Pet Trade (A Central Galactic Concordance Novella)
By Carol Van Natta
Genre: Science Fiction Romance
Any Excuse for a Party
by Carol Van Natta
Humans love holidays. We’ll celebrate anything — battles, births, food, gods, victories, celestial events — you name it. We welcome the vacation from our daily routine, and holidays are a good excuse.
I imagine holidays grew out of group activities that benefited the community, and the desire to recognize achievement. Build a boat or a fence for a shared pasture, bring down a mastodon so everyone can eat, defeat your enemies in battle, or discover how to brew beer, and throw a party to celebrate. Sort of like inviting your friends over to help you move, and rewarding them with pizza. We have national holidays, religious holidays, local holidays, and personal holidays. We invent holidays by the score to recognize a huge variety of worthy causes: 2 Jan. is National Science Fiction Day; 5 May is Cinco de Mayo in Mexico, but also National Astronaut Day; 29 October is National Cat Day.
When I was creating the universe for my Central Galactic Concordance space opera series, I ran into the problem of synchronizing date and time. Space is really, really big, and the distances between habitable planets are vast. I solved that problem by setting a standard “Galactic Date and Time,” so people wouldn’t be late to important meetings, or their own birthday party. In my universe, most everyone has birthdays and coming-of-age days, which are all worthy of a great party.
GDAT isn’t very useful for global or intragalactic holidays, because local time, including day and year length, varies by planet. However, each terraformed and settled planet does have shared experiences. They all had a first successful colony, so most commemorate it with a variation on Founder’s Day or Prime City Day, with parades and fireworks. Even frontier planets, like the one in my story, Pet Trade, has two solstices per year, which are typically occasions for presents.
The exciting climax of Pet Trade takes place the day after Solstice Day in the frozen north of the frontier planet of Del’Arche. Bethnee, a talented but damaged veterinarian, and Axur, an ex-elite forces Jumper with secrets, exchanged gifts yesterday. Today, they have to save themselves, their beloved and valuable pets, and their town.
Pet Trade first appeared in the USA TODAY bestselling science fiction romance anthology, Embrace the Romance: Pets in Space 2. The anthology has left the galaxy forever, but Pet Trade is now available as a standalone story.
Pet Trade (A Central Galactic Concordance Novella)
by Carol Van Natta
An injured veterinarian and a cyborg with unusual pets must join forces to save their town.
The vast Central Galactic Concordance strictly prohibits genetic experimentation and alteration of humans on any of its 500 member planets. Animals aren’t so lucky.
On a frontier planet, veterinarian Bethnee Bakonin made a home for herself in the frozen north. Her minder talent for healing all kinds of animals would ordinarily assure her success, but her unwilling stint in the shady pet trade industry left her damaged and scared. She works around her limitations as best she can, and rescues pet trade castoffs.
“Volunteered” for a black-box research project, elite forces Jumper Axur Tragon now has dangerous experimental tech in his cybernetic limbs. He escaped and crash-landed a stolen freighter in the northern mountains of a frontier planet, only to discover a secret shipment of designer pets was part of the cargo. Determined to do right by them, he enlists reluctant Bethnee’s aid in caring for them—a definite challenge, considering Bethnee is terrified of him.
When greedy mercenaries come raiding, can Axur and Bethnee work together to overcome their limitations, with help from their unusual pets, and save the day?
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Carol Van Natta is a USA TODAY bestselling author of space opera and paranormal romance. She shares her Fort Collins, Colorado home with a resident mad scientist and various cats. If she ever gets the chance to go to the stars, she’s taking them all with her.
Axur looked up when the clinic’s outside doors opened to admit a tall, willowy woman with shoulder-length, deep blue-black hair and Asian features. She carried several bags and a box, and walked with a pronounced limp. She glanced at him, startled. “Does Nuñez know…” She trailed off as her attention riveted on Kivo.
After a long moment, Axur answered her unfinished question. “Nuñez asked me to wait here.”
She darted a look to his face and awkwardly backed up several steps, dropping one of the bags. “Oh.”
He started to stand and reach out to help her, but froze in mid-rise when her eyes widened in unmistakable fear. Her hand visibly trembled as she awkwardly scooped up the bag, then fled through the doors to the back.
He sat down again with a sigh. It never paid to play the shoulda-coulda-woulda game, but starting a year ago, it was hard not to wish for a different star lane for his life. He’d never been nova-hot beautiful like some in his squad, but he’d never lacked for companionship and bed partners for his twelve years in the CPS Jumper Corps. Then, unbeknownst to him, he’d been secretly selected for a CPS “special project” that changed him forever, including adding valuable experimental tech to his cybernetics.
Now he was an ugly mass of biometal and hardware that made him a walking, talking satellite uplink. Only the heavy poncho he’d kludged together from salvaged supplies kept him from constantly broadcasting his unique comm signature to the frontier planet’s various satellites, and from there to the Central Galactic Concordance’s intergalactic communications network. If he uncloaked, his days of freedom remaining would be measured by how fast a CPS ship could get to Del’Arche to hunt him down.
Kivo whined. Axur stuck his fingers into the cage again and tried to shake off his melancholy. He’d lived, and so had Kivo and the others, and life was hope.
Ten minutes later, Nuñez strode back into the lobby, looking harried. “Thanks for waiting.” She put her fists on her hips. “I have an emergency, so I’ll cut to the chase. I can’t treat your pets, but Bethnee Bakonin can. She’s the woman who just came in. She’s already seen you, and that’s usually a deal-killer for her, but if you keep your distance and don’t make sudden movements, she’ll look at your animals.” Her chin jutted out pugnaciously. “She’s a pet-trade expert, but she’s also a pan-phyla animal-affinity talent, so if you dislike minders, you can jet right now, ‘cause I’m one, too.”
Axur put his hands flat on his thighs. “Minders are just people. I don’t care if she uses dark energy magic, if she can help Kivo and the birds.” He pointed a thumb toward the front doors. “I could wait outside.”
Nuñez shook her head. “No, she’ll need information from you. Just move your chair away and stay seated.” She glanced at his stained pants and worn combat boots. “I’ll assume you’re not offering hard credit. What are you trading?”
“Fall harvest gourds, berries, and leafy greens. If it’s more than that, we can negotiate.” In the planet’s official financial transaction records, the town’s economy was barely a blip, but it did a thriving business in trade. From what he’d gathered, the settlement company took a percentage of all financial transactions, but hadn’t found a way to close the trading loophole, so they often conducted unannounced audits, trying to catch the town breaking the rules so they could levy hard-credit fines. They took a percentage of those transactions, too.
Nuñez nodded. “Fair enough.” She gave him a considering look. “Bakonin is like most high-level animal-affinity talents, better with animals than people, and like a lot of us here in Tanimai,”—she looked pointedly at the visible scars on his neck and jaw leading up to his disabled skulljack—”she’s had a hard life. Be respectful, and she’ll do right by you and the animals. Scare her, and you’ll never see her again.”
Axur didn’t miss the unspoken warning that he’d never trade in town again if he did anything to make Bakonin bolt. “Understood.”
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