People said that it couldn’t happen, that it wouldn’t happen, that it SHOULDN’T happen, but those people were wrong, and they were also late for the hairdresser, so stop shouting at me, mother! That Uber guy has been waiting fifteen minutes.
Book Four of the Amy Armstrong saga is available in digital format at Amazon, for the low, low price of $2.99. Seriously, it’s very low. If I sold the book for any less, I’d have to rent out my closet and make the cat get a job. (Bit of a joke for those following at home, because everyone knows he’s a district manager at Sainsbury’s, thank you very much.)
Take a look at the first chapter of Homecoming below. Amy and her friends are stuck in the year 3317, on the planet Kapetyn. It’s the future, yo.
Amy had never see so many dogs in one place, and she’d been to one of those blue-ribbon shows at the Cow Palace.
According to Betsy, about seven million dogs lived in Wallville, and Amy guessed about half were in the street outside the restaurant, or at least it seemed like it to her. The others were probably at the smoke-spewing factories producing the stench of wet dog meets burning tire that hung over the city. Even though some civic leader in the long-ago past had designed sidewalks, dogs trotted freely across the wide lanes, dodging hover cars packed with barking passengers and motor bikes that rocketed through traffic at high speed with loud blat-blat motors. Twenty meters above the street, sprites buzzed through the sky carrying packages and rolled-up messages in clear plastic tubes. Frequently, three or four of the tiny flying humanoids would team up to slowly carry boxes of groceries through the air as the other sprites zipped by. Even though their tasks were boring and simple, each sprite was clothed fashionably in a pastel-colored suit or dress. In contrast, the dogs walking through the muddy streets wore little over their fur coats apart from their last meal or something really smelly they’d rolled around in. Only officials such as police or doctors had anything like a badge of office. The police dogs wore round black caps and black vests, and their primary job seemed to be yelling at other dogs to move along, although they frequently grabbed puppies from the street and pulled them out of the way of speeding hover cars. Loud barking, music from thousands of portable radios, and honks from cars and motor bikes rose from the streets like a toxic fog of sound and mixed with the actual toxic fog coming from the factories.
As usual for the past two weeks, Amy and Philip were having lunch in the human district of the city, where they could walk into a shop without banging their faces on the lintel and where the buildings rose to a height of three stories on both sides of the paved street. Half the businesses were souvenir shops that sold tacky human dolls or dog-sized t-shirts that read “Wallville Monkeytown,” “Property of Human Athletic League,” and “My Other Human Is Also A Human.” The rest of the businesses were cafes and restaurants selling knock-off copies of human food, which was about as tasty as it sounds.
Amy took a bite from the burger in her hands. She frowned and spit it onto her plate.
“That’s not ground beef,” she said. “That’s Alpo!”
Her wardrobe on the White Star had survived the ship’s sinking, but it wouldn’t have mattered since the nanite material could change to whatever she needed. She wore a beige sweater over a pink collared blouse, a houndstooth knee-length skirt, black tights, black pumps, and had pulled her blonde hair into a pony tail.
Philip watched her from across the small table. “I’m not certain what Alpo is, dear, but this liver tastes quite fine.” He held out a spoon loaded with meat and dripping with brown gravy. “Like to try some?”
The dark-haired teenager wore a blue, button-down shirt, khaki trousers, and brown Oxfords. During their first week in Wallville, he and Amy had found a shop near the university that sold human clothes, ones that actually fit and weren’t just costumes for dogs going to fraternity parties.
Amy leaned back in her chair. “Liver? I thought you ordered steak.”
Philip nodded. “So did I. This, however, is liver. I’ve eaten enough of it during my childhood to know, by Jove.”
Amy brushed her blonde hair behind an ear. “I hate liver. It’s disgusting and only cats will eat it.”
The cafe became very quiet, and most of the dogs turned from their chairs and stared at Amy.
“Just kidding!” she said. “Ha ha, liver is great. Oh boy, do I love it.”
Apparently satisfied, the other diners turned their backs on Amy and the cafe filled with noisy conversations again.
Philip leaned across the table. “Be careful, dear. Food is a very sensitive matter on this planet.”
Amy pointed at her burger. “Really?” she whispered. “You could have fooled me.”
