"Flying in Freefall"
Router had understood the principle
of turning Supply Base Bounty 3D3N
into a farming station, but he had not
expected to receive livestock.
Nevertheless when a distress call
went up from a secret laboratory
that had abandoned secrecy
in favor of survival, 3D3N was
the closest location where
the refugees could stay until
their home was repaired.
Dr. Syden Caermichael arrived
with cart after cart laden with cages,
her white coat no longer pristine.
There were mice and rats,
guinea pigs and rabbits.
There were chickens
and zebra finches.
Sam the Gardener made
grabby hands and said,
"I claim the manure. I'll
help you move your critters,
but I want all of their crap."
"You might as well,"
the scientist said with a sigh.
"All my experiments in progress
are invalidated anyway."
"This is going to be so much fun,"
he said as he wheeled away the cages.
An hour later, it wasn't.
"What's wrong with your birds?"
Sam said, peering anxiously at them.
Router looked up from his tablet
to see what was going on.
Some of the birds seemed fine,
but others were flopping weakly
on the floors of their cages, and
some seemed to be trying to fly
through the wire mesh.
"The white zebra finches on the floor
are my zero-gravity finches, so that's
why they can't move much in here."
The panicky gray ones are part of
an experiment on flocking behavior;
they're not used to being separated,
but we couldn't bring the big cage,"
Syden explained. "They're not sick."
"And the chickens aren't really drunk?"
Sam said as he watched them
stagger around the cage.
"No, they were raised in variable gravity,"
Syden said. "They're used to flying,
but they can't in full gravity."
"So we need to arrange ... what?"
Router said. "I think we can manage
a big cage for the finches, somehow ..."
"It might be easier to put them in a closet,
if you can rig an airlock for the door so
they can't escape," Syden said. "People
raise pet finches in aviaries like that."
"All right, that we can do," Router said.
"I'm not sure about the gravity, though."
"What about the lifeboats?" Sam said.
"Port said there are a bunch of those
stored here, all different kinds, from
big crew modules to one-man pods."
"Put them on a tether, program
the appropriate spin, and they'd have
their preferred gravity most of the time
except for caregiving," Router said.
"I'll think we can make it happen."
Then he noticed that Syden
was hugging herself and rocking.
"It's all right, Syden," he said.
"I know the life support emergency
was scary, but you and your stock
are safe here. The engineers will
fix whatever broke, and then
you'll be home in no time."
"But it's not a secret anymore,"
the scientist whispered.
"That's probably for the best,"
Router said gently. "With
the old supply lines gone,
we need new ones, and
that includes you. Besides,
we could really use livestock
if you have any to spare."
"I have earthworms," Sam said.
"I'll trade you some for chickens,
guinea pigs, and rabbits. Or ask
for whatever else you need, and
if I have it, then it's yours."
She looked around. "You have
a real garden. In space."
"Yes," the Gardener said proudly.
"We can talk," Syden said.
"Let's get the birds set up first."
Router discovered that it was
oddly soothing to watch
the closet full of finches.
He hadn't realized how much
birds depended on each other,
the way their flight affected
the air currents and changed
the path of the other finches.
It was kind of like the way
that supplies moved around
in the warehouse space, although
it was Router himself who had
to keep them organized.
If watching the finches
in the closet was fun, though,
seeing the flock flying in freefall
was nothing short of magical.
It reminded Router of
how he'd felt about space,
back before it became his job.
Sometimes, it was good
to let out the secrets.
* * *
The most common wild-type laboratory birds include the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata), the European starling (Sturnus vulgaris), and the house sparrow (Passer domesticus). Chickens are also popular.
Research on birds in space has already begun.
Chickens are commonly raised for eggs, meat, and laboratory research although their feathers are also a useful byproduct. White Leghorns and Rhode Island Reds are among the most prevalent breeds, especially for commercial or clinical uses. Chickens may be kept in rural or suburban areas.
Zebra Finches are popular both for laboratory research and as pets. They are quite well suited as pets in space because they can fly and they are so tiny that they don't need much space. Their lively fluttering and (for the males) singing helps brighten up what can be a very drab environment.
Zebra Finches come in many varieties. See a picture of their color types. Here is a gray pair. Here is a white pair.
Large flocks are often kept in a closet-style aviary.