Between the city and desert, a conclave of cats gathered around a row of grain silos. The grain brought colonies of rats, mice, and birds to the area, all them prey for the cats. Each feline, whether stripped or patternless, whether calico or uniform in color, left a harder, hungrier life to follow the migrating herbivores. Each traded the solitude of single territory for the unfamiliar company of a shared one.
As cats do, they developed ordered societies. The mightiest hunted in the best locations or simply stole prey from those who couldn't defend themselves. The weakest retreated to the outskirts of the silo district. Some returned to the city or the desert.
"Mine!" A tortoiseshell cat howled as a large male approached. The young one had caught a rat inside the southmost silo.
This was a prime spot, not one for weak felines to hunt in. It was also not easy to escape with large, fat prey. The young tortoiseshell dashed for the hole in the silo door but the aggressive, orange male arrived first. It knocked down the younger one and gave it a few hard kicks. The kicks drew blood.
The hunter dropped its rat and backed up. The larger one ignored the fallen prey, intent on driving away a rival.
"You don't belong, runt," he said. As he passed the rat, he noticed other felines watching. There were three of them, each in a prime hunting location. He hesitated, aware that other cats would grab the rat if he left it. In that instant, the young hunter ran for the exit.
Outside, he licked his wounds. As he did, a large, gray tabby pounced. It kicked him and drove him farther away into the fields. Others watched from their perches.
"Out, runt! Out, out!" The cat growled as it drove the smaller one off.
The young hunter took cover in the bushes.
Even the bushes at the edges of the fields were popular. Other cats waited for rats to come and go from the silos. In time, the hunter noticed a mouse between the bush rows. It darted for cover from one bush to the next but it was slow.
The hunter pounced. Angered at having lost his better prey, frustrated by having lost two fights, he began to torture the fat mouse.
"Are you not hungry?" Another gray tabby emerged from the bush. "Why did you catch the mouse?"
"It was slow. So I caught it."
"I saw you tortured by the stronger cats." The newcomer laid back her ears. "When my turn came to drive you away, I took pity on you. Yet here you are committing the same torture to the only creature lower than you."
The hunter said nothing. He lay down low to the ground, hackles raised along his spine, and panted in fear.
"It seems that the tormented are likely to turn cruel." The strong cat took her time as she paced. "You live in fear. Out of fear, you imitate the mean-spirited."
"This is what the mighty do. This is our nature."
"So it is," said the objector. "Many before us have tortured. Many after us will do so. Yet I will not."
"You may never have much power. You may live in fear your whole life. But you can refrain from passing on cruelty. For doing less than that, there is no excuse."