Otters In Space 4 – Chapter 5: Kipper

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 found it was easier to agree with Trugger’s bird metaphors than try to understand or fix them.”

As soon as she laid eyes on the curly-furred mop of a dog — bizarrely wearing one of their USSA-specific blue-and-silver uniforms — Kipper could tell that Amelia was not a dog who had any patience for waiting.

The gray tabby cat captain closed the laptop computer that she and Trugger had been working on — writing emails, searching directories for officials who could help them, and downloading form after form that didn’t quite fit their situation.  Nothing fit their situation.  She put the laptop aside and got up from the bottom bunk bed she’d been sitting on.  “Can I help you?” she asked the dog.

“Commander Amelia von Cupsworth, reporting for duty,” the dog said.  She snapped a smart salute with her paw at her brow.

Kipper saluted back, feeling silly.  Sure, officers had saluted each other all the time when she’d been aboard The Jolly Barracuda, but everything about that ship had been silly.  And at some level, all the otters involved — Captain Cod included — had seemed to know it.

This dog didn’t look like she’d recognize silliness if she were looking at dictionary definition examples of it.

“It’s nice to meet you, Amelia,” Kipper said, pointedly using the dog’s first name.  If she was a commander, she could hardly object to the ship’s captain and director of an entire program calling her by her first name.  Although, it probably rankled her.  Let it.  “But we already have a commander on The Lucky Boomerang.”  She smiled, making sure the expression reached all the way into her whiskers, and then she gestured to the river otter with green stripes dyed into his fur, still sitting on the bunk bed built into the barracks wall.  “Let me introduce Commander Trugger.”

“We’re not formal here,” Trugger said getting up and sticking out a webbed paw.  “You can just call me Trugger.”

The mop dog frowned.  She shouldered her way out of a backpack, opened it up, and pulled out several pages of paper.

Kipper took the crisp sheets — surprisingly crisp for having been stored in a backpack — and read them over.  “I see,” she said.  “You’ve been assigned to be my new second in command.”

Kipper sighed deeply.  The government dogs had been playing games with her ever since her brother Alistair lost the last presidential election.  With the new dog president — a particularly mean and prejudiced golden retriever; yes, even golden retrievers with their famously sunny dispositions can be mean and prejudiced — empowering dogs to be their worst selves, it was a constant challenge to simply keep the new space program from being cancelled.

In the scheme of things, an unwanted second in command was nothing.  Especially since power hierarchies are largely imaginary — a truth that Kipper had learned from her time aboard The Jolly Barracuda that still seemed to blow most dogs’ minds.

“Very well, Commander von Cupsworth,” Kipper said wearily, but trying her best to sound cheerful.  “Welcome to the crew.  Your first task is to inform the rest of the crew about Trugger’s new promotion.”

“Promotion?” Trugger asked, practically bouncing with excitement.  He was easily excited.

“Yes, I’m promoting you to be the new… uh… Chief of Crew Operations.  It’s a role outside the ship’s regular power hierarchy, equal in status to my own as captain, except when it comes to questions of… uh… administrative decision making.”  Kipper had learned to think quickly on her feet while working for Captain Cod as his Ship’s Spy, a role he’d invented on the spot for her when she’d had the presence of mind to call herself a spy, something that charmed him so much he’d made her an honorary otter and member of his crew.

“Wait,” Amelia said.  “Does that put Chief of Crew Operations Trugger… over me in the ship’s hierarchy?”

See, imaginary.  Hierarchies were all about making people believe that they fit somewhere in a larger structure… even though the structure itself didn’t exist.

“Oh, yes, I suppose it does,” Kipper said, trying to keep the smile out of her whiskers this time.  She couldn’t help sounding bemused, and maybe a little pleased with herself.  “Imagine that.”

Amelia frowned, clearly stymied by Kipper’s unorthodox move.

The great thing about dogs, though, was that even the hardest edged, most politically scheming ones generally had a level at which they wanted to appease, please, and make others happy with them.  Predictably, Amelia asked, “Is there anything else, possibly more useful, that I could do for you?  I understand that you’re struggling with some kind of bureaucratic red tape, and I do have connections in the incoming government.”

