by Quentin Long
©2010 Quentin Long
|This TBP (Tales of the Blind Pig) story is part of the life of cheetah-morph Jubatus Acinonyx. Other stories of Jube are A Good Run of Luck (which appeared in Anthro #7), Second Heat (in Anthro #22), and Christmas Rush (in Anthro #26).
Go here for info on the TBP setting
Third class is a field trip. To Derksens clinic. Would have preferred to start the class there, but this was the first Tuesday evening the doc-roachs lab was free. Remodeled the living space in my Extremis; theres four new seats (rented) in back. Those plus the passengers seat up front will handle the five humanoids, and theres also room for Jenny the Rock to lie down. Hey, why shouldnt I play chauffeur? Im the teacher, its my responsibility to see that the class gets to where it needs to be, right?
Good: Everyones a little early, especially the foxy lady. Shes delivered by what looks like the same pair of bodyguard-types, driving the same car, as got her home last week. She smiles at me, and she (not her voder) says: Hrraiie-yhheaarh, Dj Tchew hraour!
I nod without smiling. Bettern last week. Keep practicing, youll get there soon enough.
She digs her Magnavox out of her purse to reply. I know I will, but. In the meantime. It can be frustrating.
Now I smile. Tell me about it. Youre getting off easy, ladyyou have an instructor whos been there himself.
Which you didnt, her voder says.
Yeah. Shrug. Ready for the field trip?
Oh, yes. Allie was very pleased. Shes always wanted to and one rent-a-thug reaches over her shoulder to press the voders mute button.
What did Miss Allison tell you about violating her privacy, Miss Mary? says the thug.
The vixens face spends a moment at pissed off before shifting over to mild embarrassment. She un-mutes the voder, nods at the thug: Youre right, George. I shouldnt discuss family business in public. To me, she (or at least her voder) says, Apologies, Jubatus. Yes, Im ready for this field trip. And Ive been looking forward to it. Are we really going to see Dr. Derksen himself?
Doubtful. Hes booked solid until the 12th of Never, you know?
That gets a couple of yipping laughs out of her muzzle. Which is about when Dennison shows up, with Anthony following close. Not so very much later, me and my class are tooling along towards the doc-roachs lab. The rent-a-thugs werent happy about the fox being in my car instead of with them. Thats nice. They werent explicitly instructed to stay within arms reach 24/7, and even if they were, I couldnt care less.
The traffics thicker than I anticipated. 38 clock-minutes later, I pull into a reserved space in the parking lot of Derksens lab. My passengers talked; I paid attention to the road. Guess which hired limo stayed within five car-lengths of us all the way there?
Derksen being a big name in SCABS research, his labs security is a couple notches above the normyou never know when some idiot Nazi wannabe, Humans First or whatever, will take it into his head to strike a blow for stupid people everywhere. Me and my students pass through the outer gate without incident, but Zelinskis thugs get detained when they set off an alarm. Good. Theres two more layers of protection Im aware of, and Vulcan knows how many others. I wish the thugs joy of them all.
Im intimately familiar with the doc-roachs torture chamberhis primary examination roomfrom all the times hes worked me over. Being the highly exotic breed of chronomorph I am, its only natural that a world-class SCABS researcher like Derksen would want to observe the hell out of me, as often as he can oh, joy. Hes here. I was afraid of that. On the plus side, hes practically human today. Soft skin, blond hair, no antennae, compound eyes only a little bigger than human normal. See, Derksens one of us; hes a polymorph SCAB, insectoid forms his specialty, and the roach traits kind of creep up on him when hes irritated or preoccupied or whatever. One more reason Im glad not to be a shapeshifter myself.
Hello, Jubatus, he says, and his voice is a hell of a lot smoother than when he goes blattidae on you. Damn it. I dont suppose
Thats right, you dont suppose. And you dont get another crack at me for seventeen days.
Oh, well; cant blame a mad scientist for trying! He sounds happy, but even with no discernable chitin on him, his scent is too roachy for me to tell his real mood. BFD.
I snort my disagreement at him. Whatever. Since youre here, does that mean youre gonna make yourself useful checking out the fox?
Yes. Now hes serious. Among other things, I find it curious that her medical records are silent on a number of points that may add up to grounds for a malpractice suit.
My ears prick up. Oh, really? Then whats the story with Dr. Gordon? I ask, referring to the physician in charge of the Zelinski case. Is he corrupt, or just incompetent?
At this point, Derksens face hardensliterallyas exoskeletal plates form. That is what I intend to find out. Either way, its clear that this Dr. Gordon has no business working with SCABs; the data from this examination will tell me whether I should push for censure or disbarment. Then he sighs, and his plates soften a little. Excuse me, Jubatus, he says, and then hes off to supervise a whole-body scan of Jenny, the stone dog.
Theres an empty chair off to one side of the lab. I sit back and let Derksen (and his flunkies) scurry around the place with various implements of medicine. Its actually kind of interesting to see them work on someone else. Hell, this time I dont even mind the stench of disinfectant!
Derksen & Co. conduct a sextet of very thorough physical examinations, covering everything from respiratory airflow to basal metabolic rate to speed of neural transmission to God knows what-all else. The doc-roach is going the extra mile, and then someId only asked him to cover the vocal tractbut if thats what he wants to do, its fine by me. Thats odd theyve left off a number of procedures he likes to use on me, but then they also include a few Im not familiar with. I make mental notesthe lapses and additions probably have to do with my chronomorph power, which I dont want anyone, Derksen or no, to learn too much about.
