The End is the Beginning

by Andre Norton


all.cats.are.gray.1953 fantastic universe


1st Published ~ In Oceans of Space (2002) Edited by Brian M. Thomsen and Martin H. Greenberg, Published by DAW, PB, 0-756-40063-5, No.1217, $6.99, 315pg (pgs 48-62)

Available Now ~ In Tales from High Hallack vol. 3 (2014) Published by Premier Digital Publishing, DM & TP, 1-624-67189-6, $22.95, 450pg ~ cover by Kib Prestridge


Bibliography Page -


The two kits settled in front of the Teacher watched the unrolling of a tape so old that it was, in portions, dim, while the front of the machine's screen was scratched beyond any possible polishing. Most kits believed that the instructional device was one tool used by the now-vanished Smoothskins to spread what the Commander often called the Great Lie. However, the tapes could still provide some degree of entertainment, and one could think up many questions based upon the actions witnessed therein with which to baffle both Big Ones and other less-observant Littles.

"Why the Great Lie, anyway?" Marguay muttered, watching a scene wherein some type of creature supposedly---impossibly!---raised itself high into the air.

"Because of the Far Flight," Porky replied in a bored tone, as he lifted his right hand and licked the fur on its back. Then he began to recite, and Marguay joined in the ritual they had learned by rote from the time their eyes had fully opened and they had started exploring beyond the nest.

"The Smoothskins went out to the stars,

And the People went with them.

Long and long did they travel.

Among them were those who were close to the People,

And wished to draw nearer,


Desiring to share speech and duties.

Thus they used magic taught by the great Machines

And strove to make the People as they visioned.

So did the People learn to walk as the Smooth-skins,

Use forepaws as hands, and---"

"What are you doing here?" demanded a voice from the doorway. "You two are on duty---why this hiding away and looking at parts of the Great Lie?"

Mam Sukie stood in the entry port to the compartment. Marguay hastened to shut off the machine, thinking ruefully that there was probably no trip to the Lookout for them now.

"Scat!" The ruler of the kits smacked each of the truants hard as they slunk past her. "You for litter-box duty---right now!"

Marguay waited until he was (he hoped) beyond hearing distance before he hissed; then he glanced quickly back over his shoulder. A Little must not forget that the Big Ones were able to walk very softly, and never more so than when about to bring a kit "to order," as they called the meting out of such discipline.

"There are no Smoothskins anymore," Porky huffed, panting a little as he strove to match his brother's pace. 'I wonder where all of them went?"

"Don't be a weanling!" rebuked his companion. "You've heard Harvey often enough---they all up and died, and then they were shoveled into the converter."

"But---Father Golden says that when we die, we go out to the stars. Where did the Smoothskins go---to the stars, like us?"

Marguay hissed again. "Those clunkpaws? Hardly! Maybe that's just another part of the Great Lie. You want to meet one of them?"

Porky rumbled out a growl. "NO! My mam, she says they sometimes kept kits in cages, and other times---"the tubby Little's voice dropped to a near whisper, "---they did bad things to us. It was only because more and more of them died, and they did not have many small ones of their own to learn their tricks, that we People at last were given all this," he threw wide his furred, clawed hands to encompass what lay about them, "for our own selves."

"Hey, you!" Ahead stood Wilber, and he was mad. He was almost Big in size, too, so the Littles felt it wiser not to tangle with him, even though they were two to his one.

They hurried on to the smelly place. Tippi, a small gray she, was already tilting a pan into one of the waiting cans. Her whiskers twitched as the he-kits joined her, and Maggie, her companion, snarled:

"What were you doing that Mam sent you along?"

"Looking at tapes," Porky answered before Marguay could stop him.

"Waste of time," Wilber commented, "all the Great Lie---never could be stupid stuff like that anywhere. Get to work, you two."

As he cleaned under Wilber's sharp eyes, Marguay thought about what he had found the last time he'd gone roving. There were many compartments where the People did not go very often, and a few of them held fascinating things. Some of the unknown objects were amusing to roll around and jump at when one was very small, but when a kit grew older, he could make even more interesting finds.

