Seeing a castle in a picture or hologram did not compare to standing at the thick iron gate between two stalwart stone pillars. Aree's long silver whiskers twitched as she took in the strange building. Was this supposed to keep people out? She could easily climb over it. Claws and agility were wonderful things. But then, this was a human construction. Ridan was a small yet significant planet.
She stood before the sensor that would relay her image to the gatekeeper. Her appearance would startle the humans on sheltered little Ridan. A five-foot-tall, brown striped Feline wearing a strappy leather bodysuit might cause a stir. But maybe that is just what the inhabitants of this imposing stone building needed.
A flat male voice came through the speaker.
"State your full name and your business."
"I am AreeLaradi-prr-Kyree. I am here to apply for the bodyguard position advertised in Warriors, Assassins and Renegades Weekly." She scolded herself.
Even though she spoke Common, the language that allowed the diverse species of the galaxy to communicate reasonably well, she spoke with a strong Feline accent. These were isolated humans. She had not spent much time among humans, who spoke Common with a distinctly human accent.
Aree waited. A laugh. "Say your name again, please. More slowly."
Aree cringed. He was laughing at her name. She hated to be laughed at. Didn't that human realize his name would sound just as ridiculous to her? She tried not to repeat her name through gritted teeth.
"Oh—my apology. You are expected." The gate opened.
Aree kept her long striped tail close to her body as she walked through the heavy gate. The space between the gate and the immense stone castle was large enough to park a four-hundred-passenger shuttle.
The path had decorative stones featuring human faces interspersed among unmarked ones. The faces probably belonged to past rulers.
Pristinely manicured flower gardens lined the path. These humans must like their world orderly and planned. The entrance was designed to either impress or intimidate, but Aree was neither. She walked with purpose but not with haste to the wide wooden castle doors. The man awaiting her studied her from head to foot with a critical eye. His lips formed a tight straight line. The smell of him made her stomach turn. She had forgotten how awful humans smelled, but she knew she would get used to it after awhile.
"Here are my credentials and the pass I was told to present." Aree stood in front of the man and held his gaze with her gold eyes. His shoulders slumped slightly and he took a step back.
He blinked. "Oh... yes, thank you." He inserted the small triangular chip that the King had sent her into
a matching hole on a console and swiped the sensor of the square identity chip that showed her credentials.
"You're applying for the special assignment?"
"Yes. You sound surprised."
The man averted his eyes and shuffled. "I suppose I shouldn't be, but… you're a cat!"
Aree raised her chin. "The job announcement said nothing about species. Why shouldn't I apply?"
"Because you would be protecting—I will let them tell you. It is not for me to decide."
Her tail started to twitch of its own accord. How dare he judge her because she was feline, not human.
"Yes, that would be wise. Where do I go?"
He looked her up and down, frowning. "I am not certain they will admit you. The instructions you received told you to dress for a Royal Audience."
She wore little clothing. Being feline and thus covered in fur made garments unnecessary, except to compensate for extreme weather or keep out rain. She wore an ornamental leather body suit with diamond-shaped cutouts. Her tail twitched more vigorously, but she forced it to stop. "Oh yes, Ridan is very conservative. I am, as you see, showing no skin, as I have fur. And my—what is the human euphemism—
private parts are covered by the leather."
"My garment is formal by feline standards." She forced her claws to remain sheathed, with effort.
"Please direct me to the interview, if you please. Sir."
Finally, and with obvious reluctance, he called another uniformed guard to escort her through a seemingly endless series of passages to the door of the Royal Audience Chamber. The armed guard at the heavy wooden door must have been of higher rank, because his uniform was red instead of gray and tassels hung from the jacket collar.
Aree handed the triangular chip and credentials to the decorated door attendant, who repeated the same procedure she had already experienced. He, at least, was a lot more animated than the gray-clad gate guardian was.
"Let me save you some trouble. Present me as Aree."
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