by Kim Liu
© Kim Liu -- all rights reserved
"I don't like this job," Jake tapped out on his voder. The grizzly morph had a look of faint disgust on his face as the Zoo'm'in Being's one internal combustion vehicle rolled down the highway. The truck was an old diesel semi cobbled together into semi-convertible flatbed pickup truck. It cost a lot in fuel, especially in these days of electric vehicles, but it had no problem with hauling or towing anything, and was about the only vehicle comfortable for the three of Zoo'm'in Being's "heavies" at once.
Jason spoke slowly, still requiring a lot of concentration to make his words understandable even years after he had become a SCAB - a hippo morph. "It's a job, we don't have to like it." His small round ears twitched as he looked back where the statue of Barnes - the adult Barnes - was chained down. "We have not had one in weeks."
Stan, who despite being an ox morph, was the one who could speak the best of them, wisely kept quiet as he drove in the morning traffic.
The three of them, Jake, Jason, and Stan, made for an odd group. Jake was excessively fluffy for a grizzly bear and close to being completely non-morphic, barring his hands and ability to still walk upright easily. He looked thin compared to Jason or Stan, though. Jason had almost no hair any more as a hippotamus morph, was thick skinned, and very large in a rotund way. He reminded people of a sumo wrestler - he was also the strongest of the three of them. Stan was almost fully human, except for his ox head, horns, and a light dusting of white fur/hair over his body. Jason was the shortest of the three at 6'6, Stan the tallest at 7'11, and Jake came in at 7'2. Their total weight was over a ton, and dressed in their utilitarian grey overalls with the ZB logo, they looked quite impressive.
What brought them together, oddly enough, was that they had all been jugglers before the Martian virus had struck them and turned them into their current forms, SCABs. It had just been a hobby for each of them, but after the virus, they had all three lost their jobs in the resulting chaos. They had met in an outdoor SCAB relocation shelter/area that had been hastily set up as the government struggled with the results of the plague. One of them, they still argued good naturedly about just who, had started trying to entertain a group of crying, frightened kids who had been affected by the virus, and had started trying to juggle some of the plastic chairs, then the other two had joined in - that was how the three met.
Still adapting to their changed bodies, they did a pretty bad job of juggling, but they certainly had kept folks entertained. After things started to settle down, they kept in touch, helping each other as they found tips on how to cope with their sudden size and mass - and once a week, they got together and practiced. In a corner of the park each Sunday morning, birds would get startled by dumbbells flying back and forth through the air, anvils, bowling bowls, sledgehammers, or the occasional beer keg. It helped keep them sane in those times as they fought to get jobs or against the hate and fear from those unaffected by the virus, the norms.
Their break had started when a truck carrying old rubber tires had been forced off the road and down an embankment by the park by a gang of young "Human First" types. Jake, Jason, and Stan had investigated the commotion. The gang of teenagers had taken one look at the three of them - they had been carrying their juggling toys of the time (the dumbbells, sledge hammers, just the lighter stuff) - and left quickly. The driver, an avian-headed SCAB, was not seriously hurt, and the three of them quickly helped push his truck back onto the road, and efficiently gathered up the spilled tires and helped the driver on his way.
The next Sunday after that, a tiger-morph approached them in the park, and asked if they would be willing to help move a refrigerator to the SCAB shelter downtown for six hundred dollars, but it had to be today. It had turned out to be a full-sized walk-in restaurant refrigerator, one of the models capable of turning ten sides of beef into popsicles in an hour, ripped out from some building somewhere and loaded onto a flatbed semi. The tiger-morph had been unable to find any company with heavy lifting equipment that would do work in the area around the SCAB shelter on a Sunday. It hadn't been easy, but the three of them succeeded in carrying the unwieldy thing down narrow alleys, through a hastily made opening in the wall, and into the shelter without bumping, jarring, or running into anything. They were paid over their protests of being more than willing to help the shelter for free.
After that, the occasional odd moving job started trickling in, people being referred to them for help in moving things. Eventually, it led to meeting with the Zoo'm'in Beings and then to joining them.
Jake turned the volume of his voder down and tapped, "This hacks me off."
Stan looked faintly disgusted too, as the three of them positioned the statue of Barnes in the park - the same park they had used to practice in.
"Most people have the decency to die first before getting a statue," Jason muttered. The inscription on the pedestal set up for the statue, about Barnes being a true civil rights leader wanted to make him puke.
