Space to Swing a Cat: The Classic Hugo Nominee
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by Stanley Mullen
Category: Science Fiction Hugo Award Nominee
Description: His Co-pilot Was A Humanoid Cat! Nominated for the 1959 Hugo Award. Space pilot Arnold Brook thought he could handle everything. Until he saw his new co-pilot. Brook hated cats, and now he had to work with an intelligent mutated feline! Don't miss this enthralling novelette from Analog/Astounding Science Fiction in 1958. Nominated for the 1959 Hugo Award. A Futures-Past Dwarf-Star Classic Novelette.
eBook Publisher: Renaissance E Books, 2006
eBookwise Release Date: October 2006
17 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [38 KB]
Reading time: 19-26 min.
ABOUT THIS story
Stanley Mullen (1911-73) was a long-time fan of science fiction, fantasy and horror tales. He began selling stories in 1948, in his late 30s and stopped a decade later in 1958 due to health and changing markets, after publishing forty some stories and his only novel, Kinsmen of the Dragon. Doubtless, his most popular story was "Space to Swing a Cat," which appeared in the June 1958 issue of Astounding, and was nominated for the 1959 Hugo Award for best sf short story. Despite his popularity and Hugo nomination, few of his stories were ever reprinted. Not even "Space to Swing a Cat," which must be one of the most neglected Hugo nominees of all time and has appeared only an eBook collection of his work..* * * *SPACE TO SWING A CAT
It was a long, long time ago that Man learned that a horse can run and pull better than he, and that a dog can hunt better. Been quite a while since we've learned anything new...
In space, the big ship and the little ship huddled together. Arnold Brook crawled through the flexible tunnel connecting to the air lock of the tiny spacer. Inside, Brook closed the outer valve and signaled he was coming through. A buzzer sounded, the red blinker went on, and the inner valve clicked, sliding slowly open. Evidently the new fish was already on-ship.
As chief test pilot, Brook had reached the stage of estimating in advance his chances with each new apprentice. His duties included testing new men or surrogates as well as ships. He wondered what the new boy would be like, or would this one be another Pilot Surrogate Number something-or-other? Biolabs had been sending some weirdies lately.
His first sight of Tam, seated arrogantly in the triple-hung pilot's seat playing with the controls, convinced Brook that he was going to have trouble with this one. Tam--P.S. 97C--was a dilly. Becoming instinctively aware of Brook's scrutiny, Tam spun about and transfixed the veteran pilot with a pair of sharply alert yellow-green eyes.
"You're Brook, aren't you? Specialist test-pilot STP 471863H. I've memorized your records."
Brook laughed grimly. "Good. Then you'll know what to expect in the way of a shakedown. I'm tough on apprentices. It keeps them and me alive."
"It has until now," said Tam steadily. "You've never had a fatal accident with an apprentice, have you?"
"And you've never given a Pilot Surrogate any kind of passing grade, either?"
"None so far. Maybe I'm harder to please with freaks."
"Controlled mutants, please."
"Man-made freaks," corrected Brook amiably.
"I won't argue with you. I just want to be sure that we understand one another," Tam went on seriously.
"I'm afraid we do," countered Brook, less amiably. "I didn't ask for this job, you know. It was dumped on me. I don't have to like it, and I don't have to like the material they send me. Human apprentices are bad enough, but I won't settle for any substitutes unless they're better than the original."
"I didn't ask for the job either," Tam stated fairly. "I can do the work, but I doubt if I will when people feel about me ... about us, the way you seem to."
"I could be clearer."
Tam stroked a whisker with a beautifully formed finger. "Go ahead," he prodded. "I'm curious. What do you really think of us?"
Brook was irritated or he would never have said it. "I think you're a bunch of stinking animals. I'm just the cage-sweeper in a zoo."
"Unfortunately," muttered Tam, "the olfactory senses of other animals is more sensitive than in humans. And the stench of man has been an offense in our nostrils ever since the gray apes descended from trees."
Brook had the grace to laugh, which eased the tension slightly.
"I apologize for my rudeness," Brook said awkwardly. "I should not have said what I did. And don't let it worry you as far as the test is concerned. You'll get a fair test."
"But you really don't like me?" persisted Tam.
"Let's say I don't like cats. Now that we've settled the relationship between man and the noble beasts which may or may not be his friends, shall we get to work?"
"Whenever you say," agreed Tam eagerly.
"Right. The first thing you have to do is relax. You may as well climb out of that seat and take it easy. Sleep if you can. They'll drop us off in seven hours--2300 Earth Arbitrary Time--and then you'll take over and run course. And remember, nothing is ever as bad as you feared, or as good as you hoped. You'll never run into anything in normal space-piloting as bad as the measured course. Most work in space is eternal boredom or screaming and continuous emergency. Anybody can stand boredom, so all you'll get in the test is emergency."
"Nothing is ever as bad as you feared, or as good as you hoped," Tam repeated aloud. "That's an awfully gray view of existence."
"Is it? I suppose you prefer bright colors."
Tam laughed. "With me, bright colors are standard equipment."
Tam yawned tigerishly, exposing savage fangs. His peach-fuzzed skin rippled smoothly as he flexed magnificent muscles getting out of the pilot's chair, which was actually more of a cage.
Out of the cage-seat, standing on hind legs, Tam stood taller than a man. His build suggested that he could walk erect or go as a quadruped with equal ease. He walked with pride, seemed alert and intelligent, not given to wasted thought of movement. In him was a natural pride of being which showed in his poise and a catlike grace and sureness of movement. He slipped down the trapeze bars of the ship's framing with the skill and agility of a veteran spaceman. Cat of the catwalks, thought Brook irritably. He looks like a tiger left too long in the rain, bright colors just starting to run together on the fine fur of his coat.
Tam was a cat. A tiger, to be strictly accurate.
In his profession, Brook had expected to catch a few tigers by the tail but not so literally. Deep space is no place for such strenuous exercise. But science must be served, and the Biolabs were serving their science in pretty big platefuls. Tam was a new-model tiger, and even a tame tiger can be a husky handful in space. Biolabs might be, but Brook was not too sure that Tam was tame. The space-testing course would give him an excellent opportunity to find out...