Huhui had been reasonably terrified when they had discovered a human had been assigned to work with them on the financial records. Meeting a human for the first time had been as shocking and intimidating as the stories say. She was almost twice their height and covered in muscle that they knew could crush them with little effort. She looked them directly in the eye and bared her teeth when they met and Huhui flattened their ears and ducked their head in deference.
She was surprisingly easy to work with, though unsettling. She had the focus and silence of a stalking mieraih once she started working and Huhui had to pause their efforts quite often to check that she was not stalking them instead of account inaccuracies.
Huhui had been at work for several hours when the human suddenly stood, using her momentum to shove her seat backwards. Huhui scrambled out of their own seat as she stretched to her full height and held her arms out to emphasize her size and… opened her mouth wide and showed all of her teeth. By the gods Huhui was going to die, she was threatening them.
They keened and flattened their ears and body against the floor, holding out their forward set of arms in the ‘please don’t kill me’ position. Everything was quiet for a long, long moment and Huhui dared to peek up at the human. She was crouched in front of him, her brow furrowed.
“Hey, you alright?” She spoke softly.
“You’re… you’re not angry?” Huhui let an ear flick forwards hopefully.
“Oh shit, I forgot about the yawning thing. I’m sorry man. I wasn’t trying to threaten you, humans yawn and stretch if they stay still too long.” The human held out a hand. “Lemme help you up.”
Huhui let their ears swing forward and put their hand into hers, their fingers tiny against hers. She gently pulled them to their feet and eyed them in a curious manner.
“Hey, sorry if this is rude… but… do you want to ride on my shoulders while I run down the hallway?”
Huhui blinked several times before flicking their whiskers forward in excitement and bouncing on both sets of hind legs. “It would be everything I have ever dreamed of!”
Leader Nashini of the Space Freighter Unia was secretly fretting. A human had requested employment on her ship just a pawful of days ago. She had an excellent resume but had displayed a lot of threatening behaviors. Bared teeth and direct eye contact were bad enough but without mobile ears or a tail it was difficult to get an accurate read on the human. But, one didn’t really say no to a human, especially one who was qualified, and Leader Nashini had hired her and put her in accounting with Crew Huhui.
Crew Huhui was polite and deferential and most importantly, what the humans referred to as “cute”. Hopefully that was enough to protect them from any violence the human felt. Human’s supposedly pack bonded easily and were as protective of pack adjacent as they were of pack so if she bonded to Crew Huhui the rest of the crew should be safe as well. Or as safe as someone could be around a human.
Cries of alarm snared Leader Nashini’s attention and she hurried to the doorway of the command center, her whiskers picking up heavy vibrations in the air that were rapidly getting closer. She looked down the corridor and instinctively shrank back.
The human was running, her heavily muscled legs propelling her precariously balanced body forward at frightening speeds. Her teeth were bared and she was making a loud whooping cry that made Leader Nashini’s ears flatten backwards. She scrambled for balance as her hind legs threatened to give out on her when she saw Crew Huhui who was clinging to the back of the human!
Crew Huhui had both sets of hind legs wrapped around the human’s broad torso and one set of forearms was wrapped around the human’s neck while the other set was waving wildly. For a brief, terrifying second Leader Nashini thought that Crew Huhui had attacked the human, thus dooming them all to be torn apart with her bare hands, but Crew Huhui had their ears and whiskers forward, their tail lashing behind them in joy. Crew Huhui was feeling joy. While riding on the back of a charging human.
Was human aggressiveness contagious? Leader Nashini watched the pair charge down the corridor, staring after them for a long minute before moving to her communication console and sending a query to Homeworld.
Is human aggressiveness contagious?
Heavy footsteps pounded past the doorway again, this time both Crew Huhui and the human were making the loud whooping noise.
Additional query: What does “yeehaw” mean?
I was in charge of feeding the prisoners. This had been my task since the Queen had taken me and 2 dozen other Murania as hostages. The others had not survived long, but I adapted. Obeyed.
The Queen had taken a human. A rare being this far into the Deep, but one feared from one end of the galaxy to the other. According to the Encyclopedia of Sentient Beings Capable of Space Travel, humans needed a diet of roughly 2000 calories a sol served in traditional 3 portions a sol. Which meant that I had to approach the human three times a sol. I could not fail my duties.
The first attempt at feeding the large being ended with a tray thrown at my head with enough force that it would have caved my skull if I had not ducked in time. The human was raging, slamming their entire body against the containment bars with enough force to shake the floor and… and roaring. I cleaned the mess of nutrient paste as fast as I could and fled.
But five hours later found me trembling in front of the human’s cage with another tray of nutrient paste. The human had calmed and was glaring at me intently. I knew they did not speak Murania, but still I spoke my native language as I offered the food again. I did not get to speak it often and missed the sound. “Guria?”
The human tilted their head and to my shock, repeated the word, then repeated it again until they mimicked the sound perfectly, even with the slight whistle at the end.
I offered the tray. “Guria.”
They eyed it suspiciously so I tasted it, showing it to be safe. “Guria.”
They held their hand out and I gave them the tray, scuttling to a safe corner before they could attack me with it again.
They tilted their head again and scowled, then spoke in broken Common. “I thank”
I fled, claws scratching against the shiny floor.
Another five hours passed all too soon and I was back at the human’s cage with the final meal of the sol. They were moving slowly around the cage with their ear pressed to the wall, tapping with their knuckles. I watched them for a moment, confused at the erratic behaviour, but only managed a few seconds of observation before their head swiveled directly towards me and they stopped to face me.
I walked closer and offered the tray. “Guria.”
They took it. “How talk thank in you mouth talk?”
They opened their mouth and let out a loud, short bark, a laugh according to the ESBCST. (I studied it dutifully when they were brought aboard.) “Meesh Meesh!” They pointed to themselves. “Michael.”
My wings ruffled, the sound was so similar! I pointed to myself, “Mikel”
The human shook their head and pointed to themselves. “Me Michael.”
I jerked my head in an upward motion called a nod. “Yes, you,’ I pointed to them, “Michael.” I pointed to myself. “I, Mikel.”
They laughed again. “Michael, Mikel. Much same.”
I chittered. “Very similar, yes.”
Their eyes narrowed. “You work here?”
I bobbed sideways, a bit noncommittal, “As I must.”
I searched for the simplest way to translate what I meant across the language barrier. “No work, in there.” I pointed to their cage. “Work, out here.” I hopped encouragingly. “You work soon, yes?”
The human bared their teeth and snarled. “No work. Fight.”
My wings flattened against my spine and I fled. Humans were so aggressive.
The next sol I completed my first duties and then found myself lingering outside the containment hall. I was apprehensive about what mood I would find the human in this time. I fluffed my wings out to convey confidence and clicked in with the human’s first meal.
“Mikel! Guria?” They were bouncing on the front part of their feet, hopping up and touching the ceiling, then dropping to the floor and pushing themselves up with their arms repeatedly.
“Yes. What are you doing?” I slid the tray to where they could reach and backed to a… well not safe but safer, distance.
“Work body. Stay strong.” They flopped over onto their back and turned their head to look at me. “Meesh Meesh.”
“Zuan.” I bobbed sideways before deciding to ask them the question I had been mulling over. “You’re Nice, mean, nice, mean.”
Michael laughed. “Yeah. Head bad.” They hooked their fingers like claws and shook them around their head. “Scare, tired, Fight.” They gestured to the bars and glared. “Not like.”
I nodded. “I know that feeling.” A chime sounded, signaling the Queen’s approach. I flattened myself to the floor and made way.
The Queen slithered in, her scaled body scraping against the floor with a sound that made my feathers stand up. She reared to her full two meter height and flicked her tongue out to taste the air.
“Human. You are mine now, you will serve the glory of me.”
Michael looked her up and down and whistled lowly then pronounced in exact Common. “Ugly. Mother. Fucker.”
I gaped at them in horror. They dared insult the Queen to her face?
The Queen hissed, but smugly coiled. “You will serve me, human. I know your kind. You are loyal. I feed you, I provide you shelter. I give you safety. You will love me.”
The human backed up, crouching into a fighting stance. “No love, mother fucker.”
The Queen wiggled and slid towards the exit. “You will serve me.” They paused to pat me on the head. “You have duties, tiny one.”
The next several sols passed in the same manner. I did my duties, I fed the human, we exchanged words. At night I tended my secret garden grown in glasses of water and composted nutrient paste from seeds and cuttings I snuck from the Queen’s hoard. The human was learning not only Common but Murania at a breathtaking pace. We could hold whole conversations now and I was no longer… completely apprehensive about approaching their cage. Michael had not acted aggressive towards me at all since the Queen’s visit.
The rare human plant called a “green bean” plant had fruited after several months of care and pollinating with the tip of my own feather. I was ecstatic over the first fruits of my secret labor and I felt that Michael would appreciate my excitement and maybe a taste of his home planet. Humans were said to be incredibly empathetic and sentimental.
That morning I secreted a pair of bean pods in my uniform and headed for Micheal’s cage. They seemed to notice something was different right away, peering at me with concern. “All okay, Mikel?”
I nodded and nervously whispered. “Secret, right?”
They lowered their voice and moved closer to the bars. “Yeah, secret.”
I showed him the beans. “I grew these. It’s the first harvest from the plant! It’s a huge secret, but I wanted you to have them.”
Michael stared at the beans with an expression I didn’t recognize for a long time before whispering, their voice strangely rough. “You get trouble for these?”
I nodded and tried to shove the beans into their hands. “Yes, a lot of trouble. Take them!”
They took them and smiled. “Meesh Meesh, Mikel. This…. This mean lot to me. I can’t say enough. Meesh Meesh.” They bit into one and grinned, crunching happily. “Very good! You do good!”
