[Two alien cats, Grimalks from the dying planet of ZooCatron, risk everything to find a home on planet Earth]
Tepunia’s eyes opened for an instant, then closed again as a painful twinge hit her belly. She sat up to lick the hurt but feeling dizzy and on the edge of vomiting, she sank into the soft pad beneath her. I’d better nap a bit more, she thought. Given the weird situation, perhaps she was having a bad dream.
One of the women caring for them came into the room. Her head fur and mouth were covered and she was wearing stretchy gloves and a strange blue wrap. She woke Tepunia by patting her groggy head then stroked her chin. The Grimalk stretched her head back for more caresses.
Another woman entered the room. With a light touch, she held onto Tepunia who had no energy to struggle while the first woman pricked her. A wave of calm swept through her and she fell into a dark, dreamless sleep.
The next time she woke up, she recognized the room she shared with Shvaart, but he wasn’t there. She knew she should worry, but she was too tired to care and her throat was parched. After lapping up enough water from the bowl near her sleeping spot, she staggered back to bed. She had fleeting thoughts that would not stick in her head: did the humans experiment with her body? Did they take her translator (useless anyway) or her communicator (she should call Shvaart—maybe later)? She tongued the roof of her mouth. No, she felt familiar tiny bumps; the devices were still in place. What then?
She sat up and began to lick her paw and shoulder. When she looked down, she was shocked. All the fur on her belly was missing. Her skin puckered along a small wound in the middle of the bare patch. Someone had opened her up then put her back together. How primitive! How awful! What did they expect to find? Or did they implant a device in her? Frantic, she licked the crusty wound. It was healing.
Tepunia closed her eyes and, hunkering down, took a few moments to calm herself. Activating her internal scanner, she learned she was intact except for the wound. Why did they cut her? Did they do the same to Shvaart? She felt disappointed in those humans she’d begun to trust.
The sound of vigorous licking caught her ears. Shvaart was sitting on his pile of cloths and was licking the area under his tail. “Imagine that, Tepunia—”
“Captain Tepunia, and I’d rather not imagine.”
“Well, humans think we are like those farm cats, Mrow and Gurrhr. They were going to use a laser—remember those?—on my waste patch for some kind of procedure.”
“Did they? Someone actually cut me open.”
“Oh, I’m sorry! Are you in pain?”
Tepunia licked the healing incision again and said, “No, they sewed me up, but they were looking for something, weren’t they?”
Shvaart strolled along the walls of the little room until he was facing Tepunia. “I think they were looking for organs of reproduction,” he said with a low growl.
“What? We don’t have any. How did you find out?”
“I understood bits and pieces of their conversation while they thought I was sedated. They didn’t know our species had evolved ages ago. You should have heard their surprise when they couldn’t find their target. No matter, our future generations are still in storage on our ship, right?”
Tepunia sank to her belly and lay her head on her fore paws. “Yes, but when will they ever be activated? Prrrup mustn’t land the ZooCatron Quest until we know this place is safe.”
“Worse, we’re prisoners of these strange and ignorant humans. My translator is broken; yours hardly works. What if they find out we’re not native?”
She could see Shvaart thinking about this new twist. Cleaning his face with one paw, he said, “It’s simple. They probably think someone else took those organs before we came here. No need to worry.”
Tepunia arched her back and hissed, “Shvaart! How dare you tell me not to worry? My ship is orbiting this hostile world. Its passengers need a new home and finding that home is my job. Look at me now. I’m letting everyone down.” With her tail drooping low and her ears flat, she collapsed into a tight crouch.
Shvaart lay on his side and began to lick his flank. “I only wanted to reassure you, Captain. Yes, I said, ‘Captain.’ I’ll be respectful, if only to help you feel like yourself. It will all work out. I have a good feeling about this.”
“Lieutenant, so far, your feelings have brought us nothing but trouble, but thanks. Let’s get some rest now.”
The two Grimalks turned a few times on their beds. Curled up and nestled into the soft cloths, they fell asleep.
The door opened to the sound of a new human voice. Their women caregivers escorted a stranger into the room Shvaart and Tepunia assumed was now home. The new female had short, dark head fur and wore transparent disks in front of her eyes. She was carrying a box.
“Uh-oh, a box again. Are we going back to the truck?” Tepunia mewed to Shvaart. “Did they feed and clean us, only to kill us after all?” She couldn’t stop herself from hissing.
In contrast, Shvaart approached the new female and rubbed her legs. “Captain, she has treats; they smell like the tasty new rations we depleted on our ship.”
The stranger opened the box’s door, put more treats in the far corner, and Shvaart crawled inside to reach them. He made no effort to leave.
“Captain, this box feels soft and warm,” He licked his lips. “and the treats are delicious. I suggest you join me.”
Oh, dear, another of his suggestions. The box is a trap. I can feel it, she thought. Shvaart could be reckless and rash. Who was this new human anyway? Tepunia studied the women; they were paying no attention to her. Rather, they were chatting and making some sort of happy sound like the burbling stream she and Shvaart had crossed when they fled from the farm. Tepunia watched them for a while. They made no move to coax her into the box.
She turned her attention to Shvaart now napping in the box, then watched the humans. Without moving she continued to stare at them all.