The Sun Always Shines On Lactolia: Part 5
“I don’t understand!” James Cunningham roared, before lapsing into an anxious placidity. His paws were tired from pacing around, and his mind was in knots. His ears burned from the roiling anger of being lied about, and his being melted for guilty revenge. A panoramic view of Lactolia stretched before him. Some of the buildings were smoking, bearing the marks of the gradually increasing skirmishes between Emperor’s Smorgasbord and Clay Jars R Us.
But anyone with a brain (and James knew that he was one of the few on the planet that had one of those) knew it was all a pretense. The real damage hadn’t happened yet. The real damage can’t happen yet, James seethed, with an incensed swipe of his tail.
“I don’t understand,” James repeated, his voice quiet, but so threateningly unstable, that, a few of the board of directors winced as they prepared for the outrage that was soon to follow. “Why haven’t the weapons arrived yet?” He swiped his tail again, shattering a vase of extortionately priced moon dust in the process. He couldn’t have cared less. Much more was at stake than moon dust.
“Sir, you know why,” One of the directors mumbled nervously.
“Because the weapons are held up on the same fleet that was delivering the ambassador?” James seethed, pacing around the room, until, suddenly, with one quick swipe, he knocked over his bowl of water. It wasn’t really a shame; he wasn’t going to drink it anyway—it had one kibble floating it. “It seems a little to perfect it, doesn’t it?! First the ambassador, then the Tunnel, now the weapons! Someone is manipulating this company like a painted marionette!” James’ fur tingled, shivered as he spoke. He pounded the ground. “And no one manipulates James Cunningham!”
He was used to outthinking his opponents every step of the game. How was it then, that his opponent had beaten him to the chase, this time? How was it that he felt like any path he chose—no matter how irrational—had already been reckoned and accounted for by his enemy? Like he was completely helpless?
James’ serpentine orange eyes flickered. He realized that Emperor’s Smorgasbord had lost the war, six years ago, in the very same room he was standing in, now. James’ heart pounded.
“No!” James shouted, desperation wrought in his voice. The board of directors exchanged glances with each other. “No! I won’t accept it! I don’t care if its Pendulum’s word against mine: Emperor’s Smorgasbord will win this war! We will win—we deserve to win—,” Somehow, in the midst of desperation, James was able to convince himself of this,“I just—I just—need to send a message to somebody.”
One hundred and twenty dull, stony eyes glared unflinchingly forward which such frothing, boiling hatred, that none but those who shared the same merciless resentment could bear to stand before them.
Standing before them was the prison warden, marching up and down the single long row of sixty cats, his own self reeking of disgust. His nose and whiskers twitched for every couple of cats that he walked past, for want of relieving himself of his infinite store of insults. Somehow, he managed to mostly restrain himself, probably because he knew that no insult, nor word of abuse, could even so much as cause his cold-hearted boys to blink. When he reached the end of the row for the final time, his nose and whiskers were twitching violently.
“Guards!” He began, even this single word being steeped in the hate that swelled the prison room. “As you know,” The warden’s returned the felines stony stares“Many of my former guards have been drafted to fight for our glorious corporation. Which means…,”He paused almost thoughtfully, “That now I’m stuck with a bunch of good-for-nothing dullards!” The warden couldn’t resist succumbing to his urge to insult. In a way that deprived the warden of the crown of his pleasure, but by no means deprived him of his motivation to keep insulting, the sixty guards stared numbly, void of any reaction. “You’re all total wastes of feline skin,” The warden continued, “—abhorrent leeches on Lactolia’s endangered water supply!” He sneered with disgust. Then, looking coldly across the row of guards: “Do you understand?!”
“We understand, sir” Came back the monotone reply.
“Good,” The warden crooned,“And I hope you also understand, that as such low-lifes, you are all only useful to watch, guard, and inflict pain on Clay Jars R Us’ miscreants—and nothing more?!” He shouted violently.
“We understand, sir.”
“Good,” The warden said again, his temper momentarily satisfied. “Then let’s proceed to physical training. Everyone, rise and give me sixty!” At that command, all the cats unanimously rolled their weight to their hind feet and stood up, like a perfect row of sixty anesthetized meerkats, and then dropped to their four paws again, only to repeat—one, two, three…sixty—times.
