Note: The audio version of this chapter is slightly delayed. Apologies. -Jim
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Chapter 8: Feline Inhibitions
Topic: What is Most Important to You? (Be Creative!)
Mrs. Andropov's Class
Teacher's note: Graelie, please stay on topic. While I understand your therapist is encouraging you to be more expressive of your feelings, next time try not to go off on so many tangents.
“The only escape from the miseries of life are music and cats.” -Albert Schweitzer
No one wanted me to have a cat, not my mother, or my father. But after the incident, my therapist made them. Indubitably, this was not the finest of circumstances for me to receive a cat, but nevertheless, I received one. His name is Mr. Sprinkles, which was also not what anyone wanted me to name him. My mother said I should name him after someone heroic and respectable, like Vladimir Putin, or Ayn Rand, or Josef Stalin. My father stayed silent on the matter. But I did not budge. I wanted my cat to be my cat.
I love my cat.
He is very fuzzy, and purrs when he sits on my lap. His jaws have been tempered by evolution to make him a natural predator, and his teeth are like needles. His claws have a natural retraction function, so they become nearly invisible beneath his fur. His body structure enables him to control his weight when falling to allow minimal damage to his structure when falling. He likes to listen to Mozart with me! He likes to eat fish! He is a carnivore, and has long whiskers. He is my best friend and I love him very much.
Some people say that cats are only looking out for themselves, and this makes them unkind. This is a lie, and lying is bad, unless you are lying to someone for their own good. Like if they are going to put their hand on a hot stove and you said, “don't put your hand on that stove!” and they said, “No that stove is not hot I do not believe you, uninformed child,” and so you said, “That stove is very dirty I cooked raw meat on it and used it as a cutting board and if you put your hand on it you will catch an easily preventable illness.” so they would stop, that would be okay. But lying about cats not being nice is bad. Cats look after themselves, which is a kindness. If more people would look after themselves, the world would be a better place after all. Mother always says that I can't count on anyone except myself, and if I leech off other people and don't do what I'm supposed to, I will be not only a burden on society, but be betraying my own potential. I do not want to betray my own potential, and I am scared of that. I am very scared I will amount to nothing. I am already nine years old and I have not made any significant scientific breakthroughs. I can already tell I am a failure.
Mr. Sprinkles does not care that I am not living up to my potential however. He always comes and rubs on my leg when I get home from school. I have started wearing more skirts so I can feel his fur on my calves for just this reason. He is the only person who doesn't judge me.
I love my cat.
* * * * *
Graelyn waited for the elevator to finish rising, and stepped into a dark hallway. The light flickered for a second, and then failed. “I'm sorry Director Scythes, we appear-pear-pear to b-b-be having technical difficulties.”
“Its alright.” Graelyn said, and pulled out her small tablet computer from her pocket. The screen was still repairing itself, but it seemed to be working enough to use as a flashlight. She shone it around, and took in the luxurious hall. The carpet was so thick and lush you could fall asleep on it, the walls had gold leaf in the artworks, and the lights were all dead.
As she waved the light around, she saw a hand raise in front of a set of eyes in the shadows. She took a step back. “Director Scythes?” A trembling voice asked.
“Who's there?” She someone get up and edge closer to her. It was a girl, about her own age, her hair in neat cornrows, her dark skin still wet under the eyes from crying. She was wearing fairly similar business clothes to Graelyn, except she had a better eye for style and could manage heels better.
“I'm, uh, the new intern. I've been with you since last tuesday, Director.” The girl stopped, she looked scared.
“What's wrong?” Graelyn looked behind her, as though a swarm of revolutionaries was creeping up.
“Nothing miss. I just, uh, you look so much younger.”
“Long story.” Graelyn fudged, “How long have you been waiting here?”
“Since the bombs started falling.” Graelyn nodded, she wasn't sure what that meant, but she knew it had to have been a long time.
“You don't have to stay here you know, you can leave.” The intern shook her head.
“I don't know where to go, Director. They've been executing collaborators.” That was certainly true.
“Come with me then.” The intern nodded, “I'm just going into my room.” This lie was strange to keep up, playing a boss of someone who was in reality her peer. She found being in charge like desert, however.
“If its all the same to you Director, could I wait out here?” Graelyn raised an eyebrow, but she didn't really care.
“Alright, wait out here then. I'll be back out in a bit.”
Graelyn turned, trying to pretend she was a figure in authority and not an intern herself. Walking along the wall she counted room numbers till she found the one she was looking for: 41-17: Director Graelyn Scythes.
