Chapter 10: Macavity
Jessel stepped through the door to Capt. Darrenís office. "Ensign Jessel reporting as ordered, Captain."
"Have a seat, Ensign," replied Darren, gesturing to the chair in front of her desk. She looked tired. "As you probably already know, the Unicorn will intercept us early tomorrow morning."
"Yes, Captain," replied Jessel, dutifully.
"The Unicorn is the only ship closer to us than the Firestorm. Any Ďon the spotí help weíre going to get will have to come from them. I normally donít delve into the personal lives of my crew but in this case I need to ask you some questions." Darren looked at her hands, folded on the desk in front of her, then back at Jessel. "What I need to know is just how well you and your mother get along?"
A hint of a sarcastic smile twitched at Jesselís lips. "Capt. Schubert and I get along like oil and water, Captain."
"Itís not funny, Ensign," replied Darren sharply. "The Jellicles need all the help we can get for them. Now, Capt. Schubert has agreed to come aboard. She wants to see you before you get yourself killed defending the Jellicles. I want whatever assistance she can give us. Now, whatever your personal differences, do you think you can bury them long enough to secure her as an ally?"
Jessel shook her head. "She doesnít work that way, Captain. Sheís already made up her mind about helping the Jellicles."
The captain rose from her chair sharply, turning away from her junior slightly and throwing her fist down in frustration. "Thank you, Ensign," she growled after a moment, "at least I know not to waste any more time in that direction".
A short giggle hiccuped between Jesselís lips and the captain spun to face her, pent-up frustration etched on her face. "Of everyone on this ship I would think you would be the most upset by Capt. Schubertís antagonism."
Jessel shrugged, "Why waste time being angry at a storm? My mother was born antagonistic. The first thing she did in this world was grab the doctorís stethoscope and scream into it. And I didnít say she wouldnít help the Jellicles, just that sheíd made up her mind about helping them." Captain Darren looked at her questioningly and Jessel leaned towards her conspiratorially. "Anytime she has to go against orders, or do anything that endangers her crew, she plays devilís advocate. Her crew is used to it, so am I, and Iím betting thatís what sheís doing now."
Captain Darren stared at her for a moment and then said very slowly, "I understand you have quite a reputation as a poker player, Ensign. I certainly hope you win this hand."
Macavity lay beside his white mate, stroking her gently, his fingers digging into her soft fur. He had to admit there were some advantages to the privacy his opinions had ironically earned him. He had retreated to the guest quarters at the end of the Jelliclesí hall after Munkustrap had banished him from his place in the production. Mostly he had wanted to thumb his nose at Munkustrapís order to stay in the sleeping room, but he had also hoped the other Jellicles might come looking for him, might talk to him and end up agreeing with him. No one had. Only Victoria had interrupted his solitude, and she seemed determined to talk him into accepting Munkustrapís leadership.
"Wonít you speak to Munkustrap, my love?" asked Victoria, running her fingers through his red-gold ruff and stroking his ears in the way she knew calmed him.
"Munkustrap is a puppet," spat Macavity vehemently, his golden eyes narrowed in anger. "He has no mind of his own. He just takes orders from those humans."
"Thatís not fair," declared Victoria, defending the silver tabby. "Munkustrap has always tried to protect us."
"By keeping us in line. By doing what the humans tell us to do. Donít you see that if we are ever going to have freedom we have to break away from them? We have to go somewhere where there are no humans"!
"And how would you get there?" she demanded, pale green eyes flashing.
Macavity looked away from his mate in frustration. How could she not see? How had Munkustrap managed to captivate everyone, even Macavityís own mate, into thinking that he held the answers? That he knew best how to protect them from cruel and vicious humans when he obeyed them as blindly as a newborn kitten? Thoughts whirled and coalesced and suddenly became clear in Macavityís mind. He knew why heíd stolen the knife from the tray of food Victoria had brought earlier. He knew what he had to do. He looked back at his mate, to find her staring at him piteously. Heíd need her help but he couldnít trust her to understand. He hated the lie that slid out of his mouth, "Iíll speak to Munkustrap, but only if there are no humans around. I donít want to sit and watch them pull his strings."
"Iíll bring him here," said Victoria, excitedly.
"No!" Victoria was startled but Macavity continued in a calmer tone, answers coming into his mind like destiny speaking to him. "No, Iíll need to talk to Deuteronomy too. And maybe some of the others. I think it would be best if I spoke to them when all are gathered. Maybe when everyone is settling for the night."
"Jessel is always with us then," replied Victoria, looking at the red and gold tom questioningly. The tip of her tail twitched in indecision..
"She wasnít the night that she snuck off with Mistoffelees," he answered, roughly. "Have they been in the sleeping room since?"
Victoria nodded, "Theyíve been curling up in her bunk at night."
Macavity frowned thoughtfully. "I think there will come a night when they will go off by themselves. Iíll speak to Munkustrap then," he assured her.
