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Acquiring Targets
by Michael Bard
Michael Bard -- all rights reserved

Damn him! A week after I drop him off in San Francisco he's in an accident and then mentally incompetent for almost a month. A month in which I could have gotten all the readings I needed to answer the ultimate mystery. But, I don't even find out, and in fact steps are taken to make sure that I don't find out until nearly a month after he recovers!! Damn Jubatus to a thousand eternities of oblivion! If I hadn't come by to drop off the doctored camera to Wanderer and contacted Jubatus I still wouldn't have known.

Stopping just outside the entrance to the Blind Pig I forced the anger out of me. It was a nice day and Jubatus was going to drop by later. THEN I'd give him a piece of my mind. I'd called him and his smug answer about his accident had almost made me lose control. Almost, except I refused to give him the satisfaction. There was more than one way to skin the cat and I would be successful. For now though there would be other things to take care of as it was a nice day, and the sun against my naked legs and arms filled me with life and I was not going to let him ruin it.

The Blind Pig was almost empty, not surprising for late on a Friday afternoon. Wanderer wasn't in yet, Jubatus was still hiding, but Donnie was polishing the bar and there was a youthful lion sitting at one of the booths.

Youthful lion? Could it be that 'Hallan' Jubatus had so gleefully mentioned. Hmmm... maybe I could make use of him as a delivery vector. But, first to talk to Donnie before he was busy. It had been hard to get information on him as he led a very quiet life, but given the fact that he ran a bar I couldn't see him minding a free 'Thank you' refurbishing of the washrooms. Although I only needed to do the men's, also doing the women's would provide additional cover. The net result and purpose of this would be to enable me to sneak in some monitoring instruments to get data from Jubatus when he upshifts. Thinks he can outsmart me does he?!

Anyway, after checking the stool, I sat down in front of the bar, showed the Hassan's Horse Award and signed my proposal to Donnie. The negotiations were a bit harder than I'd expected as it seemed that over a decade ago he'd put in place some regulations which included 'no shenanigans in the washroom'. I ended up agreeing to allow him veto power over any pictures I wanted to post on the anonymous 'Blind Pig Washroom' site, and to give him a remote activation switch for it after I'd gotten Jubatus. Reminding him that this was all in the name of science helped too, and eventually we agreed that the renovations would start next week. By the end of it Donnie was actually smiling. Good.

With the contract signed, I got my usual rum and coke, added the potassium nitrate, and made my way over to the increasingly disturbed lionmorph. I stood behind him for nearly two minutes examining his problem, limits as an introduction to calculus, before he noticed me. At least he was going to a good school -- whoever this Mrs. Mann was, she was starting them off with the background and not going straight to the short cuts. Right then he sheared the eraser off his pencil and I waited until he got up from under the table with the wayward eraser before announcing my presence. He was startled, but accepted my offer, and I started explaining him the basics. I even made sure to give him some practical examples based on my extra credit courses in high school.

Then Jubatus showed up.

Oddly, I was so engrossed that I didn't even notice him until he interrupted my tutoring. "Carter, have you forgotten what grade the kid's in? This is graduate-level stuff, maybe post-graduate!"

Finally! I wanted to give him a piece of my mind, but first I wanted to get him off his guard. Unexpected flank assaults are almost always more effective. "This would have been no problem for me at his age," I answered.

Jubatus responded with, "You were in college at age 15?"

He doubted me? After what he'd done?! Well! Glaring at him I responded, "I will admit that I was a little advanced for my age, but I had thought that the North American educational system still had some quality left within it."

And then he turned away from me back to the child! "Okay... what you want is a series of successive approximations. Start out with what looks like a decent guess, run that thru the equation, and if that doesn't get the exact answer, try some other guesses. Say you start out with 1.9, and it turns out to be a little low; the next guess might be 1.95. And so on. You want to look for what the values are trending --"

As he oversimplified what Hallan needed to know I realized that my fists were clenched and I forced them apart. Jubatus was hiding the ultimate secrets of physics from me, and his concern was to oversimplify and ensure that Hallan didn't know why things worked the way they did? As my fists once again clenched, I started out calm, but slowly rage and hurt filled my voice. "Here we have the modern American way. Keep them in the dark and make math a simple mechanical tool. So tell me Mr. Jubatus, Why'd you keep your injury secret?! I could have helped you."

