Pokey had made herself comfortable on the pullout couch in Sapphomet’s little apartment. In time, she got more comfortable with the goat themself too, so comfortable that she actually started to feel bad freeloading. So, most days, she got up early, made a simple breakfast for the two of them, and started sweeping up before the goat got in.
They were exasperated the first time they opened the door to their new unapproved janitor, exasperated every day after that, told pokey just about every morning that her residence was not predicated on any kind of usefulness: she needed a home, Sapphomet had a home, ergo, etc.
“Yeah, I know, but I kinda like it. It… like… keeps me busy or whatever.” Pokey said, just about every morning. It was nice to watch Sapphomet start the day too: running down a checklist, pulling however many cases they needed for the day from floor storage, count their safe. Pokey always refused direct payment, but - even seeing it happen - found it hard to refuse when Sapphomet snuck a 20 into her parka’s pocket; always with a wink, and a finger raised to her missing lips.
“Don’t tell Pokey.” They said directly to Pokey on more than one occasion.
They were odd, too. Their mouth never moved when they spoke: only in private moments of laughter was it obvious that they actually had one. Which, actually, was kind of a relief for the lizard, because her home situation was not quite as simple as having been kicked out by her parents.
“Uh, Ms. Sapphomet?” The lizard spoke quietly, stopping in her work as the thought of her history jumped to the front of her mind. It was hard to think about anything else, even harder to talk about it, but Sapphomet could probably be trusted, and - if it came to it - she could always just run away again.
“Only my wife calls me ‘Miss’, Pokey.” The goat ribbed in their usual gentle style as they looked up from today's reading.
“Okay, uh,” Pokey wrung her hands around the rough broom handle. “So, are you like… an alien… or something?” she trailed off at Sapphomet’s look of confusion. They stopped, thought about it for a few moments, tipping their head back and forth as though to slosh the idea around.
“You know, I was going to laugh, but I realize now that I might be… I would not call myself an alien in the traditional uh, ‘little green men’ sense, though” They smiled, seemingly content with this answer as they went back to their book.
“Well, no. Hold on. You have to understand that that raises way more questions than it answers.” Pokey Said, incredulous.
“Oh, yes I suppose you’re right. I’m a demon, I’m from Hell, and I’m not sure whether or not that is on Earth.” They mulled it over. “It might be another planet.” They shrugged. Pokey felt another unique kind of relief for the second time that morning.
“Retired demon?” She asked.
“But like, thoroughly paranormal though?”
“Yes, very. So is my wife.” The admission came easy to Sapphomet in a way that Pokey desperately yearned for.
“Cool… so…” Pokey started, their voice shaking. “Remember when I told you I don’t actually live at… like… a house?” Sapphomet nodded, sympathetically curious. “Right… that’s not cus like, I was kicked out by my parents or anything. It’s more cus like- I’m, uh- so-”
The lizard faltered, struggling to figure out where to start with her story. “Have you ever heard of Angelcorp?”
Sapphomet snapped to attention, dropping what she was doing. “Yes. I have heard of Angelcorp.”
“So, I used to do a little club for other paranormal kids… there were like three besides me in my hometown… and basically… they took all four of us… just straight out of my basement… and…” Pokey was shaking at this point, suddenly aware of how much of her weight was being supported by the broom in her hands. “I mean, I got out obviously, and one of the other kids did, but- I can’t- I can’t go home.”
Sapphomet rounded the counter, resting a gentle hand on Pokey’s shoulder and finding themselves supporting the kid’s entire weight as the broom clattered to the ground. She buried her snout in the goat’s shoulder.
“I can’t go home. I’ve been running for so long, and my friends keep disappearing, and I can’t go home, and I don’t know what to do, because every time I find somewhere to say-” she shuddered as the ability to speak left her.
“Shh, shh. It’s alright. Nobody is going to hurt you here Pokey. I promise you that.” And they meant it, but still, the tea shop was not secure enough: she couldn’t devote every hour of the day to sitting in front of the door with a shotgun, and what about every other community isolated paranormal?
