Tales of the Foxtaur Clans #10: Miracles Can Happen
Excerpts from the journal of Pandora & Karl, part 5
By Bernard Doove © 2006

3 February 2335

[Karl] Since I met Pandora, my life has been nearly perfect. My lifestyle has totally changed, and sometimes it's hard to believe just how differently I feel emotionally, mentally and physically compared to the time that I spent with Isabel. I will never comprehend why such people seem to prefer satisfying their desires at the expense of others when Pandora is proof that both partners can be totally happy when they consider the needs and desires of the other. In fact, there was only one thing that Isabel did for me that Pandora could not, and even that she perverted. I had resigned myself to never having a child of my heart rather than just of my genes. Then one day, I was handed a miracle.

"Oh, it's so unique! I have to get one exactly like it for my friend!" Jake finished telling a tale about silly customers.

Pandora and Karl laughed. Jake was their usual source of outside news, anecdotes and jokes. Jake’s wife, a pretty coyote morph named Lavender, merely smiled as she had heard that one before.

It was one of their regular dinner dates that had brought them together this evening. Karl served up some coffee brewed from the fresh beans that Jake had brought with him, and then settled next to Pandora on their special sofa, putting his arm around her waist. Jake and Lavender made themselves comfortable on the second sofa that Karl had made especially with biped guests in mind. The foursome enjoyed their coffee in companionable silence for a while before Karl spoke up.

"Okay, Jake, you've been hinting about something special all evening. Time to spit it out."

Jake grinned that big coyote grin of his, the one that made him look as if he had just successfully raided the henhouse. "I think that you'll reckon that it will have been worth the wait." He reached into his inside jacket pocket to pull out a few folded sheets of paper. "What's the one thing that you want that you thought that you could never get?"

"This had better not be one of your jokes, Jake," Karl said with a frown. Both he and Pandora instantly knew to what he was referring.

"No joke, my friend. A very real possibility. Check it out." In all seriousness, he handed over the papers.

Karl took them and opened them up so that he and Pandora could read them together. The top one was an advertising brochure headed, ‘New You Creations’, underneath which was written in small print, ‘A division of the Institute For New Generation Genetics’. Opening it up, they read a floral description of the services that the business provided. It offered everything from correcting minor defects to major body rebuilds. The pièce de resistance was the final section that read – ‘Do you feel that you were born into the wrong body? Not satisfied with your species? We can fix that too!’.

Pandora looked up in alarm. "You're surely not suggesting that Karl becomes a foxtaur, do you? I don't want that! Never! Not even for children! I love Karl exactly the way he is."

Karl vehemently agreed with her. "I like being a human. I would not want to become a foxtaur any more than Pandora would want to become a human."

Jake’s smile never faltered. "Who said anything about a species change? Although I admit that a muzzle and fur might improve your looks, it isn't necessary." He looked keenly at Karl. "After all, there's only one thing that needs to change to make a child, right?"

Karl stared at Jake a moment before it clicked, a little gasp from Pandora indicating that she had just reached the same conclusion.

Karl asked, "Do you mean to say that all I have to do is get a change made to my testes so that I can become compatible with Pandora? Is that even possible?"

Jake nodded, satisfied with the reaction that he had received. "Yep. I double-checked it with them before getting your hopes up. When you call them, ask for Doctor Springstep. Shi's a chakat who has gotten quite interested in your particular desire."

"Yeah, chakats do have a great interest in child-rearing, don't they?" Karl said.

"To put it mildly. I got the impression that shi would be starting on the problem already, even before you do anything."

"How long have you known this and not told me?" Lavender asked her husband accusingly.

"A few days, love. I didn't want you giving away the surprise before our dinner engagement tonight."

"Are you saying that I can't keep a secret?" she asked, miffed.

"Are you telling me that you could have spent half a day with Pandora at the market two days ago and resisted the urge to tell her?" asked Jake.

"Of course!" she replied indignantly.

Not!’ was mentally added by all three others.

"Ah well, I got to surprise you too, darlin'. Forgive me?" he asked her, pulling her closer for a kiss.

"Of course!" she said again, but meaning it this time, then leaned in to kiss him deeply. Theirs was a lively and passionate romance.

Meanwhile, Karl turned to Pandora, excitement in his eyes. "How about it, Pandora? Should I go for it? It won't be cheap, you know."

