Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Big Cat II: Mr Kitling's Cakes

Mr. Kitling's Cakes

From the casebooks of Guy Leopold; Were-PI. As transcribed later by his ex-petbot secretary Clarice. (For the account of Clarice’s rescue from petbotters, readers are referred to casebooks tape 2, spool 12, or to the popularisation “The Big Cat” in the collection “The Cat Who Walked Through Time”.) As prepared for publication by Guy Leopold’s literary agent Simon Bucher-Jones

[Transcription of transmission, augmented with material from later police reportage]

The creaking of the glass and iron framework, upon which - most uncomfortably I may say - I was lying, drowned the faint voice of the man in black, (and the slimy tones of his associate) quite effectively. Luckily I had a resonance laser playing on the glass, transferring the impact of air molecules on it back into patterns a pocket comp could interpret and feed into a plug into my right ear. My right ear twitched with satisfaction. This was, as they say – the goods.

I was feeling quite satisfied with the stakeout, stretched out in my leopard form, the evidence trickling ticklingly in my ear, and to a record disc, and a tight-beam satellite link to a mainframe elsewhere (it pays to take no chances). I had a subvocaliser at my throat and was dropping into the mix those little witticisms that make retired PI’s either a wow on the after-dinner speaker circuits of Hellandback City, or a corpse at the bottom of a sulphur pit with their feet (all four) in plasticrete overshoes. Some people don’t like witticisms. Go figure!

My present case ought to have been straight forward enough; this saturnine and secretive man had come from nowhere, bought out a bakery, and gone from obscurity to possessing 87.3% of the Hellandback City baked goods market in three weeks. A figure in a trench coat, mirror-shades, and dark glasses had come to my office claiming to represent his remaining competitors wanting to know why. I of course, saw the figure sway alarmingly in the middle at one point, and a furry paw protrude from its midriff. [Ha, Clarice, you didn’t realise I’d noticed did you.] But what the heck, if a group of ex-petbots who’d gone into bakery security had got their fur ruffled over the new owner bringing in outworld kitty patrols, that was as good a reason for me getting paid as a noses-out-of-joint set of pastry chefs.

At least I thought that, before I found out about the killings. Silly, sadistic murders – and strangely unnecessary ones, if murder can ever be necessary. Hellandback City is many things - I often think when a man is tired of it, he's tired of strife - but it isn't the galaxy's highest per capita front-end sales point for pikelets, banburies and scones. 87.3% of the local sales is a far whack of the old mazumas, but not worth some cake-lord of the Outer Bakeries storming in with gleaming cyberkitchens and staff from the Currantbunneries of Yan. Not worth strife. Not worth murder.

A week ago, Mr. Theophilus Stuffright of Stuffright & Siblings Reknowned Baked Goods, had sleepwalked into his central oven, and nestled down for a nap on the cold metal (undergoing servicing) surface. Unfortunately he had still been there when the pastry-layerers went online, and hot-jam and criss-cross latticed him to death.
Five days ago, Maggy D'Alen of the old Colonial Grant Cherry-Puff Concessions had been found drowned in her own special cherry fondant recipe. Another baker had been found cooked in an amusing Scotch egg. Industrial accident with a giant display model, the insurance company said.

So, I wasn’t as amused and witty as I might have been, even though things were going down on the ear very nicely in a “hear chatty criminals incriminating themselves” phoneline way. I’d just sent a blipdump of their chat (and my interjections / thoughts) for transcription, and I was trying to decide what to do, because it had been frankly weird. And that, officer [subvocalise transmission off in five seconds] is what I was doing at 2.00 am Hellandback Central Time on the roof, just before your police air-cruiser spotted me, and my paws slipped.

