Illegally Born

Chapter 8: Emotions of the Moment

Mistoffelees had just closed his eyes to try to take a nap when he felt a weight land on the bunk beside him. His eyes snapped open, but he smiled as he recognized the black and white kitten who would have been his successor.

"Could I take my nap up here?" asked the small tom kitten, storm gray eyes wide. "Jemima's kitten won't stop crying. I just can't sleep over there."

Mistoffelees looked over to where he could see Jemima sitting on her bunk holding a softly sobbing kitten, who looked about half as old as the kitten sitting next to him. The sound was rather disturbing, though it amused Mistoffelees greatly to see the gray and black kitten who'd been his nemesis in a top bunk with a pillow pulled firmly about his ears.

"Kitten!" called Quaxo's voice from the end of the bunk. His testy tone made both Mistoffelees and the kitten jump, though Mistoffelees' predecessor hadn't referred to him as a kitten since he'd earned his name. "You shouldn't be bothering Mistoffelees."

"He's not bothering me, Quaxo," said the black and white tom in a reasonable tone. "He just wants someplace a little quieter to sleep."

Quaxo stepped up to the head of the bunk, where he could look eye to eye with Mistoffelees. The mostly black tom looked a little frazzled and Mistoffelees could understand why. Jemima's kitten had been crying since Dr. Branch had returned him to his mother that morning. The doctor had insisted that it was perfectly normal for a kitten that age to cry in a new situation, especially since he didn't have any brothers or sisters to come with him from the crèche as the other kittens did. But that didn't make the constant sobbing any easier for Jemima and Quaxo to take.

Deciding that the best way for him to ease Quaxo's frustration was to get him away from the crying, Mistoffelees said, "There's something I've been wanting to talk to you about. If you have a few minutes?"

Blinking rapidly to try and focus on the new topic, Quaxo replied, "Yes, of course."

"Not here, though," said Mistoffelees hopping down from his upper bunk.

"Can I come too?" asked the kitten wistfully, leaning towards the two adult toms.

"Not this time," smiled Mistoffelees, putting his hand on the kitten's shoulder and pushing him gently down on the bunk. "You stay here and take your nap."

The kitten pouted but cuddled down onto the pillow.

Mistoffelees took his predecessor by the arm and led him to the door. The darker tom startled as the door opened and Mistoffelees grinned at the older cat.

"It still surprises me that the door opens," smiled Quaxo, looking slightly abashed as they stepped into the empty mess hall next door.

Mistoffelees walked over to the milk dispenser, filling a glass for himself and offering one to his friend. "And that we can choose our own food, and decide when we want to dance, and that the kittens are back...." Mistoffelees trailed off hoping that Quaxo would pick up that thread of conversation.

Quaxo sighed and shook his head, refusing the offered drink as he sank into a chair. "I shouldn't have yelled at the kitten like that. I don't mind watching him; he's well behaved most of the time, although he hums almost constantly. But mostly I like having him around. My mate's kitten though, oh, maybe he'll stop crying soon." Quaxo put his head in his hands and massaged his temples.

Mistoffelees took the seat across from his predecessor. "That sound is pretty annoying, but he can't cry all the time, can he?"

"I don't know," groaned Quaxo. "Tantomile's kittens aren't crying."

"Tantomile's kittens are older and they have each other for company. Jemima's kitten doesn't have anyone he knows here." Mistoffelees' lips twisted into a wry grin, "Suddenly I understand what Jessel was saying about the kittens needing names."

Quaxo looked up and replied, "Yes, I think you're right, they do. We've never had more than three kittens in the troupe at one time that I can remember, so it wasn't really a problem. Now, I'm not sure how many there are or how many more we are going to get. I don't know where we will find names for them all either." He rubbed his temples again and closed his eyes, then suddenly snapped them open again, sitting up straight in his chair. "Enough about the kittens," Quaxo said abruptly, and smiled at his friend. "You said you had something you wanted to talk about?"

Mistoffelees suddenly felt uncomfortable and his tail began to twitch. He licked his lips to ease the sudden dryness of his mouth. "I think I've decided to ask someone to be my mate."

Quaxo shook his head in surprise. "You have?"

"I wanted to talk to you about it first."

