A Night on the Town
by Michael Bard and Quentin "Cubist" Long
Meanwhile, Harlem's male contingent were traveling towards Herb
Trimpe & Sons, an art supplies shop that just happened to be having
a 75% Off sale (and, not coincidentally, was listed in Mal's files
as containing a goodly pile of Mutopia). Although it wasn't that
far as the crow flew, they didn't take the most direct route.
Instead they made sure to behave like stereotypical tourists,
wandering randomly through the big city, and if it so happened
that they didn't trigger any Mutopia traps along the way, well,
that was just the result of blind chance, wasn't it?
By design, they did encounter some drug pushers along the way. Mal, the one fully human member of the trio, handled negotiations. Before they were halfway to their destination, Michael declared that they'd gotten more than enough Mutopia-laced drugs to serve their purposes.
SurviFur SurviFur SurviFur SurviFur SurviFur
Back in Furrtive Moments, Mary-Anne considered her handiwork,
and pronounced it good. She would get $1,000 per week even if
she never set foot anywhere near the place again (and the cash
would accumulate until she did appear); a $200/day bonus for each
day she did show up; $350/day for every day on which she elected
to dance for the customers at all; a further $250/day bonus for
each day on which she performed lap dances or any other "private"
performance; a $100 "finder's fee" for every new vixen she brought
into the business; and any bodily improvements she acquired through
Furrtive Moments would not include any brain-deadening side-effects.
Now to make life much more interesting for my intended victims, she thought. "Mister Darren, there's something I should tell you about some of the new foxes I'll be converting..."
SurviFur SurviFur SurviFur SurviFur SurviFur
Herb Trimpe & Sons was a well-kept storefront in a gracefully-aging
neighborhood. The men went in, and were quickly lost amidst the
store's unfamiliar offerings. Such brand names as Koh-I-Noor,
Speedball, Hammermill, and Winsor-Newton were completely beyond
"May I help you gentlemen?" a sales clerk asked. His nametag read ALFRED.
Norman responded, "Yes, you may, Alfred. I'd like to get into art as a hobby, but I'm on a tight budget. What can you do for me?"
Alfred smiled warmly. "I think I know just what you need, sir. If you'll follow me, please?"
It didn't take long for Norman to become the proud owner of a full ream of drawing paper, a set of graduated charcoal sticks, 8 ounces of black ink, and a fountain pen, all of them at three-fourths off normal retail price. While he was so occupied, his comrades changed their fifties for tens.
Once they were outside the store Michael said, "Well, then, Norman. Now that you've got what you came for, Mal and I should follow your example. Where are the other tribesmen, Mal, if you please?"
"Gimme a few seconds, I gotta check something," he said, outwardly focused on his palmtop. Hmm, nothing of interest there -- there -- there -- or there. And Miss Kitty's got all four Brooklynites in tow; sweet. "Okay. Video feed says they're all far away from here, looks like we're not gonna see any of 'em for a half-hour, minimum."
"And none of them have left any amusing residues in this area?"
"Set up any traps, you mean? Not here nor anywhere in Manhattan, as best I can tell."
"Quite excellent! We shall split up to get our portraits taken simultaneously then, and when it's done we shall make rendezvous here, with you, Norman... Ah, you're going to take your own portrait, then?"
"Yes, sir. It struck me as the most efficient means to confirm Mal's theory regarding the Mutopia in these supplies."
Michael nodded. And rather the most foolhardy as well. "Very good. Carry on then!"
Each of the Harlem tribesmen found an artist; as well each of them found that SurviFur competitors had certain privileges which the BioSphere's permanent residents did not. Far from complaining about it, the people lined up for portraits went out of their way to grant the tribesmen license to go to the front of the line. Thus it was mere minutes before their portraits were complete.
While the changes imposed on them by the portraits didn't render them entirely unrecognizeable, it was nevertheless helpful that Michael had insisted on them telling each other what they would look like afterwards. Mal's artist had gone beyond his specifications. In addition to the eyes, ears, nose, pads and claws he'd asked for, he also had a pronounced muzzle; tiger-striped fur covering every inch of his scalp, much of his face, his arms from hands to elbows, and his legs from just above the ankles on down; a sizeable lump at the base of his spine; and elongated feet. He carried his shoes in one hand, since he could no longer wear them, and his heels kept trying to twitch up off the ground. Fortunately, Michael had no unauthorized additions -- he was a liontaur, and the six-inch claws on his four legs were metallic-looking daggers.
