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Tough Times at Tomcat Talent
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By your old pal, Marcus Alexander Hart

On a planet of felines, a meek personal assistant must wrangle a savage all-girl heavy-metal band. Can she get these killer kitties mewling in harmony, or will she become their new scratching post?

In August 2020, Kate Pickford issued a call for entries for her Hellcats anthology. I wanted to submit a story from the Galaxy Cruise universe, but at the time I was only a few chapters into writing book one. Which meant I didn’t know what the “Galaxy Cruise universe” even was.

I did, however, know there would be alien cat people. So I wrote this little standalone that takes place on the cat planet, Gellico. Though none of the characters from this story appear in the series, it’s a fun look into the expanded Galaxy Cruise universe. Enjoy!

“Your girls have arrived,” Sixie Wixie announced.

Scattigan didn’t spare her a glance. He was preoccupied with the packing slip readout on a sofa-sized auto-crate in the center of his untidy office.

“How do they look?” he muttered.

“They look… a little rough, honestly.” Sixie’s whiskers twitched. “They don’t smell great either.”

“Ha! Do I know how to pick ’em or what?”

Scattigan was a mangy old tomcat with gray fur and clouded yellow eyes. A studded denim vest covered in tattered rock-band patches hung from his narrow shoulders, exposing his balding chest. His scruffy tail drooped from the seat of a pair of filthy black-leather pants. From his gnarled toe claws to his blackened gums, every part of him was hard to look at. Sixie Wixie turned away and tipped her head toward the cargo container.

“What is that?” she asked, not really wanting to know.

A broken-toothed grin spread across Scattigan’s face. “Delivery from my guy off-world. A little piece of stage dressing for our new superstars!”

He pulled the release lever and the auto-crate split open and folded in on itself, revealing a set of waist-high letters rendered in prismatic chromasteel spelling out the word HELLCATS. He eyed his assistant, wagging his brows in anticipation of her awed response. Sixie Wixie blinked.

“That looks… expensive.”

“Oh, it was,” Scattigan confirmed.

Sixie cleared her throat. “Right. Okay. Well I don’t have to remind you that our cash flow situation is—”

“Bah! You and your blasted bookkeeper brain.” Scattigan scowled and ran a calloused paw over the sign. “Don’t you worry. My HELLCATS are gonna be the biggest feline metal band to ever come off the planet Gellico. We’ll be rollin’ in it once I sell this act to the suits!”

Sixie Wixie licked her lips. “Um, yeah. About that. I’m a little nervous about the timetable.” She swiped on the paper-thin screen of her tabloyd, bringing up a calendar. Their pitch to “the suits” was less than three weeks away. Too close for comfort. “According to my original schedule, this band should have been in rehearsals for a month already. For them to be meeting for the first time today…” Her face remained impassive, but the twitching of her puffy white tail betrayed her. “I’m sorry, but you wasted way too much time screening auditions.”

Scattigan leaned back on his desk, planting his bottom between a few dusty old music awards. “Well, when someone of my stellar reputation puts out a call for talent, the floodgates break wide open.” He flexed his claws and grinned smugly. “Do you know how many wannabe metal kitties sent me demo vids?”

Sixie Wixie did know how many. Exactly how many. She had been the one who’d collected the vids. She had processed the paperwork. In fact, she’d placed the audition notice in half the newspapers, magazines, and InfoWay groups on the planet to begin with.

Gellicle cats, come out tonight! Bad kitties wanted for a heavy metal band. Submit your audition vid to Tomcat Talent for your shot at headbanger glory. Show us you’ve got claws and you could join the HELLCATS!

She smirked at her boss and crossed her arms. “I know we could have gotten through the backlog a lot faster if you’d have let me review half of them.” She muttered under her breath. “It is kind of my job and all.”

Scattigan snorted. “Like scratch it is. Don’t get too big for your britches, assistant.” He strolled to the wall and made a show of casually gazing at the framed gold record-o-discs of his past successes. His eyebrow raised as he glanced from his own reflection to Sixie Wixie’s. She was barely more than a kitten, with silky white fur wrapped in neat business casual. He snuffed at her. “You don’t know talent. You don’t got the ear for it. Or the gut. You’re just a kibble counter from some fancypants school.”

