The Sun Always Shines In Lactolia
Ssslurrp… Slurp-slurp. That looked right. Didn’t it? Nugget frowned. His job didn’t tolerate unprofessional behavior, and if his pesky cowlick acted up today, it would be reason enough to get him fired. At that nerve-racking thought, Nugget glanced through the haze of his old, mold-encrusted window, heat-baked forevermore to remain half-way open, one side of the uneven window leaning heavily to the right, the middle propped up by an old brick. Nugget never dared close the window, for his uncooled room was enough to cause a heat stroke even at the coolest time of night, when temperatures frequently reached a brisk and welcome 92 degrees. At the same time, he was prudent enough to know never to open the window all the way, lest the high-rising smog suffocate him in his sleep.
I can’t lose my job, Nugget swallowed hard, viewing the poverty from which he came from his lofty city abode. From his window he could see clearly the filthy slums, bathed in the perpetual, unclouded, Lactolian sun of day. Even though the thick, low-hanging smoke of the slums enveloped that area from view, more than enough memories made known to him what it look liked. I’ve been an inspiration to all who know me—to be a “smoke dweller,” and completely change my life around! Nugget thought, his heart rate increasing as vivid memories of his life in the poor part of town reclaimed him.
Over 96% of Lactolian “smoke-dwellers,” (So called because the poorest Lactolians were resigned to sleep, eat, breathe and live in the dense, toxic smoke that was always trapped near the planet’s surface), never even left the four-story tall smoke layer they lived in, and a significantly lesser amount ever attained jobs that payed enough to support a high-rise lifestyle. Moreover, out of the 1 billion citizens of Lactolia, over 94% of them were smoke-dwellers.
So to say that Nugget had changed his life around was a gigantic understatement.
Slurp-slurp! Nugget quickly, zealously, resumed grooming himself! He was not going to risk losing his entire lifestyle over an impertinent tuft of fur! I am the best broker at my company, Nugget thought in his defense. But I’m also the newest, he countered, trembling inwardly. He couldn’t—he wouldn’t go back! His tuft twanged up even higher, as if pleased that it could evoke such fear from its owner and determined greedily gain an even more remarkable response. Nugget recalled the fur spray he had purchased for just this situation.
He scanned his small, one room apartment, cluttered though it was with seemingly haphazardly strewn objects for lack of cabinets and/or dressers, and came to see his bright purple spray. On it were several deceptive boasting of the spray’s firm hold, and adjustable cap. His eyes glazed in disgust. He couldn’t believe he had spent his week’s pay on it, just to realize he couldn’t use it! Ends up, it was incredibly hard to design fur-spray (same functionality as hair-spray), for cats. Simply put: Nugget’s paws couldn’t squeeze the nozzle.
There’s always one other option, Nugget frowned, his cat eyes stealing across one of the many clay jars that made up the bulk of his room. He almost winced at the thought, but found himself stalking over to it anyway. He stared at the large, wide bottomed terra cotta pots before suddenly yanking the lid off with his mouth. Just as quickly, he lapped several splashes of the treasured substance onto his fur, replaced the cap, and began massaging the water into his fur. Just like that, his fur, a myriad of warm shades gleaming with the underlying hue of silky burnt orange, was coaxed into submission. Much better, Nugget decided to himself, still disapproving in the fact that he had to use his cherished water so vainly.
Every Lactolian knew without question, that the small, industry-driven world had destroyed its ozone layer by unrestricted pollution produced by careless factories, claiming a state of “perpetual global emergency,” over thirty years ago. To emphasize the great weight behind this fact and justly-placed claim, not having an ozone layer means not having any layer for water droplets, or precipitation, to collect in, and come back down in the form of rain. Which meant that all water that precipitated eventually exited into space, never to land on the grimy Lactolian surface again.
For Lactolians, not only was water a scarcity, but containers to store the water were constantly in demand. Nugget was proud that he had the premier and most highly sought after brand—a status symbol in any household—Clay Jars R Us.
But he was even more flattered to know that he worked there.
Nugget remembered time. As a matter of habit, his keen yellow eyes flew to the clock on the wall. Broken. Right. He still needed to fix that. I’ll pick up batteries and combat that hunk of junk when I get home. Nugget made the same promise he had made for the past three months. Where did time go?!
Nugget gripped his brief-case tightly between his teeth and darted out the door, bob-tail cooly hanging level behind him, uncomfortably aware that his internal clock was incredibly accurate. Fumbling to lock the door, the blue light from his blade-less fan made him want to sink his head into his paws. Quickly unbolting the door, Nugget dashed inside and yanked the air multiplier’s cord with his mouth. Even though he was fortunate—no, more than fortunate—to be able to afford and attain such a recherché item, it took almost half his wage to pay the power bill to keep the fan running! The fan was too vital for mere existence and too high of a status symbol for Nugget to even entertain the thought of giving up electricity and save half his wage. Still, he wasn’t made of money (despite what his former smoke-dwellers now thought) and he certainly wasn’t going to pay to cool the burning world of Lactolia!
