I liked choosing hard luck cases to be my companions. Like calls to like and all. But sometimes the thought crossed my mind that I may have gone a little too far in choosing Bee.
"Get unstuck!" Bee was in the kitchen, putting up flypaper. Or rather, trying. I watched her shake one hand wildly in the air, trying to dislodge the piece of flypaper stuck to her fingertips. "Why does everything bad have to happen all at once? I don't have any food and there's flies all over! Why does this have to be so sticky? Get off get it offff!"
She stepped on the edge of the flypaper to hold it in place while she pulled her fingers off. This, of course, created a new problem. "Ahh, why is it stuck to my shoe! This is worse than toilet paper! Come off already!"
I watched for a long moment and considered whether or not to take pity and help out. But while helping Bee was one of the reasons I was here, there was a delicate balance between helping and taking over completely, something that I'd long ago discovered humans weren't too fond of. Just as I was about to jump down from the windowsill, I caught sight of movement outside the apartment building. I recognized the boy from the unfortunate incident involving an umbrella to the crotch. The shock of white hair was messier than usual today.
He got as far as the door to the building, then stopped, standing frozen for a long moment as he stared at the buzzer. Come on, I thought. Just press the buzzer and come in. Bee obviously needed help and I didn't particularly want to end up with flypaper in my fur.
Deckard, unfortunately, was less than useful. After standing on the doorstep for a long moment, he turned around and went back down the path, raking his hands up into his hair. Then he ran back. Then he left again.
"Mmmph noph suffosed to sdick to my mouph!"
I looked back to Bee to discover that she had not only managed to stick the flypaper to her shoe, but both hands and her lips as well.
Well, one hard luck case at a time.
I hopped off the windowsill and padded across the apartment to sit at Bee's feet, ignoring her mumbled pleas for help. Instead, I gave a good shake, letting the bell around my neck ring in a certain pattern.
Moments later we were floating through space, toward the temp-bot in charge of processing, the flypaper thankfully left behind in the real world.
Bee looked around, astonished but not overwhelmed. It was one of the things I liked most about Bee - her ability to take anything in stride, whether it be unusual furry visitors or trips through space. "Here again! What happened to the flypaper? Did you do this, Puppycat?"
I ignored her and turned to the temp-bot that approached us. We're here for another mission.
"Welcome Puppycat. Welcome, Trainee-shadow." the temp-bot greeted, the face on it's display smiling widely. "Another mission already? You're keeping very busy."
I stared at the temp-bot evenly, saying nothing. My reasons for expediting these missions were far more complex than just trying to help Bee, but they certainly weren't for the ears of a mere temp-bot.
"We need money," Bee replied, her mouth twisting into a frown. "The casserole didn't last very long last time and the grocery store that hired me only needed me to stock while someone was on vacation. That sucked, the bruised fruit I took home was really good!"
And also possibly why we have flies, I thought, but said nothing.
"Can we have something that pays more this time?" Bee asked, and I looked up at her in alarm.
Jobs that pay more money are harder, I chirped warningly, but Bee just rolled her eyes.
"I think I can handle something a little more difficult than babysitting a giant fish."
"Request noted," the temp-bot said before I could stop it. "Initiating uniform assignment."
"Oh god, uniforms? I don't wanna wear that crazy outfit with the huge shoulder pads again - " Bee started as the uniform generation ray swept over us. "I - ahhh, I'm in a bikini!" I watched amusedly as Bee tugged ineffectively at the bikini top as if to make it bigger, the giant bell around her neck jingling a little as she moved. She stamped one flipper-clad foot. "Why can't Puppycat wear the sexy clothes? And why do I have a fishbowl on my head?"
I have a fishbowl too, I chirped in reply, none-too-pleased either. I knew what fishbowls meant. But we were already committed; we'd have to go through with this.
"Please proceed to Sea Cucumber Space," the temp-bot told us, its mouth opening up to form the mission portal. "Let me know when you are done."
Bee stared up at it accusingly as she stepped into the portal. "Sea Cucumber Space? Are you just making names up now?"
You're the one who called me Puppycat, I replied, following her inside.
"That's only 'cause you won't tell me your real name!"
