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When I wrote Encounters: Cat Women, it was with two stories in my past that inspired me to think in this area.
The first was Chimera (2001) by Will Shetterly which was recommended to me by one of my readers who'd read my earlier Encounters stories, and which I pass on to you as equally well recommended.
The second book was The Inheritors (1972) by A. Bertram Chandler, which I read long before I started writing the stories you read here now.
While Will Shetterly resides relatively nearby, Mr. Chandler (1912-1984) resided on the opposite side of the world down in Australia. Yet each of them wrote about anthropomorphic creatures who were mostly cats down in their genes, but could pass as beautiful women in appearance. I have obviously written about such creatures myself.
Another common element of the stories mentioned is that Will Shetterly implicitly, and A. Bertram Chandler explicitly, referred to these creatures as underpeople. And as underpeople, they were not eligible for the rights granted true humans, no matter how worthy they might be otherwise. In this way, they're a lot like my fembots.
Of course, each time I write about an enjoyable topic in one of my stories, it's inevitable that I'll eventually get an e-mail referring to other similar authors and stories. Not suggesting that I've plagiarized anything, but rather that I might like some of these other works as well.
Recently I was given a pointer to a truly legendary SF story by Cordwainer Smith (1913-1966). Mr. Smith (actually Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger) wrote a number of tales of a future where true humans (hominids) firmly ruled over an interstellar collection of humans, robots, other intelligences — and underpeople! One of his most famous stories about this era is The Ballad of Lost C'mell, first published in October of 1962 in Galaxy Magazine. It has since been reprinted a number of times in collections, yet is still hard enough to find. Your best bet might well be the collected stories in We the Underpeople.
There's also a bit of Jessica Alba's Dark Angel character Max Guevera here. Max had some cat genes, and breeding needs when she went into heat every few months.
For those of you who will read my story before reading Cordwainer Smith's, a bit of an introduction is in order:
In the far future humans rule the stars, as well as their own long lifespans. The government is referred to as The Instrumentality of Man, and it is served by all it knows of. Telepathy and FTL space travel are common, as are robots and underpeople — creatures who, although composed completely of animal genes, appear nearly indistinguishable from true hominid stock. In fact, they may appear more human than human, since true humans, for reasons of alien environments, or just fashion, often freely adapted their bodies to new, perceived more efficient, forms.
C'mell — the C' stands for her Cat heritage — was a young, independent female at Earthport — a hard place with a hard profession. In a time when failure and bankruptcy could mean a quick, painless death for an underperson — and that was not the only way that they could die prematurely— her profession was not well paid, nor respected. C'mell, who looked completely human, unless you happened to catch the reflection in her eyes from the right angle, worked as a girlygirl. She met incoming travelers to Earth, welcomed them, and could serve as a guide if necessary. Her only real respect came from being her father's daughter. Her father — C'Macintosh — was well known, even among the hominids. Cat genes, and the struggle of the underpeople to survive, meant only the fittest survived.
Cat genes could also make you beautiful, and intelligent, and that described C'mell. Being a girlygirl was looked down on by every hominid, and was merely accepted as a necessary way to get along by the other underpeople who knew the struggles each one of them faced every day. It took far more than a pretty face and gorgeous figure to succeed in this post. C'mell had worked very hard just to reach this point in her young career when she attracted the attention of Lord Jestocost of the Instrumentality's ruling council.
Each of them would see in the other the means to accomplish their fondest political dream, and that would bring them together out of mutual necessity. And through this shared dream, strong feelings would also be born. Feelings never acted on in the original story, but revealed here now.
A special thanks to Mulligan, VW, and Ian for their excellent and much appreciated proofreading. All remaining mistakes are mine. And do I really need so may proofreaders? Yes! Each one catches things the other miss.
And apologies to Cordwainer Smith if he disapproves of my story. He left us too soon, and with too few a number of his own stories published for us to enjoy.
Lord Jestocost looked up as C'mell entered the work area of his football field-sized accommodations outside the Fourth Valve of the twenty-five kilometer tall building that was Earthport. Now that he had found his chosen tool to overthrow the old ideas he was so certain were holding back humanity's ultimate progress, he'd kept her close-by until the events set into motion by his planning would become inevitable. That closeness had exerted its acknowledged effect on the both of them.
Although Lord Jestocost would not come to consciously admit it for a very long time to come, deep down inside, in that spot all of us have where we don't even understand ourselves, he knew he impossibly loved C'mell. And that part of himself that even he could never directly tap for a clear answer was pretty well convinced that C'mell loved him as well. That little understood part of him knew axiomatically that you can't truly love someone else who doesn't truly love you in return.
As always her unexpected sensuality caused him to catch his breath. Only a near century and a half of experience allowed him to automatically hide his reaction. It does not behoove a Lord of the Instrumentality to ever reveal too much — especially about his feelings.