Something else had to be done.
Sapphomet struggled to leave that night, sat with Pokey until the lizard fell asleep in their arms and slipped out quietly, triple checking the locks as they went. The run back to T35 was cold and wet, barely affecting Sapphomet as they charged through the night, determined. The wave of warmth that hit them as they slammed into their apartment immediately melted any chill they had accumulated.
“Ratty.” Sapphomet panted, turning to see her wife, stunned with an uncracked egg in one hand and a pan in the other.
“Hey babe, you’re home late.” She cocked a cautious eyebrow, going back to her cooking. “Did you want spicy beans and-”
“We should buy the rest of this building.” Sapphomet inturupted, leaning on the counter for support as their lungs siezed. Ratty blinked back at them, the first dribbles of an egg-white slipping through her fingers. She turned the head off, setting the egg back in its carton.
“Go on.” She stared, curious. Sapphomet attempted to catch their breath, having air catch in their nose as the cold caught up to them. Congestion without a mouth could be very troublesome.
“Right… Yes…” Sapphomet painted, holding up a claw as their lungs struggled to recover.
“Did you run here?” Ratty set down a plate of beans and rice on the counter, sliding a solitary fried egg onto the pile. Sapphomet nodded as the spices coated their torn throat with a comforting little blanket. “Well, okay, eat some warm food. Calm down.” Ratty pulled a clean scalpel from the cutlery drawer and handed it to Sapphomet. They cut their lips open, taking a deep breath, then another, then a bite of runny egg, beans and rice.
“So. I think we could turn it into a community center for paranormal entities…” They started, trying to balance savoring Ratty’s cooking with keeping their thoughts in order. “...and we could devote the top floor to a shelter kind of thing, because this lizard - Pokey - says there’s other paranormals on Earth, which I thought stopped happening. But, I think we could create a place for them to belong.”
Ratty turned it over in her mind, watching Sapphomet eat as she thought of every reasonable problem with this plan. She started with: “Money would be tight.”
“Yes, I know, but with the - we could apply for a government grant based on our escapee status, and the courier is doing really well, and I really think we can afford it.”
“I wouldn’t be able to stop working, so I could only help-”
“I know…” Sapphomet felt hope build in their chest as the possum’s tone shifted. “Ratty, I really think this is what I was made for.”
“Okay.” She nodded, confident. “Then, yeah. Let’s do it.”
Despite her initial assertion Ratty was actually available to help a lot more often than she had originally thought. She dropped a lot of gigs that weren’t actually supporting the two of them, and threw herself into the community center. It all remained under the newly christened Team 35 Logistics courier as not to arouse any suspicion.
It grew slowly.
Pokey was their first resident, claiming an apartment on the top floor and weeping openly as she dropped onto the bed, wiping her eyes on the corner of the duvet as Ratty and Sapphomet hovered like proud parents.
Becca the desk demon found a new desk: one with a built in tape-deck and a few security monitors. It wasn’t too much better than the one in New York, but at least people came through the door pretty regularly here.
None of it was particularly special: all of the furniture had been ordered in bulk from one of Ratty’s associates: a bird with a repo business. Everyone tried not to think about where it came from.
Word spread quickly that T35 was a safe place for paranormals, residents trickled in slowly, and work began for Sapphomet.
8 feet tall. A purple black mess of tape-like fur clinging to everything like magnetic static, the impression of a snout. If it wasn’t a physical embodiment of an anxiety attack, this form would have been strangely beautiful. It crackled as it passed over a puddle left by an overturned mop bucket on its way to meet Sapphomet.
It was scared. Not easy to tell given that any impression of a face was mostly hidden by tape, but the goat could tell. Less than an hour ago it had been a ‘he’ - a nervous teen camping out in the building’s makeshift library before deciding whether or not to stay.
