A FOREST TALE 15:  Unthinkable Deeds
By Bernard Doove © 1999

It's funny how life can drag you down from the heights at times. Actually, funny is not a very good word for it. There's nothing funny about the tragic loss of life. Not that my life hadn't seen its share of drama. In the last few years alone, there had been the cliff rescue, the drowned foxtaur cub and the kidnapping of my sister's child. Yet these low points always had the highs to more then balance them out, and we had happy and exciting lives. Recent events have changed all this though.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Before death must first come birth, and we had three mothers-to-be all giving birth within weeks of one another. First came Trina, my Arctic Fox lifemate. She'd had an uneventful pregnancy, suffering little of the morning sickness that was so prevalent amongst humans and other species. We had been a little concerned about her because she is so small and slightly built. We had been worried that she might end up with twins or even triplets, as foxes tend to have multiple births, but the difference between species that had made it so hard for her and Kris, a Red Fox, to conceive a child in the first place, seemed to have acted to keep it down to one child. Nevertheless, by the time that the birth was only a few weeks away, Trina was huge with the cub. Trina was very proud of how she looked though, and when my sister, Goldfur, asked her to pose for hir, she quite willingly agreed. The result was quite beautiful, and the drawing is now hanging up in our sleeping den.

The imminent arrival of the cub was first announced by a startled yip from Trina as we were sitting at the dining room table eating our dinner. When Trina informed us that she'd just had a contraction, Kris, the level-headed paramedic, had a panic attack and started dithering. We had to calm him down while others grabbed Trina's pre-packed suitcase and fetched the PTV from the garage. Unlike Chakats, neither Kris nor Trina's kind usually held birthing parties like Chakats did, mainly because they didn't have the same certainty of a safe delivery, so they usually opted to give birth at a maternity centre. Trina's contractions continued to come regularly on the trip to the hospital, and Kris got his act together again along the way. He checked his mate out as much as possible, but both wanted to get her to the hospital soon despite the reassurance of the normal results. When we arrived, Trina was hastened off to a delivery ward. Only Kris and myself were allowed to join her there as we were her mates. Kris was to take delivery of the cub under the watchful eyes of Trina's gynaecologist, Chakat Redears, while I tried to soothe and encourage her during her labour. I suppose it would make better reading if the event was more dramatic, but the birth went fairly smoothly. I winced and shuddered each time Trina cried out in pain as she strove to deliver the child, but I murmured words of comfort and told her to bear down as I had been taught. Before too long, Kris triumphantly held up their newborn son, and Trina sighed in tiredness and relief. The whole event lasted about an hour and the doctor was quite happy with the birth. She was moved to a hospital bed where she gave the cub his first feed, then both promptly fell asleep. Those people who had come with Trina had crowded into the ward to see the two, but Redears, who knew how we Chakats could be, came around and herded most of us out. We left Kris to watch over Trina, a foolish happy smile on his muzzle as he looked at the beautiful sight of mother and child. I was feeling so happy for my lifemates too, but the rest of the family needed to be brought up to date, and my own cubs attended to also. Redears did stop me long enough to reassure me that the birth had gone well and that Trina would be up on her feet in no time. Shi added with a grin that we'd better get some rest too as that cub would be interrupting our sleep soon enough!

Two days later, after mother and child had rested, been checked and pronounced fit, they returned home where we threw a celebration for them. When we toasted to the future health and success of their cub, Kris announced that they were naming him Markus, a name that they had decided upon months ago when they found out they were having a boy. We all had a good look at the cub then. The light fuzz of fur was now dry and it was easier to see his colouring. It looked as if he took after his father mostly, but we'd see what he'd grow up to look like. My twins were fascinated by the new addition to the family and wanted to play with him, but I had to tell them to leave the cub alone until he was a little bigger. They did take a shine to him, although I'd been a bit concerned that they might get jealous of the new addition. The new child was well and truly a part of our family by the time that the next new arrival came along.

This time it was Lupu, Goldfur's wolftaur den-mate, who was due. The pretty wolftaur's lean upper torso contrasted sharply with her life-swollen lower belly. Chakats, being solidly built, don't show pregnancy greatly, but Lupu's light build clearly showed the twins she bore. Like us, she was able to keep active until shortly before she was due to give birth due to her four-legged stance, but as she came into the last couple of weeks, she was finding the heavy burden more and more arduous, so we insisted on her getting some extra rest while we did her chores.

Lupu was grateful that she went into labour right on time, precisely on the 312th day of her pregnancy. We had asked if she wanted to go to the maternity hospital, but she requested a Chakat-style home birthing, and so we'd gathered the family for the event as we had done for Goldfur's and mine. Lupu seemed to be enjoying being the centre of attention with all the clan coming over and putting their hands on hir belly and giving their blessings for healthy children. Then, while chatting animatedly with one of my aunts, she suddenly yelped. Immediately all eyes turned to her and she gave us a sheepish grin.

"Sorry about that," Lupu said, "But I think the show is about to begin."

"Goldfur was up on all fours in a moment and was by Lupu's side in a blink. "Here, let me help you to the nursery, dear."

"No need to fuss, love," Lupu replied, even as she let my sister help her to her paws. "It was only the first contrac... YIPE!" Everyone knew what had happened, and Goldfur smiled indulgently at hir den-mate.

"When a Chakat cub decides it's time to come, shi's usually in a hurry to get out. Believe me, it would be best if you made yourself comfortable in the nursery immediately."

