Or: Think of the Kittens
There was a tradition (disguised as protocol) in which the newest members of the team were charged with the most menial tasks. There was no guarding important entrances, no rifling through dangerous-looking equipment for the ones barely a year into the job, and heaven forbid if they got within so much as twenty feet of the villain of the hour (apparently, there were devices of the ray-gun variety that could muddle a man’s brain into liberating said villain). Not even guarding the henchmen. Oh no. It was guarding doors to restrooms and keeping a weather eye on the kitchen and lounge, because you never knew what dastardly surprise might be waiting in the oven or surround-sound system.
Still, Dan couldn’t help but wonder if the other lads were having him on, because his job was to guard a cat.
Dan had never considered himself to be a cat person, but even he had to admit it was a pretty cat – one of those snow-white Persians only without the smooshed face, and eyes the color of gold. It was also pampered in a manner that surpassed the absolutely ridiculous. The villain of the hour – a balding, aging, megalomaniac hell-bent on taking over the world by destroying most of it with a hidden missile or two – had spared no expense in spoiling his little darling. The cat (Annabelle, according to her solid gold name tag on her sapphire collar) had a room twice the size of Dan’s pitiful little flat. There were plush cat-sized love seats, a little bed fit for a king, a jumbo-sized television currently playing the Aristocats, a fish tank the same size as the television brimming with bright tropical fish, and two silver dishes against the wall beneath a device that automatically filled them whenever they were empty. There was also a silver platter next to the dishes with the remains of what might have been salmon.
It blew Dan’s mind how a man so destruction-happy could take up the hobby of spoiling rotten another living being. The floor was littered with expensive cat toys and high-end catnip balls, and there were pictures on the walls of Annabelle as a fluffy kitten batting at string, another of her older being held by her brightly beaming master, Annabelle at Christmas playing in wrapping paper, Annabelle at the beach, and similar pictures besides.
While just two corridors down was a room full of weapons that could level a city.
“Why in the world would Dr. Zenvoid want to destroy the world? Where’s he going to get cat toys from, or cat food, if he burns everything?” Dan said.
Zenvoid’s plan wasn’t merely to subdue the world, but to “cleanse it” by wiping out humanity, then repopulating with a more “superior” species specially chosen from humanity and genetically modified by him.
Bill, who’d been charged with the slightly less demeaning task of searching the room for dangerous weapons (well, perhaps not so demeaning. Dan doubted even a mad man like Zenvoid would hide anything where his precious cat might paw at it and set it off) spat impatiently as he sifted through a basket of toys, “Why the hell are you asking me? The man’s bloody mad, you don’t question the bloody mad. Just… do something with the cat. Captain Franks wants this whole place cleared out.”
Dan looked to Annabelle, sitting primly and unconcerned on one of her many love seats.
Bill’s search had unearthed the luxury limo among cat carriers, with a lambs-wool interior and a little heater and air conditioner on the back. It was also quite spacious, which meant it was going to be a pain to carry.
At the sight of the carrier, Annabelle leaped from her throne and trotted over to begin rubbing up against Dan’s leg, as if thanking him for bringing out her carriage.
Pampered yet polite; Dan couldn’t help a smile.
“You have any favorite toys you want me to bring?” he asked, but Annabelle had already made herself comfortable in the carrier. Dan looked among the toys anyway, his assault rifle threatening to slide off every time he bent forward and bop him on the head. He picked the toys that looked the most chewed on and tossed them into the carrier.
When anyone on the team said to “deal” with something, what they really meant was “get it out of the bloody way and let someone else eventually deal with it so that we can focus on the more important tasks.” As long as the cat was in the cage and not where she would trip anyone by tangling around their legs, then Dan could call it a job well done and move on. He knew this – he’d been at it a bloody year, although this was only his third clean-up – and yet he couldn’t help taking it a step further by preparing the cat a travel bag.
A bloody travel bag. Which he found in a closet along with containers for food and water, various cat brushes, and a fat, red pillow. He packed all this, even knowing that it would be discarded once the cat was taken to the nearest animal shelter, or whatever was done with her. She was a pretty cat, so he was sure she would get adopted quickly, although she would never again enjoy this level of luxury.
Dan found himself feeling rather bad for her.
Dan may have been a touch hasty thinking that Annabelle’s story had ended with her removal from Zenvoid’s secret base. Zenvoid had a penchant for escape-artistry (this was the second time he’d been taken into custody), and until headquarters could ensure Zenvoid was in a position where he couldn’t make a break for it, they wanted all his possessions also in a position where they could be amply guarded. The last thing they needed was Zenvoid targeting whoever wasn’t spoiling his precious Annabelle per her usual level of coddling.
Which didn’t sit well with Dan. Maybe a shelter wouldn’t have pampered her, but being the pretty cat that she was, it wouldn’t have been long before someone came along who would pamper her. As it was, she’d been placed in one of the smaller storage spaces (a broom closet) so she would be out of the way, with a cake pan for a litter box and very little space to roam except in a tight circle.
Bill said that she needed to suck it up; it would teach her to be less spoiled. Dan thought, she’s a cat, it’s not her fault she’d been ridiculously mollycoddled by a psychopath. Dan visited her, in part because of his continuing pity for her, in part because she was a very friendly cat, and also in part because he found brushing her to be rather relaxing. She was such listless thing, now, wearing the most pathetic look every time Dan had to leave. The only time she perked up was when he arrived, and then she was all over him, rubbing against his legs, bumping her head against his chin, batting at toys as though hoping to get him to play.
She’s the cat of a world-dominating mad man, the other lads kept saying.
She’s a bloody cat who just wants a bloody brushing, Dan always replied.
