Pets in Space
by Channie Greenberg
Stardust 2050. My copilot’s in sickbay. That son of a rodent overdosed on meatballs for the second time in a single moon cycle. I warned Paavo to stop at three dozen, but I’m just his littermate, I mean commander.
Meanwhile, Admiral Halfspike, that hound who preempted me by three minutes at birth, texted caution. Marauding space poodles had been observed in the Fornax Cluster, i.e. mere megaparsecs from my ship. Given the poodles’ newfangled propulsion system, they will intersect with us in two days. Ironically, it’s poodles, not bassets, that are faster than us in a hound-dog mile.
I summon another of my littermates, I mean Ensign Cramer, to the poop deck. He brings a shovel and a waste basket.
To get here, Cramer squeezes through the hatch. Similar to Paavo, he has become dependent on meatballs. I think my brothers are looking more comparable to Komodo dragons and less to canines by the day. It’s a pity they have that dog action.
Crammer waddles to my command post.
“At ease, Ensign.”
“What up, dog?”
For the next ten minutes, we debate the merits of buffalo hair filler versus the merits of two-headed albino wildebeest hair filler. Since dogs love scent, since it’s time to reorder bedding, and since I don’t have the patience to complete forms in triplicate, I give Cramer the task.
First, though, he and I dispute the pros and cons of juneberrries, cloudberries, strawberries, and watercress. I keep hoping my subordinates will stop chowing only on flesh. Not one among them deigns to nibble at fruit. I assign Cramer that mission, too.
He growls, “You’re a dog around the house.”
“Nope,” I counter, “I’m dogawful!”
Cramer tears up. A stream of cubic zircon-like drops issues from his eyes. He explains how, in the mess hall, he heroically passed up a third dozen meatballs in favor of a trough of barley spouts. Regrettably, those plant-based eats temporarily sent him to join Paavo in the dispensary.
“Okay, so I’m wrong; you’re loyal.”
In answer, my brother wags his tail.
I pat his head before dismissing him.
Thereafter, I send for Brenda, another littermate, and my third-in-command. We talk over the impending arrival of the poodles and the destruction that might ensue.
Brenda, my most dog-faced attendant, suggests mollifying them with meatballs. Cramer, who has not yet left the deck, interrupts. He recommends sending over the cats.
I am repulsed by Cramer’s barbarism. However, a scratch behind the ear later, I see the beauty of his plan. I wish he would spend more time on the command floor. He’s a smart pup who prefers to chase sticks in the rec room rather than help lead our odyssey.
Regardless, years ago, we rescued kittens in an elliptical galaxy far, far away. Their mother was being vivisectioned by a monster. That scaly freak ignored the baby cats. Accordingly, we ignored the scaly freak, forfeited the profit we could have made by selling vials of its blood and, in its place, saved the juvenile tabbies.
It was to our advantage to raise young, traumatized creatures. They serve us as full contact, bizarro combatants. All ships need crazies wiling to draw blood or die. We discovered that as long as we feed our feline fanatics ample rations of animal protein and keep them in rooms cool enough to stymie their overactive metabolisms, we can somewhat control their lethal tendencies.
I’m uncertain, though, as to how our cats would fare against agile poodles. While poodles, too, cooperatively sacrifice their lives, poodles fight out of fidelity, not stupidity. What’s more, those tracking/herding dogs are infamous for their sprawl-and-brawl, pound-and-ground, and lame-rhetoric-till-opponents-drop tactics. Countless razed planets corroborate the superiority of their maneuvers.
When I was a cadet at the Dog Eat Dog Space Academy, I found out poodles were originally bred to perform in circuses, that is, in gathering places where the fiercest gladiators are played against each other by whichever tetrapods hold power. Our whiskered, chaotic moggies aside, my ship is in trouble.
Brenda and Cramer start abruptly hugging me. That maneuver is prescribed in Book Six of Officers’ Underlying Craft for Hounds or OUCH. A whining captain must be comforted immediately.
I continue to drool. Then again, I manage, due to their furry embrace, to swallow my tears. I return to plotting a course away from the poodles.
“Are we retreating, Captain?”
“We are bypassing. It would look poorly if we were fleeing. Hounds stay the course!”
* * *
I barely sleep. It is unseemly for me not to risk a few littermates for our kind’s greater glory. I toss and turn. I think of Zerelanda. More than I wish my great-grandpups to get housebroken, I mean to stop taking my poop deck literally, I wish to honor Zerelanda’s legacy.
