IMPORTANT
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.

The Next Chapter

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Visionary story universe
Author: Bryan

Gloria sat before the glass wall of her study watching the last rays of the sun as it set beyond the horizon. An empty notepad lay in her lap, her pen poised over it, ready to record inspiration for a new beginning.

It had been so poised for over an hour. There had been no inspiration, no new beginnings. She had simply sat there, watching and waiting as the sun crept down toward the horizon. Waiting for another day to end. As the stars began to appear in the darkening sky, Gloria finally sighed and set down her pen. She was out of beginnings, her tales had all been told. The story of my life, she reflected with a wry, weary grin. All I can think of now are endings. Turning her wheelchair away from the country twilight and rolling slowly across the room toward her writing desk.

She placed the notebook on the table next to her venerable typewriter, loaded and ready with a blank page waiting in its rollers. The page would have to wait a long time at this rate. She had typed all her manuscripts on that wonderful old machine, bestsellers and beginner's hack scribblings alike. It would probably be bought by some collector for a ludicrous sum of money once she was gone, and never again be used to transcribe thoughts for the world to read...

Gloria sighed again and shook her head. She had always hated writing endings. Real stories weren't supposed to end; there was always another day to be left unwritten, another story beyond the one just concluded. But she knew that even an author as experienced and skilful as herself was could still learn, and she had discovered one last lesson of life. Real stories did end. Her story was over. Gloria tiredly rubbed her eyes and turned her wheelchair towards her bed, looking forward to a long night's sleep.

There was a tall old man standing in the room behind her, waiting silently by the glass wall. He was dressed in a long dark coat, and a fedora with several feathers in its brim hid the top of his face. Gloria flinched in surprise. "Who are you? How did you get in here?" She demanded. Even from the desk she could see that the porch door was locked, and in any case she hadn't heard him open it.

The old man looked up and smiled. Gloria didn't even think of being afraid of him, despite his uninvited appearance and the fact that nobody else was in her house; he had a certain sense about him that instantly inspired trust. Trust, and at the same time a sort of wistful sadness. Gloria examined him with a hint of awe. Hundreds of untold stories were recorded in the lines of his face, and his eyes betrayed witnessing hundreds more...

"Good evening, Gloria." The man greeted her. "I apologize for disturbing you like this, but I wanted to speak with you before you... slept."

Gloria felt a chill run through her heart. He knew what she had been planning to do! She hadn't even allowed herself to realize her intentions fully... "How did you know?"

The old man tilted his head humbly. "I'm nobody special. I just see a little more than most." He approached the desk and pulled up a chair, one of the few furnishings Gloria kept in the huge study for visitors to use. He sat down and looked into her eyes. She looked back, trying to catch some hint of what he could see reflected in his eyes. "You are still a young woman," he began quietly before she could succeed. "Your disability causes you no pain. Indeed, you have thrived with a vigor and determination that I envy. Why do you wish to end your life?"

"My life is already over," Gloria replied quietly. "I'm burnt out, used up. I don't want to remain like this, an empty shell with no dreams left to write." Then a hint of a wry grin quirked the corner of her mouth, and she added "I also don't want my own biography to drag on through years of denouement, it would make poor reading."

Gloria's visitor nodded solemnly. "I understand. And I can see that you are a thoughtful woman; I know that you are not rushing into this decision. But I must ask, are you sure your life is done? Your life could still affect others. Your death could affect others. The story will go on."

Gloria shook her head. "I've settled my affairs to my satisfaction." She didn't know why she felt the need to justify herself to this stranger, by all rights she should be calling the police to arrest him. But for now she was actually grateful that someone was forcing her to talk about this.

"Very well." The old man stood. "I offer you an alternative. An end to this life, yes, but also the start of a new one. I owe you that much, for the stories you have written." He reached out his hand to Gloria. "Will you accept it?"

Gloria smiled. The man's offer should have sounded spooky, but right now it sounded wonderful. She took his hand. The old man walked toward the sliding glass door, his grip strong and firm for his apparent age, and she followed along beside him. He opened the doors and they went outside onto the darkened deck. "Where are we going?" Gloria asked.

"Your new life," the old man replied, and pulled her up out of her wheelchair. Gloria gasped in surprise, throwing her hands out to catch herself as she toppled forward to the deck. Her fingers met the wood with a solid yet painless clunk, easily supporting her weight. Confused and a little frightened, she looked up at the old man.

The motion felt very strange, like her neck was too long, and it took a moment for her to figure out what she was seeing. A huge dark object filled the center of her field of view, but her peripheral vision had widened to compensate. And somehow, despite having the tips of her fingers on the ground, her eyelevel was even with the old man's.

And then she realized the strangest thing yet; she could actually feel her legs! They felt like they were supporting her weight, too. She turned her head to look back at her body and a whinny of surprise forced through her lips. It wasn't human. In fact, glancing down at her legs and noticing the hooves at their ends, it looked for all the world like she was a horse! She turned back to the old man, a puzzled expression on her face, and tried to ask what had happened to her.

