by Edward M. Lerner
Chapter One. A Project to share hard-won Lessons from the Author’s former Adventures. The unsatisfactory Nature of his Life in Redriff, and his Forbearance of Society. A strange Sighting.
* * *
Following a reluctant return to England from my fourth voyage, I conceived the project of reforming my countrymen with an instructive account of all that I had seen and learned. None can gainsay that the book thus written has made my travels famous. As for bringing about any improvement, however trivial, among my fellows, I must confess to abject failure. Of this disappointment I attribute a small part to a scurrilous publisher who took it upon himself to expurgate my report and a somewhat larger part upon my technical defects as an author. I assign the dominant responsibility to hubris and folly, for this undertaking was surely doomed from the start. Who but a fool might suppose any among his brutish kind capable of serious improvement—or even capable of printing books as the author intended and directed?
In the years that followed my latest return to Redriff, I had rejoined, howbeit with some difficulty, the company of the occasional person. I once again would dine with my wife, separated one from the other by a long table. I would even converse, from time to time, if usually with but one at a time, with other members of my family. Of strangers and crowds, I perforce remained aloof. In large measure, then, I spent my days in the company of horses.
In short, I did not know the troublesome publisher. Needs be, I had entrusted to my cousin Sympson, an advocate of this endeavour, to engage a publisher on my behalf. I had but recently begun a letter of complaint to my cousin about the unsatisfactory changes made to my book in its first edition when a new adventure overtook me.
* * *
That afternoon, as many an afternoon, a favourite horse and I wandered across a rolling meadow wherein no one, whether highwayman or garrulous neighbor or mischievous child, might come upon me unawares. I talked, and she listened. After awhile, I didn’t much talk. Sixty-six years of age, hard-worn by my past adventures, I was all too easily winded.
Of a certainty, I had been mad with grief and loss upon my latest return to England. Was I insane on the day my new adventure began? Am I mad yet this day? In the unlikely event anyone should happen upon this, my latest account, the reader shall have to decide.
Mad or not, I spent each day in Redriff in apprehension of the perversities into which people so often lapsed. How carelessly we become cutthroats and thieves, politicians and vote sellers, fornicators and prevaricators, drunkards and forgers, suborners and perjurers, lawyers and whores. Human, we might flatter ourselves to be named, but there was nothing humane about us! And so, I never ventured from home without a hanger strapped to my side. That weapon had served me well throughout my voyages; I trusted it would serve again were my equine companion and I to be set upon, during one of our walks, by beasts or brigands. Verily, I scarcely distinguished ’twixt the two perils.
That afternoon, as many an afternoon, my muscles and joints complained of the exertion, and yet I rejoiced in that aching. It was a sign that ere many more years should pass, I would be relieved of the burthensome knowledge of my innate moral failings.
As my friend and I approached the curving shore of the Thames, me gasping for breath, she neighing in sympathy, I espied out of a corner of my eye a disturbance of some kind. The air, although the sky was clear, of a sudden held the pungent scent of an approaching storm. The horse, too, sensing something peculiar, shied away.
Even as I turned my gaze toward that indistinct disturbance, it began to take form. It changed into a bright flicker. The flicker became . . . I knew not what. A shimmering rectangle afloat just above the ground. A featureless, translucent rectangle. A featureless, translucent box. The box, in turn, took on an almost solid whiteness, within which lesser shapes appeared: tables, perhaps, and cryptic engines, and shadowy human figures. Of a sudden, in but a few beats of my pounding heart, the whiteness faded to nothing. It was as if only the sheerest pane of glass separated me from a spacious room that had appeared out of nowhere—and as if from within that room, people in odd garb stared at me!
I had only an instant to consider this turn of events, for the apparition was too much for my friend. She galloped away, panic-stricken, and I ran after. Some rock, crevice, or gopher hole unseen in the grass snagged the toe of my shoe. My hat, and then I, went flying. My head struck a rock, and all went dark.
* * *
Chapter Two. The Place of the Author’s Arrival. The Debasing of the Language. An uncertain Location. A curious Conversation.
* * *
Flat upon my back on a strangely firm and broad bed, I awakened in a large and unrecognized room.
