Bondarevsky had never been much for celebrating Christmas, beyond putting in the expected appearances at the festivities held by the people in his command. Born and raised on Razin, a distant frontier world settled by Russians of mostly Eastern Orthodox religion, Bondarevsky had been brought up to celebrate Epiphany, the baptism rather than the Nativity of Christ, and even yet he still was apt to keep the Twelfth-Night holiday rather than the more traditional Christmas Day. He and Kevin had a long-standing tradition of not exchanging presents until Epiphany. "No, I brought over a gift from all of the Liberators to all of you ... whatever it is you're going to call yourselves. Lieutenant, if you please..."
His assistant stepped forward and set the box down on the table. "Open it up, Jason," Tolwyn said.
He looked at the box for a long moment, half-expecting some kind of prank. Then he noticed that the lid of the box was pierced by half a dozen small holes, and that piqued his curiosity. Just what was Tolwyn up to, anyway?
Bondarevsky lifted the lid and looked inside. There, almost invisible in the shadows, a pair of green eyes regarded him curiously.
"Thrakhath!" he said. He reached in and lifted out the black cat, who responded by rubbing on his chin and purring loudly. That set off laughter from the officers clustered nearby. "Kevin, are you sure about this? I had the idea Thrakhath was kind of a favorite of yours. This one, at least."
Tolwyn grinned. "Yeah, I like him a lot better than I ever liked the one from Kilrah, but there's a dozen cats on Independence to keep our rodent population under control. And we thought you guys could use a mascot over here. Given your new home and all, it just seemed like a good idea."
Bondarevsky put the cat down on the table, but kept petting him. "Just as long as he doesn't cause as much trouble as his namesake..."
"Oh, he'll cause a lot more than that." Tolwyn grinned again. "And he'll bring bad luck to anybody who crosses his path. Like Ragark and his Kilrathi..."
"Or the confees!" one of the pilots called from the back of the watching crowd. "Or anybody else who gets in our way!" Tolwyn looked embarrassed. "Anyway, Merry Christmas from the Liberators to..." He trailed off. Bondarevsky's command had been officially designated as FW-137, but it didn't have a name as yet. The carrier hadn't even received a formal Landreich Navy name yet.
"The Black Cats!" a voice from the crowd declared loudly. Commander Alexandra Travis came forward and stretched out a hand to scratch Thrakhath behind the ears. The animal looked satisfied with himself and redoubled his contented purring. "What do you say, Captain? What better name for a Flight Wing operating off a Cat carrier, with Cat fighters, and probably in Cat space, sooner or later?"
There were plenty of comments from the others, and they all sounded favorable. Bondarevsky nodded. "All right, the Black Cats it is." He paused. "Mr. Harper, I am hereby appointing you as Chief Cat-tender, with all the duties and responsibilities that traditionally go with that post. And somebody else is going to have to explain all this to Murragh. I sure as hell don't want to tell him we've got a house pet named after his cousin."
"To hear him talk," Travis said, "house pet would be a step up from what Murragh's people think of their ex-Prince." She grinned. "But you know well be bad luck to anybody who crosses our path!"