Plague

By MistyBom

Note: This story begins about two years prior to Illegally Born.

The practice room was filled with kittens. Most were whispering amongst themselves, or tumbling around with each other. One, however, sat in a corner stretching. He was black and white, that formed a tuxedo pattern around him. His unrealistically large aqua blue eyes focussed only on his stretching, ignoring the pandemonium that raged through the room. He then rolled into a headstand. He stood there for an undetermined amount of minutes, before he touched his feet to the other side, turning, he stood.

And he found himself facing a gray tom with black stripes. He was his same height, but much stronger. He was younger, since he had arrived a while after the black and white tom had, but for the time he’d known him, he didn’t like him. He stared back into the hardened yellow-green eyes, and saw something he didn’t like. He ducked away, but the larger boy followed. He resorted to tumbling and rolling on the ground to avoid conflict. He got a few steps ahead before he stood and started dodging between his classmates, but still he remained only a few steps behind.

He heard the door zip open, and he straightened. The dance instructor entered. Her blond hair was pulled back severely in a bun, which made her look much old than she really was. She clapped her hands once, and just as quickly, everyone was at their place on the bar. She placed the music clip into the reader. She clapped her hands again, and everyone began their toe points. The music droned on forever, and the blue-eyed kitten just wanted it to end. The music was scratchy and consisted of a lone violin holding out notes for an eternity. Finally the music faded away, and the blue-eyed one sighed with relief. The dance instructor changed it to a more livelier tune, with a brass band. The kittens scattered to the middle, and began push-ups, sit-ups, and jumps. The blue-eyed one enjoyed this part. But like all things, it too did come to an end. The music was changed once again. It was magical and mystical, and filled his heart with excitement every time it was played.

The music swirled around him, and he could no longer see the mirrors or feel the collar around his neck. He was somewhere, a long ways away, although he could not recognize it, it felt like home. He let out a soft, barely audible purr, before refocusing on his dancing. He tumbled about and made silly faces, to liven up the repeated routine. Of course it also got him treats, which he didn’t mind at all. He saw the dance instructor’s lips crack slightly open, which was, for her, the closest thing that resembled a smile, when he tumbled over his heels on the part when they were supposed to sit by Deuteronomy. Sadly, the hours of enjoyment were cut to an end, and the instructor left them with one of the assistants, who sat like a statue at the door. He shook his head and decided that a light snooze would be the best thing to do right now.

Just as he had shut his eyes, he felt a presence in front of him. Slowly he opened his eyes, to be greeted by gray legs. He shuddered as he looked up slowly, dreading, and hoping that it wasn’t who he thought it was, but also knowing it was. He looked fearfully into the eyes of his enemy. There was a smug smirk that appeared on his face, which chilled him even more.

"Kitten." He said as he spat in his face, then flounced away. Mistoffelees stared at him for a moment, before wiping the spit off his nose carefully with his finger. He yawned again, and decided to get back to his original purpose, and try to forget his gray classmate.

*O*O*

Amanda stood in the doorway of the troupe’s practice room. She watched them as they soared through the air. She knew it was time to bring the black and white kitten into the troupe and she wondered how the current Mistoffelees was going to take it. The last one had tried to escape right after she'd moved up two other kittens and she wondered if he has somehow sensed that his replacement would be the next to appear. She shook her head forcefully, and reminded herself that they were animals, not knowing one day from the next.

She returned to the practice room of the kittens. She entered quietly, and ignored the kittens who had frozen in attention with her entrance. She walked calmly over to the sleeping form in the corner. The kitten yawned, then blinked hazy blue eyes at her, before snapping up into attention. She nodded stiffly to the assistant beside her, and pointed to the kitten that stood in front of her, who was about an inch taller than her. The assistant grunted then grabbed tightly on his collar, and proceeded to drag him by his side. The kitten made no protest, and tried to stumble along as best he could.

They arrived at the troupe’s room, just as the finale reached it’s last notes. Amanda cracked a slight smile at the luck. She took the kitten from the assistant and dismissed him, with a wave of her hand. Deciding on a little more eased approach, she grabbed his shoulder, and gently pushed him ahead of her. She stood in the center, and as if they all knew that she had something important to announce, they gathered around. Without ceremony, she began.

"This is the apprentice to Mistoffelees." She said with indifference. She looked out into the crowd of animal-humans, and saw no rebellion. Grizabella looked a little shocked, but maybe it was something else. Most looked at the new kitten with curiosity. And the kitten stared at them with equal curiosity. Nodding again, she motioned to the assistant to lead them away to their room. The kitten was swept away into the crowd, and disappeared from view. She watched as the door shut, blocking them from her view. There were times that she could have sworn that they could be human, but that was just flighty thoughts on her part. They were just trained animals, nothing more, nothing less.

*O*O*

The blue-eyed kitten felt overwhelmed with all the new cats around him. They stared with curiosity at him, and he returned the favor with equal force. He felt himself being swept away with the rest of troupe, and he obediently followed.

*O*O*

Apprentice: An Illustration for "Plague" (Thanks Ahdeya)

Mistoffelees eyed the kitten that was to be his replacement. The kitten was his almost his equal height, a little smaller though. Maneuvering carefully through the others, he made it to the kitten’s side. The kitten looked up him with enormous blue eyes, questioning. Mistoffelees’ smiled gently at him then, put an arm around his shoulder, and guided him to his corner of the room.

*O*O*

Grizabella looked at the kitten with unease. Could it be her son? He had the right markings. The boots, the chest, and the face. But was he? He probably wouldn’t know. She knew that as soon as the dancers started getting replaced that he would someday come, but was it him? She felt like she would never know.

