Castle Roland

Somerset Farm

by Jamie Haze

In Progress

Chapter 63

Published: 8 Jun 15


Jamie Haze

JC and John managed to take the lead in escorting the new students, Bani, Charlie, Kad, Sidi and Freckles, all of ten feet toward `Homo Hall' before Freckles, became the guide. While his head moved right and left, looking around, his tail was erect, bent at the tip in the periscope mode and scanning the following pack of students. Peter walked by Freckles' shoulder with a hand casually on the Cat's head or neck and apparently was talking silently with himself as he alternately laughed and/or nodded at nothing. It was obvious to those following that Peter was Freckles' trainer, and very good at his job

As the following mob watched, it seemed that the entire `in' crowd; both residents of, and guests at the Hall had all acquired the same mental disability or disease since they were all laughing or occasionally nodding at nothing as well, and there were no conversations to overhear to explain the sudden late semester appearance of four new students and one well trained wild cat who had also been registered as a student somehow, evidenced by Head Master Smithe's reaction. He was unknown to mumble obscenities in public and was usually a very affable fellow, unless one was summoned to his office for some alleged rule infraction that the Dean of Students couldn't deal with. Dealing with the scions of the very rich was a very taxing job.

"At last," Freckles commented via mind-speak, "Snoopy lives here on the second level of this very secure hut."

"That's right," Evan agreed from somewhere, "he's in my room. It's where Edvard will be when we're on campus, so I imagine that's where you guys will hang out too," he surmised correctly after Freckles, once inside the front door, headed up the old restored, sweeping marble staircase in three bounds.

"WEEE!" Freckles obviously loved the staircase since he could avoid those annoying little human steps and right angle turns. The second floor security door clicked and he was inside, sitting in front of the control room door, which opened within seconds. Two guards boiled out with drawn weapons, and completely forgot they had them when a great big cat gave them a most toothy smile before he introduced himself and identified them as if they might not know their names. He advised them that they could `stand down', a proper Admiral sounding term, whenever he was on campus as he would address all security issues when present.

The boys caught up to Freckles in Evan and Billy's room. All the monitors that comprised most of one wall were on and he was just fluffing the fourth bed pillow and stacking it atop three others arranged across his paws as a place to rest his chin as he stared at the monitors from the comfort of the bed. "Getting ready for a little catnap are we?" Peter asked with a challenging grin.

Freckles rolled his eyes in Peter's direction, "It just so happens that I will improve Snoopy's eyes this morning, you very impudent Executive Assistant and Admiral. You and Edvard should go to your other airport to get Big Foot and bring him home. You should also visit your honored mother, and collect all your cloth coverings. There will be a very bad storm in one day and all aircraft will be grounded."

"How do you know I call my truck Big Foot, and what storm are you forecasting?" Peter demanded.

Before Freckles could answer, JC asked, "How are you going to improve Snoopy's eyes? I assume you mean his lens; that would be difficult to do; Snoopy is over twenty-five miles up."

Freckles answered JC first by explaining that any one sky eye could only be asked to look at one thing at any one time, meaning that a satellite could only be focused on a region, area or object to the exclusion of everything else within his surveillance sphere; Freckles planned to add more facets to each eye, or lens, to make him more versatile in observing several things at the same time.

JC could envision the advantages but laughed. "While you are doing that, it would also be useful if Snoopy could overhear individual conversations, if desired," he suggested without really believing that Freckles could make any real improvements to the Snoopy system beyond those he had already put in place, like amazing extreme close ups and infrared images that appeared to be taken in daylight; the difference being the presence or absence of shadows.

Freckles nodded without answering before turning his attention to Peter, "Snoopy is now friends with other worldwide sky eye networks. They have been talking and envision the storm in the American northeast while the American weather watching system insists we should expect only rain. Our conveyance, or truck has enormous tires or very large feet and four wheel drive that can be equipped with a devise for pushing snow, we will have much amusement clearing the paths around Chief Bucky's hut. Chief Bucky will have fun driving his Mean Green Grading Machine to help."

"In other words, you've been peeking in my mind," Peter accused, "You know my truck's name and that I also bought a plow. If I hook up the plow and drive up to Trenton Hall; it damn well better snow or I'll look like an idiot," he warned. "Will you be alright if Edvard and I leave you, meaning you promise to stay out of trouble for a couple of hours?"

"These brave warriors will assist you," Sidi volunteered the three Cat warriors' and Charlie's services to Peter. While they were eager to get to school, two out of four, Kad and Sidi, were less enthusiastic about attending classes.

"Oh no you won't," JC contradicted, "you four need to take your placement tests."

While Charlie and Bani frowned, Kad and Sidi were horrified at the prospect of taking examinations before either attended their very first ever class. Sidi protested; "These two brave warriors do not know American reading and writing, we have never been to school before, that was the purpose of coming here, to gain knowledge. How can we demonstrate our knowledge before it is gained?"

"I will assist you two brave warriors," Freckles promised. He collared and stared into JC's, John's, Peter's, Edvard's, and for good measure Bani's and Charlie's eyes before pulling in Sidi and Kad in turn to transfer whatever knowledge the boy's acquired in school to the brave, intelligent but ignorant warriors, not the least of which was reading and writing specifically, and other data haphazardly.

Kad and Sidi immediately began quizzing each other, but not about reading or writing; they questioned the merits of one computer language versus another in writing code, before switching to math, science, history and literature. "No fucking way," Charlie protested directly in front of Freckles, "give Bani and me the same information you gave these two assholes," he demanded.

Charlie's name calling promptly evoked a rough and tumble in the form of a tag team wrestling match where assorted curse words were bandied about by Kad and Sidi, in assorted languages with minimal accents; yet another unexpected benefit of knowledge transferal. Freckles tail swooped in to remove Charlie and Bani from the contest; touch their foreheads and stand them upright after giving each a neck squeeze as a warning not to fight among themselves. The four left Homo Hall arm in arm, intent on arriving at Trenton Hall, the Administration building, to take their placement tests, there was no need to ask directions and they could even picture the printed examination as well as John and JC's written answers, which they didn't need since both had already taken or were taking courses relevant to the questions.

The happy foursome was stopped suddenly by a taller, older boy, "Where are you pussies from anyway?" He asked using a belligerent tone of voice. The warriors already each had a hand in their coat pockets and clutched their blowguns in the event of need. Charlie had already suggested that the killing darts be replaced with the more diluted form that merely paralyzed game to keep it fresh until it reached the stew pot. Kad and Sidi stepped in front of Bani as his bodyguards while Charlie took up a position in front of them. He was well aware that Cat warriors never engaged in hand to hand combat as long as they had a weapon that would bring down an enemy from a distance without fuss or muss and if, in the unlikely event they should be disarmed they would prefer to die rather than endure the humiliation of living with defeat.

"What's that to you asshole?" Charlie challenged. Charlie was an experienced and successful street fighter who only fought if there was no other way out. When he was forced to fight, he did so to win and used every advantage available for his diminutive size and baby faced appearance. In this case, he raised his fists intentionally as a diversion and stepped closer to his adversary. The unfortunate boy's eyes fixed on Charlie's fists so he failed to see Charlie's foot connect with his balls, but he certainly felt it. He dropped to the cold sidewalk and began to wail something about an unprovoked assault until Sidi beat Kad in sending a dart into the exposed neck which silenced further accusations.

Noah, dressed in his school uniform, was across the quad and had stopped to watch the confrontation from the beginning. While he couldn't quite hear what was said, he noted the four boys' defensive postures and wanted to see the outcome before he stepped in. He was pleased to see that his intervention was unnecessary and thanked all gods great and small, for Freckles' absence or the offensive boy would not have been screaming in pain, ever again. "What happened guys?" he asked as he ran up to the boys while the three little warriors were discussing the bully's fate and a laughing Charlie was agreeing with everything they said.

"He called us pussies; that is untrue," Sidi explained before bursting out in laughter, "at least not all the time," he added. "Bani thinks we should nut him as an act of kindness, so he is unable to reproduce future generations of bullies. I think we should hide the body in some bushes so he can freeze to death slowly."

"Wait just a fucking minute here, guys," Charlie intervened, "he's my kill, the rule is; I get to decide. I think we should get him to the infirmary to sleep his problem off after we warn him that if we so much as see him on campus being an asshole, ever again, then we make him disappear on some dark night, without witnesses."

"Can he hear us?" Noah questioned silently.

Charlie shrugged and looked a Bani; he answered in kind; "Oh yes, he will be paralyzed for eight to twelve hours before he can begin to move and should almost be up and walking within a day."

Noah nodded, "Charlie's right, there should be no unexplained deaths on campus, your first day here. David is on his way, we'll get him to the infirmary, while you guys get to wherever you're going. And please stay out of trouble," he warned.

Before they left, Sidi bent down to retrieve his precious yellow feathered dart. He waved it in front of the stricken boy's eyes. "See this," he asked, "the next time we meet under these circumstances, the last thing you see will be a flash of red just before you have a fatal heart attack."

Freckles had been idly watching `his' boys on one monitor as they walked across campus while he pondered Snoopy's lack of multiple vision, when he saw the brief scene unfold. He immediately cleared all screens and consolidated them into just one; an extreme close up of Charlie and a strange, aggressive boy. He could, if he chose to, teach Snoopy to read lips, but while he could see Charlie's lips clearly; he couldn't see the boys' and one side of any conversation wouldn't be useful and could have disastrous consequences. Further, he doubted that he had the ability to devise some electronic form of surveillance system that could actually eavesdrop on a conversation.

Freckles used intrusive mind-speak to overhear the last of the conversation after Noah arrived, through Bani's mind, via his ears. He blinked in surprise. He already knew that he could communicate somewhat with human built computers, no matter how unsophisticated; such as an elevator controller or a door lock so that they were all quasi-sentient and had developed a special language similar to one the Ancients used to direct their machines, that he used to make friends of modern human machines. He wondered if Snoopy, who was the most sophisticated machine he'd dealt with, could be taught mind-speak; if so, then it would be simple to provide him with a voice box to relay `overheard' conversations to humans.

His thought process was interrupted when the rooms' printer began its soft chatter and it started emitting printed sheets, "Not here," he scolded the printer aloud, "my placement examination is supposed to go to Headmaster Smithe's office printer." The small machine chirped, perhaps an apology, and blinked to show its readiness for other work.

"It is well known by humans that talking to oneself is the first sign of a progressive mental debilitation," Spot observed dryly as a way of saying good morning to his brother from warm sunny Venezuela.

Freckles snickered in return, "It is also well known that feasting on too much fish will cause existing blemishes to spread, such as the one on your nose and soon you will be appropriately named; you will be one great Spot," was his prompt retort. Freckles was alluding to the conquest of the fish stealer's self-contained factory, or mother ship that was the Cat Peoples' first victory at sea for their less than one day old navy.

When Bani and Freckles on Sea Song, first contacted Spot, the rest of the Cat Clan, Carb, Marta and Angus, regarding the identity of the fish processing ship, the positive reply took only seconds, but the Cat Nation's response required nearly an hour. Everything that floated and had an engine needed to be assembled, fueled, stocked and warrior marines to be, selected to fill but not over-fill each boat. Tonga used the simple expedient of first warriors to arrive at the fuel dock, became marines, and boarded each boat until Admiral Angus felt that it was adequately staffed before it moved away to assume its assigned place in the small flotilla idling in the river.

