Katts and Dawgs
by Roberto Sanhueza
|Table of Contents|
Book II, chapter 2 appeared
in issue 119.
|Book II, Chapter 3: The True Heir|
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.
The morning sun shines from beyond the South Ridge mountains as two big birds make their way across the farthest eastern reaches of the Sentient People’s land. Upon the Flyers riders can be seen. They are a Katt and a Dawg and obviously the Katt seems much more at ease on the big bird. Small wonder. Dawgs in the whole don’t own Flyers and this particular Dawg isn’t very comfortable with heights.
Thomm and Phydo started their journey early this morning, after Momma Bones provided them with a huge farm breakfast. They are looking for the nest of the swarm which gave them such a bad time at the Bones farm last night.
They have reasons to believe, judging from the geographical pattern the swarm has been following on its murderous path, its origin might be somewhere in the adjacent portion of the South Ridge, the mountain chain which marks the eastern border of the land the Sentient People call their own.
They’ve been on their way for a couple of hours now, and the birds are beginning to show the strain as they slowly lose altitude.
Intent as they are on the hilly terrain spreading below them, they don’t notice a small point of light moving way up high in the sky nor the white vapor trail it leaves behind, soon it is out of sight.
Thomm signals to Phydo, some distance away, to get down on a hill top and give the birds a rest. Soon they are on the ground again. “Let’s stop here Dawggy. Glider is ready for a break and I guess Diver is too.”
“Aye, brother Katt. So am I. Riding a bird is not quite the same as riding a hoofer. I never got airsick on my faithful Hoofie.”
Thomm can hardly contain a mischievous smile. “What does that map tell us, Dawggy? How far can that nest be?”
Phydo looks at the map and at the squiggles they’ve marked on it, following the path of the killer swarm. “Our reckoning is very likely not all that exact, but I think we shouldn’t be too far off our mark. There ought to be a valley past that hill over there which could well be what we are looking for.”
“All right then. I’ll feed the Flyers and we should take some rest as well, there by the shade.”
Thomm and Phydo sit under whatever shade they can find and have some bite to eat as the Flyers do likewise.
Soon they are airborne once again and over the hill. On the other side they can see a little valley, still shrouded by the morning mist. Phydo signals down and Thomm answers with the thumb-up sign.
Phydo orders his Flyer down, trying to fight the nauseous feeling in his gut as it dives. Definitely, flying is not for Dawgs.
All of a sudden a green shape flashes below and in front of him, surprise almost rocking him out of his mount. Holding on his Flyer’s neck for dear life, Phydo sees Thomm frantically waving at him to go back up, back to the hill top.
It is very shaky Dawg who gets off the Flyer when they land again. “What is it, brother Katt? You nearly scared me off my bird with that sudden dive of yours!”
“I’m really sorry about it, Phydo, but I had no choice. Listen, Dawggy, listen good!”
Now for the first time Phydo pays close attention to the noises around. “That’s odd, everything is very quiet except for a low humming noise in the background.”
“Exactly. And I believe that humming comes from that not so quite fog from down there in the valley.”
“The swarm! That is no mist down there Thomm! It is the very swarm we are looking for!”
“That is what I realized as we were going down Dawggy. I couldn’t well let you go into it and get killed”
“So it is that once again you save my life brother Katt. My debt grows...”
Phydo falls suddenly silent and without turning his head he whispers to Thomm. “Don’t look back now, Thomm, but we’ve got company. There, behind that boulder, I can hear somebody trying not to be heard.”
“You’re right!” Thomm whispers back. “Pretend to tend the Flyers while I go around the boulder. We’ll find out who’s spying on us and why.”
Katts are reputedly good at stealth and Thomm is better at it than most. Soon he is up and behind the boulder spying on the spy.
What he sees is an undefined shape, clad in some sort of cloak of shifting colors which blends with the boulder to a point near invisibility.
Not near enough, though, for Thomm’s acute eyesight. He jumps on the stranger letting out the Katt tribe’s war cry.
Phydo runs as well when he hears the cry and in a moment both Katt and Dawg have the stranger nailed to the ground. The stranger shouts and kicks fiercely but Thomm and Phydo won’t let go. Soon they pull the cloak off the stranger’s face to find...
“Kitti!” Cry both friends in unison.
“Yes, Kitti. Get off me, you bullies! You’re smothering me!”
The Katt girl sits up and shakes some dust off her cloak. Slowly her expression changes from sheer fury to hearty laughter when she sees the concerned faces of her friends. “That’s all right boys, nothing broken it seems. What are you doing here, by the way?”
