When Monica was six, she desperately wanted a puppy. She dropped all the hints she could think of, culminating in a tactical art project that involved cutting out every picture of a dog she could find out of every magazine in the house and taping them up where her mother would be sure to see them: the bathroom mirror, the butter dish, the gas gauge of her car. The result was Monica getting a goldfish, which died a week later.
She angled for other pets. A hamster, she insisted at eight. “They stink,” her mother said. At ten, she found a frog in the back yard and hid it in her jacket pocket until it jumped out during gym the next day. It lived under the bleachers for three days before being caught and released back into the wild by a particularly frazzled Coach Klein. (The constant croaking got to her.)
Monica tried many other times to win her mother over to many other pets. A rabbit, a pony, a parakeet. This is not any of those stories. This is the story of Monica Rambeau and a Flerken named Goose.
Monica knew things were going to start happening soon. Mom had made a half dozen phone calls in the past hour, and even though she’d had them in the other room where Monica couldn’t hear exactly what was being said, she knew something was up. Then Mom brought their luggage out of the attic.
“Mammaw broke her leg,” Mom said, laying Monica’s suitcase on the bed, opening it up, and starting to fill it with Monica’s clothes. “I have to fly to Tampa to take care of her.”
Monica hopped up. “We’re going to Florida?”
“No, we are not. You’re going—”
“Not to Aunt Vicki’s! Cousin Melvin bites.”
“No. They’ve got a horrible flu over there, and I’m not sending you into that. You’re going to stay with a friend of Aunt Carol’s. Go pack your toothbrush and stuff, Monica, hurry.”
Monica had flown before, but never without her mother or aunt there with her. This time, she was on the big jet all alone, in a window seat watching the clouds stream by the wings. The pilot was a friend of her mother’s from flight school, and he’d promised to take special care of her, which translated into the flight attendants cooing over her and offering her anything she wanted off the snack cart free of charge.
When they landed, Agent Fury was waiting for her by the gate.
“Miss Rambeau,” he said.
They collected Monica’s luggage off the carousel, and Fury led Monica to his car, which was a sleek, black number. He put her luggage in the trunk, and let her sit up front as they drove through DC. Monica had never been before, and she watched with growing excitement as they drove through the city. There were lots of people going lots of places, many of them in suits like Fury or in caps and fanny packs, the official uniform of the tourist. There were so many little shops and restaurants, and enormous monuments. Everything so grand and busy, so different from home.
Fury lived in a tall apartment building with a uniformed doorman. He gave Monica an exaggerated bow, and she giggled. Fury took her up sixteen stories to his apartment. It was neat, but lived-in, with a big, black leather sofa gone soft with use, and pictures on the walls. There was a big picture window, and Monica swore she could see all the way to the Washington Monument. And best of all, sitting on the kitchen counter and watching as they came in, was a ginger tabby cat.
Monica grinned. Fury nodded at the cat.
“Monica Rambeau, Goose. Goose, this is Monica. She’s going to be staying with us for a little while.”
Monica scratched Goose behind her ears, and she purred and squeezed her eyes closed in quiet pleasure.
“We’re going to be friends,” Monica said.
Life with Fury was both more exciting and more boring than Monica anticipated. They got up early and drove to work in Fury’s black car. Sometimes work was Fury’s office at a big building on the Potomac, but sometimes work was somewhere with crime scene tape everywhere and people with S.H.I.E.L.D. badges pushing the local police back. She usually had to stay in the car on those times, but on the times she got to go with him, he referred to her as Junior Agent Rambeau; she wore his shades and kept a straight face, and no one questioned it.
At night, he took her out to restaurants in the city, and they ate sushi and Ethiopian and Greek. They always brought a little something back for Goose, who would eat daintily and then wash her whiskers. Then the three of them would watch television for a while, and then Fury went to his bedroom to sleep, and Monica went to the guestroom. Goose roamed the halls at night; sometimes, Monica could hear her making little cat noises outside her door.
About a week into her stay, Monica was woken in the middle of the night. She couldn’t hear anything, but everything felt taut, like before a storm starts. She walked to the bedroom door, put her ear against it. She couldn’t hear anything. She opened her door slowly, peeking out as Fury’s apartment was revealed, inch by inch.
