Otters In Space 2 – Chapter 24: 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.

“Political goons, Trudith could handle. A half dozen rambunctious Labrador puppies? No, thanks.”

With Kipper gone, Trudith and Petra found themselves alone with each other again.  Although it had only been a time-delayed ghost of her, Kipper’s presence had filled the space between Trudith and Petra, bridging the gap between them.  The emptiness she left behind was like a giant chasm.  The tenuous bridge she had provided, crumbled away, leaving them with a gulf of silence.

Trudith cleared her throat, preparing for a leap into that gulf:  “So, uh, adopting a kitten.  That’s a big decision, right?”  Talking about anything was better than thinking about Kipper piloting a small alien spacecraft into a firefight over Europa, and Petra’s topic du jour seemed to be kittens.

Petra didn’t bite.  Her shoulders slumped and her whiskers drooped.  Trudith would have to bait the hook better.  She tried for a more compelling question, “What are you going to do with the kitten?”

Petra glared and shot back the answer, “What does anyone do with a kitten?”

Trudith might not have succeeded at asking a more compelling question, but, by asking a more stupid one, she at least got a response.

“I dunno,” Trudith said.  “I thought you might be meeting with that social worker woman to set up some kind of stunt — something to make Alistair look good for the election.  You know, like a video of him rescuing kittens from a burning building.”

Petra stifled a snicker, then, too tired to maintain her coldness toward Trudith, she said, “No, Lucky and I just wanted a family.”  She extended a claw and began scratching idle patterns on the edge of her desk.  “Growing up in a cattery, I never knew any parents.  I wanted to see what it was like.  By giving that gift to a kitten, well, it would be like going back in time and giving that gift to me.  I thought I’d be able to see myself in the kitten’s eyes.”

Petra trailed off, her eyes staring into the middle distance.  Suddenly, she shifted uncomfortably.  Wrapping her paws around herself, she said, “Look, I know it’s dumb, but I would have given anything to have parents looking out for me as as kitten, and, I figured, if Lucky and I had a kitten, then that kitten would have me looking out for her.  And she’d have Lucky as a dad.  Imagine that?  A dog for a dad.”

Petra looked up, and her eyes caught Trudith’s.  Her ears flattened as she realized the ridiculousness of what she’d just said.  Trudith didn’t have to imagine having a dog for a dad, or imagine any dad, or parents at all.  She’d grown up with her own, real parents looking out for her, like most dogs did.

“You wouldn’t understand,” Petra said, her orange fur bristling.

Trudith was quiet for a while, but then she woofed, “I guess not, but that sounds like a nice reason for wanting a kitten.”

Petra looked surprised, though still grouchy.  “Thanks,” she meowed.

“So,” Trudith said, “what does this Topher Brooke thing have to do with it?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” Petra meowed, eyes wide at the idea that even Trudith could be so dense.  “I guess I have to spell it out for you?”

“Yes, thanks,” Trudith woofed.  “That would help.”

Petra’s eyes narrowed, looking for any way Trudith could be trying to trick her into looking a fool.  No matter how she worked it in her head, Trudith was the one who looked a fool and was admitting it.  Petra would never admit to being a fool.  Even if she had clearly been one.  Dogs were so weird.

“Whatever,” Petra meowed.  “Look, this article means that if Lucky and I really wanted to, we could have a litter of our own — children that are really ours.  Both his and mine.”

Petra stared at Trudith with an intensity that made the big black dog nervous.  Especially since Trudith still didn’t feel like she understood what Petra was saying.

“So?” Trudith woofed.

Petra threw her head back in an exasperated yowl.  “Don’t you understand anything?”

Now Trudith bristled.  Petra had been being so nice to her — explaining things and sharing things — there was no call for her to fall back to her old patterns of blanket insults to Trudith’s intelligence.  “I understand lots of things,” Trudith woofed, huffily.  “I just don’t understand what the big deal is about the difference between adopting a kitten and having a litter of your own.”

Petra looked taken aback.  Trudith didn’t usually stand up for herself this way.  “What do you mean?” she meowed.

“Well,” Trudith woofed, “if the whole point is to give the gift of a family with parents to a kitten…  That’s what every cattery kitten dreams of, right?”

Petra hated to sound selfish, but, in this regard she felt selfish.  “Yeah,” she whispered under her whiskers, “but, the point is for the kitten to be like me.”

Trudith lowered her voice too.  “A cattery kitten is like you — in the most important way when it comes to wanting a family.  You used to be one.”

Petra had nothing to say to that, but it looked to Trudith like her point had hit home.

If Trudith had been a cat, she would have been thinking about how Petra’s plans might affect her.  Specifically, if Petra were to become busy with a new kitten, would she have as much time to interfere in Alistair’s political campaigning?  If she didn’t have as much free time, might Trudith’s life not become a whole lot easier?

