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by Oren the Otter
Oren the Otter -- all rights reserved
 

"Crud." I muttered under my breath. "I didn't make it aboard the Photon, either? When the hack is Spacefleet gonna decide where the heck they want me?"

I smashed my head into my pillow. I was so angry and depressed and despairing all at the same time. It looked like I would never get a decent posting. All I ever wanted was to get aboard a starship and see the galaxy. It looked like that was never going to happen.

I was going to be stuck on Earth forever. That was more than I could take. I had lost hope for the last time. I took a bottle of stimulants. I swallowed the whole thing. To my unusual chemistry, it was the same as overdosing on sleeping pills.

I lay down to let oblivion take me away from my miserable life.

"Oren Verden!"

I jumped up at the sound of my name. I looked across my quarters to see a woman dressed in a gauzy white robe with metallic blue hair. (The woman, not the robe.) In her hand, she held the empty medicine bottle. "Honestly, Oren, did you really take all of these?"

"Who are you?" I asked.

"My name is Styla. I am your guardian."

"My guardian? You mean like an angel? My own personal guardian angel?"

"No. I don't usually appear to my charges, but in your case, I saw it necessary to make an exception, so I will be frank with you. I am a multidimensional being. I exist in a number of realities simultaneously."

"I see."

"In each reality, I watch over a very special set of people. You, Oren, are one of my people."

"Am I dreaming?" I asked.

"Yes. You are."

"Oh."

"Come." she said. "I have much to show you."

"Is this like a 'Christmas Carol' thing?"

"More like 'it's a wonderful Life'."

"I see."

"I am going to show you some of my favorite alternate realities."

A portal appeared in the wall of my quarters. It was a perfectly round torus of constantly imploding purple smoke. "You're going to love this first one." she said. .....

"Where are we?" I asked as I looked about. As near as I could tell, we had just stepped through the wall of a bar. The bar looked normal enough, but the inhabitants were far from normal. About three quarters of them weren't even human. "What happened to these people?" I asked.

"A disease. It came from outer space. It begins as an ordinary Flu, but when it advances, it causes changes in age, gender, or species."

"Wow. Hey, before we go any further, are we invisible?"

Styla nodded and smiled. "Yes. We are invisible. The people here can neither see nor hear us. Turn your attention now to the door."

I did. An otter walked in. "Hi everybody!" he said.

"Hiya Oren" came the responses.

"He's got the same name as me!" I said in surprise.

"There's a reason for that. Listen."

"Donnie," said the otter to the bartender. "I'll have a Virgin Mary."

The bartender chuckled.

The otter leaned over to a creature who looked like a stuffed porcupine. "He still finds the name I invented for the Virgin Mary funny." he whispered.

"I hate to burst your bubble," said the porcupine. "But you didn't invent it. He's chuckling because he's letting you think you did."

The otter was silent for a moment, and then burst out laughing at himself. He took his tomato drink and went over to sit with a humanoid white fox.

"Hey Oren." said the fox.

"Hey, Xander. How ya doin'?"

"Much better, thanks. Hey, I want to thank you for coming over and talking to me yesterday. I didn't think anybody knew I existed."

"No problem. I like to cheer people up."

"And he's good at it." said a dragon as he sat down at the table. He cheered me up pretty good too, that night."

Oren looked across the bar and saw someone. He politely excused himself and changed tables. "Hey, S... Mr. Batran, how ya doin'?"

"I'm doing great." said the man with a smile. "I finally went an did it."

"Did what?"

His voice went down to a whisper. "Do you remember when we joked about getting me turned into an otter so I could find out why otters love waterslides so much?"

"You did?"

"I did, and it was a blast! Oren, I want to thank you for teaching me that it's possible to have fun without getting plastered."

"Aw, shoot." said the otter in embarrassment. "T'weren't nothin'.

"Come." said Styla. There is more to see."

I was sure we were invisible, but I could have sworn that the bartender waved goodbye. .....

We stepped out of the portal and into a castle. The sky was dark, but the place was lit up by torchlight. I heard cries of "He's here! He's here!" I looked to see what the people were shouting about. I saw a humanoid skunk escorting a humanoid otter through the courts of the castle.

"It's a keep." said Styla.

"A what?"

"A keep. You were calling it a castle. It's a keep."

"I didn't say a thing!"

