(c) Translated from Russian by Cloud Ring
(c) Full story is authored by Leonid Kaganov.

A Predator's Epic

It was as if nothing happened. The ceiling of the compartment was brightly lit, and a soothingly swirling galaxy was displayed on the window screen. It was lavender, harmless. The same constellations slowly circled around. A distant siren wailed mournfully.

“Are mammoths dragons?” Glaya murmured again.

“I'm sorry?” I woke up and tore my gaze away from the starry speckles.

“Giant extinct reptiles. He read an epic.”

“You read an epic,” I corrected her. “You should use the first person. Also, you are a female creature! Express yourself correctly!”

“Don't get upset,” Glaya said. “Everything will be okay.”

I felt ashamed. Glaya knew English perfectly well. When the mechanic brought her on board in a wicker basket, she only purred “sun” and “good day.” She referred to herself in the third person as “fluffy.” She explained herself with gestures, comically waved her chubby paws. She learned English on the first day of the flight. She sat motionless with her tablet in the cabin, not even going out to eat — the mechanic and I brought food in a bowl. These aliens are terribly talented. Now Glaya curled up in a ball on the cold plastic of the medical table and looked at me with big eyes. A mouse the size of a spaniel. A cat with a raccoon coloring. Huge eyes. Solid chestnut pupils, no whites. How can she not be cold? I'm freezing even in a telax suit. Well, she has fur. The warmest fur in the world.

“It's convenient for me to talk about myself in the masculine gender,” Glaya murmured. “Because humans are of the masculine gender. And reason is masculine. Therefore, everything that reason does must be of masculine gender. I am Glaya of the Yuta genus from the planet Yuta. I studied your epic. You have a very small epic, only a few thousand years old. He who is fluffy can learn it in a day.”

Glaya thoughtfully buried her snout in her paws. I turned away. Stars floated slowly on the screen, disgusting, cold. I wanted to close my eyes, but then the space would be filled with the sound of a siren, hopeless, like a toothache.

“How old are you?” I asked softly, just to break the mournful howl.

“In your calculation...” Glaya paused, her fluffy tail twirled around the leg of the table. “Chronologically, I'm six Earth years old. Socially, about seventeen.”

“You're a minor?”

“He is very young. But if he returned from Earth, learned the language and the epic, he could become an adult.”

Glaya folded her velvety ears like two umbrellas. They disappeared into the waves of gray fur. This must signify some emotion. Folded ears -- were they a sign of despair? Sadness? Or was the siren also weighing on her mind? What could be more foolish than a siren trying to announce something that has been known for a day already?

“You didn't answer,” Glaya unfolded her ears again. “Are dragons mammoths?”

“No. Mammoths were like elephants,” I explained. “Huge hairy animals. Ancient people wiped them out.”

“Why did they wipe them out?” Glaya looked at me with huge eyes.

“Ancient people were foolish,” I looked away. “They wanted to eat.”

“He forgot. You're carnivores,” Glaya looked thoughtfully at the autoclave in the corner.

“Dragons are mythical creatures, like giant reptiles,” I continued. “There were real giant reptiles, but they became extinct millions of years before humans appeared. Nobody knows why. And there were no real dragons.”

Suddenly, I realized that I was talking to her like a child. But she wasn't a child...

“That's very confusing,” Glaya said.

Or maybe she was one. I'm not a xenopsychologist. I'm a ship's surgeon on an ordinary human ship. Her tail waved in the air again. Huge, white with black stripes.

“Listen,” I swallowed, “what if that damn siren... It means that many emergency systems are working! Maybe we're worrying for nothing, the distress signal has been on for a long time—”

Glaya softly plopped down from the table onto all fours, and in the next moment, she was already sitting next to my chair.

“Don't. We decided not to talk about it for now, remember? We'll tell each other stories about dragons, okay?”

Still, a child after all.

“But if they don't find us in twelve hours...”

“No,” Glaya placed a warm paw on my knee. “If talking won't change anything, why talk?”

“No reason,” I agreed and stroked her back.

Her fur was amazingly silky. There is no such fur among our animals. It's nice to sit next to her. Just sit and watch as the lilac galaxy cuts circles one after another.

