Trickster's Gold
by Doug Linger

1997


Part 2
Powers That Be


[Blink]

Ahh, this run feels good. The pain is as good as gone.

I stopped abruptly, panting slightly. Run? Pain? What the hell? A second ago I wasn't running, I was about to be run over. I'd had broken bones and burns. Where were they?

Not that I was complaining. That wasn't my favorite way to die. But then, pretty much every method of dying wasn't my favorite. Still, what the hell happened?

I looked around. I was about two blocks from where I had been hit by eye beams. I started walking down the street, deep in thought.

I heard a commotion a little ways ahead. Whoa, major deja vu! I started walking towards it, then stopped. I remembered what happened last time I did that. Did that really happen? It was hard to tell.

Then I heard the pleas for calm turn into cries of pain and fear. I decided to take a detour.

By the time I walked up Leo's driveway I still didn't know what was going on. It was as clear as a memory would be, even the stuff that hadn't happened. I didn't get hit by eye beams, because I wasn't there. So why do I remember it? My mind was turning rapidly, but it was like a dog (or coyote) chasing its tail: it never got anywhere.

I knocked on Leo's door. Again, Michelle answered. "Hi Doug, er, Trickster. That was fast."

I nodded distractedly. "I ran some of the way."

"Then you've sped up a bit." She looked at me quizzically, her squirrelly ears moving interestingly. "Is something wrong?"

I shook my head. "No. Yes. Maybe, I dunno."

She led me into the living room. As usual the floor was covered with stuff; seeing carpet was a rarity. I picked my way carefully across to the couch and sat down. Leo was at the computer, netting, no doubt. The TV was on, showing news.

"So, what's up?" asked Michelle.

"You guys ever have deja vu?" I started. I proceeded with the whole story.

"You sure it wasn't your imagination?" asked Leo when I was done.

"Positive. This was too detailed. It seems like a memory, not something I dreamed up. But how can I remember something that never happened?"

"Maybe you've become psychic," suggested Leo.

I laughed. "That's her gig, not mine," I said, pointing to Michelle. She works on one of those phone lines. I wasn't sure whether I believed in ESP, but she at least has damn good intuition.

"Not the way you describe it. For me, it always comes as a flash of knowledge. I suddenly just know that the wife of this guy on the phone is cheating on him. I just know that this woman's husband left her in a red Toyota going south on a Sunday. But I don't actually remember it happening."

"Maybe if we get it to happen again, we can figure it out," Leo suggested.

"Nuh uh. I'm not going to let you try and surprise me with a baseball bat in ten minutes. What if I fail to predict it?" I was only half joking.

"I'm sure he didn't mean it like that," she smiled toothily. "Although sometimes we have wanted to take a bat to you..." she added.

Leo chuckled. "No, I was just think of you trying to predict, uh, remember, what happens in the next couple minutes."

"Um." I closed my eyes and took deep breaths (This place needed a cleaning! Whew!). I remember this conversation. I remember closing my eyes. I remember... I remember...

Nothing past that. Which is good, because the was nothing past that. But instead I felt something. I felt a switch, or maybe a dial. I knew it was there, but I was on the wrong side of it. I couldn't turn it.

"I think I'm coming at this from the wrong angle," I said after a few seconds. I kept trying to twist the knob, but my mental hand wouldn't wrap around correctly to grasp it. "What if..." With a bit of concentration, I walked around to the front. Now I could reach the dial. I turned it mentally.

[Blink]

Even with my eyes closed, the world blinked. "I did it!" I shouted. I tried to open my eyes when I realized they already were.

"What?" Leo asked, surprised.

"I managed to do it. Predict the next minute or two, I mean."

"What do you mean?" Michelle asked. "You just got to the part about the car. I'd say it's not hard to predict you'll be run over, except you're here instead of the hospital."

"What are you talking about?" I looked at them strangely. "I told you about that..." I stopped speaking, because I had figured it out. At least I thought I had.

