The cat yowled in terror, and began struggling weakly against her bonds. “Please–calm down,” Fourclaws said.
“They made her a growler! They’ll make me a growler!” The other continued to yowl wildly at the thought.
“I… think that something went wrong, Lieutenant,” came Canergak’s voice from behind Lisa.
“Lisa?” The girl could hear the concern in Miss Hienrichs’ voice. Without turning around, she said intently, “Wait–please wait another minute.”
Fourclaws, in the meantime, said firmly, “That’s what my littermate wants to prevent. But she cannot help you if you won’t trust her!” He waited a few seconds, then added, “Please–trust her. I beg you. Otherwise, I will have to risk coming here again.” That was emotional blackmail, of course, but if it worked…
And, indeed, the cat’s struggles ceased, and she lay there panting. “Coming here?” she finally said. “To be captured? Turned into a growler?”
“The one who turned my littermate into a Growler isn’t the one that brought you here,” he replied, trying to soothe her with his voice. “That Growler is dead – she killed him herself.” The cat’s breathing slowed, and she seemed to be listening. “Ever since then, she has helped the Felines of this city, as well as any who have been trapped by bad Growlers. She wants to help you, too, but it will take time. We need you to be patient, and to be willing to talk to her.”
Lisa inched forward another step, hoping against hope. There was silence for nearly a minute, but finally, the cat said, “I… I will… listen to her.”
Fourclaws looked up at Lisa, his whiskers arching forward. “She is here.” Lisa stepped forward, taking up a position opposite her brother. “Hello,” she said softly in Feline.
The cat slowly turned her head, gazing at Lisa with fear-filled eyes. “You… who stole our tongue?” Her voice was much more uncertain than the other times she’d addressed Lisa.
“I know it’s strange,” Lisa said soothingly. “It’s still strange to me. But truly, I am still Feline – in spirit, if not body.”
“I do not want to become like you,” the cat pleaded. “Help me…”
“I want you to be free, but the Growlers believe you’re dangerous. If we work together, we can show them you’re not.”
“Yes…” It was something of a grudging assent, but it was assent, which pleased Lisa. She slowly held out her hand. “May I touch you?”
The cat cringed back. “No,” she hissed weakly. “Don’t.”
Lisa immediately withdrew her hand. “All right. Beryl–” She swallowed, and continued, “Beryl doesn’t like to be touched, either.”
“All right, Lisa.” Canergak’s voice broke in sternly. “That is enough. I don’t know what is going on, but it hissed when you went to touch it… after you were asked not to do that.”
She looked back at him. “But do you see, sir? I’m this close to her, and she’s not striking out at me.”
“It is also heavily drugged to get that kind of response.”
“She’s willing to talk to me, sir. Will you let us do that soon?”
He shrugged a little. “If it even remembers this later, then yes.”
Lisa nodded and turned back to the cat, saying in Feline, “I have to go now, but I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
“Don’t leave me alone.” The cat whimpered a little. “The things here…”
Biting her lip, Lisa looked back again. If only she could stay, that might help her build a relationship with the cat faster. “She doesn’t want me to leave her alone, sir.”
“You have duties to attend to,” Canergak said with finality. “Leave your little friend.”
She sighed. “I’d stay if I could,” she said in Feline. “I’ll see you again soon – I promise.” She stepped away from the table, though she kept herself in the cat’s vision as Fourclaws leaped down off the table, then jumped into her outstretched arms. He stretched his head toward the cat. “Be strong. My littermate will do everything she can to help.”
Lisa reluctantly turned away, hearing the cat whine a little as she followed Canergak and Miss Hienrichs out of the lab. She hoped the cat would indeed remember this – she’d hate to have to go through all of this again.
Back upstairs, Canergak turned to her. “You’ll be happy to know your friend is… doing well.” At her confused look, he added, “Beatrixe Rouse. Her health is mostly stable now, but she is still in a coma.”
Lisa looked at Miss Hienrichs, who nodded, and back to Canergak. “Will she wake up?”
“These things can last months, years… even decades. Though even one decade is the lifespan of most cats.”
“Sir–there’s something you need to know about what she said,” Lisa put in intently, jerking her head to indicate the lab downstairs.
“She said that she’d never seen Growlers like us *until* they attacked her Folk. She also said her Folk didn’t roam beyond their place – they didn’t want to leave what was safe.”
“That is not entirely true, Lisa.”
“She had no reason to lie,” she replied indignantly.
“If this *is* one of your friend Beryl’s species, then they don’t always stay in one place. Some must venture forth; it is the only reasonable explanation.” At her stubborn look, he said, “We shall discuss this more later. I have to send word to Popplefot now.”
“May I have a word with you, Mr. Canergak?” Miss Hienrichs asked.
Before Miss Hienrichs could say anything, though, Lisa broke in. “Am I dismissed, sir?” She could feel the strain of being inside this place building in her brother.
“You can return to your duties.” Lisa gladly obeyed that dismissal and hurried to the front door. Once outside, she knelt down, but before she released Fourclaws, she buried her face in his fur a moment. “Thank you,” she finally said, raising her head. “I don’t know if I’d ever have gotten through to her on my own.”
Fourclaws butted his head under her chin. “Let me know if you need my help again,” he said, though she knew how much he did *not* want to go back in there. She smiled and him, and scratched behind his ears. “I will, though hopefully all I’ll need to tell you is how things progress.”
He rumbled a purr, then left her arms and trotted quickly to the gate. After looking around carefully, he slipped through the bars and out of sight.
Behind her, Lisa heard the door open. She got up and turned around, to see Miss Hienrichs exiting the building. “Lisa,” the woman said, hurrying to her. “You should know – I asked Mr. Canergak if he would at least relax your probation.” She sighed. “I’m sorry, but he said no.”
“But why?” Lisa asked.
Miss Hienrichs shrugged. “All he said was that he saw your ‘cord’ to this place getting stronger, not weaker.” At her perplexed look, Miss Hienrichs continued, “I don’t know what that means, either. But there is one bright spot in this. He referred to Tepic – by name. I don’t think I’ve ever heard him use Tepic’s name before.”
Lisa thought back for a moment. “I don’t think I have, either.”
“It could mean he’s finally starting to see Tepic as a ‘living’ individual now. I certainly hope so, anyway.” Miss Hienrichs patted Lisa on the shoulder reassuringly. “I’ll look in again on you soon.” With that, she headed to the gate, while Lisa went inside, with plenty to mull over as she continued with her work.