Katts and Dawgs
by Roberto Sanhueza
|Table of Contents|
Book I, chapter 2 appeared
in issue 56.
Book I, chapter 3: Katts and Dawgs|
Up the Stairway to Heaven
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 High Priest of the house of Kannis sits on his chair at the Sanctorum Room, in Kannis Castle. He is old, the hair on his face is mostly white, and he keeps few of his once-sharp ivory fangs. He is lost in meditation, but suddenly his pointy ears go up, almost with a will of their own, as he hears the soft shuffling of feet outside his door. He does not notice the movement of his ears; it is an atavism he is not aware he has. “Come in,” he says before a knock is heard. He smiles to himself; his hearing is still as keen as it used to be .
“Your Holiness,” says the priest, “The search patrol is back, what is left of it. They were attacked by the ignominious Mysse scoundrels. Several were wounded or killed, the fugitives were lost, and their whereabouts are unknown.”
The High Priest of Kannis says nothing, he merely nods and signals the priest to leave. When alone, he goes to the window and looking out from his tower he sees Kannis stretching before him. He stays there for a long time, and suddenly he shivers and a strange chill goes through him. He thinks “Where are you, Phydo my young and impatient apprentice?” The setting sun provides no answer.
* * *
“Are you Man?” Phydo’s voice is almost reverential as he faces the strange person Kitti has brought them to. He is different from every Sentient People Phydo has ever seen. He’s certainly no Dawg, Katt or Mousse; he stands upright and has two arms and two legs as everybody does, but his gait and looks are different, his arms are somewhat longer, and his mouth more protrusive.
The stranger smiles, and his eyes shine old and wise. “No, brother Dawg, I am not Man, merely His older creation. I am Ape, and my race was the first to be enhanced.”
To Thomm it is one wonder after the other. He’s been up the Stairways to Heaven for what seemed hours and hours; he’s seen the clouds from above and has watched the Earth become a huge blue ball; he’s seen far below the ocean he’s heard of but never known. And now this strange creature...
He goes on, “My name is Adam, although Kitti calls me Master.” He looks at her fondly. “I am the last of my kind. For some unknown reason we enhanced Apes did not thrive as the rest of the Sentient People did, and my kindred slowly died out. We were in charge of all the systems and machinery Man left behind when leaving Earth, and we lived long enough to see the budding Sentient communities reach stability in population, although we always stayed in the background and never interfered with your social development. Nor did we pass unto you Man’s technology, which was expressly forbidden. Whatever science you have, you have developed it on your own.”
It is once again Thomm who plays devil’s advocate and questions Adam. “If it is so, why did you let Phydo get hold of those tablets he found and started this whole deal?”
Adam smiles, “You are clever, my mistrusting Katt, as I said, I am the last of my kind, and I see how Dawg society gets stagnant: their worship of Man’s legacy is blinding them to any new knowledge; orthodoxy is all, and they fiercely combat whatever they see as heresy. Phydo is not the first Dawg to receive tablets such as he found, but he is the first one to stand for his freedom of spirit.”
Phydo nods, seemingly pleased with Adam’s words, but as they speak they don’t seem to notice the small figure lumping on the floor has opened his eyes. Cunning and mischievous eyes they are. Jeri the Headmousse of the Sacred Forest Mysse lair has come to his senses after Kitti stunned him. He keeps still and waits for his chance to break free.
Adam goes on, “You have indeed the right to know why you’ve been summoned here, it’s not really hard to understand. Phydo I wanted here so I could test his strength and will-power to finish his quest for truth and return to Kannis to provide new intent to its rigid and stratified society. Thomm wasn’t really in my original plan, but he’s been a welcome surprise. He’ll make a good bridge with Katt tribes.”
It is at that time that Jeri leaps from the ground, screeching and diving headlong for the exit, before any of them can make a move, he is already out of the room. Thomm, quick as Katts are, sets after him but Adam’s words stop him in mid-air.
“Let him go. There’s no place he can go up here, and he’s got a tracking device on him. We’ll find him soon enough.”
“And he’s sure to be surprised if he leaves the artificial gravity area and wanders into the zero-G part of the station,” Kitti adds.
