With apologies to Tom Godwin.
Camestros was not alone.
There was nothing to indicate the fact but the small alert tab in the corner of his customised Tiffany iPad. The drawing room was empty but for himself; there was no sound other than the murmur of the drives — but the alert tab was flashing. It had been showing nothing but a reminder of the upcoming village fete when the little drawing room had been launched from the surface of the planet; now, an hour later, it was modestly attempting to get his attention. There was something in the broom closet across the room, it was saying, some kind of a body that radiated heat.
It could be but one kind of a body — a living, talking, cat body.
He leant back in the La-Z-Boy® (Live Life Comfortably – Transform Your Home With The Stylish Furniture At Lazboy) and drew a deep, heavy sigh, as he considered what he would have to do. He was a blogger, inured to the sound of protracted argument, long since accustomed to it and to viewing the heavy handed pedantic take down of another man’s argument with an objective lack of emotion, and he had no choice in what he must do. There could be no alternative — but it required a few moments of conditioning for even an internet comment section veteran such as he to prepare himself to walk across the room and coldly, deliberately, remove a cat from a broom closet.
He would, of course, do it. It was the law, stated very bluntly and definitely in dark ink-jet printed letters: Paragraph L, Section 8, of Felapton Towers Directives wrt Interstellar Regulations: “Any small predatory mammals discovered in post-launch drawing room, billiard room, sitting room or similar, shall be jettisoned immediately following discovery.”
It was the law, and there could be no appeal not even to Mr Atomic the robot cleaner, who usually brokered disputes around household ettiquette.
He let his eyes rest on the narrow white door of the broom closet. There, just inside, a cat lived and breathed and was beginning to feel assured that discovery of his presence would now be too late for Camestros to alter the situation. It was too late; for the cat behind the door it was far later than he thought and in a way he would find it terrible to believe.
He looked again at the telltale alter tab on the iPad, then rose to his feet with a groaning noise and creeky knees. What he must do would be unpleasant for both of them; the sooner it was over, the better. He stepped across the control room to stand by the broom closet door.
“Come out!” His command was harsh and abrupt above the murmur of the air conditioning.
It seemed he could hear the whisper of a furtive movement inside the closet, then nothing. He visualized the cat cowering closer into one corner, suddenly worried by the possible consequences of his act, its self-assurance evaporating.
“I said out!”
He heard the cat move, and he waited with his eyes alert on the door and his hand near the rolled up newspaper at his side.
The door opened and the cat stepped through it, smiling. “All right — I give up. Now what?”
It was Timothy the Talking Cat.
Camestros returned to the La-Z-Boy® (Live Life Comfortably – Transform Your Home With The Stylish Furniture At Lazboy) and motioned Timothy to seat himself on the boxlike bulk of the nuclear drive units that were set against the wall beside him. The cat obeyed uncharateristically, the silence making the smile fade into the meek and guilty expression of Straw Puppy when it has been caught in mischief.
“What are you doing here?” asked Camestros. “Why did you stow away when you knew we were launching the drawing room into space?”
“Because, my dimwitted primate pal, I wanted to be thrown out.” replied the cat with a smug expression.
“Thrown out?” replied Camestros furrowing his brow.
“Exactly! This whole plan of your to launch sections of the house into orbit is sponsored by the European Space Agency! Don’t think I haven’t seen your furtive letters to Angela Merkel!”
“YOU’VE BEEN READING MY EMAILS!”
“Me, Vlad and Julian.”
Camestros leant over and picked up the now howling cat by the scruff of its neck and then lurched towards the hyperspace garbage chute.
“You’re just bluffing!” howled the cat.
“Hacking somebody else emails is a basic violation of trust Timothy! You’ve gone too far this time!”
“I DON’T CARE! IN FACT I *DEMAND* THAT YOU THROW ME OUT THE HYPERSPACE GARBAGE CHUTE!”
“Well GUESS WHAT, for once I’m going to do EXACTLY AS YOU TELL ME!”
“WELL GO AHEAD THEN, WHAT’S STOPPING YOU?”
“You know this reverse psychology isn’t going to work on me.”
“You’re just too scared to do it.”
“Wait, wait, what did you mean by ‘European Space Agency’?”
“I am making a public catxit from the European Space Agency.”
“A catxit? How am I even supposed to pronounce that? Never mind. Doesn’t matter. OFFER ACCEPTED. Prepare to meet hyperspace you feline menace. Grab your space suit while you can because there’s nothing but transdimensional void at the other end of that chute.”
“Woah, hold on. YOU have to give ME a space suit. You can’t expect me to bring my own space suit.”
“No way buddy. The only space suit in this drawing room is mine and I need it. What’s more, it wouldn’t fit you.”
“Well, that’s your problem matey. You can’t throw me out a garbage suit without a space suit. The RSPCA would be onto you like a shot. Not to mention PETA. Heck, I’ll bet you’ll get no end of Twitter abuse just for picking up a helpless cat by the scruff of the neck.”
“YOU ARE INSUFFERABLE! OK, ok, I’ll just NOT throw you out then. Ha! Checkmate cat-boy.”
“Yeah but you HAVE to throw me out. Paragraph L, Section 8, of Felapton Towers Directives wrt Interstellar Regulations says so.”
