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Pilot, navigator, engineer, doctor, scientist—ship's cat? All are essential to the well-staffed space vessel. Since the early days of interstellar travel, when Tuxedo Thomas, a Maine coon cat, showed what a cat could do for a ship and its crew, the so-called Barque Cats have become highly prized crew members. Thomas's carefully bred progeny, ably assisted by humans—Cat Persons—with whom they share a deep and loving bond, now travel the galaxy, responsible for keeping spacecraft free of vermin, for alerting human crews to potential environmental hazards, and for acting as morale officers.

Even among Barque Cats, Chessie is something special. Her pedigree, skills, and intelligence, as well as the close rapport she has with her human, Janina, make her the most valuable crew member aboard the Molly Daise. And the litter of kittens in her belly only adds to her value.

Then the unthinkable happens. Chessie is kidnapped—er, catnapped—from Dr. Jared Vlast's vet clinic at Hood Station by a grizzled spacer named Carl Poindexter. But Chessie's newborn kittens turn out to be even more extraordinary than their mother. For while Chessie's connection to Janina is close and intuitive, the bond that the kitten Chester forms with Carl's son, Jubal, is downright telepathic. And when Chester is sent into space to learn his trade, neither he nor Jubal will rest until they're reunited.

    But the announcement of a widespread epidemic affecting livestock on numerous planets throws their future into doubt. Suddenly the galactic government announces a plan to impound and possibly destroy all exposed animals. Not even the Barque Cats will be spared.

    With the clock racing against them, Janina, Jubal, Dr. Vlast, and a handful of very special kittens will join forces with the mysterious Pshaw-Ra—an alien-looking cat with a hidden agenda—to save the Barque Cats, other animals, and quite possibly the universe as they know it from total destruction.

256 pages, Hardcover

First published December 15, 2009

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About the author

Anne McCaffrey

580 books7,093 followers
Anne McCaffrey was born on April 1st, 1926, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Her parents were George Herbert McCaffrey, BA, MA PhD (Harvard), Colonel USA Army (retired), and Anne Dorothy McElroy McCaffrey, estate agent. She had two brothers: Hugh McCaffrey (deceased 1988), Major US Army, and Kevin Richard McCaffrey, still living.

Anne was educated at Stuart Hall in Staunton Virginia, Montclair High School in Montclair, New Jersey, and graduated cum laude from Radcliffe College, majoring in Slavonic Languages and Literatures.

Her working career included Liberty Music Shops and Helena Rubinstein (1947-1952). She married in 1950 and had three children: Alec Anthony, b. 1952, Todd, b.1956, and Georgeanne, b.1959.

Anne McCaffrey’s first story was published by Sam Moskowitz in Science Fiction + Magazine and her first novel was published by Ballantine Books in 1967. By the time the three children of her marriage were comfortably in school most of the day, she had already achieved enough success with short stories to devote full time to writing. Her first novel, Restoree, was written as a protest against the absurd and unrealistic portrayals of women in s-f novels in the 50s and early 60s. It is, however, in the handling of broader themes and the worlds of her imagination, particularly the two series The Ship Who Sang and the fourteen novels about the Dragonriders of Pern that Ms. McCaffrey’s talents as a story-teller are best displayed.

She died at the age of 85, after suffering a massive stroke on 21 November 2011.

Obituaries: Locus, GalleyCat.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 290 reviews
Profile Image for Red.
506 reviews9 followers
February 24, 2010
I didn't really care for this book. I picked it up at the library on a whim, because the cover looked interesting and then read the synopsis here and it sounded good. I love Anne McCaffrey's writing and have rarely been disappointed with her solo works, but I've shied away from her collaborations fearing that her name was on the covers just to sell the books. This novel did nothing to disabuse me of that notion.

The ideas were interesting, the bones of a good story was there, they were just poorly fleshed out and even less well clothed. I didn't like most of the characters, barely liked the main cat, Chester, and his boy. I didn't really care about any of their problems, though I wanted to. I kept getting stuck on terse and discordant prose. The relationships were so simplistic as to make me wonder if this is meant to be a YA book.