That made him pay attention to me, "Carter, if someone asks you what time it is, you don't give them the blueprints for a bloody atomic clock!"

Always avoiding the true point of the conversation. Fine. First to take care of that. "And if they don't know why an atomic clock works, why not just tell them what time it is?"

"Exactly," he retorted, the fur along the back of his neck rising.

What?! He agreed? But he'd already disagreed. Why? What was he...? It was a tactic to disrupt my offense. That was it. That had to be --

Hallan, broke into the sudden silence: "Jubatus...?"

Fine. If Jubatus wanted to feed the information, well he was a citizen of his United States. If he wanted to cripple the next generation, then given the stakes the tactic most likely to disrupt his gathering momentum was to agree with him. So I turned to Hallan and simply stated, "The answer is 2," before turning back to Jubatus. Never give an opponent time to regroup and gather their forces, harder to do with Jubatus, but I was up to the challenge. "I was concerned about you! If you'd have died --"

And he wouldn't let me finish. "-- it would be the same thing that happens to everyone, sooner or later."

Could it be that he didn't realize...? Well then. "Do you have any idea what the cost to hum --"

And then he turned away from me and back to Hallan. "So. Successive approximations. Does that make sense to you?"

I used his second of distraction to observe him. His body was calm, controlled, without the colour change indicative of either upshifting or downshifting. Yet the tip of his tail, just the tip, was whipping back and forth, almost a blur. Good. He may not have even realized it, but he was getting angry, and when he got angry he would lose the intellectual control he needed to fight me. "Mr. Jubatus, you will listen to me now. If I was present you would have recovered your mind faster. You know it; I know it. Since you want to keep the subject sec --"

And then I had his full attention, "Enough. You want to discuss this, we do it in private. Back room. Now." Then he turned and stalked off.

I hurried along behind him. Perfect. It was time to get things into the open, to force him to react and make a mistake. We arrived in Jubatus' back room of choice a bit later than I would have preferred, and even before I'd closed the door Jubatus was glaring at me, with his face almost in my face. Good. "Well Mr. Jubatus --"

"Can the phony pleasantries. Get to the point, Carter."

"But such 'phony pleasantries', as you call them, are part and parcel of the social skills I so grievously lack, are they not? As I understand it, politeness demands that one address another person by whatever cognomen they prefer, but in your case, the indications are mixed. According to Dr. Derksen's records, you stated that Jubatus was your first and your last name. But your lawyer confirmed that on certain occasions you use an inversion of Acinonyx Jubatus, the Linnean nomenclature for a cheetah, and there is also your birth name, Jay Ne-"

He rolled his eyes. "Congratulations. You've discovered how I sign my tax returns. Just once -- just once in your life -- could you lose the dominance crap, forget who's one-up or one-down, and just bloody say what you mean?"

"As you wish, Mr. Jubatus." And now that he was off his guard, it was time to turn up the heat. Just a question of using the right amount of expletive. "You know damn well that I could have helped you get your memory back faster. Why?"

"You know why."

I let innocence fill my face. "I do?"

"Fucking well you do. You'd have had me under an electron microscope in 2 days, tops. I refuse --"

His estimate was high by a factor of 4, but no need to tell him that -- "Mr. Jubatus, who the Hell are you to decide the fate of humanity?!"

"I -- "

"I know very well that you stated that you fear that when I work out a mathematical representation of reality, including gravity, that I will let the genie out of the bottle and enable someone to destroy reality. I believe --"

"A continuum bomb."

"And how do you know that such a thing is even possible?"

"Carter, you're living proof that intelligence and wisdom are completely independent. How can someone with your pile of IQ points be so fucking moronic?"

It seems that he was gaining some control over himself. I hadn't seen him upshift, but if he had just a little I might have missed it. "Because you are the one who is mistaken. You're using the fear of the possibility of the creation of something that can destroy reality to prevent humanity from attaining the stars. Who the hell are you to judge? How do you know that such a possibility even exists?!"