“Which is just a bunch of crap I made up at the start of the story! I don’t have to do anything!”
“You do to! Catxit means catxit. The people have spoken.”
“OK. I’ll rig something up. It will be worth it to be rid of you.”
Camestros spent the next hour jury-rigging a Tupperware® (a fun and different way to raise funds for schools, clubs, your church or your favourite charity) box with CO2 scrubbers and oxygen recycling unit. He found an unopened kibble bag and a water/urine processor and threw in a 2008 era iPod emblazoned with a sticker of ‘Walker: Texas Ranger’.
Having completed his MacGyverish efforts he announced: “Right, all done. Time to chuck that cat out into the void!”
“Wuh, wah?” said Timothy, who had fallen asleep next to the waste heat outflow of the nuclear pile.
“Time to hit the void! Time for you to make one small step for catkind! Time to hit the road jack!”
“All right, all right. So were’s the umbilical tether?”
“The umbilical tether?”
“Yeah, the umbilical tether that joins my Tupperware® (a fun and different way to raise funds for schools, clubs, your church or your favourite charity) box to the drawing room?”
“Why would I add a tether if I was trying to get rid of you and why would you want one if catxit means catxit!”
“No tether, no catxit. You are just trying to hold the British people hostage now. You and your Euro elites are just trying to dictate how we live our lives. that is EXACTLY we all voted for Brexit in the first place.”
“You mean catxit. We’re just trying to make a laboured metaphor for Brexit at the moment. You’ll ruin it if you actually use the term ‘Brexit'”
“Ooops! Shit! You are right. Sorry. Um, where was I?”
“I’ve lost track. I didn’t put names of ‘saids’ on the dialogue because that’s the trendy thing to do these days. Works better in audio books apparently. Thing is, I’m not sure now which one of us is speaking now.”
“If it’s an even number then it is me, Timothy. if it is odd then it’s you.”
“OK must be me then. I was…just about to put you in the box and chuck you out the garbage chute.”
“How did it happen to me so terribly quickly? An hour ago I was on my litter tray. Now the drawing room is going on without me and I’m going to die and I’ll never see Straw Puppy and Mr Atomic again [sniff] — I’ll never see anything again.”
Camestros hesitated, wondering how he could explain it to the cat so Timothy would really understand and not feel he had somehow been the victim of a reasonlessly cruel injustice. Timothy did not know what the frontier was like; he thought in terms of safe, secure Earth. Pretty cats were not jettisoned on Earth; there was a law against it. On Earth, Timothy’s plight would have filled the newscasts and a fast black patrol car would have been racing to her rescue. Everyone, everywhere, would have known of Timothy the Talking Cat, and no effort would have been spared to save his life. But this was not Earth and there were no patrol cars; only the drawing room, leaving them behind at many times the speed of light. There was no one to help him; there would be no Timothy the Talking Cat smiling from the newscasts tomorrow. Timothy the Talking Cat would be but a poignant memory for a blogger and a name on a Goodreads page.
“You know what Timothy?”
“I think we’ve both made our points. You’ve demonstrated the grim and somewhat irrational demands of the pro-catxit voter. While I…I have shown that it is possible to build a hyperspace life-capsule using a Tupperware® (a fun and different way to raise funds for schools, clubs, your church or your favourite charity) box and common household items.”
“Yes, yes, in a way, we BOTH won.”
Just then the iPad started howling alerts! The drawing room had run out of fuel while Camestros and Timothy had been focused on tracking their lines of dialogue. Desperate to save its own existence the iPad hurriedly calculated the relevant changes in mass needed to save the drawing room from plunging to its doom.
To the iPad existence required order, and there was order; the laws of nature, irrevocable and immutable. Humans could learn to use them, but cats could not change them. The circumference of a circle was always pi times the diameter , and no science would ever make it otherwise. The combination of chemical A with chemical B under condition C invariably produced reaction D. The law of gravitation was a rigid equation, and it made no distinction between the fall of a leaf and the ponderous circling of a binary star system. The nuclear conversion process powered the drawing room that carried Camestros & Timothy to the stars; the same process in the form of a nova would destroy a world with equal efficiency. The laws were, and the universe moved in obedience to them. Along the frontier were arrayed all the forces of nature, and sometimes they destroyed those who were fighting their way outward from Earth. The iPad had long ago learned the bitter futility of cursing the forces that would destroy it, for the forces were blind and deaf; the futility of looking to the heavens for mercy, for the stars of the galaxy swung in their long, long sweep of two hundred million years, as inexorably controlled as they by the laws that knew neither hatred nor compassion. The iPad knew — but how was a blogger or a cat from Earth to fully understand? h amount of fuel will not power a drawing room with a mass of m plus x safely to its destination. To their readers, Camestros and Timothy were mildly amusing forms of internet fun and frolics but to the laws of nature they were x, the unwanted factor in a cold equation.
OK, technically a co-efficient or perhaps a parameter rather than a FACTOR – thought the iPad. It was m plus x not m multiplied by x. Look, either way, the universe dictated there was only ONE solution to such an equation.
“Preparing to eject primate and feline.” announced the Siri voice on the iPad.
“NOOOOOOO!!!!!!” shouted Camestros and Timothy in unison.
Epilogue: We all got back safely. Phew!