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Cat Core by Dean Henegar

 

Overview: It was just supposed to be a quick trip to the pet store for some cat food, but the universe had other plans for Florence Valentine.

Good-for-nothing kids and some annoying store employees were giving her a hard time, and then things got worse when she was killed by a delivery truck. Instead of angels, pearly gates, and eternal rewards, a voice in her head keeps telling her that she’s become a dungeon core, whatever that is.

Now people keep coming into her new home, wrecking stuff, and stealing from her. But not everything about this whole ordeal is bad. Not only can Florence decorate her home with a thought, but she can also create the best things in the entire universe—she can create kitty-cats.

Should these hooligans keep insisting on coming into her home, well, Florence and her kitties are going to have something to say about that.

 

Cat Core by Dean Henegar Book Chapter One

 

“All right, buster, you better have a good explanation for what’s going on. I have half a mind to call the sheriff over right this minute,” she said, meaning to shake her cane for emphasis, but it wasn’t there. In fact, she couldn’t feel her body at all.

“Human, there is no need to fear. Your transformation is underway. You will become the newest dungeon core for the world of Aerkon. You may not realize it, but for all your life, you have been preparing for this moment. The video games in your world have been simulators to test your mettle. You have been measured, human, and have been found worthy of this call,” the voice said, spouting nonsense as far as she was concerned.

“Just you hold on there. Quit with your crazy talk. Everyone in Logan County knows that Florence Valentine is a patient woman, but even I have my limits,” Florence informed the voice. Her anger turned to anxiety as she realized she couldn’t see anything. The fog had dissipated, and in its place was an impenetrable darkness. “Hey, while you’re at it, get some lights on in here. It’s like you were born in a barn, I tell you.”

“I’m afraid, human, that I don’t quite understand your line of questioning. Is your odd manner of speech and these strange demands an attempt at humor or perhaps a coping mechanism to deal with your transition? Nevertheless, time is of the essence, and you have a lot to learn and not much time to do it. You will find that your existence will match very closely the game Dungeon Custodian 4. That was a fine piece of work, I must say. Your game developers are so easily steered toward making what we wish,” the man yammered out. Who did he think he was, talking to her like this, rambling on about games and prisons and all that nonsense?

“I don’t know what you’re getting at, but I can assure you I’ve never played one of those useless video games in my life. Now, I did have a little bird tell me something about Samantha Lewis, the widow, not the one that just retired from the post office. Well, Samantha Lewis is said to spend far too much time on her new phone playing that Candy Grinder or whatever it’s called, but I have never partaken of any of that foolishness,” Florence said with conviction, not feeling the least bit guilty about passing on the information about Samantha. After all, she didn’t start the rumor, and Lori Buchanon said she heard it from someone with first-hand knowledge, and everyone knew Lori wasn’t a gossip any more than Florence Valentine was.

“I’m afraid you have confused me, human,” the man started. “You are Aaron Lavelle, the twenty-two-year-old student and a top-ten ranked player on the Dungeon Custodian ladder, are you not?” the voice asked.

“I most certainly am not! I am Florence Valentine, not some moron of a game player standing on a ladder and most definitely not someone named Aaron Lavelle.”

“Oh dear. Please wait one moment while I review the feed from the translocation,” the man said, and Florence began to feel a prickly sensation all over her body. That was it—she had finally figured out what was going on. She was having a vivid dream and was in the hospital. She had seen on one of her shows how people in the hospital sometimes woke up during surgery. That van must have hurt her badly and she was now being operated on in the emergency room. All this craziness was from the drugs they had pumped into her.

“Why, this is highly unusual. I dare say it hasn’t happened in, well, ever, as far as I can recall. I’m sorry to tell you. What was your name again?” the man asked.

“I am Florence Valentine, and you better get to the point, sir.”

“Yes, well, Florence Valentine, you have stumbled, quite literally, into somewhere you weren’t meant to be. You see, you have died, and your soul has been gathered by the Procurement Guild for use in the dungeon world of Aerkon. I am terribly sorry, but fear not: I shall see that you’re assigned a top-notch fairy that will help you transition smoothly into your new existence,” the man said dismissively.

“I’m what? You better send me back to where I came from right now, young man! Drug-induced dream or not, you don’t go around telling folks they’re dead and all that other gobbledygook,” Florence shouted—or at least tried to. Only now did she realize she wasn’t really speaking, only somehow projecting her thoughts to the other person in the room or wherever it was that she found herself.

“I would love nothing more than to send you back, but that is obviously not possible now, is it?” the man said. “You’ve been expired for approximately thirty-seven of your years at this point. It does take time to transform your soul essence into a core, you know. I’m afraid you’ll have to just accept your new lot in life. I’m sure you will pick things up quickly.”

“Oh, no you don’t, Mister . . . What exactly is your name? You know, it’s considered very rude to speak to a lady without properly introducing yourself. How would your mother feel if she could see you now?”

“I am a dungeon formation specialist of the fifth rank. We do not have anything so trite as an individual name designation like the lower forms of life do. I also do not have a mother. My kind just exists. If that has answered your question, I will need you to select your initial placement so we can send you on to your new life. With your rather formidable attitude, I can see that you are going to go far,” the man said with annoyance in his voice.

