"Will, Iím pregnant."
There was silence on the comm, or nearly. She could hear breathing. Jo said, "Will, are you still there?"
"Sorry, Love. I was a little bit surprised. They wouldnít let you be transported? Are you still in Curtisport?"
"Yes and no," said Jo. "Ritar wouldnít transport me but did arrange other transportation. Iím on a heavy shuttle going to the Star Base and then over to Gateway."
Will chuckled and said, "Teri is going to be jealous of you, getting a ride on one of those and a visit to Star Base 2? I donít see how you got pregnant though."
"Iím not either, but we will look into that later. Iíve got an appointment with Sun at the end of my shift, or whatís left of it. I suspect that shi will be asking Vutoz for your gene scan data."
"Iíll give him a call and authorize that. How are you going to get back and forth to work?"
"Thereís a passenger shuttle I can catch on Firstday morning but Iím not sure yet about getting back. Iíve arranged for a flat on Gateway. Iím not going to be able to go back and forth every day. Iíll have to stay up here during the week."
"The kids are going to miss you."
"Not just the kids Ö"
"No, and talking to you on the comm isnít going to be any sort of replacement for having you here."
There was a chime in the shuttle and the first officer said, "Jo, weíre on final approach to Star Base 2. Iím going to have to cut your comm connection."
Jo said, "Iíve got to shut down Will. Iíll give you a call tonight."
"I heard. I love you, Jo."
"Love you too, Will. Bye."
Will and Track were discussing integrating the power supplies from Firebrand into the production line when Track said, "Will, youíre drifting off again. Thatís not like you. Whatís on your mind?"
Will smiled at hir and said, "Sorry, I got some surprising news this morning. Jo is pregnant."
"Congratulation! Iím still a little confused though. Most people I know radiate unadulterated joy when they find out that their mate is pregnant, but what Iím getting from you is more than a little mixed up. Do you need to talk about this?"
"You going into the counseling business now?"
Track grinned and said, "No, but you and Jo are special, and chakats do have a reputation about these things. I thought you and Jo werenít fertile together."
"So did we, but it looks like that may have changed."
"Then there is no doubt that you are the sire."
Will shook his head. "No, when Peter was conceived we discussed that together and we both approached his sire to engage his services. We havenít done that in this case and Jo wouldnít do something like that without talking to me."
"Some people say that only chakats and skunktaurs can be truly life-mated, but you and Jo are an example that that isnít true. You had no doubt at all that Jo had mated with someone else. Why the mixed feelings?"
Will sighed and looked out the window. Turning back to Track he said, "Jo has been talking about seeing a specialist in San Francisco when we visited her family in Monterrey. Iíd been holding back. I wasnít sure I wanted to be changed to be fertile with her."
"Why not? Were you worried about the procedure?"
"That wasnít it. Track, with the exception of my Grandfather Peter, my whole family hated fursÖ."
"And you didnít want to pass that along." Track shook hir head. "Will, you live on Chakona, for Makersí sake, and youíre one of the best parents that I know, despite the fact that you are not the sire to either of your children, who both happen to be furs. Bigotry is learned behavior and your kids arenít going to learn that from you!"
"I know, Track, but knowing it and feeling comfortable with it are two different things."
"Well, youíd better get your act together. When you tell Teri and Peter why their mom isnít coming home tonight, Teri will pick up on it if you arenít feeling good about Jo being pregnant. Besides, I know that you have a thing about pregnant females. Once you get Jo in your arms again, I predict that all of these concerns will go away."
Jo and Sungold left the examining room and turned into Sunís office. Jo sat down in a chair while Sun closed the door and pulled up a Ďtaur pad in front of hir desk and sat down. Jo said, "Well, if youíre not sitting behind the desk, I guess Iím not being chewed out."
Sun grinned and said, "Iím never upset when one of my staff members is pregnant, despite the headaches it can cause sometimes."
"Iíd think this is less of a headache for you, since Iíll be here on the station all week instead of commuting every day."
"Yes, and itís also nice on my budget. The shuttle fares and rent for your place is about one third of the cost of commuting daily by transporter. I trust youíve had the new resident orientation."
Jo smiled and said, "Yes, from Jason himself. I donít imagine that many people get that from the EMS manager. Of course, I could have about given it to him, since you put me on the committee that updated that recently, but it was still good for me to hear it. It means more when itís real."
"It does, which is why even experienced spacers get that talk when they start living here." Sunís PADD chimed and shi looked at it and said, "The genetic work-up that I ordered is done, so letís get this done and then you can go and call Will and the kids. Do you want to know the sex of your new kids?"
"Kids? Thatís a surprise, since my family doesnít usually run to twins." Jo smiled and rubbed her belly. "Please do tell me though. I believe that more information is almost always better."
"Very well, you are pregnant with twin girls. They are fraternal twins, not identical."
