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The metal walls of Dick's tiny cabin vibrated with the howl. Dick White ignored it, as he injected the last of the four contraception-beads into SKitty's left hind leg. The black-coated shipscat did not move, but she did continue her vocal and mental protest. :Mean,: she complained, as Dick held the scanner over the right spot to make certain that he had gotten the bead placed where it was supposed to go. :Mean, mean Dick.: 

Indignation showing in every line of her, she sat up on his fold-down desk and licked the injection site. It hadn't hurt; he knew it hadn't hurt, for he'd tried it on himself with a neutral bead before he injected her.

Nice, nice Dick, you should be saying, he chided her. One more unauthorized litter and BioTech would be coming to take you away for their breeding program. You're too fertile for your own good. 

SKitty's token whine turned into a real yowl of protest, and her mate, now dubbed "SCat," joined her in the wail from his seat on Dick's bunk. :Not leave Dick!: SKitty shrilled in his head. :Not leave ship!: 

Then no more kittens—at least not for a while! he responded. No more kittens means SKitty and SCat stay with Dick. 

SKitty leapt to join her mate on the bunk, where both of them began washing each other to demonstrate their distress over the idea of leaving Dick. SKitty's real name was "Lady Sundancer of Greenfields," and she was the proud product of BioTech's masterful genesplicing. Shipscats, those sturdy, valiant hunters of vermin of every species, betrayed their differences from Terran felines in a number of ways. BioTech had given them the "hands" of a raccoon, the speed of a mongoose, the ability to adjust to rapid changes in gravity or no gravity at all, and greatly enhanced mental capacity. What they did not know was that "Lady Sundancer"—aka "Dick White's Kitty," or "SKitty" for short—had another, invisible enhancement. She was telepathic—at least with Dick.

Thanks to SKitty and to her last litter, the CatsEye Company trading ship Brightwing was one of the most prosperous in this end of the Galaxy. That was due entirely to SKitty's hunting ability; she had taken swift vengeance when a persistent pest native to the newly-opened world of Lacu'un had bitten the consort of the ruler, killing with a single blow a creature the natives had never been able to exterminate. That, and her own charming personality, had made her kittens-to-be most desirable acquisitions, so precious that not even the leaders of Lacu'un "owned" them; they were held in trust for the world. Thanks to the existence of that litter and the need to get them appropriately pedigreed BioTech mates, SKitty's own mate—called "Prrreet" by SKitty and unsurprisingly dubbed "SCat" by the crew, for his ability to vanish—had made his own way to SKitty, stowing aboard with the crates containing more BioTech kittens for Lacu'un.

Where he came from, only he knew, although he was definitely a shipscat. His tattoo didn't match anything in the BioTech register. Too dignified to be called a "kitty," this handsome male was "Dick White's Cat."

And thanks to SCat's timely arrival and intervention, an attempt to kill the entire crew of the Brightwing and the Terran Consul to Lacu'un in order to take over the trading concession had been unsuccessful. SCat had disabled critical equipment holding them all imprisoned, so that they were able to get to a com station to call for help from the Patrol, while SKitty had distracted the guards.

SCat had never demonstrated telepathic powers with Dick, for which Dick was grateful, but he certainly possessed something of the sort with SKitty, and he was odd in other ways. Dick would have been willing to take an oath that SCat's forepaws were even more handlike than SKitty's, and that his tail showed some signs of being prehensile. There were other secrets locked in that wide black-furred skull, and Dick only wished he had access to them.

Dick was worried, for the Brightwing was in space again and heading towards one of the major stations with the results of their year-long trading endeavor with the beings of Lacu'un in their hold. Shipscats simply did not come out of nowhere; BioTech kept very tight control over them, denying them to ships or captains with a record of even the slightest abuse or neglect, and keeping track of where every one of them was, from birth to death. They were expensive—traders running on the edge could not afford them, and had to rid themselves of vermin with periodic vacuum-purges. SKitty claimed that her mate had "heard about her" and had come specifically to find her—but she would not say from where. SCat had to come from somewhere, and wherever that was, someone from there was probably looking for him. They would very likely take a dim view of their four-legged Romeo heading off on his own in search of his Juliet.