Ignoring the forbidding tone in his voice, his white mate smiled in delight and quickly bent to rub her cheek lovingly against his.
After dinner that night, Jessel sat on the floor of the Jellicles' sleeping room reading the kittens selections from Mother Goose. The kittens were arranged in a semi-circle around her, their little ears pricked forward and faces attentive as they listened. Most of the adults listened as well, though only Mistoffelees had joined the kittens on the floor near his mate. A momentary insight made Jessel wonder if his distance was dictated by an imaginary spotlight. She had just read ĎPeter Piperí very slowly and explained to her audience that many people made it a game by trying to say the tongue twister as fast as they could.
"I donít understand," Deuteronomy said slowly, confusion plain on his gray face, "is this for performance?"
"No," said Jessel, trying to get them into the spirit of a game, "itís a challenge for fun, just to see if you can do it and how fast. Here, Iíll go first." She burst out laughing when she caught her tongue on the word Ďpickledí. Some of the kittens snickered but the adults looked at each other in bewilderment. Jessel looked around at the stumped faces. "Itís fun, really. Who wants to go next?"
Demeter stepped forward, her serious expression a stark contrast to Jesselís smiling face, "You brought my kittens back. If you say this is fun, I trust you."
"Itís not that serious, Demeter," grimaced Jessel. "Here try the first line. Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers," she said, slowly.
"Peter Piper pecked a pick --," started Demeter, stopping as laughter began. The kittens laughed freely, tail tips thumping the floor as they giggled, but those few adults laughing did their best to hide it. Ceres couldnít hide her shaking and Demeter challenged her, "I guess you can do it better, then."
Sitting up on her bunk, Ceres composed herself and said, "Pitter Pipper pecked a pick --" Laughter drowned the rest of the sentence. Ceres pointed at Tugger, who laughed at her openly now, and challenged him to do better. The game was on as each contestant challenged the next, only stopping when someone asked for the words to be read again. Finally the turn went to Munkustrap, who handled the tongue twister handily and bowed, smiling, when everyone clapped for him.
Mickelvy entered the Jellicles' sleeping room with a big grin plastered across his face "Ari," he called waving his PDA. "Look at this. Or did you already hear?" he asked, noticing the Jelliclesí smiles.
"Good news?" asked Munkustrap, hopefully. Jessel closed her book and turned to face the other human, as Mistoffelees slipped closer to her, his tail curling around her in a seemingly accidental manner.
"Some at least. The show you put on for the crew did help. Communications was busy all night, last night, sending out messages from the crew to their friends and families, asking for support. Responses have just started coming back. Several of those responses are from people who are organizing demonstrations to try to get our orders changed."
"This is good?" asked Demeter, hope and fear warring across her face.
"Very good," replied Jessel, grinning. "We have a representative government. That means that our leaders are elected by the people. If they donít do what most people want, they donít continue to lead. If enough people tell our leaders that they want our orders changed then they will be . Demonstrations will attract more people to support you and thatís what you need." Mistoffelees smiled hesitantly at his mate, uncertain of her meaning but trusting her opinion. He rested a hand on her knee, which she patted absently, still paying attention to the report.
"How many people will it take to change the orders?" asked Deuteronomy, leaning forward with a thoughtful frown.
"Many," answered Mickelvy, his smile fading slightly for a moment, "or a few of the right ones. Either way the more people we reach the better. Munkustrap, one of the responses asked for a recording of your performance. Iím certain I can find someone to do the recording. Would you be willing to do the performance again?"
"If that will help," Munkustrap agreed, bemused.
"How about some interviews?" suggested Jessel. "We could send them to the demonstration leaders, to help prove their point."
"Iíll see what I can set up for tomorrow," said Mickelvy, with a nod.
Macavity slipped silently down the corridor, a golden red shadow intent on passing the Jellicleísí sleeping room without attracting any attention. Companionable sounds came from within. His heart ached as he told himself that they would understand how to fight only if he showed them. He would have preferred waiting until all were asleep but Victoria had already come to tell him that Munkustrap was waiting for him. He had been angry with her when she had told him that she had asked Mistoffelees to occupy his mate elsewhere this evening. She was right, however; this argument had gone on long enough. The sooner he got this over with the better and Victoria had been very thoughtful to arrange things for him, even if she didnít know what she had arranged.
The lump in his throat threatened to gag him and the knife in his hand felt like tool made for an alien race. He stopped at the last door before the elevator and steeled himself for what was to come. Heíd have to move quickly if he was going to avoid injuring Mistoffelees; the other cats would never forgive him if he hurt a Jellicle. He pressed the panel to open the door.
He pressed it again.
The door buzzer sounded, startling Mistoffelees. He sat up sharply, ears pricked, and looked around in confusion. Jessel laughed. "That just means that someoneís at the door. We could try ignoring them and see if they go away." She ran her fingers from the black fur at the edge of his face up behind his ears. He smiled and turned to rub his cheek on her hand with a soft purr.
