A Feline's Fancy

Zel Power

It was the one time he was not only allowed to speak, but encouraged to. It wouldn't get him anywhere to make a bad job of it, so the Doctor decided he might as well make the most of it. Besides, he wanted to keep his "party pants". He grinned. If anything, he would show Icha he could be perfectly civil. "Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen. I hope you're enjoying the party." The Doctor beamed at a tawny woman with black stripes in a red-frilled number and pumped his voice full of polite appreciation. "Madame, your dress is quite lovely."

Apparently, his actions were deserving of giggles from the ladies around Icha.

"He knows Rudeese!" one exclaimed.

"Don't be stupid," another replied, "She trained him to say those words. He doesn't know what he's saying."

"Still... he says them perfectly! He's so cute! I wish I could train my pets half as well as Icha can."

"How did you teach him so soon? Didn't you just get him?"

The Doctor admitted the woman made a good point. He hadn't been with Icha for long from a training perspective. While he found the "memorisation" easy, someone who couldn't understand his slaver's language would find it difficult. Icha had claimed she would have him ready for the party right after walking out of the pet shoppe. Upon seeing him speak for the first time, she had instantly known what kind of benefit to her it would be.

"That would be telling, wouldn't it?" Icha replied. The Doctor felt her hand at his hip, and he wilted. Apparently, playtime was over. He settled down next to Icha's leg as she continued to make conversation. "Speaking of your pets, where is Precious? You didn't bring her?"

Her? The Doctor looked up to the woman Icha was talking to with interest. Could Rose be Precious? His hopes instantly fell when he realised that wasn't likely. He knew firsthand Icha hadn't been out with her friends for a week, except for the birthday party yesterday. Rose would be a new pet, not an existing one Icha would be familiar with.

Then again, how long had he been unconscious before waking up in the pet shoppe? He had assumed he had only been out for a few hours. The Doctor frowned, uncertain.

"No, she's been a right terror lately. It wouldn't do to have her here making a scene."

The Doctor disagreed. A bit of a riot was exactly what this party needed to liven it up, but since no one asked him, he instead scanned the crowd.

The party was being held in the Zel Power Station's main atrium. The building was huge compared to most others in town. Before tonight, Icha had only taken him through the edge of town. He knew now they were currently in the town's center.

Even from the atrium, the Doctor could feel the undercurrent of the station's power generation. From its sound and vibration pattern, he was sure it was some variation of a quad-valve plasma fission system. It was common in this age and area, mostly for its portability for use in colonisation projects. It was light weight enough to haul on a seeder vessel mostly intact and required little assembly once planted.

The volume of it and strength of its vibrations seemed too high, however, and the Doctor had to wonder if they had made shortcuts in the insulation process.

The five-story ceiling was utilitarian and unfinished, which contrasted sharply with the fine decor of golds and blues at ground level. Parties appeared to be typical here.

If Rose was here, he would find her. The Doctor studied the throng of people, one person at a time. He scanned over faces and between legs, looking for a crouching slave he would recognise. After he had searched in all directions, his hopes began to fall that Rose was here.

He looked over and imagined now, just there, he would see her at that man's heel. She would be looking about, seemingly unaware of how beautiful she was even as a slave; looking for him as if nothing else mattered. Her eyes would catch on his, and she would beam at him helplessly with her gorgeous smile. The Doctor would find a way to break off from Icha and free Rose, too. They would rush through the crowd, hand in hand, and make their escape. Where was the TARDIS? It was probably still on Gestaapa Prime, so the Doctor would have to steal a ship-

Icha had moved.

The Doctor scrambled to his feet before the leash could pull him off balance and reprobated himself for becoming distracted. It wouldn't do to fall on his face at a party. When Icha stopped again, he lowered himself again to the floor and waited.

Bored, the Doctor thought to himself that if something interesting didn't happen soon, he would be forced to create an interesting something. He tried listening to Icha's conversation with her fine friends, but the topic of which colour dresses suited which fur shades best was about as alluring as Icha's daytime soaps. His attention wandered to the length of leg Icha's short dress afforded him.

She was wearing the same fancy blue suit he had first seen her in at the pet shoppe, and he had to wonder if the combination of her attire and his position just below and behind her were done on purpose. The flawless snowy fuzz of her fur looked soft and pliant, and before he gave it any thought, his gaze moved upward to rest just under the hem. He had seen a lot more of Icha's fur, even touched it, and the Doctor prided himself at not reacting much to such things, but it was funny what a short skirt could do. He told himself it was more out of curiousity than anything else, and he believed it until he imagined the stretch of fur as naked flesh tinged slightly... pinker.

The Doctor looked away, feeling slightly pink himself. He had to stop obsessing about Rose before it drove him mad.

A male slave crouched next to a woman not far away, watching him. The man grinned, having noticed the Doctor's wandering eyes and embarrassed reaction. The Doctor grinned back weakly and wondered what sort of hardships the man had to endure himself and how similar their situations were. His slaver began to move, and the man followed after her away from the Doctor and Icha.

Another slave wearing a similar outfit as he was approached with a tray, of what he couldn't tell from his angle, until the feline guests above him plucked up o'derves. The Doctor's mouth watered, and he wondered if there was food for pets available-not that he could go for a wander to find out. He couldn't even just ask.

To his surprise and delight, Icha passed an o'derve down to him, and it didn't smell like fish. He fingered it from her hand carefully and sniffed it, tested it with the tip of his tongue, then popped it into his mouth. It was tasty, but only just. He couldn't call it filling, but it was satisfying enough.

After what felt like hours, someone stepped up to the platform in front and greeted the guests over a loudspeaker.