“You mean besides knocking down Katt girls snooping on us? That’s a long story, Kitti, and Phydo here can tell it better than I can, hear him out.”
Phydo brings briskly Kitti up to date on what’s being going on, starting on the mysterious odd numbers murders and ending on the swarm at the bottom of the valley.
“But, what about you Kitti? What are you doing up this hill?”
“I’m looking for Adam, boys. He left early this morning looking for a mysterious signal which appeared in this area. It seemed to be a beacon marking machine activity, which is just impossible, as we keep no machinery in this area, and the Sentient People certainly don’t have that kind of technology. His own signal stopped some three hours ago as he was descending on that valley down there, and then it just disappeared altogether. I can’t reach him and I’m quite worried.”
“The two tales might be related after all.”
“That may well be so. Let me tell you boys what I’ve found out so far.”
“After trying and failing in reaching Adam I took a skimmer and came over to the place where I had tracked him last.
“I did a scanning of the area, which now is obvious we should have done before Adam came here. I found the whole hill at the other end of the valley seems to be hollow, entirely burrowed by tunnels. Some sort of underground compound whose purpose I can’t begin to imagine. That’s something we didn’t know about even though Adam thought he knew about every bit of technology left behind by Man.
“On top of that, there’s those nasty bugs cluttering the valley. I just don’t know what to make of it all and I’m worried sick about Adam.”
“It seems to me,” Phydo says, “our purposes overlap, Kitti, and your help would be most useful. The answer to our mystery might well be on whatever or whoever is holding Adam.”
“If he’s still alive,” mutters Thomm to himself. To the others he says, “We’ve got to go around that hollow hill Kitti talks about and try to find a way in from the other side so we can avoid that stinking swarm.”
“That sounds like a sensible plan, Katt boy. We can ride my skimmer. It’ll be a bit tight but it can hold the three of us.”
“What about the Flyers, brother Katt? Will they find their way home by themselves?”
“Sure thing, Dawggy. Glider and Diver can take care of themselves. Okay, kids, let’s get going. I’ll feel much safer inside a closed vehicle around those bugs.”
The midday sun shines over the boulder as the skimmer takes off and the Flyers start their flight in the opposite direction. Soon the skimmer is but a point of light as it flies around the valley and behind the hills.
* * *
To Adam it feels like he has been walking for hours through the tunnel. Outside, the swarm buzzes and fuzzes but not a bug comes near him, although no wall can be seen between him and the insects.
“This has got to be some sort of force field,” the old Ape mutters to himself. “But who’s running the machines and how?”
Finally the pathway seems to go between solid walls. Some distance ahead a metal door bars the way. When Adam stops in front of it, it opens slowly and noiselessly.
“Well, this is clearly an invitation to go in; besides I’ve got nowhere else to go, it seems.”
Adam goes in and the door closes silently behind. He is in a small room seemingly carved in the rock. It is bare and only another door can be seen in the opposite wall.
Then a voice can be heard. “Welcome to my home, Ape.”
Adam is shocked beyond belief. The voice has not spoken in the Common Tongue of the Sentient People nor has it spoken in any of the dialects they keep. The language Adam is hearing is one of the ancient ones spoken in the times of Man.
To the Sentient People Man is myth more than history, and they certainly don’t know that Man spoke many languages divided more or less geographically. The one Adam hears now was one of the most widely spread. He hasn’t heard it in centuries.
“What... who are you?” Adam answers in the same tongue. It comes back to him haltingly at first, as it’s been a long time since he last spoke it.
“What I am you will soon find out, enhanced Ape that you are. As to who I am, you can call me Lucius. It is as good a name as any. But do come into my home, Ape.”
As the voice speaks, the inner door opens. Adam goes into another room, bigger but not any cozier than the previous one. It looks like a warehouse of some sort; the hum of working machinery pervades everything. The room is warm enough for the Ape, but the light is too dim for comfort. Every now and then swooshing noises can be heard in the back ground.
Standing some distance away a shape, much like the sentient people’s, can be seen.
As Adam comes closer he feels his old heart beating faster. What he sees in front of him stands in two legs but is not furry as most of the Sentient People are. In fact, it only has hair on top of its head. What Adam can see of its face, arms and legs is free of hair.
“No! It can’t be!” The old Ape is screaming inside his head. He doesn’t let any sound out though as he approaches.
“You hide your feelings well, Ape. But I can feel your surprise. You didn’t expect the likes of me, did you?”
