Chapter 2: A Change In Circumstance
The door buzzer sounded. Lt. Katherine Sentry woke from a very pleasant dream, annoyed to be interrupted. She sat up and ran her fingers through her short blond hair, reflecting that there were some disadvantages to being the security chief on a star going vessel. She had thought that signing on to a cargo ship would have entitled her to some sleep. Anytime they were in a colony port, however, there would be someone claiming their rightful assistance from the security force. "Come in," she said irritably.
The door slid open and Ensign Jessel entered the room. "Beg to report, Lieutenant."
"Ensign do you know what time it is?" demanded Lt. Sentry.
"About three in the morning, Lieutenant."
"Then this had better be good, hadn't it Ensign?"
"While on shore leave on Zion I encountered a mystery, I investigated and, well I don't think my findings should even wait until morning, Lieutenant."
Lieutenant Sentry stared at the young ensign for a moment. Ensign Jessel was a good officer, steady under pressure, a little flighty off duty, the lieutenant thought, but her diplomatic instincts and creative solutions solved as many problems as her aim did. If Jessel thought it was worth waking her superior officer in the middle of the night Sentry knew better than to ignore her. "Five minutes, Jessel, it's late".
"Thank you, Lieutenant. Last night I attended a performance of the musical CATS".
"Do I really need to know about where you spend your off duty time, Ensign"?
Now it was Jessel's turn to puff up a bit. "Yes, Lieutenant. And you gave me five minutes". Lieutenant Sentry nodded and Jessel continued, handing the Lieutenant the program she had purchased. "I collect autographs and I wanted to meet the cast. Unfortunately, all I could find about them was the program."
"So, most of the actors listed have been dead for decades."
"Maybe they want to remain anonymous".
"Professional actors, who depend on their previous credit to land them bigger and better roles? I didn't think so. So I snuck backstage. I followed the actors down to the garage where they were loaded on to a transport. And I do mean loaded. There were several guards and they were roughly handled. Also, the actors hadnít changed out of their costumes or their makeup. I don't think that it is makeup."
"Now, wait a minute, Jessel. I've seen that performance. All the actors are made up to look like cats".
"I'm getting a little ahead of myself Lieutenant," apologized Jessel as she handed Sentry her PDA. Some of the props had been left behind and I was able to obtain samples of fur from them that I believe came from the actors".
Lieutenant Sentry took the PDA and scanned the report it contained, then looked at Jessel with a startled expression.
"The computer can't identify what species it comes from. Although it places it in the cat family. As you can see Lieutenant, the samples show chemical evidence of genetic tampering".
Collecting her wrist communicator from the night table Sentry opened a channel. "Lieutenant Sentry to the Captain."
"Lieutenant, do you know what time it is"? growled the Captain's voice.
"Yes, Captain. I need to meet with you immediately".
"What you're telling me, Ensign," said Captain Darren, "is that there is illegal genetics research being done on Zion, a planet colonized by religious orders who consider many standard medical procedures interference in God's plan. And for some reason the perpetrators of this crime have created an entirely new race of people who are being forced to act in a play that their appearance seems to have been contrived for".
"The play may have been chosen to suit their appearance rather than the other way around, Captain," replied Jessel staunchly.
"Well, youíve presented us with a problem, Ensign," said the captain sarcastically. "Genetic tampering is a high crime but the evidence youíve brought us is no good, since you obtained it illegally. Add to that the fact that we donít know where these people were taken".
"I know the laws of evidence, Captain. I found the samples before I saw the actors. I may have been trespassing but I wasnít investigating a crime and therefore wasnít acting as a security officer at the time, merely a private citizen. And we do know where the actors are. I managed to attach my wrist communicator to the transport. I reported in as soon as I knew what crime Iíd witnessed".
"Donít get cocky, Ensign. Iíll inform the planetís authorities of your report". Captain Darren knew exactly what the response from Zionís authorities would be: you found it, you handle it. Her dark eyes glittered with fury at the prospect of risking people under her command to deal with a situation that the planet's authorities were clearly responsible to handle. The short polished nails of her dark fingers drummed impatiently on the table.
"Lt. Sentry get a security force landed and standby. You know theyíll request assistance. Dismissed".
"The Zion authorities want us to handle it," the Captain sourly informed Lt. Sentry over her communicator. "Or rather, Lieutenant, they want you to handle it".
