by Mary E. Lowd
Kipper’s terror threatened to swallow her whole, but that was all it could do — threaten. She steadied her breathing, painfully aware of the limited oxygen in the tank on her back — several hour’s worth, but not enough for a lengthy incarceration in an octopus prison.
As she watched the octopi around her through her face mask, Kipper realized that they were scared too. Their tentacles were pale; their golden eyes wide. They were as much afraid of the coming raptor attack as she was. Actually… Much more.
A tabby in SCUBA gear, treading water under the ocean, entirely out of her element, was a much less threatening enemy than a fleet of raptor vessels barreling silently through the night sky. Kipper could hardly blame the octopi for scapegoating her.
Still, their fear was a tool. She needed to use it to turn the situation around on them.
“Would you rather live in fear?” Kipper signed, shifting her gaze about the room to catch as many different pairs of yellow eyes as she could. “Do you want to keep hiding forever?”
The tentacle murmurs of “pay” and “crime” continued around her, but she was done being scared by them.
She signed with strong, clear movements of her paws, shouting them down: “You say the stars are your rightful home? I’ve been to the stars. These otters–” She gestured at Trugger and Captain Cod, whose expressions she couldn’t read through their breathing masks. “–live there in a spaceship called the Jolly Barracuda. I’ve flown with them to Mars, the asteroids, Jupiter, Europa, and back.” After a moment’s hesitation, she added, “I… live there with them. Space is our home.”
The tentacles around her had quieted and floated eerily still. The octopuses were unified in their stillness, but each one’s flesh flushed a different color. All Kipper could think was that they were lost in a riot of different emotions, each reacting differently, individually to her words.
She had broken them apart. That was the first step with any mob. Now she needed to move them.
Kipper squared her sight on the blue-eyed octopus who had accused her. Its silver tentacle curled around it like a question mark. Stilled and waiting.
Kipper signed, “We’re not going to hide on Earth, waiting to see what the raptors plan for us. Cats, dogs, and otters are going to fight for our homes — both here and amidst the stars. Join us. Help us.”
Blue eyes with rectangular pupils narrowed, staring Kipper down. Silence and stillness ruled the room. Then the blue-eyed octopus squeezed its tentacles, including the silver one, tightly together like an intricate Celtic knot. Long moments passed before its tentacles unwound, and the octopus signed, “Brave words, little cat. Do you have the firepower to support them?”
Kipper had been hoping that the octopi had firepower to help her support them. That wasn’t sounding likely.
Captain Cod signed, “The Imperial Star-Ocean Navy of the otters stands with us.”
“My own country,” Kipper signed, “the Uplifted States is drawing its forces together.” That much was probably true. Vague but true. Alistair and Petra surely had the cats and dogs of Mericka scrambling to pull whatever defenses they could muster together. Though Mericka’s decidedly backward and Earth-bound technology ensured that those forces wouldn’t add up to much. “It sounds–” She faltered, realizing it would only reveal weakness to ask whether the octopi had any forces to lend to the cause.
Kipper had come to Choir’s Deep envisioning missiles and rockets hidden beneath the waves, amphibious spaceships that would launch straight out of the ocean and fill the sky with defensive lasers. Clearly, those had been kitten dreams. None of that was here. The octopi might have advanced genetic technologies, but there was no hidden space armada.
What they might have, however, was information.
“It sounds like you know about the raptors,” Kipper signed. “Give us information to help us fight them more effectively. Share your knowledge with us.”
Again the blue-eyed octopus wrapped itself into a Celtic knot, and its tentacles turned an ashen shade of gray. Eventually, its gaze shifted from Kipper to the other octopi behind her. When its tentacles uncoiled, it signed, “Take the cat away.”
Kipper shrieked, “Wait!” uselessly into the echo-chamber of her breathing mask, but by the time she pulled her thoughts together enough to remember to talk with her paws, her arms were already restrained by a mass of tentacles from behind, beside, and all around her. The room had become a writhing bowl of tentacles grasping and pulling her. She struggled, but their grips only grew tighter.
Kipper saw that Captain Cod and Trugger had been grabbed by octopi as well. Kipper got one last glaring look at the blue-eyed octopus before they were dragged into a different tunnel than they’d entered by. It was only a flash of a look, but if the octopus understood feline expressions at all, it had to know that Kipper wasn’t happy.
In fact, Kipper considered it a miracle of self-restraint that she’d managed to keep her claws sheathed. The octopi might be strong, but their flesh was soft. She could have filled that round room with a cloud of blood before they would have — inevitably — pulled off her breathing mask. In truth, a physical fight could never go well for a cat this far under the ocean.
Kipper stopped struggling and let the octopi drag her down the malachite tunnel, waiting to see where they would take her. But only because she hadn’t yet given up hope.
Continue on to Chapter 15…