I chittered and ruffled my wings, pleased with the praise. “Zuan, Michael.” I gave them their tray of nutrient paste and fled.
The next day (human word for sol) I found a broken something in the Queen’s trash bin. It was silvery and had a lot of moving parts and made me think of Michael. I shoved it into my uniform and snuck it to Michael. They were overjoyed and immediately began fiddling (another human word I find pleasant to use) with it.
I found I enjoyed making Michael happy and kept my eyes out for things to gift them. A broken flute, a torn book, a shiny rock shard, a discarded pipe, a bit of string. It all was random junk, but Michael was still so happy for each item. It… was a pleasant feeling, almost like being back with my brood mates.
Then… Then the alarms sounded one morning and the ship rocked with an explosion. Frightened, I grabbed my precious green bean plant and rushed instinctively towards Michael’s cage.
Only to find they weren’t there. The bars were broken, bent outward and a piece of the wall was torn open, exposing sparking wires and smashed circuits. The lights were flickering and I could hear screaming. I decided to run for the escape pods and hoped that the Queen died in that explosion.
I had barely skittered into the hallway when I found Michael. They were fighting with a guard twice their size, but easily leaped around it’s bulk and stabbed it in the base of the skull with some sort of spear. A primitive weapon, but still deadly in the hands of the human. Michael rode the body of the guard down to the ground and leaped off, brandishing the spear at me.
Frozen in fear, I distantly realized the weapon was made from the shiny rock tied to a piece of pipe. I was to die from a weapon I provided then.
Except, Michael lowered the weapon and smiled. “Mikel! I find you! Come on! We get out of here!”
“Yeah! C’mon, I stole codes for ship!”
I followed them numbly, too scared and shocked to process that not only had a single human escaped a 1st class prison cell with just bits of junk, but had also destroyed the Pirate Queen’s ship, and was taking me with them.
It wasn’t until we were flying fast and far from the wreckage, headed towards a Trading Station, that I found my voice. “Why… Why would you save me? I…” I didn’t know how to express the fact that I was nothing, tiny, worth only for cleaning while the human was strong, big, and apparently a fearsome and brilliant warrior.
Michael glanced at me from the corner of their eyes. “We friends, Mikel. Friends no leave friends. Also, you trapped like me. On other side of bars, but trapped same.”
“Friends? But Queen provided for you, you were supposed to bond with her?!”
The human looked at me incredulously before laughing long and loud, his head thrown back with the effort of it. “No Bond with Queen, she put me in cage. You! You give me food, you talk, teach, you bring me presents. You good friend. Queen Piece of Shit.”
“Oh.” Michael had bonded with me. And.. I with them it seemed. And we were free. “Meesh meesh, Michael. You’re a good friend too.” I hugged my green bean plant. “What now?”
“I thinking I turn in Queen head for bounty, use money buy good ship again. After, you want go home or you want explore?”
My wings flared in excitement. “Can I have a garden room on our ship?”
Michael grinned and tossed his arm (gently) around my shoulders. “Yes, you have garden room. Grow lots plant in space. Explore! Garden! New Planet! New Seed!”
When Michael and I arrived at the trading station we were immediately swarmed by a pack of humans that pounced on them, squeezing and punching and other violent forms of affection as they whooped at each other in one of the many, many human dialects. I had a brief moment of panic that they would abandon me to go with their own species, but they turned to me after a minute, their arm still slung around another human’s shoulders, and introduced me in Common.
“Mikel! These friends! Alice, Cooper, Rayla, and Mina. All one, this Mikel. They friend!”
The humans smiled at me, though one looked concerned and rattled off a stern sounding phrase in human. Michael looked like they had been struck and shook their head, making a negative noise. The other human, Alice, persisted and Michael seemed to shrink down, hunching their shoulders and hanging their head.
They turned pleading eyes on me. “Hey, Alice need ask question. Uh… Rules? Safe rules. Okay?”
I bowed respectfully. “I will answer any questions as best I can.”
Alice mimicked my bow and spoke in perfect common. “Hello, Mikel. Can I speak to you alone? I just have a few questions. It’s a matter of protocol and won’t take long.”
I clamped my wings nervously to my back but nodded. “Will… Will Michael still be here after?”
Michael made an offended noise. “I no leave you!”
She smiled softly. “Yes, he will be waiting for you. Come with me please.” She led me down a few hallways and into a room where she had me perch and offered me a glass of water. I accepted and gave a few splashes to my green bean plant, named Toots by Michael with some form of humor I did not grasp, before sipping it gratefully.
“Now, Michael said that you were on the Pirate Queen’s ship?”
“Yes, I was a hostage from Murania working there. I cleaned and kept the prisoners properly fed.”
“I see. And he said you helped him escape?”
“Yes, though I did not realize at the time that was what I was doing.” At her concerned expression I hastened to add, “I am glad I helped, I just wish I could have done so knowingly. You humans can do a lot of unexpected damage with a shiny rock and some pipe.”
She nodded. “That is true. You’re planning on exploring now that you’re free?”
I nodded happily. “Yes! Michael said he would use the Queen’s bounty to buy a ship for us, one big enough for me to have a whole room to garden in!”
“Wouldn’t you rather go home? See your family?”
I clucked sadly. “No, all of my broodmates died on the Queen’s ship. Many were killed and eaten in front of me.”
“Your parents? Cousins? Surely you have other family. Why don’t you want to go home?”
I felt pressured and scolded and I did not like it. I stood and fluffed my feathers irritably. “I was barely more than a fledgling when I was taken. If I returned to my home planet it would be unfamiliar and sad, and my remaining family would expect me to be someone I have long since ceased to be. I have spent the last several years being the perfect servant, doing what is expected of me, being what is expected of me. Maybe one day I will visit my home planet, but I do not want to be shoved into another role to play, even by well meaning relatives.”
Alice hummed. “So you really want to explore uncharted planets with a human?”
I hopped decidedly. “Yes! Human Michael is my friend, and I theirs I am teaching them my language and Common, they are teaching me about humans. I enjoy their company, and they enjoy mine! It is an excellent situation and I do not like your questions!”
She smiled and leaned back in her seat. “That is good. I am happy for you both.”
I squinted suspiciously. “You did not sound happy before.”
She laughed softly. “It’s protocol. Unfortunately, humans seem to be pretty intimidating to other species. We found there was a huge problem with other species going along with what we wanted out of fear, so we started a rule that before a major life altering decision was made by another species, we would have another human try question them to make sure it was actually what they wanted.” She leaned forward again and tried to make eyecontact with me. “That said, I need you to know that if you ever feel threatened by Michael, if he ever hurts you or makes you feel unsafe, my team will move you to safety, okay?”
I nodded. “That is appreciated, but I feel unnecessary.”
Alice smiled and handed me a slip of paper with a hailing frequency. “I feel it is too, but just in case, here is a way to contact us if you need to get away. Michael’s in the Ship Bay.”
I tucked the paper into the bow adorning Toots’ pot. “I thank you, human Alice. May I return to Michael now? I wish to give my opinion on what ship we might get for our adventures.”
“Of course, Mikel. And it is good to meet you. By the way, the hailing frequency will reach a non human who is experienced with dealing with humans.”
I nodded and clicked out of the room. Michael had better not get that stupid T91Z he had been talking about. The sublight engines were shit and the extra hull plating did NOT make up for it. Hull plating would not ‘do for shit’ if the sublight engines gave out a month of propulsion hours from a light speed route.
As I awkwardly hopped along the hallway I suddenly realized that I was no longer forbidden from flying. Nervously, I spread my wings and flapped, propelling myself a few meters ahead. I chittered in excitement and continued hop gliding towards the ship bay, loving the stretch in long neglected muscles.
It was nice that humans tried to protect me from other humans. They were kind like that. Humans were big, loud, strong, vicious, and aggressive, but they were also kind, loyal, and protective.
If a bit stupid at times.
“We are NOT flying the Deep in a fucking T91Z, Michael!” I squawked indignantly.
Michael bumped their head on the stabilizer strut and backed guiltily away with a muttered. “But hull plating…”
“Fuck. No.” I strutted towards a much more practical CB39. Fuck was a human word I very much enjoyed. It was perfectly emphatic and versatile and was the only word in the four languages I knew that could succinctly sum up the emotions a stubborn human would inflict.
Several hours, a few shed feathers, a shouting match, and a satisfying bargaining episode with a very nervous ship dealer while a large human loomed over my shoulders with their arms crossed, Michael and I boarded our new BE73 named Mike’n’Mike.
I carefully set Toot’s pot in the piloting bay and stood back to look at our new ship.
“Look good home.” Michael tapped the wall with their knuckles.
I preened contentedly. “It does look like a good home.”
Look out Deep, Mikel is coming for you with a fucking human at her back.
“While there are no scientific studies that can provide a concrete answer to this question, anecdotal evidence and the vast amount of sentient species asking this question leads us to hesitantly answer that: While human aggressiveness is not contagious, beings that spend a lot of time around a human may begin to show a certain confidence and recklessness beyond their norm. This change is even more pronounced in beings that form close bonds with a human, and seems to be permanent.”
Leader Nashini twitched her tail irritably and logged her personal anecdotal evidence to the mainframe for the Homeworld scientists to log. The answer was vague and unreliable without scientific backing, but for now it was worrisome. So far Crew Huhui was the only being on the ship affected by the human’s…. recklessness, but how long until the rest of her crew were affected? Although, from a pure efficiency standpoint, Huhui was performing much better than their counterparts. But the…
There was a shriek followed by a loud laugh from the corridor. Probably Huhui dropping from the ceiling onto the human to startle them. They were going to get themselves killed. Nashini just knew it.
A notification from the communication station pulled her from her dark musings and she trotted towards the helm quickly. The communication officer ducked their head respectfully gestured towards the comm station.
