Kalli watched numerous programs for quite a while. That, along with a natural healing quality, ordered much of the linguistic confusion in her head. Unfortunately, if any of her personal memories remained, they were still inaccessible. But that was a small matter after all; her Jason was courting her! He called her friend for the first time, and according to Dr. Phil, a strong relationship was built on friendship and trust. And Jason sang her songs to sooth her heart. He’d prepared breakfast for her, trying to impress on her what a fine keeper of the home he would make.
She’d found dramatic programs devoted to bonding. They showed couples with nearly insurmountable problems struggling against fate to be happy. The soaps were quite instructive. Apparently, people that cherished each other were expected to frequently lock their lips together and exchange saliva. After this went on for a while, they ended up in dark, secretive places where they removed clothing and rubbed bodies together as they moaned appreciation for one another.
It was no wonder that Jason had said he wanted to sleep alone. Sleeping together, as bonded, followed a natural progression beginning with a first date. She was hazy as to details in this area, lacking a girlfriend to advise her. The rituals of Earth were surprisingly complex. It was a wonder they ever got anything done. Indeed, in many of the programs she watched, disastrous misunderstands frequently abounded, causing much sadness, and wastage of time and energy.
Her attention was captured by a small furry creature, gold with a long tail, pointed ears, and a red collar around its neck. The word cat appeared in her thoughts as the animal hopped onto the outside window ledge and stared in at her over the top of the TV. The beast’s mouth opened, showing fangs, but Kalli couldn’t hear its words through the window. She wondered what the animal wanted.
Jason had asked her not to leave the house without him, but surely it would be alright to invite a guest in. She went to front door and opened it. A moment later, the cat came in as if this was nothing new. Kalli wondered if the beast were used to visiting Jason’s mother, before she had become broken forever.
“Come in,” Kalli said. “I am honored by your presence.
“Meowww,” the cat said.
“I am sorry,” Kalli apologized, “but I do not know your dialect.”
The beast looked around as if to find someone better suited for communication. Finding no one else, it came back to her and rubbed against her leg, an intimate gesture of acceptance. Kalli felt honored. “Can I offer you milk? We are out of French Toast, which was delicious!”
Kalli took that as a yes, sprang into the air, and floated into the kitchen. She landed and pulled a jug of milk out of the Fridge. After retrieving her plate from the sink, she rinsed it, poured milk onto it, and carried the dish to the table. The cat entered the room and jumped up onto a chair. From there, it hopped to the table and thrust its muzzle into the milk with obvious delight.
As the cat drank, Kalli was overcome with a sudden desire to stroke the animal’s furry back. She did and the beast arched into her hand, demanding more. A new sensation radiated from her core as a dormant mechanism lurched to life. In that moment, she knew the cat’s matrix down to the tiniest particle. That understanding filed itself in her memory. She pulled back, unsure of the use of her knowing. Surely, there was a purpose for such perception.
As if to provide an answer, her flesh broke out in a glow. She lifted her hands in front of her. They softened around the edges and grew translucent. In shock, Kalli drifted higher in the air. She looked down her body. Her feet began to thin. She gave a startled gasp as her human senses bled away. The conversion continued and only the knowing remained to comfort her.
The cat stared at her, hissed, and bolted into the living room.
I don’t like this, she cried! I want it to stop.
The new mechanism she’d discovered offered her mind two symbols: one for the form she’d worn earlier, and the other for the matrix designated as cat. Her mental discomfort was dispelled by fascination. She understood suddenly that she could be the cat—at least outwardly. She yielded to the temptation and a moment later, dropped to the kitchen floor as a copy of her fuzzy guest.
She landed on four feet in a world suddenly barren of color. Everything was grey and appeared much bigger, but sharper as well. A flicker of motion in the corner of her eye caught her attention. She turned and saw that it was the tip of her new tail. She followed her tail, padding quickly in a tight circle as it deliberately avoided her. I’m a cat! I’m a cat! I’m a cat! She tried to speak but only “Meorrrf!” came out. Trying out her new form, she leaped onto a kitchen chair, and sprung toward the table from there. She passed over it, rebounding on the wall beyond. Her claws came out reflexively and she found herself stuck to the ceiling, hanging upside down.
The floor looked a long way down now that she was quite a bit smaller. Without concern, she ignited, choosing the symbol for Kalli. In human form, she fell to the floor, whapping it loudly with her body. She sat up, then stood. The tile under her was broken.