Hmm maybe its just me, but I get the impression that Derksens concern for Zelinski goes a little beyond the standard doctor/patient relationship..? Whatever; its none of my business.
Entry to exit, were done in four clock-hours. Zelinskis thugs arent around when we leavehow sad. The drive back to the Shelter is uneventful; my passengers are too busy comparing notes to bother me. I park, five of the six bug out, the vixen doesnt.
Waiting for something? I ask.
Foxys fingers touch her voder, but it stays mute. She looks at me. I look back. Her machine finally says, Were you always male, Jubatus?
Huh..? I consider asking why she wants to know, but I decide to just answer the question. Yes.
She spends a few seconds thinking before her voder speaks up again. Then why are you so angry?
Angry? I snort a laugh. Like any SCAB needs to ask.
Dead air. Zelinskis not happy. Before anything else can happen, a particular rented limo screeches to a halt beside us. I point a thumb at them.
Your rides here, I say. See you next Tuesday.
The homework showed up across a week, starting last Friday. Tiger-boys arrived first; birdbrains came last. Funny how that works. Right now Im in my classroom, reviewing the assignments over lunch. Nothing from Jennynot that I expected anything, of course. But what could I have assigned her, damn it?
Lots of people fear them, with good reasoncheck out any of the true crime books about inanimorph perpsbut I just think theyre damned weird, is all. Strictly speaking, I guess I should be afraid, since innies are among the few things in this world with half a chance of hurting me but Im not.
Thank you, Jay Nelson Xavier.
Somehow, I know that the voice Im hearing in my head (not my ears) is Jenny. And when I turn to look at the stone dog, I see something. Cant make out detailsmy eyes cant decide whether its transparent or notwait, its solid now. Human body, female, which I (again, somehow) know to be an idealized version of Jennys pre-SCABS body. Clothed, yet.
Her lips dont move: Is this form more to your liking, Jay Nelson Xavier?
I evade the question. Call me Jubatus, I use the other name for business. Thanks for what?
For your downshifting. The single-minded intensity of your concentration. For giving me something to focus on. I am grateful.What you did allowed me to obviate? Reify?no. I am sorry, you lack the vocabulary.
Whatever. You know, theres paperwork to fill out if youre dropping the class
For the first time in my life, I hear a laugh that really is like the tinkling of bells. No mockery in it; I know that shes just appreciating the absurdity of the situation Thank you again, Jubatus. It is very good to exist in human reality.
Theres another kind?
In a manner of speaking. If two people perceive the Universe so differently that they cannot communicate, are they truly living in the same reality?
Philosophy? Feh. Yes, they are, I say. Look, its not like you need a speech tutor any more, so why are you here?
As I said, Jubatus, I am grateful. I want to express my gratitude in tangible form.
Tangible form? Heh! The first image that comes to mind is impossibleIm a cat, and shes deadbut she apparently picks it out of my brain anyway. And suddenly, without any warning, Jennys a cheetah, too! Shes fur-naked, and theres this indescribable scent, and shes stepping towards me, andVery well, Ju-
No! I scream from the far corner of the room, only twitching a little. No. Thats, ah, no. None of that. Really.
And then shes back in her chair, back in human form, and a repentant sigh echoes lightly through my mind. I misunderstood I apologize.
Its easy for me to calm down, because I know her remorse is genuine. Thats, um, okay. So. You can read minds.
A light touch of uncertainty In effect, yes. While I am not truly telepathic, I have certain perceptions
which I lack the vocabulary for you to describe.
Im afraid so. This time, I know the communication gaps got her as frustrated as memaybe more sobut shes honestly doing the best she can. I really am sorryall of this, being an inanimorph, its still very new to me. I hope you can forgive me my errors.
I shrug. Not a problem. No harm done, you didnt mean it, and you learn from your mistakes. Right?
Right, she says, and for a moment I feelsomethinglike someone walked over my grave? Or like Im being watched from every direction at once? Vocabulary again. Not really painful or unpleasant; just, I dont know, weird. Whatever the sensation is, I dont miss it when it stops. Its so very hard not to make mistakes with an unfamiliar set of abilities youve only just acquired wouldnt you say?
I give her a tolerant, rueful smile. Tell me about it.
As if I need to! Her sympathetic amusement is clear. But seriously: You did me an enormous favor, and I want to reciprocate. What would you like?
What would you like? If it was anyone biological, Id tell them to forget itbut this is an inanimorph talking. And innies can do pretty much anything, blowing off physical laws as needed
The words are out of my mouth before I realize what Ive said: Can you cure SCABS?
Shes silent for a good ten-fifteen clock-seconds. I dont press her, and clouds of uncertainty and intense concentration drift through my brain as the time passes. I dont know. I think I
Shes taken aback by the force of my command. That makes two of us.
Let me finish, please. As I was going to say, I think I can eliminate all traces of Martian Flu virus from your body. That much Im reasonably sure of. Changes inflicted by SCABS are a tougher problem, but I may even be able to undo them, too. The problem is, I dont know what condition youll be in when Im finished! Yes, you might return to your former, human, self; but you could also end up a normal cheetah, or even dead. If I try this, it could ruin your life, your very existence, in any of thousands of different ways. On second thought, make that millions. Is this a risk you really want to take, Jubatus?
Rhetorical question. To be human againfully human!well, lets just say its one hell of a prize Jennys dangling before me. How can I believe shes up to the task? How can I not? There may be no hope of a cure from any human agency, but that doesnt say squat about what an innie might be capable of! Do it, I repeat.
