Felisa stood outside the warehouse, looking around. Her perspective as a human had changed, and she couldn’t recognize where she was. Tealla looked up at her. “Where should we go?”
Felisa thought for a moment. “To Stargirl? At the place with the catnip for humans?”
“Follow me.” Tealla trotted off, with Felisa close behind.
They kept to the small streets and alleyways, trying not to be seen in the growing morning light. But after just a couple of moments, Tealla stopped. “That’s it up ahead.”
“There?” Felisa was dismayed. “That’s rather close to Ambrose’s place.”
“Hmm. Wait here.” Tealla bounded ahead, and began sniffing around the entrances to the place. She quickly came running back. “There’s more. Her scent is there, but very old. I don’t think she’s been there for many days.”
“That tears it, then,” Felisa replied. “We’ll go to the other one–Tepic. That’s probably better anyway–he’s outside the city, and I think he’s closer to the age of this M’an body, so he’ll know where I should go, and what I should do.”
Tealla sighed. “It’s such a long way, though.”
Felisa looked down at her, and realized that she hadn’t yet fully recovered from her near-starvation. Being cooped up in the box of a cage hadn’t helped, either. “I can carry you, if you want.”
“I’ll let you know,” Tealla said shortly. Felisa almost smiled, and followed behind and Tealla started off.
They continued to trek through the byways of the city, though they occasionally had to backtrack, as Tealla took routes that were no longer accessible to Felisa. Finally, though, as the sun began its daily struggle to shine through the smog, they slipped through the gate in the Palisade wall, turning aside to get away from the road.
They inched forward, hugging the wall, constantly looking around, as they approached the place where Tepic had his camp. As they skirted a small tower, Felisa heard someone sniff, and say, “Someone commin’, little ‘uns…” She peeked around the wall and saw a boy there, with a few kitten scrambling about. “T…Tepic?” she said hesitantly.
Tepic looked up and saw her. “Err…’ello. Who are you?”
“It…it’s me, Tepic. I’m Fargazer.”
Tepic’s eyes grew round. “Blimey! You’ve…grown?” He looked her over. “An’ where’s yer tail?!”
Felisa let out a sound that was almost a laugh. “Changed, more like it. Changed completely.” She glanced back, and said in the Higher Singing, “Tealla–it’s all right. You can come.”
“Tealla?” Tepic asked. “That a cat with you?”
“Yes–it’s my sister Tealla. We’ve only just escaped.” Felisa watched her sister inch around the bend, her tail puffed out and the hair long her back raised.
Tepic bent down, trying to talk to her. “Commess on puzzyy… s’safee herree….s’zz gotts kitties herzz…” Tealla approached slowly, and gave a perfunctory sniff at Tepic, but her attention was all on the kittens. “Come an’ sit down, Miss Fargazer. Yer safe in me camp…” he said to Felisa.
Felisa carefully sat down, watching her sister intently. Tealla moved toward the kittens, trying to smooth her fur down, but still quivering with suppressed emotion.
“These four are me kitties,” Tepic said proudly. “That’s Black-tip, over there is Custard, and Ginger, and hiding by me house is Lady–she’s a bit shy of people…” He broke off, seeing Tealla sniff one of the kittens over carefully, from nose to tail. “Yer ain’t to bite ’em, Missis!” He scooped Lady into his lap protectively.
Tealla paid him no mind. Her whiskers suddenly sprang forward, and a look of wonderful joy entered her eyes. “Leanna…Leanna! And…Fardon, and Srendi, and Valake! My babies!” Tepic’s ears perked up.
Felisa looked at Tepic in astonishment. “This is my sister’s litter!”
“They are? I been looking after ’em fer weeks, found em cus they was crying fer their mum. They take an AWFUL lot of looking after, you know….Where the two of you been?”
“It wasn’t our choice, believe me…” Felisa said grimly. Tealla, meanwhile, looked around. “But…but where’s Firsa?” she asked plaintively.
“What’s she lookin’ fer?” Tepic saked Felisa, who was also glancing around. “My sister had five kittens…” she replied.
