He woke, wondering why he was in such agony. His mouth and throat were dry, his head pounding with all the force of a subway train, and every joint in his body on fire. It felt as if he'd been crammed into a jar that was far too small. What on earth was wrong? Why wasn't he in bed? Why couldn't he hear the constant tapping pipes? Why did the air feel wrong here? Where were all the familiar smells?
Slowly, he pulled one gummy eyelid open, and the blurry world around him shifted into focus. He quickly closed his eye again. For one terrifying second, he saw something in front of him that he'd been praying that he'd never see.
Bars. And a strange room beyond. Bars!
How had he ended up here?
Frantically, he thought back through his memories, trying to figure out what had happened to him. He had just left Catherine, telling her that the best thing for the both of them would be for her to go to Providence and take that job offer. It had nearly killed him to say it, but he couldn't hold her in a place where she wouldn't be happy. Then, while he'd been walking despondently towards the tunnel that would lead him home, he'd heard an odd sound and felt a sting in his chest. When he looked at what hit him, he felt panic first, and then his survival skills went into play.
What had stung him had been a tranquilizer dart. He knew what they were, of course, he'd seen them in the encyclopedia. As he began to dash toward safety, another dart hit his back, and he pulled that one out just as ruthlessly as he had the other. The last thing he remembered was seeing the ground rushing up at him very, very quickly, and then darkness.
How long had he been here? How long had he been missing? Oh, no. Father would be worried out of his mind! When he got home, he would have to deal with a very angry and half-frantic old man who would hold onto his shoulders, demand to know if Vincent was planning on sending him to an early grave, and then hug him. And Catherine. Catherine would be worried sick! What was he going to do?
First, before he could deal with a worried father and lady-love, he had to find out where he was and who had brought him here. Why didn't matter. It would have to do with what he looked like, so he wouldn't have to try finding that out. Well, that was one good thing about having a face like his! He'd always know why people kidnapped him!
Pull yourself together, Vincent, he told himself sternly, fighting down feelings of panic and hysteria. Find out where you are first, and who brought you here.
Slowly, very slowly, he managed to get his eyes open and creak his way into a sitting position instead of remaining on his side. What he saw was not comforting in the least. He was in a cage that was about the size of a very large packing crate. It reminded him of the cabinet that Mouse had brought home to store things in. It was large enough for him to lie down in and stand up in, and maybe pace a little, but beyond that, there wasn't much space. In the corner of the cage farthest away from him were a bucket of water and a bowl of what looked like fruit. Ignoring the fruit, he went for the water, working against joints that refused to bend the way they should and muscles that were stiff from sleep. Scooping some up in his hand, he drank only enough to wet his mouth and throat in spite of his body crying out for more. He knew he was dehydrated, but it would be worse for him if he made himself sick by drinking the whole bucket at once. One more mouthful, and he felt more like himself.
Although I have to admit I feel rather like Lazarus arising from the dead, he thought to himself. I had no idea I could still feel so lethargic. Do I still have some drug in my system?
Slowly, very slowly, he worked his way to his feet, holding onto the bars to give him support additional to that supplied by his very wobbly legs. Knees shaking, he stood up, drawing himself upright and feeling every joint in his body snap into place with tiny, audible cracks. That argued for his sleeping a very long time without moving, perhaps a day or longer.
Oooh. He didn't want to think about what Father would say to him when he got home after being gone that long. He'd probably have to hide for the rest of his life in order to avoid being killed.
He lifted his head and looked around, staring around the room. There was a computer on a paper-littered desk in the corner, as well as a table full of scientific and medical equipment in the center of the room. A fogged window let in a little daylight, so it was daytime now. In a plastic bin on a corner of that table were several things that looked very familiar to Vincent. Craning his neck, he managed to see what they were, and he was furious! They were all the things he'd had in his pockets! Oh, those brazen thieves! He couldn't wait until he got his claws on them!
One of his knees gave way, and he fell to the floor of the cage with a loud thud. Almost in answer, a few moments afterward a door opened, showing an older, greedy-eyed man who regarded him with all the tenderness of a jackal. Following him was a slightly younger man with an uncertain air who looked at him as if he weren't sure of what he were seeing.
"Ah, good. He's awake, Hughes. Let's see what there is to see, hmm?"
Vincent stayed very still as the first man approached the cage and crouched down in front of it. The way the man was looking at him made Vincent want to back away, but he remained where he was, daring them with his eyes to do anything to him. That stare had frightened off more than one person, but it failed to have an effect on this man.
