Saffron sets down on Korhal without trouble. Knowing how good Lilly is with animals, Imogen asks for her company on the hunt for Mr. Snuggles. If all goes well, this matter will be settled before Durian gets to town. After stopping at a grocery store, they travel together to what is definitely a nicer part of town than where they lived—though not on the level of the central business district where the Grom, LLC, headquarters are. Imogen leads Lilly to the alley behind Vido’s; the fewer people they have contact with on this mission, the better. As soon as Imogen has to start explaining why she is looking for this cat, she has to start lying about Frank. Better to avoid that as long as they can.
The hot Augustgrad streets are relatively empty during the lunch hour, so no one takes note of them slipping into the alleyway with a fresh tuna sandwich. Or slipping back out again shortly thereafter with a black and white Persian. The cat is now perched happily on Lilly’s shoulder. His fur is matted, he is a little thin, and the metal tag on his collar is rusty, but otherwise he seems fine. He takes to them quickly, perhaps because of the tuna, or perhaps because he can smell some trace of Frank’s scent on them.
Imogen sends Lilly back to Saffron with Mr. Snuggles so that she herself is not associated with Frank’s old cat as she steps into Frank’s old shop. “Hey, come in!” the slovenly shopkeeper greets her. “You interested in some fine things?” Fragments of his spaghetti lunch cling to his bushy beard. Imogen casually looks around. Before too long, she finds what she seeks, an affordable trinket from the artist F. Tankard. While it will be good for Frank to have Mr. Snuggles around, Imogen also believes some of his own handiwork will further jog his memory.
When she brings her find to the counter, Vido is not excited about her selection. “Ah, yes, these are some of the lesser works that we have. Made by a decent apprentice, but he was clearly still learning. Although I suppose they are collectible items…”
“Is there a set?” Imogen asks.
“Oh, no, no, no. That was made by an employee who left. Gone. Never heard from him again. He’s not making those anymore, which usually makes things more valuable.”
Imogen raises an eyebrow at this thinly-veiled attempt to raise the price. There is a tag on the item, and she lays the indicated funds on the counter. Vido makes a sour comment about Umojan tourists. “Fine. I’ll just take these trinkets and go back to Umoja,” Imogen huffs. “Good day to you, sir.” She leaves him to resume his lunch.
Without Imogen’s short legs setting the pace, Lilly swiftly returns to Saffron. When Frank hears the ship opening, he emerges from Imogen’s room. “Mr. Snuggles!” he cries joyfully. The cat leaps off Lilly shoulder and runs to him. Through all the purring and nuzzling, Frank thanks Lilly profusely. This is the most emotion she has ever seen from him. “Thank you so much! I don’t know how I can ever repay you and Imogen for everything you’ve done for me.” He looks back down at the animal in his arms and rubs the cat’s head. “Oh, Mr. Snuggles, you’re the best!”
“I’m going to go get cat food,” Lilly announces. Frank names a specific brand of tuna to get, so the cat must indeed be jogging his memory. He apologizes for not having any credits on him. “It’s fine,” Lilly assures him. She dangles her pink ribbon in front of Mr. Snuggles and lets him snatch it from her. Also a proper toy, she decides.
She is just returning to Saffron with a sack of cat litter under one arm and a bag of tuna and treats in the other when Imogen reaches the ship. When they enter, Frank is reclining on the floor of the central chamber, the black and white Persian curled up on his chest for a nap. “Oh, you’re back!” he says happily. “Thank you. Thank you so much. I didn’t properly thank you before. I’m still a little scatterbrained, but having Mr. Snuggles here… I’m going to be okay.” He looks down at the cat and repeats more quietly to himself, “I’m going to be okay.”
Imogen crouches down beside him. “Maybe these will also help jog your memory a little.” She gives him some examples of his own metalwork.
He looks at the trinkets in her hand for a moment. “I… did some kind of metalwork, yeah.” He pushes back the fur around Mr. Snuggles’ neck. “I forged this tag myself, I remember. It seems so long ago. I don’t know how much of it I will be able to remember. But Mr. Snuggles and I can find out together.”
“Maybe it’s still in your muscles,” Imogen encourages him.
“You know, maybe that’s true. Muscle memory is harder to overwrite, I imagine.” He closes his eyes briefly, and then continues, “I don’t have a way to thank you two properly. But I guess if you ever need a metalworker, let me know, and I’ll see what I can remember.”
Lilly looks up from the litter box she is constructing. “Like knives?” she asks.
“Something like that. I haven’t designed a knife before.” After a beat he adds, “Maybe?”
“Well, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. We still need to get you settled somewhere.” She presents Mar Sara as a good out-of-the-way location that can provide the dry environment that Mr. Snuggles prefers.
“Isn’t it dangerous? Wasn’t there…” Frank sifts through his compromised memories. “Wasn’t there some sort of terrorist living there?”
“You mean like outlaws?” Lilly asks.
“Yeah, maybe that’s another way to put it. Isn’t that whole planet like one old wild west?”
“You realize that’s you now, too, right?” Imogen points out.
“Well… but I’m not a criminal.”
“I’m the victim!”
“You’re still a deserter,” Imogen reminds him.
“Technically that’s true, but I have this new ID you gave me.”
“I’m not suggesting you start a life of crime, but I am suggesting that such an environment might be a little easier for you to lay low in,” Imogen tells him.
“I suppose that’s true. Is it safe?”
“Is anywhere safe?” Imogen counters. “It’s safe-ish. It’s not a current battlefront. It’s sparsely populated, but it’s a recovering economic zone. Plus there’s plenty of salvage out in the wastes for you to get scrap metal for working.” She does not draw any attention to the lingering zerg presence. This is the best option she can think of for Frank, and she is relieved when he agrees to give it a try.
Frank looks at his new ID. “Mr. Snuggles is going to need a new name, too.”
“Mr. S,” Lilly suggests. Though wouldn’t that just make him Mrs.? she reflects.
“That’s perfect. I’ll have to make him a new tag. When do we go? I don’t want to rush you, obviously. You’re very busy people, and you’ve helped me out tremendously. I just don’t want to stay here on Korhal longer than we have to.”
“Unfortunately, we need to be here at least as long as it takes for the rest of the fleet to get back,” Imogen tells him. She is sure Lilly wants to see Durian again, but more importantly, Imogen has to get back in touch with Kate Lockwell. Frank accepts the situation, content to remain aboard Saffron with his cat.