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Original Poster
#1 Old 28th Feb 2016 at 1:42 AM Last edited by Elynda : 30th May 2016 at 6:52 AM. Reason: correction
Default Gus Baxter's Cat
Part 1

She felt sure they would come for her eventually. Many evenings she had sat and watched the sky for them, till the cold wind off the desert had forced her to retreat inside her little shelter. And then she would lie awake for a long time, listening for the rumble of rocket engines.

But there were only the night scurryings of small rodents, the singing of crickets and the occasional plop of a fish in the nearby water course. And then she would sleep, and dream of fish, properly fried (she wished she knew how to do that), or perhaps fresh cream, and people who would pet her and tell her how pretty she was. When she woke the recollection of such dreams only made her loneliness the more unbearable.

Why had they gone away? She understood that the idea was for her to learn how to survive. But not alone! Surely never alone! Weren't there supposed to be others with her? That was what Dr Russell had said. Doctor Russell had been her favourite: the others had been kind to her, and played with her, but he had talked with her, really talked. He'd told her many wonderful things about stars and planets, and about the work he and his friends were doing, and he always had time to answer her questions. He told her about herself too. He was very pleased with the way she'd turned out, even though she wasn't quite what they'd expected. But she was “a very bright young lady,” he'd said. “And very beautiful too!”

Something roused her just as it was getting light outside. It was usually silent then, frost lay over everything, all the animals had retreated to their burrows and a thin shield of ice lay over over all the irrigation channels. But this morning wasn't silent: there was a low, steady rumbling sound coming from far off. She raised her head from the straw filled pillow and listening for a while. It was getting louder.

Opening the canvas flap that covered the access to her shelter, she crawled out into the cold morning air, taking a moment to have a good stretch and shake away the cobwebs of sleep. Then she listened again, trying to fix the direction. It was difficult, confusing echoes were coming off the surrounding hills.

Moving to one of the irrigation ditches, she poked a hole through the ice and lapped up some of the cold water to rouse her still groggy senses. Then she headed up the slope towards the ridge which overlooked the desert. As she topped it the sound grew noticeably louder. Sitting back on her heels she watched and waited, all her keen senses alert and eager. Very little that moved in all that barren expanse ever escaped her large inquisitive eyes.

Low down, near the far horizon, where the orange flush of dawn was bathing the tips of the distant mountains, there was a bright flash of sunlight upon metal. Hardly able to contain her excitement, she continued to watch. There it was again! And now, as she felt the first warmth of the rising sun on her back, she could make out a silvery shape, low down in the sky, growing rapidly larger.

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Original Poster
#2 Old 28th Feb 2016 at 2:39 AM Last edited by Elynda : 5th Mar 2016 at 10:14 PM. Reason: correction
Default Gus Baxter's Cat - Part 2
Captain Augustus Baxter was a survivor.

Space pioneer, explorer, hero (of sorts – when that still counted for anything), salvager, smuggler, mercenary – his life had been interesting and dangerous. There had been many occasions when it would have been easier to lay quietly where he was and die. But he didn't believe in quitting without a fight, and old habits die hard.

He'd even been shipwrecked before, albeit on not quite so desolate a planet as this one. It was catalogued as 'M' class - just. That there was oxygen meant there was life somewhere on it, but within sight of the ship he could see little sign of it. There was food and water aboard to last him a few weeks, if he went careful with it. After that …

It was on his second day that he realized he was not alone.

Just what it was that had come prowling around the crash site, he couldn't be sure. He'd only managed to get a glimpse of it. It moved very quickly and kept itself under cover. It seemed quite large. He skirted around the area a few times to try and pick up its tracks, but without success. But it was an encouraging sign: if there was some kind of large animal native to this world, then obviously it must live on something.

The next morning Gus had a problem convincing himself he was still sane. Hanging from one of the poles supporting his makeshift awning were two large fish. He stared at them for a couple of minutes, waiting for them to disappear. But they didn't. It was crazy! They looked just like large carp, here on a ball of rock and dust, light years from where carp had any business to be! He decided to cook them before they started to stink. They tasted real enough. In fact they tasted delicious! Well, where there were fish, there must be water. He would need to find it, and soon!

Problem was, he could not travel far from the ship. When the sun got up it blazed down on bare rocks and the horizon melted into a shimmering heat haze. Setting off just after sunrise he was able to cover a few miles to a low range of hills to the West, before it became too hot to move. Beyond them, for as far as he could see, there stretched out a blinding white expanse of sand dunes.

He was forced to wait out the afternoon's heat in what shade he could find. Fortunately he'd carried enough water to last. His return trip was an ordeal of another kind: the desert night was bitterly cold and there was only starlight to see by. There had been a flash light aboard, but like so many things that would have been useful, it had not survived the crash. If he had not purposely left the outside floodlights on he might never have found his way back.

