Illegally Born

Chapter 9: Rehearsal

"Captain," said Navigator Eileen Mayo, turning from her station with worried eyes. "There is a second ship on an intercept course for us".

"What?" asked Capt. Darren as she crossed the bridge and joined the navigator at her station, peering at the screens.

"I was checking on the Firestorm’s progress when I realized that the Unicorn isn’t following the course they were on two days ago." Mayo tapped the screen. "Now they’re headed for us. Why would a medical relief ship want to intercept us"?

"I think we may have just caught a break," said Darren, hope and concern fighting for space in her expression. "At least I hope so. I’ll go see if I can raise Capt. Schubert on the fast links".

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"Capt. Schubert, how nice to see you again," said Capt. Darren cheerfully, to the woman who appeared in the communications screen.

"What do you want, Darren?" asked Schubert bluntly, storm gray eyes flashing in a face framed by a mane of red hair.

Capt. Darren sat down on her desk, her hands folded tightly in her lap, and tried to keep her voice casual, "My navigator tells me that the Unicorn is on an intercept course for the Starbright."

"That’s right," answered Schubert tightly, "We’ll be there to pick up the pieces after the Firestorm gets through with you. Why put yourself through this and endanger your crew, Darren? Chances are you’ll just get a lot of people killed, and if you, personally, survive, you’ll live out your days in a prison."

"I’m not going to become a murderer just so that I can live comfortably," replied Darren proudly, lifting her chin. "In the meantime, your course will bring you to us five days before the Firestorm intercepts us. I want to know your intentions."

"I don’t intend to fight you if that’s what you’re asking. Right now our only intentions are to be near enough to mop up the mess. However, my crew does have a scientific interest in your cargo. I know my chief medical officer would like to take a look at Dr. Ferran’s records."

"I’ll have them sent to you. Perhaps we can arrange for your chief medical officer to interview one of the Jellicles as well. I’m sure your psychological staff would be interested in --"

Capt. Schubert cut the connection without another word.

"Well, that could have gone better," murmured Darren, to no one in particular.

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Munkustrap sat at breakfast, watching the Jellicles congratulating each other. It had been a surprisingly fine performance the night before. Of course, all of the Jellicles knew their lines and steps so well they could do them in their sleep, but the rehearsal had been so riddled with quarrels and bad feelings that Munkustrap had wondered if they could put on a performance at all.

It had started before they had even gotten on stage, when Electra burst into tears over not being able to dance that night because of her pregnancy. "I don’t want to die nameless," she had sobbed as Alonzo tried to comfort her. It was the cat who was taking her place that had finally been able to calm her, reassuring the pregnant cat that the name Jessel had found for her, Juliet, was exactly the name she liked and she had no wish to take Electra’s name from her.

The gray kitten with black stripes turned out to have an excellent voice, after Munkustrap had gotten the other cats to stop cutting his feet out from under him. That had been one way they had handled brats in the past, and the kitten had asked for it by starting in on Mistoffelees again. He had started teasing Mistoffelees about needing permission to do a whole list of ridiculous things after he heard the black and white cat apologize to Munkustrap for scaring him. The kitten finally let up when Munkustrap informed him bluntly that Mistoffelees didn’t need permission to do anything, but he certainly would. By this time, though, several other cats had heard the gray kitten’s teasing and set out to make life miserable for him. Munkustrap had to admit that Jellylorum’s serving the brat a lunch of infant formula and baby foods had been funny, but Tumblebrutus really should have known better than to drench the kitten with a bucket of cold water on the stage; if they had missed any of the water when they cleaned it up, someone could have slipped and hurt themselves.

Everyone had been concerned that that might have been what happened when Gus fell, but Gus assured them all that he had just over-extended himself again. He had offered to take Quaxo’s place as Bustopher Jones, knowing how much Quaxo hated playing that part, but had been disappointed when he was unable to carry off Bustopher’s characteristic strut. Several of the unnamed cats offered to take over the part after Gus fell and Quaxo set Gus to auditioning them. Quaxo had assured Munkustrap that he would be happier with no part at all than playing Bustopher, and he did seem much happier taking on the responsibility for being the troupe’s dance captain. He had certainly shown a great deal of patience when he helped diffuse the argument between Rumpelteazer and Mungojerrie.

Mungojerrie had refused to have his orange and red stripes put back on after having gotten them off so recently. Rumpelteazer had tried to jolly him into it until he rudely informed her that he was tired of looking like her twin sister. At that point, Rumpelteazer’s temper had flared and they had had to be separated. Ensign Avia had pointed out to Mungojerrie that she had gone to some trouble to mix a dye that could be easily removed after the performance, and that no one would know that male cats weren’t supposed to have both black and orange stripes. Mungojerrie’s predecessor had pointed out that he had worn red and orange stripes for years. But it was Tugger that changed Mungojerrie’s mind, arguing that several of the other costumes were worse (including his large mane) and finally getting Mungojerrie to laugh at how ridiculous all of them looked in costume and paint.

That was when Asparagus suggested that some of the costumes might not look right without their collars. The laughter had abruptly stopped, as suddenly as if someone had flipped a switch on a recording and Macavity had asked, in a threatening tone, just what Asparagus was suggesting. Asparagus hurriedly assured his suddenly unfriendly peers that he wasn’t suggesting that they wear their collars, just that some of the costumes might require altering without them. It was quickly decided that the only costumes this affected were Mistoffelees’ and Skimbleshanks’ second costumes, and Bustopher Jones’. All three had shirt collars that normally tucked up through the punishment collars and had a bow which was then clipped on. Jessel suggested that bow ties were probably what were originally used, and these were readily available, since they were a standard part of the crew’s formal uniforms.

