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Into the Looking Glass: Chapter Five

       Last updated: Thursday, January 20, 2005 23:43 EST



    “First report on Gate 417,” Collective 15379 emitted.


    “Initial reports favorable. Group of ten level one ground combat units sent on survey. Encountered minor resistance.”

    “On immediate entry?”

    “Yes. Or shortly thereafter. One GCU sustained terminal injuries, recovered and recycled. Two sophonts recovered, one terminal, one critical. Both terminated and examined.” It sent a blip of biological information on the late Edderbrooks. “Initial invasion packet was started but before it completed gestation there was a magnitude 249 explosion at the gate and five farside combat units, estimated level one to three, entered the gate area. Sentries engaged and one reported full engagement. Slight variations from initial survey of sophonts.” Another blip of data, this one defining Howse’ protective suit as an extruded armor. “A response packet was sent through consisting of level one and two ground combat units. Level one units were repulsed by a heavy force of farside ground combat units designated one to four. Level two units pushed back first wave but were stopped and repulsed by a reinforcing wave of level two to four units; farside units manually blocked the gate. A group of level six units had arrived by then and reopened the gate. Initial entry appeared successful but first level six unit was destroyed, method unknown, which backblast severely damaged two more level six units, still recoverable. With only two level six units functional and all level one and two units terminated in the immediate gate area the attack was called off while more level six units are gestated. Colonization packet is gestated and only awaits successful opening of the gate.”

    “Heavy defense,” Collective 47 noted. “Weapon type?”

    “Chemical propellant and explosive. No plasma or quark weapons detected.”

    “I have sent a message to all nearby collectives and those with localized gate ability to forward all available level three though seven ground combat units and to begin a ten percent increase in gestation of all combat systems. When you have an overwhelming force available, strike. That will require at least seven cycles.”

    “I understand and comply.”

    “And send an emissary unit.”

    “An emissary?”

    “Let us see how gullible they are.”



    “Doctor Weaver?” a voice said.

    Bill opened his eyes a crack and then closed them against the light. It was moments like this that he dreaded. So far, it seemed okay. He felt sheets and the brief glimpse he had seen overhead indicated a hospital. So did the smell.

    “Doctor Weaver?” the voice repeated. It was a woman. Nurse or doctor? Have to open the eyes again to check.

    A large breasted red-head wearing one of those vaguely comical multi-colored smocks that nurses seemed to be enamored of was standing by the bed with a cup of water.

    “Before you ask you’re in Shands Hospital in Gainesville, Florida,” the nurse said, holding a straw up to his mouth.

    Bill took a sip, clearing what felt like a mound of plaster out of his mouth, and grunted.


    “How about a bedpan?” she smiled.

    “No,” he said, sitting up and wincing at the headache. “I can move.” He checked his extremities to ensure that this was, in fact, the case. All working. All weak as hell but that would pass. He’d been in the body and fender shop before.

    “I can walk.”

    “You’re not supposed to,” the nurse said, firmly, pushing him back. He slid his hand onto her thumb and exerted just enough pressure to prove that it could hurt. “I can walk. I’m going to walk. All I need is for you to help me with the IV cart.”

    She looked at him sternly then shook her head and helped him to the bathroom. By the time he made it back to the bed he wondered if it had been a good idea; he was weaker than he’d thought.

    “The gate?” he asked. He wasn’t too sure exactly where Gainesville was from Eustis but if they’d lost the gate he didn’t want to be close.

    “Nothing else has come through,” the nurse said, helping him into bed and settling the sheets to her satisfaction. “It’s been all over the news. There’s more National Guard and some regular Army and Marines around it, now.”

    “There were some SEALs with me,” Weaver said. He had a clear view of Sasson lying in the bottom of the hole.

    “They’re both here,” the nurse said. “The younger one is still unconscious, not a coma, he’ll be okay. The older one is already out of bed, against doctor’s orders, and swearing at anyone who tries to get him back in. Now you just lie down and rest. A doctor will be here to see you soon.”

    After she had left Weaver elevated the bed – lying down hurt more than sitting up – and turned on the TV. He didn’t have to flip through many channels; everything but the Discovery Channel and Disney were running all news all the time.

