Otters In Space 2 – Chapter 13: Earth

by Mary E. Lowd

An excerpt from Otters In Space 2: Jupiter, Deadly.  If you’d prefer, you can start with Chapter 1, return to the previous chapter, or skip ahead.

“He was contemplating committing his fate to the paws of a dog who wouldn’t shake paws with him if given a choice.”

Trudith was a big, black, bag of fur-coated turmoil.  She expected Alistair and Petra back from the capital building any minute, but that had been true for half an hour’s worth of minutes now, and it made her extremely nervous to have Alistair’s arch-rival in their headquarters.

Everything Senator Morrison looked at, everywhere he laid a paw — Trudith felt the responsibility of guardianship.  Worse, he kept trying to make small talk, but between his stentorian style and Trudith’s terse responses, it felt more like an interrogation.  As Senator Morrison’s kidnapper, Trudith was pretty sure she wasn’t supposed to be the one being interrogated.

“So, why are you working for… Mr. Brighton?” Senator Morrison barked in a shrill tone.  He meant to ask, “Why are you working for a cat?”  His words were close enough, though, and Trudith got the idea.

She started to answer but realized her escapades with Kipper weren’t actually public knowledge.  She wasn’t sure how much to say.  “Er, actually…” she hedged, maneuvering herself to where she could see out the window.  Why wasn’t Alistair back yet?  She’d heard the clamor of Senators signaling the end of Kipper’s video before she and Senator Morrison were fully away from the building.  How much more could there be to talk about?  “I guess I’m just comfortable working for cats.  I mean, Alistair.  Mr. Brighton,” she fumbled.

Senator Morrison sneered.  “Yes, you look comfortable.”

Talk about sarcasm.  If Trudith didn’t know better, she’d have thought Senator Morrison was a cat.  Her jowls set in a frown as she looked at this powerful yet strangely petty dog.  She wasn’t sure what to do with him.  She’d like to throw him out on his ear, but that would either amount to insulting an important guest in Alistair’s office or letting her prisoner escape.

How had a dog like him managed to get elected?  Did anyone bother to meet politicians before voting for them?

The door rattled and burst open, portending Petra.  Alistair never treated doors that way.  Sometimes Petra did — mostly when she was angry.  Trudith flinched, expecting wrath, but as Petra stepped through the door, her jaw fell wide.  “You…”  Petra’s eyes flicked frantically back and forth between Trudith and the senator.  “I didn’t think you could actually do it,” she said, her eyes settling on Trudith, wide with awe.  “Or that you would.”  She suddenly looked terribly skeptical.  “What have you done?

“Excuse me.”  The senator seemed completely oblivious to — or, at least, uninterested in — the fact that Petra had been speaking at all.  “When will Mr. Brighton get here?”  His bushy canine form dwarfed Petra’s feline body.  But they had two things in common:  they were both bright, flaming orange, and they both had short tempers.  “I’ve been waiting.”

Morrison glared.  Petra bristled.  It was enough to make Trudith wonder if the tempers ran with the fur color until Alistair slipped in, shutting the door quietly behind him and breaking the palpable tension before it had a chance to explode in barks and hisses.  He was orange too, but he radiated easy-going calmness.

“Mr. Brighton,” the senator said in a harsh, commanding voice that brooked no argument.  “I have a proposition for you.”

Alistair took in the scene, and Petra seethed quietly at the way the senator had dismissed her the moment her brother entered the room.  Morrison, however, stood tall (as tall as a Sheltie could) and leveled Alistair a gaze suggesting, whatever this proposition might be, Morrison would not take “no” for an answer.

Now Trudith understood how Morrison got elected.  When there was space at the top, Morrison stepped into it.  If there was a power vacuum, he was there.  Confident.  Controlling.

Alistair, for all his mellowness, was not a cat to be controlled.

For that matter, few cats were controllable.  Most cats, like Petra, dealt with controlling dogs like Senator Morrison by turning them a cold, cold shoulder.  Maybe among cats, that worked.  Among dogs, it was tantamount to ceding dominance.  That’s what made Alistair so special.  He didn’t take Senator Morrison’s power play personally; he didn’t get persnickety and cut himself out by trying to cut Morrison out.  He just said, “All right.  Lay it on me.”

