I got home from work, bag in the slot by the door, shoes in the shoe slot. I opened the couch and slumped down. What a day. Leaned my head back. Closed my eyes. Normal stuff. According to the normal program this was when Mitch would come sidling along the top and smash his furry face into my face with such insane affection I'd have to pull away. I tensed up. Nothing. I called him. Nothing.
I looked around the apartment in all the places I could think of, which did not include many places. In my jacket. On the kitchen counter. I opened the bed and the toilet in case I'd closed him in them when I'd left this morning. I was hoping to not find him, because he'd be squashed flat dead, and indeed I did not.
I called my friend Kenny and told her I couldn't find Mitch in my jacket or kitchen or inside the bed and she said, "Oh shit. Is there any fur on the couch?" No, I said. Which was weird. Mitch's fur was usually everywhere. "Oh, no," she said. "Check your subscription. That's what happened when my cousin Annie's subscription lapsed."
I knew it hadn't lapsed, because they always sent you 10 emails to remind you to pay, or to use a payment plan, or pause your subscription, or transfer your cat's traits to a lower cost companion product or whatever before they outright cancelled it. I searched my inbox and found, yes, all of those emails. They'd misspelled my first name and been sent to junk. I hadn't seen them.
"Sorry, dude," Kenny said. "It's fine, Ken" I told her. "I'll just call them and say that I didn't get their emails and they'll reinstate him."
"Uh huh," she said.
I called Catstrata and explained the whole thing. "That's so frustrating!" said the cheerful team member on the other end. "We'll be happy to sort you out with a new cat."
"Thank you," I said. "My old cat was fine. Please just restore him."
There was a pause on the line. When the team member spoke again she was still cheerful. “I’ll need to transfer you to a subscriber conflict resolution specialist,” she said. “A what?” I said to the hold music.
The subscriber conflict resolution specialist was arguably more cheerful than the team member. "That's unfortunately not possible," she said. "Each cat has a unique profile based on its original settings and the external stimuli it receives while in your care. The ways a cat can grow and evolve are so complex it's impossible for us to fully back them up. Unfortunately, when your subscription lapses that profile is restored to factory settings. We can start a new cat profile based on the original settings of Milch."
"His name was Mitch," I said. "And it's not my fault my subscription lapsed. I never got the emails. You misspelled my first name."
"We take no responsibility for late payments," the subscriber conflict resolution specialist snarled viciously. "It's the subscriber's responsibility to pay on time or choose suitable payment plan, and if you had it's likely your cat would never have lapsed. Please hold for a short script.”
I listened to a cheery brief monologue delivered by a man with a comfortingly deep, earthy voice.
“Did you know subscribers are at the heart of everything Catstrata does?” the voice said. “Subscriber funds aid with research and development of new and more reliable companion animal products. As a subscriber, you get the benefit of Catstrata’s tireless work improving the pet ownership experience. We depend on you to do your bit by paying your subscription on time. Without your money, none of this is possible. If enough subscribers neglected their payments, we’d be forced to turn off all pets. Thank you for subscribing to Catstrata.”
The subscriber conflict resolution specialist reappeared on the line. “Now," she said, cheerful again, "would you like to use the same base template as Mitch?"
I put my foot down. "I refuse to accept that you can't restore my cat," I told her. "I'm sorry, but I'll need to speak to your team leader."
Her team leader was a crisp and cheerful fellow who chuckled modestly at everything either of us said. "We can't bring your cat back," he said smoothly. "It's not happening."
I got Mitch when I was locked in for four months' quarantine and needed something to hold on to. After that, well, he was my little guy. He was malicious but endearing, like all cats. He had weird little programs, like trying to bite the side of my wrist if it ever got too close, which I assumed was a software thing but tech support insisted was a cat thing. "He does it every time," I told them. "Yes!" they said. Once I had him I couldn't cancel him. A cranky little reptile who snuck into my affections like a thief.
"I'm sorry," I told the team leader, "you literally generate cats in people's homes and you think I'm going to believe you don't have that data stored somewhere? I know what companies like you do. You accumulate data. I'm the real product here."
The team leader chuckled. "You don’t know what you’re talking about," he said. "In condolence for your loss I can offer you three free months on your next cat. Did the team member you spoke to mention that we can start it from the same base template as Milch? If you expose him to the same stimulus he should turn out exactly the same."
"Yes they did," I told him, "and I don't want that. His name is Mitch."
"I'm sorry," the team leader interrupted. "I have Milch in our system here. Are you saying your cat's name wasn't Milch?"
I pounced. "So you do have data in your system about my cat?"
"Which cat?" he chuckled. I knew the game he was playing. He was expecting me to not be able to disrespect my cat by calling him the wrong name. But he didn't understand what me and Mitch had.
"Milch," I said.
"I see," he chuckled. I heard the sound of distant typing, like hail on the roof of a mud hut in an ancient valley. "Ah," he said.
I waited. He chuckled. "Yes," he said, "we do have Milch's FIP here."
"That's great," I said. “A FIP is a feline identity profile,” he chuckled. I already knew that. I'd had to get Mitch's FIP repaired when he fell asleep in the dishwasher and I put a hot pan on him and he got an abscess. It cost $30.
"That's settled, then," I said hopefully. "You restore him and I'll continue my subscription. No need for the discount."
"Can't do it," the team leader chuckled. "It's an FIP for a live cat. You do not have a live cat."
"I don't have any cat," I seethed. "You cancelled him without telling me. All you have to do is upload the FIP, or whatever it is you do, I don't know, and we can go back to this morning when I checked in for work and had cat fur all over my apartment and an alive pet. I get that you'll probably try to squeeze a fee out of me. I don't care. I want my cat back."
"If I restore this FIP to a live cat, it will void the existing cat," the team leader said. "When a cat is voided, it continues to exist as a cat product but becomes no longer alive. So while it would take on the traits of your previous cat, it would effectively be a dead version of that cat."
I thanked him for his time and ended the call. Then I logged into the Catstrata portal, entered the 13-digit product code, paid the $400 and sat and watched the old brown cushion where he'd liked to sit. A lean orange cat slowly appeared. He had a bald patch on one flank from a scar, a slit in one ear, an eye with one fleck of blue in it. He couldn’t stretch or purr like Mitch had. But he was my Mitch.
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