Thursday, September 21, 2017

9/21/17

The Truth of It All
By David Castlewitz


Hunkered down behind a pile of rotting vegetables, Boris extended his claws and prepared to fight his way free. He thought he could evade the three black-striped gray felines patrolling the dark alley, scamper up a nearby wooden fence and make a break for freedom. After that? He didn't know. The surrounding cat colonies wouldn't welcome him. Just as his own, King Raymond's Troupe, never allowed interlopers into their midst.
Maybe the cats he watched from his hiding place weren't hunting him. Well-fed and well-groomed, the three were prime examples of the Enforcers King Raymond liked to keep around. Their whiskers twitched. They sniffed the air. They arched their backs. And they were silent.
Boris hoped they sought intruders, felines native to the planet who'd stumbled into the area, abandoned pets that humans dropped off at the mouth of the alley in the hope that the other feline denizens of the city would take them in.
King Raymond's Troupe, a mix of home world clans according to Old-T, controlled a small amount of territory. They had half the length of a back alley and the entire basement room of an abandoned factory building. Enforcers kept trespassers out. They also kept the peace. Which meant, no one could tell a counter-story about their origins. What Boris said earlier that night caused chaos, with every cat in the troupe screaming for his blood. Their spitting and hissing had sent him fleeing, sent him into hiding in the darkest, deepest parts of the king's domain.
"Old-T doesn't know everything," Boris often said to anyone who'd listen.
Mably, a sleek gray-haired cat with blue eyes promised Boris her love in spite of what he said about the troupe. Peers, they'd met as kittens and mated three times in the past two years.
"I don't like sending them for schooling," Boris complained after their first litter of three black-and-gray striped kittens. "Old-T fills their heads with lies."
Maybly countered with, "We don't really have a choice."
All kittens attended the school headed by Old-T, who claimed to be a survivor of the crash that brought their kind to this world.
"What were you?" Boris once asked the old cat. "First mate of the ship?"
Nearby kittens, all of them close to graduation, mewed with laughter, which earned them a slap on the head by Old-T's proctors.
"Just a mate, Boris. A young mate in the galley. I never claimed to be important aboard ship."
For a long time Boris never voiced what he really believed. But then he told Maybly; and she shuddered with fear afterwards, warning him that he preached a blasphemy too terrible to be said out loud.
Boris bided his time, and waited for the right moment to tell the counter-story that had churned and gurgled at the back of his mind for many years. He dreamt about it. He told it to himself with his mental voice, as though he needed to practice before making the big announcement.
Which he'd do. And soon. Perhaps at the monthly gathering when King Raymond held court and awarded graduation ribbons to the most recent batch of adolescents, near-adult cats ready to take their place in Raymond's growing troupe.
"Don't," Maybly warned. "They'll run you off."
Months passed; but he knew he couldn't keep quiet forever. Even without proof, his version of their genesis was compelling. It held as much truth as Old-T's tale.
"Keep it to yourself," Maybly cautioned, sidling up to Boris and rubbing her sleek body against his.
"I can't," he said. "I have to tell the troupe. Do you want every litter we have to grow up believing a lie?"
"Maybe your version is the lie."
Boris shook his head. Something had been planted in his brain, perhaps at birth, and that "something" had matured.
At the monthly gathering, with the graduating kittens lined up to receive their ribbons, bright blue woven threads like the tattered one Old-T wore around his neck, with the proctors standing by, preening, and King Raymond poised on an overturned bucket so he was higher than anyone else, his harem of females gathered behind him, Boris approached.
"I have to speak," he said. "King. Teacher." He glanced warily at Raymond, a large orange feline, a big-boned male with hard yellow eyes. The king often let his subjects speak at these gatherings. If they obeyed the rules of decorum, tails up, claws held in. If they first brushed his paws with their tongue, Raymond let them have their say.
Some speakers complained about the inequity of the food distribution. Or they claimed, the Enforcers didn't do enough to keep outsiders at bay. Once or twice a female leveled charges against Old-T, accusing him of disregarding the special needs of some of his pupils.
Boris licked Raymond's paws in customary salute, and then paced back and forth, summoning courage, stifling a tremor in his voice.
"It isn't true," Boris announced. "What Old-T has taught us."
His audience hissed.
Boris continued. "We are not the remnants of space-faring felines that enslaved bipeds similar to the humans we find here. We didn't command other species to build the ships in which we explored the cosmos. We never ruled our home world. Nothing of what we've been taught is true."
Out of the corner of his eye, Boris saw King Raymond glaring. Old-T shut his eyes. To shut out the truth, perhaps?
Boris' thoughts flashed on the grown cats he'd seen pushed from cars near the alley's mouth, some wearing ribbons like the one encircling Old-T's neck. He pictured kittens mewing in fright and mother cats in cardboard boxes with newborns about to die.
"We were not the ones who ruled the ship that brought us to this planet," Boris said. "We are the descendants of pets. Pets! Pets that our masters abandoned and left behind."


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After a long and successful career as a software developer and technical architect, David has turned to a first love: SF, fantasy, and magical realism. He's published stories in Phase 2, Farther Stars Than These, SciFan, Martian Wave, Flash Fiction Press and other online as well as print magazines. Visit his web site: http://www.davidsjournal.com to learn more and for links to his Kindle books on Amazon.

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