Stepping through the temp-bot's portal sent us tumbling through the air, down toward the middle of a vast body of water that stretched as far as the eye could see. It wasn't cold, but hitting the surface was still a shock, and it took me a moment to orient myself under the waves and find Bee.
She was treading water at the surface, trying to look around, and swam over to me as I surfaced. "This is supposed to be our mission? What the heck is this? Are we hunting Moby Dick? There's nothing here!"
I tried to ignore the unpleasant wetness of it all and glanced at Bee. Stop swimming and let yourself sink, I instructed, and did so.
Bee followed a few moments later, sinking slowly down into the depths with me. "So this is what the fishbowl is for, huh? I hope it magically recycles air, or we're going to run out really fast. It would kind of suck to suffocate. Hey Puppycat, where are we going?"
I started to kick through the water, scanning ahead of me as I chirped an answer. In Sea Cucumber Space we visit Michael.
"Michael?" Bee started to stroke after me, turning over on her back in the water to look up at me as she kicked. "Michael sounds like a much sexier name than Wallace. Please don't tell me he's a giant fish too?"
No, but he's not your type.
I watched Bee frown through the fishbowl glass. "He could be. What do you know about my type, anyway?"
I know you bought him a casserole.
Bee glanced away, but instead of the snappy retort I was used to, she was silent.
Am I wrong?
"No," she replied, and sighed. "I just... don't really know what to do with him, Puppycat. I see him all the time, but he never makes a move. Ug, he's such a... a... man-child!"
I didn't think Bee was in any position to talk about that, but held my tongue. Maybe you should do something more than just buy him a casserole, then.
"Like what? Buy him two casseroles? Hey, that tickles!" Bee turned in the water as a stream of small bubbles hit her in the small of the back.
We're here, I chirped, turning in the water and starting down toward the bottom, following the small stream of bubbles. Bee followed behind me, swimming through the water without saying anything. I hoped I’d given her something to think about.
The light faded as we descended, but the fishbowls were equipped with their own filters to combat that. The little town on the bottom of the sea was perfectly visible, little huts with seaweed thatched roofs that sat in gardens of kelp along winding white sand roads. As we got closer, we could see fish swimming to and fro, and finally…
“Mermaids!” Bee squealed and swam faster, following the trail of tiny bubbles to where a young merman lounged on a rock in the middle of fenced pasture. “Are you really a mermaid? Mermaids are real?”
The merman had both hands over his eyes, tiny bubbles leaking in a constant stream from the corners of them. I swam to the rock beside him and nudged his tail with a paw. Hello Michael. This is Bee.
I half expected Bee to complain about the waterworks, but she was just as awkwardly sympathetic she had been with Wallace. “Michael? I’m pleased to meet you, Michael. Are you okay?”
“I’m sorry,” Michael said, rubbing his eyes with the back of one hand. “It’s nice to meet you, Bee. I’m just swimming in the depths of despair right now.”
“Well…” Bee fidgeted awkwardly. “What’s wrong?”
Michael sighed. “I really want to ask out this mermaid, Micheline. But I can’t.”
Bee shook her head. “There’s no such thing as can’t. If you want to ask out Micheline, then do it! Maybe she’s waiting for you to ask her out.”
Michael blinked as he looked up at her, a scattering of bubble tears leaving his lashes to flow toward the surface. “You really think so?”
“Go do it right now! I bet you she’ll say yes. I’ll bet you twenty dollars,” Bee said. “Or… whatever it is you merpeople use for currency.”
“Pearls,” Michael replied, though he still looked sorrowful. “I wish it was that easy.”
“Why can’t it be easy?” Bee demanded. “Just get out there and do it!”
Michael shook his head. “I have a very important job,” he said. “I have to tend to this cow every hour. Every hour, on the hour, exactly when the clock strikes. Without fail. It’s my sacred duty. But Micheline spends her days in the underground cavern with the other mermaids, collecting phosphorus sea flowers. I can’t leave the cow alone long enough to go ask out Micheline.”
“A cow…? Here?” Bee squinted her eyes at him, as if trying to determine whether or not he told the truth.
That cow, I chirped, nodding toward the center of the fenced pasture, where a rather normal looking cow stood calmly chewing on seaweed.
“This place is really weird,” Bee muttered, then shook her head. “Michael, we will feed this cow. We’ll feed this cow so you can go find Micheline and ask her for coffee. Or… whatever it is you merpeople drink.”