Sixie pushed her glasses up her little pink nose. “Hey, the Calico College of Music Management is the top program for—”

“You don’t learn how this business works from a class,” the old man growled. “You learn it in the trenches!” He headed for the door. “Strap on your helmet, my helpless little minion. Let the master show you how it’s done.”

Sixie Wixie hugged her tabloyd to her chest and smirked as she followed her boss out of the office and down the stairs to the studio. She’d been working with “the master” for almost three years now, and all she’d learned was that it’s possible to be hissed at and ignored at the same time.

It was true that Scattigan was a starmaker. Emphasis on the was. Back in the day he’d put together some of the biggest bands in the Galactic Rock Hall of Fame. The insectoid death-metal group, Arachnopocalypse; and the lizard-industrial band, Forktüng; and the plant-core punks, Suck My Stamen. But Tomcat Talent hadn’t produced a hit in years.

Sixie poked at her device. “Well, I’m glad you’re feeling confident, because if the HELLCATS aren’t picked up by this label, we’re out of business.”

Her boss waved her away dismissively as he sauntered down the rickety stairs.

“Don’t you worry about ol’ Scat. I always land on my paws. Because, unlike you, I got this business in my blood.” He slapped his forearm like he was looking for a spot to jab in a needle. “I look at someone and I instantly know if they got what it takes. And I guarantee, I’ve picked out three of the most hard-core metal minxes on Gellico.”

Sixie sighed and folded her tabloyd. “I hope you’re right.”

“I’m always right, pussycat. It’ll be easier if you just accept that.” He crashed through the door and entered the recording studio with a shout. “Greetings, you filthy fleabags! Who’s ready to make some noise?”

His entrance was met with a dull chorus of mewling and hissing. Sixie Wixie followed her boss into the room, but her feet slowed, keeping her hovering near the entrance. The studio was a large space, constricted by endless clutter. Mismatched shelves loaded with dusty musical instruments lined one wall, and a few dingy old couches ran along the opposite. Between them, the three savage felinoids Scattigan had chosen stalked around the soundproof room like rabid animals itching for a fight. The guitarist plucked menacingly at her strings, drawing an annoyed hiss from the drummer. A third girl messed with a microphone stand and narrowed her eyes at Sixie.

“Well, look who’s back,” she scoffed. “The fluffy little scratching post.”

The guitarist snuffed. “Nah. She looks too soft for that. Let’s just bat her around and see how long until her stuffing comes out.”

The fur on Sixie’s back rose in fear, but Scattigan just chuckled under his breath. “It ain’t feedin’ time yet. This pathetic morsel is my assistant.” He grabbed her arm and dragged her toward the girls. “Sixie, allow me to introduce you to the band.”

Sixie Wixie’s ears flattened warily. “That won’t be necessary,” she stammered. “I mean, I did process their audition vids, and arrange for them to be here, and escort them into the studio. So I’d say we’re already fairly well—”

“First we got our lead vocalist,” Scattigan interrupted. “Josibelle, like a cat outta Hell!”

The scraggly singer had mottled butterscotch fur and clumps of wispy gray hair that fell over her shoulders like spider webs on a tomb. Sixie Wixie gave her a hesitant smile.

“It’s a pleasure to officially get to—”

She squeaked and stepped back as Josibelle marched straight toward her, claws scratching the floor. She stopped an inch away from the assistant’s face, but a wave of stench continued, rolling off her grimy shirt. Sixie’s nose twitched and her eyes watered.

“… know you,” she choked.

The stinky cat leaned in close enough to make Sixie Wixie’s fur wilt on her hot breath. “You don’t know me. But I know about you, pussycat. Everything about you.” Her voice was a croak, barely above a whisper. Sixie didn’t dare move as the woman slowly ran the back of a claw down her cheek. “I know what every part of your body is worth, and exactly who will pay for them. So you watch yourself, little one.”

She flicked her finger across Sixie Wixie’s whiskers, making her wince and bang the back of her head against the wall behind her. She sucked a breath and rubbed her dinged skull as Josibelle backed away, staring her down. If Scattigan noticed the altercation, he ignored it as he moved on to the next musician.