At first glance C'mell looked entirely human. She was young, in her early twenties, her female nature in the full bloom of youth. Except for a brief flash of her eyes when the light caught them just right, there was no easy outward sign of her true nature — although her necessarily subservient behavior always gave it away.
One must note that Lord Jestocost hadn't reached his position by being unobservant. A second glance, one that looked beyond superficial appearances, told so much more.
C'mell had a lithe manner of movement she worked hard to disguise. Her father, C'Macintosh, had been the first Earth species — underperson or hominid — to break fifty-meters in the broad jump under one standard Earth gravity.
But C'mell had to serve humans to make a living. With only their appearance, and not their genes, she didn't have the instinct for human behavior, meaning she had to learn.
C'mell observed humans constantly. She'd done this for as long as she could remember anything. Her mother had impressed on her the need to get along with the humans. Survival was literally at stake.
By the time she reached her maturity, meaning she could breed now if she could support her offspring, she knew the hominids better than they knew themselves. She especially knew how to be an appealing hominid woman better than the trueborn women did. They never had to work at it like C'mell did, and there were few consequences to them if they slacked off and simply ran on instinct. Because they didn't have to strive as hard as C'mell, they were less for it. Yet it was C'mell who remained the underperson.
Every movement C'mell made in the presence of a hominid was carefully choreographed. She knew exactly how to take a step before actually taking it. Her mind was always fully engaged in her actions. Survival demanded this.
And she knew more than how to walk and talk well. She knew down to the millimeter how to display herself to receive positive attention, and how to achieve the opposite. A girlygirl survived on the positive approval of others. The positive approval of hominids who viewed any underperson as only an animal to serve their immediate needs. While that couldn't include actual interbreeding due to some of the strictest rules of the Instrumentality itself, flirting to improve one's relationships wasn't an option — it was a necessity!
But things now were so much different than all of that.
If Lord Jestocost had yet to recognize his true depth of feeling for C'mell, one mustn't judge him too harshly. Feelings for an underperson were a bad idea all around. Feelings could lead to actual relations, and actual relations always led to...
"I should leave now," C'mell said unexpectedly, having waited just the right instant of time to allow her pose to be admired first.
"Leave now?" Lord Jestocost nearly sputtered in astonishment, expecting anything other than those words out of her perfect mouth. They'd been working together so well, and there was so much still left to do.
"Why?" he asked without even thinking of the consequences of what he gave away by asking an underperson such a question — not that he thought of her that way any longer. One thing Lord Jestocost already knew for certain was that he'd never met such a capable, intelligent female before in his life, and might well never do so again.
C'mell had intentionally structured their encounter in this manner. Unlike Lord Jestocost, she knew full well her feelings for him. While they astonished her that she could have such a complete love for a hominid over a century older than herself, she never questioned or doubted them.
She also didn't worry about the inequities in their current relationship. His nearly absolute power at the top of The Instrumentality versus her lack of any rights at all. His stroon-enhanced life that had already exceeded her own life expectancy, and he was only in the prime of his life yet. His wealth so great that he never had to consider it, while she would count every cent for her entire life. Thoughts that would ruin a human in her position she simply accepted in the same way she accepted everything else in her life. There is what is, and there is what isn't, and neither is likely to be changed by any one underperson.
C'mell had intended to shock Lord Jestocost. Not because she disliked him, or was angry with him, or for any other injurious reason. She only intended to jolt him in this manner in order to force a decision out of him without equivocation.
This decision would not affect their working relationship. That was far too important to them both, and neither would jeopardize it for anything. This merely dealt with the second most important thing here between them.
Lord Jestocost should not have been surprised. And had he thought about it for a moment, he wouldn't have been. C'mell had distracted him exactly as she'd intended, and caught him perfectly before he could recover. Rather than resent her for that, he admired her even more for it. She was a worthy being in all rights.
The reason Lord Jestocost should not have been surprised was that he alone, of all the Instrumentality lords, had studied the plight of the underpeople. He studied what he felt was important, and there were two things of ultimate importance to him. The rescuing of humanity from the stagnation that he alone seemed to clearly see, and the improvement of the lot of the underpeople in a way that wasn't at the expense of humanity in the process. Now he waited for the cat-woman in front of him to explain her last comment.
"I will go into heat soon," C'mell said simply, as though discussing the weather. Perhaps to her, held in thrall to her feline heritage by her very DNA, it was simple. As simple as something that happened in a regular, predictable way at known intervals. A simple statement of an unalterable fact.
"So?" replied Lord Jestocost, recovered from his small lapse of moments ago, and playing her game back to her now as expertly as she'd played him a moment ago. It was up to her to explain the significance of this to him, and their work together.
