This story is set in the Tales From the Blind Pig universe, in which an extraterrestrial disease called Martian Flu has unusual effects on a significant number of its victims -- Stein's Chronic Accelerated Biomorphic Syndrome, SCABS for short. And these effects can be nothing short of tragic, at times...

Go here for more information on the setting.

[tsat home] [#26] [stories]

Sheltered Life
by Morgan Heacock
©2000 Morgan Heacock -- all rights reserved

I guess I have lived a sheltered life, racism had never really clicked with me, ever.

When the Martian Flu hit I didn't catch SCABS. I watched the prejudice but never understood it, I always accepted a SCABS to work for me if they had the skills, that is when I had the money to pay them. But my small time gaming business wasn't doing well; the big corporations were cranking out flashier games that would appeal to the public more. My own games even with new ideas were always snuffed out by better graphics, Or they were undermined and then some big corporation would use the same ideas and make millions. I didn't really mind that much, hey it was enough to pay my bills and keep me fed. Never did get to make that dream house I had wanted, it wouldn't have cost much, but the prices for new 3D animation packages, better systems and new hardware ate up all the money I made. So I lived in a small house with an ill-kept lawn, and a basement of computer hardware.

I had never gotten out for much longer than a trip to the grocery or cinema. And so I was a passive witness to the world outside via Internet connections that made the old cable modem of my youth look idiotic.

I had been walking out on the sidewalk, not the best part of town but I had taken a walk there anyway. Never did drive anywhere, taken a cab out somewhere else and was now walking in what some considered the wrong place to be. I walked on past the living testaments of failure, poor people some SCABS some not. Didn't matter to me really, why should it matter to me? They were still people.

I meandered through the allies and streets past the prostitutes, and back towards home I was getting a little winded and should probably had started heading back a while ago.

I had to rest several times; this seemed a little odd, because I had managed to walk clear across the city before why was a short jog making me so tired? I never did make it home. I passed out in that lonely district before I could manage to even bring myself to a brighter part of town. And I never remembered who I was or were this home I had been traveling to might have been. When I woke up it was daylight; At least I think it was things were fuzzy, unclear. I tried to blink but instead: I wetted a clawed leg and rubbed it against what must have been a compound eye, it had a similar result but wasn't what I had expected, I tried the blinking reflex again and again I methodically washed my compound eyes off. I could see some color, but it was very bland and grey tinted.

I took in a breath feeling something along my sides pull air into my mostly human lungs. Yes I was different than what I had been. But what had I been? This wasn't something my brain found in its overlapping strands of memory. I cleaned my eyes off a few more times; going through with my blinking reflex now altered by new instincts. I turned my head around to try and get a look at myself. My head wasn't that flexible but I managed to get a good picture of my body. A strange blend between human and ant, my body structure was mostly ant with exoskeleton, but on the end of each leg was two extra claws that I could wiggle and with a bit of practice grip things with, then my attention was drawn to my head. I wiggled and twitched parts I hadn't noticed before.

My face was probably something out of a nightmare, a teardrop shaped head I assumed with compound eyes at the sides and two long curled-in mandibles, and above each eye a long antennae bringing in a variety of scents to me. I continued checking my body, as I wondered about my past. Who was I? I mentally asked myself. I heard a sound; it was so hard to interpret sounds, really little more than a vibration in my body. I turned around to face the sound. Standing there was a group of people. Yes they had to be people they were saying something but I didn't understand. I couldn't make the sound out clearly. But there was a hostile scent on them and fear; I looked around for what might have frightened them, but I couldn't see anything that could be a danger. I looked back at them and tilted my head trying to show puzzlement. What were they afraid of? More hostility reeked off them but I still didn't understand what they were being hostile towards, they were people they could think and reason. Couldn't they?

One of them moved towards me I tilted my head again and made an attempt at speaking, No luck the sound was dry and raspy not at all something to be considered as speech. Oh well too bad they didn't have more developed olfactory systems then I could send a more direct message. I tried giving off a light scent of friendliness trying to calm them down from whatever they were so frightened of. They circled around me I wondered and tilted my head to the side again. What were they doing? One of them pulled something out. It was hard edged and dark. a crowbar? What was that for? Then my question was answered the one with the crowbar swung it down hitting my hard carapace knocking me to my stomach. What they had hit me. but they were my kind, my kind wouldn't hurt me. My brain reeled more from confusion than the impact it hadn't caused a lot of damage. But the others quickly started hitting at me crowbars and other things, chains? I couldn't tell the sound was agony and worse was the feeling: they were hurting me so they couldn't be my kind, was the simple thought that managed to surface through my whirling brain. 'If they weren't my kind and they would hurt me: they would then hurt my kind too' Was the final conclusion as the crowbar cut into my carapace spilling my blood onto the street.

