Chapter 22 - Cat On A Horse
K’Naut reined in his horse on a low rise on the steppe. His friend Oktai rode up and stopped next to him. They looked out across the Mongolian’s horse herd as other riders directed the beasts into the large overnight corral. Restoration of the steppe ecosystem meant that predators were a very real hazard. The sun hung low on the western horizon, making long shadows in the dust raised by the herd’s passage.
K’Naut’s gelding turned to give the Caitian another slightly baffled look. The horse had been doing that all day. He could clearly sense that he had a predator on his back but wasn’t being attacked. His training and his instincts were in conflict, and that made K’Naut concerned.
“I don’t think this horse likes me riding him, Oktai,” the Caitian said in Mongolian.
“It’s not up to him, brother,” Oktai replied in the same language. “He’s being trained for the use of tourists. You’d be surprised at how many non-humans want to try the steppe lifestyle. He needs to get used to being ridden by an alien.”
They sat in comfortable silence for a while longer, then they rode down to the cluster of gers surrounding a spring. K’Naut had been with his adopted human family for a week, out on the steppe tending their herd. It had been a chance for the Caitian to get away from the stress of life aboard the Mercutio. In particular, it had given him the chance to consider his relationship with Statzia without the bond interfering. Unfortunately, he hadn’t been able to unravel that thorny situation to any degree. He did feel refreshed, though. In the morning, he’d be off to Moscow and a night at the ballet. Statzia had promised to dress up for the occasion, and he was looking forward to seeing how she looked.
“It’s a shame you won’t be here for the milking,” Oktai said as they rode up to the smaller corral for the working horses.
“Yes, a shame,” K’Naut replied dryly. Milking the mares was his least favorite part of the herding lifestyle, and Oktai knew it. The Caitian’s friend roared with laughter. After a moment, K’Naut joined him.
They dismounted and removed the traditional saddles and bitless bridles and released the horses into the corral. The animals cavorted around the enclosure, happy to be free of the riding tack. K’Naut’s gelding flopped to the ground and rolled from side to side a few times before getting back to his feet. He made a circuit around the corral, greeting other horses. Then he came back and gave K’Naut an affectionate nuzzle.
“See, he likes you,” Oktai said with a grin. “Come on, let’s get cleaned up for dinner.”
K’Naut nodded. He was famished. He knew they were having a farewell feast for him and had been anticipating it all afternoon.
K’Naut woke at the sound of his alarm. His head felt like his skull was three times too large. He mouth had the sour, fuzzy feel that he associated with too much kumis. He dragged himself out of the low bed as he called for the alarm to be shut off.
The ger was built in the traditional manner, but the furnishings were modern. To one side sat a portable ‘fresher, complete with a sonic shower. K’Naut ordered a glass of water from the replicator as he dug his medkit out of his luggage. He found an ampule of morning-after, slotted it into a hypospray, and gave himself a generous dose. He drained the glass of water.
After he had showered and cleaned his teeth, he felt better. He still felt a nervous edge, but that was due to the upcoming onset of his p’rau. Once a Caitian year, he was fertile, and the days leading up to it always left him taut and irritable. The feeling reminded him to contact the Caitian embassy in Cairo to confirm his reservation of a p’rau suite. He hoped he wouldn’t need it, but that would depend on Statzia.
K’Naut came to breakfast in Oktai’s personal ger. He wore his travel vest, which only carried a small emergency tool kit, his medkit, a tricorder, and several PADDs. He would be traveling with his friend as far as Ulaanbaatar. From there, it was a suborbital fight to Moscow. He’d be at his hotel in 3 or 4 hours. Using the planetary transporter network would be faster, but he preferred vehicles whenever he could.
They had a few minutes after breakfast before they had to leave. K’Naut spent it sipping strong, honey-sweetened black tea with Oktai. The children cleared the dishes and the remains of breakfast. The young ones finished quickly, then left to tend to their other chores.
The door to the ger stood open. A group of horsepeople gathered outside, mostly local young adults and older children. Mostly, but not all. A pair of Andorians dressed in the traditional manner mingled with them. Oktai’s oldest son gave out assignments. Oktai’s watched the young man with shining eyes.
“He’s almost ready to take over here,” Oktai said with pride. The Mongolian was the same age as K’Naut. They’d been cadets at the Academy together. Oktai had been on the fast track to become a starship captain, but his promising career had been cut short when his older sister had died in an accident and he had to come home to take her place in helping his father run the family business.
“That should give you more time for the kumis side of the business,” K’Naut replied.
“I will need it,” Oktai said. “Kumis sales are booming.” K’Naut nodded. The fermented horse milk beverage was growing in popularity among felinoid species.
As he watched the group by the door break up, K’Naut wondered, and not for the first time, about how difficult it would be to import this lifestyle to Cait after he retired from Starfleet. He knew of some parts of his clan’s territory that might work. Could horses thrive on his homeworld? But, then, should he be thinking of a future in which Statzia didn’t play a part? Even when he wasn’t sure whether or not she wanted a future with him. He shrugged to himself. He wasn’t going to figure it out any time soon. Not without more talk with Statzia.
But now, it was time to leave. Off to the big city and a night at the ballet.