Space-Time for Springers
in Star Science Fiction Stories #4, ed. Frederik Pohl, Ballantine,
Gummitch was a superkitten, as he
knew very well, with an I.Q. of about 160. Of course, he didn't talk. But
everybody knows that I.Q. tests based on language ability are very one-sided.
Besides, he would talk as soon as they started setting a place for him at
table and pouring him coffee. Ashurbanipal and Cleopatra ate horsemeat from
pans on the floor, and they didn't talk. Baby dined in his crib on milk from
a bottle, and he didn't talk. Sissy sat at table but they didn't pour her
coffee and she didn't talk—not one word. Father and Mother (whom Gummitch had
nicknamed Old Horsemeat and Kitty-Come-Here) sat at table and poured each
other coffee and they did talk. Q.E.D.
Meanwhile, he would get by very well on thought projection and intuitive
understanding of all human speech—not even to mention cat patois, which
almost any civilized animal could play by ear. The dramatic monologues and
Socratic dialogues, the quiz and panel show appearances, the felidological
expedition to darkest Africa (where he would
uncover the real truth behind lions and tigers), the exploration of the outer
planets—all these could wait. The same went for the books for which he was
ceaselessly accumulating material: The Encyclopedia of Odors,
Anthropofeline Psychology, Invisible Signs and Secret Wonders, Space-Time for
Springers, Slit Eyes Look at Life, et cetera. For the present it was
enough to live existence to the hilt and soak up knowledge, missing no
experience proper to his age level—to rush about with tail aflame.
So to all outward appearances Gummitch was just a vividly normal kitten, as
shown by the succession of nicknames he bore along the magic path that led
from the blue-eyed infancy toward puberty: Little One, Squawker, Portly,
Bumble (for purring, not clumsiness), Old Starved-to-Death, Fierso, Loverboy
(affection, not sex), Spook, and Catnik. Of these only the last perhaps
requires further explanation: the Russians had just sent Muttnik up after
Sputnik, so that when one evening Gummitch streaked three times across the
firmament of the living room floor in the same direction, past the fixed
stars of the humans and the comparatively slow-moving heavenly bodies of the
two older cats, and Kitty-Come-Here quoted the line from Keats:
Then felt I like some watcher of
When a new planet swims into his ken;
it was inevitable that Old
Horsemeat would say, "Ah—Catnik!"
· · · · ·
The new name lasted all of three
days, to be replaced by Gummitch, which showed signs of becoming permanent.
The little cat was on the verge of truly growing up, at least so Gummitch
overheard Old Horsemeat comment to Kitty-Come-Here. A few short weeks, Old
Horsemeat said, and Gummitch's fiery flesh would harden, his slim neck
thicken, the electricity vanish from everything but his fur, and all his
delightful kittenish qualities rapidly give way to the earthbound
single-mindedness of a tom. They'd be lucky, Old Horsemeat concluded, if he
didn't turn completely surly like Ashurbanipal.
<![if !vml]><![endif]>Gummitch listened to these predictions with gay unconcern
and with secret amusement from his vantage point of superior knowledge, in
the same spirit that he accepted so many phases of his outwardly conventional
existence: the murderous sidelong looks he got from Ashurbanipal and Cleopatra
as he devoured his own horsemeat from his own little tin pan, because they
sometimes were given canned cat food but he never; the stark idiocy of Baby,
who didn't know the difference between a live cat and a stuffed teddy bear
and who tried to cover up his ignorance by making goo-goo noises and poking
indiscriminately at all eyes; the far more serious—because cleverly
hidden—maliciousness of Sissy, who had to be watched out for
warily—especially when you were alone—and whose retarded—even
warped—development, Gummitch knew, was Old Horsemeat and Kitty-Come-Here's
deepest, most secret worry (more of Sissy and her evil ways soon); the
limited intellect of Kitty-Come-Here, who despite the amounts of coffee she
drank was quite as featherbrained as kittens are supposed to be and who
firmly believed, for example, that kittens operated in the same space-time as
other beings—that to get from here to there they had to cross
the space between—and similar fallacies; the mental stodginess of even
Old Horsemeat, who although he understood quite a bit of the secret doctrine
and talked intelligently to Gummitch when they were alone, nevertheless
suffered from the limitations of his status—a rather nice old god but a
maddeningly slow-witted one.
But Gummitch could easily forgive all this massed inadequacy and downright
brutishness in his felino-human household, because he was aware that he alone
knew the real truth about himself and about other kittens and babies as well,
the truth which was hidden from weaker minds, the truth that was as
intrinsically incredible as the germ theory of disease or the origin of the
whole great universe in the explosion of a single atom.