According to Becca, the security feed went dark after the black cat had started hyperventilating. He had panicked as Team 35’s janitor plopped down across from him and struck up a conversation. That anxiety attack sent him spiralling, and spiralling turned him into this.
All this drama for a crush. Sapphomet couldn’t help but smile at- well- the weird kind of cute it was. It groaned as Sapphomet approached, a smooth electronic monotone approximation something close to garbled speech.
“Hey yourself.” The goat ribbed, barely hiding her nerves. The creature pushed itself back into the corner as Sapphomet spoke, tapes clinging to the walls and starting to drag itself into the ceiling.
“Hey… it’s okay.” The creature gave a series of toneless clicks. “Do you have a name?”
A pair of red eyes glowed quietly behind the drapes of plastic fur, blinking down at the little demon, clearly not used to being spoken to.
"Lovette." It said, it’s voice haphazardly thrown together with syllables from other words.
"Your name is Lovette?" Sapphomet clarified. Lovette nodded. “Hi Lovette, I’m Sapphomet.”
“Sapphomet.” Their name sounded broken as it emanated from the creature.
“Yes, you remember me, don’t you?”
“That’s right. You didn’t have a home, so I said you could stay here.” They took a step forward. “Is that right?” Lovette nodded again, sending a boom through the floor as it took a step forward.
“Jesus Christ.” Sapphomet hissed under her telepathic breath. The creature was gentle, but it had already disappeared one person, and besides that was physically fucking terrifying. "Do you like your new home?"
Lovette took in the slightly demolished state of his new home: the wet carpet, dusty patches of carpet covered in cracked ceiling tiles. It’s red eyes landed finally on the overturned yellow bucket the janitor left behind.
“Charlie…” The janitor’s name came whole from the shimmering mass.
“Yes. Charlie, right. You like Charlie?”
Lovette nodded, more vigorous this time.
“Where is Charlie, Lovette?”
The creature crept farther up the wall, hiding its face in the tangled mess of its chest.
"No, no, no. It is alright Lovette, I am your friend. You can tell me."
Lovette let out another groan: something akin to the wail a hot motherboard would make if it could cry. “Keep. Charlie.”
"You put Charlie away, didn't you?" The type of creature was familiar, a prototype of the next stage in evolution, somehow stranded across universes in the body of a scared little cat. It was designed that way: to take over bodies and use a creature’s capacity literally. The more potential something had, the more internal storage it had. Lovette nodded slowly, ashamed at the prize in it’s dimensional pocket.
Sapphomet strode forward, no time for caution. Charlie was resilient - his own kind of paranormal - but he couldn’t hold his breath forever.
"You know what happens when you put someone away, don't you?" The red eyes sizzled, a static agony taking them over. “You have to give him back, okay?”
"Love Charlie." Lovette shook its head.
"I know. Charlie loves you a lot, doesn't he?" The creature’s fur was whipped up in what seemed like an invisible wind. “Theres- if you don't let him out soon Charlie's not going to be around to love you anymore."
"Love Charlie." It groaned again, stubborn.
"Look." Sapphomet’s hand shot out, frustrated as her heart kicked in her chest. “You love your home, you love me, you can love someone without having to keep them. Give me your paw and I will show you." It took all their willpower to keep their hooves planted as the wind died, as the massive creature advanced on her, as it rested its paw - palm up - in Sapphomet’s hand.
"There you go." Sapphomet encouraged. The tape pulled delicately at her fur. Others who had been grabbed and got out described a feeling like ropes tightening around their skin, but there was none of that now, just a gentle tug.
"There you go." They repeated, gently petting the creatures arm. “See, it’s okay.”
Like that, Charlie fell out of lovette's chest like a cat falling out of a tree, his orange fur matted with static. He lay where he fell on the floor, gulping for air, catching his breath as Lovette retracted their paw.
“Charlie. Pet?” The creature asked, crackling as he started to push his other form back under the skin.
