Illegally Born

Chapter 11: The Unicorn

 

"What were you thinking?", demanded Munkustrap, in a low voice. He had insisted on visiting Macavity in the brig before he could sleep. As uncomfortable as he was around cages and his former captors, he had felt an urgent need to make sure that Macavity was still alive. As soon as he had arrived, however, Macavity had laid down on his bunk, in the cell he alone occupied, and had done his best to ignore Munkustrap. At first the gray striped tom had tried to be understanding and concerned; now he started to become angry. "Just tell me what you were thinking," he demanded, "Why would you try to kill Jessel, when she has been useful to us?"

"Useful," snorted Macavity, unable to remain silent any longer. "Youíre such a puppet, you donít even know when your masters are pulling your strings, do you?"

"Oh, he speaks," replied Munkustrap facetiously. "If Iím the problem why didnít you try to kill me?"

Macavity bounded over to the bars, fire burning in his eyes, "Because Iím not a fool! I donít want to kill you and the Jellicles would never have forgiven me for the murder of one of our own. If I could have just shown them Ė shown them that humans can be hurt, can be killed, then they would have realized that they can fight and they can win!"

Munkustrap shook his head in disbelief. "We canít win that way, Macavity. There are too many of them and they have weapons we donít even understand. You went against us and jeopardized all of us. Because of your action, we could have lost these humansí good opinion of us, and that is the only thing that is keeping us alive. Lt. Sentry asked me if she needed to confine all the Jellicles -- and she questioned Victoria about her involvement in your plans."

"Victoriaís not in a cage, is she?" begged Macavity, with the first hint of remorse Munkustrap had seen in him. "She didnít know anything about it! I tricked her into separating Jessel out!"

"Shut up over there," growled a sleepy voice from one of the other cells.

"Victoria is grieving, sure that they will kill you," growled Munkustrap ruthlessly, trying to use the one bit of regret he sensed to force Macavity to start considering the consequences of his actions. "If you care for her at all youíll behave yourself so that you can return to her someday."

"Like theyíll ever let me go now," snarled Macavity. "Iím only wondering when they are going to punish me."

"They are punishing you. Humans punish their criminals by taking away their freedom. You should consider yourself lucky that Jessel likes us so well. Murderers lose any chance at freedom for the rest of their lives. Jessel talked Lt. Sentry out of charging you with attempted murder. You have to stay in the brig for the rest of the journey but if we win our freedom, you will eventually share in it. Not all humans are evil, Macavity."

Macavity lowered his eyes to the floor. "If Iíve been a fool, then Victoria would be better off without me."

Munkustrap put his hand through the bars and rested it on Macavityís shoulder. "She loves you. She would be better off if you would think before you act." Reaching through the bars with his other hand he raised Macavityís chin so he could look in his eyes.

Macavity tore himself away and turned his back on Munkustrap. "Iíll think about it," he said with a gasp in his voice.

Munkustrap understood and turned to leave. A face surrounded by white hair looked out at him from the cell nearest the door. "Troubles, cat?" asked Dr. Ferranís sharp voice. "Your animal nature showing through?"

Holding tightly to his pride, Munkustrap strode past him, out of the brig, refusing to give his former captor the satisfaction of any response.

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

Captain Schubert stopped and caught her husbandís eyes one last time as they prepared to enter the Starbright from the landing module. "Not one word," she growled.

His green eyes looked out from beneath the shock of black hair that was always falling into them, making him look half his age. "Donít I always obey your orders?" he asked innocently.

"No," she replied and stepped sharply through the airlock. Being the captain of a medical relief ship, she often found herself trying to keep her Chief Medical Officer from diving headfirst into trouble to save others. Being married to him didnít make that job any easier. Now it looked like her daughter was following her fatherís tendencies; caught up in a mutiny when there was no evidence to support the contention that the people they were trying to protect were people at all. The notes kept by their creator, Dr. Ferran, gave no indication that the cats were actually intelligent. His training techniques seemed to indicate that these were animals with a level of intelligence equal to most dogs, not people. Still, mutiny was a serious offense, although Capt. Schubert didnít know Capt. Darren well she had trouble believing that any starship captain would mutiny over a bunch of animals. That was why she wanted to see her daughter. Capt. Schubert knew Arriyanaís normal behavior patterns well, and though her daughter might appear flighty to some, Schubert felt confident that she could discern the difference between a true conviction and something else.

Capt. Darren and Lt. Sentry waited at the airlock for their guests from the Unicorn. "Welcome aboard, captain, doctor," said Darren amiably.