Any attempt to question the tom through SKitty was useless. SCat would simply stare at him with those luminous yellow eyes, then yawn, and SKitty would soon grow bored with the proceedings. After all, to her, the important thing was that SCat was here, not where he had come from.

Behind Dick, in the open door of the cabin, someone coughed. He turned to find Captain Singh regarding Dick and cats with a jaundiced eye. Dick saluted hastily.

"Sir—contraceptive devices in place and verified sir!" he affirmed, holding up the injector to prove it.

The Captain, a darkly handsome gentleman as popular with the females of his own species as SCat undoubtably was with felines, merely nodded. "We have a problem, White," he pointed out. "The Brightwing's manifest shows one shipscat, not two. And we still don't know where number two came from. I know what will happen if we try to take SKitty's mate away from her, but I also know what will happen if anyone finds out we have a second cat, origin unknown. BioTech will take a dim view of this."

Dick had been thinking at least part of this through. "We can hide him, sir," he offered. "At least until I can find out where he came from."

"Oh?" Captain Singh's eyebrows rose. "Just how do you propose to hide him, and where?"

Dick grinned. "In plain sight, sir. Look at them—unless you have them side-by-side, you wouldn't be able to tell which one you had in front of you. They're both black with yellow eyes, and it's only when you can see the size difference and the longer tail on SCat that you can tell them apart."

"So we simply make sure they're never in the same compartment while strangers are aboard?" the Captain hazarded. "That actually has some merit; the Spirits of Space know that people are always claiming shipscats can teleport. No one will even notice the difference if we don't say anything, and they'll just think she's getting around by way of the access tubes. How do you intend to find out where this one came from without making people wonder why you're asking about a stray cat?"

Dick was rather pleased with himself, for he had actually thought of this solution first. "SKitty is fertile—unlike nine-tenths of the shipscats. That is why we had kittens to offer the Lacu'un in the first place, and was why we have the profit we do, even after buying the contracts of the other young cats for groundside duty as the kittens' mates."

The Captain made a faint grimace. "You're stating the obvious."

"Humor me, sir. Did you know that BioTech routinely offers their breeding cats free choice in mates? That otherwise, they don't breed well?" As the Captain shook his head, Dick pulled out his trump card. "I am—ostensibly—going to do the same for SKitty. As long as we `find' her a BioTech mate that she approves of, BioTech will be happy. And we need more kittens for the Lacu'un; we have no reason to buy them when we have a potential breeder of our own."

"But we got mates for her kittens," the Captain protested. "Won't BioTech think there's something odd going on?"

Dick shook his head. "You're thinking of house-cats. Shipscats aren't fertile until they're four or five. At that rate, the kittens won't be old enough to breed for four years, and the Lacu'un are going to want more cats before then. So I'll be searching the BioTech breeding records for a tom of the right age and appearance. Solid black is recessive—there can't be that many black toms of the right age."

"And once you've found your group of candidates—?" Singh asked, both eyebrows arching. "You look for the one that's missing?" He did not ask how Dick was supposed to have found out that SKitty "preferred" a black tom; shipscats were more than intelligent enough to choose a color from a set of holos.

Dick shrugged. "The information may be in the records. Once I know where SCat's from, we can open negotiations to add him to our manifest with BioTech's backing. They won't pass up a chance to make SKitty half of a breeding pair, and I don't think there's a captain willing to go on BioTech's record as opposing a shipscat's choice of mate."

"I won't ask how you intend to make that particular project work," Singh said hastily. "Just remember, no more kittens in freefall."

Dick held up the now-empty injector as a silent promise.

"I'll brief the crew to refer to both cats as `SKitty'—most of the time they do anyway," the Captain said. "Carry on, White. You seem to have the situation well in hand."

Dick was nowhere near that certain, but he put on a confident expression for the Captain. He saluted Singh's retreating back, then sat down on the bunk beside the pair of purring cats. As usual, they were wound around each other in a knot of happiness.

I wish my love-life was going that well. He'd hit it off with the Terran Consul well enough, but she had elected to remain in her ground-bound position, and his life was with the ship. Once again, romance took a second place to careers. Which in his case, meant no romance. There wasn't a single female in this crew that had shown anything other than strictly platonic interest in him.

