by Mary E. Lowd
Through the glass of the door, Kipper saw the pointy ears and orange fur of her brother and sister. They faced the other way, seated at a table and watching a television screen on the wall. The screen showed a pug dog gesticulating wildly. Trudith and Lucky also sat at the table, but they seemed preoccupied with something Kipper couldn’t see.
Kipper opened the door quietly. Keith stood behind her. Before going in, Kipper stayed in the doorway and simply listened to the voices of these people she loved and hadn’t seen in so long.
“You really think this is funny?” Trudith woofed.
“Are you kidding?!” Petra meowed between hysterics of laughter. “Topher Brooke is a genius!”
Kipper recognized the pug dog on the screen now — a comedian who mocked anti-feline dogs by pretending to hate cats in the most outrageous ways.
“I don’t get it,” Trudith woofed. “He’s saying that it’ll be the worst thing in the world if Alistair wins, and you think that’s funny?”
“He’s being ironic,” Lucky said. “Or sarcastic. I think? It’s subtle. It’s a cat thing.”
A tiny meouwl wailed out from the floor; Kipper’s ears perked up in curiosity. Was that — a kitten? More tiny meouwls followed, and Kipper stepped forward into the room to see better.
Spread out on the floor by the table was an old cattery blanket that Kipper and her littermates had grown up sleeping under. It was worn and patched. Three kittens dressed in tiny kitten-sized fancy tunics were toddling about on it, batting at each other with clawful paws.
Kipper’s head tilted and her ears skewed. As she watched, Trudith and Lucky worked to separate the three kittens — two orange and one gray — from each other. Each of the dogs earned several scratches in the process, but the kittens eventually settled down into clawing a set of plush spaceships toys instead of each other.
Keith cleared his throat pointedly, and all the heads in the room turned to see Kipper standing in the doorway.
“Kipper!” Trudith shouted. She nearly knocked over three chairs on her way to engulf Kipper in the canine version of a bear hug.
Alistair and Petra played it cooler, but Kipper saw the sparkles in their eyes.
“Welcome back, Space Cat,” Alistair said.
Petra twisted one ear around provocatively and said, “I hear you melted Cat Haven.”
Kipper felt overwhelmed by emotion, but she didn’t want to be the first cat to show it. She said, “What’s up with the kittens?”
“Campaign ploy,” Petra quipped. “If we don’t win, Alistair will threaten to abandon them in a burning building until Morrison hands over the presidency. It’s Trudith’s idea.”
“I don’t think Morrison would care a fig’s worth about a litter of three adopted cattery kittens,” Alistair said drily. Petra and Alistair began arguing over the finer points of Morrison’s personal sense of ethics — or lack thereof.
Lucky, however, stepped forward and held out a paw to Kipper. The last time they’d seen each other, they’d been mere office mates, barely acquaintances. Now they were brother- and sister-in-law. Kipper held her paw out in return. Lucky clasped it warmly. Kipper felt the roughness of his paw pads, the wiry quality of his fur, and the dullness of his blunt dog’s claws.
“You’re an aunt now,” Lucky said. “Petra and I officially adopted Allison, Peter, and Robin shortly after the battle of Europa, but she wanted to wait and tell you in person.” Lucky looked at his wife, who was still deep in argument with her brother, and said, “I guess she wanted you to find out in person.”
Kipper knelt beside the cattery blanket and watched the three kittens. She had two nephews, the orange kits in little black and white tunics, and a gray-furred niece, dressed in a green brocade tunic much like a miniature of Kipper’s own. Lucky and Trudith both crouched on the floor with her, and she began telling them about her travels.
As Kipper and Trudith caught up with each other, excitement rose in the restaurant around them. Every few minutes, a dog or cat poked a head in to their back room to announce the results from a new district.
One district after another elected Alistair Brighton president — beating out both the competition and his own running mate. On the television screen, Petra and Alistair watched Topher Brooke’s faux misery escalate. He claimed he’d rather die than live in a country run by a cat and tried, ineffectively, to kill himself by eating his chair. Petra rolled on the floor with laughter. Alistair, however, looked increasingly serious and sober.
“This is good news,” Lucky said. “You want to be the president, right?”
Alistair nodded, but he didn’t say anything.
“Don’t worry about him,” Petra said, pulling herself together enough to climb back into her chair. “He’s just worried about the legal battle that Morrison has threatened us with if he wins.”
“I’m not worried about that,” Alistair said testily. His tail twitched irritably under the table. “I just feel bad letting down so many people when I decline.”
“WHAT?” Petra exploded.
“You can’t decline!” Trudith woofed.
Everyone barked and meowed at once. Everyone except Alistair, who waited calmly until the rest of them quieted down before he would speak.
