track 1: building the perfect beast
My name is Jubatus, and I think I've created a monster.
And it all started so innocuously, too...
Set the WABAC machine for a few months ago, when I, the non-singing terror of the Blind Pig Glee Club, actually did hook up with said group. I play instructor. What I do is ID vocal flaws and help the vocalist in question to overcome them. In theory, this should be Wanderer's job, as he's the big kahuna and has tons more vocal training and theory than I ever did, but that wolf couldn't teach his grandmother how to suck eggs. Me? I'm a technical writer -- transferring data between brains is what I do for a living.
Between us, we make a fairly effective team.
Speaking of 'effective teams', I really ought to introduce the rest of the Glee Club. First off is Eltro Gannet, morphlocked buffalo-type SCAB. No horns or hooves, maybe some hair/fur action going. He's two and a half men wide; 10 men strong; and 20 men dignified. Basso profundo, the kind that makes James Earl Jones sound like a baritone. Gannet's voice is even deeper than mine used to be, and good enough that if I could still sing, I would be plotting his painful demise. I'm almost certain that he does have a sense of humor -- it's just hard to tell, since he specializes in Subtle and Deadpan.
Constance is our token alto. SCABS made her a bumblebee. She's got a fair degree of control over her form, anything from complete bee-hood to mostly-norm and anywhere in between. Interestingly, she can also restrict the form-shift to any individual part of her body, or group thereof. No, I haven't asked her about the stinger. At her most human, all she's got is the markings up and down her torso, plus oversized compound eyes; I never cared for the 'big eye' thing in Japanese animation, and it doesn't look any better in real life. Yes, the world does look pretty damned weird from her point of view, and I sometimes wonder how much of her customary 'smiling airhead/ditz' behavior is due to that.
Wolfshead is a baritone. As the name implies, he's got the head of a wolf -- but that's it. Everything below his jawline is human-normal, which means he's got a standard issue larynx feeding into the resonance chambers of his lupine sinus cavities. As a result, his voice has a very distinctive timbre. I like it; your mileage may vary. He's generally shy and retiring, so why did he hook up with the generally raucous Lupine Boys? He's got to have some kind of party animal in him, I just haven't seen it myself.
Then there's my dear friend Ringwolf; he's another Lupine Boy, and we get along as smoothly as a cat's tongue, he and I. It's probably because the first thing I ever said to him was that his enunciation sucked. Mind you, he did need to work on it. He's a tenor, maybe that explains his reaction. Externally speaking, all he's got to show for his SCABhood is ears, a tail and overly sharp fingernails. His day job, telemarketing, involves making dozens of cold calls per hour, so it's kind of amusing that he gets so damned self-conscious when it comes to performing in the flesh.
Our soprano is Sunya, and SCABS got creative with her. I suppose you could call her a non-equine centaur: Below her waist, she's an oversized jaguar. Gorgeous green eyes, fur so black it almost looks blue, and ditto her hair, which grows into a sort of crewcut mane down her spine. She can add claws and fur ad libitum, not sure about any other form-shifting. Believe me, you haven't seen a prima donna attitude until you've seen one with a feline accent...
The last of the Glee Club's original vocalists is Wanderer, founder and leader of the Lupine Boys. You might expect that a shameless exhibitionist of a performer like him would be a ham, but he's a wolf, and the closest he can get to human isn't, particularly. At least he's bipedal with hands and a voice. I'm told that he regresses to pure animal-hood when he's tired, sick, or drunk. Haven't seen it, myself. Maybe someday. Baritone is his preferred range, pre-1970 Broadway show tunes his preferred repertoire, flamboyantly Elizabethan his preferred mode of affectation, optimistic his preferred attitude. I've given up trying to understand how he gets away with it.
Finally there's me, Jubatus. I haven't sung for a while. Morphlocked by preference; I'm 95% pure cheetah, and if I am able to pump that up to 100%, I don't want to know. When I'm not playing instructor, which is good chunk of the time, I play something else: Percussion. The first couple of sessions I had my laptop running KeyBard with the Zildjian plug-in module, but now I'm rataplanning away on a set of Tsukowa-Roland drumpads. Fully programmable in every sense of the word. I'm not using more than a fraction of their potential, which is sad in a way. On the other hand, I simply don't need any more than that fraction, and you won't catch me artsy-fartsing up a tune merely because my tools allow me to. Let's just say I've got room to grow if I ever do need it.
