Katts and Dawgs
by Roberto Sanhueza
|Table of Contents|
Book II, chapter 10 appeared
in issue 154.
Chapter 11: Rise and Fall|
part 1 of 2
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.
Papa Bones hits the hoofers frantically with a stick, the big beasts let out their cry and pull the cart even faster, almost breaking it in their desperate run. The oaken doors of Kannis are starting to close and any Dawg left outside will be no doubt torn apart by the monstrous insects advancing on the fortified city.
It is sheer panic for all Dawgs and Katts seeking shelter behind the thick walls.
Mama Bones and the girls scream, jolting inside the cart, as the hoofers, in a final titanic effort, enter the gates just a moment before the heavy lids fall together with a thunderous thump.
Not a moment too soon. The hideous tide of writhing monsters falls on the walls and doors, drowning in their screech the shouts and cries of those left behind.
Up from the walls and towers, arrows, spears and boiling oil fall on the monsters and the huge corpses start to pile up. It is war on Kannis.
Within the high towers of Kannis castle, Mayor Rover Quicknose and the Katt Patriarch watch the turmoil from a window in the Mayor’s quarters.
“Many of my fellow Katts didn’t make inside the city doors, Mayor.”
The old Dawg sighs, and he seems to stoop even more than usual. “Many of mine did not make it either, Musstin. But I had no choice. Had the gates remained open but a minute more, the monsters would have been inside the city.”
“I know so, Rover. It’s just that knowing doesn’t make it more bearable. You took the right decision, however painful.”
The Patriarch shakes his furry head, as if trying to shake away sorrowful thoughts. “Have you, Rover, gotten any news from Thomm and Phydo?”
“No, Musstin. I am sorry to say nothing has been heard from your son and Phydo since they last sent word they were heading for the probable source of those mysterious murders, which now we see were probably linked to these monsters outside.”
“My son is a resourceful rascal, and so is Phydo. They must be all right.” But the Patriarch’s words are more hopeful than certain.
* * *
Inside their cell Adam, Kitti and Thomm hear the clattering of the metallic creatures on the hallway floor as they approach.
Thomm is standing against the wall; Kitti’s robe makes him nearly invisible, blending almost totally with the walls.
“The suit can deflect radar as well as light from ultraviolet to infrared, trouble will arise if the robots have other detectors than visual or radar.”
“I know, Kitti,” answers Adam, “but we’re about to find out; the door is opening.”
One of the metallic creatures stands blocking the way as the other enters the cell.
The contraption advances to the middle of the room facing the old Ape and the Katt girl. It turns around, scanning the cell, but it does not seem to notice Thomm.
Ever so slowly and silently as only Katts are able to, Thomm moves toward the door and past the guarding machine.
Once in the corridor, Thomm runs silently and swiftly, without worrying in which direction. He just wants to be away from the cell to search for Phydo and find a way out for all of them.
Meanwhile, in a different part of the compound Phydo is not quite at ease, himself.
Lucius, the abomination who looks as Man must have looked, has drained all strength from him, and Phydo lies prone on the floor. Helpless Phydo sees from his position on the ground the big screens that show the attack on Kannis.
The monstrous insects are crowding the walls of the fortified city. The inhabitants fight back, and a growing layer of insect bodies covers the ground, but there are more them, always more of them coming on the city, wave after wave.
Lucius pays no attention whatsoever to Phydo. He is intent on the situation on the screens and he knows the Dawg is powerless.
Suddenly something seems to happen to Lucius. Phydo sees his apparently solid image begin to quiver and dissolve. At the same time, whatever force was holding Phydo down seems to vanish as well.
“Get up, you stupid Dawg! The monster will show himself again any moment now.”
The voice is coming from the nearest wall, and an amazed and bewildered Phydo sees...
“Jeri! What are you doing here?”
The Mousse leader gets his small figure entirely out of the hole in the wall, and his little eyes show his usual mischief. “You mean besides saving your useless hide?”
“Yes, besides that.”
“Come on, no time to chat now! follow me. We’ll talk when we’re out of this room.” The Mousse jumps back to the hole he came out of and Phydo has trouble following, Dawgs being quite larger than Mysse.
Through dark and narrow pipes Phydo on all fours manages to stay close to Jeri, who moves completely at ease through the maze. They reach finally a somewhat larger compartment, and they stop to get their breath back.
“OK, here we’re safe. The monster can’t see us here.”