"Welcome, welcome, citizens of Paurin." He was a black-furred man, white about the whiskers and chin, wearing an emerald green suit jacket. He had a good smile. "Thank you all for coming to the Zel Power Appreciation Dinner in honor of all your hard work at the plant. Tonight is about friends and food, of course. Before dinner is served, however, we ask your attention during a short presentation for those of you not as familiar with our latest accomplishments as those of us who are here everyday."

The Doctor paid attention. From his position, he couldn't see the platform very well, but he was happy to confirm they were indeed on Paurin, and the information he had so far read about it would likely be true as well, from a perspective.

"First of all, I'd like to publicly appreciate a few folks. Without their involvement, Zel Power would never be what it is today. Gerra Ken, your leadership throughout the years has been instrumental to the integrity of our workforce. I don't know how you do it, but you've gotten us this far!" Heads turned, apparently to the cat person being appreciated, and people cheered. "Fusem Peratorrlei, our recent discovery of your ingenious talents have benefited us all in ways we can never repay. The adaptation technology we've been able to apply to the combination of our old and new systems would never have been found without you!" Again, the crowd cheered.

"And of course, where would we be without the late Mr. Ureg Nubien?" The Doctor frowned as the assembled guests went unusually silent. The name was familiar... "His guidance and direction will be with us always in the form of our continued success."

Wild cheers erupted all around him, some heads turning his direction, and the Doctor twigged and looked up. Of course, Icha Nubien.

He couldn't see Icha's face. Some of her friends touched her tenderly on the shoulder, and she appeared to be accepting the attention gracefully enough.

The cheers died down, and a holographic screen flickered on behind the man on the platform. The Doctor strained to see around people. His first thought was to stand, of course, but would it really be worth Icha's ire? What did he care, anyway, about a dull speech?

"As you are all aware, our Paurin establishment's power costs have risen over the years. Zel Power has worked tirelessly to meet the needs of our society. There have been a few hard times, yes," the black-furred man paused with a grin as chuckles of agreement came from the crowd. "We all know what that's about, don't we? Yes, well I'm here to tell you tonight that our struggle is over!"

A cheer went up above the Doctor. He could tell by the level of enthusiasm that this news was important to these people.

When everyone had quieted down, the man continued and the Doctor could see the screen was flashing. "Our journey from a small town source to what we are now hasn't been easy, but as you can see, we're enjoying the results even now."

He was able to pick out just snippets of the holographic presentation between the shoulders of the guests. At first, the Doctor assumed his confusion was due to seeing only a small part of it as images were moved about the screen, but after a few moments, he knew it couldn't be right.

The Doctor slowly rose to his feet, staring hard at the incredible information being displayed to all, as if it were normal.

"Systems have been successfully fused seamlessly as of last week. A few expected interruptions in service were quickly resolved shortly after launch, and the new core has been running splendidly ever since. While we continue to monitor everything closely, I invite you all to take time to enjoy the fruits of our labour. You've all earned it!"

Everyone made some noise, but the Doctor tuned it out. He was concentrating fully on the screen before him.

A timeline of the plant's progress was displayed along the top. The Doctor recognised the first image as standard quad-valve plasma fission, just as he had suspected. Even the second image was an acceptable variation of the first with its tried and tested peripherals of an outpost that had prospered for whatever reason and had outgrown its original configuration.

The rest of the images in the timeline, however, were just completely wrong.

The plant had grown and grown down into the ground, so much so that the last image dominated the entire right half of the projection. It explained why he could so easily feel it even from this room.

The lower left of the screen showed the layout of the original outpost in black. The formation of a township created mostly residential areas and farmland all around it in green. The Doctor even worked out where Icha's house would be in the hills to the northeast.

None of it came close to explaining why the plant would have advanced past Stage Two.

If the Paurin settlement struggled with its power needs for all this time, where was all that extra power going? What could they possibly need it for?

He knew where at least some of it was going. Four-valve plasma fission was known for losing its output efficiency exponentially in tests when pushed past Stage Two. These designs showed no hint of secondary generators. He had never heard of it being done because it was just stupid. In an effort to create more energy, they were having a third of it just dissipate.

The Doctor barely registered that Icha had turned around and was glowering at him. He ignored her at first, furiously studying the images for a clue, but Icha insisted with a hand to the front of his hip. Anger rising, the Doctor turned his smoldering glare to her in challenge. How can you people be so daft? Or do you know something you're not telling me?

Icha flinched for a fraction of a second, then returned one of her own. When he didn't relent, she insisted again. The collar buzzed.

The Doctor started and broke eye contact, and he chastised himself for being weak. He closed his eyes, drew in a quivering breath, and lowered his head in defeat. There was no point in resisting-she wouldn't listen.

The holography was switched off, and the guests around them were now moving as a whole towards the tables. Icha began to move with them, so the Doctor followed her instead of dropping down like she had originally wanted. As they began to move, he caught a few nervous glances from Icha's female companions. He didn't bother returning anything.

Icha laid the leash across her chair and seated herself on top of it. She left him plenty of slack for if he needed to move about, but it was obvious he was meant to stay crouched next to her. Icha and the others began chatting about the dinner, and soon slaves began filing out of the kitchen with the first course.

The food was tempting, sure, but the Doctor wasn't interested in begging for it. He just wasn't in the mood. Instead, he tried to pick up on the conversations of those around him that didn't involve how delicious the meal was or how it compared to that of previous functions.

Try as he may, he couldn't hear anything of interest.

Something was going on here. This wasn't right. Whatever it was, it would be a lot easier to find out if he wasn't stuck on the end of a leash.

Whatever it was, he would find it out, despite it.

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