(From Cetaganda, by Lois McMaster Bujold)
They’d rounded a corner to an open area displaying a graceful tree, with large fuzzy heart-shaped leaves filling two or three dozen branches that arced and drooped again, swaying slightly with the burden of the podded fruit tipping each branch. The fruit was mewing. Miles and Ivan stepped closer.
“Now . . . now that is just plain wrong,” said Ivan indignantly.
Bundled upside down in each fruit pod was a small kitten, long and silky white fur fluffing out around each feline face, framing ears and whiskers and bright blue eyes. Ivan cradled one in his hand, and lifted it to his face for closer examination. With one blunt finger he carefully tried to pet the creature; it batted playfully at his hand with soft white front paws.
“Kittens like this should be out chasing string, not glued into damned trees to score points for some ghem-bitch,” Ivan opined hotly. He glanced around the area; they were temporarily alone and unobserved.
“Um . . . I’m not so sure they’re glued in,” said Miles. “Wait, I don’t think you’d betteró”
Trying to stop Ivan from rescuing a kitten from a tree was approximately as futile as trying to stop Ivan from making a pass at a pretty woman. It was some kind of spinal reflex. By the glint in his eye, he was bent on releasing all the tiny victims, to chase after the climbing roses perhaps.
Ivan snapped the pod from the end of its branch. The kitten emitted a squall, convulsed, and went still.
“Kitty, kitty . . . ?” Ivan whispered doubtfully into his cupped hand. An alarming trickle of red fluid coursed from the broken stem across his wrist.
Miles pulled back the pod-leaves around the kitten’s . . . corpse, he feared. There was no back half to the beast. Pink naked legs fused together and disappeared into the stem part of the pod.
“ . . . I don’t think it was ripe, Ivan.”
“That’s horrible!” Ivan’s breath rasped in his throat with his outrage, but the volume was pitched way down. By unspoken mutual consent, they sidled quickly away from the kitten-tree and around the nearest unpeopled corner. Ivan glanced around frantically for a place to dispose of the tiny corpse, and so distance himself from his sin and vandalism. “Grotesque!”
Miles said thoughtfully, “Oh, I don’t know. It’s not any more grotesque than the original method, when you think about it. I mean, have you ever watched a mother cat give birth to kittens?”
Ivan covered his full hand with the other, and glared at his cousin. The protocol officer studied Ivan’s dismay with a mixture of exasperation and sympathy. Miles thought that if he had known Ivan longer, the proportion of the first emotion to the second would be much higher, but Vorreedi only said, “My lord . . . would you like me to dispose of that for you . . . discreetly?”
“Uh, yes, please,” said Ivan, looking very relieved. “If you don’t mind.” He hastily palmed off the inert pod of fluff onto the protocol officer, who hid it in a pocket handkerchief.
“Stay here. I’ll be back shortly,” he said, and went off to get rid of the evidence.
“Good one, Ivan,” growled Miles. “Want to keep your hands in your pockets after this?”
Ivan scrubbed at the sticky substance on his hand with his own handkerchief, spat into his palm, and scrubbed again. Out, out, damned spot. . . . “Don’t you start making noises like my mother. It wasn’t my fault. . . . Things were a little more complicated than I’d anticipated.” Ivan stuffed his handkerchief back in his pocket, and stared around, frowning. “This isn’t fun anymore. I want to go back to the embassy.”