by Charles M. Bonanno

Yo! Down here!

Man, the freakin' gym is packed! I thought I'd never get in. Thanks for holding my seat.

No problem. Besides, you still owe me ten bucks for your ticket.

I'll pay ya next week. I'm kinda tapped out right now.

Really? What about that envelope the postman delivered to the frat house yesterday? Wasn't there a check inside from your folks?

Yeah, but I had to send most of it to the dean's office. I'm still a couple grand short on what that judge said I owe him. He sure went postal when we torched his car.

We? There's no we here, dude. There's just you. I told you that harebrained scheme wouldn't work. You can't launch a dragon into the stratosphere by feeding him junk food and lighting off one of his farts!

Made a nice bang, though. That jet flame must've been at least ten feet long.

It was twelve. I measured it. I wanted to know how far behind that thing I was when... my hair caught on fire!!!

Chill, bro. You're making people look at us. It wasn't all that bad.

"Wasn't all that bad," you say? You... got us stomped on by a ticked-off scaly monster with a charbroiled butt!


You... got us fingerprinted and thrown in jail for second-degree assault!

Right again.

You... got us kicked out of college for arson and destruction of private property!

Sad, but true.

You... got us stuck doing two hundred hours of community service!

You're batting a thousand so far, my man. But didn't my folks make bail and hire that lawyer to beg 'em to give us a second chance? Not to mention, didn't my old man get fang-face to stop threatening to quote ... freeze our dicks solid and snap 'em off ... unquote if we ever lit a flame within a hundred yards of him again?

Thanks for reminding me. There's a army of campus security rent-a-cops running around out there just waiting to catch me with a match or cigarette fighter in my pocket. They're taking bets to see how far out the main gates they can drop kick me if they do. And...

And, what?

That emergency room doctor shaved my head! It's just beginning to grow back!

Didn't Mary-Anne invite you over for a pool party with her sorority sisters 'cause they thought your bald head was sexy? And didn't you two spend a romantic weekend alone at her folk's summer cottage afterwards? I know for a fact that she'd never even given you a second look before.

Geeze, you're right. Thanks dude!

What are best friends for?

Speaking about money, how much do you still owe him?

About fifteen hundred. I had to sell my brand-new handheld to make a down payment.

Brutal! I know how much you loved that thing.

Tell me about it. I feel like I've lost a brain lobe.

By the way, did I miss much?

Nah, just a couple warm-up matches by second stringer wannabees. The CBS news van just drove up. They're still setting up to uplink the main bout for the evening news.

I still can't figure out how this second rate college got someone like Alexander Leipold to compete against local talent. I know this match is nothing more than unofficial fun and games, but why'd he bother to attend a hick-town event that's unlikely to kick start his career? Didn't he already win a medal at the Sydney Olympics back in 2K?

A gold medal to be exact. Germany's first freestyle wrestling win in forty years in the seventy-six kg final. By then he'd already been a world champion for six years.

Really? Wow! A major Kahuna. I'm really confused now.

The I.O.C. didn't like what they found floating inside that little plastic cup after he pissed in it. They took the medal back and gave it to the guy who came in second.

Ouch! What was it? Wacky weed? Colombian nose candy?

Nope. Just enough steroids to turn Pee-wee Herman into another Schwarzenegger, or make a guy's pride and joy shrink down to the size of a cocktail weenie.

Double ouch!

He denied taking any performance enhancing drugs, of course.

Of course. We... I meant they... always do. Hey, where's fuzzy?


You know, Sly. The squirrel guy. Five foot something, claws, covered in fur, buck teeth, and a whooping big tail sticking out of his ass. Kinda hard to lose in a crowd, if ya get my drift. Where's he hiding? I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't have the nuts to come down from his tree and compete against someone like Leipold.

Shhhh! Keep the non-PC language down to a low roar, dude! Look who's sitting a couple rows above you!

Damn! Thanks for the late warning. What's he doing here?

Where'd ya think the dean would be? This is probably the biggest sporting event this stick-in-the-mud college has ever hosted. I bet most of Europe is waiting to watch their bad-boy cream Sly when CBS starts transmitting live.

What the..? Why'd they dim the lights?

Alex said something about artificial light bothering his eyes. Except for the competition and staging areas, they're gonna be keeping the rest of the gym pretty dark from now on.

Alex? Since when are you on a first name basis with an Olympic wrestling star?

I didn't say that. The crowd noise must've made you hear wrong. Pass me some of that popcorn, will ya?

Come on. Who ya think you're trying to fool? We've been best buds since kindergarden. And you've just gotta be the worst liar in the known universe. Now wipe that smile off your face and...