    “We’re reporting live from Eustis, Florida where units of the Third Infantry Division, the same units that captured Baghdad, are just beginning to arrive. Bob Tolson is embedded with Bravo Company, First Battalion Ninety-Third Infantry, over to you, Bob.” The voiceover was from New York or Washington but the video was from a news helicopter. There were green Army bulldozers and some yellow civilian ones digging big holes and a shot of a whole line of tractor trailer cars loaded with tanks and APCs. Bill thought about the flaming debris falling from the sky and wondered at the balls it took to fly a helicopter in the area for no other reason than getting some nice stock footage.

    “Peter, you should be able to see the activity around me,” the local reporter said. “From the air it probably looks like chaos but I’m told it’s a well orchestrated drill. I’m talking with Captain Shane Gries who is the commander of Bravo Company. Shane, thanks for taking a moment to talk to us.”

    “No problem, Bob.” The video had cut back to the ground and now showed a youngish man with a square jaw, his helmet fastened and looking very neat.

    “What do you think our chances are?” the reporter asked.

    “Well, Bob, the enemy clearly has some very good firepower,” the company commander responded. “But its action plan is going to have to be very simple, there is only one avenue of attack available. And if light infantry, which is what it faced before, could hold it and push it back, well, my boys will turn it into dog meat with their Bradleys and Abrams.”

    “By light infantry you’re talking about the local militia?” the reporter asked.

    “What they’re calling ‘The Charge of the Redneck Brigade?’”

    “Bob, I’m not about to dis those locals,” the captain said, shaking his head.

    “They retook the gate and took plenty of casualties doing it. They’re fine Americans and patriots and, truth be told, they probably shoot better than most of my boys. Some of them are still hanging around and as long as they want to, they can stay.”

    “I wasn’t making fun of them,” the reporter said with a tone of honesty.

    “I know, but that redneck crack is getting under my boy’s skin,” the captain replied, sternly. “The day one of you reporters is willing to charge the gates of hell with nothing but some World War Two weaponry you can crack wise. Until then, treat them with the respect they deserve. They and the National Guardsmen are going to stay here until, at least, the rest of the battalion arrives. I’ve been told that the short term plan is to get the whole brigade down here, arrayed in layered defense. What they’ll do after that I don’t know. But I think that even the locals will admit that a battalion of mechanized infantry is probably enough.”

    “I notice that you’ve pulled further back from the gate,” the reporter said, changing the subject hastily. “Is that wise?”

    “Our Abrams and Bradleys are longer range weapons,” the captain explained carefully. “We’re digging revetments for them and as soon as the engineers and civilian contractors are done with them they’ll start on bunkers for the infantry that are forward of that line. But I don’t want my command caught in another of those explosions; if the enemy had come through right after its rhino-tank exploded they’d have rolled over the defenders. Infantry positions are back two hundred yards and the Brads and Abrams are at two fifty. That should give enough stand-off for secondaries. And, trust me, we can fill the probable avenue of approach with plenty of firepower even if we’re that far back.”

    “Well, captain, I’m sure everyone’s glad you’re on the job,” the reporter said.

    “Back to you, Peter.”

    “That’s good news from Eustis,” the anchorman said. “Now turning to other news, the young lady who miraculously survived the explosion in Orlando has been reunited with her surviving family,” the camera turned to what was clearly previously shot footage of Mimi, Tuffy tucked under her chin, hugging a heavy-set woman in her thirties. “Mimi Jones closest surviving relative is Vera Wilson, who now has the responsibility of raising not only her niece but the strange alien playmate that adopted her. Our reporter, Shana Kim talked with Mrs. Wilson earlier today.”

    The scene changed to what was clearly heavily edited footage as the heavyset woman, now wearing too much make-up of the wrong shade for television, was sitting in on a plaid sofa and talking.

    “Herman and I are glad to take Mimi in,” the woman said, dabbing at her eyes.

    “I miss my Loretta, that’s my sister, of course, but by the grace of God Mimi survived. Herman and I don’t have any children of our own, not for want of trying and we both love Mimi very much and are glad to have her. She misses Loretta too, but she’s taking it very well. She hasn’t cried at all. I mean, she knows her momma is gone but we’ll all be together in Heaven someday and that is a blessed relief to her.”

    “What about the alien,” the reporter asked. The camera gave a brief shot of the blonde woman in her twenties, looking serious and nodding her head. “Aren’t you worried about it?”