If he wanted a career in space, he had to be very careful about what he did and said. As most junior officer on the Brightwing, he was the one usually chosen for whatever unpleasant duty no one else wanted to handle. And although he could actually retire, thanks to the prosperity that the Lacu'un contract had brought the whole crew, he didn't want to. That would mean leaving space, leaving the ship—and leaving SKitty and SCat.

He could also transfer within the company, but why change from a crew full of people he liked and respected, with a good Captain like Singh, to one about which he knew nothing? That would be stupid. And he couldn't leave SKitty, no matter what. She was his best friend, even if she did get him into trouble sometimes.

He also didn't have the experience to be anything other than the most junior officer in any ship, so transferring wouldn't have any benefits.

Unless, of course, he parlayed his profit-share into a small fortune and bought his own ship. Then he could be Captain, and he might even be able to buy SKitty's contract—but he lacked the experience that made the difference between prosperity and bankruptcy in the shaky world of the Free Traders. He was wise enough to know this.

As for the breeding project—he had some ideas. The Brightwing would be visiting Lacu'un for a minimum of three weeks on every round of their trading-route. Surely something could be worked out. Things didn't get chancy until after the kittens were mobile and before SKitty potty-trained them to use crew facilities. Before they were able to leave the nest-box, SKitty took care of the unpleasant details. If they could arrange things so that the period of mobility-to-weaning took place while they were on Lacu'un. . . .

Well, he'd make that Jump when the coordinates came up. Right now, he had to keep outsiders from discovering that there was feline contraband on board, and find out where that contraband came from.

:Dick smart,: SKitty purred proudly. :Dick fix everything.: 

Well, he thought wryly, at least I have her confidence, if no-one else's! 


It had been a long time since the Brightwing had been docked at a major port, and predictably, everyone wanted shore leave. Everyone except Dick, that is. He had no intentions of leaving the console in Cargo where he was doing his "mate-hunting" unless and until he found his match. The fact that there was nothing but a skeleton crew aboard, once the inspectors left, only made it easier for Dick to run his searches through the BioTech database available through the station. This database was part of the public records kept on every station, and updated weekly by BioTech. Dick had a notion that he'd get his "hit" within a few hours of initiating his search.

He was pleasantly surprised to discover that there were portraits available for every entry. It might even be possible to identify SCat just from the portraits, once he had all of the black males of the appropriate age sorted out. That would give him even more rationale for the claim that SKitty had "chosen" her mate herself.

With an interested feline perching on each arm of the chair, he logged into the station's databases, identified himself and gave the station his billing information, then began his run.

There was nothing to do at that point but sit back and wait.

"I hope you realize all of the difficulties I'm going through for you," he told the tom, who was grooming his face thoughtfully. "I'm doing without shore-leave to help you here. I wouldn't do this for a fellow human!"

SCat paused in his grooming long enough to rasp Dick's hand with his damp-sandpaper tongue.

The computer beeped just at that moment to let him know it was done. He was running all this through the Cargo dumb-set; he could have used the Brightwing's Expert-System AI, but he didn't want the AI to get curious, and he didn't want someone wondering why he was using a Mega-Brain to access feline family-trees. What he did want was the appearance that this was a brainstorm of his own, an attempt to boost his standing with his Captain by providing further negotiable items for the Lacu'un contract. There was something odd about all of this, something that he couldn't put his finger on, but something that just felt wrong and made him want to be extra-cautious. Why, he didn't know. He only knew that he didn't want to set off any tell-tales by acting as if this mate-search was a priority item.

The computer asked if he wanted to use the holo-table, a tiny square platform built into the upper right hand corner of the desk. He cleared off a stack of hard-copy manifests, and told it "yes." Then the first of his feline biographies came in.

He'd made a guess that SCat was between five and ten years old; shipscats lived to be fifty or more, but their useful lifespan was about twenty or thirty years. All too often their job was hazardous; alien vermin had poisonous fangs or stings, sharp claws and teeth. Cats suffered disabling injuries more often than their human crewmates, and would be retired with honors to the homes of retired spacers, or to the big "assisted living" stations holding the very aged and those with disabling injuries of their own. Shipscats were always welcome, anywhere in space.

