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Mar 6, 2018

The Sun Always Shines In Lactolia: Part 3

Category: Star Cats
Posted by: weedles

 


Nugget spat on the poster in front of him, watching his saliva run down the face of a happy little kitten, looking upwards in unbounded hope.  None are thirsty.  Nugget could feel his blood coming to a boil, but didn’t have time to do all he wanted to do to the Emperor’s Smorgasbord poster.  He needed to keep moving, and despite the fact that he had lost all zeal for work, his stomach urged him on.  Something within Nugget couldn’t allow him to budge until one deft swipe had permanently marred the face of the paper kitten.  Take that, you Emperor’s Smorgasbord sympathizer…

Nugget briskly stalked into the white Clay Jars R Us lobby, consciously aware that his face was contorted into an ugly mask of resentment and anger.  He wasn’t going to be content until everybody from the janitor to the CEO knew how miserable he was.

“Clarice.  Sign me in.”  Nugget grunted.  If he wanted anybody to pity him, at this moment, and certainly, he wanted everybody to pity him—it was Clarice.  And she assured me that no ill would come, yesterday.  Nugget swished his tail indignantly.

“Done,”  Clarice returned Nugget’s shortness, looking at him coldly, her vision penetrating deeper than the surface-level hate of Nugget’s eyes.  It reached into him and pulled out the same, buried Nugget, she was so accustomed with, as though to rebuke him for his sulking.  Nugget turned without a word, vanishing into the ever-present drove of businesscats and plodding downstairs.  If Nugget would have looked up from his own simmering self-pity and bitterness, his eyes would have met a thousand others consumed in the same high dudgeon.

Nugget entered into the vociferous trading room, with all of its urgency and energy, twitching his ears a full ninety-degrees backwards as he did so.  If only he did not love the place to work so much, he could bear his current plight more, but as it was, the high-volume excitement and mania that was the trading floor seemed to purposely torture him.  He wheeled around the corner, punched in the code on the steel door, and was enveloped into the hospital-like world of white halls and floors.

The initial hope that Nugget had had—that he would ever return from his demise—was quickly diminishing, and with the echoes of the trading room ringing in his ear, it was hard for Nugget to remind himself that if he only proved his loyalty, if he only tried his best, he might regain his previous position.

 

 

 

Nugget descended the unswept cement stairs until he came to the last, cracked step—the tenth step.  Although it was evident that an eleventh and twelfth step had once existed, the composition of the steps had been faulty from the beginning (Not uncommon when construction workers have a deadline) and these last two had obviously been unable to withstand the pressure.  Nugget grimaced.  What orphaned part of Clay Jars R Us was he in, where instead of a manager hiring somebody to replace the hazard, the workers just stacked up a couple empty milk crates and continued on like nothing was wrong?!

But if there was a plus side to working in the forgotten, derelict, Record Keeping & Accounting Branch (and Nugget was sure there wasn’t), it was the cooler air of working below ground.

With a rattle, Nugget jumped off the unstable milk crates and padded into his new workplace.  Instead of the fresh, clean, white light of the trading room, with its glowing billboards of scrolling stocks and announcements, were several, intense, incandescent desk lamps.  Instead of the sound of shouting, yelling, and calling, there was merely the sound of a lone fan—with blades, Nugget noted (He wasn’t letting his tail anywhere near that thing)—and the erratic clickity-clackity of someone pounding an oversized keyboard.  The pounding stopped momentarily. 

“Hey, Nugget!  Nice to see you back, again!”  Grinned a curly haired LaPerm from his rolling, mauve, fabric office chair.  Limp stuffing and springs showed through long claw-marks decorating the back of the chair.

“Uh-huh,” Nugget replied dazedly, “You too Qwerty…”  He was still absorbing his surroundings:  How Qwerty’s fur was being kicked up everywhere by the shaky metal fan, how stacks of paper piled higher than him and covered in curly strands of fur lay beckoning for someone to sort them out, how the floor was a tabletop for bags of cheese-puffs and other odd ends.  How the lights were flickering, as if the despair of the place had finally taken out even their desire to keep functioning.  Nugget almost felt like fainting.

“You like it?  I cleaned it up some from last night,” The LaPerm grinned proudly.  “I haven’t gotten to my desk yet—but,” Qwerty paused to swipe the bottles of carbonated milk, wires, pencils, erasers, paperwork, cheesepuffs, and other odd ends off the desk and onto the floor.  Nugget winced as it toppled to the ground,“—I’ve got it now.”

