Again, it seemed that once her initial nightmare had ended, Kitten slept soundly through the night. Not that Gladialis didn't keep checking the monitor the first hour or so, just making sure. Then she settled into her book, an epic story of Good Vs. Evil. Terrans, especially Early Terrans, had this fascination with that sort of struggle, the battle for Good to win over Evil, even if Good was problematic on its own terms. This particular one was a vampire story, about a small town beset by evil, and the beleaguered defenders finally winning. Salem's Lot, it was called, and Gladialis immediately made some notes to check on the lore. Especially this 'white eyes' legend.
But before she could get any further, Lena let her know that it was time to start preparing breakfast for Kitten. Putting her book carefully down, Gladialis got up and walked into the kitchen. Asking Lena to compile her some ingredients, Gladialis grabbed some utensils and became a whirlwind of chopping and dicing. Putting water up to boil, she dumped the potatoes into an oiled skillet, and began to cook them. "Lena, play Kitten’s mix, but a bit lower."
"Sure thing, Gladialis", Lena said and music began to play. A Terran began to sing about walking like an Egyptian, which made Gladialis wonder what they were talking about. Did the ancient Egyptians have a different means of locomotion, between walking and being carried in palanquins? Hmmm, another thing to research.
In a closet close by, a Terran yawned, stretching briefly then sagged back into the nest of blankets and pillows. Kitten debated briefly the merits of rolling back over and going back to sleep. The nightmares had taken a bit more out of her than she wanted to admit, and even the sleep after that wasn’t proving to be restful. But her bladder was screaming at her, and she finally gave in. Rolling to her feet, she opened the closet door and stepped out, expecting to see Gladialis standing there. She wasn’t, but that didn’t matter as Kitten trotted to the bathroom and quickly did her business, sighing with relief. Once she was done, she climbed up to the sink, washing her hands and then brushing her teeth. The toothpaste was still just as tingly and delicious as always, and Kitten was strongly tempted to leave some on her teeth, just so she could keep tasting it. But she held off, and then jumped off the counter, landing on the ground with a THUMP.
“What was that?”, Gladialis asked as she heard something from inside the hab. Probably Kitten…but it never hurt to ask
“My guess? Kitten jumping off the counter in the bathroom”, Lena answered as the music dimmed for a moment then came back.
“Oh. That makes sense. Well, ok”, she said, and continued stirring. Hearing a small groan, she looked over as Kitten, a very tired looking Kitten, walked into the kitchen and climbed up into her chair.
“Can I have coffee, please? Please, I think i’m going to die without it”, Kitten said, resting her head on the table. She felt more than saw Gladialis smile, but heard something poured into a cup. Within moments, a cup was placed on the table and she sniffed, then eagerly lifted her head. Pulling the cup towards her, she took a sip, and found that it was made almost perfectly, with plenty of sugar and some other flavoring that she couldn’t place. “This is really really good, what is it?”, she asked and then snorted when Gladialis responded that it was coffee. “Yea, I got that bit. What’s in it? It’s delicious”, she said.
“Oh!! I tried putting in some hazelnut flavoring to see if you’d like that, little one”, Gladialis said, adding something to the pan that steamed and hissed, before starting to cook. She gave it a couple of stirs, watching Kitten out of the corner of her eye. Kitten seemed so tired, she wondered what she could do to help the little Terran. Well, she thought to herself with a small chuckle, a way that wasn’t caffeinated. Kitten took another sip and looked at her, head cocked at a curious angle, and Gladialis smiled at her and waved a vine. “Something that amused me, little one. I hope you like this, I found the recipe in an old cookbook. It’s a chorizo hash with eggs on the side”, she said. “Hash was a mixture of chopped onions, potatoes, and some kind of meat. Goes back as early as the 14th century, and was a way for people to use up leftovers, which is an impressive display of frugality. Have you ever had chorizo, Kitten?”, she asked, and was met with a shake of a head.
