The Big Dent, Part I
There it was. Earth. Earth was coming into view, and I, Captain Shtankadoodle, had a swarm of mixed feelings. And a swarm of fishies within my stomach. I had just had my dinner time meal, and I felt pleasant—at least about my meal. It’s been over a month since the Catnip, Star Convoy’s flagship, embarked on it’s journey home, and it hasn’t been easy, with the fans and air-conditioning systems destroyed, the ship a mangled wreck (It keeps wanting to veer to the left), and the “critical” flooze injectors requiring twenty-four/seven maintenance. In fact, even I had had to pull my weight around here, monitoring the flooze injectors twice during our daunting trip home. If there was anything good about coming back to earth, it was that I could at least have a peaceful nights sleep, without peeling my eyes open to check if the flooze was too low, or, on the other extreme, dangerously high.
The Catnip was obviously on it’s last paw, sputtering, limping back to the Earth, the mangled wreck, and I clenched my stomach to wonder what might happen to my beloved ship once Star Convoy caught a glimpse. The Catnip has been my second home for four years now, and despite it’s rough-on-the-edges appearance, I couldn’t bear to let it go.
Thoughts rampaged my mind—like, four of them! Which is a lot to say, because I’m used to focusing on 1/8 of something at a time. In fact, I’m a master at forgetting about what I was just thinking about. I can even forget about forgetting about something. Right now, I couldn’t let my natural talents shine, though. In fact, I couldn’t help but deny them as my tail twisted, pondering what new recruit would become a valuable new addition to my crew. I needed an Ensign on my ship, and so far, Star Convoy hadn’t found it censorious as to aware me of any potential candidates. As far as Star Convoy was concerned, I had some odd number (too many) of Ensigns on my crew, and that I should utilize one of them. And it’s true, I agree! But all my ensigns hide in closets for the mundane jobs, only bothering to casually sneak out when some ship wide disaster happens—which is actually fairly regular, I’d say. Back to the point: I need an ensign, and my last one is currently in the ship’s slammer! Er, penal institution.
I looked down, to find my fluffy tail out of control, swishing this way and that. I forced myself to take several deep breaths, letting them whistle through my wet kitty nose as I exhaled. I found myself glancing out the window, to my dismay finding the big blue orb in the space to be growing ever bigger. I closed my kitty eyes and hoped for it to be Saturn—wasn’t that the other blue planet?—Certain now of how I felt about coming home: Bad.
“Alright, Captain,” Lieutenant Lucky urged me,“You’ve got to go out first.”
“But I don’t want to,” I whimpered. As I peered my oval kitty eyes out of the giant, quadruple paned, shatterproof windows, I was greeted with discomforting sight of throngs of cats sectioned off by red ropes.
“They’re shouting for you, Captain,” Subcommander Ocee alerted me. I could feel my tail starting to swish again, and I tried, to no avail, to control it.
“Why don’t you go out first?” I asked, my ears tipping back, reminding me of just how weary I am of strangers. And cats. As my claws extruded, desperately trying to dig into the diamond plate flooring, I could only imagine what might take place.
“No, Captain,” Subcommander Ocee said firmly,“It’s custom for the Captain to go out first.”
“What about a new custom? Where the Subcommander goes out first” My meow cracked. I glanced back out the window, to my horror finding that the crowd was even bigger. There must have been a thousand unfamiliar cat faces outside my ship, although a video of a cat playing a piano had briefly distracted them. The video ended. I gulped.
“Ensigns,” I found myself commanding,“ I order you to go outside first.” Surprise flashed through the eyes of m ensigns before I was greeted with a barrage of, ‘Cool,’s. Subcommander Ocee let out a huff.
“Well at least line up in rows, then!” Subcommander Ocee demanded. My ears shot back, my mouth shooting out words even faster.
“No! I order you to form a…a…,” I stuttered, at a loss of words, “a…um…a big clump!” The ensigns exchanged glances before hesitantly obeying my command. “Yes, much better,” I forced a grin exposing my fangs. The ensigns wrinkled up their noses in disgust, and it took a while for me to realize that I had also exposed a brutal weapon: My breath.
“What is all this for? We need to go out! We can’t keep our supporters waiting much longer!” Lieutenant Lucky prodded. At that, I felt the ship rustle. I struggled to find my footing as I more violent shift threatened the Catnip. By instinct, my fur puffed up into a big balloon. Subcommander Ocee scrambled to the window. She gasped.