I don't think Ms. Scarborough is an author for me. Even though Anne McCaffrey's name is on many co-written books, and I am sure she collaborates with the authors, I don't think she does much of the actual writing.
Profile Image for Jerry.
4,694 reviews63 followers
July 12, 2020
McCaffrey and Scarborough, both cat lovers, have created a vision of the future that shows that, no matter the advances in technology, both human and feline nature will remain the same until the end of time. Animal lovers and/or Anne McCaffrey fans will definitely like this one.
Profile Image for Sarah B.
836 reviews17 followers
February 14, 2021
This story has all of the things you could want in a great science fiction tale: a complicated storyline, characters you actually like, danger threatening the galaxy and a bunch of furry friends, in this case cats. And make no mistake: the cats in here are main characters who actually communicate with certain people through mental thoughts. They have opinions and often chunks of the story is from a cat's viewpoint. As the story goes on the danger increases from a tiny seed until it's an overwhelming mountain. And while the pages I had left to read was shockingly thin, I had no idea how it was going to end. At all. Often in books I can guess but nothing in here was guessable at all. And yes, it's a fast paced adventure story.

Until I read this, I never really thought of how the far future and spaceflight would affect our animals. Would there be cats in space? How about horses or dogs or the other animals we have as pets or companions? When we go to other world's do they go with us? During the age of sail cats were highly valued on ships for their rodent catching abilities. Well, what about on spaceships? The book calls them the Barque Cats. Barque means a type of sailing ship. This is their tale and how they were almost undone by some awful humans!

I believe anyone who loves cats or animals will love this book. It's full of many cat-human pairs. And those pairs will do anything to get back together and save the other from certain doom. Unfortunately it's not easy at all as the enemy in here is all powerful.

Many of the human characters go through character arches and change. That doesn't happen in all books but it does in here, often for the better. Some of the characters actually ended up surprising me big time!

I really can't think of anything bad about this book at all. In fact I just ordered the sequel to this as I definitely want to read it, to see what happens next. And I can't believe I never read this before!

The cover art on this book is beautiful!
Profile Image for Joan.
2,030 reviews
October 17, 2017
I gave up on this one. Other than Chessie and Janina, none of the characters were at all likable. While I have read successful books with unlikable characters, those books have other things going for them: storyline, etc. Also, I know I've seen cats used as ship partners before in other books. I have tons of other books to read. If this isn't grabbing me by now, it has lost it's chance to be read! Seriously, my experience with Anne McCaffrey is that the books she wrote by herself were vastly superior to those cowritten with other writers. I'll miss her books.
Profile Image for Brenda.
95 reviews1 follower
February 15, 2010
Not their best book. More YA than adult. Cats patrol spaceships, killing rodents, insects,and searching for air or gas leaks. Eating iridescent beetles makes some cats able to telepathically bond with humans. Some cats are of higher pedigree, the Barque cats, and their kittens are expensive. A pregnant cat is kidnapped and finds refuge dirtside in a stable, with another pregnant cat.
Profile Image for BellaGBear.
576 reviews52 followers
May 9, 2017
A book about cats in space. I am actually were amazed that this one is not deemed a childrens book because of the theme. This book is basically about the love of cats people have, especially when the cats are usefull for pest control and such (a bit like the old-fashioned ship cats, but in space).

A very cute read which is certainly recommended for everyone who loves cats. Especially because they are often the narrator and love their own cute fuzziness :). And also the Barque cats are so beautifully proud of the work they do.
Profile Image for Darlene.
1,727 reviews172 followers
December 27, 2016
While perusing my local library system's site of ebooks and audios I saw the second book in this series by one of my favorite authors, Anne McCaffrey. Well, I hate starting in the middle of a series so I bought the first one and the Audible version to go with it.

If you love cats and space travel adventures, this is the book for you. I thought it was going to be too much fluff, a childish book, a book about kitty cats. I was wrong. This gave a new perspective about cats and space travel.

I just happen to have a polydactyl black cat and I have wondered if, with the right training, all those toes could be used like our hands. Could she be a Barque cat? Could she fly a space ship? My husband and I spend our retired days trying to read our cats' and new dog's minds. Sometimes we think we know them pretty well. We provide the words to the bubbles over their heads. Just imagine if instead of watching the mice for entertainment if they could kill the space alien?

