by Quentin Long
©2011 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
The next few days are kind of busy, and not just because of my unfinished contracts (29 and counting) and speech-class-related stuff and helping Splendor deal with the listening devices. To begin with, I pore over police records and the snake-ladys filesbut thats maybe a couple of clock-hours at most. No, what really occupies my time is what I do with the data thereby gained: I smash hands.
See, the cops have a pretty good idea of who-all is on Jockos payroll, and what their particular duties are. Just because the authorities dont have enough hard evidence to nail a guy in court, that doesnt mean theyre clueless about why he should be nailed in court. And if youre curious about why the police might grant a puny civiliani.e., meaccess to this sort of sensitive information? Two reasons:
First, money talks.
Second, it seems I got a bit of a fan club in blue. Something to do with all those meticulously detailed complaint reports I keep filing any time some jackass messes with me or my property. Im told that last year, about17% of all City trials for SCAB-related hate crimes used at least some data from one of my complaint reportsmake it 23%, if youre only interested in convictions.
The point is, I got a line on Jockos whole organization. His entire chain of command, from him and his most-trusted seconds all the way down to his lowliest footsoldiers. And I also got several dozen of the freelancers hes most likely to call when he needs a little extra manpower.
Put it all together, I got me a good, long list of targets to hit and hit them, I do. With a pair of bricks. At a closing velocity well in excess of the speed of sound.
I tap each of their hands twice. Hit Number One, the bricks are parallel to the plane of the palm; Hit Number Two, theyre at right angles. Locating a targets never difficult. After that, I do my business, leave a card, and bug out.
The card, you ask? Just something I whipped up on a cheap-ass laser printer I bought, used for this one job, and melted to untraceable slag immediately after. Each card bears six wordsTELL JOCKO HOMO TO GET LOSTand a single letter, J.
No, as a matter of fact I couldnt just waste em all. Three words:
Aside from that, leaving Jockos crew mostly-intact is a good thing. Theres a lot to hate about organized crime, but one thing they get right is, you take care of your own people. Cause if you dont well, either you take care of them, or else they take care of you. Not to mention, a rep for fucking over your underlings makes it a lot harder to get replacement thugs when you need them.
So. If Id left Jocko with a pile of corpses, hed just bury em and thats it. But hes got a pile of cripples instead, so hes got lots bigger problemslike medical expenses for the victims, rent and food for their families, yada yada yada. Unless hes just crazy, he must deal with all this stuff.
Well, maybe Jocko is batshit insane; doesnt matter. Crazy or not, he still needs warm bodies to do his business, right? Which means he needs a whole new army. And if people know how badly he screwed his last gang, who the hells gonna want to sign on with his next gang? Answer: No-fucking-body. And no, Jocko cant just lean on people to ensure silence. Not while all the guys who would be doing the actual leaning are in hospital with mangled hands, he cant
Splendor catches up to me a couple days after the drive-by (remember the drive-by..?). Another tete-a-tete in her office, which is where two of the five bugs were. She did what I wouldve suggested if shed asked: Left em all in place, just paying attention to prefabricated sound tracks from a black box rather than ambient sights and sounds. But as I walk through the door this time, she welcomes me with a gesture that (by sheer coincidence, Im sure) switches off the bug bamboozler I installed in this room. Confusion to the enemy, hm? Okay, I can play along, I muse to myself with a subtle hand gesture that she picks up on.
Thank you for your promptness, Jubatus, she says. How many eavesdropping devices have you found?
Two, I think.
And then she makes with a disapproving look, so I put on a show of annoyance: Damn right, I think! You got any idea how old this places wiring is? Theres all kinds of components that the only reason I could even recognize them is, Im old enough to have seen em back in the 90s! And further-
The phone on Splendors desk rings. Twice. She picks up before ring #3, saying: West Street Shelter. Splendor speaking.
I hear the voice from the handset, real clear. Hey there, Miss Splendor! How ya doin? I heardja had some trouble just recent.
Having heard that voice on some police surveillance recordings, I recognize it as Jocko Cargill; not sure about the snake-lady. I am doing well, she says in a professionally-controlled tone that doesnt give away a damn thing. If youd care to tell me what business you have with the Shelter
Yeah, Jocko interrupts. I got business with you, alright: Onea your freaks dissed me, real badand it aint the kind of thing you can clear up with an apology. I know the little pussys there, so hows about you put im on the line, huh?
Excuse me? Could you be a trifle more specific about the person to whom youre referring?
Hel-lo? Big cat, spotty fur, too damn fast for his own damn good?
Ah; you mean Jubatus. Ve- she begins. A momentary upshift lets me confirm theres no incoming assaults; when I revert back to the normal tempo, shes turned on the speakerphone function, and shes saying, -ell; as you guessed, hes here now.
Jubatus, I say to the phone, playing my part. Who are you, and what do you want?