“Lagger!” The warden shouted to a gaunt, trembling cat, whose coat boasted every imaginable shade of dusty orange, from butterscotch to burnt apricot, and even a few tigerish stripes of brown down his front legs. His bobbed tail matched to suit, and so did his hollow, bitter gold eyes. “Move faster or I’ll double up your exercise routine!”
Nugget attempted to hurry up, according to the warden’s command, but the throb in his unhealed side hurt too much to oblige. He knew he was terribly out of sync with everyone else.
“Lagger, did you here me?” The warden barked. “Or are you deaf as well as dumb?!”
“I’m not deaf, sir!” Nugget responded, the insurmountable pain of his side making him wish he could faint. He could tell that his wound had torn open—the warm sensation on his side made him feel it. “But I was just released from the hospital.”
“So you’re telling me,” The warden began slowly,“That instead of just sending me its ignoramus rejects, Clay Jars R Us is sending me its injured, ignoramus rejects?” He cornered Nugget with an undefiably, dark stare.
“Well,” Nugget stuttered. The warden leaned in closer as if he couldn’t hear him. “Well?” He repeated, making Nuggets heart rate quicken by intimidation.
“I don’t suppose the wound will take longer than a couple weeks to heal,” Nugget spat out quickly. The warden ever so slowly, purposefully, angled his ears back, keeping his cold gaze on Nugget the whole time. Nugget could feel his whole body getting warm, and it wasn’t because of his wound, this time.
“That’s a yes! That’s a yes in ‘Mr. I Don’t Know How To Answer A Question Properly’ talk!” The warden’s hoarse voice vociferously boomed and echoed off of every object in the cement room. Nugget winced from the sheer volume of it all, but to the spittle landing on him as the warden ranted, he tried not to react.
“So Lagger,” The warden returned to his previous term of aspersion (it was much shorter), “Since you’re injured,” The warden said, with a special emphasis on the word, ‘injured,’ as though he wouldn’t believe Nugget even if he saw the wound with his own eyes. “Why don’t you sit out of our exercise session? Take it easy, hmm?” The warden asked in a sickeningly sweet voice, with a pathetic smile that didn’t reach to his eyes. Nugget knew it was a dare.
“I won’t,” Nugget glowered, and it wasn’t any near-forgotten code of ethics, or hidden sense of integrity that made Nugget refuse the warden’s proposition. Even though Nugget supposed that those were long gone, his animal sense—or maybe his stockbroker sense—of weighing opportunities was still with him. And he could clearly weigh that if he chickened out now, he would face the rest of his career—if one could call this end of the line a, ‘career,’—being mocked and maligned by his fellow guards. That was an opportunity he would rather pass on.
The warden’s nose twitched like a rabbit in front of a carrot, and raising his front lip in disgust, he hissed,
“Then do thirty more rises!”
Button’s aching paws were caked in the factory residue that stuck relentlessly to the sides of the narrow Lactolian streets, repaved so many times that they were a foot or more higher than when they had originally been laid. Her matted white neck felt nearly raw from being tugged along by a leash, and her head spun from too much irrational thinking. It felt like she had been winding her way through the Lactolian heart for hours, now, and she still had no idea where she was going—no thanks to the tightly-tied blindfold that Hershey routinely checked to make sure it wasn’t slipping. Like any cat with something tied to its head, Button hated it.
The merciless, unflagging sun beat its scalding rays onto every object and into every possible crevice. Button’s calico fur was fiery to the touch, and her skin tingled like it was being slowly cooked.
“How-how could you do this?” Button finally managed, in a flustered, confused stupor. It was the first words she had managed to string together since Snugglebug’s betrayal, and they stumbled out sounding like a medley of the perfect awkwardness, coupled with the heart-wrenching confusion, despair, and disbelief that wracked her mind and body. “Don’t you…don’t you feel any guilt,” Button grappled for any other words her astonished self could muster, struggling pitifully, “For deceiving such genuinely good felines?” Button asked shakily. It wasn’t because of the betrayal that her voice wavered so much. It was the fact that what she had wholeheartedly believed in and strived for, even to the point of risking her own life, had proven repulsively hollow. Hollow, like the rest of Lactolia.
