by Quentin 'Cubist' Long

  Jubatus here. Lately I haven't been in attendance at the Blind Pig as often as I used to. I'm not sure anyone's noticed, and even if they have, I doubt they care one way or another. It's not like I've gone out of my way to make myself popular.
  I've also cut way back on the time I spend at the West Street Shelter.
  You see, a lapine SCAB named Phil Geusz is hurting. And I can't do a goddamned thing about it. No matter how badly I want to.
  He's hurting because his significant other, Clover, left him for another man. I didn't even know what was happening until after the axe had fallen... and seeing what Phil is going through now, I'm beginning to remember why I stopped doing interpersonal relationships all those decades ago. Then again, could be he's faking to gain sympathy and exert a little revenge on Clover. After all, I had no idea how bad it was until I was told about it, until I overheard some conversations that maybe I shouldn't.
  But my SCABS-heightened senses tell me it's genuine. Sure, Phil could be fooling with his scent and vocal overtones and all that... and I could be elected 'Mr. Congeniality' by unanimous vote.
  Like hell he's faking.
  You must understand: Phil saved my ass at a time when my ass well and truly needed saving. I owe that rabbit, big time. You'd think this would be a perfect opportunity for me to repay some of that debt, wouldn't you? I wish.
  How do you comfort a rabbit? Physical contact is a good way, but that doesn't work so well for me. I'm a cheetah, a carnivorous predator, and Phil (being a prey species) gets nervous just from being in my general vicinity. Call me a pessimist if you must, but I really don't think it would do Phil any good to snuggle up to Death with spotted fur and sharp claws.
  And even if psychological factors didn't make it impossible, the physical factors would get in the way. Cheetahs have no body fat to speak of; I'm made of skin and blood vessels and whipcord muscle wrapped around hard, hard bone. Why would Phil want to hug me when there are so many coils of garden hose available? Pretty much the same tactile sensations, and no risk of sending him into a terror-induced fugue state.
  Okay, so snuggling is out, but there's other stuff I could do, right? I'm wealthy -- last year, in 2037, I was #386 on the FORBES 400 list of the world's richest SCABs -- and money is power, isn't it?
  Yeah, right. What the hell do you buy to solve an emotional crisis? I do have an idea; I've got ideas for everything. I could buy Phil any firearm he likes, but he'd have to visit a gunsmith to have it modified for his paws, and I don't think he'd go for it...
  So... neither snuggling nor money is in the cards. Alright, fine, there's got to be something I can do to help. I'm the fastest SCAB alive, so whatever needs to be done, I can do it in record time, right? Right! Except for one thing.
  Do what, exactly, in record time?
  I don't have any useful ideas. And I can't ask anyone, because there's two kinds of people: Those who're hurting for Phil themselves, so I won't intrude on them; and those I wouldn't trust as far as they can be thrown, so I won't ask them. That means I'm left to my own devices, and as before, you damn betcha I've got ideas. I could hunt down Rio and remove every square inch of his skin in record time, that's one...
  Somehow, I doubt Phil would approve. Again, call me a pessimist if you must, but I'm pretty sure he wouldn't agree to anything that boils down to Whom shall I slay for you this day, my master? He's just not into inflicting pain on anything more sentient than a carrot.
  And just for the sake of argument, let's say that Phil did give me the go-ahead. Would that give me the right to wreak havoc on people I don't even know? I've never met Rio, wouldn't recognize him if I ran over him on the street. Could easily be that he's a wonderful human being, congenial and intelligent, great sense of humor, credit to his species, all that and a bag of potato chips. But...
  Phil's hurting. And that son of a bitch Rio is half of the reason why.
  The other half of it is Clover, of course. I think I saw her once, couldn't pick her scent out of a lineup. And... I'm not stupid. I know that people can change. I know that relationships don't always work out. I know that I've got no right to even think about passing judgement on any of the parties to this affair, no matter how much one of those parties is suffering, no matter that the one in pain is someone I am deeply indebted to. It's none of my damned business, full stop.
  And what the hell, Phil's no plaster saint. I have no clue about the details of how it all went down; could be he bears some of the blame himself. Maybe even most of it, for all I know. I may be socially inept, but I'm not blind, and I know he's got some bad points. He can be a sneaky, manipulative bastard when it suits him; maybe he's bought into that "cute harmless fluffy victim" stereotype a little too much; and there could easily be God knows what-all else I don't know about.
  Even so, with all of that said and acknowledged...
  Phil saved my ass. I owe him. And he's hurting.
  For me, that's the bottom line: Phil's hurting.
  And there's a little voice in the back of my skull. Every so often, not a continuous thing. A whispery little voice, maybe once every day or two, that says it would be a good idea to hunt down and kill the bastards. Make them pay in blood, both of them. Make them both fucking vanish, so that their bodies are never found. And hey, if it ever came to trial in spite of no evidence, I'm wealthy enough to buy myself some justice, right?
  That inner voice scares me. Not just what it says, although that's bad enough, but also that I can't tell whether it comes from me or my goddamn instincts. Fortunately, while that voice scares me, that's all it does. It does not dictate my actions; it carries no compulsion. I don't have to go hunting. So I won't.
  I'm not going to strip their entire skeletons down to the bone in 20 seconds apiece. Nor will I make inquiries about where Clover and Rio are and throw trans-sonic fastballs at the place. I will not a-hacking go, fuck up their credit ratings and broadcast secrets they'd prefer no one know about and extend the statute of limitations on any legal offenses they've ever committed in their lives. I'm not about to edit their public records to implicate them in crimes they weren't involved with. Maybe someone's going to make their lives a living Hell, using tactics that cripple their ability to counterattack and can't be traced back to the perpetrator even if they were somehow able to strike back... but that someone is not going to be me.
  I'm going to back slowly away from the mess. I can do this, I'm good at avoiding problems. I've got lots of practice running away from messes. Been doing it for years and years. All I have to do is sit on my spotted behind while Phil hurts. Stay the hell out of his way, lest my mere presence fuck him up worse than he is now.
  No worries. Nothing to it. Piece of cake. Easy as mincemeat pie a la Rio. Just one thing: Up until now, every problem I've run from has been my own.
  I never dreamed it could be so damned difficult to run away from someone else's problem...