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Chapter 2: Life Never Changes

That Was Different

The next morning, after Thomas finished his breakfast, he picked up a gi for himself, and one for M’Sara at the Workout and General supplies shop that was just down the hall from the rooms situated for different activities. Though they did not make a gi for any Katzen, he got a medium child’s size for her, and a large for himself along with matching sparring gear and a shoulder bag to carry them in. He also acquired scissors, a sewing needle and thread so he could alter it. After completing the transaction for it he headed for the gym with resigned determination.

M’Sara sat beside him and quality and watched as Thomas adjusted the gear in silence for her feet and lower leg. She had found an empty exercise room and reserved it for them. He had to cut a new hole in the back of each leg piece, so her much longer than human digitigrade feet would fit in them. He trimmed the over foot padding as well, as it was way too long for the toes of her feet. He also had to cut holes for her ears and cut slits in the side for her much wider cheeks and whiskers in her headgear. He completed sewing the cloth around the padding then he put them on, and bent her feet and toes back and forth to make sure she had plenty of freedom of movement. She remained seated in silence and watched him, but otherwise she let him do what he needed to do. They had already got their gis on in the changing rooms after he had cut a hole in the back of the pants for her tail. She wore nothing but underpants under the gi just as he did. The legs were loose enough that he did not need to do anything else to them. The practice gear was white cloth covered padding on the length of the outer forearms, back of the hands, tops of the feet, front of the legs, and front sides of the torso as well as the upper and sides of the head, leaving the front of the face bare. The padding was held on with Velcro covered elastic so it was very adjustable.

M’Sara’s friend M’Lar was sitting on a bench by the far wall with her arms crossed. He had never met her Luch friend before today who was a bit taller and thinner than her friend. M’Lar had yellow eyes and the same colored fur as her friend. M’Lar was taking medical as her major and that is all he knew about her. She held a medical scanner in her hands, and had a bag held by a strap on her shoulder. They had been waiting for him when Thomas had arrived at the gym.

As M’Sara waited on the mat for him to get his gear on M’Lar padded over to him, placing her hand on his shoulder, she explained, “The rules for Ma’ahrurl’La are as follows. One on one hand to hand nonlethal combat, without claws or any weapons. The use of practice gear is allowed, but not required. The first to win three rounds is the victor. Once one acquires three points the round is won. The only way to gain a point is by contact at four points on the body. Upper legs, gut and the sides of the chest. Anyone who makes contact from waist to upper legs, the head, below the upper legs or the use of claws or any weapon if found to be at fault by the judge is an automatic victory for the other person. If one of you leaves the match area, that will be the mat, during a round the other gets a point, and the match is paused and restarted. There is a one minute break every two minutes. I will be the official judge, as well as keeping score and time.”

Taking a long breath, she backed up to stand beside the mat, and told them loud and clear, “Stand in the middle, and bow to each other.” She waited for them to comply, then continued, “Bow to me.” Again she waited, “Face each other again and take three paces back.” After they completed her last instructions and waited quietly, after about a minute she shouted, “Start!”

This was so similar to his martial arts classes of the past that it was eerie.

Though M’Sara was much quicker, and much lighter on her feet, she also had to move more to make an impact on him, then he needed to move and do the same, and even though he was only Human, his reflexes were well above average. His reach was much longer than hers, and most of the time he was blocking and dodging her more than attempting to hit her. He waited until she started to tire, then was slow to go on the offensive. It had been a few years since he had trained, but he got to spar and practice fairly often. Neither of them had got a point yet.

M’Lar called out loudly, “Break! Off the mat on opposite sides.”

M’Sara and Thomas stopped, and relaxed, they turned away from the other at almost the same time, and took their time as they walked off mat. They turned again to face each other and sat on the floor. M’Lar had left each of them a water bottle at the edge of the mat. She had just left his as he arrived to take it. M’Lar was silent, as the judge she was not allowed to interfere unless there was a fault, an injury or the match was over.

Thomas was getting tired too, from all the dodging and M’Sara was hard to lay a blow on, such a small and fast moving target. Even as she was starting to get tired he still failed to get a point. He poured some of the water over his head, and drank the rest. He was already covered in sweat, and a little water would help.

Thomas watched M’Sara for a time after he dropped his water bottle, hers had a straw attachment that allowed her to squirt water into her mouth. When she was done drinking it she put it back on the floor and looked right back at him. He could see determination in her eyes. He could read moods in Luchs very easily after having been raised by one. It also looked like she had caught her breath too; she had been breathing as hard as he was.

M’Lar walked back, and called out loudly, “Break over! Continue the match! Start!”

Thomas and M’Sara got up, and walked back onto the mat, stopped and took up their ready stance. They watched each other for a few seconds. She stood about three meters from him, her ears twitched just before she dived to the floor onto her hands and feet, she pressed off, then using both her hands and feet, she flipped in the air and landed on him, straddling him just above the waist. He was so surprised at her move and she had done it so quickly he did not know how to counter. His left leg went back and his arms out to take the force of her landing on him. Before he knew what was happening both her open palms slammed into the sides of his chest as she dropped off of him, to bounce away on all fours, turning to face him once more she slowly stood again back on just her two feet.

