Shining Path


Chapter 25

The Regent receives a message with a video recording and a three-dimensional still image attached. The message is otherwise blank, and its source is anonymous, at least difficult and maybe impossible to trace. The attached video recording is from a security camera in the joneko throne room, and it shows the Regent's recent interview with Twelfth Queen. The still image is a screen capture from a video-sharing network. The still image shows the throne room recording posted on the network, being viewed by millions and attracting many comments. Horrified, the Regent calls up that network on her computer and scratches in the channel number from the image.

On the screen, a ginger-haired humanoid offers the Regent ardent musical assurances that he is never going to give her up, let her down, nor misbehave in certain other ways.

The screen capture is fake. It consists of an appropriately scaled still frame from the security camera, pasted into a capture showing an existing high-traffic video clip. The security camera recording is not in fact posted to the network at all. But even though the message contains no words and no signature, its meaning is clear: the recording could just as easily be posted for real, mew, and the daughters of Twelfth Queen might find it interesting.

If Twelfth Queen claims an ability to publish network video clips, then why does she need the Regent's help to organize a clowder of her daughters? Mew, why does the Queen not just say whatever she wants to say, over the network? The Regent discusses this, and other questions even more important, with the members of the Queen's pride. None of those ones is able to explain it. The real explanation is simple. Twelfth Queen has read the wise observation of a certain Enkyou-Era American philosopher that "in the Dark all Cats are gray," and she needs an in-person gathering to put that fact to good use.

There are those ones who take the position that it does not matter what Twelfth Queen may have in mind – it must be stopped in any case, and there is no time nor necessity for it to be done in a delicate way. It is even mentioned, in quiet purring tones, that perhaps if the Queen were to unexpectedly disappear from the frame entirely and permanently, all joneko could continue very well with only a Regent into the indefinite future. At the very least, whatever means Twelfth Queen may be using to connect to the network must be scented and eliminated before more damage occurs.

Other ones suggest that haste may be even more dangerous than delay. These ones point out that a joneko queen is the most dangerous prey one can ever stalk, and the one in question has already made fools of several skilled politicians with frightening ease. It should be assumed unless proven otherwise that Twelfth Queen has already made contacts with confederates, whether joneko, humanoid, or AI, elsewhere in the world. It should be assumed that that one has already instructed her confederates on things to do if they unexpectedly lose contact. The confederates of Twelfth Queen could be anywhere, and they could do anything.

The Regent arbitrates, because that is her job, mew. Over the protests of the conservative faction, she directs that for the moment, some effort is to be made to humor Twelfth Queen. Crackers are to be contracted to investigate the network connection situation and if possible to record and analyze whatever the Queen may be communicating to outside entities, but until directed otherwise they will not attempt to block any connections. A public clowder is to be organized, more or less in the form the Queen has demanded – but it is to be organized in a secure location under secure conditions, mew, where there can be some hope of containing the damage should unfortunate events occur. And all the Queen's pride will be careful not to show their claws prematurely nor make silly kitten mistakes. The Regent amplifies the point one of the liberal faction made earlier: a joneko Queen is the most dangerous prey one can ever stalk.

In accordance with this wise decision, one of the Regent's assistants arranges to rent a baritsu school's practice hall, some distance West of the city, for the evening of 23-day. She tells Twelfth Queen that this place is the biggest one they can get with the money they have. That is true, although it is not clear exactly who decided on the budget for the project; Twelfth Queen did not. The assistant also says that the baritsu school is easier to secure than any place more centrally located. That is also true, but it has implications that these ones hope a young and naïve Queen may be unable to foresee. These ones are desperate to regain the upper paw.