Now, neglecting to lock his door again, Nugget flew down the dirty, well-trafficked, flights of stairs, bounding over several steps at a time with his briefcase securely in his mouth.
Although the apartment had once had elevators, they had long since been removed because of maintenance costs and the frequent, haggard, smoke-dweller that would come up with the same unique, purely brilliant, life-changing idea, as all the others and set up his bed and home inside the elevator. The idea was not as rare as the smoke-dwellers might have rewarded themselves with thinking, nor brilliant, for two feline families (before the elevator was closed) were found—and consequently thrown out, a week. However, it did prove as an expert point of the desperate conditions of most smoke-dwellers.
Once again, Nugget was proud of himself, and he finally slid into an out-of-breath halt on the 28th floor. Nugget gathered a deep breath, though his heart was still pounding and his lungs ached terribly, checking to make sure his cow-lick was still down. He then proceeded to casually, though, in spite of himself, still urgently, stroll down the Glass Tunnel. The famous Glass Tunnel.
For all full-time workers at Clay Jars R Us, the Glass Tunnel was a massive, multi-million dollar project undertaken to deliver businesscats to their jobs in style. Not only did it avoid the humiliation, discomfort, dirtiness, and potential muggings of walking on the surface, with the heavy smog and smoke-dwellers, but it also reminded the smoke-dwellers of their inferior lives. Nugget felt proud every time he walked across it.
Even the floor that the mile long technological feat was placed on was not without thought. Since Nugget’s company apartment building had a total of sixty floors to it, and the first four floors were rented out to smoke-dwellers at egregious prices, the well-off hundreds of businesscats that Nugget shared the complex were limited to fifty-six floors to themselves. Twenty-eight was the halfway point for all businesscat residents.
Nugget felt thoroughly sticky by the time he had traversed the mile, and even though the bridge was impressive, it said nothing in the form of comfort or cooling. In fact, there was no air-conditioning or air movement systems the length of it, save a tiny fan half-way across that too many were usually crowded around to make it worth while.
Fur, the bane of every supposedly prosperous businesscat, (The smoke-dweller’s called them ‘done-wells’, as in, “they done well for ‘emselves,”), seemed to be a lingering abashment in the Glass Tunnel.
“Nugget!” Nugget heard his name called as soon as his head pushed through the worn, pet-flap door and into the—Oh, melt for joy—fanned 28th floor lobby of Clay Jars R Us.
“Pleiades tried waiting for you, but eventually gave up and went off shift five minutes ago,” Nugget could feel his stomach tightening in horror. The detriment he could cause in showing up simply five minutes late! His poor, already overloaded fellow stockbrokers! “Don’t just stare at me!” Nugget didn’t realize that the same horror he felt on the inside was being projected through his eyes and gaping mouth, towards his boss. “GET DOWN TO THE SELLING FLOOR, and for your own sake sign in already!” Glowering, Nugget’s boss snapped up again: “And don’t sign in early, like the disgusting piece of trash you are!” Nugget’s boss wore an expression of visible loathing. But then again, he always did.
Nugget dashed into the sign-in desk, his nerves so on end he could barely think straight.
“Hey, Nugget!” The elderly smoke-dweller looked to old to work, but as the economy was, couldn’t afford not to. On the plus side, at least she worked at such a reputable place as Clay Jars R Us. Not only was Clay Jars R Us remarkably successful in its production of, well, clay jars, but as the most influential corporation in Lactolia, it had completely funded and hired brokers for the updated world trading center, located on its polished and gleaming lower floors.
“Hi Clarishe,” Nugget said, slurring Clarice’s name since his briefcase was still in his mouth. His eyes were wide with fear. He set down the briefcase like his mother used to set him down, after picking him up by the scruff when he was a kitten. “Can you please sign me in—I need to go to the selling floor pronto!”
“You know you do,” Clarice’s laid-back attitude seemed unfitting, but was strangely comforting. “How about I write you down as coming in on the dot?” Clarice’s eyes gleamed brightly, if even her fur was dull with age, and skin loose.
“No, no! Don’t do that!” Nugget protested, a buried sense of justice being invoked within him. “Besides, you could get fired!”
“Nugget!” Nugget’s coworker, Fluffball, seemed positively furious, steaming with rage. “Where on this smoky planet have you been! You need to get down here this instant!” Nugget shot a pleading glance at Clarice, begging her not to sign him in early, before snatching up his briefcase and relinquishing to Fluffball’s indignant demands.
Clarice grinned, tapping the stylus on the screen for a while and watching Nugget’s anxious posture as he followed Fluffball head to heel.
“What do I care about getting in trouble?” She scoffed Nugget’s warning, her meow creaky with age, “I’m twenty four years old!”. She then wrote:
Nugget Fuzz. Checked In at 3:00 PM. Staff Verification & Signature: Clarice Smogstein
Even though the official Clay Jars R Us company building was advanced, trafficked and equipped with an elevator, the elevator was always teeming with at least a couple of dozen antsy businesscats, their paws pulling the doors open faster than they would unclose, alone. Simultaneously, just as many more outsiders tugged and fought to pile inside, making the elevators not only a, albeit unintentionally, dangerous place, but painfully slower than scurrying down the stairs.
