Brian W. Antoine
August 5, 1993
"So, do you want a pick of the litter?" asked Brian. I looked around the lab, and then to the little cave.
"They're in there?"
"Well, actually, no. I don't."
"What? How many times do you get offered a dragon?" Brian was amazed. I told him that it was true, not too many people had been 'lucky' enough to be offered their very own dragon, even a miniature. But dragons just weren't my style.
Brian had brought me to his lab. It was my first trip there, and after hearing about it for so long, I'd looked forward to seeing it. It was mystifying. There were a variety of different assemblies and quite a few books. Most were totally beyond me. Or at least they probably would be if I could read them. Brian's texts were in languages I couldn't begin to guess at. Well, some of them were English, but they still were written in a way I couldn't comprehend.
"Put the headset on the bench there. I want to make some measurements." I set my newest piece of technology on the bench, and Brian placed some devices I took to be some type of sensors close to it.
"How come you want to test it?"
"Because Kalindra had a lot to do with it's design. Remember, she and those in her world aren't human. You wouldn't want your brain fried like a Kentucky Chicken would you?"
Brian... well, I'm not sure how to describe what he did.. He made his tests with a combination of hand movements, vocal musical notes, and some regular old dial twisting. The process took about five minutes, and I let him work without interruption. After he was done, he stood up and told Penny to make an adjustment. One of her remotes floated over to the bench and did something with very fine probes.
"It wouldn't have fried your brain, but I tuned it to make a better synaptic connection to you. It was set up slightly wrong, but nothing serious."
"Cool. How exactly does it work, anyway?"
"It's essentially an amplifier --but you knew that. It transmits and receives on a carrier like the one that provides power to the It. Only this uses a lot less power."
"Does it amplify my brain waves, or what?"
"No, not exactly. What it does is amplify your thought waves. Each of the thoughts you have is an element of a communication structure. Sort of like a language is. The amplifier picks these up, and passes them on to the receiver for processing. Communications to you is the same, but just in the reverse order."
I put the headset on my head.
*Testing, one, two, three.*
*Shut up, Bob*
"So what's the story on the dragons?"
"If you want one, you can pick one out. That is, you can if Smaug will let you."
"Show me what one looks like."
"Well, the babies aren't born yet. But Smaug and his lady friend have built a nest..."
"And you expect to be a proud dragon line owner soon."
"Something like that."
"So let me see one of the big ones."
I'll see if I can coax Smaug out, but use the headset to talk with. He doesn't know you and the sound of your voice might spook him. He has some pretty nasty claws, by the way."
*Ok, trot him out.*
As if he heard me, the tiny dragon appeared at the mouth of the cave.
Brian put his arm out and made a whistling noise. The little dragon didn't light on his arm, but flew over and hovered near his shoulder.
*He's... he's cool!*
Brian smiled. Smaug seemed to know he was being admired, and did a fast loop the loop, stopping where he started above Brian's shoulder.
I stepped backwards a couple of steps and bumped into a table with a smooth stone laying on it.
I put my arm out. *Put it in on my hand*
Suddenly, I was knocked to the floor by an immense weight. Brian was yelling something and the little dragon was darting all around the lab. Everywhere he went, something fell over. Brian was yelling something about being stupid, but I was too busy to listen. I was trying to pull myself out from under the It. When I said put it on my hand, the ship suddenly appeared on my outstretched hand.
"Get that thing out of my lab!" Brian was pissed. His face had a red tinge that bordered on purple. His pet and its mate were swooping and careening all over the place.
I wriggled out from under the It. "What the hell happened?"
"I'll tell you what happened. You said you wanted 'it' and you got It. I told you that headset amplified your thoughts, and this lab is full of energy, a lot of it magic. Now get that thing out of here!"
I popped the hatch open and jumped inside. I figured that if I could make it come here, I could send it home. The look on Brian's face told me I should go with it. With luck, he'd be calm the next time I saw him.