“Then on guitar, ain’t nobody mean’a than Valerina.”

The guitarist glanced up from her strings and tossed her mane of frizzy red hair over her shoulder. Valerina was a petite little thing that couldn’t have been over four feet tall, but she looked like she packed a lot of danger in a small package. She wore a leather bustier crisscrossed with silver chains and a skirt so short she shouldn’t have bothered. She tipped her head toward Sixie Wixie, but her eyes were a mystery behind her gold aviator shades.

“I, uh… like your chains,” Sixie offered.

“When I ain’t makin’ music I wrangle wild animals,” Valerina snorted.

Josibelle eyed her petite frame. “Aren’t you a little scrawny for that?”

“I don’t do it with my paws.” A crooked grin spread on Valerina’s face as she tapped a claw on her temple. “I get inside their heads and alter their minds.” She turned her unreadable eyes to Sixie Wixie. “They ain’t the same when I’m done with ’em.”

Sixie’s tail flicked nervously as Scattigan waved at the drummer. “And that piece of feline wreckage is Mad Melodooley.”

Melodooley snarled from behind her hi-hat. She was a long and lanky black cat with a tattered duster coat hanging off her lean shoulders like a burial shroud. Three ragged claw scars ran from her forehead to her jawline, straight through the center of what was presumably no longer her left eye. Fortunately a pirate-style patch kept the grisly details a secret. Her one remaining pupil narrowed to a slit as she glared at Sixie Wixie.

“Bar fight,” she said preemptively. “Keep staring and I’ll show you how it’s done.”

“Oh, I wasn’t, uh…” Sixie stuttered, averting her gaze.

“Yeah, you’d better not,” Melodooley growled. “You don’t want to get on my bad side, fluffy. I promise you, once I get to the party, ain’t nobody leaving on their own paws.”

“Noted,” Sixie mumbled. “Thanks for the heads up.”

She crossed her arms tightly over her chest and pressed herself into the corner of the room, trying to hide behind her boss. Scattigan was a galaxy-class blowhard, but for once Sixie was glad to have him around. The last thing she wanted was to be left alone with these psychopaths.

The old man turned to her with a nod.

“Whelp, now that you’re all friends, I’m gonna leave you alone with these psychopaths.”

The fur on Sixie’s neck frizzed out like a snowy wreath. “Wait, what?”

“Don’t get your tail in a twist. I’ll be back in a few hours. I just need to go wine and dine the suits.” He made a lewd gesture. “Get ’em all lubed up for the big reveal later.”

Sixie’s eyes dilated in terror as they flicked between the degenerates and her boss. “Wait, what?” she yelped. “What reveal? What are you talking about?”

Scattigan’s brow wrinkled. “What’s the matter with you? You get into the brown catnip or something?” He waved his claws at the girls. “The reveal of the band, moron! It’s today.”

“It is not!” Sixie chirped. She fumbled with her tabloyd, unfolding the flexible screen and pawing at the calendar. “It’s not for another three weeks!” She held the device in front of Scattigan’s face, tapping desperately on the appointment. “You’re confused. You don’t have to leave. Please don’t leave.”

The old tom waved her away. “Pfft. Try to keep up, kitten. I moved the meeting to today.”

“You didn’t tell me that!”

Scattigan rolled his eyes. “You’re my assistant. You’re supposed to know these things. For hucks sake, what do I pay you for?”

A flash of heat burned through Sixie’s cheeks as her claws dug into her tabloyd. “You didn’t… How was I supposed to…” She took a hot, shuddering breath. “We can’t do this today. We’re not ready!”

“Oh calm down, before you give yourself a bald patch. We’re totally ready.” Scattigan nodded to the band. “These monsters brought the mad skills, and I brought their first number one song. Wrote it myself.” He grabbed a sheaf of papers from a music stand and stuffed them into Sixie’s trembling paws. “All you gotta do is babysit them until I get back with the suits and their fat wallets. Can you handle that without crapping the basket?”