"Eh, hush!" Stan grumbled. "Lot's jist git et dunne."
A problem occurred.
"Wot dew yew meen yew won't pay!?" Stan thundered at the smirking little man.
"We don't have to pay any animals," the man sneered. "Now beat it - we're going to have a dedication ceremony in a bit, and don't need to have you stinking up the place."
"Wot abyot de contract?!"
"With you? Don't make me laugh!"
Stan, who was the most level headed of them normally, looked about ready to commit serious physical activity, despite the few dozen "Humans First" members around setting up things. Jake tapped out on his voder, "Let's call in - remember the rules? Contract disputes go through Webster." With a angry snort, Stan nodded, and the three ZB's turned and walked back to their truck, ignoring the jeers and taunts from the gathered crowd around the statue as tents were set up for a dedication ceremony. In bad temper, Stan called in the situation from the cell phone in their truck.
Webmaster's voder came back with, "Stay put. Spots is en-route, and so is our legal representative. Do not, and if you don't want to find the remains of my dinner in your bed tonight, do not get into any trouble."
"Any suggestions, Webster?" Jason asked calmly, though he looked upset as well.
"Yes. Don't call me Webster," the spider's voder replied, and he hung up.
"Wiellll, thaut's wundurhful," Stan fumed, flicking his ox's ears back and forth.
"Look at that," Jake typed on his voder. "Those children there. How are things going to get better when the next generation is being raised on such hate?" The grizzly morph looked more sad then angry suddenly.
Stan shrugged massively and leaned against the side of the truck. "Dunno."
"You can't force people to respect us," Jason said slowly, though he was eyeing the crowd as if measuring them to see just how small a container they could all be pounded into. "Respect is earned and given."
"We've ghott rights!" Stan mutters.
Jason snorted, which is a pretty powerful sound from a hippo. "Have you seen the SCAB-rights marches? Bah!" he sounded annoyed. "Damn. I wouldn't pay attention to them either if I was a norm. Demanding rights. Whining about them. Half of them wouldn't want to work if they could."
Stan looked about to argue when a familiar gold and black form on a bike sped around the corner and braked/skidded to a halt next to the trio. "Yew wouldna need new tyres sew e'fton ef yew didna dew thoht," Stan commented about Spots' habit of stopping at high speeds.
Spots got off of her bike and grinned a bit. "I don't peel out semis," she countered, then flinched at a sudden outbreak of jeering and catcalls from the crowd, which was drawing a bit nearer. "A lawyer from our legal representative is on the way." Red creeped into Spots' ears and her tail lashed as the shouts from the crowd became progressively more suggestive and obscene, but she kept control of her self. "I know you guys have never worked with them before, but please, don't lose it."
"Lawyers, feh," Jake typed.
That earned him a glare from the cheetah morph. "DON'T say that when she gets here," she hissed at him, ears flat. "The members of the law firm don't like SCABs, either, but they don't kid around about their clients. We're damned lucky to have them willing to work for us." Her fur bristled up, which made for an odd sight - a 5'6 femme cheetah morph of slight build bristling at the other three who weighed nearly twenty times what she did. "I swear to you, if they signed the contract, that if you can work with the lawyer, everything will be fine."
Jason eyed Spots. "Odd to use these folks if they don't like SCABs."
"They don't like SCABs, but they respect Zoo'm'in Beings because we've done work for them before and did it very well," Spots explained. "They respect that, and return that." Jason looked about to ask something else when a white full-sized car pulled up, a not inexpensive looking one. "She's here," Spots hissed. "Stay cool."
A door opened in the car, and a human lady who looked to be in her late twenties stepped out, dressed in a plain tan business suit/skirt. She was no beauty, being more in the round department then slender, and shorter than Spots, though with matching short golden hair. Her face had lines it already, hinting at too much scowling, but her expression was composed as she walked up to the ZB's, and her brown eyes cool as she looked over them impassively. "I am Miss Wallace. Do you have the contract?"
Stan swelled up slightly, still looking upset, but did not say anything as he reached in and pulled a clipboard out from the truck, presenting it to the lawyer carefully.
Ms. Wallace took the clipboard and scanned through the pages at a speed that would have impressed Webmaster. "This looks proper. Miss Speedy, I take it you will be the representative of Zoo'm'in Beings?"
