Otters In Space 2 – Chapter 15: 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.

“It was a Sheltie convention, a giant meet-and-greet for all the pointy nosed, bushy-maned Shetland Sheepdogs in New LA.”

Two days ago, Trudith was a dog on the up and up.  Her alpha was the only honest politician, and she was his right hand dog.  Today, she was a dog back to her old tricks; trailing, eavesdropping, spying, and — kind of — kidnapping.

Trudith didn’t want to be the old dog who couldn’t learn new tricks, so she put her all into doing things differently this time.  She didn’t break into Senator Morrison’s lavish estate; she didn’t contrive for him to “lose” his phone; and she certainly didn’t corner one of his lackeys in a back alley and offer to rough him up either more or less depending on the quality of his information.

She did the last thing she would have done before she met the Brighton family:  she called her target up and explained the whole situation to him outright.

“I don’t understand,” Senator Morrison said over the phone.

“I’m supposed to spend some time with you.  Get to know you.”

Why?” the senator asked.  “Why do you even have my number?”

“It’s listed,” Trudith said.

“I should fix that,” the Senator grumbled.

“Look,” Trudith said, gruffly, “My employer is concerned about the kinds of compromises he might be expected to make in working with you.  He’s assigned me the task of… getting to know you.  So, um, what kind of food do you like?  Are you more of a Shamrocks fan or are you a Tusks dog?”

“I don’t follow scramball.  This is ridiculous,” he woofed not quite softly enough for Trudith not to hear him.  “If it’ll get you off my back, I’ll tell you what.  I’m going to a luncheon this afternoon — part of a social convention.  I won’t have a lot of time for you at it, but I’m sure you’d be welcome to join everyone.”  There was something wolfish in the way Senator Morrison said she’d be welcome, but Trudith wrote down the address he gave her and thanked him anyway.

It all made sense when Trudith got there.  The luncheon was being held at an upscale restaurant downtown, and every dog in the restaurant was either a waiter or almost indistinguishable from Senator Morrison.  Trudith stood out like a tree in a lily pond.

It was a Sheltie convention, a giant meet-and-greet for all the pointy nosed, bushy-maned Shetland Sheepdogs in New LA.  Aside from a few tricolor and blue merle dogs, they were almost entirely Senator Morrison lookalikes.  Short, orange, intense — miniature collies with an ax to grind, because dogs that short always felt like they had something to make up for.  It was kind of creepy.

Trudith had a sense of what Kipper must have felt like in Siamhalla.  She was the only mutt here.  Even the waiters were meticulously coiffed poodles.  Oh, and one Greyhound, looking out of place, towered over the Shelties and stood by Senator Morrison’s side.  He must have been one of the senator’s bodyguards, but, right then, he was functioning as a giant sign post, pointing out where in this homogenous crowd to find the senator.  Perfect!

Trudith wended through the crowd, getting piercing, beady-eyed looks from all the Shelties who stood inches shorter than her as she passed them.  They weren’t dressed differently from any other crowd of dogs in New LA — vests and pants in recent styles, heavy on the pockets.  However, the effect of the bushy manes trailing out of their collars and the white fur gloving all their paws made them look like a crowd in fancy tuxedos.  Trudith felt underdressed in her uniformly short, black fur.

“Senator!” she said.  “Hi!”

Senator Morrison glanced her way, but he was busy talking to a delicate, tri-colored Sheltie woman.  He didn’t look like he planned on breaking the tête-à-tête any time soon.  His Greyhound guard, however, looked relieved to see another misfit in the crowd and lit up as soon as he saw her.

“There’s a buffet over there,” the guard said to Trudith eagerly.  “Sir, if you don’t mind, I’ll show this friend of yours to the buffet?”  Morrison grimaced at the guard who apparently understood the expression to mean approval.  Morrison was probably grateful to have Trudith out of his way.

Trudith followed, and the guard, who said his name was Keith, led her to a well-laid table.  They each took plates, and Trudith piled hers high with beef tarts and lamb brûlées.  If the senator was going to brush her off, she might as well get a good meal out of it, and this meal looked fantastic.

“Wow,” Trudith woofed after tasting one of the beef tarts.  “Alistair should bring his guard along when he goes to things like this!”

Keith gave Trudith a tilted look from his long, gaunt face.

“‘Cause I’m his guard,” Trudith explained.  “And I wouldn’t mind going to a few more events like this.”  She wolfed down another tart or two.  “So, what is this event anyway?  The coalition for Shelties’ special interests?”

Keith barked a laugh.  “Hardly!  There’s nothing political going on here.  Unless you count social politics.”

Trudith laughed along to be congenial, but she didn’t get it.  “Social politics?”

“These breed mixers are one big marriage market,” Keith said.

Trudith goggled, and Keith backpedaled.

“Not literally,” he said.  “But, every friend of mine who’s let his mother talk him into going to a Greyhound Picnic has come back completely head over heels.  They’re usually engaged by the end of the month.  That’s why I haven’t gone.”

“Happy bachelor, eh?”

“That’s right,” he said, picking up a few more tartlets for his plate.  “Besides, it’s a little creepy, isn’t it?”  He popped a tartlet in his mouth.  The morsel of meat and pastry was a single bite for him.  “You know, like those cats up on Mars.”

