The Zenda Protocol
Robert Allen Lupton

The first phase of the operation went bad when the interstellar transport exploded before I cleared the launch tube and my craft tumbled out of control ahead of the growing fireball.

The concussion threw me into an uncontrolled spin, top over bottom, side over side, with a slow roll to make it interesting. I have carefully placed nozzles that exhaust compressed air and control yaw, roll, and pitch. It was time to use them.

My flight instructors taught me to say pitch, roll, and yaw, but I think of the rotations as merry-go-round, summersault, and spin.

The Krittle planet, Krit, whizzed by at a dizzying speed, but it was my only point of reference. The haze of atmosphere came closer every second. When I hit the atmosphere, the air resistance would slow me below orbital speed. If I wasn’t in control of the approach vector and aircraft attitude, I’d bounce out of the atmosphere.

Pilots call it a skip. A big skip is a death sentence. I only have compressed air thrusters and I’d never reposition my glider for reentry before I died from lack of oxygen.

If my entry was too steep, the atmospheric shock layer would rip off the glider’s wings and some lucky Krittle child would make a wish on my falling star. I didn’t much care for either choice.

The approaching atmosphere was the deadline to get the glider under control or hit the atmosphere and skip like a stone or drop like a boulder.

I took a deep breath and told myself, “Jana, you’ve done this hundreds of times in simulations. Do the first thing, first. Wings, flaps, and the rudder are useless until there’s air for them to bite. Use the air thrusters. Fire two nozzles at the same time for balance. It won’t do any good to cut the pitch and double the roll. Fast, but careful.”

I tilted two nozzles and fired one short burst. The roll slowed by half. I gave it another burst and cut the roll to almost nothing. I still pitched end over end and spun horizontally. I fired the nose thrusters and slowed the pitch.

A red light flashed on my instrument panel. Sixty seconds to atmosphere contact. No second chances. I used a nose and tail thruster and stopped the merry-go-round.

Forty-five seconds to go. I fired microbursts and eliminated the yaw and pitch, but I overcompensated and rolled slowly the other direction. Ten seconds. I could do this. I’d practiced thousands of atmosphere entry scenarios and one with a slow roll should be easy. Maintain orientation and flare the flaps to increase drag. I’d raise and lower the flaps as I rolled, but the roll was slow enough that one bite at the apple should be all I needed.

I hit the atmosphere nose first and upside down, flared the flaps on both glider wings, and lurched against my restraints when the drag hit.

I didn’t skip away to die in space, but I took a big bite and dropped swiftly toward the surface. Time to be a glider pilot. Don’t try to turn the plane in one second. The crap in the movies where the brave pilot pulls a passenger plane out of an uncontrolled dive at five hundred miles an hour is entertaining, but not realistic. I made small corrections until the aircraft was under control. I put the plane in a twenty percent glide when I was sixty thousand feet above the ocean. I’d cover five miles of horizontal travel for every mile of fall.

I aimed for the second largest land mass. I was thirty miles from the coast when I engaged the rudder for a slow right turn. Steep turns spill too much altitude. The craft barely responded. Most of the rudder was gone, but the small piece remaining did the best it could. I wondered how much distance this was going to add to the flight.

Reaching the coast was a real problem.

I alternately raised and lowered the left flap to force the turn. When I completed the slow semi-circle, I was forty thousand feet up and forty miles from shore. I needed to glide ten miles for every mile of fall. That’s without any margin of error. I didn’t want to land on a crowded beach. My mission was over if the Krittle saw me land.

I needed better than a ten to one glide ratio and my landing craft was rated at seven to one. Air pressure and gravity are less on Krit than in the Earth normal training simulations. The sun was rising and I might get some lift from the warming water, but I couldn’t count on it.

Slowing down or speeding up wouldn’t change the numbers significantly, but I needed every foot I could find. I pointed the nose at the land and held it steady. When I reached twenty thousand feet, I was still twenty-five miles from shore. I’d covered fifteen miles and dropped twenty thousand feet. The hard numbers said I’d have to swim the last five miles.

