A moment of nostalgia saddles Lawrence with a new duty. No good deed goes unpunished, as the saying goes.
Lawrence was leaning against a cabinet in a tidy room on Crescent Isle, near the docks. The rest of the group had gone upstairs to gawk at their new base, but Lawrence hadn't felt like going along. It was quite down there, and he'd wanted some time by himself for a change; he'd had enough of their company to last him a good long time.
The place wasn't bad, he had to admit, especially when he compared it to some of the dives he'd stayed at before. Running water, nice Nasir carpets, aged furniture... that crazy old man sure hadn't cut any corners. But then, he'd been paid well for what he'd done. It was reassuring in a way: at least someone else around here was smart enough to demand proper compensation for their skills and talents.
Frankly, though, he'd been feeling underpaid lately. Lawrence hadn't expected to have to navigate the Dark Rift, or help fight against half of the Valuan Armada, or any of that crazy stuff that Vyse had come up with. He should've demanded more than ten thousand to start with. But just as he'd made up his mind to ask Vyse for more money, the captain had returned with another navigator, some drunken old sailor he'd probably scrounged out of the bar in Esperanza that he strongly suspected was working for free. It had totally destroyed any bargaining position Lawrence might've had, anyway. Sure, that Don character wasn't as good a navigator as Lawrence - the journey from Esperanza to Crescent Isle wasn't nearly as smooth as it should've been - but Vyse didn't seem to mind; he seemed absolutely delighted to have the old man aboard.
Well, at least it gave Lawrence a break. Maybe he wouldn't need to demand a raise if he could get some rest before having to sail again. The Delphinus was comfortable enough, and it looked like Crescent Isle would be too.
All things considered, he figured that it wasn't so bad. He'd certainly had worse jobs. Besides, Vyse was very fair about divvying up the loot. He had to admit that for all of Captain Vyse's occasional frivolity, the boy was good at managing his crew. Not just anyone could keep such a motley bunch (not including himself, of course) from collapsing during a long expedition -
Lawrence jumped and automatically reached for his cutlass. He could see that the door was open - he could've sworn he'd left it shut Someone must've snuck into the base... but there was no one standing in front of him.
There it was again, and it was coming from below... oh. He looked down and sighed. "Oh, great. You again."
It was that huskra that Vyse had insisted on taking with them, the one he said was a gift from some old friends on Pirate's Isle. It had been running around on the deck for ages, now, barking at the most ridiculous things and generally irritating him to no end. He must've left the door ajar, and the animal had pushed its way into the room to bother him.
Why it was bothering him, though, was anyone's guess. He'd seen the creature all the time but he'd never been particularly friendly to it. He didn't even know, or really care to know, if it was male or female. "What?" he asked it crossly. "You want something?" The huskra stared up at him curiously for a moment as he spoke. "Or did you just come here to bug me?"
Then Pow started barking again, and wagging his tail as fast as it could go. Lawrence strongly suspected that was a 'yes.'
This was absolutely exasperating. Vyse had hired him to sail his ship, not to take care of some mutt. "Can't you just go away?" he snapped.
For a minute he thought it was going to work - the tail stopped wagging, and Pow turned and took a few steps toward the door. Then it spun around and sat down, staring up at Lawrence. That creature was definitely waiting for something.
He should've expected that. Lawrence knew probably more about huskras than anyone else on the crew. His father had raised and bred huskras; the pride of his litters were the very rare and valuable Red Huskras, which were almost impossible to breed and breed true. They had to be bred under the Red Moon at its apex, which meant that they had to find a way to make the huskras comfortable in the hot, arid climates that they normally detested. It took a great deal of energy and time to breed them properly, but they were considered worth any price. Lawrence had been forbidden to play with or even feed the red pups, although he could play with the other huskras to his heart's content.
