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Perils in Pets

Jez Patterson is a teacher and writer currently based in Madrid. Links to his recent and collected fiction can be found at: jezpatterson.wordpress.com.

The only possible way that transporting animals involved a step up from human passengers was because you held it aloft to examine what you'd just trodden in.
The space-limo business didn't look so bad now.
"Have you fed it?" Captain Percina Saunders asked her husband.
Once, Martin had been her first mate. Then Percina had paid for various physical and mental enhancements to make Martin a husband worthy of a captain of the Fleet, married him... and was promptly assessed as unworthy as a captain of the Fleet.
Bloody generals.
A man who wears pips on his shoulders, her mother had proclaimed at the time, is one whose output of bullshit is hoping to fertilize them.
"I don't want the Tfiulk waking up," Percina said. "Their food is drugged to make flights less stressful."
"The Tfuilk didn't say he was stressed."
"I wasn't talking about the Tfuilk."
It was a long time since ships had carried mops and buckets. You might not hear a scream in space, but that didn't mean you contributed to its fame for being airless. So Martin had better--
"Hang on," Percina said. "You just said 'The Tfuilk didn't say.' Don't tell me you can speak to animals now?"
"I didn't need to," Martin said. "His English is perfectly understandable."
Percina blinked, turned to her controls, turned back to Martin, blinked some more.
"But it's a pet."
The only pet worth having on Hoosten was a Tfiulk. Tfiulk had limbs like sloths, moved slightly faster, and could be taught to sit, fetch, guide the blind--all the usual tricks dogs were taught on Earth.
But Tfiulks didn't talk.
And they certainly didn't ask you for a sip of your coffee, lean back, sigh, and change your entire understanding of the universe.
"We're not pets, we're slaves," the Tfiulk told them. "When we arrive on Hoosten, they cut our vocal chords so we're unable to complain or upset our owners. The drugs we're given for these intergalactic journeys are really to incapacitate us so we can't communicate and spoil the bones about what's happening."
Their on-board Tfiulk had faked swallowing the drugged food the same way plenty of Earth dogs could avoid swallowing worming pills whilst being happy to gorge on fox shit.
"Spill the beans," Percina corrected. "But why would the Hoostens go to these lengths?"
"We're an intelligent species. We can perform all manner of task the Hoostens would rather not do--particularly, looking after their elderly relatives."
Percina thought about the number of cats and small fluffy dogs that kept Earth's senior citizens sane.
"But why don't the Tfiulk publicize what's happening?"
"Because the Tfiulk that rule my home planet are complicit in the trade. The Tfiulks they sell are prisoners. By committing a crime, we have forfeited all rights and so can expect no better."
A wife used to be a slave in the kitchen and a whore in the bedroom, Percina's mother had once told her. Until we took inspiration from that overworked junior nurse who misheard the instruction to prick the patient's boil--and combined the two roles admirably.
"It's not uncommon for one strata of a population to convert others into slaves," Martin said. "Even to sell them to outsiders."
"He said he was a prisoner," Percina said. "What manner of crime must he have committed for that to be his punishment?"
"Oh, probably nothing. Demand will dictate supply. The Tfiulks will just invent new heinous crimes to lock citizens up for: looking at their superiors in the wrong way; wearing a forbidden hat--"
"We can't just drop him off on Hoosten, knowing what we know," Percina said. "But if we go public, if we're the ones that tell the world about this...."
"Then you can forget about ever getting a commission with the Fleet again," Martin agreed. "Every planet out there has things to hide. The trouble with whistle-blowers is that every pat on the back means they choke to death on it."
"Well, we can hardly stop him if he chooses to take our ship by force," Martin said. "After all, any record on Tfiulk will show him to be a ruthless criminal."
"I'm an ex-captain of the Fleet," Percina said. "It wouldn't do much for my chances if a poxy pet overpowers me."
"Ahh, what about your good-looking flight attendant? All bulge and no brains, all smile and no smarts?" Martin showed his enhanced muscles and teeth.
Percina hated to let Martin do this to himself. But people believed what they wanted to believe, and anyway, a great-looking hostage like Martin would have the tabloids falling all over themselves to cover the story.
All the publicity the Tfiulk needed to blow the lid.
"Of course, he might actually be a violent prisoner, have done awful things on his home planet," Percina said. Not that it made much difference.
"He'll be more scared about scratching your paintwork," Martin assured her.
Right again.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016

Author Comments

I had an idea for a sketch featuring two people stuck, and bickering, in quicksand. Percina and Martin were created on the spur of the moment, merely to give the characters names and a reason for being there. I really didn't expect to see or hear from them again. When I was submitting the story to DSF, I was reminded that they also considered series of stories and was drawn to the challenge. All the ideas I came up with, however, either called for stories that would be too long or off-genre. Sheepishly, I went back to Percina to enquire if, by any chance, she'd experienced any other "incidents" she might care to relate. I was surprised, but delighted, to find she had more to say, and honored that DSF accepted them for publication. Thank you.

- Jez Patterson
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