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“He succeeded with you. You’re a cat’s brain in a human body.”
Bookworm had always had a good relationship with Tepic, their exchanges marked by his usual good cheer and friendliness. She’d never seen such a cold, hard look as now came to his face. “Lisa,” he said softly, “yer want ter go now.”
“No…” Bookworm leaned across the desk a little, one hand held out. “Tell me. Please.”
“If yer want to go, gets behind me, an’ goes yer know where for safety.” Tepic visibly tensed, ready for action. Her expression showing how torn she was, Lisa looked back and forth between the others.
Bookworm leaned back again, not wanting to crowd her. “Lisa… I won’t stop you now if you go. But if you do, you’ll be breaking your probation, and the militia will have to search for you. You’ll never have an easy night again.”
“Ain’t sure us urchins ever knows an easy night, Miss Book,” Tepic replied, keeping his gaze on Lisa, who looked back at him. “But how long can I stay with you?” she asked, something of a desperate note in her voice. “I’m nearly grown up now.”
“Once an urchin, always an urchin, Lisa,” he avowed firmly. “Though some forget, sometimes…” He saw Lisa chewing her lip as she turned her attention back to Bookworm, and his own face softened a bit as he saw the sympathy in the woman’s face. “But… Miss Book tries ter help out, when she can. Ain’t gonna do yer fer anythin’ her can’t help.”
After a few moments of silence, Lisa finally sighed. “Thank you, Tepic, but I need to make my own way in this world. I can’t do that if my name isn’t clear.”
“Err… thought it were Lisa?”
Bookworm couldn’t help but smile a bit at that. But then both she and Lisa started a little as another Militia member entered in the back door and headed down the hallway there. “Not here, though,” Lisa said emphatically. “Anyone could see, or hear.”
“Come with me to my house. We’ll be private there.” Bookworm stood up, but before she moved away from the desk, Tepic said, “Miss? I reckons yer want ter turn yer desk the other way. This way, if anyone had a mind to, they could jumps up, push it up against yer, and dash off through the door…”
“I hadn’t thought of that, Tepic. Thank you.” She had no doubt that that exact plan had been in Tepic’s mind if Lisa had decided to flee.
She ushered them outside, and led them across the now-thawed canals and by Kasa’s tower, until they reached her home. She showed them into the smaller library off the entrance. Lisa sat down on the small couch, while Tepic looked around. “Sit down if you want, Tepic,” Bookworm said as she stepped out again. A few steps on, she was able to peek into the kitchen. “Mrs. Sawyer?” she called to the cook. “I’m in the secondary library with Tepic and Lisa. Please be sure no one disturbs us there.” The woman nodded, and Bookworm returned, closing the heavy door behind her, and smiling a little as she saw Tepic sitting on the floor.
“Now. No one can see us, no one can hear us. And I give you my word–” She paused, thinking about what would carry more weight than her role in the Militia. “My word as a Heroine – what you tell me about your… condition, and your time with Dr. Martel, will not pass these walls.” She sat down next to Lisa.
That seemed to be the right thing to say, as Lisa took a calming breath and launched into her story. Bookworm listened, amazed, as she heard about Lisa’s life as a cat. About the disappearances of cats three winters ago, her discovery of who was behind it, her at-first successful attempts to free her fellow cats, and then her own capture… and change. Lisa continued, speaking of how Dr. Martel kept her prisoner in the lab, studying her, and how she used her time down there to learn how to move and live, and eventually, to speak, as a human, and her hopes that somehow, she’d learn how she could be restored.
But there, she stopped, and stared at the ground, looking fearful. Bookworm had a feeling she knew why. “Did you kill Dr. Martel?” she asked softly.
After a moment, Lisa nodded miserably. “And I had my sister claw him in the same places, to make it look like a cat did it.”
Bookworm asked just as softly, “Why did you kill him?” She caught a glimpse of Tepic looking at her as if she’d gone daft, but she really wanted to hear the truth from Lisa herself.
Hesitantly, Lisa replied, “Partly it was because he told me he couldn’t change me back to what I was. But it was also because he said he was going to continue with his experiments.” She looked up at Bookworm appealingly. “More Folk would have died – cats and humans.”
“And when you left, you took one of his notebooks, didn’t you? The one about you?”
Lisa nodded again, still looking miserable. “I’d seen my picture in it, and he told me it was all about what he’d done to me. I didn’t want anyone to know he’d succeeded.”
“If it were about Lisa, she had a right ter it anyhows,” Tepic interjected.
“And that’s how Gadget got his hands on it, I take it?” She patted Lisa’s arm reassuringly as the girl looked wordlessly at her. “It’s all right. I know how persuasive Gadget can be.”
Lisa burst out with, “I’m sorry, miss! I wish I’d destroyed it when I had the chance! But I didn’t know…” She sniffled.
“How could you? I don’t blame you, Lisa.” She sighed. “I don’t know that I even really blame Gadget.” She was silent a moment, then suddenly directed her gaze at Tepic. “Did you know about all this?”
“Err… about which bit, Miss?” He shifted uncomfortably.
“The notebook,” she replied, that still being foremost in her mind. “I’ve been wondering for years how it got from Dr. Martel to Gadget.” She smiled. “It’s nice to finally have that answer.”
“Reckon someone’s been copyin’ it, too,” Tepic said, not really answering her question. “And Lisa couldn’t read back then, so how were she ter know?”
Bookworm nodded and leaned back in the couch, apparently lost in thought. In the silence of the room, they could all hear a knock at the door, followed a moment later by Mrs. Sawyer faintly saying, “Can I help you, sir?”
“Is Miss Hienrichs there?” Even through the heavy door, they all recognized Canergak’s voice. Lisa stiffened, and Tepic slipped his sling into his hand.
((To be continued…))