Opening shot: You see a dome, several hundred yards in diameter,
and hear the theme music, the electronically-distorted drone of
a didjeridoo over a complex, chromatic percussion riff. "SurviFur"
logo zooms out from nothing to take up most of the screen, as
the camera rises to reveal quite a few more domes. Some of them
touch, even overlap a bit. Altogether, the whole structure must
be miles across. Voice narration begins: "Twenty-eight people,
divided into seven tribes. All dropped off in the middle of the
BioSphere. Each must survive the environment..." scene: what can
only be described as a machine shop from hell, "...traps..." scene:
a woman shrinking down to become a squirrel, "...and each other
to win five million dollars and the title of... SurviFur!"
The screen shows each tribe in sequence, beginning with the name of the tribe. When they reach the third tribe, Harlem, the following video sequence plays:
Before and below you are five people riding in a well-lit subway car. Four are blindfolded; the fifth, who happens to be a human-sized squirrel, is not. Camera pans over to each of the four in turn.
The first is a centaur, male, the colour of his lower body that of pale cream, wearing a heavy polo-style shirt of dark green over his upper half. His blindfold is a wide strip of cloth with a FOSTER-GRANT logo on it. He is carrying what appears to be a brightly-colored rifle of odd design (complete with complex sight and laser targeting) over one shoulder, and a metal toolbox in his other hand. Around his neck is a necklace with a fist-sized, dim, waxy-grayish looking rock hanging from it. On the bottom of the screen is written MICHAEL.
The second is an anthropomorphic housecat, female. Her blindfold bears the legend, SLEEP-EEZ. Her wonderfully soft fur is rich, thick, fluffy, and purest white; she looks so incredibly cute and fragile. Clenched tight to her chest is a cloth bag, but she is otherwise unclothed. Her ears are pulled tight against her skull and her tail is flat against her left leg. She appears to be shuddering a bit with nervousness or fear. On the bottom of the screen is written MARY-ANNE.
The third person is standing; his back is to the camera, so while it's clear that something is written on his blindfold, you can't read it. He's barely four feet tall, keeping a firm two-handed grip on the support post he's leaning into with legs apart for stable posture. His black hair is short with the sort of reflected highlights you see on panther fur, and goes all the way down his neck into his long-sleeved T-shirt. The most remarkable feature is his oddly pointed ears that stretch noticeably out from either side of his head. Followers of earlier SurviFur events will recognize him as a former contestant, and many others will recognize him from his lawsuit against SurviFur Inc. A somewhat large and full front-and-back "fanny pack" belt is looped around his right arm. On the bottom of the screen is written NORMAN.
The last person is an African-American male (SurviFur Inc. wants it known that they discriminate on the basis of neither race nor species) with B.E.T. on his blindfold. He's leaning back in one seat with a confident smile, one leg crossed, and arms stretched out along the seat backs to either side. He's big, well over six feet tall and looks to weigh around 300 pounds. One hand holds a kind of harness tricked out with a multitude of pockets, and the other holds a long staff. On the bottom of the screen is written MALCOLM.
The train hisses to a stop and the doors ding open. The camera view tilts to look out the entrance until a very large poster advertising the latest Ford SUV model -- the Extremis -- is filling most of the view as the group steps out.
Other tribes parade through the opening credits similarly, after which the camera cuts to the squirrel, who has been seen (but not identified) with each of the tribes. He's wearing only a cowboy hat that matches his reddish-brown fur. Unlike all of the tribesmen, he is not blindfolded. Although he's easily recognizable, he gets a subtitle anyway: YOUR HOST, SLY SQUIRREL. Finally the narrator concludes with, "Welcome to the first original SurviFur challenge!"
"Everybody out -- and watch your step," said the squirrel.
Mary-Anne was the first to speak: "Where are we?" Her quavering voice sweetly squeaked with barely-suppressed fear.
"Don't worry, we're almost there. Just a few steps more, and then an escalator..."
"Oh God, not an escalator!" mumbled Michael. Escalators just don't feel stable (which I've always found odd, since I have four supports, but there it is...).
"Can you hurry?" Mary-Anne asked. Her voice was sweet and so highly pitched that it is almost a squeak. "I don't like the dark..." At least not yet.
"As you wish."
