Katts and Dawgs
by Roberto Sanhueza
|Table of Contents|
Book I, chapter 5 appeared
in issue 101.
|Book II, chapter 6: Death at Twilight|
In the far future, Man has mysteriously departed, leaving Earth to three Sentient Peoples of his creation: Katts, Dawgs and Mysse. The Sentient Peoples have developed separate civilizations of their own, which flourish but have weaknesses: the Dawgs languish under theocratic militarism; the Katts’ society is patriarchal and stagnant; and the Mysse, though clever and well organized, are superstitious barbarians.
Caught between cultures, two non-conformists — a Dawg, Phydo, and a Katt, Thomm — form an alliance that is uneasy at first, but in their adventures they soon become fast friends. They discover Kitti at the gate to the Stairway to Heaven and, at the top, Adam, the last of a Sentient People older than their own. The little band of outcasts joins forces with the wise Dawg Rover Quicknose and even the unlikely Mysse to battle the warrior priests of Kannis.
Lucius, an evil simulacrum of Man left over from Man’s last days on Earth, captures the four friends, who have penetrated his mountain lair just as Lucius unleashes on all the Sentient Peoples a monstrous army of mutant insects. In the battle, Dawgs, Katts and Mysse form an alliance that is uneasy at first...
Nearing the end of his life, Adam leads his friends beyond the Andes to an ancient Archive, where one of them must, once and for all and for all the Sentient Peoples, come to terms with their creator.
Lore has it that Dawgs, before they were touched by Man’s art and craft, were carnivore and did not eat anything but meat. That unpleasant tale may or may not be true, but today Dawgs eat all the Earth has to offer (which includes some cattle steaks every now and then, but not exclusively), and farming is an honored skill among Dawgs.
Farmer Nap Goodnose lives, as customary among Dawg farmers, outside of Kannis and comes to town only to sell his vegetables and dairy products. He lives with his wife and pups and works his little patch of land with her sole help. It is for him a satisfactory life, and he is contented to get up with the rising sun and make his living off the Earth. He has never feared living alone in the country. Beasts don’t come near his farm. That is, until now.
Nap and his wife sit at their table for dinner, and before eating they thank Man for making them sentient and conscious of the world.
When the ancient rite is done and they are about ready to start eating, both the farmer and his wife, suddenly startled, raise their heads. The pups in their cradle stop their yapping and jeeping, and a heavy shroud of silence falls on them.
Both farmer Nap and his wife feel the hair on their backs go up, and a strange and terrifying smell seems to fill the air although no sound can be heard.
“Wife, stay with the pups!” says Nap as he gets up and clutches his ax to find out what evil creature lurks outside the cabin.
She feels terror rising inside her as she has never felt before. “Nap!” she cries, but she cannot leave the pups alone. Outside she hears a heart-piercing scream and a howl suddenly broken. Then again silence.
“Nap!” she shouts, and the pups star crying. She backs up slowly towards the cradle and grabs another ax. The door opens slowly.
The wife feels her hair standing up and her fangs show in her snarling mouth. She cannot identify the strange smell of the shadow creeping through the door. A war cry comes deep from her throat as she charges against it, branding her ax over her head.
The war cry turns into a yelp of pain as the shadow embraces her; then she cries no more.
Outside the cabin, in twilight rapidly turning into night, only the cries and yelps of the puppies can be heard; then all is silent again.
* * *
Four Dawgs ride their hoofers on the old pathway which goes through the Sentient People’s land. The old road is called “the highway,” but nobody really knows why. It isn’t any higher than the ground around it. The name is said to be a remnant from the times of Man, when hard and shiny roads led everywhere.
At a point , the leader Dawg calls a halt. “Let’s stop here, brothers. We are getting close to Kattsville, and Katts don’t like unannounced visitors. Least of all other Sentient People.”
The leader gets down from his hoofer. “ In fact, we should run into Katt sentries any time now.”
He sniffs into the air and a puzzled smile comes to his face. He walks towards a tree on a side of the road. “Thomm!, Thomm Sharpclaws! What are you doing up that tree?”
