by Mary E. Lowd
Trugger was glad to hear upon Kipper’s return that he didn’t have to say goodbye. He gave Kipper a big bear hug. He’d given her hugs before, but they’d all been in an oxo-agua atmosphere which simply isn’t the same. So, this was Kipper’s first time really being engulfed by the soft but incredibly dense pelt of an otter. The warmth was there under oxo-agua, but none of the fuzziness, and fuzzy just doesn’t feel the same when wet.
“I knew you were a space pirate at heart,” Trugger told her.
“I thought you said you guys weren’t pirates.”
Trugger shrugged, sitting back on his bunk. “Only to our own. We don’t like to bandy the word around too much with outsiders. But you’re one of us now!”
“Not so fast,” Kipper said. “Just because I’m not some purebred show-cat that doesn’t mean I’m not still a cat.”
“A water-cat if I ever knew one.”
“I’m not sure you can know one. I’m not sure there is such a thing.”
“So, what’re you saying?” Trugger asked. “You’re gonna jump ship at the next port we come to? Bum around otter space stations?”
“Well, you can’t go back to Earth. You’ve been telling us all about how badly the dogs treat you for months now.”
Kipper felt the need to call Trugger on his exaggeration. “Months is a generous appraisal,” she said.
“Weeks then.” He looked a little hurt to have the time they’d known each other minimized like that. However, hurtful or not, Kipper had only been in otter space for the last few weeks of her life. She’d grown up on Earth. She hated it… but it was part of her.
“I don’t know,” she said.
Trugger smiled weakly, stood up, and then reached over to affectionately ruffle the fur on her head. “By the way,” he said, “We called back to the communications hub. There was a message for you. I picked up the cost. Figured you’d want to view it when you got back to the ship — not pay for it and wait for the download.”
“Thanks,” Kipper said. “I’ll pay you back later.”
Trugger left her sitting dazedly on her bunk. He was still a working otter. Technically, Kipper was supposed to be a working cat on this ship. They just never had figured out a job for her other than studying swimmer’s sign all day. She guessed she’d been in training. Captain Cod had chosen to invest the time and resources into her to bring her up to speed to become a full member of the crew.
But Kipper wasn’t sure she wanted to be a full member of the crew. Living in oxo-agua hadn’t turned out to be as bad as she expected it to be… But it wasn’t her idea of a long-term living environment either. Really, all along, her plan had stopped at Cat Haven. She would get there, and suddenly everything would be okay.
Siamhalla hadn’t turned out to be Cat Haven though. Not quite. Honestly, it was exactly what she should have expected from a world run by cats — judgmental and exclusive. At least dogs professed to be inclusive, even if there was a glass ceiling over cats in their world.
Kipper sighed. Maybe there was a secret squirrel colony somewhere she could join. That would surprise everyone. Especially the squirrels. Maybe they’d be so taken aback by a cat wanting to join them that she’d find herself elected their leader. Kipper, Empress of Squirreldom. It had a nice ring. Or, maybe she was losing her mind.
Kipper decided it was time to hear her message, so she walked down the hall to the little work room with one computer console. She keyed up the message, and, as she sat down, it began playing.
“Kipper, I don’t know when you’ll get this,” Alistair said, small and pixelated on the computer screen, but still the friendly, orange-striped face of her brother. “That dog you sent, Trudith, sprang me from jail. I was… well…” Alistair sounded like he was going to explain how he’d landed in jail in the first place, but instead ended up grumbling, “Stupid outdated catnip laws.” He shook his head. “Those dog-pandering laws will be the first to go when I’m elected. You don’t see rawhide busts, do you? Anyway, thanks for Trudith,” Alistair said, getting back on track. “She’s a real find. I thought she’d want a tip and then she’d be on her way, but she seemed to have it in mind that she was my new bodyguard. I couldn’t have beaten her off of me with a stick.” Alistair looked ponderous for a moment. “Though… I suppose I could have tried throwing one…”
Kipper laughed at Alistair’s conjured image. “A scramball would be more likely,” she said, even though she knew Alistair couldn’t hear her. Who knew how long ago he’d sent this… She’d have to check if there was some way to find out.