[transmission blip, re-spool five minutes, recording for transcription -]

They seem a very ill sorted twosome. One, the front man – Mr Saturnine – neat beard, finicky neat black suit, too tight collar, gold thread chasings round his throat. [No, Clarice – I couldn’t hear all that obviously, that was snipped straight off a regular street-cam]. Hard to imagine him up to his elbows in flour and water.
The other – I’ll get to him in a minute - I haven’t got a convenient safety-cam shot of, he apparently doesn’t leave the bakery, and the implication of that thanks to our surveillance earlier is that he must have been brought there in a box. I’m not joking. I counted the workers in and out, before seemingly Mr. S swapped the place over to full automatics, and he ought to be the only organic life in there. Except his cats. I’ve seen them on patrol, big bruisers, scraggly looking but tough. The other isn’t a cat though. He sounds…squelchy.
Mr. S likes to stroke his cats and talk to himself. I’m boosting him to pick-up level now…..[Did you get a micro-dot cam on your friend’s collar? Yes its going live now….]

“Are you familiar with Tipler's theory of the Omega Point, little puss?” ,the man in black asked, scratching the tabby behind one ear.

“Of course, she isn't,” his companion hissed, his voice bubbling and burbling out from under his slouch hat, “She's a cat, just a cat, not one of your pets.”

[This is me again, and that noise was the other talking. Like listening to a vat of oil being heated. No part of him was visible from the roof, but I could hear (thanks to my gadget) the sticky slopping sloop-sloop noise as he moved from place to place, nervously like a fat man jigging from one foot to another if the fat man were composed entirely of rancid slime. He hasn’t walked into the tiny micro-dot cam field, and candidly I don’t think I want him too.]

“No?” Mr. Saturnine inquired sardonically. 'Your insight astonishes me, I recovered your remains for one purpose and one purpose only. That purpose terminates tonight!”

“And I will be glad of it,” the bundled figure [I got a glimpse of him then, imagine a walking bolster, a great white chef’s outfit tied tightly around a bulbous form, as if it’s bursting out would defy some local law] exclaimed. “You recall your promise to me. Full and complete control of the bakery market on this world together with the technology to expand my grasp to sweetmeats, and finally... confectionery!”

“Yes, yes,” the neatly bearded man said, never ceasing to let his black gloved hands stroke the cat's hair, “You will be in charge of sweets again soon enough, my obsessive-compulsive friend. Maybe even export them to Terra Alpha. I could deliver them, past every danger. A man in black, leaving your calling card on the dressing tables of the mighty. Would you like that?”

“You mock me, when it is my skill with kitchenware that has brought you to this.”

“No, no - never mock. We need each other you and I for this night. I need you to have recreated the ancient recipe, nothing else will do, for what I intend.”

[And as the white marshmallow of a man oozed its way from oven to shining oven, the man in black began again to talk to the purring tabby. Good kid your cousin, she was holding up well.]

“Tipler believed, my puss, that the explanation of the universe lay not in the past but in the future. He thought that the hard anthropic principle, ensured that at the end of time, the universe must tend to an Omega Point Deity. A life able to seize control of time and space, to engineer the universe's final collapse, to justify and make of the past an inviolate logical necessity.” [Memo to self buy hard physics book, I could do with the sleep.]

His eyes, in the micro-dot cam field, shone yellow as he spoke like a cat's; but just hearing his voice, I knew that despite that there was no possible kinship between him and me. Oh I was twinned with a cat to help me kill. The old game of Rat and Dragon they call it, after a story written years ago on Old Old Earth before the bombs went up and the bombs came down, see, but even so he was a worse dragon-cat that ever I’d been.
His voice was hard and cold even as it crooned; a voice hypnotic yet painful.
“Oh I have traveled, puss, and seen stupid races try to realise that vision, to end with puffy incontinent group-minds dribbling their senile way into the more recent eternities. Tipler spoke not of the end of a single galaxy, but of the Finality itself. His Omega Point would be a mechanism of the Ultimate End, realised in the final attoseconds of the Great Collapse. In that tiny time using the infinite shear energy from the collapsing void, his chosen race would pack infinite computations. Enough to model eternity in perfect emulated space. A universe, or all universes recreated under their or its perfect and eternal control.”