And I can think of worse fates than spending my old age watching the stars with SKitty on my lap. He gazed down fondly at his furred friend, and rubbed her ears.

SKitty purred and butted her head into his hand. She paid very little attention to the holos as they passed slowly in review. SCat was right up on the desk, however, not only staring intently at the holos, but splitting his attention between the holos and the screen.

You don't suppose he can read . . . ? 

Suddenly, SCat let out a yowl, and swatted the holoplate. Dick froze the image and the screen-biography that accompanied it.

He looked first at the holo—and it certainly looked more like SCat than any of the others had. But SCat's attention was on the screen, not the holo, and he stared fixedly at the modest insignia in the bottom right corner.


He looked down at SCat, dumbfounded. "You were with the Patrol?" He whispered it; you did not invoke the Patrol's name aloud unless you wanted a visit from them.

Yellow eyes met his for a moment, then the paw tapped the screen. He read further.

Type MF-025, designation Lightfoot of Sun Meadow. Patrol ID FX-003. Standard Military genotype, standard Military training. Well, that explained how he had known how to shut down the "pirate" equipment. Now Dick wondered how much else the cat had done, outside of his sight. And a military genotype? He hadn't even known there was such a thing.

Assigned to Patrol ship DIA-9502, out of Oklahoma Station, designated handler Major Logan Greene. 

Oklahoma Station—that was this station. Drug Interdiction? He whistled softly.

Then a date, followed by the ominous words, Ship missing, all aboard presumed dead. 

All aboard—except the shipscat.

The cat himself gave a mournful yowl, and SKitty jumped up on the desk to press herself against him comfortingly. He looked back down at SCat. "Did you jump ship before they went missing?"

He wasn't certain he would get an answer, but he had lived with SKitty for too long to underestimate shipscat intelligence. The cat shook his head, slowly and deliberately—in the negative.

His mouth went dry. "Are you saying—you got away?"

A definite nod.

"Your ship was boarded, and you got away?" He was astonished. "But how?"

For an answer, the cat jumped down off the desk and walked over to the little escape pod that neither he nor SKitty ever forgot to drag with them. He seized the tether in his teeth and dragged it over to an access tube. It barely fit; he wedged it down out of sight, then pawed open the door, and dropped down, hidden, and now completely protected from what must have happened.

He popped back out again, and walked to Dick's feet. Dick was thinking furiously. There had been rumors that drug-smugglers were using captured Patrol ships; this more-or-less confirmed those rumors. Disable the ship, take the exterior airlock and blow it. Whoever wasn't suited up would die. Then they board and finish off whoever was suited up. They patch the lock, restore the air, and weld enough junk to the outside of the ship to disguise it completely. Then they can bring it in to any port they care to—even the ship's home port. 

This station. Which is where SCat escaped. 

"Can you identify the attackers?" he asked SCat. The cat slowly nodded.

:They know he gone. He run, they chase. He try get home, they stop. He hear of me on dock, go hide in ship bringing mates. They kill he, get chance,: SKitty put in helpfully.

He could picture it easily enough; SCat being pursued, cut off from the Patrol section of the station—hiding out on the docks—catching the scent of the mates being shipped for SKitty's kittens and deciding to seek safety offworld. Cats, even shipscats, did not tend to grasp the concept of "duty"; he knew from dealing with SKitty that she took her bonds of personal affection seriously, but little else. So once "his" people were dead, SCat's personal allegiance to the Patrol was nonexistent, and his primary drive would be self-preservation. Wonderful. I wonder if they—whoever they are—figured out he got away on another ship. Another, more alarming thought occurred to him. I wonder if my fishing about in the BioTech database touched off any tell-tales! 

No matter. There was only one place to go now—straight to Erica Makumba, the Legal and Security Officer.

He dumped a copy of the pertinent datafile to a memory cube, then scooped up both cats and pried their life-support ball out of its hiding place. Then he ran for Erica's cabin, praying that she had not gone off on shore-leave.

