Meanwhile, Tom looked up at me with a somewhat bemused expression on his face.
"I think I'd like to get down now," he finally said.
"Oh, sorry," and I hurriedly righted him, setting him onto his feet. Everybody followed suit with their felines, all of us feeling rather awkward.
Tom made his way over to the central bench. He jumped up onto it and sat down, an ear twitching and his tail flicking. I wondered if that was in annoyance. It certainly would have been if it was Beastie, but how similar where they to our own humble, Terran felines? The other cats took their places on the steps, all looking to Tom for direction. Somewhat subdued, we humanoids tried to seat neatly and respectfully on the steps too, which isn't easy when you're not a cat. Our bottoms are a lot bigger than a feline's and our legs a lot longer.
Tom raised his chin haughtily into the air. He debated for a moment and then, with a mere flick of his paw, commanded his cats. They hesitated for a moment but a second more impatient flick sent the majority of them on their way. We were left with just eight of the beings—the inner sanctum perhaps.
"My name is Arunga," Tom began, "I am king of the Mairne and these are my people."
"Nice first contact, Jen," muttered Rutter into my ear. I elbowed him in the ribs.
"I'm ever so sorry," I said, feeling I should apologise for having treated him with such indignity. "I feel I've been rather disrespectful. I mean, I don't usually roll people onto their backs and tickle their tummies."
Arunga giggled—he actually giggled!
"I'd like to think not, but you are forgiven. I accept that it was naivety rather than ignorance, and it was certainly a more preferable greeting to that provided by those that came before you."
We gasped audibly. It seems that at last, the mystery of the missing Dirrians would be solved.