Otters In Space – Chapter 16: Kipper in a Different World

by Mary E. Lowd

An excerpt from Otters In Space: The Search for Cat Haven.  If you’d prefer, you can start with Chapter 1, return to the previous chapter, or skip ahead.

“Then she looked deep in her heart, where she expected to find Siamhalla, the cat utopia she’d sought for so long. But it wasn’t there. She’d found utopia, and it wasn’t for her.”

Boris was left in charge on the bridge, and Captain Cod asked Jenny to come along as a second pair of otterly eyes.  If Josh and Elle hadn’t seemed so cold toward Captain Cod, Kipper would have asked Trugger to join them too.  But, if it got awkward, she didn’t want to watch Trugger, the best friend she had among the otters, be treated cruelly.  Or, perhaps worse, watch him watching these cats be cruel or cutting to his captain.  He was so loyal; he would have to leap to Captain Cod’s defense.  She especially didn’t want to see that.

So, when Trugger offered to walk with her, Captain Cod, and Jenny to the docking hatch, Kipper didn’t invite him to accompany them any further.  She just thanked him for the company that far.

“Remember everything,” Trugger said.  “We’ll all want to hear about it.”

When Kipper hesitated to promise, Trugger misinterpreted the pause and said, “I know you’re coming back.  All your clothes are still in the barracks.”

Kipper smiled and dipped her ears a little.  “Of course, I’ll come back and tell you everything,” she assured him.

She didn’t explain that the few ill-fitting otter clothes stowed under her bunk in the barracks would hardly compel her to come back.  She also didn’t explain that her hesitation stemmed from wondering just how much a culture created entirely by and for cats would be understandable to otters.

“We’ll all be waiting,” Trugger said, bobbing in an otterly way as he backed down the corridor before turning and leaving her with the captain and Jenny.

The Captain was already standing at the docking hatch, working the panel beside it.  Kipper glanced at the row of hanging, lifeless space-suit bodies, ignored behind a plexi-glass door.  “No space suits?” she asked, nervously wondering whether there’d be any way to cram her long, cat limbs and (relatively) short, cat spine into an otter space suit.

“We’re inside the Siamhalla dome already,” Jenny said.  “There’s an atmosphere outside…  See?”  As Jenny spoke, Captain Cod finished with the control panel and stepped away.  There was the sound of machinery moving and adjusting inside the wall.  Then, the hatch doors parted.

Cool air rushed in, fluttering the baggy folds of Kipper’s trousers.  She’d thought the Jolly Barracuda air was dry after breathing liquid for a month, but it was nothing to Mars air.  Siamhalla air.  Kipper shivered.  And only partly from the cold.  Her fur, body over, was standing on end.  She tried to calm herself so she wouldn’t look like a fluffed-out, scaredy-cat when Josh and Elle and any other cats out there saw her.

It mostly worked.  Through tight focus and steady breathing, she got the fur on her arms, face, and back to lay flat again.  She could feel that her tail was still three sizes larger than usual, but she couldn’t focus on that or the rest of her would fluff up again.

She’d just have to keep her broom-tail behind her, out of sight, until her jitters faded.

Captain Cod and Jenny, blissfully unaware of the last minute terrors striking Kipper, were already stepping cautiously out of the hatchway.  They bobbed their heads, snaking their spines in the funniest otter way.  “Come on, Kipper,” Captain Cod called back to her, having taken the short hop onto actual Martian soil.  “You’ve got to get out here and feel this Mars dust under your feet.”

“It’s warm,” Jenny said.  “Just like you’d imagine.”

Despite her fears and excitement about Siamhalla, Kipper found herself completely distracted from any thoughts about other cats by the mere idea of touching paw to another planet.  She ducked her head through the hatchway door and stepped down to join her otter friends on Mars.