I want a cheetah-skin rug, Mister Juba-
Well, if it aint Jocko Homo! I break in. Whats crawled up your ass, Mr. H?
Ha, fuckin, ha, he replies. Its hard to tell, what with the audio distortions of the telephone system, but I think his level of irritation just got boosted a notch or two. Good. Funny, kitty-cat. Real funny. Lemme tell you what I do to little pussies that stick their noses where they dont belong: I skin the fuckers alive.
You and what army? I sneer back at him. Get real, Jockoyou aint got shit, and we both know it. Face facts: I am the fastest SCAB alive. You cant threaten menot when I can outrun any bullet on the face of the Earth! Hell, I can catch your damn bullets and throw em right back in your face!
Youre dead, you goddamn pussy!
I give Splendor a thumbs up gesture as I hammer the needles deeper beneath his skin: Go ahead, Homolose your temper. Blow a gasket, thats a good little thug. Let your blood pressure rise until your arteries explode. Ill be sure to dance a jig of grief at your funeral, and piss on your grave.
I hold my hand up, warning the snake-lady not to interrupt, for the few moments of heavy breathing it takes Jocko to regain a semblance of self-control. Which he does: Okay Okay You got me goin there, I admit it. Not too badfor a fuckin animal. Enjoy it while you can, Mister Kitty, cause you wont enjoy nothin after Im done with you!
So you can tag somebody who can break the sound barrier under his own power? Not! is my smugly confident reply. Try a gas weapon, Homo. A poisonous cloud is a lot harder to dodge than a bullet, and maybe I wont zip through it so damn fast it doesnt have time to affect me.
Thats real fuckin hilarious, Mister Kitty.and now he pauses, just for a very short momentIn fact, youre a goddamn comedian, aintcha? Well, it wouldnt be polite of me to keep you from laughin it up, so Ill just say gbye now. And he hangs up. I think about Jocko Homos pre- and post-pause vocal overtones, as much as I could hear them over the telephone, as Splendor turns the bamboozler back on with a heartfelt exhalation
Well, she says, that was interesting. May I assume there was a reason you insisted on giving Jocko the bright idea to try chemical weapons?
Damn straight. I grin mercilessly. Look: We SCABs have an insanely wide range of biochemistries, right? What that means is, you can spend however-many megabucks developing a weapon that takes out one SCABbut you got basically no idea whether or not its gonna affect any other SCAB! So lets say youre a weapons researcher whos just been handed a pile of cash to come up with an equalizer thatll work on people like us. Do you spend it on chemical weapons, knowing that its a fucking waste of resources, or do you spend it on new and improved projectile weapons, which are guaranteed to work on almost all SCABs?
She thinks it over a moment, and likes the answer: In other words, you goaded Jocko into wasting some of his remaining resources on an intrinsically futile gambit.
Bingo! Got it in one.
Unfortunately, I believe theres a flaw in your thinking. Whats to keep Jocko from attempting to acquire one of those experimental projectile weapons you spoke of?
I shrug. Calculated risk. Assuming Jocko manages to get his hands on any military hardware at all, Im betting he wont get more than one or two pieces, if that. And the more he focuses on me in particular, the less hes gonna be able to do to anybody else. Put it this way: Which would you rather deal witha couple of superguns, or 150 Glock pistols?
I see Splendor just looks at me for a clock-second or so. Youre determined to play lightning rod, arent you.
Better me than one of you slowpokes, I reply. Whats your point? Im pretty much the hardest target youve got, so why shouldnt I paint a bullseye on my chest?
No reason at all, she says in a neutral tone. Thank you, Jubatus.
For what? Premature much? I grimace. Save your gratitude until after weve dealt with the problem at hand.
Look, Jockos no Jubatus. If it was me plotting an assault on the Shelter, Id have researched the place in exhaustive detail ahead of time, including all of its resident SCABs and their combat-useful abilities. Id also have worked up about 14 layers of contingency plans in case Something Went Wrong. And in particular, I would not have allowed my targets any breathing space whatsoever after my first attack. Then again, maybe Cargill did have a Plan BSplendor doesnt think so, but, yknow, for the sake of argument? So maybe the guy did have a backup plan, like I saidbut I got my counterattack in before he could push the button.
Maybe. Maybe not.
Either way, Im not about to let up on him. For one thing, Ive only tagged 68% of the targets on my list, and if youre a slowpoke (which everybody else associated with the Shelter is), just one disgruntled twit with a high-powered rifle is all it takes to ruin your whole day. For another thing, three of said targets have already bolted and run, apparently the moment they heard about what happened to my first victims. Or did they run away? Could be Jocko ordered em to go elsewhere and pick up a few 55-gallon drums of industrial-strength Whupass.
Again, Splendor doesnt think Jockos subtle enough (or smart enough) to do that; Im inclined to agree, myself. Nevertheless, its a loose end that needs to be tied off before it trips up anybody who matters. Ive uploaded a few spiders to the Net, to keep an eye on the runners financial activity; nothing big, just what I need sos Ill have a little advance notice if/when they make a suspicious purchase wherever, or they return to this fair city, or yada yada yada.
