With the coming of spring, Felisa Fargazer decided that it really was time she get out again more, and mingle again with the humans. She’d spent a great deal of the winter–more than she ought to, she realized ruefully–in the Dreamfields, reveling in being a cat again there. But she’d chosen to stay in this human form in case she was needed again, by humans or the Folk. She needed to know what was going on in the city if she was to be able to do that.
There was something else on her mind, too; something she’d been wondering about ever since encountering the spirit-man last fall. It was time, and more than time, to see if she could find answers to her questions. After some thought, she decided to go and see Tepic, and seek his advice.
She trotted to the city gate and went outside and down, lured by the faint sound of a playing flute. She soon found Tepic in his camp. At the sight of her, he set down the flute. “Oh!” he exclaimed. “Hello, Lisa.”
“Hello, Tepic,” she replied.
Tepic gestured to his makeshift seats. “Have a bucket. We got ginger biscuits an’ some coffee…”
“Thank you.” Felisa sat on the upturned bucket, took a biscuit, and nibbled on it.
“Ain’t seen you around much, not since we stopped them Van Creed blokes,” Tepic said.
“No. I found I didn’t much like the cold, so I stayed inside as much as I could.” Felisa wasn’t sure she was up to explaining the Dreamfields to Tepic. And she truly didn’t like the cold as a human.
Tepic chuckled. “Yep, you ain’t got no fur now, does make a difference.”
She nodded emphatically. “It does.”
“T’ain’t so bad, once yer used to it. An’ I like the changes.”
“It’s… interesting. Perhaps liking will come with time.”
“Well, we getting into Spring soon. Lovely ter see new stuff growing, even if Mr Tenk ain’t keen on green.”
She nodded again. “The cats are certainly enjoying it. So much more to eat now.”
“Yep. We did well this winter–lots of the urchins stayed where they went ter escape the certain doom, so been lots of food fer once.”
It was strange. Now that Felisa was here, she was having a hard time bringing up the subject to Tepic, even though she truly wanted his help. She couldn’t seem to bring herself to say what she needed to say.
“Yer learning more ’bout the humans, an’ how they live?” he asked a bit anxiously.
“A little,” she replied quietly. She didn’t want to admit that she hadn’t really been trying yet.
Tepic laughed. “Ain’t always easy, they’s a strange lot…”
Felisa suddenly blurted out, “Tepic. That… that ghost, I think you called it, from last fall.”
“The Metier bloke?” he asked.
She nodded. “Is… is that *common* for humans? For their spirits to stay here after death?”
“Dunno,” he replied, frowning a little in thought. “There are a few in New Babbage, none like he was though. An’ there’s Evie–she’s a ghost, she comes by ter hear me play sometimes. An’ Miss Hermit talks to a lot from the graveyard. Think she is an expert on ghosts, if yer got any questions.”
Felisa plunged ahead, getting the words out before she could rethink her decision. “When I was first learning how to live in this body, while I was still with Ambrose, I seemed to learn some things… faster than I think I should have. It was like there was someone else in the back of my head, telling me things… guiding me. I’ve been wondering ever since fall if that might be the human spirit of the girl I am now.”
“Interestin’…” Tepic said thoughtfully. “I know a couple of people had more than one person inside… Yer think the lass as had the body before yer was helping you?”
Felisa nodded. “Do you think there’s any way to find out?”
“Dunno. Think this might be something Miss Hermit would be best at. But…”
“Yer think she was helping you?” Tepic asked. She nodded. “An’ yer felt all right with the help?” She nodded again, and Tepic looked thoughtful. “Yer see, I seen lots of people in weird situations, an’ too often, they seems ter fight each other or even themselves. An if you an whoever it is that’s helping are getting on alright, maybe it’s best not to stir stuff up? Yer both may be best happy if yer accepts yer both together and work to help each other?”
“Maybe.” Lisa frowned a bit, though. She still wanted to understand. “But for cats, our spirits move on after death. That’s… what we expect, what is natural. Is it that way for humans?”
“Ummm, the Builders would be best ter answer that. They have all sorts of ideas what happens to humans. An I’m a fox, so ter be honest, I only knows what’s supposed ter happen to foxes. I think they goes on to somewhere else though, usually.”
Felisa nodded. “I guess I’d feel happier if I knew that whoever it is is staying because they want to, not because something is keeping them here.”