A silver-furred Katt face appears among the leaves, and with a happy laughter a lean young Katt climbs easily down the tree to hug the Dawg. “Phydo Bones, you old son of Dawg! I’m doing sentry duty as you can see. What are you doing here on the way to Kattsville?”
“But... I would have thought your status as the Patriarch’s son saved you from that lowly duty.”
“As a matter of fact it does, but I chose to come here to be free from my father’s pestering about ‘settling down’ and the like. Next thing he’ll want me to marry. I much prefer to be here in the open by myself. But what about you, Phydo?”
“Actually I’m off to see your father with my friends, here. It is pretty much an official visit. I’m sent by Mayor Rover to contact the Patriarch.”
“Mayor Rover? That’s what the old professor is calling himself these days? You gotta tell me all about Kannis politics on our way to Kattsville. Yeah, I’m going with you. My sentry time is almost over by now and I can see the next guard is already on his post.”
“Let’s go then. Brother Katt, come on up my hoofer with me!”
“Sure thing, Dawggy! This smells like adventure to me and just about time too. I’m rusting here and I badly need to be out on the road.”
“Just like old times, huh?”
“And then some, Dawggy. Yahoo!”
It is still half an hour to Kannis, as the hoofer goes. Katt & Dawg chat merrily; it’s been some time since they saw each other last.
“Whatever happened to the old High Priest who gave us such a bad time in Kannis?”
“Do you mean the late High Priest? Mayor Rover paid him back the courtesy and had him executed. He then dissolved the priest militia and is trying hard to turn Kannis from a theocracy to a secular state. But old habits die hard; he has his share of troubles.”
“And what about you, Phydo? You still a priest?”
Phydo smiles sadly. “ The Order has been disbanded, and they wouldn’t have taken me back even if I had wanted to. No, brother Katt, I am no longer a priest but rather a scholar of Man’s legacy. And what about you? What happened to Kitti and her visit to Kattsville?”
Thomm shrugs and it’s his turn to sound a bit unhappy. “She’s gone back to what she calls her ‘job’,” keeping up the secret entrance to the Stairways to Heaven. She never really adapted to Kattsville. She says Katt females are too much under male rule and I am not much different from other Katt males. She says she prefers to remember me as a good friend and not as bad mate. You know she never received a proper Katt girl education.”
Phydo laughs heartily as they approach Kattsville. “So we are both back again to where we started, more or less.”
The news of the Dawg visitors has reached town before the visitors themselves. By the time they enter town, the Patriarch is already waiting for them.
A tall and imposing old Katt sits in the middle of the council room where the Dawgs are taken. “So you are back, Phydo of Kannis.”
“Such is my duty, my Lord Katt. I am a formal ambassador from Mayor Rover Quicknose, chairman of the city council, to discuss most important matters in his stead.”
“Speak up then, Dawg friend, but allow me to treat you and your companions to some Katt hospitality first. We will take your steeds to be fed, and we shall talk over some food for yourselves as well.”
Soon after the Dawgs have had a much-delayed lunch, the Patriarch, Phydo and Thomm gather in a small room to consort.
“This may sound farfetched, my Lord, but my question for you is this. Have you had, strange deaths among your subjects lately? Specially among those Katts living in solitude outside of Kattsville.”
A surprised look comes to the Patriarch face. “What do you Dawgs know about that? Is it then something which does not concern only Katts?”
“That is quite true, my Lord. We have had mysterious killings among our farmers mainly. Seemingly some kind of beast is loose in the wilderness, but all Dawg knowledge can not identify which kind of animal could leave such poor remnants of a body.”
Phydo goes on. “We have tried to quiet down rumors as much as possible, but Mayor Rover is having troubles keeping farmers at ease. He has thought maybe these killings have happened elsewhere among the Sentient People.”
“And indeed they have, Phydo, We have found whole Katt families dead. Not many up to now, but one murdered Katt is more than we will tolerate.”
“That is the reason I am here. Mayor Rover thinks he can see a pattern in the location of the killings, a geographical pattern if you follow my meaning.”