The squirrel led the blindfolded quartet out of the car onto the platform, which bore a goodly number of advertising posters (for DREAMGRASS cigarettes, BLACK TIDE pesticides, etc ad nauseum). Then the squirrel bowed to the camera with a flourish (not that he could be seen by the people actually in his presence) and announced, "Welcome to your new home in the BioSphere, 8th wonder of the modern world, home of the real, the original, the true SurviFur contest. The final SurviFur will receive the transformation of his and her choice. And." Dramatic pause. "A tax-paid prize of Five... Million... Dollars!"
Michael immediately asked, "That would be in US funds, I take it?"
"Naturally! But now it's time for us to make our way into the BioSphere, built with the generous support of Squirrley -- the ultimate thirst quencher for the hyperactive!" Here, Sly turned his head to face the camera; he rattled off his next words as quickly as you'd expect a squirrel to speak. "Be sure to also try Squirrley Lite, with all the flavor and none of the calories, and Squirrley XTreme, with that extra-exceptional boost you get from triple the caffeine and triple the sugar!"
Bloody product placements, Michael thought. I just want to begin so we can get on with the fun bits.
"Speaking of kind support, we can't forget Virtual Biotechnologies. That's right, Virtual Biotechnologies, the makers of Mutopia, the transformative treatment without which SurviFur itself would be impossible! Remember -- when you're ready to change your life, you're ready for Mutopia." Here, the squirrel finally turned away from the camera. "And it looks like we're all ready now, so let's move out!"
The squirrel carefully guided each contestant along the platform. The first was Michael, whose horseshoes clattered loudly on the platform tiles, stopping only when Sly let go, leaving him standing at the base of the escalator. Next came Mary-Anne, shuffling silently and letting her tail almost drag. Third was Norman, who'd gotten his fanny pack locked in place around his waist; the camera now revealed that his fingernails were distinctly pointed. His footsteps were soundless. Bringing up the rear was Malcolm, who quietly whistled a technopop arrangement of a Bach piece that was popular a couple of years ago, and tapped out a percussive accompaniment with his staff. The platform's overhead data displays ran more advertisements, curiously enough. Advertisements such as:
TSAT Interzine with NEW transformations every week!
Zen Diet -- First there is a dinner, then there is no dinner, then you're full
Garanimals for Tots
REANIMATED LIFE Interzine -- when pictures JUST won't do
Wouldn't you really rather fire a Steyrmacht?
...and many more. Many, many more.
When they were all standing before the escalator in a neat row, the squirrel finally continued: "All of you but Michael here, reach forward and grab the person in front of you."
Hmm, the person ahead of me sounds like he's got hooves, and smells like a horse, so that's probably who this Michael is, Mary-Anne thought. She reached forward with her right hand, slowly and carefully and nervously, until she touched the rump of the centaur. Meanwhile she twisted her tail around her right leg to keep it out of reach of who- or what-ever might be behind her. That's strange -- it's a rump? Oh, what the heck! Then Mary-Anne let her dainty (and sharp) claws slide out of her paws and squeezed the centaur's rump as she dug in.
Michael's human torso whipped around to face the cat. He shouted out, "Hey!" as he brushed his tail against Mary-Anne's arm and raised his right rear hoof, but then let it fall so that the metal horseshoe clattered loudly on the platform.
I needed that. "I'm sorry, so sorry! I didn't mean it. Can you ever forgive me?" Mary-Anne's voice was sweet and innocent enough to make Ebenezer Scrooge cry before that fateful Christmas.
Michael sighed, "That's..." and winces, "ok... ow... please, can you pull your claws out?"
"Oh! Sorry, I'm sorry." Sucker. Only then did Mary-Anne extract her claws.
Malcolm nodded slightly. She's got to be faking -- nobody acts like that for real.
Michael let out a deep breath of relief.
Finally Sly spoke: "Enough of that; it's time to go up. Watch your step now..."
With Michael leading, the group slowly walked up to the escalator, followed by the camera. More advertising posters filled the frame as they went along, each in turn: FERRARI computers, SNICKERS candy bars, DELTA-GAMMA space heaters, etc. Michael very nearly shied away but managed to get on, only banging one rear fetlock on the moving steps. He clenched the moving handrail tight. Mary-Anne followed daintily and gracefully, neither stumbling nor missing a step. Norman moved efficiently and economically, and Malcolm just kept whistling merrily as he went on. Sly bounced around behind the quartet.
