Litter and Loiter

Courage seemed good in theory, but ignorance was better practice when it saved you from upchucking the remains of a hot dog into your dirty hotel bathroom.

Stupid idea. Stupid food. Stupid planet.

Pushing open the latrine door for the third time, I was greeted by the same familiar sight of my father knocked out cold on the neutron mattress. A slumber he was likely to remain in for the rest of the morning. The jet lag seemed to be hitting him almost as hard as the food had hit me.

If this was how Earth treated all its visitors I was starting to see why it didn't have very many residents.

I slumped down in an arm chair by the window, still trying to soothe an aching stomach. There wasn't much outside to keep my mind preoccupied, just a constant stream of sorter-pickers hurrying past the enclosure. Globs of junk that had been launched out past the atmosphere decades ago had a funny habit of cratering back down in splinters. Turns out one man's trash was another AI's plunder.

There were plenty of curtain displays to cycle through to keep myself ignorant of their busy work. Digitized backdrops streaming livefeeds of the beaches on Mars and the jungles on Titan that lulled you into a false sense of security. Eventually though, I settled for the reality staring me back outside the pane of glass. Better to eat the shit sandwich I was given than to try and slather it in moon paste.

Eugh, probably shouldn't be talking about food right now.

Around the third episode of The Price is Right I decided that fancy hotel living wasn't for me. My stomach had settled down enough that a stroll around the lobby probably wasn't going to be debilitating.

Tiptoeing past my father, I slung a jacket over my shoulders and hit the door's side panel control. An icy chill greeted me almost immediately upon stepping out. The farmer's almanac had claimed it was summer here but all the weather seemed to be screaming winter. Not that you could put much stock in what your senses told you. The air here was... artificial. That probably doesn't mean much coming from someone whose lived in a climate-controlled space station her entire life, but still. Something was decidedly different about this place. And if my experiences with the hot dog vendor were anything to go off of, different was not good. Not by a moonshot.

Stepping out into the light of the hallway hadn't done much to illuminate my sense of time. Even with all the windows set to reality the sky kept itself stuck in a perpetual twilight. Walking to the hotel the previous night had made me rather intimate with Earth's default color aesthetic. The buildings were gray, the sky was gray, even the ground crunching beneath our boots had been gray. Apparently, at some point in time it started becoming too expensive to continue dyeing the synthetic grass.

These weren't surprising discoveries by any stretch. More disappointing, really. As I understood it, at one point in time Luna had been an oblong mass of gray itself. Where that first generation of moon immigrants had seen a canvas to paint on, the last generation of Earthlings had seen a vacuum to suck all the life out with.

And then, just as I was convinced that I'd never see any color again, there was something new to add to the frenzy. Something big, bright, and orange. There, milling about in the distance, was a tiger. A real, purebred tiger. Fangs and claw and stripes and all.

It was everything I could do just to keep my composure at the sight. How a tiger had managed to sneak itself into the hotel lobby, I didn't have a clue. Didn't exactly have much time to ponder on it, either. Not when his nose was twitching at the smell of fresh meat.

While he was busy sizing me up, I was hurriedly calculating my chances for survival. Tigers were a rare sight on Luna. I had only ever seen one in the flesh once, at one of the local zoos. And that was while it was already busy eating flesh itself.

This conclusion prompted the highest possible yelp I could muster for the animal. Screaming was an oft-underused intimidation tactic.

When that didn't work I opted for the more practical tool in my arsenal - running. I bounded back down the hall as fast as I possibly could, a gnash of claws and fangs following me all the way.

I didn't stop until I had slammed the hotel door shut behind me and woken my father from his stupor.


. . .

Our late-afternoon breakfast was a sordid affair.

The dining hall had long since closed for the day by the time father woke up. This left us to go scrounge up some MREs from behind the concierge's desk in the lobby. Well, left my father to. I had no intentions of leaving the hotel room again. Not with a wild animal on the loose.

We huddled over the kitchenette together, eating half-cooked stew. The RF emitter in the rations heater had seemingly gone on the fritz. Truly, we were dining in paradise.

My father shook his head in between bites. "Just like grandma used to make."

I wanted to sympathize with the plight he had suffered as a child, but something told me "Yup, mhm," was a more appropriate response.

He quirked an eyebrow in turn. Evidently, grandma's cooking hadn't been that good. "You feeling alright, Sera? Not still queasy, are you?"

For a moment the thought of explaining the sight of the tiger had crossed my mind. But, only for a moment. The only thing worse than going on a trip with my father was making him think he'd have to baby me the whole way. "Just fine, dad. Never felt better."

"Well, that's good to hear," he admitted with a chuckle, shifting his weight onto the countertop. "I was thinking we could go down to the memorial park after this. They've got a few monuments for the last world war that'd be worthwhile to see."

"Today?" I sputtered. "But- aren't you still tired?"

"Considering I just slept fourteen hours, I don't think I'll be tired again for a long, long time."

"I just, I don't think it's such a good idea to be wandering around outside. There's... some weird stuff out there."

"Oh, I'm sure there is," he said, acknowledging the imminent danger with a cross of his arms. "What do you think we'll run into first?"

The thought crossed my mind again. Would my father really believe that I had seen a tiger? I didn't even fully believe it. "Well, there's contaminants for sure."

"Plenty of them," he conceded glumly. "Although, all the worst have already been sieved out at the point of entry. Besides, we've got the bubble protecting us."

The 'bubble' was an atmospheric supplement. A big, transparent dome that had surrounded the compound ever since the wildfires started threatening the agricultural supply. Dad had me there. "Well, there's still the robots."

"There's robots back home on Luna too, Sera," he countered with another shake of his head. "You were friends with your fair share of the ones at school."

"At least the robots back home don't stand around waiting for junk meteors to go and loot..."

"Oh come on," he responded with a roll of his eyes. "They're doing us a public service. This place would be a landfill without their effort."

I scratched at my chin for a second. "I mean, there's other threats too. Lots of them."

"Lots of what, though?"

It was now or never. "Dad, I... think I saw a tiger."

"A tiger," he repeated. "Here. In our hotel."

"Yes," I confirmed through gritted teeth. "Downstairs in the lobby. I saw it while you were sleeping."

"Well, the concierge didn't mention anything about any tiger attacks while I was down there..."

"Of course he wouldn't! What good would alarming all his guests be?"

My father chewed on the logic for a moment, but found himself coming to a different conclusion. "Hang on... You were aware of this animal the whole time and you didn't even stop me from going down to the lobby to get lunch?"

"I was hungry."

"Right."

He shifted on to his feet then, marched the length of the room.

"Wait! Where are you going?"

"I'm gonna go outside and find your ti-"

There was something waiting for the both of us at the door then. Something big, furry, and hungry.

"Oh Sera," he sighed with a shake of his head. "That's no tiger."

"What is it then?" The strain in my voice threatening to become indignant as I peeked out at the beast from behind the door.

My father smiled gently. "It's a cat."

"A 'cat'...?" I repeated, trying the designation out for myself. "Do they still eat humans?"

"Not typically," he admitted, kneeling down to greet the creature. "Although, this one sure looks hungry enough to."

"Let him have the rest of my food, in that case," I decided with a wave of my hand. All the stress was starting to make me feel sick again.

TBC