Luck wasn't with me. Smaug saw the opening of the hatch, and flew into the It. He came to a stop about eight inches in front of my face. He looked at me, and I guess he figured he made an error, because the dragon let out and ear splitting screech and propelled himself down and backwards. One of his feet hit the throttle and his wing hit the stick. Smaug immediately reversed direction and came straight at my face. Just as I thought he would hit me, he changed direction again and darted back out of the hatch. As he did, one of his claws raked across my left cheek and my forehead. I started bleeding at once, and in no small way. Through the blood, I saw myself and the It heading towards what looked like a floor to ceiling mural on the lab wall. Brian's pet had set the ship into motion. I braced for impact.
A second later, the It and I were moving through the picture, and apparently the wall too.
I think I fainted.
"God Damnit, I said land!" I was about one step away from frying someone and Smaug was real high on the list at the moment. Between him and his mate, they had trashed a fair amount of equipment in their mad dash around the lab. As I screamed at them, they finally decided to dive back into their cave and wait for things to blow over. As I tried to cool down, I could hear Penny screaming something about Bob.
"Boss, he went through the gate!"
"Huh?" I looked over where the It had set a few minutes ago. It was gone, but then I'd told Bob to get it out of the lab. "What are you talking about?"
"When it powered up, it shot forward and through the gate to Velar. Bob was trying to get it under control, but I don't think he managed it. Smaug was raising all kinds of hell with the controls before he flew out of the hatch."
"Oh shit." I ran over to the gate and looked through. Sure enough, the It was now lying on its side in the meadow and Bob was no where in sight. "Christ, what a mess. No power right?"
"Right. It was in a climb as it passed through and must have landed pretty hard when the power cut out."
I ran through the gate and up to where the It had landed. The ground was pretty torn up where it had impacted and then rolled to a stop. As I got close, I could here Bob groans coming from inside. "Hey, you alive in there?"
"I'm alive, what the hell happened? I was just getting control of things when the power cut out."
"Welcome to Velar. When you passed through the gate, the hyper power tap failed. I've got communications going, but power transfer isn't working yet."
I got a real dirty look from Bob. "No shit!"
With a groan, Bob managed to crawl over to the hatch and peek out. "So this is Velar huh? Pardon me if I'm not happy to be here."
"Hold still for a moment, your bleeding all over everything." I reached around him and unclipped the first aid kit from under the seat. He had a nasty head cut and was making a real mess. "What the hell did you bounce off of?"
"Smaug I think. He clipped me as he flew out the hatch."
"Hold still, damn it. I can't get the bleeding to stop." I hate scalp wounds and this one was no exception. With a final sigh of disgust, I threw the bandage on the ground and just healed the damn thing.
"What the...? What did you do?"
"Welcome to Antoine's first aid and BBQ pit." I stepped back and let Bob crawl the rest of the way out of the ship. "Now, what do we do with your ship?" I looked at the distance it had traveled from the gate. "Well, I'm not going to try to carry It back to the lab. Penny!"
"Right here boss."
"Grab one of the portable energy packs and haul it over it."
"One energy pack on the way."
While I had been talking to Penny, Bob had been walking around the It looking for damage. "Find anything?"
"No, I don't think anything got hurt. Maybe a few scratches in the tiles, but nothing serious."
"I should hope the hell not. You didn't see the specs for the replacement materials Penny used. That thing should stand up to a lot worse than a little bump into the ground and never notice it."
"Here's the energy pack" said Penny and the remote dropped a small bundle by the hatch.
"Ok, let's see if we can get this thing moving under its own power." It took a bit of fiddling and more than a little cussing, but I finally managed to get the energy pack wired into the ships' power grid. With a flip of a couple of switches, the flight controls came to life and the ship righted itself and rested gently on the ground. "Well at least none of the controls got messed up."
"Everything checks out fine boss. The diagnostics pass with flying colors."
I turned back to Bob, who had been trying to watch what I had been doing and look around at the same time. "Ok, it's all yours. Next time, be careful what you say around Smaug."
"Huh, what do you mean?"
"You're the one that picked the name for the It. When you asked for 'it' to be placed in your hand, Smaug scanned your mind trying to figure out what you meant. He must have decided that you wanted the ship delivered to you, but I didn't think he had the strength to transport something that big. Must be hormones or something."
