by Quentin Long
©2002 Quentin Long
|This TBP (Tales of the Blind Pig) story is part of cheetah-morph Jubatus Acinonyxs life. Its opening paragraphs contain references to certain other tales that can be found in the authors personal archives, and the story itself is part of a set that originally appeared in issue 25 of the late, and much-lamented, netzine TSAT. Other stories of Jube are A Good Run of Luck (which appeared in Anthro #7), Second Heat (in Anthro #22), and The John Moschitta School of Elocution (in Anthro 30).
Go here for info on the TBP setting
The name is Jubatus, and Im the fastest SCAB alive. Granted, there might be one or two inanimorphs faster than me, but then I did specify alive, so stop quibbling, alright? Anyway, thisll be my first Christmas at the Blind Pigthe Strikebreakers (me included) were on tour last winter, and before that
well. Lets just say I was collecting data on why no man, or SCAB, is an island.
Frankly, 2039s been one hell of a calendar year, and Ill be glad to see the end of it. For me, at least, the lowlights were January, when the Strikebreakers tour died on contact with Godzilla
Yeah. That. Made the news and everything. Free advice: Whatever you do, dont even think about applying the placebo effect to inanimorphs. Long story, just dont, okay?
To continue: Julys when I came this close to maiming a lifelong dream beyond repair. Again, long story. Next, ending in September, I spent four solid weeks in a concussed and feral state after a car accident. Wasnt so bad at the time, since I (being concussed and feral) was terminally bereft of clue. Trouble is, when I got better, I discovered that my instincts are less dangerous than I am. Hows that for a kick in the teeth? Oh, yeah, and theres a leonine SCAB high-schooler, Hallan Myers, has me to thank for the beating he received in March. Sure, he gave better than he got, and thats the final crap he ever took from the bullies whod been riding his ass for months, but even so
Like I said: One rhodium-plated, USDA Choice, triple-distilled hell of a year.
Im at my usual seat, the small booth halfway between the bathrooms and the entrance to the pool room. Mathematically speaking, Idve preferred a centralized location, meaning minimal distance to anywhere in the common or pool rooms or the big side hall opposite the pool tables, but someone might wonder why I changed my routine, and given what Ill be doing all night, its going to be hard enough not to attract attention just because.
I repeat myself, but it bears repeating: For me, 2039 has been one hell of a year. Even so, I managed to get through it with no small amount of help from hmm. Im not sure if its the right word, but oh, what the heck. I got by with a little help from my friends. Seriously. Without Hallan in particular, Metron only knows where Id be now. So: I racked up some debts of a non-monetary kind, and I was wondering how to pay em off. And somewhere along the way, not really sure when, I got the bright idea of playing secret Santa to the Blind Pig. Cool image: At the Xmas party, someone reaches for his drink, his hand bumps into something he didnt notice before, and its a present for him. Pleasant surprises all around.
Itd spoil the effect if anyone figured out whos behind these displays of selfless generosity, of course, but Im not too worried on that score. First, yes I am that fast, courtesy of my SCABS-granted ability to make my personal Time run fast or slow: I upshift, zip over to the target, deposit the payload, zip back, and finally return to the normal (slow) tempo. After a few calendar days of practice in a warehouse I rented and remodeled for this purpose, Ive got it down to a science. Elapsed clock-time .8 seconds or less for a round trip to anywhere in the Pigs three main ground-floor rooms, and no more than half a second to anywhere in the common room. Second, there are advantages to having invested so much time and effort in earning a high-strung, moody, fussbudget asshole rep. As long as I dont let myself be caught in the act, nobodys going to even suspect that Im the culprit.
Trouble is, gifts are a problem for me. Not the buyingIm as wealthy as the next technically skilled SCAB who can squeeze a few months-worth of billable hours into one calendar daybut, rather, the choosing part of the deal. In the workplace, Im fine; off duty, in a purely social setting, I suck rocks. For good reason, or at least for what I thought was good reason. Okay, I was wrong there, but even though I can and should acquire them, social skills just dont come naturally to me. Which begs the question: What do you get from the man who can afford everything except a decent idea of what you actually want?
Well, food is always an option. SCAB or norm, foods good for anything thats biological (and even a few inanimorphs, who arent), even if most people dont need it in the quantities I consume. Thats why God invented Sizzler gift certificates. Yeah, Sizzlers a steak house, but theyve had a decent salad bar since about 1970, so herbivores are covered, too. $70 buys dinner for two, and then some.
Ive got $100 gift certificates. 200 of them.