The red sun cast a scarlet dawn across the ocean. A large mountain range ran north to south about ten miles inland. Not a problem, I’d be on the ground or in the drink before then. I was six miles from shore when I encountered the headwind. It was morning drainage. When the sun warms the mountains, cold air tumbles down from the peaks and creates a strong brief wind flowing away from the mountains. In this case, out to sea and straight at me.

It slowed me a little, but saved my life. The headwind provided lift and increased my glide ratio. I was three hundred feet in the air when I crossed the beach. I landed in the Krittle equivalent of an onion field a few miles inland. Phase one, planetary insertion, complete.

I removed my safety restraints and grabbed the canister of plastic dissolving solution. I stood upwind and sprayed my landing craft. It bubbled, melted, and left a slight discoloration on the dirt and plants.

I was alone. My Krittle wristrider is a personal communication device that looks like an ornamental arm band. I turned it on, activated the location finder, and called Paul, my advance man.

“Hello, Jana. Thank God you made it. I was on an open channel with your transport when it exploded. I didn’t know if you were dead or alive. I can be at your location in three hours.”

“Great, I’ll spend the time checking local news and reviewing the current data on Queen Can-ta.”

“I’ve sent three days of updates on her activities. Keep your wristrider active and I’ll be there as soon as I can. I’ll recognize you, you’re the mirror image of the Queen, but you won’t recognize me. Activate the video application and you’ll see my appearance.”

Paul was taller than he used to be. Rust-colored fur covered his body and his eyes were black without visible pupils. Like all Krittles, his nose extended in a short snout, his eyes were close to the side of his head, and his ears were feline in position and appearance. The Krittle evolved from the alpha predator on their planet and they look like a cross between mountain lions and large foxes.

I said, “I’ll know you.” I used the photo application to check my appearance. I’d seen my face a thousand times during my physical transition into a Krittle and the cosmetic surgeries to make me the Queen’s doppelgänger, but I wanted to reassure myself that I still looked like the Queen.

My fur was little ruffled and I smoothed it with my retractable claws. The tip of my left ear was missing. The Queen lost hers in a hunting accident. I smiled and admired my razor sharp teeth. I glanced behind me and my thick fur-covered tail was gorgeous. I liked the way I looked. I might as well, I’d look like this until I died. This was a one way trip. My job was to kill the Queen and take her place or die trying.

I walked to the beach. A grass-covered shack sold refreshments. Paul had set up a credit account for me and I purchased a cup of brath, Krittle coffee, and a meat and egg roll that tasted like an uncooked breakfast burrito. The benches didn’t have seatbacks because Krittle have tails. I sipped the sweet brath, ate the raw burrito, and reviewed the updated data.

On Krit, the female of the species is more vicious than the male. Queen Can-ta became Queen when she disemboweled her mother in a leadership challenge fifteen Earth years ago. She ordered her four sisters killed immediately, including the two who’d led the invasion of the human settlement on Canis Major Four.

She never took a mate and there were no children to challenge her. She maintained four lookalikes to stand in for her at public appearances. She had a secret tattoo under the fur below her left breast and an identification chip imbedded in her left forearm.

She escalated interstellar expansion. The Krittle require the same kind of planets we do and they kicked our asses off the ones we’d colonized as fast as they found them. Once they discovered our first colony, they learned about the rest. Earthlings are tough and we’re not afraid to fight, but the Krittle are territorial and predatory at a level we can’t understand and a lot of their technology seemed like magic to us. We were losing.

I was converted into a Krittle using DNA modification, genetic reconfiguration, and surgery. This suicide mission was so simple it was stupid. My job was to replace one of the Queen’s doubles, get close to the Queen, kill her, and take her place. My tattoo was a perfect match and I’d shift my chip to match hers just before the Queen died.

After I was Queen, I’d negotiate peace with humanity. Peace might only last as long as I lived, but hopefully, I’d survive long enough to provide the folks on Earth with enough Krittle technology to have a fighting chance after the truce ended.

My wristrider flashed when Paul arrived. I climbed in the electrically powered car and adjusted the seat. I slid my tail through the open seatback and shifted to make myself comfortable.

The countryside wasn’t much different than the western United States. There were forests, fields, towns, and villages, but the colors were wrong. It wasn’t the way my modified Krittle eyes worked. Everything back home looked normal and reds were reds and blues were blue. It was the red sun. Blues looked purple, greens looked gray, and I saw yellow as bright orange. Reds were vivid, browns had a hint of rust, and blacks a slight rosy glow.

