Illegally Born

Chapter 5: Morning

 

Jessel awoke to find herself staring into a pair of brilliant golden eyes set in a colorful stripped face. It took her a moment to remember that she had slept in the cargo bay last night at Munkustrapís insistence.

"You said you would stay," he had insisted.

"There isnít a bed for me," she had argued.

"Many prefer to sleep with their mates. I know I am. You may take the bed intended for me,".

So she had picked the bed on the bottom row nearest the door and crawled in. Actually, it was nice to sleep in a bed for a change. Her roommate often had company at night causing her to find other accommodations. Jesselís friends joked that she slept on their floors so often they should make her into a throw rug.

Jessel propped herself up and casually draped one arm over the covers. "Is there something I can help you with, Mungojerrie?" she asked politely.

"You said we could have anything we wanted"?

"Anything reasonable, yes" she replied calmly.

"Can you remove my stripes?" he demanded.

"Your stripes?" she asked confused.

"My stripes," he repeated. "I should have brown stripes and black stripes and a lot of white but no red or orange. I was painted to match Rumpelteazer. I look like a girl," he finished in a mortified voice.

Jessel ducked her head while she stifled a laugh. It really wasnít funny. "I donít know how to remove your stripes, Mungojerrie," she replied looking at him again. "Iíll have to think about it, but Iím sure there is someone on this ship who would know".

"Good," he said and sharply turned away from her.

A low chuckling caused her to look at the bed next to hers. Deuteronomyís eyes twinkled at her as he nodded her a good morning, his dappled brown mate curled up against his shoulder. Mistoffelees peeked at her over the edge of the bunk above Deuteronomy. She smiled at him. He spun and hopped down from his bunk on the far side, barely missing Gus who had just risen from the bunk he had shared with Grizzabella on the other side of Deuteronomy. Mistoffelees took hold of the older cat to steady him.

"Mungojerrie isnít the only one whoís been painted, either," came Munkustrapís voice from the foot of Jesselís bed.

"Iíll find someone to remove the dye," replied Jessel rising and heading for the personal cubes. She would have to call someone to bring her her uniform since she had slept all night in her leotard and couldnít be seen in rumpled clothes in the corridors. She would also have to get someone to find more clothes for the Jellicles who had all slept in theirs as well.

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

In the mess hall that had been set up next door food was being served buffet style and the Jellicles needed no further encouragement to eat. Jessel and Munkustrap were first through the line and found places at one of the long tables that had been set up. Jessel looked around for Demeter and saw her directing a group of females and kittens. Over the next several minutes Jesselís table collected Deuteronomy and the gray young man with black stripes, Tugger and Mungojerrie, the black and white cat who played Bustopher Jones, Asparagus and Skimbleshanks. Mistoffelees arrived balancing two trays and then helped Gus to the table. Jesselís heart skipped a beat as Mistoffelees took the seat beside her, which also happened to be the opposite end of the table from the young gray and black cat.

"Iíve been deserted," whined Rum Tum Tugger looking at the female Jellicles busily directing kittens.

"Things will settle down once weíve all had a chance to get used to the kittens," soothed Deuteronomy.

"It would be easier if they had names," said Jessel. Everyone at the table stopped eating and stared at her in dead silence as if she had just spoken heresy. "Well, it would," she continued, "I donít know how you manage with only half of your group having names".

"We use the names we have earned," replied Munkustrap. "Havenít you earned your name"?

"No. My title is Ensign, that I earned, but my name was given to me by my parents when I was born. Most parents go to a lot of trouble to pick a good name for their children but if the child doesnít like it she can always choose a new name when she is grown".

"I wish I could," complained Bustopher, who was actually quite slender without his costume. "I hate the name Bustopher Jones. He is a great fat cat who is far too proud of himself. He canít dance and he howls as much as he sings".

"So chose a new name," said Jessel.

"What name"?

"I donít know. Tell me something about yourself. What is the first thing that comes to your mind"?

Bustopher looked embarrassed. "I used to be Mistoffelees," he said quietly.

"Why not use Quaxo, then. None of the other Jellicles are using that name are they"?

"Who is Quaxo"?

"In some of the early productions of CATS Mistoffelees is referred to as Quaxo before the Mr. Mistoffelees number. That convention was probably dropped because Mistoffelees is never called by name before that number".

"Mistoffelees has earned his name," replied Bustopher sharply.

"But I donít use the name Quaxo," piped up Mistoffelees. "It is in the Naming of Cats and you used to be Mistoffelees. I think it would be a very good name for you".