“Three million years ago,” Glaya began, “dragons lived everywhere among us too. They attacked, but our ancestors built stoppings. Is there such a word as 'stoppings'? Then the yutas multiplied, and now the dragons only live in reserves. They are not intelligent, but they often talk in epic sayings.”

“I heard that your race is very ancient,” I remembered.

“The first epic is more than two million years old,” murmured Glaya.

“You could be the first in the galaxy.”

“We are the first.”

“I mean, the first conquerors of space. You are so smart.”

Glaya turned her muzzle to me and looked up from below. Chestnut eyes. Tiny black nostrils. Graceful whiskers. And huge velvet ears.

“You're smart too,” said Glaya. “I'll tell you one of our old epics, and you'll understand everything.”

“A fairy tale?” I got up from my chair and sat on the floor next to her.

“Yes, a fairy tale. We have similar stories,” said Glaya. “About dragons, princesses, and knights.”

“Our races are generally similar,” I nodded. “Carbon-based, oxygen-breathing organisms, even the cells are almost identical. There is a hypothesis that we are one form of life brought to our planets from space. And metabolism. After all, you asked for headache drops, and we went to the compartment when—”

“We need to stop here,” Glaya demanded, tapping her paw on my knee. “Listen, I'm telling a fairy tale. I'll try to translate it literally. This story should be told for half a day, but I'll only tell the plot. Once upon a time, there lived a princess in the village of N—”

“In a castle, then. Princesses don't live in villages. A princess is the daughter of an elite family. Or do you have no differences too?”

“There are, of course. That's the point — the princess was born very beautiful. She had a white furry belly, a very fluffy back, and the longest tail in the area. She had velvet ears and beautiful eyes. She was very smart. She knew many epics from an early age. The suitors of the settlement loved her very much. It was terribly pleasant to mate with her.”

“You can't do that in fairy tales. Mating is taboo. Well, I mean—”

“I know the taboo, I studied your oceanic epic. Okay, I'll censor it. One summer day, the princess went out of the fence into dense pine needles.”

“The woods?”

“Yes, dense pine woods. From a secure enclosure. Suddenly, a dragon jumped out of the pine needles, grabbed the princess, flew into the air, and carried her off to a mountain nest. The settlement's inhabitants decided she was dead. But the ugliest suitor set out to find her. He walked without rest for many days and nights. Grass, trees, streams, and birds fed him, warmed him, and showed him the way. Finally, he climbed the mountain and at night arrived at the dragon's nest. The dragon was asleep, and the princess was locked in a stone dungeon. But he found a crack, called out to the princess, and she heard him. He was close by, and they talked about everything in the world, for all night long.”

Glaya fell silent and looked at me.

“Go on, I'm listening,” I said.

“That's it.”

“What? The end of the story?”

“Yes.”

“And what's the point?”

“She wasn't afraid anymore.”

“He didn't defeat the dragon, didn't open the dungeon?”

“For our story, it's not crucial. Maybe he won, maybe he didn't. Maybe he couldn't open the dungeon. Maybe the dragon ate them both in the morning. Or the dragon ate the princess, and he hid. But the princess knew that someone was nearby. She wasn't afraid anymore. He came to be together. After all, that's the most important thing — to be together until the very end.”

“Idiocy,” I said, got up from the floor, and sat in the chair.

“Of course, the tale is very ancient,” Glaya nodded. “But why idiocy?”

“Well, in fairy tales, it's supposed to be good triumphing.”

“But don't you remember that yutas are not predators?” She turned her muzzle. “Where did the idea of victory come from in our epic?”

“So, the idea of defeat?”

“Stories of defeat don't belong to our culture. Celebrating sacrifice is also the epic of predators. And we have the idea of help.”

“The idea of surrendering!”

“No.”

“Glaya, do you know that your fur is considered the most valuable in the galaxy?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know that just five years ago poachers would descend on Yuta and shoot your kin? And that humans and bandits from other planets would secretly fly in to hunt? Is that normal?”

“It's not normal. There were only five hundred incidents, then we installed a system of traps and now it doesn't happen anymore. Poachers are deported before they even set foot on the planet.” she replied, keeping eye contact; she believed that.

