by Anna-Karin Larsson AKA Ahdeya
Part 1: Freedom
"Have you got any idea of what they are?" asked the rough looking young man, poking a wrench into the cage as he passed it. The poking made the largest of the strange children hiss at him, swatting a small black hand at the wrench to protect the other four behind him.
The other human in the transport, an older man with short cropped steel gray hair, grunted something and then said, "I haven’t got a clue, really. I've never asked. I just fly them up to the space station whenever I'm told. I hand them over to Tomasino himself along with the papers about them and forget I ever saw them." He patted the leather bag that hung from his seat with a wink for his young partner, "I don’t even want to ask! That's what they pay me so well for -- my lack of curiosity."
The man with the wrench was below average height and had a hard, olive-skinned face with hard, dark eyes. The old pilot of the shuttle was dressed in a patched blue overall and his belt was studded with tools and little bags. He seemed to be about 50, his steel-gray hair cropped short and the dark skin had traces of severe acne from his teens. He glanced at his instruments, knocking on a small digital screen with a frown. "The money will come in handy, too. Got to get this thing serviced when we get to the space station. Ready for a bumpy ride?"
"You bet," replied the younger man, strapping himself into the copilot's chair.
Inside the kitten cage, the world was in chaos. The largest kitten, almost completely black, sheltered the other four as well as he could, considering his tender age of just eleven years. All the kittens were the same age and from the same crèche but the largest kitten felt responsible for his friends, and had a very strong bond with one of the little females. She looked almost the same as he did and he’d always had her around. He didn’t know the word for sister, but that described his feelings towards her.
They’d been stuffed into this cage after being taken from the cribroom they’d shared with twenty others of their own kind. The larger kitten, the black tom, had been given a new control collar just before the trip and it was hanging a bit loose. He could freely get his hand under it, but not yank it over his head. He watched the man with the wrench go back across the room and sit down next to the shuttle's pilot.
Then he spotted something familiar -- a rectangular object he’d seen hanging from the belt of one of the caretakers from the crib. When the kitten had received his new collar, he’d seen the controller punch the white squares in a special pattern. The sequence had released the old collar. Now this kitten was far from stupid. In fact, he was very clever and far more intelligent than his caretakers had thought. His memory was among the best of all the kittens in his crib, and when he tried to remember the sequence to release the collar, he could see it clearly in front of his eyes. Watching the young human intensely, and the control, he knew that he could use it. If he could ever reach it. But it was a vain hope at this time, the human too alert and the controller too far out of reach. He settled back among his fellow kittens and they all huddled up in a heap, slowly drifting off into sleep.
The descent had been rough; the shuttle had been badly maintained and now it lay halfway buried, with it’s cone shaped nose into the garbage area's smelly surface. The engines were on fire and the force of the impact had smashed in the front of the tiny shuttle, smashing the two humans to death. Several of the crates and other cages in the ship had been tossed around wildly, including the kitten's prison.
The nameless black kitten and the other two toms tried their strength on the bars, amazed at how easily it all came apart. The impact had shaken the construction and they could easily get out. But before they crawled away from the inferno, the large black tom snatched up the control and, out of pure curiosity, the leather bag that hung from the dead pilot’s seat. He’d seen it being handed over when the cage had been brought onboard and since it was familiar, it must mean something. He looked at the two humans and growled at them before shooing the others outside.
As they ran off into the darkness, the ship started to burn even more ferociously, to finally paint the sky in blazing red and orange as the fuel and plasma tanks exploded. But by then the felines were far off, trying to find shelter in the new strange world.
The abandoned theatre and cinema house was both old and worn, and the basement was cluttered with junk and broken furniture. One of the rooms had served them well the past night. An old leather sofa had been turned over a long time ago and it’s backside was now leaning against an old bureau. This gave them a hideout in which to seek shelter from the world and the night’s cold. All night they’d been huddled together against the cold, seeking each others' warmth and comfort. As they woke up, their bellies grumbled with hunger and they all complained loudly about it. But the black kitten tom dragged them all out into the room with all its junk, telling them to listen. They had not been alone like this ever, and this new world scared them and to have him take command soothed their weary minds.
"I think I know how to get rid of the collars," he said and held up the control device. The other kittens gasped and meowed in fear. But he lowered it and waved his hand, "It’s all right. I know how to loose the collars!"
He was rewarded with four pairs of eyes looking at him with fear and hope. He cleared his throat, raised the control and looked at it. It was about as long as his lower arm and heavy. The corners were sharp and on one of the flat sides it was equipped with twelve little white buttons, even if he didn’t know it was twelve. He just saw all those strange little figures and he remembered to hold it with the thin black, tubular thing upwards and the squares facing him. One by one he slowly punched in the code, hesitating before he pushed the last button.
The other kittens tensed, their eyes shut tightly, prepared to feel the searing pain. But instead, a small "click" was heard and before they even knew, the collars dropped to the floor with a metallic ‘clonk’. Now they dared to open their eyes and stared at the ground and at the five collars where they lay shimmering in the first rays of the morning sun. The collars were gone. One of the girls howled with laughter and pulled them into a group hug. This was their first day of...freedom!
"Can you see them?" asked the scrawny dark-skinned man, pointing a thin, gloved hand into the dark evening.
"Yeah. It’s a group of children," said his friend, Jon, a tall, chubby man with a rounded face with large kind brown eyes. "But still not. Children do not have tails!"
"I know!" said Dirk and his coffee colored face turned pondering in its expression.
"How long have you seen them out here?" asked Jon and craned his neck. One of the kittens had taken off the lid of a garbage can and two others stood beside it and peeked down into it. They were obviously scrounging for something to eat. From this distance they looked awfully thin and whatever clothing they wore hung in rags from their bodies.
"Well, the past week. They appeared after the explosion in the junkyard."
"The ship the cops pulled out two weeks ago?"
Dirk nodded enthusiastically.
"Well, I’ll be damned. They could be from the ship you know."
As they watched, the tallest kitten helped one of the smaller ones to reach something inside the can, and then they melted into the shadows and were gone.
The yellow and green eyes watched him suspiciously, but the look darted quickly to the outreached chicken that smelled soooo nice.
"Come on. It’s yours, if you want it..." said Jon, smiling without showing his teeth. He’d been coming to the alley, one of the darkest and most deserted ones of the whole city, surrounded by buildings that now lay abandoned or sheltered the kind of people that didn't want to be noticed. This had been the entertainment district of the old spaceport, when it had been the main spaceport for the planet. Now, the spaceport did mostly local business, transporting goods from the city, instead of the world, to the orbiting space station.
Close to three hundred thousand souls inhabited this enormous town with all its overwhelming sights and sounds. Now there were five more lost souls here; the five were young, wild and so far unspoiled by the city’s dark sides. The taller kitten, apparently male, judging from the broader shoulders and angular face, was dressed in a pair of synthetic shorts and a raglike old shirt that was five sizes too big. He sneered at one of the smaller equally ragclad ones as it tried to sneak by. It shrank back, eyeing him nervously. Jon had lots of patience, and love, for lost souls. He’d been one himself before his mentor, Ruben Macellan, had taken care of the obnoxious 14 year old and taught him the true values of life, and had also introduced him to studies of various Earth art and literature forms. He watched the tallest cat boy slowly approach, he reached out a hand equipped with black sharp claws extended and the barbecued chicken was snatched out of Jon’s hand.
The kittens shrank back, sharing the food. Jon felt surprised as the taller boy shared the food between them all, handing a little more to one of the smaller ones. They are not savages, he thought. But still, such strange children, all alone out here.… He dug up a few apples, a local gray and pink striped fruit, and several bags of nuts and raisins. He placed it in the alley and withdrew. But he didn’t leave until the children had taken it all with them.
The little-girl-like kitten, sooty black with a reddish stripe from her forehead and back to one of her ears, stopped with an apple in her hands. Jon felt a satisfied warmth inside of him when she raised her hand and hesitantly waved at him, adding a slight smile. Then the larger tom took her hand and pulled her into the shadows.
