Vaguely Familiar

“I hardly see you anymore,” Jacob whined as he compared the chromatographs of DNA samples. He jotted a few notes down on a pad.

“I’ve been busy.” She picked up the evening edition. “Almost as busy as him.”

Jacob glanced over, then returned his attention to the samples. “Oh. The Cat. What a weirdo. You think, with skills like that, he’d be ripping off things more expensive than scientific supply warehouses.”

“Who do you think he is?”

“A genetic engineer.”

“Seriously…”

“I am serious. Has anyone looked at the list of things he has stolen? Organic chemicals… micropipettes… hell, even a DNA synthesizer.”

“OK, Mr. Hot-shot biochemist, if you were he, what would you steal next?”

Jacob took that as a personal challenge. He glanced at the paper, scanned the list, and thought for a moment.

“Cytosurgery equipment, if he’s doing recombinant DNA experiments.”

“And where would you find that?”

“Only one place in this city. Here.”

He slammed his lab book shut and picked up his coat. “Ready for dinner?”

“Yes, but…”

“But what?”

“I… can’t stay the night.”

“I wasn’t planning on asking you,” Jacob replied, looking hurt. “I have work to do, too, you know.”

There was an awkward silence. Finally, Chelsea said, “I wonder what he wants with genetic engineering equipment?”

Jacob said nothing.

“Maybe he’s trying to really become a cat,” she added gamely.

He didn’t answer.

“Maybe the electricity has gone out of the relationship…”

“Chelsea, dear heart, there is no way we could match the electricity from our first meeting,” he smiled.

When they had first met, it was electric… literally. They had met in a bar, Jacob hanging out with friends, Chelsea drowning out the memories of the most recent romantic fiasco in zinfandel. The clasp on her bracelet had come loose and it had slipped off her wrist. Jacob caught it before it fell to the floor, smiled, and offered to put it back on. Then… well, it had been a very dry day. The electric spark that jumped from his finger to hers was bright enough to invoke complaints about flash pictures from the other side of the room.

Titters… an offer… a conversation… a proposition… a bedroom. Their first night together had been intense, and they both were sure it would never be that good again.

“Perhaps we should… you know… see other people.”

“Yeah, right. I’m in the lab twenty-eight hours a day, and you’ve been painting, painting, painting…”

“Not my fault.”

“Never said it was. What I’m saying is that the odds of us meeting ‘other people’ are all but nil.”

“I suppose you’re right. Still, I can’t shake the feeling that…”

“…we’re clutching to each other? Yeah, I get the same feeling. Hell, I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a loner, but…”

“…the idea of being alone terrifies you? Me too. Even though we don’t see each other that often…”

“…it’s nice to know that someone is there when you need them.”

Chelsea didn’t respond. She picked up her glass of lemonade for a drink, but found only ice and cold air within. They hadn’t been seated at their usual spot, and this waitress was less efficient than the familiar one.

“Thirsty? Here, take my glass,” Jacob offered.

“No, thank you, I can wait,” she replied, instantly regretting the words that sounded so callous in retrospect.

Jacob turned and looked out the window. A heavy rain was trying to cleanse the Denny’s parking lot. The lousy weather matched his mood.

“I’m sorry. That was uncalled-for.”

Jacob didn’t respond.

Chelsea gave a quiet little sigh and turned the other way. Hovering silently in the air about a foot from her face was a glass of water she had unconsciously lifted from a passing waitress’s tray. She quickly snatched it out of the air and glanced around to see if anybody saw. No one had. Whatever people would say about Denny’s, the thing you had to give credit for was that people minded their own business.

“OK, Monsieur Chat, get ready to meet… um…”

She loved comic books, ever since she was small. As a child, comic books were verboten, they weren’t ‘quality reading materials,’ in her mother’s often-voiced opinion. So, of course, she sought them out with a passion. She couldn’t buy them fresh, money didn’t flow that readily, but garage sales and flea markets provided her with a healthy supply for her addiction.

And here she was, in a surplus Halloween outfit, standing on her roof. What could she be thinking?

It started a couple of weeks ago.

Artist’s block.

She needed to paint, but couldn’t think of an appropriate subject.

