Katts and Dawgs
by Roberto Sanhueza
|Table of Contents|
Parts 1 and 2 appeared
in issue 171.
Book II, Epilogue, “Choices”|
part 3 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.
When Adam was officially declared an adult, his mother Monnia had a long-delayed talk with him.
“So, son. What is your appreciation of the Sentient People’s society as of today?”
Adam took his time and pondered. He knew well his mother was just as knowledgeable of the Sentient People’s whereabouts as he was, if not more so. She was asking for a social evaluation and his extrapolations thereof.
“I believe, mother, that Cats and Dogs have reached a steady growth pattern, and their birth rate is quite stable. Mysse, for what I have been able to fathom, reached that population rate long ago. So extinction is no longer a threat to the Sentient People.
“The genetic patterns we have labored to keep in the new generations, that is, their very sentience, is also quite stable and inheritable. Setback characteristics are rare among them.”
“That much I know too, son. What about their social organization?”
“I’m getting there, mother. Dogs have turned out to be much more organized and interdependent than Cats but at the same time more reluctant to change their social hierarchy.
“We introduced among them the myth of Man, as a way to explain their origin, and they’ve turned it into an elaborate and increasingly dogmatic religion.
“The very place they’ve chosen to live has grown into a fortified city, whereas Cats have chosen to live in the country in a much looser way.”
“Do you think they are aware of our meddling in their affairs?”
Adam considered this. “I don’t think so. We’ve been extremely subtle and firm in not giving them any advanced Man technology. Whatever basic machinery and gadgetry they’ve got they have developed on their own.
“Besides, most of Man’s remains are but ruins by now. The only exception is the orbital elevator and the orbital station. We have protected them with repellent fields, and no Cat, Dog or Mouse goes near the Stairway to Heaven if they can help it. The place is cursed, as far as they’re concerned.”
“So would you say the Sentient People have reached social stability and idiosyncratic development?”
“Aye, mother, I would. They’ve even strayed far from their original common language, and now they have different languages which, after all, I suppose fit better their original larynx make-up. They keep a common tongue for trade, though.”
Monnia looked intently into her son’s eyes, she took her time and Adam did not interrupt her silence.
She finally spoke. “Son, you are an adult Ape now. The last one, seemingly. There is one final mission you have to know about, for you’re the only one who will be eventually left to accomplish it. I want you to come with me.”
“Where to, mother?”
“To the other side of the mountains, son.”
* * *
It is not often the Sentient People get to see or touch snow. For the three friends snow was just the white matter covering the top of the mountains.
Now they walk on snow for the first time. The sight is awesome: the mountains stretch all around and far away; near the horizon, a darker spot can be seen.
Thomm’s jaw drops when he realizes what he is looking at. “The sea! that is the sea over yonder!”
Adam smiles tiredly. The airship has been left some distance back and the trek is not altogether easy for the old Ape. “That is correct, Thomm. On a sunny, cloudless day you would be able to see more of it than today but...”
Whatever the comment Adam might have been about to make is violently interrupted as a dark and fast-moving shape falls over him, as if coming from nowhere. In a second all hell breaks loose. Howling demons are over the party, attacking with bare fangs.
Thomm does not howl, neither does Phydo, but both the adventurer wandering Katt and the former soldier-priest gone scholar know their ways of combat. They waste no time trying to find out who or what is attacking; they just fight back and Thomm’s retractable claws and Phydo’s short sword soon have some of the attackers howling in pain rather than in fury.
Kitti is not that used to fighting, but the sight of Adam down on the ground brings out the beast in her, and her hand weapon — her “blaster” as she calls it — also wrecks havoc among the attackers.
But there are just too many of them. Now the three friends are back to back around Adam who is trying to stand up, and they can see better who they are fighting.
“They’re Dawgs, Man! They’re Dawgs!”
“Not quite, Thomm! See, they don’t walk upright, and they don’t seem to talk among themselves, they just bark and howl.”
Thomm has no time to answer Phydo’s remark. Sheer number has made the attackers much bolder, and he can barely divert a vicious bite to his throat. The attacker, not so lucky or not so skilled, falls back nearly gutted by Thomm’s claws.
Phydo is having his share of troubles. His sword arm feels heavy as lead and he deeply regrets spending so much time in the library and so little in the fencing room.
