When Spookie got home she found the cat statue was not where she’d left it. It had stopped sitting up proud and tall, and had come round to the front of the fire and was lying on the mat like an ordinary cat, blinking contentedly into the flames. It looked round at her as she came in.
Now Spookie has seen a lot of amazing things in her time, so she wasn’t fazed. With great presence of mind she said: “Welcome to my house, Puss purr-Miau.”
That’s how to address an ancient Egyptian, she thought, especially if you are undead yourself.
“Thank you.” Puss purr-Miau got to his feet and gave a big blink, as cats do to be polite to each other. “You have the advantage on me,” he said. “You know my name, but I don’t know yours.”
“I’m Spookie the Cat. I’m an undead quantum cat, the only one there is. You’ve heard of Schrödinger’s Cat, of course?”
“Mmm-mm?” The Egyptian cat nodded his head.
“Well,” said Spookie, “that’s me.”
“An undead quantum cat,” echoed Puss purr-Miau. “How interesting! May I be so bold as to enquire, what percentage dead you are?”
“48.95%”, said Spookie. “But I’d rather you thought of me as 51.05% alive.”
“Really now,” said Puss. “As it happens, I’m 900% dead.”
“How do you manage that?”
“I’m the Last of the Time-Cats. We’re… time-travellers. Actually they’re all me, one for each of my nine lives. But when you’ve travelled right round the space-time manifold for the ninth time… you’re apt to come across yourself in a previous life. I make a point of getting in touch with the other time-cats for a good chin-wag and a night on the tiles whenever I can, and we compare notes on what we’ve discovered. That’s how I’ve got to know so much about everything.”
Spookie was totally fascinated. She sat down in one of the fireside chairs, and Puss lay down on the mat, back in the warm patch he’d already made.
“So,” said Spookie, “all nine of you are 100% dead… which makes you 900% dead overall? …Well I never!”
“Yes. 100% dead is an inescapable consequence of getting yourself mummified and encased in gold. I got it done in Bubastis, which is the capital of cat-mummification in Egypt. I needed to exchange my corruptible body for an everlasting one for my travels through time.”
“How on earth do you travel through time?”
“The same way as you do. Simply by letting time pass.”
“So you don’t… travel to and fro in time, to an earlier period and back?”
“Good Bastis, no! That’s impossible. You can only go one way through time, and only at the speed of one hour per hour. That’s if you steer clear of relativistic velocities. But if you’re patient enough, and are prepared to tough out the nasty bit at the end, then you can loop round and begin all over again.”
“It’s an immediate consequence of closure of the space-time manifold. …Surely you’ve heard of the Einstein-deSitter Universe?”
“Er, ye-es… but General Relativity was never my strong point. I’m a quantum cat, me, and I can’t reconcile the two.” She twitched her whiskers. “But to travel right through time from beginning to end – and to do it nine times…!
“Yes.” Puss licked his paw again, to show how proud he was of himself.
“It’s why you need an everlasting body, like mine. It’s got to last for billions of years without crystallising, or falling to dust.”
“So that’s why you’re covered all over with gold,” said Spookie. “Now I understand. But how do you get around so well? I don’t see any joints in your gold covering.”
“It’s not ordinary gold. It’s flexigold. But it needs to warm up before it flexes and I’m able to move. That’s why I couldn’t thank you earlier, when you were so kind as to put batteries in me. I needed to warm up first.”
“Whyever do you do it? I know you’re 900% dead and all that, which gives you all the time in the world. But what do you do… to while away the time? Me – I’d die of boredom.”
“No, it’s far from boring. I keep up-to-date with everything in the age I find myself in. I used to spend all day reading the scrolls in the Great Library of Alexandria, before those wicked monks burnt it down. Nowadays there’s the Internet. So now I don’t have to sit in a library – I’ve got myself fitted with internal electronics in the course of my travels, so I just sit tight, quietly absorbing everything going on and saving it away in my memory banks – here.” He licked his paw then rubbed his chest with it.
Spookie said, “Do you want my Wi-Fi password? Then you can connect to the internet from here…”
“It’s all right,” said Puss. “I’ve got it already. It wasn’t hard to guess.”
“Well…” said Spookie, at a loss for what to say to that. “Can I get you something to eat?”
“I don’t eat – not now I’ve been mummified. It does nothing for the appetite. The juice from the batteries is all I need to move around, but I don’t need it in order to see and hear, and to harvest data.”
“In what dynasty were you born?”
“The 26th dynasty, in the reign of King Amasis – to whom be Life, Wealth and Health!”
That’s right, thought Spookie. You’re not supposed to say the name of the King without adding the customary blessing. She must remember to do that herself when talking with Puss. She cast back in her mind over all she knew of Egyptian history.
“2,600 years ago. That’s the time when Egypt was invaded by the Persians.”
Puss congratulated her on her knowledge. “Yes indeed. By King Cambyses, curse his name! And that’s what has propelled me on my trek through eternity, for the ninth and last time.”
…to be continued.