by Mary E. Lowd
The bus stop sign and shelter were in front of a giant, white church. The Church of the First Race was an historical building, preserved from the time when humans still walked the Earth. It dwarfed the taller but smaller-scale high-rises around it. It was the oldest building in New LA. Kipper had been inside once and sat on the monstrous pews, but, like most cats, she didn’t feel comfortable with First Race doctrine. It was a dog religion — they preached that humans, the First Race, had left Earth as emissaries to the stars and would return to bring all the peoples of Earth into a confederation of interstellar sentience. Someday.
Maybe that’s why the dogs hadn’t developed space travel themselves yet. They had an amusement park on the moon, but they had to borrow otter technology to put it there and lease otter technology to keep it running. That’s right, the otters surprised everyone and were the second race to make it off of their native rock. Except, unlike humans, they didn’t just disappear. They filled the skies with space stations and space ships. By all accounts, they liked it better up there. Kipper wondered if she’d like it better up there too.
But cats don’t go into space. They live in the inner-cities, working low-paying jobs, and the dogs like it that way. A poor cat is a controlled cat, but now that the average cat income was increasing, for the first time since cats won the right to vote, dogs were getting scared.
As Kipper looked around her, she twitched the tip of her tail nervously. There were three cats waiting at the bus stop, in addition to her and her sister Petra. And one Chihuahua on a cell phone.
Petra was an orange tabby, and she had the erratic temper to match her coloring. Sometimes Kipper was jealous of Petra’s brightly colored stripes, as she, herself, was the most common of all kinds of cats. A plain gray tabby. Petra’s bold coloring came with a bold personality, as if the bright, angry color of her fur branded Petra down to her very soul. Sometimes Kipper was jealous of that too. Yet, it came with a price. Petra could be unpredictable. Uncontrollable. Even for herself.
“How did I get myself into this?” Petra asked Kipper, barely loud enough for the words to whisper past her whiskers.
Before Kipper could answer with the long story of how Petra and their brother Alistair had stayed up late, drinking spiked cream and egging each other on, challenging each other with greater and greater outrage over the system…
“I guess I’d best get on with it,” Petra said. The moment of lucid uncertainty gone, Petra stepped closer to the bus stop. She stared at each of the cats in turn, trying to catch the eyes of their fellow commuters. The tabby in the rain slicker flattened his ears; the fat Jellicle on the bench gave her a blank stare; and, the other tabby simply looked away. The Chihuahua smiled with friendly, sparkly eyes. Petra probably could have struck up a conversation with him if he weren’t on the phone. Maybe the other cats would have listened in.
Since that wasn’t an option, Petra drew a deep breath between her teeth and set her eyes on the Jellicle. Kipper watched in awe as Petra stalked straight up to him, sat her fiery orange self down on the bench beside his black and white splotched girth, and said, “My name’s Petra Brighton, and I’m running for district representative.”
Petra stuck out her paw and the Jellicle stared at it dumbly. “Don’t you think it’s time we had more cats in the government?” Petra said.
The Jellicle’s eyes widened and darted to either side. He clearly felt put on the spot. Kipper could sympathize. She felt equally embarrassed watching the situation. No one likes a politician. But if some cat didn’t do the job, all cats would pay the price… At least, that’s what Petra and Alistair kept telling her.
“There’s that one Abyssinian bloke,” the Jellicle finally hazarded, clearly hoping Petra would go away. “Isn’t he a senator?”
“Senator Adinew,” Kipper offered.
“Yes,” Petra said. “Adinew’s doing good work. But, surely, one senator out of forty-six is hardly representative of California’s feline population…” Petra raised her voice, speaking more loudly than sounded natural. It was terribly embarrassing, but, clearly, she was hoping to catch the other cats’ attention. Kipper was deeply glad that she hadn’t let Alistair talk her into being the figurehead for Petra. If Petra wanted to change the government, let her do it herself.
“Here in the central district, especially,” Petra semi-shouted, “we cats outnumber dogs nearly four to one, but twice as many dogs vote as cats in every single election. Did you realize that?”
The Jellicle cat shook his head, and the tabby in the rain slicker kept shooting them furtive glances. He looked annoyed, but Kipper supposed that, inelegant as Petra’s methods might be, she was getting her message across. It was good that the other cats were listening.
Petra had launched into her campaign speech full throttle by now: “Cats have been gaining power and influence in this country and the world like never before. There are multi-billionaire cats and cats with important jobs in internationally valuable companies.” Petra stood up and held her paws out in a gesture of decisiveness. “But we don’t have sufficient representation in government to protect the ground we’re gaining.”
