I'm told that the excellent, and long awaited, charity fanthology The Cat Who Walked Through Time II will be published this year, so in case any of you missed the first volume: here's a reprint of my story:
THE BIG CAT.
The Neon sign over my door reads Guy Leopold PI, I guess the landlord is too mean to change it, although I’ve asked often enough. There must have been a glitch in the set-up software, but I guess I can live with it. My lease covers adequate and accurate business signage, but then it also covers air-conditioning and there’s no trace of that either.
In a hot day I wear that office like a cheap suit; I mass three hundred and fifty pounds in my underoos, and stand four foot eight on a good day. One day I’ll afford a better office. The weight I guess I’m stuck with in this life.
My first client of the day didn’t show until five. She was from one of the ‘modelling’ agencies on Lower X level. You could see the splicing in her genes from twenty metres; she was a were-cat. She was an Ocelot probably; the scent gives them away, it’s like something tickling the nape of your neck. She stood six foot, and must have weighed in at all of a hundred and twenty. Some changers give anorexia a bad name. A friend of mine explained it to me once this way. “A typical changer built using your technology has certain inherent limitations.” He always said “your” like he had some vastly superior gadget up his sleeve, but if so I’d never seen him produce one. We don’t cross paths often, thank God, but when we do he’s always up to his neck in some Byzantine weirdness, weird even for the dross of Hellandback City. “Guy,” he said, “you’ll never see a were-hamster or a were-elephant, even with Bi-polar Dimensional Gene-Transformation technology; the forms are too out of synch, the heart would burst during the change.”
Lovely man, the Doc. He knows how to get to the gist. Taking my lead from his moniker I’d been yattering about my weight. Trying to take my mind off our then surroundings and his part in putting us there. Hearts bursting sure put loosing a few pounds into perspective. We had been on death-row at the time, before the Monkey-gland business broke. Maybe I still owed him one for my continued existance, if it hadn’t been him who’ld got us there in the first place.
Hearts bursting ha, that’s really what were-ocelots smell of to me. Raw meat smells, hitting the old receptors at the underside of the brain. I shook it off as her bodyguard oozed into the room. Made me look like a bit part player, sort of guy you’ll take for a were-gorilla if that splice had ever been known to take. An Ogron, but a bright one I’d guess, got himself a rumble-box to tone his language up to human standard, maybe some bootleg Dastari augmentation work. Maybe they just act dumb normally to screw up the humans.
“Miss Mina here, has proposition,” he said. The words coughed up out of his talk box, “she talks you listen”.
I nodded, no sense riling anybody. Cashflow’s, cashflow, as they say.
“I want you to find my sister,”
I kept nodding. So far it didn’t seem anything a good snifferbot or the police could handle. Hellandback City’s a teeny tiny place. Get a good DNA match and plug it into a type III cyberbloodhound and wait; you might find your quarry in bits but you’ll find them. Eventually.
“Here’s a photo, I can get you more, stereo, holo, you name it”.
The photo told me why she wasn’t running to the cops.
Her sister was a cat.
A domestic. So much for my Ocelot fixation.
It happens. Twins in a litter, one the splicing takes one it doesn’t. They tell me it’s not just genetics. They tell me the join-partners have to be sympatico. Sympatico my fat behind, I’d guess her sister’s bond partner got rubbed out in some crime spree before the splice could fix. Crime’s the big killer in Hellandback, just before that burst heart thing. That would have left a little kitty all alone with only her were-sister’s love between her and a ratcatcher’s remit at the five and dime. Me I’d wonder if that wasn’t better than high-heels at noon, and having her fur ruffled by photographers with and without film in their cameras but my life it isn’t.
“So where did you see her last?” I ventured, and a little suprised glance passed between them. I suppose they were expecting to get turfed out on their ears about now, maybe I wasn’t even the first to get this story of family woes only to laugh in their faces. People with a 100% pure human genome and the tax records to prove it still only get minimal rights in Hellandback City. The poor sell even those rights out getting a were-partner to fit them up for speciality work. Dolphin-boys fishing in Trident Bay; were-cats on the call-girl circuit, novelty men made to measure. The big predators gunning the fighter circuit. No one was going to waste time looking for a 100% animal. No one except me. I had a belly full of good reasons.
Of course I wasn’t expecting what came next.
“I think this man took her”. The picture she slapped on the table was an old two-d style print, black and white at that. Maybe she’d been doing high-fashion that day; had her cameras loaded for mood. Thing was I knew the man at once. Floppy hair, daft dress sense, air of more technological that thou. Oh Doc, catnapping, how the mighty were fallen!
I hope I kept my face blank.
“We think it’s a pet-botting ring,” the Ogron rumbled.
I winced, but I took the case.
* * *
I couldn’t see the Doc getting mixed up in pet-botting. Hell the whole idea of pet-bots was one of those that makes you think humanity evolved sideways from slime rather than gaining any moral stature on the way up. Take a closed urban society; a tiny hot-house of a world; in our case a city cramped between the sulfer lakes and the glass mountains, wedged in the crater of a hopefully extinct molten sulfer outlet. What ain’t you got? Much in the way of nature.
