“How can I raise my crew’s morale?” Tepunia muttered. “Shvaart assumed those giant Grimalks were friendly. Unusually bad judgement.” Digging her claws into the edge of her pilot’s plank, she sighed and stretched her forelegs in front of her, haunches in the air.
Shvaart should have been more cautious, she thought. Now my crew and passengers will think the planet is too dangerous for a landing. She watched Shvaart tugging at his jumpsuit and chasing his tail. She blinked at him several times, hoping to calm him, but her friendly signal went unnoticed. Instead, Tepunia’s lieutenant lifted a leg to clean himself.
Tepunia arched her back. Her eyes darkened as she growled, “Shvaart, eyes here. Sit!”
He dropped his leg and returned her blink with several of his own. Pressing his paws into his plank, Shvaart sat tall and switched his tail in a slow figure-eight.
Prrrup lay on a spare plank, her chin resting on her paws. Silent as the stars, she, too, stared at Shvaart.
Feeling in charge again, Tepunia looked at her officers, then said, “Your reconnaissance was unacceptable, Lieutenant. You said you would contact inhabitants and prep for our ship’s landing. Instead, the New ZooCatron had to rescue you and Ensign Prrrup. You succeeded only in creating hostilities. What happened?”
Shvaart sank to his belly and rested his head on his paws. After blinking twice more, he said, “Captain Tepunia, had you been there—”
“If I had been there, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
Shvaart raised his head, stretched, and let himself ‘swim’ up to the ceiling. Executing a graceful pirouette over the bridge, he said, “Captain, great idea, to have you scout, I mean. You see, Ensign Prrrup and I were certain the large Grimalks were primaries and, still invisible to them, we hoped to approach them, taste their food, then slowly reveal ourselves.”
Prrrup interrupted, “But the furry one, the ruler, sensed us somehow and chased us back to the module. We would have scouted another landing area, but one of their ships was about to attack us. We learned they call it a ‘podado ship.’ In extreme danger, we called for rescue.”
“Yes, that’s why we called for rescue. Nasty podado ship.” Shvaart repeated as he licked a paw and wiped his nose.
Tepunia’s back muscles twitched, and she almost coughed up her latest ration of kibblings. “How could that so-called ruler sense your presence? The visibility shield suits were working, weren’t they?”
Prrrup spoke since Shvaart did not answer, staring at nothing in particular. “Captain, no one saw us when we approached the inhabitants. The ruler, however, must have special powers, or saw our ultraviolet tabs, but…” She paused.
Tepunia did not like uncertainty. ‘Everything has its place and every action its reason’ was her motto. “But, what?”
“But I don’t think the furry one is the ruler of the world down there.”
“What is he, then?”
“A captive,” replied Prrrup. She described the caged compound, the gates with broken locks, and the creatures’ escape. “The furless creatures ran from him, yet…”
“I think they are in charge, because two furless ones were flying the podado ship that nearly hit our pod.”
“I see, “Tepunia said. She released her plank straps and floated up to Shvaart. Pressing her nose against his, she growled softly, “I like your suggestion. You and I are going down there. This time, I will decide on the landing zone and I will choose our contacts.”
Shvaart dropped to the floor. He flattened his ears and switched his tail. “Captain, those Grimalks have long, sharp teeth and claws. I need some time to recover before we meet them again.”
Tepunia hissed, “Oh you will have plenty of time. For two risings of their star, you will tend to the waste pits. Make sure every bit becomes space dust.” She floated down to her plank, rumbled a soft growl, and said. “Ensign Prrrup, stay. I have some points to discuss with you. As for you, Lieutenant, you are dismissed.”
Shvaart lowered his eyelids, raised his tail half-way, and slunk away from the bridge toward the ship’s quarter. “Yes, Captain. As you wish.”