She saw a light, a bright white, glowing light. It covered everything. She waited, but nothing happened. There was just a light.
Monica walked out of her room and towards the light. Through the big picture window, she could see the source of the light: a silver craft hovering outside, sixteen stories up. It was at least as big as the apartment building, and the shape reminded her of the posters of cars in the ’50s diner Auntie Carol took her to once. Monica stood transfixed. Then, the ship began to move; it opened a hinge like a mouth, and whatever was there was hidden in the dark because of the white light, and Monica heard Goose growl and spit, and then she felt herself being pulled. Her feet left the ground; she floated through Fury’s apartment, rushing toward the picture window. She put her arms over her face as the glass rushed toward her; there was a crash, but she didn’t feel any cuts. Monica flew through the air, towards the dark mouth of the ship. The white light surrounded her, growing in intensity, blinding her. Somewhere, she heard Goose meow. Then everything went dark.
The place Monica woke looked like a hospital, but it was not, she knew, a hospital. Everything was very bright and everything was very white, but once her eyes adjusted, she could see that the room was divided by clear, plastic walls with holes drilled into them near the top. Like the kind of container you’d keep a brand new pet lizard in, just for a while, while moving him from the pet shop to the nice terrarium you had set up at home. What had looked, at first, like a large room, was in reality dozens of small rooms broken up by these plastic walls.
Like a prison. Monica was in a prison.
She stood up, banged against the plastic wall. It gave a little bit, but didn’t bend or break. It popped right back in place once she was done hitting it, absorbing the shock of the blows.
“Hello?!” she yelled. “Hello?”
There was no answer from outside the plastic wall. Inside her cell, Monica heard something trill, and looked down. Goose was in the prison with her. She pushed herself against Monica’s legs as she walked in a circle eight around them.
“Goose,” she said, and picked her up, cuddling her close. Monica’s tears fell into Goose’s coat. “Goose, we’re in trouble.”
Monica heard approaching footsteps, and she took Goose and shrank back against the back wall of her cell. There were people talking.
“You were only authorized to take the Flerken,” a woman’s voice said. “You should not have taken the Terran.”
“It’s a baby Terran!” a man’s voice said. “We can sell it as a pet.”
“You’ll be lucky if they don’t sell you,” the woman snapped. “Follow the list. No variations. This is not a difficult concept.”
Two people came into Monica’s view. One was wearing a white lab coat and holding a clipboard. It looked mostly like a human woman, except its skin was blue. The other, dressed in rubber and leather, was vaguely human-shaped in that it was upright and had two limbs on the bottom and two on the top. The rest of it resembled something you’d see on a documentary about creatures that lived at the very bottom of the ocean.
They both peered into Monica’s cell. She squeezed Goose, and forced herself to stop crying.
“Take me home!” she said.
The woman assumed a sympathetic expression. “I’m afraid we’ll miss our deadline if we return to Terra, little one. Don’t worry; no harm will come to you.”
Monica glared. “My auntie Carol will burn this whole place to ashes, starting with you two.”
The two creatures outside the cell exchanged a look.
“Try to get some sleep, dear,” the woman said, and they both walked away.
Monica screamed. Goose jumped down, her ears flattening against her head.
“Sorry, Goose,” Monica said.
She sank to the floor, and stroked down Goose’s spine. She looked into the other cells. She could see about a dozen from where she sat, and they were all full. Some were full of things that looked mostly like people. Some were full of things that looked mostly like animals. Directly across the aisle from Monica’s cell was something that looked like a bit like an armadillo, but three times the size. Its thick armor plates shined beneath the harsh lights. It rolled into a ball and threw itself around the cell, crashing against the walls. They bounced back, and did not fall. To its right was something that looked like a rabbit and that looked like an insect. It was the color of a dried corn stalk, and every once in a while, a jolt of pure, white electricity would run up between its ears. It made a sizzling noise. Monica looked at all these creatures, and she knew one thing for certain: caging them like this was wrong, and they had to get away.
But how? She was just a girl in her pajamas. She didn’t even have shoes.