So once I started helping Wanderer on the instructional end of things, the vocal quality went up sharply -- and they weren't half bad to begin with. Word gets around, and we end up with more gigs, some of them even paid gigs. That's good, and what's better is when our first horse, Dr. Bob Stein, joined us. Yeah, that Dr. Bob Stein. He is a world-renowned scientist and all that, but he's also a damn fine baritone. I kid you not; we're talking eight years with the Virginia Opera, okay? Who knew?
If you ask me, I think Wanderer only let the Doc sit in the first time because he didn't want to say 'no' to one of the most respected SCABS researchers on the face of the planet. Like I said, who knew?
But I digress. As you might expect, we started getting serious media coverage once the Doc signed on. And media coverage begat even more gigs (and box office), which begat even more media coverage, and so on, worlds without end, amen. And somewhere in there, an otter by name of Peregrine Quinn Dobhran joined up -- I'm not sure of the details, you'd have to ask Perry or Wanderer -- to add his low baritone vocals to the mix. His keyboard chops ain't bad either, but we don't do that. He's more than a little temperamental. Not that I have any standing to criticize on that ground, of course...
In case you're not keeping track, that brings us up to a total of nine musicians in this motley crew. And with a mob that size, the logistics of transportation, if nothing else, can get sticky. Enter: an equine SCAB named Greyflank, stage left, bearing with him invaluable experience with all things backstage-related. He's as queer as a three-dollar bill, and not just in sexual preference, but by Thespis, he knows his stuff. You ask me, a large part of our success is directly attributable to Grey's work on publicity and bookings, and his connections in the biz, and God knows what else. He's a natural target for two -- count 'em, two -- different groups of bigots (homophobes and SCABS-bashers), which even I can't bring myself to laugh about unless I really work at it. I tried to set up a betting pool for the day Grey first hits on Wanderer, but amazingly enough, no one else seemed to be interested...
Logistics, by the way, is how come I'm the only non-vocalist we've got. Every instrument you don't carry with you is an instrument you don't have to tune, or keep track of, or insure, and that makes life much easier, thanks.
Now, as I've already said, Wanderer is heavily into 20th Century show tunes, and the group's repertoire reflected that. Not any more. Oh, we still do numbers from Mame and My Fair Lady and such, but now they're maybe 15% of our material, not the 90-odd% they were before I came along. Can't say I'm the only one who suggests new tunes, just the single most profligate suggestor. Wanderer's vetoed a fair number of my ideas (for instance, I still think we could knock 'em dead with Who Are the Brain Police), and he's been doubtful about others (Helter Skelter is a tune he didn't even want to try until I played him the Bobs' a capella arrangement), but on the whole, I really can't complain. And neither can the wolf, because we're now getting a decidedly larger audience than we used to. You just wouldn't believe how much wider a segment of the concert-going public you can attract when you start performing a wider variety of music.
If you've been paying attention, you'll notice that I haven't mentioned our sound man. That's because we didn't really have one, not at first. I tripled as engineer for a while, and I'm fast enough that I could get away with commuting between stage and mixing board even during our performances. But I wasn't comfortable with wearing three hats (the other two being instructor and percussion, if you'll recall), so I was happy to delegate this job to Greyflank when he came on board. Bad move; Grey's technical expertise (he's a rigger, he's a gaffer, you name it) is not accompanied by any kind of musical talent, and a sound man needs at least a little of both. So we made it a rotating position for a few weeks, and it turned out that Ringwolf is actually the best engineer we had, so we stuck him with the job. That did mean we had to put the mixer up on stage with us, but it worked.
And that's how matters stood up until five Wednesday evenings ago.
We came in for the usual Wednesday rehearsal, and discovered a large package, one meter square by 1.5 long, on the piano bench. One of the Lupine Boys said to Wanderer, "UPS delivered it around 3 pm. I think it's yours."
"Well-a-day! 'Tis more than passing strange... Aye, the intended recipient indeed be the Blind Pig Glee Club, in care of the Blind Pig Gin Mill."
"Return address?" I asked.
"The source whence this came would appear to be a Chicagoan gentleman, one 'Mixman 3000' by name," Wanderer said, puzzled.
Bingo. So he did reply. "No problem," I said. "He's a Chi-town DJ. Supposed to be an inanimorph SCAB, unless that's just a stage persona. I spread the word we were looking for an engineer, and I guess he responded to my message." I upshifted, moved in and used a claw to neatly open the package, downshifted. I opened the lid. "Of course, he could've just sent an e-mail. Let's see what -- huh?"
t' t' tum p' t' tah t' tm pm p' tah! t' t' tum p' t' tah t' tm pm p' tah!
