Sheridan was interested to note another one of the amazing achievements of men at the Dum-Dum International Airport But the party or at least what was left of it was moving on. Only Oreste, Jean, and a few others continued with the cargo aboard a big liner.
We pick up again on the second day of the voyage.
Which is the point where I come in.
I hadn't been told anything about Sheridan, but I found out soon enough. He had just had a major falling out with Jean, and was sulking in Jean's cabin, when I showed up. I had stowed all my things and secured my cats' cages in my cabin the way I wanted, much to the bemusement of the steward who expected them to get their own room, cargo class or something.
Sheridan was scared. Jean hadn't ever talked to him like that before. He wished he could understand the words, or that he could get away, but Jean had locked the door and was looking at pages and pages of pictures and symbols, but the pictures didn't go together so he couldn't tell what it was about. He went to the door and remembered that it was locked. Then he went to the closet. It would have been a good place to hide if there was more stuff in it. He closed the closet and went to the door again. Someone was rattling the doorknob! But it was still locked. Now they were pounding on the door. Jean yelled for him to stop trying to break the door. He snarled and went into the bathroom. He had learned that it was a place where he would generally be left alone. The pounding came again. Jean put down the newspaper and went to the door, "Greetings, Michelle, what a congenial surprise," He said, "Do come in."
"Regards et Gracias," I said and told him how I came to be in India and how I had remained so we would share the same boat on the return voyage.
"It's a most masterful plan," he said, "Tell me about the tour I think I saw something about it in the paper but it was very superficial almost perfunctory."
So I told him while he found me a place to sit and something to drink.
"Now I hear, through Mother I think," he said, "that you have been testing a relational technique with your charges."
"Oh yes," I said, "I spend most of my day being interested in them, and during practice and performance they are both consistent and attentive. Also I don't use nor do I need to use the props. I mean the whips, baits, and things. Just speech and body language."
"Wow, that sounds better for both you and the cats"
"Well, most of the time," I replied, "It's amazing how fast they can get their cages messy sometimes."
"You seem to like it, even though it sounds like more work to me," said Jean.
"Oh, all relationships require more work to get deeper."
"Well yes, I guess so, but I hadn't considered it that way," he said thoughtfully, "Oh, I wish I could stop traipsing around and get into research. I can't start solid relationships now; although I'm careful to handle all animals that pass through my hands carefully so at least not to instill fear."
"I admire you for that. As well as for following your heart out of the family show business into science," I encouraged, "Or whatever you call it," I added quickly thinking that science was too broad a term for his liking.
"Oops!" he gasped and ran into the other room and shut and locked the suite door, "Sorry," he said when he returned, "I have something loose in here that I would prefer didn't run around the ship in it's current state.
"I thought I heard an adult cat on defensive in here before you opened the door. I thought you couldn't catch adults unless you had reason to believe that it was tame or could survive in captivity better than in the wild."
"This is neither cat nor adult," he said, "But he has lived as both in the wild for quite some time."
"Are we talking about the same thing?" I asked incredulously.
"Indisputably," he said calmly, "Sheridan is in the bathroom I think."
"Do you mind if I have a look?" I asked.
"Not a mite," He said.
I went to the bathroom and knocked on the door, "Sheridan," I called. Nothing. I tried the knob. It was locked. He snarled at me. It's meaning I recognized immediately. It was the same that my cats use when they want me not to open their cages.
"He has never locked him self in the bathroom before," said Jean, "He's angry at me, I think."
"That's not an angry snarl," I told him, "It's more like a request for privacy"
"I covet your experience," Jean said. He always believed everything I told him about cats, or at least he never questioned it without a second opinion. I was careful not to abuse this trust.
"What keeps you from doing research?" I asked as we walked back to the table.
"I can't get a grant," he said, "Even if I intended to pay for it myself nobody will take me seriously."
"Because of the name?" I asked.
"Pretty much," he replied morosely, "Because everyone know that Aubrey's are circus people, nobody takes me seriously even if my experience growing up would have given me and edge over others."
"Have you published anything?" I asked. Remembering that in the science world nobody listened to you unless you had already said something. I guess it's just like anything else you have to be able to prove that you have experience.
"I have a couple papers but they don't hold to the party line so it might hurt not help my chances if I published them," he said.
"Really like what?" I asked.
"Like parts of the world becoming more or less arid without human interference. Certain ecosystems becoming less livable because of global cooling," he said, "Stuff that can't be abridged and put in lay science journals to pressure an increase in government spending."
"But isn't that why you wanted to go into Ecology or Zoology or whatever, was to change lawmakers understanding of the habitat destruction problem."
"Yeah I guess, and Ecology is what they call it, although I do zoology also."
"So publish them. If no one can bring evidence against it, then submit them to a popular journal yourself," I said, "Make sure to tune down the jargon when you do though."
"Yeah, I hear you," he said lightening up a bit, "But I never actually asked you to read my thesis."
"Wasn't there a bet involved? I think I lost my boyfriend in the deal"
"He wasn't your boyfriend," Jean said.
"Yeah? We apparently must have thought something of each other. I didn't know it was mutual until he told me he had bet on me. but by then it was pretty much too late. I wouldn't have minded making such a fool of myself if it hadn't been that he had expected me not to."
"Oh, I didn't realize that; although, I did think it kind of odd that he even considered taking me up on that idle 'I bet'"
"You're forgiven. I just wish we had at least spoken before so that we didn't make assumptions about each other's strengths and weaknesses, rather than trying to defend my honor, I mean intelligence. Then I could have at least told him that I wasn't well read in certain parts of animal psych."
"There's nothing wrong with your intelligence, just a stubborn disinterest in books that you disagree with."
"Thank you," I said. My watch began beeping.
"What's that about?" Jean asked.
"That's my fifteen minute warning. Time to feed my cats," I explained getting up.
"I understand," Jean said, "See you at dinner I guess. I'd like to introduce you to the rest of the expedition," he said as we walked to the door.
"No, but maybe breakfast tomorrow. I take dinner in my cabin after my cats are fed."
He unlocked the door, "All right then, Until breakfast tomorrow."
"Regards," I replied, "Will Sheridan be there?"
"I really have no idea," Jean said, "He's only been moody like this once before I have no idea how long it will last."
"Ok, well pray for the best," I said.
Sheridan listened to the new voice. It sounded strangely uncommunicative like is was hiding something; Although he could understand some of the words. Also he could tell from Jean's voice that they were glad to see each other. He waited until the voice left then came out of the bathroom.
Jean was done reading and was looking for something. Sheridan decided to look at the pictures that Jean was no longer examining. There was a picture of mountains. Mountains! That is what had been missing! Missing since they began traveling! Interesting he had never noticed them before, until they weren't there. Then of course he couldn't tell what it was that he was noticing wasn't there. It made him a little home sick to see them now, but mostly it made him lonely. He went in to where Jean was. He was putting wires into a black box, "Hello Jean," he said.
"Hello," said Jean absentmindedly.
"What you do?" asked Sheridan.
"I'm putting this together so I can look at it."
"I look at things apart," suggested Sheridan confused.
"This is for reading things I can't read."
"No it reads little numbers that are too small for me to see," Jean tried to explain. He knew that the boys thought process were well developed although the speech seemed very immature.
"Little? What numbers?"
"They're too small I can't show them to you."
"Letters say talking. What numbers say?" Sheridan clarified.
"Numbers say how many," Jean was not sure how to explain quantity.
"What 'how many'?" Sheridan. He knew that 'many' meant a lot but how many was like asking what color the sky smelled."
"You have some fingers."
"Yes," said Sheridan guardedly.
"Stick out a finger," Commanded Jean. Sheridan always had his hands in fists unless he was angry. Sheridan put out his right index finger. Jean noticed that the nail was mostly clean although it was a centimeter long, one of the shortest, "stick out another one," he commanded. Another nail and finger appeared. This nail was average length, two centimeters. It was much cleaner than the other. He remembered the trouble his little sister Marguerite had learning to count past two. He decided not to count to two based on the fact that it wasn't one but instead impart the idea of cardinal numbers immediately since Sheridan already understood the concept of singular vs. plural. "Raise another one." Sheridan raised the index finger on the other hand. He was starting to think that this raising of fingers might somehow be the answer to the question. Jean pointed at the one to the far right. Sheridan's far left. May as well reinforce left to right progression at the same time, "One," he said.
"One?" echoed Sheridan.
"Two," said Jean pointing to the next finger.
"Two," said Sheridan. Thinking that they were naming fingers.
"Three," said Jean
"Three?" said Sheridan putting his hands so that the index fingers touched on both hands, "It is another 'One'"
"No their both pointer fingers," Jean said, "Three is how many fingers are up."
"Put up another finger," said Jean. Out came another, "Four," said Jean.