“No, I do not feel any guilt,” Hershey said plainly. “Because I don’t believe that those whom you thought were such ‘genuinely good felines,’ were good.”
“Of course they were good!” Button cried. “They sacrificed their own livelihoods, and homes, and jobs, for something they passionately believed in!”
“Am I not doing the same?” Hershey’s response surprised Button for only a split second.
“No! You’re a deceitful, lying slave of that malevolent beast, Clay Jars R Us!” At Button’s retort, an almost imperceptible sense of sadness blipped on Hershey’s features. Of course, for a cat that owned master sway over all his expressions, tones, and movements, an untrained eye would never have been able to detect it—and certainly not a blindfolded one.
“Aren’t you too, deceitful and lying?” Hershey, as always, responded levelly. “Wasn’t it you that had such a proclivity to sleep on the job, when you worked at Emperor’s Smorgasbord?” Button’s ear flicked. “Wasn’t it you that told customers that the suggestion box was the trashcan-,”
“-But that was-,”
“Wasn’t it you, that when ordered, crept into Emperor’s Smorgasbord, illegally used the unrestricted internet access of the COO’s Assistant’s computer, and disregarded personal privacy to steal information found on it? And weren’t you, the entire time, the slave of, ‘that malevolant beast,’ the glorious Clay Jars R Us?”
“-But-,” Button stumbled, almost thankful when Hershey cut her off again, because she had been put to a complete loss of words.
“Now it’s time to be a slave again.” Hershey adroitly disappeared the blindfold from Button’s face, and she shook her head, squinting from the intense sun.
“What’s that? An old factory? It looks abandoned…” Button made her musings of the building that Hershey had directed her too, once she could see. The edge’s of Hershey’s lips barely rose, as though to smile, but doing nothing to brighten his dour, brown face.
“Wouldn’t you wish.”
“Let me go!” Button wrestled with the, gruff, stony-eyed guard leading her into her cell. The malnourished little smokedweller that she was, was no match for the malnourished large smokedweller restraining her. Her earlier confusion had swiftly evolved into an indignant repulsion for all those who were around her. She kicked at the guard, only to receive a sharp warning nip in the neck. That subdued her enough, until she could be launched into her cell and slammed behind bars. Button fell—flexing as she could to land on her feet, but failing—like a sack of potatoes on the rough cement floor.
“Ow!” Button shrieked, and it wasn’t from her harsh landing. She whipped her tail away from whatever had it in its clutches. “Get away from me, you little rat!” A timid, darty, little creature that seemingly resembled a cat, but Button could have insisted was in fact an oversized rodent, skittered to the other side of the cell. Button sighed digustedly. Slowly she became aware that there were two others besides the little Munchkin sharing her cell with her. They were both staring at her.
“What are you looking at?” Button defended herself, surprised at herself for feeling so self-conscious. The Sphinx cat sharing the cell turned her head back to the work she had at hand. It took a moment for Button to realize that she was discreetly, cautiously, scraping away at the cement behind a poster.
“You’re in the penitentiary for serious offenders,” The champagne-pink skinned Sphinx said at last. She had blotches of darker skin on her body. “What are you in for?” Button snapped her black and orange sprigged tail around her and answered with dry sincerity.
“I’m in because the group of rogue freedom-fighters I had joined arrested me after I discovered that they were really a sinister subsidiary of Clay Jars R Us. What’s it mean to you?” Button asked crossly. Giza smirked.
“Yeah. I’m in for the same,” She said, with a caustic twinkle in her large, unblinking jade eyes. For a moment those eyes looked startlingly familiar; like Button had seen her on the news before, or something. Then with a wave of her paw toward the corner of the cell, where the little white Munchkin that had tried attacking Button earlier was holed up, she said, “That’s Yahtzee. He’s in for attacking the Chief Financial Officer of Clay Jars R Us,” At that, Button looked quizzically at Giza. Giza sighed, as if it bored her to explain, “He snuck in and pounced on the CFO’s tail at a company party. It was viewed as a terrorist threat.” She said laconically. “And he,” She glared at a contented cotton ball of a cat, resting exultantly on one of the padless metal beds, with paws tucked in and exuding self-adulation, “Is about to be out of prison—when I kill him.” One Birman eye lazily opened, seemed to strike the room in unconcerned pompousness, then closed again.
