Otters In Space 4 – Chapter 17: Amelia

by Mary E. Lowd

An excerpt from Otters In Space 4: First Moustronaut.  If you’d prefer, you can start with Chapter 1, return to the previous chapter, or skip ahead.

“She wondered what squirrels dreamed about.”

Amelia tried to ignore the racket coming from the rest of the ship, but she feared all the hooting and hollering would wake Sequoia.  The squirrel had only just fallen asleep, and she needed her sleep.  So, the small dog unstrapped from her bunk, floated over to the door to the barracks, and gently but firmly closed it, blocking out the noise.  When she looked back, the squirrel was still sleeping, breathing slowly.

Amelia wondered what all the fuss was about — and also the strange blip of gravity she’d felt a few minutes earlier — but the crew here had proven to be very excitable and unpredictable.  If it were really important, Amelia was sure she’d find out eventually.

For now, she found herself entranced by the sight of the sleeping squirrel.  Sequoia had been flitting about the bridge, her red brush of a tail flickering like a bonfire on a windy beach, all week long.  Her passion for the numbers and graphs representing the stars The Lucky Boomerang had visited seemed to rival Amelia’s own passion for obeying the dictates of the First Race, and the dog couldn’t help but feel there was a connection between those passions.

Sequoia denied it, but Amelia believed the voice the stars called to the squirrel with was the same voice she heard when she read from the doctrine of the First Race.

In each case, it was the humans who’d uplifted them, calling across the years and light-years to the animals they’d left behind.

Amelia felt sure that if she had enough time with Sequoia, she could help the squirrel find peace — the squirrel would never find the peace she sought by studying the stars or traveling to them.  Humans would come home to Earth when they were ready.  When the animals they’d left on the Earth were ready.  And until then, the peace Sequoia sought among the stars was only truly available in the doctrines of the First Race — religious tomes which explained how dogs were expected to protect and control the other animals of Earth, and how all those animals, together, were expected to wait faithfully for Humanity’s return.

Amelia had been putting some thought into which passages of doctrine were the best way to reach a European squirrel who was clearly completely unfamiliar with the intricacies of First Racer theology.

Of course, realistically, when The Lucky Boomerang returned to Earth, Amelia would be returning to the Uplifted States to report on the renegade mission, while everyone else from the crew would scatter to the winds — dodging their crimes by returning to Europe or seeking asylum among the otter space stations.  But perhaps Amelia could stay in touch with Sequoia.  Perhaps as pen pals, she could convert the squirrel to the true way of the world and bring Sequoia the peace that eluded her up here, chasing her tail, ignoring the dictates of what her gods truly wanted from her.

Patience.  Loyalty.  Devotion.

That’s what the First Race wanted from Good Dogs and other uplifted animals.  Whereas, the crew of The Lucky Boomerang was far too focused on being clever, innovative, and industrious.  That’s not what humans had asked of the creatures they’d uplifted — they’d asked for them to wait.

Amelia was good at waiting.  And it was surprisingly pleasant, floating in the zero gravity of deep space, gazing at the twitchy nose of a beautiful, sleeping squirrel.  Amelia wasn’t good at reading people — she preferred reading books, especially those that told her she was a Good Dog as long as she waited faithfully for the First Race — but she had become increasingly certain that Sequoia had been flirting with her, and it created a fluttery feeling in her breast that mirrored the way Sequoia’s brush of a tail flicked wildly about when new numbers quantifying the stars streamed across a screen in front of her.

Amelia had never been fancied by a squirrel before, and it made her feel almost unaccountably proud.  That delicate, frenetic, brilliant but adorably astray creature fancied her.

Amelia knew that the First Racers had expected their uplifted animal followers to maintain bloodlines of different breeds who’d been designed over centuries to serve various purposes, working for Humanity.  And as such, a relationship between a dog and a squirrel was… well, something of an abomination.  However, it wasn’t like a dog and squirrel could have children anyway.  At least, not as far as Amelia knew.  Sure, yes, there was that crazy, deluded dog scientist who had managed to allow dogs and cats to interbreed, leading to horrifying cat-dog hybrids.  Were they puppies?  Kittens???  No one knew.  All Amelia knew was that they shouldn’t exist and the doctor behind them was a Bad Dog.

