By Tara Smith <StarKitty__@hotmail.com>
Submitted March 2001
Summary: Metropolis is plagued by super rats, and even Superman can't control them. Looks like a job for … super cats?
"What do you think of this?" Jimmy threw a photograph onto Lois' desk.
"Think of what, Jimmy?" Lois was digging around in her purse for a Double Fudge Crunch bar that she knew was in there. For some strange reason, she had a massive craving for chocolate today. She hoped it wasn't a presentiment of things to come.
"This!" He tapped the photo impatiently.
Lois glanced at the photo, then stopped and stared at it. "Where did you get that?"
"I took it today, at that fire I was at. I told you the flying rat is real!"
It can't be! Lois thought. Rats don't live that long! "Jimmy, would you mind if I showed this to Superman? He might know where it came from."
"Sure, no problem. If this is what's causing those fires and stuff, maybe he can stop it!"
"Thanks, Jimmy," Lois said. She glanced over at Clark's desk. He, of course, wasn't there. This time, however, he had a legitimate excuse for not being there—he was interviewing the fire chief down at the station.
Jimmy evidently noticed her glance. "Hey, where is CK? I want to show him that pic, too."
"Don't worry, Jimmy, I'll make sure he sees it."
"Thanks, Lois. I—"
"Olsen! Get in here!" Perry White's bellow was easily heard over the noise of the newsroom.
"Coming, Chief!" Jimmy flashed Lois a smile. "Don't forget to show that to Superman."
Jimmy nodded and hurried off toward the Chiefs office, where Perry was waiting impatiently.
Now she had to go find Clark. She could probably catch him on his way out. With that thought in mind, Lois slipped the photo into her purse and hurried to the elevators.
Clark stepped out of the fire station and into the bright afternoon sunlight with a discouraged sigh. He had just spent a very unproductive half-hour interviewing the fire chief. They were apparently no closer to an answer about what, or who, was causing the power outages and fires than anyone else. Everyone was agreed on one point, however—the cause lay somewhere in the wiring. Something was happening to fray and break electrical cabling all across the south side of the city. They might have suspected rodents, but there was no way they could have burrowed their way through solid concrete, which was what had happened in several cases. Obviously, something else was at work here.
He looked up at the sound of a familiar voice calling his name. Lois Lane stood by her Jeep at the curb. She was waving but, as soon as she'd seen he'd noticed her, lowered her arm.
He hurried over to her. "Is something wrong, Lois?"
"You could say that." She motioned for him to get into the Jeep and followed suit. At his inquiring look, she reached into her purse and pulled out a photo. "Clark, remember when Gretchen Kelly found a way to copy your abilities to humans?"
Clark nodded. "How could I forget?"
"Well, before she used it on herself, she tested it."
She held out the photo. "Take a look at this."
Clark accepted the photo and turned it over. The he stopped and stared. "This is a—"
He stared at it for a moment more in silence. "She tested it on a rat?"
"Why didn't you tell me about this sooner?"
"Well, I forgot about it in all the excitement that followed. Then when I remembered it again, I figured it had probably died." She shrugged. "Rats aren't supposed to live very long, you know."
"Ordinary rats don't," Clark agreed absently as he focussed in on the photo. "Who else knows about this?'
"As far as I know, just Jimmy for now. He's the one who took that." She looked up at him. "Now what?"
Clark sighed. "I go rat hunting."
Superman hovered over the city of Metropolis, scanning the area beneath him with his x-ray vision. If what they suspected was right, and this rat was causing the fires and power outages, then he was going to have to scan the power lines and electrical wiring throughout Metropolis. It was a good thing that this rat seemed to be sticking to the southern side of Metropolis—that, in and of itself, narrowed his search parameters. It was too bad he couldn't predict where it would go next, though. He was beginning to realize that there were advantages to dealing with thinking human beings instead of super-animals.
Wait a minute! What was that? He paused and concentrated on one house. A moment later he shook his head and resumed his search. It would have helped if there weren't quite so many rats in the city. He was starting to think he'd have to wait until the rodent struck again before he could try to catch it.
He cruised west, continuing to scan for sign of the pest. As he did so, the shriek of a fire alarm caught his attention. This was, surprisingly, only the third he had heard in the past five hours he had been searching. The previous two had been regular fires, but just maybe this one …
He arrived at the scene of the fire before the fire engines. This time the fire was in a dingy apartment complex. He quickly put out the fire, which was in the kitchen of one of the units, and was getting ready to leave to resume his searching, when he spotted it.
It was quite obviously the rodent he was looking for, due to the fact that it was moving in little bursts of speed much faster than any native creature should be able to move. Clark dove for it when it came to a stop in front of the slightly blackened refrigerator. He missed. The creature, in the manner of all animals, dodged out of the way just before Clark could grab it. Clark crashed into the refrigerator, leaving a large dent in the front. He spun in the direction the rodent had gone in. Now it was under the small round table in the eating area adjacent to the kitchen. He moved slowly forward, floating in an attempt not to startle the wary creature.
It watched him, seeming to know that Clark intended to capture it. He inched forward, trying to get as close as he could.
The rat took that as a sign that its life was in danger and darted out the window. Clark dove for it just an instant too late, smashing the table beyond repair. He stared at the hole the rodent had left in the window for a moment in disgust. There just had to be a better way to do this!
"There has got to be a better way to do this," Lois said, unconsciously echoing Clark's thoughts from earlier. She turned her chair to face Clark. They were both at her desk at the Daily Planet. Clark had gotten back home that morning after an all-night rat hunt. He hadn't had time to fill her in on the situation before they'd had to leave for work.
"I know. I can't think of anything, though." Clark sighed. He was seated in his usual spot on the edge of Lois' desk. "Oh, and Superman promised to replace their table and fix their refrigerator."
