My Exploding Cat

Just stories and drawings really, no actual fissile felines.

Phoenix: Chapter 18

I knew there was no point to this testing. I wasn’t sure why they were bothering to keep doing it. But Ian relented no real information when I questioned him.

“I’m sorry you have to go through it,” he said, smiling apologetically. “But we’re just trying to find out where your extremes are. It’s never enjoyable, but this is the part that’s going to let us help you with your magic.”

“Then why didn’t you do it first?”

“Because you might have run away,” he said. “Now that we’ve done some of the easier stuff, you feel you’re in it so far that you won’t be so likely to run off in the night with your friends. I know you have no qualms about flying off, either literally or figuratively.” He smiled, but not apologetically. I rolled my eyes.

“Oh, no, I could never leave your thoughtful bunch of people.” It dripped sarcasm. I flew off, and had no qualms about it whatsoever.

I was angry and not in the mood to talk to anyone, but Xavier and Silvester made that impossible. I’d gotten a horrible night’s sleep for some reason, and Ian’s nothing-serious, yet manipulative manner had made me want to strangle him.

“Hey, how are you?” Xavier asked, when Silvester was next to me.

“Terrible.” I pushed my hair out of my face.

“Why? What’s wrong?”

“It’s a long story.” I’d decided that Xavier was worth trusting, but what I mostly wanted to do was get to my tower room and get some real sleep. I knew it was 10:30, smack in the middle of the day, but I was ready to sleep until seven and make the rest of the world stay away.

“I have time,” he offered. When I still didn’t respond, he said, “You know, when I’m upset, I climb up a tree with a sack lunch and a book. Speaking of which, aren’t you hungry? You haven’t eaten since dinner last night.”

“How do you know that?” I asked, looking at him in surprise.

He shrugged. “I just know the lab scientists aren’t the type for room service. And you’re the type who’s so preoccupied in your own thoughts that you forget to eat. Also, the fact that you’re shaking like you’ve just had four Frappucinos even though you’re flying implies low blood sugar.”

Despite myself, I laughed. Maybe I was being too mean to Xavier. He was always calm and relatively cheerful, and he cheered me up and made me feel like I was worth listening to.

“All right, fine. You got me. But I’m not explaining in midair—we can go to the Rapunzel room.” I had had enough of multitasking.

“Fair enough,” he said, his face lighting up in a broad grin. “But I think we both need food. First, though, we’re both landing. You shouldn’t fly with low blood sugar, so you might as well ride.” He landed, and I reluctantly copied. How could I refuse a pegasus ride?

I climbed on behind Xavier, and Silvester took off. I could swear the winged horse was smiling.

The pair dropped me off at the tower room. I was grateful for the relieve, even though I liked Xavier. I always felt some sort of obligation to the people around me when I was having a conversation. Normally it didn’t bother me, but at the moment…

Silvester and Xavier returned to the sky in pursuit of food. I laid down on the bed, knowing it was a few minutes before Xavier would come back, but I didn’t feel very comfortable lying down and I knew that if I did start dozing, it would take a brick to wake me up. I got up and wandered to the chest.

Inside laid my clothing, an extra towel and toothbrush, and the sack of plant trimmings. I opened the sack and carried it to my bed, dumping it out.

Surprisingly, the big melons and coconuts hadn’t squashed the little blooms—probably the result of some magic embedded in the bag. Oxygen flower—probably wouldn’t help. Cannon-nut—well, that might have helped, but I was pretty sure I would have gotten in trouble for it. Then—

I stared at the giant orange lily in front of me, magically bred to calm and make content, and I knew why Dr. Wynne had taken me through the botanical center and carried all those melons and everything. Thank you, Dr. Wynne.

I was setting the sack back in the chest when Xavier flew up with a gigantic bag full of food. He dismounted Silvester and told the pegasus he could leave.

“Aren’t you worried he’ll get lost?” I asked, as Xavier sat down on the white rug and started laying out all the food.

“Lost?” Xavier said, looking at me like I was crazy. “Silvester’s been here for years. He’s not just a normal horse.”

“I mean, I know,” I said, “but…”

“I guess you haven’t been around pegasi long enough to hear them,” he said. “They’re sentient, of course. They can speak, if you’ve got the talent to listen. I do. The Agency’s given up on trying to teach me magic. I can do it, but then… I also can’t. It’s pretty complicated. They put me in the stables instead, and I’ve been there since I was nine, cleaning out stalls and feeding all kinds of creatures. Anyway, what’s your issue? What’s wrong?”

I explained, in between shoving food in my face. The five minutes of peace the flower had supplied was enough rest to erase the last of the numbers, a few of which had stuck with me, and now at least my mind wasn’t going one, two, four, eight, sixteen all the time. Furthermore, it lengthened my patience for the rest of the human race. Or, well, any race. Except NASCAR.