Pandora hugged him fiercely. "Who cares? I'd spend every cent we have if that's what it would take to have your child. Oh, Karl, it'll be a dream come true. You must call them first thing in the morning. You're not going to work until we have a talk with this Doctor Springstep."

"I'm with you, darling," Karl agreed. Then he turned to Jake. "If this works out, we're going to owe you big time."

Jake grinned broadly. "Just name the first kit after me, okay?"

Pandora answered his grin with one of her own. "Okay, but a vixen named Jake is going to wonder if her parents had a screw loose up here," she said as she tapped her head.

Everyone laughed at that. It was a very good evening for all.

The brindle-furred chakat wearing a traditional white doctor’s coat on the comm screen seemed very excitable. It seemed shi had been swept away with the idea of being able to offer a solution to the couple’s inter-fertility problem. "You must realise that I get a lot of customers who want rather petty things, and the really interesting jobs are few. I can't think of a better application of our services than to give a couple like you the children that they want. That's why I took the liberty of starting the ball rolling back when your friend contacted me."

Pandora said with a little exasperation, "But you haven't said yet whether you can do this for sure."

"What? Oh, sorry. Of course we can. If we can make a male human into a female foxmorph, why shouldn't we be able to do such a relatively small change? I'm going to need DNA samples from both of you though. Karl’s is the important one, as we're going to have to compute the changes that have to be engineered to achieve the desired result, but we'll want some of yours too, Pandora, so that we can optimise his compatibility with yours rather than aim for a generic foxtaur type."

"Is a DNA sample all that you require of us?" Karl asked hir.

"Well, you will need to sign a contract and pay a deposit, but yes, that's all that we require until we're ready to make the changes."

Pandora asked a little worriedly, "And how much is the whole thing going to cost us? We're not exactly rich, you know."

"I've yet to meet a clan foxtaur who is. Not that I've met terribly many, but I know how your kind prefer to live." Springstep leaned in closer to the screen, and continued reassuringly. "Don't worry about it. I'll make it affordable. I'm high enough on the food chain here that I can write off some of this to research. I want to see you two lovers get the children you deserve. Anyway, I will forward some documents to you later along with instructions on how to proceed. I'll be looking forward to working on this for you. Leave it to me now; you won't be disappointed. Tail high!"

With that, the chakat disconnected. Karl looked at Pandora, and they both burst out laughing.

"You'd think that shi was the one who was going to have a baby, wouldn't you?" Pandora said.

"That's a chakat for you," Karl agreed with a nod. "This really pushed hir buttons big time. It also reassures me about our chances of success." He grinned widely at Pandora. "You'd better start thinking up names for our kit, darling."

"Just one kit?" Pandora asked with a smile.

Karl laughed. "Well, one at a time, okay?" Then he kissed her thoroughly, which she most enthusiastically returned.

18 February 2335

[Pandora] We sent in the required samples, and waited. I don't believe that any period of waiting before has ever dragged on for as long as this did. Karl tried to reassure me, telling me that once upon a time, calculations like those that they were making would take computers decades, not days but, while I believe him, it makes no difference to someone like me. I work my farm, prepare the soil, sow the seeds, tend the plants, and eventually harvest the crops. Simply asking somebody to do something this important, then waiting around for it to happen is alien to me. However, yesterday afternoon we received the call that we had been waiting for. Doctor Springstep informed us that the process had been formulated and double-checked, and that shi was ready to see Karl now. Our excitement went through the roof. So did our fear, for Karl would have to leave the safety of clan territory. Worse yet, he would be facing it without me.

It's not commonly known, but many of my kind have a flaw. In trying to develop a species that had a high affinity with the land, our progenitors made an error that resulted in many foxtaurs being so attuned to their particular territories that homesickness was a very real problem. To some it was minor, but to others like myself, it could become crippling within hours. As long as I stayed within the boundaries of my clan’s territories, I was fine, but if I left it for something like visiting Jake and Lavender’s home, I could only do so for a short time before the urge to return would hit me. I was in tears when I bade Karl farewell this morning. Despite my problem, I tried to insist that I go with him, but Karl has seen how I become when the homesickness strikes, and he even more insistently urged me to stay. Jake was waiting to take him to the city where the clinic was located, and I had to leave protection of my lifemate in his admittedly capable hands. I've never been so envious of him, or of my own kind who are not so crippled.

