The tunnels had been busy. Not always a sign of trouble or necessarily disconcerting, but definitely a curious thing. Which of course required some investigation.
Not long before the usual loud, clumsy trampings of tunnel traffic reached The Cat’s ears. This was just an annoyance. Far too loud to be anything interesting. It passed. The Cat sat in sleep mode, knowing that any small disturbance would arouse her into full alertness if needed. Time floated past. The Cat dreamt of the days when hunting was still pure. Not like now when the Destroyers ruled the surface. The most unethical of all beings. No place left for a respectable Cat.
The Cat roused herself.
Now here was the tunnel sound she had been waiting for. Not clumsy. She listened intently. There were four. What kind of beast was this? Half furtive, half intent. Strange gait too. Heavy in the back paws, strong, large, like a . . . like a . . . But the front? The front was alluring. Almost Cat-like. Small, sinuous, quick. The Cat thought. No, there hadn’t been one of those around here in years. Yet, there was the sound. A Chimera? No, no, no. The Cat shook herself. Got to check those protein fungus modules for cross-contamination with the Zen flights. What was this?
Well, it was coming her way. It dawned on her about the same time that she made visual confirmation in the darkness. It was a nearly symbiotic two. Now these were rare indeed. Clearly not a fully formed symbiotic though, the two were clearly not in harmonic synchronization. But they were . . . close. The first two were experienced, determined. Trained? It seemed trained. It passed. Then came the second. It was indeed large and unfortunately loud for the first. Yet, it continued to remind The Cat of something. Something strong and . . . timid? . . . injured? . . . cautious. Yes, cautious. Odd for something of that size, yet there were precedents.
The Cat jumped down from her perch on the hidden ledge in the tunnel ceiling. She listened to see if they had heard. No, no change. She crept up from behind and silently trotted after the symbiotic two. They seemed to have a purpose. Migration? Perhaps. But so few did that now days. Nearly extinct. Perhaps these were some of The Lasters she’d heard of. The thought of Lasters urged The Cat onward. That would explain much. It would have been miniature wolves and Nossies that trained the first, then. Yes, it was looking more and more like these were indeed Lasters. The second was odd. Large, pale, like the great White Bears of the North that fell into the sea. But it was not one. Strong but reluctant like the Great Silver Backs of old.
A sudden rush of excitement and anxiety struck The Cat. Was this one of the Mutants? Smart enough to have escaped its cage, and sentient? That was it! What an exciting find. Not just Lasters, but a first generation Mutant Laster and a Fox kennel graduate traveling together nonetheless. How odd. Were the Powers regrouping? Where could these Lasters be going? This required pursuit.
The Cat had been following for some time. It wasn’t good to stray too far away. And what if the Lasters were migrating? Well, thought The Cat, then there will be more that pass by and she considered returning home. But then there was an abrupt slowing down of the Lasters. One of them had a blipper. Then there would be more Lasters, thought The Cat. There would be no turning back now. What? What was that from the blipper? A River Horse? Impossible.
This was indeed a strange menagerie. But then the worst happened. The Lasters took an L topside. They went topside. They went topside. They went topside. No place for a cat. The Lasters might have a virus. They went topside. Horrified, The Cat found a dark recess with a view of the L and slipped back into sleep mode to wait.
Tired from her travels The Cat fell into a deeper sleep. When she awoke and sniffed the air, she realized the Lasters had re-entered the tunnels already and were retracing their earlier path. No migration then. But what was that aroma? Warm things. There was a slight hint of contentment. Very strange. The Cat began following the route Home deeply inhaling the scents. Yes, there it was. The intoxicating aroma of Hope. The Cat was wary of Hope. It was known to be dangerous. It had been used as a chemical weapon in its past. It was dangerous.
Okay, it was also true that sometimes, sometimes, it actually inspired ameliorative behaviors. But there were all the darker implications too. If Hope was in the air, then all the Evils were afoot as well. Hope in the air is a sure sign that there are dangerous things on the loose, thought The Cat. She sneezed trying to clear the contaminants from her nose. A full body cleaning would be in order later. But what were the Lasters doing with Hope. Certainly the Lasters knew the dangers of Hope. They had been beguiled by it before.
Then The Cat reached the turnoff for her sanctuary. She sneezed several more times and did a quick wash. She stored the resultant hair-ball for use as a booby trap for the clumsy ones. Minimally though acceptably cleaned, The Cat darted down the secret passage to Nipland. Then, impulsively, she grabbed a container of pepper and raced back to The Tunnel. Carefully, she seeded a few patches. If these were Lasters, she thought, they might need pepper smelling salts to help them escape the dangers of Hope.
Content that she had done a good deed for the Lasters, The Cat curled into a ball, safe in her dark warm nest. Lasters, indeed, she purred softly to herself.