The Feline Imperative, Part 1
by Sharon Best (with editing by JH)
Even with a Scribe's training and experience, beginning life on a new planet can be very strange. Shortly after my arrival on Terra, I learned that there was more than one set of priceless genes on this tiny blue planet, and about the lengths that other civilizations would go to get them.
About 24 hours after I arrived on-planet, I had stashed my travel bag on a rooftop in Santa Monica and was strolling down Wilshire Boulevard near the beach. After Ursus Six, the freedom, the bright yellow sunlight and the crisp spring air were exhilarating. So I celebrated by air-walking a quarter-inch off the sidewalk while taking in the sights and listening to dozens of Angelenos, picking up their accents and speech patterns. (My bohemian streak, which drew me toward the funky Pacific beach communities, was a lucky break. Imagine, you know, if I had picked up like the rilly bitchin' Valley girl speech, huh?)
I stopped in front of a sidewalk café to sort some things out and felt a furry swish along my ankles. It was a tabby street cat, who then let out a pathetic little mew - stage two of his begging routine. I glanced down as he stopped in mid-beg and stared at the little strip of light between my flat shoes and the concrete. My first reaction was not, "How cute!" In fact, I almost leaped into the stratosphere, and I still ended up shuddering. The literature on Earth had plenty of references to and pictures of housecats, but to almost everyone other than Terrans, pointy ears, fangs, feline eyes, twitching tails and purrs mean "KINTZI!" or "PREDATOR!" Except for the kittycat, no feline species in this galaxy has ever been domesticated.
And frankly, Vels don't care much for cats, cute as they can be. Sexual sublimation isn't in our makeup, and the genes that make for Protectors and Scribes are easy on the need for babies - or baby substitutes. The cats seem to resent the idea that we Vels might actually come close to their level of perfection. So we and the Terran kitties are usually quite happy to leave each other alone.
A day or two later, after my first modeling interview, my new agent, Phil, arranged for me to stay temporarily in the apartment of another of his clients, a hand model. Cynthia was making her fortune one dish-detergent commercial at a time, which, considering that the rest of her figure reminded others of a bowling pin, was a pretty good deal. She had the sweet, open disposition of a small-town girl from Tennessee and was the housekeeper/chef for three cats: Luna, Sailor Moon and Red. That first night, after we talked until two a.m., I shut the lights, stretched out on the sofa, relaxed my muscles, and went into meditation to sort out all the new impressions and data. So I actually was surprised when Luna materialized near my left ear and let out a growl that sounded like a Kintzi challenge.
Three things happened in about 150 milliseconds. I sprang at full force into combat position - driving my legs right through the cushions and springs. My left arm swept to my side to fend off the attack - propelling Luna at trans-sonic speed through the drywall and into the exterior cinderblock wall.. My eyes flipped through tachyon vision mode and right into full heat vision - piercing the far wall, charring a kitchen cabinet and heating the only contents, two bags of microwave popcorn and a catsup bottle, to incandescence.
A few seconds later Cynthia appeared in the living room doorway, draped in a long nightgown with frilly bows and angels embroidered on it. Her jaw dropped as she noticed me, almost naked and knee-deep in a wrecked sofa, the splat-cat embedded in one wall and the blood-colored popcorn erupting out of the hole in the other wall. I had five seconds to explain before her synapses processed the data and ordered her vocal apparatus to let out a 120 decibel scream. I lost the race. Adding to the fun, the neighbors interpreted the commotion as a felony in progress, and the L.A. County Sheriff just happened to have a squad car nearby.
Any conceivable explanation would expose me as a super-alien or as a danger to the public, not to mention my lack of local I.D., so I did what no Scribe had done before - dissolving into tears and incoherent ranting about a team of thugs invading the apartment. It worked so well that in my thoughts I flipped a bird to my cranky old drama teacher, who was always nagging me about overacting. Then the deputies cuffed me for delivery to the County Hospital Psych Ward. As I couldn't foul up my new assignment only 48 hours after arrival by doing the strength and speed thing, I went, and had to call my only other Terran contact, Phil, to get myself released.
Phil took it all in stride, explaining to the cops and to Cynthia that someone had probably spiked my food with PCP or something, and innocent me had no idea. The sergeant had trouble seeing me as an innocent, especially with Phil as my agent, but I put on my little girl face and batted my eyelids at her, and she went along - insisting that I call her at the station if I wanted to provide more information privately. When I got back to the apartment building, my things were neatly stacked in the hallway with some extra hand lotion from Cynthia's last shoot and a bag of homemade sugar cookies.
