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

It began very innocently in a corner of the Blind Pig. I was talking to Phil about some troubles I had been having. Phil had become my source of psychological support because Sadie could no longer fulfil that requirement. It would have been a bad arrangement, and I think illegal, possibly, since we had become secretly engaged. Phil managed to pick up her work nicely. He was smart, caring, and best of all, he didn't charge!

"I still feel like an outsider, Phil." I said. "Like I don't belong here at the Pig."

"Not even since you became a SCAB?" asked Phil.

I shook my head. "It used to be that I had a unique situation. I was, in a very real way, both a SCAB and a norm at the same time. I expected not to fit in anywhere. I was surprised that I found a place here to the degree that I did."

"And now?"

"Now I've gone from being a norm who purrs to an almost fully morphed otter. I'm even higher degree than you. Now I don't have that convenient excuse of being in two worlds."

I sensed that Phil was a tiny bit uncomfortable. He was a SCABS councilor, but this was on the edge of being a SCABS related problem. "I really shouldn't be bothering you with this." I said, apologetically.

"It's okay." said Phil, placing his paw on mine. "Tell me why you feel like an outsider."

"Well, you know that I put an effort forward to be friendly."

"I always thought it was easy for you."

"Not always. I'm fun-loving, sure, but a touch on the shy side. That's why I try so hard to be fun and friendly and funny."

Phil nodded.

"And people have been nice to me. Jon is renting me the spare cabin. Mr. Batran has taken me to the waterpark. Brad even gave me the rights to hir story about Mars. And yet..."

"Yes?"

"It's like when everyone gets together, it's Wanderer and Copernicus and Bryan and Jon and Phil and Jack and Bob and Brian..." I switched to a slightly disgusted tone. "oh yeah, and otter, too."

It isn't really important how the conversation ended. What's important is that somebody overheard the conversation up to that point. I didn't even see him slip out the door.


It was weeks later that "It" finally happened. Our unseen eavesdropper had to wait for just the right mix of people to be in the bar. It was a slow day. It was me, Bob, Bryan, Phil, Brad and Jon. Donnie was tending bar. All of the sudden, in walked the most gorgeous spotted newt morph I have ever seen. She went to the bar and sat down, ordering a simple seltzer. I should have been suspicious right then.

She turned to her right and saw Doctor Bob sitting there. "I know who you are." she said, trying not to sound too enthusiastic. "You're Bob Stein, the man who discovered SCABS, aren't you?"

Bob smiled, looking slightly embarrassed, and nodded. "And you're Brian Derksen!" she said as she looked past Bob to the giant roach. I don't believe my bad luck."

"Bad luck?" Bryan echoed.

"Hi. I'm Kelly Panes. I'm a reporter. Yeah, bad luck. I have a policy of never bugging someone for an interview when they're trying to relax, and here I find the world's two foremost experts on SCABS in one place... I shouldn't even be explaining this, but I would just kill to get a few words from you on paper."

"We'd be glad to give you an interview." said Bryan. Wouldn't we Bob?"

Bob nodded and nickered.

"Oh, you guys are so great!" said Kelly as she took a worn looking notepad and pencil out of a vest pocket. That was the second clue I should have gotten. She didn't ask the usual questions like "How does it feel to be a famous scientist?" or "what's it like being a giant bug?" Her questions were far more probing and insightful. "Are there any instances in your childhoods which might have affected your career choice in virology?" and "Have your patients made unusual demands on you in the past because you were both polymorphs?"

As she was wrapping up her interview with Bob and Bryan, Brad came over, swaggering just a little. "After you're through," s'he said. "How would you like to interview an astronaut?"

"Brad Fox?" said Kelly, sounding not a little bit excited. "I would love to!"

I casually listened to the interview as I worked on some sketches in my notebook. "What was your reaction to the revelation that SCABS originated on Mars?"

"Most people became scared of space. Me? I wanted to go see if I could find whatever it was SCABS last used as a host! I started daydreaming of the possible origins of SCABS. I came up with a story that... well... let's just say my drinking buddies found it very entertaining."

"Do you do any writing? Any storytelling?"

"I'm glad you asked that."

After a lengthy exposition of Brad's failed attempts at getting published, she looked across the bar and said "speaking of writers..."

"Who me?" said Phil. "I'm just a councilor."

"You have to be Phil Geusz."

She knew how to pronounce "Geusz". That was the third clue I missed.

"Well... Yes."

"I read your expose on the lapine colonies. I have been a fan of yours ever since."

"Um... Thank you."

"Can I just ask you a few questions? Out of curiosity?"

"Go right ahead."

