Rowena flashed back to her human form and rubbed her temples. Too many flashes in a short period of time gave her head a dull ache. She turned to Penelope who was still observing the whole situation from her seat at the table, chin resting in her hand. Rowena caught her gaze and Penelope raised an eyebrow. This exchange was their signal that the specimens in the lab needed a snack in addition to their regular meal routine. It was a necessarily wordless exchange because any hint of a mention that the animal might be hungry would sometimes result in indignation and hurt feelings, which could lead to accidental ingestion down the food chain.
Once she saw Rowena’s almost imperceptible nod, Penelope gathered up all her energy. “Henry and Henri are most probably interested in a visit!” She sang as brightly as she could muster. She stood up and strode quickly into the lab.
After a few moments Penelope returned followed by two Aldabra giant tortoises in single file. On their backs they carried trays of food for each hungry species in the room. For the birds a worm and insect medley of two types of beetle, earthworms and wingless flies. For Edgar, salmon sashimi on a bed of leafy greens. For Penelope and Rowena, lightly grilled tuna steaks served on beds of rice and a side of sautéed spinach with a hint of garlic and sesame oil. Rowena greeted Henry and Henri and stepped aside. Henry, who stood behind Henri, grasped Henri’s tail firmly in his mouth and gave a little tug. Henri’s shell expanded away from his body into a cube with holes. With care to not disturb the food, Henri stepped backwards out of his shell and began distributing dishes around the room to everyone.
As they sat at the table eating, Rowena took a breath to say something, but Penelope cut her off, “Yes they’re still slow, but Chelsea is the key. And you must admit — the flatulence issue has finally been solved!
While Penelope and Rowena reviewed the data Rowena had collected, Edgar stretched languidly in his chair. Horatio and Eric were still flitting around the room in a frenzy. Their panicked flight path brought them closer and closer to Edgar’s chair. Before either bird realized how close they were to the big-face cat, Edgar deftly jumped mid-air between both birds and gently snatched both birds in his paws.
“Hmph. Chelsea learned all her moves from me, you know,” Edgar told the birds.
Eric and Horatio were so stunned, they froze. Horatio found his voice first. “What’s a Chelsea, Big Face?
Indignant, Edgar growled, “My face is perfectly proportioned to my head and body!”
“S-s-sorry Big Fa- M-Mr. Big Fa…ce? We don’t know your name. You were just…a face…we saw in the glass…and your face was…(big)…” Eric trailed off as he realized his explanation was making the not big face angrier.
Edgar sighed heavily. Must he do everything? Teach everyone? “My name is Edgar Percival Crane. I am the most majestic animal to ever grace this planet. When I one day pass from this earthly plane, the heavens will cry at the loss of my presence to grace their view. I am…A CAT.”
Horatio and Eric Exchanged confused expressions. “But everyone knows cats aren’t real!” Horatio blurted out.
“Yeah!” Eric chimed in, “cats are just make believe stories mamas make up to make fledglings behave! What are you really?”
Dr. Glyndor stared down into her tray of medicines. They were useless now. The small window of time she had to administer them to Chelsea had expired in the chaos of Dr. Crane’s re-entry into the facility. She muttered something incomprehensible under her breath.
“What was that?” Dr. Crane asked snidely.
“I said, ‘my name is Penelope.’ I’m going by Penelope. Fiona’s my middle name. Last year I decided to go by my –”
“Stop, stop! Is this really what you want to say right now?!” Dr. Crane whirled around to face Dr. Glyndor, eyes flashing. “You could’ve corrupted all of my data!”
“I’m sorry, Rowena. It wasn’t intentional…” Dr. Glyndor trailed off, unsure of what to say.
Dr. Crane pulled back her lab coat and pulled down the elastic waistband of her pants about an inch to reveal a quarter inch clear nylon zipper on her right hip. She carefully unzipped the compartment and gently extracted a micro memory card. “Well, let’s see if you ruined everything,” she sighed. She handed the card to Dr. Glyndor.
From his chair, Edgar sighed along with her. He might be all feline, but he wasn’t unmodified. His only enhancement was an ability to communicate across species. It was time to comfort the other two birds. Another undignified task.
Across the room, Dr. Glyndor was wrangling Chelsea onto a table across from a projector screen. She gently pressed Chelsea’s front left paw, causing Chelsea to sit upright. She inserted Dr. Crane’s memory card into a slot in Chelsea’s chest and briefly folded her left ear. Chelsea’s eyes emitted an eerie light.