THE CAT KID FROM OUTER SPACE
Summer, a season that kids usually welcomed, had turned insufferable due to the heat. The kids who were friends with Davy and his yardful of aliens were grateful for the fact that not too far beyond his home was a large natural pond of pleasantly cool water. On this particular morning, Niklas, Keith, and Martin had made their way out to the Caulfield farm and subsequently to the pond, where they were now relaxing with Davy, Jahv, Keyro, and Toben.
As usual, the Botarans wore nothing at all. Niklas and Martin had brought swimming trunks, Keith was in his underwear, and Davy had simply jumped into the pond in his overalls.
Niklas, observing Davy's carefree plunge, wondered idly just how many pairs of overalls Davy owned and how quickly he went through them due to continuous use and abuse.
He turned and splashed Jahv playfully. “So where are Morik and Arion?” he asked.
“Morik has been on an exploration of the woods for several days,” Jahv said. He splashed Niklas back.
“Hey, there's some dangerous places out there!” Martin said. He was serious. The others tended to write off Martin's and Keyro's stories about their past expeditions as fanciful, but the two younger boys had found a part of the woods once that was actually dangerous.
“Yes, which is why we attached a bio-monitor to him before he started out,” Toben remarked. “If anything happens to him, we'll know about it, and we can matrix him back immediately.”
“What about Feather-Head?” Keith asked, referring to Arion.
“Arion's homeworld is cooler than Earth,” Jahv explained. “Summer is not to his liking. He's been spending time in the holodrome lately and has talked about a personal expedition to one of this world's more remote mountain ranges. Somewhere that it's always winter.”
“Do you think that's a good idea?” Niklas asked, concerned.
Keeping the presence of a group of actual aliens a relative secret had proved to be a tricky business. More than a small amount of luck had been involved. Davy's parents knew about them, of course, and so did most of the kids in Niklas' immediate circle of friends. Beyond that, most of the people who had encountered the aliens — so far, anyway — had chalked the experience up to a variety of explanations. But there *had* been that military investigation; it had been too much of a close call.
Jahv shrugged. “The parts of this planet that Arion has considered visiting are sparsely populated. People are few and far between. And Arion's skin color isn't too different from some of the colors found on this world. If he keeps his feathers covered, he'll pass for human more readily than some of us.”
“Where's he thinking about going?” Martin asked.
“The Himalayas,” Jahv answered.
“Wow,” Keith said. “If he wants to visit mountains, he's sure decided to pick the biggest.”
“Well, the ones on his homeworld are larger, so it won't be as much of a challenge as you'd think,” Jahv said. “But it'll be cooler and they might remind him a bit of home — if he goes.”
Keyro's antennae started twitching. “Does anyone hear something?”
“Yes, a high-pitched whine,” Toben said. “It's getting louder.”
“That sounds like —” Jahv started.
“It sounds like the same noise that your across-the-galaxy matrix things make!” Davy said. At this point, he and all of the other kids could hear the sound, and it was getting louder.
“You invite friends?” Keith shouted over the noise.
“None I know of!” Jahv shouted back, heading towards shore. “Blast it, I don't think I've got time to get a scanner out here! Let's hope it's not trouble!”
A bright point of light appeared in the air, floating about fifteen feet above the pond. This, combined with the increasing volume of the sound, was more than enough to get the rest of the kids out of the pond in short order.
“Every dog for a mile is probably going nuts right now,” Keith shouted. “You people *do* know how to make an entrance.”
“I just wish I knew who or what this might be,” Jahv answered. “I thought we were done with our homeworld.”
“Whoever it is is gonna have a wet landing!” Niklas said.
The siren wail of the matrix beam reached a peak. There was an intense burst of light and a crack of thunder. The boys averted their eyes momentarily. When they looked back, there was a startled-looking being about fifteen feet in the air.
It hovered there for a fraction of a second, then plummeted into the pond, arms and legs flailing all the way. It let out an indignant-sounding screech on the way down.