Dreading the escalator, pictures of stumbling and tripping ran through Michael's mind. I wish I could see. Carefully he released the white-knuckled deathgrip he had on the handrail, then slowly slid his hand forward so that he could tell when the escalator leveled off. Which it did soon enough, and he managed to get off without stumbling too badly.
The rest followed, with Mary-Anne never missing a step. Norman followed her example, albeit without her inhuman grace, and Malcolm vaulted a bit on his pole to dismount.
"Now step forward and soon you'll be in the BioSphere, built with funds and technical assistance from Biogen." Now Sly faced the camera: "Yes, Biogen -- the world's largest producer of rhinoviruses for your protection!"
Camera cuts to a nice woodland scene. It consists of a clearing about 20 metres across with an overabundance of grass and wildflowers. The light seems to be sunlight, but slightly off somehow, and there are the sounds of birds singing in the trees, along with the chattering of squirrels. There are four men, three of them carrying cameras around the edge of the clearing, and all are facing a large rectangular metal structure at one edge of the clearing. The structure's roof is covered with grass. The side of the structure facing the clearing is a doorway, and the camera zooms in as figures start walking out.
Michael relaxed visibly when he stepped onto solid ground. The others followed.
"Welcome to the BioSphere! Security for the entrance provided by Masterlock in cooperation with Pinkerton and EDS." As with previous statements of this kind, Sly faced the camera while reciting this paid advertisement. "In a few minutes a cameraman will remove your blindfolds and then, members of the glorious HARLEM tribe, you have a day to find your camp and get settled in. I look forward to seeing you at Tribal Council tonight, so we can get the fifth SurviFur started. Good luck, SurviFurs!" The squirrel turned and went back into the doorway. As he vanished from sight, the grass-topped entrance sank back into the ground until it could no longer be seen.
The four figures remained silent as a human SurviFur crewman stepped up to untie their blindfolds. His task done, the crewman turned and walked back out of view. Norman's eyes proved to be quite large, and without whites; he immediately got dark glasses out of his pack and put them on. The glasses had side-panels and an elastic cord to hold them in place. The other three blinked their eyes, then looked around. Malcolm took the opportunity to put his harness on, thinking, So that's why Mike didn't like the escalator. I'm really going to miss him when he loses it in the mountains.
A long moment passed, punctuated by the song of birds, before Michael broke the silence: "Well, I guess it's time for introductions. I'm Michael, so, ah, who's next?"
"I am Norman." The short man's voice was quite deep and had a distinctly growly timbre. "This isn't my first time in SurviFur; I hope my experience will prove helpful to the tribe."
Mary-Anne looked at the ground and blinked her eyes, her tail waving nervously. "I'm Mary-Anne, and I'm really sorry, really, about..." I have to remember not to push the innocence too far...
"Don't worry. Accidents will happen, and we do have to work together. And..."
"My name's Malcolm, and I'll answer to Mal. What's with the toy gun, Mike?" he asked, pointing at the garish rifle.
Michael chuckled. "It's a squirt gun. Likely some of the traps will be liquid, correct?"
Mal nodded. 'Likely', my ass. Wonder how much research he did? He gestured for the centaur to continue.
"Well, once we get this baby loaded, we can zap the enemy at 200 yards. Ain't technology great?"
Mal's grin matched Michael's. "You said it, friend."
The diabolical smile inside Mary-Anne's head never touched her face. I'm going to have to keep that horse around for a while.
"Speaking of toys, what did you bring?" Michael asked, referring to the multiply-pocketed harness Mal wore. Pointing to a pocket of a particular shape, he went on, "That wouldn't happen to contain a hand-held computer, by any chance?"
Mal fiddled with the pocket's latch for a moment, then held up a palmtop computer with a coated wire leading from it to its pocket. "Naah. Just a tiny little entertainment center to while away the boring hours."
Michael looked skeptically down at him. No doubt. "Games?"
Mal's smile never faltered. "Sure. Oh, and a few books, too."
A great sigh burst from Michael's lungs as he shook his head. "Oookay. Let's get some order around here then. We're all here to win, right?"
"Now, we know that the purpose here is to make sure that we never lose a challenge. And to insure that, we have two methods. The first is aggressive assaults on the other tribes, and the second is to work together like a well-oiled machine."