“Gladialis, before I was captured by the Affini, my diet was mostly synthcubes, algae paste, bean paste, mushrooms, and the occasional bit of actual meat that we were able to get from traders. Whatever it is, assume that I haven’t had it before”, Kitten said. Slurping her coffee loudly, she blushed and shyly grinned. “So educate me please, on this choh-ree-zoh.”
“Well, Chorizo is a sausage that spread very rapidly throughout the world of Terra. It originated in the Iberian Peninusla, which is where Spain and Portugal used to exist, before the Terran Accord did away with things like nations. I can show you where those places are on the globe if you’d like. It was originally just some type of cured pork sausage, a way for farmers to use all the trimmings and every part of a pig after it was slaughtered. These cured meats would last during the cold months when food grew scarce. It wasn’t until the 16th century that it evolved into the spicy dish that is now what it’s known for. Well, when Terrans had that sort of thing. Honestly, Kitten, your species has lost quite a lot of its history during its expansion to the stars. Anyways, it was the addition of spicy peppers and smoked paprika that gave it the distinctly red color and spicy taste that sophonts enjoyed.” She watched with a smile as Kitten listened, seemingly enjoying the lesson, and then picked up her spoon. Taking a big bite, she smiled, chewing with a look of delight on her face.
“wuffshish!!!!!!”, she yelled, barely swallowing what was in her mouth before taking more. It was spicy and savory and a whole host of things that she had no name for, but she knew that she liked them. She blushed as Gladialis chuckled and tapped the table with a vine.
“Slow down, Kitten. I promise, there’s more where that came from and nobody is going to steal it from you. Look at it this way”, she said with a teasing smile on her face. “If you eat it too fast, then you won’t be able to taste it. Slow down, relax. There’s no rush, I promise.” She got a thoughtful look. “That may be why so many Terrans need help eating, especially the florets. You’ve all lived off of the trash known as synthcubes for so long that anything with the slightest hint of flavor is overwhelming. Regardless, the food isn’t going anywhere, Kitten. Relax.”
Chided, Kitten nodded and started eating slower, making sure to sip the coffee so she didn’t burn her tongue again. “Hey…umm…this isn’t…umm..i mean, this is a Terran mug”, she said and Gladialis looked at her, a curious expression on her face.
“I..umm…never mind”, she said, blushing and sipped the coffee again.
“No no no, Kitten”, Gladialis insisted gently. “You had something on your mind, and I really would like to know what it is.” She sat down, and cocked her head, looking at the little Terran. “I genuinely want to know what’s on your mind. Can you tell me, please?”
“Well…it’s just…umm…Ilikedtheothermugbetter”, she blurted, blushing. “It was bigger, and it…umm..i don’t know. But I was thinking about what you said, about handmade things being…being more, and…and I don’t know. I’m just…ummm..nevermind”, she said, blushing and reaching for her mug. Her hand closed on empty air and she squeaked as a vine pulled it back. She looked up as Gladialis smiled and got up, getting the other mug from the cabinet. Pouring her coffee into the bigger mug, she put more coffee in to top it off, and then fixed it the way that Kitten liked it. Then handed it back with a smile.
“Of all the things, Kitten, that should be the hardest thing we do for a long while, yes? And if you want the bigger mug, then of course you can use it. Just be careful not to break it, ok? Now…while you eat, think about what you want to do today, and let me know.”
“Wait…you don’t…oh, that’s right. Ummm…Don’t you have research to do? I don't want to take up your time, if you have deadlines to meet and stuff”, Kitten said, blushing and playing with her spoon.
“Oh, I can do all my research on my tablet”, Gladialis said, waving a hand. “And I don't have any deadlines. My last paper was published a few weeks before I met you. Affini academics are a bit different from Terran ones. No deadlines, and there’s no pressure to put out papers based on some arbitrary timetable. And there’s nothing more important to me than your happiness, Kitten. So you eat while it’s still hot, and think about what you want to do, ok?”