“Uh-huh.”  The curly furred, brown-scattered-black LaPerm looked up at Nugget expectantly.  “Oh…uh,”  Nugget tried to remember his manners.  Even though he had already been to this dungeon once, and worked his entire shift here last night, it seemed to him that he had still managed to half-convince himself it was a dream.  One terrible, terrible dream.  It wasn’t.  “Looks like you’ve been productive,” Nugget tried to commend.

“I have!”  Qwerty looked as if that was exactly what he had been waiting for, “In fact, I’ve been programming a new application that can pull data from our records!  You see, the format of these pages,” With that, the unkempt though bright-eyed feline pulled a random sheet of paper off the floor,“Has been changed from the format of last year.  Instead of a location based on the secretary’s discretion, a fixed box at the bottom left has been set aside for the total sales record.”  Qwerty seemed to be waiting for a response.

“Oh.  Interesting.”

“I know, right?!  And instead of the line for time and date being where it used to be, it’s been moved to the very top of the page.  It’s really a lot more efficient this way, and I think I’ve configured a way to scan these pages and extract the data from these set locations.  Now that the data is in the same location every time, I can teach the computer to recognize the numbers and fill out a lot of our information for us.

“Of course, this would mean developing a basic AI, which won’t be easy,” Qwerty admitted.  Then, as if a new thought occurred to him, “But I tell you it would be a whole lot easier if those dense secretaries up in Administration would start using a computer to type their final reports instead of using cover-up paint and hand-writing the new numbers!”  Qwerty grimaced, his voice dripping with disgust.  There was a moment of silence as Nugget let Qwerty resolve his pent up ire for cover-up paint.  Qwerty relapsed into his normal self.

“Well, I’ve got work to do so…uh…  leave.”  

“Actually, I’ve got a lot of work of my own to do, so that’s totally fine,” Nugget laughed, smiling just until he got out of range for Qwerty to see him.  Then an ugly scowl came over his feline features, and he groaned at the heaps of paperwork beckoning.  ‘A lot of work,’ was an understatement.

“What am I even doing down here!”  Nugget caught his voice.  For some reason, Qwerty didn’t seem entirely depressed and defeated, yet, and Nugget didn’t want to hasten the inevitable.  He muttered the last part of his comment.  “I don’t even know how to be an accountant!  I started studying politics—trading—when I was kitten, and never even considered anything otherwise!”  Nugget continued muttering and glowering until it became apparent that no matter how much complaining he did, the work load didn’t lessen.

“Nothing will come of nothing,” Nugget sighed, finally reaching for a bland, lifeless looking sheet of paper, splattered, as paint from an artist’s palette, with blotches of cover-up paint.  He winced as he glanced over it:  Bad handwriting. unreadable numbers.  Marching columns of unrelenting, fine print black text with over-complicated terms.  Nugget’s eyes crossed as he tried to make sense of the paper, and his head entered into a fog.  A sudden, sucking sound, and then a thunk, stole him from his confusion and made his fur stand on end.  Nugget’s tail poofed up like a mop.  What was that?!  At once, Nugget’s attention was turned to the other side of the room, where Qwerty had actually left his computer for a moment to intercept a delivery through the PTT system.  Qwerty walked across the basement, clutching the papers tight and keeping his tail close to himself as he passed by the rickety, fan.  He dumped the papers on Nugget’s desk.

“Here you go!”  Qwerty disappeared.  Nugget sank his head on the growing stack before him and moaned.  The scene repeated itself every half hour.  Finally, after two full hours of glassy-eyed slaving over the sheet he had begun with, an idea occurred to Nugget.  He hastily scrawled, ‘Invalid,’ over the paper, and rushed it to the PTT.  He didn’t know if he was technically permitted to do this, but, Nugget reasoned, no one has trained me otherwise.  So up went the document, unreadable not only by means of the Gordian vocabulary, but by the impressively awful handwriting.  A few moments later, the PTT was sent hurtling back down, with the same paper inside of it.  Nugget opened the capsule and read the paper.  The ‘in’ part of ‘invalid’ had been covered up in cover-up paint.  Nugget then took a permanent marker and added the missing part of the word back on.  Up went the document.  Down went the document, this time with a second layer of cover up-paint on the ‘in’ part.  Nugget frowned, before remembering the sputtering, leaning shredder in his new office.  Within a few minutes, Nugget had another delivery for the PTT operator upstairs.