"Obvious. What's your point?" Mal asked.
Michael strode forward until he was towering over Mal. "In a perfect world -- which this will be -- we will arrive at the merger as a single, indivisible unit. Together, the four of us will outnumber everybody else put together. Then, one by one, we'll take them each out until only we are left."
Mal was visibly unimpressed. "First, why should we listen to you? Second, why should we want you around at the end?"
"The person who is voted off third to last will walk away with $10,000. The person voted off before him or her walks away with nothing. By co-operation, we will win each challenge and thus the worst of us gets $10,000. The prize goes up from there."
"Yeah, yeah, we all got the same briefing. Like I said, why you?"
"Because I've been honest, and somebody has to do it. Why should we listen to you?"
Mal managed to keep from scratching his head. He's bigger than I am, and he's actually volunteering to be the obvious target? Thank you, God! He smiled and shrugged as he answered: "No reason at all. Alright -- you want to be leader? Sounds good to me."
Somehow Mary-Anne managed to keep the glee off her face and away from her tail (although the tip started zipping back and forth). He'll make a perfect figurehead! "I'll stand behind you. It's the least I can do after what I did to you. And I really, really am sorry!" And with a little subtle behind-the-scenes prompting, this pompous ass will look like a domineering madman -- making sure I'm a shoe-in. I hope he thinks his $10,000 is worth it.
Crisply nodding, Norman stated his position: "I'm certainly glad this issue has been decided so quickly, and with so little dissent from the others. The centaur is right. We must work together, and a proper chain of command is essential to effective organization. I'll follow you, sir."
The centaur smiled, but not for the reason you might think. Phase one is complete, he thought. First they get used to obeying me. Then, once we're the last four, they will automatically follow my not-so-safe orders and be transformed before they even realize what they're doing.
Mal looked around and then nodded. All the rope he needs to hang himself. "Looks unanimous," he said. Then he stepped into the middle of the other three and motioned for the others to lean forward to hear him, Michael twisting at his waist to pay attention. Mal did something to his palmtop faster than the eye could follow, and the screen changed from games and books to a customized Linux environment. Then he continued in a whisper, "This thing really is an entertainment center -- I just have a broader definition than most. See, I brought some tools to hack into their system."
"And?" Michael whispered.
With the tip of her tail whipping back and forth even faster, Mary-Anne slotted Mal. There's more here than I thought -- I'll have to keep him along, too.
Everybody leaned forward as Mal pressed some touch keys beneath the waterproof case and the small screen lit up.
"While we were in transit, this baby was working. The wireless connection really doesn't have the bandwidth to do what I want, but I think I've got a complete map of the place." Some more touches and a map appeared, too small to really see.
"Anything else?" Michael asked. Oh, I do like that. If he's gotten in, we can play all kinds of wonderful games. Sometimes I wish that Apple and Linux hadn't crushed Microsoft, so that I could still do this sort of thing myself.
More thoughts ran through Mal's mind. Now for the low-res map... If I play my cards right, they never need to know I own the entire network. "Just a little. Anyone want hardcopies? Yes? You got it." After checking to see that no cameramen were in position to see what was happening, Mal pressed another touch key and a five-inch-wide strip of paper started extruding itself out from the side of his machine. Within seconds, four copies of the map were printed out and distributed to the four tribesmen.
Norman looked thoughtfully at his map. "Definitely thinking outside the box. You know, I really don't think the production company would appreciate this."
Mal shrugged. "They screened everything we brought in. If they didn't want it in here, they should've stopped it before we got on the subway." And if they wanted their screening personnel to be effective, they shouldn't have hired anyone with blackmail material in their past.
Norman nodded. Mal went on: "Anyway... Aside from the map, I could only get a few procedures. There's a hell of a lot of data in the system, and like I said, wireless bandwidth sucks. Couldn't find a damn thing on the challenges and contests; I'll keep looking. The map was actually easy to grab, looks like it was part of the software for the transportation system. Oh, and they've got some ice, but it's pretty obsolete stuff."
Time for more innocence, Mary-Anne thought. "Ice?"
"Software protections, Miss Kitty."
Mary-Anne smiled, apparently at Mal's helpfulness. I already knew that, dear. And you probably already have everything, don't you? At least the one cameraman I was able to purchase should allow me to frame you -- you'd think that in this day and age, he and his secret lover would know that turning off the lights isn't enough to stop modern surveillance techniques. "I'll take your word for it." And then she blinked her large blue eyes and smiled at Mal. And until then, you're going to be a very useful tool.
