster my pictures all over everything. You might not make as much money, but..."
  "Wait a minute Mr. Bard..."
  "You wait just a minute! You want me to write what you dictate to me. Well, I won't do it. You want my image, well I'll let you use it, but I will write what I want to write. If that is not good enough for you, then there will be no deal."
  "But what..."
  "Have you actually read anything from my website?"
  "Well then, fortunately I have some samples here. I suggest starting out with a collection of my short fantasy stories and going from there. There's enough for you to reject some and still have a reasonable length book."
  "Well, I'll see what I can do. If it's unpublishable..."
  "Then it will remain unpublished. Fair?"
  "I guess we can take a look at it."
  "You can read a PC formatted ZIP disk with Word 2000 files?"
  "Then I'll just copy them for you and you can look them over."
  He nodded.
  I turned and copied the files. "I look forward to hearing from you then."
  "We'll see."
  I handed him the ZIP disk and he left.
  March 22
  Yes, yes yes! The publisher called back and the deal is a go. And they want me to finish Pricing Immortality. At least they've read my stuff but unfortunately I'll never know now if I would have been good enough on my own, but I think it's best to take what I can get. And, with their planned campaign, I will be in the public eye which should help the whole Changeling situation. So I can't really complain. They also want all the stuff taken off my website since they're publishing it, and I can't argue with that either. I told them I'll take care of it tonight and tomorrow they'll send somebody around with the contracts which I'll look over and hopefully sign.
  I should probably get an agent to handle this, but at this point it's more important to me to get my picture, my existence out there, to prevent what I fear Bluenight is going to cause with his scheme.
  So why do I feel dirty?

part 9
 2 3 4
5 6 7
8 9