“A hailing from a passing ship self identified as Mike’n’Mike.”
She wiggled into place and stood on her hind legs before opening the feed. “This is Leader Nashini of the Space Freighter Unia hailing from Homeworld.”
There was a moment’s pause before a green Muria appeared on the feed. “This is Co-Captain Mikel of the Exploration Ship Mike’n’Mike. We’d like to ask if you are open to trade.”
“Just a moment.” Nashini said and glanced at the cargo log that Crew Huhui had provided before she had even asked. “We have some rations, luxury items, and biological cargo that is open for trade.”
Co-Captain Mikel turned on the visual feed and seemed to converse with someone off screen. They turned back to the screen and raised their blue crest in excitement. “We have maps of several fringe world systems, some valuable data on habitable worlds, and scientific samples from unclaimed planets. Are you willing to trade?”
Leader Nashini barely suppressed a full body wiggle of joy, those were very valuable, very marketable! “We are willing to trade!” Her tail lashed out of the camera view. She glanced at the docking report that Huhui had again provided without prompting (what were they doing on deck anyway?) “If you would dock at airlock 3B, you may board and we will begin negotiations.”
Co-Captain Mikel glanced off screen again as if listening to someone, then hop-nodded. “That is acceptable. We will see you in a few.”
The feed cut and Nashini rested back down on all four hind legs. She cocked a head at Huhui, who was gazing at the proximity maps with widened pupils and forward whiskers.
“Crew Huhui, why are you on deck? You are an accountant.”
Crew Huhui’s ears flicked back in embarrassment but they respectfully looked a little to the left of Nashini’s eyes and said, “Human Crew Jayne remarked once that having a variety of skills made a being valuable in many situations. So I am currently under training for Communications and Navigation.”
Leader Nashini’s ears swiveled in confusion. Multiple classifications was…. practically unheard of. “Well… I commend your enthusiasm for your job.”
Crew Huhui gave a quiet purr of happiness.
“Summon Crew Jane if you would, I would like them and you to accompany me to negotiate with Co-Captain Mikel.”
Crew Huhui nodded and raced off in a quick but entirely undignified manner and Leader Nashini trotted at a much more civilized speed towards meeting room 3B.
By they time she arrived, Crew Jane and Crew Huhui were already waiting with tablets and a pitcher of water in the room, and the decontamination chamber showed that two lifeforms were about to enter.
Leader Nashini had just settled at the head of the table when the door opened and- gods past and present help her- another human ducked through the door. He glanced around the meeting room suspiciously, before nodding at Crew Jane and letting Co-Captain Mikel bounce out of the decontamination chamber.
They settled at the opposite end of the table and the human bared their teeth. “Hello, I Co-Captain Michael.”
Crew Jane barked out a loud but short laugh, which relieved Nashini’s sudden fear at the aggressive greeting. Nashini swiveled an ear towards her in question. The human obliged the non verbal question and leaned over to quietly murmur, “The ship is named after them both, Micheal and Mikel to Mike’n’Mike.”
Nashini didn’t quite understand the humor, but Crew Huhui looked just as confused, so maybe it was a human thing.
Co-Captain Mikel perched on a seat and ruffled their feathers to look bigger. “May we begin?”
Leader Nashini slid a tablet with the available cargo list over to pair. “If you would just tap the items you want, my accountants can begin compiling an agreeable trade.”
Co-Captain Michael slid a similar tablet to Crew Huhui and spoke a few strange words to Crew Jane. Crew Jane bared her teeth and replied in the same language, something that made Co-Captain Michael chuckle but lean over Co-Captain Mikel’s shoulders to look at the trading tablet.
Crew Huhui showed Nashini a quick compilation of things they found and she curled her tail under the table to keep it from flicking. The Discovery Rights to an entire Mining Class planet! That was worth her entire ship’s contents alone, and probably her ship as well! She selected the Discovery Rights and the map data and slid it back across to the odd pair, they probably wouldn’t agree to that much, but Nashini could find the planet on her own if she needed to. Co-Captain Michael raised his eyebrow at the items selected and murmured to the Muria in his odd language. The Muria hushed him with a clicking noise and re fluffed their feather before speaking to Nashini.
“Do you have live plants, cuttings, or seeds?”
Crew Jane nodded and spoke over her Leader, pointing out a few items on the tablet. “We also have some equipment for agriculture in space, I don’t know what you’d need them for, but there’s artificial sun light that can be calibrated to 7 different sun types, atmospheric bubbles, and chemical additives to mimic the native soil and water needs of most datafied planets.”
The Human and Muria conversed in a clicking, whistling language before sliding both tablets across to Leader Nashini. She couldn’t suppress the surprised mrriirp the data caused. They were willing to trade the Discovery Rights and map data to an entire Mining Class planet for… for… What was that human phrase? For peanuts!
She carefully signed the agreement and sealed with with her biometric data and flicked her whiskers forward. “It is an absolute pleasure doing business with you. If you would like, you can leave your communication data with Crew Huhui and send us requests. We would be happy to add your ship to our trading partners.”
Mikel chirped a triumphant noise at the human and raised her wings and crest in a decidedly aggressive manner, but the human just raised their hands in a peaceful gesture and laughed.
Nashini watched the human back down from the being half their size and decided that humans were just too weird.
Co-Captain Michael leaned forward and said in coarse Common, “We would be happy if become trade partner. Good money for both, yeah?”
Leader Nashini agreed and they exchanged information quickly. That done, Human Michael lunged towards Human Jane and they bumped into each other with a thump that had Nashini scrambling backwards out of their reach as they wrapped their arms around each other and squeezed picking each other up and talking in their odd human language as they tried to toss the other to the ground. The Muria listened with her head cocked before settling her wings on her back comfortably.
“They are litter mates, as you’d put it.”
“Then… Why are they attacking each other?” Leader Nashini’s ears were clamped against her head.
“They are playing.”
Nashini watched the humans a bit closer and saw, that yes, they were playing, much like younglings would pounce and scuffle as kits, but these humans were almost 6 umrat tall and adults! She shrunk back and fled, in a dignified manner, at a crunching noise and an, “oops” from Crew Jane. She was not dealing with this right now. She was going to celebrate the deal of a lifetime with an entire bottle of crema and some imported ‘catfish’ from Terra. Crew Huhui could deal with the humans.
When you explore space for a living you have to expect certain things. Pirates, black holes, the occasional ion storm. Mikel felt that she was fairly well versed in what to expect from exploring the Deep, but yet, she somehow had completely overlooked the fact that they might run into un-contacted species.
Which meant she was completely unprepared and had no plan of action for when she found herself staring down the length of a stone spear at a group of bipedal mammals who were all baring their teeth and making loud, sharp sounds in their throat.
The biggest mammal, a 5 foot tall being with pink feathers braided into their mane, stepped forward with their prehensile paws held out by their face and made two short barks.
Mikel flattened her wings nervously at the dominance display, trying to make herself smaller. Michael, however, Michael tilted his head curiously, then put his hands by his face and somehow forced his throat to make the alien sounds.
The mammal twitched their tail for a moment before tilting their head and slowly, standing on one leg.
Michael slowly stood on one leg as well.
“What are you doing?” Mikel was still beak to tip to a stone spear and she did not think now was the time for an exercise of Mirroring.
Michael mimicked the hop the alien made and bared his teeth. “I making friends.”
The decorated being made a series of barks and yips and the group of natives backed away where they conferred quietly among themselves.
Michael immediately dropped to his knees and began rummaging through his pack. Mikel clucked nervously. “We should run while they are distracted. I do not think they are friendly.”
“Nah, just nervous. I mean, wouldn’t you be if two things you never see before fall out the sky and one was twice size?”
Mikel glared flatly at her giant of a friend. “As a matter of fact, I do.”
Michael laughed. “I need shiny or tasty. Do they look meat eater to you?”
She observed the aliens closely. They had most of the facial markers of herbivores. “Plant eating, I’d guess.”
“Right. Uh. Fruit…. BuyBuy fruit?”
“Non toxic to most mammalian species known.”
The natives seemed to have come to some sort of agreement and approached again, this time with the spears ready, but not pointed directly at them. An improvement, Mikel thought, but not so much that she wouldn’t rather be back on their ship.
The largest one stood forward again and hit their chest with an open palm and made a yip/chirp.
Michael slowly stood up and repeated the gesture,”Michael.” He nudged Mikel and she quickly followed along, trying to communicate her name across a species and language barrier.
The mammal took a small bundle from their pack mate and offered it to Michael, who accepted it with a head duck and in turn offered the being a packet of buybuy. They sniffed it curiously and turned it over in their hands before looking up at Michael and making a soft chirp. Michael slowly reached out and opened the biodegradable packaging and removed one of the sweet fruits. He held it up so the natives could see what it was before popping it into his mouth and chewing. The native’s tail perked up and they ate a buybuy. They chirped and passed the package around to their pack so each one could taste, all of them reacting with waving tails and quick yips.
Michael took the time to examine the item the aliens had offered to him and held it out to Mikel. “I think it’s a neck hair pretty. One of the big’s.”
“A token of respect?”
“Maybe. I dunno, I’m fly blind on whole ass culture.”
Suddenly an ear piercing wail echoed through the tall grasses and the entire pack of mammals went rigid. The biggest one threw their head back and howled and charged towards a plume of smoke forming, their pack following with their spears at the ready.
“I think-” Mikel started to suggest this was an opportune moment to retreat to the ship only to find that Michael had taken off after the mammals, his long legs eating up the ground at a molt inducing rate. She clucked irritably and spread her wings to fly after them. Yes. Let’s head directly towards what is most likely danger.
