Hile, inklings! Today I bring you my latest entry for author Chuck Wendig’s December Flash Fiction Challenge.
My entry for Part 1 is here. Genre: fantasy, coming-of-age.
My entry for Part 2 is here. Genre: horror? There’s a vampire, anyway.
My entry for Part 3 is here. Genre: paranormal. Witches, a priest, and mutant skeletons.
UPDATE: Jeremiah Boydstun picked this up for Part 5! His conclusion to the story follows my part.
Millions of Cats
by Rebecca Douglass, Connie Cockrell, Andy Decker, Courtney Cantrell, and Jeremiah Boydstun
Things never worked out according to plan when there were cats involved. I knew that, and I should have known better than to take the job. Either don’t try to plan or stay far from cats, and I knew which would have been better for me. But Keelan made it all sound so easy: we just had to pick up the consignment from Alpha-Centauri 4 and take them to Exilion 17. Four days, max, and two of them in hyperspace.
“What could go wrong?” I should really have run when Keelan said that, because you know as well as I do that anytime those words are uttered you should run, very fast, in the opposite direction.
Unfortunately, we needed cash, and the cat people had it. So we went and picked up the load of cats.
That was where the trouble first began. They were supposed to be crated, sedated, and ready to be picked up by fork lift and stowed in the cargo hold. But when we arrived, a team of cat-wranglers was still chasing them around a pen. We had to wait an extra three days for all of them to be properly prepared for flight.
Now we were late. We hadn’t started and penalties were being assessed. “Don’t worry,” Keelan said. “There’ll still be plenty of credits. We’ll be able to pay off the bank as soon as we get to Exilion 17.”
I knew better, Murphy’s Law was in full effect. We loaded the crated cats and took off. The first day we built up to hyperspace speed and cleared the solar system. I hit the button. Nothing happened. I stared at Keelan. “I’ll fix it.” He unstrapped. I grunted in reply. He pulled the cover off of the panel after I got up to get some tea. He was tracing the wiring when I came back, cup steaming.
“Got it.” He held up a burnt wire. “I’ll just reconnect the two ends and we’ll be on our way.”
I knew what he meant. He was going to twist the ends together and tape it. I’m supposed to trust my life to that? “What if it fries again? We’ll never get out of hyperspace.”
“No, no,” he mumbled as he twisted the wires. “This will be fine. We’ll get it fixed the right way when we get to Exilion 17.”
Six types of burned tape later, and Keelan not remembering those doomed for not remembering history, I unstrap myself and handhold to the tool closet, next to the cargo’s vapor-lock. That’s where the real nightmare began. There’s a certain fragrance wafting past the three layers of polymer-aluminum seals. Plastic baggie of red electrical twist-caps in hand, I make it back to the cockpit.
Keelan looks up, preparing yet another type of tape for the splicing. I hand him the caps and ask, “Smell anything?”
He smiles. “Just burnt tape. What’s up?”
The question lingers as I buckle in and run a quick ambient contaminant scan. Sure enough, we’ve got an increasing level of uric acid, sodium chloride, male cat steroids, and several unidentified detoxified substances. I point to the screen.
“What’s FUS?” he wants to know. Keelan never reads the fine print; always quick to say he’s the idea man. Sometimes I want to strangle him.
“Feline Urinary Scent.” I leave it at that. The projection trend shows we’ll need air-masks by the time we arrive at Exillion, assuming drive fires in the next several minutes. We’ll need new air filters and a fumigation of the entire ship. Credits, schmedits!
Courtney wrote (202 words):
I’m itemizing the penalties of slaughtering my co-pilot when Keelan tugs on my sleeve and asks, “What’s that noise?”
I pinch the bridge of my nose. “Catcalls.”
He frowns. “Meaning?”
The wailing from inside the crates gets louder.
“They’re out of their cradles.” I sigh.
“Out of their cradles?!”
“What do we do?”
I close my eyes. “Keep no more cats than will catch mice.”
“Nothing.” I grab the stun gun taped to the underside of my console. “C’mon.”
He follows me to the first crate. I peer into the monitor, gaining a bird’s-eye view of the interior. Sure enough, the whole clowder is up and at ’em. One of them is standing on its hyperspace cradle, tinkering with the inside of the crate’s first seal.
“Great,” I mutter. “A cat burglar.”
Keelan snorts. “You kidding?”
I’d like to see him dance on a hot tin roof.
“Look,” I say. “We’re gonna have to open this sucker up. And when we do, we’ll have a fight on our hands. But we have to herd them. Or they’ll take control of the ship.”
Keelan swallows. “Do we have a chance?”
“As much chance as a wax cat in hell.”
“Man, listen to ‘em. They sound really pissed.”
I glance at Keelan, who is unaware of his own bad joke. Actually, he looks like he’s going to toss his cookies. I’m sure that would go great with the FUS. Whatever. I am not about to lose a paycheck to a bunch of oversized rats.
I swipe my freight card and begin punching in my access code when Keelan grabs my arm. “Wha—?” He taps his lips with an upraised index finger. Keelan is looking at the crate like it’s an algebra problem he can’t figure out. It’s only after I stare at the crate in a similar fashion for a few moments that I realize the caterwauling has ceased.
Oh man . . . what if the hypersleep settings were off? What if the cats were given the wrong dose of sedatives? Keelan reads my eyes like a news ticker and knows what I’m about to do, but before he can stop me I’ve swiped my card again and entered my code.
The outer shell of the crate bifurcates with a hiss of argon, momentarily obscuring the containment unit. I’m expecting the worst. Shrunken pelts. Lumps of viscera. No. What we get is way worse.
“Howdy boys!” A hundred pairs of furry bipedal legs, a hundred tiny pulse rifles. A large tabby with an eye-patch steps forward and snaps back the operating bolt on his rifle. “I believe we’ll take it from here.”