When he reached the ship he saw his visitor again. A small dark figure was crouching next to the extractor fan of his makeshift air conditioner (by day it could get pretty hot inside that ship). Hearing his approach the creature sprang up and disappeared into the shadows.

“Hey now! He called out. “Don't run off again, I ain't gonna do you no harm!”

He could just make out the creatures dark outline, cowering under the buckled tail fin, the light reflecting in its eyes.

“She was cold!” said a small voice “Not mean no harm!”

“Oh, so you can talk eh? That's right handy. Well, come on out and warm yourself some more, I'm sorry I chased you off before, but I wasn't sure you were friendly. Oh, and thanks for the fish by the way”.

“She want to show she is friend, you like fish?”

“They were just fine, best I ever tasted. I could hardly believe I wasn't dreaming. Well, come on then, lets have a better look at you, don't be shy”.

Slowly the small figure crawled out of its refuge. And once again Gus had to convince himself he wasn't going crazy.

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Original Poster
#3 Old 28th Feb 2016 at 8:17 AM Last edited by Elynda : 29th Feb 2016 at 12:39 AM.
Default Gus Baxter's Cat - Part 3
Not that there was anything grotesque or monstrous about her, oh no, certainly not that! Indeed, in that moment, Gus thought that he had never seen anything so beautiful. In shape and proportion she was quite human, and in height equal to a child of perhaps eight years old, very slender and graceful. Her skin was a glossy, inky black that shone under the hard light of the floods. Oh yes, she was certainly a beautiful thing. But human she was not!.

Her long sinuous tail was extraordinary enough, as were the claws on her hands and feet. But it was her head that bore the strongest resemblance to … well, a cat, more than anything else. Pointed cat-like ears peeped up out of a mane of short tousled black hair. Either side of a neat, button-like nose grew long pale whiskers, with secondary barbs sprouting from where from her eyebrows ought to have been. And those eyes! Like green fire, true cat's eyes, wild and yet at the same time, curiously gentle.

Hunkering down in the draft of warm air she began to chafe her graceful arms and legs to warm them, whilst Gus sat himself down on an upturned supply box, scratched his head, and just stared. “What in blue blazes are you?” he managed to say at last. In all his travels he had met many strange creatures, on many worlds, but never one so strange and wondrous.

“She is Cat,” replied the creature. “That what they calls her. Really it be Cat'rin, but she cannot say proper, cos of teet', see. She opened her mouth to reveal small but rather impressive fangs, as well as a pretty pink tongue.

“Oh, I see, you mean Catherine,” he said. “Well, that's a right pretty name. But who calls you that, are there others like you?”

“Oh no, is no others. Peoples she used to live with call her that, human peoples like you. They very clever peoples, they comes to make this planet into place where peoples can live. But then they all go away an' leave her. She be very lonely. When she see space ship, she t'ink they come back for her”.

“Well, I'm sorry to disappoint you sweetheart, but I'm stuck here just the same as you are. But where did these friends of yours live?”

“In nice place, Cat will take you there. Man cannot live here, is bad place. Cat take you where is plenty food for peoples: is water, grass, trees, every t'ing”.

“And fish?”

“Ooh yes, plenty fish!” she said. “Man like fish, Cat like fish. We bot' be very happy there!”

“Sounds good,” he said, smiling at her enthusiasm. “And the name's Gus, by the way. That's short of Augustus, but just Gus will do. But how far is this place? If I try to cross this desert by day, I'll cook, and at night I can't see my hand in front of my face”.

“Is not far. We go when it get dark. Cat know peoples not see good when it dark, but her eyes see fine”.

“Every inch a pussy cat, eh?” he said. “Well, we'll talk about it some more tomorrow, right now, I'm bushed. You'd better come inside, I need to turn this thing off to save power. I'll fix us both some grub, and sort out some place for you to sleep”.

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Original Poster
#4 Old 28th Feb 2016 at 9:31 AM Last edited by Elynda : 28th Feb 2016 at 9:42 AM.
Default Gus Baxter's Cat - Part 4
They'd set off an hour before dusk, so they could have the benefit of the lingering warmth. Gus soon realized Cat could have covered the distance in half the time, going at her own pace. She could walk either upright, or lope along on all fours. But she stayed close to him, setting an easy pace, and keeping up her merry chatter all the way. He wondered if she would ever get tired of talking. Not that he minded, her gentle, musical little voice was pleasant to listen to.

She told him more about the 'project' as they'd called it, and more about herself.

“They not mean her to be like this,” she said. “Not like human peoples, so she can talk an' understand what they say. She is mistake. Dr Russell say she is seren … serendip … cannot say big word, but she know what it mean”.

“Oh, serendipity you mean?”

“That right, it mean 'happy mistake'”

“That's what it means allright, and it I guess it about sums you up”.

“But they not t'ink that when she is little, oh no, she get sick an' they t'ink she will die. But Dr Russell make her better, an' she grow up strong, an' everybody say she very beautiful. Captain Gus t'ink she beautiful?”

