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A Mugwump Wakes
by Bill Hart
Bill Hart -- all rights reserved
 

I had to admit to myself that I was a little surprised when I entered the chapel. I thought I was late, but on entering, I found myself alone. Except, of course, for the minister and the casket containing the mortal remains of my friend Jake Milton.

I guess, I shouldn't have been all that surprised though. After all, the town, we'd renamed Paradise, murdered Jake. I didn't take an active part in the killing, but I have to share blame with everybody else. I could have tried to stop them... tried to make them listen to reason, but I did nothing.

Paradise is a haven for centaurs - in fact, only centaurs live here now. Jake was the last non-centaur, and I think a lot of people tolerated him only because he wasn't all that different. Any visitors who spotted Jake referred to him as a centaur. They couldn't tell the difference, and it wasn't any big deal to me, but it sure was to some of those rich snobs up on Centaur Hill.

Jake didn't have the lower body of a horse. His was a mule's.

Jake had been the first person in town to contract the disease when th Martian flu blew through town. Everything he'd needed to survive, he'd had to learn himself. He'd never complained. And whatever he'd learned, along the way, he'd shared with other transformees. He'd never had a bad word to say about anyone. And I seriously doubt he'd ever heard the snooty rich refer to him as "not our kind." Even if he'd heard, he would have only ignored the talk.

It was strange, Paradise being uniquely centaur, that is. About half of those affected by the flu became centaurs. I knew of no other place where so many had been transformed so similarly. And I really hadn't paid too much, if any, attention as all the norms and all those non-centaur transformees left town. In retrospect, their goings were sometimes under unusual circumstances. But then, after all, I was a centaur, and what happened to them didn't really concern me.

So it was, on the day that Robert Barnes, founder of the Humans First movement, died of AIDS. The town leaders decided to throw a town festival to celebrate the end of the Humans First movement.

Jake had disagreed. He'd told them that from a historical view, this festival was a bad idea. Movements like this generally didn't die with a leader's death. If you weren't careful, you'd make the leader a martyr. You'd make their followers stronger and angrier, less inclined to listen to reason. And then the group might become a template for others.

Sound advice, I thought. But what I didn't know right then was the template had already been used.

It was at the festival. A young boy had disappeared. While his parents galloped from one end of Paradise to the other looking for him, rumors began to be spread.

"It was Jake." said a rumor.

"He's different from us." said another.

"It must be Jake who took the boy because he's different." from yet another.

"He's not like us."

And the rumors took hold.

And they began to fester.

The festive crowd became an ugly mob.

And the end result: Jake was beaten to death.

By people he'd called friends.

By people he'd helped adjust to a new way of life.

By people who thought him different.

And what of the boy...

He had been found. At home. According to the story, he had been tired and his uncle had taken him home. But he'd neglected to tell his brother or his sister-in-law that he was taking him home. The resulting panic had been unnecessary, Jake's death a tragedy. That was the way the town papers wrote it up.

But how had the rumors spread so fast? Why had his friends turned on him so quick? So many questions, but no answers.

Until this morning.

This morning, I found out that the boy's uncle belonged to a small, but growing group called Centauri Prima. Their mission, so very like that of Humans First, is clear and plainly obvious to those who will only open their eyes. But after all of the degradations heaped upon us by Humans First, few of my people seem willing to see.

As I stand in the chapel, ashamed for my people, ashamed of myself, I can only remember Jake Milton as my friend. He helped me learn to walk on four legs, to swish away flies with my tail. So many things I have Jake to thank for.

And one last thing, as I realize our Paradise is lost forever. Its something, if I had paid attention and not tried to straddle the fence, I would have seen long ago.

Its simply that we aren't any better or any worse than them, just as they aren't any better or any worse than us.

I owe Jake for showing me the obvious.

We're the same.

Exactly the same.

And alas, for all of us, that is unfortunate.

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