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The Seven Habits, Plus One More

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The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People:

Be proactive

Begin With the End in Mind

Put First Things First

Think Win-Win

Seek first to Understand, Then to be Understood

Synergize

Sharpen the Saw

 

And the extra habit:

Find your voice and inspire others to find theirs

 

 

 Be proactive

Talks about the concept of Circle of Influence and Circle of Concern. Work from the centre of your influence and constantly work to expand it. Don't sit and wait in a reactive mode, waiting for problems to happen (Circle of Concern) before taking action.

 

 

“Last snowflake oooooutta bed gets to detail the bus!”

“Oh craaaap,” Jake groans. 

Cougar grunts.  It is one of the disapproving grunts, of which he has many.  Then there’s a soft click of metal. 

“Oh damnation and crap with big black ants on it,” Jake sighs, and prises open one eyelid.  But he knew already.  

Yep, that noise was the sniper cleaning his Stoner rifle.  Was.  Now he’s not.  Now he is putting away his cleaning gear. 

Bad news. 

The gun was, of course, already perfectly clean and very well-oiled before he started.  The man does this when he’s tired, when he’s bored, when he’s restless, when he’s ignoring hints, when he’s mad as hell, when he’s not talking, when he’s not actively on a job, whenever he thinks he needs to, and also just because, every few hours in between all of those.  It also means Cougar has been up since oh-five-thirty-- that’s sleeping in late for the Cat in the Hat-- and of course he would have made *his* breakfast hours ago, well ahead of the shambling herd.  There won’t be a scrap left in the place since the others ate their way through the remaining fresh food.  

The best scrambled-egg chef in the lot will not be making a new pan of bacon-scented bliss for Jake now.  

Who, silly boy, was still all wound up into the oh-four hour, out of completely infuriated boredom arguing about rules for engagement in his least-favorite MMPORG and not getting anywhere with boring boring BORING long compile jobs searching for money traces on Max and Goliath financials.  God, financials.  Jake groans again. 

Also, the Pooch is not joking.  The current bus is a big ugly stolen local warlord’s quasi-Army truckie van hybrid thingie, currently covered in huge lumps of dried yellow clay alternating with thick red gruel with leaves in, plus big fat jungle bug splats--some splats are so poisonous Jake breaks out  in hives whenever he has to clear off the windshield.  

Which is what the Pooch means by detailing:  Clearing the glass and mirrors and headlights and door seals and brake pedal enough to be able to get in and drive the damn thing, but not enough to ruin its prehistoric camo job and earn another of those grunts from Cougar.  The sniper prefers the vehicle covered in more fresh leaves instead of old dead ones, which will blend in better if he has to use that as his sniper hide.  The bugs in the trees have to be pretty damn venomous, or army-ant overwhelming, before Cougar will settle in a vehicle instead of a tree in wet poisonous scrub like this place.  It makes him grumpy. 

Jake scrubs at his eyes, rakes his fingers through his hair, and swings his legs out of bed, sits there with his head in his hands.  There’s fading welts all down his arms from yesterday’s camo job.  And yes, that job was graded by Cougar’s scowly face, the whole afternoon, as pathetic.  Everyone could tell which parts were done by Cougar.  Jake tried to claim the patchiness on all his bits of camo just made it more convincing; but no, that was not flying with the rest of the Losers. 

He hears a scuff of boot sole, which is one of Cougar’s ways of demanding attention. 

Jake sniffs in self-pity and ignores it. 

Then there’s a warmth, a whiff of some kind of smoke, wafting up to his nose, and he blinks and raises his head. 

Divinely mingled scents of onion and egg and bacon and salsa and-- 

Just under his nose, Cougar’s hand is holding out a fat burrito in thick folds of his plaid shemagh, the heavy wool scarf that he uses for everything.  The burrito is bursting with scrambled eggs and bacon and chopped tomatoes and onions and other mysterious kinds of produce. 

“Nnnnng?” Jake says from somewhere back in his molars. 

“Financials, then detailing,” Cougar says. 

“Nnn,” Jake agrees, both hands coming up to cradle the warm food in the scarf.  