Anyway the meeting. Which Jocko didnt cancel, amazingly enough. Besides me, Splendor recruited Gail, a gorilla-morph,and Forsythe, an innie who looks to be made of solid metal as her crew. Good choices, right? The gorilla, she looks like she could pull arms and legs out of sockets without breaking a sweat; the innie (who can do a little shapeshifting) made himself a copyright-violating ringer for the robot badguy in Mecha Murder, a horror flick that was real popular 7 years ago; and of course me, the supersonic, man-eating predator.
What Im curious about is, will Jocko recognize that Splendors little crew is two-thirds Potemkin army? Forsythe looks like isotopically-pure Lethal On A Stick, but his reflexes are awfully damned slowhes no bloody good in a fight, except maybe as a decoy. Gails got a full set of gorilla instincts which (contrary to popular belief!) makes her shy, retiring, and downright pacifistic. Well, whatever; with any luck, my upshifting will allow me to pick up the other guys slack if the shit hits the fan.
If? Yeah, right. Im betting on when, myself, but Splendors calling the shots here, and she wants to give Jocko every opportunity to be a nice guy. Not being a congenital imbecile, shes also fully aware of how likely that isI mean, she roped me into this thing, okay? And she made sure me and Gail got doped up with broad-spectrum antibiotics and antitoxins, just in case Jocko tries to get smart that way. It helps to have a couple of world-class Martian Flu experts on speed-dial, which Splendor does. As for armor, thatd be pointless for me and the innie, but the snake-lady actually dug up some usable Kevlar-derived pseudopolymer body armor for the big ape
And then its showtime. The venue is Chok Sees, a venerable Chinese restaurant in a borough thats seen better days; the place itself has held up better than its neighbors. I upshift for a bit of 360-degree reconnaissance, and detect nothing suspicious within a 2-block radius. Well for values of nothing suspicious which ignore stuff that seems like it wasnt orchestrated by Jocko Homo, I mean.
Anyway, Splendors merry quartet enters the restaurant on schedule. Jocko and Co. are late, so I occupy myself by Timeshifting to look at the place in IR and UV
Its like this: When I upshift, UV wavelengths doppler down into my visible range; downshifting makes IR doppler up. Got it? Good. So okay, exotic forms of vision. I pick up on a couple chunks of wall that look off in UV. By sheer coincidence, Im sure, said wall-chunks also happen to be anomalies in IR.
Alas, I dont have time to do any serious investigating before Jocko shows up with a three-man posse. I let Splendor play negotiator with the rabid non-SCAB-shark-in-human-form; while inconsequential talk-talk roils the air, I keep an eye out for unpleasant surprises. And as should surprise absolutely nobody
Yeah. And it happens while Jockos making word-noises come out of his mouth: Hey, dont get me wrongI dont like killin people any moren the next guy! But what can you do when some fuckin dipshit asks f-
multiple attacks: threat levels high, extreme, extreme, lethal, extreme: 5, 5, 6, 6, 7 oclock
the instincts upshifted me to a tempo of 40? Damn. Looks like my buddy Jocko is playing with very dangerous toys! A rather strong hammerblow to my back pushes me forward; I go with it, especially because theres a couple points on the back of my head thatre feeling real hot just now. As I fall forward, the hot spots on my skull cool down a bit, and a second hammerblow glances off one shoulder.
Yes, Virginia, I got hit with supersonic bullets and military lasers. How did I survive to tell the tale, you ask? Tempo of 40, thats how. Upshifted that high, from my point of view the bullets were only carrying one-sixteenth of a percent of their full load of kinetic energy; body armor did the rest. As for the energy weapons, my upshift cut their powerhow much energy they deliver in a given amount of timeto only 1/40 normal, not to mention what it did to the photons frequency. That kind of tweakage can really mess up a laser beams innate capacity for destruction, you know? Still dangerous, but only if Im dumb enough to stick around and wait for it to burn me. No, I cant outrun photons; then again, I dont have to be faster than light.
I just have to be faster than whatevers adjusting the lasers point-of-aim.
Moving right along: You damn betcha Im prepped for beam weapons. Jocko may not be Jubatus, but I am. One vest pocket holds a few grams of light-sensitive dust; laser-safety goggles in another; a third pockets got a matched set of six corner-cube reflectors. My left hand tosses clouds of powder into the air for the beams to reflect/refract off of, while I put the goggles on with my right bingo! Theres the beamlinesall three of the SOBs, right from the centerpoints of beautiful downtown IR/UV Anomalies #1 & 2. Fine. Three corner-cubes, coming right up. I give each one a whole bunch of angular velocity so it twirls in place; that wont stop it from reflecting the laser exactly back the way it came, but it will reduce the amount of time any particular piece of reflector spends in direct contact with its beam.
