A cat of jet black pedigree has a black body;
teeth, eyes, claws, tongue, all are black
her tail is so long
that it will touch her head
— First Lucky Cat, “Nin Rad” (Black Jet of Jewel), Cat-Book Poems
She was born obsidian-black, her body casing smooth, cast from metal alloys. Inside her was cog-work, making her breathe, powering her limbs. Sleek and long, with graceful paws and whip-like tail, she purred, a soft mechanical drill. Her eyes were the brightest gold, her teeth the sharpest needles and her little tongue a whimsical velvet tip, curling as she yawned.
She was made to last, a companion until death. Illness would not harm her. Nor would fleas. She padded softly through the baroque corridors, a hunter of steel and deadly accuracy. Leaping into the chrome bunk heads and prowling through them, searching for digital and physical prey.
She was named Na’am. Water. Fluid, still as a deep river, ever-changing. She flowed as she walked, a living black stream. She flowed as time flowed; her owners grew, became old and died. Yet she remained, keeping track with the patterns in her surroundings.
In the silent ship she stalked, ever-moving Na’am, seeking echoes around the corner. She walked through quiet rooms empty of occupants. She sniffed the air, long gone stale. She watched the stars go by in streaks.
When she found that her gentle mistress was no longer in the big room filled with ancient books, she trilled with a soft resonant tick-tick-tick. In her cog-work heart, she knew that something was not right. The pattern was not there anymore. Her mistress was the last of her kind, a kind soul who loved the written work and shared it with a cog-work cat. She had many owners. This one made the strongest impression, because her speech made physical patterns inside a metal-alloy feline, intricate words that spoke of sensations and color. They were fiery inside Na’am, the jet-black cat, as intense as the synthetic synapses within her perfectly shaped head.
She slipped past closed doors and down sterile corridors bereft of walking feet and lively conversation, looking for the lady who used words like music, like the songs from the still-beeping computer panels. Na’am shivered and her tail swished slowly, left to right, right to left.
At last she appeared in the middle of the garden. Her mistress, the lover of books and words, enjoyed the garden the most, sitting on the marble seat, admiring the green-blue-brown scenery with the simulated breeze stirring the bodhi leaves and crab-claw red heliconia. There were once birds, real birds, flying around, their wings blurring as they flew. Na’am would watch them, as all cats would, wanting to hunt but restraining herself, because of her mistress’s delicate disposition. They would both sit, watching the birds and listening to the splash of the fountain in the middle of the garden.
There were no more birds buzzing around in the trees. The fountain was still splashing, programmed to do so for a long time. The water had already gone algae-green.
Something broke the familiar patterns in the garden. A brown lump, right beside the marble seat. Na’am padded towards the brown anomaly, nose forward, tail held erect.
There was a hint of skin, gnarled as it was, emerging from the brown cloth. White hair tumbling out, shimmering under the light. An open book, spilled from the hands.
With a start jolting her cog-work circuitry, Nam knew. Her mistress was dead. She circled the corpse, once, twice, remembering the memory, patterning the sequence. She looked at the book. Words, words, words. She saw the words “heart”, “song” and “dance”. They took shape in the cog-work cat.
She rubbed the exposed hand affectionately, purring her drill-like purr. A final farewell. Another tender nudge — and a rainbow disc rolled forth from the hand. Na’am recognized it. It was a memory disc. Her mistress used it often to store long-lost histories and ancient texts. Pictures, songs and voices remained stored forever.
Suddenly, Na’am had an idea, a thought-form in her head. She would help her mistress keep the memory disc. She picked the disc up with her teeth and swallowed. The disc went in and lodged inside her cog-work heart.
Everything lurched, stopped. The cogs encountered the disc, met resistance and jammed, the serrated edges twitching against the disc —
Images, people — unfamiliar and strange — and tall marble-like structures, intimidating (to a little cat), thundered through Na’am. There were snatches of words, laughter, tears, rage and quiet meditations. Singing. Dancing. There were men who talked, smiled and spoke of poetry. Gardens and pleasant blue water.
Na’am stood stock-still, her tiny obsidian body trembling.
Somewhere in the patterns of memories was a little baby. Wrapped in a beige blanket. Jeremiah. Jeremiah. The baby responded to the soundless, voiceless name. Jeremiah.
Click. A bright flash, like the blaze of a dying star, blocked out the baby. The marble-like structures shook, crumbled and fell. There were screams. Click. Sounds of sobbing, followed by a baby’s cries. And then, abruptly, words formed, black intricate lines tracing on paper. And Na’am saw herself, a little black cat with golden eyes, like a little Bast statue. There were words behind her metal paw-pads, miniscule sequences of letters. Her mistress remembered her.
The cogs clicked one final time, the disc stored. Lodged inside her heart.
Na’am shook herself awake, getting used to the silence within her. Her circuitry ticked and snapped. The splashing of the water was suddenly too loud, too jarring.
Silently, she walked away from the garden, returning to the room with the books. There she jumped onto the red settee so beloved by her mistress and curled up, long tail over her nose.
She would continue waiting.
Joyce Chng: Singaporean, gardener, two beautiful girls. Her fiction has appeared in Crossed Genres, Semaphore Magazine and Bards and Sages Quarterly.
This tale was inspired by the ancient Thai Cat-Book Poems (the translation of the verse above is attributed to Ianthe Cormak) and a bit of speculation.
Na’am is Thai for “water” — Pronounced roughly as nah-um.