|This story is set in the Tales From the Blind Pig universe, in which an extraterrestrial disease called Martian Flu has unusual effects on a significant number of its victims -- Stein's Chronic Accelerated Biomorphic Syndrome, SCABS for short. But as the smartest SCAB on Earth discovers, things could always be worse...
Go here for more information on the setting.
A Blind Pig Christmas Carol
by Michael Bard
©2002 Michael Bard -- all rights reserved
The Blind Pig: Christmas Eve 2039
It wasn't time yet but it would be. A pleasant Christmas eve, everybody relaxing and enjoying things, and even Jubatus getting into the spirit of the season. After all, presents had been mysteriously appearing all through the evening's festivities, and who else could be responsible? Oh, it could be an inanimorph, or some other unknown power, but I'd noted Jubatus' telltale aura several times, though it wasn't until I caught that aura simultaneously with the abrupt appearance of a present that I was certain. It would be interesting to see how thin and fast a wire would have to be strung across Jubatus' path so that he would be unable to dodge in time to prevent his head from being severed from his body.
Wanderer and the rest of the Lupine Boys had already howled their way through versions of what some would call 'Christmas Carols' and they'd avoided the interesting re-wordings until after Hallan had gone home. All around I could see people who put on a brave front, who wished that they were normal and could be with family, but instead were with common victims who had become friends because none of them had any other choice.
Like I'd had no other choice. I could feel my mind wandering, going further and further out into dreams and wonders and psychotic hatreds that I could make real if I really wanted to. If I wanted to I could take out a city with Babylon and no one could stop me. If I contacted one of the terrorist groups I had electronically tagged, made the offer, took the money and invested it in Ad Astra... Of late it seemed that my fancies and idle speculations were becoming more and more frightening, and I knew that someday my behaviour would go beyond the bounds of what normals considered 'socially acceptable', all for perfectly logical reasons. Cold, unfeeling, logical reasons. They were all children, and only I... No, not yet. They were all human, sentient creatures, and they deserved what they had.
Maybe, it was in the equations...
"Prithee, it seems that our fair green-tanned maiden hath been too quiet of late. Methinks 'tis her turn to speak and cajole us with her wishes and hopes. Our fairest lady..."
At which point Raven elbowed him and laughter ensued.
"My humblest of apologies. Shall I rephrase..?"
"Well then, let me say to our most intelligent and well-spoken lady, propose thy toast."
A perfect cue if ever there was one and hopefully this ultimate prank should get me out of my funk. "A toast then, and I presume that you mean not the kind upon which one puts butter and jam." I waited for the snickering to die. "Then my toast is simple. To the true understanding of reality, to the completion of the Grand Unified Theory of Everything." As I raised my glass I turned and looked at Jubatus and let the hint of a smile appear upon my face as I saw the sudden panic in his eyes. After just the right amount of pause I continued, "Which, I --"
And then I felt my mind, my intellect, my soul for lack of a better word, tug and pulse and finally split across a trillion planes of alternities. Visions and dreams and hopes and terrors.
Blessed unconsciousness crumpled me to the floor as I dreamed...
The Blind Pig: Christmas Eve 2032a
A crunchy noise underfoot and I looked down from the near toxic drizzle. I'd stepped on something and ignoring the sting of a drop that got through my goggles, I reached down. It was an old wooden sign; upon closer examination I saw a picture of a pig with a blindfold. A blind pig... hmph. Shaking my head I picked up the rest of the wood, linked the IR scope of my assault rifle to my goggles. I poked the muzzle of the rifle inside and moved it around. All clear -- not even the rats were left. Whatever this place had been, it would provide shelter and a temporary headquarters. And the sign would serve as firewood.
Once inside, I could hear water dripping from somewhere through the cold chill. I pulled the goggles up over my face and quickly cut enough slivers from the sign to get a bunch of dry ones. The kindling, for once, made lighting a small fire easy. Pulling up the remnants of a chair I sat down and pulled out the radio and set it to the general frequency. "Base to units, report."
"Unit 1. All clear."
"Unit 2. All clear."
"Unit 3. Still got bogies on my 6." There was the sound of gunfire and overwrought suspension. "We'll lead them to the designated location in an estimated 3 hours."