To his right, the snorting mass of his associate fumbled at a chopping board, bringing a cleaver down again and again. Working itself into a kind of frenzy.
With a final accidentally wide chop, it severed a thick pink finger, only to grasp it and smush it back bonelessly onto its hand. It re-adhered itself with a sound like worms kissing. [Memo to self get the sound pick ups de-sensitized so they just give me dialogue…euugh.]

Mr. S again:- “My people are aware of Observers, puss. The Gods (lesser deities no doubt) of Ragnarok, the forces behind the Land of Fiction (sometimes called the same, othertimes not), the Eternals. Empty vessels waiting to be filled with life. We are not convinced that to be observed is the be-all of existence, we are not convinced it is, entirely safe.”
A wave of heat filled the narrow chamber, as the man in black manipulated an iron door, sweat beaded momentarily on his high Shakespearean brow.
“For a time, I have noticed a tendency, in me, little puss. A predilection, let us say. A habit.” He smiled. “Villainy. Destroying this, stealing that, plotting the other. I began to wonder. My life had become almost a sequence of stories, always intertwining around the gullible and the foolish, it seemed I could not land on a world without stumbling over superscientific weapons. Anywhere I went there was another race waiting to invade. Children, leaderless children crying out for guidance. It was a heady life, and yet… and yet…. was it all my choice? Even now, I cannot set up a business without chancing on the moldering robotic remains of its most diabolic practitioner, without finding the necessity of amusingly dispatching competitors that in all, ha, honesty, were really beneath my notice. Is it, I ask myself, likely?'

He twirled dials. At his direction his shrouded minion - his “diabolic practitioner” - stuffed his choppings into the oven.

“What if I was an entertainment. What if this future Omega Point God was not benevolence but a gawping infant still crooning for tales of the nursery. Tales of good, tales of evil. Tales with a Proud Mephistopheles, who never finally is defeated, but rises again.” He paused. “Rises!” he gasped, darting at his machinery, like a man with a rouge soufflĂ©. “What, if I had no other existence but those moments in which I lay within its omniscient gaze. What if I killed for its amusement?”

He stripped a glove from one hand and laid a finger on the cat's soft nose. “What then, puss? What if the Master mouse could not amuse the Cosmic Cat a moment Longer?”

He sighed. “I've been trying to think. How did I escape Castrovalva, or did it start before then? Why did I always set a dozen traps, within traps? Was I, the watched, taking on the characteristics of the Watcher? Hmm. That's when I thought of you. Ubiquity is the Cat's middle name, they say. On ancient Gallifrey, there you were. On Earth, the Doctor's little bungalow of a world, there you were. And on Bandragenus 5, and on Xenica, and from the Orion deeps to the Gulf of Galaxy 9. My mindlink with the Kitlings taught me much of the inner workings of your minds.”
His eyes now were close to the cat's own. Big in the micro-dot cam. [I felt myself going under for a minute there Clarice, the bugger’s got the devils own convincing eyes.]

“Where did you evolve? Did the Osirians spread you across space-time with their mummies and pyramids? Oh I doubt it. I think I know what watches through the Cat's Eyes, across all the worlds that live. I see your jade-windows into the Omega Point, my puss.”

With his other hand he flung open the oven, and a smell of delicious Whiskas (that lost delicacy of the 20th century, 9 out of 10 cats prefer it) rose into the air. In that instant of distraction, his eyes darkened and grew large.

“I AM THE MASTER AND YOU WILL OBEY ME.” Viciously he flung his will down the eons…
[The micro cam does not confirm what I believe to have happened. I felt it though, perhaps because I too am part cat; on a good day. I have to dictate this, quickly Clarice I can feel it oozing out of my mind like jelly, and I can hear a cop-flyer swooping and snooping over to my right, mustn’t let that distract me, got to tell you….]

And the end of the universe quaked. The Omega Point is a logical necessity, it cannot not exist because at least one of the worlds in the many worlds bundle of timelines that together make up the over-history of the universe MUST lead to it. But there is no guarantee which species will build it, nor having built it, that they will retain control.