"You think a continuum bomb is the only thing I'm worried about? Dream on. As for why I am worried, tell me, Carter: How many scientific discoveries haven't been used to build new weapons with?"

Interesting question. Fine. "The Principia Mathematica."

"BZZZT!" Somehow he'd managed a sonically perfect duplication of the sound of an electronic buzzer. "Wrong! Judges say the Principia is not, in fact, a scientific discovery -- but it wouldn't count even if it was, because the mathematical tools contained therein have contributed greatly to the advancement of military technology."

What? "Mr. Jubatus, how does logically proving 1+1=2 contribute to the advancement of military technology? All it is, is a long exercise in logical proof. In fact it did not create any new tools, it only applied existing mathematical tools."

Shaking his head he whispered almost to himself, "There are none so blind as those who go out of their way to superglue their eyes completely shut."

I could feel my nostrils flaring and the tips of my ears twitching as I stared at him. He had no clue. Not a single clue as to what he was talking about. Swallowing, I tossed out the logical conclusion of his attitude: "By your definition, any and every thing has been used to create weapons. Given that, why don't we go back to the caves?"

"So you think 'because we can' is the only reason needed for any technological development whatsoever? Fuck that noise!"

How could he not see it?! "Well then, let's go back in the trees. Fire has resulted in weapons, so has picking up rocks and sticks from the ground. If we lived by the 'if it can make a weapon then don't do it' we would still be living in the trees."

"But we don't live by that creed. Maybe if we did, there might not be as many weapons. The Amish have the right idea: Don't just blindly adopt every shiny new toy that comes along -- first make an effort to figure out how it's going to affect the culture."

I couldn't help but shake my head in disbelief. He had just stated that he actually agreed with me and didn't even realize it. "Mr. Jubatus, how do you know that a grand unified theory of space/time will result in the creation of a continuum bomb? Maybe it'll prove it can't be done."

"I don't, but that's a pair of dice I flatly refuse to roll. You want to play Russian roulette, fine. Point the damn gun at your own head -- don't put every human being at risk."

Interesting philosophy, but wrong. The stakes were much higher. "Consider this: With a grand unified theory and a true understanding of gravity, we can colonize worlds around other stars. That way if somebody does build this supposed 'continuum bomb' and even if they blow up the solar system, humanity as a whole will survive. Right now, if somebody decides to 'blow up da earth' then humanity ceases to exist. To quote Heinlein, we don't want all our eggs in one basket." I paused, leaning towards him, eyes wide open. "Mr. Jubatus, the gun is pointed at every human being's head right now. I am trying to remove that gun."

"Wrong. You're replacing it with a bigger, more dangerous gun -- and you're too fucking stupid to see it!"

This was unbelievable. He was going to doom everyone to death just because of the possibility of a more dramatic death. My jaw was hanging open in shock, and I finally closed it and swallowed. "I may be replacing it with a bigger, more dangerous gun, but I'm also replacing one target with millions." He had to see it. I had to make him see it. "Look at how animals breed -- they have 10 thousand children and only 50 survive. Right now humanity has exactly one child. I cannot morally leave it that way if I can create the conditions to allow more children."

"You don't see it. A continuum bomb could affect the entire universe. Our eggs would still be in a single basket."

"Mr. Jubatus, if that is the case, then nothing is lost as all of humanity can still be destroyed as is the case right now. Thus the possibilities are either 'maintain the status quo' or 'have a higher chance of racial survival'."

"Sure. Replace one species at risk with all sentient species everywhere."

"You're assuming that humanity is either the only intelligence, or is the most advanced intelligence in the universe. How do you know that other races do not already possess this 'continuum bomb' and thus that the risk already exists?"

"I don't, but in the absence of evidence, the null hypothesis -- 'it ain't there' -- is the most reasonable one to run with. Look, Carter: Even if a continuum bomb isn't possible, that's just one catastrophe averted. What if someone figures out how to induce Timeshifting in other people, like maybe a platoon of 'black ops' assassins? What if --"

This was infuriating. He'd calmed down, and I was slowly growing angrier. The damning side of it was that his arguments made sense. But, at the end of it, they were an acceptance of responsibility, and... "You don't trust me, do you?" I asked in amazement.