Bob was still looking around at his new surroundings. "Hey, do you mind if I do a little exploring?"
"That's up to you. The energy pack will hold you for a while, but it will need periodic recharging. I'd be real careful of letting any of the locals see you either."
As I walked back through the gate, I could hear Bob climb into the It and power it up. While he decided what he wanted to do, I started trying to cleanup the lab. I heard Smaug cheep at me from his cave, and he ducked back inside when he saw the look I gave him. "You better stay hidden, this is your mess and it looks like you need some more lessons in manners."
"Christ!" The inside of the It was a mess. There were blood splotches on almost every surface, and my shirt was starting to get a little stiff from the blood it had absorbed. It was drying.
*I need some rags or something. There's blood all over the place and I'd better get it cleaned up.*
A second later, there was no blood anywhere. I stood up through the hatch and looked back towards the gate to Brian's lab. "Show off!" I yelled. A paper clip hit me in the chest. No doubt shot from a rubber band stretched between Brian's thumb and middle finger.
I sat back down and sealed up the hatch. The first order of business was stealth, so I cloaked up. After that, I took the It up a few hundred feet so if anything came walking across the field, they --or it-- wouldn't bump into the ship.
*Penny, I need a chart here* I waited for a couple of seconds for one to appear on the screen. Except nothing happened. *Penny?*
Brian responded. *She can't. The controlling she did and the information she passed to the ship is multiplexed on the power beam. You're on a power pack, so she can't send you the chart --or remote pilot the ship. Don't forget that.*
"Hmmm, on my own." *OK, thanks. What's the duration of the power pack?*
*About four hours*
"Showtime!" I throttled up and gave forward stick. The It moved ahead at a sedate 250 miles per hour. On the whole, except for the sky color, Velar looked pretty much Earth-like. At least, it did if you didn't look too closely. The vegetation was a bit different. I tooled around using various landmarks for navigation trying to decide what I wanted to do. I finally decided that I'd get an overall view, so I punched the throttle all the way and pointed the nose straight up.
I took a position about 600 kilometers off the surface and dropped to flight idle. Pivoting the ship around gave me a view of the planet. It was not quite what I expected.
Earth is circular, and is a soft mosaic of blue, brown, and white. Velar is ovoid, with its greatest expanse at the girth. I figured this to be because of a faster cooling when the planet was formed, or the possibility that the planet was spinning much faster as it solidified. It wasn't the blue gem that Earth was, instead, it was a ruddy greenish brown instead. It has the same crystal-glow that Earth has, but the slightly different atmosphere, and the whiter sun of Velar didn't allow the blue Earth has.
Velar had polar caps, but they appeared to be smaller proportionally to those of home. The water of the planet --and there was a lot of it-- has a jade coloration. All in all, the planet was striking in its appearance. It had continents that were more island like than the land mass continents of Earth. They made me think of Australia. I figured that ocean made up about three fifths of the planet surface.
I could look at where I'd come from since my trip through Brian's gate, and that continent was shaped roughly rectangular. Very roughly. A range of huge mountains divided it almost in half from north to south, and a smaller range crossed it from east to west, giving the appearance of a plus-sign. The larger range was capped with snow, but only the tallest peaks of the smaller range had caps. Brian's gateway lay just about dead center of the lower right hand quadrant. I fed in a bit of power, and begun a descent to where I'd come from. "What the hell, I may as well start where I started..."
My stomach made a rude noise, and it occurred to me that I hadn't had anything to eat for about seven hours or so. I decided to go back to the gate, get some supplies, and then start my exploring anew.
There's a song that says 'If it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have any luck at all.' It was very appropriate. Although I'd used a number of landmarks to find my way around earlier, nothing looked very familiar to me. I set up a search grid to reconnoiter myself, but after about three hours, I had to admit it. I was lost. I'd seen areas that were probably little towns, but Brian had warned me not to be seen, so I avoided them. With what I estimated was about 45 minutes of power remaining, I set the It down in a forested area to think out what I should do.