She barely managed to keep up with her friend and the natives were left far behind, their short limbs unable to keep up as Michael raced for the smoke. It wasn’t long before they burst onto the scene of a mobile village in panicked chaos. Some natives were clutching younglings and trying to flee while others were trying to fight or distract a large quadrupedal beast that was charging and tossing unlucky beings with it’s massive horns.
Mikel grabbed a howling youngling in her hind claws and struggled to fly it away from the enraged beast. They were way too heavy for more than a quick and frantic flap hop, but it removed them from the beast’s line of sight. She released it into the frightened paws of a grown native and searched for Michael. When she saw him her heart felt like it had frozen in her chest. He was standing in the middle of the village clearing, waiting with his feet planted firmly on the ground as the beast charged directly at him.
She screeched and tried to propel herself towards him with her tired wings, but she was too late.
The beast reached Michael and… he grabbed it’s horns and twisted them so that it’s head turned back towards it’s hairy back and it fell to the ground in a cloud of dust. The human somehow rode it’s arrested momentum down so that he had one knee pressing the creatures neck into the ground while he held the head twisted back by it’s horns.
The pink decorated mammal had finally managed to catch up with them and took in the scene with what even Mikel could tell was awe, before they rushed forward and cut the creatures throat with a knife, quickly ending it’s struggles.
Michael stood up slowly and wiped some blood off of his face. “Fuck. I never want do that again.”
The aliens crowded around him, barking and milling as they all gestured wildly at the carnage of the village, Michael himself, and the dead beast. Mikel suddenly felt one of the beings grab her arm and drag her towards the commotion. They barked loudly and held up her arm as the youngling she had grabbed chirped by their legs.
Mikel was exhausted. Every muscle ached so much that her wings were dragging the ground behind her. They had been on the move all day exploring, then the race to the village on still weak wings, and then trying to carry something almost as heavy as she was had left her completely drained. She swayed on her claws as a wave of dizziness threatened to knock her over. In an instant Michael was by her side and lifting her up. The villagers barked in distress and scurried about and before Mikel knew it, she was resting on a pile of furs as Michael helped her sip some water.
“Hey, you alright?” The skin between his eyebrows was furrowed in concern.
He rubbed a hand over his face. “Fuck. I forgot about you tired limit. I’m really sorry. I shouldn’t have run off like that.”
Mikel shrugged an aching shoulder. “You saved them. Can’t complain.” And honestly, she couldn’t. They shouldn’t be here, they should have left as soon as they saw the planet was inhabited, but yet… She felt happy that they could save this tiny village from a charging…
“When I feel better I am going to be having words with you about that stupid ass action you performed.”
“Whatever gave you the idea that you could just grab an animal that size and- and wrestle it!”
Michael smiled sheepishly. “It’s only the size of young cow… I’ve done bigger.”
Mikel gaped at him as her brain tried to reconcile the size of that beast with the fact that it was apparently only as big as a juvenile from a species the humans kept around their homes and even actively farmed.
She was too tired for this shit.
A bloody looking alien villager appeared and bowed as they presented the cut off horns from the beast to the pair.
“Let’s visit the planet surface! It’ll be fun!” Huhui pitched their voice higher as she clung to Jane’s shoulders desperately.
Jane leaped over a wall and kept running, her feet pounding into the ground and sending them flying through the city.
“No-one.” She panted between words. “No-one told me. That. This place was full of fucking snake space nazis!”
Huhui screeched and clawed a too close Shish in the face with her hindest claws. “We said! We said! This is a hostile planet! Hazardous!” She kicked at another pursuing Shish. “And you know what you said? ‘I’m a fucking deathworlder.’ That’s what you said!”
“I. Did. Not!” Jane grabbed a street light and swung themselves around so they were running back the way they came. The Shish’s dense weight and lack of walking limbs left them struggling to turn and catch up.
“Might as fucking well have!”
“Why did I teach you to fucking swear?” Jayne puffed as she headed back to the ship. “Goddamn nervous space cat.”
Huhui puffed her fur angrily, before remembering that made her look even more like an earth kitten. Which didn’t help the anger situation. “Well, you’re… Reckless!”
Jayne laughed and jumped the final umrat to their ship. “Start her up, I’ll hold them off!”
Huhui let out a distressed yowl but hurried to comply. “but you have no weapons!”
Jayne grabbed her “bat” and bared her teeth in a decidedly aggressive manner. “The hell I don’t.” She punctuated this by swinging the metal rod into a Shish’s face, breaking their fangs and jaw. The human accountant kept swinging, leaving broken faced Shish slithering back away from the ship. Huhui was frozen in horror until Jayne yelled at her to get the ship up.
Huhui obediently jammed the controls upwards, forcing the ship to fling itself into the air with a whine and white hot engine exhaust that effectively ended the Shish pursuit in splatter of steamed reptile. Suddenly Jayne flopped into the co-pilot’s chair, making it creak in protest. Her teeth were still bared in a definitely-not-a-friendly way and her face was splattered in pink gore. Her eyes were wide and dilated and darting around the cockpit as she laughed in a high and strained manner.
Huhui had never been this scared in her life. She didn’t recognize this Jayne. Her Jayne was funny and gave piggy back rides and screamed at hiroaks. This Jayne was wild and violent and capable of outrunning and then smashing a squad of Shish and Huhui didn’t know what to do. She quietly piloted the ship back to main barge and tried not to move too suddenly. Jayne was pacing and scrubbing at her face with a disinfectant wipe.
As soon as they had docked and Jayne was sent to the decontamination shower Huhui scurried to her room and curled under her bunk. She was shaking, ears flat against her skull as she tried to…
It was one thing to hear of deathworlders and their strength and stamina and sheer refusal to die. It was one thing to cling to a friend’s back as she not only outran one of the most feared predators in the galaxy, but joked with you.
It was another thing to see someone cave in skulls with a game piece and grin about it.
They could have died.
A chime alerted her to someone at the door. She buried her head under her fore arms and hoped they’d go away.
Sighing, she poked her head out to look at the view screen by the door.
It was Jayne.
For a moment, Huhui considered leaving her out there, but for one, Jayne could (and probably would) just wait out there till she had to leave, and two, Jayne’s eyes were red and puffy and she was hugging herself. The human was in distress.
Slowly, very slowly, she inched for the door controls and opened the door. Immediately Jayne turned to her and spoke in a rush.
“It just all hit me in a rush and I’m freaking out and I think I’m going into shock and holy fuck I killed people today. Like, yeah, snake nazis, but I killed someone and I’m freaking out and oh shit you’re probably scared of me now but I just need someone and I’m sorry I’ll go now.”
Jayne rubbed her face with the back of her hand and stood up to leave.
Huhui made an impulsive decision. “You can come in. I’m just hiding under my bed.”
Jayne stared at her in shock before smiling weakly. “That sounds good.”
They crawled under the bed, a bit of a squeeze for a human, and settled with their backs resting against each other. It was warm and felt safe, though each of Jayne’s breaths nudged Huhui’s whole body in a steady rocking rhythm.
“Are you scared of me now?” Jayne’s voice was small and made Huhui feel like she was looking at an orphaned kit.
“Yes. A little bit.”
Huhui mulled that over for a minute before asking. “What happened to you? I’ve never seen you so… wild.”
Jayne exhaled a short laugh. “Adrenaline.”
Her whiskers pulled back against her face in horror. “The illegal combat drug?”
Another laugh. “Yeah. Humans produce it naturally when they are scared or faced with danger.”
“Oh. That explains a lot.”
“If… if you were on Dren, why didn’t you attack me as well?”
“I wouldn’t. You’re my friend.”
Huhui felt Jayne’s shoulders move in a shrug. “I was too worried about protecting you, and then we got away and I was so happy, but then I crashed in decon. I… I don’t know how it works exactly to be honest.”
There was another long silence before Jayne inhaled shakily and said, “You gotta tell me how it goes from here. I’m sorry I scared you and I want you to feel safe, so you gotta tell me how to help you feel safe around me.”
Huhui curled her tail around Jayne’s calf as she considered. “Well, first off, if I say a planet is hazardous you’re going to avoid it like Miira shit.”
A giggle jostled her. “done.”
“And… I don’t know. One one hand you’re the most terrifying thing I’ve ever experienced, on the other hand, you protected me even while high on Dren and also you give killer piggy back rides.”
Another giggle. “I do.”
Huhui closed her eyes and let herself feel. She was tired but warm. A colony mate at her back. Hidden. Nervous, but safe. Interesting.
“I think we’ll be alright.”
Mikel clicked irritably as she examined her wings. The flight feathers had been shed weeks ago and were now growing back in a bright blue color that would be pretty if it wasn’t for what they meant. Her crest, wing tips, and tail were all now a bright blue and her throat had turned an eye catching yellow. She clicked again and resettled herself on the blanket nest Michael had made for her. She sipped the tea he had brought her a few minutes ago, savoring the sweetness.
Michael smiled at her as he walked by, pausing to set a bowl of sliced fruits by her. Mikel took in the nest, food, and drink and suddenly had a horrifying realization.
“Yeah? You need something?”
“Um. No, I just.” She shifted uncomfortably. “We are good friends and I enjoy your company, you know that right?”
Michael slowly sat down and narrowed his eyes at her. “Yyyeess?”
“But I.” She resettled her wings. “I’m not interested in you romantically. I appreciate your courting, it was excellent and very thoughtful but-”
He cut her off with a loud laugh, “Wait! Courting? I’m not courting you! I’m not interested romantically either!”
Mikel gestured at the blankets and fruit. “The nest? The food? You bring me my favorite tea every morning! You groomed my wings yesterday! You’ve been proving you’d be a good mate for weeks now!”
Michael shook his head violently, “No! No, you’ve seemed, I don’t know, sad? Your feathers started falling out, you go all quiet and still. I was worried you were sick, so I tried to make you comfortable! And you had molted feathers stuck in your wings you couldn’t reach.”