All she could do was stare at her brush. She did that for over an hour.

“Paint something!” she screamed at it. “Dabble something!”

It did. The brush flipped off her taboret and struck the canvas.

Chelsea was too stunned to move. She carefully removed her glasses and cleaned them, but deep down she knew that it was not a misperception.

She retrieved the brush and replaced it on the taboret.

“Move. Move. Move, damn you, move!

This time it missed the canvas but it did move, and that was what mattered.

Rumors ran through the family for generations.

There were the trials of Salem. Bizarre stories out of Ireland. Frightening tales from the voodoo-rich South.

And, deep down inside, she knew there was more than a thread of truth to them.

Once the realization hit her, it seemed almost mundane. She had the power and she was gathering strength as her confidence soared. But what to do with her newfound gift?

Then there was the Cat.

As elusive as he was prolific, he was robbing the city blind of high-tech equipment and the police were powerless to stop him.

The only time he had been seen, he practically flew across the rooftops to escape, bouncing from one to another in the manner that earned him his nickname.

Rooftops.

She had discovered her power after the Cat’s first robbery. Coincidence? Hardly.

“Yes,” she said aloud. “My latent powers have awoke so that I may stop him.”

She only wished she felt as confident as she sounded. And less corny.

Far across the city on a different rooftop, a pair of slitted pupils opened to the waning moonlight.

“Tonight,” he hissed, “Tonight is the last. Tonight… or never.”

There was a newfound urgency to his quest. Time was running out.

The hair on the back of his neck rose on edge.

“Spider-sense tingling, kitty,” he muttered to himself. “Someone’s hunting you tonight.”

Chelsea cleared the twenty-foot gap easily.

She looked back and smiled.

“Wish I had you for track-and-field back in high school,” she chuckled.

Her attempt at humor failed to ease her nervousness. Armed with a semi-developed telepathic power and a nylon costume, she was going to take on a highly-efficient—and probably armed—cat burglar.

She landed lightly on the roof of the University lab.

The figure at the edge had a case in one hand, the case Jacob had shown her earlier.

The Cat, it seemed, had arrived early.

He noticed her a split-second after she saw him. Glancing over her costume, he muttered, “You gotta be kidding me,” then lunged over the edge.

She followed easily, ignoring the sirens and shouts from the police, which—as usual—failed to arrive in time.

He was startled when she reached the roof, but retained enough composure to start sprinting toward the other side, dexterously dodging the searchlight of a police helicopter.

She ran after him. He was fast, and she found that she had to augment her running with her powers just to keep pace with him.

From roof to roof they ran, both her legs and her mind quickly becoming fatigued. Her only hope is that he would tire before her, but that didn’t seem to be the case.

She did notice he had his limitations. When they left the University, he had to hop onto a lamppost to make the gap. Which put his leaping distance under twenty feet. She cleared the gap and swore that he gave an appreciative whistle in the darkness in front of her.

They were approaching city center, which meant tall buildings and wider streets. His element. He started augmenting his leaps with a clever cable-and-grappling-hook that he would use to catch the rooftop eaves and scramble up. She had to rely on augmented leaps which gave her a headache.

It was on top of First Interstate where it all came to a head. The buildings around it had been demolished to put in the new shopping center. He was trapped, with two alternatives: fight or jump.

Cornered, he took the offensive.

A flying kick would have knocked her silly, but it never connected. She reached out with her mind and seized his foot, stopping it cold a mere inch from her head. Then, confidence and strength returning in a rush, she levitated it and him ten feet off the roof.

He never dropped the pretense: held aloft by the ankle, he was hissing and squirming madly, contorting his spine in ways that would make an Indian yogi jealous.

She looked over him carefully, circling him like an art critic examining a statue in a museum. He had taken much more care with his costume than she had, going as far as a latex feline mask and adhesive fur. Even his body language was cat-like, the way his knee remained bent even though his ankle was the only thing holding him up.

“I see why you derided my costume,” she commented appreciatively.

“What?” he hissed softly. “I can’t hear you.” He stopped struggling.

“I SEE…” she said, stepping forward. Bad move. A clawed hand swiped across her face and sent her mask fluttering to the street below.