*O*O*

The blue-eyed kitten looked up to the black and white tom beside him, but only slightly, there wasn't much difference in their heights. His slitted green eyes were friendly., his smile was friendly also, and the kitten shyly smiled back. It was obvious that this would be the one he would replace. But he was still young, and knew it would be awhile before he could and would take on the role. Still he hoped his predecessor the best. His smile became a little more confident as they entered the sleeping room.

*O*O*

Mistoffelees pulled his replacement over to his bunk. He was determined not befall the same fate of his predecessor. He knew very little of what happened to him, but he knew that he was dead. The older ones did not like to talk about it, and there was a burning hurt that lay in Tantomile’s eyes whenever his predecessor was mentioned. He studied the kitten once over, and noticed that he was a perfect Mistoffelees. He wouldn’t have to have his colors changed like his had. It was a truly unique and horrible experience. You would be strapped onto a table, and someone would come with a brush, and jar of the most horrible smelling stuff and dab it all over you. He was glad he would at least be spared the experience. Mistoffelees shook himself from his reverie, and sat, motioning for the kitten to join him. The kitten nodded, gave another friendly smile, and then sat beside him. Mistoffelees waited several beats for the kitten to open up the conversation, but he didn’t, he just stared about the room, at the various members pairing off.

"Do you have a name?" Mistoffelees asked, wondering if the self-naming tradition had continued since Rumpelteazer and Mungojerrie, or Ace and Circuit had left.

"No, I don’t think so." He answered softly, barely above a whisper. "Should I?" He asked seriously, his large blue eyes focussing intently on his smaller green.

"No, just wondering if Ace and Circuit’s tradition had kept up." Mistoffelees answered. He saw the kittens eyes quirk at the two names. "You know those two?" he asked, curious.

"No, only by reputation. I’ve heard six or seven versions of various stunts though." The kitten replied, a small grin struggling it’s way up to the surface.

"What have you heard?" Mistoffelees asked interested, it was fun to see what others thought they knew about each other.

"Well, the most outrageous one I’ve heard so far is that they apparently caused an explosion in the one of the Dr.’s labs." He said with a smirk as he traced a pattern with his finger on the mat. Mistoffelees chuckled a bit, then sighed.

"I’m sure they’ll be glad to hear about their growing reputation. Like they needed anymore." Mistoffelees said as his final chuckles died away. "Well, let’s take you around and introduce you to everyone." Mistoffelees said as he stood and stretched out his arms. The kitten stood in suit. Mistoffelees nodded and started off towards Jemima.

Jemima had arrived long enough before that Mistoffelees wondered if she had even met the new kitten before she left the dance class. Mistoffelees had known her from the dance class, of course she went about as Bright then. She had changed drastically from the scrawny kitten he knew, to the knock out Queen that she was now.

"Hey." She said sensually soft, as she rubbed his cheek affectionately. Mistoffelees purred in reply, and rubbed back. "So, this is the new one." She said with a smile as she looked at the smaller version of her mate. "Hello, I’m Jemima." She said brightly and offered her hand, as she had seen the assistants do. The kitten took it gently, and smiled softly, studying her with large aqua blue eyes.

"Hi." He replied, softly, but confident, as a grin broke out.

"Jemima’s my mate." Mistoffelees said proudly as he pulled Jemima gently to his side. Jemima smiled up affectionately, before she slipped out from under his arm with a mischievous smile, then shoved Mistoffelees playfully.

"It’s been nice to meet you kitten." She said cheerfully, before ushering them away to the others. Next they met Jellyorum and Jenny, who were, like in the play, best of friends.

"Well, here’s the little one." Jelly crooned to Jenny, who smiled. "Isn’t he just the sweetest thing." Jelly said as she reached out and tussled one of the kitten’s ears. The kitten's tail twitched with embarrassment and he lowered his eyes. .

"Hi." The kitten replied softly. The two Queen’s presence brought a sense of comfort to all whose who came near them. And the kitten felt comfortable around them, although how they treated him like a kitten disturbed him and slightly annoyed him, he made no comment.

"I’m Jellyorum, but you can call me Jelly, everybody does." She said playing with the kitten’s ears again.

"And I’m Jenny." Offered the plumper tabby beside her.

"As in Anydots?" The kitten asked. The queen smiled and nodded.

"Yes, that’s right. You are a cutie aren’t you?" Jenny said with a heartwarming smile. "Oh, Skimble and Tumble! Come over here and meet the newest apprentice!" Jenny called to a gray tom with brown splotches, and orange tabby tom. They both walked over.

"Hello, youngin’!" Skimbleshanks greeted cheerfully.

"Hello." Mistoffelees said confidently. He liked the tom’s friendly nature. "You're Skimbleshanks right?" Mistoffelees asked.

"Yeah, that be me, and this is my bucko mate Tumblebrutus." Skimble said as he put a shoulder around the brown splotched tom beside him.

"Nice to meet you." Tumblebrutus said as he offered his hand. The kitten took a firmer grip on his hand, and shook it sharply once.

"Hello." The kitten replied with a grin. Mistoffelees took his young charge around the room, and trying to make sure that he met everyone in the troupe before the lights went out.

*O*O*

Grizabella stared at the kitten as he made his way across the room. He looked so much like her kitten. The blue eyes were a give away, but still she wasn’t sure. Before she realized it, Bustopher had snuck up behind her.

"Times change so fast, don’t they?" Bustopher said as he stared at his former charge, presenting his charge to the others with a faint smile.

"Huh? Oh, yes, they do. The new one, he seems so familiar…" Grizabella said before she trailed off with a shake of her head. "No, it’s silly."

"What’s silly?" Bustopher said, feeling that he’d missed something.

"Oh, the kitten, he looks so much like my son, the one I had a long time ago." Grizabella said wrapped up in memories of times gone by as silent tears slipped down her face. Bustopher shrugged, and held her close. He knew it hurt her very much to lose her three kittens. Grizabella sighed then shook her head, removing the tears from her eyes. "But, he wouldn’t remember me any way." Grizabella said ending with a sob.