As a baby kitten Gummitch has believed that Old Horsemeat's two hands were
hairless kittens permanently attached to the ends of Old Horsemeat's arms but
having an independent life of their own. How he had hated and loved those two
five-legged sallow monsters, his first playmates, comforters and
Well, even that fantastic discarded notion was but a trifling fancy compared to
the real truth about himself!
The forehead of Zeus split open to give birth to Minerva. Gummitch had been
born from the waist-fold of a dirty old terry-cloth bathrobe, Old Horsemeat's
basic garment. The kitten was intuitively certain of it and had proved it to
himself as well as any Descartes or Aristotle. In a kitten-size tuck of that
ancient bathrobe the atoms of his body had gathered and quickened into life.
His earliest memories were of snoozing wrapped in terrycloth, warmed by Old
Horsemeat's heat. Old Horsemeat and Kitty-Come-Here were his true parents.
The other theory of his origin, the one he heard Old Horsemeat and
Kitty-Come-Here recount from time to time—that he had been the only surviving
kitten of a litter abandoned next door, that he had had the shakes from
vitamin deficiency and lost the tip of his tail and the hair on his paws and
had to be nursed back to life and health with warm yellowish
milk-and-vitamins fed from an eyedropper—that other theory was just one of
those rationalizations with which mysterious nature cloaks the birth of
heroes, perhaps wisely veiling the truth from minds unable to bear it, a
rationalization as false as Kitty-Come-Here and Old Horsemeat's touching
belief that Sissy and Baby were their children rather than the cubs of
Ashurbanipal and Cleopatra.
· · ·
The day that Gummitch had
discovered by pure intuition the secret of his birth he had been filled with
a wild instant excitement. He had only kept it from tearing him to pieces by
rushing out to the kitchen and striking and devouring a fried scallop,
torturing it fiendishly first for twenty minutes.
And the secret of his birth was only the beginning. His intellectual
faculties aroused, Gummitch had two days later intuited a further and greater
secret: since he was the child of humans he would upon reaching this
maturation date of which Old Horsemeat had spoken, turn not into a sullen tom
but into a godlike human youth with reddish golden hair the color of his
present fur. He would be poured coffee; and he would instantly be able to
talk, probably in all languages. While Sissy (how clear it was now!) would at
approximately the same time shrink and fur out into a sharp-clawed and
vicious she-cat dark as her hair, sex and self-love her only concern, fit
harem-mate for Cleopatra, concubine to Ashurbanipal.
Exactly the same was true, Gummitch realized at once, for all kittens and
babies, all humans and cats, wherever they might dwell. Metamorphosis was as
much a part of the fabric of their lives as it was of the insects'. It was
also the basic fact underlying all legends of werewolves, vampires, and
If you just rid your mind of preconceived notions, Gummitch told himself, it
was all very logical. Babies were stupid, fumbling, vindictive creatures
without reason or speech. What could be more natural than that they should
grow up into mute, sullen, selfish beasts bent only on rapine and
reproduction? While kittens were quick, sensitive, subtle, supremely alive.
What other destiny were they possibly fitted for except to become the deft,
word-speaking, book-writing, music-making, meat-getting-and-dispensing
masters of the world? To dwell on the physical differences, to point out that
kittens and men, babies and cats, are rather unlike in appearance and size,
would be to miss the forest for the trees—very much as if an entomologist
should proclaim metamorphosis a myth because his microscope failed to
discover the wings of a butterfly in a caterpillar's slime or a golden beetle
in a grub.
Nevertheless it was such a mind-staggering truth, Gummitch realized at the
same time, that it was easy to understand why humans, cats, babies, and
perhaps most kittens were quite unaware of it. How to safely explain to a
butterfly that he was once a hairy crawler, or to a dull larva that he will
one day be a walking jewel? No, in such situations the delicate minds of man-
and feline-kind are guarded by a merciful mass amnesia, such as Velikovsky
has explained prevents us from recalling that in historical times the Earth
was catastrophically bumped by the planet Venus operating in the manner of a
comet before settling down (with a cosmic sigh of relief, surely!) into its
This conclusion was confirmed when Gummitch in the first fever of
illumination tried to communicate his great insight to others. He told it in
cat patois, as well as that limited jargon permitted, to Ashurbanipal and
Cleopatra and even, on the off chance, to Sissy and Baby. They showed no
interest whatever, except that Sissy took advantage of his unguarded
preoccupation to stab him with a fork.