    “Tuffy?” the woman answered. “Well, he’s pretty scary at first. I mean he looks like a big old terancheler. But he ain’t done nothing wrong. I had to scold Mimi one time, nothing much just that she hadn’t cleared her dishes, and I was sort of afraid to. But Mimi just nodded and did as she was bid and then told me that Tuffy said it was okay, I was right. That was pretty strange, I’ll admit, but, like I said, he ain’t done nothing wrong. I know they say he hurt that deputy, but I’m sure it was just a misunderstanding or something. I’m not afraid of Tuffy; he’s sort of cute. Truth to tell, if he’s that good a watch dog I’m glad to have him around what with all the child snatching and all. Couple of my neighbors asked if Mimi knew where they could get one for their own kids. Course she didn’t. She doesn’t remember where he come from.”

    “There’s going to be a lot of interest in Mimi, you know,” the reporter said.

    “How are you going to handle that?”

    “Well, we’re going to raise her as well as we can, as a God fearing young woman,” Mrs. Wilson answered. “As to the reporters and such, I figure with all that’s going on, Mimi and Tuffy won’t be so interesting before long.”

    “And rarely have I heard the term ‘nine day wonder’ so well described,” the anchor said, smiling. “A charity fund for the support of Mimi Jones has been established. Donations can be made to: The Mimi Jones Foundation, PO Box 4687, Orlando, Florida, 32798 – 4687. And in other news…”

    “In other news that’s going to be one very rich little alien,” a voice said from the door.

    Weaver looked up and grinned at Command Master Chief Miller, who was wearing a hospital gown tied in the back.

    “You know your ass is hanging out in the breeze, right?” Weaver said, turning down the TV.

    “Yep,” the chief said, walking in the room.

    “And you’ve got an IV insert stuck in your arm?”

    “Yep,” Miller replied, taking a chair. “And I told them they had thirty minutes to take it out or I was going to do it myself and bleed all over their nice, shiny floor. How you doing, Doc?”

    “Tired, sore, hell of a headache.”

    “Pain is weakness leaving the body,” the chief intoned. “You ready to get out of here?”

    “I’d love to,” Weaver admitted. “I don’t think doctors know what they hell they’re doing; there’s a reason they call it ‘practice.’ But we both appear to be a little short on clothes.”

    “Got some Guardsmen on the way over with some chocolate chips,” the SEAL said.

    “After which, by order of your friend the NSA, we’re going to take a little drive up to a town called Archer.”

    “What’s there?” Weaver asked, wincing.




    Emma May Sands had turned seventy-nine the previous month. Two decades before when her late husband Arthur had retired they sold their house in Buffalo New York and moved to the small, rural town of Archer. It was not a “regular” retirement community and they had preferred it for that very reason. Archer was a small town consisting mostly of young couples who worked in and around Gainesville, generally in something connected to the University. There were also a few houses rented to students. It was a young town and despite the fact that Emma and Arthur knew they were old, they didn’t want to feel old. So they moved where there were young people around for the life and vitality. And they were close to Shands, which was one of the best hospitals in North Florida. Arthur had a heart condition and proximity to a good hospital was important.

    Shands had not helped, though, when Arthur finally suffered a terminal stroke. It had come in his sleep, thank God, and he passed lightly. After his passing Emma’s life hardly changed. She had to learn to cook for one but she continued to divide her time between the local Democratic Committee, which she had to admit was filled with hippy know-it-alls that didn’t understand you could be a Democrat and a patriot, and activities associated with the Episcopal Church. That was until a three foot tall cat scratched on her back door and calmly walked into the front room to watch Oprah.

    She wasn’t sure what to do. The cat walked on her back legs and, while she was clearly naked and just as clearly female, she didn’t seem bad. The cat had gray fur tinged to black in a line along her spine. Her belly was a lighter gray, almost white, with another line passing up the middle between her…mammaries and more highlighting on the tips of her ears. She had slanted eyes and either some sort of makeup or another highlighting running back from her eyes in a line. Emma had been watching the news, it was almost impossible to avoid unless you wanted to watch Discovery all day, and knew that aliens or something were landing in Orlando, but that all seemed very remote to her. Life in Archer had been much the same. Oh, there had been a rush on the grocery store like there was going to be a hurricane or something and a few of her friends had urged her to move back to Buffalo and stay with her children until everything passed over.

