Ariyah Rimana sat down in her chair and looked at the screen. The asteroid belt stretched out like a big carpet of rocks. When she looked carefully she could tell that some of those rocks were really stellar oysters.
“We need to inform the admiral that we’ve completed our assignment,” Mary-Ann Velose decided. Twitchy looked up.
“Should I call him now?” she asked.
A moment later Admiral Resop appeared on the screen. He had a grin like a raptor.
“Hello, captain Velose,” he said. “How are things going?”
“We’ve completed our assignment,” she answered, standing. “What do you want us to do next?”
“Good!” the admiral said, snapping his fingers. Twitchy twitched at the sound, and Ariyah could feel her claws growing. “Very good indeed,” he continued. “I have your next assignment here somewhere… Aha. A space squid has taken up residence in one of the ABP’s by Trepidusk. We need you to evict it. After that, or before, really, there is another moose herd traveling down the freeway between Trepidusk and the nearest Borderline planet. If the moose is still in Bayshed territory please redirect it.”
“Yes, sir,” Velose said, nodding.
“I’ll send a copy of the assignment to your comm officer.”
The screen went back to stars and asteroids.
“Batnter, set course for Trepidusk,” the captain ordered.
“So we’re going to your home planet, Rimana?” Batnter asked, hitting buttons.
“Yes,” Ariyah answered absently. She knew they wouldn’t be stopping, but she missed the forests on her planet. It would be nice to see them again.
“Where did you get that scar?” Carter asked her.
“That scar on your forehead, the one you keep rubbing, where did you get it?”
“On a spaceship,” she answered coldly. “When I was very young.”
“How?” Mary-Ann Velose asked. She was honestly curious, but Ariyah didn’t care. She would never tell anyone how she got the scar. It was too painful.
She felt another mind touch hers. She snapped her head towards Twitchy and silently snarled. Twitchy reeled back, physically and mentally. Ariyah was about to mentally chase her, but caught herself just in time. They didn’t know she was a telepath, and they didn’t need to know.
“Never mind,” Velose said. “Forget I asked.”
Too late, she thought. “You have the right to ask,” Ariyah said out loud. “And I have the right to not answer.”
The perfect diplomatic answer, Velose thought, slightly impressed.
“So I have the right to ask if you would mind turning into a cat?” Batnter asked.
“You do,” Ariyah growled.
“Will you?” Carter asked.
“I’ve never met a shifter before,” Batnter explained. “I don’t know what one looks like in feline form.”
Ariyah rolled her eyes. Humans. She got off her chair and knelt down. She watched one hand become a paw, and the rest of the shift came naturally. She stretched and thrashed her tail, getting the feel of her bones and muscles. A purr came involuntarily out of her throat as she jumped back to her chair.
“For some reason I always thought you’d be bigger,” Batnter said after a long pause.
Ariyah jumped off the chair and sunk her claws in his legs She stretched herself out until her nose nearly touched his.
“Do I look bigger now?” she asked. He was trying desperately to get away.
Dearlordshe’sgoingtokillme, he thought. Ariyah pushed away and went back to her chair.
“Yes,” he said. “Sorry. I was imagining more of a tiger-size.”
“Technically ‘cats’ are mountain lions with the markings of a white tiger,” she told him. “Since we have the tiger markings most humans do expect tiger size. But it doesn’t work that way.”
“Got it,” he said. “I won’t make that mistake again.”
“Thank you.” She jumped to the floor and stood up as a human. “Any other questions?”
“How long until we get to Trepidusk?” Velose asked.
“Does anyone have any game other than poker?”
“I have Trivial Pursuit,” Twitchy offered.
“Great. Go get it,” the captain ordered.
Ariyah sat down. Everything was back to normal.