Mal was not oblivious to Mary-Anne's reaction. Well, well. If I know social engineering -- and I bloody well ought to, considering how much I've done myself -- the kitty's a master. I wonder what her agenda is?
"Alright, check it out," Mal said, pointing out a spot on his copy of the map. "This is the entire layout, and yes, it does look like a bunch of circles. Each of the environments is walled off from the others, except for big archways where the circles intersect. Along the edge here is a range of low mountains; beside it is a small arctic waste ending at a large body of water that reaches to the edge of the dome. There's caves within the mountains, and a manmade site near the foothills at the edge. A stream flows down from the mountains into the river, here. Bordering the mountains in from the edge of the dome there's farmlands that are outlined by the stream on one side and light forest on the other. The stream finally feeds into a river that cuts across the whole damn place. On the riverbank opposite the mountains there's two more man-made sites, and the rest looks to be savannah." Mal shook his head with a sardonic smile. "Guess they thought they'd make the African-American feel at home."
Interesting comment, Michael thought. I wonder if he's embarrassed about his origins, or maybe fearful of becoming something native to the savannah? Have to remember that. "Would you happen to have unearthed the locations of any of the transformative traps?"
Only all of them, but you don't need to know that yet. "Sorry -- the transit map doesn't include that information." Mal frowned before continuing. "Which it really ought to, since you wouldn't want the backstage crew getting zapped by them. I'll bet the transit map only includes active traps; since none are active yet, nothing shows up. I'll have to go back in for it later."
Mary-Anne immediately noticed the 'it'. That's odd. Why did he refer to the traps in the singular? she asked herself. Is there a master control that he's gotten into?
Oblivious, Michael responded to Mal, "Hmm. Then why don't we set up camp along the shores of the river across from these two manmade sites," and he pointed at a section of the bank.
With what that water does? Christ, no! "You're thinking about water supply, right? But how do we know the river is safe?"
Michael paused for a moment. So you do know that, which suggests that my sources were correct. "You're right -- we don't. In fact, we don't really know if any of the water is safe, do we?" Although we probably both know that the stream is.
"That's right, but there's got to be some safe water in here somewhere. So how about where the stream joins the river? That way the woods are just across the stream and we've got two water sources nearby. If one has side-effects, we go with the other."
"And we're quite near most of the terrain types, so we can relocate if the traps get too intense."
Malcolm pictured the detailed topographic display he'd gotten and memorized. And there's a perfect hill there too. "That's right. Maps, people -- we don't want to wreck the pristine beauty of this place by littering, do we?" So saying, Mal collected all four printed maps and fed them to his palmtop, which clicketa-whirred their atoms back into its holding tanks without complaint.
Michael raised his voice back to normal, "Well then, let's get going. And grab anything edible you see while we're traveling. If we eat now, everything should be safely digested before the traps are enabled, which will make sure that there are no side effects. Now, who's got any wilderness survival skill?"
Norman was the only one to raise his hand. "I do, sir. Your orders?"
The centaur beamed. "Please, forage for us, won't you?"
"Of course." So saying, Norman went off ahead, collecting material from various plants and putting it into expandable containers from his pack.
Then Mal cheerily spoke up, "Well... looks like the game is afoot." I'll have to keep an eye on the horse's ass -- anyone who likes ordering people around that much could be a problem.
Mary-Anne watched Mal and secretly smiled. So what's behind that poker face, my big black cat-to-be? Could it be fear, hmmm? Fear of skill and competition? Well, a good weapon must be primed... She walked up beside Michael and grasped his arm, purposely keeping her claws sheathed, "Michael, I need to hold you -- I don't like the woods. Will you protect me?" and then she blinked her deep blue eyes and let the depths look up into Michael's eyes.
Michael shook his head and blinked his eyes (which were watering) as he slung the large squirt gun -- well, more of a rifle actually -- so that its strap hung off of his shoulder.
Good, the pheromone in the perfume affects even him -- his nose must be really sensitive, to have noticed the little I have on now.
"Ah, yes, of course," Michael said with a smile. I'll have to make sure that she gets voted off first once we're the last four; she's so cute that if she's in the final two, she will definitely win. But for now at least, I don't need to keep an eye on her. Damn allergies...