A few months later, I had settled into L.A. and was quietly shadowing Kara one late spring morning near the U.C.L.A. Oceanography Lab. She rushed out into the parking lot without her backpack and then vanished into a small equipment shed for a half second or so. A glance through the wall showed her pulling on her flight uniform, and then, a blue and red streak, topped with golden blonde hair, shot into the air and disappeared into the morning smog. I followed, wincing mentally as my Prada outfit was first sheared into ribbons and then burned away as the air resistance heated my skin to a toasty blue-white glow.
Kara landed a few hundred feet from an old stone barn in Provence. A short man wearing a yellow and green stocking cap over his ears and dressed in green jeans, a plaid shirt and boat shoes was talking with a young girl holding two white kittens by the barn. A sign near the road announced that the kittens were free to a good home and the man with the unique fashion sense was assuring the girl in the worst possible French that he would take care of them like his own children. As he was clearly a Scalantran and rumor had it that they enserfed their kids until the kids repaid the cost of their upbringing, with interest, that wasn't much of an assurance.
When the child looked away for her mother, Kara sprang forward. By the time the kitten turned its head to investigate the whooshing sound, Kara and her alien cargo were 200 meters away and flying into an olive orchard. The moment his feet returned to earth, the Scalantran began an arm-waving, saliva-spewing tirade in pidgin Velorian.
<''No Arion! No ship! My dress Terran! You not s'pose here be!"> And so on. But not one curse or offensive gesture came from him. There's no payoff from angering a Vel in her work clothes. He finally stopped when he produced his trump card - a wad of battered franc notes he'd obtained from a trader in a nearby village "who dressed almost like a Scalantran." Apparently a gypsy had exchanged 40,000 francs for some trinket or another.
Kara didn't get a word in until her captive proudly flashed the wad of real, Terran cash, assuming that the sight of even crumpled old bills would end any argument. It would on Scalantra.
Kara went right for the heart - or whatever Scalantrans have instead - and snatched the wad of bills from his hand. <"This planet's not open for trading, Scalantran. Raise your shield and I'll fly you back to your ship.">
Sol Estis emitted another stream of broken Velorian and flailing gestures, ending with <"and my money back give!">
<"I'm going to keep it, Sol Estis, to remind me of the only time I've ever seen a Scalantran cheated."> Kara gave him a big wink and her number two dazzling smile, the one she used while modeling.
He was too flabbergasted to react. <"These papers are worthless,"> she explained, <"they use Euros here. And these are old francs, 2,500 to the Euro. Even if you could convert them, all of them wouldn't pay for lunch in a restaurant."> Her eyes sparkled with amusement. His face had gone gray and his shoulders slumped.
<"Now, let's go,"> she chided. <"And if I find you anywhere near this solar system, I'll make sure half the Galaxy hears that you were conned by a Terran.">
Those words seemed to lance into Sol Estis, causing his tummy to tense and his lips to tremble. <"I traded a Tetrite rose crystal,"> he moaned, "<for, for . . . . ">
<"Confetti?"> chirped Kara.
A low moan, followed by a string of Scalantran curses, emerged. Kara's eyes flashed for a moment, and then her gaze softened as she realized the trader was berating himself in anticipation of his partners’ reaction.
<“Come on, I’ll fly you back, and we’ll tell your syndicate that I rescued you from two Kintzi who stole your crystal. In return, you convince your people to skip this stop and go on to the Empire.”>
<“They’ll never it believe. . . .,”> he sighed, but his eyes were moist and riveted on Kara.
<“I have a souvenir from my last Kintzi fight, and by the time we get to your ship, you’ll have plenty of bruises and scrapes to prove the story.”>
<“You’re going to beat me up!”>
<“Mostly makeup,”> she grinned. <“’Merely corroborative detail, intended to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative.’ But you will get a couple of bruises to remind you of our deal.”> The Scalantran lapsed back into shock. Kara stepped forward to grasp him, and a moment later sprang from the ground into the thin clouds high above, carrying her passenger. An hour or so later, with the trader made up and bruised well, they arrived at the Scalantran ship, which 20 minutes later shot away from the solar system under full drive.
“This young Protector shows promise,” I recorded that evening. “She knows when to use subtlety as well as strength. Still, she has a sentimental streak that may create Prime Directive problems.”
