The scratching continued for a few minutes and then it slowly subsided. Siris remembered to breathe with effort. He almost wanted to go back to his pod, close the door, and go back to sleep. There was comfort in ignorance, and the knowledge that something with claws waited for him somewhere outside those open doors was almost too much.
After ten or fifteen minutes he slowly approached the doors, his dim LED light poised in front of him like a weapon. He peeked through the gap he’d opened in the doors and saw nothing. He’d half expected red eyes looking at him from the dark like in the cartoons Akil watched. He couldn’t stay in the room indefinitely, but he didn’t feel like going out and getting eaten either so he gripped a door in sweaty hands and tried pulling it closed, but it was far more difficult than it had been forcing them apart. He swore when he dropped his makeshift light and it came apart as it hit the floor.
He heard the various pieces of his battery scatter across the floor. He searched on the dark floor for the pieces, but it was no use. He sat back on his rump and almost lost himself to the sudden depression that came over him. Siris was weak and shaky. He needed food, and water, and probably some sleep nevermind how little sense that made.
He thought of Akil watching those cartoons, his mother cooking dinner in the kitchen and Yunna playing with her toy animals. They were all dead. Long dead. So was his father. For all he knew Earth was gone as well, destroyed in some fireball of their own making. Or perhaps an alien species of some kind had come and annihilated it. What if he was the very last of his kind in the universe?
Anger came to him and gave him an embrace that pushed the sadness to one side. He swore and smashed his fist into the metal door next to his head. It gonged and echoed down the empty corridors.
The creature’s clawing started up again at the noise, but its vigor seemed markedly reduced. It scratched half-heartedly as if Siris’ patheticness had soured its opinion of how good he’d taste. The creature’s pawing slowly died away once again, though much quicker this time.
Siris’ eyes had adjusted somewhat to the increased dark that his light's absence forced and he thought he could see a faint blue haze on the far side of the door. He doubted that the creature would have the ability to create light and not the ability to open doors, so he stood and crept through the gap in the doors.
The light seemed to be coming from the left, so he went that way staying close to the wall. Fifteen feet was all it took for Siris to realize that there was an alcove there, and as he passed into it he stopped. A series of pods stood there, all dark but one.
He felt excitement course through him at the prospect of not having to be alone for the rest of his life. Siris wondered who it was. Maybe the Captain, he hoped. The alcove had all the earmarks of command, and as he passed one of the dark pods he read the inscription at the top.
“Lieutenant Carli Stevenson”
He hoped that the officer was alive and well and had all the knowledge to get them out of this mess.
But it wasn’t a human. It was a dog.
Siris stopped at the front of the pod and peered in. The film, present on all of the glass pods, had been smeared away from the inside by the poor animals' struggles. This had been what had been clawing, he realized, somewhat chagrined.
The dog was dark as night and huge.
Suddenly Siris recalled a conversation his father had had with his mother nineteen-hundred years previous. He’d laughed as he told her about how the Captain had forced the CSM’s hand and had negotiated the passage of his beloved Cane Corso, Cato. It had angered many of the shareholders who had been banned from doing the same for their pets.
Sure enough. “Cato” was written above the pod’s glass window.
Siris looked in through the glass, but the dog seemed to be asleep. He tapped on the glass and Cato flinched, but didn’t open his eyes.
Siris tapped on the pod's display, and looked at the readout of the occupants' vitals. The O2 wasn’t being cycled anymore and the dogs levels were dangerously low. At least he thought they were. He didn’t really know much about dogs.
He’d always wanted one, but his parents had said that pets were a luxury that they couldn’t afford. Siris wasn’t sure what was wrong with the pods, but if he didn’t get Cato out now, the poor thing was going to die.
“Don’t eat me.” He said to the sleeping dog, sure that the massive animal could do just that if he felt so inclined.
Siris searched for a finger hold in the dark and finally found the lip meant for the purpose and pulled. This pod was no different from the other two he’d opened and it took a lot of his dwindling effort to pull the door open. Gaskets cracked and tore free, releasing air into the small chamber, and one more heave and the thing opened fully. Siris was breathing hard but had stopped sweating. That was odd. He thought, as he sank to the floor.
He sat at the base of the dog’s hibernation pod while he caught his breath and looked around the small officer’s alcove. He wondered why they hadn’t been woken upon reaching Ross 128 b. The command staff should have been the first to be brought back from the depths of near death, but maybe they had all already passed away before ever reaching the planet, some unexplained malfunction in the G-38 pod. It was hard to troubleshoot such issues when the test duration was a thousand years.
Siris’ gaze fell on a darkened corner devoid of a sleeping pod. A series of small doors lined the wall there. They looked like they could be lockers. He supposed that that made sense. After waking, the officers first order of business would be to get ready to command the ship. They would likely need things to get them going. Things that Siris needed.
He forced himself to his feet and shuffled over to the corner.
The doors had electronic mag locks that were completely useless in a ship lacking power, so he was able to simply pull them open. He pushed dusty relics to the side until he spotted a vacuum sealed packet. He pulled it free and wiped its surface clean on his coveralls. H2o.
He tore the packet open and tipped it into his mouth. He drank greedily, eyes closed in ecstasy. It was clear that he was dehydrated, made obvious by just how wonderful it felt.
A deep growl came from nearby, and Siris spun.
Cato had woken up, and was standing in front of him, looking about as intimidating as a dog could. His coat was shiny despite the two millennia in hibernation and his eyes nearly glowed in the dark, but that could have been Siris’ imagination.
“Hey…It's okay buddy.” Cato wasn’t pacified by Siris’ soft tone and took a step toward him and growled again. “Cato. I asked you not to eat me. Please don’t” He’d changed his tone to be one a little less obsequious and a little more commanding.
At the sound of his name, Cato’s growl stopped and his head tilted as he gave Siris a second consideration. He didn’t come closer, but his nubby tail didn’t wag either. Siris held up the water and poured some into a cupped palm.
“You probably want some of this, huh?” Siris smiled to try to put the dog at ease.
He knelt and held out his dripping hand. Cato sniffed and thought about it for a minute then chuffed and stepped forward.
“The hand isn’t part of the deal.” Siris rushed to clarify, a little worried that the dog might take his actions as a sacrificial offering. His blood would probably slake Cato’s thirst just as well as the water. But his worries were unfounded.
Cato licked his hand dry and so Siris refilled it. He did this again and again until the rest of the packet was empty. Siris put down the empty water pouch and slowly reached out and pet the dog’s massive head as he continued to lick his left hand.
This was the first time Siris had pet a dog, and he suddenly knew, even more, why people kept dogs. There was something special about it, comforting, and in the darkness, as Cato licked the puddle on the floor dry, Siris scratched behind his new friend's ears and smiled. His smile was genuine now. The first he’d had in nearly two-thousand years.