The attackers’ bodies are piling up, but that does not seem to stop the rest.
At that point Kitti finds it impossible to dodge her attackers and she sees her blaster fly from her hand as a heavy howling and screeching mass falls on her, all fangs and claws.
Thomm sees Kitti hitting the ground with the attacker on top of her, and the Katt war cry comes out of his throat, reverberating on the mountains over the howling. The attackers seem to fly from Thomm’s path as the frenzied Katt clears the way towards the fallen Kitti.
But Katt blood seems to drive them wilder than ever. Three, four, five of them jump on top of Thomm, and Phydo sees desperately there is nothing he can do to help his friends.
Then, as their fate seems sealed, a shout can be heard from the fallen Adam. “Shut your eyes! now!”
A piercing light, brighter than many suns, explodes among the teeming mass. Stunned silence falls like a heavy lid. Then, among yelps and growls, the attackers flee and as suddenly as they appeared, they are gone leaving behind their dead.
Shaking like a falling leaf, Phydo runs to his friends.
“I’m all right, Dawggy,” Thomm manages to mutter through his bloodied face.
He does get up by himself but Kitti still lies on the ground, not moving.
Adam slowly crawls through the snow and comes to the fallen Kitti. The old Ape does not look very well himself but he is, at least, moving.
He takes Kitti’s head on his hands and checks for visible wounds. “She has a deep bite wound on her neck, bleeding badly. Probably a severed blood vessel.”
Adam looks at his friends, a desperate expression on his face. “She needs to be taken to my ship and put in my medical box at once. She’ll bleed to death if she stays here.”
“You don’t seem to be very cheeky yourself, Adam.”
“Never mind me, Thomm. I’ll make through for a little longer yet.”
Adam looks at Phydo and Thomm and shakes his head, as making a decision. “Thomm, can you take her to the ship? All you have to do is push this button on this little box and the door will open. Once inside you have to put Kitti in that big box, the one that looks like a coffin. That is a healing machine which I always have with me these days. Lower the lid over her to close the box and the machine will do the rest. Will you do that for her?”
Thomm nods his head in stern affirmation. “Yes Adam, I will take her. But what about you? You seem hurt, too.”
“I was dying anyway, my friend, before I came here. I am no worse off. Hurry! take her quickly and I will finish what I set out to do with Phydo’s help.”
Thomm argues no more. He takes Kitti on his shoulders and starts the trek back.
“Come, Phydo. Help me up. We still have some more walking to do.” And so, slowly and painfully, Ape and Dawg continue their journey through the snow.
Phydo hears Adam’s coarse and painful breathing as they walk. Trying to take his mind off his own and Adam’s wounds he asks, “What kind of animals were those that attacked us, Adam?”
Adams takes his time, but he finally sighs and answers. “They were Dawgs, Phydo. Or rather, dogs, non-sentient Dawgs. Your ancestors. After Man’s disappearance they turned wild and were never seen again within the Sentient People’s domains. Good thing I could scare them away with my flare.”
They don’t talk anymore, step after difficult step they advance, the Ape holding on to the Dawg, until Adam stops before a boulder, not visibly different in any way from the others. “Here, let’s stop here.”
Adam takes another one of the strange objects he carries out of his pocket and points it toward the stone wall. Slowly and swiftly the boulder move aside, opening to the entrance of a cave or, rather, a tunnel.
Adam turns to the awe-struck Phydo. “Come on in, my friend. Welcome to the last sanctuary of Man. Let’s enter.”
And slowly, taking strength from each other, Ape and Dawg enter the tunnel. After some seconds, noiselessly, the boulder goes back to its original position and only the inclement mountain wind can be heard, blowing unmoved by what has happened.
* * *
Adam, the last Ape, stood alone on a hill over his mother’s grave watching the compound burn. He had set the little village on fire himself after moving all he could salvage from the underground refuge to the orbital station. He had decided to move to a place where the Sentient People were not aware of him, and the orbital station seemed to be the right place.
It had taken him months to transport up all he felt he needed there, and now he had set the explosives underground; everything his race had built and developed was consumed by the fire.
The Sentient People would come, no doubt, to find out what was happening to the savants; but fire would obliterate any trace, and from now on the Sentient People were — or so they would feel — on their own.