Thomas had been forced to a step back from the blow as pain radiated from his chest he renewed his defensive stance. He was still in a bit of shock from that move, he had never seen anything like it. It was like she could use her hands for feet if she wanted.

M’Lar called out, “Two points for M’Sara!” She moved around the outer area of the mat to make sure she had a good view.

M’Sara continued to move slowly from side to side as she matched his pace, she looked worn out. That last move must have cost her; Thomas would make her pay for it with interest. He watched her eyes very carefully, and when she was close enough he made his move, he feinted a kick to her lower leg, she reacted to it as he pulled away at the last instant, keeping his upper leg up, he brought his lower leg in fast to let his calf bounce off his upper leg and up to her now open chest, knocking her onto the floor. She rolled with the force, and got right back up. Her tail making mad dashes back and forth now, as she gave him a huff.

M’Lar called out, “Point Thomas.” She sounded a bit disappointed.

M’Sara dropped to all fours and ran at Thomas, before bouncing up onto her feet, she was not moving as fast as last time, and he could easily keep track of her movements. He was able to twist his chest just enough so her open palm just missed it and she had left her chest open, he took it doing a counter attack, hitting her chest with his fist. It was not a hard hit, he had not had time to cock it, but that did not matter, he only needed to make contact. She pulled back, leaping about two meters backwards, watching him as she held her chest. It was in the same place he had kicked her, but he could not help that. He felt a pang, he did not want to hurt her.

M’Lar called out again, “Point Thomas. Two, Two.” She sounded even more disappointed.

They were circling each other for a time before M’Lar called out, “Break!”

Again M’Sara and Thomas relaxed, turned and walked away from each other, to find new water bottles placed at each side of the mat. He poured about half of it over his head this time, he was exhausted and drank the rest down quickly between breaths.

This time M’Sara poured some of the water over her muzzle before putting in the straw so she could drink it easily. M’Lar had gone to her and had removed her top gear, and opened her gi top to examine and scan her chest. With a nod she put her top back together while M’Sara slowly drank her water uninterrupted. Thomas had watched it all as he sucked on his water bottle, and was relieved she was not hurt badly.

M’Lar told her, “You are fine, just a light bruise.” She then returned to her post this break was longer because of the examination, as soon as she was back she called out, “Break over! Continue the match, and start!”

Thomas and M’Sara returned to the mat, slower this time. She made three consecutive open palm hits at his chest, the first two were blocked, and the third missed as he dodged. He in turn did two consecutive sidekicks in a row bouncing his lower leg off the inside of his upper leg, both blocked by her open palm. When he went to stand at ready again, he waved a little to the side, he was really getting tired. He was more out of shape than he had thought or he was getting a really good workout. She made another hit to his chest and he went to block it, and as he did his other arm connected with the side of her head as she missed. His timing was off, and she had moved too close to him as he turned to the side.

M’Lar said, “No fault, continue.”

M’Sara backed away and again got on all fours with a look of determination and resolve, with the last of her energy she decided to make one major effort to beat him, her ears back she leaped up and turned in midair with the help of her tail, she made contact with the ceiling and leaped off that to fly straight for Thomas. He was so surprised he was only able to catch her with his face, and it knocked him to the ground. They landed in a heap with her chest padding in his face. He could feel it moving quickly as she caught her breath. He had hit his head on the mat and her head and he wondered if he may have blacked out for a moment. He told his arms to move, but they just laid there.

The next thing Thomas saw was M’Sara being lifted away and to the side of him by M’Lar, “It looks like she hit her head when you both dropped. Hold still while I do a quick examination of you both.”

Thomas watched M’Lar on her knees as she moved the scanner over M’Sara’s head then his and saw her frown at her tablet. She moved her fingers over the surface then she scanned her again.

M’Lar stood up reading her screen, “I don’t get it. I don’t see a reason for her to be out. It looks like she is having some kind of reaction to something.” After she took another scan, “Now it is gone. How very strange.”

Thomas was able to get up on his side, he could even smell M’Sara’s still damp fur, she must have really worked herself hard. He just hopped she got whatever was bothering her out of her system. Her eyes fluttered open, and her breathing had started to slow as he watched her. M’Sara looked at M’Lar and one of her ears rotated to the side and back as she gave her a weak nod.

M’Lar huffed putting her tablet down to her side as she stood and told them, “I find no fault in the last engagement, I judge this match to be a draw.” She sounded even more disappointed, if that were possible. “The Ma’ahurl’La is now at and end, and I shall log it as such. You both seem fine, but I suggest you stop by medical on your way back to your dorms however, just to make sure nothing is wrong with either of you. I must go now I have classes soon; I’ll contact you later M’Sara.”

Thomas watched M’Lar leave carrying her bag on her shoulder; when the door closed behind her he rolled over to find M’Sara watching him closely. He felt like he needed to just catch his breath still. He could not read her face, her eyes looked at him steadily, but open normally, though her ears were still laid back on her head and he could see her nostrils were still flaring in and out with each breath. It was almost like she came to a realization she did not like.

