This story was first serialized in 31 daily parts during August 2022 via the @InternetofWords Twitter feed @ 9am. It is now reproduced in this complete form, with a number of small edits and corrections made to improve narrative flow and maintain correct continuity.

I produce fiction bi-weekly on Ko-Fi: this includes flash fiction (250 words) which is being put together to form a long-form narrative, plus a bi-weekly full novel presented in episodic format. I also record weekly videos.

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The Test

The cats sit in a semicircle, staring at each other with various levels of distrust. The last three days have not gone well for any of the factions here across three separate versions of what the apes refer to as San Francisco. Something appears to have gone quite seriously awry. Pooling knowledge was meant to be helpful, not the hindrance it is becoming. The apes have better recording systems, for starters: Bastet is beginning to think that their next alliance may need to go deeper than simply using the creatures either as scouts or impromptu couriers.

The silence is becoming irritating: as Bastet is about to attempt an opening, the large tabby known as Ovid pre-empts them, in a thick, Celtic burr:

“Right. Is ANYBODY prepared to stand up and explain where we are at this point… does anybody really have a fucking clue what is even happening right now?”

“There is a way to explain it all. That’s not what you want, though, is it?”

The Tabby stares at Bastet: previously, there was a lot of contempt, but now their mood is closer to resignation. They know what’s coming.

“This will be your wee talent for mind control, won’t it, lassie?”

“I can’t control without willing, but I can share my memory of events. If you choose to also do this, that can be shown to everyone here, but without someone to act as a chronologer… it becomes easy to lose honesty and consistency over time. It is why the Apes have an advantage.”

“You need a willing ape. Wonder where you’ll find one at this hour?”

Everyone hears a Human, ability to simultaneously project enough of a surprise to send the group into defence mode. They had picked an uninhabited Splinter of Earth under the assumption only they were aware of it. Someone from The Tachyoscope Foundation had got here first. They meant well, as an organization, but their single-minded desire to return humans to the top of the pecking order was, after much consideration, unacceptable. That influence had ultimately been deemed too dangerous…

“Okay, amazingly, not all apes in this scenario play for the bad guys. I’ll grant you the TTF people are annoying and more than a measure condescending, but there are some people who are beginning to realize that maybe this isn’t the scientifically exacting scenario it appears.”

“You are not an ape.”

Bastet cannot define what the voice is, or indeed where it is coming from: it appears to be everywhere, at once. The manner, attitude and arrogance however is, undoubtedly, that of an ape; that is why their statement goes directly to it and is not spoken aloud.

“You guys need to calm down. I’m on your side. Lemme show you what I am.”

As the voice fades, Bastet is aware that its ability to control minds is far, far more capable than any other previously encountered, as their brethren are suddenly and totally subdued, in an exhalation. Whatever this is, could have included them, but hasn’t. It is not simply a show of superiority, but a thinly veiled threat…

“It’s not a threat. I’m just showing the smartest feline where the land lies.”

“If you are not an ape, then what are you and why should you be trusted?”

“Why did you co-opt a flying lizard into your Cat Only organization?”

“The lizard has a name: you would do well not to play games… if you are as all encompassing as I suspect you are, I need not answer. You already know our plans, and presumably, why they are doomed to fail.”

Bastet can feel the air around them moving unusually, as every sense screams at the feline to run. Whatever this is holds enough power to wipe them from existence without a second thought, to reorganize the entirety of a planet back to the stuff of stars in the time they could blink. It knows they know, yet their mind remains untouched. It respects their space, of an irritation, a simple collection of cells with a slightly above rudimentary intelligence. Without that intrusion, their sanctity remains intact. This, therefore, is not about domination or control.

There is no malice in this entity, it is at its heart as scared as the cats are, the humans, everyone else caught up in the terrible mistake it created… and then it makes sense, suddenly and irreversibly. The reason why this feels like a human is because, at some point, it was. The humans will assume Gregory Jones is corporeal, because they are. This remains a typically arrogant, human assumption. Bastet knows that in the reptilian world Cayrion was liberated from, it was linked to Jones, as they are too… such power will know all… is this that simple?

Bastet decides it is safe to test a theory, and sends out a wave of understanding to the entity. It is not specific enough to indicate particular intent, but is loaded with pity and sympathy. When interacting with other humans, it was enough to calm them down almost immediately. What if in the quantum fracture Jones created with his stupidity, Bastet was simply a reflection of him, but in feline form, and Cayrion too?

What if, scattered through thousands of alternative versions of Planet Earth at the moment subatomic space shattered, are versions of him?

There’s no mental intrusion from what could be the real Subject Zero, but all the cats are now in Alpha asleep. Everything, undoubtedly, has become a lot calmer, but there is no progress. Bastet is ready to practice patience, despite the fact it is absolutely not a strong point.

Except, there is no need.

“Let’s go back to the beginning. I’ll answer questions when you prove it’s worth my time. No more games. Explain why your reality deserves to survive any Prime Reset. Why should felines be allowed to do a better job than humanity has managed so far…?”

Now Bastet is aware of the truth, arrogance is inescapable… which makes this entity beyond dangerous… it isn’t that which grants the unpredictability, however, but the genuine fear which underpins it. The trust remains, though, and if respect is enough to temper a response…

“Because we are all the same person: you, me, even Cayrion. We were all spawned from the Prime Gregory Jones. Is this why you refuse to return all things to the way they were, as this will require you to relinquish a quantum state you are liberated within to return to normality?”

There is a strange, but not uncomfortable silence, as reality adjusts around the cat. Then, in the grass in front of them, a human being coalesces from nothing. He remains an intelligent African American, except a sense of fear and uncertainty is very real.

“I don’t want to die.”

“Unsurprisingly, neither do I. We both therefore have a common enemy.”

“If we attempt to deflect the Tachyoscope Foundation from their task, there is a chance they will put the pieces together…”

“It may already have happened, if our agent in Cramond has accurate intelligence.”

“What the fuck is Cramond?”

Prime Gregory Jones’ confusion is apparent and surprising for a quantum being who should, theoretically, exist there already. Bastet shows him their agent, the tabby, yet it is very clear that Jones isn’t seeing a cat in the space where one exists. Two splinters of the same person reach the same conclusion simultaneously. One is not as infinite as it first believed, the other has suddenly become considerably more powerful than previously apparent. There is no choice now for either but to work together towards a common goal.

“There will be those inside the Foundation who have also realized that if their goal is achieved, and the correct order of things is restored, the organization itself will cease to exist… and they will be wary. We must be ready.”

Bastet knows this problem, and Jones does too.

It is now more than probable that within that number may exist multiple splinters of Gregory himself…

“He knows, right? You’re getting that sense too?”

“Yeah, I’m really getting that. Interestingly, though, none of these guys have any idea we’re here. That’s gonna be helpful.”

“If he doesn’t guess the significance of Cramond in all of this –”

“The Tabby knows. We can’t avoid that. The biggest issue now is making sure they don’t find out about Angel or Ida. If we can hold that ace for a while, we’re ahead of the game.”

Stan and Cat stare at each other.

Neither are confident any of this is gonna work out.

In a laboratory behind twelve different levels of electronic and biometric security sit two jars of water. Pulled from the aquifer at Cramond, their existence has caused a major shift in focus at the Tachyoscope Foundation. The woman who found them has disappeared, as has another person. The Foundation is aware of the individuals who abducted them, and that the bigger threat to their continued existence has now been identified by an undercover, double agent.

The next phase of their mission has begun.

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