Otters In Space 2 – Chapter 1: Earth

by Mary E. Lowd

An excerpt from Otters In Space 2: Jupiter, Deadly.  If you’d prefer to read in e-book or paperback form, learn more here.  Or if you want, jump back to book one or skip ahead to the next chapter.

“There wasn’t a glass ceiling keeping them down; no, the ceiling above cats was plenty visible with lovely murals drawn all over it.”

Trudith watched the orange cats nervously.  Although she was larger than them and undeniably stronger, Trudith saw Alistair — a skinny, ginger tabby — as her alpha dog, and Alistair’s sister Petra was a complete wildcard.  Petra wreaked havoc on any sane sense of hierarchy that Trudith could work out.  Yesterday, Petra took orders like the rest of them, but, now, when Alistair needed their support the most, Petra had turned on him.

Trudith edged her black, Labrador bulk towards Alistair, trying to get herself between the two orange tabbies.  She didn’t think his sister would actually attack him, but, with Petra, she could never be sure.

“Right,” Petra snarled, sarcasm dripping from her whiskers.  “You believe all those cats turned up on election day… to vote for a dog?”

Alistair shrugged.  His new, tailored suit looked loose on him.  Trudith could see he was thinking about the night-shift forklift operator he used to be.

Petra spat.  “We’ve never had a feline turn-out like this before.  There’s no way all those cats stood in line for hours to vote for the same old dog who would have won without them.”

“Maybe it wasn’t as many cats as it looked like, Pet,” Alistair said to his sister.  “It’s not like we actually counted them.”

Petra grumbled, and her voice lowered.  “No one counted them.  Someone made up the numbers and said…”  Petra’s voice went all goofy.  She fluttered her paws in the air and said, “‘Hey look!  Big surprise!  The incumbent Sheltie won.'”

Trudith snorted in spite of herself.  “Was that your dog imitation?” she asked.

Petra merely frowned at her, as if to suggest that her brother’s dog bodyguard wasn’t worth actual words.  “I think we should ask for a recount,” she said to Alistair.

“I think I should concede gracefully.”

The two orange cats were at a standoff.  Trudith thought about her months working with Alistair.  She’d never known a better cat — no, a better person — than Alistair.  He saw right through the masks and walls that dogs and cats put between each other.  Trudith had been a dog working for cats for a long time, and she knew cats had the short end of the stick in this world.  There wasn’t a glass ceiling keeping them down; no, the ceiling above cats was plenty visible with lovely murals drawn all over it.  Yet, not just any cat could break that ceiling down.

Trudith’s first cat boss, a half-Siamese tabby, had employed her to rough up other cats.  That’s how Trudith met Alistair.  His sister — the other sister — Kipper was a target.  That’s when Trudith realized supporting cats’ rights wasn’t as simple as picking a cat, any cat, and following orders.

But following orders was most of what Trudith was good at.  And she liked following Alistair’s orders.

“I don’t think you should step down,” Trudith said.

Alistair looked surprised.  Petra did too, for that matter.

“Not yet,” Trudith said, smiling her nervous smile.  “I mean…”  She didn’t know what to say, especially not with both cats looking at her.  So, she harrumphed, importantly, clearing her throat as if there was more to follow.  When she hesitated afterwards, Petra rolled her eyes and jumped in.  Trudith was secretly relieved.

“Look,” Petra said, “even the dog agrees with me.  You need to ask for a recount.”

Alistair leaned against a desk in their improvised campaign office.  “Senator Morrison beat me by a thirty percent margin,” he said.  “A few miscounted votes wouldn’t make that kind of difference.”

“It would buy us time,” Trudith said.  What she needed was time to think.  Time to think of a way to keep Alistair from giving up, from going back to operating forklifts at night.

“Yes!” Petra agreed.  “Then we can figure out who’s behind this!”

“Conspiracies?” Alistair said.  He looked skeptical.  Another beat and he’d be talking about saving their dignity.

“Kipper!” Trudith exclaimed.  If only Kipper were there, she’d know how to keep Alistair in the running.  But she was still in space, on that otter spaceship.

“Kipper?” Petra asked.  “I thought she was en route to the asteroid belt.”

“Yes,” Trudith said, thinking about Kipper’s last vid-letter.  Her ship, the Jolly Barracuda, had a trade route to follow, but Kipper expected they’d cross paths with enough other ships in the asteroid belt that she’d be able to catch a lift back to Earth.  “It’ll be weeks, maybe months, before she gets back.”

