In the third installment of Herc Tom, Champion of the Empire, I felt it was time to get away from a feline only milieu and add in a couple more evolved races – the subservient mice and their evil Rotter cousins. As in all generalizations, not everyone in a group fits neatly into their stereotypes. And thus Bertrand, the self-assured member of the underclass without which the upper-class could not exist, but who doesn’t quite kowtow to them as much as they think they deserve. I expect to see a lot more out of him in the stories to come.
Here’s the Blurb
Major Tom has plans for his leave time: this cat is finally going to get some much needed R&R with his mates. But recent additions to the household (including his Admiral father-in-law and an uppity mouse chef), as well as an unexpected visit from yet another enemy puts his whiskers in a twist. Ready for a comical adventure with some unlikely characters? Read “Cat and Mouse.”
“Cat and Mouse” is a speculative fiction short story, and is the third of the “Major Tom, Champion of the Empire” stories, following “Purr Mission” and “Nipped in the Butt.” All three stories are available in “Cats of War I.”
And Here’s This Week’s Excerpt
I took my welcome home dinner alone on the upper patio. The moon was at the half, just enough light over the estate to sparkle here and there, casting soft shadows that made the scene more romantic than a stark full moon ever could. I sucked down a piece of salmon and sighed as I reminisced of what could have been. By and large, Baathsheba and Marpha took their cues from Kat, so there would be no joy in Championvilla tonight.
From my perch I could see Bertrand making his way up the path from the Admiral’s cottage, laden with dinnerware. Mice are usually clumsy in the dark, so I was impressed with how well he navigated the path until I noticed his goggles; he was obviously compensating for his genetic weakness with night-vision.
I really didn’t have anything personal against the mouse, or mice for that matter. He could definitely cook, as the salmon attested. My problem was with the placement of a mouse in the upper levels of any sort of command structure; mice just don’t genetically have any leadership ability. True, we only had a couple of cats working with him in the kitchen, but it just wasn’t the natural order of things. I doubted the submission they had proffered Randall would be transferred to any rodent for long.
It looked like Bertrand was already losing control. It wasn’t proper for the head chef to be acting as server – he should have been able to send one of his underlings to retrieve the Admiral’s leftovers.
I let my focus wander back to where the Admiral’s cottage sat at the edge of the grounds, further away even than the servants’ quarters. Kat had wanted her father close, but not too close; the old codger had enough problems with having been retired without losing his independence, too. Kat would insist I fix things with him, but I’d made him so hissy that he and Butcher might hole up there for days.
A shift in the shadows beyond the cottage caught my attention, as someone slid down the perimeter wall and disappeared into the shadows of the trees below. Another shape went quickly over as I watched.
“Jock Tom,” I sighed. “That’s my boy.”
I had hoped our first-born had straightened up after I caught him with nip and read him the riot act over a year ago. All my communications with Kat during my tour had indicated that everything was going well, but then she had mentioned last night that I was going to have to have another talk with him. We were… occupied at the time, and I had planned to ask her about it today; the way the evening had gone, I’d forgotten.
I dabbed at my whiskers and tossed the napkin down in annoyance. If he was still sneaking off and on the estate with his friends – being what they were – it needed to be dealt with.
His straightest path home from where I’d seen him go over the wall should take him past the Admiral’s cottage, so I headed downhill for a stealth intercept. Even without my cammo suit I’m pretty good, if I do say so myself, and I’d have the element of surprise since he wouldn’t be expecting to run into me.
And since I wasn’t expecting to run into him before I reached the cottage, we were all surprised when along the way I found my cub with a girlfriend I hadn’t met yet on a bench under a tree.
“I don’t know,” the girlfriend said. “Are you sure no one will see us out here?”
“Of course not,” Jock said.
“Ahem,” I added to the conversation, confident that I now knew what Kat wanted me to talk to Jock about.
I almost felt bad for Jock; he leapt up so quickly I thought I would have to pull him from the overhanging branches. He didn’t quite make it that far.
“Dad!” he shouted.
I was impressed with how quickly he managed to retract his claws – not quite as fast as his old man, but then who is?
“Are you going to introduce us?” I asked.
My cub’s pretty little girlfriend recovered faster than he did.
“Hello Major Tom, I’m Vivien,” she said as she rose from the bench. “It’s really an honor to make your acquaintance.”
When you’re Champion of the Empire, everyone is honored to make your acquaintance. But she wasn’t acting as star-struck as most young females did in my presence. There was also something familiar about her and her poise, and then I realized what it was.
“You’re Ambassador Pompuis’ daughter,” I said. “You didn’t go to Baast with your parents?”
“No sir, I’m staying with my aunt until I graduate The Academy,” Vivien said. “And she’ll be expecting me home soon, so I’d best be going. Goodbye, Jock.”
“Bye, Viv,” Jock said.
It was obvious he wanted to give her a lick before she left, but she was too classy for that, and it wasn’t happening with me there, anyway. Instead he just waved and mooned after her as she headed up toward the house. I was young a few times; I almost hated breaking him out of his reverie.
“Looks like you and I need to have a talk,” I said.
“Oh, come on, Dad, I already know all that stuff,” he said, giving me the brush-off like the cat-of-the-world he thought he was. “Besides, we weren’t doing anything.”
“It sounded like she was the one who decided that. Smart girl,” I said. “Of course, I’d have thought she was smarter than to sneak over the wall with you.”
“You’re right, she is,” Jock said. “And I don’t do that cub stuff anymore, either.”
