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Felisa Fargazer paced through the dark streets, more alert for prey than anything else. It had been several days since she’d seen any of the metal boxes, and there’d been no word of any further disappearances of Folk. It seemed as if the Big One really had given up. But until the prey situation improved, Felisa wasn’t going to lower her guard entirely.
It was as well she hadn’t. As she passed a large green space, empty now, but trampled and scuffed from the large M’an machines that had been there for the past week, she heard the cries of a female cat. She tracked the sound to a dusty spot in the park, and stopped, amazed. It was her sister, Tealla, inside the box!
“Tealla!” she cried, rushing up to the side, pressing her nose against the bars. “What are you doing in here?”
“Oh, Felisa!” Tealla replied. “I was hoping you’d find me! I know I shouldn’t have, but I was just so *hungry*…”
“Why didn’t you come to me? I have…resources.”
“I *was* coming to find you, but then I smelled this, and…well…”
Felisa sniffed at her sister, and caught the scent of fresh milk. She peered into the barred box, and saw that, unlike any of the others, Tealla had eaten the food despite her confinement. Tealla must have given birth fairly recently–no wonder she was so hungry! Trying to feed oneself and kittens could be exhausting at the best of times.
“Well, don’t worry,” she said, giving Tealla a reassuring lick. “I’ll have you out of here in no time, and we can go and find more food for you.” With that, she walked around to the door, ready to set her sister free.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Dr. Ambrose Martel watched the scene from his station in the warehouse, peering through his binoculars. It had taken him a few days to create a design to modify his trap, and several more to build it. Now to see if it would work.
‘Yes,’ he thought as he watched the black-and-white cat, the one that might just bring him success, walk toward the door of the cage. All it had to do was slide the bolt back, as it had before. And then…
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Felisa grasped the metal bar in her teeth, raised it, and slid it back, as she had before. And then…
She jumped and yowled as metal plates, hidden by a shallow covering of dirt, swiftly folded in and, with a fearful clanging, closed together, creating a larger box around the barred box, enclosing both Tealla and Felisa in darkness. She cried out angrily, clawing and pushing at the metal, but it refused to give way. She froze suddenly, hearing the steps of a Big One approaching.
“What do we do?” Tealla whispered.
“I don’t know,” Felisa replied.
Tealla suddenly whimpered. “My babies,” she said softly, hopelessly.
Felisa could do nothing except nuzzle her sister, trying to give her whatever comfort her physical presence could, as they waited for whatever would happen.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“Yes!” Dr. Martel actually jumped up and down in his excitement. The modified trap had, to all appearances, worked exactly as he’d envisioned it, trapping his target very neatly. He slipped out of the warehouse and hurried into the park, eager to be sure of his success.
When he reached the box, he slid open a small door he’d built into the top, and shone a lantern into the dark interior. The light picked out two pairs of shining eyes first, then glinted off the white patches of the black-and-white cat, who appeared uninjured from the closing of the trap. It started hissing at him, and he quickly slid the door shut, before it could do anything else. He picked up the now-bulky box by the handles at either end, and hurried out of the park and through the dark streets, hoping the cats wouldn’t start yowling loudly and attracting attention to his passing.
Dr. Martel’s laboratory was in the sub-level of a dock-side warehouse in Clockhaven. He’d chosen it because of its spaciousness–and the willingness of the owner to refrain from asking questions. That sort of discretion, he’d learned, was a needful thing. Setting the large box down on a table, he hurried into his surgical room. He’d brought his other experimental subject here earlier today, in anticipation of just such a success. A quick glance showed all was in good order; his automaton assistants had prepped the subject, and all was in readiness for him to start on that one.
Grabbing some equipment, Dr. Martel went back to the box. He slid the upper door open a crack, and fed a tube inside, using it to pump in an anesthetic gas. No need to deal with hissing, spitting, scratching cats when he could simply render them unconscious. After a few moments, he slid the door open further, and saw that both were well unconscious.
He placed the nondescriptly-brown cat, the one originally trapped, into one of his holding cages to sleep off the anesthetic. He thought he may as well keep that one on hand, just in case. The black-and-white cat–a female, he noted absently–he took into the surgical room, placing it on a table next to the other subject. He began directing his automatons, even as he changed and scrubbed up.
‘This will work,’ he thought as he stood over the two tables. ‘This *has* to work.’ He had here two of the most optimal test subjects he could have asked for. All he had to do was follow the procedure of his last experiment–and be more prepared for the aftermath.
Letting out a pent-up breath, Dr. Martel got to work. It was going to be a long night.