The Spirits of Space were with him; the indicator outside her cabin door indicated that she was in there, but did not want to be disturbed. He pounded on the door anyway. Erica might kill him—but there were people after SCat who had murdered an entire Patrol DIA squad.

After a moment, the door cracked open a centimeter.

"White." Erica's flat, expressionless voice boded extreme violence. "This had better be an emergency."

He said the one word that would guarantee her attention. "Hijackers."

The door snapped open; she grabbed him and pulled him inside, cats, support-ball and all, and slammed the door shut behind him. She was wearing a short robe, tying it hastily around herself, and she wasn't alone. But the man watching them both alertly from the disheveled bed wasn't one of the Brightwing's crew, so Dick flushed, but tried to ignore him.

"I found out where SCat's from," he babbled, dropping one cat to hand the memory-cube to her. "Read that—quick!"

She punched up the console at her elbow and dropped the cube in the receiver. The BioTech file, minus the holo, scrolled up on the screen. The man in the bed leaned forward to read it too, and whistled.

Erica swiveled to glare at him. "You keep this to yourself, Jay!" she snapped. Then she turned back to Dick. "Spill it!" she ordered.

"SCat's ship was hijacked, probably by smugglers," he said quickly. "He hid his support-ball in an access tube, and he was in it when they blew the lock. They missed him in the sweep, and when they brought their prize in here, he got away. But they know he's gone, and they know he can ID them."

"And they'll be giving the hairy eyeball to every ship with a black cat on it." She bit her knuckle—and Jay added his own two credits' worth.

"I hate to say this, but they've probably got a tell-tale on the BioTech data files, so they know whenever anyone accesses them. It's not restricted data, so anyone could leave a tell-tale." The man's face was pale beneath his normally dusky skin-tone. "If they don't know you've gone looking by now, they will shortly."

They all looked at each other. "Who's still on board?" Dick asked, and gulped.

Erica's mouth formed a tight, thin line. "You, me, Jay and the cats. The cargo's offloaded, and regs say you don't need more than two crew on board in-station. Theoretically no one can get past the security at the lock."

Jay barked a laugh, and tossed long, dark hair out of his eyes. "Honey, I'm a comptech. Trust me, you can get past the security. You just hack into the system, tell it the ship in the bay is bigger than it really is, and upload whoever you want as additional personnel."

Erica swore—but Jay stood up, wrapping the sheet around himself like a toga, and pushed her gently aside. "What can be hacked can be unhacked—or at least I can make it a lot more difficult for them to get in and make those alterations stick. Give me your code to the AI."

Erica hesitated. He turned to stare into her eyes. "I need the AI's help. You two and the cats are going to get out of here—get over to the Patrol side of the station. I'm going to hold them off as long as I can, and play stupid when they do get in, but I need the speed of the AI to help me lay traps. You've known me for three years. You trusted me enough to bring me here, didn't you?"

She swore again, then reached past him to key in her code. He sat down, ignoring them and plunging straight into a trance of concentration.

"Come on!" Erica grabbed Dick's arm, and put the support-ball on the floor. SKitty and SCat must have been reading her mind, for they both squirmed into the ball, which was big enough for more than one cat. They'd upgraded the ball after SKitty had proved to be so—fertile. Erica shoved the ball at Dick, and kept hold of his arm, pulling him out into the corridor.

"Where are we going?" he asked.

"To get our suits, then to the emergency lock," she replied crisply. "If we try to go out the main lock into the station, they'll get us for certain. So we're going outside for a little walk."

A little walk? All the way around the station? Outside? 

He could only hope that "they" hadn't thought of that as well. They reached the suiting-up room in seconds flat.

He averted his eyes and climbed into his own suit as Erica shed her robe and squirmed into hers. "How far is it to the Patrol section?" he asked.

"Not as far as you think," she told him. "And there's a maintenance lock just this side of it. What I want to know is how you got all this detailed information about the hijacking."

He turned, and saw that she was suited up, with her faceplate still open, staring at him with a calculating expression.

This is probably not the time to hold out on her. 

He swallowed, and sealed his suit up, leaving his own faceplate open. Inside the ball, the cats were watching both of them, heads swiveling to look from one face to the other, as if they were watching a tennis-match.