“What the hell was *that* ?!” Keith exclaimed. “That didn't look like one of you guys! I swear I saw tiger stripes on it!”
“By the twin moons — it looked like a Tigarian!” Jahv said.
“Who are they?” Davy asked.
“At the moment, there's only one thing you need to know about them,” Jahv said, rather hastily, as he paddled back into the pond. “They generally can't swim.”
That got Keyro, Toben, and Davy into the water. Niklas waved Keith and Martin back. He figured that four rescuers would be enough; no reason to crowd the effort.
Before long, the rescue party had dragged the apparently unconscious being out of the water.
The newcomer was male. His age wasn't clear, but he seemed young.
“It *is* a Tigarian,” Jahv said. “He should recover quickly enough now that we've got him out of the pond.”
The boys set the Tigarian gently on the grass and looked him over.
He was slightly taller, and definitely leaner in build, than humans or Botarans. His only clothing was a simple light-green tunic that looked like a long strip of fabric with a hole in the center for the head. The tunic was draped down the front and back to below the waist and was open on the sides; it was held in place by a leather-like belt. He didn't have any sandals or shoes on.
The only ornamentation was a small decorative pin clasped to the front of the tunic. It was gold in color and had four small gemstones in it, one red, one purple, one green, and one blue.
His features were humanoid but not like those of humans or Botarans. His face had a cat-like muzzle instead of the usual nose and mouth, and there were large cat-like ears on the top of his head. His hands were human-like, with three fingers and a thumb on each, but his feet resembled paws. There was also something that the others present lacked entirely; a long tail.
The cat creature's entire body was covered with soft, short fur that showed a tiger-like pattern of yellow and black in most places. There was a bit of white around his muzzle and near his throat, suggesting that there might be more white fur on his chest. He also had a thick mane of brown hair on his head; this was nearly shoulder length.
There were no visible injuries and the being was breathing steadily, but he didn't wake up immediately. He seemed to be out cold.
“So, should I go get a saucer of milk and some Little Friskies?” Keith remarked.
“Keith!” Niklas snapped.
“Sorry, okay?” said Keith. “I'm not too fond of cats. Neighbor of mine had one once that was a psycho nutjob. It thought I was a scratching post.”
“This isn't the same cat,” Niklas said. “In fact, it's not even a cat. It's a person — an alien — that sort of looks like a cat.”
“Sort of?!” Keith said.
“It's — not a cat, is it, Jahv? Or a tiger cub?” Martin asked.
“Not — really,” Jahv answered. “Like many humanoid species, Tigarians are thought to have developed from earlier forms of life on their homeworld. In this case, their homeworld's native felines. So I suppose you could say he's a feline humanoid.”
Keith shrugged. “At least I'm not allergic.”
“Don't make too many jokes, monkey-boy,” Toben said. “I've studied this world's theories of life development. If it hadn't been for a couple of catastrophes along the way, this planet's dominant life might have been humanoid dinosaurs.”
“Oh, come on,” Keith scoffed.
“Where do you think Soluans came from?” Toben asked.
That stopped Keith in his tracks. He remembered the reptilian aliens quite well. They'd given the boys trouble more than once on their space expeditions. Were they descended from dinosaurs? Keith had never considered the possibility.
“What was this Tigarian doing with one of your long-range transporters?” Davy asked.
“It's entirely possible he had access to one,” Jahv said. “The homeworld has sold them to dozens of planets. But why he'd come here — that's the mystery.”
Suddenly the Tigarian twitched, and coughed, making a snarling noise in the process.
Keith laughed. “Hairball alert!”
“You better hope he's been declawed,” Davy snapped. “Oh, great, now *I'm* doing it.”
“Knock it off, both of you,” Niklas said. “He's waking up.”
The Tigarian coughed several more times and opened his eyes. Much like the rest of his appearance, his eyes were cat-like, bright green with a bit of gold, with vertical slits for pupils. He made a noise in his throat that sounded a bit like a yowl and then sat up.
