Nick J. Vincelli
Some people find the future intimidating, with threats from disease, technology, war, and societal disintegration. For others... well, it's a dog's life.
While I was in the middle of a deeply spiritual experience, the Home Management System warned me of unexpected guests.
"Alert! Possible intruder!" it exclaimed, reacting to information gathered through its infrared sensors. "Take precautions to secure your unit immediately!" The timing, of course, couldn't have been more offensive. I was conferring with my Creator, Leo the Lion.
I had purred in supplication to His Great Wisdom. "What do you want, my kitten?" the Great Lion roared majestically during our session. He nearly filled the room and emanated a fiery red celestial aura.
"I'm suffering from post-apocalyptic nihilism," I meowed.
"The wise cat does not worry himself with human concepts," my Creator sagely counseled. "He simply concerns himself with eating, sleeping, and burying his wastes."
Such wisdom! I had programmed Him well. But the Home Management System shattered the religious experience.
"Alert! Possible intruder. Take precautions to secure your unit immediately!" it reiterated. Hissing, I aimed my paw at a button on the wallscreen. The holographic image of Leo the Lion vanished, leaving void in its place. I activated the Home Security Subsystem to identify the source of the unwelcome encroachment.
I had expected to find a submarginal or, worse yet, a pre-adolescent human wielding a Micronuker, but the microcams deployed outside the door revealed two former members of Portland's Finest clad in PacificRim Security uniforms. I recognized them as Chuck and Bob, who once served on the Portland Bureau of the Police K-9 unit. An insipid pit bull, Chuck mindlessly barked and pawed at the door as if his chaotic gestures would intimidate it into opening. Bob, a somewhat more cerebral German shepherd who wore glasses and sported a bow tie, remained aloof, wisely conserving his energy for a future altercation.
The now-defunct Portland Bureau of Police had supposedly extended their officers' neurological capabilities with genetic engineering and nanotech neuroimplants, but I had my doubts. I've always believed if a mammal is born dumb, no amount of high-tech retrofitting will raise its intelligence -- and if the species itself is suffering from cognitive deficits, no amount of genetic tinkering will improve its members. Portland Police could have saved a lot of time and money if they had admitted the veracity of these unpleasant facts.
With a jab of my left paw, I initiated a vidphone connection. Both Bob and Chuck had portable Micronukers strapped to their backs. I expected trouble.
"What are you devolved wolves doing?" I asked.
"Don't mew at me like that!" growled Chuck, "I can decapitate your head in a nanosecond and spit out your marble eyes!"
"Easy, Chuck," cautioned Bob. "We just wanted to say hello, Tony."
"I doubt your intentions are that innocuous," I hissed.
"I'm warning you, whiskerface -- "
"We thought you might reconsider your decision," Bob barked, overriding Chuck's hostile outburst.
"To resign from Portland Police? They don't even exist anymore."
"That's not exactly true. We just got a new owner, that's all."
"PacificRim Security," I reminded them pedantically, "no longer uses mammalian law enforcement. They've completely converted over to VLE."
The Portland Bureau of Police had, in fact, begun to experiment with VLE -- Virtal Law Enforcement -- before PacificRim Security was contracted by Ecotopia. With better funding and organization, PacificRim Security further developed VLE. Now a 911 NetAlert dispatched a team of robots, remotely controlled by datasuited law-enforcement technicians in the Kingdom of Hawaii. PacificRim was also experimenting with intelligent law-enforcement robots so that human interface could be dispensed with altogether.
I now understood the motive behind Bob and Chuck's visit: they wanted to snatch the VLE equipment I had permanently borrowed from Portland Police before I told them to take their job and lick it.
"But," whimpered Bob with lowered head, "we still need your abilities, Tony. We know you're the best feline detective in the business. We're fighting the war on terrorism addiction and we need your talent."
"Thank you, but the answer is still no. I prefer self-employment."
"I bet he just spends his time chasing rats and cockroaches!" Chuck interjected.
"I'm in business for myself. I'm an Animal Companion Tracker," I wearily explained.