There was no question that the six newest and youngest full-fledged warriors; Nip, Tuck, Booger, Athos, Porthos and Aramis would go because they were the only experienced pilots aside from Tonga and Angus. Since Tonga and Angus would direct the battle, the six would be paired and drive the three boats that they were already familiar with; Tonga's and the two war boats, which were the only three boats equipped with radios. Angus would command one gunboat, Carb the second and Tonga, with Spot aboard would bring up the rear of the armada to direct maneuvers generally. Of course the heavy machine guns on the two war boats were manned by Angus' band of twelve.

Much to Spot's disgust, he was not allowed to sit on the bow of Tonga's boat as he planned, because as Tonga pointed out in Tongue; he would present too tempting a target from the enemy ship. At first, Spot refused to budge from the bow until he received a warning, a long distance growl from his sire, Fang, who was already high in his favorite lookout tree at the river's mouth that was also festooned by all the other Great Cats in the immediate area. Tonga softened the blow to the eager young Cat's ego by explaining that his ability to scan minds would be vital after the ship was captured and boarded because he was sure that some fiends would attempt to evade capture, and their certain fate, by hiding among the crew and the unknown number of factory workers held below decks and forced to process the stolen fish and sea food. The Cat People already knew that the Sea People, the actual fishermen, were a ready source of free labor and brief random kidnappings occurred frequently all along the coast. Before acquiring the gunboats, the Cat People were powerless to defend their friends and their source of seafood.

Spot read the frustration and rage in Tonga's mind and wrapped his tail around the Chief's body as a way of consoling him and much to Tonga's and Spot's surprise, Tonga's Cat's head, Chief's amulet's, emerald eyes glowed with an intensity never before seen, and suddenly Tonga's mind was inundated with jumbled words from unknown mind-speakers. Spot frowned hideously and removed his tail only to see the eyes dim. Another touch and they brightened again.

"Quickly," Spot demanded, "Give this Cat your communicator. This Cat believes it is malfunctioning; this Cat will investigate and complete repairs."

Tonga understood Spot's mental words clearly until he offered the heavy pendant to the Great Cat's tail and physical contact was broken. "Could it be that this symbol was the problem for all these years?" Tonga wondered aloud.

Spot nodded since Tonga couldn't `hear' his answer. He placed the artifact face down on a seat and stared at the tightly packed micro-fine gold wiring, the circuitry, that Tonga and previous unnumbered generations of Chiefs thought of as merely backing. Booger's little head intruded in Spot's view briefly before Spot pushed him rudely away. It was Tuck's turn at the wheel so thus rebuffed, he had nothing to do. The fleet was still in the river but moving at maximum speed and he wouldn't change places with Tuck until they were halfway to the enemy ship. The ten warriors onboard were all intently watching Spot from a respectful distance so Booger decided he would enjoy a bottle of ice cold water stored in a large cooler in the stern.

Squeak's mother burst into the room in the Community Center where Marta was seated in front of the snoopy monitor and keyboard. "Has anyone seen Squeak?" she asked hopefully, "He went missing just after the call to arms and all warriors hurried to the fuel dock. I just looked away for a moment," she added weakly.

Marta smiled knowingly and pointed out the window to a view of the river and the rapidly passing Cat People's Navy, "If I was to wager, I would venture that he is there. Should I ask Spot, Angus and Carb to search their boats?"

"I think not," the mother sighed in resignation, "if he was ingenious enough to get on one of those boats and he was discovered now, he would never forgive me for preventing him the chance to become a warrior."

While Booger's attention remained enviously on the backs of the taller, older warriors, he opened the cooler and absently began to fish for a bottle when one was thrust into his hand and the lid was pulled from his other hand and closed by itself! Booger grinned, glanced forward again to see that no one noticed how cooperative the cooler was, before he turned it completely around so when opened again, no one looking back could see the contents; only the top of the lid.

"Ouch, what are you doing out there?" The cooler asked in a younger, higher, muted voice.

"Shut up or you will be discovered and dumped on the dock in front of our new Community Center. We are still in the river." Booger hissed in a reply that was masked by the roaring engine. At that moment Booger joined the stowaway in conspiring to help the far younger boy become a warrior, at least to give him a chance. Booger opened the cooler after looking to see that he wasn't being watched and immediately ducked down below the height of the cooler lid so he could giggle without being seen. "Squeak, your brother and his friends will beat the shit from me if we are caught," he warned.

Squeak shrugged, "Quick, serve all the warriors and Chief Tonga water so they do not come back here," he instructed hurriedly from amid bottles and ice cubes taken with permission from Tara's hut.

Neither boy noticed that the tip of Spot's tail lifted from its repair task to seemingly look all around before returning to work. The Cat warriors would someday discover that Great Cats had even more superior hearing than they did. Meanwhile the boy called Squeak just acquired another conspirator, who thought hiding in an icebox a very good but perhaps very uncomfortable joke.

Booger was most solicitous in serving Chief Tonga and his brother warriors and quickly used a combination of signing and eye blinks to appraise Tuck of the presence of a wannabe warrior hiding in the depleted contents of the ice chest. Even this `conversation' was brief, and carefully masked by Booger's back to the other warriors. Of course Tuck just had to see for himself, so he loudly expressed his overwhelming need to take a piss, which the new warriors and pilots discovered early on, was always done on powerboats, with their dicks pointed downwind.

When Tuck returned to his post from the stern of the fast moving boat, he was bursting with laughter as he blinked and signed his observations; "He used paste for warmth, and it is beginning to wash off and turn the water to foam, if we are unable to engage the enemy within an hour, that box could explode! That will be a very good show!"

The boys' mutual laughter was interrupted and masked by Tonga's scream, "CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?" both out loud and via mind-speak as Spot returned his repaired amulet to its proper place; around Tonga's neck. The warriors couldn't hear the other mind-speaker's responses but they saw Spot use his tail to lift their Chief off his feet and give him a hearty shake.

It didn't take an hour for the flotilla to reach the slow moving mother ship. It was apparent that they were observed because the huge lumbering boat attempted to flee. The first thing they did was to cut the two strings of five smaller tender boats free before they increased speed. Tonga climbed to the cabin roof to frantically sign that four of his boats should end the chase and capture the drifting tenders. He planned to gift these boats to the first ten coastal Sea People villages. Next he sent excessively loud mental orders for the two gunboats to approach from the stern, peel off right and left (Or starboard and port, Angus helpfully interjected.) and open fire at anything that might be a weapon that was pointed in their direction. Meanwhile, he and his warriors would approach the stern, the lowest point where there were ladders attached for ease of boarding the tenders and where booms extended to load each stolen catch.

The defending fiends thought they were safe behind solid steel, chest high bulwarks that protected each exposed weather deck, and badly underestimated the marksmanship of the naked savages using what were assumed to be, outdated weapons of questionable accuracy. As far as the Cat warriors were concerned, picking off fiends who only exposed enough head to see to fire, was much like killing half yellow melons at their practice range. The heavy machine guns were used judiciously in short bursts only because no one wanted to damage the ship more than necessary since it was to shortly join the Cat People's navy. There was also the problem of eventual cleanup, if no fiends survived to accomplish that nasty task before they joined their fellows in the afterlife.

As planned or rather hoped, the fiends rushed forward along the decks, keeping abreast of the two gunboats. This left the stern undefended, exposed and ready for the advance boarding party: Tonga and his boat load of warriors. Of course Tonga took the lead and was first to jump to the fixed catwalk that was just above the boiling wake of the moving ship. Tuck and Booger were left behind to man the docking lines and protect their command from counterattack, so they found themselves alone with Spot.

Spot was supposed to stay on board and out of sight; an order he chose to misunderstand, until the ship was thought to be secured so he waited until Tonga and the warriors were out of his sight before he deftly plucked Tuck's nice new .22 caliber semi-automatic rifle from his grasp along with the bandoleer of ammunition clips from his shoulders. He stepped aft, placed the borrowed weapon aside and popped open the cooler.

Tuck was correct in predicting that the paste foam would build up some pressure. It boiled out of the box to almost cover half the deck and a small ghostly apparition suddenly appeared that paused after standing to paw the foam away from its eyes.

Squeak squeaked when he saw Spot peering down on him but quickly recovered. He thanked the Great Cat for releasing the cooler's latches, then turned a venomous stare towards Tuck, who studied the sky most innocently. "My belt is hidden in the bag of yellow melons," he advised Spot imperiously, "hurry or we won't get a kill," he ordered.

The foam dissipated quickly in sunlight and Spot dutifully found the little boy's belt, pouch, knife and blowgun but allowed Squeak to equip himself before he added the ammo bandoleer over the boy's shoulders and presented him with Tuck's weapon. Thus warrior equipped, Squeak ran forward and began to scramble in his little boy way up to the cabin roof and hence to the bow. Here Spot assisted without being asked or ordered since their goals were the same.

Spot wrapped his tail firmly around Squeak's torso and leaped directly to the bow. Their boat was tethered to the ship by two straining lines since the ship was still underway and had been allowed to drop back about twenty feet to reduce strain. The distance to jump was questionable to Squeak; but he was intent on trying, although he knew that failure meant certain death in the churning propeller wake. Tuck engaged the engine to move the bow closer but he didn't have time. Spot leaped for the protective gunwale with the boy clutched firmly in his tail although neither could see who might be hidden behind the barrier.

Fortunately Spot landed deftly with all four paws on the wide steel, scared and dented rail, which was a very good thing since there was no real deck below them where they landed, it was a wide gaping maw; a steep chute that fed directly into the heart of the ship. It was obvious to both boy and Cat that the chute was a way to load fish in quantity into the processing portion of the ship.

"All the easy targets have run forward or inside and closed the metal barriers," Squeak observed, "But there might be some fiends hiding down in that hole and I don't hear any gun fire coming from there. Should we enter that way?" He asked the silent Great Cat while suspended over the Cat's head as four eyes and one tail tip assessed their surroundings.

Spot agreed with Squeak after he heard his little weapon chamber a round with a solid snick. He jumped to begin the brief wild ride while Squeak provided the voice; "WEEE!" he sang despite the danger, as the duo disappeared in unknown darkness.

Spot actually stumbled at the end of the funnel shaped chute because slick steel changed to some strange black composite material that was perfectly flat, wide enough for a mature Great Cat to walk, that stretched off in the distance like a very handy path that would facilitate their movement into the very bowels of the fish stealer's ship.

Obviously no Great Cat or Cat warrior had ever seen or heard of a conveyor belt, functioning or not. The strange area in which they found themselves was not completely dark; there were regularly spaced lights on both sides of the path and they could see smaller paths that paralleled the one on which Spot cautiously trod. These were at a slightly lower level and separated by continuous, and no doubt, slippery, sloping, gleaming metal.

Since Spot still held Squeak in his tail and needed his tail to see from the advantage of height, the boy enjoyed a wild ride as the Cat scanned the area for evil fiends in hiding before Spot took a deep breath and calmed down. "Do you know Great Cat Spot, that if these lights were put out, we could see the enemy quite clearly, but with no windows they could not see us?" Squeak questioned in a whisper.

Spot froze in mid-step, lowered Squeak and turned him around until the two were eye to eye but Squeak was still suspended so Spot bumped foreheads, rubbed noses and then really stared into the boys' eyes; "This Cat was thinking the very same thing," he said clearly in the little boys' mind.

Squeak responded in kind, "If that is so, why don't you do it; shut off the lights!" he demanded, nonplussed by the revelation that he could mind-speak a Great Cat. He dearly wanted to get on with the business of becoming a full Cat warrior and they were wasting time and loosing kills.