They patiently waited for me to continue for a few seconds. "What?" Michelle finally asked.

"...two minutes ago," I finished. Then I waited; if one of them figured it out on their own, then maybe it won't be nuts.

They didn't. "No, it was just a couple seconds ago."

I sighed, trying to think of a good way to explain what I thought happened. Demonstrating it again would be pointless. "Haven't you guys ever watched Quantum Leap? Or watched Groundhog Day?"

"Of course." I could see them trying to figure out which part of the show I was talking about. "You mean you're a time traveler?"

"Got it in one! Even if it took a while. I'm like that guy in Groundhog Day, except I can do it voluntarily. I can replay the last couple minutes. To me, that's what it looks like; to anyone else, it looks like precognition."

"How the hell can you do that?" Leo wanted to know.

"Probably the same way lasers can come out of someone's eyes," I retorted.

"Or how we all changed into whatever we all changed into," Michelle added.

"Probably. Now the question is how far back I can go."

I imagined the dial again; there was no problem this time. My coming at that "dial" from behind was simply an analogy for thinking about it wrongly; I had been trying to predict the future, not travel to the past. I reached out and turned it as far as it would go.

Or at least I tried to. It wouldn't turn. "Dammit!"

"What's wrong?" Michelle asked.

"It won't turn." At their questioning looks, I briefly explained about the mental dial that I use.

"Any idea why not?" Michelle asked.

"I'm afraid I lost the manual."

"Maybe it needs to be reset, or something," Leo said helpfully.

"No, I don't think so. At least, not manually; what'd be the point?" I quickly tried again. "I guess I'll just try later."

"Okay, I guess. Hey, Trickster, we've been practicing what that lion told us while we waited for you."

"Changing to the full animal form?"

"Yeah. Wanna see?"

Leo looked kinda eager, and I had nothing better to do. "Sure," I said. "Just watch for those instincts, remember."

Leo nodded as he got up and went to an area that was clear of furniture, if not much else. There was a flash that blinded me for a moment. When I blinked away the spots, there was a large white rat on the floor. I needed to stand up to see him.

I started drooling. I couldn't help it. I saw that little rodent and something in me made me think Food! Leo had time for a terrified squeak before I pounced and grabbed him. Luckily, he managed to pull himself together enough to change back.

Have you ever held a 160 pound person by a leg with two fingers? If you have I can guarantee it wasn't for long. I dropped him straight onto my own head, since he was poised right above my mouth, ready to be dropped in.

"Jesus, Doug!" He scrambled off me and got a few items of furniture between us. Michelle was looking at me in horror.

I stayed on my back, for the moment. "Um, maybe you guys had better not do that around me."

"No, I don't think we will." Michelle was recovering a little, as was Leo, although he was still eyeing me. I got up.

"Sorry."

"Who has to watch for instincts?" Leo asked.

There wasn't much conversation for a while. It was just too awkward. What do you say to the man you just tried to eat? I watched TNC (it was speculating about the Powers that have been observed), Michelle read, and Leo went back to the net. His reading interesting Change stories from online aloud was most of what was said.

It was almost half an hour before I ventured, "Um...I'm going to try again. It wasn't this long between the first two times, so it'll probably work now."

They looked up from what they were doing. I took a look at the clock, then I turned the dial as far as it could go.

[Blink]

"Uumph!" I grunted. That took some effort. Hell, I felt like crap. I noticed I was still in Leo's house, and I was still a coyote. Didn't go back too far, then. I looked at the clock.

Ten minutes! All that effort for a measly ten minutes! Dammit, this sucks!

Leo looked up from the computer. "Are you okay?" Michelle looked worried as well.

"Gah. I just... went back again... to now. Took a hell... of an effort, though." I was actually out of breath and panting hard, despite the fact that I had just been sitting there.

"How far back did you go?" Michelle asked. Her ears were a lot more mobile than Leo's, I noticed.

