Andre Norton: Catfantastic II

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Andre Norton Catfantastic II
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A book in the Catfantastic series, 1990 Two of the biggest names in the fantasy field have put together a unique collection of fantastical cat tales for friends of furry felines. Cats work a special magic in these stories from the future, from the past, and from dimensions people never dream of.

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Andre Norton, Martin H. Greenberg, Clare Bell, Wilanne Schneider Belden, Elizabeth H. Boyer, Patricia B. Cirone, Marylois Dunn, P. M. Griffin, Caralyn Inks, A. R. Major, Ardath Mayhar, Karen Rigley, Sasha Miller, Elizabeth Moon, Andre Norton, Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, Mary H. Schaub, Roger C. Schlobin, Susan Shwartz, Nancy Springer


Catfantastic II

Introduction

We have been informed by those patient researchers who really enjoy delving into facts and figures that cats are now the most popular pets in the United States. Several reasons are listed with solemn sincerity: a cat can become an "inside" animal in a small apartment; it does not have to be escorted on "walks" but is more civilized about intimate functions; it is a pleasant lap sitter and comfort; it is less expensive (Ha, have you priced food and cat litter, or vet bills recently?); and so on. So much for official recognition.

However, no matter how sensible one imagines oneself to be, still the cat remains a mystery either intriguing or irritating or both. We cannot help but believe that cats, always choosing to go their own way, do possess a quality for weighing the human with whom she or he chooses to live, and have a masterful way of training the whole household into a system most benefiting the cat.

Is this some form of magic? Of course not. Magic has been placed beyond the boundaries of acceptance. If we suspect that we are chess pieces to be played for fun or profit by our "pets," then we have definitely courted insanity.

Magic and cats, however, have been linked in our minds for generations. Cats have been worshiped and reviled, studied and misunderstood for generations upon generations. They are still masters of themselves-magic or no magic.

Bomber and the Bismarck by Clare Bell

Bomber and Feathers, all met on May 23, 1941 aboard the British aircraft carrier H.M.S. Ark Royal. The meeting didn't change Bomber much, for he was a cat. It left a more indelible impression on Lieutenant "Feathers" Geoffrey-Faucett.

H.M.S. Ark Royal was part of Force H, a fleet of battleships and destroyers sent out from Gibraltar to protect British convoys in the Atlantic. One of the newer British aircraft carriers, she was equipped with an aircraft control tower to monitor the takeoffs and landings of the antiquated Fairey Swordfish torpedo-biplanes aboard her. If she'd been a carrier of the old "flat-iron" design, her decks all runway and all operations controlled from below, no one would have ever spotted the half-drowned animal struggling in the seas alongside.

Geoffrey-Faucett was sharing a cup of tea and a rare idle minute up in the tower with the air controller while the "airedales" in the deck crew brought his Sword-fish biplane up from below decks on the lift. He had straight sandy hair and aristocratic features except for a slightly snub nose. He also had a reputation for sending his torpedoes into the aft end of a target ship, "right up the bastard's tailfeathers," as he often put it. That led to the nickname of "Tailfeathers," which was quickly shortened to "Feathers."

Jack Shepherd, the air controller, put his cup down so hard that spoon and saucer clattered. He pointed through the tower window to the heaving swell just off the starboard quarter and said, "What the devil is that?"

Shepherd took his field glasses, squinted through once, scratched his black curly hair and squinted again. "Eyes must be playing me false. Here, you have a look." He handed the field glasses to the pilot.

Feathers focused the binoculars, scanning the white-caps that splashed along ArkRoyal's sides as she kept her station several hundred miles off the Spanish coast. He frowned. Was that dark spot just a bit of flotsam caught in the chop? It moved in a funny way. And did he see the outline of a head and ears and, God bless, even the end of a tail sticking up from the gray-green Atlantic?

"It's a cat. It really is a cat," he said, slinging the field glasses back to Shepherd. "Must have fallen off some passenger transport. Look, see if you can get the helm to hold off on the upwind run."

"What are you up to now, Feathers?" Shepherd glanced down at a Swordfish biplane rising up through the lift hatch. "The airedales will have your plane ready."

"Bugger the old Stringbag," Feathers threw back over his shoulder as he clattered down the iron spiral of steps. "She'll keep. I'm going to fish that cat but. Can't let the thing drown."

He drew his sheepskin jacket collar tight about his neck as he butted his way into the wind sweeping across the flight deck. The Ark Royal was giving short hard bounces in the chop, which made it hard for the pilot to keep his footing. Ignoring the waves of the flight deck crew who were prepping his aircraft, Feathers ran to the bow, threw open a locker, grabbed a life ring and hurled it out in the direction where he had last seen the cat. Behind him he heard footsteps, the unmistakable gimpy-leg gait of Patterson, his gunner.

"Who's gone in the drink?" the gunner asked in a voice made raspy from scotch and tobacco. "I didn't hear no man overboard alarm."

"Nobody. It's a cat." Feathers frowned, shading his eyes against the hazy sun. "Can you spot him, Pat?"

"Go on, you're daft, Feathers. The old man will have your nuts for a necktie if you hold up the reconnaissance flight."

Geoffrey-Faucett scanned the seas, feeling a bit foolish. All this fuss about an animal, especially during wartime, when human lives were being lost. And had he really seen a cat?

The white ring bobbed up and down in the troughs. The dark spot began to move toward the ring. Its progress was terribly slow, but Feathers felt a sudden surge of unmilitary delight. The animal was still alive, a miracle in the freezing North Atlantic. It fought its way to the ring and Feathers saw it scramble on.

Carefully he drew in the line attached to the ring, fearful that the rough seas might sweep the cat away before he got it aboard. But at last the ring hung from its line over the ArkRoyal's bow rail. On the life ring, spread-eagled with its claws driven deep into the white-painted cork, was the castaway.

Feathers reached down with both hands, grabbed the outside of the ring, and brought it aboard. Yellow-gold eyes the color of sovereigns glared at Feathers as he tried to pry the cat's paws from the ring. The brine-drenched animal held on tenaciously, growling deep in its throat.

"Grateful one, he is," said Patterson. "Take your face off if you're not careful."

"You take a swipe at me and I'll chuck you back," said Feathers to the cat. With a clasp knife from his pocket, he cut the line from the life ring, then carried the ring like a platter with the cat sprawled out across the top.

"What are you going to do with him?" Patterson asked, trotting after.

"Give him to old Shepherd in the tower. He won't have anything to do once the squadron takes off. I'll let him coax our friend here off the life ring and nurse him with some tea and biscuits."

The crackle of the Ark Royal public address system sounded on the flight deck, breaking through the shouts of the airedales and the sound of Swordfish engines warming up.

"Attention, air and deck crews. All scheduled air operations are canceled. Repeat, all scheduled air operations are canceled on orders from the War Office. Stand by for further announcements."

As the system shut off with a sharp crack, airedales and pilots alike stared at each other, dumbfounded.

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