After having her angst removed in a brutal, anaesthesia-free psychic surgery performed by EDB, Lucy-S wanders dazed through her daily life. Her psychospatial matrix has been destabilized to the extent that, when no other human is there to observe her condition, she isn't quite herself. Sometimes, she is unusually glamorous. Sometimes, she can speak only Spanish, and as a result can't understand herself. Sometimes, she is full of bees, but not in an angstful way.

This morning, she wakes to find herself tiny as a mouse. She wriggles free of the carnival tent of her pajamas and rolls a spool of thread to the top of the stairs so that she can rappel down to the basement. The kitten's down there, lonely in his 10-day quarantine. He's the only other creature stirring in the entire apartment, and today, she can understand his gravelly miaows.

"Hey! Let me out of here!" the kitten complains to the ceiling. "My people never got this kind of shabby treatment in Egypt!"

Lucy steps toward the cage. She built it during the summer with white wire shelving panels and plastic cable ties. It's big enough for a litter box, a food and water bowl, a cat bed, and a few square feet of pacing space.

The kitten spots Lucy watching him through the bars. To her, he's as big as an elephant.

"Are you prey?" he asks, sniffing at her.

"No, I am not prey. And you have to stay in there until Thursday. You got worms, and nobody else wants them."

The kitten arches his back haughtily. "How dare you suggest that I should be infected with worms!"

Lucy nods towards the litter box. "Then what's that I see in there? They come out in clumps like that, you know. And then I have to clean them up, so don't bullshit me about what is or is not in your poo."

"Oh." The kitten looks deflated. "So that's why my tummy hurt."

"Kitten, I don't know what to do with my life. I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I'm pretty good at it, but nobody here is hiring writers or editors or even web designers right now. I can get lots of volunteer work, mind you, just no paying gigs. That wouldn't bother me so much but for the fact that I need money to pay for rent and food and such."

"Money?" the kitten asks.

"Yes, money. You get it by working at a job. Ideally, a job should be something you'd want to do anyway, but most often you get money doing something you'd rather not do. Sometimes you think you'd almost rather gouge your own eyes out than do the thing you're paid to do. It's a flaw in the system."

"Do you get to play with string and chase balls at jobs?"

"Well, some professional musicians do the former and athletes do the latter, but sadly I'm not one of them. When I'm lucky, I get to wear jeans and come in at noon to work at a computer. When I'm unlucky, I have to wear dry-clean-only dresses and pantyhose and fight downtown rush hour traffic to get someplace by 9 a.m. to work at a computer."

"You smelled like dry cleaning the other day," the kitten says. "Did you go someplace for a job?"

"Yeah, I had an interview at a pipe fittings company. It was for a freelance job to fix the singularly most horrendously screwed up Pagemaker catalog I've ever seen. It was over 300 megabytes big, 190 pages long, and had literally hundreds of missing file links. And whoever had converted it from Illustrator had rendered what should be text blocks as graphics, so it's the biggest pain to update.

"And they want it fixed in the next week. And they're going behind the back of a woman they hired to see if someone else can fix it faster. And they don't want to pay very much. This whole thing happened to them because their president is too cheap to either send one of his existing employees off to a daylong seminar to get trained in Pagemaker or to keep a regular graphic designer on part-time to take care of this stuff.

"I've been shafted on dodgy freelance gigs before. The little voice in my head said 'Flee! Flee now!' I've learned to listen to that little voice, so afterward I emailed them to decline bidding on the project."

"Flea?" the kitten asks. "I've had those."

He scratches behind his ear.

"Yes, and that's the other reason you have to stay down here, so the Frontline can kill off the rest of your passengers. Having to flea bomb this place would be a nightmare," Lucy says.

Suddenly, there's a creaking on the stairs and heavy footsteps coming into the basement. Lucy is observed, and in a split-second she shoots back up to her normal size.

"Miaow?" says the kitten.

Braunbeck is staring at Lucy. "Where are your clothes?"

"I'm observing an ancient winter solstice ritual," she says. "The first Sunday of December is always Speak With Animals Naked in a Very Cold Room day."

"But I thought last Sunday was the first Sunday of this month," he replies suspiciously.

Lucy shrugs. "I'm just going by what my Yahoo! calendar says," she replies lightly, then breezes past him to get her pajamas back on.