Immediately I dove for cover with my rifle at the ready. Only then did I recognize who it was. "Damn you Phil, warn a guy when you walk up!"
"Sorry. We've secured the perimeter. Austin and the gang will be bringing the bomb up in an hour or two."
"Good. Jay tells me he's still under pursuit -- his ETA is 3 hours."
"Well, sir, I guess we just wait. Looks like this place used to be a bar."
"The sign showed a blind pig."
I watched as he walked over to what had once been the counter, his boots crunching in the dust and thin snow. Phil was an old man -- used to be an autoworker before the world went to hell. Too many people, not enough resources, and everybody wanted all the goodies. Sometimes I'm surprised we held on as long as we did.
"Well lookee here, sir..."
I watched him pull out a still-sealed bottle of something. "We're still on duty. Boss' orders."
He snorted. "Boss Thomson?! He's the best of a bad bunch."
"And he's all we've got. At least he isn't raping the children."
"True." Phil pulled up another chair and sat down as I threw a few more scraps into the flame, and then pried the cork off with his knife. "2018 -- just before it began..."
"Yeah, just before it began. Too bad blackpox didn't hit until 2025. A 10 or 20 percent die-off might have done some good around 2000."
My timing was perfect. He sputtered and choked before answering. "Not funny, Grant!"
"Nothing is anymore..." I watched him swallow a mouthful. "We really shouldn't drink."
"Oh come on Grant, it's not like we're going to care in five hours!"
"Unless we're trying to turn it off."
"Fat chance. We've spent too long setting this up. I should have volunteered..."
"I know," I sighed. "I know who I sent to die Phil." I reached for the bottle and swallowed a mouthful. "Whoa! Good stuff there. Wonder how the bastards missed this?"
"Got me, sir."
I handed him back the bottle and watched him sip and remembered.
Too many people, too much greed, too little resources. Eventually it all fell apart. I'd been lucky, with a group in the Appalachians. Fallen in love, fought to live, had a child, watched the 'president' from Washington rape her... I grabbed the bottle and swallowed another mouthful. Years of organization, of greenhouses. Breeding and genetic manipulation to get a crop that could survive this brave new world. Just when we did the desperate heard and came so we fled. It'd been my idea to set a decoy, and to get volunteers who took the hypnos, the rapes, the poisons, to feed the lie. I didn't know where the rest had gone. Didn't even know anymore where my wife and child were buried. Soon it would end, the last of the big bosses was on his way here. They had the guns and the stores, and they were mean bastards who took what they wanted. My wife... I remembered our first night together, our words...
"Hey Grant! You want it in here?"
Looking up from the dying fire I watched Austin and his squad as they wrestled in the fusion warhead. That was the key to the plan. "Yeah, bring it over here. I'd better check it out. Just our luck if it turns out a dud."
Everybody laughed, a tired laugh. We were all tired.
"Bring that flashlight over. And grab some of that vodka from Phil before he gulps it all." Austin and his gang settled down as I radioed the perimeter units. Outside streetlights were coming on. I'd spent weeks setting up a generator and wiring the place so that we could light sections after dark. It was all part of the bait.
Bait to bring all the bastards here to the 'last bastion of civilization'.
For the last three years we'd been camped around here. When it wasn't raining, we plowed worthless contaminated fields to create the illusion of survivability. We'd fought small attacks, raiding groups. Finally we'd attracted the attention of the Boss of Toronto. He was coming down here with everything. We were going to take him out.
In a few hours it'd be over.
With the flashlight I opened up the casing of the old missile and checked the wiring again. It was a Mark 12 Re-entry Vehicle, thermonuclear, with a 9 megatonne yield. We just had to make sure that everyone who needed to be was within the blast radius. The wiring was good, I knew it was but didn't want to take chances. Eventually I finished and I set the crude timer I'd built for three hours as the men around the fire started singing Christmas Carols. I wished Jay was here, his was the best voice we had...
I couldn't help but join in. Tannenbaum, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Silent Night, and many more. We all had family and children we considered our own. This would keep them safe.
"Unit 3... Requesting any available help."
A sudden silence fell and I grabbed the radio. "Unit 3, you have to hold for two hours. You're instructed to fight to the last man, to the last bullet. Your position must not be compromised. Command out."
