Kitten looked at Gladialis as they walked to the elevators and the door opened. “Well, hey there cuties!! Did you have a good day?”, Elie sang out.
“We did, thank you, Elie. Fourth floor, please, and Kitten, please face the door”, Gladialis said. “Unless you think that you’ll be ok. it’s only a short distance, and we’re taking it slow.”
Elie chirped a reply as Kitten first faced the door, and then turned to the window after some thought. “Wait..fourth? Gladialis, your hab is on the…way higher than that. Why are we going to the wrong flooooor!!!”, she yelped as the elevator shot up. Elie moved so FAST!! Her cuffs beeped once or twice, but she took a deep breath, and looked down. It didn’t look so bad. “I’m ok…I’m ok”, she gasped as Gladialis asked if she was ok. “This is ok. It’s…everything seems smaller, even though I know they aren’t”, she whispered.
“Ok. Just breathe with me, ok Kitten?”, Gladialis asked, breathing in the same method that seemed to work for Kitten before. “In…..out. In….out”, and within three breaths Kitten looked calmer. “There, better? Is this ok?” as Kitten pressed her nose to the window.
“Yea…I….I think that this is ok. This is ok”, she said, looking down. “This isn’t so bad.” She turned as Gladialis walked to the door and waited there. “Ummm…you still didn't answer my question, Gladialis. Why are we getting off here, your…ummm…you don’t live on this floor.”
“We do now”, Gladialis said, and gestured to the door, bowing slightly.
“Wait…what? HOW???”, Kitten asked. “All your stuff…your books and everything…how can they just move that?”
“Hmmm. We live now on this floor, not the sixty fifth, is the what. As for the how, well, that’s easy. Affini habs such as mine are made to be modular. That way they can be transported easily, which is good for traveling Affini like me. It’s simply a matter of pulling one out, and then slipping it into a new spot and hooking everything else up, which is easy. Easy peazy, tomato squeegee, as you Terrans say.” Gladialis smiled. “Granted, mine was a bit difficult since it’s not exactly the same shape, but we just needed to get a bit more creative with how we did it. A few twists, some turns, a little imaginative thought, and majesto pesto, here we are.”
Kittens brow furrowed, remembering that strange outcropping on the side of the building. “But…but…when did that happen? How…I mean, what about the people that lived there before? And why?”
Gladialis nodded as she had expected all these questions. “It happened while we were out by the doctors office, and while we were at the park. The petition to change locations went around last night while you were sleeping, and was unanimously approved by everyone in the building. As for why”, Gladialis said, looking at Kitten. “Being that high up was distressing for you, Kitten. I don’t like seeing you upset, so I took steps.”
“You…you did that? For me?”, Kitten asked, blushing. “Why? Why would you do that?”
“Yes, Kitten. For you.” Gladialis was puzzled, since why WOULDN’T she do her best to keep Kitten happy? Why wouldn’t anyone? Terrans. Sometimes, she would just never understand them no matter what she did. “Because….because you deserve it. Not because you did anything, but because you deserve understanding and you have the right to not be made upset by things like this. Ready?” She also didn’t understand why Kitten was blushing, but who knew why Terrans did what they did?
Kitten nodded and walked down the hall, following Gladialis. The layout was slightly different, the artwork different as well as well, but there it was. The odd door at the end of the hall, with its metal handle and carvings of animals and stuff. They went in, Gladialis walking into the kitchen, calling back that she was going to get dinner started, her cuffs were disabled, and that Kitten should make herself comfortable.
“Hey…umm…Lena?”, Kitten asked, looking up as she climbed onto the couch with her stuff.
“Well, hey there, cutie!! Did you have a good day?”, the AI asked.
Kitten nodded. “It was…informative. Ummm…do you think you could put some music on?”
“Sure thing, cutie!! What would you like to listen to? Or do you have a specific genre, planet, or time period you’d like?”
“Umm…what kind of stuff do you have, Lena?”
“Well, I have access to pretty much everything that was saved from Terra thanks to the Ramirez-Kurrgan Act of 2345, which was called the Netflix and Chill Bill. In addition to everything that was pulled from the Jovian Archives.”
“What was that?”, Kitten asked curiously, having never heard of it.