Kitten blushed and nodded. She thought about it, and she really wanted to do some more research into these Xenodrugs. But she also didn’t want to sit cooped up, or worse, have Gladialis upset because she couldn’t go anywhere because of her. “Umm..can we go to the..umm…park? Just sit and read?”
“Of course we can. And we’ll be close enough to Victor's restaurant that we can go there for lunch, if you’re in the mood. How does that sound?”, she asked.
“Umm…yea…that sounds good. Umm….when we were out there, it was…umm…kinda bright. Do..ummm..any ideas? I don’t know if it’s just because I’m not used to your Daystar, or..umm…you know..growing up underground kinda fucked my eyes up.”
Gladialis thought for a second. “I have just the thing for you”, she said. She went over to the compiler, whispered to Lena for a moment, and then came back with some sunglasses. A simple design, single lens wraparound style. “If you tap here”, and she tapped a corner with a finger, “It will get darker. Tap the other side to make it lighter. Here, try them on.” She put them on the table so that Kitten could take them.
Kitten lifted the lenses and put them on. Tapping the button, they got darker and darker until they were almost completely opaque, and the wraparound made sure that no light snuck around the sides. “These are amazing!! Thank you, Gladialis!!! THat’s..umm…that’s really nice of you.” Part of her wanted to ask what she could do to repay Gladialis for the kindness, but she knew what Gladialis would answer.
“I’m glad that you like them and that they fit, Kitten”, Gladialis said with a smile. “Grab your tablet and I’ll pack some water bottles and things, and then we’ll go, ok? Oh..you MIGHT want to put on some clothing.” She just noticed that Kitten was still in her pajamas, and while she looked adorable, she might not want to walk outside like that.
“Oh. Umm…yea. That’s a valid point”, Kitten said, blushing. “Umm…hold on a moment.” She ran back to the bedroom, and looked through the clothing in the drawers. Pulling out another t-shirt, this one a soft fabric that had two different colors and what looked like some kind of design on the sleeves and another pair of shorts, she was quickly dressed. Adding the socks that Gladialis had made for her yesterday, she was soon back in the room. “Hey…um..Gladialis? Can I ask you a question?”
“Well, certainly, little Kitten. What do you need to know?”, Gladialis asked as she made sure that she had everything they needed. Kittens water bottle that was freshly filled, her own tablet and at least one book, a newly compiled copy of Dracula for Kitten to finish reading, and at least three snacks. Healthy fruits, since she was pretty sure that Kitten had never had any of them before.
“Well…I was..ummm…wondering. Since there’s a sun here, is there…you know…other weathers? Like rain, or snow? I mean, I’ve heard of them, even saw them on some vids, but I never actually…you know…experienced them. Like, does rain feel like standing in a shower? What does snow feel like? The colony…umm..Home had really only one kind of temperature, and everything was set and monitored by the computers. If the weather went nuts then it meant the environmental stabilizers went nuts and we were either going to fry to death or freeze to death. Either way, not fun”, Kitten said, looking to the side and then back at Gladialis. ‘Of course she’s going to think you’re stupid, never having seen rain before’, her mind whispered. It got worse when Gladialis smiled widely, sure that the Affini would make fun of her.
“Oh, you’re in for a treat, Kitten!! I think we’re scheduled for a rainy day in…hold on, let me check”, and she whipped out her tablet from her stomach, something that she knew fascinated Kitten. A quick tap or three and she nodded. “Yes, I was correct. Three days.”
“Wait…how do you know when it’s going to rain? Everything that I’ve read or learned about the weather is that it was massively unpredictable, and that was before Terrans started fucking with theecosystem and…why are you smiling like that?”, Kitten asked, suddenly sure that she’d said something stupid.
“Kitten….you’re not ON Terra. You’re on an Affini ship big enough that we have our own ecosystems, and we can tune them as finely as you place an IV in a patient. We all take a vote on when we want rainy days, cloudy days, snow, and then we…have it.” Gladialis shrugged. “It’s that simple.”