"So now heíll give his name away," smarted off the young gray and black cat.

Mistoffelees hissed at him. "Thatís enough Mistoffelees," said Munkustrap "You are too young to realize this but you are one of the few male Jellicles who wasnít a complete jerk when he joined the troupe and I include myself in that. Leave the manners lessons to those of us who had to go through them." Turning in the other direction he said, "As for you young cat, Mistoffelees has always been very generous with the other Jellicles, he has faced danger and accepted punishment to spare others. What have you done to be so proud of"?

Both Mistoffelees and the gray and black cat looked embarrassed by the last part of Munkustrapís speech but Mistoffelees quickly recovered. "I think it is a fine name, Quaxo," he said pleased to be the first to call his predecessor by his new name.

"But I donít have the right! Gus should take it," he protested turning to Gus. "You were the first Mistoffelees".

For the first time Jessel took a really good look at Gus. His fur looked as though someone had splashed a bucket of bleach over a black and white coat and then poured on light brown dye. He shook with palsy and Jessel noticed that his juice glass had been filled only half full. But what she noticed most was the sadness that seemed imbedded in his eyes. "No, I am Gus now. Quaxo is a fine name and you should take it. Mistoffelees and I have decided for you. No more fuss over it now," he said shaking his finger at Quaxo, "I wonít take your sass now anymore than I would when you were a kitten with big ideas". The other cats at the table laughed and congratulated Quaxo on his new name.

Just then a clatter attracted the attention of everyone in the room. Jessel looked up to see a white tom with brown splotches staring wide-eyed at a fallen tray of food. Scrambled eggs littered the floor and juice ran in a puddle around them.

The dieticianís assistant, who had set up the buffet, grabbed a bucket and some white kitchen towels and approached the stricken cat, saying, "Iíll clean this up, you go get another tray."

The white and brown tom hurried back to the buffet, grabbed an empty tray, and, without touching anything else, found a place at one of the tables.

Jessel watched the wide-eyed cat sit staring at his empty tray while the rest of the Jellicles glanced around with shocked questioning eyes. "Excuse me, gentlemen," she said pushing back from the table. She could feel every eye in the room on her as she crossed the room and approached the white and brown tom. He startled as she lay her hand gently on his shoulder. Dropping down so that she could look directly into his blue-green eyes she asked, "Tumblebrutus, arenít you hungry?"

Swallowing quickly he replied, "I dropped my food."

She smiled at him kindly, "Then you should get some more."

The frightened tom glanced around at his tablemates. Getting no response from them he turned back to Jessel and asked meekly, "Who are you"?

"What?" she asked, confused.

"Who are you?" he repeated. "You arenít our instructor, but you give us food. You took the collars off and you donít punish us. Sometimes you tell us what to do and sometimes you mind Munkustrap. Who are you?"

"Oh," she replied, comprehending his confusion. "Iím your liaison officer. Iím in charge of making sure you have everything you need while youíre on this ship. If thereís something you want you ask me and I make the request for you. And if you get into trouble, so do I, because itís my job to make sure that you know everything you need to to stay out of trouble."

He swallowed hard and asked, "Youíll get into trouble because I dropped the tray?"

She smiled broadly, "No, I wonít get into trouble because you dropped the tray. You arenít in trouble for that. That was just an accident. It isnít a problem."

"It isnít?" he asked, shaking his head.

"No."

Cocking his head to one side, he asked, "What would be?"

"If you did something that hurt someone, that would be a problem."

"Oh."

"You go get something to eat now, ok?"

"Ok," he responded, still looking unsure, but he took his tray back to the buffet and began to fill it.

Jessel sighed and returned to her place at the table.

Munkustrap stared at her as she sat down again. "You would get in trouble if we did?" he demanded.

"Yes," she replied, putting down her fork again. "Iím supposed to keep you out of trouble."

Munkustrap pushed his face forward, staring into her eyes in an effort to read her honesty, "What would happen to you, if we got in trouble."

"Well, it would depend on how much trouble. If it was a little trouble, Iíd just get yelled at. If it was a lot of trouble," she paused and then grimaced, "hmm, there are certain duties on this ship that are fairly unpleasant. They normally get assigned to whoever has managed to irritate the senior officers." She shrugged and the smile returned to her face, "It wouldnít be the first time theyíd been assigned to me."

"Jessel," called a new voice. Jessel looked towards the door and saw Mickelvy coming towards her, her uniform slung over his shoulder.

