Otters In Space 2 – Chapter 3: 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.

“Singing seagulls! Let’s get going. I’ve got to see what kind of a place you cats have whipped up for yourselves here on this red space rock.”

Trudith waited in the outer office of the campaign headquarters.  She expected that when Alistair finished his conversation with the Election Office, he would come out and tell her the plan, but it didn’t work that way.  Instead, Alistair slinked out, his tail dragging almost on the floor.  He was already wearing his jacket as if ready to leave, and he looked completely dispirited.  Trudith knew better than to ask, “What’s the plan?” but, she did ask, “How’d the request for a recount go?”

Alistair shrugged.  “They’ll do it.  But I feel like I’m losing face.”

“Better to lose face than lose the election,” Petra sang from the corner where she’d been huddled over a com-console for the last hour.

Alistair didn’t respond.  He didn’t say if he’d be in tomorrow either.  He just said, “Good night, guys,” and headed out into the chill, desert air of New LA.  The door thwacked shut behind him, and Trudith let out a jowly sigh.  It was frustrating working for cats.  They never told her quite what was going on, and she was left to guess for herself.  Trudith wasn’t great at that.  She was great at taking orders.

With a vacuum of command coming from Alistair, Trudith risked glancing nervously at Petra.

“What do you want, dog?” Petra asked without looking up.

“What’re you working on?” Trudith asked.

Petra looked up at that and narrowed her eyes.  “Why do you want to know?”

“Do you need help?” Trudith asked.  “I could help you.”

“Oh, I see,” Petra said, losing interest in Trudith and turning back to her com-console.  “The dog needs an order to obey.”

“I’m just trying to help.”  Trudith harrumphed in a growly woof.  “So, I guess you don’t need help?”  An ingratiating whine snuck in at the end of Trudith’s sentence, despite her best attempts to quash it.

“No,” Petra said.  After a beat, Petra punched her com-console off and began gathering up all the papers from her desk.  “Don’t need it.  Don’t want it,” she said.  “Besides, I don’t think it would help much to have some follow-the-rules dog reporting everything I do back to my goody-two-shoes brother.  Kind of counter-productive, if you know what I mean.”  Petra shot Trudith a green-eyed glare, and then she swept out of the office, as quickly as only a cat could.

“Well!” Trudith woofed to herself in the aftermath of Petra’s slammed door.  There wasn’t much point in pursuing an avoidant cat, and Trudith didn’t have any other work to do.  She guessed it was time to go home.

All their plans had been geared toward Alistair winning.  They had lots of plans for pro-cat reforms to introduce to the legislature.  Trudith sighed a jowly sigh, as she closed and locked the office.

Right now, fighting for the rights of cats felt highly unsatisfying, but Trudith didn’t like to make any important decisions without sleeping on them first.  In fact, she wasn’t sure it was a good idea to even lay out her options until she’d slept on the facts.  So, Trudith headed home for a good night of sleep.

When she woke up in the morning, a little groggy and bleary eyed, the facts didn’t feel any clearer, and the idea of examining her options felt overwhelming.  Trudith went into work at the campaign headquarters as if it were a normal day.

The whole drive over, Trudith kept worrying.  She knew she’d arrive at an empty office and have to face the facts for real.  None of the volunteers planned to come in after the election was over.  In fact, Alistair might have stopped renting the office.  Could it happen that quickly?  Would she get there and find the Campaign Headquarters of Alistair Brighton for Senator replaced with… a daytime casino?  A lot of dogs hanging around, placing bets, playing poker, and wearing green visors?

No, no, no.  Trudith couldn’t handle the world changing that fast.  Fortunately for her, when she arrived at the Campaign Headquarters of Alistair Brighton for Senator, they were exactly as they had been, only empty of cat volunteers.  Completely unchanged.  Trudith unlocked the offices and opened the window blinds.  She sat at the front desk.  An uneasy grin turned up her jowls.  Anyone who showed up would have been impressed by her friendly, welcoming demeanor.

No one showed up.  But, sitting there in a familiar environment, waiting and waiting, as Petra and Alistair grew more and more tardy, Trudith found the wheels in her brain turning.  Gears churned through the facts of yesterday, and Trudith wondered again and again what devious plans Petra was enacting.  If she wasn’t here at the office, she had to be somewhere.  She’d made it clear that she hadn’t given up on the campaign.

