Catsitting

StarFleet Academy, San Francisco, Earth

December, 2253

Cadet Spock had been summoned to his advisor's office. He wasn't sure why. His grades were quite acceptable, in fact, he was near, if not at, the top of his class. He had not been involved in any disciplinary actions. He had completed all his physical conditioning requirements for the entire year already. He had performed adequately in all the simulations to which he had been assigned. He had not violated curfew. The roommate who had been assigned to him this year tolerated him much better than the one he had had last year. He always wore the appropriate uniform. He did not skip classes. He could not come up with any reason to explain the summons.

He stood at the door to Captain Pike's office, unsure. If he was to be punished for something, certainly he deserved an explanation. Pulling himself up to ramrod straightness, he clasped his hands behind his back and strode into the office, stopping squarely in front of the desk.

Christopher Pike looked up at his favorite student's entrance. "Ah, Spock, glad to see you. Have a seat while I finish this. I'll be with you in just a moment." He bent his attention back to the response to the memo he had been sent by the department head. When he finished, a flick of his finger sent the response on its way and he shut down the comlink gratefully. He turned to Spock to be met with a totally blank, cold facade. What the hell was wrong with the kid now? He hadn't heard any rumors about any more hazing. Crap.

"Spock, what's the matter? You look like hell warmed over."

Spock tilted his head and considered what Pike had said. There appeared to be concern there. This did not sound like the intro to a tongue lashing or other punishment. Could he have been mistaken? "Might I inquire as to the reason behind the summons? Have I committed some transgression?"

Pike looked very confused. This was an expression Spock had become very familiar with during the last year and a half. It seemed that people were often confused by him. "No, why the hell would you think that? You're the last cadet I would suspect of 'committing a transgression', as you put it. You've got the cleanest record of any cadet I've ever seen." He paused and looked at Spock, shaking his head. "The reason I asked you to come here is because I need a favor." Watching carefully, he saw the small signs of relaxation on Spock's face. He had learned that you really had to watch that face closely. The signs were there if you looked, but so much smaller than most people would expect that they just didn't see them.

"A favor? There is something you wish me to do for you?"

"Yes, if you can. My sister and her husband are going to visit his family over the Christmas holidays and they have no one to take care of their new kitten. I thought perhaps you might be able to help them out. You could stay at their home for the week that they are going to be gone. Eat their food, sleep in their guest room, use their entertainment facilities, use the gym connected to their complex, all that stuff. And in exchange, just take care of the kitten."

"I have never taken care of a kitten. I am not sure I have ever even seen a kitten. This may be something which is beyond my capabilities, sir."

"Nonsense. Taking care of a kitten is not hard. You just feed it and give it water and keep the litter box clean. They'll leave you written instructions. It would help them out a lot, Spock. They'd be very grateful."

Spock was not comfortable. Captain Pike really wished for him to accept this assignment, that was obvious. But he was not really sure exactly what a 'kitten' was. A small domestic pet of some sort, apparently. He was familiar with the word, but could not place an image that fit. Finally he decided that he would have sufficient time to do research before the assignment started. It was only the first week of December. "I will accept, sir. Please forward my com address to them so that they can send me the necessary information."

"Good, good, Spock, thanks so much." Pike was beaming now, so he must have made the correct decision. Spock rose and left the office, still not confident that this was a task he would be proficient at.

***

Spock sat at the comlink in his dorm room, researching kitten care. He saw pictures of many different types of kittens - long haired, short haired, even hairless. There were many different colors and patterns of fur. Different shapes of head and body. It was confusing. He wished he knew exactly what type of kitten it was that he was supposed to care for. And what the age was. Although if it was 'new', then presumably it was fairly young. But old enough to be weaned from its mother. He studied the feeding requirements of kittens under one year of age. He studied the health requirements, the care of the litter box (UGH! - he would need several pair of disposable gloves), how much water was required daily, sleeping arrangements, even how kittens played and the types of toys to provide. There was much to learn.

