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Emperor’s Dozen

by on November 14, 2010

“Good morning, Technician Cat,” he said, sitting down next to her at the console. He passed her the usual coffee.
“Good morning, Technician Rat,” she nodded back. Three years on the job together and they still didn’t use first names.
“So, tomorrow’s the big day, right? Professor Jade’s ordered all research units out past Altair.”
“Indeed.” She pulled her legs up to sit cross-legged on her chair. “There’s some chatter across the channels that he’s offering promotions to the first batch of arrivals.”
“It’s true.” Rat slid his chair across and leaned in closer, dropping his voice to a whisper. “And I have a plan, my friend.” He scratched behind his ear. “You know that big guy in maintenance?”
“Engineer Ox?” said Cat, an eyebrow raised.
“Yeah, that’s him. Has to walk sideways through the portals. He said he’s leaving first thing, first shift.” He wrinkled his nose. “We can piggyback on his access pass.”
“Well, that sounds like it could be successful.” She brushed a few stray hairs from her jumpsuit. “But what about Senior Technician Dragon? Doesn’t she have to approve this?”
“Yes!” Rat squeaked. “But I’ll take care of it. I have a plan.” His eyes narrowed and he fidgeted in his chair.
“I don’t want to know the details,” she said, stretching out. “Ping me early, will you? I have trouble getting up in the mornings.”
“No problem,” Rat said, fingering the sleeping pills in his pocket. “That top promotion slot is pretty much guaranteed.” Rat flopped out of his seat and scampered off down the corridor.
Guaranteed, all right. Now, how to deal with Ox?

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8 Comments
  1. This is fantastic! I loved the mix of an ancient story in a modern setting. Very cool, man, very cool.

  2. Yay, thank you!

    I wasn’t sure if I had the chops to sort of rewrite an existing story, but then I thought: pfffft.
    πŸ˜€

  3. From Nantalith’s comments, I assume this is a retelling of story πŸ˜› Unfortunately, I don’t recognise it 😦 I’m not sure if this affects my understanding of things, so this is what it seems to me is happening: Cat, Rat and Ox are in the employ of a Prof Jade. They want to get, fast, to a place called Altair in order to get a promotion. There are teleporter portals which will allow them to do this, and they are planning to sneak through a portal when Ox is squeezing through his. This has to be approved in some way by Dragon, but I’m not sure in what way (because this seemed like a clandestine thing that was happening β€” why would someone have to approve it?). Rat, however, doesn’t plan to take Cat with him: he has sleeping pills and he isn’t afraid to use them.

    Apart from that, I thought that some bits of the dialogue have a good rhythm going. I enjoyed, “He said he’s leaving first thing, first shift.”

    • It’s a retelling(ish) of one of many versions of the origin of the Chinese Zodiac.
      The characters above are based on the ones in the stories, and on the zodiac-implied characteristics of the signs / animals.
      Sort of.

      [Roughly speaking: Jade emperor calls for animals to race to and across a river. First come, first served, for places in the zodiac. In the stories Rat and Cat are friends, but Rat tricks Cat during the race, hence the modern animosity between the two races.]

      I chose Altair because it has vague rivery connections.

      Re riddim: ta! πŸ™‚

      • Also the reason why Rat is first is that he rode on the Ox and off before him – generally tricky little bugger.

        • Ha! I actually once knew this story, back in high-school. I have completely forgotten it, however πŸ˜›

  4. cbraz permalink

    This was great. I love the futuristic retelling of an old legend, and you translated it beautifully across time. It makes me want to know more about how rat is going to deal with dragon πŸ™‚

    I like the character-descriptions of the cat and rat, especially the languid superiority of the cat and knowing that rat is going to screw with her.

  5. I enjoyed the world – the formality in the titles and the way the characters speak is beautiful – echoes of an ancient stupid bureaucracy. Works really well in the futuristic settings.

    Also liked the Rat’s greasy personality. Great idea, lovely execution.

    I wish for a much longer version.

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