"Here," he said pushing it into her hands, "youíd better not let the Lieutenant catch you out of uniform if youíre supposed to be on duty".

"Thanks," she replied moistening a napkin in her water glass and handing it to him, "you have something on your face".

Mickelvy looked mortified. "So get it off already," he snapped.

Jessel rose and wiped the lipstick off his cheek. "I take it my roommate was at home when you went to get my uniform"?

"It isnít funny, Ari. I donít know how many more ways I can tell that woman Ďnoí. Couldnít you have had her bring you your uniform"?

"What? And have her down here? I donít think so," she replied picking up her tray.

"Sheíll come down here sooner or later".

"Hmmm, youíre probably right. Do me a favor and warn them while I change, will you?" she asked walking away.

"Hey, when did I end up with your duty"?

"Taken yours often enough," she called over her shoulder and disappeared through the door.

Mickelvy glared after her a moment, then sat down in the place Jessel had just vacated.

"You are Mickelvy?" asked Munkustrap.

"Yes, Iím surprised you know my name".

"I heard it spoken yesterday. What are you supposed to warn us about?" Munkustrap asked seriously.

"The woman Jessel shares her room with, Ensign April DePaul. Iím not sure how to put this so that youíll understand".

"This DePaul wishes to be your mate"?

Mickelvyís face turned bright red. "Ensign DePaul tries to get any man she comes in contact with to be her mate. The problem with that is that after sheís done with a guy she talks about him; the kind of things that only his mate would know and are no one elseís business".

"I think I understand," said Munkustrap.

"Good, then if there are no other questions?" he asked as he rose from the table.

"Are you Jesselís mate?" asked Mistoffelees in an indifferent tone of voice.

"Me? No, Jessel doesnít have a mate. She and I are good friends but we wouldnít make good mates. Sheís a little too volatile for me. Why"?

"I thought she might be because you had her wash your face," he answered aloofly. Several of the other cats smiled and nudged at each other.

Munkustrap slapped the table and the others settled down. "Thank you, Ensign Mickelvy, for your warning". Munkustrap nodded in an obvious gesture of dismissal and Mickelvy exited the mess hall.

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

 

Jessel frowned up at Rum Tum Tugger. Several of the cats snickered at the sight of the small security officer toe to toe with their tallest dancer. The height difference made Jessel look even more Lilliputian than ever. The argument had started when Carson had arrived with a dolly full of clothes for the Jellicles.

"I donít see why we have to dress," complained the blond leopard spotted cat, "my fur keeps me warm".

"It is customary in our society to dress," replied Jessel reasonably.

"And fur is not enough"?

"No, it is not. Public nudity is not well accepted in our society". The Jellicles, it turned out, were not at all shy about their bodies and Jessel had seen more than she was accustomed to when they started to try on clothes despite their fur. Most of the Jellicles seemed excited about the prospect of picking out clothes that would fit their own tastes. Tugger insisted on being the exception.

"You said we could have what we wanted. What I want is not to be restricted by useless cloth".

"I said you could have anything reasonable. This group of rooms has been assigned to you Jellicles. If you want to run around naked in them that isnít a problem if the other Jellicles donít object, but if you go into other parts of the ship you should dress".

Tugger threw the practice shorts heíd been wearing in the pile of clothes. Then he strutted in a circle, daring anyone to object. When no one did he bowed to Jessel and left the room.

Jessel felt relieved that no one followed his example. Carson had thoughtfully brought with her several crew members who supplemented their income by tailoring uniforms (no one wanted to spend their leave time getting their uniforms fitted) and the cats were having great fun having the clothes they picked altered to accommodate their tails. All of the Jellicles seemed to favor shorts for bottoms, preferably made out of stretchy material. Many of the men ignored the shirts and those taking them tended to choose styles that would swing when they danced. Mungojerrie picked out a vest with many pockets. Most of the women chose silky or cotton blouses and had the sleeves removed if they werenít already sleeveless. Bombalurina found a tight skirt that she tried on but put it back when she realized it would hamper her dancing.

"Keep it," said Carson, "thereís more to life than dancing. You might find someplace to wear it later and there is enough here for everyone to keep more than one outfit".

The Jellicles whirled around the bay freely, showing off their new finery. Jessel sat back and watched the riot of color, thinking how wonderfully the Jellicles were adapting to their new circumstances.

Just then a man wearing the bright orange jumper of a cargo officer walked into the room, pulling a dolly loaded with several boxes. Carson immediately jogged over to him and Jessel followed. "I think we got it all Lieutenant," he said as Carson reached him. "A lot of what we found looks like junk to me but we put everything in the boxes. I think you should know that there's a whole box full of stuff that looked like it had been deliberately hidden."