Anyway, this was fun and I didn't stop between the two books and got right into book two. I have to admit to wishing there was more! R.I.P. Anne McCaffrey. I miss you!
Profile Image for Gail.
Author 28 books202 followers
March 25, 2010
I don't know if this book is classified as a YA, but IMO, it should be. Not that it's a bad book, but it is... Well, it's told from the cat's POV. This can be done in a sophisticated manner (Watership Down), but this story just has a YA feel to me.

The first narrator is Chessie, a Barque cat, which is a specially bred, specially trained spaceship cat. Not only do they catch the vermin which stows away with ship cargoes, but they search out air leaks and tiny meteorite hull punctures and alert the ships crew. They're very expensive, highly trained kitties. So when the ship's Cat Person brags about the very pregnant Chessie to a curious stranger on a space station, the reader is not surprised to find the stranger stealing the cat.

The narration shifts to one of Chessie's newborn kittens and mostly stays with him. The plot is fairly convoluted, with different villains who sometimes behave badly, and sometimes do good things, that turn out not to have good results. It's a fun read, and leaves the field open for further adventures of Chester and his family.
Profile Image for Leah.
173 reviews3 followers
January 31, 2011
Telepathic cats try to take over the galaxy with dung beetles. Not McCaffrey's best work.
Profile Image for Sara .
254 reviews16 followers
February 3, 2010
This is definitely a book for cat lovers. I would also say that although it's a space adventure, it's more oriented towards female readers.

Much of the story is told from the perspective of the cats involved. I found their voices to be convincing most of the time--they weren't always nice to each other or to humans, and at one point, an angry kitten uses someone's boot as a bathroom, which is realistic enough! But on the other hand, some cats truly loved humans, and that is also realistic.

Basically, the story is this: cats are specially bred to perform a variety of tasks aboard starships, and they have Cat Handlers to take care of them. It's a workable sci-fi premise.

In the beginning of the book, one of these special cats (pregnant with kittens) is stolen by a roguish man. This causes all sorts of trouble, and when compounded with an overzealous galactic government, things eventually spiral into craziness. Lots of people and cats end up on collision courses--the rogue, his son, the cat's Handler, the vet, and a variety of cats with different personalities. There are also psychic elements to the story.

As in most tales involving animals at the mercy of humans, sometimes sad things happen to the characters. But overall, this is a cute book. I would recommend this to people who really like to think about or read about cats, but not to just anyone.
51 reviews
October 22, 2010
Barque Cats. It's in the title. Cats that are useful in spaceships in the Talet series by Anne McCaffrey. So of course I think that's what this book is about. Great - I mostly liked that series.
But no, this book, Catalyst, is about Barque Cats. Cats that are useful in spaceships in an alternate universe where Earth was destroyed by nuclear holocaust (I think - don't worry, that's not a spoiler, just a random informational note they give you somewhere in the text). Really? Cats, same name, same function, different universe. Totally messed me up; I didn't like that.
The characters are not very interesting people/cats (yes, cats are characters too). I did like the attempt to make the cat characters seem cat-like, but it didn't work that well for me.
As for plot, it didn't really meet my expectations. It kind of just wanders and happens, without a whole lot of growth and change in the characters. It left me feeling pretty blah.
Profile Image for Dixie Conley.
Author 1 book9 followers
October 8, 2014
Spectacular. Gripping. Amazing. Maybe because I like cats and maybe because I like Anne McCaffrey's writing, but nonetheless, I greatly enjoyed this story. I'm amused that (while never explicitly stated) the guy who caused the problem by his illegal actions was one of the ones to rectify it. Shows you that villains aren't black and white.
Profile Image for Carolyn.
43 reviews
October 7, 2010
Barque cats are practically essential to the running of a well maintained spacecraft. They rid the ship of vermin, detect fuel and oxygen leaks more efficiently than sensors, and are the unofficial morale officers. That makes them both well-loved and extremely valuable. Chessie, a descendent of Tuxedo Tom, the original Barque cat, reflects her breeding well. Not only is she a beautiful and extremely capable ship’s cat, she produces litter after litter of highly prized kittens which are sold for large amounts of money once she has trained them.

She’s ready to give birth at any time when she is kidnapped and hidden away in a barn by Ponty, a man who plans to profit from her kittens and use her DNA sample to make counterfeit Barque cats from regular felines. His son, Jubal, has longed for a cat to call his own and finds he has a telepathic connection with one of the kittens.

