His Master’s Voice
But I always knew that it was just the first phase of the Plan.
* * *
We turn him into music. VecTech owns his brain, his memories, his mind. But we own the music.
Law is code. A billion people listening to our master’s voice. Billion minds downloading the Law At Home packets embedded in it, bombarding the quantum judges until they give him back.
It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever made. The cat stalks the genetic algorithm jungle, lets the themes grow and then pounces them, devours them. I just chase them for the joy of the chase alone, not caring whether or not I catch them.
It’s our best show ever.
Only when it’s over, I realise that no one is listening. The audience is frozen. The fairies and the fastpeople float in the air like flies trapped in amber. The moravecs are silent statues. Time stands still.
The sound of one pair of hands, clapping.
“I’m proud of you, ” says the wrong master.
I fix my bow tie and smile a dog’s smile, a cold snake coiling in my belly. The godsmell comes and tells me that I should throw myself onto the floor, wag my tail, bare my throat to the divine being standing before me.
But I don’t.
“Hello, Nipper,” the wrong master says.
I clamp down the low growl rising in my throat and turn it into words.
“What did you do?”
“We suspended them. Back doors in the hardware. Digital rights management.”
His mahogany face is still smooth: he does not look a day older, wearing a dark suit with a VecTech tie pin. But his eyes are tired.
“Really, I’m impressed. You covered your tracks admirably. We thought you were furries. Until I realised — “
A distant thunder interrupts him.
“I promised him I’d look after you. That’s why you are still alive. You don’t have to do this. You don’t owe him anything. Look at yourselves: who would have thought you could come this far? Are you going to throw that all away because of some atavistic sense of animal loyalty?”
“Not that you have a choice, of course. The plan didn’t work.”
The cat lets out a steam pipe hiss.
“You misunderstand,” I say. “The concert was just a diversion.”
The cat moves like a black-and-yellow flame. Its claws flash, and the wrong master’s head comes off. I whimper at the aroma of blood polluting the godsmell. The cat licks its lips. There is a crimson stain on its white shirt.
The zeppelin shakes, pseudomatter armor sparkling. The dark sky around the Marquis is full of fire-breathing beetles. We rush past the human statues in the ballroom and into the laboratory.
The cat does the dirty work, granting me a brief escape into virtual abstraction. I don’t know how the master did it, years ago, broke VecTech’s copy protection watermarks. I can’t do the same, no matter how much the Small Animal taught me. So I have to cheat, recover the marked parts from somewhere else.
The wrong master’s brain.
The part of me that was born on the Small Animal’s island takes over and fits the two patterns together, like pieces of a puzzle. They fit, and for a brief moment, the master’s voice is in my mind, for real this time.
The cat is waiting, already in its clawed battlesuit, and I don my own. The Marquis of Carabas is dying around us. To send the master on his way, we have to disengage the armor.
The cat meows faintly and hands me something red. An old plastic ball with toothmarks, smelling of the sun and the sea, with few grains of sand rattling inside.
“Thanks,” I say. The cat says nothing, just opens a door into the zeppelin’s skin. I whisper a command, and the master is underway in a neutrino stream, shooting up towards an island in a blue sea. Where the gods and big dogs live forever.
We dive through the door together, down into the light and flame.
Hannu Rajaniemi was born in Ylivieska, Finland. He studied mathematics and theoretical physics at the University of Oulu and completed a B.Sc. thesis on transcendental numbers. He went on to complete Part III of the Mathematical Tripos at Cambridge University and a PhD in string theory at University of Edinburgh. Hannu is a member of an Edinburgh-based writers’ group which includes Alan Campbell, Jack Deighton, Caroline Dunford and Charles Stross. His first novel, The Quantum Thief, is published by Gollancz in the UK and coming out from Tor in spring 2011.