Chapter 6: Explanations
Jessel lay on her bunk trying to study. She'd been surprised when Munkustrap had announced after lunch that it was time for the Jellicles' nap, but apparently this had been part of their routine and the small security officer wasn't about to upset that more than absolutely necessary. Just as the Jellicles had settled down, one of Demeter's kittens had started to cry. At first Jessel had tried to ignore it, knowing that many of the Jellicles regarded her help as a necessary evil, but she'd kept an eye on the situation from her own bunk on the opposites side of the room from the kittens and their parents. The kitten had been crying now for nearly half an hour, despite being fed, changed, burped, and rocked.
Sighing, Jessel rose from her bunk and took her PDA over to the doorway. The panel beside it contained an infra-red interface which Jessel used to access the ship's computer for causes of excessive crying in infants. A quick glance over the downloaded data gave her a good idea what to look for. Walking down the row of bunks, she caught several suspicious stares from cats who hadn't buried their ears under their pillows to shut out the kitten's cries. As she reached the end bunk, Munkustrap barred her way. "Can I help?" she asked him in a friendly manner.
The silver tabby didn't answer, but looked over his shoulder at his mate. Stress showed on Demeter's face and was mirrored in the eyes of Jemima and Griddlebone, who sat on either side of her trying to help. Jellylorum sat on the next bunk over, cradling the second kitten, who fussed over her brother's wails. "Do you have kittens?" asked the weary mother.
"No," replied Jessel, brandishing her PDA with a slight smile, "but I did ask the computer for a list of reasons why a kitten might cry for so long."
Demeter nodded at her mate and Munkustrap let Jessel pass, though she could feel his stare glued to her back. The small security officer didn't attempt to sit down, choosing instead to stand leaning against the end of the next bunk. "I know you tried feeding, changing and burping, the next thing the computer suggested was check for teeth."
"Teeth?" asked Demeter, confused, "he doesn't have any teeth."
"But he might be getting some," replied Jessel, gently, "they have to come in sometime, and it's a very painful process for babies to get their teeth. Just feel around his gums with your finger. If you find something sharp it's probably a tooth."
Demeter looked doubtful but she did as instructed. She stopped at one particular spot and the kitten clamped down hard on her finger. Demeter drew a sharp breath in pain. Wincing, she said, "There is a bump there."
"Good," smiled Jessel, "that's a fairly easy problem to take care of. Doctor Branch will have medicine to take away the pain, and she can suggest something safe for him to gnaw on, other than your finger."
Demeter's eyes had become huge and she tightened her grip on her child. "Take my kitten to the doctors' labs? No!"
Jessel had led the team that had swept the labs looking for late workers. She'd seen the tables with straps on them and had a pretty good idea of who those were used for. She didn't blame Demeter for not wanting to take her kitten to sickbay, the Jellicle woman probably had very good reasons to fear the doctors' labs. Jessel could have called Dr. Branch to come down to the Jellicles' quarters, but the fear in Demeter's face and the faces around her convinced Jessel that she'd better get someone to go to sickbay just to make the distinction between it and the labs before there was a need to take one of the Jellicles there. Feeling like an absolute beast, Jessel said lightly, "Well, it's your choice. He'll probably cry for the next couple of days and he'll get louder when that tooth actually breaks through but no one will make you take him to the doctor."
Tears welled up in Demeter's eyes as she hugged her kitten tightly, then she held the baby out to Jessel. It took a moment for the security officer to realize that Demeter meant to let her take the kitten to sickbay. A low growl behind her told her exactly what Munkustrap thought of that idea. "I think he'll be calmer if you carry him," she said gently. "It won't take long and then you can bring him right back here."
"You're sure the doctors won't want to keep him?" asked Demeter fearfully.
"For teething? No, I'm certain he won't need to stay in sickbay for teething," reassured Jessel.
"I'm going too," growled Munkustrap as his mate rose to follow Jessel.
