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Man in the Middle
by Kim Liu
Kim Liu -- all rights reserved

Despite the headaches it's going to cause, I think it's time for a serious change in my lifestyle.

No, I don't mean a shape change, I mean cancelling or postponing some contracts and taking a vacation.

I normally don't act like a delivery middle-man like this after hours.

One of the more annoying issues in computer security is the 'man in the middle' attack. Say you have two computers, and you want to send data securely between them. If a third party is providing your connection or network between the two computers, it becomes very easy for that third party, the man in the middle, to mess with your communications. i.e. It's hard to protect your mail against the post office.

Seems that one of Barnes' competitors in the election is having a severe information leak. They use a lot of 'net communications, to coordinate among their local offices and their network provider appears to be a strong Barnes' sympathizer. They feel that they're getting tapped into there. Their network provider is also their business phone provider.

I park my station wagon in the parking garage and rub my head as I look around the darkened interior barely lit with half-maintained lights. Makes one nervous, it does. The backpack in the backseat is darned heavy, but I don't want to leave the equipment in their where it might be stolen.

The ST-10 secure data/phone units aren't exactly off the shelf items. I did a favor for someone I did some computer consulting work before, a SCAB in charge of the R&D department at the local branch of a supercomputing development company, and in return, he'd, ummm, misplaced a few ST-10's they weren't using between their offices.

(He's half dolphin from the waist down, and has some finger control problems occasionaly. It costs the company a fortune to accomdate him, but his knack for 3 dimensional CPU design is quite frankly genius. He had had a brand new circuit/material design that he had needed tested, but was unable to find anyone who could develop the alloy he needed in time. I... arranged for a quantity of the ceramic/metal superconducting alloy to be created for him. He raised an eyebrow at the two day turn around time, but only handed over the ST-10s, and idly mentioned a six digit figure for future work if my source was interested.)

I consulted the directions I had, and started walking towards the local branch office, located in a more SCAB populated area of the city.

None of the other canidates are really pro-SCAB. In a way, I'm surprized that there isn't a SCAB canidate. I cannot say that I blame them. It's not a simple issue, and I doubt it will be any time soon. The only reason there are fewer radical pro-SCAB or even anti-normal SCAB groups is simply because there are less SCABs. Don't think that they aren't out there. The Martian flu struck people regardless of intelligence, courtesy, or common sense, the good and the bad.

I'm damned glad the Lupine Boys are who they are, and didn't become another street gang. There are rumors going around of a 'Street Rats' gang starting to form somewhere, and that's making the 'normal' gangs more nervous, which is making the police force much much more nervous.

Want to hear a good one? Somewhere in California there is rumored to be a SCAB that can become one of those poison toads, the ones that produce the hallucigenic substance? Except he - or she - is a morph sized toad, and can produce the stuff in quantity. DEA is going nuts trying to track that one down.

The Blind Pig is fortunately mostly only decent SCABs. There have been some who have simply been nightmares on two, four, or more legs. People remember those, even without Barnes.

While the other canidates aren't pro-SCAB, they at least seem more rational about it, and worth helping here and there. Besides, one of the organizers for the canidate is a friend of mine.

It takes about thirty minutes to install the ST-10 unit to the local campaign office's network and phone system. It's pretty much a no brainer - the units are specifically designed to be simple. By the time I leave, the sky is darker, nearly 8 PM now, and the stars are out.

"Hey, norm," a heavy voice growls from behind me as I near my car and reach into my pocket for my keys, startling me into spinning around. Behind me, I see a trio of feline morphs - (hmmm. Jaguar - mostly human, feline tail and head, leopard - about a 70/30 feline/human split almost on all fours, cougar - classic 'were' morph.) "Watcha got in the bag?" the jaguar growls/purrs.

"Serial number marked specialized telecommunications equipment," I answer nervously. Where'd these guys come from? Except for the leopard, the other two were wearing leather jackets and modified jeans, looking like they did belong to some gang, but in this area of town? They were about ten feet away and inching closer. (Damn, they move quietly.) Times like this I wished I had made my normal self a bit more physically intimidating and less light-built computer technician looking. I backed back up against my car as they approached.

I wasn't happy.

It might surprize folks to know that there were SCABs who supported Barnes. Surprized? SCAB or no, underneath it all, we're still all... human.

That's a bad word for it, actually, 'human'. It links to much to our physical shape of being an evolved ape. We need a better word for that which makes our selves - psyche, id, spirit, soul, whatever - more than animals? Or perhaps not more than animals - rather, that element or quality that makes us special. The ability to laugh, cry, experience joy and pain, to comfort one another... a word for humanity that goes beyond being limited to 'humans'. I'd say dolphins definitely have this quality, and probably gorillas and some other primates. It's such a hard quality to pin down and measure, though. It's just so much easier to judge by form instead of the time and effort it takes to know someone, to see who they really are.

That's part of what Barne's compaign appeals to, of course. A 'simple' distinction between 'humaness' and SCAB. (Personally, he doesn't strike me as chock full of humanity.) It makes people nervous otherwise - if 'humaness' is not limited to the physically human, then what does that imply about dolphins? About other animals in general? Once 'humaness', that quality that so many believe is special only to them/humans, is no longer linked to the physically human or humans at all, what does that mean to us, then, to be human?

I toss them the bag, which lands with a heavy clunk, and the cougar morph quickly picks it up. "Lret's go," he growls.

"Wot about his wallet?" the leopard snarls back, tail lashing. My, look at the feral gleam in his eye.

"We got what we wanted," the jaguar answers the other two, an answer which causes me to stand up a little in surprize. He pauses, and adds, looking at me with a nasty smirk. "We could have a little hunt, though..."

"Wait a minute! Were you just after the ST-10s?" I demand, feeling more annoyed now, mind racing. "Did someone send you?"

"What do'ya care, norm?" the cougar growls. "Sure, like it's going to matter to you."

Now I feel really annoyed. "This changes everything."

When you attack someone's sense of self, when you blur the line between what is 'lesser', i.e. animal, and what is 'greater', being human, when you imply that they might not be as special as they'd like to think... it makes them nervous. Afraid. Many people are afraid of the Animal, both the ones outside and inside.

This is why there are SCABs who support Barnes. They are afraid of themselves. They're frightened of what they've become, and what others are becoming. They want someone to take charge. Some of them are quite selfless, believing that, yes, they are beasts now. The 'human' mind is capable of quite bizarre turns of thought under pressure and stress.

This probably explains how easy it has been for Barnes to get his support so quickly. I'm surprized more of the religious groups haven't leapt to his support. Humans have often been in the middle between divinity and the beasts, though at one time the beasts were the divine.

The three felines look amused and contemptuous at my annoyance.

Then I hit them with the pepper spray on my keychain.

Pesky enhanced senses.

In a way, those who are part animal are even more in the middle, between the human and the animal. Is it back sliding, away from the divine, or has the divine always been in the animal, and the 'human' dieties just illusions of our self importance?

If it is backsliding... then what happens if people change towards the divine? Is that a physical change? SCABs II? (I'm just waiting for this, by the way. Virii are good at mutating, and sooner or later we'll have round two.)

And those of us who can change our forms? Are we in the middle of the middle?

Or are all the important changes just inside?

When you're in the middle, which way is right?

Or do you forge a new way?

My own eyes watered fiercely at the after effects of the pepper spray. The leopard morph had screamed and run around blindly until he had knocked himself unconscious against the side of the garage. The other two had yelled and shouted, the jaguar half-leaping at me, which only meant he'd gotten a stronger hit. He and the cougar had started crying and clawing at their own faces, mucus running from their abused nostrils as they choked. I used a taser to knock them unconscious, then retrieved my bag.

I considered making some changes to them, but decide against it. I don't need the headaches that would cause if anyone detected that, nor the immediate headaches from that effort either. I worry that next time, if there is one, they'll be out for blood, and I might have to resort to harsher methods.

I'm a polymorph. I can make changes to others. A simple blood cot, and you have a stroke. Natural causes. I hope they don't try this again. Human, SCAB, or other, I do have my limits.

As I get back into my car to drive off, I realize that for them to have been here waiting for me, someone in the campaign staff HQ must have tipped them off.

Damn. Now I do have that headache.

Ultimately, whether I am 'human' or no, SCAB or no, or perhaps something more, I still have to choose my path. Yes, some SCABs are animals now, some are scum, some were scum before they changed, some afterwards, but there are good among them, too. (I like to think of myself in the latter group.) Just as there are among the 'normals' (sic).

Yes, the other canidates are not that great, but I think all things considered, Barnes is scum.

Finally, late at night, I stagger back to the Blind Pig for a much deserved... "Root beer float," I order. I still smell like pepper spray, and about half the bar moves away from me. Tough.

Turns out that one of the folks on the campaign staff was sending out email to Barnes' staff about campaign strategies, contacts, and such. That was where the leak was, not the man in the middle, though with the ST-10s in place, that matters little either.

Are we in the middle, or a bridge between the two ends?

Or a bridge to some thing more? Some thing less?

Tomorrow, I've got to see about getting some supplies arranged for the volunteer-run SCAB shelter downtown. I did some networking work for a medical supply warehouse, and I might arrange a favor or two...

Like I told my half-dolphin friend in R&D when he made that offer. "Are you in it for the money?"

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