by Kim Liu
© Kim Liu -- all rights reserved
The Bob'n'Bill's Bouncing Bicycle, or Four-B, shop was doing a brisk business. Before the Martian flu had ever happened, the Four-B was a custom bike shop, and also dealt in the specialized handicapped racing bikes/wheelchairs. They hadn't yet had a bicycle in the Olympics, but they had been getting close - the shop had some fairly sophisticated machining equipment. Since the flu and the appearance of SCABs, the shop had done even more business, quickly churning out designs for different body forms and digitgrade legs. Those who had had their legs changed into animal legs without the matching changes need to walk could sometimes still pedal - combining bicycle design with wheel chair design allowed for these people to still get around with their feet. There was still a goodly amount of norm business, and differently-abled norm business, but the Four-B was quickly becoming a nationally known bike shop for custom SCAB designs.
Walking past the clean brick front, and its fifty yards of glass store front with bikes of all sorts on display, there was an alleyway to the right, winding between the store and an old warehouse, and leading back to the Four-B's work area. Along the alleyway, there was a large delivery door to the warehouse which had been recently replaced, and a plain black and white sign hung above it which read:
Zoo'm'in Beings Messenger and Delivery Service
Inside the warehouse, the building had been cleaned up and partitioned with salvaged cubical partitions from a dozen different offices, or had had particle board walls put up to make separate rooms. The old warehouse office, built a floor up against one wall and reached by a set of stairs, was now the messenger's service office. The cubicles, called the 'Warrens' by the inhabitants, sat under the office. On the far side of the three story high interior, wooden frames and unpainted dry wall showed where real bedrooms were being built up. The center area was mostly open, except for a few work benches and stands for working on bikes, and a dinner table with a brick under one leg to keep it level.
Tires squealed on the concrete floor as Spots sped through the open doorway to the alley and hit the brakes on her bike. She was a cheetah morph SCAB, unable to shift, her fur sun golden with black spots. Before the SCAB virus, her name had been Scott, and she'd been male - the change had hit her hard. Her family had disowned her - her father even had had a death certificate filed! - and she'd been practically run out of town. Homeless, without identification, changed, and scorned, she'd made her way to the city. Even dirty, starved, and battered, she'd still been quite attractive to certain elements. Her blue eyes, the only outward of her that hadn't changed, scanned the dingy, old warehouse. "Thank god for this place," she thought feverently, not for the first time.
Leaning her bike against the bike rack, she walked/flowed over to the check in terminal, which consisted of a large color touch screen. With a few taps, she checked into the system, verifying the delivery she had just made, funds received, and any comments she had about the job. She noted that there looked to be construction starting on the corner of 3rd and Lowry, and to watch out for traffic there. A quick check of the scoreboard for today showed that the other members of the Zoo'm'in Beings were still out. Another tap on the screen, and the available jobs window flipped open. Her tail and whiskers twitched as she saw one pop up. "ZB freebie."
Zoo'm'in Being's freebies were reserved for a handful of groups and people who the Zoo'm'in Beings supported. The local volunteer SCAB shelter was one, the children's hospital another, a SCAB friendly church or two, and the ZB's 'stockholders'; those who had helped the ZB's get started, like the Four-B shop next door. Spots touched the item on the screen, and looked at the details.
Frank was flying in with a message from the Xatech R&D Complex outside of the city. Frank was 100% peregrine falcon, also form locked. The ZB was his only link with the rest of civilization now. He had a specially built shelter on the roof, and a special computer terminal - he was, perhaps, the most loyal to the ZB as a group. It was one of the few places where he could be treated with respect and work. He couldn't carry much, but when someone needed a diskette or data card transferred across town ASAP, traffic be damned... he was also very unnoticeable. Many people watched the doors to buildings, but few would notice 'just another bird' picking something up from a window ledge.
The cheetah morph frowned a little, tail swishing. This was listed as a 'quiet' job - not all of the ZB's members would have seen this on the job list. The half-dolphin researcher at Xatech was one of the ZB's sponsors, and requested a discreet pick up from one of his windows. The destination was in a more 'built up' part of town, inside, where Frank couldn't easily go, so Frank was flying back to the warehouse with the packet, then someone needed to take it to the... "Blind Pig Bar".
A touch on an icon brought up the intercom. "Webmaster," Spots asked, "Any details on this freebie?" Webmaster was a very rare form-lock... a six foot ("No, that's eight feet!") wide wolf spider. Insect SCABs were rare, and had even more prejudice against them than most. Webmaster never spoke much about his life previous to the virus, and no one asked. He ran the computer systems up in the office ("Eight eyes, eight screens, no problem.") handled the scheduling, billing, and administrative functions. He got a kick out of maintaining the ZB's 'net site, hence the name. "Like who I should deliver to?"
He and Spots were also two of the main founding members of Zoo'm'in Beings.
"Hi Spots," came the voder synthesized reply. He'd tweaked his to make it sound cheerful. "You'll know who it's for when you see him. Just go in and enjoy a drink, Scott. It's supposedly a very SCAB friendly place."
