Everyone Goes to Curtis'

After Taylor and Mr. Socks left, Newbie brought Hope back to his apartment. They snuck in, slipping through shadows to avoid the Cat Patrol, and Newbie ran straight into his clothing-strewn bedroom and started fiddling with the wires behind the television. He let out a muffled curse and pulled a wire loose, which made the picture get inexplicably better.

"Shouldn't we be finding weapons, or something?" whispered Hope. "Is now really a good time to be watching reruns of Katts and Dog?" She peered more closely at the screen. There weren't that many cats in this show in the normal world, were there? "What are they doing to that poor dog?" she asked.

"Here, hold this," said Newbie, and passed her three cables. Then he moved something else behind the television, and the screen blanked to snow. The hissing and popping of static drowned out whatever Newbie said next.

He looked out from behind the television again, dusty. "I said, could you hand me the S-Video cable?" he said.

Hope stared at Newbie, and then at the three cords in her hand, blankly.

"It's the, the, the yellow one," he said. "Thanks." And he grabbed it from her hand and vanished once again.

"Newbie, why are we doing this?" asked Hope. "What about the cats? Shouldn't we be doing something about the cats?"

Newbie reached one arm out and grabbed the remaining two cords. "This is for Curtis," he said, and joggled something behind the television. The picture came back on, and the fizzing of static was replaced with the yowling of uniformed cats goosestepping around a terrified canine.

Hope turned down the volume. "Wait, what? You're playing with your television; what has that got to do with Curtis? And what about the cats? You know, the ones who've taken over? Who snuck a cat-powered robot into our Resistance meeting and got Dizelle arrested? Shouldn't we be -- oh!" Newbie stood up, grinning broadly, showing his teeth. He squeezed out from behind the television.

"Curtis needs to be deprogrammed. He's our last, best hope to escape from our feline overlords." He bent and started rummaging in a pile of video tapes on the floor. His shirt rode up over the small of his back, and Hope stifled the absurd impulse to brush the dust bunnies of the seat of his trousers. "Here, take these," he said, piling VHS tapes in her arms.

Ballpoint on masking tape labels identified each cassette in Newbie's unexpectedly neat script: "RR 3.11-13", "D & G m'thon", "Frooty-Os Holiday Special", "HCL Reunion Tour", "Littlest H. finale". Startled, Hope grabbed at the pile, and the top two tapes fell clattering to the floor. "Careful with that!" said Curtis. "The fate of the free and human world rests on those tapes." He slapped an unlabelled cassette into the VCR and then grabbed one of the fallen tapes. "See," he said, tossing aside a loud shirt and sliding the tape into a second VCR revealed beneath it, "we need to free Curtis' mind from the overpowering mental domination of Lucky."

"I'm not sure it takes that much to overpower Curtis' mind," said Hope, dryly. Newbie flashed her his sudden smile and turned back to the VCR, and Hope breathed in sharply. Newbie did something to the machines in front of him and both VCRs started whirring. The fascist cats on the screen gave way to an episode of the Rex Riley show.

"Is this 'Women Who Love Their Hamsters'?" asked Hope.

Newbie stood up and drew Hope back to sit in the pile of dirty clothes on the bed. "No, this one is 'I Married My Teddy Bear'. It's a classic. But I see why you thought it was 'Hamsters', because that woman in the pink shirt, the sister of the guy with the Steiff fetish, she's an identical triplet of one of the women on the Hamster episode." He leaned back against the wall to watch, and Hope joined him, shoulders bumping slightly.

"Oh" she said. "And the third triplet is their brother, right? On that episode, the one where --"

"With the Satanists married to rabbis, right," cried Newbie, flashing her that smile again. "God, it's so wonderful to find someone else who remembers television before the cats. Though honestly it started to go downhill even before that, when the pet monkeys got sick." He settled back again, leaning gently against Hope, and his hand fell to rest on her thigh.

Hope turned to look at him, and Newbie met her eyes. Hope was entranced; Newbie turned away from the television and looked at her. While Rex Riley was on. It took her breath away.

In some part of her mind, Hope realised that her standards had gotten really, horribly low.

"Curtis --" she began, and some part of her mind remembered thinking Nathan, and how is this different?

Newbie traced patterns on her knee. "We're going into battle and the fate of the world rests in our hands. Tomorrow we may be victorious, or we may be dead. Or maybe, maybe stuffed full of catnip and hung on a scratching post. I don't know."

Hope leaned forward the tiniest smidgin, and breathed in the people-food smell of Newbie's breath. "Tonight we're here," she said.

"Tonight we're here," agreed Newbie. "And we're alive, and we have real television. People television." His Newbie smile -- the same smile the old Newbie'd had, but with the confidence of a Resistance leader -- spread from ear to ear. He bumped her shoulder with his.

Hope stared into his eyes. "Don't you sometimes wonder if it's worth all this?" she asked. "I mean what we're fighting for?"

Newbie wrapped his arm around her shoulder. "We might as well question why we watch television," he said. "If we stop watching television, we'll die. If we stop fighting the cats, the world will die."

"We'll always have Rex Riley," said Hope. And she snuggled back against his arm. She felt Newbie's lips press against her temple as they watched Rex Riley yell in a tinny voice at the plushie lovers, on a show from another world.