Finally, Adam walked to his shuttle, and once more he took the viral measurement in the atmosphere, as he did almost ritually every day. And as every day, nothing had changed. The virus was there, living within the Sentient People, within himself. Present as ever.
Despair washed over him but he tried to shake it. Some day the virus would either mutate or disappear altogether. Then he would be able to finish his mission. He hoped it would happen in his lifetime, which, at the time, he had no way of knowing that it would be the longest in all recorded history.
So much ahead.
Adam started the shuttle’s engine and soon its small vapor trail added to the smoke the fire was making. Then it was gone and only the sound of crackling flames could be heard.
By then the first Dawgs had come to see what it was all about.
* * *
The cave is enormous. To Phydo, no matter how many times he has been in touch with Man’s left-over wonders, it always seems like entering a dream. They walk among contraptions so strange that he can’t even begin to fathom what they were built for.
Adam’s pace is slow and willfully stubborn. The Ape is suffering, and Phydo knows there is nothing he can do to help him. The finally reach a clearing within the cave where they stop and find chair-like things they can sit on.
Adam lets himself fall heavily on one and shows another one to Phydo. “Sit down, friend, we are at the end of the road, and now it’s time for you to know Man’s final destiny.”
For a long time Adam remains silent and not moving. For a fleeting moment Phydo fears his old friend is gone beyond reaching, but as he gets up to check on him, Adam opens his old eyes and smiles. “Just resting, Phydo. I can’t let go until you hear what I have to say to you.”
Adam begins. “You saw for yourself, Phydo what Man looked like and very much what His life was like in those ‘recordings’ I showed you back up at the orbital station. Now I have to tell you how Man came to pass.”
So, for the next hour Adams gives Phydo a succinct account of Man’s last days on Earth.
He tells him about the virus and the efforts to find a cure. About the nascent Sentient People and the dwindling Apes. About the birth of Kannis and the splitting of Katts and Dawgs.
“Now look around you, Phydo, and tell me what you see.”
Startled, Phydo looks around and for the first time and notices a most strange sight. Row after row of small flasks stand on the walls, dimly lit and filled by an amber and softly shining liquid. Inside them, floating, Phydo sees... “Pups! unborn Man pups!”
“That is right, Phydo, although a more proper word would be ‘embryos’. They were put there and kept in stasis by the Man who made us all. David was His name, and that was a thousand years ago.
“We Apes have kept a promise my forefather Charlie made to David to wait till the day the virus was gone and start Man’s race again.
“Charlie’s descendants moved the embryos from our original settlement to here, where they would be free from any intrusion.”
Adam’s painful breathing seems to falter, and the red blotch on his robe grows a little wider yet, but he goes on. “It was four hundred years ago that the last one of my race died, and I was left alone to carry on with the promise.
“I have lived longer than anybody on Earth, and I don’t really know why. I have watched the Sentient People flourish. I’ve always stayed in the background, and every day I’ve measured the virus in the atmosphere, always hoping this would be the day I’d find it gone.
“That day never came, and I worried about what would happen to the promise I made when my long life was finally over.
“So I started looking for you, Phydo, for somebody like you anyway, hoping I’d find that Katt, Dawg or even Mousse who would care to learn about this legacy.
“I found Kitti in the meantime, and for a while I hoped to make her my heir and responsible for my promise. But afterthought told me that Kitti was not really part of the Sentient People; she had been raised alienated from her heritage, and I feel it’s the Sentient People who must decide on this matter.
“You and your friend Thomm are the answer to whatever prayer I might have prayed if I were the praying type. For you see, my friend, a week ago I felt my strength finally giving in, and I knew my time was through. The ironic twist is that the same day, for the first time in a thousand years, viral measurements dropped.
“What happened I don’t know. Did the virus finally run its course? Did it mutate into something else? Whatever it was, the viral count has been dropping steadily ever since.
“So now I could fulfill my oath and bring Man back to life before I die. All I would have to do is push that red button you see over that console and the machines would do the rest.
“They would break stasis and the embryos would continue their evolution and turn into boys and girls, the seed of a race. When they were ready, the machines would open the doors and they would claim what was theirs.”
Phydo moves uncomfortably on his chair.
Copyright © 2005 by Roberto Sanhueza