The cafe was small with six tables and packed with dog customers who had plopped their furry behinds on human-sized stools and were awkwardly eating with forks in their paws. The seating in a normal restaurant on Kapetyn would have been cushions on the floor and low tables, but this was a ‘human-style’ business where the customers came to try something other than the usual kibble. Wallpaper with a black-and-white grid pattern had been slapped on the walls, and dusty, framed photos of dogs in sports jerseys hung around the room. In the back corner, a holo-display mounted near the ceiling showed a soccer match between two teams of dogs. Amy and Philip were sitting at a table near an open window for the view of the street, but also for the slightly fresher air. Many dogs smoked what looked like big cigars or longer, thinner cigarillos––Amy thought at first that it was tobacco, but the cloudy blue smoke had an odor like fresh sweet corn, and Betsy said it was a plant from Kapetyn. To punctuate the point, a fluffy Pomeranian pushed the flap out of the kitchen and trotted on all fours into the dining area, puffing huge clouds of blue smoke from the cigar in the corner of his mouth. On his back was strapped a tray that held a rattling plate of spaghetti and meatballs.
Amy shook her head. “I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to this place.”
Philip laughed. “It’s mad, isn’t it? I wonder what’s taking Betsy so long.”
“I bet he got distracted by something shiny, like a paper clip.”
Philip nodded and took a bite of liver. “Perhaps his knowledge implant came loose again.”
“You know that’s a joke, right? Sunflower made up that story about the implant just so he could whack Betsy in the head once in a while. I talked to Andy and she said Betsy never had the operation. He doesn’t have a knowledge implant.”
“Ah. I see.”
The Pomeranian waiter with the cigar stopped at a table where a pair of English bulldogs sat, and tilted his back, sliding the plate of spaghetti onto the tablecloth with a clank. The dog trotted back to the kitchen door, but before he entered, slapped a control panel on the wall. Music blared from speakers in the wall––a bad version of “Rock Around the Clock” that sounded like it was recorded by squirrels who were being shot from a cannon.
“No music!” yelled Amy and Philip, at the same time.
A furry paw whipped from the kitchen and slapped the controls, stopping the music.
Amy sighed. “If there’s anything I’ll remember about my first visit to a planet colonized by talking dogs, it’s not the music.”
Philip swallowed another spoonful of his ‘steak’ and grinned at her.
“I rather think you won’t forget the food, my dearest.”
The front door of the cafe swung open with a bang and a Jack Russell terrier dashed inside. The brown-and-white dog had not realized how slick the tile floor was, however, and slipped on a rug inside the entrance. He slid on his bottom at high speed across the dining room and through the kitchen flap, ending in an unseen but very loud clatter of pots and pans.
Philip stood from his chair. “My word, Betsy!”
“Speak of the devil,” said Amy.
Betsy jumped out of the kitchen, covered in mayonnaise, mustard, bits of lettuce, and slices of tomato. He trotted up to the teenagers, dripping a colorful trail of food and sauces across the floor.
Amy saluted him lazily. “Yo, dawg.”
Philip returned to his chair. “You absolutely must be more careful, Betsy. Someday you’ll hurt yourself with all this bouncing to and fro like a marionette.”
Betsy panted with his pink tongue hanging out.
“It means a puppet,” said Amy. “A crazy, out-of-control puppet.”
“Oh. But it’s because I’m excited! Didn’t you get the message? Sunnie wants us back at the ship, and I ran all this way to tell you because you weren’t answering the communicator thingy.”
Amy pulled a keychain with a pink diamond and white rabbit’s foot out of her jacket pocket.
“This didn’t work yesterday, either. Maybe the battery ran out.”
“I daresay we’re too far from the ship,” said Philip. “We did walk quite a distance.”
The Pomeranian waiter burst from the kitchen, a silver pot on his head and his white fur covered in enough varieties of sauce to qualify as modern art. He shook his head violently and the pot clanged onto the tiles.
Amy waved nervously at the waiter. “Um … check, please?”
“No time for that,” said Philip. He reached into his trouser pocket and slapped a bundle of colored paper on the table. “Run!”
The pair of humans and one lettuce-covered terrier scrambled out of the cafe and ran down the middle of the street, dodging hover cars and barking police dogs. Six blocks later, the Pomeranian gave up the chase and turned back. Once they were sure that no-one was following them, Amy, Philip, and Betsy hurried through the muddy lanes toward the edge of the city.