"Of course," nodded the small security officer. She felt all eyes on her as she led the parents and their squalling infant out the door. She wanted to give them some comfort, but didn't know what to say, so she stayed silent.
Munkustrap slipped his arm around his mate as they stepped aboard the elevator. He shared a worried look with the multi-colored queen and rubbed his face against hers. But his expression hardened and he once more looked the imposing protector as the doors opened again.
No one was in the hall when they stepped off, for which Jessel was grateful, she didn't need anything increasing the Jellicles' tension. The main door to sickbay was only about 20 feet down the hall and they were quickly through it, standing in the small waiting room. Jessel stepped up to the doctor's office door but Dr. Branch beat her there, called by the kitten's cries. Both parents tensed at the doctor's appearance, their ears laying back against their heads, and Munkustrap flexed his claws, though that appeared to be more a reflex than a threat.
Straightening her lab coat and putting on her most professional air, Doctor Branch asked, "What can I do for you?"
Jessel stepped back a bit, hoping that the Jellicles would answer for themselves. Demeter and Munkustrap exchanged hesitant glances, before Demeter replied, "My kitten won't stop crying." She stumbled somewhat over her words but managed to get them all out. "He has a lump in his mouth. Jessel said that it was probably a tooth and that you would have medicine to take the pain away?"
"Yes, of course," smiled the dark-haired doctor. She stepped into a small room to the right of her office and pulled several objects out of a drawer. "I had Ensign Barla go shopping for all the things we'd need for babies while we were still on Zion, so I have plenty. She has a toddler so I figured she'd remember better what was needed. My two sons are older." She stepped back into the waiting room as she unscrewed the top from a small tube. "Hold out your hand," she told Demeter kindly. The Jellicle woman looked nervous but did as she was told. Dr. Branch squeezed a small ball of pink cream onto the leather like fingerpad of Demeter's first finger. "Rub that where you felt the tooth."
Demeter hesitated only a moment before rubbing the cream in her son's mouth. The baby gave a couple more cries, then smacked his lips as though tasting the cream, and finally closed his eyes, falling into the easy sleep that babies enjoy. Demeter looked a little frightened over the speed with which her child fell asleep.
"He's probably worn himself out with crying," Dr. Branch reassured her. "Here you can take the tube with you. Only give him the little amount I showed you and only about every four to six hours, as he needs it. That would be about each mealtime, before bed and once in the middle of the night," the doctor clarified, responding to the sudden confusion in Demeter's eyes. "I also brought you two teething rings that he can chew on for comfort when he wakes. Keep them in the refrigerator units in the mess hall when he's not using them, he'll like them better if they're a little cold. And this," she said, holding up a small bottle, "is for gas, if either baby has trouble passing it." She showed Demeter the dosage to use for that and then shoved the whole pile at Munkustrap. When the silver tabby hesitated Dr. Branch scolded, "Come on now, she has enough to carry, don't you think?"
Munkustrap took the items in one hand and Dr. Branch smiled a wintery smile at him. "You have such an adorable little son, I'm sure you're very proud of him."
Munkustrap rocked back on his heels with the most incredulous look on his face, but before the doctor could ask what she'd said wrong he placed a hand on his mate's shoulder and turned her towards the door. Demeter looked back over his hand and quietly said, "Thank you."
When they were all back in the elevator and the doors had hissed closed behind them, Munkustrap turned to Jessel, "What did the doctor mean by saying that I had an adorable son?"
Confused Jessel answered, "Adorable means cute, Munkustrap."
"That, I know," hissed the silver tabby.
"Then I'm not understanding what's confusing you," answered Jessel stepping into the corridor of the Jellicles' quarters.
"She said it like he was my son. He is Demeter's son."
"Aren't Demeter's kittens yours?" asked Jessel, puzzled. "You've said you're mates."
