Otters In Space 3 – Chapter 7: Jenny

by Mary E. Lowd

An excerpt from Otters In Space 3: Octopus Ascending.  If you’d prefer, you can start with Chapter 1, return to the previous chapter, or skip ahead.

“What was it with this admiral and seriousness? It’s almost like he wasn’t an otter at all.”

Jenny wanted to push all the buttons.  So far, her science officers — Felix and Amoreena — had only let her press one.  After a lengthy discussion where Ordol helped translate the language on all the newly-flooded Europa base vid-screens, Amoreena had figured out how to turn the base’s heaters on.  And only just in time.  Europa’s oceans were no longer covered in ice, but they were frigidly cold.  Much longer and they’d have had to improvise space heaters or begun wearing their spacesuits which would have been ungainly and clumsy underwater.

With the base’s heaters on, the water inside the base was a lovely temperature, and Jenny had loved pushing that button.  She was very proud of her work.

But now she was taking turns with the other otters sipping air from a face mask affixed to a cylindrical oxygen tank, merely watching Amoreena and Felix discuss the base’s controls with Ordol in Swimmer’s Sign.  They didn’t need her.  When Captain Cod had put Jenny in charge of the Jolly Barracuders who stayed behind to hold the Europa base, he had cast her into the role of a supervisor instead of a scientist.  She didn’t have time for both.

Jenny wanted to push buttons and find out what this amazing piece of octopus technology could do — it had already melted a planet-wide ocean! — but she needed to swim back up to the top of the submerged base and deal with the furious Admiral Mackerel, Howard Industry dogs, and Persian ex-empress on the surface.

“Report to me immediately if you learn anything exciting,” Jenny signed to her officers.  Then she took a long sip from the oxygen tank, kicked off from the floor with a flippered paw, and swam in a spiral upward through the main chamber of the base.  The single breath of oxygen could sustain her otter longs for nearly ten minutes.  One of the perks of being an aquatic mammal.

Jenny allowed herself a few curlicues around some of the poles that ran vertically through the giant chamber as she swam, but she kept her rudder tail pumping vigorously, guiding her remorselessly up to the honeycomb of passages ending at an elevator that would take her to the surface.

The honeycomb passages of the base were a breeze to swim through.  So much better than it had been awkwardly crawling through them with her long spine hunched.

Jenny emerged from the honeycomb passages into the bottom of the elevator chamber — a deep well that had been open to the Europa sky above until Admiral Mackerel ordered a portable atmo-dome inflated over it.

Water sloshed on the floor of the elevator as Jenny entered it, but the chamber was otherwise dry.  Jenny pressed her paws into a hemispherical bump in the middle of the elevator floor, and the floor began to rise.

Jenny shook herself, spattering drops of water from the soaked fur on her head, arms, and tail.  Then she squeezed as much water as she could out of her slacks and vest.  They were both made out of quick-drying fabric.  All otter clothes were.  By the time the elevator pulled up level with the surface of the floating base, Jenny was only damp, no longer soaked.

The large red face of Jupiter, distorted and blurry, shone through the cloudy plastic ceiling of the atmo-dome.  Jenny felt cold looking at it.  Raptors continued to assemble under those ruddy clouds.  The instruments on Europa detected some of them, but Jenny feared there were many more deeper inside Jupiter’s protective cloud cover.

Dinosaurs had hidden in those clouds throughout the entire history of Jenny’s race — since before the beginning of the race who’d uplifted otters.  Their society could be massive.

Jenny shuddered.

Then she faced the spectacle before her:  Admiral Mackerel glaring at her.

“You and your gang of miscreants caused a lot of trouble with that stunt.”  Admiral Mackerel looked more serious than an otter ought to be able to.  Behind him, the Howard dogs and the Persian empress were yelling at each other, looking much closer to coming to the stereotypical cat-and-dog fight than before.  The surface of the base was nearly a mile wide, but it still felt too small for the cats and dogs to share.

“It was the right choice,” Jenny said coolly.  “All sorts of systems turned on once the base finished flooding that we hadn’t been able to make work before.  This base was designed to operate under water.  We were never going to get it fully operational while it was still dry and floating.”

“Gutsy,” Admiral Mackerel afforded.  He eyed Jenny appraisingly, and his stance relaxed.  “Well, you wanted to be in charge — you’re in charge.  Go tell those landlubbers what you expect of them while they’re on your base.”

Jenny choked on the words she wanted to say — I didn’t want to be in charge!  Instead, she squeaked out the words, “My base?”