Morrison gave Alistair an appraising stare.  Both politicians stood there, unbending.  Neither one suggested they take their seats.  Get comfortable.  Relax.  As it became clear that neither one would, Morrison contrived a cough, breaking eye contact first.  He smoothed the ruff of white mane, overflowing his suit jacket.  When he glanced back up, Trudith could have sworn Morrison looked impressed.  And pleased.

“I will withdraw from the race for the senate,” he said.

Petra’s breath hitched.  Alistair laid a paw, almost automatically, on her arm.  It steadied her long enough to let Morrison continue uninterrupted.

“You will win the race,” he said.

This time, Alistair’s steadying paw was not enough, and Petra spat, “What’s the catch?  There’s got to be a catch.”

Morrison glared at Petra briefly, but he didn’t deign to acknowledge her verbally when he continued.  She wasn’t important enough in the hierarchy within the room.  “I will be devoting my energies, full time, to running for president.  Mr. Brighton, I would like you to run as my vice president.”

“President of the country?” Trudith asked.

What else?” Morrison barked, sarcasm dripping from his teeth.  Yet, with all the mockery in the world, he still had deigned to answer Trudith, meaning he rated her higher in the hierarchy than Petra; probably merely by right of her being a dog.

“Wait,” Alistair said, finally looking ruffled.  “I mean, what?”

“That catch doesn’t make any sense,” Petra said.  Stepping closer to Trudith, she whispered for only Trudith’s ear:  “I can see how you managed to kidnap him.  He’s completely loony.  You didn’t rough him up did you?  Knock his brain loose a bit maybe?”

Trudith thrilled at the secret confidences from Petra.  Before she could whisper anything back, Morrison’s commanding bark took the floor again.

“You will carry significantly more weight as my running mate if you’re in the California senate.”

“Wouldn’t you carry more weight if you were in the senate?” Petra sneered.

Morrison didn’t look at her but said, “I’ve been in the senate for two terms, and it’s time for me to move on.”

The two orange coated politicians stared at each other.  Trudith couldn’t help a slight whimper escaping her jowls.

Alistair said bluntly, “I won’t be a pet cat.  If you think you’ll have me in your back pocket because you gave me something I may have rightly earned anyway — ’cause that recount is looking mighty close — then you are sorely mistaken.”

Alistair and Senator Morrison kept staring at each other, but the tension was different now.  Alistair had laid claim to his position.  He would not budge.  Morrison looked angered by it but also grudgingly respectful.  “Fair enough,” he said.  “I will expect you to use the powers of vice president as your own conscience dictates.  In return, you will stand by me in this presidential race, lending your support base to my ticket.”

Alistair dipped his ears in acknowledgement and acquiescence.  “We have a deal,” he said, offering his white-socked paw.

Morrison reached a paw forward.  The fringe of his long fur fell drapingly from out of his short vest sleeve and along his arm.  His paws were white too.  Blazing-orange fur coated the rest of them, but the two enemies promised a queasy peace over a dove-white handshake.

Trudith wondered if being allies with Senator Morrison would feel all that different from being enemies with him.

“I’ll have my secretary contact you with further information,” Morrison said, pulling his paw back and stepping toward the door.  “Right now, I have an election to withdraw from.”

“And another to join,” Alistair said, but the senator had already shut the door behind him.  The meeting had been abrupt and unexpected; it left Alistair’s head spinning.  Trudith was even more befuddled.  Her prisoner had simply walked out of the door right in front of her.  Should she have stopped him?

Alistair’s wide green eyes turned to each of his companions faces, searchingly.

“You know, Alistair,” Petra said through clenched fangs.  “I’m not sure I’d vote for you on that ticket.”

“I’ll vote for you,” Trudith said.  “On any ticket.”  She grinned winningly at Alistair, even though she could feel Petra’s eyes burning into her from the side.

“Vice president,” Alistair said.  “That’s a lot of power.”