Where was she?

The more Trudith thought it over, the more ominous Petra’s words from the night before became.  If Petra didn’t want Trudith reporting on everything that she did to Alistair, then Petra must be planning to do something she didn’t want Alistair to know about.  Something Alistair wouldn’t have approved.  Something unethical.

By midmorning, when Alistair arrived, looking harried and hassled, Trudith had made up her mind.

“Good morning, Trudith,” Alistair said, hanging up his coat on the corner coat rack.

Trudith didn’t want to add to Alistair’s burdens.  She wouldn’t tell Alistair what Petra had said to her.  Whatever personal problems Trudith and Petra had with each other, Trudith couldn’t deny that Petra was on Alistair’s side.  So, if she didn’t want Alistair to know what she was doing, maybe it was better that he didn’t.

“Have you seen this?” Alistair asked.  He sat at the com-console Petra had been using the night before.

Trudith’s heart leapt to her throat.  Was it too late to protect Alistair from Petra’s nefarious, underpawed, unethical doings?

“Kipper’s sent us a video.  Want to watch it?”

Trudith’s heart settled back in her chest, though it was still beating fast.  Petra would know better than to leave her tracks uncovered.

“Huh,” Alistair said.  “There’s a text message with the video.”  Alistair skimmed the text.  “Apparently she hasn’t got our message about me losing yet.”  He looked up at Trudith as he spoke.  “She wishes me luck in tomorrow’s election.  Hmmph.”

Trudith’s troubled look and generally tense demeanor must have struck Alistair then, because his orange ears started wandering forward and back in a classic cat gesture of confusion.  “You okay?” he asked.

Trudith pursed her jowls.  “Yes,” she answered.  It wasn’t entirely true, but it was the right answer nonetheless.  As she realized that, Trudith finally understood what she had to do.  Just as Alistair needed to be protected from her uncertainties and unhappiness right now, his career needed to be protected from whatever unseemly thing Petra might do.  In order to protect him, Trudith had to find out what Petra was doing, and she had to do it alone.  Trudith felt resolved.

“Well,” Alistair said.  Trudith read his uncertainty in the way he flattened his ears.  “Kipper says I should use my new influence to make people watch this video.”

Trudith flashed him a jowly smile to reassure him.  It was completely fake, but she didn’t think Alistair could tell.  “Your influence is good enough for me.  I’ll watch it!”

Alistair did look reassured.  His ears turned back to their normal, forward position.  He swiveled the com-console around so that Trudith could see too, and he started the video.

Mars appeared center screen, growing until it filled the field of vision.  Desolate.  A cut zoomed closer, and both viewers drew in a sharp breath.

“I didn’t know the otters were building on Mars,” Trudith said.

“They aren’t.”  Alistair sounded as confused as Trudith.

The structure was a giant, clear, bubble dome planted like a bead of sweat on Mars’ red face.  The video was grainy, but, inside the dome there seemed to be buildings.  The video cut again, and a round river otter face filled the screen.  The image wobbled; the otter seemed to be holding her own camera out to film herself.  “I’m about to visit the first city on Mars!” she said.  Her fur looked slick and damp.  “Who knew that cats had their own space station?  Well, planet station,” she amended.  “Mars station.  I wonder what a cat city is like.”  The view zoomed out and around, bobbling about.  The otter must have been turning the camera away from herself.  Possibly, she clipped it on her jerkin, because the next shot was at shoulder height.  It bumped up and down, like the camera was walking.

From behind the camera, a muffled voice came through.  This one was male, and the accent sounded like an otter’s:  “Singing seagulls!  Let’s get going.  I’ve got to see what kind of a place you cats have whipped up for yourselves here on this red space rock.

Alistair and Trudith stared transfixed.  “I can’t believe it,” Alistair said.

Alistair and his sisters had speculated together about the nature of a theoretical world peopled by, designed for, and run by cats.  Undogged.  Free.  Alistair hadn’t believed it existed.  That’s why he was on Earth, in politics, running for senator.  Alistair sighed.  Right now he wished he were up in the sky instead, having adventures like Kipper.  In awe, he said, “She really found it.  Cat Haven.”