I studied this place intently. Walls and ceiling alike were of shades of white. The room, although windowless, was not dark, because the ceiling, without evidence of any flame, somehow gave off a steady white light. The wall past the foot of the bed held a large, shiny, black rectangle where a window might have been. The wall to my left had a large, paneled wooden door; the wall to my right offered two narrower such doors. All three doors were closed. The room, but sparsely furnished, held, in addition to the bed, a small wooden table, two cloth-covered chairs, a wooden chest of drawers, and divers other items whose natures and purposes eluded me. A scent of lemon was unmistakable. I swung my feet to the floor, which was entirely covered in white square tiles. Apart from my clothes, muddy from my fall, the room was spotless. My reflection in the shiny black rectangle showed a bruise on my forehead. Short cloth strips, somehow adhering to my skin, seemed to serve as stitches over a gash almost two inches in length. READ MORE
by Tracy Canfield
Conference mode, Shennong Station, 3/1/2164
Maneki Neko 13:05:02
hello evreybody my name is maneki neko & i am a cat! (named maneki neko)
Okay, which of you assholes uplifted the cat?
Gregory Silva 13:15:01
And could you at least have declawed him while you were at it? He squirmed away before my scan finished, but he definitely has a language module with our standard English preload and a basic cognition module. His head’s no bigger, so there isn’t room for much more in his implant. Heading to First Aid for some bandages.
Gregory Silva 13:15:58
For me, not for the cat.
Dao Ti 13:16:22
I will inventory the implants and determine what is missing. After so many of them have failed in the field, I’m troubled, truthfully, that any of us would waste one on a juvenile prank of this sort.
Maneki Neko 13:17:04
theres somethnig sticky on my head! i cant reach it with my tounge! somebody lick me plz
Dao Ti 13:17:37
And if we run out of surgical glue, the nearest refill is forty light-years away.
Standard English preload? With all those typos?
Gregory Silva 13:19:11
Maybe the language module was damaged during the installation. Or just plain installed wrong. I mean, I’m the only bioengineer on the team—none of you have ever hooked up a synterface, right? Or . . . Bryan, could some kind of network problem be garbling the cat’s transmissions?
Bryan Daniels 13:24:28
No, the conferenceware’s sending and receiving his messages correctly. He just can’t spell.
Dao Ti 13:27:03
Linguistically speaking, Maneki Neko’s syntax, inflectional morphology, and lexicon have been standard so far. Orthography is a secondary language skill, so the problem could be in the cognition module. That would be your specialty, Utas.
Leave me out of this. I have actual work to do.
Claudine Mello 13:28:54
Look, team, I realize how stressful Operation Come Home has been, especially lately. We’re still not fully acclimated to the eighteen-hour natural daylight cycle and the low gravity, we’re cooped up in this station due to the quarantine, and we’ve hit a lot of dead ends.
Uplifting the cat is a waste of time and resources—but discussing it is also a waste of time and resources. Bryan, would you disable Maneki Neko’s account?
Bryan Daniels 13:29:22
Are you sure we want to do that? Every time he sends a message, the computer logs his exact location. Might come in handy if he doesn’t want to be caught.
I’ll get him.
God damn it, I opened my door and stepped on a dead mouse.
. . . in fact there’s a dead mouse in front of every door in this hall.
Maneki Neko 13:34:50
yes i nevr see you hunt! i dont want you to be hunrgy, i will teach you how to hunt!
Dao Ti and I are herbivorous species. Mice are not on the menu.
Gregory Silva 13:35:43
You say that as if any of the humans want to wake up to mouse tartare on toast.
Maneki Neko 13:36:19
i brouhgt you a dead mouse, when you can handl that i will bring you an injrued mouse! dont worry you will figure it out! i am here to help
Bryan Daniels 13:36:42
I wouldn’t have thought there were five mice loose in this station.
Gregory Silva 13:36:55
Oh shit. Back in a sec. Headed to the lab
Gregory Silva 13:42:44
Oh shit. All the cages in the lab are empty. He killed all our lab mice, folks.
Bryan Daniels 13:43:08
Let me pull the security footage. READ MORE