“Under Naval law, I’m placing you in charge of this base.”

Jenny’s eyes widened, and she again felt the urge to shout, “I don’t want to be in charge!

Amusement twisted Admiral Mackerel’s whiskers, and he seemed to infer her feelings.  “You took charge when you flooded the base.  I’m just making it official.  Deal with it.”  He had clearly appraised her and found her worthy of taking an unwanted responsibility off of his paws.

Jenny nodded solemnly.  Admiral Mackerel was right.  She’d already been in charge — she’d felt the responsibility in her heart, and that’s why she’d flooded the base.  It was what had needed to be done, even if it came with complicated consequences.  That was the act of a leader.

If Jenny was stuck in charge, she might as well have the official authority that went with it.  “Does my new position come with a rank?” Jenny asked.  Jolly Barracuders liked their ranks.  “Perhaps, Grand High Poohbah of Europa?”  And the more elaborate, the better.

Admiral Mackerel rolled his eyes.  He really was a strangely serious otter.  “How about Base Commander?”

“I’ll take it.”

Admiral Mackerel almost looked amused.  But not quite.  “Good, then get those landlubbers out of the way, and we can have a serious conversation about the relationship between the Imperial Star-Ocean Navy and this base of yours.”

What was it with this admiral and seriousness?  It’s almost like he wasn’t an otter at all.

Jenny looked at the Persian cat in her ridiculous imperial robes hissing and spitting through her whiskers at the casually dressed dachshund and cattle dog.  Admiral Mackerel was right — they were in the way, distracting all of the navy otters.  The situation was dire enough without them adding to it.

Jenny hesitated though, unsure of how to get them out of the way.  She couldn’t order them to fly back to Earth.  Leaving the shield surrounding Europa could be very dangerous.  They wouldn’t be any help inside the base now, since they couldn’t hold their breath like otters.  They needed a task to keep them busy.

Admiral Mackerel placed a webbed paw on Jenny’s shoulder and shoved her towards them.  “Go on.  Show me what you’ve got.”

What was with this admiral?  Jenny kept herself from shooting him a glare.  Even if he was a much more annoying superior than Captain Cod, he was her direct superior right now.  She was better off not fighting with him.  But he seriously needed to lighten up.

That gave her an idea.

Jenny strode over to the Persian empress and said, “When your colonists evacuated, did they take everything with them?  Food?  Furnishings?  Other stuff?”

The empress’s ears were already skewed from her argument with the Howard dogs, so Jenny couldn’t tell if the cat was skewing her ears at the question.  If anything, they seemed to straighten a little, and the fire in her eyes died down as she looked at the otter.  “No, of course not,” the empress said.  “There wasn’t time or space on the rescue ships.  My people had to leave most of their possessions behind.”

“Good,” Jenny said without thinking it through too clearly.

The fire returned to the empress’s eyes.

“I mean, not good.  But we could use those supplies.”  Jenny turned to the Howard dogs, including them in the conversation and said, “I know you only arrived here recently, but my crew has been stuck on this moon working with this base for months.”

The empress muttered bitterly under her whiskers, “My cabinet and I have been here just as long.”

“We need a break.”  Jenny locked eyes with the empress in spite of the cat’s fiery glare.  “All of us do.”

The empress looked a little mollified by Jenny pointedly including her.  Her triangular ears raised to half mast in their sea of fluff.  The empress was a very fluffy cat.

“What are you suggesting?” the cattle dog asked in his down-home accent.

“All of us otters are really busy trying to figure out the capabilities of this base–”

The cattle dog cut Jenny off to say, “Well, my fine aquatic friend, we can’t really help you with that anymore since you went and sank the place.”

Jenny bristled at the way the cattle dog talked to her.  She wasn’t at all sure that she liked him.  He’d been talking down to the admiral and the empress too.  While Jenny didn’t know much about cat and dog politics, it seemed unwise to talk down to an empress.  Even a former one.  On general principle.

“We don’t want your help inside the base,” Jenny said.  She managed to swallow the words, “We want you out of our fur,” and jump straight to, “I’d like you to throw a party.”

“A what?”  The cattle dog sounded incredulous.

The empress looked surprised.  But possibly intrigued.

The dachshund said, “That’s not a bad idea.”

The cattle dog looked at his colleague skeptically, one large triangular ear skewed to the side.  Jenny was familiar with the skewed-ear look on cats — it looked completely different on this cattle dog.  More bewildered, less supercilious.

