Until the late days of 1996, the history of the Tomorrowlands was almost indistinguishable from our own. After that, though, the world took quite a different course from Earth's.
The first few days
"It is certainly wrong to assume, as some people do, that The Changes began with the Flyby, and I think even the First Sighting was much too late. The first visible event, yes. But not the start. Waking up and realizing you're no longer asleep are two different things."Rumors of odd monster sightings started circulating as the year drew to a close, but nobody paid them much attention until that first fateful day. On December 18, 1996, tens of thousands of Americans watched their televisions in shock as a dragon -- a living, flesh-and-blood dragon -- walked through the background of a small Midwestern station's live news broadcast.
By next morning, the major networks had picked up the footage from the station, every newspaper in the country was running pictures, and the expected claims of fraud were being vigorously denied by several dozen on-the-scene witnesses (and some experts, who pointed out that this "publicity stunt" would have to have a vast conspiracy of silence and a multimillion-dollar budget behind it if it were, in fact, fake). The Committee for Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal offered a $25,000 reward to anyone who could bring the dragon, in person, before a board of scientists. (A reward which, ironically, still goes unclaimed.)
The controversy lasted for merely a day or two, as on the 19th and 20th more dragons started popping up left and right, followed by other mythic animals of every description. Reports started trickling in of confirmed sightings worldwide. Suddenly, it was no longer a question of "is this happening?" but "what is happening?" And why?
Predictably, apocalyptic sentiment ran high. Many claimed that the End Times were upon us. The most visible and cogent refutation came, interestingly enough, from one of the dragons -- Dennis Redwing, whose fame would only grow as time passed. "Where did chapters 7 through 11 of Revelation go?" he pointed out, in the world's first televised interview of a nonhuman. "In the Bible, a dragon only appears after a string of worldwide disasters and the disappearance of 144,000 people." He offered the alternate view that we were going through a transition rather than an ending; that the Earth and all of her children were awakening, that we were becoming active participants in our reality, rather than just inhabitants. The appearance of nonhumans was a side effect of this, Redwing said: We were being handed the pen of reality for the first time, and asked to help write, and naturally the first thing that we added to the book was our collective mythology.
Redwing's explanation of the events now popularly called The Changes would eventually gain general acceptance, but at the time, it was a little too forward-thinking. (Reports of magic took much longer to surface, the phenomenon being far more subtle and less understood than the dragon appearance.) At the time, people wanted reassurance, not explanation. The world had, in a real sense, been turned upside down, and nobody could be sure that this wasn't just a sign of bigger and worse things to come.
Spurred by the dire predictions of religious leaders, public attitude degenerated over several days into panic, and at times into chaos; a large economic dip and simultaneous riots in several major cities prompted President Clinton to declare a nationwide state of emergency. Having somebody in control did ease tensions, and as days passed and the world didn't end, the nation calmed back down. At the same time, the media was making instant celebrities of every nonhuman who volunteered to stand in front of a camera.
It was quickly learned that these nonhumans -- who were collectively coined "therianthropes," from the Greek therion (beast) and anthropos (man) -- hadn't just appeared from thin air. (Incidentally, the label "therianthrope" was quickly expanded to include mages, too, although that use of the term is a total misnomer.) They had been born humans, grew up normally, and changed into their new forms at various times during that fateful month. Fears of involuntary transformation were quelled when, almost to a man, the therianthropes the media could reach either admitted knowing of their therianthropy before The Changes started, or indicated they were thrilled with their new form, and in fact had always wished they could be one. Of course, the fact that most theris could shapeshift back to their original human form, thus becoming practically invisible in society, sparked off several witch-hunts -- but that news was prudently suppressed as much as possible, and took some weeks to become common knowledge.
The world was still in awe as the days went on, but the fear was crumbling, bit by bit. Christmas passed without serious incident, and the country stopped holding its collective breath. The state of emergency was rolled back, and the warning cries started dying down to just the right wing. There was even some talk of how society would have to change to accommodate members of different shapes and sizes.
Then came New Year's Eve.
"I was completely unprepared for the consequences of our flight. I had hoped only to bring a note of racial unity, and a little extra flash, to a time of joy. ... That night will haunt me for the rest of my lifetime."The crowd in Times Square on New Year's Eve was hardly of record size; apocalyptic fears and/or fresh memories of the military lockdown still kept many at home. But the New Year's Eve party wasn't cancelled, and the turnout was certainly sizeable. Quite a few folks figured that if the world was going to end, they might as well go out having fun.