The White Star was parked on a wide grassy field surrounded by the gigantic green and blue submarine shapes of dog spacecraft and the equally large cat ships, which were universally sphere-shaped and mostly silver in color. Almost all of the ships were broken open in places as panels of the skin and interior parts were taken to repair other ships. Dull red and black rust streaked down the sides of the machines, a feature of the heavy rains during summer. Stacked around the space-faring craft were towering piles of broken hover cars, boats, and farm machinery. The blue-green grass everywhere made the area seem like a cow pasture, but patches of concrete beneath all the mud and grass hinted at the fact that this had been the original spaceport for Wallville.
South of the junkyard, the city spread across a wide valley flanked on both sides by the peaks of snow-capped mountains. Most of the buildings were made from yellow, tan, and white adobe and had domes for roofs. It was a bright and spectacular sight from above––one of the reasons tourists visited the city. A thousand-year-old brick wall topped the mountains around the valley, and could be seen from just about anywhere at ground level, although without binoculars the wall was simply a black and gray line in the snow.
Philip lifted a rusty section of chain-link fence so Amy and Betsy could scramble inside the repair yard. Nearby, the silver shape of the White Star stood on her landing gear under the shadow of two cat ships, like a windowless hundred-meter barracuda flanked by a pair of rusted and even bigger Christmas ornaments.
The two humans and Betsy climbed up the ladder to the starboard airlock of the White Star. Amy closed the hatch and waited while Philip and Betsy changed into stretchy red uniforms.
“Blanche, we’re back!” she said, looking up. “I don’t know why I’m talking to the ceiling. Habit, I guess.”
“Indeed, captain,” said a smooth, motherly voice from the walls. “The position of your head does not affect my ability to hear you.”
Amy held up the keychain with the diamond and rabbit’s foot. “Were you trying to call me? This mind-link thing-a-ma-boob isn’t working again.”
“Yes, my Lady. Crew member MacGuffin would like to speak to you in the power room. I apologize for the communications error, and will research the issue. Done. The mind-link was at low power, and my Lady was beyond the maximum communication distance.”
Philip pulled a red top over his head and stretched it down his bare chest. “Great! Another reason not to go back to that restaurant.”
“Or the city at all,” said Amy.
“I agree most heartily, dear.”
“Blanche, did he finally get the transmat drive fixed? Don’t tell me we need to find another repair yard. I just spent two weeks on a planet full of dogs, and if that was for nothing I might get violent. Very violent.”
Betsy spun around. “What? But you’re having fun, right?”
Amy smiled. “Loads.”
“The crew member in question did not mention repairs,” said the ship, and yawned. “My apologies; I was taking a short nap.”
Amy looked down and brushed a bit of mud from her skirt. “That’s fine. I’ll see what he wants.”
“Please ask crew member MacGuffin to be more careful with the power core. His techniques cause me discomfort at times.”
Philip pulled on a pair of stretchy red trousers. “Steady on there, Blanche. Afraid of a little sniffle?”
“Negative. I simply do not wish to destroy this planet by producing another planet.”
BETSY RAN to the living quarters to see what his buddies Sunflower and Wilson were doing, while Amy and Philip walked to the power room at the rear of the ship. The holographic winds of the California coast blew around Amy, with dry, yellow mountains to her left, pale sand under her shoes, and the Pacific Ocean to her right. A tiny gray bird ran above the bubbling foam of the surf, chirping to a nearby flock of his friends, as a seagull glided overhead.
“I certainly hope Doctor MacGuffin has good news,” said Philip.
“I’m still shocked that we made it to 3317 and Kapetyn without exploding into a million-billion pieces. Blanche is tough as nails, but she wasn’t designed to sink.”
“My critical systems were sealed and protected from the seawater, my Lady,” said the voice of the ship, following both teenagers as they walked. “The main damage was to the crew quarters and the food supply.”
Amy jabbed a finger at the holographic seagull above her head. “I know! Why do you think I’ve been eating dog food the last two weeks?”
“Apologies, my Lady.”
“It’s not your fault, Blanche. Don’t worry about it.”
