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Millions and Billions and Trillions of Cats

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zero

As a boy, James Dunworthy had never wanted a pet cat. By the time he became an adult, it had been too late. (Not that he would have been able to care for a pet anyway, with all the absences that studying history required of him.)

Therefore, as it happened, he could count on his two hands the number of times he had petted a cat, and all of those instances were in the past. Most of the incidents involved feeding strays during the Blitz, although there was one time during the French Revolution when, while practically in the shadow of guillotine, he’d stopped to help a cat that had got itself caught in a rat-trap.

To Dunworthy, cats were just as much a part of the past as outdoor toilets, cell phones, and laundry washboards. And at the moment, all of them were equally far from his thoughts. The forefront of his mind was occupied solely by Lady Schrapnell and her machinations, and his various plans (mostly unsuccessful) to keep his historians as far away from Lady S. as possible.

Then Verity Kindle walked out of the net, and his day got even worse.

  

 

one

Dunworthy thought afterward that the moment ought to have felt momentous. It was the first time 2060s England had beheld Felis catus; there should have been light streaming through the windows and forming some sort of halo around it, and maybe a trump sounding. Instead, a dripping historian shoved into his arms an equally sopping ball of angry yowling fluff. With claws.

“You brought this…through the net?” he asked, disbelieving. Then, more firmly, as the gravity of her actions sunk in, “What were you thinking?”

For someone who had just endangered the integrity of the space–time continuum, Kindle was distressingly recalcitrant. She was unaffected by Dunworthy’s irate lecture and she was unimpressed by the historian he brought in to fix the situation. (Granted, a time-lagged Ned Henry wasn’t much to be impressed at.)

Fortunately for them all, both the space–time continuum and Felis catus were more hardy than might have been expected.

 

 

two

It had been a full day of meetings, and Dunworthy’s arms were now stuffed as full of paperwork as the day had been long. Looking forward to some peace and quiet, he opened the door to his office, then stopped abruptly. The office was neither empty nor silent, containing instead one historian and two kittens.

“Good afternoon!” Ned Henry said, turning around from where he had been browsing Dunworthy’s bookshelves. He was holding one of the kittens—black, with white paws. The other, an energetic calico, was scampering around on the desk, batting at his paperclips.

Dunworthy hurried forward to pick the kitten up before it decided to play with anything important. It was too large for him to hold in one hand—it must have been from the older batch of kittens. He cradled the kitten against his chest to free up one of his hands, but couldn’t help giving it a few scritches on the head. Cats were quite endearing creatures, really. The world had lost out on a lot when they had gone extinct. And now…but he was getting distracted. One last pat to the kitten, and he looked up at Ned. “So, what brings you here today?”

“Exactly what you’ve already done,” Ned said with a grin. “I’ve been tasked with taking the kittens visiting. That one you’re holding there is called Paxton. He’s from the same litter as Penwiper. Penwiper here has been performing better than her siblings on several of her health metrics, and the zoologists think it’s because she’s been getting more socialization. Verity and I have been going to visit her frequently, and she’s been allowed to make overnight stays outside the facility as she’s gotten a bit older. The others haven’t gotten out of the lab nearly as much—but now they’re going to. Starting with Paxton.”

Dunworthy chuckled and patted Paxton on the head again. “Of all the reasons people have wanted to meet with me today, I have to say this is one of the least demanding.”

“Oh, and I brought you some cookies,” Ned said, proffering a package from the desk. “There’s a very good bakery next to the Catlab.”

“Even better.” He welcomed the excuse to postpone his paperwork.

 

 

three

The offices had had to be rearranged during the Schrapnell affair, and Dunworthy had never seen fit to put them back afterwards. It was rather convenient sometimes to be able to close himself off in the inner office, telling Finch to admit no one. And Finch—when he was around, and not back in Victorian England retrieving nonsignificant objects—seemed to appreciate the outer office and being able to arrange as it he saw fit.

Currently, it appeared that he saw fit to fill it with three kittens who had lost their mothers, and one human adolescent whose mother was less than attentive.

Dunworthy thought that the boy’s schoolmasters must be less than attentive, as well, because he was quite certain that Colin’s school did not let out for the summer for another two weeks. There would be time enough to discuss that later, though. Neither of the inhabitants of the outer office had noticed him yet, so he stood in the doorway and observed.

Finch was holding a small calico kitten and petting it calmly and sedately, befitting for his alternate occupation as a butler. Colin, on the other hand, had his arms full with two kittens (both solid black) and was somehow managing to pet both at once. “And it’s just you, so far?” he was asking. “Don’t you think you’d get more accomplished if you had multiple people going back after kittens?”