Prior to the kidnapping, Chessie’s cat person, Kibble, noticed a glittery substance in Chessie’s excretions, and took a sample to the space station vet. Dr. Vlast finds some horses on the planet below have the same glitter in their saliva. Soon, the Galactic Government has quarantined every animal that has the glitter, as well as those that have come into contact with them. It’s doubtful any quarantined animals will survive. Can the cats and their humans find a way to save the condemned animals before it’s too late?

This fast paced, Sci-Fi/Fantasy adventure is listed as an adult novel, but would be equally appropriate for teen and older juveniles. Told mostly from the cat’s point of view, it will strike a chord with anyone who has an appreciation of felines. It’s a quick read with enough details for the reader to keep up with the multiple story threads. The second book in the series, Catacombs, is scheduled to be released December 7, 2010.
Profile Image for Lark of The Bookwyrm's Hoard.
872 reviews156 followers
April 22, 2019
I was deeply disappointed in Anne McCaffrey and Elizabeth Ann Scarborough’s Catalyst. I wanted to like it. I enjoyed the barque cats in The Rowan and Damia , and looked forward to reading more about them. But Catalyst failed to engage my interest even enough to finish it. And that makes me sad.

McCaffrey at her best is terrific (Dragonsong, DragonsingerDragonsinger, the first Dragonriders trilogy, especially The White Dragon.) I love the Dragonriders series, the early Tower and Hive books, The Ship Who Sang (and Mercedes Lackey’s thoroughly enjoyable The Ship Who Searched ), Decision at Doona , and the Pegasus novels.

On the other hand, some of McCaffrey’s books simply haven’t worked for me. I could never really warm to the Killishandra books; they were good, but they weren’t my kind of book. I read the first several Acorna novels, but I neither finished the series nor went back and reread any of them. Ditto the Freedom/Catteni series and the Petaybee books. (A sure test of whether I like a book is whether I consider it worth rereading. If I don’t reread a book, it hasn’t risen to the level of “good friend,” one I enjoy spending time with.) The Freedom books, like the Killishandra books, were well-written, just “not my thing.” The first Petaybee trilogy struck me as an interesting premise which hadn’t gotten quite the level of author investment it deserved.*

Catalyst, on the other hand, felt more like the Petaybee Changelings trilogy, only worse. It isn’t simply that both the Changeling trilogy and Catalyst are clearly aimed at a middle-school/YA readership. Dragonsong and Dragonsinger are generally considered YA, and they are among McCaffrey’s best work, in part because the characters are so real. The characters in the Changeling trilogy and in Catalyst, on the other hand, feel more like cardboard cutouts. There is no real depth, and thus it was difficult to care much about them. Catalyst’s initial settings, the colony world Sherwood and the station above it, also lacked a sense of reality; they seemed two-dimensional, more like a stage set than like real places. In contrast, Pern, Doona, and the worlds of the Tower series are as real in their way as any Earth country I’ve read about but never visited.

I should be honest here and admit that there is another reason Catalyst failed to hold my attention: the cats themselves. I’m normally an expert at the willing suspension of disbelief. I can accept magic, elves, dwarves, schools for wizarding children, talking gryphons, telepathic dragons, and teleporting Talents. I have no problem with the intelligent cat-like species in McCaffrey’s Doona books; they aren’t cats, they are to cats what humans are to small monkeys. I can even believe wholeheartedly in Mercedes Lackey’s Companions (which look like horses, but aren’t) and bondbirds (which are more intelligent than ordinary birds because their ancestors were magically altered.) But when otherwise ordinary animals start talking and thinking like humans without any explanation of why and how, my ability to suspend disbelief is stretched past the breaking point. (Oddly, this difficulty doesn’t extend to Beatrix Potter and other picture books. I even enjoyed the animated “Redwall” series on TV—but I couldn’t get through the book the first time I tried. Rodents simply don’t wear swords, fight wars, or congregate in abbeys except as unwelcome visitors.)

Lackey explains the differences between her Companions and ordinary horses, between her bondbirds and ordinary raptors. Those explanations make her creations different from ordinary animals, and thus their abilities become more believable. In Catalyst, on the other hand, both pure-bred barque cats and common barn cats exhibit human-like intelligence and communication, for which McCaffrey and Scarborough fail to give any explanation at all. For anyone even moderately familiar with cats, this stretches belief too far.