"Do you have any idea why Iím pregnant? Iíve been with Will for seven years and weíve never used any contraception, but nothing until now. The doctor we saw on Earth said we werenít compatible."
"Well, looking at the comparison between the gene scans, Iíd say that your kitsí sire might be Willís cousin, but not Willís." Jo came up out of her seat, but Sun made calming gestures and added, "Donít get riled, Jo. I know you havenít been with anyone else, you and Will are inseparable. The puzzling thing is that these same scans indicate that your cousin is the mother, and not you. Could somebody have implanted the embryos without your knowledge?" shi added with a smile.
Jo sat and stared at Sungold for a moment. "Sun, whatís going on here? Finding out that I was pregnant, from a transporter tech, mind you, was enough of a shock, but now this? It just doesnít make any sense. Iím about ready to throw my hands up and call it a miracle from God, but I donít think that He meddles with his followers that way."
"I agree. As you know, we have some very good genetic specialists here on Gateway. Geneticists and spacers go together. Iíve made an appointment with Dr. Quicktail tomorrow before your shift. Iíve also contacted Will and arranged for him to take the transporter up here. Meet him at 04:50 and youíll have time to have breakfast together before your appointment at 05:75."
Will, Teri and Peter gathered in their living room for Joís call. When the signal came through, Peter asked, "Momma, why canít you come home?"
Jo said, "I canít come home because Iím pregnant. Going through the transporter might hurt your sisters."
"Iím going to have baby sisters?"
Peter started jumping up and down. "Wait ítill I tell Spots. Hy said hyíd have brothers before I had sisters."
He picked up another comm handset to call his friend while Teri looked at Will and then asked Jo, "But you and Dad arenít compatible, why are you pregnant? Did you get inseminated?"
Will put his around Teriís shoulder and shi leaned up against him. Will said, "Your mom was inseminated, but it was the old fashioned way. Weíre not sure yet how it happened, but weíre going to see a doctor tomorrow to try and find out."
Teri turned to hir mom and asked, "Thereís no passenger shuttle tomorrow morning; how are you getting down?"
Jo said, "Iím not, Iíve still got to work this week. You dad is transporting up before I go to work and weíre seeing Dr. Quicktail here on the station."
Peter ran back up and asked, "Can we come too? I want to see Ringtail and Marsha and the other kids." Those were friends of his from the time he was staying in the daycare at the station, going back and forth with Jo so she could nurse him, and then continuing until he got too heavy for Jo to carry him home and he was switched to a day care in Curtisport. Joís shift ended after his bedtime, but he still got to see her every morning before she dropped him off and went to work.
Teri said, "Weíre on break from school and Dinae wonít mind if I miss one class. Weíre mostly just helping with the little ones anyway."
Will added, "We can afford the transporter fees for them, if Sun can get us authorization."
"I think I can talk hir into that," said Jo.
It turned out that Sungold didnít just provide authorization for Teri and Peter to use the Star Fleet transporter facilities, but also paid their fare. Like most organizations on Chakona, the Chakona Gateway Corporation was very family friendly and shi was convinced that the celebration of Joís conception should be done with the whole family.
Jo met her family at the transporter facility and, after hugs all around, she handed out temporary IDs and they went down to Bobbyís for breakfast. After breakfast, they headed toward the daycare near the hospital. Jo said, "Since you all came up, Sun gave me the day off." She put her hand on Peterís head and asked, "How would you like to stay at my flat tonight?"
"Yeah, thanks Momma!"
They left Peter at the daycare to play with his friends, but Teri decided to go with them to Dr. Ringtailís office.
They had just gotten settled in the examining room when a chakat entered and said, "Hello, Iím Ringtail. You are Doctor and Mister Cochran?"
Jo said, "Yes, and this is our daughter, Teri."
"Itís good to meet you all." Shi turned to Teri and asked, "Teri, are you exited about your new sisters?"
Ringtail smiled and said, "Good, but I donít think we need to be that formal." Shi turned back to Jo and Will and said, "Iíve looked at the results of Sungoldís examination and agree that everything seems normal, and I donít see any problems if you take the normal precautions for any pregnant female. Your medical record says that you have another child?"
"Yes, we left our son, Peter, playing with some friends at the daycare. He doesnít have the patience for this just yet," said Jo.
"I trust your previous pregnancies proceeded normally."
"Yes, both were full term and the deliveries normal."
Shi smiled and said, "I rarely get cases where a pregnancy is proceeding normally, but I do understand your curiosity at this unexpected event. I would prefer to have samples of Joís ovum, but I canít do that using the normal procedure while you are pregnant and, frankly, while I could extract an ovum with a needle biopsy, I donít think itís worth even that slight risk and discomfort. I would prefer to wait until your daughters are delivered."
Jo looked at Will and he said, "I agree, while I am curious, it can wait a while and it isnít worth jeopardizing the girls."
Jo nodded and turned back to Ringtail and added, "I agree."
