On leaving the mayor's office Zeynep felt a sense of intrigue bloom within her chest. She was amused and excited. The humans could speak into her mind. The implications to be understood were so many - directions, questions, thoughts and feelings all opened up before her as she considered this most surprising of developments.
The main points as she saw them: first, the humans, or at least this specific group of them, understood the secret of the cats - they knew the cats understood the human language, but simply refused to admit it; second, it seemed that now knowing this, they were prepared to challenge the supremacy of the cats on earth; third, she assumed that their power was well-established in the human world, for these people that had spoken into her mind had sufficient confidence to be impertinent; nevertheless, fourth, their full potential was unknown, and it needed to be better understood before she could conclude on the appropriate response.
It was this last point that occupied her in particular as she walked slowly back towards the port. What exactly was going on? Evidently, it was possible to speak into other minds, but what else could this new power do? The voice in her mind had told her to watch, and then the mayor had lost his temper and tried to shoo her from the ledge. What did it mean? Had they controlled him, or ordered him? Perhaps they had persuaded him to do it, or even somehow deluded him into deciding it was the right thing to do for himself. It was staggering to think of the possibilities. She had been given an example of their influence, this group of humans that could speak into her mind, but she had no idea as to the severity of the wider situation. Was every human on the planet affected? Had the human species been enslaved? Were any of them still in control of their own minds?
In the evening she boarded a cart for Athens that took the slow route through the villages and towns of the Peloponnese. The cart made its way from Patras into the countryside beyond and there melted into the Arcadian dusk, the sunfall soft on the hills, the dust and the heat meeting with the sound of crickets and the night scent of wild flowers so that the air seemed a soup of summer life. After a time, she noted that she was feeling completely different and almost entirely well. It seemed as if all manner of energies had faded with the distance as she travelled further from the city. Things she had not noticed when there became obvious now through their absence. The atmosphere was increasingly free of pressure and tension. Her body felt light and spacious, whereas before it had been heavy and tight. Her mind was relaxed, when in the city it had been pulled and pushed around. In the countryside the expressions of nature could be appreciated as a compliment to the senses. The music of the world's turning played above the din of humanity, and as she remembered, it was joyous and serene. Much soothed, she soon fell to sleep.
In the morning she awoke to find the cart stopped under a tree, and its driver sitting outside a taverna eating breakfast. Sleepily and at peace she emerged from her bed of blankets to see what food might be offered by the humans living there. To her left, sloping down from the road, was an olive grove, and behind it the mountains, stark and majestic against the pale sky. Somewhere in the distance she could hear a stream bubbling, and then, gentle and amorous, the sound of humans talking, a couple she supposed, a man and woman sitting by the water's edge.
Reaching the taverna, she sat down on the terrace and watched the flutter of the birds through the trees whilst waiting to be served. The owner soon came out and set down a bowl of cream before her. Zeynep ate hungrily. It was a long time since she had enjoyed her breakfast so much. Her appetite seemed sharpened by the prospect of stimulating work, her investigation into this subject and all it would entail. Perhaps here was the answer she was looking for.
As her consciousness lifted itself into the day and then became clear, she began once more to reflect on the path she was following. Certainly here at least there was peace. Her body felt no stress, her thoughts were gentle and free-flowing, her mood open and appreciative. It seemed then that this new power was focused on the cities, and so she supposed concentrated according to population density. It seemed likely too, within the human population, that the level of force also varied, according to the person in question. It might be that the focus was on the most senior people, those with the most power. That would explain why the voices in her mind had started when watching the mayor. The point then would be to find more of such people and observe them, to see if all were being affected in the same way, or whether there was a difference between them. There was Dimitri and his boss, the money men Kostas had talked of during their time in Kefalonia. These might be interesting, for they would contrast well with the mayor in Patras, but undeniably it was only a small first step. They were a limited sample and would not provide all of the answers she looked for.