Stan, Jake, and Jason all looked at Spots. "Spots Speedy?" Spots shot them a glare and ignored them. "Yes, Miss Wallace. These are Stan Baker, Jake Wordsworth, and Jason Stavochski."
The lady nodded and looked at the contract again. "I will be back." Ms. Wallace took the clipboard back to her car and opened the trunk. A humming sound started.
"Miss Speedy?" Stan echoed.
Spots levelled a glare up at him from two feet below. "I needed something for a last name," she said tightly, looking at the other two in turn. "Do you guys want to make something out of it?" she said sweetly, her tail lashing again.
Jason looked at Stan. Stan looked at Jake. Jake looked at Jason. They all looked at her, and solemnly shook their heads slowly in unison, and grinned. Spots threw up her hands. "I don't know why I bother."
Miss Wallace came back from her car and handed the clip board back to Stan. "I have made a copy, and sent a fax into the office," she said briskly, then turned and walked towards the crowd of norms. As the ZB's watched, the "Humans First" group insulted and jeered at Miss Wallace for a few minutes, then the man that had refused to pay for the work came up and sneered at her as she attempted to talk to him. A few minutes after that, he knocked the copy of the contract from her hands and spat on her before turning away. The lawyer took this calmly enough, or so it seemed, and picked up the papers, but when she turned around to walk back, the coldness in her eyes was enough to freeze the ZB heavies in place.
"This will take a while, I am afraid," Miss Wallace reported as she came back, then pulled out a cellular phone. "I must arrange for some paperwork." She turned and walked back over towards her car and started making phone calls.
"I take back anything I might have said," Jake said via his voder, volume low. "That lady is no vulture - she's a shark. Did you see that look in her eyes?"
Spots started to say something then hissed and dodged to one side as a half eaten candy bar flew by her, thrown by the crowd. She cursed under her breath. "Bloody snots."
Jason muttered similar sentiments as things were tossed in the direction of Ms. Wallace as well. He reached into their truck and took out a battered umbrella, before trotting over and putting himself between Ms. Wallace and the crowd, using the umbrella to keep things off. The lawyer spared him a look of thanks, but kept speaking on the phone and making more phone calls.
Spots, Stan, and Jake hid behind their truck. "Ayeh hate dis," Stan growled. "It's ohnly a $800 jyob - dis isna wurth it."
"It'll never get any better if we leave," Jake typed, wincing at the young voices now participating in the jeering. "We have to hope to show those kids that their parents can't get away with this."
"We must hope," Spots murmured, flinching at the sounds of the crowd and the trash bouncing off the truck. "It's how we managed to get so far, how we got ZB's where we -" She broke off suddenly at one shouted insult and raised her head over to look where Ms. Wallace had turned to look at the crowd, and her face showed that the insult had struck some mark - then the lawyer looked sharply at her cell phone, and spoke into it almost protestingly and was overridden by whoever was at the other end. She clicked the phone shut and stood stone faced again.
Spots' ears twitched. "Oh hell," she murmured. "I think Wallace Senior is coming - she heard that... that vile remark over the phone. Whatever I said about showing respect goes double for her."
"Wee dew na seem ta be gettin' any-whar," Stan complained.
"Don't worry," Spots said, ducking as a stone bounced over the truck. "They've never let us down before."
Fifteen minutes later, a car with government plates pulled up, reading "U.S. Marshall" on the side. The crowd quieted a little as a man, presumably the marshal, got out, and approached Ms. Wallace. She spoke briefly with him, then retrieved a fax from the trunk of her car. He looked at the fax, then at the crowd and the statue, then at Ms. Wallace again, reluctant. She pointed a figure at the fax, then at him, then at the statue, unyielding. With an unhappy nod, the marshal turned and walked towards the "Humans First" crowd.
That was the beginning. The "Humans First" folks reacted very badly to what the marshal had to say, though Stan and Jake couldn't make his voice out. More cars drove up quickly from various directions. Suited figures spilled out and joined up the the "Humans First" side, arguing with the marshal over whatever it was he was claiming. The marshal pointed them back to Ms. Wallace, and the "Human First"'s lawyers started to march on her and Jason. Ms. Wallace walked around Jason and met them half way. One or two of the opposition blanched a little at her introduction, then the shouting began in earnest as the sun started started dipping towards late afternoon.
"Wee stell dew na seem ta be gettin' any-whar," Stan complained again.