Quaxo's eyes glanced around unseeingly as he tried to figure out who Mistoffelees could have in mind. "All of the females in the troupe have mates and I would think all of the kittens from the dance class are a little youngÖ."

"Definitely, too young," agreed the younger tom firmly.

"Who then?"

Mistoffelees took a deep breath, "Jessel."

"Jessel?" repeated the older tom, so surprised that for a moment he couldn't think of who Mistoffelees meant. When the name finally registered the only response his numbed mind could form was, "But she's human!"

"Yeah." Mistoffelees suddenly remembered the glass of milk in his hand and took a big gulp.

"WellÖ" said Quaxo slowly, working through the shock in his mind, "I know there isn't a mate for you in the troupe right now. So, I suppose I shouldn't be so surprised that you'd take an interest in a human. You can pick whoever you want, of course, provided she agrees. Are you sure you want her?"

"Yes," replied Mistoffelees positively. His eyes took on a faraway look and his tone softened. "I've been thinking a lot about her. She's so nice, she's helped us so much. She listens to everyone and she's beautiful. I want her to be my mate." Then he looked away, "I just don't know if she'll want me."

"Ummm," hesitated Quaxo, "she might."

Mistoffelees peered at his friend hopefully, "What makes you think that?"

"The way she was looking at you right after she danced with you." Quaxo winced as his tail hit the table in a nervous twitch. "She looked like she was really enjoying stroking your fur."

"Really?" asked Mistoffelees, perking up. "I couldn't figure out why she was doing that. The only reason I could think of was that maybe she was looking for bugs." His black eyebrows came together in some consternation. "I donít think I have bugs...."

Quaxo started to shake and snicker, and then to laugh. "I don't think that's what she was doing."

"What's so funny?" Mistoffeleesí ears dropped halfway and he frowned slightly as he tried to decide if he was offended.

"It's not," laughed Quaxo.

"Then why are you laughing?"

"I don't know," replied Quaxo, sobering. "I guess just thinking about her stroking you and now having you tell me you want her for your mate. I was so afraid she was going to hurt you for stealing the water." He shook his head. "I certainly couldn't have imagined this conversation then. Everything is changing so fast. If you're really serious about asking her I think you'd better talk to Munkustrap first. I mean, I'm not sure how everyone else will react, and it would probably be better if you at least gave Munkustrap some warning."

"You're worried the others will tease me about it." Mistoffelees suddenly looked very mature, though worry sparked in his blue eyes.

"WellÖ" The darker tom hesitated, then nodded slightly.

"I've been through that before. I can take it. I'm worried that they might start teasing Jessel though. I'd rather not ask her than put her through that."

"Oh, I don't think anyone will say anything to HER." Quaxo shook his head, then looked at his young friend. "You really do care about her, don't you?" The dark tomís ears pricked forward and he tipped his head sideways in sudden belief and understanding.

"Isn't that what I've been telling you?" Mistoffelees frowned and leaned forward.

"Yes, but you just convinced me of it." Quaxo smiled at his friend. "I'll go with you to talk to Munkustrap after he gets back from talking to the captain."

 

*********************

 

Munkustrap heard the laughter of children as he walked through the door of the Jellicleís sleeping room and felt his heart break. Looking around the room he saw Jellicles talking in relaxed groups and children playing together, activities the dance troupe had never been allowed before coming to this ship.

Several of the Jellicles noticed him standing by the door and came towards him.

Tugger reached him first. "You look like someone just died," he clowned, rolling his eyes in an exaggerated way, trying to make his leader laugh.

"Tugger get everyone in here. I need to talk to everyone now," said Munkustrap hearing his voice break and trying desperately to get himself under control.

"Hey, what happened?" asked Tugger more seriously.

"Now, Tugger," shouted Munkustrap, "I need everyone here now"!

All of the happy noises stopped at the sound of Munkustrapís shout. Tuggerís eyes opened wide and he ran to obey. More of the Jellicles surrounded Munkustrap. Demeter put her arms around her mateís neck and rubbed her check against his. "Whatís wrong?" she asked.

"When we are all together," he responded holding her tightly against his chest.

Mungojerrie, Rumpelteazer, Quaxo, and Mistoffelees came in followed by Tugger. "Thatís everyone," said Tugger.

