Nine Lives, Two Billion Deaths
By L. J. Holmes
Trooper was still small when his humans fled. They took turns staring out the window as if seeing large birds with hurty beaks, then zoomed through the house throwing items in bags. Trooper roamed the house crying as they whispered of strange human concerns like secret police.
Daddy told Little Boy he could bring one toy, and he returned from his room with his teddy bear and Trooper’s lizard.
“One for me, one for Trooper, right?”
The whispers changed. Talk about microchips and cruelty. Trooper flopped down and bit his lizard.
After some tears, Trooper was sitting in Daddy’s lap whilst the Little Boy cried in the next room. He was fed his favourite treats, but he didn’t like the way Daddy held his neck.
Nala was a hunter who chased bugs in the house then went to the lounge room for a warm lap. She had trained her two little girls to play gentle and share their ice cream when the adults weren’t looking. She had not been able to teach them to let her out, where she could chase all the bugs.
One day, the little girls stopped being so little. The older one glued a stick to a piece of cardboard, wrapped a ribbon around her arm and left with some friends. She never came back.
Nala was more determined than ever to go outside, where she could find her not-so-little girl. On the day she escaped, she just knew she had to run. So she ran, right into the busy road.
There was a Tyrant somewhere in the world, and the people were either with them or against them. It wasn’t the type of fighting for food or territory that any simple kitten could understand, but there was an unmistakable divide between the people. A hostility that even an abandoned kitten could sense. The kitten hadn’t even opened her eyes when the war claimed her mother’s household.
The person-mummy and person-daddy took different sides, and as the household dissolved Mother Cat and newborn kittens were out on the street. Every day, they fought their own war. A simple war; the endless battles of ferals for a dry nook and crumbs begged from the people who lined up everyday to swap paper for food.
They may have become successful if it hadn’t been for the riots. There were too many people abandoned and their papers gave them less food every day. They attacked each other in the street, and soon the kitten couldn’t even see the scraps they were supposedly fighting for. Windows were smashed and posters ripped. Every day the kitten had to keep to the shadows lest a person direct their frustration her way. They were so big and terrifying, and every day there were less people moved by her cries to share their food. There were however still bins and rats for her to catch, so she stayed until the street went up in flames.
Princess was the Tyrant’s cat. Her person was now ruler of everything, and the best dispenser of belly-rubs and cheese ever.
Her Tyrant kept her warm and fat, despite the mass starvation outside. She could sit comfortable by the heater while her Tyrant sat plotting in their office. Every night when they were alone, she would lay sprawled out on the big desk while her Tyrant leafed through dossiers looking for prey.
It wasn’t until Princess was an older cat, head of a pride of equally pampered cats, that she finally saw the Tyrant happy.
They had just arrived at their new home and were let loose as the Tyrant hugged their children. Despite being a clean cat, Princess was encouraged to crap on the U.N flags strewn on the floor.
Boots was born under the Tyrant’s reign, but his people were safe; until the day they weren’t.
When the family fled to the rouge nation, they carried Boots with them through ash and rain and over the charred remains of forests. The people were always miserable and in need of nuzzling. They stayed together until they were caught on the wrong side of the border. The people went to a refugee camp, whilst Boots went to a foster family.
Whilst he missed his people and sang for them every day, Boots grew to love his new people. They were an elderly couple, and he was content to sit on his new Daddy’s lap and purr to relieve all the stress the TV caused him.
One day Mummy bought Boots a chicken neck and the three of them sat on the balcony overlooking the city. Boots barely had time to see the blinding flash in the sky before they were obliterated. He never heard the shockwave or saw the mushroom cloud.
She’d had a name and a family once, before the fire had rained down on the town. The house was gone; burnt so completely that she couldn’t even find where it once stood. She never caught so much as a whiff of her family’s scent or heard anything resembling a name again.
She survived for years in the shadows of the ruins, fighting rebels for rats. One day she stalked into a hidden city in the abandoned train tunnels. Here rebels with guns lived a hard life, and she was prey. When she was eventually caught, she wasn’t eaten, but caged up. For a short time, she survived with other animals that smelt of fear and sickness.
One day a human took her out of her cage and shoved her in a filthy cat carrier. She was driven to a field with rusted towers holding up fuel tankers and a makeshift shuttle. They took her into the junkyard rocket. There was a fight. The fight of her life. She lost, then died in space for the rebel’s noble cause.
The Huntress was scarred from acid rain and bone-thin, but so was everything else in the ash covered ruins.
One day, she came across a feral teenager. She expected to become his prey, but he shared a rat with her. She had no idea why, but an ally was good. They travelled through the ruins, scavenging and hiding from dogs. They never saw the sun, but sometime flashes of fire broke through the clouds. She liked the protection he offered, but he was focused on going somewhere, which bothered her.
They arrived at the coast, and the boy stopped. They waited on the rocks for days. More humans arrived. Hungry Humans. She wanted to run but stayed with her boy.
She did run when the boat arrived, but the boy dragged her onboard, ignoring the blood she drew on his skeletal arms. It was a hellish journey south, but they disembarked in paradise. The sun warmed and the rain didn’t burn. Even without shelter for the night, there were no dogs, just anti-refugee protestors with no bite.
The ruins were still inside them though, and cancers took them both less than two years after their escape. But for two years, they were happy together.
Sylvester found herself flying in the bridge for the final battle. The humans were sad in this tin-can beyond the clouds, and there were tons of flashing lights on the old computer screens for her to chase.
The ship was too small for zooming around. Besides, no-one could stay on the ground. She always felt sick, and the vomit floating around made everything worse. She couldn’t wait for the ship to land.
This flight was longer than any other she had stowed away on. When the humans got excited, she assumed they were landing. Instead, a space station adorned with the Tyrant’s emblem filled all screens. Sylvester chased the display missiles, and no-one stopped her; not even when she pushed off against the Captain. One of the humans even guided her back to the screens when she floated away.
The station drew close and the humans screamed. She latched onto a lieutenant’s flight suit and meowed. He didn’t notice. Sylvester’s pupils went big as the final orbital weapon station was destroyed in a silent explosion and the kaleidoscopic bloom of Kessler Syndrome.
The Old Man bought the kitten into the shack he shared with his fellow refugees. His housemates weren’t happy. Victory or not, half the world was destroyed, and their safety uncertain. Who knew when the locals would chase them back to the nuclear wastelands? Didn’t he know they needed to rebuild?
“This is rebuilding” the Old Man said, as he placed the purring bundle on his bedroll next to an ancient stuffed lizard. There were protests, but the Old Man sat with his kitten until they left him alone.
The Old Man laid down. Before he nodded off, Trooper Two climbed on top of his chest and settled down, tiny nose to tear-soaked cheek. He purred until they both fell asleep.