A percussion riff rumbled forth from inside the package, whose contents drifted up into the air. It was vaguely rectangular, with mass quantities of knobs and sliders and gauges on its largest flat surface -- a floating sound board, in other words -- and animated neon-type visual effects surrounded it. The riff kept rolling as the thing rotated around a vertical axis, giving the entire bar a good look at it.
t' t' tum p' t' tah t' tm pm p' tah! t' t' tum p' t' tah t' tm pm p' tah!
It settled down to a couple centimeters above the piano. The shifting neon stabilized to create a blue/gold/red image of a human DJ working the board. A bass guitar line started a beat or two before the lyrics:
"Well ya got a little problem -- on the stage --
"An' it's gotta be fixed 'fore you're all the rage!
"Ya need a solution an' ya want it today?" Here the instruments stopped dead.
"Just listen to the wisdom of -- M -- 3 -- K!" Now the accompaniment picked up again. Vocals came in a few bars later.
"I'm a mixer -- A fixer -- An electronic trick- ster
"What I can do makes other soundmen run off feelin' sick, sure!
"Ya sought it -- I got it -- There ain't no more to say --" The accompaniment changed to a descending flurry of drum hits.
"The answer you are seeking, is -- M -- 3 -- K!"
The neon image smiled, spread its hands, looked around expectantly. There was a patter of applause; most of the bar's patrons wore surprised expressions. "Let me guess: I went a little over the top, didn't I?"
"Ah... yes, I believe that would be a cogent and accurate summary," Wanderer said. "However, as a demonstration of your proficiency, I cannot gainsay the efficacy of your performance."
One of the image's eyes twinkled. Literally, like a cheap special effect. "So I'm in?"
"Mayhap. Perchance wouldst care to join us in rehearsal?"
"In other words," I said, "let's see how you do with material that's not 1980s rap."
"No problem at all," the board replied. A drawer slid open, revealing several small wireless microphones with velcro tabs to hold them onto fur. "As you can see, I came prepared. Go ahead and plug in here, Jube." An LED flashed near one of the sockets on the back panel.
So I hooked up my drum set, and the rest of the crew did the usual routine with their mikes, and before too long we got into a Swingle Singers arrangement of Johann Sebastian Bach -- Wise and Foolish Virgins, I think it was. Sounded pretty good. And then it was Don't Rain on My Parade, and The Longest Time, and The Thunder Rolls with Wanderer's rewritten lyrics, and Helter Skelter, and Stars and Stripes Forever, and...
Could've gone on longer, but Wanderer killed it at 2 hours -- no sense letting the voices nuke their throats for a tryout. And when we stopped, we got the most damn applause ever from this gang of drunks.
So here we are, possibly the most exotic musical group of all time: Three wolves; two cats; one horse, otter, bee, and buffalo; a dead sound engineer; and we even drafted a horse as roadie/gaffer/Lord High Everything Else. We've got a number of downloadable cuts on the Net, we're working on an album, we've got plenty of local gigs, and we just might go nationwide.
Oh, and you can stop calling us the Blind Pig Glee Club. That name just doesn't fit any more. We're the Strikebreakers.
Only possible name for the group, really.
I mean, what else can you call a bunch of filthy, stinking, good-for-nothing SCABs?
track 2: so you want to be a rock-and-roll star
Sometime within the next four hours, I'm going to be in one
of the back rooms at the Blind Pig with Greyflank. It's not a
place I want to be -- and my reticence has nothing to do with
sexual preference, thanks.
The room itself isn't a problem. No windows, ergo no worries about anyone bouncing a laser beam off the glass, and no lip-readers, either, even if that skill is a lot less useful where we SCABs are concerned than any eavesdropper would prefer. I'm reasonably confident that no conventional bugging devices can cut through the acoustic and electronic countermeasures Donnie gave me the okay to install for the duration. None of my tech-tricks will do a bit of good if some inanimorph happens to be listening in via their usual impossible senses, of course, but BlueNight tells me he's got that covered. I don't think he's shitting me; then again, I couldn't tell if he was, could I?
So... the room itself is fine. What's not fine is what I'll be doing there.
You see, Greyflank is the PR man for the Strikebreakers. One part of that job is knowing how to respond when evil-minded people spread malicious truths about you... and it's a lot easier to do that if you already know what those malicious truths are. Which is why he's inquiring about any nasty surprises we band-members may be concealing from public view.
I've done some evil things in my life. Terrible things that
should never see the light of day. Being a deviant isn't so bad,
but I crossed the line to full-fledged monster, and I still have
nightmares about it every so often. I never intended to hurt anyone...
