by Mary E. Lowd
A Deep Sky Anchor Original
Emerald and Amber were each named for the rich, gemstone color of their eyes. Other than that, the sister cats looked the same — each with fur as black as the night sky and elegantly curving whiskers as bright white as shooting stars.
Other cats in the neighborhood shared whispered rumors that those bright white whiskers could grant a wish to a cat brave enough to fight the pair and yank one out. No cat had ever tried. The other neighborhood cats knew better than to challenge Emerald and Amber. It was too important to stay in their good favor.
The regal pair of black cats lived in an unusual neighborhood where a number of the cats had discovered latent super powers. One tuxedo cat could dissolve into a mist and melt into the shadows, passing through solid matter as if it didn’t exist. Another cat, orange and feral, could summon fire from her claws. Yet a third cat could mind-control mice and liked to make them sing for her, a tiny rodential barbershop quartet. Perhaps the strangest was the cat with no direct powers of her own who had instead befriended a koi fish that could bend water to its will and followed her around town in a fluidic mecha built from pond water.
Emerald and Amber’s power, however, was far more powerful. When they worked together, they could cast portals, each summoning one end of a twisting, swirling wormhole that cut right across the fabric of space.
The first time Emerald and Amber had discovered their power, as young kittens, they couldn’t tell in that moment if it was nothing — just an oddity, a mere amusement — or everything, something that would change their lives forever.
They’d spent weeks annoying their poor mother, a cat without any superpowers, by evading her attempts to round them up or worse casting one side of their shared portal right under her feet and causing her to fall through to wherever the other half had been placed, usually just above a comfy couch. Even so, it was startling to suddenly fall through the floor and land somewhere higher up. Their mother loved them… but she hadn’t been entirely sorry to see her troublesome, painfully gifted kittens go.
Emerald and Amber were adopted by two different humans who lived in different houses in different parts of town, and as was becoming increasingly common, both of their new owners chose to make their little void kittens into indoor only cats.
Emerald and Amber would never have seen each other again and would have been forced to live under the names Midnight and Frisky McWhiskers, slowly forgetting themselves and each other…
Except, suddenly, their small and strange power that had allowed them to hop across a whole room in a single paw step became something incredibly powerful.
On opposite sides of town, an emerald-eyed cat and her amber-eyed sister stared through the fabric of the universe and saw each other, a silent signal passing between them. In spite of the distance that separated their bodies, they could still sense each other; their heartbeats, their breaths synchronized.
In unison, Emerald and Amber lifted their paws, each with claws extended, and slashed through the air, inscribing a curve on the deeper levels of nature, slicing through reality. In front of Emerald, a green portal shimmered into existence; in front of Amber swirled an orange one. Alone, the portals led nowhere, but when each sister cast her half, the pools of gemstone-colored light joined together, orange and green gleaming like light reflecting off a pond.
Through the fusion of their twin half portals, Emerald and Amber created a passageway that would always allow them to come together. Nothing could separate them. And so, even if they lived under different rooves, called by mismatched names, they remained an inseparable pair, and the humans who’d adopted them wondered at the strangeness of how their cats’ eyes seemed to change from orange to green, inexplicably, and how sometimes, their pretty black cat moved so fast it seemed to be in two places at once. And other times, nowhere at all, no matter how thoroughly they checked behind sofas, under beds, and in any other hiding spot a cat might like.
Emerald and Amber shared two lives, moving unhindered between the two houses.
Over time, the sister cats learned to cast their portals farther and farther away from themselves, no longer needing to touch the air with their claws to rip reality open. They learned to cast portals anywhere within their line of sight, merely by glaring at the air and cutting it with the sharpness of their gaze. And so, Emerald and Amber freed themselves from the human tyranny of the concept of “indoor only” cats by casting portals for themselves on the other side of the windows that were meant to shut them in.
Glass barriers became nothing to them, and Emerald and Amber set about a campaign of freeing other indoor only cats to explore the world outside, even if only for brief field trips to meet their neighbor cats. Their humans never knew, as Emerald and Amber always helped the cats sneak home when they were ready. And what cat truly wants to stay outdoors when it’s cold or raining?
This is why no cat in their neighborhood would ever cross Emerald and Amber; their power was simply too valuable, too rare, too powerful. It held all the other cats in awe, and cats are not known for reverence of things other than themselves.
Then one day, Emerald’s human did something unimaginably horrible: he brought home a dog.
The yellow Labrador bounced and bounded and barreled around their shared home like he owned it. He slobbered and barked and whined. The situation was completely untenable. Intolerable in the extreme.