"About ten minutes. 'Fraid I'm not going to be stopping the Plague War or anything," I said less breathily. I was recovering, but I was going to stay on the couch for a while. Twenty wild horse-morphs couldn't persuade me to get up right now.

"Never know until you try," Leo smiled.

"That's just it. I did try. Ten minutes is as far back as I can go. And you can see what I'm like then."

"Dead?"

"I wish."

Michelle got me a glass of water, which I drank a bit awkwardly due to my muzzle. I ended up throwing it down my throat, like drinking shots.

"Thanks." At their request I briefed them on what would have happened in the next ten minutes (not bloody much). Michelle then insisted I get some rest, to which I heartily agreed. I grabbed my keys, said my thanks and apologies, and left.

Traffic was almost normal in town, although if I rolled down my window I could faintly hear the Party still going on on campus.

Back home I went straight to bed. It was only a little after dinnertime, but time traveling took a lot out of me, especially that last one. I was functional, but lethargic, like I had run a long hard race. That, combined with my early rise made me exhausted.

I woke up the next day around 10 feeling much better. I looked myself over; yup, still a coyote. I climbed down the ladder from the bedroom and entered the bathroom. I started the shower up, then looked in the mirror. When the shower looked hot enough I got in.

I obviously had not thought this through.

Wet dog fur smells horrible. It wasn't as bad in some ways as before, since I was now the wet dog. But in another sense it was worse. My more sensitive nose insured that. I showered and shampoo-ed (Using an awful lot of shampoo.) and got out as quickly as I could.

Then there was the problem with drying. With all this fur I couldn't make do with the one towel I usually do. Unfortunately I only had one towel. I started to use the blow drier but got impatient and went outside, where I simply shook myself dry, imitating dogs as best I could. That introduced the whole problem of getting my fur looking nice... suffice it to say that the whole normal morning toiletry routine would need some adjusting.

When that was all finally done I strapped on one of those belly packs and put my wallet and keys in. Then I went over to the vacant lot next door. I wanted to test for other Powers.

The lot was not empty, as I had expected. There was a wolf-morph there (6th degree, by my admittedly subjective and inaccurate scale). I wasn't sure, but it was probably the woman from yesterday. Apparently she was also looking for Powers. I gave her a nod and braced myself, mentally. Norm-shifting looked and sounded pretty easy, but I had already seen a couple people get overrun by their instincts while in norm. I prepared as best I could, then tried to Norm-shift.

Nothing.

As I had been instructed, I envisioned a barrier. But whereas the lion-morph's had been reportedly like Jell-O, mine was more like cement. My mental nose was bruised from when I tried to step through it.

I pondered this. My other Power had needed a bit of concentration to get right. So I concentrated on making the wall soft; no go. I tried a door; nope. I imagined a jackhammer; negative response, captain. I just couldn't go all the way. I was upset and relieved at the same time.

Ok, so I can't Norm-shift. I tried briefly to Polymorph, but wasn't surprised when that failed also. Ok, what else did the news guys mention? Telekenisis? I tried to lift a fallen twig a few feet away with my mind, and couldn't. I couldn't turn invisible, or at least the wolf-morph claimed she could still see me. No eye beams emerged when I tried to destroy a tree, and I didn't notice any force shield when I tried that. I couldn't fly, not even when I shouted "Up up, and away!" (She looked at me strangely, but I got a lot of that before I Changed.)

That wrapped up the Powers I knew of. Now I would have to use my imagination. Luckily, I played Champions, which is a role-playing game that is geared towards superhero-type characters. So I started down the list of powers in the sourcebook. Armor, Clinging, Darkness, Density Increase... Some of them I couldn't test, like Absorption or Life Support. I'm pretty sure I didn't remember them all; I myself don't own a copy of the book, rather I rely on other people's.

At any rate, all the Powers I tried didn't work. Either I wasn't activating them correctly, or I had Powers I hadn't tried. Or, of course, I simply had the one Power.