"Understood. Be careful though -- I think..." There was the sound of a ricochet and a scream. Then more gunfire. "Benten -- we're dead. Think some moving ahead to your position..." Silence.
I switched to the command frequency. "Gentlemen, it's time. Units 1 and 2 move in on this position. Start up 'Radio Free Pennsylvania'." That was a pre-recorded broadcast of the voice of Pennsylvania and the head of this 'community'. A call for help broadcast on every frequency we could manage. A cheap man's jamming, and all part of the bait.
"Unit 2 acknowledged. Be in your position in five. Out."
"Time to draw them in."
With quick motions they doused the fire and moved to positions at the windows. I wired up a deadman's switch to the bomb. Soon I'd be with my wife and out of hell.
Turning the radio to the main channel I listened to the voice of Jay. His voice was calm as he broadcast news of the attacks, prayers for humanity, and other information. It had all been carefully written. I'd even provided some of the background gunfire. We listened and waited, but not for long. For months we'd been broadcasting news, hope. Even the genetic sequence for the resistant grain. I hadn't wanted to bother, but the rest thought someone might be out there able to make use of the information. They needed their hope.
An explosion announced the approach of the enemy scouts and machine gun fire answered them. I wanted to fire. I wanted to stand at the window and kill the bastards but instead I was stuck with the bomb. To make sure it detonated. It was my job and duty. The same as the scouting I'd been on when raiders had broken the line. I'd gotten back in time to see my son dead, my wife being raped. Now all I could do was listen to the wind, the gunfire. The screams of the dying.
We lasted seventeen minutes.
Phil was the first to die, Austin the third. There was blood, bullets, explosions. I heard the sound of an ill-tuned engine in the distance. The whistle of mortar shells. I made sure to stay alive long enough to see one of the bastards come in through the door.
Surrounded by the dead I smiled at the switch in my hands, and spoke: "Fiat lux. Let there be
The Blind Pig: Christmas Eve 2039b
"I'd like to propose a toast to Mr. Jubatus..." and I looked into his eyes as he glared, "...without whose help I would never have been able to gather the data..." his look turned puzzled and I smiled, "...to realize the Grand Unified Theory..." now he frowned and I paused to wink at him, "...that I am now ready to p-"
I felt a jerk of motion and a sudden cold, and then I was sitting in a stiff chair in his Extremis as he glared down at me.
"What the fuck have you done?!"
"As I discussed after our trip, I have gathered data--"
"From me?! Who gave you the right?!"
"I did, Mr. Jubatus."
"You arrogant daughter of a bitch goddess!!!! Do you have any idea--"
I stood up and glared at him until he shut up and then I answered in a calm voice. "I know exactly what I did. There were devices in the Pig's washroom, things requested from Dr. Derksen, bribes to your clients when you made calls..."
He blurred and his face was inches before mine. "Do you know what you've done?!"
"I have given humanity the stars, Mr. Jubatus."
I watched him blur and glow, and blur and glow again. Furrows appeared in the panels of the roof and the pane of a window cracked. Finally he stopped and stood up and looked away from me. "Get out."
"You should be happy. I listed you as second author."
"Get. Out. The genie's out of the bottle, but maybe I can keep anyone from making a wish..."
"It's too late, Mr. Juba --"
"GET OUT OF MY FUCKING SIGHT!"
I stood up and prepared to dash through the cold back into the Pig. "I've won. Don't be a sore loser."
The Blind Pig: Christmas Eve 2046b
It had been a long time. I had published, received the accolades, accepted the Nobel prize, and then went back to work. The math was one thing, the practicality was another. For five years I had helped Ad Astra to figure out how to apply the math until finally a detectable reverse gravitational field was created, measured, and reproduced. After that I'd lost interest in the project, no longer really needed as now it was a question of engineering refinement. Instead it was back to the math and other meanings.
I looked out the mirrored window at the gently falling snow of this Christmas eve. A quiet, lonely Christmas eve as I was isolated, had been ever since that night seven years ago when Jubatus had disowned me. I had had nothing left of life but the equations I had sold my soul for. Amidst the soft falling snow the car slowed to a stop in front of the Pig and I waited for my bodyguards to let me out. Since the Nobel announcement, I had been the arch-enemy of all neoLuddites, and after the near success in 2042 I had never been let out alone. Anywhere.
