Aboard the starship Brahe, Kit President Nah’hala carefully led her companion Ritika into their quarters. He moved slowly, still recovering from a gunshot wound inflicted by the Grand Matriarch’s betrayal. As she watched him take each step, her heart boiled with rage that B’da’s actions might have killed him—and the t’zat-kal was only a few doors and a deck away.

With care, she helped Ritika onto the bed, then made a nest of cushions and blankets until something like a familiar den was ready. The expensive formal wear she had purchased had long since been discarded: ripped for bandages and covered in his blood, they had been destroyed as the Brahe doctors prepared him for surgery. Instead, she gently pealed away the gown the doctors provided, making sure to avoid disturbing the places where is injuries healed.

“Thank you,” he said weakly as he curled into a ball. He folded his ears low and wrapped his tail tightly around him. “It is so cold in this place. How can they stand it?”

Nah’hala sat beside him and stroked his head. “They are strange, bald giants,” she agreed. “What do you think of our strangers, now? The knife, you remember?”

“When you held me and I thought I would die,” he said, “everything shimmered and then I was in their hospital.”

“Yes, they possess a technology—a transporter—that carries things from one place to another instantly.”

Ritika shivered. “I remember one of them lifted me. Cradled me so close I could hear the timbre of his heart. He said, ‘this one first.’”

The president paused her otherwise steady strokes. “They treated you first?” she asked with the softest incredulity she dared.

“You ask if they carry a knife—they do, Nah’hala, because look at all that has happened—but they also carry a bandage, for when that knife is misused.” He whimpered a moment as a wave of pain moved through his body. “Harbingers of change are forces nature; the magma flows, destroying all, but leaves fertile soil and precious olivine.”

With hushed sounds, Nah’hala held him through the discomfort. She could nearly feel it herself: exhaustion, fear, helplessness. Mixed within the ugly, murderous desire to find blame and make it stick with violent certainty. To revel in the catharsis of brining her revenge against those who wronged her—who hurt her dear companion.

As if sensing the bile rising within her, Ritika craned his neck just enough to lick her paw, before resting again in his tight ball. “Treasured confidant,” she called him, “how is it you understand me so well, when we’ve known each other such a short time?”

In a dreamy voice, he replied, “I serve you, ki’pa, in all things.”

She pet him a time longer until he fell sleep. Nah’hala had other questions for him; about his thoughts on weighty government affairs, what to do with the Grand Matriarch, or how to interact with the aliens. But all she really wanted was to tell him that, in all her life, she had never known this feeling that wormed through her heart. How she had never felt that a world with another was worth pursuing. Her deepest, darkest secret was that she detested crowds and strangers; that she enjoyed the quiet respites between companions. She would stand in her pillar and look down at the city and enjoy the knowledge that she was alone. Really, truly alone.

Until Ritika came and soured that empty time. Where once she reveled in her solitude, she now ached with his absence.

Nah’hala undressed and carefully made space in the den, finally drawing a blanket over them to trap the heat against a cold night to come. She wrapped her body around his and held him tightly, possessively, as if he anchored her to life itself. Only when his breathing was steady and his body warm did Nah’hala dare to close her eyes.

In the distance, she heard the mournful cry—a Kit in terrible distress—but she didn’t care. Her whole civilization might burn to the ground; she had what she needed.