Spot searched ahead with his eyes for the light control and put them in total darkness with a blink when he interrupted the warmest electrical circuit. He wasn't sure he could do it but had learned how, tentatively, from his brother Freckles' conversations with the Sea Song boat's inner workings. He put Squeak down briefly, to rearrange his tail on the boy's body, so when the boy was hoisted aloft again, his all-important tail tip was positioned over Squeak's head from back to front so the tip ended just above the boy's forehead. The boy saw what the Cat saw with that arrangement and the tip even became a telephoto night sight for Squeak's little rifle. They had become a symbiotic team!

They encountered the first two evil fiends beyond a closed hatch, as the two nervously stood guard outside another hatch in a brightly lit companionway. Spot used a paw to move the locking dogs and pull open the barrier just wide enough to insert Squeak and his ready rifle. The first guard looked their way, saw a little boy suspended in air and after a popping sound, managed to acquire a small red blemish in the middle of his forehead before he fell. The second guard took one look at the strange Cat-boy combination that closely resembled a giant scorpion with the stinger held directly over its head that was approaching fast. The fiend forgot he was well armed and began to run away. Spot brought him down with a leaping push and ended his fears with a single chomp on the back of the enemy neck and two rakes from his claws across deceased's back for good measure.

Great Cat and boy looked through the closed and locked hatch the fiends had been guarding and saw that it was the dormitory and living area where all the enslaved factory workers were kept. It was obvious from the jumbled voices that the workers had heard some of the heaviest gunfire, but they decided that while the battle raged, these Sea People were safer inside their quarters since they were not warriors. And, bringing a hundred filet knives to a gun, tooth and claw fight would not be all that useful.

The impossible duo cleared the factory level and the next highest level where the crew quarters were located, and those off duty were also locked safely away. The fiends either died by fatal confrontation or ran from fear, as the rumor of a vicious monster aboard, spread among the superstitious Hispanic fiends who fled to the higher decks in terror. These fiends were relatively safe as long as they remained inside but while a few sought the protection of the bridge and their supposed superiors, the majority thought it prudent to abandon ship in the lifeboats and rafts. These found themselves in harm's way between fire from the gunboats and Tonga and his band of warriors on the decks.

All firing ceased when the attackers on board first encountered fiends directly. The gunboats couldn't fire and the onboard Cat warriors slung their firearms in favor of firing darts at those fiends who remained even slightly belligerent. Others who dropped their weapons and prostrated themselves became prisoners, after Tonga continually reminded his warriors of the need for a cleanup crew. He would later discover he had superior foresight in this regard.

Tonga remained unaware of the carnage Spot wreaked below decks as he got in the habit ensuring that none of Squeak's kills returned to life by using his teeth or claws or sometimes both, in artful (he thought) combination. He assured Squeak, that he would be credited properly for his kills because Spot was judicious in avoiding .22 caliber head wounds and he was the only warrior aboard using a rifle in that caliber, while all the other warriors used heavier rounds, so they would all have to share their kills.

Tonga and his warriors looked forward to the last battle with the officers and crew that remained on the bridge and as they entered from the port and starboard wing deck doors, they froze in astonishment. They were greeted by Spot's enormous toothy smile and little Squeak's giggles. While Spot was covered with blood, Squeak was perfectly clean, although still tinged with blue since he had remained in the clutch of the Great Cat's tail and had been held well above the carnage.

Squeak had regained his feet and was negligently pointing his weapon at ten vanquished fiends who had been made to stand upright on their knees with their hands clasped firmly behind their heads (Curtsey of a DVD, possibly starring John Wayne, the Black warrior, Squeak had watched, where enemy prisoners were held in that uncomfortable posture.) amid a deck awash with blood provided by three very dead fiends; two with un-mutilated heads and the third, Spot's last kill, was unrecognizable as human. The duo was ably assisted by three men armed with fiends' weapons that Spot had scanned and found to be impressed against their will as officers to actually navigate and manage the ship's movements.

One very foolish fiend thought to protest their capture by pointing out the ships' Panamanian registry and their position in international waters. He continued his harangue in Spanish with growing confidence, which all listened to politely but no one understood since Angus hadn't come aboard yet and the three former captives understood Spanish but of course couldn't speak Tongue. His speech ended suddenly when he attempted to stand up, emboldened by the warriors' silence. He received eleven darts about his face, one small caliber bullet just to the right of center in his forehead and three more fired into his person randomly from the three freed sailors.

"That shot does not count," Spot scolded Squeak in mind-speak, "it was way off center."

"These warrior's darts made his head jerk," Squeak protested in both Tongue and mind-speak.

"Spot, or someone," Admiral Angus interrupted from his Flagship gunboat, "shut the fuckin' ships' drive down so's we can board," he demanded.

"Should the engines start again?" Spot queried Angus.

"You silly kitty, of course they will be needed to move the ship again! Is it a rough an' tumble you're askin' for?" Angus shot back in response.

"This Cat was just asking," Spot returned, "there is no need for threats, which you would lose very badly."

"I think we should not disable the ice cube rooms where all the fish are stored, they smell delicious," Squeak suggested and rubbed his tummy. Spot agreed absently and set about making friends with the ships' `inner workings' exactly as his brother had done on Sea Song boat. Soon, the propellers stopped and the engine sounds dropped to idle.

Marta had been listening to the mind-speak from afar with a growing smile, "Squeak, is that you, you naughty boy?" She asked with laughter in her voice. While Squeak was adept at mind-speak without the aid of a communicator, it was obvious he hadn't learned control, so he was broadcasting all his thoughts to everyone, including Marta on shore.

"Marta, honored mate of Chief Tonga and honored mother of Tara Bani; is that you?" Squeak thought some serious ass kissing was in order as he backed to between Spot's front legs seeking Great Cat protection and peeked out looking for Marta to appear, quite possibly accompanied by his angry mother. He'd spent hours hiding in the ice chest and didn't know who was on board the other boats.

"Yes, do you know that your mother is very upset with you? She asks if you know what a hot seat is." Marta asked.

Squeak looked way up at Spot's chin, he whispered and unknowingly sent, "Can a mother spank such a brave Cat warrior? She no longer spanks my warrior brother who only has three kills; she throws things, but she is very slow and inaccurate, so I would prefer that punishment."

Spot snickered in Squeak's mind, "You should not ask that of this Great Cat; this Cat's honored parent cannot throw things but he is very free with his huge paws whenever he becomes upset with a son."

Just then Angus burst onto the grisly scene and with a Spanish speaker on board, soon had the captive fiends hard at work removing and dumping bodies and scrubbing decks and bulkheads wherever there was a trace of red. Below decks, the carnage was horrific and even the hardened evil fiends tossed their cookies until they were made to clean up those messes too. Angus released the crew and made them the offer of freedom ashore or staying aboard to be free and to work for generous wages, while Tonga made the same offer to the captive Sea People. All, crew or factory workers, could move into newly vacated cabins or occupy many others that had remained unoccupied and used only by the fiends for storage of personal wealth. Of course whatever was found in any cabin became the property of the new occupants including long guns and side arms to be used in the event of need if the previous owners took umbrage at the loss of a profit center, and attempted to reclaim their property. The large rooms used as holding pens had actually been intended as lounges so these would be restored as soon as the ship reached JC's docks in Columbia, and the packed freezers could be emptied and the catch sold around the world to JC's established customers. Profits, after expenses, would be shared among the Sea People's villages. There was one last bit of work required of the factory workers; they were given the task of disposing of the surviving fiends as they saw fit, after the entire ship was returned to its original pristine condition.

During Angus' tour of the facilities and accommodations, he discovered that the seafood processing areas were state of the art, that nothing was wasted, nothing was tossed overboard as garbage including offal; guts, heads, tails, shells, etc. The freed Sea People men and boys led their naked charges into the factory area. The fiends went willingly. They thought it would be a case of role reversal; they would be the slaves and work at processing the fish and be supervised by the Sea People that would include beatings with bamboo sticks if they were deemed too slow, or just for amusement, but at least they were alive.

One and all began to hesitate and rethink their futures when they were led into a side area where the lights were up and the conveyor belt from the processing room was moving up toward the single hatch at the top of a tank-like structure with nothing on it. The Cat warriors, Angus and Spot were puzzled by the machine's purpose until the first fiend had his throat cut and he was placed on the belt feet first while still alive. He was whisked to the top of the machine and expelled into the hatch. The machines' high pitched whine changed suddenly as it encountered the body.

"This machine for chopping no good fish parts into small pieces," the laughing Head Man of the Sea People explained, "from there it goes in pipe to cooker for very long time. From cooker, it is ground very fine like stew, dried very fast and comes out in bag room. Very good animal feed," he assured his audience.

"That's a bloody meat grinder," Angus declared when he realized what he was being told in halting Tongue.

Of course the fiends rebelled at seeing one of their number used for demonstration purposes, but were overwhelmed by numbers and flashing filet knives and were actually professionally dismembered to ease the strain on the grinder motor, the Head Man explained proudly.

"Remind me never to upset the Sea People," Angus whispered to Tonga, who agreed with several enthusiastic nods of his head.

The room, the Sea People and the machine were quickly but carefully sanitized. "You need a bath while that hose is in use," Squeak told Spot, "This brave Cat warrior will wash you," he promised and fished out his small jar of paste and then removed his warrior regalia, which he blithely presented to Tonga to hold in safekeeping.

Until then the Sea People had maintained their distance from the legendary Great Cat although they recognized him as a friend and ally of the fearsome Cat People. Squeak ordered Spot to lie down and stretch out for ease of washing and they whispered among themselves when Spot complied with the little boys' commands. Squeak took charge of the hose and had great fun wetting Spot and anyone else who didn't appear to be paying attention until Angus claimed the hose after he was soaked by the laughing boy.

Squeak had just started to work up a billowing lather on Spot's head when he paused to invite the Sea People to help. By then Spot was purring and smiling brightly which included most of his teeth. None of the Sea People were interested in being the main course of evening food until Squeak explained the tilt of a Great Cat's ears, forward was a smile, but back meant a frown and flat back meant something was in danger of dying a horrible death. Some of the younger Sea People boys decided to help by washing Spot's back half that they thought safer while Squeak asked for a brush to clean Spot's teeth since they were fully exposed.

"Do you know you should rinse your mouth between kills?" Squeak asked innocently, "You have very bad fiend breath," he assured and held his nose.

That comment was cause for a rough and tumble as far as Spot was concerned. By then he had all but disappeared in billowing suds along with the boys washing his pelt. Spot rose to his paws, shook his body free of suds and swept all of Squeak's helpers along with Squeak, off their feet with his tail in one fluid motion. "You dare to call this Great Cat, fiend breath? This Great Cat will introduce you to tickle torture learned from white warrior friends for that insult," Spot promised Squeak after he separated the littlest, youngest boy from the pile of wreathing older boys.

Paste was already beginning to affect the boys pleasurably while they washed Spot, but intimate body contact with friends and a busy Cat tail completed the process and they quickly lost interest in being tickled while buried in potent paste foam and no one could see what they were doing. "It appears that the Sea People are unused to paste," Squeak sent to everyone through his laughing screams of delight at being molested by a Great Cat. "As the news spreads among them, paste will become very good for trading," he observed.

"We best get out of here while we can," Angus said to Tonga, "We'll set a course for home and tonight, have a fish fry for evening food. Let's leave our friends here some paste to enjoy their freedom; I'm more than certain that Spot will teach them how to use it while he keeps our newest and youngest warrior safe from harm. And both deserve a reward for their help during the fight."

