The other day I was going through my parents’ old lock box and, along with our birth certificates, their wedding rings and other assorted family heirloom jewelry, my mom’s wallet, old report cards, etc., I came across this short story on eight yellowed 6″ x 8 1/2″ sheets of paper, hand-written by my father. I’d have to guess that it was probably written some time in the 1950s or 1960s.
Richard Lee Meyer, Sr.
Looking at the shining object in the middle of the plain, the Dog turned to his companion. “It must be a work of the Cats,” he said, grimacing. A vague gleam of hatred shone in his eyes. Long millennia of instinct could not be forgotten.
His companion, cursing the inconvenience of night duty, said dully, “So what? It’s beyond our area anyway.” He was thinking of his beautiful, red-coated she who might be even now busy with some mongrel. He growled low and swore silently.
Life in the village was like that. The shes had very little loyalty, especially when in heat. Only those who were descended from the Foxes could remain loyal, but they were of the aristocracy and no common soldier had any right to them. Thousands of years after the crushing hand of Man had gone, the Dogs had learned to walk upright and think rationally. Their mores had changed little, however, and fighting over the females was often bitter and bloody, sometimes fatal. Only the aristocratic Foxes were different. They had allied themselves with the Dogs, but had remained monogamists. Their cunning and intelligence, with the help of the powerful and cruel Wolves, had made them rulers of the canine communities that sprang up on earth. They had tried to enforce marriage laws, but the Dogs had remained morally corrupt. Besides, their Wolf police were no better, and enforcement became impossible. Only the more intelligent could see the reason behind it, and few practiced it on their own. The Foxes could not stand rebellion at any rate because of the constant war with the Cats.
The Cats were only a few generations behind the Dogs, although their morals were even worse. Their intelligence and strength had made them formidable enemies. The war was unending and now that metals had been discovered, the battles were terrifying. Only instinct kept the war going.
A few other species had reached their intelligences. The Pigs, who were more or less ignored by the Dogs and Cats. They were indifferent to the whole thing anyway. Besides, they lived in swamps and lowlands that neither of the others cared for. In the forests, the Raccoons were the masters. Dogs and Cats rarely ventured forestward unless heavily armed and alert. In two areas, the Elephant had become, or remained king. Unlike the others, he had never had to learn to walk upright. His sensitive trunk had become an efficient hand, and his tremendous bulk made him a builder of great cities and tremendous works. Only the pesky Anthropoids challenged him there, withg a few of the great Felines. In isolated areas, the Horse had found its own, but its intelligence was limited because of its slow evolution. They were considered stupid by the other Races, and remained unknown to some. Of course, the Elephant remained unknown to great areas of the other Races’ domain, particularly North and South America. Man was virtually unknown. They had begun their exodus nearly a million years before and only a scattered few had remained. In the rain forests of Africa and South America, the savage tribes of Negroes and Indians had remained. They managed to survive, but progressed very little, except for the revival of the Incas’ culture. The great war had destroyed all Man’s technology, and the struggle was so uphill that the animals at last had a chance to develop their latent intelligences. Only the aborigines of Australia were able to escape the challenge of an animal intelligence rivaling them. The dingo had developed only in companionship with the men who were there. The white and yellow races had gone. Those that survived the war had migrated to the stars and had not been heard of since. Only the mounds of their great cities remained. They remained untouched by the new Races, as they were known to have killed many warriors on contact in the old days. Generations had passed since the radiation had died off, but the taboo remained. Even the insects left them alone.
The two sentries were slightly agitated by the presence of this huge, shining cylinder. surely the Cats were not able to do this. Pigs would never be that ambitious. Coons were far away in the forests. What was it then, for surely intelligent hands had made it? H’raf, the first of the guards, being more curious and bright than his sensuous companion, H’rat, became even more worried as the night wore on. The Cats were not far away, and the sector he was patrolling tonight was in the direction of Cat territories. The shining thing apparently had fire within it because light streamed through a hole in the side of it. The object was fully a mile away, but the Dogs’ eyes had all the keenness of his long forgotten ancestors. It was not far, but unsafe for two lone sentries while a war was on.
About an hour before relief, H’raf noticed a great square open in the side of the shining thing. He halted and stared as very tiny figures seemed to come out of it. What marvel was this? A new kind of metal hut? Why did not the dwellers get consumed by the fire? Surely they should, for the light streamed forth as if from an inferno. He signaled H’rat and they watched for awhile with their bodies tense and sweating profusely. Surely this was witchcraft for their seemed to be small patches of fire moving about with each of the creatures that emerged from the shining thing. They could count a score of fire-patches forming in a circle from the great object.
Alarmed, H’raf, the superior officer, ordered H’rat to warn the villagers and bring some warriors. He sat and wondered why the Cats would send out bearers of fire, for it was well known that Cats could see as well as Dogs in the night, and surely would not want to betray their positions to the always wary Dogs.
