Tales Of The Foxtaur Clans #4

A Busy Day

by Bernard Doove © 1999

Ketta embraced Stargrey, kissing her mate fervently prior to hir departure for work. Each day it was the same: neither wished to be apart from each other. And now, the mates were also getting excited about the imminent arrival of their child. Nevertheless, Stargrey still needed to go to hir job, especially now that Ketta had cut down on her hours at the diner since the burden of her advanced pregnancy had begun to be a strain. The foxtaur vixen could still do plenty of physical activity as, like all taur species, the four-legged stance made carrying a baby much easier, but the cub was now almost fully grown and ready to come into the world, and a full day of running around left her exhausted. However, today was to be the last before she went on maternity leave.

The Chakat finally broke the embrace, turned and headed for the door, waving hir tail in farewell. "See you at Carol's tonight, Love!" Every day shi said that, and Ketta still thrilled to the thought of it. The couple were eagerly looking forward to the day in June when they could officially declare themselves lifemates after the mandatory year since becoming den-mates. Their relationship had continued to grow closer; each discovering more about each other and liking what they found. The old Ketta virtually no longer existed, the last vestiges of hir spitefulness and hatred having been swept away since she and Goldfur had finally made their peace back at the Christmas party. Stargrey presently had no desire whatsoever to find another mate to bear a child of hir own and Ketta had learned to pleasure the Chakat's female side when it was in ascendancy. To her surprise, she found that she greatly enjoyed it. This would have shocked her old self, but only served to strengthen her caring for her unusual mate now. She watched hir pass through the door, and turn down the corridor, showing hir shapely profile before hir prehensile tail drew the door shut behind hir. Ketta had to grin when she realised just how much she enjoyed those glimpses. Shaking her head in happy disbelief, she set about her morning chores.

Ketta cleared the mess left over from their breakfast, restoring the kitchen to the pristine state that they both preferred. She saw that they would need to re-stock on several items, especially eggs, and decided she would need to do a run down to the supermarket later. She donned a pretty halter that both covered and supported her breasts which had started swelling as her pregnancy reached near to full term. Neither she nor her mate usually wore clothes while in the privacy of their den, but lately Ketta had started wearing a halter more often because, unlike Chakats, her breasts weren't as self-supporting and she didn't want them stretched out of shape. She still had a touch of vanity about her looks and didn't go for the all-natural approach of her clan in this particular matter. Ketta spent the next couple of hours doing fairly mundane jobs like cleaning the fur out of the shower drain, airing their bedding, spraying a bit of Flea-Ban around the bedroom and living room, and straightening the lounging rugs. The pair were very house-proud and it showed in the little things they did. Stargrey would do hir share of the chores when shi got home from work, before shi went to the diner to walk Ketta home. That way, the lovers had the rest of the night to themselves, and they certainly made the most of it!

Ketta left a little early to get the groceries she wanted before going to the diner. She trotted down the stairs and out into the courtyard of the small apartment complex which had been her home now for nearly a year. It was a modest but well-maintained place, with a very attractive garden in the centre. Ketta even had a small vegetable plot there to grow fresh ingredients for their cooking, drawing on the agrarian skills of hir clan. Stargrey was rather pleased with that talent, claiming that shi had no such abilities. "I've got a brown thumb!" shi explained. "It helps if you water them, dear!" was Ketta's reply. So watering them became Stargrey's responsibility, which shi would do with almost too much enthusiasm. Ketta nurtured the garden and it was starting to provide them with a variety of delicious foods, some of which they shared with their neighbours. Ketta waved cheerily to those who were in the courtyard at the time, some of them attending to their own flower and vegetable beds. They greeted her cheerfully. The couple were quite popular amongst the inhabitants of the apartments, their air of affection and contentment seeming to rub off on the others. Another enormous change from her previous life, Ketta reflected. She had learned a lot about getting along with others in her time at Carol's and then later with her mate. A good thing too, as these apartments were predominantly inhabited by various morph species, including a Chakat triad, and she needed to be able to get along with them all.

