Carpathia III: Episode 16 - Mystery Cat

Nekramentia, Nekohuman Pod

Jaze pointed his camera out of the narrow slit that was his bedroom window at the vast, desolate landscape before him. He still had hope that he could find a way to escape and somehow get back home. If he did, he was hoping that Carpathian scientists could somehow ascertain the location of this planet... or moon... whatever it was. He'd heard that there were programs that could identify stars and planets based on things like color spectrum and terrain. It was clear enough to him that many of the kids and teenagers at the compound were taken the way he was and a rescue would benefit all.

Even after many weeks on Yseri, with its long, hot days and short, still nights, Jaze still had difficulty finding a sleep pattern. Though his camera had a date and time display, they were slowly becoming meaningless to him. The days were always at least 30 hours long, so there was never any correlation to the transition from day to night and when he was ordered to wake up and perform whatever menial task he was assigned for the day. Sometimes he was on guard duty, though what he was guarding was never quite clear, as nothing ever seemed to enter or leave the compound except for Thirteen and a few others with official permission.

Most of the time, he was assigned cleaning duty. During these times, he felt like a lowly cabin boy scrubbing the deck of a pirate ship while the others shouted taunts and occasionally threw bits of food at him. If their purpose was to emphasize that he was the new guy, the lowest on the heirarchy, it was working.

Though it all, the only time he felt the slightest bit lucky was when he was sent back to his room. It was hardly any bigger than a closet, but he had a bed there with a padded mat that made a slightly passable cushion and a water basin. There was even a window, but that turned out to be more of a problem when the sun was high and the light poured in, heating up his room making him feel like a roast chicken in the oven. Regardless of that, it was private. He had expected military-style barracks, and he was grateful to have his alone time, short though that it was.

Jaze began to despair as the weeks slipped by in his camera and started turning into months. The dates that slipped by had less and less meaning to him as time went on. First was Carpathia Day, which made him particularly homesick. He envisioned his father grumpily left to tend to the meat on his grill while everyone else was having a good time, while his mother was busy mingling and socializing with guests. As time wore on and the days on Yseri ticked by with their agonizingly slow sameness, the holidays gradually began to lose meaning to him.

Aside from the dates, Jaze's camera was quickly becoming his best friend. He could enjoy his short time alone playing the games stored within its memory or watching some of the videos he downloaded before he was sucked into the sand-riddled hell where he now resided. On occasion, when he was sure he was alone, he took his camera out and filmed his surroundings, and that was what he was doing on this new day.

During his time at the compound he was amazed at the incredible variety of species that had been gathered at the compound. Each species was segregated into its own pod, each with its own leader. Humans lived in one, green, lizard-like creatures in another, nekohumans in his, and more. There were species there from all over Carpathia's known universe and several he didn't even recognize. The green, lizard-like ones, he was told, were known as komodo. They were very tall and imposing and it seemed they were frequently used to enforce general discipline.

Jaze was both alarmed and relived, however, that there were no tokki at all in the compound. He was alarmed because he didn't know whether the portal simply couldn't go to Tokkastria or if something else, perhaps worse, was done with tokki. He was relieved because it meant that, at least, it seemed that Toma wasn't there with him at the compound, sharing in this hell. Over and over in his mind, he could hear Toma's voice as he called out to Jaze just before he was swallowed by the black void. He must be on the planet somewhere, he thought, and wherever he was, he hoped that it was better than Nekramentia.

Suddenly, the door to his room swung open and Jaze nearly dropped his camera in fright. He turned quickly, pathetically trying to hide his camera behind is back. It was Mirage, and he was already scowling skeptically at Jaze.

Mirage: Chaos, what is that?

Jaze hesitated for a moment. Despite being in Nekramentia for many weeks, he was still getting used to being called Chaos, even though they call him that every day. He clutched his camera tightly behind his back in fear. Fear that he might lose the one thing he owned in this world that could keep him sane.

Jaze: What is what?

Mirage: Behind your back. Show me. Now.

The hope Jaze had, however faint, that Mirage was asking about something else slipped away into the deepest pit of his stomach. Slowly, he brought his hands from behind his back and revealed the camera he held within them. Mirage stared at it with curiosity.

Mirage: You know that all belongings from other worlds go to Maelstrom, right?

Jaze did his best to hide his nervousness, but was sure Mirage could see him shaking. He was certain he was going to be punished again.

Jaze: Um... I don't really remember anything about that...

Mirage: Well, you know now. Keep it secret, or you will be in big trouble. Now get dressed. We're going to the training ground.

Jaze stood where he was for a moment and gawked. Not only was he not going to get into trouble, but he could keep the camera as well. Suddenly, he came up with a plan to make sure that nothing could happen to change that arrangement. The camera was still filming up to that time, so he stopped the camera and scrolled back a few seconds in the footage. He held up the camera and replayed Mirage's voice.

"Well, you know now. Keep it a secret, or you'll be in big trouble."

Jaze pushed the pause button and looked at a still-scowling Mirage with a satisfied feeling.

Jaze: There. Now if you tell anyone, we'll both be in trouble.

Mirage scowled more deeply at Jaze. Suddenly, he pulled out his pistol and stepped over to Jaze. He took the pistol and pressed it hard against Jaze's temple.

Mirage: How about I just shoot you in the head right now and throw that thing out the window?

Jaze shook his head ever so slightly. He was afraid of Mirage just as much as he was afraid of such an antiquated pistol going off by itself and he didn't want to agitate it.

Mirage: You saved my life, so I'm going to let you keep it, but if you threaten me like that again, I'll blow your head right off your neck. Nobody here is going to believe that thing over me.