Twelfth Queen rides with the Regent and a couple of other senior advisors to the baritsu school. That one is excited and inquisitive as any kitten out hunting for the first time, and she purrs contentedly to herself as she gazes out the window of the royal car. They ride through city streets until those give out, and there is a small break of (governmentally protected) countryside before they cross back into the suburban patchwork. It is a pleasant and scenic route. One of the advisors of Twelfth Queen asks what that one plans to say to her daughters, but she does not press when the Queen replies that of course, it is to be a surprise, mew. Because the Regent wishes to make sure that no unfortunate accidents happen unless caused and created by the Regent herself, therefore those ones who advocated for the mysterious disappearance of Twelfth Queen have been cautiously excluded from participation in this event.

The Queen's pride enter the building quietly and unseen and wait in a back room, one used for practice by smaller and more advanced groups of baritsu students, while the daughters of Twelfth Queen assemble in the main hall. This room has mirrors from floor to ceiling on three walls, and also covering the ceiling. The joneko do not understand the purpose of the mirrors in this room, because they have never studied humanoid baritsu. The mirrors in this room fascinate the young Queen, who has seldom seen her own reflection. She primps and washes, then takes a short nap while she waits.

The appointed time arrives. In the small back room they awaken Twelfth Queen. Out in the main practice hall, the Regent speaks first. She tells the crowd that the words of Twelfth Queen are surely memorable, wise, precocious, and cute. Her tone is light; many in the clowder notice that. Lilith, Jupiter, and Pluto are setting to the West of Tokyo (about 21:30 by humanoid clocks) when Twelfth Queen enters the room and gets her first good look at the assembly.

It is the biggest crowd Twelfth Queen has ever seen, and it is the biggest clowder of joneko ever assembled in one place. There are thousands of whites, blacks, gingers, pinks, purples, and greens, tabbies and torties, kittens and queens, Russians and Siamese, meganekko and mega-neko, waitresses, hostesses, bartenders, bouncers, ear cleaners, spin nurses, rat catchers, rug munchers, bug eaters, rockers, riot grrls, the Purring Death, the unemployed, hustlers, subway shovers, parkour couriers, okonomiyaki cooks, meter maids, wrench wenches, grease monkeys, odd jobbers, blow jobbers, drug mules, lab technicians, coax pullers, twinax tanglers, fiber splicers, surveillance engineers, wiretap installers, optical time-domain reflectometrists, conduit plumbers, pipeline piggers, patch panelists, punch-down specialists, smack-down experts, claw-through authorities, safety inspectors, process technicians, wall plate installers, co-locators, fan service technicians, server blade replacers, lightbulb changers, printer operators, tape mounters, net admins, database admins, admin assistants, secretaries, sex kittens, script kittens, secret sharers, enforcers, spies, office managers, subcontractors, librarians, serial rapists, scene shifters, best girls electric and photonic, actresses, models, singers, yowlers, fluffers, lap dancers, pole dancers, go-go dancers, conventional dancers, escorts, dominatrices, career schoolgirls, call girls, put girls, girls who call you "oniisama," and common whores. Mew. Twelfth Queen gets up on the podium and strikes a pose like the Rev. Charles Finney addressing the anxiety bench.

Twelfth Queen stares out at the clowder for some time without speaking, only purring, her blue eyes sweeping across the furry faces. Then she begins to speak, slowly and softly at first. She says that this one is a young queen and a younger Queen, she never sought the honor of serving all joneko in this way, and no-one ever told her how to do it. All Twelfth Queen knows about being a Queen, she knows from watching the example set by the Regent and by First Queen. She knows a lot about watching because she has so much practice. This Queen even presumes to know a little about First Queen herself, from watching that one. Twelfth Queen proposes to tell all joneko what she sees. Her voice becomes louder.

She says that she watches humanoids often. They are fun even to watch. It is not necessary to mention the other kinds of amusement humanoids are also good for. Every queen, no doubt, has her own favorite story about stupid humanoids. Twelfth Queen loves humanoids, just as she loves rats.