At this point, Phydo produces a map where red spots mark every murder. He goes on: “If we can pinpoint on this map the places where Katts have been victims of whatever is out there, we will have more data to predict where it may strike next. Supposing Mayor Rover’s pattern is correct, of course.”
The patriarch comes over the map and quietly pinpoints some more red marks on it.
Thomm, who has been silent so far, speaks up. “The pattern is roughly a spiral, but I see maybe something else. Say, Phydo, are those numbers on the map dates, by any chance?”
“Why, yes, brother Katt; those are dates based on the Dawg calendar, which is a moon calendar. Why do you ask?”
“It’s just a hunch... but look. First murder, second one the next day, third one the next day; but the fourth one is not the next but the day after that, and the following one skips a day again. The next after that skips four days before the beast strikes again, and after that it’s one day again. Do you follow so far? 1,2,3,5,7,11,13... .”
Phydo and the Patriarch cry in unison “Prime numbers!”
“Precisely father and dear friend, prime numbers. That can only mean... ”
“It can only mean, son, this particular beast happens to know math or we are not dealing with a beast at all.”
While father and son excitedly ponder this new angle, Phydo looks intently onto the new red dots the old Katt has added to the map. A frightened look in his face.
“What is it Dawggy?” wonders Thomm noticing his friend expression.
“Following the spiral pattern of the killings, the next dot should be around here.” He shows a point in the map.
“So?” Both Katts ask.
“That’s where my parents and sisters live, on a farm not too far from Bonestown. One of Kannis’s subject towns... And today is day number 19 since the killings started!”
“Don’t panic, Dawggy. It’s only a hypothesis after all, and we may well be dead wrong in this. Tell you what. Why don’t we fly over to your folks to pay them a visit just in case?”
“Thomm is right,” adds the Patriarch. “There still are some hours left of this day. Take two Flyers and go check. I will send your friends back to Kannis with your Hoofer and the information Mayor Rover asked for. Be gone now; the sooner the better.”
It is late afternoon as the two Flyers cross the reddish sky over the Sentient People’s land. It is a big piece of terrain between the mountains and the ocean. Katts, Dawgs and Mysse share the land but little else. There is some interaction among Dawgs and Katts but none whatsoever with Mysse. The Mysse keep to themselves and don’t like strangers. They have almost entirely forgotten the Legacy of Man and have their own rituals.
Dawgs are more the urban type and build cities, Kannis being their biggest and more important one. Katts like more to be in the open, and their habitats are smaller and not as sophisticated. They don’t like living among stone walls; and when they build, they build mainly in wood. Mysse live underground in dark and crowded holes.
The two Flyers come closer to each other as they come near the Bones farm, Phydo and Thomm shout to agree on their next move.
“There are two farms here” says Phydo. “ The other one is a bit farther that way. I’ll go check on my folks; please see to the other. Let’s meet here afterwards.”
The big bird glides down to the ground and Phydo finds himself in the middle of his family’s back yard. A small Dawg girl runs to him merrily shouting “Phydo’s back! Phydo’s back!”
All seems quite normal and at ease. Mom and Dad show up too and they happily hug Phydo.
“Son, son, it’s been so long since you left!”
“You ungrateful scoundrel! It’s good to have you back!”
Phydo feels a wave of relief wash over him, all is well. He lets his happy folks take him in the house, merrily chatting.
“Come in, come in” says Mother. “I’ll have supper ready in no time and you’ll tell us all about Kannis and the high life in the city.”
Phydo’s happy laughter echoes his sisters’: “Why, certainly Mother, I wouldn’t miss one of your meals for anything. I am not alone though, a friend travels with me and I think we should wait a while for supper. He will be here in no time.”
“And what in Man’s name brings you here so late in the day? And without any warning either” Papa’s grumpiness doesn’t hide how happy he is to have his eldest child back after so long since he left for Kannis.
“It’s a rather... official business for the Kannis hierarchy and... ” Phydo falls suddenly silent.
“What is it son? I don’t hear anything.”