"Very good." Shi took a package out of hir coat pocket and handed it to Jo. "This is a standard sperm collection kit. If you will take this sample and press the green button," shi pointed to the panel by the door, "when you are finished, Teri can come with me and we will bring back the kit to take a tissue sample of Willís testicles, if that is alright. The genetic analysis of these specimens will only take a few minutes and then we can start looking for some answers."
This was agreed to and Ringtail and Teri left, returning in a few minutes. Ringtail took the tissue sample and the sperm sample and put them into hir gene sequencer. After a few minutes, shi said, "I agree with Sungoldís assessment that your daughters seem more likely to be your cousins or nieces rather than your daughters. However," shi looked at Will, "your sperm and tissue samples do not match your baseline genome. Given this, you are definitely your daughtersí sire." He turned back to Jo. "If similar changes have been made to your ovaries, then you two have gone from not being fertile at all to being very fertile. If after the delivery of your daughters, if you do not want more children, you will need to use contraceptives or avoid having sexual intercourse while Jo is fertile. Despite this increased fertility, Willís tissues and sperm are still human and Joís are still typical for a fox morph of her genotype. The changes are small and your daughters should bear a strong resemblance to Jo and will have some of Willís features as well."
Jo asked, "What could have caused this? We were considering doing something along these lines but havenít had any procedures yet."
"I frankly donít know. The changes that have been made would be very expensive and are right at the cusp of our current capabilities in genetic engineering. If you agree, I will pass these results along to some colleagues of mine at Dewclaw University, with your identities not disclosed. Other than that, all I can say is congratulations on your twins and I wish you good health through your pregnancy."
Jo, Will, and Teri left Dr. Ringtailís office unsatisfied, but unsure of what else they should do now. Jo said, "Will, we obviously donít need any treatment from Dr. Springstep now, but maybe we should still arrange to see hir while weíre visiting my parents. Shi may have some more insight into this than Ringtail does."
"I agree. Do you want to send hir a message?"
"Yes, and also attach the results weíve had."
They picked up Peter at the daycare and then went to get some lunch. During lunch Peter asked, "Can we go visit Galileo while weíre here?"
Jo said, "Iím afraid not, Peter. Galileo and hir family are on C-shift and theyíre all asleep now." Galileo was one of three kits that Astra and hir family had, child of Nova and Lumis. Hir family included six adults, mated, and three children so far with another on the way. It was a smaller than usual mated group for Starwalkers, but they had decided to remain on Chakona Gateway rather than going to a colony, in part because of they were able to have all of the children they wanted.
Peter took another bite of his salad and then turned to his mother again. "Do they have farms on Gateway?"
Jo smiled and said, "Yes, they do. Most of the food is grown here on the station. They even have a farmersí market like we do in Curtisport."
"Can we go see it?"
"Yes, if you like, we can find something good for dinner and rent a kitchen to make supper."
Will asked, "You donít have a kitchen in your flat?"
"No, I have a cooler and a simple heater, but not a real kitchen. Iím in transient quarters for now, since weíll be leaving for Earth in a couple of weeks. Even many of the permanent quarters donít have kitchens but there are facilities available for rent that includes a kitchen, utensils, and a dining area. Some of them are located next to the dark side ring park. We can watch the sun set in Curtisport from there if youíd like."
The two ring parks were the largest public spaces on Chakona Gateway. They were located on the "highest" and "lowest" publicly accessible decks of the station, highest and lowest being relative terms. On those decks the station skin curved over nearly parallel with the decks, so those areas were set aside for the parks. The same side of the station always faced Chakastra, and most of that side of the station was covered with solar power collectors, which also shaded the station, except above the dayside ring park. There the windows in the hull formed a sky and it was in constant daylight.
The nightside park had similar windows above it, and the gravity field was reversed on that deck. This did not cause a problem because the cargo handling area was between the deck containing the nightside park and the rest of the station and it was kept gravity free to facilitate handling cargo containers.
They agreed that would be a good idea and, after finishing their lunch, took the lift to the farmersí market. As they walked through the market, Peter saw something and asked, "What are those?"
They walked up to the stall and Jo said, "Those are rabbits."
Peter turned to her and asked, "You mean like Stew?"
Jo laughed and said, "No. Just like we arenít really foxes, Stew isnít really a rabbit. These rabbits arenít people, they are food."
"Oh!" He turned to the chakat behind the counter and asked hir, "What do they taste like?"
Shi said, "Well, that depends on how you cook them."
"Why donít we have any on Chakona?"
"Itís against the law to import live rabbits to Chakona. When they were brought into Australia on Terra hundreds of years ago, they caused all sorts of problems. They are still trying to get rid of them there."
"Do you grow them?"
"Yes, they are very good for space stations because they donít require a lot of space and they have very good meat and can eat lots of things that would be wasted otherwise."
Peter turned to Will and asked, "Papa, can we have rabbit for supper?"
"I donít see why not. Since I donít want to spend all afternoon cooking, I guess stir-fried or kebabs would be the best way to fix them."