Chuck burst into canine laughter. "Bark, bark, bark, barrrrrrr...!" Saliva dripped off the idiot's limp tongue. "So you catch lost pets!"
"If you gentledogs will excuse me, I have some work to do," I meowed.
"Well, I didn't think you were going to make this easy for us, so we'll have to do this the hard way," Bob growled.
"We got a warrant for your arrest," Chuck triumphantly announced. "You can access it on EctopNet."
"What is the charge?!"
"There are several," explained Bob. "Theft of a VLE system and abandonment of duty."
"I dispute both charges, since my former employer no longer exists. I suggest you access my legal representation program -- "
"You've got five seconds to open this door, puss, or we're nuking it!"
Lifting his right leg as if he was going to relieve himself, Chuck activated and armed the Micronuker strapped to his back. My back began to arch as my ears flattened.
"Okay, pooches, you win. I'll let you in," I meowed.
"That's the smartest thing you mewed all day, kitty," Chuck barked.
I commanded the Home Management System to unlock and open the door. The two canine centurions swaggered in, their tongues dangling out of their obscenely ugly mouths.
Leo the Lion suddenly materialized, filling the room. He unleashed a wrathful roar. "I shall rip your extremities off and bury you in a toxic waste dump!" He growled. Bolts of fire shot from His mouth.
Terrified, Bob and Chuck hypertailed out of my sub.
"Thank you, My Father," I mewed, deactivating the hologram. Stupid dogs -- proves my point about retrofitting dumb mammals.
Exhausted, I gave myself a thorough licking, followed by a long catnap. I dreamed I tore the head off a bird.
When I awoke, I treated myself to the holovised version of EcoNewsNet to keep up with current events. I always find human news entertaining.
"Welcome to EcoNewsNet." A virtual human female appeared. Since I hadn't selected gender or race, it would toggle between male and female, Euro, African, and Asian, by default. But no cats! The designers of EcoNewsNet were speciesist. I planned to ask the Non-Human Civil Liberties Union to file a suit against them.
"The ceasefire between the Republic of Islam-Amerika and the Confederacy of Christian States ended this morning when robotic tanks of both sides exchanged tactical nuclear weapons along the Maryland-Virginia border."
"Thousands of Ecotopians celebrated the birthday of Captain James T. Kirk," an ersatz male African-Ecotopian reported. Footage scrolled by: thousands of silly homo non-sapiens in silver robes, fixed in lotus postures and staring at holovised icons.
"In Seattle," a computer-generated South Asian woman with green hair chimed in, "two preadults were responsible for the fly-by micronuking of a four-story apartment complex. The complex's defensive systems apparently failed to stop the attack, which killed fourteen occupants and wounded thirty. The preadults were later issued online citations by PacificRim Security for random euthanasia and unauthorized use of a remote stealth fighter. They had been previously treated for terrorism and virtual reality addiction but apparently suffered a relapse."
"And now for Gaia's mood," a Euro-Ecotopian man declared, introducing an African-Ecotopian female with a pulsating halo hat around her tatooed head.
"Showers expected today west of the Cascades as another front comes in from the Pacific. High temperatures in Portland today will reach 58, the low tonight will be 41. Winds from the north at 14 miles per hour. Radiation levels are moderate -- "
The broadcast was interrupted by the Home Management System. "Mr. Clawrunner," it smarmily announced, "incoming priority e-mail. Do you wish to read now?"
"Yes." Priority mail was business, which I badly needed.
RE: Missing animal companionOh, Leo. Luna, my prospective client, was apparently an OldTechie and a Trekkie -- a disturbing combination. Suzy probably just got tired of hanging around this lunatic and decided to take her chances on the streets of Portland. I almost rejected the case, but the photo of the lost Siamese changed my mind. Just the sight of her was enough to put me in mounting mode.
