Log Entry 161017.197

So, I'm sitting on a previously unexplored island on an alien world. I've made first contact with a new, sentient, alien species by rolling it onto its back and rubbing its naked tummy. It takes a while for all that to sink in.
Meanwhile, Tom looked up at me with a somewhat bemused expression on his face.
"I think I'd like to get down now," he finally said.
"Oh, sorry," and I hurriedly righted him, setting him onto his feet. Everybody followed suit with their felines, all of us feeling rather awkward.
Tom made his way over to the central bench. He jumped up onto it and sat down, an ear twitching and his tail flicking. I wondered if that was in annoyance. It certainly would have been if it was Beastie, but how similar where they to our own humble, Terran felines? The other cats took their places on the steps, all looking to Tom for direction. Somewhat subdued, we humanoids tried to seat neatly and respectfully on the steps too, which isn't easy when you're not a cat. Our bottoms are a lot bigger than a feline's and our legs a lot longer.
Tom raised his chin haughtily into the air. He debated for a moment and then, with a mere flick of his paw, commanded his cats. They hesitated for a moment but a second more impatient flick sent the majority of them on their way. We were left with just eight of the beings—the inner sanctum perhaps.
"My name is Arunga," Tom began, "I am king of the Mairne and these are my people."
"Nice first contact, Jen," muttered Rutter into my ear. I elbowed him in the ribs.
"I'm ever so sorry," I said, feeling I should apologise for having treated him with such indignity. "I feel I've been rather disrespectful. I mean, I don't usually roll people onto their backs and tickle their tummies."
Arunga giggled—he actually giggled!
"I'd like to think not, but you are forgiven. I accept that it was naivety rather than ignorance, and it was certainly a more preferable greeting to that provided by those that came before you."
We gasped audibly. It seems that at last, the mystery of the missing Dirrians would be solved.