Oh, Ive got other things picked out for a select few of tonights patrons, but the Pig gets more of a crowd than usual on Christmas Eve. Higher SCAB quotient than usual, too, since norms tend to have more romantic/social entanglements to spend the holiday with. Funny how that works, hm?
Anywayin for a penny, in for a pound, like the man says. If Im going to be all generous in the first place, why not cast the net wide, as it were? So Ill play inverse pickpocket, drop certificates into the pockets of people I dont know, until I run out or until closing time, whichever comes first. As for those I do know
Dr. Stein was easy: Hes a car freak, antique gas burners in specific, to the point that he devotes a good chunk of his spare time to his pet Pontiac GTO. Took a bit of digging, but I found a model GTO, 1:12 scalepretty sad condition, but all the wheels are still there and can turn. Sure, I couldve gotten one in mint, or even in the unopened original packaging, but those are damned expensive. No sense giving an anonymous present whose price rules out 99% of potential donors.
God knows why hes in a funk tonight, but the toy should helphell love it.
Jim Hart wasnt quite so easy: I dont really know much about him, aside from hes a wrestling-obsessed full-morph squirrel. Further, I strongly doubt anyone else does, either. Go ahead; talk to the tree-rat about anything, and Ill give you $1,000 if you can keep the topic off of Wrestling for more than 90 clock-seconds. Frankly, if it werent for my nagging suspicion that Im one of the contributing factors that led to his inadvertent (and, thankfully, unsuccessful) suicide attempt, Id have been just as happy to leave him out of it entirely
Anyway, I did some net-searching, and I found something I hope hell really like: Shoes. Thats right, shoes. Whats so special about wrestling shoes? Hell if I know, but on a wrestlers forum, I saw a laces or velcro? flamewar that was every bit as intense as a Linux-versus-BSD jihad. And it turns out there is a company makes em for animorph SCABseven psychotic little squirrels!for the low, low price of $2,900 a pair. What the hell, its only money, right?
I got some lingerie for Raven Blackmane. Real hardcore stuff, long past PG and well into X. You think thats not appropriate for a devout Christian? Sure it isespecially for a devout Christian whos been exposing herself over a pool table for an absolute minimum of 1.5 calendar years. Major exhibitionist tendencies, she has. I have no idea how she reconciles them with her religious beliefs; then again, I dont need to know how she does it. The fact that she has reconciled em is good enough for me.
Then theres Sue Carter, the plant with a brain the size of a planet. Sadly, she sees other people as nothing more than tools to exploit. Thats why I found her a vintage LEGO Mindstorms setrobotics kit for kids, used to be popular before the turn of the millennium. My hope is that while shes playing with it, shell notice that she treats the Mindstorms parts the same way she treats people: Namely, she manipulates the hell out of em. Depending on how much empathy is left in her, that realization might just help spur the dryad to change her ways.
Frankly, I wasnt expecting Carter to actually show up tonight. She did make an email promise to attend; thing is, its a 6,000-mile commute for her, you know? But shes here, and thats good. She gets her present now, instead of
Huh. When did Hallan Myers arrive?
Hello, Mr. Acinonyx! Its the lion cub himself, striding through the crowd, all wrapped up against the cold snap that rolled in earlier today.
Hey there, catboy. Whats a nice kid like you doing in a place like this? Dont you have a family to be with?
Yes, sir, I do. I came to drop off some gifts for those who dont, he said, digging through his backpack for a flat, near-square package, wrapped in cheap holofoil-embossed paper. Before he can actually hand it over to me, it changes to one covered in plain white paper. Merry Christmassir?
Of course he was surprised; a little upshift let me pull the swap in the blink of his eye. Meanwhile, I turn over the original (shiny) gift in my hands, spectrums dancing across the foil.
Its for you, I tell him. May as well open it now.
I follow my own advice. A few claw-made slits in the foil later, I see a disc whose title I dont recognize: Speechless With Wonderment. No UPC barcode
I burned it myself, the cub says as he uses one of his own claws to slice up the wrapping on his little package. Of course, thats after I converted the files to play back at sextupleoh wow!
Bingo. I smile. Hes just seen that I gave him a pre-release copy of The Strikebreakers Meet Godzilla, our second album. Definitely not a title I wouldve chosen, but both Greyflank and Wanderer said theres no such thing as bad publicity, so
Oh my gosh! Omigosh!
and thats Myers realizing that yes, the thing is autographed. By all the band members.
I think he likes it.
