Series: Cat Ship #3
Published by: Meankitty Publishing
Release Date: 12/31/2022
Contributors: Jody Wallace
Buy the Book: Books2Read; Amazon; Kobo; Apple; Barnes & Noble; Paperback at Amazon
Genre: Adventure, Comic SF, Post-Apocalypse, Romance, Science Fiction, Space Opera
A 2023 MUSE MEDALLION WINNER in the fiction category!
ABOUT THE BOOK
Two humans, a bunch of cats, a space ship...and murder.
Han-Ja Gee has made a fine living on Trash Planet trading information and secrets with those who are willing to pay, either in money or in more secrets. He thought he knew everything...until a talking cat interrupted a business meeting. But cats can't talk. Cats are so rare that only very wealthy people own them. If he can discover the truth about the cats, he can pay off the life-debt he owes and leave Trash Planet forever.
Farah Shine Collins is a passenger on an ancient generation ship who wakes up two thousand years late in a galaxy that barely survived a catastrophic war...and the cats on her ship have become sentient. Her struggle to adjust becomes infinitely worse when she's asked to partner with an information broker named Han-Ja, who is clearly trouble, to solve a murder on board the ship.
A murder for which the primary suspect is Farah's mother. A murder that not even mind-reading cats seem to know anything about. A murder that is only the first in a string of deadly attacks that threatens to tear the whole ship apart.
Han-Ja just wanted to escape a brutal racketeer. Farah just wanted a place that she and her mother could call home. Neither expected to fall in love while locked on a murder ship with three thousand terrified colonists and almost as many angry cats. But if they cannot stop the killer, the collateral damage will be a lot more than their hopes and dreams. It will be their lives.
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Farah Shine Collins sat up with a strangled gasp, certain that the weight on her chest was about to crush her. Needles of pain stabbed the skin near her collarbone before the weight vanished.
She inhaled, gasping some more. Adrenaline surged through her veins. Intense whiteness blinded her, and a roar of sound that rose and rose until her ears hurt did not help her adjustment to wakefulness.
Or whatever was happening.
Warm hands on her arms. Someone sobbing, a person. A tickle of sensation in her nose right before…
Farah sneezed so hard that she almost peed. Dang.
“The final sleeper has awoken!” a magnified voice announced, and she realized the roar of sound was cheers. A multitude of people applauded, whistled, and whooped, their excitement echoing off a distant ceiling.
Farah turned her head and squinted toward the location of whoever was sobbing. She presumed it was the person who’d placed warm hands on her arm. A familiar outline swam into view, a rounded female figure with her head distorted by wild, upswept hair.
“Mom?” she croaked, surprised how dry and rough her throat was. When the colonists on the Catamaran had settled into cryosleep, the techs hadn’t mentioned that they’d feel like death warmed over when they woke. Perhaps they’d assumed it was common knowledge. “Did we reach the homestead planet?”
“Baby, you’re awake. Oh, honey, I’ve missed you so much.”
How had Mom missed her when they were scheduled to be woken at the same time? Farah sat up slowly, puzzled by the dizziness. This wasn’t right. “I feel pretty rough.”
“It’ll be better soon.” Her mother stroked her arm, patting her as if she couldn’t believe Farah was real.
Well, of course she was real. Real uncomfortable in the barely cushioned casket of the cryopod. Not to mention, the pinpricks on her chest stung like fire, and there was something else. Something ticklish.
She sneezed again, which sent jabs of pain throughout her body. Her mother choked out a laugh. “Still got those allergies, I see. No, no, don’t try to get up yet. Take a minute. Javier’s on the way. He ran late because of a problem at the factory.”
“Cryosleep wasn’t going to cure a cat allergy. Who’s Javier? What factory? I don’t remember anyone named Javier.” Slowly the room in which Farah had awoken—one of the huge cryopod bays—swam into focus. Hundreds of colonists dressed in an assortment of clothing milled around, cheering and hugging. None were in their cryopod suits, which was strange. Neither was Mom, for that matter.