SurviFur SurviFur SurviFur SurviFur SurviFur
The view shifts to a hand-held steady-cam which follows the Harlem
Without speaking the four figures made their way out of the clearing and into the light forest. The trees grew taller and hid the sun; the songs of birds faded, to be replaced by the chitter of squirrels and chipmunks, and the hiss and rustle of leaves in the wind. After ten minutes or so, the tribe could begin to hear the babble of a brook, and soon they could make out the glint of light on water. Mal turned and the group walked for another four or five minutes until the ground began to dip and make its way down toward the stream. The trees grew denser, leaning over the water which was quieter now.
It was Mal who finally broke the silence. "We'll have to cross now. We should be able to make camp in the grasslands just to the other side of the stream."
"Good," Michael responded. "Mary-Anne and Norman, go and start gathering firewood. We need some tinder and branches. If you find any berries, pick some while they're still safe." Starting to open his metal case, he realized that Norman already had three cloth containers strapped around his shoulder. "Guess I don't need to supply any of my containers. Thanks, Norman."
Norman just nodded. "Sir."
Michael almost frowned. I don't want this command bit to be that obvious quite yet. I wonder why he's going out of his way... unless he's figured out my game already? No, that's not possible. But he does look familiar for some reason...
Mary-Anne let go her grasp which hadn't drawn blood, although the skin of Michael's arm was reddened from the force of her grip, and went off with Norman to gather wood. But first she turned to face Michael and then leapt up and kissed him on the cheek.
"Excuse me -- what was that for?" Michael asked, taken aback and oddly pleased at the same time.
"For being such a help, and for your forgiveness." Mary-Anne looked up at him, half closing her eyes shyly. And to get you used to it, so you won't suspect a silly little thing when I start using my drugged lipsticks. And then she scampered off with her metal watch flashing in a band of sunlight.
"And how about us, Mike?" asked Mal.
"We shall gather larger branches for a shelter. It's probably easier that you look for them and hand them to me, and then I'll ferry them across the stream on my back."
"You know how to build a shelter?"
Michael lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. "I've read, but I trust that one of the reasons you brought that device was because it contains a survival guide -- amongst other things."
Mal chuckled. "Well... yes." That's it, he's toast. Better make a backup plan, just in case he doesn't take himself out playing figurehead. "And by the way, that stone around your neck -- it wouldn't happen to be flint, would it?"
"Why ever would you ask such a question? Flint does no one any good at all without something like, say, iron horseshoes."
Mal chuckled again. "I like the way you think, Mike."
The centaur reproached himself inwardly. I probably shouldn't have said that, but it's too late now. Maybe it'll make him underestimate me. He's definitely proved that he is too clever to be trusted with that flint bit -- but unfortunately that toy of his makes him too valuable to get rid of quickly, no matter how dangerous he is.
SurviFur SurviFur SurviFur SurviFur SurviFur
A number of camera cuts follow showing the various tribe members
working, gathering food and firewood or shelter components.
The next few hours went by quickly, and the opposite banks of the stream soon became nothing but mud-filled hoofprints (and Michael's legs became more mud than flesh and bone). The shelter consisted simply of two large supports leaning against each other and tied with a tough vine at the top to form an inverted V, with a third branch, just over four metres long and perpendicular to the other two, leaning against them and descending to the ground to form the main support. The rest of the shelter consisted of smaller branches topped with thin leaf-covered branches, all of which leaned against the center pole. It wasn't completely waterproof but it would provide shelter, and given the artificial nature of the environment, rain was not an immediate concern. There would be time later to improve the roof. Mary-Anne and Norman had brought a fair amount of firewood, and a surprising amount of berries (and even a few raspberries) which they shared as they helped finish the construction. As Michael started the fire by twisting his upper body and raising his right fore-hoof and using his flint to get sparks from the iron, Norman used a fist-sized rock to hammer one last pole into the ground awaiting the tribal flag.
Finally the camera cuts to focus on the tribe gathering together to talk.
Michael was the first to speak: "I'll be glad when I get these bloody things off."
For once Mary-Anne was actually curious. "Don't you need horseshoes?"
"On pavement, of course, for which I have rubber ones, but there really isn't a lot of that in here. Besides, once the transformation traps begin, they could be a hazard."