“Is it normal that the killers are not punished?” I asked, expecting her to lose her ground.

“Dead pelts won't bring back the lost yutas. What's the point of punishment?”

I couldn't find anything to say, and just angrily slapped my hands on the armrests of my chair.

“I'll try to explain,” said Glaya. “Imagine a mountain avalanche burying mountaineers. You wouldn't seek revenge on the avalanche, would you?”

“Idiocy,” I muttered. “Non-resistance to evil.”

“Why non-resistance? Our epics have many tales in which yutas prevent a dragon from killing their friends. They're just not heroes, so they act rationally, together. A lone hero only appears in the epic of a predator.”

“Why?”

“Because a hero is not someone who is stronger than enemies. A hero is someone who is stronger than his own. There should be no equals for him in what he does, so predator heroes act alone. In our tales, there are usually no heroes or enemies. But I wanted to tell you this particular tale so that you could compare it to your epic.”

“I see,” I smirked. “To show me how bad our tales are and how good yours are?”

“How amazing,” murmured Glaya, rubbing her velvet ear against my knee, turning around, and looking me in the eye. “You turn every conversation into a fight. Do you seriously think I want to insult your epic and praise mine?”

“Sorry,” I stammered.

“Sorry...” repeated Glaya thoughtfully. “This word was the hardest for me to learn. There is no word 'sorry' in our language.”

“How do you ask for forgiveness then?”

“We don't ask for forgiveness. We have the word 'schyuits' — a delusion, a mistake. You can say to the interlocutor 'my words were schyuits.' But there's no need to demonstrate a lack of aggression and ask not to be punished for the offense, you understand?”

“So you can insult each other, but it never occurs to you to apologize?!”

“We don't know how to insult,” Glaya stretched. “If the words turn out to be unpleasant, it's not aggression. Perhaps it's schyuits. Or maybe it's an unpleasant truth. Do you understand? We don't have the words 'equality,' 'humility,' 'retribution,' and 'good.' Nobody strives to get to a better place than others. Nobody strives at all. Do you understand? And it's different for you. Wars, Olympic games, economic competition, career growth, scientific disputes. Strong and weak, apology and insult, crime and punishment, subordination and leadership, betrayal and revenge. You have a funny greeting custom — touching the open palm to show there is no weapon. Or the custom of clinking glasses, so that the drinks spill over the edges, and it's clear that there is no poison. You have money. You have crime, and you fight it. It's not just on Earth, it's the psychology of any predator civilization. And it's very interesting, isn't it? I'm very interested in your culture, and you're interested in ours, right?”

“I am.. But I don't understand you.”

“Well, I don't understand everything either,” Glaya stretched. “You've abolished the death penalty.”

“What's not to understand about that?” I suspiciously stared at Glaya.

“He who is fluffy studied different epics. He was on Volgl. They recently abolished eating the male after mating–”

“What?!” I was amazed, “You were on Volgl? With wild spiders?”

“They're not wild, they're intelligent. Their instincts have long been constrained by social norms, there's little danger for travelers,” Glaya froze and licked her right paw. “He– I studied their epic, there are dragons too. Do you want me to tell you ‘Tretanien’? It's the main epic of the richest ruling family. The epic of the First Birth.”

“Well, go on,” I sat down on the floor again and leaned against Glaya.

“At the dawn of the world, knightess Tretanien went to fight a dragon. The armored dragon was so powerful that it covered the entire sky for seven days' journey ahead.”

“The dragon didn’t steal the princess? She went to fight the dragon, just like that?” I clarified just in case.

“Why? Spiders of Volgl are solitary predators, trading deeds for help and revenge for aggression is not their custom.”

“What?”

“Deed trading. When one helps in exchange for help and retaliates for aggression. For spiders, attacking an enemy doesn't require a reason. Do you understand?”

“I think so.”

“Knightess Tretanien walked for many days, and a mountain stood in her path. ‘Get out of the way!’ Tretanien shouted and bit the mountain. But the mountain didn't budge. Tretanien became indescribably angry. With blows from her powerful chelicerae, she scattered the mountain, and a pit formed in its place. Tretanien defecated in the pit and went on.”

