I stayed rooted to the couch, little tiny prickles of nervousness running up and down my fur. I don't want to leave.
Lieutenant didn't want to either.
"Oh yeah? Well, I can choose too, and I choose to stay right here." He jabbed a claw at the floor. "We can't leave without proof, that's what we came here for, isn't it?" He turned to me.
More needles of anxiety stuck into me at his question. I looked from him, to the Frogsloth, then back again.
"Well... that's what I came here for..." I turned to the Frogsloth. "But I didn't know you were.... " I wanted to say alive, but that wasn't quite the right word.
"Sentient," The Frogsloth suggested.
I nodded, and pointed my paw to indicate that I got it. "Yes. Thank you."
Lieutenant wasn't affected by the fact.
"So who cares? That doesn't change what we came for."
The situation reminded me of The Incredible Hulk, an old TV show. An investigative reporter named Jack McGee relentlessly pursues a scientist that becomes a giant green creature, intent on showing him to the world.
Trouble was, despite the fact that the Hulk was the hero, I kind of liked McGee, too.
"You've got to come," Lieutenant said. "You have to let us know about you."
Walter stared at him oddly.
Lieutenant stopped short. He apparently hadn't thought about this.
"Because?" The Frogsloth repeated dubiously.
"Because... you're important. Scientifically."
"Why?" Walter seemed to have taken up a line of Socratic questioning.
"Because there's no one like you. You're incredible, an amazing freak of nature." Lieutenant widened his eyes and shut his mouth, as if he'd realized what he'd just said.
The Frogsloth's face altered slightly.
"A freak of nature," he repeated softly. Then, louder, "That is all I am to you." He walked away from the door and moved to stand in front of Lieutenant.
He looked down at him, and around the room to look over his shoulder at me, then back at Lieutenant.
"Children," he whispered to himself, but still audible. "I am arguing with children." His tone was derisive, as if he were annoyed with himself for falling to this low standpoint.
"You're coming back with us!" Lieutenant would not let it go.
"Stop it...." I said quietly, almost whimpering.
"I don't have to stand here and listen to this!" the Frogsloth shouted. He was really angry this time.
"Oh yeah? Where ya gonna go, old-timer, because I'm not going ANYWHERE!"
"Now you look here, you...." he trailed off into a low undertone.
"No! I won't 'look here'!" Lieutenant replied.
I looked at the open door. In a choked whisper, I said to no one in particular,
"I have to go...."
And darted out the front door.
My feet pounded swampy ground. All I wanted was to get away from everything I had worked for.
The rhythm was somehow calming, and my brain latched on to the predictable pounding of my paws, matching it to my heartbeat. One, two, three, four... I counted with the thumping in my mind, over and over again.
I even closed my eyes, following the faint, straight path made by the Frogsloth on his trips to the pond where he ate. Everything seemed distant... it didn't matter anymore....
"Oohwh...." I groaned, and rubbed my snout as I sat up. Apparently nobody told that tree that the path was supposed to be straight...
As the pain slowly faded from my nose, I noticed the ground. Footprints. And not mine.
They looked like...
"Oh no," I said aloud. Our mysterious visitor in the shadows.
And they led straight towards the Frogsloth's house.
I doubled back, the pounding of my paws speeding up , well past what it had been during my flight from the burrow-house.
I reached the door. Flinging it open, I saw Walter and Lieutenant standing together, the sense of danger filling the room. Facing them was....
Someone. His back was to me. He turned.
My eyes opened wide, and my jaw slackened in shock at the realization of who it was.