It doesn't matter. That's all past. Now, it's time to focus on the present and future. And for the immediate future, I'm support crew for the band, roadie and gaffer and Lord High Everything Else. Jubatus coined that title, and I think I like it.
the world is a mosaic of people and places, actions and events
it's all good, even the bad pieces, for difference is necessary
high points wouldn't be high if there weren't any low points
the sun would not shine so bright without the night for contrast
wheels within wheels; patterns made of patterns
patterns of light and sound, time and motion, patterns i am a shining part of
part of a greater whole
part of the mosaic that is the world
i love being a part of it
Yeah, yeah, telemarketing. I've heard all the damn jokes, okay?
I guess SCABS let me off easy; didn't do much on the outside,
and the stuff it did inside actually made me sound better. Maybe
I got some instincts in there too, I dunno. I don't really feel like a wolf. It's just, sometimes I get a little impulsive, know
what I mean?
Of course, impulsive ain't why I hooked up with Wanderer. No way! Charisma, that's what it is. He may be a SCAB and come off like Marlon Brando's gay grandson, but damn if that wolf ain't got more charisma than practically anybody. So one day he talks to me, and sure enough he's noticed the voice, and what d' you expect me to do when he says maybe I oughtta join the glee club?
Charisma, like I said. No use even trying to fight it.
Singing? I missed it, I really did. I have so many fond memories
of my performances with the Virginia Opera; whether it was Porgy and Bess or Turandot or Lippizaner's Complaint, it was... well, I don't know if I can describe what it's like.
At the very least, I can say it's gratifying in a way that my
scientific pursuits have never been -- and vice versa, of course.
The trouble is, over the past several years, vocalizing was a hobby I just didn't have the time to indulge. When the Martian Flu virus arrived on Earth, and during the pandemic that followed, I allowed professional concerns to take precedence over personal interests; more recently, the aftermath of the whole Barnes episode made my life rather complicated. But now...
Well. It's been a very long, very strange trip, but I've finally come home.
I don't know what I'm doing here. Don't have a clue, honestly.
Considering all the crap I've done to myself, it's a wonder I
still have any mind left to lose. I don't know; maybe I am insane.
Or maybe I'm tired of the multi-layered shittiness that is my life. Maybe I've finally hit the wall, found my limit, exceeded my tolerances. Maybe I want to to be part of something I don't need to lie about, not to anyone.
Maybe I just want to be able to look at my face in a mirror without flinching.
Gods and goddesses grant that I not fuck it up! Please. May I not fuck this up, too...
Ahhh! To make a joyful noise unto the Lord -- or, indeed, any
other audience! I have long since consecrated the whole of my
existence to the performing arts, and I have no regrets, none
at all. When one holds the audience's collective soul in the palms
of one's hands, each party feeding off of the other in a kind
of spiritual symbiosis... There is nothing in this world that
can truly compare to the experience.
I suspect that even Jubatus would agree with me on this point -- not that he'd ever be so incautious as to openly acknowledge that he possesses human emotions, of course.
Why did I join the Blind Pig Glee Club? You might as well ask
why I joined the Lupine Boys. I don't have an answer for either
question, or at least I have no truly satisfactory answers.
I was an accountant before... well... before. I still am, but, it's different now. I loved numbers, the orderly arrays of digits. Unfortunately, the Martian Flu did something to my brain. Now I am by no means innumerate, but... it's just more difficult now. No more do the numerals fly gracefully through my mind; now they plod along, leaden and stolid, a conscript army rather than a flock of seagulls.
I don't truly know why I am here, but I have certain suspicions which I've never had the courage to confirm or deny: I suspect (if not fear) that it is lupine instincts which impelled me to join the Lupine Boys. After all, wolves are pack animals, aren't they? And wolves do howl in groups. To be sure, no one has yet openly acknowledged the similarities between that activity and the Glee Club... but acknowledged or no, the similarities do exist. E pur si mouv', as Galileo is supposed to have said.
As for myself, I choose to believe that it is simply fellowship and love of music that motivates me to associate with Wanderer. I choose to believe this, no matter that I hadn't been much of a joiner nor yet musically inclined beforehand, because the alternative is... discomforting.
The dear creatures need me, of course. And I was Wanderer's first choice, no matter what those silly wolves
may say or think. Oh, he was making pleasant noise with them from
the start, but the Glee Club simply didn't exist until Wanderer sweet-talked me into gracing them with my presence. So it really doesn't matter
what the wolves believe, you see; they're only canine, they can't
help being a lower form of life. And I don't correct them, as
it would only hurt their feelings.