Mistoffelees looked over to Grizabella, but decided she wasn’t in the state to be meeting someone new. He guided his charge away from the couple and introduced him to Victoria instead.

*O*O*

The kitten curled about the edge of his bunk, directly above his guardian. Today had been very surprising, but so far, not a bad one. He liked the members of the troupe, they all were very nice and kind. He sighed, and could not wait until to find out what the adventures tomorrow would bring.

*O*O*

The morning went very well. The kitten fit right in with the schedule without a hitch. It wasn’t until practice, or more of after practice that the trouble began to start.

For the kitten it was a regular practice. He played his assigned role, made some faces, tumbled about clumsily, but carefully as not to mess up any of his fellow workers, and of course as a reward, got a treat. He however did not realize the other opinions that the others would draw about him. He would nevertheless, find out at lunch.

He received his daily mid-day meal, a wrapped sandwich, and if he could guess, was some sort of dry mystery meat. He sighed, not his favorite food, but not the worst that there was. He left the line and head towards a corner, when he unexpectedly tripped. Unprepared for the fall, he fell flat on his face. He pushed himself up slowly, as he noticed laughing behind him.

"Awww…has the poor wittle kitten fallen?" Alonzo hooted. Pouncival, Rumpus and Gilbert guffawed. The kitten twitched his ears and his nose. Then pulling his knees beneath him, he dusted off his arms off from any dust that might be there, before standing and collecting his sandwich from the floor. He resumed his course to the corner, but Alonzo stepped in front of him. The kitten looked up meekly at the larger cat, who had his arms crossed over his chest.

"Excuse me." the kitten said softly, and tried to step around him, but Rumpus darted in his path. He tried to move backwards, but bumped into Pouncival and Gilbert. He didn’t like the looks of where it was going, but kept silent, while wondering what he’d done.

"And what if we don’t want to ‘excuse you’?" Alonzo drawled.

"Well, I guess if you don’t want to, you don’t want to, you don’t have to. But I’d like to eat my lunch, so if you will kindly move, I’ll do just that." the kitten said then took a daring step forward. Alonzo, however placed a hand on his shoulder, preventing him from moving any farther. He sighed then looked back up to Alonzo, as his ears flicked back slightly in frustration. Pouncival, Rumpus, and Gilbert muffled their giggles as they watched on. "What did I do?" He said sharply. All he wanted was to eat. He didn’t know what their problem was, but he wanted out of it. Alonzo simply cocked an eyebrow at him, and his friends ‘ooohhed’ ominously behind him.

"You like her don’t you?" Alonzo said aloofly.

"Who?" he asked. He hadn’t been flirting with anyone, had he? He didn’t think so. He stared up at Alonzo, expecting an answer.

"You know, the dance instructor." Alonzo insinuated. His friends began to laugh. Mistoffelees stared at him, puzzled at where he would get such a thought.

"What?" he asked.

"Well, you were putting on little kitten tricks for her and all, and we figured, you know." Alonzo shrugged. The kitten cocked an eyebrow. He had enough, he just wanted to eat, and the sandwich was getting warm in his hand. And he wasn’t about to dignify the insinuation with an answer. Stepping more confidently he shouldered his way past Alonzo, and headed on a determined course to the corner, vowing not to stop until he got there. He however, was not expecting Alonzo to step on his tail. He fell once more on his face. Quickly he flipped over and faced Alonzo his back. He placed the still wrapped sandwich in his teeth, then bracing his legs on the floor, he began pulling on his tail, trying to free it.

"You know what, Alonzo?" Pouncival shouted, loud enough for everyone to hear. Heads turned towards the small group, and the kitten felt the gazes upon him. He ignored them and continued to pull on his tail.

"What Pouncival?" Alonzo replied, just as loud.

"I think the little kitten has a crush on the dance instructor, what with the way he was acting in rehearsal, and now." Pouncival shouted with an insinuating tone. A few started to laugh, and soon most of the troupe was giggling at the thought. The kitten felt a heat of the inferno kind rise to his cheeks, as he continued to pull on his tail, trying to ignore the laughter. Alonzo finally let go of his tail, but while he was pulling. He rolled, head over heels halfway to the corner he had chosen. Standing, he dusted himself off, and marched back to the corner. Alonzo and his friends made more remarks, but he’d shut his ears to them. He tried to focus on his plain sandwich, instead of the laughing, which was steadily increasing.

*O*O*

Munkustrap stood along with Mistoffelees. They both knew what they had to do. Mistoffelees went to the corner, and Munkustrap, to the center of the room.

"Quit it, Alonzo." He murmured dangerously soft. Alonzo glared at him a moment, and looked ready to speak again, but Munkustrap cut him off. "I think, Alonzo, you’ve made your point quite clear, haven’t you?" Munkustrap threatened. Alonzo nodded, unsure. "Now, why don’t you and Pouncival, Rumpus, and Gilbert go sit and eat?" Alonzo and his friends nodded, and departed from the center in a rush. Munkustrap nodded in satisfaction, and returned to Demeter.

*O*O*

Mistoffelees carefully approached his young charge. Silently he slid to the floor, and sat beside him. He didn’t seem to notice. He set down his sandwich, with not a bite taken, crossed his arms across his chest, and looked over his shoulder at the wall.

"Are you going to eat?" Mistoffelees asked, as he picked up the sandwich, and offered it him.

"I’m not hungry." He said stubbornly.

"Okay." Mistoffelees said with a shrug. "Look, I know what Alonzo and his friends said hurt, but if you really like her…" Mistoffelees continued before he was cut off by the kitten sharply.

