Katts and Dawgs
by Roberto Sanhueza
|Table of Contents|
Book II, chapter 11 appeared
in issue 161.
Book II, Epilogue: Choices|
part 1 of 4
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.
“It’s got opposable thumbs!”
Dr. David Marquez looked at the Secretary of Health Policies with a rather puzzled expression. “Why, of course he’s got opposable thumbs. That’s the whole point, is it not? Furthermore, it’s inheritable. It took us a lot of gene splicing, but the pups also have them.”
Secretary Arellano smiled. “Don’t get me wrong, Dr. Marquez. I don’t mean to sound too surprised. I know you’ve been sending memos and keeping my office up to date with your work, and my surprise is not altogether polite. It’s just that it is one thing to read a memo and a different one to actually see a dog carrying a tray around and walking on two legs.”
“You have, however, met Charlie already, Mr. Secretary.” Dr. Marquez pointed at the chimpanzee standing by the desk.
Charlie bowed politely to the Secretary. “How do you do, Mr. Arellano.”
Arellano shook his head, smiling in spite of himself. “Yours is really a wonders factory, Dr. Marquez. Yes. I have met your talking pet before. By the way. Does the dog talk too?”
Arellano was facing Marquez as he addressed his question and did not notice the pained expression on Charlie’s face at the word “pet.”
“No, he doesn’t talk. Not yet anyway. I don’t expect my dogs to talk until three or four generations from now.”
“Which reminds me of my purpose to visit today, doctor. Time is precisely the one luxury we don’t have. How about your other work? Is it coming as well as this line?”
Sara Marquez spoke for the first time since Arellano had come into the facilities. “If you mean to hint David is wasting his time on intelligent pets while a viral outbreak ravages the world, you’re being unfair. Chimps and dogs are a previous line of research.”
The Secretary looked for a moment at Marquez’ wife and colleague and noticed the deep marks on her face. He decided not to play rough on the couple. They were working hard and he knew it. “Not at all, doctor,” he said gently. “I know viral genetics is high priority for all of us. Any news from Atlanta yet?”
Marquez just shook his head sadly. “None, The web is down all over the world now. I very much fear we’ve lost most if not all of North America.”
“Then it soon will be our turn. We’ve got the tightest security measures at the airports but I fear they will do us no good.”
“They won’t. You don’t have to worry about Islamic terrorism anymore. They won’t send infected volunteers this far down south. They don’t have to; the virus is airborne and it will eventually get here by itself.”
“And what about Geneva? They had pretty much untangled this strain’s DNA.”
“No news from Europe either. Last we knew the Community had broken down.”
Secretary Arellano walked to the window without commenting. He looked at the beautiful mountains, still snow-peaked in the middle of the summer. He turned around, dispirited.
“The ironic twist is that Africa and the Middle East seem to be gone as well. We don’t know about China, but I don’t expect much when it comes to miracles.”
“How long do you think we have to break this virus’ code and find a vaccine?”
Marquez watched Arellano evenly. “Not much more than the summer, Mr. Secretary. Come March, the equatorial winds will blow southwards. That’s all we have.”
The three humans remained silent, the chimpanzee squiggled uncomfortably on his feet and the dog just sniffed in the air. He didn’t quite comprehend what was going on.
* * *
“You’re working too hard, Phydo.” Mayor Rover Quicknose softly reprimands his former disciple.
The young Dawg looks up from the books he is reading and looks about. It is almost night in Kannis.
He smiles. “Maybe, but this the kind of work I enjoy. In spite of my mother’s wishes, farm life just won’t do for me. I was really eager to be back in Kannis.”
The Mayor goes to the window and looks out of the tower of Kannis University’s library. “Well, most of the damage from the Bugs War has been repaired, and Kannis is once again a nice place to be in.”
Mayor Rover turns to Phydo. “You know, Phydo, an unexpected turn of this war was for the better. We have at last a truce with the Order. Maximatis Thickfur is a much less dogmatic Dawg than his predecessor was, and he has agreed to a degree of stability and peace among Dawgs.”