"What 'four'?" asked Sheridan. Jean counted the fingers again this time finishing with four. Sheridan blinked. some where in his mind he was groping for the light switch. He raised a finger with out being asked.
"Five," said Jean pointing at the new finger this time. Up came another. "Six," said Jean
Sheridan put up all his fingers. "'How many' now?" he asked. Jean started over and counted all of them. Sheridan closed one hand and asked again. "How many?" he asked again. Jean counted them. Sheridan switched hands, so he could point with his right hand. Pointing to each finger he counted, "One, Two, Three," then he paused before moving on finally he pointed to the next one. "What," he said at last.
"Four," Jean prompted
Sheridan pointed to the next one and finished, "Five."
Jean held up all his own fingers and said, "Count."
"Count how many."
Sheridan counted through five and stuck on six. Jean prompted him until he finished. Then Sheridan counted again not stopping until eight. The third time he went all the way through by himself.
"'How many' is easy," said Sheridan, "But why say it 'how' 'many'? 'Many' means allot. 'How many' doesn't mean 'What allot'?"
Jean laughed, "I don't know that's just how to say it."
"'How many' means 'count'. What 'numbers'?"
"One is a number. Two is a number. You count numbers. Numbers are special letters."
"Numbers are different than letters because they say how many not what sound to say."
"What numbers can it read?" asked Sheridan at length. pointing to the laptop.
"Lots and lots of little ones," said Jean.
"Where?" Jean handed him an old backup disc he didn't need anymore.
"I see numbers here," said Sheridan.
"What?!" said Jean startled looking up, "No those are letters telling who made it. The other side has the numbers for the computer to read."
"There's nothing on that side except a water picture without ripples like in the bathroom," he said after a while.
"I told you that the numbers are too little to see," Jean said, after he had parsed Sheridan's reference to the mirror in the bathroom.
"Kittens get hungry," said Sheridan matter-of-factly. Jean looked at his watch, It was the exact same time Sheridan always disappeared to help whoever fed them before dinner.
"You don't know where they are," said Jean.
"You do," countered Sheridan, "Say come."
"What?" Said Jean.
"You say 'come'," said Sheridan, "I come."
"You want me to lead you?" probed Jean.
"Both go to Kittens," agreed Sheridan.
"Alright I'll take you, but we will go somewhere else before we come back."
"Good, kittens first," he consented.
Jean led the way. Picking up the keys on the way out and locking the door behind them.
"Why lock door? No people in rooms," asked Sheridan as they walked down the corridor.
"Locks keep bad people out," Explained Jean.
"Locks keep scared people in," Sheridan theorized.
"Some locks keep mean or angry people in," Jean suggested.
"Scared people with keys and locks stay inside where bad people can't get them," Explained Sheridan thinking of the kittens, "Scared people without locks can run. Scared people with locks stay stuck."
"That could be true I suppose, but scared people without locks must run when bad people come. Running allot makes you tired," countered Jean.
"Running didn't make me tired. Hungry made me tired. Bad man caught me when I stopped to eat."
"When?" asked Jean. Hoping that he wasn't the bad man.
"Bad man made me go where I didn't know. When he let me go, a bug bit me and made me sleep. I woke-up with lots of men. Nice men to me."
"You and Oreste"
"Oh," said Jean thoughtfully, "That wasn't a bug. I made you go to sleep."
"Because I thought you would think I was for eating."
"No, big things are too big to eat. Except, ... too many wolves can eat big things. I would have thought that you were another mean man, but I didn't known you were men until you turned on the light in the sleeping building. Then I knew that you were men and that I wasn't a kitten," Narrated Sheridan.
"You are too big to be a kitten," objected Jean.
"A big, smart kitten that went away from... from... other kittens and other big kitten."
"Big kittens are called cats or if you know what kind, leopards, tigers or lions," suggested Jean.
"Then I knew that I was a little man kitten not a big cat," Finished Sheridan again.
"Did the other cats think you were a cat?"
"Most said I was shaped strangely, but none said that I wasn't a cat. it wasn't until the bad man chased me far away to where other men were that I knew any others like me were around."
They walked awhile in silence.
"Come back, we get in here," Jean said pointing to the elevator.
"Who knocked on the door?" asked Sheridan suddenly.
"Nobody can knock on the door right now, we are going down too fast," protested Jean.
"On the bathroom door when I was in it."
"Oh," said Jean, "That was my sister."
"That means we were children of the same parents."
"What 'children' and 'parents'?"
"Children are little people. Parents are the man and the woman that take care of them."
"Oh you talk about your first friends, play fighting friends?"
"Yes, somewhat," conceded Jean, "Here are the kittens," He began looking for the key.
"Why did she try to get me?"
"She likes tigers and she likes children. you were both," explained Jean "So she wanted to see you. Maybe talk to you."
"What? She talks like she can't like anything," objected Sheridan.
"She does talk oddly. I think she talks that way so that the tigers that she takes care of don't misunderstand her since they can't understand her words," Jean replied. "It's already unlocked."
"What tigers does she take care of?"
"After we help feed the kittens we can go and see."
"I was surprised that you didn't show up before me," came a voice from the far end of the room, "But now I see that you had to drag Jean along."
"He was learning how to count," said Jean.
"I can already count but I didn't know what people call the numbers," objected Sheridan defensively.
"How many kittens are there?" asked the man at the end of the room.
"Jean hasn't told me that many numbers," He said with out looking. "There are three cages. four and three and five kittens in the three different ones."
"He can remember numbers well," said the other handler mystified, "It would appear that he did already know how to count."
Sheridan looked at the cages, "You fed seven. I feed five?" he asked.
"Sure here's the food."
"Tigers can't count as high as ten," said Sheridan thoughtfully, "some seven, most to six I think."
"How high could you count?" asked Jean
"I start over. instead of saying 'one more than five', 'some more than five' I say 'two more than five' 'three more than five'"
"That's what we do when we have more than ten. We say 'seventeen' which means seven and ten or maybe 'thirty-seven' which means three tens and seven," explained the man.
"Counting fives or tens... that is smart," exclaimed Sheridan, "but I never need to count that much."
"That is enough food for those kittens," warned Jean.
"I talked not counted," said Sheridan dejectedly.
"That's ok," said the man, "They're the only ones that finish every time."
"I wonder if they are older that we thought," pondered Jean thoughtfully looking at the kittens trying to estimate age.
The other man glanced at Sheridan in time to see him making faces at the kittens.
"They know four big moons before you put them in the truck."
"Do they remember from when they were born," asked the man. Jean was busy lifting his chin off the floor.
"From when they look around. I think," said Sheridan.
"Huh," said the man.
"You mean from when they can open their eyes?" asked Jean.
"Oh," said the man, "That would make them six or eight weeks older than we thought. I'll have to check and see if they should be getting more."
"Come Sheridan," said Jean, "I want to ask Michelle something before dinner."
"Who's Michelle?" asked the man.
"My sister the circus star," said Jean.
"Michelle, your sister? Oh, you're that kind of Aubrey."
"Yes, that's us. It gives me an advantage so far as knowledge goes. but credibility? even a Doctorate didn't help."
"Hmm. You become most interesting," said the man, "I did notice that you seemed to know almost everything about big cat handling but weren't aware that others didn't unless someone asked you."
"I guess that might be true I hadn't thought about it that way."
"Have you done any research?"
"None since my thesis, and that was all secondary research, I can't get a grant."
"Have you published anything, even any secondary research? Remember publish or perish."
"I have a couple papers but they don't hold to the party line so it might hurt not help my chances if I published them."
"Hmm like what?"
"Like certain climates becoming less livable and habitats being destroyed because of global cooling," he said, "Another on parts of the world becoming less or more arid without human interference. Stuff that can't be abridged and put in lay science journals for the purpose of pressuring an increase in government spending."
"I want to go," said Sheridan
"I want to talk to Mr. Albert," said Jean.
"I want to talk," said Sheridan.
"Then settle down," said Jean.
Sheridan went back past them into to the room with the cages.
"Hmm interesting. I'd like to read them. Maybe others would too. You ought to publish them and see if you get a scientific refutation or just angry criticism."
"Either would be bad for my reputation."
"If you tone down the fact that it goes against current assumptions, and admit all the relevant facts even ones that don't mesh perfectly with the paper's thesis. You should avoid the angry criticism and may cause the scientific answers to be more suggestions about how the out of line facts can be incorporated by modifying the theory rather than reasons to drop the research entirely."
"I want to talk to someone and not say new words," said Sheridan, "I want to talk to someone who is old enough to be a hunter. One that doesn't fear me for being out of a cage."
Jean and Mr. Albert just looked at him for a moment.
"I think you have a lonely tiger on your hands. We can talk later."