After years of immersion training, I could identify the schools and businesses. There are no clothing stores. Fur-covered people don’t need overcoats or bathing suits. Jewelry shops were everywhere. Rings aren’t practical because of the retractable claws, but bracelets, torcs, necklaces, and earrings do a booming business. The Krittle communicators are designed to look like bracelets.

I wore five earrings in my undamaged ear and three in the one with the top missing. Rank and caste are indicated by crowns embossed with symbols. My platinum crown was covered with rubies and sapphires and the first letter of the Krittle alphabet. No one but the queen and her doubles are allowed to display gra, the Krittle A.

The Krittle alphabet includes the symbols for twenty-eight growl sounds followed by guttural vowels and a few hard consonants. It’s not a romance language.

Paul said, “I’ve established a romantic relationship with Gre-da, the Queen’s youngest double. She’s coming for dinner. I bought a sheep and the two of us will hunt it down, kill it, and eat it. Sex after we eat is expected, but the female is always the aggressor. I’ll kill her tonight and you’ll take her place.”

“I expected more time to acclimate.”

“Piss on more time. I’ve done my job, you do yours. I can’t put Gre-da off without her suspecting something’s wrong. A male of my caste and status would never cancel an evening with one of Queen Can-ta’s doubles. You have ten days to perfect the Queen’s mannerisms.”

“The Queen broadcasts her every movement eight hours a day. I’ve spent so much time copying her motions, voice, and behavior that I dream I’m her.”

Paul purred, “No substitute for being there. We can’t see behind closed doors. You have to be able to fool the court, her paramours, and the other doubles.”

“If anyone gets suspicious, I’ll have them killed.”

“Thinking like a Queen already.”

After Paul landed, he’d killed and replaced a castle guardsman. A guard’s schedules was like a fireman’s schedule. He was on duty continually for five days and then off for five days.

Paul’s backyard was fenced. Krittle like their meat rare. Actually, they like it alive until they rip it apart. The large yard gives the prey the illusion it can escape and the

Krittle the illusion they’re hunting dinner.

His front door was a round opening about five feet above ground level. A small leap for a lion. The windows don’t have panes and homes aren’t heated or cooled. Creature comforts are for weaklings and weaklings get challenged.

Fights are to the death. You only lose once.

Paul poured us each a glass of Klac, an alcoholic beverage made by fermenting a mixture of sheep blood and grains and distilling the result. Like most grain based spirits, it’s all vodka at the end of the day. Klac has the slightest aftertaste of meat left in the sun a day too long. It’s an acquired taste.

“Why were you picked for this mission?”

“There were four of us who were the right size. My family emigrated to Aldebaran Four just before the Krittle hit the planet. My parents were killed. I was six. You know how it works; you were in the program. I lived on Krittle food and drink. We spoke Krittle twenty-four / seven. The genetic engineering and surgical body modifications seemed endless. I received another treatment while I healed from the last one. For all practical purposes, I was Krittle by the time I was twelve.”

Paul tossed down his Klac and said, “Sounds like me. I was on Altair Seven. The constant indoctrination wore me down. Screw personal sacrifice for the good of humanity. These furry bastards killed my family.”

“Most of the girls in the program couldn’t learn to control their augmented body parts.” I wiggled my pointed ears, extended and retracted my claws, and wrapped my tail around the Klac bottle. “The brain trust came up with The Zenda Protocol three years ago. Only four of us were the right color and body type. I passed the psych tests and speak better Krittle than most of the damn cats.”

“And you won the grand prize.”

“Yep, they tossed me out of an exploding space ship in a toy glider. I know I sound flippant, but I volunteered to be here.”

Paul put away the alcohol and said, “You need to hide. After Gre-da and I eat, we’ll come inside for a little slap and tickle. I’ll inject her with neurotoxin and kill her.

Your chip will mirror her code and your wristrider will clone hers. You go to the palace. I’ll dump her body in a pig farm.”

“Isn’t that dangerous?”