"Captain," replied Schubert sizing up the other. Darren wouldnít have agreed to slow her ship enough to allow a shuttle to pass between the two without good reason. Schubert hoped that reason was to gain her support but she was too good an officer to lay her guard down until she was certain. "This is my husband, Dr. Maddigan. Where is my daughter?"

"Probably asleep," replied Darren, "It is only 0500."

Schubertís eyes narrowed, "I thought sheíd be here to meet me."

Darren shrugged. "You picked the time. Weíll take you to her."

Schubert tensed a little more as she fell into step beside Darren, with Lt. Sentry and Dr. Maddigan following. Arriyana should have been at the airlock. Darren had made the choice not to have her there and that made Schubert suspicious. An elevator took them to a cargo area. Why would her daughter be sleeping in a cargo area?

That became clear as they stepped into a cargo hold. Movement to her left caught Capt. Schubertís eye and she surveyed the line of bunks as a number of heads popped up. Furry heads with triangular ears pricked toward the door in curiosity. She felt the tightness of her jaw give way to a full fledged scowl as Arriyana raised her head from her pillow, but her suspicions that her daughter had been placed in this room for her benefit were smashed a moment later when a second face popped up in the same bunk. It took a moment to register that the reason that face was so white was because it was covered in fur. Arriyana rose and hurried towards her mother while her young man padded down the row of bunks.

Schubert grabbed her daughter by the arm, her hand slipping on the silky blue fabric of Jesselís pajamas, and hauled her out into the corridor. In the full light of the hall a second shock slammed into Schubertís brain as the red scratches flaming across her daughterís throat became apparent. Ari had been sleeping with one of the cats and fighting with another; or was it the same one? "Arriyana Bridget Jessel, are you out of your mind?" she hissed as she fought to bring her emotional reactions back under control.

"Probably," Ari responded with a mischievous smile. "Come and meet my friends."

Capt. Darren and Lt. Sentry passed them on the way to the elevator. "Weíll just leave you alone to talk," Darren said, with the air of someone edging away from ground zero. The look on her face was enough to make Schubert believe that she hadnít expected to catch Arriyana in bed with one of the cats. She wondered if Darren knew where the scratches had come from and then decided to dismiss them. Obviously, Ari felt close enough to the cats to support the mutiny. Schubert wasnít likely to hear anything negative about them from her, at least, not now.

Dr. Maddigan joined them in the hall, followed by a large gray and black stripped tabby and the black and white tom that had been sharing Arriyanaís bed. The smaller catís eyes narrowed as his gaze fixed on Schubertís white-knuckled grip on her daughterís arm. Out of the corner of her eye, the captain saw Arriyana give a single slow shake of her head -- and the tom relaxed. Schubert released her grip as her daughter began to make introductions. The two cats simply nodded in response to their names, as did the Unicorn officers, though amusement twinkled in Maddiganís green eyes.

"Well, isnít this lovely? Why donít we go get some coffee?" asked Jessel, leading the way back towards the elevator and into another cargo bay.

"Could we talk to you alone?" asked Schubert tightly as they stepped through the door into a what appeared to be a cargo bay-turned-mess hall. The plain, primer-gray walls still had hooks inserted for securing cargo and the tables and utilities had the look of a job done in haste, and with little preparation or pre-planning.

"No." Jessel paused to give her mother a hard look, "You want to talk about the mutiny and the Jellicles. Well, theyíre here so you may as well talk to them, too."

"Ensign," began Schubert warningly.

Jessel cut her off firmly. "Donít even go there. You can either talk to me as your daughter or your junior, not both. And you know exactly what you get out of me when you start giving orders."

Schubert took a deep breath as she sat down at a table. She and Arriyana had been butting heads for a long time, probably because they were so alike. Arriyana turned to start some coffee but the tom she had introduced as ĎMistoffeleesí stopped her. Silently taking her by the shoulders, he brushed his cheek against hers and turned her towards the table, giving a gentle push. Her hand brushed his black shoulder, trailing lightly down his arm, as he headed for the coffee urns. Ari took a seat across from her parents and Munkustrap hesitantly sat next to her, on the left, eyeing the two strangers warily.

Schubert took a long look at the silver tom and decided to ignore his presence. While she knew that her husband had hoped to meet the Jellicles, she, herself, was not yet committed to their cause. She reminded herself that Dr. Ferranís notes did not show any indications that the cats were intelligent and, so far, she had seen little to contradict that observation. Darrenís assurances were not enough to make her risk her crew, but a nagging voice in her mind insisted that there would be reason enough very soon. She frowned again, pushing the voice away, determined to have as much proof as possible before risking her crew. "Ari, I take it you support your captainís decision to mutiny."