Before I ascended to command, I had the distinction of reporting to one of Zerelanda’s descendants. That hound, whose very words made the fur on my back salute, was a strategist extraordinaire. That ace would have had no trouble outflanking poodles.
With her own paws, that successor outmaneuvered flying squid, captured a ship of cannibalistic Chihuahuas, and nearly filled her entire hold with some of the most exquisite gemstones rained down from Jupiter’s atmosphere. Sadly, as she was filling her cargo space, she was eaten by a giant, sentient lobster.
Her mate, who was also a top dog, knew how to read and write poetry in four dialects. After watching his partner being consumed by the giant crustacean, that woofer put the last touches on his final folio, in which he lamented incommensurability among and within species. His life’s work and his partner equally finished, that quadruped genius then bit down on an L-pill.
From that time forward, despite my elevation within the armada, I have had nightmares featuring Jupiter crustaceans, molds and mildew, and hackneyed creative writing. In deference to the poet’s memory, I have tried to listen to musical renditions of his work; I have found his writing to be too cerebral. Pooches can be trained to attribute meaning to verse once they have acquired cognitive elasticity. Sadly, at the space academy, all of our lessons were dogmatic.
* * *
Back on deck, I find myself glaring at Cramer and at Paavo.
“She’s like a dog at the beach. Oh, hi, Captain!”
“How come you get to be the dogberry and Halfspike gets to be the Admiral?”
“Shut up. Sit.”
We are just one short day away from our rendezvous with the poodles’ ship. I have long known males to be the weaker sex. Nonetheless, I failed to anticipate that I’d have to endure their Faraday cages, their aluminum hats, and their devices for blocking out electrophonic hearing. I still wonder why Paavo was placed on my ship’s roster and not in a care facility.
Cramer, who notices my unease, tries to distract me. “Permission to stand, Ma’am?”
Cramer slices and dices as well as any among the hordes of taloned vermin on Planet Rodentia. What that hound lacks in brain cells, in general, and in navigational skills, more exactly, he makes up for in food porn. Every year, my ship wins top awards in intergalactic cook-offs. Given Cramer’s expertise with a blade, it’s inexplicable that our littermates refuse his peanut-butter covered bananas, mango smoothies, and spinach salads, or their synthetic equivalents. The mutts under my authority have long insisted on eating nothing but meat. Doggone it!
I hold out my paw to receive sections of the orange upon which Cramer is carving patterns. After taking a few nibbles, I pass the remainder to Paavo. I had no idea that Paavo is prone to intestinal gas. Doganoh! He’s run off again to medical services.
Anyway, we hounds are heroes. Neither nanofiltration nor military-grade bioethanol products ought to deter us from triumphing over poodles. Their sharp teeth and bright eyes should be nothing against our resoluteness. It’s just that my entire team is less keen on populating their stations than on marking them. Gee whiz!
Forget that. We’re hounds, not hammers. We can’t even hold hammers. At best, we conquer though unmeasurably inspiring others to pet us. We overpower by mad-dogging our opponents, not by biting them. I can’t envision surviving the poodles’ attack.
My mother, bless her cold, wet nose, hadn’t wanted any of her pups rocketing among the stars. She succeeded in convincing a scant number of us to work for a Terra-based NGO concerned with raising consciousness about elder abuse and about foiling First World nations’ love affair with materialism.
As for the rest of her six litters, we were uninterested in exchanging ideas about social parity or in creating forums for other interpersonal cooperation rituals. No matter how often our matriarch dogged us with dispatches, we insisted on becoming astronomical swashbucklers, tinfoil hats notwithstanding. For the most part, Mom was barking up the wrong tree.
My eyes fix on the ceiling above my mat, I mean my command station. I think about my abbreviated puppyhood. If I had been the sort of short-legged, droopy-eared dog who was content giggling in my sleep, feasting on chops, and kissing — I mean sniffing — my superiors’ backsides, I wouldn’t be facing down plundering poodles.
At least, post mortem, I will be credited for improving my ship. I used my share of Zerelanda’s Jupiter diamonds to retool my craft to make the admiral as proud as a dog with two tails.
So, I suck up my sorrow before letting it drool out in long strings. My crew has forsaken me. Yaller dogs! Paavo’s still in the infirmary. Cramer’s returned to the mess deck for meatballs. Brenda has become sploot on her rug same as a ludicrous corgi.
While I sympathize with myself, we receive a message. It’s from the poodles! Dog all! Straightaway, I hit my station’s translator switch. I bark out threats to the advancing vessel.