For several weeks, Emerald sought refuge in Amber’s home, only returning to her own house for brief visits when the overexcitable yellow Labrador was asleep. Amber didn’t see the problem. Her home supported the two of them together well enough, as long as one of them made sure to remain out of sight whenever her humans were home.
But Emerald missed her own house and her own — foolish though he may be — human owner. The green-eyed cat had made the mistake of growing fond of the ridiculous bipedal creature. Amber felt no such attachment to her humans, so she didn’t understand why Emerald cared so much.
Never before had such a wedge been driven between the two cats.
Emerald skulked and hid and sulked. Amber grew sarcastic and critical. Then finally, after a week of watching her green-eyed sister slink about with flattened ears and ruffled fur, she’d had enough. Amber cut right through her sister’s sullenness and asked, “Why does the dog bother you? I know you can hide from him, leap up higher than he can reach and slip under couches too low for him to follow. And when you really need to escape, you’re only a thought away from me. So, annoying and barky though the dog might be, he can’t hurt you. If you want to go home, go home.” Her final words were cold and firm, an invitation for Emerald to get out of her sight.
The sister cats had never fought like this before. And Emerald wanted to fix it, but she didn’t know how. She didn’t know the answer to Amber’s question.
Why did the dog bother her so?
“Or I guess, if you really wanted, we could send the dog away.” Amber’s voice had gotten even colder, a strange contrast to the warm sunlight of her orange eyes.
The sisters knew each other well enough that Amber didn’t need to spell her meaning out for Emerald.
Emerald knew what Amber was suggesting. There was a dark side to their portal magic. Sure, it was all fun and games to cast a portal under their mother’s paws and watch her tumble onto a cushy couch, fur all fluffed out in startlement.
But what if the couch weren’t so soft?
What if the fall had been from higher?
The cats around town didn’t just revere Emerald and Amber because their portals were useful.
Their portals could be dangerous too, and it hadn’t taken much of a demonstration to get that point across. Just a rock, sitting on the ground… that suddenly fell through a pool of orange light and then came plummeting down from the sky, leaving a pool of green light hovering far above it.
“No,” Emerald said. “I don’t want to kill the dog.”
Amber flicked her ears nonchalantly. It was all the same to her. But then, she wasn’t the one bothered by the dog in the first place. So she asked a question that turned Emerald’s entire world upside down: “Why not?”
There were easy answers Emerald could have given about morality and the sanctity of life. But she didn’t say any of those words. She knew they weren’t the actual answer. She’d killed birds and mice before. She didn’t care about the sanctity of life, especially when it came to some big old annoying dog. Besides, Amber could have countered easily by suggesting they simply help the dog to get lost far enough away that he wouldn’t know how to get home. Not dead. Just lost.
But he would get home, wouldn’t he? The humans talked to each other. They’d work together over and over again to bring High Noon — for that was his name, designed to match the name ‘Midnight’ which their human had given her — back home, as many times as they needed to, until the black cat sisters tired of their game.
Emerald and Amber could also use their portal powers to teach High Noon a lesson — show him what he was up against and why he should slink away from the black cat who shared his home with his tail tucked tightly between his legs, uncontrollably whimpering.
But Emerald didn’t want to teach him a lesson either. She didn’t know what she wanted from High Noon, except for him to have never pranced his way into her life. But none of the cats they knew around town had the power to reverse time, so that wasn’t possible.
“I guess,” Emerald said, her ears flattening at her own words, “I don’t know why I don’t want to hurt him.”
“Maybe you should figure it out,” Amber sniffed dismissively, as if she didn’t care. But her tail lashed, clearly showing how strongly she felt. Impatience and irritation incarnate, that was Emerald’s sister right now.
Usually, when one of the sisters was annoyed, the other was too. But right now, Emerald was just confused. She didn’t like the distance growing between her and Amber.
Without saying another word, Emerald cast her portal, green and swirling, in the wall behind the flowered couch in her own home. She couldn’t see it from here inside Amber’s house, but she knew it was there. She felt it. And she knew the location where she’d cast it so well — had practiced casting portals there so many times now — that she didn’t need for it to be literally in her line of sight, not when she could picture it so clearly in her mind’s eye.
Amber answered the tickling sensation of Emerald’s half-portal opening by casting her own, orange and glimmering, directly between them. When one sister cast her half of a portal, for the other one, it felt like watching a yawn — contagious, demanding to be answered with another yawn in return. Sure, you could try to stifle it, but you’d just end up with an awkward half yawn anyway.
Emerald didn’t hesitate once the green and orange portals were both cast. She stepped right through. Back home. Away from her sister.
Back into the world she now shared with High Noon.