 


And yet, even with its few-and-far-between gleams of pleasure, Nugget’s work trudged into a boring monotony.  The noises did, too:  The sounds of Qwerty’s furious typing on the keyboard as his paws flew over the oversized kitty keys, the incessant noise of the rickety fan, and the groaning shredder almost made Nugget want to go mad.  But even this wasn’t as bad as the incandescent light bulb above him that sounded like it had a couple hundred beetles in it, beating their wings against the glass.  Nugget could not, for the life of him, reason why such a sophisticated group of felines, a group that had propelled themselves from life on earth and colonized an entire new planet, would still have such outdated technology as incandescent bulbs, except maybe the designers had felt it best to honor the ‘basement cliche.’

Man, for all the benefits of having ears more fine tuned than radars, being down here makes you wish you were as deaf as a squid!  Nugget had heard somewhere that squids had no acoustic receptors whatsoever.  Nugget pawed for the next sheet of paper, still imagining life as a squid, a disinterested glance at the document while doing so: 

 Nugget began to exit from the hazy fog of monotony that had settled over him.  Nothing seemed especially important about this piece of paper except…  Something caused Nugget to re-read the paper.  Hmm…interesting…

“Qwerty!”  Nugget suddenly bellowed. “Can you come here?” The furious pounding on the keyboard reluctantly stopped, and after several moments, the LaPerm appeared at Nugget’s desk.

“What is it?”

“Do you know—have you ever heard—I know I haven’t—of Altruist?”  Nugget grimaced.  “I know all of the other Clay Jars R Us subsidiaries my rote—but I’ve never once heard of ‘Altruist’.”  Nugget’s voice drifted off into confusion.  He, of all people, should have known what this mysterious subsidiary was, why, as a broker, he even knew all of the Emperor’s Smorgasbord subsidiaries—so why was this so foreign to him?

The entire subject caused Nugget to flick his tail, in fact.  A subsidiary Nugget didn’t know of?  A nondescript name that cleverly avoided revealing what the function of company was?  A company created six years ago that somehow had stayed out of the news?  And, finally, what had first attracted Nugget’s attention to this mystery in the beginning:  A whopping sum of 4,000,000 donated upon creation, to put the new branch on its feet.  Since when did Clay Jars R Us start playing with seven characters of money?!  Nugget was sure that if any other branch had that much donated to it, to start it off, it would be making headlines and churning out a handsome profit.

Qwerty kicked his cheek with his hind foot, until eventually relenting and shaking his head.

“Actually, that’s really weird.  I’ve never heard of ‘Altruist,’ and I’ve certainly never heard of Clay Jars R Us consigning 4,000,000 to vanish.”  Both cats stared perplexedly at the non-assuming, cover-up paint splattered page in front of them.

“Wait,” Nugget said,“We’re the Record Keeping & Accounting Branch.  There’s got to be more than one record of this transaction lying around here somewhere.  And in the meantime we can see if Funds and Management has a copy of it.”  Qwerty nodded his head.

“And I’ll do the same.  I want to figure out what in Lactolia this subsidiary even does.”

***

“You’re out to destroy Clay Jars R Us, aren’t you?!!!”  Button ears flew backwards as the CJRU representative, Alexandra, shrieked at some poor Emperor’s Smorgasbord representative—James, as Button could recall.

Button was watching on television the customary Welcoming Celebration that always occurred when one ruling company handed their authoritative power to the next.  Only, there wasn’t much welcoming happening, and no official power had been relinquished.  In fact, as far as Button could tell, the only resemblance of this event to a typical Welcoming Celebration was that it was being aired on television. “All you want to do—All you want to do, why all you want to do is crush our legacy into the ground!  That’s why YOU’RE the one who kidnapped the ambassador!”  So now it came out.  Alexandra had come on screen in an unceasing, raging, spitting flak of hatred for James, and nobody had known what for until now.

The entire room gasped.  The entire underground movement she was a part of had rejoiced when James had consented into appealing for an ambassador—and now that hope for sane mediation had been stolen?  Literally?

“Calm down, Alexandra!”  James somehow managed to keep his voice even, although even on the grainy television Button could tell that his paw pads were perspiring.

“Don’t call me Alexandra!” Alexandra hissed, her eyes flaming.

“Pardon me, Ms. Cutie-Doo,” James corrected himself,“But in defense of all of Emperor’s Smorgasbord, I can assure you that we had no part in the plan to kidnap the ambassador!  Consider it—you look like a reasonable feline—,” James quickly added in hopes of appeasing the screaming banshee in front of him,“What motive would Emperor’s Smorgasbord even have for kidnapping the ambassador-”

“—Are you accusing Clay Jars R Us?”  Alexandra gasped, looking at once like she would fly from her leather chair and start attacking James like a limp rodent.  The television suddenly went silent, before abruptly switching to an impromptu advertisement for that station.  It was a few moments before Button and the other revolutionaries (or, depending on who was making the judgement, counterrevolutionaries), realized that someone had had the sense to stop recording before matters became irreversible.  Even after it was evident that the Welcoming Celebration, more of a soap opera than anything else, wasn’t coming back, Button and the rest just stared at the television screen.  Some of their mouths, including Button’s, were agape.

