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“You are right, though,” Profssor Vartanian continued. “You are in a very unique situation. Though I worry you are a bit naive on some issues still.”
“Naive, sir?” She had a vague idea of what the word meant, but not how it applied to her.
“You cling to lofty ideals, which is noble in its own way, but both risky and ultimately futile. But then we all have something better we strive for, don’t we? I fear you’re still too young to have seen yet how futile much of it is.”
Lisa frowned in confusion, trying to make sense of his words. Finally, she simply said, “I had rather try, sir, than do nothing.”
“As do we all, I suppose. The difference is, just how much we risk for it–how much we risk of ourselves.” He slipped his spectacles off, rubbing the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger a moment.
“For my folk, sir, I’ll risk whatever I need to.” She chose those words carefully. Let the professor think she was only referring to cats–she knew she meant not only them, but the urchins, and even those like Rasend.
“If they are all like you,” replied Professor Vartanian, staring down at his green-lensed spectacles, “they must be an amazing rarity in this world. I suppose it’s partly due to the shorter lifespan.” He looked up in time to see her shrug. “Not all,” she said. “We have our wise ones and stupid ones… our bullies and our gentle ones… But yes, I suppose the feline way of life does lead us to a different way of looking at the world.”
“What about dangerous ones?”
“We avoid them when we can,” she replied emphatically. “Or run away. We only fight when we have to.”
“And yet you can’t seem to see the danger in the one downstairs?”
“Beryl isn’t like that, though,” she insisted. “He learned to be different. Why can’t this one?”
“This cat is not Beryl. From what I understand, Beryl has been outside of his own society and in ours for a long time, hasn’t he? I’m not even sure what the standard personality of his own kind is.”
Lisa leaned forward again. “But with me, you have a way to try to make her different. Why *not* try it?”
“It would be putting you at too much risk. Don’t forget, we do need you as a worker here. Not to mention how bad it would be to just let you be shredded.”
She slumped back into her seat again, looking down, blinking as tears came to her eyes. The professor sighed and handed her a handkerchief. She dabbed at her eyes, and sniffled. She’d learned how the sight of a girl crying could soften some men. It would never work on Canergak, of course, but on the professor…
She heard him mutter something about being a sap, before he said gruffly, “I’ll talk with Mr. Canergak, and see if he’d be willing to let you try to get through to the cat, *if* there’s some safer way of letting you communicate with her.”
Sniffling once more, she softly replied, “Thank you, sir.”
“Just try not to get your hopes up too much that you can help him.” The professor’s tone tried to be stern. “It won’t do to waste time and effort, and Mr. Canergak’s time, as well keeping you safe from her if she can’t be helped.”
“I understand, sir. All I want is the time to try. I… I know some can’t be helped.”
“I must, however, stress that you *please* listen to Mr. Canergak’s instructions. If he tells you to get back, for your own safety, get back from the beast.” The professor saw her reluctant nod, and pursed his lips. “I do understand your predicament more than you may think. I doubt it’s any consolation, but you do have my sympathy for what you’ve been through. But it’s not something that I can allow to affect my decisions here. I hope you understand that.”
He signed, fingering the stem of his glasses before slipping them back on. “The purpose of this little evaluation was to see what sort of experiment would be less traumatizing for you to aid with and learn from. I can’t say I’ve made much progress on that front if you’re going to insist on going back to the same experiment.”
“It would be worse for me not to know, sir.”
“Are you sure you can handle it?” The professor frowned. “And I mean the mental side of it. Your level of emotional involvement really isn’t suitable to an experiment.”
Her eyes grew cold and her lips compressed at his use of the word ‘experiment.’ “I can handle it, sir.”
Professor Vartanian tapped a finger on his desk a few times, seeing her expression. “Would it be easier for you if we called them tests?” She winced, and he tried again. “Is there a term that would be less painful for you? Study, perhaps? I don’t know that Canergak will do the same, but I can let him know it is a bit of a sore point to you that we want to avoid.”
“Study will do. I doubt you would agree with what I think of it,” she replied coldly.
The professor raised an eyebrow. “Torture?” She nodded. “Mmm. If it had no purpose I’d be half inclined to agree. But there is great purpose behind it, Lisa.” He seemed about to add something, but then just sighed. “Very well. Is there anything you’d like to add before I let you go? Any other concerns we need to keep in mind?”
He nodded. “You’re free to go, then.”
“Yes, sir.” She slipped out of the chair and headed for the door, where she paused, looking back. She saw the professor looking out the window, and she faintly heard a mocking caw from outside. She turned back, grinning, and went back to her duties.