On a hill about two miles away from H’raf sat a captain of the Cats wondering why the Dogs would be such fools to let themselves be seen at night. Already he had dispatched thirty of his best warriors to attack the shining thing. The fire carriers worried him, though, as he knew his men’s eyes shone at night near any light. But Dogs stupid enough to use fire at night would surely not notice his stealthy warriors. the Captain, M’rrow, was very old and had seen many campaigns. He had never known Dogs to be so stupid before. “Even Pigs knew better than that,” he reflected as he rubbed a scar on his arm that had been dealt him by an old Boar many decades before. “The Coons, even,” but he shuddered to think of that one disastrous campaign against the Coons. He and two others had escaped, but barely alive. It was a good thing the Coons pursue their enemies beyond the verge of the forests.
M’rrow was old, but his warrior blood was far from cooled. He hated the Dogs and yearned for one more chance to see them die before him. This night would be sung about for generations before the council fires of the Cats, perhaps even before their powerful brothers to the west, the Pumas. His last two Dog campaigns were dismal failures, as he had been confronted with those damnable Foxes who seemed to know tricks that even a veteran such as he did not command. But here he could not see the hand of the Fox. Here was easy game for his warriors.
By this time H’raf and twenty strong young warriors were halfway to the object, eying with suspicion the widening circle of the fire bearers. He was still puzzled by the curious regularity at which the flames seemed to hold, almost like a beam of sunlight cast though the trees, only pointed outward. As he drew nearer the shining object, its size astonished him. It seemed to rise straight up to the stars, as if pointing the way which it had come. His logical mind rejected the Cats as the builders soon afterward. The Cats were clever, but even the Dogs could not fashion metal like that.
The flame bearers drew nearer. M’rrow, who had now joined his troopers, lay in the grass wondering how the Dogs had learned to point fire beams. They were fanning out and scanning the tall grasses in a circular formation. It was disquieting how the beams circled in and out of the grass. He was anxious to sound the attack, but as he glanced at the shining object, a rare flash of insight told him that no Dog had ever made this shining monolith. He signaled M’rau, his chief aide, to charge and the Cats sprung up within a few feet of the flame bearers with the spine-chilling screams of the Cat warriors’ war shouts.
At the same time H’raf and his men reached the circle of flame carriers and charged. Hearing the commotion of the cats on the other side, the Dogs assumed they were the enemy. They raised a deafening din. They ran.
H’raf and M’rrow stood blinking under the illumination of the Captain’s cabin of the spaceship Exodus II. They had never met before except in war and eyed each other with hatred. The Captain, Howard Euson, was speaking to the chief sociologis, Ivan Yastoff. “This one looks like a collie I used to have on Centauri, and that one looks like a battered Siamese I saw on Sirius III last voyage.” “Remarkable that the return of man should be met with such ferocity by his former pets,” Yastoff laughed ironically. “Apparently they have evolved quite a bit since then.” “It’s really a pity; I catch them thinking how they are stronger than these matchstick things before them. I must admit, they do look ferocious,” said the Captain with a chuckle that developed into a hearty laugh.
Both the Dog and the Cat were angered at the laughter and poised to hurtle themselves at these puny creatures. Alas, however, they were held back by these strange bonds that had tied them and brought them here in the midst of a full charge. This left them bewildered and frightened. H’raf who had never seen defeat, Dog or Cat, and M’rrow wisened old veteran of many fearful wars, both quaked before this strange creature who could bind you without bonds and look at you with eyes that searched the very soul. Their strange babbling, too, had a mysterious but familiar tinge to it. A million years had not erased the instinctive memory of man, the crusher, the Master.
“Did you catch that, Ivan? A million years and they haven’t forgotten us. Too bad there are no men left to greet us. They seem to have memories of other intelligent creatures, but not of men.”
“Yes, Howard, indeed a pity man could not welcome us home after all these years. I wonder if there are any left?”
Six thousand miles away an Inca priest is chanting from the Book, looking at the stars. “Return, O Lord. How long?” Part of the yearly festival to honor the sky-brothers along with the sacrifice and death dance. The playa was decorated with a huge cross hung with grinning human skulls and some shrunken heads of a feline and canine nature. A million years and man had risen to this.
Exodus II stayed a few weeks, disgorging its teams of sociologists and archeologists, as well as a few hundred colonists, then sped for the stars once more. They had been Home, but home was not the same. Neither were they. some were full telepaths and nearly all could practice telekinesis, those bonds which held the Dogs and Cats. Trade was opened with these primitives and they settled to dig at a mound that had once been Chicago. A new life on their old home. It would be many years before the colony would find the remnants of man. In the meantime, the primitives treated them as gods. What else could they do? The Masters had returned!