The Big Dent Part II
“Captain,” I look up at hearing my title called. I flick my tail from within my new, leather upholstered Captain’s chair. It really is quite the agreeable chair, overstuffed and like a throne—naturally—but I have an issue with sliding off of it. I cast a confident glance over at my subordinate, the sleek, black, and incredibly intelligent Subcommander Arpeggio (Even though he’s only ten months old, he’s landed one of the most respected jobs in the galaxy). He’s sitting on a “modern” shiny plastic bench. At least I have it better than him, I almost feel bad for him. After all, his chair is so slick that my crew was trying to dip their pizza crusts in it before I brought the ship up in good order. I tucked a note within my mind to tell Ensign Shadow that he might just need to turn his janitorial skills down a notch. For a second, I almost wished that I had the prodigious skills of forgetting things, that my mentor had. Having captained the Star Convoy’s flagship ship, the Beta, for a few months, now, I’ve fallen into a comfortable routine. However, there is one thing, or rather, one cat that I haven’t been able to get used to: Ensign Shadow. He’s pretty weird. Seriously. You’d have to meet him to know what I’m talking about, but trust me on this one. Well, I reason to myself, despite his…peculiarity, he is leagues beyond the hassle of Ensign Ricketta, I think, remembering the many times I had to escort the trouble-magnet to the medical bay, upon the Big Dent, formerly called the Catnip. And he doesn’t have a romantic obsession with another crew member, I recall Ensign Ricky and Lieutenant Lucky. Wistfulness stabs at my heart before I recognize what it is. I miss the Big Dent, I sigh.
Sure, being promoted from Subcommander to Captain had been a dream of mine—and being transferred to a new starship had spared my nostrils the certain death they would have faced, if I had to endure another second sitting next to Captain Shtankadoodle, but somehow I felt a longing to go back. I didn’t understand it. You have the best crew here, Subcommander Ocee, I address myself, then almost plaintively, correcting myself, Captain Ocee. Who else has such a fine Subcommander as Arpeggio? And what about…what about… It occurs to me, right then and there, that even after several months, I had never gone out of my way to meet any of my crew. In fact, I made a point and set an example by keeping conversations brief and formal, Well, what about Ensign Shadow?! I almost blurt within my mind. Somehow, the thought just upsets me more. On my entire ship, the only felines I know are my Subcommander, and my somewhat frightening janitor.
“Yes?” I respond cooly, snapping back into reality. I try to place who is speaking to me—in my old position aboard the Big Dent, I prided myself on recalling all of my subordinate’s names. “Yes, Ensign Grace?” My ensign casts a quick quick glance at the ground, and shocks me to realize that I just called my ensign the name of my subordinate upon the Big Dent! Mortification wells up within me, but I dare not express it on my face. “Forgive me, Ensign Twinkle,” I say.
“You have an incoming message. Do you want me to broadcast it to your personal office, the front bridge, or your closet?”
“My personal office, thank you,” I say promptly, almost reprimanding myself and forcing myself to turn around, repeating my command more casually that I might be more congenial. Friendly, Ocee, not congenial. Not affable. Not amiable. Just friendly. It takes me a minute for the fullness of my ensign’s offer registers: The closet? I smile inwardly to myself, remembering how the now frequently asked question used to cause me to stop and narrow the fur above my fabulous, naturally black-outlined eyes. I barely noticed it most of the time, now, but occasionally it still got to me.
I remember asking who in the galaxy would put a teleconference screen within a closet. The answer, of course, was the same as every other answer for the…odd…innovations aboard the Beta: It was the new, contemporary and cutting-edge, technology.
“Play transmission,” I say, sitting down in my office chair. I preferred this chair, a nice grey suede, to my Captain’s chair, but unfortunately had to lint-roll it every morning, due to my fur. The computer immediately picks up my voice and obeys my command, and it completely slips my mind of the hassles of talking to the computer on board the Big Dent.