“Oh…. yep….” Tepic said sadly. “I found em soon as i could, but you musta been gone a long time…..” He stood and walked over to the base of the wall. “‘Fraid the other little one is here. Was cold an’ still when I found ’em. Lady came back but… Dunno if it was a girl or boy kitty, but I put er her cus it’s a nice view….”
“Ahh.” Felisa bent over to Tealla, and said in the Higher Singing, “Firsa did not live.”
Tealla whimpered a bit, but then began licking Leanna all over. “Do you remember me?” she meowed to her between licks. “Do you remember? It’s Mother. I didn’t mean to leave you…I didn’t mean to…”
Felisa watched the other kittens gingerly approach Tealla, sniffing and sniffing her. Tepic put Lady down, and patted her in the direction of Tealla. “That’s yer mum, Lady, go an’ say hello…”
“Thank you for what you did, Tepic,” Felisa said softly. “We truly thought they were all dead.” She let the cats settle into getting reacquainted, and turned her attention to Tepic.
“Well, ain’t nothing else I could do, was there? An’ I got some help form a few of the people in the City, giving milk an stuff…An’ some of the other cats came round, bringing kitties of their own, so the little ones learn cat an’ stuff…”
“Other…humans…helped you?” Felisa asked in astonishment.
“Oh yes, cus voles only give so much milk. The ladies at the Gangplank helped, an’ one of ’em spoke to some cats for me too…”
Felisa said, half to herself, “Yes. I must remember they aren’t all like Ambrose.”
“Ambrose. He was the one who set those…traps all over the city. He caught Tealla and me. And he…he did this to me.”
Tepic looked at her with wide eyes, and made a questioning sound. Felisa paused, half-closing her eyes, and spoke as if trying to remember a poorly-learned lesson. “He took my…brain…out of my body, and put it in this human body.”
“Blimey!” Tepic interjected. “You mean you didn’t want to be a girl?”
Felisa shook her head. “No. He killed the human girl, and put me inside instead.”
“Course, it is far more fun to be a boy, i guess….” Tepic said, still on his own tack. Then he caught up with what Felisa had said. “So…… errrr…. you are dead?”
Felisa shook her head helplessly, trying to explain what she only half-understood. “He took out her brain–or part of it–but kept the body alive. Then he took my brain and put it in, killing my cat body.”
Tepic studied her intently. “Sounds a bit like Dr. Moreau–he had some very funny ideas…” Felisa looked puzzled, so Tepic went on. “So… you are Miss Fargazer, an sort of a cat, but in a different body?”
“Oh… Well, that’s all right then. Bit of a strange feeling, ain’t it–at first, I means….”
“I don’t know that I’ll ever get used to it.” Felisa sighed. “But I have to. There’s no going back for me.”
“Hmmm…. Certainly is a shame ’bout your tail; I’d feel lost without mine…Though probably someone could fix you up with one, possibly a steam driven one?”
Felisa looked puzzled again. “Steam?”
“Yep, People in this City are always loosing bits, a’n getting steam driven ones to replace ’em. But I guess as a cat you didn’t really know about steam?”
Felisa shook her head, and it was Tepic’s turn to try to explain. “Errrrmmmm…. when people put water in a pot, heat it up, an sort of hot fog comes out?” Felisa turned that over in her mind for a moment, then nodded, her face clearing of its puzzled frown.
“Blimey, girl, you got a lot to learn bout this town,” Tepic said with a chuckle. Then he turned serious again. “So… you think this geezer who caught you will be looking for you?”
Felisa got a grim look in her eyes, but a ghost of a smile on her lips. “No, I don’t need to worry about that.”
“Oh…… errrrrrr…… Didn’t leave anything around fer someone to find, did you? Cus the adults do sort of get worked up bout people not being quite as alive as they was.”
“His body is still there. But it looks like a cat did it, not me. And how will they find one cat among many? He’ll kill no more folk–cat or human.”