Ketta exited the gate onto the street and turned right. She trotted at a brisk but easy pace down the path that led past a few more apartments. This was the closest residential area located right at the boundary of the spaceport town. Just across the road, there were a few technology parks, one of which was Stargrey's usual workplace when shi wasn't at the spaceport itself. Down the road a short distance was the supermarket where Ketta quickly purchased their needs before proceeding on her route. She had been walking this path almost every day since moving in with Stargrey, and the route had a comfortable familiarity. She knew every step of the way almost without having to look, but she still enjoyed the walk. After the supermarket and shopping mall was a large property with a huge hangar-style building on it. This was Old Ed's Garage, operated by a Quange mechanic who, along with his foxmorph partner, Roy, specialised in working on large transport vehicles of all sizes, right up to the gigantic class V Star-Rigs. Despite the fact that the class fives were nearly a hundred metres long, two of them could be comfortably parked inside. It took a few minutes to walk past the frontage of this building, but that was never dull either. The wall and doors facing the street were all painted by the local children, decorated with various degrees of skill. Ed encouraged this creativity by awarding a little prize to the best new addition each week. Ketta thought it was pretty sneaky of him, as it beautified what could have easily been an eyesore and helped amuse the youth in the area. Ed's walls had only been vandalised once, but the culprits had almost been lynched by the outraged artists and there had never been a problem since. Ed had invited Ketta inside for a look once, and she had been fascinated by all the machinery inside, most of it fully automated so that virtually any repair could be handled by just the two of them. Ketta had watched them work on a Cosmoliner. Roy had disappeared into the bowels of the machine, his little body getting into places the much bigger Quange had no hope of accessing. What Ketta had found most fascinating was the way that they worked together without talking. Roy would just stick his hand out of a hatch and Ed would hand him the right tool without a word. She wondered whether there was telepathy involved or just an utter familiarity from a long partnership. Oh, sure they chatted while they worked, but it was just conversation and very little related to the work they were actually doing at the time.

Ed's garage backed up to an exit ramp of the hyperway that was the lifeblood of the spaceport. Constructed to accommodate the enormous Star Rigs, it had been built along a natural ridge that had been flattened to suit its new purpose. It was elevated above most of the landscape and dominated the scenery and, unless you were in a tall building, nothing could be seen beyond the half kilometre wide road except a stylish communications tower that serviced the New Canaveral Spaceport. The warehouses of many shipping companies and the various service industries had grown up on that side of the hyperway, while this side of the artery had become mainly residential areas or shopping precincts for those who worked in those businesses or the spaceport itself. Efficient sound deflecting methods ensured that noise from the hyperway was almost non-existent while the ridge itself blocked sound pollution from the busy port area. The exit utilised a spur ridge, curving down and around in a long slow sweep. It was a bit steep though and some unwary truckers had found out why it was nicknamed Suicide Slope by the locals. Safety barriers showed ample evidence of the carelessness of a few drivers, but so far they had withstood the battering. Ed's garage was located on the outside curve of the ramp, giving it convenient access to the hyperway. Because it was the last exit before the spaceport itself, Ed got a lot of business from regular truckers. One of the biggest attractions though was Carol's Diner, nestled within the loop of the exit ramp.

Ketta had to walk through a tunnel that took her underneath the ramp. Directly after that was the spacious parking area for the various rigs that stopped there while their drivers refuelled their empty stomachs. It had enough room for a couple of Star Rigs and several smaller vehicles besides, and was quite frequently nearly full, testimony to the popularity of the cuisine and atmosphere of the diner. Beyond the diner, the roads rapidly became rather normal. Accessibility for the class fives was limited to the parking lot and the tunnel under the hyperway to the commercial areas. A long row of large mature trees fronted the lot, a few more clustered in an open-air dining area at the rear of the diner, giving both some much-needed shade and softening the harshness of the open lot. They consisted of a mixture of pines and eucalypts, the latter she had learned had been imported from Australia centuries ago and found the climate to their liking. Because they were evergreens, they were preferred over the local deciduous varieties, and Ketta had to admit that they were rather graceful, although she was more used to the Californian redwood forests surrounding the Mountain Glade Community.