"Shh! Watch!"

As I looked, a whole bunch of people, (again, mostly animal) gathered around to see the otter person.

"What is this thing with otters?" I asked.

"Hush! You're missing the introductions!"

The otter-man held out his hand to a rat-man and said "ppprrrrr... Oren, son of Nerr."

I turned from the crowd. "This is getting weird." I said. "You've shown me two otters with the same name as me! What are you trying to show me?"

Styla turned my head back around. "One thing I wanted to show you was that OREN just ARRIVED!"

"I SEE that! So?"

"Remember it. Well, you just talked through the most important part of the conversation, so we might as well go on." She stepped though the portal again.

This time, we stepped into the bedroom of a man sitting at the computer in his underwear. "Oh, geez, Styla, what are we doing here?"

"Look."

I looked at his face. I was amazed. "It's me! Don't tell me he's got the name Oren, too."

"Yes and no. His name is Eric Vary, but look at his screen name.

I did. It was "Oren-the-Otter".

"What is this thing with otters?" I demanded.

"Will you shut up and read?" said Styla in disgust. I did as I was told. He was reading a letter, which read like this:

Date: Sun, 11 Oct 1998 05:23:07 -0500 From: pgeusz at edge.net (phil geusz) Reply-To: pgeusz at edge.net Organization: Nine X-Mailer: Mozilla 3.01C-E-KIT (Win95; U) To: Oren the Otter <bevary at atcjet.net> Subject: Re: story: HEA: A Mother's Love

Hello!

> > > > > I wrote that story so quickly... and I was angry when I did it. Then > again... that's exactly how you wrote "Butch and the Blade", isn't it?

Pre-cisely! :)

> I sometimes wonder, though, if you are sincere, or you are trying to boost > my confidence. You are one of the best writers I have ever seen, if not > THE best. I think you should be on paper. I aspire to be as good as you. > (Though this week, I think Fish may have bumped you to second place. MAN, > I love that monster story!)

Thanks for the VERY kind words, but I got 5 rejections slips from publishers this week alone. <sigh>

Fish's work WAS good!

Oren, I think you are the brightest light I have seen come to the List since you-know-who. Please do not repeat this, because I get knocked sometimes for calling 'em as I see 'em. Right now, my fave writers are you, you-know who, and whatsisface. This list changes some from time to time, but I think you are gonna stay right up there.

Oren, you have just about got it all. Your story ideas are superior to anyone else's, and your imagery and emotional content are HUGE. Furthermore, your prose flows in a way that is indefinable but very pleasing to me. I like the way you put the inner workings of your mind on paper. Frankly, what I see you do is what I TRY to do. I see you as being fairly close to making it as a pro right now.

Are you submitting to paying markets? If not, why not?

Sometimes, I HAVE been known to boost egos, usually after a fairly nasty critique. Many of our writers are just beginning to learn to take the step of exposing their inner selves to the heartless public. But you need no such boost- your work stands on its own merit as well as anyone's, including mine. Frankly, I got a bit jealous of Chan for a little bit, and sometimes I get that way about you now. Does that tell you how sincere my respect for your talent is?

> One of the biggest reasons I am part of this list is for the sake of > education. I am trying to build my skills as a writer because I know that > I am still lacking considerably. > Still, praise from you is like a drink of cold water. It is refreshing > and revitalising, especially when I have majorly flubbed.

I have never seen you flub.

It is because you said you are interested in education that I wrote this letter in the form that I did. Frankly, I am an auto worker, not a pro writer. Even less am I a writing critic or teacher. But the above is my honest opinion, for whatever good it does.

And you boosted MY ego tremendously tonight, when I needed it badly after all those rejections. IMO, my writing quality has been steadily dropping, and my work is starting to look all the same to me. Thank you VERY sincerely for a needed burst of confidence! :)

Phil =:3

"So... in this universe, I'm a writer?" "A great writer, but you're new yet. You haven't learned yet that you are that good."

"Wait a minute... if this "Oren the Otter" is me, then the other two..."

"Were you as well. Both started out human."

"Well," said the other me. "Time to go to work." He shut down the computer and started dressing... in an otter suit.

"Where does he work?" I asked.

"A department store."

"In an otter suit?"

"Hello? It's Halloween."

"Oh."

Once more, we stepped through the torus. .....

