It was raining back on earth.
Rain was shivering before she even left Terran Federation Headquarters, limping through the empty streets to the closest transporter station. She moved as quickly through the crowds as she could, cursing the rush hour. She jumped when a voice spoke next to her.
“Leaving so soon?” The captain asked her cheerfully, holding an umbrella over her head. Rain grinned, heart racing.
“Pining for home. I have work to do, dogs, you know,” she waved a hand, “stuff.” The captain laughed. Rain knew this was her last deep space trip before a three-month leave, her spirits must have been high. After a successful first contact with a peaceful race and now going to soak up sun in Belize, who wouldn’t be?
The line for the transporter inched forward, and it was all Rain could do not to claw her eyes out with impatience. Finally, she was next and the captain took her umbrella back as she boarded the platform. She gratefully told the transporter operator her address for her proper house, the one in Colorado. Pointedly not her lab in North Dakota.
“Have fun, Doctor,” the captain grinned at her and Rain saw the glimmer of patronization in her dark brown eyes before the transporter took her away from the cold east coast to the steps of her Denver home.
Rain knew what people said about her, she’s odd, anti-social, a little too out there even for the year three thousand. She still used a cane for earth’s sake.
Who does she think she is?
Rain doesn’t care. Let them talk, it’s not her problem.
History will vindicate her, and that’s all that really matters.
Within moments Rain was on her property and limping up to the house and bursting in.
Immediately, her dogs bounded towards her, and Rain was trying to give scratches and rubs and greet all of them at once. The youngest, the one she’d made right before her trip on the Vanity, Baby the Pomeranian barked and whined and wiggled her way towards Rain.
“Speak girl!” Rain cooed, rubbing the dog’s head. The puppy barked happily, looking ecstatic but showing no further intelligence.
She didn’t understand it, over seven attempts and none of them had achieved the higher intelligence she’d been aiming for.
Rain stood up and limped towards the kitchen, turning off the automatic feeder as she went.
When everyone had calmed down and she replicated balaclava and tea Rain opened the top of her cane and shook out the precious data chip with trembling hands.
She had more than one reason for the cane.
It threw people off, no one expected much from a woman who limped from place to place, even in the enlightened year three thousand.
But Rain was quicker than most people think and her sleight of hand tricks weren’t just for drunken university parties anymore.
She loaded it up onto her own personal tablet and quickly scanned through the equations and instructions that the alien had given over to her, after demonstrating the even in the bowels of the alien ship.
“Science is the knowledge that you can recreate anything with the proper properties,” she whispered to herself, stroking the soft ear of her littlest, and eyes flickering in the dim blue light of the stolen information. She smiled to herself, feeling pride and excitement wash over her like a warm ocean tide.
Rain can do this.
Ava nosed around the corner of Rain’s lab. The mistress was bent over her tablet, eyes closed. Baby was curled up next to her, sleeping. Ava padded over and gently nosed the puppy awake.
“Outside,” the alpha hissed, careful to keep her sounds quiet. Rain didn’t twitch but Ava didn’t want to take any chances.
Baby stood up and shook, before jumping off the couch. Ava had to be careful not to step on the smaller dog as she zipped between her legs.
Berwald was in the kitchen with Bobbie, both of them staring at dismay at the food dispenser.
“She turned it off but forgot to feed us,” Berwald growled. Ava pressed her nose into the blinking light on the dispenser. It beeped a negative and Ava shook herself.
“It’s locked. We’re going to have to hunt tonight. Bobbie, Berwald, get Lester and go see if you can’t find some rabbits.” She looked over to the locked back door. “Meet us outside first.”
Baby was waiting next to the door and Ava raised onto her back legs and clawed down the knob until it unlocked, while Baby nosed it open.
The night was chilly, the smell of rain in the air.
Norma and Pallus were already outside.
“Good of the bitch to starve us to death,” Pallus curled her lip back. Norma barked a laugh. Ave growled.
“Stop it. No one is starving to death. Lester, Bobbie and Berwald are going to hunt for us.”
Baby curled up next to Pallus, the standard Poodle tucking the Pomeranian close.
“Can I go hunting?” The puppy piped up, dark eyes shiny.
“Not yet. But you can help us with the meeting. Can you find Jep?”
The puppy bounced up, and after a moment of careful sniffing, she raced off in the direction of the woods.
The males joined them, Berwald leading them.
“Everyone here?” He woofed. Baby came trotting out of the woods with Jep following her.
“Here we are! I found him, Ava!”
Ava nodded her head approvingly. Meanwhile Bobbie circled the group, nose down to the moist ground. He yipped once and indicated with his nose. Ava barked back and the Border Collie raced off into the woods.
“You shouldn’t let him go off like that,” Berwald said. Ava huffed.