Lupu merely nodded, easily convinced that Goldfur was right, and the two made their way to the nursery. When Lupu had been settled in the proper birthing position, Goldfur settled in behind her in the sire's traditional place of support and comfort. She gave Lupu a lick-kiss and murmured something into her ear that made her smile. A moment later, that smile was replaced by a grimace as another contraction hit her. The rest of the family filed in to take up places to witness the births and they offered their own words of support as each contraction grew closer.

I wish that I could say that her labour went as easily as it had for Goldfur and myself, but the truth is that wolftaurs are not as highly modified as our own species had been to make childbirth easier. For us, it was a matter of necessity. The long pregnancy meant that the cubs were more highly developed before birth, but that also meant that they were larger. Chakats' birth canals had been widened, the hipbones modified and other useful improvements on nature added to our genetic code, just to make childbirth a lot less painful and safer for the child. However, Lupu's species were one of the earlier taur creations and didn't have the benefit of all this. Normally it didn't matter too much because their species gave birth much sooner, and their cubs were much smaller. However, as always when a Chakat could crossbreed, the resulting cubs were Chakats too, and their unique genes controlled the pregnancy. The labour was much longer than normal and obviously hard on the poor bitch, but we had the skills of the family's midwife, Brightsong, to help her through this. As a professional, Brightsong was intimately familiar with most species' needs, and not just those of a Chakat. She gave Lupu a herbal medicine which dulled the pain, but also helped relax her, then encouraged and coached her through the birth. Goldfur shuddered in sympathetic reaction to every one of Lupu's yelps of pain, but hugged her even more, trying to bear part of the burden for her.

The first cub was finally born safely and gave a healthy squall almost immediately. Brightsong ran an expert eye over the child before smiling at the mother. "Shi looks perfect! Now let's concentrate on getting hir sister out." Brightsong handed the cub over to Quickpaw who was getting some first-hand experience to supplement hir studies. Quickpaw's task was to clean and dry off the cub while Brightsong's attention was on the mother. The second cub came quicker and more easily than the first, although not without more yelps and tears. In the end though, she came through the experience with very little trauma, which Brightsong quickly and efficiently attended. Soon, both Lupu and Goldfur held a cub apiece, proudly looking at them as the room burst into cheering for the new additions to the family and congratulations for the parents. Lupu lovingly licked the cub in her hands, the firstborn. Hir fur had dried off enough now to be able to determine hir fur colour properly. Shi was a dark grey mottled with areas of lighter grey, while hir sister was sandy-coloured, somewhere halfway between Goldfur and Lupu's shade, but also possessing distinctive grey paws.

The cubs were quick to take their first feed from their mother, and Lupu faithfully followed Chakat tradition in offering her milk to the sire afterwards. Of course Goldfur took a token mouthful, but Lupu's milk did not contain the chakafertizine hormone that stimulated the production of mother's milk in the sire. However, because Goldfur was still feeding hir other cub, Blaze, it wasn't necessary. In the event that it had been, there were other options open, the easiest of which was to ask Brightsong. Shi was not only a midwife, but also a wet nurse. Shi kept hirself permanently in mother's milk production mode and could give the requisite dose of hormone if ever it was required. Quickpaw would have been seriously miffed though if we had asked Brightsong. Shi regarded cub feeding as hir special privilege, and of course was also producing mother's milk for any cubs that came into hir care.

Naturally the reverse wasn't a problem, and Lupu happily drained Goldfur's breasts to replace the fluids she had lost during childbirth and feeding cubs. This done, the whole ceremony was complete and the crowd began to move off into the living room, a babble of lively discussion of the event following them out. The parents would name the cubs later, but right then, Lupu was too tired to do any more. Usually a Chakat mother would join hir guests soon after settling the cubs in the nursery, but Lupu was left to take a nap to recover her strength.

It was nice to have newborn Chakat kittens around again. Quickpaw was certainly happy enough to have new charges. Lupu seemed quietly content to spend her time with the cubs and was a devoted mother. Each night as Goldfur came home, she had them ready to show off to hir. They had quickly agreed on cub-names for the two, and Chakats Stonefur and Greypaw were soon a beloved part of our lives. The few weeks until Midnight's due date flew by. Relativity had played its usual tricks on the star-faring mother-to-be. The child that had been conceived a couple of days before Goldfur's brood was only now coming to term. However, there was an additional complication for this event. Arranging a birthing party was not going to be easy. As you may recall, Midnight wasn't born on Earth, and hir entire family lived on other Federation worlds. Midnight was originally from a frontier world. It hadn't been one of the more successful ones and hir early life had been hard, taking hir sire's place when shi had been killed in an accident. Shi had seen to the upbringing of hir siblings until they could all cope for themselves, then belatedly pursued hir dreams to the stars. Now, many years later, hir mother and sisters had moved from a world that held mostly sad memories and little prospects, and relocated themselves on Chakona, the adopted homeworld of Chakats. Midnight intended to have hir birthing party with hir entire family, and that meant getting to Chakona. Of course, when your mate is a Starfleet admiral, getting to an interplanetary destination wasn't as complicated or as expensive as it could be, especially since he had his own personal starship. There was only a limited amount of room for passengers though and numbers had to be kept down. Besides Midnight, Boyce brought along his other mates and cubs, including me and the twins. My mother, Desertsand, also joined us because Midnight was my mate and my side of the family needed to be represented. Goldfur and Garrek intended to be there too, but there wasn't enough room for them and Eudora on Boyce's ship. However, as members of Star Corps, they could finagle passage to Chakona along with their cub. Goldfur's child, Blaze, stayed with hir mother, Malena, back at the foxtaur village, and the newborn cubs would be staying with Lupu. The new mother had declared that she wasn't ready to travel with them as yet, but would be content to care for them in her mate's absence. Quickpaw desperately wanted to go too, but not only didn't shi qualify for a berth on the Star Corps ship, but shi also had exams due in a few days. Instead, Goldfur solemnly pronounced hir to be the twins' foster mother and left the responsibility of caring for them and Lupu in hir hands. It wasn't just a placating gesture either. Chakat cubs need certain trace nutrients that are only present in Chakat milk. While Lupu's milk was enough to nourish them for the most part, one feed a day by Quickpaw was necessary to ensure that they got these nutrients to maintain their health and growth. Providing milk for Blaze while shi stayed with hir mother in the Mountain Glade community was a constant complication for Goldfur and Malena. And I'm sure that Trina didn't mind having a willing cubsitter available too!

