“Archie, my good fellow, I do believe the experiment has gone astray.”
“Stray, you say?” squealed Archibald, oblivious to the fact that his companion was a mere five feet away from him in the cramped confines of their laboratory basement.
“I should think we are a pair of strays now, judging from the look of us!” He pointed indignantly at his ears. “See these? Utterly preposterous!” Sebastian nodded grimly in agreement while he slinked, cautiously, out of his iron pod: Archie’s ears had become somewhat elongated at the tip and lined with a fine coat of fur that was a suave shade of ginger. It matched the tweed jacket that he was wearing, and in truth, rather became him.
But it was the eyes that transfixed Sebastian; Almond-shaped and slit with black, filled not with one pale colour but with a spectrum of hues that seemed to shift in the light, from jade to amber to copper and then back again as Archibald cavorted about the room in a state of undignified panic. Set into a face that had often been described as poorly misjudged in its conception by his kinder contemporaries in the scientific community and called down-right miss-shapen by his crueller ones, those eyes looked completely out-of-place, a freakish accident. And indeed, thought Sebastian, they were.
He slid up onto his desk and considered his own features in the small mirror he often kept by his study notes. They were of a similarly altered nature, his ears and eyes transformed to those of a cats, and his hair, once a dour shade of brown, was now a matt-black streaked with sharp lines of white. But the real shock was the penetrating stare that he had seemed to have acquired; it was the glare of a hardened, cunning predator, and for the life of him he couldn’t replace it with any of his more agreeable expressions. He tried an amiable grin. The thing in the mirror sneered back at him.
“I think, my friend,” he said, trying to keep his voice calm and controlled “that it’s time for some tea.”
Archie had been leaning into the other pod for a few moments, tired of his pacing, rubbing a few strands of cat’s hair intensely between his fingers and looking down into the machine’s chamber, seemingly at nothing in particular, but at the mention of tea he lurched about-face and smiled weakly at his partner. “Yes. That would be wonderful. No sugar today though, please.”
“Yes. And make it a weak tea, good fellow. All those…leaves are probably bad for the…capillaries. Yes. In fact…”
Sebastian’s tone was half-incredulous, half indignant. “Weak tea!? Does such a monstrosity even exist in fair England’s shires!?”
“…just leave the tea leaves out of it.”
Sebastian’s mouth had formed a gaping hole in his face through which one could very easily have fit a small teapot into. His voiced had somehow managed to climb a full octave as he spoke: Indeed, he positively mewled with discontent.
“So….you wish for just milk, then, Archibald? Is that what we have been reduced to now? A pair of…of…uncultured tabby moggs!?”
His companion frowned disapprovingly. “No, Sebastian. I wish for tea au natural. Perfectly normal and English, I assure you, but since you find such a thing so offensive to your sensibilities, I shall go make it myself.”
And with that, Archie strutted to the stairs, head held high at an angle that would have looked utterly peculiar to anyone else but the pair of them. He stopped on the third step and turned back to face Seb, a look of sheepishness creeping into his features.
“Seb, umm…where do we keep the saucers in this establishment of yours?”
Sebastian looked away in disgust and said nothing, pretending to be intrigued by some string on his desk. When he heard the door click shut, he slumped his head into his hands, and his hands into his knees, a keen sense of despair pushing him further and further into his desk. They were freaks. They were failures. They were cats. Not even tea could save them now.
He remained quite still for a short while, curled into an upright ball upon his desk, until his eyes caught a glint of light in the near distance, and out of new-born instinct he looked up and peered at it for a moment. It was Archie’s paperweight, a fat block of bronze-plated wood with his name inscribed at it’s top, and his title-“Daring Discoverer of the Inexplicable”-just below it, reflecting the sunlight that darted every once in a while through the air vent above his desk. For no reason at all, he picked up his own paperweight, which was of a similar fashion, and stared at it thoughtfully. “Sebastian Barton-Weigh”, it read, and underneath it the more modest title of “Physicist”. He looked at his reflection in the polished metal, his copper eyes almost disappearing completely within its warming hue, and just for a moment he looked normal once again. The atoms of a thing may change, he remembered, but the essence of that thing was immutable. That was one of the first things they’d taught him at the academy, and he’d held it to be amongst the highest of truths for all this time, even now. Especially now. He had been a man for quite some time of his life, and now he was a cat instead, but he had been a physicist long before either of them,and knowing that comforted him a little. He looked at his paperweight more intently now, and smiled. It was nice. And awfully shiny. He realised how much he liked shiny things all of a sudden, for totally inexplicable reasons. He glanced back over to Archie’s paperweight and wondered if it was worth asking him about it. It was his area of expertise, after all. He chuckled at it quietly to himself, a low purr of re-discovered contentment.