Sam’s room had become a blood bath before Arnold had gone anywhere near it. It seems the rats tended to attack one another and had killed one another off sometimes, and that had made his job easier at least, though he wasn’t completely unscathed.
He took his time, and Arnold kept a tally until he was sure that all but one was accounted. The last room had been Richard’s bunk, which he didn’t appear to use except as a storage room. The rat in there had been trying to get at something behind the crates until Arnold entered and it attacked him. The struggle was short and bloody as always, but longer arms, more adrenaline, and sharper claws had seen him through so far and this had only been one on one.
The only surprise had been when he found the other cat that had been used first…after killing the rat he heard a soft mew.
“[Help,]” It pleaded to him. Arnold looked around startled to hear the tiny and weak request. Out of a stack of crates emerged a starved gray-furred kitten, it couldn’t have been more than six months old, hiding behind a couple of crates with dried blood on it’s back and a terrible and deep scratch across it’s face causing blood to cover it’s entire muzzle.
“[What happened?]” He asked as he crouched down and took it under his arms gently, not wanting to grip it from behind it’s neck as a parent would lest he not be able to speak.
“[A Ma’an left me here…shut me inside…could not get out…]”
Arnold tensed as his claws emerged, “[Which M’an?!]”
It gave him just enough information to know who and he carried the poor thing tenderly in his arms. Arnold made his way to Richard’s lab and found the man sitting in his bolted down chair. He rushed down the stairs shouting, “You thought it was a good idea to set a four pound kitten against a forty pound rat six times it’s size?!“
Richard sank into his chair as Arnold closed on him, but answered glibly, “I will admit, mistakes were made.” He sat up a moment later a bit more brightly. “But we have learned something.”
“If you say that we learned that a four pound kitten couldn’t kill a forty pound rat I’m going to scratch your face off!”
Richard sunk back into his chair as he noted how unstable the cat was at the moment, especially noting his blood covered claws, and then he turned to Navrim pleadingly. Unfortunately the clockwork was too busy attempting to stab itself with a fork to notice. The nervous man turned back to Arnold, “Perhaps… we didn’t learn… anything… scientifically?”
A soft mew of suffering brought Arnold back from the brink…the kitten needed food, water, and to have it’s cuts attended to. With another baleful look back he stormed out of the room before he did something he would regret.
The kitten cringed in his paws, and Arnold whispered soothingly, “[I will help. Just hang on, little one.]” He made his way to the infirmary and got to work by giving the kitten a bowl of water which it began to lap up greedily. This was the third time he’d taken someone to the infirmary, and it reminded Arnold he hadn’t worked in a hospital since his collapse in September. They had been treating Bianca at the time he recalled vaguely…thinking about the hospital made him miss New Babbage. Richard especially made him miss New Babbage. There would have been more than enough rats he could lock him in the same room with for two days and never feed him.
Sam entered the room with a genial laugh, “Well, you’ve certainty given Richard a fear of felines.”
“I’ve spent two days locked in a submarine with him too long,” Arnold said as he cleaned the wounds, as the kitten below him whined due to the disinfectant and almost bolted. “[Be strong little one… this will help you and the pain will leave soon.]” It still whined but did not run.
Sam sat back and watched Arnold work, “You work in an underwater hospital in Babbage, right?” The cat had mentioned it when offering to treat Theodore earlier. “What’s that like?”
He told Sam about the two versions of Wilde hospital that had existed since he came to town. He told him about the magnetic lifts, the triage, the eel generator, the new towers, and all the details he could think of while he was working.
Sam became more interested and excited as he told him about the hospital and he exclaimed, “Extraordinary! Amazing how far science has brought us! Magnetic lifts, towers under water, and all powered by electric eels you say?!” Sam began to pace in the room, which would have distracted Arnold if he hadn’t just finished. “Very intriguing! Too bad it’s only enough to power one facility though…”
Arnold stopped listening and leaned down till his face was right in front of the gray kitten, “[I’m going to go get you food. Stay here until I return.]”
“[Do not leave me here alone with these M’an…]” It requested softly as it rested its paws against Arnold’s nose. He nodded in understanding and took the kitten into his arms again carefully and let it rest while he left Sam to his musings.
Their cook however also made the black cat miss the city that had become his home. Yesterday the man had thought that laxatives would be a good replacement for beans, which they had run out of thanks to the rats. Because of this the cook was covered in bruises, thanks to Lenny and Roy, but he blamed everyone on the ship equally except himself. He stared at Arnold balefully as the cat requested minced or crushed fish, “We’re out.”
Arnold twitched and asked, “Well what do you have?!”
“Well, since the rat’s contaminated all the supplies that weren’t in this room, I’d say that all we have is potato and turnip stew until we make port later today!”
Arnold grimaced slightly. If it was for himself he’d have eaten it anyways, but it wasn’t. It had been a good thing they’d been hugging the shore he supposed as he told the kitten it would have to wait and it began to whine softly.
Arnold had never heard of Chesikeke, North Carolina, but he wasn’t very concerned since he’d never heard of New Babbage till Dr. Solsen had suggested it. The city was even more industrious than Hemmerton, and much dirtier. Almost the entire crew would be getting off soon, but Arnold didn’t wait for the group as he entered the city carrying the kitten. It wanted to get off the submarine and Arnold didn’t blame it at all. He regretted having no money to buy it a full meal, but he took him towards the strongest smell of food in the area. There was a group of cats waiting outside a factory that smelled of fish expectantly, as if they knew food would come if they just waited.
As he approached they looked at him crouching there in M’an clothes curiously, and he returned the look though he stopped approaching. In New Babbage it had been the same, they almost never attempted to communicate and sometimes he wondered if they thought he couldn’t understand them. He set the kitten down and spoke softly, “[They will take care of you now, little one.]” He hoped that they were not too territorial as he said that, but he did not believe they would let the kitten starve.
“[You won’t stay?]” The kitten asked, as it reached up for his face needfully.
“[No,]” Arnold told it sadly. “[Be safe and well.]” Arnold bounded away on all fours, the kitten chasing after him but unable to keep up. He wasn’t abandoning the kitten to the streets without aide he told himself again and again, but that didn’t make it less difficult for him. He made his way back to the sub, passing Richard and then Sam who had both gone out on their own, and didn’t stop until he got back to the submarine and joined the group that was about to disembark.
Dr. Maddox didn’t want to interrupt his story, he had told her so much today without having to drag out every word, but she had to ask, “Do you still feel like you abandoned him?”
Arnold considered that for several moments in silence, before he nodded, “Yes,” He continued, “I also wonder if it was supposed to mean I’m running away from my people. I prefer their company to humans, they understand and think more like I do, and yet I never talk to them.”
He was silent for a few more moments, and while she knew he had been talking for almost three hours straight she didn’t want him to stop now.
“It’s getting late…” Arnold said finally, “There’s one more thing I have to mention tonight and then I’m done…”