“A stupid tale already”.

“No, just an exaggeration. Of course, a spider cannot scatter a mountain, especially since they're smaller than me.”

“Why scatter the mountain?”

“Well, the mountain stood in her way. The mountain was an enemy. Enemies must be defeated, destroyed, and humiliated. Imagine that the mountain is a living monster, then Tretanien's behavior would be logical from a human perspective.”

“Humans don't fight against non-living nature!” I said.

“Humans aren't extremely predatory,” objected Glaya. “But there is also a struggle with non-living nature in your epic.”

“Give me an example, please,” I said, offended.

“An example...” Glaya raised her furry paw and scratched her ear just like a cat would. “Conquering the Wild Wild West--'"

“Where is that from?” I asked, suspicious.

“No, not that,” purred Glaya. “Here's a good example: a storm scattered the fleet of King Xerxes, and he decided to punish the sea. He ordered the sea to be whipped. It's an epic from ancient Greece.”

“Sorry, I'm not familiar with it,” I frowned. “Probably a very old epic? It still sounds stupid anyway!”

‘Here is a relatively new epic, “And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, 'May no fruit ever come from you again!’ And the fig tree withered at once.”’

“A poor example!” I protested. “This is just agriculture. Selection.”

“May I continue the story? Tretanien continued on her journey, but the way was blocked by a field of floia. Floia is a poisonous, prickly plant with thick woody stems, it grows like a solid wall.” Glaya paused, “You do imagine it, right? Then Tretanien shouted, 'Open up, floia!' but floia only rustled and stood even tighter. Tretanien became extremely angry. She began to bite off the stems one by one and rape them.”

“What did she do?” I asked, surprised.

“Forced them into sexual relations. In the epic of predators, it is often used as a form of aggression and victory. For example, with humans, when--"

“How can you rape a field of poisonous plants?”

“I don't really know either,” Glaya pondered. “But that's what the epic says. Probably in a metaphorical sense. When the field was done with, Tretanien continued on. A lake blocked her way.”

“I can see what happened next,” I nodded. “She shouted to the lake, 'step aside', but the lake did not listen, so she became furious, drank the lake, defecated in the pit, violated it in some other way...”

“No,” said Glaya. “In the spider epic, water is not an enemy. We explain this by the fact that there is little water on the Volgl, so it is valued. But I think it's because water has no form. It's hard to explain, but I think for spiders the appearance of an enemy is more important than anything else. Tretanien saw a cranked mollusk grazing on the shore. She jumped on its back and ordered it to take her to the other shore. Trembling with fear, the mollusk carried her across. Tretanien tore open its belly, ate its heart, and continued on her way.”

“Such a gratitude...” I snorted.

“Gratitude is typical for herd predator cultures,” Glaya nodded. “Spiders don't trade deeds.”

“Wait, do you also have no gratitude?”

“We don't have it either. Do you need a reason for a helpful act? It was difficult for me to understand this. And for you, it's probably very difficult? Besides, the mollusk is prey, it's stupid to let food go to waste. Imagine if you used canned food to beat a part into a fastening nest, you would eat it after that, not release it into space, right?”

“But the can isn't alive!”

“We've already discussed this. Predators don't always differentiate between a living and non-living enemy. Tretanien moved on and arrived at the lair of the armored dragon. The dragon was terrifying. I'll skip the details. The battle began, which is the longest and most detailed part of the epic. Skipping it, too. Finally, the giant dragon was defeated. Tretanien raped him, then tore him apart and ate him. Soon she laid eggs from him.”

“From the dragon?!”

“But humans in some epics trace their lineage back to animals, don't they? Of course, from a genetic standpoint--"

“Forget genetics! Will she have children from the enemy?!”

“Perfectly reasonable behavior for solitary predators: a strong enemy is a strong gene pool. I’m more confused by the different issue – so, the dragon was male? But that doesn’t work exactly, as spiders don't consider victory over the weaker sex heroic. When you ask them to explain this part of the epic, they become aggressive.” Glaya paused and thoughtfully licked her right paw. “So Tretanien laid her clutch, and five hundred and eleven daughters were born to her. In the original, it's seven hundred and seventy-seven, they have an octal numeral system. Then Tretanien threw herself on her back, tore her body into five hundred and eleven pieces, and died. And the daughters spread across the world and gave rise to the powerful Tretanien clan. The end of the story.”