The ground was warm.  Dry, dusty, and solid under her paw pads.  She flexed her claws and felt them scratch the Martian surface.  She looked up and saw the Siamhalla dome curving overhead.  Metal scaffolding and clear panes held them safely inside the dry air they were breathing.  The sun glared harsher in a dusty sky.  No clouds.  Just pale sienna all across the overhead dome.  Horizon to horizon.

Kipper continued marveling at the fact that she was standing on another planet — a planet other than Earth — until the snowy pale, muscled arm and midnight dark paw of Josh reached out to touch her own arm.  She startled, her consciousness coming back down from the Martian sky to inhabit her body.

For the merest instant, she was embarrassed to return to the shoddily, growing out spots that covered her, but thoughts of her own body couldn’t last long.  She found herself standing beside the most handsome cat she’d ever seen.  Perhaps that should have made her more embarrassed rather than less, but his eyes looked too deeply into her own to leave any room for it.  There was no judgment there.  Only welcome.  Home.  Could this be home?  Kipper shifted her weight from one paw to the other, and while her eyes held his blue eyes steadily, she could feel her ears wandering in every which direction.  So discomfited she was by his preternatural gaze…

“You brought nothing with you?” Josh asked, breaking the spell.

“Except otters, I see.”  There was a hiss under the dulcet tones of Elle’s voice.

Josh broke his gaze with Kipper to look at her two otter companions.  They were bobbing their heads about, getting the best view they could of Siamhalla from around their parked ship.

Josh’s look was friendly at first, but that quickly faded.  Kipper could see that his look was one of dismissal, and every moment he expected her escorts to leave.  And he grew more surprised and irritated every moment they didn’t.  Kipper shifted her weight from one paw to the other.  She wanted to apologize for Captain Cod and Jenny’s rudeness…  But they weren’t being rude.  All they’d done to offend Josh was in their mere presence.

“Thank you for the fine job you’ve done bringing one of our lost souls to us.”

Kipper could have melted into a puddle at Josh’s feet.  Handsome and eloquent.  Yet, she could hear the subtext, and she knew her otter companions couldn’t.  She was thankful that Josh had the tact and poise to handle his conflict with the otters subtly.  Perhaps without even letting them know that there was conflict.

But what did she expect?  She was back among cats again.  And most cats could think circles around the otters socially.  Cat social dynamics were ever so much more complicated.

“You can go now.”

On the other paw, cats were still capable of the direct approach.  Apparently, Josh didn’t think her otter friends required tact, poise, and subtlety if they weren’t perceptive enough to have already understood him.

“The captain was hoping for a tour,” Kipper said.

Josh’s ears meandered backward and forward again in confused displeasure.

Kipper pressed the captain’s suit further.  “They’ve come a long way.”  He and Jenny were staring about themselves, completely unaware of what was going on between them and the Siamhalla cats.  They needed someone on their side who did know.

“I suppose they have hosted you for many weeks; we could host them for a few…”

Kipper could hear him struggling not to say minutes.  However, he couldn’t find a time frame he liked better, so he let the sentence trail off, unfinished.

“Let me show you around,” Josh said to Kipper, but this time he managed to make it more expansive, including Jenny and Captain Cod.  It looked like it pained him to do so.  Jenny and Captain Cod clearly didn’t notice.  Well, Jenny might have — Kipper wasn’t sure.  But, Captain Cod was as oblivious as ever.

“Singing seagulls,” Captain Cod exclaimed, “Let’s get going then.  I’ve got to see what kind of a place you cats have whipped up for yourselves here on this red space rock.”

“Singing seagulls?” Josh asked.

“I didn’t think seagulls could sing…” Elle added.

But Captain Cod had already begun wandering around to the other side of the Jolly Barracuda.  Kipper decided to follow him, and, in doing so, she got her first good look at the outside of the spaceship she’d been living in since leaving the Deep Sky Anchor.  It wasn’t what she expected.

