writing

Tanager’s Fledglings: Snippet 2

As always, this is a work in progress. All rights remain with me, and the finished product may vary from these samples. I will be taking most if not all the snippets down once the novel is published. 

Speaking of progress, it has been slow, but the novella which is a story set in this universe is now complete, and with beta readers. I plan to publish Jade Star at the end of the month, and then this a month or so later, which means I have to really move on it! 

 

The dog had been all but a gift. It really was rare, but he’d no intention of the boy making his fortune with this one. No… Peter walked back into the heat and smell of his shop. No, the real thing was in the back room. He’d hold them until Jem returned, as he would in a season. One thing at a time, Peter knew. Too much and the young man might stop coming. He didn’t see Peter the way he’d seen Walter, as a friend. Give it time.

As soon as Jem got back on the ship, he latched down the box on a steel rack, then inspected his cargo one more time before lift. This station had little to offer him, a specialties man, but Peter had been his first stop after Walter was gone. The real deals happened on Adressa, the next planetfall. The jewel lizards with their tiny precious metal harnesses would go over well there, as living jewelry.

He called for a tug to get him safely away from the orbiting station’s busy traffic lanes, and once underway, leaned back and stretched. It felt good to be away from that place, crawling with people, who mostly seemed to want to talk to him. He knew that wasn’t accurate, but it felt like it. Out here in space it was quiet. He could hear himself think.

Which reminded him to look up the dog. If he was going to sell the beast, he needed to know more about it. Research was fun, now that he had the data Walter had bought for him after that trip where he’d been out of things to read and so bored. The old trader had flipped the data crystal at him and grunted, “that should keep you happy a while.” A whole zetabyte of data… heaven. On planet, of course, everyone had the ‘net. But out in deep space, he was truly all alone, except for this library that covered more than he could absorb. Some of the languages weren’t translatable to tradespeak, but there was still enough to keep him interested the rest of his life, he figured.

The tug pilot interrupted his thoughts to bid him a cheerful farewell, to which Jem replied with the minimum of courtesy before setting the course for the week’s crawl to the hypernode. He wouldn’t be able to read all that way, of course… an alarm chimed, and he slid aside his personal data tablet to reach for the console. The Scarlet Tanager, like so many other freight haulers, was not pretty, nor well kept up. He’d looked up what her name meant, once, and laughed out loud at the idea of this ship being named for an elegant black and scarlet bird. The Tanager he knew so intimately was more dust and rust colored.

The console yielded the information that a fuse had blown in life support, so he grabbed his toolkit with a sigh and headed down a deck, then into the bowels to see what had gone wrong. He was in the crawl space over the beeves, and the smell was overwhelming, which told him that a filter had been the cause of the blown fuse. Ignoring the plaintive lowing of the big meat animals, he pulled the filter and scraped it clean. Below him, they thudded gently into the walls of their big corral, and he decided he’d better toss them some hay cubes. Agitated beeves would lose weight and lower their value.

He’d looked up pictures of them, too, what they had looked like before bioengineering, with their wicked horns and equally dangerous hooves. Now, they resembled hairy slugs, with layers of fatty muscle sans bones that was in demand at fine restaurants on every planet. He rarely ate it, himself, using the replicator for his daily meals. The beeves were for profit, and he wished he could afford a large enough stasis field to contain them. Instead, they were yet another daily – twice daily, at least – chore to keep him active.

It was hours before he got back to the bridge and his data tablet. He ate his replicated pork chop with potatoes and peas without looking at the food, while reading. Dogs, it turned out, had been considered man’s best friend at one time. They also, he read, needed a lot of training, exercise, and socialization. With consternation, he sat back and pondered what he had found. If he was going to get the best price for the diminutive canine, he was going to need to at least ‘housebreak’ it. And he had no idea how well it was socialized, it simply wouldn’t do to sell a puppy and have it bite someone. He was going to have to do that, too.

He yawned widely enough to crack his jaw, and decided he would start first thing in the morning. Being around people had worn him thin. He went through his nightly ritual of checking the control console for any warnings, dialing the alarms up loud enough to wake him if something did go wrong, and opening the porthole shield to look out at the stars.

Walter had always thought he was nuts, to do that, but Jem felt like it made it night time, to see the flecks of icy light in the sky. The planet he’d been born on had had a very clear atmosphere, and the stars had been one of his rare pleasures, looking up and knowing the only way to get out of his miserable existence was to get up there. Well, now he’d made it. He dialed the porthole closed again, and staggered to his bunk.

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