Thursday, August 29, 2013

Wyre-rat (part 22)

"What guarantees can you give me?" he asked after a long moment of silence. "We never go hungry, in the Center."

I easily heard what he didn't say--that in the Center there was no risk. A lie, and we both knew it. "None," I said flatly. "Whatever you do out there will be up to you. I can't even guarantee the next twenty minutes."

He stared down at his hands, and they stretched as mine had. What that meant for a cat, I couldn't guess. Interesting that those mannerisms would be so much the same when the animals they represented were deadly enemies.

"I'm not sure I even understand what you mean. I could go back right now, and you couldn't stop me."

Or so he thought. I kept my mouth shut over the challenge I wanted to give him. "Do you want to go back?"

His breath hissed, in and out. "No. I want...I want to be free." I heard him swallow. "But I don't even know what that means. Free right now means not having to go back."

One step in the right direction. "It may be dangerous. You may die, I may die. We'll need to take action, and that's never safe."

His slump against the wall didn't change. His head didn't come up, his shoulders didn't straighten. The sound he made might have been a sigh. "You're not a supervisor."

"No." If he'd made that connection, it could only increase the danger. I sensed that he was close to the breaking point, where he must go entirely in one direction or the other. "What made you decide that?"

Another nearly inaudible sigh. "They would never give a choice, and they would never say 'we.' They would never suggest that any action was less than entirely safe, even when they know otherwise."

I shivered. That could have been my life, if I'd been born here. "So you don't want to go back. What do you want to do?" I held up a hand, hearing the first stirrings in the house. We couldn't risk this conversation with other ears around.

We both fell silent, listening. I heard it, the stealthy sound of footsteps toward the door of this room, and motioned him toward the miniscule bathroom.

He moved as instructed. I quickly tossed the blankets he'd slept on across the bed and curled up under them as if I'd not moved all night. Through slitted eyes I watched the door.

The shape was not the shape of our hostess, but someone much larger who held himself as if he was armed. Inside the bathroom I sensed a shiver of motion. With any luck, the attacker would not hear it.

I shifted, stirred, pulling my legs up so that I could move in whichever direction seemed necessary.

Part 23

If you want to start at the beginning: Wyre-Rat episode 1

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Wyre-rat (part 21)

What a life. "In other places, it's not like that." I glanced at the window, the first hints of dawn showing above the buildings beyond. "So if you could leave, would you?"

He didn't have to know that the decision was already made. I couldn't let him go back to the Center.

"I don't know. This is my life." He made a small gesture beside one knee, as if his whole life was constrained in that tiny circle.

"Would you want to? Leave and start over somewhere else where people don't care what you are?"

"You're trying to trick me," he snapped, but he still spoke quietly. Then his head dropped. "But it doesn't feel like a lie. I don't know what to believe." He shuddered. His head fell back against the wall.

"When I was a kitten, I remember the whispers that would go around in the dormitories."

I stared at him, stunned. Kitten? They'd been dehumanized to the point where they didn't even call their infants children?

He didn't seem to notice. "Rumors of wyre captured. Of those who tried to escape being killed by the people outside. We always knew we were being watched, that nothing we said could be safe." He flinched at some memory. "Those who spoke of other rumors, of those who lived their lives outside the Center, they disappeared."

He dropped his head. "No one believed them anyway."

I stared at him, trying to understand. No, not to understand but to assimilate where he was coming from.

It sounded like something out of a previous century, some medieval King deciding who should live and who should die, telling people what to think.

It would make our escape that much more dangerous, and also far more important.

I didn't want to have to kill him.

"Will you come with me?"

His eyes widened a little and turned toward me in the half-dark of the early morning. "Come with you where?"

"Back to my home. I think I can get us both out." This was one of many danger points that I could see in the future. If he came with me because he felt he had no other choices, if he came because he was so used to obedience that he would follow any instruction, chances were very good that he would change his mind later.

It would have to be his decision. Instinctively I stretched my hands, as a rat would do to expose its claws. He glanced down at the movement.

Part 22

If you want to start at the beginning: Wyre-Rat episode 1

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Wyre-rat (part 20)

"Having a cat dogging my footsteps is not going to make this easier." I used the word deliberately, wondering if the same sort of rivalry existed between wyre dogs and wyre cats. From the pained expression, it probably did.

I sat on the bed, my legs curled up under me. He sat against the wall, out of sight of either the door or the window, and talked very quietly.

"I can't stay here."

"I agree, but that's something we need to work out. Unless you'd like to wear a collar and harness?" I raised my eyebrows at him. I expected him to get all offended.

His mouth twisted up. "Until a year ago, that's the only way I got out of the Center. The supervisors would take us out to introduce us to the city."

I think my mouth fell open. "What?" I swallowed hard. "That's..."

"Disgusting?" He said it quietly, staring at his hands. "That's the way it is."