"Excuse me?"

"You believe in the possibility of a continuum bomb or other abuses. Granted. You have decided to take responsibility to prevent such an occurrence as best you can. Granted. Logically, the only reason you would refuse to help me find the answer, is that you don't trust me. You don't trust me to take responsibility. You believe that the current known ability of man to destroy himself is more dangerous than a potential but unproven ability for man to destroy everything. You don't trust me to make the proper moral choice."

"Give the lady a cigar."

"You are wrong Mr. Jubatus. You're weighing a potential destruction with an almost certain destruction. If humanity doesn't get into space, then humanity will die. The only logical conclusion is that the known almost certain destruction is a worse possibility than a potential universal destruction."

"So you say. You want to screw around with this crap, find some other chronomorph who's willing to play ball, 'cause I ain't."

"Mr. Jubatus, how can you refuse? You are going to let humanity, all of humanity..." I pointed back out the door, "die. Everybody and everything rather than let the precious secrets of your timeshift ability be understood."

"And you don't give a shit how many people you put at risk, as long as you get to play Savior."

How could he think that? The probabilities made it clear that this was the best course. Nothing else made sense. "It isn't about me at all."

"Right. A solution which requires a fundamental breakthrough in scientific theory has nothing whatsoever to do with the one person most likely to make that breakthrough in the first place -- and it's just a coincidence that the philosopher Plato decided the ideal society would be ruled by philosophers," he said, sarcasm fairly dripping from his syllables. "Anyway, you're forgetting something, Carter. What with inanimorphs and all, it's not like we really need science or technology to spread out!"

Around and around he ran, refusing to face reality. It wasn't horrible or evil, just terribly terribly tragic. I sighed, and then asked, "How much help have the inanimorphs been in getting humanity into space?"

He shrugged. "Dunno. Have you guys even asked one? It's only like 30-40 years since SCABS was dumped on humanity. Plenty of time yet."

"They don't talk to us." I walked around him and sat down, and finished off my drink. "In 1950 there was no orbital flight; by 1990 man had gone to the moon and come back, and had sent probes to almost all the planets. Since 1990 we have done nothing. We haven't launched any probes in the last 30 years. Why should I expect that to suddenly change?"

"Who said anything about 'suddenly'?"

"The fact is Mr. Jubatus, that 30 years has resulted in no space travel development. Why should 30 more years change that?"

"You're missing the point. Innies are here, they're not going away, and their numbers will only increase. Space technology, like Babylon or rockets, will come and go with the prevailing political climate."

"How do you know an inanimorph will save us if another world killer is about to impact. Why should they? We're completely alien to them."

"To some, sure, but not all. For instance, I think we could count on BlueNight -- he thinks he's a comicbook superhero, for crying out loud!"

I wished I had another drink. I just shook my head. "So, we should sit back and do nothing, and hope that somebody else will save us, instead of taking action on our own to save us?"

"Who said anything about that, either?"

"'I think we could count on Bluenight'. You want me to not pursue the secrets of the universe to enable us to help ourselves, and instead hope that somebody like this 'Bluenight' will help us."

"Carter, are you setting up false dichotomies or just moving the goalposts? Either way, I want you to not drop an armed H-bomb into the hands of a moron. Got it?"

He thought I..? I stood up and glared at him. "Who do you define as a moron?"

"Compared to you? Who isn't?"

He was blind and refused to admit it. "That answer is meaningless. I repeat, who would you trust with an armed H-bomb?"

"Nobody!"

I stared at him and he stared back.

Finally he broke the silence. "Forget it. Your blinders are cemented firmly in place, and there's no way you're gonna allow anyone to take them off. Like last century's feminists said: 'No' means 'no', and no, I'm not going to cooperate with you on this point." And then he was surrounded with a glow and all that was left behind was the breeze from the door he'd shut behind him.