Later, alone with Old Horsemeat, he projected the great new thoughts, staring
with solemn yellow eyes at the old god, but the latter grew markedly nervous
and even showed signs of real fear, so Gummitch desisted. ("You'd have
sworn he was trying to put across something as deep as the Einstein theory or
the doctrine of original sin," Old Horsemeat later told
But Gummitch was a man now in all but form, the kitten reminded himself after
these failures, and it was part of his destiny to shoulder secrets alone when
necessary. He wondered if the general amnesia would affect him when he
metamorphosed. There was no sure answer to this question, but he hoped
not—and sometimes felt that there was reason for his hopes. Perhaps he would
be the first true kitten-man, speaking from a wisdom that had no locked doors
Once he was tempted to speed up the process by the use of drugs. Left alone
in the kitchen, he sprang onto the table and started to lap up the black
puddle in the bottom of Old Horsemeat's coffee cup. It tasted foul and
poisonous and he withdrew with a little snarl, frightened as well as
revolted. The dark beverage would not work its tongue-loosening magic, he
realized, except at the proper time and with the proper ceremonies.
Incantations might be necessary as well. Certainly unlawful tasting was
The futility of expecting coffee to work any wonders by itself was further
demonstrated to Gummitch when Kitty-Come-Here, wordlessly badgered by Sissy,
gave a few spoonfuls to the little girl, liberally lacing it first with milk
and sugar. Of course Gummitch knew by now that Sissy was destined shortly to turn
into a cat and that no amount of coffee would ever make her talk, but it was
nevertheless instructive to see how she spat out the first mouthful, drooling
a lot of saliva after it, and dashed the cup and its contents at the chest of
Gummitch continued to feel a great deal of sympathy for his parents in their
worries about Sissy and he longed for the day when he would metamorphose and
be able as an acknowledged man-child truly to console them. It was
heartbreaking to see how they each tried to coax the little girl to talk,
always attempting it while the other was absent, how they seized on each
accidentally wordlike note in the few sounds she uttered and repeated it back
to her hopefully, how they were more and more possessed by fears not so much
of her retarded (they thought) development as of her increasingly obvious
maliciousness, which was directed chiefly at Baby … though the two cats and
Gummitch bore their share. Once she had caught Baby alone in his crib and
used the sharp corner of a block to dot Baby's large-domed lightly downed
head with triangular red marks. Kitty-Come-Here had discovered her doing it,
but the woman's first action had been to rub Baby's head to obliterate the
marks so that Old Horsemeat wouldn't see them. That was the night
Kitty-Come-Here hid the abnormal psychology books.
Gummitch understood very well that Kitty-Come-Here and Old Horsemeat,
honestly believing themselves to be Sissy's parents, felt just as deeply
about her as if they actually were, and he did what little he could under the
present circumstances to help them. He had recently come to feel a quite
independent affection for Baby—the miserable little proto-cat was so
completely stupid and defenseless—and so he unofficially constituted himself
the creature's guardian, taking his naps behind the door of the nursery and
dashing about noisily whenever Sissy showed up. In any case, he realized that
as a potentially adult member of a felino-human household he had his natural
Accepting responsibilities was as much a part of a kitten's life, Gummitch
told himself, as shouldering unsharable intuitions and secrets, the number of
which continued to grow from day to day.
There was, for instance, the Affair of the Squirrel Mirror.
· · ·
Gummitch had early solved the
mystery of ordinary mirrors and of the creatures that appeared in them. A
little observation and sniffing and one attempt to get behind the heavy
wall-job in the living room had convinced him that mirror beings were
insubstantial or at least hermetically sealed into their other world,
probably creatures of pure spirit, harmless imitative ghosts—including the
silent Gummitch Double who touched paws with him so softly yet so coldly.
Just the same, Gummitch had let his imagination play with what would happen
if one day, while looking into the mirror world, he should let loose his grip
on his spirit and let it slip into the Gummitch Double while the other's
spirit slipped into his body—if, in short, he should change places with the
scentless ghost kitten. Being doomed to a life consisting wholly of imitation
and completely lacking in opportunities to show initiative—except for
behind-the-scenes judgment and speed needed in rushing from one mirror to
another to keep up with the real Gummitch—would be sickeningly dull, Gummitch
decided, and he resolved to keep a tight hold on his spirit at all times in
the vicinity of mirrors.
But that isn't telling about the Squirrel Mirror. One morning Gummitch was
peering out the front bedroom window that overlooked the roof of the porch.