“That’s…that’s amazing”, Kitten said. “Ummm..why would you have other types of weather? Isn’t a sunny day what everyone likes?”
“Oh, not at all!! Some Affini, and florets, enjoy the rain. They get to play in it, feel it on their skin. Even thunderstorms can be very enjoyable for those who like them, and there’s enough warning that anyone who might be scared can be safely tucked away. Same thing for snow. All the florets come out and begin building snowpeople and sledding. Many Affini will actually have their florets on their back and will act as the sleds themselves. It's really quite fun”, Gladialis said. “And some florets enjoy cloudy days, especially ones who may have sensitive eyes”, she said, nodding at Kitten who nodded back.
“Ok, then. Sounds good. Rain in three days. Gotcha.” She nodded, and then looked around. “Umm…”, and Gladialis smiled. “I have your tablet and your filled water bottle”, she said. Kitten nodded and then said, “Guess we’re ready to go.” She led the way out of the hab and then towards Elie. Gladialis walked next to her, but not close enough that she felt closed in. Stopping by the door, she waited, and when the doors opened, she walked in.
“Kitten!! Don’t you want the windows dark?”, Gladialis asked, concerned that seeing how high they were might trigger a panic attack again in the little Terran. She watched with burgeoning respect as Kitten swallowed hard, but shook her head.
“No..it’s only four floors, and I was able to get through it before..I…I need to”, she said as she walked to the window and looked down. Her cuffs beeped once and then stopped as she looked down. “Hey, Elie?”
“Hey there, cutie? Where do you need to go?”, the AI chirped.
“Can you go up one more floor?”, Kitten asked, taking a deep breath as the elevator’s doors closed. “For a polite cutie like you? Absolutely!!”, Elie replied and shot up that one extra floor. Kitten’s cuffs beeped again, but she got her breathing under control and stared out the window. “It’s…umm…it’s not that bad”, she said, looking out the window. “Umm…”, and then a grin crossed her face. “Hey, Elie? Can we please go to the lobby?” as she bent her knees.
Gladialis looked at her curiously, and then even more as Kitten began jumping. “What are you…”, and then her question died on her lips as the elevator moved downwards as Kitten was jumping up. Laughing hysterically as she took a bit longer to drop to the floor, clearly enjoying the sensation. Gladialis laughed along with her, clapping her hands. “Ahhh, I see” as Kitten crowed, “that was SO cool!!!!”
“Hey Kitten, have you ever played around in zero-g?”, Gladialis said as the doors opened and a giggling Kitten and she spilled out into the lobby. Khaya waved at them, and Kitten gave a shy wave back, smiling, and then looked up at Gladialis and shook her head. “Ahhh, good to know”, she said, filing the thought away.
Kitten walked over to Khaya, giving her another fist bump in greetings. The Affini who was sitting next to them turned and waved a vine. “Thephrastinagurani Midaber, Fourth bloom, He/They. It’s nice to meet you, little Kitten. Call me Thephra, please. My little Chaya told me about the fun you all had last night. And hello Gladialis, it’s nice to see you. How are you enjoying the change in view?”
“Oh yes, thanks”, Gladialis said, smiling. “How is your morning going?”
“Quite nicely”, the other Affini said, and then gave Gladialis a look. “Err…are you ok?”, it asked in the local Affini dialect.
“Never better”, Gladialis replied in the same dialect. “Everything is fine.” The other Affini nodded, and they continued conversing for a few minutes, until she got a beep on her tablet. ‘A message?’, she wondered. Opening the message, she quickly scanned it and then smiled. Tapping a reply, she grinned and put it away. “Kitten helped someone and now their Owners want to come say thank you. so we’re going to go.”
“Of course. Have a wonderful time with your ward”, Thepra said, and waved goodbye.
“Come along, Kitten, we have places to go and things to do.”