“A bio-mechanical construct cannot worry, my Lady. I cannot promise to not do a thing I cannot do in the first place. How would you say it? That is like promising not to watch football when you do not watch football.”
Philip chuckled. “She’s quite snippy today, isn’t she?”
“A bio-mechanical construct cannot be snippy, crew member. I cannot promise to be––”
“Blanche, stop being silly,” said Amy. “We all love you and think you’re the greatest thousand-year-old living ship in the universe.”
“Thank you, my Lady, but I am the only thousand-year-old living ship in the universe.”
“Really?” asked Philip. “How would you know that?”
“They would have called or left a message.”
Amy giggled. “That’s a good one. You should write that down, Blanche.”
“Thank you, my Lady.”
Amy noticed Philip staring at the side of her neck as they walked. She slapped him playfully on the arm.
“What are you doing? You still think I’m going to turn into Three, don’t you?” She pulled up the sleeve of her sweater. “Look, no tattoos. I’m still me, okay?”
Philip squeezed Amy’s hand. “So sorry, dear. It’s simply difficult for me to come to grips with how Three became an infant, was taken back to your dimension, and grew up to be you.”
“Thanks, Mr. Backstory. Whatever happened, I’m here and I’m not going anywhere.”
Philip smiled nervously. “And you won’t get tattoos like Three? Not that I would mind in the slightest.”
“It’s what’s inside that counts, right? But if I do get a tattoo, it’ll be a huge drawing of you on my … how do you say that in England? On my ‘bum.’”
Philip turned red. “How charming. I suppose, given the secret location on your person and the fact that no one else but I could view such a thing––”
“Don’t be silly. It was a joke!”
Deep in the aft, or “bum” of the ship, the teenagers stopped in front of a circular metal hatch, no different from the dozens of circular metal hatches along the corridor, each one hanging in mid-air above the holographic beach. Above this door, however, someone had scrawled “Pouvwa” in black marker, along with several arrows comically pointing down.
Amy pointed at the scrawled word. “I’ve got to change that to English someday. Oh, well. Add it to the list.”
Philip touched his palm to the center of the hatch. “No matter, dear. We know that it means ‘Power.’”
The hatch spiraled away. Amy followed Philip off the holographic beach and into a room dominated by a glossy black dome. Like a patient stripped of clothing and shaved for surgery, half the panels of the power core had been removed and stacked to the side, and painfully bright lamps on tripods shone down on the exposed silver guts. The air was full of the stink of plastic and rubber, and a plodding, pulsing hum vibrated the floor, as if hidden deep below was a really slow washing machine on the last cycle before it went to that great washing machine graveyard in the sky. Empty boxes and puffy green packing material were scattered over the floor, along with battered crates and a workbench covered in tools. Under all of the mess, yellow and black electrical cables traced noodle-like paths from outlets in the wall to the pit under the dome, where a blue light throbbed and fought back against the glare of the work lamps. In the center of the circular pit lay a meter-wide silver sphere, which was covered in a mess of white tubes and a rainbow of electrical cables, like a metal egg plopped from the rear of a giant cybernetic condor. Blue sparkles flashed slowly from several of the wires and matched the vibrations from beneath the floor.
Amy glanced around the room. “Where’s MacGuffin? Taking a nap somewhere, I bet.”
“I certainly hope not,” said Philip, and raised his voice. “Doctor MacGuffin! Are you present?”
A loud clang and scream of pain came from deep within the pit. After a series of curses, a Siamese cat in welding goggles popped up to stare at Amy and Philip.
“You fools! Don’t scare me like that.”
Amy spread her arms. “What? You’re the one who wanted to see us.”
The Siamese cat stared at her with his black welding goggles for a moment, nodded, and pulled himself up and out of the pit. He wore an orange, cat-sized pair of coveralls over his furry body, thick gloves over his paws, and a pair of wide, industrial-sized “manos” bracelets over his upper wrists. The metal of the “manos” claws was covered with scorch marks and deep scratches.
MacGuffin walked the few steps to Amy and Philip and pushed up the goggles.
“Don’t stare at the core,” he said. “I warned you about that yesterday. Do you want your brain to turn into a marshdevil and leak out your ears?”
Amy covered her eyes with both hands. “I definitely don’t want that. What’s going on?”