"Then itís a good thing Iím already here, Captain," said Lieutenant Sentry, "These colonies never equip themselves with an adequate security force and the Zions pride themselves on having one of the smallest security forces and lowest crime rates of all the colonies".
"Well maybe the rest of their request will surprise you, Lieutenant. They want us to arrest the criminals under Earth law, gather the evidence, and transport the accused somewhere else for trial. Then they will then Ďpurifyí the building".
"What about the dance troupe?" asked Lt. Sentry.
"The Zions cited the law that says genetically engineered animals must be destroyed but they donít want to do it themselves. I argued them into letting us transport them off planet".
"So we have a few dozen guests on board for a couple of weeks," said Lieutenant Sentry. "How much trouble can they be"?
Mistoffelees woke to a touch on his arm. His heart skipped a beat before he recognized Rumpelteazer peering down at him through the darkness and remembered that heíd asked to be wakened. Mistoffelees slipped out of his bunk, careful not to disturb the other sleeping Jellicles. The two crossed to the door. Rumpelteazer reached a small piece of metal down from the door jam and opened the panel next to it. Mistoffelees had never gotten up the nerve to ask her how she had learned to hot wire the lock, it was enough that she could.
The door opened and a strong had grabbed Mistoffelees by the arm. "Where are you going?" growled a voice just above his ear.
"You know where Iím going," replied the small black and white cat-man.
"You are taking too many risks".
"I took the same risks for Demeter and you minded less". That wasnít exactly fair, Mistoffelees knew. Munkustrap worried about every member of the troupe, if he worried a little bit more about his mate that was only natural.
The big cat hissed above him.
"Iíll go," said Alonzo, "Electra is my mate, just tell me where they are".
"No," replied the small cat. He could feel the other two glowering at him but he knew that was all they would do. "There isnít any movement in the corridor. Iíll be safe enough".
"Fine, go, but be careful," growled Munkustrap.
Mistoffelees stepped out into the dark corridor alone. There would be no light in the practice room either but it made no difference. He could find his way to any part of the dance troupesí area by counting his steps. It would have been a different number of steps for Alonzo so he couldnít have told where the treats were hidden even if he had wanted to. Mistoffelees knew heíd be punished if he was caught out but Electra was hungry and he wasnít going to let a pregnant female go hungry if he could do something about it, even if she was someone elseís mate.
Being a very small cat Mistoffelees had gone hungry often enough as a kitten when someone larger had stolen his food. But he had been chosen for the dance class and he had learned that he could augment his food supply by being very conscientious in his dancing and very cute at just the right moment. Then the instructor would give him treats. He didnít know what was in them but they tasted good and helped fill his belly. When he had first transferred to the dance troupe his Ďkitten tricks,í as the others called them, had not won him any friends.
If his predecessor had not been so very kind to him he doubted he could have gotten along with the other dancers at all; for it had been all too evident who he was intended to replace from the first moment he had joined the troupe. Of course, Munkustrap protected any cat from excessive harassment, and Jennyanydots and Jellyorum had initially fussed over him as though he were a kitten, despite his protests, but it had been quite a while before he gained acceptance with most of the troupe. Ironically, it was his Ďkitten tricksí that helped him gain their acceptance. That hadnít been his intention. He had only wanted to help Demeter.
In the dance troupe there were strict rules about not stealing anyone elseís food, and if the dance instructor caught you with extra food you could be punished severely. All of the dancers were on strict diets and a pregnant female was given little extra rations. Mistoffelees had seen the hunger in Demeterís face and, deciding that he didnít need the treats he seemed to acquire so easily, found a way to pass them to her. He would pretend to eat the treat while hiding it in his hand. Then he would drop it in a hole he had found in the practice room. The first time he had offered her his treats Munkustrap had knocked him down, believing it was too dangerous for Demeter to risk getting caught with extra food. That was when Rumpelteazer had volunteered the information that she could open the sleeping room door. It had been easy to work out the number of steps he needed to take in the darkened rooms. After that the other cats had started passing him their treats to hide whenever they got them.
Demeterís kittens had been taken away as soon as their eyes opened but by that time Electra was pregnant and he had started the same routine for her.
As he pulled his cache of treats from the hole his sensitive ears picked up unusual sounds in the distance and he hurried back to his cage before he could be caught.
"Ensign Mickelvy," said Lt. Sentry, "get me crowbar so that I can get my foot out of my mouth".