    But that didn’t mean she could pick up the phone and call the police and tell them there was a three foot tall cat sitting the front room watching the news. Little old ladies that did that had to go to the nursing home. There would be a time for her to go to the nursing home but it wasn’t that time yet.

    So she went back into the room and watched Oprah. Oprah was cut off half way through, though, with the news that more aliens, these ones bad guys, had landed in Eustis, which was closer to Archer than she really liked. There was a big fight going on between the aliens and the National Guard. She didn’t like that, and when the cat saw the aliens she hissed and spat something that sounded like angry words, so, nodding in request to the big cat, she changed the channel to Lifetime and sat and watched an episode of the Golden Girls. When the show was over it was getting late and the cat stood up and nodded at her.

    “I have to go,” the cat said, very clearly. “I will see you tomorrow, Blanch.” Emma didn’t bother to point out that her name wasn’t Blanch. Tracy Cooper, the poor dear, whose mind was getting a little out there, sometimes made the same mistake.

    Emma went to bed at her normal hour but couldn’t get to sleep. After a while she got up and went downstairs and looked at Arthur’s collection of books. She preferred to read mystery and horror novels but Arthur had been a big reader of all those trashy science fiction novels. She suspected that somewhere in those stacks and stacks of moldering paperbacks was what she needed to know to talk to an alien cat and let her know where the litterbox was, for example.

    She finally picked one up that looked as if it had been read many times called “The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress.” It at least had a spaceship on the cover. She tried to read it but it made no sense. And the author couldn’t write very well at all; he left out all the articles. Finally, after fifty pages, she gave up and turned off the light, falling almost immediately into the light sleep of old age.

    In the morning, as she was making tea, there was another scratching on the door. It was that cat again, wearing something like a long trenchcoat and a brimmed hat like a fedora against the early morning rain.

    “Good morning, Blanch,” the cat enunciated precisely, taking off the coat and hat and shaking them.

    “My name’s Emma,” Emma replied, taking the child sized coat and setting it on the dryer with the hat perched on top.

    “Mine is Nyarowlll,” the cat said. “Good morning, Emma. May I watch television?”

    “Please do,” Emma replied. “I was just making tea and was going to have an English Muffin. Or I think I have a can of cat food around?”

    “No thank you, Emma,” Nyarowlll said. “I am not hungry.” Emma rummaged in Arthur’s boxes again and found a book called “Methuselah’s Children”. It had the blurb “An Exciting New First Contact Novel” on the jacket so she thought it might help.

    The book was long and didn’t have much in it about aliens until towards the end. She’d gotten up for lunch and fixed herself a tuna sandwich, offering some of the tuna to Nyarowlll on a plate. The cat was watching some sort of old science fiction show with a big clunky robot and a guy in a silver suit but she said that she did not want any tuna.

    When Emma came back to the sitting room she noticed that this book was by the same author that had written that silly moon thing. Apparently he did know a definite article. Maybe the moon thing was his first book; first novels sometimes were pretty bad.

    She finished the book, it was a long one but she was a fast reader, before dinner time. When Nyarowlll came into the sitting room looking for her Emma narrowed her eyes.

    “You’re not going to change our babies, are you?” she asked. She had four children and two of them were still giving her grandchildren. Aliens had better not start changing babies. “We don’t stand for that sort of thing, here.”

    “No, Emma,” Nyarowlll said. Her diction had improved, smoothed out, and if she had an accent it was slightly Midwestern. “We do not change babies. Emma, I think the thing I need to say is: Take me to your leader.” She stuck out one paw as if to shake hands.

    Emma took the paw carefully, Nyarowlll looked as delicate as a big bird, and shook it then put he other hand over it and said, gently. “Why don’t I just call someone, okay?”



    There was a big barrier of police tape around a small ranch house, with two officers sitting on the hood of their squad cars smoking cigarettes, when Weaver and Chief Miller pulled up at the address they had been given. They showed their ID to the officers then walked to the front door of the house which was being guarded by a SWAT team sergeant.

    Weaver waved at the sergeant and showed his Pentagon ID again



    “I’m Dr. Weaver with the DOD,” he said. “This is Command Master Chief Miller with SEAL Team Five. What do you have?”