The back of my throat tasted foul. "Wyre are people too. Not animals that can turn into people, but people who can turn into animals."

He looked at me strangely. "Is there really a difference?"

"We're people first." I scrubbed at my mouth, swallowing the bile taste. "You are a person first. How could anyone think that is right?"

He closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the wall. "I don't understand you. We couldn't survive out here. No one would want to hire us, we'd be distrusted and outcast."

"Is that what they told you?"

He seemed to be struggling again, glancing at me for a few seconds and then away. "That's the way it is."

"It doesn't have to be." How strange this must be to him. "My parents were wyre, and they both had jobs. Dad worked in sanitation and Mom in health care."

His eyes closed again. "People didn't mind having her...touch them?"

"Why would it matter?"

His eyes remained closed. "People don't like us touching them."

Part 21

If you want to start at the beginning: Wyre-Rat episode 1

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Wyre-rat (part 19)

I rolled upright quickly, and looked under the low bed. Nothing. Stupid, stupid! Quickly I rolled together all of my equipment, slipped into the clothes that would identify me as a local.

Then I stood, undecided. There could be many explanations, and going back to the Center was only one of them. I could leave this place and not come back, leave him to the mercy of whatever prowled these streets.

But if they did come for me, they probably wouldn't use sirens. If I left I wouldn't be able to come back, and walking out that door after curfew would bring trouble down on my hostess as well.

I physically swayed, trying to decide, and saw a motion from the corner of my eye.

The cat sauntered out of the shadows and peered up at me.

I stared at him, settled to the edge of the bed. "And here I was trying to decide whether or not to kill you when you got back," I said conversationally.

The cat stiffened, as if he took the statement seriously.

"Now I'm going to ask you a question." I carefully kept my voice even. "Did you sneak out to go back to the Center?"

He didn't say anything, naturally. Just stared at me with those glowing eyes.

"Because if they come after us, you're going to be a bloody pile of fur on the floor when they get here."

The cat snorted, and I could swear he sounded amused.

"You think I'm kidding?"

In response, he crouched down with his hind end wiggling, then pounced forward, paws over something I couldn't see. For the first time I realized that he didn't have a tail. He looked up as if to make sure I understood.

"You eat as a cat?" I heard the disgust in my voice. I thought about what rats normally eat, and nausea raised its head.

He peered up at me, his mouth gaping open on a cat laugh. A moment later he jumped up on the bed and curled up where my head had been.

I nearly sighed. Time for episode 2, apparently.

I picked him up by the scruff of his neck and dropped him on the floor from head height. "Understand?" I asked.

Probably not.

Part 20

If you want to start at the beginning: Wyre-Rat episode 1

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Wyre-rat (part 18)

"Once more, furball." I stared back.

His head ducked a little. He walked forward, staying well out of my reach, and this time curled up in his own bed. Men and cats.

I didn't sleep this time. Instead I stared into the dark. Choices to make.

I could head home, leave him to his own devices. I could send him out of the country, but that didn't leave out the possibility that there was a real "escapee" out there. Obviously he wasn't one--just an opportunist.

Could I in good conscience leave him here? I scrubbed at my scalp under hair, kept short because long hair was nasty to wash after I'd been a rat. Could I stay, and risk capture? I wouldn't be the only one risked in that scenario. They'd said no to me staying in the first place, and with good reason.

I carefully did not lean over to look at him. I knew from experience that a wyre animal's senses were just as acute as the real thing--although what real thing I would leave to the imagination.

I hissed quietly through my teeth, and wondered if he heard it. I might find myself out of a job when I got back, but--there's the rub. I couldn't leave one of my own kind here, if there was a way to get him out.

If he wanted to get out, which was by no means assured.

It occurred to me belatedly that I'd taken charge of a total innocent. He would have no idea how to survive in my world, would know nothing about the reality of it all. Only what he'd been spoon fed.

His comment that he'd thought I was a supervisor suddenly made sense, and I replayed our first meeting in my mind. He'd come with me, a total stranger. Now that I thought about it, nothing in our initial meeting had been what I thought. He hadn't chosen this--I'd simply assumed that any captive wyre would want to be free.

He might be better off if I let him go back, but I wouldn't. I'd compromised not only my own life and mission, but also the lives of any free wyre still living in the city. Letting him go back, to tell his people that there was a free wyre in the city, would start a witch hunt.

Whether he wanted to be free or not, I was committed now. I could either kill him, or get him out even against his will.

If I'd been in rat shape, I probably would have bitten my own tail for my stupidity.

I'd always wanted to be free, which was part of what had landed me in this situation, trapped inside a country hostile to my kind and trying to defend someone who might not want to be defended.

I rolled, looked over the edge of the bed, and hissed in a breath. Gone.

Part 19

If you want to start at the beginning: Wyre-Rat episode 1