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Pets

By Nicola Mody
Page 2 of 8

Tash pulled her parents into the shop. “What are those things in the window?” she demanded.

Klim, the ‘dealer in pets, domestic and exotic’ as it said on the door, shrugged. “No-one knows, but I thought they might interest people. They were captured out near the edge of the galaxy,” she said to Tash’s parents “I think you’ll find I’m the only dealer who has them in stock.”

“Odd-looking things,” Tash’s father said. “No real fur, just a bit on top.”

“Oh, they’ve adapted to it. See, they’ve covered themselves in skins, probably from their prey, and some sort of silky stuff they might produce in their guts like some insects do.”

Tash pressed up against the bars, intrigued. “They must be very clever.”

Klim shook her head. “No more so than sea creatures with their shells.”

“Are they girls or boys?”

“Had a devil of a job sexing them,” Klim said. “You have to get the outer coverings off and they didn’t like it. Four males and two females. The fur seems to be a sexual marker—the females have more.”

“Mine’s definitely a little boy then,” Tash said with satisfaction. “He’s got the least of all.”

“‘Mine’?” Tash’s mother looked severe. “You’re taking a little too much for granted.”

“Oh, please? Please can I have him? He’s so cute and I promise I’ll look after him.”

“We’ll see.”

“That means no, doesn’t it.” Tash’s ears flattened to the top of her head and her tendrils went blue and limp with sadness, drooping almost to her shoulders.

“It means we’ll see.”

“It means no.” Tash hung her head and went out, letting the door slam behind her. Parents could be so unfair.

***

 “I have to say that this is ironic,” Blake said. “I devote my life to freeing people from the oppressive boot of the Federation and end up in a slave market.”

“Pet shop,” said Vila, who had spent many wistful hours with his nose pressed against the windows of such places in the Alpha levels, and had made do with taming rats and cockroaches.

“Is there a difference?” Blake demanded.

“Here we go.” Avon sneered. “Are we now going to add animal liberation to our brief? You never bothered before about the rights to freedom of Cally’s downtrodden moon-disc. Not to mention Vila.”

“I like that,” Vila said resentfully. “If I was a pet, I’d be treated a lot better.”

“You may yet find out.”

They all looked anxiously at the two aliens outside.

 

Thod and Mux had recently lost their prize Snaggle-Toothed Tree-Snake, winner of ‘Best in Show’ for three years running. The Pet Show was only ten days away, and their only chance for a prize now was to buy something so exotic that it had a fair possibility of landing ‘Best in Species’. The new things in Klim’s window could fit the bill. They made their choice and went inside.

“We’d like to buy the biggest one of those things you have on display. The blue and black,” Mux said.

“Ah, yes. Impressive, isn’t he.”

Thod was doubtful. “He might need some training. He looks a little out of condition.”

“Are they easy to handle?” Mux asked.

“Oh, yes,” Klim assured her. “Just give them a quick tap on the nose. It doesn’t hurt them much, but they don’t like it. The big one’s a very good choice. Quiet and well-behaved. Not like the little brown in the corner. He’s opened the cage several times—you can see I’ve had to put a plank of wood across the top. Too heavy for him to lift now.”

All three of them peered into the cage. The brown in question looked sadly back. His nose looked slightly swollen, as did that of the black and silver.

Klim removed the plank, opened the top of the cage, and extracted the blue and black for inspection.

“We’ll take him,” Mux said. “And a nice leather collar and lead for walkies.”

 

The Liberator crew watched Gan being put into a cardboard carry-box.

“Good luck, Gan!” Vila called.

“You see?” Blake said. “It’s a slave-market. That proves it. Gan was the biggest and strongest of us.”

“Pet shop,” Vila said. He hoped he was right.

***

“Breakfast, for what it’s worth.” Avon looked at the bowl of dry food with disgust. “I’m just glad I don’t know what it’s made of,” he said. He reluctantly took a handful, wincing at the pain in his back. Sleeping on the floor after losing a fight with Jenna for the fluffy cushion had not improved his mood.

Vila screwed up his face. “Me too. I suppose if I don’t know if there’s meat in it, it’s all right, isn’t it?”

“A self-deluding vegetarian. Every time I think I’ve plumbed the depths of your idiocy, I find I’m wrong.”

“Don’t mind him, Vila,” Cally said. “You do what I do. I imagine I’m eating food I enjoy.” She chewed contemplatively, closing her eyes.

Vila sniffed mournfully at the biscuits in his hand. He might as well give it a go. “Jam roly-poly. I really miss that. It was my favourite.”

Jenna sat up. “Oh, take a cold shower, Vila! Or—” she looked scornfully at Cally, “—imagine yourself taking one.”

Vila was hurt. “It’s a pudding, Jenna. My mum always made it for me on my birthday. With a nice soy-sausage toad-in-the-hole for main course.”

Jenna stared at him. “Are you winding me up, Vila?”

Vila pouted and ignored her. It was always a mistake to talk about life in the Delta levels. These snotty Alphas never lost an opportunity to make him feel inferior. Just as well he hadn’t mentioned the pudding Doty next door used to make so often, though he’d never much liked spotted dick.

“I wonder how Gan is,” Blake said.

 

Gan was exhausted. The previous evening he’d been collared then attached to a lead and forced to run around a large grassy and wooded area several blocks from where the aliens who had bought him lived. And early this morning, he’d been taken round the block three times before being served some minced-up meat which he’d been hungry enough to eat. He now lay panting in the wicker-work basket that was his bed. Damn, here they came again. What did they want now?

Though he now suspected Vila was right—he was a pet—he could not understand just what they expected of him. He stood in the back-yard, staring puzzled at inclined planks of wood, large pipes, ladders, and hoops. He was being prodded up a plank. He sighed and decided to go along with it. This had to be better than Cygnus Alpha would have been.

***

Sorp wanted to be a fur-stylist when he left school. Not just a fur-dresser, but a famous stylist with his own salon. His head-fur was spiked and bleached at the ends in the latest fashion. Unlike boring traditionalists, he had not restricted himself to the long fur on his head, but had dyed large swirling yellow and purple patterns all over his short velvety black body-fur to the admiration of his class-mates. He was entranced by the creatures in the pet shop window, especially the pink and white one with all the blonde fur. It would be perfect to practise on. Any mistakes would be private ones, unlike that embarrassing time all of his head-fur had frizzed up so tight it gave him a headache.

He went into the shop. He had plenty of money from his evening job sweeping up fur-clippings at the local salon.

 

Everyone watched in horror as Jenna was plucked from their midst.

“Just keep your teleport bracelet on,” Blake called after her.

Avon scowled. “For all the use that will be.”

“Hope may be all we have.” Blake said gently. “Without hope—”

“—there is no hope? Is that how that particular platitude ends?”

“Well, it’s true.”

 

Tash’s hearts skipped a beat. There were only five left. She sighed in relief—her favourite was still there, and, what’s more, looking right at her, the cute little thing. Aw, he was just so adorable. Tash tapped the glass gently.

 

Vila got up and went over to the window and rapped his knuckles on the glass in response to the alien outside, which promptly dropped to a squat and bared its teeth. The tendrils at the side of its head turned bright pink and quivered, and the dark brown furry face was pressed against the glass. Vila squashed his nose against the window too, his brown eyes staring directly into the large almond-shaped golden ones outside.

“Have you no shame, Vila?” Avon asked.

“It’s the one from yesterday,” Vila said. “It likes me.”

“Yes, well. It does not look particularly bright.”

***


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