    “We received a call that a non-hostile alien was visiting this home. The home owner is Mrs. Emma Sand. When the first officers arrived they found a three foot tall…cat that walks on its hind legs. The homeowner alleges that the cat had been visiting for two days, watching television. When confronted by the officers the cat demanded to be ‘taken to our leaders.’” The SWAT sergeant was visibly sweating. “Upon investigation we found another gate in the woods behind the caller’s home. At that point we contacted the Department of Homeland Security, secured the area and awaited further information. The area is quarantined at this time but by the time we got here quarantine had already been breached.”

    “Felinoid,” Weaver said, gently. “Three foot tall felinoid. Looks like a cat but it’s from another world so it’s not really a cat. And the other term you’re searching for is ‘bipedal.’ That’s walking on two legs. Gotta learn the jargon.”

    “Yes, sir,” the sergeant said.

    “We’ve got it,” Miller said, tapping the sergeant on the shoulder. “You don’t get this much in Archer, huh?”


    “Command Master Chief.”

    “No, Command Master Chief, we don’t.”

    “Don’t worry,” Miller said, tapping him on the shoulder again. “We see it all the time.”

    They walked into the front room where a pleasant faced older woman was sitting in front of a tea service talking in low tones with, yes, a three foot tall bipedal felinoid.

    “Hello,” Weaver said, nodding at the old lady. “I’m Dr. William Weaver with the Department of Defense and this is Command Master Chief Miller with the Navy. Are you Mrs. Sand?”

    “Sands,” Emma said, starting to get up and staying in her chair at a wave from Weaver. “Emma May Sands.”

    “And who is your visitor?” Weaver asked.

    “This is Nyarowlll,” Emma said, getting the vowels as close as she could to what was essentially a meow.

    “Hello, Nyarowlll,” Bill said.

    “A doctor is someone who manages the physiology of your people?” Nyarowlll asked, carefully.

    “It is also the term for an academic,” Bill pointed out. “I am an academic who is studying the gates.”

    “I, too, am an academic,” Nyarowlll said, somewhat excitedly. “I study the physical processes of our world.”

    “We’re probably the same sort of academic,” Bill replied with a closed mouth smile.

    “And your Navy, as I understand it, handles combat at sea,” Nyarowlll asked, looking at the chief. “Does it not? But surely this is a situation for land security.”

    “I’m a SEAL, ma’am,” Miller replied. “We handle ground combat as well.”

    “Oh, yes,” Nyarowlll said, making a strange sidling motion with her head. “I saw a program on them on the Discovery Channel. Very good soldiers.” Miller decided to let that one pass.

    “What can we do for you, Nyarowlll?” Bill asked.

    “I am what you would call an ambassador from my world,” Nyarowlll answered. “I have come to this world to establish friendly relations and trade. I would like to meet with your world leadership and, barring that, I would like someone who is capable of establishing communications come to our world to meet with our leadership.”

    “Ah,” Bill said, momentarily dumbfounded. “You have to understand that we are somewhat…uncertain about cross gate contact. The first sentients we have…met from another intelligent society came through fighting.”

    “That would be the T!Ch!R!,” Nyarowlll noted, letting out a stream of what was mostly clicks. “We, too, have had experience with them. They are a sort of pest that goes with the gates.”

    “Let me call someone and see what I can arrange,” Bill replied, stepping out of the room. He pulled out his cell phone and called the NSA. He had an intermediate control at this point in the Pentagon but this seemed like something that needed a bit more direct approach. He finally got through to her and explained what he had been told.

    “Damn,” the NSA said. “State is going to be all over this like stink and we don’t actually know that she is friendly.”

    “Yes, ma’am,” Bill said. “I’m wondering what they know about the gates. I’ve seen no sign of high technology about the visitor. But that doesn’t tell us anything about the far side.”

    “Would you and Chief Miller be willing to travel to the far side and investigate this society while I do battle with State back here?” she asked.

    “Yes, ma’am,” Weaver replied, sighing. “If Nyarowlll can survive on this side the converse is probably true.”

    “Tell her you’ve contacted your leaders in this government. Then, go through, make contact with their government but don’t promise anything, understand?”

    “Yes, ma’am,” Bill replied.

