A Kitty's Tail
Catspionage -- a Memoir
by Jean Goldstrom ©2007

The worst part of the whole mission was that they called me Twinky.

I know that doesn't really translate. Just take my word for it, it's really stupid and demeaning. On the other paw, I understand they didn't mean it that way, and you have to understand that humans think differently than we do. To say the least.

But, on with this wrap-up report.

I was pretty excited about going out on my first mission. I had really worked hard in training and espionage career school and all that. Imagine my let-down when I got my assignment -- The Monkey Planet. Where nothing ever happens, where nothing ever will happen, at least probably not in my lifetime, from everything I've ever heard about it.

Well, I ran into a bit of luck. I was waiting in the Transport Depot when my mom came in from her last mission, which happened to have been to The Monkey Planet. I was glad to see her, and we had a few minutes to talk.

"So how was the Monkey Planet?" was my first question, of course.

"Oh, not bad at all," she said, "and don't call it that. It is not wise to denigrate your mission, even if you think it - ahem (and she rolled her eyes) -- unworthy of your skills. It's no more the Monkey Planet than we are the Tsongina planet. Of course, those were our ancestors in most ancient times, but they are not us, and we are not them, nor are the dwellers on the place you are going which they call Rrth -- "monkeys." You will do a much better mission if you think of them as "beings," just as we are beings."

"Yes, Mother," I said, dutifully keeping my opinions to myself.

She said, "I know you must go quickly, but I will do you a favor. Here are the coordinates of the place where I stayed. The beings there are quite distraught over my disappearance. They are kind-hearted beings and took good care of me. They fear something deathly happened to me, and they mourn. They will be happy to see you -- I see you have taken a form like the one I used there. Well...almost like it," she said, eyeing my tail, which was all of one inch long.

Mother was much more experienced in shape-shifting than I am, although I got a good mark in Shape class. But the form I needed for this mission....well, by the time I managed to shrink to the proper size, extrude four legs, complete with paws and claws, only two ears, both pointed, only two eyes, both yellow, shiny black fur...well, I kept forgetting about the tail, and wound up with this one-inch thing. How embarrassing, especially compared to Mother's long, slim, beautiful tail. She had taken the same form I was assigned, but obviously much more successfully. Of course, she’s been doing this for a while.

"Hurry up, now," she meowed, still speaking in the language of her form. "Be nice to these beings. They understand a little thought-speech, but not much. They will be --"

And then I heard my transport being called, so quickly meowed a good-bye to Mother -- to show her I had mastered the speech of this form -- and rushed off to my transport.


Chuck was working in the garage attached to the rambler home he shared with his wife, Jean, when he called, "Hey, Jean, come here and look!"

Jean opened the door of the house and looked into the garage, to see a small, black kitten -- he couldn't have been more than two months old -- sauntering into the garage from the front lawn.

"Where did you come from, little guy?" Jean asked, wondering how such a small kitten could appear, seemingly from nowhere. Nobody in the neighborhood had kittens, she knew.

"Look, he acts like he's looking the place over," Chuck laughed. "Next he'll be asking, 'What time is lunch?'"

I was indeed wondering just that question, and saw that Mother was right about these beings having some thought-speech abilities.

"Are you hungry, little guy?" Jean asked. "Well, come in and see what we can find for hungry little kitties."

She picked me up -- I was really pretty small -- and looked at my tail. "Oh," she said, sounding sympathetic. "Look at the little guy's tiny tail. Do you think some mean person cut it off?"

Chuck came over and gently touched my poor excuse of a tail. This rather tickled, and I whisked my tail from side to side. "I don't think so," he said. "The tip of his tail doesn't show any scar tissue. I think nature made him that way."

Jean smiled. "Look at how he whips that little tail around – so fast it almost twinkles!" Then she laughed. Lifting me close to her face, she said to me, "Do you mind if we call you Twinkletail? I know that's probably not your real name, but it does fit you right now. Maybe you can tell us your real name when you get older."