"Very much so." Ari rested her hands on the table and leaned forward intently.

"Why?"

"Now thereís a strange question," Arriyana snorted. "You two run a medical relief ship. You spend your lives trying to preserve life. Donít you think some of that would have rubbed off on me?"

"Not quite what Iím asking. Look, you have a lot of sympathizers in my crew. Many would like to join you. I have a responsibility to protect them. I am not going to risk mutiny charges for nothing. So convince me. Specifically, in this instance, why mutiny?"

"Good question. What can you do to help us if you do mutiny?"

Schubert was taken aback by the question and showed it. "What canÖ? Now you listenÖ"

Jessel laughed, startling those around her. "I know you too well, mother. You were 90% positive you were going to help before you even set foot on this ship. You just want to be 110% positive before you commit yourself. Well, I am 110% positive. The Jellicles are wonderful people who deserve the chance to live out their lives in freedom. It wasnít their fault they were born the way they were, and they donít deserve to die for it. Now my question to you is, can you help us more by joining the mutiny or lobbying from the sidelines?"

Schubert gaped at her, certain now of her daughterís convictions but still needing proof. Mistoffelees reappeared, a tray of steaming cups in his hands and set down coffee in front of each of the humans, and tea before Munkustrap and the seat to Jesselís right. The small tom had left the coffee black for the Unicorn officers but Dr. Maddigan nudged his wife and indicated Ariís cup with a nod, a smile tugging at the edge of his lips.

"Still taking hot cocoa in your coffee?" asked Schubert, groaning at her daughterís odd preference. At the same moment she realized what her husbandís gestures had truly meant. Arriyana wouldnít have taught the cat to put cocoa in her coffee and no one else took it that way; he almost certainly had to have picked up that preference from observation. She glanced from daughter to husband, aware of the shared convictions behind their eyes. Still unconvinced herself she decided sheíd have to go along, at least to a point, to get what she needed. "All right," she growled turning to her husband, "Tell her what you wanted to do IF we go along.

"About time," smiled Maddigan. "Ari, weíre a medical ship. We can put together a body of medical evidence to prove that the Jellicles are people. And we have the right sort of contacts in the medical community to make people listen to us. Iíve already started researching Dr. Ferranís records. We need to fill in some blank spots and provide supporting evidence but we have the ability to do those kind of tests --"

"Tests?", interrupted Munkustrap, looking horrified, "No!"

His voice had startled Schubert, who hadnít been certain that the cats even could talk until this moment.

"Munkustrap," said Ari quietly, "I know how you feel about doctors butÖ"

"No," he replied more firmly, his tail lashing in agitation. Ari hid a wince as the striped appendage thunked loudly against the back of her chair. "I wonít put anyone through that. We have agreed to dance, we have agreed to answer questions for you to record. We wonít go into a laboratory to be picked apart; not again. I will fight to keep that from happening!"

"It wouldnít be like that, Munkustrap," said Dr. Maddigan, using his most soothing bedside manner. "Weíd need volunteers for what we were planning anyway."

A low growl started in Munkustrapís throat, and he glared at the doctor.

Ari put her hand on his arm. The muscles were drawn taught and hard under the soft fur. "They are offering to help. I understand if you donít want to take the tests but some of the others might want to volunteer. Being free means that different people have the right to make different choices."

Munkustrap narrowed his eyes at her. "And I know who youíll talk into choosing to volunteer, if I allow it."

"Yes, I would," replied Arriyana, a hint of steel creeping into her voice, "there is too much at stake not to take every opportunity that presents itself."

Munkustrap glanced at Mistoffelees, who nodded; he wouldnít need to be convinced, heíd simply volunteer. Munkustrap wasnít about to let any of the Jellicles walk into a situation that he feared. He turned sharply to face the doctor, his eyes glittering with determination and forced courage. "Set up your tests, Doctor. I will take them. And then I will decide if anyone else may."

"With your permission, Captain?" inquired Dr. Maddigan formally.

Schubert smiled, finally convinced by Munkustrapís concern for his people. "Granted".

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

The tests hadnít been painful, that Munkustrap had to admit, bewildering but not painful. The doctors had been scrupulously polite from the moment he had walked in the door, but then they wanted his cooperation. The first thing they had done was put a headband on him that sent signals to a little box they said showed his brainwave activity. They had tried to explain what some of the readings indicated, but the explanations had only confused him. Finally he had asked, "Can this read my thoughts?"