He blinked his eyes several times as if trying to focus. Finally he spoke, with a voice that had a slight purring quality to it but otherwise sounded human enough. “Five meters over water,” he said to no one in particular. “That's what I get for thinking things can't get any worse.”
Then he looked around. His eyes locked first on Jahv and Toben, then on the rest of the boys. “Botarans? I didn't think I was headed anywhere near — and — I have absolutely no idea what race you others are.”
“They call themselves humans,” Jahv said. “Welcome to Earth.”
“Earth?!” the Tigarian exclaimed. “I've heard of that world. It's supposed to be off-limits. But it was in the news a while back — you're those Botarans who ran away from your homeworld!”
“Something like that, yes,” Jahv said quietly.
“Maybe I got lucky after all,” the alien boy said. “Excuse me for a moment, would you?” He stood, undid his belt, and removed his tunic. This revealed that he did indeed have mostly white fur on his chest. It also revealed that there was a second hole in the tunic — for his tail, in the back.
“Great, another nudist,” Keith said.
“You're one to talk,” said the cat-like youngster. “At least I have fur.”
“What!? Why, you —!”
The Tigarian ignored Keith's outburst. He crouched down on all fours and proceeded to shake his entire body rapidly, spraying the water that had soaked him in all directions.
“Oh, great,” Keith said. “Now I'm going to smell like wet cat for the rest of the day.”
“You're welcome,” the boy said, grinning a bit. He turned towards the Botarans. “Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is K'Jirr, son of J'Darr.”
“I am Jahv,” Jahv said. “This is my brother Keyro and our friend Toben. There are two other offworlders here, but they're not present at the moment. Morik, a Dorrian, and Prince Arion of Korras.”
“So that's what happened to him,” K'Jirr said.
“And these are our friends,” Jahv continued. “Niklas, Martin, Davy, whose house is not far from here, and the loud, annoying one is Keith.”
K'Jirr smiled. “I'm pleased to meet you.” He glanced at Keith. “*All* of you.” Keith just rolled his eyes.
“Does everybody on your planet look like you?” Martin asked.
“Well, if you mean do we all have a basic similar appearance, then yes. We are felinoids,” K'Jirr explained. “But we don't all have the same fur patterns. For example, my great-grandmother was a calico.”
“Oh, for —!” Keith started, but Niklas dragged him away.
“Look, this is going pretty far, even for you. I'm sorry that you had some problems with a cat once,” Niklas said. “But could you at least *try* to be nice?”
“Okay, okay, point made,” Keith replied. “But I'm not playing straight man to Garfield over there the rest of the summer. Calico grandmother —”
“At least he's got a sense of humor,” Niklas said. “I think he'll need it.”
When Niklas and Keith returned to the group, K'Jirr was crouched at the edge of the pond. “What's he up to?” Keith asked.
“His stomach growled, and then he said something about 'the only thing water's really good for',” Jahv said. “He hasn't budged since.”
K'Jirr was absolutely still. His ears seemed to twitch slightly, and his tail waved back and forth; that was all. After about a minute, he crouched down lower, raised his right arm, and the others watched as retractable claws emerged from each fingernail.
The human boys stared. There were comic-book heroes who could do this, but it was amazing to see it for real.
Then, almost faster than the eye could follow, the cat-boy took a sudden swipe at the water. There was a slight splash.
“What was *that* all about?” Davy asked.
K'Jirr stood up and walked a few yards along the edge of the pond. He bent down, picked something up, and returned to the group. The something was a medium-sized fish.
“Feels like I left my last meal back where I came from,” he said. “Is there someplace to cook this?”
“I'm not sure my parents are ready to meet another alien just yet,” Davy said. “Besides, the last time my mom cooked fish, it stunk up the whole house. She said never again.”
“That's unfortunate,” K'Jirr said. “Fish is nature's perfect food.”