“So when Terra was being rendered less hospitable in the 2200’s to 2300’s, there was a push to spread outwards and colonize more. There were two Senators of the Accord who, as per the documentation, normally wanted each other's heads. But now they were concerned that the colonists would not have access to Terran movies, music, literature, and would forget where they owed their allegiance to, as said in the bill. So they made massive copies of all the gathered digital information that they were able to get from the Netflix-Amazon conglomerate, zetabytes of data, and copied it all onto massive servers that they then sent into orbit. All major colonies had access to them as long as they paid a small fee for the privilege, which is kind of stupid when you think about it. Paying for access to your own history, for the privilege of remembering where you came from, and you have to pay? The whole point of the Bill was to make it free, and then it was co-opted”, Lena said. Oddly enough, the Ai sounded…dismissive? Unusual for the normally cheerful AI. “Anyways, they began to copy them over as technology grew and processors got even smaller. When the Compact moved into Terran space, they found and uploaded a few of these servers to the Affini Overnet, so it wouldn’t be lost. So…what kind of music do you want?”
“That’s…umm…” as she stuck a foot into the space between the cushions again. “Umm…Terra. Popular music from the 1980’s to the 2030’s?”
“Sure thing, Kitten!! I’ve got a wide selection.” Suddenly the air was filled with drums, guitar, and “ ‘C’mere Baby. You know you drive me up the wall…” Kitten listened, feeling….she didn’t know what the word was. But she knew that she was listening to the words and voice of someone who had been dead for centuries, and yet what they had created endured. Some five hundred years later, she was sitting on a space ship bigger than some Terran cities with aliens, listening to a Terran singing. She sniffled, listening to the singer, wondering what he had been thinking when he wrote the song. If he could have imagined that she’d one day be listening to him sing, that he wasn’t forgotten. And before she could start crying at the thought, she looked down at her tablet and pulled up another Xenodrug class. Class B, since she was going in order. Then she changed her mind and switched to Class E, which were the anxiolytics.
Looking at them, she noticed that some of the names were the same as in the Class A-list, and she began to flip back and forth. Then she had an idea, and asked her tablet if they could make a list of which xenodrugs had crossover effects. The little flower in the corner gave her an affirmative, and within moments there was a beeping that indicated that it was done. Opening up the document, she pored over it. Changing the grouping so that it was grouped by class, she saw that the greatest crossovers were between the A and E classes. Also a similar action between the S and the W classes. “Huh. Interesting.”
It seemed the Class E’s worked better than Terran Benzodiazepines because they didn’t work on the neurotransmitter GABA, but a different neurotransmitter (which she’d never even heard of, Terran science apparently hadn’t discovered it) AND the associated synaptic junction. Not only decreasing anxiety but also negating the harmful side effects, AND the nasty withdrawal symptoms that benzos had. Impressed, Kitten kept reading, and only looked up as the song about a ‘Master of Puppets’ slowly faded, and Gladialis was standing there. She gave a little start, tablet flying to her chest, and then calmed down after she realized that Gladialis was just standing there.
“Kitten!! Baiera to Kitten!! Come in, Kitten!!”, Gladialis said, smiling as the little Terran looked up at her, confused. “Back with me??”
“Huh? What do you mean?”, she asked as someone started singing about a gray iron tower on the sea. “Where else would I be?”, she asked, confused.
“Well, I was calling your name, and when you didn’t answer, I came in here and called your name another three times. You were pretty engrossed in whatever you were reading. What has you so interested, Kitten?”, Gladialis asked, curious. She’d never seen a Terran not on xenodrugs get so into reading something that they didn’t hear their own name being called.
“Ummm…just some light reading on Xenodrugs and…and stuff”, she said, blushing.
“Seems like you enjoyed it. I know that the only time I get that engrossed in a book is when it’s interesting stuff. I made some noodles for supper. Do you like spicy food?”
“Ummm..yea, I guess. I mean, it’s…I just want to know how they work, and…you know, it’s not as scary if I know, you know?”, she asked, and shrugged. “As for food, I mean, I don’t NOT like spicy food. How spicy are we talking?”
Gladialis shrugged as well. “I rarely eat solid food, so I have no idea. I’m following the recipe. How about you taste it, and if it needs to be more, then you can tell me?”