“How do you figure?” the cattle dog asked the dachshund, having seemingly completely forgotten Jenny who’d brought up the idea of a party in the first place.

The dachshund shrugged.  “Everyone’s on edge.”  She anxiously tugged one of her floppy ears.  “There’s no telling when the situation will get better — we’re out here all alone on this inhospitable planet worrying that, humans help us, dinosaurs will attack Earth, and for all we know, the information on this base could be our only real line of defense.  I, for one, would like to see the otters working here functioning at maximum capacity.”

“Rest and recuperation,” the cattle dog said.  “Relax and refresh.”

“Exactly,” the dachshund agreed.

The cattle dog slapped his paws together.  “Good idea!  Let’s get on it.”

Jenny refrained from rolling her eyes at the way the two dogs had cut her and the empress entirely out of the conversation.  She was really seeing why Kipper had trouble with dogs back on Earth.

“I’m glad we’re in agreement then,” Jenny said through gritted teeth.  “In order to throw a good party, you’re going to need supplies that we don’t have on any of our ships.”  Jenny gave the empress a meaningful look.

The cat frowned and said through downturned whiskers, “You want us to salvage the wreckage of New Persia.”

“I’d planned on avoiding the word wreckage,” Jenny said.  Then she felt like slapping herself on the head.  The empress’ burning eyes told her quite clearly that just because the empress had said it, didn’t mean Jenny had been welcome to.  “But, yes.  And since you’re most familiar with the layout of… uh… your previous colony, I think it would be best if you were in charge.”

That smoothed the empress’s fur.

“Well, hey, now,” the cattle dog said.  “There’s knowledge, and then there’s know-how.  And while I may not be familiar with the local layout, I know how to make use of resources.  Like the locals’ knowledge.  See, I have a lot of experience with leadership.”

“More experience than being an empress?”  If the sharp edge of a hissed word could draw blood, the empress’s pronunciation of her own title would have left the cattle dog’s face dripping red.

The cattle dog probably shouldn’t have smirked as he said, “Seems to me, we can all probably agree that hasn’t worked out too well for you.”

“Are you insinuating–”  Every s the empress hissed was another sharp dagger.  “–that it’s my fault prehistoric monsters from the depths of Jupiter attacked my colony and ancient technology melted its foundation?”

“You did choose to build on ice.”  The dachshund looked like she legitimately thought her comment was helpful.

Jenny had been curious about seeing a real cat and dog fight.  But now she’d had her fill.  “I am the commander of this base,” she snapped.  “And my position is backed by the Imperial Star-Ocean Navy.  If you want to be welcome here, then you’ll make yourselves useful.  For the empress, that means throwing a party.  For the two of you–”  Jenny stared levelly at the Howard dogs.  “It means assisting the empress.”

The cattle dog looked like he was about to object when they were interrupted.

“Jenny?”  It was Felix’s voice.

Jenny turned around to face her fellow otter and said in a low voice, “New rank — base commander.”  Fortunately, Barracuders were used to changing ranks often.

“Oh, uh, Base Commander Jenny, we’ve discovered something.”

For a moment, Jenny was relieved to be offered an excuse to escape from the Howard dogs and empress.  Then she noticed the quiver in Felix’s whiskers.  “What’s wrong?” she asked.

“We can track the raptor ships now.”

This should have been good news.  On the scale of the solar system, a fleet of enemy warships was extremely small.  Almost impossible to track, unless they wanted to be found.  But Felix’s tone wasn’t happy.

“Go on,” Jenny said, dread curdling her stomach.

“They’re moving much faster than expected.”

“As fast as the Jolly Barracuda?” Jenny asked.  The Jolly Barracuda was an experimental ship that Captain Cod claimed to have won in a poker game.  It was the fastest ship ever built by otters.

Felix’s whiskers drooped even farther, and his narrow shoulders slumped.  “Depending on their acceleration, they’ll be to Earth in a month and a half — maybe two months.”

“Holy First Race!” the cattle dog exclaimed.

“But we can track them,” Jenny said.


The empress stepped forward and asked, “And they are heading to Earth?  Not Mars?”

Both dogs gave the empress dirty looks.  The dachshund said, “My family is on Earth.”  As the short-legged dog said it, the reality seemed to strike her.  In a broken tone, she added, “I promised my mom I’d be back for the big family reunion next year.  What if…”  She couldn’t finish the thought, but all of them were picturing raptor vessels wreaking destruction on their home world.

Admiral Mackerel had been listening, and he stepped forward to say, “We’re not going to let that happen.”