“You did all of that but didn’t wish to mate?” Mikel tilted her head curiously. She was relieved Michael wasn’t after that after all, but, it was still odd.
“Yeah, we’re friends! Friends take care of each other.”
“Oh. Pack bonding.”
Michael leaned back and grinned, “Exactly! Pack bonding.”
Mikel ruffled her wings and clicked at the feather that drifted down. “You humans have a big nest heart.”
“It’s an expression. Most Murania have few friends, few family, just enough nest space for the ones they care about. The bigger the nest, the more Murania they love, so ‘big nest heart’. You humans have the biggest.”
Michael smiled till his eyes squeezed shut. “Aw. Thank you!” He leaned forward and picked up the fallen feather, twirling it around, his forehead furrowed. “So… are you okay? You’ve been losing a lot of feathers lately.”
Mikel clicked again and shifted uncomfortably. “It’s. Um. Embarrassing.” She examined her foreclaws closely. “It’s mating season.”
“Oh. I didn’t know that was a thing.” Michael frowned. “Do you need anything? Humans don’t have a season like that so I don’t know what to do.”
She fluttered her wings in imitation of a human shrug. “I was on suppressants but I forgot to restock this season. It’ll be unpleasant but I can wait it out.”
Michael stared at her for a long moment. She could almost see the way his giant brain was connecting data points together in some manner that would require a veteran logician to figure out.
He snapped his fingers and pointed at her, startling her into scrabbling backwards. “You need to go home don’t you!”
“What! No! I can wait it out and be perfectly fine in a few weeks! We can still travel!”
He blinked and looked a little hurt. “I wouldn’t just drop you off and leave you there!”
“The fuck dude! I wouldn’t just abandon you like that! And I wouldn’t want you to suffer when we can just go get you whatever you need.”
MIkel trilled, feeling very fond of the dumbass. “You know it would be weeks, maybe more if I got a clutch? This isn’t a quick, easy thing.”
Michael nodded seriously. “We have enough money from the bounty and the map rights we’ve been selling that we can stay however long you need. If we’re careful we can go a year or two before I’d have to head back out for another run. And even then I’d come back for you.”
“I…” She flopped onto the blanket nest heavily, sending a poof of feathers into the air.”I’m glad I’ve got you as a friend. I would like to go home, but I want to travel more after.”
Michael stood up and nodded decisively. “Alright then. We’ll head to your home and stay however long you need, then we can go travel again when you’re ready.”
He sat in the pilot’s seat and pulled up the navigational systems.
Mikel watched, her crest raised in anticipation.
A few seconds later Michael sighed and rested his head on the dash. “Could you get us to your home? I don’t know where it is.”
Mikel chittered in amusement.
Michael didn’t know what he expected (that’s a total lie he was expecting shrieking and weird dances like the nature documentaries about earth birds which was probably racist or something) but the calm lines in front of a massive building was not it. At the door Mikel signed in and received a color coded arm band that apparently meant she was willing to raise a clutch by herself.
Mikel was wearing a flower crown Michael had made her from the horns of the Raging Death Beast and some plastic flowers from home and she looked amazing, practically strutting around in her bright plumage and wearable trophy.
Inside the building there was music and a massive dance floor and tables of food around the edges. There weren’t too many yellow arm bands but there were a lot of red, which apparently meant “down to fuck but not to raise a kid”. A black and white feathered Murania with a red arm band hopped by and Mikel’s eyes followed them until they disappeared into the crowd.
She made a quiet cooing noise, her wings angled up. “That is the prettiest goddamn being I’ve ever seen.”
Michael laughed and shooed her towards the dance floor, “Well, go find them!” He leaned against a wall and watched the crowd, feeling incredibly out of place. Well, it is kinda hard to fit in with a couple thousand bird aliens that only come up to your knees and are all here to get laid.
The black feathered Murania from earlier appeared. They were pretty, if you were into birds, with white barred flight feathers, a bright purple throat and crest, and iridescent black body feathers. The tiny alien stood to their hind legs and tilted their head curiously.
“Are you the human who travels with The Last of the Lost Clutch?”
“Um. I travel with MIkel, yeah. I don’t know about the last of the lost clutch thing.”
The Murania flapped up onto a perch so their faces were level. “A long time ago a large clutch was stolen by pirates. We called them the Lost Clutch, built a memorial, thought them dead. Then we found out that one survived, was travelling and exploring with a human. The news calls her the Last of the Lost Clutch, Fahfahshemen. Said she was on planet.”
“Oh. Yeah, that’s her.”
They raised their crest curiously. “Is it true you rescued her?”
“Well, she kinda rescued me first.”
They blinked and looked up and down Michael’s height. “Truly?”
“Yeah! She brought me tools and weapons, taught me Common, gave me everything I needed to get us out of there. Did you see those horns she was wearing?”
“Yes, I was wondering about those.”
“We were exploring planet side, came across a beast tearing apart a native village. Big thing to you guys, horns, carnivore, the natives call it a-” Michael made a few sharp barks that obviously startled the smaller being. “It’s their word for it. As far as I can tell it means ‘raging death beast’. They come in, trample everything they can see, then take their time eating it. Anyway, this animal was headed straight for a kid and Mikel swooped down and grabbed them and pulled them out of the way. Pulled a tendon cuz the kid was so big, but she saved them. We got the beast stopped and the natives gave us the horns to keep.”
The Murania made an impressed noise. “She must be very strong to keep up with you.”
Michael grinned at them. “Yeah, she is one tough cookie. So what did you really want to ask me?”
“Is it true humans eat eggs?”
“What!? Oh my god.” Michael really should have expected that to be honest. “Yeah, humans do eat unfertilized eggs from non sapient birds. I stopped eating eggs when Mikel and I started travelling together though. Felt wrong.” He shrugged.
“Ah. And will you… be helping if she gets a clutch?”
“Yeah. I got an incubator in case she needs a break and we built the brooding nest together. She hasn’t decided if she wants to travel or not yet but I figure I can just get a parking license if she wants to stay.” He pulled out his tablet and showed the being pictures of the incubator and brooding nest. “I also got this pouch thing for carrying fledglings in and modified the straps to fit me. I can’t help too much with the eggs but after they hatch I can help feed them and keep them warm.”
They tilted their head curiously. “That is a lot of work for a clutch that isn’t your own.”
Michael laughed. “Human pack bonding. Also Mikel is my Mashpeerah.”
“Do you mean-”
“No! I don’t mean Rashpeeroh. We’re nest friends, not ‘friends who nest’, “ Michael put finger quotes around the last phrase.
“Hash Muria?” The tiny alien’s purple crest feather flared.
“Hash pinpin.” Michael held his forefinger and thumb slightly apart. “Mikel has been teaching me. I’m trying to learn enough that I can talk to her fledglings in Muria. She wants Muria to be their first language.”
“Most species find Muria difficult to learn.”
“It’s complicated, but it’s not impossible. You have words for entire phrases and ideas. Most languages put little ideas into little words and then use a lot of words for a big idea. You just make another word for the big idea.”
“yeah, exactly. ‘new ideas need new words in order to truly understand them’.”
The being bobbed their head. “Mikel’s clutch will be very lucky to have you and her to protect and provide for them.”
“I hope so.”
The Murania fluffed their feathers nervously. “Do you…”
“Yes, I think they would be very happy to talk with you.”
They clicked. “You could not know that was what I was going to ask!”
“But it was, wasn’t it?” Michael grinned and the being chittered in amusement. “She saw you when we walked in, said that you were ‘the prettiest goddamn being’ she’d ever seen.”
They ruffled nervously but bobbed their head. “I will go search for her.”
“She’s over by the potted plants.”
They spread their wings and flew to the ground and hopped off. Michael watched them make their way over to Mikel. They spoke for a bit before heading to the dance floor together to chat while dancing a (quite frankly adorable) weaving dance with their wings up and out. Mikel caught his eye and held up a fore claw in an approximation of a thumbs up. Michael grinned and gave a double thumbs up back.
Michael picked a drink from a table and sipped at it, watching the crowd pair off, some dancing and some talking and some flying off together. It reminded him of earth clubs. Time passed rather quickly, the music was nice, the drinks were sweet, and a lot of the little aliens came up to him to chat and ask questions about Mikel and their travels. By the time Mikel hopped over with her new friend, Michael has an entire list of contact numbers from murania who wanted a green bean plant of their very own. (He’d have to send a message to Jayne later and let her know about the possibility of a novelty green bean plant business.)
Mikel let him know that she’d be staying with Mash’ess for a few days and that she’d meet up with him at the ship.
It was a long few days, but at last he was waiting by the Mike’n’Mike, feeling oddly anxious but excited. Finally, Finally! An open topped vehicle rolled up and Mikel gingerly stepped out with Mash’ess’ help. She was wearing a harness that held a pouch close to her chest and she walked on her hind legs so she could protect the pouch with her arms, her wings out to help her balance.
Once at the ship Mash’ess and Mikel pressed the sides of their faces together and trilled softly. Mash’ess bowed to Michael and then they were gone.
He knelt to see the egg harness closer. “Oh my god, is that them!”
“Yes, now help me get to the nest before you start spreading your pack bonding all over.” Mikel clicked and headed into the ship. Michael helped her get the nest arranged how she wanted and then watched with bated breath as she unstrapped the harness and slowly, carefully lowered the eggs into it.
There were two of them, the size of Michael’s fist and both a deep green with black speckles.
“Oh my god, look at them!” He gently, so gently touched one, marveling at the warm, smooth shell.
Mikel chittered and settled down on top of them, shooing his hand away. “They’re not even peeping yet.”
“They’re still beautiful.” Michael smiled and set some water within her reach.
She sighed and closed her eyes, her feathers poofed out in contentment. “Yeah. They are.”
