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“Beryl?” Lisa gasped. She stared at the cylinder full of yellow liquid, in which floated a large black cat, dressed only in a white coat and hooked to several tubes. A crackling sound behind her made her jump and squeek a little; she whirled to see that the large chamber in the center of the room was now filled with blue traces of energy. She watched for a moment, but nothing else seemed to happen, so she turned her attention back to the cylinder.
“Beryl?” she said softly. There was no response from the cat, so she tapped softly on the glass. “Strifeclaw? Can you hear me?” The figure still remained listless, eyes closed.
The chamber behind her continued to crackle and spit electricity, its noise masking the tapping of an approaching cane. The sound of the doors closing, though, reached Lisa’s ears. She stiffened, turning pale, and slowly turned around.
“Hello, child.” Canergak gazed at her from across the lab. “You have gotten bold.”
“What have you done to him?” Lisa’s voice was thick with mingled anger and fear.
She stared at him, outraged. “To Beryl!”
“I have done nothing to that cat.”
“Nothing? This is nothing?” She gestured behind her at the cylinder.
“I would repeat myself again, yes.”
Lisa’s eyes narrowed. “Then if you are doing nothing to him, sir, there is no reason to keep him here.”
Canergak shook his head. “I would be more concerned about your own future if I were you, young woman.”
Lisa took a step back, bumping against the cylinder. “What… what do you mean?” Her voice wavered a little.
“I told you not to come into this lab,” Canergak said sternly. “You have no idea what you could have done, freeing those creatures. They would have killed you–if you were lucky.”
“Beryl would never!” she cried, outrage flaring inside her. She could feel her fingers flexing, trying to extend claws she no longer had, and tried to relax them.
“That cat would have killed you,” he said insistently, “but that’s not what I’m upset about, young… woman. Where were you previously employed?”
“Manette’s Greengrocers, sir. As I told you.”
“And you were known as Lisa there, correct?”
“Of course, sir. That is my name.” She frowned.
“Did you know that Manette’s Greengrocers burnt down the same night you left?”
Lisa stared at Canergak, her jaw agape. There was nothing like that in the admittedly-few memories of the human Lisa’s life she still retained.
“I had to hire a private investigator to hunt down the family who owned the business,” he continued. “Lisa… you were wanted for arson when you arrived in this city.”
“For…” Lisa felt completely confused now. What was he saying?
“You burned down the building where you were once employed.”
“No,” she breathed, shaking her head in bewilderment. “No, I’d never…” She didn’t know if she was speaking for herself, or somehow for the human Lisa, whose spirit Felisa had met briefly, before Miss Hermit had helped it move on.
“I see my facility may have been your next intended victim,” Canergak continued over her objections, and then softly, to himself, added, “Or perhaps I was…”
“I don’t know anything about that fire!” Lisa protested loudly. “And I’d never have set one here!” The thought of fire racing through the asylum–with inmates, and the two here, trapped in it–made her blanch.
Canergak fixed his gaze on her. “The paper trail for Lisa,” he said, “stops at the hands of a scientist. But here you stand.”
“What… what do you mean?” She felt fear growing now, fear that Canergak had discovered everything.
“I hired someone to pursue your history, Lisa. Have you ever heard of someone named… Dr. Martel?” Lisa shivered, but shook her head no. “Have you ever heard,” Canergak continued implacably, “of a doctor who experimented on people and cats?”
She gulped, but managed to say, “No, sir.”
“I do not know the full nature of his experiments, nor do I care. But the destruction of his work and his life… it sickens me.” He shook his head grimly. “I had hopes for you, Lisa.”
She swallowed. “Fire me if you wish, sir,” she said in a wavering voice. “Just let Beryl go!”
“I cannot. I don’t ‘have’ Beryl.”
“But…” Lisa looked behind her in the tube, then back again at Canergak, feeling completely lost.
“Tap on the glass a few times, hard.”
She hesitated, then turned around and tapped on the glass, harder than she had before. The cat twitched, and opened its eyes–eyes that were golden-brown, not one blue and one red. Lisa hissed in a breath and turned back around. “Who–who is this?”
“They are the same species,” Canergak replied. “I acquired it from Germany.” Lisa inhaled sharply at that, remembering what Beryl had told her about his trip. ‘He was right,’ she thought with despair. ‘He was right, and I can’t tell him.’
“If it was released, it would kill you. And me, if it could–though with you standing closer, I would have time to retreat and find a weapon.”
His words were punctuated by the sound of a snarling beast coming from within one of the closed metal cells to Canergak’s right. Lisa started at the sound, and backed away from the tube… and the snarls… and Canergak… but then found herself standing by a control panel, within which was a loudly-beating heart encased in gears. Waves of agony and fear seemed to emanate from it, washing over her. She backed away from it, now pressed against the wall halfway between the two cylinders, feeling nearly mad with terror, but still worried about Beryl. “If that’s not Beryl… do you know where he is?” she managed to ask, as he walked over and deactivated the machine.
“No. If they are missing, I’ve had nothing to do with it. I have my own specimens, as you can see.” He looked at her coldly, stepping closer. “Now the question is, what do I do with you, young woman.”
Lisa stood shivering, unable to retreat any further. Her fingers were flexing again, and she could feel her ‘fight or flight’ instinct nearly overwhelming her control. Canergak glanced down at her hands, taking note of their movement. “I have never harmed another living creature in my life, but I will defend myself.” He nodded toward the nearer metal room. “Get into the cage over there.”
Lisa gasped. This was her worst nightmare come to life, and all she could think of now was escape. “No!” she screamed, and dashed past him, toward the large doors where she’d entered. She yanked on them several times, but they refused to budge. “Let me out!” she cried, whirling around, her hand going into a hidden pocket of her skirts and grasping a scalpel–the scalpel she’d used to kill Dr. Martel over two years ago.
“Get into the cage,” Canergak repeated coldly. “Or I will be forced to do something you would find terrible.” He walked over to the cylinder containing the cat, and stood by its control panel. “I will end its existence.”
Lisa inhaled sharply. “No…” she whimpered.
“Then get into the cage.” Canergak stepped forward, opened the door, and stood by it, waiting.
She stood for a moment more, panting in panic. To enter into confinement like that, confinement such as she’d suffered at the hands of Dr. Martel, was unthinkable. But to stand by and watch him kill Beryl’s kin… that was unthinkable, too. Finally, step by trembling step, her heart pounding in her ears, she approached the cage and stepped inside.
“Close it,” he said implacably.
Reaching out, her hand trembling violently, Lisa grasped the handle and pulled it, shutting herself in the prison. She heard Canergak seal the door, and then heard the tap-tap-tap of his cane receding into the distance. She sank down into a corner, hugging herself tightly, shaking all over.
((To be continued…))