Shes quiet for a long moment before she talks again. Jubatus. You do realize that just as I can perform actions far beyond any limits of biological life so, too, can I make mistakes far more terrible than anything biological life is capable of.
No shit, Sherlock.
You know this, but you still want me to try.
Got it in one.
Youre absolutely certain.
Youre damn right Im absolutely certain, I snarl. Stop screwing around! Shit or get off the pot! Do it, or fuck off and oh, hell. Just do it.
Another longish pause, then she says, Very well. Im going to scan you now, Jubatus and suddenly that bizarre watched from all directions sensation is back, in spades, doubled and redoubled. It feels like shes poring over my entire life, back to the moment of my birth and forward to my eventual death, simultaneouslyand no, I havent got Clue One how that impression entered my sensorium. Then my mind is drenched by a mixture of embarrassment and pity and regret and endless, bottomless sorrow.
You dont even know, do you, Jubatus?
Huh? What the fuck are you talking about!?
I really and truly am sorry. But I I just cant give you what you really want.
What thegoddamn bitch! Its my life shes toying with! Cant, or wont? I growl.
A foreign sigh drifts across my frontal lobes. If you must put it that way, its wont
Ive had more than enough. So what if shes an inanimorph, nobody jerks me around like that! No-fucking-body! I dont let her say another word: Then get lost. Go find another fly to pull the wings off, you goddamn corpse.
Please, let me exp-
Okay, that is the proverbial it. I scream and upshift high and leap straight for her lying throat and
and then the world turns inside-up around me and its like Im moving in some direction I wasnt previously familiar with and
disoriented, I blink. What the oh, hell. I missed another meal, didnt I? With my high-speed metabolism, Ive found that my higher brain functions tend to decay after a couple of clock-hours without food. Better get a snack once Im done here.
Lets see Jenny just asked what she could do for me. Right. The words are out of my mouth before I realize what Ive said: Can you cure SCABS?
Im afraid not, she says, and I know her regret is sincere. Maybe at some future time, but right now, I dont even know if its possible, let alone how to do it.
You mean innies arent omnipotent?
That gets me a mental cloud of tolerance/amusement/sympathy/self-effacement. You may find it hard to believe, Jubatus, but we inanimorphs do have limitations. Theyre just different from the ones you live with.
I roll my eyes. Oh, well. Thatll teach me to hope Since you cant do what I want, I guess Ill take a rain check.
Either shes old enough to know the term, or she learned it when she scanned me earlier: Alright, a rain check it is. A sequence of 40 digits drifts across my forebrain, and I know Ill never forget it. Type that number on any computer or telephone keyboard, and Ill be there for you.
Do I want to know the details?
A mixture of amusement and frustration, both mild. Yes, you do. And if you had the vocabulary, I would explain.
Gee, thanks. Im beginning to see why you guys dont usually hang around with us living types.
Tell me about it, she says, her words and tone echoing an earlier remark of mine. And thank you once again; now I know what I should do with myself.
Gonna play Speaker-to-Breathers, huh?
A tinkling giggle dances through my brain Something like that, yes. Farewell, Jubatus. Until we meet again
and Im alone in the room
Homework. Birdbrain did a decent job on all 40 phonemes; tiger-boy did better; foxy lady did best of all. I flatly will not think about how her voice is gonna end up sounding. The bugsBormansstridulation is a little iffy, but not bad for a first shot. Dennison? My questions for him amount to an abbreviated Piscine Anatomy 101 final exam, and he aced it. 25 answers dead-on correct, the other two technically invalid but strongly arguable anyway. As for Jenny
shes outta here. All her paperwork and computer files are in order, not that anybody noticed her turning in any forms or anything. None of my business anyway (he says, with a shrug).
As for the class itself (number four in a series of tencollect them all!): Anthony sounds better than I do, goddamn his near-intact throat. I give 10:1 odds in favor of the bastard regaining full human speech before the final class session. Calgonetti? Phonemes hes got down pat, but he cant quite manage to put em together into honest-to-God speech. Funny, that. Chalk up another one for self-imposed mental block, and I go out of my way to rub salt in his wound. Hell thank me for it later, right? Borman actually surprises me by stridulating recognizable phonemes; only three of em, granted, but I didnt think hed be able to swing it at all. Not this early, anyway. Good sign. Dennison turns out to have an internal swim-bladder, complete with swatting muscles, and he demonstrates it with a kind of ahh-eee-ahh that more-or-less spans an augmented fifth.
And then theres Zelinski. Her eyes arent as bright as last week; her vocalizing is decidedly worse than before; and she fumbles with her voder like shed only just started using the damn thing yesterday. Oh, and I could tell her scent was off (including what the new chemicals were) before she stepped into the classroom. I do the math, and the answer is clear: Shes drugged. Given the data Ive already acquired re: the Zelinski household, theres exactly 1 (one) person who couldve done it to her: Alison Zelinski, her loving spouse. You think Im pissed off? Damn right I am. Nobody has the right to fuck up someone elses free will like that! I stifle my anger for the duration of the class.
This weeks homework is pretty much a rerun of last weeks; more phoneme-practice, singly and in combination. When the rest leave, I ask the vixen to stay. She gives me a vague look: I muost gho homm, her voder says. Mizz Awl-lee dee-uz-int wand me tu sstay owwit laid.
