Chapter 1. Rocco

An odd cat is pacing back and forth across the room. How odd? He is standing upright, walking on his hind legs, and wearing a brand-new school backpack. Stranger still, we don’t see the prominent ears we expect on a cat. His round head invites petting. Could it be true that small animals with small ears are especially smart and courageous? A thoughtful, courageous cat who loves to be petted, that’s our Rocco.
Rocco has been restless all morning. He hasn’t eaten his special breakfast. He’s worried, and for good reason. Today he starts school. Yes, regular school. He will be in the fourth grade.
Reporters have gathered outside the house. A crowd of curious Rocco fans are hoping to catch a glimpse of him. Torakichi, the neighborhood’s alpha cat, and his sworn brothers Kijitora, Buchitora, and Kumatora, are waiting for their hero’s appearance.
No cat has ever gone to school before. The world has been in an uproar, waiting to see if he will actually be allowed in.
It all started three months ago, with a brief statement from an organization calling itself VRV.
We at Viva Rocco Vision give our support without reservation to the cat named Rocco, who is so much smarter than the average human.
It reads like something you might find in a cheap tabloid, but the seven famous signatures it bears have had an astonishing impact.
A month later, before the furor over the first statement died down, VRV issued another declaration.
My name is Rocco. I am a cat. I’d like to go to school and do something for humanity.
Thank you.
People everywhere were stunned. How could it be? “A cat going to school, that’s ridiculous.” In a world divided into dog lovers, cat lovers, and those who don’t like either, it was the dog lovers who were first to object. There were so many of them that their campaign seemed unstoppable. Parents and the PTA made a great fuss. Newspapers and TV reporters couldn’t let go of the story. In one important country, a famous scholar stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the president and yammered on, proclaiming that the whole idea was unprecedented and absurd.
Everyone, old and young, unemployed and part-timer, was debating the issue. The news spread worldwide. For once, language was no barrier.
Soon everyone knew about Rocco, but most were against the idea of a cat going to school. Cat lovers were on the defensive as they kept being asked, “Why should a cat go to school?” No one could come up with a good answer.
“If we allow cats to go to school,” their opponents said, “We will have to let dogs in first.
After all, dogs are useful. There are seeing eye dogs, police dogs, rescue dogs.” With dog lovers listing one kind of helpful dog after another, the cat people didn’t know what to say.
Then, even more discouragingly, the horse lovers chimed in.
Rocco wasn’t surprised.
Two months ago, when I said that I wanted to go to school, I knew it would cause an uproar. All over the world, adults and children would debate my proposal. They might say they loved cats, but allowing a cat to go to school? That would be a different story. People believe that they are superior to animals. They always want to be on top.
So, of course they will say that it’s out of the question. How dare a mere cat . . . I didn’t expect anything else.
Rocco was unperturbed. He just went on planning his next steps.
He knew that his name would be on everyone’s lips. Children everywhere would be standing up to adults to defend their position on Rocco, a gleam in their eyes.

Now the time has come. Rocco is calm. He is in a TV studio preparing to make his next statement. People are watching via satellite, the Internet, even the new InterPlanet. No interview in the history of television has ever attracted so much attention. The studio is overflowing with press and people from all over the world, from Africa, Europe, Asia, Oceania, the Americas. Never before has a cat made a speech on television to audiences around the globe.
“Are you ready?” As Rocco was about to stand up, he felt a big, loving hand gently touch his back. It was Dr. Moam Chancewinsky, a world authority on neural science and Rocco’s greatest supporter.
“Let me speak first.” Dr. Chancewinsky sat down calmly in the chair for the interviewee. Cameras clicked and flashed, but the good doctor took no notice. He scanned the studio with an air of mild curiosity, then, on cue, began to speak.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I am Moam Chancewinsky.” Scientists around the world waited with bated breath.
It was only a year ago when Dr. Chancewinsky, the illustrious scientist, head of the World Peace Promotion Council, widely regarded as the most intelligent man in the world, had announced that, for the following year, he would be making no public appearances. “I will be taking the year off, for personal reasons,” he had said. There had been all sorts of speculation about what lay behind that. Some thought that he must be ill. Others said that he must be burned out as a scientist. Still others speculated that he was unhappy that so many conflicts were still unresolved while he was chairing the World Peace Promotion Council that he wanted to resign.
The real reason, though, was Rocco. Meeting him had been the greatest shock in a long life of research.
A year ago, Rocco was almost two. He was growing rapidly, changing at terrific speed as if powered by some strange energy. Well aware of how he was changing, Rocco told himself he had to hurry even faster. Now Rocco had changed completely. But one thing had not changed; he was still in a hurry.
Why the rush? It all started one fateful morning when he became aware of his destiny. He had chosen his path, a momentous decision for a cat still under two years old. It was proving a life-altering decision.