She wasn't able to speak intelligibly, of course, but it didn't take much insight for the old man to understand her. "I'm sorry, Gloria, but this is the only new life I can offer you. There are certain balances in the universe that must be maintained."

Gloria returned her attention to her altered body, lifting a foreleg tentatively and then even more tentatively lifting a hind one. She took a few careful steps, walking around her empty wheelchair. It felt very strange, but quadrupedal or not they were her first genuine steps in years. She felt a powerful quivering tension beginning to build in her new muscles, and realized that she wanted to run.

She glanced one last time at the old man, wishing she could thank him adequately. Not even words would have been enough for her, had she still been able to speak them. But the old man just smiled and nodded; for him, her expression was enough. "Go on," he said quietly. "Go."

Gloria launched herself from the deck, driven by the tension as if it had built up for all the years she'd been paralysed. Across her back yard, down the broad hiking trail, and into the countryside. The night was exhilarating rather than being a handicap; the moon was near full, she could sense the fields and trees around her with incredible clarity. Her hooves pounded the rhythm of her heart upon the ground as she ran, the wind blowed like a hurricane through her flaring nostrils and flying mane; she felt more alive than she had in ages.

She ran for what must have been hours, thundering through the farmland and forest with nearly inexhaustible energy. But at last she began to tire, and finally slowed to a more relaxed pace. Even the burning of her muscles and the chill of her sweaty flanks felt wonderful, she reflected contentedly, and allowed herself to begin grazing as she walked under the stars. It was a beautiful night, and the grass somehow managed to taste great. She looked forward to describing the experience, she reflected with a happy sigh.

Gloria stopped grazing and snorted disconcertedly as the thought struck her. She couldn't tell anyone about this, she realized; she was a horse. Horses didn't speak, and so nobody would be listening.

Gloria suddenly began to realize a few implications of her current status. She would probably get caught eventually and wind up owned by someone, which she didn't really mind that much; after her long and wild run she knew she was in excellent shape and would probably be treated very well. She would probably enjoy the life of a horse, she told herself; it would be new and fresh and easy. But what would be the point? She would be living that life only for herself, with no way of sharing the experience with anyone else.

For a long, long moment, Gloria looked out over the moonlit forests and fields. There were hundreds of stories out there for her to live through... she sighed again. Nothing's easy, she thought resignedly.


Gloria's old wheelchair was still sitting empty on the deck where she'd left it, the sliding glass doors still standing open behind it. She considered giving the chair a kick as she passed, but ruefully shook her head; she might end up needing it again.

The old man was still inside, sitting at her desk and staring contemplatively at the blank paper spread on its surface. Gloria cleared her throat horsily to catch his attention.

The old man didn't turn around, or even appear the least bit startled by her return. "I thought you might come back," he said quietly, perhaps as much to himself as to her. "The path of your life reached a fork tonight, and even I cannot see which branch you would ultimately choose."

And I thought I'd reached the end of my path, Gloria thought ruefully.

The old man let out a small chuckle. "Real stories never end, Gloria. I thought you knew that."

Gloria's ears perked in surprise. How did he know what I was thinking? She wondered.

The old man waved dismissively as he stood and turned to face her. "Suffice to say I hear a little more than most, too. It's not important. What is important right now is your choice. Why do you want to return to the life you were so eager to leave just hours ago?"

Gloria shuffled uncertainly. I was never eager. But I had no more stories to write; I was used up, finished. Now I have something to write about again.

"You have one night," the old man cautioned. "One night of inspiration to draw from. If you go back out that door again, though, you'll have thousands. Consider carefully, for once you have passed this fork in the road you will never come to it again."

I have thought about this. I would rather share one more story with the world than experience a thousand and keep them silent.

"You realize that there is only one life that I can offer back to you," he warned again. Gloria nodded her massive head; she understood what he meant. Then he sighed, and nodded too. "So be it. Come with me." He walked out onto the deck. Gloria followed, tail swishing nervously, to stand by her wheelchair.

The old man looked deeply into her eyes, weighing her sincerity one last time. Gloria looked back. Again she saw a hint of the things he had seen, the thousands of stories he had touched upon as he had touched hers, and for a moment she felt terribly sad. Those stories were all silent, she would never hear them. "Better that you don't, Gloria," the old man spoke so quietly she was almost convinced she was imagining the words. "They are a burden you should not have to share." Then his tone turned contemplative, and he added "but in this case a burden shared might be a burden lessened... for both of us..."

The world seemed to recede around Gloria, as if she were falling away from it into a sort of sleep. She recovered an instant later and sat bolt upright with a gasp; she'd almost fallen out of her chair. My chair! She glanced down at herself, seeing that she was human again, and then looked up to thank the old man.

The darkened deck was deserted; she was alone. Gloria sat there for several minutes, looking contemplatively out into the night and watching the stars. Then she turned and went back inside, closing the glass door behind her. She wheeled over to the desk, picked up a pen, and stared for a moment at the blank piece of paper before her.

And then she began to write.