"SKitty's telepathic with me," he admitted. "I think SCat's telepathic with her. She seems to be able to talk with him, anyway."

He waited for Erica to react, either with disbelief or with revulsion. Telepaths of any species were not always popular among humankind. . . .

But Erica just pursed her lips and nodded. "Eyeah. I thought she might be. And telepathy's one of the traits BioTech doesn't talk about, but security people have know for a while that the MF type cats are bred for it. Maybe SKitty's momma did a little wandering over on the miltech side of the cattery, hmm?"

SKitty made a "silent" meow, and he just shrugged, relieved that Erica wasn't phobic about it. And equally relieved to learn that telepathy was already a trait that BioTech had established in their shipscat lines. So they won't be coming to take SKitty away from me when they find out that she's a 'path. . . .

But right now, he'd better be worrying about making a successful escape. He pulled his faceplate down and sealed it, fastening the tether-line of the ball to a snaplink on his waistband. He warmed up his suit-radio, and she did the same. "I hope you know what you're getting us into," he said, as Erica sealed her own plate shut and led the way to the emergency lock.

She looked back over her shoulder at him.

"So do I," she replied soberly.


The trip was a nightmare.

Dick had never done a spacewalk on the exterior of a station before. It wasn't at all like going out on the hull of a ship. There were hundreds of obstacles to avoid—windows, antenna, instrument-packages, maintenance robots. Any time an inspection drone came along, they had to hide to avoid being picked up on camera. It was work, hard work, to inch their way along the station in this way, and Dick was sweating freely before a half an hour was up.

It seemed like longer. Every time he glanced up at the chronometer in his faceplate HUD, he was shocked to see how little time had passed. The suit-fans whined in his ears, as the life-support system alternately fought to warm him up when they hid in the shade, or cool him down when they paused in full sunlight. Stars burned down on them, silent points of light in a depth of darkness that made him dizzy whenever he glanced out at it. The knowledge that he could be lost forever out there if he just made one small mistake chilled his heart.

Finally, Erica pointed, and he saw the outline of a maintenance lock just ahead. The two of them pulled themselves hand-over-hand toward it, reaching it at the same instant. But it was Erica who opened it, while Dick reeled the cats in on their tether.

With all four of them inside, Erica sealed the lock from the inside and initiated pressurization. Within moments, they were both able to pop their faceplates and breathe station-air again.

Something prompted Dick to release the cats from their ball before Erica unsealed the inner hatch. He unsnapped the tether and was actually straightening up, empty ball in both hands, when Erica opened the door to a hallway—

—and dropped to the floor, as the shrill squeal of a stun-gun pierced the quiet of the lock.

"Erica!" Without thinking, he ran forward, and found himself facing the business-end of a powerful stunner, held by a nondescript man who held it as if he was quite used to employing it. He was not wearing a station-uniform.

The man looked startled to see him, and Dick did the only thing he could think of. He threw the support-ball at the man, as hard as he could.

It hit cleanly, knocking the man to the floor as it impacted with his chest. He clearly was not aware that the support-balls were as massy as they were. The two cats flashed past him, heading for freedom, and Dick tried to follow their example. But the man was quick to recover, and as Dick tried to jump over his prone body, the fellow grabbed his ankle and tripped him up.

Then it turned into a brawl, with Dick the definite underdog. Even in the suit, the stranger still outweighed him.

Within a few seconds, Dick was on his back on the floor, and the stranger held him down, easily. The stun-gun was no longer in his hands, but it didn't look to Dick as if he really needed it.

In fact, as the man's heavy fist pounded into Dick's face, he was quickly convinced that he didn't need it. Pain lanced through his jaw as the man's fist smashed into it; his vision filled with stars and red and white flashes of light. More agony burst into his skull as the blows continued. He flailed his arms and legs, but there was nothing he could do—he was trapped in the suit, and he couldn't even get enough leverage to defend himself. He tasted blood in his mouth—he couldn't see—


There was a terrible battle-screech from somewhere out in the corridor, and the blows stopped. Then the weight lifted from his body, as the man howled in pain.

Dick managed to roll to one side, and stagger blindly to his feet with the aid of the corridor bulkhead—he still couldn't see. He dashed blood out of his eyes with one hand, and shook his head to clear it, staring blindly in the direction of the unholy row.