“What’s going on?” MacGuffin waved a glove at the power core. “I’m attempting to get this thing back to full power so we can leave this dog-forsaken city and get back to real civilization. The two of you would be eating leaves and playing with sticks if I hadn’t squeezed enough energy into the transmat drive to send us to the future and to Kapetyn.” He sighed and shook his head. “Never thought I’d be happy to land on a dog world.”
Philip held up a hand. “My apologies, Doctor, but what Amy means to ask is, what do you need from us now?”
MacGuffin rubbed his gloves together. “I don’t need anything. I just wanted to tell you the repairs are finished.”
Amy pointed at the parts scattered across the room. “Finished? Are you sure about that?”
“Looks are deceiving,” said MacGuffin. “A Pomeranian looks like a cat, but you won’t ask him to the homecoming dance twice.”
“What does that even mean?”
MacGuffin rolled his eyes. “Were you raised in a box? That’s a very common cat saying. It means you shouldn’t judge something by its appearance.”
“Thank you, Doctor, for all of your hard work these past few weeks,” said Philip. “It’s quite appreciated and I don’t know where we’d be without you.”
“Back on that mudball of Old Earth with the rest of the monkeys, that’s where. I need a day to re-assemble the dome, so don’t lose any fur thinking we’ll leave immediately. Oh! Speaking of monkeys.” The cat pointed a gloved paw at Amy. “Even though you’re a Centauran, as the captain of this ship you must know what’s inside the power core. How in the holy name of Saint Fluffy did you manage to shrink an entire planet?”
Amy kept her eyes covered with her hands. “A planet? I thought the ship ran on nuclear power or fairy dust or something.”
“Absolutely not. The power comes from the gravity waves of a dimensional copy of Kepler Prime. I hate to admit it, but the amount of energy needed to miniaturize such a planet and keep it frozen in stasis are far beyond what I’ve seen in the cat engineering labs. This ship is very, very advanced.”
Philip rubbed his chin. “Kepler Prime … that’s the sauro homeworld. The planet Amy was accused of stealing.”
Amy nudged him with an elbow. “Not accused. I was sent to prison and tortured by that slimeball Nistra for it!”
“I don’t know the entire story,” said MacGuffin, and scratched his whiskers. “But there’s definitely a microscopic Kepler Prime in the core. If the sauropod military said you stole the planet, they may have been correct.”
Hands still covering her eyes, Amy stamped a foot. “I didn’t steal anything! The Lady broke me out of prison and gave me this ship to find my way back home. She didn’t say jack squat about tiny planets in the engine room!”
“Also tiny sauropods,” said MacGuffin. “Actually, they’re quite cute at that size.”
“But that means we’re keeping them prisoner!”
“Don’t stress your monkey brain about it. Mittens knows the galaxy would be a better place if all the sauros were microscopic and frozen in stasis.”
“I know, but that doesn’t make it better.”
Philip put an arm around Amy’s shoulders. “We don’t have the entire story, dear. Perhaps the Lady stole the planet and was attempting to hide the evidence. Perhaps she didn’t know about the power core.”
“Doubtful,” said MacGuffin. “A planet in a stasis field doesn’t just roll under a sofa and get covered with hair.” He clapped his gloves together. “In any case, the question is moot. This is our only source of energy. Unless you want to live out your unnatural lives on a planet covered with dogs, we have to use it to power the ship.”
“So I can definitely go back home?” asked Amy. “To 1995 this time?”
MacGuffin searched through the tools at the workbench.
“Yes. With the repairs finished, a transmat to your dimension is possible. The source of pure element was undamaged and I have already adjusted the settings.”
“Pure element? You mean the golden Super Nintendo?”
“Yes, if that is what you call it.”
Philip raised a hand. “My apologies if this sounds like an unnecessary question, but why did you need that? The pure element, I mean.”
MacGuffin squinted at the teenager. “I don’t know if I could explain it without teaching you a semester of transdimensional physics. If I close my eyes for a moment and pretend that I’m talking to kittens, I might say it’s because you can’t go somewhere you’ve never been.”
“But I grew up there,” said Amy. “I lived on Earth fourteen years!”