“He doesn’t speak like the rest of us. He’d better served starting the tracking anyway.” Turning away from her half-brother, she addressed Norma.
“Did you see what Rain was working on? She lets you on the couch with her.”
Norma yawned. “Something about alien data. She was working with DNA sequencing.”
Ava frowned. “Is that all?”
“Something about formatting human bodies.”
Berwald pulled his lip back, showing sharp white teeth. “You didn’t pay attention, Norma. You need to keep a better eye on her.”
Norma rolled over. “I was tired, and Rainbow was warm. You do it next time.”
Ava stepped in front of Berwald before he could step towards the Welsh Corgi.
She growled, forcing the male back.
“Next time Norma will do better. Rain can’t get suspicious of us, and we can’t fight among the pack,” she snapped in his face, making the other German Shepherd blink and back away.
“Of course, sister.”
Backing away, Ava huffed. The rest of the pack was watching her with wide eyes. “Lester, Pallus, Berwald. Go after Bobbie and help him hunt. Baby, go get your book, and Norman help her with it. Jep, you and I will watch Rain. Now go.” She barked out the orders and the pack quickly slunk away to follow her commands.
Ava walked up to house and pulled the knob again so Jep and Baby could get inside ahead of her. Jep went off to the living room where Rain was still asleep, while Baby headed off to the room the pack had made their den. She returned after a moment, a thin book in her sharp teeth, escaping back out the door.
After Ava had become Alpha, she made it a rule that all of the pack should learn to read. So far Norma was best at it, able to decipher the mess of words that Rain looked at day in and out. But Baby was making promising progress.
Ava hadn’t intended to make a pack but as Rain made more and more dogs, and left them alone so often it was that, or perish.
Ava didn’t understand all of why Rain had made them, artificially grown them without parents, but her back fur stood up every time she thought about it. The pack had been careful not to let Rain know about their knowledge, uneased by the human.
Now, Rain had brought home a new project, according to Norma. Ava padded into the living room, laying across the rug and keeping her yellow eyes fixed on the human. She didn’t know what it meant but she wasn’t going to any opportunity slip by her, if it meant keeping her pack safe.
A week later Rain waved Kamala Mason, a degenerative bioscience student, into her house.
“How have you been Kam?” she asked, already impatient with the small talk but doing it because she needed Kam with her on this. “How was the wedding?”
“Wonderful!” Kam was young and probably what people look for in a partner. Rain stopped paying attention to what people look for in romance a long time ago, after she realized she was never going to feel more than friendship for anyone. Which was fine, Rain preferred it that way. She couldn’t imagine her life where she had a romantic partner to try and take care of in addition to her scientific ambitions.
“I have pictures. Tabby’s family did all of the cooking and I wish you could have been there.” Rain nodded absentmindedly, getting two cups of tea from the replicator. She lets Kam go on about how pretty and wonderful her new wife is, how amazing it was to get married on the Nile and their new flat in Cairo.
“I swear that if you look out of the balcony you can see the Nile. Seriously Rain, you’ll need to come over for dinner one night. Tam, she makes this salmon thing, it’s so good.” Kam smiled and accepted the teacup. Rain made herself smile, and hoped it didn’t look like she was gritting her teeth.
She really didn’t care, and there was no coincidence that she took a six-week posting right before her dedicated intern got married. It was a perfect reason not to go to a long, tedious, silly ceremony.
“And how are you?” Kam asked, her long brown fingers wrapped around her cup, green eyes searching Rain’s face intently.
This was exactly the opening she was hoping for.
“I’m,” fantastic, amazing, soaring higher than Icarus on an ego trip, “I’m doing great, really.”
“Really?” Kam asked, looking impressed. “The first contact went well? It was on the news, they were saying we’re going to start trading raw materials with them.”
“Yup. I’m doing fantastic. That mission to meet with the Komali was exactly what I needed.” Rain slapped a hand down on the table, unable to keep the grin off her face.
“It was?” Her intern asked, looking slightly bewildered. Usually Rain isn’t this exuberant, but she can’t stop her elation.
Rain laughed, loud as old-fashioned church bells. “You have no idea. Can you work tonight? I have something I want to show you.”
Kam made an indecisive noise. “I don’t know, Tam is expecting me to come home tonight.”
“Well then just leave after she falls asleep,” Rain waved the concern away.
“You’re kidding right?” Kam looked aghast, mouth gaped. Rain quickly backpedaled.
“Of course, but I still need you to come over tonight. The Komali showed me something, Kamala. Something incredible.”
Kam still looked dubious but smiled feebly.
“If you need me to, I’ll be there.”
Rain grabbed her hand.
“I need you to be there Kam.”
Surprised by the contact, the younger woman nodded, wide-eyed.