“It would be a much more efficient use of your time to plot how you’re going to transfer your money into my account, than to plot ways for revenge,” Hobbes said, placidly. He didn’t open his eyes.
“Ha!” Giza laughed raucously. “I’ll start doing that when the sky starts to rain!” Button felt out of the loop, but didn’t think it was her place to ask what was meant by the last couple of exchanges. Neither Giza nor Hobbes felt it was necessary to inform her.
“Attention, Prisoners!” A voice came over the loudspeaker system that was rigged up throughout the entire, massive labyrinth of a prison. “You will be momentarily be escorted out of your cells by armed guards. Please garner your composure and await release.” Almost instantly, confused chattering gripped the prison halls, escalating rapidly to excited pandemonium. Button was no exception.
“Where are we going?” She asked, searching for any clues on her cellmate’s faces. Giza looked just as perplexed as Button was, instantly muttering that they were all condemned to the firing squad. While Button’s initial prospects weren’t so grim, it was hard to get that whopper of an idea out of her mind once it was in there. She turned to Hobbes, wide-eyed and wondering—secretly hoping he might have a better suggestion. Even Yahtzee looked paranoid. From the looks of it, nothing like this had ever happened before. When Button turned to Hobbes, she realized that he had either left them behind for the land of Nod, or was blissfully incurious.
The senescent, white paint that had once done its best to soften the cell’s raw iron door flaked off in the guard’s paw as he pulled it backwards. The door hopped along the greaseless track, stubbornly refusing to make any progress backward, and making eager screeching noises all the while. In response, the guard resorted (after he had gotten the greaseless iron door to budge a little), to pushing it back with his head. Another guard, one that made Button’s heart stop from fear, with his tangled mess of wicked dark fur and brawny Maine Coone build, pushed the entire door open in a single effort.
“Follow me, inmates #829, #997, #904.” The original guard demanded with a stringent, humorless meow. What might have seemed intimidating, coming from him, looked like a cordial invite when he was standing next to Maine Coon compeer. Button had to check the prison collars of those around her to infer that she was inmate 997. After all, #829, was on Yahtzee’s uniform, #904 on Hobbes, and #785 on Giza’s. Button gasped. There were four of them in the cell—so what was Giza being singled out for? Button didn’t know whether to be scared for her, or scared for herself.
“Oh, and Samson,” The guard muttered to the raven Yeti standing next to him, “You’re supposed to take inmate #785,” The original guard darted his gaze quickly to Giza and then back again, as if to indicate her. Whatever was intended for Giza, she didn’t seem to be feel any more at ease about it than did Button. She slinked into her back corner, next to her poster.
“You’re not going to take me,” She growled, fear causing her voice to tremble,“You’re not going to take me,” She repeated as if to, reassure herself. The Maine Coone moved toward her like a swift, dark thundercloud. Then, at once, Giza darted under the poster and down the shaft she had been building for herself. She didn’t get too far; the shaft was about eight inches deep, at best. The Maine Coone reached his furry paw in, and swiping at her, engaged in a short-lived, but violent cat fight, complete with desperate hissing and a porcupine-like whirlwind of newly appeared razors of sharp things.
“Stop gawking,” The guard that had told Button, Hobbes and Yahtzee to follow him said, although he had been evidently just as intrigued as they, up until a second ago. The three prisoners obediently followed, Button wondering what fate was in their near future. Whatever it is, Button thought, it can’t be any worse than Giza’s. She quickly looked behind her, to see if she could catch any last glimpse of Giza, but she saw nothing. Nothing except Yahtzee gradually wheeling off from the guard’s single file line. She caught her breath—Yahtzee was making a run for it!