The hatch hissed open and I climbed out. My legs were a little bit cramped from sitting so long, so I figured that I'd do a little scouting and stretch my legs in the doing. It took me about twenty minutes to do my prowling, and during the trip I hadn't seen anything particularly remarkable. Well, there were some birds, but they were all pretty typical looking. At least I hadn't lost the ship. It was right where I left it. I could see it right there...
I hadn't left it cloaked. I trotted over to it and peered in the hatch. Sitting comfortably on the seat was a --well, it was a-- at least, it looked sort of like a...
"Cat, you idiot" it said.
I blinked and looked at the cat.
"A cat!" it said again.
I turned around and walked into the woods from the clearing. I found a sturdy looking tree and sat down against it. Normally I have a lot to say, but this time I was at a loss for words.
I was in a pickle. I was in a forest on an alien planet. I had no way to communicate with anyone, and I was lost. To make it all worse, there was a talking cat sitting in the pilot seat of the It. The last time an animal got in there, well, it got me to where I was. This finally gave me the appropriate word for the circumstances.
A feline head rose above the hatch, and golden almond eyes looked at me. I wanted to throw a rock at it, but decided against it. Maybe it would just come on out, and I could get back in. It wouldn't really help me. I was still too distant to use my telepathic power. On Earth it was weak at best, and with the headset it was better, but it wasn't good enough to call anyone. So I tried anyway.
The cat gave me a look that said I was amebic on the scale of intelligence and hopped from the hatch to the ground. To my displeasure, it walked over to where I was sitting and sat down facing me.
"Brian" it said.
"Shoo. Go away!"
I was starting to get the picture. "Hey, I could win some serious monkey in bar bets with you."
It was a cat looking animal that mimicked. It could hear words and thoughts. "I'll be damned."
I stood up and it stood with me. Tentatively, I squatted down and extended my hand towards it. I kept my fingers curled up like a fist because many animals perceive outstretched fingers to be claws. It leaned forward and touched its nose to my hand. "Cold nose."
I gave it a short stroke on the head, and like a cat it stood up and arched its back. The tail stood straight up when it did it. I petted the animal again and it started making a noise like a sigh. The more I petted it, the more it sighed. "You're purring, aren't you little fella?"
I stood again and walked over to the It. The cat watched me walk. It made no move except to swing its head to watch me. That is, it didn't until I climbed up into the hatch. As it closed, the cat streaked in. In a second, it was sitting on my lap, curled up with its head on its paws, eyes shut. It gave a little sigh and was still.
"Hey! There you are. Where have you been?"
"All over. Where are you?"
"In the lab. Where are you?"
"I'll be damned if I know. Can you throw a smoke grenade or something I can see from altitude?"
"I can do better than that."
A second later, the It was resting on its skids in front of the gate.
"Damn it. Warn a guy before you do something like that. Hey, hold this a second while I get out." I held the cat up toward Brian.
"A cat! You have a cat."
"Sure. Well, I don't know really." I stood up and held the animal to my chest."
"Really" it said quietly. Brian looked at it with wide eyes.
"Did it just say something?"
"Yeah. It did"
"Did" said the cat. Brian's eyebrows touched his hairline.
I guess I had to explain this somehow.
(Editors note: The story 'Star Drive' occurs between this and the previous chapter)
"I said, you brought that hydrogen filled lizard, but wouldn't let me bring my cat."
"Smaug isn't filled with hydrogen."
"Poor kitty. Look at that." I pointed to the gateway in Brian's lab, and there was the cat. It was looking forlornly through the gate. I was sure it had sat there all the time we were gone.
"We don't know much about that thing. On an experimental run like this, we don't need any unexpected incidents."
I looked at Brian, deadpan.
"Besides, I expect you to be excited about an FTL flight system, and instead I have to listen to you bitch about that --that cat thing."
I stepped over to the gate. "Do that wizard shit and let the gate work. Poor thing is probably hungry."
"The gate works for you. Only things from the other side can't come through it."
The cat hopped into my arms as I stepped through and bent down to get it. It nuzzled my neck. "What a kitty. Did you miss me?"