***

He carefully packed a small duffle. He would need clean underwear, his Academy-issue pajamas, comfortable clothing to wear. Since he was not anticipating leaving the home of Captain Pike's sister, he would not need acceptable public attire. He added socks and a sweater. Their home would probably not be as warm as he would desire. He fetched his toiletries from the bathroom, added them to the duffle. What else would he need? Captain Pike had said that there was a large library, which he was welcome to use, however, he did need to take a few textbooks with him. Those were added to the duffle. He dressed in his cadet uniform, lifted the duffle, and proceeded to the transit station at the edge of the campus. The trip to the home where he was to stay was not a long one, and he arrived there with time to spare. He hesitated, was it better to go ahead and announce himself or should he wait until the time he had specified in his reply to their message?

He was spared further vacillation when the door opened. There stood a young woman who greatly resembled Captain Pike. "Oh, you must be Spock. Come in, come in." She held the door open and stood aside, motioning him inside. "I'm so glad you're early. I like to be early, too." She smiled at him and gestured to a room off to the right side. "Come into the kitchen and let me show you where things are."

She took him into the kitchen, showed him where the food for the kitten was kept. There was a note, written on a piece of plastic reusable paper, there on the shelf beside the food. Next she showed him where the kitten's littler box was, in the small facility off the kitchen, near the 'fresher for the family's clothing. She showed him also the stasis unit, well stocked, and the pantry. "Just help yourself to anything you like." She smiled again. "We really appreciate this." Next she took him into a large room with an entertainment center. There were shelves of books on three of the walls in this room. "This is our favorite room. The chairs are very comfy. Here's the controller. Feel free to read any of the books you like. It's one of our favorite ways to spend an evening. There's lots more firewood behind the garage." Now he noticed the small fireplace, on the wall where the chairs were grouped. Perhaps he would use that to add additional warmth to the room in the evenings.

"Now come this way and I'll show you the guest room." She led him off down a hall and showed him a room that was larger than his Academy dorm room, which was shared by another cadet. And there was a very nice bathroom attached. He set his duffel on the bench at the foot of the bed.

"Well now I think I've shown you every thing. Do you have any questions?"

He looked about. He still had not seen his charge. "I have not seen your kitten. Could you show me where it is? And I do not know where it's sleeping place and toys are."

"Oh, my, I did forget something important, didn't I? Come along then." She led the way back through the entertainment room, through the kitchen to a small space on the front of the house with a large bay window. "This was the breakfast nook originally. Now it's kitty heaven." She smiled widely.

Spock looked around. There was a large pole, covered in carpeting, right in the middle of the space. There were several circular pads, spaced at intervals, sticking out in different directions from the pole. There were also two small boxes, also covered in carpeting, with circular holes in the sides, which were attached to the pole. On the floor was a large pillow, covered with soft, fluffy fibers. There were several small items, which were probably toys. There was also a large box with many small holes in it. He looked at it curiously.

"Oh, this is so much fun. You put a treat inside and the kitty has to try to fish it out through the holes. She does love this."

"Does your kitten have an appellation?"

"Appellation? Oh, you mean a name! Yes, her name is Sweetie Pie."

Spock cocked one eyebrow at the woman. Surely not. Sweetie Pie could not possibly be a proper name for a kitten.

Just then a man came striding in from the garage. "All loaded, Honey. Are you ready? Oh, you must be Spock. Thanks so much for volunteering to take care of Sweetie Pie for us. It's making our trip so much easier. Come on now, Honey, we really need to get going. Bye, Spock, see you in a week." With that they were out the door and gone. But where was the kitten? He had not yet seen it.

***

Spock stood in the large guest room. He had unpacked his duffle and hung up or folded his clothing into the drawers of the chest against the wall. He placed his empty duffle on the floor of the closet and carried his toiletries into the bathroom, setting the small case on the counter beside the sink. Next he removed his uniform and boots and placed them in the closet. He selected soft, loose pants and a knit pullover and put them on. Now he was comfortable for the evening.