Huhui didn’t even bother trying to contain her tail; her whiskers were forward, her ears up, and her tail was lashing in sheer excitement. Captain Michael of the Mike’n’Mike had sent a message to Crew Jayne requesting a video communication. The curious/dismayed expression Jayne had made clued Huhui in that whatever this chat was going to be about would be something highly entertaining. She had asked if she could sit in on the video and Jayne had readily agreed, even inviting Leader Nashini in an effort to strengthening the trade relations between them. Though it was obvious that Nashini was just included to be polite and Huhui was actually wanted there. She had to try really hard not to feel smug about that. (She felt really smug)
Leader Nashini herself was perched on a seat, eyes and ears trained politely on the screen as Jayne set up the connection. The screen flickered to life to show Captain Michael holding two hatchling Murania in a sling on his chest and spooning some sort of pureed food into their mouths.
“Jaynee! Guess what! I’m a dad! Meet my kids!” The human presented the tiny hatchlings to the camera, a huge grin showing all of his teeth. They were tiny in his arms, able to comfortably fit on each of his hands. They were still featherless and eyeclosedyoung but cheeping strongly in between spoonfuls.
Leader Nashini glanced from Michael, to the hatchlings, and back to Michael, her ears slowly flattening until she pushed herself out of her seat with a quiet, “nope.” and left the room. Michael grinned even wider somehow and cackled.
Jayne pinched her nose. “Does Mikel know you have her kids? Also, tell her I said congrats.”
“No, seriously, these are my kids!”
Huhui twitched. “But that’s physically impossible!”
Michael snickered and resumed spooning puree into the hatchlings mouths. “I mean, yeah, step dad or whatever, but I really am legally their dad.”
Jayne’s mouth dropped open. “What?”
“Yeah! Since I sorta accidentally formally announced I was Mikel’s mashpeerah she was legally allowed to put me down on the kiddo’s birth documents as their legal father. Made a hell of a diplomatic situation on earth, but hey! Mom finally got her grandkids!”
Jayne grinned with wide eyes. “Wow. So. Did you tell her yet?”
Huhui leaned forward anxiously. “Wait, diplomatic situation? What happened?”
Michael carefully situated the now sleepy hatchlings in the sling so they could curl against his chest and sleep. “No, I haven’t told her yet. But yeah, since I’m legally their father on Muran, they have dual citizenship because of me. But none of the countries current citizenship laws cover extraterrestrial dual citizenships and the politicians started seizing over the immigration implications and shit. Long story short, the UN stepped up to avoid a diplomatic incident with Muran and you’re looking at three of the first four citizens of the UN. There might possibly be a war brewing on earth.”
Jayne hit her head against the table and Huhui’s ears flattened against her skull. Humans at war with themselves? It sounded like a nightmare.
“Anyway, I just wanted to introduce you to your umpipix Nola and Lillirt.”
“Uh, kinda means like niece or nephew, but gender nuetral. Muran gender is complicated.”
Jayne smiled softly. “Nola and Lilirt. Wow. I’m happy for you, Michael.”
Mikel appeared on screen, standing on Michael’s desk so she could rest her head on his shoulder. Her feathers looked ragged and her eyes were half closed in exhaustion, but she trilled happily. “Hello. It is good to see you both again.”
Huhui settled back to watch the strange family unit talk. That’s what they were somehow. She couldn’t help a purr as Jayne absently reached over to ruffle her ears affectionately as they listened to Mikel and Michael tell a story about one of their adventures. She was family too, oddly enough. Two years ago she would have thought this was the set up for an elaborate joke, but no.
Sometimes family was two ‘walking disasters’, three ‘space birds’, and an ‘anxious space cat’.
Dammit. When had Jayne managed to get her to call herself a space cat?
The entire market place was buzzing with the news. A Fwehahn trading ship was arriving today. As one of the few carnivorous sapient species, no-one was happy to see them here and I had heard that Air Control had made them dock a full mile away from the trading center. Fwehahn were so sneaky, somehow able to use their many limbs to prowl silently through alleys and shadows, and had an affinity for waiting up in rafters and tree limbs before dropping silently onto unsuspecting prey. They were terrifying. And big. An average Fwehahn was a full six umrat tall when they stood on their hindest limbs. I had heard that the only species longer than them was the Shish.
It was expected that the Fwehahn traders would take a full hour to trek the mile’s distance and so business continued in it’s quiet way. Suddenly I heard a wave of distressed shrieks, chitters, and howls coming from the dockway. I slid back behind a stall to safely see what was coming without being spotted myself. I extended an eyestalk around the corner and shuddered when I saw the cause of the screams.
A human. One of the most mysterious and feared species in the universe. Information on them was so conflicting there were actually xenologists who debated if ‘human’ was actually several species that co evolved. The human was running through the street, her teeth bared and her eyes scanning the stalls avidly. The part that made me shudder though, was she was carrying a Fwehahn on her back. It was clinging to her torso with its six hinder limbs while it’s firstest limbs pointed out directions that the human followed instantly. That meant….
That meant the human had run the full mile from the docks while carrying one of the largest sapient species and she didn’t even look winded. I changed my skin to match the dirt and settled in to watch.
The human approached a vendor and made agreeable noises over the salad selection. The Fwehahn on her back flattened it’s ears and slid off of it’s perch to prowl off on it’s own. The human bought a large bowl of salad. Well, large for me. For her it fit into her hand and she chewed it easily and quickly in a few bites. An herbivore then. Probably an easy mark. I quietly began moving through the crowd towards her, a broken blaster in my tentacle. She wouldn’t know it was broken though. I just needed a few units.
The towering being made an interested noise and strode off towards another stall, leaving me to scurry after her as fast as I could. I was slightly out of breath by the time I caught up with her and I arrived just in time to see her purchase a slab of grilled miira meat. A gift for her Fwehahn? My skin darkened in horror as she moved to bite it.
“Wait!” I frantically tried to draw her attention. I probably wouldn’t get to rob her now, but I couldn’t let her hurt her digestive system like that. “Wait! That’s meat!”
She bared her teeth and tilted her head. “Yeah? That’s why I got it.”
“But. But I saw you eat the salad! Herbivores can’t eat meat, it’ll make you sick!”
She made a series of sharp sounds, her teeth still bared. “Ah, yeah man, I’m an omnivore.”
I blinked at her, unsure if she was fluent in common. “An all eater?”
“Yeah, I can eat meats, vegetables, even lactose products.”
“That’s. Not possible!”
She made the sound again and squatted down to get closer to my level. She opened her mouth and pulled a facial muscle to the side to show me her large, flat grazing teeth in the back of her mouth. “’ee? ‘lat I’ ‘e ‘ack.” they released their muscle and pulled their lips back to show me the sharp teeth in the front. “Sharp in the front. I appreciate the concern though.”
I. Was still trying to process having the giant being’s teeth in my face like that as well as the discovery that it could eat everything when their eyes flicked from my face to my blaster and their face wrinkled.
“Were you going to rob me but got worried about me eating meat?”
My skin darkened and I tried to back away, but they just scooted forward after me. “I. Um.” I realized I couldn’t escape her and set the broken blaster on the ground. “I would not have harmed you. I just need some units.”
She picked up the blaster and turned it over a few times. “Yeah, I can see. You need money?”
I bobbed my head in agreement. “Just a little to get through the day. I can’t work with this.” I gestured to my missing grasping tentacle. “No one wants to hire a pilot that can’t reach all the controls.” I was lucky to survive the trauma of losing a limb, but it was even harder to survive when no one would hire you.
She made a rough noise in her throat and dug into her pockets. “Here, take this. You need it more than I do. And.” She tapped on her tablet rapidly and scribbled something onto a scrap of paper. “Here. Maybe think about checking this place out. They are a group of human scientists trying to figure out how to adapt mobility aids to other species. They need volunteers. I mean, they can’t pay you but they can give you a place to sleep and food and maybe eventually a mobility aid that you can use.”
“A mobility aid?”
“Yeah its-” She tapped on her tablet again and pulled up a picture of a human with what appeared to be a metal limb. “See, this is my mom. They lost their arm as a kid and so they got this metal mobility aid to help them out. It’s like a replacement limb. They helped found the research center.”
I felt my skin blue in hope. I reverently touched the tablet to zoom in on the ‘mobility aid’. I had never heard of such a thing. “They would help me get a new tentacle?”
“They would try. Just think about it.” She pressed the paper and a small fabric bag into my tentacle. “You take care.”
She stood and walked off and I stared after her for a long time before looking at the planetary coordinates and hailing frequency on the paper and opening the bag. I had to sit down on the road when I saw what the bag contained: enough units to buy me a meal and maybe a ticket to this human research center. I couldn’t process air for a second. I was going to rob her. She knew I was going to rob her. She could have turned me over to the market security forces and instead she had given me what appeared to be their entire shore leave budget and hope.
Some instinct made me look up in time to see the Fwehahn from earlier leap off of a market stall awning and onto the human, dragging them both to the ground in an impressive display of hunting prowess. The human shrieked and made that repeating sharp noise while playfully dragging the large predator under her bulk and ruffling it’s sensitive ears until it surrendered. They dusted themselves off and the Fwehahn clambered onto her back and began giving directions again. They moved on, towering over the rest of the market place while the average sized sapient species parted to let the feared carnivore and ‘all eater’ through.
Humans were a strange species. I clutched the precious piece of paper to my chest and headed for the travel dock. Strange and wonderful.
Huhui gingerly tried to push the fledgling out from under her legs. Lillirt had apparently taken a liking to her tail and kept stumbling their way under her legs to try and bite it. Huhui was terrified she would step on the tiny being. Michael reached under her and snagged the fledgling, tucking it against his stomach. “Right so, apparently Muran birth certificates require genetic samples because of the whole space tindr thing.”