The two of them had been cuddling on the couch and neither were too interested in interruptions. The door buzzer sounded again. "Or not." She grimaced and raised her voice, "Yes, whoís there?" No one answered but after a few seconds the buzzer sounded a third time. Jessel sighed and untangled herself from Mistoffeleesí arms. She straightened her blouse as she crossed to the door and opened it.
"Macavity?" she asked, surprised to see the ginger tom. Several seconds passed before he reacted, giving her time to notice his desperate appearance and the knife in his hand. As he plunged the knife at her midsection she whirled to one side. Her brain automatically started ticking off her advantages and disadvantages in this battle. He was taller, he was stronger... and he was desperate. Always a bad combination.
"Macavity! , What --?!" she yelled as he came through the door and slashed at her again, driving her backwards. He moved swiftly and kept his balance well. "Mistoffelees, the button by the door, the one I told you not to push," shouted Jessel, evading Macavityís wild swings. His reach was greater than hers, though she was used to that, and he moved as quickly as the cat he looked like, the knife darting in at her like a striking snake. When his arm arced up at the end of one particularly wild swing, Jessel planted a side kick in his midriff, violently knocking the breath from his body. As the crazed tom doubled over, he brought the knife between them again, threateningly.
Jessel resumed a fighting stance and waited for him to make another mistake. Macavity caught his breath, brought the knife up, and plunged it towards her heart. She dived at his now unprotected body, landing her shoulder in his chest and grabbing his knife arm with both hands. Her balance slightly off, she failed an attempt to throw him and the red cat wrapped his free arm around her throat. She slammed his shoulder into the wall. The pain caused him to drop the knife. Again she attempted to throw him, succeeding this time. His claws raked her throat as he tumbled over her shoulder, leaving a burning sting behind. She hardly noticed the pain as the red tomís momentum pulled his arm from her grip as he landed.
She swore, realizing that she should have used less force to throw his light Jellicle frame. Macavity rolled quickly to his feet, spotting the knife against the wall. The ginger cat moved toward it but Mistoffelees appeared between him and it, hissing, his tail fluffed in rage and fright. Macavity ran through the open door, fleeing into the hall, and Jessel followed. He side-stepped as he exited, extending his foot to trip her. Unable to stop her forward momentum, she somersaulted over his foot, landing hard. The world spun for a moment as she flipped, giving her brief glimpses of the hall, the red and gold tom attacking her and the concerned black and white cat watching tensely from the room she had just exited.
The doors to the elevator and the Jelliclesí sleeping room opened at the same moment. Macavity swiped at Jesselís pinwheeling form and a ball of white light erupted from the elevator, engulfing him. Soundlessly, he fell to the floor.
"NO!" Munkustrap cried out from his doorway, and ran to the limp body, his heart in his throat. Had he just lost one of his tribe?! They were so few already.... Kneeling beside the red tom he frantically checked for signs of life. Behind him Victoria screamed. The sound of a struggle told him that the white queen was being held back.
"I didnít kill him, Munkustrap." Lt. Sentry frowned as she exited the elevator. Two more security officers exited behind her, weapons at the ready as they warily surveyed the hall. Holding up her weapon, Sentry said, "This is only a stunner. Heíll be sore when he wakes up, but he will wake up." Turning to Jessel, she asked, "What happened?"
"He attacked me with a knife," the red-head replied breathlessly, getting to her feet. Mistoffelees slipped into the hall and put his arms around her, holding her tightly. He touched her throat and showed her the blood on his fingers, the red startlingly bright against his white fur. She grimaced as he brought her attention to the injury, the sting worsening as she focused on it.
"Belja," Sentry turned to one of the security officers, "take Ensign Jessel up to the infirmary."
"I will take her," said Mistoffelees firmly, taking his mate by the arm. She could feel the tremble in his fingers as the adrenaline rush faded. The two stepped into the open elevator. As the doors closed they heard Lt. Sentry say, "I think we need to have a talk, Munkustrap."
In the privacy of the elevator, Mistoffelees touched Jesselís throat again, and the blood-stained collar of her blouse, his fingers gentle. "I should have done more to protect you," he said guiltily, blue eyes fixed on her throat. His distress was clear in his voice.
"Shall we go over this again?" She smiled, touching his chin to bring his eyes up to hers. "You are a dancer, I am a security officer. You dance, I fight. You did exactly what you should have done. Gotten help and stayed out of it." She pulled his face close to hers, and said, in a very serious voice, "If Macavity had hurt you, then I would have had two problems to deal with instead of one." The black and white tom sighed, wrapping his arms around her waist, then closed his eyes and slowly rubbed his cheek against hers in a silent affirmation.
As the doors opened again, Jessel murmured softly to him, "You donít have to go into the infirmary with me. I know how you feel about doctors."
Mistoffelees tightened his grip about her waist and replied proudly, "I go where you go."
Chapter 11: The Unicorn