“Anyway,” Alistair continued, also shaking the image of Trudith chasing sticks from his head. “She’s turned out to be more than a bodyguard. An advisor, I’d almost call her. See, I’m running for senator now. The ruckus about you and Pet disappearing… All the doubt and uncertainty about what happened to you and who made it happen… We’ve played it up big time.” He put his paws out as if he was framing a newspaper headline: “Concerned older brother, trying to find his missing sisters, and make the world a safer place in the process.” He looked very pleased with himself. “There’s a huge investigation underway. So, far they’ve turned up all this dirt on that cat Sahalie, who you worked for. She was doing some kind of embezzling, and sending all the money somewhere. Apparently it’s this huge conspiracy.”
Bigger than you think, Kipper thought. Those funds are funding a whole planet.
“Anyway, no one but Trudith and me knows what really happened to you and Petra. So, everyone’s in an uproar. There’s a chance for some real change down here.” He paused, thoughtfully. So clearly pleased with himself. Kipper warmed all over seeing him. “The polls are looking good,” he continued. “Real good. I have a chance of actually making a difference. And, if I win, I won’t be some figurehead cat. I’m gonna give these dogs a run for their money.”
Hopefully, Kipper thought, he’d give the purebred cats a run for their money too.
“Anyway, if you can, try to come home. I want you to be here when I get sworn into office.” On screen, Alistair reached his paw forward. What was he doing? What the hell?! He was switching the vid-phone off. That was the end of his message?!?
“What happened to Petra!!!” Kipper screamed futilely at the screen. As if in response, the screen flickered back to life.
“Oh, I almost forgot to mention,” Alistair said, his paw still on the vid-phone toggle. “Petra married that dog from your office. Lucky. She says she doesn’t remember writing any note about going to Ecuador, and her place was such a mess because they were both stumbling around completely drunk while packing. They’re keeping it quiet for now. At least until after the election.”
This time the message really was over.
Kipper blinked at the blank screen.
Lucky? Brother-in-law? She thought those two hated each other.
Huh. She had a dog for a brother-in-law. What a world.
Kipper thought about Alistair’s campaign and how it would be affected when Petra’s marriage came out. People didn’t talk about interspecies relationships much. Honestly, Kipper didn’t know what to think herself.
The more her mind wandered over everything Alistair had told her, the more Kipper found herself wondering about Sahalie. As far as Kipper could figure, Sahalie, and maybe other cats like her, sat high up in dog companies, embezzling money for Siamhalla and helping shuttle purebreds off of Earth. But, what was in it for Sahalie?
She was only half Siamese. There’d be no more of a place for her on Siamhalla than for Kipper. And, yet, Sahalie would fight tooth and nail to get Violet to Siamhalla while keeping Kipper away. It was so… catty. Maybe that was the problem with Earth, not that dogs were holding cats down but that cats were holding each other down.
Kipper sighed and keyed off the monitor after checking the date stamp on Alistair’s message. It was already several weeks old. She wondered how the campaign was going. She wondered whether Sahalie was in jail for the embezzling, and whether there was a new cat to replace her yet. A place like Siamhalla couldn’t rely on only one source. There must be cats all over Earth sending them funds.
She wondered if Violet would like Siamhalla better than she had. At least she had the right fur coat for it.
Violet had been the phantom Kipper was chasing for so long… and now she was leaving their destination before Violet had even arrived. Two larks flying past each other in the night. Kipper was spending too much time around otters.
It was time to go home. And face up to the fact that her home was her home. And that home was Earth. Cats like Elle might not have a place for her, but dogs like Trudith did. And otters like Trugger.
How was it that Cat Utopia was the only place in the solar system that didn’t have a place for a cat like her? Not even a bad one, trodden under paw. Maybe it was time for Siamhalla to come to light. Under the scrutiny of the rest of the solar system, they’d have to think long and hard about their policies. And, without money being funneled to them by cats like Sahalie, she suspected they might need to open their arms to a wider cross-section of cats and the money those cats could bring.
No, Kipper wasn’t done with Siamhalla yet. But the next steps for her to take toward creating a true Cat Haven were back on Earth. Not out in space.