Chakona proved to be an exciting and wonderful place. By coincidence, Goldfur's flight arrived first, which proved to be an advantage. As an experienced traveller to other worlds, shi was able to prepare the way for the rest of us. Shi arranged accommodation for all, and transport was waiting for us when we arrived with Boyce. He was the only one of us to have actually been to Chakona before, except for Midnight who'd only managed to visit hir family once after they moved there. During the interstellar journey, he had told us about the sights that we had to see while we were there. Sometimes it was difficult to shut him up in fact! We succeeded only by appealing to an even greater interest... us! Suffice to say that Rosepetal, Zhane, Midnight, Boyce and myself had a much deeper understanding of each other and our relationships by the end of the trip. The journey home promised to be a lot of fun too!

But I digress. We weren't met at the spaceport due to the fact that Midnight's family lived in a rather distant rural area. "I'm just a country kitty," shi would say with a grin. However, we couldn't just simply fly directly there in Boyce's ship. Chakona's strict Immigration and Quarantine controls required us to go through the central spaceport first and, since we were there already, we took advantage of it and went sightseeing. The first thing that struck us was the furry population. Sure, we knew that the planet was populated by Terran morph species, but knowing and seeing were two different things. And I'd never seen so many Chakats all in one place! Humans were the odd species out in this population, with alien species making up the balance. There was quite an air of excitement about the town. People seemed genuinely happy to meet strangers and everyone was so helpful and considerate. If this was a fair example of the social engineering for the planet, I'd have to say that it was a extraordinary success. We wore ourselves out, wandering around and seeing the sights, marvelling at how well buildings and other structures had been integrated with the park-like environs. And the air! I breathed in deeply, smelling the myriad scents of the people and the vegetation. Not even the cleanest city on Earth could match this place.

In the end, it was our mother-to-be that brought an end to the day's activities. Shi was pretty worn out by the time that we got to the hotel where we would be staying for the night. None of us wanted to stay in Boyce's ship that evening! The hotel had a magnificent view. From the balcony we could see how the city of Amistad had grown up, nestled between the sea and the mountain ridge that separated it from the spaceport, insulating it from the noise and bright lights of the port and providing a safety buffer also. I don't know who named the city, which means "Friendship" in Spanish, but it was probably some romantic soul, almost certainly a Chakat. The hotel was built on the slopes of the ridge, affording us a panorama of the cityscape and the ocean beaches. The setting sun, Chakastra, was deep red as it sank below the horizon, reflecting off the pacific waters. We lounged out on the balcony, watching the changing aspect of the landscape while snacking on food and drink brought up by room service. I admit that we indulged ourselves a little bit here as, instead of a service robot, we had the pleasure of being served by a perky teenage chakat. I found out that shi was doing this to help pay for hir tuition, but shi rather enjoyed the social interaction. However, hir career goal was to be an industrial chemist, and not in the hospitality industry.

That brought up the major differences between Chakona and Earth: there virtually weren't any menial career jobs here. Most of service industry and similar work was done by people who wanted to earn some extra money. On this world, they would be considered dead-end jobs, unsuitable for careers. Anything that could be done with machines, usually was. There were enough really interesting careers to attract the workforce that hotels and such were constantly struggling to find staff. If it wasn't for students such as the one who served us, they'd have a real problem. Unlike some places on Earth, these staff were very well paid for this work. Conversely though, tipping was not a practice on this world. Any employee that needed more financial incentive to do something that they were already being paid well for, was considered to have a bad attitude and therefore undesirable. Actually, that isn't quite correct. There was one form of appreciation that was quite welcome and that was the Chakat practice of hugging to show friendship. We all gave our cheery servant a cuddle to show our thanks, and shi went on hir way quite pleased. Okay, I know some of you people find it a bit sappy, but we like it.

Darkness had finally settled before any of us could be bothered moving again. We'd just quietly enjoyed the mood and the scenery until the time came for Midnight to contact hir family. Shi called them up on the comm to make the final arrangements for a time and place to meet after Boyce obtained the necessary clearances to fly from the spaceport to the island community where they lived. Calling it an island tends to mislead people as to its size. It was an island, but one slightly larger than Tasmania and home to many thousands of people. It was located roughly 2500 kilometres north-west of where we were, just a bit south of the Skunktaur Archipelago. When everything was settled, we made our way to the hotel's restaurant and had a banquet. Massive transparent aluminum panels gave the illusion of dining under the open sky and stars, with the glow of the city lights their terrestrial counterpart.

Finally, we reluctantly made our way back to our room after enjoying the restaurant's entertainment for hours. One thing about the hotel, because it was built on the Chakats' homeworld, it catered to extended families. None of those dinky rooms with a couple of beds in it for us! We had chosen a room with a very large sleeping area plus an extra private room. I did cub-minding duty in this room, joined by my sister. Goldfur and I snuggled a bit that night, too weary to do any more.