I must admit I felt a certain amount of trepidation when Wanderer first introduced the bison to our little group, but it worked out very well, didn't it? And then the insect joined us, with a range we were a trifle lacking in. I can hardly believe how much better that alto made the accompaniment sound! And when they sound better, I sound better. Be honest now, isn't that all that really matters? That is when I finally decided to leave the membership firmly in Wanderer's capable paws. Honestly, there are times I almost forget he's not feline!
Fortunately, his subsequent choices have done nothing to damage my faith in him. Especially Jubatus. Watching that cheetah's supremely dexterous hands move over his drumpads, I can't help but wonder if it feels as good as it looks. Mmrrrroowwww!
Music is life, man. I shit thee not. Even back in the day, it
was harmony and rhythm got me through the bad times. Worst time
of all was when the Martian Goddamn Flu worked me over, 'cuz I
woke up dead. Breathers don't know what it's like, and they never will; the
words do not exist to clue 'em in.
It's a whole different universe out there, when you're an inanimorph. Completely different. Factors in common with the living world are few and far between, and I was off in a cosmos all my own.
But I'd changed. Sure, my mind was way the hell out there, but my body was a 24-track mixing board with built-in holographic SFX. So my crew, they fixed me up with a new soundman, and the music was back. Rhythm first, then harmony, flowing through me in a way that was just words before. The music brought me back, and it showed me what I could do, and I am never going away again.
The Strikebreakers are an interesting gig; working from live feed ain't the same as working from tapes or MP3s. Dunno how long it'll run, but I'm in it for the duration.
So many children seek their parents' approval. I do not, nor
have I since I realized, as a youth, exactly what the price of
that approval was and would be. My age of majority could not arrive
quickly enough to suit me. I remember my joy when I first learned
that some chronomorphs could adjust the ages of others; also my
disappointment when I discovered that such alterations were always
of strictly temporary duration, and that the Law ignored such
SCABS-derived adjustments when counting a person's age.
I will not become my father. Rather, what I become shall be a thing of my choosing. I cannot say that coming down with SCABS was my own choice, of course, but at least it was not his, either, so I will not complain. Do not scan the birth records in search of me; "Eltro Gannet" was born in a law clerk's office when I changed my name.
I am not what my father would have me be. I live in a neighborhood he would not approve of, associating with the wrong sort of people, using the money he insists on depositing in my account for purposes that would surely enrage him if he were keeping track, and I have made one choice more: I am a musician, a vocalist.
I am not my father, and I am content.
I make music because I damned well feel like it. That's all you need to know. You want to know why the rest of 'em put up with me, go ask them.
It's a curious position I'm in: In effect, I am a voyeur, gathering
up all the group's dirty little secrets without having to reveal
any of my own. And I have so many secrets! There's the whole Kinoly
thing, of course, that goes without saying. I've excised Kinoly
from my life, but he's still got some dangling threads of unfinished
business that might be troublesome. There's what happened in Italy,
Of course, that's all in the past. Too bad my present isn't that much better. Even without Kinoly, I do manage to get mixed up in things that really shouldn't be brought to light; I'm sure that delectable Jeff would agree, and so would his wife...
It doesn't matter. I've got experience with PR campaigns, I know how to respond if anyone dredges up my dark secrets. I just hope no one does...
"-- old enough to collect Social Security, but it can still
beat almost anything else on the road. And, well, let's say that
highway patrolmen don't always appreciate being left in the dust."
Greyflank gives a light snort of impatience -- a sign that non-equines probably wouldn't notice or interpret properly. "Very well, traffic tickets. And do you have any secrets of a more serious nature, that might be harmful to the group?"
Do I have any more serious secrets! The question is almost amusing, really. But do I really want to mention the Barnes affair? Whatever else Humans First may be, that group is a collection of fanatics. They're not the kind to forget or forgive, especially where SCABS is concerned, and they don't express their displeasure with strongly-worded press releases. Molotov cocktails are more like it.
I hadn't really considered this before. Now that I have, I realize that secrecy is futile: If my mere presence is going to endanger the band, their ignorance will not save them. "Do you remember the downfall of Barnes?" I ask. "Let me tell you a story about that..."
What the hell does Greyflank want from me? I've told him I'm scared of stinging insects, heights,
and crowds. I've told him I can't swim, and that's pretty goddamn
sad for a river otter SCAB, isn't it? I've told him about my special
perceptions, that I can sort of 'sense' the past inhabitants of
a room. And he said, "Very interesting. Is that all? No past acquaintances
who might know some embarrassing secrets, for instance?"