Feline eyes pricked forward at the use of her old name. Webmaster would only use that if the situation was serious. "I hear you," Spots answered, tail lashing more. "What's Frank's ETA?"
"I'll be here." Spots tapped in her acceptance of the job and walked over to the lounge 'area' of the warehouse. Industrial strength bean bags were the common seats, able to accomodate a wide variety of body styles. She slid, feline-bonelessly, into one, and waited, wondering why Flipper (Xatech R&D guru) was needing something this hushhush.
Zachariah's reclining bike was not in its place. Zach was one of the few semi-shifters of the ZB's. He could shift between a full form antelope and a morphic one. One of the few who could give Spots a good race - in their reclining bikes out on the salt flats, they once peaked at over 200 miles an hour in a race before their tires melted... Four-B's was one of the few places that made high-speed bike tires. "Must be on an run to another city," Spots mused.
Most people would wonder how the ZB's could compete with larger, commercial overnight companies. What the ZB's could offer that the big companies could not was when you handed your document to the messenger, it wasn't going to willingly leave his possession until the destination was reached - no transfers between trucks or planes, or passing from hand to hand or person to person. The ZB's had a limited amount of GPS land position trackers, and used those to monitor deliveries as well, to make sure things did not go astray.
People'd be surprized at number of folks who wanted that kind of assurance, Spots mused to herself. Once the ZB's had managed to last long enough to build up a reputation, those types of runs paid very well. Bicycles were much cheaper than cars to maintain.
The ZB's heavies were out today as well. Stan, a ox morph, Jason, a hippo morph, and Jake the grizzly morph were a recent addition to the ZB's. Need to get that grand piano moved across town to the concert hall in an hour? Six flights of stairs? No elevator? No problem. The ZB heavies practiced weekly on coordination and balance - dancing bear jokes aside - so that they could handle even delicate large heavy items. The state HazMat team once paid a cool $100K for their help in securing a truck illegally carrying tanks of poisonous waste. Very flammable - the HazMat team couldn't bring in any unsealed cranes or forklifts at the spill site. The HazMat folks had been very impressed with the delicacy with which things were handled. Their endorsement had helped land other jobs for the trio and their semi/pickup trunk kitbash.
There had been lean times as well as good like that, but the ZB's were surviving, one success story for SCABs in this world. There was talk about setting up a branch in the next city over, but it hadn't happened... yet. The ZB's services were pretty specialized, and it took a good sized city just to support them, and they cut costs where they could even so.
The rest of the ZB's were as varied... CB the rabbit morph, Ito the bat morph (ZB's midnight special), and Carrie the frilled-lizard morph. Sometimes they fought with each other, sometimes they cried, but they had no where else to go, so they stayed...
Spots looked around the warehouse, remembering all the events of the past few years. The time when they had the fund raiser with Four-B's for the local charities, where the ZB heavies juggled V-6 engines with each other... when some Human's First activist had shot Ito some night and severely wounded one wing... or even in the beginning -
"Frank's here," Webmaster announced.
The Blind Pig looked decent enough, though Spots still felt a bit uncomfortable walking in to a bar in her biking outfit - a spandex variant in black with red racing stripes and the ZB logo on the back - she felt it showed off her figure a little more than it should, though she had slowly come to terms with her gender change over the years.
Looking around, she couldn't see anyone she recognized, so reluctantly ordered a tomato juice and took a seat, ignoring for the most part the wolf whistles from the wolf morphs all gathered together in one part of the bar. One or two seemed to mistake her for someone called "Rydia", but only for a moment. After a little while of waiting, she started to relax in the jovial atmosphere, and started idly chitchatting with the barkeep, more than used to dealing with a voder conversation. He asked her if this was her first time at the Blind Pig, told her the ground rules, and then asked her about the ZB logo on her outfit.
So she explained about the Zoo'm'in Beings and what they did, how they had made their way in the world since the virus. A couple other SCABs drifted over and asked questions, or talked about how they survived the times, then onto politics and the recent election, and then onto many other things...
Sometime during all that, someone snuck a pink ribbon onto her tail. Full of jokesters the place was it seemed.
After a while, the door opened and shut, and someone ordered a milkshake in a familiar voice. Spots' ears shot up at the sound. "Excuse me," she told folks, and over. "Kim?"
The unassuming networking consultant looked up at her from where he was taking a seat. "Spots? What are you doing here?" he was quite startled. It had been a while, but Spots thought he was looking less well now than he used to be, older than he should. "Webster's need some more hardware?"
"I have a delivery, I think its for you," Spots answered, handing over a small cardboard envelope. "From Fli-er, Red." Kim frowned as he took it and opened up the package, dumping out a diskette. "There's a message, too," Spots added, Frank having tapped it out on his terminal for her. "Watch your sources."
An eyebrow went up and the frown deepened for a moment as he looked at the diskette, then he shook his head and put it away in a pocket. "Very odd," he murmured, then smiles. "Anyway, it's been a while, Spots. I hear ZB's is doing well.
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