“Shtankadoodle! Our fans are shaking the ship!” Subcommander Ocee must have forgotten that we were both on duty, and that, outside of our real home on earth, my full title is, “Captain Shtankadoodle.” We both stumbled again as another tremor took the ship. Somebody pressed the button, though in the flurry of events taking place, I couldn’t tell who.
“Shtankadoodle, go!” Subcommander Ocee forgot my title again. I found it hard to care, in fact, my eyes had drifted away from my Subcommander and onto the cloud of steam spurting from around the launch doors we were to exit.
“What’s wrong with the doors?” I hissed, fretting some explosion due to destroy what was left of the Catnip—and the entire crowd outside. The answer caused my insides to boil, though I couldn’t quite express my disapproval in ample time, the launch bay doors coming to a full stop. I dashed into the group of ensigns, hoping to be hidden from the sight of the crowd. A little too snugly cushioned in between my ensigns, I dared to ask my question again, whiskers crossed that I heard the last answer wrong.
“What was wrong with our launch bar doors?” I could feel the ensigns around me begin to move, and pinned in the middle of them, I coaxed my paws into submission, joining the moving clump on our march into the sunlight of planet Earth. The zealous answer I was greeted did little but confirmed my suspicions and dampen my mood.
“Excuse me, Sir, you asked what was wrong with the launch bay doors? —Captain, don’t you know?” My ensign waited for me to fill in the answer as we progressed further down the red carpet that had been honorably rolled out for our long-awaited return home, two months in space. The ensign I was speaking to couldn’t restrain himself from skipping and filling in the answer. “Captain, that’s thanks to the ultra theatrical antigravity flooze injecting network esoterically referred to in delineating detail.” My ensign garbled a bunch words together that I didn’t hand and put a smile on afterwords. I flicked my ear in thought. Now, I will have you know, that I’m not much one to think, but when it involves the topic of sleep…well that’s a slightly different story.
“So you’re saying that I pulled all nighters monitoring the flooze injectors—and all the flooze injectors do is pump steam for extra drama?” I look my ensign right in the eye.
“Well, Captain, we both knew you were falling asleep on your shifts anyw-,” I narrow my eyes at my ensign,“Um. Yeah.”
“Then what was all this talk about the flooze injectors being ‘critical’ systems?!” I try to keep my voice down, acutely aware that if the crowd recognizes we within my swarm of ensigns, I could day goodbye to one more night of sleep.
“B-but they are critical systems,” My ensign didn’t seem to understand the definition of the word, ‘critical,’. (PS: I looked it up; The word critical literally means: Important stuff. Next up, looking up the word, ‘literally.’) I might as well have flooze injectors in me, because steam is curling out of my ears, and I assure you, it’s adding some dramatic affect.
Not being quick on words, I can think of nothing else but to storm off somewhere else in my swarm of ensign. And that’s not just because I’m bad at thinking. Limping, I take off, nostrils flaring, trying to find anywhere away from my current irritant. And no, I’m not talking about the bur that’s been on me since I started this mission, stabbing at my neck. No, I’m talking about my ensign! Yeesh! I think, shaking my head to myself, and killing two stones with one bird by also popping some cricks in my neck—that is how the saying goes, right? Killing two stones with one bird? How do these ensigns keep ending up on my ship--the flagship, no less! I can feel the steam from my ears still flowing. It's as if all of Star Convoy's rejects end up on my ship! I calm myself down by reasoning that if Star Convoy weren’t lax, I probably wouldn’t have ended up on my ship. But still, I think wearily to myself, glancing around me and wondering if I should have taken my chances in the crowd. After all, I didn’t even recognize my ensigns, either, and I was pretty certain my “ensign clump” had gotten larger since walking outside. You've gotta wonder where these recruits come from. I find a spot not much better than where I was, sandwiched between two chums chatting it up, impatient for the day to be over, already.
“I can’t believe he made me go out first,” Lieutenant Lucky moaned to her friend, also Ensign Grace,“It was so humiliating! Everybody knows that the Captain is supposed to be the first off a vessel when it touches down!” Ensign Grace nodded her toffee multi-colored cat head, whiskers bouncing up and down in sympathy. She wasn’t much of a talker; more of a listener. Lieutenant Lucky paced back and forth in the room Star Convoy had had us all ushered into, after the celebrations, and by the solemn looks on the faces of the ushers, I could tell we weren’t in for any nice talk. Who am I kidding?! What talk is ever nice?
I myself, had curled up on one of the many waiting chairs, my tail curled up around me, and my chin peacefully laid on top of that. I really didn’t mind the long wait, Star Convoy was putting me through—in fact, fading into sleep (big surprise), I was tempted to call it the best part of my day so far.
“Alright, the admirals have decided its time for you to come in,” One of the ushers peeped her head out of a frosted glass door to let us know. Through the door we could all make out blurry images of felines seated around a table. I halfheartedly lifted my fuzzy head, convincing my always aching legs to stretch and carry me off to the door, though through my likewise fuzzy vision, I strained to see if the door were a hallway or not. Single-file, I watched my crew members line up and disappear into a boring, white room, similar to dull one we had been waiting in. Coming to the entrance, I found myself wishing I could just go to sleep and be forgotten, my grey and white colors mixing with attitude of the admiral’s expressions, their stony cat eyes following us to our chairs.
“Ahem,” An admiral I recognized as Admiral Meowsers, my superior (Only in rank!), stood up to address us, two other admirals, one at his left and one at his right, standing up on all fours to join him. Even through my blurry vision, I could recognize the other admirals as mere extras. Seriously. I hadn’t seen them before. Ever. Casting downward glances and hesitantly shuffling a little behind Admiral Meowsers, I had a sneaking suspicion that they weren’t going to play any key part in this meeting. Unfortunately, I thought, I'm not the shallow character right now. I strained my face muscles to grimace, but couldn’t coax them into submission. In fact, if food wasn’t involved, I couldn’t really coax any of my muscles into submission. I make a quick glance around the room, dismayed not to see any complementary food bowls.
“Alright,” Admiral Meowsers stares long and hard at me. And if I could follow somebody’s gaze, I could definitely follow his. He swallows, and I assume he’s preparing me some big, long, speech,“I have some…serious news,” Admiral Meowsers pauses thoughtfully,“To relay,” He takes a deep breath, and I know he’s addressing me, looking me long and hard in the eye. Besides, if he weren’t addressing me, it would make this Star Cats post, like, even longer. So yeah. “Somebody wants to know,” He narrows his eyes all crinkly style, and if you ask me, he looked like he was about to start extending his claws and begin kneading in delight. “If you want to get married! Ensign Clawdia, will you marry Ensign Snuggle Cakes?” The feline that was sitting next to me shoots up and runs across the room to some other feline I don’t recognize. Subcommander Ocee and I exchange glances. Obviously, I couldn’t follow Admiral Meowsers gaze very well.
“Yes, yes! Oh my tuna: Yes!” I flick my ears. That…was unexpected.
“I can’t believe Star Convoy is hosting a complete, formal wedding for us, Darling! Their paying for it too!” An orangish brown cat crouches down on all four paws,“My Dear, get that ten thousand dollar dress you want. We can pull out all the stops—it’s on Star Convoy’s budget, Beautiful.”
“Well,” Admiral Meowsers glanced down at his paws with a half-smile,“Star Convoy does pride itself in providing excellent employee benefits.” I scratch my head with my hind foot. I’m…still kind of processing what’s happened. It takes a few minutes, (Which come to think about it, is about usual), for me to get my head—er half a head (I was on the losing side of catfight, back home, and it hasn’t healed yet! I don’t want to talk about it!)—back into the conversation.
“So,” Admiral Meowsers clears his throat, “To make things more concise: Star Convoy is mandating use of professional uniforms while on duty.” Okay. I could be down with that. Then he looks me right in the eye—or was he looking at a neighboring feline? “All felines are instructed to wear the new uniforms.” My claws grind against the plastic chair I’m sitting on.
“Why?” Is all I can manage to get out. Admiral Meowsers lets out a long sigh, looking at both of the other admirals with a look that read, ’Seriously’? I glare at Admiral Meowsers, but I know my face doesn’t look anything different usual. What did I tell you?! I can’t get my facial muscles to move much unless food is involved!
“Because,” Admiral Meowsers sighed again,“As I already told you,” Admiral Mouser’s voice is heavy laden with weariness,“We’re having a terrible time keeping track of our recruits. And,” Admiral Meowsers steps aside to reveal a large screen, a snapshot of our ‘welcome home’ parade being displayed. Great. Like I needed to be reminded about that. “It appears that as our procession drew out,” Admiral Meowsers points at the projector screen,“So did our group of Ensigns.” Admiral Meowsers proceeded through six different slides, our already unsustainably large group of ensigns growing noticeably larger with each one. “Do you know what this means?” Admiral Meowsers asks me, a concerned look spreading over his entire furry face. Suddenly feeling the irresistible urge to groom myself (For a kitty like me, that doesn’t happen all that often), I bend down to lick my thigh.
“Ahem. Captain Shtankadoodle?! Do you know what this means?” I straighten my posture and look him directly in the eye. Or nose. My vision is kinda going.
“No.” I answer firmly, after a pensive split-second of staring at what I had determined was Admiral Meowsers’ ear.
“Of course you don’t,” Admiral Meowsers lets out another sigh. Admiral Meowsers points to my subcommander. “Subcommander Odie, what does this mean?” Subcommander Ocee crinkles her nose, a ‘Y’ shaped crease forming in it. She stands up.
“Sir—It’s Subcommander OCEE, and I of course know what this means,” Subcommander Ocee hesitates,“It means that feline impostures are making themselves out to be our ensigns, even though they are indeed normal civilian kitty cats, instead of taking our Star Convoy recruit training.”
“Very good Ms. Odie, you make take your seat now.” Subcommander Ocee opened her mouth to meow, but deciding against it, closed her mouth and took her seat as the Admiral had directed.
“In light of this information, all Star Convoy workers will now be required to wear uniforms.” One of the two admirals standing behind Admiral Meowsers held up some gaudy looking uniforms, appearing like they were more out of 60’s sci-fi than something more pragmatic for real life. One of those rare “smart streaks,” came over me.
“If you know that you have a problem,” I say slowly, mostly because I’m more working out the sentence in my head than for drama,“with felines imitating primarily ensigns,” I stare hard at Admiral Meowsers’ ear,“Then why did you just approve Ensign Pawline or whatever and Ensign Bubbles-Worth a ten thousand-dollar plus wedding?” Admiral Meowsers scrunches up his eyes in confusion and looks back and forth at his other admirals. They slink away.
“The Captain means Ensign Clawdia and Ensign Snuggle Cakes,” My Subcommander is quick to clarify. I don’t know if takes a village to make something happen, but in order for me to stay a part of Star Convoy, I can be sure that it takes an entire crew. I smile my thanks to Subcommander Ocee…or Odie? I hadn’t had this confused until Admiral Meowsers messed me up… It’s not like it mattered, anyway, because I couldn’t really get my face muscles to cooperate.
“OH!” Admiral Meowsers gasps, recognition of what I just said flashing before his eyes. I can’t help but feel smug in the fact that I’m right. That’s kind of rare, too. Admiral Meowsers’ face returns to normal. “Nah. They’re no problem. I have a good feeling about them.” Admiral Meowsers grins, with a nod to himself.
“GEES LOUISE!” A shriek threatens to kill my ears,“WE PULLED IT OFF, SWEETY! TWO FERRAL CATS FROM THE MCDONALD’S DUMPSTER PUTTING BIG PAWPRINTS ON LIFE—WE TOTALLY HAD THEM DUPED! GREAT, GREAT, GREAT, GREAT, GREAT, GREAT, GREAT, GREAT, GREAT GRAMMA IS GONNA BE SO PROUD OF US!” The eyes of all the felines in the room widen. Including mine. That was an awful LOT of ‘great’s.
“If you would please excuse me, I need to settle something.” Admiral Meowsers made a flourish with his tail as he left. The two other admirals, at a loss of what to do, bumbled out of the room after him. On second thought, maybe Admiral Meowsers should also be concerned about THEM.
By the time Admiral Meowsers actually returned, most all the room had fallen asleep, and he too, looked thoroughly defeated.
“I hope I didn’t keep you waiting to long,” Admiral Meowsers muttered, even though we all knew that he had. His voice lacked the stamina it had once boasted. “Let’s finish one other point of interest before I send you guys home. Oh—and Captain Shtankadoodle, I need to talk to you about several things after that.” I open my mouth to protest. What did I do differently that made me have to stay after hours?! I just wanted to go home and sleep! His voice comes out instead.