By the time they got back to Norman, his drawing no longer portrayed a human being. The figure's head was that of a panther; there were dark patches all over it; and its hands had only three fingers apiece. And the figure was a completely accurate portrayal of Norman's current appearance. As they watched, Norman rubbed another dark patch onto his self-portrait, rumbling with contentment as fur sprouted on the corresponding part of his body. He'd somehow managed to grow up to over five feet in height.
"I see," Michael observed slowly. "You did warn that this particular kind of Mutopia just might affect one's brain, hence one's mind and judgement, didn't you?"
"Yep. And now it looks like we know how it messes with the brain." Norman was oblivious to their conversation as Mal continued, "You think we should stop him?"
"Heavens, no! Do you want to risk being changed like that as well? I certainly don't. Besides, I want to see just how far he'll go before he snaps out of it. He bought a bloody ream of the stuff, after all, and I'd rather like to see what the effects are so I can better gauge its utility as a weapon."
While they'd talked, Norman had finished rubbing fur-patches onto his portrait so that there was no bare skin anywhere on it. He'd long since stripped naked above the waist, and was now removing what was below it, leaving his fanny-pack as the sole article of clothing he still wore. As with the self-portrait, no bare skin was visible anywhere. He added one more feature, a two-foot-long tail that grew out as he sketched it in, before pronouncing the portrait complete.
"Very good." His voice was now an inhumanly deep, nearly bone-shaking basso rumble. "There you both are; see how well it works? I'm exactly what I wanted to be!"
The tiger and liontaur looked at each other for a moment. Michael was the first to speak: "And precisely when is it, please, that you decided not to stop with the eyes and ears?"
Norman shrugged happily. "Yeah, that's what I thought before, but I changed my mind. I decided... I thought..." Finally he started frowning. "But I wouldn't... oh my God! What have I done?!" He buried his head in his three-fingered hands.
And Michael continued, "You've made yourself a significantly more efficacious member of the Harlem tribe, sir. That is what you've done."
Abruptly, Norman's head jerked up like a turret, first glaring at Michael, and then aiming a cold and hostile glare at Mal, the culprit who had not provided all the information. "You! Why didn't you tell me --"
"Because I didn't know, and you weren't listening," Mal said, cutting off Norman's tirade a-borning. "Yeah, I said the art stuff could change you to order; but I also said I didn't trust the stuff, and it probably messed with your brain. And, guess what? It turns out the stuff does mess with your brain. You want to blame someone, go blame yourself for only hearing what you wanted to hear. Homey don't play that game." So saying, Mal let the anger fall from his face and went on in a normal tone, "Anyway, Lion-O here is right. No matter what happened or whose fault it is, you still got all your tools and skills . It's just that now, you've also got some physical abilities you didn't used to. You saying this is a problem?"
"You're... It's... you're right, I should have listened." He growled angrily. "My fault. I apologize. I should not have allowed my personal concerns to distract me."
"So you don't wanna be furry," Mal said with a shrug. "I wasn't exactly planning on it myself, but it made sense. And if we win, the fur's gone, right?" For one of us, anyway.
"Yes. I must keep my eyes on the ultimate prize; anything between now and then is, at worst, a temporary inconvenience."
"That's the proper spirit, Norman!" the centaur said. "Now let's go back to Furrtive Moments, shall we? I believe there's a brawl waiting for us to spark it off."
SurviFur SurviFur SurviFur SurviFur SurviFur
Pausing only to allow Norman to collect and pack away his things,
the trio moved out. They took a different route, but still one
that was lacking in Mutopia, or so they thought. While Michael's
top speed had indeed been reduced, Norman and Mal found they could
move more quickly than before, and thus the group as a whole was
faster now than they had been earlier.
Unfortunately they all recognized the problem when a beggar suddenly thrust himself in front of them. "Spare change, mister?"
Michael was the first to react; he grabbed a $10 bill and threw it forward whilst grabbing Norman and preparing to run. Mal panicked, took a step, and felt his vestigial tail stretch and thin. Then he fumbled for a bill and tossed it, after which he bounded after the others.
SurviFur SurviFur SurviFur SurviFur SurviFur
They didn't stop running until they were almost at their destination
and the few more steps were just enough to allow them to catch
their breath. Mary-Anne was waiting for them at the door.
"Hello, gentlemen! Welcome to Furrtive Moments! We're here for your pleasure. Our golden rule is 'look but don't touch' so keep that in mind so that everyone can have a much more pleasant experience." Her voice had acquired a subtly different timbre, but was quite recognizable anyway. "You're so handsome, Michael! I bet you did it just for me."