“Well, yes,” Finch said. “But—”

“I bet children would be particularly good at it. Nobody ever pays much attention to them, and it would be a lot less unusual for children to be playing by a stream than for a butler to be wading around in it.”

“I hardly think Mr. Dunworthy would want to risk sending children back in time,” Finch said.

“Well, maybe you could talk him into it. Besides, children are really good with cats. I mean, look how nicely these two are—ouch!” Colin flinched and stuck an injured finger in his mouth, but didn’t let that slow him down. “See, he scratched me. That means he’s comfortable around me. He wouldn’t have done that if he didn’t know he could trust me.”

“Time travel is too dangerous.”

“No, it isn’t! Except—some children might get scared at the concept of going through the net. It might be better if you had a kid with experience, who knew that traveling into the past wasn’t anything to be scared of.”

“Traveling into the past is something that needs to be treated with due respect. Perhaps I’d rather have a companion who treats it with a morsel of fear than a companion who treats it like a walk in the park.”

“Oh, of course, I understand!” Colin paused momentarily to take his gobstopper out of his mouth and examine it, then popped it back in, ignoring whatever cat hair Dunworthy assumed must have been added to it. “I know traveling to the past is a grave undertaking. I’m just not scared that something necrotic will happen.” He gave the kitten in his left hand a chuck under the chin. “See? Rossetti here agrees with me.”

“That one’s Ruskin,” Finch said dryly. “The one in your other hand is Rossetti.”

“Are you sure? They both look the same.”

“Not exactly. If you look at their tails, you’ll see…”

Dunworthy stepped back, and pushed the door gently closed again. The errands he’d had for Finch could wait until later.

 

 

four

Dunworthy could hear the guests’ laughter even before he opened the door to Ned Henry’s apartment.

Inside, the party was in full swing. Streamers draped from the ceiling to every wall. An extensive buffet supper filled Ned’s dining table, barely visible behind the chattering guests that flocked around. Everything necessary for a party was present…except for the guests of honor.

Dunworthy headed down the hallway and poked his head into the guest bedroom. There, in a large box full of cushions, lounged the entire reason for this party: Penwiper and her three new kittens.

Ned came up behind him. “Aren’t they marvelous?” he said. He gave Penwiper a scritch behind the ears. “And aren’t you phenomenal, Penwiper, having three healthy kittens all by yourself. You’re such a good girl.” He glanced up at Dunworthy. “The veterinary technicians said that three is a usual number of kittens in a first-time mother’s litter, but it could increase in the future! And did you know that kittens are born blind, and aren’t able to see clearly for a couple of weeks, even after the babies’ eyes open?” The smallest of the three kittens was stumbling around, trying to find its way back to its mother. With a swipe of her paw, Penwiper pulled it back where it belonged. “You see how smart she is? You’re such a sweet cat, Penwiper.”

“They’re very nice kittens,” Dunworthy said, worrying that Ned wouldn’t find the statement sufficiently enthusiastic.

“Don’t worry,” Verity said, joining them, “Ned’s not time-lagged, just sleep-deprived. He insisted on being there the entire time Penwiper was giving birth, and spending every spare minute at the Catlab since then.”

“Except for planning the party,” Ned pointed out.

“Well, I hardly think that counts,” Verity said, “since you were obviously still thinking about the kittens the entire time.”

“The kittens and you, you mean,” Ned said. “But since thinking of you is my default state, the omission is understandable.”

Before Verity could come up with an equally soppy response to that, Kivrin Engle hurried into the room and interrupted. “You’ve run out of spinach dip,” she informed them. “Hello, Mr. Dunworthy.”

“I left the rest on the kitchen counter,” Ned said. “I’ll go—”

“No, I can take care of it,” Verity said. “I need to get back out there; there’s several people I need to talk to before they leave.” She hurried out of the room with Kivrin.

Ned turned back to the kittens, gazing down protectively at them. “Is this what being a father feels like?” he asked thoughtfully.

“I would imagine fatherhood usually involves a bit less assistance from vet techs and a lot more of living with the young helpless creatures round the clock,” Dunworthy replied. “But there’s still that feeling of devoted concern for all the lives that have somehow ended up in your care.”

“Excuse me, Mr. Henry.” A man that Dunworthy didn’t recognize walked into the room. His shirt bore the Catlab logo. “I need to perform the hourly check on the kittens, if you’ll excuse me.”

