(Sorry about skipping the AFI Top 100 review for this week. I took a crack at it and just hated what I wrote — it sounded needlessly defensive and unworthy of the subject material. I’ll try to make it up to you guys with a twofer next week, so stay tuned for that!
For now, enjoy this bit of fiction, set in the Unstable Future universe as created by Neopuc. I really loved the setting, and have been percolating on my own take for quite some time. Now I’m at the stage where I want to figure out the characters and let them tell me who they are, to be all hippie-writer about it. So here we have a seen with Abe, the Rabbit we met last week, getting involved in a slight altercation outside of his neighborhood supermarket. 1731 words.)
As soon as Abe saw the small crowd jostling right in front of the door to the market, he knew there was trouble. Outside of the darkened windows that lead to the small parking lot of Perry’s Supermarket, he could see three figures — two very large ones shoving a much smaller one between them. Of course, they were doing this right outside the exit, so if he wanted to leave he would have to deal with them.
The Rabbit shuffled the two bags in his arms and looked back at the checkout counter. Perry’s was unusually busy for a Wednesday afternoon, and the young cashier — a Chameleon with piercings adorning the edge along his crest — was scanning groceries at a pace that suggested there actually weren’t twelve other Animals behind his current customer. Abe took a few steps towards him, settling his bags on the very end of the counter.
“Excuse me,” he said, reminding himself to be polite. “It looks like there’s some kind of fight going on outside your store.”
The Chameleon swiveled one eye almost directly behind him, barely turning his head to look out of the window. He saw the three figures outside and shrugged. “Can’t leave my post, and I’m the only one in the store.”
“Can’t you call your manager?” Abe had to take a deep breath and fought the rising tide of impatience in his chest.
The cashier shook his head and returned to scanning the same can of peas he had been for the past minute. “Manager’s on lunch. You might be able to catch her at the diner down the street.”
Abe was incredulous. What kind of manager let a kid like this work an entire store alone—
A slam on the window made the Rabbit jump, along with a few people in line. One of the huge figures, a Bear, cuffed the little one, sending him careening into it. Abe sighed and shook his head, then walked out of the door.
“All right,” he said, without bothering to look at who he was dealing with. “That’s enough. Why don’t you just knock it off and go fight in a bar if you wanna scrap that bad.”
The two large bodies turned to look at him, and he tilted his head to look up at them. He felt his throat drop into his stomach, and he instinctively took a step back. Of all the people he could have told to knock it off, members of the Claw and Fang would be the least likely to listen.
Their leader was looming over him and everyone else now, the Bear’s beady brown eyes focusing down. “This ain’t none of your business, asshole,” he boomed. Abe could swear later that he felt the sidewalk rumbling underneath him.
The Bear called himself Tiny, which immediately told Abe exactly what sort of intellect he was working with. He was less of a Bear and more of a wall — eight feet tall, six hundred pounds of hulking fur, fat and muscle. He was easily the biggest biped Abe had ever seen, and strong enough to give his horse Goliath a run for his money. He spent his days committing petty theft, getting into fights at any bar that would have him and terrorizing liberal arts majors off-campus. Maybe he had finished eighth grade; his criminal record was a lot longer than his educational one.
Abe put up his hands and folded his ears, silently cursing himself for immediately adopting such a submissive posture. But the bear was three feet taller than he was and around four times heavier; there was no way it would turn out well for him if it came to blows. “You’re right outside Perry’s Supermarket, beating up a townie. It’s my business whether I like it or not.”
Abe didn’t know where that came from. But he couldn’t just stand by and watch something like this happen. He’d want someone to come out and stop it if he were being victimized, after all.
Tiny took a half-step forward, but his companion stayed him with a paw. Roeper was a Lion that was every bit the monster the Bear was, if not a little worse. He wore the illusion of civility, using it to justify all kinds of abusive behavior. He was the brains of the operation; though Tiny considered himself the leader of the Claw and Fang since he was the biggest, Roeper was easily the power behind the throne as it were.
“He’s right, Bear,” the Lion practically purred. “We were right outside the exit of the store. All those poor people would be trapped in there until we were done. I think it’s a good thing that this little bunny brought it to our attention.
Abe felt himself bristling. Roeper gave him a smile that was almost a sneer. “Just let us take our friend here somewhere else so we can continue our conversation.” The Lion lifted his victim by the back of his shirt with seemingly no effort at all. “You and the rest of your neighbors can take your groceries home in peace.”
