Art by Melissa Mead
Made of Cats
by Judith Tarr
Never mind the slithy toves; let me tell you about the time all the cats splooped into floons.
It all started the day the aliens landed. (Doesn't it always?) We'd been getting the odd invasion--sometimes really odd--for about a hundred years by then. The ones that came up out of the ground and down from the sky and blasted people to powder and tried to marsiform the planet? And got the common cold and turned into slime mold and died? They were just the start.
We were pretty solid on the intergalactic maps by the time the Kovarrubians showed up. Killer microbes? Check. Nuclear option? Check. Toxic xenophobia? Triple check.
So now when the aliens came, they came in peace. For reals, dudes. Cure for cancer? Check. Super-mega-hyper-insta-teleporta-warp drive? Check. World peace? Not so much. But now when people got their hate on, mostly they got it on somebody Out There.
The day the Kovarrubians came, Emily Habibi-Rubinstein, age five and a half, was having a terrible, horrible, awful, no-good, very bad day. Which meant that as her mother, I, Shannon Habibi, age never mind, was having one, too. Between the snufflecrud that kept her home from school, the power failure that took out the television, the Internet, the house controls, and the air conditioning in one fell swoop, and the failure of the city bus to show up and get us both to the library where we could cool off and toss Emily into a big blissful pile of books, we were not a happy family.
Oh, and did I mention that the phones were down, too? So we were effectively cut off from the world?
That was the first indication that we might be having another alien invasion. The second came about an hour later, after the power came back on and brought the air conditioning with it, but everything else was still stubbornly refusing to get the memo. I'd made Emily lie down for a nap she insisted, at 120 decibels, that she was too old for. "I'm too old for you not to," I said, hard-hearted, and cranked the air and shoved Mr. Gubbins into her arms and shut the door on her.
Emily is what we call strong-willed, but she gets it from me and she knows it. The howling stopped after six minutes and thirty-three seconds. It would start again, by my calculations, exactly fourteen minutes later, but meanwhile I had a reprieve. I pulled a can of Diet Crack out of the secret stash in the back of the fridge, popped the top, and blissed on a long swallow of liquid heaven.
Just as I got my breath for the second dose, a shriek from the back of the house came thisclose to splitting my eardrums. That was a solid 160 db, easy, and left E above high C croaking in the dust.
My brain was still in the kitchen. The rest of me was inside Emily's room, ears ringing so high and fierce I could barely hear the words that came after the shriek. But I could see what she was thrusting out at me, and read her lips. "Mr. Gubbins! Mr. Gubbins!"
Mr. Gubbins was, by the courtesy of his DNA, a cat. He was also, by nature and inclination, a Bodhisattva.
He showed up one day while I was pregnant with Emily, looking like a dirty white rat, barely big enough to fit into my palm. The dirt turned out to be orange spots. The rest of him grew into a big, soft, gorgeous armful of bunny fur and rusty-lawnmower purr.
From the day we brought Emily home from the birthing center, he was her cat. He slept at her feet when she was tiny and beside her when she got bigger, and he followed her everywhere around the house and the yard. If he could have gone to school and play dates and kiddie yoga with her, he would. Emily loved that cat, and as far as I could tell considering cats, he loved her right back.
This wasn't Mr. Gubbins. Oh, there was bunny fur and the spots were in the right places, but the orange had mutated into candy pink, the purr had gone all liquid and trill-y, and the big yellow eyes were the size of mini-saucers. It hung limply in Emily's hands, and then in mine when she threw it at me, and blinked and bubbled and trilled.
It was the cutest thing I had ever laid eyes on. It was absolutely horrible.
Emily was completely out of her head. "Mr. Gubbins! Mr. Gubbins! MR. GUBBINS!"
I can't say I was completely sane myself. I hate cute. I hate it. You know that fury of a thousand suns thing? Think fury of a googol zillion Hello Kitties.
I had just enough brain power left not to smash that awful thing against the wall. I carried it out with extreme care instead, and shut it in Emily's bathroom. Not that it looked as if it was going anywhere; it had feet, sort of, but they didn't look as if they could take it very far.
Once the thing was out of sight, Emily calmed down enough to almost make sense. She could tell me what had happened, sort of. "Mr. Gubbins went sploop! And now he's all gone!"
"I don't think he's gone," I said. "I think he's just gone through a bit of a change."
Emily wasn't having any. "Mr. Gubbins is gone!"
She was starting to spiral into freakout again. Thank Allah, the Internet was back, and so, with a few stutters, was the television.
I logged her into her favorite interactive. By pure luck her friend Yoon was there, too. She was still in tears, but now she had someone else to cry to.
That would hold her for a while. I'd always been quick on the search trigger, and motherhood had made me the fastest google in the West. But this time I didn't need any of my skills. It was all over the place--everywhere.
The Internet is made of cats. That's a cosmic truth.
Now the Internet was made of--
The local MomBoard is a major feeder conduit for the global news network. Want to know anything that matters to anybody? Ask a mom. And our moms had the best internetwork anywhere.
Maricela was womanning the video chat today, in between being Mayor and running International InfoWare Unlimited. She had it all condensed into one of her famous pithy newsbytes. "SoxNation has won the pennant; the Kovarrubians have landed in the desert west of Sasabe; and all our cats have turned into floons."
"Who named them that?"
It's always been my job to ask the hard questions. When it comes to easy ones, Derek does the honors. Derek is one of our househusbands, and he's a genius with a laundry machine. What he can do to get the dirtiest whites white . . .
Derek's one serious flaw is that he's a dog person, but we all forgive him that. Especially since he wasn't gloating about the cats. Which were now floons.
"So?" he said. "Did anybody think to trace it back to the source?"
"It's not the Sox," Gretl said. "If they did anything remotely like this, they'd give a baseball a warp engine. Or a set of wings."
"It's the Kovarrubians," I said. "Isn't it?"