“I will not tear this country apart with a drawn out legal battle.” His whiskers were set at a determined angle, and his gaze steady as he looked at each of his compatriots in turn. “I appreciate everything that has been done for me, and I appreciate what it means to those who have voted for me. But I don’t have the resources to defeat Mr. Morrison in the courts of law. If I step down gracefully, however, I may still be able to work with him as vice president. That was always my plan. Through this whole campaign, that has been my plan. No matter what the rest of you may have secretly had in mind.”
Each of them weighed Alistair’s words, a silence settling heavily over them. However, they heard through the walls as the rest of the restaurant exploded in caterwauls, barks of glee, and howls of anger. Kipper recognized Mr. Morrison’s voice rising above the rest, but she couldn’t make out his words.
“Has Morrison been out there all along?” she asked Trudith.
“Yeah,” Trudith said. “He and Alistair have kept their distance from each other for the last few days, ever since the final Hero of Europa video came out — as much as possible, anyway, given all their joint political commitments. That’s why we’re in here. Out of sight, you know.”
“Who’s been making those videos?” Kipper asked, and suddenly Trudith looked like she would burst with pride. “Ah,” Kipper said. “That explains how they got all that footage of us.”
“Are you really going to decline?” Trudith asked Alistair with a look of disappointment in her brown dog’s eyes that could haunt the most hardened, cynical cat to the end of his days.
Alistair was neither hardened nor cynical, but he managed to nod his assent. “I have to,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do.”
In the awkward silence that ensued, Trugger finally found it suitable to make his way into their back room and begin introducing himself to the glum group of Kipper’s friends and family he found there. He began regaling them with stories about the Jolly Barracuda.
Trugger started with a retelling of Captain Cod’s highly fictionalized version of how Kipper had joined their crew. He followed that with a completely factual explanation of how he’d found Ordol the octopus slave hiding in the Jolly Barracuda’s kitchen, squeezed into a drawer of spatulas to avoid piloting Brighton’s Destiny into the battle of Europa. Octopi are strange enough that stories about them don’t need any embellishment. However, neither story elicited much encouragement from his audience, and Trugger seemingly realized something was up.
“Gosh, you’re a quiet bunch,” he said. “All the cats and dogs out there are a lot more worked up over the election results.”
“Is it over then?” Alistair asked, looking surprised.
Petra began arguing vociferously in favor of Alistair fighting for his presidency, but Trudith stood up and stared her down. “Let him do what he thinks is right. That’s why we all voted for him.” Then one of the kittens started mewling, and Trudith was suddenly busy calming a tiny orange feline. Trudith was good at soothing angry orange cats.
“The scuttlebutt out there,” Trugger said, rocking on his paw pads, “is that Alistair wouldn’t have won today if it weren’t for all the media excitement about us–” Trugger pointed over at Kipper and then back at himself, “–travelling down to this shindig. A show of support from the heroes of Europa and all that. Good timing, eh? The early bird wins the election.”
Alistair and Petra looked like they were actually trying to understand Trugger’s bird metaphor, so Kipper tried to save them a headache and said, “Don’t think too hard about it.”
“Look,” Alistair said, after giving his head a good shake to get the bird metaphor out, “if all the polls are in and I’ve won, then I need to get out there and make my speech stepping down. The longer I put it off, the more turmoil there will be.” Alistair’s whiskers drooped, but his eyes looked determined.
All around the room, ears sank to half mast and tails hung limply that had earlier wagged in happiness. Then a voice that none of them expected broke into the room.
“Like hell you will,” said Morrison standing in the door.
Keith stood beside Morrison and said, “I think you all need to take a closer look at the results.” Keith pointed at the television screen they’d all been ignoring.
The comedian Topher Brooke was drawing floppy ears and a lolling tongue on a picture of Alistair, but, more importantly, the marquis scrolling along the bottom of the screen showed the exact breakdown of the election.
Brighton/Morrison had won at 39%. Followed by Jankowski/Dorowitz at 37%. The final 24% went to Morrison/Brighton.
“My legal aides tell me,” Morrison said, “that I could easily make the case that the votes for you should be thrown out, and you wouldn’t have the resources to fight me.” Morrison ran his paws over the fluff of mane that burst out of the collar of his suit. He looked ruffled and unhappy. “Apparently, it would be much harder to make the case that they should be counted as votes for me.”
Alistair’s posture changed subtly. He looked more lively, more alert. “You mean…”
“I mean,” Morrison huffed, “if I fight you, I get nothing. If I throw my support behind you, well…” His voice thickened into a gruff grumble. “I would be honored to be your vice president, sir.” Morrison held out a paw, and Alistair didn’t hesitate to take it.
Around the room, tails wagged and ears stood tall. Trudith handed the orange kitten she’d been coddling to Lucky and stood up to join Alistair. It was time to be Alistair’s guard not Petra’s nanny.
Keith led the way out, staying close to Morrison. Trudith followed, clearing the way as she led her alpha cat toward the stage set up in the back of the restaurant to make his speech. She’d never looked prouder or like she felt more important. She was a good dog working for a good cat, who was about to become the president of their country. He would be everyone’s alpha cat now.