The adrenaline rush is fadingI can feel blood vessels throbbing in my neck and scalp, not to mention the opening twinges of a killer migraine. Thats what I get for overstraining my chronomorph power. I cant maintain a tempo of 40 for long, so I gotta make the most of each Time-shifted fractional second while I can.
Okaythe bullets. Only one source, thank Ares. They look to be moving at 40-45 MPH, which (after factoring in my tempo) means they are supersonic. Somewhere around Mach two-point-five, I think the exact figure doesnt matter. I extract a pair of hand-sized metal plates from yet another vest pocket, align the plates at just the right angles, and thereby nudge the stream of bullets towards the trajectory Id rather they follow. The headaches just begun, but I aint got time to deal with the pain, so I ignore it. I give the room a quick scan; yep, the same four targets. Good. Hmmm the first bullet just struck target 1, so I shift my bucklers to redirect the stream to the next in line, then target 3, and finally Jocko himself. Bastard would ensure that hes nowhere near the direct line of fire, damn it.
The lasers are gone nowquelle surprise, and I appreciate the corner-cubes sacrificeso its time to deal with the gun-on-steroids. A cloud of drywall fragments tells me exactly where the bullets are coming from (that being IR/UV Anomaly #3), so I leap straight at that point, twirling my hand-held shields before me in a paddle-wheel-type maneuver sos the projectiles get knocked out of my flight path into the floor. Each bullet-slap jars me up to the shoulders, in a rhythm that clashes against the pulsating throbs of my cerebral arteries. I hit the wall a little over the bullets exit hole; no problem! I dig into the wall with the claws of two feet and one arm, and I use my free hand to ram a shield right down the barrel of the damn gun.
Okay, it wont fitits too bigbut you know what I mean, right? If I can clog up the barrel with its own bullets, I negate this particular threat. And the bullets keep coming; each new impact against the buckler sends a serious shockwave up my arm and down my torso to rattle my internal organs. One two thr-son of a fucking bitch!!!
Very bright light. Then pain makes a fast getaway as the world goes real dark
Lying down in an unfamiliar bed; I smell medicines and rubbing alcohol; right. Im in a hospital. Private room. Kind of tired, but I dont feel much painapparently, Ive been healing for a while? And
okay, I recognize that scent: Its Splendor. I see a light cast on her left elbow, neatly-applied dressings on her neck and the right side of her face, plus a glued-down patch over her right eyeand Apollo knows what she might be hiding underneath her clothes. No cane; she must notve been hurt that badly. I downshift to talk to her
Hello, Splendor. Im guessing the good guys won.
Jubatus! She seems a little surprised to hear me speak; not sure why. Welcome back to the land of the living. And yes, we did.
Good. How much collateral damage?
If youre referring to injury to property, Chok Sees is undergoing approximately two million dollars
Fuck the money, I interrupt, which gets me an elegantly-arched eyebrow. Im asking about injured innocents.
Ah Splendor pauses for a half-second as she parses my final sentence. Yes. Innocents. Fortunately, no legitimate employee of Chok Sees was present. It appears that Jocko Cargill did not feel he could trust any of them to follow his orders without question, so he insisted, rather forcefully, on replacing them with his own hand-picked underlings. As for your compatriots: Forsythe being a metallic inanimorph, youll not be surprised to learn that he was only stunned. Gail suffered minor burnsher fur provided a certain amount of protectionand several bruised bones, and she is expected to make a full recovery within the next three weeks.
Not good but what the hell, could easily be much worse. What happened after I fell asleep on the job?
The lady makes with one of her oh-so-elegant veiled smiles. You may have fallen asleep, but I shant complain. After all, a railgun did explode in your face
I roll my eyes. Now tell me something I dont know.
Of course, she says, nodding. From what I could determine afterwards, I was outside the blast radius proper, but the shockwave knocked me senseless anyway. When I came to, I was naked except for the coils of duct tape Jocko had wrapped around meand I knew it was him because he wasnt finished. Im afraid he noticed I was awake before Id quite recovered my wits; he took great pleasure in telling me exactly and precisely what he intended to do to me, now that my freak flunkies were too dead to protect me. Now she looks me in the eyes; her unblinking gaze makes it real clear (like it wasnt before?) what kind of critter that damn disease blended her with. I wait for the snake-lady to keep talking.
And then he raped me. Its a flat, calm, statement of fact shes just made Which only proves that he was unaware of the full extent of what SCABS did to me.
My mind racestheres a few rumors about certain events in her pastI throw out an educated guess: Projecting chronomorph?
Splendor acknowledges my remark with a subtle inclination of her head. Correct. I can only adjust other peoples ages downwardbut when sex is involved, the rejuvenative effect is permanent.
I ponder the possibilities So you rolled his odometer back. How far?