Again, the remarkably insightful questions, ranging from his experience in the auto factory to amusing anecdotes about his time as a councilor. "Let me tell you," said Phil. "When that woman attacked me, she did not move like a sloth at all. I knew then that I had made the right call. Problem was, I didn't know for certain that I'd live to tell anyone about it."

Kelly laughed. "You've got me wondering now who this woman could be."

"I can't tell you that, but I can tell you that she moved up North in search of a more gullible councilor."

"Excuse me..." said Jon, walking up to the table. "I'm Jon Sleeper..."

"Jon sleeper?" Kelly repeated. "I know that name... you're the man who figured out how to predict tornadoes! I am very pleased to meet you."

"Likewise. You say you're a reporter? Paper, TV or web?"

"TV."

"Really? I have been racking my brain trying to figure out where I might have seen you before."

"Well, I'm actually fairly new to the area. I work at WEZR."

"I see."

"I'm breaking my own rules yet again, but... can I ask you how you came up with your tornado prediction system?"

I continued to sketch in my book and drink my milk, keeping to myself. I heard Jon say "Now if you want a success story, go talk to Donnie over there. In fact, I'll go with you. You'll need a translator."

She used the same probing curiosity on Donnie, asking him for details on his life before opening the Pig, wanting to get the full scoop on how he went from deacon to bartender in six easy lessons. Donnie was most forthcoming and treated the reporter to a ginger ale on the house as he regaled her with his entrepreneurial saga. I figured she would get to me next, since I was the last person in the bar.

Kelley finished up her drink, put her notepad back into her vest, and headed toward the door, saying, "Well, thank you everyone for those unofficial interviews. You have really made this reporter's day. Unfortunately, I have to be leaving now... right after I use the ladies' room."

"Say..." I said as she passed. "Would you be interested in... interviewing... a... Never mind."

I went back to my sketches. I tried not to let it get to me. I tried to keep to myself, but I couldn't help it. I let out a chirp, followed by another. Before I could stop myself, I was crying.

"Oren?" said Phil. "What's the matter?"

I shook my head. I was too ashamed to answer, but the rabbit pressed. "Is it because Kelly didn't interview you?"

I nodded sadly. "She shouldn't have to, though." I said. "I mean you guys are astronauts and doctors and scientists... What am I but a poor little ol' cartoonist?"

Phil pet me on the head. He didn't know what to say. This was way beyond SCABS counseling. Donnie grunted. He came around from behind the bar and proceeded to wipe a small wet spot off of the floor. It was then that I began to suspect.

"Wait a minute." said Jon. "WEZR is a radio station in Virginia!"

When Kelly came out of the bathroom, Bryan grabbed her and said "Before you go, you might be interested to know that we have a famous name in the comics industry with us."

"That's... nice." said the newt as she attempted to move away. Brad, being the mannerless savage that s'he is, reached over and grabbed her tail to prevent her from leaving before Bryan was done talking. The tail squished in his hand.

"What the?"

Kelly got the "deer in the headlights" look. Bryan sniffed with his antenna. "She's made of clay!" he announced. That was when I stood up on my seat and demanded "Gornul Eaves! What are you doing?" Gornul smoothed her... his tail back into it's proper shape. "Geez... I was only trying to... you know... help."

"Help what?"

He looked over at me. "Oren was feeling like an outsider, so I came here as Kelly to interview everybody except him. I figured you'd all see how excluded he felt and feel sorry for him and start being nicer to him."

"Gornul!" I said as I dropped down out of my seat. He cringed at what was coming. I came right up to him, grabbed his leg and hugged him. "That was the nicest thing anyone ever did for me!"

"Huh? You're not offended?"

"Gornul, I am going to ask that you never do anything like that ever again, but I'm touched that you tried to make me feel better, even if you made me feel worse first."

Brad was scratching hir head. "So I was flirting with a man all this time?" s'he said. "Cool."

"Gornul?" said Jon. "Where DO you work anyway?"

"I don't." said the newt, who was even now reshaping him/herself into his usual dragon shape. "Fortunately, I don't have to eat."

"How would you like a job? I can get you an interview at the paper. We could use a reporter like you."

"But I can't write." said Gornul.

"But you ask good questions." said Jon. "Heck, they hired a guy a week ago who writes well, but doesn't know the first thing about investigation. Mac Irons, if I remember."

"Mac?" I said. "Mac works at the paper?"

"You know him?"

"We ... we were co-workers."

"You really think I have a shot?" asked Gornul, excitedly

"I do. I could even take you to see the boss now if you want."

"Wow... I'd better go change out of this skirt then."

"Hold on!" said Bryan. Sit down."

"What is it?"

"You're not going anywhere until you interview the otter."

I laughed. It was good to feel important to someone.

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