The trip to Midnight's family's home was swift and short. We landed at a small commercial airport where we were met by Midnight's mother, Sharpears, and the rest of the family. Yes, everyone came to meet hir. It was a bit overwhelming seeing all of this, but I had to remind myself that shi hadn't been back to Chakona in years. It took a bus to carry us all back to Sharpears' home where shi was now raising another family with a new mate shi had met after moving there. They'd had one cub apiece, the eldest still only 16 months old. Midnight was absolutely delighted with the half-sisters that shi had never met and hit it off immediately with Treadsoft, hir mother's new lifemate.

It was a joyous occasion for all, with much feasting, conversation and laughter. As Midnight's mates, Boyce and I were treated as part of the family. Sharpears knew all about Midnight's human mate and yet was still quite fascinated by the tale retold of how hir daughter had come to be pregnant by him. Shi made sure though that shi expected him to treat his mate very well and care for the cub. Boyce protested that he had already pledged to do so, then grinned when he realised that he was being teased. My twins nearly drove themselves to utter exhaustion. Never before had they been around so many Chakat cubs, and it seemed to rev up their excitement level to the nth degree.

Not that there were only Chakats there. One of Midnight's siblings, Windfree, had a Skunktaur mate named Magnus, and two hybrid cubs of their own. The Skunktaurs are not just closely related, genetically speaking, but are virtually Chakats bred from skunk base stock. In fact, they are known as "Chakat-Kin" and were usually called our brothers. They are as bi-sexual as we are, but unlike us, they stayed in one gender phase at a time. They could morph into the other sex usually at will, drawing on stored energy reserves to power the change. I had known all this, and yet was still startled and fascinated to see the male Skunktaur that I'd been introduced to when we arrived, take feminine form the next day. (And a very sexy one at that. I admit I was turned on by the sight. So what if I was in male phase? I reckon hy could turn my head at any time! By the way, "hy", "hym" and "hys" are the correct terms to use for Skunktaurs, just as we use "shi" and "hir".) However, frequently they preferred their male form which had earned them their "brother" tag, this in comparison to us Chakats who always look feminine and call ourselves "sisters". The Skunktaurs had the same equal attitude to the sexes as we did though, but only stayed in female phase for long periods when they were pregnant and couldn't change to male form. Windfree had introduced hym as "Magnus of Clan Redpaw". The Skunktaur clans were distinguished by their peculiar mental abilities and hys clan's talent was telepathy. Telekinesis and Astral Projection were the other two, and these talents could be shared and strengthened through an empathic link with their fellow Skunktaurs. Because Chakats also had empathic abilities, they could even share their talents with us under the right circumstances. (See footnote)

The mates showed off their cubs. The Skunktaurs could interbreed readily with us, more so than almost any other taur species, but unlike the rest, they were the only mates where the offspring weren't guaranteed to be Chakats also. Our dominant genes made this the usual case, but the Skunktaurs' unique adaptive genetic structure was able to overcome this and the cubs could be either species, but more often a hybrid of the two. This point was driven home by one of their children. Shi looked like any other Chakat cub, possessing all our physical features. Shi had a warm-grey tabby-striped fur pattern and the typical green-gold eyes. However, shi also had one other distinctive marking, and that was the paw-shaped reddish patch of fur on hir right breast that was the distinctive trademark of the skunktaur brethren. Magnus confirmed that shi had the telepathic gift also. I wondered if this would be the way of the future: Chakats and Skunktaurs interbreeding to produce a race with all our combined abilities.

The party broke up quite late. Several went back to their respective dens, while others took advantage of the guest rooms and left the next day. The birthing party wasn't for a few days yet, so there wasn't any point in hanging around. It was crowded enough for Sharpears and Treadsoft anyway, putting up my entire family. We had allowed for a few days leeway in case of delays in travelling, and we put that time to good use. Midnight got to catch up on the news with all hir sisters and we got to know hir family better. They showed us around the area, a pleasant rural community, and we met a lot of the people who formed the local populace. Then a few days later, everyone gathered again for the birthing. Aside from the sheer number of people at that birthing party, everything was quite normal. Boyce proudly took his place, supporting Midnight during the labour, which began exactly on time despite the fears of those concerned about the unusual crossbreed child. I watched my mate's face as shi endured the contractions and strain of childbirth. It was a mixture of discomfort, concern and wonder, then as the cub slid free under the impetus of Midnight's final push, hir face lit up with joy. I breathed a sigh of relief. The second hurdle was over for Midnight as shi now had an actual child to show for all hir time and effort. Shi had accepted hir pregnancy, but we had wondered if shi could do the same for the child hirself. It seems we had been foolishly concerned as, despite hir tiredness, hir eyes shone with happiness as shi watched the cub being dried off, listened raptly to hir wailing cry as shi breathed air for the first time, and then tenderly cradled hir when shi was placed in hir arms. Only then did I notice Boyce again. His eyes were filled tears of joy. He hugged both Midnight and their child as the cub instinctively sought out a nipple and started nursing. I was extremely proud of both of them. All the other traditions of the birthing were observed except that I stepped in to provide the replenishing milk feed for Midnight where the Admiral could not. It was my right as Midnight's mate to do so, and I would serve as wet nurse when Midnight was unavailable. I cared every bit as much for my mate's welfare and hir new cub as Boyce did.