Lord and Lady! Do I ever have past acquaintances... and some of 'em, there's no way in the deepest pits of Gehenna that I'm ever going to tell anyone about them, because my life is fucking over if word gets out. Can't tell him about my embezzling, or what I did with all that stolen estrogen, or... shit. What can I tell the damn horse? Hell, I've gotta give him something, or he'll just keep on digging and digging -- ah! Got it, I know what to say.
"Nothing recent, Greyflank. A few years ago, there was this girl named Maria. We had something special going, for a while. But we were drifting apart, and it got worse after I turned SCAB... it took a long time for us to break up, and things got pretty ugly for a while there. But like I said, that was years ago, and I haven't seen or heard anything from her since the breakup."
One doesn't wish to be a bother, of course. And so, inasmuch
as Greyflank has gone to the trouble of setting up this series
of private tete-a-tetes with the group, it would be most uncouth of me to waste his time
by failing to provide him with what he seeks. I just wish it weren't
"-- Lord, no! Can you believe I would have taken that role if I had known what an abortion the final product would turn out to be?" I shake my head and continue with a sigh: "At least it wasn't as bad as the video that ended up being released under the name Catholic High School SCABs In Trouble --" here I can't help but notice Greyflank making a note of that title, for reasons I firmly refuse to speculate on "-- and let me hasten to add that as heinous as some of my credited roles may have been, none of them are pornographic."
"Really? That's too bad. I think --
No. I simply refuse to contemplate what sort of notions might be passing through Greyflank's mind. "But I digress. Now, where were we? Oh, yes. You will recall that haunted house I mentioned?"
The equine's face displays confusion, but only for a moment. He asks, haltingly, "That's, the one you play werewolf for, most Hallowe'ens?"
It is just such lapses as this, minor though they be, which make me wonder if the poor fellow might suffer from some neural affliction or other. However, as long as he declines to discuss such matters (which he does) and is able to competently perform his band-related duties (which he is), the details are hardly any of my business. "You are correct, sir. And those, my equine friend, are the major lowlights of my checkered career."
His flicking ears are a signal of his curiosity. "'Major', meaning there's more?"
My skin reddens. That's invisible beneath my fur, but it also shows up in my scent, sad to say. Once again I silently curse the damnable rarity of roles for a person of my body type (i.e., lupine animorph SCAB). You'd think I would be used to it by now. "Nothing relevant to the question at hand, which is aspects of our lives that might prove to be deleterious to the group's success!" I exclaim, with rather more pique than I'd intended. "Or did I fail to comprehend your purpose in making these inquiries?"
While our equine factotum and assistant parses my statement, I calm myself...
"Alright. What's the deal between you and Lady Death?"
I'd been expecting this, so I allow myself a tooth-free smile. "We find each other's company to be quite congenial. We're not actually sleeping together, mind you, but she does stay at my humble domicile from time to time. Thus, it would hardly be surprising if anyone leapt to the obvious, if erroneous, conclusion. Tell me, do you think it would be better to confirm or deny the truth of any such rumors?"
"...want to say?"
Grey's voice brings me back to the here and now. Or maybe I'm just stalling for time. Either way, I've got to say something. "I'm here," I reply. "Just... putting my thoughts in order. Alright. I got into a little scrape in February of '36, a couple weeks after I traded up from my human body. Berkeley area."
"That being your original home, in California," he says, slow and uncertain... well, everybody's a slow learner, compared to me. They can't all be brain-damaged, right?
"Yeah. Left Coast. My first run-in with SCAB-bashers. Also the first time I upshifted, first time my instincts really took over. Five of the fuckers, knives and baseball bats. Two ended up dead --"
"Did you intend to kill them?"
I squelch my anger. He doesn't know, he's just asking -- "No. Like I said, ended up dead. Intensive care unit, a couple weeks later. I, uh, worked 'em over real bad. All of 'em. The other three lived, just crippled for life. Relatives of one of the dead guys filed a complaint against me; the judge told 'em to piss off. You want details, I can pipe you the court transcripts and so on."
Grey nods. "I'd like that, thanks. Okay; SCAB-bashers, five on one, you turned the tables on them. Good. Anything else?"
"Yeah." I say, then swallow. Just a nervous habit, really, since there's no larynx down there for the saliva to lubricate. "April of '36. South Carolina. I, uh, pulled this kid's arm off. Completely out of the socket..."
"Rough trade," the horse says, looking at me with those mismatched eyes of his. "What did the parents think?"
I make with a sad and sardonic smile. "Parent. Single mother, and believe it or don't, she was okay with it. See, there was this busted water main that'd turned a vacant lot into wall-to-wall quicksand, and the kid was drowning. I upshifted so I could step without sinking, and... well... I fucked up. Didn't think that if the mud was too solid to sink into, it'd be too solid to pull her out from."