Lois had to smile at that. The image of her husband crashing around a tiny apartment trying to catch a rat was just so ridiculous. "Well, we know that poison won't work—"
"Not from what this rat's been eating. Besides, we wouldn't know where to put it, even if it would work," Clark agreed. "Kryptonite probably won't work either, since it's not actually Kryptonian."
"There doesn't seem to be much of a pattern from where it has caused problems, either," Lois said. "So we can't predict where it'll show up next."
Clark sighed. Lois fixed him with a stern look. "Clark, this is not your fault."
"I know. I just can't help feeling responsible. If I hadn't—"
"Hi, CK, Lois," Jimmy said. He had come up beside them. The fact that Clark hadn't noticed Jimmy approaching was a good indication of how much he was obsessing over this problem.
"Hi, Jimmy," Lois greeted him. She looked closer at the camera he was holding. "What happened to your new camera?"
Jimmy frowned. "Actually, that's what I came to tell you about. I got here early this morning to finish up some stuff. I left my camera on my desk to go to the supply closet. When I got back, the camera was smashed and there were two of those rats fighting over it."
Lois shot a quick look at Clark. "Are you sure they were super rats?"
Jimmy nodded. "It was kind of obvious. They were fighting in mid-air."
"Thanks Jimmy," Clark said. "We'll be sure to let Superman know."
"Good." Jimmy looked up at the sound of someone calling his name. "I've got to go. I'll talk to you later."
Lois waited until he had walked away before speaking again. "This is bigger than we thought. They're breeding. I think it's time to talk to Dr. Klein."
"I agree." Clark nodded. He reached for the phone.
An explosion rocked the small trading vessel, waking Kheeth, the ships cat, from a sound sleep—or at least a sleep as sound as he ever had, which wasn't very.
He jumped up and looked around alertly. The light in the quarters he shared with his person was dimmer than normal. In fact, to one of his people it would have been considered pitch black! Fortunately for Kheeth, though, he and his kind had been designed to see better than his people so as to be able to help them better and to perform his own duties, which often took him into pitch black areas of the ship.
His person wasn't in their quarters—that was the first thing he realized. That was unusual. It was in the middle of his person's sleep time and Kheeth couldn't remember another time when his person had not come back to his quarters to sleep. He couldn't sense his person anywhere nearby, either, although he did recognize the minds of the people hurrying past in the corridor outside.
Abruptly the door reserved for Shipscats opened and the other Shipscat rocketed through and came to a gasping halt beside Kheeth.
(There's bad people out there!) she said to him. (Bad, bad people!)
(Bad people?) Kheeth rubbed his head against hers to try to calm her down. Khatha was much younger than he was. She was practically still a kitten, and still retained the excitability of youth. (What are they doing?)
(Mean things to our people! Treating them like prey!) Khatha had her ears laid flat against her head and her tail was lashing wildly with anger and fear. (My person told me to run. I didn't want to, but I obeyed.)
Khatha suddenly jerked her head around to face the door that Kheeth's person used. (The bad people are coming here! They want to do bad things to us, too!)
Kheeth could sense them now. They didn't feel like anyone he had ever felt before and their minds felt of death. (Khatha, we need to get to our escape pods. We'll be safe there.)
(No! Don't want safe! Want to fight bad people!) Khatha crouched down closer to the floor and growled menacingly.
(Kittens!) Kheeth thought, then carefully grabbed her by the scruff of the neck. Unable to fight the instinct that was still strong in her, Khatha went limp and allowed him to drag her across the room to the escape pod kept there. Despite that, he could still feel her rebellion.
He pressed the access panel with one paw and dropped Khatha into the small compartment, then jumped in after her. Just as he hit the control to close the pod and eject it from the ship, he saw the bad people come through the door. They were wearing the patched battle armor of pirates. Before they could do more then start to aim their weapons, the pod ejected from the ship.
Khatha was holding very still. The escape pod was meant for only one Shipscat, and although two could fit in an emergency, it was a tight fit. (Now what will we do?)
Kheeth curled around the smaller, younger Shipscat comfortingly. (The pod will take us to the nearest planet we can live on. It won't take long. When our people beat the bad people, they will come rescue us. Everything will be all right, Khatha. Don't worry.)
To emphasize his point, he started purring softly and lullingly, hiding his worry from her that they might not be near enough to a habitable planet to reach it before their air ran out.
"Breeding?" Dr. Klein repeated incredulously. Lois and Clark had hurried down to STAR Labs to try to solicit Dr. Klein's help after their horrified realization that they weren't going to be able to deal with this one alone. He had listened to their story with a mixed expression of fascination and surprise on his face. "Amazing! A Kryptonian animal breeding with an Earth animal! I wouldn't have thought it was possible! And they passed along their powers, too!"
"Dr. Klein!" Lois interrupted him. "These rats are a menace to this city! They're causing some serious problems. We need a way to stop them!"
"Well, I can try, but I'm not sure of how much help I can be in this case." He looked thoughtful. "The standard methods of pest control wouldn't work on this particular problem."
"We know that, Dr. Klein," Lois said. "That's why we came to you.'
"It would help if I had one of them for study," he said hopefully.
Lois shot her husband a look, who grimaced. "That might be a problem, Dr. Klein. Superman told us that he already tried to catch one of them and couldn't."
Klein looked disappointed. "I'm not really sure what I can do, in that case. I'll do my best, of course."
"Thank you, Dr. Klein," Clark said. "We'll be sure to let Superman know."
"Oh, Ms. Lane, if these rats are breeding with Earth rats as you think they are, then the problem will probably correct itself eventually."
"How, Dr. Klein?" Lois asked. "We can't hurt them and Superman can't catch them. We aren't even sure kryptonite would affect them, even if we could get it close enough to them."
"Well, if, as you say, this all started with one rat, as time passes, the powers will slowly be diluted until they are no longer protected from conventional methods." He smiled at them reassuringly.
