Her belly was plump with toothsome kibblings and all her fur had grown back. She had at least six different soft places to sleep. Sometimes her translator decoded Steve’s sounds—he called them talk—but neither he nor the woman, whom he called “Toose,” understood her meows. All the same, Tepunia was getting used to this new place. At least forty cat tail-lengths above the street, it was light and wide-open with plenty of room to run, hide, play, and sleep. The wood floors felt good underpaw and delicious smells floated out of a special corner of the place where Toose and sometimes Steve prepared food.
Shvaart loved living here. He dashed around the huge space they shared with the humans—their home—which was good because he ate too much and too often and needed the exercise. He was always napping but both of them needed more sleep; they felt as if they were growing as big as farm cats. Prrrup found a way to contact them once and she suggested their new size was due to the oxygen-rich environment and added hydrocarbons.
Tepunia saw signs that she and Shvaart were going to stay in Steve’s home for a while. The humans put out special dishes, pans, toys, and pads just for her and Shvaart. They fed them regularly and protected them from the noisy, strange outside world.
The humans may have betrayed them once. They’d carried the Grimalks in something called a carrier to visit a vet (it was still a box to Tepunia). Canines, feathered creatures, and Earth cats were everywhere—the cats in boxes, and the canines—dogs—leading their humans with a cord. How weird was that? The Grimalks sensed the vet was kind, but she did poke and prod them. Tepunia yowled, just to let the vet know she was inappropriate. Shvaart, as usual, enjoyed the attention and head-butted the vet’s elbow.
After the trip back to Steve and Toose’s home, the humans put the box away. Relieved, Tepunia chased Shvaart across the place’s vast floor, down and up some stairs, around and around until they both collapsed in happy exhaustion.
The Grimalks no longer needed to hide their thoughts; they meowed out loud whenever they wanted to talk. Shvaart and Tepunia used a special set of sounds to guide the humans. “TEE-EEB,” brought Steve running. He’d offer some kibble or, if needed, would clean a litter pan. “MARK-MARK” signaled it was Toose’s turn to refill the kibble bowl or just “thank-you”. They also invented many other sounds to organize their humans. At night, Tepunia would meow three times to announce Toose’s bedtime and a little while later she would jump on Steve’s desk to tell him he needed to rest, too. Once the humans were sleeping behind their closed door, Tepunia was free to roam the place and play with her toys while Shvaart slept (which meant she could nibble at the kibble without interference). Then she, too, would sleep until the Earth’s star lit the planet again.
Tepunia missed other Grimalks, but Shvaart was good-enough company. He’d call her to look out the windows. Feathered creatures—birds, they were called—often landed on the ledge outside and they had fun scaring them away. Down below on the paths outside, cars zoomed by and dogs led around their humans who would stoop ever so often to clean the dogs’ waste. Why didn’t they use litter?
The weather often changed. At the first snowfall, Tepunia’s heart clutched. Was ice going to cover the Earth? If so, how would she and Shvaart survive without a ship like the ZooCatron Quest to carry them away?
But the snow melted. The trees’ bare branches sprouted leaves and warmth returned to the planet. Tepunia decided Prrrup was clever enough to carry on her search for a landing site without her. Shvaart and she would adjust to this new life on Earth and, who knew, maybe a colony would develop.
One evening, Steve and Toose were sitting at a table and using claw extenders to catch and eat their food. Shvaart was asleep at Steve’s feet. While Tepunia sat watching them, she heard a strange sound. As the sound grew louder, static filled her head, and Tepunia’s ears swiveled toward a tall, white stand where a spider plant sat. She circled the stand. Pointing her ears at the plant, she picked up Prrrup’s voice.
“Captain, Captain. Can you hear me?”
Tepunia pressed her tongue into her communicator, hoping it would work this time. “Yes, Ensign. Listening.”
“Oh, that’s wonderful!” Static resumed. After a pause, Tepunia heard Prrrup say, “Good news: we’ve landed!”
“What? Have you come to rescue us?” Tepunia’s heart nearly jumped out of her chest.
“No, no. That’s not possible. The program brought us safely to a place they call Egypt but self-destructed when we touched down. I took the liberty of exploring. What luck! Humans here almost worship creatures like us. They said we were sent by the gods, whatever that meant. We have a lot to learn. Anyway, we’ve started a colony. Can you join us?”
“I don’t know, Ensign. Can you send coordinates? Anyway, as your Captain, I am pleased. You are a model Grimalk. ”
“My deepest thanks, Cap—” Static filled her head again.
“Prrrup? Ensign? Prrrup, are you there?”
Shvaart looked up from his nap. “Captain, relax. Prrrup will be fine. Something cut her off.”
Tepunia sniffed around the plant stand but she heard nothing more. I’m going to wait here every evening when my humans eat, she thought. Maybe Prrrup will contact us again. In the meantime…
Tepunia strolled to the big kibble bowl, filled halfway with fresh nuggets. She dipped in her head and, jutting out her lower jaw, she scooped some tasty bits into her mouth. When she’d had enough, she leaped onto the top plank of a tree Toose had built for her and curled up for a sweet nap. Her eyes closed. She tucked her head into her chest and all her past troubles faded away as she thought, perhaps this is our new ZooCatron.