Crashed was exactly the right word. One second he was in the lab, surrounded by anxious, hard-working faces, then it was like he had collided with London traffic after drinking mojitos. He was not sure if his spacesuit had helped in the end, but it certainly weighed him down.
But Ben was still alive, lying on warm sand. Was this what happened to the other five? Or was he the only one who had survived the journey?
He lifted his head, noticing the sand was a bruised shade of purple, and that the only noise was a crackling he associated with Christmas.
In front of him was a small group of mammals in a circle around what was surely a fire. Ben tried to stand, and managed only to scrape forward on his elbows. He pushed himself towards the flames, leaving a long divot in the sand behind him.
Then he saw what kind of animals they were.
Cats. Eighteen of them. Sixteen in lines of four, two out front near the fire. All of them facing towards the burning logs.
He dragged himself closer. On the other side of the fire was a woman. Golden hair flowed down her waist, blending into a white dress. She held a book in his hand, and read aloud in a foreign tongue. She looked Ben in the eye, and paused her finger on of the page.
‘Ah, another one.’
A few of the cats in the back rows glanced at Ben. The suit dragged him down like an anchor. Again he tried to get up, again he managed little more than a worm reaching for the sun.
‘It’s alright, I promise,’ The woman said. 'You get used to it. There’s no way back. You just have to get used to it.’
The two cats near the first pressed their noses together, as if kissing. There was a chorus of delighted meowing. The woman continued.
'You see, round here, they like you to get involved. There’s lots to do. After all, out here, we even marry the cats.’
She returned to her speech, the words long and thick like German. The two cats at the front nuzzled. Ben spotted the tiny tops hats, the fascinators, the bridal gown. And that next to the fire were spacesuits, identical except for the number engraved on their shoulders, empty like shells on the seashore.