“No, it’s traditional. Challenge losers are fed to the pigs. It’s expected. The Krittle have two sayings. A weak person is referred to as ‘pig food walking’. Instead of saying fubar or snafu, the Krittle say, “There aren’t enough pigs to eat this slop.”

“I like it. Where do I hide?”

“In the car.”

I reviewed geography, customs, and the Queen’s activities. I watched her most recent broadcasts. When she was angry, she raised her tail and scratched the scar on her ear. Her lips drew back slightly and she spoke quietly so people would listen carefully. When she dropped her tail and put her ears flat against her head, someone was going to the pig farm. I practiced with my ears until Paul came for me.

Gre-da looked exactly like me and that made me uncomfortable. I didn’t enjoy seeing myself unconscious on the floor. Paul said, “Put your chip in pairing mode. I can’t kill her until you do, otherwise her chip will stop broadcasting before you copy it.”

My chip reacts to my galvanic skin resistance, one of the readings lie detectors use to determine truthfulness. I was given biofeedback training and I could mentally control my chip. I put on her jewelry, including her crown.

Paul snapped her neck and we tossed her in the back seat. She went to the pig farm and I went to the palace. Paul said, “I’m on guard duty the next several days. Remember, I’m your secret lover. Be coy, but attentive. The other guards and doubles know about us. They’ll expect us to sneak around to spend time together.”

My driver waited outside. All doubles appear and behave like the Queen when in public and it wouldn’t do for me to drive my own vehicle.

There were four doubles and the Queen could appear to be in five places at the same time. The real reason was for one of us to take a bullet, a sword, or more likely, teeth and claws in her place.

Clawing your way to leadership of a species that fought its way to the top of the food chain may make you Queen, but it doesn’t endear you to the families and friends of the folks you made into pig slop along the way. To say the Queen has enemies was like saying that the ocean has waves. Our job was simple, live like a queen and die like one.

In addition to the folks she pissed off on her way up the ladder, many of her subjects were angry with her interstellar war. The Krittle were warriors, but they were accustomed to individual encounters of honor and dominance. They didn’t like sending their children to fight heathen humans across the galaxy.

She didn’t help matters by killing everyone who looked at her the wrong way. She refused most challengers as unworthy and summarily beheaded them or put a bullet between their eyes. It was efficient, but it didn’t win love and admiration. She ruled like Machiavelli on steroids.

That’s why she had doubles. If the Queen couldn’t dodge a challenge, one of us stepped into the arena. Bullets, bombs, or arrows might kill a double, but the Queen was never in the line of fire. The hours were good and the living quarters opulent, but the retirement plan was crap.

I was a perfect match for the Queen. The native doubles were close, but they required makeup and hair implants. Marg-ma, the oldest double, required the most work to pass and she moaned, whined, and endured a complete dye job every two weeks.

I sauntered into quarters suitable for a harem. The fountains, pools, plush rugs, and hand woven tapestries seemed incongruous in the same rooms with high definition monitors, voice-operated robotic servants, and communication devices. Every monitor played Queen Can-ta. We needed to know everything she did so we could step in at a moment’s notice.

Marg-ma lay on a massage table while a team of four beauticians dried and fluffed her freshly colored hair. I sat down, opened her snack cage, and ate a small white mouse. I poured a glass of Klac and topped off hers. “Did her highness do anything I need to know about?”

“She met with representatives from the Mother’s League. The moms whined about sending their sons and daughters off planet. She listened about two minutes and shot all three of them. She denied four petitions from women demanding larger landholdings, promoted some toadies, and survived one challenge.”

“How on Krit did anyone get close enough to challenge her? I thought the challenge ladder system kept that from happening.”

Marg-ma gestured to one of the beauticians. The girl dangled a mouse by its tail and dropped it into Marg-ma’s mouth. She swallowed and said, “Ordering people to prove themselves worthy to challenge the Queen by requiring them to fight death matches with the Queen’s guards is all well and good, but folks get pissed off when you treat them like pig slop. One woman demanded the land holdings of a neighbor she’d killed. The Queen refused and insisted the dead woman’s daughter would inherit.

The woman extended her claws and charged the throne. Our good queen shot her on the second step. It was quite exciting.”

I ate another mouse and refilled my Klac. I felt confident. Marg-ma didn’t suspect anything. I’d passed the first test. I took a sip and said, “A normal day. We stand in for a woman who made millions of people angry by sacrificing their kittens off planet. She doesn’t have the support of the ruling class and she changes military commanders at the slightest whim.”

“Yep, nothing’s changed. Job security’s a wonderful thing.”

I patted her paw and refilled my glass. I carried three mice by their tails and went to my room. I stared at the wall monitor and watched the Queen sleep. I heard a clicking noise and realized it was me. I clenched and unclenched my claws, extended and retracted them repeatedly.

The most likely outcome for this operation was me in the pig farm. She’d fought hundreds of challenges and was undefeated. I’d sparred and trained, but practice is no substitute for the real thing. I didn’t how I’d react in an actual fight. I needed to learn quickly. There were hundreds of the Queen’s fights on video and most of them lasted less than ten seconds. No one but an idiot thinks he’ll step into the ring for his first fight and beat the heavyweight champion of the world.

Unless you cheat. I held out my right paw and extended my claws. The light glinted on the sharp edges and they reflected danger and death. I concentrated on my right hand and my second claw, the longest one, clicked a quarter of an inch further. The last extension opened the channel to the neurotoxin reservoir. One scratch and the Queen, or any other Krittle, would lose muscle control. Piece of cake – if I didn’t scratch myself.

With that cheery thought, I retracted my claws, reviewed tomorrow’s schedule, and tried to sleep. I played and replayed tomorrow in my mind. I had recruitment duty. Ten appearances in ten hours. Take the stage, give a rousing call to arms, shake hands, and kiss the babies. Don’t get killed and don’t eat the children. I’d rehearsed this a thousand times, but tomorrow it would be real. I should know better than to worry about things before they happen. As the Krittle say, “Don’t tie your tail in a knot chasing the wind.”

Paul, or Pol-do, the name he used on Krit, drove the next morning. Krittle lined both sides of the road in the first village. I could identify the caste of every person I saw. It’s all about the ears. Short Ears are servants. The middle caste of shopkeepers, bakers, clerks, fishermen, and other trades people are Long Ears. The upper caste has long ears with tufts of white hair on top. The Tufts rule the planet. They own the land and govern with a disdain and disregard for their long and short eared tenants that would make a 16th century nobleman ashamed. Only Tufts are allowed to become military officers.

Flat Ears are the scientists, teachers, and academics. Flat Ears are smaller than the other castes and they can’t move their ears.

The recruitment rally was in a large central park. The local residents use the park as a hunting ground to train their children and ritually reenact the hunting traditions of their ancestors. I climbed the temporary stage, acknowledged the local dignitaries, and turned toward the crowd. One of my guards raised the microphone. I was the tallest person on stage.

The Queen’s recruitment speech never changed. I could have growled it in my sleep. The village mayor became visibly agitated while I spoke. She was clearly uncomfortable. I caught Paul’s eye, raised my eyebrow, and tilted my head toward the mayor. Paul nodded, crossed the stage, and stood next to her.

Her lips curled and her ears went flat. She backhanded Paul and knocked him off the stage. The mayor slashed another guard’s throat. She leapt onto a third guard and disemboweled him with her rear feet. Tough woman.

I shoved the microphone out of my way and crouched to meet her attack. She gathered her rear legs to pounce and shouted, “My children died in your stupid war.”
Fire flashed in her eyes and she pounced. I met her with my claws fully extended. She landed on top when we rolled off the stage. Our front claws clutched each other and her tail wrapped around my neck. I couldn’t breathe, but it didn’t matter. I scrapped her finger with a fully extended middle talon.

She shuddered and her grip relaxed. Her eyes rolled back. I freed my paws, ripped her tail from around my neck, and slashed her throat. I shoved her to the side and climbed back on stage.

I pointed to the village treasurer and said, “You’re the new mayor. Feed her to the pigs. This village is hereby on conscription protocol. One in every five between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five is drafted. Don’t meet the quota and I’ll take the shortage out of your hide.”

I stomped off the stage. We climbed in the car and Paul whispered, “The Queen couldn’t have done better. Do you want to wash up before the next town?”

I licked blood off my right forearm and said, “Hell, no. My blood-matted fur will serve as a warning. I keep forgetting about the damn tails. She almost choked me. I know our tails are prehensile, but if I can’t remember I have one, I can’t control it.”

Paul tried to laugh, but laughter doesn’t come easy to the Krittle. Laughter is usually a threat.

The Queen personally commented on my conduct and prowess. It was faint praise with an implicit warning. Nice fight against a small town mayor, but you’re not ready to take the Queen.

That evening, I reviewed videos of the Queen’s day. I fast forwarded through most of it. Ninety percent of the Queen’s day was crap, but she met with the military high command and learned the Krittle destroyed the human settlement orbiting Antares. They’d backtracked human expansion and determined the human settlement pattern indicated an eighty-five percent chance humanity’s planet of origin was Earth.

She demanded confirmation and ordered her commanders to divert all forces to assault humanity’s home planet. Time for a new schedule.

Gre-da never missed a workout and I used her schedule to my advantage. I meandered to the exercise room and finally found Paul lounging with two other guards. I need to get Paul alone and I used my haughtiest voice. “Pol-do, I need assistance in the weight room and you look stronger than these two.”

The two guards’ fur visibly rose in anger, but they weren’t sure if I was the Queen or a double. I heard a low growl, stopped, and glared at the men. “Someone got a problem.”

All three men dropped their eyes. I cuffed Paul and snarled. “I mean today.”

He followed me to the weight room. I pumped iron and Paul stood ready to assist. Krit gravity is eight-five percent of Earth’s and that means I have thicker bones and stronger muscles than native Krittle. I can bench press two hundred and thirty pounds and I jump twelve feet.

I told Paul the Krittle had located Earth and planned a full scale assault.

He nodded. “I’ll send the information in a microburst transmission. We need to accelerate our schedule.”

“Absolutely. The Queen’s weekly breakfast with her doubles is tomorrow. We verify our appearances and share private information. Make sure you’re on guard duty. I’ll confess my love for you, accuse the Queen of wanting you for herself, and challenge her. I want witnesses when we fight. If she wins, I’ll be dead. If I win and my sleight of hand works, the witnesses will believe I’m the Queen and I’ll cancel the invasion. Everyone hates her and hopefully a rule of enlightened reform will be well received and people won’t question me.”

Paul said, “Okay, Gre-da. Showtime’s tomorrow. Don’t get killed.”

The Queen’s breakfast was in her private hunting preserve, a small enclosed park. The other doubles and I arrived early. The faint rosy rays of dawn dispersed across the sky and dappled the clouds like flanks of a sleeping faun. The Queen and her guards blew in like a cold winter wind.

Our crowns matched perfectly, except her jewels were real. Our bracelets were the same. My tattoo matched hers. Our chips and wristriders were different, but that would only be a problem if I couldn’t get close enough to employ pairing mode.

The servants released breakfast. Four small porcine creatures burst from a cage and we chased them. Four prey animals and five hungry Krittle. The slowest goes without breakfast. I made sure it was me. A full stomach slows a fighter down. The Queen caught the first piglet.

The Queen spoke between bites, “Gre-da, don’t embarrass me by hunting in front of the people. They’ll think I’m too old to do my job.”

I snatched the piglet out of her hands. I took one bite and threw the carcass aside. We both had pig blood on our hands and faces. “Who you calling old? You want my lover because you’re too old and fat to find your own man? Fight me. I challenge.” I slapped her. I counted on her pride and temper to make her fight. The guards drew their weapons and she motioned them forward.

I snarled, “Guards. You want guards. Coward. You need men to fight for you. You don’t deserve to be queen. You don’t deserve to live. Fight me, pig food.”

What would she do? She might order her guards and the other doubles to kill me. I didn’t attack. She had to make the first move. The guards would kill me if I attacked first. After she attacked, I’d be free to kill her and somehow take her place in plain sight of six witnesses. What could go wrong?

The Queen hesitated. I laughed, turned my back on her, raised my tail, and waggled it. Turning my back signified I considered her beneath my notice and the raised tail salute intensified the insult.

She growled and snarled, “Stay back. She’s mine.”

She leapt and I ducked and rolled to the side. She caught my wrists and I pressed my chin to my chest so she couldn’t bite my throat. She snapped at my good ear and took the bottom half in one bite.

I twisted and flipped her in a somersault. She didn’t let go and I used her weight and momentum to flip with her. I landed on top with my knees clenched against her sides. I bit her shoulder and buried my head in her neck. I rubbed my crown against her face and it slipped off. I kicked it to the side.

She wrapped her tail around my neck and I couldn’t breathe. Her tail was muscled like a boa constrictor. I couldn’t believe I forgotten about tails again.

I double-clicked my claw, but she held my right wrist and I couldn’t scratch her. I strained to break her grip. She moved with me when I shifted my weight. We rolled over. My right wrist twisted under me and I withdrew the poison claw before I scratched myself. The Queen flipped me over her head and my right wrist snapped like a brittle twig.

I howled in pain. My left hand was free and I hit her twice. She rolled away. I tried to extend my right claw, but my broken wrist was swollen and the poison claw wouldn’t extend. My secret weapon was useless. I looked for a weapon, but the guards watched me closely. They wouldn’t interfere in a fair fight, but if I grabbed a spear or even a Klac bottle, they’d kill me. I motioned the Queen to attack.

The Queen said, “I’ll break your other arm before I kill you.”

She jumped at me. I dropped to the floor and rolled under her. I reached with my tail and caught her leg. She crashed to the ground. I pulled her toward me with my tail. She rolled face up and I stretched out on top of her. I pressed myself inside the reach of her rear claws, buried my face in her neck, and smelled the pig blood on her breath. She grabbed my broken wrist and ground the bones together.

I saw stars. I ripped off her crown, dropped my left forearm across her throat, and pressed with all my weight and strength.

She smashed my broken wrist repeatedly against the ground. I ignored the pain and pressed my forearm as hard as I could into her throat. Someone screamed. I stopped when I realized it was me.

Her eyes clouded. She trashed uncontrollably and then stopped. I bit off half of her ear and swallowed it. I wrapped my tail around her and hugged her closer than a lover. I rolled us back and forth across the grass. Find the Queen. I triggered my chip and wristrider. They instantly copied the Queen’s devices and reprogrammed hers to match Gre-da’s codes.

I savaged her face, rolled off the body, and licked blood from my fur. I checked and she had no heartbeat. The guards and doubles stood quietly. I growled, “Bring my crown and fetch the doctor to stitch my ear and splint my wrist.”

Marg-ma kicked the Queen’s body. She knelt, lifted the Queen’s right wrist, and broke it. Marg-ma hefted the two crowns. The real one is heavier. She tossed away the fake and placed the real one on my head. She leaned close and licked blood from my torn ear. She whispered, “Well done, my Queen.”

I growled, “Feed this bitch to the pigs.”

Paul ensured everyone saw him verify the dead woman’s chip and wristrider. Another guard said, “Gre-da’s dead. She should’ve known better.”

They carried the body out. The pigs would eat the evidence before sunset.

The next morning I cancelled the plans to invade Earth and recalled the battleships. I killed four commanders before the military accepted my new orders. I stopped the war and ended the draft. The Tufts were thrilled to stop paying for the war and the Long Ears and Short Ears were happy to stop sending their children off planet to die.

I opened diplomatic relationships with Earth, but there’s still an occasional misunderstanding. My diplomats tend to revert to type and eat humans who don’t agree with them. We can’t share planets


The peace has lasted twenty years, but I don’t know if it will continue after I die. I issued an edict that anyone who challenges the queen will be summarily executed and the Krittle have accepted it. I funded a leadership academy for young people from all castes and Paul manages it. Raise kittens the right way and put them in positions to make a difference. The Krittle won’t embrace caste equality or democracy in my lifetime, but I’ve planted the seeds. Hope springs eternal in the furry breast.


Robert Allen Lupton is retired and lives in New Mexico where he is a commercial hot air balloon pilot. Robert runs and writes every day, but not necessarily in that order. He has been published in several anthologies and has short stories online at and His novel, Foxborn, was published in April 2017 and the sequel, Dragonborn, in June 2018. His collection of running themed horror, science fiction, and adventures stories, Running Into Trouble, was published in October 2017.

Visit his Amazon page and , his Goodreads page and blog for current information about his stories and books. His Hometown Reads page is .