“Precisely, I don’t hear anything either. All of a sudden the woods seem to have quieted down.”
Phydo rushes to the window, all seems quiet outside.
“Little Belle is out. Call her in, Mother!”
A terrified shriek splits the twilight. “Mommy! Daddy! There’s something out here!”
As little Belle comes running inside the house, Phydo gets his folks together. “Father, have you got any weapons about?”
“Why, yes... my ax, but it’s outside in the tool shack... What’s on our front door, son?”
“I don’t know for sure, but it is dangerous.” Phydo looks desperately around for something to keep his unknown foe at bay. He settles for the big burning logs his mother has in the open stove that serves both for heating and cooking.
The door opens slowly and a strong stench hits all the Dawgs in the house. A dark but at the same time diffuse shadow comes through and then all can hear a distinct buzzing.
“A swarm! It’s a bug swarm!” cry at the same time father and son. The shadow is almost over them.
A swarm indeed, the shadow is compounded of many tiny insects, unknown to the Dawgs. They behave as no other swarm the Sentient People have seen. They keep a tight formation and act almost as a solid mass.
That is when Phydo discovers his improvised weapon is what most effectively can keep the swarm away.
“They shy away from fire! Father, Mother, girls! Grab a log and use it as a torch!
The Dawgs wave madly their torches around and although the buzz is more furious than ever all they get is an occasional bite but nothing more.
Right when the situation could be called a stalemate — a desperate and deadly stalemate as the Dawgs grow tired and the swarm won’t go away — a voice comes from the window behind them: “Down, Dawg, down!”
Phydo doesn’t hesitate, he ducks and a ball of fire flies over his head to fall in the middle of the swarm.
Thomm is on the window and he is throwing with a sling fireball after fireball at the thick shadow.
That proves too much for the swarm. The shadows seem to hesitate and then back up. The Dawgs let out their deep war growl and charge howling, their torches beating on the dark mass.
The whole room seems shrouded in a smoke curtain, but the shadow is gone and the floor seems to be covered by a rug of little, charred corpses.
“My furniture!” cries Mother looking at the smoking chairs and table and with that all seems to fall back to normal.
A while later, a very shaky Bones family finishes to clean up the mess and Thomm is formally introduced.
“So you say this kind of attack has happened before?” says Father as he drinks some apple wine with a trembling hand.
“Several times so far, Father. We had though no idea what kind of beast was the behind this, and what puzzled us most was the pattern the timing of the killings seemed to make.”
“Bugs!” says Thomm contemptuously. “It was all a bunch of bugs!”
“There must be much more than that to it, brother Katt. I can’t picture insects doing this in the way they have done it. And, I should add, you came by in just the nick of time. What was that you threw at the swarm? It seemed like fireballs to me.”
“Yeah, Dawggy, it’s turning into a habit, this deal of saving your hide now and then. I got down at the neighboring farm and, besides a very surprised Dawg family at seeing me come down in their yard, I found nothing unusual, so I decided to come over here. What you saw me use on those bugs was precisely fire balls. We Katts aren’t all without inventiveness, you know. It’s a little gadget to throw on a sling and it catches fire after a few seconds in contact with air, they come in handy at times like these.”
“And what do you plan to do now, boys?” asks Father.
Phydo looks intently at the map. “See here, Thomm, we can follow the pattern backwards and the beginning is placed at... ”
“The mountains, some miles north from here!”
“That is correct, I think we should have a look at the place. On our flyers we should be much higher than any insect could go. Just in case.”
“And if this unusual swarm sticks to its pattern, the next attack should be on day 23, four days from now. That also gives us some time before we have to report back to the Mayor and the Patriarch, Dawggy.”
“It is settled then, let’s stay here tonight. I will do some long-delayed family visiting, and tomorrow in early morning we’ll be on our way.”
Darkness falls over the Bones farm, and Katt and Dawg enjoy warm hospitality. As twilight grows deeper into night everything falls quiet. Tonight they sleep well. Tomorrow is but a great unknown.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2004 by Roberto Sanhueza