A Decent Land — Chapter Three
We awoke on the bank to the sound of a purr. It seemed to come from the trees. Indeed, there was nothing to see on the beach; and nowhere for creatures to hide. Instinctively — though none had seen a cat aboard our arks — we felt comforted by the noise, at first, and compelled to replenish a saucer with milk. The Shipbuilders of our dead home planet were familiar with feline companions. And so, I assume, their duty to kitten and kin lives on in our genes.
It was a guttural rumble, bouncing from the canopied darkness of jungle. But it died down as it sensed our movements, and fell to a practical silence. Some of the more aurally gifted among our party reported that it never fully disappeared, and always followed behind. Our strange waking wish — to wait upon the whims of a cat — soon spiralled into fear of unpredictable predators.
Reed seals suck the molluscs from unassuming shells, swelling into hedonistic blobs of fatty avarice. No risk to us; they’re laughable, in fact. But a dormant reed seal is a morsel for something. Perhaps our purring pursuant skulked the edge of the trees for its dinner, and found instead an exotic team of alien appetisers.
We attempted to pack our gathered shells and a portion of weed in the wormskin. Alas, our careless, drunken stabs at the sheath had ruined its hold. It was discarded, stabbed some more and rolled o’er sand towards the ocean. And then we were ready to breach the bush of the jungle waiting ahead. Most of our number were scared of the purr; biologists fuelled their concerns. I told them to drown in the ocean, or join the onward march of progression.
They hesitated, and stood for a while in stunned contemplation. I noticed their eyes glancing back at the pod, though some were distracted by trees. After a minute, a youthful cadet broke the impasse and said, through his teeth,
‘Do you see — on yon palms — that residue of sweaty, blackened sap?’
He pointed north, to the bundle of bark; their trunks stood tall and thin.
‘Yes,’ said another, more senior in rank, ‘it’s quite a curiosity indeed.’
One by one, the biologists waddled away to study the trees. Their leader fixed his gaze upon me, and…