Oh, no! I hope I haven’t disturbed Jason’s rest.
She ran to the living room and stared up the staircase, listening for the sound of his feet. All was silent upstairs. She sighed in relief.
She turned and saw the visiting cat under an end table. It huddled with its ears laid back, the fur ruffled at its neck. Its eyes were dark as it hissed rudely at her. She went to the front door and opened it, then went back toward the cat. “If you’re going to be that way,” she said, “you can just leave.”
It did, streaking quickly across the room and out the door.
“And I gave you milk!”
Saddened by the loss of company, she closed the door and returned to the couch. She transmitted a signal that deactivated the TV, stilling its voice. She drew her knees up to her chin and hugged herself. She didn’t know why the fuzzy one had acted so strangely, but Jason would know. He knew about music. He’d know about cats as well. Unfortunately, it might be hours before he came downstairs. She sighed, sighed again, and went on to experiment with alterations in tone. At one point, a high, piercing tone escaped her, diving and soaring, performing many curious aerial maneuvers. She switched to words, disgorging them from memory.
There's a feeling I get when I look to the west
And my spirit is crying for leaving
In my thoughts I have seen
rings of smoke through the trees
And the voices of those who stand looking
and she's buying a stairway to heav—
She cut off the song, eyes widening with realization—Jason was sleeping and her singing might disturb him. That wouldn’t be good.
She noticed she’d already attracted an audience. There were three men staring in at her through the large living room window. She wondered if these might be the “men in black” that Jason had warned her about. No, they wore festive, bright colors. She was safe. But she wondered who they were and what they wanted. One of them—with a patch of fur on his chin—tapped the window to focus her attention. He then pointed at the front door, as if seeking permission to enter.
Oh, they want to visit with me! She leaped to her feet, and hurried to let them in.
Though she held the door open, the strangers stood transfixed, hesitant to enter. She wondered if there was some special ceremonial gesture she was expected to make. She’d have to ask Jason when got up.
“You wanted to come in, didn’t you?” she asked.
The question snapped them out of their collective trance. The one in front, with a sharp, angular face and reddish brown hair, flashed white teeth. She wondered if he felt threatened, doing that. He blinked and straightened, as if to impress on her his superior height. She half expected an attack, but he only spoke.
“Uh ... yeah ... if that’s all right...? We’re friends of Jason.”
“He’s in our band,” the second man said. His hair was blond and he wore a sleeveless, blue tee with a yellow smiling face on it. His arm muscles were highly developed. Kalli thought he must be a formidable swordsman. The third man remained silent, continuing to stare at her as though he must be ever vigilant lest some threat catch him unaware. He was black haired with a prominent nose that dominated the sparse mustache underneath.
She found herself bowing. “My name’s Kalli. I’m...” she paused to remember the social designation Jason said they were to employ. “...His sister.”
The first man said, “I knew that by the resemblance. I’m Jimmy Snoddbury. Everyone calls me Snod.” He used a thumb to point at the man with the powerful arms. “That’s Animal ... like the muppet, you know?”
The third man spoke for himself. “I’m Alex Key. Just call me Keyz.”
Snod stepped forward. “He plays keyboards.”
She retreated as the rest of them entered the house. “Keyboards? Is that a game of chance?”
Animal grinned suddenly. “The way he plays them, you bet.”
“Hey!” Keyz said.
“Just kidding.” Animal returned his attention to her. “I’m the drummer in this outfit. Snod does bass.”
Drummer—one who jests. And what is base...? Some kind of drug—perhaps used to heighten one’s battle rage before an engagement. There’s so much I still didn’t understand about this world’s culture.
Keyz closed the door behind him.
Kalli led her guests into the living room, and gestured toward the furniture. “Make yourselves comfortable. It may be a while before Jason wakes up.”
Snod smiled at her once more.
Unlikely but true , she decided the action was intended to show harmlessness.
“You’ll have to forgive the peeping tom routine,” Snod said. “We were headed for the front door when we heard the voice of an angel and had to find the singer.”
“And did you?” Kalli asked.
The men looked at one another, startled by the question, and then looked back at her. Snod gave half a laugh and answered. “I’ll say. You have the most incredible voice I’ve ever heard. I thought Jason was good, but you’re even better.”
Kalli accepted the information without comment and filed it away.
