The Spy

Disheartened, Jason called Roland and Simon to tell them what had transpired. Each of the men had found what he thought to be a promising lead, so those two stayed where they were. Jason and Curtis decided to try looking elsewhere. They spent a few hours searching Eitli newspapers for possible monster hotspots. Towards sunset, they took a walk through the streets of Jorval to refresh themselves, and it was then that Jason stumbled upon a lead of his own.

As they strolled through a quiet residential area, its streets currently empty, Jason found the scent trail of a stray mutt. This in itself was hardly remarkable in a city. What was odd was that the trail ended abruptly at an arbitrary spot on the sidewalk, as if the dog had suddenly popped out of existence. Curious, Jason went down on all fours (or perhaps I should say "threes") and sniffed around the spot. He found that another, much fainter trail, that of some kind of beetle (he had never much bothered to familiarize himself with insect scents), suddenly began at the same place, and went off in the same direction that the dog's trail that been traveling in before it ended.

"Who cares?" said Curtis, once Jason had described what he'd smelled.

"It seems pretty clear to me" said Jason, getting up, "that something which had the shape of a dog changed to the shape of a bug. Shapeshifting implies sapience."

"But the coin―"

"This thing couldn't very well speak Common while it was a dog, could it? We got a false positive before; this time, we got a false negative. Now, we need something to trap the bug in…" Glancing around, he settled on an empty wine bottle lying in the gutter. "Could you make some air-holes in the bottom of this for me?" he said, picking it up.

Curtis wrinkled his nose. "Are you sure about all this?"


"Fine." He took the bottle and, with a few well-placed spells, made a few jagged but serviceably small holes in the bottom.

"Good, hold that." Jason lay his stomach on the filthy pavement once more. "Now I'll follow the trail, and we'll try to get the jump on the bug. Shame I left the coin in the room. We mustn't lose the element of surprise, or the monster could transform into something much tougher to handle."

Following the trail of such a small creature wasn't easy. Fortunately, Jason didn't have very far to go. After a block, a passing urbanite remarked that "the lad on the ground might've had a drop too much to drink". Curtis laughed. ("It's not my fault if booze is the only beverage they still sell in small bottles." Jason muttered.) After another block, the trail led under the door of a long-abandoned building. Curtis carefully broke them in with magic. The inside was quite dusty, and a home to all sorts of vermin. Jason sneezed violently as he searched for the scent of the original bug. As soon as he rediscovered it, he found it led into a tiny crack in the floor. He hissed an expletive. Curtis opened his mouth to say something, but Jason shushed him, whispering "Listen." The boys strained their ears. They could hear human speech somewhere beneath their feet, though they couldn't make out any words.

"Weird." whispered Curtis.

"I guess our friend has joined some sort of group down there." whispered Jason. "There's no obvious way to follow it, so all we can do is wait."

Fifteen minutes passed. "What if it doesn't leave through this crack?" said Curtis.

"Crumbs, I hadn't thought of that. I'm sure there's a million cracks in this building. All we can do is wait here, just in case it does, until we can't wait any longer."

An hour had passed, the voices had stopped, and both boys were getting awfully close to that point when Jason finally smelled the insect returning. He warned Curtis, and Curtis clapped the bottle over an unremarkable black beetle as it scurried out of the crack.

"Ha, ha!" Jason said into the air-holes. "We've got you now." The bug ran around inside the bottle frantically, trying first to slip under the rim of the bottle (it was flush with the floor) and then to squeeze through the air-holes (they were too small).

"How are we going to interrogate it?" said Curtis. "It can't talk."

"True." said Jason. "I don't suppose it can turn into a human or a parrot inside this little bottle. It would probably die if it tried, which is why it isn't trying to escape by transforming right now."

"I guess we have to let it out, then." said Curtis.

"No, we can't do that! It could get away in the blink of an eye, I'm sure. The only thing to do is get a bigger container. Can you use magic to construct something?"

"I'll try. Stand back." Curtis conjured up a shimmering, translucent pink bubble with a radius of about seven feet, centered on the bottle. "Okay. That should let through gases, but not solids." He created a housecat inside the bubble, which knocked over the bottle and disappeared.