Not all the People were able to do as much as the Smoothskins, though more and more kits now being born were able to use machines easily and think harder ideas. Marguay's own mam, Knottail, had been able to open the box-things that had many pieces of paper fitted inside them. Lines of black dots marched in rows across those sheets, and a kit could learn to tell what they meant. A lot of the marks---most, in fact---dealt with the Great Lie, and some told their tale so convincingly as to make one believe the past had happened in just that way. And there were instructing devices, too, almost like the Teacher except that they unrolled different stories. Marguay had every intention of going back to the last compartment he had found only yesterday and tinkering with the machine in that chamber---one of those pages with the Smoothskin-scratches told how to make it work, and the determined Little had almost been able to get it going.

Tippi was using a brush and catch-tray to sweep up crumbs of spilled litter; not much of the pan-sand remained anymore, and what might be saved must. Careful as the cleaner was, though, the job could not be spun out to excessive length, or Wilber would march the duty-doer off for another job. Marguay had to get away before then!

He and Tippi were out of the older kit's sight now, and the she-Little stood up, brush and scoop in hand, and looked at her partner.

"You going to the play-place?" she asked.

The Big Ones might call the room set aside for amusement "the play-place," but they themselves were always there, and thinking up tasks for Littles to perform---mostly the jobs no small kit wanted to do. Before he thought, her striped companion shook his head.

"Then will you go sneaking again?" she persisted.

Marguay's ears flattened in annoyance. What did Tippi know about him---and why? He had never noticed her very much; shes had their own affairs.

"I don't sneak!" he retorted.

"No?" she shot back. "Then what were you doing up on the top level yesterday?"

How had she found out where he was?

"Get to work, you two!" Wilber roared.

Both the Littles started guiltily and speeded up their labors. Marguay glanced at his fellow helper as often as he dared, wondering. How much had she learned? If he slipped away when they were through here, he must be careful she did not follow. He knew he wouldn't have to worry about pursuit by Porky---that well-rounded yellow fellow would be on his way to the mess hall by then, (as always) for a snack.

When the pair had finished their nose-wrinkling job and Wilber had reluctantly told them they might leave, the would-be explorer did not shoot away in the direction he wanted to go. Instead he followed Porky for a little way; then he slipped into one of the side passages, listening intently and looking back now and then. Luckily, none of the other People, Big or Little, appeared to be coming to retrieve him; so after making two more way-turns, Marguay went for his goal.

Less light shone up in this high passage. The inquisitive Little had overheard several full-growth kits talking about whether the illumination in some parts of their home was eventually going to fail. He was also aware that Commander Quickpaw had Big Ones working with him all the time, hastening to learn more about the objects the Smoothskins had used long ago.

Marguay shoved aside the compartment door and jumped up to the seat before the long shelf on which stood a machine with a dark screen. The box-thing---book, he corrected himself---that he had found yesterday was still open, and it was held outspread to the page he wanted by a Lie-thing. This was a figure, very heavy for its size, of one not unlike himself. But when had any of the People ever sat so, a ring in one ear, and---the he-kit pushed the offending object away from him a hiss---wearing a collar! Except for those adornings, though, the statue was not altogether of the Lie---the Little knew three of the Big Ones who were colored like this. But he could not let that problem trouble him now. Giving the false-kit-figure a final shove off the book, Marguay settled down to find out what he could manage to do with the silent machine.

What, he mused as he pored over the scratch-filled page, if he were able to make a real discovery---and the Commander were to learn that it was he, Marguay the Little, who had performed the valuable deed? Suppose---

"What are you doing?"

His reverie shattered, the striped kit reared back and nearly slipped off the chair onto the floor. No longer did he hiss, as he had done to the statue---this kind of scare deserved a real spitting.

Tippi paid him no attention. Crouching slightly, she launched herself and leaped to the shelf that held the perplexing device. She then nosed against its blank front as if, by so doing, she could smell out its purpose.

The fur rose along Marguay's back, and his tail expanded and lashed. "Get out!"

His work-mate continued to ignore him. Seating herself in a calm curl, she patted the face of the machine; if she had any fear of it, she showed none.

"New Teacher?" she asked, as conversationally as though they were both in learning-litter. "You had better tell One-Eye. Remember what happened to him when he was a small kit and started up that chittering box? He was never able to shut it off either---and his eye got hurt." Still paying scant attention to her companion, Tippi bent her head intently and began to study the row of buttons below the blank square.

The hero-in-his-dreams could stand this insolence no longer. Wanting to do battle, or at least chase the intruder off, he slapped at her, claws out. She dodged the blow with ease, but Marguay's hand struck against three of the buttons.