“Chelsea?” he said.

She recognized that voice. It was impossible, but it had to be…

“Jacob?”

She let him down abruptly, and he showed his gratitude by grunting loudly.

“Why? Just tell me, why, Jacob?”

He dusted himself off. “Do you need to ask that question? Look at me, dammit!”

She looked. It wasn’t a costume.

“There must have been some accident in the lab,” he explained. “I might have been exposed to some sort of viroid that altered my genetic code, somehow regressing me until I was more feline than human.”

“But… but… you looked normal this afternoon.”

“I know,” he sighed. “That’s the weird thing. It only happens at night. By morning, I’m back to normal… with an appetite of fifty lumberjacks.”

“Lycanthropy,” she murmured.

He laughed. “In my case, feleanthropy.” He was serious again, frowning, angry. “It wasn’t a genetic accident, was it? You did this to me.”

She jumped. “What? Don’t be absurd.”

“I saw you jumping from roof to roof. I was there when you hung me by my ankle. This is my punishment, my curse for considering leaving you.”

“Don’t be absurd,” she repeated.

He grabbed her by the arms, and she felt his claws dig into the thin fabric of her costume. “We’re connected, all right; far beyond the romantic-sexual relationship. Each time you lept a rooftop I felt it drain my strength; each time you took a step was like a punch in the gut.”

“I didn’t plan… know…”

“No, you didn’t, did you?” he sighed, releasing her. “I suppose you didn’t. I was just in the wrong place… wrong time…”

He turned to her and smiled, a disturbing, knowing smile. “Perhaps it won’t be so bad… perhaps if you’re ready…”

He took a step towards her.

“It’s time to see what you’re made of, Chelsea.”

She gave a startled yelp as he grabbed her around the waist and jumped off the edge of the building.

With a casual flick of his wrist, Jacob flung a cable toward a ledge. It snagged against something, jerking him up and separating him from the girl. She screamed as she continued plunging downward.

Levitate, bitch, he thought as he slowly arced towards the wall. I know you can do it! Levitate, damn it! Oh dear God, did I make a mistake?

Chelsea screamed.

At the rate she was falling, there would be a spectacular mess on the street below.

She reached out with her mind, and felt something soft. Water. Mentally, she drew it towards her.

The street exploded.

She did a clean dive into the rising torrent; still, it was like hitting a cement block. The water threw her around for a while, then slowly lowered her to the rubble-strewn street.

“Rather spectacular, but you could have just levitated and saved yourself a dry-cleaning bill,” Jacob chuckled, descending on his cable.

“I’m not… not that powerful.” She stared at him. His mind, too, had become more cat-like, cunning, reactive, emotionless. Jacob would have never risked her life like that.

“Nonsense,” he chided, “you’re getting more powerful every day. I can feel it.” He inspected a chipped claw. “You can feel it too. Now, about that water main?”

Chelsea had completely forgotten about it. Automatic shut-off valves had reduced the torrent to a trickle, but the street was still a mess.

“Let me provide the energy,” he said, “you provide the lens to focus it.”

An iridescent fire surrounded his body. She could feel the power he provided entering her mind. Concentrate! Imagine the pieces of asphalt and metal reforming, the chunks coming together, the molecules reknitting to form a solid mass.

There was no pain for Jacob now, now that he was willing. This was right, this is where he belonged, by her side, forever.

There was a brief flash, a loud roar, and the street was repaired.

They retreated back to the rooftops. To her, he looked almost sad.

“I understand now,” Jacob sighed. “I understand what I must be.”

He nuzzled her thigh.

“Jacob…”

“The traditional familiar is a cat. My metamorphosis is all but complete.”

“Somehow, I don’t think I’d like you as a small pussycat.”

“Finish me,” he snarled. “Make me into that which you need.”

“I don’t think so,” she replied softly, scratching him gently on the head. “I need you just the way you are.”

“What could I possibly offer that a cat could not?”

She unsnapped her collar and slipped out of her top.

Jacob reared back in horror. “Surely you couldn’t… wouldn’t… when I’m like this?”

“C’me here,” she purred. “I’ve always had a thing for men with furry chests…”

That night was like the first night, only better.