Every year it’s a fun challenge for me to figure out my alien pet for the annual Pets In Space® anthology. Some years the choice of a pet is driven by a plot I already have in mind and other years the plot arises from the development of the pet and its attributes.
This year I went into the whole process fascinated by the Afghan hound. I’d seen snippets of the big national kennel show on the news and watched an Afghan hound prance by the camera. No offense to the aficionados of this dog breed but I find them to appear a bit alien just the way they are, so the animal made a good jumping off point for a PISA pet. I decided Verlaine the Tajikka Hound would have some vaguely equine characteristics as well, like black hooves and a somewhat horselike face. Our artist did his usual fabulous job in creating Verlaine for me. (The animal just seemed to require an aristocratic name, doesn’t he?!).
I like to make my PISA story into my annual entry in my STAR CRUISE series as well, located on the interstellar luxury liner Nebula Zephyr. I enjoy revisiting some of my characters from previous STAR CRUISE stories and I feel the concept of a huge cruise ship gives me plenty of latitude for telling a variety of stories. My next challenge for 2020 was what would bring such a sizable animal onto the ship as a pet? This past year there had been so many true stories about people bringing odd animals onto airplanes as service animals and I read about someone who had a miniature horse they wanted to travel with! Since I visualize Verlaine as being about the size of a very small horse that seemed perfect to me. So he became a genuine service animal of the far future.
But who would need such an animal to support them on a trip on a big luxury liner?
Enter Gianna Nadenoft, who survived the wreck of the interstellar cruise liner Nebula Dream in my very first published scifi romance novel. She was a (precocious) child of three at the time of the events in Wreck of the Nebula Dream so I felt it was a safe assumption she’d have had post-traumatic stress symptoms of various kinds and might have needed a service animal to help her cope with life after the wreck. Now she’s determined to travel the stars to her brother’s wedding and reunite with old friends but hasn’t left her own planet in the twenty or so years since the wreck. So of course she travels with Verlaine on my new cruise ship, Nebula Zephyr.
It was a fun opportunity for me to revisit the original story and to ‘see’ the events through the eyes of a child, and then to figure out what her private agenda might be in forcing herself to travel on the Nebula Zephyr as an adult. And oh WOW, did I have to check myself to make sure I typed the correct ship name every time! I’d previously established that the two vessels were sister ships in overall design, hence the similar names. Dream was destroyed, Zephyr sails on…
Wreck of the Nebula Dream was loosely based on the 1912 sinking of the Titanic and Titanic inspired some of the futuristic conspiracy theories about the Dream and the Zephyr which are a minor plot point in the current novel. There actually is a theory that instead of the Titanic sinking on that icy cold night, her sister ship the Olympic sank and that everyone from the builders to the owners was covering up the fact. Why anyone would do that, I’m not entirely sure but I came up with a justification for my novel. After all, the essence of a conspiracy theory is whispers about a sort of plausible explanation, right? No matter how thin!
Over the years I’ve received some snarky comments about my original book’s title, basically to the effect it isn’t a true “wreck” because it happened in space yadda yadda yadda. I greatly enjoyed having Gianna speak to that very point early in this book! (And I picked the title for the first book because it was based on an actual wreck. Plus it’s a dramatic, evocative title…)
I also enjoyed dropping in a few references to other things in my Sectors universe throughout this story, not enough to annoy anyone who hasn’t read my other books, I hope, but…for example there’s a nod to the Khagrish, who are the evil alien scientists in my Badari Warrior series.
The PISA authors try to make the pets an integral part of the story we’re writing for the anthology, not just “and she had a dog” walk-ons, so I had to really think through the events that would occur to make sure I gave Verlaine enough to do to be a substantive supporting character. Hopefully I succeeded!
He did make an immediate connection point between Gianna and Lt. Trevor Hanson, the hero, who has PTSD issues of his own, stemming from his prior military service. Now Trevor’s a security officer aboard the Nebula Zephyr, charged by his captain to make sure Gianna reaches her destination with a minimum of stress.
Here’s an excerpt, with Captain Fleming giving Trevor his unusual assignment.
A yeoman was waiting for him. “Captain Fleming wants to see you in the wardroom. This way.”
Trevor followed the other through the short corridor and was left outside the conference room to key the arrival button and receive permission to enter. Stepping across the threshold, he saluted. “Lt. Trevor Hanson reporting as ordered, sir.”
The captain was seated at the head of the table, drinking real Terran coffee from the battered mug which bore the crest of his last battleship command. “At ease, Hanson. Get yourself some coffee and come sit down. I have a special assignment for you on this leg of the cruise.”