"How long would that take, Dr. Klein?" Clark asked.
"Oh, a few generations. Say ten years, give or take a few."
"Ten years!" Lois was horrified. "Doctor, in ten years we might not have a city anymore!"
Klein looked startled. "Oh. Well, I hadn't considered that. I'll see what I can do."
Clark tapped her shoulder and jerked his head at the door. She nodded. "Dr. Klein, we're going to go try to contact Superman and see if he has any new information. If you find anything, call me at the Planet and let me know."
Klein nodded absently, obviously not paying attention to them anymore. The two reporters exchanged a knowing smile and quietly left the lab. Once they were safely away from prying ears, Lois turned to her husband. "What is it?"
"A fire. It's spreading pretty fast. I'll meet you at home when I can."
Lois nodded and reached up to kiss him lightly. She watched as he ran off, tugging at his tie, then turned and hurried in the opposite direction towards where they had left her Jeep.
Kheeth was awakened from a light doze by a soft beeping. He blinked at the small panel before him. He knew that beep. He'd learned what it meant in his training … if only he could remember …
He shook his head, then blinked at the dizziness it caused. They must be almost out of air. The alarm beeped again and Kheeth tried to focus.
The gauges on a Shipscat's escape pod were made deliberately simple—that way a Shipscat could read them even when scared or injured, as they would have to be to use an escape pod in the first place. Or, as with Kheeth and Khatha, running out of air.
It was the green indicator, Kheeth saw. It was the one that told them how near they were to a planet. The beeping meant they were about to enter the atmosphere.
Khatha shifted uneasily in her sleep. Kheeth calmed his thoughts. If she stayed asleep, she would use less air. With that thought in mind, he stretched his neck out and tapped the panel with his nose. The alarm shut off. Then he waited.
Time seemed to slow to a crawl as it gradually got harder and harder to keep his breathing slow and regular. The feeling of heat against his fur told him that they'd entered the atmosphere. Spots jumped out before his eyes. His last thought before passing out was that they hadn't quite made it …
Someone was purring. A cool breeze rustled his fur. He shifted slightly and tried to open his eyes.
(Kheeth? Wake up! Please wake up!) The piteous thought felt like Khatha. He struggled to open his eyes.
Khatha was sitting over him protectively. She looked pathetic, with her whiskers slumping and her ears flattened slightly to the sides. Bright yellowish light shone down on them, making Khatha's short sleek black fur shine. (Kheeth! You're awake! You're all right!)
He purred back briefly, then struggled to get to his feet. It was at times like these when he was glad he had four feet instead of two. It was hard enough standing up as it was—he'd never have managed it if he'd been built like his person was. As it was … he staggered slightly and Khatha slipped up beside him, supporting him until his feet were all firmly beneath him, and looked around.
They were in a green, wooded area. Their escape pod was just a short ways away from them. The hatch was still wide open and showed the interior of the capsule. The scorch marks on the ground from their landing were very obvious against the otherwise green area. Beyond that, quite a ways off, a collection of strange looking buildings began. He hadn't been on very many planets, but this was obviously not one he had visited. If there were people here, they probably wouldn't know anything about Shipscats.
(What happened? How did I get over here?)
(I dragged you by the scruff of the neck,) Khatha said and flashed him a mental image of her dragging him like an extremely oversized kitten. She rubbed her face against his. (I couldn't wake you up. I was scared!)
Kheeth purred comfortingly at her. (I'm all right. Don't worry.)
Abruptly Khatha jerked her head around to look behind them. (There's people coming! Strange people! They don't feel like our people!)
Kheeth listened hard for a moment. After a minute, he felt them—they were at the very edge of his range. Khatha had always had a longer range then he did, now he was glad she did. (We have to close the ship! If they get into it they'll stop the beacon for our people to follow us by!)
Khatha laid her ears back and growled. (No! Won't let them!)
Kheeth hurried over to his escape pod. He was feeling much better now. His dizziness had disappeared completely. He reached up with one paw and hooked his claws over the edge of the hatch and pulled it down. It snapped shut easily. He pushed it hard, trying to move it back out of sight. Maybe if they could hide it completely …
To his surprise, it moved easily under his paw—so easily, in fact, that he staggered forward as it moved his full body-length away from him.
Khatha was beside him in a flash. (How did you do that?)
(I don't know,) Kheeth said, puzzled. (It didn't feel like it weighed anything!)
(Not light! Weighs a lot! Couldn't move it! Tried!)
(You moved me,) Kheeth said. (You're half my size. You're stronger now, too.)
Khatha whipped her head around. (Strange people almost here! Must hurry!)
Kheeth agreed. He pushed the mysteriously lightened escape pod around until he'd hidden it under a bush a little ways away. Khatha, rebelliously obeying him, did her best to hide the trail he left. When they had finished, the people were almost there.
(We must hide,) Kheeth told Khatha. (They will have a harder time finding us with heat scans in the gathering of people over there.) He gave her a mental image of the buildings.
(Don't want to hide! Feel like prey!) Khatha objected. (Hungry!)
(We'll find food over there. People always have food around.)
Kheeth set off for the buildings at a lope, Khatha just behind him, dubious and rebellious, but obedient for now.
Kheeth peeked around a large -smelly- metal bin at the crowded street beyond. The inhabitants of this planet might look like People from the outside, but they sure didn't act like them. For one thing, they seemed to be all mind-blinds and made up for this by talking out loud-and he did mean loud! They were so noisy! And the messes they left! If this alley said anything about the rest of the area, then these mind-blinds were nose-blind as well.
(Smells!) Khatha complained again. She'd been mentally muttering about the alley since they'd arrived. She'd obeyed Kheeth's order to stay hidden behind him, but not without complaint. She just didn't understand why they had to remain hidden—it was a good thing she wasn't here alone! She was far too trusting. She'd be grabbed in no time by the mind-blinds and experimented on or something—he'd heard stories of that happening to Shipscats caught by mind-blinds. They might all be just stories, but he couldn't be sure—besides, these were planet bound mind-blinds. Rumor had it they were even worse than space going mind-blinds.