“And you aren’t going to complain to someone?” Xavier asked in amazement.

“Absolutely not,” I said. “Mark and Key are being treated like royalty. It’s this unspoken thing—I know if I don’t cooperate, they might do something to them.”

“Why do you think that?” Xavier asked, shocked.

“Look,” I said. “I know you’ve been living here for years, and you think the Agency is trustworthy. I’m pretty sure it’s not.”

“Why?”

“It’s…” I paused. “A long story.”

“As always,” he said, spreading his arms to repeat his normal response.

I shook my head.

“Look,” he said. “I know you don’t trust the Agency, but don’t you trust me? I’ve never done anything to you.”

“I’ve seen some stuff,” I hedged. “But I don’t want to tell you enough to put you in danger.”

“Bah,” he said. “Tell me. I’m one of the few who can communicate with pegasi. They’re not going to do anything with me.”

“I think they killed a nymph. They Tasered him, and he was covered with water. I don’t think he was breathing afterwards.”

Xavier sighed. “I don’t know what they’ve done. That was a Lake sector thing. I work in the stables. I’m not the one to talk to about that.”

“Well, I’m sure not talking to anyone else.”

“Phoebe! You don’t have any evidence! Maybe he’d stolen something and they gave him a low-volt shock so he wouldn’t freeze them before they could get him back to the main building and into some water again. You don’t know what happened!”

“Yeah? Well, why didn’t they just use magic? Why a Taser?”

Xavier shook his head. “Magic can have odd effects on certain magical creatures. Nymphs are notorious for twisting magic around, sending it back to the caster, making their nose hair turn into daisies or whatever. It would be safer to use force.”

“Why not prevent the nymph from casting magic?”

“Requires magic,” he said. “And nymphs are extremely strong—they can still pack a punch.”

“I still don’t trust the Agency. I’m sure that’s not the best way they could have done it. They could have employed another nymph to help.”

“I suppose they could have,” he said. “But remember: The mages are humans—well, most of them.”

“Yeah?” I raised my eyebrows. “Then they really do need to think about their jobs.”

“They are,” he said. “But it’s never perfect.”

“Some effort they’re making!”

He sighed. “I don’t know why I’m defending them. I guess… I just hope you don’t get hurt. I don’t think it’s a good idea to not do anything.”

“I am doing something,” I said. “I’m waiting. I’m giving them two weeks to get their data. After that…”

“After that, they can piss on trees for data,” Xavier said angrily. “I know the Agency, and it usually doesn’t take them this long to solve a problem. I think they’ve just found an interesting test subject.”

“And you were the one who told me to trust the Agency!” I said.

“I think you should,” he said. “I just think they’re getting carried away, and they aren’t being considerate. I think there might be something bigger being disrupted that’s distracting the whole base… not that they tell me anything. But never mind that—you have your own issues to think about, and they have theirs.”

“You notice how they never let me get alone with Mark or Key?” I noted, having just noticed it myself. “The only time I see them is at mealtimes. Otherwise, I’m always with someone else. And you see where they’ve put me? In a room far off the ground in the hottest place of the base. Mark is a polar bear Epselan who’s afraid of heights—or depths, at least. And Key doesn’t seem too keen to leave his side, like she’s suspicious too.”

“I do think it’s unusual,” Xavier said. “But consider. It might just be for you. I mean, maybe Mark doesn’t like heat or height. But you’re part phoenix. They fly, and they like heat. It does kind of make sense to put you here even without the conspiracy theories.”

I ignored the crack at my suspicions and said, “I don’t know. Maybe.”

“Look, where else would you go?” he pointed out. “In a freezing, windy room with the sylphs and pixies? By the lake, with a bunch of water and stuff splashing all night long?”

“I offered to sleep in a tree,” I pointed out. “I told Dr. Wynne that if she gave me a sleeping bag and pointed me to a forest, I’d find somewhere to sleep.”

“And then she wouldn’t be able to find you,” Xavier said. “Anyway, there are jillions of mythical creatures running around, and lots of them can fly or climb trees. Some of them are creatures you don’t want to run into. Trust me, you want your little sliding door in here.”

“I have protection spells I use all the time,” I argued. “That’s why I don’t get bitten by mosquitoes. And it’s not like Nevin can’t easily find me. I mean, he’s a dragon! They have the best vision around!”

“Where would you keep your stuff?” Xavier asked.

“In a bag, hanging from the tree,” I answered. “Just like always.”

“Look,” he said. “It’s just easier to put you in the Rapunzel room. You’re more comfortable here, and they don’t have to go to any special lengths just so Mark might be able to find you. In the middle of a forest. Maybe.”

“I guess so,” I said. “But I still have a bad feeling about all this.”

“I know you do,” he said. “It’s okay. Let’s just use your plan for now, I guess.”

“In the meantime…” I grabbed another sandwich.