Wistfully, she regretted for the first time that she knew so little of their world. The positioning of the cats in relation to the humans was the superlative in world governance, and it had afforded their race a life of luxury for so long that it had come to seem unquestionable. Something however had changed. Now the humans understood, they would need to be dealt with, and yet the cats had grown complacent, ignoring their lessers so as to let evil grow amongst their ranks. Now there was such a lot to learn and in so little time. If only Fatma were here she thought, she knew so much about the humans, but she was somewhere else entirely, looking for a prophecy. A flash of worry ran through her. Understanding what she did now, how to interpret the prophecy, this legendary quest to save the cats?
Suddenly she felt a sharp shock explode across her form.
'I told you to stop thinking cat.'
The voice in her mind was there again. It was possible to get her even here, deep in the countryside. And not only could they speak, and make her feel anxious, they could hit her, and hard too. This power could also be used as a blunt weapon, and they had used it on her. She had never been quite so offended in all her life.
'How dare you?' she asked into the air.
The force hit her again, harder.
'Cat' the voice replied, 'if you don't stop interfering in our world, we will break you.'
Zeynep did not respond, she returned to eating her cream, but instead, somewhere inside, she made a silent promise to end the life of this human that abused her so.
Soon Zeynep was back in the cart and the cart soon after once more on its gentle, weaving way. Her disposition was a fine one, elevated, motivated and serene; luminescent but well-composed and ready for intellectual rigour. She let her mind slip away from the countryside views and then cast about within for the meeting of reason and reflection.
The nature of what is: truth over falsity, understanding over ignorance, the one over the many. The universe, or the extent whole, evolving, a sequential energetic expression, its constituent parts, the elements of nature, differentiated in fundament, then united in a composition, ever unique in its ultimate offering, the substance of time, and yet consistent within structural boundaries. Somewhere within this truth, their planet, the earth, cat, human and dog, and the accompanying contest for dominance. What was obviously true was that this new power held only a minor share of the energy in the universe. It was in the end bound to people, places and names, specific pieces of equipment, nothing that she need fear.
She, as an individual form, was now on a cart heading towards Athens. Her objectives, to see their situation in Istanbul with perspective, to understand what was going on, to stop it, had been decided upon on the basis of her history, her organic identity, her relation to her context. These things had arrived as a consequence of all that had gone before. At some point, along the passage of universal evolution, the humans had acquired the ability to impact the energy distribution between any two places. The energy which they used to achieve this was more present in the city than in the countryside, but the countryside was not beyond their reach.
The nature of what is: the location of these humans, the thoughts arising in their brains, somehow transferred through space and on into her own mind. That energy might travel through space was clear, it was there in the feeling of sunshine on her fur, just as it was there in song of birds in her ear. The energy of thought however was not supposed to pass beyond the head. Whereas the air supported sunshine and song, it did not support thought. The humans then had found a way to synthesize the conditions for thought transferal in the atmosphere. They had constructed an energetic system on top of nature.
The nature of what is: the materials out of which she was comprised were developed perfectly to be her. As an energetic expression, she was designed to suit her own will, which flowed, full and supreme, through every atom in her body and mind. This new power of the humans was what she was not, it was something external, and alien to herself. By definition, it had to be inferior to herself at being herself, for to be equal would be to replicate herself precisely, at all points in space and time, and of course, this could not be so, for she was already there. The things they could do were defined by the degree to which they could affect her energy. Thus, she concluded, this new power was merely a breeze through the long grass. The grass might be shaken to the left or to the right, but it would still be grass. The cats existed as did the earth, substantial, corporeal, and it would take more than huff and puff to stop them from living as they liked.
And so it was that Zeynep's mind began to calm yet further, to the point where she was enjoyably relaxed. She felt intellectually victorious, for she had seen that her enemy was fallible, and indeed no less vulnerable before the cats than all the other humans that had ever existed. The fundamental rules of the game had not changed.
Smiling at life for what it was, she turned to watching the world go by with the progress of her cart: farmers working in their fields; those family-members not farming stationed in the shade before a stall, selling melons, tomatoes, aubergines; the villages, small outposts nestled in the crags along mountain passes, seemingly empty before the midday sun, but offering glimpses of domestic innocence through doors left ajar, men and women, eating, drinking, sleeping.
