A/N: Okay, that took me a while... But a lot of things have been happening since my last update which has been keeping me from writing, like graduation, going overseas, stuff like that... Anyway, here's an extra long chapter to hopefully make up for it. :)
For some reason I keep imagining John Cleese doing the voice of Billy M'Caw. I feel that a circle has, somehow, been closed. (Also, please no comments on me spelling the parrot's name like that... It's what it says on the lyrics to my CATS recording. I know that there are other ways to spell it. I stick to what I know.)
Disclaimer: As always, CATS doesn't belong to me. Also, the title of this chapter comes from the ever-so-popular Dead Parrot Sketch of Monty Python fame.
Thirty-Three: A Prolonged Squawk
Polly was one of the last to fly out and lay her eggs, and it happened on the very same day that Alida came out of her cocoon. Of course, now she was not "Alida" anymore, but had developed into a small but muscular and quite handsome male pixay. Misty quickly renamed him "Alido," but she had little time to get to know her new pet. Alido got out of his cage one morning in middle March and flew out to find eggs to fertalize. He was quickly caught by the Agents and brought to the Heavyside Layer. They did however promise Misty that she'd see him one final time before the pixay had lived out his short life. Now his half in the aquarium was empty, and Polly had woven herself into a cocoon to follow him soon.
Joanna and Misty both missed their strange little pets. They had gotten used to having someone to feed and play with, and the TSE 4 seemed strangely empty without the pixays.
Misty completed her Jenny/Jelly story within a few days. It was not very long, since there were limits to how much one could stretch the concept, but she was very proud of it and would tell anyone who'd listen that it was the first time she had ever finished a story. Now she waited most patiently for another idea to come, the one she knew Alido would bring her when he was ready. She knew she would have to wait for it a long time though; Alido would not be done with his duty in raising his offspring for another two months.
One week after the pixays had left them there was some excitement amongst the students of OFUC. They had been told that it was time for a seminar about obscure characters, and they were all immensely looking forward to it. Therefore they were all chatting excitedly as they filed in to the Jellicle junkyard and found their seats.
Firefrorefiddle was already there. He was the largest cat anyone of them had ever seen, including Old Deuteronomy. He seemed gentle, though, and his red eyes were very different from the ones of the Rumpus Cat's stern gaze. He looked a tad nervous, but anxious to start his seminar, and he clapped his large paws together to silence the students.
"'Ello," he greeted them.
The class said it back, somewhat nervously.
Firefrorefiddle seemed cheered on by this, so he continued. "I'm glad you're all here, because today will be mighty interestin'. I've invited a lot of fine folk to talk 'ere, but that will all be later. First I jus' wanted to ask you if you know anythin' at all about me?"
He looked over the class hopefully. When no one responded some air seemed to leave him, and he looked a little sad.
"No surprise," he said morosely. "You're not alone in not knowin'. I don't know nothin' about me either. I only get a line in a song and a little ghost walkin' about, and that's not much to build a character around, is it?"
Joanna felt a little sorry for the huge cat. He was so sad for his lost personality.
"All I know is that I'm a 'fiend of the fell'," Firefrorefiddle said and shook his enormous head. "And that's not much fun to be, no." Then he lit up a little and smiled at the students hopefully. "I was sort of hopin' you'd help me, bein' writing folk an' all that. Maybe you can think up a story for me to have, because it ain't lookin' as if I'll ever get a real one?"
A couple of students looked like they were considering it, and Joanna heard several pencils write down the idea. Firefrorefiddle cheered up considerably.
"I know Growltiger an' Griddlebone gets stories written about 'em a lot," he said. "An' that's okay, because maybe pirates are more interestin' than a big oaf like me, but it's kind of unfair, you know? Jus' 'cause I don't have a song... I think maybe I could have a story too. You know, I could be one of them wild cats out in the wilderness." He grinned widely. "A really adventurous story, mine."
Then he shook his head again and waved it away.
"Jus' think about it, that's all I'm askin'. Now we're goin' to have a bunch of people here and talk about themselves. They're here because they don't have a lot of stories about 'em, and they don't get no attention, so they wanted to talk to you and see if they can give you any ideas."