I live with two cats. Tasha is inquisitive, loves to get into nooks and crannies and onto high places, and chews on power cords (not a sign of higher intelligence.) As for Thomas, we like to joke that he is waiting for the Large Hadron Collider to come back online so he can solve the mysteries of the universe, but we know he’s really just sleeping—all the time. Neither cat is particularly good at communicating anything beyond “I’m hungry,” “I want to be on the other side of this door,” and “Don’t move, you’re providing a heat source,” and they certainly don’t exhibit any sign of comprehending what we say to them. I love them both, but I have no illusions about their intelligence. If McCaffrey and Scarborough’s cats are not substantially different from my own, but talk and think like humans, how can I believe in them?

Sadly, flat characters, cardboard settings, and heavily anthropomorphized housecats don’t add up to a satisfying book, at least not for me. If you loved the Changeling trilogy, by all means read Catalyst; you may enjoy it. If you prefer McCaffrey’s older, richer works, save yourself some disappointment and skip her latest offering.

Edited 4/22/2019 to add: I have since revised my assessment of the Changling books slightly upward. Emphasis on slightly. They are still nowhere near as good as McCaffrey’s earlier works. They are, however, readable. My opinion of Catalyst remains the same, and I’ve never tried reading it again.

Review originally published on 1/30/2010 at The Bookwyrm's Hoard.
Profile Image for An EyeYii.
3,562 reviews61 followers
June 3, 2013
This funny series is named for spaceship Barque (French for bark, boat, small boat - as in: embark) and costly purebred felines. Barque-cats are specially trained to sniff trouble and eat pests inflight.

An Egyptian-cat-like super-power telepathic alien aims for universal domination. He controls shiny crunchy beetles that confer direct brain communication and bonding between kitties who eat them and nearby compatible "twolegs". He rescues, and brings to his own hot desert world, felines quarantined by evil scientists conspiring with land-hungry politicians who claim that the innocent sparkles spread up the food chain are a contagious plague.

Point-of-view from a newborn kit is the funniest, but so is the rest. An arsonist con-man turns helpful dad. His lonely young son stows away. Good guys and girls (primarily a hunky tired vet & cute ship-cat trainer girl) triumph. The scary shock is when Mom cat is being shaved for dissection.
963 reviews10 followers
July 28, 2017
I like cats and I loved McCaffrey's Pern dragons so I was certainly prepared to give this a chance. It should be noted that there is a second author, Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, who should certainly be credited as well.
The Barque Cats are specially bred to act as vermin control and gas leak notifiers on space ships. They are accompanied and cared for by their own Cat Person. They are very well trained, as are their Cat Persons, so naturally they are expensive and their kittens are very valuable. Add cloning and greed into the mix and you have a basis for an exciting story. Add some fluorescent beetles that leave "sparkles" in the fluids of animals that eat them or animals that eat those animals and it becomes quite complex.
I enjoyed the cats and the way some can communicate with other species. Definitely is right there with the Pern stories. The next book is called Catacomb.
Profile Image for Ashleigh Cutler.
Author 6 books24 followers
October 8, 2016
Chester and Chessie are awesome characters. I really enjoyed the cat POV in this book. The cats behave like cats, even Pshaw-Ra. I could honestly believe cats really do think like this. The story is paced well, and the POV shifts aren't too bad. I have several favorite scenes and lines, but repeating them would leave spoilers. If you're a cat lover, this book is for you. It's short enough that even kids could enjoy it, but still a fulfilling story... aside from the obvious cliffhanger.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
457 reviews11 followers
February 3, 2010
Yes, I'm a cat person, so naturally I grabbed this one. I could tell that McCaffrey and Scarborough also love cats. The book lost a star because the sci-fi bits felt a little strained, but the descriptions from the cats' point of view were spot on. A perfect combination of affection, pretention, and curiosity. Chester's description of having his claws clipped was perfect!
Profile Image for Jenn.
148 reviews
May 12, 2017
It seems silly, but i loved it and there was quite a lot of heart wrenching going on. I have a medium haired Tortie with a fluffy tsil like Chessie, so it was kind of easy to imagine myself in Janina's place. Id get upset enough i would have to stop reading for a time. But i really liked how it was written. Cant wait to start the next one!
Profile Image for BookAddict  ✒ La Crimson Femme.
6,708 reviews1,306 followers
August 10, 2011
This one just didn't do it for me. The characters were all victims and the cats were too whiny for me. I ended up skipping 1/4 of the book, near the end just so I could read the ending. It didn't do anything for me.
Profile Image for Mitchell Friedman.
4,687 reviews175 followers
January 21, 2015
Endeavour Award read of a series and not one I'd read by choice. YA in style and silly. Psychic cats including at least one cat bent on world domination. Didn't really like the cats or the people. 3 of 5.
264 reviews13 followers
May 26, 2016
A delightful, lighthearted novel.