“Quite so,” murmured the cat. “But our transmat coil doesn’t know that and the drive doesn’t know that. This was an experimental ship designed a thousand years ago, and I think half the engineers were drunk on fermented pond water when they launched her.”
The ship’s voice boomed down from the ceiling. “That’s not true,” she said. “It was a bad plate of kribich. At least, that’s what the first crew members said.”
“Is that why Blanche has been wandering around the galaxy and through the dimensions for so long?” asked Amy. “She doesn’t have enough pure material from Katmando, where she came from?”
MacGuffin picked up a silver wrench with his manos claws. “The entire ship is from Katmando, so that wouldn’t be the problem. You’d have to ask the ship about her reasons.”
Amy looked up at the ceiling. “Blanche?”
“I’d rather not talk about it,” said the motherly voice. “Please ask the crew member to replace the engine coverings as soon as possible. I’ve been holding a sneeze for three days.”
MacGuffin trotted over to a pile of glossy, curved metal parts and began to sort through them. “I agree with the machine. The sooner you leave me alone, the sooner we can lift off from this awful dog planet. I swear I can smell the place even from inside the ship.”
Amy held up her hands. “Fine.”
She and Philip turned and walked back to the exit hatch. When the pair were a meter away, the round metal door whisked to the side and Betsy shot through. The brown-and-white terrier slammed into the shins of both the humans, and since the Lady had strengthened his bones with titanium, the little dog was heavy enough to knock both teenagers off their feet.
“Egads, man!” shouted Philip, from the floor. “Watch where you’re going!”
Amy stood and helped him up. “That’s the second time today, Betsy. What did you eat this time?”
The terrier climbed out of a pile of boxes and shook green packing material from his fur. “What? I didn’t eat anything.”
“Then why did you fly in here like a dog shot from a cannon?”
Betsy looked around. “Ummm … oh! I remember. We’re in trouble and probably going to die.”
“What’s new? I’m usually in trouble, you know. Do you have anything specific or is this your opinion of the general state of things?”
“Betsy is most likely using the royal ‘we,’” said Philip. “He’s most likely locked Nick in the cupboard again.”
Betsy glanced back and forth between the teenagers. “Um, no. We’re going to die because the dog police are here, and they aren’t being nice. Actually, they aren’t nice all of the time!”
“Captain, I detect vehicles approaching from multiple directions,” said the ship. “I am being scanned on gamma and infrared wavelengths.”
“Crap!” yelled Amy.
She and Philip sprinted through the holographic beach corridors of the ship to the navigation room, with Betsy on their heels.
As in the corridor, the walls, ceiling, and floor of the room were covered in holographic projections, but instead of sand and waves the projection walls showed the outside of the ship, where towers of rusting metal junk loomed on all sides. Below Amy’s feet, long strands of blue-green grass waved in the breeze, and broken bottles and bits of metal glinted from the muddy earth like bits of almond in fudge. A black Labrador and a Doberman in police vests and black caps stood on their hind legs about ten meters away, both pointing devices that looked like hair dryers at the ship. Over the stacks of hover cars Amy saw three walkers thumping closer, their ball-like central bodies swaying left and right as the metal legs stepped carefully over the muddy ground. Unlike the olive-green military walkers that her dimensional copy had sent after her in 1912, these were painted white with red stripes and didn’t have any missile launchers or plasma cannons on either side of the ball.
Amy pointed down at Betsy. “Didn’t you pay off the police? They weren’t supposed to bother us!”
“I gave them two bags of molasses candy,” said the terrier. “That should have been enough for a week.”
Philip cleared his throat. “We’ve been here two weeks, actually.”
Betsy stared up at the teenager. “Really? Oh. That’s why they’re mad. I’d be mad, too!”
A cat wearing a stretchy red bodysuit over his orange fur trotted into the navigation room.
“What’s all the screaming about?” said Sunflower. “Tell me who screwed up and how big.”
Betsy jumped around the navigation room. “I did, I did!”
“Maybe not,” said Amy. “Look over there.”
A white Pomeranian appeared from behind a pile of rusted cylinders. He approached the two police dogs and pointed up at the ship.
“That looks like our waiter, by Jove,” said Philip.
Sunflower yawned and sat in a chair next to the navigation column.
“Let me guess––Betsy broke something and they called the police. I told you we should have flown to Tau Ceti.”