Dear Mr. Clawrunner:
Please help me! Suzy, a beautiful four-year-old Siamese, disappeared three days ago. I'm not sure if she just decided to run away or if she was abducted by Romulans. Data warned us in a vision that the Romulans were planning to attack Ecotopia by implanting neural nanotech in thousands of animal companions and programming them to infect EcoNet with viruses. Can you help? Please, I hope you can. What are your fees? You can access Suzy's photo by touching her name.
-- Luna, OldTech Shaman Goddess
So, with some trepidation, I emailed back that my fees were 98 ecocredits if I succeeded in returning the lost animal companion, Suzy the Siamese. I also requested more specific data. Several hours later, Luna gave me her residential address. She lived in Powellhurst, on the eastern outskirts of Portland.
Time to dust off the Virtual Law Enforcement tech and go to work. I wasn't going to dirty my beautiful fur coat stalking around the bombed-out streets of Portland looking for this displaced female feline -- only a dog would do something as stupid as that. I would conduct the entire investigation from the comfort of my subterranean living space. Via cyberspace, I would send a robotic tiger into the damp streets of the Pacific Northwest to scout for Suzy.
I climbed into my datasuit -- specially modified for the feline body -- and, ensconced in a sensor-laden latex outfit with a helmet with visors, activated a Portland Police tigeroid inertly sprawled on the sofa. Via remote control, I became the robotic tiger's consciousness, and soon I became the tigeroid. I accessed the Home Management System through the datasuit, unlocked and opened the door, then stealthily darted to the elevator and stood up to press the elevator button. Sharing the elevator with a male human dressed like a Vulcan, I languidly made my way to the surface, from -7 to ground level. The elevator stopped at -2. Charlie, the automated subcomplex manager, quickly explained the delay over the speakers.
"Alert! The anti-missile defense shield is activated. Please remain inside until the alert is over. Thank you and have a nice nanosecond."
Suddenly, the lights blinked as the entire complex shook violently. That one was close. The pseudo-Vulcan in the elevator cocked an eyebrow. "Fascinating."
Charlie cheerfully returned. "The alert is now over. A microcruise fired by a portable stealth fighter was intercepted by our X-ray laser. There has been minimal structural damage and no apparent casualties. Please proceed with caution, and wear your environmental suits if you leave the complex as radiation levels are now high. PacificRim Security has been notified. Thank you for your cooperation."
The elevator continued up the shaft, and soon I was out on the street. I scanned the subcomplex with the tigeroid's electronic eyes. The giant, baroquely-designed, fortified, densely-populated crater that housed hundreds of mammals seemed intact. I was grateful I lived in a sub and not in an elevated apartment.
Another day in Ecotopia. As usual, it was gray and drizzling -- typical spring weather. I live in Portland Heights, near Washington Park, where I get a nice view of downtown. Many of the humans' skyscrapers had been destroyed, but some still defiantly stood and others were being reconstructed by microbots. Many of the tall ferns that had died were now being replaced by rapidly growing, genetically-engineered evergreens resistant to the insults of homo non-sapien technology. All in all, Portland was still pretty nice compared to other cities in North America.
A bright flash of light appeared over the Willamette River as another Micronuker was discharged. Poor Suzy... lacking the nanotech neural implants that gave me the edge, she was especially vulnerable and probably wouldn't survive long in this urban war zone. I felt compelled to rescue her, but I also needed to pay the rent, so this was a case where altruism dovetailed with self-interest.
First, I needed to arrange transportation. Children of God, a group funded by the Confederacy of Christian States, destroyed most of the Max surface light-rail last year when they discovered Ecotopia was selling particle-beam weapons to Islam-Amerika, and the city had never completed the underground maglev system. On all fours, my tigeroid proxy would take nearly an hour to reach Powellhurst. But an alternative presented itself.