"I don’t like her, at least not in that sense." He said stiffly, keeping his head turned, so as Mistoffelees wouldn’t be able to see the tears that streaked down his face, and melted into his black fur.

"Okay, well, just be yourself, and everything will be okay." Mistoffelees said as he patted the kitten’s back, before returning to Jemima.

The kitten sniffed a bit. The took up his sandwich and ate with uninterested bites. He was completely himself on stage, and it apparently wasn’t okay. But maybe, they were just giving him a rough time because he was new. He sighed, and hoped that tomorrow would be better.

*O*O*

Tomorrow would repeat the same incidents in a slightly different pattern. So would the day after, and the day after, and the day after, until it spiraled on to an unknown amount of time. The kitten would get used to it, and learned to keep a straight face while they made various insults his way. There were some that didn’t treat him like an outcast, such as Skimbleshanks and Tumblebrutus. Or Jelly or Jenny, who treated him more like a kitten than he preferred, but still they were nice. But they were all more of friends or acquaintances, not best friends. He could not go to them, and tell them how he was feeling, or a rumor he’d heard. The only one who he’d let close enough was Mistoffelees, his predecessor. He always listened without comment until he was through, and pointed out a different view of a problem, and possible solutions. They were unable to be separated most of the time, except when Mistoffelees wanted to go off with Jemima for awhile, or when the kitten needed time of his own. His comrades, however, would end their taunting, as he performed a daring stunt, risking punishment and death.

*O*O*

Munkustrap held Demeter close to his body. A few weeks ago they had found out she was with kittens. However, they only increased her rations slightly, and he knew that she went hungry at night. But there was nothing he could do for her. If she was found with extra food, then they’d punish her, and that would risk the kittens. His thoughts were interrupted, by a growl of Demeter’s stomach and a groan as she rolled over to face him.

*O*O*

Demeter looked at her mate’s face lovingly. Obviously he was worrying about her, and her kittens. She stroked him once, lovingly with her hand to assure him that she was alright. She was hungry, but alright. She sighed, and cuddled closer to him, and tried to ignore the hunger in her stomach, as she closed her eyes.

*O*O*

The kitten watched it all from the top bunk. He felt sorry for her. It was plain on her face that she was hungry. And the guards wouldn’t let her have anymore. He knew what hunger felt like, since he was one of the smaller kittens, the others were always snatching his food before he joined the troupe, where it was against the rules. It was a horrible feeling, and it must be worse for her, he figured, since she was expecting kittens, and all. He regretted the fact that he could not find away to get her some of his treats, since they were so easy for him to procure from the instructor. He closed his eyes, trying his best to think of a way to get her his treats without her getting in trouble.

*O*O*

He would find the solution the next day during early morning practice. He had been dancing when his foot faltered. He covered up with a goofy expression, but was determined to find out what made him trip.

During lunch he wandered over to the same spot, it was close to the door, he noticed as he bent down to examine it. Gently he prodded the spot, and the matting split, revealing a hole. He gasped, then realized that it was the perfect size for keeping small things, such as treats. He grinned triumphantly, glad that he would be able to help Demeter, then ran to find Munkustrap.

He found the gray tabby beside Demeter, of course. Demeter was eating hungrily into her sandwich, loosing all lady-likeness in the process. Munkustrap had already finished, and stared at her with solemn eyes. The kitten tapped him lightly on the shoulder, and Munkustrap whipped around to face him. He bent over, and told him the plan so far, in a low voice. Munkustrap had a different reaction than he thought he would. He knocked the feet out from underneath him. He fell with an ‘oommph’ but, made no other sound, as he stared up into Munkustrap’s flaming eyes.

"What are you trying to do, kitten? Get her killed!" he menaced. The younger cat backed away slightly, and shook his head in response. He realized how Munkustrap had come to the conclusion, but apparently didn’t see that he was trying to help.

Rumpelteazer, however, did. She was sitting nearby her old comrade with her mate, when the kitten came behind her and explained to Munkustrap his plan. She had a feeling that it had all happened before, but at least this one, she hoped would bring better circumstances then the last one. She gulped, trying to push away the old memories that threatened to consume her, and slid closer to Munkustrap.

"I can get the doors open." She said without emotion. "I’ve done it before, and you’ve seen me do it. I can open the door, he can get out, get Demeter his treats and sneak back." Demeter looked up at the sound of her name. She had just finished her sandwich, and had noticed that Munkustrap had tripped the kitten, but hadn't questioned it, knowing that Munkustrap would never trip the young cat without good reason. She looked to Munkustrap, and to the kitten, then started to put it all together. The kitten had found a way to get her extra treats, finding somewhere to put them, but all he needed was a way to get out. He told Munkustrap, who thought he was trying to set her up, and tripped him. Rumpelteazer overheard it and gave them a possibility of getting out. She puzzled why the kitten and Rumpelteazer would want to help, but she was grateful for any extra food she might get.

"Let them try, Munkustrap." Demeter said softly. Munkustrap turned to her, his eyes wide with shock.

"What? Demeter, I know you weren’t around when it happened, but we don’t need another dead Mistoffelees." He growled. The kitten and Demeter fixed him with confused expressions, while Rumpelteazer looked guiltily towards the ground.

"If they think they can do it, let them try. I know the kittens aren’t faring well, I can hear them complaining in the night. Please, let them try." Demeter begged. Munkustrap stared at them, as if they were all insane, but relented to let them try.

"Alright, go, be fools and get yourselves killed." Munkustrap said with a wave of his hand.

*O*O*

Over the next few days Mistoffelees and Rumpelteazer collected any treats they might get, and put them safely in the hole. When the night arrived, both were shaking with excitement.

