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The pain was just as deep and constant, but nothing like the pain she had endured only a few months ago.
Gen had carefully worn a long-sleeved shirt so that no one would see the injury...
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by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

He woke her in the middle of the night, yowling and running through the house. She sat up in bed, just as he vaulted across it. His hind paws caught her right arm, scratching her so deep that she cried out in pain. But he didn't seem to notice. He was running like a demented thing, screaming as he did so, disappearing down the hall, and then coming back at full speed.

She turned on the bedside lamp and examined the scratch. It ran along her forearm, deep and bleeding. The pain was just as deep and constant, but nothing like the pain she had endured only a few months ago. She sighed, got out of bed, and went into the bathroom to cleanse and seal the wound.

Cedric yowled past once more, his long brown hair trailing behind him. He ran like a creature pursued by unseen demons. No wonder Anna kept him caged at night. He would have disturbed the other animals tremendously.

But there was only Gen here, and she didn't mind having her sleep interrupted. She had been dreaming of the accident anyway, like she always did, the moments just before impact as she turned her head and saw the car careening down the street. In her dreams, she would remind herself: Get Dar. Get Dar. But she could never find him. And then the car would hit them anyway before skidding to the side.

The dream was not how she remembered things. But then, dreams never were.

The pain in her arm had eased. She stepped out of the bathroom, and turned on the hall light. Cedric skidded to a stop and then froze.

It was as if the muted hall light had the effect of a spotlight, illuminating him and revealing him at the same time.

He looked terrified. The fur on his back stood on end, his tail was swollen, and his eyes were enormous. She sat down on the carpet and held her hand out to him.

His gaze went to the scratch on her arm. She glanced down at it, touched it gingerly, and said, "It's all right. I medicated it."

His little body shivered, and his gaze came back to her face. Those were his only movements. He remained frozen, crouched, protected, on the floor of the hall.

She sat across from him, arm outstretched for a long time. Finally, he sighed and stretched out on the brown carpet. Strange. Either her presence or the light itself had calmed him. His breathing was even long before his eyes closed.

She remained in position for a while, watching him sleep. Even now, he didn't look like he was rested. He seemed like he would spring to his feet at the slightest sound.

Her arm tingled. It had fallen asleep. Slowly she brought it back and massaged it, wondering if she should pick up the sleeping creature and carry him to his cedar bed. He hadn't slept there, though, hadn't even stepped in it. Maybe he didn't like it, and after the cage experience, she didn't want to force him into something he didn't like. She waiting until the feeling returned to her arm, and then stood slowly, careful not to wake Cedric.

She went back to bed, but left the hall light on.

· · · · · 

The following morning, after she had shared her breakfast with a tired Cedric, she had gone into her office. Papers were scattered on tables and on her desk. Old papers, copies of things that should have been recycled long ago. House had left her work station running, even though she hadn't touched it for months. Her ergonomically designed work chair no longer fit her body. She moved it aside and pulled over a wooden chair that she once stacked information cubes on.

She had left the office door open, but Cedric hadn't followed her inside. Which was good. If he could understand what she said—and she was becoming more and more convinced that he could—she didn't want him to hear this next conversation.

She had House locate and dial the Chimera Mission. Anna answered and switched to holo when she realized that Gen was on the line.

"Problems?" Anna asked as if she had been expecting this call.

Gen had carefully worn a long-sleeved shirt so that no one would see the injury Cedric had given her. "No. He seems pretty well behaved."

"He's not used to his surroundings yet," Anna said. "Wait until he gets comfortable."

Gen swallowed back her next question. She was going to ask what he would do once he was comfortable, but she didn't want Anna's attitude toward Cedric to poison her mind any farther.

"Was he adopted before?" Gen asked.

"No," Anna said. "We had him listed as borderline unadoptable. I'm still not sure about you taking him."

Gen ignored that as well. "Could you tell me again what they did to him?"

"I told you all I know," Anna said. "Brain enhancement. Drugs for Parkinson's, I think. But that's all. I only know what they tell me."

"Is there anyone who knows exactly what happened to him?"

"Why?" Anna asked.

Gen thought of Cedric's face as he tore through the rooms in the near darkness. The sheer terror called to her. She had lain in bed after he fell asleep and wondered if Dar had felt that kind of terror in the seconds before he died.

"I think," she said carefully, "some of his quirks are explainable. If I just understand what happened to him, then I might be able to handle him better."

"I'm sorry I can't help you any more," Anna said, sounding not sorry at all.

Gen sat straight in her chair. She cleared her throat and clutched her desk so that her shaking hands couldn't be seen by House's holocam. "Actually," she said with a power in her voice she hadn't had in a long time, "you can help me."

Anna looked startled. Most people didn't expect Gen—the wispy dancer they had once seen on stage—to be formidable. "How?"

"You can tell me which lab to talk to."

Anna was shaking her head before Gen finished her sentence. "The labs don't discuss their work with outsiders."

Dr. Prichard had tried to warn her about that too. Apparently, several organizations, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Christian Right, had been fighting for the last two decades to stop the creation of chimera. PETA believed that chimera violated the rights of animals, and the Christians believed that they violated the laws of God. Several militant sides of both groups burned labs where chimera were used, or freed chimera to live in the wild. Both tactics caused more chimera to die than the laboratory experiments did.

"I don't care about the work," Gen said. "I just want to know about Cedric. I think I'm entitled."

Anna pursed her lips. Finally, she said, "I'll see what I can do." and hung up.

Gen leaned back in her chair. The conversation had taken more out of her than she expected. But for a brief moment, she felt like she used to when she was running her dance school, when someone told her something was impossible. She would laugh at them and say: "I am a ballet dancer. I specialize in the impossible."

Where had that attitude gone? It used to be built into her, as deep as her bones. When the spotlight was on her, she never questioned herself or her abilities.

She just danced.

She sighed and stood. Cedric was sitting in the doorway. When he saw her, he ran away.

· · · · · 

Gen didn't look for Cedric. She felt he was entitled to privacy if he wanted it. But as she went through her day, this time straightening the entertainment room while listening to Beethoven's Seventh, she kept an eye out for him.

He reappeared at dinner, sitting in the chair beside her, looking at the table as if he expected to be served. She was eating a medium-rare steak that she'd broiled, and a baked potato with nothing on it. Steaks had been dinner too many nights; there had been dozens in the freezer for a party she had been planning to throw around Christmas. They were easy to fix and phenomenally bad for her. She had never before been one of those people who figured she could eat what she wanted and medical science would repair the damage for her. But she was one now.

She cut a small piece off the steak, and debated placing it on the floor as she would have done for any other animal. In the end she compromised, and placed the steak on the chair. Cedric ignored it for a long time, then tried to scoop it up with his left paw. When that didn't work, he ate it as he had eaten the cat food, his posture awkward.

The piece finished, he jumped off the chair and left the room, behavior she believed not to be catlike at all. A cat would continue begging. Cedric wasn't pure cat. She had to remember that.

He woke her again that night by running and howling, although he didn't scratch her this time. He was careful to avoid the bed altogether. This time, she calmed him by turning on all the lights. Lights seemed so very important to him. He didn't have these spells in the daytime, only in the darkness.

She caught him when he froze and put him in his cedar bed, which he didn't seem to mind after all. She had House create a nightlight for him, and he slept soundly until dawn.

She didn't. After his adventure, she lay awake, wondering what would trigger such behavior, and why he would tremble so violently when she scooped him into her arms.

She got her answer one day later.

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© 2000 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch and SCIFI.COM.