The birth brought a great deal of joy to Midnight's family. Shi had been the last of the siblings to have a child due to hir years of wandering. Even hir mother had had another child before hir. This event had reunited them as nothing else could after so long apart. Midnight was quickly up on hir feet and proudly showing off hir child to everyone. We all got a good look then, and we soon saw that the darkness of the fur wasn't just due to being damp. Hir coat was chocolate brown and speckled with dark red spots that looked like burning coals. Hir eyes were still closed, but I was willing to bet that they'd be the same hazel colour as hir sire's. After all, he had passed that on to his other two children, and I couldn't see why the same wouldn't hold true. (I was right as it turned out.) Naturally we were all looking to see if there was anything else unusual about this most unlikely of crossbreeds, but shi looked utterly normal. I suppose only time would tell if there was more of hir sire's genes in hir than was readily apparent at the moment.

Midnight threw hirself into motherhood almost fanatically. We spent a week there, getting to know people and places, but we found it hard to drag Midnight away from the house. If I hadn't already been through the experience of childbirth, I don't know if I could have convinced my mate to relax a bit and enjoy the visit while shi could. All too soon, our time was running out. We had allowed ourselves another week to enjoy some of the tourist highlights of Chakona before we had to leave. It was at the Grand Cascades, Chakona's equivalent of Niagara Falls (only better!) that I observed Goldfur and Garrek quietly talking while snuggling on the observation deck. That wasn't unusual as there were several couples and triads doing exactly the same thing. However, at the particular moment that I looked, I saw my sister's eyes light up with excitement and shi kissed hir mate passionately, much to his pleasure I might add! I smiled, wondering what was going on, but pleased to see them enjoying themselves. I wasn't left in the dark for long though because Goldfur came over to me, bursting with the news.

"Garrek and I had decided a couple of months ago to have another cub, but despite our best efforts, I haven't conceived as yet. Perhaps we've been caught up in the romantic atmosphere, but we really want to conceive this child on Chakona and we have this feeling that now will be the time we get lucky," shi told me excitedly. "I came into heat today, as you can tell, so I'm going to ask for a private room tonight for Garrek and myself."

"I understand," I replied. "Good luck, Goldie!" Considering how low the chances were for a chakat to conceive by a foxtaur, they really needed my good wishes. I reflected on the exceeding good fortune of Malena falling pregnant to Goldfur on her first night of trying. Sometimes you can beat the odds, I suppose. I wondered if it had anything to do with the fact that Goldfur was the sire in that instance.

"Thanks, sis!" shi said, giving me a hug then bounding off to tell someone else. I grinned. I knew that nothing could spoil the love those two had for each other, but with the prospect of having another daughter, my sister was on top of the world, and I knew my brother-in-law wouldn't be far behind hir.

A couple of days later, we were back at Sharpears' place. We were making our farewells as this was to be our final day on Chakona. We had gathered around the dinner table when Midnight and Boyce announced that they had decided to name their child Ember and we toasted to the health and welfare of their cub. Then Garrek stood up and said that he had an something important to say also.

When all eyes were upon him, he said, "I wish to announce that Goldfur and I are going to be parents again. Shi confirmed today that shi has conceived, thanks to my diligent efforts!"

There were howls of derision and good-natured laughter at that last bit. Some people chucked napkins or cushions at the grinning tod who was trying to dodge all the incoming missiles. Then everyone tried to congratulate Goldfur simultaneously and it was some time before semblance was restored.

Our final visit ended on a high, but we still felt reluctant to leave when our time ran out. We'd all enjoyed getting to know this unique world and the marvellous communities that had been built here, but most of us had work or other commitments to get back to. Goldfur's group was the first to leave, going directly onto a Corps ship for their next assignment. My own travel plans were unexpectedly put on hold as Starfleet Command recalled the Admiral to attend to an incident, taking his first two mates with him, leaving just my mother, Midnight, myself and our cubs. This proved to be useful in some ways as Midnight needed some more time to adjust to hir new status as a mother and I could spend more time alone with my mate during that wonderful but scary period. By the time Boyce returned a few days later to collect us, Midnight was feeling quite good about greeting him as hir mate and sire of their beloved child, and both delighted in hir antics. I promised my mate that I would be there for hir until shi was ready to go it alone. I would take the role of foster-sire in Boyce's absence and put off my own plans until that time. In return, shi promised that I wouldn't have to wait too long. We sealed the bargain with a long evening of love-making. It reminded me that, one day in the future, shi would be the mother to our cub, and this experience would serve hir well.

Back on Earth, things soon settled back into routine, although we talked about the trip for weeks after. Midnight seemed to be a typical Chakat mother, but occasionally a few flashes of doubt and insecurity would show through. The initial emotional harm of the unexpected pregnancy was healing though and this happened with less and less frequency. A few weeks passed and Quickpaw's eighteenth birthday was upon us. We had a grand celebration and even the Admiral got back in time to help us celebrate the event. I have written a separate chronicle of those events (See A&C #7), but there were a few highlights worth mentioning. Quickpaw chose that moment to ask Boyce to be hir new Companion, to which he agreed readily. On the same day, Midnight let me know that shi was ready to cope on hir own, which freed Boyce and myself to finally pursue our dream of having a cub.

I have often written about my love life and the Admiral's skill at sex-play, so I won't go into details here. My beloved Admiral thought the event was worthy of recording though, so he took it upon himself to write it himself. (See A&C #8). However, suffice to say that on the day that I went into heat, we put all the longing and passion of a year of waiting into our love-making. We went to a special and romantic spot and made love again and again. We completely wore each other out over two days, but Boyce had enough energy left to jump up and dance for joy when I announced that my inner senses were telling me that his miraculous sperm had done their job and I was pregnant. I must have caught first time to know that soon, but I certainly didn't regret all the other attempts to ensure a successful outcome! Neither of us could have been happier and his other mates took me out for a night of celebration. I was joining them in something that was unique in all known space and they thought that was the perfect excuse to party.