Carson raised an eyebrow at that as she took the dolly but only said, "Thank you, Baker, you're dismissed."

Baker straightened to attention and then left.

Carson pulled the dolly farther into the room and called to Munkustrap, who came to stand with the two Starbright officers. Smiling Carson told him, "I had some of my crew bring everything from the rooms you and the dance class kittens were sleeping in. I thought you'd want your personal possessions."

"Thank you," replied Munkustrap, going to the boxes after she indicated that he should.

Several boxes contained leotards and shorts, which disappeared quickly into the crowd. Two contained small oval shaped brushes, which the Jellicles seemed very pleased to see. The only way that Jessel could see to tell the brushes apart was by the color of the fur imbedded in them but the Jellicles didn't seem to have any trouble telling them apart. Several of the brushes were handed over with great solemnity to cats whose fur did not appear to match the coloring evident in the brush. The last box Munkustrap stared into for a moment and then closed it without removing any of the contents.

"Is something wrong, Munkustrap?" asked Carson.

"These things are not ours," replied Munkustrap, turning away. But the guilty glances the Jellicles exchanged told Jessel that they knew exactly what was in the box. Looking to Carson first for permission Jessel picked up the box and set it aside.

The mood in the room had clearly dulled and the rising tension drove Carson and those with her to finish their work quickly and depart. As soon as the other crew members had departed and she was alone with the Jellicles, Jessel retrieved the last box and brought it to Munkustrap once again. "You have the right to your things," she told him gently.

"They are not ours," insisted the silver tabby.

Jessel nodded, "Then you won't mind if I take a look at what's in here, right?" The small security officer sat down on the floor and set the box in front of her. Munkustrap towered over her, glaring, and Jessel could feel the stares of the other Jellicles.

One by one, she carefully removed the objects from the box and set them in a row on the floor, looking at each one as she did to try and guess it's significance. She couldn't blame Baker for thinking it was mostly junk but she had the distinct feeling that what she was handling were precious treasures to their owners. There were several playing cards, all of which were aces, a gauzy pink scarf, several tiny springs, a small rubber ball not more than two inches in diameter, a bunch of black glass beads that most likely had come from Mistoffelees' costume, a broken silver necklace with a pearl in a cage, nearly a dozen pieces of paper with bits of soft fur folded carefully inside, and several coins. Jessel heard a gasp break the silence as she lifted out a bent paper clip but she didn't look around to see who had made the noise. Next came a peach pit, a mechanical pencil, two pencil stubs, a green ribbon, six tiny carved bars of soap that had obviously been used down to their present size, a magnet, several shiny buttons of various colors; there were literally dozens of tiny objects in the box.

Next, Jessel lifted out several pieces of paper. On one side of each sheet were memos or other pieces of business from Dr. Ferran's operation. Filling the white space around the edges and covering the back were tiny pictures of Jellicle faces. They were quite well drawn and Jessel recognized several. Looking closely at all of the pictures she quickly realized that one face had been drawn many more times than any of the others. Smiling she looked up at the tension filled faces of the Jellicles and she nodded to the queen who's likeness had been drawn so many times.

The tall red queen took a step backwards and tried to draw a smaller gray tom with brown and white stripes after her. The tom broke away from her and stepped forward fearfully. "I did it," he said, "I took the paper. And all the other stuff too. It's my fault. No one else's'."

Jessel looked at him thoughtfully. "Pouncival, do you think you're in trouble?"

"Yes. I took all of that stuff. I know I'm in trouble."

"Well, even if you had, and I do not believe you, you still wouldn't be in trouble."

The small tom's head popped up and he looked at her in shock. He swallowed hard, "Then I'm in trouble for lying."

Jessel let out a sharp bark of laughter and shook her head at him. "Not this time." Then swinging her head around to look at Munkustrap, she asked, "But how about some truth? These are things that all of you have collected over the years. Most of it looks like it came from garbage cans and recycling bins. But these things have had special meanings for you. Special enough for you to risk being punished if anyone found out that you'd kept them. Am I right?" Munkustrap stared at her stonily and she continued. "You may as well tell me the truth. For a bunch of actors you don't lie very well."

Munkustrap just stared at her refusing to speak. After a long moment Jessel sighed and stood up, holding out the papers to Pouncival. "These are very well drawn. I'll be sure to get you some more paper."