“Makes her kind of irrelevant, doesn’t it, Trudith?”

Trudith could hear Petra wanting to hang a derogatory, “dog,” at the end of her question, but she kept her verbal claws sheathed.  Though, in Petra’s mouth, even Trudith’s own name sounded like an insult.

“Be nice, Pet,” Alistair said.  “Trudith has a point.”

“I do?” Trudith asked.  Her mind raced, trying to imagine what it was.  Alistair saved her brain from overheating.

He said, “Kipper sounded very mysterious in her vid-mail.  I think she found something flying around with those otters.  Something that might affect elections here.”  He pondered.

Petra looked ready to jump in, start arguing her point, but Trudith put a heavy paw, lightly, on the little cat’s shoulder.  Trudith knew when to wait.

“Okay,” Alistair said.  “We’ll ask for a recount.  We’ll wait.  See what Kipper has to say.”

Trudith let out a slow breath of relief.  She liked Alistair’s plan.  She was good at waiting.

Petra felt differently, of course.

She shook Trudith’s paw away from her shoulder and said to her brother, “That’s more like it.  Now, how are we going to figure out who’s behind this?”  Her ears perked up, particularly tall, rotating and scanning as she thought.  “And how did they manage to stack the votes?  Or better yet…”  Her voice rumbled into the lower register of a purr.  “How can we restack them, in your favor?”

Trudith felt a familiar flash of guilt and confusion, the nervous feeling she used to get whenever her old employer told her to go rough some poor cat up.

“Petra,” Alistair said.  “I don’t want to hear about that.  If you want to investigate your conspiracy theories, you go right ahead.  But don’t expect me to get caught up in them.”

There was an unhappy rumbling from Petra’s throat.  Before it could articulate itself into more poisonous words, Alistair added, “And whether the incumbent Sheltie is cheating or not…”  He looked Petra levelly in her green cat’s eyes.  “You’re better than that.”

Good old Alistair!  Truidth knew she was on the winning side.  Well, okay, maybe not the winning side.  Not yet.  But the right one.

“Fine,” Petra said.  “I won’t do anything, but I will find out who’s sabotaged you.”  She turned on her toes and walked out of the office, striped tail swishing behind her.

“She’ll forget all about it in half an hour,” Alistair said, now that they were alone in the room.  “She’ll have some other project taking up all of her attention.  Writing a speech about the unfairness of Senator Morrison’s space laws or adopting some orphan from a cattery.”

Trudith’s brown eyebrows furrowed in the midnight black of the rest of her face.  She knew better than to say so, but Petra would be a terrible mother.  Alistair probably knew it anyway.  Hopefully he was being facetious about the idea of Petra adopting an orphaned kitten.

Trudith could much more easily picture Petra abandoning a basket of kittens on a cattery doorstep than taking even one kitten home.  Perhaps that was why there were so many orphan kittens and so few orphan puppies.

No.  Trudith shook her head, flopping her folded ears and jowls.  One violent shake to knock that idea out.  That was the kind of thinking that created these sorts of messes.  Cats weren’t more reckless than dogs.  They were poorer.  Think of Kipper, Trudith told herself.  Now, there was a cat who would be a fantastic mother.  Or senator like her brother Alistair would soon be.  Or a space trader like the otters.  Why, Kipper could probably do anything.

“I wonder what she found,” Trudith said to herself.

Alistair flicked an ear and said, “Kipper?”

Trudith nodded, her jowls in a serious set.

“I don’t know, but let’s hope it’s good.”

Behind Trudith’s brown eyes, she was thinking, Let’s hope she gets it to us soon.  Before Petra does anything rash.

“Well, I’m going to call the Election Office back and get the gears moving on a recount,” Alistair said, hinting that he’d like Trudith to leave him in the room.  However, since Trudith wasn’t good at catching hints, and Alistair knew it, he added, “Why don’t you go record a vid to send to Kipper?  Let her know what’s happening.”

Trudith nodded another serious nod and left Alistair in his privacy.  As she closed the door behind her, Trudith started planning what she would say in the vid.  “Come home soon” was what she felt, but she knew those weren’t the words she’d actually send bouncing from satellite to satellite, through the otters’ central space station, and then out to space and Kipper.

Continue on to Chapter 2

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