Cougar just looks at him.  But there’s the tiniest of crinkles by one eye.  Just a hint of it. 

Oh god, there’s bacon.  It doesn’t even have to be good bacon, but it is. 

“Mmmhhhm,’ Jake says, almost tearfully grateful. 

“De nada,” Cougar says, and walks off toward the kitchen.  There’s a self-satisfied swing to his hips.  But then, there nearly always is. 

“Mmmm,” Jake says, gazing after the cook who clearly got up earlier than oh-five-dark-thirty, must have gone out and bought food-- ghods only knew where, so there will be more camo knocked off in need of repairs-- and then cooked and then saved this massively well-made breakfast.  “Mm um um.”

Yes, pathetic gratitude is a thing.  Especially for Jake.

 

 

 

Begin With the End in Mind

Envision what you want in the future so you can work and plan towards it.

 

“Choooocolate,” Jake whispers.

Cougar squints up under his hat.

“Not sweet stuff,” Jake adds hastily.  “Dark evil chocolate with a really bad attitude.  Artisanal free-trade tiny-shop-in-Maine 86 per cent chocolate solids that’s beaten up other chocolates and swiped all their chocolate liquor--”

Cougar tilts the hat a minimal degree to indicate interest.

“You’re not gonna let him electrocute you, are you?” the Pooch says in a voice sadly lacking in trust.

Jake straightens up.  “You got a whole new drive train for the bus outta my last experimental rig slash fundraiser!”

The Pooch grunts.  The skepticism is strong with that one.

“I know, I know, we shoulda ditched the bus and coughed up ten big ‘uns to buy that squeaky yellow Hummer that Roque wanted,” Jake says.

“When in doubt, go with the yellow Hummer owned by every rock band that’s beat the rounds of this damfool banana republic,” Roque says over the headset.  “At least you know it’s been through everything we could ever do to it.”

“Including the grenades.”

“Yes.  And bonus, then everybody assumes we’re a rock band.”  Roque sounds smug about it.

“Nobody thinks you’re a musician,” the Pooch says. “Or you either, Captain Underpants.”

Jake glares at the Pooch, then he blinks around at Cougar.  Jake, the big dork, is standing there in his Spiderman underwear with his big scruffy jaw stuck out at this insult to his delusional mental state.

“If you can’t even play a damn harmonica--” the Pooch shakes his head.

Jake keeps looking at Cougar, pouting.

Cougar tilts the hat in a brief, negative motion to indicate that, sadly, this is indeed the truth.  Nobody would believe either of those guys is in some kind of band. 

Jake might claim to be a roadie, but he’s awfully clean and sober for that, even in scruffy full-grown beard, clay-stained raggedy pants, and torn tee shirt with a cracked, peeling, ancient Atari logo.  That was all the clothes he packed for the trip.

“Or Arnold Schwarzenegger's crew on a movie shoot,” Jake says.

“No,” the Pooch says.

“Security for Ahhhhnold,” Jake repeats.  The man is stubborn.

The Pooch just huffs in disgust.

At Jake’s glance, Cougar just tilts away the hat brim:  No way.

“But Roque could pull out his third-biggest knife and make anybody pee their pants--”

Cougar huffs a soft noise down his nose.  Roque is an even worse fit for any role in anybody’s Security team.  Not boring enough.  He’s way too fucking scary to be merely somebody’s evil Security chief with a knife fetish.

“Hey, Clay could cover just fine as the tour manager,” Jake says, trailing off as if he knows it’s just a last, weak effort and nobody will buy that either.

“Until Aisha shows up and nails some poor dumb fucker who’s somebody else’s ex,” the Pooch says.

“With a flamethrower,” Roque says flatly.

“Yeah, old school, gotta love it,” the Pooch agrees.

Jake sighs.

“Give it up, the dream is dead,” the Pooch says.  “Bad roadie, no cookie for you.”

“But really short-term, Clay could cover that pretty well.  Maybe as a really sketchy, scroungy band manager--” Jake says.  He doesn’t fold in cards either, the damn fool.

