“That’s the biggest cat I’ve ever seen.”
Axel Troxell looked over his shoulder. The cargo master of the Fallen Falcon was gawping. It was a common reaction. The tom was fifty pounds of supple muscle and sleek black fur, a hundred and seventy centimeters long from nose to tail tip. Mind you, a lot of it was tail.
“That’s Terror. He’s in charge of pest control and air leaks.”
“Hey! This stuff’s been in vacuum for six weeks. You won’t find any pests here!” He sounded indignant, the cat forgotten as he scowled at Axel.
“Good, and we’ll get it turned around and shipped out to the . . . “ He glanced down at the forms on his screen. “Three final recipients, with no problem at all. There’s a ship just in-system, maneuvering to dock early tomorrow. Passengers, mostly, but it’ll be going on to Sigma Major and can take the two shipments bound for there. The third destination, umm, probably have to route it out through Chokehold, then a miner can drop it at Ultima Thule.”
“Sounds good.” The cargo master cast a last look back at the cat and proffered his screen.
Terror was sniffing indifferently along one side of the container, then sat back to wash a paw. Axel signed acceptance of the load and handed the screen back. No pests on this one.
On the far side of the bay, Mike was shutting up his station. Most ships stayed in port for a day to let their crew stretch their legs and see some new faces; the screening amounted to an ID check against the police list and the promise of the ship’s captain to take them all away with him when he left.
The next morning, the passengers passed through nearly as quickly. They just needed a valid ticket outbound. The standard batch of mail, and the quarterly supply delivery for the station were quickly dealt with. Terror had given the pallet a brief sniff and then made a beeline for the passengers. Axel sauntered over to Mike’s station, where he was arguing with a woman. Carrying a plastic box with wire mesh barred holes in the side. Terror was sitting beside Mike, with a feline smirk on his face, and his eyes riveted to the pet carrier.
“. . . don’t see what the problem is, when you’ve got a cat here.”
“Several, actually, Ma’am. We just need to see the cat’s shot records, and to warn you against letting your cat roam. This is a dangerous environment even for animals that are used to it.”
The mouth under the veil frowned. But a slender hand was pulling papers out of a case, half disemboweled on the able. “I’m sure I’ve shown these at least five times. Surely once is enough.”
“No ma’am. You’ll show them to get on the next ship, and before you are allowed to land, and most likely again at whatever residence you have arranged at,” Mike dropped his eyes to the screen, “PHM 2398. Have a nice lay-over.” He clicked at his screen and handed her both her card and the papers, smiling.
The smile was the giveaway. She must be pretty, for Mike to have delayed her.
She huffily repacked her case and stalked off. She gave Axel a quick startled glance from huge blue eyes and widened her detour around him. Axel sighed. It was the usual reaction of women and children. He was large and muscular, with a scarred face that hadn’t been pretty in the first place.
Axel shut his mouth on what probably would have been an invitation to tour the station. And probably refused.
Terror trailed after the cage.
Must be a girl cat. Better luck than me, mate.
Axel turned back to the cargo bay. The cargo master was rearranging a few things, so he could fit the two new shipping containers into an exterior pod.
The ship’s captain walked down and eyed the two big crates. “You’d think that anyone who could afford to send this much mass would pay to get it taken all the way, instead of depending on it getting handed off correctly and promptly. There will be at least two more opportunities for errors, not to mention straight out thieves.”
“Yeah. Foolish.” His eyes tracked back to the passenger exit.
Captain Harald was an old friend, and grinned. “You ought to see her without the veil. Unfortunately, she was pretty chilly and snappish. But she’s here for a week, before her ship comes in. You ought to give it a try. Introduce her to your oversized cat.”
“Hmm, maybe I will.” I’m sure Terror will be trying to catch the other cat’s attention. Maybe a bit of mutual cat adoration will get her past my face.
Prissy van Dorne looked around the tiny hotel room with satisfaction. Hard line connections, plenty of power outlets, good lock on the door.
She set the pet carrier on the bed and opened the door. “Pity we couldn't pull the Shipping Manager out of the bay, eh Fluffy?” The white I-cat meowed soundlessly and stretched her back, then arched it. Her hand paws flexed, kneading the bedding, then she jumped down and headed for the door.
“Let me put the batteries in first.” Prissy removed the gemmed blue collar and slipped the batteries into the signal booster. “Remember, get as high as possible, then hold still so the repeater isn’t shifting all over and losing the signals from both sides.”
“Rrrroww.” Tail in the air, she paraded out.
Terror in the Night followed the entrancing scent. An I-cat. An I-cat that is not Mother Cat. I have never smelled one before. Never smelled a young female one. She smells beautiful. There were other cats on the station, of course. But they were just cats. Better than no company, better than no sex, even if he wasn’t fertile with them. But this scent! It was wonderful. Distracting. By the time he had time to ponder the men-in-box they would be long gone, and not his problem. No doubt sometime in the future the curiosity would make him itch. . . .
Down the hallway, a hatch opened. One of the renta-rooms. The I-cat stepped out. A white persian, elegant. Proud. He half melted to the floor and drank in her scent. She stopped dead and looked down her nose at him. Lifted the nose. And walked past. Even as he lurched to his feet with unaccustomed clumsiness, and towered over her.