“What a ‘welcome,’” A short-haired, hard-of-hearing, little white cat beside Button mocked.  Gramps was always sarcastic, but nobody ever laughed at his jokes.  He looked around the room, flicking his ears and expecting someone to feign even a look of mild amusement.  When it became apparent to him that no one was going to laugh, he folded his ears forwards, twitched his whiskers and looked down gloomily.  Button was learning a lot about her new team, and she knew first and foremost that Gramps, at a ripe fifteen years, had mastered the pouty-cat look.  It was perhaps his most valuable attribution to the group.

“‘What motive would Emperor’s Smorgasbord even have for kidnapping the ambassador?’”  Snugglebug said gingerly, thoughtfully, repeating one of the last things the station had recorded before the entire event went off air.

“Well?”  Snugglebug searched the dim-lit faces of the meager resistance that had assembled around a common motive, and, currently, a blank television.

“Emperor’s Smorgasbord never wanted an ambassador in the beginning,” Button said slowly, “If there are any recordings, you can see where James was ardently resistant to the notion in the last public interview.  James was really concerned that an ambassador would delay or complicate matters even more.  I think Alexandra was counting on this.  As much of a lunatic as Alexandra seems to be, I think she’d be smarter than to kidnap her hope of mediation.”  Button said, carefully thinking out her words.  Snugglebug wrinkled up her nose and shook her head.

“Button, you are very naive,” Snugglebug said bluntly, pacing back and forth,“When it comes to global matters, nothing is ever as meets the eye.  Everything you hear and see, you must think of like an onion.  The first layer is the toughest, most convincing.  This is the layer of first impressions.  But as you continue to peal back, you discover many, many, well-devised layers designed to disorient those who would look farther than first impressions.  And by the time one makes it—if one makes it—to the core, the onion resembles nothing like what it first did."

“Now it is our job, our duty, to peal back those layers.  After all, the important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing, and we cats are infamously curious.  That’s why I’m sending you, Button, and you, Hershey to go and investigate.  What’s the harm at starting where the first layer begins?  Now go, and be back in a sennight.”

“What?”

“Yes, Sir!”  Hershey said with almost military-like readiness

“What?”  Button repeated.  She didn’t even know what Snugglebug meant by that statement!  Where did Snugglebug want her to start, again?  And what did ‘sennight,’ mean?

“Go with Hershey; He’ll tell you what to do,” Snugglebug rephrased her words.  “Be back in a week.”  Snugglebug nodded at Hershey, and with determined, measured steps, he started trotting for the door.  For some reason, Button’s paws remained glued to the cool, cement floor.  Was it that even her wildest fancies hadn’t prepared her for this reality?  Was it that even the most convincing reveries could not bridge the gap between fiction and actuality?

“Come!”  Something about the irritated command impelled Button to submissively follow, though half of her wished she could stay behind.  She closed her eyes and climbed out of the basement after Hershey.

 

 

 

Hershey and Button were approaching the Emperor’s Smorgasboard headquarters:  The tall, bright tower, rising menacingly out of the four-story layer of black fog and penetrating high into the cloudless, sun burnished sky.  The tiered top of the tower, where the executives worked, was swathed in gleaming, blinding gold, whereas the rest of the tower seemed a solid sheet of tinted, reflective glass.  But it wasn’t as Button remembered it last time.  Maybe it was the fact that Button didn’t work there anymore, that made all the difference?  Am I seeing the building with new eyes?  Or was it the fact that now a hoard of a ten times what usually paced around, skittering to and fro was gathered at the front office.  Some paws were raised in protests, some voices raised in moaning, but mostly a spirit of aggravation seemed to hang over the place.  And then Button saw the armed guards.