Mal pictured horseshoes nailed to a lion's paw and couldn't help but wince.
"These shoes are actually glued on with a long-chain molecule. I've got the solvent in a little bottle with me, but I can get rid of them later... naah, better do it now." Michael started pulling out box after box, each nestled inside the other, along with various flattened plastic objects.
"So what else you got in your box of wonders?" Mal asked. Inquiring minds want to know.
Whilst shaking his left-front leg to get the horseshoe off, Michael answered, "I guess this is as good a time as any to be completely open about this..."
In your dreams, Mary-Anne thought. Mal shared her sentiment: Fat chance.
Knowing that nobody else would give a full answer, Michael continued: "You've seen the bigger objects, of course. Otherwise there are a few pairs of transparent gloves for handling dangerous objects; another three solid containers, four squeezable containers; a set of long-handled barbecue tongs; a plastic sealed suit for at least the early going; and a small brush to clean my hooves. Oh, and a few spikes to make sure that inquisitive hands don't steal stuff while we're not around." Since my plan depends on a successful psychological assault, I really don't mind being completely open about things.
By now the others had crowded around, but made room when the first horseshoe thudded to the ground and Michael started on the next. Lowering his voice he whispered to Mal, "So what else can your little toy do?"
"Nothing, really. It's got survival resources and a sweet little set of hacking tools."
"And what else?" Michael asked.
"That's it. Mind you, it's got a lot of hacking tools." Better throw 'em another bone. "For instance, even through the wireless, I think I can tap into some video feed from the cameras watching the other tribes..."
Michael and Norman smiled, and Mary-Anne just frowned, at least outwardly. Inwardly her thoughts were continuing their categorization. Mal's useful. He goes last.
"...along with more technical information about the environment, traps, and so on."
"That's it, eh?"
"Like that's not enough?" Mal asked cheerfully.
"For your hand-held, certainly. But what about the rest of your equipment?"
Mal nodded. Oh, well. It was worth a try. "Well, there's my clothes, of course. Then there's my staff, which helps me with my trick knee." Not to mention it holds 70 doses of Mutopia programmed with my baseline DNA. He fiddled with the latch on a pocket on his harness, and brought forth a thick-walled tube, 8 inches long and 1.5 inches in diameter, which was also tethered to its pocket. "Nanotech-based water purifier. Good to ID and filter out poisons of any variety, including Mutopia." He looked at it quizzically. "Of course, its programming only covers human-type poisons, so I'm not sure how much good it'll do the rest of you. But if you're worried about that kind of thing, just let me feed a drop of your blood into it. It'll spend a couple minutes analyzing your genome, and from then on, you're protected." I hope none of them figure out it can also generate poisons and Mutopia, not to mention it's got memory slots for 12 distinct DNA sequences... He replaced the tube in its pocket, then extracted a pair of binoculars from another. Like the purifier and palmtop, this item was also tethered to his harness. "Enhanced binoculars. Digital zoom up to 100x, high-intensity cut-off so bright lights don't blind you, image stabilization, rangefinder." Plus image enhancement routines to see through fog, clouds, and smoke, and spectrographic analysis to ID exhaled CO2 and water vapor -- and won't it be sweet if I can get the damn thing to pick up the signature of nanobots? After putting the binocs back, Mal opened and closed the rest of his pockets in quick sequence. "That's the big stuff. The rest is water -- towels -- change of clothes -- energy bars -- sleeping bag -- deodorant -- toothbrush and paste -- soldering iron, solder, and flux -- hip boots -- collapsible saucepan -- duct tape -- silicone gloves -- toilet paper -- hardshell notepad and pens -- solar panel." I doubt I'll need the cash I hid in the notepad's shell, but you never know. Anyway, what else do I need to bring, since I own about 20% of the camera crew, including Mary-Anne's ace-in-the-hole? "As for the stuff I don't have, I figured either someone else would bring it, or I do without."
"Thank you, Mal. And what of your equipment, please, Norman?"