Even nose to tail, Nugget nearly lost Fluffball in the throng. Nugget was used to the Clay Jars R Us building being packed to the limit. Especially the lower floors. After all, the lower floors were some of the most renowned and influential business floors on all Lactolia, currently being the governmental centers of the planet. Here was one of the rare places where smoke-dwellers and done-wells rallied alike—whether or not they appreciated it.
Nugget could now hear the indiscernible, hoarse cries of stock-selling and stock-buying mania, approaching the pulsating heart of Lactolian government.
Lactolia was like no other world in the Star Convoy Alliance, an alliance of multiple worlds with a mutual well-seeking between them. Although its history was fairly common, even predictable, for most planets in its far off solar system, its governmental policies were all but.
Lactolia was a small world—approximately the size of the moon Charon, in its entirety—but its impact was in volumes. To clarify: Lactolia produced 95% of all retail items in its solar system, and 60% of retail items in the ten surrounding systems.
This was because, when plutomaniac colonists first stepped paw onto the lush, suitable, and prodigiously resource abundant planet of Lactolia, complete with scores of crystal lakes and cerulean waterfalls, forests with hardwoods, softwoods, expanding woods, and bioluminescent trees that glowed softly of purples, greens, and blues, cloud shawled yellow mountains (long since leveled and sold for their iron-rich dirt), unique fruits, some dripping with delectable, sticky, ruby-red juice and sweetness, herds of enano-korova, a docile, sheep-like creature that tasted strikingly similarly to cow, but had feathered wings on which to glide, fields of alien lavender and tulips, fertile soil, and mines copious with salt, gold, and the beautiful hydrated amorphous form of silica that was opal, they immediately set forth to prioritize means to make money.
All at one, factories appeared; the beautiful forests were harvested—their rare bioluminescence sold to research labs and enthusiasts—, the yellow mountains were leveled and their mineral-rich dirt sold, the delicious fruits were farmed to extinction, all of the enano-korova were genetically altered to reproduce without wings, fatten faster and lose all independency; the alien lavender, tulips, and the vast ecosystem they thus supported were cleared out in favor of industrial and retail lots; the mines with the astonishing speed it takes to leave the miners broken and the prospectors rich; the ozone disintegrated and all of the stunning lakes and waterfalls were contained, to inhibit evaporation. All of this, of course, hadn’t happened without the protests of the people. On the contrary, the protests were loud and exceptionally florid—and the corporations loved them. They loved them so much that they would even join in them, so as to complete the deceptive illusion that they, as corporations, cared a lick, thus making them to gain public sentiment. Any ground that the passionate, though, without exception, naive, protesters gained was a chess move on behalf of the corporations: to put the feline populace in checkmate.
The result came so incredibly fast, yet ingeniously gradually, that none of the Lactolian citizens really thought twice—or thought at all—about the sorry state they had wound up in. Like the Lactolian fruits, it seemed that thinking on anything above a subsistence level had been brought to extinction.
And the result was this: That the entire world, 751.5 miles in diameter, was solely focused on industry. From its history to its present, industry had always been a priority and nothing, nothing else had ever risen above that priority. Government was an afterthought.
For Lactolian citizens, it really was no surprise, but if anything, a smoothly-instituted expectation, that from almost the beginning, Lactolia’s government had been bought in stock. Anybody could purchase the world stock, but it was typically a corporation that was wealthy enough to buy anything of consequence. As it went, that corporation set the rules and policy of the planet, with the CEO as some form of president.
Since it was so disillusioned for any individual to own enough of the inordinately priced world stock to make a difference, individuals typically invested their meager earnings in the “ruling company”, that is, the company that owned the majority of the world stock. In this manner, smoke-dwellers to done-wells alike would willingly spend all but the last penny of their money to position themselves within the government, and thus reap the obvious benefits.
Nugget was proud to say that Clay Jars R Us was Lactolia’s largest stockholder. It was, and for longer than any company in the planet’s past, Lactolia’s ruling company.
Of course, Nugget, and all of the employees at Clay Jars R Us had been on edge about one potential threat: The Emperor’s Smorgasbord Corporation.
The Emperor’s Smorgasbord Corporation was a feline food company specializing in gourmet treats, or fine dining in can. Even though Nugget personally thought that the product tasted of cardboard, the company was skyrocketing in not only global, but interstellar sales. Felines across the galaxy seemed to be flocking to the company’s grub to quell their afternoon—and dusk, nighttime, midnight, dawn, morning and noontime munchies. Moreover, the recent embracing of the product by one of the most famous Star Convoy captains, Captain Shtankadoodle, had caused exponential growth for the company.
There was no doubt about it, and the truth had Clay Jars R Us employees even more tense than usual: Emperor’s Smorgasbord was steadily rising through the ranks as the next possible world leader.