I waved good-bye to the wolf, who had Norm-shifting and Flight. With the entertainment (me) going, she was leaving also. I'd never been much of a dater, but I got her phone number anyway. You never knew.

Back at the apartment, I turned the TV back on. A few channels were still off the air, but for the most part some semblance of normality had resumed. I was kind of weird to see recorded shows of Matlock on one channel, with everyone human, and on the next are live daytime talk shows, with everyone not. For the first time, I actually watched one; the premise was, "What are you going to do now that you and your spouse are natural enemies?"

Eventually I turned the TV off and went to make lunch. I opened the door to the fridge and nearly puked. I had some raunchy stuff in there that I didn't notice before due to my human nose. It took me fifteen minutes to get rid of everything that had gone bad, which included my pet Cool-Aid (Which had started out red punch 8 months ago but was now blue with three inches of yellow fuzz -- I didn't even try to save the container.), and some Twinkies. I thought it was impossible for these things to go bad!

The fridge still smelled awful, but the food that was left was edible. According to the museum notes, coyotes can eat pretty much anything, so I wouldn't have to worry about changing my diet. I had an apple and a raw hot dog, then started cooking hamburger. I wasn't sure if coyotes could drink Coke, but after I realized it was just sugar and water I gave it a try. When my stomach didn't explode I decided my stash could still be used, which I deemed good. Plain water always struck me as boring.

My burger was almost done when the phone rang, making me jump three feet. I'd thought those things would be busy longer. I answered, of course.

"Doug!" It was my mom; Dad was on the extension. "This is the third time we got through! Where were you?"

"Third time?" I asked, incredulous. My parents could be very persistent, but this...

"Yes. Once last night and once this morning."

I looked at the answering machine. Sure enough, there were two new messages there. "Ah. Well, I was asleep. And you know me and sleep..."

"Yes, we do," said my father. "So what did you do yesterday?"

"Oh, well, after turning into a coyote I went on campus. There's one hell of a party up there; it might still be going on," I said nonchalontly. "You?"

"Well, I'm a horse." There was a pause. "And your mother has a bit of bird in her now. We think it's pigeon."

This was too good an opportunity to pass up. "I guess you'll be teaching Pidgin English now, huh Mom?"

"Oh shut up." It was hard to tell if she was serious or not.

"Any word on Ken?"

"No, you know how he is," my mother said a little bitterly. My brother keeps trying to cut himself off from the rest of the family, with myself a slight exception. I often sympathized but was unable to just snub my parents like he did.

"Yeah, I -- crap! Hold on, my burger's burning!" I rushed into the kitchen and put the mean on a cool burner, then turned off the stove. I quickly put the burger on some white bread and took it back to the phone.

"Sorry. You caught me making lunch."

I was on the phone with my parents for over an hour. This was normal, except we talked entirely about the Change. They asked if I knew what my friends had become, and I told them about Leo and Michelle, and how I didn't know for anyone else. I asked about family. No word from my father's side, but my aunt and uncle on my mother's side had become a fish of some sort and a bull, respectively. My cousins remained unchanged, being too young.

After the phone call I did some quick experiments with my Power. I'd replay as small a time as I could, which turned out to be about a minute, then I'd continuously try to go back again. I found I could do so after two minutes. Which meant that I could not replay a time period a second time. Whatever happens the second time through, sticks. That could be a bummer, I thought. There wasn't much to do after that. I called some friends, but I either got no answer on the phone or they were busy. I went down to the pool, but I remembered the shower and didn't go in, even though I was pretty hot and panting all over the place. After a short time there I went to a couple of places in town I sometimes hang out at and basically, well, hung out.

A couple hours later a sudden thought occurred. I looked at the clock. "Crap!" I was going to be late for work. Now that I thought about it, I was supposed to work yesterday too. "Crap again!"