On screen, the camera bounced and wiggled toward the center of the town.  Cats passed the camera left and right.  Siamese.  Burmese.  Abyssinians.  Egyptian Maus.  Cats, cats, cats.  Cats don’t vary in size and shape nearly as much as dogs.  It was completely foreign, from the perspective of the varied and diverse population of Earth.    And yet… completely familiar.  To Alistair.  To a cat.

“Kipper can do anything,” Trudith said, as though she thought Kipper had built this cat haven with her own two paws, rather than merely finding it.

As if on cue, Kipper came onscreen.  At first, Trudith and Alistair didn’t recognize her.  The image was bouncy, and Kipper had spots.  Apparently, Alistair’s plain old tabby of a sister had dyed her fur up like a fancy Egyptian Mau.

Scandalous,” said a voice to the left of the picture.  The camera swerved around, and a fluffy white Birman came onscreen.  She must have been shorter than the otter wearing the camera; her face fell toward the side and center of the image, meaning she probably came to the otter’s shoulder height.

“What’s scandalous?” the male otter voice asked.

“I don’t know what your Kipper is used to on Earth, but here….”  The Birman hissed through her whiskers, “She’s being awfully flirtatious with a cat who is not her breed.”

The camera swung back around, and, sure enough, Kipper was standing very close to an extremely handsome Siamese cat.

“He’s good looking, right?” Trudith asked.  “I have trouble judging with cats.”

“Oh, yes,” Alistair said.  His tail twitched protectively.

In the video, the female otter’s voice asked, “What’s wrong with that?”

“I wouldn’t expect an otter to understand.  You don’t have breeds.”  The Birman’s white face careened back on screen.

“Sure we do!” said the male otter from off-screen.  “Why, Jenny here is an Asian small-clawed otter.  And I’m a Neotropical.  Not to mention the difference between sea and river!”

The Birman sniffed and then smoothed her whiskers with a paw.  “That’s not the same,” she said.  “We have a legacy left behind from the time of the First Race.”

“She’s a First-Racer?” Alistair whispered.  “A First-Racer cat?  That’s unusual.”  It took a certain amount of devoted fanaticism to believe that the First Race — humans, who had vanished from Earth centuries ago — would return some day and had plans for the species they’d left behind.  By and large, that level of devotion was much more common among canines.

“Guess so,” Trudith said.

“Do you think they all are?  The whole colony?” Alistair asked.

Trudith didn’t answer.  She hadn’t the slightest idea.  Fortunately, Alistair didn’t notice.  He was too absorbed watching the video and thinking about its implications.  Trudith wasn’t as good at thinking through those implications, but she knew better than to interrupt Alistair again when he looked so deep in thought.

Ten minutes later, when the video ended, Alistair looked at Trudith.  “Cat politics will never be the same,” he said.

“Is that good?” Trudith asked.  She really had no idea what to make of this foreign land Kipper had found.  Siamhalla, it was called.  Learning about it was like watching a travel vid about the dingo outreach programs in Australia or the Antarctic Husky commune.  But those were places that had fit into her concept of her world for years.  She had no idea how Siamhalla related to, well, anything.

“Good?”  Alistair puffed through his whiskers.  Dumbfounded.  “I don’t know.”  His ears wandered nervously forward and back.  The tip of his tail twitched three times.  “You mean for me?” he asked.  “For the election?”

Trudith nodded, a solemn nod.  Though, she was really looking for any answer at all.

“Hard to say,” Alistair said.  “I feel like I’m playing a whole new game.”  He flattened his ears.  “And I don’t know the rules yet.  Petra would probably tell me not to go public with this.”

Trudith eagerly pointed out the obvious:  “Petra’s not here.”

“Good point,” Alistair said.  He swished his tail and flexed his claws.  “Truth’s truth,” he said.  After another moment, he added, decisively, “Let’s get this to the press.  We’ll figure out how it impacts my own election later.”

Trudith’s tail wagged, thumping the leg of the com-console desk.  “Can do,” she said.  “I’ll start calling all our contacts.”  Whatever Petra might or might not be up to, Alistair was back to his old self.

Trudith felt better already!

Continue on to Chapter 4

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