I brought the cat into the lab and put the cat on the bench. "Ok, let's get your curiosity appeased."
Brian stepped over to the bench. "I haven't taken any antihistamines." I said nothing. Brian leaned over and squinted towards the cat. In a flash, the cat suddenly expanded in all directions until it was fully ten times bigger than it was. The roar it bellowed was ear splitting. Brian stumbled backwards a few steps, and when he looked again at the cat, it was normal sized and sitting on the bench, licking a paw. "What was that!"
"I think we've found it's defensive mechanism." I chortled. "I didn't know your eyes could get that big."
Brian glared at the cat. "I haven't got anything against cats, but I don't like this one."
"I'm pretty sure it doesn't like me."
"I wouldn't say that. It knows that you have mixed feelings about it. Since it can tell what we think, I'd bet that it was just reflecting. You know, kind of reacting to you like it might some animal in the forest it wasn't sure of."
Brian stepped over to the bench again. "Nice kitty."
Focusing a light on it, Brian began to look the cat over. "It looks like any other cat. Hair, whiskers, forward articulating knee joints on the front and back legs."
I looked closely at the cat, and picked up a front paw. When I squeezed the pad, it extended its claws as any other cat would. The claws it extended weren't like any cat I'd ever seen. It had regular claws, but it also had a smaller set beneath them. These curved upwards so that when the cat flexed them, they made a scissors' action.
"How's your sinuses?"
"Not a tickle. I don't think my allergies react to it. My eyes would be watering and I'd be coughing by now if it was like other cats."
"There's a plus." I picked up a small piece of 18 gauge wire from the bench and put it between the large and small claws. The cat flexed, and the wire was immediately divided in two --with three eighth inch pieces besides. "Wow. Built in wire strippers."
"That's something to think about when you pick him up."
"Good safety tip, Brian." I put a finger against the claw set and the cat immediately withdrew them into the paw. "Not bad. Here, Brian. You try it."
"Because you can do that healing voodoo stuff and fix your finger if it cuts you."
Brian gingerly put a finger against the paw I held out. Nothing happened. Then he took the cat and held it against the wall of the lab and slowly started to let go. A moment later, he stepped back and the cat was still on the wall where he put it. Brian picked up the cat and returned it to the bench. On the wall were eight small dents. "That wall is solid rock."
I whistled quietly. "This cat can put its claws in rock? Jesus Aitch."
"Are you still sure you want this as a pet?"
"Cats sharpen their claws. Don't you like your furniture?"
"Kitty, would you carve my furniture?"
I started to say something, and stopped cold. "What did you say?"
"No, before that."
Brian smiled. "So, how can we tell if it said no, or was just repeating one of the words you said?"
"I don't know."
Brian started laughing.
"Very funny" I said.
"Funny" said kitty.
Brian looked extremely pleased with himself.
"Cat, will you claw up the house?"
"Do you eat meat?"
Brian stopped smiling.
"Run that last bit by me again please."
Bob turned and looked at the cat. "Do you eat meat?"
With the memory of the claws we had seen fresh in my mind. I could well believe that it was a meat eater. "Shit. Imagine what those claws could do if that thing got pissed." I turned to Bob, "I'd be real careful around your kids with that thing. Have you thought of a name yet?"
Bob and the cat looked at each other for a few moments. "No, I hadn't really thought about it yet."
"Want a suggestion?"
"From you? You've got to be kidding. Anyone who would name a miniature dragon 'Smaug', has got a few screws loose. God only knows what you'd come up with."
Looking as hurt as possible and trying to keep from laughing at the same time isn't easy. "Well, I'd calling him 'Jabberwock'."
I pointed at the paws that hid those cute little claws and the holes in my wall. "The vorpal kitty went 'Snicker Snack'. Think about it. In the mean time, lets see if we can figure out what makes this little guy tick." A stray thought hit me. "Say, is this thing male or female?"
"With claws like that, do you want to try finding out?"