The man looked him over, and Vincent wondered if he should try to grab hold of this man and force him to open the cage, but before he could act on this notion the man moved away and fetched a folder from the desk and opened it, reading what was inside. "All right..." he said in a quiet undertone. "'Specimen is a bipedal organism whose movement is primarily similar a human's. Blood sample, not human, species unknown...hair sample...uknown...skin sample...unknown. Saliva sample shows evidence of specimen's last meal to consist of protein, vegetable matter, and some carbohydrates, so specimen is omnivorous. Wears a variety of clothing, some of it patchwork and put together. Of note, the long cloak and hood and hand-knit sweater. Weight, one hundred-seventy pounds. Height, six-foot-two. Anatomically male, aside from the thick growth of fur over seventy percent of the body, seemingly human. Heart rate and blood pressure indicate healthy human resting rate. Dental and manual examination show that he has the majority of human teeth but some feline teeth are apparent, most notably in the canine region. Hands have four digits with an opposable thumb on each hand, evidence of claws that are clearly for defense and other possible usages as tools. Manual examination also yielded evidence of hands being used for much climbing. Pedal examination yielded human feet with a human's range of motion but both have a thick layer of callus on the soles, indicating a great deal of time spent walking, and possibly over rough terrain. Examination of eyes shows no evidence of a tapetum lucidium, usually present in cats, which suggests subject has visual range of a human. Testing of hearing has not been conclusive, later testing with subject's cooperation will be needed to ascertain aural acuity. X-rays show skeleton and facial structure to be that of a human. Vocal examination shows presence of vocal folds and some utterances have been made by the specimen, but nothing that could be called actual speech. Tongue shaped like a human's. At capture, the subject was heard to roar and growl, suggesting animal origin. After administration of tranquilizer darts at time of capture, subject slept a total of ten hours before additional drugs were administered to allow testing to continue.' Now we can add that the specimen has awoken after another..." he checked his watch, and jotted down the time. "Another ten hours. Seems he's as regular as a clock, Hughes."
Vincent felt his heart thumping painfully fast. He'd been missing twenty hours? Father would be frantic by now! They'd be searching all of Below for him, and Father would have the Helpers looking for him Above. Even worse, Father would be angry at Catherine for luring him out of the Tunnels in the first place last night. Oh, what was he going to do?
"What do you think, Dr. Gould?" the younger man asked, looking to where Vincent crouched in the cage.
"Well, I have to admit I've never seen anything like him before, not even in my dreams," Gould said, closing the folder with a snap. "We've done all the tests we can while he was asleep, let's see what we can learn about him while he's awake and comparatively lucid. Let's see how he responds to someone talking to him."
At that, Dr. Gould stood in front of Vincent's cage and introduced himself and Dr. Hughes as if they had just entered the room instead of being there for the last ten minutes discussing him as they had actually been doing. After Gould stated both of their names, Vincent gave him a polite nod, but that simple gesture sent both of the men over the comparative edge. Gould dropped the folder he was holding, and Hughes, who had been perched on the edge of the desk, promptly fell off.
"Dr. Gould, do you think he understands that he's just been introduced to us?" Hughes gasped, picking himself up.
"I think so," the doctor said, staring at Vincent. "Hughes, take notes, will you? Jot down everything he does."
Vincent wondered if he should speak or not, but something in Gould's eyes decided him against it. He didn't want the man know that he could speak and that he was intelligent. Something told him that it would be better to hide what he could do, but he didn't know why he felt that way. He shifted his position and sat cross-legged on the floor of the cage while Hughes hurriedly scribbled everything he'd done. He could imagine it: "Specimen changed position and sat cross-legged. Indicates restlessness or possible contortionist talent." He fought down a smile and prayed that Hughes hadn't noticed it. He sat patiently while Gould told him that he was in a lab in a place called Columbia University. Vincent just looked at him at that bit of intelligence. Columbia? All right, if he could just figure out where the nearest entrance to Below was...
Gould stood up, surprising him. "Hughes, I'm going to get the visual response cards and the hearing equipment from my car. You keep an eye on him, and if he becomes restless, give him another shot of pentobarbital. Better to have him asleep than have one of us slashed up."
Hughes nodded as Gould made his way out and then focused a gimlet stare on Vincent. Vincent waited until Gould's footsteps had faded before getting another drink of water and taking a deep breath. If he was going to appeal to this man to be let out, it had to be while Gould was not in the room. But what could he say that this man would believe?
"Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage," he heard himself quoting suddenly.
Hughes' head snapped up and stared at him. "What? Did...did you say something?"
Vincent lifted his head and looked Hughes right in the eye before continuing:
"Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for an hermitage;
If I have freedom in my love
And in my soul am free,
Angels alone, that soar above,
Enjoy such liberty.
It's from Richard Lovelace, To Althea, From Prison. I should think that you would know it."
Hughes dropped his notebook. "Oh, Lord. It's finally happened, I'm going crazy," he began. "A specimen is quoting poetry from British Lit 102 at me. Too many hours at the office, Hughes, not enough sleep and too much coffee..."
"You're not going crazy," Vincent told him, holding onto the bars of the cage in his eagerness to convince him. "I am speaking. It just seemed that that verse seemed particularly apt, given the situation. I am in a cage, after all."
"You speak? Why didn't you speak before when Dr. Gould was here?" Hughes demanded, still staring at Vincent.
"I do not like him, and he makes me nervous. I don't think he would see me as a person if I spoke to him. You, however, do not find difficult to think of me as a person, I think."
Hughes did not seem to know what to do with this information. Then, to Vincent's vast chagrin, he started spouting questions. "Where do you come from? What are you? Do you have a name? Are there others like you?"