Headmaster Smithe entered the testing room unexpectedly and was very pleased to see that the four boys were well separated and busy pondering their examinations. The school's honor system had been explained to them and they were following the rule to the letter, at least so far as they understood the policy. Kad, Sidi and Charlie only used mind-speak for spelling questions of Bani, if newly acquired word images weren't quite clear in ones' mind. That didn't seem like cheating since they weren't asking for answers to questions. Bani finally blocked them after explaining that there should be differences between their tests and spelling errors wouldn't affect the correct answers.

"Excuse me for interrupting Lord Bani," Headmaster Smithe loved titles, "Mr. Springfield (Charlie) and Misters Katz; I wonder if any of you might know anything about this entrance examination that arrived a minute ago on my fax machine?" Headmaster asked, and showed them the first page of the exam which was just a title block that included the name and address of the student author.

The three Cat warriors only glanced at the document before a flurry of mind-speak was exchanged. "What is a fax machine, Sir?" the Katz brothers asked together to stall in the hope of giving Bani time to think up a plausible answer.

Mr. Smithe was an educator, first and foremost; he couldn't resist answering a question, asked most respectfully by two innocent students, newly arrived from the jungles of Venezuela, so he took the bait and lurched off into an explanation of facsimile machines as he understood them, which wasn't much so a good deal of repetition was in order.

"Freckles," Bani sent, "what did you do? How did you get a copy of our first examination, and how did you manage to write answers to the questions? You even had the nerve to send this document to Mr. Smithe's office! He is with us now and he asks these questions."

Freckles replied; "I saw the examination and answers in Love's mind. Do you know that, that Master of Machines cannot forget anything he sees or hears? He is a most clever human." He assured Bani happily.

"You used John's exact writing? That will be discovered as cheating!" Bani was clearly exasperated.

"Of course I did not use Love's human writing. That would be cheating; I merely converted his human words to the Ancient's Tongue and replied in their way. Headmaster Smithe will never know the answers are the same. Now you must finish your examination while I work with Snoopy to improve his hearing, I cannot be disturbed unless there is danger. Spock out!"

"You watch too much television!" Bani hoped for the last word.

"Beam me up Scotty!" Freckles returned with a mind snicker.

"Well Sir, the name on that examination," Bani began, "appears to be Freckles Katz's chop, or, I should say it is the symbol that all Great Cats, a very rare species of Jaguars use to represent their names." The chop or signature was the body of a cat in profile with all four legs and paws, the tail held erect with the tip bent forward. The head was shown full face with ears up, slanted eyes and over-sized incisors. The whole was sprinkled with dots to represent typical spots.

When Bani saw Mr. Smithe frown at the pictograph, he hastened to add; "No one has ever seen a Great Cat write, but obviously they can or someone does it for them, because that symbol appears on several ancient structures in our lands."

"That all sounds good so far," Charlie sent as some encouragement.

Mr. Smith offered the first page to Bani to inspect more closely, "I see, and what of the address, do you recognize that?"

Bani was stunned, the address Freckles wrote or drew were the same glyphs carved in stone over the portal into Cat Place, which was really the main entrance into Cat City. He answered honestly, "This appears one time that I know of, over the entrance to a huge cave. Perhaps this cave is the place that Great Cat's consider to be the home of their species," he ventured with a perplexed look. "We think that at one time there was an ancient civilization that flourished in our lands but disappeared somehow much like the Mayans or the Incas. The Cats obviously didn't do the carvings themselves. That is the only explanation we, the Cat People, can think of." Bani continued to hold his breath.

"Yes, I see," Mr. Smith seemed to agree just before he revealed the second page of the mysterious exam. "I have just one more question. Have you any idea who wrote these answers in the here and now?"

The true and false and multiple choice questions were answered with an `X' in the appropriate, and Bani hoped, the correct boxes, but the answers that required writing were all a finely drawn series of detailed pictographs. "Blame Peter," Sidi suggested silently.

"Yes," Kad agreed with a giggle, "that will be a very good joke when he tries to explain his knowledge of the Ancient's Tongue."

Bani was at a loss for an alternate explanation, so he did as Sidi suggested. He explained Peter as Freckles' Executive Assistant, who had a great facility for ancient languages and was a scholar who specialized in those writings and had mastered both reading and writing using Ancient glyphs. He did not mention the difference between ancient and Ancient with a capital `A'. He went just a bit further by saying he did not know how Peter and Freckles communicated, but apparently they could and did, evidenced by the completed exam since Freckles couldn't write; another handicap for those not having thumbs. He suggested that Mr. Smithe might ask Peter to read any of Freckles' answers that Mr. Smithe couldn't decipher himself.

"I cannot believe that you threw my personal Executive Assistant under the wheels of my very own Cat Mobile," Freckles intruded into the conversation. "Now I must teach him the Ancient Tongue and writing before Headmaster Smithe summons us to his office to read my answers."

"Well fuck you, Mr. Freckles Katz," Bani raged back silently, "you could have avoided the coming confrontation by not submitting this fucking test!"

"Do you know you said two `f' bombs in the same sentence? You, you potty mouth you!" Freckles returned meekly and ceased further communication.

"EAVESDROPPER!" Bani accused.

The first morning, for the new boys at least, was consumed by placement testing and since the test, evaluations and class assignments would require the rest of the day, the boys were told that they could spend the afternoon in the schools' field house learning basketball or hockey or individual sports such as tennis or they might visit the pool. First however, it was lunch time and food for Freckles was something that everyone forgot about -- everyone that is, except Freckles.

Freckles, Peter and Edvard arrived in the dining room early, before the mob of students. The kitchen staff, like all other non-students on campus had heard about Freckles, who someone had registered as a student, no doubt as an expensive practical joke, but didn't really expect to see him actually partake of all the benefits such as eating lunch or any other meals in the dining room. Peter rushed ahead to view the noon buffet and was relieved to see that the bill-o-faire included fried fish or chicken sandwiches served on long soft buns. Both perfect for Freckles to begin demonstrating the use of his versatile tail.

All activity in the kitchen ceased when Freckles first appeared in the dining room as everyone was interested in getting a glimpse of the huge well-trained cat by peering through the pass-through or pushing open the swinging doors. Freckles noticed the swinging doors and thought them an excellent human invention and simply had the try them out. When the workers saw him approaching, they allowed the doors to close, but then they couldn't see where he was, or what he was doing, so one brave soul pushed one side open and peeked out. Freckles pushed back with his head and peeked in, very careful not to frown or smile since newly encountered humans couldn't tell the difference. The man giggled and tried the other door and of course met the Cat, nose to nose in the middle of the opening. The man fell backward in surprise as Freckles advanced on him, righted him and used his tail to dust him off indiscriminately, meaning he was tickled.

"Freckles," Peter called aloud from the dining room, "leave those people alone or you won't have lunch. Tell me where you want to sit and I'll try to find you a heavy chair!"

Meanwhile, Freckles had seated himself in the kitchen just inside the doors, which he kept in constant motion by batting them alternately while he assessed the sights, sounds, humans and the all-important smells. He also made friends with the kitchens' machines like the computer controlled deep fryers, that raised and lowered baskets of food without human assistance, and assorted thermostats. "This room smells delicious and all the humans are very nice too," Freckles answered Peter silently.

The man Freckles befriended, timed his exit into the dining room carefully in sync with their constant swinging. "Hi there young man, I'm Sam, I'm just a line cook, but I've worked here thirty years and kind of run the kitchen while the Executive Chef sits safely in his office, if he knows what's good for him," the man introduced himself to Peter and Edvard. "Can that cat really sit in a chair to eat?"

"Oh yes he can, if we can find one big enough and sturdy enough to hold about five hundred pounds and counting," Peter assured Sam after introductions.

Sam thought for a moment and snapped his fingers, "I've got just the ticket. Clear a space at any table you like and I'll be right back." Sam spun on his heel and crashed into the cat under discussion who was sitting directly behind him. Sam laughed and backed out of reach after a quick mental warning from Peter to Freckles to allow Sam to go if he wanted a chair to sit on.

Freckles sniffed the air before deciding on one specific table and one chair by the windows, facing the room. "This is where Chief Bucky always sat; no Chief worth living would ever sit with his back to a room full of other joke players," he told Peter and Edvard out loud with a snicker.

"You mean practical jokers," Peter corrected.

Freckles rolled his eyes, "That is what I said."

Sam soon returned leading four of his helpers, carrying a chair that was almost as ornately carved as the one Doug appropriated for Freckles' use in Bucky's hut.

Sam answered the obvious question before it could be asked, "This came directly from the chapel; it will never be missed; no one ever goes in there and the Chaplin has another if he wants to sit down while he talks to himself."

Sam elaborated when he saw the two trainers frown. The school was always non-denominational from the day it was founded in the mid-1800, and to attract the widest range of students, the first administrators made the mistake of not making chapel compulsory. The first students, left with options, decided that since they all belonged to one denomination or another, they clearly weren't heathens, and attending church was optional for the first time ever; they would leave worship in the school chapel to any so called `non-denoms' who showed up and professed that strange faith. He laughed as he concluded that the joke had been ongoing from generation to generation and succeeding administrators still hadn't caught on.

Sam blinked and laughed when he noticed the chairs' placement, "You know Bucky Number Three always sat there? Number Four sits anywhere but he's got a dozen or so bodyguards to watch his back," he assured. He laughed harder when he thought of something. "You know what Number Three and his merry band of henchmen did to the Headmaster one time, just before he was discovered as being a man with a taste for the grape," he winked, "if you know what I mean."

Freckles looked to Peter, "I think he means the guy was a drunk and probably drank wine in his office," Peter answered silently.

"If this guy stayed on campus for dinner, he had us deliver a tray, which meant he was too drunk to drive and would be staying all night. The little lords had been planning this for months I guess. I gave Bucky a nod when I returned here with my tray and they went into action around midnight. One of those telescopic cranes pulled in behind Trenton Hall where the employees park. The Head, the Dean and all the other bosses have offices in front and the building was empty except for the dead drunk Headmaster. The crane and some workmen hoisted the single remaining car up to the roof and cabled it fast to some eyebolts that had been attached to a couple of chimneys about two weeks earlier," he winked at Freckles, who was listening intently. He frowned slightly when Freckles winked back.

"It seems a roofing company showed up to do some warranty work about then, and since there wouldn't be any charge for the work, they were allowed to proceed. Not one of the idiots in that building questioned a warranty still in effect on a 150 year old slate roof. That's what I meant about advance planning." Just then the bell in the clock tower struck the three-quarter hour.

Sam glanced at his watch, "Shit, I've got to get back to work, what does the cat like to eat, or what will he eat? I've got fifteen minutes before the hungry horde arrives."

"His name is Freckles and he'll eat just about anything. Today he has his eyes and nose on those fried chicken breast and fish filet sandwiches, maybe a dozen of each?" Peter stopped to look at Freckles, who was standing at the windows looking at the Trenton Hall roof. He made the small mistake of asking aloud, "With or without all the trimmings?"

Preoccupied, Freckles answered in kind, "All the trimmings please, except feathers; I do not care for feathers."

Sam turned pale and was suitably shocked, "I thought he understood what I was saying somehow, but how is it that he can talk?"

Freckles answered, "I am a Great Cat named Freckles Katz. I listen and understand everything; but I only speak to friends."

Sam grinned slightly as the import of that message sank in; Freckles the Great Cat had accepted him as a friend. Freckles leaped into his chair, as usual, from the rear, over the chair back. He frowned at the aluminum serving tray placed before him. "Do you have a platter, even the breaking kind?" he frowned at the offending tray.

