Tanager’s Fledglings: Snippet 3

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! 

Snippet 1

Snippet 2

and now… 

Morning coffee, one of the first things he had mastered making onboard the ship, was now an automated process. As one of his hands-on lessons, he had built a rube goldberg apparatus that held ten pounds of coffee, and served out enough, ground, for his morning pot, which then brewed at the programmed time every morning. It didn’t save a lot of time, but it was awfully nice to wake up to. With his first cup in his belly, he ventured into the hold to get the stasis box. He stared at the small animal for a long time, before keying in the code.

There was a hiss, and the stasis field clouded as it dissolved. When the dust cleared, there was a little sneeze, and then the puppy shook itself all over. Jem realized for the first time that most of the folds he had been looking at in confusion were enormous ears. Although the little creature did seem to be wearing a coat about four sizes too big for it. Now, it was looking back at him, sitting on its haunches with head cocked slightly to one side.

Jem cleared his throat. Dogs weren’t supposed to be able to talk, but with bioengineering, you never knew, these days. “Hello?”

He held out a hand, and the puppy extended a cautious nose to sniff his fingertips. After a moment of this, a little pink tongue curled out and licked him, startling Jem. The man patted the dog awkwardly, feeling the soft fur and tiny skull under it. How he supported those ears was a mystery. Jem stood up and started to leave the hold, hoping the dog would figure it out and follow him. He did… until he walked under Jem’s feet.

There was a welter of legs, arms, and ears, a great noise of clattering, yelling, and yelping. When Jem had righted himself, picked up the rack he had knocked over, and located the puppy hiding out in the passageway, he was rather exasperated. The little dog rolled over on his belly and wiggled, whimpering a little. Jem sighed, and picked him up.

Puppy licked his face, with enthusiasm. Jem marched back up to the bridge and set the puppy down while he started on his morning routine. Most of it was automated, but he had been taught to check it anyway. Walter’s voice came into his mind, an echo of a lesson from the past.

“Better safe than sorry, kid. I ever tell you what a flying Dutchman is?”

The board remained unchanged, as it should, and the puppy was wandering around, sniffing audibly. Jem watched him for a second. The puppy sneezed, and the man thought it might be time to get the vacuum out. Modern ships might not have much dust on board, but this one needed weekly sweeping or it got out of control. The puppy walked back over to him, sat on its haunches, and lifted up his nose, opening his mouth and emitting a truly startling noise.

He sounded like an alarm wailing, the surprised Jem mused. Puppy stopped as soon as the man picked him up, but kept up a continuous snuffling and whimpering. Jem headed for the galley, and his reader tablet, which he had left there with his coffee cup. It was breakfast time, anyway… he stopped dead in his tracks and looked down at the floppy dog. Of course, little guy was probably starving.

It turned out the puppy liked eggs about as much as Jem did. Jem set a plate on the floor for him, and once he’d wolfed down his portion, the puppy proceeded to chase the plate around the floor, licking every last molecule of egg off of it. He did the same with Jem’s plate. Jem watched him, amused, until the puppy stopped suddenly and squatted.

The man jumped up, “no!” he shouted, but it was too late. A yellow puddle was already forming. He groaned and went for the mop.

“Darnit, you’re gonna be a lot of work, aren’t you?”

The pup sat at his feet, wagging his tail so hard that his folds all wiggled. Jem sighed, picked him up, and carried him to the place where his pads were. “You go here, ok?”

The baby dog snuffled the absorbent material and looked up again. Nothing was going to happen right now, it seemed. Jem picked him up and took him to the wire crate he’d prepared. “I got to go do chores, and you get to stay here.”

The puppy licked his hand, and then whimpered as Jem left the galley area. Jem was amazed at how piteous and loud the little animal’s sounds were. He didn’t exactly rush through his chores, but he didn’t dilly dally with them, either. The beeves might not have hooves and horns any longer, but they were still big, dumb animals that you didn’t mess around with. The only other livestock he carried were rabbits for meat, and the two woolies. Their fleece was prized for natural fiber, and they represented, as a male and female, a big shot of genetic material into someone’s herd.

Small stock could be kept in stasis boxes, although they were expensive, and Jem never had enough of them. Stock was always in demand, to add fresh breeding genes. Genetic manipulation was expensive, and out here in the rim worlds, the last frontier, live cover was far more desirable. He carried frozen ‘pipes’ of genetic material, of course, but the woolies would sell. People, as Walter had been fond of saying, were crazy. Jem figured the woolies were even dumber than the beeves, and that took work.

He spent some time pitching hay and manure, adding to his compost pile. The ship’s garden didn’t use it all, but he sold the excess, too, sterilized and certified, on the rocky world of Loki. They could use all the dirt they could get, and paid almost its weight in gold, he thought the first time he’d sold it, under Walter’s watchful eye. His street kid background had helped him learn the gentle art of negotiation, and he could read ‘tells’ better than any poker player, Walter had informed him in a rare burst of praise.

The puppy was asleep in the bottom of the crate, a boneless heap of fur with a nose, when Jem put his head in to check on it. He backed out as silently as he could, and headed to take his morning ‘fresher. He’d learned to appreciate the cleanliness Walter had insisted on, as much as he’d fought it at first. Today wasn’t as good as the shower with water, but the cleaner towels took most of the feeling of grunge away. Then he sat in the bridge, with the door open to the galley, and pulled up today’s homework.

He was musing over organic chemistry when he heard the little dog’s howl. It was a welcome interruption. Jem unlatched the crate and caught the furball as it lurched out in one hand, then carried it straight to the pads. The book said the best way to train a young puppy was to anticipate the need, and that right after a nap, voiding would occur. He watched anxiously as the small animal snuffled about, then with relief as the puppy took care of its business. He never thought he would be this interested in a creature’s bowel movements.

He let the puppy gambol around his feet, watching carefully so he didn’t step on it again, and went back to his books. This, he quickly learned, was not going to work. The puppy tugged on his pant leg, wanted to play, chewed on his shoe, and finally disappeared under the control desk, where a welter of wires ran into the bulkhead. Exasperated, Jem pulled the wriggly pup out, both of them sneezing from the dust.

The man held the pup out at arm’s length, keeping him up at eye level. The pup relaxed and panted slightly, only the tip of his tail moving.

“Look,” Jem explained as patiently as he could. “Me ‘n you, we have some time together before Altressa. I’m to teach you some manners, and you are to leave me alone while I’m working. Got it?”

The pup stuck out his tongue and wriggled, obviously wanting to give the face above him kisses. Jem gave in and cuddled the puppy, who slobbered enthusiastically on his cheek. Then he carried him back into the galley and got them both lunch. He looked at the book on dogs while they ate.

Basically, a puppy at this age was an eating, pooping machine. If he could learn to predict when the puppy was going to go, he would be able to solve that problem. Food wasn’t an issue. The replicator could be set to produce nice, fresh food tailored to the puppy’s needs. And sleeping… Jem eyed the puppy, who was play-attacking his plate on the floor… that would be a nice break, and time to get some work done. He got up and put the puppy on the pads.


2 responses to “Tanager’s Fledglings: Snippet 3”

  1. Puppies and Kittens are very hard to resist. 😀

    As many people who have added cats to their space stories, it is nice to see someone adding a dog. — yes, a feline just said that. 😉

    1. It’s been fun to write, although the story evolved from centering around the dog to the ship and young man coming into his own.