Orbit saw it first and said so.

“Yeah, okay, that is kinda strange,” said Crash.

“What?” asked Anne.

“The outpost - it’s powered-up. I’m reading a heat signature and I see lights. This planet’s supposed to be pretty empty. No people. Looks like there’s people,” said Crash.

“And?” said Anne.

“I don’t like people when there isn’t supposed to be people,” said Crash.

They crossed the last few hundred meters to the outpost and approached one of the outer doors. The locking mechanism was powered-on and the door showed as unlocked. Crash pressed the button and the door silently slid open, revealing a long corridor, well lit and clean. As they walked inside, the door closed behind them and a green line appeared on the floor showing them the way inside. A quick and firm breeze filled the walkway, as the door closed behind them, clearing out the small amount of dust they’d tracked in. The outpost was in full working order and in “occupied” mode. The non-cat members of the party removed their helmets entirely and collapsed them into their suits.

Following the line, they found themselves facing the door to the outpost’s control room which opened as they approached.

A voice called out from inside. “Greetings, Princess. Please do come inside.”

Crash glanced at Anne, raised an eyebrow and gestured for her to go first. Anne clenched her fists and walked through the door.

“Anne!” said a sour-looking being on a small floating bed, taking a lick and a bite from the slice of coconut cream pie in front of it. “So glad you finally made it!”

“What?” said Anne, visibly surprised, “How did you -“

“Know you’d be here?” interrupted the being, which appeared to be another cat. “Easy. I’m the one who sabotaged Orbit’s ship. I’m the one who degraded the systems so you could hack in and stow away. And I’m the one who knew his human would put down near an outpost. He was forced to chose this one. Thus, so did I.”

The voice came from a tortoise-shell cat on the floating bed that resembled more a small rocket ship than a cat bed.

Crash stood next to Anne and didn’t flinch. He’d presumed his recent mishap had been planned, happening so close to a planet with a breathable atmosphere. The part about making sure Anne would be onboard came as a surprise, but he chose to not let that show. What also surprised him was that the speaker actually existed. Crash had never quite believed Orbit’s tales of the evil Dr. Malfelinus, his rival. The stories were true, he now realized.

Orbit just looked pissed.

“Crash, meet Dr. Malfelinus, former head of security for my father’s administration. So, Doctor, what’s the plan?” asked Anne.

“Simple,” replied Malfelinus, “we wait here for your government to realize you’re gone. They’ll track your ship to this planet, come looking for you, and I will be here to tell them of your untimely demise and how I arrived too late to help. Unfortunately, your bodies were never recovered.”

“So you mean to kill us?” asked Crash.

“No, of course not,” laughed Malfelinus. “You’ll both be coming with me after the drama has played out. You’re much more valuable to me alive.”

“Why?” asked Anne. “Why?” asked Crash, simultaneously. Orbit hissed.

“Oh, now that would be telling,” said Malfelinus with a grin. “Besides, once the bad cat reveals the plan, it never happens. I mean never. I’m not making that mistake again.”

Crash turned to Anne and said, “Apparently the Doctor is an educated cat. Now I know I hate him.