I upshift and put a glass (filled with a teabag and hot water) before Myers; once he stops roaring, hes gonna need a little something for his throat. Thats not all I did in fast-time. I also dropped a couple of plastic tubes in his backpacktubes which just happen to contain $50 worth of tokens for local video arcades. Given his audio response to the CD, I think I better be elsewhere when he notices the tubes.
In the meantime, I check out my new discno, discs. Two of em. As the name implies, theyre a collection of instrumentals, some of which I havent heard in years: Skating, by the Vince Guaraldi Trio; one movement of Water Musick by Handel; Music Box Dancer; the Rockford Files theme; a Steeleye Span tune, Robbery With Violins; Tomitas version of the Canon in D; a Vangelis cut I dont recognize the name of; Classical Gas; a couple of J.S. Bach pieces; Chateau, by Larry Synergy Fast
Youre welcome, sir.
Its Myers, talking in between sips of teaoh, right. I mustve muttered thanks while preoccupied. Gotta watch that Looks like a decent selection. You really didnt need to go to the trouble of sextupling the playback speed, though; I can get that through software, no sweat.
He grins. Of coursebut this way, you get the music at your normal speed from any CD player!
I smile back at him. Good point. We exchange a few more words before he moves on to his next delivery. Me, I just stay put in my booth, or at least thats what it looks like. Every so often I do my own delivering: Upshift high; leap up to the ceiling and then directly over my target; let my foot-claws pin me to the ceiling as I reach down to deposit the package; then return to my seat, going back the way I came. All that at a tempo of 40, by the wayno, I wasnt joking when I said I could make a round trip to anywhere in .8 seconds or less. Technically, I could drop em off at a rate of about 100 presents per minute, get it all over and done with in a few minutes; but that ideas a non-starter, as it would pretty well guarantee Im caught in the act. I keep a watchful eye on the crowd, and I only do the deed during moments when nobody is looking in my general direction.
Oh, fucking joy. Dr. Stein was talking to Donnie a bit earlier, and now everybody knows, or at least the regulars: The Docs GTO broke, and there just arent any replacement parts available. Shit! Wonderful time for him to receive a present that reminds him, damn it.
Maybe I can salvage something. Literally. I zip out to the Extremis for privacy as I work. Pontiac made I dont know how many hundred-thousand of the damn things, so the first avenue of attack is spiders to comb odd corners of the Net for relevant blueprints, CAD files in particular. While thats happening, a second set of spiders will sort through the past eight decades of DMV records nationwide, focusing primarily on Planned Non-Operation certificates No need for me to babysit the machinery while its running; Ill just pop back out every couple hours, for a status check. Heres hoping I can locate a useable transmission
Interesting: When I re-enter the Pig, theres a full-morph wolf laired under the pool table, and the Lupine Boys Ladies Auxiliary is nowhere to be seen. The what of its obvious, but not the why, so I buttonhole Wanderer: Looks like Blackmane turned quad. Whats up?
She was among the beneficiaries of our would-be Father Christmas; her gift proved to be a rather exotic set of lingerie; and an incautious reference to certain visual misadventures appears to have triggered an attack of purest mortification.
Thats crazy, I say, frowning. Shes been giving free shows for as long as Ive been around, at least eighteen calendar-monthsand now she gets the vapors over it?
He shrugs. A most cogent and perspicacious observation, my abrasive friend. Alas, she who might explain the mystery is literally in no shape to do so.
Bloody hell. Dont want to think I made a mistake, but hold that thought for when shes back. Onward to more pleasant matters: I see that Wanderer and his niece are holding court near the Lupine Boys table. Nice girl, polite. Not sure when he got back from his performance; somewhere near well, hell. When did he return? A trivial question, true, but it wont let me alone as I sip my drink. Mini-CD, a diluted catnip daiquiri, the only thing whose residency time in my system is long enough that it can get me drunk. Anywaythe wolf left, what, 4:30 PM? Yeah, thats about right. 4:30, 4:40, in there somewhere. And he returned
My blood cools below freezing point, sobering me up, as I realize I dont know.
I downshift to a tempo of .9, just below normal; walk carefully to the bathroom; pour my drink down the sink; and then spend a half-hour waiting for my metabolism to dispose of whats currently contaminating my bloodstream. Upshifted to a tempo of 35, Im done in less than one clock-minute, after which I leave to get a vodka boilermaker. Alcohols safe; I burn it off too damn fast and no, I am not overreacting to the thought that maybe, just maybe, I might have gotten too blitzed to remember when Wanderer made his entrance.
