WORKING TITLE: Adventures in Valentime
Chapter 2

Chapter 2:
Before things get better...

* Damon, 2003-01-22 *

The Ghost of Claire was having a hard time keeping up.

"Damned spirit world," she muttered to herself. "You'd think at least if you died and have to be a ghost, you'd leave behind all your physical weaknesses and ailments, or something fancy like that. But no, I still have problems putting one foot in front of the other." She thought for a moment, and snorted derisively. "Not that I even have to put one foot in front of the other anymore... I'm just drifting for crying out loud. How can I be bad at drifting?!?"

"Hey!" she shouted at her sister, who was already a few good bike lengths ahead, even trailing the rest of the troupe as she was. "Tell that big dumb oaf up front to stop pedalling like a mouse caught in the open, willya?"

Anita pulled her nose out of the sunflower she was sniffing and looked over her shoulder. Slowly, as the first part of Claire's words caught up with her, a concerned look spread across her face. "I don't think it's very nice to call Kal dumb, and I'm pretty sure he's not a foe... a foo... a what-you-said, either," she pointed out.

Claire sighed. "Patience," she reminded herself. "You're right, Neens sweetie, that wasn't very nice. But could you go tell Kal to slow down so I can catch up and give him a nice big kiss?"

"Oh, okay!" said Anita brightly, cheering up, and she scampered off after the bike, paws flying in all directions. Anita was the only one of the four cat ghosts who had never figured out the whole not-having-to-put-one-foot-in-front-of-the-other thing; she didn't understand that when you're six feet up in the air and your paws pass through things anyway, you're not going to get a whole lot of traction by moving them. Hence in contrast to the others' dignified (if, in Claire's case, slow) drift, Anita had more of a frantic astronaut look about her as she tried to pick up speed.

"...A nice big kiss with my teeth," Claire muttered to herself as Anita disappeared over a hillock in pursuit of the others. "That boy's nice enough but someone needs to teach him some respect." She drifted up to the sunflower and then settled slowly groundwards. "That does it, I need a breather. Not that I need to breathe," she added ironically. She passed some time muttering to herself about the relative merits of bicycles with only one gear, but, lulled by chirping birds, buzzing insects, and the babbling of a brook somewhere nearby, she found she was unable to stay angry. Finally, floating gently somewhere near the grass, she found she was also unable to stay awake. Her last thought as she drifted off was, "...not that I need to sleep..."

* * * * *

A few miles up the road, Anita, who'd been temporarily distracted by a rather large and bumbling bee (that and a decidedly mysterious stand of aspens, and of course a grouchy, grumbling old hedgehog) remembered that she needed to talk to Kalaleq, and scamper-floated up to him at the head of the column. By this point he was distinctly winded, and the rest of the party were all pestering him because, truthfully, not one of them yet really knew where they were all going. And although they had a lot of faith in Kalaleq generally, he'd been known to fly off on tangents before, and some of them were beginning to suspect that he didn't know where they were going, either.

"I'll bet he doesn't even know this Cat Timidness person," grouched Sage to Todd under her breath.

"I heard that!" said Kalaleq, a little miffed. "Of course I know her! Well, at least we met once or twice." He paused, gasping for breath, then braked and leaned over the handlebars for a few moments. "Well," he said again, looking a little chagrined, "actually it was only once, at a Mad Scientist conference where I was handing out the hors d'oeuvres. And we didn't actually talk, I just gave her a canapé. But she seemed really nice and smart, and she presented a paper on tracking television signals. I just know she'd help us if we asked!"

From the looks on their faces, the rest of the Valentines had a thought or two to air about Kalaleq's basis for this whole expedition, but he was saved from their recriminations by the arrival of Anita, who tried to skid to a stop in the air near Kal's head but simply zoomed right past, all four paws stretched out in front of her. By the time she sorted herself out and made her way back to Kal, the rest were too traigicked for recriminations and were thinking well, even if they didn't find Dr. Timidness, at least it had been a nice afternoon out in the countryside.

"Kal, Kal!" said Anita excitedly. "I have a important message for you, it's really important, I have to tell you that..." she stopped, looking puzzled. "I have to tell you..." she trailed off and thought for a moment. "Oh yeah," she continued, brightening, "there was this bee? And it was really big. And fuzzy!" she giggled.

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