“Of course,” Ned said. He led the way back to the party. “Ordered around in my own home,” he commented. “I don’t think they would have even allowed this at all if we hadn’t already been catproofed for Penwiper’s visits.”

“But it’s worth it to be allowed to have the kittens pay a visit,” Dunworthy said.

“Absolutely.”

 

 

six

Finch was back at his desk.

Ideally, Dunworthy wouldn’t have had to be surprised at his secretary actually being available to assist him. But these days, Finch seemed to spend half of his time in the past hunting kittens, and even when he was in the present time, he was always popping over to the Catlab on one errand or another.

But today, he was sitting at his desk, ready to fulfill his secretarial duties.

The resemblance to a secretary stopped there, however. As Dunworthy looked closer, he realized that Finch’s garb was both butleresque and waterlogged. And the sound he had subconsciously been aware of since he entered the room was not the Neuroelectronic Celesta of the ‘30s he’d taken it for, but the mewling of kittens. They were wriggling about in a pasteboard box that Finch had set on the desk, handily present at his elbow.

“Good morning, sir,” Finch greeted him, as he moved forward to get a closer look at the kittens. “Badri called ten minutes ago to complain about the drop authorization forms two of your historians have submitted. Here is my précis; both students will need to do more research on their desired coordinates before resubmitting. These six kittens are all from the same litter. I rescued them from Allerdice House this morning. I’m sorry to have been gone longer than planned, but the mother cat in question was quite uncooperative. I came back as soon as possible, and I made sure to come straight here because I knew you had the meeting with the Board this morning and I wasn’t sure if you would have had a chance to finish the prospectus. Which is here, by the way.” He held out a folder, bristling with comment tags.

“Oh, and don’t worry,” he added, noting the direction of Dunworthy’s gaze, “the kittens’ box is thoroughly lined. And I put a fax-mag on the chair before I sat down.”

“I’m not concerned about that,” Dunworthy said. “Actually, I was wondering if you’d named them yet.”

“None of them officially, but I have a few ideas. Would you like to name one?”

“Would the Catlab permit that?”

“After all you’ve done to assist them, I should certainly hope so. They’re trying to retain a theme of naming them after historical figures of the Victorian era. I was rather thinking of naming this one Gaskell.” He held up a softly mewling tabby.

Dunworthy thought for a moment. “Has Arthur Cayley been given a namesake yet?”

“I don’t believe so,” Finch said.

“He was a Victorian mathematician who formalized the theory of matrices. Considering the extent to which matrices are used in the mathematics of time travel, it seems only fair. They were even used all the way back in Darby’s On Crossing Space–Time: A Linear Algebra for Temporal Theory, if you recall.”

Finch winced. “It’s been half a decade since my module on temporal maths, and I’d be quite happy to go another half decade before I ever see a matrix again. But you’re right, it would be fitting. Which kitten did you have in mind?”

 

 

eight

These parties were beginning to be a regular occurrence. Almost like clockwork, every few months Penwiper would give birth to another litter, and Ned and Verity would throw a party to celebrate her achievement. (Or perhaps they just liked giving parties.)

For Penwiper’s fifth litter—or was it her sixth? these things were so easy to lose track of—Dunworthy had plans for the evening, so he dropped by to put in an appearance while his former students were still setting up.

“Come on in!” someone called from inside when he rang the bell, so he let himself in.

“Hello, Mr. Dunworthy,” Verity greeted him from the living room. “Thanks for stopping by.” Her arms were full of tape and streamers. “Ned’s in the breakfast nook, taking care of the cats.

Ned was indeed in the breakfast nook, and his arms were full of cats. “I thought we were celebrating the birth of newborn kittens, not cats that are young but full-grown,” Dunworthy said. “Who are these two?”

Ned managed to convince the two cats to sit on the table instead of jumping up on him, although it took several tries before they believed him when he pushed them off of him. “These are two of Penwiper’s clones,” Ned said finally. “We finally got permission to have them pay us a visit as well, so they’ll be joining us at the party. Oh, and Penwiper and her litter are in the guest bedroom like usual.”

“Five kittens this time, I heard.”

“Yes. She’s had four before, but this is the first time she’s had five. We’re very proud.”

One of the cats jumped up at Ned again, this time landing on his shoulders and curling around his neck. Ned sighed. “We’re receiving an object lesson on the effects of nature vs. nurture, right here,” he said. “This little hellion may look exactly like Penwiper, but she’s a good deal clingier.”

Dunworthy chuckled as the cat stuck her head right next to Ned’s and began to purr.