Animal leaned forward and shot her an earnest gaze. “Have you ever considered singing in a band?”
“No.” She had nothing more to say so an abrupt silence set in.
Finally, Keyz filled the void. “Well, you should think about it.”
“That’s not necessary,” she said. “I’m going to do whatever Jason wants.”
Snod grinned. “You’re right. We need to run it by him. Getting a little ahead of ourselves...”
“It’s strange,” Animal said, “Jason’s pretty much an open book, but he never mentioned having a sister.”
Keyz grinned. “Probably afraid you’d hit on her.”
“Hey, when am I not a perfect gentleman?” Animal said.
Snod and Keyz rolled their eyes at the same moment.
Kalli didn’t know what the gesture was supposed to convey, but made a mental note to practice eye-rolling later—it was important to Jason that she fit in, and not draw unwanted attention. These guests offered her the opportunity to perfect her role camouflage.
“Can I offer you something to eat or drink?” she asked.
“Well, I wouldn’t mind some coffee,” Snod said.
“Works for me,” Keyz said.
Animal nodded, reaching for the remote control to the TV.
She stood and walked to the kitchen, remembering that ordinary humans don’t fly across rooms. Kalli peered into the refrigerator, looking for this coffee they’d asked for. She didn’t see on the selves or in the door, and even pulled out the drawers. Nothing. She opened the upper compartment which was much colder. A tub caught her eye. She read the lettering on it, unsure of when she’d learned this skill. Cappuccino-ripple ice cream. A commercial she’d seen for frozen drinks suggested that cappuccino was a type of coffee.
She pulled out the tub, set it on a counter, and opened cabinets, searching for bowls. She found a plastic cylinder with the word coffee on it. Popping off the lid, she saw black granules. This complicated her task immensely. She found bowls and spoons, and settled her dilemma by scooping out ice cream and sprinkling the granules on top. Proud of herself for having worked out the problem, she placed the bowls on a cutting board for easier transportation, and returned to the living room.
She handed out the bowls and sat on the couch beside Animal. The three men looked at their ice cream, looked at her, looked back at their ice cream. She leaned against Animal, putting a hand on his leg as she stared into his startled eyes. “Did I make it wrong?” she asked.
His voice came out in a high pitch, “N-no.” He cleared his throat and his voice deepened. “It’s just the way I always have it, honest.” He smiled, spooning a generous portion into his mouth.
She noticed that eyes kept dropping to her chest. She looked down herself, wondering if she’d stained her shirt. No, that wasn’t it. The reason suddenly occurred to her—some cultures considered an eye-to-eye stare as a challenge to combat. He was showing acceptance of her, and his peaceful intentions. Jason had good taste in friends, even if they did seem to have trouble swallowing their food. Keys’ smile lost a little force as he ate, and Snod coughed frequently, gagging once or twice as well.
“Can we get some ... water?” Snod beat his chest a little with a fist.
She assumed the gesture was a form of compliment, and smiled widely, jumping up to fetch the water for them. When she got back with filled glasses, the bowls were empty and the men were in different places. They accepted the drinks and finished them quickly.
“Can I get you anything else?” she asked.
“No!” Animal was emphatic.
Snod’s smile was strained. “Please, don’t bother.”
“We’re begging you,” Keyz said. “That is, you shouldn’t trouble yourself.”
“Yeah,” Snod said. “It must be tough enough dealing with your mother’s death.”
Her mother’s death? Oh, yes, they meant Jason’s mother. Kalli nodded solemnly. “She’s broken ... forever.”
Snod blinked at her. “Uh, yes, anyway, we’re sorry for your loss.”
The others nodded.
“If there’s anything we can do...?” Animal said.
“Can you fix her?” Kalli grew excited by the prospect.
The men looked at her with pity.
Keys answered the question. “Sorry, Babe, even I have limitations.”
She felt immediate disappointment. “That’s too bad. It would make Jason so happy...”
Animal tapped his head and whispered to Snod, “She’s a little bit ... challenged.”
Kalli had no trouble picking up the words. She could even hear Jason’s deep, slow breathing upstairs when she focused. Animal was wrong; she didn’t feel threatened at all.
“No, I’m not,” she said.
“Uh, sorry,” Animal said, “didn’t mean to offend you.”
“You don’t need to apologize,” she said. “We’re friends right?”
For some reason, Animal was watching her chest again as he answered. “I certainly hope so.”