Her hair bristled. She could feel an electric rush move through her. Her hand reached towards the panel on the door, and quivered in the air in front of it. When she moved it just another centimeter, the door would unlock, and she would be inside her own room, but a totally different her. Older. Accomplished... Dead. She shivered. She was excited, she was terrified.
She pressed her palm down on the pad, and the door made a clicking noise. She pressed, and it pushed open into an equally dark apartment.
Holding the tablet` out in front of her, she examined the inside: there was quite a lot of scientific equipment she could already tell, not to mention a very nice sound system. The floor was alternately lush and highly practical, with half the room looking like a lab, and the other half like a living room. It looked like there might be some sort of divider on the floor that could rise out of it.
Then she heard it.
It wasn't a loud noise, in fact it was quite soft, but it was all she needed to hear. Like it was muffled through a pillow, she heard a meow. Graelyn barreled in that direction, tripping over something square in the shadows and wincing, but not stopping. She opened another door to a room filled with all sorts of cat toys and structures: things to climb on and sit in. There was an empty food bowl next to an equally empty water bowl, and a litter box that looked like it was automated. The cat meowed. She ran over to the cage, and fiddled clumsily for the door latch. There, through the aperture, was a different cat. It was white with black splotches. “Of course its not my cat.” She thought, “Wherever I am, that woman in the car said I looked twenty years younger. A guess, but a good time frame. Its unlikely my cat could have survived that long.” The cat moved towards her hand, and began to rub against it. Instinctively, Graelyn began to scratch it behind the ear, and the cat closed its eyes in pleasure.
“You poor thing, left alone here. I bet you're hungry.” She picked up the cat, and cradled it against her breast. A little warm bundle, shifting and nuzzling. Graelyn foraged around awkwardly for the catfood, not wanting to set the cat down, but also needing to hold the light to actually see things, which left her having to set the tablet down and pick up over and over to reach for things. Finally she found the catfood, opened the meal, and squeezed it into a bowl. She pulled another dish from the cupboard, and filled it with water. Setting the cat down, she watched it begin to eat, its jaw moving in a perfect rhythm, its neck muscles working to move the food back. She smiled, and reached for its collar, feeling for a tag, which she found. Holding the light to it, she squinted, “Captain Fudgesickle.” Good name, she thought admiringly of herself. She ran her hand along his back. No, this wasn't her cat, but this cat had no one here. A Graelyn had picked him out, had raised him, and that Graelyn was gone. He wasn't Mister Sprinkles, but Captain Fudgesickle was still in need of a home. She would take care of him. The good Captain began to drink some water, and Graelyn continued examining the room. There was a workbench where this Graelyn had been working on some sort of robotic limb... Then she noticed it. There was someone else in the room. Sitting there the whole time, silently. She dropped the tablet, and heard the screen crack again.
“Hello.” She said as calmly as she could.
“I'm Graelyn, who are you?” Silence.
“Why are you here?” Silence.
She took a step towards him. It was a man, but she could tell he was... Modified. His skin bore numerous scars from surgeries, and she could see lines under his skin that were the trademarks of biomodifications. He looked at her, and remained silent.
“Can you talk?” He shook his head no.
“But you can do yes or no?” He nodded. She nodded back.
“Well then, are you going to kill me?” He shook his head.
“Do you want to?” He nodded. She leaned in closer: there had to be an incredible amount of biomods in this man. The only person she could think of with more was Arch, and he was a pretty ludicrous exception.
“Did... Did I do this to you?” He nodded.
“Did you volunteer?” He shook his head.
“Where did I?” He pointed to a wall, “Show me.” He rose, and walked over to the wall, somehow doing so in a way that was both stilted and fluid. Like a clockwork ballerina.
He pressed a button on the wall, and it slid open to reveal a room that was still completely lit. The whole thing was utterly white. An operating table sat in the center of it, and a large tray of surgical instruments sat on a tray next to it. Graelyn looked back at him.
“Me? I did this to you? I did this to you.” Her eyes grew wide. She looked back at him. She could feel her body trembling, like there was an earthquake in her heart. He squinted at her, and looked puzzled.
“I'm not her. I'm not... It wasn't me. I couldn't do...” She covered her face with her hands, and after a moment peaked out from between her fingers. She looked at the table. She could see herself there, slicing him open, crossing that line she'd felt in the ocean she hadn't wanted to believe she could leap.
“Could I?” As she stared at the operating table, the silence was deafened as three calibrated charges went off on the apartment door, and a crack team of Revolutionary commandos entered into the apartment, their guns trained on every living target.
“Hello Graelyn” A red haired woman said.
“You're under arrest.”