I was thought-yelling my name at her. "Alantha! Alantha!" But I guess I wasn't good enough yet at thought-speech to get it across. She didn't get it. Thus, "Twinkletail" became my name, and -- ugh -- "Twinky" my nickname. Eventually Chuck and Jean realized my true name, when I got older and better at thought speech. But by then I was so used to "Twinky" I didn't even mind it...much.

Back to my introduction to the home. Jean carried me into the house and put me down on a floor covered with something smooth. Inside the door, I was immediately assaulted by strange smells. Some came from creatures much resembling my present form.

There were several of them lying about on what the humans no doubt considered furniture. They did not take much notice of me. This did not surprise me, as I realized immediately that most of them were Hansans. Hansa is a planet where the dominant life-form is descended from a creature that looks much like my present form. I did not fear them, for they are not dangerous to us. Hansas aren’t stupid. They just aren't interested in what we would call technology, except for mind travel. They shoot their essences all over the multiverse, living in whatever creatures they can find there, especially those that resemble their basic ancestor. What they do with the knowledge they gain, no one on our world has been able to discover. Nor do we care very much, as they don't seem to cause anybody any problems, except for fighting among themselves – which seems to be their favorite activity, along with traveling throughout the multiverse.

Then I got another whiff, and the form which I had taken reacted without my conscious determination – fear, fight! I heard myself hissing and huffing, and puffed out my fur to look as big as possible. Yeah, at age eight weeks this must have been really terrifying.

A large, brown quadruped approached me. It was 20 times my weight and six times my height. This is the end, I theorized. Farewell, Monkey Planet. Farewell, my might-have-been-great-career....

Then the human called Jean said to this being, "Rose, take it easy. This is just a little kitten who looks like he needs a home. Be a good dog, be nice to him."

The creature --I later learned it was called "dog" -- called Rose sniffed me. She rumbled some thought-speech at me that sounded like, "Hi, kid," and wandered off to lie down behind one of the pieces of furniture. I noticed two other similar-looking creatures, already flopped comfortably on the floor.


So went my time with these humans and their friends who were other beings. I listened and learned about things on the Monkey Planet -- oh, on Rrth, I mean -- and realized these humans were surely no danger to us, although they certainly seemed a danger to each other.

Of course, as you know, I made my daily brief reports to you at home, and you didn't seem to have any problem picking up my thought-speech. Probably because you aren't humans. Anyway, I reported everything I could see, hear or sense, whether close around my human "family" or anywhere else on their planet. There were many trouble spots on that planet, of course, and I was more thankful than ever to my mother that she steered me to a quiet, safe place.

Or so I thought.

Everything changed for me one day.

I was outdoors sleeping in the soft grass under a leafy bush near the house when sounds awoke me. Someone was coming. I looked and listened. The newcomers -- there were three of them -- appeared to be dogs. But they weren't. Oh, no, they certainly weren't!

I recognized them from pictures I was told in spy school to memorize, even though they had taken dog form, just as I had taken cat form.

The leader, looking like a yellow Lab, was well known to me as Ferlando 74th, son of Ferlando 73rd. This guy, 74, would be the next hereditary monarch of a planet called Ferl. Because the monarchy is so inbred, it is noted for its stupidity, and the government is run by a sort of parliament, with the Ferlandos as figureheads. What could 74 possibly be doing here?

The next dog was a real surprise. I recognized the reddish-brown, short, muscular mixed- breed as a top military espionage officer from Hilar, a planet which our people didn't know had any dealings whatsoever with Ferl.

When I finally made the third dog, it really took me beyond surprise. Despite being disguised as an elderly cocker spaniel mix, I recognized Retannoroe, a philosopher and strategist from still a third planet, a place called Rill. Retannoroe is an intellect recognized on an interplanetary scale. His writings and thoughts are considered top-level philosophizing on the meaning of...everything. What is he doing with these other two, I thought? Wow! I thought. Wait till the gang at home find out these three are working together -- but on what? I got off a quick message to my backup team, telling them what I saw, and to be on watch -- anything could happen.

Meantime, Jean saw from the kitchen window these three strange dogs trotting up the driveway. She feared for the cats that were outdoors. Grabbing her kitchen broom, she charged out the door, shouting at the dogs to “Get out! Go away! Get out!”

She chased the dogs around the yard several times. Ferlando, the obvious leader, seemed to have forgotten where the entrance to the driveway was. The other two trotted obediently behind him, round and round the yard, as if the near-imbecile was actually their leader.

Finally, out of breath, Jean stopped running and brandishing the broom. The three dogs, also out of breath, immediately flopped down on the grass, panting.

"Are you guys hungry?" Jean asked, realizing that they might be strays with nothing more sinister on their minds except their empty stomachs. All three wagged their tails faintly. She went indoors and came out with three dog bowls, each filled with kibble. She placed one before each vagrant. Ferlando immediately tucked into his kibbles as if he had not seen anything like that for a week. When the other two saw he was eating, they, too, ate.

Why are they so deferential, I wondered?

Just then Chuck came into the yard. "Well, some new faces," he said, in a friendly way. Ferlando looked up from his bowl, walked over to Chuck, bit him in the leg, and went back to his bowl.

"You son of a bitch," Chuck yelled, not thinking how accurate this epithet was in this particular case. He kicked Ferlando soundly in the butt. Ferlando looks up briefly, and, it seemed to me, contemptuously, then went back to his bowl.

Meanwhile, Jean ran into the house and came out with a dog collar and a long rope. She collared Ferlando and tied him to a shady tree. After one more trip into the house, and she came out with a water bucket, nearly filled, which she placed within easy reach of the tied-up dog.

Chuck pulled up his pant-leg and examined the bite. "It's really just a scratch," he said. "The skin isn't broken." Glaring at Ferlando, he snarled, "Some nice mutt. I guess that's his way of getting acquainted."

Jean said, "We don't need this kind of problem. I'll call the animal shelter and see if they can take him," and she ran into the house.

Ferlando finished his kibbles, took a good drink from the bucket, and began to bark -- unceasingly.

I couldn't make out anything he was saying, as their language is very different from ours. Whatever it was, his two pals seem to have heard it all before. They finished their kibbles, took a drink, and lay down for a rest. Ferlando continued barking.

"They can take him tomorrow," Jean called from the kitchen door to Chuck "but the other two dogs will have to wait a while. It's a no-kill shelter, and they can't take more dogs than they have space for, until somebody adopts some. They just have one space now, so let's take Bingo Barker over there tomorrow. They said they could take him then."

Bingo Barker, as Jean chose to call him, barked constantly. I stayed under my leafy bush, hoping he wouldn't notice me. I'm certainly not as famously recognizable as he is. In fact, I am totally unheard-of. But he might notice that I'm not an Earth-cat, and that could be trouble. In fact, with his stupidity and in his present dog-form, he might attack me just for being a cat, as I have learned some Earth dogs do.

The day wore on. The sun set. Bingo/Ferlando never stopped barking. Jean and Chuck called their animal friends indoors for the evening. I was stuck under the bush, because the Mad Barker would surely see me if I crossed the yard to the house.

I heard Jean say, "I'm going to let Bingo off his rope to exercise something besides his mouth. Maybe he will stop barking for a while, before he drives everyone completely mad."

Oh, good, I thought. While he is running around doing whatever it is he does, I can make a dash for the house without him noticing, genius that he is. This turned out to be a major miscalculation on my part. I should have made my move while he was tied.

Jean untied Ferlando, who immediately stopped barking and began busily running around the yard, sniffing everything in the manner of dogs. His retinue – the two traveling companions -- joined him.

I judged the distance between my leafy hiding place, the house, and Ferlando. Hmmm. If I didn't make the house, I could at least dive under the house, which had a crawl space between the bottom of the house and the ground. Most of the crawl space was skirted with wood, but there were a couple of broken places, leaving small openings I could fit through.

Okay, here I go. Like a streak, I shot toward the house.

That damned Ferlando spotted me. I ran like mad toward the crawl space. Made it -- whew! Then, crash, rip, bang, next thing I knew, that crazed, barking demon smashed through some of the wooden skirting. He was coming straight at me, crazy eyes glaring, jaws drooling.

In the house, Chuck said to Jean, "There's some kind of rumpus under the house. You don't suppose --"

Jean said, "Oh, no. Those blasted dogs -- who are they chasing?" She looked around the living room, where various cats and dogs had composed themselves for an evening of doing nothing.

"Twinky!" she gasped. "He's the only one not here!"

Just then she heard a loud MEEEEOOOWWWW from under the house.

"Oh, no," she cried.

"Wait, that wasn't a battle cry, and it wasn't a scream of terror..." Chuck said.

They both ran outdoors, to see Ferlando and his two friends emerging from under the house.

Jean started to cry. "I can't look," she said.

"I'll look," said Chuck, dropping to the ground and crawling under the house through one of the broken skirting areas. He came out a few minutes later, with a still, black form in his arms.

"Is he --" Jean asked.

Chuck nodded. "They didn't bite him, or chew him, but he's dead. I'll bury him."

Jean ran to the rope that had tied Ferlando and quickly fastened him to the tree, giving him a kick in the butt for good measure. "You rotten mutt," she said, and ran into the house to cry.

Ferlando's two traveling companions looked thoughtful, and lay down near him.


The next morning, Chuck climbed behind the wheel of the family car while Jean leashed Ferlando and led him into the back seat. He didn't seem to mind getting into the car, and as they drove off, he sat up erectly looking to the left and right as the countryside slid past.

Then, about halfway to the animal shelter, something happened. Ferlando threw his upper body into Jean's lap, hid his face under her arm, and she noticed he was trembling. Jean had seen enough frightened dogs to know that the previously-mighty Bingo, as she thought of him, was now a thoroughly terrified homeless dog.

Cross as she was with him, she couldn't help feeling sorry for the frightened pooch now trying to hide under her arm. "It's okay, Bingo," she said. "This is not a bad place. They take good care of dogs here, and they'll do their best to find you a good home. Just try to be nice, don't bite anybody and for goodness sake, don't kill any more cats."

Ferlando remained a sniveling heap as Chuck and Jean dragged him out of the car and handed him over to an animal shelter worker, with a brief history of what they knew about him, including the nip and the cat incident.

"Fine," said the kind-looking woman. "It's good to know that he'll nip when he's stressed, and that he doesn't get along with cats. It’s better if we tell people before they adopt him rather than they find it out after they've taken him, or he'll be right back here." Taking Ferlando's leash, she said, gently, "Come on, boy. We've got a nice cage for you, and you can get acquainted with the other guys."

With what looked like a despairing look over his shoulder at Chuck and Jean, Ferlando allowed himself to be led away.


When they got back home, the other two dogs -- both of whom were females -- looked up at Chuck and Jean.

Jean said, "Sorry, girls, but your pal is gone for good. You know how he is. We just couldn't have him around here with the cats. You've been really nice girls -- you're welcome to stay."

The burly reddish-brown dog and the cocker spaniel mix lay down again, showing no emotion.

Jean and Chuck went about their chores.

Later in the day, over dinner, Jean said, "You know, I haven't seen Bingo's girls since we came home this morning. I wonder if they went looking for him?"

"They sure seemed attached to him," Chuck agreed. "I noticed they wouldn't start eating until he started. That's a lot of devotion for dogs!"


The next day, "Bingo's girls" were back -- with a friend.

"Well, hello, ladies," Jean said, as she saw the two familiar dogs trotting up the driveway into the yard. They were followed by a much smaller, fox-terrier-looking male dog. "Who's your friend?"

Jean walked over to the little dog, who ran from her. He wouldn't let her get nearer to him than ten feet.

Giving the two female dogs each a pat on the head, Jean said, "What did you tell him? That I take your boyfriends to the animal shelter? If you did, I hope you told him why. Poor Twinky." And she felt the tears begin to start again.

After dinner, at dog-feeding time, Jean filled bowls for the "home" dogs, and three bowls for the "visitors."

But the visitors were nowhere to be found. Jean looked and called, but they seemed surely to have gone onward to whatever destination they had in mind.

Chuck and Jean never saw them again.

Jean couldn't get the image of that still, small, black, furry form out of her mind. Poor little Twinky. She cried herself to sleep that night.


It was that night that Chuck dreamed of Twinky. But he sensed that this was not really a dream. It was so bright, so real -- like a telephone call with video.