"You are terrifying." The excited tabby said, his shrill voice cutting the tension. "That was the most terrifying thing to happen in my life so far." He sat up and pet the rapidly shrinking figure with an incredible amount of affection for someone who had almost been dimensionally swallowed. He turned as he got comfortable, meeting Sapphomet’s gaze as the goat caught their breath,
"Oh hey boss."
Today started out pretty normal for a full moon. Like every full moon before that, Rey found it hard to sleep the night before. They got out of bed when shops finally started opening, and went about the business of getting enough to eat for tonight: a combination of raiding the dumpsters of movie theatres and grocery stores for whatever hadn’t been sold the night before, and linking up with their butcher to take home a bag of waste cuts. It wasn’t glamorous, but it was better than waking up with a stomach full of another person.
They got home pretty early. Usually, not having a car, Rey was scrambling to get their keys out of their pocket by the time they got back to their shop, but this afternoon went pretty swell…
...up until the borzoi lost their keys. They went through the stages of grief as they frantically patted down their pockets, checking ones they never even bothered to use on a normal basis, but no luck. They then went to the garden, tipped over the hollow-bottom flower pot that’d been half buried in soil. No luck there either.
Their roommate was out of town, and if they didn’t get inside, they would be on the streets when they transformed, and no amount of rotting meat would keep them from hurting someone else.
They checked their watch: 4:30 in the middle of winter. The sun would be setting in just a few hours, and so they took off running.
Rey was a hacker. One of the best at the time, in fact. Their werewolf resilience meant that they had barely aged between the release of the first consumer electronics and now, and they had kept up the whole time.
Part of that long lifespan also meant Rey didn’t have to work too hard to get by. They lived mainly off of investments, and ran a small bookstore that they owned outright on the side. That left them with plenty of opportunity to ‘look into’ local networks. One such network was that of a local courier.
At first, it just looked like a money-laundering front, but over time… well...
Suffice it to say it was exactly the kind of place a werewolf could spend the night.
Rey let their dignity fly to the wind as they arrived at T35, slamming the glass front door with both paws and startling the receptionist out of a particularly troubling rubix cube.
“I know what you do here. I need help.”
The desk demon stood, turning her head around the door and trying to examine the lock without leaving her post. “I’m pretty sure it’s open.” She said. Rey pushed against the push-bar, and the glass door gave.
“Hi, welcome to Team 35 logist-”
“I know it's a front.” The borzoi interrupted. “My name is Rey, I’m a werewolf, I need you to lock me up for the night.” Rey checks their watch again. That was a long run, 5:30. Almost no time left.
“Oh, right. Of course. Third floor, cross the parking lot, big glass box. I’ll let Sapphomet know you’re on your way up.” Rey was stunned briefly by how upfront the whole operation was. Still stunned as they shook the hand of a business-casual possum, still stunned by how graciously she accepted a few half-mumbled cybersecurity tips.
“Do you, do that? The uh- Computers?”
“I do.” Rey asked.
“Perfect. We can talk about that tom- Ah, here they are.” The possum - Rey thought they heard a name like ‘Ratty’ - pointed out a smaller, tired looking goat.
“Yes, sorry. I have had a long day.” The goat muttered. “What do we have?”
"I have uhh.. Lycanthropy. In about an hour- give or take ten minutes or so, I'll change and be a danger to everyone around me - including myself - for the night. I have a basement I usually use that I can lock well but I managed to lock myself out of my store -- where it is"
Sapphomet nodded, waving Rey through a hallway of little chambers. It almost reminded them of a doctors office, were it not for the reinforced steel doors.
“I don’t think we’ve ever met a werewolf before, have we Sap?” Ratty asked, trying to coax some energy out of her wife.
“No, I don’t think so. Is werewolf the correct term?” The goat asked.
“Werewolf is fine, yes.”
“Good, good.” Sapphomet seems completely unphased by the presence of… well… at the very least someone who believes themselves to be the most dangerous creature on the planet.