Munkustrap strode to the center of the floor and gestured for them all to be seated. When the Jellicles had settled he began. "You all heard the captainís announcement that she is disobeying her orders. The orders she is disobeying concern us. She has orders to kill us".

Frightened cries resounded about the room. The Jellicles looked at each other in bewilderment. Electra broke into heartrending sobs which were muffled only slightly when Alonzo put his arms around his pregnant mate and she buried her face in his chest.

"The kittens," wailed Demeter.

"Why?" demanded a shocked Deuteronomy.

"Their laws say that we must die because of the way Dr. Ferran created us," said Munkustrap raising his voice to be heard. "Capt. Darren says she will not kill us because that law was made to apply to animals and she knows that we are people. We are safe for now but there are others who are coming to kill us in her place".

"Weíll fight them," yelled Macavity.

Many voices chorused in agreement.

"We will fight when we have to," bellowed Munkustrap over the din. "Some of the humans will fight beside us instead of against us. We are few and will need their help. Let us be sure that we fight our enemies and not our friends".

"How do you know that any of the humans are our friends?" spat Macavity.

"I know that there are many more humans than there are adult Jellicles on this ship," shouted Munkustrap. "I know that the humans have weapons we do not and I know that I do not know how to make this ship go where I want it to go. Do you?" he asked Macavity sarcastically.

The lean red stripped tom glared back at him.

"We need these humans," said Munkustrap, painfully conscience of Jessel sitting behind him. "They can do things we can not. We will have to trust them".

"I donít trust them," said Macavity sharply, extending his claws.

"Shut up, Macavity," snapped Demeter rising from her seat on the floor. "These humans removed our collars and returned our children," she said pointing to her own kittens and then to Tantomileís seven year old twins and Jemimaís four year old son who had been returned earlier that day. "They didnít kill us. They told us about their orders. If they wanted us dead weíd already be dead, wouldnít we Jessel?"

Munkustrap reflected that that was not the most diplomatic question his mate could have asked.

Jessel nodded seriously, "Killing is easy".

"Then teach us how," shouted Macavity.

She shook her head, "Thereís more than one way to fight, Macavity. There are billions of humans in the galaxy. You canít kill that many but if you get enough of them to believe in you you can reverse our orders".

"How do we do that?" asked Munkustrap.

"Thatís what the Captainís working on," replied Jessel.

"It would help if you could give us some answers," growled Munkustrap, frustrated.

"I will give you what answers I have," replied Jessel flatly, facing him.

The door opened and Ensign Mickelvy walked in, a question in his eyes as he glanced from Jessel to the Jellicles and back again.

"Iím fine, Mickelvy, go away," growled Jessel.

"You see," shouted Macavity, "they do not trust us. Why should we trust them"?

"Because we have no choice," shouted Munkustrap. "We either trust them or accept death. I want to live. I want the kittens to grow up". He spun back to Jessel. "You said there were other ways to fight. Tell us about them".

Jessel stood silently trying to think of some way the Jellicles could fight.

"You could put on a show for the crew," suggested Mickelvy.

"How does that help us," demanded Munkustrap.

"Iíve been listening to other members of the crew. No one who has seen you perform doubts that youíre people but most of the crew havenít seen you at all. Some have seen the kittens but they generaly donít talk. Some of the crew are wondering if the captainís lost her mind mutinying like this. If you put on a show it would reassure the crew that the captain made the right decision; that you really are people and the more people who are positive of that the better off youíll be".

"At least it would be something to do," said Skimbleshanks quietly.

"It puts us right back where we were," complained Macavity, "dancing for our captors".

"How many think it is a good idea?" asked Munkustrap, ignoring him.

Most of the cats raised their hands.

"I think youíre all fools," spat Macavity.

"Macavity, most of us want to dance," said Munkustrap. "Will you dance with us or shall I give your name to someone else"?

Macavity suddenly lost his voice to the horror expressed on his face. He tried to speak but no sound emerged. Finally he nodded, surrendering.

"Cheer up my friend," said Tugger slapping Macavity on the back. "When it is time we will fight. Until then I plan to live and live well. Even a few days with no cage and no collar are still good days".

