Chapter 1: Shoreleave
"I get to go see CATS, I get to go see CATS," sang Ensign Arianya Jessel as she skipped down the sidewalk, red hair flying. Barely five feet tall with large green eyes only Jesselís dark green security uniform corrected the impression that she should be subject to the long passed local curfew for minors.
"Would you please stop that," begged her companion, Ensign Cameron Mickelvy, frowning and red-faced from embarrassment. Jessel and Mickelvy had trained together and were often mistaken for sister and brother because of the likeness of their bright green eyes. His height and sandy hair compared to her appearance should have marked them as coming from separate families, but their constant companionship added credence to the illusion that they were siblings. "You look like youíre twelve years old when you do that. Security officers should look more dignified, at least this security officer would like to look more dignified".
"I canít help it. Do you know how long I have wanted to see CATS live? I love Andrew Lloyd Webberís work. Iíve gotten to see some of his other musicals but CATS just isnít done anymore".
"So how do you know you even want to see it"?
"One of my dance instructors actually had a couple of clips from the video they made of CATS a century ago. He thought they were awful compared to a live performance. Well, if thatís awful I have got to see it live".
"Ari, listen to me, we are in port at Zion, the colony world founded by the religious right. We are going to a rinky-dink little theater that isnít even in a theater district because the population of this planet disapproves of theater in general. And the performances can only be held on Friday and Saturday because CATS is considered too risqué to be held during the work week on this planet. Itís not going to be that good".
Jessel stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and faced him. "You are raining on my parade," she said in a dangerous tone of voice.
"All right fine," he said exasperated. "If you want to get your hopes up, fine. But would you at least calm down. Someone from the Starbright is going to see us and think weíre on a date and then we will be the talk of the shipís grapevine all the way to Mars".
"All right Iíll calm down". Quietly she added, "I get to go see CATS, I get to go see CATS".
Munkustrap hated staying at the theater. The windowless room the Jellicles were confined to on their performance days was so cramped that between shows the Jellicles mostly just tried to sleep. The thin matting that covered the floor provided even less comfort than their bunks at home. His mate, Demeter, lay with her head pillowed in his lap. She had only just returned to her part after recovering from her pregnancy. Her grief over the loss of her kittens would take longer to heal. Their human captors did not allow any kittens to remain with their mothers after the kittensí eyes opened, but the dance instructor had at least assured them that the kittens still lived. The Jellicles didnít produce many kittens, though none of them knew why, so any kitten born was especially precious to them.
Munkustrap closed his eyes trying to suppress his anger over the distress caused his mate. His collar felt heavy against his neck as it always did when his thoughts turned to fury over the Jelliclesí situation. He began to rehearse his lines in his head trying to drive away the thoughts which would only land him in trouble. Any hint of disobedience or rebellion would cause the dance instructor or one of his other human captors to use the controllers they all carried, setting off his collar and sending a charge through his body like lightning through his blood. Every time that happened he wondered if it would be the last time. He could never forget that the collars could kill. He had seen it happen only once, many years before, but that had been enough. The troupeís second Mistoffelees had escaped the cages temporarily and been brought back a bloody mess. The mud caked on his feet told that he had managed to escape the building. Heíd been thrown in front of the Jellicles, still breathing, trying to sit up. Then he had screamed and grabbed at his collar. Munkustrap remembered it being a long scream. The body had been left in their sleeping room all that long night.
Munkustrap gasped and opened his eyes. The memory had been so strong that he realized he must have nodded off. Demeter raised her head, a question in her eyes. Munkustrap patted her shoulder to reassure her. He would have told her it was just a dream but no unnecessary talking was ever allowed
while they were at the theater. In their own quarters that rule relaxed somewhat but never at the theater.
The lock clicked and the door opened admitting the dance instructorís head. "Time to get dressed," she said, looking over the Jellicles sourly before closing the door.
Everyone rose and took their costumes from the rack. Most of the costumes consisted of shorts or a limbless leotard painted to match the actorís fur. Munkustrap felt sorry for those few who had to wear larger costumes, for dancing was hot work. Still, he looked forward to their performances as most of them did. The applause of the crowd did much to bolster their spirits and restore their pride.
As he looked around the room the Jellicles clowned for each other to get in the mood for the performance. Tails ceased to droop and smiles began to appear as they assisted each other with stretching exercises or getting their fur combed in place. Then the door opened again and it was time to go on stage.
"So are you going backstage after the performance?" asked Mickelvy.
"No. Apparently they donít let anyone backstage," replied Jessel sitting down next to him.
"You keep staring at that program as if itís going to bite you."
"For the price I paid for it Iíll stare at it if I want to. Somethingís wrong here," she shook her head, "something I ought to remember".
"Like maybe youíve been here before and just forgot," he teased.
"No, the Unicorn was only in port here once when I was a kid and would you believe it? I was grounded".
"Grounded I believe. Didnít stow away aboard a landing module I donít".
"Not when youíre the Captainís daughter you donít. Besides why do you think I was grounded?" asked Jessel impishly.
"Shh, itís starting," she whispered as the first cat appeared on stage. Jessel quickly found herself carried away by the performance and the performers. The lights dazzled her and the music seemed to invade her soul as she listened to each perfectly spoken word. The dancers possessed a grace that she knew from experience could not be acquired through any amount of practice but had to be inborn. One in particular caught her eye and she found herself having trouble following the movements of the other dancers because her eyes would not leave Mistoffelees.
"Mickelvy, get up," hissed Jessel in a low voice, turning on the hotel room light.
Instantly awake at the sound of his name Cameron Mickelvy turned to face his comrade in arms.
"I need your communicator," she said grabbing it off of the nightstand. "I figured out what was wrong with the program".
"Ari, itís the middle of the night," he complained before her appearance registered. She had changed her uniformís bright buckles to the darker ones and buttoned the jacket collar all the way up covering the light colored blouse underneath. Dark smudges covered her normally pale complexion. "Wait, youíve done more than that, havenít you"?
"Just listen to me will you?" she asked in exasperation. "The names of the actors in the program are all names of actors from early performances of CATS. Theyíre all names from the musical recordings I have," she said excitedly.
"Fascinating. What did you do?" he demanded.
"I snuck backstage".
Mickelvy grimaced, "Ari, security officers, remember. We are supposed to be security officers. If you get caught doing something like that youíll lose your post".
"Thatís why I didnít invite you. Are you going to turn me in"?
"Good, because we have to return to the ship immediately. Cam, listen to me. The performers we saw last night are prisoners. You should have seen the way they were loaded on the transport that took them away".
He stared at her in disbelief. "Then tell the local authorities".
"Think about it, Cam. Whoever is keeping these people prisoner also has had them performing in public for the last 17 years. Donít you think they could get the actors to convince the local authorities that thereís nothing wrong"? He frowned and she continued, very serious now, "I picked up some evidence while I was backstage. I have to get it back to the ship and get it analyzed".
"Thereís no transport until morning".
"There will be," Jessel grinned. "I play with the worst poker players in the known galaxy. Iíll call Ensign James and offer to surrender his markers. He can make something up so he can come get us".
Chapter 2: A Change In Circumstance
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