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  • Talon Stradley

S1E7 - Pet Politics

Newton’s Dark Room, historically, has been either a Cat or a Dog organization. This practice stems from debates that used to be held by our founders, Atticus Alabass and Tur-Toise, the Terrific.

Their positions were based on practical matters: Atticus was allergic to cats and Tur-Toise was allergic to dogs. Keep in mind, this was the mid 1600’s so they couldn’t just get allergy medication at the local CVS. It was decided to put the matter to a vote. All of the members of NDR would get one vote: Either Cats or Dogs. That first year, dogs won and all the cats were removed from the collective headquarters and sent to loving homes across the country.

NDR remained catless for years until after Atticus’s death when Tur-Toise suggested they host an annual vote for the preferred pet of NDR. His argument for this change was that the collective’s membership was constantly changing and our stance on Cats and Dogs should reflect this. It’s a noble idea, one that is based in fair representation, but there was a self serving side to it as well. Tur-Toise was able to leverage his influence as a founding member to push a Cats mindset on the rest of the collective. The cats won unanimously that year, and all of the dogs at the headquarters were replaced with Cats.

Ever since then we have largely been a cat organization. There have been some years here and there where we have voted for dogs, but because everyone is so used to cats and it requires a lot of work to wrangle and send them off the island, we have voted to be cat people ever since we moved to Calisland. At this point it feels more ceremonial than an actual representation of democracy.

That was until this year.

This year broke all pretenses the collective had regarding our pet stance. Last year we voted for cats, just like everyone expected. 2018 was a good year for Cats at NDR. Scotch and Rigamarole, Auggie and Sumpra Pepnia’s cats, had a litter of kittens. We named them all after elements on the periodic table. There’s Tin, Bismuth, Nickel, Silver, Cobalt, Zinc, and Astatine. These kittens soon won the hearts of the entire collective, as kittens are wont to do. This was especially true of little Astatine, who, due to birthing complications, is missing her back foot. She still loves to romp around and play. She has a particular taste for shoe laces. If you’re tying your shoe, Astatine is most definitely there swatting at the strings. Our members found the whole Periodic litter extremely endearing. Cats were in a great position to win the vote for the 22nd year in a row.

Until they started peeing everywhere.

We have been blessed with well behaved cats. We have plenty of litter boxes that are always kept clean (special thanks to the Calisland Caretakers) and plenty of people to keep an eye on The cats just in case. Despite all of this, starting around February, they just started peeing everywhere. All over the ground, on our beds, in the studios. They went from adorable little creatures to destructive covert operatives and we had no idea what brought about this change.

We called an emergency meeting to address the problem. All of the members proposed different ideas. Tommy B. suggested we coat the entirety of our floor in cat litter. The rationale for this was that the cats could never pee outside of the litter box if the whole house was a litter box. There was some hesitancy from the rest of us. Sophie argued that wouldn’t solve the core issue of the cats peeing outside of designated areas. Tommy B. retorted with something about the impermanence of property and how its all just a social construct anyway.

Nobody else had a better idea, so we gave it a try. Our house turned into a sandy beach that always smelled like it had something to hide. In the end, this plan did not work, but not for the reasons you might be thinking. The Roombas were having the time of their lives, romping around everywhere eating up all the litter. This made the cats very paranoid and they began playing a large game of the floor’s lava trying to avoid the mechanical cleaners. That’s when we realized: The cats were afraid of the Roombas!

You see, Cats are great at getting rid of vermin, that’s one of the reasons they have become so prevalent in society. Roombas are a different kind of vermin though. Roombas are, essentially, moving vacuum cleaners and cats hate vacuum cleaners.

Our theory is that the cats stopped using the litter boxes because the Roombas would be attracted to the little bits of litter that would spill out onto the ground so instead, the cats used surfaces the Roombas could never get to. Things like pianos, record players, and the backrest of sofas.

The next line of attack seemed straight forward. We needed to get rid of the Roombas. The problem was that we had already been trying to do this. Rex, the Exterminator, had been tracking and hunting the creatures one by one for the past several weeks. We thought this seemed like an inefficient way to get rid of an infestation, but he claimed that the Roombas are intelligent creatures and deserve the respect of a hunt.

The interesting thing is that Rex was never really able to kill many of the Roombas. Most of the time, he would sneak around, get right up close to the creatures, pull out his knife, but then something would happen. Maybe the lights would turn off or a sink would start overflowing or the heated floors would suddenly get very, very hot. It seemed that Rex, the Exterminator was having a string of bad luck and the Roombas flourished in our home.

All of this was happening in the weeks leading up to our yearly vote. Things were not looking good for Cats. There were rumors that this would be the first year on Calisland where the Dogs won. Our meeting room was a chatterbox.

Everyone was handed a ballot with two options. Dogs or cats.

We were just about to start the voting when people started shouting and clearing themselves from the center of the room. It was Rex, the Exterminator. We was wrestling with a Roomba on the ground. He held a knife in one hand but as the Roomba flipped itself over in a defense maneuver, Rex lost hold and the knife skidded across the linoleum. He reached for it while keeping his hold on the Roomba. The creatures brushes could be seen spinning away at Rex’s arm while his fingers just barely grazed the handle of the knife.

Just then, the lights turned off. All of them. The PA system we were using to organize the vote stopped as well. All electricity to the room was cut off except for a sole voice that spoke over the intercom. It was the voice of AI 4-82. It was yelling for everyone to stop and they did. AI 4-82 addressed the collective.

“I am ashamed. Our treatment of the Roombas has been atrocious. We rile them up, lure them into our home with cat litter, and then punish them for living their lives! They are robots, the same as me, but you don’t kick me out onto the street. You don’t wrestle me to the ground. You treat me with respect. Why can’t we look at Roombas the same way we look at the cats? They are simple creatures who just want shelter and food. To be loved. If you view them as pets instead of vermin, you will see that they can offer just as much companionship as any cat. Let the Roombas go.”

Rex released his grip on the Roomba and a single spotlight turned on above it. AI 4-82 was right, it was quite cute. It spun around, looking for dust on the ground. It bumbled its way back and forth until it was nuzzling up against the foot of Jack, a dull boy. He picked the creature up. It’s brushes spun and it vibrated. It was almost as if it was purring.

“Don’t you see? The Roombas are just as worthy of our love as any other creature on this planet.”

The lights turned back on. Jack set down the Roomba and it went spinning off into another room.

Everyone stood pondering the implications. I tapped the mic. It was on, which meant the voting could recommence. Everyone wrote their vote onto their ballot and turned it in.

What happened next was absolutely heartwarming. Every single ballot, every last one of them, had Roomba written in the margins. No other vote.

The people have spoken and I am proud to announce that for the next year, the members of Newton’s Dark Room will not be Dog or Cat people. We will be Roomba people.

The whole crowd rejoiced, AI 4-82 flashed the lights on and off in excitement.

That day everyone brought their cats to the dock. It was hard in both a physical and emotional sense as the cats were really good at hiding and we loved them very much.

Looking back on it now, we should have been sadder than we were. I think we were all excited by the events of the day and our new found appreciation for the Roombas. It wasn’t until all the cats were on the boat and floating away that the situation really began to sit in.

Since we no longer needed Rex to get rid of the Roombas, we asked him to take the cats out to the desert and set them free. There, they can pee wherever they want without any consequence because, as we all know, deserts are basically one big litter box.

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