"How can I have kittens?" snapped Munkustrap, starting to become angry with his own incomprehension. "Queens have kittens, toms do not".
Jesselís eyes widened with sudden understanding. She blushed a deep shade of red as she asked, "Munkustrap, do you understand where kittens come from"?
"They come from their mothers," answered Munkustrap, calming with a question he could answer.
"Well, yes, but before that"?
"They grow inside their mothers".
"Yes, but what starts the process"?
Munkustrap just shook his head heating up a bit as he became confused again. Demeter rested a soothing hand on his arm as she replied, "I have always wondered about that".
Jessel took a deep breath and plunged in. "Mating is what starts the process. I mean, uh, actually, uh Ö"
"We understand what you mean," replied Munkustrap. He thought about it a moment before continuing, "I thought mating was for fun".
"Well, yes, itís fun," confirmed Jessel, blushing a little more, "but what your bodies are actually trying to get you to do is produce kittens".
Munkustrap and Demeter looked at each other in confusion. Demeter said, "I still do not understand how my kittens can also be my mateís".
"Mating is a way for your bodies to combine so that the kittens have characteristics and traits from both of you. Thatís what makes them whole new people instead of just copies of their mother".
Demeter smiled up at her mate. "I was wondering why this one looked so much like you," she said as placed Munkustrapís son in his arms. The transfer was made awkward by the objects Munkustrap carried but Demeter managed it without waking the baby. The silver tabby's eyes widened as he felt the unaccustomed weight in his arms. He had never thought to help with the babies. That had always seemed to be a queenís privilege. A slow smile replaced the shock on Munkustrapís face as he cradled the tiny body close to his chest. Demeter took the medicines and teething rings from him and Munkustrap stroked his son's little head.
The tender look the proud parents exchanged gave Jessel the feeling that the two had things to discuss that were better said in privacy. The small security officer slipped into the mess hall so that they could be alone and she wouldn't have to answer questions about where the couple was.
Capt. Darren had decided that it would be best to brief each of the senior officers individually about their orders to destroy the Jellicles. She was determined not to obey that order but if any of the senior staff refused to support her decision they could try to relieve her of command. So far she had briefed Commander Loncosky and Lt. Sentry and been relieved that both had denounced the order firmly as cold blooded murder. Fallon, Mayo, and Carson were unlikely to lead any kind of a revolt but the captain needed to know that Dr. Branch wouldnít come up with any scientific arguments in support of the extermination order.
Dr. Branch looked up from her computer as the infirmary door opened. "Is there something I can do for you Captain"?
"Well I just dumped the care for 400 people on you. I thought the least I could do is come to you to hear your report" she temporized.
"I appreciate that, Captain," replied the doctor, looking somewhat harried. Iíve managed to put together a schedule to handle the kittensí care for the next couple of days. Every department has donated personnel and Cargo has promised to release almost all of their personnel to me once we get underway. My nurses are supervising and my administration assistant is actually doing most of the coordinating. I was up most of the night reading Dr. Ferranís notes to find out what he did. Right now, though, Iím looking for kittens".
"Are some of the kittens lost"?
"Yes. Ensign Jessel called me last night. Seven more of the dancers have approached her with requests to help find their children. I was surprised there were that many requests. You would think that the troupe would have been sterilized, but apparently Dr. Ferran decided to use birth control measures which would result in a few pregnancies for him to study.
"Wouldnít that cause complications in early pregnancy"?
Her eyes flashed with amusement and determination, "Youíre assuming that the birth control measures Iím talking about are on the women. They arenít. Iím not about to tell a bunch of tom cats they have implants though. Theyíd want them out, and as skittish as they are about doctors I am not performing that procedure".
Capt. Darren chuckled at her reluctance.
"I just started a computer search for pregnancies. All of the medical records are identified only by number, and none of the dancers know what number they would have been assigned. Iím guessing that those numbers would have been on their collars but no one looked before removing them".
