Well before dawn, a slight figure slipped quietly out of the Imperial Theatre. Though the moon was up, and only a little past full, its light was well dimmed by the haze prevalent in the skies above New Babbage. The figure moved in shadows, with a care for where it placed its feet, making no noise even on areas of well-packed snow. Only occasionally did light from one of the streetlamps flash off of red hair.
Felisa had decided she needed to avoid Gadget for now. She was still angry with him for losing Ambrose’s notebook to the Van Creed, but it seemed as if he would not–or could not–understand the depth of her distress. To stay around him would only end up provoking her, sooner or later. So she continued to stay in the Imperial Theater, instead of the safe house Gadget and several of the others had moved to. It made for a longer trek to the Van Creed building, but she didn’t mind.
A few times a week, she sneaked into the abandoned building, looking for signs that it was abandoned no longer. The last time she’d been there, it had seemed as if a few things had been shifted around–definitely a troubling sign. She was anxious to see if there had been further changes in the intervening time…
Slowly, pausing after every step to look and listen, she neared the entrance to the Van Creed building. When she could finally make it out through the gloom of the night, she stopped dead in her tracks. Instead of an inexpertly boarded-up entrance, there was now a solid door. She inched her way forward and up the steps. Holding her breath, she pressed her ear to the door…
And Felisa heard, and even felt, the low hum of machinery.
Hissing silently in agitation, she backed up a step. She took a deep, though tremulous, breath, knowing she couldn’t give in to her distress yet. As calmly as she could, she retraced her silent way down the alley, away from the building, until she judged she was far enough away. Then she took to her heels, running through the empty, quiet streets, her pounding feet sparking echoes that swirled around her. She ran nearly across the city, until she reached the courtyard of the power station. After a moment spent catching her breath, she let out a piercing yowl, as close to the alarm call of a cat as her human vocal cords could manage.
Several cats appeared immediately, having obviously been taking advantage of the shelter the complex offered, even as she had done last winter. She ignored their questions, though, waiting for any of the Elders to come.
Thankfully, it wasn’t long before three of the Elders, headed by Crooktail, arrived on the run. Felisa sank to her knees, heedless of the snow, and Crooktail skidded to a stop in front of her, placing his paws on her legs. “Felisa! What is it?”
“You have to leave,” she said urgently. “You all have to leave. Now!”
Crooktail’s ears swept back in dismay. “Why?”
“That building where the bad M’an-folk were,” she said. “They’ve returned, and they’ve built something in there. That’s the something that’s going to start the destruction of the city–I’m sure of it!”
Hisses of dismay and agitation rose from the assembled cats. “You’re right,” Crooktail said. “We’ve done what little we can; it’s time to leave while we still have life.” He crisply gave instructions to the others, telling them to spread the word of the evacuation as fast as they could. Then he turned back to Felisa. “Are you coming with us?”
“I–” She paused, and then sighed. “I don’t know.”
Crooktail looked at her with a shrewd eye, but said nothing as he left to do his own part in spreading the word.
Felisa stood up and wandered west, trying to think. Eventually, she found herself standing by the gate in the city wall, huddling in its shelter as a nearly imperceptible change of light heralded the start of sunrise. A few cats went by her from time to time, giving her a greeting or encouraging word as they passed. She knew most, though, would be leaving through the smaller, hidden cracks in the walls, which were mostly unknown to the M’an-folk.
Should she stay, or should she go? The cats were her Folk, but the humans–some of them, at least–were also her Folk. There wouldn’t be anything she could do outside the city to help the cats–and, indeed, she’d be at a distinct disadvantage there, being unable to hunt, or eat what others might bring her. But if she stayed, what could she do here to help? The only thing she’d ever been able to offer was utilizing the skills of the cats, and she’d just negated whatever advantage that was by sending them away. Part of her wanted to go, but part of her wanted to stay–and she honestly could not tell which part of her wanted which action.
But then a thought captured her attention. If the Van Creed were back in the building…would they have Ambrose’s notebook with them? Did she dare to think she might be able to sneak in and get it? Oh, if she could rectify that mistake, it would all be worth it!
A peremptory meow startled her. Looking down, she saw her siblings gathered around her feet, along with a few other cats–some of those she’d rescued from Ambrose’s traps last winter. “You’re staying, aren’t you?” her sister Tealla asked.
Felisa nodded. “I am. I wasn’t sure before, but now there’s something I might be able to do to help our Folk by staying.”
“Then we’re staying with you,” Tealla replied firmly.
Felisa smiled a little, knowing immediately that it was useless to try to argue. “All right. But let’s find a place to rest and talk. We’ll probably have a long few days ahead of us.”