Maybe so, but she also wants you to relearn how to talk, am I right? Zelinski pauses, then makes with an uncertain nod, and I go on before her voder can say anything else: You need a little extra attention right now, is all. Thats what were going to do tonight, and if Miss Allie doesnt like it, you just tell her its my fault, hows that?
I keep an eye on the parking lot while I talkan occasional momentary upshift, nothing the fox even can notice in her drugged-out stateso I see the TransportElegance limo as it pulls in. Good thing Zelinski rather likes the idea of having some time away from home: Her face slides into an off-kilter grin, and her voder says, Ohh khay!
Great. Now, sit down and close your eyes; Ive got a big surprise for you. She obeys. I upshift. Four-point-eight clock-seconds later, shes in the back of my car, seated in front of a big-ass computer display with Newspaper Tycoon VII running. The rent-a-thugs in the limo think Zelinskis still in the Shelter; I brought her down so fast they didntcouldntpercieve anything. I could care less if they try to look in the Extremis; theres a couple aftermarket features that normally let me sleep in private, but they work just as well now. Specifically, the electrochromic film on the windows (currently set to Total Eclipse), and the cab divider in front of the cargo space.
Zelinski makes with a little squeal of delight when she opens her eyes. There you go! I say. Ive got the game set up for voice commands, but you can also use mouse and keyboard, if youd rather. Need any help? Apparently nother fingers dance on the keyboard as she dives right in.
Thank you, her box says, but I dont believe that will be necessary. Interesting: Her skill with the voder is distinctly higher now than it was a couple minutes ago. Good.
My cel phone has a wireless link to the Extremis video cameras; thats how I know when the rent-a-thugs leave their vehicle for the Shelter. Absorbed in an orgy of virtual capitalism, the vixen doesnt even notice when I drive off. The rent-a-thugs wont be following usnot with their distributor cap in my glove compartment, they wont. Upshifting can be useful at times
At this point, Im not sure what the deal is with Alison Zelinski. Sure, I know what shes done to her ex-husband, but I dont know why, and the why matters. Well, Ill find out soon enough.
Moving right along: Most people think the Betty Ford Clinic is just a punchline, what with all the rich actors and singers who supposedly go there to detoxify or whatever. Wrong. The Clinic is very real, very discreet, and damned good at what they do. And theyve got a SCAB-friendly branch office in the west end of Pennsylvania. A couple hours of air-conditioned driving, and foxy lady is safely deposited there. The staff was quite professional, even while enrolling an unscheduled client at 2 AM. Wasnt exactly no questions asked, but thats okay; what with all my poking around the Zelinskis private affairs, I had the right answers.
So. Its 9 AM Wednesday. By now Alison Zelinskis got to know that her gendermorph hubby has evaporated. Odds are, she hasnt slept. Shes probably shitting bricks wondering when the ransom note will arrive. Wish I couldve seen her face when my e-note did arrive in her inbox
FROM: J. Acinonyx (firstname.lastname@example.org)
SUBJ: re: Mary Zelinskis vocalization
Im afraid that Marys progress in class has been disrupted by a set of problems beyond my capacity to solve. Accordingly, I have taken the liberty of securing an outside specialist who can help her overcome these problems. I would like to speak to you in a private conference, at your earliest convenience, about preventing a recurrence of these problems. When would be a good time for you?
Heh! I think I hit just the right chords; aside from the none-too-subtle hints that I know exactly what shes done, Ive all but confessed to the kidnapping. And best of all, the language is sufficiently innocuous that no lawyer or judge could regard the note as evidence of anything nefarious. How long will it take Zelinski to decide that her only option is to talk to me?
I get her answer at 2:26PM. She wants to meet this evening, her place, 8 oclock. As usual, I got clock-hours to killoh, joy. In between working on my legit contracts, I make contact with the Zelinski home network. Well, well: Miss Allison has been researching me, much good may it do her. Security protocols are unchanged, which just means that if she is planning any surprises, shes doing it offline. Do I have a plan? Damn straight I do. No point wasting time in conversational parry and riposte. Instead, Im gonna blitzkrieg the bitchhit her fast and hard, from multiple directions at once, changing attacks before she can adjust or reply. Considering how easily I torque people off just because, itll be interesting to see how bad I can rattle somebody when I work at it. All of which assumes theres no armed resistance or whatever. If there is, no problem: I upshift and nuke it, after which Zelinski gets my undivided attention.
The clock-hours crawl by
8PMshowtime. The Zelinski house is a bloated, two-story carbuncle with a bunch of underground floor space; when I ring the bell, the front door is opened by a familiar-smelling rent-a-thug. His demeanor is designed to intimidate, not that I give a damn. He says, Miss Allison will receive you in the living room, and leads me inside.
The living room turns out to be an interior chamber with a good chunk of one wall taken up by an oversized flat-plasma display. Once Im there, a female voice says Thank you, Marcus. That will be all, and thug-boy leaves as we both sit down. This voice belongs to a female norm, straight black hair, semi-dark skin tone. Judging from her scent, shes a little shaky, uncomfortable, and trying not to let it show. Lets see how fast I can coax a reaction out of her. Im my name is Alison Zelinski, she says.
Jubatus, I reply.
Would you She breaks off with a sigh. Im sorry, this is all so complicated
Shrug. Seems pretty straightforward to me. Your hubby SCABbed over seven months agodifferent sex and species. Shes been stoned out of her gourd ever since, courtesy of you. Im curious, how many doctors did you go through?
