The Cats of Istanbul: Chapter Twenty-Seven

Zeynep's Quest for Truth

Alex's mental submission, his bow before the voices in her mind, was a delectable truth for Zeynep. As a piece of the puzzle it lay there before her glimmering with meaning in all directions. The bow, unquestioning, nervous, miserable; his behaviour in the meeting with the two Greeks, confident, overbearing, mean. What might be the explanation for such a construct she wondered contentedly, stretching on a rug before a smouldering charcoal fire, the hearth of the market kitchen in which she had just dined. She savoured the taste in her mouth, octopus carpaccio, grilled sea bream, fresh herbs, intellectual stimulation. 

What might she conjecture? Alex was some sort of slave, beaten and broken by a certain private force, that wished to use him in public, and for such purposes encouraged him to aim at empowerment. This was the most satisfying explanation. But yet still: why, for what, for whom and how?

The behaviour of other creatures was an open book to Zeynep. Life simply spoke to her of cause and effect. The definition of consequential possibility was easy to deduce from a synthesis of experience. The assessment of similarity and difference led to the obvious conclusion that the truth of it cannot exist without consistency and harmony with the other. This in itself at least was obvious and the articulation of its finer details was typically thereafter a nothing. She could read much about what type of human Alex was, and too she supposed that she understood more or less what type of force it was she was dealing with. It could affect the emotions and the senses, it could move the air, it could blast her mind and body with energy, it could carry words through the atmosphere, and through a combination of all these forces, the humans in possession of this technology extorted labour, favour and submission out of some, and others deluded into an advantageous position. 

She might make the assumption then that these people, those responsible for this activity in the human world, were also responsible for the problems of the gutter cats in Istanbul. It could be as simple as that, they were using this technology to manipulate their world too, and, on that basis, the tension between the tribes, the fear of oppression on the one paw and revolution on the other, the death of King Richard and the tyranny of Longshanks, the scheming of the alleys and the questing of the gutters, all these things were caused by it and would not have arisen otherwise. She had left Istanbul feeling that she could not identify the cause for the abnormal events she was witnessing. Here she had identified an unseen mover, a driver of causality that was not explicitly expressed. It was a thing, if not the thing, that they had not accounted for.

Nevertheless, it was still difficult to conceive of why anyone would want to do this. It was clearly not for Alex's benefit, he was just a slave. He was not a master of this technology, he simply occupied a position within it that supported strength in one area but not others. What she really needed was to understand who the technology was working for. Who had specified the objectives that had resulted in this display she had seen? Who reaped the benefits, whatever they might be?

She was obliged to admit that her efforts thus far had been on the speculative side. It was not to say that she was displeased with her progress, but still she had no idea of who might be responsible. Her friend Kostas had told her about Dimitri's boss, Alex. That was the most powerful person he had heard of. He however had bowed to the voices. She had also checked the mayor of Patras. He had not bowed but he had been swayed. He had tried to shoo her off the window and this was not natural. 

Leading on from these first examples, it was difficult to know who to check next. She might pick any number of people without getting different results: they were deluded, they had submitted, they were weak, they were stupid. If she wanted to improve her process, what might she do? There was of course the possibility to observe a more powerful person. This perhaps she might research. She could talk to some more cats and find out who was the most powerful person in Greece. Once she had found the leader of the Greeks then it might be even worth having a proper conversation with them. Watching them in a meeting was one thing, but what she really needed was some good advice about society in the human world. The right tip might save her years of looking.

Once more satisfied that she had chosen the best possible path forwards, she closed her eyes and settled inwards, appreciative of the peace she had already attained through successful action. An hour or so later she was called from her slumbers by the owner of the restaurant. The humans had finished their work for the day, the dishes were washed, the tables wiped, the bins emptied outside and the lights turned off. Now they wanted to go home to rest. Zeynep smiled and blessed them for their generosity, before walking out into the cool of the night. She paused for a moment, inspecting her options. At this point it seemed that all things were open to her. She might walk in any direction, talk to any cat, stop anywhere to eat and sleep. Seeing the abject servitude of Alex had accentuated her taste for freedom. It was so arbitrary that these humans should have forced him to bow, forced him to humiliate himself before her, all just to make a point. The loss for this man, what he had given up, was terrible. 

'Choose then cat' the voice said in her mind. 'Which direction? Choose which direction.'

She felt a tug of energy, first to her left, then to her right, then directly forwards. 

Zeynep looked around her one more time and decided to go left, continuing along the way in which she had been walking before stopping at the market. At the end of the street, brightly lit, was some sort of national monument of the Greeks. 

Her mind began to drift lazily through the scene before her. Was there somewhere she would like to stop on her way? What did these humans that she passed have to offer her?

'This is exactly the sort of attitude that we cannot stand cat.'

There was nothing particularly tempting…

'Cat we need to talk'

Smack! They knocked her head with a blast of energy. Accompanying it, an image of a balding man, overweight and slovenly, his features picked out of the darkness with a sickly luminescence. 

'We just want you to know cat that your time is nearly up. Your next mission will be your last. It's been a real pleasure having you here in Greece, but it's time for you to go home. We've been having a bit of a chat with the boys back central about what to do with you, and you'll be as delighted as we were to know that Istanbul is ready to boil.'