After a brief debate over whether to wear the uniform, I decided not to. If I'm not going to wear clothes, that includes this crappy uniform. The worst that can happen is I die a horrible screaming death. Since it was more likely I'd just be fired or sent home, I went without. Besides, I'd have to go back to my apartment to get it.

I got to the store in record time, despite catching two lights. I frankly was lucky I didn't pass any cops.

I burst in the door. "Sorry I'm late," I said. "And about yesterday..."

"That you, Doug? You didn't come in yesterday." My boss -- at least I thought that was him -- had become a raccoon morph. Pretty low degree, about a 3. He looked angry, but he didn't smell like it; he was obviously just trying to be authoratative.

"Ah, no, but with the Change..."

He glared at me, then sighed. "Don't worry about it. Nobody showed up yesterday. Including me, I might add." He looked at what I wasn't wearing. "Where's your uniform?"

Uh oh. "I thought...ah...with all this fur..." I stammered. I didn't really expect much to happen, and losing a pizza delivery job wouldn't be a major blow to my psyche, but I hate getting reamed.

The manager grunted. He was wearing the whole thing, but then he was a low degree morph. He thought for a moment, then shrugged. "Next time bring your hat and name tag," he instructed. I was relieved; no lecture.

"Aah...right. So are we open today?"

"Yeah, but I dunno how busy we'll be. Pizza's ingredients are all over the food charts; a lot of people won't be able to have certain parts anymore. But there's the low degree morphs, and the kids, so maybe it won't be too bad. We'll see."

It turned out to be busier than we expected. I think a lot of people didn't recognize their new dietary restrictions, and just tried to eat whatever they wanted. I really doubted it was good for the cougar-morph to eat a vegetarian pizza, or the cow-morph to eat an all-meat, but who am I to say?

I got some nice tips that night, though.

I didn't do much that night. After getting home from delivering I watched more TV. I read a little, being careful not to tear the pages with my claws, and played computer games. I really need a life. Then I went to bed.

Over the next week life resumed a kind of normality. People resumed working, usually the next day. Not all of them had work to do, though. The barbers in particular had much less business.

Classes took a long time to get going again. The administration tried briefly two days after the Change, but the Party on Jayhawk Boulevard had gained a life of its own; it was still going on. It seemed to have reached a steady state, with people drinking, dancing, talking, having sex, and basically doing whatever they pleased. So long as nobody was hurt, and property wasn't damaged (and there was very little of that, surprisingly), the police didn't have much they could do. There weren't nearly as many people there as there were the first day, but the number was relatively stable, with people constantly coming and going.

Eventually, a full week after the Change, police herded the Party to the football stadium, which was far enough away that the noise wouldn't disturb classes. It also returned the traffic situation back to its normal awfulness, instead of extreme awfulness.

My life, meanwhile had also returned to normal. Frankly, there wasn't that much affected by the Change. I would go to work, and come home, and lounge. I did start running regularly. It felt good, and coyotes have tons of endurance. And I went to my weekly meeting of CITS.

Chandler's Iced Tea Social was the name of a get-together (it was too sedate to be called a party) of the core users of a local free BBS. It was there that I got what little socialization I had in my life. I also saw most of my friends in their new forms for the first time.

Trevor, aka Chandler, was the host. "Trevor! What the hell are you?"

"A newt!" he called out, his tail waving around animatedly.

I put on an exaggerated, high-pitched British accent. "A newt?"

His tail waved faster, which I decided was a smile. Suddenly he shifted. Instead of Norm-shifting, though, he did the exact opposite. He became human. I was shocked.

With a second look, though, I noticed his eyes were still newty, and his skin was...off. But it was as human as I'd ever seen anybody for days, except children. "I got better," he replied, also in a fake British accent.

Everyone was rolling on the floor.

Despite reading of it on the BBS, it was still a bit of a shock to see Michaela as a kangaroo-morph. She was probably the only one in town, although her home town in Australia likely had quite a few. I joked that she would have some of her country with her always.