If that had been the only price to give humanity the stars, I would have paid it gladly with no complaints.
The door opened and I let Martin help me out. I was wearing protective clothing under my black funeral dress, just in case, and carried the same purse I had had when I had first come here. Come and fallen in love.
With the soft crunch of boots on snow I followed Martin and led Harold up to the door and stopped for a moment, listening to the merry caroling from inside. Let them have their moment of joy before my bodyguards opened the door so I could walk in. The place had already been checked, and though Ad Astra would have preferred it, I refused to let them search the regulars who were there.
They already hated me enough.
It had been five years. Five years since Jubatus had forced me to make a choice. He had not gone openly, I had taken care of that, but he had been helping others, letting out information. Sometimes even sneaking in himself. There had been odd delays in working on the prototype, software bugs and flaws ultimately traced to hacker attacks. Attacks I had ultimately traced to Jubatus. And even more disruptive were the open economic manipulations: cornering the market on needed materials and components, bankrupting contracted manufacturing companies...
I refused to let his fear of a 'continuum bomb' stop me taking humanity to the stars. Such a device was possible, but it was better for humanity to be on multiple worlds so that even if it was developed, the race would go on.
I had tried to reason with him, but the hatred after that Christmas seven years ago had been too great. Finally I had taken the ultimate step. I had arranged for a client of his to need him at the other end of the country, in person, urgently. I had taken care of him.
There had never been any proof, but somehow the others at the Pig knew. I was again an outsider, but I came anyway. Once a year because I swore I would fix things. There was a solution to all problems, the ability to give humanity the stars, to fix SCABS, and to heal all the scars and hatreds. And murders. Tonight I would fix everything.
As the door opened they turned and watched and fell silent. Disregarding my bodyguards as their eyes swept the room, I tried to ignore the hostile stares. I had tried to help them, but I had always been refused. Only anonymously had I been able to help the West Street Shelter, but even that seemed grudgingly accepted. Phil was there and he watched me, his face unreadable. Wanderer was still there with his Lupine Boys, but the faces had changed over the years. Jack at the piano even started playing from Mozart's Requiem. Hallan was there. He had tried to bridge the gap, but the silent hatred had eventually stopped him. Both Dr. Derksen and Dr. Stein were there, possibly the only two who could understand me, but their eyes, both insect and equine, were inscrutable.
As I approached the bar, the seats in front of me emptied and I sat down with my bodyguards on either side. Speechlessly Donnie brought me my usual Rum and Coke, and I added the usual potassium nitrate and gulped down the glass, knowing that all eyes were upon me. I turned around and looked at them all as Donnie filled another glass.
"Isn't this a merry place?"
Silence, though Hallan looked away.
"Well, this is the last time you'll need to go through this. If you'll follow me upstairs?" Picking up the second glass I stood up and my guards followed and I unlocked the door leading to the party room upstairs. I had paid for it months ago, as I did every year, and set up festivities for the Christmas party. But this year I had added something different. Stopping, I turned to face them as they watched me. "Will you not come up this one last time? I have one thing to say, and then I'll leave and never bother you again. I'll be waiting upstairs." Then I turned and walked up, leaving the door open, turning on the lights.
No one other than the guards followed, but I expected that. At first anyway. For the regulars my equations had become very exact, especially when their actions were constrained by subtle conditioning and chemicals; but then, they were stupid sheep that I had to lead for their own good. It was the price of true intelligence.
The room was empty, as I'd set it up, except for a single chair at one end surrounded by the complex machine I had developed from the equations, that I had built, and that I had tested. I sat down with the bodyguards beside me and waited, a queen in her throne awaiting her subjects. As calculated, Hallan came first, and then the others. I'd spent weeks creating the correct psychological conditions to bring them up. Whispers of secrets I would reveal, of truths that would be told, of injustices that would be rectified. I hadn't bothered with chairs because I knew that none of them would sit.
I waited and they came when predicted, in the order predicted. Even Donnie coming last, closing the door behind him.
"A toast. To Mr. Jubatus Acinonyx. The one sentient I ever loved. The one sentient I ever killed for the greater good."
Silence, though Hallan blinked.
"Oh yes, here is the heartfelt confession from me. I won't deny it, it's all true. He was a threat and it needed to be done to protect all of you. But tonight it ends."