“Come on, we can cook it in the dome-tent,” Jahv offered. The group headed off to the concealed dome-tent that the aliens used as one of their residences.
Fortunately, the cooking unit in the dome-tent managed to keep fishy aromas to a minimum. Within a few minutes, K'Jirr was dining on his catch. And, as it turned out, he *did* like milk. Keith found himself biting his lip on this revelation.
“So, why matrix yourself halfway across the galaxy?” Jahv asked. “You Tigarians don't travel offworld that often.”
“Soluans,” K'Jirr said grimly.
“But why would Soluans attack Tigaris?” Toben asked. “Your world isn't strategically located, you have little in the way of novel technology, and no special resources that they might be interested in.”
“We're not certain,” K'Jirr said. “But we think it's for propaganda purposes. I don't know how much you keep up with the news, but the Soluans have suffered a number of humiliating defeats recently. They apparently did this to show they're still a force to be reckoned with.”
“Pack of cheap lizard bullies,” Keith said, sympathizing with K'Jirr almost despite himself.
K'Jirr was silent for a moment. “Agreed, but with no shortage of spaceships and very big guns. We sent out pleas for help, and it was on the way, but our cities and jungles were being devastated. We were being killed. Anybody who could find a way offworld was taking it.”
He paused again. The memory of recent events seemed to be weighing on him. “I was with classmates, on a hunting trip. We boarded a landcraft to head back to Nub, the nearest city. On the way, the landcraft was disabled by an attack. It crashed. I couldn't get anyone else off. I ran. All I wanted to do was get away, however I could. I came across the matrix station at the edge of the city and — well, here I am. I don't even know what happened to my family. My parents, my brothers and sisters.”
“Um, our connection to the rest of the galaxy is tenuous at best, but we'll do what we can to find out,” Jahv said. “However, we can't send you home presently. We don't have those sorts of resources.”
“I understand,” K'Jirr replied. “Maybe it will work out later.”
“In the meantime, please consider this your home,” Keyro added. “It's not a bad world, really.”
Arion strode in the room abruptly and paused. “What in the — ?!” he sputtered. “A Tigarian?!”
K'Jirr grinned. “Prince Arion. An honor to meet you.” He inclined his head respectfully.
Arion looked stunned for a moment, then he straightened his back and huffed. “Well, I suppose we won't need to worry about mice in the dome-tent anymore.” With that, he went back the way he'd come.
“What's with him?” Martin wondered.
“Well, Arion is sort of a bird-like person,” Niklas answered. “And K'Jirr is really cat-like. Maybe Arion just doesn't like cats?”
“Since when does Arion need an excuse to give anyone attitude?” Davy said.
“It's all right, really,” said K'Jirr. “You sort of get used to it after a while.”
“You get used to verbal abuse and bad jokes?” Toben asked.
K'Jirr shrugged. “It's one of the reasons we don't leave our homeworld very often. Many planets have feline species among their animal populations, but they're neither humanoid nor sentient. Usually they're pets or wild creatures instead. We're the exception. And we bear more than enough of a resemblance to the animal species to make the remarks and jokes inevitable.”
“That doesn't make it right.” Jahv said.
K'Jirr grinned. “No, but we make up for it. There's no shortage of hairless-monkey jokes on our planet.”
Most of the boys groaned. Jahv looked at K'Jirr. “Could I have a few words with you in private?”
“Of course,” the young Tigarian said. The two left the main room of the dome-tent and walked into one of the workrooms.
“I didn't want to say anything in front of the others,” Jahv said, “in case I'm mistaken. And I'm pretty sure the others didn't pick up on it, maybe not even Keyro and Toben. But the reason you gave for the Soluans invading your planet was a bit flimsy, and I think you know it.”
“I beg your pardon?” K'Jirr said.
“Staging an invasion on the scale you describe, blasting your civilization off the map, just to prove they can do it?”
Jahv paused. K'Jirr said nothing.