She too fell to sleep, napping through the final hours of the journey. When she awoke, the cart had reached Athens, the afternoon was at an end, the sunshine, slanting flicker above and around the blocks of building, lit up portions of the busy road, catching here or there the faces of workers returning home. Zeynep blinked herself awake lazily, yawning and stretching, inspecting the contents of the outside world in half-interest. What did Athens look like? How did Athens feel? The city was there before her senses, a maelstrom of light, heat and commotion, too large and dynamic to be understood in full detail but undeniable in its presence, an uncomfortable, hurried mass at the edges of her awareness. The people here too were all stressed, noticeably so compared to those humans she had seen in the countryside, their jaws tight and their brows knotted, although not all she saw were unhappy. It was just the same though as in Patras, these were just average people on the street, and not the point of what she was doing.
When the cart reached its final stop, Zeynep jumped off and nipped neatly through the crowds, making her way towards the city centre, where Kostas had assured her she would find the offices of the bank at which Dimitri worked. Dimitri if there she would be able to recognise, for she had seen pictures of him in his house on Kefalonia. His boss, and the most senior people in the organisation, she would have to guess at.
A voice in her mind popped up again.
'Hungry' it said, 'you would like to eat something first.'
This time the voice was different, it was quieter, only a whisper really, the lightest of impacts in her mind. It was she supposed intended to trick her into thinking that it was her that had had this notion. How interesting. It was true, she was hungry, she hadn't eaten since the morning. She considered the possibility that she might find a restaurant instead of going to Dimitri's office. Wonderful visions popped up before her eyes of all the food she might find in the markets and tavernas of Athens: bowls of roasted sardines, plates stacked with grilled bass, huge chunks of feta cheese… The nerves in her chest shimmered lightly and her stomach rumbled.
'Eat…' the voice said again.
'You fools' she replied into the air.
The human lost his temper. Once more she was thwacked, energy screeching through her mind, appearing seemingly from nowhere.
'Why don't you listen cat? You need to understand. This is not a world where you get to do what you want. This is a world that we control.'
Unruffled, Zeynep continued walking through the streets, her eyesight shifting between the scenes along her route, lingering where it chanced upon a pleasing thing, a nice shop here, a bright smile there, a man in unusual costume, an old lady shuffling steadfastly despite her heavy bags.
'And who exactly might you be?' she asked.
The voice did not reply.
'I am Zeynep, elder of the gutter cats of Istanbul. What is your name?' she asked again.
Again there was no reply.
'Cowards' she concluded. 'You do not even have the guts to put your name on it.'
She felt a retreat in the energy around her. Her enemy had lost confidence. This too was interesting. What sort of man was it that chose to use his time so? Was it a strong one? Probably not, she thought.
Again she was smacked in her mind by a blast of energy. An irritable man, naturally weak, of little confidence, but one that knew he was currently beyond her reach.
'This can go on forever if you like cat… You will see, there's no way out…'
Smack, smack, smack. They hit her repeatedly, the impacts running through her mind at regular intervals, every thirty seconds or so, gradually then increasing in power, before long reaching such a force as to jolt and shake her body each time they came. Still, Zeynep was unperturbed. Her sense of well-being had always held strong against the fluctuations of life around her. It was essential, a part of her being, that she was fine. In most respects she knew, life was the same as before, but now there was some poor excuse for a human intent on hitting her. So what?
The thwacking did not stop, but Zeynep found increasingly that she noticed less. As she progressed towards the centre of the city the energy around her increased and the atmosphere around her was soon thick with a sickly-sweet resistance, which not only seemed to impede her speed but too the force of the energy sent to hit her.
She reached the square of Dimitri's office.
The voice cried out within her mind again.
She continued swiftly into the square, climbed up a tree to the side of the building and leapt onto the awning above the front entrance. Moving quickly to her left she found a ledge and then further along a window, at either side of which were matching ornate pillars carved into the stone. These she climbed up, then repeating the process, one floor, two floors, and three. She stopped. Through the window she could see three men sat hunched around a large oval table. One of the two with their backs to her she was sure was Dimitri. His head was just the right shape, his hair the right colour and length.