I was wrong. The past few days were long. The next two would be an absolute eternity without my other half.

Although Jake had spotted no suspicious activity for weeks, he and Karl decided to be paranoid. Karl concealed himself within Jake’s PTV until they were far from clan grounds before joining Jake in the front seat. Karl felt strange. Not because of what he was about to do; he had gotten used to the idea by now. The strangeness was from leaving the clan territory for the first time in years. He had embraced the foxtaur lifestyle, but here he was plunging back into the most sophisticated of modern life. When they arrived at the clinic, it was such an ultra-sophisticated example of current technology that it was something of a culture shock after the foxtaurs’ simple stone and wood constructions.

Jake accompanied Karl inside, but after the receptionist had booked Karl in, took his leave of his friend with wishes of good luck. He would return to pick up Karl the next afternoon.

Doctor Springstep soon came out to take charge of Karl. The chakat seemed every bit as excited as shi had been on the first day that they had talked. Shi surprised him with a quick hug before he remembered their habit. It had been a long time since he'd met one in person, and then only rarely.

"Come on," shi said, virtually dragging him along in hir haste. "Everything is ready. One final check on your health and we'll do the treatment."

Karl had to laugh. "Slow down, Doctor! It's not as if you're going to have the child, you know?"

Springstep grinned broadly back at him. "Just call me Springstep, please. I feel a bit like an eager grandparent, waiting for hir first grandchild to be conceived. And no, my own children aren't old enough to have cubs yet, so this will be a first. Ironically though, once the treatment comes into effect, you will probably be interfertile with chakats also. We can and have interbred with foxtaurs on occasion."

"I'll remember that if the situation ever crops up," Karl replied dryly. "I think I know how you got your name. If you're this enthusiastic about your interests, you must have a very bouncy personality."

Springstep giggled. "You got me, Karl. I do get excited about my work, and this project caught my imagination. It's the kind of thing that I got into this profession for." Shi palmed a door panel, which opened to admit them into hir personal clinic. Shi pointed him at a reclining chair. "Make yourself comfortable on there and I'll do some quick scans."

As soon as Karl was settled, the seatback tilted back and a scanner swung over the chair. Springstep started taking readings while humming cheerfully to hirself. Then the scanner swung back and the chair returned to the upright position.

"You're in perfect health, and all readings are nominal. Conditions are ideal to start the treatment," Springstep concluded.

"Do you want me to undress now?" Karl asked.

Springstep smiled. "If you really want to, I won't mind, but it isn't necessary. We can do the treatment without you taking off any clothes."

"Oh!" Karl said, more embarrassed at his mistake than he would have been standing nude in front of the chakat.

Springstep’s expression turned serious. "We're now at the point of no return. Radical changes to the body such as we're going to do to you are not something you would want to repeat, so once you've been altered, I would not recommend that you try to reverse it. Therefore, from this point onwards, if you choose to continue, you will never be able to sire a human child again. I urge you once again to consider storing a semen sample against this possibility."

Karl shook his head. "Pandora and I discussed this at length, and we're both committed to the course."

"Let the record show that the client has declined the proffered service," Springstep said for the benefit of the devices keeping a record of the proceedings.

Springstep smiled once again. "Somehow I knew you'd say that. I can tell that you two are bonded for life. So let's make your dream a reality, shall we?"

The chakat opened an insulated case on hir workbench, from which shi extracted a large syringe full of a milky liquid. Shi walked over to Karl, bringing it along with a couple of other items. Shi got Karl to pull up his shirt so that shi could swab his skin to disinfect it, then uncapped the needle and skilfully inserted it. Shi gradually pumped the contents into his body with minimum discomfort to Karl, then extracted the needle.

"Now just lie back and relax. This is the boring part." The chair tilted back as shi adjusted the machinery and another device swung over him. A light turned on to indicate that it was functioning, but otherwise Karl couldn't feel anything happening.

"That's the only injection that you will need. It contained agents that are programmed to seek out a very specific target – your testes. There they will start rebuilding them into ones capable of producing foxtaur compatible sperm cells without being rejected as being foreign to your body. The machine humming over you is a variation on the healing accelerators that you find in hospitals. Normally an adult has completed the growth stage, so this device is fooling your body into believing it's still developing, and will hasten the progress of the agents. This should mean that by mid afternoon tomorrow, the treatment will be concluded. Soon after, you will start producing foxtaur sperm. The rest will be up to you and your lovely mate."