"Patience," Spots murmured, wrinkling her nose as she tried to clean off a mustard stain where a thrown hot dog had bounced off her clothing.
With the sound of heavy diesel engines, a heavy construction crane pulled up on the corner of the park. The opposition lawyers redoubled their protestations as Ms. Wallace pointed the crane crew at the statue.
"Yew're kiddin' me," Stan said, watching this. At least the pelting of garbage had stopped. "She ain't goin' tew have 'em dew thoht...?"
"Wallace Senior seriously dislikes SCABs, personally," Spots murmured, watching. "But she doesn't hold them in contempt or hate, just dislike and, well, disgust, but beyond that, she's a professional. She once needed a delivery made, and we were the ones recommended. We performed the job well, and better than anyone else, so her law firm used us more often - she's the number two ranked contract law expert in the nation, and her daughter there is working hard on kicking tail on her way to be #1. Webster's helped do rush research for her on occasion as well. About a year before you fellows joined on, we caught Wallace Senior in a good mood, and after paying a bundle, had her go over our courier and delivery contracts.
"Before, we'd often get screwed on payments - we didn't have money to handle legal fees for piddly delivery fees in the under $200 range. The Wallaces take their work very seriously - they do not not NOT appreciate something they've written being called 'invalid', even on something this tiny." Spots looked over as a limousine pulled up. "Uh-oh. That's her. Look your best, guys. I'll bet you ice cream at the parlor that this is over in an hour."
The limousine stopped, and three body guards got out, wearing suits, sunglasses, and that air of "Don't try it." Solid builds and suspicious bulges added an air of "And we mean don't." A wheelchair was produced from the back of the vehicle, and readied for its mistress.
Maybe it wasn't the Chill's ice cream parlor, but the few quarts of store brand ice cream and the relief at being back home at the ZB's warehouse made up for it. Besides, the industrial strength beanbag chairs were more comfortable.
"I'm not sure I liked that," Jake typed, wearing a tank-top that said "Bearly There". "That old hag never even glanced at us - it's like we weren't even there to her. I almost prefer Barnes!"
"Did yew see how much dey ghot?" Stan complained. "$75,000! Wee ghot a check feur $8000!"
"Oh, hush," Spots said, having showered and changed into a t-shirt and slacks, now much fluffier. "We got cleaning costs for our uniforms and the truck as well, and the HF'ers -" She pronounced it "huffers" "- also had to pay for the costs of the crane rental. Look, remember when you guys had to rent that pneumatic saw that one job? The job paid $5800, but the saw rental cost you $4500. You didn't complain about the saw being expensive, did you? You were just glad to make $1300! Well, you made $8000 today, so don't argue. We could've made nothing, or been stuck in the courts for months!"
"I agree," Jason added, serving himself a scoop of ice cream (tutti-fruiti) nearly one quart in size. "It gave me hope that the Barnes of the world won't win."
"Whot dew ya mean?" Stan asked. He was a rocky-road ice cream type himself.
"We do more to help SCABs by winning the respect of folks like the Wallaces than half these folks waving banners and doing protest marches on the capital," Jason answered in his slow way. "I don't care if most people never like or respect us - just as long as those who count respect us for who we are, then the rest can rot. I'm unsure I liked the Wallaces either, but I can work with them in this world, and they can work with us. I can hold them in respect. We earn our existence here because we've proven we can get the job done to the people who matter - the people who need jobs done, the ones who make decisions, not that rabble. The Barnes of the world can't sway those folks like they do the herds. We're not begging for our rights - we've earned them. I don't care if the world doesn't like that, just as long as it respects that."
The cheetah morph raised an eyebrow at Jason, and the others just looked at him. "Well said," she murmured.
Jason looked embarrassed by his outburst. "Sorry. It's just something I've always had strong feelings about."
Spots walked over and gave the hippotamus morph a hug. "Hey, I think you've got a point, but I think we need to be liked, too."
Jason put a rubbery arm around her that could snap a telephone pole in two and hugged her back gently. "I think we have that here."
Jake chuckled. "This is getting too sweet for ice cream, too. I'm in the mood for a drink now," he typed.
"Here, 'ere," Stan agreed. He waved around the check they had won that day. "I say' wee cehlebrate sumwheres!"
"Hmmmmmm," Spots purred, tilting her head to one side. "I think I know a place..."
"Just the spot, eh, Speedy...? - Hey! Ow! Stop that! Help...!"
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