Otters In Space III: Octopus Ascending (Chapter 1)

Art by Idess (www.idessart.com)

by Mary E. Lowd

This is an excerpt from Otters In Space III: Octopus Ascending, a novel published by FurPlanet, June 2017


The pale glow of Jupiter lit the moon’s watery surface.  Europa’s recently melted ocean reflected the gas giant’s ruddy face back at itself, broken by ripples where Brighton’s Destiny disturbed the water on takeoff.

The dark metal V-shape of the two-man spaceship skimmed over the ocean before veering upward in a sharp climb out of Europa’s gravity well.  Spacesuit clad paws eased off on the throttle, and Brighton’s Destiny leveled off into a smooth arc toward Jupiter.

Jenny’s otter heart ached to twirl the little ship in spins and loop de loops, but her octopus co-pilot insisted that she needed more practice with the basics of piloting a Whirligig Class vessel first.  It hardly seemed fair.  The ship, shaped like a two-winged maple seed, was clearly built for spinning.  The very name Whirligig begged Jenny to lean on the left thruster and pirouette the ship until Ordol, perched on her shoulders, flailed his tentacles in dizziness.  But Jenny restrained herself.

Tentacles sheathed by the clingy, clear fabric of a cephalopoidal spacesuit waved and writhed in Jenny’s peripheral vision, working the controls that she couldn’t reach.  The ship had been designed for a biped and an octopod, working together symbiotically.  In this case, the biped was an otter.  Jenny was still getting used to the design.

Ordol lowered two of his tentacles into the center of her field of vision.  He twisted the tendril tips of them, forming the Standard Swimmer’s Signs to say, “Let’s swing around Io.  You need practice maneuvering at high speeds.”

Jenny’s whiskers lifted in a smile, brushing against her space helmet’s faceplate.  It wasn’t loop de loops, but flying fast would do.  She signed with her paws, “No argument here!”  Then she pressed down on the throttle and felt the vibration of the thrusters roar in response.  The whole ship moved around her, pressing against her back as it shoved her faster and faster toward Io, a small round shadow visible against Jupiter’s ruddy face.

The two celestial bodies — gas giant and volcanic moon — were paintings from the same palette in different styles.  Io’s jagged surface roiled with molten lakes and sulfurous plumes as it grew in the viewscreen.  Behind Io, Jupiter’s creamsicle clouds slid and swirled past each other, smooth and serene.  A timeless god, circled by a restless servant.

As they flew toward Io, Ordol’s tentacles continued to work in Jenny’s peripheral vision, running scans and taking readings.  The ship’s computer displayed the results in a language Jenny couldn’t yet read.  Sharp angular letters clustered erratically into words — or so Jenny assumed — and scrolled senselessly across the computer screens arranged beneath the central viewscreen.

The sight of the alien language made it impossible for Jenny to forget:  this ship was stolen.  They had disabled the homing signal to hide it from the original owners, but it was stolen nonetheless.

Ordol could read the writing, at least, a little of it.  He’d been a slave to the aliens who’d built the ship, before it was renamed Brighton’s Destiny; the aliens who wrote the inscrutable language that filled its screens and who still enslaved the rest of his people.

Jenny signed, “I’m going to practice veering to the left and right.”

Ordol acknowledged her plan with a sign made by a single tentacle:  “Okay.”

Jenny fired the thrusters on the right, pushing Brighton’s Destiny leftward and Io off-center on the viewscreen.  The ship continued on its new arc until she cancelled the leftward momentum with a blast from the left thrusters.  She overshot and repeated the process several times, causing the ship to swerve on a wiggling course — Io wobbling on the viewscreen —  until  she managed to straighten the ship’s momentum out.  Once again, Brighton’s Destiny flew true, straight toward Io.

Jenny whooped at her success.  She knew Ordol couldn’t hear, so she repeated the sentiment with her fisted paw raised in a victorious gesture.

Ordol signed, “Now see if you can do it faster.”

They were nearly halfway to Io.  Jenny practiced three times before she could no longer resist:  she leaned on the left thruster until Brighton’s Destiny corkscrewed its entire way through a barrel roll.

Ordol’s tentacles fluttered rapidly, too fast for Jenny to understand his signs, but she could read the anger in his movement.

