“Here kitty, kitty, kitty,” Rowland Jensen approached the small furry creature in a crouch and make small kissing noises so he didn’t scare the poor thing away.
At Space Command Academy, the first lesson of exobiology was to not assume Earth-equivalent traits on extraterrestrial creatures. What looks like a pair of eyes on an alien creature may turn out to be reproductive organs, as with Skirst race.
Rowland breathed a sigh of relief his first mission didn’t take him there.
But he knew it was a mistake to call the animal in front of him a kitty. Felis catus was a genius and species unique to Earth and any resemblance to something here on Alcarian-4 was purely coincidental, as Profession Farris used to say.
Damn if this thing didn’t look exactly like a small, perfect kitty cat, though.
Rowland had a cat at home that looked just like the little guy here, down to the same gray patch of fur behind the left ear on his otherwise snow-white fur. Wide brown eyes blinked up at Rowland, somehow even more adorable than Sox had been.
His boot crushed a small, indigenous flower with small purple petals and a red center. The flattened plant tugged as something in the back of Rowland’s mind, the reason he was here.
A botanical collection. Alcarian-4 was believed to be in an area similar to pre-Cretaceous Earth, before flowering plants evolved. Some planets never developed flowering flora, but biologists generally considered it a necessary precursor to intelligent life.
The first spectral scans that showed these purple flowers drew excitement across the sector. A chance to study the phenomenon as it emerged. Rowland’s ship was the closest and sent for an immediate non-evasive survey of the surface.
Well, if the scientists all had their panties in a bunch over some purple flowers, they would go batcrazy when they saw Sox 2 here.
Sox 2 gave a low hiss as Rowland scraped the small flowers off his boot, tiny canine teeth bared. He turned his attention away from the flower and put a flat hand out to little Sox 2.
“Shh, I won’t hurt you. Don’t run away,” he took a few more duck-walk steps forwards, careful to avoid the purple flowers that seemed to upset the animal.
Rowland made progress by slow stages until Sox 2 was only another step away, so close he could imagine the soft fur, like when original Sox used to curl up on his lap as he studied.
A purr so loud came from Sox 2 that Rowland couldn’t resist and leaned into the last short distance to scoop up the adorable creature.
Confusion hit as his hand passed straight through the animal, like an apparition. Had the ghost of Sox come back to haunt him here on this alien planet?
Sox 2 smiled, a look he never remembered from original Sox. He lifted one tiny paw and brought it to Rowland’s still-outstretched hand.
It might have felt like a ghost when he tried to pick up Sox 2, but the rake of claws down his hand was very real. Rowland pulled back his hand, four thin wells of blood left from the scratch.
The mission. Why was Rowland playing with the ghost of his dead cat, breaking all protocol and putting his career in jeopardy?
His head swam, and he looked around, trying to remember where he was.
“Sox,” he asked the empty rock, but Sox 2 was nowhere. The landscape was open, he couldn’t have run away. Just disappeared.
With horror, Rowland watched a giant purple flower, a much larger version of the small one crushed under his boot, appeared in place of the rock. Like a fog lifting in the bright sun of the morning, Rowland could see a new scene.
The flower looked like an equivalent to Earth’s Venus fly trap. Large with a powerful hinging jaw. The canine teeth he saw on fluffy belonged to this plant, stained red with tiny drops of his blood.
Rowland turned to run, but his feet collapsed from under him. He started to shake and convulse, unable to control his body. A red-hot pain radiated from the scratch on his hand. Some kind of toxin.
His convulsions brought him closer to the patch of small purple flowers, the first ones he encountered on the scouting mission.
Laying down in the small patch of flowers, his partner Reilly lay on her back, reaching towards some invisible point in the sky with a huge grin on her face. “Tweety, you came back!” Reilly exclaimed, oblivious to Rowland or the giant purple flower.
“Reilly, run,” Rowland said, trying to get closer to the flowers and catch her attention. Their sweet lavender-sage smell hit him again, and all the pain disappeared.
As he lay in the sweet scent of the flowers, the Venus fly trap went fuzzy and disappeared like a mirage in the desert. Sox 2 returned, purring and nuzzling against his cheek. Rowland tried to pet the cat, but his hands still wouldn’t work.
A hallucinogen was Rowland’s last coherent thought.
“Hello again, Sox 2,” Rowland blinked a few times around his dilated pupils. “I’m glad you came back to play. Let’s wait here a little while and I’m sure someone will come to help us. I’d love to have the rest of the crew meet you.”