"Nope, no serving platters that big, but we have a vault full of sliver, that we break out for special occasions to impress parents or when the trustees meet. Would antique sterling silver be acceptable to his majesty?" Sam dared to joke despite the toothy frown until Freckles switched to a radiant smile and Peter hurried to explain that the difference between the two expressions was the tilt of the Great Cat's ears and added that his frowns weren't to be taken seriously anyway -- if witnesses were about.

When the clock tower struck twelve the `hungry hordes' began to flood into the room and while most stared from the rapidly moving buffet lines, a few of the most enterprising or brave rushed to the table where Freckles sat and tipped chairs up on the table after asking Peter for permission to join them. Edvard joined Evan in line where the rest of the Family waited their turns to fill their trays.

"How's the morning been going so far for you guys and our furry friend?" Evan asked.

Edvard shrugged, "I think it was unusual, which over time will be the usual around Mr. Freckles Katz. He has forecast a blizzard that will begin tonight and thinks the northeast will be shut down including this school tomorrow. In that regard he sent Peter and I to Newark to get Peter's four by four truck and attach its plow. Then while we were gone he began teaching Snoopy to hear, oh and while he was doing that he obtained a copy of the boys' placement examination, completed it and sent it by fax to the Headmaster."

"That's a good thing, isn't it?" Evan was already laughing at Edvard's matter of fact reporting.

"No to the blizzard, yes to teaching snoopy an invaluable trick and no to taking the examination," Edvard advised, "He taught your computer to write in the Ancient's Tongue, a truly dead language and used that language to write out his answers. Mr. Smithe asked Bani how Freckles could write and he replied that Peter was the Great Cat's Executive Assistant and he wrote whatever Freckles dictated. Peter and I are now the only two humans who read and write Ancient hieroglyphs in the event we are asked to translate Freckles' answers."

"Utoh," Evan intoned.

Edvard giggled, "Yes indeed, but all is not lost. Freckles is beta testing Snoopy's newest skill and reports that Mr. Smithe, the first target subject has placed several calls to friends and scholars around the world looking for a knowledgeable Egyptologist. It seems he wants a real translation before he challenges Peter to provide his, since he thinks whatever Peter says will be bullshit. Mr. Smithe and all other Headmasters before him have been the butts of practical jokes by their students and not coincidentally, the name Trenton occurs frequently in the schools' history of known or suspected jokesters."

The big room quieted briefly when the swinging double doors parted for Sam, like the Red Sea parted for Moses although Sam was carrying a silver platter piled high with sandwiches that were nearly buried in French fries. "What would you like to drink?" Peter asked Freckles silently.

"Wine, that Merlot we had last night was very good, although the bottles were very small."

"Nope, no wine at school," Peter demurred and stretched his neck to see what was available. He listed all the typical drinks and ended with, "They also have Coke, Sprite or Root beer in the soda fountain, or there's water."

"Is Coke normally served in the little red and silver, inferior metal containers?" Freckles asked. "All the boys on Sea Song boat drank from them frequently."

"Yup, that's Coke, but here it comes from a spigot and I can fill your bowl," Peter assured.

"I would like to try that Coke drink, with lots of ice cubes please."

When Peter returned with Freckles' bowl of Coke, he saw that a half dozen sandwiches had disappeared and Freckles was busy meticulously stacking French fries like cord wood into a neat pile before encircling the pile with his tail and they too followed the sandwiches. Also, he saw that the boys at their table held sandwiches midway to their mouths, but forgot to eat. "These root vegetables prepared this way are very good. Friend Sam is a very good chef."

Freckles' attention was diverted to the bowl of Coke, and after a test lap his entire muzzle disappeared into the bowl, and the level dropped unusually fast, to the boys at the table who hadn't seen a Great Cat drink before. While they were fascinated, they had resumed eating their own lunches almost as fast, limited by smaller mouths and the need to chew before swallowing. Freckles finished his drink by lifting his head and crunching ice cubes with his head turned to Peter for a quick swipe of Peter's towel. "That Coke drink fizzles delightfully on my tongue," he reported in mind-speak and looked at Peter hopefully. While the boys at the table hadn't heard the hint, they could see the Cat's expression.

"If he wants a refill, I'll get it for him," one boy surmised and volunteered. The boy had just picked up the empty bowl when Freckles emitted a tremendous belch, which started a burping contest, at first around the table, before it spread around the room and the boy ran off to fetch Freckles another bowl of carbonated ammunition.

"Three guesses as to who started that," Doug sent to all mind-speakers followed by his own less than stellar contribution to the contest. "I guess you win Freckles," he judged from somewhere in the room.

"Should we try breaking wind next?" Freckles sent.

Peter jumped from his chair, apparently without reason. He warned Freckles, "Don't you dare fart in here! I know cat shit stinks, so I imagine cat farts do too, and yours would be times a hundred or so of a normal cat."

"What the hell is going on out here?" Sam demanded of the dining room as he burst from the kitchen, exactly at the time Buck submitted his entry to the belching contest in the suddenly, nearly quiet room.

"I think we have a new winner!" Doug declared helpfully from beneath the table he and Buck had been sitting at with the Cat warriors and Charlie.

Sam had his back to the table and rolled his eyes, "Mr. Trenton Number Four, why am I not surprised that you're involved, along with Mr. Henderson?"

Sam was answered with a mighty belch in three part harmony, "Did we do this correctly Buck? Swallowing air is very difficult and unnecessary; if we were to do this on a hunt, we would have our arms removed and sent to play with girls."

Sam spun on his heels to stare down on the rumored exotic new boys who arrived with Freckles, the talking Great Cat. Sam misunderstood; he bent down to talk to Buck in a whisper, so the new boys across the table couldn't hear, "What kind of people are these who would remove a boy's arms just for belching? That's a terrible thing, you keep them safe while they're here at school, Bucky, and show them the ropes."

"I think you misunderstood Sam, the arms they were referring to, were all their weapons," was Buck's gravelly, whispered response so all their tablemates and some of the closest students seated around him at other tables heard. Sam cupped his privates, hidden behind his apron, in his trousers protectively and looked quite ill. "Not those weapons either, Sam, real weapons like rifles and handguns, or bows and arrows, knives and blowguns."

Sam sighed in relief and winked at the little Cat warriors, "I guess I would have figured that out for myself eventually, but it's just as well, I don't have to." He went back to the kitchen with a warning, "Okay, you so called young gentlemen, just remember if there are any more burp or fart contests or other rude noises above the usual noise level, the dining room will be closed immediately after lunch until further notice." There was a chorus of, Yes Sir and Thank You, issued to Sam's back.

During the many years that Sam had taken unofficial charge of the kitchen and dining room, he allowed boys to remain after lunch and until just before dinner if they didn't have classes so the room became a favorite informal lounge. There they could kick back and do whatever boys do, plus of course there were also soft drinks and all kinds of snacks and a soft serve ice cream machine available during that time and once again after dinner until just before official lights out. The only real enforced rule was that the boys had to clean up after themselves. In appreciation, the boys were careful to police themselves and each other and weren't afraid to physically eject any classmate who thought themselves `above' the simple rule, and there were always a few.

Pettie had no afternoon classes, so he shepherded the newbies to the field house and when he explained what the field house was, Freckles declared a play time and chose to accompany his boys. Students only had one, two hour structured physical education period during each week; the rest of their free time, they were expected to choose and practice individual sports, join intramural sports teams, join a school team and work on that sport, and/or simply work out regularly in the well-equipped weight room out of season. All students were mindful of future college applications and athletics were an important part.

Pettie thought the safest place to start was the ice rink. With the warriors' aversion to cold and cloth coverings, that they would just watch the pickup game in progress. He led them to the second story bleacher entrance where fans bundled up to stay warm in the near freezing room. He and the boys sat in the top row of seats while Freckles sat in the aisle steps that led straight down to the opening in the side boards that was closest to the home team locker room on that side of the rink and the narrow player access door was left open.

The boys and Cat watched the match with growing interest; hockey was much like the soccer and American football games they'd played at home and apparently was just as rough. The only real difference was ice, skates, and thick, padded cloth coverings; head hugging hats, handy sticks - real weapons, and the ball had been replaced with a small round black thing. Strangely both teams wore hard hats that made use of the sticks much more challenging, because these would need to be removed before an opposing player could be properly beaten. They noted that the sticks had to be used to move the black thing because everyone was wearing cumbersome cloth coverings on their hands that would even prevent using hands to throw the black thing or do much damage in holding or battering an opponent; of course that's why everyone had a stick.

"I will demonstrate how to play this game, Cat warriors!" Freckles declared as he raced down the steps and out onto the ice to immediately slide all the way across the rink, drop his claws just enough to stop with a spray of ice splinters, turn before crashing and look for the black thing. With his claws still extended, he bounded twenty feet and pounced on the passing puck and once stopped, used a swipe of his tail to send it back down the ice, directly at the goal and the wide eyed defending goalie. He managed to block the puck with his body and send it to the closest human, teammate or not. Freckles determined that the game had become all the humans united against the Great Cat, amid extreme laughter.

"I COULD USE SOME HELP DOWN HERE!" Freckles sent to his warrior troops.

"But we cannot move on the ice like you," Sidi returned, "we have no claws."

"No matter, I will slide you if you make like balls; we will have much amusement."

The three Cat warriors left Charlie holding their belts, pouches and blowguns after he accused them of being dumb mother fuckers for being sucked into a game where a crazy Cat made up the rules in order to win a totally new kind of game. All three stopped running when they reached the ice and slid to where Freckles could stop them at center ice. They squatted down and hugged their knees while the joined opposing teams formed a tight defensive wedge in front of their goal that was already protected by both goalies.

"Be sure not to hurt any of them guys!" Pettie called down to the ice.

"Don't worry Mason, we won't!" One of Pettie's friends among the opposition shouted back.

Pettie giggled, "I wasn't warnin' you idiots; let the games begin!"

"You Sidi will take that side and I will send Kad into the other. Capture as many of their weapons as you can." Freckles explained his strategy, "I will take the middle course with Bani and deliver him to the goal with the black thing."

"Pettie advises that the black thing is named Puck," Kad injected.

Freckles held the puck up to his eyes for a closer inspection, "Why give it a proper name when it has no intelligence at all and none can be instilled without much work?" he wondered, and added, "Humans!" before giving Puck to Bani to hide on his person.

Without warning, Freckles dropped his claws for purchase tipped the boys onto their backs and used his tail to whip Sidi and then Kad's bodies down the ice at the opposition with incredible force and speed. Then he grabbed and held Bani aloft in his tail and launched his own mass forward, but sideways. He retracted his claws at once and slid into the mass of bodies much like a bowling ball knocking over many more than ten pins and pushing the disordered mass of laughing hockey players toward the goal or aside like a tidal wave. Then, as the wave approached the goal, he threw Bani between the heads of the crouching goalies. Bani smashed into the surrounding net, which forced the poorly attached goal backward into the back wall. Bani fished Puck from his pocket and waved it over his head while sitting cross-legged, comfortably on the ice.

Hockey changed to curling when the players wanted to be flung down the ice just like the Cat warriors, while on their backs by Freckles' tail and he began aiming at the distant goal. Once they began to arrive they stayed where they stopped sliding and the Great Cat had to use subsequent bodies to bump them out of his way. Thirty minutes later, with the ice deeply gouged and the resulting chunks and shards too numerous for safe skating, the games ended when Pettie suggested that they move on to the basketball courts to see how much damage the Cat and warriors could do there.