Rumpelteazer sat at the door with the kitten, both waiting for the right moment. She’d lost the paperclip after the previous incident with Mistoffelees. She replaced it with a splintered piece of the door frame. As she began her work, she felt more confident in what she was doing than the previous time. She felt as if this was going to be alright. Nodding confidently, she finished her work, then motioned for the kitten to start going.

*O*O*

The kitten silently crept through the halls. On his way back earlier that day, he’d counted the steps from the hole to the room, and memorized it. Carefully he made his way around the mess hall, and into the practice room. On his hands and knees he made the final steps, then reached into the hole. There were ten treats in there, and he successfully hid them down the side of his shorts. He then carefully scurried back to the sleeping quarters, and skidded behind Rumpelteazer as she began to shut the door.

*O*O*

Demeter prayed silently to whatever higher being there was out there, that they would make it back okay. She wouldn’t be able to live if she knew that they both had been killed trying to get her something as trivial as food. She let out a sigh of relief as the kitten dove back into the room.

*O*O*

The young black and white tom approached Demeter with a smug look, then presented her with her treats. Demeter purred loudly, and rubbed against him, and waved thanks to Rumpelteazer, who nodded before joining Mungojerrie in his bunk. The kitten bowed, then walked back to his bunk across the room. She hungrily ate the small treats, which were about the size of her thumb. Her stomach no longer felt like it was empty, as she snuggled up to her mate for the night.

*O*O*

Soon, the other dancers found out what the kitten had done for the sake for another, and started to treat him differently. Alonzo and his friends no longer teased him, and treated him like part of the troupe. Others soon hooked on to the scheme and passed treats his way whenever they could for Demeter.

*O*O

That practice had been particularly rough, the kitten thought, as he lay down to sleep. The dance instructor had made him perform both rehearsals. The padding was thin on the bed, but at least he had a personal bed, above Mistoffelees. It had been awhile since he’d joined, and he had been informed by the dance instructor that soon he would be performing the matinee as Mistoffelees. He sighed and closed his eyes, begging sleep to bring ease.

*O*O*

James hacked again, spitting up phlegm as he did so. He hated the night shift on guard duty. Tonight was his night to guard the dance troupe, to make sure that none of them escaped, as the one had a few years ago. Only recently had the action been enforced, since some of the scientists complained that they had heard shuffling from the practice room a couple nights ago.

He hacked again. He knew he had some sort of flu that had been spreading around Zion recently, and he knew he should have called in sick. But Dr. Ferran paid by how many times you showed up for duty, not by scheduled work days. And he needed all that he could get, to pay the rent. He looked out upon the sleeping Jellicles, before falling into another coughing fit.

The flu wasn’t serious for him. He’d always had a strong immune system, and he was sure that he’d be just fine after a couple hours rest. Unfortunately, for some, a trivial flu would be a serious trial.

*O*O*

A few days later, in the early morning the Jellicles awoke slowly, unlike their usually quick awakenings. Some felt dizzy, and others sick to their stomachs. These problems had steadily worsened over the past few days. Mistoffelees groaned as he twisted out of bed. Slowly he saw his young charge step down the ladder. He stood on the bottom rung, wavering in place. Mistoffelees looked into his eyes, and saw a redness surrounding the blue. His face looked exhausted, and his shoulders slouched forward. His ears were drooping slightly also.

"You feel okay?" Mistoffelees asked as he gently pulled the kitten to his side. The kitten silently shook his head. "Did you get any sleep?" The kitten shook his head again. He’d been having fitful bouts of sleep, followed by a period where he couldn’t sleep at all. "Well, come on, maybe you’ll feel better after you eat." Mistoffelees offered, then guided him to the mess hall.

*O*O*

The kitten felt horrible. He either felt like he was going to pass out, or throw up, and it seemed that his body couldn’t decide which. His head was beginning to hurt like a fury, and he dreaded having to go to practice that day. As he entered the mess hall, he had to escape to a privy, his body, seemingly had made it’s decision. He vomited up what little he had eaten the day before, and then stood unsteadily, and rejoined the others. He sat beside his guardian, who looked a little tired, but not terrible. Slowly he ate his meal, praying that he wouldn’t vomit again. The food felt like it was clinging to his innards and weighting him down, but at least his head didn’t hurt so much. He shuffled his bowl to the tray, then waited by the door headed for the practice room. Feeling tired, and noticing that he was the first one done, he curled up in a ball and slept some more, hoping to feel better when he woke up.

*O*O*

Mistoffelees eyed his charge as he lay sleeping at the door. He had barely eaten at all before he put his food away. He had disappeared to the privy also, as he had entered the mess hall. What he had done in there, Mistoffelees didn’t know. But he didn’t look any better when he came out. Mistoffelees didn’t feel much better himself, and he was sure he didn’t look it either. In fact neither did Jemima, or anybody. He shrugged and continued to eat his meal.

*O*O*

The virus had come. Until now it had been savagely preying on bodies that had a strong immunity to it’s power. But now? Now it had found a whole new population to infect. One without a strong enough immunity to it’s cry. It developed quickly, jumping from body to body which were kept in such close quarters. It was a relative celebration.

*O*O*

For every step I take, my head is jarred, and so, I shall move as little as possible, deduced the kitten. His nap had not helped, and now he felt worse. They were halfway through the morning practice, and he dreaded the afternoon one. Still he kept moving, but he kept his jumps low, and to a minimum, and avoiding all turns. His eyes began to itch with a fury, but he ignored them, and tried to focus on the music.

*O*O*

The dance instructor growled as the kitten once again made a half-heated jump. What was wrong with him? He had never acted like that before. But he’d also become more and more bold around the others. He had to be trying to rebel. She snarled, and turned the music off with a slap of her hand. She fingered the sleek black controller gently. She stepped up to the kitten, who was crouched on the floor. She smirked confidently, as she began to slowly press down upon the button.

