This is a free sample of the first chapter of Pet Trade (A Central Galactic Concordance Novella), by Carol Van Natta. Happy reading!
* Frontier Planet “Del'Arche” * GDAT 3241.155
VETERINARY MEDIC BETHNEE Bakonin limped toward the cage slowly. The huge dire wolf inside stood and eyed her with wary interest, but not fear or anger. The wolf’s bright blue, intelligent eyes contrasted beautifully against her thick coat of charcoal grey and black fur. Bethnee reached out with another thread of her talent to get a sense of the designer animal’s health. “Where did she come from?”
A capricious, chilly wind blew a dust devil into the center of the paddock, then let it go. Fall always arrived early in the foothills of the northernmost mountains on Del’Arche.
“A boutique alpaca ranch down south. New client.” Nuñez frowned and crossed her arms. “Idiots thought a top-of-the-line, protector-class dire wolf would make a great herd dog.” She made a disgusted sound. “They were going to shoot her because she wouldn’t let the herd out of the barn. I convinced them to sign her over to me.”
Bethnee eyed Nuñez. “How much did she cost?” Designer animals from reputable pet-trade dealers weren’t cheap. Recreating extinct mammals from Earth’s Pleistocene period was perennially popular, because it avoided the Central Galactic Concordance government’s multiple prohibitions against altering cornerstone species like wolves and coyotes. Bethnee had been saving her hard credits to buy her own flitter, instead of constantly having to borrow Nuñez’s, but the rescued dire wolf took priority.
Nuñez shook her head. “Zero. They bought her cheap with a flatlined ID chip, so she’s probably stolen. I told them I’d take care of the problem for free, and that it’d be our little secret.” Knowing Nuñez, she’d pushed them with her low-level empath talent, so they’d be afraid of getting caught, and happy to be rid of the evidence. Nuñez had no compunction against using her minder talent to manipulate humans who hurt animals, which was one of several reasons why she and Bethnee got along so well.
Bethnee focused on sensing the wolf’s mind. The fleeting thoughts were complex, with deep memories. The wolf had known and felt pack love for other humans, but hadn’t seen them for a long time. The ranchers had beaten her to get her into the cage, and she didn’t know what she’d done wrong.
Bethnee contained her talent and her anger, then told Nuñez what she’d found. “She’s also got tracers in every major joint. Can I use your small surgical suite this afternoon?” The portable unit contained micro surgical tools with an AI-assist built in, and would make quick work of the excisions.
“Sure.” Nuñez tilted her head toward the doors of the vetmed clinic behind her. “Let’s get her inside.”
“Does she respond to a name?”
“Didn’t come up.” Nuñez looked at the clock. “I’ll make you a deal. After I put the flitter away, you help me feed and water the yaks, and I’ll help you with the tracers.”
~ ~ ~
“It’ll snow tonight.” Nuñez lifted the last bulky bag of feed and unsealed it. At age one hundred and nine, the woman looked like a plump rural grandmother who printed heritage quilts and baked cookies, but she was strong and smart, and could control a herd of fifty large buffalo with her minder talent.
Bethnee took the bag. “The weather AI doesn’t think so.” She angled her hip so she didn’t stress her bad leg, then reached high to pour the bag’s contents into the hopper.
“The yaks say otherwise.” Nuñez took the empty bag. “They’re huddling in the corner of the pen near the barn. Weather AI says it’ll be a bad winter.” She gave Bethnee a meaningful look. “You could move back to the clinic.”
“We’ve been…” Bethnee began, then sighed. “I’m fine where I am. It suits me.”
Nuñez continued as if she hadn’t heard. “Still plenty of room in the clinic. You could live next door, because that hateful Raloff family abandoned the property to move deeper into the mountains.” She headed for the sink to wash her hands. “If we shared the clinic again, you could actually leave town for more than a few hours and know your animals were safe, and maybe have your leg fixed. You’re too young to be a hermit. You’re homesteaded now, and the town would be happy to have you.”
“No, they wouldn’t.” Bethnee followed Nuñez to the sink. “Too many people considered my animals a nuisance.” She pointed her chin toward the big cage. “The first goat or child that went missing, they’d accuse the dire wolf. Or Jynx.” Unusual snow leopards, no matter how well behaved, scared people who didn’t know them.
As Bethnee washed her hands, Nuñez turned on the mini-solardry. “It was only the Raloffs and Administrator Pranteaux who complained, and he complains about everything.” They both rubbed their hands vigorously in the warm, forced air. “Come on. Let’s take care of your new wolf.”
Bethnee was grateful that her friend hadn’t gotten into the real reasons Bethnee couldn’t move back. A lot of frontier settlers like the Raloffs had moved away from the Central Galactic Concordance member planets to get away from minders, and everyone knew she was one, because she used her talents as well as her training to treat pets. Word got around.
More importantly, even though she’d escaped her former life in the pet trade three years ago, she still couldn’t get within five meters of any man without taking the chance she’d be shaking like a leaf from mind-numbing fear. When she’d first arrived, she couldn’t even be in the same building. She’d gotten better with time, but it was bad for business when she couldn’t deal with nearly half the population of customers.
Nuñez claimed it was post-trauma stress, and just like her leg, it could be treated by competent medics and minders. Even if that were true, it would cost hard credit, and she needed every decimal she had to provide for her animal family. They didn’t care that she was too scared and too damaged to live among humans.
Read the rest of Pet Trade: