Log Entry 161025.198

Arunga sighed heavily and then he began the tale.
"It was one hundred and ninety-three years ago—" Traeth and I exchanged glances. It wasn't a thousand years after all. It seemed that the Dirrians were very poor historians. "—when the giant arrived. We had seen him for months before, fishing in the seas on his little craft, but then he came and landed his raft on the beach. Our people hid in fear. We had never had a giant on the island before and we were unsure as to his intent."
Yes, I suppose compared to these felines, even the tiny Dirrians would be giants.
"My people stayed hidden in the trees at the edge of the woods and watched him. He dragged his raft ashore and then set about making a fire. It wasn't a very good one. While his initial kindling was dry and burned well, as soon as the flames were feeding, he added bundles of damp leaves to it. The fire began to sputter and fade, throwing out black smoke, so he threw on more and more of the damp kindling."
"He was making a signal fire," explained Traeth. "To tell his family he had arrived safely."
"Ah! That would make sense. Sadly, he did not succeed."
"Oh, but he did. Our history tells us that Farrell—the fisherman, did light a signal fire to tell of his safe arrival."
"He may have done, however," Arunga looked down sadly. "While he did arrive safely, his good fortune did not last for long I'm afraid. Among the leaves that he piled onto the fire were those of the celabub tree; a most unwise move. Rich in highly flammable oils, they suddenly caught, a ball of flame mushrooming into the air. He was not expecting it. Your man was caught in the blast and his clothing caught fire. If he had run into the sea, he may have stood a chance, but he did not. Instead, he ran around in circles on the beach until he finally collapsed. There was nothing we could do. I'm afraid he perished."
Silence fell as we all thought about Farrell's misfortune.
"He was buried on the edge of the woods, but his grave has long ago been forgotten beneath the great trees."
"So you didn't actually meet him?" I ventured.
"No. It was those that came afterwards that we came to fear."

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.