Katts and Dawgs
by Roberto Sanhueza
Book II, chapter 6 appeared|
in issue 115.
|Book II, chapter 7: Old Friends, Old Foes|
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.
Adam the last Ape feels lonely at times. His race, the first to be enhanced by the arts and science of Man, no longer exists. The first of the Sentient People dwindled and died out through the long centuries since the departure of Man.
Adam is old, by any reckoning. He has seen the Sentient People come and go, their little kingdoms only an eyewink in his artificially lengthened life span. He feels at the same time part of their lives and a stranger in their brave new world, and now and then a twinge of envy crosses his soul when he thinks his race is no longer while the Sentient People bloom under the same old sun.
The Earth of today is shared by Katts, Dawgs and Mysse, and Adam has taken the mission to guard over the legacy of Man and the wonderful technology left behind. Many mysterious machines are still working so long after Man is gone, unknown to the rest of the Earth.
That is, until now.
“Hello Kitti, do you read me well?”
“Loud and clear, Master.”
“I’m picking up the strangest signals coming from somewhere in the South Ridge Mountains. It almost looks as there’s some machine activity down there, and we certainly keep none in that place.”
“But that’s impossible, Adam. Even if there were old machinery we might have overlooked, there’s no way any of the Sentient People could have put it to work. They just lack the know-how.”
“Precisely. I think I’ll go there and have a closer look. I’ll keep in touch.”
Kitti the Katt girl is Adam’s disciple and helper in his task. She was picked up by the Ape as an orphan baby after one of the frequent quarrels of the Sentient People, and he has brought her up in all of his wonderful knowledge.
These days Adam stays mostly in the orbital station. The last of the many which used to circle the Earth in the times of Man. The others still remain, dancing their tireless gavotte around the blue world, but they are only dead and cold corpses with no life within them.
Adam’s home circles the equator and a long gigantic cable falls from it to the Earth. Kitti stays at the foot of the Skyhook, the orbital elevator the Sentient People call the Stairways to Heaven without actually knowing how right they are.
To any Katt or Dawg looking up at the sky (Mysse never look up at the sky) it would seem like a smaller star had detached from the Still Star, as they call the fixed star which doesn’t move at night with the other stars. To the very few who know better, it would be clear it is Adam’s shuttle coming down to Earth.
The streamlined vehicle comes down from the equator towards the southern and narrowing part of the land mass. Soon it reaches the great mountain ridge.
Adam is intent on the blink which marks on his tracker the position of the strange machine activity he has detected.
His shuttle passes swiftly behind high mountains, and he doesn’t see two small figures below, riding big birds.
Soon the position of the strange signal is clear on Adam’s map and he starts his shuttle down toward a clearing in a mountain valley.
Something is definitely wrong with the valley. There, where everywhere around the sun shines and no clouds can be seen, the valley is shrouded by a heavy mist, unlikely this time of the year and this hour of the day.
“I’ve got the signal spotted, Kitti. I’m going down.”
“All right Adam, I see your signal clearly on my screen.”
The shuttle makes half a loop and glides down into the mist. As he goes deep into it, Adam realizes this is no cloud he’s diving into. The mist buzzes and swarms, in fact it is made of tiny bodies which get into every hole the shuttle has uncovered and start clogging the exhausts.
“Kitti, Kitti! I’m in trouble here! This cloud seems to be made of bugs...”
“Adam! I’m losing your signal! Adam, come over please! Adam!”
But Adam is in no position to answer. He has barely been able to bring the shuttle to the ground in one piece and it sits amidst a heavy mass of flying mites.
“Adam old boy, you’re in trouble,” he says to himself. “I can’t take off, these darned bugs have clogged every opening in the shuttle, and my fine air carriage is pretty much dead. I can’t get out either. The minute I open the cockpit door those little bastards will swarm in and Man knows what they can do to a living body. No, it doesn’t look good at all.”
Outside the cockpit’s windows nothing can be discerned. It is all a dark, shapeless mass crazily writhing around . Adam sits and begins to get deeply worried. It never occurred to him to bring weapons to investigate, and now he seems to be stuck. They can’t get in, he can’t get out. It is only a matter of hours before the air inside the airtight cockpit becomes unbreathable. Maybe the swarm will go away at night, but Adam won’t last that long without air.
