Monday, August 29, 2022

The Odin Chronicles • Episode 23: “The Disappearing Cat Trick” • by Carol Scheina

Tanya’s parents refused to let her get a cat.

No matter how many times Tanya argued that the planet’s environment was fully approved for cats, or that cats had already made their home among the rocks and dust and blue bamboo plants of Odin III, they wouldn’t budge.

Tanya suspected they didn’t want the responsibility of a pet, so she did the next best thing and showered attention on her neighbor’s felines. 

That morning, a gray cat with a notched ear rubbed around her legs. Tanya pulled a bag of freeze-dried protein snacks from her backpack. Galactic provided them to its mining crews, but no one enjoyed eating what tasted like paper pulp with a fishy aftertaste. Tanya always rescued trashed snack bags because, as it turned out, cats adored the taste. The gray gobbled the treat up.

Tanya hadn’t seen the gray before, but he seemed happy to see her. He butted his head into her legs whenever she stopped petting him, begging for more attention. The young girl scratched around the fuzzy chin until her watch buzzed. She really needed to get to school or she’d get a tardy card.

Her skinny ponytail threatened to come undone as her feet pounded the road. She slowed upon reaching the communications office near the school. Strangely, the gray cat was sitting by the office door, licking its paws as though it had been there all along. Yet there was only one road into town, and the cat certainly hadn’t been running alongside her. How’d it get there so fast?

Tanya didn’t have time to ponder that question, as the school warning bell rang. She dashed inside and dropped into her seat as the teacher, Mr. Derrick, launched into long division.

The gray cat had slipped Tanya’s mind until she glanced out the window. The gray and a skinny tuxedo trotted on the deli’s rooftop—then they were gone. She stared until her eyes watered, but the cats hadn’t jumped off or crouched down out of sight. They had just vanished. 


She had to talk to someone about this, and one person in particular came to mind.

*  *  *

After school, Tanya approached a girl with curls exploding from a ponytail and dark eyes rapidly scanning a tablet. Tanya read over a shoulder: “Scientists Develop Time Bubble.” 

“Hey Kira!” Tanya spoke louder than usual to get her friend’s attention. Kira was always lost in the latest scientific theories.

Kira blinked as she looked up. “They were able to keep the time bubble stable for two entire seconds, and no time passed inside the bubble. I wonder how much power would be needed to maintain a stable bubble for an hour?” Kira’s eyes took on the hazy look she got when calculating things. There was a reason she was in the advanced math class at school despite being Tanya’s age. “If it worked, it could solve the time dilation problem! We could stop and start time whenever, and travel places in an eyeblink!”

“Speaking of traveling in an eyeblink, I saw something kinda like that here.” Tanya explained about the cats disappearing, and the gray cat beating her into town.

Kira frowned at Tanya. “What kind of tech could do that?”

The skinny tuxedo cat ran out of the deli with a long string of sausage in its mouth, followed shortly by the angry deli owner. An orange tabby pawed Tanya’s leg and gave a demanding mrowww. She hadn’t even seen it come up.

Cats seemed to be everywhere these days. Tanya couldn’t remember having seen so many on Odin III before. She slipped a treat to the tabby, which snapped it up then mrowwed for more. “Maybe it’s like that old show my parents used to watch where everyone beamed all over the place. Or energized. Or whatever they called it.”

Kira sat up. “Yes! They teleported. We should talk to Daraja.”

Tanya frowned. “Who?”

“You know, the inventor guy who lives way off by himself in the mining caves. He knows everything there is to know about technology. I overheard the priests talking about some sort of alien teleport device he was studying. And if the cats are teleporting, I bet Daraja knows how. Let’s go!”

The old saying was that cats were curious, and so was Tanya. Her parents would be working in the mines until late, so she had no problem joining Kira on this quest.

The tabby mrowwwed a goodbye.

* * *

Daraja’s workshop was in the gray mountains that bordered the town, down a few ladders into a cavern thick with musty air and lit by dim bulbs.