Phydo drops heavily against the wall, happy to be able to stretch his legs. “You seem to be well acquainted with the place, Jeri”
Anger replaces fear on The Mousse’s face. “We Mysse found this place generations ago, and many a litter has lived and died here. We lived quietly, minding our own business until this Lucius character showed up and started raising the monstrous bugs. He flooded the tunnels with that awful bright light and chased us out of our cozy dark habitats.”
“Mysse lived here!”
“Yes, we wandered around and colonized all this compound many years ago.”
“How did you manage to set me free?”
Jeri shows Phydo his crooked smile.
“We ain’t half as dumb as you folks think we are, Dawg. We’ve learned the monster gets his power and energy from some wires and strings that run all beneath and above the corridors and rooms in this place, within pipes. Many Mysse folks have died biting the wires, but we’ve learned to sever the wires and strings without getting burned. That leaves the monster powerless, at least for a while. He’s always back, damn him!”
Phydo is much more amazed than he would care to admit. These little vermin are clever! “Well, that explains much. But I still wonder why you set me free. We are not precisely friends, you know.”
“You’re right, Dawg. We’re not friends, but allies we should be. We face a common enemy. This monster means to wipe out all the Sentient People. Mysse are in as much danger as Katts and Dawgs.”
Phydo can see and hear honesty in Jeri. He lets out his hand in the ancient sign of trust Man passed on the Sentient People. They solemnly shake hands. “Truce it is then, Mousse. Help me find my friend the Katt who escaped his prison somehow and now wanders about the corridors. The three of us will show Lucius some Sentient People kick.”
The Mousse’s face is a big mischievous grin. “That’s right, Dawg, let’s kick some monster ass!”
* * *
The battle rages on the Kannis walls.
So far the defenders have managed to keep the hordes at bay, and a thick mantle of insects covers the ground by the walls.
Maximatis Thickfur has kept his word, and the former soldier priests fight side by side with the new regime forces and any Dawg or Katt old and strong enough to hold a weapon.
The strain is showing, though, on the defenders. While the monsters seem to be uncountable, and they come forth wave after wave, seemingly oblivious to their loses, the city dwellers are getting exhausted.
“Look, captain!” shouts one of the soldiers. “They’re going back up the hill!”
True enough. The monsters, as if obeying an unheard order, start away from the walls.
A wild sheer comes out of every Sentient People’s throat in Kannis, but it is short-lived. They can clearly see now that the monsters on the ground are only leaving a clear field for a new airborne menace.
Buzzing abominations, in the shape of huge dragonflies, come into view. They go flying by the walls and drop heavy projectiles over the defenders.
Musstin Sharpclaws, the Katt patriarch, sees this new menace from the tower. “Krispin!” he shouts as he runs to the roof “Get me five Katts and five flyers, we’re going up!”
Dawgs ride hoofers, big mount beasts; but Katts ride flyers, huge birds, and they are well known among the Sentient People as daring and skillful riders.
Papa Bones has joined the defenders, as all able Dawgs have, and from his place on the walls’ catwalks looks up to the skies, awestruck before the beautiful and deadly air dance the Katts and their flying steeds are performing.
The Patriarch himself leads the attack and his sharp blade wrecks havoc among the flying monsters.
One after another the giant dragonflies spiral to the ground, to the cheering of those inside the city.
Some time afterwards an exhausted Patriarch is back on the tower with the Mayor.
“Musstin! Musstin! You may well have saved the city with your brave flying Katts!”
“Or we may not, Rover.” Answers the Patriarch as he drops on a couch. “It’s too early to tell.”
But a new turn of events can be seen from the tower window.
“Come over, Musstin!” calls the Mayor.
“The monsters are retreating!”
True enough, the giant insects are walking from the walls in unnaturally orderly rows, leaving behind the dead and the dying.
“They are quitting! We’ve won!”
“That isn’t necessarily so, Rover” says the old Katt, looking at the setting sun. “They may be just calling it a day.”
“Well, then we will have to wait until tomorrow to find out. Come over, Patriarch. Let’s check on our casualties.”
They both leave the tower as the last sun rays paint a colorful crimson on the roofs of Kannis.
The first day of the war is over.
* * *
Inside Lucius’ underground compound there’s no such a thing as day or night. The corridors are brightly lit at all times, but tonight they seem even more so.
Machines, vaguely shaped as Sentient People, which Lucius calls “robots” go by, each and every one of them searching for the runaways.