"Letís have kebabs!"
Will stepped up to the table, and said, "Kebabs it is." Turning to the chakat, he continued, "Weíll need about two and a half kilos of meat."
"Certainly, sir." Shi removed one from the cages behind hir and set is on the table. "How would you like it?"
"Dressed and de-boned, please."
Peter reached up and stroked its fur. "Itís soft. Can I have the fur?"
Will said, "We donít have any way to cure the hide here, and I donít think it would be a good thing to carry a raw pelt around with us."
The chakat said, "I know a couple of foxtaurs that can prepare the pelt in the traditional way, but it will take a while. It will cost an additional twenty five FCUís."
"I think we can handle that, go ahead please."
Shi took a device from the pocket of hir apron and then stopped and looked at Peter. Shi seemed uncertain. Jo said, "You can go ahead. We frequently visit the foxtaur village at Redpaws, where we have some friends. Peter is used to seeing animals dressed."
Shi nodded and held the device to the back of the rabbits head and activated it. The rabbit collapsed and shi quickly removed the pelt, dressed, and deboned it. Teri pointed to hir pocket and asked, "What is that?"
The chakat said, "Actually, itís a stunner. Itís keyed to my fingerprints so it wonít work for anyone else."
Peter asked, "It doesnít kill it?"
Teri said, "You can kill something with a stunner, but I think it would have to be real close and it wouldnít work on anything much larger than this rabbit."
The chakat nodded and added, "Thatís right. This one has to be placed right against something to work, and it also has sensors to measure the mass of what it is on. If itís too large, it wonít work."
Peter nodded and said, "Good, Tamar says the meat doesnít taste good if the animal suffers."
The chakat packed up the hide and the meat and Jo gave hir the address of the kitchen she had rented and what time to deliver it. Jo and Teri followed Peter and Will through the market to pick out vegetables to go with the rabbit.
After leaving the farmersí market, Teri asked hir mom, "Do you know where I can get model spaceships?"
"Yes, there is a hobby shop in the Mall. They have a good selection of model space ships up there."
They got on the lift and Jo punched for the Mall Terminal. Will asked Teri, "What kind of ship are you looking for?"
"I want to build a model of the Folly."
He chuckled and said, "I donít think youíre going to find a model of Nealís ship in the hobby shop."
"I know that, but Quickdash and Holly gave me plans for her. I want to try and find models that I can use to put together something like the Folly, like Neal did with the real ship."
The lift arrived and they got out, heading toward the rim. The Mall occupied most of one sector of the central deck of Chakona Gateway. The inboard end catered mostly to residents with stores stocking all of the things that people need anywhere. The outboard end, near the passenger docks, was mostly for transients, and mostly was restaurants, duty-free shops, and touristsí items. Shops for professional spacers and ship supplies were concentrated in another part of the station near the commercial docks.
Teri found models of both pod carrying ships and spherical cargo transports in 1:1000 scale. Shi looked a little concerned about the prices though. After some figuring on hir comm, shi approached the proprietor and asked about the models shi wanted. After some dickering, shi though shi could just swing it, until the proprietor said, "I notice that you have a transient ID. Where are you taking these?"
"Down to Chakona, we live in Curtisport."
The proprietor shook hir head. "What youíve got here exceeds the free allowance. Youíll need to tack on another fifteen percent to cover duties and transport fees."
Teri glanced at Will. Shi had hir own account from money shi had earned doing special chores and things for their neighbors. Will and Jo let hir spend that money how shi wanted to, but shi knew that asking for a handout wasnít going to do any good. Teri turned back to the proprietor and asked, "If I just get one of the pod carriers, will that be under the allowance?"
"Yes, that would be exempt."
"Letís do that, then. Weíre going to Earth after the New Year, and I can get one then, but the hobby shops at home donít have all this stuff like you do. Itís mostly Star Fleet ships and theyíre not as good as these."
"Well, Iíll see you next year, then." Shi handed Teri a card. "Send me a message when you are coming back and Iíll make sure that I have what you want in stock."
Teri scanned the card hir comm and gave it back to hir. "Thank you, Shir. Iíll see you next year."
"Do you want to take this with you or do you want it delivered somewhere?"
Teri looked hir mom and she said, "Thereís a package drop service at the departure terminal. You can pick it up there when you go down."
"Okay," Teri said. Shi turned back to the proprietor. "Please send it to the A14 departure terminal. Iíll get it tomorrow when we go home."
"Very well, good shir. Transfer the credit and scan your thumbprint on here for the release and it will be waiting for you."
Teri did that and made sure shi had the delivery receipt in hir comm, then they left and went to the observation port at the commercial docks to watch that a while before going to the kitchen that Jo had rented for dinner. The rabbit and produce they had bought was waiting for them, and Will, with the enthusiastic, if not particularly helpful assistance from Peter, started preparing their dinner. Teri downloaded the instructions for both models shi wanted and started going through them. Jo just relaxed and watched Chakona out the port as the terminator crossed Curtisport.