There was only one course of action against them: Attack, I pounced onto the one who had hit me with the crowbar I dug my claws into it's soft flesh, felt it's blood spill against my hard carapace, I opened my jaws wide and tore it's head off. Then turned on the others I smelled fear yes now I understood the hostility, the fear I wasn't their kind so they attacked. So I attacked back they weren't my kind. I saw another running away I pounce it I hear it's screaming in my carapace, I tear at the throat with my mandibles, and No more sound I move on to the next pest and dispose of it. When I finished removing the pestilent other kind, I proceed to swallow their remains. The protein would give me the energy I needed; their flesh would feed me. But still I needed to find my kind, if they weren't then something with a different scent had to be. I hurried down an ally searching for my kind.

I wandered along the alleys keeping away from the roads, it was easier to navigate and the closed spaces and they made me feel safer. I suppose some one called the police, I could smell the acrid scent of the other kind, they were responding to an alarm call I suppose but then why didn't more come when I attacked? It was very confusing for my more instinct driven thoughts. Yes I was thinking calculating, but it was all focused I figured on the best ways to deal with this other hostile kind, and on ways of finding my own kind. I slipped from alley to alley, picking up scents and following them to their source finding ether the hostile kind or strange passive kind, but none that responded or acted in a way that I could consider my kind. When night fell I continued searching until eventually the cold brought me into a slumber.

When I woke up confusion and panic enveloped my mind, where was my kind? Did the hostile ones get them? I turned around left and right bracing my body against all six legs, my antennae sweeping left and right taking in the scents around me. Slowly as no threatening scents reached me I began to calm down, my conscious thoughts ebbing out of the torrent of reflex actions seeping out into the direct patterns that governed my actions. I had not yet found my kind, my family but I had found hostile and passive types. I had discovered that rejections from the hostile ones became passive or fearful but not aggressive. But my own terror had governed that first encounter; the poor creature barely had a chance to cry out as it stumbled away from me on two legs. It had however fed my hunger, and given me the energy to continue my search. I had already found a scent trail, several in fact that were different from the other two kinds I had encountered so far and they were heading in the same general direction. Home? I asked myself, maybe.

The place was very strong smelling of food, friendliness it even had some of the hostile smell but not enough to be worried about, besides all of the scents were intermingled. I walked over following the trail my antennae were saturated with friendly scent, had to be home. I pushed against the door easily moving it aside and walked in. light sound friendly smells food, and some hostile types, even though the chatter had stopped when I walked in I could smell a record of friendly scents and alcohol. Noise like the hostile made, I tilted my head confused and tried again to speak like they did, still no good just rasping and clicking of mandibles. But I did let out enough friendly scent for at least some of them to understand, one of them made a movement with its hand, no her hand I think smelled female. I shook my head this was confusing me they were kind but communication was proving very agitating. Some of them were able to pick up my very localized smells that I gave out, but it was still confusing I looked at some of them siting on barstools. I mimicked their movements and climbed up onto the stool and sat down arranging my thorax and head over my abdomen with two legs griping onto the seat. The one behind the bar easily identified as some kind of moderator by his scent, walked over towards me wrote on something and showed it to me, I tilted my head to get a better look at it in my left compound eye. I grappled with the words finally deciphered a question, then a request, and finally food. Then after a while I figured a reply and with a bit of work using both front legs managed to write out 'WaTeR Pleese'. He nodded I could smell acknowledgement and saw him nod his head. I looked around my antenna waving then I turned next to me was one that seemed to have a very fearful scent to it but was at peace here, yes this had to be a safe place.

I had watched, listened, and learned to decipher several of the sounds they made. Strangely it turned out drinking out of a glass was a major obstacle, I eventually managed to grab the cup with my mandibles, gently so as not to crush it, and tilt it just enough for me to swallow the water. Boy that was a major accomplishment, though I think I must have let out a too much joy scent because the more sensitive types started giggling and couldn't stop. Several of this friendly kind tried to talk to me, I responded as best I could to what they said from their scent, and the small amount of words I could decipher but it seemed like I disappointed them. My capacity to communicate was to low for normal conversation, that and I don't think my mind was ready for that yet anyway. I didn't order anything more than water the amount of alcohol in the air was enough to give me a pleasant feeling. However I was getting a little bit edgy a lot of hostile types were around though none of them were acting that way. But slowly I began to notice a scent that these hostile types had; yes they weren't the same as the hostile types they were my kind I was certain of it.