The music was loud, the atmosphere rich. The ball started dropping on schedule. The crowd counted down ... the timer hit zero ... the fireworks went off. There were a few seconds of relative silence as people realized that they had not, in fact, died in a hail of brimstone or a plague of locusts. Then the dancing and the cheering started in earnest.
Suddenly, the cheers turned to cries of panic on one side of the square. The fear spread as revelers looked up to see three dragons, belching lances of flame into the air, swooping twenty feet above the crowd.
The dragons themselves caused no harm. However, their appearance caused the audience to yield to the primal human survival urge: Take cover. Unfortunately, yielding to primal survival urges in such a densely packed crowd tends to invoke the law of primal survival: The strongest win.
As the square emptied, many inebriated, poorly placed and young attendees were left trampled on the ground. One of the large central stages yielded under human pressure and collapsed, adding to the carnage. When the dust cleared and paramedics were finally able to get through, 13 people lay dead or fatally wounded. Hundreds more were injured.
Depending on who you talk to, and how kindly they're inclined to view the original intent of the participating dragons, that event became remembered as the "New Year's Flyby," the "New Year's Panic," or (for many humans) the "New Year's Massacre." (Some therianthropes, only in private and among trusted friends, still call it "The Stampede," with accompanying herd-of-cattle hand motions.) Needless to say, whatever name you use, it did not help race relations.
"The way I've always heard the story, after he said that he wasn't there to listen to their threats, they told him, 'Dennis, so help me God, walk out through that door and we'll bring you back in chains.' He smiled, and said, 'Please be so kind as to remind your superiors that the door, when you awoke, was locked from the inside.' "The political response was a swift and unanimous condemnation. The popular response was at least as harsh. Reading the newspapers of the time, the words that come to mind are "terrorist attack"; although most commentators weren't quite brash enough to say it outright, most humans felt it.
Overnight, therianthropes -- dragons especially -- were pariahs, or worse. It may never be known how many dozens were killed in those next few days. Most nonhumans went into hiding, shifted back into human form, or put their lives on the line by continuing to take public, vocal stands.
Under enormous popular and political pressure, New York police announced the indictment of the "Flyby Three" for, among other lesser charges, 13 counts each of first-degree murder. Nonhumans were outraged at the overreaction; humans were largely outraged that the killers had not yet been caught. Prosecutors stated, with some reluctance, that they would seek the death penalty.
Dennis Redwing was quickly thrust into the spotlight again: He announced the day following the charges, on live TV, that the three dragons had come to him saying that they were horrified by what they'd done and wanted to turn themselves in, but were afraid of being martyred by the system while public sentiment ran strong. Redwing stated that he would spearhead a team of mediators to negotiate the surrender of the dragons to the government, but that if they wanted to deal, they'd have to come up with reasonable, justified terms. Which meant, first of all, dropping the death sentence.
It was a daring and unexpected move, one which lost Redwing some popularity, but quickly established him as a force to be reckoned with. The FBI's immediate response was to threaten him personally with obstruction of justice and a handful of conspiracy charges; they took him into custody and grilled him. He answered their questions quietly and calmly, refused to divulge the location of the Three, magically put the guards to sleep, and phased out of the building through an external wall. Hours later, he was back on TV, updating the world and pleading for the nation's sense of justice to overrule its desire for vengeance.
Meanwhile, human groups were out in force on the streets, protesting for justice of their own: the speedy capture and trial of the Three. While Redwing was earning the quiet respect of moderates, so many people were voicing their outrage that any negotiation seemed like political suicide. The situation stalled, and Redwing, still at odds with law enforcement, laid low.
"No. And if you try to make us, there will be war."The next move was made late on January 6, straight from the Oval Office -- one of the few (or only) executive orders ever to be reprinted in full within newspapers nationwide. The decree seared itself into public consciousness, and was recalled by Clinton ten years later as "the most horrifying order I ever felt it necessary to sign."
The order, in brief, sent the army scrambling to reconfigure several out-of-the-way military bases for temporary housing, and asked that all nonhumans within the borders of the United States, "for [their] own safety and protection," voluntarily report to these "relocation centers" within the next 72 hours.