It took a while, but life finally settled down to some semblance of normality. There were no more births expected for a long time, no more conceptions planned. Boyce went back to doing whatever Starfleet admirals do, taking the rest of his family with him. I missed Rosepetal and Zhane. I enjoyed having them over and our rapport had grown considerably since the day we had reached an accommodation of interests. Midnight had arranged a transfer to Starfleet and, when hir maternity leave had expired, shi had joined the crew on Boyce's ship in much the same job as shi had in the Corps. I smiled to myself when I thought of the stir it would cause when the Admiral introduced Ember as his child. Goldfur and Garrek left for America to visit his village; he to spend time with his family, shi to attend to hir other mate, Malena. That just left myself and my vulpine mates, plus Lupu. She often stayed with us in Goldfur's absence. There was no point in staying in the nearly empty den and Quickpaw was deep in studies again. Besides, it was easier to look after all our cubs together and each of us took turns minding them.

On the weekends though, when we weren't out in the field or doing our duties elsewhere, we "ladies" often went on shopping trips to the local market. We all enjoyed a day of browsing, occasionally buying something that caught our eye. We always took our cubs with us. They seemed to enjoy the spirit and energy of the place and wore themselves out (and eventually us too) checking out the various sights, sounds and smells, and poking their noses into every stall. Such was the case on the day that changed all our lives.

It was a September weekend and, for once, all of us were home at the same time, so we planned an extra special outing. Lupu had her cubs in the double saddlebag that I had originally used for my twins. I kept my pair on cub-leashes because they'd outgrown that arrangement long ago, and Eudora was also in one held by Goldfur. Trina had her kit in a special backpack, as did Midnight, although hirs was designed to put more weight on the lower torso. We were quite a sight laden down with so many cubs!

We had to pass through the grounds of the government centre that was between the parking station and the market that was our goal. I noted with only minor interest that some sort of rally was gathering, but I didn't bother to stop and find out what it was about. I wish I had because then I might have had some premonition of danger, but I didn't and we proceeded blissfully unaware of the incipient disaster. The day was sunny and mild, the market was buzzing with the usual excitement, and we all set out to have some serious fun. Occasionally I noticed that the rally was generating quite loud vocal support, but I didn't make the effort to try to make out what they were saying. Another mistake. I was laden with some material that I had bought for the twins' den while the others were picking out items that were of interest to them. Lupu announced that she wanted to find some toys for her cubs while I was still haggling with a stall owner. The others said that they wanted to get some lunch soon, so Lupu said she would go grab what she wanted and meet us all back at our favourite coffee shop. Such an innocent act, yet with such tragic consequences. We rarely ever split up, so why did it have to be this time?

I'd finalised my purchases and rejoined Goldfur, Midnight and Trina, who'd already ordered my favourite market-day meal, when the background noise of the rally abruptly swelled and grew closer. This time I was curious enough to pay attention, and the ever-alert Midnight had pricked up hir ears also. When I did realise just what I was hearing, I began to worry. I heard racial epithets being hurled and cries of fear. I put my forepaws up on the table to elevate myself, joined moments later by Midnight, and we both started focusing our senses. What they told us was terrifying. The rally had turned into a riot, that curious and dangerous phenomenon for which the human race had an unenviable reputation for more frequently and violently than any other species. Worse yet, from what I could pick up, it had been a protest by humans against non-humans for some reason that I would not learn until later, and the rioters were turning their anger against anyone non-human. Both aliens and Terran morph species were targets, and that meant us and our cubs.

I'd decided that I would make a retreat from the area with my children, and I could see from their faces that the others had decided the same thing after we explained what was happening. Just then, Goldfur's wrist-comm warbled. The moment that shi answered it, Lupu's worried voice poured forth. It seems that the riot had already spilled into the market and she was in the thick of it and she didn't like the looks on some people's faces.

Goldfur ordered, "Make for the coffee shop as fast as you can. I'll meet you on the way!"

"I'm already on my way!" yipped Lupu. Before the comm cut out though, we heard her voice saying worriedly. "Greypaw! Don't squirm like that...."

Goldfur shoved Eudora's leash into my hands and took off. Midnight called out, "Wait for me, Goldfur! Don't go alone!" Ember's leash joined Eudora's. "Protect the children!" Midnight called over hir shoulder as shi took off after my sister. I desperately wanted to join them, but I had a greater responsibility to the children. I needed to make sure that they were safe first. I approached Antonio, the owner of the shop and a good friend, and I asked him if I could take the cubs into the back room. He assured me that he had already been thinking of offering, his face darkening as he watched the growing throng outside. I insisted that Trina stay there with the cubs also, not only to mind them, but to keep her safe too. My vixen mate might have been wiry and strong for her size, but in this situation, she was far too vulnerable for my liking. Against her protests, I then left to join Goldfur and Midnight. There was safety in numbers, and Lupu was family to me also.