Still, she had to try. Monica sat back, balancing her weight on her arms, and she kicked the plastic cell wall. She kicked it as hard as she could, over and over again, until she was panting, the muscles in her legs feeling rubbery and tired. The wall was still there. She hadn’t even put a dent in it.
“Goose,” she said miserably, and she sucked down a sob. She curled up, hiding her face in her hands. Goose rubbed against her, and then she meowed. Monica peeked out at her.
It all happened very quickly. Goose opened her mouth, and a frenzy of flailing tentacles grabbed the plastic cell wall by the edges, crumpled it into a ball no bigger than an apricot, and pulled the ball into Goose’s gullet. Goose’s mouth snapped closed; she licked her lips, and then she burped.
Monica stared, first at Goose and then at the space where the wall used to be. It took her a second to recover, but only a second. She swept Goose into her arms, jumped to her feet, and ran. The other things in the other cells howled and beat against the cell walls. Monica saw a door perhaps twenty feet away, but she knew she couldn’t leave those other animals trapped like this. On the wall between Monica and the door was a control panel. The letters labeling the buttons were foreign to her, so she dragged her free hand down the console so that every single button was pressed. The lights went on and off, and then back on again, cast red instead of white. There were noises like a great machine gearing up, and then all the cell doors opened, and the creatures streamed out.
Monica ran out the door, holding Goose tight. The newly freed animals roared and squeaked and trumpeted. Monica came out into a long corridor; there were more people-things in some sort of uniform moving between rooms, and a few of them started to shout. Monica froze, looking left and right, trying to decide which way she should go. Then there was an enormous crash, and the whine of metal warping, and sparks showering down, as the armadillo-thing exploded through the wall and into the corridor. It rolled right, gaining speed, flattening the people-things in uniforms. Monica ran the other way as the people-things sounded alarms and chased after the armadillo-thing. She ran until she was out of hallway, looking at what looked like the hangars where her mom used to work. There were six small doorways, the back half of a small ship hanging out of each one. Monica was trying to decide on one when she felt a hand on her shoulder. She whipped around, and relief flooded her.
“Auntie Carol!” she cried, and threw her free arm around her, squeezing Goose between them.
“Hey, Lieutenant Trouble,” she said. “Looks like your particular brand of mischief back there. You responsible for all that?”
“We had to get away,” Monica said.
Carol knelt to be at eye level with her. “You did great, Monica. Want a lift home? Or have you gotten your pilot’s license since the last time I came home?”
“I guess you could fly us,” Monica said.
Carol smiled. She got Monica and Goose settled into the back of one of the small ships, and she began flipping switches on the instrument panel.
“You sure gave Fury a scare,” Carol said as the engines whirred to life. “I think he’s more afraid of your mom than he is of me.”
“Really?” Monica asked.
“He’s a smart man,” Carol said. “Hold on.”
Monica held on, hugging Goose, as the little ship rocketed out into space.
Mom kissed her about a thousand times. “You are never to leave this planet without my permission, Monica. Oh my God, little girl, you are giving me grey hairs—”
“She had it under control,” Carol said.
Mom threw her arms around Carol’s neck, and hugged her tight.
“And you,” she said, but not and you what.
Carol hugged her until she stopped shaking, and then she kissed her. “It’s okay, babe. Everything’s okay. And hey, this brought me home for a visit earlier than planned, so that’s good, right?”
“Carol Danvers,” Mom said, “you are giving me grey hairs, too.”
Carol grinned. “No reason to change now. Anyway, I think you’d look hot with a little silver in your hair ...”
“Guys,” Monica moaned. She made a show of covering her eyes while Mom and Auntie Carol kissed again.
“What about Fury?” she asked as soon as they’d stopped being all lovey-dovey.
“I told him you were fine, and that I would return Goose before I leave the planet again,” Carol said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if you gave him some grey hair, too, Lieutenant Trouble. You think you can look after Goose for a little while? She seems to like you.”
“It’s a lot of responsibility,” Mom said.
Goose circled Monica’s legs. Monica grinned. “I can do it, Mom. We make a good team.”
She scratched Goose between the ears, and Goose purred.