*O*O*

The kitten froze in his position on the floor when the music was cut off abruptly. He heard the clicking of heels, and he knew the dance instructor was coming closer. He shuddered involuntarily. He knew that he was in trouble. He looked up at her in fear, and cringed when saw the nasty smile upon her face.

Suddenly there was a fierce bolt that came through him, starting at the neck. It burned like a fire and it was of a force he had not experienced before. He felt tears struggle from his eyes and slip down his neck, sizzling on his collar. Finally he shrieked in pain, unable to hold it in any longer.

*O*O*

The troupe sat horrified at what they saw, and several remembered the scene from years before with wide eyes. None of them moved, but instead stared with fascinated horror. Grizabella, however, decided that enough was enough. She stood slowly, her fur standing on edge, and her tail fluffing out to unimaginable degrees. She snarled and fell into an attack position. How dare she do that to her son! He was sick, they all were, he was just worse off. It wasn’t his fault! She began to growl softly, and prepared to attack.

Bustopher looked at his fierce mate. She glared with malice in her eyes at the dance instructor’s back. He knew what she was planning. He couldn’t let her go through with it. She’d be killed. Making a quick decision he leaped up and knocked down the instructor, who instinctively dropped the controller. He sank his claws into her shoulders to keep her down. He noticed out of the corner of his eye that the kitten had stopped screaming and lay motionless on the floor. He wondered if he was too late, but had no more time to ponder it as someone hit him forcefully on the back of the head.

Grizabella gasped as she saw her mate leap and attack. He meant to take her punishment on himself. She fell back on to Coricopat, and lay in absolute silence as she watched the scene unfold.

*O*O*

Amanda growled as she threw off the limp Bustopher. She stood and carefully examined her shoulders. They were bleeding heavily and staining her light blue shirt. She motioned for the guard to take the unconscious Bustopher to Dr. Ferran. She stared at the kitten who lay limp at her feet. He looked like a broken doll, his arms and legs twisted in odd positions. She nudged him with her boot, and got no reaction. She called the assistant over, and ordered her to take him down to the infirmary also. The assistant nodded, and roughly picked him up by his arms, and dragged him away. Amanda slowly walked after her, and told the guards to watch the others. The guards nodded, and then she left. Her father would be busy, she knew, and so she waited outside until he was finished. Her arms weren’t bleeding so heavily now, but still she didn’t want to do it herself. So she stood alone with her thoughts.

The kitten’s scream, it sounded so human, not animal at all. And the tears were reminiscent of a humans also. Most animal's tears only welled up and dried there creating a mucus. His tears though, they were clear and trickled freely down his cheeks. She shuddered as she remembered the sound of the tears hitting the collar. It was a horrible sound as it contacted with flesh. Could her and her father be wrong? Were these human sized cats real? Did they really understand what they were saying, or were they mimicking it? They seemed to have their own personalities, and little groups they stayed with, but were they truly human? She shook away the treacherous thoughts as her father appeared.

Slowly she stepped towards him. He gave a gasp then ushered her inside to fix her injuries. She felt relieved as he cleared away the blood and bandaged her shoulders. Finally gathering up her courage, she looked him in the eyes.

"What are you going to do with Bustopher?" She asked, knowing she sounded like a little child wondering what happened to their dog after it had been hit by a car. Of course she had never had a dog, or any pet for that matter.

"I don’t know Amanda, I think I’m going to see how palsy effects these animals however." He said coldly as he searched through the refrigerated door of specimens. The business woman in Amanda came out then.

"And what am I supposed to do with him then?" She asked sharply. "He won’t be any good unable to dance."

"Why not use him, as you know the old one, the old actor who likes gin." He replied, distracted as he squinted at the label of one of the vials before replacing back in the door.

"You mean Gus." Amanda said snobbishly. To think, she’d been running the play for at least 15 years now, and he still didn’t know all the names of the characters, or even the songs. "Okay, how’s the young one?" Amanda said. She hoped she hadn’t severely hurt him.

"Oh, he’ll be okay. You got him good. I don’t know I think he might have something though. His eyes are bloodshot. He’s awake now though." Amanda winced. If his eyes were bloodshot, then he might be sick, which would explain his hesitation to perform.

"Can I go see him?" She asked quietly.

"Oh, yeah, sure, sweetie." Dr. Ferran mumbled as he dug through the second shelf of vials.

*O*O*

The kitten awoke in a bright room. He looked about, and knew immediately that it wasn’t the practice room. As he became more aware of his body, he realized that his arms were straight out, and his feet pulled apart in a vulnerable position. He started trying to move his arms, but they wouldn’t move at the wrists. His ankles were having the same problem. His panic level rose to a high plateau. He had to escape from whatever held him captive. He started yanking his arms and feet, making a futile struggle to move them. He looked to the side to see the face of the instructor. She stared at him with a dead look in her eyes. He growled, fearing what she might do. Tears of fear began to trickle down his face, and all he wanted to do now was curl up and die. He didn’t feel well at all, his head hurt with every move that he made, and the shock from the collar made him feel like he was going to vomit again. And now he was unable to move freely, and the person who had caused him the fire pain was here, and there was nothing he could do to protect himself. Still she came closer, ignoring his warnings. He began to whine pitifully, hoping for some mercy on her part. Still she stared at him through dead eyes.

*O*O*

Amanda stared numbly at the whining and crying animal before her. He looked so much like a lost little child. She held out a hand to touch him.

*O*O*

Dr. Ferran stormed into the room. The young tom in the corner had gone into hysterics and his daughter was reaching out to him with a far away expression on her face from the corner. Growling he walked over to the machines and read the scans. The tom’s heart rate was reaching panic rate. Angered, he slapped the tom forcefully across the face, enjoying the loud *THWACK* it made as it connected with his flesh. The tom stared, frightened, at him, biting his lip, and tears streaming down his face. Dr. Ferran nodded in satisfaction, then turned and walked towards his daughter.

