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.

Log Entry 160921.194

Mid afternoon and we made another hot drink. We didn't really want it but it was something to do.

Log Entry 160920.193

The day wore on and we were getting really bored. Traeth was making a cord out of bits of dried grass by plaiting them together. He was trying to see how long he could make it and how strong.
We weren't hungry so we skipped lunch and strode back over to the mud-brick building. To our surprise, we found it occupied by more than thirty cats! Tom was sitting on his bench looking like he owned the place while the others formed his audience sitting on the stone steps that descended into the atrium. None of them scattered, but they definitely found our presence disturbing. They retreated from us, eyeing us suspiciously. I'll be honest, we ignored them.
We made our way into the centre where, once again, I sat on the floor next to the bench while Al, Traeth and Rutter sat on the steps that the cats had vacated. I tried to tickle Tom, but he was having none of it. He got up and strode off, his tail flicking the air angrily. It briefly crossed my mind that I might have upset him but I was soon distracted by the chatter. We wittered on for a while about nothing in particular and then got up and left. None of us said why, but all those cats glaring coldly at us probably had a lot to do with it.

Log Entry 160919.192

Elevensies came and not a moment too soon. There was so little to do in the village. We had explored it from one end to the other countless times and nothing changed other than the cats. They were getting quite brave now and wandered in and out as though checking on us.
We braved heating some water using a phaser and made a hot drink, which was very refreshing after the cold beverages of the morning. Tom joined us, as usual, and again I picked him up and fussed him. He was becoming more and more receptive to my cuddles although, when Rutter challenged me again as to how I knew he was a boy and I tipped him up to check his tackle, the look on Tom's face was veritably indignant.
"See!" I exclaimed, pointing out Tom's jewels. "He's a boy!"
Tom wasn't very impressed by that at all and soon struggled out of my arms. He accepted another soothing stroke, though, before he ambled off indignantly, his tale high in the air.

Log Entry 160918.191

When we emerged from our tents in the morning, we found two of the large cats still in our midst. One was a very pretty, long-haired, black and white creature. She was sitting directly opposite my tent with her paws folded neatly beneath her chest. The second was the big, ginger tom.
"Perhaps I should give him a name," I suggested.
"What makes you so sure it's a boy?" asked Rutter.
"He's a boy. Everything about him says male. I can see it in his face."
Rutter studied the two cats. He wasn't what I'd call a cat person but he was fond of Beastie so was familiar with them. He couldn't see what I meant though.
We made breakfast, just emergency rations as we still didn't want to light a fire or cause a disturbance with phaser fire or whatever, and sat in a circle chatting. As I sucked my rations out of the packet, Tom (yes, I've decided to call him Tom. Not very imaginative but he doesn't know that) ventured over. He stood at arms length, his little nose twitching in the direction of my rations.
"I think he wants some," said Al.
I squeezed a little bit out onto my finger and offered it to him. He came a little closer, sniffed it gingerly and then gave it a single, tentative lick. His nose wrinkled and he shook his head. Then he thought about it, stepped forward and took another lick. He looked pensive, as though trying to decide if he liked it or not. He decided that he did and ate the lot, his rough tongue sanding my fingertips. When it was gone, I squeezed a little bit more out and offered it again. He accepted that too. In fact, he looked to be really enjoying it, certainly more than I was.
"What flavour is it anyway?" asked Al.
I checked the packet (because you can never be sure otherwise).
"Bacon and egg."
Rutter's brow wrinkled in disgust and he shuddered. "Urgh! How do they get bacon and egg in a packet?"
"Same way they get roast beef and Yorkshire pud in one, I suppose."
Rutter studied the label on his. "Pilchard and banana," he joked.
"It might as well be. I swear the only difference between them is the label."
By now, eager for more of my 'bacon and eggs', Tom was standing with one paw resting on my knee and the other suspended in mid-air, waving it gently as he begged for more. Too soon for him, it was all gone. I told him as much and I swear his little face fell, so I reached down and petted him between the ears. He didn't pull away at all this time. He had become quite at ease with us.
The chatter continued and I became distracted by it so I wasn't really paying attention to what I was doing. Without thinking, I suddenly swept Tom up in the same way I would have done Beastie, and tipped him into my lap. He went rigid.
"Oh! I'm sorry, Tom," I cooed as he struggled himself upright. "I didn't mean to frighten you. I just thought you'd like a proper cuddle."
He seemed to find my voice soothing, so I chatted away to him. He stopped fighting and his muscles relaxed a little, so I pampered him with both hands taking long caresses that ran from the top of his head to the tip of his tale. Reassured that I meant him no harm, he settled into my lap and began to purr loudly, his sharp claws kneading into my leg. He looked up at the black and white cat and winked at her. As though he had just given her consent, she got up and approached Al. She held out her paw and gave a silent meow asking for similar attention.
"Aww! Are you jealous? You want a fuss too?" asked Al. She may be a Klingon, but she's a softy when it came to cats, so readily obliged.
We both sat cuddling the enormous felines while Rutter and Traeth cleared up the breakfast things. We then set about deciding what we should do next. After an extensive debate, we decided we would remain here for the day. The natives may still be hiding and might return. However, if they didn't, then tomorrow we would respect their desire for privacy and move on.

Log Entry 160917.190

We slept well last night, although we did have a number of visitors of the four-legged variety. The big, ginger tomcat was most conspicuous but he wasn't alone. He came with friends—at least a couple of dozen and they were all equally large.
It was warm when we settled down for the night so we had left the flaps open on the tents with just the mosquito nets in place. It meant we could lie in our sleeping bags and look out, just in case the villagers returned.
They didn't. Only the cats came.
They came into camp and peered at us with eyes that glowed brightly in the moonlight. They came right up to the netting and looked in at us, staring directly into our eyes. It was almost a procession as they came by, one by one, and inspected us. They were very curious about us indeed.
Other than that, the night was uneventful.
I like uneventful.

Log Entry 160911.189

We continued on our way, Rutter telling us animatedly all about the intricacies of the internal combustion engine. Apparently, he's quite into these things and even owns a vintage biplane back on Earth. Al and I both cast each other a glance at that snippet of news, barely able to suppress our grins. Oh, how the other half live!
All in all, it took surprisingly little time to descend down into the basin. The path, although still narrow was clear and easy to follow. It seemed to lead directly into the village too, which blew my theory that it might be abandoned right out of the water. If it was deserted, the path would have been overgrown.
The ground levelled off as we neared and the trees thinned revealing lawns of grass between them. I say lawns but they weren't neatly trimmed with stripes or anything. It was more like parkland with trees dotted about and probably grazed by rabbits, goats or whatever the Dirrian equivalent was, rather than being tended. We could also see the first of the wooden huts through the trees, but they weren't wooden at all.
Igloo shaped, they were low and built of branches, leaves, sticks and mud, all bound together like a bird's nest. The entrance was in the side, about halfway up, round and just large enough to crawl through. Not very practical for getting in and out of, but it would keep the draughts off those sleeping inside, probably.
Despite the path, though, the village was deserted and may have been for some time. It was hard to say. If it had been recently abandoned I would have expected to see spent fires, pots and pans, clothes on a washing line—that sort of thing, but none of those things were evident. Other than the igloos, there was no indication of anybody living there at all.
I braved a peak in one of them to see if there was anything there that might give an indication of habitation. It was warm and cosy with a soft lining of feathers and fluff from plants and animals, but other than that, it was bare—distinctly lacking in personal possessions or household goods. Yet, everything was in good repair. Even the bedding was freshly puffed, smelled fresh and was clean. I became convinced that the village was inhabited, but where was everyone? Had our arrival frightened the natives off? I aired my thoughts with the rest of the team.
"I agree," said Al, her head emerging from one of the huts. "I think the village is occupied too, and I think the pods are just for sleeping in."
Pod was certainly a very good name for them. They were definitely pod-like.
"But if all they do is sleep here, where do they live?"
"What about over there?" said Traeth, pointing towards the stone structure.
It certainly warranted investigation, so we weaved our way through the huts towards the building.
To our surprise, it wasn't built of stone at all. It was beautifully constructed from more basic materials. The walls were a series of square columns made from neat, mud bricks that supported a low, thatched roof with a gentle apex. Between the columns, wattle and daub screens stretched, filling the gaps to form solid walls, but they didn't reach to the ceiling, thus allowing light to fill the room. The mastery with which it had been built, the regular size of the mud bricks had all made it appear much sturdier than it was from afar.