“Hey!” The guard’s realization that Yahtzee had broken off was delayed, partly because he was speechless that someone would have the audacity to that when the place was swarming with guards. Yahtzee zig-zagged past other prisoners being escorted by different guards, jumping into one line momentarily, only to dash off to another one. “Hey!” The guard started running in pursuit. It must have been the shock that got to Button, too, because she merely stared, gaping, and watched. “Help! I’ve got a runaway!” With lightning reflexes, a nearby orange-furred guard snatched back his keycard, which he had been about to use to unlock another bunch of nervous prisoners, and leapt to the rescue.
Hobbes’ astute eyes watched as the American Bobtail, new-on-scene, tuckered out after a mere handful of leaps and bounds, observing that a definite limp in the guard became more pronounced as he watched. The orange tabby gripped the runaway Munchkin by the scruff, carrying him like a preyed upon rabbit. Yahtzee struggled to break free, and it evidently pained the tabby guard to use all of his might to restrain him. Hobbes watched as he relievedly handed the little escapee off, and returned to unlocking and escorting his own prisoner.
“Now follow me,” Hobbes’ remembered his own group when his guard shouted lividly, not a little upset. The guard’s eyes flickered with the choler of knowing that someone had tried to defy him, and if he wasn’t wary before, he was now, “And none of you dare,” He roared, emphasizing his words, “A stunt like that again!” He didn’t need to emphasize that he was the one with the electric baton.
Hobbes casually followed the guard into a small, crowded, waiting room. He rolled his deep blue eyes, as the anxious whisperings of the calico ninny behind him filtered into his chocolate tufts of ears. He angled them back like a radar dish, scanning, searching. If money was involved, or if he cared enough (The two kind of went paw in paw), he could hear anything.
Right now, Hobbes had 2,000,000 reasons to care. Oh, and, according to Giza, he had his life to care for, too.
Really, Hobbes decided, the trouble was not getting a spacecraft on a planet where spacecrafts were illegal. The trouble was establishing the right contacts. And that trouble was greatly minimized in a setting where nearly all the felines were there for their relationships with such contacts. Hobbes was still deciding who to approach first—the gang of leather-clad cats huddled together in the smoky corner; a cheeky little mixed breed that was currently talking back to her guard; a shady looking cat that was positioned among the rafters, illuminated in the glaring, bald white beam from the bare ceiling fixtures—Wait. It was definitely him—when the guards began to unbar another set of doors that led from the waiting room. The calico cat beside Hobbes looked panicked. Hobbes shook his head. Smokedwellers are such scaredy-cats, he muttered silently to himself.
“Please proceed into the next room,” The same voice as before boomed, then fell, then boomed again over the loudspeakers. The loudspeaker system was obviously not of the best quality. Of course, Hobbes smirked to himself, that’s probably because it was made right here on Lactolia. “Where you will proceed to purchase your stocks for a total of fifteen minutes. Please share the consoles.” At that, commotion seized the prisoners again, this time more than the last. Prisoners being able to purchase stocks? This was unheard of! They could make their pick in world affairs again? And gamble away their futures? Just when Hobbes thought prison couldn’t get any better. As he shuffled along into the excited hoard that was cramming into the new trading room—evidently an unused basketball court full of computers—he could only reason that the thin market had pushed Clay Jars R Us into making such a controversial decision. Hobbes discreetly shuffled his way into a seat at an antiquated computer, halfheartedly glancing at the projector rigged up in front of everybody. It was declaring stock totals in real time.
Then he got to work. One happy side effect of no longer being an employee of Emperor’s Smorgasbord was that now, he could freely buy Clay Jars R Us stocks. He didn’t even have to hide it. As Hobbes finished up, he gradually, became aware of some of the things around him. Namely, the long line of crotchety, impatient cats that had accrued next to him, waiting for a chance to use his computer themselves, but also the guard whose eyes Hobbes could feel boring into the back of him. It was the American Bobtail.
“In about a minute, pretend to hack up a hairball,” Hobbes breathed so subtly to the cat next in line to his chair—Button—that she didn’t even know if he had spoken. Hobbes slipped out of the chair, and, like clockwork, the tabby-patterned guard that had been standing a few yards off approached.