All of a sudden, Adam sees a clearing among the mass. A light seems to shine through and something like a tunnel begins to take shape within the swarm, starting in the outside hatch. In a couple of minutes there is effectively a passage through and the buzzing outside the cockpit door seems to have altogether stopped.
“Now this is odd, one more odd fact among many... What shall I do? There doesn’t seem to be much of a choice, is there? It almost looks as something or somebody is inviting me out.”
Adam makes up his mind and opens the door, not a bug can be seen in the corridor. He takes a deep breath and tackles the outside hatch. All is silent outside, he can see the swarm around the tunnel that has been made within it but no sound comes through. The tunnel extends in front of him but the end isn’t in sight.
The old Ape straightens his back, sighs deeply and starts walking.
* * *
Rover Quicknose, former professor of Kannis University and expert in Man artifacts, is today the current Mayor of Kannis city. It hasn’t been easy to shift an old tradition of theocracy to a lay government but Mayor Rover does what he can and even more, it seems at times.
Since the execution of the old High Priest and the disbanding of the Order, the priesthood has kept low, but their resentment can be felt. At times old Rover feels like he could smell it
It’s been business as usual in Kannis Castle. Another day of dealing with petty problems and important ones too. Now, as the day ends Rover falls back to his quarters, hoping no one will call for him until tomorrow, and sits on his old couch to go over the intriguing news of the day.
Kannis Castle is an old building made of brick and stone, such as Dawgs like to build imitating the grand old constructs of Man. Rover’s room is big and dark, with not enough windows and hard to heat in winter time. Often he misses his small quarters at Kannis University when life was simpler and politics was the game of the powerful, not his.
Now he sits in a corner by the window and ponders.
It hasn’t been too many days since he sent Phydo to Kattsville to talk to the Katt Patriarch about the strange deaths, out in the country, only to get the rest of his envoys back with a very strange letter from the Patriarch and the news that Phydo had left with his Katt friend Thomm to further pursue the investigation.
The letter is strange indeed and Rover reads once again. Usual courtesies aside, the Patriarch informs the Mayor of Kannis about the odd pattern they have discovered in the time span between the murders. Prime numbers! That can only mean an intelligent purpose behind the killings. Who or what could it be now?
Suddenly the Mayor’s keen Dawg hearing and smell sense something in the room. He’s not alone any more! Rover pretends not to have noticed anything and quite nonchalantly moves about the room towards his weapons.
Before he can get closer to his sword, a merry laughter sounds in the other end of the room, amidst the shadows.
“All right, Rover, you overheard me. No need for your sword. Besides you never were much of a sword Dawg. You’re more at home with books.”
“Musstin, Musstin Sharpclaws! You old Katt! What are you doing here? And how did you get into Kannis? Those guards in sentry duty at the gates are going to have a lot to answer for!”
The stranger doesn’t answer but just looks at Rover and smiles.
“You’re looking fine for an old Dawg, Rover. How long has it been since we last met?”
Rover can’t help but smile back, anger and fear fading away.
“Quite a while, it seems, before you became the patriarch at Kattsville, if I rightly recall. But what kind of strange happenings bring you to Kannis. And in such a stealthy way, I should add.”
“Nothing mysterious about it. I came in the same way my son Thomm did when he and your protégé Phydo saved your hide from the old High Priest. I came in by the tunnels of the old drain pipes.”
Rover smiles at the thought, but he makes nevertheless a mental note to have the tunnels sealed or at least, closely watched.
“And what is so important as to leave your duties in the Patriarchy, Musstin?”
The old Katt’s face seem all of a sudden to grow deadly serious. “Actually I mean to make an official visit. Since the change in government in Kannis, the Katt-Dawg relationship has improved greatly and a closer state of affairs is in order, but there is a most important matter I need to discuss with you before. Let’s pretend this visit didn’t happen when I officially come around.”
Mayor Rover sighs again, he can smell trouble in the words of the Patriarch.
“What do you know, Rover, about these mysterious deaths out in the country?”
“Nothing much more than what you say in the letter you sent back with my patrol. In there you say that after discovering a timing and geographical pattern in the killings, Phydo and Thomm left for the Bone’s farm.”
Now the Patriarch voice becomes ominous and the whole air in the room seems to become menacing.
