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Deal 1053: Caught one

Time to check my traps. Not necessarily for dinner, but you never know.

“Hey! Get me out of this cage, and we’ll talk.”

Great. I’ve caught something, and it is chatty. I did not see that coming. “I think we’ll talk for a minute just like this first, thanks.”

“But you must let me out?”

“Why?”

The trap is indeed sprung, and there is something fluffy in the cage. It turns slowly. It is the cat that has been fading in and out around our campsites and generally acting smug. “Not so smug now, eh, wise guy?”

“Call me Bruce. And let me out!”

“Ok, Bruce. You know I’m Sydney and she’s Gwen. Time for a little cooperation.”

After pumping him for all he was worth, we agreed he was acting independently, and was likely not connected to any of the mysteries. So we did let him out.

But did that ungrateful monster thank us?

Nope.

He faded out practically in my arms as I opened the cage!

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Deal 1023: Nightmare

Spiral on my Mind 31:
hobo, Free Will, Cat, Strength, Loyalty, stick, The Unknown, fowl, and Plurality

I woke suddenly in the night, drenched in sweat, shaking. At first, I wasn’t sure what had awakened me, or even quite where I was.

I looked around, and slowly realized that the room was familiar. The TV was still on, but the station had gone off-air, leaving just the test pattern showing. It flickered, then suddenly went to just snow and hissing sound. I was alone, but that wasn’t unusual as I lived alone. The window was open, the curtain pulled back to let the cool air move through the room.

Except it wasn’t. The night air was hotter than I remembered, and perhaps that woke me.

I settled back down, determined to go back to sleep.

Then I remembered something.

My room doesn’t have curtains. And TV stations don’t go off air and broadcast the Indian head test pattern. They haven’t done that regularly in at least fifty years.

I look closer. The bedspread is not mine. The lamp is not mine. The body I’m wearing is not mine.

Who am I?

What is going on here?

There are noises outside the window, and I sit up and peer out. In the yard beyond the bushes, I can just see a hobo picking through his bindle.

With some effort, I pull back from the window at look around at the room again. Elvis posters on the walls are definitely not mine. The cat sitting on the dresser glaring at me in reproach, well, actually that is mine. I’ve always known cats are a little out of phase with reality. Maybe I’m sharing a dream of hers?

If so, this might be a place where I’m going to need all my strength to stay alive, given the amount of disdain most cats have for people. A glance outside the window shows a number of cats gathering in the darkness, watching the hobo, waiting for their chance. I suddenly wonder what he had done to deserve his fate.

I was always good to my cats. None of mine would wish too much ill on me, even if I had done things they hadn’t liked for their own good.

I heard a muffled scream. I knew I didn’t want to look, but somehow I knew I had to.

Where the hobo had been, there was just a roiling carpet of strays, his stick cocked out with his bindle still tied on.

I tried not to scream when Snowflake jumped on to the bed. Surely she was not going to call them up here to feed on me?

She stared at me, then seemed to be saying “I think you have seen enough” and turned away. She picked a spot on the bed and curled up.

As usual, her motives were inscrutable. But she was the cat, and we were clearly on her turf for now.

I laid back down, and closed my eyes for only a moment. Then the scream shattered my peace. A sound like a thousand strangled cats rent the air. Then there was silence. Then wings, as a large bird came through the open window and landed on the bed and screamed again.

A peacock.

Then a second.

Then my cat sat up.

The birds froze. One of them put up his tale in an absurd mockery of a threat display. Of course, with his tail up he was hardly able to move. The tableaux froze for a long moment as everything living held their breath.

The cat turned back to me, and in a clear voice said “you don’t want to see this.”

I fell back to my pillow, suddenly asleep.

A moment of blackness passed, then I shivered and rolled over.

It was cold. So cold. I pulled my covers up, groped for the window and closed it. My cat was at my feet in her preferred spot, and I settled back in and drifted into a peaceful sleep.

Several hours later, I awoke in my own bed. In my own body. In my own room.

Snowflake was there, but there was no sign of birds. Outside my window was the usual 20 story drop to a concrete sidewalk, not a grassy yard where something had happened to a hobo. Or had it?