Michael stared at her in astonishment. “Can you really feed the cow?”
Bee rolled her eyes. “Of course we can feed the cow!”
Michael looked like he was close to tears again. “Really? Thank you. Thank you so much! I'll be back soon, I promise! As soon as I can!”
I hope you know what you’re doing, I told her as we watched Michael take off out of sight, swimming quickly along the white sand road.
“Yeah, of course. I mean, I guess so. How hard can it be to feed a cow?”
I sighed, but said nothing. Bee had a lot to learn.
When the low, resonating tone of the clock bell sounded, Bee jumped to her feet immediately, kicking through the water toward the cow at the center of the enclosure. “Okay! Let’s feed this cow! Come here, cow! Time to eat!”
And just what do you plan to feed this cow?
Bee stopped, though inertia continued to carry her through the water toward the cow. “Cow food. What else?”
And where is this cow food?
“It’s got a just be seaweed, right? That’s the only thing around!” Bee bent down to pull handfuls of kelp from the ocean floor, holding it out in front of her. “Here, cowey cowey cowey!”
Despite Bee’s enthusiasm, the cow didn’t seem impressed by her handfuls of seaweed. It watched her through dubious eyes, still chewing slowly.
Bee waved the handfuls of kelp under the cow’s nose. “Come on, cow! It’s food time! I bet this kelp is delicious, isn’t it? You should know, you eat it every hour!”
The cow took a step back, still looking up at her. Then it gave a little shake of its head, and I saw something in its deep brown eyes began to turn red.
Bee, be careful!
The cow began to transform, its body swelling grotesquely until the skin along its back began to split. The black, spidery being that unfolded from the cow’s hide was much like the last one we’d seen: another of the Space King’s minions.
“You again!” Bee flailed in the water until one foot found purchase on the bottom, shoving herself back and away from the monster. “Quick, Puppycat! Do that weird tail laser gun thingy!”
You really think that’ll work underwater? Besides, it’s getting away. I swam toward Bee as the space monster started to scurry away from us along the ocean floor, ripping through the pasture fence and quickly gaining momentum, leaving froth and bubbles in its wake. Bee, grab my collar!
“What?” Bee grabbed it anyways, and I began to spin my tail rapidly, the propulsion sending us shooting after the space beast.
“Why do these things keep showing up and ruining our jobs?” Bee asked, fingers clenching tighter at my collar. “And how are you moving so fast? Cats can’t do this! Or… Dogs. You know.”
I ignored her chatter for more pressing matters. Bee always asked the wrong questions anyway. Maybe I’d tell her the truth about everything one day, if she managed to figure out enough of it for herself. But for now….
“There it is!” The space beast had stopped in front of a rock click cliff face and was clawing at a hole in it. We could hear muffled shrieks coming from inside.
“I thought you said you could feed the cow! Don’t you know what happens when you don’t feed it?” Michael appeared at our side, his face red and his tail swishing angrily. “Micheline and the rest of the mermaids are in there!”
“It’s okay,” Bee said, her eyes narrowing “I have a sword.” She summoned the weapon from the bell around her neck, and I felt a soft surge of pride. Maybe this time she would figure out how to actually use it.
Before we could attack, the space monster pulled one clawed hand from the cave opening, its spidery fingers firmly clenched around a squirming mermaid. “Micheline!” Michael snatched the sword from Bee’s hand, charging toward the space monster.
“Hey! That’s our monster!” Bee grabbed my collar again. “Puppycat! Go!”
I’m not your personal jet ski! I snapped, but started toward the thrashing space beast anyway. It was swiping at Michael with both its free hand and its tongue, sharp talons barely missing the merman’s tail. I raised my chirp. Hey, ugly! I’m the one you’re looking for!
As the beast turned, Bee delivered a perfect somersault kick to its head, which would’ve been more effective and impressive had we not been underwater. Instead it sent her tumbling back. “Oooh, Puppycat, how do we fight this thing?” She pulled one flipper from her foot, smacking the creature’s arm with it every time it came close to her.
With the monster distracted, Michael swung the sword through the water to slice through the beast’s forearm and released the mermaid. I darted toward him. Quick, give me the sword!