“There’s more brewing than just that, Rover, much more. My scouts have reported some Dawgs going about the country towns talking to the farmers, Katts and Dawgs alike, telling them these murders are the punishment for your betraying the true carriers of Man’s word on Earth. Does that ring a bell Rover?”
“The Order!” There is bitterness in Rover’s words but no surprise.
“Exactly, old fellow. It seems like the Order is coming out its stupor and is trying to take advantage of these murders. They can’t resign themselves to be put out of power.”
“I should have had the whole lot of them executed when I had the chance. Then again that might have caused more troubles than it would have solved. But tell me, Musstin, what is this all to you and Katts in the whole?”
“It shouldn’t be any of my business how Dawgs run their affairs, should it? But the truth is we much prefer to deal with you and your government and not with those snotty priests, so self-righteous and deriding. You’re civil, Rover, they’re not, and that’s bad for trade.”
Rover’s answer to that remains to be known because it is then when a knock and a voice can be heard at the door.
“Mayor, Mayor! It is urgent. Please open !”
Rover opens the door as Musstin disappears in the shadows in the corner.
“What is it, Captain?” Asks the Mayor to the Dawg at the door.
“There’s a farmer here, claiming to be Phydo Bones’ father. He says he has an urgent message to you from Phydo.”
“From Phydo! Send him in captain, send him in!”
An old Dawg is brought in the room. He stands shyly in front of the Mayor fidgeting with a worn out-cap in his hands.
Rover glances sideways at the dark corner, knowing Musstin isn’t missing any of this.
“May Man be with you, farmer. Speak up.”
“And may He be kind on your days, Mayor. I am Phydo’s father and I bring news on a matter I’m sure you will find of the uttermost importance.”
The mayor sighs inwardly but knows better than pressing on the farmer. He will tell his piece of news at his own pace.
So, slowly and with really too many words, farmer Bones tells the Mayor about the happenings at the Bones farm. About the swarm and their close escape and the courageous part he and his whole family took in it.
“So it is a swarm doing all those killings out in the country! That would explain those strange wounds. Did you say, farmer, there was a Katt along with your son?”
“Aye, your Honor, as much as I don’t particularly like them Katts, this one was very brave in facing them bugs and we, at the Bones household, have more than one reason to be grateful of him.”
“And where is your son now, farmer? Why isn’t he reporting these important news in person?”
“He and the Katt are gone, your Honor. They done figured, looking at the map they had, the swarm’s nest might be somewhere in the South Ridge Mountains. Phydo and the Katt are gone looking for it.”
“When did all this happen, farmer?”
“Two days ago, your Honor. The same two days it took me to get from the farm to Kannis. Phydo made me promise to come and tell you as soon as I could.”
“You have done well, farmer. Very well indeed. Captain, take the farmer to get a proper food and lodging for the night. You are free to go back to your family in the morning.”
When the farmer and the guards are gone, Rover sits by the window and without turning his back, intent on the starry night he speaks to the shadows behind him.
“What do you make of this all, Patriarch? I suppose you didn’t miss a word.”
A silent silhouette detaches from the deeper shadows and answers.
“Of course not, Mayor. So it is insects we are after. That makes still less sense than looking for a murderer.”
“Darkness surrounds us all, Musstin. We have to suppose there is a mind and purpose behind those bugs. Although I can’t even begin to fathom what that purpose might be.”
“Not to mention the Order, trying to get a profit out of these troubled waters. Our lives promise to be anything but boring, Rover.”
“Indeed not. What do you mean to do, Musstin? I can’t help Phydo and your son in any way. I dare not leave Kannis or divert forces to help them with the Order stirring up the dirt around here.”
“I’m going back to Kattsville the same way I came in. I agree with you. The boys are pretty much on their own. They are resourceful, though. I trust they’ll come out all right.
Good bye, Rover, old friend. May Man be with you.”
“And may He be kind to your days, Musstin. Fare ye well.”
After a while all is silent in the Mayor’s quarters. The old Dawg still sits by the window looking at Kannis spread below him. Down there the lights are going out one by one.
Finally Rover puts out his own lights and with a sigh goes to bed as well.
Another day is done in Kannis.
Copyright © 2004 by Roberto Sanhueza