My condescending prediction soon came true, although I didn't get all the details until several years later. As soon as she finished her May exams, Kara flew (bizjet, not Air Vel) to Milan for an extended shoot and new fittings for Pierre. At the end of a June afternoon, Kara was particularly bubbly after trying on a new line of Pierre dresses that somehow flattered her figure while covering it, and she was looking forward to a date with a Grimaldi who the other models insisted was actually an interesting man. Instead of returning in the hired limo, she decided to stroll back to the hotel through a leafy residential area.
There are few places more civilized and calming than a well-to-do Italian neighborhood in early June. The plane trees lining the street still had soft, bright green leaves and shielded passers-by from the powerful sun. Vines bearing pink and blue flowers climbed up the walls bordering the sidewalks. From behind the walls came faint sounds of children playing, maids working and mothers chattering, but the street itself was empty and quiet.
Sitting on a railing along the sidewalk as she soaked up the ambience, the near silence and Kara’s pleasant reverie were interrupted by a series of small cries from the leaves of a large tree. Sure enough, a calico kitten was trapped on a branch. After a quick all-senses scan to assure that no one could see her, Kara stepped next to the tree and drifted quickly upward into the branches, her white skirt and blouse gently waving. As she slowly approached, the kitten backed off and Kara paused with her eyes level with the branch. Before the kitten could start wondering about this floating human, she began a few of the clicks and twitters she had learned from the Oceanography Institute’s dolphins. Fascinated, the kitten edged forward along the branch toward her. She continued twittering and cooing for a moment so she could enjoy the kitten’s bemused look. Then he swiped at her glittering hair, only to entangle his tiny claws in its silken but unbreakable strands. The kitty began yanking his paw back, and a drop of blood emerged where a hair began to cut into his fragile skin.
Sensing the pull, Kara immediately realized that the cat was in danger of amputating himself, and her right hand flew up to grasp his paw and stop him. With a screech, the kitten snapped at her head, and two fingers of her hand shifted to immobilize his head before he learned what dangers dental flossing with Velorian hair could bring. Well and truly trapped, the kitten redoubled his complaints and pushed his other front paw forward into her hair, tiny claws extended to give her the scratch of her life. The paw quickly entangled itself hopelessly. There was no choice; she had to use her left hand to save this paw, also. The little calico thrashed and spat, trying to pull his rear paws into position to rake her head.
At this moment, a nearby gate opened and a ten-year-old girl, with long, black hair, spunky brown eyes and a demure pastel dress, came calling for her kitty. She immediately looked up into the tree, seeing a beautiful blonde woman seemingly floating in air, with both hands struggling to hold her caro gattello, enveloped in her golden hair. She called for her mother, and almost immediately two servants or bodyguards came through the gate. Kara just had time to seat herself on the branch, using volatai to offset her mass and keep the branch from splitting. While one man searched for a ladder, the other kept near the girl and unleashed a rapid interrogation in Italian. With the kitten squirming and hissing in her hair, her flying skills in careful balance, and her mind trying to respond to the rush of questions and imprecations in Italian, Kara was trapped. In minutes, private security cars, a fire truck, a dozen residents and two cars of the local police were clustered around the tree. Not to mention a local paparazzo. The pictures made all the European papers and Womens’ Wear Daily, but didn’t get much play in the U.S. because a teenage girl singer was found in an L.A. car crash with her 35-year-old producer and an extensive array of funny substances, and another celebrity was involved with a freak accident with a Komodo dragon. My report with the picture of Kara standing back on the ground with a grinning fireman in the background, leaning over to the girl while trying to extricate the kitty with both hands tangled, while using her hips to block an approaching policeman with shears, is still being held in the secret files on Daxxan. She also missed out on her Grimaldi date, ending the possibility that she might become this century’s Grace Kelly.
Although Kara’s Scalantran, Sol Estis, has never been seen in this solar system again, his story wasn’t enough to deter others, and Kara couldn’t always catch them. Some time after she met Lucas, at the height of her modeling career, newspapers in England began reporting an upsurge of missing pets, primarily cats. The Bangkok press also headlined sudden disappearances of temple cats, and speculations that this heralded a new incarnation of the Buddha.
My own modeling career was coming to an end, and I was in Bangkok with a couple of free days to wander the streets, boat down the few remaining tolerable klongs, and check out the uninhibited night life and sex play. While the local women were enthusiastic and talented, my lingering distaste for black hair and their too-gentle loving soon left me looking for something more challenging than Thai liaisons and fending off Australian men with too much lager in them.