The Rabbit knew he was being given an out, that the Lion was saying that there was no quarrel with him. It was a free pass. All he had to do was take it. He shook his head and said, “That’s not the problem here, and you know it. Listen, just put the Gopher down and walk away. It’s really not worth causing all of this trouble.”
Roeper raised an eyebrow. “No, it really isn’t.”
Tiny advanced on the Rabbit, and this time the Lion didn’t stop him. Abe’s heart sank. He knew he wouldn’t be able to reason with the Bear, so things were very likely about to come to blows. Abe quickly tried to think of what he could do to get himself out of this.
His father had taught him to fight, and told him that he didn’t have power or size over most of the people he would be up against. But he did have speed and stamina. He’d need to take advantage of the slowness of his enemy, find a weak point and strike it repeatedly, retreating as fast as he could before retribution would come. Eventually, his opponent would tire, or simply topple if he had chosen his spot correctly.
“You can’t fight well, son,” his father had said. “Rabbits aren’t built for that. But we can fight smart.”
Abe watched as Tiny advanced towards him, his eyes flicking over the hulking frame for any sign of weakness. The Rabbit could find none; every part of the Bear was massive, covered with a thick layer of fat and hide. He didn’t know if he had it in him to even make a blow register. The only thing he could think of would be to go for the eyes, but he’d have to jump to reach and that would leave him completely exposed. He–
Tiny roared and swung, a wild right cross that looked like a tree being swung at him. Abe ducked quickly, but he felt the air woosh right over his ears. That was way too close. He quickly darted forward and punched the Bear’s midsection. It was like beating stretched leather. Tiny didn’t even exhale; he simply laughed.
“That all you got?” The Bear’s voice was slightly deafening, even in the open air of the parking lot. “I’ve fallen harder than you hit. Listen here, bunny–” he spat the word with a contempt that Abe never realized he was aware enough to be capable of– “just let me hit you once for interrupting my fun, then you can go home.”
“What’s going on here?” A loud, threatening growl sounded from behind Abe. The Rabbit spun around to find Jonathan, the new sheriff’s deputy, stalking across the parking lot towards them. The look on his face was almost murderous.
Roeper flicked a glance at the large Tiger coming his way, then at Abe. “Nothing, officer. We were just having a spirited debate.”
“Debate’s over.” Jonathan’s striped fur bristled. “Why don’t you get out of here?”
Roeper’s expression cooled considerably, but he nodded and turned towards Tiny. “Of course, officer. Let’s leave these two gentlemen to their afternoon.”
The Lion, the Bear and a Coyote that Abe somehow missed stalked past them and across the parking lot. The Coyote gave the Rabbit a chillingly direct yellow-eyed stare before they reached the street. As soon as they were gone, he let loose with a huge sigh.
Jonathan quirked an eyebrow. “What was that about?”
Abe simply shook his head. “Just stopping them from messing with some little guy.” He looked around for a moment before he spotted the Gopher quietly gathering his groceries and slipping away.
Jonathan watched him go. “Well, I’m sure he’s grateful.”
Abe smirked. “Obviously.”
The Tiger scratched the back of his head. “Well, now that I’ve gotten involved, I’m going to need to file a police report, which of course includes a statement from you.”
Abe’s ears sank. He thought of all the work he had to do back at the farm, and how quickly the day was getting away from him. No good deed, he thought.
“Well, I suppose that’s protocol.”
The Tiger grinned. “Glad you agree. Mind if I take your statement over dinner tomorrow night?”
Abe’s ears perked straight up and forward. He had not been expecting that. For several moments, he had no idea what to do. He watched as Jonathan’s smile slowly faded in the ensuing awkward silence.
“If you’re too busy–” the deputy began.
“No, no, sorry, I was just…uhm…just…”
“Going over your calendar?”
“Yes, that’s exactly right. It’s clear. I’d be happy to.” Abe felt the curious sensation of stepping back and watching him agree to dinner with an impossibly good-looking Tiger.
That big, toothy smile reappeared. “Excellent! Let’s say, Oleander Pool Hall at 8 PM?”
Abe merely nodded. He was still coming out of his shock.
“Awesome.” If Abe had been paying attention, he would have noticed that Jonathan looked both relieved and very pleased. “I’ll, uhm, see you then.”
The Tiger stalked away, back to the patrol car that was haphazardly parked across three spots with its door hanging open. Abe turned and went back to the store to get his groceries, wondering what on Earth had just happened.