“Soluans are many things — brutish, mean, vindictive, nasty, and not very smart — but they're not in the habit of being wasteful. The sort of resources they'd need to throw into an attack like that — they wouldn't do it. I think there's more to the story, and I think you know what it is. I don't want to press you for answers you're not prepared to give, but I'm sure you can imagine what would happen to this world if the Soluans followed you here.”
“They won't,” K'Jirr said. “I'm nobody special. I'm not royalty like Arion. I'm just a kid who found a somewhat unusual way off his homeworld.”
“All right, I accept that. But the rest of it?”
K'Jirr didn't answer.
“I'm right, aren't I?”
“Not entirely, but partially,” said K'Jirr. “The Soluans are seeking something from us. The problem is, it's a myth.”
“What do they want?” Jahv pressed. “If it makes you feel any better, I promise not to tell the others, unless I believe it represents a threat to us here on Earth.”
“It doesn't,” K'Jirr answered. “All right, I'll tell you. There's a long-standing legend among my people. It's about an object of immense power. It was split into three artifacts ages ago and hidden in the jungles of my homeworld. Those three artifacts, combined, form the Kal'Shaya'Tir. Nobody knows where it came from, but its power is so great that it could supply the energy needs of a thousand advanced cities — or destroy a planet.”
“And you didn't think to mention this?” Jahv exclaimed. “I'd say that's something the Soluans would be interested in!”
“But it doesn't exist!” K'Jirr said, raising his voice slightly. “There isn't one Tigarian in a hundred that believes the Kal'Shaya'Tir exists or ever existed. The Soluans are tearing apart our planet for nothing.”
“They obviously don't think so,” Jahv said.
“As you said — they're not terribly bright,” K'Jirr replied.
“Granted. However, this could be a problem. We've had a couple of run-ins with Soluans, and things didn't go very well — for them. But if the Soluans were to get their hands on an object like this, it would make them nearly invincible. If they decided to follow some vendetta to Earth...”
“Please don't think me dismissive, but that's a lot of if's, and they're based on an object that doesn't even exist.”
“As far as you know,” Jahv amended.
“All right. As far as I know. Myself and most of the population of Tigaris. Do you think there haven't been attempts over the centuries to locate the Kal'Shaya'Tir? Nobody has ever found a trace of it.”
“And you're as certain as possible that the Soluans won't track you here?” Jahv asked.
K'Jirr thought for a moment. “Not terribly likely. I can't imagine why they'd want me, anyway. Besides, I scrambled the matrix beam. I'm sure you know how hard that would be to trace. Do you think I'd come to this world — or, more importantly, materialize over water — if I'd had a choice?”
Jahv sighed. “Okay. I wanted to know what was going on here, and you've told me. I sincerely wish we could do something to help your homeworld, but we're not in a position to do so.”
“I accept that,” K'Jirr said.
“But, until a way can be found for you to rejoin your people, if that time ever comes, you remain welcome to stay with us.”
K'Jirr smiled. “Thank you. I am grateful.”
The two youngsters rejoined the group. “So,” said K'Jirr, “if I am to reside on this planet and live among you, I suppose I should learn what you do with your time. What sorts of activities do you enjoy?”
“When it's as hot as it's been lately, we swim,” Davy said.
K'Jirr frowned. “Swim. In that pond I landed in?” The other kids nodded. K'Jirr sighed. “Very well. What else do you like to do?”
“There's a big ol' mudhole in the woods,” Martin offered cheerfully. “Sometimes we play in that!”
“Mud!?” K'Jirr exclaimed. He sounded alarmed and exasperated at the same time. “Do you know how long it would take me to get that out of my fur!?” He sighed again and said something under his breath, but the only word any of the others caught was “sapiens”. “All right. What about hunting? Is there any hunting?”
“I don't think it'd be a good idea to let you have a gun,” Niklas said.