“Too late, you’d already know it when Clay’s fighting with his other girlfriends and getting all Hong Kong movie rock-‘em-sock-’em.  Then, hell, Aisha shows up in the middle of that, your cover’s well and truly blown,” Roque says.  His voice sounds calculating, distant, the way he talks about dog and cockfights.  That means he’s thinking about betting on the odds with somebody.  Or several of them.  He must know something they don’t.

“Yeah, she doesn’t exactly slide under the radar,” Jake agrees.  “But hey, don’t all bands have the crazy hanger-on chick?”

The Pooch sighs.  “So, you’re in a yellow Hummer playing as a band, you’re trying to play music, right?  Right, man?  So where’s your musicians?  Where’s the band in the band?”

“Hey, hey now, gotcha keyboards, right here,” Jake says, flapping both hands at the Pooch.

The Pooch snorts.  “Naaa, you can’t sing for shit, and even a crummy one-Hummer band manager won’t sign some pathetic spazz who can’t dance and sings like those goddamn bullfrogs in those goddamned slimy water jars.”

“At least you know the water isn’t poisoned,” says Roque, dead-pan.

“Oh, so you’ve been in some of the fun places too,” says the Pooch.

“No thanks to the Company and their goddamn stupid ideas,” says Roque.

“Shit, we ain’t even got a lead or a bass or anybody who can dance.”

Jake just waves at Cougar.  “Oh, no problem.”

“Cougar won’t dance.  Doesn’t matter, cause he just won’t.”

“And you’re right, it doesn’t matter.  He can just...lean into the mike.  Ask yourself, who’s the serious chick magnet?”

“Right, and what kinda music would the Man lower himself to perform live?  Right.  Everybody would assume fuckin’ Dead-Eye Dick here in the leather vest is a finicky soloist who just plays dainty classical guitar and maybe sitar and some weird kinda drums,” the Pooch agrees in that tone which ridicules every word he’s uttering.  “Like teeny marimbas or something.”

“Santana,” Cougar says mildly, and everybody looks at him.

“Okay, yeah, that I’d believe,” Jake says.

“Oh hell,” the Pooch says, flinging up his arms and turning away.

“Chocolate,” Cougar says patiently.

“Even with electrocution?” the Pooch says.

Cougar smiles.

“Oh hell, TMI, just get the hell outta here, I don’t need to know any of this,” the Pooch says.

Cougar puts up his hand, tilts the hat in salute, and saunters out after Jake, who is away and trotting for his gear, halfway down the building by then, babbling all the way about adjusting the harness to fit the Cat in the Hat.

 

 

Put First Things First

Talks about what is important and what is urgent.  Priority should be given in the following order:

1) Important and Urgent

2) Important and not-urgent

3) Not Important and Urgent

4) Not important and Not urgent

 

  • “Never touch the hat. Right, got it.  I promise.  Ulp, please don’t -- ouch, that-- ouch!”

 

  • “Nerve centers, the gift that keeps on giving,” said Cougar's first DI, demonstrating the point with great precision. Of course he was right. But then DIs are always, by definition, right.

 

  • If you learn the facts on the ground do not support what your DI has taught you, the world is in a bad way and your job is to avoid making things worse. Observation will help you avoid a lot of very bad news moving very fast, very carefully aimed at fools all around you.

 

  • Cougar’s final dictum:  The world is full of fools hurrying to make things worse.  You will inevitably be one of them at times.  Don’t add on to your fool count any more than blind circumstances impose on you.

 

 

Think Win-Win

Value and respect people by understanding a "win" for all is ultimately a better long-term resolution than if only one person in the situation had gotten his way.

 

“You’re past curfew,” Roque says.

Even his fourth-best knife is damned scary in his hand.

“But it’s only eleven, I just checked--”

“You’re not in Hollywood any more, soldier.”

“Oh-- oh daa-- yeah, I forgot.  Prolly cuz I slept through the flight.  Well, I know it really looks like I’m just a silly redshirt waiting to get zapped by a Klingon or a Romulan or something--”  Somehow, Jake has retained the careful habit of not swearing around a superior officer.

