Wednesday, June 1, 2011


This is a concept that was birthed from the "Life after People" show on The History Channel. Essentially, as our metropolises decayed, skyscrapers would become vibrant micro-ecologies. As windows shattered and fell out, dirt and seeds would find their way in, creating gardens 15 stories up. Birds would be the obvious inhabitants, but insects and rats would also dominate, living off plastics, woods, and insulation. As the joists and beams deteriorated , the whole structure would become too unsound for any large animal, and would require significant climbing ability to negotiate. The apex predator of this new ecological niche? Cats.

In my post-apoc setting, Manhattan Island was abandoned, and all the bridges blown. As water levels rose, the edges of the island became submerged under up to 6 feet of water, with skyscrapers towering above these channels. Skyscrapers ruled by cats. And, over the years, the cats had...changed.

Teesa woke and stretched, digging her claws into the fibers of the carpet. This room was one of the few in this tower that still had carpet. The downside, of course, being that it had no windows.

There was a rustle outside, and she heard a low cry at the door. With a heavy sigh, she pushed at the door, admitting Kopur. He was from her older litter, but didn't seem to be in any hurry to grow up. "Momma, momma," he cried, "Mother Nager wants to see you right now! Peum says there's humans heading into the city again!"

Well, at least she'd been able to properly wake up first. Humans were trouble. All they wanted was to loot what they could reach. The problem was the lower levels of the towers had been pretty thoroughly looted by prior generations of humans. To get to anything even half-usable required either climbing or swimming. Since humans aren't any better at swimming than cats, that usually meant climbing.

Unfortunately, humans were considerably worse than cats at climbing. Whenever the humans came around, things got broken.

Teesa languidly strolled through the dawn light over to Ma's room. The coming autumn was starting to turn the leaves already, and the next tower over was a very striking display. Hopefully that would make the humans pick that one. Serve old Ceefo right.

There was a screech from Ma's room, and three young toms came streaking out. Damn, thought Teesa, she's in a mood. I'd better not dawdle anymore.

Nager was chewing at a rat when Teesa came in. Her legs were twisted at an odd angle. Clearly, her hip was bothering her again. "Teesa!" she snapped, the edge of the pain in her voice. "There are humans down there. If they break the Silver Bridge again, we'll have a devil of a time getting to the water's edge."

Teesa yawned casually, and began cleaning herself. "And what would you like me do, Ma? Hiss at them? You know we can't match the humans for strength. Especially not with their guns."

"Fix it, girl!" the old cat screeched. "Fixing problems like that is what earned you that cozy room. Or, if you can't, I can always put you back on huntress duty. I know how much you love that."

Teesa froze, paw in mouth. Nager was in just foul enough a mood to do something like that, too. Damn it, she was supposed to be past all this. She was still supposed to riding the success of rigging up a raincatcher on the roof.

Nothing to do, though, but humor Nager. If she could at least scare the humans off before they broke anything, Ma would likely consider that a victory.

After looking over the edge and verifying that the humans were coming far too close to her building, Teesa went down. In the interest of time, she took one of the chimneys. It was hard work climbing down the cables, but it was fast. the fact that she was one of the few cats who could manage it had helped her on more than one occasion.

She dropped out on the last open floor, three stories above the entrance to the building. The floor gaped open in ragged wounds. She negotiated around the hole, careful not too snag her paws on any of the sharp edges. With practiced ease, she slipped over the side, and into the between. This between was used by the cats a lot, so had very little insect or rat filth. She glided noiselessly down the aluminum corridor, until coming to the opening she sought.

This was the trickiest bit. Ten feet below her was a lattice work made of thin rails and large holes. On some of the rails was not-ice, treacherous to land on and very sharp on the edges. If she missed the rail, or slipped off, it was another ten feet to the mucky water below. Even aside from the muck, there were probably snakes down there.

Teesa drew in a deep breath, and squared up her haunches. She'd done this leap a dozen times before, and never fallen. Her feline muscles bunched, then released. She sailed through the air at her chosen rail. She landed with a grace that made the whole thing seem effortless. If only there were spectators to whom it would seem so. Ah, well, this was work, not games.

The cat stepped quickly and surely along the thin rails to the Silver Bridge. It was glowing in the morning light, stretching from the edge of the lattice out into space, then plunging down into the water. Teesa had just put her paw on the first of the Bridge's black steps, when she saw the flicker.

A rope had sailed out, just barely into her view. It looped around one of the round rocks next to the big door. It pulled tight, and a moment later the flat-bottomed barge came into view. Instinctively, Teesa pulled close against one side of the Bridge. Four humans were aboard, but only one looked like he was carrying a gun. It might be possible to scare them after all.

The cat retreated from the stairs, her original plan a bust. She moved rapidly to a spot near the great tree that grew out of the muck below. With practiced voice, she began to yowl. She put all she had into being as loud and unearthly as she could manage.

The terrible cries of the feline reverberated around the great marble-lined entryway. The spot she had chosen had perfect acoustics to create echoes that distorted the sound, making it almost impossible to notice that it was a common cat's cry. The humans blanched, fearing that they had disturbed a ghost. They had just gotten out of the boat, and now scrambled to get back in. Teesa noted with satisfaction that they were pushing the boat back out into the slightly deeper water in the center of the channel.

Wait, one of them was yelling something. And waving. He looked angry and scared. He was only supposed to be scared.

"Hello, kitty," said a voice unlike any Teesa had ever heard. She jumped six feet in the air, landing on a patch of not-ice. She sprawled around, desperately clutching at the edges to keep from falling.

