Furry Writers' Guild Forum


[Currently 0 for 2 on readers understanding the thrust of the story.]


Salma was only halfway finished with her supper when the knock came. She froze, triangular ears perked high on her feline head until the visitor rapped once again, startling her into motion. Her shift had been over for hours, so whoever this late visitor might be, their presence boded nothing good. Eyes darting about, the Mau hastily settled on the drawer of her scuffed plastic desk as a hiding place and secreted her plate there, locking it in afterwards. 
She decided to spare a moment to compose herself before she opened the front door, afflicted with an overwhelming self-consciousness with regards to her tail, which lashed back and forth behind her with restless fervor. Getting it under control required deep breaths and concentration, through which she reflected on the irony of her own body’s attempting to betray her. 
It’s probably nothing, she assured herself. Just someone asking for directions.
The scrapyard adjacent to her facility was a labyrinth of pathways twisting through the wreckage of times past. Walls made of little more than rust and sharp edges reached some five meters high in places. It was not unusual for new hires to become disoriented and end up at her shed. With that in mind, she steeled herself and slid back the bolt. 
The sky had some light in it still, but the maze of ruined autos and industrial machinery threw a shadow over her residence. The effect was like her own personal darkness, a patch of night that arrived before all the rest. As a cat, this bothered her not at all. She would have been able to see this intruder in detail with no illumination but the stars.
“Are you 31559213, Salma?” the saluki asked. He wore baggy nylon coveralls with patches on the knees and elbows. His ears dangled from the sides of a narrow, white head, looking for all the world like he had shoulder-length hair. His mouth hung open as he panted in the quiet summer heat. His tail swept left and right in a lazy arc. 
Her guts tied themselves up in knots at the sound of her name. She felt her ears begin to flatten in alarm and willed them erect. Every nerve in her body screamed at her to flee, but she could not. Not if she wanted to live.
“I am,” she said, nothing more. 
“Well,” the saluki announced, offering his paw to shake, “I’m the new inspector for this district. I’ve been going around today, introducing myself. Though I think,” he said, pausing to chuckle, “I would have put off meeting you until tomorrow if I’d known how long the drive was going to be. Name’s Adam, nice to meet you.”
She took his hand and gave it two stiff pumps before releasing it. A new inspector was not welcome news for her. Bribes were an essential part of doing business, but broaching the subject with a stranger was always a touchy proposition. What was more, she was not exactly overflowing with funds at the moment.
“So,” he began. It occurred to her that she had been fixing him with a blank look for several seconds, and made to speak, but he beat her to it.
“That smell…” His nostrils quivered and glistened as he took measure of the air; his voice low and grave. “Did you burn your dinner?”
The words hit her like a punch to the solar plexus. She felt herself wince and knew that he must have seen it, but he let out a long peal of barking laughter; she realized he was only engaging in a little gallows’ humor. Joining in, she tittered, though the sound was pinched and nervous. Once done, he resumed his smiling.
“So! I know it’s late, but as long as I’m here, do you mind if we take a look at the main building?”
“No,” she lied, straining to put on a pleasant expression and certain, in the depths of her paranoia, that she was failing. “I’ll get the key.”
The key was a digital one stored on her computer, which was already on her person. In the bedroom, she reached under a pillow and came up with a folding knife with a twenty-three centimeter blade. It was just short enough to slip into her pocket, and, at the instant of having done so, she became possessed of a most peculiar serenity. She had her words, her wiles, and these would be her first line of defense. If that wasn’t enough…
When she returned, she found the inspector living up to his title by poking at a mobile she’d made from old tins and shards of glass.
“Ready?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said, fingertips tracing the reassuring weight in her pocket. “I do believe I am.”

Whoever had designed the facility had owned the good sense to build it far from the scrapyard, and to fell enough trees on the eastern side of the property to prevent their casting shadows over the lens array on the roof. The exterior of the main structure was unadorned concrete, smooth from weathering. It might even have been mistaken for a modest home were it not for the smokestack, which was darker in color than the rest, looming over it all with vague menace like a column displaced from some chthonic god’s palace. Adam kept looking up at it and sniffing as they walked over.
	“The shape and placement of the array means the sun is on it from dawn to dusk,” she explained. “The salt mixture is heated to almost six-hundred degrees Celsius. As it melts, it moves into an insulated storage tank underground. It’s an inherently efficient set-up. Energy loss at that stage is less than one percent.”
	“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Adam admitted, cooing approval at this rare technology. “But still, the chamber itself needs to be much hotter than that, if I recall?”
	Salma nodded. “You’re right, the salt mixture isn’t enough by itself. We bring in water through the main and heat it through a metal plate. That drives a turbine in the back, which in turn powers coils below the chamber. Picture a space heater, but bigger; this thing tops eight-hundred degrees. And there’s enough electricity left over for the lights and computer relay.”
	“I’m impressed. But what if it rains?”
	“It hasn’t been an issue,” she said, shrugging her lithe, feline shoulders. “My understanding is that it retains several days’ worth of energy. I’ve seen it go three in a row without any noticeable drop in output.”
	“Amazing.” He stopped walking and so did she. They were a stone’s throw from the entrance now. It was dusk. Stars crept in from the east like a swarm of torpid fireflies. His eyes flashed green with reflected light as he fixed her with a marked stare.
	“And the coolers?” 
	Their visual worlds were monochrome, but if that hadn’t been the case then he would have seen the color drain from the insides of her ears. The ease of their conversation up to this point had been enough to put her halfway off her guard.
	“The coolers, too,” she said, hand slipping into her pocket.
	“I looked over your file,” he said, not looking at her eyes, but at the end of her arm now engaged with the weapon he must have suspected she held. While she did not draw and attack, neither did she loosen her grip.
	“You took a ration cut like everyone else in town,” he continued. “But they also switched your formula to one with no taurine in it. Your nutritionist does know you’re a cat, right?”
	“There was a mix-up. I submitted some forms, but-“
	She took a step towards him, then went rigid as a stone. His right hand had made its way into his own pocket, and there was something pointed at her through the fabric that might well have been his finger, but might just as easily have been a gun. Whichever the case, it was enough to stop her advance.
	“Here’s the thing that I don’t understand,” he mused, his smile gone from friendly to mocking in a blink. “In the middle of a famine, living on a formula supplement that’s not nutritious enough for you, you still managed to gain five kilos in two months. So, would you rather confess, or shall I march you in there and have you open those coolers?”
	Salma sighed and raised now-empty palms to him in resignation, in surrender. He knew. There was nothing to do now but consign herself to the truth and attempt some form of damage control.
	“Tell me what you want.”
	All traces of humor vanished from his features, leaving only cold, animal logic in their wake.
	“Simple,” he said, not grinning, but showing teeth like a shark in the moment of striking. “I want in.”

	A quarter-hour later and she stood watching the inspector slink off through the darkness, a package wrapped in wax paper tucked in the crook of his arm. She’d gotten the best terms she could from the situation, which were poor enough, but reckoned the loss was an acceptable one compared what would happen if he were to report her to the authorities. 
Arrangements like the one she’d just made were not permanent affairs. If the saluki were to become too greedy, or sloppy, then he might just end up getting the deluxe tour of her solar-powered crematory.
The moon rose. Crickets sang in the grass. Somewhere far away, a dog bayed in the darkness. She waited until she was certain he had gone, then went back inside to finish her victuals.

Is she eating burned critters? Is that what you’re referring to?

She’s eating the bodies they bring her to cremate. I think I have an idea for how to make it more clear without stating it outright.

Ah. Guess I missed out that she was running a crematory.