Author: Rick Tobin

“He’s on edge again. It’s intolerable when he tears into our crew like this. Makes me itch all over.” D-7 moved away from overheated control panels. He heard sputtering of wiring insulation against conduit. Corrosive effervescence from singed plastic revealed damage others still missed, but his reports were ignored. Their limitations–his curse.

“Relax, D. Besides, you’re always itching. You need your fur treated. Remember how you messed up on the last cargo run? You caught those changosa ticks after heading for a whiz in the bushes. You could’ve waited. And lay off L-2. How’d you like to have the Captain’s lizard scales, with psoriasis to boot? ” C-23 felt hull vibrations on her whiskers–perhaps a warning of a meteor storm. She activated ship perimeter sensors.

“Hey, you use a stupid box for your dumps. I have more pride than that. Everyone on board hears you scratching your litter. Do you even wash your hands? Drop your potty comments. Inappropriate.” D-7 shifted, giving his tail a rest from his cramped control room chair. “Why they ever slapped two like us on the same shift baffles me,” D-7 complained.

C-23 yawned widely before responding. “Two Cs on navigation…never a problem. You should be down in engineering with your mutt buddies.”

“How about I bite off one of your arms, you useless breeder?”

“And you thought L-2 was touchy?” C-23 moved her chair a few feet away from her reluctant assistant, dragging her feline claws over metal panels, creating ear-shattering screeches. D-7 howled, covering his furry ears. “Oh, good. You can hear me. Now get this straight, bow-wow. I’m a superior officer. We cross train because we lost both pilot and co-pilot on our last escapade through this Taranus Escarpment. We almost bought it. If automatic systems had failed, we’d still be adrift, boiling in magnetic fields. We need emergency backup staff. Simple as that. So, take my lead, learn what you can, and lick your wounded ego somewhere else. Got it? There won’t be a eucatastrophe ending in your life’s story if you don’t.”

“You ca’ what? I don’t understand cats. All right, I’ll be still. My DNA makes me act rashly on occasion. I wonder why humans breed us to run their ships. They have robots. I would have been happy as a normal dog.”

“It’s risk variables. AI never mastered long-distance space travel. Animals have specialties that were not programmable…like your smell and hearing and my sensitivity to vibration. There is a reason a squirrel’s in communications, a raccoon cooks and an oxen works loading docks. Besides, it’s easier and cheaper to replace us after radiation exposure. Some die sooner. You’re only a seven for this ship…but my kind takes it harder. That’s why I enjoy my time. It’s short.”

“Not as short as R-200. He’s our intelligence officer. Those rats drop like flies. No wonder they quarter them down below in the hold.”

“We have rats? Damned rats! Where in the hold? How many?” C-23 was visibly shaken as her ears flattened, eyes widened and her shoulders pulled lower.

“Not sure. I heard in dark spaces–bilges, maybe. Pretty spooky down in that heat.”

“You take the con. I need to step out. Be back.” C-23 scampered away with no further instructions.

D-7 chuckled deeply, recalling reptile warriors below, loyal to L-2, constantly hunger driven, ensuring vicious attacks of pirates or mutineers on command. He became distracted; he focused on a tall, potted shrub C-23 had placed against an adjacent electrical panel. He ignored the ‘Out of Order’ warning sign. It was just his nature.