Damn! He's coming down! Don't say anything. Let me do the talking.


The dean! Zip it! I'll clue you in after he's gone.

Evening, gentlemen. I trust you're both enjoying the show.

Yes, sir.

Same here... sir.

I must say I had my doubts about you two, but this idea of yours has turned out wonderfully. The governor is overjoyed with the pre-election publicity he's going to get for co-sponsoring this event. He just phoned to let me know that our budget increase request for next year's athletics program is guaranteed. Thank you both.

You can always count on us, sir.

Right... what he said.

How about we all walk down to my office after the match? Maybe it's time to let bygones be bygones. I'll type a quick letter absolving you both of all remaining financial obligations for that unfortunate dragon mishap...

Thank you!

Right O!

... and we can talk about expunging those letters-of-reprimand from your permanent records. Let's see. You've got..?

That'd be eight, sir.

Hah! I've still got ya beat by three!

Mum's the word, remember?!

Woops, sorry!

Is there a problem?

No... no problem. Things couldn't be better.


Very well. I'd best get back to my seat. I need to go over my notes and get ready for my TV interview when our boy wins. He will win... won't he?

It's in the bag, sir.

Huh? What's in what bag?

Shut up, dipweed!

Very well. See you both soon.

Okay, he's gone.

Damn. That was freaky. He actually smiled at us. What the heck have you gotten us into?

Oh... nothing.

Fine. Be that way. Lets see what happens when lizard-lips finds this on his bed with your name carved on it.

Put that lighter away! You wanna get me turned into a Popsicle?!


You know that two hundred hours of community service the judge dumped on us?

Are you kidding? What ya think I've been doing for four hours every evening since we got back? Just because you're better at working with computers, I've got to mop every floor in the admin building while you sit on your fat ass doing paperwork.

Paperwork? Moi? Surely you jest!

So? What are you doing locked inside that office?

Mostly playing Duke Nukem and chatting on the Web. I did the job in about six hours, but I've got 'em believing I'm still hard at work straightening up the mess they made of the main server and LAN lines. It's amazing how bad things can get when you're too cheap to pay for a good system analyst.

That's it? That's your big secret?

Not exactly.

Wait! Don't tell me. You ran into Alex in a chat room?

Bingo! The poster-boy for Ritalin brain damage figured it out all by himself!

Very funny. I wonder... do you think that Draco look-a-like will be laughing when he finds his hoard missing? I'm pretty sure I can arrange it. Likewise, I can probably arrange for him to find your driver's license in its place too.

Gimme that! What the heck were you doing with it?

I borrowed it last night to go buy a six-pack and some smokes. I've still got to wait another three months before I can get my suspended license back. It's so freakin' unfair!

Weren't you caught drag racing that junk pile you call a car through a residential area...


Didn't you lose control and destroy the mayor's rose garden...

It was only a bunch of stupid plants!

... and six of her antique Irish pottery garden gnomes...

Those things put the ugh in ugly!

... and her prize-winning pedigree toy poodle?

Oversized pink-dyed barking rat!

Well? You've got anything else to add?

Ahhh... can I borrow your car and license again tonight? I promised Debbie I'd take her to a movie.

Twenty bucks. Cash. Anything happens and I tell the cops you stole 'em.

Deal! You're the man! So tell me. What's the skinny with this Alex?

It was kinda weird. You still got that chat room address I gave you last week?

I've got it written down somewhere. Ain't it the one that goes something... something... this college... something... something or other?

Yeah, that's the one. I'd just logged on when this guy started asking about us by name and...

I didn't do it! I was miles away! She looked at least eighteen! It must've been my evil twin!

Take a chill pill, Mr. Guilty Conscience. Did I say he was accusing us of doing something wrong?

Sorry. Reflex.

Like I was saying... this guy started asking questions about us. He'd heard about our... I mean your attempt to blast Rodan into orbit... and he was real interested in the other changelings roaming around campus too.

What's the deal? You think he's another weirdo looking for some kinky action?

That was my first thought, ya know. And it's not like there's a shortage of fur and scale freaks sneaking around campus already. But he didn't sound that way. He seemed more interested in how they got screwed up in the first place.

You phoned him?

Not at first. We e-mailed back and forth a couple times and I sorta hinted I might know the people... namely us... he wanted to speak to. He eventually sent me his phone number in Germany and invited me to call collect.

Well, what he say?

See, that's the problem. I never really got to speak to him directly. The same warter that answered his e-mail had to translate for us.

Warter? What in heck is a warter? That German for coach?

Do I look like a translator for the stupid UN? I think it means something like keeper, but I could be wrong. Maybe that's what they call a coach or trainer over there.

