Stargirl

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Chapter 34: Cat

The Octobike streaked out of the warehouse, leaving a motion blur trail of red and purple (TM had been thinking about changing the paint job, but never got around to it). Dominika and Veggie sat in the sidecar, held in by a rollercoaster-style safety bar and a dome of what the vendor claimed was bulletproof glass; TM manned the cockpit, surrounded by wheels and ridiculous machinery, with Marty stuffed in behind him. Veggie had raised mild concerns at the idea that TM should be driving with what was probably at the very least a slight concussion, since Lauren’s kick had given him a definite head injury, but none of the others was in any better state. Besides, TM was the only one who knew how to pilot the thing.

He had been working on the Octobike for almost the entirety of the last three years, as something to keep himself occupied in his spare time and as a project of his own, something to give him his own building space outside the collaborative rocket project and the joint business that had become most of his life. It was still very much a prototype, and in its current form most resembled a Meccano Cthulhu with wheels, but it was his. It was also categorically not road-legal and almost entirely untested.

TM steered the vehicle down narrow streets, glancing periodically over at Dominika and Veggie. His partner looked pained every time their momentum shifted; TM did his best to take the corners gradually, making the most of the Octobike’s top-notch manoeuvrability and cranking it up well over the speed limit in the straights. He could hear Veggie wheezing with exhilarated laughter as the Octobike zoomed through the city, back towards Muscles & Mussels and their flat. They scorched past the park where they had first encountered Riegel O’Ryan and Al Tyer; the Octobike slingshotted itself around the corner on which Ziggy had first been standing, the day she had told them about the inventor of cable ties and subsequently entered their life to an unexpectedly deep degree; they whizzed through the last few streets, the museum spinning past them in a blur, the bar where the Inciting Incident had once played a gig with Ziggy in the audience flashing alongside.

Then they were back, and TM vaulted from the Octobike as it skidded to a halt in front of their building. Dominika hopped down beside him; Veggie fell out of the sidecar. TM thought about making him stay there, but knew there was no point. Veggie would follow them no matter what, and was probably no safer outside besides.

TM pushed the door open. As expected, it was unlocked. The gymnastaurant was empty, quieter than most graves, with the small exception of Gary Mackerel snoring peacefully where they had left him.

‘Marty,’ TM whispered, ‘you’re in the best shape. Get Gary Mackerel out of here, okay?’

‘Be careful,’ Marty shot back, then hauled the groggy Gary Mackerel to his feet and guided him out of the door.

Dominika grabbed a bottle of cider from the bar and took a lengthy swig before they headed up the stairs to the flat above the gymnastaurant, which felt longer than they ever had. TM stopped just short of the door as he reached the top, Dominika half-dragging Veggie up the stairs behind him.

‘Oh, heck,’ Veggie wheezed.

‘What?’ TM asked urgently, whipping around.

‘Nika…’

Dominika leant in to hear Veggie’s words.

‘Totally forgot to tell you, but you won two hundred and fifty quid in that raffle.’

‘Not the time,’ TM said, and peered around the door.

‘Maybe they really don’t,’ an Irish voice said from within. ‘I mean, I know it was a long shot anyway, but… damn. Seems a bit of a waste if we go back with nothing.’

There was a low growl in response, which sounded to TM like agreement.

‘Maybe I was a little bit overzealous,’ Orion admitted, coming into view; she turned over furniture and ripped open cushions, but whatever she was looking for, she evidently hadn’t found it. ‘I think I wanted it to be these lads, you know? I think they just plain rub me up the wrong way, to be honest, so maybe I was sort of hoping I’d get to… devastate them again.’

‘You’re a real bitch,’ Derrida said, obscured from view. TM saw the shadow of Keelut stalking towards the kitchen, then heard Derrida yelp.

‘And you’re a fuckwit,’ Orion said in his direction. Then TM saw her bend down, looking at something on the table. ‘What’s this?’ she said with interest, holding up an envelope.

Veggie coughed.

‘Shit,’ breathed TM.

Orion opened the door, as if inviting them in.

‘Oh, hi,’ she said, looking them over. ‘It’s funny, actually. I was just about to come looking for you lot.’

‘Let Derrida go,’ TM said firmly.

’Oh, kitchen boy? I guess I don’t need to keep him, now you’re all here, but it’s just more fun.’ She picked up TM with one hand and slung him over her shoulder, though he struggled; Dominika and Veggie she carried, one under each arm. She threw them in a disgruntled heap in the corner of the kitchen, Veggie spluttering and wheezing with worryingly broken-sounding breaths as he hit the floor.

‘What are you doing?’ Derrida hissed. He was in one piece, though sporting a black eye. ‘Why did you come back?’

‘Heard you were in shit,’ TM told him.

‘Well, now we all are,’ Derrida pointed out.

Orion waved the envelope in her hand at them smugly, looking down at the pile of people from above. ‘So,’ she said, with an air of satisfaction. ‘Looks like I’ve got a gas bill here, and who should it be addressed to, I wonder?’