Xavier copied with a smile. In fact, he grabbed my sandwich. I slapped his arm, grinning.

“Grrr!” I teased.

“Grrr,” he imitated, curling his fingers into fake claws and pretending to swipe at me. “Grrr.”

“Grrr!”

“Time to sing the Doom song now?” he asked, laughing.

“Weird person,” I said, laughing harder.

“Hey!”

“Well,” I said, “I’ve never, ever met someone who stalks me using a pegasus. I think that just about qualifies you for the title, don’t you?”

“I don’t stalk you!” he argued, but while grinning.

“Oh, no,” I said. “It just so happens that I can’t go five minutes from the lab or my room before you find me.” I was grinning, too.

“Hey, I just want to see you’re all right,” he said. “Which you weren’t this morning. And I think you feel better now, don’t you?”

“Maybe,” I dodged, trying not to smile now.

He closed on eye and leaned over. “I saw that.”

“Hey!” said a voice from the balcony, through the open glass doors. “Are you two lovebirds going to come down to lunch at some point?”

It was Anatola.

“Lovebirds!” Xavier protested. “Where did that come from?”

“Just the fact that you two came in here on a white pegasus and have been sitting here for three hours with a royal banquet in front of you and nothing much to do except chatter at each other. Even friends can’t stand each other for that long!”

“There’s no such thing as a white pegasus,” Xavier protested. “Silvester is gray.”

“Maybe you don’t know enough humans,” I said.

“Maybe I know Xavier,” Anatola said. “And you, too. Neither of you are the people-person kind.”

“Maybe we are with our friends,” Xavier said, glaring at the gold dragon.

“Maybe you both… don’t need to come down to lunch.,” she said, eyeing the remnants of an entire chicken. “But come anyway.” She lowered her neck, an invitation to get on. We complied.

“And be sure to bring back a nice, big bowl of cream, too,” Anatola said. “The brownies won’t like it if you don’t, and you don’t want to deal with a boggart.”

“What’s a brownie? What’s a boggart?” I asked.

“Brownies are the room service,” Anatola said. “Nice little house-fairy type creatures. You pay them in cream or whole milk—never use skim. If you insult them by using skim or by not being courteous to them and giving them their cream, then they get angry. And when a brownie gets angry, it turns into a boggart—nasty buggers. Don’t ever try to tangle with a boggart. That magic can do more than clean.”

We landed at the dining hall, and I joined the line. I was starving, even though I’d eaten.

Xavier and I watched Anatola fly off.

“She’s busy, isn’t she?” I noted.

“Yep,” Xavier sighed.

“Nevin was up almost as early as I was. And my habit is to wake up for Cirque du Soleil practices.”

“You worked with a circus?” Xavier said, turning away from the spot where Anatola had taken off to look at me in amazement.

“Yeah. Weirdest circus ever.”

“What were you?”

“Acrobat. I’m light and easy to flip around. And a girl with wings goes down well.”

“Was it a good job?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Easy enough, with all their magical assistance. Paid well. Got Mark and me around like we wanted. And Key, too. Mark was a clown… Key was the makeup artist. Leslie suddenly had a talent for playing the violin, too.”

“Who’s Leslie?” Xavier asked.

In the slow-moving line, I told Xavier about Leslie. The way she’d switched our train tickets so we could join the rebel group and have me learn magic. The way Mark met Key. The story she told me about her brother, to hide that she had magic for reasons of her own. The way she’d found me when I turned into a phoenix. The way she’d exposed herself to Dakota by learning a new talent by magic to stay with Cirque du Soleil, to watch me.

“But why would she care so much what happened to you?” Xavier asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I didn’t even know her that much before she switched our train tickets. She just started following me. Maybe she just thinks it’s a good idea to have friends in high places.”

“Very high,” Xavier said, and I recognized the joke. “Maybe she doesn’t have anywhere to go. I mean, she ran away from her parents.”

“But why would she do that?”

“Well, what could she do there?” he pointed out. “Had to be boring for a magic user. Maybe she knew an adventure opportunity when she saw one, and she was ready to take it.”

“Maybe that’s it,” I said, raking my fingers through my hair and holding a tray in the other.

Finally, we managed to get ourselves some food, and sat down with Mark and Key.

“Making friends, are we?” Key asked, smiling and examining Xavier’s face. “You’ve done well. He’s cute.”

Mark punched her on the shoulder, and she reciprocated.

“Well, you did take my idea before I got a chance to get at it,” I said.

“Where’s the white horse?” Key asked. “You’re not shortchanging us, are you?”

“It’s a bad idea to call a pegasus a horse,” Xavier said. “They get insulted. And he’s gray!”

“Take it from the master,” I said, shrugging. Then Mark remembered that he had food in front of him, and we started eating fried chicken… dragon-style, in the way it was cooked and in the way it was eaten.

This entry was posted on Sunday, November 6th, 2011 at 8:44 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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