A noxious cocktail mixed in Sixie Wixie’s gut—frustration and fear garnished with an onion of rage. She was sick of Scat’s bullscratch. She was sick of being disrespected. She wanted to show that she could prep these girls without him. That she knew how to package a band for success. That she was more than just an assistant.

But she also kind of didn’t want to get murdered.

“I can handle it,” she growled. Her narrowed eyes twitched. “But, you know, hurry back, okay?”

Scattigan gave an amused snort. “Have fun. I hope your vaccinations are up to date.” He turned to the band with a flick of two middle claws. “Scratch ya later, ladies.”

With that he swung out the door and slammed it behind him, abandoning Sixie Wixie with the savages. They stood in the buzz of the amps, glaring at each other. Valerina let out a low, menacing mewl.

“So, okay then,” Sixie said, suppressing a tremor in her voice. “We’d better get started.”

She tried to stay at arm’s length as she passed Scattigan’s music sheets to the band. Josibelle flicked through the lyrics in disgust. “Forget it. I’m not singing this.”

Valerina raised an eyebrow. “And why not?”

“Because it’s garbage,” the smelly cat said. “That Scattigan thinks he’s hot stuff, then he gives us this litter-box nugget.”

She flung the pages at her bandmates, sending them fluttering to the floor. Sixie Wixie plucked one up and looked it over.

“I’m sure it’s not that bad.” She cleared her throat and read from the sheet. “I’m the top pussy, I’m the queen of my castle. I’ll lift up my tail and you can all kiss my…” A blush ran through her cheeks. “Okay, that’s a slant rhyme at best, but you’ve got to give him points for trying.”

“It’s amateur hour trash,” Josibelle said. She threw up her arms, sending out a nauseating shockwave of stench. “I ain’t singin’ it.”

“You’re the vocalist,” Melodooley said flatly. “If you’re not gonna sing, what the huck you gonna do? Throw your leg over your shoulder and lick yourself?”

Josibelle snorted. “You couldn’t handle the show with one eye, perv.” She stalked to the cluttered shelves and snatched a dusty instrument. “I’m gonna play this thing.”

Sixie Wixie blinked skeptically. “Tambourine? You’re going to play heavy metal tambourine?”

Josibelle spun on her with a snarl. “You got a problem with that?”

Sixie thought of every hard-rocking band she’d ever seen and couldn’t think of a single one with a tambourine player. This wouldn’t work. It couldn’t work.

“It might work,” she whimpered. “Let’s just see how it sounds.” She turned to Melodooley. “Count us in, please?”

The scraggly drummer banged her sticks and the HELLCATS launched into Scattigan’s song like a pigeon with a ripped-off wing. Josibelle’s tambourine was surprisingly not terrible, but the drum crashed along with no apparent rhythm while the guitar spasmed like the death throes of a mauled mouse. With a scowling hiss, Melodooley kicked over a snare drum at the guitarist.

“What the huck, man?” she shouted. “Is this your first day with new paws?”

Valerina growled as she scratched at her guitar. Strapped across her petite body the unremarkable studio loaner looked like a grossly oversized novelty. One tiny paw was choked around the base of the neck while the other plucked the strings just inches away.

“My paws are fine!” she snapped. “It’s this ogre-sized guitar that’s the problem!” She picked out a sour melody. “The notes are all out of order! What idiot strung this thing?”

Sixie Wixie pushed up her glasses and peered at the strings. “I did, actually. So it should be properly—”

Valerina’s ears flicked back. “Mind your own business, Snowball!” She turned to Melodooley with a hiss. “And by the way, you suck at drumming!”

The drummer hunched her shoulders and flung up her paws, fists clenched around her sticks. “I do not! I just can’t play with these… things!”

“Drumsticks?” Sixie offered.

“Shut up!” Melodooley screeched, pitching a stick at her. Sixie squeaked and dodged as it spun past her head. The drummer stood up, trembling with rage. “I hate this whole kit! Sticks and foot pedals! Bah! How am I supposed to feel the music?”

Sixie Wixie’s brow creased in confusion. “If you don’t like our studio gear, I’m happy to make some kind of accommodation for your… um…” She considered it. “How is it that you usually play, exactly?”

