|A day shy of a week ago Robotech Master was out on his e-bike when an SUV struck him and drove off. According to the most recent news available, he passed away from his injuries at around 2:00 this morning. I have kept some news up on his user page and, at this point, ask that anyone wishing to leave messages or tributes do so on either his talk page or another page that can be used for such things. His account here and all of the stories he has gifted the Shifti community with will be preserved in memoriam, as we also did for Morgan.|
Legacy of Flight
Samuel Smith drove slowly into the small settlement, his car bumping on the uneven asphalt of the short main road. The place didn't really deserve the title 'town', it was more a collection of prefabricated plywood shacks than any sort of real community. But there were people who called it home nonetheless, people who watched from the clouded windows with slight interest as he drove past.
Sam certainly didn't call the place home himself, even though he had been born and raised here for his first twenty years of life. He had escaped long ago, gone to find his fortune in the real cities outside the reservation. Gone to live the white man's life. And he had been fairly successful at it, too; he had worked hard and made opportunities for himself. He wasn't wealthy, not by a long shot, but he had earned a reasonable blue-collar living. He was content with his life, and would probably never have come back here if he'd had the choice.
But last week he had received a letter from his father, the first one he had sent since their parting ten years ago. Theirs had not been a pleasant relationship, and Sam almost threw the envelope away unopened. Part of him wished that he had. It would have spared him the painful soul-searching that had finally convinced him to return.
His father was dying, the letter informed him, and he wanted to speak with Sam one last time. One last time, on his terms, on the land of their ancestors. Sam's ancestors meant nothing to him, but those nights of soul-searching had revealed to him that in some small way his father still did, even after everything that had happened between the two of them. He had finally decided that he would honor his father's last request. But it would also be the last time he ever came back here, Sam resolved as he pulled into the driveway leading to his family 'estate'. The reservation was just too damned depressing. He got out of the car and walked slowly up to the door.
It opened when he got there, and for one brief moment Sam's expression betrayed concern; his father stood inside, his frame prematurely withered and far from the powerful presence he remembered. A tired, broken man, living in a tired and broken house. Then his expression hardened again as his father greeted him. "So you came. It is good to see you home at last, Yellow Bear."
"My name is Samuel, father," Sam replied.
Samuel's father glared at him with a surge of anger filling his eyes, but then quite suddenly he sagged in defeat and nodded tiredly. "So be it, son. Please come in." He turned and shuffled back inside, and for a moment Sam was too stunned to follow. His father had never given up that old fight before. Tribal names meant a lot to his father, they were a powerful symbol. And in a way they meant just as much to Sam; he had always bitterly rejected his as a mark binding him to the old ways of a failed, dead culture.
Samuel at last followed his father inside, almost meekly. It had begun to dawn on him the significance of the moment. His father really was dying. It hadn't really sunk in before.
"What is the illness? You didn't say in the letter," Sam asked quietly as he and his father sat down in one of the threadbare chairs in the living room, still in the same places they had been when he'd last seen them ten years ago.
His father shook his head. "It does not matter, there is nothing more to be done for me. My time is almost past." He let out a dry coughing chuckle. "As you have always told me, Samuel. And the old ways, they too will die soon."
Sam leaned forward, somehow no longer as satisfied with that concept as he had been mere minutes ago. "Father, I--"
His father held up a gnarled hand, cutting him short. "Son... Samuel, do not lie to me or to yourself. Not now. I know how you feel about the old ways. And you know how I feel about them. I disowned you rather than see a son of mine turn away from our heritage. But now... I feel that perhaps I was wrong. Had I allowed you greater freedom to find your own calling, you might have chosen to carry at least part of our legacy with you. Instead my inflexibility has driven you away from me completely, and doomed it all."
Sam sat silently for several long seconds. He wouldn't apologize, he couldn't; the old man had flat out said that he had been in the wrong. But at the same time he couldn't see his father truly apologizing, either. He had seen it as Samuel's duty to follow in his footsteps... "I regret that it took until now to become clear," Sam said at last. "It's been so long... I think it's too late."