“Yes, yes,” Ned said, reaching his hands up to rub the cat’s chin and to dislodge her from his shoulders at the same time. He set her down on the table and continued petting her. “I love you anyway, you demanding scamp.”

 

 

ten

Dunworthy had grown accustomed to the sight of Finch’s unoccupied desk outside his door, blending in with the rest of the furniture. But then one Monday morning as he stumbled sleepily into the building, he realized that it was actually occupied. He stopped with a start.

Granted, there was a box full of kittens in front of Finch and he was dressed like a Victorian butler, but still—his secretary was actually at his desk.

“Good to see you, Finch,” Dunworthy said, although he suspected the silence had already dragged on a little too long.

“I can’t do it anymore, sir,” Finch said by way of reply.

“Did something go wrong with the kittens?” Dunworthy asked in alarm. “Are they all right?”

“They’re fine. Very well, actually. What I meant was that I no longer wish to be your secretary. I want to be a full-time historian.”

“I suppose that is understandable.”

“It’s not out of any desire to stop working for you, sir. If I thought I could continue to do both, but I always find myself shorting one or the other.”

“No, no, that’s all right, if that’s what you want to do.”

“I looked through the records of anyone who has contacted the college recently inquiring about secretarial positions, and found three potential candidates.” He handed Dunworthy three pieces of paper. “Andrew Carter is an American law secretary who moved here recently because his wife is English and needed to take care of family. Jonathan Eddritch is an Oxford graduate—he read English Language and Literature—who has worked in various secretarial positions in the Oxbridge area over the last decade, except for a brief stint processing admissions at the Royal Free. Lastly, Clarence Ralston is a recent Cambridge graduate who read maths and is looking for his first job. I can schedule interviews for this week if you wish.”

“I suppose that would be for the best,” Dunworthy said. “By the way, how many kittens have you got there?”

“Ten, from two different litters. I had quite a time of it rescuing the one lot. After all the effort I put in to be the first on the scene, the lady of the house was struck by a desire to wander the gardens at precisely the wrong moment, and proceeded to insist on bagging them up to be drowned personally. It was quite a task to convince her to let me take the kittens to the river without her supervision. Retrieving the others, by comparison, went like clockwork.”

Dunworthy pulled himself away from staring at the kittens and headed into the inner office. “Tell me when you’ve set up the interviews, please, Finch. You’ve been a very good secretary and I’m sorry to lose you, but I’m sure we’ll be able to find someone else at least half as good.”

“I certainly hope so, sir.”

 

 

eleven

Ten years was a long time to have been away. Dunworthy didn’t regret what he’d done, rushing precipitously into the past to retrieve an imperiled historian; but sometimes, he found himself wondering. Knowing what he did now, that he would be gone ten years in present-day time, that he would leave the history faculty without his leadership at the time they most needed it—would he make the same decision?

He didn’t particularly think that he would.

It felt like living in the future, being thrown from 1941 into a world with a decade’s more technological development than anything he’d known. There was a new sort of mobile phone technology that scientists asserted wouldn’t cause cancer this time. A vaccine for Ebola III was being developed. Humans had landed on Mars. And cats were being sold and owned outside of universities again.

“It started when Caltech was contacted by an extremely wealthy potential donor,” Ned explained when he came for a visit, latest batch of kittens in tow. “All the other universities with cats immediately realized the potential platinum mine they were sitting on and started sending out feelers to their biggest donors. For several years—Antimacassar, no! Stop that!—they kept up the polite fiction that the cats were still owned by the universities and were being allowed to make unlimited visits to the donors as acknowledgment of their generosity, but lately they don’t even bother to pretend half the time.” He jumped from the chair to seize the kitten he had chastised earlier, before it could escape into the kitchen. “Now, Antimacassar, you’ll be much happier over here.”

“Are they branching out from naming kittens after Victorian historical figures, then?” Dunworthy asked. Or is there some Lord or Lady Antimacassar that I haven’t heard of?”

“If there is, I haven’t heard of them either,” Ned said. “Of course Penwiper’s always been an exception to the rules for naming, being grandfathered in as it were. And now that Penwiper’s getting a bit old to come visit—she needs to stay somewhere with better medical care than our flat—they asked us if we wanted another cat of our own, and we got to name her. Antimacassar is Penwiper’s great-great-granddaughter. Actually, all of the kittens here are Penwiper’s descendants. The older litter—the two you’re holding, the calico near the kitchen and those two over there—were fathered by Penwiper’s grandson Disraeli. And the younger ones that have stayed in the box—except for Raglan, come here, you little rascal—were born to Penwiper’s great-granddaughter Nightingale. She was littermates with Antimacassar’s mother.”