The building was rather large for a diner, but this had suited Carol and Joe when they had bought the place to renovate it with Quange customers in mind. The equitaurs needed all the space that they could get, and seeing as a large number of the Star Rigs and Cosmoliners were driven by them, the diner was often quite crowded. Besides, the location certainly couldn't be beaten. The building had a grill and snack bar built at the rear, but that was used mostly during the warmer weather. The weather was still cool, but lunchtimes often saw a crowd outside. During the winter though, the only dining done in the snow would be at the next Christmas party. The place was basically round and the diner was set up carousel style. In fact the original name for the place had been The Carousel, but it had long since been renamed Carol's Gulp-N-Gallop, first by the customers, then later by Carol herself when she realised the recognition factor of the name.

Ketta reached the large double doors at the front of the diner. Not counting the stop at the supermarket, the trip took her about ten minutes at her normal pace. She could see her apartment from there, although Ed's garage came close to blocking that view. She enjoyed that walk every time, no matter what the weather, although she wasn't so keen on days of heavy rain. The walk helped get her energy level up so that she was ready to get straight to work when she walked in the door. Ketta pushed open one of the big doors and stepped inside, met by a babble of conversation mixed with the various noises of a diner in full swing. She waved to a few of the regulars as she walked behind the counter. Carol nickered a greeting and Joe added a grunt as she went into the small storeroom where she stashed her groceries and put on her waitress's uniform. She still grinned when she thought of the huge Quange-sized uniform that Carol had given her the first night that she had worked there. Now she had a custom-made uniform with her name sewn onto it and Ketta was proud to wear it. Perhaps a waitress wasn't the most prestigious job in the world, but she was very good at it and she loved the people she met and worked with. And it had brought her the dearest person in her life, and for that she would always be grateful.

Ketta had arrived just as the lunchtime rush was starting. Her morning-shift counterpart, a pretty bay Quange filly named Sally who'd finish after the lunch rush, came back to the counter with a tray full of dirty plates. Ketta greeted her as she put them into the dishwasher. "Hi Sally! How did your exam go last night?"

Sally was taking a night course in agronomy, paying her way by working at the diner. "Great, Ketta! I think I aced it!"

"That's good news! I hope the rest of the year goes as well. Which tables have you got?"

"Nine, thirteen and fourteen. The people at eleven have just arrived."

"Okay, I'm on it!"

And so started another typical day at Carol's Diner. Joe tirelessly cooked and filled the orders brought by the waitresses. Carol added her extra portion of hospitality that made the Gulp-N-Gallop such a popular place to meet and eat. The mare wasn't big as Quange go, but she had learned to make good use of her mass and was able to muscle her way past most obstacles in a crowded diner. She could also carry a great number of trays on a special holder strapped to her back somewhat like a saddle. Ketta, being much smaller, had developed her own techniques. She used her size and limber form to weave around, through and sometimes even under the customers. She had startled a few of them by popping up out of nowhere with a cheerful greeting and a request for their orders. That had been getting a little harder lately though, a swollen belly tending to get in the way. It did get her noticed a bit more than normal and the regulars often asked her how long before the cub was due. This time she told them all, "Next time you see me, I'll be a mother!"

"Does that mean that I can see the cub if I come back in a couple of hours?" one joker asked.

For an answer, Ketta swatted him on the rump and gave him a mock glare. The culprit just laughed uproariously, as did his companions. It was the right response for these rough but good-hearted people. On another occasion a few days past when Stargrey had come into the diner for lunch, shi had given Ketta a farewell kiss as shi headed back to work. A Quange stallion in the next booth asked loudly, "Do all your customers get a kiss when they pay the bill?"

Ketta turned to him and, while patting her pregnant form, said, "Sure, providing you become my mate and get me pregnant too!"

The customer merely grinned and replied, "Well I'm willing to try, but the missus might object to another filly in the house! Haw! Haw!"

Ketta just had to shake her head and admit she had lost that round. She paid up by giving him a quick lick and nuzzle as he was about to leave. He was a little surprised, but rather pleased. Despite his words, he hadn't really expected anything. In fact Ketta's popularity was rather remarkable due to the fact she was a carnivore in a diner that specialised in herbivore clientele. Many had an instinctive distrust of her kind, but she had won their trust and affection over the months and it was little touches like that had won her that position.