Unfortunately, it was all too easy to find them. As soon as I left the shop, I heard the yowls of enraged Chakats, something that I had hoped never to hear again. I made a beeline for the noise and arrived in time to see a couple of humans, who were wearing an odd sort of uniform, flying through the air. A crowd in the area was rapidly dispersing amidst yells and shrieks. A few people were lying on the ground, unconscious or moaning in pain. In the middle were Midnight and Goldfur, snarling, eyes gleaming with rage. They were busy with a couple of assailants each, but quickly despatched them. The few troublemakers that had stood their ground up until then, lost their nerve when they realised that I was joining the pair. Odds of two dozen to three were too much for them, it seemed. Some of them at least helped their injured compatriots away from the field of battle. As the two Chakats stood guard, the area emptied of all but morph species. I was appalled by the number of injuries that had been inflicted upon them. Then I stared in horror at the lump of grey fur that my sister was now turning to. It was Lupu. She had apparently been the focus of the mob's rage and looked as if every square centimetre of her body had been pummelled or slashed. Goldfur bent over her, urgently trying to get a response from her. Midnight padded over to me to explain that they had arrived to find Lupu besieged by humans and trying to protect her children, partly by actively fending off attack and partly by putting her body between the mob and the cubs. She'd collapsed soon after Goldfur and Midnight had arrived and realised what was happening. Goldfur had instantly leapt into the fray and started defending hir den-mate, followed closely by Midnight. Lupu was small and leanly built and hadn't stood a chance against the mob. However, against two Chakats whose anger had been invoked, the rioters hadn't stood a chance. We Chakats are slow to anger, but threaten our family and you will have about 200 kilograms of muscle and claws to deal with. Not only were we better built to survive, but few could match us in a fight.

A howl of anguish came from my sister. Shi was tugging at a limp form cradled within the curl of the unconscious wolftaur's body. I could barely recognise hir as Greypaw, so covered in blood was shi. Abruptly, Goldfur stopped hir cries and stabbed at hir wrist-comm. It was non-civilian Star Corps issue, and shi switched it to the restricted band. The response was immediate and Goldfur blurted out, "Medical emergency! Request beam-out to nearest trauma facility! One adult wolftaur, two Chakat cubs and myself!"

"Standby!" was the terse response. I have to give the Corps credit though because it was scant seconds before the characteristic hum of the transporter effect was heard. Midnight and I had stepped back and the transporter operator cleanly picked out the group which dissolved into sparkling energy particles and disappeared. Midnight looked at me, a world of weariness in hir eyes. The anger had faded from hir and left hir feeling exhausted.

"Our cubs?" shi asked.

"Safe," I assured hir. We walked back to the shop through the thinning crowd, senses alert still for any more danger. I was rather bemused by the fact that this time Goldfur had not retreated into hirself as had happened when Eudora had been kidnapped. Perhaps that incident had toughened hir up a bit. Shi had actually pulled hir wits together and called for help while I had been standing around stunned. I made a resolution to myself that I would never be found so wanting again.

We gathered Trina and the cubs and headed off for our vehicle after thanking Antonio. He dismissed it with a wave and gave me a quick hug and asking me to pass it on to Goldfur. Midnight and I flanked the rest of our group as we trotted off smartly to the parking station. We all wanted to be as far from that place as soon as possible. We drove home in silence, all of us still shocked from the turn of events. Even the cubs were quiet, knowing something was wrong but not understanding. We put them all to bed for a nap when we got home, then turned on the vid to try to get some news. It wasn't hard to find. All the channels were buzzing with the events. It turned out to be eerily familiar, jibing with events that Boyce had been telling me about in the past few weeks, only much bigger. It had started as a legitimate organised rally by the "Earth For Humanity" movement. This group's ostensible goals were to push for more rights for humans as the original inhabitants of this planet. They claimed morphs and aliens were taking jobs from humans, a blatantly ridiculous statement as many industries had a crying need for more skilled workers. Up until now, they had been a relatively small group accorded little more than crackpot status. However, it seems that had been just a veneer and the movement had been clandestinely increasing the number of their adherents for some time. Today turned out to be the day that they had chosen to go public with a show of strength. The rally in our city turned out to be only one of several scattered around the world, and at each, the ringleaders had spewed forth a message of hate and intolerance that had not been heard since the genocidal wars of the twenty-first century. In more than one city, the crowd had been whipped up into a frenzy of anti non-human fervour, and this had turned into confrontations with any morph or alien unlucky enough to be in the area at the time. It had been our gravest misfortune that the market day had coincided with the rally because it was a popular spot for many species. Taunts had turned to insults, insults to threats, threats to violence, and poor Lupu had been caught unawares in their midst, unable to defend herself and the cubs against so many.

While we all nervously awaited word from Goldfur, we tried to learn as much as we could about other victims of the riot. It seems that there had been two deaths already confirmed in our city alone, and they were still counting the injured. While we were watching more footage from other cities, we were interrupted by the doorbell. When I answered it, I was confronted by two police officers who politely asked if they could come in and ask us a few questions. It turned out that they had gotten our address from the hospital where Lupu had ended up. They particularly wanted to talk with Midnight due to hir and Goldfur's treatment of Lupu's assailants. At first I was concerned that they were both going to be in trouble for their rough treatment of the rioters, but it soon became clear from their questions that they were trying to get every shred of evidence needed to nail the humans' coffins and bury them deep.

They were almost finished when the call that we had been awaiting came in. The expression on Goldfur's face was shocking. Slowly, hir words choking in hir throat, shi gave us the news. Lupu had only just came out of a lengthy stint in surgery and was now in intensive care. Stonefur was squirming in Goldfur's arms, miraculously almost unscathed. Shi had gotten extremely lucky and only received some minor cuts and bruises. Hir sister was another story though.

"Greypaw is dying, Forest. Shi... shi's been hurt too badly. The medics say that despite their best efforts, we're likely to lose hir in the next few hours at most. Oh Forest! Shi only just started to live!" At this point, Goldfur broke down, unable to restrain hir tears.

"Hang on, Goldfur, we'll be there soon!" I promised. Shi nodded, unable to reply, and I switched off the comm. Right now, I wished Garrek or Malena was here to help, but Goldfur's mates were both at the foxtaur village. I asked Midnight to look after the cubs and took Trina with me to the hospital. We made our way there as fast as possible and found my sister with a doctor in a waiting room of the emergency ward. I had been hoping that the situation would improve during our journey, but real life rarely brings such miracles. My sister looked devastated and fell into my arms, weeping uncontrollably. I looked at the doctor questioningly.

