"It's that time of the mornin' when the sun starts comin' up, and I'm standin' on the corner with my guitar and my cup..." From his seat at the bar, Kiefer sang softly in time to the heavy beat of the music. Unfortunately, the Kitali with the mic in his hand was far too drunk to manage to get the words out right. Kitali generally sang badly enough when only mildly intoxicated. This Kat had guzzled down at least five rounds too many.
"Hey, you're pretty good. Why don't you give it a try?"
Kiefer spun to face the voice. Shiny silver-blue hair sculpted into a wave that wrapped around her head, too short skirt, barely there scrap of clingy mesh fabric that revealed more of her boobs than it covered. Waitress. Not a threat. One by one, he forced his muscles to relax. "Thanks, but I don't have any desire to be in the spotlight." Oh, like all cats, he loved to sing, especially old Earth "Country" ballads, but he didn't need that kind of attention. Not here. Not now.
"Can I get you anything?" The look said he needed to order, or move on.
He didn't bother to look at the drink list. What he really needed was food, something solid to put in his stomach, but he wouldn't eat anything they'd serve in a dive like The Haze. "I'll have a Mendozan Cooler." More credits than he ought to spend, but then, unless he could find out who'd put the bounty on him, and why, this might well be his last night of freedom. Wasn't like he'd have any use for credits on a penal colony.
"Coming right up." The waitress gave her hips a little extra twirl as she turned toward the bar, sending her short skirt floating up to reveal the tight, trim lines of her perfectly sculpted ass. Kiefer nearly whistled. That bit of work must have cost a few hundred credits. Nice job.
The Kitali roused himself from the floor in time to sing the line, "But my sun ain't come up yet this mornin'." Of course he was at the wrong place in the melody, and obviously paying no attention to the ancient teleprompter, but no one cared. Kiefer wasn't sure if the few patrons near enough to notice were clapping for his singing, or because it was finally over.
Kitali. Kiefer snorted softly. What an insult to cats everywhere.
"You know that guy?" The waitress was back, nodding her chin at the far end of the bar. "He's looking for someone. Has a bounty. Picture looks a lot like you."
Kiefer's attention snapped from the stage to the far end of the bar. Blyat! Orloft. Not just a bounty hunter -- a Battle 'Borg. So much for going through channels. Whoever was after him had decided to bypass 'Port Security protocols. Kiefer slapped a fifty credit token on the bar and prepared to meet his fate. Or the back door, whichever came first.
Only apparently Haze didn't have a readily accessible back door. Lots of shadows and alcoves, but -- Sukin Sin! He tripped over the drunken Kitali, who'd crawled off the stage -- or been tossed -- and nearly went down. Damn thing was next to invisible in the dar... Blyat! That was it!
With a thought, Kiefer vanished, and another drunken Kitali staggered toward the exit. Somewhere deep in the bowls of Spaceport Adana his father rolled over in his grave. Or perhaps flowerbed. Hard to tell with Dad...
"Here kitty, kitty, kitty!"
Kitty, kitty, my ass, Kiefer yowled, fighting the urge to pull back his lips, exposing the three inch incisors that could literally snap that hand off her wrist if he wanted too.
Trouble was, despite the insult, he didn't really want to. She had food. He was hungry, damn it. Unlike the Kitali, he'd never practiced the art of surviving off leftovers. He had no practical foraging skills of any kind. Food came from refrigerators. And restaurants. And vending machines.
Oh, sure, he was more than capable of tracking down members of the rather large rodent population this dump of a station seemed to be overflowing with. It was one thing to help keep the rodent population under control -- the chase was even mildly entertaining. But that didn't mean he had any intentions of actually eating them. He wasn't about to eat anything that lived off offal and refuse.
"Come on out, kitty. You've got to be hungry. I won't hurt you, I promise. I just want to say hello. Look. Doesn't that smell good?"
No. It smelled like a protein patty. Ordinarily he wouldn't have even considered ingesting one of those things. Then again, he wasn't in much of a position to be choosey.
It had all started innocently enough. Routine work, at least for a jumper. Hunt down a chunk of space debris. Deliver it to an out of the way refueling station in the exact middle of nowhere. Get paid handsomely. All in a day's work. Until he'd passed by an Allied Planets Security Station on the edge of the commercial shipping route and suddenly found his ship immobilized, yanked out of flight, and himself on a transport to Spaceport Adana of all places.