He's got someone answering his e-mail and telephone? You sure it wasn't some comedian pullin' your leg?

I checked. The e-mail address is the same one posted on his website, and I got an international telephone operator to confirm the phone number too.

Okay, that's good enough for me. But why didn't he speak directly to you?

Search me. I could hear him yakkin' away in the background, but I couldn't understand a single damned word. You know that old fart that played Count Dracula in all those late late black an' white movies?

You mean Bela (I want to drink your blood) Lugosi?

Yeah, but worse. A mouth full of marbles and wheezing like a ninety year old German with a bad case of asthma. Weird.

Ya got that right. So how'd it go?

I'd call and one of his warter would...

He's got more than one coach? Why so many?

He was kinda evasive about it, but it sounded like he'd gotten into some kind of trouble.

More drugs?

I don't think so. But they're sure keeping him on a short leash. He can't take a crap without four or five of 'em warter following him around and he needs government approval to travel.

Ya think they're worried about terrorists attacking big-name athletes?

That's possible, but I'm guessing it's disappointed fans they're afraid of. It's not like he'd be the first sports star to get knifed, or worse, by a ticked off former fan.

So what's he like?

Your typical jock, I guess. There isn't a thing he doesn't know about wrestling. He use'ta spend a several hours every day just surfin' to check out the competition and scan the dozen or so Lists he lurked on.

Sports star and computer nerd, huh?

Pretty much.

But why'd you say 'use to'? He got himself a new hobby?

That's one of those things he was real vague about. I tried a dozen different ways to squeeze the answer out of him, but he stonewalled me every time. He said I'd understand when we finally meet face to face.

Cool! I'd like to meet him... damn! It's them again!


Over there. Under the basketball scoreboard. See 'em? There's at least six or eight in that bunch.

Right... they're at it again.

They've been following you around too?

Yeah, ever since I got back. Ignore them. They'll get bored and go bother someone else soon enough.

Not soon enough for me. You see the psycho bitch sitting next to Marty pointing the video camera at us?

That's Monica. She always dresses like Morticia Adams. A real Goth. I think she's a religious study major.

Major nut case more like it! She almost drowned me in the cafeteria yesterday. She dumped a bucket over my head and said it was holy water. Called me the Anti-Christ and took off running when I started puckin' up pea soup.

Dude! Keep away! I saw that movie! That's a sign of demonic possession!

I was eating pea soup when she clobbered me, doofus!

Oh. That's all right then. Hummmm...

Hummmm... what?

I was wondering who chalked those hex signs all over my car. You don't think..?

More than likely. I'd love to know why that bunch is following us around like bill collectors. And now it looks like she's running with your old friends Marty and Susan.

Why don't ya report her? She's certifiable.

Get real. After all the times they've dragged me into the security office, you expect 'em to take my word against someone?

You're probably right. They promised to tar an' feather me if I ever showed my face down there again.

Don't take those jokers serious. They're just messin' with ya.

That's what you think. They showed me the five-gallon bucket of road tar and sack of pillow feathers they've got stashed away in a supply closet.

I still think they're ribbin' you.

The bucket had my name on it!

That's funny!

The sack had your name on it.

Oh... right. Lets not go bother 'em guys anytime soon. Okay?

You read my mind.

Go on then. You were telling me about your phone calls.

There ain't much else to say. We'd chew the fat about shit in general and I'd e-mailed him everything I could find about the changelings in the US. You name it, he wanted it; bios, before an' after photos, newspaper clippings, etc etc etc.

Curious pastime for a jock, don't ya think? Even for a European jock that's a computer nerd.

I thought so too. And you should see the photos he sent back. Some of the things running around over there are pure piss-your-pants nightmare stuff.

Worse than ol' rocket butt?

Makes him look like a G-rated Disney cartoon character.

Damn. Thanks a heap. There go my summer vacation plans.

Smart move. Even Duke Nukem would crap his virtual skivvies if he ran into one of those things in a dark alley.

Is that why he's here? Are you telling me he came all the way here just to check out our homegrown creepy crawlies for himself?

My bet it's just Sly.

Sly? What's so special about peanut-breath? We've got flying dragons, horny centaurs, sexy gargoyle babes, and Alien freakin' movie-monsters coming out of our damned ears. Why'd he care about a guy who's part squirrel?

Don't have a clue. Sly's info was the last I uploaded. I almost left him out 'cause I thought Alex wouldn't be interested.

And he was?

You should've heard him. One of those warter guys called a few minutes after I uploaded the first snapshot. Alex was carryin' on so loud in the background I couldn't understand what he wanted at first.