“We had to come here, okay?” Amy looked up to the ceiling. “Blanche, prepare to lift off.”
“I’m sorry, my Lady, but I can’t do that,” said the calm voice of the ship. “My primary coupler is still offline.”
“Connect the intercom to the power room. MacGuffin, are you there?”
“Where else would I be?” snapped the cat’s voice. “Sorry, I just dropped a tie rod on my foot and now I can’t find it.”
“We need to leave the planet now.”
“I know. That’s what I’m doing, rebuilding the power core.”
“Not tomorrow, NOW now. We need to leave the planet this second!”
“What? I’m not a miracle worker! You were just down here and saw what state the core is in!”
Philip waved at the ceiling. “Thank you, doctor, but the situation has changed. There’s an army of police around us at this very moment, and growing in size.”
“Great burning hairballs,” fumed MacGuffin’s voice. “Fine, but I need five minutes.”
“I’ll do what I can,” said Amy, and stared down at Betsy. “You heard the doctor. Get out there and tell them something. Jokes, a bedtime story, I don’t care.”
“Okay!” said the terrier, and sped out of the room.
“Good idea,” said Sunflower. “The police get Betsy and we get to leave. It’s a win-win for everyone.”
Amy walked over to the command console and smiled down at the orange cat.
“That’s funny coming from someone who almost died trying to save Betsy.”
Sunflower shrugged. “I make bad choices. What can I say?”
The hatch slid open and a gray shorthaired cat walked through, followed by the black cat Wilson. Like Sunflower, both wore the ship’s red spandex uniforms, with only their furry faces showing.
“What’s the problem?” asked the gray cat, Andy Nakamura. “Betsy just ran through the ship barking about candy.”
Sunflower waved a paw at the growing number of dog police and walkers projected on the walls. “That’s the problem, dear.”
“Oh no! We can’t go to a dog prison! They’re awful.”
“Don’t worry about prison,” said Amy. “We’re leaving.”
“Starboard hatch two opening,” said the smooth voice of the ship.
Both the group inside the ship and the police outside watched as the airlock ladder extended and a white pillowcase stuffed full of something plopped onto the muddy ground. Betsy climbed down the ladder carefully using his “manos” claws and dragged the pillowcase to the Labrador and Doberman officers, his tail wagging. The Labrador stuck his head inside the bag and then backed away quickly. More police dogs rushed up to the group and began to bark at the little terrier.
“I don’t think your plan is working, dearest,” said Philip.
Amy gritted her teeth. “Right.”
“It’s working perfectly,” said Sunflower. “I thought you wanted to get the stupid dog killed!”
The gray cat Andy poked Sunflower in the side. “Sunnie! Be nice.”
“If we only had weapons,” murmured Philip, and rubbed his chin.
“Those police dogs are only doing their jobs,” said Amy. “I wouldn’t feel right about using weapons on them, even if we had any that worked. They probably have puppies at home.”
“That’s true,” said the black cat Wilson. “At least ten or twenty each. Dogs have big families.”
“I didn’t mean it that way,” said Philip. “We could use the weapons to create a distraction.”
Sunflower pointed at the scene outside. “Betsy’s the only distraction we need. Look at that.”
A dozen police dogs chased Betsy around the muddy open space in the junkyard, and quickly piled on top of the small terrier in a huge, wiggling pile of furry bodies and black vests. A ball of red mud shaped like Betsy squeezed from the bottom of the pile, and the circular chase began all over.
“Good thing he’s got those titanium implants,” said Sunflower, and tapped the side of his head. “Just like me.”
“Even titanium won’t last forever,” said the gray cat, Andy. “The walkers are going squish him. Do something!”
Amy rubbed her hands and paced the invisible, holographic floor. “Distraction,” she murmured. “Distraction.” She stopped and raised a finger. “Blanche! You said you were holding in a sneeze?”
“Indeed, my Lady. I would be concerned for the local area if––”
Amy leaned over the central console. “Don’t worry about that. I need you to sneeze right now! You have my permission.”
“Of course, my Lady, although I don’t think that is wise,” said the calm voice of the ship. “My Lady and crew members should grab a firm surface and hold on. If there is no surface available, crew members may kneel and consider your views on the afterlife.”