 

 

twenty-one

“Revenge of the Twenty-First Cat,” the poster was emblazoned, above a picture of a cat in some sort of black-ops harness. “See it on the big screen! Enjoy the crowd experience!”

Dunworthy supposed he wasn’t surprised that vidmakers had attempted to capitalize on cats’ disextinction. He contemplated how they might have incorporated cats into their plot. Simply giving a pet cat to the protagonist? Having him train a cat to…climb on top of the antagonist’s kitchen cabinets and look disapproving? What did cats do that could actually be useful to a secret agent?

Then he realized—it was a Saturday afternoon, and he had absolutely nowhere he needed to be. So why not find out?

The nearly empty theater belied the “crowd experience” banner from outside. There were only half a dozen other people scattered around the large auditorium. But then, Dunworthy supposed, the banner was intended more to convince people away from their pocket vidders than to contain truth in advertising. And the screen was certainly bigger than a pocket vidder, or even the sitting room vidders that some people had.

The vid was utterly ridiculous. It opened with the hero in an airplane, herding cats (literally) out the rear door, before jumping out himself and using some sort of transceiver to trigger all the cats’ parachutes at once. Dunworthy wasn’t sure what the inducement for transporting cats by parachute would be, but he assumed it must be substantial, to be worth the effort of wrangling more than a dozen cats into complicated harnesses.

The reason turned out to be that the cats had been trained in picking locks, and had both near-infrared cameras and assorted weaponry on their backs. So much for realism. The hero stayed out of harm’s way and controlled the cats with his handheld while simultaneously taking a phone call from his love interest. Eventually, the cats found their way to the enemy’s lair and released some explosives that they also turned out to be carrying. Then the hero stole the antagonist’s airplane for him and the cats to escape in, and as they flew off into the sunset he detonated the explosives and the mansion blew up.

That was all in the first twenty minutes. When they returned to headquarters, they somehow concluded that the last cat to leave the antagonist’s mansion—the twenty-first cat of the title—had had contact with an enemy agent while it had been in the building, and what was apparently the real adventure of the vid began.

A few rows in front of Dunworthy, two boys—barely teenagers, he thought—couldn’t take their eyes off the screen. They laughed and cheered through mouthfuls of popcorn as the cats overcame each obstacle the antagonist threw at them. They reminded Dunworthy of Colin when he had been that age. He wondered if Colin had ever found himself at this sort of movie, eating popcorn with one hand, gobstoppers with the other, and never stopping to wonder if any of this could really happen.

As for Dunworthy, he thought the very idea that anything like this could happen was entirely ridiculous. But then, a decade and a half ago, the idea that cats would ever be seen outside a museum was equally ridiculous. Perhaps the government would use cats as secret agents someday. He just hoped they wouldn’t do anything to get his historians involved.

 

 

two hundred fifty-seven

“Thank you for coming, Monsieur Dunworthy,” François Paquet greeted him. “I’m glad you were able to come see what we’ve done with your cats.”

“I haven’t traveled outside of England in a long time,” Dunworthy said. “Thank you for asking me to come consult.”

“I can think of no better way to use up spare grant money,” Paquet said. “We should have had you come much sooner. Now, let me show you the breeding lab!” He led the way to a nearby hyperbrutalist building, nearly featureless from the outside. “Looks like not much, hein?” Paquet said. “But inside, we have an ideal environment for cats, with the best of comforts.”

Dunworthy followed him through the door of the Sorbonne’s main feline laboratory. The rooms they passed were separated from the corridors by large plate-glass windows. Nearly every room had a skylight, and in some rooms the cats seemed to be roaming free. “Unless a specific cat needs to be kept separate to avoid interbreeding or to be prepped for a medical procedure, we try to let the cats spend as much time out of cages as possible,” Paquet told him as they walked. Everywhere they looked, cats could be seen, climbing on exercise trees and lounging on fuzzy beds and playing with the white-coated veterinary technicians. It was the most cats Dunworthy had ever seen in one place in his life.

“This is our courtyard,” Paquet said, leading Dunworthy through another door. “It’s entirely screened to allow us to release the cats without risking interaction with feral wildlife.” The courtyard was surrounded by the building on all sides, and was full of greenery, both large trees and shrubs and smaller herbaceous borders and wildflowers.

