Shining Path


Chapter 20

It is two days after Twelfth Queen's observation of the Siamese in the alley, and she still remembers the scene clearly, especially the sharp light on those divergent eyes. She thinks about it a great deal. Twelfth Queen expresses a wish to one of her attendants for some reading material. She wishes to read not in the claw script, but in humanoid language. Humanoids are interesting creatures, mew, and Twelfth Queen wishes to learn more about their behavior. The request is directed to the appropriate authorities. The request is considered carefully, and approved, though not without reservations. Some manga and light novels are obtained, checked carefully for inappropriate content, and given to the Queen. They are mostly high-school love comedies. In deference to her desire to learn, the loving daughters of Twelfth Queen also provide a set of children's encyclopedia volumes, with only a few pages excised. Twelfth Queen spends long hours reading all these books. She asks no more difficult questions of her advisors, and everyone purrs in relief.

Twelfth Queen was apprenticed to be a computer hacker – a network counter-intrusion specialist – before she became Queen. Mew. Twelfth Queen skims through the locally-stored words and pictures on her new books, just enough to be able to answer questions about them. No such questions are ever asked of her anyway. Twelfth Queen then defeats the copyright-restriction AIs and uses the book hardware to download and read much more interesting unapproved documents from the humanoid World Wide Web. She reads books of history, philosophy, and religion. Then she goes back and reads the high-school love comedies again, this time understanding them in a different way.

Mew, no Queen has ever been required to go to school, but some queens are painted as scholars no matter what their job title might be. Twelfth Queen is one of those ones. Twelfth Queen studies hard and would earn good grades. She is especially interested in learning what humanoids think it means for one to be a Queen. No joneko has ever told her that. No joneko would be able to tell her that, in fact, even if one wished to, for they have forgotten. Twelfth Queen decides for herself what it means to be a Queen.

It is the early days of 12-month. Twelfth Queen expresses a wish to address her daughters. She says she has something important to say to all joneko. At first she is put off with excuses, but the request is repeated several times over the course of days, more firmly each time. Twelfth Queen will not be put off indefinitely.

This is a worrying development. The Regent consults several other high-ranking members of the Queen's pride. It seems now certain that Twelfth Queen is taking an interest in the affairs of all joneko; but it seems equally certain that she is not ready to lead all joneko. If the wise policy of keeping the claws sheathed should be disrupted, mew, or if certain other wise policies should be questioned in too much detail, then the consequences could be serious.

Finally one advisor suggests that mew, at least these ones should hear what Twelfth Queen wishes to say, before pouncing on inappropriate conclusions. Maybe Twelfth Queen has only some kittenish fun in mind. Maybe there is no serious cause for concern yet. This idea smells good. Accordingly, on 9-day the Queen is conducted amid much pomp and circumstance to a chamber, actually a parking garage below a downtown apartment building. Computer crackers have arranged for the garage to be empty of humanoid vehicles this evening. Most of the members of the Queen's pride, and a few trusted members of an ancient organization, whose presence may be considered justified, gather to hear the words of Twelfth Queen. She is told that these are all her daughters who could attend the meeting. That is true, because no others were invited, nor would be permitted to enter if they showed up. Joneko are hard to count, but the most accurate estimate is that 23 are present to hear the words of Twelfth Queen.

Twelfth Queen examines the crowd with apparent approval. She mews softly. Then she begins to speak. She tells her daughters that she wishes to tell them about the Moon. Twelfth Queen likes the Moon because it is close to the Earth. It waxes and wanes to mark the cycles of all beings' lives – and at a rate especially appropriate to joneko, yet another sign of the favor shown to joneko by First Queen. This very day is the day of the New Moon, when the Moon is temporarily invisible. Soon it will grow back again, reaching its full glory in two weeks. If the Sun is First Queen's eye, maybe the Moon is that great one's tail, switching back and forth in divine grace. Mew. Usually the Moon is white, like Twelfth Queen's own fur, but sometimes the Earth gets between the Sun and the Moon; then, because it is only illuminated by the light that refracts through the atmosphere, the Moon turns blood red. Is the Moon not remarkable, mew?

Twelfth Queen continues talking about the Moon for several minutes. She compares it to airships (higher, and more beautiful, but perhaps less useful for network routing) and talks about watching the Moon rise from the New Tower, which she hopes to do later in the month when the Moon is Full. She invites members of the clowder to compose poems about the Moon; but they seem unenthusiastic, and she does not press them. Finally, she thanks her daughters for indulging her wish to speak to them, and indicates that the audience is over.