Your core gem has been created. Select a location for your dungeon:

1. Faernhill Marsh

2. Daegoth Mountains

3. Valley of Zurgash

She didn’t know what any of these places were. Definitely not somewhere in Logan County. It could be somewhere in Claiborne County; those folks had some strange names for things. Despite what county these places were in, she sure as shooting wasn’t going to let this no-named, arrogant fool pawn her off on someone else. No sir. She was determined to get to the bottom of this. Florence Valentine had dealt with enough pompous store clerks in her day to know how to handle this one.

“Don’t give me any poppycock about not having a name just so I can’t report you, Mr. Dungeon Formation Specialist. I’m going to call you Doug. There, that’s settled. Now, Doug, I am not going to be sent to any of these places. You will send me home, but not until I speak to your manager,” she demanded, wishing she had her cane so she could shake it with authority. That always seemed to work at the drug store when the clerks took too long to get her prescriptions.

You have requested interaction with a master-level administrator. Please confirm this is your desire. Once made, requests for escalation cannot be rescinded and the judgments of the administrator will be final. Possible outcomes include the following:

1. Modification to existing core location and an initial allocation of resources

2. A resource penalty for frivolous delay

3. Termination of existence

Do you wish to escalate your dispute? Y/N.

“Hold on there, human. Stay your hand or you may just destroy us both!” the voice she’d named Doug said in a panic. They always did that; the clerks never wanted you to spill the beans to their manager about how much they had messed up and how rude they had been to the customer.

“Doug, I demand to speak with your manager,” Florence said decisively.

Escalation protocol has been enacted. The administrator will be here shortly.

“I have been summoned. State your dispute, dungeon core,” a deep voice boomed. Florence still couldn’t see anything. This was getting ridiculous.

“What is with you people and your rude behavior? How dare you just jump in here, making demands without introducing yourself,” Florence said.

“State your dispute so the administrator may render a decision,” the voice said flatly.

“Don’t tell me, you don’t want to give me your name, either, do you? I’m going to escalate this to your manager unless you tell me your name right now, Mister!”

“Is this a faulty core, Specialist?” the voice asked.

“Faulty? The nerve of you people. I’ll have you know that Florence Valentine is not faulty,” she replied.

“What is a Florence Valentine? That designation is not in the core data file,” the voice said. It sounded almost confused.

“I am Florence Valentine, and I can assure you that Florence Valentine has had it with all this tomfoolery. Like I told Doug, you need to send me back home now!”

Case review in progress. Accessing recent interactions between the dungeon formation specialist and the dungeon core.

Review complete.

“There have been several violations. This dungeon core has refused its primary function and the specialist has extricated the incorrect soul energy. This event has occurred only three times in recorded history,” the administrator stated.

“That’s what I’ve been saying,” Florence said. “You people have messed up and now you need to send me home. My little babies need me, and I still have to pick up some dry food and litter. I hope the grocery store still carries my brands now that Randalph’s is closed down. I assume you are going to compensate me for my time and aggravation, aren’t you?”

Dungeon core input received. Rendering the final decision.

“No further input is required. Know that you are dead and have been for some time, human. You have been transformed into a dungeon core, and that is what you shall be,” the administrator’s voice boomed. “That being said, some leeway will be granted based on the operator error attributed to your dungeon formation specialist. Additional starting resources will be allocated, you will be afforded a modified starting experience, and a special assistant will be granted to ease your way into this new life.”

Florence couldn’t believe her ears. The nerve of these people. She tried to speak again, only to find she was no longer able to. This wasn’t going as she had planned.

Dungeon core input has been restricted. Please await the final instructions from the administrator.

“As for you, Specialist, it has been determined that you have made grave errors in not only your judgment but also in the execution of your duties. To gather the incorrect soul energy is punishable by obliteration. The fact that you have accepted this human moniker of ‘Doug’ reveals that your base essence is flawed and the poor decisions you have made are due to structural degradation of your cogitation matrices,” the arrogant voice of the administrator droned. Florence was a bit frightened and confused by what was happening, but she was also determined to speak to this administrator’s manager if she regained her ability to speak again.

“Administrator,” Doug began. Florence could hear the whining in his voice. And also a bit of fear. “I didn’t accept the human moniker. This flawed dungeon core merely uses it as an insult against me.”

“In that case, you would have to be obliterated, as there is no other recourse for such dereliction of duty,” the administrator replied.

“No, I was wrong. I am Doug and do not need to be obliterated,” Doug replied in terror.

Florence forgot about her own predicament and simply enjoyed listening to Doug getting his comeuppance.

Administrator’s final decision review in progress.

Final review complete.

“Very well. The dungeon formation specialist now known as Doug will be transformed into a personal dungeon assistant. Should you be able to assist in keeping your assigned dungeon core alive during the initial acclimation period, you will have your existence reinstated as a dungeon formation specialist, if you so desire. As for the dungeon core known as Florence Valentine, compensation is approved for the errors made during the soul-gathering process. I will grant you additional starting resources and see to it that your dungeon is placed in an optimal location for your initial survival and growth. Your service begins now,” the administrator said.

Florence’s vision swam and she was plunged into the abyss once more.
 

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