Before Shvaart could activate his translator, the vicious cat attacking them moments ago pushed him to the ground and clamped his jaws around the back of Shvaart’s neck. Hoping to rescue her lieutenant, Tepunia lunged at the two but the gray cat’s deep growl stopped her.
Don’t. I’ll take care of this. With a yowl and one swipe of her powerful claws, the gray cat chased away the attacker, then licked Shvaart’s neck. There, there, kitten. Gurrhr is a bully. He fights with all the kittens. You, there, she called to Tepunia, take your little brother into the barn. You’ll find some kibble left by our humans.
“Ah, maybe that’s what they call the furless ones,” Tepunia muttered. She leaped to Shvaart’s side. Did she say my little brother? “Lieutenant, are you injured? I have our emergency set somewhere.” She patted the remains of her suit; the familiar lump was missing. Tepunia dodged Shvaart’s paws, wet from grooming his fur, and sniffed his neck and ears. “I don’t see any cuts. You’re not bleeding.”
“I’m fine, Captain. Just a little shaken.” Shvaart blinked a few times and looked around. “What can we do now? Do you see some sand or loose dirt anywhere? I have to make a waste pit stop.”
Pointing to a large structure with a broad open door, she answered, “Next to that place the gray cat called a barn. I see a heap of dirt. When you’ve finished, meet me at the barn door. The gray cat said humans—that’s what they’re called—set out some kibblings inside, but I don’t know if it’s safe. I…”
Shvaart interrupted her.” Blessed Catronia, I’m starving. I could eat my weight in kibblings, but first things first.” He ran to the dirt pile, squatted for a few moments, then kicked loose soil over his deposit.
Tepunia’s belly ached. She called after him: “You’re not alone; but, go on. Maybe we’ll find water, too.” Hoping the remains of her suit covered enough of her behind, she set off for the barn with her long, thin tail raised in an elegant curve over her back. The kits, called kittens here, danced around them and mewed a torrent of questions:
Where’d ya come from?
Who’s your farmer?
Where’s your mother?
Do you hunt?
Do you like mouse knuckles? I like mouse knuckles.
Why do ya wear pajamas?
Do you like our barn?
Once they reached the barn, the kittens dashed through a wide door into its dark interior. Tepunia tilted her head and studied the structure. “So, this is a barn. It’s really big. Must be their home.”
“The kittens raced into it so fast. They’re as hungry as I am,” Shvaart whispered after rejoining Tepunia.
“You needn’t whisper. They can’t hear your thoughts.”
“Oh, right, Captain. I forgot. Anyway, let’s eat!” He followed the last kitten and disappeared into the gloom.
Tepunia felt nervous flutterbugs inside her belly. She sniffed the door’s threshold, then stepped back and waited for the sound of Shvaart’s reaction. Who knew what else was inside that big, dark place? She paced in a circle all the while stealing glances at the group of cats who had attacked her. All of them were sitting like stone statues of Catronia. Not one whisker moved as they stared at her.
Feeling the sun’s heat radiating from the barn’s wall, Tepunia leaned into it and sidled to the door. As she peeked around the corner, she heard a strange, loud voice: Now, where’d ya come from, you cute little mite? I thought I knew all the kittens around here. And what are all these rags ’round your little tummy?
With soft, slow paw steps, Tepunia entered the barn. Her ears swiveled toward the voice and her sharp vision picked out the shape of a giant furless one—a human?—with a long cloth wrapped around its lower body and a shirt that covered its big, lumpy top. It was hovering over Shvaart. Concerned with crunching as many kibblings as he could gulp at once, her lieutenant was paying no attention to the creature.
“Shvaart, look out! A human is about to grab you,” she transmitted with her implant.
All four of Shvaart’s legs sprang up at once. He ran to the door and stared wide-eyed at Tepunia as soon as he bumped into her. “What now?”
“Quick, before it catches us. Over there behind the waste pile.”
That’s all we need, more kittens. I’ll just have to nab’ em and take them to the shelter. Now, where’d they go?
Tepunia and Shvaart huddled behind the heap of dirt. Little tremors shook Tepunia’s body from nose to tail tip, but Shvaart was licking his lips and commenting on the tasty kibblings.
“Lieutenant, get serious. We’re in trouble here.”