She snuck a glance at Hershey, who remained as stoic and hardened as ever, pressing into the crowd.  Button quavered again.  Even since the day Button was born in the company nursery, she had never known the front doors of the building to be locked.  Sure, the offices are locked off, but the lobby never was…

Why, in Button’s mind, the lobby was the heart and pulse of Emperor’s Smorgasbord!  And while others might beg to differ, she knew from personal experience that it was there that smoke-dwellers and done-wells alike came to snatch their lunch.  It was there that casual agreements and back-stabbing acquaintances alike were made.  And now it was blocked off?  Somehow, Button knew that the tense relations solidified by the Welcoming Celebration was behind this.
Before Button knew it, Hershey had pushed himself to the front of the crowd and was discussing something with one of the guards.  Button tried to follow, but the crowd didn’t seem to part before her like it had done for Hershey.  She pushed and shoved as hard as she could, just to be pushed and shoved right back to where she started.  It was something about Hershey’s presence, Button supposed.  His uncaring, unyielding yellow eyes, that were seemed permanently distracted with entertaining bigger plans; his perfectly sleek brown coat; his perpetually half-turned ears that turned even farther back when he began to talk with someone; the sense of authority that accompanied him—Apparently it was all a dynamite combination that Button didn’t have.  She was left to battle her way through the unrelenting crowd, looking exactly as she was:  A lowly smoke-dweller.

She finally fought through to hear the end of Hershey’s conversation with a stony-faced guard.

“I see.  You’re absolutely right, Sir.  An exception has to be made for that.  Come with me.”  Button was aghast.  What magic words had convinced the guard to escort Hershey into a headquarters evidently closed to the public—even to some of the common employees?!  Hershey catching Button’s star-struck gaze, Button had the uncanny impression that he had entirely forgotten about her.

“Bring her, too,”  Hershey added firmly, with a barely perceptible nod towards Button.

“Of course.”  And then they were off, Button and Hershey in single file, being led between two bulky guards which brought up their front and rear.  Hershey’s stride was so perfect, his breathing so firm, that it seemed as though he were a general that demanded escort.  Button felt more like a shaky, cowering smoke-dweller that was being led away into captivity.  She wished she could at least imitate Hershey’s apparent confidence.

“Enter here,” One guards said, the other precisely standing in front of the opening door as to block prying eyes.  Both of the guards saluted Hershey; then one stepped away to talk into his earpiece.  Hershey saluted back.  Was Button missing something?

“Try to keep up,”  Hershey breathed as his fast little cat legs scurried along the lobby and up to the back door.  Button was surprised with his familiarity with the floor plan, and hastened her step.  She stopped once only to gawk at the unattended, desolate milk bar.  The scene looked alien.  Shafts of sunlight were still falling down onto the dirty countertop.  No one could get in to clean it up.

“Right through here, Sir,”  Button jumped at the voice.  She hadn’t even noticed the two guards positioned at each of the back doors that led into the main Emperor’s Smorgasbord business areas.  Their eyes were saggy and hollow, their long faces stretched but stiff.  The police uniform identical to the ones worn outside reminded Button of uncomfortable imaginings of soldiers.  Had Lactolia reached that point already?

Hershey brushed importantly by one of the guards, Button unable to do the same without feeling incredibly rude.

“They’re in,” The guard seemed to be talking to nobody until Button realized he was using his earpiece.  It occurred to Button that earpieces on cats looked especially absurd, but she didn’t comment on it.  She didn’t trust herself to say anything.  The heavy, iron door slammed shut behind them, and Button remembered that she was entering a place she had never dreamed of going into.  As long as she was a smoke-dweller, Button had figured, she didn’t have a chance of making it into the business sector of Emperor’s Smorgasbord.  Yet here she was.

Back in the business part of Emperor’s Smorgasbord, life was still visible.  Even so, the business-cats and secretaries seemed nervous and unnaturally quiet.

Briskly walking so as to keep up with Hershey’s set steps, Button considered asking how he had managed the guards so cleverly.  She decided against it.  She knew Hershey would answer evasively, anyway.

Hershey silently entered into an empty elevator, briefly scanned the fire-escape plan, then pressed the button for the highest floor.  Button felt important as the elevator began to rise, but when it became apparent to her that the walls were glass, she felt less than she had when she began.  Button nearly stumbled off the elevator when it finally glided to a smooth halt on the 60th floor.  Her vision seemed to zoom in and out as her eyes gazed at the massive height she had been delivered to.  She had never stood at an altitude of higher than 40 feet—and now, here she was at over 600!  Hershey remained unaffected.  Indistinguishable, though decidedly affluential and urgent voices were coming from one of the meeting rooms.  

“Take that back room.  I’ll take this one right here,” Even as he was speaking, Hershey wheeled off into a strikingly modern, opulently luxurious, office, that boasted a commanding view of the Lactolian horizon.  Maybe Hershey sensed her fear, but Button was thankful that he had given her the office at the end of the hall.  He might have had nerves of steel, to search an office with the lights still on, but she did not.

