Monday, October 24, 2011

Oktober the Twenty-Third: The Trouble with Unicorns

 This thing here wants to be long. Loooonnnngg. Longer than a short, maybe.

 Which is why I didn't finish it yet. I will, tomorrow I hope, but I've put the bud here for blooming or deadheading, whichever you choose. I spent more of the day than you'd believe on it.

 Those familiar with the RPG world of Shadowrun will realize where the basic background comes from, but I've taken liberties, as I'm not intending to write a module for Shadowrunners, but a story.


 There's a helpful prologue. Now I'm going to bed.

 Night-night, Mari


The Trouble with Unicorns

By Mari Kozlowski


 In the year 4027, after magic had reawakened in the world, become entrenched, taken over, and inevitably run its course through humanity’s capacity for enlightenment, there were few real practitioners left in Canada and the USA. Not many of those lived openly as mage or wizard anymore, either. Religious pogroms and political marginalization had taken their toll on the population, and magic-users gradually became second-class citizens, unwelcome in many areas; sometimes violently so. Even book-learned witches had lost their former cachet as normals began to consider them dangerous imitators.

 Natural born healers went into private practice as doctors that hired nurses or midwives also afflicted with magic, or at least sympathetic towards those so cursed. Mages with a mechanical specialty worked in R&D departments, or as geek squads, or wherever they could find a fit for their talents. It wasn’t what it had been; large corporations that had once hired scores of mages to maintain mainframe security or commit ethereal espionage had gone back to hiring human technicians, programmers and guards. It was hard to make a living off of magic.

 The Elves had it harder; their wispy beauty and lovely voices made blending back into “normal” society difficult. Some let themselves go to fat and had their ears surgically altered, took up smoking and procreated with unattractive humans, that their progeny might have an easier time of it. Some lived as hermits, in the mountains as hermits will; some settled in enclaves of their own kind and refused to intermingle with the rest of the world. The rest of the world didn’t care enough to be insulted, except when it needed a scapegoat.

  The other mutants had it worse-- Orcs had been all but cleansed from the North, and those in the South mostly stayed by the rivers, the deltas, the bayou, where oddity was a given. It was the same for ogres, trolls, lizardmen and werewolves. They made their living off of fishing and hunting, or cooking and selling illegal herbal preparations for various ailments.*  A small contingent worked the line in factories or picked cotton, fruit and tobacco, keeping alive the American tradition of back-breaking labor for lousy pay. They began to die at about the same rate as humans, instead of the doubled lifespans they had enjoyed in the previous millennium.

 The more things change, the more they stay the same; those who forget History are doomed to repeat it, etc. These clichés were proven again and again in the century leading up to the year 4010, when the old laws protecting the rights of mutants were repealed. Wage disparity and lack of opportunity for advancement became the rule for all mutants as their numbers dwindled to minority status. Even the magical creatures once considered preciously exotic, like the Great Gryphons, Chimerae, Dragons and Unicorns fell out of favor. Some species had already been hunted to near extinction, but in 4010, they got thrown off the endangered list, and other protective measures were canned as well. It was open season. The 25+ species and subspecies of Basilisk had completely disappeared by 4016.

*The ironically named Wolfen Salve was still the surest way to heal a bite, gash or other open wound quickly and without scarring. It smelled good, too.


 Matt held the filthy string between his teeth and pulled till the knot tightened as far as it would go. Lenny shook his hoof, trying it out— it held the muffling fabric cover on so it didn’t move. Now his clodhoppers wouldn’t make such a recognizable sound on the pavement they had to cross.

 “Thanks, man. That should work.” Lenny said. “You think we have long to wait?”

“Naw.” Matt answered. “Another ten minutes it should be dark enough, maybe twenty.”

“I told you we’d end up in the suburbs if we kept going East.”

“Nothing wrong with the suburbs that a good mushroom cloud couldn’t improve.”

 Matt searched his backpack for something to eat and found a single Three Musketeers  left from their last midnight grocery store raid. Luckily, Lenny hated chocolate, so he wouldn’t be sharing.  

 He ate his last candy bar, watching the unicorn polish his iridescent violet horn against his pearly sides. Well, they were pearly when he could catch a bath every few days… the last week of traveling through slimy underbrush in the backwoods hadn’t done their hygiene any favors.

 But still, even over the smell of their combined funk, Lenny’s wide nostrils flared at the scent of the chocolate. He looked up from his grooming and frowned, disgusted.

“Do you know what that’s made of? It’s pure chemical death in a sweet package.”

“Len, you have your vices, I have mine. It’s a hereditary weakness, okay? That’s what being half-human does to you.” He took a quick look in the sack tied onto Lenny’s back and found an apple.

“Here, take this. We can get more soon.”

 Lenny shook his head. “I can’t eat with that smell near me. Just hurry up and finish it so I can psyche up for this. The last time I went through the ‘burbs some kid shot me with a BB gun. That shit stings!”

“Right before we met?” Matt asked.

“Yeah. Remember the bandage on my ass?”

 He stretched his neck and looked out from around the billboard they had camped behind this morning. It was a risk, using a billboard as shelter— cops used them too. But this location wasn’t great for catching speeders. They’d had a quiet day’s rest, for once.   

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