Of course, he'd left that life behind long ago; he and his father had had a falling-out over something he didn't even really remember anymore, and his father had cut him out of the business in favor of some cousin. Lawrence had said good riddance and had left to become a sailor, and a good one. Still, it amazed him how much he could still remember. He knew how to approach strange animals, slowly and carefully to keep them from wanting to bite - not that he had any reason to worry about that with Pow, of course. And he knew how to feed them: Once a day on a strict diet, or they'd get finicky and decide not to eat certain foods. Variety wasn't nearly as good for huskras as it was for people.
Pow was the most common sort of huskra, with its purple fur and white markings. It was a silky creature, although Lawrence could see that no one had brushed its fur lately. Which was understandable; there was just no time to tend to those things while sailing around the world and fighting other ships.
It whimpered a bit, looking at Lawrence anxiously. Lawrence finally recognized the look. "I get it... you're hungry, aren't you?"
Pow looked at him, its tail wagging hopefully.
Great. Now it was expecting Lawrence to feed it. He wouldn't have any peace until he found something that a huskra would eat...
He pulled open a few cabinets and drawers, looking for something - anything - that he could feed the animal with so that it would stop whining at him and leave him alone. There had to be something... surely the old men hadn't gone without food while they were building the base.
First, though, he found a plain white dish that looked about the right size for a food dish. He put it down on the floor, and watched as Pow poked its nose right into it. Finding nothing, it went right back to barking at Lawrence. "Pow, pow-pow! POW!"
"All right, already, I'm looking!" he snapped again. The irritating little pest was lucky that he wasn't dealing with his father. Finally he found some dried Dhabu meat, apparently a left-over snack; he hated the stuff, but surely the huskra would eat it. They'd eat just about anything, healthy or not. "Here," he said brusquely, tossing it into the dish.
Pow fell to it at once, wagging its tail so hard that it could hardly keep its mouth still to eat.
"There, you happy now, you mutt?" Lawrence asked it. Then, out of some crazy childhood impulse, he reached down and stroked its long purple fur.
The door slammed open. "Oh, Pow!" a loud voice called. "It's dinnertime - huh?" It was Aika, naturally, holding a big bag of huskra food and staring at them. Lawrence had already jerked his hand away, but it was too late; she'd probably already managed to put two and two together. "Lawrence! You found some food for Pow!"
What could he say to that? "It was bugging me," he muttered, glaring at Pow, who was rushing to finish off the last of the meat. "I had to feed it to get some peace."
"Yeah, right, Mr. I-don't-get-paid-to-be-friendly. Suuure." Aika giggled. "Well, I was gonna feed him, but if you wanna do it, be my guest!"
"Now wait just a minute-!"
"Give him a bowlful of this a day," she continued, drowning him out, "and lots of water. Don't worry, he's housetrained. We'll come down and take him for walks so don't worry about that, ok? I'll put this up here so that he won't get it while you're not looking."
This time Pow drowned him out. It - or he? - ran up to Aika, barking up a storm, trying to jump up and lick her face. "Hey, down, boy!" she said, laughing. "Haven't you had enough for a while? I've gotta go up and take care of some things before I can come and play, so bug Lawrence some more or something!" She grinned and blew Lawrence a kiss. "Thank you so much, I really appreciate this!"
She ran out and slammed the door behind her before he could get another word in. Now he was really stuck - Aika would tell everyone, including Vyse, and she'd probably come down all the time to check on the animal....
It was like he'd always said. No good deed went unpunished. He sighed and slumped into a chair. One little thing, he thought, one little thing like this and now they'd think he was some kind of damn softy...
Something cold and wet touched his hand. He jumped in spite of himself, even though he could he could guess what it was - it was that damned huskra licking his hand. His tail was wagging so hard it was shaking his entire body. Lawrence sighed. "You happy now, mutt? Look at what you've gotten me into!"
"Pow!" he yipped happily.
Lawrence tried his best to keep glaring... but what was the use, anyway? The damage had already been done. He reached down and scratched Pow behind the ears, and groaned at his happy little whimper. "All right, fine," he groused, but not with as much rancor as he'd hoped. "I'm glad that one of us is happy about this."