It was good to be back on solid land, if only for a day or two. Zoohen V's morning sun was warm as I walked through profusely blooming gardens toward the kennel. Promise ran ahead to examine and mark every tree, rock, and bush with great enthusiasm. Despite his compact stature, he was athletic and extremely correct. But his most notable feature was the sharply striated tones of black, gold, and russet in his coat. The uncommon coloring appeared to ripple in the bright sunlight as he moved. While more traditional brindle coloring is known in miniature slaver hounds, Promise's coloration appeared to be a unique variant. It was my hope to develop this variant as a dominant feature in the BrightStar Kennel line. I had my fingers crossed that it would breed true in combination with the excellent conformation and temperament for which BrightStar pups were known.
My Kennel Manager waved to me from an exercise yard. I could see a horde of fat little pups bouncing around at her feet--three litters sired by Promise, all about 7 weeks old.
"Hey Lacey!" I called out.
"Hey, Mynx!" she replied, "I'm so glad you could get back here while they're still in the cute stage!"
I grinned, stepped over the low fence, and sat on the grass. Immediately fourteen excited pups bombarded me in an effort to lick my face, chew on my clothes, and bite my fingers. Six of them--four males and two females--looked to have Promise's coloring. Only time would tell if their conformation, temperament, and coat pattern was good enough to qualify them for the breeding program. In the moment, however, they were all adorable! That wouldn't last...in another month or so they would all be horrible hooligans and their training to become good citizens would begin in earnest. Lacey would have her hands full then, but if I knew her, she'd love every minute of that process.
After extracting myself from the puppy pack, Lacey and I retreated into the cool, cozy office to discuss the breeding stock's family lines and outlook breeding plans for the pups. We were both excited by the possibilities but it would be a year or more before any of these plans bore fruit. Meanwhile, we could dream.
"By the way, none of the plain-colored pups in these litters carry the mutated gene. I assume it's okay to sell them after I'm done with their basic training and temperament testing?" Lacey asked.
I nodded and said, "Sure thing...let's DNA-test every pup going forward...I don't want anything with the mutation leaving here intact. I guess we need some more breeding quality bitches--I'll see what's available and bring them home next visit."
"Makes sense...we have room for 8 or 10 more in the kennel...and there's no end of demand for the pet quality pups. Want some lunch?" she asked.
"Sure," I said. We headed for house, Promise at my heels.
"Oh! I almost forgot!" Lacey said as we sat on the veranda later. "The association paperwork is in order and the name registered, so I'm going to go ahead and hire someone to deal with the admin stuff."
"Great...it'll be nice to get a hound registry going here. What'd you call it?" I asked.
"Nothing very brilliant: the New Eden Miniature Slaver Hound Association. I figured we could call it NEMSHA for short." She shrugged.
"Sounds good to me. Thanks for following up on that." Lacey was one of my favorite employees; practical and high-energy, she always got things done and done right.
I finished my lunch and tossed a tidbit to Promise who caught it mid-air as usual.
"Did the lab get his straws done?" I asked, indicating my hopeful little hound. I threw him another tidbit.
"Yeah, we're good to go for ... like ... ever." she replied.
"Okay then, I'm taking him with me this time," I said.
"Thank the gods," Lacey exclaimed. "All he does is mope around when you're not here. Spoiled brat."
"You're fired, Lacey, for calling this darling creature such vile names!"
We laughed...we both knew Promise could be a pain in the ass. (Just ask my Hangar Manager. On second thought, don't. She gets very cranky about "that damn hound underfoot all the time".)
The afternoon was spent drinking a delicious local wine while I described life in Signal Cartel and talked about the Drifter threat and recent dramas concerning Dr. Hilen Tukoss' remains. As a non-capsuleer, Lacey found it all fascinating and at the same time horrifying. She couldn't quite wrap her head around capsuleer immortality, the atrocities and loss of life that so many of my kind were responsible for, and what it all meant for someone who almost never left the planet.
"You seem so different from all that when you're here...so...normal," she observed.
I sipped my wine. "I guess I've learned that in order to stay human, one must do basic human things. Like walk in sunshine, breathe fresh air, and pet dogs. It would be easy to never leave my pod but...I fear that way lies madness. You know?" She nodded, but she couldn't ever really know.
In my quarters the next day at the Theology Council Station, I stroked the small dog asleep on my lap as I worked through several days' worth of emails and whispered, "You keep me human, Promise. You keep me human."