"Hm. Hard to imagine you making that kind of mistake."
I snort. "I wouldn't -- now. But back then, I hadn't even been a cheetah for three months, okay? And, well, not even that much experience with upshifting..."
"I see." Now he frowns. "What about the girl?"
"Retrieved the rest of her body on the second pass. Dug her out of the mud, then ferried her over to the hospital. The docs even managed to reattach the arm."
"Nice. You know, that sounds like quite a stroke of good fortune."
"Yeah. I'm one lucky son of a bitch, I am."
"I suppose..." He makes a few notes. "Okay, April of 2036. Anything since then?"
Greyflank clearly doesn't understand.
"So you're telling me that this is a waste of time?" he asks.
"Yes. sir. Insofar as I am concerned, it is exactly that. You needn't worry about my ever having done anything that would make your job more difficult."
Puzzled, he says, "Why not? Everyone's done something."
"I don't deny that, sir. Nor do I claim that my own life has been entirely blameless. I am simply saying that whatever I may have done or not done, it just isn't relevant. I can't really say I have a family, but my... birth relatives... are quite wealthy, and my biological father has made a point of keeping his blood kin's peccadilloes out of the public eye."
"So... Daddy doesn't like you, but you are his son, so he'll make sure you don't bring dishonor to the family name."
"That is correct, sir. Any dark secrets of mine could only be revealed with his active cooperation, which simply will never happen. Will that be all?"
My nose tells me that fuckin' cat -- Jubatus -- was here, but
not recently. Good. Damn if I know why he gets under my skin so
bad, but he does, okay? I mean, shit, he don't slag me off any
worse'n he does anyone else, and we do sound better since he stared helping Wanderer explain about vocal
stuff, and... oh, hell with it.
"Hey there, Grey."
"Ringwolf," he says, flicking his ears at me. "Do you know why you're here?"
"Yeah. You want I should tell you if I got any PR disasters inna making."
"Thank you. That, or anything that could become a PR disaster if it were blown out of proportion."
"Okay, fine. Had some tax problems back in the '20s. Kinda stopped filing in '23, y' know?"
Horsey shuffles some papers. "That's when you came down with SCABS, isn't it?"
"Yeah. The usual pile o' crap: SCABbed over, lost my job, money got scarce for a while, yadda yadda yadda."
"How did it end?"
I smile at the horsey. "I declared bankruptcy. And then Congress passed the SCAB Tax Amnesty Act of '28. IRS fuckers bitched like hell, but they couldn't do shit, y' know? An' then I got the phone job, so money ain't been a problem since."
"Is there anything that has been a problem?"
"Nothing big. Back before I got used to the tail an' everything, I spent a few Sundays in the county lockup; I was just lettin' off steam is all, but some jerks got cut on my fingernails, y' know? So when the cops broke it up, I got my own private cell."
"So you were taken in for... what... disturbing the peace?"
"Yeah," I say with a shrug. "That's what the cops called it, leastways. Solitary was okay; it's real easy to get time off for good behavior when there's nobody else gettin' in yer face."
Grey talks as he's taking notes: "Disturbing the peace. If I remember right, you don't do that sort of thing now. When did you stop, and is there any chance of a relapse?"
"Hrrr... I gave it up in '28, '29, somewhere back then. A re-run ain't too likely; I'm gettin' too old to bust up bars any more. And even if I wasn't, I damn well wouldn't bust up the Pig. Shit, Grey, you know how hard it is to find a place lets a SCAB drink in peace!"
"Well, yes, but..." The horsey looks confused for a second. He's good at that, got a lot of practice. "Never mind. Drunk and disorderly, check. Taxes, check. Is that all?"
"Yeah. Now I can leave, right?"
Horse-boy's last question is damn silly, and my projected 'self'-image
shows how amused I am. "Skeletons? In my closet? Damn straight, and plenty of 'em! I used to run with
a pretty bad crowd, y' know? I just did the soundtrack -- never
got directly involved with the lawbreaking end of things, you understand --
but yeah, I was an accessory to all sorts of crap. Aiding and
abetting, as they say. I was up for shoplifting, malicious mischief,
one or two flavors of murder, you name it. And then I caught the
'Flu, and I died, but I got better. If y' want, I can prob'ly
get you a copy of my old rap sheet."
The horse doesn't look surprised or anything; he just nods. "That would be fine," he says. "And what of your relatives?"
"Heh! I suppose I got some, but anyone who thinks they can track 'em down is welcome to try. The breathers, anyway -- the dead ones ain't goin' nowhere."
