His Master’s Voice
“Remember me in your dreams,” it said.
“Are you not coming with us?” I asked, bewildered.
“My place is here,” it said. “And it’s my turn to sleep now, and to dream.”
“Who are you?”
“Not all the plurals disappeared. Some of them fled to space, made new worlds there. And there is a war on, even now. Perhaps you will join us there, one day, where the big dogs live.”
It laughed. “For old times’ sake?” It dived into the waves and started running, became a great proud dog with a white coat, muscles flowing like water. And I followed, for one last time.
The sky was grey when we took off. The cat flew the plane using a neural interface, goggles over its eyes. We sweeped over the dark waves and were underway. The raft became a small dirty spot in the sea. I watched it recede and realised that I’d never found my Ball.
Then there was a thunderclap and a dark pillar of water rose up to the sky from where the raft had been. I didn’t mourn: I knew that the Small Animal wasn’t there anymore.
* * *
The sun was setting when we came to the Fast City.
I knew what to expect from the Small Animal’s lessons, but I could not imagine what it would be like. Mile-high skyscrapers that were self-contained worlds, with their artificial plasma suns and bonsai parks and miniature shopping malls. Each of them housed a billion lilliputs, poor and quick: humans whose consciousness lived in a nanocomputer smaller than a fingertip. Immortals who could not afford to utilise the resources of the overpopulated Earth more than a mouse. The city was surrounded by a halo of glowing fairies, tiny winged moravecs that flitted about like humanoid fireflies and the waste heat from their overclocked bodies draped the city in an artificial twilight.
The citymind steered us to a landing area. It was fortunate that the cat was flying: I just stared at the buzzing things with my mouth open, afraid I’d drown into the sounds and the smells.
We sold our plane for scrap and wandered into the bustle of the city, feeling like daikaju monsters. The social agents that the Small Animal had given me were obsolete, but they could still weave us into the ambient social networks. We needed money, we needed work.
And so I became a musician.
* * *
The ballroom is a hemisphere in the center of the airship. It is filled to capacity. Innumerable quickbeings shimmer in the air like living candles, and the suits of the fleshed ones are no less exotic. A woman clad in nothing but autumnn leaves smiles at me. Tinkerbell clones surround the cat. Our bodyguards, armed obsidian giants, open a way for us to the stage where the gramophones wait. A rustle moves through the crowd. The air around us is pregnant with ghosts, the avatars of a million fleshless fans. I wag my tail. The scentspace is intoxicating: perfume, fleshbodies, the unsmells of moravec bodies. And the fallen god smell of the wrong master, hiding somewhere within.
We get on the stage on our hindlegs, supported by prosthesis shoes. The gramophone forest looms behind us, their horns like flowers of brass and gold. We cheat, of course: the music is analog and the gramophones are genuine, but the grooves in the black discs are barely a nanometer thick, and the needles are tipped with quantum dots.
We take our bows and the storm of handclaps begins.
“Thank you,” I say when the thunder of it finally dies. “We have kept quiet about the purpose of this concert as long as possible. But I am finally in a position to tell you that this is a charity show.”
I smell the tension in the air, copper and iron.
“We miss someone,” I say. “He was called Shimoda Takeshi, and now he’s gone.”
The cat lifts the conductor’s baton and turns to face the gramophones. I follow, and step into the soundspace we’ve built, the place where music is smells and sounds.
The master is in the music.
* * *
It took five human years to get to the top. I learned to love the audiences: I could smell their emotions and create a mix of music for them that was just right. And soon I was no longer a giant dog DJ among lilliputs, but a little terrier in a forest of dancing human legs. The cat’s gladiator career lasted a while, but soon it joined me as a performer in the virtual dramas I designed. We performed for rich fleshies in the Fast City, Tokyo and New York. I loved it. I howled at Earth in the sky in the Sea of Tranquility.