 

****************

Capt. Darren had readily agreed to the Jellicles giving a performance knowing that it would give everyone something to do besides worry. The Jellicles had spent the rest of the day rehearsing while volunteers constructed a stage in one of the large cargo bays that the kittens had been using for a gymnasium. It was the following morning before the Jellicles were allowed onto the stage to set up their equipment. It had turned out that all of the Jelliclesí props had been collected and brought on board after Supercargo Carson had decided that the props and costumes belonged to the actors. Zionís authorities hadnít objected to their removal and Carson had thought the Jellicles might need them later.

Those Jellicles whoís children had been returned to them were excused for the day to spend time with them but the rest of the troupe put in a hard dayís work beside many volunteers setting up their props. Now evening, most of the Jellicles lounged around the stage looking at their work. The performance had been set for the following evening with a rehearsal that morning so that the Jellicles could become familiar with this stage. Mistoffeleesí attention was split between the engineer who was trying to hook up the rope for his entrance and the security officer who had volunteered to be in charge of the flashpots.

Munkustrap noticed the tall gray kitten with black stripes looking forlornly at the stage. The young cat had worked well that day and mostly kept a civil tongue in his head. Now he looked about to cry. Munkustrap sat down beside him. "Deuteronomy tells me that you know his song perfectly".

The young cat nodded.

"You may sing my part of Deuteronomyís song in the performance tomorrow if you like," said Munkustrap with the air of someone conferring a favor.

"But you should sing that," replied the young man, wide-eyed.

"I have other songs. You should have a chance to sing. You may enter with us when we surround Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer and you will leave when the others get their props for ĎThe Pekes and the Polliclesí. Quaxo can help us work out the steps in between so that it looks like you are supposed to be on stage".

Picture: "You Can Sing My Song"

The young cat stammered out a thanks as Munkustrap scanned the room for others who needed cheering. Munkustrap ruffled the fur between the kittenís ears and then strode over to where Gus and Grizzabella sat. "Remembering?" he asked Gus, whose eyes had the faraway look of someone sadly recalling sweeter times.

"Yes," sighed Gus, "I miss dancing. The doctor has calmed much of my shaking, and it is good to be able to walk instead of shuffle, but I do miss dancing".

Munkustrap patted his shoulder in sympathy but didnít know what to say. A slow sweetly flowing music suddenly filled the room.

Jessel approached and held out her hand to Gus, "May I have this dance"?

"I canít dance," replied Gus sadly.

"You canít dance professionally," she replied with a smile. "Neither can I, Iím not that good. That doesnít mean you canít dance for fun. This is a waltz. Come, let me show you".

Gus took her hand and she led him to where the floor was clear of lounging cats. "Itís simple: you step forward, to the side and together, backward, to the side and together," she said as she demonstrated beside him. "Just one, two, three, one, two, three".

He began to follow her movements. "This is more like walking".

"Well, yes, to start. Now, Iím supposed to do the opposite steps from you," she said turning towards him. "Good, now take my hand and put your other hand here," she said placing his right hand on her hip. "And then you just push me where you want me to go," and she demonstrated, putting pressure on his right hand with her left.

"This is fun but I think this is usually a dance for mates," said Gus smiling.

"Iím sure Grizzabella can learn it," replied Jessel easily. "Would you like to try a turn now"?

He nodded.

"You lift your hand and give me a push when you step to the side," she said doing it for him. "Ooops," she said as they missed each other, "I forgot to tell you to pull me back. Letís try that again". This time they executed the turn easily.

Tugger took a hold of Bombalurina and began to push her around the floor following Jessel and Gusí steps. "This is fun," Tugger called.

As a second waltz began more couples joined the dancing; Deuteronomy and his mate, Asparagus and Jennyanydots, Victoria and Macavity, Jellylorum and her mate, Alonzo and Electra, Skimbleshanks and his mate. Mungojerrie executed a flamboyant bow to Rumpelteazer before spinning her on to the floor. "Form a circle," called Jessel after Asparagus bumped into Macavity. Gusí knees suddenly buckled and Jessel supported him as they walked back to Grizzabella.

"Iím sorry," said Gus as the two women helped him to the floor, "these legs arenít used to so much exercise anymore. That was fun. Thank you".

Jessel smiled and turned to watch the dancers.

"Show us some more," said Mistoffelees from behind her as he took her hand.