TM blinked at her cluelessly. ‘Me?’ he ventured.

‘Actually,’ said Orion, holding the envelope up to her eyes exaggeratedly, ‘it’s for the attention of one Mister Jonathan Vega.’ She actually giggled, putting her hand to her mouth. ‘I mean, I know Orion, O’Ryan, not the most inventive, but come on. You actually used Vega as your surname?’ She prodded Veggie’s ribs with her toe, squeezing a ragged breath out of him.

‘Veggie’s not the one you’re looking for,’ TM told her. ‘He’s been my friend for… years. Like, for ever.’

‘You’ll forgive me if I don’t fully believe you,’ Orion said, voice dripping with sarcasm. ‘You harboured one of ours before, so you’re in a bit of a cried-wolf situation here, know what I’m saying?’

TM sighed, closing his eyes for a second, thinking. ‘Please,’ he said after a moment, unable to come up with anything better to say. ‘Please don’t take Veggie too.’

‘Sorry, little fella,’ said Orion; she picked up Veggie again and walked towards the door. ‘Don’t let them leave,’ she instructed Keelut. Then she reached out the hand that was not holding Veggie’s limp body, closed the door behind her, and was gone.

‘No,’ TM breathed. Derrida looked frozen, staring helplessly at the door; Dominika was trying to hide it, but TM could see her shoulders shaking gently as she held her knees to her chest in the corner. ‘We have to go after him,’ he said. ‘We have to.’

Keelut stalked over, growling threateningly. TM grabbed an orange from a bowl on the counter behind him and lobbed it over the dog’s head; Keelut turned to watch as it sailed past her, and TM launched himself past the enormous canine towards the door. His hand was almost on the handle when he felt a powerful set of jaws clamping down upon him, and Keelut lifted his whole weight from the floor, suplexing him back into the corner by the ankle.

‘Bad dog,’ Derrida said exhaustedly as TM slumped down beside him.

Keelut’s shoulders lowered, teeth flashing, saliva dripping from her jaws as she turned to face them.

‘Wait,’ said TM, holding his hand up to her. ‘Your master said don’t let us leave, she didn’t say kill us.’

Keelut growled; TM could smell her breath as the warm air hit him.

‘Please don’t,’ he said helplessly.

Keelut coiled herself up, ready to spring. TM closed his eyes.

Then there was a loud wailing, an exclamation that sounded like an exploding wind section, and a tiny furball threw itself out of the darkness and put itself firmly between the dog and its helpless prey. Michel Furcoat, the cat, stood as a sentinel protecting TM, Dominika and Derrida, and Keelut gave a confused whine. Michel Furcoat leapt at the dog, hissing and squealing, and struck her in the face.

Keelut stood, disinterested, as the cat’s purple-plastic-covered claws bounced harmlessly off her furry skull.

‘Shit,’ said TM.

With one golden paw the size of a stack of bricks, the dog knocked the cat aside, eliciting an ear-vibrating squeal. Michel Furcoat hit the wall and slumped down.

‘We’re doomed,’ TM said quietly, almost accepting it.

Keelut advanced, skulking towards them and exposing her teeth.

‘Didn’t you have another cat?’ Derrida asked uncertainly, and then the bare, unsheathed claws of Maurice Meow-Ponty sliced through the air. Keelut yelped, recoiling as cuts opened on her face, drops of blood pattering down like heavy raindrops. TM took the opportunity to slither past, dragging Dominika and Derrida behind him, and made for the door, grabbing a few bits on the way out and stuffing them into a carrier bag held together by several Ziggy Veggie TM Puncture Repair Kits. Dominika and Derrida dashed through the exit - Dominika hurled a butter knife at Keelut, which bounced off ineffectually, but it was the thought that counted - and TM glanced back to see his cats, each no bigger than his forearm, fending off a dog the size of a small shed. The door closed behind him, leaving the sound of pained yapping from within.

‘Where do you think she’s taking him?’ Derrida said breathlessly as they dashed down the stairs, through Muscles & Mussels and out onto the streets.

‘I have no idea,’ TM admitted, bursting out of the door and sprinting over to where the Octobike sat patiently in parked majesty. ‘But we can’t just let her take him too.’

Dominika tugged on his sleeve.

‘What?’

She pointed.

On the horizon, hanging just above the skyline, was a star, shining brighter than any TM had ever seen except the sun. He blinked at it for a moment, then lowered his gaze a few degrees. Directly underneath from their perspective, the distinctive angel of the museum seemed to be pointing up at the star, and the star seemed to be pointing down in response. TM, lacking as his knowledge of astronomy was, thought he knew that star.

‘The museum,’ TM said, and hopped in the Octobike.

‘What the fuck is this?’ Derrida exclaimed; Dominika hauled him into the sidecar by the collar.

TM revved the machine, sending vibrations through the entire contraption. ‘It’s the Octobike,’ he said.

‘The fucking what?’

Then TM put his foot down, and the Octobike burned the rubber of its many tyres as it launched into the night.

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