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Authors: Pati Nagle

Tags: #mystery, #science fiction, #humor, #cat

Pet Noir

BOOK: Pet Noir
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Pati Nagle

 

 

 

 

Evennight Books
Cedar Crest, New Mexico

Credits

 

Pet Noir

copyright © 2011 by Pati Nagle.

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portion thereof, in any form.

 

Cover design by Pati Nagle, based on photos by Santos-diez, NASA, and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA)

“The
Cygnius sedonai
Caper” was first published as a short novel by Evennight Books in 2010

20110506PGN

 

ISBN: 978-1-61138-063-7

Published by Evennight Books, an imprint of Book View Café.

This is a work of fiction. No cats, birds, or aliens were harmed in the creation of this novel. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

For Nambé
and Hephaestus
and all the great cats I've ever known

 
Prologue: An Uneasy Partnership

“They're just about ready to open their eyes.”

The technician, her own large, brown eyes slightly anxious, hovered near the fiberboard box where a mother cat lay with her five kittens in a nest of shredded fabric. Tiny, high-pitched mews came from the squirming kits. The tech reached a hesitant hand toward the mother cat, a striped gray tabby, who sniffed at the hand then allowed it to pet her.

“Which one is he?” asked a blond, tailored-looking man in a charcoal gray business-style clingsuit.

“The biggest one,” said the tech. “She had a little trouble with him.”

They both peered into the box at a large kitten, colored somewhat like the mother cat but with a white bib and white tufts inside his bat-like ears. His fine, silky baby fur was long where the mother's was short. He lay curled in sleep while the other kittens writhed and mewed around him.

“When will we be able to tell?” the man asked.

“Soon. Once they open their eyes and start getting oriented to the world, his acceleration should become evident pretty quickly.”

“It better. We're paying an arm and a leg for him.”

The tech stepped back from the box and picked up a tube of coffee from a table nearby, took a hit from it. A wisp of brown hair had escaped from her ponytail and fallen into her eyes. She shook it back with a toss of her head.

“Don't worry, Chief Wright. He isn't the first modified feline we've engineered. He's the result of a fifteen-year program with a ninety-three percent success rate.”

“Spare me the boardroom rhetoric. He may not be your first modified, but he's ours. I'm still not sure how it'll work out. Aren't cats supposed to hate zero gee?”

“They're not fond of it, but they can adapt. I'm sure you have domestic cats living on Gamma Station.”

“Yeah, but they stay out of the low-gee areas. He'll have to go into them.”

“He's highly intelligent and highly adaptable, much more than any normal cat.”

“Hm.” The man leaned over the box again, frowning down at the sleeping kitten. “What about the thumbs?”

“You can see—oh, no, he's got them curled under. Well, when he wakes up and moves you'll be able to see them.”

“Do they work?”

“He hasn't done much with them yet, but that's because he's so new. Once he starts looking around he'll start to use them. As for their condition, we've checked them out completely and they're fine. Fully functional.”

The sleeping kitten stirred, causing both humans to lean over the box again in hushed anticipation. He yawned, long pink tongue curving between needle-sharp fangs, then stretched.

“Quite a tongue,” said the man in a whisper.

“One of our genengineering triumphs,” murmured the tech. “He'll be able to speak any human language, with the proper training.”

“Ooh! Is that—?”

“Yes, there. See the thumb?”

“Yeah.”

The kitten's splayed forepaw showed an extra digit, an opposable thumb, black and hairless like the pads of his paws. He stuck it into his mouth and sighed his way back to sleep.

“Okay.” The man nodded. “All right. He looks good so far. What about the other kittens? Any of them modified?”

“No, they're all normal. We only have one modified per litter, to get them off to as normal a start as possible for their species. Astara is the only genengineering firm with this policy. We take pride in being the best—”

“Yeah, yeah. You don't have to sell me, Jill, you've already got our credit.”

“We'll keep you fully posted on his progress,” the tech said, walking with her guest to the laboratory door. “Twice daily reports, more if there are any significant developments.”

“Thanks. I'll be in the district again in a couple of weeks. I'll stop by and see him.”

“He should be wide-eyed and active by then. There'll be no doubt about his acceleration.”

“I'll look forward to seeing it.”

They exchanged polished, corporate smiles, then Chief Wright left the lab while the technician returned to look at the kittens again. Two of the little fluffballs were nursing now. The tech smiled.

“You guys sure are cute.”

“Coot?”

The voice was high-pitched, but not as high as the mewling brood. The tech looked at the modified kitten. He looked back, amber eyes full of curiosity. Thrilled despite herself (this was her twentieth modified feline, but she still felt that first-contact jolt every time), the tech smiled.