'Neither of these companies have any chance. It's a no, a big, fat, plain no. They can't have a dollar from this bank until their government starts behaving sensibly.'
'Now Alex' said Dimitri, 'both these companies are perfectly successful. They have been growing, they're profitable, they can easily repay the money and the return on the bonds is attractive. It seems clear to me that they are easy approvals, this is all quite normal trading.'
'It's a no Dimitri. Our corporate bond portfolio is closed in Greece until your government has regained the confidence of the debt markets. They need to make a deal. Now, if you please gentlemen…'
The two men with her back to her, Dimitri and the man next to him, got up from their chairs and walked around the table, then exiting the room, leaving Alex alone with a pile of papers. He sighed and began leafing through them, before looking up sharply at the window, and then directly at her. He scowled and then rose abruptly from his chair, pulling open the door in a hurry and then tumbling through it, before dashing back to get his papers, giving Zeynep one final look through the window and then charging off down the corridor.
How curious she thought.
'Futile' said the voice. 'What did you learn cat?'
It was true she thought, it had not been a particularly interesting scene to watch. It was not obvious that this new power had been in play during the meeting of the men, but there at the end, Alex, the one left sitting, he had somehow been warned of her presence. It was still this she had to understand. Why had he left the room?
Determined to pursue this question she set off to tour the perimeter of the building. She had to find him again.
'If you do not stop cat, be assured, you will die.'
A gust of wind came roaring at her round the corner of the building. A breeze in the long grass, she reminded herself.
Completing the circuit without seeing him she climbed up the pillars to the fourth floor, and there, through the window and across the building, she saw Alex walk into an office and close the door behind him. She darted along the ledge, turned, ran along again and turned once more, arriving precisely before Alex's office. She stretched her neck and peered inwards. He was sat at his desk, staring at an illuminated screen.
'Hey, give her a decent example to take home with her before I throw her off that ledge.'
A voice in her mind again, but this one as if from far away.
'Yes sir' said another voice, this time from closer.
'Watch this cat. You tell us what you understand from this.'
She watched Alex. Slowly he got up from his chair and then turned around towards the window.
Alex bowed towards the window. Off-balance and weighted forwards, he staggered slightly and looked about to fall, before stopping himself, catching his shaking knees with his hands.
'What did you understand cat?'
But this was the very problem she thought. Still she did not understand. Why would anyone behave like that?
She looked at Alex again, still bent-double before the window. It was time to get to the bottom of this. Her enemy would be tested.
She set off again along the building's ledge and came to a window that was slightly ajar. She leapt into a small kitchen and quickly jumped beyond the people standing along its walls.
They looked up with surprise.
'A cat!' they called, 'a cat has come through the window!'
Zenyep was swiftly down the corridor. She jumped up, bore down on the handle with her paws and then swung into the office with the opening door. Dropping down and the bouncing forwards she sailed up into the air and landed upon Alex's flat back.
He screamed, 'Wargh!' and fell forwards onto his hands and knees. Zeynep ran along his back and slipped a paw around his throat. She extended one claw and then lightly punctured his neck.
'Why did you bow?' she asked him in the human tongue. 'Tell me now or I will slit your throat.'
'Oh god no!' cried Alex. 'Oh god, a cat, argh, help me, someone please.'
Behind her Zeynep could hear a small crowd had formed at the door to the office. They murmured quietly between themselves and someone laughed, but no one moved to interfere.
Zeynep flicked her claw and drew a small line along Alex's neck.
'Tell me' she said again.
'Oh god please don't' he cried again. 'Stop, I have to, they say I have to, otherwise they'll hurt me, they'll do all sorts of terrible things, you don't understand, please stop.'
Zeynep scrutinised the man beneath her. He was genuinely terrified.
'Okay' she said. 'Never bow for anyone again. If I catch you, I will kill you.'
She leapt off his back and then ran along the floor, stopping before the crowded door. She looked up at the faces peering down at her.
'Out of my way' she said.
The two women at the centre leaned in opposite directions. She ran through, along the corridor, out of the window, down the building and then off into the distance.