Bren pushed the cart from table to table, collecting soiled dishes, silverware, and napkins. He came to the table where the four spacers were sitting. They were wolves like most of the rest of the pack that ran the restaurant … like himself. Unlike the shiny clean uniforms of the crew of Tarkel’s Glory, the ship that had left him here, these spacers wore utilitarian overall suits. Two had two stripes on their sleeves and the other two had just one stripe: commanders and lieutenants. And unlike the officers of the Glory, these officers had shiny rings in their ears. But they seemed nice. He desperately wanted their attention. Not knowing what to say, he just stood and stared.
“Boo!” said one of the spacer wolves, the smaller commander.
Bren looked at her: she had reddish fur.
“Wah!” he said, and pushed his cart away.
Bren bussed more tables and returned to the wash kitchen. On his next run he spied on the spacers … and saw that they were getting ready to leave. He composed himself. Heart thumping, he went back to their table.
“Yes?” said the reddish commander.
“I’m … uh. I … I need …”
“Relax, pup. We won’t bite you. What do you need?”
“You’re right here at the Tiff and Fox, busing tables.”
“No. I mean, I’m not home; I missed my ship. I want to go home.”
The big dark brown commander looked at the smaller reddish one. She shrugged and looked back at Bren.
“But you work here,” the red one said.
“Just until I can find a ship home.”
All the spacers looked at the brown one; he looked at them and nodded. He turned to Bren.
“Wolf, go and get your pack-alpha.”
Bren looked at him with wide eyes. Was he in trouble for asking?
“It’s okay,” he said. “We need to talk to him about taking you home.”
Bren’s eyes went even wider. He ran to the kitchen.
“Mister Wolfenbittel,” Bren said. “Some customers want to talk to you.”
“I don’t know, Sir.”
“The spacers at table six.”
“All right. Get back to work!”
Bren drooped his ears and returned to bussing tables. Wolfenbittel went to table six, where four officers of some tramp freighter starship were waiting for him.
“Hello, officers. What can I do for you?”
“Sir,” said the big one with brown fur, a commander. “You’ve cooked a wonderful meal for me and my officers. We always come here when we are in port.”
“Thank you, Sirs. I know what a spacer wolf wants!”
“Yes, Sir. My name is Commander Garwulf, of the Jackal’s Trove. And you are?”
“Wolfenbittel. Ralf Wolfenbittel.”
“Mister Wolfenbittel. This is Wing Commander Fox, our Quartermaster, and our Omega. I understand that one of your employees, the young pup bussing tables, is lost?”
“Lost? He’s not lost. He’s one of my workers. He’s been helping in the wash kitchen.”
“Is that so. Where did he come from?”
“I … uh.”
“Will you bring him here, please?”
“Why? Is there some sort of trouble?”
“There might be. Please bring him here.”
Wolfenbittel furrowed his brow, trying to think up an excuse.
“Now, please, Sir,” said Commander Garwulf.
“Bren! Get your tail over here!”
“Yes, Sir!” came the distant shout.
Bren left his cart where he had been cleaning up and went to table six.
“Hi. My name is Commander Garwulf. What’s your name, pup?”
“Where are you from?”
“Where is your home?”
“Feltwig Manor, just outside the city.”
“Not here on the station?”
Bren looked at Wolfenbittel and then at Commander Garwulf. He shook his head.
The officers looked at Wolfenbittel.
“Now just a moment,” said Wolfenbittel. “What’s this all about? You can’t just—”
“I don’t think you can either, Sir.”
“Am I in trouble?” asked Bren.
“Yes,” said Wolfenbittel.
“No,” said Garwulf.
“Bren,” said Garwulf. “I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is we can take you home.”
Bren smiled … and then showed concern.
“What’s the bad news?”
“We’re not going back to Wolfheim for a long time.”
Bren thought about this. He could wait for a ship back home, to his pack, his family … Tarkel City.
“He’s a good worker,” said Wolfenbittel. “How much will you compensate me?”
“How much did you pay for him?” asked Garwulf.
“Uh, I caught him stealing food.”
“So you didn’t actually pay anything for him, yet you’ve just been letting him work for you? Are you paying him?”
“He earns his keep.”
“Are you paying him?”
“Commaner,” said the Quartermaster. “Let’s try this a different way.”
Garwulf looked at him and nodded.
“Sir. Do you have any Timby’s Harvest Ale?”
“Huh? No, I’m fresh out. Can’t keep it in stock.”
He pulled a datapad out of his pocket and poked at it.
“Jackal’s Trove, Quartermaster. Have someone send a keg of Harvest Ale to the Tiff and Fox.”
“A keg of Harvest Ale, Tiff and Fox, aye,” came the reply.
Fox grinned slyly.
Bren looked at them back and forth, wondering what was going on.
“Bren,” she said. “Please continue with your duties here.”
Bren’s ears and tail drooped and his shoulders slumped. Fox smiled gently.
“Bren. Trust me. Finish up your chores, then come back here.”
“Mister Wolfenbittel,” said Commander Garwulf. “We’ll just wait here until the delivery arrives. Then we’ll talk.”
“Oh, yes. Yes, of course.” He left the officers and went about his business in the restaurant.
“So what do you think that’s all about?” asked the quartermaster.
“Seems clear to me,” said Garwulf. “The pup missed his flight, and this wolf took him in.”
“Bren doesn’t seem happy.”
“Would you be?” asked Fox. “He’s working as a kitchen slave. You saw how he looked at us.”
“Yup,” said Quartermaster. “Which is why we have to take him.”
“And that’s why you ordered the keg.”
It didn’t take very long for the keg to arrive. Two crew wolves from the Jackal’s Trove wheeled it in on a cart.
“Delivery for Mister Wolfenbittel.”
“Ah! Right this way, please,” said Wolfenbittel.
“That’s the beer,” said Fox.
The officers got up from their booth and intercepted the keg. The crew wolves saluted.
“Mister Wolfenbittel, please bring Bren.”
“Bren! Get your—please come here.”
Bren came up to the gathered crew. He looked at the keg.
“Mister Wolfenbittel, do you have any documentation on this young wolf as your worker here?”
“Uh, no, sirs.”
“That’s okay,” said the quartermaster. “I don’t have any documentation on this keg either. If you understand my meaning.”
Wolfenbittel frowned and furrowed his brow … and realization dawned.
“Have you finished your cleanup?”
“Good. Go with these wolves now. They will take care of you. I’ll take care of the beer.”
Commnder Garwulf nodded to the crew wolves.
Bren watched Wolfenbittel lead the crew wolves carting the keg of beer into the back room.
“Sold into slavery for a keg of beer,” he said.
“That’s about the size of it,” said Commander Fox. “Except for the slavery part.”
He looked at her, confused.
She winked at him.
“Do you have everything? Go get your stuff.”
“I don’t have anything.” He tugged at his overall suit. “Just this—and my other clothes.”
“Go get them and then let’s get out of here.”
Bren and the officers were joined by the crew wolves. Together they went back to the docks where the Jackal’s Trove was tied up. At the security checkpoint the crew members presented their ID cards and passports.
“And the young wolf?” said the customs agent.
Commander Garwulf looked at Bren.
“I … I don’t have any ID card or passport.”
“What?” asked Garwulf.
“My sire has them.”
Garwulf and Fox looked at one another.
“This is a problem.”
“Am I in trouble?” asked Bren.
“No. But this is a snag.”
“Yes, it is, Commander,” said the station security agent. “Without proper ID I cannot permit you to leave the station with this minor.”
“I understand, Sir. Permit me to call my captain.”
Garwulf got out his data pad and called the Jackal’s Trove.