Derek Whitepaws, freed of the affliction of self-control, awoke from his position face-down in a puddle of excrement and was promptly violently ill. He raised himself up with his arms and looked around to see his dress coat soiled before him and his gun gone missing. He looked around, and then came to the realization that he was no longer in the room with the psychopath, but back in the alley, where the sun was setting and the rats were coming out to play.
“I’m not gone yet,” he said to the shadows, and a sharp pain penetrated his skull. He put his paw up to the side of his head and ran his finger along it, stopping as he reached a small bump – of metal.
‘What has happened to me?!’ he thought, and jumped to his feet. The rats that had not heeded his warning skitted back into their hiding places. His eyes darted about madly, in search of a sign of his former captor and now tormentor. He could see none and his heart beat faster, faster, almost frenzied. The alley seemed to be swirling around him. He covered his eyes to try to shut out the visions, but they overwhelmed him. He dropped back down to his knees.
“Ohhhh…” he moaned. “My…”
Just then his head didn’t hurt anymore, and rigidly, awkwardly, he was back on his feet. He turned around and began to stagger down the alley, looking and feeling like Frankenstein’s Monster. The feet and the head were not of the same kat. He blinked, but it didn’t stop; he was still moving. He dropped his dress coat; and he could not pick it up. He had lost control of his actions.
The silver wings laughed at him as they tarnished in the gutter, and he walked away with foreign resolve. Any other day he would have made the connection between the experience and the device in his head, but he was overcome with panic, and when suddenly he collapsed, freed from his belabored motion, he could do nothing but shiver, shake, and run back to his coat. He grabbed it, and still terrified, ran as fast as he could away from there, away from the memory, and home to his apartment.
He couldn’t think, not even there, and rather than clean himself up, he simply lay down on the floor and shook, and held his wings in his massive paw, wordlessly puzzling over what it was he had lost. The only sound was that of the wall clock ticking, and the hummed protest of the refrigerator.
* * *
Jason had long since gone back to his tiny apartment, but he was restless, and was thinking about Felina Feral. She was striking and enigmatic, two qualities he found irresistible in she-kats. The tufts of white by her face seemed to draw his paw to them, and he found himself alone in his room, reaching out towards a face that was very far away, screaming orders at traffic and using words he’d as yet only heard the training sergeants use. So he sat on the couch, blinking himself back into what seemed more like reality in that it was ponderous, and he contemplatively touched his wings just as Chance Furlong had done some years before.
His was a changed life, and he liked it this way. A picture flew into his mind only to vanish just as quickly, and he jumped up to rummage around for a pencil and paper, intent on capturing it if he could. He began to draw. The image appeared slowly at first, but mysteriously; seemingly unrelated lines came together in the shape of a face: Officer Feral’s face. As soon as he saw that it was her the rest of the picture came to him suddenly. He made another line that formed a frown on Felina’s countenance. Above her was a shadow, and it was to that shadow that she looked. Then, by her foot, he drew his own face, sad and frightened. When that was complete he surveyed the picture, marvelling at it, wondering where and why, and how. He didn’t like the looks on the faces so he tore it up and threw it in the trash. Then he grabbed a fresh sheet and began an attempt to draw Felina, smiling and happy, but he just couldn’t master the eyes, so he tore that up as well.
A piece of the first drawing floated down to rest at his foot and he picked it up to survey it a while. It was the image of the shadow. He felt his hand go up to his wings, and when he touched them he felt a pang of regret, and realized he hadn’t spoken to Derek – his best friend. He picked up the phone to call him but the line was disconnected.
Resolvedly he stood up, put down the paper, and walked out the door to seek out the prodigal Adonis.
* * *
Jason reached Derek’s apartment as sunset threw silhouettes of demons across the building’s brownstone facade. It was a posh location for a lowly Enforcer, but Derek needed no pretensions; he was sophisticated to the appropriate degree. At least, he was before. Jason walked up the steps and buzzed in the door, ascending the stairs to the fifth floor to find apartment 5B. There he knocked on the door.
Derek heard the sound and awoke, startled and dazed.
It was Jason! Derek was awash with fear and mistrust.
‘If they see me this way…’ he couldn’t think linearly enough to finish the sentence. He could only yell out. “Give me a minute!”
Jason stood and waited while inside Derek frantically removed his soiled garments and leapt into the shower to rid himself of the stench. Jason wondered what caused the delay, but understood that Derek probably was unprepared for a visit. Then Derek threw open the door.
“What brings you?” he asked.
Jason noted that although his friend’s fur was wet, he was fully dressed and even wearing a baseball cap. He also noticed the septic smell.
“Nasty, buddy, what’s that *stench*?!”