“I was watching you,” Nugget said disgustedly, scanning the fluffy mass in front of him.
“Or so I felt,” Hobbes answered, narrowing his eyes at Nugget.
“You do realize,” Nugget sneered, not unawarely turning the belt that had his electrical baton on it toward Hobbes. “That the little, red, upside down triangle next to CJRU means that the company is losing money.”
“What, are you a graduate from CJRU’s Politics and Trading school to know that?” Hobbes asked, eyes still narrowed at the overly-conceited guard in front of him. Nugget decided it wasn’t the right time to flaunt that he had, in fact, graduated from Clay Jar R Us’ six-week politics and trading school before he became a stockbroker. The thought both saddened and hardened Nugget. It all seemed like such a long time ago.
Hobbes watched as Nugget’s eyes briefly clouded.
“You must know something,” Nugget said at last. “You’re not like the rest of the prisoners—look, they’re trying to invest in companies that are up 60—but you…you know something.” Nugget’s searching gaze, didn’t cause even a flicker in Hobbes’ Birman blue eyes. Looking straight at him, he said smugly
“All I know is that I am supremely intelligent, because I know that I know nothing,” Hobbes looked mightily satisfied with himself, even though Nugget was still holding his gaze.
“As for you, Mr. Guard,” Hobbes simpered impertinently, “You should probably be checking on your prisoner over there.” Hobbes nodded in Button’s direction. “Looks like she’s hacking up a hairball.” Nugget muttered something, held his gaze on the smirking Hobbes for a second longer, and then ran over to the choking, calico cat. Despite the fact that she looked like she was dying from some sort of hairball, and certainly being a smoke dweller, she seemed to emanate some sort of gentle intelligence that, on Lactolia, was rarer than stumbling upon a herd of wild unicorns. Maybe it was this factor that seemed to instantly endeared Nugget to her, or maybe it was the fact that she was much easier on the eyes than the rest of the inmates; whatever the reason, Nugget momentarily left his cynical hate for everyone and everything behind him, as he darted over to her.
Button’s forearms crooked forward as she played up her part, secretly hoping that she had heard her cellmate right. What a fool I’m making of myself, otherwise, Button thought, feeling her cheeks flush at the thought. It was unnerving having all the eyes in the room glancing over at her, not to mention, apparently, those of a guard that seriously thought she was in trouble. The briefest of thoughts told her that he looked like the sincerest guard she had seen yet. Fleetingly, glaringly, she saw her cellmate getting swallowed up in the crowd.
Hobbes nodded satisfactorily at Button’s work, as he vanished into the horde of inmates. Of course, it fell terribly short of the best he had ever seen, but, Hobbes thought to himself, it certainly is enough to fool that dopey nuisance that was just questioning me, and if that, then I am much pleased. Hobbes navigated his way through the ambling inmates and disappeared into the small waiting room he had previously been in.
A few aimless wanderers existed here, too, but comparatively, it had been significantly cleared out. Hobbes scanned the place, his face brightening when he recognized that the same shady character he had seen earlier was still perched on the rafters, underneath the same harsh, white lightbulb. Now, though, there were two observable differences: One was that, instead of beaming at full-intensity, the light now flickered on and off. And the second was that, instead of pacing back and forth as he had been, the shady cat sat perfectly still, underneath the blinking light.
“You look like a shady type,” Hobbes spared no time voicing his thoughts, when he neared the unperturbed feline. Hobbes observed that his fur was short and cream-colored, with a tinge of orange to it that looked tawny from a distance.
“That’s because I am a shady type,” The tawny cat grinned,“So shady, I need to sit underneath a light for people to see me,” He said, his mischievous bronze eyes flashing.
“I guess you can’t be bright and shady at the same time,” Hobbes’ said slyly, glancing upwards,“Because you’re obviously not smart enough to realize that the light above you is burning out.” The tawny cat glanced up for a moment. Then, lowering his furry head so that his gaze met Hobbes’:
“Au contraire,” The cat said, with a rascally smile,“It’s so shady over here, the light couldn’t withstand it.