As M’Sara’s ears slowly rotated forward to a more normal position she told him, “That was a good fight Human, thank you. I feel much better now. Though I do feel much more tired than I should as I have much on my mind, much to think about. May I call you Thomas?”

Thomas sat up and sat cross legged next to M’Sara still laying on the mat and gave her a pat on the shoulder, “Of course, why the change of heart?” He started to take off his gear after a moment of silence as she seemed to stare off into nothing.

“We should go get changed, and head to the clinic. As for the change of heart, much has become clear today. You really do learn much about someone from a good fight with them.” With that she slowly got up and headed to the changing room.

You thought hangovers were bad

M’Sara and Thomas arrived at the nearby medical ward, her tail was doing a slow bounce-wave and her ears were pointed to the sides as they walked in together. She was feeling much better now, however they had decided to get checked over, just to be safe. He had to admit he felt a bit out of sorts. The change in how M’Sara was treating him was giving him a kind of surreal feeling.

In the reception area was the top half of an android, that was supplied by CAW as most of the colony held CAW members, and their health was of the utmost importance. The android was unpainted polycarbonate gray in a vague humanoid shape. The head was the shape of an egg with a thin dark strip where eyes would be, it’s arms where jointed cylinders out of an uneven cube of a body with rounded corners.

At the counter Thomas asked, “We need to see the medic for a checkup.”

After a moment, the android replied, with a robotic neutral voice that sounded like words recorded separately then put together, “You may enter when ready.” The door unlocked with the sound of an activated solenoid.

Thomas looked down at M’Sara, and he saw that her ears were turned sideways, her tail was doing little twitches. She looked nervous, “Let’s go, get this over with.” She took his hand with her hand, as he opened the door, and he gave her hand a light squeeze. It felt kind of odd in his hand, her fingers not only were covered in fur with soft warm pads but with only two joints, each relatively longer than a human; what would be the third was for a retractable claw. It was a little like holding a large cat’s paw. The main difference being she had thumbs. Neither one of them liked to get examined it seemed.

Inside the medical room was a seat in the back corner, as Thomas walked to take the seat M’Sara had let go of his hand and the medical AI asked with a retro sounding computer simulated voice, “How may I be of service?” It sounded to him like something out of one of his grandfather’s favorite nineteen eighties movies, and he still did not know why they had it sound like that, but he was sure they had done it on purpose as some kind of joke. He wondered that every time he was examined too. One of these days he would look it up.

The room was about five meters by four meters in size. Inside the room besides the chair was the examination table. There were other tables folded into the wall, used when they needed them. The table was designed to do detailed full body scans using the AI that was built into the table. It was also capable of doing first aid for just about any injury using an overhead manipulator that consisted of two sets of robotic arms. At the end of each arm was a gripper that could be rotated out with a high velocity jet injector for drugs or nutrients, a laser cutter, or the artificial skin applicator. The grippers themselves also had very sensitive pressure and temperature sensors on them. On either side of each gripper were sensors on small rotating heads. Most of the technology used in the colony was supplied by the CAW members. It was also designed to be used on any known species.

M’Sara padded over to the examination table, used the built in ladder and climbed on top of it, laying on her back before she told it in an even voice, “We need to be examined, me first, use routine checkup mode.”

After M’Sara’s check up with a hiss it gave her a nutrient injection, and informed her she had an appointment for a doctor and the date and time was in her personal information device. Thomas switched places with her and as he was examined; that was when she began to talk to him.

M’Sara’s tail was swishing slowly from side to side, and she started to pace. “I’ve given this some thought, and have decided I was misled. It seems I owe you an apology, and not only that, that I am honor bound to make it up to you.” She stopped in her tracks, and turned to face him. “I have learned much about you from our bought. You are an honorable person, and from that I realize that I have been lied to about you.”

Thomas remained still except his head he turned and looked at her as if in shock as the examination finished. She stood as if she waited for him to say something. The machine gave him the same as it did her, including an appointment for a doctor.

Thomas sat up and reached over to lay his hand on her shoulder, “Are you telling me you were acting on something someone told you?”

M’Sara nodded her head but remained silent.

Thomas stood, walked two paces to the door, then turned to see M’Sara still standing by the examination table. “I think it is a good idea if we go have a talk as it seems we have much to talk about, just the two of us. My dorm room is near; we can talk there in private as I have the room to myself.”

M’Sara nodded and followed Thomas out the door, she looked like she had been defeated. That did not sit well with him, so now he wanted to get to the bottom of whatever it was that was bothering her more than anything.

At Thomas’ dorm room he swiped his key card over the NFC reader and the door split open with a slight hum of electric motors. As they walked in the door slowly closed behind them, “Welcome to my room, I have the room to myself. I’m told because the guy who was to be my roommate did not make it to Mars. Make yourself at home.” That was a joke because it was just a refresher at one end of a five by two-and-a-half-meter room. On one side was the two elevated sleepers each with a desk underneath beside a set of drawers on one side. Between that and the refresher was a shared closet. On the other side was the floor space and room for the chairs at each desk.

