Pet Trade Teaser #1
Pet Tradeis a new standalone novella that originally appeared in the USA TODAY bestselling anthology, Embrace the Romance: Pets in Space 2. In the timeline for my Central Galactic Concordance series, Pet Trade takes place between Pico's Crush and Jumper's Hope, but it's not part of the big damn story arc that's going on. Instead, it's a chance for me to explore one of the background elements in my universe, the shady, ethically challenged pet trade industry. It's set on the frontier planet of Del'Arche. This is Pet Trade teaser #1, from the opening chapter:
Veterinarian 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 having to constantly 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.”
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