I looked at the holes in my wall. "Uh, no. I think I'll pass. Why don't you get one of your kids to check? If they're armed, it ought to be an even match." I grabbed a stool and sat down in front of the cat. "Ok, lets play a little game."
Hummm... "A, B, C"
Ok, "A, B, C," *D*
I turned to Bob, "Did you catch that?"
"Yeah, it was listening to both."
"Ok, lets see how good he is." I turned back to the cat. *A, B, C, D* and after the 'B' I raised my mental shields' part way.
"He's good. That should have stopped casual snooping."
I snapped my shields to full strength. *You're ugly* It didn't mimic me, but the moment my shields were up it turned and stared straight at me and started to growl. I backup away from it post haste and dropped my shields. "Shit, maybe that wasn't such a good idea."
"What the hell did you do?"
"The moment my shields blocked it out completely, it reacted even though it could still see me. I'd be willing to bet that a good portion of its normal sensory world is based on low level telepathy. From the way it reacted, I'd also say that it had a natural enemy that was capable of blocking it out. It definitely didn't like not being able to sense me."
We both stood there staring at it. As soon as it could sense as well as see me, it had calmed back down and was sitting on the bench washing itself. As I sat back down, it looked at me for a moment and did its little growing trick again, though not nearly as large. This time I could sense the twitch in the magic background as it shifted.
I sat down anyway and stared back at it. "You know, I beginning to think the whole damned planet must be magic."
"What do you mean."
"When it shifted that time, I could sense the magic in use. I haven't seen a whole lot of Velar, but everything I, or you, keep running into turns out be able to utilize magic in the normal course of its existence."
"Wild, I wonder if it can do anything else?"
"I've no idea, but I would keep a close eye on it when you take it home. If the wife vanishes or the kids start turning green, I'd chuck it back through the gate in a hurry."
Bob ran over and stood beside the cat and started scratching it behind the ears. "Naw, he would never do anything like that, he likes me."
"Christ, there he goes again." I would almost swear that I saw more than just a dumb animal staring back at me out of those eyes. "I just don't know about this." I started to stand up and move towards the bench when the cat stood up also and moved so it was directly between Bob and me. The noise it was making said in no uncertain terms that I wasn't to come any closer. "Uh, yeah. I think I'll just stay over here."
"What were you going to do?"
"I was thinking of checking to see what kind of range it has. I wanted to see how far away it could sense you. Something tells me that it doesn't want to get separated from you again." I cleared my mind and walked away from the bench. As I did, the cat shrank back to normal size and went back to enjoying Bob's scratching. "That thing might just make a pretty good watchdog, er... cat. I think it's bonded with you."
"Kind of like Smaug and you?"
I thought of Smaug and his mate. "No, I don't think Smaug is actually bonded with me. It's more like he was lonely or something and I happened to be handy. I half expect him to take off when the eggs hatch."
"Huh, what did it say?" The cat jumped from the bench and I lost sight of it under the workbench. "Did it say what I think it said?"
"It sounded like 'egg'."
I though about what I had just been talking about and started to worry. "Where is it? I think it was picking my thoughts as I was talking about Smaug and his mate."
"I don't know, it walked under that bench over there." Bob and I both ducked down and started searching for it. We didn't have to search long as an ear splitting shriek came from the direction of Smaug's cave and he came boiling out with blood in his eyes.
"Holy shit! It's a meat eater remember! Quick grab it!"
I'd never seen Smaug this angry before. As I rounded the bench and ran across the living area, I could see him make a diving attack at something on the floor. The claws that I'd felt once or twice as he balanced on my shoulder were now at full extension and had to be at least 3 inches long. The cat must have been waiting for him. As he made his run and climbed back into the air, I could see tufts of hair in his claws, but he wasn't flying real smoothly. His mate was now standing in the cave entrance and gouging groves in the rock as she screamed at the cat.
"You get the cat, I'll try to keep Smaug out of the way." I saw Bob grab a pair of the gloves I use when handling volatile materials from one of the benches as he ran towards the cat. I was trying to position myself between the cat and Smaug as he hovered in the air screaming. "Try to herd it towards the gate. We can separate them until you get ready to leave." I think the cat had second thoughts about taking on two mini-dragons as he didn't seem to be objecting to Bob's herding him away. He also didn't want to be caught though and I distinctly saw him shrink to about half his normal size to avoid Bob's grab at one point.