Jon sat down, looking at the snapshots of the kittens. He’d taken them early in the morning, sitting up on a roof. He’d tracked their movements at the old abandoned theatre building. Some days, the kittens sat up on the roof of the old cinema and basked in the sunlight. He had photos of them all.
The tall big cat was dark-furred and very protective…. Frowning, Jon plotted down the name Nightshade for that boy. Then he stared at another photo of the two little girls. He started to tap his pen on the brim of his reading glasses. The black and grayish girl had strange, clear, bright green eyes, like old recycled glass. Bright...eye. Yes, he grinned. Brighteye, and then the sleek-furred tabby and white girl had to be named Silk. With a sigh he leaned back, looking at the two remaining boys. After jogging his mind for a while, he came up with the name Fire for the red tabby tom, and Dusk for the grey and white one. Satisfied with that, he turned out the lights for the night.
The kitten girl he’d named Brighteye sniffed at his hand, eyes huge with the sensation of his furless skin. She was the one who trusted him the most. Nightshade seldom came very close, but kept an eye on him all the time. Now and then he allowed one of the others to sniff at Jon, but that was all.
This strange game of getting to know Jon had been going on for over two weeks now. At first the five had been suspiciously curious about him. And as he appeared each day, at mid day with food and his calm presence, they gradually got used to him. Nightshade didn’t understand why he called them by those strange words, but after talking to his friends they’d all agreed that it felt good to have a name, something that was just theirs and not shared with anyone else.
Jon often sat in the sun at the back of the old theatre and enjoyed the warming rays. Sometimes he brought a book, and sat there reading out loud. Often the kittens stopped their playing and sat down to listen. This day, he read the story about a smart, intelligent beautiful girl who fell in love with a beastly creature that proved to be a prince.
"Why are you staring at that thing? If you’re talking why aren’t you looking at us?" asked Dusk, and edged a little closer, pointing at the book.
"Well, this, my dear boy, is a book and what I am doing is called reading. This book contains a story, the story I am reading. "
Silk joined the boy and sat down next to him, "Does it tell you a story?"
"In a way. A book is made out of letters, printed on paper page. But if you are going to understand the story, you have to learn what each letter means and how they sound."
The two kittens looked at each other, and then back at Jon with suspicious looks on their faces.
"Letters? What is a letter?" asked Nightshade from the top of the old steel container he’d been stretched out on. He got up on his feet and made a jump down on the ground, ending it with a somersault, stopping next to the two others. Jon smiled at the playful kittenish games they showed off but understood that he had to deal with children here. Children of an extraordinary talent and ready to acquire a whole world of knowledge.
"What does ‘noble’ mean? And ‘valiant’?" asked Fire as he lay on his back on top of a table, eyes peering into a thick book. His long legs hung over the edge of the table and his tail twitched a little. He was somewhere around 14 now, but in his looks and mind he was more like 18.
"Noble is when you are of the purest of hearts and know how to differ right from wrong in a way that benefits the public. Valiant is almost the same; it is a bit more courteous and gallant."
"Oh," nodded Fire and continued to read about King Arthur and his gallant Knights of the Round Table.
Jon had been studying the discs Nightshade had stolen years back when he ship had crashed. The documents on the three discs were coded, and not until two days ago had he been able to crack the code, nearly three years after the first meeting with the kittens. But the discs still caused a problem. After all, Jon didn’t have access to most technology, even if he knew how to use most of it. No, he mostly collected books, acquired their knowledge, art and many other things. His five students had proved to be like lost children of his, sucking up knowledge as if they were sponges.
Deep into his readings Jon heard a smashing and klonking sounds approaching and the next minute Nightshade and Dusk came crashing in. A week earlier they’d found a book about sword fighting and now their wooden swords slammed against each other as they moved through the room, shouting and hollering. Jon barely managed to save his drink and food.
"Night! Dusk! Stop playing musketeers and calm down!" shouted their teacher and banged his fist on the table. The two young catmen stopped, panting and smiling as they lowered their wooden weaponry.