After dinner they went to Joís flat and got ready for bed. The bed was designed for a pair of chakats, so it was a little tight for the four of them, but Peter and Teri soon settled down and went to sleep. A little later, as Jo was going to sleep, she smiled and decided that taking Will and the kids to make frequent visits to Redpaws to stay with their friends in the foxtaur community there had definitely been worthwhile.
The next morning Jo took them to Bobbyís for breakfast and then they headed back to the hub so Will and the kids could beam back down. Jo said, "Willowleaf covered for me yesterday on short notice, so Iíll need to work to cover hir shift later this week."
Will asked, "So youíre working Fifthday?"
"Well, something else has come up too. Sun has had to take the rest of the week off. Hir mate was mauled by a scimitar cat."
"Good Lord! Is shi all right?"
"Shiís okay Ė some lacerations and shaken up. The repulsor field around their village had a breakdown and the cat tried to attack a cub, but Sunís mate got in the way. A full grown, healthy chakat in Ďprotect the cubí mode is a bit more than even a scimitar cat wants to deal with."
"How is shi doing?"
"A bunch of stitches, and shiís still in the clinic for observation. The police chief stopped by to chew hir out for going around unarmed."
"I can understand Sun wanting to be with hir. When will you be coming down?"
"Iíll be down the evening of Eighthday. Iíve already lined up a ride, so there wonít be any trouble getting down for Yearís End."
They got to the transporter station and Will said, "At least I donít have to worry about wild animals attacking you here. Weíll meet you at the spaceport."
He gave her a kiss and then the kids joined in for a group hug. Teri picked up hir model and Jo watched them beam down before going to the hospital for her shift.
"Open and close your handpaw," said Jo, with a cross look on her face.
Bluemask said, "Itís a little sore."
Jo glared at hir and put the chakatís handpaw on her arm and said, "Squeeze." Joís glare deepened and Bluemask squeezed harder. "Any sharp pain or numbness?"
"Okay, you can let go." Jo made some notes on her PADD and then looked up at the chakat on the examining table. "Bluemask, youíve been working in the warehouse up here for fifteen years. I know you know the rulesÖ"
"Donít move anything by hand in zero-g that masses more than you do," interrupted Bluemask. "Well, it was an empty carrier."
"I ought to write you up."
Bluemask rubbed the side of hir face and said, "My supervisorís already done that."
"Iím glad somebody has some sense around here. Go home and cuddle your mate and cubs. Donít go to work until after Yearís End. If you have any problems or the soreness doesnít go away or gets worse, go to the clinic or come back here. Do you work on Firstdays?"
"No, Thirddays through Seventhdays."
"Come in Firstday." The chakat gave her a doleful look and she continued, "Okay, since Firstday is First Landing, come back in on Secondday morning and let me take a look at it."
Bluemask left and a pair of tones sounded. Jo said, "Yes, Clyde?"
"Dr. Cochran, you have a visitor in the reception area."
"Thanks, Clyde. Iíll be there in a minute." Jo went to her office and plugged her PADD in its charging station, and took off her jacket and put it in the hamper on her way to reception. About half way there, she met a mouse morph coming up the passageway. "Sparks, are you my visitor?"
They hugged briefly and Sparks said, "Thatís me."
"Stand there for a second."
Jo walked around her while Sparks looked increasingly confused. Finally she said, "Um, Jo, what are you doing?"
"You werenít limping, your tailís not smashed, wiggle your fingers."
Sparks stuck her thumbs in her ears, crossed her eyes, stuck out her tongue, and wiggled her fingers at Jo.
Jo laughed and hugged her again, picking her up off of the floor. After she was set down, Sparks said, "Thatís more like it!" They turned toward the door and Sparks asked, "What was all that about? I half expected you to start pulling my clothes off to see if I had started turning purple."
"The last few days have been absolutely nuts. I think that people have been losing any shred of common sense they may have had. I usually work Firstday through Fourthday, so I havenít experienced ĎYearís End Madnessí before."
"Nothing serious, I hope."
Jo shook her head and said, "Some close calls, but everyone weíve seen will be able to celebrate the holiday with their families."
"I heard about a suit accidentÖ"
Jo stopped, turned to her, and frowned. "How did you hear about that?"
"Jo, Iím a spacer on a space station. That sort of thing goes around fast."
Jo started walking again. "Well, Ms. Spacer, you know that vacuum accidents come in two varieties. The victim is either repressurized in time, which means there are no lasting affectsÖ"
"Or theyíre not, and you fetch the body bag."
Jo nodded. "Three minutes is pushing it, even for a chakat, but this was the first type."
"Thank the makers for that. What happened?"
"You know I canít answer that. The important thing is that shiís back with hir family."
They walked out of the hospital and Jo asked, "Where are we going?"
