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Space
 

Meow-Kitty and Bu-Dog were despondent when they were turned away from the human school. They skulked home along a white cement sidewalk that stretched out forever in the cool morning sunlight. Their feet trotted along the flags and along the seams. Sometimes they had to stop when a car rumbled along one of the asphalt side street. They walked blocks and blocks, past the part, around the bend in the road, and to the house of the Human Dog and the Human Bitch.

They walked up the driveway, around the back of the house, and through the pet door. The Human Bitch was talking on the telephone and looking out the kitchen window. Bu-Dog's claws ticked against the linoleum in the kitchen, and Meow-Kitty padded along. They turned the corner through the pantry and ambled up the stairs.

Bu-Dog stuck his nose in the partly-open door of the Human Pup's room and pushed it all the way open. The Pup's clothes were all over the floor. Meow-Kitty, who had walked further that morning than she could remember having walked in the last year, lay down on a pile of sweatshirts, curled her tail around her nose, and went to sleep. Bu-Dog pulled out one of the Human Pup's books and began to read.

Meow-Kitty continued her dreamless sleep for a few hours before Bu-Dog poked her awake.

"What do you want? Can't you see I'm trying to sleep." Her tail twitched.

"Stop being so lazy, MK. It says in this book that humans can travel into space in rockets." He put his paw on the page so that the stiff, crackly binding wouldn't snap the book shut.

"That's nice." Her eyes were half closed. Soon they were completely closed again. This time she began to dream about a squirrel. But the dream ended almost as quickly as it had started.

"Hey, guess what?" He was poking her in the side with his paw.

"What?"

"I have my own rocket."

"Where is it?"

"Behind the garage."

"Nonsense." Meow-Kitty got up off her little nest, rear legs first, front legs second. She stretched.

"Pack your bag for space. And be sure to pack some lunches for us. We have to go immediately. No time to waste. I want to be back in time for dinner. I heard the Human Bitch tell someone that we were having meatloaf."

Meow-Kitty went down to the kitchen and collected some fish heads, some dog biscuits, and a delicious piece of salami rind from the trash. She came back up the stairs, where Bu-Dog was wearing his blue sweater.

"Now, put on your space uniform."

When Meow-Kitty put on her cape, the two went downstairs, through kitchen, and through the pet door in the back of the house. They crept along the garage wall until they reached the rocket. It was in the shape of a box, big and yellow. The doors were open.

"Does your rocket have a name?"

"Yeah."

"Well?"

"Frig-i-dare."

"That's a dumb name."

"I didn't pick it. It was written on the side. I think it means 'courage.'"

They crawled into the rocket. Meow-Kitty sniffed around curiously. It smelled a little bit like food. Soon she settled into the place Bu-Dog pointed out, a little space between two wire walls, a pebbled glass wall, and a ribbed plastic wall. Bu-Dog walked around the outside of the rocket, checked all of its parts, and then he climbed inside.

"So what happens now, Bu-Dog?"

"I'll just pull the door shut, and then we'll take off."

So he reached up, and with all his might, he pulled the door of the spaceship closed. It seated with a satisfying thud, and the airlock latched. Now the spaceship was dark inside. Meow-Kitty became a little bit afraid. "Aren't there any lights?"

"No. We have to save power for the flight."

“How will we know when we are taking off?”

“You won't; the rocket is so smooth that you can't feel it.”

Their journey was long. At first, it did not seem like anything was happening. After what seemed like a few hours, the spaceship became very hot. Meow-Kitty was starting to see the stars. "So pretty!" This was especially amazing because she did not remember seeing any windows. She looked at the nebulae and the comets and the supernovas.

The only problem was that the spaceship was stuffy, and Meow-Kitty was having a little trouble breathing. It smelled like the basement in the spaceship.

"Why is it so hot? Is there air conditioning?"

"Simple, Meow-Kitty. It's hot because we're close to the Sun. And we can't turn on the air conditioning because you'll get sick like last summer when the Human Dog turned it on."

This made sense; she could see the bright spot getting bigger.

A short time later, Meow-Kitty started to get dizzy. "Why is everything turning?"

"That's because we're weightless and your inner ears are disturbed." He had read than in another one of the Human Pup's books, the one called "Science."

“I need some air! Open the door.”

“No, stupid, you're going to let the space air in.”

She started taking deeper breaths. It seemed better for a short stretch.

"Can we eat lunch now?" She forgot where she put the paper bag.

"No. We have to save it for the moon." Bu-Dog was beginning to slur his words.

Then they blacked out.