Once there was a convergence. The million Cats of the Khan of Gallifrey caterwauling in their giant stadium; weaving the spells that bound them into the universe, before the Pythia was thrown down. That was the history of magic.

Once there was a convergence. The million cybercats of Mondas, test subjects for the conversion process, their brainpans enhanced, silently slitting the throats of their still mostly organic experimenters. Later they would conquer the ice-dwellers of Telos, and return for their cousins of Earth. That was the history of science.

Once there was a convergence. The petbotted cats of Hellandback City, in revolt, raising an army of weres and ex-PIs. They would corral man; lead to an emancipation of the underspecies, lead again in time to a pan-species evolutionary leap. This was the history of cyberpunk.

The histories of the cats were strong strands in the overhistory, any one might reach unchecked to the Omega Point, give its descendants the right and power to design all the universe from Event One to Event Two.

The Master knew he had only a brief time - if time could be measured there - within the consciousness of this peripheral part of the God-mind. Within one of the eyes with which the multiverse chooses to regard itself.

He pushed. The cats of Gallifrey dwindled into a story for children. He pushed again. The cats of Mondas were left to hunt rats among the freezing ruins as the race of man turned its scalpels on itself.

His gaze turned to the history of Hellandback City. Hardly a challenge this, its location so pinched and cribbed, its economy ridden with corruption. He almost liked it, but even so it had to pass. It amused him that he could keep his promise to the ex-sweetmaker and still leave him nothing but a burned out ruin. Without it the Omega Point would be built by men, gullible men, and built in man's image. While not quite a Time Lord's eternity he felt he could fit in to a universe envisaged by man. It would need a Master.

He reached out mentally for a spur in the timeline.

What’s that? The cop-flyer, no! [transmission transcription ceases]


[Transcription HnBKcPD Department Report 109: Witness statement continues….]

It was about then, officers, that you buzzed me, the roof gave way and I fell into the bakery. My name's Guy Leopold (yes, sadly I discovered that by putting the sign up for over six months wrong, the Landlord had in Hellandback City law changed my name by declaration). I'm a PI. I'm also an ex-fighter pilot which means I'm twinned with a wereleopard for reflexes, and I weigh a good four hundred pounds (I've been dieting). I'm afraid I fell on your suspects. Yes, it does look like that one's broken.

Yes, I did have inside info. This tabby here staggering about - I suggest you put possession of a controlled substance on your charge sheet, is Macavity, a colleague of my secretary Clarice. She's an ex-petbot and in with the petbot security guard company. They had sacked all the petbots and put some mangy alien cats on patrol. It was basically a demarkation, blackleg, problem. We got hired to catch him doing something illegal so the union could bring in the law. Macavity here volunteered to go in as a ringer for one of the alien cats.

No, I didn't know anything about four and twenty bakers found in a pie. How did they fit? Oh, he'd shrunk them; I'm glad, I was thinking about mincing. No, that wasn't a joke officer.

Do I think he might have some kind of vendetta against bakers? No, I can't see why he should have. No nor male cats either for that matter? Toms? I shouldn’t think so.

Still; he came off worse when I landed on them, his corrosive friend was between him and the floor. He ran off clutching his face as if it were melting, I'm sure you could catch him.

What's that Macavity? You think some criminals have nine lives? Well, at least it's out of our hands, even if he escapes them he's practically dying. It's not as if he's going to be out and about delighting the public, trying to work up to some big finish.

And as he went back to his office Guy Leopold thought that Macavity’s eyes were a deeper and more mysterious jade than ever, and he forgot utterly the things he thought he had experienced when the Master had hypnotized her.

And the Cat (who if you care to look at it that way, was every Cat), winked. And later Clarice and Macavity exchanged that look, that cat’s have, that signifies that they have, finally, everything well in paw.

[Story intended for The Cat Who Walked Through Time 2, which now seems unlikely to ever be published]

Simon BJ [Post for 14th May 2009]

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