“So, what is this place? Are you guys like… government?” Rey asked. Ratty and Sapphomet both laughed at this.
"No, no… We might have more than ten members of staff if this we were government funded." Sapphomet answered.
“It’s a lot of things actually.” Ratty took over. “It started as a private courier, and then I started using it as a headquarters for freelance stuff, and then Sap had the idea to turn it into a community center, and then we started giving out some of the upstairs apartments as- uh- apartments… Oh! And I’m gearing up to start offering paranormal consultants to like, museums and stuff, just to get that extra income.”
“We wear many hats here.” Sapphomet nodded along. “Just through here please.”
Rey - used to being tall at this point - instinctively ducked through a reenforced bulkhead, keeping one leg through the door as they examined their bedchambers for the evening. It was just a padded room, no chain mounts of torture devices to be found. Ratty ducked past Rey and started sorting through a small, neatly folded pile of linens in the corner.
"So this is like.. a care facility?" They asked.
"That is an excellent name for it. The things it used to be made it not primarily a care facility but... I suppose it is now." The goat takes a moment, raking their thoughts back in. “Yes, to answer your question.”
Rey felt satisfied with that, finding a comfortable spot in the center of the room and sitting. They jumped as the weird edge of an electric blanket touched the nape of their back where their shirt was riding up.
“Oh, sorry. I just assumed you would want to- uh- change.”
“Are you two going to stay in here with me?” Rey tried their best to impart the spin of ‘you shouldn’t be here when I transform’ into their voice.
“Yes, I will stay to make sure the transition is as comfortable as possible, Ratty is going to take notes, and when we get the opportunity we will just slip out.”
“No- You really shouldn’t-”
“Rey, Ratty is here, we’re both wearing very thick gloves-” Rey noticed those for the first time as the goat gave a gentle wave with them. It was probably more likely that they just put them on from the linen pile.
"You understand that my condition means I'll rip you apart potentially, right? It's not just like... you need more than gloves."
"Well this shirt is pretty tough too." Goat pulled on her blouse, taking a cue from her stubborn wife. "You'd be surprised. I mean I personally have never bitten through a cotton shirt… Oh, and also you could not kill me on my worst day." She seemed distantly cheerful about this, as though remembering suddenly that she - in fact - was still an unkillable god of the underworld (not that Rey would have known anything about that).
The fur on the back of Rey’s neck began to bristle as they stripped down - fear of ripping up one of their favorite outfits far overpowering the fear of being seen naked. It was coming on a lot faster this time, probably a combination of the adrenaline of the run over, the raised heart rate of getting naked in a new place. Rey felt her bones ache as they struggled to elongate their limbs
"I-- You need to leave." They struggled to get the words out as a cainine form took over their skeleton, throwing them to the ground with a symphony of sickening crackles. Sapphomet wrapped threads around the newly forming creature, doing their best to syphon pain off into the cosmos as sharp claws grew from the borzoi’s paws. Their fur faded from a lustrous beige to a dull, deep, purple.
“Interesting aesthetic choice…” Ratty called the creature’s attention to herself as sharp fangs broke into a snarl. The crackling of transforming bone finished like a bag of microwave popcorn as Ratty came to realize she was cornered opposite the door.
“Big puppy…” She cooed, struggling to split her attention between the great dog and her wife as one tried to give a non-verbal signal over the sound of a hungry growl. “Big… angry puppy…” Rey advanced slowly on the comparatively small possum, keeping low to the floor and testing their new jaw with a few snaps.
Ratty got as low as she could without falling over, preparing to charge the dog. She caught Sapphomet’s eye in time for a nod, and sprinted as low as she could at the dog. They pounced, overshooting the speedy marsupial and catching the full weight of Ratty’s leap into their chest. They stood to their full, massive hight, teetering on their hind paws as Sapphomet reached out with her threads and dragged them the rest of the way to the ground with a massive crash.
