by Mary E. Lowd
Petra could have walked home — if it weren’t for the locked doors, and the iron bars, and dogs with guns. She might as well have been on Jupiter for all the certainty she felt that she’d be going home again. She knew about cats getting arrested and disappearing. That’s something cats did. Disappear. Somehow, whenever a dog went missing, the police always found a way to discover what had happened. That wasn’t the case with cats. Sometimes, you just didn’t get to know. Sometimes, the case was closed, and the cat never showed up.
Petra told herself that wouldn’t happen to her. She was the president’s sister. She was high profile. There’d be questions if she disappeared. Questions and riots and violence.
She would get to go home. And hug her kittens without police dogs watching.
Still, Petra felt better when one of the big bearded police dogs dragged in a black-and-white tomcat and dumped him in the cell with her. “You get a room mate, Sissy-Cat.” The bearded dog seemed to think she’d be affronted by the idea of sharing her cell, losing her privacy. But Petra didn’t have privacy — she had a lack of witnesses if the police dogs decided to do anything to her.
If they were giving her a cellmate, that meant they wouldn’t do anything to her that they didn’t want anyone to witness. It wasn’t much, but it made Petra feel a little safer.
The bearded dog slammed the cell shut behind the tomcat, fixed a withering glare on Petra through the bars, and then sauntered away, tail slowly wagging. How dare his tail wag.
Petra and her cellmate eyed each other warily: two cats sizing each other up.
The tomcat was wearing the crispest, blackest, most nicely-tailored suit Petra had ever seen. It screamed, “Expensive!” while perfectly flattering his own tuxedo fur markings. Petra was still wearing the same casual tunic and pants she’d been arrested in — rumpled from two days of wear, sporting milk-stains from the kittens’ antics. Petra didn’t care much for feeling underdressed while in a jail cell, so she tried to take malicious glee in imagining how uncomfortable the tom’s suit would be after he’d been in the cell a few days.
Petra was too tired to feel malicious glee.
She shouldn’t be here. She should be in the White House, tracking down the missing money from the budget, doing something to help Kipper and Alistair save the world. That money had to lead somewhere. It had been spent on something, and if it was a secret arsenal of weapons, it could make the difference in a fight against the raptors.
“You’re the president’s sister,” the tomcat said. “We should talk about catnip law reform.”
Petra rolled her eyes. “I guess I don’t have to ask what you’re in for. And this is not an opportunity for political gain.”
The tomcat settled lazily on one of the uncomfortable, spartan benches that jutted out from the cell’s walls. The end of his tail swished, and his whiskers twitched like he was trying to hide a smile. “You’d rather be bored? I have forty-eight hours before they have to release me, and there’s no telling how long you’ll be in for — or how soon you’ll get another cellmate to talk to.”
Catnip laws were a mess of inconsistencies. The pungent weed was legal in some cities and counties; illegal in others. Worse, some of those cities and counties overlapped, meaning there were huge swathes of the Uplifted States where catnip was both legal and illegal. Usually, that meant cats got arrested for buying, selling, owning, and using — but the charges rarely held, since most cats used catnip at some time or another.
Dealers got used to spending the occasional night in jail. This tomcat was clearly a dealer.
“Fine,” Petra sighed. “You can give me your spiel, but it’ll be a waste of breath.”
The tom skewed an ear. “What? You’re some kind of puritan who’s never tried catnip?”
Petra snorted. “Hardly. Are there cats who’ve never tried catnip?”
The tom shrugged. “So I’m told. But if I’m preaching to the choir, what’s the deal? We finally have a cat president, so why am I in jail for selling some dried leaves that every poll shows ninety percent of cats agree should be legal?”
“Why am I in jail?” Petra shot back scathingly.
Cool as only a tuxedo cat can be, the tom said, “According to the papers, you’re in for assaulting a cop.”
Petra couldn’t even respond. She hadn’t touched that dog. And it didn’t matter.
