Lisa was walking down the hallway from the dining room to the front entranceway when she heard the door open. She heard Canergak’s voice say, “Are you sure you yourself are ready for today’s experiment?”
“I’m there to observe,” she heard Miss Hienrichs reply. “It’s Lisa who has the difficult job.”
“It is not so difficult as it is impossible,” her employer replied dryly. “But I have been proven wrong before.”
‘And you will again, if I can help it,’ she thought fiercely, before stepping into their view. “Sir. Miss Hienrichs.”
“Lisa, it is time for today’s experiment,” Canergak said. “I will go downstairs to give the creature something light. Do you have anything prepared for today yourself?”
She nodded. “I just need to go outside a moment, sir.”
“Very well.” Canergak disappeared further in, while Miss Hienrichs appeared ready to wait for her in the entranceway.
Lisa stepped outside, closed the door behind her, and hurried to the gate, positioning herself to one side. She listened carefully, but didn’t hear anyone nearby, and so quickly took advantage of the quiet to let out a yowl, calling for her brother Fourclaws. It wasn’t long before she saw him slip through the bars of the gate. “It’s time?” he asked, hurrying to her. She nodded, and carefully gathered him into her arms.
It was still surprising to her how much her brother had changed over the years. His close association with her had taught him many things, and brought him status with the Felines – so much so that he’d recently become one of the Elders. Already, he had an added gravitas and authority to him that she liked, and that she hoped would make an impact with the cat below.
Miss Hienrichs must have been listening for her, for the woman opened the door for her before she could try to fumble for the latch. Miss Hienrichs nodded, a hint of a smile playing on her lips at the sight of the large cat filling Lisa’s arms. They found Canergak waiting for them by the elevator. His eyebrows rose at the sight of Fourclaws. “Really?” he said impatiently. Lisa nodded once, and stepped defiantly into the elevator.
The three of them exited the elevator into the basement, and followed Canergak into his lab. Lisa could feel Fourclaws tremble a bit in her arms, and she surreptitiously squeezed him reassuringly. As they entered, Canergak said, “The cat should be less excitable this time.”
Lisa stooped down and let Fourclaws out of her arms. “Are you ready?” she murmured in Feline.
“I think so.” Fourclaws looked around, his ears pinned back a little. “This is a place of evil, you know.”
“I know.” She watched as her brother paced toward the metal table where the cat was strapped, though he bristled a little as he passed Canergak. Lisa inched forward a little, to hear things better.
“You expect the cat and the… cat to connect?” Canergak’s voice was replete with skepticism. Lisa looked back at him and said quietly, “I don’t know. But I hope so.”
She turned back and watched as Fourclaws leaped up onto the table next to the one the cat was strapped to. The cat started a little and sluggishly turned, looking for the source of the movement. Fourclaws positioned himself in her range of vision, and extended his neck a little, sniffing.
“Growler?” the strange cat asked quietly.
“No. Feline.” Fourclaws stood up and turned sideways, showing the cat his form, his tail, his whiskers. The cat sniffed the air, and her eyes widened a bit. “You have to get out of here, friend. They will take you and make you theirs!”
“I am safe, for now,” Fourclaws responded reassuringly. “The one who would take me will not today. Tomorrow, who knows? But today, at least, let us talk.” He settled down on the edge of the table, his tail curled around him, the picture of a cat relaxed in his surroundings. That was, of course, not true, as Lisa well knew, but he faked it well.
“We thought ourselves safe,” the cat said, “but they took us. They scattered us… all lost…”
“The Growlers did that?” Lisa had explained to Fourclaws that this cat referred to humans as Growlers. He found it puzzling, too, but agreed to go along with it, to avoid confusing her.
“The Growlers came; they attacked and were fought, but they carried fire and we fled.”
“Had you seen those Growlers before?” he asked intently.
“Never. We had never seen them.”
Fourclaws and Lisa locked eyes for a few seconds. Then he turned his attention back to the cat. “Where were you living? And how?” he asked.
“Trees and behind where the water falls, and off the creatures that lived there. Smaller growlers than us, often.”
Behind her, Lisa heard Miss Hienrichs whisper, “It seems to be going well so far.”
“Appearances… deceive,” was Canergak’s reply. He raised his voice a little. “Lisa. What is going on?”
She turned her head toward Canergak as her brother asked, “Your Folk never left that area? Never explored what might be beyond?” To her employer, she quickly said, “F–the cat I brought is asking the other questions about where they lived, and how. And about the attack.”
“We knew only that we were safe there,” the other cat replied. “As safe as afflicted beings can be.”
“You must have been far away indeed, not to see Folk like me. We are many places.” Fourclaws arched his whiskers forward in faint amusement.
“When we left, your kind is the first and only that I could go to for help, but the growlers took me in their metal trees.”
“I know they would have helped if they could. We are kin, though somehow, we share only form and language.”
The cat tried to lean in close, and her voice was intense. “Don’t get captured by these Growlers. Save yourself, friend.”
“I will be careful. But there is something I need to tell you.”
Fourclaws paused, shooting Lisa a look that said clearly, “Here goes.” He slowly said, “The Growler who has been here and talked to you in our language–what she tells you is the truth. She is my littermate.”
((To be continued…))