“With my bare paws, man!” Melodooley roared. She kicked over the bass drum. “Huck it! I’m using my own kit!”

She stalked to the corner and snatched up a rectangular box with rounded edges. She popped the top and pulled out a set of two tiny, linked drums.

Josibelle rolled her eyes. “Bongos? Seriously?” she mewled. “The scarface badcat plays bongos? That’s so weak.”

“You can take your rocks and huck right off to your glass house, Tambourine Tabby!” Melodooley screeched. Josibelle’s lip curled into a scowl. Valerina unstrapped her guitar and flung it to the floor with a feedback-infused twang. Sixie leapt back and hissed, despite herself.

“All right, I’m going to have to ask you to treat our equipment with a little bit more—”

“This is bullscratch!” Valerina yowled. “If she can play her own instrument, then I’m playing mine!”

She pounced to the corner and snapped up a tiny guitar case patterned with faded pineapples. With a savage rip of the zipper she produced a pale blue ukulele. Melodooley sneered.

“You can’t rock out on a dollhouse toy, you mangy midget.”

“Suck it, beatnik!” Valerina mewled. She whipped around to Josibelle. “And this band needs a tambourine player like it needs a ringworm infection!”

Josibelle puffed out her chest. “Stand on a chair and say that to my face, runt!”

Tails twitched and claws came out as the three girls snarled and hissed at each other, spoiling for a brawl. Sixie Wixie raised her paws, her heart racing.

“All right, ladies. Maybe we should take five and get a breath of fresh—”

Valerina shrieked and took a wild slash at Melodooley. The drummer leaped back and toppled over her fallen kit.

“Okay, stop!” Sixie shouted. “Please?”

They did not stop. Melodooley rolled over and came up on all fours, her lips pulled back exposing her sharp teeth in a hiss. Josibelle crouched and flexed her claws, growling low in her throat, preparing to attack.

A blast of hot adrenalin scaled Sixie Wixie’s veins, quickening her panicked breath. This was it. They were going to maul each other. When Scattigan got back with the record executives, all she’d have to show for herself would be broken instruments and bloody clumps of fur. Tomcat Talent would be out of business. She’d lose her job. She’d lose her apartment. She’d be an outdoor cat.

But it wasn’t fear that boiled her blood. It was pride.

She’d finally gotten her big chance to prove she wasn’t just a fluffy white priss with a fancy degree, and she was about to blow it. She was about to prove she couldn’t hack it in the music biz. And worst of all, she was going to prove that Scattigan was right about her.

Her whiskers twitched.

Like hell he was.

“I said stop!” Sixie Wixie howled.

She leapt between the three warring band members, claws out and teeth bared. Her fur stood on end like a chimney brush and her eyes dilated to twin abysses of black, bottomless rage. The HELLCATS all tumbled back as Sixie whipped around, fixing each of them in her horrifying, predatory glare.

“Maybe you feral bottom-feeders don’t give a hot squirt about this band, but I do!” she mewled. “I’m not losing my job because you three flea-bitten grimalkins can’t get your act together!” She kicked the fallen drum kit, sending Melodooley skittering away with a yelp. “You’re supposed to be heavy metal badcats but you don’t even know how to play your stupid instruments! You do nothing but scratch and moan! You’re just a bunch of poseurs! Whiny, spoiled, poseurs!”

Her words tapered into hot, rasping breath as the band slowly backed off. Melodooley’s ears flattened as she sagged back onto her haunches. Valerina’s tail puffed with terror. Josibelle’s lip quivered and she started to cry.

At the sight of the first tear, Sixie Wixie’s rage sizzled away like spit on a hot tin roof. She retracted her claws and blinked as if coming out of a trance.

“Wait, are you… are you crying?”

“No.” Josibelle sniffled and wiped her eye with the back of her paw.

“Oh my gosh, you’re crying,” Sixie murmured. Her belly felt sour with the curdling bile of her outburst. She looked over the cowering band and clutched her paws. “I’m sorry. You guys, I don’t usually…” She cleared her throat. “Look, I didn’t mean it.”

“Yes you did!” Josibelle sobbed. “And you’re right! I am a poseur! I quit!”