"I donít remember much more waltzing," she protested as he pulled her towards the other dancers.

"Show us what you remember," he responded, smiling and pulling her into his arms.

Heíd obviously been paying attention because he immediately began to lead and turned her so easily she was back in his arms before she could consciously remember the steps. She showed him how to do a slow turn and another step, the name of which she couldnít remember. They whirled around the floor through two more waltzes and then the music stopped. Jessel had only keyed in four songs, had she known she would get to partner Mistoffelees she would have keyed in more.

Munkustrap called a halt to the dancing then. "We have much to do tomorrow. We will all need our sleep".

There was some grumbling to be heard but the cats started to file out of their makeshift theater. Mistoffelees called to Munkustrap, "I need to finish my effects. I wonít be long".

"I donít want you to stay here alone," called Munkustrap.

"Jessel can stay with him," said Tugger with a wicked grin. "She wonít let him get lost". Tugger turned Munkustrap towards the door.

"Donít stay long," called Munkustrap as he followed the other Jellicles out.

"You donít need to stay," called the technician working on the flashpots. "Itís going to take a while for me to figure out how to use these without setting off the fire alarms".

"The rope is ready though," called the engineer. "Come check it out and then you can get some sleep".

It took about fifteen minutes for Mistoffelees to decide the rope was safe enough. Jessel had waited patiently while he inspected it and a modification had been made. Mistoffelees thanked the two technicians and he and Jessel headed back to the Jellicles sleeping room together.

As they emerged from the elevator Mistoffelees stepped into her path, stopping her. "I enjoyed dancing with you this evening," he said shyly and then brushed his cheek against hers. His fur felt like brushed velvet against her skin and as he pulled away his blue eyes searched her face for a response.

"Thatís the second time youíve done that," she said quietly, leaning her back against the wall. "When Iíve noticed other Jellicles brushing cheeks that way itís usually mates."

"Usually," he admitted, "though it can also be for thank you or comfort".

"And that was for thank you?" she asked coyly, trying to ignore the pounding of her heart in her ears.

"No," he murmured, stepping closer and brushing his cheek against hers again. "That was a question".

"I think thatís the kind of question most humans would ask with a kiss".

"Show me".

She placed her arms around his neck and pressed her lips to his, enjoying the tickles his whiskers caused around her mouth and the silkiness of his fur under her fingers. He held her tightly, pressing back as she caressed his neck and shoulders. Mistoffelees began to purr sending a vibration resonating through their bodies. Jessel wondered just how long he could keep that little trick up.

Picture: Mistoffelees Dancing

********************

Jesselís wrist communicator whistled shrilly from the nightstand. "Munkustrap to Ensign Jessel".

She grabbed the communicator clumsily, wiping at bleary, sleep deprived eyes, and opened the channel, "Munkustrap, who showed you how to use the communications panel?" she asked trying to remember if she had.

"Mickelvy is here," he responded in a stern voice, "where are you"?

"Who are you suppose to be, my mother?" she demanded. "Iím in the guest quarters across from the mess hall".

"Is Mistoffelees with you"?

"Yes," she said, appreciatively watching Mistoffelees stretch himself awake on the bed next to her.

"Why did you not come back last night?" demanded Munkustrap.

"Weíll see you at breakfast, Munkustrap," she replied closing the channel. "Does he always worry this much?" she asked Mistoffelees.

"Always," replied Mistoffelees rolling his eyes. "He is Munkustrap. It is his duty. I understand duty. I also understand play," and started to lick her neck with his sandpapery tongue.

"Iíd encourage you but I think we had better get to breakfast before Munkustrap decides to come get us".

*****************

Mickelvy was waiting for them as they exited the guest quarters. "Munkustrap got awfully upset when he discovered me sleeping in your bunk this morning, Ari. I got some pretty strange looks when I showed up last night but I think Munkustrap just assumed it was the two of you rolling in".

Jessel grinned at him, "Sorry to put you through that. Thanks for taking my duty on such short notice".

"About time I got to return the favor. Good luck," he called as he waved good-bye and headed for the elevator.

Munkustrap pounced at them as they stepped into the mess hall. "Why did you disappear last night?" he demanded.