“Oh yes, I certainly do! I think you're just about the cutest pussy cat I ever did see!”

If she took innocent pleasure in flattery she could be excused, he thought. As far as he could tell from her tale, she been alone for about five years, and she couldn't have been very old when they'd abandoned her. Gus liked to think of himself as hard bitten, and he was: life on the frontiers of explored space would do that to you. But the thought of this gentle, child-like creature betrayed by those she had trusted, brought a lump to his throat.

Once the sun had set the darkness closed in fast and the temperature dropped rapidly. The dry desert air couldn't hold the heat for long. And soon he could hardly make out Cat in front of him, although she stayed close, sure footedly finding the best route through the shattered rocks and loose shale. But after a few hours she realized he was having difficulties, his legs weren't what they'd once been, not on uneven ground that he couldn't even see.

“Captain Gus hold on to her tail,” she'd suggested.

Baxter had never been dependant on anyone in his life: he went his own way, trusted his own judgement. Now, here he was, being led like a blind man, holding onto a cat's tail.

But they didn't make it all the way that night. Long before dawn, Gus' old leg wound started acting up bad, and the cold started getting to Cat. That was his fault, he realized, for slowing her down: moving at her own pace she'd have been fine. With her help he set up the portable survival shelter and they crawled inside, wrapping themselves in thermal blankets. In the pitch darkness he felt her snuggle up close to him, smelt the warm, comfortable cat-like scent of her hair. She let out a deep sigh of feline contentment.

“Nearly there Captain Gus,” she said. “Sleep now”.

“I'd never have made it without you girl,” he said. “My coming to this planet was a mistake, but one the best kind. I guess that's serendipity for you.”

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Original Poster
#5 Old 28th Feb 2016 at 11:04 AM Last edited by Elynda : 1st Mar 2016 at 9:47 PM.
Default Gus Baxter's Cat - Part 5
The Valley was everything Cat had promised and more. Well, perhaps the irrigation needed some attention and the vegetable plots had gone wild: it would be a job of work for Gus Baxter. But, what the hell, he needed a new challenge. But that could wait for later, right now he felt like just sitting and looking. A good rest would do him good: one was long overdue.

“Is nice, Captain Gus?” Cat asked, sitting by his side whilst he surveyed it all.

“Is very nice, Cat!” he said.

The research station stood on a shoulder of land overlooking the desert, a dome shaped building of steel. Cat showed him the steep path that led up to it from her valley. She had not been up that way for a long while, there was no point, since the place was locked up. And she wouldn't go there now: there was something about the place that disturbed her. Gus promised he wouldn't be away long.

He made short work of the lock with his hand laser. In most of the offices and living quarters there were signs of a hasty evacuation, equipment was strewn everywhere, covered by five years worth of dust. The steel door of the main laboratory had been sealed off and there was a large notice on it:


One glance through the window told him what must have happened. It must have overtaken them very quickly, perhaps they had been desperately seeking an antidote to whatever virulent plague they had spawned, whilst Cat had sat outside and wept because she thought they had gone away and left her. He wondered if Dr Russell was amongst these, or if he'd escaped.

Later on, once he'd cleared out anything they could use, he would laser weld the outer door shut. There were still a lot of unanswered questions about the place: possibly there'd been something illegal about the whole set-up, which would explain why they'd never come back, and why they'd left Cat behind. That had probably been a kindness, after a fashion: the big, wide, 'civilized' galaxy would have been a far less hospitable place for her than this world. The world she had been bred to survive in.

Back at the foot of the path he soon spied her, just where he'd left her, amusing herself whilst she awaited his return by playfully chasing after her own tail. It had been a long time since Gus had laughed, really laughed. But now he did - loud and joyously, and the hillsides echoed to it. And hearing him, she came running to welcome him home”.

“Well, pretty puss,” he said. “There's nothing up there we need trouble ourselves over. What say we go fishing?”


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Original Poster
#6 Old 28th Feb 2016 at 11:37 AM Last edited by Elynda : 11th Oct 2017 at 2:14 AM.

A slightly different version of this story appeared in print a few years ago, although it didn't get much circulation (vanity press really). It was originally submitted by me as part of a term paper for 'English 316' whilst at University. So, yes, I can affirm my authorship of the work. It's since been gathering dust in a box file for years, so I thought I'd post it as a sort of thankyou to everybody at MTS who have both helped and entertained me over the last 4 years. Best wishes, Elynda.

EDIT: I'll add this here so as not to bump this thread.

The above story is no longer canon, so far as the adventures of Gus Baxter go. I decided to make Cat rather younger and team her up with another young heroine named Penny Armstrong, both of them castaways on a desert world like the one described. In the course of their many adventures they meet and befriend legendary space hero Captain Augustus Baxter. That is the basis of the novel I might complete one of these days. But as for Gus, he has had a long and colourful career and there are other stories about his adventures I could post here, if anybody was interested. They need some working on though.

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