Howling at the Moons A Tale of the Galactic Circle Veterinary Service Copyright ÂŠ 2015 by Stephen A Benjamin All rights reserved. No part of this story (e-book) may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or book reviews. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidences are either a product of the authorâ€™s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to any actual person, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. Edited by Terry Wright Cover Art by Terry Wright ISBN: 978-1-944045-02-9
A Tale of the Galactic Circle Veterinary Service by Stephen A. Benjamin Lurid purple-leafed trees surrounded the clearing we had landed in, and the slivers of three moons hung in the dawning sky above us. In contrast to the peaceful beauty, fireworks of supernatural dread exploded behind my eyes as I stared at the creatures standing on the blood-red turf outside our Galactic Circle Veterinary Service spaceship. Zombies, ghosts, ghouls, demons, and vampires were the products of some authors’ fever dreams; however, the sentient denizens of the planet Lupus IV were another story. They could change from their bipedal humanoid forms into hairy, four-legged beasts that resembled huge Terran wolves. They called themselves the “People”—I called them werewolves. Two adults and one juvenile stood in the clearing. All three had unsettling bright yellow eyes and unclothed fur-covered bodies. The two adults had exuberant auburn manes covering their heads and necks, and rich glossy fur. The juvenile, a male—his gender not hidden by his fur— had an unkempt dull brown coat and little more than scruff around his head. He cowered when I looked at him, an unusual reaction for a
Lupan. In their society, position, even survival, was determined by dominance. Size and strength were important, but no more so than appearance and force of personality. The Galactic Circle Veterinary Service had returned to Lupus IV to pick up a native Lupan crew member who would travel with us. On our first visit, Furoletto Cohen—my best friend and medical technologist—and I had faced two medical disorders that threatened the survival of the People. One was an epidemic of mange. The resultant hair loss and scaly skin of affected individuals had upset the Lupans’ natural hierarchy, tipping their power structure into chaos. Irrespective of their previous status, the infected pack members had been exiled for fear of contagion. As a veterinarian, I was well-acquainted with the treatment of mange caused by a variety of skin mites, but I had never had to deal with it in a sentient species before. The juvenile’s pelt did not look like a recurrence of mange, however; his coat was sparse and dull, but with no evidence of inflammation or hair loss that I could see. “Good morning.” I stepped forward with my right hand raised. “I’m Dr. Cy Berger. This is my co-captain Dr. Roxanne Simon”—who also happened to be my wife—“and our medical assistant, Furoletto Cohen.” A translation of my words to Lupan—growls and barks, in this case—emanated from a small speaker pinned to my tunic. “We are pleased to return to your planet and meet with Healer.” He was the Lupan who would join our crew. I spoke not only to the three Lupans in
front of me, but to a larger group who stood on a mound some twentyfive or thirty meters away, backed by the forest of towering trees. The adult male Lupan replied. His growls and short barks were translated to Common by the ship’s computer through my earbud. “Healer has not helped. You must help, Captain-Doctor Cy Berger. Our son not what you promised.” Oh, man. What the hell did that mean? Before responding, I glanced at Fur, all two-and-a-third meters and one-thirty kilos of him. He shrugged, and I turned back to the Lupan. “Excuse me? What the hell do you mean, I promised?” Roxanne put a hand on my arm to restrain me, knowing my tendency toward impulsive rudeness. “You fixed the People. You gave us mates”—the male glanced at the female Lupan beside him—“and pups. But this child”—he motioned to the juvenile with his dog-like muzzle—“not People.” Other than the abnormal coat, the youngster looked normal in size and appearance. The pup flinched from my gaze again. What did Dad mean by ‘not People?’ “If you are worried about his fur, it could be any number of conditions—” A sharp, untranslated bark cut me off. Dad thrust his daggertoothed muzzle toward me. I rocked back away from the agitated Lupan.
These were, after all, carnivores. “Is not just coat. He not one of People.” When Fur and I had first visited, the second problem that had faced the Lupans was more complex and unique—and less easily treated than mange. The sentient Lupans were all males. There were no females. A mutated gene on a defective segment of the Y-chromosome of the indigenous feral wolf population created the People. The mutation conferred both sentience and the ability to shape-shift to that animal. But when it occurred, it removed the wolf that carried the defective DNA from the feral gene pool. Over time, fewer and fewer sentient shapeshifters were born. Since the gene was on the Y-chromosome, they were all male; there could be no sentient females. And it was taboo for a sentient male to mate with a feral female—the loss of status would have driven him from the pack. By the time we had arrived, there were no pups. The mutation rate in the feral population had dropped so low that the race was dying out. As this all fleeted through my mind, I homed in on the Lupan’s true meaning. “He can’t shape-shift, can he?” The father shook his head. “And not smart. Trainable, but not of People.” My heart skipped a beat and my once-high spirits took a nosedive. Had our efforts on behalf of the People come to naught? We thought we had corrected the genetic defect. Did our genetic “fix” ultimately fail?
Had I been arrogant? My former arch-enemy, Rebbe Levi Schvartz, had accused me of “playing God” with the Lupans. Was he right? I thought I had saved a race. Instead, it looked as if I’d doomed them to ephemeral hope followed by slow extinction. Stomach roiling, I motioned to the Lupan family. “Come aboard the ship. I want to examine your son.” Roxanne, who could read my expressions and body language as well as I could read others’ emotions—I’m an empath—leaned toward me. “Take it easy, Cy. We need to know more before you decide to commit hari-kari.” She knew I did not take failure well. *** To find out what happens next, go to www.twbpress.com/howlingatthemoons.html to find links to purchase this short story for 99 cents from TWB Press, Amazon Kindle, and other fine online booksellers.
About the Author
Dr. Stephen A. Benjamin was born and raised in New York City. He received his A.B. degree from Brandeis University, and his D.V.M. and Ph.D. degrees from Cornell University, and heâ€™s a board-certified veterinary pathologist. He has been a university teacher, researcher, and administrator, and is currently Professor Emeritus at Colorado State Universityâ€™s College of Veterinary Medicine. His interests in human and animal health are reflected in most of his short stories and novels. He lives in Colorado with his wife and enjoys traveling, especially visiting his family, fishing, golf, skiing, cooking, and writing fiction.
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Published on Oct 28, 2015
In a corner of the galaxy far far away, Dr. Cy Berger, operating the first interplanetary veterinary service, lands on Lupus IV where he and...