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The Naming of Cats

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Jack of Smiles had a different name, once. Long ago. Before the Bazaar came; before London fell.

Several names, actually; but it's been so long that even Jack doesn't remember what they were. The cats don’t know either, and that’s saying something.

But it doesn’t really matter now, does it?

Jack is just Jack.

#

There's a new penny-dreadful out, with the details of some new horrific murder Jack supposedly committed. Jack picks it up out of morbid curiosity, and reads unsmiling. The prose is dreadful, the author's knowledge of human anatomy is sketchy at best, and the plot, such as it is, is horribly prosaic.

Jack tracks down the author (not easy, since they're written under pseudonyms, but Jack is very good at tracking) and kills him out of spite.

#

The Starveling Cat!
The Starveling Cat!
He knows your true names
And will call you that.

#

Just for fun, Jack starts a rumor that the Fisher-Kings are half cat themselves. It takes off like wildfire, especially since the orphans in the gang are quite taken with the idea.

The cats are not amused.

Jack is.

(There’s no evidence of that, of course, because Jack never shows amusement. The newspapers — all of them: the legitimate ones, the semi-legitimate ones, the illegitimate ones, the ones that claim to not exist, the ones that don’t actually exist, and the ones only Hell knows about — may run the gamut from hysteria at Jack’s latest killing spree to a more-or-less-factual account to parody and caricatures, but all of them know that Jack takes everything far too seriously.)

#

The Starveling Cat!
The Starveling Cat!
Small as an elephant!
Large as a gnat!

#

Jack borrows bodies to kill with. It’s like the inverse of a spirifer: instead of getting a soul and leaving the body, Jack gets a body and leaves the soul. It is a matter of chance as to which bodies are available for the taking, but there is a particular method to the selection. No Drownies or tomb-colonists, because they are too noticeable. No one that would stand out in a crowd.

Jack has sometimes used children, if they are unaffiliated with an orphan gang, but mainly for scouting out prospective targets or locations. Small bodies don’t do well at serial murder.

Some of the bodies get seen. Some get caught, or jailed, or killed. But not all of Jack’s bodies get noticed, and not all of the people who claim to be Jack actually are.

It’s a very tricky business, being a lunatic when no one is quite sane to begin with.

#

The bodies Jack gets caught in are the ones that wear like ill-fitting suits; big burly men with the strength needed to brutally murder someone, but not quite as much in the way of agility.

The one Jack thinks of as ‘home’ is a slender, waif-like woman, easily lost in the shadows cast by the dim moonish light of the Neath. She is more of a hedonist than she appears (and it is wise not to ask the Cheesemonger about the nights spent with Jack, although she might possibly smile at the memory, before she sends one of her agents to kill you), but otherwise hardly remarkable on the streets of Fallen London.

She’s the closest approximation to who Jack remembers being.

#

The Starveling Kit!
The Starveling Kit!
Beware of the shadows
Or you might get bit!

#

One of Jack’s regular bodies is an austere personage who attends church … religiously, as it were. He (or she; no one really knows, and Jack doesn’t really give a damn) makes a point of spurning demons, regardless of how tempting their offers, and spending time with the more pious citizenry.

It’s amazing how many secrets Jack can find in those circles, if she (or he) digs in enough and just listens.

Jack is a very good listener.

(The only times Jack gives up secrets is to cats, because it’s only fair, and because the cats — especially the black ones, shadow-blended and fond of camouflage — will sometimes pass secrets back in exchange. Cats can go places that Jack can’t, and they can hear things that Jack can’t, and even though most everyone (except for gullible newcomers) knows not to talk when cats are about…

…Well, that’s a hard thing to achieve. And besides, everyone also knows not to walk where Jack is hunting for prey, and how successful is that?)

#

One of the Scholars at the University writes a paper about Jack; about “who he is and where he came from and what he wants”. It’s practically a profile: a gentleman of this particular age range, most likely lower class, with a vicious hatred of anyone he sees as superior.

She gets all the details wrong, of course, and the generalities as well, but Jack doesn’t expect better from a Scholar. And as entertaining as this work of fiction is, Jack infiltrates into the area and kills her, leaving a bloody smiley face on the wall for her to see when she recovers, as she no doubt will.

But really, Jack isn't sure why killing is so much fun. Which is why Jack does it. It has nothing to do with hatred, and more to do with the art of a good murder; it’s practically a profession by now. Killing is different in Fallen London than it was Before, when dead people stayed dead and killing was a serious offense rather than just a nuisance.

(It isn’t always "just a nuisance" in Fallen London, of course; there have been a few people that Jack has killed permanently, by making their bodies completely unrecoverable. But those are the ones that really truly deserve it. The rest is just games.)

Jack just knows that the need to kill burns like fire in some peoples’ veins. That’s assuming Jack isn’t the only one, just the best at it.

Then again, maybe that’s why some people claim to be Jack, even as they’re hauled off for execution. Better to be known as the best, even wrongly so, than to be just another mediocre criminal.

But Jack truly is the best, and she wouldn’t give that up for all of the treasures of the Neath.