"That sounds like you have a problem".
"Oh, Iíll get it. but it will take a little while to search all 1400 records".
"1400?" asked the captain, surprised.
"Apparently, Dr. Ferran started producing these people almost 40 years. The other 1000 were sold. Lt. Sentry is trying to figure out where they are. If we can find them there should be enough Jellicles to provide a wide enough genetic base that the species can not only survive but thrive. Fortunately, Dr. Ferran never seemed to use the same genetic material twice. He used a wide variety of feline genetic material but weíll need to do some genealogical research to find out who is actually related to who. All of the human DNA was stolen from patients at Zionís main hospital where some of Ferranís associates were on call. I donít know how he got away with this for so long".
"He got away with it because no one else thought of it," replied the captain, disgustedly. "I saw the play. I thought the actors were humans dressed up as cats. Why would I think that they had been genetically altered? Itís illegal and no one has successfully done it with humans before. Speaking of the play has anyone figured out why Ferran took the risk of having his creations perform in public".
"Money. The performance made enough money to cover many of the expenses of Ferranís genetic research. What I donít understand is why the performances werenít held more often".
"Oh, that oneís easy. You know how straitlaced Zion is. On Zion CATS is considered extremely risqué. They werenít allowed to perform it any more often.
At that moment the door opened again admitting, to Dr. Branchís great surprise, Jessel, Munkustrap and two more Jellicles; a striking black-furred female and a shaking mostly brown male. The sour expression on Munkustrapís face told her that the infirmary was the last place he would have preferred to be.
"Captain!" exclaimed Jessel pulling up short. "Captain Darren, may I present, Munkustrap, Grizzabella, and Gus? Munkustrap, this is Captain Darren".
"At ease, Ensign. It is good to make your acquaintance, Munkustrap," said the captain warmly. "I understand that you are the Jelliclesí leader".
Ensign Jessel grabbed a chair and helped Gus sit down.
"I speak for the Jellicles, yes".
"I hope that we are able to make your trip a pleasant one".
"The crew has been very helpful, Captain," replied Munkustrap sourly.
"I take it you want to consult Dr. Branch so Iíll leave now. You and I can talk again when it is more convenient for you".
"Thank you, Captain," replied Munkustrap in a more pleasant voice. "You are correct, now is not a good time".
The captain nodded at him and left.
"So what can I do for you?" inquired the doctor pleasantly.
"Jessel says that you can make Gus stop shaking," Munkustrap replied sharply.
"I said she could help".
"I can speak for myself, said Gus testily. I may not be able to dance anymore but I still speak very well. Now, you two run along and find someone else to help". Munkustrap opened his mouth to say something. "Go!" ordered Gus before any sound emerged. "My mate will stay with me and we will be just fine".
Munkustrap narrowed his eyes at Gus but then turned and walked proudly through the door, Jessel followed.
"I have never heard you speak to Munkustrap that way," scolded Grizzabella.
"I am nervous enough. I donít need him hovering over me looking like the Fiend of the Fell" he told her. Turning to the doctor he said, "Is it true that you can calm my shaking? I donít ask for a cure. Any improvement would be welcome".
"I can try. When did you start shaking"?
"After Dr. Ferran gave me the shot".
"Are you saying that your palsy was chemically induced," she asked, shocked.
"Your words make no sense to me".
"Iím sorry. You are saying that Dr. Ferran gave you a shot that caused you to start shaking"?
"In Godís name, why," she practically shouted.
He shrugged. "I attacked the dance instructor. He wanted to make an example of me so that no one else would, so he made me Gus".
Her eyes stood out from her head as she tried to absorb the outrage that Gus had explained so calmly. "Gus, Iíll do all that I can to help you but, if you will forgive my curiosity, why did you attack the dance instructor, you must have known something terrible would happen to you"?
"I needed to get the collar controller away from her to protect Grizzabella," he said matter-of-factly.