"Shh -- you've forgotten us!"
Mary-Anne didn't miss the blush that was almost hidden beneath Michael's new fur. It was such fun to play the naive innocent some times. "May I show you to a table or booth?"
"Yeah," Mal said before anyone else could. "I'd kinda like to get an overview of the whole room. You got something in a corner or along a wall?"
"I think we do, sir. If you'll just wait here a moment?" My parlour waits to entertain you gentlemen. So saying, the former cat went off to the left. Not long after, a human male in an ill-fitting suit came out from backstage, and Mary-Anne returned to her comrades.
"You're in luck, gentlemen. A corner booth just opened up. Walk this way, please?" As Harlem walked to the corner, the man in the suit escorted two dazed vixens back somewhere behind the stage.
"Well. What do you recommend, please?" Michael said, keeping up the appearance of being a normal customer.
Mary-Anne pitched her voice low: "Don't eat or drink here. The food is awful, and they put all sorts of nasty stuff in the liquor."
"That so? Well, in that case nobody will ever notice a little more nasty stuff," Mal said, matching Mary-Anne's inconspicuous tones as he extracted from his pockets the free samples he'd collected earlier. He slid them over to Mary-Anne, being careful not to come anywhere near touching her.
She fumbled, expertly making sure that only the three at the table could see the fumble, and then finally made the small containers vanish. In a normal voice, she continued, "Of course, sirs. Just take your time, and I'll be with you when you're ready to order." Then she walked away.
"There goes a woman who really enjoys her work," Mal said.
Michael turned a cold gaze on Mal, "No, she does what she has to. I only wish she didn't have to lower herself in this fashion. Her innocence will be protected." The liontaur smiled and let his teeth show, and then turned and looked wistfully in Mary-Anne's general direction for a moment, before finally blinking and turning back to his comrades. "Tell me, Mal. Have our little fish taken the bait?"
"See for yourself," the tiger said, pointing at a table near the stage. All four Brooklynites were there, and all of them appeared to be somewhat intoxicated.
"Most excellent indeed! How very lucky of Mary-Anne, to have placed them so close to the epicenter, as it were."
Mal disagreed. Lucky, my ass. I'll bet she plans everything, no luck need apply. For your sake I hope that's an act you're putting on, Mike, but I doubt it. You haven't got Clue One about what she's doing to you, do you? Poor bastard. "They'll never know what hit them, even if they were sober." Mal's tones carried great satisfaction, displaying no hint of the growing worry within. It seems that Mary-Anne had already sunk her claws into the centaur in more ways then one. Mentally shaking his head, Mal looked down at his palmtop which displayed the video feed from the camera that was discreetly filming the Brooklyn tribe.
It wasn't more than half an hour before the first signs of trouble appeared: first rowdy behavior, then feathers and scales sprouting on the rowdiest of the troublemakers.
"They're playing our song," Mal observed, with a grin. "Shall we dance?"
"No, I think it best that we wait a bit longer, my friend. Let the band strike a more up-tempo tune, as it were."
Michael's wish was soon granted. The first punch was thrown by someone with a perfectly-formed feathered crest on his head; his immediate squeal of pain told the crowd he hadn't realized that fists work better when the curled-up fingers aren't equipped with sharp talons. Then things got more interesting.
"Alright. Let me take point, I've got a little experience with this thing," Mal said, indicating his staff.
So it was that the Mal the tiger carved a path through the melee, using his staff to shove people aside where possible and knock them unconscious where necessary, followed by the liontaur and the panther. The collective impression made by all three cat-things together, one with a dangerously whirling staff, was enough to dissuade all but the most irrational from even thinking about attacking them. Those few foolhardy enough to try it anyway soon learned just how big a mistake that was. Even so, it took longer than Mal liked to reach the Brooklyn tribe, as both Michael and Norman insisted on picking the pockets of any unconscious bodies within arm's reach.
"Remember," said Mal, "the vixens're hiding up on stage. We gotta throw our targets up there to meet them."
"Can do," Norman rumbled in his new basso profundo voice. Michael said nothing; he was busy giving a horse-style kick to an annoying drunk.
The Brooklynites, focused purely upon the people they were beating up, didn't even notice their rival tribe approaching. That'll never do, Mal thought, and then called out, "Hey, Joe! Is that a pencil in your pocket, or are you happy to see me?"