Right now he needed desperately to find out who'd had his ship seized and why -- and the best place to locate that information was Sergeant December Ramie's computer terminal. Unfortunately it had taken him most of the night to figure that out, and now Sergeant Ramie had come into her office early.
He'd been in too much of a hurry to think things through properly. All he'd needed to do was behave like the Kitali he was trying to impersonate, and everything would have been fine. Kitali were known to make free roam of the station through the ventilation systems. Trouble was, he wasn't really a Kitali, and the closest he could come to imitating their form was just a little too big to fit any farther down this shaft.
The only other way out of the room was the door -- which meant Sergeant December Ramie was about to get the shock of her life. Because everyone knew Kitali didn't shift. They were Kats. Larger than old Earth house pets, smaller than Jaguara, they were what they were -- sentient cats with opposable thumbs who loved to drink in bars and sing Karaoke.
"How about this, kitty? You come out of there so I know you're not stuck and I'll leave this here for you to eat. I won't even watch you. I'll go in the squad room and leave the door open so you can get back out."
Tempting. Except that of course he was stuck. Which was a highly undignified position for a cat to find himself in. Or a man, stuck in Kat form.
"I'm going now."
Not that shifting would help much. This shaft certainly hadn't been built to accommodate a 6' 4" human, either. He'd be just as stuck. Maybe worse.
That thought was equally depressing. He was going to die with his ass stuck in a ventilation tube because he hadn't had the foresight to simply run out the door when the human entered the room. Knowing he was about to get caught scanning the docking reports on Ramie's terminal, he'd shifted back to cat form and tried to hide. Unfortunately cats weren't really made for crawling backward, and he hadn't realized the tubes got smaller as they got further in. And now he couldn't move enough to get his ass out. Which meant --
"All right. It's official. You're stuck."
The piercing beam of an Everbright flashlight nearly blinded him. He sent out a stream of curses that sounded a lot like a Kitali's caterwauling.
"Yeah, I know. Kats hate admitting they might need help from a human. Here. Bite this." She stuck something black and hard in his face. More from instinct than on command, he bit. Hard. And dug in his nails, which screeched like a banshee's scream against the metal tubing when she pulled the thing back out of the shaft -- him with it.
He didn't mean to fight her. It wasn't like he wanted to stay in that damnable little shaft. But getting yanked out by his teeth went against every cat principle he'd been born with. His human brain simply couldn't get the message to his claws to let go.
His butt popped free just as he managed to get it together enough to quit fighting and let go of the stick, and the woman tumbled to the floor with an undignified plop.
He might have been stuck, but he didn't look nearly as silly as she did sprawled there with protein patty all over her uniform. She shook her head, looking a bit dazed, and a cascade of bronze curls tumbled over her shoulders.
"You're laughing at me, aren't you, Kat."
Goddess help him, he should have been. Or better yet, he should have been scrambling his ass out the door. He should have done almost anything but stalk, stiff legged, closer to the woman. And there was no way in hell he should have stood there, licking the protein patty off her shoulder, his tongue only inches from her breast, his nose buried in that shining mass of bronze curls that smelled like fresh, ripe fruit ready to be plucked.
Trouble was, she'd decided to pet him. Soft, delicate brown fingers stroked through his fur, caressing with a lover's touch, hitting the spot at his temples that made him purr like a rumbling housecat. A two hundred pound housecat, but that wasn't the point.
Hers was the most sensual touch he'd felt in years.
She smelled like his every wet dream. It wasn't the protein patty, that was for sure. That was just an excuse to get close to her -- though he was still hungry. No, it was her. Hot, lush, wild, and wet. Whatever she'd been thinking -- or doing -- before she realized she wasn't alone in her office, she was fully aroused.
Her scent was enough to send his cat senses into overdrive. And not just any scent. She smelled perfect. As if she'd been made for him. Mine, his body screamed. If she were a cat, he'd have said she was in heat. Had she been a Jaguara, he'd have claimed her for his mate, right then and there.
Which of course was impossible. He was in no position to claim a mate. She wasn't Jaguara, in any case. She was human.
But still delectably female. With warm honey-brown skin that just begged for his touch. And a body full of curves he could spend hours exploring. He let his tongue go where it wanted, swiping over the hard pebble of her nipple through the surface of the uniform shirt. She responded with an earthy moan. One, two, three licks to get to the center of a --
"Blyat! Stop that!"