A few minutes later they were seated in The Gateway Grill Ė Serving Finest Vat Raised Beef in the Federation, Inc. Most people just called it The Grill and Jo knew that many people preferred the steaks here to the beef imported from Earth that the Lunar Intergalactic served. They placed their orders and Jo said, "Iím used to the Ďfood for adviceí exchange in my business, but this ranks way up on that scale. Whatís going on?"
"We have a new mother on Tinker and need some advice."
"Well, you and Arcs have both had kids before, and you have grandkids. Who is she, or shi?"
Sparks shook her head and said, "Nope."
"Hy?" asked Jo. It surprised her that they had a skunktaur on board, but they could.
Sparks shook her head again. "Nope, whatís left?"
Sparks nodded. "Talssist is a Merraki. It seems heís decided that Arcs and I are the Clan Fathers on Tinker and has asked us to help feed his kids."
"Merraki are warm blooded, but not mammals. Their young are fed by regurgitation."
"Thatís precisely the problem."
"How many children does he have?"
Their meals arrived and Jo started eating, while Sparks looked like she had lost her appetite. Jo said, "Pediatrics, particularly Merraki pediatrics, are nowhere near my specialty. I donít know how much help I can be."
"The kids arenít sick, we just need some help convincing Talssist that we canít actually do this, um, personally."
"I can understand that. Do you have any wolftaurs in your crew?"
"One, and heís made it clear that he isnít helping with this."
"Why come to me?"
"You know that Merraki are very protective of their children?"
"No, but it makes sense. They literally have all their eggs in one basket. Lay one clutch and they start changing and by the time the eggs hatch, they are male and thatís it for them."
"Well, to convince him of this, we need a doctor who is a member of the extended family."
"How do I qualify as family?"
"Shady said that you are pregnant because of some ĎFolly majikí, so shi decided that makes you family and twisted Nealís arm until he agreed." She took a Folly comm badge out of her pocket and laid it on the table. "Merraki have halfway decent noses, so youíll need to wear this for the next few days so it will have your scent on it."
"What does Shady know about my pregnancy?"
"Thatís all shi said, I swear!"
"Do they have a real-time FTL link set up to the system where they were attacked yet?"
"Neal had put together a relay string to the colony, but the best route for that and their route werenít very close. The connection is fine for sending information back and forth, but a real time connection isnít very consistent."
"Can I try to talk to them? Who should I talk to?"
Sparks thought for a second before saying, "Iíd say Shady, but it might help to have Weaver there as well. I canít say how good the connection will be."
Jo picked up the comm badge and fastened it to her blouse, under her hospital comm badge. "When do you want me to come over to Tinker?"
"Firstday before your shift, if thatís okay. We can pick you up in Curtisport and give you a lift. Weíre going to my sister, Passionís, for Yearís End and Eddie and Joan are coming up with us to look at Tinker. They asked if Teri could come along."
"Iíll talk to Will, but I donít see a problem with that. Iíll do a little checking up before then. Why didnít Arcs come with you?"
Sparks rolled her eyes. "Shiís entirely too gung-ho about this and is trying to figure out how to puke on demand."
Jo smiled and took another bite. "Howís that working out?"
"Not too well. Please tell hir that shi canít do this, or tell Talssist that itís bad for the kids."
"Iíll see what I can do."
The next morning, Jo had a message from Sparks that Talssist had taken one whiff of what Arcs had produced and rejected it out of hand, saying that he wouldnít let it anywhere near his hatchlings. They had copied what he had brought up and scanned it into their replicator and were trying that with a caulking gun, but that wasnít working too well either. Jo knew from her research that Talssist could keep up with the hatchlings for about a week by himself, but then he would have to have help. Fortunately, the hatchlings were "weaned" in only six to eight weeks, but they had to find something that would work until then.
Since she was still on her Curtisport schedule, she had several hours before her shift started, so she went back to the hobby shop in the Mall before heading to a Merraki deli that she had found in the station directory.
The deli was located near one of the farming sections of the station and, from the advertisement in the directory, it seemed likely that they grew their own produce. She walked into the store and the Merraki behind the counter turned to her and said, "We donít get many mammals here. What can I do for you, or are you lost?"
She put on her "no teeth" smile that she had perfected on Earth and said, "No, Iím in the right place. Iím a physician at the hospital and I have some friends who run a ship. They have a Merraki on their crew whose clutch has just hatched and asked meÖ"
Jo wasnít familiar with Merraki body language, but while she was talking he had clenched his hands into fists, moved his elbows outward, and his chest swelled up, looking like a body builderís pose. She didnít think this a was friendly posture, and he interrupted, "His elders will take care of this. There is no need for your interference."
"Thatís the problem. There are no Merraki elders, heís by himself on the ship and heís going to need help feedingÖ"
"No! Get out!" he said, charging her. Jo turned and ran from the shop. The Merraki stopped in the door and shouted, "Donít come back," and added something else that didnít make it through his translator, which Jo thought was just as well.
