"Romance, cyborgs, and pets on a frontier planet"
Reviewed by Clare O'Beara
Posted August 8, 2018
Science Fiction Romance
This interesting and bountiful novella draws us in to the
world of the Central Galactic Concordance in the far
Carol Van Natta has already written several books in this
series so even though PET TRADE is a standalone, it
contains a lot of terms and references which will be more
easily followed by the fans of the books.
On a wintry frontier planet a town called Tanimae is the
home of a veterinary surgeon, who has an empathy with
animals. Bethnee doesn't get along with most humans, mainly
because she was cruelly treated for most of her life.
Limping and isolating herself, she is a friend to anyone
with livestock, such as yaks. A Jumper survived a ship
crash landing and rescued the cargo of illegal exotic 'pets'
-- everything from oversized ravens to genetically altered
dogs. He comes looking for instructions on how to care for
the pets, but he can't afford to be found by authorities.
The people who made him into a cyborg don't approve of
their weapons going walkabout.
This blossoming romance story tells us a great deal about
adversity, strength of character, and the good and bad sides
of human nature. PET TRADE follows a fine tradition of
animal companions in science fiction, from Anne McCaffrey to
Norton and Robert Heinlen, and will be enjoyed by science
enthusiasts and diehard romantics.
An injured veterinarian and a cyborg with unusual pets
must join forces to save their town. The vast Central
Galactic Concordance strictly prohibits genetic
experimentation and alteration of humans on any of its 500
member planets. Animals aren’t so lucky.
On a frontier planet, veterinarian Bethnee Bakonin made a
home for herself in the frozen north. Her minder talent
for healing all kinds of animals would ordinarily assure
her success, but her unwilling stint in the shady pet
trade industry left her damaged and scared. She works
around her limitations as best she can, and rescues pet
“Volunteered” for a black-box research project, elite
forces Jumper Axur Tragon now has dangerous experimental
tech in his cybernetic limbs. He escaped and crash-landed
a stolen freighter in the northern mountains of a frontier
planet, only to discover a secret shipment of designer
pets was part of the cargo. Determined to do right by
them, he enlists reluctant Bethnee’s aid in caring for
them—a definite challenge, considering Bethnee is
terrified of him.
When greedy mercenaries come raiding, can Axur and Bethnee
work together to overcome their limitations, with help
from their unusual pets, and save the day?
ExcerptVETERINARY MEDIC BETHNEE Bakonin limped toward the cage
slowly. The huge dire wolf inside stood and eyed her with
wary interest, but not fear or anger. The wolf’s bright
blue, intelligent eyes contrasted beautifully against her
thick coat of charcoal grey and black fur. Bethnee reached
out with another thread of her talent to get a sense of the
designer animal’s health. “Where did she come from?”
A capricious, chilly wind blew a dust devil into the center
of the paddock, then let it go. Fall always arrived early
in the foothills of the northernmost mountains on
“A boutique alpaca ranch down south. New client.” Nuñez
frowned and crossed her arms. “Idiots thought a top-of-the-
line, protector-class dire wolf would make a great herd
dog.” She made a disgusted sound. “They were going to shoot
her because she wouldn’t let the herd out of the barn. I
convinced them to sign her over to me.”
Bethnee eyed Nuñez. “How much did she cost?” Designer
animals from reputable pet-trade dealers weren’t cheap.
Recreating extinct mammals from Earth’s Pleistocene period
was perennially popular, because it avoided the Central
Galactic Concordance government’s multiple prohibitions
against altering cornerstone species like wolves and
coyotes. Bethnee had been saving her hard credits to buy
her own flitter, instead of constantly having to borrow
Nuñez’s, but the rescued dire wolf took priority.
Nuñez shook her head. “Zero. They bought her cheap with a
flatlined ID chip, so she’s probably stolen. I told them
I’d take care of the problem for free, and that it’d be our
little secret.” Knowing Nuñez, she’d pushed them with her
low-level empath talent, so they’d be afraid of getting
caught, and happy to be rid of the evidence. Nuñez had no
compunction against using her minder talent to manipulate
humans who hurt animals, which was one of several reasons
why she and Bethnee got along so well.
Bethnee focused on sensing the wolf’s mind. The fleeting
thoughts were complex, with deep memories. The wolf had
known and felt pack love for other humans, but hadn’t seen
them for a long time. The ranchers had beaten her to get
her into the cage, and she didn’t know what she’d done
Bethnee contained her talent and her anger, then told Nuñez
what she’d found. “She’s also got tracers in every major
joint. Can I use your small surgical suite this afternoon?”
The portable unit contained micro surgical tools with an
AI-assist built in, and would make quick work of the
“Sure.” Nuñez tilted her head toward the doors of the
vetmed clinic behind her. “Let’s get her inside.”
“Does she respond to a name?”
“Didn’t come up.” Nuñez looked at the clock. “I’ll make you
a deal. After I put the flitter away, you help me feed and
water the yaks, and I’ll help you with the tracers.”
“It’ll snow tonight.” Nuñez lifted the last bulky bag of
feed and unsealed it. At age one hundred and nine, the
woman looked like a plump rural grandmother who printed
heritage quilts and baked cookies, but she was strong and
smart, and could control a herd of fifty large buffalo with
her minder talent.
Bethnee took the bag. “The weather AI doesn’t think so.”
She angled her hip so she didn’t stress her bad leg, then
reached high to pour the bag’s contents into the hopper.
“The yaks say otherwise.” Nuñez took the empty bag.
“They’re huddling in the corner of the pen near the barn.
Weather AI says it’ll be a bad winter.” She gave Bethnee a
meaningful look. “You could move back to the clinic.”
“We’ve been…” Bethnee began, then sighed. “I’m fine where I
am. It suits me.”
Nuñez continued as if she hadn’t heard. “Still plenty of
room in the clinic. You could live next door, because that
hateful Raloff family abandoned the property to move deeper
into the mountains.” She headed for the sink to wash her
hands. “If we shared the clinic again, you could actually
leave town for more than a few hours and know your animals
were safe, and maybe have your leg fixed. You’re too young
to be a hermit. You’re homesteaded now, and the town would
be happy to have you.”
“No, they wouldn’t.” Bethnee followed Nuñez to the sink.
“Too many people considered my animals a nuisance.” She
pointed her chin toward the big cage. “The first goat or
child that went missing, they’d accuse the dire wolf. Or
Jynx.” Unusual snow leopards, no matter how well behaved,
scared people who didn’t know them.
As Bethnee washed her hands, Nuñez turned on the mini-
solardry. “It was only the Raloffs and Administrator
Pranteaux who complained, and he complains about
everything.” They both rubbed their hands vigorously in the
warm, forced air. “Come on. Let’s take care of your new
Bethnee was grateful that her friend hadn’t gotten into the
real reasons Bethnee couldn’t move back. A lot of frontier
settlers like the Raloffs had moved away from the Central
Galactic Concordance member planets to get away from
minders, and everyone knew she was one, because she used
her talents as well as her training to treat pets. Word got
More importantly, even though she’d escaped her former life
in the pet trade three years ago, she still couldn’t get
within five meters of any man without taking the chance
she’d be shaking like a leaf from mind-numbing fear. When
she’d first arrived, she couldn’t even be in the same
building. She’d gotten better with time, but it was bad for
business when she couldn’t deal with nearly half the
population of customers.
Nuñez claimed it was post-trauma stress, and just like her
leg, it could be treated by competent medics and minders.
Even if that were true, it would cost hard credit, and she
needed every decimal she had to provide for her animal
family. They didn’t care that she was too scared and too
damaged to live among humans.
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