[Seeking refuge from their dying planet, two tech-savvy extraterrestrial cats land on Earth where their troubles continue. See https://susanbassmarcus.net/2018/12/31/a-new-zoocatron/ for CHAPTER ONE]
Gurrhr’s tail was switching faster than Tepunia’s heart beat. His rear end wriggled and Tepunia knew he was about to leap upon her. Before the mean feline could attack, something pinched the loose fur around Tepunia’s neck and she left the ground. Twisting, she found herself staring into the barn human’s sky-blue eyes. She was dangling from one of its long bony paws while Shvaart hung—oh, no, lifeless? —from its other paw. Tepunia felt herself go limp—a sensation she remembered from her kit-hood. “Shvaart,” her thoughts traveled slowly, “Lieutenant—do—you—hear—me?” He was several tail lengths apart from her and his eyes were closed.
“SHVAART! Wake—up! We—must—get—out of this.”
Her lieutenant’s eyes snapped open and he began to wriggle. Using the kick-and-snarl techniques acquired in his martial arts class—a nostalgic course in ancient ZooCatron behaviors—Shvaart surprised the human and, freeing himself, leaped to the ground. He dashed through the field toward the barn and disappeared from sight.
Startled by Shvaart’s reaction, the human dropped Tepunia. Landing in the dirt with less grace than she’d have wished, Tepunia righted herself in an instant and ran after Shvaart. Disappearing into the barn’s gloom, she climbed a pole. Her fear ebbed as her claws dug into its soft surface smelling of aged trees and smoke. Somewhere, here in the dark, she hoped to find a hiding place. A few more tugs up and she squeezed through a gap between the pole and the floor it cut through.
Sniffing around the pole, Tepunia smelled the remains of human tracks, stale cat markings, and dried plants. Her sharp vision picked out towering piles of bound and loose grasses covering what she realized was the upper floor of the barn. Through gaps in the wood beneath her paws, Tepunia spied the water trough and bowls of kibblings surrounded by three kittens none of whom noticed her staring down at them. She licked her lips. I could use some of that, she thought, but where was Shvaart? Not by the kibblings, thank Catronia. On soft paws and in widening circles, she followed her nose. Weaving around the grasses, she stopped, stretched her neck as far as she could, and opened her mouth a bit for a better sampling of the air. Shvaart was near. She almost could taste his distinct scent with hints of musk and warm fur; but where was he hiding?
“Shvaart,” Tepunia transmitted, “I’m going to send a message to Prrrup or did you take care of that?”
“Lieutenant, this is your captain. I know you can hear my thoughts. Answer me.”
A warm and welcome head bumped into her shoulder. “Here I am, Captain. I had to be certain none of the cats down there was trying to fool me.”
“They don’t have communicators.”
“Oh—right, Captain. Well, anyway, in all the excitement, I forgot about Prrrup. Could she rescue us now?”
“Only if we’d return to the module, but without our suits’ activators, we wouldn’t be able to release the shield and open the hatch. I think we’re trapped here, at least for now unless the ZooCatron Quest lands, which is not yet possible, at least, not until we’re sure this place is good to colonize.”
“Not looking good at the moment.”
“No. it’s not.”
At that moment, Tepunia’s ears swiveled and caught the voice of the big gray cat.
Little stranger kittens, I know you are here. Don’t be afraid. Come eat and drink. I shall protect you.
“Did you hear that, Lieutenant? The big cat knows we’re here.”
“Yes, I did. She wants to share food and water, too. Let’s go!”
“Hold on. Not so fast. How do we know she’s telling the truth?”
“She’s a feline.”
Tepunia with dainty steps crossed the floor and peered through the gap in the boards surrounding the pole. “But she lives here in a very different culture. I think we should wait and watch her and her clan.”
“Not for long?”
“Not too long. Let’s—what was that?
Captain, Captain, can you hear me? Ensign Prrrup speaking. I have identified the planet you are exploring. Over.
“Shvaart, would you believe it’s Prrrup?” Go ahead, Ensign. I hear you. We are safe in hiding at the moment. Where are we? Over.
Oh, I am so glad you are well. Over.
Please tell me, where are we? Over.
Sorry, Captain. You are on Terra, also known as Deechew, Duneeya, or other names depending on where felines live; and they are all over the planet except on the ice continent. Where you are, they call it Earth. Over.
What does your data tell you about humans? One of them is trying to trap us. Over.
Oh, no! Like the creatures we saw running away from the giant Grimalks on our first landing? Over.
Humans are one of the primary life forms, along with little flying and hopping things they call insects. They, too, are nearly everywhere. Over.
Thank you, Ensign. How are the crew and passengers? Over?
All is well. I have fixed the gyro with help from one of the engineers. We’ve stabilized our orbit around Earth and will stay in touch. Over.
Thank you. Over and out.
“Everything’s fine, Shvaart. Shvaart? Where are you?”
“Here, Captain. I’ve fallen into this hole around the pole. I can’t…yowwwwl.”
Horrified, Tepunia watched as Shvaart’s claws ripped away strips of old wood before he plunged to the floor below. She stuck her head into the gap and called out with the aid of her translator: Help, help, someone. He’s just a…a…kitten!”
Shvaart landed on all four paws just as he was trained to do at the Acatemy. The gray cat and her kittens surrounded him at once. As they licked his face and neck, Tepunia remembered how sweet pleasure used to ripple across her shoulders whenever her mother groomed her ears and eyes, her whiskers trilling as Mother Cat’s rough tongue soothed her.
After a short time, the gray cat nudged Shvaart toward bowls of kibbling and Tepunia could see he was happy to join her kittens across the dusty floor: his tail was up and curled over his back. With a mix of disgust and shame, Tepunia saw that every last bit of his suit was gone. He was altogether naked!
Tepunia tugged and tightened the remains of her own suit and shuddered at the thought of losing them. She stretched her head to just below the gap around the pole and saw Shvaart happily munching and crunching nuggets of food. She could not stop a loud “Meowrr” from escaping her mouth. At the sound, all the cats but Shvaart looked up.