“Rudyard, here Rudyard!”
Rudyard’s ginger face appeared in the doorway. He hesitated, seeing a stranger in the room.
“Here kitty, good kitty!” called William Wilde, professor William Wilde as he now was.
Gingerly, Rudyard came into the study, studiously ignoring Willy and jumped onto my lap, purring. His huge yellow eyes looked up at me quizzically.
William, or Willy as he now preferred to be called, was an old school chum. The one who’d worn thick lenses in a huge black frame and was always found studying in a corner of the school library. He’d been the butt of our childish cruelty. ‘Four eyes,’ ‘Willy Wanker,’ or just ‘Willy the creep.’ He’d had the last laugh though, graduating in Physics with first class honours at Oxford. Then, five years ago there’d been a school reunion. Willy had turned up with his wife, a glamorous ex-model, now the mother of five kids. Respect!
Old insults forgotten, bygones become bygones, we’d kept in touch. Then had come a phone call two days ago. Willy, sounding breathless, telling me he’d discovered something amazing. Something unbelievable. Something so incredible it was going to change the world!
“Is that all?” I’d said, laughing.
“Stephen, do you have any animals?”
“Yes, I’ve got a cat, why?”
“Let me come and see it, you’ll see why,” he said enigmatically.
So he’d arrived, armed with two suitcases full of electrical equipment. Two MacBook computers now sat on my desk, amongst a tangle of cables connecting strange pieces of equipment. One computer screen showed several analog meters, the other had rows of scrolling numbers.
“What on Earth is it?” I’d asked.
“Translation software and voice synthesisers,” Willy smiled, “you’ll see.”
Now he produced a cage and opened the lid. “Put Rudyard in here please.”
The big yellow eyes looked up at me with reproach as I did so. The cage was narrow and Rudyard couldn’t turn. He looked anxious, his ears folding back, but with me close by he co-operated, no doubt recalling occasional trips to the vets, loathed but tolerated.
Willy reached in and, his hands now protected with gloves, fitted some kind of electrical device over Rudyard’s head. Rudyard began to miaow in protest.
“Now, watch this!” Willy flicked a switch and Rudyard sat bolt upright, looking from Willy to me and from me to Willy. The screens were going crazy, needles moving backwards and forwards in the on-screen meters, and the rows of numbers scrolling down in free fall.
Then something came over a loudspeaker, a synthesised voice, reminiscent of Stephen Hawking. “What … what … is … happening?” The ‘voice’ of Rudyard!
“That’s just amazing!” I said.
Willy beamed. “I told you it was incredible!”
Rudyard turned his head towards me. “Let … me … out.”
“Just a few minutes more Rudyard,” said Willy, “then we’ll let you out. Now, I’d like to ask you some questions.”
Rudyard sat attentively.
“What is your name?”
The synthesised voice spoke slowly. “Rudd Yaaard.”
“Very good, and what animal are you?”
“You … call … me … cat.” He bent down to lick a paw.
“This is incredible!” I said, scarcely able to believe that my beloved cat was communicating with us. “Rudyard,” I said. “Are you happy here? I mean, in this house. Is there anything you want?”
The big yellow eyes blinked. “Fooood.”
“I mean, like a bigger basket?”
“Oh, I see, you’d like some food, is that right?” Willy and I exchanged glances.
“OK, I’ll get you some food in a minute. Now, what are your thoughts on … er …” I tried to think of something, “um, other cats?”
“Er, vacuum cleaners?”
Silence. Well that was a tough one.
“Well, perhaps that’s enough for one day,” said Willy resignedly. “Rudyard, is there anything you’d like to say before I take the headset off?”
Rudyard’s big yellow eyes looked up and blinked twice. “Fooood. Want fooood.”
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