Zeynep continued walking along the street. She had already decided that the owners of these voices were worthless, and that whatever information they presented her with should be rejected as a matter of principle.

'Cat, listen' the voice continued, 'of course we're offering you the choice, so here it is. If you give up now and go home with your tail between your legs, you can choose your own method of transport. If you carry on sticking your nose into things that don't concern you, we'll be sending you home in a box.'

Zeynep already knew what she was going to do. She had decided it whilst lying before the fire in the market. It was inconceivable to her that this decision could be changed at the command of a lesser being. To do so would be a contradiction of nature.

'Are you in charge?' she asked the voice in her mind.

'Ha, no cat' replied the voice.

'Do you bow?' she asked.

This time the sky was silent.

'Then you too are a slave' she concluded. 'And yet for some reason, you assume that you can tell me what to do. How can this be? It seems your logic is inherently fallacious. You were enslaved by this technology and I, without fear, am able to withstand it. How then can you be superior to my will? Clearly, you yourself do not believe you can succeed. If you did, you would have been strong enough to avoid enslavement.'

Still the sky was silent. Suddenly a hole opened in the atmosphere in front of her. Through it, down a long dark tunnel, she could see a room full of humans, line after line of them, ten heads across, all of them positioned in front of their own glowing box. On one of the boxes she could see a picture of a leopard-skinned cat walking down the street. After admiring the picture for a moment she realised that it was her.

One of the humans in the room stood up and pointed to the screen. 

'That cat, get that cat.'

Suddenly the sky around her lit up with bolts of coloured energy: here a green spark, there a yellow flash. They hit her in the head, in the eyes, through the ears, inside her mouth, along her spine and inside her stomach.

Another voice, that of a man aspiring towards authority.

'As you can see we have many slaves. You are just one cat.'

Zeynep smiled. What a stupid man.

'Do we agree' she asked, 'your future will be decided by the question, how many slaves does it take to beat one cat?'

The man hit her. 

'You'll see cat, you'll see.'

Zeynep continued through a busy square and then wandered up a hill alongside some railings. Humans were stood along the way, looking at the ruins of their old buildings. At the end of the street she climbed up some steps and then headed up another steep slope. 

One voice: 'Where do you think you are going cat?'

Another voice: 'Get her out of there.'

She looked about her. The slopes led up to the monument. It was some sort of temple. Like the ruins at the bottom of the hill, it too was behind a series of railings. These she slipped under and then proceeded up the hill.

Something hit her and for a second her brain was transfixed. In the moment she felt anxious. Then came the urge to reflect on her choices. Why was she heading up the hill? She had no rationale to be going this way.

It was true there was no particular reason. She thought about it. She supposed that she had wanted to see the monument. Was that not reason enough?

In the distance she heard a miaow. Of course there were cats living here. How clever of them she thought, to have had the humans reserve these spaces for them.

'Cat' said the voice, 'you need to get it into your head. We do not exist for your benefit. It was not for you that they put the railings there. This is the home of the ancient gods. They charge people money to enter and so stop them going in without paying.'

Zeynep soon reached the top of the hill and walked between a set of grand pillars. She turned to take in the view of Athens beneath her. It really was the best place in the city to live. The scene before her was impressive. In the distance she could make out the sea, a swathe of darkness offset against the sky above it, the shades of blue and black variously impressed with light. From up here she had a much broader perspective on the atmosphere that troubled her so. The sky she could see was glowing. Energy passed through it to the extent that it shone, not with sunshine but with something else. It was their lights, the lights of the humans, she was sure it was so, for just looking at the blaze made her feel separated from nature. The humans, she sighed. Why was it necessary for them to do this? The cats could see in the dark. Why had the gods made creatures that could not? It was not so simple as the question of dog, for although the dogs too lacked this ability, they did not desire to live above their means. The humans would go to any length in aiming at self-improvement, and somehow, through this tendency, they had enslaved themselves.

'Well you certainly seem to have offended the right people, so I will help you how I can. Welcome, who are you?'

It was the cat that she had heard miaow.

She turned and saw someone sat towards the other side of the hilltop, her silhouette marked out against the sky by the spotlights positioned above one of the temples. Behind her, a colonnade of statues, each the same, of what appeared to be a woman.

'I am Zeynep, elder of the gutter cats of Istanbul. Thank you. What is your name?'

'I am Athene. Come, let us sit together and talk. I am sure at least that your story will be more interesting than that of most cats I see these days.'

Zeynep and Athene then sat on the wall and looked down on the city as they talked. Zeynep told Athene of all that had happened to her, first of the troubles in Istanbul and then of her travels in Greece. She detailed her investigation so far and then explained the efforts of those voices in her mind to dissuade her from continuing. They laughed a little as Zeynep gave her impression of their manner, it was undeniably funny that animals so impoverished of merit should have such great ambition. Her plan then anyway was to investigate the centre of power in the Greek human world. Her only problem was that she didn't know where to find it. If she could find the leader of the Greeks then she would be happy to have a conversation with him about what was going on, although who knew whether he was prepared for such an eventuality.

