This story about Dinara and her pet shop, Rendezvous Pets, on the Rendezvous Space Station is my entry for the June 2019 WEP Challenge. Dinara’s shop offers pet daycare and grooming for the citizens of Rendezvous and its many visitors, humans and aliens.
Coco molted overnight; his brilliant lilac plumage all strewn across the floor of his cage. Instead, dull brown down covered him from his tall fuzzy crest to his scaled feet. Even his voice changed: from the high-pitched melodic song to a low croak. He croaked now, demanding food.
“What am I going to tell your owner?” Dinara asked aloud, eyeing the bird with dismay. “She’s coming for you today. She didn’t tell me you’re going to molt. Are you sick?” She didn’t know enough about the species, and the owner’s instructions were sketchy at best. She poured seeds into his feeder, but Coco just screeched louder and ignored his food.
Cursing under her breath, Dinara searched the station net on her com-link for the information about Rubius native birds. It appeared, Rubius parrots always molted when they entered the third stage of their life cycles, the fusion stage. Coco was going to grow to three times its current size and develop horns. He was also going to need fresh protein, a kilo of meat every day. The fusion parrots were carnivorous predators and fierce hunters, one of the biggest avian species on Rubius.
“Drat!” Dinara stared at the com-link screen in horror. Her emotion was well-justified. When the owner came for Coco later and learned about the bird’s new fusion state, she refused to take him back.
“I’m a vegetarian,” the woman cried. “I can’t have a carnivore as a pet. And he is so ugly now.”
Coco screamed at her and mantled his wings. Then he attacked the metal bars of the cage with his formidable beak. The cage held, but the woman flinched and bolted.
“You can have him,” she tossed from the doorway before disappearing into the station corridor.
“Can’t you force her to take him back,” Manie asked from the aquarium she was cleaning. Manie was Dinara’s cousin, a designer at the local theatre, but she worked part-time for Dinara’s business, Rendezvous Pets. “Some legal action, maybe.”
“No,” Dinara said gloomily. “My contract doesn’t specify it. But it will. From now on. What am I going to do with Coco? I don’t have a cage as big as he is going to need. He’ll be the size of a five-year-old child. He needs to fly.”
“Oh-oh.” Manie ducked back behind the aquarium, but Dinara heard her sniggering. “Send him back to Rubius.”
“Argh!” Dinara said, which prompted another indignant cackling from Coco. “Oh, shut up, you overgrown chicken,” she muttered and hit the station net again, looking for a solution. “I don’t have enough money to send a live cargo all the way to Rubius.”
Two hours later, she had a plan. “We are going to submit Coco to an art contest on Rubius.” she announced.
“What?” Manie said. “I’m done with the aquarium. Do you need me anymore?”
“Yes. I want you to make an art installation out of Coco and his cage. I just fed him vat protein laced with sedative. He should be asleep soon, and it will last for twelve hours. The ship is leaving for Rubius tonight. Could you go and get some art supplies?”
Manie stared at Dinara. Then she transferred her gaze to the parrot’s cage. “Ye-e-es,” she said slowly. “I suppose. But what will happen, when he wakes up?”
“He’ll start screaming and demanding food, but that won’t be my problem. It will be his owner’s problem.”
“But she is not here to submit her art,” Manie argued.
“I have all her contact info and her payment info. And her visual print. It’s all in my files, and she hasn’t cancelled it yet. I’m going to submit the art online on her behalf, in her name, and deliver the cage to the ship by a drone.”
“The ship crew would be furious, when Coco wakes up.”
“Not with me,” Dinara said. “That woman shouldn’t have left him with me. It’s her bird. It’s her cage. It’ll be her account to pay the contest fee. With her visual print for confirmation. Please, make art, Manie. You’re the designer here. I’ll just fill out the submission forms.”
She opened the contest page and started carefully transferring all the information from Coco’s owner’s contract with her to the contest’s application.
Manie wasn’t done with her objections. “When Coco wakes up, the ship will charge the living cargo rates.”
“Not me. Not my problem,” Dinara repeated firmly.
“Okay,” Manie said at last. “I need to go home to bring my supplies.”
“Hurry,” Dinara said absently.
She liked Manie’s masterpiece. With one ugly sleeping bird, one snatch of golden cloth, and all the feathers Coco had shed this morning, Manie created a true work of art. The cage glittered with a multitude of tiny stars encrusted with mirror fragments.
“Excellent!” she commended her cousin. “You’re so talented.”
“I know.” Manie grinned, as she took one snapshot after another of the Coco’s transformed cage. “I really like what I’ve done. Unfortunately, when Coco wakes up, he’ll ruin it all.”
“Har!” Dinara said darkly. She packed the cage into a padded transport box. With air holes. “Let’s go to the central drone station,” she said and lugged the heavy box after her on a floating pallet. “I don’t want to call a drone to the shop’s address.”
“You know, Coco’s owner might sue you,” Manie remarked, while they waited for the drone.
“How?” Dinara shrugged. “By her contract with me, Coco was in my shop until tonight. If after that, she took him, made an art installation, and sent him to the contest, I had nothing to do with it. She’ll have trouble proving otherwise, and even if she does, I’m not responsible for this bird. She is. Coco’s pet license is in her name.”
“You’re devious,” Manie said. They both watched the drone speeding away. “I guess she deserves it. For abandoning him like that.”
“I guess she does,” Dinara said. “Poor Coco. I hope they’ll release him to the wild on Rubius.”