Pouncival looked bewildered but he took the papers. Swallowing hard he asked, "Can I have the pencils too?"

Jessel smiled, "Of course you can." She handed the pencils to Pouncival and then asked, "Did anyone else want to reclaim their things or should I just put the box away and you can get them later?"

Mungojerrie stepped forward and picked up the playing cards and the paper clip. As he backed away a stripped queen, who looked like Rumpelteazer but wasn't, picked up the broken necklace and one of the pieces of paper with fur folded inside. Mistoffelees came forward and started picking the black beads out of the mess. Jessel quickly walked over to her locker and brought back her pocket sewing kit. She knelt and offered it to the black and white tom, "So you can string them together, so they won't get lost so easily." Eyes huge, he accepted it with a nod and finished picking out the beads. The sewing kit under one arm and his hands full of beads Mistoffelees faded back into a group of several Jellicles, including Quaxo, Gus and Tantomile, the four of whom began to divide up the beads.

One by one cats stepped silently forward and reclaimed their belongings. Some of them made eye contact with Jessel before or after they picked up their things, some grabbed what was theirs and hurried away as quickly as they could. Finally the only thing left in the box or on the ground were the six tiny soap carvings. Munkustrap gingerly picked them up and hugged them to his chest.

Jessel was surprised to see him take all six. From what she had seen of them, they had to have been done by two different people, and two of the carvings were quite good.

He started to turn away from her and one of the carvings slipped from his grasp. The hindered grab he made for it only knocked it out of his reach and the carving fell into Jessel's outstretched palms. She turned it over in her hands, checking to see if the delicate object had been damaged. "It's very good. It's of Mistoffelees, isn't it?"

"He was," replied Munkustrap. His eyes were very wide and his ears had an oddly submissive tilt to them as he hesitantly held out his hand.

The finality with which he spoke startled Jessel. "Quaxo said he and Gus had both been Mistoffelees at one time. But this isn't either of them, is it?"

Munkustrap's tail twitched. "No," replied the silver tabby solemnly. "These are those who are gone. But I was more worried about those who are here."

"Of course," replied Jessel, sobering to a more serious expression, but a slight smile remained on her lips as she placed the carving back in his hand. "You don't have to worry so much anymore though. Everything is going to be fine. Why don't you take the box to keep those in, at least until I can find you something better?"

The silver tabby knelt down and placed his treasures carefully into the box. Then he looked into Jessel's eyes, searching for something. "You are a very strange human," observed Munkustrap shaking his head, "but you are not one of us. You do not have to worry. I do."

"I may not be a Jellicle, Munkustrap, but I'll be with you for the rest of this voyage. Nothing bad is going to happen to you while you are on this ship. I'll do anything in my power to see to that."

The silver tabby showed his teeth. "I don't see that you have that much power."

"Munkustrap, I'm a security officer. I was the one who pressed the charges against Dr. Ferran. I was the one who put him in the brig." Munkustrap's eyes widened and Jessel was certain he'd gone pale under his fur. "There are only three people on this ship I answer to, the Captain, Commander Loncosky and Lt. Sentry." She cocked her head to the side and lightened her tone, "Although, there are others I can't exactly ignore."

Munkustrap just nodded and, picking up the box, he walked away from her.

Jessel sighed and closed her eyes for a moment, wondering how she was going to win the Jellicles' trust. She wouldn't be much help to them if they wouldn't trust her. Opening her eyes again she found herself looking into aqua-blue slit pupiled eyes.

Mistoffelees hesitantly held out her sewing kit. "I took enough for each of us to string our beads."

"Good," smiled Jessel, taking a hold of the kit, but the black and white tom didn't release it immediately. Instead he raised it up and rubbed his cheek against her hand. The small security officer felt her heart skip a beat at his touch but hastily schooled herself back to a friendly grin. Releasing the kit Mistoffelees smiled at her shyly and then turned and ran back to the group he'd been sitting with before.

Jessel looked around to assess the mood of the rest of the Jellicles and found them engaged in either hiding their treasures or brushing each other's fur. Sighing she returned her sewing kit to her locker and grabbed her PDA to start filling out requisition forms.

 

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

In her office Capt. Darren stared at the orders she had just received. They had been underway for less than twelve hours and she knew now that sheíd been right to rush their departure. Fury flashed in her eyes as she crumpled the message. She sat down to craft a response, determined to change her orders.

One thing she knew for sure, she wasnít going to murder her passengers just because some official didnít like the way they came into the world.

Chapter 6: Explanations

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