Excuse me? Hmmm steady pulse and scent nope, her confusion is just an act. This isnt the first time my SCABS-heightened senses have come in handy.
How many doctors? I repeat. Before you found one who didnt care what he did to Mary, as long as your checks cleared.
Okay, now its a genuine response: High-end anger. Mister Jubatus, Ill tha-
Her words are drowned under my Shut up, bitch. My voice may suck rocks, but I can definitely go Loud when I feel like it. You may not be old enough to remember date-rape drugs, but I sure as hell am, and the only difference I see is that you married your victim first!
Iyou From calm to stuttering, with pulsing vein in forehead in under 7 clock-seconds. I love it when a plan comes together. How dare you!
How dare you, lady!? Go play the Righteous Indignation card somewhere else, cause Im not interested. What Ive got on you, I could nail you to the wall in court yetand I just might.
Its working. I can practically smell her brain cells burning out as she almost keeps up. Youyoud never win!
I give her a nasty smile, heavy on the fangs. Bets on that? Imagine your face plastered across the front page of every newspaper in a 1,000-mile radius, not to mention all the broadcast media and net coverage. Think of all the editorials. Visualize the Zelinski name permanently associated with cute stuff like anti-SCABS bigotry, chemically-mediated enslav-
attack: threat level high: 12 oclock
oh, hell. Its not the first time this has happened: My instincts trigger an upshift without my say-so, because they dont like something in my immediate vicinity. In this case its Zelinski, floating in midair, with hands poised to do some damage. Physical assault? Gosh, I mustve hit a very sensitive nerve. I could tear her several new assholes but instead, I just move around to lean on the back of her chair, resume a tempo of 1, and watch her land, clumsily, on the couch I just vacated.
Confused, she looks around, and I speak when her eyes meet mine: That was your first free shot at me. Hope you enjoyed it, because nobody gets two.
Bastard! Ill sue
I laugh, a cruel, venomous noise that shatters her focus. Hah! Go ahead and try, for all the good itll do you. Face it: Whatever you do, you cant stop me opening a can of worms youd much prefer stay closed. Me, I could care less about bad publicitycan you say the same? If you think you can possibly fuck up a SCABs social status any worsen it already is, feel free to try. Who knows, you might even be able to come up with something thats not prima facie grounds for a libel suit. Should be fun.
You I can smell fear, anger, concern, and confusion fighting it out in her scent. Fear wins. Alright. Do your worst, you monster.
Says the bald ape who arranged a permanent brainwashing prescription for their own spouse, I retort. Alright , Mrs. Zelinski. Ive got half a mind to sic my lawyer on you anyway, but Im a reasonable man. Play it straight with me, Ill return the favor. Fuck with me, and I will own your sorry ass. Your choice.
Fear and guilt: A powerful combo. Theyre both on her face and in her scent. Eventually, she gets herself under control again. What what do you want? she asks.
Shes defeated, alrightscent doesnt lieso I get down to business: I want the truth. Why is Mary a drugged-out zombie?
Zelinski kind of sags in her chair. She sighs, doesnt (cant?) look at my face. I no one ever intended
A few seconds after she trails off, I kill the silence. Im not hearing a why.
You already said that, I point out. Feel free to start at the beginning. Alternately, how about I just leave, wait til Marys done getting detoxified, and let her decide how many new orifices I should rip out of your hide? Your callpick one.
She goes for start at the beginning. Takes her an unnecessarily long time to spit it out: Hubby SCABs over (fur and tits), goes nutbar over the gender thing, needs to be sedated for his/her own protection and ever since, Zelinski makes sure hubby gets a fresh dose whenever shes too close to sober.
You didnt know Martin before, she says, as if her words were threading a minefield. He was difficult to live with, not
I cut her off. So. Fucking. What. If Mary wants to be permanently blitzed, fine, but guess what? Thats not your goddamn decision, lady! So heres the deal: As of now, Dr. Gordon is off Marys
What gives you the right to interfere with the private affairs of this family!
Zelinski shuts up when I look directly into her eyes. She looks right back. Both of us are way the hell pissed. Her anger is cold like liquid helium; mine is hotter than a deuterium-fusion torch.
Zelinski breaks first. When she lowers her gaze, I speak up, as inexorable as a glacier: What, exactly, gave you the right to interfereI spit that word out with a freightload of sarcasmwith your spouses mind and free will.
Her scent goes heavy on shame, with a side order of fear. No other response.
Okay, fine. So heres how itll go down. One: You will sever all connections, professional and otherwise, between Mary and Doctor Gordon. Two: You will accept whoever Dr. Derksen recommends for Gordons replacement. Three: You have no say whatsoever about Marys medical needsyou will do anything the new guy says, agree to anything they recommend, and generally treat the new guy as if theyre the Voice of God Himself. Four: If, at any time in the future, I find out that you have ever again so much as dreamed about interfering with Marys medical treatment Here I whisper, as lethal as a sack of cobras: I. Will. Destroy. You.
Zelinski crumples in silence. Her eyes glint with highlights that werent there beforepoor fucking baby.
I give her 15 clock-seconds; still no reply.
Im out of there. Nobody gets in my way, not Marcus the thug or any other hireling. Fine by me. The mood Im in, Id go through them. Not a good idea to leave a trail of broken bodies. I give the Extremis a once-over when I get to it; nope, no signs of tampering. Only then do I let myself relax. A little, anyway.
On the road, I dont think about what I just did. I dont want to think about it. I just drive. I want tono. Bad idea; I dont want to get drunk.
