Chapter 1: Moving Up
"You," commanded the blond haired woman, pointing a finger at a gray tom with brown and white stripes, "get your extra clothes and come with me, and don't forget anything; you won't be returning."
Terror lanced through the young tom even as he ran to collect his things from the adjoining room where the dance class kittens slept. Not all kittens from the class got a place in the troupe, they all knew, some were transferred instead. No one knew exactly what 'transferred' meant but everyone agreed they didn't want to find out. Being fairly short for a tom and the wrong coloring for any of the parts, the stripped kitten had long believed that it was only a matter of time before he himself was transferred and he feared that that time had just arrived.
There wasn't much in his cubby to collect; just three extra pairs of dance shorts and the pencil that he'd hidden at the back of it. He didn't dare keep the dance instructor waiting long enough to collect the drawings he'd hidden under his mattress. He doubted he could have kept them hidden from her anyway and he'd be punished if she caught him with the pencil, but he couldn't leave it behind.
Returning to the practice room he took one last glance at his classmates, anguish that he might never see them again welling up in his heart. His best friend, a black and white tom who always played Mistoffelees in practice, gave him an encouraging smile. The others looked at him sorrowfully, half the class knew exactly which parts they were being trained for and not knowing meant a much greater possibility of transfer. The stripped tom could sing all of the tenor parts well and would strain to hear the troupe practicing so that he could sing the parts exactly as they did, but he was sure it wouldn't be enough.
"Hurry up!" shouted the dance instructor from between clenched teeth. She slammed the door behind them as they left the classroom and the young tom had to hurry to keep up with her as she strode down the hall. Stopping before a pair of double doors, the dance instructor swiped her key in the lock and pushed the young tom through the doors ahead of her.
Shock ran through the stripped tom as he came to a stop just inside the doors. He was in the troupe room!
"Put your things down and sit down," snapped the dance instructor, jabbing a finger first at a spot on the floor and then at a chair just a few steps away.
A woman in a white lab coat stepped up close to the stripped tom, pulling a syringe from a plastic tray she carried. "We usually restrain them for injections," she said nervously.
"He won't move," replied the dance instructor, brandishing the collar controller in front of the young tom's eyes. "None of the others did when Dr. Ferran gave them their injections, this one won't either."
Her words had an oddly calming effect on the young tom as he realized that everyone in the troupe must have gotten the same injection. Did that make him part of the troupe? Not wanting to look at the needle, he let his eyes wonder around the room as much as he could without turning his head. As angry as the dance instructor seemed to be, he didn't dare risk her wrath by moving even that much. The room itself looked much like the kitten's classroom, bare wooden floor with only a few pieces of furniture pushed up near the walls, and a mirror running the length of one side. The adult cats were strewn around the room, most sitting, some laying on the bare floor. Many slumped or leaned against another cat, half-lidded eyes looking as though they were fighting off sleep, though their ears stiffened and twitched in a way that told the young tom that they were alert and listening. An orange and white cat had a coughing fit, echoed by single coughs from around the room.
The young tom stiffened as he felt the sting of the injection, but it was quickly over and the woman in the lab coat left.
"It's your show," said Teacher to the voice instructor, a brown-haired woman who was a great deal easier to please than her boss. "But I'm not keeping him if it doesn't work."
"It will work," replied the singing instructor.
"It would be so much easier if we could just use a recording," grumped Teacher. Before the voice instructor could draw a breath to respond, she held up her hands and said, "I know, I know, not allowed in a live performance and I am not about to risk an investigation for that. Make it work."
The singing instructor nodded and snapped out, "Tugger, Munkustrap, take your places to sing 'Old Deuteronomy'." The young tom had no time to wonder why Munkustrap looked surprised at the order, because the singing instructor turned to him next. "You, stand over here in front of me." When all three had taken their places she continued, "Munkustrap, I want you to sing the song without making any sound, just let your lips move like you are singing. Do you understand?" Munkustrap drew a breath to respond but the singing instructor snapped, "Don't say anything, just nod or shake your head. Now, do you understand?" Munkustrap nodded and the singing instructor turned to face the young tom. "You are going to sing Munkustrap's part, not act it, just sing it. Do you understand?" Having no clue why the singing instructor had forbidden Munkustrap to speak a moment earlier, the young tom nodded to indicate that he did. "All right then, let's try it."
The music began and the young tom came in on Munkustrap's cue. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Munkustrap acting out the song but he concentrated on the singing instructor's directions and trying to remember exactly how Munkustrap had sounded through the walls of the kitten's classroom. Tugger's voice joined in and the young tom had a moment to appreciate the older tom's fine singing before blending his voice back into the music.