Athene's eyes sparkled as Zeynep spoke. When Zeynep described her stay on Kefalonia, her journey across the Peloponnese and her stops in Athens, she smiled with an intimate pleasure. When Zeynep described the anxious faces of the people, the nervous behaviour of the mayor and the submission of Alex, Dimitri's boss, she glared into the distance. 

'But Zeynep' she said, mildly but as a light rebuke, 'don't you think you're avoiding the truth that you already understand. You cannot stop this alone. Of course I'm sure you can find the Greek leader, I can show you the way myself if you like. He might well talk to you. But where really would this leave you? You will just be another step along the way through a world of contradiction. You must accept that the level of change you seek, the energy spent you wish to overturn, requires a significant amount of something else, in order to make it happen. If you go straight for the centre of power and try to force instantaneous change, you will create a shock that may well exceed your own level of strength. All of the energy that opposes you will concentrate against the possibility that you will succeed. You might find that in time there are better and easier ways. It is not too much to dream that the forces you blame for your troubles will one day simply expend themselves, and in such a case, you may have avoided all of the risk that you now face.' 

'Of course I would like the best answer' replied Zeynep, 'but still I don't understand the problem I am trying to solve.'

'Yes' said Athene, 'I think that is the truth, you don't understand the human world, and I think you are being slightly naive. You may be better than them Zeynep, but you cannot insist on finding the answers you seek right now without encountering great opposition.'

Zeynep could not help but feel slightly sad. She had been enjoying herself and had so hoped that the next target would provide the sweet spot, that once pressed would simply yield the solution. It was however she conceded rather a lot to hope for.

'But then what am I supposed to do? I so dislike the idea of returning to Istanbul without having achieved what I set out to.'

'You have learnt a lot, but you are both little and late. As you suspect, the humans have long been about this business, and although you consider it worthless, they are attached to their own history. Their plan to undermine our world is underway. They said that Istanbul is ready to boil. Are you sure you are not needed there?'

'You're right' admitted Zeynep, 'it may well be time. I will leave tomorrow.'

'Tonight!' A voice boomed from across the valley. 'And go to the Greek leader's house if you dare cat.'

Zeynep looked at Athene and rolled her eyes. It was a crude thing to endure.

'Go, but do not rush, otherwise you may be caught in trouble. You better sleep here tonight' said Athene.

Zeynep accepted Athene's offer, surprised at how peaceful she felt at the prospect of not going on to investigate the Greek leader. Was it possible that she had been wrong? It was she decided possible, after all she was not omniscient. Nevertheless, she could only justify not going if she accepted that these humans could hurt her, and that was something she did not understand.

Over a modest meal of yoghurt and cod fish roe Zeynep and Athene conversed merrily into the night. Zeynep explored her new friend's knowledge of the human world. Although it was not necessarily convenient for them to really hurt her with this new technology of theirs, they had many other weapons that could certainly hurt her, kill her even, if they found the opportunity to hit her with them. She might simply be shot, for certainly the guard of the Greek leader would be carrying guns. The difficulty with the human world she explained was that their social organisation was extremely complex. What one could or couldn't do in a given situation was tightly governed, and many humans, at least in public, liked to appear as compliant with the rules. The rules were highly nuanced, and might vary entirely according to the person and place in question. For example, while it was highly frowned upon to shoot shoppers in the street, a human attempting to force entry into the Greek leader's residence could certainly be killed without anyone blinking, and although it was something of a stretch for the imagination of most security guards, it was not inconceivable that one might be persuaded to shoot her as an intruder.

Little of course did Zeynep know that exactly this had happened to Zara some days earlier whilst attempting to enter this very palace. Certainly to her it was news. As a cat she had always enjoyed absolute freedom of the human world. She herself had wandered around Topkapi Palace on many occasions. 

'But then this is the problem' commented Zeynep, 'for never in my lifetime has it occurred to the humans that it might be a good idea to shoot at a cat, but now, because of this technology they will.'

'The secret is out. They dug so deep into the nature of things that eventually they discovered that we are far more intelligent than they are. To be honest, from what I've heard, I don't think they can stand it. Their idea I'm afraid is to control everything, and although it doesn't seem unreasonable to us, they cannot bear the degree of uncertainty in this world that free-flowing felinity affords.'

This Zeynep found extremely interesting.

'But clearly they must be stopped.'

'Which is to say that you must succeed, but not how.'

Zeynep smiled.

'And how do you know so much about this exactly?' she asked.

'You must stand against this force,' replied Athene, 'but this is only the beginning of your war against the humans, and first you must live through the war of the cats. That is your first priority. Afterwards you have much to learn. For the time being, the world of cats can no longer luxuriate, you have been lackadaisical, now you must once again address humanity before it destroys the world.'

Zeynep was truly astonished. What a piece of advice.

'I said my name was Athene' said her friend, smiling, before Zeynep had even a chance to re-express her question that had remained unanswered.

Athene then seemed to dissolve into the air before her. She had vanished. It was perhaps the most remarkable thing she had ever seen.

Smack! A blast of energy hit her in the head.

'Cat we need to talk.'