Well maybe just a little
Its none of my business, of course, but I keep an eye on the foxy lady over the next few days. Just to make sure Miss Alison stays the hell away from her ex-husbands treatment, is all. And wouldnt you know it, Zelinski makes quote, remarkable, unquote, progress. Think it might have something to do with not getting pumped full of mindfuck drugs on a regular basis? Funny how that works. Even so, the Ford medics insist on keeping her there for observation for another 8-10 days, minimum
which means shes going to miss a class. Maybe two.
In other news, I close 5 more contracts before next Tuesday. 33 more to go; I might run out before the tenth class. Hey, I am taking it easyI havent accepted any new clients since I started teaching the class.
Speaking of which, this session (the fifth) has a guest lecturer: Donnie Sinclair. And while hes scribbling at my students, I fill in for him behind the counter at the Pig. Thats the pound of flesh he demanded before hed do what I asked. I hate the idea; I mean, I dont do crowds! But since it puts a three-foot-wide faux-marble countertop between me and the customers, it should be okay right..? Aside from that, I have no idea how Donnie creates and maintains the Pigs SCAB-friendly atmosphereso I wont even try. Instead Im going to pour the booze, keep a paranoid eye on everything, and stomp on anything that smells like it even might be trouble. I just hope I can stay alert until closing time; for whatever reason, SCABS left me with a half-hour-long sleep cycle. Mind you, I dont have to conk out that often. I can actually stay up five hours at a time, but thats kind of like a norm staying up for five days solid well, that should be enough. Hopefully. Im pretty sure, anyway.
Having a few weeks advance notice, I did my usual obsessive prep work beforehand. The cash register is a late-2016 NCR job, tablet-style touchscreen; before Im through, I know it better than Donnie himself does. Im packing 47,583 different drink recipes on a PDA, complete with recommended ingredient substitutions for when stuff runs out, and the thing happens to be equipped with a wireless internet hookup in case somebody wants something outside the onboard library. More recently, I confirmed that the Pigs supply database is 100% up to date (I double-checked each item myself). Come the fatal Tuesday, I make sure the lavatories are fully loadedwhich is trickier than you might think, since the Pigs bathrooms accomodate a wide range of SCAB body types. Comfortably, yet. I also stash a couple dozen pounds of beef jerky behind the counter; the kind of calories I burn, Im gonna need that protein
And then its showtime.
The hours pass in a blur. Jesu Christe, theres a shitload of customersI sometimes have trouble keeping up with the orders! Upshifting doesnt help, because I have to understand what all you damn slowpokes are saying. And that means my tempo needs to be real close to 1 most of the time
I keep a watchful eye on the crowd.
Gimme a Stattenvorl.
I take orders.
Three shots of Jack Daniels, straight.
I make change.
Vodka martini for me, an a Purple Ray for the lil lady.
I pour booze.
tellya, I wuz on topa th world
I hate it. Sob stories from self-pitying moronsgaah! I pay those twits as little attention as I can manage. Most of em take the hint and stay the fuck away from the counter; occasionally I have to delegate one to Wanderer or somebody via an upshifted note in their glass.
I keep a watchful eye on the crowd.
I take orders.
Scotch and soda, heavy on the soda.
I make change.
you gonna do about it, runt?
Oh, fucking joy. I quit pouring. Commotion by the dart board; theres a St. Bernard-derived animorph SCAB who cant aim worth shit, lost a bet, and is now proving himself to be a welching asshole and a mean drunk.
I point one finger ceilingward. Scuse me a sec, I tell the customers I havent gotten to yet. Then I zip over to the big dog, telling him, You lost, Bernie. Pay up and deal with it.
Hes, like, six-foot-thirteen and 380 pounds, none of it fat; me, Im five-eleven and forty-odd kilos. Seeing this as he turns to look down at me, Bernie makes with a contemptuous grin. Whos gonna ma-yeee!!!
Theres an instant cloud of ozone and burnt furI didnt let Bernie see my TASER, but he damn sure felt it. He hits the floor like a 380-pound sack of dog food. Upshift, extract his wallet from a pocket, downshift, hand the wallet over to the norm-looking guy that beat Bernie. I say, Take your winnings out of this, then I upshift again, this time sos I can haul Bernies ass out the front door. We cheetahs are stronger than we lookwe have to be, since our legendary top speed is muscle-poweredand besides, Ive found that local gravity gets weaker when I upshift. Put em together, and Im not even breathing hard when I set Bernie down on the sidewalk outside the Pig.
Once more behind the counter, I inhale dried meat, downshift, and pick up where I left offelapsed time 8.6 clock-seconds in all. Im back. You there, what do you want?
I keep a watchful eye on the crowd.
Make mine a Jumper Cable.
I take orders.
Bacardi 151 on the rocks.
I make change.
I pour booze.
Time goes on. The clock-hours spin and gyrate
and suddenly I blink, confused at what I see before me. Minotaur? I ask myself. Thatshold it, whats Donnie doing here..?
The place is damn near empty, only a couple of stragglers still hanging on; I must have signaled Closing Time already. Thank any applicable god Oh, yeah. Must ask Hhhh I stop, close eyes, swallow, restart. Howd the class go?
Donnie shrugs, then gives me an interrogative Mmm?-and-look combo.
Im tired. My head hurts. If youre asking how my end of the deal went, it sucked. I have no idea how you can stand doing what you do. Can I go now?
Donnie looks at me with some inscrutable bovine expression. He nods.