"This is great!" said Nightshade and plopped down in a old battered leather chair, reaching for a plastic bottle that was filled with water and drank half of it. He wielded his sword a couple of times before dropping it to the floor. Jon shook his head and groaned. It had taken them four days to learn the sword fighting and, with some additions of their own, they moved like dancers when using it.
"Nightshade. I have told you only to do that in the theatre auditorium. This place hardly has any room for sword fighting!" reprimanded Jon and beat his finger in the air.
Nightshade looked ashamed and nodded. "Sorry."
"You’re forgiven, if you please stop making my home into a battlefield!"
"Where are the girls? "asked Dusk and looked around. The two were gone and hadn’t been seen for hours.
"They’re out on their own and I am sure they’re doing just fine." said Jon as he resumed his study of the 21st century poet TS Eliot’s work.
Nightshade’s head tilted to the side as he thought of something, then he gave Dusk and Fire one look and the three were gone in a heartbeat, leaving Jon behind. The sturdy man was about to say something but stopped and shrugged his shoulders as he sighed.
Nightshade crouched down, looking through the broken door. Fire and Dusk flanked him and they peered through the door. Inside of the room, the two young women had switched on Jon’s old CD player and the sounds of violins and pianos flowed through the air. Brighteye and Silk seemed to float through the air as they whirled across the old wooden floor; their movements following the music’s changes and flow. Then Brighteye suddenly stumbled and pulled Silk with her. The two started to laugh and apparently gave up their attempts at dancing. Suddenly, Brighteye spotted the trio by the door and the two girls waved at them and laughed even more now that they understood they’d been found out.
"What are you two doing?" asked Nightshade as he led the way in. The two girls giggled and huddled up with their arms around each other, looking at the three with a mischievous glint in their eyes.
Dusk and Fire sneaked up, tugging at their tails. Brighteye hissed at Dusk and leaped at him, rolling on the floor as she tried to bite his ears. Fire retreated as Silk hissed at him and batted with a clawed hand in his direction. He stopped a few meters away, watching her.
Nightshade just glanced at him as he stepped closer. "It was a beautiful dance, Silk. Have you and Bright been doing this for long?"
"No. And if we have, it’s none of your business!" she snapped, apparently irritated about his presence. When a growl escaped her throat, Nightshade felt stunned for a brief moment before growling back at her. He wasn’t particularly afraid of her. He was a good head taller and she would prove little or no problem for him if she did anything against him.
Silk glared up at him and he could see a hint of corner teeth. But just as sudden as her temper had flared, her face softened and he flinched as she rubbed her chin against his with a deep purring emanating from her chest. Then she and Brighteye disappeared through the old door, leaving the three toms behind. But it was Nightshade that felt most puzzled about the whole incident. Why had she snapped like that and then just turned all cuddly?
Evening came and the five returned to the old theatre’s attic. No one claimed to own the old building and, so, Jon had taken it over with the five’s help. He now resided in the four old office rooms of the third floor. Back there he had whole windows and the rooms had gas heating as well. It had taken years to clean up the place, and they’d done their best to make it look decent enough to live in. Jon’s friends sometimes stopped by, enjoying a good time with reading and discussing. Some days those friends would help out mending and restoring some parts of the theatre.
This evening, late at night after the two queens had been found out, Nightshade felt miserable. The two felines had not wanted to share their heap of warmth and closeness that evening, and so Nightshade felt compelled to enter the rooftop, leaving the four others behind him. Jon spotted him as he walked by the high french doors on the way to the roof. He also noted that the tom seemed down and decided to seek out the reason why.
He found Nightshade sitting up on the flat roof, legs dangling over the edge. They’d collected lots of old potted plants and it now felt like a garden up on the roof. Nightshade was staring up at the full moons, one silvery and one orange. The thick hair flowed in the warm summer wind and he seemed to be far, far away from where he sat. Jon pulled the old velvet coat closer around his impressive bulky body and walked up next to Nightshade.
"What is it that bothers you so?"
