For background context on this story, you are encouraged to read: Phobos Rising, Jumper, and Rocket Man.
Copyright © 2014 by Christian Bergman, All rights reserved.
All people, places, and events are fictional … except when they aren’t.
Cats on Mars – a short story
Aurorae Chaos, or Aurora for short, jumped up on large low hard flat surface and then up to top level of tall structure with many thin flat surfaces. Low Martian gravity made it easy to reach high perch in two easy leaps. She scanned domain for brother, Olympus Mons, but nowhere to be seen.
Olympus Mons, or Ollie, was in what people called ‘bedrum’, attacking one of things that cover people’s rear paws. He hadn’t killed it in while and it needed killing. He chewed and eviscerated it with rear claws. When convinced it killed enough, he got up to find sister.
Aurora just about settled in for afternoon nap when saw Ollie walking cluelessly into big area. From high perch watched him come around corner and prance toward her. She wiggled hips in excitement as prepared to pounce. Wiggle. Wiggle. Ollie wandered closer, not suspecting anything. Wiggle. Wiggle. Wiggle. Wiggle. In instant Aurora airborne, sailing through low Martian gravity like fury ballistic missile. Landed on top of Ollie and battle royale was on. They rolled around on floor biting and eviscerating each other with rear claws. Went on for few minutes until exhausted, relaxed and began grooming each other. After several long minutes mutual grooming, Ollie got up to check kibble bowl. Aurora thought follow Ollie in case he discovered something she needed investigate.
Ollie wandered over to full kibble bowl and sniffed, disappointed no ‘good food’. He turned to leave, changed mind thinking better have bite to eat, just in case. Aurora walked over to waterfall next to kibble bowl, sniffed, and decided was thirsty. Next, Ollie wandered off to find litter box. Minutes later, as if on schedule, each took respective positions on Martian kitty condo, Aurora on top, Ollie on next level down. Nap time. Another purr-fect afternoon on Mars.
• • •
Aurora and Ollie were American Longhair Tuxedos. They were two cats out a four kitten litter belonging to a TransMartian Spacelines long-haul pilot. She realized that six cats were two too many; including mama cat, daddy cat, and the four babies. The long-haul pilot offered a fellow Rocket Man her pick of two and she chose Aurora Chaos and Olympus Mons. Of course they had no names when they were adopted, but they were named soon after following the custom of naming cats after Martian landmarks and features.
The first Martian settlers had no pets. Life on Mars was hard and took its toll on many colonists in the form of alcoholism and suicide. As alcoholism and suicide began to reach epidemic proportions, threatening the entire colonization effort, a number of studies began to indicate that having pets around might provide a solution. After studying many alternatives, cats were decided upon.
• • •
Nap time over, Ollie stood up, arching his back, then rolling over on his back to stretch both front and back legs at the same time in an inverted ‘Flying Superman’ position. Aurora, seeing this as an invitation to play, stepped down onto him from her superior position and began chewing on one of his ears.
Not to be one-upped, Ollie went for his signature move … disembowelment by vicious double rear paw claw action. Aurora retreated by jumping to floor and changing the venue of battle. Ollie gave chase. Oh goodie, chase, Aurora thought and she bolted toward ‘bedrum’ with Ollie in hot pursuit. Into ‘bedrum’, onto large soft flat surface, down on other side, under large soft flat surface, out other side, out of ‘bedrum’, Aurorae Chaos ran with Olympus Mons in hot pursuit. Ran into people food area, up onto another flat surface, knocking shiny things off that made pretty ‘tinkle, plink, ting’ sounds as hit lowest flat surface. ‘Chaos’ part of Aurora’s name was certainly true tosol.
Aurora getting tired. Time to let Ollie catch her. She plopped down on lowest surface of big area and waited. Ollie plopped down next to her panting, too tired to attack. So he started grooming himself. Aurora thought he needing grooming too, so began washing his ears.
• • •
There were many reasons why cats were chosen as the 'official' pets for Mars:
- Cats are small and low in mass. Relatively easy and cheap to transport.
- They soft and warm. Purring is very calming and mood enhancing.
- They are affectionate.
- They are clean, usually self-grooming, and instantly litter box trainable.
- They are self reliant and do not generally suffer for separation anxiety.
There was however one small problem … actually getting the cats to Mars. The technology for transporting humans to and from Mars was well established. People had special couches for dealing with the G-forces of launch, reentry, and landing. People knew or could be rapidly trained to deal with eating, drinking, and voiding in zero-G. Finally, people could be reasoned with and told what to expect.
Cats were another thing ENTIRELY. What kind of G-couch do you build for a cat? How do you feed and water cats in zero-G? How do you build a zero-G litter box? These are not trivial questions and the greatest minds were hired to develop a solution.
In the end there were as many solutions as there were paid consultants. Solutions included:
- Cat diapers and bottle feeding.
- Aesthetizing, intubating, cathing, and otherwise connecting some kind of tube to every feline oriface.
- Either of the above plus packing each cat in a box with memory foam for launch, reentry, and landing.
- Shipping fertilized embryos and growing the cats in vitro.
All of the above solutions suffered from one or more fatal flaws that seriously limited the probability of delivering healthy, well adjusted cats to Mars. The solution was finally arrived at via a grade school contest:
- Establish artificial gravity for cats and crew by spinning part of the long-haul ship. This was actually an old idea that the kids read about in some ancient Sci-Fi books, and was in fact being designed onto the next generation long-hauls, but the kids got credit for it nonetheless.
- By observing the way cats lie on the backs of a sofas – legs hanging down on either side – an ingenious young girl designed a G-couch made from a cylinder of memory foam that could be placed between the cat’s legs. The front of the cylinder was trimmed to provide support and stabilization for the cat’s head. The cat would then be strapped to it with Velcro straps and the entire ‘cat plus G-couch’ would be securely oriented for lift off. Once the orbital transfer was docked with the long-haul, the cat could be transferred to the long-haul’s artificial gravity section before freeing it of its restraints. Judiciously administered ‘happy cat juice’ made the process more tolerable for all concerned.
All of this was ancient history, the stuff of grade school lessons, having occurred over a hundred years ago. However, even now at least one cat is usually an honored passenger on every trans-Martian long-haul.
• • •
Aurora woke from nap, listening. People paws coming. Ollie heard too. Run to ‘dur’. “Meow, meow, meow.”
‘Dur’ opens. Small people squeals, “Hi Ollie. Hi Aurora. Did you miss us?”
“Meow, meow, meow. MEOW.”
Big people speaks, “Kelly you get them some ‘good food’, while I check for vids from Mommy.”
“Meow, meow, meow. ‘Good food’. Yes please. We want ‘good food’. MEOW.”
Kelly put out the ‘Good Food’ and Aurora and Ollie scrambled over each other to get to it. Life on Mars was good.
• • •