He walked through the house, looking for the kitten. He realized that he did not even know what color it was. This was definitely not acceptable. How did one summon a kitten?

He walked into 'kitty heaven'. He looked inside all the boxes on the pole. No kitten. He was not sure what to do next. Finally he decided that he would prepare both his evening meal and that of the kitten. Surely food would summon it out of hiding. He opened the stasis unit and perused its contents. Well, none of the many meat objects were in the least tempting. But here, what was this? Potato soup. That was good, he had eaten that before. He pulled the container out. And in the pantry he found crackers. Back to the stasis unit - yes, there was fruit. Now he had a sufficient meal. While the soup was heating, he went to prepare the kitten's meal. He had to look about the kitchen to find a measuring tool to be certain to give exactly the correct amount. He did not understand why it was not beside the food box. He also measured out the exact amount of water to add to the dish on the floor beside the food dish. He set the two dishes exactly three centimeters apart on the protective mat placed there on the floor. He went back and found a bowl and spoon for his soup and carried soup, crackers, and fruit to the small table at the side of the entertainment room. Perhaps this table had been where 'kitty heaven' was now. He went back to the kitchen, looking for a napkin. In the third drawer he opened, he found placemats and napkins. Selecting one of each, he returned to the table, placing the placemat under the soup bowl. Now he sat and began to eat his evening meal.

He had barely begun when he heard a small sound. What was that? He looked around, but saw nothing. He lifted up another spoonful of soup. Another small sound. He looked around again, but still saw nothing. He picked up a cracker and took one small bite from the side. Something brushed against his leg, startling him. He gave a small jump before he could control himself. He looked down. There, beside his leg, was a small fluffy black kitten. No wonder he had not been able to see it - it was completely black except for its very green eyes. It sat there on the floor beside his foot and raised one paw, patting his trouser leg. He looked back at it.

He cleared his throat. This felt extremely odd. "Sweetie Pie, your nourishment is in the expected place. Please go there and consume it." He turned back to his own evening meal. The small kitten made another noise. It did not sound at all happy. Perhaps it was too young to find its food on its own? He rose from his chair and walked into the kitchen, towards where the kitten's food was. The kitten did not follow him. He returned to the table. What was he to do now? He cocked his head and looked down at the kitten. Then he carefully knelt down beside it and slid one hand underneath the soft body. He carefully picked the kitten up. It mewled at him. That was a strange noise. He carried the kitten into the kitchen and placed it next to the food and water he had set out. Then he returned to the table and began to eat his soup again.

Another small noise. He looked down. There was the kitten again. He was perplexed. "Sweetie Pie, please go and consume your nourishment. I must consume my own while it is still hot." He turned back to his soup, only to hear another small sound. It did not sound happy. What was he to do? He thought back to when he was a small child. The sehlat that had been his childhood friend had been much larger than this kitten. However, he did remember that I-Chaya had liked to be near him. He reached down and picked up the small kitten and set it on his thigh. It settled down and curled itself into a ball. He continued to eat his evening meal in peace. It appeared that the kitten had been seeking companionship.

***

When he finished his meal, he lifted the kitten and set it back on the floor, then picked up his bowl and spoon and carried them in the kitchen, rinsing them in the sink and then putting them into the 'fresher unit under the counter. He would wait to run it until it was full. The kitten followed along behind him. He went into the small facility and checked the litter box, which was clean. He then went into the entertainment room. The kitten was still following him, mewling softly now and then. He crossed over to the fireplace, finding a stack of cut wood in a special niche beside it. He opened the fireproof screen in front of the fireplace and carefully built a fire, feeding it tinder and small pieces of wood until it caught well. When it was burning well, he closed the fire-proof screen again. Then he rose and went to the bookshelves, looking for something interesting to read. Finding several books in the first section that he had not read, he carried them to one of chairs near the fireplace and settled down. The kitten stood beside his feet and mewled at him. He looked down at it. "What is it that you want, Sweetie Pie?" Why was he being so foolish as to talk to a kitten?