"I can't begin to express how grateful we are, Springstep," Karl said.

The chakat smiled. "You still have to pay for my services, you understand?"

"But you never would settle on a price. You kept saying that you'd make it affordable, but nothing more specific."

"Here's a major part of it then: Tell me all about yourself and Pandora; what brought you together and what your life is like for a human living in a foxtaur village." Shi made hirself comfortable on a lounging mat. "Curious kitty wants to know everything."

Karl realised that this was something that chakats valued as much or more than money. Shi was not just interested in helping them; shi had an emotional investment also. So, for the rest of the day, he and Springstep talked about his life and Pandora’s. The treatment was paused for them both to go have dinner, but the conversation never stopped. It continued into the evening until Springstep announced that shi had better get home before hir mates came looking for hir again. Shi explained that shi often got wrapped up in hir work, and shi was so glad that shi had such understanding mates who proved time and again that there were some things more interesting than work.

Karl was left to sleep on the reclining chair. It was contoured so that it was extremely comfortable and, in the fully reclined position, made an excellent bed. Nevertheless, he didn't get to sleep quickly. Something was missing; a familiar comforting presence that had been by his side for years was absent. Without the chakat’s distraction, he felt lonely and missed Pandora badly.

Karl did eventually fall asleep, only to be woken by the arrival of Springstep the next morning.

"Good morning, Karl. I hope you rested well. I came in a bit early so that we could have some breakfast together. First you'll want to freshen up a bit though, I suspect."

The mention of breakfast reminded Karl of his regular milk drink in the morning, and he wondered how Pandora was coping with emptying her breasts in his absence. Then he brought his mind back to the present before a raging erection could embarrass him in front of the chakat.

Springstep accompanied Karl to the clinic’s restaurant to have breakfast, then it was back to the chair for further treatment, with only a detour to the bathroom on the way. They spent the morning chatting again, although this time Springstep seemed to be multitasking at hir workbench. It was around one in the afternoon when shi turned off the healing accelerator and replaced it with the specialised scanner to take some readings. Apparently what shi saw satisfied hir as shi smiled.

Looking up from hir screens, shi said to Karl, "I'd give your friend a call to start heading over here to pick you up. I'd say that one more hour will be more than sufficient to finalise the process."

Karl said, "Okay," then pulled out his comm to call Jake. The coyote told him that it would take him at least ninety minutes to get back there, so Karl arranged to have Jake meet him in the restaurant where they could have some lunch before heading home. Springstep then started the final session.

Karl said, "Springstep, this has been a far more pleasant experience than I had thought it would be. Is this really all there is to it?"

The chakat smiled. "Oh, you might find your genitalia a bit uncomfortable for a day or so as the new configuration settles in, but that's about it."

"That's a relief. Er… how soon can I start using them?"

"If you really want to, right away, but I would give it another day. Besides, if it's foxtaur sperm you're wanting, give them a chance to start full production. A few good sessions of intercourse will clear out your remaining human sperm. Then you'll be ready to make that kit whenever Pandora goes into heat next."

"Great! Now, I know you've told me that, in your own words, you're ‘high on the food chain’ here, but I'm sure that there's still a bill to settle besides this wonderful conversation we've been having."

Springstep smiled like one who has successfully played a joke. "I kind of fooled you there." Karl immediately looked worried, but then the chakat played hir trump. "I'm actually the director of this facility. I'm able to devote myself to projects like this because I am only responsible to the parent company. While we've been talking, I've actually been working all morning on clinic business that I put off yesterday. Anyway, yes there will be a bill for services, but you will find that I have only charged you for actual costs incurred rather than our usual rates. Additionally, you have as long as you need to pay it off. My one condition is that you invite me to the kit’s birthing party, or whatever the foxtaurs do to celebrate the arrival of the new kit."

Karl absorbed this all first with surprise, then gratitude. "You know, I'm not really 100% sure what they do either despite the time I've spent there. However, you have a deal! I'll talk to Pandora about it and let you know as soon as possible. Just don't ask to have the baby named after you!" He grinned widely at Springstep.