“Do you know why we have curfew?” Roque asks softly. This does not make it any less scary.

“So we don’t wake up Clay?” Jake is whispering, at last.

“That’s right.  I don’t feel like wandering around Miami looking for dog fights or card games or picking fights, cuz he won’t go back to sleep.”

“Too late,” Aisha says behind Jake, making him jump two feet and stumble into a door knob, crashing open the closet door.  She pushes his shoulder, righting him effortlessly in place, and reaches in past him to the racks of coats and backpacks and armoury.  She puts on a jacket, loads things into the pockets and onto her belt.  “Roque, tell you what, swap shift with me.  I’ll take Clay on a plain old no-frills walk for a couple hours, he needs the exercise anyway.  Jake, get me those financials in my list by the time I get back and we’ll call it even.”

She goes back in the bedroom.  After a few minutes, Clay comes out with her.  He puts on a jacket too, loads it up, and nods once to Roque.  Then they walk out the back door quietly.

“Is it just my imagination or did she just talk about our boss like he’s a big ol’ working dog who needs a five mile run every day?”

“He does,” Roque says, glaring down at Jake, and then he puts away his knife and goes down the hall soundlessly.  He can make walking, just plain walking, soundlessly creepy as hell.

“How come Roque didn’t yell at you?” Jake demands.

Cougar shifts the brim of his hat in a negative manner, and points upward at the rope dangling from the skylight.  Then he unfolds his arms and pushes aside the thin, scratchy blanket over the couch.  He drew the short straw when they got the place.

“Oh, so you’re too good for doors now?”

Cougar shrugs.  Then he nods significantly toward the other bedroom door, where the Pooch can be heard grumbling and noisily rolling over.  They wait some time, listening, until things are quiet again.

Jake sighs, and whispers, “Okay, want to nap on my bed while I’m on the net working?”

Cougar thinks about it, nods, and gets up.  Discarding the scratchy blanket on the lumpy couch in favor of Jake’s silly Superman sheets and ridiculous purple comforter is no hardship at all.

 

 

Seek first to Understand, Then to be Understood

Use empathic listening to genuinely understand a person, which compels them to reciprocate the listening and take an open mind to being influenced by you. This creates an atmosphere of caring, and positive problem solving

 

“I am going to kiiiiillll you,” Roque says.  He’s not even shouting.

“Right,” Jake says.  “Right, hurrying--”

“I am going to take my littlest knife and pare off--”

“It was just a little Holi color bomb--”

“It was about seventeen of them!” the Pooch says, sounding really angry.  “Jolene thought we were under attack!  She thought it was grenades or something!”

“Oh,” Jake says, as if this fear had never occurred to him.

“She crawled under a bed with the shotgun!”   The Pooch really is angry.

“Tell Jolene I’m sorry, I never-- I didn’t-- I didn’t mean to frighten her--”

“Yeah?  Yeah, you just be better moving goddamn fast by the time she catches up with you!”

 Jake’s breath gets loud on the com, as if he is, indeed, running pretty hard.

“That was my last clean white shirt,” says Clay mournfully.  “Well, relatively clean, anyway.”

“Haven’t we had that conversation about not pranking your teammates?  At all, ever again?” the Pooch says.

“No, it was about not pranking teammates in a way that degrades their operational readiness--”

“Shuuuudup,” Roque says.

“Shutting up,” Jake says, huffing into the mike as he trots along, wherever he is.

 

 

Synergize

Combine the strengths of people through positive teamwork, so as to achieve goals that no one could have done alone.

 

“Oh come ooooon,” the Pooch yells.  There’s a spanging noise of tools falling, and then the silly cartoon noise of a metal wheel rim rolling and rolling until it settles at last on the concrete floor.  It’s amazing how often combining Jake with Pooch on auto mechanicking results in cartoon noises like this.

There’s a moment of silence.

“Sorry, man, it just dropped right out of my hands,” Jake says.  He really does sound sorry about it.  “Look, if I reach down through there and pull it--” 

“Don’t help,” the Pooch says sharply. 

There’s a peculiar sharp pop! and then gurgling noises. 

“What in the effing hell--” Clay says on the com. 