“Impressive,” I nodded, “but why tear yourself apart?”

“And you liked this epic more than Yutan one,” Glaya murmured, thoughtful.

“So why tear yourself apart?” I repeated.

“Sacrificial death,” explained Glaya. “It inevitably appears in the epic of all advanced predators. As the flip side of the coin. The head side is external aggression, retribution against the enemy. Physical victory or a more complex social victory such as revenge, exposure, shame. And the tail side is aggression directed inward. Sacrificial death is victory over oneself, over life and death.”

“What do you mean?” I didn't understand.

“The epic that glorifies the beauty of death. When a predator destroys enemies while also perishing themselves. They detonate their weapons, drop shared transport into the abyss, lead a foreign army into a gorge and cover their tracks. In a more advanced scenario, a predator accepts a torturous death for their idea. For example, in the relatively new human epic--"

“Shut up!” I snapped and slammed my fist on the floor, causing the autoclave locks to rattle.

Glaya fell silent and thoughtfully scratched her ear. Silence fell, and in the silence, a mournful siren emerged once again.

“Sorry,” I said, coughing. “That was schyuits.”

“So,” Glaya said, “we were talking about Tretanien. The founder of a strong lineage should have no equals in the world. Therefore, she cannot accept death from enemies, old age, or illness, right? She can only accept a torturous death from herself, in the name of the lineage. Her daughters consume her flesh and her blood, and then crawl their separate ways in the world, satiated. The spider epic is very logical.”

I fell silent, and then finally asked, “Glaya, what do you think, is the epic of humans more like the epic of spiders or of yutas?”

“It's hard to compare,” Glaya paused for a moment. “Somewhere in between, but separate. You are moderately aggressive pack predators who build all relationships on trade. The classic epic of earthlings is a chain of trading actions. The dragon kidnaps the princess and the knight sets off alone to punish him for it. On the way, he avenges those who aggress against him and buys himself help. 'Don't shoot me, I may still be useful to you.' In the end, he fights the dragon, who is stronger than him. He defeats the dragon. He frees the princess, and she becomes his partner in marriage. In general, solving one's sexual issues is an important stimulus for many heroic deeds on Earth. And then the knight returns to his tribe and becomes the king, because he bought himself the right to power, proving that he is stronger than all others.”

I got up from the chair, walked over to the autoclave, leaned on it with my hand and turned around.

“Listen, you little yuta, doesn't it seem to you—”

“Don't be offended,” interrupted Glaya. “Your race is wonderful and very intelligent, your culture is developing quickly, so over time you will outlive your predatory instincts. Start with yourself. Stop getting offended. Stop competing. Stop winning and trading.”

“No, you stop right there!” I shouted. “Enough! I don't want to talk about the epic anymore! I want to look into our situation again.”

“As you wish.”

Glaya sighed, jumped onto the medical table, and lay down, resting her muzzle on her paws. She looked even more fluffy than before, and I realized that she was also cold. I approached the screen. My throat tightened, my eyes stung, and tears flowed down my cheeks. The stars blurred and shone with radiant spots. The siren wailed.

I stood turned away from Glaya for a long time, pretended to be contemplatively looking at the galaxy. My eyes didn't dry up. Then I pulled up a chair to the screen, picked up the tablet from the floor, reset the space overview, and requested the resource map. A diagram of the ship appeared on the screen. It was a fast passenger ship for medium-range flights with an external reactor. A flattened sphere of a residential hull, and a thin mast stretching for one hundred and forty meters from it, inside which was a transport corridor. The mast ends with the reactor funnel. At the point where the funnel begins, there is a small ring of distant auxiliary rooms.