Following Thomas into his room M’Sara dropped her bag next to his, it was not much different than her room, except for the two desk chairs that were made for humans, no tail slot down the middle of the back. She padded over to the closest bed and climbed up the ladder then hopped onto the edge. She turned and watching him sit on the other one. She waited for him to settle in before she started, “As you may have already guessed, someone has told me something that I know now what I am sure must be a lie. I’m going to repeat it only so you know what it is. He told me you are a smooth talker and pretend to like us Katzen while you plot to ruin our relationship with humans, and the group you are supposed to be leading will make it so the Luchs will be blamed, because we are a minority, and so make an easy target.”

As M’Sara told Thomas her story, he leaned back, using his arms to brace himself on his bed. His legs slowly swung in the empty space below as he thought for a moment. He turned to her then and asked, “You don’t know why they targeted me, do you?” He was alarmed, they had used her fear against her. That was never a good sign.

M’Sara slowly shook her head with her ears lowered and the tips pointed out to each side.

Thomas looked from one side to the other of his spacious room before he started, “I’m going to trust you with a secret, one because as you did I learned much from our match. You have earned a great amount of respect from me today. Two I think you need to know and three because I want you to know. I have a feeling we’ll be spending a great deal of time together. My secret is that I’m the grandson of a human that was involved with our first contact. I was adopted by a Katzen and Human couple. Yes, the one I’m sure you read about in the history book. I’m sure you understand why I would keep that a secret, I’m here to learn, and to learn I need to be not be bothered with what comes with being involved with something like that. Here I’m just some regular guy. Now this revelation could mean that someone has found out what my real identity is, or this could be a coincidence.”

As he informed her of that tidbit, her eyes got wide, and her ears perked. When he was done they sat in silence, and she looked around the room before asking him, “Would you like me as a roommate?”

Thomas watched her with one eyebrow raised before answering, “I would, but first I want to know why you want to share a dorm room with me. Is it because of who my parents are?”

M’Sara looked down on the bed she was on, her finger making twirls in the mattress as she replied, “That has something to do with it because that means I know of what could be a reason why you treat us as people so easily, like you don’t even give it a second thought. Mostly it is because of how much respect and honor you have earned this day. How I was so eager to find a reason to hate and distrust you, and how easily I was manipulated by someone with no honor and your reaction to it. I have realized just how naive I am and I thought I could learn so much by rooming with a human. I came to that realization when you informed me of your heritage. I also realize we have at least one common goal here, to learn. We are in the same program, we can help each other, and improve ourselves. The person I share my room with now has been a distraction for me as well.”

Slowly Thomas nodded, “Fair enough. I accept. Better to share a room with someone you know, even if just a little, than someone you never met, not to mention I also think it would help to have someone in the same program as me. I was not looking forward to being forced to have to share my room with someone that I know nothing about. I hate surprises.”

M’Sara slowly looked down and lifted her hands to her face, her pink finger and palm pads showing through her fur. Her fingers were shorter and thicker than a human her size. With a quick look up as if she had just decided on something she quickly said, “We have a kind of ritual I would ask of you to do with me. It will help sooth my nerves I think.” With that she hopped off the bed, she landed gracefully and walked over to his side then stood in front of him, her tail was in a soft curl behind her.

Thomas nodded and climbed down to the floor beside her, “Yes I think I know of the one you mean.”

M’Sara turned to face him then held out her right hand, palm up and said, “Place your left open palm on mine please.” After he did, she made another request, “Now hold out your right hand, palm up.” As he did, she gently placed her left open palm on his. “Now repeat after me this. I will do all as I am able to help you learn, and in life.”

Thomas repeated it, his voice revealed he was a little nervous.

M’Sara’s ears perked up, and next she instructed him, “Now with your right hand, grasp mine, and slowly bring it to the middle of your chest, and I will do the same.” As he slowly did what she told him, she did the same, and that brought her closer to him, so much so he needed to move his feet apart so she could stand between them, her arm was as high as it would go. She firmly held his hand against the middle of her chest, and he did the same. “Now repeat after me this. On my honor, I shall make it so.”

Thomas nodded and said as she instructed, this time with a smile, his nervousness gone. She had to get so close because of her shorter arms her legs were against his quadriceps. She smelled a little of cinnamon, it was a nice smell. He started to get a little nostalgic and lost in his own thoughts.

M’Sara broke the spell after a few breaths when she said, “We are each other’s witness to this oath of friendship that we have made of each our own free will.” After a short time of silence, she let go. He let go of her hand as well. She stepped back then laid her right hand on his other wrist, her tail tip twitching playfully, before saying, “We should make it official, come with me to registration, and we can have a fun time filling out paperwork.”

Thomas lightly patted her on the shoulder, “Good idea, then we can get to work on our project afterwards. After you, my friend.”

Getting it together

The door closed behind them as they walked into the all but empty room that was the registration and reception office. Thomas laid his hand on M’Sara’s shoulder as he suggested, “We should get something to eat after this, and before we start on our project.”