"No," Dr. Maddigan had assured him with an easy grin, "it can only record which areas of your brain are active and how much activity is taking place."

Not convinced, Munkustrap had thought furiously at the machine to see how the humans would react. They didnít, which persuaded him that they were probably telling the truth, since his thought had been "I hate doctors."

They seated him at a table and had given him a number of puzzles to solve while they watched the mysterious squiggles of light that appeared in the box. The puzzles annoyed Munkustrap at first because he couldnít see the point of putting them together. After a while he decided that the puzzle pieces were like dancers spinning on a stage, each one needing to be in itís exact relation to each of the others to create a performance worth being proud of. The comparison pleased him and he found himself completing the puzzles more quickly as each piece announced itís relationship in the puzzle to him. The puzzles where the key was color were the most difficult for him, shapes were easier. A puzzle that required him to match numbers proved to be an enjoyable challenge. It had soured his mood, though, when the doctors actually looked pleased over the puzzle that required him to jump pegs around a board, removing those he jumped. It had been easy enough to get down to one peg, but the smiles made him wonder if he had done something wrong.

Theyíd called a halt at that point and one of the doctors brought him a tray of food, then retired to a corner with the others to discuss the tests. Munkustrap picked up a knife from the tray, noticing that it was the same type that Macavity had used to attack Jessel two days before. He briefly wondered if this was another test but decided against it, since the knives had not disappeared from the Jelliclesí mess hall. Gazing thoughtfully at the knife, Munkustrap decided it was time for a test of his own. Before he could think about it too much, the silver tom drew the sharp blade across the palm of his hand, slicing it open. The pain jarred him -- it stung more than he had expected -- but he allowed the drops of red blood spattering on the table to fascinate him, making the pain more bearable. He dropped the knife back on the tray with a clatter. A shocked gasp from one of the doctors told him his handiwork had been noticed and he squeezed his hand, causing more blood to flow.

Dr. Maddigan strode quickly forward and reached out a hand for Munkustrapís. "Let me see that, Munkustrap," he said firmly.

"No," responded Munkustrap, snatching his hand back.

"Munkustrap, let me see your hand," persisted the doctor, more slowly this time, as if speaking to a child. His own hand reached slowly for Munkustrapís.

"No," repeated Munkustrap, squeezing more blood onto the table.

The doctor stared at him, perplexed, his hand stopping in mid-air at Munkustrapís denial. Slowly he knelt to look the silver tabby in the eyes. "I donít know why you hurt yourself, but I need to make sure you didnít damage your hand permanently. Now, please, let me take a look at it."

"No," said Munkustrap again, staring innocently into the doctorís eyes as he squeezed his hand to make it bleed. He tried to hide his wince as the hand throbbed; a small pool of scarlet gathered on the table now.

Dr. Maddigan stood up and looked at the other two doctors, whose shrugs emphasized the helpless expressions of their faces. Dr. Maddiganís gaze returned to Munkustrap, who wondered if the doctors would try forcing his cooperation. The doctor touched his communicator, "Dr. Maddigan to Ensign Jessel, will you please come to the infirmary? Now."

"On my way, doctor," came the reply.

Dr. Maddiganís voice turned soothing, "I donít want to hurt you, Munkustrap. I only want to take a look at your hand so I can help."

Munkustrap silently watched more red drops fall to the table, splashing slightly in the puddle forming there.

"Wonít you at least tell me why you cut yourself?" pleaded the doctor.

"No," repeated Munkustrap. Dr. Maddigan gritted his teeth in silent frustration at the tomís unwavering answer.

The door opened, admitting Ensign Jessel. Her eyes widened as she took in the sight of Munkustrap dripping blood onto an already well-spattered table and the three doctors standing around him, helpless looks on their faces. She turned her questioning gaze to her father, who explained, "He cut himself and he wonít give us permission to tend it."

For a moment Jessel watched as Munkustrap squeezed more blood from his hand, apparently fascinated by the patterns it made on the table. She surprised even herself as a sharp bark of laughter exploded from her throat with the realization of Munkustrapís true intentions. "Decided to run your own tests, did you?"

Dr. Maddiganís jaw dropped open in a flash of anger as he realized heíd been had. Munkustrap turned a look of pure innocence on Jessel, who snickered at the scene.

That tableau held until Dr. Maddigan sighed and inquired, "Well, did we pass?"

"I suppose," replied Munkustrap, giving the doctor a considering look before extending his hand for treatment.

Chapter 12: Poker, Anyone?

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