K'Jirr looked faintly insulted. “What gun? I'm talking about *me* doing the hunting, not some weapon. There's no challenge in that, no satisfaction.”
“Well, there are assorted small animals in the woods,” Keyro said. “We've seen rabbits, squirrels, raccoons — but there's also snakes. They can be dangerous.”
“Believe me, you don't have to tell me how dangerous reptiles are,” K'Jirr said. “Now what are these other animals you mention? I've never heard of them.”
Jahv walked over to a computer screen and called up images of the three animals. “This is a rabbit,” he said, pointing to one of the images.
K'Jirr studied the picture. “Weird-looking thing. But doubtless with a good sense of hearing, and the rear legs must make it rather fast. That could be interesting.”
“This one is a squirrel,” Jahv said, pointing to the second image.
“Not sure I see a lot of challenge in that,” K'Jirr replied.
“They're quick, they can be mean, and they're smarter than they look,” Jahv said. “They're also tree-climbers. And this is a raccoon. I recommend against messing with them.”
“They're larger than the other two, very clever, and ill-tempered. They're also not afraid of much of anything,” Jahv explained. “They like to go into neighborhoods and knock over trash receptacles, looking for snacks.”
K'Jirr shrugged. “Well, some of it sounds interesting, anyway.”
“Just don't get seen by other people,” Jahv added. “This world doesn't know about life elsewhere in the universe, and — no offense, but if you got spotted in the woods, they'd most likely mistake you for an escaped lion or tiger or something, and they'd probably shoot you.”
K'Jirr looked genuinely alarmed. “The off-limits classification for this world is starting to make sense.”
“We could see what he thinks of a ball of yarn...” Keith said quietly. Niklas and Martin shot him nasty looks.
Davy glanced at his wristwatch. “Hey, it’s time for dinner. I got to go. But Mom said earlier that anybody here would be welcome to join us.”
“Works for me!” Keith said.
“Me, too!” Martin proclaimed.
“Sure, I'd like to come,” Niklas added. “My mom's on a diet right now, which means we're *all* on a diet.”
“Arion, dinner at the Caulfield house!” Jahv shouted down the dome-tent corridor.
“Um — might I...?” K'Jirr asked, a little hesitantly. “That wasn't an especially large fish.”
“They're going to have to meet you sooner or later,” Davy said. “But you should put your tunic on first. Aliens are one thing. Naked aliens are another.”
K'Jirr glanced at the overalls that Jahv and Toben had put on, then at Keyro, who was now wearing undershorts. He quickly donned his tunic.
On the way to Davy's house, the others explained to K'Jirr how Davy's parents had come to be aware of the aliens in their midst; that after one of their impromptu interstellar adventures, the group had been forced to matrix themselves out of Toben's badly damaged spaceship in some haste, and had landed in the mud right in front of Davy's parents.
Both had accepted the group readily enough, Davy's mother a bit more than his father, and the alien youngsters pretty much considered the Caulfield residence their second home. At the very least, it was a place where a generous meal was always guaranteed. Davy's mother loved to cook, was excellent at it, and the way she saw it, the more people around the dining table, the merrier.
There wasn't any way to hide K'Jirr's nature, so the boys didn't even try. Davy decided to make the introduction when they entered the house.
“Uh, Mom, Dad? We've got a new friend for you to meet. This is K'Jirr.”
K'Jirr bowed politely at the waist and smiled. “I'm very pleased to meet both of you. You have a lovely home.”
“Well, thank you very much, young — uh — man,” Mrs. Caulfield said, making an attempt to sound casual.
“So much for the noise earlier being just a sonic boom,” Mr. Caulfield remarked. “I should've guessed. What part of the galaxy are you from?”
“Relative to here, I'm not entirely sure,” K'Jirr said as the group seated themselves around the spacious dining table, Arion notably as far away from K'Jirr as he could get. “My world is called Tigaris. I escaped from an attack by Soluans and wound up here.”
“Soluans?” Mr. Caulfield asked.