M’Sara nodded and walked up to the counter. There was a human at a desk on the other side. M’Sara put on her happy face and got her attention. “I’m M’Sara D’Khatarr and would like to change my room, I want to room with Thomas Hauer, he is here with me.”

The lady at the desk stood to see who the top of the head belonged to, and noticed the man standing behind M’Sara. She held out her hand, “IDs please.”

They handed her their ID cards.

The receptionist took them and sat down at her desk, “This well just take a minute.”

They watched over the counter, standing side by side. M’Sara’s tail was nervously twitching. Neither one had ever tried to change rooms. They knew from the rule book that it was not an issue if people wanted to switch rooms. There was nothing about restrictions on it at least except that both parties involved had to be in agreement to it.

The receptionist grabbed two tablets and handed one to each, “I see you live alone in your dorm room now Thomas, so there is no issue. Just sign these and I’ll set M’Sara as your roommate.”

It was just the usual legal stuff about consenting to the change in residents. They both only needed to sign, and place their thumb in the reader for a thumb print to finalize it. They handed them back, and the nice lady handed back their ID cards, “M’Sara’s card will open the door to her room she is leaving for the rest of the day until twenty-two hundred, and will also open the door to her new dorm room too.”

Thomas could not help but smile, that was easy, “Thank you.” If anything on Terra was this efficient, he would be surprised.

With that they left the office, and were now on their way to the cafeteria. Thomas looked down beside him at M’Sara, “After we eat, we should go get your stuff. There is an Old friend of mine I hope you get to meet soon too, I’ll contact her after we get you moved, and set up a date. In fact, I’ll contact her after lunch and see if she is free and could help out. The faster we get you moved, the faster we get started on our project.”

The ear on the side facing Thomas turned to him as he spoke, before M’Sara looked up at him and with a nod said, “I would appreciate help, thank you. I want to get started as much as you do it would seem. Get this out of the way, as they say.”

As Thomas entered he saw Mateja sitting down at a table near the wall on the left side. It was lunch time now, he was hoping he would see her here, but he did not know if she would be. He took M’Sara’s hand and she let him lead her as he told her, “I see the old friend of mine I want you to meet.”

They got to the table, and Mateja looked up at them with a raised eyebrow. “So she did want to mate with you after all.”

Thomas let go of her hand and used it to give himself a palm to the face. With exasperation in his voice he said under his hand, “Is that all you think about?”

M’Sara just looked from Mateja to Thomas confused, “Wut...”

With a roll of his eyes Thomas gave introductions, “M’Sara, this is Mateja, the friend I wanted you to meet. We have known each other for years. She was an exchange student in my high school, so we go back a few years. She enjoys making others uncomfortable, please try to ignore that, it is one of her many quarks. She takes some getting used to, but in there somewhere is a good person. I’ll get us a pizza, pepperoni good?”

M’Sara looked at him with her ears half down, “That sounds good, I’ll wait here and get acquainted.”

With a soft pat on M’Sara’s shoulder, Thomas turned and headed towards the vending machines.

Thomas returned with a tray full of pizza, two medium sized ones in fact. Mateja stopped talking suddenly as he approached, he knew that was a bad sign. He laid the pizzas down in the middle of the table before taking his seat beside M’Sara on the opposite side of Mateja.

M’Sara turned to him, “She was just telling me how you met, did she really defend you against some high school bullies?”

Thomas sighed, “Yes, it was my freshman year, second month of school. She got in trouble for it, but my family and I stood up for her against the authorities. She ended up getting only detention for it. In return my family took responsibility for any future disruptive actions of hers, and I agreed. She behaved, and I was not bothered again. She also rarely left my side during or after school. That in turn led me to get into martial arts. We often spar to this day, to keep us both in shape.”

Taking a piece of pizza Thomas started in on his lunch, he sure missed his father’s home made pizza, that could not be beat. One of his dreams was to make pizza from scratch as his father did, New York style thin crust with homemade pizza sauce, all from scratch. The pizza he was eating now was only just better than none at all.

After Mateja got done with a piece, she asked them, “So, when are you two hooking up, or moving in together?”

Thomas started to choke on the pizza he was chewing on, he grabbed his water and started drinking it. He could hear Mateja snicker, something she learned from living with humans. The way she did it though was a barking kind of hissing noise.

In the meantime, M’Sara answered her, “We already have, we are sharing a dorm room. We just got back from the registration office.”

Mateja looked from one to the other blinking, and her ears rotated from side to front. “I was joking, seriously, that was fast. My condolences to you M’Sara, he is not easy to live with. We were roommates, we shared an apartment before we came here, so yeah I’m speaking from experience.”

M’Sara gave Mateja a good hard look over before she responded, “You two lived together?”

Mateja waved her hand up and down at M’Sara, “Oh believe me, it was completely platonic, we each had our own bedroom. The things you learn about someone; some things are only through living with them. It was for about two years. The facility for our training we had to take before we could come to Mars was far from our homes.” She leaned on the table and softly said, “To this day I don’t know if he even knows I’m female. Frankly, I’m fine with that.”