Tepic looked relieved. “So what yer going to do–cus now you look like a human, I guess you will have to do human stuff?”
“I…I don’t know,” Felisa replied.
“Don’t reckon you can hunt mice too well, like that, less’n you use traps, like I do.” Felisa winced away from the mention of traps.
“Oh! would you like a vole? I got em fresh, if the kittens have left us any.”
“Oh, yes, please!” Felisa suddenly realized that she was ravenous.
“Hope yer still like ’em,” Tepic said, holding one out. “Most of the humans go all sort of funny, when I offer ’em one.”
Felisa took the proffered vole and made to bite into it, but then paused. A slightly sick look came over her face. “Oh, dear, he was right.” At Tepic’s questioning look, she continued, “Ambrose. I asked him once why he did what he did to the meat, instead of eating it raw. He told me humans were used to…cooking it. And that I probably wouldn’t like raw meat now.”
“Oh. Well, you can make a nice stew with voles….” Tepic rooted around the back of his crate, and produced an old, lidded pot. “Here. It’s quite fresh, though probably a bit cold now. Got vole, carrots, turnips an’ potato in it.”
Felisa dropped the raw vole in front of Tealla, and took the stew, digging into it hungrily. Tepic wiped a tarnished spoon on his trousers, and handed it to her. “Yer might want ter use this…”
She looked at the spoon, then at her fingers, then blushed, remembering. She took the spoon and continued to eat.
Tepic grinned. “Heheh–don’t worry, takes gettin use to, having hands an stuff… You shoulda seen the trouble I had when I tried ter clean me feet first time!”
“Ambrose did teach me some things about being in a human body.”
“That’s good, cus otherwise, boy! You can make some mistakes!”
Tepic watched Tealla and the kittens, all curled round each other, sniffing and mewing, with a slightly wistful look on his face. Felisa followed Tepic’s gaze, and for the first time, and actual smile formed on her lips. “I’m so happy to see them together. She nearly starved herself because she thought they were dead.”
“Blimey,” he cried. “She shouldn’t have done that! Look at ’em, happy as Larry there; looks like they got each other’s scent sorted out…” He paused, and looked back at her. “Well….I know yer a girl, an’ possibly a bit on the old side ter be an urchin, but i can show you the places we can stay safely, and where ter get some food too. You can use me crate, if you like, but there is loads of other places…”
Felisa paused a moment, thinking. “Well, as long as we stay away from…” She waved her hand, trying to think of the word. “…the place where the ships sit.”
“Docks. Yes, the docks. Ambrose had his place near them.”
“Well, long as yer did him proper, tain’t gonna be a problem…”
“Still, I’d rather stay away until after his body is found.” Felisa grimaced. “And…there aren’t many good memories for me there.”
Tepic nodded. “Errrr…. you ain’t got blood all over, do you? Cus it’s best ter wash up quick…”
“Oh yes,” Felisa hastened to assure him. “I washed myself well, and put on other clothing.” She held up a bundle. “The clothing I was wearing is here, along with something else.”
“Ooohhh…. did yer find his treasure?”
“Not quite.” She unrolled the bundle, displaying a journal…and a black-and-white cat pelt.
“Shame. These scientists–” He caught sight of the pelt. “Eeeeekkkk!”
Felisa nodded grimly, and stroked the pelt, just a little. “That’s all I have left of what I was.”
“Errrr……. goodness!” Tepic seemed a bit speechless, but only for a moment. “Say–you don’t know any of the seal people do you?”
“Yup, though i guess they are more like dogs than cats… but they have a neat trick with their skins. Still, I guess that’s fer the future. You’d best keep that safe, an’ we can sink the clothing in the pond, weighted down with a stone.”
“All right.” She wrapped the pelt around the book, and gathered the clothing into a separate pile. Tepic, meanwhile, rummaged in his crate, producing a burlap sack. “You can put the stuff you want in there, keeps it safe.” Felisa took the sack, looked it over a moment in confusion, then saw the opening and put the pelt and book inside it.