It seemed like a reasonable thing, so Kitten nodded and jumped down off the couch. Walking into the kitchen, she sniffed, and her stomach rumbled. Loudly. Blushing, she looked up at Gladialis. “That smells amazing!! What is it?”
“It’s meatballs and linguine noodles in a spicy sauce called Fra Diavolo. It translates to “brother devil”, and there’s some…spirited discussion of its origins. Some say that it originated in the 1800’s with a Terran named Michele Pezza who lived in Naples and fought against invaders of his homeland. Others say that it has nothing to do with him and it was made on another continent. There are so many conflicting reports that it’s difficult to get the truth, to be honest. But the important thing is that it needs be fiery”, she said as she stirred a pot. “Here”, and she blew on a spoon full of steaming red sauce that she brought down to Kitten. “Try it, but blow first.”
Kitten blew on it, and then took a small amount in her mouth. The taste of tomatoes, REAL tomatoes, blended with other things and it was amazing. And then the spice hit her, and she opened her eyes wide. “This is good!! I like this!!” she said, smiling in delight.
“Good!! I'm glad to hear that. So go wash up, dinner will be ready soon”, Gladialis said. A fleeting thought entered her brain, that she should just grab a wet cloth and clean Kitten quickly, but she shoved that down. Telling herself that Kitten was not hers, not a floret, and she had no right to do that. When she looked back, the room was empty and she heard the bathroom door close. After a few minutes, she heard another THUMP from the bathroom and sighed, but smiled. Kitten being Kitten. “Lena? Can you please continue playing the musical selection that Kitten had asked for before, and title it “Kittens choice” ?”
“Sure thing, Gladialis!!” A Terran began singing about something called a scrub as Gladialis stirred the pot, making sure the pasta didn’t cling together. Truly, Digitalis had done wonders finding old Terran cooking shows. She really should drop her a line, see how her week is going. The last she’d spoken, she’d found a new floret and was having the time of her life helping her become the best version of herself she could be. Stirring to the beat of the music, she stirred, and then pulled the pot over to the sink and dumped it into the colander, rinsing it quickly. She turned and squeaked as she saw Kitten sitting on the chair, quietly watching her. “What…little Kitten, how long have you been sitting there?”
Kitten grinned. “Long enough. I…I used to do this to my friends and teachers. It got so bad that they used to make me keep change or something in my pockets just so that they could hear me coming.” She watched as Gladialis plated up dinner. A few of the meatballs, some pasta with the red sauce on it, and a cup of water were put in front of her. Gladialis sat on the other side of the table in front of what looked like sludge, but the smile as she stuck a vine inside it said that it tasted far better than it looked. Kitten sincerely hoped so, because it looked gross. “I just…i just walk quietly.”
“Like a kitten”, Gladialis said with a smile, and then laughed as Kitten stuck out a tongue and then blushed a bright red. ‘Adorable’, she thought to herself, and then blinked. Kitten had swirled some pasta on the fork, then speared a meatball or two and stuffed the whole thing in her mouth. Her cheeks were puffed out like a salmon with their cheeks full of nuts. She just stared, an eyebrow raised and a smile on her face until the Terran somehow finished chewing and swallowed everything in their mouth. A truly Herculean task, as far as Gladialis could see.
“What? It’s good?”, she protested once she had swallowed. It really was, the noodles were kind of tender but firm, the meatballs were soft but not too soft with a pleasant herbal flavor and the sauce was spicy and rich. It was one of the best meals she’s ever had, and considering the amount of amazing cooking she’d had since she’d been captured, that was saying something.
“Thank you. I appreciate the compliment, but there’s more, and I promise you, Kitten, I promise that nobody is going to steal it if you take a moment to actually chew it before you inhale it”, Gladialis said with a smile. “There’s plenty more in the pot.”
Kitten nodded and took the rest of the meal at a slightly slower pace. Actually chewing her food. Enjoying the tingle in her lips, the sting of the sauce, the heat. Thankful that her water bottle was there. When she was done with the food on her plate, she looked up, eyes wide. “Can I have some more?”