"Grab the ferret and lets get out of here!" screamed this new Oren. As he looked about nervously, swinging the barrel of his pulse emitter.

"Okay, what am I in this one?"

"You're a freedom fighter, trying to save the human race from extinction due to overzealous aliens. They call this one the "HEA universe". It stands for "Human Extinction Agency".

"These universes have names?"

"OH yes. Some of them exist as fiction within other universes. This one is a series of short stories in the MK and RL universes. TBP and WOC are television shows in each other. Of course, there are also universes where there isn't a distinct separation from the others. Would you like to see one?"

"I guess. I know you're taking me anyway."

"True. Hold on tight!" .....

"Look, I did not sign up for the urine of the month club! What I said was 'Lycanthropy', not 'Lycanthrope pee'!"

"This you faces problems like this every day. He's a professor at the Transmogrification Studies Academy."

"How did this one become an otter?"

"He won the ottery."

"I... see..."

"He sometimes feels he isn't making a difference, but you should have SEEN the way he won that last football game. My, my! Hey, you want to meet some of the staff? Say Dean Hassan, or Nurse Genie, or Phil the rabbit in auto shop?"

"If we make it quick. I gotta wake up in a few hours."

Styla scowled. "You weren't PLANNING to wake up at all."

"Oh yeah." .....

This time, when we stepped through the purple smoke ring, we ended up in a big grassy field. There were animals out in front of us. Rabbits and horses and otters and foxes... lots of foxes. "I've done it!" said a rabbit.

"Done what?" asked a cat.

"I've built a machine that can turn people into mythological humans! Who wants to volunteer to go first?"

"I will!" said an otter. I knew in an instant that it was me.

"Styla?" I said. "One question. Does that machine add clothing?"

"No."

"Let's jump to the next universe."

"Good idea." .....

A black and white flying carpet pulled to a stop and shut its sirens off. A humanoid otter (me again) and a dragon dismounted, escorting a shackled tiger.

"Oh good!" said Styla. "That's the guy who got Captain Webster. They've been after him for months."

"Styla," I said. "You've taken me to a lot of different realities, including a lot that we didn't bother to describe in this story." I paused. "Story? What story?"

"That's an aftereffect of the Academy universe. Just ignore it."

I continued. "I've met a thousand different versions of myself, not to mention Thomas Hassan, Phil Geusz, Bob Stein, Brian Coe, Jon Sleeper, Jack DeMule... What is the point of all this?"

Styla gently but firmly grabbed my head. "The point" she said with forced patience. "Is that every TSA universe needs it's Oren! Got it?"

"Got it."

"Now, no more suicide attempts?"

"Promise."

"Good. Now wake up and answer your communicator." .....

I snapped awake and answered the communicator. I was back in my own universe. The "O W universe, as Styla had called it. I had received a visual communique. I punched it up. I had been assigned to the starship Tessa as the newest member of the bridge crew. I whooped for joy. .....

"Welcome aboard, Lieutenant Verden." said the young officer.

"Jesse!" I said. "Nice to meet you!"

"Do I know you?"

"No."

"I see. Well, I've been assigned to escort you to the bridge."

We reached the bridge and Jesse began introducing me to the other officers. "This is our Ship's councilor..."

"Istanbul! Hi, how ya doin?"

"Hi."

Jesse continued. "And this is our head of engineering, Commander..."

"Phil Geusz! How ya been?"

"Fine." said the engineer with a look of confusion.

Jesse looked at me and said "Is there anyone here you DON'T already know?"

"I don't know anybody here."

At that point, Captain Hassan stepped onto the bridge. I fired off a crisp salute, already knowing that he would tell me "such formality is not necessary aboard the Tessa, Lieutenant."

"Aye Sir."

Jesse showed me to my place at navigation.

"We've just received our orders, crew. There's a horrible mutagenic virus ravaging planet Phaedrus. We're the only ship in the system, so it's up to us to offer assistance. Verden, plot course for Phaedrus."

As I obeyed the Captain's order, I sang "I know what's gonna happen."

The helmsman leaned over and asked "You do? What's gonna happen?"

"Well, Brian, lets just say that you're going to need a smaller uniform." .....

Styla sighed to herself and checked off a line on a list. "One more down." she said. "Now to put an Oren in the Winds of Change universe. A cosmic's work is never done." -end

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