Sam's father smiled and shook his head. "No. There is still time for me to pass on the most important thing. I had been waiting for you to come home, to become a true member of the tribe again before I would bestow it upon you. Waiting for you to become what I wanted you to become." His father snorted derisively. "Fat lot of good that was. I shouldn't have demanded perfection, it only drove you further away. I should have trusted you..." he trailed off for a moment, and then leaned forward and continued almost conspiratorially; "I don't have much time left. But I will use it now to do the right thing. I will give you your legacy, and let you chose how to use it yourself."
Sam was beginning to get puzzled. His father was talking about his 'legacy' as if it were some tangible object rather than the ritual and tradition he had always tried to push on him as a child. "What 'legacy' are you talking about, exactly?" he asked.
His father smiled and tapped the side of his nose. "I'll show you. Let's go for a drive."
Deep in the reservation, where even the poachers didn't go, Sam finally pulled his father's old army surplus jeep to a stop at the base of a steep hill. His father immediately got out and started climbing, and as soon as Sam realized where he meant to go he hurried to catch up with him. "That cave up at the top?" Sam asked incredulously. His father nodded, already breathing too heavily for words. The climb looked far too strenuous for the old man, but he forged ahead with grim determination. Sam followed close behind, easily keeping pace despite ten years of city life, ready to catch his father should he stumble or fall. After all the years of his childhood in which he secretly would have been pleased if his father had broken his neck during one of his ritual excursions, he now found himself not wanting him to even be hurt. It was a confusing emotional situation, to say the least.
They finally reached the cave after more than half an hour's climb, and his father took a break for the first time since leaving the jeep. As he sat on a low boulder by the edge of the cave's entrance, Sam looked inside with intense curiosity and even a small amount of guilty awe. The sides of the cave were densely covered with writings, some of the letters vaguely familiar from his studies as a child and others completely incomprehensible. Broken metalworking tools, some of them obviously hundreds of years old, were scattered along the base of the walls. And a cairn of stones outside the cave mouth showed signs of intense heat and fire, perhaps some sort of primitive forge. What had gone on here? He didn't remember any mention of traditional rituals that might have used this stuff. But he held his questions until his father had caught his breath again.
At last his father seemed ready to go on, and Sam asked "Okay, I've followed you here. What did you want to show me in this place?"
"Magic," his father replied.
Sam's expression turned angry, very angry. "Of all the... Look, dad, you know--" But his father nodded and waved his hand wearily.
"Yes, yes, I know how you feel about your old man's delusions. And I agree. For what it's worth, son, everything I've ever tried to teach you might very well be make-believe and superstition. I believe, but I can no longer ask you to; it is something that must be decided in the soul, not the mind. But this is different. I'm going to show you something, something you can feel even with mundane senses. Something undeniably real." And with that he began to strip.
"Um... dad?" Sam asked, suddenly fearing that his father had gone mad. But his father only shot him a sharp glance, and Sam could do nothing while his father shed the rest of his clothes. He was left wearing only a small silver medallion on a simple loop of twine around his neck. He looked even more old and wasted in the buff, and Sam almost couldn't stop himself from averting his gaze.
He would later be glad that he didn't. His father clasped a hand to the medallion on his breast, and then before his eyes he suddenly began to shrink. He shrank quickly, almost leaving the ground as his legs retracted, and as he shrank he also changed form; his arms lengthened, his body thickened, and rich brown feathers sprouted all over his skin. It was all over in two or three seconds; his father had transformed into a hawk. Sam and the bird stared at each other for a moment, Sam in total shock and the bird with an expression that almost seemed to say 'see? I told you so.' Sam peered down at him. "...Dad?" he asked incredulously.
The hawk slowly nodded. Then it hopped into the air, flapped its wings, and flew up to perch on a wooden shaft wedged into the rock face at eye level next to him. It looked at Sam, its head cocked quizzically, and emitted a sharp hawk's cry. Sam could only continue staring, openmouthed. His eye was caught by a glint of silver on the bird's breast, and he saw that it seemed to be wearing the same medallion his father had just before he had changed. He edged warily closer, and saw that the small silver disc had a stylized human figure engraved on it.
