A couple weeks ago I did a vignette for a Sunday challenge at According to Hoyt blog. Great practice and sometimes it lets me work out scenes. Unfortunately, the vignette I did kind of spawned. It’s still a work in progress and needs a lot of tidying up as I pants my way towards the end. So here’s a bit of a teaser of the current first third. I will hopefully figure out the ending in the following week as I deal with Squire stuff and other real life things that need taking care of. Enjoy.
A Little Pest Control
“Oh look at the cute kitty. Chris, you didn’t tell me that pets were allowed here. If I had known that….”
Athari opened one eye lazily looking at the young human female and snorted, “I’m not a pet sir.” He deliberately got the gender wrong just because he could. “I am just relaxing awaiting my host to return.”
The female started turning red, either in embarrassment or anger. The spluttering could have been either. “Chris, that cat talked and insulted me! Are you going to do anything about it?” Definitely anger.
The human male tried to hide his smile, “Yes dear, I am going to apologize to the Methorian and then we are leaving.”
The male approached Athari who was sitting up on the cushion in the alcove. He held his hands up in the proper Methorian position of peace and lowered his head. “My apologies for the accidental insult, may your hunts be fruitful and please allow us to leave in peace.”
Athari cocked his head curiously, aside from using human language the forms were mostly correct. At least as correct as one without a tail could manage. He stood from the cushion and restrained the need to stretch. He reached out his hands over the humans and snarled in the proper form, “Apologies accepted, you may leave in peace and may your hunts be blessed in turn.”
The human nodded once and took a step back before turning to the woman and grabbing her by the arm and guiding her away from the Methorian. Athari waited until they were out of sight before stretching sinuously. Proper protocols always trumped ones needs unfortunately. If he had stretched before accepting the apology that would have been far too insulting. Especially when the human male tried to approach him as an equal. Of course they never could be equals. Too much separated them for that to ever happen. At the best their species and his managed to work together without too much bloodshed.
He sat back on the cushion, all thoughts of napping fled. He mentally checked his time chip and twitched his whiskers in annoyance. His host was late and there had been no communication to inform him if or when he would be showing up now. Blasted hairless monkeys, always saying one thing and doing another. Patience was something he had to relearn apparently. Very well, he was where he was supposed to be so he would wait.
It was a few hours later after his meeting with his host that he ran across the Chris human again. He was sitting in the local station bar slurping a drink from his saucer when his solitude was interrupted. Athari looked up and tried not to snarl at being interrupted. The human male was looking appropriately apologetic though so he didn’t challenge him right off the tail tip.
“Apologies, I was directed to find you,” the human started speaking.
With a wave of his hand paw Athari silenced him and put down his saucer, “I take it you were sent here by my host?” Chris nodded. “And for what purpose may I enquire that he selected you?”
Chris looked a little nervous, “I am supposed to be a liaison while you are working off your debt sir. I am one of the station anthropologists and working on my internship while here.”
Athari paused and examined the young man in front of him. Slim, reddish tints to his head hair. Facial skin that looked like it had been depiliated permanently. He sniffed slightly trying to pick up his scent over the aromatic crowd already in the bar and just got a hint of soap or cleanser. He shrugged as a human would, a bad habit he had picked up over the years.
“Well, I guess it could be worse. At least you have studied something of my people and culture. Shame about the lack of the tail,” Athari muttered grudgingly.
“I try to do my best sir,” Chris replied.
“Well neither here nor there, get a drink and inform me why you have to follow me.” Athari waited while Chris consulted the table menu and selected a beverage of his choice and biochemical compatibility. He clicked on the table screen and tapped his wrist communicator on the read pad. He waited for a second confused when his drink didn’t appear immediately.
“Guess the transmatt is out of order,” Chris said looking around for someone to report it too.
“No, not broken. This is a bar where there’s actual servers. Something about keeping people gainfully employed,” Athari corrected. “Give it a minute or so and a serving sentient will along shortly with your drink.
