Song of a Space Raccoon
Zero Boone was a space raccoon, and a proud raccoon was he.
As a month-old kit he could soar and flit through the drift of zero gee.
Found in a hold on the Rio’s Gold with the freight from a timber moon
He was raised as crew, and he thrived and grew to a handsome young raccoon.
His mask was black as the moon’s dark back, and his eyes were bright as stars
His fur was gray as the Milky Way, and soft as the dust of Mars.
His whiskers, sleek like a meteor’s streak, were straight as a comet’s trail
And Saturn’s rings looked like tawdry things, compared to his banded tail.
In the cargo bays in his early days, he was quick to prove his use
His dexterous paws won his mates’ applause when a nut or bolt got loose.
He could scurry aft up an access shaft like the trunk of a forest tree
Or replace a rod in a power pod too dark for a man to see.
He was the pet of the mess hall set, and the pal of the sickbay staff
He spread good cheer to the engineers, and he made the purser laugh.
But in the end, his closest friend was a lanky systems tech
A cheerful bloke — though he seldom spoke — by the name of Bernardo Beck.
He did system checks in the narrowest decks, in the maze of the starboard drive
Where equipment racks were as tightly packed as the builders could contrive.
Each overhaul made him inch and crawl through a tiny maintenance shaft
For mass is dear on the star frontier, and the Gold was a smaller craft.
Zero watched with pride at Bernardo’s side and he seemed to understand
He was always there for a tough repair, just to lend a tiny hand.
And with Zero’s aid Beck’s repairs were made in the space of an afternoon
For a man’s tight squeeze is an easy breeze for a dexterous young raccoon.
What he liked the most was to glide and coast in pursuit of an errant part
That had chanced to slip from Bernardo’s grip when he took a box apart.
Oh! and what delight if the thing was bright, and shone with a polished gleam!
He would chase a tool like a precious jewel, in a happy raccoon dream.
Zero went with Beck to the viewing deck where the keen starwatchers go
And he gazed, eyes wide, at the black outside, and the sparks with their fiery glow.
He turned his face to the deep of space, and his eyes shone yearning bright
And Bernardo saw that his raccoon paw stretched out toward the far suns’ light.
He was eight years old, so the story’s told, when the trouble siren’s shriek
Announced to the crew at their evening stew that the starboard shields were weak.
Though they were concerned, they had long since learned not to flinch at every scare
For the Rio’s Gold was a decade old, and it often took repair.
So Bernardo’s squad went to poke and prod at the guts of the starboard shield
And they weren’t afraid till the scan was made that showed the asteroid field.
Things would be repaired, all the techs declared, long before the danger zone
Though some men cursed, it was not the worst that the ship had ever known.
In their crisis mode, all the systechs showed they were made of starship steel
They showed no doubt as the team fanned out down the length of the Rio’s keel.
But Zero sensed that his friend was tense as Beck began his search
And as he pored over each new board, Zero clung to a shoulder perch.
Beck raised his chin to the fears within, and the hurtling rocks without
He worked with a will to a raccoon’s trill, till the starboard lights went out.
His shipmates heard not a single word as he switched to his headbeam’s light
They were not aware for a moment there that he hugged the raccoon tight.
So the search went on till the shipboard dawn, though it was exhausting work
It was hard to spy where the fault might lie, in the claustrophobic murk.
It was hard to think, with it black as ink, while ahead the asteroids loomed
And to kill the thought that their fight was fought, and the Rio’s Gold was doomed.
But Zero’s nose, as you might suppose, was as sharp as a well-honed sword
It was far more keen than the best machine that the systechs had on board.
Poor Beck was beat, drifting on his feet, when the raccoon tugged his arm
But he took good heed and let Zero lead, thinking it could do no harm.
For a pinched half-mile down a disused aisle he was led by the brave raccoon
To a sensor bank where the dark air stank and a box was a smoking ruin.
And then Beck cried, and he laughed with pride, and he drew young Zero close
To at last behold what the Rio’s Gold had failed to diagnose.
He sent word through to the frantic crew that the signal route was wrecked;
In a quarter hour, he’d divert the power and try to reconnect.
They urged him on, for the time was gone when the dangers lay ahead
Already rocks from the asteroid flocks were shooting by, they said.
Beck attacked his task, and Zero’s mask with his soft black eyes looked down
Beck’s face was wet with an acid sweat, and his jaw too tight to frown.
But his steady hands followed his commands and his spirit never quailed
Till the ship was jarred and his head hit hard, and the light in his headlamp failed.
It was the first of the asteroid burst, and it came on the starboard shield
It would only take one more such shake, and the hull would surely yield.
The room was dark, save for one dim spark, and Bernardo felt despair
He had been so close, one more wire at most, to completing the repair.
Now he tumbled blind, and he couldn’t find the place with the damaged box
And he was dazed since his head had grazed a beam in the impact shocks.
Bernardo knew he had failed the crew, and he waited for the end
He wiped his eyes and he said goodbye to his loyal raccoon friend.
When Beck came ’round, it was he who found that the shield was good as new
Zero’s tiny hands joined the crucial strands, so the current could go through.
The board was linked and the green lights blinked, and the lamps had come back on
But the dancing light that had burned so bright in Zero’s eyes was gone.
There are some who say Zero knew that day it was death to touch those wires
And some contend he just helped his friend, though the others call them liars.
So you must choose from the different views, but when Zero’s tale is told
All the crew agree it was none but he who saved the Rio’s Gold.
No one talked at the deadman’s lock, though some admit they cried
None could recall a box so small with a medal on its side.
To the bugle’s tune, the brave raccoon got a burial in space
And Bernardo swore as he had before, there were none could take his place.
Now his coffin rides on the solar tides, but they say when the tale is told
That Zero’s soul takes the far patrol, as he did on the Rio’s Gold.
He frolics far toward a distant star, just to catch its gleaming fire
For the shipfolk know that the far suns’ glow was his secret heart’s desire.
Constance Cooper has worked as a journalist, balloon animal twister, linguistic researcher and software engineer. She has recently sold work to Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine and Mythic Delirium.
Art Director: Bonnie Brunish