"If I were to remain here," she told him, now that she'd gotten him to actually ask it of her. "We would experience a acute state of affairs. I will soon lose my self-control. My ability to resist the urges of my body. For the next three days, I would attempt to seduce you with every ability and artifice at my disposal, and I might very well succeed before that time is past."
C'mell wasn't boasting about her abilities. She'd been created to be exactly what she was — and succeeded at it beyond the hopes of those who'd taken her genome apart and reassembled it back into this.
"So?" Lord Jestocost prompted her once more, already knowing what she would say next. He didn't need to telepathically tap into her open mind to know this, but it had to be said before the conversation could move on to the next phase.
"That could be very bad for the both of us," C'mell said concisely.
Very bad indeed, Lord Jestocost agreed silently to himself. The Instrumentality of Man was very clear that humans and underpeople did not form close relationships with each other — ever! Even the way that Lord Jestocost had kept C'mell in his own large personal space could have led to questions. For C'mell, those questions could be fatal.
The reason that humans and underpeople didn't have relationships is that the Instrumentality had decreed, in their infinite wisdom, that THIS WAS NOT TO HAPPEN. And they made sure it didn't happen by the most direct means available.
For the hominid who dared become close to an underperson, a mind wipe of the affected time became their immediate future. For a hominid who had a long time secret affection for underpeople which was only now revealed, that mind wipe would, out of necessity, remove much of an entire lifetime.
For the unfortunate underperson, a quick whiff of lethal gas forever removed any possibility of repeating their crime. The Instrumentality didn't fool around about this. There would be no dilution of the human species on their watch. It was only one of the crimes that could quickly result in euthanizing an underperson, with no appeal possible.
"So where will you go?" Lord Jestocost inquired.
C'mell saw what she was looking for in the subtle signs of how he asked that question. Her heart leapt, although this still had to play out. It was as though both of them now had to follow a precise script step-by-step, even though they'd already read ahead to the final page. To not do this correctly now would be to not do this at all.
"Back to my room," C'mell said just slightly more softly than before. "To be locked in as usual, until it passes."
She didn't have to explain that, although it was by her wishes, she would be locked in from the outside — not the inside.
"And if you were to stay here instead?" Lord Jestocost asked her equally softly, stepping over the uncrossable line more easily now than he ever believed he could.
"You'd have to lock me inside here," the beautiful cat-woman confirmed to him, indicating just how much control she was about to lose over herself in just a few hours from now.
"I have strong locks," Lord Jestocost replied. "And proper privacy. You would be safe here," those words saying far more than they seemed. If C'mell's drives were as strong as she indicated they were, she'd prowl as far as necessary in the attempt to satisfy them. And at this level, far above the kennels the underpeople lived in, she'd only encounter other hominids in the corridors outside — everyone one of them lethal to her.
Those words that she'd be safe here connoted more, however. Safety wasn't just in staying away from trouble. It also included that what happened here stayed here. Lord Jestocost had just promised her that his privacy within his own chambers was absolute. She needed his assurance on that, and trusted him fully once he gave it.
"But what about you?" she asked, knowing that this was the last question she needed answered.
"I'll be fine," he assured her. It was his way of taking responsibility for his own actions. Nothing that now happened between them would fall solely on her lovely shoulders. She'd given all the necessary warnings, and he'd accepted the consequences.
In a way, C'mell had also accepted the consequences. She could have left without holding this discussion, and simply said she'd be back in three days. He'd have understood, and held the door open for her to leave — and again upon her return.
But she wanted this with him. Wanted it with her mind, which is the true seat of love.
"No possibility of consequences?" Lord Jestocost asked her unexpectedly, and even more softly.
That startled her for a moment now, although she appreciated that he was covering every possible base.
"None," she replied with almost a purr. Purring was one thing she'd lost in the adaption to the hominid form necessary to become an efficient servant, but the instinct was still there. "My cat genes will never match up with your hominid ones."
"Then do what you need to do," he told her, turning back to type in an unseen code that sealed all ingress and egress from his domicile until it was entered again. C'mell made the intentional effort to ensure she didn't catch even a hint of it, before retiring to her own space that he'd given to her while she stayed here with him. To any outside viewer it would appear that he'd sent her to his normally empty servant quarters. To C'mell, she'd never had a suite of rooms so nice before.
Hours passed as Lord Jestocost continued to work at his task. There was so much to do that he wouldn't waste remaining available minutes otherwise.
I'll never be able to die, he thought to himself, because there's always so much more to be done.
He used some of the time to invent a plausible fiction on why he'd be unavailable for the next seventy-two hours. This was almost automatic for him, so often had he found it necessary to carve out some private time for one private investigation or another. They were never questioned, and neither would this one be.
