“In The Space Of Nine Lives,” Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, January 2006, p. 24


The ship’s cat slipped Tom’s grip and ran up the curving floor toward the galley.  As he stalked her, young Tom felt less sure of himself.  He could talk it over with Pilot, but Pilot was in sim and not to be bothered unless it was an emergency. 

Was a dare an emergency?  Only if he failed. 

His standing among his sim friends would plummet again, and he’d be teased and shunned.  So what if his friends weren’t real?  When he was in sim, they could beat him up just as well.  And they could ignore him anywhere in the ship.  His sim friends were living, after all, just in a different way.  Tom enjoyed their company, except when he was being teased, but that was part of growing up, as Pilot would say.  It didn’t matter if the kid was on-planet or on a colony transport ship, kids were kids, and he had to deal with them in school no matter what.

So he followed Widget around the habitat ring and found her at her feeding station.  He removed his shirt, snaring her, then went to one of the access tubes and climbed toward the hub.  His spirits lightened with his weight.  She wriggled in the makeshift bag, but he was determined. 

The hatch closed behind him as he floated out of the hub, and he grabbed a handhold to stop spinning.  Tom turned the cat loose in the sterile corridor between the habitat and farm wheels.   He laughed as she reached for everything, her tail whipping her body this way and that, turning her into a wild, gyrating ball of fur and claws. 

“Now the first lesson in no-grav is to stay calm and move real slow until you get used to it,” he said to her.  This didn’t stop her from trying to claw her way to a wall.  She started howling. 

“So that’s what happens,” Singh said from the view panel.  Dottie and Singh were watching.  Singh stared at the animal while Dottie stuck out her tongue. 

“Are you happy, now?” Tom blurted.  He tried to find a way to grab the cat without getting scratched.  His friends giggled behind him.  He turned on them.  “Screen off,” he yelled.  They were gone, but yelling only made things worse.  This wasn’t quite what he had in mind. 

He reached for her.  Frantic claws ripped into his arm, slashed across his cheek, as she pulled herself to him.   The pain was immediate and searing.  His screaming only made her dig in.  Red globs of blood floated around his head.  His breath came shallow and rapid. 

Then he was angry.

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