Snowflake turned to me and said “you dreamed the whole thing.”

Smartest thing that cat had ever said to me.

Then I woke up.

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Deal 938: Arrival, watched.

The uniforms were orange.

At a distance at least, they seemed fairly evenly colored. Up close, it became clear that there was a fine black stripe pattern worked into the orange fabric. The stripes were mostly vertical, but some trick of the design meant that no matter what position the uniform was in, there were vertical stripes.

Still, the overall orange tone made them stand out and pop against the grey walkways, grey walls, and generally grey clothing worn by the civilians. And yet, if you looked away and the guard stood still, the stripes would somehow take over your perception and they would fade away into the background.

The Station Keeper travelled with several guards. The dockside is always a rough place, and the law is pretty much the pragmatic result of everyone’s guards keeping little bubbles of orderly and safe spaces. Luckily the necessary geometry of the station made snipers mostly ineffective, allowing safety to be a close-in issue.

And yet, there are exceptions to every rule.

So here I am, dressed in a mottled grey smock streaked with hand-painted black lines that match the character of the bit of superstructure I’ve been hugging for the past four hours, biding my time. When it comes, I’ll have at best a narrow window of opportunity. If I’m very lucky, the guards will never know what happened and I can just sit tight for another hour or two until it is safe to draw attention by moving. If I’m unlucky, I’ll be spotted and then it won’t go so well for me.

Perched in the artificial sky, among the utility runs and light panels, I have a view of the docks normally only seen by the security cameras. I’m actually tucked in right beside a camera now. I’ve mapped out its pan and tilt limits, and I believe I am beyond its reach. This particular camera is not equipped with a microphone, so it is unlikely to have heard me crawling into place. In any case, I timed my arrival to coincide with a docking so that any vibration or sound I inadvertently made would have a simple, obvious, and wrong explanation.

It has been long enough that the necessary quarantines, pressure equalization, and bureaucratic forms have all been followed. All that is left is for the Keeper to greet the Captain and formally grant him and his crew access to the docks. That would be my best opportunity at a clear shot.

The Keeper’s guard have taken up positions around her, with eyes looking outward, inward, upward, and downward. The latter possible because the access point is a mesh catwalk positioned to match the port in use. They don’t act as if I’ve been spotted, and as they fade away I become increasingly confident that I’ll get my shot. I’m watching through my scope, with the hatch centered and filling my field of view when I see the caution lights begin to flash.

That is my cue to start my recorder.

Everyone in the area pauses. This is the moment when we find out for certain that our protocols worked, and the hatch really is opening on a friendly vessel, and not an enemy of the state running a false flag. That is always the worry, even though it should not be possible. By the time a dock is granted, the identity of the vessel has been confirmed through every sort of telemetry signature possible, on top of her official and probably falsifiable transponder codes and broadcast identity beacon.

This time everyone is confident. Keeper is here in person, not by proxy or avatar. The section doors are open to either side of this bay, but per protocol no one is loitering in their path. The climate control curtains are in place, but not hard air-tight seals.

There have been stories of dead stations caused by overconfidence. An enemy using stolen transponders or even a hijacked ship to dock and vent a station to hard vacuum before the section doors could close. Open a large enough door and any station can be killed.

If that happens here today, then my fate is sealed and I will be among the first to die.

But no one has doubts, or Keeper would not be here in person and the doors would be closed.

And there shouldn’t be a problem. The ship on the other side of that unassuming hatchway is rumored to be carrying our Emperor, and we are a loyal way station of the Empire. All the tests passed, all the recognition codes were good. They likely have more to fear from us than we from them. Which is why I’m nervous even where Keeper isn’t.

It’s my job to be nervous.

I’m the advance team’s forward scout.

And I know that the Emperor is not due here for another month or more. The rest of the advance team is at least a week away. And yet the station is acting as if they expect the Emperor himself. So I know that something is very wrong.

So here I am, nestled in the overheads, with my sights and recorder trained on that hatch, waiting to see who or what is on the other side, ready to take action if needed.

I do hope I’m not needed.