And there were no spy-bots allowed in a lord's private space.
When C'mell finally came for him the first time, the sun was setting on the far side of the building. Lord Jestocost always liked the sunrise, which put him apart from all the other lords.
C'mell had changed out of the loose blouse and simple skirt she'd been wearing into something long, red, shimmering, and slinky. And she'd slipped her feet into something much more glamorous as well. This was part of her girlygirl wardrobe, and she really knew how to wear it right.
Although cut high up in front, and sweeping the floor except for the extra twelve centimeters of height her shoes gave her, it in no way hid who was wearing it. One slit open and closed between her very hominid breasts on each step or breath. A second slit ran so far up the outside of her leg that it nearly cut through to her completely bare back. And what each of those features alternately concealed, and then revealed, was completely under her control.
As she approached him across the long floor, her very way of walking had changed.
Rather than the very sexy hominid walk she'd perfected to a science, now there was more of a lithe cat in it. And although no cat had ever worn heels like her own throughout history, she wore them like she was born to them. It was even more powerful than her other perfected movements. And there was more.
Although underpeople were officially banned intoxicating substances, and there were never any such items in his own domicile, she walked as though she was under the influence of something powerful. A cat already half out of her mind.
Her pupils were wide and dark. Far more than necessary to see in the fading light. And although her balance was perfect, she still seemed to sway a bit on every third or fourth step, before recovering. And her expression seemed to show her mind wandering from its usual keen focus, until she dragged it back each time again.
Lord Jestocost thought that either her hormones hit her with a fury that was almost instantly incapacitating to any rational thought, or that she'd held out in her room until she couldn't hold out any longer. Maybe it was both.
As she approached, he could hear the soft sounds she couldn't keep herself from uttering. While soft and deep in her throat now, he had no doubt that they could reach caterwauling screeches with little encouragement. That would be okay. He had vacuum gaps in all his walls to provide complete privacy.
He rose to meet her as she almost stumbled into his arms. He caught her easily, and waited to see what she would do next.
Again confusion came over her face. Instinctively she'd just presented herself in a state to be taken at once by any available male. Although like any cat she could be very discriminating in her choice of actual lovers, she wasn't worried about that here. A beautiful, intoxicated woman in a flimsy dress should be immediate game for any functioning male.
But Lord Jestocost wasn't one to take her, or any female, just because she'd thrown herself at him. He had much more finesse than that. Also, this was going to go on for the next three days. There was no point in him doing his part in the first three minutes.
Instead he reached over for the first time to stroke her amazing fur-like hair, marveling at how it could look so appealing human, while feeling so very different. It was the first time he'd actually dared touch her.
For C'mell, this kind of attention from a human was something she'd always longed for. This forbidden fruit of hominid attention.
While her genetic ancestors for the past ten thousand years had freely presented themselves to be petted, then strutted away to demonstrate their independence from domestication at the same time, this game was denied an underperson. The more her kind had been made to resemble their hominid masters, the higher the wall that had been built between them became. In short, the more an equal relationship became possible, the more verboten their rulers made its actual consummation.
So while C'mell had studied the humans with her sharp mind until she became better at understanding all the tricks of hominid seduction than the hominid females themselves knew, that knowledge had truly benefited her only in limited ways.
As a girlygirl she could flirt and tease as subtly — or as blatantly — as she wished. It was part of her job description. And the more she could coax a hominid to like or want her, the better she could perform her job's duties — which mainly consisted of welcoming travelers from other worlds to Earth, and helping them to have the best legal times possible while here. As their first point of contact, she was a fount of information to assist a traveler on anything they might desire to know upon arrival.
And her duties could extend beyond that arrival to become a personal guide for the duration of their stay, with an exorbitantly high fee paid to Earthport for that service. She, of course, would only ever see the tiniest fraction of that fee kicked back as a bonus, but that was how the system worked.
In one way, the system freed her to be more uninhibited than she could have ever dared otherwise. Because consummation of any relationship was impossible, and procreation was impossible with any other non-cat as well, she could play with males she'd never have chosen to actually mate with. As with her ancestors, she retained a great amount of discretion — some call it pickiness — over her choice of a mate. Even in the throes of biological heat, she would never accept an unsuitable lover.
And men being men, regardless of which star's light they may have grown up under, enjoyed her play with them as well. They knew the rules. Every hominid knew the rules. They knew the rules before they ever met their first underperson.
But when beautiful C'mell smiled at them, gave a twitch of her shoulder in a come hither motion, or accidentally seemed to strike the perfect pose that showed just a little too much leg or breast, many of them were left questioning their commitment to the very rules that were the basis of their lives. Lives of privilege that put them as far over the underpeople as hominids had ever been over the animals who shared their worlds.