“I know! I know! You’d rather go home and sleep! I don’t care! It’s orders from somebody in Star Convoy and I don’t even know who because I thought that since I was an admiral I was pretty much head of the line!” Obviously, I wasn’t the only gruff cat at the table, today.
“Okay,” Admiral Meowsers took a deep breath to let himself decompress,“First off, Admiral Who-Knows-Who-His-Name-Is-Because-I’ve-Never-Seen-Him-Before-In-My-Entire-Career has something to say about the Starship Catnip or Mouser or whatever. Yeah, that’s right: I was reading Shtankadoodle.com and in the first Star Cats the Starship Catnip is actually the Starship Mouser and it’s NEVER actually explained in the story! Yeah! Figure that out! You can’t just do that to your loyal fans!” The brutally honest party of Admiral Meowsers I was beginning to admire just starts getting weird, something a little like a deranged look flashing in his eyes, and I was beginning to wonder just what had happened outside these boring white walls. I frown. (Yes! Yes! I know! Nothing happens! It’s just habit, okay?) One of the timid admirals steps out from behind Admiral Meowsers, clearing his throat. I guess that’s a thing. Huh.
“As we all know,” Admiral Who-Know-Who-His- something or the other begins with a shaky smile,“Our lovely Starship Catnip isn’t in the best of…shape right now, and our brief-but-thorough exterior review team said that it ‘wasn’t looking good.’” Then, as if more to himself,“Guess I could have just determined that myself,” Fixing his gaze on us again, Admiral Who-something once more begins,“And, it’s going around social media that the Catnip is actually,” Admiral Who-Knows pauses,“‘The Big Dent,’” Admiral Who-Knows gives a hurtful smile,“As you should be able to understand, Star Convoy can’t have this bad popularity, and while the…um, ’Big Dent,’ is still operational, we’ve decided to pull our other…project…out of the building phase five-months early and reveal our top-secret flagship—the Furball—to the public.” The entire table shares a gasp. Ironically, somebody choking on a furball defuses the situation, but we’re all pretty stunned. I’m the first to speak.
“So… we’re getting upgraded to a new flagship?” I can’t help but let excitement creep into my voice. All of the sudden, the table is alive with enthusiastic chatter and animation.
“No, no, no,” Admiral Meowsers butts in, quick to destroy our elation, “Well. Not quite. I was actually wondering if…Subcommander Odie…would mind captaining our new flagship?” All eyes are on Subcommander Ocee, a long three seconds following, and even though Subcommander Ocee usually tries to separate emotions from work, she can’t resist right now:
“Yes! Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, YES!” Admiral Meowsers announces that we can leave, but all we can manage to do—even the random ensigns I’ve never seen before—is trudge out the door in disheveled steps, completely at loss my Subcommander Odie’s (er, Ocee’s?) words.
“No not, you,” My fur on my back stands up (and that’s a lot of fur) as I feel Admiral Mouser’s eyes on me. “Come back here, Captain Shtankadoodle. I’m sure you remember me telling you that I had something to talk to you about.” Admiral Meowsers casts a glance at my ragged face. “Or maybe not.” I find my way back into a seat. “There is something serious I need to talk to you about.”
“More serious than stealing my Subcommander from me?” I’m surprised by the irritation in my usually relaxed voice. Now I’m the irritated feline in the room.
“Yes,” Admiral Meowsers replies. “It involves this,” Admiral Meowsers presses a button on the touchscreen table to make the projector activate again. Nothing happens. He taps it again, this time with a touch more irritation. Still nothing. He kicks it. That did the trick. Admiral Meowsers directs my furry head to a picture of the crowd of ensigns—again. What was it this time? He zooms in on the picture to a huddled grayish-white lump in the middle of it.
“Our drones surveying the landing party caught this,” Admiral Meowsers doesn’t sound pleased.
“Whoa! Cat’s can fly drones?!” By Admiral Mouser’s narrowing of eyes, I can tell I didn’t pick the right answer.
“What’s that thing? Is that a pathetic excuse for a,” I squint my eyes. Then gathering myself,“Is that a pathetic excuse for a cat?”
“Well you said it, Captain, because that’s you!” I’m all of the sudden not feeling very comfortable. “And if you keep acting this way, then I’m afraid Star Convoy is going to have to demote you!” Yup. Still not feeling comfortable. “Now get outside! The public wants some quip from you about that ratty dingy you just dragged back to Earth! Make it good!” Admiral Meowsers practically barks, which is odd, because he’s a cat. I mean, he even has ‘meow,’ in is last name. “NOW.” Admiral Mowers makes his word with his authority.