(Khatha,) Kheeth began, when Khatha suddenly whipped her head up to the sky. Simultaneously, a sonic boom cracked above them.
(Person!) she said.
(Where?) Khatha turned his head, but didn't see anything.
(Here, then gone again. Flying! Very fast!) Khatha was floating slightly, obviously excited. (Not mind-blind! Person!)
(Are you sure?) Kheeth hadn't 'heard' a thing. Unfortunately, although he was older and more experienced, he was also not as strong a mind-listener as Khatha was.
(Yes! A Person! He went that way.) She had turned southwest, towards the wall, as though she could see through it to the Person beyond. (Far away now. Can I follow?)
Khatha laid her ears back, startled at his vehemence. Kheeth shook himself all over, a little surprised, himself. Then he turned to her. (Don't know if it's safe! He could be like the bad people on the ship!)
(Not a bad person,) Khatha told him scornfully. (Is a -Person-! I 'heard' his mind. Felt warm and soft-like kitten fur, but hard underneath, like People when thinking hard. -Is- a Person!)
How can I know she's right? Kheeth worried. He hadn't heard the Person, so he couldn't be sure. He suddenly wished his Person were here. She'd know what to do.
(Gonna follow him,) Khatha announced and started to float up into the air. Khatha had managed to master these new abilities much more quickly than he had. It probably had something to do with her age. Kittens were always throwing themselves nose-first into danger, so they had to learn fast what they could and couldn't do. Kheeth shook himself. While he was thinking, Khatha had drifted up further away from him. There was less than a whisker length of space before she drifted into view of the mind-blinds. Kheeth pounced, forcing her back down to the ground. She wiggled beneath him, protesting mentally and vocally.
(Hush!) Kheeth said. (The mind-blinds will hear you.)
Khatha instantly quieted, but continued squirming, trying to get out from under him. (Have to catch the Person! He can help us get back to our People!)
Kheeth sighed. (Okay, I'll follow him.) He fixed her with a stern look. (You stay here and hide! Promise, or I won't follow the Person!)
Khatha stilled suddenly. She looked at him, carefully keeping her whiskers normal, but Kheeth could feel her sulking. (Why?)
(Because I said so and I'm the older Shipscat here.) There weren't many things that Khatha respected, but one of them was his greater age and experience as a Shipscat. Among Shipscats, older, and hence more experienced, cats were higher in what his people strangely termed a 'pecking' order. That had never made much sense to Kheeth, as it seemed to apply to flying prey more than to Shipscats, but he was glad of it, now. He could order Khatha to stay put and be reasonably sure she would do as he said. Hopefully. (I'll see if it's safe to tell the Person who we are. You stay here and hide. I'll be back as soon as I decide.)
Khatha sighed and Kheeth sensed resignation from her. Kheeth nuzzled her with his nose encouragingly. (Don't worry, if the Person is like ours, I'll 'call' you and you can meet him, too. It won't take long.)
Kheeth got off her and she stood up, shaking debris off of her short black fur. She seemed more annoyed about the debris in her fur than in the order to stay hidden. (Okay.) She thought at him. (Hurry! Still hungry!)
He purred briefly at her, then threw himself into the air after the Person.
Khatha watched him go, following him with her mind after he was past the building and out of sight. He was the pushiest Shipscat she had ever met before. True, she'd only met a few and those had all been much, much older than her and it had been when she was still in the roly-poly kitten stage (she was glad she'd grown out of that, now. She could have so much more fun now that she was sure her legs would take her where she wanted them to!), but, still …
When he was finally out of her range, she sat down and looked around the alley. She'd never been on a planet before and she was glad of it, now. Were -all- planets this dirty? She hoped not, but couldn't be sure. Well, there had been that nicer area where Kheeth's pod had landed them. It had been nice-smelling and green. Too bad all those mind-blinds had been there.
A passing mind suddenly caught her attention. It wasn't quite as closed as most of the minds out there. It wasn't as open as a Person's mind would be, but it was better than those surrounding it … no, her. The mind felt female. Khatha had always been proud of her mind-sensing ability—she'd been the best in her litter at it. It was the one thing that she was better than Kheeth at. The mind felt friendly, too. Not the same as the Person's, as it wasn't very kitten-fuzzyish at all, but definitely warm, if worried.
Wait a minute, the mind was getting away! She had to … Khatha paused, uncertain. Kheeth had told her to stay put. He was older than she was, but still, wasn't an almost-Person in this crowd of mind-blinds important enough to follow? Of course it was, she told herself uneasily.
A sound behind her made her jump and spin to face the threat. There were minds back there! They seemed to be coming toward her! They were about to find her! Well, that made things easier. Kheeth had been adamant about her staying hidden. She couldn't stay hidden if mind-blinds were coming toward her hiding place, now could she? They'd find her and who knew what they'd do if they spotted her. Khatha arched her whiskers smugly and shot straight up the wall in the same direction as the almost-Person had been going.
The almost-Person was going in a straight line. She was in a moving thing—she'd heard of things like that, before. People loved making things to make up for the shortcomings of their limited bodies. This thing wasn't moving very fast—probably because of all those other moving things around it—they were blocking her in. This would be the easiest stalk she'd ever … what was that? Something small, dark and prey-like had shot past her. It was so small that the sound of its passage probably wasn't even heard by the mind-blinds below her. Khatha paused for a agonized, indecisive moment. She desperately wanted to follow the almost-Person below her, but she was -hungry-! After a split second, hunger won out. She could always find the almost-Person again—how many like her could there possibly be here, anyway?—and shot off after the prey.
