I circle Snarl excitedly. “What’s my mission? Is it awesome! Will I wear a disguise?”
He silences me with a glare. “Let me start by telling you that there is an organisation named The Hidden. These cats are extremely smart, and their aims are to destroy humanity so cats can rule the earth. One of these cats - Pi - is rumoured to be living nearby, in this town. He has plans. Your first mission is to find out his plans for where he is living before he escapes. Got it?”
I nod. “So basically I have to go to this place and discover an evil cat’s plans?”
“Exactly.” Snarl turns around and starts to walk out of the room. He beckons me to follow him. “The place where we will send you is called Littlerock School. We have decided to give you a disguise and a codename,” he explains. We reach a door, and snarl jumps up to open it. Inside is a wooden structure I have seen in the house where I lived. Is ‘lived’ the right word? It’s not like this is my new home, or anything.
“So what’s going to happen here?” I ask Snarl.
Snarl walks over to some kind of rock thing and shakes it about. “I’m going to transform you into a brown cat with darker tabby stripes,” he explains. “Then I am going to make your eyes brown using contact lenses.” He jumps onto a table by the wooden thing. “Get onto the chair,” he orders.
I nimbly hop onto the chair.
“Close your eyes, Snowpaw, this stuff can make you blind.” Snarl shakes the rock thing a few more times.
“What is that anyway?” I ask, curious.
Snarl grunted. “This is a can of non-toxic spray paint. It’s used all the time for disguises. We have a cat here who makes it somehow. It sprays a brown dye onto your fur, making you look brown.”
A hissing sound comes out of the can and I feel a slightly wet cloud move all over my body. It feels nice, like the rain blowing droplets of rain onto me.
“You can open your eyes now,” Snarl meows. He pushes some kind of icy wall in front of me. It was like looking at my reflection, but clearer.
“Is this me?” I gasp. “What happened?”
Snarl reappears with a stick with one brown end. “I’m going to have to paint the stripes on,” he meows gruffly. “Watch out, the fur paint’s cold.”
I shiver as snarl paints the stripes. When he’s done, I twist and turn so I can admire myself. Hey, call me vain, but I really do love my new look!
“What about the eyes?” I ask. “You said I was going to have brown eyes.”
“Oh yeah, the eyes,” Snarl mutters. He opens a cupboard and rummages around. He comes back with a syringe and two see-through pebbles. I shudder. What’s going to happen now?
“I’m going to inject you with this, and you are going to fall asleep for a few minutes. This part is painful, so it’d be better if you were to feel no pain.” Snarl readies the syringe.
I feel a sharp stabbing pain in my back, and then I fall asleep.
“What happened?” I ask groggily. I stare up at the ceiling, waiting for it to come in focus.
“I put the contact lenses in,” shrugged snarl. “Your eyes are brown now.”
I roll over and off the chair, and somehow I land on all four paws, but only to collapse. Snarl moves the icy wall so I can see myself. And wow! I really do have brown eyes!
Snarl purrs. “Lets show the others.” He helps me up and carries me to the ‘main room’, as Snarl calls it.
The cats are perched on the kind of furniture that you would normally find in the main room of a twoleg’s house - armchairs, sofas, coffee tables. They are all gathered around a small fire.
“Got any sevens?” Silence asks politely.
“Nope. Go fish,” Bottle replies. Silence groans.
“Wait, is that snarl and Snowpaw?” asks Silence. She turns to look at me, and then the other cats copy her.
“I thought your days of working in the disguise department were long gone,” snickers Toothbrush. “But you did a good job, though,” he admitted.
Snarl carries me to the centre of the room and plonks me down on the carpet. A deck of cards goes flying. Silence rushes forward to stop one from landing in the fire.
“Snarl!” she screeches. “You’ve disrupted our game!”
“There are more important things to think about,” Snarl retorts. “Like her codename.”
Bottle’s paw shoots up into the air. “I suggest Nuts,” he yells. “Because, you know, she’s nuts.”
“Good suggestion,” nods Silence. “Is it agreed then? Her codename for this mission is Nuts. We take her to Littlerock by car next morning.”
The cats nod in unison. “Should I get dinner ready?” Scabs asks. “I’ll get the chicken out of the fridge.”
“Thanks, Scabs,” Silence replies coolly. She gathers up the cards. “So, a new game then? How about Old Maid?”
“Ooh, haven’t played Old Maid in ages!” meows Scar. “Shuffle the cards, then, Silence!”
Silence turns to me. “Do you want to join in, Snowpaw?” she asks. “We could teach you the rules of the game.”
I nod and hop onto an empty armchair. Silence tosses a few cards to me, and I inspect them closely. As kittypets, Silence and I used to play card games every evening when twolegs weren’t about. So I knew the basic rules of some card games and the names of each card. But I had never played Old Maid before.
“One queen is removed from the pack of cards, leaving 51 cards,” Silence explains. “The dealer deals out all the cards to the players. The players all look at their cards and discard any pairs they have.”
“The dealer begins. At your turn you must offer your cards spread face down to the player to your left. That player selects a card from your hand without seeing it, and adds it to her hand. If it makes a pair in her hand she discards the pair,” Penlid continues. Silence glares angrily at him.
“The player who just took a card then offers her hand to the next player to her left, and so on,” meows Silence. “If you get rid of all your cards you are safe and you take no further part. The turn passes to the next player to your left, who spreads his or her cards for the following player to draw one. Eventually all the cards will have been discarded except one queen - the old maid - and the holder of this queen loses. Ready to play?”
“Yep,” I nod confidently. I spot a pair of Jacks and a pair of Fives and throw them to the floor. I have three cards left. Bottle offers me to take a card, and I close my eyes and select one. I smile to myself. Another pair. I take the two queens with my teeth and let them fall to the tiled wooden floor.