By this time Thomas had recovered, sitting the glass back down on the table before he added, “You have that backwards, you are the one who is not easy to live with. I spent half my free time cleaning up after you.” He turned to M’Sara, “It is not that I don’t know she is female, it is that I don’t care that she is. If you get to know her, you may understand what I mean better.”

M’Sara looked at him as she tried to digest that information before slowly answering, “I see.” With her ears half lowered it looked like she clearly did not. She then absently took another piece of pizza and slowly started eating it as she got lost in thought.

As Thomas stood with the empty trays after everyone was done eating, he wondered how M’Sara had managed to eat more than either him or Mateja had. He looked over at Mateja and asked, “If you have time, why don’t you help us move her into her new room?”

Mateja’s ears turned forward and perked up as she answered, “Sure, sounds fun. Should not take long in any case.” She got up and walked over to stand beside M’Sara and with one hand on her shoulder she told her, “Lead away, let’s get this party started.”

They arrived at what was going to be M’Sara’s old dorm room with three reusable folded, wheeled moving boxes made of a stiff nylon. They figured it would be enough for everything, and they would each be able to transport one box that was about one-meter-tall by half a meter by three quarters a meter wide. There would not be much, just clothing and a few personal effects. They got to work packing up her stuff, and they were done in just over an hour.

Leaving the box Mateja had pulled full of street clothing on the floor. She stood and watched them for a minute as M’Sara unpacked one box of her under garments along with other clothing and bedding, and Thomas unpacked her miscellaneous box placing stuff not for the refresher room on the desk in a disordered mess. before telling them, “Well that was so much fun, I don’t know how to contain myself. I’ll leave the rest to you two, I have studying to do. I’ll catch you later. Let me know when we can spar again. Be good to her Thomas, and you be good to him M’Sara.”

They both looked up and waved at Mateja, and almost as one said together, “I will.” With that Mateja turned and left them alone, leaving them in silence as the door closed behind her.

After Thomas unpacked the box Mateja left into the drawers and closet, he climbed up and sat on his bed so he could watch M’Sara organize her things as he waited for her to get done. As he sat there in thought with his legs slowly swinging in the empty space under the bed, he had the idea that they better lay down some ground rules right away. He nodded and told her, “When we get back, I think we should talk about ground rules for our living arrangement. Now though we should head to the lab and get started on our project for real this time.”

M’Sara turned to look up at him, just a little nervous, before she said, “You are right, this is the first time I’ll be sharing a room with a male. This is going to take some getting used to I’m sure, and yes rules are good for that. I’ll be done in just a few. I’m got a bit warm from all this activity so I want to change first.”

“Of course.“, he quickly replied.

By the time they left for the lab he had changed too, into more informal clothing the same as she did, they both were wearing a kind of sweatpants and T-shirts black in color. Neither of them had a class today, so the rest of the day could be spent working on their project.

They entered the lab together, and two of the six stations in this one were empty. They were the same type of stations as the classroom lab. When they entered the lab Thomas noticed a large male Togartz at one of the stations with two other Togarts watching them carefully, he thought that was odd, and shrugged his shoulders. They walked to either side to face each main control screen, touching and swiping the two smaller screens on either side. Once in a while Thomas typed on the keyboard he slid out from under the main screen. He liked using a keyboard. His warp field setup, he looked up and watched her for a few moments before looking over to slide the view of her screen onto one of his secondary monitors.

They finished programming the model simulation with M’Sara’s final entry. Thomas was standing beside M’Sara now, next to the shelf she was standing on. She was as tall as his shoulders when he reached over and patted her shoulder, “Excellent start, that went quickly, and it seemed so easy. Much easier than I was picturing it in my head to be from past experience.”

M’Sara watched the simulation with Thomas for a few minutes before reprogramming the system to run it again then have it save the findings in their project folder. With that done she turned to look over at him and said, “I like you better at this height, it doesn’t hurt my neck to look up at you. That did go very quickly, much more so then I had predicted. I feel like I can take on the world, like a huge burden has been removed from my life today. I don’t think I realized just how stressed out I was this past week. We should be able to go over the report tomorrow and use that to set up another simulation.” Her ears faced forward and her eyes were half open in what he read as a satisfied smile.

Thomas nodded, “Indeed, and with that, our essay we can write. What is your schedule like tomorrow?”

M’Sara closed their session on the workstation, and hopped down. After she pushed in the shelf she turned to him softly rubbing her chin before she replied, “I have one of my core classes, recent Terran history in the late morning. I’ll message you my weekly schedule, and I would like you to do the same for me.”

Thomas nodded again with a pat on her shoulder, “Good idea, you got it. I have a late morning class too, let’s meet for lunch then head to the lab to work on our project. Now we go get us some dinner!”

On the way out Thomas thought about the Togartz who had watched them leave with disappointment on his muzzle. He did not recognize him, he looked to be working on navigation charts from what he noticed of the hologram above his group’s workstation. Though from what Thomas noticed from the edge of his vision is that he had been observing them the entire time, or at least every time he could see him. He filed it away in the back of his mind to think about later as they walked down the hall.