"Sorry," said Jean, "but I think you're right."
"Don't apologize. You can't help it. Fitting in is hard work. Everyone deserves to have someone to come home to that doesn't need them to change."
"You sound like you speak from experience."
"I didn't fit in very well in school. but in collage I was an idiot along with everyone else."
"Ah right. come Sheridan. All you had to do at my school to fit in was to want to grow up and do what your parents did. I didn't entirely; I wanted to learn about cats and how they live not how to train them."
"Glad to see that you have stuck to it. Keep me posted on where you get from here," said Mr. Albert.
"Thank you for the advice Mr. Albert. It will provide food for thought," said Jean opening the door.
"I hope it helps. Auf wiedersehen," said Mr. Albert, "I guess I'll look up the new food measurements."
"What 'Auf wiedersehen'?" asked Sheridan after they were on their way.
"It's like good bye but it means 'until we meet again', " explained Jean "but it's German instead of English."
"What 'German' and 'English'?"
"They are languages. Different people in different places use different words. Sometimes people like to use words from other languages to say things because the thing that they want to say is easier to say in another language."
"Or maybe someone might use one language if they couldn't say what they wanted to say in the language that they were already using words from?"
So they discussed cat dialects until they got to
the first class section, "Wait Sheridan. I don't know where we go next. I have the number here let me see where her room is on the map."
"Which number?" asked Sheridan.
"Here it is," Each set of rooms on the ship is given a number. I know that my sister is in room 314 so I just had to find that number on the map so now I know where on the ship her rooms are. Ah, lets see," he said turning to look around, "down this hall," Soon they located the small suite. On the door hung a sign, "Warning: Tigers loose when dead bolt is locked," Jean knocked.
"Who is it," came a yell muffled by the door.
"This is Jean and Sheridan," Jean answered.
"Oh, friends. Will one of you open the door please?" came the voice not yelling now even more muffled by the door. A couple seconds later the door unlocked, unlatched and opened almost at the same time. As the door opened farther, they could see a tiger take one of his paws out of a well worn rug that hung from the ceiling by pulley and cord just beyond the reach of the swinging door.
Jean was taken aback, surprised that the tigers were given the capability of unlocking the door. Sheridan signed hello to the tiger and looked beyond it to the rest of the room. There were cages on wheels lined up against the far wall. They had all been left open. In the middle of the room sat a lady with long hair attending to one tiger in some way and there were two more lounging sleepily against her.
"Hello," the tiger signed back, "I didn't know that any other people had learned our language."
"It was all I ever knew until last full moon," Sheridan replied.
"The lady can understand us mostly but isn't very good at signing yet. She's making progress though. But we have been with her long enough to know what motions she uses for what."
As the lady looked up, the sign on her face changing from a satisfied "finished." to a warm, "greetings friends." "Regards," She said aloud in that even toned voice, "Come in and shut the door. Having the door open makes the tigers nervous."
"All right," said Jean nudging Sheridan slightly.
Sheridan stepped inside the door but didn't advance further until he had asked the tigers permission to enter their territory.
"Yes, come in. and welcome," signed back the three that were facing his way.
"We've never met any man that could sign so distinctly," complemented the one that opened the door.
"I think we all would like you to stay as long as the people let you," said the one lounging against the cages he had looked up when the door opened now he got up and stretched. The two that were lounging against Michelle were obviously asleep or wished to be.
"If you don't mind I hope to shed for a little while longer. Please don't go before we have a chance to chat," said another that immediately went back to rolling back and forth, scraping his back on the top of the cages.
"You concern yourself too much with your appearance," squealed and giggled the last one that was awake, the one that had just been groomed.
"What about you," whined the one on the cages indignantly without stopping his wriggling.
"I get my coat brushed as often as possible because it feels good. Besides I never stay up late enough in the morning just to get a spot to sleep next to the lady."
"Thank you all. you are very kind," signed Sheridan and looked back at me.
"What is wrong kitten?" I signed.
"Nothing now," Sheridan signed back. Jean wiggled around him and eyeballed the door. to see if it would close behind Sheridan.
"Something was wrong," I signed, "Do you want to talk about it?" I said aloud.
"Talk about what?" asked Jean turning around, very surprised and somewhat confused by the question, "Whether I suppose. it would be expensive if your liability insurance agency found out that your tigers could open the door?"
"No, they know that already, but the drop in the fire insurance and tiger's health insurance balances it out. I was talking to Sheridan about why he was crying," I replied without looking away from Sheridan. Jean stared at me, "I didn't know he --," he got out before I spoke again to answer Sheridan.
"I don't need to talk about it," Sheridan signed ignoring Jean, "I just.--"
"I didn't understand you," I signed. a phrase I used to use an awful lot with the cats, "I'm sorry, I don't know those words," I apologized aloud.
"I just want to stay here," he signed stepping forward and sitting down to show where here was. Jean tried to close the door, but the apparatus that allowed the tigers to open the door also spring loaded the dead bolt lock shut.
"I understood that," I said. Sheridan looked deeply into my eyes.
"I think maybe, he was crying because he was lonely or homesick," Jean said, he hadn't turned around yet and was sure that my last utterance was in response to his last.
"I just want to stay here," Sheridan repeated and started to cry again.
"Come here," I said. I tried to say it soothingly, but I was out of practice and it didn't sound very soothing to me. He came anyway. He might have come even if I hadn't said anything. I was somewhat hemmed in by two 350 pound cats and couldn't have gotten away quickly even if I had wanted to.
Jean had turned around just before Sheridan began to sob audibly, "I didn't get any of that except that you two talk with your faces," he said.
"Just lock the door," I said. he turned back around and saw the problem so he pulled on the rope and shut the door successfully and turned back around. He gazed first at Sheridan, who was curled up in a somewhat feline way except his head was on my knees, then looked pleadingly at me.
"He is very lonely," I explained, "He want's to stay here with me"
"It's fine with me," he said at last, "but I'm responsible for him until the embassy can track down his parents."
I nodded. Sheridan's sobs began to calm a little, "That makes sense," I said beginning to stroke Sheridan's back, "but he might as well stay here with me until we reach port."
He finally consented, but he insisted it all be put on his bill because he expected partial reimbursement. He also asked my advice about which paper to release first and if I had an extra copy of some piece of software that I had never heard of. He had left by the time Sheridan woke up.
By the time Sheridan woke up Jean had left and I had groomed all the cats. In fact I was almost done cleaning cages.
When he woke up he growled or purred for about half a second, not long enough for me to tell which. Then he jumped to his feet fully conscious he looked around for a couple seconds until his eyes fell on Napoleon, who also hadn't woken up when I moved. I was directly behind him. so he didn't see me at first although he might have been looking for Jean. He turned around and asked, "Where Jean?"
"He left you here with me," I told him, "You can stay here with me until the boat gets to land again."
"What boat, and land?" asked Sheridan.
"A boat is something that floats on the water so you can ride on it without getting wet. we are in one now. Land is where there is dirt or rock to stand on. Right here there is only water."
He looked around. Then he asked, "How long until the boat gets back to land?"
"We are going away from India," I said, "It will take about two weeks to get where we are going."
"A week is seven days," I said.
"The boat goes for two weeks?" asked Sheridan thoughtfully.
"Maybe more," I said.
He didn't say anything for moment, "More than ten days," he said after a moment, "Four more than ten," he said after a longer pause.
"Maybe more," I said again.
"Maybe more," he repeated.
"Counting with ten instead of with five is hard," he said.
"What do you mean counting with five?" I asked.
"Most cats count with five. they can count all the way to five and one. I counted to five and five until Jean thought me how to say numbers. then his friend Mr. Albert said to count tens."
"Oh," I said astonished, "that's why cats can only remember numbers up to six."
During the next few days he became well acquainted with the cats, me, and our daily regimen. Each morning we would breakfast. Sometimes with Jean's party. I would practice with the cats sometimes in the morning. Other things were also on the schedule. Either daily or weekly I would feed them (daily of course), clean their cages (daily generally), groom them (weekly generally unless requested), and other things that pertain to cat care.
"We really in a boat?" Sheridan asked Jean during breakfast one day.
"Yes," said Jean, "Don't you remember going over water to get on it?"
"Yes a little. but I was mostly trying not to get pushed away from you."
"There were a lot of people getting on weren't there?"
"Is the boat still in water?"
"Yes it's too big to get out of the water except on a dry dock."
"Can I go see the water?"
"Michelle," called Sheridan.
I looked over from where I was talking to Mr. Montague, who was one of the handlers and a vet. He was a childhood friend since his father had worked as the troop veterinarian for the same circus that my parents worked with when I was seven or eight.
"Can I go and see the water?" Sheridan signed to me.
"What water," I signed back.
"The big water that the boat is in," he called back.
"Sure, but I can't take you until after lunch."
"I can take him at about ten o' clock," called Jean, "After I feed the kittens."
"That's fine," I called back, "He might even want to help feed the kittens."
"Thank you," signed Sheridan, and I turned back to Mr. Montague 'The Doc' Jr.
After I had finished the morning activities with my charges, I went up and searched the deck for Jean and Sheridan. Suddenly there was a scream. I turned around trying to locate it. People started shouting and running that way. I was trying to make out what they were yelling when something came rushing past me growling. It sounded like a tiger, although I didn't immediately recognize the growl. So it likely wasn't one of mine; although, I had left the the lock pull engaged. I looked down the aisle to where it jumped a tea table barely missing a beautiful ceramic teapot.
"First someone overboard then a lion loose," said some one in a bored voice. "He probably went over board to get away from the lion."
"Tigers don't mind swimming," I remarked looked after it. Plotting a less acrobatic route.
"Then whoever it was didn't think it was a tiger."
Whatever it was didn't stop long enough for me to get a good look at it, but it was obviously too tall to be a tiger. When got to the gathering crowd of people it veered aside well before it reached the obstruction and went over the railing.
"Don't you care about the poor soul that had the tiger after him?" asked a woman nearby totally shocked.
"I feel more for the one that let the cat out," I heard behind me as I ran toward a ladder that I had noticed while boarding. It was probably in case someone fell over board, so they could climb back up.
I got to the railing just above the ladder just before the crowed started to break up and come that way. There was Sheridan in the water swimming with a really little kid. He must have seen it fall in from across the deck and jumped in to save it. Now he was swimming back towards the ship with impossible speed. Someone yelled something about a shark but I didn't see anything. Sheridan was climbing up the ladder. He didn't look like he had a good grip on the boy. It was a boy, a little boy maybe three maybe less. There was a shark fin. Too late Mr. Shark you don't get to munch on people today. Then there were lots of sharks swimming in tight circles, and there was blood in the water. Apparently there was something else down there. Sheridan had stopped and was changing his grip on the little boy. Grabbed him by the heal? Oh, Upside down around the tummy. Now he was climbing up again. The little boy was spitting water.
"Yuck!" said someone.
"My poor baby," said someone behind me.
I tried to squeeze aside to let her to the top of the ladder but there wasn't much room. By the time we were done maneuvering in the press of the crowd he was at the top and wanted someone to take the baby from him. Then he tried to turn himself upside down but it didn't work so well.
"Oh no, what happened?" said the mother.
I looked down there was a trace of blood on the small boy's sopping shirt, which was being rapidly taken off. Underneath there was no sign of injury.
I looked back at Sheridan I noticed that the hand that had carried the boy up the last part of the ladder was bloody. Was that where the blood came from? He had managed to turn himself upside down by catching his shoe between one rung of the ladder and the hull. Wow that was a lot of water he had ingested. I hoped that he could get out the majority of it. I hoped that his shoe didn't come off, or rather, that he didn't fall out of his shoe. Shoes! He swam that far that fast with shoes on? No wonder he had breathed so much water. Then he had climbed up the ladder with sopping clothes, shoes, some sort of cut on his hand, and a water logged 3 year old as well? I didn't know that he was that strong.
Now he was shaking off like a dog. I don't think he planned it that way but it made everyone back away from the railing enough for him to get inside it. He shook again didn't do much good this time he tried to purr once very loudly it should have sounded almost like when you stretch and groan at the same time, but it ended in a bunch of coughing instead. I squeezed around the little boy's mom to Sheridan.
Sheridan got over his bout of coughing and started looking around.
"Are you ok?" I asked doubtfully.
Sheridan noticed me and signed, "Hello, when did you get here?"
"Are you alright?" I signed this time.
"I feel like I tried to jump into a tree and hit my head on the branch instead," he said back, "except my head doesn't hurt on the outside and my ears are wet."
The crowd was beginning to thin so that the crew and relatives could get in, "Can you walk," I asked.
"Of course I can walk," he said indignantly, "I climbed that long ladder."
"Come on, Sheridan," I said leading him by the arm across the deck back toward my cabin, "Let's get you into dry clothes."
"New clothes?" he asked, "just cause I got wet?"
"Yes I don't want you to catch cold," I said, "And it would be nice to be out of the crowd also."
"What 'catch cold'?" he signed through a new bout of loud coughs.
"Having a cough that takes weeks to go away," I explained, "Where is Jean?"
"We were over there," he managed to get out and pointed in the general direction that he had come from when he ran past me.
I scanned the deck but Jean didn't appear to be present in that quarter so I continued leading Sheridan the way we were already going.
"I feel sleepy," he said. He looked it too.
"I was afraid of that," I said. That was a sign of post rescue drowning. Apparently in strong people it may not become evident for a few minutes. In some cases recovery can take up to forty five minutes, "Can you cough up any more water?" I asked.
"No, I don't think so," he said, "I wish I could lay here in the sun."
"That's a good idea," I said, "I would suggest you lie down in one of those funny lay down chairs. you also might consider laying on your front so that when you cough up something you don't choke on it. I'll be right back," so I went to get help.
That is where Jean found him.
"Sheridan!" he exclaimed when he discovered him, "Where did you go? And how did you get wet?"
All the reply he got was a low mumble.
"What happened to your hand? Are you all right?"
A few more moans.
"Are you responsible for this heavenly terror?" asked a man that had just walked up.
"Yeah, but he got away from me somehow. He was there growling at something and half a second later he's tearing away who knows where or why. It appears he has gone swimming and tried to drown himself in the mean time."
"Yeah, your not telling me anything I don't already know," said the man, "He tried to drown himself while saving my son."
"What? Really?" said Jean looking up, "Is he all right?"
"He's fine. My lovely wife did child CPR on him or something," boasted the man, "but the hero doesn't look so good. Where's that lady that led him away and then left him?"
"Probably my sister. Or one of my co-workers. He probably wouldn't have gone this far with anyone else. A woman you said? that would have to be my sister."
"That's a relief."
"Pardon me but she doesn't look old enough to be his mother," said the man, "Is he your brother then?"
"No, I found him in the jungle and we're taking him back to his parents in Europe," Jean explained.
"In the jungle? With his parents in Europe? At this age?" well I guess I did cut out on my own for a few summer vacations when I was that young. but I thought that was an American thing not a thing popular in Europe too."
"Here, he is," I said panting up with the ship's doctor.
"This is my sister, Michelle Aubrey," said Jean introducing me to the man.
"Hi," said the man offering his hand, "I'm Mr. Sprague, the father of the boy he rescued."
"Oh, hi," I said shaking hands.
"Hmm," said the doctor. putting his stethoscope on Sheridan's back. "Sounds like a case of pneumonia. but then I've had no experience to speak of with post rescue drowning, Generally people wear life jackets and take off their shoes."
"What can we do besides changing his clothes?" I asked.
"I would recommend flooding his lungs with a miracle polymer that's more dense than water and more oxygen rich than air."
"I've heard of that," said Mr. Sprague, "Isn't it called perflubron."
"Yes," said the doctor, "but most people don't know or care what it's name is as long as it isn't dangerous."
"Why not just give him oxygen?"
"Because that is a temporary solution at best. A chronic solution at worst. The blood flow will go to where there is pressure usually that's where the fresh air is. Right now though that's where the sea water is. Even if I do give him oxygen it will only keep him alive until he dries out or he catches real pneumonia."
"Do you have any of this plastic?" I asked the doctor.
"Yes I do," he said, "I bought it to experiment with but I haven't had a mouse or anything to try it with until now. Mind you it's been tested thoroughly by others, it's only me that doesn't have any practice administering it," he said. "I brought it with me but we need to roll him over."
So we did. he groaned a little but mostly let us move him around.
"His face is blue, this is not a good sign," said the doctor, "Any objections to my starting immediately?"
We all said, "no," in one form or another.
And so he began. It was a painfully lengthy process. First he threaded a tube down into his lungs like he was going to administer oxygen except he wasn't, then he got out the stuff. It was in IV bags and looked like water. I hoped that somebody hadn't swapped it with water. He administered the first few bags quickly. Then as he added more this time slowly as he listened to Sheridan's breathing. When he was satisfied he attached a regulator to the tube and then asked Jean to hold the bag up while he sent me to get dry clothes and he went himself to get some other things.
I hurried away only to remember that I had already gotten him dry clothes. and went back. They were still on the low picnic table across the aisle from Sheridan. I noticed that his face wasn't blue any more.
I noticed Mr. Sprague was writing something so I didn't interrupt.
"That was quick," said Jean, "Want to hold this while I figure out how to rig it up on that sun umbrella?"
"I suppose so," I said.