“You can scavenge most of what yer need in the City, though it might not always look tip top.”
Felisa nodded. “I think I can do that,” she said with a hint of amusement in her voice.
Tepic hmmmed. “You might need ter find some work to earn stuff as well… cus you’se a bit big fer begging pennies, and a girl too, an yer good looking…”
She frowned, thinking. “Maybe Stargirl could help?”
“Yep! She’s a nice lady. Best stay with the ladies just now, cus you never know with the blokes–some of ’em is awful nice ter girls at first… then….” He broke off. “Anyway, I’d best show you the hideout. You’ll be safe there.”
Tealla suddenly rose, shedding kittens left and right. She walked to Tepic, gazing up at him, and said slowly, in the Higher Singing, “Thank you. I thank you more than words can say.” She butted her head against his leg, purring loudly.
“Hehhee, s’alright, Missis, gotta look after the young uns. You’se gonnnazz comes ter Lokki’s, seee where Mizz Fargazzeer stays?”
“I think she’d rather stay here for now, if that’s all right with you,” Felisa said.
Tepic nodded. “You’se cans stays herzz fer timess… volez juzt behind cratz.. kitties show.”
Felisa reached down and scratched Tealla behind her ear. “I’ll come back soon,” she said.
“This way Miss…. errrr…. what you want to be called now?’
She paused, thinking. “Call me…Lisa. That was the human’s name.”
“OK, Lisa.” Tepic smiled. “S’a bit of a way, but…” He gestured, and Felisa followed him back to the gate.
She looked around as they walked, trying to commit the route to memory. After quite a while of walking, they reached an alleyway by a small empty lot, which still showed signs of disturbance. “Down here…” Tepic said, leading the way into the alley. But Felisa looked back as they walked. “That was…where the os-beast was.”
“The…bad beast. Just before winter.”
Tepic nodded. “Yup…. it’s gone now though.” He lead the way into a building. Felisa groped around, trying to get used to a darkness that would not have been dark to her cat senses.
“There’s sometimes blokes in here smoking stuff. They don’t bother us, we don’t bother them…” Tepic said. “Best not to breath in the smoke though, makes you dizzy.” He led the way upstairs, to a pile of crates. “Gotta clamber up the crates.” She followed him, and made quick work of crossing the plank that connected this building to the one next to it.
“An’ here it is!” Tepic gestured around at the room. “Bit noisy, but the safest place in New Babbage, if’n you are an urchin!”
“Safe…sounds very good to me.” She sighed.
“There’s beds ter sleep in, a table ter sit round, an usually somethin’ hot i’the pot to eat. If any of the others come round an’ tries to bully you, tell ’em Tepic sent you, an’ you are his friend. Either that or whack ’em round the back of the head–that works too!”
Felisa smiled, just a little, again. “Thank you. I don’t know what I could have done without your help.”
“Us urchins gotta stick together…an’ us who were foxes an cats gotta stick extra sticky!” He giggled. “Oh… if anyone offers you some green stuff from a bottle, don’t drink it.”
“Well, absinthe is nice stuff, but if’n you not used to it…guess it’s like a sort of catnip, but fer humans.”
“Ahh. Like whatever they have in the place Stargirl is at.”
He grinned. “Yup, that’s the stuff. Oh–an’ if a fat boy turns up, ask him if he’s finished his running yet, an’ tell him ‘no cakes!'” Felisa looked confused, but nodded. “Anyhow, Lisa, I gotta go. You make yourself comfortable, and have a snooze if you want.”
“Yes, I think sleep would be best.” She was feeling the stresses of the day catch up to her. “I’ll see you again soon?”
“Me? I’m always around somewhere,” Tepic said with a smile. “If you get lost, ask fer directions to the Palisade Gate, or the Old Imperial Theatre…an’ mind you ask the ladies.” Felisa nodded, and he turned with a wave. “Bye!”
She watched him go, then quickly made her way to a bed and lay down. Within minutes, she was asleep, a sleep undisturbed, for the first time in a long time, by worrisome dreams.