Instead of a sleek, gleaming outline, the Jolly Barracuda sported a bulky, bulbous silhouette.  It looked like the kind of spaceship she expected to see — only dressed up in a lifejacket, with an inner tube around its waist, and air tanks on its back.

While Kipper stared at the strangeness of the ship she’d been riding, Jenny and their Siamhalla welcomers passed around her, trying to catch up with the straying Captain Cod.  Kipper took a last look at the Jolly Barracuda before scurrying after the others.

“She’s a beauty, isn’t she?” the Captain asked once Kipper caught stride with him.  “I saw you lingering back there, checking out the good ol’ Barracuda.”

“Uh… yeah…” Kipper lied.  “I’ve never really seen a spaceship before.  Up close.  I guess they don’t look much like they do in the movies.  I should’ve known not to expect Otterwood movies to be accurate.”

Captain Cod turned to her and gave Kipper a funny look.  “Accurate?  Most Otterwood flicks are filmed with real spaceships.  I mean, they are filmed in space.  What do you think they’re using?  Models?  Do dogs film their chase scenes with model cars?”  He paused not quite long enough for Kipper to answer.  “No, they go around blowing up the real things.  We blow up the real things.”

Kipper looked back at the ungainly, metal object behind them.  Before she could express her confusion, Jenny said, “The Jolly Barracuda looks more like other ships when she’s flying.  See those extra tanks?”  Jenny indicated the bulky protrusions that looked like scuba gear to Kipper.  “Those inflate to hold the oxo-agua atmosphere when we’re not using it.  They fold back in when we are.”

Kipper tried to picture the ship with the extra oxo-agua tanks folded back in.  Yes, that would look more like what she expected.  Sleeker.  Better.

“The oxo-agua isn’t compressible like air — that’s part of what makes it so cushioning.  But, it means that it takes up a lot of extra space to store it.”

“Oxo-agua?” Josh asked.

“It’s a liquid, breathable atmosphere.”

Elle snorted.  “You’ve been breathing a liquid?” she asked Kipper, derision dripping from her voice.

“Hey, that liquid is what let us outrun the Manta Ray.”

Jenny’s dropped chin let Kipper know that Jenny wished she could stuff the captain’s words back in his mouth just as much as Kipper did.  Josh and Elle looked at each other meaningfully before Josh asked the inevitable question:  “Outrun the Manta Ray?”

At least the captain knew enough to keep his mouth shut now.

“Why were you racing the Manta Ray?” Elle hissed.

Though, some damage control wouldn’t hurt…

Josh was still staring the captain in the eye, but Elle was eyeing Kipper like she was a stowaway rat.  “Josh,” she said, “I think we may be dealing with an imposter.  How did you find out about us?”  Her eyes on Kipper were like knives pinning her down.  Kipper couldn’t think to lie; her greatest fear, being discovered for a fake in the one place she most desperately wanted to belong, was coming true.  Elle couldn’t have broadcasted her disdainful thoughts more clearly.

“We outran the Manta Ray because we outrun every ship of a standard design,” Jenny said.  “That’s why Kipper commissioned us.  She didn’t want to wait around with the cargo.”  Thank goodness for Jenny.

“That’s right,” the captain jumped in, finally catching the drift.  “We hated to see a nice cat like Kipper stuck working with such foolhardy incompetents.”

“Hmmph,” Elle said.  “We’ve never had any trouble with Captain Larson or the Manta Ray.”

“Yes, but they don’t get your cats here as fast as we do.  Do they?”

Josh looked like he wanted to deny it but couldn’t.  Elle simply looked like she wanted to claw Captain Cod’s face.

“We’d like to work with you, and when you see how much longer it takes the Manta Ray to get here, I think you’ll be interested in working with us too.  Consider shuttling Kipper a free sample.”

Josh had looked like he was starting to buy it, but with that last line Captain Cod’s consistency was blown.  “I thought you said she commissioned you.”

“Ah…” the captain stuttered buying time, “ah… yeah… but, we turned down her offer.  We thought buying your good will would be more valuable in the long run.”

