|Trouble at the Valencommune:
The Trouble with Wet Food
Behind door #3, the cats gorged themselves on wet food, so caught up in the feeding frenzy that they completely missed noticing the door as it swung slowly shut, separating them from the valenadventurers.
Karma looked up from his feast momentarily and looked around the room. "Where's Sage and Todd? 'Cause I know they were there just a little while ago, and now I can't see them anymore, so where'd they go?"
Seven other feline heads popped up.
"Mmph mmbur mibe drph!"
Shelly smiled patiently. "Swallow your food first, Neens."
There was a brief pause as Anita finished her mouthful of food. "We better find them!"
Unfortunately, there didn't seem to be any way out. In fact, aside from the various different kinds of wet food sitting around, there didn't seem to be anything but walls.
Slowly, one of the walls became transparent, revealing Ellen Cairo and a flunky in a lab coat. She crossed her arms and frowned slightly. "Nothing's happening. Why isn't anything happening, Larkins?"
The flunky/scientist flipped through a few pages on his clipboard. "Well, we've only tested this stuff on rats so far... these cats are bigger, maybe that's why it's taking longer... Ah! Looks like it's starting to take effect!"
As the cats stared through the glass, the scientist flicked several switches. The room's lights switched over to a rather unpleasant red color. After a few moments, he began pointing through the window and frantically writing things down.
"Say, does anybody else feel sorta strange?" Habanero yawned and stretched... and kept right on stretching. His viewpoint rose upwards, until he was somehow right up eye-to-eye with Ellen Cairo and Larkins. He turned around to face everybody else, "Hey, what's going on..."
The rest of the cats were gone. There were seven strange humans standing around instead. One of them, dressed in a sort of british nanny's outfit, looked down at herself, and managed to stammer out, "I... I think we've got a problem."
On the other side of the glass, Larkins smiled. "It's a success. They've been transmogrified into humans. Complete with clothing to fit their personalities! It should work in reverse, too, Ms. Cairo."
Ellen Cairo's eyes sparkled. "Those Valenfools will never know what hit them."
As the once-cats continued to gawp at one anothers' unfamiliar faces, slowly absorbing the shocking news, Ellen Cairo strode briskly out a door visible to one side of the room through the transparent wall. Larkins continued to scribble frantically, occasionally glancing up at the occupants of the cell.
First to recover from the shock was a short, stocky, female human in the far corner of the room. She sported raggedly cut-off shorts and a loose-fitting tank top with the words "BIKER DYKES" emblazoned across the front in dirty gold block capitals. "Well, first we'd better figure out who we are," she said gruffly. "I'm Jay." Her prominently-displayed muscles rippled suggestively. "I think I kinda like this body, even if it doesn't have whiskers."
"Very sensible, Jay. I am Shelly," said the nanny-outfitted woman.
"Claire," growled a frail old woman dressed in tattered grey skirts, sourly. "And would someone please help me stand up? It's not exactly easy, with only two legs," she explained, glaring at the others.
Habanero recovered himself sufficiently to step towards Claire, and then had to brace himself against the wall with his one white-gloved hand as the unfamiliar balance systems of his extremely tall, lanky, jet-black human body sprung into action. "I'm Habanero," he said with perfect inflexion as he shuffled carefully forward and proffered his other, ungloved, exquisitely manicured hand to Claire, who clutched at it with something approaching gratitude.
"Harriet," screeched a dumpy, plain-looking woman in a plain blue blouse, from the other side of the room.
"I... I'm Karma... I think," stuttered the massive, pudgy male beside her, his tiny, worried eyes staring confusedly out of his chubby, baby-innocent face.
"And I," said a tall, elegant woman with an angular black face and thick, luxurious hair that tumbled down her back to her knees, "am Cilantro." Rolling her R, she twirled her floor-length, glimmering dress with a magnificent flourish that sent her sprawling on the floor.
Habanero laughed affectionately. "And you're just as Silly as a human, sis!" Cilantro picked herself up with as much dignity as she could muster, and pointedly looked away from everyone else.
The young blond girl in pigtails and layered blue-and-white dress who, until this moment, had been standing silently in the corner with a thoughtful expression on her face, suddenly spoke up. "We hafta find Sage and Todd to change us back!"
"Yes, Anita," agreed Shelly, for there could be no doubt as to the identity of the girl. "But more importantly, we need to find them and warn them that Ellen Cairo is plotting to turn them into cats! Though really," she added primly, gazing down at herself, "I should think that would be something of a favour..."
"Well, in any case," said Habanero reasonably, gesturing with his free, gloved hand, "it's obvious we must first start by escaping this place. But how do we go about that?"
As if on cue, Larkins, who had been gazing raptly at the cats for some time, suddenly yawned. He rose and stretched, and then walked out the door, muttering to himself. As he passed under the doorway, he flicked a switch on the wall. Then he was gone, and the transparent wall faded to opacity.
A low rumbling started, and then suddenly another of the sheer walls slid back. Revealed was what looked like a great, rocky cave, stalagmites and stalagtites growing organically from the floor and roof.
Karma, being closest, slowly poked his head into the opening. "I'm scared," he said plaintively, his voice echoing hollowly.
Soon all the once-cats were crowded around the opening. The cavern stretched back and back, becoming a long, dark tunnel leading ominously downwards. Further down the tunnel they could see that the walls were lit by a dull, flickering red light, as though from far-off fires.
"Well," said Claire irritably, breaking the silence, "as it seems they've only left one route for us to go, I suppose we must go it." In unspoken consent, the group started forward.