“But what about the other news you wanted to tell me about?” I manage to say.
“Ah,” Admiral Meowsers says,“So you did remember. Well that can wait!” I’m thoroughly uncomfortable by the time I’m practically thrown out of the meeting room. The door slams shut.
It takes a while for me to realize that, stepping outside, the bright light from the sun is actually from flashing camera’s surrounding me. I’m very uncomfortable, right now!
“And now,” Some TV reporter meows into her microphone, the message we’ve all been waiting for from Captain Shtankadoodle, Captain?” I feel a furball lodge in my throat as the microphone is thrust in front of my raggly face. I say the first thing that comes into my mind. Improv, you know?
“I really want King’s Buffet right now.” I say weakly. A siege of camera clicks and flashes goes off.
“What was that?” The news reporter asks me again. I have to admit, I’m a bit relieved she didn’t catch that.
“Um.” I say.
“Something about the Big Dent, of course,” The news reporter says. OH, I think to myself, and for some reason, words manage to flow out of my mouth and they actually make sense.
“The Catnip, er, now ‘The Big Dent,’ is kind of like me. Rough on the edges, beat up, pretty wrangly, slow, and there’s some computing issues—but it still keeps on keeping. And it’s NEVER late to the fuel up.” A barrage of camera clicks go off again, and this time I’m actually please with myself. But I still can’t help but wonder about what else Admiral Meowsers wanted to tell me.
For once, I’m willingly trudging towards a meeting, I brace myself for an irate admiral (Hey, that would make a cool domain name) as I walk through the kitty-flap and into the stale white meeting room I had just come out of half-an-hour ago.
“You really want King’s Buffet? What was that?” I spot Admiral Meowsers in the corner of the room, curled around a miniature tv.
“But-but,” I protest.
“Never mind. That was surprisingly good speech nonetheless. Sit down,” Admiral Meowsers orders. I bight my lower lip. I don’t like being told to ‘sit down’ unless food is involved. Not unlike a lot of things. Admiral Meowsers cooly walks up to the door opposing the one I had just entered.
“Captain Shtankadoodle,” Admiral Meowsers, takes a breath to calm himself down,“Meet your new recruit-,”
“Wait!” Admiral Meowsers pauses, and I can hear some thumping from the other side of the door Admiral Meowsers is standing by. “I’m going to need two recruits now that my Subcommander is moving to a new starship!” Admiral Meowsers pauses. Then,
“What do I care? Now, where was I? Oh yes, Captain Shtankadoodle, meet your new recruit-,”
“Wait!” I interrupt Admiral Meowsers again. He looks at me with a face that reads: ‘Yes? What is it this time?’. “This new recruit isn’t an imposture, is he?”
“No,” Admiral Meowsers says sweetly,“Now, meet your new recruit!” He pauses before opening the door, looking me in the eye.
“Yeah, I’m done.”
“Tomcat McMuffin!” A grey fur ball similar to myself limps into the room.
“Ensign, where’s your uniform?” Admiral Meowsers hisses so loudly I can hear him.
“I took it off. It’s itchy. Not back-rub itchy though. I like that.” He limps over to me and looks up. Finally, meowing, he says, “Wait. There's no food here?” I smile inwardly, knowing it is no use to do it outwardly.
“That’s what I thought, Ensign Tomcat, that’s what I thought.”
To be continued in, The Big Dent, Part II
Yet another addition to, "The Sun Always Shines On Lactolia."
Another addition to, "The Sun Always Shines In Lactolia."
Like usual, its so long that its painful! (But you know you can't resist reading it, anyway.)
Another addition to, "The Sun Always Shines In Lactolia."
An addition to, "The Sun Always Shines In Lactolia."
A spin off the of the much-loved "Star Cats" series.
The behind-wiggling sequel to 'The Big Dent' Part 1.
As if the threat of a comet bound for the Solera Station didn’t seem looming enough, with the entire ship induced into a nervous, whispered panic, Subcommander Ocee could only keep from biting her claws and resisting the impulse to shrink away into a tight cranny—a box, a nook in the insulation, a raccoon trap—anything would do, really, to get away from this news: Lieutenant Lucky had just confirmed that the comet everybody was worried about was only seventeen minutes from impact.