Elle looked skeptical, extremely skeptical, but Josh decided to jump past skepticism to dismissal.  “Whatever,” he said.  Turning back to Kipper, he said “See that building over there?”

Kipper followed Josh’s pointing paw to see a curved, clear, dome-topped building spiraled all around with sun-bathed balconies.  Layers and layers of balconies, latticed with ladders connecting them.  The bottom floor of the building was open, more a series of archways holding the building up above a large open space than an actual interior.

And the whole courtyard-like ground floor was flooded with sunlight streaming all the way down from the wavy, glass, roof dome.  It made Kipper shudder with a pleasant warmth just looking at it.

“That’s where I live,” Josh said.  “Fifth floor, Southern side.  You can see the balcony.”  Josh pointed, but there were too many balconies on the fifth floor for Kipper to recognize his.

“I don’t have a balcony,” Elle said.  “My apartment’s a penthouse.”  Her tail swished braggingly.

“You don’t say,” Captain Cod jumped in.  “Penthouse?  What a penthouse needs is fine quality art decorating it.  We’ve been dealing in the work of some artists from the asteroids…”

Elle tried to cut him off with a glare but ended up having to resort to saying, “I’ve already decorated.”

“You can always redecorate,” the captain added helpfully.

“I won’t.”

“Siamhalla has very strict rules about imports and exports,” Josh said.  “We’re a pure culture.  Everything here is — culturally speaking — one hundred percent feline.”

“What do you mean?” Jenny asked.

Elle sneered, “We don’t let otter or dog art be brought into our colony.”

Kipper was still savoring the words one hundred percent feline when Jenny followed up with the question:  “What about art by Earth cats?”

“Dog art,” Elle said.

“What?” Kipper exclaimed.  She was hurt.  She wasn’t an artist, in any sense, but if she were…  Had Elle just called her a dog?

“Earth cats live in a dog culture,” Josh said.  “So, their artwork would be polluted by canine sensibilities.  We don’t want any of that here.”

Suddenly Kipper felt like a baby thrown out with the bathwater.  “Polluted?” she said.  “By canine sensibilities?”

“Well, not you,” Josh replied.  “Anyone can see that you’re pure cat.”

Kipper felt a little better.  But not much.  She enjoyed the vote of confidence, but she wasn’t sure what inspired it.  Besides, all Josh had done was say that she was different from all those other Earth cats out there.

They continued walking around the terraced building, and Josh pointed out the other buildings as they passed them.  Kipper had grown quiet, continuing to contemplate the “impurity” of cats grown up around dogs.  Or otters.  For, as they walked through the crowds of cats — all pointed Siamese, fluffy Birmans, ruddy Abyssinians, and other fancy breeds — the otters were causing quite the stir.

Kittens, running wild among the other cats’ feet, stopped to point and mew.  It was believable — in fact, Kipper did believe that — these kittens had never seen an otter before.  Not even in the movies.

Had they ever seen dogs?  Or even heard of them?

It was one thing to want a place of her own, but, Kipper hadn’t meant for that place to deny the existence of her former oppressors…  Just to relieve those oppressors of their power.

Yet, as she wandered the streets and lingered in building entrances, Josh telling them all about each building they passed, Kipper couldn’t help but be dazzled.  Questions about the morality of complete isolation began to seem… so very far away.  Perhaps that is in the nature of isolation.  But, try as she might to be outraged for the cats who were missing all this because they hadn’t gotten themselves out of Earth’s grabby atmosphere, Kipper kept falling into the charm and elegance of a world made, run, and populated entirely by cats.

Pointed ears, swishing tails, mysterious smiles behind ethereal whiskers — these were her people.  They stepped carefully and quietly, each paw sure of its footing before bearing weight.  No puppies chasing frisbees carelessly, callously knocking over passersby.  No gallumphing giants — like St. Bernards or Mastiffs — crowding the more rightly sized cats, treading upon them without even seeming to notice their presence.