“So’s president,” Petra said.  “Or have you forgotten that Senator Morrison has been weaseling laws through the senate to ban cats from space travel?  To require that they carry special ID at all times?  Pay separate taxes?  And you know those taxes will be higher than dog taxes.  Not lower.”

“Even so, I’d get a one-in-three veto and the right to call sessions of the congressional senate.  Not to mention the cultural effect of having a cat be vice president.  It would energize every feline in this country!”  Alistair looked dazzled.  He was clearly visualizing kittens in lonely, hopeless, yet overcrowded catteries across the country holding their chins up and their tails straighter as they set themselves higher goals than they would have ever dreamed before seeing Alistair Brighton take the office of vice president.

Petra sighed.  She knew that look in her brother’s eye.  “You’re making a deal with the devil,” she said, but she accepted his decision.  At least, she was choosing to seem that way.  Trudith didn’t buy it for a second and resolved to watch Petra even closer from now on.  Though, she wasn’t sure how to manage that.  Most of her attempts to clamp down on Petra so far had backfired in entirely unpredictable ways.

“It’s a deal I can’t turn down, Pet.”  Alistair’s eyes looked genuinely soulful.  He was contemplating committing his fate to the paws of a dog who wouldn’t shake paws with him if given a choice.  “Senator Morrison has the influence and machinery to run a national campaign.  We had a few volunteers until the election, but now our office is the three of us!”  He held his paws out, indicating the rented room with beat-up desks, ramshackle hand-me-down computers, and not much more.  “He has an entire fleet of hired Greyhounds.  You heard him!  He has a secretary.  He has money.”

“Has it occurred to you,” Petra said, “that he can’t win without you?”

Alistair cast his eyes down.  “He wouldn’t offer me the deal if he could.  I still can’t turn it down.”

“All those cats are going to turn out and vote for you, and you’re going to stick them with an anti-feline bigot like Morrison as president!”  Whether she could change Alistair’s decision or not, she was angry, and when Petra felt something, she made sure everyone else in the room with her felt it too.  Anger and wrath sparked from her as if her very fur was a live wire.

“Let’s focus on the good we can do, okay?” Alistair said.  Trudith nodded enthusiastically, but Petra stormed out of the office.

In the calm after the storm that was Petra, Trudith asked, “How did the senate meeting go?”

Alistair blinked, changing mental gears.  “The California Senate voted sixty-five/thirty-five to officially support the actions of the otters attempting to rescue New Persia colonists.”

“Oh,” Trudith said.  She was feeling much more comfortable with Petra out of sight.  Though she was a little afraid that Petra might come storming back in again.  You never knew with cats.  “That sounds… helpful?”

“Does it?” Alistair asked, his voice rising in genuine surprise.

“Well,” Trudith said.  “I’m sure that, well…”

“I suppose it does make a statement about otters being our allies,” Alistair said, looking pensive.

“It’s certainly better than voting to declare war.”

“You’re right, Trudith.  War and peace lie mainly in the public’s perception of them, given that the Uplifted States doesn’t have anything like a space military — if the senate supports the otters, then peace lasts a day longer.  And every day of peace is worth fighting for.  You know, Trudith, it’s easy to get cynical and tired in this job.  Thank you for putting me back on track.”

Trudith felt her chest inflate with pride, but then Alistair burst the bubble.

“Of course, there’s no sense in getting too dreamy-eyed,” he said.  “Realistically, Petra’s right.  I’m making a deal with a devil, and the least I can do to obviate that calamity is learn everything I can about him.”

Trudith didn’t like where this was heading.

“I’d like you to work on that,” Alistair said.

“How do you mean?” Trudith woofed.

“Get to know Senator Morrison.”

“Spy on him?”

“Not really spy.  Just, learn about him.”

Trudith thought that sounded an awful lot like spying, though she didn’t like to say so.  It was more something she’d expect from Petra than Alistair.  Sometimes, Trudith almost forgot that her alpha cat was a cat.  Nonetheless, he was still alpha.

“I’ll get right on it,” Trudith said.

Continue on to Chapter 14

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