Gummitch had already classified windows as semi-mirrors having two kinds of
space on the other side: the mirror world and that harsh region filled with
mysterious and dangerously organized-sounding noises called the outer world,
into which grown-up humans reluctantly ventured at intervals, donning special
garments for the purpose and shouting loud farewells that were meant to be
reassuring but achieved just the opposite effect. The coexistence of two kinds
of space presented no paradox to the kitten who carried in his mind the
twenty-seven-chapter outline of Space-Time for Springers—indeed, it
constituted one of the minor themes of the book.
This morning the bedroom was dark and the outer world was dull and sunless,
so the mirror world was unusually difficult to see. Gummitch was just lifting
his face toward it, nose twitching, his front paws on the sill, when what
should rear up on the other side, exactly in the space that the Gummitch
Double normally occupied, but a dirty brown, narrow-visaged image with
savagely low forehead, dark evil walleyes, and a huge jaw filled with
Gummitch was enormously startled and hideously frightened. He felt his grip
on his spirit go limp, and without volition he teleported himself three yards
to the rear, making use of that faculty for cutting corners in space-time,
traveling by space-warp in fact, which was one of his powers that
Kitty-Come-Here refused to believe in and that even Old Horsemeat accepted
only on faith.
Then, not losing a moment, he picked himself up by his furry seat, swung
himself around, dashed downstairs at top speed, sprang to the top of the
sofa, and stared for several seconds at the Gummitch Double in the
wall-mirror—not relaxing a muscle strand until he was completely convinced
that he was still himself and had not been transformed into the nasty brown
apparition that had confronted him in the bedroom window.
"Now what do you suppose brought that on?" Old Horsemeat asked Kitty-Come-Here.
Later Gummitch learned that what he had seen had been a squirrel, a savage,
nut-hunting being belonging wholly to the outer world (except for forays into
attics) and not at all to the mirror one. Nevertheless he kept a vivid memory
of his profound momentary conviction that the squirrel had taken the Gummitch
Double's place and been about to take his own. He shuddered to think what
would have happened if the squirrel had been actively interested in trading
spirits with him. Apparently mirrors and mirror-situations, just as he had
always feared, were highly conducive to spirit transfers. He filed the
information away in the memory cabinet reserved for dangerous, exciting and
possibly useful information, such as plans for climbing straight up glass
(diamond-tipped claws!) and flying higher than the trees.
· · ·
These days his thought cabinets
were beginning to feel filled to bursting and he could hardly wait for the
moment when the true rich taste of coffee, lawfully drunk, would permit him
He pictured the scene in detail: the family gathered in conclave at the
kitchen table, Ashurbanipal and Cleopatra respectfully watching from floor
level, himself sitting erect on a chair with paws (or would they be hands?)
lightly touching his cup of thin china, while Old Horsemeat poured the thin
black steaming stream. He knew the Great Transformation must be close at
At the same time, he knew that the other critical situation in the household
was worsening swiftly. Sissy, he realized now, was far older than Baby and
should long ago have undergone her own somewhat less glamorous though equally
necessary transformation (the first tin of raw horsemeat could hardly be as
exciting as the first cup of coffee). Her time was long overdue. Gummitch
found increasing horror in this mute vampirish being inhabiting the body of a
rapidly growing girl, though inwardly equipped to be nothing but a most
bloodthirsty she-cat. How dreadful to think of Old Horsemeat and Kitty-Come-Here
having to care all their lives for such a monster! Gummitch told himself that
if any opportunity for alleviating his parents' misery should ever present
itself to him, he would not hesitate for an instant.
Then one night, when the sense of Change was so burstingly strong in him that
he knew tomorrow must be the Day, but when the house was also exceptionally
unquiet, with boards creaking and snapping, taps adrip, and curtains
mysteriously rustling at closed windows (so that it was clear that the many
spirit worlds, including the mirror one, must be pressing very close), the
opportunity came to Gummitch.
Kitty-Come-Here and Old Horsemeat had fallen into especially sound, drugged
sleeps, the former with a bad cold, the latter with one unhappy highball too
many (Gummitch knew he had been brooding about Sissy). Baby slept too, though
with uneasy whimperings and joggings—moonlight shone full on his crib past a
window shade which had whirringly rolled itself up without human or feline
agency. Gummitch kept vigil under the crib, with eyes closed but with wildly
excited mind pressing outward to every boundary of the house and even
stretching here and there into the outer world. On this night of all nights
sleep was unthinkable.
Then suddenly he became aware of footsteps, footsteps so soft they must, he
thought, be Cleopatra's.
No, softer than that, so soft they might be those of the Gummitch Double
escaped from the mirror world at last and padding up toward him through the
darkened halls. A ribbon of fur rose along his spine.