Log Entry 160924.196

Nearly the end of the day and I'm ready to move on tomorrow morning just so that we have something more to do. The boredom is demoralising.
Al and I cleared up after our meal which was, I have to say, amazingly good. Rutter had pan fried the fish, adding some pre-cooked rice from the ration packs and fresh herbs that Traeth foraged. It was a beautiful fish risotto. (Rutter will make someone a lovely wife some day.)
We had lots of company too. Yes, the smell of fresh fish brought them in their droves—the cats. And yes, fools that we were, we shared our dinner with them picking out the prime bits of fish and feeding them to our new friends. It was still lovely.
After that, we all migrated back to the mud-brick building. I don't know why; we just did.
Entering the structure, we found the cats assembled there once again. This time, though, they did not retreat. We sat down among them, fussing and cuddling them, and enjoying their company as much as they were ours. Even Tom had forgiven me.
He sauntered over, the other cats making way for him and climbed up onto my lap. Very gently, I tipped him over to rub his belly. I held him like a baby, nursing him in one arm with his hind legs splayed and dangling freely. I buried my fingers deep in his rich fur and massaged his tummy. He purred loudly.
"Do you think they are sacred?" asked Al. "I mean like Egyptian cats?"
Traeth had no knowledge of the Egyptians so we explained how felines were worshiped by the them, some even being mummified after death, and that killing a cat, even accidentally, could have incurred the death penalty.
"It would seem to make sense," said Traeth. "These animals are very well looked after."
"Are they as big as this on the mainland?" I asked.
"We don't have them at all on the mainland. The only other cats I've seen were those on Earth."
"How peculiar! I wonder why they are unique to this island."
"Could they have come from Earth?" Traeth asked.
I shook my head. "Doubtful. I suppose if a ship had crashed here long ago, but would any ship have had more than one cat? And Terran cats aren't nearly so large. What about yours, Al?"
Al had been raised by her Aunt Edith on a remote farmstead in the mountains of Oveda Prime with nineteen cats and a cockatiel named Rodney. She was eight years old before she saw another two-legged being so she knew her cats well.
"No, ours were quite small—fat but small."
"These guys aren't fat," I argued.
"No, I think they get a lot of exercise during the day, but they are well fed." Al massaged the one she was petting, checking it over like a practised veterinarian who was used to disguising his administrations as cuddles. "They have very good muscle-tone and a good covering over their ribs. They might not be fat, but they are fit, well fed—and groomed." She pointed to a statuesque, long-haired, white cat sitting on the top step.
"A coat like that needs lots of grooming to keep it tangle free and she doesn't have a single knot." She gently pulled the lips of her cat up to expose its teeth. It shook its head indignantly but soon forgave her as she returned to the massage. "And their teeth are excellent. This girl's quite old jugging by her skin—it's fuller and looser on older cats … see?" and she gently tugged at the cats tummy to show the extra folds of fur, "but her teeth are in excellent condition."
I played with Tom's fur, twizzling it around my fingers and then soothed his enormous front paws, studying his claws. They were neat, clean and sharp with no ragged edges, almost manicured. She was right. They were in beautiful condition.
"Oh, good grief!" I suddenly exclaimed. "They've got opposable thumbs!"
Immediately, everyone began inspecting their cats to verify the fact.
"Crikey, Jen! You're right! I bet that makes them good at climbing trees."
As the other three prattled on, their conversation droning in the background, the cogs in my mind were working furiously.
I looked hard into Tom's face. It was so expressive. He had stopped purring and was gazing intensely back at me. One eye narrowed and his brow furrowed. He was frowning at me, I mean really frowning.
"Um … guys," I said softly, but they didn't hear me. "Guys!" I said a little louder, without breaking eye contact with Tom.
"Yes," said Rutter as they hushed and looked to me, waiting for me to speak.
"I think you'll find …" I paused.
"Find what?"
"Um … well, I think you'll find … that, um … the people never actually left the village."
A silence followed while they digested what I had said.
"What do you mean … never left? The village is deserted."
"No, it's not. It's the cats."
Another silence and then Rutter burst out laughing.
"The cats! You're saying the cats are the natives?" he scoffed.
"Yes. I am," I said resolutely. "Everything is scaled for the cats—the pods, this building, everything."
"How do you make that out?"
"The pods are perfect for the cats. Even the entrance is designed for them. It would be really awkward for even a small Dirrian to climb inside one of those, but a cat can get in no problem at all. Even the bedding is for cats, and we've seen them going in and out of them to nap all day. Even this place is perfectly scaled for cats."
"No, it's not," said Rutter, looking at the ceiling above his head. "Look how high the roof is. It's nearly six feet above the ground at the lowest point."
"Most prominent buildings have high ceilings. Think of churches and important public buildings on Earth, Qo’noS or Vulcan. They all have high, vaulted ceilings, but look at the steps. These aren't steps at all. It's seating for their senate and that bench in the middle is the podium for their king or emperor."
The guys considered my argument in silence. In the meantime, I leaned my head down even closer towards Tom's face. The whiskers above his eyes twitched against my face.
I smiled and whispered softly to him, "You are sentient, aren't you?"
He lay quite relaxed but pensive in my arms, pursing his lips as he debated. He pushed my hands away with his big paws and sighed.
"Well, now that you mention it," the cat finally said.

Log Entry 160922.195

Traeth and Rutter had nabbed the task of preparing the evening meal, eager to have something to do. They were determined to make something tasty so had spent the afternoon fishing in the river. Despite their limited equipment, they had five rather sorry looking fish to show for their efforts. We were quite impressed that they had managed to catch anything at all, but what could they do with such a measly catch? Both assured us that they could make something of them so Al and I, neither of us being known for our culinary prowess, wandered off.
We decided to explore the village again, not that there was anything new to see. We'd done it to death, as they say.
There was still no sign of the villagers. If anything, the cats seemed to be taking over. That's what kept convincing me that the people would return—the cats, that is.
The inhabitants obviously thought a lot of these felines because they were all so well fed and beautifully groomed, and it was evident that they lived here. The cats were quite at home, jumping in and out of the little huts to nap. I was sure the people would return soon.