Eventually I noticed everyone begin to slow down, sort of like what happened to me when I got cold. But it was nice and warm inside, plenty of heat to keep me active all night and day. But when people began to leave letting the cold air in I became rather drowsy and stretched out my back and middle legs cleaning my compound eyes and antenna, I suppose the others were getting tired too one of them was even passed out under a table. I looked around crawled off the barstool walked near the door and immediately fell asleep when a cold draft from the air conditioning blew over me.

I supposed some one must have found me because the sun awakened me on bed wrapped in blankets, which proved to be very uncomfortable for me. Squirming only got be tangled more in the sheets, I let out a shrieking noise that got the attention of some one else who untangled me from the blanket and sheets. The one that helped me smelled strongly of the hostile and had an undertone of hostility that made me want to tear her apart. But she also smelled of concern and family. Yes she had that same scent that the friendly ones had the ones I could trust as my kind. I looked up at her and cleaned off my compound eyes a couple times then worked on my antenna and leg joints, Really was important to keep myself clean and the eye cleans did help I had very small claws that picked up any dirt sort of like a brush.

I figured on what she was saying, mostly questions some of which I could answer. She seemed to pity my condition, which I think is good, but was rather stern about things. She told me something that I assume was her name but I couldn't really make it out. I suppose it was time to eat because a lot of the passives were in a large room and collecting some kind of food, I found that some of them seemed more edible than what was being offered.

Holding a plate turned out to be difficult. I had to balance on my back most legs alone to reach it, and then I dropped it several times trying to hold onto it, eventually I griped the edges tightly with my front most legs and walked on my fours up to the place we could get some food. I couldn't really identify what it was they gave us but it smelled edible.

The 'food' wasn't great but fed my metabolism rather well, later that day they were calling the police and such to try and find out who I once was. I really didn't care to know who I had been all I cared about was protecting and helping my kind, My Family.

Later that day they decided to bring me to a doctor who was supposed to be some kind of authority on my condition. I went along with it, my writing skills weren't developed enough to really explain a lot even if I did have an argument to not go, and I did have a puncture wound in my abdomen from that crowbar. I hadn't managed to explain that yet, the words for it weren't available to me, but I had managed to get the idea across that I had been attacked. The ones at the shelter were family, this idea had embedded itself into my very being, and all I wanted to do was help my 'family' so I happily agreed best I could to going to this doctor.

The trip involved getting into a car and being driven to a clinic, I suppose this was where the doctor was but. the place reeked of the hostile kind I could smell their stench all over. But the smell of family was reassuring and so I remained docile, those of my family had only minor unease or none at all on their scent, there couldn't be any thing wrong if they weren't worried. So I swallowed down the urge to attack and shred the hostile ones that filled the air with their stink. But there was also other smells to the place, more friendly and familiar ones and new frightening ones, this place must be neutral I concluded and classified it away into a neat little shelf in my mind. I still didn't like the hostile smell but now I had family around me, I could feel purpose and reassurance in knowing there were others of my kind around me.

The clinic was a lot better inside the hostile ones that were there were far too friendly to actually be classified with the others, so I named them friendly but not my kind. This new idea of friendly hostile types made me pause a moment, there is a lot of types to them rejected, hostile, friendly. Yes this was very complicated and would make it harder to deal with them. We waited for a bit and then I was brought into a room with some one I recognized from the family place were I drank water. It was cold in here I was getting sleepy things were getting fuzzy, I cleaned my eyes and antennae off but still it was cold I was going to fall asleep soon, sound. Slow sounds.

I woke up hot, too hot. I could move quickly my thoughts were rapid bursts of understanding, calculation, memory yes I could remember and go over everything from the time I changed instantly, way too hot. I looked around lights, heat, wrapped up. Couldn't move were family? There I see them untangle legs, slip out clean off eyes, antennae legs shell, and stretch ah that felt good okay they said something. I understood it was a greeting, I nodded and waved one of my front legs at the doctor. He still seemed a little slow, I must still be too hot, that's okay I'll cool off soon then we will both be on the same level and I can answer his questions easier.