For a while, things proceeded normally. Many Quange came and went, as well as a few other species. Even a few that were carnivores in the wild were actually omnivores in the morph version, and Joe's cooking was appreciated by all who dined there. Ketta still wondered how he managed to run the kitchen practically by himself and still do such a great job. The lunchtime rush was over and Ketta was helping Carol clear the tables when she noticed that the sky was darkening. Soon the first drops of rain started falling. Carol joined Ketta at the window briefly, murmuring, "Suicide Slope is going to be busy this afternoon."

Ketta nodded mutely in agreement. The weather had been warm and dry for some time and this rain would quickly make the roads slippery. There was always someone who didn't believe the speed restrictions on the off-ramp, hence the battering the safety barriers often took. For years, Old Ed had been getting repair work as a result of these and he actually liked this weather. Carol and Ketta went back to work, but it was scarcely a quarter of an hour later when there was a loud rumble and crash, followed by a shockwave that shook the diner and startled the patrons.

A trucker seated at the window exclaimed, "Jeez! I just saw a class IV rig disappear off the ramp. I think it's gotten through the barriers and crashed into Ed's garage!"

Everyone scrambled to the windows to have a look, although nothing could be seen from there except a small plume of smoke coming from behind the ramp. Ketta made a beeline for the comm and dialled up the emergency service. Shi was quickly answered by a familiar face. Sadly, Ketta had needed to make this call far too many times.

"Emergency services. What is the nature of... oh, hello Ketta."

"Francine, it's Suicide Slope again"

"What, when and who?" Mutual familiarity kept the questions terse and to the point.

"A Class IV rig was just seen to crash off the ramp. We believe it has smashed into Old Ed's Garage. Some people have gone out to investigate. Keep the line open and I'll relay the details."

As Ketta was speaking, she could see the emergency operator working at her control board. "Okay. Paramedics, rescue and police have been notified." The urgent deeds done, Ketta and Francine took care of the bureaucratic details that would have slowed up the response. As they finished, Sally trotted inside and came up to the comm to report. Ketta moved aside to let the filly talk directly to Francine.

A little breathlessly, Sally said, "It's a class four rig loaded with steel. It crashed right through Ed's building and is sticking out the other side. The cabin is crushed and it looks like the driver is trapped. However, the smoke we saw seems to have been a fire from chemicals in the garage and not the rig itself. Ed seems to have dealt with that already. We think that the driver is the only casualty... except for Ed's temper!"

Francine smiled wryly. "Thanks. I'll pass that on. I have to go now. Your help is appreciated as always." With that, she clicked off. Ketta wanted to go look for herself, but Carol had already succumbed to curiosity and she couldn't go until Carol returned. That wasn't long though, but the mare asked her to be quick.

"Don't be too long, honey. Ah reckon this place is going to be a madhouse soon!"

Ketta nodded and trotted off quickly. She could hear the approaching sirens of the first emergency vehicles. "A bit slow," she thought. "This weather is probably causing a lot of problems at once." The rain had eased off to scattered showers which meant that the curious crowd wasn't forced inside. Once she got through the tunnel and past the crowd, she could see the massive tangle of steel beams scattered about, some impaling the hangar building that was the main workshop, but fortunately missing the office block. There was a massive hole on this side where the heavily laden transport had plunged through, scarcely slowed by the walls. She could glimpse some machinery inside that had taken a battering though and had probably done more to slow down the rig. She trotted quickly around to the other side where she found the cabin and half the trailer protruding from the opposite wall. The paramedics had arrived and were swarming over the cabin, trying to get to the driver. Ketta encountered Ed nearby, his hands on his hips, looking over the damage and shaking his head in disbelief. Ketta put a hand on his flank to get his attention and, after a moment, he looked down at her.

"Oh! Hello Ketta. Come to see the show?"

"Umm, yes," Ketta admitted. "But how are you? You didn't get hurt did you? Or anyone else inside?"

"Nope. We were just heading off for a coffee break when it happened. Scared the living daylights out of us, let me tell you!"