“Is that so?” Hobbes’ asked, hiding a disgusted smirk that condemned the many characters he met with for their sickeningly droll, bumptious, and self-ingratiated ways. I mean, I’m self-ingratiated, Hobbes reflected, but that’s different; I have a right to be. I have a brain. All the same, unless, Hobbes thought, to prove himself a hypocrite, he wouldn’t breathe a word of that to his potential ‘business partner’s’ face.
“Indeed it is so,” The tawny cat replied, his words slow and precise, as if saying them extra slowly would make them seem more intimidating. Actually, it did have some effect.
“Then, Sunshades,” Hobbes got to the point, “I need you to get me a fully functional Spider Skipper within a week.”
“You do mean a shiv, right?” The tawny cat asked, star-struck. He had obviously not gotten such an impossible request, before. Hobbes’ disgruntled expression proved that he did not mean ‘a shiv.’ “That’s-that’s entirely—that’s impossible!” He blathered, stupefied.
“I’ll give you 1,000,000 for it.” Hobbes offered, not surprised at the sudden change of response.
“Well, you know up," The tawny cat said,"I think you're likable enough. Understanding, too. I still can’t get you a fully functional Spider Skipper,” The cat admitted, “But I could pull some strings and get you a Spider Skipper hull by your deadline,” The tawny cat offered. “I’m sure that it’s the only one on Lactolia.”
“For a hull? What good does a hull do me?!” Hobbes spat out, although, secretly, it occurred to him that if their was a Spider Skipper hull somewhere on Lactolia, there was almost doubtlessly a Spider Skipper engine, somewhere else on Lactolia. Hobbes changed his mind and made an offer.
“For a hull I’ll only go 500,000,” Hobbes bargained.
“665,000?” The tawny cat attempted.
“450,000.” Hobbes lowered his offer. At that, the tawny cat closed his mouth. After a moment, he snickered aloud.
“I see what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to lowball me. Well, you can’t,” The tawny cat sneered,“Because I already heard you, plain as day: You need your Spider Skipper within a week.” Hobbes pondered the tawny cat’s statement for a moment, before responding.
“Perhaps," Hobbes said, thoughtfully. Then with decisiveness: "but I don’t need it from you.” The tawny cat smiled as Hobbes strutted away. As it began to dawn upon him that his customer wasn’t coming back, his mouth slowly dropped open.
Hobbes tried to ward off a headache, debating whether or not to turn around and pursue the deal. Just by returning that stupid cat’ll know I’m desperate, Hobbes grimaced, he’ll raise the price even more! Hobbes’ thoughts were disrupted by a guard that seemed to appear from nowhere. Gees, how many guards does this place employ? Hobbes mumbled to himself. This guard didn’t look he had bothered to clean himself in a while. Burs stuck to his unkempt, half-Siberian coat, and he had wet, cat eye-boogers in his perfidious, green eyes. He was taller than Hobbes, and even though Hobbes’ composed Birman face didn’t show it, his heart rate was quickening. He looked up at the guard with a disinterested look that more clearly read than could be spoken, ‘What do you want?’
“I heard you talking,” The guard said, pacing around Hobbes. “With my business partner,” The guard tested Hobbes with his gaze, seeking some sort of reaction, either of fear or surprise. Hobbes wasn’t surprised at all; he had had a good sense from the first that this guard wasn’t exactly Mr. Virtue. And as for fear? His heart felt like it was about to pound out of his chest. Was he about to be walloped for refusing to make a deal with the tawny cat—whatever his name was?
“You’re in business with him?” Hobbes asked lazily, refusing to let his panic show. He would prefer not to let his pedigreed Birman fur be yanked off in painful fistfuls by an upset business confederate.
“Sometimes yes,” The guard spoke, still pacing around Hobbes like a vicious lion, “Sometimes no,” The guard said cryptically. “When he annoys me so much that I want to flip his ears backwards and rip his face off, then no. When we two can make some tight deals together, then yes. You see,” The guard said, feeling he had to explain himself further, “He has a certain knack for finding buyers that want his junk, and I have certain knack for getting his junk to him. As for you,” The guard leaned in close to Hobbes, and Hobbes thought some of his fur wilted at the guard’s warm, rank breath, “It’s your lucky day. Because it just so happens that I’ve been really annoyed with my partner, recently.”