"Greypaw has just been declared dead," he confirmed. "The wolftaur, Lupu, is in a critical but stable condition."

"Leave my sister in my care, doctor. I'll see that shi gets some help. Right now, the best thing you could do is make sure that hir den-mate lives, otherwise things could get much worse."

The doctor nodded, understanding fully, then left us to get back to his patient. I held Goldfur until the tears finally stopped. I didn't need to say anything as shi could sense my sympathy through our empathic link, just as I could feel hir sense of loss. I tried to relieve hir of some of the burden of that emotion, but there was so much of it. Stonefur, who was being held possessively under one of hir sire's arms, started to squirm restlessly. Trina took over hir care, although Goldfur was understandably reluctant to let hir go. Shi and I stayed together, hugging each other closely, and I poured all my love and caring into our link. We were still like that when the doctor came back a couple of hours later to announce that Lupu was definitely going to remain among the living. Medical science was so good nowadays that, once the crisis point had been passed, patients would unfailingly recover. The doctor said that he would rather not let her have any visitors as yet, but knew that it would be utterly futile for him to try to stop Goldfur, so we would be allowed to pay her a very brief visit, so long as we did nothing to disturb her.

The sight we beheld when we entered Lupu's recovery ward was heart-stopping. Three legs and an arm were in casts, the others heavily bandaged. Much fur had been shaven off to allow the doctors to treat the multitude of cuts and contusions. Hir upper ribcage was heavily bandaged, but seeing as most of the breathing was done by the lungs in the lower torso, she was spared at least some pain. I could see sutures holding together her right ear where it had been ripped badly. Healing accelerators would soon fix that and many other wounds, while a great many tubes and cables attached to her fed her fluids and drugs while monitoring her condition closely. The doctor quietly informed us that she had suffered several serious internal injuries that would prevent her from getting around easily for several weeks, but all the external wounds should heal cleanly and the fur would re-grow to cover up all the remaining traces.

Goldfur was finally convinced that shi no longer had to worry frantically over hir den-mate. I felt hir start to shake with the release of the tension. Shi leaned over Lupu and gave her a careful lick-kiss on the muzzle, whispering, "Get well soon, my Little Wolf."

Lupu's eyes fluttered half open. Very faintly, I heard her reply, "Swee... Mil...". I failed to understand what she was trying to say, but then I noticed Goldfur's crooked smile in response. Lupu lapsed back into her healing sleep, but as the doctor ushered us out, I asked my sister what Lupu had said.

Goldfur almost looked embarrassed. "It's her pet name for me. She was trying to say Sweet Milk."

I smiled. I could figure out how she got that nickname! Anyway, I was glad of the diversion. It had dragged Goldfur out of the rut of misery shi had been in due to the death of hir child, just as Miktar had once done for me when I was mourning the death of a foxtaur cub I'd failed to save. I still knew some of what shi was feeling and I was determined not to let hir descend into those depths again. The rest of the family would rally to see to it that shi would get all the attention shi would need until shi came to terms with hir loss, as they would do for Lupu too when she had recovered consciousness.

Weeks passed, and Goldfur regained hir good humour and zest for life, although there lingered a tinge of sadness. Shi seldom let Stonefur out of hir sight nowadays. The crisis had passed though after the funeral for Greypaw. It was a Chakat style event of course, where all the family gathered to not only farewell a loved one, but to remind the bereaved of the joy the departed soul had brought and the how much those still living needed and loved hir. Our funerals are more cathartic than the sombre human ones, and this helped my sister to finally come to terms with hir loss. Lupu was another matter. She was an invalid for weeks after coming home from the hospital, and she was an absolute terror on the powered wheelchair built for taurforms that she was using in that period. She seemed to be recovering well, except that she could never bring herself to discuss her lost cub. In her eyes, she had failed in her duty to protect the cubs. I could feel the tension between her and Goldfur occasionally. My sister did not blame her at all, but I knew Lupu viewed it from a more lupine point of view. She had failed her mate, her alpha and the pack, and her relationship with Goldfur suffered for it.

The day came when she was back on all four paws again and could discard the wheelchair, but she had no desire to leave the den. We suspected that she was afraid to go out in the crowd, amidst people who might be one of those who had beaten her so badly and killed a helpless cub. We could scarcely blame her though. Immediately after the riot, police had cracked down hard. Many people had been charged with assault or murder, and the courts would be busy for quite a while. The root of the problem was still there though. The leaders of the "Earth For Humanity" movement disclaimed any responsibility and resisted any attempts to ban their activities, claiming that they had the democratic right to promote their opinions. With the likes of them out there, even I felt an unease that I had never felt before. Could Earth's golden age of peace be finally drawing to an end? I hoped not, but history has a habit of dashing those hopes.

I stroked my lower torso thoughtfully, wondering what sort of world that I'd be bringing my unborn cub into. I loved this land, and we all had many cherished relatives and friends here, but I would do whatever it took to keep my family healthy and happy and I would leave my options open. Perhaps our future lay in moving to a world like Chakona? I didn't know the answer to that one as yet. Who knew what the future would bring?

NOTE: For more information about the Skunktaurs, please visit The Skunktaur Den.

The Skunktaurs were created by Bob Reijns.
Lupu is used with the permission of her Player.
All other characters and this story are © 1999 Bernard Doove.

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Forest Tales is continued in FT#16: Transformations (Part One)"

Next story in chronological order is Tales of the Foxtaur Clans #3.

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