Nugget was steadily aware of this as he clomped down the last stair and into the trading room, his office. He recalled the nerve-racking warning issued by Clay Jars R Us last month, warning their employees against purchasing Emperor’s Smorgasbord stock—or supporting the vastly expanding company at all. The last couple of weeks had caused a visible change in the Clay Jars R Us staff, and it was one that Nugget could not escape, especially when he was at work. Of course, at this point, Clay Jars R Us still had 65% of all world stock, so, Nugget thought nervously, his breath whistling through his kitty nostrils, as long as we don’t anything, there is no way that the Emperor’s Smorgasbord Corporation would do us any harm, Nugget comforted himself. Suddenly, he became aware of how foolish he was, caught up in his own thoughts. Even so, it was still true that now, more than ever, Clay Jars R Us needed his fast-paced and effecting salescat techniques and loyalty! And boy, am I going to bring it!
The deafening shrieking and violent roars and threats had the security force busier than usual, and Nugget almost felt a physical fear in the room. He glanced desperately at Fluffball, who had all but vanished across the room. Even through the crowd, Nugget could tell that Fluffball’s calm, expressionless face was wrought with worry.
“What is it?!” Nugget let his briefcase drop to the floor as he spoke, suddenly feeling like an outsider at his own job. He struggled with his briefcase to his desk, but even distressed and displaced felines were their, their panicked voices drowned in all the rest. Nugget didn’t understand. The trading room was always pandemonium, but this was—this was absurd! He had never witnessed anything like it; the shrill fear, the warmness of so much fur in so small an area, the incomprehensible shrieks and growls, the fighting, the—
“The final stock has been purchased by the Emperor’s Smorgasbord Corporation,” Even the loudspeaker could barely be heard over the crowd’s indistinct and rambunctious jabberings, but they seemed to sense the intensity of the message and quiet down. You can hear a pen drop in here, Nugget thought nervously— CLACKITY! All of the triangular kitty ears in the trading room seemed to cock backwards in irritation, their heads snapping to the side, glaring at a nervous Nelly that had quite literally dropped a pen in the apprehension.
Nugget swallowed hard as the voice over the loud speaker, usually so collected and business like, seemed to tremor. Then came the words that felt like an anvil had dropped and crushed him: “The Emperor’s Smorgasboard Corporation is now the new ruling company of Lactolia.”
The entire room froze, startled silent for the next sixty seconds. Nugget was certain that it was the most silent moment in the Clay Jars R Us trading room’s history.
The nervous Nelly dropped his pen again. Nobody even gave him a stern glance of disapproval.
After about forty-seconds, the impact of the news Nugget had just heard slammed into him, and Nugget started to shiver violently. Others let their jaws drop in astonishment. Some of the smoke-dwellers got wide eyed, thinking of how much worse their section of society would be treated in the new power change. Others got dreamy eyed, allowing themselves a rare—certainly they had never entertained one since kittenhood—moment of fantasy.
“The trade-room will be closed until further notice” Nugget’s boss employed weakly, his meow lacking any authority. It was still another minute before some began stumbling out of the revolving doors, wheeling the smoke of surface-level Lactolia into the trading room. Nugget himself just stood, petrified, his four paws cemented to the ground.
“Nugget? Didn’t you hear? The trading room is closed!” Nugget’s boss sounded a little more sure of himself, though he looked as sure as himself as a cockatoo is sure he is an elephant. Even though some of the other traders hadn’t left yet, Nugget knew that, after today, he had earned himself one of the lowest ranks on his boss’ list.
“But I don’t understand, Sir,” The words came tumbling out as Nugget appealed to his boss for any sort of answer, “We had 65% of all world stock—who—how—why was it sold?” Nugget knew that only the densest of floor-level traders would dare sell something so critical and valuable, such as world government rights, but even so, floor-level traders couldn’t sell the company’s holdings without higher authorization—and he had never gotten it.
“It wasn’t supposed to happen this way,” Nugget’s boss mumbled. Nugget’s yellow eyes inquired for more. “We only wanted to sell 24% of the world stock,” Nugget’s eyes bugged out.
“24%?!” He repeated, horror-stricken.
“Come with me,” Nugget’s boss said quietly, and Nugget once more picked up his briefcase and lugged it up the stairs. Nugget found his way into his boss’ office. The door clicked shut.
“You don’t understand!” Nugget’s boss’ voice suddenly had all of its power returned, and it instantly subdued Nugget’s boldness. “If our corporation even holds 41% of the world stock, we could still hold the majority stock! That is, if everyone else only holds small portions of the rest!” Nugget’s boss shouted. But these were not normal circumstances.
“Everybody knows that!” Somewhere from within Nugget, the challenge rose up to dare resist submission, “But what dolt didn’t know that Emperor’s Smorgasbord was on the verge—no, gnawing at the bit—to overtake us, anyway!” Nugget’s golden eyes were aflame, some odd elixir of questions and the hurt of being betrayed, brimming within them. “Last month, you yourself warned us about that, Fidget!” Nugget spat out his boss’s name with distaste, clearly stepping over, ignoring, and setting up residence on the other end of the threshold.