"I can imagine. It shook the diner hard enough. How are you feeling now? And what about Roy?"

Ed gave Ketta a crooked smile. "I'm okay, but we had to pry Roy off a chair. We left him over there." He raised a hand to point to his little partner, sitting under a tree, blankly watching what was happening. Ketta noticed that Ed's hand was rather unsteady though.

"I think that you both had better come back to the diner with me and we'll get a good mug of hot coffee into you." She took his hand and tugged insistently. The Quange reluctantly allowed himself to be dragged away, but not before notifying a police officer of his intended whereabouts. They collected the mute foxmorph and headed off through the crowd, back to the diner. Between all the emergency vehicles, crew and gawkers, this was rapidly getting very crowded. Carol had been right though. A number of the people who had been attracted to the crash chose to stop at the diner for a cup of coffee or a snack. Ketta was kept busy for quite a while after she got back. Ed and Roy sat at a table and commiserated. They lamented the destruction of his workshop with Carol who told them to be grateful that the rig hadn't landed on them, and their insurance would cover them anyway, so there was no reason to be miserable. Ketta kept getting updates from various customers coming in throughout the afternoon. Apparently the driver was extricated alive, although badly injured. Heavy rescue equipment had been called in to get a beam off the cabin and hauled the rig out of the wall. A clean-up crew from the company whose truckload of steel was responsible for the mess, came in to clear it all up and remove the tonnes of girders and beams. A manager from the same company was presently sitting in the booth with Old Ed, negotiating damages. The booth had become their temporary office while the authorities were preventing anyone but emergency crews from entering the damaged building.

Just as things were quietening down, the dinnertime rush began. About midway, Ketta heard a commotion coming from a back booth. With a sigh, she went to investigate, but before she got there, there came a startled squeal. As she reached the booth from where all the ruckus coming, she realised she was treading in some liquid. Walking in spilled drinks was an occupational hazard for the barefooted vixentaur, but it was still distasteful. Then as she looked at the source of all the noise, she realised she might be wrong about the source of the fluid. A beautiful, young and very gravid rabbit doe was clutching her swollen belly and panting while a distraught buck, young also and presumably her mate, dithered over her.

The doe caught Ketta's eye and confirmed her fears. "My waters just broke! Call an ambulance, please!"

Ketta nodded, but realised she had more than one problem on her hands. They looked to be both in their late teens and neither prepared for this eventuality. She clapped a hand on the male's shoulder, grabbing his attention, distracting him from the situation. "Sir! I presume this is your mate? She needs your help."

The rabbit stared at her for a moment, then nodded. "Of course! I just wasn't expecting this now," he said.

"Is this your first then? When was the child due?"

The buck nodded affirmatively to the first question, then stammered out, "A w-week... eight days!"

Ketta gently pulled him out of the booth and firmly pushed him in the direction of the public comm unit. "Call an ambulance. I'll make your mate comfortable."

"But..." he started to object.

"Go! I've done this before. Now hurry!" Ketta insisted firmly. The rabbit suddenly got his head together and headed off to make his call. Ketta then turned her attention to the doe who had just squeaked again. "Hi! My name's Ketta. What's yours, hon?"

"Kathy. You're pregnant too? Then you have done this before?" the doe answered.

"Nope. This is my first one too." Ketta grinned at her. "I needed to calm your mate down first. The experience that I mentioned consists of watching my younger brother being born, but he didn't need to know that!"

Kathy laughed a little. "You were right. Thanks!"

"Not a problem, dear, but let's get you comfy while we wait for the paramedics. We do home births all the time back at my village, so I do know something about this." While she talked, she piled a few cushions on one of the lounging pads for the Quange customers, helped the doe out of the wet seat she was on and let her recline on the makeshift bed. Fortunately, because the seats were made to accommodate such large customers, the rabbit morph had plenty of room. Carol came over to find out what was happening. Ketta explained and asked her to watch her tables while looked after the doe. Carol nodded, happy to leave this to Ketta, who wasn't terribly thrilled about the situation but found herself obligated to follow through.