But Amelia was a mutt anyway.  Already, a dubious, dead end of the proper genetic lines.

If she happened to develop feelings for a squirrel… and the squirrel requited those feelings… well… if Amelia used those shared feelings to help the squirrel find her way and discover the joy of Waiting Properly for the First Race, then those feelings couldn’t really be bad.

Amelia would have to read her books of doctrine over again when she got home.  She needed to be sure before proceeding.  Before risking an unfaithfulness in her heart, because before all else, Amelia loved the First Race and would do anything to serve them properly.  Even accompany this ragtag team of troublemakers as they darted about the universe on their foolhardy errand.  Because Dogs were meant to Watch Over the Lesser Animals.  And she would do her job.

Because she was a Good Dog.

She would do anything to be a Good Dog.

A small knock sounded on the barracks door, and then the door swung open.  Amelia looked over to see one of the mice — the apricot one, Josie — floating in the now open passageway.  The doors aboard this ship had all been rigged to open for creatures as small as mice.

“Excuse me,” Josie squeaked, “but the Captain sent me.  We… uh… we found something, and the captain wants Sequoia to look at it.”

“The captain ordered Sequoia to sleep,” Amelia woofed softly, trying to avoid waking the squirrel.  Though, now that she was asleep, she seemed to be so deeply asleep that she may as well have been dead to the world.  “And she’s only been sleeping for a few minutes.”

“Yes… but…” the mouse began to object, when a second mouse came flying into the barracks, flapping the fabric wings they’d outfitted themselves with.  This mouse — the gray one, Yvette — was singing.

“The sky is full of pockets of anti-gravity, hurrah, hurrah!  We’re going to meet some aliens soon, hooray, hooray!  And when we do, I’ll be the one who found out you could scan for them, hurrah, hurrah, hooray, hooray, oh joyful, joyous day!”

At the sound of the high-pitched, lilting song, Sequoia quirked one eye half-open, staring skeptically at the world, as though she were gauging whether it were worth actually waking up.

Amelia supposed the answer to that depended on what the squirrel had been dreaming about.

She wondered what squirrels dreamed about.

“Aliens?  Anti-gravity?” Sequoia asked groggily.

“We figured out how to generate artificial gravity by scooping up pockets of extra-dimensional vacuum during our epsilon jumps,” Josie explained; Yvette was still flapping about the room singing her song.  “And then we realized we can scan for similar pockets at a much greater distance than we can search for radio waves.”

“Because they exist in hyperspace, which doesn’t follow the same rules as our spatial dimensions!”  Sequoia’s eyes were wide open, and she was unstrapping herself from her bunk now.  “And you found some?

“We found a whole lot!” Yvette answered, breaking off her song mid-verse.

“The captain wants your advice about which of them we should jump toward.”  Josie might not have been flying circles around the barracks and singing like Yvette was, but the grin beneath her whiskers was so wide it looked almost too big to fit on the face of a mouse.

Amelia’s own face twisted in confusion and trepidation.  If humans had believed Dogs and the Other Lesser Uplifted Animals were ready for them, they would have simply returned to Earth.  They wouldn’t have left pockets of extra-dimensional vacuums lying about in space as some sort of ridiculous trail of crumbs to be followed.

So, this couldn’t be humans.

But what else could live out among the stars?  More barbaric, unruly and ungoverned civilizations like the octopi and raptors of Jupiter?  Something utterly alien?

None of that fit within the doctrine of the First Race.  And yet, the octopi and raptors on Jupiter existed, nonetheless, even though the First Race doctrine hadn’t warned Earth dogs about how to handle them.

Except, really, First Race doctrine had warned dogs:  it had warned them to wait.  And if they’d waited properly, they’d have never been messing around close enough to Jupiter to find those octopi and raptors.

“I’m not sure this is a good idea…”  Amelia found herself speaking to an empty room filled with empty bunks by the end of her sentence.  The mice and squirrel were in too much of a hurry to go meet whatever monsters lurked among the stars waiting to harm Bad Dogs who let their wards wander away from where humans had told them to Stay.

Amelia was filled with concern.  Whatever these fools had found, it couldn’t be good.  And it would be her job to protect them from it.

Continue on to Chapter 18

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