The chakat laughed. "Fair enough."

Jake was pretty much exactly on time. An enquiry at reception had pointed him in the right direction, and he was soon enjoying a meal with Karl and Springstep. Then Karl made his farewells, and Springstep surprised him by not only giving him the hug that he expected, but a quick lick-kiss too.

As Jake and Karl walked out of the building, Jake said, "What is it that you have with taurs? Whatever it is, can you spare some?"

Karl laughed and clapped his friend on the back. He was about to reply when a sight stopped him dead in his tracks – a sight that made his blood run hot.

"Isabel," he grated out. "What are you doing here?"

"Why, Karl, anyone would think that you're unhappy to see your wife," Isabel said as if offended.

"EX-wife! Ex everything in fact. Haven't you got it through your head that you don't have any claim over me any more? You parasites have sucked everything that you're going to out of me."

"Don't be too sure of that, dear. I have a little piece of paper that says otherwise," she said, pulling a folded sheet of paper from her handbag and holding it out to him.

Karl merely glared at her and ignored the paper. "Who did you buy this time to come up with that piece of crock?"

"Buy?" she asked innocently. "Oh no, I didn't have to do any such thing. You might as well take it because I'm not letting you leave now that you're out of that damn foxtaur haven of yours. And my friend here is going to see to it that you don't go back."

For the first time, Karl tore his eyes off Isabel to look at her companion. With a shock, he realised that it was a sheriff, and the man had a very unhappy look on his face.

Isabel continued, "You see, I convinced the lovely judge who provided that subpoena that you'd do a runner, so he has ordered that you be arrested. We made sure that all the legalities were strictly observed, all the ‘i’s dotted and the ‘t’s crossed, so there's no getting away from this one, dear."

Her malicious smile cut Karl deeply. He took the subpoena and started reading it, looking for a way out. Meanwhile, Jake had been fuming next to his friend.

"How the hell did you find out that Karl was here? You couldn't have known that he'd left the village."

Isabel turned that chilling smile on the coyote. "You're right, but I also knew that he couldn't get far without transport, so the most likely way that he would ever travel any distance would be with you, his friend and business partner. So we watched you. Whenever you made a trip into the foxtaur village, we checked you when you left. This time you went here, and it didn't take long to find out that Karl was here too. So thank you for your help."

Jake was devastated. ‘Oh, no! Not again!’ was all he could think. It had been he who had told Isabel where Karl was a year and a half ago, although at the time he had not known who she was. Ever since then, he had been trying to make up for that mistake, even though Karl insisted it wasn't his fault. Now he had inadvertently given away his friend and partner yet again, and there was absolutely nothing that he could do about it. Jake felt as if he was in purgatory.

Isabel said, "Enough of this chit-chat. Sheriff, I believe you have a job to do."

For some reason, the sheriff looked very reluctant to do his duty, but his hand was forced. "Karl Jürgens, you are under arrest by order of Judge Sheffield."

Karl looked up and surprised everyone by smiling. "You have the wrong man, sheriff."

That was a response that nobody had expected, least of all Isabel. Suddenly her civilised veneer slipped off. "What the hell are you talking about? Sheriff, I demand that you arrest Karl right now and get him into custody!"

However, the sheriff wasn't having his hand forced by someone whom he'd taken an intense dislike to the moment that he'd met her. Ignoring her, he asked, "What do you mean, we have the wrong man? It's clear that you're the person to whom Isabel Jürgens is referring."

Karl held up the subpoena, pointing at a line on it. "Yes, it clearly says ‘Karl Jürgens’ on it. However, my name is Karl Whitepaw. It was legally changed a while back, and I even have proof of identification in my wallet." Karl looked at Isabel with a grin of triumph. "Looks like you forgot to cross one of those ‘t’s, dear."

The sheriff checked the proffered I.D. and nodded. "You're free to go, Mr Whitepaw."

"WHAT!" screeched Isabel. "You can't do that! He's my ex-husband. He's the one that you have to arrest! I don't care if he's changed his name to Tinkerbell; you have to arrest him!"

The sheriff blithely ignored her rants. "You wanted to do this with your legal tricks. Well this one has backfired on you. You made the terms so specific in order to catch him that the slightest flaw would unravel your plans. I suggest that you go back to your pet judge and try to convince him to re-issue the subpoena with the correct name. Better hurry though. I don't think Mr Whitepaw is going to wait for you."