I didn't hurry to go there, first zooming in on the ship itself. Eight decks. Three cargo decks, then three passenger decks. Above them, a dining room, serving as a gaming deck and a bar. The last deck, the garages of service robots, crew cabins, and the pilots' cabin. Everything was roughly sketched with gray dotted lines. None of that existed anymore. I touched the tablet and moved the image further and further. The mast began. I enlarged the image and guided it along the mast. Approximately in the middle, the dotted line finally changed to different colors. I magnified it. The image was schematic, probably taken by a micro-robot from a shuttle. The hollow pipe of the mast was as if turned inside out, like the petals of an orchid, ragged strips of sheathing protruded in all directions.

“I think,” Glaya said behind me. “It was in the lower cargo. What were they carrying?”

“The hell I know!” I snapped. “I’m just a medic! How would I know?”

“Do you still think it's terrorists?”

“I don't think anything anymore!” I yelled. “Maybe it's your spiders from Volgl! Maybe an assassin went for a passenger! Maybe some dumbass checked in an industrial capacitor in their luggage, and some dumbass customs officer let it through! And some dumbass service drone unpacked it and disconnected the circuit! What difference does it make to us?”

I slammed my tablet and brought up the life support diagram on the screen. As before, only two lights were flashing. There were no living beings in the surrounding space, only my communicator on my wrist and Glaya's earpiece were signaling.

“You have a crazy pulse,” Glaya sighed and jumped off the table. “Just lie down and rest.”

The trash had managed to read the numbers. I reset the life support diagram and rushed through the technological corridor to the thickening before the funnel. Auxiliary rooms. A warehouse of repair tools for the reactor. There it was, in the corridor wall, the emergency escape pod door. Right opposite, across the corridor, was the door to the medical compartment.

Health officials who had never flown beyond resort planets were scared by unknown space infections. They ordered medical compartments to be brought into quarantine zones, almost to the reactor itself, and sealed to the highest level. As if the infected person wouldn't have time to infect everyone else in the dining room! And as if there was an infection that couldn't be handled by an active protein from any standard pharmacy! But now the living quarters are scattered with fine dust in space, along with seven crew members, as well as two hundred and eight passengers -- humans, adonts, and maybe even yutas.

Vacuum was all that remained there. We were locked in a compartment. Me and this little animal that begged to fly to Earth with the crew.

All we have is ten hours' worth of oxygen. And cold. And a connection to the escape pod's computer. An excellent, nimble and fast escape pod that we can't reach because behind the door is a vacuum. Fading hope that help will come. Where will it come from? The silent cosmos, medications, and a universal autoclave. Plus something else she doesn't know about. I shouldn’t think about it: it is one, and there are two of us.

“Listen,” Glaya said. “What if you put me to sleep?”

“What?!” I said, startled.

“If you put the fluffy to sleep, you will have enough oxygen for a long time,” the striped tail crawled thoughtfully along the floor.

“Stop it!” I barked.

“Just tell me, how would you put me to sleep? As a medic, have you done that before?”

“I’ve had, yes. There were not enough places in the hospital, and three students from our course had an internship in a veterinary clinic.”

“Tell me, please, how would you put animals to sleep?” There was a lively curiosity in Glaya's voice, sparks shone in her huge eyes.

“You really want to know, huh?” I shoved my frozen hands into the pockets of my jumpsuit and walked around the compartment. “I would wait until you fall asleep. I would put cotton soaked in ether to your nose. I would inject deep anesthesia. I would take a syringe with a thick needle, filled with ammonia. I would pierce your chest between the ribs and inject ammonia into the lungs. It causes instant tissue necrosis. Quick, painless death. This is how dogs and cats were euthanized at the beginning of the twenty-first century.”

Glaya stared at me, slightly tilting her head. Ears hung like velvet mugs in sad acceptance. “The skin will not turn bad from the needle?” she asked. “Will you stuff a good scarecrow?

I said nothing.

“Promise me,” Glaya said. “that you won’t leave me. That you’ll stuff a good scarecrow. My fur is very valuable.”

“I promise,” I muttered.

Glaya paused, crawling her tail across the floor.

I looked at her carefully, and then burst out laughing, “This creature told me that I was a predator, and in your culture there are neither heroic deeds nor sacrificial death?“

“He who is fluffy didn’t learn English well.” Glaya said slowly, the tail passed over the floor and froze. “He didn't know you can use ‘to put to sleep’ like that.”