Not overreacting at all. When you can break the sound barrier under your own power, you cant afford any degree of loss of control
Back in the common room, I keep busy (does the phrase Jubatus has time to kill ring any bells?). First, theres the gift runs, and while Im at it, I also try to keep an eye out for potential troublemakers. Havent seen any yet; every one of the merrymakers really is interested in making merry, thank Dionysus.
AhBlackmanes resumed her anthropomorphic status. The more I consider it, the more uncertain I become about her present I zip over to catch her before she can rejoin the throng. Santa Claus kinda screwed up on your gift, huh?
Raven jerks around, looks at me. Oh! Jubatus. Yes, I suppose you could say that. I just, well, it was a real shock to learn that Id been exposing myself
Damn. I did mess up. I thought you knew already, I say quietly. She opens her mouth, but nothing comes out, and she ends up closing the jaws and looking at me. Come on. One free show, fine, thats an accident. But doing it over and over again, week after week, month after monthyou had to be aware of it.
I dont see how that follows, she says carefully. Clothing is kind of loose and floppy, by its very nature. I dont think you can reasonably expect someone to be micrometrically aware, at all times, of the position of every inch of cloth theyre wearing.
You damn well better be, I say, annoyed at her lackadaisical attitude. Otherwise, youre just asking for people to get pistol-whipped when you walk by them. Hell, even a loose zipper can take the skin right off a body! She doesnt reply, just gives me a confused look. Whats the matter, you need a demonstration? And suddenly light dawns in her eyes.
Jubatus? Just how quickly do you think I move?
I glare. How quickly, my bleedingAnd then the clue phone rings. Now its my turn to open mouth and say nothing.
Meekly, she says, So you really do have to worry about uncontrolled cloth.
And you really dont, is my brilliant riposte. Game over. Sigh. Oh, well. It was fun while it lasted Alright. Stay put and Ill get you the receipt And I trail off because I dont recognize the expression on Blackmanes face. You are going to exchange the lingerie, right?
Not relevant. You said fun while it lastedwhy must it end now?
Isnt it obvious? Well, maybe not, after the cloth routine I shrug. I screwed up. When that happens, I do what I can to solve the resulting problems and ensure theres no rerun, then move on.
Im about to retrieve the receipt, when she says, Jubatus. We look into each others eyes, then she continues: Its okay for you to be fallible.
You think Stein would agree?
Shes got that expression again. I think hed agree its not your fault that you couldnt foresee his breakdown. As for me, you only hurt my dignity! If I cared about that, would I be a regular here? she asks. I think its a very good thing youre doing, and it would be a shame if you stopped.
Oh, really. So I should spoil a few more peoples Christmas?
No. You should brighten a few more peoples Christmas. She pauses for a moment. If youre responsible for all the surprise packages this evening, you should know that your hits outnumber your misses by a sizeable margin. Ask Wanderer, or that squirrel
Yes. Talk to Jim Hart, find out what he thinks of his gift. Or even Greyflank; Im not at all sure I want to know what he got, but whatever it is, he seems to like it
Youre rightyou dont want to know.
The wolfette blinks twice. I, see. In any case Youre a better man than you give yourself credit for, Jubatus. Please, dont give up.
And then one of the Boys challenges her to a game of pool, thus proving that a wolf SCAB can be very like a lamb to the slaughter.
Dont give up, she says. And why the hell not? My old habits are looking mighty comfortable right now! Also safe, cant forget safe. Theres so much that could go wrong, so many ways for me to hurt people without trying to, without even knowing! And the cheetah side of me sure doesnt see anything wrong with being socially isolated
Sigh. That way lies madness, and you damn well know it. Gotta get out of that shell before it crushes you. The prospect scares you? BFD. Phils got at least as much reason to be afraidand being eaten alive is what hes afraid of! If that kind of fear isnt enough to stop Phil from putting himself on public display, what the hell is your excuse, Jube
A voice breaks into my reverie: meseems that our fair maid of the verdant complexion hath been oerly silent of late Wanderer, as if anyone else sounds like that. Hes inviting the dryad to play toastmistress! Carter eats it up with a spoon; if she ever decides to mellow out a little, I think she might turn out to be a bigger ham than the wolf. Something to look forward to Look forward? My, my. Is that actually Hope I see before me? Heh! Looks like even my pessimism has finally hit the wall.
Hope: Its an unfamiliar feeling.
A toast, then, Carter says, and my mind continues the sentiment: Its not like Anybodys out there actually listening, but
Can next year not suck? Let 2040 turn out halfway decent?