So, in a way, it was a relief to see a Scalantran in tropical kit browsing in a covered market. Only the silly pith helmet called attention to him. Since he seemed at ease, I guessed that his main business was done, and I strolled over to get his attention. He cringed at first and clearly was contemplating an escape, but decided the odds were against him. He quickly stopped being defensive when I offered to have a drink with him and his ego took over. I could almost hear him calculating how much he would spend to bed me.
We found a quiet corner in the Intercontinental Hotel’s bar, and began the mutual seduction. Mine for information, his for sex with a Velorian femme, who ordinarily would just boot him off the planet. When three rounds of drinks failed to loosen me or him up, Bobbesco raised the stakes by calling for the most expensive appetizer in the hotel – Malossol caviar (refrigerated for far too long) and Taittinger champagne. I responded by letting my short dress ride higher on my thighs and shrugging my sheer blouse a few millimeters farther down my breasts. Yep, there went his heart rate and blood pressure. One million, eight hundred thousand baht later, he began to feel up my thigh.
Unlike those of a lot of Scalantrans, Bobbesco’s touch wasn’t greasy, and he actually had the brains to stroke gently at first, rather than grabbing a feel. But he was as inexperienced as a nine-year-old, repeating the same tentative touches over and over in the same place until he reminded me of a persistent mosquito. And he was clearly hoping that his partly enhanced senses would soon pick up some excitement from me, before he would start talking again. The game was getting difficult.
Calling once again on my meditation skills, I recalled my past male lovers with half my mind while continuing to play along with my aroused date. Kaltlakast’s furry arms and mordant wit flashed through my mind, the strength and exuberance of my young Arion lover on Ursus Six brought a knowing smile to my lips, and my teenage escapades, fumbling and all, finally brought a mild flush to my skin and traces of arousal. Bobbesco, sensing a night of love approaching, dropped his reserve and started boasting. Once those brakes were off, though, he went on for a good ninety minutes, almost too involved with his story to move his hand closer to my panties.
Leaving out the exaggerations, it seemed that the fashionable crowd on Aria had been introduced to pet cats and that Terran-bred cats rapidly had become a status symbol. Also, the kitties’ aloofness and scorn toward Arions (and everyone else) only confirmed their essential Arianity. As always, Scalantra worked to meet the demand. The trade was complicated by roving Kintzi, who considered it a moral outrage for any other species to confine a feline. As they also considered the existence of a competing cat species to be a moral outrage, they solved both questions by exterminating any cat traders and hunting down their inventory for fun. Bobbesco made it very clear that only his courage and determination allowed him to scour Terra for housecats. I refrained from noting that Kara had annihilated a loose grouping of Kintzi ships behind Jupiter about six months earlier and that the prowlers were giving this solar system a pass.
By now, my admirer had realized that my body might have more sensitive areas than the top of my left thigh, and believed that he just might be man enough to claim them. His hand now tentatively trailed up the side of my dress and headed unerringly for my left tit. Aside from the sheer tackiness of the move, a number of the bar’s patrons had been eying the spectacle, and the bartender, convinced that only a woman for hire would put up with it, was now glancing at the bouncer and signaling that it was time to move us along. Tired of the game, I rose from the chair, gently grasping Bobbesco’s bicep, and guided him to the lobby as soon as he had thrown down the last 200,000 baht and had yielded to my demand to leave a generous tip.
I stopped the elevator between floors with a shot of heat vision at the panel while the Scalantran groped my ass and unleashed his tongue against my lips. Gathering my senses, I poured an all-out flood of erotic pheromone into the cramped space, and listened to his heartbeat and breathing go into overdrive. The groping turned into a frenzy of grabbing and slobbering for a moment, and then his body stiffened as his pelvis went for broke and he poured his essence into his pants. A gentle tap on the head was then enough to send him to sleep for a while, while I unwound his limp arms and legs from me and did a quick cleanup of a spot on my dress. I pulled the doors ajar, popped open the roof hatch and floated up the elevator shaft to the roof.
The problem with this quick solution was that I had been in that tiny space with all my pheromones, and I was now horny and headed straight toward Ples’tathy. I was far too dangerous to relieve my needs in any or all of Bangkok’s brothels, and self-pleasuring was likely to be just as fast a road to Ples’tathy. Because Deb was still years in my future, this was going to be painful. I rocketed as fast as I could up to 8,000 feet and forced my eyes into infrared mode, hoping that I would find my refuge before the wind against my over-sensitive skin sent me into days of erotic need. As I felt my last barriers begin to fall, I spotted it: a hot spot adjacent to a well-insulated, but cold building. With no thought of discovery, the Prime Directive or even the danger to Terrans, I turned face down and launched myself at full speed toward the building.