The song ended and silence invaded the room. The young tom had time to wonder if he'd done something wrong.
"Well?" asked the voice instructor impatiently.
"So he's a mimic then?"
"I told you the kittens can hear the troupe in their rooms."
Teacher started nodding, "The voice is a good match, and it will mean at least one of the major voice parts that we won't have to worry about cracking in the middle of the performance this weekend, at least, if the class really wasn't exposed." She looked around the room, frowning. "There really isn't any point in rehearsing this afternoon. You work with him and I'll take the troupe back to the bunk room so they can get some extra sleep. We'll have a light rehearsal in the morning, at the theater, to see who can stay on their feet and keep their voices from cracking. Line up!"
The troupe lined up at the door. The young tom felt slightly abandoned being left alone with the voice instructor, though several of the troupe gave him slight smiles or clapped in his direction without sound. Rum Tum Tugger scooped up his things from beside the door, one hand over and one had under the pile of clothes. His hand moved over the top and he frowned slightly at the young tom. The newest member of the troupe wondered if his pencil would still be with his things when he got them back.
The next few hours were filled with the most intense rehearsal the young tom had ever been through. Even though he didn't have to dance, supporting his singing through hours of rehearsal exhausted him. In between songs the voice instructor would have him listen to recordings of Munkustrap singing, which the young tom did his best to emulate.
Finally, the practice was over and the voice instructor took the young tom to another room filled with good smells and long tables. The troupe was there, eating their dinners. The voice instructor grabbed a tray and showed him how to collect his dinner and then shoved him towards the troupe. The young tom hesitated, uncertain if he would offend anyone if he took the wrong seat. A gray tom patted the table beside himself and the young tom gratefully took that place.
As soon as he sat down the gray tom extended his hand, "Hello," he said softly, "I'm Deuteronomy."
The young tom took the offered hand, still a little awed to be in with the troupe. "We can talk in here then?"
Deuteronomy's smile lighted his green eyes, "Softly, but you eat now, you're late and they won't wait for you to finish."
The young tom turned to eating with a will and had just finished when one of the keepers made the cats line up at the door. Deuteronomy stayed near the newest member of the troupe as they passed through the halls and put a hand on the young cat's shoulder to keep him close after the keeper had locked the door behind them. The gray cat took a small object from one of the silver bowls set on a table by the door, unwrapped it and popped it into his mouth. The young tom watched several other Jellicles do the same thing as they headed for their bunks and wondered if he should take one too. Deuteronomy seemed to read the question in his eyes. "You can have one if you want. They're sweet and they make the throat pain less. Teacher even gave us several different flavors. I like the yellow ones myself."
The young tom reached out a hand to take one and then thought better of it. "My throat doesn't hurt," he said stoutly, but his eyes begged the question of why everyone else was taking the sweet things.
"Good," said Deuteronomy, "I hope you don't get sick." Deuteronomy sighed, surveying the already full bunks. "I'll point everyone out to you so you'll know our names and then find you a bunk. Usually, we're a lot more friendly to new kittens but everyone is sick and just wants to sleep as much as they can before tomorrow's performance. We are glad to have you here."
In a very small voice the young tom asked, "Even Munkustrap?"
Deuteronomy smiled, "Yes, even Munkustrap. Our voices have been breaking for a couple of days, but when Munkustrap got up this morning he couldn't even talk. That's when Teacher decided we weren't just trying to make her mad."
Soft sobs reached the young tom's ears and he looked over at their source. A mottled brown queen sat trying to comfort a small multi-colored queen.
"She is Skimbleshank's mate," Deuteronomy told him softly. "He was choking so hard this afternoon that they took him to the labs. We are very worried about him." Deuteronomy escorted the young tom around the room, introducing him to each cat. Every member of the troupe had a smile for the new kitten but it was clear that they were all tired and needed their rest. The young tom obediently climbed into the bunk Deuteronomy chose for him and wished the older tom a good sleep, but it was early yet and he lay awake wondering about the day and the other cats.
He worried that he might not be assigned a part and Teacher wouldn't keep him once the rest of the troupe was well, but he shelved those thoughts quickly as too depressing. Besides, there were several Jellicles in the troupe who didn't have parts. Deuteronomy had introduced those cats by whose mate they were. Only one of those had been a tom and the young tom decided that must have been why he'd been needed. All of the Jellicles called the young tom Kitten, and he guessed he'd have to settle for that for a name for now. As he yawned and looked out across the bunks his eyes settled on the red queen who slept alone in her bunk. Deuteronomy had introduced her by saying, "She was Bombalurina." The young tom's last thought before he fell asleep was how sad it must be to be introduced as what you used to be.