His Master’s Voice
“Well done,” I tell the cat and wag my tail. It looks at me with yellow slanted eyes and curls up on its acceleration gel bed. I look at the container next to it. Is that a wiff of the god-smell or is it just my imagination?
In any case, it is enough to make me curl up in deep happy dog-sleep, and for the first time in years I dream of the Ball and the Small Animal, sliding down the ballistic orbit’s steep back.
* * *
They came from the sky before the sunrise. The master went up on the deck wearing a suit that smelled new. He had the cat in his lap: it purred quietly. The wrong master followed, hands behind his back.
There were three machines, black-shelled scarabs with many legs and transparent wings. They came in low, raising a white-frothed wake behind them. The hum of their wings hurt my ears as they landed on the deck.
The one in the middle vomited a cloud of mist that shimmered in the dim light, swirled in the air and became a black-skinned woman who had no smell. By then I had learned that things without a smell could still be dangerous, so I barked at her until the master told me to be quiet.
“Mr. Takeshi,” she said. “You know why we are here.”
The master nodded.
“You don’t deny your guilt?”
“I do,” said the master. “This raft is technically a sovereign state, governed by my laws. Autogenesis is not a crime here.”
“This raft was a sovereign state,” said the woman. “Now it belongs to VecTech. Justice is swift, Mr. Takeshi. Our lawbots broke your constitution ten seconds after Mr. Takeshi here — ” she nodded at the wrong master — “told us about his situation. After that, we had no choice. The WIPO quantum judge we consulted has condemned you to the slow zone for three hundred and fourteen years, and as the wronged party we have been granted execution rights in this matter. Do you have anything to say before we act?”
The master looked at the wrong master, face twisted like a mask of wax. Then he set the cat down gently and scratched my ears. “Look after them,” he told the wrong master. “I’m ready.”
The beetle in the middle moved, too fast for me to see. The master’s grip on the loose skin on my neck tightened for a moment like my mother’s teeth, and then let go. Something warm splattered on my coat and there was a dark, deep smell of blood in the air.
Then he fell. I saw his head in a floating soap bubble that one of the beetles swallowed. Another opened its belly for the wrong master. And then they were gone, and the cat and I were alone on the bloody deck.
* * *
The cat wakes me up when we dock with the Marquis of Carabas. The zeppelin swallows our dragonfly drone like a whale. It is a crystal cigar, and its nanospun sapphire spine glows faint blue. The Fast City is a sky full of neon stars six kilometers below us, anchored to the airship with elevator cables. I can see the liftspiders climbing them, far below, and sigh with relief. The guests are still arriving, and we are not too late. I keep my personal firewall clamped shut: I know there is a torrent of messages waiting beyond.
We rush straight to the lab. I prepare the scanner while the cat takes the master’s head out very, very carefully. The fractal bush of the scanner comes out of its nest, molecule-sized disassembler fingers bristling. I have to look away when it starts eating the master’s face. I cheat and flee to VR, to do what I do best.
After half an hour, we are ready. The nanofab spits out black plastic discs, and the airship drones ferry them to the concert hall. The metallic butterflies in my belly return, and we head for the make-up salon. The Sergeant is already there, waiting for us: judging by the cigarette stumps on the floor, he has been waiting for a while. I wrinkle my nose at the stench.
“You are late,” says our manager. “I hope you know what the hell you are doing. This show’s got more diggs than the Turin clone’s birthday party.”
“That’s the idea,” I say and let Anette spray me with cosmetic fog. It tickles and makes me sneeze, and I give the cat a jealous look: as usual, it is perfectly at home with its own image consultant. “We are more popular than Jesus.”
They get the DJs on in a hurry, made by the last human tailor on Saville Row. “This’ll be a good skin,” says Anette. “Mahogany with a touch of purple.” She goes on, but I can’t hear. The music is already in my head. The master’s voice.
* * *
The cat saved me.