"Donít yell at my mate," replied Mistoffelees haughtily, steering her towards the buffet.

"You had to stay out all night for that"?

"We had some things to talk about first," said Mistoffelees.

"Oh stop yelling at them," said Tugger. "Itís about time they stopped sniffing at each other and got on with it".

"I do not want any Jellicles wandering off. We need to stay together for safety".

Deuteronomy put a hand on Munkustrapís shoulder and said soothingly, "If you do not stop shouting you will have no voice left. All of us are together now and everyone is fine. Why donít you go work out those steps you wanted to alter with Quaxo. You will feel much better if you get some exercise. I will stay here and make sure no one else wanders off". He pushed Munkustrap towards the door.

Munkustrap started to say something else but Quaxo took his arm and pulled him out into the corridor.

Deuteronomy turned to Mistoffelees and said sternly, "You gave us all a good scare when we realized you werenít with us this morning. If you are going to be gone so long you should tell someone".

"I didnít know I needed permission," replied Mistoffelees coolly.

"You donít. We need to know where you are so that we donít worry, especially those of us who are old enough to remember what a dead Mistoffelees looks like".

"Is that why Munkustrap got so upset?" asked Mistoffelees suddenly repentant.

Deuteronomy nodded, "I think so. He was very young when it happened. I know he had nightmares about it for a long time".

"What happened?" asked Jessel feeling like sheíd missed a lap in the conversation.

Deuteronomy sighed, "Our second Mistoffelees escaped to the outside one night. I was still Munkustrap then. I should have stopped him. They brought him back and murdered him in front of us. The next day they moved Quaxo up from the dance class to be our new Mistoffelees and expected us all to perform perfectly, just as if nothing had happened. It was a very bad time for all of us".

Jessel reached up and squeezed his shoulder, sympathy written across her face. "Iím sorry you had to live through something so awful".

"We survived," he responded sorrowfully, "but there was something I wanted to talk to you about this morning". He indicated that the two should bring their breakfast to his table. "You had talked about those of us without names choosing names for ourselves and parents choosing names for their children. Can we just do that?" he asked sitting down beside his unnamed mate, whose dappled light and dark brown coat gleamed from brushing.

"I donít see why not. If we get our orders changed you will certainly be asked for your names at some point," replied Jessel.

"But we donít know any names," protested Deuteronomyís mate, "other than the ones we earn".

"There are lots of other names," said Jessel. "I can download a book of names from the library computer for you if you like".

Deuteronomy and his mate looked at each other. Deuteronomy said, "If you mean for us to read we do not know how".

Shocked Jessel replied, "Iím sorry, I didnít realize. How did you learn your lines if you canít read"?

Deuteronomy shrugged, "We listened until we learned them".

"I see. Well, I can help anyone who needs to choose a name and I can find some volunteers to start teaching you to read. You will have to learn if you are going to live in our society".

"I donít know if I can learn to read," said Deuteronomyís mate, "but I would like to have a name again".

"Let me see if I have this straight," said Jessel. "You take on the name of the character you are playing and then you lose your name if you lose your part, is that right"? The three Jellicles with her nodded. "Are all of the Jellicles who have lost their names still in the troupe"?

"Not all," said Deuteronomy, "but most. Any Jellicle who has still been able to dance and sing has been allowed to stay with the troupe. The others were taken away. I donít know where".

"But you suspect".

Deuteronomy lowered his eyes, "I suspect they are dead".

Silence descended on the group like a shroud. Deuteronomyís mate was the first to shake it off. "That is depressing and I have enough to be depressed about already. Let us talk of happier things, like names," she said sharply.

"Iím sorry," replied Jessel, "I didnít mean to get off the subject. You said you would like to have a name again. What was your name before"?

"I was Demeter," she replied proudly.

"Thatís an easy one then. Demeter is named after an ancient goddess. Ceres is another name for her. Use Ceres if you like it".

Deuteronomyís mate thought it over. "I will have to ask Demeter first, I would not want her to think I was stealing her name".

"You find names so easily," said an orange stripped man seated at the table behind Jessel. "Will you find one for me"?

"And me," chimed in a small multicolored woman.

Her breakfast forgotten Jessel turned her attention to the hopeful faces now surrounding her.

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Chapter 9: Rehearsal