Pumpkin-colored fur bristled at the base of Ch'ukk-Anthropologist's massive, feline neck. Ordinarily, the response indicated confrontation with a formidable threat. But it could also accompany awe.
"Anthropologist" was a new word, transplanted with contemptuous accuracy from the Interworld. "Ch'ukk" was honorable and ancient, but the amusement it aroused in humans was annoying, as was their habit (here on Fafnir) of calling him Charlie.
The building had a name too. The syllable felt natural in the back of his throat.
He'd come into the shadowy place because the monkey-crowds seemed to avoid it. Kzinti were social to an extent... but they liked their elbow-room, and they hunted alone.
Ch'ukk-Anthropologist didn't mind that the humans had renamed the annexed planet (although he could have wished for a choice without the difficult "F" sound). Words weren't urine to kzinti, even if they often served that purpose for the monkeys.
But the new owners of Shasht appeared to thrive on fraternization, and they were always randy. Had it been puppeteers that crowded the avenues, his nerves might actually have been less frayed. Men however were part-time meat eaters. Their pheremones, albeit alien, were sufficient to put him on edge.
He relieved the stress in hunting parks when he could. But the parks were small, and the waiting lists long. So the kzin lost himself in work.
Unfortunately, his work was to go among humans.
It was like diving under water (another activity his species hated). Each morning he raged in preparation, slaughtering holographic primates and tearing bites from great hunks of proccessed meat. Then he groomed himself and stepped out to observe. By afternoon he was missing the holograms.
Today he'd prowled a neighborhood where the odors were particularly thick, wrinkling his nose and glancing frequently at his Rolex. The warcat took a guilty pleasure in his watch. It gleamed like a gold kzinret eye in the middle of its custom wristband, and the arabic numerals had a curly quality that reminded him of home.
But by the time the smaller claw travelled halfway around the dial, his desire to disembowl the next pedestrian that carelessly showed its teeth had become well-nigh overwhelming. So into the ch'rch he'd gone. It had been on his list anyway.
Now his neck bristled.
Father Paul regarded the kzin. Apart from the fur standing on end, the frightful creature seemed relaxed--the thousand kilos of it (him!) resting solidly on footpads rather than balancing on toes in the more ordinary fighting posture. The eight-foot-tall orange cat asked no questions of the priest. It (he!) simply stared at the painted wooden object in the spotlight...and purred.
"Glorious," whispered the alien, more to himself than to the man. The tip of the nude, pink tail described a small arc above the floor of the nave: back, forth, back, forth.
"Yes," the human answered cautiously.
The monster changed position for the first time in nearly an hour, staring down at Father Paul with a strange, new appraisal. "I did not realize that humans could feel such things," it said bluntly.
A face out of ancient nightmare: a great cat with dagger teeth exposed in seeming rage. Like the hackles, the grin indicated awe rather than bloodthirst...but Father Paul's glands didn't know that!
"All who think, feel," he offered awkwardly. "And all who feel, may feel the presence of God. Many of us feel His grace most strongly when beholding this image."
Now that it came to it, the shy scholar was uncomfortable preaching to a demon. He hadn't wanted this assigment. But the Holy See back on Earth had insisted, for reasons they felt no need to disclose.
Ch'ukk-Anthropologist turned back to the alter. He couldn't keep his eyes from the crucifix. "See the thorns!" he rumbled. "See how his dead monkey-body has been ravaged! This human must have gone to your God in mighty combat, for your people to honor him so."
"He IS our God. And His blood was shed, not for violence, but against it."
"You worship a god who turns from battle?"
Paul was irked. The kzin had him in a theological corner. Was Jesus fierce?
He side-stepped the nuance. "We may hate our enemy's actions...even risk agony to prevent them. But we must not hate our enemies themselves. Our Lord will never turn away where a single soul might be saved. He asks us to be like Him. To suffer--to cast away flesh in an instant--out of love."
"Urrh. To impress potential mates, you mean."
The human blanched. "No, no! Brotherly love. A spirit of good will toward all sapient life forms..." he added, quoting from the Catechism of 2512, "...wishing in full earnest that they prosper in every way that brings them nearer to the divine author of creation."
The kzin returned his attention to the crucified figure. "You wish your enemies to win?"
"To cease needing to win." corrected the priest. "To stop hurting us, of course. But mainly to stop wounding their own spirit."
"So that the bleeding monkey can be avenged?"
"No, so we can join him."
A tiger's face frowned impatiently. "Couldn't you have done that by just letting us win?"
Paul gazed sadly at his own small feet. "Not unless we loved you. As He, Himself, does."
"You fight for a God who loves your enemies?"
"It is our strength."
At this, Ch'ukk-Anthropologist did shift onto his toes. The shape of men was kzinoid...but not even a jotok could have framed such an alien thought!
Pink-parasol ears folded themselves flat. Finally the kzin felt the full weight of his mission--and its futility. When he turned to Father Paul again, there was more than mere wonderment in his eyes and gleaming rictus.
"K'dapt take me," he growled, "...we are DOOMED."
Sometimes the best way to put down an idea is as a vignette. You find out whether you want to come back to it. The idea in this case was that a kzin might think a crucifix was pretty nifty.
After writing "Thorns" I kept daydreaming. A story took shape in my mind--about a kzin who becomes fascinated with Christianity. He joins a novitiate and actually ascends the ranks of the Vatican. Along the way we learn about the ARM's one-time supression of that religion (if men have always been gentle, what need of salvation?), and of its odd reformation and resurgence.
Charlemagne (as the warcat retitles himself) drafts other kzinti into a new order of Knights Templar. He's become convinced that Jesus was a Kzinti telepath who somehow got stranded on Earth. And it begins to look like he's right!
There's a schizm in the church, and outrage among kzinti as well. The K'daptists are naturally incensed. Charlemagne is horning in on their territory! A Holy War full of strange paradoxes breaks out, allowing all kinds of ideas to be examined. Title...The Lion of Judah?
No. The Kzinti Code.
I may just have to write it.
May 31, 2011