"I can't really tell you," Vincent said, trying to calm his rising sense of panic. "There are some things I have to keep secret. Please, I can't stay here. I have to get home. Could you let me out? Please?"
Hughes stared at him. "You're crazy, right? You're the biggest discovery of Dr. Gould's career, and mine! I can't just let you out!" Then, he stopped and shook his head, as if thinking to himself. "Perhaps you're parrotting things you've heard..."
"Parrotting?" Vincent said in disbelief. "How can I be parrotting all of this? How can I be talking like this to you now? I am a person, not some animal you can keep locked up to examine! You have to let me go! This is kidnapping and unlawful imprisonment!" By this point, his head was beginning to pound terribly. He rubbed his left temple, wishing for the pain to stop.
"Head hurting you?" Hughes asked, watching him.
"Yes. What was that in the darts?"
"A tranquilizer called pentobarbital," Hughes told him. "It's used for sedation and muscle relaxation, and it's also an anesthetic and hypnotic. I'm surprised, though, that it took two darts to bring you down. Usually, one dart would have done it for a full-grown man."
"I had adrenalin to keep me awake a little longer," Vincent told him, still massaging his temple. "The moment that dart hit me was one of the most terrifying in my life. I thought someone had shot me." He stopped and chuckled. "Well, if you want to be technical, someone had, but that's not important. I have to go home. Please let me out."
Hughes was about to answer, but footsteps approaching warned them both to fall silent. Vincent saw that there was no help to be had from Hughes, so he resigned himself to wait a little longer. Gould came in, set his things down, and asked Hughes to report what had gone on in his absence.
"He just rubbed at his head a little bit, made a few noises," Hughes said, sounding nonchalant. "Nothing we haven't heard before."
Vincent stared right into Hughes eyes, clearly giving him the message, See? You don't trust him, either. If you had, you would have told him everything.
"All right," Gould said, setting up what Vincent supposed to be the hearing equipment and then moving it to the floor in front of the cage. He was busy with the settings when Vincent's hand shot out and grabbed his neck, his other hand reaching for the keys Gould wore on his belt. Gould gargled something at Hughes, and Hughes, while Vincent struggled with Gould, fetched a handgun-type device, pressed it against Vincent's shoulder, and pulled the trigger. A tiny fwish of air and another dart had piereced his skin. Vincent slumped in the cage, his hands letting go of Gould, and slowly, his eyes closed. Before blackness and oblivion descended, Vincent heard Gould remark to Hughes, "Well, he certainly knew what keys were for."
Father paced his room, his mind filled with a dozen possibilities, each of them more unlikely than the last. Vincent would never stay away this long, at least not without sending word of some kind, and he certainly would not have been Above in daylight! All of Below had been searched, and there was nothing, so there was only one place that Vincent could be: Catherine's.
He left his room, told someone where he was going, and walked to Catherine's entrance as quickly as he could. He made his way to her apartment, praying that she would be there. It was late, after she got home from work, so she should be there. He tapped, and she opened her door immediately.
"Father? Wh-what are you doing here? Is something wrong?"
"Yes, something is wrong," he said, going inside quickly as she stood aside for him to enter. "Vincent is missing. He hasn't been seen since he left to talk with you last."
Catherine sat down very quickly in a chair, looking pale. "He hasn't?"
"No. Vincent was not himself after he spoke with you," Jacob told her.
"About my going away?" she asked, still very white.
"Mmm-hmm," he said, remembering his last time speaking with Vincent.
Vincent had just told him about Catherine's plans to move to Providence, and he was quick to try to assuage his grief.
"Vincent, the pain you feel now will lessen in time and finally pass. That I promise you," he'd said, giving his son's shoulder a sympathetic squeeze.
"So, the best I can hope for is to forget her? Forget everything? Mine was another life before Catherine! I'm changed...forever!"
Jacob, trying to help Vincent to see things in a better light quickly said, "All right, then accept the change. Learn from it, but you must let the woman follow her own path, Vincent...for your sake."
All Vincent had done in answer was shake his head. "These are only words, Father...shades of feeling...they offer no consolation." With that, he'd fled the tunnels, heading somewhere else. Jacob had called after him, but he had not returned.
"I'm only doing what we both thought best," Catherine said, bringing his thoughts back into the present, obviously fighting tears.
"Once, I thought I knew the answer, but no longer," Jacob said after a moment's silence, startling her. "My son is a different man since he met you, and if I can actually say it, he is happier. I had thought that his knowing you could only bring him pain, but that does not seem to be the case. If he comes here, tell him that we're all worried and want him to come home."
Catherine nodded and saw him to the door, but as he reached it, she stopped him. "Why did you come to tell me?"
"Because I know you care," Jacob admitted. "I think I've known that since he found you that night."
With that, the old man was gone, and Catherine headed to her room to change. She was not going to stay and pace about her apartment worrying, oh, no! She was going out there to find him, and once she'd found him she'd give him a big hug and then a piece of her mind for worrying everyone so much. Hopefully, he was just hiding out somewhere.
She had no idea of where he really was, but she was going to find out very shortly.