“That is enough, Nugget! This was sound business procedure—
“Are you one of them?” Nugget shrieked,“One of the Emperor’s Smorgasbord employees undercover? How can you say that?! It most evidently not sound business procedure, or we would still be the ruling company!” Nugget roared, his thirst for answers unquenched, his very fur tingling at this injustice.
“Nugget Fuzz! You will be dismissed from Clay Jars R Us premises and withheld your pay for the following week, until you comply with civil decency and respect!” Nugget was about to open his mouth to protest—an entire week without pay and he would be half-starved, nigh living like a smoke-dweller, himself!—but Fidget’s mostly black, dilated eyes had an evil insistence within them, inciting Nugget to do just that, and lose his job forever. Nugget closed his mouth and summoned all the kitty sultriness and contempt as he could, biting his briefcase handle and promptly leaving the building.
Button’s dull green eyes sagged heavily as she watched the excited businesscats rush from here to there, stamping up stairs in their chicken-with-its-head-cut-off panic, so oblivious of others and pleasantly anxious, they probably thought they were the only ones in the world. The atypical spring in their steps didn’t even cause an unwitting glimmer to come over Button’s tired semblance. Nor did it cause a lumpy scowl to paint her face green in jealousy. Even if she were awake enough to keep a straight thought for more than a second, she wouldn’t dare be jealous of the businesscats with whom she worked.
Yes, the businesscats that were so decidedly commending of themselves and breezily prideful, shooting pitying grins at the “benighted” smoke-dwellers (if, that is, they could dare summon a single spare erg of energy to do that), ignorant that they were perpetually bound in exhaustion and shackled in work, fearing every second lest they sink into the very status they demeaned. If anything, Button would have pitied them, the tired fools that didn’t realize they had heaped upon themselves just as much stress and misery as their fouth-floor neighbor, yet satisfied to be completely oblivious of this obsidian fact. But she was much too dazed to do this now, and her starved frame, calico fur all lusterless and without sheen slumped haggardly against the bar counter. As pathetic as businesscats may have been, Button never agreed that being a smoke-dweller was any better.
The lunch-break bell sounded and Button mechanically pulled herself back up to the counter, straightening her apron and quite evidently forcing a face of hospitality. It was the face she would have to paste on for the next month, until her luxurious, entire half-day off came, when she could sleep for eight hours straight and spend the last four tidying up the abandoned elevator shaft she called home. And if she didn’t attempt a smile and the mandatory “have a good day,” then there were a hundred other cats drooling at the thought of having a job as fine as hers. Afterall, she was something to envy! A hot elevator shaft she shared with two others and seven incessantly mewing kittens, and not the slimy ground outside? One half-day off every month? A job where she could (gasp) work on the fifth floor of a corporation? And at the ruling company of Lactolia?
Perhaps the last reason to envy her was justified, but Button didn’t see it so. She had no inclination to politics, and as far as she was concerned, since the three days had passed that the revolutionary statement had been declared, everything seemed to carry on just as it had, under Clay Jars R Us’ authority. Button didn’t let herself dally in thinking that change would come. It seemed that any attempt for change almost without exception, resulted in the ruling corporation somehow justifying a reason to pull its dictatorial noose tighter around the necks of the populace. It seemed to Button that the more submissive she was, the better.
The rushing businesscats, all trying to make the most of their six minute lunch break were flinging themselves down the stairs and screeching around corners to place their orders. Button’s paws mechanically flew into action, delivering the pre-prepped paper saucers mixed with milk and tuna juice (a favorite) from the commercial fridge and to the anxious bussinesscats, all so very eager to depart from their quarter-day earnings in exchange for a shallow bowl of feline nectar.
The felines filed in, same as usual, some faces new and stressed, others old and stressed, and Button couldn’t place a single one of them. With the six minute rush completed, and any remaining energy hence depleted, Button set her head on the low counter and for the stifled trickle of businesscats that would come in now (mostly businesscats hoping to sneak a treat in while on their bathroom break). That, or she would wait for sleep, whichever came first. She knew she that second lunch came in an hour, and she would have to repeat the tumultuous process all over again.
“Barista,” Button repeated the word in her head until it started to lose its meaning. That’s me. What a weird word: Barista. Barista. Barista… The heavy weight of sleep sank Button’s eyelids into her furry cheeks. Wait! That’s me! Button’s blood pressure spiked and her heart started pounding in her chest at once—what if it was her director that saw her sleeping on the job?!
“Yes-yes? What is it? What can I do to help you?” Button spat out hastily, allowing herself to barely relax when she saw that it was a stranger, probably a smoke-dweller that had saved up for weeks to be able to afford a treat here. Anybody, even smoke-dwellers that could come in without reeking of smog, was welcome to the Emperor’s Smorgasbord milk bar, but few could afford the novelties, or even time off from work to purchase them.