She decided to walk back to the hospital so she could collect herself and think about what to do next. As shi came into the hospital, the nurse at the admissions desk asked, "Jo, is something upsetting you?"
She smiled and said, "No, Firestreak, just something on my mind. Is Astra free?"
"Shiís in Surgery Three."
"Thank you, Streak."
Jo went down to her office and saw that there was a small box sitting on her desk. She opened it and pulled out a thin, metal chain which she had ordered the night before. Attaching it to the Folly comm badge that Sparks had given her, she fastened it around her neck, so the comm badge hung down inside her blouse, between her breasts.
She tapped her Gateway comm badge and said, "Clyde, please have Astra contact me before shi goes home."
"Yes, Dr. Cochran."
"Thank you." She pulled a clean jacket out of the locker and put it on, then picked up her PADD and hoped the day went more smoothly than the last couple of days had been.
"Momma, wanna íponics!" said Peter.
"Where did you hear about hydroponics?" asked Jo, through the holo-projector in the Cochransí living room.
"Shir Greenthumb tolí me about it. Itís how shi grows stuff on Gateway."
Jo smiled and said, "Weíll see, but itís bed time, so give your dad a hug."
"Wanna hug Momma!"
"I know, love. Iíll be back tomorrow night and Iíll give you a hug then."
"Wanna hug NOW!" said Peter, sitting back down and crossing his arms.
Will sat down next to him, picked him up and set him in his lap. "If youíre good tonight and go to bed, you can sleep with Momma and me tomorrow night."
"Like at Tamarrís house?" Tamarr was a foxtaur todd. He and his mates lived in the foxtaur village at Redpaws and the Cochrans were regular visitors since Will and Jo had met him while hiking in that area soon after moving to Chakona.
Will said, "Yes, like at Tamarrís house."
"Can Spots come over?"
"No, Spots and hir family are going to New Bletchley tomorrow to be with hir dadís family."
"Oh yeah." Peter gave his dad a hug and then said, "Gínight, Momma."
"Good night, Peter."
Peter went upstairs to his room while Teri came up and gave Will a hug. Shi asked, "Since weíre going to dinner at Domiís house tomorrow, can I stay there?"
Will said, "No, not this time, Teri. Weíre going to church the next morning and you and I have to be there early for rehearsal. I donít want to make them get up early on a holiday."
Shi gave Will another hug and said, "Okay. Goodnight, Dad." Shi turned to the image of Jo and said, "Good night, Mom."
"Good night, Teri. I love you."
"I know. Love you too."
After Teri went upstairs, Will said, "I got the package you sent down. Itís taken care of."
"Good. I think that takes care of everything. What do you think about Peterís fascination with hydroponics?"
"Surprised, frankly. He still isnít quite two standard years old yet."
"Morphs do Ďgrow upí faster than human children, but Iím not sure if itís a good idea right now."
"I agree. If we give that to him now and then leave in a couple of weeks for our trip, he wonít be able to bring it with him."
"Can you find a hydroponics game for his PADD and get it installed?"
"Iíll see what I can find, but itís a little bit of a stretch. I think we ought to wait on the actual hydroponics set, even though it will disappoint him."
"Yes, if heís still interested when his birthday comes around, we can give it to him then."
"His birthday on the Earth calendar will be when weíre visiting Australia. He mentioned hydroponics in the last message he recorded for Sean. Iíll talk to Sean about it; he might want to arrange to buy it for Peter from someone here on Chakona, and have it delivered in time for Peterís birthday on our calendar."
"That might work. I still hate that Peterís been separated from his sire like this."
"I do to, but he is in regular contact with Sean. I think everything will go alright when they meet on Earth. Have you had any luck with Arcsí and Sparksí little problem?"
"If they donít figure out how to help Talssist feed the hatchlings, it wonít be a little problem much longer. Iím meeting Astraís mate, Nebula, and a Merraki engineer who works with hir at Gateway Shipfitters tomorrow morning."
"I hope it goes better than your encounter with that shop keeper."
"If it doesnít, Iíll have to get Child Protective Services involved. Iím afraid that they donít have any more experience with this than I do and itís likely to turn into a mess with Talssist, Arcs, and Sparks stuck in the middle and everybody upset and angry."
"Well, thereís not anything we can do about that right now. I wish you were here now."
"I do too, Will, but I couldnít say no when Sun asked me to cover for hir since Iíll be out for ten weeks on our trip."
"I understand, but that doesnít mean I like it. I love you, Jo."
"I know, and I love you too, Will."
Jo met Nebula and a Merraki at the Cup oí Gold in the 10-F-2 section of the C-shift residential area. Nebula came up and said, "Hello Jo, long time no see."
Jo gave hir a hug. Nebula affected a southern North American drawl, which reminded Jo of home, but also of the incidents leading to their emigration to Chakona. She said, "Hello Nebula. Thanks."