“Shit- sorry.” Sapphomet apologized as the pair slipped out, slamming the door on the dog’s hungry maw, Ratty forcing it back into the room with her boot. The two fell to the floor in front of the now sealed door.
“You need to work on-- not bearing your teeth like that.” Sapphomet said between breaths.
“I was just smiling-- fuckin’ rock n’ roll...” Ratty said, equally out of breath. “Good work, by the way.”
“Hello.” A cold metallic voice woke Ratty and Sapphomet from sleep.
“Jesus Christ.” Ratty jumped, diving for the baton in her bedside drawer and rolling into a combat stance before she had fully woken up. Sapphomet groaned, exhausted from whatever had almost killed them that day as a bright red 3:41 seared its way into their eyes. They looked up from the clock, struggling to focus on the creature that stood above them:
Covered in a thin sheen of rough, clearly synthetic, semi-translucent fur; it was doing a terrible job of trying to seem natural. In addition to the synthetic fur it sported two unnaturally tall rabbit-ears, protruding from it’s false hair as though molded into a helmet. That helmet gave way to a black visor, hovering half an inch from the creature’s eyes. The look was topped off with a pair each of holographic arms and holographic antlers: each bright pink and flooding the room with their glow.
“My name is-” The creature started.
“Ratty…” Sapphomet groaned, burying their snout in their pillow. “Can you take point?”
Ratty swallowed her panic, having it overcome instead by a vague and apprehensive dread as she took in the creature. “For sure. Go back to sleep.” She gently nudged the back of her wife’s head as she guided the creature out of their bedroom. It was cold to the touch, Ratty felt something mechanical clicking under the surface.
“My name is Angel J22:4.” The robot spoke.
“Save it, my wife is trying to sleep, okay?” Ratty hushed Angel as she tried her best to shut the door without having it click.
“My name is Angel J22:4. I am a model J Angelcorp drone from the year 2900. We have met once before-”
“You shouldn’t be here.” Ratty sped up their quest towards the elevators.
“I have disabled my tracking protocol. It is my understanding that this company is currently at conflict with Angelcorp.”
“That’s an interesting way of looking at it.” Ratty hoped the drone had a sarcasm detector.
“It is not my intention to exacerbate this conflict. Our meeting- Please stop.” Angel asked, stopping the overtired possum with a holographic hand. “Our meeting significantly altered my programming, I believe I am malfunctioning. I have some memory of you that is incongruous with the rest of my history. I believe I could be useful to you in this conflict, number 19.”
Ratty’s temples tightened suddenly at the use of her number. She swallowed panic for the second time that night, not doing quite as well re-lubricating her throat this time.
“What- what did you just call me?”
“That is your name, is it not.” Angel asked.
“No, it’s not.” A strange combination of rage and anguish played second fiddle to cracked-tongue anxiety as she examined the drone. The synthetic fur was too thin to hide it’s rubber skin. Incredibly intricate mechanical muscles twitched and pulled under the surface, giving away the otherwise incredibly convincing puppet show. Ratty stepped in closer, her throat closing as she examined each individually labelled string of flesh.
In an instant, she took the drone’s wrist in her hands, bringing it to her face and having the seared image of 16’s dissected wrist jump to the front of her mind. An access panel took the same shape as her scar.
“16?” Ratty asked, trying to stare through the black visor that took the place of the drone’s eyes. It’s face remained blank, only subtle twitches of its mechanical musculature to give away that it was processing something.
“My name is Angel J22:4.” Angel said finally, her voice clicking with the effort of processing it on top of whatever else she was remembering.
“You- You need to leave.” Ratty stammered, stunned as the drone disappeared. Ratty went over what’d just happened on her way back to bed: Angel was a robot created by Angelcorp, who called her 19, and responded to being called 16 by overprocessing something.
She turned these facts over in her mind as she crawled back into bed with her wife, kept turning them over until the sun came up, unable to sleep.