Sound answered the blow. Tippi jumped back as they both heard a hum---the noise the Teacher made when coming to life. Two of the buttons the he-kit had bumped now showed green, not in a steady glow but a pulse that flickered very fast. The last one in line was red, and it did not move.

Down the machine's face-front now scrolled lines of the Smoothskin words, but these were gone too fast for Marguay to puzzle them out. And then, almost  as strident as the battle-cry of a Big One, a voice shouted:

"Mission accomplished! Destination located! Assuming orbit!"


The two kits crouched together, for not only did the device repeat its message over and over, but a change was occurring in the compartment itself: the very walls were echoing the hum made by the machine when it had awakened. Then another call commenced, reaching even above the double din of voice and hum:

"Orbit alert---landing in twenty-five hours! Orbit alert, orbit alert! All systems go, faults negative---"

The noise in the walls continued. Marguay hurled himself down from the seat, Tippi following behind him so closely that she nearly bowled him over when she landed. Both intrepid explorers streaked for the door of the chamber.

They got no farther than the next deck down. On that level, the two found themselves in a most un-People-like crowd and confusion. Big Ones were racing for the section in which, it was said, the Smoothskins had sat in council when they were here. Other full-growth kits were also gathering; and mams were trying to catch Littles and having a hard time doing so.

Marguay and Tippi had been separated in the ever-growing press of People, and the he-kit shivered as that loud voice began to boom its announcement again.

"Orbit alert! Orders obeyed! Landing in twenty-five hours---"

Unable to pull free, the young adventurer was borne onward into the assembling-place of the Smoothskins. Bright-hued lights now flashed from many of its surfaces on which few now hurrying in had ever seen any life before.

Marguay squeezed himself as small as he could, trying to escape being stumbled over by Big Ones. Certain of those full-growth kits were standing by the machines and, as the Little was pushed forward into the room, he heard Commander Quickpaw roar a series of orders that sent them all into seats before the newly lit screens.

What were they trying to do? Marguay saw clumsy-appearing hands press down on buttons. Below some screens, lights burned red, and the commander leaped from one to the other of those machines, shouting at the Big Ones stationed there.

More hand motions, and the red lights disappeared. Commander Quickpaw watched closely for a short time; then he turned his head to hiss at those crowded in behind.

"Out. The ship is landing."

Ship? That was part of the Great Lie!

"Come," Father Golden waved his arms, urging the mass of People toward the door. "Our Learned Ones must be left alone now. There will be Cries to the Stars in the Great Assembly Place. Come!"

Slowly they obeyed. Mams carried very Littles in their arms, herding larger kits before them. The Big Ones came after. A husky full-growth routed Marguay out of his crouch, pulled him to his feet, and kept a hand on his shoulder until the group was out of the hall of many machines.

They regathered in the large compartment where the Big Ones always met to decide what was best for their kind. Now, however, the room rang to the voices of kits from the new-weaned to the white-whiskered.

"The Lie!" Marguay heard over and over again. "The Great Lie!"

Father Golden held up his hands and fairly war-screeched for their attention.

"Brothers---Sisters---we who are the People! The She-One of the Stars has remembered us, for we have come to the end of our far-faring such as the old tales foretold would be. Strengthen, then, your hearts; arouse in your inmost beings the courage of our kind---"

"This is the Great Lie---the lie of the Smoothskins!" A cry that ended in hissing interrupted him.

"Those who littered us," the father continued, unperturbed, "and those who brought them forth, birthing upon birthing beyond memory-reach---yes, they named as falsehoods the sayings of the Smoothskins. Yet if they---and we---lulled our fears asleep, as a mam quiets her kits, with the belief that that story was a falsehood, then the fault is ours. Yet I say to you that the mighty Star-She whom even the Smoothskins once served is with us still, and that there will be a new life for us all. It may be very strange, but we are the People, and we will survive!"

Overcome with shame, Marguay hunkered low, hoping to avoid Father Golden's sweeping gaze. The young kit wanted fiercely to close not only his ears but his mind in some way so that he could neither hear what was happening here nor remember what he and Tippi had done.

The crowd began to disperse. Certain kits drifted away with frown-creased brows, as though they strove now to make themselves believe a history long firmly denied. Others drew near to Father Golden and began the Cry to the Stars, the Plea to the She Who ruled them.