The triple crack of my sonic boom was followed momentarily by a thundering crash as my super-hard body hit the building at over Mach 2 and shot straight through into a large white tank. As I decelerated to a stop within the tank, the heat of my body and kinetic energy flashed much of the tank’s contents – liquid nitrogen – to vapor, and the tank exploded. For my part, I was dazed and now felt myself freezing from outside inwards at minus 200° C. from the remaining liquid. I was now at risk of winding up in a Supremis coma rather than Ples’tathy.
Fortunately, the explosion had devastated the tank and the liquid nitrogen that was agonizingly turning me into a Best-sicle quickly poured or boiled away, leaving only a roiling, smoking puddle covering my feet. As the fire trucks turned into the liquid air plant’s parking lot, I managed somehow to squeeze my leg muscles and tumble slowly upwards, out of the lights, and fall to Earth on the muddy bank of a klong. My feet were still frozen solid, most of my hair also, and frost covered the shreds of my outfit and my breasts, shoulders and ass. I was feeling too many different kinds of pain to bother with staying conscious, so I let my head fall into the putrid mud. About eight the next morning, the sun and the 35° Celsius heat finished the defrosting, and I pulled myself out of a combination mud, oil and refuse bath. Staggering to my feet, I startled a group of three boat-people urchins who had been wondering whether the farang-amah was dead. Worse, I couldn’t safely fly into my room in full daylight, so I had to traipse across the Intercontinental’s lobby looking like I had spent the night as performer number 77 in the city’s most depraved sex act. Fortunately, the hotel staff were well acquainted with Western perverts on holiday, and merely cleaned up after me. God knows what the concierge will offer me if I ever stay there again.
Standard operating procedure is for me to report my intelligence to Daxxan and let them integrate the varying reports for use by the Institute of Protectors or the Council. I’ve been with Deb now for more than a decade, and Kara’s 25 years past her first meeting with Eric, and only last year I received a message advising me that both the Institute and the Council were continuing to study the long-term implications of Scalantran trade in cats. So, Kara the graduate student was irritated, but not surprised, when I showed up one evening on my return from Thailand and asked her for an hour or two of her time.
<“Look, it’s bad enough that you shadow me, but showing up here 15 minutes before my date and asking me for the rest of the evening is pretty tactless, SharaLynn.”>
That hurt. She was so achingly beautiful, a golden goddess, that I was already half-fantasizing about a passionate encounter with her, and now she was calling me tactless. And it’s mostly true.
<“You know I wouldn’t break my cover unless it were for your Protectorate,”> I huffed back.
<“My Protectorate,”> she replied, <“is as safe as it’s ever been. Even the deep-cover Arion operatives are lying low, afraid to cause trouble, the Kintzi are harassing Arions instead of us, and most of the Arcturans, Scalantrans and Vogons who try to stop by get escorted out of the system. Whatever your problem is, it can wait until tomorrow.”>
For a woman as young as she, Kara had nevertheless perfected a sense of presence and calm dominance. It almost took an effort of will to disagree. <“If we had the word in Velorian, KaraLynn, I’d call you ‘cocky.’ This news has already waited too long.”> And at that, the doorbell rang from downstairs. Eric had arrived in Huntington Beach.
We both aimed our tachyon visions at the lobby, and I couldn’t resist tweaking her a bit. <“He’s more my age, isn’t he, Kara? And not much for muscles, not that they would matter with a Terran. What do you see in him?”>
Kara refused to rise to the bait. <“He has what’s best about Terrans. Creativity, imagination, tenderness, and the ability to accept my powers without doubting his own worth. A true yin to . . . .”> The doorbell rang again, just once, and Kara went to the button to let him in. I began to see how Kara, with her calm and lack of pretension, was attracted to Eric. Most of my “dates,” for example, would be violently pressing the bell again and again and getting steamed.
Kara gave me a quick nod toward the living room window as we heard the elevator doors opening. Clearly, she wasn’t ready to bring me into the picture. I caught her attention as I placed an iridescent datacube on a shelf, between some rare blue coral and a jade kami stone, and disappeared through the window.
 W. Gilbert and A. Sullivan, The Mikado, Act II (1885). I suspect that one of her UCLA friends was a Gilbert & Sullivan fan.
 Bangkok’s canals, often with dirt banks.