“Congratulations with your last mission, Captain!” The applauding voice of Admiral Meowsers comes through, and I see his furry face crystal clear on my screen. I smile faintly. I have heard these same words, many, many times during my last few months as captain.
“Of course, Admiral,” I respond.
“No, seriously,” I see Admiral Meowsers pull up his chair and straighten up in front of the camera,“Rescuing the Turkish Vans from Hewen IX was quite possibly your best work yet,” I nod to indicate that I’m listening,“Probably should have clarified that the planet was ninety percent H2SO4, instead of ninety percent H2O,” Admiral Meowsers mused, rubbing his paw across his whiskers. “Hmm, hmm. Anyway, I did call you for more than just to praise your excellent work, Captain,” He pauses for effect,“I wanted to know if you were aware of your current orders?” He asks seriously.
“I will be taking samples from Hailey’s comet before refueling at Kahtadeen station.” I say promptly.
“I see you have not been informed,” I raise my kitty eyes at Admiral Meowser’s words. Informed? I confirmed my order’s two hours ago… “You are to return to forego collecting samples and return immediately to Kahtadeen station—the situation is urgent. I will explain more fully in person.” I nod, but I can’t help but wonder what is so urgent.
“Captain,” Admiral Meowsers and I sniff each others noses formally. It had only taken three hours to reach Kahtadeen station, but the time had been more than enough for my mind to wander. Admiral Meowsers quickly draws away. “I would like you to meet someone…familiar,” With a flourish, he steps to the side, and my eyes can’t miss the raggedy lump of unkempt grey fur in the busy station plaza.
“Captain!” I gasp in both surprise and delight, almost forgetting myself. Before my own eyes is my respected mentor, whom I had spent many years training with aboard the Catnip. It was easy to say, that by running my own ship pretty much opposite of how he ran his, everything went in perfect working order. Still, Captain Shtankadoodle had a special place in my heart. “Captain!” I say again, my tail curled like a shepherd’s hook at the end. No response. “Captain.”
“He’s uh…asleep. But I already filled him in our mission, anyway.” Admiral Meowsers begins to lead me through the polished tile plaza, and I can see my reflection in its gleam. He leads me beyond some potted trees in terra cotta pots, and down the roped off, “Admiral’s Hall.” If not for having been down this very hall dozens of times before, I would likely be just as excited as the many tourists, their cameras incessantly snapping, and especially so as we walk by. From the corner of my eye, I see a mother pick her kitten up by the scruff and try to sneak him into the Admiral’s Hall, so she can get a picture. Security quickly reprimands her, and the many others doing the same.
Kahtadeen’s success as a station was evident. Not only had it been funded and inspected as a five star station entirely by Star Convoy, but it was a fueling station with all five types of fuel—not just electricity and actinium (informally known as“cat barf”), and within view of a most spectacular supernova remnant. In addition it is the only station within a common ship’s capabilities for six days, (Which leaves for some pretty daunting trips when one is already near empty in a little Spider Skipper!) but, best of all, it has been elected to be Star Convoy’s executive headquarters for the next seven months. At the end of those seven months, the admirals themselves will decide if they want to move, “Admiral’s Hall,” to a different station, or keep it here. In human terms, Kahtadeen Station is like the Yellowstone to one’s Yosemite, with Yosemite being the much-acclaimed Solera Station.
“Now that we have some privacy,” Admiral Meowsers is addressing me as we enter his office, but my gaze settles on a cardboard box in front of his desk. Its like its calling my name. Cardboard box. On the floor. Must sit in- I take control of myself. “Please forgive me, Admiral, what were you saying?” I manage with as much self control as I can muster.
