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Canergak gestured to one of the cells. “I have the other cat locked in here for now. It is drugged.” He looked at Lisa. “Today’s experiment will involve you and it.”
“What… what do I have to do, sir?” she asked warily.
“You want to reason with it? I will allow you the opportunity–from here.” Lisa saw Professor Vartanian lift a brow. “Go ahead,” Canergak continued. “You have expressed the desire often enough. Prove your thesis.”
She looked distrustingly at the administrator, but stepped closer to the door. “He–hello? Can you hear me?” she called. Her eyes widened as Canergak opened the door slightly, but she quickly moved to the crack, and heard the cat hiss at the light streaming in. She knelt down, opening the door just a little more, peering in to see the cat half-lying on the floor. “Can you understand me?”
The cat backed away, hissing “Growler!” at her in Feline. She leaned in a little. “No. No, I’m a friend.” She inched forward on her knees, continuing, “Please. I want to help you.” The cat looked up at her and hissed, claws bared and hackles rising. Lisa was finally able to see that this one was a female.
“Lisa! Step back!” Canergak said sharply. She looked back at him and shook her head before turning her attention back to the black cat. It was time, she decided, for a desperate attempt. Very softly, she said in Feline, “Please. Let me help you.”
The reaction this got was not at all what she expected. The cat screeched as if she’d slapped her. “You steal our tongue!” she angrily yowled.
At that sudden sound, Canergak grabbed Lisa and, with surprising strength, threw her out and back, into the grasp of Professor Vartanian. Even as Lisa shouted, “No!” Canergak closed the door and swiftly locked it.
“Seems it needs a bit more sedation,” the professor commented wryly, as they heard the cat scratching weakly at the door, still yowling.
Canergak whirled on Lisa. “Did you not see it about to attack!”
“Please–if you’d just let me talk to her more, I’m sure I could help!”
“Not tonight, you will not,” he replied sternly.
“That thing *was* drugged when it robbed Beatrixe of her arm. Admittedly, the drugs were wearing off then, but even drugged, it is still dangerous. I did not want you to approach!” Seeing the rebellion on her face, he continued, “Do you want to see how dangerous this creature is, even to other cats?”
Lisa froze. “What… do you mean?”
“That is the next part of this experiment. I will show you what it would do to one of its ‘own’.”
“You have another?” the professor asked.
“No. I mean a cat.” Even as Lisa went white, he left them and went through a door at the far end. In a moment, he returned with a cage, inside which huddled a small, tabby cat. Lisa shouted “No!” and tried to wrench the cage from Canergak’s grasp. To her surprise, he relinquished it easily. “There, now,” he said. “Go in and show it to the specimen.”
Lisa hugged the cage to her; she looked closely at the cat inside and saw a small, darker-orange patch on his head. She realized that it was Raindrop, a cat that had been born in the area last year. He whispered in Feline, “What is happening, Fargazer?”
She muttered a quick “Hush,” and looked at Canergak, who stood by, watching her patiently. Still clutching the cage with one hand, she reached out, turned the lock, and opened the door again, hearing another hiss from the cat inside. Careful not to step inside again, she held out the cage a little, her arms shaking. Raindrop backed up, pressing himself against the bars nearest to Lisa. “What is happening?” he asked again.
The cat inside still looked outraged. It growled lightly, looking up at her. “Tongue stealing!”
“No,” she replied in Feline again. “I was a cat once!”
“Growler!” The cat reached out toward the cage angrily, clawing. Canergak jerked Lisa back from the door again, slamming it shut. “You see!” he said sternly. “It was just going to claw you, and your friend!”
“She’s frightened, and confused!” insisted Lisa. “Anyone would react like that!”
“You think so, even now?” When she nodded stubbornly, Canergak continued, “Very well. Next time, we shall tie it to that table over there, so you can talk to it when it is not able to move. This will take some time, though, as I shall have to drug it very heavily to accomplish that.” Lisa frowned, but finally nodded reluctantly.
Raindrop mrowled unhappily. “What are the M’an-folk doing?”
“May I take this one away now?” Lisa asked. Canergak waved his hand, dismissing her. “Yes. I will purchase or catch another in the future, so you can see that this creature has no loyalties.”
Holding the cage firmly, she walked toward the door. Behind her, she heard Professor Vartanian ask, “Was she really communicating with it? That yowling…”
“Yes, Professor. That is something that we will discuss together soon.”
Lisa sighed and hurried on, out to the main basement, and up in the elevator to the main floor. When she got outside, she opened the cage, and Raindrop quickly scurried out. “What was that all about?” he asked, grooming himself in a flurry of nerves.
“That one is like Strifeclaw,” Lisa explained. “Only… not right in the head.”
“I’ll say,” Raindrop replied disgustedly. “Imagine… calling *us* Growlers.”
Lisa nodded. “I don’t know if I can help her, but I want to try. The other M’an-folk don’t want me to, though.”
“You’re sure you’ll be all right?” He nosed her with concern.
“I think so,” she replied.
“Very well, then. I’ll let Fourclaws know what’s happened.” With that, Raindrop scurried to the gate and slipped between the bars. Lisa sighed and entered the asylum again, her slow steps taking her back where she both did and didn’t want to be.
((To be continued…))