We entered the meeting house and found Arunga sitting on his throne, his eyes almost closed, mere slits through which he peered at us. Upon seeing the Captain, though, they widened to reveal his great amber orbs.
"What is this?" he demanded, somewhat startled by T'Roc's arrival.
"Forgive me," I said. "But it really is incredibly important that you meet our captain. The reasons will become clear," and I proceeded to make the appropriate introductions.
T'Roc settled herself, uninvited, at his feet, tipping her head respectfully and said, "It is an honour to meet you."
I have to say, Arunga did not look impressed.
"Will you be bringing more of your kind to my island?" he asked indignantly. I looked down at my feet suitably shamefaced.
"Forgive her," said T'Roc. "As her captain, she does as I bid."
"And I suppose that," he said, glaring at the bundle, "is to bribe me with?"
"Not a bribe but a gift. It is our way and when I came to Dirria, I brought a gift for the Emperor. It is only fitting, therefore, that I extend the same courtesy to the King," and she placed the package between them, unfolding it and smoothing its surface. It transpired that the packaging was the gift: a lovely, soft, fleecy blanket.
Arunga's nose twitched with interest but otherwise, he looked disdainful.
"Is that supposed to impress me?" he mocked.
"No, it is supposed to keep you warm," sighed T'Roc wistfully.
This wasn't like T'Roc at all. She was up to something.
Arunga's nose twitched again. His eyes swivelled towards the gift but his head didn't move. He was as transparent as Beastie though. He liked it but wasn't prepared to let us know that.
"And what is it that you want from me in return?" he demanded, his nose desperately trying to turn to the blanket but his will commanding him to resist.
"I am here to offer my service to you because, with my people here, it would be prudent for me to find out your wishes with regard to the rest of Dirria."
I'm not sure that Arunga heard the rest of T'Roc's little speech. His will was breaking. His head kept turning, against his will, towards the blanket.
I whispered very quietly to Al who was standing beside me, "What the heck's going on? What's she up to?"
Arunga's nose was now twitching so furiously, he was in danger of suffering a seizure. Suddenly, his eyes were transfixed upon T'Roc's uniform. He had spotted something.
"What's that?" he demanded suddenly.
T'Roc looked down at her uniform and began brushing it briskly with her hand.
"Oh, I am so sorry. I'm covered in cat hair. I must look a dreadful state."
"Cat hair? You have our kind in your midst?"
"Not exactly. Jen has a cat called Beastie. She's a feline but not sentient like yourselves. She's probably more like your forebears, from a time before history began."
"You mean she lacks intelligence," he scoffed.
"Good grief, no! She might not speak but she's very clever—a proper little escape artist too. She can outthink us all on that topic. The little minx is always foiling our attempts to restrict her access to places on the ship."
"I see," he scowled. "And what purpose does she serve? What task does she perform for you?" He obviously didn't approve, thinking her enslaved or something.
T'Roc looked thoughtful for a moment.
"None that I can think of. She goes where she pleases, does what she pleases and eats what she wants from what I can tell. Her only function as far as I can make out is to get as many cuddles as she can, as much food as she can stuff in her belly and to hair up my uniform!"
Ah! So that was her game! She'd purposely come down covered in cat hair and smelling of feline. So what was it with the blanket?
"Catnip," whispered Al on cue. "She's rubbed catnip into it. It stinks of it."
Of course, I couldn't smell it, but Al had a Klingon nose that was far more sensitive than mine.
Arunga looked taken aback.
"And you permit this?"
"It's not a case of permitting it. It's just what she does."
"She must be very lazy and fat!"
He really didn't approve. T'Roc gave a flighty laugh.
"Lazy? She can be, but the effort she puts in to getting her own way keeps her mentally active. As to her weight, it is a problem we all try to address. We try not to overfeed her but she can be very persuasive. Our doctor keeps an eye on her, and Jen nags us endlessly about not overfeeding her."
"She sounds incredibly spoilt," he remarked, his nose stretching forward and sniffing the blanket. His eyes narrowed in pleasure and the shortest purr in history burst forth before he remembered himself. He jerked back from the blanket sharply.
"I think you are right, but she's a very happy cat. I would be very honoured if you would try the blanket," said T'Roc. "Beastie told me it was lovely."
"I thought you said she couldn't speak."
"Beastie doesn't need words to tell us what she wants, likes or dislikes. She's quite verbal without."
Arunga got up and stretched.
"Oh, very well," he sighed snootily and settled himself in the middle of the blanket, tucking his huge paws in beneath him. He even gave that quaint little wiggle that cats do when settling themselves down, and then his nose dropped to the fleece and buried itself in the pile.
T'Roc had well and truly suckered him!