"Whew," he teased after I had taken his place, "I didn't get left holding the bag for long," Then to himself, "Now about this umbrella."
"How do they hook the bags up in the hospital?"
"They have the hook on the stand not the bag," said Mr. Sprague.
The doctor returned with a stand and some other things. After he had set the stand up in my place he commenced reading something, "I've read the directions for everything I just did at least thirty times, but I don't remember how long you let the stuff settle before you flush out the water that has risen up through it."
"Two days, I think," said Mr. Sprague.
Jean started taking off Sheridan's shoes, since he no longer had to construct a stand from the umbrella.
"That was the original recommendation for full fledged pneumonia where the problem was infected mucus. What we need to know is how long plain water ascends to the top, then double it."
Sheridan started gurgling, Jean must have waken him.
"What you doing to me?" signed Sheridan, "I can't talk."
"Getting the water out," I said.
"Why put water in to take water out?" he signed..
"It's not water," I said, "It's plastic that drips like water."
"Really?" he signed reaching up to finger the tube.
"Don't mess with that yet," said the doctor.
Sheridan looked at him for a moment and then back to me, "Who's that?"
"He's the one I went and got to help you," I said.
He looked around and saw Jean, "Tell him I say 'Hello' and that I ask for forgiveness about running off without telling him why."
"Jean, He says hello and that he's sorry for not telling you why he was leaving," I translated.
Jean smiled, "You really can talk to tigers, or did he tell you that before?"
"No, he told me that just now," I said, "Although the tube does distort his expressions some."
Mr. Sprague grunted in disgust, "I can't believe that a grown adult would believe such a thing let alone try to convince another adult and a child."
I glanced at the doctor. He was studiously reading again, "I was a child when I became convinced that it was possible and I've been working on it most of my life since," I explained, "I wouldn't tell anyone at first for fear that they would laugh at me. Now that I'm capable enough to prove it, I don't care. But still, it's a simple language some ideas you would find basic are, so far as I know, impossible to communicate."
"That's nice," said the doctor looking at his watch, "We can flush in fifteen minutes and then stop administering. The reason it takes so long isn't that water or the perflubron is viscous because they're not very, it's because of water's surface tension to the alveolar sacs"
"Who is he?" signed Sheridan nodding at Mr. Sprague.
"You saved his son," I said.
"What that?" he signed.
"You are your parent's son," I said, Sheridan smiled broadly.
"What was that about?" Mr. Sprague asked.
"He didn't know what 'son' was, I think," Jean explained, I nodded Sheridan was signing something else.
"Because the language has no means of defining new words some meanings get convoluted when expressed," I said.
"So what did he say?" asked Mr. Sprague anxiously.
"I hope, he meant that your son is cute."
"What do you mean 'I hope'?"
"Any other interpretation would be gravely insulting. And Tigers are very rarely rude," I said, "Besides the way he grinned when reminded of your son is characteristic of someone who is remembering something both pleasant and charming."
"Ah, I see," said Mr. Sprague chuckling, "I suppose some people do take 'cute' as an insult."
The doctor cleared his throat, "I think it's time," Then turning to Sheridan he said, "I'm going to give you some more of the stuff. I want you to not breathe as much as possible, but I don't want you to hold your breath." Sheridan nodded. "When water comes into your mouth spit it out in here," said the doctor placing a bucket next to his chair, "If you hold your breath or swallow you will hurt yourself." Sheridan nodded again. The doctor took the flow regulator off the bag. When it was empty he switched it with another bag."
"Now, I'm very not hungry," flashed across his face quickly, almost fast enough to be considered spoken to himself. He told me later that he'd never felt so full before or since.
When the new bag was about half empty Sheridan leaned over the bucket and tried to spit around the tube. Then he gave up and let the fluid drain from his mouth. Soon the color changed from a faint sea water green to clear. The doctor grunted and put the regulator back on. and then slowly closed off the flow entirely and carefully removed the tube. "Breathe out as much of that stuff as you like into the bucket," he said.
Sheridan complied. he breathed shallowly twice bringing up barely any the second time. Then he took a deep breath and breathed out again bringing up what I thought would overflow the bucket.
"Don't breathe water any more," advised the doctor, "It's not good for you."
"Okay," said Sheridan, "I try not."
"Good," said the doctor, "I'm glad to see that you can still talk. Now, I think that you have hurt your hand."
"Yes. I hurt it, but I think that I hurt the fish more with it," replied Sheridan holding his bloody hand out for inspection.
"What fish?" he asked as he examined it.
"One of the big ones with a big mouth," said Sheridan, "I didn't know that fish got so big."
"A big fish with a big mouth," said the doctor absently, "What did you do with your finger-nail?"
"I said I stuck them in the fish."
Remembering the shark, I asked, "What was his skin like?"
"Like a gray rock that hasn't been in the water," Sheridan answered, "but not that hard. Just that scratchy, I think."
"I think he means a shark," I said.
"Who said anything about a shark?" said the doctor still focused on Sheridan's hand.
"I stuck all of them that are on that hand in the fish. but one didn't come out."
"That will teach you to stick your hand in other peoples mouths," droned the doctor.
"I didn't stick it in his mouth!" objected Sheridan, "and it wasn't a people it was a fish."
"Well you're missing a finger-nail and --," started the doctor, looking up.
"I knew that since I lost it," interrupted Sheridan.
"--And you have extraordinarily long nails to say nothing of dirty," finished the doctor.
"They a good length to stick into fish with big mouths," objected Sheridan "Yours much too short."
"Ok, Now, tell me about the fish," said the doctor paying attention now, but Sheridan just looked at him quizzically.
"From his description I would say it was a shark," Jean said.
"I vaguely remember someone saying something about a shark," conceded the doctor.
"He is probably referring to the one that got attacked by some others shortly after he cleared the water," Mr. Sprague said.
"I think I've heard that sharks may attack other sharks if one is injured," said Jean.
"I've heard something like that too," said the doctor, "Mr. and Miss Aubrey it was Miss wasn't it? Go wash that hand off and get him into some dry clothes. We can talk about bills later. I have no idea why you two insist on comparing him to a tiger, but to continue the metaphor you might consider shortening the leash."
When we got to my room, I gave Sheridan a towel and the last pair of clothes that Jean had lent him. I told him to wash off if he wanted to and then get dressed.
He signed his objection, "I just went swimming. How could I be dirty except for the blood on my hand."
I didn't feel like fighting it. It was salt water not lake water after all.
// include some sort of scene to reawaken distrust towards strangers...
One day during a grooming session I thought of Sheridan's forbidding but customarily out of sight claws. I first considered without second thought that when one has just acquired a cat the general wisdom is to trim it's claws as far back as one trusts oneself not to draw blood, then thoroughly clean and sanitize them. This is done often until the subject is trained to keep it's paws out of it's food and other things. This keeps them from becoming septic, a problem in some big cats. It was common wisdom and practice and I didn't consider it fully before attempting to implement it with Sheridan.
I assumed that since he had known me for days and was human as well and he wouldn't feel threatened if I were to cut them. Part of the reason I assumed this is that after a week of trusting you, you are only surpassed in consistency by things that have been a part of the cat's life since it's childhood, and things that have been a part of it's life since it's very first memories. Unfortunately the somewhat undocumented cat psyche and the "you should never make brash generalizations about it," human psyche interact in totally undocumented ways. Specifically our both being human didn't increase my credibility, but apparently made me suspect and conscious or unconscious conspirator with the rest of the dark and mysterious sophisticated world. The fact that he was human on the other hand allowed him remember more clearly all interactions he had had with men and that he had observed or heard of from other cats; also he was able to filter and cognate those memories; In short to make those generalizations that the human psyche seems sure to make.
After finding the nail clippers I sat down in the usual place and told him it was his turn.
"What do I need? I don't need a bath," he said, "And my hair doesn't stand up because it hasn't been wet."
"No," I said, "Give me your hand."
He looked at me for a moment, "Alright, whatever," he signed at last then gave me his hand.
His nails were much cleaner than I remembered them, but they were still dirty where he didn't or couldn't clean on his own. It could be because I was looking at his left hand instead of the right. I took the longest and cut it about two millimeters from the quick.
He tensed, when a cat tenses its muscles don't go into a solid freeze but a continuous responsive ripple. He says it was in astonishment at first. Then he growled and pulled his hand away. I looked up at him.
"What in all survivable places created for life's support could possibly have given you the notion to disarm me here among untrustable Men," he signed.
I said, "Your nails are dangerous to you and me. I want to clean them better," I wonder now if mentioning danger was a mistake.
"I have been a tiger," he signed. I tried to keep my face blank, "I like to think I made a passable one in habits and capabilities," Then he continued aloud, "But now I know that I'm a man or a man child. So I'm trying to learn to be one," I nodded. He went on, "But I don't understand men and they don't understand me except for very simple things," this last bit was said primarily in English with pieces in cat sign where he didn't know the English words. I thought that it was to prove that he couldn't speak English, but as it turned out it was a permanent decision to speak as much as possible in English, "Men, I have found, sometimes love but generally ignore, or hate all that they don't understand," he paused and then continued, "Often when I try to explain myself they become more upset. Since they generally don't understand me they tend to think me dangerous. It seems to me that they make themselves dangerous to me," He concluded in the same bilingual manner.
"They would find you much less odd and dangerous if you didn't have long nails," I said, "Now, give me your hand."
"Please no!" came to his face, but cleared before it was there nearly long enough to be considered said or even thought. Generally one can't pay attention to things like this barely signed because they haven't been thought through fully. They usually apply to the current thought but in a totally incomprehensible way. The only thing that they normally can be used for is to determine when you are being lied to, a rarity since the only time that a tiger might be capable of gaining something by lying is when hunting and there is a territorial dispute.
In this instance though his signs were easily understood because they were part of the current train of thought but were being hidden. Because I already knew the topic and because they weren't being interrupted by actual verbiage that must be processed and understood I was able to understand and remember some of them. Other things that I thought I saw cross his face were, "can't trust," "People," "Her," "make helpless," "Claws," "No claws," "Men," "no trust," "Me," "Can't trust," "I must," "learn," "Men," "Fear," "Men," "Must," "no claws," "Want claws," "Wait," "Now," "she," "Wait."
"Why," I must have signed sometime during this. He realized this about the same time I did and answered, "I already told you," too fast, just as before and turned his face away.
I took his hand again firmly. He turned back and looked at me. He said, "Can't you wait and let me think." When I raised the nail clipper again, he tried to jerk his hand away, but I was expecting it this time and held tightly.
He hissed at me, signing, "No less cruel than Them," still very quickly. I could feel all the tigers getting tense. I could only physically feel Napoleon next to me, but somehow I'm sure that I knew that they all were. That made me nervous. I had spent years being careful not to do anything that would provoke them if they were roused would they rally around him or me? If they fell on him could I keep them from killing him?
It was the first time he had ever hissed at me. I was also shocked to be labeled cruel. That was what I worked hardest not to be. I let my hand with the clippers in it fall back to my lap but kept a firm hold on his other hand, "Sheridan Please," I said.
He swallowed and kept looking at me blankly but with deep concentration obviously trying to keep a thought off his face or to not allow it into his mind. That was all. I raised the clippers.
He struck at me with his free hand. I never saw it only felt the terrible pain on my arm and saw the wounds. Not clean cuts like a mad house cat or a play fighting wild cat makes, nor the deep muscle rending tears of a hunting big cat. These were, or were meant to be gentle, shallow, straight cuts but they were terribly jagged. When my mind cleared I realized that I was alone.
I looked up, there were five of my tigers at a safe distance watching a cat fight, not a kitten rough-up, a real live all out fight. Who was fighting with Sheridan in that blur? I looked at the visible tigers. They weren't just watching they were crouched waiting to join. They were all there except Napoleon, who must be the one fighting, "That's interesting," I thought, "I would have expected Brigitte or Plato to have defended me first, Napoleon next then the rest." Brigitte and Plato did seem the most eager to join in. I called them. I wished that I had learned how they scream, or whine as volume determines. Only Samuel looked back at me when I called.
"Make them stop, I don't want them to be hurt also," I signed. He started screaming at them. The other tigers looked at him and at me then started screaming too. Almost all were on a different pitch but it seemed to be the same message, always the same length. It was too loud for me to determine anything else about it. I stood up and walked cautiously closer. Finally they became visible. Sheridan was on top, back towards me, bloody claws at Napoleon's throat. The majority of the lower part of his loose shirt was in pieces on the floor. His pants also were in shreds but the fabric was heavier, so most of it still hung on in ribbons. He had two shallow scratches on his back, and blood on the side of his face that I could see. Napoleon also had sacrificed some of his coverings but they were or had been more beautiful and tighter fitting. The fact that any of it was on the floor meant that there was likely blood where it had come from.
Napoleon's upturned face was just signing, "You won because I was commanded to stop, not because you are better." Pause then, "You didn't want to fight me? You don't seem to want to stop." pause again, "You're not scared to let me go! You think you beat me.", "You didn't mean to hurt her? You certainly looked like it to all of us.", "Yeah whatever, I can truly say I've never done anything I didn't want too."
Brigitte was beginning to crouch again. I called them again. This time all the tigers looked at me. Sheridan was still watching Napoleon's every move in case he was about to break free, but his ear twisted in my direction slightly, "Everyone that isn't hurt, get in your cages," I signed. They moved to obey, "Sheridan, let Napoleon go," I said aloud. He immediately jumped back quickly almost too fast to see. I don't know if he was imitating the other tigers by going to where he slept or if that was just where he happen to want to go right then.
Only Napoleon was left, "Get up," I signed, "We'll go and get taken care of, but first I want to make sure that the others don't get hurt while I'm gone."
He got up wearily. I locked all the cages except Napoleon's, I wished I could lock Sheridan where he would be both safe from getting out and from others getting in. I went to the door and removed the key from the door opening apparatus. It was awkward to manipulate with one hand but it was the best I could do. I picked up Napoleon's leash and we went out. I locked the door behind me and hoped that I was the only one with the key, although I knew that in an office somewhere they were sure to have a copy. I got many stares and questions about why I didn't have him on a leash but they got quiet when I told them that he had been hurt defending me and I didn't want to put the leash on him because it wasn't sterile.
The doctor looked at my arm and said, "What a bloody mess! What did you do, tangle with an eel?" His accent was definitely not British so 'bloody' kept it's usual meaning.
"My humanoid tiger turned on me," I said.
"Oh," he said, "A couple days ago he almost kills himself rescuing a little boy from drowning to say nothing of leaving one of his finger-nails in a shark, and today he mauls you. What was it about?"
I told him about Sheridan and Napoleon and finished with:, "This was over whether I should cut and sterilize his nails; so, treat them like those from any wildcat." Which were the same instructions that I would have given the circus doctor.
"Treat them like ones 'from any wildcat,' she says, what does that mean?" he muttered to himself.
"Basically it means a natural blood culture under the claws kept away from rats and ravens so germs get free reign," I explained, "Except that cat's can usually clean their nails on the macroscopic scale at least. Sheridan couldn't do even that all the way to the back."
He nodded and grimaced. He was about to go look up wildcats, I think. So I told him, "I've got to get Napoleon to a vet too he fought for me and got it worse than I did so please work fast."
"Ok," he said, "But if I work too fast he will have fought in vain." It took me days to realize he was threatening either me dying of blood poisoning or Napoleon if things were done with too much haste.
"I should point out to you," He said as he got out his things, "My cleansing a wound like this is sure to hurt more than getting it did, I should put you out."
"Please don't," I said, "Napoleon needs someone to look after him and get him taken care of."
"Ok," he said, "It will have to be a local anesthetic then."
"Ok," I said, "But please hurry," that was a mistake. He gave me what ever he gave me and then went straight to work without waiting for it to take effect.
"What about the boy, how is he?" he asked at length probably trying to keep me from blacking out from the pain.
"I'm not worried about infection," I said, "If he's hurt then it's only from Napoleon, whose claws I sterilize when I have reason to believe they need it," I said, "Of course they do now, because he's just fought, but generally I can keep them from fighting."
"What about loss of blood?" asked the doctor.
"He somehow managed to avoid getting scratched mostly, but he needs new clothes" I said, "I don't know what my brother will say."
"Because they were his clothes and because he's the one that is responsible for him," I explained, "Now I've let him get in a fight and ruin the clothes."
"I thought you said you could keep them from fighting."
"I didn't know that it was going to happen," I said, "But when he threatened me I should have backed off and used reason, not force," The pain suddenly began to ease, "Ah, that's better," I said.
"He seems to have responded in kind."
"Yes," I said, "I'm not sure how he got me on that arm nor what he meant by it," and tried to look at it.
"Don't move it," he said, "pulling any muscle may tear it and leave you with that finger permanently contracted."
"Ok," I said, "Describe it to me. I can tell it's on the back of my right arm. It's not very deep is it?"
"Very deep is a very relative term," said the doctor, "I would call this a very deep cut unless it was being compared with a knife stab or something," he explained, "This between about 3 and 5 millimeters almost straight in. I usually call something deep depending on what parts of the flesh it has cut through"
"No, that's not very deep," I said, "Just a gentle warning"
"Whatever, if that's what you want to call it," said the doctor, "It's going at an angle across the back of your right forearm like you said."
"Why would he go for the back?" I asked, "The front would have been so much more accessible, or the back of the other arm."
