Chapter 43

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by Buttercup

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by Buttercup

Phoebe the One and Only
Pain in My Butt
is, unfortunately, my copilot
in accessing the secret message
Greg uploaded to the GalaNet
on the other side
of the QR code
Lahea's pulled up on her laptop.

This is hopefully
the last time this year
us three lionesses
need to work together.

Philosopher Jones would handle
important correspondence
if Hooman #1 hadn't left
with him to the vet
right after we scuttled
to the computers scattered
throughout the living room.

We had to insist
to Hooman #1
that Greg and Tom
would be okay
before she reluctantly lifted Philo
into the leopard-spotted carrier
and slipped through the door
to get his prednisone injection;
to re-check his blood.

Now we just
need to make sure
Tom and Greg are actually fine.
No problem.

I wouldn't be squeezed
between Phoebe's bony shoulders
and Lahea's Lisa-Frankesque sparkle
unless I thought I could help Tom.
I mean, if I'm being real:
I hate Greg.
He bullies me.
And Phoebe and Lahea
are two spoiled, unbearable,
pretty-pretty princesses—

Phoebe
Buttercup: Hold. Still.
You're wiggling everywhere,
and it's disrupting
our dual-scan
of the matrix barcode.

Buttercup
You sure it isn't scanning
because the image isn't reaching
the warmth of your
carbonithril neuralace
through your fading eyes?

Phoebe
Ageism sounds ridiculous
coming out of a senior cat.

Buttercup
I'm only eight.

Phoebe
That's when the vet
started my 20% senior discount
on thermometer butt-poking.

Lahea
Forget discounts;
I can't wait to access
the Deep GalaNet
with matrix codes!

Phoebe
...At least you aren't her age.

Lahea
Hey...

The laptop screen
flickered and flexed,
then the code's black-and-white
bumps evolved into more colors;
the chromatic burst
worked in unstable pixels
before settling on a crisp image
of a train-car full of lizardmen—
or, rather,
lizard-children.

Lahea
They look like they're struggling
against hybrids similar
to the ones found
in our invasion of their base...

Major Tom's voice spoke to us
telepathically, beyond the reaches
of Lahea's furry ears.

Tom
We seem overrun.
Can you beam in support?

Phoebe
Yeah.
I got the passcodes.
You ready?

Buttercup
You sure
it's a good idea
to use our spaceship
this early in the game?

Greg
For the love of our
nine-tailed, nine-lived gods,
send the detonations—

Greg was slicing and dicing
two lizard-people at a time,
bouncing from their chests
with saber-sharp paws.
He moved in blurs
that only occasionally sharpened
on the screen, unfocused
in the thicket of it.

Buttercup
I don't want to watch.

Phoebe
Then don't;
I just needed you
to get into the secured cloud
in the GalaNet.

Phoebe curls her lip at me
and I scurry into the back room.

The room behind the office
is mostly windows
and storage bins,
dark in the uncertain night.

I crawl into the old, beige-carpeted
cat tree that Hooman #1 dragged
into the back room last summer,
after I told her
I liked spending time in there.

While the rest of Cat Society #337
thinks of me as the antisocial
sass-cat in the closet,
I'm fond of the windows,
the privatized tree,
and the smells of hoomanity—
memories and childhoods—
rising from the storage bins.

Unlike the rest of Cat Society #337,
I was not assigned
to protect Earth.
I was a stowaway
when the ship left our star system;
I tired of my former life
as a dumpster cat,
so I decided it was time
for the universe to feel bigger.

And when the captain
didn't check for stowaways
in the first month of travel,
it made it harder
to send me back,
so I came out from my hiding place
in the engine room
and joined the rest of the felines
in defending Earth.

Deep down,
I've never felt
like the other cats
have accepted me;
most of the time,
when they include me,
it's only to use me to boost numbers
for multi-process tasks
like matrix scans,
cattack sequencing, and
responses to the social media mafia.

I jump into one of the window sills,
basking in the starlight.
It's okay if I'm the loner.
I made it here.
I think, in the end,
all our souls are celebrating
that we made it
in sonorous unison,
like whale-song carried
through the sea,
if the ocean were the expanse
of suns, nebulas, and dark.

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