Since I couldn't speak or sign, I used a note pad I think I was writing a little bit faster and better than before, must have been the extra heat. I answered the questions I understood, and head tilted or wrote 'I don't understand' to those I didn't we made some more progress but I still couldn' t quite grasp some meanings. The physical tests were much easier, mostly just examination and a few scans. But afterwards the doctor was looking at a computer. This sparked a great deal of interest, in fact I think I got carried away because shortly after noticing the computer the doctor was on the floor, and I was going through the file. It was mostly a diagram of my internal structure, three dimensional of course some test results and extra notes on my condition, boring stuff but the picture was amazing I didn't really understand it but I could spin rotate zoom around switch between certain organ visibility. Amazing but then some one grabbed me 'not family!' my brain screamed as the stench of hostility rushed over my antennae, course of action? Attack! I swung around throwing the hostile one into the wall and crawled over mandibles wide ready to tear and shred, then a voice. It was a command from family from my kind. I stopped and lowered my head; the poor guy was out cold I must have thrown him pretty hard, at least for a human.

Things got rather complicated afterwards, all sorts of talk and arguments. But I didn't really do much, just answered some questions, but mostly just listened and did what my family asked me to do. Eventually I think my side won the argument because then the doctor was saying some stuff, I didn't really understand it but something about no longer having a localized nervous system and a blending between internal and external bone structure. As for the nasty hole in my abdomen it turned out not to be a problem they patched it up and asked some questions about what happened. I still couldn't explain what happened very clearly so they let it drop.

The way back I noticed how agitating having something on my shell could be, I kept trying to clean it off but eventually was told to stop scratching it. I did what they asked me too, they were my family I needed to make sure they were safe and happy. At the shelter I watched others clean up, take care of sheets beds, I even watched them make food, Though they didn't like it much. I mimicked what was done at what times, I made sure beds were clean and well kept, I mopped and swept the floors, and I listened to them talk I learned the words and watched them sign. I would never be able to sign with my clawed legs but I could understand several messages and already I could decipher a great deal of English already.

I got some attention from the caretakers, I told them, in as many ways as I could during the conversation that I wanted to help that was all. They agreed and I continued to help during the day and night, I eat when there were meals and I slept when it was too cold to be awakened by the dawn. Time didn't have a meaning to me, I only slept when it was too cold for my body to function, and I eat when food was available. Eventually I began to wander outside the shelter to check up on the ones who came in and left, many of them were rejected like the ones I had eaten but they were family now.

I had been making my check up on those under the care of the shelter, several trips after my first. This time I had scented hostile ones not the normal scent of human but hostility, anger, and fear. One of my family was being attacked, rage flooded through me I had learned several humans were safe to be around, several were even in my care, but these weren't part of my group but they were attacking one.

I scented at least seven hostile ones and one of my family, I skittered from the shadows onto a wall, gripping the bricks and holds I could, I climbed over them. It was getting dark out but I knew it would be warm enough for me to remain active at least a few more minutes. One of them looked up; too late I had already dropped mandibles ready. I landed on one cut into his neck then whirled attacked the next, struck down another and another.

Finally I had dealt with the hostile humans I had even left four of them alive, It wouldn't have been worth the effort other wise. They were all crippled two had their kneecaps chewed the other was on the ground with a cut in his side none of witch would kill them right off. The fourth I just threw into the wall, the one I had protected was a warm blood some kind of mammal I didn't know what. But they were knocked out I hadn't managed to get there in time. Her heart was still beating but this wasn't a safe place for her. The only thing I could do, was bring her back to the shelter.

I managed to get there using her body heat to keep me active I was hungry but still I pushed through the door and gently dropped her into a bed then with out any source of heat I slept.

When I woke up It was day out the one I had saved was looking intently at me, I didn't know her name but I could recognize her by scent alone I knew the smell of anyone who stayed at the shelter. She was thanking me I suppose, I couldn't tell but I nodded then hurried off to work; I had to make sure that everything was running smoothly. But the ones in charge told me to stop, why? They wanted me to answer some questions, questions were troublesome and wasted time, but I nodded and followed.

The questions were about what happened, my charge the one I had protected, only remembered being hit over the head with a pipe. So I said I dealt with them, they asked how, this question was difficult for me because I couldn't explain very well, I eventually decided and wrote out 'I cut them up'.

This made them uncomfortable, so I became uneasy their emotions encouraged my own. I wrote out some more 'them attack her so I attack them'. This was still making them uneasy but they also smelled of understanding, good agreement then I could go and get something to eat and then I would start cleaning up.