Isabel stood there rigid with fury. For a moment Karl thought that she would lash out at the sheriff, hoping that the woman would do something really stupid and get herself arrested instead. Instead she turned abruptly and stalked away. Karl sincerely hoped that that would be the last time that he ever saw her.

Karl turned to the sheriff. "Thank you, officer. Somehow I think that you could have arrested me anyway, but I had a feeling that you wouldn't. Why?"

The sheriff had relaxed a bit. He was still a stern and gruff person, but the irritation had gone. "Mr Whitepaw, Judge Sheffield is well known to us as being in the pocket of many a shifty lawyer. The only reason that he's not been jailed is that he's been too smart to be caught at it yet. Until he does though, he has the weight of the law behind him, and I despise being used as a puppet by the likes of him. I've been a police officer for thirty-two years now, and upholding the law is what I am committed to doing. When people abuse the law, it really steams me. When your ex-wife came to me with that subpoena and the orders from the judge, I recognised her kind immediately. I've seen so many others, both men and women alike, who have used the law to hurt people, but my hands were tied. It gave me enormous pleasure to deny her that victory."

Karl held out his hand to shake the sheriff’s. "I'm very pleased to have been able to provide you with that victory. Are you sure you won't get in trouble though?"

"None that I can't handle, son. Now get along. I don't want that witch working a miracle somehow. Get back to your home and stay there. I never want to see you again, you hear?"

Karl smiled. "I hear. Thanks again, sheriff." Karl turned to Jake who had been regaining his composure after seeing victory snatched from the very teeth of defeat. "Come on, Jake! Time's wasting!"

Jake snapped out of his stasis and started jogging in the direction of the PTV, with Karl hot on his heels. They wasted no time in getting it started and making their way home, although they avoided the fastest route because it was mostly on one of the computer-controlled sections, and any PTV on that road could be identified and stopped remotely. They weren't going to take that chance. Still, both heaved an enormous sigh of relief when they crossed the border into Crystal Creek Clan territory.

The PTV had hardly pulled into the village square when Pandora came running down to meet them. She flew into Karl’s arms and nearly hugged him to death.

"I've been so worried about you! Since you called to let me know that you were on your way home, I had this strange premonition of disaster," she said between kisses.

When Karl could get a word in edgewise, he said, "You had good reason to be concerned. We had to deal with Isabel, but we won out. I didn't want to worry you though."

"What! Tell me everything! You too, Jake. I see you trying to sneak away."

The two men flanked the vixen as they walked to the den. There were cries of horror and gasps of relief as they related the incident to her. By the time that they got home, Pandora was clinging to Karl possessively, as if she intended to never let him go again.

"Karl, I want you to look into something for me," she said.

"What would that be?" he asked.

"Find a treatment or something to break this damn territorial homesickness of mine. I'm never going to let you leave without me ever again."

"But I never intend to leave clan grounds again," Karl pointed out.

"You weren't going to before this opportunity came up, but you did. Next time the unexpected comes up, we're going to be prepared!"

Karl nodded agreement. He recognised the final word when he heard it, so he changed the subject. Turning to Jake, he said, "It's possible that Isabel has a snitch somewhere just outside clan territory, but it's also possible that she or her agent has had your PTV bugged. I'd check it out if I were you."

Jake nodded fervently. "I'll do that immediately, Karl. I'm going to go home now. I've had enough excitement for one day, and you two need to be alone, I reckon." He shook his friend’s hand, and then with a cheery wave more reminiscent of his usual demeanour, he departed.

Pandora then snuggled up to Karl. The day was waning and the winter chill was gathering strength. She had a good fire burning though, and the two gradually relaxed and let their tensions flow out.

"Now," Pandora began, "tell me all about what happened at the clinic. I want to know everything!"

4 March 2335

[Karl] Thirteen days later, Pandora went into heat. In anticipation of this, I had been taking it easy with our lovemaking for a couple of days, conserving my resources for a major ‘assault’. When Pandora announced that she was as fertile as she was ever going to be, we went at it with joyful abandon. In fact we did it as much as possible. The alterations did nothing to improve my stamina, but I think I did an adequate job. Pandora didn't seem to have any complaints anyway.