"Never mind, Ensign". Arresting Dr. Ferran and his staff had been pathetically easy. There were only twenty-eight in all. They had relied on automation for security and it had been easily breached. Lieutenant Sentry didn't even have any casualties to report; not even a bruise. But now it was becoming clear that the real work was about to begin. Security wasn't the only thing that this group had relied on automation for. The minute the security teams had started opening doors they all reported the same thing: children. Over three hundred genetically engineered part feline, part human children had been discovered. The problem was they were all going to have to be transferred to the ship. Already a crowd had started to gather. Someone had leaked that this facility was being used for genetic engineering and the crowd outside looked ugly. Everyone on board the ship had been mobilized to turn the empty cargo bays into crèches for the kittens and Dr. Branch was working on a schedule to handle their care.
Now all Sentry had to do was to figure out how they were going to get the transports carrying the kittens through the crowd and to the landing modules without getting anyone killed.
Munkustrap strained his sensitive ears to hear anything from the corridor. Humans he didnít recognize had burst into the room only moments after Mistoffelees had returned. Munkustrap had recognized the strange metal objects they held as weapons and had momentarily feared for all of their lives. Heíd been enormously relieved when the humans had withdrawn seconds later. Heíd heard them leave guards in the hall and he knew they hadnít left, though they were very quiet.
Munkustrap had signaled all of the Jellicles to be silent, just as they were at the theater. He didnít know who these strange humans were but the rules had always been clear: never talk to any humans you donít know, ever. They had been left alone for what seemed like quite a while when the door opened and one of the new humans stepped inside. His weapon hung at his side. Munkustrap could see two more men standing outside the door.
"Can you understand me?" asked Ensign Mickelvy. The Jellicles glanced at each other but none of them responded. "I think you can. Look, we need to get you out of here and aboard the ship. Just all of you, come with me." He rolled his hand to indicate they should come. Munkustrap rose and stood in front of him, looking into the manís green eyes and trying to decide what to do. Mickelvy straightened up to his tallest, which made him equal in height to the actor, and waited with a tension that Munkustrap took to mean he was ready for an attack. After a moment Munkustrap hissed over his shoulder and the Jellicles lined up behind him. Heíd decided that since this human seemed to be in charge now it would be best to keep quiet and go along until he could figure out what was going on.
The man led the way down to the garage and the transport that normally took them to the theater. He stepped to one side to let Munkustrap lead the way on board. Munkustrap took a window seat at the front to watch the rest of the Jellicles. Gus stumbled as he tried to get aboard.
The human put out a hand towards him and Gus recoiled. Grizzabella put an arm around Gus. Mistoffelees stepped between Gus and the human and hissed. The human dropped his hand and for a moment everyone was still. Munkustrap understood that Mistoffelees had intended to take the blow that Gus expected. This was one way the Jellicles protected each other and Mistoffelees had done this for Gus several times since the incident that had left Gus a cripple.
"Just get aboard," said the human to Mistoffelees, but Mistoffelees put out his hand to push Gus on ahead. "You can help him, itís all right".
The surprise in Mistoffeleesí face mirrored Munkustrapís own. They werenít often allowed to help each other, especially Gus, whose physical weakness had been a punishment for attacking the dance instructor in Mistoffeleesí defense. He had only been allowed to stay with the troupe as a living example of what could happen to them if they werenít obedient.
Munkustrap stood and took Gus by the arm, helping him to a seat. When all the Jellicles were aboard Mickelvy and the two security guards, who had been in the hall, climbed aboard. Mickelvy took the driverís seat and the garage door opened letting in a harsh cacophony of sound and sunlight.
A huge crowd had assembled outside the door and Munkustrap could see other humans, dressed like the ones who rode with them, pushing the crowd back and making way for the transport. Unlike the theater audience this crowd hollered hostilities at them. A rock hit the window near Skimbleshanks and the Jellicles instinctively bent down to get bellow the level of the windows.
"Thatís a good idea, you just stay down," said the guard who crouched in the aisle near Munkustrap.
"Weíre out of it," said Mickelvy a few moments later. The guards sat up again and the Jellicles followed suit. Munkustrap had only a few minutes to watch buildings go by before they gave way to a wide open place where four vehicles rested, which seemed to Munkustrap to be oversized transports with wings. The Jellicles were transferred to one of these. As Munkustrap sat down Mickelvy pulled straps across his chest and waist, fastening them with a click. Munkustrap tensed sharply.
