My Exploding Cat

Just stories and drawings really, no actual fissile felines.

Phoenix: Chapter 16

At 6:30, I woke up groggily, mostly out of habit. Cirque du Soleil practices started early, so I often had to drag myself up unnaturally early.

The dragons were, for the most part, still asleep when I looked out the window. But I noticed that the food fairies, or Rumplestiltskin, or leprechauns, or whoever did the wacko room service was apparently awake and at large. There was toast and hot, sweet tea sitting on the desk. I took it and dragged a chair out onto the balcony to stare out at the heights.

I wolfed down the toast and set the plate inside, clasping the mug in my hands and savoring the warmth. Not that it wasn’t already warm—this place ran eighty degrees during the night, and now was no lower.

Fifteen minutes later, I stopped being poetic and got bored. I swallowed what was left of the tea and rinsed off the dishes in the bathroom sink. I wasn’t sure when room service would pick them up, but it paid to be nice to whoever it was and not give them sticky dishes. I stuck my wand in my pajama pocket.

I jumped off the balcony and let myself fall, then took out my wings and turned it into a dive. I leveled out about thirty feet off the ground and landed, taking out my wand.

I walked around barefoot for a while, feeling happy. I had a friend my own age that maybe I halfway trusted, or would trust more once I knew him better, which was a status Leslie wasn’t likely to attain any time soon. People liked me here, and treated me extravagantly. There were interesting things here, weird plants and pegasi and rooms full of Legos, oddly enough. Daniel was nice, even if I was still suspicious of Dr. Wynne, and Mark and Key were happy. So I was happy.

I tugged at the back of my shirt, adjusting it so that the cut holes matched my wings, and at the sleeves, so that the feathers on my arms weren’t ruffled wrong. You wouldn’t believe how annoying it is to police your sleeves all the time for this.

After I wandered around for a while, I got bored again, so I flew back up to the Rapunzel room, with a good bit of effort, and changed into some real clothes.

I was just pulling on my tennis shoes when Nevin flew up to the window and shouted, “Hey! You need to be down at the lab in fifteen!”

“Okay, let’s go,” I said. I climbed onto the balcony rail again and jumped back into the air, this time without diving. Nevin did dive, but he rejoined me, gliding straight back up to meet.

“Which lab?” I asked. “I’m sure I’ve seen more than one around here.”

“Lab Three,” Nevin said. “For today.”

I landed outside Lab Three, marked by a brightly painted sign, and Nevin did a U-turn and zoomed off.

Daniel and another mage were waiting for me. The second mage had bright red hair and was a few inches taller than Daniel, and was looking at me with interest.

“Phoebe, this is Dr. Ian DeWitt,” Daniel said.

“Call me Ian,” the mage said jovially, reaching out to shake my hand. His handshake was firm, and his hands were clean and muscular.

“What are we doing today?”

“Simple stuff,” Ian said.

“Simple stuff” turned out to be my blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate and eyesight. It also included how high I could fly for thirty minutes without feeling short of breath and needing an oxygen flower, how fast I could easily run, how flexible I was, and my height, weight, and BMI. Then they let me go at 4:30, and Daniel was waiting outside for me.

“I thought you might enjoy the experimental magic sector,” he said, climbing into another golf cart. I followed. “You should see the Lake, anyway. It’s really cool.”

“What’s the Lake?”

“It’s in the opposite direction as the dragon territory,” Daniel said. “Mermaids, nymphs, naiads… there’s a lake monster in there too, but he pretty much stays in the middle because it’s deeper there and there’s more sugar, so it’s sweeter.”

“Sugar?”

“Yeah, the Experimentals came up with that one,” Daniel said. “It’s a special kind of sugar. It doesn’t dissolve, at least not more than your average sand. There are a couple good sugar beaches around here. Perfectly good, because the rain cleans everything up and we have total control over that—a storm comes in every morning, the Anoki see to that. It wakes everyone up, which is good, because we haven’t invented underwater alarm clocks yet. But we’re working on it.”

“Sugar beaches?”

“Yep. You’ll see. That’s where we’re going.”

We pulled up at a sandy white beach that was almost free of rocks.

“Try it,” Daniel insisted, so I scooped up some sand and tasted it. It was sugar. But it didn’t dissolve, so I spat it back out in a bush.

“Pretty good stuff,” I said.

“Isn’t it? Go ahead and explore. If you need directions, just blow this whistle and Nevin and Anatola will come here.”

“Thanks!”

I hung around the beach. It was sunny here even if it was probably foggy in the rest of the state. I watched the mermaids slip through some of the deeper water. It was insanely clear.

I walked to the water’s edge, where—yes—you could see all the way to the bottom of the deep parts. I waded in a little, getting my sneakers and the bottom of my jeans wet (not that I cared). The water was warm, surprisingly—much warmer than the air.

But I still froze when I saw a nymph step out of the water to approach a mage in dark clothing. There was an argument, and finally a second man stepped forward and gave the nymph a shock with his Taser. The water nymph fell limply into the first man’s arms. He—or she, I couldn’t tell—had been covered in water when he’d been shocked, and now he was twitching a little as the two men took him away. Never before had a golf cart looked so menacing.

“Phoebe,” said a soft voice behind me. I turned; it was Xavier. “Hey, hey,” he said, at my look of panicked shock. I couldn’t do much to control my expression just then—I was focusing on not crying.

“Hey, Phoebe, Phoebe, what?” His voice droned like a cicada. It took me a few seconds to register what had just happened, right at the other shore, smack dab in front of me. Evil.

They were right. There’s something going on here.

“Phoebe!” Xavier said in panic, mirroring me. “What…”

“They…”

“Huh?”

“The…”

He stared at me.

I finally managed to get a grip on myself quickly enough to save face. I didn’t want to talk about it with Xavier. In fact, I was pretty sure I didn’t want to talk about it at all.

“Look,” I said. “We’re both standing here muttering incoherently like a bunch of morons. Let’s go swimming.”

“Fair enough,” he said, and dived into a dropoff in the lake. I shrugged and followed.

It really was nice down here. I wasn’t a great swimmer—Xavier was much faster than I was—and my wings kept getting in the way. But the water was sweet (literally), and since the sugar didn’t dissolve, there was nothing to sting my eyes.

What makes it sweet, then? I wondered. Magic, probably. Nothing too cheesy for the Agency.

I surfaced to find Xavier lying on his back in the water. “You forgot to tell me why you’re here,” I said.

“Because you are.” He sat up in the water to face me.

“How’d you know?”

“A very big bird told me.”

“Would this be a very big bird with a horse attached?”

“Exactly the one.”

My mop of dark hair dripped water into my face and nose. I sneezed. It actually was starting to get cold in here.

“Do you have anyone you need to meet?” Xavier asked.

“Not really, but if I’m not dry and decent for lunch, Mark might worry.”

“It’s past lunchtime.”

“Dinner, then,” I said. “Why am I not hungry?” I could probably come up with a reason.

“You’ve had tests done,” Xavier said. “You probably have a chemical in your system suppressing your appetite.”

“Yum.”

He shrugged. “You don’t want to be hungry in the middle of a test. Throws off results. Distracts you.”

“Well, you know what?” I said.

“No, what?”

“I have a sudden urge to rebel against chemicals. Come on, let’s go eat something.”

This entry was posted on Sunday, November 6th, 2011 at 5:32 pm and is filed under Phoenix. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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