I do likewise myself, no words. I manage to drag myself out to the Extremis, get inside, and lock up before I collapse
Week 6: Nothing much happened. Okay, I did lose another student, but its all good
On Thursday (that being July 29th, if youve lost track), I get a call from out of statethe Betty Ford Clinic. Guess which of their recent patients put in a request to chat me up, personal-like? Righther. No reason given. Well, what the hell. I got time to kill, like always, so I agree to do the conversation today. I make time for it (and I do mean make time), and at 5 PM, Im in Mary Zelinskis private room at the Clinic.
She screws up her face a little, concentrating, and saysshe honest-to-Thoth says!Hhhee-rhho, Tcheu-baddhuz.
I smile and nod. Hello yourself, Ms. Zelinski. The voice needs work, but not too damned shabby. Yknow, if you wanted to let me know youre dropping the class, you couldve just sent me an e-mail
Despite herself, the foxy lady smiles. Only for a moment, but its there. And then she goes on: Iiayy, wrrahndtuu hrraauuw! A frustrated yowl. Frowning, she picks up her voder, which just happens to have been lying on her nightstand, and lets it speak for her. Yes. Im dropping your class. This is about something else. What happened to my wife?
I wasnt expecting that. If I had eyebrows, Id raise them. It matters?
Angry and some other emotion fight it out on Zelinskis face. Angry is losing, big time. Im not sure any more, her voder says in its incongruously level tone. Im not sure I want to know. But I must know. And you can tell me. Cant you?
Oh, rapture and fucking joy. Yeah. I can. But just remember, you asked for it And I make with an infodump. I give Zelinski the whole story, everything from when I first read her file to when I hammered on dear little Alison. The foxy lady doesnt interrupt; she sits there and absorbs it all without making a sound. And then Im done
back to the Pig, to get smashed. Well, as smashed as I can get, anyway.
At this point, Zelinski isnt the least bit angry. Shes kind of hunched over into herself; her voder lies, forgotten, on the bed next to her.
I wait a bit, then kill the silence: You asked. I answered. Is that it?
The vixen pulls herself together. Yes, her voder says, thats enough. Then her fingers pause over the talk-box. A few moments later, it recites the words shed been typing; it gets as far as I wish before she hits the abort button. She starts over, her hands a little shaky: Tank you mitt sir Jubatus. You comforted my suspectings. Please lever me out lone.
Which I do. The Ford Clinic staff wants to debrief me; I blow off most of their questions with variations on, Ask the foxy ladyits her call.
And then Im on the road again, driving back home.
Nothing much happened for the next week or so, and that includes during the next class session. Fortunately. Ive been on the short end of too damn many surprises already
Wait, there was one thing: The bug. Borman. He can actually stridulate isolated syllables! He sounds lousy (still better than I do, damn it), and it sucks up so much of his attention and concentration that changing to a different syllable is a major feat but when all is said and done, he can talk. Its just a matter of practice, honing his currently-primitive skill.
Well, whatever: I knew the job was dangerous when I took it, to coin a phrase.
Okay: Week seven. So Im coming in for todays stint at the West Street Shelter. Im not three steps past the front door when this lightly morphed rat-SCAB, a new addition to the staff, says Splendor wants to see me in her office right away. What does she want from me? Hell if I knowbut in her office means its a private conversation, and that cuts way back on the number of alternatives
By the time I open her office door, the short list is down to about three possible agendas. I close the door. Splendors just beginning to greet me; I interrupt her, saying, You want I should work somebody over.
She blinks. What makes you never mind. Actually
Some things are best stopped before they start. I cut her off again: Not interested. Go find someone else to play shock trooper. Im sure theres plenty of people around here whod love to put a hurting on some asshole who desperately deserves
Thats exactly why I want you for this job! Her turn to interrupt, it seems.
My turn to blink.
Okay I finally say. Youve piqued my curiosity. Explain.
Thank you. First, some background. She opens a file drawer, pulls out a manila folder, hands it to me. Read this.
Upshifting, I follow her advice. This is a collection of eyewitness reportsseems that Splendor has an unofficial network of informers all over the City. Its mostly surveillance on the comings and goings of various lowlifes, but theres also some educated guesses on what said lowlifes will be up to in the near future. Hmmm if Im reading this right, it looks like the West Street neighborhoods been relatively low on criminals for a while, and a gang from outside the City is planning to move into what they perceive as a vacuum.
I close the folder, slip back to a tempo of 1Done.and return it to her. Alright, thats the background. So what?
I know the local thugs, and Ive gotten most of them to stop committing their crimes in my neighborhood.
Bully for you. Ive got an uncomfortable feeling I know whats on her mind, butAnd I should get involved why?
She gestures at the folder. The Cargill Mob. If they establish a presence here, it will be well. Lets just say it would be best for all concerned if they dont. I want to dissuade them with a show of force; give them a demonstra-
No. I flatly refuse to play enforcer.
Will you let me finish!? she says, glaring at me. Well, what do you knowthe snake-lady actually has a temper. I gesture for her to continue; she does. Ive set up a meeting with Jocko Cargill,head honcho of the eponymous Mob, says her files, real name Giocomoand I want to be accompanied by people who I can be absolutely certain will not initiate any hostile action.
Thanks for the vote of confidence, I say without much sarcasm. So what do you want from me?
Youre welcome. And I want you to serve as bodyguard.