“Of course you can, Kitten”, Gladialis said, after a second of…She’d read and heard the word ‘gob-smacked’ before, but had never really understood what it meant. She’d thought it a fanciful term, something that Affini who owned a particularly cute floret (and every single one thought theirs was the cutest) said. She was wrong. It felt like time stood still for a second and she could, by the Everbloom, just sit there and see how cute Kitten was. In every single way, from the cute way she had grinned when she’d snuck up on her to the cute way her nose crinkled when she yawned, and the adorable shine in her eyes when she was eating ice cream. How her eyes had opened wide, pleading in the most adorable way. How could she say no? Time sped up as soon as Kitten gave her a confused glance. “Sorry…I was paper-gathering for a moment.” She took the plate and turned to the pots on the stove.
“Ummm, ok”, Kitten said, and then shrugged. Who knew, maybe Affini were prone to odd staring fits or they enjoyed peanut butter and ketchup ice cream. “And don’t you mean wool-gathering?”
“No. You don’t gather wool, you shear the sheep, clean and card the fleece and then spin it into wool. In fact…oh yes. THAT’S what I was going to show you”, Gladialis said, remembering. She looked at the Terran who again had her cheeks puffed out, full of food, and she smiled. “That thing that I promised to show you in my library. Finish your food, Kitten, and then I can show you.”
Kitten got excited. Gladialis had promised to show her something interesting. She began to eat faster, and then heard a chuckle.
“Relax, Kitten. This waited all this time, it can wait a bit longer. Slow down, ok?” Gladialis said, chuckling.
Kitten didn't want to slow down. This was exciting stuff, but she forced herself to slow down. Taking smaller bites, then she realized something. If she sucked hard enough, she could slurp the noodles up. She tried, and the noodles disappeared into her mouth with a slurp sound, spraying sauce everywhere. It was a satisfying feeling, and she grinned as she began to tap a foot for a second, before she stuffed another meatball into her mouth. A new song started, something about someone called Jolene. She looked up, sipping from the glass as Gladialis blinked again, and looked down at the bowl as the level in it quickly dropped. “Can you give me a hint?”, she asked as she slurped up another mouthful, licking the sauce from her lips.
“A hint…Well, it’s about an animal that was talked about alot back in ancient times, when Terra was able to support life far easier than it can now.” Gladialis smiled as Kitten frowned at the cryptic hint, and rolled her eyes.
“Fine…Keep your secrets”, she grumbled, and then blushed. Soon the food was gone, and Kitten stood up on the chair. “That was good, Gladialis, really really good. Umm…thanks.”
“Oh, you’re most welcome, Kitten. I enjoy…well, I find that I’m enjoying cooking for you. I don’t really cook much when it’s just me here”, Gladialis said, taking the dishes and simply feeding them into the compiler to be decompiled. Certainly made cleaning things easier. Her beloved mugs were some of the only real cookware that she kept. Well, that, and the small collection of pots and pans that she’d compiled in the last few days, since Kitten got here. “Now, let's go to the library”, and then sighed as Kitten grinned and jumped off the chair, landing with a thump. “AFTER you’ve cleaned your face and your hands' ', she said, producing a wet washcloth. Her vines itched with this sudden desire to help, to gently hold Kittens head as she cleaned her face, and she blinked, surprised as the thought popped in. ‘No…no. Stop thinking that, she’s not yours, she’s not a floret, and you’re not going to treat her like one.’ She handed over the washcloth, and then turned, putting the bowl into the sink and giving it a quick rinse-out before putting it up to dry. She handed the washcloth to the Kitten and then turned to put something away, concentrating, before she turned back.
Kitten dutifully cleaned her face and hands, then threw the cloth up into the sink. Her aim (which had never been good to begin with) was off and she tossed it just as Gladialis was turning around, so the cloth caught her square in the face. Blinking as the cloth hung from the tip of her nose, Gladialis looked at Kitten. Slowly, a wooden eyebrow rose up.
Kitten looked back at Gladialis, slowly blushing, fidgeting as the silence dragged on.
“Oh. Help. I am being. Attacked. By a Terran armed with a wet washcloth”, she said in a deadpan, flat tone. “What. Ever. Shall. I. Do?”
Kitten held her breath for a second and then began to giggle. The giggles turned into a laugh, and then a full on belly laugh. When Gladialis joined in, it just got worse. A few minutes later, the laughing began to taper off, and she smiled, a few left over giggles filling the air.