#fridayflash: opposable thumbs

"But they don't have the capacity," said Caitlin.

Peter shrugged and slid the device across the table to her. "Nevertheless, some of them have figured out how to do it. Read for yourself."

Caitlin picked up the device and read the first couple of paragraphs of text on the screen. She gave a short laugh and handed back the device to Peter. "It's an April Fool's joke," she said. "There's no way."

"I saw Spot do it," said Peter. "I left the device on my desk when I went to get another coffee, and when I came back she was entering the text you see here. She jumped off the desk when I returned to the room, but, and this is the key part, when I laughed and said I was all right with her using the device, she jumped up again and finished the paragraph. I extracted the video from the home security file. You can watch that if you don't believe me."

"Even if I do watch it, I still won't believe you," said Caitlin. "You're telling me your pet cat wrote that?"

"She did, and Farrah's cat Biggle has, and an orange tabby named Larry has written a beautiful essay on the merits of wet versus dry food. He comes out in favour of dry, even though he says wet tastes and feels better. I think most humans would have expected cats to all be in favour of wet food."

"You're yanking my chain."

"Farrah says that she's observed Biggle trying to teach her other cat, Triggle, how to use the device for writing. Biggle tapped the icon to open the text editor, then closed it and pushed the device at Triggle. Triggle opened a video instead, and Biggle batted at her and closed it, then demonstrated again. Farrah said it all looked very deliberate." Peter's device chimed, and he swiped a few commands into it. "Farrah has the lesson on video too, plus an extract from the device's log showing what commands were completed during that time period. She's going to synch it with the video."

"Is that the text you just got?" said Caitlin.

Peter shook his head and smiled. "No, that was a report of another cat who seems to have learned how. The owner calls the cat Squirrel because it has a grey bushy tail, but she says the cat only answers to 'Kitten', and sure enough that's how the cat identifies itself in the report it wrote."

Caitlin blinked. "What did it write a report on?"

"It's a description of inkjet printer behaviour if a cat places a paw on the moving paper at different stages in printing. Um, let's see, 'If the paper is at the top, the machine stops and blinks. If the paper is partly through the machine, the machine gets louder and the person will make the machine work over again. Kitten will be told to leave the room. If the paper is almost all the way at the bottom, no effect." Peter raised his eyebrows. "I think this one has a bright future in engineering."

Caitlin rolled her eyes, then frowned. "Wait... have any of them written anything that could be considered fiction. Or at least something fanciful?"

"Not so far. It's all essays on the merits of different food brands and how to sabotage printers. They're very focused on evaluating their environment." Peter's device chimed again. "I'm more interested in why it's starting to happen now," he said, swiping at his device. "Right now I'm exploring the idea that it's finally easy enough to write without opposable thumbs."

"They're doing it because they can."

"Basically. Hrm." Peter frowned at the device.

"Another one?" said Caitlin.

"Here's some of that fiction you were wondering about," said Peter. "Written by a cat named Allroy. These names. I'm starting to feel bad about what I called Spot."

"What's fictional about the new one?"

"Allroy was born in a bachelor apartment, the only surviving kitten of a small litter. She's always lived in apartments, only goes outside in a carrier during trips to the vet. But she's written this story about hunting birds and climbing trees. Two things she's never done in real life." Peter swiped at his device. "The beginning's pretty good, actually. I'm looking forward to reading the whole thing."

Caitlin laughed. "All this cat stuff. Okay, assuming you're not making this all up, which I'm still not convinced of, I guess it's safe to say we won't be seeing the cat version of War and Peace any time soon."

"You realise that's what people used to say about 'women's fiction' and fiction by people not of European descent."

"Yeah, but, these are cats."

Peter grinned. "Twenty years from now, humans will be bitching about cat quotas in the Hugo nominations. Wait for it."