The poodle who answers me seems baffled by my unleashed bravado. I can tell that she thinks all loose-skinned, tracking facile dogs are dumb. Instead of stepping down, she urges her ship to accelerate its approach.
This process continues for long minutes. I offer her no dog and pony show. I make no attempt to suss out her weaknesses. More accurately, I want to turn tail and run.
Even though Mom over-romanticized the effectiveness of mollifying hostile factions via peace offerings, I’m inclined to agree that battle rarely results in good ends. Thus, when the poodles’ commander suggests that her ship and mine actualize an armistice, I nervously bark out my consent.
Brenda wakes up. Paavo and Cramer rush to their stations. They don’t grasp that I am trying to confuse the poodles by imposing metatheory upon their leader’s conflicting ways of knowing and acting.
Lamentably, at about the same time that my crew assumes their stations, my translator toggle gets stuck. I’m in the doghouse. I think my enemy supposes I want to fight.
On my screen, I see her wave her paws at her littermates. Akin to so many other canines, that dowager is suddenly more enthusiastic about emphasizing the disparities, rather than the parallels, between hounds and poodles. Hunting for gaps in commonality almost always creates the type of strife that leads to riots, government brutality, and terrorism. Among the stars, such posturing brings death.
Static abruptly fills my earpiece. It is war.
I command Paavo to arm the torpedoes. At great sacrifice, I allow him to load the cats and the last of our meatballs. If we survive this brawl, we will be eating berries and cream for a long time.
Fortunately, there are still many hours to go before we are in range of the poodles’ ship. I slurp up a bowl of energy water and chew through a dark chocolate candy bar. I need to be chemically invigorated before we encounter the poodles. At such times, it will be every dog for herself.
* * *
In hindsight, it was silly to have tried to fight the poodles; we hounds are underdogs. Attempting to lead my siblings against those bandits required more get-up-and-go than any Bassett, Yours Truly included, will ever have.
My limited valor ought to have been used for more assured acts, like rescuing atomic ducklings or volunteering to pirate chow rockets. Alternatively, I should have used our store of rotting fruit, not our last meatballs, as projectiles. I should have shot the cats off sooner and should not have communicated with our enemies, too. I blame the poodles for making this dog jump in a circle.
To be more precise, when those dogged up intruders boarded our ship, Brenda arched her eyebrows at me. I hadn’t perceived earlier that we hounds possess relatively thicker hairs on our brow ridges. What’s more, she growled, aloud, that we should have captured the poodles and imprisoned them in our cats’ cages. Not yet a whipped dog, with her chin, Brenda redirected my glance from her weird face to that of the poodle captain.
Concurrently and unexpectedly, one of our shackled brothers started howling. Between Cramer and Brenda, it was the tail wagging the dog. I, the captain, had forgotten to look at the viewscreen. It took my siblings’ efforts for me to see our meatball torpedoes rupturing the hull of the poodles’ ship.
Every dog has its day. I shudder wondering what type of offal was mixed with bread crumbs in those comestibles. Precipitously, I recall that, following Zerelanda’s death, vats of frozen Jupiter lobster viscera that had been doled out to every ship in our fleet. Praised be the exoskeleton of outlander crustaceans!
The poodles quickly deplaned. In almost no time, their spacecraft was a speck among meteor dust and unidentified flying objects.
* * *
We’re making good speed to Porter House, the nearest no-kill haven. As our tiny, crowded escape pod — the great-grandpups are now nearly fully grown — gyrates through space, I have to freeze more and more of my crew members. Berries and cream do not, after all, agree with canine innards. Committing my family to cryogenics pods seems kinder than consigning them to unrelenting diarrhea.
The Admiral has already telegraphed that I will have to pay the full cost of the cats’ release and at least half of Brenda’s ransom. Halfspike has also dog-double dared me to consider abandoning my dear sister.
More than missing Brenda, however, my greatest loss from the poodle calamity is my having to repeatedly reflect, in a confined space, on ascribed social status and on shame-based discourse. In other words, I’ve grasped my error in urging my crew to give up meat.
Had we lacked meatballs entirely, we’d be enslaved to the poodles. Like the dog that caught the interstellar bus, they’d have us on a short leash; they’re sick puppies. When it comes to poodles, people either love them or hate them. I know where I sit.
Fortunately, I’m still a boss who is sensitive to conditions that make rhetorical opposites sit up and beg. I still look kindly, on all of my littermates, no matter their actual or figurative stench. We old pooches don’t learn new tricks, but we tell some fabulous shaggy-dog tales.
Copyright © 2018 by Channie Greenberg