I fully intended to roll his odometer back, as you put it, to the point at which his zygote originally formed, she says. I blink at that. Okay someone remind me never to piss her off As it happened, I didnt need to go that far; at the moment of his death, Id reduced him to a first-trimester premature birth.
Damn I picture the scene in my mind. And since he was raping you at the time
Exactly: Jocko was a trifle distracted while I worked. By the time he perceived any difficulties, he was physically incapable of doing anything about it. Now its your turn, Jubatus. What did you spend these past few days doing?
So I talk. Snake-lady listensand from her occasional questions and comments, its pretty clear that my info is mostly just confirming what shes already learned from other sources.
And then I finish the story. Splendor stares off into the middle distance for a while; I take the opportunity to catch up on some much-needed sleep
and when I open my eyes, shes gone. Theres a note taped to one of my beds side-rails, scent tells me Splendor left it: Well chat more later. Thank you, Jubatus. For now, rest and heal.
I yawn. Like I said, Im not really hurting, as such but Im tired. Dont really feel up to anything more strenuous than resting in a horizontal position. And before long, my eyelids drift closed yet once more
This being week seven, of course there was a seventh class session. Happened on Tuesday, like all the others, and the abortive meet-and-greet with Jocko went down on Wednesday. Nothing much happened, certainly nothing out of the ordinary; more practice making phonemes and words, more fiddling with voders, yada yada yada. Amusing point: The birds doing great with individual phonemes, but he still cant put em together to actually, like, talk.
Hmm. I think Im gonna have to get medieval on his feathered ass.
What else contracts. The unscheduled hospital visit kind of got in the way, but even so, Im down to 18 unfinished jobs. And there was much rejoicing
Week numero ocho: Mostly boring. Well, thats okay; I like boring, mostly because I dont get much of it in my life. Then again, some people might say my freelance work (incomplete contracts: 11 and counting) is pretty damned dull. All that typing and staring at computer screens, you know?
So boring is in the eye of the beholder, really. And like I said, mostly boring. This weeks class was a bit of a high point, less so for me than for the birdbrain. See, my remaining students have got to the point where theyre pretty much honing their extant (albeit comparatively low) levels of skill, except dear old Chuck Calgonetti. Seems that the preacher-man just cant put all the pieces together. Just cant quite manage to actually utter an intelligible word.
Ive been needling him all alongmy plans always been to piss him off so bad he does an end-run around whatever mental blocks are getting in his waybut he hasnt done his part. Of course, I havent yet made any serious effort to enrage the man. Thus far, Ive contented myself with pointing out the unvarnished obvious. Namely, that God aint done shit for his voice so far.
First time Ive ever needed to work at pissing someone off; terra incognito for me.
So class begins. Bormans doing okay with one-syllable words; Dennison can do decent phonemes, even combine them a little; Anthonys voice sounds awfully damned good (damn his feline eyes); and Calgonetti like I said, he just cant quite manage to pull off the comprehensible speech thing. I pour salt on the wound: Come on, Rev. If the friggin bug can form actual words, what the hell is your problem?
Bird-brain doesnt like it, but his voder only says, The Lord will return my voice to me in His own good time.
Oh, really, I reply, heavy on the sarcasm. Whens that gonna happenbefore or after the Second Coming? Theres a bit of a collective hush in the room; apparently, Im the only one in the room whos got experience with overt sneering at Faith. Their loss. As the saying goes, the Lord helps those who help themselves. So how about you get off your feathered ass and start, hmm? Or maybe you think your imaginary friends gonna step in and do the job for you?
It is not for mortals to question the Almighty
Almighty, he says. Get real! Face it, Chuck. Youre screwed, blued, and tattooed; youve been there since 2027; and the one who did you is that God person you think so bleeding highly of. You want to wait until He gives you your voice back, youre gonna be waiting an awfully damned long time! Heiliger Christus! The preachers fuming, but he still hasnt lost his temper!? Better turn it up a notch: Swear to Coyote, youre like an abused child. You know that Big Daddy Jehovah just keeps right on kicking the shit out of you, but oh, noGod couldnt be enjoying it. No, Hes got a good reason for making you suffer, and it couldnt possibly be that Hes a fucking sick bastard who gets His omnipotent jollies pulling the wings off
Awwwrrrrk! Ah; Calgonettis finally had enough. You, awwrrrr, an abawwmination, unto, the Lawwwwrrd! The birdies tone is raucous, eardrum-piercing; his enunciation is horrible; to be honest, he sounds like nothing more than a cheap avian caricature of attempted speech. My ears wilt back against my skull in a futile attempt to protect themselves from the godawful racket. Even soin spite of everythingit is a beautiful noise, all objective evidence to the contrary, because by Thoth he can be understood, and those are the first comprehensible words hes spoken since SCABS had its way with him.
Ive got a shit-eating grin on my face. For some reason, Charlie doesnt approve: Awwwrrrr! The Lawwwrrd Gawwwd will nawwt be mawwwkkked, Mister Jubawwwtus!