“I would like a cup of lukewarm milk,” It was no surprise that the smoke-dweller ordered the cheapest thing on the menu, and Button dished it out readily, the smoke-dwellers tired eyes alighting a moment, to see the delectable dish passed to her. Then the smoke-dweller put her head into the saucer to lap the factory-farmed substance, withdrawing quickly when her nose touched the milk. She cautiously put her head back to the saucer, more careful of herself, this time.
A done-well leapt onto the neighboring green barstool, putting his two paws neatly in front of him and resting on his hind two.
“Made up your mind yet?” Button could hear the impatience in her voice, after the done-well had spent three minutes scouring the menu. There were only six items on it. How could it be so hard to choose? By the cool look and lack of decision on this done-well’s face, she perceived that he had shown up early for his shift, and had time to blow.
“How about just company?” The done-well grinned, as if he had been waiting for Button to snap him out of his aimless menu-staring.
“Sorry. It’s not on the menu,” Button said, without cracking a smile, “But we have a suggestion box that we empty frequently.” Button said, gesturing to a box bulging with empty saucers, napkins and left-over milk slop. “Ah. I see I need to empty it again.”
“That’s a trashcan,” The done-well said, perplexed.
“Yep.” Button said, stooping down to fish out a new garbage bag with her paw. She could have fallen asleep right there. Somehow, she managed to pull herself up, though it felt like it took the energy to move the world, and she stumbled over to the trashcan to empty it. This was quite the effort, on the account that paws weren’t good for gripping things.
“You’re a hoot,” The done-well chuckled when Button came back. Button had no witty response.
“So, whose side are you on?” The done-well reverted to the instantly common question that was bound to get a response. “Emperor’s Smorgasbord or Clay Jars R Us?” Button knew what the done-well was talking about. Ever since the Emperor’s Smorgasbord CEO had come on television, promising the public a change, the underlying unrest and tenseness of the world shift in power had been agitated. Felines everywhere were responding in different ways:
Some, like the revitalized businesscats at Emperor’s Smorgasbord, were naive of the concern, figuring that the unrest would resolve itself. It always had in the past.
Others, mostly smoke-dwellers, leapt at the idea (They had never even thought about it before!) of a freer, more changed life.
Many yet trembled to think of how much worse life was going to become under a young, new, and inexperienced world ruler. What did Emperor’s Smorgasbord know about governing a society? They sold cheap, insipid cat food!
But most usually fell on one side or the other of the line: In favor of Emperor’s Smorgasbord, or in favor of Clay Jars R Us. Such an awareness of options, even to rebelliousness had never been experienced by Lactolians before, and most seemed intoxicated at this new opening in thought.
“I don’t really care,” Button said, the done-well surprised.
“Don’t care?” The done-well repeated with incredulity, “This is a time for change! The Emperor’s Smorgasbord CEO addressed the public and promised them that. Aren’t you excited—or even scared?” Button didn’t say anything. “Oh, come on! For the first time in centuries, there is talk of disobeying the established government—for staying with Clay Jars R Us. Isn’t it historic?!” The done-well seemed blissfully excited.
“It is.” Button answered shortly, the done-well still astonished at apparent her lack of care. Button didn’t care to give anymore. She was to tired to explain her motive, and she half-doubted that the done-well would even comprehend, anyway. Finally, the done-well glanced up at the clock, said that his shift was about to start, and excused himself. Or so he claimed. Button half-suspected that he left just avoid the awkward silence.
It was then that Button realized the silver spotted smoke-dweller was staring kindly at her. Her ears flicked, a doubtful expression on her countenance.
“No, refills are not free,” Button said promptly. The silver tabby laughed timidly.
“That wasn’t it. I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation with that done-well,” The silver cat, probably all washed up and shining just for the occasion to go the Emperor’s Smorgasbord milk bar, said. The silver cat lowered her voice. “You realize there’s talk of war,” A shudder went through Button.
“I am aware,” Button said, keeping composure in her voice.
“And that you’re going to have to choose one side or the other?” Button shook her head.
“No, I’m going to stay out of it. Besides, the corporations know that Lactolia is a volatile environment. That’s why weapons manufacturers were banned,” Button said, proudly remembering the first history lesson she had been taught in school. Attending the ruling-corporation schools was mandatory for kittens, but Button had, more or less, been forced to escape what she would have rather stayed in, after only a week. That was because her family couldn’t support to buy water for her anymore, and needed her to get a job. She had worked ever since that first school week.
“You think that’s going to stop war? Just about every war that has ever happened has had precautions to prevent it!” The silver tabby’s voice warned. For the first time, Button had a trace of alarm run through her.
“Yeah, but it’s going to resolve itself.” Button betrayed her composed front, by mumbling.
“I see,” The silver tabby smiled, sitting straight.
“You see what?” Button suddenly asked, on guard.