10 March 2335

[Pandora] Waiting to find out if I was pregnant was the second-hardest thing that I have ever done. We don't have very sophisticated medical services in our village unlike some of the bigger clans. All we had was our shaman, but she was infallible with testing for pregnancy. Unfortunately, that infallibility relied on waiting for the optimum amount of time since the hoped-for conception to test for it. Today was the day though. I think half the village must have thought I had gone nuts when I came out of the shaman’s den and went whooping and cavorting through the village on my way to Karl’s workshop. There I pounced him and nearly drowned him with kisses. Let the record show that today we confirmed that we had conceived our first child!

Karl paused on his way to the den to admire his lifemate tending her gardens. Pregnancy hadn't slowed her down one bit, as was typical of taurs, but it had certainly filled her out a bit. Karl chuckled as he recalled his attempts to get Pandora to take it easy. She had smartly put him his place. Aside from that, the past several months had been like a dream. Days of fruitful toil had been followed by nights of tender love-making, and absolutely nothing seemed able to spoil it. Now the fields were fallow as the winter descended upon them, but Pandora was still busy with maintenance and repairs. Karl called out to Pandora who looked up and waved. Gathering her tools, she hurried to join him, her gait now having a bit of a waddle caused by her swollen belly. She lick-kissed him and they joined hands to complete the walk to the den. Pandora stowed her tools in the shed, and they both went inside. Karl stoked the embers of the fire and soon had a merry blaze going. Pandora meanwhile headed for the shower. Karl joined her as soon as he was done with the fire, and helped her wash the dirt from the fields out of her fur. Warmed by the shower and feeling hungry, they then started preparing their evening meal.

Karl started a conversation with, "They're predicting snow tonight."

Pandora snorted in amusement. "They've been predicting snow for the past week. Not a flake!"

"Ah, but this time it was the shaman who made the prediction."

That made Pandora pause. The shaman did things differently to most people, but her results were consistently good. If she said there would be snow tonight, the odds had just swung enormously in its favour. "Then I'm glad that I got that trellis repaired today, she replied thoughtfully. "Is the village prepared?"

Karl grinned. "There were a few making hasty last-minute preparations. Seems a lot of people had ignored the earlier warnings."

"Happens every year. Some people never learn."

"Anticipating having a kit to cater for has sharpened my awareness of what we will be needing," Karl said as he cuddled up to Pandora while the food was cooking.

She kissed him, then said, "And you have laid in enough supplies for two kits. I'm not having twins, you know."

"I know. I just can't help myself. This time I want everything to be right."

Pandora hugged him reassuringly. "You're doing just fine, darling."

"Thanks. Have you decided what you're going to do for the birth?" Karl’s enquiries had found out that there was no single tradition for the birth of kits. Some preferred to have them in complete privacy, others made a big celebration of it like chakats did. Pandora had been aiming for something in between.

"Uh-huh. Mom wants to be there. Lavender said she had never been to something like it, but would be happy to come along and give her support. I think Jake will come also, but mostly because Lavender will insist that he be there!"

Karl grinned at that. At least he'd have a bit of male support as he attended to Pandora during labour.

Pandora continued. "I've been chatting to Springstep too, and shi says shi will be available at a moment’s notice, and don't dare have the kit without hir!"

Karl laughed along with his mate. "Yeah, I can believe that. A pity that the time of birth isn't as predictable as a chakat’s. So that's it? No one else?"

"Besides the shaman as midwife, only those closest to us, love. Those that always supported us, and those who made this day possible."

"Suits me, darling."

The next morning saw the shaman’s prediction had come true. The view through the window showed a white blanket of snow carpeting everything, and snow continued falling as the couple watched. They had stoked the fire so that the den was a very comfortable temperature despite the chilly scene outside. Both seemed disinclined to venture out in it, and instead were cuddling on the rugs and cushions in front of the fireplace.

"I really should be out in the shed doing maintenance on my tools," Pandora murmured, her head resting on Karl’s shoulder, arm round him with the hand resting on the other shoulder, her breast firmly cushioned against Karl’s chest.

"And I should trudge through the snow to the workshop," Karl added, his arms around her shoulder and waist.

Neither moved a millimetre. Both were perfectly content as they were. In fact, the most movement right then was coming from a restless child in the womb, occasionally kicking to remind them that it would not be long before the birth. It was the perfect day for an impromptu vacation, and they spent the morning cuddling, making gentle love, and watching the beautiful snowfall.