Her whiskers turned down, and her ears splayed just a little. In spite of her colorful orange stripes, her face looked as bleak as if all the color had drained from the world.
“Hey, hey,” the tom said cajolingly, reassuringly. “I didn’t say I believed the papers.”
As if it were a confession of guilt — a huge confession — Petra admitted, so quietly the tom could hardly hear her, “I hissed at the cop.”
The tom grimaced.
Some dogs didn’t seem to be able to tell the difference between a cat clawing them in the face and a cat merely hissing. Cats are supposed to stay calm. Ideally, they should be purring, just to show how calm and content they are. No trouble here, sir! No, sir, I’m so happy I’m purring!
Every cat knew that. Petra knew that. But Petra had never been good at purring.
Finally, Petra pulled herself together enough to bring the conversation back to catnip laws — anything was better than talking about her situation. “The first feline president can’t waste his power on catnip. You must know that. It would make him a joke.” Her voice sounded tired, weary to her heart. “It would waste whatever limited power he has.”
Mere days ago, Petra had believed her brother had power. She wasn’t sure anymore. The weight of momentum in their society was so heavy, it would take more than a single president to shift it.
Well, to hell with it all, maybe the raptors would pulverize them all to dust. Then everyone would be equal.
Except, Petra couldn’t really wish that. Not with three kittens at home. Sometimes, she regretted adopting them. She regretted letting herself care deeply enough for anyone to bind herself to this messed up world.
The tomcat must have read Petra’s despondency in her posture, because he said, “You can’t let those cops get to you like this.” The green eyes on either side of his white-splished nose searched Petra’s face, as if looking for a sign that she wouldn’t suddenly crumble in front of him. “It’s only jail.”
“It’s inequity,” she snapped back. “It’s injustice. It’s everything that’s wrong with the world.”
“Well, that’s not fair,” the tom said wryly. “The Blue Sox beat the Yellow Sneakers last season. That’s pretty wrong.”
Petra’s ears splayed at the tom’s complete and purposeful non-sequitur. But after several moments of bafflement, she followed his lead out of the dark well of despair she was teetering next to and meekly said, “You follow scramball?”
“Like a religion,” the tom said. He held out a paw. It was mostly black until the very tip, as if he’d dipped his paw in milk. “My name’s Blaine. Nice to meet you.”
Petra didn’t reciprocate by offering her name. He already knew it. But she did get up and shake his paw.
Blaine told Petra about the Blue Sox and the Yellow Sneakers for a while. The Blue Sox were mostly boxers and other pug-faced dogs; their best player was a brindle-coated French bulldog, small but powerful. Blaine rooted for the Yellow Sneakers, a team of yellow labs and Golden Retrievers.
“Sometimes, I get a group of cats together to play scramball, you know,” Blaine said.
“I have trouble picturing that,” Petra said. Though she knew Kipper had played scramball once, most cats didn’t seem to care much for the rough-and-tumble physicality of the game.
“We all take a low dose of catnip — enough to loosen everyone up, but not enough to mess up our faculties. Then we launch right in — it’s a lot of fun. A couple of Chihuahuas actually started it up. They like playing with cats better, ’cause we’re closer in size to them than most pro-scramball players.”
“Big dogs,” Petra observed.
“Yeah,” Blaine agreed. “Though, that brindle-bull on the Blue Sox is how they upset the natural order of things and won last season. Sometimes, a small dog can sneak through where a big dog would be blocked.”
Petra’s glaze-eyed nod let Blaine know he’d finally lost her.
“I could talk about scramball forever,” Blaine said. “But let’s hear about you. What’s that sister of yours up to?”
Of course, he didn’t really want to hear about Petra. He wanted a direct line to the president’s ear or the latest gossip on the Hero of Europa. Still… Petra didn’t really want to think about herself. It wouldn’t be so bad talking about her sister. “Kipper’s gone under the ocean to talk to the octopuses…”
Continue on to Chapter 18…