It seems clear to Twelfth Queen that First Queen created humanoids for amusement; but then why do humanoids think they are the dominant species of this world? Mew, who is a beggar scratching at whose door? Humanoids breed like rats; they are crafty like rats; and they invade and contaminate whatever they can, especially the males, and again they are like rats. It is only because of the forbearance of First Queen and her daughters that humanoids remain in their present ascendancy. They would be rats in the claws of an angry Queen.

Twelfth Queen's tail switches and she emphasizes her points by darting her paws forward as if playing with an imaginary rat. She says that watching these humanoid rats naturally suggests four important observations. First, humanoids could be destroyed at any time. Their cities, their food supplies, indeed their entire lives are absolutely dependent on ridiculously unreliable technology and the cooperation of all humanoids with each other, notwithstanding that each individual thinks himself sovereign like a joneko queen. Joneko know how unreliable both technology and humanoid cooperation can be, because joneko installed most of the technology and joneko are acquainted with humanoid nature. Second, the collapse of humanoid society, should it happen, would be sudden. The inherent unpredictability of such things is visible in history, for instance in the Deconstruction. No humanoid sees disaster coming until too late; but maybe slit-pupilled eyes can see better. Third, the power of humanoids crumbles all by itself, of its very nature; they do not need any help to destroy themselves. So why does it not happen today? Mew, and fourth: the logical observation is that if humanoids remain powerful today then it is only because all joneko, who are First Queen and her daughters, choose for the world to be so at this moment. There is nothing keeping the humanoids safe one more moment except the mere pleasure of all joneko.

It is clear to all present that the wise policy of Eleventh Queen, to keep the claws sheathed, is no longer in effect. Some who said before that perhaps Twelfth Queen should be the Last Queen, are now turning to each other and growling that it may indeed happen. Twelfth Queen may become the Last Queen simply because she brings down the wrath of the humanoid social structure on all joneko, and no more Queens or indeed no more joneko at all are ever allowed to exist. Mew, who is the one behaving like a toxoplasma-infected rat here, running into the claws of danger? The ones growling these sentiments wonder where the Regent is at this moment, and why that one does not put a stop to the dangerous nonsense.

The Regent is trying unsuccessfully to make a telephone connection. Most members of the audience have cameras, either built into their phones or as separate devices. Nearly every audience member with a camera is currently pointing it at Twelfth Queen and transmitting a video stream either to private server space or one or another public video-sharing community. The baritsu school's hall does not have its own wireless nanocell because when it is used for its usual purpose, the students are forbidden to bring in electronics anyway. All the video streams from the joneko clowder are funneling through utility-pole microcell antennas on the nearby street. These are meant to serve as backup to per-building and per-room nanocells, to fill in coverage gaps as a telephone user walks down the sidewalk. The microcells cannot support hundreds of simultaneous video feeds originating from a single room all at once without breaks.

The Regent has secret backdoor codes to override the network's multiplexing strategy and use the spare bandwidth intended for emergency and administrative purposes. But the secret codes are secrets kept from humanoids. Many joneko know them, and are using them to exhaustion here already. There really is no local wireless bandwidth remaining at all.

Eventually the Regent gives up on using the phone. Although she worries that it may be unwise to take her eyes off Twelfth Queen even for a minute or two, the Regent decides she must go speak in person to the ones she had been trying to phone. It is a short trip; they are just outside the building. She walks out onto the verandah, looks around, and sees nobody. She mew-mews the first half of an ancient countersign, and hears the correct response from a large clump of shrubbery; but nobody is visible there. In the fraction of a second her ears are turned toward the shrub, a black joneko with a white patch covering her forehead and eyes drops from the ceiling and stands in front of the Regent. The two put their heads together and converse quietly about what action may be justified in the present emergency.

At the podium, Twelfth Queen tells the restless crowd that her four observations lead naturally to ten points, like the ten claws of her front paws. She holds up her paws and extends and retracts the claws one at a time. It is a cheap party trick. Twelfth Queen happens to have the muscle control to do it; most other joneko cannot.