    “Good luck.”

    “Nyarowlll,” Weaver said. “Or should I call you Dr. Nyarowlll?”

    “Nyarowlll will do,” the cat replied.

    “I’ve contacted our leaders and told them what is happening. They asked me to go through and contact your leaders in turn. Would that be possible?”



    “Certainly,” Nyarowlll said, standing up. “Now?”

    “Chief?” Bill said.

    “Let me go get my bag,” the SEAL replied, walking out of the room. When he came back in he was carrying an M-4 and wearing a combat harness. “Okay, I’m dressed.”

    “Will there be an issue with bringing weapons with us?” Bill asked.

    “Not at all,” Nyarowlll replied, walking towards the rear of the house. “It is a justifiable action. However, when you meet the Emperor they will have to remain outside.”

    Bill mulled that over as they approached the gate. Two SWAT team members were watching it carefully, as if it would start dumping….whatever she’d called them at any time.

    Nyarowlll stepped through with total aplomb and Bill followed her into the looking glass.



    The far side was a large room, about fifteen meters high, with a concrete floor and walls. The ceiling, which looked to also be concrete, was held up with heavy metal beams that were riveted together. The construction looked vaguely familiar to him but he couldn’t place it. Then he noticed was the odor. There was a cat-like musk but overlaying it was what he identified as wood and coal smoke. He hadn’t smelled coal smoke in years but it was distinctive. There was also a smell like rotten fish or a salt marsh, the place must be near the ocean. The room was cold, cooler than the Central Florida evening they had left, and there were three small potbelly stoves heating it. One of them was glowing cherry red. The room was lit with a large number of lamps which Bill tentatively identified as oil lamps.

    There were about twenty cats in the room most of them colored like Nyarowlll and almost indistinguishable but a few colored a light tan with brown markings. Some of them wore leather aprons and others bore harnesses made of leather and carried what looked like laser pistols that had been modified for wood stocks. One of the ones wearing an apron came over to Nyarowlll immediately and they carried on a conversation that sounded like a cat-fight, meanwhile stroking each other’s ears. When it was done three more came over bearing silver boxes. They were about three inches across, looked not unlike very stylish cellular telephones, and dangled from light chain necklaces that were clearly designed to go over the heads of the cats; there was no way that they would go over his or Miller’s.

    “These are movement devices,” Nyarowlll said, taking one of them and looping it over her head. “They will take us to the seat of our government.” She noticed that he couldn’t figure out how to put it on and she made another sinuous head movement. “They can be carried anywhere. Perhaps in a pocket?” She took his and manipulated the keypad on the front. There were eight keys marked with sinuous symbols and she quickly tapped out a code sequence then handed it back.

    “When I give the word, tap this one twice,” she said, pointing to one of the keys and ensuring that he knew which one. She set Miller’s as well and then held hers up. “Now.”

    Bill tapped it twice and felt a disorientation that was much more severe than a gate transfer. But in a moment he was standing in another room. It was much smaller with fine wood paneling, a terrazzo inlay floor and lined with low, low even for the cats, benches that were covered in rich furs of an unusual shade of blue. There were two more of the soldier cats in the room, bigger and beefier than the ones in the gate room. Both carried the laser pistol/rifles and were eying the SEAL warily.

    “I’ll be just a moment,” Nyarowlll said. “You’ll have to leave your weapons here.”

    Nyarowlll spoke to the soldier cats and then passed through the door with a perfunctory ear wipe to each.

    Bill got a more careful look at the weapons the cats bore and reached some conclusions. The body of the weapon was made of what appeared to be plastic or ceramic composite with a barrel that was metal, probably a heavy metal. The shoulder piece, on the other hand, was wood and was connected to the main weapon by metal bands that wrapped around a very strangely curved pistol grip. The ammunition pouches were formed and hardened leather secured by a brass clip. They looked about right for some sort of power pack.

    “Doc,” Miller said, glancing around the room. “These guys don’t make those weapons.”

    “Yes,” Weaver replied. He glanced over at the SEAL who was looking dyspeptic.

    “What’s wrong?”

    “Nothing,” Miller said in a muffled voice. He was looking around at the floor with a pained expression and finally swallowed.

    “Couldn’t figure out what to do with your tobacco juice?” Bill said, smiling.

    “Always something you can do with it,” the chief growled. The he unbuckled his combat harness and laid it on one of the couches, setting the M-4 down on top of it. Then he pulled out a clasp knife from his pocket, a pistol from the back of his trousers and a knife out of his boot. “That had better be here when I come back,” he added, pointing at the pile.

    One of the cats made a sinuous head motion then stepped over to the pile, lowering his weapon from high port. He gestured at the rifle in interest. Miller picked up the M-4 and dropped the magazine then jacked a round out of the chamber and handed the weapon to the cat who, after a moment’s hesitation touched a stud on his own rifle and removed a small, silver, oblong and passed the rifle to the chief.

    “There’s no sights on this thing that I can see,” the chief said as the cat hefted the M-4 and then looked at the sights. He said something to his companion who responded with a series of hacks. It might have been disgust, it might have been laughter. The cat lifted the M-4, figured out how to shorten the stock which made it just about perfect for him and looked through the sights, keeping his finger away from the trigger. The pistol grip was too large for him but so was the one on the ray gun.

    “I bet one of those guys could handle the kick on an M-4,” Weaver noted as the cat lowered the weapon and then examined the cartridges. He pointed out the bullets to his companion again who made a sinuous head motion and spat a couple of times. There was a discussion that sounded like two cats stuck in a barrel going on when the door opened and Nyarowlll, followed by a cat that just looked older, came through.

    “The Emperor will see you now,” Nyarowlll said, gesturing through the door.

    “Don’t fiddle with that while I’m gone,” Miller said, handing back the ray gun and then accepting his M-4 in return.

    There was a short corridor outside the room and another door with two of the “heavy” cats guarding it. These bore not just the ray guns but short swords that looked oddly ceremonial. The older cat opened the door and they ducked through, it was very low for them although the corridor had been about normal height, into a small office. A cat that looked about Nyarowlll’s age was sitting in front of a low desk that was just about covered in paper. On one side of the desk was an odd, capped, tube jutted up through the floor. Behind him was a large window that was open a crack at the bottom despite the chill. From it came the sounds of a street if metal wheels on rock and a strange oinking could be called street sounds.

    Five more cats were in the room, two heavies, one by the door and one by the window on the far wall and three that were all older than the cat behind the desk. One of them was wearing a combat harness that was missing ammunition pouches but did have some silver embroidery that might have been rank markings. He was an old tom, scarred in quite a few places, one ear nearly torn off, eyepatch over his left eye and missing his right arm from just below the elbow. That had been replaced with a steel metal skeleton that terminated in a hook. Despite all the damage he looked as if he could chew nails and spit them out as Rottweiler killers. Miller took one look at him and saluted.

    “General,” the SEAL said, holding the salute.

    The cat looked at him for a moment then crossed his arms in front of him, hissing something. Miller dropped the salute and turned back to the cat behind the desk.

    “Dr. Weaver, Command Master Chief Miller, may I present His Majesty Mroool, Emperor of All the Mreee,” Nyarowlll said.

    “Your Majesty,” Weaver replied, putting his hand over his heart and bowing slightly. The protocol was probably all fucked up. He probably just said that the US was part of His Majesty’s domain or something. But it seemed like the thing to do at the time.

    “It here is good you visit,” the emperor meowed. “Not many words yours. Nyarowlll tell who here.”

    “Also present,” she said, gesturing at the three older cats standing by the wall, “are Secretary Owrrrllll who is something like our Minister of the Interior, General Thrathptttt, commander of our military and Academic Sreeee, who is the senior minister for intra-gate affairs, something like your Secretary of State.” Owrrrllll was a tabby as was Sreeee. About half the guards they had seen were female as well.

    “Honored, gentlemen,” Weaver said, doing a slight bow again. “Ladies.”

    “Our interest is to open up trade between our two peoples,” Nyarowlll said as there was a yowl from the tube by the desk. The emperor uncapped it and spit a phrase into it, slamming it shut. “We have things we can trade with you. Our weapons are far superior to yours and we have the teleportation devices which you do not. I’m not sure what you have to trade with us.” She made another of those head tossing gestures as if in dismissal.

    “Well,” Weaver said, dryly, recognizing a bluff when he saw one, “the first thing that comes to mind is a telephone system.”

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