At first he didn’t seem to reach through to the tom.
Nightshade sighed, "What is happening with us? We can’t stop...fighting. Arguing. The girls just seem to play with us, hissing and playing with us. Silk just hisses at me, only to suddenly rub all the way from my leg to my ears! Why, Jon?"
Jon sighed but couldn’t help chuckle afterwards. Nightshade’s head snapped around at him and his eyes seemed to burn in the moonlight.
"Well, my boy, you’re growing up. You are all experiencing what it is like to be adults. "
"What do you mean?"
Jon sat down with his back against the yard below, looking at him with a comforting smile, "You and your friends are the result of planned genetics. Fourteen years ago, you were all created for a specific purpose. I’ve been trying to find out why for many years, and whenever I have found out anything, I have told you. Remember that?"
Nightshade nodded, "Yes. I know we aren’t born by parents, except me and Brighteye."
"Correct. Now, you all grow a lot faster than a human. You may be 13 or 14 years old in time, but your minds and bodies are that of 18 year olds. You are all young adults, and your behavior reflects that. In time, there’ll be things happening that will be perhaps both scary and interesting."
"Jon, I’m not a fool. I know how the body works, thank you!"
"I know you do. You all know more about life and love than many other people around here. When the time comes, some of you might make a family and in a way settle down."
Nightshade smiled, shaking his head, "I’m barely out of kittenhood myself, and you talk about that?"
Jon nodded, a wide smile growing across his rounded face. "If I interpret your description of what happened this afternoon, you should keep close to Silk. She seems to like you a lot more than Fire or Dusk..."
Nightshade’s eyes lit up and he straightened his back.
"Do you really think so? That Silk likes me?"
"Why not? After all, you’re the strongest of the three and it’s in her instincts to aim for the best mate she can. I can’t say for sure, human as I am and my instincts almost wiped away. But be sure to be there when she makes up her mind. "
Jon reached out a hand and placed it on Nightshade’s shoulder, squeezing it gently. Night looked at him and then back at the hand before rubbing his chin against it. "Thanks, Jon. I needed to hear that. I’ll...be sure to keep my eyes open."
"Good. Sleep well, my boy."
Jon left him alone up on the roof. Somewhere in the distance Night’s ears picked up the police sirens, a child crying, dogs barking and someone shouting rude comments. With a determined "hmf!" he whirled around and jumped back down on the roof.
He returned inside. He climbed the steep stair back inside the theatre and back to the loft the five shared. But he didn’t go to the two toms to sleep for the night. Brighteye and Silk were awake, whispering and giggling about secrets. But they stopped when he reached their old mattress. Their own corner was cluttered with pillows, blankets and some old furniture. It all made a cozy and sheltered corner. The two glared at him, daring him to come any closer. Kittenish days and antics were over and they simply wanted to be left alone. Nightshade’s eyes narrowed a bit as he crouched down, looking at them. Silk and Brighteye wore the same old battered cut off jeans and their tight fitting tops showed off their generously curved bodies.
Brighteye drew back as her brother moved a little closer. Silk didn’t move and she hissed at him teeth gleaming in the light that the ceiling window let through. But that didn’t scare him off at all and made her feel confused. Her attempt at inflicting a pawswiping sting ended up with his black hand holding hers in a iron grip.
"Let me go, you..." she hissed. He completely ignored it and stole his life’s first kiss instead. Silk felt too baffled to react and stared back at him. A smile crept across Nightshade’s face as he released her and drew backwards away from them.
Silk started to reach out her hand after him but changed her mind and slowly touched her own lips. He had kissed her.... She traced her own lips with a finger, savoring the strange sensation. Nightshade got up and looked at her where she sat.
"Goodnight," he whispered and returned to the heap with the other two toms. Brighteye joined Silk’s side and looked at her and then back at Nightshade. Her friend’s face was covered with a cheesy grin as she curled up with her knees under her chin and wrapped her arms around them. Nightshade lay in the light of the moon and looked back at her. Then he lowered his head and sighed before drifting off to sleep.
To be continued.
Part 2: Time
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