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Chapter 32

      "Yes?" the female at the reception desk asked, as Gral presented himself, still damp. He'd shaken himself in the entry way, and used the towels there, but fur didn't get completely dry that way.

      "Gralgiranselhelrarvnir, I have an appointment, to take in one of the lost cubs." She looked at her screen, while he looked over his shoulder. Jeremy had insisted on driving the hover, and he hadn't found a place to part it yet.

      "Yes, please come with me. Administrator Toldiran is waiting for you." She led him to a door, which opened, after knocking, and then ushered him in.

      The office was large, and the walls were covered with holos of cubs. The desk was utilitarian, but the chairs were large and plush. The male, behind the desk, who stood, as Gral entered was on the short side, and overweight.

      "Captain Gralgiranselhelrarvnir, it's such an honor to have a decorated hunter such as yourself, consider taking in one of our cubs. Please, take a seat. Are you looking for a specific type of cub?"

      "No," he replied as he sat, "we thought we would visit them, and see who tugs are our hearts."


      "My Heart should be joining us soon, he's looking for a place to park the hover. I can answer whatever question you have, to verify that we qualify to take one in."

      "I don't have many questions, you gave us access to your military records, when you made the appointment, and they speak quite well for you. And hearing that you have your Heart makes me even more comfortable. While I have no doubt that you can give one of our cubs a perfect home by yourself, we do prefer partnered applicants. It helps provide stability. Most of our cubs came to us under difficult situations, and stability is going to be important for them."

      There was a knock at the door, the administrator stood as the receptionist opened it, and froze as Jeremy entered. His clothes were wet. Like fur, you couldn't towel clothes dry.

      "I'm sorry I'm late, I didn't think finding a place to land the hover would be this difficult." Jeremy sat in the available chair, next to Gral.

      "This is Jeremy, my Heart," Gral introduced him.

      Administrator Toldiran was still staring at Jeremy.

      "Is there a problem?" Jeremy asked.

      "What are you?" the administrator asked.

      "I'm kelsirian," Jeremy answered, matter of fact, then realized what he as being asked. "Oh, I'm human," he reluctantly admitted, "by birth, but I'm a kelsirian citizen."

      "Is this going to be a problem?" Gral asked.

      "No, of course not," the administrator answered, getting over his surprise. "Please accept my deepest apologies, Jer, remy. I have to admit you are the first alien I've ever met." He sat back down. "You are Gralgiranselhelrarvnir's Heart." He said it as a statement, but Jeremy could see that he was finding difficult to accept.

      "I am."

      "Are you also part of the crew?"

      "I am. I'm the ship's engineer, I'm also hunter trained." That surprised the adminstrator.

      "I granted you access to his military file, you should have them."

      The administrator busied himself looking though his files. "Yes, there they are. I really must apologize, I am normally much more professional than this. If you'll give me a moment to familiarize myself with your file."

      Jeremy put his hand on Gral's while they waited and gave him a comforting smile.

      "I must say, that this is an impressive record, you were at Yarvir?"

      "As part of the support personnel, yes," Jeremy answered.

      The administrator nodded. "Well, I'm satisfied that as mates you can provide a good home for one of our cubs. If you'll follow me, I will take you to the cubs' living area. You can meet them there and see who claws their way into your hearts."

      He took them through the corridor where his office, and others were located, and through a door that opened to a much livelier corridor, of sun yellow. He pointed to a door as they walked by it.

      "Through there are the classrooms, where we educate the cubs of age."

      "You don't send them to a Center?" Gral asked.

      "As I said before, most of our cubs come to us through difficult circumstances. It often leave them with troubles dealing with an environment such as the Centers. Here we have professionals who can help them deal with those problems, so that they can overcome them by the time they reach the age where they can leave us on their own, if they haven't been taken in before that."

      "Do many of them get taken in?" Jeremy asked.

      "I'm afraid that when they reach that age, not many want them. Most want a cub young enough they can make their own, by the time they are of education age, they are pretty much their own person, without even taking into account the other troubles they might have. Here we have the playroom for the cubs who are too young to be educated." Next to the door he pointed at was a large window, and Jeremy looked into the large room, where cubs were playing, either in small groups or on their own. A cub in the middle of the room looked up as they walked by, and Jeremy stopped, looking at him.