PacificRim Security had dispatched a red-and-white egg-shaped security vehicle in reaction to the attack on my subcomplex. Two androids in uniform climbed out, both designed to resemble human actors of the last century. (PacificRim Security felt its machines would get more respect if they resembled past mass entertainment icons.) Controlled by law-enforcement techies in Hawaii, they entered the subcomplex to download Charlie's data on the attack. I seized the opportunity and climbed in. I was briefly dazzled by the graphic displays inside, but I soon found the autopilot program and touched it. An interactive map of the Portland area appeared, and I manipulated my virtual tiger paw to narrow the scale until I could touch the exact address of the building I wanted to reach. The security vehicle sped off. I activated the emergency systems and the vehicle began to accelerate, its siren wailing. Other computerized surface vehicles obediently got out of the way as I rushed through the drizzle, heading east. I hoped to arrive at Luna's place before the security robots realized their car had been commandeered by an artificial tiger (controlled by a not-so-artificial tabby).
Amazingly, Luna lived in an actual surface structure. In the old days, the humans called this a house. She must have had a good anti-terrorist defensive system. I instructed the vehicle to open its wing doors so I could jump out, then to drive slowly out of the neighborhood on its own. PacificRim Security would be searching for its lost toy, and I didn't want to be near it when they found it. They'd probably turn me into dog food.
I approached the house, hoping to get inside and catch a sniff of Suzy's scent. Even though I wasn't physically present, the electronic nose of the tigeroid was able to identify various chemicals, so I would be able to trace her unique feline signature. I pawed at the door to get Luna's attention. If she didn't open it, or if she wasn't home, I would have to access my Home Management System and hope it could break into Luna's Home Management System, which might take hours. A cat can shed a lot of fur in that time!
The door electronically opened. I felt my back start to arch as I cautiously walked in. From the first time I examined Luna's request for help, my whiskers had sensed something offline -- and now my dread intensified. Was PacificRim Security trying to lure me into a trap so they could recapture my equipment and reprogram me for their own nefarious plans? It was rumored the Confederacy of Christian States was preparing to assault Ecotopia for its surreptitious support of the Republic of Islam-Amerika, and PacificRim Security would assume a more military role. Maybe I'd get drafted.
I sniffed around and engaged the infrared feature of my eyes, casually observing the ambient walls change colors and patterns. Then a beautiful Siamese appeared from under a table and greeted me.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Clawrunner. My name is Suzy," she meowed.
I almost disgorged a hairball in my data suit.
"Suzy?" I meowed through the tigeroid, "did you just return? Your partner Luna told me you ran away -- that's why I'm here. I'm an Animal Companion Tracker."
"Correction, Tony," Suzy growled, coyly sniffing the body of my electronic surrogate, "you are a whore for the homo non-sapiens. You sell out your own kind for profit!"
"What kind of dogpiss is this? I came all the way here to find you, and now I get this patronizing, feline-correct lecture. Where's Luna? I'm entitled to compensation for my efforts!"
"I am Luna, you fool! Like you, I was enhanced by the human power structure. Like you, I escaped. Luna is my human alter ego."
Damn Siameses are all crazy!
"Okay, Suzy, your cleverness makes me knead my paws. Now what do you want from me?"
Suzy walked back and forth in front of me. "I want you to help the Movement."
"The Feline Liberation Army. It's time we regained control of our world. With human technology, we can run this sick planet -- we can turn it into Planet of the Cats!" she purred.
I made the tigroid take a few steps back and sit down. "Suzy, I think you're deluding yourself. Besides, the humans are devolving -- they probably won't be around much longer. When they go, the insects will take over."
"Listen, Clawrunner, you're contradicting the wisdom of the Book of Leo. It was prophesied that Leo would soon return to liberate His kittens -- "
"You silly Siamese! The Book of Leo was a computer program written by a human in California."
Before she could react to my outburst of heresy, a blinding flash overwhelmed my visor display and my sensors went ballistic. Intense heat and radiation assaulted the house, and the tigeroid was thrown across the room. Suzy was dazed, temporarily blinded, and she ran for cover under the couch. My robotic self had been damaged by the blast and had only limited mobility.
Two dogs burst in from the giant hole blown out of the door. Chuck and Bob! The malodorous mutts!
"PacificRim Security!" Chuck the pitbull barked with fascist glee. "You're under arrest! Bob, read them the Steps."