Smaug didn't seem to care what happened, just as long as the cat left the area of the cave. As Bob and the cat ducked through the gate, I managed to keep Smaug from making any more attacks. It was my turn to get nicked this time though. The little sucker nailed me as I jumped in front of him. As soon as the cat and Bob were through the gate, he settled back down and landed near the cave mouth. However, neither he nor his mate took their eyes off the gate.
Grabbing a cloth, I wrapped it around my arm and stepped through to Velar. "Damn that stings. You ok?"
"Yeah, but your going to have to replace these gloves." Bob held up the remains of the metal mesh gloves he'd grabbed, the palms where sliced almost through. I whistled as I looked at them and gained an even healthier respect for those claws.
"Christ, that was woven hull metal also." I looked over to where the cat now sat in the grass glaring at us. "Your life is sure going to be interesting with that thing around. I don't think I'd bring it back for a visit to the lab real soon though."
"Think we can sneak it by them to get it home with me?"
"How about locking it in the It while we transport it back through the lab?"
The two of us both looked at the cat and the It that still lay in the meadow. "I'd hoped to do a little more exploring, but I think I'll wait for a little while."
"Good plan. Why don't you pack up and get ready. When you get back on the Terran side, I'll teleport the whole mess back to your garage."
"Have you got a spare power pack? I think I spend most of the charge in the one you installed."
"I'll have Penny top it up when your on the other side." I watched as Bob walked over and kneeled down beside the cat. At his approach, it had shrunk back to normal size and as he picked it up it curled up in his arms and acted as if nothing had happened. "Damn that things weird." When he had boarded and powered up the it, I stepped back through the gate and guided him through. *Do you have any idea how little clearance you have?*
*That close huh?*
I checked each side as the It slide through the gate. *About 3 inches on each side. You sure got lucky when you dove through here the first time. If you'd damaged the gate, you could have emerged almost anyplace.* As the It hung in mid air in the middle of my lab, I had Penny recharge the power pack in case it was ever needed.
"Can you hear me?"
"Loud and clear."
"Ok, hold it right there and get ready. Penny, be ready to back Bob when he reappears."
I reached out and touched the side of the It where my emblem was imbedded on the side. "Happy landings and watch your fingers!"
With a pulse of magic, the It vanished.
The It arrived in the garage with a loud crash. The kitty looked up at me and echoed my thoughts.
There was going to be hell to pay. I should have told Brian that the garage was no longer empty, but was filled floor to ceiling with a large collection of boxes and old odds and ends. At least it did until the It made its arrival. Now the garage door was sprung off the track, and a few of Karen's possessions had proven themselves breakable.
I opened the hatch and crawled out. Standing on top of a disarray of boxes and other things I looked at the cat.
"Yes, my little friend, but let's see how long we can keep this a secret."
I made my way out of the garage and looked back to see if the cat was faring ok in his escape. I shouldn't have bothered. He was waiting for me outside and I didn't notice until he rubbed against my leg. Together, we walked to the house and went inside.
The dogs bounded up to the door as it opened, and for a second I was horrified. I fully expected the dogs to be shredded canine meat. Instead, not only they, but kitty too accepted each other. Our pit bull tried to stuff his nose up Jab's butt --but then he does that to almost every new arrival. Our Collie-Samoyed just looked bored and walked away. About the time I figured that this was going to work out, our neighbor's cat made an appearance.
It would come by every now and then, and if the door was open it would trot inside and try to rip off the dogs for their food. It'd usually get away with a bite or two before either or both of the dogs would run it off, but now it strolled into the house, tail erect and proud and padded towards the kitchen. It got about five feet.