"The medallion. That holds the magic?" Sam asked shakily, not sure he should even be believing this had happened. The bird nodded again. Sam and the bird spent another several minutes staring into each others' eyes searchingly, then finally Sam turned and walked several steps away. "I'm convinced," he said quietly. "Please change back, father. Holy shit..." He heard a whoosh of feathers behind him as the hawk jumped to the ground, and when he turned back his father was once again standing there in human form. Sam no longer paid the slightest attention to his nudity, not after what he had just seen.
His father held up the silver disk for Sam to see. "It is made from a special metal stored only here, in this cave. The designs have been passed down through a hundred generations of shamen, with new forms only revealed after lifetimes of meditation and communing with the spirits." His mouth quirked in the slightest hint of a smile. "You would call it 'trial and error', I suppose. Designs for all twenty-two tribal animals are known, and traditionally a shamen forges his own medallion for his own tribal form alone. But I know what you think of tradition, and in any case we don't have the time. Here." He proffered the silver disc to Sam.
Sam stared at the magic medallion for several long seconds, and then gingerly took it from him. "Father, I don't..." he mumbled, turning it over in his hand and examining it with awe. On one side was an incomprehensible sigil that he had never seen before, on the other was a representation of a hawk that was somewhat more consistent with his tribe's style of art. The human figure he had seen on it earlier wasn't present, but Sam was beyond wondering about such minor tricks at this point.
"Take off your shirt," his father explained quietly, "and hold it to your breast. Press the symbol to your skin. You will know what to do then."
Sam remained motionless for a minute longer, and then silently began unbuttoning his shirt to expose his chest. He held up the medallion, examining it one last time, and glanced to his father. Then he touched the medallion to his heart, and pushed from the inside.
He was immediately tangled in his clothing, his struggle to get out of them made a thousand times more difficult by the sudden unfamiliarity of his own body. He flapped and flailed wildly trying to get free, not willing to think past that singular goal to consider what he had just done; better to focus on something he could at least relate to. The idea that he was a hawk was even now still too much for him to face.
Then giant gnarled hands reached down and pulled the cloth gently from his wings. Sam staggered to his taloned toes and stared up at his father, stunned by his new vantage point; everything was huge! But at least the sight of the old man was somehow reassuring, the years of bad blood somehow suddenly irrelevant. I'm still me, I'm still in control, Sam thought to himself over and over as he calmed down. Finally he had regained enough composure to try to ask what he should do next. His words came out as only an inarticulate hawk's cry, surprising himself almost comically, but his father knew what he meant.
He gently picked Sam up by his feet, lifting him and helping him keep his balance until he figured out how to do it on his own. His reflexes were adapting very quickly, far too quickly to be explained by experience alone. But it was just another detail to be chalked up to 'magic', as far as Sam was concerned right now. He decided to work out the details later. Right now he had more important things to focus on. His world had been turned upside- down; in at least some ways, his father had been right.
With a gentle warning wind-up, Sam's father tossed him into the air. Sam felt only a moment of panic before reflex cut in and he flapped his wings, stopping his fall. Working his powerful new pectoral muscles hard, Sam flapped more vigorously in an attempt to gain altitude. But despite his efforts he sank back down to the ground and landed unsteadily, only twenty feet away from where he had been launched. He glanced up at his father with confusion and disappointment; if he was going to be a bird, he thought, then he should at least be able to fly.
"Don't flap so hard," his father advised him as he picked him up for another try. "Try to glide more." This time his father boosted him out over the downward slope of the hill, giving him more altitude. Sam didn't look down; he knew the fear of heights might make him panic. Instead, he concentrated on making the downstrokes of his wings more controlled and regular this time.
This time, he caught the wind and soared. Sam found himself circling higher and higher into the sky over the hill, until the details below began to blur even to his newly laser-sharp hawk's eyes. Fear of heights no longer seemed relevant, overwhelmed by the incredible sense of freedom. And then, hanging alone in the vast azure vault of the sky with the hazy Earth spread far below him, Samuel's heart was gripped by a powerful vision that made his soul sing.