The kitten mewled at him again, patting his leg. He reached down, picked up the small kitten, and placed it back on his thigh. The kitten immediately curled up, fluffing its tail down over its nose, and settled in to sleep. Spock picked up the first book and began to read.

***

When he had finished the three books he had selected, he felt that it was time to sleep for a few hours. The kitten was still sleeping on his thigh. He carefully scooped the kitten up and set it down on the chair as he rose. He put the books back where he had found them and went about the house, turning off lights and checking doors to be sure they were locked. When he came back into the entertainment room to shut the glass doors in front of the fireplace, the kitten mewled at him. He picked it up and set it on the floor and exited from the room, heading for the guest room. There he went into the bathroom and brushed his teeth and took care of other needs. Then he returned to the bedroom and removed his clothing, hanging it back in the closet to wear again the next day. He removed his pajamas from the dresser and put them on. The kitten was still following him around. This was perplexing. He turned on the small lamp on the bedside table and turned off the overhead light. He turned back the covers and lay down on the bed, pulling the covers back up over him. He was about to turn off the small lamp when he heard the kitten mewling. He certainly would not be able to sleep with that sounding in his ear. He leaned over the side of the bed and picked up the kitten, setting it down on the bed beside him. He reached over and turned off the small lamp, settling down and pulling the covers up around his ears. The house was cooler than he would like.

***

Sometime later, he awoke to a strange feeling. Something was on his face. It was very soft. He moved his hand out from under the covers and touched the thing on his face. It was the kitten! Perhaps it was cold as well? He gently picked up the kitten and moved it down next to his chest, under the covers. He pulled the covers back up and settled down again, going back to sleep almost immediately, lulled by the soft trilling sound the kitten was making.

***

The week passed along. The kitten followed him everywhere except into the shower. He cleaned its litter box as necessary, measured out its food and water, and discovered that he was talking to it at very strange times. Why the kitten would prompt him to speak aloud was not at all clear, but it definitely was happening. Every time he sat down, the kitten was there, wanting to be picked up. It felt that the middle of his left thigh was the perfect place to sleep. At times this was confining. He would want to rise to get more books, and there was the kitten sleeping peacefully. It was a problem. For some reason, it did not seem to bother him very much. He accommodated the small animal with very little problem. He even found himself soothing it, running his hand down the small body. This was very odd behavior. Each night, he placed the kitten under the covers, against his body, to help keep it warm.

***

Eventually, it was the day when Captain Pike's sister and her husband were to return. He put his clothes through the 'fresher and repacked his duffle. He checked throughout the house, in every place he had been, to be sure that he had not forgotten any of his possessions. He cleaned the kitchen, running the small 'fresher there that he had been filling with dishes and utensils. He cleaned the litter box one last time. He put out the kitten's evening meal. He went and redressed in his uniform, ready to leave as soon as they arrived. He carried his duffle and set it beside the front door. The kitten was still following him around. He sat down at the small table and picked it up, setting it on his thigh. He ran his hand down the small, soft back, speaking softly to the small kitten. "Sweetie Pie, it has been interesting getting to know you. As strange as it seems, I think that I shall ...miss you. This is most unusual."

Before he could impart any more odd statements to the small kitten, there were noises in the garage. Ah, they were home, then. In a few minutes, Captain Pike's sister and her husband came into the house, laden with luggage. He rose and set the small kitten on the floor. He thanked them for the chance to stay in their home and benefit from their library. Then he walked to the front door and picked up his duffel. The small kitten followed him. He looked down at it. "Goodbye, Sweetie Pie." Then he turned and exited from the house, leaving two amused people behind him.

***

When Captain Pike called his sister later that week to see how her vacation had been, she laughingly told him about the cadet's goodbye to the kitten. He shook his head, that didn't really seem like Spock. And then she said something else - the kitten seemed to want to sleep in the bed with them every night, like it was something it was used to. Surely Spock had not had the kitten in the bed with him? No, not possible at all. Pike shook his head again. Not Spock.