The two games in progress ceased when they arrived but started again when Pettie joined one team to both show and tell the boys, with one very interested Great Cat also watching and listening intently, how the game was played. After five minutes the boys wanted to try. Basketball was a game that required accuracy in getting the ball into the small goal called a hoop or basket with no bottom so the ball would fall through, that was located ten feet above the floor. The ball could be delivered to the hoop by running while bouncing the ball, dribbling, or it could be thrown by one player to another, or best of all, the ball could be thrown at the hoop from anywhere within the marked boundaries. The boys quickly mastered dribbling, but why bother; they asked Pettie, when the target was so large, and a marksman could reach it successfully from anywhere. The games stopped once again when the boys began to demonstrate their accuracy skills, and the amazed players began suggesting any one of the four hoops from any place on the two courts.

Pettie stopped the fun when some of the players wanted to see the eager little guys doing layups; there was no way that anyone could see how far or high the warriors could actually leap or jump. Pettie claimed that they had to go while he looked at his watch and Kad, Sidi and Bani protested that they didn't. The growing argument ended as Pettie was about to plead via mind-speak, when a coach stormed into the gym.

The coach glared and pointed at the hapless Cat warrior's feet, "What are you little assholes doing on my floor wearing street shoes?" he demanded. "Get out," he relented on seeing their stricken expressions, "and don't come back until you're wearing gym shoes," he added.

The boys and Freckles turned toward the exit. Bani still had the ball. Pettie used mind-speak to give him a suggestion, "Show that grumpy some bitch how yo' can do it without lookin'."

Bani paused in the doorway facing away, "Here is your ball Sir," he said, tossed it with two hands over his head at the most distant basket. No one except Freckles looked back to see it arch high toward the lights before it found the desired hoop unerringly without touching the rim. When the coach looked back the boys were gone, but Freckles was there to offer him one of his worst stares.

"There, you grumpy some bitch," he said clearly using Pettie's voice and Texas twang.

One of the two tennis courts was vacant when they got to the courts. There was an ample supply of rackets available and a rolling, wire cart full of balls so Pettie began the first lesson by serving after admitting that he wasn't very good; he tended to use too much power and he hadn't played much since there were no courts in the little Texas town he came from. He kept smashing balls while he talked and the boys watched, so Freckles went to the opposite side and began to throw them back. The boys forgot about Pettie's instructions and lined up across the court to return the balls to Freckles. Even Charlie was allowed to whack an occasional ball without being aware that Freckles was including him since he couldn't see his eyes, while the warriors could easily, so they were always ready.

Pettie decided that this kind of tennis was fun and everyone could participate so he stopped temporarily to equip Freckles with an over-size racket and he resumed serving additional balls despite the growing number flying back and forth over the net at the same time. "This game is most amusing," Freckles sent happily.

After watching for a while, Pettie decided that the maximum number of balls in play was six so if a warrior missed or a ball was returned above Freckles' tail reach (he refused the indignity of jumping), Pettie served another ball so there was always six in play. Lines were forgotten along with bouncing; line drives were much preferred and Pettie wasn't too proud to duck when Freckles sent an occasional ball at his head, just to keep him awake, Freckles explained later. Finally, Pettie glanced at his watch and reminded everyone that they had to be at the helipad in an hour, or be left behind. He and Charlie needed showers and while he knew Cat warriors didn't sweat, that human trait would leave a scent trail, showering was a pleasant way to end the afternoon and a way that they could leave their despised cloth coverings behind for a brief length of time. Of course there was one unnamed Great Cat who enjoyed the pampering of a whole body shampoo as well.

They collected all the forgotten balls with surprising speed since Kad and Sidi declared a contest; which of them could collect the most balls. Just as they were about to leave the courts one of the two boys who had been playing when they arrived, piped up; "Man just wait until these videos hit the Internet, no one will believe what they see!" Both boys were waving cellphones and obviously had used them to record the wild tennis match.

Bani waved back and laughed cordially while he sent Freckles instructions to `make friends' with their primitive communicators. "Done," Freckles returned with a backward glance. The two forgotten boys began shaking their flashing phones and listening to a series of clicks, buzzing and a final chirp before they fell dark and silent forever.

They stopped in the corridor along the way to the ice rink locker room and showers, where they left their coats. There was a glass wall that looked into a smallish room that Pettie explained, was the practice wrestling room and it was in use. There were only four boys and the coach in the room and two were on the mat attempting different holds while the coach gave instructions concerning both offensive and defensive movements of the contestant's hands, arms, legs and bodies. The three warriors found the exercises erotic and were quick to respond within their tight cloth coverings, popularly called jeans.

Charlie noticed, "You horny bastards," he accused with a giggle and a pointed finger; fortunately, the area he pointed to was below the window.

"Is this a contest to decide who is superior when they couple?" Sidi asked.

"It must be," Kad guessed, but questioned, "If that is so, why do they wear even those brief cloth coverings, only to have them torn by the victor?"

"You're watchin' free style wrestlin', and no, they ain't gonna couple any which way no matter who wins, the idea of the sport is to force your opponent's shoulders flat on the mat before he can do it to you, or you win by gettin' points somehow if you can't pin the other guy before time runs out." Pettie explained hastily to calm the warriors down and get Charlie to stop laughing and pointing at their reactions to seeing nearly naked boys their size, wearing really tight, revealing one piece singlet's, grabbing and holding each other almost anywhere with impunity, while others watched.

"Could we try this sport Pettie?" Bani asked hopefully.

Before Pettie could offer an opinion, the coach opened the door and smiled at them, "Are you guy's wrestlers? You look like you could be. I heard you were starting today; it's too late to join the team this year but you could work out with us the rest of the season so you'd really be ready next year," he invited.

Freckles already scanned the coach's thoughts, and found that while he appreciated a finely chiseled, young male body, he was more interested in training them to develop a winning team; this was the reason he worked with potential members in the afternoons when he didn't have to. "You should try this sport if you wish to, if you can forget that the goal is not coupling," he stipulated, "remember that not all boys enjoy coupling with other boys," he warned silently. He didn't mention that there were two boys in the room, who were interested in other boy's bodies, but the warriors would discover them on their own and it was important that his boys make new friends at school; it would make them look less different, and more accepted.

One boy was already smiling and waving as the coach ushered them into the room, but not at the boys, he was excited to see Freckles again. Freckles explained that the boy, Hayden, sat at his table to eat mid-day food and even served him more of the fizzing Coke drink. Everyone was introduced and they shook hands after which the coach advised that they needed to suit up, including shoes, he disappeared into the adjacent locker room and expected them to follow, but Bani, Kad and Sidi only understood that they were to wear one of the little tight suits that were far less confining than what they were wearing at the moment, so they stripped where they stood and once again offered Charlie their cloth coverings since he'd already declined to participate. He'd told them silently that he had a temper problem and enjoyed hurting people if annoyed. Case in point, the asshole that morning would have been hurt much worse if they weren't out in the middle of the quad.

The coach returned to see where they were, and expressed the opinion that at least two other boys already held, "Holy shit, how'd you guys develop those fine bodies already? Did you work out every day when you lived at home?" he asked.

"Our home lands are very dangerous to the unwary," Bani began, "and as soon as we walk we learn warrior skills to protect our persons and our lands. We must be very physical, it is our way," he concluded.

Kad joined the explanation by flexing his muscles proudly and explaining further; "I am the greatest of warriors charged by our Chief to protect his son Tara Bani at any cost while also training my younger brother, Sidi, in warrior ways." Sidi was perhaps a month younger than Kad, but in America they were safely accounted as twins because they looked so much alike. Age was a point that Kad enjoyed taunting Sidi with and Sidi's reaction was guaranteed. Sidi jumped Kad as he barely finished bragging, the rough and tumble that ensued was a thing to behold. Fortunately the room was fully carpeted with wrestling mat and not so crowded that the others couldn't get out of the way.

Fists flew, between choke holds, reversals, more punches, cock pulls and nut lifts. Arms, legs and sometimes both were bent at impossible angles and through the entire fight the two little warriors laughed and cursed in Tongue, English and in several other newly acquired languages. The two made a point of remembering the curse words if not the exact definitions. Finally, Kad had Sidi on his gut, one arm around his neck and the other around both thighs and appeared to be intent on folding Sidi's body up backward when Freckles' tail intervened at Bani's request.

Freckles tossed Kad against a concrete wall and then lifted Sidi by his neck until his feet dangled two feet above the floor and in front of Bani. "Must you two start rough and tumble at inappropriate times like these?" he asked while trying to hide his amusement. "These strangers do not know our ways of making jokes and having fun and they certainly aren't interested in seeing your erect manhood's," he scolded.

Freckles noted that Bani was incorrect about that; the boy he'd had lunch with, Hayden Banks, sat on the mat and had gathered his legs to his chest with his arms, to hopefully hide his uncontrollable response on seeing the two hard warrior cocks that adorned a pair of magnificently sculpted bodies, he was also pleased to note theirs were the same size as his. He'd wondered about comparative sizes, and pornography wasn't helpful since the actors appeared to be excessively well endowed.

The coach finally found his voice, "That was some wrestling display gentlemen, it was a perfect example of what not to do in freestyle wrestling, unless you wanted to be thrown off the team, get the team thrown out of the league and most likely get me fired," he warned matter-of-factly. "Now if you will follow me, I'll find you something proper to wear."

The three warriors spent most of the next forty-five minutes, seated on the mat; watching and listening to the other boys perform holds in slow motion while the coach explained how to get an opponent in a hold and how they might escape Finally, the coach invited Bani to the mat to grapple with Hayden briefly before the group had to go or risk missing the first helicopter ride back to Trenton Hall.

As soon as Hayden and Bani shook hands, Bani sent; "This Hayden wrestler wishes that we could lose our cloth coverings and compete with no one else about. He wishes it with all of us, even Pettie, but I am to be first. Would Chief Bucky become angry if we invite him to his hut to take food with us and return tomorrow morning?"

Pettie giggled out loud without thinking, but answered silently, "Nope, I expect he'd be pleased that you guys are makin' friends from your first day, an' there's always room at the dinner table, but you'll have to ask him if he's restricted to campus. If he is, you'll have to send Peter to sign him out overnight."

"What does this restricted mean?" Sidi asked.

"Some guys are out of control when they first come here an' don't want to go to any school at all, so once inside the fence, they can't get out. Others have parents who don't want them to be taken by bad guys, or fiends to you guys, to be held for ransom while they could be hurt or worse. I think Doug was taken that way by accident, the fiends thought he was Buck. Then there are guys like us; we can come and go as we please."

The friendly match started slowly; both boys had been listening to the coach and tried to follow his instructions exactly, but the thrill of competition and being able to touch another boys' body set in, and they began to move faster, seeking any advantage. Their goal changed subtlety from pinning to being pinned without appearing to want to lose; each was struggling to be on the bottom.

Oddly, the two managed to appear equally experienced and skilled. The coach looked at his watch and halted the match. "You've both been paying attention guys, you did really well." He looked down on Bani, "Since you haven't even worked up a sweat, do you think you could go for another couple of minutes with someone else?"

Bani, glad of the praise, agreed after he almost explained that Cat warriors didn't sweat. The coach called another boy onto the mat, who was actually the most petite of the four; even an inch shorter than Bani and he also seemed to be intent on losing, being pinned. "Justin Winters is the second boy who would couple with you if he could," Freckles sent to Bani.

"How is it possible that both Hayden and Justin are on the same team and do not recognize each other?" Bani asked as he allowed himself to be thrown and pounced upon by eager Justin who then attempted to roll Bani over so he was on top.

"Maybe, because in their imaginations, they have a harder more muscular body in their minds for their first times," Pettie suggested.

"I think you are correct Pettie," Bani agreed as the coach stopped the match and sent them all to the showers, "I will invite both boys to Bucky's hut and we will see what happens."

