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Back to Square 1: Contemplating the Cats

The following is the eighth installment of the tale which began with Takeoff, and continued with Shopping Trip Parts I. through IV  and The Test Flight.  All prior installments should be read before this page, as that may help to render the following events marginally less obscure.

This installment was also very kindly provided to us by Professor Johann Schnarchhund of Miskatonic University.  Johann again assures us that this first person account, narrated by Isis Resillechat, is very much as it was received by his daughter, Taurina.  For additional information please see the Iemy Papers.

Previous Installment: Back to Square 1, Part I

Star Date 12.6

When I got up for the second time, it was already "afternoon".  Happy surprise!  Nobody was looking for me, nobody was on the intercom -- it had been over 12 hours since our last emergency, which was a record on this trip!  Dense was still snoozing on a cushion, and a furry lump I could see in the corner was probably Mince.

I trekked down the hall to the room we've been using for our kitchen, and had a leisurely brunch of cocoa puffs, scones, and a PBJ.  Dad's coffeemaker, with its huge carafe, was sitting on a packing crate, simmering away and filling the area with the general ambiance of a forest fire in a tofu factory.  I wondered when he'd made the coffee -- day before yesterday, I guessed from the smell.  He makes almost a gallon of coffee at a time, so he doesn't need to make it very often.

After breakfast, there were still no apparent emergencies, so I headed back to my room and took the opportunity to sort out another heap of my stuff.  I'd never really finished picking up the mess after our collision with the North Atlantic.  After digging out a dozen or so unmatched socks, a handful of books, some with intact covers, a spare blanket, an open box of watercolors with no paints in it, about a dozen loose tubes of paint, and what looked like the remains of a misplaced PBJ, I ran across my guitar, still in its case -- which had a nasty crushed-in dent in the top.

I got the guitar out, and then I tried to push the dent out of the top of the case.  No luck -- it was stubborn.  Finally I put my foot on the inside of the cover, and gave a big heave -- and the dent popped out, and my foot went through the case -- oops!  Mistake!

I looked again at the guitar.  Unlike the case, it looked OK, much to my surprise.  I strummed a chord to see if it still worked -- ugh, totally out of tune!  A few minutes twisting pins and blowing a pitch pipe fixed that, and I strummed a few more chords.

I started to put it back in what was left of its case, when Dense suddenly said, "No -- not stop!"

"You want me to play some more -- play something?"

"Yes, do that!"

So I strummed a little more, then tried singing a little, as Dense got off his cushion and came over to sit by my feet.

I sang,

"O, I went down south for to see my cat,
    singin' golly-wolly he's so fat,
 But he look so fine in a tall top hat,
    singin' meow-meow he's so fat..."

and followed it with half a dozen more verses of total nonsense.

As I sat on a cushion and played, Dense stayed curled up by my feet.  Mince came over and curled up on a cushion next to me.  They both seemed to really enjoy it; they blinked slowly at each other and at me, not quite falling asleep.

After that I started in on the old favorite, "Mice in the barnyard were singing a tune, and dancing all night by the light of the moon."  As I was playing and singing, two other cats which I'd never seen before slipped silently in through the curtain and flopped on cushions.

As I got to the verse where the cats slip out of the house by a side door and sneak up behind the mice, a strange, high, warbling sound began, and gradually grew louder.  The cats were singing along, in a sort of weird descant!

When we got to the end, I sang a couple versus of "Oú est le chat?" while I thought about other songs they might like.  As I'm sure you know, that song is really supposed to be sung as a round.  But imagine my surprise, as I sang it through the second time, when Dense and Mince came in on the "Le chat, il n'est pas ici, non non!", with a strange but clear rendition of the first line, and on the "Il n'est pas la bas non plus!" the two I didn't know joined in as well, taking it from the beginning once again.  And so we sang it through three more times, as a three part round!

As as we were doing that, I was getting a very creepy feeling.  Taurina, there's something here which just doesn't add up.  As we were singing together I realized I was doing something not one cat on this ship can do:  I was playing the guitar.  No cat could even tune a guitar, let alone play it; their paws aren't strong or dexterous enough.  They love the sound but they can't do it for themselves.  Something about that struck me as a kind of contradiction.

But really, I told myself, lots of us like things we can't do...  and I strummed the guitar, just playing random chords,  for a few minutes while I thought about what to play next.  I sang a couple bars of an old Animals song -- "My father was a gamblin' man..." I couldn't recall the next line.   I skipped ahead to the next bit I remembered, "He'd fill the glasses up to the brim,  and pass the cards around..." and suddenly I thought of Snidly.  He's so smart, but he's hopeless at playing bridge, because he can't hold the cards.  But then not all great civilizations have played cards, after all...

I started in on "Lookin' for a Home", and as I sang it I tried to picture cats picking cotton -- and suddenly I realized what was creeping me out.

They can't play guitar.

They can't handle cards.

They can't pick cotton.

I've watched Nim-nim working on electrical stuff, and she can barely manage a soldering iron.

Yet somehow these creatures built a starship.

How can that be?

It obviously really is their ship -- as soon as Sniggles appeared, any question about that was settled.

There's no evidence cats were very different four thousand years ago.

So how did they do it?  Robots?  But then how'd they build the robots?  There's something wrong with this picture.

It's like that bridge hand I dealt after Auntie rang in a cold deck on me -- it goes 'way past being "unlikely".  Somebody's been stacking the cards.

I wish I knew who.

Star Date Unclear

"Daddy, how did the cats build this ship?"

We were sitting on cushions in the "kitchen".  Dad had just made fresh coffee, so the place smelled better than usual.  Mom had gone up to the bridge, where we were both going to join her shortly.

"Eh?"  Dad thought for a minute, and sipped coffee.  "What do you mean?"

"They don't have thumbs."

"They do, sort of.  Enough."

"But they're not dexterous -- and the ship is so complex..."

"Maybe not so complex.  It heals itself.  Only need to build enough to start it."

"Maybe... But how'd they build the part they needed?  And ... how'd they build earlier ships, ones that didn't build themselves?  How'd they build the computer?

Dad thought about it.  "Can't know for sure, suppose they used robots."

"How'd they build the robots?"

"Other robots -- simpler."

"And how did they build those robots?"

Dad laughed.  "It's turtles all the way down!"

I laughed at that, too, and then we both just sat and thought about it for a while.

"But it was built," he observed, finally.  "And any doubt as to whose it was was resolved by Sniggles."

He paused again, and started talking, in his "professor lecturing" voice.  "Faced with any technically advanced culture, one may well wonder how they got where they are.  Clarke took it farther -- sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.  The cats clearly have a very old culture, and we may never know how they got started -- how they got past the flat part of the exponential, how they built the first robots -- if they used robots..."  He trailed off.

He added, abruptly, "I'll ask Sniggles."

Continued in Episode 9: Contact ... Part I


Page created on 31 May 2014 from text written a couple years earlier