Kipper and Trugger exchanged a glance.  The green striped otter shrugged.  He didn’t know a lot about working with the Uplifted States government.  So, this decision was up to Kipper.  And honestly, she didn’t see how the situation could get a lot worse or more gridlocked than it already was.  “Alright,” she said, pulling the laptop up from the bunk where she’d left it.  She opened it up, clicked to the right window, and turned it toward Amelia.  “We’re having trouble getting authorization for the last members of our crew to join us.”

Even beneath the fringe of curls, Kipper could see Amelia’s eyes widen.  To her credit, the dog didn’t say anything, just kept reading the screen.  Once she finished, she frowned, shook her head, and sighed.  “Consider it done.”

Now Kipper’s eyes widened.  It was all she could do to stop herself from saying, “Really???  You’ve got to be kidding!”

Trugger didn’t stop himself.  “Really???  You’ve got to be kidding!”

“If you say that this bonded octopus-raptor pair living under asylum on the Europa Base are necessary members of The Lucky Boomerang’s crew, then they’re necessary.  I’ll get the authorizations taken care of.  You don’t need to worry about it any more.  Do you still want me to tell the rest of the crew about…”  She sighed deeply.  “…Chief of Crew Operations Trugger’s promotion?”

“Uh, yes, thank you,” Kipper said.  “That would be very helpful.”

“They’re all in the engine room,” Trugger said.

“I know,” Amelia replied.  “I met them on my way to find you.”

“I bet meeting us didn’t go the way you expected!”  Trugger looked very happy about his promotion.  Otters who’d served aboard The Jolly Barracuda were strange that way.  They both approached hierarchies with a postmodern flexibility, and yet took a genuine delight in the same hierarchies that they turned all topsy turvy, sideways, upside down, and inside out.

“Not exactly, no,” Amelia grumbled.

“One more thing before you go,” Kipper said.  “We’ll be ready for our first engine test soon.  Do you have everything you’d need for a full space flight?”

Amelia patted the backpack that she’d pulled the crisp papers out of.  “Spacesuit, change of uniform, a few personal supplies.  Based on what I read about the mission, I should be set.”

“It sounds like it,” Kipper agreed.

The dog saluted again.  Kipper and Trugger saluted back.

Once Amelia was all the way out of the barracks, Kipper said in a low voice, “She knows something.  Something we don’t.”

“You think so?” Trugger asked.

“I’m sure of it.  Or she would never have agreed to Nioli and Gy’krr joining the crew at Europa.  I don’t think she thinks our mission is going to make it that far.”

“We’ll just have to prove her wrong,” Trugger said.  “Like a penguin holding its breath.”

“Yes,” Kipper agreed, having no idea what he meant.  “Exactly like a penguin holding its breath.”  She found it was easier to agree with Trugger’s bird metaphors than try to understand or fix them.  She’d tried fixing them before… it usually just inspired Trugger to throw more bizarre bird metaphors at her, until they were going around in more and more crowded circles of metaphorical birds.  “We need to get this ship off the ground as soon as possible.  Once we’re in space… the whole game changes.”

“May I respectfully suggest then…” Trugger said, folding his webbed front paws together.  He looked very handsome in his blue and silver uniform, and a little like an alien from the television space drama Tri-Galactic Trek with his fur dyed into green stripes.  “…that we change the goal?  If we keep pushing for authorization to make a test flight to Europa, then the government dogs will keep pushing back.  But if we ask for authorization for a test flight to the moon…”

“…then suddenly we’re not trying to fly off into threatening, contested space, right next to a gas giant filled with hostile raptors and enigmatic octopi,” Kipper said, completing his thought.  “We’re just taking a victory lap around our own planet and demonstrating that dogs–”

“–and cats,” Trugger added.

“–yes, yes, of course, and cats can get to Moonville Funpark under the power of their own technology.  Not threatening.”

“Maybe… patriotic?” Trugger asked.

“That spin does seem like it would go over better with the incoming administration.”

Trugger reached for the laptop, still in Kipper’s paws.  He took it and said, “Come on, let’s write a proposal, and get our flock flying.”

Nobody had a better friend than Trugger.

Continue on to Chapter 6

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