Inside one of those corridors, apparently empty, if you look very closely you might discern a vague shadow moving against the wall. It is Thomm. Shrouded by Kitti’s cloak he is nearly invisible. He has been going around the maze, for hours it seems to him, without finding Phydo. Right now he is feeling exhausted, hungry and utterly lost. He leans against the curved wall and ponders his situation.
When a hand touches his shoulders, he turns around quick as lightning, claws fully extended.
“Hey! Hold it, brother Katt. It is I, Phydo!”
“Phydo! Where’ve you been, Dawg? How could you see me?”
“One question at a time, Thomm,” answers a smiling Dawg.
“First, I didn’t see you, I can’t see you at all if you are wearing Kitti’s robe of invisibility.”
Phydo’s smile gets wider. “I am a Dawg, my friend. I can’t see you, but I can certainly smell you from far away. No offense intended.”
Thomm lets out a hearty laugh. “None taken, Dawggy! Let’s just hope those darned machines going about can’t sniff around as you can!”
“And about the other question, we have been hiding in the pipes which provide the power and take out the wastes of this place.”
“We? Who are you with, Dawggy?”
Phydo’s smile seems to falter a bit. “I think we’d better get out of the corridors in a hurry. It is not safe in here. Come with me into the pipes and I will show you my newly acquired partner.”
Before Thomm can answer, Phydo disappears inside an inconspicuous hole on the wall, displacing the grilled lid covering its entrance. Thomm shrugs and dives inside as well.
Just in time, too. As soon as the two friends are safely hidden in the ducts, a loud clattering can be heard on the corridor. The robots are there.
Thomm follows Phydo through the pipe and as he looks back he can see the mobile machines go by.
Thomm shows them his middle finger claw, in a defiant though silent sign, and hurries back to catch up on Phydo, who is reaching a wider section of the duct, where they can stand up.
As the Katt goes through the hatch leading to the larger chamber, he stops dead on his tracks, the hair on his back standing up, his claws out. “What’s he doing here?!”
“Hey! calm down, brother Katt! He is a friend!”
The Mousse seems no less upset, hissing and spurting he backs up against the wall showing his sharp teeth. “Hold him, hold the beast!”
Phydo, bodily standing between them, has a hard time trying to make them be quiet. “Be still! both of you! you’re going to give our hiding place away!”
Breathing deeply and with an enormous effort of will, Thomm drops on the floor, sitting against the wall. “All right, start explaining.”
So Phydo starts explaining. Little by little, Thomm’s anger subsides and his interest increases. “So Mysse have lived in these tunnels for years!”
“Yesss! We were here before that monster!”
“And you lived in the tunnels and corridors?”
“Yes, they were all nice and dark then. The nasty light came with the monster.”
“And your people wandered all around the compound, nesting everywhere?”
Thomm turns to Phydo, a thoughtful look on his face. “Then, I believe, my friend, it was Mysse who woke this Lucius character to begin with.”
Phydo’s face shows his puzzlement. “What do you mean, brother Katt?”
“Yesss! What do you mean Katt?”
“You see, boys, when I was inside the cell with Kitti and Adam, this Lucius showed himself to us and he told us he had been dormant for a long time but had suddenly awoken.”
As Thomm goes on, comprehension starts dawning on Phydo.
“Adam said this was a warfare compound and that Lucius was the intelligent machine in charge of it. After Man’s departure he was left behind, asleep for centuries.”
“But brother Katt,” Phydo cuts in, “That would mean Man had such a thing as war. That is quite unorthodox and far from perfection.”
“Then perhaps,” says an unusually quiet Jeri, “Man wasn’t as perfect as we’ve been told.”
Phydo, the former priest soldier, shudders but does not contradict him.
It is the ever practical Katt who puts them back on trail.
“That’s not relevant now, friends. Yeah, don’t look at me like that Mousse, I mean you, too. Our concern now is Lucius. If he could be awoken, then he can be put back to sleep again!”
“And it had better be soon, too,” adds Phydo. “His monsters are attacking Kannis as we speak. I saw it on those magic windows Kitti and Adam call screens.”
The mischievous gleam seems to return to Jeri’s little beady eyes.
“I don’t know if we Mysse were really the ones who woke the abomination up, but we’re definitely the ones who’ll put him back to sleep.”
“And how do you plan to do that?”
Jeri’s laughter is every bit as sneering as usual as he gets up and starts running through the pipes once again. “By doing what we Mysse do best. Chewing and gnawing! Come along, time to meet my brothers and sisters!”
Copyright © 2005 by Roberto Sanhueza