Kage Baker, the writer, is best remembered for her Company novels, highlighting the career of the Botanist Mendoza as an operative for Dr. Zeus, Inc.
Dr. Zeus is otherwise known – like all secretive omnipotent super-powered organizations – to its hard-working and not-quite-loyal employees as The Company. (It’s true. The CIA, NPR, Murdoch’s minions, the Girl Scouts – they all call their over-reaching central committee The Company. Coincidence? I think not …
What initially set the character of The Company was the phenomenon of lost things being found once again. Not recently lost things, like stolen cars and wandering pets – you know, the car/dog/cat vanishes 10 years previously and then shows up none the worse for wear when the once-weeping toddler owner turns 16. No, those are clearly the work of time warps, black holes and space aliens. I mean the other lost things.
Vermeers and da Vincis. Entire dubious islands floating around the Ocean Sea, appearing at will at various latitudes. Giant rats, legendary conifers unnoticed in national parks, things that aren’t quite squirrels but are both as old as dinosaurs and haute cuisine in Asia – do you have any idea how many weird mammals are found in Laotian meat markets? Frightening amounts. The truth is out there, but we’re eating it.
And there is an entire class of things confidently declared dead which then come pattering or splashing back out of the past when we least expect them: coelacanths and Prezwalski’s horses, Madagascar perwinkles and seven-gilled sharks. The superstars of survival.
Long, long ago, in our respectable days of contributing to the career track economy, we used to sit and eat a virtuous breakfast before we went off to work in the pink collar salt mines. I would usually share odd articles from the paper – Kage didn’t actually encourage this, you understand, but had never found a way short of violence to stop me … anyway, I had learned that a new species of squid was less likely to get me swatted with an English muffin, so I read out the mystery discoveries more often than anything else.
And one day she looked up from feeding Shredded Wheat to the parrot, and said, “Someone is doing this on purpose, you know.”
“Well, yeah, scientists hunt for these things.”
“No. Someone is hiding endangered animals and plants in the first place, and then bringing them back when it’s safe to release them.” Her eyes went glassy with speculation, changing from black to hazel-green; as changeable as opals, Kage’s eyes. “And you could make a hell of a lot of money if you could produce stuff to order. Now, how would it work? Man, it would need thousands of operatives! …”
The rest, as they say, is history. And when Kage didn’t like what history had wrought – she just changed it. Hence her world is rich in passenger pigeons and Pere David’s deer. She staffed Dr Zeus with the lost, the forgotten, the expendable; the helpless victims of religious mania, ethnic cleansing and urban renewal. Homo Sapiens did not render all his cousin species extinct nor use the fruits of intellect to heat public baths; Neanderthals work quietly in the rescued corridors of the Library of Alexandria. And Tiny Tim (who did not die) studied physics and helped re-invent antigravity.
I still look for this information; in fact, there is now a small network of friends and family who watch for re-appearing frogs and archaic algae as well. They all gleefully note them down and send the news to me. It’ll show up in stories, I hope, and in the meantime – the subtle signs of The Company persist. They’re not nearly as well-hidden as they think they are.
Peruse the following link:
A third of those creatures once considered extinct are being found again – alive and well, and breeding in Minnesota or an obscure Pacific island (which itself only shows up on an 800-year old map found in a Turkish cellar with a box of raunchy joke books from some old Greek named Aristotle … )
Because in Kageworld (thank you, Mr Gillan!) as she herself once observed, there are more of us all the time. And nothing can ever die.
Tomorrow: some topic undistracted by a new headline