M’Sara opened the door to the cafeteria with her keycard for them then as they walked through she asked Thomas, “You look like you are deep in thought, you have been silent since we left the lab.”

Thomas softly replied, “It was likely nothing, just my nerves. It looked like someone was watching us in the lab, and I did not recognize him.”

M’Sara nodded and patted the side of his arm, “Grab a seat, I’ll get us some dinner.”

Thomas chose a seat in the corner deep inside the cafeteria where he could watch everyone. M’Sara brought the food on a tray to the table along with some liquid refreshments. As she sat it down she informed him, “I got us chicken dumplings along with broccoli for you. I also got us chocolate protein shakes. I don’t know about you but I’m enjoying Terran food, it is all new to me you know.”

He nodded as he grabbed his spoon and said, “Good thing they built hydroponic gardens on the colony along with a meat growing plant.”

After she consumed about half her meal she bent over the table and softly said, “I noticed, and kept it to myself. I thought you had too, I could smell your nervousness. The female on his right side in that group, she was the one who told me those lies about you. They may be upset that their plan failed.”

He had some broccoli in his mouth; he had been slowly chewing on it as he listened, he was bent over the table too and his eyes never left hers as she spoke. He only said, “I see.” when she was done.

They finished their meal in silence, as if they were both lost in their own thoughts. M’Sara waited for Thomas to completely eat his meal and without a word she took it as she cleared the table. She walked with the tray of dishes to the conveyer that was there for that purpose.

Thomas watched her and felt a warmth building in him, thought that she really was a good person, and he was glad they had become friends. It really did not matter how, in the end.

M’Sara padded up behind Thomas and on the tips of her toes wrapped her arms around his shoulders, with her muzzle next to his head she whispered, “I’m ready to go back to our room for the night. It has been a long day, no?”

After Thomas let M’Sara into their room with his keycard, she went to her dresser and grabbed some clothing then went right into the refresher room while he walked to the ladder, climbed up and sat on his bed with a sigh of relief. He should be used to her digitigrade feet, and walking barefoot everywhere. Maybe it was because it was so different than his own feet that needed shoes.

M’Sara had changed into a pair of light shorts that looked like Boxers, and a thin half black scoop T-shirt that ended on her midriff. It was kind of like a loose jogging bra but without the bra part. As far as he knew she did not wear a bra, unlike Mateja, she sure did not need one. This was common with Luchs though, not like he cared about that really. He had one thing to worry about, do well in this place, and make it onto a nice ship. He saw it as a way of furthering humanity, as what he left behind on Terra was not much better now than it was before first contact was made.

After M’Sara climbed her ladder and sat down, her foot paws dangling in the air she asked, “Is this alright with you? It is what I usually wear to bed plus the top. I don’t really have much else other than what I wear outside in the common areas. We are to establish rules now?”

He waved that off, “Yes that is fine, fine. You are covered in fur, so I don’t think it matters to me as long as you are wearing shorts of some kind. I think it looks great on you, black goes well with anything. Whatever you think is fine. I like it much better than the colony student uniforms of a drab gray short sleeve button up with matching pants. I have to wear clothing now that I’m no longer alone, I have some boxer shorts, and T-shirts of course as I was not expecting to live alone.

Having lived with Mateja, I lost some of my sexual repression. She of course enjoyed using it to tease me, running around topless, but after a few months I got used to it. I became desensitized to it, and it was no longer a big deal, and became the norm. Not that I expect you to, I just wanted you to know.

Your short fur is very pleasant to look at anyway, with its color and marking similarities to a Terran feline known as the Bobcat.”

She smoothed her fur with one hand, as if she felt a little self-conscious. With her right ear slowly rotating to the side and forward she said, “That is understandable, and yes that would be fine. When it gets hot in here for whatever reason I may go topless too, as you can as well if you want. That establishes what we should wear inside, glad that did not change much for me. Thank you. As the room is divided some for us, and our things, I would not mind you joining me on my side whenever you like, if I may do the same.”

Thomas turned his head towards the entry door hall that was formed by the refresher and looked around the room with its smooth plastic looking gray walls in thought before turning to look at her again to say, “Yes, well as far as I’m concerned the room is just divided for our stuff in the dressers as we share a closet, and you are free to go where you like whenever you like. We have no way to have any alone time in here unless one of us is not here. So doing otherwise would not just be futile but immature. I want you to treat this as your home while we are together here for the next four years. I feel privileged to share the room with you. I know we will have times when we fight, or disagree, but I think in the end we will come to an understanding and will make up, or we will do your fight thing again. Before you came along I was stressing in the back of my mind of having to live with some total stranger, and more so because it would be a male human. I never agreed to segregation of any kind, as learning and understanding the differences of others only leads to everyone becoming closer as a people. Whereas segregation leads to the opposite. Sexual repression is a very bad thing for a society too. Just look what it did to Terra, every society there is still that way.”