On the down side, her office was opposite an elevator, and had a peculiar looking desk in front of it.  Button realized that a secretary usually sat there to schedule or allow visitor, and scurried inside.  Why the secretary was not there, but for litter-room break, Button did not know.  She didn’t care to find out, and breathed a sigh of relief when the door to the office she had taken wasn’t locked.  The door gave in without a fight.

Button caught her breath as she entered into the desolate room, a warm nervousness rising up within her.  She should be making the most of her time, and yet she was hypnotized by the view from this office.  It was even more impressive than the office Hershey had taken, she thought.  The entire exterior wall was glass, with mahogany-shades at half slant as to allow a warm hue of sunlight to fall onto some of the floor and dapple a futon backed against the wall.  And even with the sunlight gracing the room, the room was still sublimely cool!  Button realized with delight that these high-up offices had air-conditioning!  She had heard of it, but never felt it.  It felt wonderful.  Button decided that she never wanted to leave.  On one side of the room was a cozy entertainment area, with modern leather couches surrounding a coffee-table adorned with generic magazines.  A nearly paper-thin, glass fireplace seemed to be the attention of the sitting area, and when not that, a giant, flat-screen TV that dwarfed Button in size.  Generically carved, stone urn planters sat regally at each corner of the room, with exotic, green, Boston ferns beautifully overspilling their enthroned confines.  Even though Button had never seen anything green grow from the ground—no, scratch that—even though she hadn’t seen anything at all grow from the ground, something seemed to impel her to want to chew on the leaves.

“Get a hold of yourself, Button!”  Button reminded herself, snapping her mind back into reality.  She scanned the room, deciding that the giant, black-top mahogany desk sprawling with paperwork was as good a place as any.

Now, how, exactly, was she just supposed to dig up evidence that either incriminated or set free Emperor’s Smorgasbord from suspicion?

“I guess I’ve made it this far,” Button said, absent-mindedly touching the glossy black plaque perfectly centered in the middle of the desk.  Her eyes knit together when she bothered to read it:

Hobbes Panjandrum, Chief Operating Officer

Hobbes Panjandrum?  I thought James Cunningham was the COO…  Button frowned.  What did this mean?  Were her world facts that skewed?  It was then that the light glinted from a barely noticeable engraving beside the words:  ’s Assistant.  Button smirked.  Someone up here sure does obsess himself with some him!  But now it was time for work—before this ‘Hobbes’ fellow came back.

Or was it?  How could Button allow herself to get to work until she had at least touched Hobbes’ computer?  She had heard rumors that the done-wells—the really elite ones, that is—had complete internet freedom.  No website, even some of the most questionable, most radical, was prohibited.  All were at the operator’s care and whim.  In other words, the high-ups could really surf the web.

Button jumped into the leather comfy seat wheeled up to the computer and reached out to tap the touchscreen.  At once, the dim computer screen revitalized in brilliant brightness.  Now what?  Button was about to open a new tab and start pounding random characters on the keyboard to see what would come up as a result—What was the internet like without limits?—but was arrested by the page that was already opened, front and center:

New Healing

Helping Those Who Need Healing

(Order placed successfully)

 


New Healing?  The very name sounded hauntingly familiar.  Button racked her brain.  She hated being so close to knowing something and yet so far away.  Then it came to her.  Right!  I’ve heard of that before—that’s the… Button gasped.  That’s the interstellar war relief aid!  They pitch in with discount supplies for war-torn worlds!  Button paused.  Does that—can that?  No, that can’t—?  Emperor’s Smorgasbord ordered relief supplies for Lactolia?  Button scrolled down on the page.  5,000 parcels worth?  Button looked up from the computer, catching her reflection in the glass window.  It was fraught with confusion and reluctance.  Why is this so hard to believe?  Look, the evidence is right here in front of me…  Then, as though arguing with herself, the answer came back:  Why is this so hard to believe?  The other part of Button asked sardonically.  Because Emperor’s Smorgasbord is just a bunch of selfish, egocentric, miserly racketeers!  There’s no chance on Lactolia—or any other planet, for that matter—that a Lactolian businesscat would ever deny his money-grubbing nature!  Time has taught me enough; I can’t believe it and I won’t believe otherwise.  This is just the first layer of the onion skin.

***

Hobbes’s silky, luscious, creamy-white fur cushioned his fall as his head dropped from where he had just barely been able to hold up and onto the long, glass-and-metal meeting table.

“The discussion wearing you out a bit, Hobbes?”  A fine looking cat with glistening, combed fur of his own spoke.  His eyes were alert, and yet surprisingly dull.  A little plaque in front of where he sat reminded everyone in the room that he was the CEO—in case anyone forgot.

