A ray of sunlight shone through the large, high windows, cutting through the dust in the air. Nadalia blinked in its light, and yawned.
"Tired, Nads?" asked Mari.
Nadalia looked sideways at her best friend in the world. "I'd forgotten how dull this guy made his lessons," she whispered.
"Something you'd like to share, girls?" called the lecturer, his dry voice echoing through the hall.
"Erm… we were just… er…" Nadalia fidgeted on the hard wooden bench.
"Discussing the possibility that the hemsepans might not be extinct, sir," said Mari with a glance at her friend.
"Well, there have been some theories on that, most of them utter nonsense of course, but a couple…"
"Nice save, Mari," Nadalia whispered.
"Thanks. Any idea what's up next?" Mari made a quick scribble on her notepad. She was lucky to belong to a species that had evolved thumbs. Nadalia was stuck with using a recording device.
"I think it's something on current politics. Probably nothing we don't get on the radio anyway, I was going to head for the pool when we're done here. You?"
Being feline, Mari couldn't stand large amounts of water, so she hardly ever went to any of the communal pools Nadalia frequented.
"I'm off to V Zero, Black Kat are playing there tomorrow and I want to get a ticket. Want me to get you one? Call it a 'new housemate' gift."
"Sounds great, yeah. Best shush before he hears us talking again though."
The lecturer droned on. Anyone else might have made the subject a bit more interesting, but this guy just made most of the class want to sleep. The ancient hemsepans, or 'fool's race', had wiped themselves out about ten thousand years ago using their 'sun weapons'. Many other species had died along with them, and the beings who evolved from the few species that had survived still regretted the loss of so many lives.
After another hour of making intermittent recordings from the lecture, Nadalia and Mari agreed to meet back at their new place in the green district of Region Three that evening, and went their separate ways.
At the communal pool a bit later, Nadalia dived down to the bottom to see what plants were growing this time. It was quite a shallow pool, and very busy at this time of day with members of several species. She got talking to one of its permanent cephalopod residents, Leniya, who mentioned that the world leader Korian would be making his re-acceptance speech tonight after an almost unanimous global vote for him to stay in the position.
"He's easily one of the best we've had," Leniya enthused, "second longest running, too, eight years already!"
"I know," replied Nadalia. "If he can hang on to popularity he'll be in for longer than old Artaxiad, what was it, eleven years he had?" She brushed past a weed that was growing out of the side of the pool, and turned to examine it for a moment. She had not come across one of that type before; yellowish leaves with bright red flowers.
"Twelve, remember he went a bit odd in his last year? Anyway, I don't see Korian losing votes anytime soon. His 'peace, understanding and equality' thing is the best political idea ever, and he's got the decency to carry it through properly."
Nadalia, half in a dream world as she continued swimming easily through the water, said partly to herself; "He's really attractive, too."
"Ooh, you fancy him!" Leniya squealed.
"Little bit, yeah. You don't?"
"Nah, not my type. Dinyar, though, up in region one… he is one hot politician. Nice, long, sexy tentacles…"
Nadalia tried and failed to keep a straight face at this remark. "I can't say I've considered the attractiveness of tentacles before, each to their own though. Right, I'm gonna go see if Mari got those Black Kat tickets yet."
"Okay, see you round, Nadalia."
"Laters!" Nadalia called as she left the water.
Korian dived deep into his private pool. He enjoyed the few hours he got to himself, to relax and swim about like this. Thanks to his long distant ancestors, he could stay down in the depths for several minutes before needing to come up for air. He was admiring an unusual water plant when he heard his assistant calling from the surface. I suppose he wants to remind me about my speech later, Korian thought as he swam slowly upwards through the cool, clear water.
"Yes, Alaric?" he said, popping his head above the water line to speak to his feline assistant who waited on the wooden walkway that ran alongside the pool.
"You have a message from your nephew, sir. He says it's important." Alaric stepped back further, being cautious of getting splashed again. Korian was a kind man, but had an awful sense of humour at times.
"Has he fallen out with his mother again?"
"I'm not entirely sure, sir. He did seem rather agitated when I spoke to him."
Korian rolled his dark blue eyes and climbed out of the water. "Okay, I'll invite him to stay for a few days, then call my sister and try to find out what's going on before my speech in two hours."
Being world leader was good, making a difference and improving peoples' lives an excellent thing to do, but sometimes it was far too much trouble to deal with alone. Korian wanted a partner before this year was over.
"Got the tickets Nads! Front row, how's that sound?" Mari was leaping up and down on the squashy old sofa shouting excitably. Black Kat were her favourite band, and it had been almost five years since they last played live. She had their first album blaring out of the radio, so loud that it was trying to bounce off the mantel where it rested.
"Great! Hey, since you got me the ticket, I got you this. I dropped by V Zero after the pool and, well…" Nadalia handed Mari a small box.
Mari gasped. "Is it their first demo recording? You know I've been trying to find it, how did you get hold of it?"
"Why don't you have a listen? There's a little surprise on there too," Nadalia said cryptically.
Mari nudged the old picture of herself and her parents aside and pressed the cube into the slot at the side of the radio. The heavy, rumbling bass line of 'Show Me Your Tail' came thudding out of Mari's brand new speakers. The demo played through four tracks, finishing on the only love song Black Kat ever wrote, 'Curl Up With Me Tonight'. At the very end, a hidden track consisted of only a few words:
"Hi Mari, it's Elvira here, inviting you to come backstage and party with us after tomorrow's show at V Zero! See you there!" Elvira was the singer in Black Kat, and Mari's idol.
Mari stared at the radio. "I get to meet them?" she said in disbelief. "Did you organise this today?"
"Yep, I couldn't think what to get you for your birthday next week, and I thought you'd enjoy…"
"Thank you thank you thank you thank you!" Mari flung her arms round Nadalia in a fit of excitement. "I'm going to tell everyone I know! Then I'm going to colour my fur, and sort out some accessories…" she walked upstairs mumbling to herself.
Nadalia switched the radio back to 'incoming' and smiled to herself. Most people agreed it was an odd friendship they had, not least because they were two such contrasting species, Mari detesting water and the cetacean Nadalia needing to swim for at least six hours a day to keep healthy. However, nobody who met them could deny how close they were. They had met at a Black Kat show about ten years before, and had usually ended up revisiting the story after any Kat show since.
Once she'd fetched herself a drink and got comfy, Korian's speech was just about to be broadcast. Nadalia settled down on the sofa that her mother had left her to listen, and as the leader's soft, musical voice swept over her, she thought – what a perfect end to a great day.