It wasn't a freezing dawn, but a little frost had collected on the fur of a chubby gray kitten. The delicate crystals ran along the kitten's spine and sides in a curious triangular pattern. It was the only white to interrupt the pure slate of his coloring. He had gray hair, gray eyes, gray paw pads and gray whiskers. What the kitten didn't have was his mom, gray or otherwise. After futilely chasing a squirrel across the street from his cozy home, he was hopelessly lost on the campus of Rice University.
Nearby, roommates Brandon Connors and D'Shawn Williams limbered up, shivering through a series of awkward stretches. In spite of their requisite groaning and complaining, the teens really kind of liked their self-imposed early morning workouts. Both boys were freshmen with the bodies of adolescent gamers. That had to change, they had determined. Just after the start of their first semester, they had tried to connect with some girls they had met in their statistics class when the soccer team went jogging past their meet-up spot and took the girls' attention with them.
Now well into their second month of training, Brandon and D'Shawn pulled their hoodies up and kicked off their workout with a slow jog through campus to warm-up for much more vigorous exercise at the track and gym. The boys had trotted only a few feet from their dorm when they saw a fat, gray kitten with frosty triangles on his back sitting there staring at them. D'Shawn scooped the kitten up with one hand while Brandon watched for prying eyes. The dorms at Rice University had a strict policy. No pets allowed.
Ming Li and Maria Figueroa were actually enjoying their daily run that morning when they saw Brandon and D'Shawn duck back inside the dorm with the kitten. Maria recognized one of the boys. She and D'Shawn were enrolled in the same advanced level calculus class and had been grouped together with other students for a special trigonometry assignment. D'Shawn quickly became the group's lead researcher. He was a natural with trigonometric calculations and applications.
"Did you see that?" Maria asked Ming. They had slowed their jogging pace and veered out of the sight line of the boys as soon as D'Shawn bent down to pick up the kitten.
"Maybe they like cats and want to rescue him," Ming suggested hopefully, though with some skepticism ringing in her words. Ming was naturally protective of all animals, especially tiny little kittens roaming around university campuses on cold frosty mornings. She had grown up in a household with one brother, two parents, three parrots, four dogs, five hamsters, and six cats. Naturally, Ming was majoring in life sciences and pre-vet studies.
"I'll ask D'Shawn what's up when I see him in calculus this afternoon," Maria assured her, then suddenly changed her mind. "You know what? Let's go talk to him now. I know what dorm suite he lives in."
"Oh, yeah?" Ming arrowed a questioning smile at Maria. "Since when?"
"Calm down already," Maria retorted good-naturedly. "Our trig special projects group meets there sometimes. He's in my calc class, remember? And his tech set-up in there is the jam. Wait'll you see it."
"Let's go, then. I'll want to check over the kitten first, though," Ming insisted.
The computer technology in D'Shawn and Brandon's dorm suite was indeed the jam. All components communicated with each other wirelessly. Six powerful servers placed in a semi-circle traded information. Roll-out keyboards were voice and touch activated. Monitor images were projected in 3D. And curled among the computer servers was a small and fuzzy gray kitten. Sleeping peacefully, his gray whiskers twitched as their tips connected with the computer servers on either side. Every signal passing between the servers was picked up by the kitten's whiskers. Currently running was a complex trignometric application to an astrophysics program mapping out star clusters and their plausibilities and distances in space.
Brandon opened the door to quite an early morning surprise. "Whoa!" he thought, "Babes!"
D'Shawn looked up from a computer monitor and recognizing his calculus classmate, simply said, "Hey, Maria. What's up?"
D'Shawn was a little distracted at the moment. He was programming formulae for a private project he and Brandon were developing on their own. It combined trigonometry and Brandon's major, space physics. Their goal was to locate and analyze a tiny, unknown planet among a cluster of stars that appeared in a arrow-tipped triangular formation. The moment he had seen the triangles of frost on the kitten's fur earlier, D'Shawn's brain had clicked. Trigonometry deals with triangles and the calculations based on the sides and angles of them. D'Shawn was hurrying to inject the fleeting calculation into their final program.
"What's up with you, D'Shawn? Gah. We're just here to see the kitten. Where is he?" Maria demanded, looking around and glancing appreciatively at the boys' computer room set-up. Her jaw suddenly dropped in astonishment with what she saw on one of the monitors. "Oh my god! Is that mathematics -recognition speech?" Maria gasped out. As a speech pathology major, she was familiar with just its opposite, speech-recognition mathematics. She knew it was voice-command software to enable the physically-challenged to engage in mathematics including algebra, trig, calc, and graphing. But mathematics-recognition speech? Maria was astonished, almost overwhelmed, by the possibilities of communicating in English using only math commands. In other words, by using D'Shawn's custom-made software, she could translate mathematics into English. What mathematical formula would translate into "Can I borrow your mathematics-recognition speech software?" she thought giddily.
