Arnold had never heard of Hemmerton Florida, but he couldn’t have named the state capital. He had never been here before and it might have been a nice place to live…if you were a white human male or at the least you had some money.
Arnold didn’t have any money. He kept almost everything he had made in a bank where he generally forgot it existed. He had gone to a local bank to see if they would wire his account, but he had failed to see the ‘White’s only’ sign in the front. He’d shrugged and showed himself out, and outran the one fool who thought he was going to do something about it. He had no intention of going to jail for assault, since he doubted that a plea of self-defense would have saved him in the south.
He went to another bank on the other side of town that didn’t have that sign, but the manager there still had no desire to contact a foreign bank for a cat. He tried one more time, looking for a bank on the opposite spectrum of town, and the only bank he could find that would not have minded helping him did not have a telegraph or communication device and said it would be weeks till they could get word back.
Arnold shrugged, being penniless was not new to him. He’d had nothing when he first came to Babbage and when he had lived on the streets before he met Dr. Maddox. He’d eaten out of trash cans and at soup kitchens, and there were warehouses he could spend the night. He also didn’t mind the people who sneered and insulted him just based on the fact he was a cat. They could call him whatever they wanted, so long as they kept it to verbal abuse he simply didn’t care.
He also didn’t care that they thought they were better than him. Equality and inequality, or the concept of someone being ‘better’ than anyone else were foreign concepts to the cat.
He understood slavery, since that was about ownership, but cats were cats. There were no cats better than any other or could tell another cat what to do and expect obedience. Any cat attempting to force another to do something had to be ready to fight about it. There were elders that you respected and listened to yes, but if you choose not to listen to them that was your choice as a cat. It came off as superiority to some, but that was because a cat was supposed to be it’s only superior. That Arnold had been forced into service sometimes erked him, but he would live with it.
The first time he went to the soup kitchen however his outfit that drew attention to himself from those in line and the people operating the soup kitchen. They noted the fact it didn’t fit well on him, which was something he hadn’t noticed before they pointed it out to him. Apparently they had either expanded or he had shrunk considerably.
They wanted to hear his story, and he explained that he had been a major-domo that had just been released without pay. It was the truth, though it left out a few details, and it was enough to settle the situation in their minds. They directed him to places he could sell his watch and clothes, and while he was tempted he had grown attached to the watch. Also he had promised Dr. Maddox that he would always dress properly and never return to the rags that she had found him wearing when they first met. He would keep that ridiculous promise till she released him of it, like she had from having to be nice to everyone.
He smelled the food and taste-tested it as vigorously as always, but at soup kitchens he generally watched each serving and waited a few minutes to see what happened to everyone else who was eating. The bunnies who were running the soup kitchen were good people it seemed, at least according to William. He was an outgoing and energetic urchin in a gang of local run-aways, and he had just overheard about him being let go without pay. He wanted the man’s name and address so he could egg it.
“Thank you, but I would rather settle things with Emerson Lighthouse myself,” Arnold said as he resisted the urge to claw the table and pretend it was the man’s face. “But he lives in New Babbage.”
William whistled lightly, “Tha’s far away!”
Arnold took a few more laps of his soup to calm down and think before he said something he’d regret and then turned back to William, “Yes, he and a few others conspired to strand me here. I’m trying to get back home.”
William believed his story, which was the truth unless you counted omission as a lie which the cat didn’t, and he said that he’d keep an ear out for any way to get to Babbage by train or boat. Arnold supposed that the boy didn’t know his geography very well since he was relatively confident you could not reach New Babbage from the America’s by train.
The urchin took him to the warehouse where he would spend the night, and introduced him to a few of the urchins who all told him their stories and how they had gotten here. When it was Arnold’s turn he did the same, telling about how he’d had to leave home and how he’d been found by Dr. Maddox and then the employment by Emerson Lighthouse. He’d always felt more comfortable talking with children than with other humans, and when he was finished William asked how old he was since he hadn’t said.
“I’m fifteen years old.” Arnold told them, which caught the group by surprise. “I’m thirty…or thirty-one in cat years, but I’ve only been alive for fifteen.”
Later that night Arnold wondered about that statement, which had always been an estimate on his part. How old was he now that Id had ‘fixed’ him? His ancestors had lived for decades without seeming to age…what had happened to him? He looked into a mirror the next morning and to his surprise he had changed considerably. He could be as much as four inches shorter..and somewhere between eighteen and twenty-two perhaps. He doubted anyone from home would notice, since he rarely stood on two legs anymore and he’d only done that to appear professional for the Dr.
He wondered if he should tell Dr. Maddox to stop celebrating his birthday, though he supposed that wouldn’t be for another six months in May.
That day he tried to find a free way to get to Babbage. Stowing away seemed like the only option and he was going to do that if nothing else came up by the end of the week. However William found him on the second afternoon saying they’d found him someone who was on his way to Babbage and was in need of a large cat who could mouse.