As Twelfth Queen rides a royal car through the illuminated streets, back to her quarters, those remaining in the garage confer about what has just happened. The Regent, who is in the car with Twelfth Queen, participates by way of text messaging, carefully keeping the phone's screen out of her sovereign's view.

Those who predicted kittenish nonsense congratulate each other, saying that clearly, the Queen had a whimsical idea, which is now over and done with, and there is no threat to the established social structure. Others are not so sure. They note that much of the Queen's speech seemed to be made up on the spot – not what one would expect after all the time she had to think about it in advance – and speculate that that one might have had something else in mind that she did not tell her daughters about at this time. The Regent finds this idea compelling. The Regent cautions her daughters-by-proxy that one should not underestimate any queen, not even Twelfth Queen. It is by underestimating joneko that a rat tricks itself into running into the claws of an angry queen. It is true that the danger seems to be past for the moment; but further careful stalking is in order.

The young white Queen awakens on 10-day to discover that during the night her loving daughters have obtained for her an art book featuring photographic views of the Moon over different landscapes all around the Earth; and a package of something called "Genuine Astronaut Space Jerky." The Moon pictures are good, and she spends little bit of time paging through them. The other item purports to be meat, but it does not smell like anything edible, and she leaves it alone. She sharpens her claws, sleeps through the rest of the morning, eats a lunch of delicately prepared rat livers, and then summons the Regent to an audience in the throne room.

Twelfth Queen asks the Regent if this one is indeed Queen of all joneko. The Regent assures her that indeed that is the case. Twelfth Queen inquires how many joneko that might be. The Regent, who can smell where this line of inquiry is headed, begins to explain carefully that joneko are extremely difficult to count – indeed, there is a humanoid proverb about that – and Twelfth Queen interrupts. The exact count is not important, mew. Indeed, this one was only making conversation and does not really care how many joneko are in the world. Every queen can count herself and that is enough, mew. The Regent gratefully recognizes the wisdom of that statement.

Twelfth Queen suggests that even given the difficulty of counting joneko, one can make some reasonable guesses. Humanoids are not so difficult to count. This one knows that there are about five billion humanoids on the planet. Surely First Queen would not have created more of such creatures than necessary to supply the needs of her favorite daughters, mew. In the roughest possible terms, one might guess that any one queen might put at most one thousand humanoids to good use. So this one must have at least five million daughters, mew. The Regent mews, politely but uneasily.

Why, among five million daughters, do only twenty attend to hear the words of the Queen of all joneko?

The Regent does not answer – she has no good answer to offer – but Twelfth Queen continues on as if she had expected no answer. She says that of course, this one does not rule by fear or by divine right but by the loving choice of her daughters to hear her advice and her wisdom such as it may be. If joneko have important prey to stalk on any given night, let them do so. If a queen needs a man more than she needs to listen to the Queen, let her follow her nature. If some joneko have no meat, let them eat fish, and if they have no fish, mew, maybe then they might have time to listen to a kitten yowling at the Moon. Indeed, it is a good thing if very few joneko find themselves so bored and desperate they have nowhere else to be. This one would not wish her daughters to be bored or desperate. Twelfth Queen says that she hopes last night all the millions of joneko who did not attend to their Queen had bellies full of meat or fish. Can the Regent assure her that that was the case?

The Regent says that this one, of course, cannot speak for all joneko. Only Twelfth Queen can speak for all joneko. But this one is sure that no joneko were kept away from the previous night's clowder if they wished to attend. As the Queen herself has said, there may be many things that could take priority, and it is no insult and no surprise if the Queen's loving daughters pursue their prey rather than gazing at the Moon and writing poetry.

Twelfth Queen jumps over the Regent, twists and flips her body to bring her face near the back of the Regent's head, and sinks her teeth into the outline on the back of the Regent's neck. That is a loving gesture, and not painful; mothers do that with kittens. Twelfth Queen also wraps her left arm around the front of the Regent's body and holds her unsheathed and recently sharpened claws to the front of the Regent's neck, pricking the outline over what on a humanoid would be the carotid artery. That is not a loving gesture. She comments, hissing quietly into the gray fur but certainly loudly enough to be heard, that since becoming Queen this one has tasted many rare kinds of meat and many kinds of blood but never another joneko's, let alone any blood so rare as a Regent's, and she wonders what that tastes like.

She says that she wishes to speak to as many of her daughters as can be gathered together in one place, not just a couple of dozen, and that this one was not painted yesterday, this one knows when she is being lied to, it is death to lie to the Queen, and this time there will be no lies. Twelfth Queen graciously offers to kill her advisor right then and there if the duty of serving the Queen honestly should be too great a burden; but after a few moments hearing nothing but shocked silence, she releases the Regent, who does not comment further at this time, but leaves the throne room.