Under cover of the movement, Marguay slunk as far away from the rest of his kind as he could. A Lie that was truth---and he and his playfellow had made it so!

The erstwhile adventurer concealed himself in a storage place that looked empty, but something stirred in the shadows there, and Tippi mewed softly. Then she was beside him, her tongue touching the spot between his flattened ears, smoothing his fur. The two kits curled together, taking comfort from the warmth of each other's bodies; yet in spite of this reassurance, whenever that booming voice proclaimed another measure of time as the hours passed, they shivered.

At last, though, Marguay decided that it was better to look forward and not back, and he spent the rest of that longest of nights trying to recall the many wonders that had appeared on the old worn tapes. "There will be many things we have never known," he mused to his curl-mate, “and some we could not even dream.”

"Those creatures in the air," Tippi agreed, catching his enthusiasm. "And all that green stuff outside---someone must have planted a very big water-garden!"

Both kits summoned from memory all they could, not only of what they had learned from the Teacher but also from the stories that had been told them about the old days of the Smoothskins. Some of the tales were less than pleasant.

"If the Furless Folk are waiting," the he-kit said, “we must hide. The People are free now, not slave-ones to be caged as the Smoothskins used our litter-sires.”

He felt Tippi's shudder of sympathy. "Yes---hide," she agreed.

All too short a time later came the call for the People to assemble. When the two youngsters joined the rest, they were led to another compartment where a weblike substance was being woven across the floor. The netting, they were told, was to keep them safe while the ship landed. Marguay reflected that parts of the Great Lie must not have been taught to all kits, for he had never heard of this hold-fast, though the Big Ones in charge seemed very sure that such must be used.

The he-kit could never afterward remember that landing. He roused, sensing Tippi not far away. Cries, mews, and hisses filled the air as those about the two also wakened; then came Big Ones to free them all.

Hand in hand, Marguay and Tippi joined the crowd growing around the port that had never been opened. All watched apprehensively as the Learned Ones struggled with centuries-glued seals. To one side of the door stood Commander Quickpaw and a group of warrior-People who carried curious metal rods. The young he recognized those---one had been pictured in the book-box he had pored over. Such weapons could make a being fall down and be still---sometimes forever.

When the port was opened at last, the commander and his soldier-ones were the first to exit. Alien air flowed in after them, and Marguay lifted his head high to sniff a heady mixture of odors---unfamiliar, but enticing---mingled together.

Time passed, but the remainder of the People were forced to wait and wait. At last came the word that they might go, but they were warned to stay together, with the rod-bearers keeping guard about them.

This place had no---no roof, was Marguay's first discovery as the kits stepped down a tilted walkway to the green flooring ahead. And that material was not flooring, either, but a substance that was soft underfoot. Then something moved, and a nearby he-Little grabbed at it. A moment later he raised a hand that clutched a small creature, near as green as their footing, which kicked until the kit crunched it.

Tall green-and-brown plant-things stirred when the breeze blew against them. The stalish atmosphere of the ship was gone now, and the People, ever sensitive of nose, reveled in the myriad fresh scents.

Five suns later, the ship's passengers and crew had established an outdoor living area. Scouts had discovered water that ran freely in streams. It had also been learned that the small beings in the grass (that, Marguay learned, was the name of the floor-growth) could be safely eaten. Two of those who explored---though all the People were under strict orders not to venture far from the camp, no matter what intriguing phenomenon beckoned for their attention---sighted much larger animals. And there were, indeed, living things---birds---that traveled through the sky itself!

Commander Quickpaw might have designated his Big Ones to reconnoiter this new world, but once again it was Marguay and Tippi who made the great discovery.

The youngsters had undertaken to follow for a little way the stream, in which yet another kind of living being moved swiftly about. A day earlier, the he-kit had managed to get one out with his hand and had taken it back to his mam, who pronounced it excellent eating---better, even, than those tiny furred beasts that ran squeaking through the grass. Two of the other mams had then asked him to catch more of the water-wrigglers if he could.

Marguay had already flipped one of the creatures out of the stream. Now his companion, belly-down, was attempting to equal his skill, when a high-grown bush on the opposite side of the water began to shake. The kits glanced at each other, startled. Could this be one of the bigger animals the scouts had reported?

