“Cats and cousins are both like bad pennies,” proclaimed Hale, “they keep turning up.” He reached up into the tree while standing, somewhat precariously, on the garden table underneath and lifted his cousin Elladine’s kitten down for her. “She’s in a strange place, Ella, you should keep her inside.”
“I was, until Uncle Tibold opened the door and let her out.” Elladine, who was about fifteen, asked, “About cousins, do you think Ludwina’s ever coming home?”
Hale clambered down off the table before he answered. “I don’t know, Ella. It’s been seven years and no word from her. That’s what they’re all talking about in there, you know.” He gestured towards the house’s windows. “Uncle Tibold and Aunt Stephanie applied to have her declared dead, because what else can they do that they haven’t already done? There’s some sort of official holdup with the declaration, though. Some paperwork problem. They’re trying to work out what it is.”
“She was going offworld to Aunt Stephanie’s old school wasn’t she?” Elladine concentrated on the kitten. “That’s why I can’t go to the Fluromine Academy next year, isn’t it?”
“Yep,” Hale confirmed. “She got to Bessamine Transfer Station and then she vanished. It’s made all our parents cautious. Mind you, I think Uncle Aleki was always a conspiracy theorist…”
Inside the house, Stephanie was on the verge of tears, again, while Tibold was in a foul mood and none of the extended family could blame either of them. When the doorbell rang Chiara, the most recent adult addition to the family, was happy to volunteer to answer it simply because it got her out of the room. Her new husband’s family seemed to enjoy getting together and stewing over things, but she found it all a bit too intense. She came back a few minutes later with a cautious expression on her face. “There’s a young woman at the door, she says she’s looking for the family who lived here seven years ago. Stephanie and Tibold, do you want to see her?”
Stephanie and Tibold looked at each other and went cautiously to the front door. When they opened it, the visitor was still there. Female with short dark hair, dressed in a single-breasted, black frock coat with matching trousers, shirt and dress boots relieved by a red, blue and silver waistcoat. A knee tall, black spotted, grey cat twined itself around her legs. The visitor looked up from the cat and Stephanie exclaimed, “Ludwina!”
“Mum, Dad,” it was a crooked smile, “I thought I should give you the chance to decide whether you want me back once you know what I’ve become.”
“What do you mean?” That was ripped fromTibold, who couldn’t believe his eyes.
“I was shanghaied then pressganged into a pirate crew,” Ludwina told her parents, “so for two years, I was a pirate until the Fleet caught us and then I was sentenced to five years rehabilitation in the crew of a privateer. Same job but with a veneer of respectability, or so they tell me.” She gave that crooked smile again, “Oh, and I’ve been claimed by the pirate ship’s cat as its surviving human.” She had time to look down at the cat again before she was overwhelmed by her parents’ hugs.