Jaze nodded his head slightly. Mirage removed his gun from Jaze's head and returned it to his holster.

Mirage: Now get dressed. We're going now.

Jaze quickly turned off his camera and slipped it back into his sock. He grabbed his t-shirt and cargo pants and followed Mirage out the door, putting his pants on as he went. As he hobbled out of the room with one leg in his pants, he vowed he would think more carefully the next time he got an idea in his head to threaten Mirage. It was not as easy as it seemed on television.

As always, the biggest problem with passing through the tunnels to get outside was the junction at the komodo's pod. It was never a pleasant experience going through that area, but at least, it seemed, the komodo were a little less bold in their taunts whenever he was with Mirage. Jaze stuck close to him as they navigated the tunnel intersection when suddenly, a large piece of a metal clamp whooshed barely an inch past Jaze's head and landed on the floor with a clatter. Both looked up to see a small group of komodo laughing at them.

Komodo boy: Ha ha! Aw, did the little kitties get scared?

As though out of habit, Mirage took out his gun and fired towards the group of komodo. The bullet hit a pipe and scalding hot steam came gushing out of it. The komodo scattered in all directions. Mirage holstered his pistol and continued walking as though nothing had happened.

Mirage: Morons. I guess they didn't think it was me.

They emerged outside and walked across the concrete to where several other nekos were sparring with wooden swords. Mirage took two steps forward, towards the nekos, and Jaze was just about to follow when he felt something tickly on his leg.

Cat: Meow!

Jaze looked down to see a cat-like creature sitting on the ground. It generally looked like a normal housecat, though it was a bit larger and had unusual red markings on its white fur.

Mirage: Chaos, don't move.

Jaze did as he was told, freezing in place. He knew nothing of the animal life on this planet and Mirage's tone of voice suggested to him that this sort of cat might be dangerous.

Mirage: The cat must examine you. Just be still while he does it.

Jaze shook his head in bewilderment.

Mirage: He's been here longer than I have. He always examines newcomers and we have to let him do it. It's a rule because... whatever, I don't really know. Just stand still while he checks you out.

The cat, as though waiting for his cue, approached Jaze and started sniffing his leg and, once again, he started feeling the tickly whiskers around his ankles. The cat walked slowly around Jaze's legs, looking up and down. When it was in front of Jaze, it stretched upwards, putting its paws on Jaze's knees and sniffed more. This seemed to be an uncommonly intelligent cat to Jaze. This seemed like more than random sniffing. There was a definite method. The cat returned to the ground and made one more circle around Jaze, rubbing up against his legs. When it was finished, it looked up at Jaze and rubbed its own head with its paw.

Cat: Meow!

Jaze: Now what?

This time, Mirage looked just as puzzled as Jaze was.

Mirage: I... I don't know. I've never seen him do that before.

The cat stroked his own head again with his paw, this time more excitedly.

Cat: Meow!

Jaze: I think he wants to be petted.

Mirage: Don't do it! He bites!

Jaze: I'm pretty sure he wants it.

Jaze reached down and touched the cat's head. It immediately nuzzled into Jaze's hand as he scratched behind its ears and down its neck.

Cat: Purrrrrr...

Mirage looked on in astonishment as Jaze continued to scratch around the cat's head. Then, as suddenly as he appeared, he ran off towards the compound.

Mirage: I don't believe it.

Jaze: What's the problem? It's just a cat.

Mirage: I've never seen anyone even try to touch that cat without getting attacked.

Jaze: I guess I'm good with animals.

Mirage: Hmmm... Maybe. Anyway, we're late. Follow me.

Mirage continued walking towards one of the open areas of the compound courtyard. Jaze noticed several figures practicing with what seemed to be wooden swords. Mirage called over to a pair of them, one of whom he recognized as Jump.

Mirage: Hey! Jump! Grab one of the extra swords!

Jump immediately stopped what he was doing and looked over to Mirage.

Jump: Yes sir!

Jump ran over to the wall where several wooden swords rested in a pile and picked one up. He ran back to Mirage and held it out for him to take.

Mirage: Not me. Give it to Chaos.

Jump turned and held the sword towards Jaze. He hesitantly reached out and took it.

Mirage: Have you ever fought with a sword before?

Jaze: No, I haven't.

Mirage: Fine then. Jump will teach you.

Jaze looked incredulously at the boy before him who could not have been any older than ten. Then he looked back at Mirage.

Jaze: With him? Oh come on. That hardly seems fa...

Before he could finish his sentence, Jaze felt something hit hard on his back. Jaze stumbled forward and fell to one knee.

Jaze: Ow!

He looked over at Jump who was now holding his wooden sword straight in front of him with a determined look on his face.

Jump: Mirage, this guy is pathetic! What am I supposed to do with him?

For the first time since Jaze arrived, Mirage smiled, which only made him feel more ridiculous.

Mirage: I agree that this isn't a fair fight, Chaos, but not for the same reason.

Without taking his eyes off of Jump, Jaze stood up and held his wooden sword out. He was determined not to be caught off guard again and lunged at him with a wide swing. Jump sidestepped him with so much ease that he almost seemed bored before he smacked Jaze on the back again.

Jump: That's two for me!

Jaze and Jump sparred for hours. Never once did Jaze score a point against him. Only rarely was he even able to block any of Jump's blows. When he returned to his room later, he was too sore to even take solace in the comfort of the games and videos in his camera. All he wanted to do was lay down and sleep.

Commissioned art in this episode from:

All city pictures from SimCity 4

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