Thursday, May 20, 2010

Rama by James Hartley


by James Hartley

I walked into the base doctor's office with the unconscious
Siamese cat cradled in my arms, and gently placed it on the desk
in front of the doctor. "I ran over it with my sno-kart, Doc. It
popped up right in front of me, and you know the sno-karts don't
have much in the way of brakes."

"What do you expect me to do? I'm not a veterinarian."

"Yeah, I know," I said. "But I figured you could check for
broken bones, obvious injuries, whatever. Better than nothing."

The doctor pulled the cat closer and began to examine it. After
a while he said, "No breaks, nothing I can see. Since he's
unconscious, probably a mild concussion. Given a little care,
he'll probably recover. Take him home, feed him, keep him warm."

"Him? OK, he's a male. But keep him warm?" I asked. "An animal
that lives in the snow?"

"Yes, he must use energy to keep warm out there. If you keep him
warm, that energy can go toward healing whatever injuries he
has." He reached behind him and pulled out a disposable blanket,
wrapped the cat in it, and handed him to me.

I took the cat to my apartment and put him in a comfortable
chair, still wrapped up. Then I went over to the base commissary
to get some stuff I knew I'd need. I picked up some packets of
meat ration, and a large plastic pan to use for a litter box. I
figured I'd have to use torn paper, but when I got to the
counter I asked the clerk, "Got any kitty litter?"

To my surprise, he said, "Yep, sure do." He pulled out a large
bag marked 'Granules, non-skid, absorbent.' "On the rare warm
day, the snow on the walks melts a little, then freezes into
ice. We sprinkle this stuff on it. But it's kitty litter, we had
cats when I was a kid back on Earth, and I recognize it."

I took the supplies back to my apartment and set up the litter
box. Eventually the cat woke up and I fed him and gave him a
dish of water. He seemed to adapt to life in my apartment
without any trouble. I named him Rama after the legendary King
of Siam. Pretty soon, every time I sat down to read, he would
jump in my lap, curl up, and purr.


It's amazing about the cats. On every planet we've found where a
man can live without a spacesuit or massive life support, there
are cats. Mostly Siamese cats, but some tabbies and mixed breeds
on a few planets. Cats genetically indistinguishable from
Earth's felis domesticus. Once in a while there are evolutionary
offshoots like Earth's big cats, lions and tigers, but mostly
just, well, cats!

Oh, there are little differences, the cats here on snow-bound
Hoth--the planet was named after some twentieth century
cartoon--have heavier fur. And they have developed a strange
mode of transportation we call "snow-diving." You'll be looking
at a blank field of snow, and suddenly a cat will pop up and
look around. Like Rama popped up in front of my sno-kart. Then
the cat will take a big leap across the snow, maybe five or six
feet, and dive in and disappear when it lands. Sometimes a whole
bunch will be going along together, that's fun to watch.

There's no proven explanation for the presence of cats
everywhere. The story that most people accept is that there was
some ancient space-traveling race, now extinct, that took cats
with them wherever they went. A variant of that is that we are
the descendants of that race, that a ship crashed on Earth and
they lost their civilization and reverted to savagery, but I
don't believe that one. If that had happened on Earth, it would
have happened elsewhere, and we have found no traces of that
ancient race ... except the cats.


Rama stayed with me for almost a month. He was very friendly,
loved to be petted. But eventually he began to show signs of
wanting to go back out in the snow. I would find him perched on
the windowsill, looking out, watching the other cats
snow-diving. And he made several attempts to get out the door.

Finally I gave in and took him outside. He gave me one last leg
rub, then went snow-diving off.

But apparently he didn't go too far. If I go outside with a dish
of meat ration, and call, "Rama," and then wait a bit, he'll pop
up in front of me. He'll eat the food, then purr and give me a
leg rub before he leaves, but he never stays very long.

I miss him.


Astabeth said...

There needs to be a 'like' button.


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