He's worried, and I can't say as I blame the man, much. "Are you sure? After all, you're dead..."
"Come on, Grey. You know damn well that catching the 'Flu in the first place is only, like, 2 or 3 percent per year. Once you're there, SCABS is an 11-to-1 longshot, okay? And us inanimorphs are maybe point-one-percent of all SCABs, if even that much! You think there's other innies in my family tree, that's a bet I'd take any day of the week, at just about any odds."
Now he does that horse-y whiffling noise. "Be serious. This isn't a game."
"You sure about that?"
"As sure as I am of anything... What happens if someone gets on the news claiming to be a relative of yours, or an abandoned husband or wife?"
My image shrugs. "Let 'em. There's a hell of a lot of performers got lots o' mileage out of that kinda shit! I say it's not a problem 'til they sue us over it. And if they do try that, Jube's lawyer stomps 'em into paste in court, and we get plenty more free publicity while it lasts. So we're covered every which way, right?"
"Now really, dear boy. How can you possibly believe that there could be anything in my past or present life that might shame the group?"
He's so cute when he's confused! "I don't know, Miss Sunya. But PR isn't about facts; it's about how people feel about the facts. So..."
"So... um... Look, can we start over again?"
"Are you sure you truly want to? I can think of, oh, at least three or four things that would be more fun for a man and a woman in a soundproofed room..."
My! I certainly do have his full attention! Now, whatever shall I do with it?
I can't put my finger on why, but I find Greyflank's gaze to
be somewhat uncomfortable. In part, I suppose, it's the mere fact
that he's focussing on me at all, in the first place; I've never
enjoyed being the center of attention...
"I'm afraid I don't even have any unpaid parking tickets."
"Really. My DMV record has been clear all the way back to when I got my first learner's permit, nor have I ever been late filing my tax returns. The last time I recieved any disciplinary action in my academic career, I was 15 years old. And -- yes?"
"15 years old... you would have been in high school?"
I nod. "Yes, sir. I was caught smoking marijuana during my freshman year. That was the last time I ever experimented with illegal drugs. My GPA for that year was 3.65, and never lower than 3.95 afterwards."
"Sounds like you haven't ever gotten into any serious trouble, then."
No... I haven't, have I? Never gotten in serious trouble, never took a significant risk -- in fact, this upcoming tour with the Strikebreakers will be perhaps the single most exotic and adventurous thing I have ever done in my life!
"You okay, 'Head?"
I blink. "I'm sorry, Greyflank. What you said, about my never having gotten into trouble... you're absolutely right. I haven't. I had never truly realized that before, and I'm not sure how I should feel about it."
He cocks his ears at me. "Secure?"
to change yes
change is renewal is regeneration is freshness and new
if the present is better than the past it's because of change
pain is always in the past
pain is how you know you need to do better
pain and change are two of the building blocks that make up the universe
where did the horse-man go
Well, well, well. Aren't we the motley crew? Let me review what
I've learned, while it's still fresh in my mind...
Jubatus was a surprise -- or was he? He's about as open as a sealed bank vault, so I figured he'd have something to say, but... Frankly, I never would have expected that kind of blood and pain. It would help if he were into that sort of thing, but... I suppose it goes a long way toward explaining how he got to be the way he is, poor kitten. I wonder if getting him laid would help him calm down? In fact, I just might... no. Best keep my mind on business.
Whether he knows it or not, Wanderer's 'dark secrets' will be very helpful, especially the videos. I'll bet the publisher would be more than happy to print up a fresh batch of DVDs for us to sell with the T-shirts and programs, to say nothing of the cross-marketing possibilities -- "Starring Wanderer, lead singer of the Strikebreakers!" is merely the first and most obvious gambit.
Perry Dobhran bears watching. I've concealed too many secrets myself to miss the signs in other people. I don't need to know what he's hiding to know that he is hiding it, and whatever it is, he seems to think the Apocalypse would come if it were revealed. Yes, he definitely bears watching. It's a good thing he's so pleasant to watch!
Dr. Stein... Now, there's a man with unplumbed depths, and his vocal talents are only the tip of the iceberg. Who would have thought that the man who gave SCABS its name could have been instrumental in causing the downfall of that bastard Barnes? And then there's his 'nephew', Robbie -- well. I am certainly glad to be learning the truth now, rather than be forced to improvise a response when someone else brings it up later. I never very good at improvising...
As for the rest, well, it's like Mixman said: Scandals have been very good indeed, for some performers. I'll sleep on it, and tomorrow I'll start work on the data package for Rolling Stone.
[more to come]