Canto 7 – Good Doggie
Ged planned the mission to the Grange station just for Ham and himself. Trav was put in charge of the star port and given strict orders not to blow anything up or do anything stupid. The last part of those standard orders was intentionally left vague enough to cover almost anything Trav might do.
In the Leaping Shadowcat they quietly slid a quarter of the way around the planet to the geo-synchronis orbit of the space-food installation. It was vast. At five miles in length and a mile in width it should’ve been feeding at least a million people in space. It appeared that the hydroponically grown plants had grown almost completely out of control. Greenery obscured any view of the interior through the sun-source windows.
The docking bay was large, and Ham easily steered the Shadowcat into position. The automated systems attached to the Aero Brothers’ ship as smoothly as any starport in the Imperium.
“The power still works here. Do you suppose someone’s been maintaining it until a short time back?” speculated Ged.
“Dunno,” said Ham. “Somebody might be maintaining it and our sensors didn’t pick him or her up.”
“Maybe,” said Ged doubtfully.
Ged had spent ten years as a space-safari hunter for hire. He had been successful in tracking xenomorphs on four hundred worlds and survived many dangerous encounters. It was only natural that he led the way. Caution had always been his hallmark as a hired big-game hunter. He brought his customers back alive even if it meant not bagging the big xenomorph they were hunting.
Ged carefully set his medium-tech laser rifle on the stun-cone setting. He didn’t need to kill whatever he encountered, just control it. No telling how big a dog they were facing. He led the way into the Grange with hand signals to Ham.
Ham had the big gun. He carried an 80-pound MPPG, a man-portable plasma gun. It put a stream of thermonuclear star-stuff out that could burn through planets if necessary. It was the kind of weapon they’d kept safely out of Goofy’s hands for twenty years, since their teen years.
They were surprised to see the inside of the Grange fully operational. Someone had recently been tending it. Several of the hydroponic farms were operating efficiently and producing fruits and vegetables that the brothers hadn’t tasted in over two years. Ham couldn’t resist grabbing and biting into a succulent carbo-melon from Antares One, purple juice running down his arm to the elbow.
Of course, most of the farms were thoroughly overgrown and idle. A place like this needed a thousand people to operate completely, but someone, maybe two someones, had been very busy here.
Ged signaled to Ham. “Paw Print!” he said in sign. Ham signaled back. “Dog?”
Ged signaled. “Too big. Only two legs. Werewolf. Like me?”
Ham grinned. “Maybe you changed and got loose?”
Ged was an excellent tracker. He followed the sign down into the artificial valley and from under cover, sighted the paw-print maker. It had the head of an overly-fuzzy wolf or a husky dog, but the barrel-chested body was like a man’s. Its crooked dog’s legs ended in bare paws, but it wore pants and had a tool belt around his middle. He was shirtless and fuzzy-chested.
“Dang!” signed Ged. “Homo Lupines.”
“Bring down,” signaled Ham.
Ged rose up from behind the foliage and fired a cone of shock-laser beam at the Lupin. It dropped like a stone.