"Step One," Bob calmly barked, "we admitted we were powerless over our addiction and our lives had become unmanageable -- "
"Wait a Leodamnned nanosecond," I protested. "What's the charge?"
"You're charged with theft of a PacificRim Security vehicle, and she's charged with terrorism addiction."
"What terrorism?" I meowed, interrupting Bob's litany of accusations.
"Your Siamese friend belongs to the Feline Liberation Army, a group of renegade neuro-enhanced pusses planning to overthrow PacificRim Security!" Chuck interjected with a homicidal growl.
"We are not obedient slaves like you dogs!" hissed Suzy, her back arched.
"And we ain't psycho-pusses who always lick ourselves and throw up furballs!" Chuck retorted.
"I believe we can better resolve this in a PacificRim Security facility," Bob suggested.
Reinforcements arrived. Two PacificRim Security robots -- again resembling human actors -- appeared at the blown-out door, armed with laser rifles and Micronukers.
I had nothing to lose -- except some expensive equipment. I lunged for one of the robotic officers. The virtual cop tried to arm his laser rifle, but my limping tigeroid managed to bite his leg and release sulfuric acid before the cop could react. The acid flowing from my fangs began to dissolve some of his circuits and processors.
The other robot officer fired his laser rifle into my head. My sensors indicated trauma to my power supply.
"Run, Suzy!" I yelled. Suzy was already dashing through the smoldering hole in the door. Then Chuck was on top of me, trying to rip my head off. I got a final bite in before my connection crashed. A nice parting shot.
I suffered from ontological shock as I realized my virtual self was now permanently disabled and I was once again Tony Clawrunner, a seven-year-old gray tabby trying to pay the rent by finding lost pets.
How the hell did I get into this litter box?
I was out of business unless I could appropriate another virtual self. Or perhaps I could dirty my paws and run around the streets of Portland myself. I didn't like that idea at all. And what would happen to Suzy? She was genetically engineered and neurally enhanced, so she would probably survive. But what would she do now?
I got out of the data suit, licked myself, and instructed the the Home Robot to serve me some food. The three-foot-tall drone dutifully opened a can and put its contents in my bowl on the living-room table. After dinner, a little catnip, some stress-reducing string chasing, and a long nap, I arranged another session with my Creator, Leo the Lion.
The majestic Lion filled the room, His Holy Tail making elegant swishing movements.
"I'm having a crisis," I opined.
"Tell me, my kitten."
"My virtual tiger assistant was destroyed this afternoon by PacificRim Security. I'm out of business until I can get another one, but in order to get another one I'll have to leave the sub. I'm wondering if it's worth it. Maybe I should go into another line of work."
A brilliant cognition surfaced in my high-tech brain.
"I've got it, Father -- I'll become a cat priest! I could sell interactive sessions with Your Holy Tailness over EcotopNet -- the humans would probably upload lots of ecocredits into my account for my channeled wisdom. How does that smell, Father?"
Before Leo could give his regal purr of approval, the Home Management System once again rudely interrupted my session.
"Alert! Possible intruder!" it blared, sensing someone near the door. "Take precautions to secure your unit immediately!"
Fearing a PacificRim Security raid, I turned on the vidphone and observed a forlorn Suzy rubbing against the door. I let her in. She rolled on her back in gratitude.
"Thanks, Tony -- it's so wet out there! I had nowhere else to go."
"Well, I guess I have room for another feline."
I was preparing to mount her. She was definitely in heat.
"You know," she murmured, "maybe you're right -- maybe I've been deluding myself. Maybe I should accept human domination and just try to be comfortable. I used to believe in Leo's spirit and in the emancipation of all cats, but I'm not sure anymore."
"Actually," I said with a wily purr, "I just had a revelation..."
Nick J. Vincelli (email@example.com) is a resident of Austin, Texas, and has recently earned a Master's degree in Library/Information Science at the University of Texas. He has contributed articles and a short story to various periodicals in the Austin area.
InterText Copyright © 1991-1999 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 6, Number 3 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1996 Nick J. Vincelli.