“Oh.” Tepic looked a bit taken aback. “Have yer asked?”
“I’ve tried. But I can’t get any sense of a response to that question. And I’ve also wondered…” She hesitated a moment, then said, “If it is the spirit of the girl Lisa, does she want to get back into her body? *Can* she get back into her body?”
“Ummm.” Tepic thought a moment. “I think ghosts can go into someone’s body–happened to Miss Bookworm. An’ a couple of people I know keep switchin’ bodies now an’ then, though I think they think I don’t notice.” He grinned. “Course, it do depend on whether it is the girl, an’ not someone else. It ain’t some cat spirit helping, is it?”
“No–the knowledge I got was specific to humans.”
“I remember one lass, way back,” Tepic mused. “She had two human spirits, an’ they shared a body; didn’t seem ter give em any trouble, though only one of em was awake at a time…”
Felisa quizzically tilted her head a little. This didn’t seem entirely pertinent to her situation, and she suddenly remembered something he’d said earlier. “Who is this Miss Hermit you mentioned?”
“She’s a nice lady, from Nippon. She was living in New Babbage, then went home fer a bit, but there is a lady from Nippon at the Mechanix Arms now, by the graveyard. She may know Miss Hermit–Nippon ain’t a big place.” He chuckled. “Last time I was there, they made a big fuss of me!”
“Maybe we could ask her?”
“Yep, it’s a good idea.” Tepic smiled approvingly, but Felisa hesitated a moment.
“Do you think they can be trusted with my secret?” she asked. “About what I was before, and what I am now?”
“Well, Miss Hermit, I think so, ‘specially if yer asks here to swear to secrecy, cus she used ter work in a Temple so has to take it seriously. An’ she was very good to the ghosts. Yer main worry is the scientists, I thinks, cus they will want ter experiment an’ find out how you works.”
Felisa nodded. “Indeed.”
“I’d trust Miss Bookworm, an’ Miss Hermit, as long as it weren’t about something that would worry ’em… such as what happened ter the bales of cotton down by the Docks last week, that sort of thing.”
Lisa let the second part of Tepic’s comment pass by, as the vaguely familiar name caught her ear. “Hmm. Yes, I met Miss Bookworm once. She kept me from trying to go into the Van Creed building the last night.”
“Yer know, lots of people in New Babbage seem ter want to keep one thing or another quiet…. sometimes so much so that of course everyone knows! Sometimes it’s best just ter be who yer is…”
“Once you figure that out,” Felisa said wryly.
“Yep,” Tepic said with a laugh. “Ain’t had that problem, but there is lots who do, even when they are who they always was… errr…” He trailed off, seeming to have confused himself.
Felisa smiled. “Shall we go see if anyone is home at the Mechanix Arms?”
“Yep! If not, we can always leave a note.”
“Well… you can,” Lisa said sheepishly. “I still haven’t learned that.”
“Oh, well.” Tepic shrugged, and led the way back into the city. They trekked past the train station and City Hall, peering at the new park. Finally, they reached the Mechanix Arms. Tepic read the sign outside the stairs and exclaimed, “Hey! They do know each other! Told you Nippon were a small place!”
They looked around inside the small store area, and listened intently, but all was silent. “Don’t look like anyone is around. Yer want me to write a note to Miss Hermit?”
“Yes, please,” Lisa replied. She watched as Tepic took a worn scrap of paper from his pocket, and the stub of a pencil from behind his ear. Tepic read aloud as he carefully wrote, “Dear Miss Hermit, me friend Lisa would like ter talk with yer ’bout an important matter, if yer could see yer way to helpin’ her please. Thank you, Tepic.
“I’ll leave it here under the desk weight, an’ when she reads it, she will let us know!” He saw her intent gaze, and pointed. “See that bit? That’s me name! An’ that bit, that’s your name, too. Writin’ is very useful–worth learnin’ sometime.”
Felisa nodded, realizing that she really should start learning more about human ways and skills.
“Well, I gotta run now, Lisa. You take care, an’ keep away from the scientists!”
“All right,” she replied with a smile. She watched him scurry out, his farewell drifting back over his shoulder. She left as well, walking more slowly the short distance to the urchins’ hideout. She had much to think about before they heard from Miss Hermit.