Jayne blinked. “Space tindr?”
Mikel clicked and dragged Nola back under her wing with a hind leg. “We gather in large groups for mating. The genetic records help prevent accidental inbreeding or awkward flockings.”
“Yeah, and so she’s gotta go back to home world to register the clutch now that they’re a month hatched, and I gotta go with her because as their legal dad I have to register too.”
“But you’re not their genetic father?” Huhui’s tail twitched and Lillirt squawked indignantly at the fact it was out of reach.
“Nah, Mash’ess will register as their Kirekirrah, I gotta register as their Ka’ah. It’s to avoid flockings where you find out that your adopted niece is nesting with your step mom.”
Jayne inhaled sharply through her teeth. “Ah, yeah, that makes sense. So. Why are you telling us all this?”
“Mash’ess was insistent that they did not want to meet the fledglings when we register.” Mikel bobbed her head. “We were hoping that you would watch the fledglings while we do this.”
Huhui’s ears flattened against her skull. “Us?!”
“Yeah! I made a list of their schedule and how to prepare their food and stuff. They shouldn’t be too much trouble, they tend to stick close to warmth sources and can’t walk very far yet.” Michael’s eyes widened like a kit pleading for a new toy.
Jayne bared her teeth in a grin and nodded. “Yeah, okay!”
Huhui felt her whiskers draw back and her tail sink to the floor. “But I have no kit care training!”
Jayne nudged her with her elbow. “It’ll be alright. I’ve taken care of kids before and there’s a list! We’ll be fine!”
Huhui arranged her ears sideways and narrowed her eyes in the imitation of a ‘flat glare’. “Fine like Shish can’t turn corners fast fine?”
“Fine like fine fine.” Jayne rolled her eyes and gently took Lillirt from Michael and tucked them in the crook of her arm.
Mikel trilled and clicked her beak as she showed Huhui how to hold Nola securely in her secondary forearms. The chick nestled against her fur and she found that it was surprisingly easy to hold the youngling but still use her frontest forearms. Logically, she knew that was one of the many reasons why her species had kept the extra limbs during their evolution, but it was still different to experience firsthand.
“Thank you so much!” Michael brushed the heads of the younglings with the back of his knuckles and then they were gone, off to their ship to drop to the Murian planet below their orbit. .
Huhui began vibrating the special chords in her chest to sooth Nola and her whiskers moved forward in happiness when the young being nestled further into her fur.
“Oh my god, are you purring?!” Jayne’s eyes were wide and her mouth was open in a delighted grin. “I didn’t know you guys could purr!”
Huhui huffed and took Lillirt with her frontest arms. “Is this another cat thing?”
“Yes. The best cat thing!” Jayne held up her tablet and captured a picture of the younglings nestled in Huhui’s arms. “Purring is the best sound ever. It lowers blood pressure and stress levels in humans.”
Huhui changed her… purr from a soothing rhythm to a pleased one. “Of course it’s the best sound ever. But it’s called a Vrrrrp.”
Jayne surprised her by managing to make the rolling sound with her tongue. “That’s the perfect name for it. Although it does sound a bit like mrrrp.”
Huhui’s tail twitched in amusement as she carried Mikel’s offspring to the recreation room . “How do you know how to say that?”
“Mrrrp? It’s just a noise that the cats at home make when you wake them up.”
“Ah, that makes sense then.”
“Wait, what does it mean?”
Huhui vrrrped louder and twitched her whiskers smugly.
“Huhui! What does it mean?”
They passed a crew mate and Jayne stopped them. “Hey, what does mrrrp mean?”
The crew mate’s ears twitched backwards in embarrassment, their eyes flicking from the younglings in Huhui’s arms to Jayne. “It is an affectionate greeting. It translates roughly to ‘What do you want, bastard?’. It’s normally only said to close friends.”
Jayne bared her teeth in delight, making the crew mate slink backwards nervously. “Thanks!”
Huhui blinked softly, pleased that Jayne would use the term for them after she knew what it meant. “The schedule Michael gave us says we need to feed the younglings.”
“Righto!” She checked the list as they entered the recreation room. “Two bowls of Ch!pp puree coming up!” She wrinkled her nose. “Which… are apparently a type of insect grub. Yay.”
Huhui thought back to the Ch!pp muffins that Michael had brought last visit. “Didn’t-”
“Not thinking about it.” Jayne interrupted and deliberately set about preparing the chicks’ meals from the containers Mikel had packed in a bag.
Lilirt perked up at the sight of the bowls and began cheeping loudly, which set Nola to cheeping as well. Huhui turned her body so that they couldn’t see the food being prepared and tried to distract them with the tuft of her tail. She danced the tuft of dark fur near their faces, darting it away when they clumsily tried to bite it. Finally, Jayne brought the bowls around and the chicks opened their mouths wide, exposing brilliant blue inner beaks. Huhui adjusted her grips so that Jayne could shovel spoonfuls of gray mush into their mouths.
“You’re pretty good with kids.”
Huhui twitched her back dismissively. “I am a duchess. Half of kit rearing is instinct.”
“What’s a duchess?” Jayne paused for a second, sending the chicks into indignant cheeping. She hurried to scoop more puree.
Huhui thought for a few moments. “I think, like your earth bees? My species has three main sexes and several others as well. There’s queens, they have the big manes, tail tufts, and can carry litters. Leader Nashini is actually a queen. Um, then there are the princes, they are the, uh, what you would call fathers? They usually have tufted ears and are much smaller than the rest. A duke is the most common sex. They can’t have litters at all and don’t have tail or ear tufts. I’m a duchess.” Huhui flicked her tail to indicate the dark tuft of fur at the end. “I’m like a duke, but I can carry maybe one or two litters. It’d be very dangerous for me though.”
“Huh. That’s really cool. Are there like different pronouns and stuff?”
“No. We only have one pronoun in our language.”
“Oh. So when I started calling you her?”
Huhui ruffled the fur on her back in the imitation of a shrug. “I started going by she/her pronouns. The crew picked up on it and uses them too now.”
“In my culture, pronouns aren’t important. Because they aren’t, we instead respect other cultures pronouns. Most of us just tend to let those around us use whatever pronouns they want. It’s easier and hopefully more respectful.”
“That’s really awesome.” Jayne’s eyes were shimmering like she was going to cry, but she was smiling as she scraped the last of the puree out of the bowls and into the younglings’ beaks.
The younglings clicked at the empty bowls and promptly started squirming about in Huhui’s arms. Jayne consulted the list. “They’re supposed to play until they fall asleep, then be fed again when they wake up.”
Huhui flicked her ear in acknowledgement and gently set the younglings on the floor in the center of the room. They tottered for a moment and looked about with their overly large heads, cheeping softly. Huhui’s tail flicked with concentration as she focused on the younglings, ready to rush to their aid at the first sign of trouble. Lilirt squawked and staggered towards it with an open beak. Huhui sat so she could wriggle her tail across the floor for Lilirt to chase and attempt to pounce on.
Jayne knelt down onto the floor to hold a piece of Chktrop still for Nola to chew on. The little being wobbled and flapped their tiny wings as they nipped at the wood with a vengeance. Huhui’s whiskers swept forward when Lillirt performed a particularly steady pounce and managed to pin her tail tuft down for a second. Kit care was fairly pleasant, especially with help. She never would have imagined herself caring for a youngling, let alone a Muran youngling, but that was the wake effect of humans. You found yourself swept into unusual situations with unusual beings and unusual outcomes.
I had not realized how small our worlds must feel to the humans until I walked on one of theirs and realized how small I felt. Their ceilings arched high above even their heads, their buildings rose past the horizon, and their seats could fit me comfortably underneath. When I first arrived, I made the mistake of assuming a chair was a resting hide and settled underneath the sturdy metal to rest before resuming my search for the research lab. The hallways and streets seemed endless, full of looming humans and their unfairly long legs. My tentacles were not meant for this much land travel and they ached. I let my skin fade to the dusty gray of the soft fiber mat as I stretched out my remaining main tentacle. It had to work harder to move me because of the loss of my left main tentacle, and it was beginning to twinge.
A large face suddenly leaned down in front of me. I went blue in fear.
“Hey there, you alright?”
“Yes, I was just resting.”
“Okay, you looked like you were hiding and I wondered if you needed help.”
I hesitated, unsure about showing weakness to another being. But humans were strangely helpful creatures; it should be alright. “I am a bit lost.”
“Yeah? Where you headed?” The human crouched down onto the floor so that they could see me better. I wondered how they had spotted me with my skin matching the floor pattern.
I pulled out the scrap of paper with the address written on it and showed it to the human. “Here. I was told to go there, but I can’t find it.”
The human tapped on their tablet for a moment before baring their teeth. “Oh! I know the place! It’s just four blocks away. I can take you there.”
I contracted nervously. I did not like the reminder that humans were omnivores so close to myself. “Um. If you wouldn’t mind.”
“Not at all!” They slung a pack off of their back and held it out to me. “Hang onto this.”
I hesitantly wrapped my tentacles around the pack and flashed in panic when they swung it up into the air and onto their back.
“You all right up there?”
I gurgled affirmatively as the human started walking, their long limbs eating up the ground far quicker than I would have ever managed. This was… unexpected but very welcome. The fact that their first instinct was to attempt to carry another being was interesting. Sure, I was much smaller than them, but they had no way of knowing how dense I would be. I could weigh 60 pounds for all they knew, but they hadn’t hesitated to try.
“So why are you headed to the research center, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“I was told they would research how to give me a new tentacle if I volunteered.” I clung tighter to the pack as they turned abruptly down the walk.
“Me too! They gave me a new leg!” The human knocked their knuckles against their thigh with a hollow thudding sound.
I flashed in fascination. They were carrying me with no apparent difficulty and without any noticeable change in their walking pattern. “Did it hurt?”