"Well if he had gotten the front then you would have bled allot," suggested the doctor, "I don't know if he went for the back on purpose or not. Why the right hand not the left I'm sure I don't know."
"I held his wrist in that hand. Nail clippers in the other. He made his move when I moved the clippers so he was watching the left hand."
"So you think, maybe he was trying to get free from the right not disable the left," suggested the doctor.
"It appears that way," I said.
"Ok, I'm done cleaning you," said the doctor, "There's a number of ways that I could close cuts that are close together like these, but because you have convinced me to be very concerned about infection, I would suggest a bandage that both protects from foreign matter and holds everything closed. Something we can open up again if anything develops the wrong way.
"That's fine," I said, "I guess."
"You've lost a good bit of blood. Drink allot. May I be so bold as to suggest something with sugar first. Come back if there is any sign of infection: swelling, puss, pain of soreness that's not directly part of the wound. I would like you to come back tomorrow and maybe the next day."
"Go take care of your protector and I'll be expecting to see the boy again sometime."
"Ok," I said, "But I doubt I will bring him in unless he needs it. He was scratched an awfully small amount."
"That means allot more than you have been, I'll bet from the way you won't deny that he was scratched. but claim that the fight appeared to be all out."
"You may be right," I said.
"Should I call your brother?" asked the doctor, "What's his room number?"
"My brother!" I exclaimed, "That's just who I should call. He would know where there would be a vet that would work on a tiger."
"There's a phone," he said pointing.
I'm still not sure how they do telephones on ocean liners. I guess they just did it the normal way but skipping the telephone-poles maybe a satellite link up for out-of-ship numbers, "How do I use this?" I asked.
"For passengers dial 1 then the room number," he said, "For anyone else dial operator unless you know their extension. To dial out use 9-1- then the country code and area code.
"One and then the room number I can do that," I said.
"Hello this is Jean Aubrey," Jean answered.
"Hello this is your illustrious sister."
"What, no regards? What's wrong?"
"Sheridan struck me and Napoleon fought him."
"What? Why? Is he ok?"
"I think he's better than either of us but somebody should check on him."
"Somebody? Where are you, are you ok?"
"I'm ok, I guess, I'm with the ship's doctor. Napoleon is with me I want to get him to a vet. I have the keys to my room here with me."
"Ok, so Sheridan is not so bad off and is still in your cabin?"
"How about, I call Oreste to get whoever we can to see, was it 'Napoleon' you said. And then I'll come up there when things settle down I'll take the keys and go and check on Sheridan."
"That sounds good," I said, "Just a second," I put my hand over the mouth piece, "Excuse me but can we have a place to work on Napoleon?"
"Yeah sure, until someone else needs it," the doctor said.
"Ok thanks," I said, "I could kiss you."
"Please don't!" he said, "The nurse talks forever about such things."
"Not that kind," I said and shifted back to the phone, "The doctor says we can use one of his rooms temporarily."
"That's fine with me but we'll see, bye, I love you."
"You too, Regards," I said.
"You sound better already. I'll see you in a little while."
After I hung up, I went with the doctor to find a place for Napoleon.
Jean got there quickly and told me about what he and Mr. Oreste had arranged. One handler, Mr. Albert, would take over for another handler, Mr. Montague, who could help as a vet or even surgeon if need be. Mr. Montague and Oreste would be here shortly.
The doctor came in, "Move it as little as possible if you want to keep it," he said while putting my arm in a sling, "If you must move it do it with the other hand, and don't feel compelled to help them with your tiger," and left again.
Jean and I sat down to look at Napoleon his chest and shoulders had taken the most abuse. I realized that I should have brought him in a cage or left him in the room. Unlike me he had to use his injured limbs to walk. Jean said that it was odd that there were no marks on the belly or head.
'The Doc' Jr. and Mr. Oreste arrived together with Jean they got him on a stretcher. Mr. Montague was about to put the patient out when Jean spoke up, "You might consider that my sister can understand him. If you don't put him out you can ask him questions through her like you might a human patient."
"Yeah, all trainers understand their animals to a certain extent, but will it help any if we are addressing topics that neither she nor he would have had reason to bring up before?" asked Mr. Montague.
"Well to hear her bilingual conversations with Sheridan having never met him before I would guess that she knows general cat not a 'made up during training' language," said Jean.
"Wait --," I started.
"Sheridan, is that boy you found in the woods, and he and your sister communicated on first sight the same way that she can with the other tigers?" asked Mr. Montague.
Mr. Montague said turning to me, "I'm afraid I've forgotten your name again already," he said apologetically, "But this is a feat in itself. It also is of interest that the tigers, then at least have a global language?"
Finally I could get a word in edgewise, "I'm Michelle. We spoke at breakfast the other day. I must apologize that my experience is not as great as my brother would make it out to be. I can understand on first sight almost anything a tiger normally cares to express. But there are other things that tigers usually talk about to other tigers. Excuse the verb. Unfortunately my facial structure doesn't allow them to understand me at all with the exception of my cats who understand those things that I can't express unambiguously. Sheridan on the other hand could guess what I was trying to sign because his face works the same way although he has greater control and can sign things so that the cats understand. If I used hand signals instead he has to ask me or my other cats what it meant because it wasn't directly related to the language."
"But Sheridan did already know the same dialect that you had picked up from your cats?" asked Mr. Montague.
"Yes he says that the sign languages are very similar for all cats, it is only the spoken languages that differ widely, between colors and sizes," I explained, "Of course that could just be a local thing. He was pretty sure that a lion he saw in a picture wasn't a cat."
"Ah, yes, Miss Michelle Aubrey," he said as he set to work, "I'm going to give him a general anesthetic and check him out. We really have waited too long. Jean tells me that Sheridan's nails were very dirty."
"Yes. That's what started the fight."
"All right, I'm not quite to that point yet but would you say that the predominant germ culture would be blood like a leopard, or soil and tree bark like a puma?"
"Ah, definitely blood," I said, "But all of it is more than a week old. I've never caught him not using his silverware"
Mr. Montague swore expressively.
"He tries to keep them as clean as he can but he doesn't know how to dig all the way back. I would doubt that any of it came into direct contact here," I explained "He took to silverware quickly because that way there's less to clean after meals."
Mr. Montague asked Jean to ask the doctor for as much of something as he could find. When Jean hesitated he wrote it down. Whatever it was it sounded like it might be an antibiotic.
The doctor came in raving that it was bad to use it because it was the only thing that certain diseases weren't immune to, and he didn't have any anyway, and that none of us could afford it anyway. Finally Mr. Montague settled him down by saying that he kept forgetting that this exceptionally well kept infirmary wasn't a hospital. Then he asked the doctor what antiseptics he did have available. It was during the ensuing conversation I must have gone to sleep on the bed beside the one that Napoleon was on.
When I woke up the doctor and Oreste were gone, Mr. Montague was working carefully on Napoleon and Jean was asking me for the keys to my cabin. I gave Jean the key to my cabin. I told him that Sheridan would probably either be asleep, or hiding in his make do cage, the bathroom. Mr. Montague said that the only way he could explain the number or placement of the claw marks or their excessively shallow depth is that it was an all out fight between very close friends. He had never seen the like except once from a fight between two brothers for a certain mate.
I must have gone back to sleep after Jean left.
When I woke up again Napoleon was asleep and bandaged. Mr. Montague was gone. Jean came in a little later with food. When he had gone down to my cabin he had found Sheridan in my usual place. His hair wet and somewhat combed. He had apparently taken a bath and put on no shirt but had on the only other pair of pants he had, the ones that he had swam in. He was just sitting there, trying to figure out how to use the nail clippers. He had severely mangled one nail but hadn't succeeded in cutting it. He didn't look up until Jean said something at which point he realized that it wasn't me that had just come back. Jean took to examining his wounds, all were genuine claw marks from Napoleon except one he had given himself under the finger-nail that he hadn't managed to divide. Jean dressed and bandaged all of the wounds the way he would have accidental injuries obtained during cat training. All, that is, except the one under the nail. He decided that the nail must be cut and the wound cleansed thoroughly. Because for to make it the blade had actually passed through the filth that hadn't been cleaned from below the nail. After that nail was trimmed, cleaned, and sterilized, Sheridan wouldn't let him do any more, but instead took the clippers and scraped clean all the others in the same manner that Jean had cleaned the one except that he didn't cut any of the others. Finally when Sheridan wouldn't clip them or give him the clippers, Jean, who decided that discretion was the better part of valor, washed and sterilized them also.
He had left Sheridan doing and came back to check on me.
"I don't want to leave Napoleon until he wakes up, so I can tell him where I'm going," I said.
"Why don't you wait the doctor gets back and see if you can get him on a stretcher or something and take him back to your room?" Jean suggested.