The first cat to speak was Exotica. The mysterious queen was very shy at first, not daring to speak very loudly and seeming to wish nothing more than to run away and hide. After a while though she seemed more relaxed. She knew very little of herself, of course, just that she was difficult to spot in the musical and had been "invented" since they'd wanted the actress Femi Taylor, who usually played Tantomile, in the movie even though that part had already been cast. She also gave them some suggestions on why she might be so aloof. Was she a paranoid, magical cat, always changing shape to throw off potential followers? Had she as well as Demeter been affected by Macavity, although her fear took another approach? Why was she so frightened?
She didn't speak for very long since her tail kept twitching nervously and her eyes darted constantly from side to side, and when she'd gotten her applause she ran away and was gone before anyone could blink. One or two students looked like they had been inspired by her short seminar, and were happily writing things down.
Joanna sighed silently. Her notepad was still embarrassingly empty except for a few notes on a Firefrorefiddle story without a plot that was probably going nowhere. She had hoped that this seminar would give her something to work on, but there was nothing yet.
The next speaker was Gilbert, who also went under the name Genghis, the Siamese that was Growltiger's greatest enemy and executioner. He had a thick Mongolian accent, and it was sometimes difficult for the students to understand what he was saying, but his movements were very expressive and somehow he managed to get his point across anyway. He was an impressive sight to behold, with a bejewelled turban on his head and carrying a large, curved knife in his belt. His voice spoke of faraway lands, and as he passed them they caught the scent of horse and something warm and slightly smelly that Joanna didn't recognize.
Without Joanna noticing it, she began to write things down. Gilbert's voice was mesmerizing and made her want to see his land, and she found herself wondering about the pirate life... And then she asked herself how a land-locked country like Mongolia could have sailing pirate cats, and then her mind began wondering what could make a mighty chieftain like Gilbert follow Growltiger to Molesay to slay him. Was there a matter of revenge? A vendetta... Had Growltiger stolen something from Gilbert that he wanted back? There were a lot of questions she felt had to be answered before she started writing, but she didn't dare ask them. Perhaps another time, if she had the chance.
Gilbert left, to Joanna's vast disappointment. He had piqued her interest, even though she doubted whether or not she could make something out of his story. She turned a page on her notepad and waited for the next person to come forward.
Firefrorefiddle stood up and grinned cheerfully at the class.
"I hope you're enjoyin' the seminar?" he said, and there were some "yes"s in response. "Good, good. Well, we only have one person left today, and I ain't sure he'll be a very good influence on you lot, so I'm a wee bit worried about lettin' him up 'ere..." He looked slightly concerned and scratched his head. "But I think you can handle it. Billy, will you come up 'ere?"
It was the first time the students had seen a member of the faculty that was not Jellicle, human or Ironwing. It was a parrot, roughly the size of a German Shepherd, with a shimmering green coat of feathers and a yellow beak. It carried two instruments on its back, one flute and one guitar, in a sailor's bag of coarse brown cloth. He looked over the students with staring colourless eyes that had the look of random insanity that most cage-birds have and squawked. Firefrorefiddle made room for him at the podium, and the parrot began to speak.
"Squawk, squawk, Billy good boy! Billy wanna cracker!"
Billy M'Caw shook his head and cleared his throat, and when he spoke again his voice was soft and melodious.
"I do apologize," he said with a very distinct British accent. "I certainly did not mean to startle you, but I have not spoken to anyone in... well, a very long time. It's awful nice to see so many of you here."
The students blinked.
"And Firefrorefiddle hesitated to let him on stage, why?" Misty murmured to Joanna, who had to agree.
Billy M'Caw pretended he had not noticed their surprise and kept going.