Meanwhile, Zenvoid wasn’t talking, and there was still a missile or two out their eagerly waiting to destroy the world. Concern over one cat shouldn’t have been a priority, but dangling a bit of string in front of her did seem to take Dan’s mind off the matter of imminent demise, if only for a little while.
Thank goodness for the head secretary, Mrs. Abernash, who was terrifying on a good day, but had a soft spot for cats. She had some of the cat’s things brought up from storage and arranged in the lounge, under the pretense of being sick and tired of hearing the cat whine all day. The lounge was spacious, full of plump couches, a fish tank, and while the TV screen was not jumbo-sized it was still a massive step up from no TV screen at all. It wasn’t long before Annabelle became one of those much appreciated additions that everyone refused to admit to. Annabelle was not a pushy cat, and always seemed to know what it was that was needed, whether it was to curl in one’s lap or sit by their side and simply be there, as if saying “I’m here for you and understand what you’re going through – well, not really because I’m not a secret agent and I’ve never had to kill anyone or disarm a bomb using only a fork and my wits with only ten seconds to go – but I’m still here for you.”
And it continued to hound Dan how a man who probably spent hours brushing their cat and teasing her with bits of string would build a missile (or two) to wipe out the world. The more time Dan spent with Annabelle, and the more he witnessed top agents, hardened former soldiers, and stick-up-their-backside officials unwind as they stroked her fur and teased her with little catnip mice, the more the question began to drive him mad.
Dan didn’t really think on it when he made the request to speak to Zenvoid, or whether or not Dan’s request would be granted. Honestly, it shouldn’t have been granted at all, but he’d said he had questions about the cat – which was true; she was having a small diarrhea issue – and while the higher-ups were hesitant about it, overall they didn’t see the harm.
None of it – the request, that the request had been granted, that Dan, still at the stage of having to guard bathroom doors, was about to talk to the world’s most dangerous mastermind – registered until he walked into the interrogation room to Zenvoid himself.
It didn’t matter that Zenvoid was dressed in maximum-security prison orange, the look on the man’s face was a heartfelt promise of terrible things to come as soon as he managed to escape. It doubled when Dan walked in.
“Oh, lovely, now they’re sending in children. Or are you merely here to escort me on my morning constitutional to a more secure location?” Zenvoid spat. He leaned back in the metal chair and studied his nails. “I do hope they warned you about my rather bad habit of slitting people’s throats even when they’re looking.”
Dan wished he had kept his mouth shut about wanting to speak with this lunatic.
Until he thought of Annabelle and all those pictures of a happy, smiling, not-insane-at-all Zenvoid cuddling her. Dan seated himself awkwardly and launched into the diarrhea issue.
Zenvoid rolled his eyes. “My word, you people are incompetent. You switched cat food on her without easing her into it. Of course she has the runs! You’re probably giving her that wretched store brand filth. Look, I’ve got a man who supplies me cat food. It’s beyond your pay-grade, I’m sure, but just say my name and he’ll send some over as a personal favor to me.” He then gave the number of this supplier.
Dan frowned thoughtfully at Zenvoid. “Um, if you pardon my saying, Mr. Zenvoid,” he said, “But, um… the thing is…”
“Spit it out,” Zenvoid said flatly.
“Well, it’s just… well… you want to destroy the world and everyone in it and all but that would mean killing your supplier, too, wouldn’t it? Unless you were going to, you know, take him in or something. Except even then, what with the world in shambles, he wouldn’t have what he needed to make this special cat food and all.”
Zenvoid narrowed his eyes. “It’s animal parts cooked up in a lab. If you raided my sanctuary, which I know you have, you’ll have seen I have enough labs to spare.”
“Well, yeah, but, what about cat toys? And getting fresh salmon for her? And, and… what about all the other cats?”
“What about them?” Zenvoid said.
“Well, you destroy the world then you destroy cats, too, right? And you destroy the cat breeders, and the people who make cat toys. And, well, the cats, Mr. Zenvoid. What of the cats? And the kittens? And all the cat videos you had saved on your computers, and the cat screensavers, and the calendars. There wouldn’t be any more of those.”
Zenvoid’s fingers drummed anxiously on the table. “No, I suppose not,” he said slowly, carefully, as if caught in a game of wits forcing him to choose his words with caution. “But there would have been, eventually, once the world fell into order.”
“But that’s going to take time. And in the meantime, even if all the cats didn’t get wiped out, it’ll still mean all these orphaned cats with no home, and kittens without their mothers, wandering around and crying and getting eaten by rats and wild dogs...”
Zenvoid’s fingers stopped drumming.
“And if your missile does wipe out the cats, and Annabelle dies, you wouldn’t be able to get another one. There’d be no more cats.”
Zenvoid said thickly. “You’re point?”
Dan shrugged sheepishly. “Sorry, I’m just trying to understand. I know the world isn’t always the greatest place and there’s a lot about it you despise, but there’s things in it you like, too. I just don’t understand why you’d be willing to destroy everything if it means destroying the things you like. Haven’t you thought about the kittens and the cats and what would happen to them? Who would take care of them all while the world rights itself? I just… I don’t get it, is all.”
Zenvoid sat there, staring at him with a face as blank as a new piece of paper. He said nothing, and after two minutes of this Dan figured he had annoyed the man enough that he wasn’t going to answer. Dan left, feeling like an idiot.
A day later, Zenvoid gave up the location of the missiles (turned out there were five, not two). The boys and girls upstairs were baffled, and everyone else (having heard about Dan’s interview with Zenvoid) didn’t know whether to laugh or promote him.
Dan was promoted - from guarding cat rooms to guarding the villain of the hour, just in case there was anything about the current villain that puzzled him and he felt the need to ask about it.
Annabelle maintained her position as spoiled princess of the lounge, rewarded periodically with fresh salmon, and looking rather smug as though she was well aware of her part in saving all of man (and cat) kind.