“Well, that’s rather backwards. Why not use perfectly good tech?”
“Don’t ask me, I am just passing through here eventually. You monkey’s come up with some of the most bizarrest ideas though. Now, while we are awaiting your beverage you can start telling me why I have to put up with you,” Athari flicked an ear signifying annoyance and impatience.
“Well, I don’t know the exact details why I was assigned you,” Chris started slowly. “Part of the reason goes back to Confederation training of anthropologists. Before we are assigned an exploration ship we have to have some of our book learning smoothed out. So after we graduate and complete a small training syllabus, we are assigned to a way point station to interact with other known sentient species.”
“Okay, that’s a good start. Why?”
“Actual experience is better then book smarts, is what we were told. No matter how well documented interactions with other species is done, it doesn’t quiet match the actual interaction with something that’s unscripted.”
Athari picked up his saucer and lapped the liquid in it up. Pondering on this information. He had heard about how stringent the Confederation’s training was. Being part of the training just seemed to be adding insult to his injured pride already. A server swung by and dropped a glass in front of Chris and hurried off. Athari narrowed his eyes and watched the human pick up his glass and sip the bubbling amber gold beverage. He tried to avoid twitching at how a being could drink something containing so much gas infused liquid. Humans, weird.
Chris set down his glass and smacked his lips in satisfaction and waited for Athari to say something. They sat there staring at each other, one being patient and the other waiting for something to be said. Athari chuckled mentally to himself. Monkey’s were always the impatient sort and didn’t have the stamina to wait like the hunters of his species. So he continued lapping at his saucer while the human started to fidget and drink his beer.
Chris ordered another beer after Athari ordered a saucer of his drink. He had to admit that even with all the fidgeting, the human was being rather patient waiting for Athari to speak or do anything besides sit there. It was a waiting game and Athari figured that he would give himself one more drink before letting the human down easy. If the human didn’t breakdown first and started talking. A test of wills and a test of training. No need to make the humans task any easier. The universe was a cold dark and thankless place. Young hunters were always taught this.
Chris broke first, “So, the head of my department never really informed me why you are here. Anything important? Trade mission? Diplomacy? Something important?”
Athari snorted, “Nothing of that sort whatsoever. I’m on probation and fulfilling ‘uplifting community service’ before I can get the stars out of here.”
“Probation? You mean you broke the law or something?”
“Something like that, don’t bother asking. It boils down to none of your business. Besides, if my host wants you to know they will tell you,” Athari peered into his saucer trying not to think about how he ended up here.
“Okay, if I can’t ask what you are being punished for may I ask what your service entails?”
“I guess, nothing really major. No feeding of orphaned litters directly that is. I am hunting. Pest and vermin control actually,” Athari twitched an ear in resignation. “No matter how good pest control measures are on space stations vermin get into the ducts and systems. Rats, vesques, large bugs, you name it. If it’s a breeder and is a problem it will infest stations. Not an issue with starships really since they are routinely vented to vacuum when needed. Much harder to do with a station.”
Chris looked aghast, “They’re using you to hunt rats? Don’t they have robots or anything less sentient for that?”
Athari quirked his whiskers in amusement, “Sure, every now and then though you get a rather particular vicious infestation that needs a sentient to do the job. Real hunters that can out think and out manoeuvre the vicious pests.”
“So, there’s a bad vermin infestation here currently I take it,” Chris muttered. Looking around and under the table as if looking for a rat or bug.
“That’s right. So I got cuffed into this task. I am in charge of a few bots and some hunting creatures that have been trained. Need my expertise though to really get things back under control. Once that’s done I am free to light drives and get out of here.”
“So, how long have you been working on this task,” Chris asked curiously.
“Several lunar segments, it’s been a really bad infestation,” Athari lapped up the last dregs of his saucer viciously. “Make yourself useful and order both of us a round. The stipend I earn isn’t that much and besides keeping me in air, kibble, and room, I barely have enough to get properly soused.”