So your basic clerk, sitting with their hindbrain jacked into a desk; or drinking up in a Work Bar on the night shift, gets to yearn for a pet you know? Well working animals are a splicing resource here, and cost money, and no clerks got habi-cubicle room for a dog or a cat or a worm for that matter. Add all that up and inject that old greed hormone and what do you get. Pets snatched and filled full of electronics, desk terminals that mew, and have fur. Sicko cybernetics designed to make working a deeply soothing and pleasant ego-boost for the clerk and a drugged hell for the animal socketted into the desk. I guess I’m against it. Still no-one’s paying me to stop an industry; just to find a cat.
I went looking for the Doc. One thing I do know that did know was that you can’t track him by snooperbot. That time we both ended up on death-row, he’d got fingered by some smuck but a genuine human one, not a homeotropic mechanism. So I had to go round his haunts one at a time.
I picked up a lead in a Work Bar on the lower V level. Those places give me hives. I can see the appeal. Maybe too much. But something just rises in my gorge even so. Pickled people sipping their work in tall glasses; letting the adaptions in their neurological systems and their lymph glands process the problems built into their data-cocktails. Someone was vomiting as I barged through. A human resource drunkard who’ld been mixing in equal opportunities chasers; risking liver failure in pursuit of that last bonus. The drinks smell of wee. Too much second-guessing and peer review. Often you’ve got to take someone elses output as input. Perhaps my disgust had a real base to it after all.
The Doc had been in the previous night. He’d ordered a pint of Lunchtime Crossword, one of the few purely recreational drinks on offer, and he’d been carrying a cat. The cat had sipped the drink from a tin dish the Doc had fished out of a pocket. It had licked up a good quarter pint, if the barman wasn’t lying. He looked too far gone on Tax Accounting to be spinning a yarn. I’d never heard of anyone feeding human encoded problems to a pure-cat. I sure hoped the Doc hadn’t poisoned my client’s sister in a moment of absent minded sharing.
After that the trail went dead. None of the customers of the bar were with it enough to remember seeing the Doc or where he went. I settled for quartering the city, and walking back and forth. Three would be muggers and four propositions one of them sexual later my feet had swollen up like two big yeast-filled loaves. Oh, yeah, and the police pulled me over. Posing around in their leather coats and hover car like the something out of a Director’s Cut. I almost expected the voice-over I do in my head (It’s a PI thing) to go into their voices.
Routine. All us ex-fighters get the long leaseback option. If there’s a war I get pulled in faster than a fish in an Earnest Hemmingway novel. Okay that’s not so fast, but it is permanent. Every so often, they like to take me in. Get a sample in case there’s an unsolved case of mass overeating. Run me past their little bleeping combination night-tasers, and lie-detectors. Possibly a little tap with them too; just to see if I can keep my temper. They’re hot on ex-fighters with bad tempers. I just grin and take it. Well maybe not grin. Well maybe not take it.
So I end up in a cell. Smallish naturally, Hellandback hasn’t got room for extensive prisons. So I also end up nose to nose with this guy. Naturally it’s the Doc.
* * *
So I had this list of questions. Starting with where’s the cat? But before I could ask any of them, he had his hands over my eyes, palms down over the eyeballs, and I’m too startled to think – inappropriate body contact – or strike up and out in a basic combat move. Just as well really. I’d have been bound to have skinned my elbows on the cell walls, and anyway someone burnt through the wall behind him with a laser a second later and if I’d been looking over his shoulder my eyes would probably have boiled in their sockets. As for him, his coat was on fire, and he was throwing himself sideways into the remaining wall to put it out, and I was seeing all this through a red haze that I was hoping was just the after effects of the laser light even though I knew it wasn’t.
The Ogron through the burnt out pulse-laser to one side. He was just a dark Ogron shaped shadow in the hole in the wall, but I was pretty sure the was the same one who’d been with the model earlier. He smelt the same.
He was coming in with a steady bone breaking flexing of his big old empty hands; when he met me going the other way. Three hundred and fifty pounds of were-leopard.
* * *
On the whole the police were nice enough about it. A bit bemused but nice. The notion that the pet-botting ring would keep all their records in a state-of-the-art petbot made a certain sense. That the Doc had managed to make it piss out their security codes by feeding it a mixture of carefully measured alco-puzzles, was maybe a bit wilder. Don’t ask me how he’d gone from cat-pee stained litmus paper to something that could be read by the Policepaperwork sensor in the station toilets; but that’s the Doc.
Of course they’d hired me because; our past association was somewhere in Hellandback’s easily openable files. A hundred million stories in the Naked city and all of them hacked. The Doc wasn’t trackable, and maybe their cat was more cyber than organic as far as the snooperbots sniffed, but I was another matter. I found him. They found me. They put on the snatch.
That’s where it fell apart for them. The space-fighters use were-“big cats”. As an ex-fighter I’m a sad sack of a man; but as a cat; I’m a big one.
The Ogron was a big cheese in pet-botting. The police had wanted to put him under a psychic-hairdryer and perm secrets out of his brain for a long time. There was just enough left. Enough to show the gal was a straight hired hand; just there to spin me a tale. Enough to do some serious crimping of the pet-botting rings. There wasn’t a fee but there was a small reward. Enough to get a signwriter to change Leopold to Leopard.
The pet-bot? She’s my secretary now. I don’t socket her to a desk and I pay regulation wages. The Doc? I don’t ask and I don’t tell; and I still don’t know which of us owes the other.
----Read a further adventure of Guy Leopold PI, in The Cat Who Walked Through Time II coming soon ----