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On the third floor of the asylum, Lisa paused in the doorway of Professor Vartanian’s office and peered in hesitantly. She saw him bent over his desk, his pen scratching busily on paper. He seemed to sense her stare, though, and quickly looked up. “Ah, Lisa,” he said. “Come in, and have a seat.” He gestured to the chair opposite him.
She came forward and seated herself, her expression not dissimilar to a student called into the principal’s office and clearly showing how little she was looking forward to their talk. The professor reached over and shoved a candy jar nearer, taking a piece for himself. “Help yourself, if you like. No reason this has to be unpleasant, hmm?”
Reaching out hesitantly, she took a piece and sniffed it before licking at it a little. The professor raised an eyebrow. “You’ve never had a sweet before?” he said around the piece in his mouth.
“Not often, sir,” she replied. “I find them a little… strong.” The human’s sense of taste was something she was still trying to get used to. Throughout the rest of their conversation, she continued to take small licks, eventually wearing the piece away to nothing.
“I admit I indulge in them more often than I probably should. No matter.” He finished his own piece before continuing, “Well, firstly, I’d like you to understand I am not here to evaluate you as a patient.”
She looked up at him, startled. “You aren’t sire?”
“Of course not. Mr. Canergak simply wants to find the best way to proceed in your learning experience without causing you harm. I suppose you could look at it as preventing you from becoming a patient of the asylum.” Seeing her compressed lips, the professor asked, “What is it?”
“Don’t lock me up, sir,” Lisa replied fervently. “That’s the surest way to make me a patient here.” She shuddered, her mind shying away from the timeless time she’d spent locked in the cage in Canergak’s lab…
“We aren’t going to lock you up, Lisa. You think, because of what we’ve learned about you, we would?” She nodded, and he leaned over, resting his arms on the desk. “I understand your apprehension–believe me I do. Probably more than you might imagine.” He drew in a breath, glancing aside for a moment. “But… you aren’t like the things Canergak keeps down there. You, and I, are just like the very victims he’s trying to prevent.” He looked back at her, a small look of sympathy in his eyes. “Like Moundshroud, if he hadn’t lost his mind to it.”
“But the cat doesn’t belong down there either,” Lisa argued. “At most, she should be up here, with the other patients.”
“Where she could tear my flesh up like ribbons just from trying to keep her fed, hmm?”
“Something safer could be arranged.” She leaned forward, her expression intense. “If I just had the chance to work with her, for more than a minute… maybe I could help.”
“There would be greater cost to find a way to bring her up here. And to what end? Not everything can be reasoned with, Lisa. I saw how she reacted to you.” He paused, his head cocked to one side. “But I would like to know what she said to you.”
“She–she called me a Growler, sir, a dog. She seems to think everyone around her is a Growler. She’s confused.”
“Hmm,” Vartanian mused. “Hard to say if it’s because of the drugging, or if she already had the issue.” He was silent a moment, then looked at Lisa. “Canergak did not wish nor intend the experiment to be such a risk to you, or to the little cat he had you hold. He hadn’t planned for it to go that far.” He sighed. “I suppose we both underestimated the depth of your feelings on the matter, to think that just having you talk with it with the door closed would be enough for you to see.”
“I accept the risk for myself. And no, sir, it will take more than that to convince me.”
“But it’s not your risk. We put you in that situation. We are the ones who put you at risk and it was not the intent.”
“She is one of my Folk, sir, whether she understands that or not. I… I must help her, or at least try.”
The professor shook his head. “The more appropriate question I should be asking is just how did such a situation make you feel? You were obviously ready to risk life and limb for a feline you don’t know, at her own hands no less. Is it simply because she is feline?”
Lisa chewed over that question for a few moments. “I am in this form now, as no other cat has been. I have…” She paused, searching for the right word. “I have an obligation to help my Folk, using whatever advantages this form gives me.” She looked steadily at him. “For instance, I was able to warn them about the poisoned meat you had me set out, so they wouldn’t eat it themselves.”
The professor’s lips twitched in a small smile. “Hmm, that is good. I really hadn’t intended it for cats–but then I didn’t really think of what else might try to get hold of it.” He sighed. “Though it didn’t seem to get many crows. Mostly rats.”
“Yes, sir.” Lisa’s own lips twitched in amusement.
((To be continued…))