Which was?

Everything about Sly you could possibly imagine. I must've uploaded every photo and story about him in the college and local papers. It took me days to scan and OCR it all.

Sure sounds like a lot of free work for some guy you've never seen.

Free? Since when have you known me to do anything for free? After a few subtle hints he sent me a little gratuity to compensate me for my time and help. After all, we all can't have rich parents like some people I know.

'Help'? What kinda 'help'?

Oh... nothing. A little of this, a little of that... ouch! That hurt! Why'd you punch me in the arm?!

Cut the crap! What ya do?!

He needed my help to get over here. He wanted to see Sly in person.

So? What's the big deal? Mr. Ex-Gold Medal too high and mighty to make his own travel arrangements?

Nothing like that. Just a bunch of the usual bureaucratic red tape. He was having trouble gettin' his passport and travel Visa. The German government didn't want him going to the States without a local sponsor in case something went wrong.

That's just typical. Branded for eternity. They caught ya with a little something and you're number one every cop's hit list from here to Timbuktu. And who's the lucky guy who put their ass on the line to sponsor him?

Ahhh... you.


Gimme a second and I'll explain.

This had better be good.

It's like this... without a sponsor it'd take forever to get him here. So I sorta accidentally faxed paperwork... with the dean's electronic signature... from his desktop while his secretary was out to lunch.

You figured out his password in an hour?

Pleeeaasseee! The guy's an idiot. Ya wanna know what it is?

Sure. It might come in handy some day.

Get this: one... two... three... four... five... six... seven... and eight!

Heah! That's my password too!

I rest my case.

Very funny. I still don't see what this has to do with me.

It's not like I did it on purpose, I swear. I was filling out the university sponsorship and insurance liability forms when she came back early and I pressed the SEND button.


Just to fill the blanks, I'd typed our names and social security numbers as witnesses. I was gonna change 'em before...

You didn't.

I did.

That's it! You and your friggin' computers! I'm gonna rip you into a zillion pieces and feed what's left to scale belly!

Don't blow a gasket. It's not like anyone ever reads 'em stupid things anyway. Alex's gonna be flying back to Germany tomorrow and those forms will be dumped in a filing cabinet never to see the light of day again.

You'd better be right. If the dean finds out...

Don't worry, he won't. As far as he knows the college has no legal connection with gettin' Alex into the country. I just told him we knew a famous European athlete who wanted to visit our quaint little school. And that he'd win valuable brownie points with the Gov. if he gave the okay when the passport people called. By the time I was done the jerk thought it was his idea to invite Alex over to wrestle the overgrown tree rat.

Man, I've got a bad feeling about this. And you got some nerve sayin' my schemes are crazy.

Hey, look. Here comes the walkin' fur coat and his coach. They're stopping right in front of us. Why don't you take these binoculars and keep an eye on Monica, while I try to hear what those two are saying?

Fine by me.


Let's go down the list one more time, Sly.

Okay, coach.

Did you shower this morning?

Yes. And I used that special shampoo they sent again, too.

What was it like?

Pretty good, actually. No scent and the label said one hundred percent organic ingredients with zip artificial preservatives. My fur hasn't ever felt so smooth and silky. It's a shame they only sent enough for a couple uses. Could you ask them where I can buy some more?

I already did. I phoned their cellular number and spoke to someone just before the plane landed last night. The guy who mailed the bottle said they'd already given us all you'd ever need.

You know, I'm more than a bit offended about the whole deal. Be honest coach. Do I smell?

How many times do I gotta repeat myself, Sly? It's not you. It's Leipold. If ya ask me he's a little uncomfortable facing off against a Changeling. As far as I can tell he hasn't competed against anyone, let alone someone like you, in some time.

That's still no excuse...

I know, Sly. I know. I was taken a bit aback too. I've never been told that one my wrestlers must bathe with a special shampoo just before a match. You'd think he was afraid of catching something.

I don't have fleas!!! It's not my fault I look like a $#%@#(# squirrel!!!

Damn it, Sly. Will you calm down? Don't blow it now when we're so close. We've both got a lot riding on this match.

I'm sorry. It's just that I'm so tense I could start climbin' the rafters any second... literally.

I know what you mean. A chance like this falls into a wrestler's lap about once a generation. This can only be a win-win situation for us. You're good kid. Damned good. Just show some of that skill against Leipold and I guarantee you'll be on the next USA Olympic wrestling team. You've got my word on it.

You mean I don't gotta win?