Millions and millions of dollars.
People would pay thousands for an experience like this, he thought giddily. There had to be some way he could market this magic, some way that was safe and economical. If only everyone in the world could feel what he was feeling right now, to fly as a hawk even for just a few hours... and to pay him a licensing fee in the process. He could name his price, and no doubt millions would be willing to meet it.
Eventually Sam circled back down to land outside the cave where his father sat, fully dressed again and waiting patiently, but his heart remained buoyed by the flight. He took a moment to catch his breath, and then pushed the medallion with his mind. He rapidly expanded back to his human form, so fast that he almost lost his balance. The medallion fell to the ground, no longer held there by the magical magnetism that had stuck it to his hawk form's breast, and landed in the dirt. Sam sheepishly picked it up and dusted it off.
"Did you feel a swelling of the heart, a great inspiration and sense of awe?" His father asked hopefully.
Sam nodded. "Oh yes. It was wonderful."
His father smiled. "I once thought you had to first be pure of heart and dedicated to tradition before you could be given this. Now I see that it works the other way around; the magic has purified you itself. I'm proud of you, son. I will teach you the secrets of the symbols, and of working the metal. Skipping all the rituals, I should have enough time for that."
Sam retrieved his clothing, only slightly the worse for wear from the battering he had given it after he had changed, and then together he and his father entered the cave to pass on the knowledge to one more generation. The magic wouldn't be lost. In fact, if things worked out as Sam hoped, the magic would become very widely known indeed...
The envelope looked like nothing more than the usual junk mail when Jon fished it out of the box that morning. "Free Gift Inside!" was printed garishly across the front in large letters, with the return address simply reading "Yellow Bear Inc." He almost threw it straight in the trash. But it had more bulk to it than typical junk mail, and a quick crinkle suggested that there was something small but hard inside it. Giving in to curiosity, Jon tore it open and dumped the contents onto the kitchen table to see if there was anything worthwhile in there.
Three things slid out. A typed and photocopied covering letter, an order form, and a black-and-white pamphlet with a small plastic bag stapled to one corner. The bag contained a piece of string and a metal disc with some sort of incomprehensible symbol stamped on it. A medallion. Jon pulled the plastic bag off of the staple and was disappointed by the obvious cheap quality of the thing; the string could have been cut from a roll of supermarket twine and the medallion looked like it might even have been just stamped aluminum. But as he flipped it over in his hand the image on the other side caught his attention and once again he hesitated to throw it out. It was a stylized picture of a deer. Rather nice, actually, done in an authentic native american style. A pity it's stamped on such a piece of crap jewelry, he thought to himself. He glanced at the letter that had come with the thing.
"Dear TSA-Talk member," The letter began. Jon blinked in surprise, and then brought his attention fully to bear on reading it.
- Dear TSA-Talk and/or alt.horror.werewolves member,
- My name is Sam Yellow Bear, president of Yellow Bear Inc. Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. Our preliminary market research has identified you as someone who might be interested in our product, and I hope that you will find the free sample included within to your liking.
- I realize that at first you probably won't believe the claims listed in the instruction pamphlet that came with your medallion. However, as this is a completely free gift, I hope that you will be inclined to humor me and try it out at least once. Just for the hell of it. Based upon your apparent interest in transformation on the Internet, I suspect that you will enjoy the results.
- This medallion is magical. It can transform you temporarily into an animal form.
- IMPORTANT: Even if you do not believe my claims, please READ THE INSTRUCTIONS before testing this product. Yellow Bear Inc. declines all liability from the use of our products, but we do want to make sure the experience is enjoyable and not unexpected. Please be aware of what you might be getting into.
- Samuel Yellow Bear
Jon shook his head and set the letter aside. Yellow Bear was right; he didn't believe him. But he was nonetheless impressed with the research that had obviously gone into this marketing scheme, especially the fact that he'd been sent a deer medallion instead of some other animal's. Someone was obviously putting a lot of effort into this scam.