Though, there was something eerie about it.  Everywhere Kipper looked, all the cats were… cats.  To an alley-tabby who grew up surrounded by the unwanted pressure of canines all around her, these cats felt almost disturbingly self-similar.  No variety.

Of course, there was variety.  White, orange, gray; stripes, marbles, spots…  All combinations.  In fact, loping along the other side of the street, she could see a lanky Egyptian Mau, covered in fawn spots.  The true mirror of what she merely pretended.  Near him, there were several shorter, rounder Burmese gathered together.  And, Elle had split off from the little tour group to talk with another fluffy Birman.  (She looked quite relieved by the excuse to ditch what must have felt like a carnival troupe tromping through her hometown.)  Then, up ahead, there was a whole crowd of warmly colored, red-furred Abyssinians.  Actually, that was odd…

Kipper looked around again.  Elle with another Birman; a crowd of Abyssinians; several Burmese…  Why, all the cats she could see were either alone or walking with others of their breed.  She couldn’t see a single Siamese and Abyssinian together.  No Birmans and Egyptian Maus…  No, they were all mixed up together; only, not very mixed up at all.

Kipper was pulled away from her disturbing observation by the realization that Josh had asked her something.  “I’m sorry,” she said, “I was so caught up in looking around…”

“You missed what I said?” Josh asked.

Before he could repeat himself, Captain Cod jumped in, exclaiming excitedly, “This building is where you’re going to live!”

Kipper’s ears straightened, forward-pointing as they could be, and she looked at the building with widened eyes.  “There’s already a place for me?”

“Well, not a specific apartment,” Josh said.

“But this is where the new cats live?”

“No,” Josh said, “We don’t artificially stratify our society like that.  This is where the Egyptian Maus live.”

“But I’m not Egyptian Mau.”

Josh stuttered, completely dumbstruck by Kipper’s absurd statement.  Eventually, he managed to get out, “But your fur…”  Then, finding more confidence, he added, “Of course you’re a Mau.  What would you have me believe you are?”

“A tabby.”

Josh looked highly skeptical.

“Look at the roots,” Kipper said, turning herself before him to show her shoulder fur.  “My stripes are already coming back in.”

“You… you dyed your fur?  Why are you telling me?”

“You seriously couldn’t tell?”  Kipper had trouble believing it.  Maury’s fur job had been good… but not that good.  “I guess you’re not used to that here.  It happens a lot at home.”  She caught herself, “On Earth, I mean.”  She didn’t mention that it was only trashy, street cats who did it.

“Well, I guess there’s not much call for it here,” Josh said.

Kipper’s ears flickered a little in confusion.  Then she looked around and realized what he meant.  She didn’t know why it hadn’t sunk in before.  “There are only pure breeds here…”  Kipper felt dizzy.

Before she could speak again, Josh looked around quickly then took her by the arm.  He dragged her off of the street into a back alleyway.  “How appropriate…” she said, her voice babbling and bleak.  “The only alley cat in Siamhalla, forced into the only alley.  Clearly, anywhere as perfect as Siamhalla shouldn’t have alleyways.  It probably sprang into existence just now.  Just for me.”

“Hush!” Josh admonished her, placing his strong but graceful, sable paw over her mouth.  Even reeling from the shame, outrage, and confusion of finding herself to be the only non-pedigreed cat left in the world, Kipper wasn’t immune to the electricity she felt coursing from those dark paws and into her.  Josh must have felt it too.  He backed away, practically trailing chains of sparks.

“What are you doing?” he said, once the charge in the air had returned to normal.  “I can’t unhear what you just told me.  And, believe me, I don’t want to be covering for you.”

Captain Cod and Jenny, who had been examining a bit of the architecture when Josh pulled Kipper away, came poking around the corner of the alley.  “Ah, there you are!” Captain Cod said.  But Jenny quickly hushed him when she caught the tone of the proceedings.