“I can just reach down there so you don't have to use the magnet wand--” 

“Shaaaaadddd UUUUUUuuuuup,” Roque roars into the com, to the point there’s a reverb effect from multiple echoes of his voice bouncing off nearby walls.  Probably tiled bathroom walls, judging by the hard reflections repeating several times. 

“Roque?  You got to the hotel?” Jake says, sounding surprised.  “The tracking showed you were way off in the other direction--” 

“No thanks to Clay’s lousy Russian,” Aisha snarls. 

“You should hear his Turkish,” Roque grumbles. 

“You’re in New York.  Wouldn’t Eritrean or Somalian be more useful?” Jake says. 

“No,” Aisha says.  “And don’t start with the damned list of all my languages, none of it helped.” 

“Waving money helped,” Roque says. 

“Oh well, that usually helps,” the Pooch says.  

Roque growls, “But sometimes, like that one time in Novosibirsk--” 

“Oh God, here we go with Russia again,” Aisha mutters. 

“Guys, can the chatter,” Clay says, annoyed. 

“Why? The Russian bugs already heard us,” Aisha snaps. 

A door slams, distantly, two mikes click off, and then there’s muffled shouting that doesn’t carry well over somebody else’s com. 

Roque gives that sigh that sounds like an entire rubber boat deflating on the com. 

“Hate sex coming right up,” Jake says cheerfully. 

“I hate you now,” the Pooch says. 

“Oh c’mon, admit it, you really really hated me two minutes ago,” Jake says.

“Yes,” the Pooch says.  “Yes, you’re right.  I really, really--” there’s a grunt, a spang of metal hitting something else metal, and forcefully bouncing off other metal things.  Then more things falling, multiple things about the size of oh, say a socket wrench, bouncing off other things.  There’s a yelp on the coms, a panted breath or two and laughter, and then two more mikes click off. 

In Cougar’s ear, Roque says, with huge sarcasm,”So you see, my secret plan to get people to improve their physical conditioning has paid off beautifully.” 

Cougar hums in agreement.  Everybody’s conditioning could use some help. It has been rather a long, stormy winter, after all.

 

 Sharpen the Saw

Balance and renew your resources, energy, and health to create a sustainable, long-term, effective lifestyle. It primarily emphasizes exercise for physical renewal, good prayer (meditation, yoga, etc.) and good reading for mental renewal. It also mentions service to society for spiritual renewal.

 

A guitar tango plays in the basement.  After a brisk five minutes of practice steps back and forth across the floor, loosening up the leg and foot muscles nicely, Cougar reaches down to the grip of the chainsaw, hefts it up.  He turns it to different angles under the long glare of the shoplight at the corner of the work area, frowning.  Then he sets the base of the bar in the jaws of the bench clamp, flips the knobbed handle of the clamp to tighten it onto the bar of the chainsaw just so.  Once that is fixed in place, the chain can be rotated.

Cougar uses his fingertips to push the chain around on the bar of the saw until he has found the correct labeled chunk of pointed metal.  This will help him gauge the correct angle of attack for sharpening.  He pushes down the saw’s lock bar to hold the chain in place and he applies the little gauge from there to other nearby teeth, and cocks up an eyebrow at what he finds.  No, this will not do at all.  Felling dead hardwood trees around the property is eating away the metal at an astounding rate, especially the really dense stuff like fallen dried-up oaks.

Flourishing a tool which racks all the correct files together, in time to the music, Cougar dances for a moment.  Then he stills in place just under the light, pausing to find the correct angles, and pulls the files across the teeth and rakers, together, sharpening it all with three and sometimes four draws.  Then he rechecks the sharpness and angles.

He sharpens one half of the set of chainsaw teeth, the ones pointed in the correct direction.  Every ten teeth, he takes a break to straighten up, stretch his back, and run a practice set of dance steps, smoothing out transitions among tricky combinations.  The turns and spins sound noisy on the concrete floor, and he works on choosing which steps will make noise and which will remain silent.  He hums under his breath, clicking his fingers to keep time.