But Adam, besides being old, is very experienced. He is rapidly recovering from his surprise and he is doing a scan of the stranger with his implanted gear. The answer comes quick and unavoidable: “You’re a fake. You’re not Man but one of His first creations. You are an AI! You’re nothing but a virtual reality simulation!”
The one who calls himself Lucius only smiles back. “I never said I was a Man. It was you who assumed that, not I.”
“Assuming is a dangerous business,” the stranger goes on. “I could assume you are or intend to be hostile, and have you destroyed by my pet creatures.”
Adam is, however, back to some of his old self. “Which of course you won’t. If you had meant to do it, you would have done it already.”
“That is correct, Ape. I’m glad to see you were well trained, back when there were real people to train animals such as yourself.”
The sting in Lucius’ words is clear, but if Adam is offended he doesn’t let it show. Centuries of experience tell the old Ape to let the stranger talk and reveal more about himself. “Dangerous or not, I think I can continue assuming the beacon emanating from here was no accident either.”
“Indeed not. I have been dormant, Ape. Non functional for too long a time, only to wake and find myself in a world where upright animals rule and the real masters of creation have long been gone.
“This place used to be an ancient warfare center from a time when there were wars among Man, and my duty was to run the intelligent long-distance weapons. They were never used, and I was eventually shut down. Some freak accident, perhaps fate if you wish, brought me back to self-awareness.
“At first I only watched you, the so-called ‘Sentient People’, from this underground compound where my conscience, or software if you will, slept for centuries.
“All I could see were furry abominations carrying on their petty little lives in mocking emulation of Man and remnants of Man-made constructions. No civilization, Ape, nothing resembling the shine of man at His highest.
“So I sent out two signals, Ape, to attract the attention of any civilized being intelligent enough to figure them out. One was the beacon you found . The other was sending my little pets on a raid with a certain timing. The pattern should be obvious to anyone familiar with basic mathematics.”
So far Adam has not uttered a word and has only watched and heard Lucius’ ravings. He knows what he sees is only a simulation, but the fury twitching on the face he sees seems real enough. Adam knows he is in the presence of a very disturbed AI.
Adam speaks in a sad and quiet voice. “Those were sentient beings, those were people your pets killed to send out your signal, Artificial Intelligence.”
Lucius’ simulated face hardens in a scornful grin. “Not people, mere animals, Ape. Your Sentient People are not and will never be Man’s true heirs. No matter how well they can mimic, they are animals and they do not deserve to be treated otherwise.”
The old Ape stands with sad dignity. Slowly he raises his eyes to meet Lucius’ mad glare. “You and I are Man’s creations, AI, as are all those you call mere animals. Man is long gone, but I received a command and a mission to care for and mind those He created. I mean to carry on with my duty even if it means to oppose whatever schemes you may have in mind.”
Anger seems to drain from Lucius’ face and he smiles at Adam, but it is a cold, empty smile. “Schemes indeed. I told you before, Ape, this used to be a warfare center, and I was in charge of guided projectiles. Missiles they were called as you surely remember.
“But explosives weren’t the only kind of warfare in existence here. Beneath these mountains there also existed what was called ‘Biological warfare’. The tools are old, Ape, but they still work and I can tweak and twist many a gene in my pet insects.
“Man is gone and the Earth is prey for the likes of me. I am closer to man than your... ‘Sentient People’ will ever be, and I claim as mine Man’s inheritance.
“My army is growing, Ape, and you, furry abominations, will hear about my claim. Oh yes you will!”
Adam is frankly terrified now. There is no way he can harm a virtual reality simulation, and surely the hardware containing Lucius’ “self” is well protected. “And where do I fit in your plans, AI? Why am I still alive?”
The simulation comes closer and Adam feels a touch of infinite sadness. It is so real it almost feels like Man is back, but its likeness only makes Adam’s loneliness and longing for bygone times deeper.
“You are still alive, Ape, because I don’t quite buy your story about being the only one alive who is familiar with Man’s leftover technology. There may be others able to strike back when my army sets forth. I mean to probe your mind and find out, Ape. War technology is a wonderful thing, my furry friend, and you are going to love it!”
Lucius’ figure seems to grow to enormous proportions and loom over Adam. The old Ape feels he suddenly can’t move any more and his legs won’t hold him. As he falls and the world recedes from his field of vision he hears the AI’s final words.
“Besides, Ape, you’re fun to talk to. My pets are really wonderful but they lack a lot in the conversation department. Why, you’re almost civilized, Ape!”
Then all turns black to Adam and the old Ape is no longer aware.
Copyright © 2004 by Roberto Sanhueza