“I advise you gentlepeople to rest in the room we have prepared for you and have a bite to eat. Kitti and I will look for the Mousse and see he isn’t up to some mischief. We will talk again tomorrow about my plans and maybe you will agree to them.”
Shortly after, Phydo and Thomm stand in a room, awe reflected in their faces as they stare out a window.
“I can’t believe I’m up in the heavens and I have all earth spread beneath me!”
“I understand and share your feelings, Thomm, although Kannis beliefs tell us the earth is actually a huge ball, it is an entirely different matter to see orthodoxy proved to you by your very own eyes.”
“What do you make of all this, Dawggy? My head’s spinning with so many new things and my belly is spinning for lack of new things, it’s been a long time since breakfast!”
Phydo laughs heartily “You’re right, brother Katt! I can see you keep your good sense no matter the circumstances. I am also hungry and tired, What I see on that table seems edible enough, and those beds look very attiring. :et’s look after ourselves.”
A while later, Thomm lies on a bed, feeling more and more sleepy by the minute,
In the next bunk Phydo snores already. Surprisingly enough, Thomm’s last conscious thought goes to Kitti, then he sleeps too.
* * *
“I get a reading Master. That dratted Mousse is in the docking room, how did he ever get that far?”
“I suppose he went by the air pipes, he’s small enough and Mysse are rather used to moving in confined spaces. But let’s just seal the room and all pipes going in or coming out, so we’ll lock him away from further trouble. As long as he’s got the tracker on him he won’t go anywhere unnoticed.”
“Good idea Master, I could use some sleep. It’s been a long and tiresome journey.”
“Rest then, Kitti, I’ll awake you when our guests are up.”
Mysse are not the brightest of Sentient People; they are mean and nasty, prone to fight each other and everybody else and have little understanding of what goes on outside their underground lairs. Jeri is no exception to this, but he has wits enough to understand there is something very wrong with this place he finds himself in. To begin with, up and down hold no meaning anymore and he can’t find any familiar smell.
He tries with his very sharp senses to find a way out of the odd room the pipe brought him to, but he finds none. Even the way in is locked and he can’t go back.
Jeri knows not to fight the inevitable, he curls in a corner, beneath what looks like a huge (for him) cloak with a bubble on top and he also rests, but his sleep is a light one, he’s ready to spring and do some harm on the shortest notice.
The orbital station spins slowly around the beautiful blue Earth, the Skyhook falls back to the planet and they do their eternal dance, never missing a step, never losing sync.
In the main control room, an old Ape looks at the panoramic screens, the sight is not new to him, but it is as breathtaking as ever. In one of the screens a little red light blinks: the Mousse hasn’t moved from the docking room. He sighs, shakes his head and he also goes to find his rest.
The stations spins on.
There is a one-second lag between the first howl of the alarm siren and the following one. When the next one sounds, Thomm is already on his feet , retractile claws fully exposed and ready to strike. Phydo wakes up too, his mind still foggy.
“Wha... what’s that, brother Katt?”
“No idea, let’s look for our hosts and find out.”
Outside their quarters, Kitti is already in the corridor, heading for the control room. Adam is there and Thomm and Phydo come in right after.
“We have a leak in the docking room!”
“That’s right, Kitti, the pressure is going steadily down.”
“It’s that Mousse’s doing, no doubt. He’s going to get us all killed along with himself!.”
“But the tracker is not moving... Oh, I see, he found the tracker and he ditched it.”
“I’ll go get my suit, we’re going to have to go get him.”
At that point Thomm’s patience, never too long, bursts.
“Hold it, hold it a second, would you please translate your raving into some comprehensible common tongue? What’s going on?”
Adam looks at them and explains. “The Mousse has caused some damage to the room we had him locked in. It might endanger the whole habitat, so Kitti is going to retrieve him”
It’s Phydo who speaks next: “But Mysse are treacherous and dangerous, she shouldn’t go in there alone.”
A thin smiles comes to Adam’s face “Do not worry, she can take care of herself.”
So Kitti puts on a vacuum suit and while the other three stay in the control room and watch her on the screens she goes in through the inner lock to the docking room.
“I can see him Master, he’s lying on the floor. Seems to be unconscious, the air pressure is pretty low here.”
“Right, find the leak first of all and fix it if you can, then approach him. And be careful, Kitti.”