When he returns to the first stretch of teeth that he filed, he measures sample teeth again, and smiles, pleased.  Of course he will have to unclamp and turn the saw around the other way to get at the alternate cutting teeth.  It is a routine job, but it takes deeply focused attention for some time.  It provides a break from any other thoughts.  It is almost as good as doing shooting drills at the gun range.

He spins open the bench clamp, lifts the saw, and just as he’s about to put it back in place, he hears the door knob upstairs jitter out a staccato metal noise.  Then comes the sighing of the basement door opening.  He grins to himself, and flourishes the chainsaw to the start of a new tango, and tests out his dance combinations, stamping, using the weight of the saw turning and flourishing at the end of his arm.

“Holeeey shiiiit,” Jake’s voice whispers, and there’s soft rasp of footfalls creeping down the steps, even avoiding the creaky fourth step.

Cougar swings the saw upward in final salute, and then swings it down perfectly, noiselessly, into the clamp, and yes, it is facing the correct direction to check and sharpen the other half of the teeth.  A swirl of his other hand and he’s tightened down the bench clamp, locked down the saw’s bar safety, swung up the filing tool, and tapped out a precise little metal *ting!* of percussion, and then the music falls silent.

“Si?” Cougar says coolly, turning to the hunched figure caught on the middle of the basement stairs.

Jake straightens up with a jerk.  “Bravo!” he exclaims, clapping furiously.  “Bravo!”

Cougar inclines his head a small degree, acknowledging the praise of the fanboy.

“No wonder you wear out your boot soles,” Jake says then.  “I mean, break dancing will do that too, of course, but I hear that--” and he’s off into a riff about an array of obscure early rap music pioneers. 

Cougar is too young to remember most of their names or their work.

That hasn’t stopped Jake, who is younger yet.  The fanboy has, of course, collected digital libraries in case the more atypical language or rhythms might prove to be useful resources for ops of some kind.  To be honest, he’s only used some of his really terrible mixes to project walls of noise to deafen everybody.

After a moment of disbelief, Cougar sighs, turns away, and bends to check the angles on the new set of teeth.  He ignores the happy burble swirling around him as Jake paces back and forth the length of the basement, waving his hands and expounding.

Then Jake picks up one of the toy plastic velociraptors he discarded on a shelf two days ago, and then another larger T. Rex toy.  He starts making fantasy reptile battle noises in between briefing Cougar on how to find the KT-boundary in sedimentary strata in their current local area.  He goes on flights of complete fantasy while theorizing on the size of the tsunami created when the asteroid killed most land animals larger than shrew-sized.

“Why do I want to know how to find the KT boundary a quarter of a mile away from here?” Cougar says finally.

“It’s a great marker!  Like, if you want to set up a meeting point that’s not explicit on the internet for stupid Max goons right away, then you tell the Pooch, hey look, find the KT at the fault line in the canyon down there and pick up the water cans and the gun cache I dropped there last week, and--”

Cougar glances up briefly.  “Hhhmm,” he responds, and goes back to squinting at saw teeth.

“I know, I know, you really don’t want to leave your gun cache out in the weather--”

Cougar grunts.  He’s aware of the list of ‘Panther Growls” lion vocal samples which Jake shared across their computers.  Weird that Jake thought he was being completely anonymous about it. He really assumed it was so simple and basic that nobody would ever figure out who put it together.  It took the Pooch about ten seconds to guess right, and his wife even less. 

But then, they agreed with Jake that it was hysterically funny.

“Okay, but say there’s an old mine digging there, with a locked bat-gate to keep all the kids out, and of course it’s a decent shelter, that’s where the Pooch would look first--”

At another grunt from Cougar, Jake says, “Hey, no, that state-installed bat gate?  It’s got a pathetic lock, my niece could pick that lock, no challenge whatsoever for the Pooch--”

Cougar grunts again.  He stands up, stretches his arms and legs and back, and goes back to sharpening.