Another nod, crisp in a way the others were already beginning to recognize as characteristic of the man. "Of course, sir." So saying, he took off his fanny pack and set it on the ground, opened all its compartments, and gave running commentary as he unpacked its contents in orderly array. "Self-erecting three-man tent. Canvas bucket, collapsible and waterproof. Wide-brimmed white hat, my size, also waterproof. Collapsible one-liter water containers, currently full, reusable. Zippered cloth carrying bags. Swiss Army knife for smaller tasks. Leatherman tool for bigger jobs. Cyanoacrylate glue. Solvent for the glue. Red, yellow, and white chalk. Dining utensils. Four-ton manual winch with mechanical advantage adjustible up to 1,500 to 1. 100 meters of synthetic spider-silk cord rated for loads up to 2.5 metric tons. Blue Cross first-aid kit. Extra antibiotic ointment, Ace bandages, and disinfectant. Coleman stove with sparker and 2 spare propane cylinders. Salt, pepper, and flour. Powdered milk and chocolate. 30 days' worth of freeze-dried meals for one human. 10 handkerchiefs. Manual drill with adjustible hole-boring bit. Skinning and boning knife with sheath."
Mal looked at Michael. "I don't care how small he is; we're not throwing this one back. He's a keeper."
"Quite. Thank you, Norman."
"Of course, sir." His presentation complete, Norman began to re-stow his equipment as efficiently as he'd unloaded it.
By this time, Michael had his last horseshoe off and was packing everything away in his padlocked box. "And yourself, Mary-Anne?"
"Oh, my," she said, giggling. "I didn't really bring anything!" Just a makeup kit with a razor-sharp, military-grade steel mirror, plus enough disguised stimulants, hallucinogens and other assorted drugs to outfit the arsenal of a chemical warfare brigade; a brush that doubles as a tonfa and short-range blowgun; some lockpicks disguised as a spring steel comb; earrings with built-in electronic surveillance devices; and rings with hidden poison compartments.
"I see; that cloth shoulderbag of yours must hold quite a bit of nothing, mustn't it?" Michael asked with a twinkle in his eye.
"Oh, nothing like your stuff. You're so clever! Just a notebook so I can keep my diary up to date, my jewelry -- earrings and bracelets and everything -- and a mirror and cosmetics so I can look good for the cameras. I just love my soft poofy fur!" And given the other effects of those cosmetics, along with a little hypnotism, I've got all of your tools too.
Michael and Norman rolled their eyes. Mal didn't, as he had some ideas as to what was behind the cute and brainless exterior. 'I love my fur.' I'll just bet you do. The big question is, what else does your stuff do?
"SurviFurs! Glad to see you've settled in. And my gosh, you've even got a fire going!" Sly Squirrel had returned. "That means that I don't need to offer to trade you these fine matches --" he turned his face to the camera "-- provided by Acme Destructive Products Unlimited, the world's largest manufacturer of explosives, crowbars, blowtorches, wrecking balls, and bulldozers. If you need it completely destroyed, you need Acme to destroy it completely!" Back to the tribe -- the squirrel looked over the site with approval. "With the progress you've made in this short time, I'm sure you're ready for the first Tribal Council! By the way, have you started plotting against the other tribes yet?"
"No," said Norman.
"What do you mean -- before the game proper has even begun?" Michael asked, aggrieved at the tactless (if true) affront to his honor.
"Plotting?" Mal said with a laugh. "I don't even have a printer, let alone a plotter!"
Speechless, Mary-Anne shook her head timidly as she looked up at Sly with innocent eyes.
Sly shrugged and raised his hands, palms up. "Just asking. Anyway, here's your flag, and here's your limited edition Rand McNally parchment map of the BioSphere, showing where everything is!" To the camera again: "Rand McNally maps and atlases have kept generations of Americans on track. Why not let Rand McNally help you keep the next generation on track?"
And after I do a detailed comparison of this to the real thing, Mal thought, I'll have a pretty good idea of which traps the management would prefer we get zapped by.
The host clapped his hands together and started backing away towards a neighboring hill, always facing the camera, saying: "Well, just put up your flag and then make your way to Tribal Council. And don't forget that we're all here to have fun!"
One thought occured to all Harlem members simultaneously: Wrong.
With Sly's attention focused on not tripping in front of a major network audience, Michael stepped away and pulled out a stake, sealed and locked his box, and locked everything including the squirt gun via a suspiciously convenient metal-bound hole in the strap which was apparently riveted to the body of the weapon. "No sense letting the others in on our secrets," he observed quietly.
The voice of the squirrel echoed from beyond the hill. "I'll see you all at the first Tribal Council!"