"Alright, let's talk." said Jason to the bug. The bug remained a bug. It ran around inside the bubble, trying to push through it.

"Pup," said Curtis, "do you think it might just be a bug?"

"And not a shapeshifter, you mean? No, of course it's a monster. Listen, monster: if you can understand what I'm saying, trace an equilateral triangle on the floor." It didn't. "Er, it can hear me, can't it?"

"Definitely. But I think―"

"You haven't fooled me, bug. I want to interrogate you, but you're not exactly indispensable, either. If you won't cooperate, Curtis will kill you. He can quite easily. Curt," said Jason, grinning, "make a spider outside the bubble, as close to the beetle as you can."

Curtis, though he was incredulous, did so. The big, hairy hunting spider jumped on the bubble, trying to get through to the beetle. The beetle ran to the center and traced a neat little equilateral triangle three times in rapid succession.

"Very good!" said Jason. "Okay, take a speaking shape so we can talk."

The insect changed shape so fast that Jason couldn't properly see the process; it was a blur for an instant, and then in its place was a long-haired cat. Yet it was no ordinary housecat. Its fur was a striking crimson with artfully arranged white splotches, very much like that of the fox Jason had seen in a dream, and there was something very un-feline about the curve of its mouth. It looked at the boys plaintively with its dandelion-yellow eyes, and even if it didn't have the emotion-bending power of Red itself, Jason felt a pang of guilt for trapping like a rat such a delicate-looking creature.

"I guess I was wrong." Curtis muttered.

"Why have you done this to me?" said the cat, in an odd, quiet, gently trilling voice.

"We'll ask the questions, if you please." said Jason gruffly. "What's your name?"

After some visible hesitation, it said "Quone."

"You're lying." said Jason.

"You're right." The cat's face crumpled, and it looked even more pitiable. "I don't have a name. The only person I ever talk to is the All-Mother. She didn't bother to name me."

"The 'All-Mother'." said Curtis. "Thorm and Gol talked about that. As if it were some kind of god."

"Oh yes, I remember." said Jason. "The All-Mother is Red, isn't it?" he asked the shapeshifter.

"She doesn't have a color." said the cat. "She's immaterial. But red is her favorite color."

"No," said Jason, "I mean—you don't know of any other name for her, do you?"

"No. Why would she need another name?"

"But does she have, uh, friends whose favorite colors are green and blue?"

"Oh, yes, exactly."

"I… I see."

"Leela said the gods didn't have sexes." said Curtis.

"Indeed." said Jason. "That wouldn't stop them from taking female forms, though."

"No," said the cat, "the All-Mother is female, not like me."

"Oh, forget it." said Jason. "It really doesn't matter. What we need to know is the All-Mother's plans. Obviously, she wants to help quash the rebellion and restore the Defenders to power. But what's her ultimate goal? If she wins the war against Death, what will she do then?"

"Do?" said the cat. "She won't need to do anything. Once the forces of Death are defeated, there will be only life."

"But what do you mean?"

"You don't know what life is?"

"Of cour—well, actually, in this context, no, not really."

"Life is… change, activity, growth, reproduction, vibrancy, vitality, mystery, adventure, courage, excitement, joy. Life is being alive."

"Well, I knew that. I think. What I meant to ask is, what will the multiverse be like, when there is only life?"

"Just that there's life, and nothing else."

"Like… death? Is it merely that nothing will die?"

"No, not merely. Once the All-Mother is victorious, there will be no more sterility, or slowness, or ugliness, or strict rules that need to be followed. We will all be free! And living things won't be separated anymore. Now, each living creature is alone, separated by all other life, in his experience and his thoughts, by a great gulf. The All-Mother will close that gulf. We shall all feel for and love one other, for we shall all be one another. We shall be one flesh."

"So much for specifics." said Jason dejectedly. "And when does the All-Mother plan on making more monsters?"


"Y'know, magical creatures to help her cause."

"Oh, I really don't know. I tell her everything I learn, but she doesn't tell me much. I just do as she says."

"Curt, is there anything else we can learn from this thing?"

"What has she made you do?" Curtis asked the cat.

"To spy on the military. She helps the Defenders, but she uses me to learn about them secretly."