“All right, granted, of course, some of these local neighbor’s spratlings could pick that pathetic lock even faster.  Swear to God the bunch I saw yesterday hanging out at the middle school probably have rap sheets a mile long for B & E, they prolly steal other kids’ bikes just to keep their hand in--” Jake pauses long enough to reach in, move the chain along the bar and then grip it in place, steadying the chain for Cougar to set the lock bar. Jake seems pleased at the vague nod of thanks from Cougar.

Cougar checks the next ten saw blade teeth and files at them while Jake picks up his toys and makes more battle noises and explains to Cougar how to recognize a KT boundary in the local rock layers.  In spite of claiming he can’t talk without waving his hands, keeping his hands full of toys doesn’t seem to impede his train of thought at all.

“What’s in the cave?” Cougar asks finally, bowing to the inevitable. 

There’s a thousand quotes from the Pooch that would fit this situation, and they may hear all of them before it’s over, but the one that springs to mind first is the classic choice.

“You knew it was a bad idea when you opened your mouth, didn’t  you?”

 

 

Find your voice and inspire others to find theirs

The 8th Habit is based on the idea of abundance mentality or abundance mindset, where a person believes there are enough resources and successes to share with others.

 

 “Cougs, can’t decide here.  Dunno why it’s different for Beth than if I’m working on stuff for Clay’s ops, but it is.  Should I get the witch hat or the unicorn dress or--” Jake says, flipping rapidly through an array of violently bubble-gum colored windows on his laptop.  The heavy gray clunker of a surplus laptop has had a startling amount of brain surgery done on it, to the point that it is capable of presenting a blinding array of commercial products designed for girls about a quarter the size and strength of his soccer-playing niece. 

“Let her pick,” says Cougar. 

“Oh, damn, no, her machine can’t handle this load on the graphics card, I just couldn’t get it upgraded in time--” 

“Five things,” Cougar says. 

“Oh jayzus on a camel, you’re a hard, hard man,” Jake moans, squinting into the overlapping dazzle on the screen. 

Cougar tilts the hat in agreement, amused.  

Jake leans his face onto his fist, chewing three fingernails at once.  “I just don’t know--” 

“Simple,” Cougar says. 

“Yeah, simple, keep it easy, get it down in scale, that’s a good idea.  Simplify everything before it gets to her machine.  I could pick some stuff and clean it up ahead of time, rip out all the shopping details and post it in a mock website myself, clean up the code and simplify the graphics so her machine could handle the download--”  he goes on for awhile, totally failing to close any of the open links. 

After awhile Cougar sits up, leans forward next to Jake, holds up one hand with the fingers spread:  Five. 

It’s more of a social effort than Cougar usually offers.  Jake looks at him, frowning, as if he’s worried about that now, on top of getting all tangled up in all the whirling possibilities. 

“More than My Little Pony stuff,” Cougar says mildly. 

Jake slumps back in his chair, looking at Cougar, with the wild colors from the computer screen smearing across his glasses.  “Oh, I hadn’t got to all that, I just--”  He flips his hands around, looking anguished for a moment.  Then he clenches his jaw, scowls, and hunches back into the keyboard, frowning mightily, pounding away at the poor thing with stiff fingers.  Windows pop up and disappear and distort like soap bubbles, leaving a final small array of two dozen.  Jake nods once, and turns around again. 

Cougar is still sitting up, elbows propped out on knees.  Cougar is still watching him. 

“Erm,” Jake says, as if that surprised him.  “Well, it’s a start.  What do you think?” 

Cougar points at a couple of windows.  “Sports,” he says.  He points at another batch.  “Dog stuff.  Halloween.  Science. Then the Pony stuff.”  He looks at Jake and holds up the five fingers as a reminder.  Then Cougar settles back in a slouch across the couch, crossing his boots to get his hip shifted at a different angle.  He knows it may take awhile for Jake to winnow out for those choices.  Awhile could be anything up to six hours, if the last time was any warning.  Jake puts effort into everything he does from afar for his niece, or for his sister. 

Odd, given how cheerfully Jake scatters words around all the time, but it turns out that Jake doesn’t respect words.  It’s got to be deeds over words, always, to prove his devotion.  Cougar can only watch in approval and admiration.  He hopes, one day, to prove himself worthy of such stubborn care.  That too may take awhile.