Sixie’s chest tightened. “No, no. We need a vocalist. The executives will be here soon and…” She drew a breath and collected herself. “Okay, I know we got off to kind of a rough start but---”

“I said I quit! I can’t do this! I can’t sing those horrible, filthy lyrics! ” Josibelle mewled. “I only did this to impress my kitten!”

Sixie blinked. “Your… kitten?”

Josibelle nodded and choked words through her sobs. “He used to be such a sweetheart, but as soon as he hit puberty, suddenly his old mom is an embarrassment. Nothing I do impresses him!” She clutched her reeking T-shirt. “He loves this heavy metal stuff, so when I saw your ad, I grabbed some of his clothes out of the hamper and made an audition vid. I thought if I got into the band he would think I’m cool. But you wanted me to sing those nasty lyrics…” Her lip trembled. “And then you yelled at me!”

She broke into a sob and buried her face in her paws. Sixie Wixie blinked incredulously and gingerly patted the back of her sweat-stained shirt. “Uh, okay. There there. I’m sure your tom is just going through a phase,” she said. “No need to pretend to be a mad butcher.”

Josibelle sniffled. “Butcher?”

“When I came in here you spewed some nonsense about knowing what my body parts are worth, remember?”

“Oh, well, that’s true actually.”

Sixie Wixie raised a brow. “Excuse me?”

“I mean, I do know.” Josibelle’s drooping face brightened. “I’m an actuary.”

Valerina peered over her shades. “An actuary?”

Josibelle gave a feeble smile. “I worked up the standardized tables for accidental dismemberment policies used by most major insurance carriers. Like, if you lost your tail, a standard Tabby Trust payout would be eight-hundred and thirty jinglebucks. Eight-fifty with GoodPaws.” She shrugged. “I know what your parts are worth and who will pay for them.”

A tremble of nervous energy forced a chuckle out of Sixie’s throat. “Well, you may not be a metalhead, but you certainly are creative.”

Valerina sheepishly raised a tiny paw. “Um, on the subject of being creative… I might have also stretched the truth a little.”

“Let me guess,” Melodooley muttered. “You don’t really wrangle wild animals?”

“Well, I do in a manner of speaking…” Valerina pulled off her sunglasses and sighed. “I’m a preschool teacher.”

Sixie Wixie thought back and shook her head. “You get inside their heads and alter their minds.”

“That’s education, baby,” Valerina said with a grin. “They ain’t the same when I’m done with ’em.” She winced. “They’re not the same. Sorry. The poor grammar was all part of my tough-girl persona.” She picked at the silver chains on her corset. Upon closer inspection, they were obviously made of painted macaroni strung together. “I needed a summer job while school’s out of session and I wasn’t especially keen on waitressing again. I thought it would be fun to pretend to be a rock star.” She shrugged. “I figured, I can play the uke. How hard could it be to play guitar?”

Sixie Wixie eyed her instrument. “But your ukulele is in a re-entrant high-fourth tuning. That doesn’t really translate.”

Valerina scowled at the abused guitar on the floor. “Obviously.”

Melodooley crossed her arms and slouched. “Fine, if we’re all coming clean, I actually hate heavy metal music. There. I said it.” She tapped her eye patch. “And I didn’t lose this in a bar fight.”

“So… if you don’t mind me asking…” Sixie Wixie ventured.

The drummer snuffed wearily. “You know how sometimes you unintentionally go claws-out when you sneeze?”

Josibelle nodded. “Yeah.”

“I was putting in my contacts. It was allergy season.”

After a beat, everyone hissed as their faces tightened in a collective wince.

“So you just made up all that stuff about how ‘when you show up, ain’t nobody leaving on their own paws’?” Valerina asked.

Melodooley shook her head. “Nah, that was true. I’m a hoverbus driver.”

“But, I don’t understand,” Sixie Wixie said.

“Because I drive the kittens home from school. So they don’t have to walk on their own paws. Duh,” Melodooley said dryly. Sixie scrunched her nose.

“I understand that. I meant, if you hate heavy metal, why did you audition for HELLCATS?”