"I'll steer the customers to the other side of the diner," Carol added, then prodded a Quange customer on the nose. He had been staring at the what was happening in the neighbouring booth. "This is a diner, not a theatre, sugah. Y'all give the girl some privacy, hear?" The burly equitaur merely nodded and obediently averted his gaze.

The rabbit buck had returned by this time. "How long before the ambulance gets here?" she asked him as the doe squeaked yet again in pain.

"They said within six minutes. How is Kathy?"

"I'm not familiar with your species' birthings, but I don't think she's going to last six minutes at this rate." It was the wrong thing to say as it only set the young father-to-be panicking again. Ketta grabbed him and pushed him towards Kathy. "Comfort her! She's about to deliver your child and she needs reassurance. I'm going to grab a couple of things and I'll be right back." Ketta dashed off behind the counter to grab a few towels and a bucket which she half filled with warm water. "If in doubt, stick to the basics," she thought. She took the items back to the booth and found the doe panting. The buck was trying to comfort her and she would smile, but then another contraction would hit and she grimaced with pain. That kitten was coming now! Kitten? Were there more? Ketta hoped not.

Ketta put the bucket and towels down next to the rabbits. She took a deep breath and firmed her resolve. "Will you let me examine you?" Ketta asked the doe, who quickly nodded her assent. She lifted and spread her legs. Ketta pushed back the maternity smock she had on and then started pulling off the panties that the two-leggers insisted on wearing. Ketta didn't pause to consider the silliness of a morph wearing those things at that time; she had more important things to worry about. To her relatively inexperienced eye, the doe was dilated far more than was to be expected for a labour that had only been going for such a short time. Ketta suspected that the doe had been ignoring earlier warnings, her youth and inexperience making her think that she couldn't possibly be due yet when the doctor had told her that she wasn't due for another week. Yet another contraction and Ketta didn't need to guess any more. She could see the top of the baby's head! "It's coming out!" she announced.

"No! Not yet!" moaned the mother-to-be, but nature ignored her wishes. Another contraction and more of the head came out. The doe cried out in pain. Ketta tried to remember what she had been learning in childbirth classes. Surely the silly girl had done the same too?

"You must push, Kathy. And you..." She pointed at the buck. "On the next contraction, urge her to push!"

It wasn't long before another contraction came and Kathy groaned. Her mate murmured something to her that Ketta didn't notice. The head was now free and Ketta gently supported it as she urged the doe to another effort. "Come on girl! You're having a quick and easy birthing, surely you have energy to spare for one good push?"

"Easy?" Kathy gasped. "You should talk! You're not trying to deliver a basketball! I'm trying, I'm...owarrrgh!" The rabbit was interrupted by another contraction.

"Push, Kathy! I can see our kit! Just a bit more now!" her mate urged.

The doe did push and suddenly the baby almost squirted into Ketta's waiting hands. Kathy groaned in relief and Ketta nearly matched her. She had been desperately afraid of something going wrong and being responsible. "You have a son!" she announced. While the buck cuddled his mate and congratulated her for her efforts and the child she had delivered to them, Ketta set about cleaning off the cub with the warm water and towels. Then she realised that she had to cut the umbilical cord and started to look about for something with which to do that.

"Forget somethin', hon?" Carol's voice came from behind her.

Ketta turned around to see the mare holding a pair of kitchen shears. Ketta grinned and thanked her for her timely arrival, then cut the cord, hoping she had gotten the length right. As she started tying it off with some string, she realised that she could hear a siren of an ambulance outside. "The cavalry's here... late as usual," she thought to herself. She continued to clean up both the baby and the new mother until the paramedics came in and took over.

"You don't seem to have left us much to do!" remarked one of them. "You've done well."

Ketta merely nodded, suddenly feeling very tired from the event. She sat down in the next booth as the paramedics got the doe ready to take to the maternity hospital, along with the anxious father. As he was just about to leave, Ketta put out a hand and stopped him. "I just realised I don't know your name, dear."

The buck smiled. "It's Anton, but my friends call me Speedy."

Ketta had to grin at that. "It seems that you aren't the only speedy one in the family. Your child was sure in a hurry to get out! Anyway, my congratulations to you both."