We had to duck down in order to enter through the wide doorway (simply the omission of a screen between two columns) but once inside, it was roomier than we had anticipated. although it wouldn't hold more than a hundred people at most. The floor was beautifully laid in stone tiles, plain but expertly laid, and it stepped down into an atrium. In the middle of that stood a solitary, low stone bench with sides that arched up into scrolled edges, and in the middle of it sat the most enormous cat I had ever seen!
It was a typical ginger cat with a white breast but was easily the size of a large Staffordshire Bull Terrier. He was sitting with his paws tucked under his chest and glaring at me in the evil fashion that cats reserve for strangers invading their space. Of course, I immediately went into cat mode.
"Hello there, little puddy-cat!" I cried in my best, super-friendly cat voice.
"Little!" exclaimed Al. "He's ENORMOUS!"
I crouched down and made my way gently towards him, eager not to frighten him off. I made the usual kissing noises that cats like and spoke in gentle tones. He, on the other hand, continued to glare at me through intelligent, bright green eyes that told me I was an idiot. It never ceases to amaze me how expressive a cat's face can be.
"Careful. He might take a swipe at you," warned Rutter.
"You wouldn't do that, would you, my little friend," I cooed.
As if on cue, he pulled a paw out from under his chest and let it dangle menacingly over the edge of the bench. I could see the tips of his claws peaking out of the ends—little razor blades that could strike in a moment, just like my Beastie's.
Rutter laughed but I ignored him. I sat on the floor in front of the cat and continued to chat to him in soft tones.
"Now don't you be frightened," I said to him. "I'm just going to reach out with one little finger and tiggle your liggle head."
Rutter leaned into Al and asked quietly, "Does she talk to Beastie like that?"
"'Fraid so," she confirmed. I could hear the contempt in her voice, which was a bit rich bearing in mind she was just as bad.
Slowly, I reached out with my index finger and touched him on his neck, just underneath his cheek. He withdrew a little but not enough to break the contact. His fur was rich, soft, warm and thick. Gently, I tickled him, turning my finger in a figure of eight through his fur, and gazed into his big bottle-green eyes that never left me.
I inched my finger slowly up to his cheek, aiming for that sweet spot where Beastie and most cats love to be petted. Once there, I rubbed gently, all the while continuing with more sweet words. As my finger hit the spot, the eye nearest my finger twitched in pleasure. I could feel his conflict. He wanted to resist but the temptation to succumb was too much. He heaved a sigh (can cats sigh?) and surrendered, pushing his head closer to my finger. Soon his head was buried in my hand as I massaged his face. He even began to purr.
"Oh, you are a big, sweet boy," I said.
Rutter heaved a sigh too. "Well, at least we've made first contact with something," he laughed.
"Yes, but what do we do now?" asked Al.
She had a point. If the people had evacuated the village because of our arrival, would they return? Or were they watching us from afar? More worryingly, would they, like their ancestors, want to chop our heads off and shove them on spikes?
The light was starting to give so after a debate, we decided that we would set up camp just outside the village in the trees. We thought about taking shelter in the stone building but decided against it. We didn't want to offend them or insult them by dishonouring what might be a sacred place.
I said goodbye to the cat and we made our way back through the village and pitched our tents. We didn't light a fire but only because we could see no evidence of the villagers having any at all. We weren't sure what that meant but didn't want to risk anything. As Rutter had pointed out, this was basically a first contact situation and none of us wanted to fluff it up.