“You’ll have a hard time pulling this off even if I do cover for you…”  Josh was clearly thinking the dynamics of it through.  “You’ll need regular supplies of dye…”

“Oh, it’s not just that,” Kipper added, helpfully.  “You think I can do this myself?  I had this done by a professional.”

“Is that what you want?”  Josh looked aghast.  “You took me into your confidence so you could train me to be your conspirator?  Keep you in Mau fur… jobs, as long as you’re here?”

Kipper squared her shoulders and ears, an angry gleam in her eye, before answering him.  “It was never my intention to spend the rest of my life passing for a Mau.”

“How do you intend to stay then?” Josh asked.

Kipper’s shoulders slumped a little, and her ears meandered as she found herself turning inward to really consider his question.

Memories of Trudith, helping her escape Earth; the last few weeks with Emily and Trugger; the kindness of that dopey Golden Retriever receptionist at her last job; and even that mushy, nutty squirrel food on the Deep Sky Anchor…  She re-traveled them all.  Then she looked deep in her heart, where she expected to find Siamhalla, the cat utopia she’d sought for so long.  But it wasn’t there.  She’d found utopia, and it wasn’t for her.

Deep down, she found the home she’d been trying to escape for so long.  The crazy home where cats had to fight for their rights, but at least they were free to be whatever kind of cats they wanted to be.  Trashy, faux-Siamese — or fake tigers, even.

Or just comfortable in their own, unremarkable, tabby-cat fur.

“I guess I don’t,” she said.  Even as she said the words they surprised her,  “I don’t plan on staying.”

“Are you sure?” Josh asked.  “There won’t be any changing your mind on this.  Once it gets out that you’re…”

She could hear him choosing not to say “a common alley cat.”

Instead, he went with, “…not really a Mau…”  He hoped that was diplomatic enough.  “Once that’s out there, it’s out there.”

Kipper was flattered that he liked her enough to want her to stay.  Though, even if she had truly been a purebred Egyptian Mau, welcomed on Siamhalla, there could never have been a romance between them.  Siamese and Egyptian Mau?  How ridiculous would that be?  On Earth, not so ridiculous.  But here…  Kipper suspected it would be a scandal.

Nonetheless, infused with confidence by Josh’s seeming willingness to stoop to subterfuge for her, she put out her paw and grasped on to his.  “I’m sure.  I’m glad I got to see what Siamhalla is like.  And… in an odd way… I’m glad it’s out here.  But I can’t live in hiding all my life.”

“Maybe once you’d been accepted…  Once everyone got to know you…”  Josh couldn’t even finish saying it.  They both knew it was a lie.  A world like this wouldn’t forgive the crime of pretending to be something you’re not just because it got used to you.

Josh suggested she stay a few days and take this chance to experience Siamhalla before leaving, but Kipper didn’t think it was fair to keep the crew of the Jolly Barracuda cooped up at a port where they weren’t welcome.

“At least, let me walk you back to your ship,” Josh said.  “I can tell you about New Persia.”

Kipper’s eyes grew wide.  “Another place like this?”


“There’s another cat utopia?” Captain Cod asked, jumping in.

“Not so utopian after all,” Kipper said.  “But, apparently yes.”  Then, to Josh, she said, “That’s an offer I’ll accept.”

So, Josh walked them back to the Jolly Barracuda, telling Kipper all about another cat colony in a bubble, this one peopled entirely and only by pug-faced, fluffy-haired Persians.  By the time Josh and Kipper parted ways, Josh had pressed her to promise to keep in touch.  He claimed he wanted to know about the outside world, but Kipper strongly suspected he had a crush on her.  In a world where every cat has a pedigree, the one alley cat is extremely exotic.  Nonetheless, she found his crush more than gratifying, and she was sorry to say goodbye.

Continue on to Chapter 17

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *