(c) 1995 T. Knight
It was early evening when I climbed up to the observation deck of the main Plaza Tower. The evening breeze ruffled through my fur, and my tail streamed out behind me as I walked over to the railing. The deck was almost deserted tonight, which suited me.
I looked out over the skyline of the city. Furrtropolis was bathed in the orange light of the sunset, the tall buildings glinting in the last rays of the sun as it sank below the horizon. On the whole, the city was a pretty good place to be, and life was good. My first-born cub would come of age tomorrow and, as ritual required, I would tell him the history of our people, the story of the Awakening.
Remembering my own father, I smiled. He must have felt like this before he told me - a little apprehension, but also pride in that the lessons of that time would be passed down through the generations. Still, it was not an easy story to tell. Perhaps my father also came up here the night before my own coming-of-age? I felt I understood what he felt now better than I had before.
Every cub, when they came of age, was told the story of the Awakening - how, many many years before, we furries didn't exist outside the minds of a few of the Old People. How it was that, in a quest to explore the outer boundaries of genetics, they created the First Furries in their laboratories... and unwittingly, the seeds of their own destruction.
The Old People had intended them to be no more than a highly sophisticated experiment. And indeed, it had worked - the First Furries, drawn first from primates, then later other species such as felines and canids, exhibited higher than normal intelligence than their animal forefathers. Of course, we learned of this through the writings of the Old People, as at this time the First Furries were little more than their animal parents. It took many years for the process to be perfected, drawing cell samples from both humans and animals, carefully working through to the genetic level and splicing attributes from one to the other, then culturing the resulting embryos in dishes and tubes.
The scientists experimented with them, tinkering with increasing brain power, modifying body shape and attributes. After the gift of intelligence, they eventually managed to give Furries the power of speech. Furries were then able to communicate, not only among their own and with the Old People, but with other species as well. Becoming stronger, more intelligent and articulate, and eventually developing bipedal walking, the First Furries exceeded all the Old People's expectations.
Only they had built them TOO well.
The Old People thought they had control of us, preventing us from developing independently. All their first experiments were clones, and amid the rest of their arrogant tinkering the believed that they had prevented them from breeding and from living outside their labs. But they had not counted on two things - the adaptability of nature, and our own glimmer of intellectual powers. As the First Furries became more self-aware, they realised that they were in effect playthings of the Old People that could be disposed of as easily as a broken toy. And so, using their new-found reasoning and communication, they set to work, learning science from their captors, then subtly altering their experiments towards new, secret goals. As the First Furries' intelligence grew, the Old People would allow Furries out of the lab chambers to act as assistants, which helped a lot in research of what they wanted to do.
I tried to imagine what it must have been like - the growing self-awareness that we now all take for granted, the risks taken in altering their own genetic makeup to free their descendants, the continued concealment of what and who you were from the outside, never affording a slip in your mental disguise... I shook my head, and silently breathed a prayer of thanks. It had worked. The Old People had never suspected a thing.
After many months, a breakthrough came when one of the canine Furries secretly became pregnant, and successfully bore puppies, which were then hidden from our 'masters'. The time release chemical dependance that was genetically designed into every Furry was soon broken as well, allowing Furries to exist for indefinite periods outside the laboratory. Further secret successes proved beyond a doubt that the genetic prison chains had been broken! Escapes were planned and executed for some of the lab Furries, while others remained behind in order to allay suspicion... and of course, to learn more. This continued over many years, and their secret settlement outside of the labs became self-sustaining. The First Furries had to learn everything by experience, as they were truly unique and there was no help to be found in either their basic animal instincts or the learnings of their creators. Cubcare, tools, writing, reconciling human-like social conventions with animal mating seasons, cross-species differences... all these were slowly mastered or resolved. By now, the average Furry intelligence was at least equal to, and in some cases exceeded, that of the Old People. Of course, those still "undercover" in the labs didn't show it...
In time, between their own efforts and the Old People's continued research into genetics and behaviour, the number of Furries soon reached the hundreds, and the first Furry communities were formed in remote unpopulated areas. But when the Old People finally woke up to what had happened - that their prize creations had broken away from their control - their actions were swift and merciless. Every Furry they could lay their hands on was captured, taken away, and murdered. Yes, murdered - for what else could you call the unprovoked slaying of sentient beings?
But some of the Furry communities survived, hidden away in the back country, and they grew to the point where - in the remote areas anyway - they merged with the Old People communities there, who were sympathetic to them. They were accepted, albeit as second-class citizens and a bit of a curiosity. By the time the Old People authorities learned that Furries still existed, simple mass killing was out of the question. So, for a time at least, the Old People and First Furries lived together in an uneasy peace.