“Those big lizard people we told you about,” Davy said. “The nasty ones.”
“Right,” Mr. Caulfield said. “Sorry, I'm not much of a science-fiction fan. I mean, I know you guys aren't fictional, it's just a little hard to keep track of sometimes.”
Mrs. Caulfield started to bring the dinner plates out from the kitchen. She had prepared a huge supply of chicken, mashed potatoes, and corn on the cob. Practically every stomach at the table was growling.
Martin was sitting next to Mr. Caulfield. As the boy dug into the mashed potatoes enthusiastically, Mr. Caulfield looked at K'Jirr, who was on Martin's other side. Then he turned to Davy. “He doesn't shed, does he?”
“Dad...!” Davy exclaimed indignantly, while Keith did a not entirely successful job of muffling some laughter.
“Not for several months,” K'Jirr said. “It's not the season for it yet. And I assure you, I am fastidious about brushing.”
The meal proceeded without incident. K'Jirr once again related the details of the Soluan attack and his arrival on Earth, pausing frequently to enjoy the food and to pay compliments to Mrs. Caulfield. Finally, when his plate was empty, K'Jirr let out a rumbling noise that sounded like it was part purr, part roar.
“What the heck was that?” Keith asked. “Your idea of a belch?”
“No,” said K'Jirr, absently scratching himself behind one ear. “It's just a sound we make when we're satisfied following a good meal.”
Following dinner, and before it was too dark out, Niklas, Martin, and Keith got on their bicycles and headed home. The aliens walked out to the dome-tent.
“You should know that I will be departing for the Himalayas in a week or so, perhaps sooner,” Arion announced when they were safely inside. “I want to do a little more research first, but then I will be going.”
“You've made a definite decision, then?” Jahv asked.
“Yes,” Arion said. “This heat is intolerable. Moreover, I am homesick. The holodrome is not sufficient, and this woodland is simply too different from anything familiar to me. I cannot go home. I accept that. But I need to see mountains. I need to see high rocks, steep cliffs, and snow.”
“When will you return?” Keyro interrupted.
“I do not know,” Arion said. “But I am not abandoning you. Give me one of the communication devices. Should you need me for anything, I will return as quickly as I possibly can.”
“Just don't get caught,” Jahv said.
Arion snorted. “There isn't a human on this planet that could manage that feat.”
“I'm sorry you're leaving so soon after I arrived,” K'Jirr said.
Arion stared at the Tigarian. “For what it's worth, you're not one of the reasons I'm leaving. I'm not entirely comfortable around felinoids, but I don't dislike them. And as I'm sure you know, my people have had more than their share of dealings with the Soluans. I grieve for both my people and yours. Someday, I hope we can both obtain justice. Or vengeance. However it might work out.”
“Someday,” said K'Jirr.
The dome-tent was spacious enough that a few rooms were still unused. One of these was assigned as K'Jirr's quarters. Toben was able to locate a mattress among the items salvaged from his spaceship, and a couple of tables and a small lamp were also installed. Jahv assured the young Tigarian that any personal touches he wanted to make could be taken care of. K'Jirr expressed gratitude and asked to be alone. After the events of the day, he said, he was exhausted.
Once K'Jirr was alone in his room, he removed his tunic. Then he unclasped the jeweled pin from it and placed the pin carefully on the table. He slid under the blanket on the mattress and turned out the light.
He had placed the pin on the table so that the jewels faced him. Now, in the darkened room, he could see something that wasn't apparent in the normal lighting of the dome-tent, the Caulfield house, or the daytime outdoors. The jewels, all four of them, were softly glowing.
There was an inscription on the back of the pin. If the other boys could have read Tigarian script, they would have seen that it was a single word — “Shaya”.
K'Jirr started at the object for a long moment. Then he smiled again. It wasn't quite as friendly a smile as he had offered to the others over the course of the day.
“Someday...” he said, and drifted off to sleep.