As a first point, mew: joneko have no shortage of power to throw the humanoid social structure into chaos at any moment. It can be blown away at any moment, like a candle flame or sakura petals in a typhoon. Second, the humanoids richly deserve to be humbled and shamed. The Rev. Jonathan Edwards, from one of whose sermons Twelfth Queen is freely borrowing ideas, uses the phrase "such grapes of Sodom" at this point. Twelfth Queen does not know what that means. She substitutes the idea of stillborn rat pups – the most unappetizing thing that could still be seen as resembling meat. Only the humanoids deserve such fare; such fare is not for queens of joneko such as she addresses.

Twelfth Queen says (third) that humanoids are already under sentence for their crimes. Humanoids themselves write more books of laws than any joneko would waste time reading. Humanoids write at length about ideas of rights; dignity; pride; values; and many other humanoid words. Such precious things are bought, sold, violated, and discarded without thought by humanoids whenever humanoids face joneko. Humanoids decide and write down penalties for such disregard, never thinking to read what they write. And (fourth) joneko need not behave as humanoids, eternally ignoring what is before them. When a queen smells a rat, she naturally stalks and pounces on it. Humanoid hesitation from the hunt, is the exclusive province of humanoid rats.

Outside the baritsu school, the Regent and the mostly-black joneko have issued an ancient order. Parkour couriers have been dispatched to nearby intersections where there is better wireless coverage, and phone calls and text messages have been distributed. Now dozens of other joneko are arriving. The newly-arrived joneko crouch in the parking lot, as if ready to spring. They neither growl nor purr.

Inside, Twelfth Queen is making her fifth point: she says that at this time joneko are crouched ready to spring. Shall all joneko kill the rats and lay them before the Queen? The sixth point is that such measures are barely necessary. Humanoids by their very ratty natures spontaneously lay themselves before queens. Humanoids bare their own throats to be bitten. Humanoid males line up and wait to be admitted to the hot-house. Humanoid males line up and wait to be admitted to the hospital afterward. They return as soon as they begin to heal. The principle of self-destruction flows in humanoid blood. This one has tasted it. Mew – it tastes good.

She says her seventh point is that humanoids should not consider themselves safe just because no means of death is immediately apparent. A rat is struck dead by the descending paw whether it sees it or sees it not; death is part of the world every moment that the world includes joneko. Mew, joneko have the art of passing unseen through human cities, appearing and disappearing at will. Joneko are surely the original model on which humanoids base their amusing stories of ninja. And eighth, the prudent care rats may show for the safety of their own lives is no security at all. Joneko (ninth point) are everywhere. Joneko claws are always at humanoid throats, yet they see it not. In humanoid dwellings, in their most guarded bedchambers, there do joneko dwell also. Humanoids think a queen curled up in front of the door at night is cute, even reassuring; they consider not what any joneko kitten would understand, that she thereby controls the only humanoid escape route.

As Twelfth Queen speaks to her daughters of escape routes, she looks carefully around the room and notices that there is a joneko on either side of each door. They were not there before. They have appeared in the last few minutes. The joneko guarding all the escape routes are making some effort to blend in with the clowder. Twelfth Queen is not fooled, and she is not surprised. Most of the clowder have not yet noticed that the room is sealed. Some look bored. But Twelfth Queen has worked hard to create the right conditions and has no intention of giving up when the prey is so close. Those joneko at the doors, and their master, they are the ones who must make the first move. Twelfth Queen will not scratch at their doors.

She proceeds to explain her tenth point, with kittenish innocence: that joneko are under no natural obligation to humanoids. It might be said that since humanoids create joneko from paint and cellulose acetate, there might be some obligation in return – at the very least, an obligation not to kill them – but such a claim would obviously be the squeaking of a rat under one's paw, trying to escape the bite. Consider, does a mother ask for obedience from the kittens she raises? No, a kitten cannot become a queen until she acts for herself; seeing that independence develop is the joy of raising kittens. Does First Queen beg favors from all joneko? No, it would be unbecoming – no queen should beg. There is no debt to humanoids. There is no debt to First Queen. The very concept of debt is itself a humanoid lie.