"So, the dance instructor was hurting Grizzabella"?
"No, she was hurting Mistoffelees".
Dr. Branchís expression turned completely confused. "Now youíve lost me completely".
"He means that if he had not attacked the dance instructor I would have," said Grizzabella firmly. "It wasnít Mistoffeleesí fault he missed his jumps that day, he was sick, we all were".
Gus tapped his mateís arm, "You ask her, she might know".
"I donít have to ask," she said standing proudly with the perfect posture she affected when not performing, " I know".
"You do not or you would have told him".
Dr. Branch got the feeling she was listening to an old argument. "If thereís something youíre nervous about asking me Grizzabella, donít be. Part of my being a doctor is that patients often have to tell me things they are embarrassed about, so Iím not allowed to repeat the things you say to me without your permission".
Grizzabella hesitated but Gus encouraged her so finally she shrugged and said, "When I was very young I had three kittens: two girls and a boy. I was the first dancer to have kittens so I did not know they would be taken from me. I do not know where my girls are but when some of the dancers began to be replaced I knew my son would join the troupe someday. He had perfect Mistoffelees markings: black with white chest, face, and boots".
"And you think the current Mistoffelees is your son"?
"Thatís wonderful! But youíre not sure are you"?
"He has the right markings. He did not have to be painted at all for his role".
"It should be easy enough to find out. Except for a couple of problems. Dr. Ferran and his staff kept excellent medical records so that information should be in them. Unfortunately, all of the records are identified by number and I donít know what number yours and Mistoffeleesí are under. Iím assuming that the numbers were on your collars but no one thought to check for identifiers. Secondly, Mistoffelees is an adult and I canít give you data from his medical file. If you want to know youíre going to have to ask him to have me look up that information".
Grizzabella looked disappointed. Gus patted her hand. "Could I just tell him thereís something I want to know and not tell him what? I donít know how heíll react to having a mother".
"Now, dear," said Gus, "Mistoffelees is very nice and if you are his mother you have to tell him".
"If," said Grizzabella.
"I suppose that will work," said Dr. Branch, "as long as he gives his permission. But that can wait until we find a way to use those identifiers. In the meantime I should be able to find your records easily, Gus. I doubt Dr. Ferran induced palsy in very many Jellicles. Once I know what he used to cause your shaking I should be able to treat it".
"Doctor are you sure the numbers you need would be on our collars"? asked Gus.
"No. The newborns are all tagged with armbands. I donít know where else the rest of you would be marked but on your collars".
"Look in my ears," he said.
Perplexed Dr. Branch removed a small light from her pocket and shone it into each of Gusí ears. "Youíre right, Gus. There is a number tattooed in your left ear. How did you know? None of the other dancers seemed to".
"I was in a lab cage for several days after I attacked the dance instructor. They were putting something in the new kittens' ears then. It didnít make sense to me then but putting the numbers on our collars wouldnít make sense either. They have to be changed while we grow and all of the troupeís collars were changed every so often too. I guessed and I was right. I may be shaky but Iím not stupid".
Out in the hall Jessel put her hand on Munkustrapís arm and stepped in his way to stop him. "This may be a stupid question, but why do you hate doctors so much"?
Munkustrap glared at her and hissed. "The doctor caused Gusí shaking, the doctor decided when our original Deuteronomy was too hurt to continue dancing and took him away from us, not to mention the shots and exams we all had whenever the doctor decided to poke at us. Tell me, have you ever been dragged into a lab and put to sleep and wondered if you would ever wake up?"
Very softly she replied, "No, I canít say that Iíve had that experience".
"I have, twice," he spat.
She shook her head and replied in her softest tone, "It wonít happen again. It canít happen now. Doctors arenít allowed to treat anyone without their consent, not even to save their life".
He stepped away from her sharply and continued on to the Jelliclesí quarters without looking to see if she followed.
Chapter 7: Mutiny
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