Is that so? Sorry, but Hes not on the class list. How about you fill me in on what sort of horrors God will visit upon me for my disrespect?
My grin spreads to the rest of the class. Seeing this, Calgonetti gets even more pissed off. Haaooww caaan you aaask such aaa thing of me? Have you cawwmpletely forgaawwtten that Iaaiiiyy cannaawwt speak?
Amazinghes still clueless. I throw him a bone: Maybe I have. Care to tell me about it?
He opens his beak for another sonic assault on my suffering ears. Then his eyes widen and he freezes up, not talking, not moving, not anything.
Iaayyaaam taawwkking, he finally says, and not only is it halfway quiet, but I believe I can actually hear a hint of reverence in his voice. Praayyse the Laawwrrrd, I caaan taawwwkk!
The room erupts with discordant growls and squeals, a joyful (albeit inarticulate) collective expression of triumph. I give the bird two thumbs up as I rise from my chair. Yes, you can, I say, approaching to stand before him (on my knees, so he can look me in the eye) with right hand extended. Hello there. Ive seen you around the place, but I dont think weve been properly introduced. My name is Jubatus. Whats yours?
Hes just beginning to recover from the shock. Theres something in his eyes, and it sure isnt anger. He raises his right leg so we can shake, hand to talon, and replies, Maaiiy name is Chaawwrrles Calgoawwkkkkawwrrrrawwwk!
Damn it! Hell of a time for his newfound voice to give out. Throws him straight into a delicate frame of mind. Happened to me, too, those first few days Comforting the afflicted doesnt come naturally to me, but I have learned something from Phil; snuggling is a valid response when somebodys freaking out, so I release Chucks leg and reach over a wing for a one-armed hug. Its alright, you can talk, youre just out of practice, its alright
As soon as I did it, I realized the hug was a stupid move. Being grappled by a cat isnt exactly on the Top Ten list of ways to calm a distressed bird, yknow? Even so, it workedChuck didnt lose it. Another small favor hell probably thank God for.
Whatever. The torquing off the god-botherer plan was an absolute win, and the fact that I had tons of fun doing it is of secondary importance at best. And thats about the only interesting part of week eight.
The penultimate class sessionweek number nine in general, reallywas pretty uneventful. Finished five contracts, 6 to go. Class was disrupted, technically speaking, but in a non-hostile manner. So considering that all four of the remaining students had already broken the Basic Intelligibility barrier and just need to work up their expertise, I rolled with it. A good teachers got to be flexible, right?
It started with a knock on the door. I was of course suspiciouswho the hell would want to knock at the door of a classroom full of SCABs?but only mildly so, because most of the answers to that question worked at/for the Shelter.
If it wasnt for the small percentage of other answers to that question, I might not have been suspicious at all. And if I didnt have four slowpokes to worry about, I wouldnt have cared who the guy was, or what they might do. But it was, and I did.
So okay, a knock at the door. I upshift, climb the walls a little, look down through the transom; the angle-of-view sucks, but its enough for me to recognize a fox-derived animorph SCAB in uniform, carrying a large-ish square bundle and a bag that looks to hold a couple 2-liter bottles of soda. One guy, unaccompanied, and the two other people visible in the corridor are Shelter personnel. Also, theres a mouth-watering aroma.
Judging by appearances, dudes from Larrys Pizza, a local restaurant that makes a fairly decent pie, and just happens to deliver anywhere within a 50-mile radius. Anywhere. Including SCABtown, the neighborhood in which the Shelter and the Blind Pig are both found. I provisionally conclude this is what it seems to be. Next, I resume the position, posture, and tempo I was in when I upshifted; say, Ill get it; and finally open the door for the maybe-deliveryman
and its Mary Zelinski!
I thought you dropped the class, is the first thing it occurs to me to say.
She giggles, then replies, Youre right, I did, in a perfectly ordinary voice with a mild accent, exotic-sounding and unplaceable, well within the range of human norms. I just wanted to give you a proper farewell before I left. Can I come in and set the pizzas down somewhere?
Ah, right, just a sec I say, and one quick upshift later, Ive set up two folding tables from the Shelters so-called auditorium, on which Ive put paper plates, napkins, and cups from kitchen supplies (Ill replace what I took later). okay. Go for it. And she does.
While Zelinski sets the table, I talk to my students: Change of plans, folks! Forget the scripts I handed out last week: Tonights vocal practice is making small talk over pizza. If you think you might need your voder, keep it handy in a pocket. Otherwise, leave the damn thing under your chair.
Thus does the party begin. The pizza is appreciated by all, which isnt actually unusualsomething like 85% of all non-innie SCABS are perfectly capable of digesting bog-standard Purina Human Chow. Whether or not they like it is another matter, but at least they can eat it without any funky downstream problems. As for SCABs who end up unable to handle normal human food, they tend to fall into one of two classes. Either (a) theyve got enough money for an exotic diet to not strain their resources, or else (b) they die real soon, sometimes even before they finish SCABbing over.