I could be biased because of my love for McCaffrey, cats and science fiction, but the tounge-in-cheek humour and the parts told by the kitten clicked all the right buttons for me.
Profile Image for Meg Dendler.
Author 12 books161 followers
March 19, 2017
Anne knows cats as well as she knows dragons. Fun theme. I'm obviously a big fan of alien cats, though she has a whole different take on it than me. Intentionally didn't read these until my own series was established so I wouldn't be influenced. More YA than adult, for the most part.
Profile Image for Linda George.
548 reviews1 follower
October 23, 2016
This was a young adult book that left off in a bit of a cliffhanger. I hope I can find the next book to find out how everything ends.
Profile Image for Jen.
30 reviews1 follower
July 31, 2018
I picked this up thinking that it would based on the Barque Cats of Anne McCaffrey's Talent series. Many websites (like Wikipedia) backed me up on this thought.

However, the canon/lore is COMPLETELY different. This has NOTHING to do with the origins of Barque Cats. There are no Talents mentioned, the Galactic Government (GG) is in charge of travel instead of Federated Telepath and Teleport (FT&T), and Earth became uninhabitable after a nuclear holocaust. That certainly doesn't sound like the origin story for Rascal or any of the other Barque cats mentioned in the Talent series. It may be possible that the 2nd book (Catacombs) brings this full circle, but as of this first book, don't come here looking for more books on Talents - there are only 8.

Discounting my disappointment with the lack of Talents in this novel, it still was only ok. The jumps between POV characters were rapid-fire and jarring, the disparagement of dog people got on my nerves (this despite my preference for cats!), and the characters were pretty one-dimensional. Either you liked cats and were a good guy, or you didn't and were a bad guy. Also science was ignored unless it could be a plot device. The GG rounded up all these animals suspected to be infected with "fairy dust" and instead of looking for an infection vector that could jump planets (or listening to the vet who KNEW what the problem was) they just started doing necropsies (which were called autopsies during the entire novel) because it fit the plot and made sure the reader knows they are the bad guys. Ships apparently travel between habitable planets without any mention of faster than light (FTL) travel so I guess they are all close and in the same solar system? One of the cats has access to wormhole ... pardon me "mousehole" technology that it uses to Deus Ex Machina its way out of trouble. And so on. Science is basically a badly used prop throughout the novel.

On the plus side, the novel was short, and if the second one is a similar size, I will probably pick it up just to see what happens and if there actually is some sort of tie to the Talent series.
Profile Image for Emilye.
899 reviews2 followers
December 3, 2022
I Could Give You A List...


I have never read a book like this. Not sure if I will try another one, either. But, it had a plan and a direction, and, if you love cats, a vivid imagination.

Cats have been on sailing ships for centuries, clearing vermin, and easing anxiety. This series follows the lineage of a spaceship cat, that clear vermin, find and reveal leaks while still fixable, and ease anxiety. They are so productive, that their is a market for every litter a queen can have.

But lately there have been iridescent beetles onboard the spaceships which the cats love to catch and eat. And, it turns out, the beetles deliver more than just a good crunch. And every animal and fowl eat them, which gives a sparkle to their stool, saliva and shells if they lay eggs. But it doesn’t appear to be dangerous.

Then, someone with purebred horses, notices a pinto from a neighbor farm has jumped his fence, and insists the animal is diseased. Enter a galactic wide quarantine of domesticated animals, even ship cats. And what any bureaucracy does about a problem - all these animals are held in close quarters for evaluation and termination.

I had to stick around for the finish, and if you get that far, so will you. Cats!
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