Episode 0: Jane meets Void Kitten
“Does my saliva always taste like vinegar?” Jane thought? One more thing to worry about in space.
Jane resisted the urge to spit. It doesn’t do much good when there is a faceplate inches away from your mouth. She forced herself to swallow, ignore the weird thoughts, and started going through the checklist in her mind again.
☑️Pressure lock — which could fail and blast you out into space.
☑️Gloves locked — which could fall off and all your oxygen leaks out.
☑️Oxygen levels — which could run out and you could suffocate in your own CO2.
☑️Tools — which could break and the mission would fail.
Jane didn’t think she worried too much, just that she was, well, realistic.
Her mission was to inspect the underside of the ship, take readings of the object, and not die.
Jane had always been a bit anxious, that had served her well during school. You can never be too prepared for an exam. If you studied enough, nothing was a surprise.
Except that this whole mission was a surprise. A routine Mars supply shuttle had turned into something else entirely. First the months redirecting to Jupiter. Then the sensor readings and the imaging passes.
Something had opened on the far side of one of the moons. The scientific community hadn’t settled on a name yet, but everyone was calling it ‘The Void’.
It wasn’t a black hole. It didn’t pull anything towards it. But it was definitely a hole. It was hard to get good images of it, as it seemed to shift the light, but it appeared to be stars and nebulas. None of which could be identified.
A polite chime brought her back to the moment. The door lock opened and her 29th space walk began. Jane just wanted to get it over with.
“Commencing shuttle inspection.” Jane reported to the rest of the ship.
“You are go for space walk Jane. Don’t die” Josè her co-pilot knew Jane liked to be careful and he didn’t miss a chance to rib her for it.
The shuttle inspection was quick. No major damages from the small space debris collision. She touched up one small crack with UV curing gel but that was more of a precaution, as the crack size wasn’t close to the upper limit yet.
That is when she heard it. A soft low sound she couldn’t identify. Best description was a soft low purr. Now contrary to what Star Wars teaches kids, you can’t hear sound in space. There is nothing to transmit the sound waves. Anything you hear is coming from your own body or your suit. Which is why Jane immediately started almost panicking and running through her emergency checklist.
“Space Walk Control, where is that sound coming from?” she said to Josè as she started checking items.
- Pressure: normal.
- Oxygen 73%.
- Boosters not running.
“Roger that, we can hear the sound coming over the channel. We don’t know what it is yet. Working on it”. Josè didn’t sound concerned, but then again, that was his job.
Jane’s heart rate was elevated but she felt fine. Besides the slightly acidic saliva, but Jane reminded herself, that could be just in her head.
But the ‘purring’ if you could call it that was getting louder. Jane decided to skip the rest of the space walk objectives.
“Can’t identify the sound, skipping the rest of the procedures and heading back to the airlock”.
“Roger that Jane, we can’t identify the sound either, we will meet you in the airlock.” Josè her co-pilot would stay in the cockpit, and he would probably send Shuri to help with Jane’s suit. Shuri had a knack for diagnosing difficult mechanical issues.
Jane touched the booster control stick and started turning back towards the ship, when she screamed.
And that is when everything changed.
A kitten. Sitting curled up, motionless in a ball, staring at her from 2 feet away.
Of course she screamed. Josè immediately started talking in her ear but Jane heard nothing. She couldn’t tear her eyes away from the kitten. The kitten tilted its head.
Jane managed to stop screaming and started finally hearing Josè.
“what is going on! Calm down Jane, you can do this. Give us something!”
“I’m hallucinating. Something is wrong, and I am displaying signs of confusion and... and…”
Jane knew all about flashes of light caused by cosmic rays. She knew about isolation and mental health and stress and the hundreds of other things that could go wrong in space. But none of the symptoms included seeing kittens.
The kitten moved. Actually the kitten jumped onto her shoulder and Jane screamed again.
Now of course Jane knew that you can’t jump in space. Opposite and equal reactions, you have to leave something behind to move, but the kitten had done the most graceful little hop to land on her shoulder, it looked like a kitten jumping in normal gravity. Jane couldn’t feel the kitten on her shoulder, the suit was too rigid, but the purring got even louder. Turning her head to the side the kitten was looking straight at her. And then it started licking her faceplate. Jane could see the saliva freezing onto the outside of her faceplate. For some reason she wondered if kittens saliva tasted like vinegar too?
Josè was yelling into her ear piece telling her Shuri was coming out of the airlock in 20 seconds, asking for updates.
“Negative Josè, I’m ok. I’m ok. I think I’m ok.”
“What is happening?! Why are you screaming?”
“I think I’m hallucinating, I am seeing a kitten. Coming back to the airlock now, I’ll be out from the under heat shield in a few seconds”.
“Say Again Jane? I thought I heard you say you are seeing a kitten? Can you confirm that?”
Jane gave a few taps to the boosters joystick. The whole time the kitten wouldn’t stop licking her faceplate and it wouldn’t stop purring. Josè kept asking for her to repeat. Jane could feel her heart pounding and felt her breathing rate increasing. She tried to focused on piloting the booster and not passing out. She could see a little frozen puddle of glittery kitten spit expanding on her visor.
Jane was nearing the edge of the heat shield.
“Can I get an immediate visual check of my suit Josè?”
“Roger that, I am at the window, I see you moving past the heat shield your boosters look AHHHHH!”
Jane rotated towards the cockpit window and she could just make out Michael who had his face up to the glass like a kid looking at Christmas presents.
“What. Is. That?”
Jane turned her head in her helmet to look at the kitten who had stopped licking her faceplate, and had it’s eyes closed, still purring loudly.
“I thought I was hallucinating. Have you ever read a case study or proccedure about a shared hallucination?”
“Ah, no Jane I haven’t. Where did it come from. Is that purring? What IS IT?!”
“I don’t know Josè calm down.” That felt good to be the one saying that for once.
Jane was 3 meters from the air lock so she started pulling back on the boosters for a smooth landing in the airlock. The kitten moved and started rubbing its head against her shoulder insignia.
Jane couldn’t think of anything worse, or better than finding a space kitten on the far side of Jupiter’s moon. But she supposed that thought and started going through the airlock checklist.
“I’m going to call it a Void Kitten. I think it likes me.”