"Thanks Ketta. We won't forget this." With that, the rabbit went to rejoin with his mate.

Ketta sighed, weary but satisfied. Carol noticed though and said, "You've been overdoing things, hon. Y'all have to think of that cub of yours too. Just you rest a spell; we'll handle things for the moment."

"Are you sure?" Ketta asked although she was grateful for the respite.

"Not a problem, dear. Your little drama has been keeping the patrons distracted and made things a tad easier for us. Y'all take it easy until I say so." Carol left a pot of coffee with her and left to attend her customers. Ketta made herself comfortable, determined just to have a mug of coffee and get straight back to work promptly. It seemed only moments later when she jerked her head up from where it was resting on the table, blinking in disorientation.

"Awake, are we?" Carol's amused tones focused her mind.

"What... how long was I asleep?"

"Ah'd say about an hour, give or take," the mare replied.

"An hour! Why didn't you wake me?"

"Ah told y'all to rest until I said so. Ah think that'll do nicely," Carol replied. Ketta still felt a little embarrassed and got up onto her four paws and looked about for what needed to be done. Carol firmly pushed her towards the washroom. "Get yourself freshened up, then see to table nine. Looks like a good crowd tonight.

Indeed it was. Ketta was kept flat out busy all evening and was very thankful for the rest that she had gotten. Her pregnant belly seemed to get heavier as the shift drew near to the end. Not for the first time, Ketta was glad to have four legs to bear the load, unlike the rabbit mother. She often wondered how the two-leggers could bear it. Finally there were a handful of late customers left and she and Carol were cleaning the tables. Ketta was counting the minutes before Stargrey turned up to escort her home as shi did every night. It was their little ritual: the slow stroll, cuddling and talking a little about each other's day. Then, when they got to their apartment, they'd share a little entertainment before heading to the bedroom, although rarely to go to sleep immediately. Pregnancy had only enhanced Ketta's libido, much to the pleasure of both.

A sudden commotion near the front door caught Ketta's attention. She looked over to where Carol was standing near the till and gasped in shock. One of the straggling customers, a rather disreputable badger morph, was pointing a weapon at Carol, demanding money. The mare looked outraged, but wasn't in a position to do much about it. Diners were one of the few 'soft' targets left as much of their trade was transacted in cash rather than by smartcard or such. Even so, the pickings would be slim which wasn't going to please the bandit at all. Sure enough, upon being handed the contents of the till, he flew into a rage, something fairly common for his species which was one of the few survivors of the pre-war genetic laboratories. They were a highly dangerous species, originally developed for fighting, and one didn't antagonise them. Only this one seemed to be itching for a fight.

"Come on! You don't expect me to believe that this is all you have? Fork it all over or I'll start using you for target practice! And with a target your size, I'm hardly going to miss." He sneered and waved his weapon, an old World War III semi-automatic rifle, in Carol's face, then pointed at other choice targets.

The Quange mare shivered in fear, but tried to reason with him. "Calm down, suh. Ah assure y'all we didn't take any more than this. Ah can't give you what we don't have!"

Just then, Ketta spotted something that made her heart skip a beat. She saw Stargrey approaching the front door, about to walk unsuspectingly into an explosive situation. In that badger's present state of mind, he might just shoot hir, whether as a threat or just out of startlement. Ketta needed to distract him fast. Her mind raced, then she recalled something out of her own recent experience. She realised that what she had in mind was risky, but she couldn't bear the thought of anything happening to her mate. "I hope you forgive me for what I'm about to do, love," she murmured to herself, then loudly announced, "I have a pocketful of tips. You can have them all if you just leave Carol alone!"

The badger swung the gun around to point the gun at Ketta. "That's more like it! Fork it over! You too, horseface!"