"You release them like this," said Mickelvy punching the button before making eye contact. "Now show the others. We all have to be strapped in for takeoff".
Munkustrap didnít understand the word "takeoff" but he nodded anyway. The mysterious word became clear a few moments later as Munkustrap watched the ground fall away.
Captain Darren frowned at the numbers in front of her. While she realized that it was essential to remove the cat people from Zion immediately and that her ship was the only available transportation she was having trouble figuring out how to accommodate them all for the long journey to Earth. Well, Zion was just going to have to cough up the money for beds for the trip. The four landing modules attached to the ship could be filled with the food supplies leaving more empty cargo bays free for crèches.
Captain Darren looked up at the sound of the bridge door opening.
Dr. Branch walked onto the bridge looking worried. "They won't eat, Captain," she stated bluntly.
"Who?" asked the Captain wearily.
"The dance troop. The kittens are all eating with a good appetite but the dance troop won't let anyone near them. We tried leaving them food but they didn't touch it. It's 1700 now and I know they haven't eaten all day. I suspect its been a full twenty-four hours since they last ate. I'm getting really concerned".
"Have you tried talking to them"?
"Of course I have, Captain," replied the doctor irritably. "Iím pretty sure they understood me too, they do react. You should have heard the hissing and growling when I said I was a doctor. None of the kittens are talking either. I'm not sure they know how to".
"The dancers do," Jessel said as she emerged behind Dr. Branch.
"Ensign, do you have business on the bridge?" snapped the captain.
"I overheard the doctor comment to someone else that she wasn't sure that the Jellicles could talk. I've only just caught up to her to discuss that". The captain frowned but Jessel hurried on, "They speak their lines very well on stage and it isn't dubbed. I know enough about theater to spot that".
"They could just be parroting. Speaking lines they've learned without any idea what they mean".
"Three hours worth? I suppose it's possible but I don't think it's likely".
"I suppose you have some idea about how we can communicate with them, Ensign".
Jessel looked uncomfortable.
"Spit it out, Ensign," ordered the Captain.
"They are used to communicating with an audience through music and dance. I was thinking that if we could get them to dance..." she hesitated.
"Ensign Jessel, we are all tired, and I am not interested in dragging your suggestions out of you. Say it or get off my bridge".
"Yes, Captain. I've had a lot of dance classes. If I dance for them maybe I can get one of them to dance with me. I think that I could get a conversation started that way".
Captain Darren thought this over for a moment, "Sounds plausible to me. But these people have every reason to be frightened. Trying to get them to do anything could be dangerous. Lieutenant Sentry, take another security officer and escort Ensign Jessel down to the cargo bay. Let her try but pull her out at the first sign of trouble".
"Yes, Captain," replied Lieutenant Sentry crisply.
"No, Captain," replied Ensign Jessel quietly.
"What did you say Ensign?" asked the captain in a dangerous voice.
"I meant, Captain, that I agree that there will probably be some trouble, but that may well be the moment that I manage to get through to them. Lieutenant Sentry knows my abilities and I trust her judgment completely. Please, Captain, let her judge whether or not I am in over my head".
Captain Darren had enough diplomatic experience to recognize that what Jessel had just said made sense but she didn't like to be corrected by junior officers. "All right. Lieutenant, you decide if Jessel is in over her head. Ensign, I am warning you if you are told to leave I expect you to obey immediately and without question. Is that understood"?
Jessel straitened to attention, "Yes, Captain. Thank you, Captain," and she turned and walked off the bridge with Lieutenant Sentry.
After the doors closed behind them Sentry turned and looked down at Jessel. "You are just getting down on your knees and begging for trouble lately, aren't you"?
"I don't know what you mean, Lieutenant".
"Yes, you do, Ensign. You grew up on one of these ships. You know more about ship's protocol than I do, yet you're suddenly ready to risk irritating the captain and I want to know why".
Jessel took a deep breath. "From the moment I saw the Jellicles on stage I felt connected to them somehow. I want to help them and I have to talk to them".
"That's what they're called in the play. It seems as good a term as any".
Sentry's face suddenly became suspicious. "You have to talk to them or one in particular"?
Jessel looked at her superior sharply. Blushing through the stern look on her face she replied, "Both".
Lieutenant Sentry sighed, "Just try not to get me in trouble along with you, will you Jessel"?
Chapter 3: Come Dance With Me
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