But they stopped me from going, why? I needed to keep things clean and I needed to eat, I moistened my front legs and began cleaning my antenna, mandibles, and eyes off. I could taste blood from my mandibles, I hadn't noticed it with my dull grayed vision.

Things were becoming more confusing, I wanted to go and work and help keep things running smoothly but they wouldn't let me 'why you stop me?' I wrote out.

The answer was unclear; I couldn't understand it very well and I was getting hungry, I needed to eat something, but they weren't letting me go.

They wanted me to stay here and wait, but I needed to eat something and I needed to get to work. I wrote out on a pad 'nEEd to Et aNd wUrK' they did something that confused me, I think it was saying I didn't need to work that I needed to stay there, but they did acknowledge that I needed to eat, soon some one brought me some breakfast.

I eat and waited, cleaned myself off more thoroughly and waited, listened and waited. I was growing agitated, they were keeping me from helping. At some point the person who I had saved came in and thanked me again, I think she was a raccoon or maybe a mouse, hard to tell mammals were very much alike, so were humans. But then again she was still a human, I think I was too.

I cleaned myself off again; I stretched my legs and flexed my claws. And I listened to them talk.

Then cops showed up that made me think that maybe it hadn't been such a good idea to leave those few alive. They looked at me, they smelled hostile the stench was unbearable, they were here near family ready to harm them, going to harm them. Hostility from those who ran the shelter, they weren't completely family but they were allies.

I couldn't stand the hostility it was saturating my antenna. I couldn't help it, hostile enemies, hostile friends, I attacked, I bite down on one of the cop's legs, I jerk my head and tossing him through the wall, the other one takes out a gun. I stop guns are dangerous, one shot could puncture my carapace easily, but if I died did it matter? Yes it did because I was the only one like me, I cleaned my eyes off quickly, that meant I was the only one of my kind, right? No the one I had protected was my kind, she was under my protection, but the others, no I decided not my kind, didn't belong but this one did I was certain she did. I made a quick decision not sure what I intended to do after, but first I rammed headfirst into the cop, he didn't have time to shoot I could move faster with the high temperature in the room, it was easy to knock him into the wall. After both cops had been taken out of the way I turned around, using every ounce of friendly pheromone I could muster up I approached her, and gently but easily lifted her up using my mandibles and front feet. She didn't struggle; the amount of friendly scent I had used would put even a normal human into a trusting state. I hurried out of the shelter, it wasn't a place for me I decided, no it wasn't safe, and it wasn't were my kind could be found, no my kind were those like me not humans and their mutations. Though they were sometimes friendly, they were still not my kind or family.

I had learned the general layout of the few blocks of abandoned city around the shelter, I had left scent trails and I knew were humans of any kind had not been in a long time, and were it was warm even at night, the sewers. I brought my charge into a warm part of the sewer, odd her scent was changing, and I could see her furred form seemed awkward, she was asleep. I stood guard listening for any intruders, a sound. it was a rat, I rushed over taking in the scent, feeling the vibrations of it's heartbeat, and then I saw it I pounced and pierced it with my mandibles, I tasted its blood and bones as I eat it down.

I had noticed that my charge was changing to something like myself, the form was becoming obvious as the furred flesh was slowly pulled tight over a developing exoskeleton. Long graceful antenna had already escaped at the top of her head, and the scent was very familiar, similar to her old one but new and tinted with something that made me feel more protective of her. Night came but I didn't sleep, the warmth underground was just enough for me to stay active and kill the rats that wandered too closer to her.

It had become obvious by morning when she began to wake up to the warmth of the sun, that she was taking on characteristics of a queen. She had shed her old furred skin in the night, revealing the gleaming new exoskeleton wet from moisture that had collected under her old skin, oh she was beautiful. Her antenna let off the scent of weariness, she was still weak from the transformation, the one I had brought on her, but I didn't know how. She was confused, she was in a strange new body, for a second time she had found herself in a completely strange form. I let off a comforting scent to calm her, keep her from fear; she cleaned her eyes off, having tried to blink. She cleaned her eyes off again, then tilted her head down and doubled back fear pouring off of her; I hurried over and let off comforting scents to calm the torrent of fear.

She turned to me and a query emitted from her antenna, I nodded letting off comforting scents too help keep her calm.

I had lived a sheltered life, but then that life had been torn apart. Now I intend to turn a once torn life into a sheltered one, for I will never let my queen come to harm of any kind.

[tsat home] [#26] [stories]