“I was saying that Lactolia has a civil war on her paws, and we need-,” Must sit in box. Must sit in box. I can’t hear Admiral Meowsers anymore, and its all I can do to suppress my paws from leaping into it. “Captain. CAPTAIN OCEE,” By the way Admiral Meowsers is speaking, I can tell he has been trying to get my attention. I feel ashamed, but behind fur, Admiral Meowsers can’t see that I’m blushing. Admiral Meowsers looks at me kindly, in an understanding sort of way, “The box is for your enjoyment.” I gawk at Admiral Meowsers at first, my eyes begging him not to be lying. For me? It takes a split second for me to realize that I’m wasting time! I bound for box, leaping into it and letting my paw pads collide with cool, smooth brown pasteboard. Ah. The luxury. The opulence. Even my Captain’s chair cannot compare. Admiral Meowsers seems amused at my expression of sheer delight, but he’s none to judge. From behind his desk, I see him sitting on a cardboard box as well.
“As I was saying,” Admiral Meowsers sighs as he repeats himself,“Lactolia has clawed herself into a bit of a civil war-,”
“What for?” I ask, forgetting my manners.
“Well,” Admiral Meowsers pauses, uncertain of where to begin, “I’m sure you know about Lactolia’s…’government’?” Admiral Meowsers flicks his ear.
“Of course. Everybody in Star Convoy does.” I answer, as if not knowing such an important fact would be an insult to intelligence. On behalf of the reader though, I’ll explain.
Lactolia is a fairly small world with ample natural resources. Originally, Lactolia was colonized by cats from Earth wanting to make a pretty penny on its abundance, and its a legacy that to this day, it hasn’t lived down. Picture an overpopulated, smoggy, small world with collapsing, generic, tall structures and factories looming across the skyline, and you’ve not quite yet pictured Lactolia. You have to also picture rats. Lots of rats. All other animals, native and nonnative have either gone extinct or are contained in factory compounds. And though this scene has probably invoked some memories of the last human “futuristic” move you saw, there are several major differences.
First off, in a futurist movie, it’s always raining. Never. Stops. Raining. Try to picture a futuristic movie where its not raining. I thought so. In Lactolia, on the contrary, it is always sunny. In fact, its too sunny—thirty years ago, Lactolia claimed a “perpetual state of global emergency”. Why? Because Lactolia burned through its atmosphere with pollution, and now all of the water that evaporates floats into space… But, I mean, they had to come up with some solution, right? They did. Jars. Lots of jars. Which, in turn, led to one of the most successful industries on Lactolia (jar making), and contributed to nearly double the amount of pollution. (The jar companies aren’t scared by the pollution eating at any tiny remain of atmosphere—it just creates more demand)
Secondly, another difference from grim futuristic movies, is that Lactolia does have some patriotism. For instance, the cars one will see on Lactolia (Picture something leaning heavily to the right—I think its for effect, because the cars float. I mean seriously, why would a floating car lean?—narrow, and pumping out black smoke), will likely have bumper stickers that read, “Quantity over quality,” or, “Burned Through Our Ozone, and Proud of It!”
Now where was I? Right. The ‘government’ of Lactolia. Got a little off-topic, didn’t I? Lactolia, if you haven’t gathered, is a heavily industrialized world. In fact, despite its size, it makes 95% of the retail items in its solar system, and 60% of retail items in all ten surrounding systems. Since its so industrialized, residents have never put an emphasis on government. They’re either to rich to care, or to poor to care. Consequently, there is no real government: The entire world is bought in stock.
“Apparently, the leading stock-holder of Lactolia, the Clay Jars R Us company, has recently sold a great portion of its stock, leaving Clay Jars R Us with 41% stock” Admiral Meowsers pauses, and I can see where he’s going, but I’m a little confused.
“If they sold their stock to individual companies, so that those companies only owned small portions, Clay Jars R Us would still hold the majority of stock,” I say, narrowing my eyes at Admiral Meowsers.