Shi moved hir hand as if to tip the hat shi wasnít wearing. "My pleasure." They walked up to the table against the wall and shi said, "Jo, this is Slisseran. Heís an engineer who works with me. Slisseran, this is Jo Cochran, a surgeon who works with my mate, Astra."
Jo said, "Hello Slisseran, thank you."
"Hello Jo. Please have a seat and order something. I understand this is your breakfast."
Jo glanced at the plate in front of the Merraki and saw that he had an omelet. She had wondered if Merraki would be sensitive about eating eggs, but apparently not. She punched in an order for an omelet and a cup of hot tea and the robot delivered it in a few minutes while they exchanged pleasantries.
After Jo had started eating, Slisseran turned on the privacy screen around the table and said, "Nebula told me a little about your problem."
"Slisseran, I donít want to cause offence, but when I talked to the proprietor of the Merraki deli, heÖ"
"I understand, but he is rather conservative. This is a touchy subject among Merraki. It is something like me coming to you and asking if I can watch you and your mate engaged in sexual activity."
"I understand that nowÖ"
"Then we can proceed. The health of the hatchlings is at stake here."
"Perhaps it would be better if you could come and talk with Talssist."
"That would not be a good idea. As you have no doubt found out, new mothers are very protective of their young. At this stage he would see me as a threat."
"Then what can we do? They have programmed the replicator to produce theÖ"
Jo nodded and continued, "Produce the food and have made a device, like a caulking gun, to deliver it, but the hatchlings will not take it from them."
"I understand. Our hatchlingsí feeding behavior is triggered by a combination of visual, tactile, and olfactory cues. The odor of the food takes care of the olfactory part, and this is what you must doÖ."
The rest of the day was not as busy as the last few had been, but got hectic at the end of Joís shift and she had to have Clyde reschedule her trip down to a later shuttle, a two hundred carrier AO cargo shuttle ĎPort of Berdooviaí. Her last patient wasnít even a trauma case, but an elderly cat morph suffering from renal failure, and she was the only surgeon available.
Shi finished closing after implanting the dialysis pump and said, "Clyde, closing checklist."
"State physician of record."
She said, "Josephine Cochran."
Jo went through the rest of the checklist while thinking about the shuttle schedule, but not looking at the clock. An orderly, a bear morph, came in as they finished it and Jo said, "Hello, Steve. This is Emily Trusdale and sheís being admitted."
"Okay, Jo." He checked the wrist band and said, "Clyde, wristband confirms patient name is Emily Trusdale. Where does she go?"
"Patient Emily Trusdale is assigned to room 218 in the inpatient section. Iíve notified the nursing station and the family."
"Thank you." He rolled the bed out the door and said, "Letís go for a ride, Ms. Trusdale."
Jo chuckled at that, since Ms. Trusdale was still under anesthesia. She went to her office and dropped her PADD into its charger and then went out to the transit station in the emergency ward. She normally didnít do this, since it was supposed to be for emergency use, but being a senior physician did give her certain perks and she was short of time. She told it, "15-D-3 Cargo Terminal."
When she got off the transit pod, she headed for a door marked "Restricted Area: Authorised Personnel Only." The monitors scanned her badge and the security system matched her biometric ID to the one on file and opened the door for her.
She went to the dock where her shuttle was scheduled to leave. She had five minutes until the lock seal, but when she went it, the shuttle wasnít there. She stood there staring out the port at the empty docking clamps.
"Dr. Cochran? Can I help you?"
Jo turned around and walked up to the kiosk with a chakat standing behind it in an Amistad Orbital uniform tunic. She said, "I was scheduled to take the Port of Berdoovia down to Curtisport. Has she already left?"
"No, maíam. They found a problem with one of the thrust turbines and pulled it into a maintenance bay. We sent you a message."
"I got tied up and didnít check my message before coming down here. Do you have anything else going down?"
"No, weíre shut down until after the holidays." Shi pulled up something on hir screen. "Thereís an independent going to Amistad tomorrow night. Will that help?"
"Is there a sub-orbital from Amistad to Curtisport available after it gets there?"
"No, maíam. Thereís space on the red-eye to Curtisport Firstday morning."
Jo snorted. "Thatíll get me there just in time to come back here."
"Is there anything I can do for you?"
Jo glanced down at the chakats ID. "No, thank you, Starbouncer. Have a good holiday."
"Thank you, maíam."
Jo turned and left the docking port, but Starbouncer had seen the comm badge with the stylized F on the chain around her neck. Shi punched hir comm and, when it was answered, said, "Hey, thereís somebody here that could use a hand."
To be continued.
Copyright © 2010 Tim Rumph tarumph AT gmail.com
Chakats, Chakona and the Chakat Universe are the creation of Bernard Doove and are used with his permission.
Skunktaurs were created by Bob Reijns.
Boronike, Arcs Foster, and Sparks Foster were created by Allen Fesler.
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