"I am a character who gets a minimum of attention from you writers," he said. It was uncertain if he was relieved or offended by this. "I do however feel that you are missing out on a vast opportunity here. There are so many things I could tell you! What about, for a random example, the Growltiger and Griddlebone love story, told from my perspective? I always knew that wouldn't end well. Saw it from a mile away. It reminded me of another story that I also witnessed, some years ago, about the fair Siamese queen who mated with a common stray tom, a disastrous event which led to not only the destruction of two powerful cat tribes but also the death of the lovers themselves! I remember it clearly, for the mother of the Siamese queen cried out on my shoulder. Her name was, um, let me think, oh yes, Crystallina! Lovely queen. Mated with a very fine gentleman tom and was very happy until those previously mentioned tragic events. Afterwards she simply faded away with grief for her daughter. Watched it all, I did! Which also reminds me of the great fire, which as you know took place the same year as the battle between the two tribes first broke out..."
Half an hour later Joanna and Misty staggered out for lunch, together with their just as exhausted classmates. Firefrorefiddle gave them both a compassionate pat on the shoulder before going over to the still talking parrot to make it shut the hell up.
"So that was why he hesitated," muttered Misty and rubbed her temples. "Completely understandable, in hindsight."
"Why does he know everything that's happened to him?" wailed MagicalMisto. "Firefrorefiddle didn't!"
"I think he was only making it up as he went along," said Arakasema sensibly. "He didn't seem very coherent, did he?"
"Crystallina doesn't sound like a proper Jellicle name to me," contributed Joanna. "He must have made it up. It actually sounds kind of Sueish..."
The students sat down, each with a bowl of curry in front of them, to chat about what they were going to do now. The afternoon was spreading out in front of them, sparkling with sunshine and promises of rest.
"I still got a paper to write for Crossovers," sighed Lyra. "The Twins didn't like my CATS/Lord of the Rings story." She pouted. "I have to write two thousand words and explain what I had in mind before they'll give me permission to finish it!"
Joanna had all the compassion in the world for poor Lyra, who would spend this wonderful day doing homework, but she could not surpress a shiver at the thought of the LotR felines that had shown up during the Crossover Incident. Queen Berúthiel's cats had been scary.
She tickled Lyra underneath her chin to cheer her up, and the Jellicle student purred happily, oblivious to everything for a few short moments. Then she turned to the other students with a sigh.
"What are you guys up to?"
As it turned out, no one really had any ideas. That is, the Misto Squad gave some suggestions of sure-fire ways to woo everyone's respective Lust Object (they were getting desperate now; there were only a few months left until graduation!), but no one felt particularly up for it. The fun had been sucked out of glomping since the beginning of that ridiculous "if you behave, you get a dance with your Lust Object during the graduation party" contest.
"We could play fetch with the minis?" suggested Antigone and took a sip of her milk.
"They'd only end up chasing us," said Kara Sakuya bitterly. "They always, always do."
"And the pixays are all off getting grown-up and stuff," sighed Misty sadly. "Not that they really were such great play-mates to begin with."
"Then what are we going to do?" asked Joanna. "I refuse to let this day be wasted!"
"Want to write a fic together?"
All heads turned and looked at Vicki, who shrunk in her chair. Her cheeks turned a little pink at being the centre of attention.
"A collaboration?" barked Sacai Stormcage with raised eyebrows.
S/he looked interested, and didn't appear to be alone either. Several writers seemed intrigued by the idea. Vicki dared a hopeful smile.
"Or maybe not a fic," she said. "I've been thinking about... maybe a play? It would be something new. And it would give us something to do, and the staff would probably approve as long a we didn't do anything stupid..."
"I don't hate it," said Misty and nodded. "We could write it... Maybe perform it on graduation day?"
The suggestion was received with a mixture of delighted "oh yes"s and horrified cries of "but we'll be a laughing stock," but most of the gathered writers were still up for the challenge. Misty, who seemed to think of herself as a kind of leader in the group, stood up to speak to them all, when she was interrupted by a sudden rumbling. The ground trembled ever so slightly.
Many around the table paled.
"Crossovers again?" whispered Ralli nervously.
"Doubt it," said Misty confidently, but the glint in her eyes told them she wasn't so sure.
The rumblings stopped, and things went quiet. The students waited a while in absolute silence before anyone dared speak. Then, almost at once, voices resumed their conversation, and the cafeteria was back to normal.