“Oh, don’t give me that. You don’t think I saw the two of you coming back over the wall, do you?” He still had some growing up to do if he thought he could lie to his old man like that.
“Of course not; we just finished dinner and came out here,” he said. “You can ask Mom.”
“I don’t need to check with your mom,” I said. Certainly not the way things are right now.
That’s when I smelled it. At first I thought I was catching a whiff from Bertrand or his family – we weren’t too far from their quarters – but mice are painstakingly diligent about their grooming; they’re practically feline that way. No this was somehow dirtier. Swarthier. Why, if I hadn’t known better…
“I’m almost glad you found us out here,” Jock said. “Vivien really did want to meet you.”
“Shhh,” I said, one claw raised to my whiskers.
I’d heard something – several somethings – scurrying through the brush around us. And then two of them emerged in the half-light, with swords and knives drawn, two-handed. I almost didn’t believe it myself, but there they were, the stinking, squinty-eyed, sneering, treacherous vermin.
“What are they?” Jock gasped, wrinkling his nose.
Of course he would have never seen any in the flesh – they were exiled from Ramses when I was his age. Even without personal experience, Jock carried our species-wide disgust of the vermin – possibly from all the nursery horror tales he’d heard as a kitten. He backed slowly away with me as two more appeared from the sides of the clearing. I glanced over my shoulder and saw a fifth blocking our path to the house; there would be no escape without a fight.
“Rats! There are rotters on the grounds!” I shouted. It was unlikely that any of our household would hear, but you never know.
I instinctively reached for my mouser, and immediately regretted that I’d left it locked in Shadow when I landed last night. Well, no use crying over spilt milk. I pulled up two metal plant stakes and mimicked the rotters’ crouch.
“Stay close” I whispered to Jock. “When I tell you to run, get to the house and bring help.”
I roared and feinted toward the two rotters in front of us, who held back expecting to take the brunt of my attack, while the two flankers prepared to close once I passed them. I heard scrambling behind us as the rearguard began his attack.
That was what I’d waited for. With the other four held in place, I turned and met my pursuer. As I’d hoped, in his eagerness to join a fight of five against two, he wasn’t prepared to face me unaided, and his momentum did him no favors as he ran throat first onto one of my stakes; he crumpled to the ground.
“Now!” I shouted, and was dimly aware of Jock hurtling towards the house as I picked up the fallen rat’s weapons and turned to face his friends.
“There,” I smiled as I assumed the classic en garde position I hadn’t used since my own days at The Academy. “That evens things up a bit.”
I’ll admit, when you find yourself favored by Lady Luck on a regular basis, especially when you’re Champion of the Empire, you can get a bit full of yourself. I half expected them to turn and run in fear before me, especially after I had so handily dispatched their comrade. There would have been no honor in that, but then they had no honor; they were rotters, after all.
Instead of beating a retreat, they shifted around to cut off my escape. They obviously hadn’t read my press clippings, which left me with the nagging feeling that maybe I shouldn’t have, either.
I quickly closed the distance with one of the flankers in hopes of once again gaining the advantage, however brief, of another one on one, but he was ready for me and blocked my blades deftly aside; at least I was able to switch positions with him so that I was no longer in the center. I began parrying their attacks as I backed uphill between the trees and hoped for reinforcements to arrive before they could encircle me again.
The one on my right disappeared behind a thick oak as his friends kept me occupied. I shifted away from the tree, but then I heard an oddly metallic clang and a groan; the rotter didn’t reappear as I had expected. As the other three continued pressing their attack, a round, dark shadow descended on the head of the middle rotter resulting in the same metallic hum, and he fell to ground.
My help had arrived, in the form of a disparaged mouse and his frying pan, and with that the fight had changed from four on one to all even. These odds didn’t favor the rotters; one of them let out a loud, coded whistle as they repositioned back to back to play defense while they waited for reinforcements.
Being surrounded is not the most defensible position. I thought, surely, with my superior height and being already uphill from them I was the greater threat, and that if Bertrand could just keep them from getting away I would finish them both in short order. That is not the way it worked out; the rotters had also assessed me as the greater threat and so chose to face me head on; while I held them off each swiftly fell prey to the Master Chef’s cast iron skillet. I’m no slouch at fencing, but it does pay to have as intimate a knowledge of your weapon as Bertrand surely did.
“How did you…,” I began, but was interrupted by the distant sound of shattering glass, followed by some familiar, angry yowling.
“The Admiral!” Bertrand shouted and dashed toward the sound with me in pursuit. We had not gotten far when another squad of five rotters blocked our path, and we were forced into a defensive position.
“If only I had my mouser,” I said.
“Really?” Bertrand asked. “Does it have to be called that?”.
Yes, I know – the entire feline population could probably do with some sensitivity training, but for now, Herc Tom and Bertrand will have to find a way to survive the rotter onslaught.
“Cat and Mouse” is available at many online retailers, including, but not limited to:
The story is also available in the collection Cats of War I, which is again available at – and still not limited to – the following retailers:
As a reminder, “Purr Mission” (the first Herc Tom story) is available for FREE everywhere – you can find links on my Current Book Promotion page. Within the pages of “Purr Mission” lurks a link for a FREE copy of “Nipped in the Butt” (the second story in the series.) Enjoy!
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William Mangieri’s writing has been published on Daily Science Fiction and The Arcanist. His ninety or so short stories and related collections can be found at several online retailers, including, but not limited to:
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