[s][long] Friends- part two

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Scott Robert Dawson

Jan 20, 1997, 3:00:00 AM1/20/97

Friends- [Part two: A Sudden Departure]

Steve Davidson looked in mounting unease at the amber letters on his
computer screen. He was in his small rented room in the Toronto
neighbourhood known as the Annex; his computer was logged onto his
Internet account, and his newsreader was up and set to the newsgroup
'alt.devilbunnies'. He had indeed found a response to the message he
had sent about his friend Johnson Morikawa-Smith...

This message from Grey Paladin, whoever (or _whatever_) he might be-
'Wherever you are now, LEAVE!' And the other messages... And no
messaage from Johnson, either by phone or by email. Most unusual- it
had been over a week since Johnson had left, and Johnson was such a
tech fanatic that he would certainly have sent a message as soon as he
got to San Francisco, just to try out some gadget or other. Steve's
head spun.

Even if these so-called 'devil-bunnies' actually existed, where would
he go? 'Run to the nearest AoF recruiting center, and UNDER NO
CIRCIMSTANCES let a rabbit anywhere near you.' Ha. Right. As if a
fictional organization would be in the phone book... And where would
he find a rabbit outside anyway, in downtown Toronto, in January?

Just for the hell of it, he decided to look. And there it was, under

Between 'Canadian Armed Forces' and 'Salvation Army', a one line entry
stated 'Army of Fudd, Toronto Office, 416-555-0123.' Obviously, they
were on a budget. No address either: it was probably connected to an
answering machine in some wacko's apartment.

Steve put on his boots, grabbed his coat, mitts and cash card, ran
outside, down the stairs and headed for the pay phone on the corner.
He did _not_ want the wacko knowing his home number, and besides, he
was still logged on. He got to the booth, shoved his card in and
dialled the number.

The phone at the other end rang twice, and what was clearly an
answering machine kicked in. "Hello. You have reached the Toronto
office of the Army of Fudd, working to Rid The Earth of the Evil That
Fluffs!" Steve could almost hear the capital letters. "If you require
assistance, press zero NOW. If you wish to report devilbunny activity,
press one. For recruitment information, press two. For supplier
information, press three. For all other inquiries, press star, or stay
on the line, and an operator will help you." The phone fell silent.

"Great," Steve thought. "Probably some York University psych major
having fun with peoples' minds again."

He had hesitated a little too long with the handset to his ear,
however, and he was startled by a human voice. "Sorry about that," it
said; " I was on another line." Steve distinctly heard the noise of a
toilet flushing in the background. "I'm Captain Burnett; what can I do
for you?"

"Well, uh, Captain, uh, well, I'm not really sure. A couple of weeks
ago one of my friends started talking about these devilbunny things,
and buying all this strange stuff, and now he's gone to San- to the
States and I haven't heard from him in..." He trailed off. Why was he
telling this stranger all this anyway?

Burnett replied, "You're the Steve Davidson that posted that message
to the newsgroup?"

Steve said, "Yes; how'd you know?"

"Never mind that. You are in extreme danger. You're at a payphone-
good." (How'd he know that, Steve wondered.) "You are probably being
watched. Return to your room and get the minimum you need for a
one-week trip. Don't worry about fashion accessories or the family
jewels. DO NOT allow anyone to approach you. I will be at your house
in fifteen minutes. If I don't show in twenty, or if you are followed
now, get away from there immediately, and get to some large, open,
public space. Nathan Philips Square will do."

"But-" Steve stammered.

"No time to waste. Move!" The phone went dead. Steve looked at it,
shook his head, then unaccountably shivered. This "Captain" Burnett,
whoever he was, had seemed so matter-of-fact, as if this was a usual
part of his life. "I'd better go back inside," he thought. He walked
back to his front door. He did not see the black rabbit hopping along
parallel to him, just out of sight behind the bushes, nor did he see
the two others underneath his front steps.

He went inside and entered his room, which was just off the hallway
inside the front door. How did this Burnett character know where he
lived? Steve had a feeling that he wasn't faking things. His computer
was offline; the Internet link had gone down and his answering machine
light was blinking. "That's odd; I haven't been away long enough for
it to time out," he thought. He pressed the playback button. There was
a beep, then silence; yet the recorded "message" did not cut off for a
minute. He had the sense that something had been listening.

Outside, two more rabbits crossed the street.

Abruptly Steve shut the conputer off and grabbed his pack. This was
getting just a little too weird. He had to get away, and Nathan
Phillips Square was as good a place as any. He did not remember
Captain Burnett's promise to appear at his house.

He flung underwear, socks, a couple of shirts, a towel, and his
personal pouch into it, then added his sketchbook and pencilbox. He
glanced aroud the small room, checking to see that the stereo was off.
Then he grabbed his keys and pack, did up his coat and headed for the
kitchen. He grabbed a loaf of bread, a jar of peanut butter, a bag of
carrots, and half a chocolate bar, stuffed them in the pack and
shouldered it. Then he let himself out the back door, through the
small yard, and into the back alley.

Ten seconds later, the front window, the one that opened into his
room, was smashed in by a hurtling ball of black armored fur. The
alarm shrilled. Steve started at the sound, than began to walk quickly
up the alley to Harbord Street. He didn't want to know- it could be
home invaders, he supposed, but it was probably a car thief somewhere
on the street. The thought of rabbits did not cross his mind.

As he got out to the street, he had a stroke of luck: the Harbord bus
was coming. He ran to the stop and out into the street as the bus
pulled up. The doors opened and he swung aboard, showing his
Metropass. As he sat down in the lighted bus, his fears began to seem

The bus ground along Harbord Street, past some fascinating little
bookshops and a couple of rather ordinary convenience stores, bumped
over the Spadina streetcar tracks, and entered the grounds of the
University of Toronto. It made the odd pair of turns on Queen's Park
Circle, passed between Queen's Park itself and the great sandstone
pile of the provincial parliament buildings, and continued eastward
along Wellesley Street, past blocks of faceless government offices.
Steve stared out the window at them. How many people in there, he
wondered, would even believe as much as he had of this devilbunny

The bus crossed Bay Street, and the driver announced the stop for
Yonge Street. People began to move about and gather their things.
Steve was about to get off when he remembered that this particular bus
entered the subway station on the other side of Yonge. Only a few
passengers got off. Then the bus was across the street and coming to a
halt in the Wellesley subway station.

Most of the passengers got off the bus; Steve went down to the
southbound subway platform. Again he was in luck; a train was just
pulling in. He got on and sat down. He stared abstractedly at the ads
while the train accelerated, lulled by the rushing tunnel lights. At
Dundas, two stops later, he got off the train, walked through the
labyrinthine levels of the Eaton Centre mall and out the other side.

A short walk westward brought him across Bay Street again, and into
the great open expanse of Nathan Phillips Square.

Toronto's famous city hall looked down on him as he stood by the
reflecting pool (now given over to skaters) and wondered, "Now what?"

[End of Part Two. next part: A Hurried Pickup]

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