Of course that had to end and, in hindsight for both of them, in quite an inevitable way. It was early afternoon when Pandora gave a gasping cry.

Karl asked, "What's wrong?"

Pandora replied, "I think we have to move up our plans, dear. This kit has decided to come out a bit early!"

There was no panic. They had already thoroughly planned what to do when the time came. Karl was glad that they had finalised the attendees last night though. Only the snow added a new factor, but not a major one. Karl went into action. First he used the comm to inform the shaman who said that she would come immediately. His next call went to Springstep because shi would have the longest trip to make, and he knew the chakat would never forgive him if shi missed the birth.

"Karl! It's good to see you," Springstep said. "How's Pandora?"

"Pandora's not only fine, but we think she's just started going into labour. We've called the shaman to check her out, but naturally we couldn't wait for her verdict to let you know."

Springstep became very animated. "Quite right. I've got a bag packed and in my PTV. I'm going to go the skyport and get an air taxi, so I should be there soon. Get back to your mate, Karl. I'll let my assistant know that I'm leaving early, then I'm on my way!" Shi then disconnected.

Karl then placed calls to Pandora’s mother, Kallista, and then to Jake and Lavender. He then started pulling out more blankets and towels and made other preparations. Belatedly, he remembered to put on some clothes also.

Mishi, the clan shaman, was first to arrive. She shook the snow off her cloak before stepping inside quickly to minimise heat loss. She gave both Karl and Pandora a reassuring hug and smile. "Okay, my friends, I know that this is going to be your first child, but Pandora’s pregnancy has proceeded utterly normally, so there's no reason to worry despite starting labour a few days sooner than anticipated. It's still well within acceptable limits, so we'll just make sure that this isn't a false alarm, but make preparations in case it isn't. Let me examine you, dear."

Pandora complied, and while Mishi was examining her, had another contraction.

Mishi smiled. "Yes, I would have to say that the kit is definitely on the way." She pulled out a packet from one of her saddle packs and handed it to Karl. "I see you've got a kettle on the boil. Please make a drink out of these herbs for Pandora. Oh, and a cup of tea for me too, if you please," she added with a grin.

After that, things got a bit more hectic. Kallista arrived and immediately hurried over to her daughter to fuss over her. Jake and Lavender came about fifteen minutes later. Karl had heard them coming long before seeing them. The snow had of course blocked the roads, and the village was cut off until their road was cleared, which was not a high priority with the roads department. However, Jake and Lavender arrived on a snow-bike which, unlike their PTV, they could ride right up to the den’s doorway. The hum of an air shuttle announced the arrival of Springstep. Karl hastened down the track to the village square where it landed so that he could guide the chakat back to the den. Shi gave him the usual greeting hug, then once they got back to the den, gave Pandora a similar one. Then shi momentarily surprised Karl by stripping bare before he recalled their custom of greeting the newborn in that manner.

Thankfully the early arrival was the only drama in the delivery. After a normal period of labour, while Karl supported his mate both physically and with words of endearment and encouragement, Pandora delivered a perfectly formed foxtaur kit.

Mishi held up the wet and squalling infant. "You have a son," she announced.

Karl and Pandora hugged each other in delight. A daughter would have been equally welcome, but in foxtaur society, getting a son on the first try was something special. Springstep insisted on cleaning up the kit while the shaman helped Pandora take care of the afterbirth. As Mishi cleaned up Pandora, Springstep handed over the swaddled kit to Pandora who put him to the breast for his first feed. The kit blindly sought out the nipple and quickly latched on, suckling strongly.

Pandora watched him lovingly for a while, then looked up at Karl. "Only leftovers for you from now on," she said with a grin.

"Well worth the price, love," he replied adoringly.

9 January 2336

[Karl] Today, I am proud to announce that Pandora gave birth to a healthy male kit. The shaman has pronounced him to be a perfect foxtaur tod, which was an immense relief to Pandora and myself. Springstep insisted that there was never any doubt he would be, and declared hirself to be the kit’s godmother. But we reserved the biggest honour for Jake who started these events rolling. We have decided to name our son in the foxtaur style. Welcome to the world, Jakkar!

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To be continued in Growing Pains.

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