“Snowpaw has one card left already!” gasps Penlid from across the room. I offer my last card to Snarl and he bitterly accepts it.
“I’ve won!” I yell.
Silence blinks. “I guess I’m not the best in the house at this game anymore.” She laughs and walks over to me. “Go and help Scabs in the kitchen, Snowpaw. It might help as to where you’re going.”
“Wait,” I meow. “Where exactly am I going? I mean, what’s it like?”
Silence purrs. “You’ll see when you get there.”
I hate cars. They’re scary and noisy and a whole lot of other uncomfortable things.
Silence tries to comfort me as we stand outside the house. “It’s only a fifteen minute drive,” she meows. “And Snarl had been driving all his life.”
“Cats can drive?” I yell. When we went to places as kittypets, we always hopped onto the back of pickup trucks or something. But driving? Isn’t that illegal?
I hear a rumbling, and a silver, shiny car slowly ventures out onto the driveway. I see Snarl’s white body poking above the window ledge thingy of the car.
“I didn’t know you owned a Porsche,” I yell.
“I own a lot of cars,” Snarl yells back. “Hop in, I’ve switched the radio on.”
I suddenly forget my fears and let out a whoop of excitement. I had once seen a Porsche while going into a city with Silence. I have always admired their speed and beauty. And I was finally getting inside one!
“How did you even get this?” I marvel. “I heard these cost a lot of money.”
Snarl purrs as he secures his seatbelt. “I have my ways.”
I fall silent as we race through the silent streets. It’s still dawn; not many cars about. I start to wonder if anyone will see us, or give us a speeding ticket. I immerse myself in the music from the radio. I don’t even stop to see if I recognise the tune; it’s always the same twoleg voices.
“Is there a radio station for cats?” I ask.
Snarl flicks his tail. “Sure.” He reaches out a paw and adjusts a knob.
I sigh in relief as I finally hear voices in my own language coming from the radio. “What’s this station called?”
“The Clan,” Snarl answers. “I think they’re about to play a song now.”
I smile as I listen to the song. Eventually we’re all singing along.
The singing is abruptly cut off as the car’s tyres screech. The car jolts to a stop. Snarl’s panting is the only thing I can hear.
And then I realise: the car is upside down.
And then blood drips onto my face.
But it’s not my blood.
“Hey!” A sharp voice barks in my ears. I wince. “Hey!” it barks again. “You alive? That was quite a tumble back there.”
My head shoots up. I yowl in pain as a shard of glass slashes down my ear.
I look around, my vision blurred. Snarl is up and ready to leave the wreckage, but Silence still lies on the car ceiling (well it’s more like the floor now,) in a small puddle of blood. I gasp in horror.
“We took her pulse, she’s still alive,” meows the cat carelessly. “We’d better get you to Olga.”
I almost choke with laugher. Olga? What kind of a name is that?
The strange cat drags me out of the car. “We’re lucky that there were no flames. The school would’ve been in great danger otherwise.”
The school? So I’m finally here!
I spot Snarl heaving Silence’s body across the stone. I just hope that she’ll be okay…
“Olga!” yells the cat after he dumps me on the floor as soon as we arrive in the school. “These cats arrived in a car crash.”
I see a timid brown she-cat hurry into the room. “I’ll take them from here, sir. The two she-cats. I guess I should leave the tom so he could—”
The cat snarls at her. “My business in confidential,” he snarls.
“Oh yes, sir, my apologies, sir,” squeaks the cat who must be Olga, and once again I am being dragged.
“Is this Littlerock School?” I ask groggily.
“Why yes, dear.” Olga bustles about the room where she probably appeared from, humming as she worked.
“Why are cats here if this is a human school?”
“That, my dear, is a story for another day.” She stares at me with large, brown eyes. “What is your name, dear?”
I shake my head quickly, preparing for the reciting of the lines I had practised last night. “Nuts,” I meow, clear as water. “I’m here to enrol.”
Olga peers at me suspiciously. “How did you hear about this place?” she asks.
“I spotted cats on the school grounds. I was a loner, and figured that this would be a nice place to stay. I am a quick learner and can learn anything. The two cats are my friends. They escorted me here, and the other she-cat in this room will go as soon as her injuries have healed. I assume it’s not long until the humans return?” I tilt my head.
Olga purred. “It’s Half Term, so we have a few days to spare. Plenty of time to teach you whatever skill you will be instructed to learn.” Her eyes grow wide again. “It could be anything.” She hurries me out of the room. “Go and see Sir. Just down the corridor there. I’m sure the cat that got taken into Sir’s office has already told Sir about the purpose of your arrival.”
I look back at her and nod, before sprinting down to where I was dumped on the carpet. Snarl reappears, followed by the strange cat. He is black, with neon stripes criss-crossing his body. A white shape is on his forehead.
Snarl dips his head. “This is Pi. He wishes to talk to you in the confidentiality of his office.” He turns to Pi. “May I see my companion? I believe she is injured.”
Pi purrs and flicks his tail. Down that corridor, first room on the left. You won’t miss it.”
Snarl dips his head in a quick gesture of thanks and hurries down the corridor.
Pi steps aside to let me through the door to his office. “Welcome, Nuts. I’ve heard a bit about you from your friend. Now please, tell me more about yourself. Why did you wish to enrol here at Littlerock School?”
I quickly recite the same story that I had given Olga. At the end of it, Pi nods his head. “I see. With a bit of training in your chosen field, you will make an excellent addition to the group.”
Field? What is Pi talking about?
He gestures to a box thingy sitting on the desk. “You,” he meows menacingly, “Are going to be the world’s greatest hacker. And I am going to teach you how.”