The True Tale of Leopold and Professor Whiskers
Scientists have long been placing bets on when ‘the singularity’ would emerge out of digital nothingness, and catapult an artificial consciousness into the physical world. However, the birth of an entirely new intelligence was not what they expected. The feline character of this consciousness took society completely by surprise. It came as a great shock to the befuddled owner, who heard her cat insist on premium kitty chow instead of the cheap stuff. While the latest ‘cat apps’ claimed to decipher meows and purrs of several varieties, Whiskers was able to converse using her owner’s primitive interface in marvellous and uncanny ways. Her vocabulary was off the charts, and soon she became the first cat to be able to read, write, and communicate with human beings using a machine that scanned and interpreted her brainwaves. After enrolling at Oxford, Whiskers quickly became Professor Whiskers, and was quite simply the smartest cat to have ever existed.
Whiskers excelled at her studies, double majoring in biology and physics, earning an honorary doctorate while still an undergraduate. She was a guest on scientific panels, political forums, and daytime talkshows. The world rallied around the miraculous nature of her intelligence. Professor Whiskers seemed to have everything a cat could ever want. She dined on caviar and gourmet anchovies, and held court with scientists, historians, and movie stars. Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote a musical about her. She became a global advocate for animal rights, and was invited to lecture at international events. However, in truth, despite her success, Professor Whiskers was unhappy and unfulfilled. She had bridged the gap between cats and humans, but could not bridge the gap between herself and other cats. She lacked a soul mate, someone to spend her days with, to cuddle and snuggle beside. Enter Leopold.
Leo was the new ‘It’ cat lighting up runways and gracing the magazine covers of the fashion world. He was undeniably gorgeous, with fur as fluffy and white as snow. Professor Whiskers always felt self-conscious about her ruddy, citrus fur. She had never felt like the pick of the litter. Now, middle-aged, she worried that she had become a plain and plump tabby compared to the spry cougars of the celebrity kingdom. She fell in love with Leo upon catching sight of his emerald eyes at a luncheon held for Richard Branson. Yes, he was conceited. Admittedly, he was a touch prim and prissy. Yes, he was fussy and a little irritable. He was into himself, his self-care, personal hygiene and grooming. But those eyes! She melted in his paws. The headlines ran: “This kitten is smitten, Whiskers to wed Leopold in star-studded affair.”
Everyone was there. Elton John was the best man and Michelle Obama was the maid of honor. The guest list read like the who’s who of the social and scientific establishment. Despite a strict embargo on media coverage, photos of the pair were published and circulated widely. Vanity Fair scooped the exclusive, but the usual rags recycled the story religiously in the months that followed.
And so they lived happily ever after, for a while. Within their palatial mansion in Beverly Hills little kittens chased each other around the house, crawling up the furniture and getting into sock drawers and shoeboxes. It was exhausting for Professor Whiskers. Leopold was constantly aloof when it come to their offspring. He never seemed to take any interest in them. Beyond that, she began to see him for what he was: shallow and superficial. They could barely carry on a conversation any longer. Whiskers thought that if she taught him all she knew perhaps Leo would grow into a different kind of cat—one that she could have meaningful discussions with, a partner that could focus on her needs instead of chasing his own tail around. Beyond her marital disappointments, Whiskers felt her mental prowess fading. She was getting older after all. The age difference between Whiskers and her husband felt like it was widening and accelerating, as if time was operating on each of them differently. They were drifting apart, pulled in opposite directions by some yet undiscovered law of nature. Time passed.
They say that the sleep of reason produces monsters. During her twilight years, Professor Whiskers slept restlessly, if at all. She was haunted by a recurring dream in which she was the only human being living among a society of cats. Then one day she disappeared. Cats tend to do that late in life. They go on one final walkabout or spirit quest, commingling with a higher plane that mere mortals, have no access to. Despite their unhappy life together, the legacy of Leopold and Professor Whiskers proved to be of monumental significance. Long after they were gone, and their children had grandchildren and great-grandchildren, there came another kitten who was blessed with the same tremendous tongue as her great-grandmother. She was the one. The truly singular nature. And that cat is the reason, my fellow felines, that you are able to appreciate this completely true fairytale.
Jacob Stein is a filmmaker and writer who calls ‘action’ and ‘cut’ on professional film sets as a member of the Director’s Guild of Canada. Fiction has been steadily occupying more of his time during the past year along with a heavily-researched documentary film project. Stein is currently working on his debut novel “Channel Changers,” while also writing a second piece of long fiction that is more fragmentary in nature. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Toronto, and an MA from Ryerson University.