“Puppycat, help! God, I hate these disgusting tongues!” Bee was caught in the sea monsters grasp, its tentacle like tongue coiled tight around her legs and pulling her toward its gaping mouth and razor-sharp teeth. She managed to free her arms, and was trying to shove the coil of tongue down her body with one hand while still beating the monster with her flipper. “Let me go, you nasty thing! This isn’t a hentai anime!”
The sword was too heavy for me to wield, but I spun around in the water and sent it careening in arcs toward the monster’s head. The tip sliced through the monstrous tongue - thankfully without slicing Bee’s arm off - and tongue, sword, and squirming girl fell free.
Use the sword! As an actual sword! I ordered, hurrying toward her.
“I know what I’m doing!” Bee shot back, which was debatable, but I didn’t argue. She grabbed the handle of the sword and pulled it free of the silt it had landed in, slicing it upwards as the monster struck at us. The timing was perfect, and as the sword cleaved through the monster’s neck, the physical form of the darkness crumbled, fading away to nothing.
“Take that, you stupid cow! Ruining our mission!” Bee yelled after the disappearing darkness. She turned back to me. “What was our mission, anyway?”
I turned from her without saying anything, choosing to believe she was just being facetious and not as clueless as she appeared. More mermaids appeared from the mouth of the cave, carrying baskets laden with glowing flowers. In the middle of them all was Michael, his arms wrapped tightly around the rescued mermaid. He looked toward us. “We’re finally free of the evil cow. Thank you, Bee and Puppycat.”
“Did you ask her out?” Bee demanded, ignoring the praise.
Michael paled. “Well, um…”
“DID YOU ASK HER OUT?” Bee bellowed, raising the sword above her head menacingly.
Michael’s eyes went wide, and he pulled the mermaid back away from the angry advancing Bee. “Michelinewillyougowithme?”
“Of course I will, you silly.” Micheline smiled brightly and pressed a kiss to his cheek. “I’ve been waiting for you to ask.”
“See?” Bee smiled triumphantly, and the sword, no longer needed, faded from view.
Michael smiled, rueful, and produced a small sack that he pressed into her hand. “Thanks, Bee.”
She turned back to me. “Mission accomplished?”
I nodded as the portal opened up again under our feet, and turned to swim down into it.
We were once again dumped unceremoniously on the couch. A moment later a wad of cash followed, satisfyingly much larger than the last. I peeled off a few bills again, then handed the rest to Bee. Hopefully she wouldn’t spend it all on casseroles.
“Yeah, we got a raise!” Bee ruffled through the cash with a grin. “Thanks, Puppycat! Ooh, and Michael made good on our bet!” Inside the small sack he’d handed her I could see the white gleam of pearls – probably far more than twenty dollars worth.
“Do you think I could get them made into a necklace? Maybe a ring?” Bee rambled as she went to tuck her earnings away. Then she caught sight of something out the window and stopped. “Oh! Deckard’s outside!”
Good timing, I thought, and jumped off the couch, heading over to the front door to sit on the mat expectantly.
“I suppose I could go out and meet him,” Bee mused, putting a few bills in her pocket and tucking the rest of the cash away. She slipped into her shoes and went out to meet the the boy on the step of the apartment building, leaving the door open for me to follow. “Oh, hey Deckard.”
“Hey,” Deckard started, one sneakered foot scuffing against the ground. “So… I heard the grocery store gig fell through?”
“Yeah, well…” Bee shrugged. “Puppycat and I will get by. It’s really sweet that you’re checking up on me.”
“Y-yeah….” Scuff, scuff. “Um… I was wondering… Do you need another casserole?”
Bee looked a little disappointed, but nodded. “Yeah, I - casserole would be really great, I – “
I sighed inwardly, fed up with this song and dance. Turning to Bee, I leaned in and bit her ankle.
“OUCH! Puppycat! That hurt!”
I looked pointedly at Deckard. Bee sighed.
“Deckard, I want you to go out with me.”
The blushing boy flushed an even deeper shade of red. “R-really?”
“Yes. But you have to ask me. Or else.”
“Uh… Do you want to go out with me? We could go out for casserole?”
I shook my head at this ridiculous casserole obsession, but turned and padded back into the apartment. Bee didn’t need any more help.
At least, not for now.