“I was thinking the same thing when I walked in here!”  Trudith looked around again.  Long noses, perky ears, and flowing manes everywhere.  “It is creepy,” she muttered.

“I guess there’s something about meeting another dog who’s so much like you.  I mean, look at them!  They have all these subtle mannerisms in common.”  Keith pointed to a dog who looked like a black and white photo-copy of the senator.  “See that man, there?  He’s holding his paws in the same way the Senator does.”

Trudith saw — he had his wrists high and his elbows low.  Just like the senator.  Looking around, Trudith realized that more than a few Shelties held themselves the same way, even the tri-colored woman with whom Senator Morrison was clearly flirting.

“I guess that’s how breeds continue without the First Race here to arrange it anymore,” Trudith said.  She tried to shake the heebie-jeebie feeling out through her ears.  The jog to her brain caused Trudith to realize something:  the connection she’d just made with this guard might be exactly what she needed.  Senator Morrison’s guard was likely to be a lot more outgoing than the senator himself.  By talking to him, she could do her job for Alistair without spending time directly with the senator at all!

“So,” she asked, hoping it sounded casual and trying to quickly figure out what kind of information she should pursue.  “Is that why the senator’s here?”  That’s it!  Trudith thought, Stay on topic, but turn the conversation towards the target.  “He wants to get married?”

Keith shrugged.  It was an impressive gesture on his long, narrow body.  His expression stayed impassive, indifferent.  Apparently, he wasn’t that interested in talking about his boss.

“Hey,” he said, suddenly brightening.  “I heard the boss saying something about you and a buddy of yours discussing a scramball team the other day.  Do you need a good thrower?”  He pantomimed a high throw, and Trudith had to admit that height like that would be useful on any scramball team.  Soon they were deeply embroiled in a debate of scramball tactics.

A few more twists of the conversation, and Trudith realized she wasn’t learning anything about the senator.  She was enjoying Keith’s company, and that was what he seemed to have in mind.

“You’ve been put in charge of keeping me busy,” Trudith said.  “Haven’t you?”

Keith rolled his eyes theatrically and grinned sheepishly.  “Maybe,” he said.  “But I’d be enjoying our conversation anyway.  I mean, this is a lot better than most of the jobs Senator Morrison gives me.  He’s such a micro-manager!  Most of the time, he writes little scripts for his guards if he expects us to talk to anyone.”

“You’re kidding,” Trudith woofed.

“Nope.  He puts them on flashcards.”  Keith pulled a pack of flashcards out of his narrow, pinstriped vest pocket.  “These were for the senate meeting yesterday.  They weren’t very useful after your Mr. Brighton played that video though.”

Trudith grinned, happily.  “The cat in that video is my best friend,” Trudith said.  “She changed my life.”

Keith tilted his head, triangular ears perked high.  “There’s something you don’t hear very often.”


“A dog and a cat, best friends.”  Keith looked ponderous for a moment.  “Here I am, complaining about how weird it is that all my Greyhound buddies keep marrying other Greyhounds, and there you are.  Best friends with a cat.  And working for one!”

“Your point?” Trudith said.

Keith looked around at the room filled with Shelties, a uniform monoculture of dogs.  “I think,” he said, “I’ve been keeping the wrong company.  Want to get out of here?”  He grabbed one of Trudith’s paws, and his large oval paw pads felt smooth against hers.  His brown eyes were serious.  “C’mon,” he said.  “As long as I keep you busy, I’m doing my job.  Let’s skip this joint.”

Trudith looked at Senator Morrison.  He had a white paw on the tri-woman’s arm, and several other Shelties stood and laughed with them.  Trudith was not welcome there, and she knew it.  Besides, she wouldn’t learn anything that could help Alistair by listening to these Shelties joke and flirt.  “Yeah,” she said.  “Let’s go.”

Trudith and Keith set their empty plates on a deserted table near the edge of the room and headed for the exit.  Trudith wasn’t sure what Keith had in mind, but he seemed to have a plan.  As she followed him down the steps into the back parking lot, Trudith asked, “Where are we heading?”

Keith looked at her with brown eyes that had grown bright.  His whip-like tail wagged.  “Anywhere,” he said.  “I feel like I’m playing hooky.”

“But you’re not.”


Trudith thought about that and realized she didn’t need to be playing hooky either.  Even if hanging out with Keith made it feel that way.  “I have an idea,” she said, her tail starting to wag too.  “Where does Senator Morrison go to church?” she asked.  “Do you know?”

“It’s the same church I go to, but that’s not exactly what I’d pick for a first date,” he said.

Even better!, Trudith thought, entirely missing Keith’s comment about first dates.  If Keith was a First-Racer — and he probably was — he’d feel completely comfortable in his home church, she reasoned.  It was the perfect place to have a real heart-to-heart about their employers’ intentions, what was right, and the future of the world.  “Let’s go there.”

Keith looked at her quizzically, but he must have seen something in her eyes that he liked.  “All right,” he said.  “I’ll take you there.”

Continue on to Chapter 16

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