The only sound was the ticking of a clock. And, faintly, the buzz of a cell phone dialing 911. Exactly on schedule.
"Tonight he will be resurrected; all of you will be resurrected. I'm going to cure SCABS."
It was Dr. Derksen who responded. "I don't believe that is possible anymore."
"I won't do it medically. I'm going to make it never to have happened."
This time it was Hallan: "Time travel is impossible."
"Physical transference yes, but the electro-chemical mind can be linked to earlier selves within the five dimensional continuum, rather like creating a potential case and preventing resolution similar to the 'Schroedinger's Cat' thought experiment. I have tested it, and have already talked to myself two days in the past." I let a final triumphant smile appear on my face. "Tonight I am going to link my mind to my youthful self before SCABS, a young student named Grant Haldayne. I will tell him what codes to use, what computers to work through, and what signals to send. The net result will be that a hacker broke into NASA and detonated the Beagle II before it reached Mars. No probe, no virus, no Martial Flu, no SCABS."
Finally Dr. Stein spoke, and I knew that he was simply humouring me until the police arrived. "And what happens to us?"
"I don't know. Does it really matter? There will be a new future, one in which SCABS does not cripple humanity's pursuit of science. One in which I am not twisted, and one in which Jubatus, Jay, does not die. A better future."
"How do you know it'll be better?" Wanderer, finally without the accent.
"How can it be worse?"
And finally Hallan again. "What gives you the right?"
Already I could hear sirens in the distance. "The fact that I have the intelligence to know the correct action, and the will to take the action regardless of the cost, is what gives me the right. Humanity needs the knowledge to move to the stars, and I will make sure they have it." I swallowed. "I'm sorry. I only wish that the last few years hadn't been necessary." The last I said to delay them long enough for me to activate the device.
Looking down I blinked tears from my eyes at the taped picture of Jubatus from his time on Easter Island. Then I hid it with my arm and touched the control. The device activated, and once again I felt my mind ripped apart and thrust down the line of my life. And then I was myself studying for exams. With what I knew, the intrusion into NASA took 3.2 minutes, and another 15 seconds to send the destruct code.
It was done.
The police came and the situation was explained. I repeated my confession. A word to my bodyguards and they stood aside as I was handcuffed. Eleven minutes, 12 seconds later, the amount of time it took the destruct signal to travel from Earth to the Beagle II probe, my world shattered...
The Blind Pig: Christmas Eve 2039
In a timeless instant my mind was ripped asunder, thrown into countless quintillions of alternate selves. Trillions were insane, pushed over the edge by what SCABS did. Trillions more were affected differently. Changed into mice, rabbits, plants, inanimate objects, polymorphs, chronomorphs, inanimorphs. Trillions and trillions had died in the plague, their minds snuffed out. In trillions more the plague had never occurred. And in almost every one it was a disaster. Violence, rioting, shortages, invasion, war, madness, starvation...
Death, hatred, fear, terror...
And in not one had humanity attained the stars. Not a one.
All I could do was scream...
My scream was still echoing between the friends crowded around me, and the first thing my wide, tear-filled eyes saw was Jubatus leaning over me. Filled with memories of lost love I almost threw myself around him and sobbed on his shoulder. "I was wrong... I was wrong..." tumbled from my mouth. Tentatively, gently, Jubatus gathered me in his arms and slowly rocked me back and forth like a fragile child.
Reluctantly the details faded, the trillions of lives and fears and horrors. And loves.
Calmer now, I looked into his eyes, seeing his fear as he shied away.
I would not lose him. Like a fiction I had seen visions of the past, the present, and the future, not one, but a near infinite number. Unwillingly I released my grip on Jubatus and stood on my own, forcing myself steady. Now was not the time, my social skills were suddenly glaringly inadequate. But I would change that. First though I needed to bring normality back to the party so that I could understand what had happened, though I knew what it meant. "Now where was I..?"
"A toast..." Jubatus began, uncertain, and I knew he was ready to yank me out to his vehicle. He wanted to know.
"Let not my momentary disability halt the festivities. To the Grand Unified Equation, which I will someday unravel."
I could feel Jubatus' stiffness and hesitation still, so to help him relax I whispered, "I have it, but I'll never tell."