A moment later a---beast?---fell, rather than worked itself, out of the shrub. It scrambled on two hind legs down to the stream, then thrust its head in, gulping and choking. Though it bore patches of unkempt reddish hair on its body in places, far larger areas of bare skin were visible; and its head was not shaped as were the heads of the People.

Marguay and Tippi edged back from the water. Though they were not yet frightened enough to run, they had no idea how fast this creature could follow. The young he-kit longed for one of the weapon-rods.

Suddenly his companion caught at his arm with one hand, and with the other pointed excitedly at the drinker. Marguay saw what had caught her eye. Around the thing's thick throat ran a bright red band, and from this collar stretched a heavy leash that trailed back into the bush from which it had emerged.

The young explorer had no more than sighted that controlling device before the shrub once more rustled, then swayed. The leading-line snapped up and tightened, jerking the creature back out of the water. The patch-haired brute was held captive so, pulling at the prisoning collar and clasping both hands around the leash, but it was not left long to its struggles.

For around the shrub stalked a Big One---a very Big One, taller by far than the largest full-growth the kits knew. His fur was a tawny color with black spots in bold contrast. He, too, wore something about his throat, but his neckpiece was no slave-collar. It was a broad band of metal nearly the hue of the pelt on which it rested, and it sparkled in many places with bits of bright color. Encircling his forearms were a pair of similar glowing-and-glinting bands; and in one of his ears gleamed---a gold ring!

Marguay's mouth, already opened in astonishment, drew in a pleasing spicy odor from the stranger, borne across the water upon the wind. But the newcomer had halted abruptly to stare back, and he was now looking at them so intently that the small he-kit felt as though he had been lifted up by one of those clawed hands and was being turned round and round for inspection. The two-leg beast that the stranger held in check raised its head. Matted and tangled hair covered most of its shoulders and blunt face, but there was still something about it---

"Smoothskin!" Tippi shouted.

The brute was not really one of the ancient aiders-of-the People; yet it was similar enough that Marguay could see how his companion might make such a mistake.

In response to the she-kit's outcry, the one who held that half-beast in check called back to them. Nothing about his voice or stance seemed threatening as he did so, and slowly the two Little explorers advanced once more to the water's edge. They had not understood what he had said, and he was very tall indeed, yet all their senses told them he was kin.

Pulling his unwilling captive with him, the alien Big One entered the stream to splash across. Both kits waited courageously. Their noses wrinkled at the smell of the brute-thing he led; still, his own scent, beneath its exotic spicy tang, was as familiar as their own.

Again he spoke. Marguay shook his head but answered in his own language: "Come---see our commander, the Big Ones---come."

The stranger obeyed, giving frequent jerks to his charge's leading-line as he moved; and in this manner the pair of junior adventurers brought him to the encampment. Several of the guards fell in around their prize and his "pet," but those soldier-kin offered no raising of rods.

Thus Antimah of the Tribe of Rammesese, in the service of the Great Goddess Bast Herself, came to sit at a council meeting with the People from afar. Some of the attendants drew sketches with sticks in the dirt; others returned to the ship and brought out maps of the starways, pictures of their vessel's interior, drawings of the Smoothskins.

Marguay, however, slipped away from the crowd that stood watching the momentous meeting in wonder. Once more in the ship, he ran unhesitatingly to the compartment he had discovered, and there he caught up that statue-representative of his kind who wore golden adornment much like that of this splendid newcomer. When he had hurried back, he held high the figure and dared to interrupt the commander himself.


All heads swung toward him, and look they did. For answer, the stranger moved first. Coming to Marguay, he lifted his hand, palm out; and, fixing his eyes on the statue, he bowed his head.

Then he turned. Tossing to one of the guard-kin the leash of the Smoothskin-That-Was-Not, the living model of the figurine opened his arms wide in a gesture that could only mean full welcome.

Above them shone Sol, and underfoot was the soil of Terra. The far-farers as yet had that to learn; but for them, the end of their flight was also the beginning in a world that the Smoothskins, in their time of power, had near destroyed. For the People, sent forth without their consent, had touched the outermost reaches of the heavens, and now their years'-lost home had received them once again.



 “Andre Norton's Reading Corner

Copyright ~ Estate of Andre Norton
Online Rights -

Formatted by Jay Watts ~ aka: Lots-a-watts ~ 2020

Duplication of this story (in whole or in part) for profit of any kind NOT permitted.