He grabbed her arms and shook her roughly, to get her attention. She looked up at him with tears in her eyes, as she motioned to the now silent and stunned tom. Her lips trembled as tears gathered at the edge spilling over onto her already stained shirt.

"He’s…he’s human, th…the shriek,…th…the tears…they are s…s…so human. And I hurt him, I hurt him s…s…so bad, Papa, I hurt him so bad. I want to take it away Papa, please help me take it away." Amanda pleaded. Dr. Ferran stared at her with icy eyes. Had she gone insane? She never had these problems before. And she hadn’t called him Papa in a long time either. She had to have some sort of flu, this wasn’t his daughter, his daughter couldn’t the blubbering mass of emotions that stood in front of him.

"Amanda. Amanda listen to me, he’s not human, it’s an illusion that your mind’s playing on you. He’s not human, not human at all." He said as he forced his eyes into hers willing her to understand and know. Amanda nodded unsure. "Now, why don’t you go to your room, and sleep, we’ll just cancel performances this week, okay?" Dr. Ferran said in a fatherly tone. Amanda nodded then slowly walked out the door. She took one last look at the frightened tom strapped to the table. He still looked frightened. Turning her back to him, she walked down the lonely corridors towards her room.

Dr. Ferran turned back to his patient. He appraised him with a calculating eye. His eyes were bloodshot, and there was a white mucus slowly oozing out of his nose and the corners of his eyes. Dr. Ferran motioned for a guard to transport him to an examining room, where he could get a better look at him later. He had other things to do first.

*O*O*

Dr. Ferran sighed. Maybe I shouldn’t have kept her here, he thought mournfully. He cleaned his glasses on his sleeve before entering the other room. The black and white tom was strapped to the table just as the younger one was in the other room. Only this one wasn’t shrieking and crying. This one had a fierce expression, as if challenging him to make a move.

He grabbed a large needle. Inside the clear contents was a chemical compound that could cause palsy. He smiled as he looked into such a perfect specimen, before he injected it into the tom’s arm. The tom was young and strong, and it would be interesting to see it’s effects. Of course it would take awhile for it to take hold and start to work it’s magic. He grabbed the second needle, a sedative, and injected it into the other arm. The strong beast fell to it’s spell, and lay limply in the restraints. After he was sure that he would not strike back, he had some of the guards drag him to a large empty cage. Turning on his heel he headed for the examining room, where yet another patient was waiting.

*O*O*

The black and white kitten sat fearfully in the corner of his cage. He curled his tail as far as it would go around him. He looked about the room taking in the frightening atmosphere. The walls were a stark gray, and held no warmth in their metal plates. There were instruments every where, eerily looming over him, their odd pieces sticking out everywhere. The harsh lights seemed to focus on him. He wished them all to turn away, and leave him in the darkness, a place in which he could hide. A place where he could get away from how awful he felt, how tired he was, and how apprehensive he was, of what the instruments could, and would do to him as soon as Dr. Ferran came in. At that thought he curled tighter on himself.

*O*O*

Dr. Ferran entered. He looked about his state of the art scientific equipment with awe. He felt like he was in a magical land here, where emotions were unimportant, where the only thing that mattered was results. He shook his head to remove himself from the reverie, and focussed on what he had came for. To study one of his ‘pets’. He walked over to a wall in the back filled with cages. He unlatched one, and threw the door open for his subject to come out. The tom didn’t budge. He looked in. He found him curled in a corner. He stood, looming over the small body at his feet. The kitten looked at him with hesitant blue eyes. The pupils were slits like a regular cats eye. He pointed to the main examination table, and glared at the kitten. The kitten stared at him with trepidation, then stumbled towards it. He almost fell, but grabbed a table in time. Wearily the kitten sat upon the table. Dr. Ferran nodded with approval, then started the examination, by strapping him down to the table. He had trusted him enough walking to it, since he was ill any way, but animals reacted badly to pain, and a sick one was three times as bad. He choose an instrument and flipped the switch, and his search for the cause of the illness had begun.

*O*O*

The kitten lay, frozen, as each instrument poked and prodded him. He didn’t like all the touching that Dr. Ferran was doing, grabbing his shoulders, pulling at his eyes, and hitting his kneecaps with a small stick. The machines made high pitched groans, and disturbed him to no end as his headache increased painfully. His stomach felt like a weight, and his eyes were either itching or trying to close themselves. He sighed as he felt tears come to his eyes for no particular reason. He just wanted it all to be over, so he could curl up on his mattress and sleep.

*O*O*

Dr. Ferran sighed as he found the cause. A flu that had been going around recently. It had hit hard on several of the people who were not vaccinated and were new to the area. Someone had it here, and had close connection to his pets. He signaled a guard, and had the tom dragged away to an observation cell. He’d given the animal some antibiotics, to make sure of a speedy recovery. The animal had been sedated as soon as he started getting into the blood work. He yawned, exhausted from a hard day of work, and headed to his apartment, to sleep off the stress of the outside world.

*O*O*

Grizabella sat trembling in the corner. Her mate had sacrificed himself for her and her kitten. She felt tears trickle down her face once again. She had lost her kittens, and now to lose her mate? She didn’t know if she could take it. And she wasn’t really sure that it was her son. He looked like him, but her fur had changed over the years, so why wouldn’t his? They would probably kill him. That’s what they had done to the other Mistoffelees, and he had done much less. She shuddered and curled closer upon herself.