“It’s quite magnificent,” Dunworthy said. “How much of the floorplan does it take up?”

“More than half—of the three floors above ground, that is. But we have extensive basement space as well. In fact, the cafeteria is directly below where we are standing.” A buzzer sounded. “They’ll be releasing another group of cats soon; we should get out of their way.”

“And perhaps I should get to work on the job you brought me here for,” Dunworthy said. “Do you have an office for me?”

“Nonsense, we’ll have dinner first, and only then will I show you your office! It’s very nice, has windows onto the courtyard and one of the cat activity rooms. But you really must join me for dinner at Les Trois Grâces. I promise you will adore their bœuf à la Bourguignonne.”

Dunworthy continued to follow him as they retraced their steps through the building, and Paquet continued to chatter about dinner. All around them, cats stared through the glass as they passed, or ignored them completely to stalk majestically across the exercise room. To think that this was only one of multiple universities with such programs. He’d known that they had run many cat retrieval missions, but somehow the immensity of the situation hadn’t fully struck him when he’d only been seeing the cats in fours or half-dozens. Seeing these cats all at once, what they’d accomplished seemed suddenly incredible.

 

 

one

“I seem destined to go down in history as ‘the historian who saved the cats’,” Dunworthy said. “All the contributions I’ve made, helping test the first iteration of Pulhaski coordinates, supervising multiple students in expanding our knowledge of the twentieth century, and here I’m best known for bringing something from the nineteenth century into the twenty-first. I wasn’t even the one who brought it through; it was Verity!”

“All I did was bring one cat to the future that you almost immediately sent back with Ned,” Verity said. “Finch is the one who retrieved most of the cats.”

“I couldn’t have done it without Lewis and his sims,” Finch said.

“As Lewis isn’t here, shall I make similar excuses for him,” Ned said, “or shall we pin the entire two-decade saga of cat retrieval solely on his shoulders?”

“If he didn’t want to be blamed for such a monstrous undertaking, he should have been here,” Verity teased.

“Lewis assured me he wished he could come,” Dunworthy said to set the record straight, “but he has just started a new job as head of Temporal Theory at the Sorbonne and couldn’t get away.”

“Seriously though, Mr. Dunworthy, there wouldn’t have been a cat retrieval program without you,” Verity said. “We may have done the legwork, but you’re the one who dealt with all the bureaucracy and bigwigs to allow the program to even exist.”

“She’s absolutely right,” Finch said. “Another round?”

The real retirement party had been earlier that evening, but now all the speeches were over, and even the interminable slideshow of every cat that had ever been brought through the net had drawn to a close. Dunworthy found himself dragged away to an unplanned afterparty with half a dozen of the students (and secretary) he’d remained closest with. They hurried him off to the closest pub, and now here he sat, crammed around a table with six of his nearest and dearest.

And a cat, apparently. “Ned, did you seriously smuggle a kitten in here?” Kivrin’s exclamation was the first most of them knew about it.

“More importantly, why?” someone else asked.

“He’s for Mr. Dunworthy, if he wants him.” Ned turned to Mr. Dunworthy, holding the soft black kitten below the edge of the table so the pub staff would be unlikely to see. “We thought you might get lonely living so far away from all of us.”

“That’s…very nice,” Dunworthy said. He took the kitten in his arms, and it immediately curled up against him.

“Aww, he likes you,” Kivrin said. “Does he have a name?”

“Not yet,” Ned said. “Mr. Dunworthy, do you have any ideas?”

“How about Jowett?” Dunworthy said. “Keep up the tradition of naming them after Victorian historical figures.”

“And you’ll be able to keep a tiny bit of Balliol with you even when you’re gone,” Verity said. “You’ll keep him then?”

“I’ve never had an opportunity to have a pet before,” Dunworthy said. “It’s high time I learned what it’s like.”

Finch brought back their drinks, and the conversation turned to other topics. Kivrin was seeing somebody, and Verity was planning a new set of drops to observe Agatha Christie as a child, and Finch was starting to run out of times in the era he was trained for that he hadn’t been to, so he was turning to training other historians in cat retrieval. Listening to them talk, Dunworthy wondered if they were in turn being observed by historians from the future, studying the history of cats or the history of time travel, and thus finding their casual conversation to be something monumental and historical.

When he had become a historian, he had thought he’d be observing history, not creating it. And yet here he was, one cat-retrieval program and dozens of students later, causing a ripple effect on the world. As he looked around at his laughing friends and felt the kitten clinging to his shirt, he thought that he was quite happy with how it had all turned out.