“Because the last time I drove a bus I took out three parked cars and a fish stick vendor in my blind spot. The school board won’t let me behind the wheel until I can see the whole road again.” She huffed angrily. “Do you have any idea how much it costs to get a new eye?”

“Ninety-seven thousand, six-hundred jinglebucks,” Josibelle said.

Melodooley gave her a single stinkeye. “Okay, so you do.” She waved a paw at a crooked row of gold discs on the wall. “I know Scattigan’s reputation. I figured if I got in a successful band I could score a fat payday and hit up the best optical cybersurgeon in the system.”

Josibelle looked skeptical. “So you could go back to bus driving.”

“The heart wants what it wants.” Melodooley shrugged. “I miss seeing those happy little kitty faces every day.”

Sixie Wixie glowered at the room of declawed badcats.

“So basically what I’m hearing is that no member of Scattigan’s hand-picked heavy metal band actually plays or even likes heavy metal music.” She tipped her head back and blew out a long, defeated breath. “This is great. This is just perfect.”

Valerina frowned and patted Sixie’s arm. “I’m so sorry. I guess you’ll have to hold another round of auditions.”

Sixie snorted. “Are you kidding? There’s no time for that! Scattigan’s already on his way with the record executives. And when I don’t have a band to show them, the agency is finished. I’m finished.” A frustrated tear sparkled in the corner of her golden eye. “I blew it. Scattigan was right. I don’t have the chops for this.”

The three ex-metalheads looked on with sad eyes and whimpers in their throats. Valerina shuffled her paws. “Look, it’s not that I don’t want to be in a band.” She tugged on her scandalously short skirt. “I just don’t want to be in this band.”

“For sure,” Josibelle said. “I mean, I can’t sing those rude lyrics, but I can actually sing.”

Melodooley cradled her tiny drums. “And I still have mad bongo skills. They can take away my bus full of kiddos, but they can’t take that away.”

She sniffed and stared dreamily at nothing, remembering better days. The others softly mewled and stroked her back. Sixie surveyed their pathetic, weepy faces and sighed. Great. Now she wasn’t just letting Scattigan and herself down, she was letting them down too.

She pushed up her glasses and pinched her eyes.

“All right, ladies. Change of plan.”




Scattigan shoved the door open with his mangy behind as he backed into the studio.

“Right this way, folks. Fair warning. Keep your distance from these feral fleabags or you might walk outta here with fewer parts than you walked in with.”

Three feline executives followed him in. Two tomcats in skinny suits—one orange and one tabby—and a severe-looking Manx in a pencil skirt. Their faces were hard and humorless despite Scat’s over-the-top showmanship. Or maybe because of it.

“And now, without further delay,” Scattigan continued. “The bad beasts, the mad musicians, the next sensation from Tomcat Talent… the HELLCATS!”

He raised a paw and spun with a showy flourish. As his eyes raked the room he seized up like a cornered mouse. For a fleeting second he thought he had walked into the wrong studio, but with a rising sense of horror he realized he had not.

Something had happened to his HELLCATS.

Josibelle and Valerina’s metalhead shrouds had been traded in for frilly pink dresses, while Melodooley wore a striped yellow shirt and adorable, bright blue overalls. Her tattered eye patch was replaced with one in the shape of a shiny red heart. Each of them had their hair pulled up and bound in a huge pink bow.

Scattigan just stared, his eyes saucers. “What…”

The three executives shared a skeptical glance at the cutesy band as Sixie Wixie swept up to greet them with a nervous giggle. “Hello! We’re so thrilled to have you. Can I get you anything? Milk? Feather on a string?”

“What…” Scattigan repeated. His jaw worked up and down as words finally found their way out of his mouth. “What did you do to my sign?”

His HELLCATS sign hung at the back of the room, but the letters had been slightly altered. The chromasteel was painted in cheery pink and white, and the S had been hacksawed across the middle, reassembled end-to-end, and moved to the center.

The sign now read HELLO CAT.

Sixie Wixie smiled weakly and lifted her palms in a shrug.


