Lisa looked up from the broom she was wielding as she heard the door open. She smiled when she saw Strifeclaw enter. “Hello,” she said, quickly sweeping the dust out the door to finish that chore. Stepping back inside, she stowed the broom away and joined Strifeclaw in the front office.
“Hello, Lisa,” he said. “How are you?”
“Fine… I think…” she replied uncertainly.
“You… think?” Strifeclaw looked at her, concerned.
Lisa nodded. She’d been wondering about something for several days, and finally resolved to ask Strifeclaw about it. “Do I look… bigger?”
Strifeclaw frowned. “What do you mean?”
“Well, my blouse seems… tighter. Across here.” She gestured to her chest.
“Oh,” he said as he understood the question now. “That’s something humans do–and the Moreau I’ve met.”
That was all Lisa needed for confirmation. “You mean I’m this old, and I’m still growing?” she asked with dismay. “Do humans ever stop?”
“You’re…” He studied her for a few moments, but shrugged finally. “I don’t know how old you are, but in cat years you would still only be entering the age you would start looking for…” He paused, trying to think of a way to word it. “You are barely old enough to mate. Not even that old, really, for a M’an.”
Lisa gramced. “Well, I didn’t have success with that as a cat. I’m not really looking for a mate now.”
“I didn’t think you were,” Strifeclaw hastened to say. “I’m just trying to say that despite your being several years old, and should be an adult cat, you are still not there. Not as a M’an.”
“I don’t think I grew at all before,” she said thoughtfully. “It’s only while I’ve been working here that I’ve noticed it.” She paused. “Perhaps it’s because I’m getting more food now.”
Strifeclaw shrugged. “I hope that’s it, because if so, I wouldn’t be worried.” He looked at her consideringly. “You do seem to be… growing up a little.”
She looked over at him. “Not just physically, you mean?”
“Well, you’ve always been serious since I’ve met you, that I can remember. But maybe, yes.”
Lisa smiled slyly. “I was downright somber as a cat. This is actually an improvement.”
“You were more somber? As a cat? Really?” Strifeclaw stared at her in amazement. At her nod, he continued, “You will have to tell me a tale, then.”
She silently mused on this for a moment. Though she’d told him about some of her time with Ambrose, she hadn’t ever told him much of her life before that. “My early life was… not easy,” she finally said.
He chuckled, “Is life ever easy for a newborn cat?”
Nodding, and after checking to be sure no one else was nearby, she told him the full take of her kittenhood, her rejection by the other cats, her life alone for several months, her discovery of how to manipulate the traps set by Ambrose, and her eventual capture. Strifeclaw frowned as he listened to her tale.
“I remember now,” he said. “When I first came to town, Tepic warned me about cats disappearing, and to not drink out of bowls of milk set outside.” He paused a moment. “I don’t believe I ever met this doctor. But then, I was busy doing other things.”
“I don’t think he ever went much out of the Clockhaven area,” Lisa said.
“I was only in Clockhaven a few times–the ‘Plank, while Stargirl worked there.”
“Which would be why I never saw you, either.”
Strifeclaw shook his head a little. “Life might have been simpler for both of us, I think, if we’d met sooner.”
“Perhaps,” she mused. “But perhaps not.” She looked at him, soberly. “It’s funny, really. While I was named M’anchild, I was rejected by the other cats. It was only when I actually became what I was named that they embraced me.”
Strifeclaw nodded, and then offered his own insight in return. “In a way, I don’t think that Arnold before me could have joined the cats either.”
They sat in companionable silence for several moments before he finally said, “Lisa… there is a Fik’am’an on the loose again.”
“Another one?” she exclaimed. “Is there every any peace in this city?”
Strifeclaw smiled wryly. “The first time I met Steam Santa I asked for peace in Babbage–just for a little while. That was right after the trouble with the dark aether.”
“That’s true; I remember that. Still…” She sighed, and shook her head. “Have you told any of the cats? Or shall I spread the word?”
“I did tell Foremoon. That was the first cat I found after leaving Tepic when we first discovered it was loose.”
“Good.” She smiled, glad that he’d taken the initiative to contact the cats himself.
“The bad news is that we know who the Fik’am’an is. A child who frequented the Vole, named Snow. You might not have met him.”
“No, I hadn’t. Oh, dear.” She shook her head, contemplated what could well happen to the boy.
“You might also want to tell the cats to avoid the Plank and the young M’an, Malus, as well.”
Lisa frowned. “Why?” She listened as Strifeclaw explained some of the strange behaviors and violent outbursts he had witnessed and heard about at the Plank, and then finished with, “He reminds me of ‘Arnold’ the way he is acting now.” She grimaced at such behavior, and promised the cats would keep a discreet distance–though also a discreet watch.
“One more thing, Lisa,” Strifeclaw added, looking excited. “Canergak’s room…”
She contemplated him shrewdly. “I assume you want in?”
“I am a little… curious.” He grinned mischievously, and Lisa laughed. “I’ll bet,” she replied. “The way the canals are a little… dirty.”