The worst part of the rehearsal had come during the fight scene. Macavity had thrown Munkustrap so hard that the gray cat had been forced to land on all fours to keep from injuring himself. Quaxo, in his new role as dance captain, had started to take Macavity to task for it but the red and gold cat had just glared at Munkustrap and growled, "There’s more where that came from."

Munkustrap had risen slowly and replied, " I think you will not dance tonight, Macavity."

"I think we need a new leader," Macavity growled, golden eyes slitted.

"Who? You? Who will follow Macavity?" called Munkustrap. When no one stepped forward he had said, "I will not be angry if anyone wishes to agree with Macavity. We are going to be free soon and it is all right for everyone to voice their opinion."

No one said a word. Deuteronomy stepped up behind Munkustrap and stood, facing Macavity. One by one the other Jellicles joined him. When all of the Jellicles stood behind him, Munkustrap asked quietly, "Will you follow me, Macavity?"

Pride and fury flowed across the ginger face as Macavity spoke one word, "No."

Munkustrap had never before been in the position where he actually had some authority and had it challenged. If one of the Jellicles chose to ignore him in the past there had been little he could do besides watch them get punished. Now Macavity was his responsibility. "Then go and stay in the sleeping room while the rest of us work," he ordered.

"I don’t think you heard me, Munkustrap," sneered Macavity, his teeth shining in the lights, "I will not follow you."

Munkustrap did not want to fight Macavity but that was his intention as he stepped forward. Suddenly Tugger stepped past him and most of the other Jellicles followed, forming a ring around Macavity. "I don’t think you understood us," said Tugger his usual clownishness forgotten, "We are following Munkustrap. That means all of us."

"He will get us all killed," shouted Macavity, throwing out his arms and spinning in an effort to catch the eyes of any sympathetic Jellicle.

"Maybe," said Deuteronomy, "but we’ve given him that right and responsibility". The older gray cat stepped to the side, opening the circle in the direction of the doors. Macavity had cast a last glare at the circle of cats and strode through the break, growling under his breath. Tugger, Alonzo, Skimbleshanks and Tumblebrutus had followed him out.

Mungojerrie’s predecessor, had taken Macavity’s place in the performance. He spent all afternoon going over the steps with Quaxo and Munkustrap; it kept Munkustrap from thinking too much about the Jellicles show of support. Now, watching the Jellicles laugh and congratulate each other, Munkustrap felt as though someone had dropped a huge weight on his shoulders. With a sigh, he buried his face in his hands and rubbed his temples, fingers combing through the silver hair for a moment before supporting his head.

Someone sat down at his left, close enough to feel the warmth of another body; the scent told him it was Deuteronomy. "They believe in you, you know," the older cat said quietly.

"You should be leading, not me. You’re supposed to be the Jellicle leader," muttered Munkustrap, his face still hidden.

"No, that’s only in the play." Deuteronomy rested a hand on Munkustrap’s shoulder, squeezing gently, comfortingly. "You’re the one who worries over them and can be strong for them. Just remember that you’re leading, not acting alone. That’s why no one followed Macavity yesterday. He wants to go charging after the problem with no plan and no concern for the rest of the Jellicles. Everyone knows how hard you try to protect them and that you will think before you act." He gave Munkustrap a small shake. "That’s why we’ll all follow you".

Munkustrap sighed and straightened to look at the other cat. "That’s almost funny, having you follow me. You were Munkustrap before I was," he said, with half a smile.

Deuteronomy grinned at him, his green eyes both understanding and merry, "Just give me an order to obey, kitten."

Munkustrap had to laugh at that. "All right, then, why don’t you take those soothing ways of yours and find out what’s bothering Grizzabella? Every time she’s gotten near Mistoffelees in the last few days, she’s suddenly lost her voice. I know he’s tried to apologize for anything he might have done to offend her but it hasn’t helped."

Deuteronomy flipped him a salute and left, taking at least a small portion of the oppressive weight of responsibility with him.

At that point, Victoria entered the room. She held her head high but her tail drooped and her usually shining white fur looked dull. Munkustrap crossed the room and placed a hand on her arm. "I wanted to thank you," he said as gently as he could, "it could not have been easy for you to stand with the rest of us against your mate".

"Macavity is wrong," she said, refusing to look at him and continuing to pile food on her tray; enough for two Munkustrap noticed. "We wouldn’t know how to run a ship or find shelter or even get our own food. I may not like humans, but I realize how dependent we are on them". She looked up at him then, fires blazing behind her eyes, "If we are going to win this battle they will have to do our fighting for us. You’re the one to convince them if any of us can". She picked up her tray and turned toward the door.

"You and Macavity can keep the room at the end of the hall if that will help," Munkustrap offered quietly, his eyes worried.

Her head came up and her tail stiffened, the snow-white fur fluffing a little. Without turning around, she replied in ice cold tones, "I’m not telling him about any favors from you, Munkustrap; that will only make things worse".

As she walked through the door, Munkustrap realized that as hard as yesterday had been, worse was definitely on the way.

Chapter 10: Macavity

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