Then into the nursery Sissy came prowling. She looked slim as an Egyptian
princess in her long, thin yellow nightgown and as sure of herself, but the
cat was very strong in her tonight, from the flat, intent eyes to the dainty canine
teeth slightly bared—one look at her now would have sent Kitty-Come-Here
running for the telephone number she kept hidden, the telephone number of the
special doctor—and Gummitch realized he was witnessing a monstrous suspension
of natural law in that this being should be able to exist for a moment
without growing fur and changing round pupils for slit eyes.
He retreated to the darkest corner of the room, suppressing a snarl.
Sissy approached the crib and leaned over Baby in the moonlight, keeping her
shadow off him. For a while she gloated. Then she began softly to scratch his
cheek with a long hatpin she carried, keeping away from his eye, but just
barely. Baby awoke and saw her, and Baby didn't cry. Sissy continued to
scratch, always a little more deeply. The moonlight glittered on the jeweled
end of the pin.
Gummitch knew he faced a horror that could not be countered by running about
or even spitting and screeching. Only magic could fight so obviously
supernatural a manifestation. And this was also no time to think of
consequences, no matter how clearly and bitterly etched they might appear to
a mind intensely awake.
He sprang up onto the other side of the crib, not uttering a sound, and fixed
his golden eyes on Sissy's in the moonlight. Then he moved forward straight
at her evil face, stepping slowly, not swiftly, using his extraordinary
knowledge of the properties of space to walk straight through her hand and
arm as they flailed the hatpin at him. When his nose-tip finally paused a
fraction of an inch from hers, his eyes had not blinked once, and she could
not look away. Then he unhesitatingly flung his spirit into her like a
fistful of flaming arrows, and he worked the Mirror Magic.
Sissy's moonlit face, feline and terrified, was in a sense the last thing
that Gummitch, the real Gummitch-kitten, ever saw in this world. For the next
instant he felt himself enfolded by the foul black blinding cloud of Sissy's
spirit, which his own had displaced. At the same time he heard the little
girl scream, very loudly but even more distinctly, "Mommy!"
· · ·
That cry might have brought
Kitty-Come-Here out of her grave, let alone from sleep merely deep or
drugged. Within seconds she was in the nursery, closely followed by Old
Horsemeat, and she had caught up Sissy in her arms and the little girl was
articulating the wonderful word again and again, and miraculously following
it with the command—there could be no doubt; Old Horsemeat heard it
too—"Hold me tight!"
Then Baby finally dared to cry. The scratches on his cheek came to attention,
and Gummitch, as he had known must happen, was banished to the basement amid
cries of horror and loathing, chiefly from Kitty-Come-Here.
The little cat did not mind. No basement would be one-tenth as dark as
Sissy's spirit that now enshrouded him for always, hiding all the file
drawers and the labels on all the folders, blotting out forever even the
imagining of the scene of first coffee-drinking and first speech.
In a last intuition, before the animal blackness closed in utterly, Gummitch
realized that the spirit, alas, is not the same thing as the consciousness,
and that one may lose—sacrifice—the first and still be burdened with the
Old Horsemeat had seen the hatpin (and hid it quickly from Kitty-Come-Here),
and so he knew that the situation was not what it seemed and that Gummitch
was at the very least being made into a sort of scapegoat. He was quite
apologetic when he brought the tin pans of food to the basement during the
period of the little cat's exile. It was a comfort to Gummitch, albeit a
small one. Gummitch told himself, in his new black, halting manner of
thinking, that after all a cat's best friend is his man.
From that night, Sissy never turned back in her development. Within two
months she had made three years' progress in speaking. She became an
outstandingly bright, light-footed, high-spirited little girl. Although she
never told anyone this, the moonlit nursery and Gummitch's magnified face
were her first memories. Everything before that was inky blackness. She was
always very nice to Gummitch in a careful sort of way. She could never stand
to play the game "Owl Eyes."
After a few weeks Kitty-Come-Here forgot her fears and Gummitch once again
had the run of the house. But by then the transformation Old Horsemeat had
always warned about had fully taken place. Gummitch was a kitten no longer
but an almost burly tom. In him it took the psychological form not of
sullenness or surliness but an extreme dignity. He seemed at times rather
like an old pirate brooding on treasures he would never live to dig up,
shores of adventure he would never reach. And sometimes when you looked into
his yellow eyes you felt that he had in him all the materials for the book Slit
Eyes Look at Life—three or four volumes at least—although he would never
write it. And that was natural when you come to think of it, for as Gummitch
knew very well, bitterly well indeed, his fate was to be the only kitten in
the world that did not grow up to be a man.