"Get it off! Get it off me!" Human screams mixed with feline battle-cries, telling him that whichever of the cats had attacked, they were giving a good accounting of themselves.

But there were other sounds—the sounds of running feet approaching, and Dick tried frantically to get his vision to clear. A heavy body crashed into him, knocking him into the bulkhead with enough force to drive all the breath from his body, as the zing of an illegal neuro-gun went off somewhere near him.


But whoever was firing swore, and the cat-wail faded into the distance.

"It got away!" said one voice, over the sobbing of another.

A third swore, as Dick fought for air. "You. Go after it," the third man said, and there was the sound of running feet. Meanwhile, footsteps neared where Dick lay curled in a fetal bundle on the floor.

"What about this?" the second voice asked.

The third voice, cold and unemotional, wrote Dick's death warrant. "Get rid of it, and the woman, too."

And Dick could not even move. He heard someone breathing heavily just above him; sensed the man taking aim—


"Patrol! Freeze! Drop your weapons now!"

Something clattered to the deck beside him, as more running feet approached; and with a sob of relief, Dick finally drew a full breath. There was a scuffle just beside him, then someone helped him to stand, and he heard the hiss of a hypospray and felt the tell-tale sting against the side of his neck. A moment later, his eyes cleared—just in time for him to catch SKitty as she launched herself from the arms of a uniformed DIA officer into his embrace.


"So, the bottom line is, you'll let us take SCat's contract?" Captain Singh sat back in his chair while Dick rubbed SKitty's ears. She and SCat both burdened Dick's lap, as they had since SCat, the Captain, the DIA negotiator, and Erica had all walked into the sickbay where Dick was still recovering. Erica was clearly nursing a stun-headache; the Captain looked a little frazzled. The DIA man, as most of his ilk, looked as unemotional as an android. The DIA had spent many hours with a human-feline telepathic specialist debriefing SCat. Apparently SCat was naturally only a receptive telepath; it took a human who was also a telepath to "talk" to him.

"There's no reason why not," the DIA agent said. "You civilians have helped materially in this case; both you and he are entitled to certain compensation, and if that's what you all want, then he's yours with our blessing—the fact that he is only a receptive telepath makes him less than optimal for further Patrol duties." The agent shrugged. "We can always get other shipscats with full abilities. According to the records, the only reason we kept him was because Major Logan selected him."

SKitty bristled, and Dick sent soothing thoughts at her.

Then the agent smiled, making his face look more human. "Major Logan was a good agent, but he didn't particularly care for having a cat talking to him. I gather that Lightfoot and he got along all right, but there wasn't the strong bond between them that we would have preferred. It would have been just a matter of time before that squad and ship got a new cat-agent team. Besides, we aren't completely inhuman. If your SKitty and this boy here are happily mated, who and what in the Patrol can possibly want to separate them?"

"Judging by the furrows SKitty left in that 'jacker's face and scalp, it isn't a good idea to get between her and someone she loves," Captain Singh said dryly. "He's lucky she left him one eye."

The agent's gaze dropped briefly to the swath of black fur draped over Dick's lap. "Believe me," he said fervently. "That is a consideration we had taken into account. Your little lady there is a warrior for fair, and we have no intention of denying her anything her heart is set on. If she wants Lightfoot, and he wants her, then she's got him. We'll see his contract is transferred over to Brightwing within the hour." His eyes rose to meet Dick's. "You're a lucky man to have a friend like her, young man. She put herself between you and certain death. Don't you ever forget it."

SKitty's purr deepened, and SCat's joined with hers as Dick's hands dropped protectively on their backs. "I know that, sir," he replied, through swollen lips. "I knew it before any of this happened."

SKitty turned her head, and he gazed into amused yellow eyes. :Smart Dick,: she purred, then lowered her head to her paws. :Smart man. Mate happy here, mate stay. Everything good. Love you.: 

And that, as far as SKitty was concerned, was the end of it. The rest were simply "minor human matters."

He chuckled, and turned his own attention to dealing with those "minor human matters," while his best friend and her mate drifted into well-earned sleep.


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