“If you don’t mind, what are you drinking,” Chris pointed at the saucer.
“Traditional drink. Combination of blood, fermented fruit juice, and a few extra herbs to enhance the effects. Don’t bother trying any of it. Definitely not compatible with your species. Look for Fruit blood, I believe the translation is.”
Chris pulled up the table menu and tapped twice with his finger before tapping his wrist comm to pay for the drinks. Athari waited patiently for the server to bring the drinks before saying anything else. Chris seemed to have relaxed a bit and wasn’t fidgeting as much as before. The glass and saucer were placed in front of them and Athari lapped up a bit before putting it back down.
“So, why are you following me around? Actually that’s going to be a little difficult because I can’t see you fitting into a lot of the crawl spaces I have been hanging around lately.”
“Well, I can see how that would be a problem as well. Figured I would be talking with you and hanging around you on your off times then?”
“Great, just what I needed. A monkey tracking my every move and giving me no peace,” Athari plucked at the collar he was wearing. “Bad enough station security knows my every move, now they are putting eyeballs on me as well.”
“Sorry that you feel that way. Would it help if you considered it part of your community service,” Chris asked trying to put a lighter side on the issue.
“So, you mean to say that you are a more onerous task given to me,” Athari threw back at him. “Look , monkey, I don’t like it here. I hate hunting vermin and I can’t wait to get things under enough control that my service is done. We are mostly solitary hunters, if you have read thoroughly in your information sources. Which I am sure you have since you have most of the correct and proper responses down. Only reason that I haven’t tagged you like an errant kitling. Oh, by the way, I am not a good example of a typical Methorian. I am cantankerous, prone to insults, and just a touch xenophobic.”
“So I noticed,” Chris said with a grin. “You have a bad case of ‘get off my lawn’, syndrome if I ever saw it.”
Athari twitched a paw in puzzlement and requesting further information. Chris went on, “Just an old movie from our world. Pre-stellar, old character was what we called back then a racist cantankerous old coot. Just wanted to be left alone. Good story, great high points and redemption tale. If you’re interested I can send you a link to the file in the media archive.”
“Thanks, but no thanks. Monkey shows don’t really interest me. Like that whole ‘get off my lawn’ idea though. Anyway, thanks for the drink.” Athari held up his paw-hand with his wrist communicator, “Guess we should exchange contact info? I need some more rest because tomorrow it’s back in the crawlspaces again. Don’t call me, I’ll call you when I’m done so we can talk. May as well satisfy our lords and masters, right?”
Chris chuckled at that and held his wrist comm next to Athari’s. Green lights blinked on both comm’s and a chirp signalled the exchange of comm codes. Athari stood up out of his chair and walked out. Just his luck that he had been assigned a liaison. Someone it seemed didn’t like him too much, either the powers that be or the higher powers. He prowled back to his assigned space and looked forward to hiding from the made world that he had been thrust into. Tomorrow at least he would hunt. One bright side to his community service was that it had been almost tailored to his skills and proclivities.
The quarters assigned to him was in the temporary living section of the station. Humans called the cubicles “coffins” for some obscure reason that Athari wasn’t curious enough to look up. All he knew was that they were the perfect size for his species. low ceiling, narrow, almost like a den from home. He had a small refresher tailored to his needs and a sleeping pad set up in the back area. The sound proofing was sufficient to keep most station noises to a bare minimum and he was told in a pinch it would be an emergency pod if the station had any emergency that caused it to lose atmosphere. He removed the leather harness that carried anything that was needed and the small “loin cloth” type covering to keep him within the bare minimum required amount of public decency. The temperatures on the station were set to human norms and was hotter then a typical desert from home. Higher humidity as well. He had acclimatized mostly and couldn’t wait to get the stars out of here. Just a quarter arc of orbit until his service was done.