      "The door at the end of this corridor, leads to the courtyard, although, with the rain, I expect most of the cubs will be inside." The voice became fainter as they kept walking, and Jeremy stayed transfixed in front of th window.

      The cub had looked up, and then back down at his toy, but in that moment of eye contact, Jeremy had recognized something. He couldn't say what it was he had seen there, but it felt familiar. He looked at the door, for a sign indicating he couldn't go in. Not seeing one he opened the door and walked in. He caught the attention of all the cubs in the room, but none of them moved from where they were. He sat, cross legged in front of the cub, who gazed at him with steady gray eyes.

      "Hello, I'm Jeremy, what's your name?"

      The cub didn't say anything, he tilted his head and looked him over. He wore faded pants that might have been a little to large for him. His fur was copper, with highlights that made Jeremy think of fire.

      "I don't have fur," Jeremy said, offering him his hand. The cub took it, looked at it, turning it over, and then let go of it. "Can you speak?"

      "We don't know that he can," a female said, behind Jeremy, startling him.

      He looked up at her. She was young, with silvery fur, and wore a uniform that indicated she was a medic. "What's his name?"


      "How did he come to be here?"

      "He was found in the wreck of a hover six month ago. He hasn't said anything since coming here."

      "His mother?" She shook her head. "His father?"

      "She wasn't mated, and she didn't declare him on the birth records."

      "Is it common for the father not to be declared?"

      "No, but it happens."

      He looked back at the cub. "DO you prefer being called Rudyumdamselhelrarin? Rudyum? Or . . ."

      The cub looked up at him after he said the shortened name, and their eyes met again. This time, the memory of where he'd seen eyes like that hit him.

      It had been in a mirror, his own brown eyes, after sleeping with a girl for the first. He'd been in his first year at the university, and it had been something of a dare, something about how he couldn't still be a virgin at his age. So his friend had found him a girl who was interested and he'd slept with her.

      The next morning, he had looked at himself in the mirror, and his eyes were empty. They reflected the emptiness he felt inside. He felt lost, he didn't know what he was doing, or why. But somewhere at the back of his mind he knew that if he stayed much longer, he wouldn't survive.

      That was when he had thrown himself in his studies, and started specializing in anti matter, something that would let him get off earth and hopefully as far as he could, as fast as possible.

      He was seeing all those things in eyes that were far too young to have lost so much hope. He couldn't be more than four years old. No one that young should be that empty inside. He looked around for the female, he wanted to ask his age, but she was busy taking care of a cub who had injured herself.

      He stayed like that, watching Rudyum play with hovers, crashing them together in silence. After a time the cub looked up, over Jeremy's shoulder, and he turned to see Gral and the administrator walking by, toward the offices. He looked back at the cub, who was playing again.

      "Rudyum," the cub looked up at him. "I don't know what happened to you, who hurt you so deeply, but if you'll let me, I will protect you. I have a home, and a mate, he is loving, and strong. He's stronger than I am, and like you, he's named after the Protector. I can't promise you that you'll never feel pain again, but you will never be alone again. You will be loved, I will do everything I can to show you happiness again." Rudyum kept looking at him, eyes impassive, while Jeremy's eyes were getting wet. He offered him his hand. "Please, let me take you away from here."

      The cub looked at the hand for a moment, and then placed his in it. They stood and left the room. When Jeremy opened the door to the office area, Rudyum stopped, so Jeremy stopped too. For a moment he thought he saw apprehension on the cub's face before it was blank again.

      Jeremy waited for Rudyum to start walking again before leading him to the administrator's office. The door was open and he entered.

       Gral turned, looking at him beaming with happiness. In his arms was a small bundle. "Look at her, Jeremy, isn't she precious?"

      Jeremy joined him, and looked at the small cub he was holding, he could only see her face, she mewed once and then feel asleep. Jeremy nodded and looked up at Gral.

      Gral only then noticed the tears. "What's wrong?" He then saw the cub holding Jeremy's hand, and half hiding behind him. Surprise and concern fought for dominance on his face as he looked from the cub Jeremy held, to the one he was holding.

      "I can't leave him here," Jeremy said, fighting to keep his voice steady. "I know we say we were only here for one cub, but we can make it work with two. I don't want us to have to choose between them."

      Gral nodded and rested his head on Jeremy's "We will make it work," he whispered.

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