Kipper could see the bus approaching out of the corner of her eye and realized she was relieved. She was happy that Petra was being heard, but it was hard to be too happy. This would all keep getting worse as the campaign went on.
The bus was a block away now, and Petra must have seen it too. She started wrapping her speech up. “If we don’t stand up for our rights,” she said, a stridency in her voice that grated against Kipper’s ears, “then the dogs are going to lock us down worse than we ever had it before feline suffrage. The right to vote doesn’t mean a thing unless you use it. Here…” Petra started rifling through her bag, but Kipper had already taken the fliers out. She held them out to Petra who took them as the bus pulled up to the curve, splashing muddy water on the tabby’s rain slicker. The Jellicle waddled his way off the bench, looking more than a little relieved.
“Have a flier,” Petra said, pushing a cheap xerox toward the Jellicle who was much too large to become invisible, and clearly regretted that. “It’ll tell you all about the laws the dogs are trying to slide under our whiskers this election. Here, you too…”
Petra pawned off fliers to each of the three reluctant cats. The Chihuahua reached out a paw to accept one too, but he took his eagerly. The cell phone was still pressed into his pointed, catlike ear, and Kipper wondered if he’d been listening or if he thought it was the flier for a rock band.
“That went pretty well,” Petra said, falling in next to Kipper.
“Sure,” Kipper said, unenthusiastically. But when she looked over at her sister, she could see that Petra’s fur was slightly fluffed. “It went fine,” she said, bumping her shoulder against Petra’s as they boarded the bus. “Even that dog wanted your flier.”
On the bus, Petra was clearly sizing up the situation. She’d been speaking quite loudly in her conversation with the Jellicle, but Kipper didn’t think it would be enough for Petra to make herself heard on the bus. There were too many black labs jocularly arguing over last night’s scramball scores. Kipper was relieved when Petra relaxed into her seat. Hopefully that would be the end of her campaigning until after work.
Kipper supported her sister’s decision to run for office one hundred percent, but, honestly, thinking about political issues made her head spin. It made her tired, and she didn’t want to hear about it any more.
For the first time ever, a few cats could afford the prohibitively expensive cost of a trip into space and a stay at Moonville Funpark. Kipper wasn’t one of them. In fact, the number of cats who could was practically countable on Kipper’s claws. It was small, but it was symbolic. And the dogs were worried. So, Senator Morrison — a fundamentalist, right-wing Sheltie with an inferiority complex — had proposed a new law banning cats from space travel.
To Petra’s infuriation and Kipper’s disappointment, the bill was working its way, against little resistance, through the legislature. There simply weren’t enough cats in the government to oppose it. And, worse, most cats didn’t seem to care. Petra, on the other paw, was incensed; she and Kipper had dreamed about saving up their money and visiting the otter space stations among the stars since kittenhood. If Senator Morrison’s law passed, it would be the end of that dream.
Kipper couldn’t understand the other cats’ attitudes. As Petra was always saying, “Sure, dogs are too doggarned busy worshipping humans to make it into space, but what’s our people’s excuse?” Kipper had to wonder: what would happen if cats started building space-stations of their own? Making alliances with the otters? Who knew what wonderful havoc they could wreak? No wonder dogs like Senator Morrison were scared.
With two stops to go, Kipper overheard something that made her perk up her ears and turn the left one towards the pair of cats in the seat behind her.
“I’m telling you,” a silky voice said, “cats will never be equals on this world.”
Kipper was glad that Petra didn’t seem to hear. She looked across the bus and managed to catch sight of the speaker’s reflection in the opposite window: it was a svelte, well-dressed, champagne colored Burmese.
“What’re you saying?” the Burmese’s seat-mate said. “We should just resign ourselves to being second-class citizens?” Kipper guessed the Burmese’s friend was a Tonkinese, but it was hard to tell from the ghostly window-glass reflection.
“I’m saying we should get out of here. There’s a place…” The Burmese looked around her, ears turning in all directions, and her voice lowered. Kipper strained to hear the whispered words, but it was no use. One of the black labs had started singing a scramball chant, bobbing his floppy-eared head in time. Soon, he had several rows of dogs chanting with him. When they got up and started dancing, the bulldog bus-driver had to shout at them. “Back in your seats!” he bellowed.
Petra was bristling beside Kipper. Another moment, and Petra might have been the one yelling at the dogs, rather than the bus-driver. Thank goodness for good bus-drivers.
