Chapter 23: X and a CAT
X-XIII retreated down the alley. His limbs were itching for movement and he was not inclined to deny them.
The window had been dark when he arrived. He had stared at it for only about a minute until the guy with green hair had shown up on his FloatBoard.
X had the urge to go up and touch the trailing streamers of light behind it, wondering if they were actually lingering in the air, or if it was just a trick of the eye.
X had restrained himself. He knew what that man thought of him, he had seen it in the man’s eyes the last time they had met. They had all but shouted how much X was unwelcome.
Not that he cared. He didn’t.
Deep in his pockets, X’s hands clenched into fists. His right thumb brushed against a small black notebook that had been dead weight in his pocket for almost a month now.
X pulled his hand out as if the book had stung him, hissing through clenched teeth.
The book had been nothing but trouble. Sure it had been fun trouble, but he was no closer to getting his answers.
He had seen the woman with mahogany hair. He had been that close to getting his answers…
X snarled, and his leg kicked over a box piled high with trash. It spilled out across the alley in a wave of debris. The destruction helped, so he did it again, viciously kicking over boxes and black bags and metal cans full of trash. He picked up their tin lids and flung them across the alley, hearing them clang against the walls and crash into more garbage.
He cursed garbage and the people who failed to collect it and the people who made so much of it –
Another can toppled to the ground. He reveled in the red gleam his vision started gathering.
- And the woman with the mahogany hair, she could go to hell too. So could the guy with green hair, who gives a fuck about him?
His foot pounded the next plastic garbage bin until the edge broke off in a snap.
“…And fuck this city!” He howled, “Fuck this whole place, I hope it burns, and when it does –“
He yanked off the plastic lid, pieces of plastic scattering.
“ –I am going to laugh as all of them fucking die –“
X flung the plastic lid across the alley, and didn’t bother watching it clatter behind the dumpster.
“MROW!” A startled feline yelp interrupted X’s tantrum.
The image of one flitted past his mind. He tried to catch it, but it was shrouded and unclear. X peered into the darkened alley, trying to weed out the memory.
His head began to hurt.
Gray. Gray cat. Chubby gray cat.
A seizing pain ripped through his skull, and X’s hands flew up to catch his temples as if his brain were going to explode. His body was racked with a spasm; his back thrown back and legs stumbling.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck!” He hissed, eyes squeezed shut.
The memory was gone.
X let out one hysterical sob, eyes jolting wide open in the hopes he could catch sight of it once more. But it was gone, and he let himself fall to one knee as his eyes darted around the ally wildly.
He finally fixed his gaze on a pair of green eyes that peered at him from beneath the dumpster across the alley.
What color was it?
X tentatively prodded the edges of his sealed memories and was rewarded with a dull throbbing ache right behind his eyes. He saw bright spots in his vision.
“What?” X snapped, growling towards the eyes.
The green eyes blinked slowly in a non-committal manner and remained otherwise still and hidden in the shadows. “Mrow.”
X watched them, and started to even out his breathing. His throat burned hoarsely, but he took in slow painful breaths regardless. Very slowly, the red started to drain from his peripherals and he felt his racing heart stagger to a walk.
X kept his eyes on the little green orbs watching him. “C’mere.”
X felt a tremble of irritation at the corner of his left eye but he ignored the tick.
“C’mere kitty.” He waggled his fingers at it.
“Yes. You. C’mere.” X scooted an inch closer, hand insistently waggling at the creature under the dumpster.
The eyes blinked, and their hovering position in the darkness started to shift as it slinked slowly forward. A slight scrape on the pavement betrayed some sort of injury.
The cat pulled itself languidly from underneath the dumpster, it’s right hind leg dangling uselessly at the small joint that could be called an ankle. It was making the scratching noise of metal on concrete.
Most of the thing’s fur had all but worn off, leaving patchy holes in different places. Part of its face had also rubbed off around the left eye socket, scuffed metal peeking through. Its ears were torn at the corners as if the thing couldn’t stop getting them caught.
X eyed it, baffled by the blatant mismatched expectations he had in his head. For some reason, as the dull headache suggested, he had been expecting something… different.
“Ah. CAT. Right. Cybernetic Animalistic Technology. Phase II. Five Terabyte memory barring upgrades and implants. Fur is twenty percent wool, 80 percent polyester blend, eyes are pressure treated micro-refracting glass, and structure is a surgical steel blend to prevent rust.”
X blinked. The headache was gone, and the CAT eyed him suspiciously as he balked at his own knowledge. So he knew about that, but not about other things? X shook, angrily gritting his teeth at the idea of their invasion into his head.
He was going to kill every single one of those bastards; after they put his head back together of course.
X refocused on the damaged CAT and waggled his fingers again. “C’mere.”
The CAT-II slinked forward, slowly picking its way through the wreckage of X’s tantrum. It kept its eyes glued on X’s waggling fingers. As it walked, it started dragging a bit of debris that got caught on its back leg.
X pondered the creature. It was obsolete now. The Phase IV was much more versatile, not to mention the proportions were better. There was something wrong with this model, X realized as it came closer. Its neck was a touch too long, and its tail (though it may be because it was broken) was too short, and the claws don’t seem to be able to retract. That and its eyes were a bit too big to be normal.
You know. However a normal cat looked. Fuck it. It made his head hurt so he stopped thinking about it.
“Mrow?” It eyed X’s hand, and two weak streaks of dim light filtered out from its eyes and did a quick scan of it.
From the resolution of the scanning instrument, they were in desperate need of a cleaning. Or just flat out replacement. X couldn’t tell, he must not be meant to repair things.
X felt the corner of his mouth curl in a snarl.
The CAT bumped its head against X’s palm in a programmed affectionate response. X let it pretend to be normal and he scooted a bit closer. He eyed the broken part of the CAT’s leg and furrowed his brow.
Why couldn’t he fix it?
X brought his other hand around to touch the afflicted machinery, and the CAT let out a low, warning hiss.
“Well fuck you then, stay like that.” X snapped, pulling his other hand back too, glaring at the CAT.
The CAT sat awkwardly and blinked at him.
“What?” X snapped after a minute of staring.
X looked back over his shoulder and stared at the street outside of her window.
Why had he been here again? Oh yeah…
“Lenora.” He tasted the name. He remembered the soup. He remembered hearing her heartbeat and feeling her pulse under his hands when he pushed her against the fridge. He remembered how she hadn’t run off screaming. He remembered how she had seen him.
X glanced back at the CAT and shrugged. “Just checking.” He said, as if that would explain why he was lurking outside her apartment.
“Mrow.” Was the CAT’s short reply, punctuated by a slow blink.
“It isn’t like she saved my life, I would have been fine.” He retorted. Scoffing gently, he rolled his eyes and started tapping his fingers idly on one boot. “Wanted to make sure she hadn’t called the police. And there weren’t any out there, so I guess she didn’t. Lookit that.”
The CAT stared at him.
X stared back, and then let out an irritated sigh. “Fine. I… I remember her from before. Pussycat. She wasn’t supposed to be there. Happy?”
The CAT blinked again and seemed to be content with the answer, instead regarding a patch of particularly worn faux-fur on its one good hind leg.
“Besides.” X continued. “I might have wanted to say hello. Get some more free food. Sleep in a real bed.” He shrugged, dismissing it. However, his eyes glanced back in the direction of Lenora’s apartment.
X pulled his leg up so that he was crouching and shoved his hands into his pockets, giving the CAT an irritated scowl. Of course, his fingers brushed the notebook again, and he groaned.
“What the hell am I supposed to do with this? I don’t fucking know who has what I want, and all I end up doing is killing shit. How is that helping?”
“Mrow.” The CAT cocked its head to the side, curiously observing some of the dangling hairs hanging about X’s face.
“Yeah, I know. I’m sure that with every scumbag I stamp out, the world gets a little better. But no amount of damage I do here will make Cellar City a better place.” He hesitated, and then his voice got smaller. “It is fun though.”
The CAT pushed itself to its working appendages and shook itself, dead leg buckling and sending him flopping to one side.
X giggled, a morbid sort of unsettled crept into his laugh. The CAT didn’t seem to care as it righted itself and ‘mrowed’ once more at him.
X wrapped a hand around the book and sighed. “I know. It will help me control whatever… whatever it is that I do. I know. And besides… I need to be more social. Right?”
X grinned at the CAT, eyes flashing. The CAT moved forward boldly and bumped its head into X’s knee. X put both hands on it and gave it an abrupt shake, so that when it ‘mrow’-ed, it came out warbling. X let it go quickly and watched it stagger about on three legs.
“You are so broken.” X hissed in wonder, eyes wide with a budding malice.
X pushed himself to his feet and dusted himself off. The CAT plopped itself down and watched him pull out the book and mentally tick off the next set of names on his list.
As X strode out into the street, the CAT’s eyes seemed to say:
“So are you, X-XIII, so are you.”