After many twists and turns, they found themselves suddenly on a sort of platform or ledge, on the wall of a vast, cavernous enclosure. Here were the fires which had lit their passage, roaring in gaping cracks in the cavern floor. In the far distance, tiny figures seemed to move behind the flames. Rough-hewn steps led from their present position to the distant floor.
"Where are we?" said Jay, wonderingly.
"Why, I'm glad you asssssssked!" rasped a sinister voice, and a hunched figure dressed in black, formless rags stepped forward from behind a rock on the platform. "Weeeeeelcome," he continued, "to our little... paradissssssssssssssssse." He bowed low, managing to convey dripping sarcasm with every movement.
When he straightened, a sharp, pointed, pallid face was revealed, grimy with soot. His jutting nose twitched furiously, as though possessed of a runaway nervous tic. Suddenly he peered more closely at the cats, staring intensely into their slitted eyes. All drew back involuntarily from the flickering red highlights of his own pupilless, featureless, shiny black eyes. "Sssssssay," he hissed, "you're not ratsssssss, are you?"
At the word "rats", Anita's ears pricked up... well, Anita's ears would have pricked up if she had had ears that were capable of pricking up. You know what I mean.
"You know, I have a friend called Bruno and he's a mouse! Do you know him? Is he here? Bruno! Bruno! Are you here? It's me, Anita! Bruno!"
Shelly interrupted her patiently. "Neens, honey, he wanted to know if we were rats or not."
Anita looked crestfallen. "Oh," she said sadly. "No Bruno. But why does he want to know if we're rats? We're all cat..." She looked around. "We're ca..." Her voice trailed off. "Oh," she said again.
By then, Claire had had enough. Aided by Habanero and Jay, she pushed her way to the front. "Now listen, mister, I don't know who you are, but I demand to know just what's going on!"
The little man shied from her fury. Suddenly meek, he stammered, "Yessss, well, um..." He gulped. "Maybe I'd better take you to see the Bossssssss. Ssssshe'll tell you what'sssss going on."
Meanwhile, back at the Valencommune, Sage, Piquet and Christine were valiantly doing their best to battle the evil Republicans. Christine was offering everyone tea and scones in her best tolerant and friendly tea-hostess manner, while Sage waved bumper stickers bearing liberal messages in their faces. Piquet stood in a corner, guarding over Kalaleq by loudly singing Indigo Girls songs at the top of her voice. And yet, the situation looked grim. Try though they might, there were simply too many of the opposition!
Sage and Christine found themselves slowly but surely herded back into Kalaleq and Piquet's corner, with Republicans surrounding them on all sides. Suddenly, with much evil cackling and gleeful rubbing of hands, the Republicans simultaneously leapt into a synchronised dance number, the sound of their stomping feet and rustling clothing drowning out even Piquet's loud singing.
Piquet, Sage and Christine all exchanged amazed and troubled glances at the sight and sound of seemingly thousands of Gaggy Old Republicans doing the Macarena. And then, mercifully, primordial survival instincts kicked in, and as one, they slumped to the floor in states of blessed unconsciousness.
Gleefully cackling once again, the Republicans parted to reveal Ellen Cairo watching the proceedings and smirking wickedly.
"Take them away!" she ordered. "I'll finish dealing with them later!"
The Republicans all rushed to comply, picking up Piquet, Sage and Christine and starting to carry them off. Kalaleq, however, had somehow gotten hidden beneath a pile of scones and bumper stickers, and was concealed from view.
Within minutes, the room was empty, Ellen Cairo and her band of Evil Republicans gone to wreak havoc elsewhere.
And at that moment, Kalaleq woke up.
The first thing Kalaleq saw was the underside of a scone at close range. He blinked and sat up, causing the scone to fall off his nose and into the pile of debris that had hidden him from view.
"Hmmm," he said to himself in the typical way people talk to themselves when they awaken underneath scones in the remains of their homes with no one else to talk to. "I wonder where everybody else is. I wonder why that scone was on my nose. I wonder why I keep remembering blue boots..."
Blue boots, almost exactly the colour of some carnations he had once seen in a particularly beautiful greenhouse. He couldn't get them out of his head. The boots, not the carnations. In his mind, he saw them on eye level, as though he had been lying on the ground, looking right at them. Though he couldn't for the life of him remember where he had been or who had been wearing them or why he had been lying down or when (if ever) he had actually seen them. He pondered the blue boots for a while and finally thought that maybe he remembered wonky hair, too, but he wasn't sure. And when he maybe-remembered the hair, he felt very happy, though he wasn't sure just why.
The second thing Kalaleq saw was--well, he didn't see anything else. He realised with a start that knocked the blue boots right out of his head that... his glasses were missing.
Kalaleq didn't reach out to find his glasses. In fact, Kalaleq didn't do anything at all. In a remarkable act of synchronicity, Piquet, Christine, and Sage chose that exact same moment to remain unconcious and likewise motionless. Their captors refrained from taking any sort of advantage of this continued lack of opposition, being themselves totally immobile and lacking in thought. Down in the depths of the cavern the cats and the rats stood and sat in a variety of unmoving poses, and declined to contemplate their next course of action, or indeed to contemplate, while above ground, Syren, Fili, and Todd made no apparent advances in their urgent rescue operation (which in all fairness was no longer quite so urgent given the sudden and surprising 100% drop in threat-factor to the Email Fairy's wellbeing. Not that she was presently able to capitalize on her good fortune.)
In the ensuing stillness, you could have heard a pin drop, were you capable of hearing, and the pin capable of dropping; neither of which were the case.
The world waited.