*O*O*

Mistoffelees sat in the corner, grim thoughts dancing circles in his head. What had happened to his apprentice? Had he died? He was laying awful still after the instructor quit punishing him. Why had Bustopher attacked her? What would happen to Bustopher? He knew his predecessor had died for an escape, how would the humans react to him attacking one of them? All in all, he felt miserable about not being able to help in the whole situation. He hated feeling powerless in times like these. He saw that Grizabella too was disturbed. And why wouldn’t she be? She had most probably lost her mate. He shuddered as he thought about losing Jemima. He snuggled closer to her, just to make sure she wouldn’t disappear.

*O*O*

Demeter lay crying in her mate’s lap. The dance instructor had to have found out about the kitten’s midnight escapades. And it was her fault that he was in the situation. She felt like cursing her children, but they were innocents, it was her fault. Her fault that he would die at such a young age. And Bustopher would die for it too. He had tried to save the kitten, and he was most probably head for darkness, if he wasn’t already there. She wept harder and clung tightly to her mate’s chest.

*O*O*

Jemima gently stroked Mistoffelees’ tail. She knew he was worried about his apprentice. Mistoffelees enjoyed having the younger tom tag around with him, mimicking his dance moves. Jemima also rather liked the quiet boy. Mistoffelees was probably wondering if he was dead, along with his best friend Bustopher. She looked about the room, and saw that there were many others with the same thoughts running through their head. She looked to Munkustrap, asking him to bring at least some assurance to the troupe.

*O*O*

Munkustrap felt Jemima’s look and knew he had to talk to troupe. It was most definite that Bustopher was dead. And the kitten had been still, after punishment, and he was awfully ill, and so he too was most probably dead. Slowly he peeled off his mate, and lay her next to Rum Tum Tugger. He stood in the center of the troupe and began to speak.

"We all saw what happened today during morning practice. I do not know what to say, but it is my guess that both Bustopher and the kitten have been transferred." Munkustrap paused as Demeter and Grizabella wailed loudly. Transfer was the worst thing for a member of the troupe, you simply disappeared, and were most probably dead. "But I do not know, they may come back." Munkustrap tried, trying to bring some hope to the troupe. Another wail erupted from Demeter and Grizabella. He saw tears glimmering in Mistoffelees’ and Jemima’s eyes. The loss of the two members had hit Mistoffelees especially hard. He’d lost an older and younger brother at the same time. There were tears in all the eyes of the troupe members. He even felt some in his own. Then Jemima stood.

"Daylight, see the dew on a sunflower. And a rose that is fading, roses wither away. Like the sunflower, I yearn to turn my face to the dawn, I am waiting for the day. Memory, turn your face to the daylight, let’s remember old comrades, who like roses are gone. We’ll remember the times we shared, and all of the fun. They will never die, in a way." She sang hauntingly. The new words flew out of her mouth, and she knew not the source of her inspiration, but she knew the meaning. They had lost two cast mates, true, but she was sure that neither would want to be remembered sadly. They all should remember the good times that they shared. She suddenly understood the words to her original song. She sang it again, with more force, begging the others to remember the happy things and experiences about the dead.

Grizabella cocked her head as she heard the young girl sing. She understood what she was trying to say, and quickly joined in, creating the harmony that they shared only on stage before now. She saw Mistoffelees join in, his high male voice adding to the heavenly harmony. Skimbleshanks joined with his deeper voice, and soon all were chanting the simple phrasing over and over softly, as they thought about those they had lost. A peace filled the room, although tears still snaked down cheeks, there were smiles on faces.

*O*O*

The troupe would receive a surprise the next morning. They lay in their bunks, sleeping, their hearts, and heads still restless. When the door opened unexpectedly, they all got up. It was much to early for breakfast, they knew. They gasped as Bustopher followed closely behind by the younger version of Mistoffelees entered the room. The guard sneered and slammed the door. The whole troupe ran to them. Grizabella grabbed Bustopher tightly, and rubbed all over his face. The kitten however looked distressed, as he gazed towards Bustopher. Both reeked of the labs, and soon, and many were fetching moist towels them clean. It was when Grizabella reached Bustopher’s hands that they realized the kitten’s anguish.

"Bustopher! Your hands they’re…" Grizabella said softly as she looked into her mate's eyes. They were sad and tired looking. Something had happened. Something terrible had happened, she could feel it in her gut.

"Shaking. I know." He said mournfully.

"How? How did they start shaking?" Grizabella pushed. She saw the glimmer of tears in his eyes. She looked him over and saw that he was leaning heavily on the others, and his knees and feet were shaking too.

"Dr. Ferran…" Bustopher said, before he dropped off with a sob. Grizabella took him by his shoulder, and guided him away from the others, and to their personal bunk. The rest of the troupe looked mournfully at their comrade.

But none looked sadder than the kitten. He had seen, just before it all went black, Bustopher attacking the instructor. It was to save him, he knew that this had been his punishment for his aide. He wouldn’t be able to dance again. He had fallen many times in the halls, and he was forbidden to assist him. He vowed, secretly, and to himself, that he would take any punishment Bustopher was supposed to receive, to repay the debt.

Grizabella comfortingly petted her mate. What would become of him now? They honestly didn’t think that he could dance in this condition, did they? He’d be transfered if he was unable to dance, for they had been before. Tears trickled down her face, as she thought about regaining him, only to lose him again.

Bustopher looked to his mate. Gently he rubbed the tears from her cheeks, as she had done to him, and then asked, "What’s wrong?"

Grizabella sniffed, then said, "Wha…what are they go…going to do to you, when th…they realize tha…that you can’t d…dance?" She blubbered, as she held him tightly.

"I know, I thought of that too. I heard the dance instructor mention me playing Gus." He said softly. They did not expect him to dance again, they had mentioned that, and neither did he. He mourned the loss of what had been such an important part of his life.

Grizabella saw the stricken look on his face, and she too realized that he would lose something so vital to him. She sat and held him like she had held her kittens when they had been first born.

THE END

Back to The Cats' Book Corner