“You don’t want to pick a side, because your scared. Your scared that your efforts would only result in making things worse. You see each corporation as what it is: corrupt, and don’t think that either Emperor’s Smorgasbord nor Clay Jars R Us is noble enough to devote yourself and passion to.” The silver tabby’s words cut Button straight through. Button’s shivers were visible, now.
“How do you know so much about me?” Button said, still shaking.
“Stop shaking!” The silver tabby said. “You seem to think that just because I have common sense, I can see right through you. No, I simply know that you’re not alone. I’m not going to lay down my life for either of these corporations!” The tabby admitted truthfully. “But I will lay down my life for a cause I believe in. Now pass me a napkin,” Button passed the tabby a napkin, and producing a pen somehow, the tabby began to write on it:
This is all a scam. The corporations are nurturing the war.
They want it to happen.
The tabby put down the napkin and passed it to Button. Button’s eyes grew large as she read the text, and perceiving its importance, she quickly mopped up some milk with it to smear its message. Cameras were everywhere, and Button feared that they might have seen it.
“How do you know this?” Button asked. The tabby laughed again.
“Common sense, Barista! You have it, too!” The tabby grinned, before her greenish-yellow eyes sharpened with seriousness. “I know you have it. And I know you don’t want to be another pawn in this giant chess-game. I don’t want to be either. I can’t tell you any more right now—not that I don’t want to—but it’s not safe to talk about this here,” The tabby apologized, standing up. She took a deep breath, as if uncertain whether she should do what she was about to do. She closed her eyes tight, and then, summoning all of the trust she could, walked over the napkins and pulled one out, herself. 180 Peach Tree Ridge She scrawled vaguely on the napkin. Button’s eyes narrowed. She knew there was no such place in Lactolia. All ridges had been flattened, there dirt sold and plot built upon, long ago, and peach trees didn’t grow due to smog.
“Use your common sense,” The tabby whispered, slipping the note to Button and stepping away. The shrill sound of the second lunch bell ringing accompanied her departure. Button could hardly believe an hour had passed already, since the last lunch rush.
“Wait!” Button said. “Can’t I least have your name.” A warm smile came over the silver tabby.
“Well of course! That doesn’t have to be a secret!” The tabby grinned,“Although maybe it should be… My name is…Snugglebug.” Button laughed for the first time in months.
“Hey!” Snugglebug warned. “No teasing!” The throng of businesscats making the best of their short lunch break was flowing rapidly now, and Snugglebug was swallowed up within the crowd. Button smiled. She knew that—whether Snugglebug liked it or not—she was going to find her again.
Button jerked. What was that? A shout? It sounded like it was coming from one of the high floors—certainly much higher than the fifth. Button almost laughed at herself, thinking she would be able to hear a shout from so far away, in the middle of the lunch-rush din. It was probably just some nearby chattering. I really am tired, she admitted.
“You hear that?!” A Birman cat with luscious, silky, cream-tipped-brown fur leaned out of his tall, sky-scraper office window to proclaim. “I’M MADE OF MONEY!” He allowed that notice to echo off the nearby factory buildings before he smirked. Somebody ought to have heard that. Good, the Birman cat with a perfectly adorable bow tie collared around him thought, they need to know. He swept his fur-draped brown tail around in smug flourish, turning on his paws to head back to his desk. He trusted his assistant would be around soon enough to close the window he had just opened, and, limping fashionably to his desk, bounded to the chair. Then he leapt to his desk, swept the pencils and pens off of it with his flowy tail, and plopped down on the hard, glossy wooden desk. That felt good…
But not good enough.
The Birman rolled his muscles and stretched into a backwards arch, legs flailing every which way, until, after a thorough stretching, he snapped into an upside down noodle position, his paws folded halfway over him and pristine stomach fur fluffy and exposed for all the world to see.
“Hobbes!” The Birman jumped, rolling off the desk. Then, looking up sheepishly through a mop of cream fur, he awaited his reprimanding. A smartly groomed Chartreux with piercing yellow eyes invited himself in. His keen eyes seemed to magnetize immediately to the room’s newest decor, planted front and center on the wooden desk, and, after a second of staring at it, then at Hobbes, and back at it again, the Chartreux spoke up.
“Where did this come from?” He gestured towards the plaque on the desk. It read, in large golden text:
Hobbes Panjandrum, COO
“I ordered it from a printing company. It arrived yesterday,” Hobbes beamed, straightening himself and his collar out. He could see himself in the plaque’s shiny black border, and grinned at himself. The Chartreux swiftly knocked it to the ground, watching it fall to where Hobbes had already sentenced the other desk things—pencils, papers, pens and such.
“I am the Chief Operating Officer,” The Chartreux narrowed his eyes at Hobbes. “This plaque thingy of yours is a lie.” The Charteux’s voice dripped in bitterness. Hobbes shook his head and quickly replanted it on his desk.
“No, of course not! I would not deny you of you title!” Hobbes defended himself, quickly rubbing the smeared black border so that it shined again. “You did not read it close enough!” The Chief Operating Officer stopped, turned around, and looked at the plaque again.