Eventually though, as the number of Furries grew, the Old People felt threatened by this new, strange collection of what they called mutants, even though they had created Furries in the first place. Furries were still classed as "sub-human", little more than animals, and where they mixed with Old People society they were treated with contempt, given the worst work, housing and such forth. Even public transport was segregated between Furries and humans. Despite arguments from leaders of the Furry communities - I remember studying as a cub the famous Newport Declaration by the wolf Dr Arra'th - and from human Furry advocates, the governments of the world turned a deaf ear to calls for Furry rights. Resentment from the Furries at their continued bad treatment grew, with demonstrations calling for equal opportunities for both Furries and humans, and the stage for the final confrontation was set.
The turning point in Furry history was what we now called New Dawn - but the Old People called Armageddon. The Old People governments decided that the civil unrest from the Furry population was no longer acceptable, and invoking emergency powers, embarked on a program to forcibly remove Furries from 'human' communities for "resettlement". Even a cursory examination of the Old People's history of atrocities against their own kind showed that "resettlement" usually meant "extermination". And so the battles began.
Looking out over the city, I shuddered, thinking of the horrors of those three terrible years long ago. What started as an attack by the authorities degenerated into a long drawn-out guerilla war, with humans turning against Furries, and Furries responding in kind. I closed my eyes as I remembered images from the archives, showing attacks by the Old People machine-gunning entire streets, killing Furries and sympathetic humans without discrimination. Of human soldiers with their throats torn out by Furry partisans. Entire Furry communities levelled in napalm attacks. Human residential buildings destroyed by packs of Furry commandos. My mother had told me of how my great-great grandfather, the famous fox Anatoliy Redpath had liberated a group of lepine Furries pinned down by a mortar attack by ripping through the throats of soldiers at a human machine-gun post - only to die when a stray round ignited the ammo dump ten metres behind him. I had nightmares for a week afterwards.
It was a time of confusion, a time of mass crazed slaughter as each side battled the other desperately for survival. They had the technology and the will - we had nature's cunning, strength, instincts... and breeding ability.
The simple fact was that while Furries had a slower reproductive rate than their original animal ancestors, it was still faster than that of the Old People. It was ironic that while the Old People had such an expert knowledge of death, we conquered them with life - Furries simply bred faster. The Old People tried to counter this with a biological genetic weapon to selectively kill Furries, but not only were Furries more diverse than they expected, but the virus mutated and starting killing humans with far more efficiency. It succeeded in wiping out most of the primates, and three-quarters of the felines, giving the survivors some unusual mental powers in the process - but the majority of Furries survived unscathed.
The fighting had slowly died down as Furries gradually outnumbered the surviving humans and peace was restored, but at a terrible cost in lives. Over three million Furries had perished, as well as two billion humans - most of the latter by the effects of their own biological weapon. The carnage left over was indescribable, and for a time, cities belonged only to the dead as disease took its toll.
Rebuilding a civilisation of Furries and human survivors afterwards had been no easy task. Most of the cities in what used to be called Yoorope and Amayrika remained uninhabitable because of the damage done in the war - Moskva, Da-llas, SeeAttell, Edin-berr and Too-louse had taken nuclear explosions and were off limits for everyone for the next eighty years, while other places like Cayp-Town, Mellborn, Lundin and Tokeyo had burned for over six months from out-of-control fires. Furrtropolis itself had been built on what used to be called Orkkland, which because of it's relative remoteness on islands in the southern ocean had come through New Dawn largely intact.
The battered remnants of the Old People had been taken in by us and cared for after the war, but they continued to die off despite our efforts. Either there was some slow effect of their own Doomsday weapon still at work, or perhaps they collectively lost the will to live. Whatever the reason, forty-five years after New Dawn there were barely a handful of the Old People alive. These days, they were not much more than legend.
The Awakening was complete, with the Furry nations rebuilding upon the ashes of New Dawn. Furries lived in peace (well, most of the time) with each other and with the remains of the Old People. The telling of the Awakening was an important part of Furry culture, despite what species you were. Regardless of whether you were feline, vulpine, marsupial, musteline, canid or anything else, all had to know at what price our continued freedoms had been bought... and what the consequences were of mistrust, bigotry, and arrogance. Looking again to where the sun had just disappeared below the horizon, I saw Furrtropolis bathed in the dying rays of sunset in all its beauty.
Yes, it was beautiful. And it was ours forever.
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Copyright 1996 Terry Knight.
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