The blood rushed to Jenny’s rounded ears; she felt ashamed for upsetting her co-pilot.  “I’m sorry,” she signed, and then she did her best to straighten out their course as fast as possible.  However, Ordol’s continued signing flustered Jenny, and she felt herself losing control of the ship.  Brighton’s Destiny veered wildly away from Io, and then nosed back toward it, wibble-wobbling in an erratic course.

More and more frustrated, Jenny slammed her paws against the ship’s control board.  She raised them and signed, “Stop!  Stop it!  I can’t understand you when you sign that fast, and I’m trying to fix it.”  As she signed, Brighton’s Destiny barreled away from Io onto a course more directly toward Jupiter.

Creamsicle clouds filled the viewscreen.  The soft shades of orange were marred by flecks of black.  A fleet of enemy vessels had assembled between Jupiter and Io, and Brighton’s Destiny was barreling right toward them.

Jenny realized that her octopus co-pilot wasn’t angry with her; he was scared out of his mind by the sight of the ships of his former slavers.  “I’m getting us out of here,” Jenny signed.  Then she leaned hard on the throttle, pushing Brighton’s Destiny into the sharpest corner it could make.  Jenny didn’t worry about straightening their course out perfectly this time; she just aimed their little ship away from Io.

When Europa was securely in the center of the viewscreen and the fleet of enemy vessels was safely behind them, Jenny signed, “I don’t think they saw us, and they can’t possibly catch up to us before we get back to the base.”  The energy shield around Europa would protect them.  “You’re safe.”

Ordol’s tentacles calmed down, wrapped around Jenny’s shoulders, and squeezed the otter in a hug.

But Jenny was still worried.  There were plenty of other targets in the solar system less protected than the Europa base.  After months of quiet, it was time to warn everyone:  the raptors were on the move.


(To read more, purchase Otters In Space III: Octopus Ascending, available from FurPlanet, Smashwords, Kindle, and other retailers around the web.)

The Unification of Worlds

“Diamma liked to imagine that the gold flecks in the left eye on the chimera’s fourth head, one of the fuzzy ones with bull-like crescent horns, had something to do with her own golden eyes.”

by Mary E. Lowd

Originally published in Arcana: A Tarot Anthology, November 2017


Diamma’s scaly green tail curled to one side, then the other, swaying uneasily, as she stood in the open hatch of her spaceship.  Crystals of pink snow caught in her fiery, leonine mane as the flakes drifted down from the powder blue clouds of this world.  Snomoth.  For years, it had been a number in the registry on her ship; somewhere she would eventually go.  For the last few weeks, it had been a dot of light on the main viewscreen.  Now it was a faintly pink snowball, the color of cherry blossoms in the early spring, stretched out before her, waiting to freeze her toes when she stepped down from the hatch.

The final piece of the puzzle might be here, hidden underneath the pale pink snow. Continue reading “The Unification of Worlds”

The Moon Like An Unhatched Egg

“She steered the pod capsule toward the bulging globe of the abandoned, malfunctioning atmo-dome. It looked like a bead of water on the moon’s silver face.”

by Mary E. Lowd

Originally published in The Symbol of a Nation, June 2017


The moon stretched out in front of Jenn like an unhatched egg.  Full of possibility.  Full of portent.  In a few moments, the four pod capsules, including hers, would be ejected from the USS Fledgling, and the final competition would begin.  The winner would secure the continuation of their genetic line and be the first live astronaut to Mars.  All of them were uplifted birds, designed especially for this purpose, but only one would win. Continue reading “The Moon Like An Unhatched Egg”

Shreddy and the Zomb-dogs

“Glowing eyes looked into the night, and what Shreddy saw made his fur stand straight on end.”

by Mary E. Lowd

Originally published in Anthropomorphic Dreams Podcast, November 2011


When Shreddy was a young cat, he and the Red-Haired Woman lived alone.  Shreddy enjoyed his youth and, in later years, he often daydreamed of those days before the Red-Haired Woman declared:  “I think I’ll take up a hobby.”

Shreddy wasn’t worried at the time.  She’d taken up a hobby before, growing orchids, and he’d found her pastime perfectly delightful.  Delectable, even.  This time, the Red-Haired Woman decided to grow something that Shreddy couldn’t eat. Continue reading “Shreddy and the Zomb-dogs”

The Necromouser

“If that machine could help him raise the dead — and possibly channel his mind into the resurrected corpses, using them as his minions — it would give him Great Power.”

by Mary E. Lowd

Originally published in The Nautilus Engine, July 2008


Shreddy never had a particular taste for fish, but he’d been in a sour mood for days.