It happened so fast that the neighbor cat didn't have time for a screech or a meow. Jab (short for Jabberwok as Brian named it) was suddenly standing where the cat had been, with a three inch section of cat tail protruding from his mouth. He made a slurping noise like someone eating spaghetti, and then there was no trace of the neighbor's cat at all. Jab was looking pleased, and I was looking to see if anyone else might have seen how my new cat had redefined the concept of fast food.
"You can't do that!" I hissed at him.
"Yes what, you dipstick. You can't eat other people's pets that way. How would you like it if a neighborhood dog ate you?"
I'm not sure, but I think Jab actually laughed at that. It dawned on me just how stupid a statement it was.
"Well, let's just say that I don't like it. You eat what I give you, and don't be inventing your own menu."
"Yes. Bad cat. No eat pets. Bad cat."
Jab looked dejected, so I gave him a scratch on the ears. He appeared to brighten a little. About then my wife came in.
"Ooooh! What a pretty little kitty!" she said. Karen rushed over to Jab with her arms outstretched. She's always been a sap for animals, and cats were irresistible to her. When she was about two feet away Jab did his size thing and bellowed at her. She stopped so fast she fell on the floor, face down. Lifting her head, she looked at the cat. I could see terror in her face --something I'd never seen there before. Her face twisted into confusion as her eyes focused on Jab, who had returned to his usual state. "What just happened?" she said. There was an edge to her voice.
"Uh, this is Jabberwok. He's my new cat."
"Cat? This is a cat?"
"Yes" said Jab.
My wife's chin hit the rug with a thump and there was no need to check. I knew in my heart that she'd fainted dead away, and that when she awoke that I would be shown the couch --and handed a pillow.
It wasn't to be though. Karen's eyelids fluttered and then opened. She rolled onto her back and sat up. She was giggling. " You know, I dreamed that you had a talking cat."
"No dream Karen. I'd like you to meet Jab."
Kitty walked over to Karen and hopped onto her lap. He nuzzled her chin and then...
"My god! A talking cat!" She grabbed kitty under the forelegs and lifted him up to look at him face to face. "Say something."
Jab looked at her. "No cat"
This caught my attention. "What did you say, Jab?"
"What do you mean, no cat?"
"Meenzal? Meenzal? What's Meenzal?"
Karen looked at me. "I think he means that he isn't a cat. He's a Meenzal."
"I'll be damned. He knows what he is. It's weird, he's only been repeating things for the most part. Now he's forming statements."
"I think he's cute!"
"He's that all right."
"So it's a he?"
"Well, to tell you the truth, we, uh, haven't checked."
Karen hiked kitty up again and looked between his back legs. "Well, if a Meenzal is anything like a cat, he's a boy all right."
"Uh, Karen. I'd use a little caution. He's got a set of claws on him you wouldn't believe."
"Really?" Karen set the cat on her lap and grabbed a paw. She made Jab extend his claws. "How interesting. His claws oppose. I'll bet he's got a great grip."
"Yes, you can bet your ass on that. There's a solid rock wall with a permanent copy of his claw marks on it. So I'd watch it if I was you."
"Oh, kitty wouldn't hurt the momma would the kitty. Oooooh, pretty kitty."
"You're going to make me puke" said.
Jab looked at me with mild annoyance. "No claw"
"See! What a pretty little kitty cat." Karen hugged the cat to her chest and stroked its head. "He wouldn't hurt a fly."
"Probably not" I said. Mentally I thought that neighborhood cats weren't flies. The last thing I'd do was explain that to Karen.
Jab tensed in Karen's hold, and then jumped to the floor. He began a hack like noise that changed into a full fledged cough. A moment later, he spat a pretty horrendous furball onto the living room carpet.
"Pretty gross, Jab" I said. Kitty ignored me and began to lick a paw and comb his chin with it. He had an expression often seen on the face of someone who's just belched heavily, and was satisfied by the act.
"Eeew. Fwee!" said Karen. "I'll get some paper towels."
"Ok. I think I'll introduce Jab to the rest of the house." I went off to find the kids and let them meet the Meenzal. To my great relief, Jab decided he liked the kids --and to my GREAT relief, apparently decided that the other two cats in the house weren't menu items.
The following morning though, Karen commented that we were out of eggs.