Lisa sighed as she continued her never-ending battle against the mud and dirt tracked in at the lone entrance to the asylum at this time of year. No matter how many times she asked the tradesmen and deliverymen to carefully scrape their boots at the door, they never seemed to listen. Though she knew that Canergak had, in this latest design of the asylum building, insisted on only one entrance for the sake of security, she still wished for a kitchen entrance.
As she continued to sweep, the inner door opened and Canergak stepped into the entranceway. “Lisa,” he said in his uninflected voice. She stopped sweeping, setting the broom aside. “Sir.”
“I have prepared the experiment. All we need now is someone to watch over you. Where is the Professor?”
“I think he went out, sir,” she replied. “He mentioned preparations for the examinations of the factory workers.”
“Ahh, yes.” A fleeting look of annoyance crossed the man’s face. “Dr. Maddox appears to be unreachable as well. If you like, you can call upon Lieutenant Hienrichs.” He fixed her with a stern gaze. “Or we could go alone, if you are prepared to put aside that nonsense.”
‘Fat chance,’ she thought. “I’d… rather she came, sir, if she can.”
Canergak nodded. “Be swift.”
Slipping out the door, Lisa trotted on the rain-drenched cobblestones, her clicking boot-heels occasionally muffled in the splash of a puddle. The downpour had recently stopped, though, so at least she wasn’t getting soaked. Peering through the mist, she saw a familiar-looking figure under an umbrella, and hurried forward in time to intercept Miss Hienrichs before she crossed the canal toward her home. Lisa quickly explained that Canergak was ready again, and Miss Hienrichs readily followed her to the asylum.
Inside, they found Canergak waiting in the entranceway. “Greetings, Lieutenant,” he said.
“Mr. Canergak.” Miss Hienrichs nodded a greeting.
“I told Miss Hienrichs about what to expect, sir,” Lisa told her employer.
“Good.” He looked at Miss Hienrichs. “You are prepared then for what you shall see?”
She smiled wryly. “As much as I can be.”
He led the way to the elevator, taking them down to the basement and into his underground laboratory. Lisa winced at the strange light pouring through the lab doorway, but stepped forward quickly, not wanting Canergak to see any hesitation on her part.
Canergak gestured toward the metal table, where the cat was strapped down. “The specimen is contained, and has had very little medication.” He looked at Lisa sternly. “Do not get too close to it.”
The cat stirred and hissed angrily, beginning to struggle against the restraints. Lisa looked from her to Canergak, and quietly said, “Could you move back a little, sir? Having you so close only upsets her.” The man stepped back a couple of paces, drawing Miss Hienrichs with him.
Lisa stepped forward, bringing herself into the view of the cat, trying to make her body language as Feline as a human body could manage. The cat’s eyes widened as she finally caught sight of her. “Tongue stealer!” she hissed.
Lisa stood quietly for a little, still trying to convey Feline movements, and watched for any signs that the cat would calm down. Finally, though, as the narrow, untrusting eyes continued to stare at her, she said in Feline, “My name is Fargazer. What’s yours?”
“You will not deceive me, growler!”
“Do I look like a Growler?” Lisa replied impatiently. “Do you see fur on me? A tail? Do I bark? I was Feline – now I am in the body of a M’an. But my spirit is still Feline.” She contemplated the confused look on the cat’s face, finally realizing that she truly didn’t understand Lisa’s words.
“You strap me down,” the cat finally replied, “you take my kin, you kill us, and make us vanish. You are the growlers.” She lunged against the restraints.
“*I* do not do that,” Lisa insisted. “I, too, was taken, made to vanish, changed into what you see now.” She glanced back, saw the impatient expression on Canergak’s face, and looked back at the cat. “Please, try to understand,” she pleaded. “I want to help you!”
“Your words are metal,” was the angry, hissing reply.
It was Lisa’s turn to be confused. “No–my words are spirit, and truth. I swear by the Allmother.”
“Who is the Allmother?”
“She who made the world, and everything in it,” Lisa replied, remembering that Beryl hadn’t known anything about Feline beliefs either. “We return to her when we die.”
The cat snarled angrily. “We do not.”
“How do you know that?” she asked curiously.
“Beryl,” came the short reply.
“Beryl–yes, I know Beryl.” Lisa latched onto that, hoping that might be some way to connect to the other cat, but instead, she began struggling hard against the restraints. “What did you do to her?!” the cat yowled.
“I didn’t do anything to Beryl,” she quickly replied. “Beryl is my friend!”
“Lisa, that’s enough,” Canergak said sternly. “You’re making it more crazed!”
Lisa stood irresolutely for a few seconds, then stepped back, her frustration showing clearly in her face. Canergak stepped forward and nearly shoved her away from the cat, who snarled angrily and tried to swipe her claws at him. He ignored her, focusing his stern gaze on Lisa. “Have you seen yet how pointless this is? It was trying to attack you!”
Lisa shook her head. “You can’t expect so much distrust to be wiped away in a few minutes, sir! She distrusts everyone in our shape, because they were attacked, taken, killed.”
“Yes, they were eventually hunted down. from what I understand.” He stared intently at Lisa. “It told you that?” She nodded. “Did it mention the people it has killed, or the people that its own folk attacked first?” She shook her head. “Of course not,” he commented dryly. “Why don’t you ask it right now?” He moved aside to give her access again to the table.
Lisa went back, wincing a little when the cat snapped at her. “The Growlers attacked you and your people, yes?” she asked in Feline.
“They came with fire on sticks, and weapons that hurt from afar.”
“Why did they come?”
The cat looked at her as if she was crazy. “Because they are growlers!”
“Did you attack them first?” Lisa asked, but the cat paid her no need. “They came with sharp teeth and hate,” she continued. “Their barks were terrible. We fled the growlers. They wore strange hides over their fur, like they have thrust me in.” She looked around wildly. “They want me to be like them!” She began thrashing against the restraints, yowling in terror, and Lisa quickly drew back, trembling a little.
“What happened?” Canergak asked. “Are you all right?”
“She’s terrified, remembering when they were attacked.” She watched as the table actually began to jump from the efforts of the cat to break free. Canergak darted forward, throwing his weight onto the table to hold it down. Looking back at Lisa, he shouted, “Get something to put it down!”
((To be continued…))