Angel was waiting in the lobby when Ratty left to do errands the next morning. She followed along, hovering just beside her as she walked.
“You and I are similarly motivated. If Angelcorp is not disrupted before 2027, their mastercomputer will go online and I will be taken over by the global signal. Similarly, if you don’t stop Angelcorp, they are going to continue to kidnap and exploit paranormal entities until they become unstoppable.” Angel explained.
Ratty mulled this over, too tired to be anything but distantly panicked as she stopped to admire a modern-for-the-time motorcycle spinning in the front window of a dealership. “How do I know this isn’t a trick.”
“I understand one of the creatures under your employ is an expert in cybersecurity. Have them dig through me and you’ll find that I’m not lying to you.” Angel encouraged.
“You said you’re from 2900, right? How is a hacker from-” Ratty faltered, not sure when Rey was actually born.
“Ratty Vermington, the Twitter account you kept before you died regularly boasted you as having been an excellent judge of character. Does this not extend to your post-life?” Ratty felt a weird twinge of guilt as she realized just how much she had missed twitter for the past 50 years. The pair ducked into a convenience store, the possum choosing to ignore the question.
“Hey Harry.” She addressed the man behind the counter, getting a lazy wave in return. “You are not people.”
“My infrastructure is based on people. I am what comes from people reverse engineering themselves in an effort to build something better. I suspect you know that already.” Ratty took a carton of instant noodle mixes from a shelf in the back, slinging it under one arm as she picked up a pallet of canned beans and handed it to Angel. She took all that and a bag of milk to the counter, pointing out a tin of Sapphomet’s fourth favorite (and least expensive) rolling tobacco on the wall behind the til.
“Harry,” Ratty started as the shorter man dragged over a stool and took down the tin. “What do you think of my friend here?”
Harry turned, squaring up the robot. “I’d feel better if I could see her eyes.”
Angel complied, slipping off her glasses and simultaneously revealing everything that marked her as a magic-adjacent robot from the future.
“Ah… Well, she’s one of them supranaturals or what have you. If that’s what you’re lookin’ for.” He answered as he punched through the selection. Ratty scoffed.
“She is that, Harry. She is that for sure.”
“What’re the stakes, Miss Vermington?”
“Well she might work for Angelcorp.” The possum did her best to put on a faux-cold war interrogator voice.
“Ah, yeah? Like a spy?” Harry followed suit as he clambered up onto the counter, taking a much closer look at the mechanical woman.
“Nah.” He concluded. “No one that pretty’d work for Angelcorp. Plus, if she were a spy, some old man gettin’ way too close wouldn’t make her quite so uncomfortable.”
“Alls I’m gonna say is that - if she thought I could make you trust her, she’d be putting on the charm.”
“Suppose that makes sense.” Ratty nodded. Harry sat back, satisfied with his work as Ratty got out her wallet and sorted through a small stack of rumpled bills. “Hey Harry?”
“Don’t ever do that again, please.”
“O’course. T’was outta line.”
It didn’t take long for T35 to become a hub for paranormal entities. As far as anyone in attendance was aware, it was the only one of its kind. Somewhere across the city, a couple of alive-passing undead had started a bookstore that dealt exclusively in paranormal literature, having spent their afterlives collecting it. Sapphomet had heard rumblings of a similar center opening up in New York City, one in Philadelphia, a small support-group that met weekly in a church basement in northern Alberta, apparently Roswell’s extra-terrestrial community had started opening their doors to other paranormals.
Paranormal people were starting to create a sense of community.
Still, there was too much to do for one goat to give every single person her undivided attention, which is why - at Pokey’s advice - T35 started doing open-floor support groups. Sapphomet still attended, greeting everyone at the door as Ratty laid out trays of fruit. Their heart swelled as Pokey introduced a friend of hers: A young tiger named Lil who had been scooped up in the same raid.
“It’s so nice to meet you.” Sapphomet smiled as she knelt, gently resting a hand on Lil’s shoulder. Their heart melted as the tiger - however sheepishly - returned that smile.