Sunflower grabbed the console and stared at Amy with wide yellow eyes. “Great flaming hairballs! What have you done?”
Everyone in the room scrambled to grab onto something, but since the cylindrical, low console was the only ‘something’ in the featureless room, the entire group ended in a huddle like drowning sailors around a life preserver. Amy and Philip hugged each other around the waist with one arm and held on to the edge of the console with the other.
“Geronimo,” said Amy.
Philip stared at her. “Pardon?”
“Tally-ho, I guess?”
“Oh. I see.”
Invisible panels clicked in the walls behind the holographic projection. A breeze grew into a whistling, fierce gale that flapped Amy’s skirt and pulled everyone toward the top of the room, as if a giant stood above them sucking on a straw. Amy and Philip let go of each other and held the edge of the console with both hands as their bodies became weightless and their legs pointed to the ceiling. The three cats in the room were doing the same, clinging with their front paws as the horrible vacuum pulled their fur and their tails straight up.
With a smack like a sonic boom, the air current reversed and threw the cats and humans to the far edges of the circular room. Whines and gasps of pain from everyone filled the air.
Amy groaned and sat up from the invisible floor. “Ouch.”
Philip knelt beside her. A trickle of blood seeped across his temple from his brown hairline.
“Amy! How are you? Did you hurt yourself, dearest?”
“No, just a few bruises. You need a bandage, though …”
Her voice trailed off as she stared at the holographic projection of the outside world. The muddy grass of the junkyard had been cleared in a perfect circle fifty meters around the ship. The hulks of rusted spacecraft had toppled over, and the stacks of hover cars and ground vehicles had tumbled for another twenty meters. The police walkers were nowhere to be seen, and dozens of police dogs lay in a wide circle around the ship, shaking their heads groggily or raising an paw to the sky.
“Let’s not do that again,” said Sunflower, as he limped back to central console. “Every one of my nine lives flashed in front of my eyes.”
Amy chuckled. “You still believe in that nine lives crap?”
“Of course! It’s not crap, it’s real.”
“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve—wait! Where’s Betsy?”
“I don’t wish to be scare anyone,” said Philip. “But I daresay it’s that large clump of mud climbing up the ladder to the airlock.”
“Fantastic,” said Amy. “Blanche––can we leave now?”
“Yes, my Lady. The engine coupler is operational. Warning––atmospheric vehicles approaching.”
“When Betsy is back inside, give full power to the engines and take us to orbit.”
“The crew member is secure and all exterior seals are closed.”
Amy pumped her fist. “Go!”
“Yes, my Lady.”
The floor vibrated and Amy held on to Philip as the junkyard, city, and the mountains rapidly shrank below their feet, changed to an L-shaped green and brown continent surrounded by oceans, and then became the cloudy blue orb of Kapetyn, surrounded by the deep black of space and a billion glittering stars.
“We have exited the atmosphere, my Lady.”
“Thank you, Blanche.”
The hatch slid open and the Siamese cat MacGuffin trotted through. The bottom half of his tiny orange jumpsuit was scorched black and streamed long curls of smoke. He glared at Amy and Philip.
“Are you trying to kill me?” he sputtered. “I was almost fried to a crisp by the power core. There’s a reason why you put covers on things, you know!”
Amy smiled sheepishly and spread her hands. “Sorry?”
A four-legged glob of mud in the shape of a terrier squished and splatted into the navigation room, leaving a smeared trail of brown footprints.
“Hey, guys!” said Betsy. “I did good, right? Wow, what a wind storm. A lucky break for me, too!” The pair of eyes in the front of the huge glob of mud turned and stared at MacGuffin. “What happened to you, Doc? Were you outside, too?”
The scorched cat scientist shook his head and limped out of the room.
“Life happened,” he growled from the corridor.
“Is he mad at me?” asked Betsy. “What’d I do?”
“This is one of those extremely rare times in the universe that it wasn’t your fault,” said Sunflower. “Unlike every other time.”
“Oh! That’s good.”
Amy yelped and pointed at Betsy. “Stop! Don’t shake your coat in here!”
The humans and cats dove for cover as Betsy shivered, wiggled, and threw mud across the navigation room, like a snow blower dropped in a pig pen.