Usually Kipper would have been annoyed by the dogs’ noisy antics too, but she was still thinking about what she’d overheard the Burmese cat say. Where did the Burmese think cats could go that wasn’t on this world? The otters’ space-stations? Without changing the laws down here, would cats be anything more than refugees up there? If so, would it be better being second class citizens to waterdogs rather than normal ones? Kipper didn’t have time to continue pondering these question: the bus was at her stop.
The Chihuahua, no longer on his cell phone, got off of the bus ahead of Petra and Kipper. He was talking to a big, ol’ Chow, and the two of them were looking at Petra’s flier. The folds of fur around the Chow’s face made him look angry to Kipper, but Chows always looked angry to Kipper. She knew she wasn’t good at reading dogs’ emotions.
As the bus pulled away, Kipper saw the Chihuahua pointing Petra out to the Chow. The Chow looked Petra up and down, and then Kipper. Unless Kipper was seriously deceiving herself, he was glaring at her. She smiled up at him; his height and bulk was intimidating. There were a lot of other dogs and cats around, but none of them looked like they would interfere if the Chow wanted to cause trouble.
“You the cats with this flier?” he barked.
Kipper nodded, trying her best to look demure, but Petra’s temper was flaring. “Absolutely,” she intoned. “What of it?”
The Chow sniffed. “Cats got no business in government,” he said, gruffly.
Arguing with dogs is a lost cause, but, even though she knew it was a mistake, Kipper couldn’t hold her tongue. She had to defend her sister. “Cats have as much right to run for office as you have,” she said.
The Chow didn’t reply, but his eyes became narrowed slits. The Chihuahua was bouncing from one paw to the other, nervously adding distance between him and the impending disturbance. But, if Kipper and the Chihuahua thought Kipper was bucking for a pounding, they had no idea what inflammatory words Petra had balanced on the tip of her tongue.
“No, no, Kipper. He’s right,” she said. “These dogs have messed the government up so badly, they don’t deserve our help.”
Other dogs and cats began to gather around watching.
“But,” Petra concluded, narrowing her eyes back at the Chow, “I’m willing to overlook that.”
Kipper eyed the situation, — all the fuming dogs and the crazed looking Chow especially. She realized she was watching a mob form, and Petra’s performance might earn worse than a mere beating.
Well, if they were on a stage, that wasn’t the performance Kipper wanted to put on. She hastily looked over the area available to her. Usually, she and Petra would walk down two blocks and then over three more to Luna Tech Industries. However, the alley behind them would work too, and it was littered with discarded cans and broken bottles. Petra might not be able to dodge a Chow’s fisted paw, but Kipper was pretty sure she could dodge thrown cans and bottles.
So, she changed the rules of the game.
Making sure she had enough distance between her and the gathering mob, Kipper crouched down in the alley and picked a mostly unbroken bottle. She thought about what she was about to do, and she could feel the adrenaline start coursing through her body. It made her shaky, but she stood up, holding the green glass bottle anyway.
“Hey, dog!” she yelled. All of the dogs and most of the cats turned to look at her, but it was the Chow’s mean gaze Kipper returned. Her resolve almost wilted under the Chow’s angry look, but she held firm, shouting the best taunt she could think up. “Be glad it’s my sister running for office, not me — if I was in government, I’d make dogs like you wear leashes!”
The Chow growled, deep in his throat, but a couple of the other dogs laughed and a few cats applauded. Oddly, the Chihuahua was among them. Kipper couldn’t appreciate the success of her quip for long though. The Chow was heading toward her. It was time to introduce the new rules of the game.
Kipper flung the green glass bottle. It arched smoothly through the air, twisting as it flew, and landed two feet in front of the Chow. Shards of glass flew at him, but he was unharmed. And disturbingly unfazed.
Kipper took a step backward, watching the Chow to see if he’d follow her lead and pick up a bottle. He snarled, but Kipper rejoiced as he leaned down to pick up a second bottle from among the debris in the alley. Kipper caught her sister’s eye and jerked her head to the side, hoping Petra would understand and get the hell out of there. Whether she did or not, it was time for Kipper to make a run for it. The Chow had chosen a ragged bottle and was hefting it, feeling its weight, preparing to fling it at her.
Kipper ducked as the bottle flew past her. Its glass smashed on the pavement behind her. The shattering sound was like fireworks in her ears. While the Chow groped for another bottle, Kipper made her escape. She pivoted around, dropped to all fours, and hastily loped away. Glass broke again as she ran, and her ears flattened from the sudden sound. Worse, the shards bounced over the damp sidewalk, creating a minefield that stung the pads of her running feet.
Continue on to Chapter 2…