Smith, Cordwainer – “The Game of Rat and Dragon” (1955)
In the distant future, Earth has been destroyed by internecine warfare, and interstellar travel can only be kept safe by pinlighters, humans who communicate telepathically with “the Partners” who help them spot and destroy the monstrous creatures that live in the vacuum. The identity of the partners is kind of kept secret through the beginning of the story, but it’s clear that it’s cats. The monsters appear as dragons to the humans, but as rats to the partners. It sounds kind of goofy, and there isn’t much of a plot here (it’s mostly an idea/future history piece), but it’s written competently and is one of the most imaginative and enjoyable stories in the bunch. I need to read more Smith.