“Wearing me out?”  Hobbes moaned, his voice mumbled and words slurred because he was endeavoring to speak with his face buried in the table.  “How many times can you talk about our campaigns, and about our new government, and about how Alexandra is ruining Clay Jars R Us’ reputation for us, and how we’re going to handle the ambassador conspiracy, and etcetera, and then proceed to say the exact same things all over again!  And again!”  At this point, Hobbes raised his fluffy head from the table, “And again!”  Hobbes barely took a breath to continue.  “I get that you might not think napping in my office is, ‘productive’, or ‘valuable,’ or ‘team-oriented,’” Hobbes paused,“Well, actually, I don’t get that—but that point aside, nothing productive is coming out of rehashing this meeting for the 99th time!  I can literally tell you that if my ears didn’t think I was such a neat fellow, they would have hopped off and run away a long time ago!”  Hobbes shook his paw at a stultified, drowsy-looking American Curl sitting across from him.  “They already left Midas!”  The CEO smiled understandingly at Hobbes, and then exchanged a glance with James, who was sitting right beside him.

“Ah, calm down Hobbes.  I know you’re nerves are taut because of our global affairs, but that’s no reason to lash out at your team-members.  Consider that things are looking up for the first time in a very, very, very long time,”  The CEO stressed the last point.  Everyone in the room understood what he meant.

“I don’t care!  You know what I care about?  I care about sleep!  We’ve literally been here so long that the police we hired to guard the headquarters have run out of pay, and wandered off, and now smokedwellers are wandering around outside our offices!”  James and the CEO exchanged glances.  “Yeah, that’s right!  There’s smokedwellers wandering around up and down the hall!”  The CEO looked like his patience was starting to run thin, and with a sigh, he said,

“You know very well that we have accounts that automatically pay the guards, and that it isn’t even possible for smoke-dwellers to get up here.  Now gather yourself together, take one for the team, and bear with us a little longer.”  Hobbes glanced at Midas, whose graying, unprotesting face had been warn down into a lifeless complacency after years of such Board of Directors meetings.  Hobbes let his face sink to the glass again, adopting Midas’ own expression as he watched the CEO ask James to pass him the next folder.

“And moving on, we have some very important topics and questions that need to be answered concerning how we’re going to push forward with our campaigns…,”

 

 

 

Hobbes stumbled zombie-like out of the Board of Directors meeting room.  He was so hungry.  So sleepy.  Visions of the futon in his office danced before his lackluster eyes.  Now here was the problem, wasn’t it?  To eat, or to sleep?  Hobbes hated getting into these debates.  Whenever he had a conflict like this, he never resolved it satisfactorily.

“Secretary!”  Hobbes shortly addressed the feline stationed outside his office, who was looking as professional and sharp as she had every day she had come in, these past five years.  Even though Hobbes had heard her name a thousand times by, now, it went in one ear and out the other.  Hobbes liked to think that he saved the important information.

“Yes, Hobbes?”

“Do you have any cat food?”  The secretary immediately rose and opened a little refrigerator beside her desk.  In orderly rows of fives, a myriad of different little Emperor’s Smorgasbord cat food cans sat prettily on their plastic shelves, waiting to be devoured.  There must have fifty cat food cans in that fridge, all perfectly organized, sorted according to flavor and color:  Pink Tuna Delicious, Yellow-Fin Yummy, Green Vegetables & Chicken, Blue Sea Expedition, Purple Shrimp Jubilee.  Some additional flavors were stocked, as well, that Hobbes knew weren’t even produced by the Emperor’s Smorgasbord factory any more.

“Is it all Emperor’s Smorgasbord?”  Hobbes asked, his voice its typical blend of disinterest and contempt.  His features were unreadable.

“Yes, all of it,” The secretary promptly returned.

“Disgusting!  I loathe Emperor’s Smorgasbord food!-,”

“-I’m sorry, Sir, but it’s all I have.  The crowds outside are growing violent, too.  I don’t think it’s a good idea-,”

“-Excuses, excuses!  I’ll go myself and get some actually edible food!”

“I really don’t think that’s a good idea!”  Hobbes swiped his tail through the air again, as though to dismiss his secretary’s warnings.

“I don’t think that arguing with me, Miss Secretary, is a good idea.”