He wasn’t thirsty but no one refused the captain’s invitation and especially not when the beverage on offer was the rare and costly real coffee. Trevor picked up a Nebula Zephyr mug, filled it, spurned the sugar and cinna spice, preferring to drink it black, and joined the captain. His curiosity coiled in his gut. Highly unusual for Fleming himself to skip protocol and give orders directly to any crew member. He was a firm believer in the chain of command and military protocol, even now, commanding a cruise ship.
The captain was staring at the big vid screens which showed the planetary system the ship was fast approaching, a series of reddish tinted jewels scattered across the black velvet of the galaxy, circling the yellow sun in the eternal rhythm decreed by astrophysics and the laws of the universe.
Trevor sipped the strong coffee and waited.
“What do you know about the wreck of the Nebula Dream?” Fleming asked, still watching the planets.
Pop quiz time I guess. “Worst passenger ship disaster in the history of the Sectors, thousands of lives lost, heroics by a Special Forces officer who happened to be aboard and saved hundreds. We had a module on it when I was in training, sir, mostly regarding the decisions made by the soldier. One of those ‘what would you do in his place’ type classes.”
“Nick Jameson,” Fleming said, supplying the name of the officer under discussion. “His decisions in what regard?”
“At each point, I guess. To stay on the ship, to use what is politely called classified means to contact rescue ships, and to fight the enemy when they boarded.” Remembering more details as he talked, Trevor added, “Guy was gutsy, smart and lucky. Oh and the cruise liner was way off course, in enemy territory. May I ask why the interest, sir?”
“We’re a sister ship, did you know that? Not the exact design but close, and of course we have different engines. No one uses the Yeatter unstable technology nowadays, not if the shipbuilders are sane.” Fleming sat upright. “What do you know about the survivors? The ones specifically who were with Jameson?”
Suspecting the discussion was getting closer to whatever point Fleming was driving at, Trevor shook his head. “Two women, a D’nvannae Brother, couple of kids…oh and a Mellurean Mind but I believe she died on board.”
“The main reason we’re in this system is to pick up a woman named Gianna Nadenoft,” Fleming said. “She was a very little girl when Nick Jameson saved her life on the Nebula Dream and she hasn’t flown in space since her father brought her home after the rescue.”
Trevor absorbed the information and asked the obvious question. “May I ask why she’s traveling now then, sir?”
“Her brother is getting married on Xcelon Four and she’s agreed to attend and be a bridesmaid.”
Obviously the lady would be a celebrity passenger. The Sectors’ fascination with the tragedy of the Nebula Dream never went away. But what was his role in this? Maybe the Cruise Director should be here, not him. Trevor abhorred being unclear on mission parameters and right now he didn’t see his role in this discussion or the woman’s travel plans.
The captain stared at him over the lip of his mug. “Ms. Nadenoft apparently has PTSD resulting from the events on board the Nebula Dream and this trip is going to be a huge challenge for her. She does have a service animal.”
Now Trevor had a sinking feeling and the captain’s next words confirmed his suspicion.
PETS IN SPACE® 5 ANTHOLOGY BLURB:
It’s time for an escape! Pets in Space® 5 is back for the fifth amazing year! Escape to new worlds with twelve of today’s top Science Fiction Romance authors. They have written 12 original, never-before-released stories filled with action, adventure, suspense, humor, and romance that will take you out of this world. The giving doesn’t stop there. For the fifth year, Pets in Space® will be donating a portion of the first month proceeds to Hero-Dogs.org, a non-profit charity that supports our veterans and First Responders. If you are ready to forget the world around you and make a difference while you are having fun, grab your copy before it’s gone!
STAR CRUISE RETURN VOYAGE blurb: Gianna Nadenoft is a reclusive survivor of one of the worst interstellar cruise ship disasters in the history of the Sectors. Now a renowned artist, she hasn’t left her home planet in decades, not since returning there after the wreck as a traumatized three-year-old. With her service animal at her side, she’s going to attempt to travel across the star systems to attend her brother’s wedding and reunite with her fellow survivors.
Trevor Hanson is a security officer aboard the cruise liner Nebula Zephyr with his own traumatic past as a former Special Forces soldier and prisoner of war. He’s assigned to provide personal protection to Gianna during her time aboard the ship but soon finds his interest turning from professional to romantic.
Onboard the Nebula Zephyr, powerful enemies are watching Gianna and making plans to seize this rare opportunity to gain access to her and the secrets they believe she’s still keeping about the wreck. Can Trevor overcome his personal demons and rise to the occasion to save Gianna from the danger waiting on his ship, or will she slip through his fingers and suffer a terrible fate deferred from her last disastrous voyage?
Up for pre-order now, releasing October 6th!
Read the original story and the first sequel, featuring Khevan and Twilka…