“Nothing,” said Derek quietly. “You come to gloat?”
Jason was hurt. “Of course not. I just wanted to see you, that’s all. I didn’t catch you after the ceremony.”
“That was a good thing,” said Derek evenly.
“Is your head on backwards? What are you talking about!”
Derek glowered and hissed at him. Not verbally, just a hiss.
“What was that for? I don’t think you’re using your head, Derek. I just came by to see how you were and you start acting like a total dick.”
“What do I care? You weren’t there!”
“I wasn’t where, Derek, dammit, what the crud are you talking about?!”
Jason didn’t need to be told twice. He turned around brusquely and strode out the door. At the bottom of the steps he nearly ran over Scotty Angora, who had come looking for them to see if either wanted to join him and the Millie’s crowd for some celebratory beers.
“You don’t have to ask me twice,” Jason told him. “But Derek seems a little messed up right now. He was snappish. I think if we brought him he’d only get worse.”
Scotty shrugged and the two departed.
* * *
Derek was alone in his room again. He had regained some of his mental capacities, but they were still impaired. He knew now that there was a problem with himself, and he understood his predicament, but he could not understand why he acted as he did, especially towards Jason. He was an irrational being.
It was then, under the spreading blanket of a MegaKat night, that the sensation of earlier came upon him once again. With unrestrained horror he felt his body change ownership, from him to a mysterious other – the voice in the basement, the Secret. The familiar surroundings of his bedroom began to gyrate; the floor began to ripple. He closed his eyes and begged in vain for cessation. Then at once he stiffened, and rose. His feet moved him across the floor, drawing him to the dresser. His paws opened the drawers and emptied them of their contents, searching madly until he found a ski mask, and he put this in his pants pocket. Then he dressed himself in a nondescript coat and a pair of leather gloves. That done, his feet turned him, and he walked out through the door. He didn’t even lock it behind him.
Derek could now no longer even move his eyes of his own accord. He was wholly the possession of another. He could only watch as he walked silently through the quiet streets of Manx Park towards the subway. Getting there, he slipped in without paying, punching numbers into a panel and clearing easily. He walked on, then stood waiting for the train to come, wondering which it was. Then the purple line came, and he boarded it, standing perfectly still, gripping the bar. He rode all the way to Persian avenue, which he knew was in a poorer section of town. There he got out and walked out to the street. It had started to rain lightly and a fine mist accumulated on his fur. Perfect spheres clung to the very ends of his whiskers as he walked further. He didn’t know the area anymore. The fear that filled him surged upward, dying to anticipation. Where was he? He couldn’t tell, and he couldn’t even see how this was important.
In the darkness he took out his ski mask and pulled it over his head.
It struck him as he continued that he was nearing a home for the elderly. He wasn’t sure. His feet moved him up the steps to it, and there discovered an Enforcer security lock. His paw rose up to the side of the building and began to tap the brick in morse code. “Enter code” was all he picked up, and then his paw was returned to him for an instant. He could do nothing but what he was told, and there in the darkness with only the faint glow of a distant streetlamp to illuminate the lock panel, he obeyed, because he was afraid, and that was all that mattered.
The lock chimed “valid” and the door clicked, unlatched. His paw reached out to it and he opened it, and walked in. His eyes darted about. What was his controller looking for? He passed through the hallway, and reached the night watchman, who was asleep. And then… Derek’s paws reached out and drew the watchman’s gun. He held it confidently in his right paw – Derek was a southpaw – and leveled it at the helpless kat’s head. Relics of tears welled up in his eyes but did not fall as Derek’s body shot him down like a dog as he slept. Then he lowered the gun to his side and walked on.
There in the blackness of the hallway he reached a realization: he was no longer him. What he had just done was more horrible than anything he could have ever done. And yet… he felt nothing, no remorse.
It was release.
He climbed into the home’s elevator and descended into the basement, where his body began work on the furnace, the purpose of which was lost on him. He just watched now, a voyeur to his own downfall, the denouement of his existence. When the task was finished, he re-entered the elevator and ascended to the second floor, methodically murdering every resident as they slept just as he had killed the guard. It was the most ghastly crime in decades, and he, a silver-class Enforcer, was commiting it.
No. It was not he.
But it didn’t matter anymore.
It WAS release.
He ended his task and descended to the lobby, passing the body of the guard, and a laugh escaped him. A thought entered his mind: “10:15” and he walked to the thermostat, altering it, setting it by the complex calculations of the Secret to the precise temperature. Then he left, rigidly walking to the subway, which would bring him home again to Manx Park where the one called Derek Whitepaws stayed.
Deep in his lair the Secret laughed. He, too, had been released – upon the unfortunate katizens of MegaKat City.
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