"So were you spying on those people we heard talking before?" said Curtis.

"Yes. There's a secret command center under the streets of this city. You aren't going to kill me now, are you?" the cat added anxiously.

"Not if you cooperate." said Jason. "I need only two things. First, tell me, which of its creations does the All-Mother confide in, at least somewhat more than it does in you? Where could we find them?"

"I have no idea." the cat whimpered. "I work all on my own. The only way I can even tell her creations and Death-monsters apart is by their appearance."

Jason swore. "You ignorant―"

"Leave it alone!" Curtis protested. "It's not its fault."

"Fair enough." said Jason. "Before we let you go, then, you need to give me one thing."

"Jason," said Curtis, "are you―"

"You can take the shape of any animal, right?" said Jason.

"Yes." said the cat. "This is just my natural form."

"All right." said Jason. "Now, give me your power of shapeshifting."

The cat's face twisted in rage. "Never!" it hissed.

"All right then, we'll just leave you to slowly and painfully starve to death. C'mon, Curtis, our work here is done." He made for the door.

"Jason, we can't do that!" said Curtis.

"Feh! we don't need to." said Jason. "We'll just leave it here until it's gone raving mad with hunger. Then, it will do anything we please. Of course," he said, turning to the shapeshifter, "you could also spare yourself that soul-crushing misery." The cat was silent; Jason could see the gears whirring in its small head. "You can forget about the possibility of rescue, by the way. We'll be sure to tell everyone you're an evil demon. The people love us; they'll accept it without a second thought, and they'll even help us prevent Life's other monsters from coming to your aid."

"Fine." said the cat. "I'll—uh, I'll give it to you. But you have to dispel the force-field bubble first."

"So you can turn into a bird" said Jason, walking back to the bubble, "and fly to the other side of Eitli? I don't think so."

"I can't give my power to you through the bubble!" the cat protested.

"Gosh, you're an even worse liar than I am." said Jason.

The cat meowed weakly. "How did you know I was lying?"

"Because you just told me." said Jason, and then collapsed with laughter. He had turned Beatrix's trick to his own ends. Curtis laughed too, in spite of himself. The cat only looked more pitiful than ever before. Once he had quite recovered, Jason said "All right, down to business."

The cat closed its eyes and concentrated. A sphere of pulsating red light, trailing a silver thread, emerged from its forehead. The sphere lazily rose up through the bubble, moving about in strange, erratic little circles while gradually making its way to Jason. Jason stood quite still, with his arms at his sides, and eventually the sphere penetrated his own forehead, leaving him connected to the cat by the long silver thread. He felt an unpleasant buzz. Suddenly, a bright yellow spark shot out of the cat and zipped along the thread, consuming it as it went. When the thread was all gone and the spark reached Jason, the Argonaut was struck with a headache of epic proportions—"as if I'd been thrown head-first into a wood-chipper" he would later describe it—so painful that he shrieked involuntarily. An instant later, it was all over.

"So, um, can I…" Jason began. Then, he noticed something that had escaped his attention during this ordeal. "I smell two men coming here, quickly."

Without further ado, Curtis dispelled the bubble. The cat scampered across the floor, jumped onto a window sill, and leapt outside.

"Curtis!" Jason cried. "Why―"

"Hide, you idiot!" said Curtis, running into a nearby room.

The men were very near now. <Now's the time to try it out, I guess.> Jason thought. He willed himself to become a rat.

And lo, no sooner had he imagined himself becoming a rat than he was a rat. The world looked much, much larger; he craned his head up to see the little door to the outside world tower over him. Though his visual acuity had suffered, and he was now red-green color-blind, his field of view had been much broadened: he could see three-quarters of a revolution around himself. He had long, sensitive whiskers, and a longer, flexible tail, and a fully intact left paw, and—oh my! There stood two police officers at the door, each a giant, over twenty times as tall as Jason. He couldn't make out their faces at all, but he could hear them quite well with his keen rodential ears.

"I would've sworn those noises came from here." said one.

"Could be that one." said the other, and they left.

Jason waited a few seconds, and then returned to human form. His hand had not grown back, alas, but his clothes were still with him.

"Wow." said Jason. "This is pretty cool."