So like I said, the pizza isnt a problem. More than thatZelinski had tove done some kind of fancy research, because for each person in the classroom, theres a whole extra-large pizza devoted to their favorite toppings (pepperoni, Italian sausage, and Canadian bacon with garlic and ranch dressing, for me). I encourage the foursome-plus-one to talk among themselves, exchange personal insights and yada yada yada. When somebody tries to drag me into the conversation, I remind em the point of all this is to practice talking, and I dont need any of that. Somewhere along the way, the vixen approaches me, and she wont be brushed off
Okay. Whats up, Zelinski? I ask in low tones, so as to not stomp on anybody elses conversation.
Well, she replies, matching my level of quietude, I thought you should know how things are working out between me and Ally.
If you like, I say with an indifferent shrug. Your business, not mine.
Foxy lady gives me a bemused look. I rather think you made it your business, when you intervened to get me into detox. What you did She pauses, shakes her head. I wont say I approve, but under the circumstances, it would be ungrateful of me to complain. In any case: My wife. In spite of everything, I can honestly say that our relationship is presently the healthiest its been for the past 13 years.
Your marriage was that bad before? I ask with a curious expression.
If the question pains Zelinski, she doesnt let it show on her face or in her scent, Just a little regret, maybe? Yes. It was. During the past seven months there have been many occasions during which Ally was the woman I originally fell in love with. Before I SCABbed over, that Yep; sorrow and regret. Definitely sorrow and regret. She sighs. That hadnt been true for a number of years. And Another sigh, and a determined smile that only looks a little bit forced. Well. Our marriage is still somewhat dysfunctional, but for the first time in longer than I can recall, both of us acknowledge the problems, and both of us are truly committed to finding solutions. We now have a fighting chance to make it work, and we have you to thank for that chance.
No problem. Sounds like love to me. Because youre willing, if not eager, to forgive your spouse after she made you spend seven solid months as a drugged-out zombie, and the only other reasons I can think of are brain damage and insanity.
It is, Mr. Acinonyx. It truly is. And she steps forward to give me a hug and kiss. Im intellectually aware of the sexual undertones of her action, but intellectually aware is as far as it goes. Is she disappointed that I dont respond in that way? Maybe, maybe not. Hard to say. Thank you again, sir.
De nada, I reply. And then Foxy Lady goes off to interact with the rest of her fellow students.
I spend the rest of the class making notes on whose talking exhibits which weak points. Personal interactions I minimize. It is, after all, only the ninth class; Im still the instructor, still responsible for their learning, for one more week.
And then Im (finally!) off the hook.
31 August 2038: Tutorings over. The final class sessiontenth and lastwas pretty much a formality, what with all four students having already earned the coveted comprehensible speech achievement. Every one of the four (even the damn bug!) sounds better than I do
I tell myself its a good thing when the student surpasses the master. Not that I believe it, of course.
But, y know, I can pretend.
Yeah, its a bit of an ordeal. But it doesnt last long, and I give the quartet pointers on where they need to improve their enunciation and such. When its done, the four go away; I start tidying up the classroom; and then Im once again
Hm. Not alone. Tiger-boy came back.
Hello, Anthony, I say in even, uninviting tones. What do you want.
Undeterred, he replies, To give you something. It was the Reverends idea to start with, but the rest of us were agreeable, so He extracts a larger-than-fist-sized lackage from a pocket. .. here you are.
I take it off his hands. Given the size and shape, Im betting its a coffee mug. Didnt think of presenting it in front of everybody?
Oh, we did, he says as my claws slice through the wrapping. But only until I thought of how you were likely to react if we did that.
Hrmm. Fair point. And yep, its a coffee mug. Mottled gray enamel wait a second thats not gray, thats black text on white! I hold the mug up close to the light and squint at it:
You want to know what I make? I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could I can make a C+ feel like a Congressional medal of honor
Damn. Didnt think anybody still remembered Taylor Mali. Looks like the Internet doesnt forget. I nod at tiger-boy, saying, Nice mug; thanks. Any other business before you go?
My tone is an unsubtle hint, which Anthony doesnt take. Yes: Im interested in more training in vocalization.
Unnecessary in your case, but not a bad idea, I say with a nod. Ill do some research, and email you a list of speech pathologists.
Thank you, sir, but no, he says patiently. You helped me so much, Id like to continue learning from you.
I glare at the idiot. Because when youre looking a speech tutor, everyones first choice is a SCAB whose voice sounds like the bastard offspring of a Moog Sonic 6 and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.
As you can probably imagine, thats when the conversation dies. Tiger-boy attempts to apply CPR in the form of an attempt to change my mind on the speech tutor thing; after that fails, he says goodbye and goes away.