 

 

 

Hobbes brushed breezily strolled into the desolate lobby.  Hobbes smiled.  He liked the lobby better this way.  With no brainless slaves to get in my way.  Hobbes spotted the guards at the doors, who were currently blocking a hoard of enlivened felines from breaking into the Emperor’s Smorgasbord building.  Hobbes rolled his eyes.  Make that: Less brainless slaves than usual.

“Move aside,” Hobbes closed his eyes as he spoke, so that he might convey the utmost, extreme sense of disinterest.  The inside guard, who had been distractedly watching the happenings of outside through the glass walls, and looked ready to butt in at a moment’s notice, looked frightened.  When he recognized that Hobbes was one of the executive workers from upstairs, he allowed himself to calm down a little.

“Sir, I would advise against going outside, right now.  The crowd is really riled up.  It’s best to just stay put.”

“It is urgent that I leave headquarters.  Now, I will ask again:  Please.  Move.  Aside.”  The guard, perceiving Hobbes persistence, took it upon himself to bar the door with his bulky body.

“I can’t allow that.”

“Can you allow it for the COO?”  Hobbes narrowed his eyes, slyly, at the guard.  The guard narrowed his eyes back.

“Are you James Cunningham?”

“I am the COO,” Hobbes held his gaze with the guard’s.  After a few seconds, the guard shrugged, as if he knew he couldn’t trust Hobbes and yet also knew that if this were the COO, he would get into trouble for making things so difficult.

“Go at your own risk, Mr. Cunningham,”  The guard looked upset, but opened the door anyway.  The noise from the mob outside was almost deafening.  Hobbes’ hastened outside.

“’S Assistant,”  He said under his breath, to complete his earlier statement.  Then he smiled at himself for his decided cleverness.  The tinted glass door closed and locked behind him.

“It’s him!  Hobbes Pajandrum!”  Hobbes was surprised, even alarmed, when he heard the voices of recognition coming from all him.  Then his alarm gave way to a pompous smile.  Naturally they all know majesty when they see it, He commended himself, allowing himself to be admired by the crowd.  Food wasn’t an urgent matter, after all.

“Arrest him!”  Someone shrieked.  Suddenly paws were wrapped all around Hobbes, restraining him.

“Why, fans, I know you do love me and all, but you don’t need to lock me up and keep me.  I promise I’ll leave the Emperor’s Smorgasbord building in another year or so, when I need more cat food!”  Hobbes said, his voice being swallowed up in the angry throng.  Hobbes realized that the cats restraining him were clad in Clay Jars R Us police uniform.

“Get your grimy paws off of me!  What is all this about?”

“According to the testimony of one James L. Cunningham,” One of the CJRU guards read from a signed paper, “You authorized and commissioned the kidnapping of the ambassador.  Do you plead guilty to these charges?”

“No!  That’s ludicrous!”  Hobbes spat out, wrestling against the guards but failing miserably.  The Emperor’s Smorgasbord guards rushed to Hobbes’ defense, but were quickly engulfed by the aggressive crowd.  Hobbes could hear the crowds trying to repeatedly smash the bullet-proof glass windows of the Tower.  The guard, momentarily distracted, returned to the topic at paw:

“The defendant pleads guilty to the charges brought before him.”

“No I don’t-,”

“No need to admit your guilt more than once sir!”  The guard sneered, putting away the writing with James’ signature on it and yellow legal pad.  The latter, of which he had had a pen poised over, was evidently just for looks, because he had neglected to draw a single line on it.

“For all the things you could have arrested me for, you arrest me for one of the few crimes I didn’t even do?”  Hobbes sulked, being unwillingly led away to some armored van.  Suddenly, he remembered something critical to his case.  “I demand that you let me go!  Clay Jars R Us has no jurisdiction over the world ruling company nor its executives!”  The guard smiled pitifully at struggling Hobbes, answering with a nefarious twinkle in his eye.

“Ah, but if we have evidence of collusion—and you’ve already done it once by ordering the kidnapping of the ambassador—then the way you attained world ruling status will be made void.  Now get in the van, Traitor.”  The other guard hissed at Hobbes, pushing him into a dinged-up, hovering black van that looked disturbingly close to crashing to the ground.

“James!”  Hobbes meowed, the doors slamming loudly behind him to secure his fate.  “James!  You caved under Alexandra’s pressure didn’t you?  She asked you who kidnapped the ambassador, and you had to supply an answer, didn’t you?  And to save your own tail, you answered that it was me—me, your very own mentor!  Would you deliver your own mentor up to save yourself?”  Hobbes wrapped his tail neatly around him, the van sputtering and lurching off to who knows where.  “Oh, James, you make me prouder everyday.”

***

 

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It just keeps getting better! Can’t wait until the next installment!

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