The badger was now turned completely away from the front door as the chakat entered quietly as shi typically did. Of course, the first thing that shi saw was an armed bandit threatening hir mate and unborn child with a powerful weapon, just as Ketta intended, and what she had hoped for happened. The same incredibly powerful protective instinct kicked in and Stargrey turned from hir normal gentle good-natured manner to a near murderous fury. Shi screamed the same sound as Goldfur once cried, one that Ketta had hoped never to hear again: an enraged feline on the attack. The victim this time was not a startled foxtaur, but a badger with a fighting spirit. Despite being caught by surprise, he had already started to turn to face the threat, swinging the gun around automatically. He was no match for the speed of the chakat though, and the weapon was knocked out of his hand by one flying forepaw without a shot being fired. There was still a struggle though. A badger was a bundle of concentrated ornery meanness and not easily subdued, but he was eventually overwhelmed by the chakat's greater mass, strength and extra limbs. Once Stargrey's prehensile tail had looped around his chest, pinning his arms, he was almost helpless. He writhed violently though until Stargrey knocked him unconscious with one final powerful blow, then shi stood there panting wildly as the adrenalin surge and hir fears for hir loved ones both drained from hir.

Carol was immediately on to the comm to the police as Ketta rushed up to see how her mate had fared. Before she could speak, Stargrey said, "Are you alright, my love? He didn't hurt you?"

Ketta hugged Stargrey tightly. "Oh darling, I'm so glad that you came when you did. I'm perfectly fine. He never got the chance to hurt me... to hurt us!" she amended.

Stargrey tenderly stroked the vixen's hair as shi hugged back. "Then it was worth it. I don't think I could bear living without you, my beloved."

The lovers stayed in each other's arms for a while, just happy to be together. The Ketta realised that there was something warm and sticky under one hand and drew it back to look. "Oh! You've been hurt!" she exclaimed.

"Eh? I have?" Stargrey twisted to look. Down one side, from waist to mid thigh, there was a row of bleeding furrows in hir fur. Another gash was in hir flank, both testament to the badger's claws. "I hadn't even noticed. I suppose I'm going to feel them well and truly soon."

"I'll get some disinfectant from the storeroom," Ketta said and trotted off to do so. She brought a couple of towels back with her as well and set about cleaning Stargrey's wounds while the chakat kept a watchful eye on the unconscious badger. "I'm so sorry that this happened to you. I shouldn't have put myself in danger like that."

"Nonsense, Ketta!" Stargrey demurred. "You had very little time to think, and you did what was best for everyone. I was the best one to handle the situation and you're to be commended for handling the situation well. We all know what those badgers and other old-time military morph species can do when they go feral. He was just as likely to have shot all of you anyway after getting all your money."

"Thanks, love." Ketta finished doing what she could and hugged the chakat again. "You always know the right thing to say." That's how the police found the contented couple when they arrived to haul off the would-be bandit. More time was spent taking statements from everyone and Stargrey was informed that shi would possibly need to be available for further questioning about hir actions. Shi nodded, understanding but not at all regretful

The diner closed up late that night. Stargrey and Ketta said their goodbyes and slowly strolled off home. They would pop in again before they left for Ketta's village to make a proper farewell. It was a clear and warm night, perfect for dawdling and looking at the stars. On the other side of the hyperway, light from the nearby spaceport tended to drown out some stars, but the clarity of the night sky made for a good display nevertheless. At first neither of them talked as they usually did. Both were simply appreciating each other's presence. As they walked out of the tunnel and past Old Ed's garage, Ketta looked for evidence of the accident, but the clean-up crews had done a good job and the hole had been covered over. They continued on past the familiar neighbourhood and Ketta suddenly choked up with emotion. All this was so much a part of her life now. This place had become her home and she knew she was going to miss it while staying with her family at Mountain Glade. Then she looked at Stargrey and realised that she would always feel at home as long as her mate was with her. She leaned on hir shoulder and sighed happily.

Stargrey looked at her, raising an eyebrow quizzically, and asked, "So, aside from the hold-up, how was your day?"

Ketta thought of the childbirth, the crash, the hordes of spectators and other dramas. She looked up fondly at Stargrey and replied, "Oh, just your usual busy day."

The characters: Carol, Joe, Ed and Roy were created by Roy D. Pounds II and are used with permission.

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Next story in chronological order is Quickpaw #2.

The next episode of Tales Of the Foxtaur Clans is TOFC#3: Harvest Ceremony.

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