Canis Lupus Astra by Killian Czuba
Canis Lupus Astra
The dogs woke up before we did. “Dog.” That was the first word we learned to recognize.
This planet has been our home for forty-nine years. We tell time by the calendars sent with us from home. Home. “America.” This is the second word we learned. The tapes and pictures and books told us of the cold war, of frightening things called communists, of explosions that likely destroyed Earth. That is why we are here. The tapes told us that we were all that was left of home. But you are here now.
We did not all survive, either. Some of us died before we were born; the plastic wombs cracked early. We know this not because we were told, but because we can count. Five hundred plastic wombs: two hundred humans, one hundred and fifty dogs. Some of us believe it was the ship that killed them—our ship, powered by the same explosions that our home used for defense, and that the communists used to destroy. Nuclear weapons, they are called. They have a pleasing shape, strange and round and finned like the animals from Earth they call fish. We have never seen animals before, except for pictures in books. We wonder what they are like.
It has been thirty years since the last dog. We wish we could make more. They were good mothers; they kept us warm and cleaned our faces. Only a few of us were lost in the first years because our mothers were diligent. They loved us like the children they could not have. The tapes explained that this is why they were sent—to care for us when we were unable to feed and clean ourselves—but that we did not have the resources to sustain more than one generation. The tapes did not tell us that they would die so quickly. The tapes did not tell us we would live so long.
Ambassador’s Log. Sirius B-b.
There are one hundred and seven colonists, spanning three generations. Their survival is truly nothing short of a miracle. Most of my interaction has been with the leader of the group—a first gen woman called Mother.
They have been using the remaining nuclear propulsion pods as generators for heat and light and have constructed large greenhouses that supply their food. There is enough oxygen in the atmosphere to survive, but it is like living high in the mountains. The greenhouses are more comfortable. The captain hopes I will be able to enlist their help with construction, as our lungs are not accustomed to the thin air, and all of us tire very easily. I’m sure the adjustment from four decades in cryosleep is partially to blame, as well.
During the day, adults and children alike opt for minimal to no clothing, but at night it becomes bitterly cold, and they wear graying wool long johns patched with sections woven from hemp. Each family unit maintains care of two or so of the original space suits—very charming and shiny old things with clunky oxygen tanks and silver boots. They sleep in staggered patterns so there is never a time when all are in bed. It is sweet, the way they wrestle with each other.
I have spent three weeks with the colony. They are efficient workers, functioning like a hive, and seem to require little verbal communication amongst themselves. When they do speak, it is with the inflections of antiquated American media. They recite the old Pledge of Allegiance every morning.
The planet’s surface is plagued with regular volcanic activity. There is shallow, milky water covering large areas; the underlying seabeds are the color of rust (though we describe it amongst ourselves as such, the colonists do not refer to any environmental colors as “red,” as the word is viewed as a slur) and we have determined them to be covered in a kind of long, fronded algae. There is sparse ground vegetation in places—low bush-like plants—and some fungal life as well, but no apparent animal life. We are hoping to introduce more complex plant life in the near future, though it will be another two years before the laborers arrive with building materials, as our mission is primarily diplomatic and analytical.
The colonists are still unsure of our intentions and they move around us cautiously. One junior officer has already been caught in an altercation in which a child bit him. It seems to have been connected with his refusal to break eye contact. His wound has been treated, but in the meantime, for safety reasons, he will continue to reside on the ship.
Our first greenhouses were built from the hull of our ship, which was itself built to be deconstructed. We understand that people on Earth are not required to pollinate their crops by hand. Is that true?
Though Sirius B is a dying star, it is enough to support the development of a midway colony, a stopover point for future ventures to further systems, much like the one they were building on Europa when we left Earth. The star still has an estimated two billion years of life remaining.
The [ship’s] council has agreed to clone a hive of bees from our onboard gene library as a gift for Mother. The bees will no doubt make for an appropriate gesture of apology for recent unsavory events and be much appreciated by the colony. Additionally, we can observe how well the bees succeed in the colonists’ greenhouse environments.
The bees prosper. We find these insects to be beautiful and efficient, and this honey they produce is soft and sweet and such a pleasant color.
How did you make the bees? We want to know if you can make dogs.
It has been three months since our arrival. Terraforming procedures are going smoothly. Unfortunately, the crew—myself, included—has met with some recent agitation from the colonists. With no meat source available, I told Mother that the creation of dogs at this point would be irresponsible. There are no means of sustaining a carnivorous population. She requested we create a meat source. I admit a lapse in professional judgment: I laughed at her request.
All of the colonists smile with closed mouths. I thought perhaps this was a unique case worthy of psychological study. That assumption was foolish of me. I realized, as I laughed, my mouth wide open and smiling (patronizingly, I admit), that I was making a mistake. And it was not the aesthetic appearance of her teeth that startled me, but the absolute animal look of her face. I have never seen a person pull and curl their upper lip or bare their teeth in such an aggressive fashion. I apologized and told her that I would talk with my colleagues to see if we could come to some kind of arrangement. Of course, the idea of introducing that kind of mammalian life—enough to form a small food chain—to a few greenhouses is absolutely absurd. The council will discuss, instead, how to diplomatically tell them “no.”
We will not disguise our intentions. Deception is a trait of our home’s enemies. Let us practice honest diplomacy. You give us two dogs, dogs capable of reproduction, and we will cooperate. If you refuse, we see no need to help you. We see no need for you to remain. You have a ship, but we are many, and we are stronger than you. Please. It is a simple request.
Mother will not hear any reasonable arguments, and she pushes for the creation of a pair of dogs in exchange for her people’s amicable cooperation. She used the word amicable with uncomfortable delicacy. How does she not see the damage it would cause them? I have tried to explain, but she does not seem to hear me. “Mother,” I said, “what will they eat?” I told her that we don’t have the resources to make the quantity of vat meat needed to support one dog for one year, let alone two for their entire natural lives. The colonists would, at the very least, require a crop like corn or rice to make a filler meal. She said that the colonists I had “displaced” with the bees could work on it. That the bees had made it possible, and how could I not see that.
She has no concept of the time and resources required for this, of the work that will go toward sustaining malnourished canines instead of her fellow humans. It is doomed to failure, yet she will not wait for the time in which this will all be much easier. In ten years, with proper care and reinforcements, we would have some hope of sustaining a carnivorous population.
I told her: the bees were a gift of good faith; we had no intention of disrupting their way of life. She just looked at me, silently.
We are waiting.
The captain and I have carried on lengthy discussions, and have reached a verdict, for better or for worse. We cannot abandon this mission. All of the crew members, myself included, came to this planet with the full understanding that we would be spending the rest of our lives here. To leave would be to abandon those who are already en route, and for what? To spend the final years of our lives heading back to an Earth we would not live long enough to see, and that would have nothing left for us if we did.
Out of concern for our wellbeing and relationship with the colonists, we have elected to give Mother what she wants. If the animals do not survive, that is the concern only of the colonists. I have made that clear to her, and she has accepted.
What beautiful creatures. We have never seen them so young before. It is as though we are looking at our own children. They possess a softness unlike anything we have felt. They are happy with the milk from our breasts. We know they are happy. Just watch them playing there. We breathe in the smell of their happiness. We are happy, too.
© Killian Czuba
Killian Czuba is currently finishing her MFA at Pacific University, and is at work on her first novel. In addition to writing, she loves cats (ok, all animals), comics and gritty TV. You can find her on Twitter @killianczuba.
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