Note: This will be a series of vignettes (and possibly a few proper short stories) focused on Leo and Panthera, separately and together. The vignettes will not necessarily be in chronological order. I'll try to update once a week, as my schedule allows. Thank you for reading!

Out of Dust

Shizi Second Birth: Male

Shizi birthed five litters before she was culled for sloth, ill temper, and ignominious conduct upon the field of battle; it was a common death. Leo was Shizi Second Birth: Male. He was born third of four cubs, of whom two others would have been classed Male and one Female had they not been summarily culled at the conclusion of the first year, Leo having proven the superior of the litter.

Shizi was a prodigious breeder. She birthed five litters, composed of twenty-two cubs total, of whom seventeen were born living. This was taken into consideration in review prior to the culling and deemed an additional failing. Excessive fecundity was but one of Shizi's sins.

Leo was present for the culling. He was then twelve; he did not know her as his mother. Cubs were removed from their mothers after the first year as a preventative measure.

A letter on his comport delivered to Mumm-Ra from the general assigned to oversee the training of young cats:

SSB has demonstrated a continued aptitude for the martial arts, excelling in military strategy, multi-dimensional strategy, and armed and unarmed combat. He remains overly sentimental and given to shows of mercy; however, an ongoing punishment/incentive program is correcting this failing.

He did not cry when his mother died. A partition separated the students present from the culling; he could neither smell nor hear her, and it was unlikely that if he had smelt her he would have felt anything other than a momentary unease at scenting a smell so like his own. Such discomforts are quickly forgotten.

It was a great honor to be in the presence of Mumm-Ra, the Ever-Living. Leo was pleased to have been invited. His instructors had been hard on him of late, as he had failed to deliver a killing blow to another of his cohort, but he had been permitted to attend. He was there when they led Shizi to the block. He was there when they bound her neck; he was there when they cut it. Blood sprayed the glass in three neat arcs.

"Well done," said Mumm-Ra. "At least in her death, she has surpassed expectation."

Several of the young cats present laughed; others smiled. Leo did not smile or laugh. But he did not cry either.

Mumm-Ra took many things of his beasts.

Later, Leo would think of his mother and wonder what had happened to her. He would wonder if he had once had littermates. Cats did sometimes birth a single cub; perhaps he had been alone. Did that give him comfort?

The reality of it was that at the time he first began to truly wonder as to the fates of those connected to him by blood, he had unlimited access to all the records of Mumm-Ra's vast empire by dint of his systematic elevation from acclaimed strategist to general-aide to the undying god. He did not need to consult the computers to know that statistically speaking his mother and father were both dead, that if he had been born with littermates then process of elimination meant they had been eliminated, and that any other surviving siblings either elder or younger would be strangers to him marked only by the similarity of their scent.

He would not consult the computers after all. It was not the unloving comfort of the statistics that kept him from doing so, but rather the fermenting rebellion and the illegal attachment he had formed with Panthera, neither of which would survive detection. Then, more than ever, he needed Mumm-Ra to think him loyal beyond sentiment.

Would later generations think him a coward? Maybe they would. Maybe they did, before they forgot the circumstances of their birth. None of them had lived as Leo lived. He was satisfied with that.