"Want to go see what it was?" asked Joanna.
She was pretty curious, and as things seemed calm she wasn't very frightened that it might be something... strange. They had just put strange behind them, hadn't they? Surely the Powers That Be couldn't be so cruel and unleash something new so soon?
A few students, Misty included, thought it was a good idea and left the lunch table. They headed for the Jellicle junkyard instinctively, knowing that that was usually the place were things happened. They had not been walking long until they heard something else; the furious, almost hysterical sound of many, many mini-Pollicles barking and snarling. The noise intensified as the students came closer, and they had to cover their ears.
Surely enough, near the TSE 1 stood a few staff members, around a few fairly large objects that the students had trouble spotting. The Jellicle junkyard was completely crowded by minis. There were 142 of them at last count, and all of them appeared to be there. The noise was deafening, there were growling, snapping, howling minis everywhere. Fortunately enough they paid no attention to their normal prey: the fic-writers. All their anger was meant for the large objects by the TSE 1.
Misty was looking very nervous now. Her legs kept twitching, as if they couldn't wait to carry her far, far away from all these mad dogs. She was desperately covering her ears to keep the noise out, but it seemed to do her very little good. Joanna was grateful she didn't have the over-sensitive feline hearing.
Misty said something, but Joanna couldn't hear. She tried to lip-read, and after a while she got: "What do you think it is?"
She shrugged and tried to stand on her tippy-toes to see over Gecka's head. She squinted. The objects... they looked like...
"Get these minis out of here!" howled Ekwy, but she spoke to deaf ears. "Where the heck is the Rumpus Cat!"
Thankfully they didn't have to wait long for their saviour. The Rumpus Cat showed up, a scowl on his face, and wordlessly began to round up the minis. They whined and threw their heads in the direction of the mountains, but he didn't care about their complaints. The noise soon quieted down while the minis trodded off, still snapping in the air and howling so loudly they probably shattered a few eardrums along the way.
"Right, what are we dealing with here?" Gecka asked the staff in general. "Any takers?"
They were looking at a very small range of mountains, around five feet high, with what appeared to be snow on the tops and surrounded by charming little green valleys. There were inch-tall cherry trees in the valleys, and if you used a magnifying glass you could see dainty little bluebells and daisies in the grass as well.
"It's kind of pretty," said Etcetera and purred softly. "It's just like outside!"
"I think... they might be Peaks," said Munkustrap slowly, as if he couldn't believe his own words.
It got very quiet. Only a faint yodelling from one of the mountains broke the silence.
"Someone... misspelled 'Pekes'?" said Ekwy. The corners of her mouth were twitching, as if she was on the verge of breaking down laughing.
"It would explain why the minis went nuts," shrugged Gecka. She also seemed endlessly amused by the situation.
"So what do we do with them?" asked Etcetera curiously. She sniffed the Peaks. "Ooh, fresh pine..."
"We can't keep them here; the minis would... well, they wouldn't like it, I'm willing to bet," said Ekwy and shrugged. "It's up for grabs, really. I'll get Kihr to move them eventually. He should be strong enough." She looked around. "Has anyone seen him lately?"
No one spoke.
"Not for a while," admitted Gecka. "He's been a little... out of it for a few days now. After the whole issue with the mirages."
"I saw him sitting on top of a rubbish pile a while ago," said Etcetera slowly. "He looked all serious like. Almost sad."
"A bit unlike Kihr." Ekwy looked thoughtful. "Hm. If it'd been anyone else, I would have gone to talk to him, but as it is, perhaps it's better if miss Minnaloushe does it. They're of the same species. Maybe it's just temporary."
But she did look troubled. Being essentially immortal, there were two ways to deal with existence if you were an Ironwing. One was to stay serious and act as if the fate of the world rested on your shoulders, like miss Minnaloushe did. The other was to see the humour in all things and take life as it came. Kihr usually enjoyed that way. But if he was upset about something, there was no telling what he'd do.
Who knew what a depressed Ironwing would be capable of?