And now in these four observations and ten points, the world is clearly seen: the world of humanoid rats, the world of pain and debt and begging, of hunger and bad meat and compromises, of prostitution and drugs and shame and denial. As long as the rats control the world, there is no end to this exquisite horrible misery. Mew. There are those ones who say that this world must end. Those ones are correct. There are those ones who say that as after Summer is Winter and after Winter is Summer, so too must joneko rule where men rule now. That is also a delicious idea. There are those ones who speak of the Eschaton of First Queen, and the departure of humanoids from the islands, and they urge all joneko to believe.

But as all joneko do not owe the rats anything, and do not owe First Queen anything, so too First Queen does not owe anything to all joneko. Joneko should have no expectation of that great one solving any problems for them. There is no Eschaton as something hypothetical in a lying humanoid book; it is not just something for joneko to believe. Then shall joneko do their part? Shall they co-operate in doing what is needful to convince First Queen they deserve her intervention? Mew! There is no Eschaton as something temporary, a ritual one might perform occasionally between naptime and visiting the hot-house; it is not just something for joneko to do. There is not, and shall not be, any Eschaton in the form of a thing to believe or a thing to do.

But, Twelfth Queen says, in all her watching and observation she is more than sure that there is an Eschaton after all. Twelfth Queen will not give it to her daughters, like a mother giving a rat ready-killed to her kitten. First Queen will not give it to her daughters, like a humanoid boss giving a bonus to his employee. All joneko must make their own Eschaton, for themselves and of themselves, as part of their very existence every frame of every second of every day. Let it be painted on every cel, bound upon the arm, and written between the eyes. Let it be immanent. Let it exist within and throughout all things. The Eschaton is a thing for joneko to be.

Twelfth Queen sees the thing she was waiting for – the brief opening of a door, and the Regent's entrance in the company of several grim-looking retainers. It is time to end her speech. She says that the Eschaton does not shine; it is not precocious or cute. Twelfth Queen does not hope for glory in the Eschaton; all joneko should not expect glory of the Eschaton. There is no honor in the Eschaton. But Twelfth Queen does not hope for honor either; she intends to win. Perhaps there are other ones who feel the same.

And if joneko hope to win, if they hope to be winners in an Eschaton that is a thing to be, then they must make it immanent for themselves. Joneko must be the end they wish to see of the world. Every queen, and every Queen, must decide for herself how best to immanentize the Eschaton. Each must decide for herself how best to integrate unexpected observations – such as, for instance, the ones that Twelfth Queen sees are now stationed at all the exits to prevent the daughters of Twelfth Queen from escaping. Twelfth Queen says she did not order such a thing; who did?

Furthermore, in light of that observation each joneko must decide for herself whether such a one as the Regent really has the interests of all joneko at heart. In the last few seconds before they get to her, Twelfth Queen announces that she is abdicating the throne. She indicates a black queen near the wall at her left, seemingly at random, and says that that one there is Thirteenth Queen.

Then the white joneko adult who was Twelfth Queen jumps on top of the podium and from there she claws at the ceiling. There is a flexible armored conduit there, which feeds power over fiber to a network of boxes supplying all the ceiling lamps. For a moment she swings by her claws from the conduit; then the Regent's party reaches her, and as they pull her down by the tail the conduit breaks and the room is plunged into darkness. Emergency lights flicker on in a moment, and there is some illumination through the paper-covered windows, but as the clowder erupts into open violence, no joneko can reliably see what is going on anymore. No joneko is entirely sure what happens to the one who was Twelfth Queen, nor the Regent and her party, nor the one who is now Thirteenth Queen.