[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]
Scat! Now! hissed Mrow.
Scampering up to the barn’s loft, two shivering alien cats flattened themselves behind some bundles of hay. Tepunia stifled a sneeze, touched Shvaart’s nose, and told him to remain quiet as a kahk. When the human, whom Mrow called a woman, had returned to the barn, their new cat friend head-bumped and brushed her ankles to distract her, and they escaped her notice. Now tired and parched, Tepunia hoped the woman would forget about them, but she heard Gurrhr yowling and the sound of his approaching paw-steps convinced Tepunia he was leading the woman toward the pole she’d used before.
Gurrhr, you rascal. No other cat’s dancing around the way you are. What’s gotten into you? Maybe I should call the vet. The woman’s voice!
Tepunia then heard heavy metal pieces banging against each other. The woman must be searching through equipment, she thought. Maybe she’ll find a mouse and decide she needs more cats. Doubting her latest hope, Tepunia lay her head on her fore-paws and stared ahead at the pole. Her eyes widened as she thought, What if Gurrhr climbs up here? Catronia protect us!
The woman was calling him. Gurrhr, you come down from there right now. You are such a bad cat. What’re you so excited about?
“Shvaart, we have to get out of here and find a place far from that Gurrhr.” Tepunia stalked around the loft’s edges until she spotted pale outside light framing a big rectangle in the center of one wall. “That must be a door. Follow me. That’s an order.”
Shvaart crouched behind her as they crossed the floor with light steps. He pressed his shoulder into the right side of the split rectangle. It would not budge.
“Try the other one, Lieutenant.”
Shvaart pushed the left side, and with a soft creak it opened onto a ramp leading to the barn yard. Together they leaped onto the ramp and dashing down they reached the yard behind the barn. The water ditch was steps away and they plunged into it.
“What do I do now?” Shvaart wailed as he thrashed about.
“Be still or they’ll hear us. Paddle yourself to the other side and follow me into the field.”
The stream masked their scent. No one would track them now. Tepunia and Shvaart nearly flew through the rows of dried corn until they reached the edge of the field and a line of gigantic plants that seemed to touch the sky. Tepunia recalled similar plants once flourishing on ZooCatron. Thousands of arbs, they were, until they withered and died when the rains stopped.
“Shvaart, quick, climb up here with me,” she signaled her lieutenant. “The plant’s sturdy arms are like branches of our lost arbs. They’ll hide us for now.”
Shvaart’s ears were swiveling in all directions. “Will do, Captain. From there, we’ll see and hear that savage Gurrhr before he spots us.” He leaped onto the tree trunk and hurried to a robust upper branch still covered with last year’s dry, brown leaves. “These will hide us pretty well, especially when the planet faces away from its star.”
With Shvaart settled in next to her, Tepunia closed her eyes halfway and sent him another thought: “Thank you, Shvaart. You’ve been like my brother, the one Grimalk I miss deeply. Who knows where his ship has gone? What if the comet tossed it to a far different corner of the cosmos?”
“Yes, Captain, so much loss. I miss my family, too. Prrrup told me their ship went silent not long after we left our star system. But I am glad you are happy with me. I am here to serve.”
Planet Earth was turning away from its star now and a soft dim light moved across the land. The barn sat in shadow except for one light hanging over its ground level floor. Tepunia watched the woman walk back and forth across the wide-open barn door; she was carrying pails, then sweeping the floor. Cats circled her, then wove in and out of her legs as she refilled the kibble bowls and added water to the tub. That done, the woman put out the light, closed the barn door, and walked across the yard toward another structure on the opposite side. Most of the cats followed her, then disappeared behind the structure into an area filled with arbs.
Tepunia’s head drooped and she curled on her side like the bright, curved satellite overhead, very much like one of the moons orbiting ZooCatron. Her eyes were heavy and itched. Soothing them with her damp paw, she closed her eyes and drifted into sleep.
What was that? She lifted her head. Something was walking through the dried-up, splintery field. Her belly ached with the need to drop waste, but the strange sound kept her huddled against the branch. What was out there? Not the woman; surely that was her home she’d entered to rest until the world turned toward its star again. But cats—now, that was different. Cats liked night, a good time to catch kahks—mice.
Shvaart contacted her after nosing her ear: “I smell Gurrhr.”
“What?” Shvaart was creeping away from her, back to the arb’s main stem. “Where are you going? Stop!” she transmitted with complete concentration.
“Please, Captain, I have a plan. Trust me.”
Tepunia’s groan nearly escaped her, but she signaled, “That’s asking a lot.”
“Would you trust your brother?”
Shvaart reached the part of the big branch attached to the stem and Tepunia closed her eyes halfway. “Very well, Lieutenant, I trust you, but share your plan with me before you go any farther.”
“Gurrhr doesn’t know we’re hiding here. I am going to lead him to a different arb and—well—you’ll see.”
Tepunia’s worries outweighed her fear. “I’m coming with you. Can’t let you do this alone.”
“As you wish.” Shvaart crawled to another big branch, one that crossed the thick limb of a neighboring arb. He leaped and waited for Tepunia who considered the gap for a while, then jumped and landed behind Shvaart.
“We keep going.”