Now Im alone. I finish cleaning up, then put back the cleaning tools, broom and so on
Yeah, I said broom. Vacuum cleaners are too goddamn noisy, okay? You think Im the only SCAB with overly acute hearing?
Anyway. When Im done, the rooms in better shape than it was ten weeks ago. And then I dunno. Usually, when I complete a contract, theres this sense of accomplishment; now, nada. This wasnt anywhere near a standard contract, granted, but Im not really sure what I feel about it. Something I guess
Its late10:45 PM. Tired after the clock-hours of class and yada yada. Sleep sounds good, but not immediately As Ive done a few times in the past three weeks, I upshift to give the Shelter a super-fast once-over; while Splendor is justifiably confident that what she did to Jocko Cargill wont have any legal consequences, Im worried about nasty surprises from whats left of his Mob. Better safe than sorry, as the saying goes.
I pass by Phil in the lobby as I make my rounds. Hes still there after I finish. Decent chance he wants to talk to me, so I downshift to his tempo before I walk through the lobby, making sure my footfalls are not silent as I approach him.
Of course he hears me. Ahthere you are, Jubatus! As it happens, youre just the hyperkinetic feline I was hoping to speak with!
Suspicion confirmed, I think to myself. Good evening, Phil. Whats on your mind?
At present, Im most curious to learn more about your first experience in the field of speech tutoring. If you should happen to be agreeable, perhaps this might be a good time to discuss how the class went? In case anybodys wondering, Phil talks like this all the fucking time. No idea why.
It worked as designed: All six students can now speak intelligibly.
Theres a pause as the rabbit realizes Ive said my piece. I see. And may I ask what you think of the class, and of your role in the proceedings?
I shrug. Some of it sucked, but on the whole, I dont mind having been part of it.
Now his ears are at half mast. Good: The more time and effort he wastes on me, the less he can do for his real cli-
It isnt going to work, Jubatus. Because I simply refuse to allow it to work. Okay, the lowered ears were indicative of Determination, not Retreat. Now, I would not be even the tiniest bit surprised to learn that you already know this, but I was an automobile worker before I became a cute little bunny rabbit. Can you seriously imagine that there is any tactic of discouragement you might employ which I have not been repeatedly subjected to, and long since learned to recognize and work past, during my decades on the Universal Motors line?
I dont retort Like any of your fellow UAW wage slaves wouldve torn you into 117 distinct pieces and drank your blood!but I sure as hell think it
Not sure what Phil took my silence for, but he breaks the short pause with, Jubatus, I believe you should know that you are far from the first client of mine who has tried to manipulate me into giving up on their case. And in my experience, that sort of thing is almost always an externally-visible indicator to some rather deeper problem. And he shuts up, with the unspoken so how about you talk to me about whatever-it-is, huh? hanging between us like an unexploded mine.
Hes right; I should talk about it. All I need to do is, y know, talk about it. Easy except when paralyzing terror gets in the way Well, maybe I can sneak up on the topic
Okay: My first night at the Pig. Howd that look from your end?
He thinks back before talking. Well, I truly didnt notice you when I came in. Or at least not at first, I didnt. But you soon made yourself quite impossible to overlook! You became rather manic for a whileI regret to admit that I spent a rather large fraction of that time crouched far back in my favorite booth.
Because I scared the crap out of you.
Well yes. That is correct. However, as the minutes passed, and I gradually recovered myself from the initial shock, I eventually came to understand that you were not truly an overt hazard to public safety. Far from it! In point of fact, it wasnt so very long before I began to percieve that the true state of affairs was quite the, ah that it was quite improbable that you would ever do violence to another person.
Sounds great, except for the bit where I near as damn-all ripped your throat out I cant tell him. I want to, but I just cant. Physically unable to form the words. The rabbit sighs, then continues: Youre not alone, Jubatus. Not unless you wish to
Irritation comes on me thick and fast. Thats easy for you to say! I interrupt. And what the fuck is so bloody great about being with other people? Togetherness is for rabbits, not cats!
Thats as may be. But togetherness is also for human beings, which is what you are, is it not?
I glare at him. Have you looked at me lately?
The rabbit doesnt give a micron: Yes, Jubatus. I have. And on numerous occasions, Ive also heard you insist, in a most vehement manner, that you are a human being, and that you are not a cat. I cant say that I approve of such denial, but considering how deeply this particular truth disturbs you, Ill not begrudge you your choice of coping mechanism! And then, without skipping a beat, he changes the subject. Now, Im curious to know what you thought of the Right Reverend Calgonetti
Id still prefer not to discuss the class, but I do talk about itbare my soul, evenbecause the damn rabbit wont let me get away with my customary avoidance. When it comes to counseling, Phils an immovable object and irresistable force, both in one package. Still not sure how I feel about the speech tutoring, but in the fullness of Time, I conclude that it definitely isnt a bad feeling. And before the rabbits finished, may Brân strike me dead if I dont find myself saying something I thought Id never say:
When should I start prepping for the next batch of students?