Instead, Trudith found herself thinking about what life would be like for Petra and the newly adopted kitten.  She’d never thought much about raising a litter herself.  Trudith came from a litter of five, and she remembered how much trouble she and her four brothers had got into as pups.  She wasn’t close to any of her brothers now, but two of them already had litters of their own, and Trudith had heard enough stories about her nieces and nephews to guess that if she ever had a litter of puppies, they’d be more than a pawful.

Political goons, Trudith could handle.  A half dozen rambunctious Labrador puppies?  No, thanks.

While Trudith was lost in her reverie, imagining Petra’s future, Petra found her mind focused on one very specific moment in Trudith’s recent past.

A moment that had been captured in video.

A moment that could be important.

The more Petra examined that moment from every angle, playing and replaying it in her mind, the more she became convinced that it had exactly the right amount of goofy, guileless charm to captivate a nation of gullible dogs and cats who were less clever than her.

Petra called up the recent video exchanges with Kipper on her computer in separate windows.  With a bit of scanning, she cued them up to two synergistic moments:  Trudith describing how everyone should vote for Alistair with her pantomimed arrow gesture, and Kipper agreeing that Alistair was “exactly the cat to lead us through this war.”

Petra played one clip and then the other.  One and then the other.  Again and again.

“What are you doing?” Trudith asked.

Petra’s eyes were wide and wild when she looked at Trudith.  “I have a plan,” she said.  “Well, part of a plan.”

Trudith looked at the frozen images of herself and Kipper on the computer screen.  “Does it involve putting these clips of video together into an ad campaign to win Alistair the presidency?”

“It’s completely infeasible,” Petra said.  Her ears splayed as she considered the logistics.  “But, yes.”

Trudith shrugged.  “Making a video can’t hurt.  We don’t have anything better to do for Alistair right now.”

“That’s true,” Petra said.  “Senator Morrison had some of his lackeys bring over a schedule for Alistair and go over it with him the other day.  They have everything mapped out — all the public appearances, every news outlet that will want to interview him.  He doesn’t need to do anything but show up when and where that Sheltie says for the next year, and be a puppet-cat for him.  We’re out of the loop.”

Trudith felt a thrill raise the fur between her shoulders as she realized that — while Petra may be “out of the loop” — Trudith was finally in the loop.  In Petra’s loop.

“Do you know anything about video editing?” Trudith asked.

“No,” Petra said.  “But we don’t want to do this ourselves.  We want it to look professional.”

Then Trudith got really excited.  Her contacts on her scramball team were about to pay off.  One of the other players — a salt-and-pepper furred poodle-mix — worked for an ad agency.  After the stories Joey had told their scramball team about his run-in with Senator Morrison, anyone on that team would be happy to help out in a campaign against him.

Technically, Trudith supposed, this was a campaign for Senator Morrison to win Vice President, but it was still against the senator’s interests, and that should be good enough.  Right?  The more she thought about it, the less Trudith realized she knew about how her scramball team would feel about voting for a cat.

Trudith started telling Petra her idea about involving the scramball team, hoping that Petra would offer to help her pitch the video plan to them.  Petra was good at persuading people to do things.

Unfortunately, the more serious Trudith sounded about the plan, the less serious it sounded to Petra.  Her orange ears wandered to the side — not in splayed annoyance but in simple inattention.  Her eyes glazed over, and Trudith realized their brief partnership was already over.  Trudith would have to persuade her scramball team herself.

“What do you think?” Trudith asked, grinning ingratiatingly, hoping to re-engage Petra.  “Should we get to work on it?”

After a pause long enough for Trudith to wonder whether Petra had stopped listening entirely, Petra answered, “Yes, you should get to work on it.”  She rose from her desk and gathered up a jacket that had been draped over the back of her chair.  Standing, Petra’s orange fur caught in the striated light coming through the half-open window blinds.  She glowed with fiery stripes, shaming the usual glow of her orange-on-orange stripes.  “I need to find Lucky,” she said, not even looking at Trudith.

Trudith understood.  Petra had a lot on her mind, and her row with Lucky did need to be patched up.

“Sure,” Trudith woofed.  “I’ll get the ball rolling, but, I’ll keep you informed, okay?”

Petra made a sound that could have been a meow of confirmation, but it was hard to tell.  She’d already turned away, and the creaking hinge of the front door as she left interfered with Trudith properly hearing her.

Never mind, Trudith thought.  She would figure out how to rally her scramball team to the cause of Alistair for President on her own.  Let Petra worry about adopting kittens — Trudith had a presidency to win!

Continue on to Chapter 25

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