The black cat seemed to be sitting in a room made of bars of light.

He smiled.

"Hi, Chuck," he said. "I can't stand Jean crying all the time about my untimely demise. Please tell her I am not dead, and that stupid dog did not kill me. You both heard me yell. I was yelling for my team to get me out of there, NOW, and thanks to good luck, they were alert and on the job. I was gone before Ferlando ever touched me." Twinky laughed. "All he got was an empty cat, and he surely didn't know what to make of that."

"Is this a dream?" Chuck heard himself saying.

"No, my friend," Twinky said, and there was a warm note in his voice. "I'm sending you a message from where I live. I'm back home now, safe and sound. My visit to you was part of my job. It's what I do -- what a lot of my people do. We are able to send our essence -- our spirit, you might call it -- to distant places. There, we live in the body of some creature native to that place, so we can understand the place better. We have quite a few observers on your home planet. Of course we don't come in our real form -- we've seen 'The Day The Earth Stood Still.'" He uttered a little cat laugh. "Really. It's part of our training. Actually, you probably wouldn't like me if you saw me in my real form. I am wearing my 'Twinky' form so you wouldn't be frightened or repelled."

Chuck said, "Twinky, if this is real, not a dream, I hope you know we loved you. Sure, the form you wore was cute and handsome, but the real you, whatever was inside, was the nice, friendly, fun guy we came to love. Whatever your true form might be, we'd still love the same 'you' inside of it."

Twinky looked down, as if embarrassed. "Thank you," he said, softly. "I enjoyed my time with you. You have been kind friends." He brightened. "Actually, this has turned out very well for me. My superiors were amazed to learn about Ferlando and his pals. And by the way, I think Ferlando’s essence left that big yellow mutt on the way to the animal shelter, and found another parking place in that little dog his ‘girls’ brought to show you. Anyway, nobody here had any idea that those three groups were working together on anything. Now we have to find out what they're up to. But that will be another mission, to another time and place, I'm sure."

He smiled again. "Just so you won't miss me too much, go to the animal shelter tomorrow and ask how that big yellow mutt is getting along -- and listen to what they have to say. Again, thanks for everything, and tell Jean to please stop crying. It's all okay, really."

The vision faded.

The next morning at breakfast, Chuck told Jean the whole story. "I don't know if I dreamed it or if it was really some kind of message," Chuck said, thoughtfully. "It really didn't seem like a dream...."

"Let's go to the animal shelter and ask about Bingo," Jean said.

As soon as breakfast was over they piled into the car and drove to the animal shelter. They met the same kind-faced woman they had seen the day before. She was outside the shelter building holding a cardboard box.

"We just wondered how Bingo was getting along," Jean said to her.

The woman laughed. "You were not kidding about his barking. He barked all day yesterday, all night last night, and most of this morning. I think he's finally had his say. He's quieted down now -- I think he's starting to settle in. He'll be all right. Look at what I've got here. Someone left these on our steps during the night."

Chuck and Jean looked into the cardboard box. Two tiny kittens peered out. One was pure white, the other, coal black.

"What an unusual combination!" Jean said. "It is really unusual to see pure color in mixed-breed cats."

"Yes," the woman said. "I don't know why somebody didn't want them, They are little beauties. But we'll find a home for them, no doubt. It's just that we're so jammed up right now, I don't know where we'll put them."

"Put them here," said Jean, holding out her arms for the box.

"Really?" said the woman.

"Yes," said Chuck. "I think we were told to expect them. We'll take them."

"That's great," said the woman. "Just come into the office and fill out the paperwork."

As the pair followed the woman into the animal shelter office, Chuck whispered to Jean, "They might be Twinky's replacements."

Jean nodded. "Why else would he tell us to come here this morning?" Jean said. "I noticed they do have standard-length tails – maybe he told them to be careful about that.”

Unimaginable distances away, a creature that had once been a small, black, short-tailed cat, gave a cat-like snicker.

x x x

Another fun story from Jean Goldstrom makes another "Editor's Extra" this year. Jean sent me this one and suggested it might be a good choice for a fun tale. I agreed. How about you? Comments to our BBS, please. -GM

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