Kitti goes by the inert shape to the outer lock, she can see the air bubbles hissing in tiny holes on the door’s rubber rim.
“I found the leak, seems this little pest has been biting on the lock’s silicone rim. I’ll stick some sealant over the holes. That should do it until we can change the rim.”
Kitti gets to work and as she is finished, she gets air pressure back to normal, takes off her helmet and starts for the inner lock. It’s then that an angry Mousse seems to fly from the floor to her head, sharp teeth heading for her throat.
Phydo and Thomm jump shouting at the screen in the control room, only Adam stays cool as ever.
Jeri laughs crazily and says to Kitti.
“Let me out of this hellish place and take me back to my lair, or you’re dead Katt female!”
“You’re mad, shorty! No way you can bite me to death, if I feel a single tooth on my skin you are dead!”
Jeri’s laughter only gets more insane. “Don’t you know, Katt female, that Mysse bite is deadly? If I only scrape your skin, your body will rot and fall to pieces.”
In the control room all three know the Mousse tells the truth, Mysse bite carries disease with it. Adam speaks through the intercom. “Do as he says, Kitti. Take him to the elevator.”
Kitti looks at the camera and her furry face seems stubbornly set. “No way Master. I can handle this loony by myself...” But suddenly her expression changes and she complies.
“I think I get you now, Master. I’ll do as this little pest says. On my way to the elevator it is, then.”
In the control room an exited and angry Katt addresses Adam. “You’re not going to let’im get away with , are you? You’re putting Kitti in danger, let me handle that son of a Mousse!”
It’s Phydo however who answers. “Put your claws back in, brother Katt. I think I see what Adam means. He’s been trying to find a way to put the Mousse in the Stairs to Heaven and send him back to Earth. As long as he thinks he’s in command, he will do exactly as Adam wants him to.”
Adams looks thoughtfully at Phydo and says.” You are clever, brother Dawg, I think I chose well in bringing you up and telling you the truth about Man.”
He turns then to Thomm. “And you, my brave Katt, do not worry about Kitti. She is, as she says, quite able to handle the Mousse, but she also understands my meaning, and she’ll play along. Now let us get to see our involuntary guest finds his way out, and remember, pretend to be frightened.”
Jeri and Kitti get to the Skyhook pod, the Mousse still clinging to the Katt’s neck, his eyes shine with a murderous glee. Some distance away, Ape, Katt and Dawg let them do and only watch as the pod’s door closes and it starts its long voyage down.
It’s Thomm, Of course, who reacts first and says, “Quick, let’s take the next carriage down the Stairs and make sure that vermin doesn’t hurt Kitti!”
“I don’t think it would be wise to have one carriage so close to the other, brother Katt, it is a long climb down.”
Adam’s face wrinkles in a furry smile “Once again you are right Phydo, something called “Security Override” wouldn’t allow me to send another pod until the first one is at a fixed distance away. But don’t worry Thomm, the climb down is a four-hour ride; and we have plenty time to get down to Earth before they do, for we are going to be taking a different kind of vehicle. Come along.”
The Ape takes them to a room they haven’t been to. It’s a big room and in the middle of it lies a carriage like Katt and Dawg have never seen.
“A flying carriage!” say both Thomm and Phydo at the same time, when they see the long and streamlined winged contraption .
“Exactly my friends, this is what we call a shuttle, and it will take us down to ground level in half an hour. So you see, we’ve got plenty of time. Let’s have something to eat and a very important talk, for I don’t think you two will be coming up this way any time soon.”
The three of them sit around a small table. Phydo eats heartily from the strange goods Adam sets on the table but Thomm only wants to be done with them and on their way as soon as possible.
Adam looks at him and smiles once again. “Relax, dear Katt, Kitti is in no real danger from the Mousse. Even if he bit her, she is immune to many diseases of the Sentient People, and I have cures for the ones she might not be immune to.”
In between bites Phydo comments. “The wisdom of Man was every bit as wondrous as Kannis orthodoxy maintains.”
“Exactly, Phydo, it was so and more, but so little of it is left that you have only glimpsed a shadow of what once was. Which brings me to the point I want to talk to you about.”
“Are you, Phydo of Kannis, ready to take on your shoulder the task to bring to the Sentient People the real legacy of Man?”