The smallest of the humans casually walked across the lattice, and reached out to touch Teesa. She scrambled to get her feet under her, so she could get away. Then, that voice again. "Aww, I'm not going to hurt you, kitty. You just sounded so lonely."

Teesa looked up and realized, with horror, that the voice was coming from the young human.

Her claws finally got purchase, and she bolted for the stairs back to the upper levels, and safety.

Nearly an hour later, she peeked back out into the entryway. The humans appeared to be arguing. The young boy was sitting on the black stairs of the Silver Bridge. It looked like he had been fighting with one of the bigger humans, as blood was visible on his face and shirt.

As quietly and carefully as she could, Teesa made her way back over to the head of the Bridge. She heard a quiet chirrup, and looked up to see Peum looking down from the between. She didn't even know the old tom could still negotiate the chimney. It was nice to have backup, to take the tale back to Nager and the others if nothing else.

Unfortunately, the boy seemed to have, improbably, heard the chirrup, too. He quietly stood up and started climbing the Bridge. It creaked gently under his weight, but held. Teesa was nearly panicking again. There was no place to hide here. But, she had to find out what kind of demon cat this was that walked about in human form.

The boy spotted Teesa as he got to the top of the Bridge. He knelt down, and slowly extended his hand. "Here kitty, kitty. I don't have a treat, but I won't hurt you, either." The voice was uncanny. Teesa noted with some grim satisfaction that the sound of it had made Peum run, too.

She decided there was nothing to do but try and talk back. "Don't come any closer, boy," she said, using her best mother voice. The threat was completely empty, as she doubted she could actually do more than annoy even a small human. But, it never hurt to attempt an air of authority.

The boy stopped, clearly startled. He hooted at her briefly, in the sounds that humans used to communicate. Then, changed back to proper speech. "What did you say?"

"I said, stay over there. We're in a position where I don't think I could hurt you without dropping us both into the muck below. I don't want that, and I'm pretty sure you don't either. But, to my mind, it's a lot better than letting you grab me. What's your name, boy?"

The young human was clearly at least as startled by this conversation as the cat. "Rufus," he replied. "My name is Rufus. How are you talking to me? None of the cats back home ever talked back to me."

Teesa relaxed marginally. Apparently Rufus was telling the truth about not wanting to harm her. "I have no idea how I'm talking to you. I've never heard a human speak proper speech before. I can assure you that it's nothing I've done. I just want you all to go away." So long as she was speaking from authority, she might as well slip in a suggestion to get what she really wanted.

Rufus grunted and furrowed his brow. "Well, I'm a listener. Or, at least, I will be, when I finish growing up. Right now, I just have a gift for languages. I can talk to anything. But, most of them don't talk back. Turns out dumb animals are still dumb, even when you can talk to them. I don't think you're dumb, though. You sound too much like Mrs. Easly for that."

"I don't think I'm dumb either," Teesa replied, still trying to find the handle that this conversation must have somewhere. "Have you ever talked to any of the cats in the other buildings? Are the cats where you come from ruled by Council or King? How tall is your building?"

More grunts and furrows, punctuated by what almost seemed like whimpers. Teesa wondered if the boy was switching back to human speech. Then, he spoke, hesitantly. "I don't know what you're talking about. We don't have any kings or any councils, just the mayor and his cops. My house is, um, I guess about three times as tall as me. Maybe four times. I haven't climbed to the roof in ages." The conversation was interrupted by hooting and cries from the humans below, who had already gotten back in their boat, and were preparing to untie their rope. Rufus cried back to them, but didn't move.

Teesa mulled over what he'd said. The whole island was divided by those who followed King Michael or Queen Shadow in the north and east, and those who followed their own Councils in the south and west. Teesa didn't even know what a mayor was, though the word "cop" sounded familiar. And a building no bigger than four of this boy's height? Crazy! Well, she'd heard of a few like that, in the Park. Nobody lived in them, though. They weren't safe in a storm.

Suddenly, the boy cried out in alarm, and began running down the Silver Bridge. The whole lattice work began swaying alarmingly, groaning under his weight. Teesa heard the sharp pings of some connections giving way. She began yowling in earnest. The boy leapt across the missing stairs at the bottom, splashing into the muck. He waded through, his pants and shoes rapidly covered in the stuff. He was still yelling at the retreating boat as it rounded a corner and disappeared from sight.

A few minutes later, and everything was quiet again. The lattice work held, though the shards of several pieces of not-ice now made strange hollows in the muck below. Teesa had calmed down. The only sound was the small sniffling coming from Rufus' crying. He may be a big brute, Teesa thought, but he was also still just a child. And a child with knowledge of what lay beyond the Great Rivers. Nager would want to meet him. The Council would want to meet him. The King and Queen would want to meet him. Teesa would never have to hunt again! If she could just get the boy to come with her...

"Rufus," she called, somewhat tentatively. "Rufus, are you okay? You shouldn't stand in the muck. There might be snakes down there. Why don't you come back up here? In fact, since the other humans have left, why don't I take you upstairs? We can find a meal, you can meet some other cats. It will be nice. Certainly nicer than going back on that nasty boat. You won't believe the wonders we have, right here in this building!"

Rufus turned and plodded his way back up the stairs. It wasn't exactly enthusiasm, but he was doing what Teesa told him to. This could work! Official Liaison to the Bigger Species. That sounded like a good title. The title of someone who had others hunt for her. She just had to keep the human happy. She rubbed against his leg, forcing a purr. A little muck in her fur now would be well worth it later.

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