He picked up the pamphlet and began skimming through it. Just for the story ideas, of course, he thought to himself. It was titled "How to be a Deer" and the first few pages contained a reasonably good summary of the basic information one should know before transforming oneself into a deer. Information on habitat, nutrition, laws covering hunting and wildlife management, even guidelines covering deer behavior. It wasn't anything Jon didn't already know, of course. But it was still interesting reading.
And then he came to the instructions. They were very simple. Press the medallion to the skin over your heart, magic-symbol-side down, and will yourself into deer form. Will yourself back, and you would change back. The medallion was good for one round trip only, and then would have to be replaced. There was a warning about restrictive clothing, but other than that there were no special rituals or lengthy meditations to complicate matters. It was almost too easy.
Jon snorted. It was too easy, there was no way this would work. But what the hell. Pulling the cheap metal disc from the plastic bag, he stuck it under his shirt and imagined being a deer. It was something he had imagined a thousand times before, sometimes extremely vividly...
Never this vividly! Jon's eyes widened in surprise as he suddenly felt his limbs shift and his clothing tighten. He glanced down at his left hand just in time to see his fingers finishing the change into cloven hooves, and then when he tried to surge to his feet he was forced to place those forehooves on the kitchen table to support himself. His hips didn't want to hold him upright, his tendons tightened and forced him to stand unsteadily on his toes. And then his neck elongated, his lower face pushed out into a muzzle, and a pair of antlers sprouted and grew into a twelve-point rack in seconds. The table collapsed completely under this sudden shift of weight, and Jon fell to all fours.
Jon just stood there for a long moment, stunned and overwhelmed. It had actually worked! Slowly, carefully, he moved each part of his body in turn and tried to assimilate the new sensations they produced. Everything was clumsy at first, with unaccustomed balance and proportion. But very soon he was able to take a few wobbly steps around the room, and within minutes he was walking around with a fair degree of confidence. He drank in every second of the experience and was left thirsty for more.
Manoeuvring his antlers carefully through the doorframe, Jon left the kitchen and momentarily considered going outside. He desperately wanted to try running in this form... but he reluctantly forced himself to put that off, at least for now. He wasn't prepared yet, he hadn't stopped to think this through. And besides, turning the doorknob in this form would probably be a major operation. Instead, Jon walked carefully into the bathroom. There was just enough space for him to fit.
He stared in awe at the big buck reflected in the bathroom mirror. It was him, he could recognize it instantly. Something in those deep brown eyes... breaking eye contact with himself after several long minutes, Jon glanced over the rest of his body. He carefully wriggled and scraped the last tatters of clothing off of himself, admiring his reddish fur and pure white tail as they were exposed. Jon chuckled audibly at the sight of the metal disc clinging magically to the skin at the base of his neck. It no longer had a stylized deer pattern on it, the pattern now represented a human figure instead. But it still looked like a cheap piece of crap jewelry. The pamphlet had warned that pulling it off would return him to his original form, something Jon didn't feel ready for yet. He felt ready to try opening the front door instead.
Jon didn't become ready to return home and to human form again until more than a day later. Even then, he changed back mainly because he knew his friends and family would start worrying if he stayed missing for much longer; he would already have to come up with something pretty clever to explain why he had missed work that day. Next time he would wait until weekend, he promised himself. Carefully sneaking back inside and letting the front door close behind him, Jon willed himself to change back.
It happened just as easily and as quickly as his first transformation, and within seconds Jon was on the hands and knees of his human form again. The medallion made a dull pinging sound as it dropped off of his chest and hit the floor. Jon picked it up as he rose to his hind legs-- er, make that just plain legs, he corrected himself-- and examined it again. He frowned slightly. The image had returned to that of a deer, but the symbol that had been on the side of the medallion pressed against his skin was simply gone. The back of the medallion was blank.
Jon hurried back to the kitchen and dug the order form from the smashed rubble of the kitchen table. It listed many dozens of animals alphabetically, and he found Deer quickly. "Fifty dollars!?" He exclaimed angrily. Then he laughed. "A bargain!" He quickly tallied up how many he could afford for his first order.
He also began composing an email in his mind. The others on the List were definitely going to want to hear more about Yellow Bear's offer...