Previous Installment: Back to
Square 1, Part I
following is the eighth installment of the tale which began with Takeoff
, and continued with Shopping Trip Parts I. through IV
. 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
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.
"O, I went down south for to see my
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
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
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
I wish I knew who.
"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
"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
"How'd they build the robots?"
"Other robots -- simpler."
"And how did they build those
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
"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
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