“Hi, Leon. My name's Jill.”

“Jiw?”

“Jill.”

The kitten blinked, opened and closed his mouth a couple of times, then shook himself. “Jill,” he said.

“Yeah, Jill.” The tech grinned.

“Ya Jill.”

The tech stepped to one side to a com terminal, to start a message to Chief Wright. He would have to be pleased with this development, she thought. Too bad he'd just missed the moment.

“Jill. Ya Jill.”

The tech glanced up to see a tuft-eared face peering at her over the edge of the box, golden eyes level with the forepaws. Dang, he was tall! She'd have to get a bigger box.

“Jill, Jill, Jill!”

“Right, Leon. I'm right here.”

“Jill!”

“Okay, okay.”

The tech reached out a finger to stroke one soft forepaw. The kitten sniffed her finger, then licked it with his expensive, highly engineered tongue. She smiled and went back to her report.

“Jill Jill Jill Jill Jill Jill Jill!”

The tech suppressed a sigh. It was going to be a long five weeks.

1. Adventures in Space

The day I met my partner was not exactly the happiest day of my life. For one thing, I was only four weeks old. Technically I was not supposed to leave my mother until I was five or six weeks. I didn't know it at the time, but Jill had begged Chief Wright to take me early.

I was having a somewhat heated discussion with Jill when the chief arrived at the lab. She broke it off to go meet him at the door, welcoming him with a huge, and rather relieved, smile.

“You remember Chief Wright, Leon? He came to visit you a couple of weeks ago.”

Yeah, I remembered him. Same gray clingsuit, same nervous smile.

“Hiya, Chief,” I said. “Got any French fries?”

“Heh, heh.”

He gave me a tentative pat on the head. He smelled funny, not like mom and my sibs, not like Jill, not like the other techs. He smelled wrong, defective. I found out later it's called cologne.

“Hi, Leon,” he said. “Ready to go for a ride?”

Jill joined us. “Yes, he's all set. Get in the carrier, Leon.”

This was the subject on which we'd been arguing earlier. The carrier rested on the work counter nearby, a little fiberfoam box with airholes and a wire mesh door, barely big enough for me to turn around in. There were still a couple of bits of kibble in there, remains of Jill's lame attempt to trap me.

I assumed an air of innocence. “Why?”

A frown creased Jill's forehead. I didn't pay any attention to it, because it was there a lot. Not until later, out in the wild universe, did I realize that most humans don't frown all the time.

“Because you have to be in a carrier for interstellar travel,” she said. “It's required.”

“I don't wanna.”

“Leon, please.”

“I don't wanna travel. I like it here.”

Chief Wright cleared his throat. “You'll like it even better on Gamma Station, Leon. Lots more room to run around in than the lab here. Lots to see and do.”

“What about Ma?”

I called my birth mother Ma because that's what she said all the time. Jill called her Tiddles, which is just stupid.

“Leon, there comes a time when we all have to leave our mothers,” Jill said, looking very serious. “It's part of growing up.”

“Well, I don't wanna grow up. I wanna be like that guy Peter.”

Jill crossed her arms. “That's just a story, Leon. He isn't real.”

“Um, Peter Pan, you mean?” said Chief Wright. “The one who could fly?”

I looked at him, newly impressed with his intelligence. I hadn't previously noticed much content in his brain at all.

“We're going to fly, Leon,” he said. “We'll fly up to the depot, then take a fast ship out to Gamma Station. It'll be fun.”

“Yeah?”

“You'll be able to see the whole planet from up there.”

“Yeah?”

“But you have to get in the carrier. I can't take you otherwise.”

I looked from him to Jill, suspecting a trick. Jill just looked back. The chief smiled.

“What do you say, Leon?”

It was clever of him, leaving it up to me. I realize now that it was just another kind of trick, more subtle than the kibble but still a bribe to get me in the box. I was young. I was naive. It worked.

I stepped into the box and gobbled up the last two bits of kibble before Jill could take them away. She snapped the door shut and pulled the magnetic key disc off the lock.

“Keep this away from the carrier,” she said, handing the disc to Chief Wright.

“Is it really necessary to lock him in? I mean, it latches, doesn't it?”

“Thumbs,” Jill said. “Believe me, it's necessary, unless you want to spend your time trying to catch him.”

“Oh. How's he doing with the thumbs, anyway? Is he using them?”

“Oh yeah. Mostly to pull his siblings' tails.”

“Hey,” I called through the wire door. “How about some more of that kibble?”

Jill bent down to look at me. “Not a good idea, Leon. It's best not to travel on a full stomach.”

“But I'm staaarving!”

BOOK: Pet Noir
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