Phydo simply states. “That is what I broke out of Kannis for.”
“Receive, then, these tablets, and take them back with you, they may serve you well in your noble purpose. I reckon you have along in your pack an ancient translating device you “borrowed” from the Kannis priesthood. It will be helpful.”
Adam goes on. “ Kitti and I have the self-appointed task to keep in working condition whatever machinery is left of the greatness of Man. When we are gone, if nobody else takes on our task, it will all be gone forever. That’s why your effort is so important.”
Softly, Thomm asks. “Will Man ever return to Earth?.”
“I am not the one to tell, young Katt. You have seen yourself that the Earth is but a ball spinning in the void around the sun. There are countless suns surrounded by spinning balls in this huge universe. Man may be anywhere, Man’s plans are not for me to learn.”
The time finally comes to do as Thomm so impatiently bids, and they board the wondrous flying carriage to catch up with the descending pod, at the Stairs’ downward end.
The ride down is a mixture of excitement and terror. The clouds pass rapidly by and the ground features grow before their eyes while the carriage glows all around in what seems like fire on the outer hull.
They touch the ground near the site where Phydo and Thomm first entered the underground halls leading to the Stairways to Heaven. Adam lets them out and gives them a last piece of advice. “I’m going back up now. Just find Kitti at the ground station and make sure she’s all right. She will contact me as soon as she can and, if need be, she can go up the Stairs again. May the memory of Man guide you, Thomm and Phydo. Farewell.”
They stand and watch as the fabulous flying carriage climbs up to heavens, silent and swift, and they finally realize they are back on solid ground. It’s then when Thomm grabs Phydo and pushes him down.
“Get down, Dawggy! And be quiet, we’ve got company.”
They barely have time to hide behind thick bushes, in time to see a patrol of warriors priests of Kannis, riding their Hoofers.
Thomm whispers. “They’re still looking for us, they must ‘ve seen the trail we left in the sky coming down and come to investigate. Follow me, I’ll guide you around the ruins to the other side.”
They finally reach the place where they were to meet Kitti without further encounters, but one hour later than they had meant to. Thomm is nearly frantic.
But he has really no need to be. They find Kitti sitting on top of a rubble heap, quite at ease with herself and alone.
“What took you so long, boys?”
Phydo only smiles but Thomm can’t help asking. “Where is he, where’s that confounded Mousse?”
Kitti’s face is big mischievous grin when she answers. “He’s gone. He did try to give me a little love bite when we reached the ground station and I opened the pod door, but he got a feel of my claws instead. I don’t think he stopped running until he found his Lair.”
She gets up and looks at them both, serious now. “I guess this is where we part company, boys. You’ve got your tasks and I have mine.”
Thomm can’t hide his disappointment. “But... I thought you were coming with us to kick some Dawg priesthood ass.”
“I’d love to, but I have other chores to do. Now, don’t get sad, Katt boy, I won’t be too far away and we are certainly going to meet before this is over.”
Phydo says. “ You don’t have to come with me, brother Katt. It is after all my self-imposed duty to return to Kannis, not yours.”
In spite of his furry cover, Thomm’s face is a study in indecision. But he shakes his head and says. “A Katt is bound by his word, as much as I’d love to know you a bit more Kitti, I’ll go with Phydo back to Kannis. Besides, those priests still owe me the reward you offered me, Dawggy, for saving your hide from the Mysse hordes. And I’ve got the feeling you’ll need some more hide-saving before our quest is over.”
“It is decided then: we’re going back to Kannis to try to put some sense in those blind brothers of mine. Fare well Kitti, may Man bring us all together again.”
And so the sun sets over Katt and Dawg as they start their way to the spires and towers of the city of Kannis, carrying as a weapon the Truth About Man as it is written in the New Tablets, a heretical concept in itself.
Kitti watches them until they disappear around a bend in the road, then she shakes her feline head and goes back to the remnants of the Civilization of Man.
* * *
The High Priest of Kannis wakes in the middle of the night, his still sharp canine senses have caught a change in the night air. He gets up from his hard bed and goes to the window, he sniffs in the air and realizes something. The wind is changing.
To be continued...
Copyright © 2004 by Roberto Sanhueza