“I suppose that is exactly what Clay Jars R Us thought, but they had underestimated one new and immensely successful corporation,” Admiral Meowsers pauses to add to the suspense. (It’s kind of his thing to add dramatic pauses.) “Emperor’s Smorgasbord. Despite a hefty greenmail from the Clay Jars R Us company, Emperor’s Smorgasbord is purchasing all 59% of the Lactolian stock. Their hostile takeover has led to an unprecedented revolt among the Lactolian residents, and the Emperor’s Smorgasbord company has earnestly requested an ambassador to help smooth over relations. In conclusion, we can think of no other ship we would rather Star Convoy’s finest ambassador to be transported on, than our flagship—the Beta.” Admiral Meowsers finishes, looking at me proudly, as though he trusts me to do a good job. Somehow, looking at him with his paws tucked under himself, I’m disappointed. It only takes a moment for me to pinpoint why.
“But what does that have to do with Captain Shtankadoodle? Why is he here?” I try to keep the emotion out of my meow, not intending to reveal that I had actually been looking forward to working with my old mentor again.
“Thank you for asking, I nearly forgot,” Admiral Meowsers clears his throat, “A few non-profit organizations have repeatedly pestered Star Convoy, urging us for a ship to deliver relief supplies on, for the war. I keep telling them, we don’t rent out our ships! They are for important diplomatic missions! But they won’t have it, and they keep collecting votes and wrecking our image in the public eye. So,” Admiral Meowsers gets an evil grin on his face, such that I’ve never seen before,“We agreed to send them a ship—our previous flagship,” Admiral Meowsers narrows his eyes, looking unable to restrain himself. He breaks out into guffaws,”Boy, weren’t they elated when we pawned off our junkie on to them! That thing hasn’t had a mission in over half a year, when she smashed into that asteroid!” Admiral Meowsers is still laughing. Note to self: Do not get on Admiral Meowsers bad side, I say within my head.
“So Captain Shtankadoodle will be delivering relief supplies?” I gather. Admiral Meowsers fluffs his fur and composes himself.
“That is correct, and you will be escorting him,” Then, as if telling a secret, Admiral Meowsers leans in, “The, uh, Big Dent isn’t very reliable, and it would be helpful to have some assistance, if necessary.” I nod my head.
“I understand. Is there anything more?” Admiral Meowsers shakes his head, and chuckling, I can tell he’s thinking about the non-profit agencies, again.
“No, you are dismissed, Captain.”
“Captain,” I say cooly as I conveniently breeze by Captain Shtankadoodle. I don’t want it to get out that I had missed him and his crew terribly—Yeesh, I didn’t want to believe it, myself! Captain Shtankadoodle was awake now, but staring silently at the Big Dent’s pecked and twisted metal frame, I wonder if he’s trying to ignore me.
“Captain?” I repeat, a little hurt.
“HUH?!” Captain Shtankadoodle jumps. Right… His hearing wasn’t the best. His ear, missing a chunk from the many cat fights he had waged before joining Star Convoy, angles back.
“I thought that it was only proper to honor my mentor with a personal visit, before we both set out for Lactolia," I say cordially. An awkwardness hung between the both of us, where once we had been perfectly comfortable. It was hard to believe that that had only been six months ago, but it was even harder to believe that I hadn't seen Captain Shtankadoodle at all in six months. That's a long time in cat years!
“How have you been?” Captain Shtankadoodle says, and his breath smells terribly of Emperor’s Smorgasbord. I wrinkle my nose, and a crease in the shape of a “Y” forms on it.
“Well. Commanding Beta had been an immensely challenging though worthwhile venture, and,” I sigh a tired sigh, catching myself after the damage had been done. I try to act composed as I finish,“And now I have some of my utmost respect for what you have managed to accomplish on the Big Dent.”
“Well that isn’t hard, just sleep through your entire command and let all of your subordinates make your decisions!” Captain Shtankadoodle blurts out.
“Excuse me?” I must have heard something wrong.
“Uh…Nothing,” Captain Shtankadoodle returns, and I think its out of tact for me. The loudspeaker saves us from the tenseness enshrouding us both.
