Meet Jynx, the Most Unusual Snow Leopard from “Pet Trade”

by Carol Van Natta

I’m one of the twelve authors in the Embrace the Romance: Pets In Space 2 anthology, and thrilled to be along for the ride. My contribution is “Pet Trade,” a novella set in a cul-de-sac of the space opera universe I created in the Central Galactic Concordance space opera series. In that universe, cybernetic limb replacements are used to keep Jumpers, elite-force military combat specialists, ready for action. Animals don’t do well with cybernetics, but the pet-trade industry has a well-deserved shady reputation for having only situational ethics, if they have any at all, so they keep trying.

Imagine the surprise of two rural veterinarians on a frontier planet when they come across a living example of a snow leopard with a cybernetic front leg. They, better than most, know that the feline they named Jynx is a most unusual creature indeed.

My story inspiration sometimes comes from a variety of small, unrelated sources. A couple of years ago, my veterinarian friend and I discussed prosthetic limbs for pets, and her opinion that cats were poor candidates because they’re built to jump, and prosthetic technology isn’t up to it.

Six months later, when I researched human prosthetics and treatments for another book, I read about experiments with articulated limbs for disabled veterans. Modern medical science has helped service men and women survive terrible wounds that once would have killed them, but we have much room for improvement in treating the aftermath.

As I was writing “Pet Trade,” it occurred to me that, in the future, cybernetics researchers likely tried their ideas on animals first, but what if it proved more difficult to get them to work? You can at least tell humans what you’re doing. “Don’t pull out these stitches—they’ll absorb on their own. It’ll probably itch like crazy in a couple of weeks.” All we can do for our pets is make them wear funnel-shaped collars of shame.

So, out of all that, came the idea for Jynx, the cybernetic snow leopard. Here’s a little excerpt from “Pet Trade,” where veterinarian Bethnee introduces her beloved Jynx to ex-Jumper Axur, who has cybernetic legs and one arm.

Carol Van Natta SnowLeopard

He edged closer, trying not to stress Bethnee but wanting a better look at the big cat’s left front leg. “I’ve never seen an animal with cybernetics.” The cat’s distinctive spotted fur ended with a ragged transition to the raw, articulated biometal model of a cat’s leg. The toes on the wide paw had lethal biometal claws. If she’d ever had synthskin—synthfur?—it was gone now.

“And you probably won’t see another. Animal brains usually reject the motile processor input, even with complete nerve mapping. She’s unique, and worth a fortune.” Jynx chuffed again, showing her sharp carnivore’s teeth. “Nuñez found her at the spaceport, wrapped like a mummy, half-dead, in a secret compartment of a large-animal container.” Bethnee chuckled. “The yaks get nervous just smelling her, so Nuñez gave her to me. Besides, her visible biometal makes her a theft magnet. I can’t let her go out very often.”

Following instinct, Axur held out both his human and cybernetic hands for Jynx to smell. He smiled when she rubbed her head on both, marking him with her scent. “Cats are cats.”

“Yep.” She leaned her hip against the table. “I had a devious reason for inviting you here.”

He grinned at her. “You’re the least devious person I know.”

She snorted. “I’m the least tactful person you know. There’s a difference.”

Read more in “Pet Trade,” one of twelve stories in the Embrace the Romance: Pets in Space 2 anthology, out October 10, 2017.

Carol Van Natta is a science fiction and fantasy author who is owned by multiple cats in Fort Collins, CO.

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