Joe did a double-take, torn between Mal's insult and the person before him who was doing his level best to break Joe's face. One low and powerful kick later, Joe could give his full attention to Mal whom he was able to recognize close up: "So you are a fuckin' animal!"
An unpleasant smile on his face, Mal slipped into a ready stance, with his staff behind his back, right hand holding the top end over his right shoulder, left arm crossing his torso to hold the bottom end. "Bring it on. Or admit you ain't man enough to take me."
It was no contest. As Joe charged, Mal's left hand shot forward cramming the bottom end of the staff painfully into Joe's diaphragm. In the next split-second, Mal brought his left hand up, swinging the free end of his staff in a competent uppercut that drove all consciousness from Joe's body. The tiger reached forward to grab Joe before he fell to the ground, crouched back a bit, then shot-putted Joe onto the stage where he slid underneath the curtain.
While Mal was thus occupied, his comrades were not idle. Norman's transformation had worked wonders for his musculature; even open-handed (to avoid shredding his paws, as he might do with a fist), his strikes carried enough force to stun most humans. And he was fortunate enough to have two Brooklynites side by side, the better to clap their heads together... The final Brooklynite was lucky enough to learn why it wasn't a good idea to be on the receiving end of a liontaur's pounce.
Unconscious and bleeding from the head, or merely scared insensible, the remaining Brooklynites quickly followed their comrade up onto the stage. Then it was simply a matter of clearing a path back to their corner booth, as they'd seen Mary-Anne peek out from behind the curtain to point to it. Going back was much easier than going in, because this time there were fewer active people, and most were now willing to stay the hell out of Harlem's way.
Mary-Anne met them there; she'd started over at about the same time, but had to go around the brawl rather than straight through it. "I want to go now," she said. "The police are coming."
"Which means we'd best be going, then," Michael said, but then he sighed. "My only regret is that we neglected to take custody of the Brooklynites' valuables..."
The vixen swallowed and almost sobbed, "I'm sorry, I forgot!" Not really, but I don't see any need to share my wealth.
Michael started to reach out to comfort her but then forced himself to stop.
"Don't worry," Mary-Anne whispered, "as soon as we're out the door, I'm off-duty and safe."
"Let's go," Norman hissed.
Harlem was about halfway to the subway station when they saw the first police car drive by. "Good timing," Mal said. The trek was otherwise without incident, for they were following the same route that had taken them from the station to Furrtive Moments originally.
The station had a ticket booth, but the person manning that booth refused to take any money. "It's on the house for SurviFur contestants," he said. "Where to?"
"We'd like to visit the Brooklyn campsite, if you please," Michael replied. "Can you get us there?"
"Sure thing. It's open access tonight. Be another train along in 3 minutes, take you directly there."
"Thank you very much, sir."
Once seated and waiting for the train (trying to ignore the sexy vixen pressed tight against his side apparently shivering with repressed fear and tension and sobbing quietly) the liontaur whispered to Mal, "Do you suppose your filters have found anything interesting with regards to Brooklyn yet?"
"Nope. They didn't do anything interesting. No bugs, no hidden caches, no traps, nothing!"
"And I take it the same may be said of the items they brought in with them -- nothing interesting there, either?"
"You got it. A little food and water, some matches, a couple hatchets, nothing big."
The liontaur looked into the middle distance for a moment as his clockwork mind went to work. "I see. Very well then; we shall rob their campsite anyway. After all, we have traditions to start up. Do you think you could print up some notes to leave there, incriminating the Bronx for this theft?"
"The guys with the bug? How about Queens instead? If they really are having problems with each other..."
"Hmmm, I think I see what you're driving at. Each one will know he had nothing to do with it, yet at the same time he can't help but wonder why his comrades didn't take him along with them on that raid. Yes, I think that should fan the fires of dissension nicely, Mal, even if there weren't any to begin with. Thank you very kindly."
Then Michael turned and comforted the sobbing vixen, repeating again and again that she had only done what she had to, and he still loved her. She let herself appear to regain some calm by the time the train stopped, but remained quiet as Harlem snuck into the Brooklyn camp and took everything of use that wasn't nailed down. Mal scattered around the place some apparently-handwritten notes that read "QUEENS RULEZ" and the like, and by then the remaining tribes were beginning to return to their camps, so it was time to call it a night.
And of all of Harlem, the happiest of all, beneath her outward fear and sadness, was little Mary-Anne. Michael was now hers, and her bank balance in Manhattan was well into five digits.