The next thing they knew, the door to the spaceship was opening. They looked out into the bright light. Were they on the moon? The Human Bitch picked both of them up by their collars. The Human Pup was standing nearby.

"Who put these poor animals in the old refrigerator? Your father was supposed to take the door off."

* * * * *

The next day, undeterred by their incomplete space mission, the animals regrouped. Meow-Kitty and Bu-Dog continued to read the rocket book, taking turns looking at the pictures. Meow-Kitty explained what was in the pictures, because they just looked like grey blobs to Bu-Dog. There were so many types of rockets: rockets that could go to the Moon, rockets that went to Saturn, and rockets that would carry tourists to luxury space hotels. When he read the description of the space hotels to Meow-Kitty, he added a note that those hotels would have attached luxury kennels.

Later that day, looking for cookies on the Human Pup's desk, Bu-Dog noticed an envelope. It had a circle with a line through it. There were four letters: N-A-S-A. They matched the shape of one of the pictures in the book. Bu-Dog shredded the envelope open with his teeth. Out fluttered out a thin piece of paper on which it was written:

Participation Certificate

Presented to You [Name of the Human Pup]

Thank you for joining us on this mission of exploration and discovery. A plaque bearing your name will be included on one of the next Moon Exploration Rover missions that will explore the Moon's surface in search of geologic evidence of water in the Moon's past.

Together we will journey into space to discover and understand the many wonders of our universe.

Signed,
Dr. Wiley

It took a long time to read. Bu-Dog had a serious problem with Ws.

"So what does it mean, Bu-Dog?"

"It means that we've selected to go to into space with the humans."

"Where are they going?"

"To the night sun, which they call the mooo-ooon." He made it sound like a howl. He was so glad that dogs and humans used the same name for it.

"Where is their spaceship?"

"According to the book, the flights start at the place of the human rockets."

"Where's that?"

"Ca Pay Can Na Veral."

"Never heard of it."

Neither had any of the truck drivers they tried to hitch rides with. Eventually, they found one who knew the place. His name was Luis, and he was very friendly. He drove a gigantic red truck with a million wheels. It said “Moving” on the side. Bu-Dog did not try to understand all of the rest of the markings on it.

They lept up into the cab and spent the next four days bouncing up and down and being very car sick. The truck had a big plastic seat, a noisy radio, and a picture of a naked human taped to the dashboard. Behind the seat was a sleeping area with a bed and a television and air conditioning. The human food that Luis ate, which he shared with them, made them even more sick. At the end of the drive, the animals tumbled out of the truck door and onto the street. And then they threw up.

"What does that sign say?"

"Ke Ne Dee Space Sen Ter"

It was very quiet. The sun was shining, and it was very warm and humid. The air smelled a little like the ocean, and the wind blew across a field of tall grass. Geese floated around in a big swampy area. In the distance, they could see a big red tree with a big white tree next to it. They started walking along the path to the big trees. Suddenly, Meow-Kitty heard a voice.

"Hey you!"

"Us?" Meow-Kitty was puzzled.

"Stay away from the road. Dangerous." Out of the weeds crept a badger. "Trucks and cars kill animals."

"Oh. Thanks. I know."

Bu-Dog added, “I was whelped at night - but not last night.”

The two plodded along. Eventually they came to a large brick building it was not quite as high as the sky, but it was very tall. There were many windows. Bu-Dog's eyes followed down to the front door and read the word above it: “Administration." It smelled like food. The two were very hungry. They crept around the building looking for a way in. Finally, they found an open door near the garbage cans. They wandered into the kitchen and ate some of the many lunches that were plated on the big metal counter.

Where was Dr. Wiley? They wandered out of the cafeteria door and into the hallway. The building had the buzz lights, and everything was white. They went from door to door, but it was difficult to make out the names. After a few minutes, when they were thoroughly bored, they walked back out of the building and headed down the road.

The next building was on the right. It read, "Life Sciences." This time the front door was propped open, and they walked right in. It smelled like there were other animals in there. They followed the scent around two corners, through a door made of wide strips of plastic, and into a room with stacks and stacks and stakes of metal cages in it. Each cage contained a monkey. Meow-Kitty began to count the cages, There were more than a hundred. One of the monkeys spotted them. Then there was a terrible chatter. Then shrieking. Then silence. The leader monkey spoke.

"Hello little ones. Why are you here?"

They had to think about it for a minute.

"We're here to go to space." Bu-Dog volunteered.

“You are going to space?" The monkey was puzzled.

"Yep. Says so on this Contrack." He opened his mouth and dropped the paper on the floor. "Says, 'together we will travel into space.'"

"So you're trying to take our jobs?"