Sensing her interest and excitement, D'Shawn explained how he had rigged the software to compute reverse translations and answered her unspoken question, "Here, let me show you how to use it, then you can download it to your device."
While Maria was happily working with the remarkable software, Ming watched over the sleeping kitten whose whiskers were twitching tirelessly between the two servers. Brandon had assured her that the kitten had eaten a Hot Pocket and was given water. He also promised to take the kitten in for a check-up and his shots, in addition to providing him with proper food. Ming marveled at how readily the kitten had taken to his new home but was slightly concerned about how soundly he seemed to sleep. His breathing was barely perceptible - even and deep. Almost as if he were unconcious. The only obvious movement was the kitten's whiskers flickering against the computer servers on either side of his small body as the system ran its special trigonometic astrophysics program.
"Done!" D'Shawn whooped. "Brandon, we did it! Look at this." He motioned to his roommate who hurried over to a 3D screen projecting a stellar parallax to the planet within the triangular star cluster.
"Awesome!" Brandon yelled out, startling the kitten awake. He threw himself into a chair in front of another monitor and started to input data to determine the unstudied planet's viability. Brandon was hoping the discovery he made in high-school astronomy, which had been promptly dismissed by his teachers, would turn out to be a Class M planet. Like most in his generation, Brandon was very worried about Earth's sustainability. He really wanted a Plan B for that.
The kitten, awakened by Brandon's enthusiastic yells, yawned before he stood up, stretched with a high spinal arch, then yawned again. Ming was there with soft touches and coos. She was surprised at how much warmer his whiskers were than the rest of his body. He was such an adorable little kitty, Ming thought, who deserved a home, a name and lots of love. She wondered if Brandon and D'Shawn would be able to successfully shelter him in secret for the rest of the semester, much less throughout their four years of study at Rice University. Ming hoped so.
The little gray kitten jumped down from his napping spot and took a long sniffing tour of the boys' dorm suite while the teenagers engaged in their respective indulgences. Brandon worked on his astrophysics calculations. D'Shawn tweaked his parallax computations. Maria rolled out a math keyboard to practice translating mathematics into English. And Ming researched the anatomy of cat whiskers on her hand-held.
The kitten had learned quite a bit during his inspection of the students' living quarters. There was very little variety of food beyond that abomination called Hot Pockets. Books on the floor are fun to wrestle with. While lying on your side, you can bite down hard on the book's spine, sink your front claws into its covers, and kick it into submission with your back feet. The kitten marched away from his first conquest with tail held high. He then went into the bathroom and had an unbelievably wild and happy time utterly destroying a whole roll of toilet tissue. All in all, it was a fantastic morning for the little, gray kitten. But it was almost lunch now, and he was hungry. The funny thing was - the kitten knew exactly how to say so to the four teen-aged humans. He went straight to the math keyboard that Maria was using for her English translations.
At that moment, Ming had completed her cursory research on the functions of a cat's whiskers and said, "Hey, you guys. This kitten is really special." The feline youngster decided to make a quick stop on Maria's lap for a few scratches before he got on the math keyboard. He was kneading Maria's sweats-clad knees when Ming asked, "What's his name?"
The kitten stopped kneading and deftly jumped from Maria's lap up to the mathematics keyboard. He placed his front paws on the keyboard and typed out, "My name is 3.14159 and I'm hungry."
Four teenagers in a dorm suite at Rice University collectively lost it that morning. A cat who could talk! After feeding 3.14159 some left-over pizza, the students formed an unbreakable pact that would last throughout their lifetimes. They would tell no-one about what 3.14159 could do until they could be assured of his protection. They would only approach NASA when it demonstrated a sincere credibility in their incredible human/cat communications and scientific collaborations. This was critical because 3.14159 had revealed an inordinate ability to extrapolate the functions of space and time travel. After a period of intense skepticism disproved by solid video evidence and solutions to previously unsolved mathematical problems, NASA warmly welcomed the teenagers and 3.14159 into their space research labs. The students and their cat were world-famous within the year.
Two decades later, D'Shawn's three-months-old daughter grasped the whiskers on either side of the elderly cat's face in her chubby infant's fists. Pi, otherwise known as 3.14159, purred in satisfaction as he downloaded every byte of data into the precious little baby's brain. Tri'Esha gurgled back at him in amusement. It was nice to be friends with Pi - the cat who helped her daddy and his friends discover and map a way to a new planetary home for all humanity and Earth life.