Tony Spangler had, luckily, become a flighted hawk-morph. I really think bad things would have happened if something like the Change occurred and Tony hadn't become at least a bird-morph.

"You look pretty good, Tony," Leo commented when he arrived. He knew if anyone here became a bird, it would be Tony.

"No I don't. A real hawk has a blue body and a red head," was the reply. He still wasn't entirely satisfied; he didn't just want to be a hawk, but a Jayhawk, KU's mascot.

"Gonna get some dye, then?"

"Probably."

"That's something I'd like to see," was my contribution to the conversation.

"You never did have any fashion sense," Michelle added.

The evening was spent telling personal Change stories which were told and retold with each new arrival. Patrick, now a cat-morph, had the most interesting ones, since he was actually awake and working during the Change. He had some amusing stories of what had happened at the radio station he works at; someone went a bit nuts on the air, apparently, and two people who had been having sex at the time found things getting a little hairy. (We all threw various things at him for that one; none were lethal, this time.)

Eventually conversation turned to what Powers we all had. Trevor we knew could control the degree of his Change, and Tony of course could fly. I told them a little of my Power, but for simplicity's sake I just told it in terms of precognition. Leo turned out to be Pyrokinetic, which made us all worry for the town's safety -- now he didn't need his homemade flamethrower. Michelle had found out she had Telekenesis yesterday when she saved some falling dishes. Patrick and Michaela, to the best of their knowledge, didn't have any Power, except Norm-shifting, which everyone but Tony and myself had. Most of the time, the Powers were only discussed, not demonstrated; Trevor didn't want to lose the security deposit on the apartment.

All in all, it wasn't a bad week. It was at the end of the week that my life got shaken up.

"What'd'ya mean, I'm fired?"

"Not fired, laid off. Dou...Trickster." He still had trouble with my new name. "You know how business has been since the Change."

I knew, all right. That first day may have been faster than expected, but it was slower than normal. Compared to the rest of the week, though, it was a circus. People had been getting sick all over from eating things that were bad for them. Pizza has so many different types of food that many morphs couldn't eat it.

"Those people are overreacting. Pizza can't be bad for that many people. Business will pick up again."

"Maybe. Probably. But in the meantime we have more drivers than we need. Look, Doug..." I growled, low in my throat. "Ah, Trickster, I'll hire you again if business picks up enough before you leave."

He was talking about my move west, which I had been planning for almost six months now. It was planned for August, when my apartment's lease ran out. "Right," I growled again, and left for home.

Now what do I do? I had some money put away, but that was for rent and bills. I pretty much relied on that paycheck for petty cash. That pizza delivery job wasn't much, but it was income. It was my only income. I wouldn't be here long enough to bother getting another job; I was leaving in six weeks.

I could always do temp work. But I shied away from that. I don't like offices; it was one reason I chose geology for my major. But what else was there to do?

I thought about my Power. A few people had been on Leno already, showing off some pretty bizarre abilities. One in particular, the pyrokinetic who could make flame sculptures (briefly), looked like he might get a lot of money out of it. But even if I could do something like that, it was a long-term solution. I needed something for the first six weeks, not to mention enough money to actually make the trip. Without income, the money that would have gone towards that would be used up by then.

I thought about what I could do with my Power, and grinned wistfully. It was too bad I couldn't replay an entire day or more; then I could play the stock market.

Then I barked a laugh. Who needs the stock market? My tail started to wag more enthusiastically. I got the phone book and looked up the appropriate phone number, and began dialing.

About fifteen minutes later, I hung up, slightly disappointed. I wouldn't be able to try out that particular aspect for a few days, when they reopened. But if it works... Hoo boy!

Now that I had a goal, I had to make sure it could be achieved. "To the book depository!" I cried to nobody in particular. Two hours later I had two books on law and four on what may become my new profession.

Three days later I was at the racetrack.



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