[Don’t miss this episode of two extraterrestrial cats who come to Earth where trouble follows them. See https://susanbassmarcus.net/2018/12/31/a-new-zoocatron/ for CHAPTER ONE]
Clambering down the pole took Tepunia longer and pained her more than clawing up. Her decision to join the cats below had not been easy.
Up in the hayloft, Tepunia had looked through the gap and returned the barn cat’s stare but would not respond to her pleas. Over and over, she had heard the big gray and the kittens calling, You can do it. Leap. Catch the pole with your claws. Scoot down.
Nothing would move her, not even the promise of cool, clear water. A loud clatter then caught Tepunia’s ears. Shvaart was sitting inside an overturned huge, metal container and licking his paws and chest to calm himself.
Sauntering to his side, the gray cat said, Silly kitten, you won’t find any milk in that pail today. Farmer had to sell our cow friends.
Shvaart quit his grooming and padded out of the pail. Through his hidden translating device he answered, Thank you. You’ve been most kind. My name is Lieu—um—Shvaart. I, I mean we, have lost our way. What is your rank—er–name?
Tepunia sent him a strong message: “Shvaart, careful. This could be a trap.”
He looked up for a moment, then yawned at the big gray and blinked his eyes.
She returned his blinks. My name is Mrow. Pleased to meet you, Loo-um Shvaart. You are welcome here among us barn cats, but when the farmer woman comes, hide in the loft. Don’t run to her when she waves around the kibble bowl. Mrow looked up at Tepunia. And you, little kitten, now it’s safe to join your brother.
Again “my BROTHER?” Tepunia twitched with annoyance. She was sure with all this attention Shvaart was going to forget the dangers they faced. “Lieutenant, exit the pail. Clean yourself. Act with dignity despite being, well, out of uniform.”
“Yes, Captain; but I must point out the manual does not advise for this kind of situation.”
She thought about the giant Grimalk’s attack on the first module she sent to Earth. Nothing had prepared her or her crew for that. Or this. Her nose started to itch and soon she blew a few sneezes that rattled her head. Her eyes were itching, too. All those grasses were making her sick. Peering over the edge of the gap. she eyed the pole; she knew she had to leave the loft.
The cats below were silent. All heads turned up to watch her. Tepunia could hear Shvaart’s quiet, encouraging brrrips, and the kittens’ glowing eyes turned the gloomy barn floor into an upside-down star field. All her attention returned to the pole; she sat back on her haunches and calculated distance x required-energy.
When Tepunia’s body and mind were perfectly synchronized, she tensed her rear legs and leaped onto the pole. Sneezing again, she nearly lost her grip. Another brrrip from Shvaart reached her terrified thoughts and restored her concentration. She let her body choose the next step: one leg at a time, she turned herself around and faced the floor below. Her paws digging into the pole’s soft wood, she felt the world pulling her down, but after a few more scrambling steps, she leaped to the floor.
All the barn cats rushed her. Tepunia’s instincts forced her to turn sideways, arch her back, and drop her tail; then, she hissed at them. Shvaart kept his distance, and her fear-flooded head garbled his message. She began to relax as Mrow and the kittens strolled to the kibble bowl and appeared to ignore her. Shvaart was speaking to the gray cat, and, at last, she could understand him.
With all due respect, Mrow, I must ask you to stay where you are while I help my sister calm herself.
Thank you, Loo-Um Shvaart. We only wanted to help your sister, said Mrow.
SISTER!?! That remark caught Tepunia’s attention. “Shvaart,” she said as she sat on the gritty barn floor, “I am perfectly in charge of my senses. I now shall introduce myself to Mrow and her kits.”
With a bow and a long stretch of her front legs, Tepunia greeted the gray cat. Thank you, Mrow, for all your kindness. I am called Tepunia and I am a long way from home. We might have starved without your help.
Mrow ambled over, then touched her nose. A small shock passed between them, and Tepunia’s eyes widened. Mrow, what power!
Naw, that happens when the rains haven’t come for a long time. You saw our fields?
Yes, all the stalks, the dry leaves…
We’re in a bad way. Not so much kibble or water as before. I worry about my kittens; but why are you lost? Where is home?
To gain some time before answering, Tepunia sat back and licked her paws and chest. This place would never work as a new ZooCatron. Long starved for water on their home planet, her crew and passengers wanted more than this part of the humans’ world could provide. But what could she do? Without the module, she had to stay here with Shvaart. If only—
A snarl broke into her thoughts. Gurrhr was racing toward her, his teeth bared and his hackles up. He flew sideways as Mrow’s paw swatted his flank.
After more treats from the woman? Do you think you’re better than the rest of us?
Gurrhr skulked off to a dark corner and hunkered down, his ears flattened against his head. I’m just looking out for us barn cats. Our clowder can’t feed any more mouths, let alone two strange kittens. Who knows what diseases or problems they have?
You feline low-life. You know the tradition: feed the hungry and shelter the lost. Next, you’ll be calling the woman.
Tepunia and Shvaart looked at each other. Touching noses, they confirmed a growing realization: the barn human was a female and ruled these cats. Gurrhr sneaked out of the barn just as Mrow turned back to Tepunia. She felt panic surging from her gut to her throat. This was no time for a hairball.
The Dream of a New Home