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L. Neil Smith's
Number 643, November 6, 2011

"My plan is to outlive my enemies.
How about you?"4

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MIKADO: An Excerpt From Blade of p'Na
by L. Neil Smith

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Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Blade of p'Na is a sequel to my novel of alternative probabilities, Forge of the Elders (Baen, 2000), in which the human p'Nan moral debt assessor Eichra Oren first meets his chief patron, the giant sapient nautiloid, Misterthoggosh. This story, from what I hope will someday be "The Casebook of Eichra Oren", is told by Eichra Oren's "symbiote", a Samoyed dog named Sam, with electronically enhanced intelligence.

At this point in the story, Eichra Oren and Sam are investigating indications that their version of Earth -- shared by hundreds of different sapient species collected over thousands of years by Misterthoggosh's people, known as the "Elders" -- is being secretly invaded by a previously unknown species.

Mikado is a Maine Coon cat, similarly enhanced, who is the symbiote of Jakdav Hoj, a pathologist who works for Misterthoggosh and his old friend Semlohcolresh, at whose home this scene occurs.

Somehow, it had gotten late.

We were still far from agreement, two humanoids, their symbiotes, and a couple of ancient nautiloids, concerning what to do about our little problem. It isn't every day that your homeworld gets invaded by aliens.

Apparently the next step, at least for Misterthoggosh and his investment partners, would be to contact experts in various fields, fill them in on what was happening, and see what they had to suggest. I had my doubts about this: to me it sounded like they were summoning shamans.

Or lawyers.

From what I've seen in the Otherworld Museum and elsewhere, it appears to me that deferring to expertism is the quickest, most efficient, and most reliable method known to sapientkind (to coin a phrase) of reducing your entire civilization to smoking, radioactive rubble.

I wasn't shy about saying so, either. Of course they ignored me. They'd be sorry, I reckoned, when the first nuke went off. But they wouldn't be around to apologize, or I wouldn't be around to apologize to.

Or both.

When they'd all talked themselves half to death, our respective bosses, Mikado's and mine, had gone upstairs and outside for a smoke. I don't believe that Semlohcolresh had asked them to. His ventilation system was certainly up to dealing with a couple of cigars. But the two men had just wanted to sample the night air, and maybe watch the fireflies.

I wouldn't have objected to a healthy portion of that, myself -- giving the cigar a pass -- but I had been wondering all night why Mikado seemed so hostile toward everybody, especially to me. Being the individual that I am, once the humanoids were gone, the nautiloids had retired for the nonce, and it was just us symbiotes, I just asked the question.

The big cat blinked, as if surprised that anybody would simply come straight out with it. The voice his implant generated was deep, mellow, and ironic. "Well," the creature replied, after giving it a moment's thought, "we felines do have a certain ... reputation to maintain."

Yes, it was a reputation that, in several alternities where cats were associated in folklore with the forces of evil, had gotten them all rounded up and burned en masse. But I refrained from saying it. Instead: "And this was duly decided at the 10,000th annual Interworld Cat Conference?" I inquired. "Was it by voice vote, or did you keep a tally?"

He laughed -- purely an implant artifact -- and replied, "To be perfectly truthful, sir, it's a test that's sort of built into us by evolution, and almost perfectly reflexive on our parts. We're small as solitary predators go, and forced to proceed on whatever evolutionary advantages we can seize for ourselves. If another individual can be easily intimidated, then he probably isn't worth knowing. But if he gives as good as he gets, then he's a potential friend. You, my good Oasam Otusam, are a cynic, which tells me that you're a disappointed romantic."

"I won't deny it." It was too true. No thumbs and I like human females.

"But between a healthy circumspection and returning tit for tat, you have managed somehow to split the difference. Quite unexpected, actually."

"Which means?" I asked, suspicious.

"You'll do," said the cat, hopping down from the stool. "You'll do. Come on. I'll make it up to you. Let me show you my favorite thing."

We left the pathology lab and walked down the corridor for some distance -- it was a big place, this underground, underwater estate -- glancing from time to time through the big glass wall on our right, into the saltwater-filled part of Semlohcolresh's home. It was quiet at this time of night, and, except for a big plecostomus scrubbing algae from the glass, not a creature was stirring, not even a sea scorpionoid.

Finally we went up half a flight of steps where, attached to the glass on the other side of the wall, we saw a transparent box (nearly invisible, as its refractive index was quite close to that of the water it was in) in which a dozen small, extremely colorful fish -- neon tetras, clown loaches, orange swordtails, angels, ghotis -- were swimming. It was the nautiloid equivalent of keeping a cageful of birds.

It struck me that these were freshwater fish. The plecostomus was, too. Nautiloids live in saltwater. I wondered how they handled the difference.

Mikado pressed his nose against the glass, watching the fish. "You know," he said, "I can persuade my humanoid to take me anywhere for an exotic and delicious meal. I can order the house computer to prepare any delicacy that tickles my fancy: tenderly-sauteed liver, lobster pate, Chicken Pyrenees. It will find it for me, cook it, and deliver it."

"Sure," I said. "And ... ?"

"And despite all of that, every cell in my body is screaming at me to leap into that water right now and gobble up all those expensive -- and probably poisonous -- fish raw. I wouldn't go to the wall to defend this theory of mine, Sam, but your kind have been domesticated -- how I detest that word -- for just about twice as long as mine have."

The jury is still out on the exact dates involved. Dogs evolved from wolves, and are said to have partnered up with human beings in the northeast corner of the Great Continent an Ice Age or two ago. Housecats (Mikado probably hated that expression, too) are not related closely to lions and leopards, and supposedly arose in the northeast corner of the continent immediately south of the Inland sea. But the ancient Antarcticans had both dogs and cats, fifteen thousand years ago.

However, I said, "I suppose that's true." And it probably was.

"Wildness still lives inside us cats."

I often have dreams of following a pack, the sheer joy of running into the wind, tongue hanging out, after a big herd of wild herbivores across some endless prairie somewhere. Eichra Oren tells me that my implants leak signals at a time like that, that he sees what I see, hears what I hear, smells what I smell -- it's like talking in your sleep -- and that I whimper and jerk my legs whenever I have that dream.

Cell memory, Eichra Oren calls it. Human beings don't have it. The herd-beasts of my dreams have been extinct a hundred thousand years. I told Mikado about it. He said that wildness still lives inside of me, too.

We understood each other.

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