Scattigan tore his eyes from living cartoons that had body-snatched his metal band and whirled on Sixie, fists clenched in rage. “Are you hucking kidding me? I leave you alone for five minutes and—”

“Howdy there, all you happy little Gellicle cats and kittens!” Josibelle said brightly. “Who’s ready to have a sing along?”

Valerina and Melodooley raised their paws. “We are! We are!”

“Well that’s just grand!” Josibelle raised her arms. “Hit it, girls!”

Melodooley pattered away on her bongos while Valerina plucked out a jaunty song on her ukulele.

“The pretty pretty kitty, is going to the city!” Josibelle sang, rattling her tambourine on her hip.

“The kitty was so pretty she was on the pretty committee!” her bandmates called back.

Scattigan grabbed Sixie Wixie by the shoulders and hustled her out of the executives’ earshot. “You fluffy little son of a… you neutered my HELLCATS!”

Sixie winced as his spit speckled the lenses of her glasses. “I did everything I could! Those girls you picked are about as metal as a collar bell! I figured a kiddie band was better than no band at all!”

“You figured wrong, pussycat!” Scattigan’s pupils dilated and he foamed at the mouth. “I knew you lacked talent, but I didn’t think you could suck it out of an entire room!”

Sixie winced as Scat’s claw tips pierced her sweater. “Ow. Stop. Stop! I’m sorry!”

“It’s so witty when the committee votes to sing a pretty ditty!” Josibelle sang.

“It’s a pity that the ditty is just so itty-bitty!” the others added.

The thee music executives gave each other a stolid glance and muttered in hushed tones. After a moment, the Manx glared at Scattigan and cleared her throat.

“So… this is the band you’ve put together for us?”

Scattigan released Sixie with a shove and whirled toward the suits. “Huck no! The band I put together were a trio of scratched-out metalheads! These fluffy abominations are…” He thrust a claw at Sixie. “My hack assistant did this! This is her band! Not mine!”

The woman wrinkled her nose and glanced at Sixie Wixie. “Is that so?”

Sixie rubbed her abused arms and bit her lip. “It is,” she mumbled. “It was… it was the best I could do.”

She gazed at the floor, her eyes dull and defeated. The orange tom nodded, stony faced.

“Well, we love them.”

“I’m really sorry,” Sixie continued. “It’s just that…” She blinked. “Wait, say again?”

Scattigan put it a different way. “Ex-hucking-skuse me?”

“I said we love them,” the tom repeated, deadpan. He glanced at his associates. “Isn’t that right?”

“Indeed,” the tabby said, his face hard and cold as a glacier.

“Oh.” Sixie squinted at their dour expressions. “I’m sorry, are you serious?”

The woman tipped her head in a curt nod. “Absolutely. Feline metal is a relic. A thing of the past.” She waved a paw at Scattigan’s dusty gold discs, then gestured to the band. “This is the future.”

Scattigan’s ears turned back. “This sappy mewling? This is the future?”

“Music like this gets kittens indoctrinated to our brand,” the orange suit said. “If we win their hearts at a young age, they’re our customers for life.”

“A kitty kiddie band shows forward thinking.” The tabby fixed Sixie in a taciturn glare. “We find this very exciting.”

Sixie Wixie blinked. “Wait, are you saying you want to sign HELLO CAT?”

“Yes, of course,” the woman said with an annoyed twitch of her whiskers. “That’s a given. What we’re saying is we want to sign you.”

“What?” Sixie and Scattigan chirped in unison.

The tabby suit pursed his lips. “You’re an innovator. A risk taker. We could use someone like you at our label,” he said. “We’re prepared to make you a very attractive offer.”

Scattigan’s eyes went wide as his rage melted into panic. “Wait. Wait! She works for me! I own her! I own this!” He thrust a claw at the musicians, swaying back and forth as they purred through another chorus. “This is my band! This is my deal! Tell ’em, Sixie!” His expression turned pleading as his voice lowered to a whimper. “Come on, kid. I need this or I’m out on the street.”

A mischievous smile spread on Sixie Wixie’s little white face.

“Don’t worry, Scattigan, I’ve got your back,” she said. “After all, I will be needing an assistant…”

 “Tough Times at Tomcat Talent,” was originally published in the Hellcats anthology.