Did I say that?! You'd better give me one hundred and ten percent or I'm gonna chase your fuzzy tail around campus with a hedge trimmer! You're gonna take him down so fast the referees will need to watch a slow-mo instant replay to see how ya did it! You're gonna beat him so badly his great-great-grandkids will be ashamed to carry his name! You're gonna go out there...

Okay! Okay! I hear you coach. I promise to do my best.

Fine, but not one more word of this 'don't gotta win' garbage. We're goin' to make the cut for the US Olympic team next year or die trying. You hear me, mister?!

Yes, sir!

Good. That's what I wanna hear. Let's finish this. He should be out here any second. What's next on the list? Here it is. Did you file down your claws?

Like you said. See? Nice and dull. Couldn't scratch him if I tried.

And your toe claws?

Them too.

Mouth guard.

I never wrestle without one... and that goes way back before I changed. What's Mr. Big Shot afraid of? Does he think I'm gonna bite and give him rabies?

Give it a rest, will ya? Why would anyone fly all this way to compete against a known Changeling if they were so small-minded? Can you explain that?

I'll do you one better coach. Can you explain why he's barricaded inside the locker room with an army of goons?

What goons?

The same shin-headed, jackbooted, tattooed, metal-pierced, African safari clothed goons that slammed the door in my face when I tried to get his autograph!

When this happen?

I'd say about ten minutes ago.

I've seen a lot of psycho play-acting before a major match, but that sounds just plain weird. What's with the costumes? They think this is the WWF?

Don't ask me. I'm just glad I wasn't standing a few inches closer to that door. I came real close to losing teeth.

Just you wait. I'll straighten them out after the match. No one treats one of my athletes like that and gets away with it.

Give 'em hell coach.

I'll teach 'em to show some respect. They're just lucky they didn't hurt you. They didn't... did they?

No, sir. The guy just slammed the door after someone inside started yelling and banging on the door.

Yelling? Someone was yelling at you?

Your guess is as good as mine. It was all in high speed German or somethin'. The only English words I heard were my name and meet. Whomever was yelling keep saying, 'Meet, Sly! Meet, Sly! Meet, Sly!', over and over.

Well, that's good. At least someone in there wants to meet you. Now take off your jacket so I can check your colors. It's almost starting time.

I still don't see why I had to change my colors to orange an' blue just because he insists on wearing dark green. Those colors clash with my fur.

Ask him yourself. He should be out here any second... second... second...

What's the matter coach? Coach? You're looking kinda pale. You okay? Why are you pointing behind me?


Ah... dude?

Leave me alone. They're up to something. Now they've all got video cameras.

I really think you should put those binoculars down and take a look...

What part of 'leave me alone' don't ya understand? I'm not takin' my eyes off that bunch until I figure out what they're up to.

Okay. Just a question. Do you remember that movie Anaconda?

Yeah. So? Why bring up that Hollywood trash? It's not like anyone's stupid enough to believe snakes can grow to the size of telephone poles and swallow people whole.

That's a relief. I'd hate to believe that thing trying to eat Sly exists.

What the heck are you..? Holy shit!!!!


It's the End Times I tell you! And two of the horsemen of the apocalypse are right over there!

Only two horse's asses if you ask me, Monica. What do you think, Susan?

I concur, Marty. A direct religious correlation is highly unlikely and well beyond the scope of our thesis paper.

Agreed. We'll let Monica and her group explore that aspect of our study. Did you bring the results of last night's computer modeling? I'd like to see how they correlate with our previous statistical analysis of this event.

Give me a second. I've got the computer printout right here... somewhere.

Well? We haven't got all night, and, from the look of things, neither does Sly.

Here we go. What do you want to know?

Just give me a fast rundown.

Subjects kicked out of college again... ninety nine point seven seven two percent probability.

Now there's a classic waste of computer runtime.

What about afterwards, Susan? Round it off this time.

Subjects incarcerated in correctional facility... eighty four percent.

And the dean?

Searching for a new job... seventy nine percent.

What about their latest victim? What about Sly?

Insufficient data. I suggest continued observation. Sly's still putting up a good fight, and there's always the possibility those security guards can yank him out before it finishes swallowing.

You heard her people. Keep them cameras rollin'! We're all getting extra credit on this!

Marty? Susan?

Yes? What is it? Is there something wrong with the sound recording equipment, Bruno?

Nope. It's running fine. I just finished reviewing what the microphone picked up outside the locker room.

You mean what Sly heard after they slammed the locker door?

That's it. It really wasn't, 'Meet, Sly! Meet, Sly! Meet, Sly!'

Go ahead. Don't keep us in suspense. Lets hear it.

It was actually, 'Sly, meat! Sly, meat! Sly, meat!'

Well, duh.