"That's a good idea," I said, "In the mean time I'll eat my dinner."
Jean had brought enough for two so we sat watching Napoleon sleep and ate. It was roast beef. I was surprised to find how thirsty I was until I remembered that the doctor had recommended that I drink a lot, "I've been wondering whether we should be teaching him Swedish or whatever is normal wherever his parents live."
"That's Swiss not Swedish. Yes, we should teach him, if we knew it. Also if you know English or French you can get around most of Europe pretty well I think," said Jean, "Don't worry about it. we can explain to him about languages and that the more he knows the better off he'll be so he should try to learn more and to remember the ones that he already knows."
"Right," I agreed, "Where are you disembarking again?"
"I'll be getting off to help unload some of the kittens in London and then on to New York. After that just Oreste and Mr. Montague are taking them to research ranches, in the mid-west, I think."
"Where after New York?" I asked.
"Probably home for Christmas, Then maybe to Europe if I need to deliver Sheridan or to someplace where I can get some thinking done," he said, "Oh, did I tell you that I'm working on my papers. I hope to submit another before Christmas."
"Good for you," I said.
"And Mr. Albert want's to keep in touch. He says he may be able to get me a position in London or rather in a British university. Did I tell you that he is getting off in London?"
"That's wonderful," I said trying to add a little enthusiasm to my voice.
"I hope something turns up," he concluded, "It's not that I don't enjoy doing the non- intellectual field work that I have been doing. It's just that I'm tired of being board even if it's necessary for others to do this work."
Someone who was whistling terribly approached.
"I hope so too," I said, "I think that's the doctor."
"Does he whistle to scare patients away?" asked Jean.
"I don't know," I said, "Do a service to mankind and don't suggest it."
"How are my less tame invalids?" asked the doctor walking in and glancing warily around. Seeing our meal in progress he said, "Veraciously consuming the roasted flesh of domestic animals again, I see!"
We all laughed.
"Do you have a stretcher or something that I can take him back to my room on?" I asked.
"No, They are required to be kept in strategic locations around the ship in case of emergency."
"Erg," said Jean.
"I can take him back the way I should have brought him here," I said, "In his cage. He probably shouldn't be walking if we can help it."
"That's good if the cage is big enough and is on wheels," said the doctor "You might consider using sanitary bed sheets for bedding if you can, but you still have to get him in to it somehow."
"Right," I said, "Or I can put him on top which might be easier."
"On top of the cage?" said the doctor, "I never would have thought of that. How high is the cage?"
"It's a show cage," I said, "not a to-live-in cage," I held my hand down to show him how high. The height of a full grown tiger plus a decimeter or so clearance below, plus some clearance inside in case you get an extra big tiger.
"Oh," he said, "That is plenty short enough to use the top instead for things."
"Sheridan appeared to be fine when I went down," said Jean, "He had given himself a bath and gotten dressed in what he could find. He kept on looking at me like he was patiently awaiting impending doom, but at the same time waiting for me to leave so that he could do something."
"Hmm. I wonder what that something was," I said, "Why don't you go get the cage. Tell Sheridan that I want Napoleon's cage, he knows how to get it apart from the other cages. I guess you know how to do that too."
While Jean was gone I tried to get Napoleon to tell me how he was. First he wouldn't wake up then he all he would sign was that he was hungry. I looked at my watch. It was in fact almost time.
"When we get back to the room I'll get you some food," I signed.
"Then lets go," he signed standing up. but then lay back down and said "ouch. I still hurt a little. Short-ears was nice to me."
"Who, was nice to you?" I asked.
"The man kitten that speaks like a tiger," signed Napoleon.
"I didn't know his name," I signed.
"You don't know mine either," retorted Napoleon, "They are not much use when you are already signing to someone. Usually names are only called, so that you can start signing to them. You don't generally ask us questions about each other so we don't have reason to use them when we sign to you."
"How was he nice to you?" I asked.
"He could have killed me if he had tried. If he had followed through on most of these scratches I would have been without one of my paws then I would have been easily beaten."
"Could you have killed him?" I asked.
"I tried until Hears-All started calling for us to stop," Napoleon said. "He kept on dodging my slashes. Even though people's eyes are slower and I can hardly see my faster strokes he still gets out of the way."
"You mean he could have beaten you when you were trying your best?" I said very surprised.
"If I had been fighting for my life it might have been different," he said, "but I'm not sure."
"Could any of the cat's beat or kill him with nobody else helping?"
"Both the girls are faster than me. Long-Claws is stronger but slower than me. Strong wouldn't help against him unless he was in a corner. Hears-All can work with his two paws doing different things. That might be harder for Short-Ears to dodge. Long-Tongue isn't better than me at anything that pertains to fighting."
"So he's better than three of us, four if you count me?" I asked.
"He's better at not losing. Better at winning? No, Long-Claws or Hears-All would be best in most fights," he explained
"Which is better?" I asked.
"Long Claws would be better at hunting. Hears All would be better at driving off intruding hunters."
The nurse stopped by with some extra sheets and a blanket, "Will you be leaving today or spending the night?"
"Leaving today I hope," I said.
"Ok," she said, "I don't need you to leave, there's no scramble for beds or anything. It's just that the doctor wasn't sure."
She left and Jean came in shortly after with the cage.
"Would you like to ride inside or on top of your cage?" I asked Napoleon.
"Inside," he replied, "I don't consider myself the type that needs to be on top of a cage in order to be on top of something, anything."
"You wouldn't have to jump down as far to get on top," I pointed out.
"That's enough reason I guess. If you won't let me fall off."
I spread the blanket out on top doubled up, then the sheet over it, "Ok I won't make you fall off"
He got on and laid down. So we were off. Jean pulled and I walked behind to help guide it through doors.
We thanked the doctor on the way out, but he called Jean back, So I went on alone. Since Jean had already gotten the cage into the main corridor it would be easy to guide until the elevator.
As it turned out the elevator was no problem either. In fact it was easier than dragging a cage through some coliseums I've preformed at.
When I opened the door to my room I was surprised to find that the cats were eating, still in their cages. I went to get Napoleon some food from it's bag in the bathroom, but the door was closed.
I knocked, "Sheridan?" I called.
"Michelle, really? Are you --?" he said and started sobbing, "Can you -, would you --?" he tried to start again.
I ached to comfort him. I tried the latch. It was unlocked. I opened the door.
He was facing away from the door, sitting in a position across between kneeling and Indian style. A position I think he picked up from me; although, he might have learned it some time before. He had been doing something other than crying I thought but I didn't know what it was. At any rate my appearance interrupted whatever the previous proceedings were, and brought on this wave of lamentation.
I came in and crouched near him and began stroking his back.
He was kneeling holding the finger nail clippers cupped in his hands like it was a dangerous explosive yet his most treasured possession. He looked up at me when I became close enough to look over his shoulder.
I knelt beside him and said, "Short Ears, I'm sorry I didn't give you time to decide. Would you forgive me?"
He looked at me quizzically for a few seconds, then the light dawned.
"I should ask you," he said, "I hurt you."
"You are forgiven," I said.
"Thank you," he said, and took a deep breath and signed, "you also" he looked back at the clippers.
I held out my good hand.
He looked at it then at me with big questioning eyes.
"Those are mine," I said, "You don't know how to use them."
"There's only one of it," flashed across his face. But he said, "Ok, here," and handed them to me. I took them carefully and looked back up at his face. He smiled in relief. I smiled too.
Then he looked away quickly and held out his hand.
"Are you sure?" I asked.
Glancing back at me he said, "I think," but he signed, "Yes."
It was awkward cutting the nail without holding the finger either from the outside or the inside, but he kept his hand steady. I cut the three that were left on that hand about a centimeter from the quick with each snip his head sank lower and lower, "Other hand," I said as gently as I could manage. He glanced up and back down again with the most woeful look I have ever seen but held out his other hand letting the first hand drop.
When I was finished he inspected the damage.
Then he looked up at me with a mixture of hope and wonder, surprised that I hadn't cut them the same way I had cut the first.
"But they hurt people," he said, "Even friends."
"Only when you let them," I said, "Never hurt women or children with them no matter what they say to you."
He nodded solemnly.
He never moved while I got food for Napoleon.After I reset the deadbolt and unlocked the cages, he came out and sat on the cage next to Napoleon and petted him gently staying away from the bandages. The other tigers left them alone, but they all asked how soon my arm would be usable again.
Until the end of the voyage Sheridan cleaned the cages and fed all the tigers without me ever mentioning that I couldn't do it very well.
From the day of our misunderstanding he never signed to communicate to me unless I specifically asked or when he felt secrecy was required; He always did, however, half sign most of his thoughts whether he ever said them or not. This made it a simple thing to read his mind unless he was consciously not signing.