The following three days were altogether too silent. Redwing himself had apparently disappeared; the media's other nonhuman darlings, to a one, refused interviews; the gates of the relocation centers stood open and all but empty. With the sudden and total disappearance of nonhumans from public life, humanity got understandably nervous.
Wild speculations about "their plans" were the norm. However, the biggest factor shaping the debate over the next three days was the objections of liberal and moderate humans to the decree -- many compared the centers to "concentration camps" and drew the inevitable parallels to the Holocaust. A small swell of sympathy grew for nonhumans in absentia, and a few brave counter-protesters even confronted those still marching in the street for "human rights."
The news broke late in the evening on the eighth that the executive order had been a hasty political compromise to mollify over 50 senators threatening to push for a constitutional amendment declaring therianthropes officially not human -- and therefore not U.S. citizens. This was too much for many Americans otherwise sympathetic to the move, especially blacks, and public opinion took a sudden shift. Before the President had a chance to backpedal on the following morning, though, Redwing's famous press release came in.
Over the weekend, frantic media questioning would fill in some of the details of the release, and of therianthropes' strange recent silence. Redwing had called every nonhuman and every mage that he knew, had contact information for, or could get ahold of -- and asked for their cooperation in similarly and secretly contacting their theri and mage friends, pyramiding the call through the entire therianthrope population. His goals: To assemble a meeting ... The Meeting. To unify nonhumans at a time when the entire community seemed destined for a quick, fragmented death. To send the world a message that it could not ignore. He did all three.
Redwing found a huge, secluded and unused area in "a national park" (he never did get any more specific than that, and anyone else who knows, never told), set up a teleportation beacon, and shanghaied several dozen mages into providing transportation and services full-time for The Meeting's non-mage attendees. After nearly 48 sleepless hours of continuous work and networking, he had heard pledges to attend from over 2,000 therianthropes; the logistical tangles were quickly worked out, and Redwing called the assembly to order on the evening of Jan. 8. Those in attendance say Redwing gave a stirring opening speech, suggested a number of options for responding to the order, and broke the gathering up into over a hundred discussion groups, briefly visiting each one so he could get a broader idea of general sentiment. By any account, the discussions continued late into the night, and when Redwing unveiled his press release at sunrise with a heartfelt but barely coherent plea for unity, more than 90 percent signed it.
The battle lines
"Whatever our feelings about 'therianthropes,' we must realize that to stay our present course can only tear our country apart. As Christians, we must recognize that the ethic of righteousness and the ethic of peace can be reconciled. And we must apply that knowledge. ... Our counterparts are people, not monsters."With the changing public sentiment, the executive order would probably have been rescinded -- or at worst, quietly ignored -- even without The Meeting. But by providing the nation an example of therianthrope solidarity, and by showing their willingness to fight in self-defense, Redwing changed the future.
The next weeks saw deep political and popular division. Clinton would not try such an action again, but a more conservative (and lame-duck) Congress had fewer reservations, with a narrow majority frantically railroading through bill after bill to restrict and legislate therianthropes. As senator Lucas Bakerson put it, "We're doing this to save humanity." Ultimately, none of the blatantly discriminatory laws would survive court challenge, but they provided a menacing backdrop in the months to come. Both sides had drawn their battle lines.
By now, Redwing was seen as the therianthropes' unofficial leader, and many nonhumans lent support to this idea by publicly declaring that what he said, went. Perhaps as a consequence, Redwing retreated from the public eye somewhat, stating few "official" opinions, although he did drop hints that he was hard at work on a book. With little sign of nonhuman dissent, the image of a united community poised to retaliate at any hint of oppression persisted.
Fundamentalists continued protesting daily through February, by which time all but the die-hards had lost momentum in the face of growing public support for leaving the nonhumans alone. In the meantime, moderate religious coalitions -- worried about the future of a country on the brink of civil war -- had merged into "Save America Now for Everyone" (SANE), and were calling for reasoned dialogue with therianthropes for the good of all. The group's deeply Biblical bent was a difficult hurdle for many nonhumans to jump, but being short on allies, Redwing opened talks with them.
The next several months were relatively quiet -- not compared to the year before, certainly, but compared to the frantic pace of December and January, it was practically a return to normality. As the background tension faded into a steady hum, public opinion began its long, erratic slide into apathy, one that continues even today.
Which is not to say that the following years were any less interesting.
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