"You guys might think twice about you callin' Victoria's big old mansion a hut, she appears a mite prickly about that every time one of you do it." Pettie warned.

Freckles rushed into the shower room and turned all of them on while the guys undressed and wondered together silently why so many of these new sports required wearing difficult to remove, protective hats. An opponent's head was a perfect primary target in Cat lands. Hayden grinned when he heard the showers running, "What's Freckles doing in there, he's going to get wet if he isn't careful."

"That is one Great Cat that we call a down right pampered pussy," Pettie was interrupted by a ferocious roar that echoed, "an' y'all can help if yo' got any shampoo; we didn't expect to shower," he finished as if he hadn't heard Freckles' protest. He was instantly presented with bottles of shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and bars of soap.

Both Hayden and Jason conspired to have Bani between them when they stripped. "Are either of you on what Pettie calls, restricted?" Both boys shook their heads. "That is very good. I wonder if you would like to go to Trenton Hall with us tonight. We could gain more experience in wrestling after evening food or whatever you wish to do."

Hayden made a face, "Should we bring our workout gear?"

"We will stay overnight in a place called the Residence where our friends stay. The place is very private and no cloth coverings are required anywhere in the very large place, it is where Pettie lives with his friend."

Mention of Pettie caused Hayden and Justin to turn his way; they'd been so interested in the warriors and Charlie's bodies, they forgot that he was there and would shower with them, meaning that by then, he was also naked. It took a few rude seconds for them to raise their widened eyes up to his smiling face while he looked down on them. "Come on guys, times' wastin' and so's the hot water."

In the shower room, it seemed that Pettie forgot that there might be some payback for his comment about a certain `pampered pussy'. Pettie just got within range of Freckles' tail when he found himself flat on his back and being held there with a dinner plate-size paw on his chest. The free tail sought and found the largest plastic bottle rolling around on the floor. Freckles held the bottle high over Pettie and squeezed. The squirt top wasn't open and the plastic ruptured. While some of the freed shampoo spattered Freckles and all the boys, most plopped down onto Pettie's midsection where the tail managed to spread the mass everywhere, which combined with water, turned it into concentrated lather.

There were only brief glimpses of Pettie's resulting erection during his frantic, although futile attempts to free himself from the Great Cat's clutch, and/or his busy tail until Freckles held it up and Pettie stopped his useless struggles and moaned as his body stiffened and bucked up off the floor in response.

Even the two straight boys couldn't help growing and showing sympathy erections barely hidden in foam. Although they did have the presence of mind to turn away from the show for the short length of time it took for some speedy self-gratification and then hold each other up companionably until their weakened knees recovered from their exertions.

"I don't believe what we just did," one boy whispered to his new-found buddy.

"Man, me either," his friend replied while panting. He smiled slightly and allowed his hand to wander suggestively, "but since we did it the first time…" he didn't need to finish his thought when he received a lecherous grinning nod, and a return caress. They shared the most distant shower to rinse off hurriedly with several covert glances back at Pettie, Freckles and the six other boys, but only grinned at what they saw, when just a few minutes earlier they were sure they would have been shocked and outraged by such blatantly gay behavior. `Each to his own', they agreed with shrugged shoulders as they hurried to dry off, (each other, intimately for the first time), dress haphazardly and depart the locker room; they still had over two hours before dinner and fortunately, they were roommates.

Hayden impulsively kissed Bani his thanks with closed eyes, for being included in the impromptu circle jerk, while Justin thought he was being just as polite. Both boys smiled through their first ever kiss when they thought to open their eyes to discover that they had lip locks on each other and ground their hips together happily. Pettie's nearly limp body separated them rudely as Freckles lifted and dragged him to the nearest showerhead to rinse him off.

After Pettie rinsed his mouth out several times, he grinned down on Hayden and Justin who were staring at him openly as his cock deflated to normal. "Come over here, you two little goobers," he ordered, "'an' I'll just help yo' rinse off." Freckles removed choice by using his tail to push them into Pettie's thighs. He giggled, "That was somewhat wasteful but it sure broke the ice and you two are better friends than ever," he sort of explained while he rubbed them down with his big hands that were quickly joined by four more pairs until the two newbies were almost purring louder than Freckles.

Hayden suddenly opened his eyes to look up at Pettie, "You planned this?" he asked with a smile and an arm around Justin's neck.

"Nope, not me, but you have Freckles to blame or thank; it was his idea for some light rough an' tumble to see what all might happen, an' it all worked out fine. Even them two straight boys lit outta here like they were on fire to get somewhere private," he glanced at Freckles, "although Freckles is still one big pampered pussy."

"I am not," Freckles protested out loud with a Buck style giggle, "I am loved by all humans I encounter. I cannot be blamed if you all wish to assist me in the shower bath." He cocked his head and his ears twitched, "Chief Bucky's helicopter has just departed his home place, we must hurry, I must help Coach Bill teach some very slow humans to swim faster, don't I, Marksman Pettie?" he asked with a malicious smirk; a cross between a frown and a smile, with one ear cocked forward and the other back.

Hayden and Justin were shocked, Haden looked up at Pettie to whisper a question; "Did you know that Freckles just talked?"

Freckles was sitting under the next shower rippling his pelt to rinse off. He collared the goobers together for the first time without looking and lifted them to in front of his eyes, "I am a Great Cat who can hear far better than any human and also now speak several languages if I choose. Do either of you goobers have a problem with that?" He returned the boys to the floor so they wouldn't choke and could answer.

Justin recovered first, "Why no Freckles," he assured. He rolled his eyes to the side at Hayden, "I knew you could talk all the time, it was Hayden who's unconscious," he accused with a giggle and attempted to evade Hayden's punch by stepping away. Freckles helpfully took him down and placed Hayden on top of his body.

"Stop this instantly!" Bani ordered. He shook his head in mock disgust and complained, "Now, not only do we have to put up with Katz brothers, Kad and Sidi, we now have the Goober brothers!"

While Kad and Sidi weren't sure what they were being accused of doing, or not doing, they understood that they were being joined by two American brothers, and welcomed the new brothers by assisting them to stand and `dust' them off most solicitously until they achieved the desired result and stood back to review their handiwork.

"Do you see what I mean?" Bani asked Pettie with a helpless gesture.

Kad ignored Bani and promised, "Tonight we will introduce you to paste…"

"You mean Stuff, not paste," Charlie corrected, "Why do I have to keep reminding you?"

Kad and Sidi looked at each other and sang "But that is what we just said!"

Freckles assisted all the guys to finish rinsing when he shook off to dry his pelt but everyone still had to dry themselves. Then Hayden and Justin, with Sidi and Kad to assist them, raced to their rooms to pack an overnight bag and their uniforms for the next day of classes. Hayden had a private room, a more costly choice, while Justin had a roommate who turned jealous when he discovered that Justin had been invited to overnight at the fabled Trenton Hall although the invitation made him a suspect of being gay. The resulting rumor would be worth the trip, he would see the house and the pool complex and maybe see the new prep school that would be finished and open in the fall. Both Hayden and Justin had already been independently agitating their parents to transfer as soon as applications started being accepted.

The first chopper trip was for Family members, guests, residents living at the pool and as many swim team members as they had room for. The rest of the team, all campus residents, would follow on the second trip. Total weight, not body count was the safety criteria and no one minded a bit of over-crowding. Everyone noticed that clouds had rolled in and the wind had increased as soon as they left the field house and everyone but Freckles was surprised when the chopper pilot advised of a sudden freak northeaster storm that was moving into the region and rainfall estimates were being expressed in inches, blown by winds approaching 60 mph. If these estimates turned out to be fact, students would have to get to school via ground transportation the next morning.

As usual, they landed in the empty parking lot at the pool end of the building, piled out and ran to the entrance with the rotors still turning. The chopper had lifted off again by the time everyone was safely inside, of course with Freckles in the lead. By the time the boys got to poolside, Freckles had greeted Coaches Bill and Scott and was in the water, happily motoring to the other end of the pool in his typical submarine mode, with only his long tail up to mark his progress and to keep track of everyone.

"Hi guys," Bill welcomed, "it's play time until the rest of the team gets here," he grinned and added, "and please don't hurt my new assistant coach."

"What do we do?" Hayden questioned the group while he and Justin watched everyone strip, pile their clothing on benches and begin to dive into the pool. Both were goggle eyed at seeing the growing amount of eye candy, no matter how briefly before it disappeared into the pool.

Sidi, Bani and Kad never came up after they dove. Hayden and Justin watched them form up and almost streak toward Freckles; way too fast for any human to swim under water and apparently not bothered by the need to breathe.

Doug and Buck were intent on catching up to Freckles in lane four the easy way; by running along the pool. "The first thing you need to do is get out of those clothes unless you want to get them wet," Buck shouted over his shoulder, "No clothes allowed in this room!"

Bill blew his whistle and shouted, "What are you two birds doing? This is not track practice. Get in that pool and swim if you remember how, after your long, restful vacation!"

Buck dove and Doug just dropped in the water head first; his Douggie dive. The two newbies to the group watched them carefully and were relieved to see them surface and swim normally toward the growing number of splashes that Freckles created by flinging swimmers, not just away, but several lanes away from where he still swam strongly and unperturbed, toward the other end of the pool. Suddenly his tail disappeared briefly, only to reappear with Bani held firmly by his ankles to be whipped away even further than he tossed the white guys. Kad followed next and Sidi soon after. Bill, Justin and Hayden were amazed by Freckles display of accuracy; he seemed to be aiming for Bani and he was returning to the Great Cat underwater.

Justin and Hayden heard Scott say to Bill; "Now you understand why the Cat warriors can't join the team."

Bill nodded but wondered, "What about teaching them conventional strokes?"

Scott shook his head, "They just don't need to breathe like we do. Snoopy watched Kad and Sidi, ah, really get it on with each other, if you know what I mean, on the damn river bottom, and when they finished they swam 900 yards back across the river without surfacing. If we put them in conventional races and they faked breathing, you'd have to explain a bunch of world record breaking times by three South American teenagers who never even saw a racing pool before, until today."

"I guess you're right," Bill lamented, "still, I wonder if they could be useful if they were attached to the team in some other way, maybe as trainers or managers, or maybe they could help by being starters and statisticians. Patrick is way too busy with the twins' business and unlike him, they certainly can swim. Do you think they could handle the video system?"

"Excuse me Coach, I'm Hayden and this is Justin," Hayden interrupted, "we couldn't help hearing what you were saying about the guys, and, well, we were kind of wondering if we could help out like Bani, Kad and Sidi, oh, and Charlie too, but we think he's completely human or normal," he laughed and pointed, "as you can see, he just caught up to Freckles since he just turned and is about to run Charlie down, while Freckles just gave the Cat warriors their second flying lessons…"

Hayden's offer to help was interrupted by the venues' speakers, "Okay all you water rats, out of the pool! Chief Bucky's helicopter is landing and practice must begin!" The timers clicked on and the giant screen flashed to life with it divided by as many cameras as there were above or below the pool.

"Did you know our screen could be split that many ways?" Bill asked Scott.

"What can I say," Scott laughed, "Mr. Fixit strikes again!" He saw Freckles turn on a burst of speed as the boys who lived on campus filed into the pool area and of course stopped to watch Freckles leap from the pool to the deck.

"FRECKLES NO!" he shouted already running, "They have to go back to school after practice and this is not the day to do it in sopping wet clothes," he warned.

"I was just about to make them ready for swim practice; no one likes wet cloth coverings," the Cat answered, clearly disappointed.