I blinked tears of frustration and sadness out of my eyes. How could he not see it? It was simple probability analysis. Near certain destruction if the answer is not found, possible destruction if it is. Simple. Cut and dried. Jubatus, Jubatus... How could you be so blind? How could you?


I don't know how much time had passed when I finally became aware of my surroundings. I was still in the room, and Jubatus had not returned. Or at least I didn't think he had. The ice in my drink was long melted and I swallowed the warm tart water that was left behind. In my purse were some tissues, and I wiped my eyes and cleared my nose. Well Jubatus, we have truly drawn the lines. We had something; now we don't. Because you refuse to understand.

Calmer now I got up and opened the door and went out into the bar. It was nearly full though Jubatus and that Hallan were no where to be seen. Jack DeMule was playing the piano, a female wolf was playing pool, and yes, Wanderer and his gang were finally in. He was at a table with Dr. Derksen and Dr. Stein, along with what appeared to be a partial raccoon, playing cards.

I sighed. Well, plans were already in place, and there was one last reason I'd come. Placing a smile on my face, I made my way over to Wanderer and his companions.

"...Aces wild and..." Wanderer stopped as he noticed me. "But soft, 'tis a maiden most fair in sore distress! Prithee, how may I be of service unto you?"

A little bit of my smile became real. "You did receive the e-mail? I've brought something for you."

"Ay? Could it be..?"

I nodded and reached into my purse for the camera and pulled it out. "Back safe and sound from its journey." I lowered my voice conspiratorially. "He doesn't know."

"Oh me oh my!" Carefully he took it from me and started going through the pictures in the memory. A whistle escaped his lips as everybody turned to watch him and I grinned.

The raccoon turned away and asked, "What did you give him Ms...?"

"Carter. You can call me Susan. Wanderer here asked me for a souvenir of my trip with Jubatus."

"You went..." He cocked his head. "Far?"

"To orbit and back."

"To orbit --"

Wanderer turned to me with a grin from ear to ear. "Ay indeed milady, meseems thou hast fulfilled my wildest fantasies."

That did it. I had to stay around for Wanderer to realize, rather than remaining just long enough to let him view the pictures and begin to show the camera around. "I only did what you asked." There was even an empty chair waiting for me with the Hassan's Horse Award on the table in front of it. Well, well. Did any of them know what they were getting themselves into? Smiling sweetly and innocently, I looked around at the others and the piles of pennies. "May I join in?"

Dr. Derksen motioned with his middle arm. "I kept the seat for you -- I'm curious."

A rum and coke appeared on the table beside me and I handed the appropriate change to the barmaid and smiled innocently. "What are you playing?"

"Poker." Yes, a giant insect does indeed have a perfect poker face.

I let a girlish smile appear on my face. "Poker? Really?" There are two kinds of poker faces. "I've always wanted to play poker."

Wanderer turned to me, and passed the camera to the raccoon. He'd decided to share his prize, and that meant that it was time for me to press the button in the radio broadcast device in my purse. Knowing that the payoff was imminent, it took some effort to ignore the raccoon and listen to Wanderer with rapt attention. "Well my fairest of ladies, poker is a game of deceptive simplicity..."

Out of the corner of my eye I saw the raccoon SCAB's face suddenly morph and become very much more raccoon. Wanderer continued oblivious.

Yes, tonight would be fun. The camera had contained pictures of a naked shaven Jubatus. It had also been doctored in the past month. Once I pushed the button in my purse, the first set of pictures would be erased and replaced with the second set of doctored pictures.

The much more raccoon SCAB snickered.

It had been childishly simple to create photos of a recognizable Wanderer, furless, traipsing around in his cloak and nothing else -- au natural, so to speak. And when Wanderer asked, well, with all innocence and shock, I would help him conclude that Jubatus must have caught on and modified the camera some how. Jubatus' fingerprints were even on the inside of the case. One could do all kinds of things with modern plastics.

"...five cards and..." Wanderer stopped, puzzled, and turned to the raccoon. "Why Brian, what-so-ever is the matter..." Right now Wanderer was thinking that this Brian was reacting to pictures of Jubatus.

Inside I smiled. So Jubatus thought he could stop me...

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