“It took a bit of getting used to, but it doesn’t hurt near as bad as the old ones did. The Center knows their stuff.”
“That is very reassuring. Thank you.” I could probably deal with a little pain if it meant regaining some mobility.
“No problem. Here we are!” he walked through a set of massive automatic glass doors and twisted his neck so he could try to look at me. It must be tiring to have to move ones whole head instead of just eyestalks. “You need any water?”
“Um. Yes, please.” My skin was feeling a bit dry.
“He went to a large, glowing machine and punched a few buttons. The machine groaned and there was a terrible thumping noise before a bottle of water fell into a slot on the bottom. He picked up the bottle and held it over his shoulder so I could reach it. “Here you go.”
“Thank you.” I tucked the bottle against my body with a minor tentacle to absorb later. I didn’t want to risk spilling water on the helpful human.
The humans walked over to a large desk and attracted another human’s attention with an open hand gesture. “Hi! Yeah, my friend here wants to volunteer. Can you set him up an appointment?”
The secretary looked around for a moment before noticing my eyestalks hovering over the human’s shoulder. They bared their teeth. “Hi, My name is Felicia. I can make an appointment for you no problem. For now, would you be willing to accompany me to a waiting room and fill out some paperwork?”
The human carrying waited for my ‘yes’ before slinging the pack off of their back and gently lowering me to the ground. “you good?”
“Yes. Thank you very much for your assistance.”
“No problem, my dude. Hope they can set you up!” The human waved their open hand at me and headed out the front door.
Felicia walked around the desk with a clipboard in hand. “Are there any accommodations we can provide for mobility, comfort, or safety?”
I flashed in confusion. What an odd question. But yet… “Is it far to the waiting room?”
Their eyes glanced between a point far away and then down at me. “Relatively. Would you like a wheelchair?” They spun their clipboard to face me and it’s surface presented a picture of a seat with wheels, and then an illustration of a being using the device to move from one point to another.
They nodded crisply and went back behind their desk, reemerging with a wheelchair rolling in front of them. I managed to slip up onto the seat and settled in. As soon as I was secure, Felicia began pushing the wheel chair along a hallway. We passed maybe eight doors before they stopped and wheeled me into a room with a much lower ceiling than the entrance area. They parked the chair by a table and set the clipboard down in front of me along with a calling device.
“The first few pages are information packets. This room is not monitored and we will not prevent you from leaving at any time. If you wish to contact someone, you may do so. If you wish to speak to a non human representative, we will do our best to accommodate you. After you finish the information packets and make your decision, please fill out the questionnaires.” They bared their teeth and folded their hands behind their back in what I assumed was a nonthreatening gesture. Very contradictory, these humans.
“If you need any assistance, simply press this button and a volunteer will come to assist you. Is there anything you need at this moment?”
“No, thank you.”
They nodded and left the room, closing the door softly behind them. I flattened a portion of my body into a dish shape and poured some of the water into the dip so it could absorb through my skin while I looked through the paper work. Which, apparently ‘paperwork’ didn’t actually mean ‘work on paper’ as I had assumed. The clipboard was actually an industrial grade tablet. The first page on the tablet was a list of questions that asked if I had been coerced, manipulated, or otherwise forced into volunteering by any being, as well as a list of numbers I could call for protection if I felt I had. Humans seemed to realize how terrifying they were, but were strange in that they appeared to not want to scare anybody.
After signing that I was here of my own free will, that I understood my legal rights, and that I agreed to allow them to test experimental prosthetics on me (permission that I could withdraw at anytime, they mentioned this several times), there was yet another list of numbers I could call at any time for help. Finally, they asked if I was comfortable working in close proximity with humans.
I thought hard before I answered that. Yes, they were big, strong, and showed their teeth far too much, but every human I had come across had been shockingly helpful, going out of their path and giving away their own possessions and time to help. I had even seen on the news that a human had legally adopted Murian children as their own to help care for them. Yes, I think I would be comfortable working with humans. Especially if they all had the trait of carrying smaller beings on their backs. I liked seeing things from their perspective.
It's been a while since I've added, so here's a quick update I hammered out in about an hour.
Nashini’s tail twitched incredulously as she looked over the data Huhui had sent her. “You paid actual credits for this? It’s completely inhospitable!”
Huhui’s ear flicked sideways in an irritated gesture. “It could be sold to the humans as a colony planet for practically quadruple what we paid for it.”
“It’s near frozen half of it’s orbit!” Nashini scrolled down the pad and tapped the temperature readings with a claw. “Down to four degrees in the cold season! And it’s a class five gravity. Useless.” She couldn’t help a disappointed hiss.
Huhui stared directly at her eyes for a long moment and Nashini had to fight the urge to drop her gaze. Were they challenging her? But then Huhui pulled the pad towards themselves and tapped at it for a second before pushing it back.
Nashini’s whiskers twitched as she stared at the video playing. It looked to be human cubs playing in… snow? One of the tiny humans picked up a ball of frozen water and threw it at another and they all shrieked in laughter. Her ears flattened. “Oh.” Of course humans would let their young play in freezing conditions, that would have to be native to their home world. Of course they could survive freezing weather patterns. Why not?
“Yes. Earth is a class five gravity, and parts of it can reach negative one hundred twenty. This planet, while completely useless to our society for either habitation or resources, is very valuable to humans.” Huhui sat back on her hinder legs and folded both sets of arms in a decidedly human gesture of satisfaction.
Captain Nashini looked over the map again. It was also perfectly situated in between several societies’ system borders so it wouldn’t be seen as an invasion if the humans did use it as a colony. Useless to everybody, ignored, and unclaimed by any being except herself. She rippled her spine fur in polite remorse. “You… did well.”
Huhui’s whiskers twitched forward in pleasure. “Thank you, Captain. Crew Jayne has suggestions on how to approach the humans with the sale.”
Nashini flicked her ear sideways. “I’ll trust the two of you to deal with it.” The last thing she wanted was to have to deal with a whole room of humans. Jayne’s litter mate and their adopted family were enough to have her pulling her fur out on their sparse visits. The pair of fledglings had somehow managed to sneak into the bridge and Nashini had spent several terrified moments standing perfectly still as the pair had climbed all over her, petrified that she might accidentally hurt them and invoke Michael’s legendary wrath.
Huhui had rescued her, sweeping the pair into her hinder arms and complimenting them on their stalking skills as she had bustled them back to their parents. Nashini was hoping to retire before the pair of flight capable beings raised by humans as well as a predator species reached adulthood.
And if this sale went as Huhui predicted…. she might very well get to retire. Maybe even in time to have a litter or two. That would be nice. She could even make Jayne the honorary aunt since the humans was so fond of other being’s younglings.
Her eyes widened and her ears flattened in horror. A passing crew member paused and approached hesitantly.
“Is everything alright, Captain?”
Nashini lashed her tail. “I’ve caught the pack bonding!”
"Huhui!" Jayne burst into their quarters with a large box in her arms. "Look! My gramma sent me a box of stuff she found in my old room on earth! Wanna go through it with me?"
Huhui perked her ears up curiously. "Yes!"
Jayne set the box on the floor and knelt beside it, tearing the cardboard apart with her bare hands to reveal the contents. "Oh my god! I had forgotten about these!" She reached into the box and pulled something bright pink and fuzzy out, placing it on her head and curling her hands in front of her. "Nya!"
Huhui stared at the pink Fwenhahn ears on her head.She knew that Jayne had a talent for mimicking, but something about the ears was adorably unsettling. "I... don't know how to feel about those."
Jayne laughed and pulled out a book from the box. "I never left home without them when I was fourteen."
Huhui flicked their tail and stuck her nose into the box. There was a variety of books, some toys, a few bits of shiny objects and jewelry, and a pile of plastic cases with discs inside them and unique artwork on the front. "What is a Lady Gaga?"
"Oh! My old music CDs! Lady Gaga is the best! She's a singer from Earth." Jayne grabbed the stack of 'CDs' and started looking through them with a nostalgic expression.
Huhui spotted an envelope from where the discs had been sitting and picked it up, carefully opening it and pouring it's contents out into her hinder arms. It was a stack of photographs. One of them contained a much younger Jayne with bright pink Fwenhahn ears and bright blue streaks of pain across her cheeks. "Is that... supposed to be whiskers?"
Jayne looked over and her face turned red. "Um. Yeah..."
Huhui flicked an amused ear and started shuffling through the pictures, enjoying Jayne's stories about each memory in the glossy paper. But Jayne fell silent when they reached the last one. It was a younger child with their hair badly cropped and their face was sad. Jayne also looked sad as she took the photo and stared at it.
"Who is that?" Huhui moved closer so she could lean against Jayne comfortingly.
"It's uh... me. My dad didn't like that I was transitioning so he shaved my head and threw out my dresses."
Jayne put the photo back in the envelope. "I was assigned a different gender at birth than I am. I started transitioning into my real gender as I got older, but my dad thought..."
Huhui flattened their ears in sympathetic horror. "He thought wrong. He should not have harmed you so."
Jayne gave them a smile, her lips carefully held over her teeth. "Thanks. Mom kicked him out for that and took me shopping for new clothes and a wig. And these." Jayne reached up to flick the ears on her head.
Huhui vrrped. "They look good on you. Maybe we can talk your mother into making you another set of arms so you could be a proper Fwenhahn."
"Excuse you! I do not need more arms to be a proper space cat!" Jayne scrubbed at her eyes and pulled a marker out and drew lines across her face. "There."
Huhui laid their ears back in flat amusement at the makeshift whiskers and fuzzy pink ears. "Do you know... I think we should go see Captain Nashini..."
Jayne's eyes widened in excitement. "Yessss! She'll shit a kitten!"
Huhui winced. "I do not like that expression..."