Someone raced past her pod, blowing on a party horn and throwing confetti. It sprinkled all over the cryopod and Mom’s hair.
“Congratulations, sleepyhead!” the person shouted, tossing more flakes.
It wasn’t the only confetti. Ugh, Farah knew who’d be stuck cleaning that up. Her. They couldn’t confirm they’d need her skills as a civilian advocate on the new planet, so she was being shipped in as labor.
Many cats bounded this way and that, winding around legs, perched all over the stacks of pods. Her vision continued to sharpen, and she realized the other cryopods were inactive. Off. Covered in cats, but off.
She was…the last? The final sleeper. Why? Newhome, the company in charge of their gen ship, had her scheduled for the second round. They needed her awake before disembarkment on Tiongos do things like clean up confetti.
“I know you’re confused,” her mother said, “but there have been some changes.”
Farah stretched her face as if yawning, trying to relieve the stiffness she felt everywhere. “Okay?”
“You were not easy to bring back to us,” said a high-pitched voice in front of her.
Farah turned her head and spotted a white and black feline sitting on the foot of the pod. Mom’s cat Xerxes. His comfortably plump black and white body had always reminded her of a Holstein cow. Xerxes stared straight into her eyes in that way he had, as if challenging her for her mom’s attention.
Beside him were a couple of other cats, but they were less interested in Farah and leapt off the pod moments later.
“I see Xerxes made it,” Farah observed, twisting her spine. It crackled all the way down. The advice for recovering from cryosleep ran through her head—find food and drink to stimulate your system before getting some real sleep. Some would want to bathe and hydrate their skin, and some might have a minor headache.
“Absolutely he made it. My fur baby.” Her mom took Farah’s hand and kissed the back of it. While her mother had always been affectionate, she was really indulging in this “you’re awake” bit. “You’re one of the ones who…who…”
Farah stared at her mother in alarm. Her questions were cut off by the person on the microphone.
“Now everyone, let’s give the final sleeper and Dear Barbara some time to adjust. Cats rule!”
More cheering, and the colonists dispersed, a few that she’d gotten to know during prep classes waving at her before they filed out of the cryopod bay. Farah’s pod had been positioned in the waking carousel, per protocol, but she was the only one left.
“Mom.” Her mother was waving back at the colonists. Well, she was probably waving at their cats. “I’m the one who did what?”
“You almost didn’t come out of the long sleep,” said that high voice again. “You’re one of the ones who’s just not very hardy.” It seemed to be coming from the foot of the cryopod. Where the cat was.
“What is that supposed to mean?” Farah asked, but there weren’t any people around besides her mother. It wasn’t as if waking from cryo, a science perfected millennia ago, was a big deal. Even if some snafu meant she was last. “Mom, seriously, what’s going on?”
Her mom burst into full-on tears. Why wasn’t she happy that they would reach the colony in a week? Green grass, blue water, clear skies, and healthy plants. No pollution, tons of animal species, and a lot less corruption and conflict. A lot less need for a civilian advocate, too. So far. Earth had grown too expensive, crowded, and polluted for peons like Farah and Barbara, so they had shipped out to a planet named Tiongos, and now all Mom could do was cry?
Farah grasped her mother’s hand and inspected the older woman. She…wasn’t the same as the last time Farah had seen her. Her hair was much, much longer and zanier. Her body seemed older, yet less soft. There were more lines on her face. The techs had insisted that the stasis would eliminate bodily functions such as hair growth and ageing, so the changes in Mom’s appearance didn’t make sense.
Farah put her hands on the sides of the pod, prepared to lift herself out. She wanted to get food and reach the bed in her quarters before she crashed. Because of her allergies, she was one of the few who had a room to herself. The others shared with cats and fellow colonists.
“Wait, honey. Wait. There have been…there have been…” her mother tried to say.
