Tepunia ducked her head as claws raked across her shoulder. She leaped away from the hole and flattened her ears. A loud, moaning wail gurgled from her throat—a wail she didn’t know was in her. Shvaart was standing a tail’s length from her side. He was arching his back and hissing. Half his suit lay in shreds. Tepunia edged closer to him and snarled again at their attackers.
Several Grimalk-like creatures surrounded them. They cast a shadow over her and Shvaart as they closed in on the two space explorers. The big cats were hissing, and batting at her with extended claws. They were behaving like Tepunia’s despised, aggressive ancestors. She longed for ZooCatron’s more recent peaceful ways. Why was she under attack?
Outside the ring of large cats, a few smaller ones, Tepunia’s size, were wandering back and forth, mewing like ZooCatron kits. No one’s paying any attention to the kits, she thought. Maybe, if I sounded like them, the big cats would calm down. Tepunia crouched low to the ground, perked up her ears, raised her tail, and mewed. Shvaart, crouching beside her, blinked a few times and followed her example.
A smaller cat with dark fur was tearing at the remaining shreds of Shvaart’s suit. Before it could strip Shvaart bare, a fat, gray-striped cat jumped between Shvaart and his attacker. The gray cat hissed then faced Shvaart and Tepunia. It began to meow a stream of sounds at them, but none of the creature’s sounds made sense.
“Quick, Shvaart, activate the translator core of your implant. It’s saying something. We need to understand.” Tepunia’s paw stroked her throat and soon she understood the big cat’s sounds.
I said, are you lost, little kittens?
“Captain, did you hear that? She—I think it’s a ‘she’—assumes we’re children.”
“So she does, Lieutenant. Stay submissive for now. I’ll negotiate.”
Shvaart lay down and covered one eye with a paw. “Call me when you need me, Captain. I’m exhausted.”
Hungry little kittens, why are you chasing our mice? Where is your home? Why don’t you answer us and why are you carrying those ridiculous rags on your perfectly fine fur?
“Shvaart, I’m not going to mention ZooCatron,” Tepunia whispered in thought. She tilted her head and half-closed her eyes. She hoped the big cat would understand her friendly gestures. What should she say? What universally good cat manners did these creatures have? Were they just like Grimalks only bigger? She blinked several times and answered: Hello, important cat of these parts (the big cat sat and tilted her own head). Yes, we are lost and we don’t want your…your mice.
What do you want then?
Tepunia noticed the gray cat’s fur was smooth and her ears pointed straight up—a good sign, She relaxed, too: her tail curved over her back and she licked her mouth. We are looking for a home. And that’s the truth.
The little dark cat that had attacked Shvaart head-butted the large gray cat and yowled, I don’t trust them. What cat wears pajamas like our humans?
Tepunia looked at the cats surrounding them. Some were gray-striped, others all black like Shvaart and herself, and the kits had white fur dotted with dark splotches on their heads, flanks, and even their paws. All were staring at her and Shvaart and twitching their tails in too fast a beat. “Shvaart, what are humans and how do I explain our suits?”
Her lieutenant stood up, stretch his hind legs, and sauntered to her side. “Humans must be the furless ones I saw the first time I landed, Captain. Please let me explain.” He sat back on his haunches. His raised head and calm bearing reminded Tepunia of the Catronia statue left behind in the ruins of her ZooCatron home. As Shvaart began to speak, all the cats, including herself leaned forward.