“What did I miss?” The Chartreux asked, still displeased with it.
“Look closer,” Hobbes insisted. The Chartreux squinted his eyes.
“Chief Operating Officer’s Assistant?” The Chatreux asked in disbelief. Hobbes grinned proudly, centering the plaque by nudging it a little to the left. “All right, that’s correct, but all the lettering is gold except for the word “Assistant.” That’s in black—it blends in with the rest of the plaque,” The Chartreux pointed out the obvious. He squinted farther. “It looks like you scratched off the gold filigree!”
“Are you impending upon my artistic freedom?” Hobbes asked defiantly. The Chartreux stared at Hobbes long and hard.
“You are such a fool!” The Chartreux chuckled, consenting to Hobbes ‘artistic freedom’ without saying the exact words. Of course, even Hobbes’ COO hadn’t consented, Hobbes wouldn’t have moved a muscle to remove the plaque. He liked it. “So has the fool been doing his job?” Hobbes’ COO searched Hobbes’ face, his assistant’s features lost in a blizzard of fur.
“Your genius did his job,” Hobbes ruffled his fur and gently jumped up onto his chair, “When he realized that the blockheads at Clay Jars R Us Corporation sold 24% of their world stock, your fool immediately postponed his midday nap—eh, immediately forewent all other plans, rushing in to alert the board of directors and CEO,” Hobbes grinned, tucking his paws underneath him and nestling on top of them. He looked strikingly similar to a cloud.
“And I congratulate you—I think,” The Chartreux frowned, going over Hobbes’ response in his head,“But that was three days ago. Work is piling up, and I have a hundred speaking engagements to attend—literally a hundred—so I can’t do your work for you, this time!” Hobbes’ COO suddenly looked flustered.
“No matter how many speaking engagements you go to, you’re not going to quell the public’s bent for war. Their desire for change has been buried within them for generations, and they’re just now discovering it. A few flowery words isn’t going to change the publics emotion.” Hobbes said simply, pulling out a paw and briefly licking it. Then he tucked it away again. Hobbes’ COO suddenly looked crushed, so much different from the confident feline that had strode in just a few minutes ago, and he stood up and locked the door.
“So what do I do, Hobbes?” The COO lamented. “My fur is turning grey over the matter!” Hobbes opened his mouth to correct his Chartreux COO, curiously cocking his head sideways, but then shut it, deciding that entertainment value of this was far better than exposing the truth.
“Yeah…,” Hobbes let his voice drift off.
“What do I do, Hobbes?” The Chartreux mourned again, this time louder. Hobbes ears flicked backwards.
“What? Are you as much a blockhead as those morons at Clay Jars R Us? I have a saying for times like this,” Hobbes looked off in the distance, as if he was staring through the walls of his spacious sky-scraper office. “Every shadow has a silver lining.” Hobbes’ grieved COO looked up, his fur above his eyes knit together in confusion. Even his whiskers seemed to twitch, as though baffled themselves. “That’s your inspirational saying? Everybody’s heard that one!”
“Hey! I wasn’t finished,” Hobbes snapped, staring off into the distance again. “Every shadow has a silver lining,” He started over, repeating the famous quote adapted for Lactolia, “And when those shadows come, you peel off that silver lining, sell it, and get rich!”
“What are you implying?” The tables had turned. Now it was the COO that was looking up at Hobbes with sheepish eyes.
“It is elementary, my dear fellow: We purchase from the off-world weapons manufacturers.”
A hospital bed. Wha…? Why? Again? Nugget’s bleary yellow eyes struggled to adjust to the brightness of the cold, concrete room he was being kept in. A long row of hospital beds lined the endless, grimy wall, but his eyes were too unfocused to see them. Instead, it was the smell of weak alcohol cleaner that told him exactly where he was. Nugget tried to push himself up onto his legs, but a sharp, stabbing feeling rent his stomach.
Button’s paws pressed against the iron door, supporting her as she stood up on her two hind legs and tried to peer down the long, narrow row of identical white cells. The only thing different about each individual cell were the foul creatures that inhabited them, and really, Button thought, even they didn’t seem to vary much in size or demeanor.
Yet another addition to, "The Sun Always Shines On Lactolia."
Another addition to, "The Sun Always Shines In Lactolia."
Like usual, its so long that its painful! (But you know you can't resist reading it, anyway.)
Another addition to, "The Sun Always Shines In Lactolia."
An addition to, "The Sun Always Shines In Lactolia."
A spin off the of the much-loved "Star Cats" series.
The behind-wiggling sequel to 'The Big Dent' Part 1.
As if the threat of a comet bound for the Solera Station didn’t seem looming enough, with the entire ship induced into a nervous, whispered panic, Subcommander Ocee could only keep from biting her claws and resisting the impulse to shrink away into a tight cranny—a box, a nook in the insulation, a raccoon trap—anything would do, really, to get away from this news: Lieutenant Lucky had just confirmed that the comet everybody was worried about was only seventeen minutes from impact.