Now that the cat has died I can leave. Three thousand days alone on this godforsaken hunk of metal in the middle of space, with nothing so much as a passing comet… I’ve murdered my only living companion. But I had to get out of this interminable cycle of non-events. Away from the mess I signed up for at the age of twenty-one, naïve, excited over the prospect of leaving my home planet for a life of adventure. A promise of a post aboard a starship after the minimum three years of service. They seem to have forgotten me. Once a week I talk to a computer back on Earth. Nothing to report. All is functioning at a perfect level of accuracy. What am I waiting for? The sun to explode?
Outpost 269 reporting in. What is your status? Status normal. Observations? No observations. Equipment efficiency level? Fully functional at one hundred percent. Status of cat? Alive and well. Prepare for scan.
I move into the cubicle for a full body scan that records my mental and physical health. I’ve no idea how it works. But recently have begun to suspect that it’s not accurate. Otherwise, why did I kill the cat? Why not simply put in for a transfer? They might have listened this year. I could have at least tried.
Over eight years I’ve been here. Checking one section at a time I start with engineering in level A; finish with the observation room (F) on Friday and then at the weekend, donning my space suit, I examine the outside surface for faults. Once a month a pod arrives with more food supplies. The routine of non-events at least has some consistency.
Making my way around this tiny excuse for a space station, I hope against hope for something to go wrong. A sun storm to interfere with my settings. For a crack in the panelling. Stray bolts to be blemished by the unlikely event of rust. An alien attack even.
If it wasn’t for the cat I would have gone mad a long time ago.
I’m not talking to myself. I’m conversing with the cat. Its name is Nibbles. Or rather, it was. Used to be. Former name. Now it’s just “the cat.”
Nibbles would be hard to find at first. As a kitten it was difficult to get him to eat. “Nibbles!” I’d shout. “Nibbles… dinner time!” I’d find him hiding behind a canister of liquid nitrogen in section D. In a bundle of sheets in my living quarters. Or often he’d be high above the space between the lighting and ceiling tiles. Watching me. Observing my every move. Wary but interested in my behaviour.
Once I’d started to hand feed him we began to make a connection. Soon Nibbles was following me everywhere. In the evenings we’d lie on my bed together. I’d massage his head, rubbing the back of his ears. Nibbles used to like that. And his purring would provide me with comfort. I was looking after another living being, a life that depended entirely upon my own.
“Breakfast time Nibbles. How about some milk? Ok, we’d better get to work.” Sometimes in the evenings we’d play hide-and-seek. “Where are you Nibbles? There you are!” There was a favourite piece of yellow and green tape I’d throw high into the air. The friction of this movement would cause it to crackle. Nibbles would come running into the room eager to entertain us by chasing, catching and assuring his dominance over the object.
On the last day he knew. We’d spent too long together for there to have been any chance of me fooling him. Plus I’d started referring to him as “the cat” once again. As I had done on the first few months of us living together. Because I was planning it. The idea had already formed inside my head long before.
“The cat’s going to have to go,” I’d mumble. “It’s the only way. I love the cat; the cat loves me, but eventually… one day, not today, but one day…”
My excuse will be that the cat found its way into the waste disposal chute without my knowledge. The truth being that I put it there knowingly, deliberately – an execution.
Nibbles didn’t struggle. He looked me in the eyes and blinked. And I knew then that he was happy to give up his life for mine. As I watched him; watched it fly into the vacuum of space and finally explode I was overcome with sadness for the loss of my only friend. But silently I held the tears back.
Returning to my room I shaved, showered, prepared myself mentally for what I was going to say in my weekly interview. The excuse I would make. And then, with an action that can only be deciphered as a spur of the moment spot of madness, I carved his name (N-I-B-B-L-E-S) into my forearm using a razor blade.
“Outpost 269 reporting in. Status normal. No observations. Equipment efficiency level is fully functional at a hundred percent. The cat however, has died.” I begin to laugh, more at myself that at the machine in front of me. “It’s dead,” I mutter. Then hesitate before confessing that, “I killed it.”
“Prepare for body scan,” is the response.
Hesitantly I move into the cubicle, ready to record my mental and physical health. I can still hear meowing and, for a moment, a future of happiness flashes before my eyes.