by Mary E. Lowd
The first of the Kipper Brighton: The Hero of Europa videos hit the sketchier parts of the interwebs before Kipper’s friends and family even knew if she’d survived the rescue mission to Europa. No one in the rest of the Solar System knew what was happening in orbit of Jupiter. Had the Jolly Barracuda succeeded? How many had they rescued? Or was the Jolly Barracuda just another ship smashed to pieces by the raptors?
Otters, cats, and dogs alike — on Earth and in space — waited with bated breath for the next transmission from Jupiter.
Shortly after the second Kipper Brighton: The Hero of Europa video appeared in a small-time webzine of questionable repute, Kipper’s family received a personal message from her, letting them know she was safe.
Before the third video could be released, information about New Persia and the octopus base on Europa had exploded all over the web-o-sphere. Every animal and her littermate had an opinion. Trudith was assaulted on a daily basis by cats who wanted to thank her for being such a great friend to the Brightons or by dogs who, well, the reactions of dogs were more mixed.
Some dogs laughed at Trudith, taunted her, called her a cat herself and said she should shape up — “start acting like a real dog.” Because real dogs don’t have such intimate friendships with cats. Real dogs don’t let cats “boss them around.”
Sure, being loyal and obedient to your alpha is a wonderful thing, if your alpha is a dog. An alpha cat though? No such thing. Any cat in a leadership position must only have weaklings for followers. Therefore, logically, Trudith was a weak, sniveling, pathetic cat-worshipper.
Not all dogs reacted that way. Trudith’s scramball team stood by her, and so did Keith. As the weeks passed, dogs were more likely to seek her out with questions — “Is Kipper really as brave and good as the videos make her out to be?” “Is she really your best friend?” And, “what’s it like to work for a Brighton?” All the kinds of questions that Keith had asked her, back during their first date in the ice cream shop.
Trudith gave the same answers, staying steadfast and true to her cat family.
Shortly after the third Kipper Brighton: The Hero of Europa video was released amid much anticipation, the colony of New Persia released a news video of their own. A yellow-furred, snub-faced cat with a delicate gold crown balanced in the fluff of fur between her ears introduced herself as the empress of New Persia. She declared her colony’s undying gratitude to all the crew of the Jolly Barracuda, and announced that Kipper, who truly was a hero, had been welcomed as an honorary citizen of their colony.
Two days later, with much less fanfare, Kipper’s honorary citizenship was revoked when the empress of New Persia learned what the octopus base was doing to her planet.
The standing gravity wave above the surface was mirrored by a gravity wave in Europa’s core — one of the waves provided a force field, crushing ships that tried to approach the planet; the other caused turmoil and friction deep inside Europa’s heart, slowly melting the ice. As the ice melted, Europa began to grow oceans, and the water from the oceans evaporated. The gravity wave that functioned like a force field held in the gases that evaporated from the oceans — Europa was growing herself an atmosphere, but she was also melting.
In a matter of months, New Persia would sink. The octopus base, on the other tentacle, had been designed to float. Working together, Emily, Felix, and Ordol were able to translate enough of the information in the octopus base’s computers to establish that more bases would be revealed under the oceans as the planet melted. It was enough information to throw doubt on the idea that raptors had uplifted octopuses to become slaves for them. In fact, it was beginning to look much more likely that octopi had uplifted raptors. Then, the raptors had turned on them.
Regardless, the New Persian empire was not pleased to learn that it would soon find itself sinking into a worldwide ocean. Cats are not fans of water. They certainly didn’t like the idea of living on a water world. However, if the gravity wave was turned off, then New Persia would find itself at the mercy of the raptors again.
Amidst much protest, the New Persian colony evacuated. Some of the cats were invited, at least temporarily, to join Siamhalla, the cat colony on Mars. Others moved back to Earth. A few maintained their refugee status, settling into life on one or another of the otter space stations.
The future of Europa became a huge question mark. The otter ships that came to evacuate New Persian cats brought otters to inhabit and study the octopus base. However, the octopus empire on Earth declared itself unequivocally interested in those proceedings. Octopus delegates were sent to take part, and Ordol, the freed raptor slave, argued eloquently that the octopus base should, in fact, belong to the octopi of Jupiter. As soon as they could escape from the raptors’ talons.
Regardless of who controlled the octopus base, it was clear that it would play an important role in the possible war with the raptors to come. The raptors had responded to the Europan shield by backing off on their attacks. For now. It wasn’t clear how long that would last, and the octopus base on Europa provided an important foothold in the Jupiter system for otter and octopus kind.
As for the Jolly Barracuda, her crew split ways. Emily, Felix, Ordol, Jenny, and about half of the rest of the crew stayed behind to man the octopus station. Kipper left her own ship, Brighton’s Destiny, under Jenny’s command. Under the haphazard piratical law of the otters in deep space, Captain Cod felt that the octopus base was his — as long as he kept his paws on it, by leaving his own officers there to run it. Kipper wasn’t sure that would work with so many conflicting interests in the base. On the other paw, by the time anyone else arrived, the Barracuders would be far more fluent in using the ancient octopus technology than the newcomers.
The rest of the Jolly Barracuda crew — including Captain Cod himself, Trugger, and Kipper — carried a distraught vessel full of New Persian refugees back to Earth. Watching the New Persians flounder in the oxo-agua atmosphere gave Kipper a whole new view on how awkward and silly she must have seemed to the otters when she first joined their crew. It also gave her a whole new idea of how adept at swimming she’d become. Around the otters, she felt clumsy as a newborn kitten. Around the New Persians? She felt like a bona fide otter.
Kipper followed the politics on Earth through transmissions from her brother, sister, and Trudith as the Jolly Barracuda flew across the solar system back home. It confused her to see the image of herself created for, reflected and distorted by the media. She was brave. She was important. She was a hero. She felt the same as she’d always felt, but most of her life the world had ignored her. Now that she was gone from Earth, she looked back and saw that a reflection of her had grown large. It was very strange.
However, Kipper loved seeing the videos of Alistair on his campaign trail. His running mate, Morrison, was overbearing and frightening as always. Alistair, though, was reasonable, insightful, and mellow. Too good to be a politician. Yet, there he was — running for vice president. Kipper wasn’t sure if she should root for him or not though. Whatever good he could do, wouldn’t it be offset by the damage that Morrison could do as president?
Trudith, Keith, and the scramball team had held their cards close, so not even Kipper knew what to expect from the final Kipper Brighton: The Hero of Europa videos. In fact, Trudith had convinced Keith to spread quiet rumors about the “harmless, silly cats running that ad campaign” among Morrison’s agents. Until the last video, Morrison himself was quite happy with the Hero of Europa videos. They bought political goodwill for his running mate, and he thought that meant political goodwill for himself.
When the last video ran, the political scene on Earth exploded. With only days until the election, all the polls were suddenly rendered meaningless. All bets were off.
Continue on to Chapter 32…