Scott nodded and shouted to the new arrivals, "You heard Coach Freckles; you have thirty seconds to get into the pool warming up, with or without clothes!" Freckles nodded. The electronic starting gun sounded and the scoreboard began blinking down from thirty. Everyone ran from the starting area while pulling off their coats and clothes. Freckles allowed everyone to escape him into the locker room and return before he shook off to show them what they missed while the adjacent wall ran with water and the pool deck drained into scuppers. From that day forward, the team stripped and left their clothes in the lobby before they ventured into the pool area and immediately dove into the water.

After the team began warm up laps Bill asked the Cat warriors and Charlie if they would be interested in helping the team out as managers or general gophers and of course, they were delighted to be included along with Hayden and Justin, the newly christened Goober brothers. Freckles gave the Cat warriors special instructions that required them to be in and under the water while Charlie, Hayden and Justin would do whatever was required using regular breathing.

Bill arched an eyebrow at Freckles, "What are the little guys going to do under there?"

"They will be additional cameras to look at boys swimming wrongly. If you ask or point at slow pokes, they will give very good close ups for correction of their movements," Freckles explained and pointed his tail at the big screen. It flashed to show three views of Pettie; one of his upper body; arms, hands and head; a second showed his powerful legs and feet. Unfortunately the third view was an extreme close up of his cock as it was buffeted by his bodies' forward movement and as they watched, a small hand reached into view to stroke it lovingly.

"SIDI," Freckles roared out loud through the PA system and in mind-speak, "DO NOT MAKE ME COME IN THERE!" he warned. The last third of the screen blinked to show an innocent view of Doug pacing Pettie in the next lane. The rest of the practice went better, after the swimmers got used to having a Cat warrior pacing them effortlessly, unannounced, and the coaches suddenly had hours of detailed never-seen-before recordings to review that also included what came to be called a `Sidi view' that identified each swimmer despite the caps and goggles, which made everyone look the same otherwise. If asked, Sidi could reveal a fairly accurate estimate of how many pubic hairs an individual sported on his scrotum; he was disappointed when no one did.

There was one other point of significance that marked that first special swim team practice; everyone, all the humans, noticed that the forecasted northeaster had arrived when they exited the building, but the anticipated rain had already turned to snow. Peter timed his arrival at the pool complex perfectly and Doug and Buck turned green with envy.

Buck looked up at Doug; Doug looked down on Buck. Doug answered the unasked question, "Don't look at me, I never heard of a snow plow store and if there was such a store, by now they must be over-run with last minute business like our Hummers."

There was a flurry of mind-speak as Freckles made himself comfortable in the bed of Big Foot; Peter's Ford 250, 4X4 crew cab that already was equipped with a plow. "Not a snow plow store," Peter sent, "a tractor store, you know like a place where they sell farm equipment? That's where I got mine."

Doug ran back into the residence and up to their apartment; he'd learned from Bucky and Buck that money talked louder than words, and to circumvent any waiting line to buy two plows for their Hummer's, a raised voice might be required. When he returned to the parking lot, Buck, who already looked like a miniature snow man, was putting away his cellphone and smiling. "David and Noah are on their way to drive us to Tractor Supply," he reported to Doug who was clutching a fat manila envelope, "we'll have first priority as soon as we get there." He added, "I forgot that Dad has been buying up farms around us and we're already their best customer."

"You better call your mom and tell her we'll be late for dinner," Doug suggested. It was clear that both boys were excited by the prospect of a new adventure, even one as mundane as plowing snow and had been broadcasting their thoughts.

"That won't be necessary," David intruded, "unless you really want to go along for the ride. Noah and I can get the plows hooked up, but there won't be enough snow to push for a few hours anyway. Plus your father is already chopping at the bit on the office helipad; he wants to get home before he's stranded and has already told the mechanics to have the Green Machine ready to go. Everyone needs to coordinate what roads and parking areas you guys are going to clear."

Meanwhile Peter had gotten out of his truck, had the back door open and was trying to coax Freckles from the truck bed by assuring him that there was room. Freckles agreed finally but ran off into the nearby woods first to take care of business, before he dove into the back seat, managed to turn completely around several times to find his most comfortable position, so his head was facing forward right at Peter's shoulder. The last thing they saw of Freckles was his tail that protruded from the slightly open split, sliding back window, already up in the periscope mode, while Scott and Pettie waved from the passenger side window. Scott was happily ensconced on Pettie's lap.

"We need to call our contractor to get him in to install some kind of Cat crapper in places where Freckles might be," Doug suggested, "like in the dorm, the community shower next to the lounge might work somehow. In the residence we could give Freckles a vacant one bedroom apartment and we could modify the bathroom in there as well. In the house, I'm sure there are bathrooms with toilets that have never been flushed."

"Touch base with Harm and Spencer, those two snoops have been all over Cat City, maybe Angus showed them what a Cat crapper looks like," Buck replied.

Freckles suddenly entered the conversation; "If you show me these bathing rooms, I will create proper places for my use," he volunteered, "but I will need certain supplies from Sea Song that is docking now at the safe place Chief Bucky provided."

"In this weather," Buck wondered, "how did they manage to get into the pier?"

Freckles snickered, "You forget that Snoopy is assisting."

"Fucking yes," Gregor reported gleefully, from Sea Song in Port Newark, "he is not just assisting; Snoopy has control and is allowing us to watch his flawless maneuvers from monitors in clear weather with no fucking snow. We will unload very quickly while the storm rages and there can be no inquisitive eyes to watch us, except for fifty armed guards."

Buck frowned slightly like is father, "Freckles, after they get unloaded, could you scan the guards? They wouldn't be there if they weren't trusted, but after they see the cargo, some might be tempted by a billion or so dollars in gold and artifacts just sitting there for the taking with some planning," he requested silently.

"Whoa, you scare me when you frown like your father," Doug observed, "are you concerned?" he asked.

"No, not really, I'm just taking a page from Evan and Charlie's playbook…"

"About time too," Charlie agreed, "there's suddenly a whole warehouse full of portable junk that wouldn't be missed before it's inventoried. Even that dumb asshole that snatched your watch collection and planned to sell them for 50 bucks apiece would realize the value of one little gem covered statue or cross. If I was one of those guards, I'd start bringing my lunch to work in a big canvass bag or backpack, I'd include a gallon jug full of something to drink, and even throw in some old clothes to cushion the loot. Then I'd make a big show of everything at lunchtime and sometime during my shift I'd lose all the unneeded shit and refill the bag. I bet Evan or me could walk out of there with a million bucks, each, per night," he assured them with a giggle.

Charlie, Bani, Sidi, Kad, Hayden and Justin were busy packing themselves into the back of Buck and Doug's Hummer, the one that wasn't registered, so normally, it couldn't be taken off the property; the seats hadn't been restored since Freckles' brief tenure, but the boys were happy to stretch out and even lay on top of each other in the interest of space conservation. David was driving the boys to the house while Doug and Buck rode shotgun. Noah was following in the second truck.

"Excuse me," Hayden began, "but what are we talking about here? One minute we're all laughing and messing with each other, and the next you guys start getting serious, talking about stealing a million dollars' worth of junk per night from a warehouse. What gives?"

Bani honestly explained that the junk wasn't really junk; it was gold bullion and gem--encrusted gold artifacts that was to be converted to cash and invested for his People's use to move their small tribe into the twenty-first century. They had just learned that the treasure had arrived and was being guarded by men who might think of stealing some, since it was mostly very portable and not known to be stolen, at least not by the Cat warriors in any recent century.

Surprisingly, Hayden laughed and thumped Charlie on the back, "Well Charlie, if I was guarding the junk with you and you showed me how easy it was to snitch some, I believe I'd invest in one of those big lunch backpacks too, and just like that," he snapped his fingers, "we'd get our whole shift involved to make shopping for the best junk easier."

Peter parked his truck, Big Foot, under the portico where he, Pettie, Scott and Freckles waited for the others to be dropped off. It became apparent that Freckles had been listening to the boy's conversation when he asked Hayden; "If someone was stealing from you, what would you do?"

Hayden turned serious, "Well, to give you a strictly hypothetical answer, I'll tell you a story; a few years ago I was playing with my Legos in my father's study. I liked to think I was helping him out while he worked at his desk and I guess he liked having me around because he never asked me to leave, even when he made really private phone calls. Dad called someone and said he had a problem with the president of one of our subsidiaries. The division was reporting huge grosses but my dad always looks at the bottom line and in this case profits kept falling. He said he had an audit done and discovered this president guy was cooking the books and his personal spending was way out of control; you know, like houses, yachts, cars, huge parties, all plural. Dad asked whoever he called if something could be done without any adverse publicity. Dad smiled at me after he hung up the phone and we even played with my Legos.

"I remember that nothing happened for over a month and suddenly Dad mentioned that this guy just disappeared off the face of the earth. Of course the police and the FBI got involved and they discovered that this guy left his family penniless, he sold everything before he disappeared, so what the cops thought at first, was foul play, turned out to be a case where this guy took some hooker to somewhere in South America, where he was spotted several times, living large with the hooker.

"Now that I'm older, I think the sightings are all bullshit, and hypothetically of course, I don't think this guy is living anywhere, or, at all. So to answer your question, hypothetically, I'd ask my dad for that phone number." Hayden concluded; Justin agreed with a definitive nod.

Justin whistled in the middle of the grand foyer, "Wow this is sure some house!" he complemented Buck.

Freckles agreed, "Yes, it is very ostentatious."

"Freckles," Buck whined as he looked around frantically while Doug laughed, less than helpfully, "please never use that word if my mother's around to hear you," he begged.

"Why not, it is a word that you use to describe this huge hut, that I will now call a mansion, thanks to Pettie for the correction."

"Well, that's just my personal opinion, but to say it in front of my mother would be like using the `f' word, understand?"

A short while later in the library, after the boys were served drinks in the Ancient's goblets, and Freckles was chasing cherries and pineapple wedges in his bowl, it was Hayden's turn to whistle after he saw that they were alone. "Is this the kind of junk we were talking about earlier?" After nods of agreement, he looked at the Cat warriors, "I think I need to change my hypothetical answer; I wouldn't call anyone; I'd load up and do the job myself." The Cat warriors agreed with giggles.

Bucky and Victoria arrived with the second round of drinks and were introduced to Hayden and Justin. "Are you Hayden junior?" Bucky asked.

Hayden laughed and shook his head, "No Sir, there are no juniors, twos, threes or fours in our family. There's a Hayden in each generation so far, but we all have different middle names."

"See Dad, the Banks clan did it right, why couldn't you and granddad do it that way too?" Buck complained once again.

Bucky giggled, "Okay you silly kid, I'll let you change your name, ah, your middle name only. If you're still unhappy with your first name just check the size of the trust, my father, your grandfather, set up for you. If we named you anything else, you'd actually have to work for a living after you get out of school, IF, you ever get out of school."

Bucky ignored Buck's additional sputters and turned back to Hayden, "I remember I had my security division do some work for your father a couple of years ago. It was something about a corporate officer disappearing, and your father wanted him found for the sake of the family he left behind. As I recall, the missing dude was spotted several times in South America, but he was gone before my people showed up. I'm sorry we couldn't be more helpful. After all this time, I doubt if the man will ever be found."

Later, after Bucky turned away to talk with Freckles and the warriors, Hayden grinned at Buck and whispered, "I guess I'll never need to ask my father for that phone number, I'll just call you and you can relay the message."

Buck didn't respond except to smile and nod.

My thanks once again to Emoe for his tireless efforts in editing my junk: THANK YOU!


Jamie Haze

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