The Red-Haired Woman had won their latest skirmish over the orchids.  She’d cordoned off the kitchen window with chicken wire.  Shreddy rattled the wire, pulling with his claws at the edges.  He shoved his face into the few centimeters between wire and wall, wrinkling his nose and squinting his eyes at the discomfort, but the wire didn’t have enough give.  Shreddy couldn’t get his head through. Continue reading “The Necromouser”

Gerty and the Doesn’t-Smell-Like-a-Melon

“It was oblong-round and green with paler green stripes: it looked like a melon. But… She sniffed all around it. And, then, she sniffed all around it again. It did not smell like a melon.”

by Mary E. Lowd

Originally published in Golden Visions Magazine, October 2010


Gerty had been snuffle-snorting about the melon patches all morning.  She was looking for little people to play with, but all the bugs and mice seemed to be hiding today.  Dormancy was in the air.

She tried asking a bird to play with her, but it was so high in the branches of the karillow tree that she had to shout at it.  And the master scolded her for barking.  The bird flew away anyway.  They always did.

Continue reading “Gerty and the Doesn’t-Smell-Like-a-Melon”

The Wharf Cat’s Mermaid

“Mari scratched at the crate of fish, hoping to claw out a piece of the delectable flesh she smelled inside.”

by Mary E. Lowd

Originally published in ROAR Volume 5, July 2014


The scraggly white kitten crouched, trembling, behind the crates of fish.  The smell was thick, but the scraps were thin.  She’d been skittering from one stall to the next at Fisherman’s Wharf all day, mewing for bits to eat.  Few of the vendors favored her with more than a glance.  One had chased her off with a broom. Continue reading “The Wharf Cat’s Mermaid”

St. Kalwain and the Lady Uta

“Today, though, the sound of the hoof beats kept growing closer, and St. Kalwain scented oats, mint, and the salt of sweat in the air.”

by Mary E. Lowd

Originally published in ROAR Volume 4, June 2012


Snow bent the boughs of the karillow trees, and ice silvered the soft buds at their tips.  Spring had come too early this year, and all the eager young plants would pay a price for their enthusiasm.  Flowers killed by frost.

St. Kalwain didn’t mind the snow.  His black fur was thick and warm.  He found it insufferably so whenever he kept the company of humans.  Their houses were always warmed by raging hearth fires.  Their walls held in the heat.  And they insulated themselves with layers of cloaks and clothes.  They expected him to layer himself with clothes too.  He remembered a time when he chose to wear clothes out of modesty.  Now, he preferred to sleep in the wild.  In the snow.  Alone and far from humans. Continue reading “St. Kalwain and the Lady Uta”

The Best and Worst of Worlds

“Cats loved conquest; dogs needed adventure. But Cetazed otteroids were happy splashing about and playing.”

by Mary E. Lowd

Originally published in Dogs of War, January 2017


Five officers of the Tri-Galactic Navy and one exchange officer from the planet Cetazed teleported down to a clearing on Planet 328’s surface.  The cats and dogs of the Tri-Galactic Navy were good people, and Consul Eliana Tor didn’t regret leaving her homeworld to become an exchange officer.  Not exactly.  But she missed the flavor of the sunlight on Cetazed, and not only did her empathic abilities make her a fish out of water around these cats and dogs with their non-empathic minds, but they let her read the cats’ and dogs’ emotions — especially their feelings about her — constantly. Continue reading “The Best and Worst of Worlds”

Hidden Intentions

“S’lisha wanted to claw the child’s little face off, but the captain wouldn’t like that. And she needed this job.”

by Mary E. Lowd

Originally published in Analog Science Fiction and Fact, March/April 2017


“Can you breathe fire if you eat rocket fuel?” asked Alison, the captain’s five-year-old daughter.

S’lisha drew a deep, calming breath through her scaly nostrils.  She didn’t understand why humans brought their children on spaceships.  Her species kept their larval offspring in caves on their home world until they matured and their adult scales grew in.  Continue reading “Hidden Intentions”