“Well, in fact, these scrolls I’m going over were handed down by him. In spite of our dogma differences we both share a deep concern for the origins of the Sentient People. He is a Scholar deep inside.”
Rover smiles. “And so am I, dear boy, I wish I could get away from mayoral duties and go back to my books, too.”
“Oh no! That would leave us headless. Don’t even consider it.”
“Nothing to worry about, there’s always somebody willing to take on his shoulders the heavy burden of power.”
“You have a streak of cynicism in you, Mayor.”
“It helps, Phydo. It helps a lot to keep a sane mind in this daily struggle of conflicting interests. But enough for today, I’m going to my quarters. See you tomorrow.”
“Have a nice night, Mayor. I intend to go on some more with this interesting data.”
Phydo hesitates for a moment. “Did you know, Mayor, this ancient scroll records sightings of apparently non-sentient Dawgs?”
Mayor Rover stops and turns around. “Maximatis gave you that information? The Order has obviously changed.”
Rover falls quiet for a moment, gazing through the window, thoughtful. “You know, Phydo, both science and religion search for answers. The difference is religion searches for answers that fit their preconceived notions and dismisses as heresy what does not. The average Dawg thinks of Man more as a notion than a fact and does not care or worry where we come from. The Order wanted to keep things forever that way and make the origins of the Sentient People a holy mystery. We scholars want to understand as well as to know.”
He goes on. “That kind of knowledge the Order kept well hidden. We at the University heard only the faintest whisper and certainly didn’t see any actual data. It wouldn’t surprise me to find non-sentient Dawgs. Or non-sentient Katts or Mysse for that matter.”
Rover shakes his head and starts once more for the door. “And now it is really good night, Phydo.”
Night falls over Kannis, Phydo lights up his oil lamp and continues to scribble on a piece of parchment as he reads from the scroll, taking notes.
Suddenly his ears go up. He does not stop his writing nor does he turn towards the window. He just laughs and speaks up. “All right, you rascal. I know you’re there. Come on in, it’s not very comfortable on the window ledge.”
Completely unabashed, a young Katt comes in from the window, cool and unconcerned as if he wasn’t so many feet from the ground. “And good evening to you too, my friend. Working late, I see.”
Now Phydo does get up and embraces his friend. “Good to see you, brother Katt. I have been wondering about you. How did you get up here? Did you come on your flyer?”
“Well, yes and no. I flew all right, but not on Glider. In fact I’m coming to fetch you away from your books, and Kitti is waiting on the tower roof. She’s got her flying gadget and you know it’s better that it’s not seen. Up there it’s safe from curious Dawgs.”
“Kitti is here? What’s up, brother Katt? She’s not one to be exposing Man technology openly to the uninitiated.”
“I think you’d better ask her yourself. Grab some clean undergarments and come along. We’re on the go again.”
Phydo says no more, He turns out the lamp and follows his friend out the window to the roof.
* * *
The earthquake woke up Sara and David at three in the morning. It was a bad one. “Wake up, David! The lights are off and the house is rocking like crazy!”
“What the... ? The Seismic Prevention Center never announced this one!”
The movements seemed to be subsiding. Sara got up and turned her console on from the auxiliary power line. “That’s maybe because this wasn’t really an earthquake.”
“What do you mean? The earth was quaking all right.”
“Oh David! I fear that was one of the orbital elevator cables snapping off. I only get readings from the nearest one in Ecuador. Nothing from the one in Guinea.”
“And the Australian one has been out for more than six months. It had to be the African one. If it had been the closer one, we’d be dead by now.”
“Oh David! I’m so afraid. What’s going to happen to us?”
David didn’t answer. He just held her tight.
In the lab, back at the University Research Facilities, Charlie and his mate Lisa were also rudely awakened by the shaking earth in their quarters.
Charlie got up and went to the kennels. The dogs were in a frenzy and wildly howling as dogs have done since the first night they came to the human fire.
Charlie soothed the dogs and opened the kennels so they wouldn’t be trapped if there was another earthquake.
None of them went back to sleep.
* * *
Kitti opens the door to her “flying gadget,” as Thomm called it, and greets them in.
