The Successful City

Downtown Moss Bay existed in the shadow of the taller, greyer buildings that made up most of the city, those that had been built first and housed the first generations of locals and visitors to the town. Those enormous buildings, with their brutalist concrete construction and pitted windows tinted black, still served as the standby homes of many families and individuals, the places they would return to after a day in the city.

But the city itself had grown in ways the pessimistic had never thought possible after worldwide destruction. The paved sidewalks, squares separated by lines, were lit by fluorescent street lights that curved at the top. The roads themselves were a mix of concrete and brick, and they were used more-or-less freely by both vehicles and pedestrians.

And then there were the buildings: though smaller than the utterly practical towers and slabs of the old outer city, they were neater, with newer construction and even a few flourishes. A pub on the corner of an intersection featured a steepled roof, while the city’s first department store, Hayworth’s, advertised its name in ostentatiously bright signage and its glowing aisles through panoramic windows on the second and third floors.

One of the taller buildings on the same street as Hayworth’s was a single story tall. It had shelves of kibble, tinned food, plastic pans and scoops. It was Moss Bay’s first pet store, run by a snappily-dressed man named Brooks. Brooks, by all accounts, was a giant of a man, his head grazing the overhead lights of the store as he walked around, showing off the animals for adoption to visitors, guessing which animals they might like, and making friendly conversation of all sorts.

Mem did not disagree, and C, her cyborg boyfriend, was pretty sure he’d been newly impressed by this man’s height multiple times before. He’d always had a fondness for cats, even if he found it a bit of a struggle to care for one, especially in his hectic line of work. So it was pretty nice, he thought, that Brooks was taking them along one side of the pet store, through sixteen little enclosures, eight by two, about half of which currently contained cats and kittens.

“What a beauty,” C remarked as they stopped in front of an Egyptian Mau with pale belly fur, contrasted by its many small black stripes.

“This is Eliza,” Brooks explained. “She came to us after her owners decided to sail north and live on a boat, and they didn’t want to keep a cat there.”

“That is a somewhat unusual circumstance for a cat to be put up for adoption,” Mem said, “but it is less urgent and more manageable if the cat is younger, as Eliza appears to be. Mr. Brooks, you mentioned that you take in many stray cats. How many of them are put up for adoption?”

Brooks rolled his shoulders, thinking about the question, and then flashed Mem a smile. “A lot of them manage to get used to me enough that we can think about adopting them out. It’s always a little painful to do that, after getting them to adjust to humans, but I try to find them good homes!”

“I would be most interested in looking at those cats,” Mem told Brooks. “C has a great deal of experience dealing with agitated and wild creatures, and I believe that my data banks would provide enough insight into the behaviour of cats to look after one.”

C looked up from the window into Eliza’s enclosure, from where he had been peering at Eliza but dutifully obeying the sign which told him not to tap the glass, much as he might want to.

“You’re thinking of getting a cat, Mem?”

Brooks and Mem both turned to look at C, happy, ready smiles on their faces.

“Yes, I am,” Mem told him. “I hope that you would not consider this to be a problem. I believe that between the two of us we would be very able to take care of one.”

“I agree!” Brooks said. “You’ve been here before, C, and you’ve always been nothing but nice to the cats. I think you could handle taking in a stray.”

C considered the idea from every angle, and really couldn’t find a reason not to adopt a cat. First and foremost, having another companion in his life, even a small, furry one, would likely help build a sense of the world around him, the way having Mem as an anchor did. Even if he forgot the cat, emotions aren’t something he forgot so easily.

But he didn’t need to adopt an individual cat and keep it around for years for that to happen, and he’d feel a bit bad doing that for his own sake, he thought. He’d already formed a bond with Ain’s familiar, the black cat, and even if he forgot the cat’s name, he remembered the cat in a way that the software controlling his brain couldn’t quite erase.

“Well, I don’t know about adopting one full-time,” C said. “I might get too used to it, start cutting corners, especially if I forget. But I’ve got an idea, Brooks. Why don’t you let us foster some of the strays?”

“I’d be happy to!” Brooks said, clapping his hands together with a radiant smile on his face. “The city’s gotten big enough that the stray population’s growing faster than I can handle it. Maybe you can even think of it as a side job.”

“Maybe I could,” C agreed. “But for me, it’ll be more like exercise. Emotional exercise.”

After that, Mem and C occasionally kept cats in their apartment: cats with different names, ages, personalities, and experiences. Every time they brought in a new one, it was at least a little bit stressed, and had to get used to Mem and C. But before long, most of them ended up eating treats out of a tiny dispenser embedded in Mem’s hand, and putting their entire weight on C’s lap, or worse his keyboard, as he was trying to fill out his diary.

Mem had helped C build a routine in his empty life, but the cats helped introduce change; funny, since they didn’t like it much themselves. When next he lost his memory, he still found himself heading into the spare bedroom, and although he didn’t remember the exact steps he needed to do to get the cat food out of the child-safe container he’d bought, he knew that he needed to feed the two hungry, mewling moggies in the room. Or rather, he felt it.

One evening, as he stood on the balcony of his apartment and looked out towards the city, with its imposing apartment blocks and glittering downtown core, he mused that maybe his life in the city wasn’t so bad. Sure, his brain was wired to erase his memories to keep sensitive information from building up, from making him a security risk to the company, and he understood that.

But even if he kept all of those memories, he probably wouldn’t want to start trouble by abusing what he knew. He didn’t have much to gain from it, really. He was already living a moderately successful life in a very successful city.