“No, we’re not,” Jenny agreed.  Base Commander Jenny, she reminded herself and stood a little taller.  “Which is why we need to get back to work, figuring out what we can do to stop the raptors from here.  And I need you–”  Jenny looked pointedly at each Howard dog and then the empress.  “–to get to work on your project.  I think we’re really going to need it before this is all over.”

The cattle dog’s demeanor had changed completely — he was no longer a bullying braggart; he looked like a big scared puppy.  He tucked his tail between his his legs and said, “Yes, ma’am.”  Turning to the empress, he added, “How can my team assist you?”

To her credit, the empress took the change in the power dynamic between her and the Howard dogs without any comment.  Not the slightest sign of gloating.  Mostly, she looked tired, like everyone else on Europa.  “Let’s put a plan together,” the empress said.  “Do you have any space on your ship where we could talk?  Or…”  She hesitated.  “Well, do you have a place where my cabinet and I could stay?”  They had been staying inside the Europa base.  When the Jolly Barracuders had flooded it, the Persian cats had found themselves forced to evacuate suddenly, yet again.

The Howard dogs had come in a hired otter vessel, a merchant ship called Riptide.  It was floating alongside the recently submerged base.  To his credit, the cattle dog looked genuinely sympathetic as he said, “I’m sure we can clear out a few cabins for you.”

Once the dogs and cat were gone, Admiral Mackerel reappeared to say, “Well done.  I couldn’t get a word in edgewise with them.  Now what’s this about tracking the raptor ships?”

Felix gave Jenny an uncertain look, as if to ask whether he should be sharing information with the admiral.  After all, the Jolly Barracuders had all just committed some sort of treason against the Imperial Star-Ocean Navy.  But Jenny nodded to let him know it was okay, and Felix said, “There’s an energy beam from Jupiter — actually several — they point right to the raptor fleet.”

“They’re using beam-powered propulsion?” Jenny said wonderingly.  She’d read about otter experiments with beam-powered propulsion.  It had the potential to be very powerful, but it required a centralized infrastructure that was not well suited to the chaotic nature of otter politics.  The Imperial Star-Ocean Navy comprised a very small part of the overall fleet of otter vessels.  Most otter ships were owned and operated by independent merchants and adventurers, like Captain Cod and his Jolly Barracuders.

“If they’re using beam-propulsion,” Admiral Mackerel said.  “Then there’s a source of their energy.  Here.  In Jupiter.”

“Knock out the source, knock out the fleet,” Jenny said.  “Can we pinpoint the location of the source?”

Felix nodded, but he looked scared.  “We don’t have a lot of ships here.”

Admiral Mackerel pondered.  “I have five ISON ships in low orbit.  We have the Whirligig vessel that Base Commander Jenny has been training on, and there’s the Riptide that the Howard dogs came on.  Does the cat empress have any vessels hidden away?”

Jenny knew the answer to that.  “None.  All the cats came here on hired otter ships.”

“That’s not much to work with…”  Admiral Mackerel’s dark eyes lifted to look at the marbled orange face of Jupiter through the plastic ceiling of the atmo-dome.  “It would need to be a tight mission.  A strike force.”

Jenny looked at Jupiter too.  There could be anything beneath those swirling, ruddy clouds.  Jupiter had more than 120-times the surface area of Earth, and if the Jovian raptors had come from Earth, their civilization was more than 70 million years older than otter civilization.  Raptors could have technology otters hadn’t yet dreamed of.  There could be multiple dinosaur societies; splinter groups; they could be at war amongst themselves.

Admiral Mackerel seemed to be thinking along the same lines.  “We could use better intelligence,” he said, looking at Jenny pointedly.  He didn’t need to actually say that she had far more access to raptor intelligence than anyone else.  They all knew it.  Ordol would barely talk to anyone other than Jenny, Amoreena, and Felix.

Yet, while Ordol had lived in raptor society his entire life, he’d been a slave — confined to a small tank, except for when one of the raptors used him, usurping his own control of his nervous system, to gain the use of all those extra arms.

“Ordol doesn’t know much,” Jenny said.  “We’re going to have to do this blind.”

Admiral Mackerel frowned.

“But it’s better than doing nothing,” Jenny added, determinedly.  “If there’s any way we can stop those ships before they get to Earth, we have to try.”

Admiral Mackerel nodded.  “I agree.  The five vessels of the International Star-Ocean Navy are at your disposal.”

Continue on to Chapter 8

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