With that M’Sara got the rest of the way onto her bed, and crawled onto Thomas’ bed. When she got beside him she turned and sat with her legs right beside his. She scooted close, and gave him a side hug purring softly as she did. She can purr, he thought to himself, he just remembered that Luchs could purr. He pet her where the fur was exposed on her back. She sat up and removed her top, “I like my shoulders pet, not my lower back so much. So I’m removing my shirt so you can pet me there. Thank you.“, she told him as she rolled over and laid down on her front on the bed behind him with her feet sticking out in the air. He gently, and slowly pet her shoulders as if she was a large cat and she purred louder. “That is nice. I agree with you, and I like what you are doing very much, you do it so well. I do think I’m going to enjoy living with you for many reasons. We can have some nice down time together as well as learn together. I’ve been feeling pretty lonely since I arrived on the colony.“, she told him with her muzzle on her hands with her arms folded out beside her head, she looked almost like a big house cat. A big house cat wearing shorts, he noticed they had a notch for her tail too.

Thomas told her, “It is nice and healthy to not feel so lonely, and feel understanding with someone.”

M’Sara with a purring voice softly asked, “What about personal boundaries? We should set rules for that, that is even more important. Like now, am I breaking any?”

Thomas started to pet her again absently as he thought about that. “I don’t mind, in fact it I’m enjoying petting you, I can feel my stress leave me with each purr and stroke. Please, do as you like, a part of us understanding each other. Don’t worry if you break any I’ll let you know, and I want you to do the same. I think the biggest one is receive permission before doing anything that either of us would wonder about.”

M’Sara nodded then said, “I only like to be pet on my upper back and shoulders, and the top of my head. Sometimes under my chin and upper chest. Nowhere else unless I allow it. If you touch my belly you will get scratched and bit, I will not warn you again.“, she informed him.

Thomas nodded and gave her a little scratch on her shoulder, “Understood.“, he told her.

M’Sara turned over sat up before she told him, “Why don’t you get changed for bed too, I’ll wait here. We can talk more when you return.”

Thomas got down and went to go change he grabbed a t-shirt that said “Pixel Art.” and a pair of boxer shorts out of his drawer. Returning in his boxers and shirt, he had planned to sit back down beside her, but M’Sara had pulled the covers up and over to the side for him and was laying on his bed with her back up on the wall with her tail swishing slowly in the air above her legs. Her head was turned to the side facing him she told him, “Sitting like that is bad for posture, we lay together and talk more. I also feel better when you are near. Get in.”

Thomas shrugged his shoulders and laid beside her, M’Sara did not take up much room in the single bed so it was not so bad. He laid on his back turning his head to face her with a smile and he was now inches from her, so when he spoke, it was softly, “That works for me. This is kind of fun actually; I’ve never shared a bed with someone. Feel free to do this whenever you like too.”

M’Sara was silent for a time, she had reached out with her hand and laid it on his chest. She seemed to be in thought about something. Thomas enjoyed it in silence for a few minutes before she spoke, “I was raised by my father’s brother and his family. I did not fit in all that well. They were nice enough, but his kids I think did not like the idea. I grew up feeling alone and misunderstood. When I got here they roomed me with a female Togartz and that was not helpful to my stress levels at all. Many still treat us Luchs as second class people and she was no exception. They say everyone is equal, but in reality it is not so. She did not want to learn about me, she wanted me to be silent and out of the way so she could forget I was there.”

Thomas nodded and M’Sara continued, “It was an acquaintance of hers, the one I mentioned before, that convinced me of the lie that I had been gullible enough to believe. I think my fear, and frustrations had helped fuel that as well. I know that this is no excuse, I just want you to hear what I think about it. After growing up with family that would have liked it better if I had not been there, and then being roomed with someone that stressed me out did not help either.” She paused and ran her paw pads over his chest, “I had no idea humans were not as bad as I had been led to believe. The family I lived with was on our colony world closest to here so I never even saw a human in person until I arrived at Mars as there are no humans there yet. That is one reason we helped build this colony, so we would be on common ground to start our co-existence, but you already know that.”

M’Sara looked back up to his face, and Thomas nodded again as he gave her slow petting rub on her shoulder. It was his turn to be a listener. Something he learned from living with Mateja. She continued, “The family I lived with, they were not happy about allowing the humans to join CAW, they often spoke of their fears. How the humans would be our downfall, the end of times, that kind of nonsense. I think now that it had opened a door for believing what I was told so easily. I wanted to believe the lie because it agreed with my prejudice of humans.”

With a small sigh, M’Sara leaned over, she slid and rested the chin of her muzzle on his chest, her wet nose touching his arm just below his armpit. She coughed and jerked her head away, “You need a shower! You stink.”

He chuckled before he explained, “Yeah, I’m not surprised with the workout I had today, but you also know water is rationed, and I already showered less than one cycle ago. It will likely be even worse on a ship having no water for that. Something else to look forward to.”

She made a noise, a huffing sound, of dismay before she informed him, “Maybe I shower with you so you can shower more often.”

He chuckled thinking she was joking and agreed with her with a sarcastic reply, “Sure, you bet.”

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