With all my strength, I bit my lip, covered my face with my hands, and fell into the chair. I was shaking. I felt Glaya sit down next to me and lean against me. I felt her warmth. She was saying something, trying to calm me down. Finally, I felt my strength leaving me, and a heavy sleep overtook me, visions flooding in from all sides.

I slid off the chair and lay on the floor. Glaya curled up next to me.

“You're not going to abandon the fluffy one, are you?” she murmured sleepily.

“No, of course not,” I replied.

I woke up from the cold. I got up and looked at the sleeping Glaya. I opened the safe with the medicine, took out cotton wool and ether. I wet the cotton wool and placed it next to her nose. She sighed heavily, and I was afraid she would wake up. She didn't. I looked for anesthesia for a very long time, but I found ammonia quickly. The syringe did not enter the lungs immediately – my hands were shaking in panic, and the needle was hitting the ribs. I opened the wall cabinet and put on a biohazard spacesuit. It didn't shield from radiation, but it had movement amplifiers. Who knows, if it weren't for the amplifiers, maybe we could have squeezed in there together? I turned off the external sound transmission. The siren died down, but the silence was even more frightening. I found a plastic bag and put Glaya's carcass in it. I picked up the tablet from the floor and entered a command. The heavy door of the compartment trembled and moved aside. A gust of wind rocked me and threw me forward, I fell on the threshold, but did not release the bag. I got up, stepped over the corridor, and struggled with the levers for a long time, tearing off the emergency seals. Finally, the door of the lifeboat opened, and I climbed inside. When the pressure was equalized, I took off the suit, sat in the pilot's seat, and put my hands on the controls.

I placed the stuffed animal in my country house near Cleveland. Glaya sat on her hind legs and seemed alive and healthy, except for the dull glass eyes that no longer sparkled. I lasted a week, and then moved the stuffed animal to the attic. When I looked in there a couple of years later, I saw how it had been hopelessly ruined by mice.

* * *

“You're not going to abandon the fluffy one, are you?” she murmured sleepily.

“No, of course not,” I replied.

I woke up from the cold and for a long time tried to recover from a nightmare. I got up, looked at the sleeping Glaya and shook her. She blinked sleepily.

“Glaya, I have a spacesuit. You will try to climb into it and get to the lifeboat.”

“Where?” Glaya asked and shook her head.

“In the closet. Doesn't matter. There is one.”

“And you?” Glaya asked.

“Forget about me. And don't you dare argue! It's decided.”

“Heroism and sacrifice,” Glaya purred, and rolled over onto her other side. “Stop being stupid, let's go to sleep. You're not going to abandon the fluffy one, are you?”

“No, of course not,” I replied.

I sat down in an armchair, turned on external observation and began to watch how the lilac galaxy cuts endless circles. When Glaya fell asleep, I went to the closet, took out cotton wool, ether and syringes. I did everything that I ought to do, went to the autoclave, opened the heavy door and put a small cooling carcass inside. Through the fur, she felt tiny. I closed the door and set the remote to the cremation mode. When the crimson fire went out in the autoclave chamber, I unfastened the latches and threw open the door to let the ashes disperse into space. The sealed door swung open with a heavy bang. The hot smell of burnt wool filled the air. I put on a space suit, unlocked the door, and got into the boat.

* * *

“You're not going to abandon the fluffy one, are you?” she murmured sleepily.

“No, of course not,” I replied.

I woke up from the cold. I got up and looked at the sleeping Glaya. I opened the safe with the medicine, took out cotton wool and ether. I wet the cotton wool and placed it next to her nose. She sighed heavily, and I was afraid she would wake up. She didn't. Her breathing became almost imperceptible. I put on the biohazard spacesuit. I walked over to the autoclave, opened the door, and carefully placed Glaya inside. I closed the door and manually locked the airtight latches. I wrapped my arms around the autoclave and tensed, feeling the suit muscles hum and vibrate. Finally, the supports trembled and crawled out of the floor, cutting through the plastic. I broke them off, grabbed the bulky cylinder under my arm, opened the door and rushed to the boat. It will hold. I can do it in two minutes. She won't suffocate.

(c)translated by Cloud Ring
(c)Leonid Kaganov

 


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