“I- do I have to- um.” She stammered, her eyes finding Sapphomet’s comfy flats.
“Lil is worried you’re going to make her speak.” Pokey nudged gently.
“Oh, goodness, no. If you don’t want to talk when we come to you, just say you want to skip, and I’m sure everyone will understand.”
This seemed to bolster Lil’s confidence, enough for her to recount what had happened to her with Pokey’s help when the circle landed on the two of them for the second time. She started with Angelcorp, the sensations she remembered from inside their transport trucks, got stuck on what they were fed in an effort to avoid discussing what was actually done to her.
Whatever memory-wiping technology was going to be used on Ratty in 30-or-so years clearly hadn’t been developed yet, but hearing what this child had been through, she wished - grotesquely - that it had been.
“I actually- um. I think this is off topic but…” The meek little tiger trailed off.
“Its okay Lil,” Sapphomet nudged gently, catching Pokey’s eye as the lizard comforted her little sister. “Go ahead, we're all here to support you.”
She wrung her hands as she processed the memory. She was so young, too young to be scared and alone in the world.
“I uh- Pokey,” Lil addressed her teenage caretaker directly. “do you remember um- Miss Nelly? She was paranormal too and… I tried to go meet her at school, and she wasn't there, and I asked the office and they said she disappeared too.” The tiger cried at this, struggling like no child should ever struggle to hold back tears. “And- she said that- She said that she would take care of us if- and we can’t go home, and-”
Sapphomet stood, not noticed by the thoroughly transfixed support group as they fled. Ratty followed behind her, altogether less elegant about her exit. The goat found a darkened corner under some staircase, balled up in it, and cried into the soft synthetic fabric of her sundress. They only barely noticed as Ratty slid down the wall next to them.
The possum struggled to come up with something to say, coming up short and settling on an empathetically-toned: “heavy shit, huh?”
Sapphomet snort-sniffled at the simplification of it all. It was, in fact, heavy. They looked up from their dress, doing her best to smile into her wife’s tired eyes as they scooted into her open arms.
“You’re doing great work, Sap.” Ratty muttered, her nose pressed against the goat’s head. They left out a soft sob. “You’re doing really incredible work here.” The goat was not convinced. If Lovette or Rey had had an episode outside of the center, they would most likely have been shot or captured. If Pokey and Lil didn’t happen to stumble upon the exact right tea-shop, they would be scared, alone, and homeless.
That was the reality for anyone outside the greater Toronto area, outside any of the small communities that had their little clubs.
“It’s not enough.” She muttered, feeling the weight of her work crash down on her back. “We’re just one community center in one city.”
“Yeah, and you’re one goat.” Sapphomet stopped crying for just a moment, somehow stunned by that. “One goat - if I might be so bold - with your own paranormal trauma. You’re doing way more than can be expected of you.”
She was good. Not therapist-level, but she always found something to say. Sapphomet snuggled closer into the possum’s firm arms, nuzzling gently against their collar and letting their anguish come to a shuddering halt.
“...And, I mean…” Ratty continued. “...If you want… I’ve been working with Angel - the robot that woke us up the other night - and, we could go… to Angelcorp… if you want… maybe set some folks free?”
Sapphomet scooched back, looking up into her wife’s eyes.
“I’m not quite so good at the healing stuff, like you. But, we could go blow up a prison, if you want. I’m pretty good at that.” Ratty gave a warm smile.
“Can- can you even do that?” Sapphomet asked. “Ratty, I know how scared you are.”
“Yeah, but, y’know. Either we keep being scared or we-” Ratty tipped her head, chipper as she finished the thought. “Face our fears and kill a couple of motherfuckers.”
Sapphomet rubbed the tears from their eyes as they considered this. “We’re probably going to have to sooner or later.” They laughed, mostly into their elbow.
“There we go. Lets fuck em up.”