Meow-Kitty was quick. "No, we are doing your job for you. You'll still get treats."

"Oh."

"Where can we find Doctor Wiley?" Meow-Kitty was getting bored.

"He's in the building called 'Launch Control.'"

"Thanks."

“Be careful. He is the most fearsome of all of the humans here. We saw him eat a baby bird once.”

Monkeys are notorious cowards, Bu-Dog remembered hearing.

Suddenly, a man in a white uniform came in. Without even thinking, Bu-Dog lunged at him and knocked him down. Meow-Kitty jumped on his chest, pulled out her claws and began sharpening them on his jacket. He looked very uncomfortable.

"Take us to Doctor Wiley." Bu-Dog snarled.

The man was so scared that he had no choice but to obey. He led them to the building called Launch Control. As they approached, they saw that the white tree was a human space ship. It was gigantic. It was the biggest thing they had ever seen.

The man let them in the front door and told them that Doctor Wiley's office was on the second floor. They scampered up the steps and slowly read each name. Two hours later, when they saw one that started with a W, they pushed it open and went inside. An old man with a beard and a pipe sat reading a magazine. He drew in a breath through his pipe.

"Doctor Wiley, we're here to report for our space mission," Bu-Dog announced triumphantly.

"You are?"

"We are. It says here you have to take us into space. See, it says on this Contrack."

Bu-Dog dropped the certificate on the desk. It was very blurry because it was wet, and there were holes from Bu-Dog's teeth. Importantly, the place where the Human Pup's name appeared had been chewed off.

"Together we will journey into space." Bu-Dog had read this so many times on the trip that he had memorized it perfectly.

"Wait a second, that's not what it says. It doesn't mean that we are actually going into space."

"That's what it says." Bu-Dog was the half of the pair who could read, and figurative language was not in his skill set.

"Should I shred that report you are working on?" Meow-Kitty glared.

"No, no. You don't want to go into space. It's no place for animals. It's a place for humans and monkeys."

"Species-ist! Space is for everybody." She was indignant.

He frowned.

"It's cold. You have to wear special suits."

"We have fur."

"And you owe us." Bu-Dog added. “Humans always have to keep their promises.”

Meow-Kitty was tracing with her claw in the ashtray. "What does N-A-S-A stand for anyway? No Animals Space Allowed?"

Doctor Wiley's eyes lit up.

"How about if you forget about this space adventure, I will give each of you a space pillow and blanket. We don't give those to our animal astronauts, but they will be a special gift for you."

"No. Get our rocket ready." Bu-Dog was intent. “We want a window. And a hatch with explosive bolts that we can open ourselves.” They had watched a space movie with the Human Pup, and this was an important part of the movie.

Doctor Wiley picked up the blue telephone and dialed security. The dialing made a clicking sound that the animals could just make out. He had no idea who had let domesticated animals into his office, why they were meowing and barking at him, or why they were carrying part of a space participation certificate that was distributed to grade schools. “Yes, send someone down.” They didn't look like much of a threat. Must have been some pets brought along on a trip.

From out of his big, heavy metal desk, Doctor Wiley pulled two small pillows and two blankets. They were blue, with a special red arrow and N-A-S-A written on them.

"Look, animals, you can have this instead of going into space." He put the pillows down on the ground. Meow-Kitty and Bu-Dog had not slept for days. The pillows and blankets were so inviting. The animals curled up on them. They were so soft and so warm.

"Okay," Meow-Kitty mumbled. Within minutes they were fast asleep. Doctor Wiley scooped them up and put them in a box with their pillows and blankets. He handed off the box to Security. The men in that department read their collars, packed them into a monkey crate, and sent them back to the Central City address on Bu-Dog's collar.

A few days later, by the time their new bedding smelled a little bit like pee-pee, Meow-Kitty and Bu-Dog would tell their friends about their great space adventure. The stories unfolded under the great oak tree in the back yard, and falling acorns punctuated the key parts of the narrative. They had been to the night sun. And they had the space blankets and pillows to prove it.

When telling their stories to Meow-Precious and Meow-Sheba and Meow-Princess and Bu-Scottie and Bu-Titanic, they added every detail the Human Pup had ever given them about space. The night sun was cold. And people lived on it. And it was made of cheese (a detail that played especially well with dog audiences). But there were no other animals, and the night sun had become so boring that they decided to come home. The food was better on earth.

The other animals sat in rapt attention and listened to the stories and wondered if they would ever be lucky enough to go to another planet. And when the other animals asked what their blankets and pillows said, Meow-Kitty and Bu-Dog explained that the symbols stood for,

"Nice Animal Sleep Area."

DAST