Ahhh! Puppies in space! Huskies in space! Okay, sorry. First, it’s one husky (and a lot of little dogs, too). And second, that’s technically not what the story is about, but I mean, come on. Ahem. Sorry again. Found in Love Beyond Body, Space, & Time, “Né Łe!” by Darcie Little Badger, is flipping adorable beyond the puppy thing. We meet Dottie King, a woman who is off to be a veterinarian on Mars, leaving Earth for the first time and also not really all that ready to do the whole space travel thing, despite being in a travel-induced stasis coma for the whole trip. Things can go wrong, right? And if the ship blows up or something, she’ll never even know. She’ll be asleep, and then dead. Not optimal. Even less so when she’s honest about the only reason she took this trip: she got dumped (by VR no less), and basically chose the first thing that would get her somewhere else.
The pod closes, she drifts off, and then she’s being woken because something has, indeed, gone wrong. Only it’s not an explosion, it’s puppies. The pods containing the dogs for Mars have malfunctioned, and so the crew need someone to take care of a lot of dogs. What follows is a slowly unfurling romance between our narrator and one of the crew, a far more adventurous and gregarious woman. The delicate dance between the two is gentle and lovely, and we learn a few pieces about where their Indigenous cultures are now in this future (and how wonderful to read spec-fic where Indigenous cultures aren’t some sort of amalgamated single force, but as diverse and different as they are in the current day), and their own different personal histories, reasons for being in space, and what they want out of life.
As potentially ridiculous as this may sound, I also really appreciated the tiny little moment in the story that revolved around disability (in the husky, no less) and how it painted such an instant, clear picture of what Mars had come to represent, and how that altered Dottie’s course as much as the feelings she’s developed for the other woman, and another option she hadn’t truly considered as a place to go. It’s such a great little swoop at the end of what’s already a lovely and romantic spec-fic piece.
A note: I found this story in Love Beyond Body, Space, and Time: An LGBT and Two-Spirit Sci-Fi Anthology, but I need to point out this is one of those anthologies I’ve had in my collection for, well, years. It’s been sitting on my iPad, and it was only when someone asked me if I’d read it that I went to look and found out the publisher is defunct due to the publisher, Bedside Press, being shuttered when the editor confessed to sexual misconduct and sexual assault. After I went looking online and hit that roadblock, I was looking through my digital library to see what other anthologies I had and found my copy. Accordingly, I’m going to suggest you check out anything by Darcie Little Badger via her web-page, as I can find no information about where support for this anthology goes.