As soon as Emerald emerged from behind the flowered couch, leaving her portal open behind her, the big yellow dog came bounding toward her, as if the buffoon had been waiting for her return.
Emerald’s body tensed, prepared for the familiar sound of excited barking, but this time, High Noon held his tongue, instead letting his tail do all the wagging. He crouched down on the carpeted floor — butt waggling in the air, front paws and head low in a play bow.
Emerald hissed, her ears flat and her fur fluffed out, spiky and big all over her body. Even so, she felt small facing the much bigger Labrador.
“You came home!” High Noon woofed, excitedly but softly, completely unfazed by Emerald’s display of aggression. “Where do you go when you leave?” The dog tilted his head querulously. It was a charming expression, even Emerald had to admit that and she found her heart softening.
Was this why she couldn’t hurt the dog?
Did she… like him?
“I go to my sister’s house,” Emerald answered, ears still plastered against her head.
“We have a sister?!?” High Noon’s tongue lolled out of his mouth as his muzzle spread into the widest grin. “What’s her name? Twilight? Dawn?”
“Amber,” Emerald hissed. “And she’s not your sister. Just mine.”
High Noon’s brow furrowed, and his floppy ears drooped a little lower. “Oh, okay. Well, one sister is good enough for me. Especially now that you’re home!” His grin came back, like sunlight spilling out from behind a fleeting cloud. His happiness was as steady as a star; his disappointment as fleeting as moisture in the air.
Whose heart wouldn’t melt looking at such a grin?
And yet, Emerald felt she should be better than this. Better than falling for the foolish foibles of a stupid mutt. Sure, humans loved them, but cats know better than to be taken in by a dog’s big grin, bestowed meaninglessly on anyone he saw. What good is love when it’s given so freely?
“I’m not your sister either,” Emerald said, partly just to see High Noon’s face fall, which it did.
But the grin came back. It always came back. “That’s okay,” he said. “We can still be friends.”
Emerald’s heart twisted up. He was so different from her sister. Cats may look cute and cuddly, but underneath the pretty coat of fur, they’re all claws and teeth, murder in mammal form.
Tentatively, Emerald stepped forward and allowed her ears to unflatten by the most minimal of angles. “You’ll have to bark less.”
“What?” High Noon barked.
“If you want to be friends,” Emerald explained. “You’ll have to bark less.”
“Okay,” High Noon woofed the word as softly as he could.
“And you can’t ever chase me.” Emerald took a step forward.
“Okay,” High Noon repeated, this time almost too quiet to hear. He lowered his waggling butt and flattened himself against the floor, trying to look as unimposing as possible.
He was still much, much bigger than Emerald, but she accepted his offering. She approached him, and he held still, except for a slow wagging of his tail.
Emerald stepped close enough to touch her nose to his. A small perfect feline nose pressed for only a brief second against a big wet canine one. High Noon’s wide grin flickered between a gentle, confused smile and its usual midday brightness. But he didn’t jump up and try to maul her. He didn’t bark. He held still.
Emerald stared into High Noon’s muddy brown eyes. They were sweet and gentle, but they didn’t hold the kind of mystery her own eyes and her sister’s eyes held. When Emerald stared into Amber’s eyes, it felt like falling through a hall of mirrors. The deep orange color, exactly like Amber’s half of their portals, seemed like a thick glass window looking out on every place they’d ever been to or would travel to. There was an infinity shared between Emerald and Amber’s eyes.
But High Noon’s eyes felt like solid ground, somewhere you can stand and feel your paws rooted to the deep security of the Earth beneath you. Emerald could have spent hours staring into those eyes, feeling like she’d finally stopped falling.
“My name isn’t Midnight,” Emerald said.
High Noon’s eyebrows raised, encouraging her to continue, but he didn’t speak, too arrested by the infinite green he saw in those feline eyes staring at him, piercing him, examining him. Emerald’s eyes contained the possibilities and new beginnings of spring, the dangerous mystery of a deep, dark forest, and the precious perfection of the mathematical angles of a princess-cut emerald.
“Our human doesn’t know my name,” Emerald said.
Now High Noon spoke, still keeping his voice to a respectful, quiet woof: “Can I know your name?”
“Maybe,” Emerald said. “Maybe someday.”
Then the black cat turned tail and stalked away, leaving the yellow Labrador breathless behind her. She could tell that making friends with this dog would change her, and she didn’t know what that would mean for her relationship with her sister. Or what it would mean for who she would become. And that’s why she’d wanted him to go away…
But maybe, sometimes, change can be good. And whether it’s good or not, change is unavoidable. Emerald was ready to change into a cat who could make friends with a dog. Who knew, maybe, she wasn’t just Emerald, maybe she could be Midnight too.