“We aren’t at the colony,” said the high voice. It was definitely coming from the cat. Farah stared at him, and the little shit’s mouth moved along with the words. “While we were sleeping, the humans had a ridiculous war with quantum tech and it pretty much destroyed the galaxy. Now it’s three thousand years later, we’re orbiting a very different planet, not everyone made it, and yes, I can talk and am much, much smarter than you.”
Farah rubbed her watery eyes and sneezed. She would need her allergy shot soon or she was definitely going to pee her pants. Not that the silvery leggings one wore in cryosleep were very good pants, but still. Her real clothes were in her room.
“Mom, is this a reality holovid?” she asked. “I’m not in the mood. I just want to…”
“It’s all true,” Barbara wailed. “Baby, I’ve been awake for several years. For years, I was the only person with the kitties. Something about the radiation, Javier says, evolved them right in their little pods. Xerxes is talking to you, and it’s rude to pretend he’s just an animal.”
Farah lay back down in the pod and closed her eyes. “This is a dream.”
“You don’t have dreams in cryosleep,” said the voice that absolutely wasn’t a cat. “And you’re welcome for saving your life. Who do you think brought you out of it? Me. Right up in your face. Doing my magic. You were too far gone.”
Barbara sniveled. Farah opened one eye and looked at her. “Can we not?”
“Xerxes is telling the truth,” said a new voice, a human one. “They both are.” A wrinkled old man with dark skin strolled up to the cryopod. His long jacket was white, which could be a lab coat and could be a fashion statement. “My name is Javier. I am a medic and I’d like to check your vitals, if that would be all right?”
“Uh, I don’t know you.” Farah sat back up. “You weren’t on the ship.” Few men or trans men had been on the ship. As the sixth (maybe) gen ship that set forth to Tiongos, theirs had been populated by adult labor and service. Less vital colonists. Specialized in one way since they almost all had cats and were a majority female-presenting, but mostly important as job fillers.
“Nevertheless,” Javier said dryly, “I am a medic, your mother is telling the truth, as is Xerxes, and I would like to check your vitals.”
He sounded like a doctor. Acted like one, too. Farah had seen enough of them in her time for allergy treatments. Medical science had cured a lot of things, but not most allergies. “And I’m just supposed to believe…this nonsense?”
“It isn’t nonsense. You’re nonsense,” the voice that was not a cat insisted. “Watch.”
She watched, and Xerxes blinked out of existence with a spark of xxx. Then he blinked back into existence in her lap. His claws poked into her skin in a familiar way.
“We can do all sorts of stuff now,” Xerxes bragged with a catty smirk.
“Shit!” Farah lurched reflexively, bucking and sending the cat flying through the air. He landed on all fours on the ground, tail fuzzed out and eyes narrow.
Farah’s newest claw marks stung as much as the ones on her collarbone. That was what the weight had been when she’d first woken, and the pain. It had been the damn cat.
“You must be made to understand,” the cat growled. The cat. It was the cat. The cat was talking. Xerxes was talking. Farah lifted a trembling hand to her mouth. “I am so dogging glad you’re the last one. We are sick of you disbelieving humans and your inflated sense of superiority. I’m going to find Boson Higgs. He’ll straighten you out.”
Farah lay back down again and closed her eyes. “This is a dream.” Then she sneezed, sneezed again, sneezed a third time, sneezed until tears ran down her cheeks. “My head is going to explode.”
“You did not mention her allergies were that extensive,” she heard Javier murmur to her mother. “Or perhaps it’s because we almost lost her. I’ll ask someone to carry her to the shuttle so we can transport her to my clinic at the box factory. I can care for her better where there are fewer cats.”
Unwilling to consider, unwilling to listen, Farah welcomed the onset of sleep. The sounds of the cryobay faded, but a million voices in her head, tiny, catty voices, followed her into her dreams.
(c) 2022 Jody Wallace