“Are you okay?” Nugget pushed through the handful of heartless onlookers gathered around the choking inmate. He thought that she looked just about recovered from her fit of coughing.
“Yeah—I think so,” Button said, feigning one final, weak cough. “I don’t know what came over me… I wonder if it was the prison food?” Button spoke aloud, hoping to satisfy the guard with a reason for her violent coughing. She had spared no expense selling the effort, and if he took his job seriously at all, he would probably want a reasoning. Even though Button hadn’t been in prison long enough to catch any of the mealtimes, judging by a quick glance around her, she felt sure that, ’Icky prison food,’ was as viable and harmless response as anyway.
“What color saucer did you have?” Nugget demanded.
“Pardon?” Button asked.
“The saucers are color coded to correspond with each batch of meal that is cooked up. If you had a yellow bowl, then yours came from kitchen two,” Nugget said, matter-of-factly, with as much authority as a full fledge guard. He didn’t intend to disclose that he was only a rookie with one day’s training under his belt. The more closely he protected that secret, he knew, the more the prisoners would respect him.
“I guess I wasn’t paying attention,” Button laughed tensely, wishing she had just left her explanation at, ‘I don’t know what came over me.’ A part of her liked talking to this guard, though. She thought he a certain level of consideration that was much languished for on Lactolia.
“I’ll have to report it to the kitchens, then,” Nugget determined, proceeding to disclose the fact that the cooks had a policy of neglecting to clean any of their pots or utensils unless at least three felines (sometimes four) reports of unsettled stomachs, or the like came in, first. Button crinkled her nose in disgust. She decided that she wasn’t hungry, anymore.
“The fifteen minutes are now over!” The same, familiar voice came over the wonky loudspeaker again, startling the intensely focused prisoners that were still trading,“Please, in an organized fashion, follow your guards back to your cells.”
“You know—,” Button said, her voice weak in the new, excited turmoil that swept the place, as the inmates were rounded up. She hadn’t even fully thought out what she was saying until after she had said it: “You’re a real altruist!” At that final word, Nugget’s eyes turned to flint, and a sense that defied reasoning seemed to connect Nugget and Button’s thoughts.
The guard in charge of Button’s cell, reappeared to take her back. Nugget disappeared, and Button followed dazedly behind her guard, new thoughts swarming her mind.
“You!” Her guard pointed at Hobbes as they entered into the small waiting room. “Fall in line!” In the midst of her new myriad of emotions and thoughts, Button was still able to see Hobbes nod at somebody—some guard she hadn’t noticed before. They both had twinkles in their eyes, and some sort of corrupt, slimy smirk that made her shiver. Button thought the entire scene was creepy. It only lasted a second. Hobbes fell in line behind her, still smiling to himself. Button shivered as the smirk morphed into some sort of delirious grin.
“Where’s Giza?” Button couldn’t suppress the consternation in her meow as she approached her deserted cell. She glanced at Hobbes. His delirious grin had vanished, and although his ever-placid Birman features wouldn’t betray it, his ears twitched backwards in a way that marked a telltale anxiety.
“You heard the little Smokey,” Hobbes said, his own voice wavering uncharacteristically. Even though it was the first time Button had heard him speak, she found the shakiness in his voice to be totally unexpected. “Where is Giza?”
“And you think I didn’t hear her the first time?!” The guard roared, smiting a heavy blow across Hobbes’ troubled face. With a deranged look at Yahtzee, and then at Button, which dared them to ask about Giza again, he yanked open the stubborn iron door. All three of the cellmates scurried hastily inside.
“This has happened before, right?” Button asked as the iron door locked behind her. She was aware of the nervousness lining her voice. “Giza is going to be back, isn’t she?” Button asked, her voice trembling. She knew that if the guards could take Giza to who knows where, they could take her at any time, too. “Hobbes?” Button squeaked. Hobbes slowly turned his head and gave a long, hard look at Button. He didn’t say anything, but his expression said it all. Button shivered.
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.