Damn Hadnt considered anything even close to that
Frankly, Id be a fool to trust Jocko as far as I can BLAM!
attack: threat level extreme: 2 oclock
Shit! The whole south walls erupted with itsy-bitsy explosions. The instincts upshifted me to a tempo of 35-40, somewhere up there, and the ambient noise dopplers down like always; I can see
Holy limping HephæstusI can see the bullets moving!
It actually takes a couple seconds of my time before I snap out of it and get to work. Numero Uno: Digital camera from my vest, aim it at the walls exit wounds, leave it floating in midair at1,000 shots per clock-second. Numero Two-o: Shpritz a layer of DeadGlove (inert polymer in a spray can) on my hands, grab bullets out of the air, store em five-to-a-mylar-envelope. Wouldve preferred individually-wrapped, but I ran outwasnt prepared for this many projectiles! Numero Three-o: Theres a second wave of airborne crap (shards of window glass, wood chips, nails, yada yada), so I sweep it all to the carpet and bury it under several dozen pounds of books to make sure it dont go noplace it shouldnt ought to.
I retrieve my cameragood, its still got 91% free RAMand theres nothing visibly moving at the moment, so I downshift to a tempo of 1 sos I can hear if theres any more bullet-in-flesh impacts. There arent any, but I do hear screams and wails from casualties, damnit! Well, hell; they probably wont die in the next few clock-seconds, so I upshift to a tempo of 35 and avoid the jagged remnants of windowpane in the frame as I go outside to get some good shots of a late-model Chrysler, nicely framed between a lamp post and a dumpster; driver and two passengers, shabby paint and no discernable plates. Oh, and a pair of rifle barrels sticking out its side windows, complete with muzzle flash and more fucking bullets on the way. The cars tilted forward, which means the sons of bitches are braking to give themselves more time to shoot.
Fine. I move in, camera kchnkk-ing away as it stores images of the bullets and their source, and when Im in range, I reach inside the car; grab the front gun by its chamber; and pull the fucker out and down, with the kind of force youd expect from muscles that can shove a hundred-pound mass around at 70 MPH. Next up is a re-run with the back-seat firearm.
Both guns are firmly lodged in the dirt, barrel-first. The guys who were holding them have a bunch of fingers sticking out at real weird angles. Fuck em both. Im busythe guns may be harmless now, but theres all the bullets they already fired okay, got the last one. My envelopes now hold seven bullets apiece.
Hungry now. I inhale a slab of beef jerky from my vest while I plan out my next move
By the time Ive made my decision, the dudes-in-car are starting to react to the abrupt change in their immediate surroundings; theres the beginnings of shocked/worried expressions evolving on their faces. Hmm the cars not so tilted as it had been betcha the drivers floored it. I grin as I extract a genuine Swiss Army Knife from a vest-pocket, unfold the (diamond-hard, waterproof, corrosion-resistant, tungsten/vanadium alloy) cutting blade, and slash a diagonal gouge all the way across the tread of the drivers side front tire. Not waiting for it to finish blowing out, I do likewise to the drivers side rear; then I step back onto the sidewalk, resume munching on shriveled meat, downshift to a tempo of 1, and watch the wreck swap out incipient for actual.
As per my unwritten script, the cardrivers side, at leastdrops to the pavement with a hell of a clang and a shower of sparks. Then it makes with a metal-on-asphalt shriek all the way to its 45-MPH collision with the dumpster. Oooh, no airbags! Thats gonna leave a mark
I finish my snack, keeping an eye on the perps in case someone feels like doing something cute; nobody does. I upshift high, strip all three assholes down to their underwear, expend an entire pocket-sized roll of duct tape making damn sure the perps are gonna sit tight where they are, clean out the glove box and trunk and for an encore, I downshift and call in the whole sorry encounter to the local police precinct.
Citizens arrest is a good thing, right?
Waiting for the cops to show, I drop back to my default tempo of 6 and amuse myself checking out my loot. No discernable ID on any of the triosuch a surpriseso well just have to see what their photos, fingerprints, and DNA (from impromptu blood samples) say about the matter. Again, the car is plateless, and theres no VIN either. As for the guns, they look like they could be Izakawa Divine Wrath-model automatics. That, or else homebrew jobs. I sure hope its the latter, since I happen to know that Izakawa doesnt do firearms for any civilian market.
Onward to happier thoughts. Lets see the clothes look to be generic off-the-rack Target. Residual scent is mostly drowned under cheap-ass cologne, so theres not so much chance of getting olfactory ID off of it. Just one of the tricks criminals have learned for dealing with a post-SCABS world
ah. Someones approachingcorrection: Splendors approaching. I downshift to match her tempo.
Nice day, huh? I say.
She grimaces a little. Hardly. It seems Im not the only one who felt a show of force might be appropriate.
Seems like, I agree. The timings pretty interesting, though. It could be coincidence but me, I bet Cargill had your office wired for sound. Not sure when.
Splendor nods. That makes sense. Perhaps we should relocate this discussion to a more secure place?
No point. I mean, hes already eavesdropping, right? So hes gotta know his boys got way the hell hammered on, by someone whos literally faster than a speeding bullet. He may not be sure what other tricks I have up my sleeve, but I, for one, will be happy to help him learnthe hard way. Of course, thats assuming Jocko Homo has the balls, not to mention the requisite lack of functional brain cells, to suit up for Round Two.
Splendors eyes widen, just for a moment, about halfway through my last sentence. Then she gets it and puts a subtle smile on her face. I see. I trust you know what youre doing
Always, I state flatly. And I know something else: That fucknose is toast.