"Commensing boarding for the Big Dent...er, uh, the Cantene...er...Catkitten? Um. Oh, gees! Everybody calls it the Big Dent, anyway! Commensing boarding for the Big Dent," Then, almost inaudibly,"I'm so going to get fired." A swarm of crewmembers claiming to be Captain Shtankadoodle’s own all bumble through the narrow stairway leading to the Big Dent, and Captain Shtankaoodle hold back. I can’t tell if its out of laziness, or out of desire not to be trampled with the throng.
"If you need anything,” I begin, “Or the Catnip stops working--just contact my ship anytime. We will be more than eager to assist," I nod politely to my old Captain, and he seems to return a perturbed glare. Or maybe that was just his natural expression? Its been a while since I’ve seen him.
“The Beta hasn’t been sent to escort the Catnip—she’s been sent to babysit the Catnip!” I’m both shocked and hurt by the truth in Captain Shtankadoodle’s words, and he limps away to join the boarding line for his ship. I can tell that his blood is boiling—not that that was bad, he does have poor circulation. Still, I hang my head a little as I return to the boarding line for my ship. I haven’t seen my Captain in six months, and this is how we leave each other? Upset? I am still shaking my head at the thought, even after I go through inspection and enter onto the Beta.
“Please!” A familiar voice interrupts me from my thoughts. My being warms a little as I look at my tuxedo-furred Subcommander, Arpeggio. His eyes are wide, and his tail is shaking wildly. “Don’t do that to me!”
“Sorry, Subcommander,” I acknowledge that my shaking of my head had almost triggered his attack mode. At only nine-months old, Arpeggio is quite the feisty fellow. “You’re in charge. I’ll be in my office.” And that’s when it hits me. The Big Dent—the Catnip—wasn't my home any more. The Beta was. It takes a lot to resist the sadness welling up within me, and I know that I must keep my strict demeanor. After all, I will be meeting the ambassador soon. Captain Shtankadoodle seems to be a magnet for trouble, I'm thinking about Captain Shtankadoodle again, though I don't want to, Not that he means to cause any, I quickly defend him in my mind. But I wonder, that if this mission, this simple one of delivering an ambassador, will have any...No. No, of course not. I quickly refute the notion of having anything "dramatic" happen on my ship. Not on my ship. Captain Shtankadoodle might let terrorist felines intent on destroying world tuna supplies wander around his ship--It happened once. Read Missions and Suspicions--but not me. This will be the best run ship that Star Convoy ever saw, I promise myself. After restating my promise to myself several times, and gathering myself, I'm surprised that nearly an hour has passed. I hear a knocking on the door to my office. Looking at my camera screen, I can tell it is Subcommander Arpeggio.
"Come in," I say, sitting up straight in my chair. It still can't compare to the cardboard box in Admiral Meowsers office.
"Captain, the ambassador is here to meet you," Subcommander Arpeggio says, and a moving art on my wall catches his attention. His eyes dilate, and his behind starts to wiggle. I stop it, and his eyes return to normal.
"Wonderful. Send him in." And with that, unwittingly, I send out my opportunity for a drama-free, normal mission. Because, some things, I hadn't yet learned, can't be prevented.
A hospital bed. Wha…? Why? Again? Nugget’s bleary yellow eyes struggled to adjust to the brightness of the cold, concrete room he was being kept in. A long row of hospital beds lined the endless, grimy wall, but his eyes were too unfocused to see them. Instead, it was the smell of weak alcohol cleaner that told him exactly where he was. Nugget tried to push himself up onto his legs, but a sharp, stabbing feeling rent his stomach.
Button’s paws pressed against the iron door, supporting her as she stood up on her two hind legs and tried to peer down the long, narrow row of identical white cells. The only thing different about each individual cell were the foul creatures that inhabited them, and really, Button thought, even they didn’t seem to vary much in size or demeanor.
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.