Inside, seven cats prowled and jumped on equipment. Daraja shooed one away, then peered at what looked like a red apple. He glanced up, eyes enlarged by the magnifying contraption he wore. “What are you kids doing down here?” He sneezed. “Are you here for the cats?” Another sneeze. “I’m allergic. Can you take the cats and go?”

Three felines instantly went for Tanya. She gave them all head rubs and treats. “Why are all these cats in here?”

At the same time, Kira blurted out, “Is that the teleport device?”

Daraja ran his fingers through his messy hair and tried to block the apple. “You’re not supposed to know about this.”

Kira rolled her eyes. “Everyone knows about that.”

“The cats certainly know all about it,” Tanya muttered.

Daraja sneezed. “It’s why the cats are here. I dropped the device and now it seems to be opening micro-portals everywhere someone previously teleported. They’re only open for a second, but the cats somehow know just when to walk through.”

Kira nodded. “So that’s how they’re getting around town.”

Daraja turned back to the apple. “I’m almost on the verge of figuring out how I triggered this.”

“How did you trigger it?” Kira leaned over him.

The inventor started to answer, then sneezed. “You kids should go, and take the cats with you.”

Kira stood straight. “I can help! This is so much more my speed than the elementary stuff they teach at school. I’ve been wanting to talk to you about so many theories!”

Daraja stepped back. “I work alone. And this is complicated.”

“Look, I’ve already calculated how much power it would take to hold a time bubble for an hour. I can do complicated.” Kira waved her tablet.

The man snatched the tablet out of her hands. “Interesting… It doesn’t take into account the compounding energy needed but if you…” He shook his head. “Nope. No time. I’ve got to fix the teleporter.” He tossed the tablet back.

“I’ll take the cats if you let her work with you.” Tanya jiggled a snack bag, and several felines ran up. The tuxedo she’d last seen with sausages in its mouth batted her legs, demanding a treat now.

Daraja sneezed three times, then glared at the girls. “I’ve got to fix this now. Come back another time. And please get these cats out of here!”

Tanya shrugged. She’d tried. A promise of a future meeting was something, right?

As they walked out, the inventor called after them, “Bring your tablet with you when you come back. I’ll show you where you went wrong.”

Kira grinned.

A long-haired cat had appeared from nowhere and began staring very intently at a rocky wall. Several other cats stared at the spot as well. Tanya shook the snack bag to get their attention back. Time for her to do her part and get the cats home. How much longer would they be able to teleport? Tanya suspected Daraja would soon figure out that teleporter. No more cats disappearing off the deli roof.

Outside the caves, Kira aimed her eyes at the tablet. “What doesn’t work…” She turned down the path to her home.

“Bye, Kira!” Tanya called.

Kira didn’t look up as she waved goodbye.

The dusty air was cooling and one of the suns setting by the time Tanya reached her neighbor’s home. Not all the cats had followed her, because they were cats, and sometimes not even dried protein snacks will tempt them. Still, she managed to get four cats to the house, and she rewarded them with a treat.

Following a knock on the door, an elderly woman with gray hair in a tight bun appeared. 

“Ma’am, some of your cats were in the caves. I brought them back for you.”

“Oh, thank you, dearie! They keep on exploring further and further away. I worry they won’t find their way back. I suspect they’re bored. An old lady like me can’t always keep them entertained.” The woman’s eyes sparkled. “You look like you know a thing or two about cats. Would you like to come over and play with them when you have free time?”

“Oh, yes, ma’am! Thank you!” Tanya’s heart beat faster.

“Make sure it’s okay with your parents, okay?”

Tanya thanked her neighbor again, then dashed home. She was probably late for dinner, but what a day she had to recount for Mom and Dad. She wouldn’t mention the teleporter, of course, but she’d definitely mention being asked to help with the cats. They couldn’t say no to that!

The gray cat with the notched ear sat near her home’s door. Tanya gave it a few rubs. “I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?”

The cat walked two steps and vanished.



Carol Scheina is a deaf speculative fiction author from the Northern Virginia region. Many of her stories were thought up while sitting in local traffic, resulting in tales that have appeared in Cossmass Infinities, Daily Science Fiction, Escape Pod, and other publications. You can find more of her work at