“Good to see you, sister Katt!”
“And nice to see you too, Phydo, but do get inside quickly. Although it’s pretty dark by now I wouldn’t want somebody to spot my shuttle over the tower roof.”
Soon the towers and roofs of Kannis University and Kannis Castle are left behind.
Phydo never gets tired of the wonder of seeing Kannis from way up, finally, he turns towards Thomm and asks, “All right. What is this all about? Where are we going?”
Thomm just shrugs. “Don’t ask me. I was fetched just as you were. Kitti’s the one with the answers.”
“Yes, boys, it’s time to explain. Let me set my shuttle so it will direct itself and then we’ll talk.”
Now the air carriage is flying high over the Kannis countryside, swift and silent.
“Adam asked me to bring you two to his quarters.” She pauses. “He’s very ill and he has something in mind he won’t tell me. He just asked me to take you guys up to the orbital station.”
“Ill? How ill, Kitti?”
Kitti’s furry face softens and a tear rolls down her cheek.
“Adam is old, boys. Older than you can possibly imagine, and his kind hasn’t existed for even longer. He’s tired, alone and tired. His old body is no longer fighting to stay alive, he’s quitting on life.”
Katt and Dawg just remain silent. Then Thomm asks, “Are we flying up to Adam’s place in your carriage?”
“Oh no, my shuttle isn’t meant to go that high. We’re taking the orbital... that is, the Stairway to Heaven, as you call it.”
For the best part of an hour the flying carriage goes up north, the mountain range always on their right.
The Moon shines on the starry night and her silver light reflects on the thin line that rises from the ground and seems to get lost among the stars, way up over the few cirrus clouds in the sky.
The Stairway to Heaven stands through the ages, beckoning to them.
* * *
“Sara passed away last night, Charlie.”
The chimpanzee said nothing, he didn’t know what to say.
“And I don’t think she was the only one last night. The disease is spreading faster than we thought, in spite of our experimental vaccine.” Marquez’ expression was pure pain and confusion.
They were sitting in the lab in the now nearly empty facilities at the University, all technicians either dead or gone home to tend to whatever was left of their families.
“You’ve been a great help, Charlie, but I don’t think there’s much left to do about the vaccine. We’ve run out of time.”
Marquez looked into the chimpanzee’s eyes. He didn’t really know if he was envious of the ape’s immunity to this particular viral strain. He didn’t think he cared any more. He managed to crack a tired smile. “You know, Charlie old friend, I always meant to ask you how you felt when people took you for a mere pet. Were you offended when they saw you as nothing more than some animal freak? Well, Charlie. It hardly matters any more. Forgive them for they don’t... didn’t know any better.”
“It was tough at times, David.”
David let out a cracking and coughing laugh. “I can imagine. You know more molecular genetics than the late Secretary Arellano could have learned in a couple of lifetimes.”
“Which brings us back to the Half Moon strain.”
“Yes, the Half Moon Virus. We humans have no defense against it. It was tailored to fit us and it’s highly mutable; it changes before we can neutralize it.”
“Not only that, David, it’s not just mutable but also mutagenic. It causes the DNA of its host cell to go wild and the cell stops being functional. It reproduces to something different from the parent cell.”
“I guess that was where the makers of the HMV goofed. They opened Pandora’s box and couldn’t shut it either.”
Charlie stayed silent for a couple of minutes, David lay back on his couch.
“It happens David, that we apes are not entirely immune to HMV, nor are our subject dogs and cats. It’s just that we don’t know yet how it is going to affect us.”
David got up from his couch, eyes shining feverishly and his whole body shaking badly. “Promise me, Charlie, promise you’ll go on with the project when I’m gone. Do it for Sara and me if you don’t care for Man as a race.”
“We don’t know when the HMV will run its course and die out by itself, if ever.”
“It has to, some time. Promise me, Charlie!”
David fell back and didn’t speak anymore. For a while the only sound in the room was the raucous noise of his breathing.
Then that stopped too.
Charlie came by his friend and closed his eyes. He whispered softly. “I promise, David.”
Copyright © 2005 by Roberto Sanhueza