The prey noticed almost at once that it was being followed. Prey usually did realize quickly when there was a hungry Shipscat on its tail. This was unusual prey, though. It was flying like she was—without wings or those funny things People used when they wanted to fly (what was the term for those? Aircars? She shook it off. It didn't matter; she was in the middle of a Hunt).
The prey went through a wall, evidently in the hopes of losing its pursuer. Khatha didn't even pause, but followed it through. The room beyond was full of mind-blinds. They were swarming everywhere, screaming and yelling. Khatha ignored them, single-mindedly following the prey around the room. Rather suddenly, she realized she had lost the prey. She lit on a nearby flat surface and looked around, barely noticing the two mind-blinds next to the surface. Ah, there it was! She rocketed after the prey, hitting the wall it had gone through just seconds after it had. This was the best Hunt ever!
Perry and Jimmy stared at the wall the two creatures had gone through. They had left two holes-one just the size of a rat, the other the size of the oversized cat that was following it. As they stared, a piece of the wall fell and crashed to the ground.
"Great shades of Elvis!" Perry was the first to recover from the stunned silence. "What's going on around here!"
"Well, you know how it is, Chief," Jimmy said. "Never a dull moment around the Daily Planet."
Perry harrumphed, then looked from the two holes in his door to the ones in the outside wall. "Jimmy," he said slowly, "I have a feelin' Lois and Clark already know somethin' about this."
"Uh, well, they do, Chief," Jimmy said uncertainly. Perry turned the full force of his gaze on Jimmy.
"Jimmy, now what have I taught you about hidin' stories from your editor?" he demanded, fully in his "I am your boss, therefore I am God" mode.
"Um, well …" Jimmy had a sudden sinking feeling in his stomach. Why was he the one who always got into situations like this one? he wondered. "Uh, Chief, I did tell Lois and Clark. I thought they would tell you."
"Well, Jimmy, they aren't here." He glanced out at the newsroom and the startled reporters. "After I get that lot calmed down, we're gonna have a long talk about this."
Jimmy gulped. "Yes, sir."
Kheeth caught up with the Person rather quickly, as he stopped fairly nearby at a burning building. Most of the mind-blinds seemed to be acting rather silly and were running around like kittens faced with their first hull breach drill. A group of them, however, were acting like People might and were throwing some liquid on the flames. Kheeth hoped they would get it out soon. He'd learned young that fire onboard a ship was one of the worst disasters possible—up close and personal. He'd been trapped alone in a crawlspace by the fire and had waited in terror for the fire-retardant system to put out the flames. His Person hadn't even been there mentally, so there had been no reassurance from her, either. And the other People there were too busy taking care of themselves to help one small orange Shipscat.
Kheeth shivered in remembered fear then shook it off. He wasn't a half-grown kitten anymore, nor was he trapped anywhere. He wasn't likely to be, now, with these new abilities he and Khatha had acquired since arriving on the planet.
Besides, he had more important things to do than remember old fears. The Person he was following had landed here and was talking to one of the mind-blinds. Kheeth didn't dare get close enough to hear, so had to content himself with watching from afar. After a few minutes, the Person turned away from the mind-blind. Kheeth readied himself to follow the Person across the city again, only to freeze in shock an instant later as the Person flew straight into the fire!
He waited tensely as the time crawled past for the Person to come out—probably with his fake-furs in flames and needing some help from the medics. A few minutes later, though, the Person flew back out! From what little Kheeth could feel of his mind from this distance, he was hurt, but he didn't seem to have been touched by the fire at all. Then Kheeth noticed the Person was carrying something small—something that did seem to have been hurt by the fire. It was a mind-blind youngling, Kheeth realized suddenly. This Person was rescuing mind-blinds from the fire!
He watched in stunned amazement as the Person gave the hurt youngling to another mind-blind, then went back into the fire for another, then another. As the person came back out a fourth time, he gathered his nerve and launched himself after the Person. This person was seeming more and more like his People all the time—and even more like Khatha's Person, who was a medic and had helped many of the other People and Shipscats on the Ship, including Kheeth's own Person, at risk to her own life many times over—but he had to be sure.
He flinched away from the fire as he shot through an opening in the building, then paused. He'd felt the heat of the flame, but it hadn't hurt like it should have. Very cautiously, he landed and padded slowly over to the nearest flames. He got within a tails length of the fire before he stopped. He could feel the heat, but it still didn't hurt. He might even be able to touch it now, without hurt to himself. Somehow, he just couldn't bring himself to do it.
He backed away from the fire to a relatively clear space and looked around. The Person was nowhere to be seen! He'd lost him!
A sound farther in caught his attention and he ducked behind a piece of burning furniture as the Person went past, heading out to the mind-blinds again, Kheeth was sure. When the Person came back in again, Kheeth followed him through the burning building.
The Person was evidently searching for other mind-blinds that needed help. Kheeth wondered briefly why he, Khatha and this Person had these useful abilities while the mind-blinds did not, then dismissed it. Obviously, mind-blinds weren't smart enough to be able to have abilities like these. Only People and Shipscats were. Why was the Person helping the mind-blinds, though? It wasn't like they were People, or anything. What was so important about them that the Person would go into a flaming building to rescue them? Inspiration struck him. Maybe the Person was doing this to get a better deal with the mind-blinds! Then, after he had his deal, he'd take his ship and leave the planet. Maybe he could give two lost Shipscats a ride back to the People!
A sound off to their left caught both the Person's and Kheeth's attention. It sounded like another mind-blind youngling a couple of rooms over. The sound it was making sounded a lot like the ones distressed People younglings made. Khatha paused, confused. How could mind-blinds be so much like People? He shook it off as the Person took off in the direction of the sound. He had to find a way to introduce himself to the Person.
They entered the room. Kheeth was careful not to attract the attention of the Person. This room was much like the others he'd seen—small, with blazing furniture and floors. The youngling was trapped behind a patchy area of flames and was wailing in terror. The Person took one look at her and threw himself -through- the flames to the youngling. He picked it up, then turned back to the flames and blew on them. Freezing cold air came out of his mouth that even Kheeth, hidden behind the only piece of furniture that wasn't on fire, could feel. Kheeth stared in amazement as the fire went out.
Now, another sound caught Kheeths attention. It was the scrabbling sounds that prey often made. That didn't make sense, though. One thing Kheeth knew about prey from everywhere was that they hated fire even more than he did. They would never willingly stay somewhere that was burning like this place was.
The Person didn't seem to hear the noise, though. He was intent on calming the youngling. Kheeth looked sharply around the room. If this prey was trapped here, it would be dangerous. Cornered prey always was. It might not be dangerous to himself or to the Person, but it could be dangerous to the youngling, and the Person seemed to care, for some unknown reason, for the youngling. Finally, he spotted it. It was moving erratically toward the Person and the youngling. He wasn't sure why it would be doing that for a moment, then he smelled the food the youngling had. It was one of those things that People younglings were always trying to get from the older ones—sweet and breadish. Khatha loved to eat that kind of thing, too, Kheeth knew, but he couldn't stand it. Vegetablish things he liked, but breadish stuff was just too much for him. Prey, on the other paw, was willing to eat anything.
Kheeth watched it closely as it came nearer and nearer to the Person and the youngling. He spared a glance at the youngling. It was rubbing its face with its paws, looking a lot like one of the People he knew on the Ship—a youngling that had always had a special treat for him when he slept in her quarters. He paused. Maybe these mind-blinds were something like People, after all. He shook it off. The prey was getting even closer to the Person, now. Suddenly, so unexpectedly that it took Khatha by surprise, it launched itself at the Person and the youngling. The Person managed to shield the youngling from the thing at the last second. The Prey bounced off his back, then flew into the air above the Person. Kheeth shook himself all over in surprise. This was the first prey he'd seen that had abilities like the he and Khatha did. That meant it was dangerous to the Person, as well as the mind-blind youngling.
He watched it closely. As it readied itself for another shot at the food, Kheeth gathered his hind legs beneath him and launched himself at it.
Clark shifted his body to shield the sobbing child from the super rat's attack. The boy couldn't have been much over a year old, yet his parents had apparently left him alone in this apartment. And, of course, the cookie he was clutching so fiercely was the bait that had lured in the super rat.
Motion out of the corner of his eye caught his attention. Great, he though as he turned to assess this new threat, another super rat come to fight over the spoils. He had to get this baby out of there before …
Something large and orange streaked across the room and slammed into the super rat before it could react. They went through the opposite wall, leaving a rather large hole, and letting more smoke in from the room beyond. Assorted yowls and squeals told him a battle was taking place.
A sudden noise from the baby he was holding brought his attention back to the original problem. He would have to check out this mysterious orange object later. Right now, this baby needed to be taken to safety.
He flew the child out of the building as quickly as he safely could, and left him with a waiting paramedic to be checked over, then turned back toward the building.
"Superman," the paramedic snagged his attention before he could go more than two steps. "The Fire Chief was looking for you."
Clark nodded at the man. "Thanks."
"Superman! Wait up a sec!" The gruff voice of the fire chief called over the noise. Clark turned to see the man trotting up to him.
"That the last of the people trapped inside?"
Clark nodded. He'd just scanned the building before the rat showed up, and he hadn't seen anyone else. "That was the last one."
"Good. My men and I can take it from here. You look like you could use a break." The man grinned. "Go wherever it is you go when you're not helpin' us, and relax. That's an order."
Clark smiled a little in return. "Yes, sir. There's just—"
Clark turned in time to see a large orange cat with streaks of white shaped like lightning bolts on both sides. He was big for a house cat—he probably weighed at least twenty pounds, or Clark didn't know cats. His head was more rounded than a regular housecat's, as well. The cat was holding an equally good-sized rat—probably the super rat he'd seen inside, Clark figured—in his mouth. As Clark noticed it, the cat allowed it to drop to the ground.
The fire chief was the first to break the surprised silence. "Well, I see you've gotten yourself a little help, Superman!"
"Um, yes, well," Clark started, when a slightly imperious voice spoke in his head.
(Person, I am …) What followed was a melange of impressions and pictures. The only part that Clark 'saw' clearly was "streaky." That mess was probably the cat's name, Clark thought absently. (I must speak with you at once. Away from these mind-blinds. Meet me at the tall building with the ball on the front.) A slightly distorted image of the Daily Planet building flashed in Clark's mind. The cat picked the dead rat back up and launched himself into the air, flying quickly out of sight.
Clark stared after the departing cat for a moment, then turned back to the puzzled Fire Chief. "I have to get going now, sir. Just yell if you need me."
The man nodded as Clark launched himself into the air after the flying cat.
Lois stepped out of the elevator into the newsroom to a scene of slightly less controlled chaos than was usual, even for the Daily Planet. At least half of the people there didn't even seem to be pretending to be working, like they usually did.
"Lois, there you are! I couldn't reach you on your cell phone." Jimmy came up beside her. He gave her an excited look. "You won't believe what happened! This cat—"
"Not now, Jimmy. Has Clark gotten back yet? He was going to talk to Superman about that little rodent problem."
"No, he hasn't. But Lois, Perry—" Again, Jimmy was interrupted, this time by Perry White, himself.
"Lois!" Perry was standing in his office doorway.
"My office! Now!" Perry closed the door—or what was left of it, anyway. The glass in the front of the door had a large hole broken in it, and she thought she could see another hole in the outer of his office, as well.
"Jimmy, did something happen here that I should know about?" Lois asked as she made her way over to her desk to dump her purse.
"Well, now that you mention it," Jimmy said sarcastically, then grimaced. "Yeah. Perry found out about the rats. One of them was flying around in here about ten minutes ago. But that's not the best part—."
Lois' desk phone started ringing. "Just a second, Jimmy." She picked up the handset. "Lois Lane."
"Ms. Lane! I'm so glad I caught you!"
"Dr. Klein? Is something wrong?"
"I'm afraid so, Ms. Lane. I just re-checked my calculations and I'm afraid that the estimate I gave you was wrong. You know, about how long it would take the rats to die out on their own?" The man sounded worried.
Lois dropped her purse on her desk. "Go on."
"I'm afraid I can't give you a real estimate on that. It appears that the rats' aura isn't decreasing in the newer generations. It's apparently staying just as strong."
Lois felt a sudden sinking feeling in her stomach. "So you're saying that these current rats are just as super as the first one?"
"Or ones, yes," Klein agreed. "I'm sorry, Ms. Lane. I'll get to work on finding a solution to this right away."
"You do that," Lois said. "Let us know when you have anything, doctor." She hung up the phone and stared at it for a minute in resignation, then turned towards Perry's office. "I'd better go ahead and get this over with."
"Lois! Wait a second! There's something you need to know!" Jimmy said. Lois glanced at him. She'd forgotten he was there.
"There was a cat following the rat!"
"What?" Lois looked at him blankly. "How is that possible?"
Jimmy shrugged carelessly. "Who knows? Maybe the New Kryptonians figured out they'd caused a problem and dropped them off or something. It doesn't matter! The cat was here in the newsroom flying after the rat! She's the one who made those big holes in Perry's walls!"
"She?" Lois was having a hard time taking it in.
"Yeah! It was so cool! She came through Perry's door and landed on his desk. She didn't even seem to notice us at all! She was about so big," he made motions with his hands, "and had this shiny black fur! Then she took off again after the rat and went through the outer wall!" He suddenly looked worried. "That's when Perry made me tell him about the whole thing. You're not mad, are you? I mean, I know you wanted to keep this secret and all … "
Lois patted him on the shoulder. "Don't worry about it. The cat was bound to get out of the bag sooner or later."
Jimmy looked startled. "You mean you knew about the cat?"
Lois stifled a laugh. "It's just an expression, Jimmy. No, I didn't know about the cat." She glanced at Perry's office. He was starting to look mad. "I'd better get in and talk to Perry, now."
"Good luck!" Jimmy called as she hurried toward the office.
Lois paused for a moment at Perry White's office door to eye the hole left in the glass, then resolutely pushed the door open and stepped inside, closing it firmly behind her. Something crunched beneath her feet and she glanced down to see glass that was obviously from the door on the floor. "Um, I guess you want to know what I know about the rat," she began. "Clark and I think Metropolis has a little problem…"
Clark arrived on the Daily Planet roof just seconds after the unusual cat. The cat, however, in the manner of all felines, managed to convey the impression that he'd been waiting for hours and was bored.
The cat was sitting with his tail wrapped around his feet in the classic cat statue pose. His eyes were half closed, as though he was only partially paying attention to his surroundings, but the alert angle of his ears and whiskers betrayed him. As Clark came in for a landing, the cat gave up his pose and fixed him with a sharp look.
(Person, I require the use of your ship. I need to return to the Ships and my lifepod can not take me there.)
Clark stared at the cat for a minute, then shook his head slowly. "I'm sorry, but—"
(Person, I need to get back to my People! My Person needs me! And I can not stay on a planet full of mind-blinds!) The cat's tail was now twitching rapidly back and forth in agitation.
"Wait a minute! I would let you use my ship if I had one. But I don't have one. I don't even have a way of contacting the New Kryptonians." Clark gave the cat a sympathetic look. "Maybe we can find another way to help you back to your people. I'm sure—"
(Person!!) Clark ducked as the mental equivalent of a shout rang in his head and a small black object zipped past. It stopped, and zipped back, stopping just in front of Clark's face. Clark found himself facing a small, floating, glossy black cat. A small, loudly purring black cat, that is. She rubbed her face against his chin and her purring intensified. (Knew you were a Person! Felt your mind! Warm and soft like a good Person!)
Clark stared at the small creature in amazement for a moment. Streaky was built like many of the cats he'd known on the farm while growing up, muscular and tough-looking and very obviously capable of taking care of himself. This one had the long slightly awkward look of a half-grown kitten. She certainly had the attitude of one, too, if her current behavior was any indication.
(Person, you'll help, right?) the bright mental voice went on. (Good Persons always help Shipscats! Is how it works!) She settled down on the rooftop and began stropping against his legs enthusiastically. (I'm …) Clark 'heard' another of those bursts of impressions like the one that he'd gotten from Streaky earlier. This time, the name that came through was "Midnight".
(Midnight! I told you to stay hidden!)
(Mind-blind almost found me! Had to move! Saw an almost-person! Followed her and found Prey!) Now the thoughts from the small cat felt predatory, although she hadn't stopped her frantic stropping. (Pick me up, Person!) she demanded suddenly.
Clark gave the other cat a startled look, then leaned down and carefully picked the cat up. She was heavier than she looked, which, he supposed, was only to be expected since she and Streaky both had super powers. She pulled herself up so that her front legs and head were resting on his right shoulder. (Nice Person,) she thought at him.
A sudden ringing caused both cats to jump. Clark winced as the cats' sharp claws went through his uniform cloth like it was so much tissue paper. They were instantly retracted, though, and Midnight rubbed her face against his and projected thoughts of apology at him. Clark rubbed his shoulder ruefully. "It's ok, Midnight. It's just a scratch."
The phone continued shrilling, and Clark reached around under his cape and pulled his cell phone out of its little holder in the small of his back, tucked just under his belt where it was protected from damage and flipped it open. "Kent," he said into it.
"Clark, it's Lois. There's been a new development in this pest problem. I need to talk to you. Where are you?"
Midnight nudged the phone lightly with her nose. (What's that?)
"It's a cellular phone," Clark told her absently. "I'm on the roof of the Daily Planet, Lois. I think you should come up here."
There was a puzzled silence, then, "All right. I'm on my way."
Clark closed the phone and tucked it back into its little holder. The cat once again rubbed her face against his. (Will you help us, Person? Our People need us back on the Ships. They can't manage without us.)
"We'll see what we can do," he reassured her, "but we may not be able to."
Midnight bumped her head against his chin. (You're a good Person. You can do it.)
Clark looked down at the small warm cat as best he could. "Why do you keep calling me Person?"
(Because only People can hear Shipscats,) Streaky told him. (Mind-blinds can't even hear each other. They—)
(Mind-blinds are stupid!) Midnight said suddenly. (They—) She broke off suddenly and whipped her head around to the roof access door. (Almost Person! She's here!)
Just then the door opened and Lois stepped through. She closed the door behind her and glanced around. When she spotted the two cats she stopped, a startled look on her face.
"Lois, let me introduce Streaky and Midnight," he indicated each cat in turn. "They're—"
"Supercats." Lois looked resigned. "I know. I was going to tell you about them, or rather that one." She pointed at Midnight. "Apparently she flew through the newsroom and punched a hole in Perry's office."
(Midnight!) Streaky scolded the smaller cat. (I told you to stay out of sight!)
Midnight seemed to shrink a little and huddled closer to Clark. (I saw some Prey. I had to chase it. I was hungry, too!)
"Clark, he … they … " Lois looked from one cat to the other. "Clark, if they're telepathic, why can I hear them?"
Clark shrugged. "I don't know."
Midnight pulled her head out from under Clark's chin. (Almost Person! Better than mind-blind!)
Lois raised her eyebrows. "'Almost' Person?"
Clark smiled slightly. "I wouldn't worry about it, Lois. They do seem to think you're better than the average human, after all."
"Hmmm," Lois looked the cats over. "So, where exactly did they come from?"
Clark gave Streaky a curious look. "Well, they do have super powers, so at a guess I'd say the New Kryptonians."
Midnight gave Clark an affronted look. (Cold-minds! Not nice People!)
"Or not," Lois said.
(Our people live on Ships,) Streaky said. (We visit the Cold-minds sometimes, but they don't like us.)
A gust of cold wind made Lois pull her jacked closer about her.
"Why don't we take this somewhere warmer?" Clark suggested.
"Good idea," Lois said, shivering. "How about our house?"
Clark carefully put down Midnight, who immediately leaped into the air and followed him as he went over to Lois and scooped her up in his arms. He turned towards the two cats. "You two follow us."
Clark lifted off. A moment later, the two cats followed.
"Well, Perry? What do you think?" Lois was seated at her desk with Clark perched on the edge of her desk, as usual. Streaky was seated beside him in the aloof posture that only a cat can truly manage.
"Damnedest situation," Perry said, shaking his head. "And you say these critters, these Supercats have agreed to help deal with these flyin' rats?"
Clark nodded. "Yeah. We spoke with representatives from NASA and they agreed to keep an eye out for any sign of these ships Streaky told us about."
"Who are these ship people, anyway? New Kryptonians? Somethin' else?"
Lois shrugged. "We're not really sure. We had a pretty hard time getting the answers we did out of those two." They had, too. Lois shook her head slightly at the thought of the three hours they had spent trying to get Streaky or Midnight to give them a straight answer—or at least an answer they could understand. Both cats had been genuinely confused by Lois and Clark's inability to completely understand what they were telling them. "They have a slightly different perspective on things than we do. We think they're Kryptonians, but not New Kryptonians. Streaky seems to consider the New Kryptonians to be…" she glanced up at her husband.
"Not so friendly to the cats," Clark supplied. "I'd guess they regard the cats as a nuisance that has to be tolerated."
Perry grunted. "I can see that. They didn't strike me as the friendliest people around when they were here." He glanced over at the other cat, Midnight, who seemed to be following Jimmy around the newsroom as he went about his duties. "What's with her, anyway?"
"Um," Clark looked a little embarrassed. "She seems to have decided that Jimmy is hers."
Lois laughed. "I think she said something about 'not being too bad for a mind-blind'."
Clark exchanged a look with Lois, who shrugged. "They talk to each other mentally, like the Kryptonians do. 'Mind-blind' is their name for anyone who can't hear them."
"But you two can hear them?"
Lois nodded. "Faintly."
Perry nodded abruptly. "I'll look the story over. It looks good, though. Good work, you two."
Jimmy walked up to them as Perry headed off towards his office. He set a sheaf of papers on Lois' desk. "Here's that stuff you wanted on cats," he said and glanced over his shoulder at the sleek black cat that was floating just behind him. Abruptly she shot forward and landed on his shoulder and started purring loudly. Jimmy grunted in surprise. "Man, she's heavy!"
(Nice mind-blind!) Lois and Clark heard. Lois laughed. "I think she likes you, Jimmy."
"I noticed." He staggered slightly as she butted her head against his, then reached up and started petting her nervously. "She's not going to want to go home with me or anything, is she?"
Lois laughed again. "I think so, Jimmy."
"Just think, at least you won't have to worry about pests in your apartment anymore," Clark said, grinning.
"Great! I finally get a beautiful girl interested in me and she's a cat!"
(Kittens!) Streaky said suddenly, in a slightly condescending tone. (They're always too excitable.)
Lois gave Clark an amused look. "I'll bet you wouldn't say no to an ear scratching though, now would you, Streaky?"
Streaky gave her a bored look, then got up and leisurely strolled across the desk to her and jumped into her lap before sitting down again. When Lois didn't carry through on her offer immediately, he nudged her hand with his nose. As Lois started petting Streaky, Midnight settled down, curled around Jimmy's neck, still purring loudly.
(I like it here,) she said. (It's even better than the Ships.)
(or is it …)