Then, at the diplomatic function the night before the formal admission ceremony, a Spectran agent grabbed her, held her by an ankle three stories above the ballroom floor, and let her drop. As all the shocked Federation delegates watched, the commander of G-Force soared up, took her in his arms, and gently glided to the floor below.
Next, as she was on her way to her coming-of-age ceremony at Fulgida Temple, her transport crashed in the Aperea Woodlands during a hijacking attempt. G-Force rescued her and got her to the temple in time for her ceremony into womanhood....or, rather, the version of womanhood a five-foot-tall guinea pig would have.
After that, it seemed Cabiay would finally begin to have a more normal life. But then, a few days after she had taken a bonded mate, he was killed during a Spectran attack on Porcellus – Zoltar had resumed his “If I can’t have it, no one can!” policy toward this planet.
So she joined her mother at the ambassador’s compound to share her grief with someone who knew what she was experiencing. And then she discovered she had more in common with her mother than anybody had first thought – Cabiay was pregnant.
* * * * *
“Why can’t I stay until they’re sure an attack’s coming?” To anyone who was not a cavy, this would have sounded like a flurry of squeaks, twirls and grunts.
“It’s only for a short time.” Ambassador Cutleri tried to remain calm as she stood over her daughter’s pregnancy bed. “I don’t want you to take any senseless risks now you’re so close –”
“You didn’t run when you were heavy with Souya and me!” Cabiay’s eyes had narrowed and her teeth clicked in a quick staccato, accenting her growing anger.
Cutleri brought her muzzle close to her daughter’s. “For one thing, there is nothing cowardly in going someplace safe to drop your litter. For another, we weren’t in the Federation yet; if I didn’t finish my work, we might not have a home now – if we lived this long.”
Cabiay took a deep breath to continue her argument, but then she caught a familiar scent in the air.
The older cavy stepped back. “Chief Anderson is supposed to meet with me shortly. He is having his own driver take you to the safe house.”
Cabiay closed her eyes and sighed.
Chief Anderson and Jason followed a solid white cavy through the “doorway” (a term loosely used – the cavies had no concept of “door” until they contacted the Federation) leading into this room.
“Greetings, Chief!” the ambassador said as the white cavy gave a slight nod and left.
“Thank you.” the chief said to the departing cavy before stepping over to Cutleri. “It looks like we’re just in time to see Porcellus’ new defense force put to the test...”
Jason did his best to hide his surprise at Cabiay’s appearance – the last time he saw her, she was a slightly slimmer version of her mother. But now, as she rested on something like a daybed, she was shaped like a giant eggplant.
Cabiay’s whiskers twitched as she tilted her head and gave Jason a curious look. Jason blinked a couple of times before he realized – she had never seen him out of BirdStyle.
“Ah, forgive me.” Anderson said, “Cabiay, please let me introduce my driver, Jason.” Apparently the chief had realized the same thing at the same time. “He’ll be taking you to the safe house.”
Jason got the unspoken message: Follow protocol and play along.
“It seems as if I know him already.” Cabiay replied as her whiskers twitched again.
“Um, I hope you don’t mind my asking,” Jason said, trying to cover for his expression when he first saw her, “how far along are you?”
“My ninth week.”
“She’ll be dropping her litter any time now.” the ambassador added.
“Is that a problem?” Cabiay kept her eyes fixed on Jason.
“No.” Anderson reassured both cavies, “Jason’s had extensive paramedic training.”
“With cavies?” Ambassador Cutleri didn’t hide the concern in her voice.
“Oh, Mother!” Cabiay said with a grunt as she pulled herself onto her feet, “I’m sure he can handle more difficulties than any ordinary driver could ever imagine!”
She was about to take her third step when Jason arrived at her side and placed a supportive arm around her. She stopped a moment, confused. He returned her confused expression.
“It’s an old Earth custom,” the chief gently explained, “that a man help an expectant mother...”
“Oh!” the young cavy cried, “Then thank you...” She stammered a bit.
“Jason.” the Condor quietly said.
“Shayson.” Cabiay said. Jason decided that was probably as close as she would get to the actual pronunciation – he never heard a cavy get the “J” sound exactly right.
The car Jason had to drive was not among his favorites. He could understand the rationale behind it – the variations between human and cavy anatomies required some sort of compromise in vehicles that would be used by both species. In the case of this car, the front half was designed for a human driver and the rear was strictly for cavies. The car Jason practiced on handled sluggishly, like the proverbial land barge. He was sure the car inside the embassy garage wasn’t any different.
A member of the embassy staff brought out a small step stool to assist Cabiay as she climbed into the car – the car wasn’t set very high up, but she was feeling very heavy from her pregnancy. The staffer rushed the stool away as Jason helped the ambassador’s daughter get comfortable and buckle her safety harness.
As he sat in the front seat, Jason glanced at the reflection in the rearview mirror. It was hard to believe she was the size of a toddler just a few months ago.
“Is there something wrong, Shayson?”
“I’m just adjusting the rearview mirrors.”
“Do you have your bird-suit with you?”
“You don’t need to do that. I know you were the one who dragged away the man who told me he ate my father and tried to kill me.” Cabiay fixed her gaze on Jason’s reflection in the rearview mirror. “And you rescued me when I crashed on the way to Fulgida.”
Jason couldn’t think of a suitable way to counter her certainty.
“Humans hide their looks,” Cabiay explained, “but they don’t hide their scent.”
“I’ll make note of that.” he replied, giving up the charade. “And don’t worry. If anything happens, I’ll deal with it.”
A light drizzle had begun to fall as the car pulled away from the garage. The rain grew steadily heavier as they moved farther away from the city and drove along the edge of a territory the Porcellus government had set aside for farming. Once in a while they passed a Federation possession – recognizable barns and silos were being built there. The cavy constructs blended in more with the countryside – these reminded Jason of what he saw during a field trip to Angel Mounds near Evansville, Indiana.
As they went along the empty road, the sound of the rain lulled Cabiay to sleep.
His wrist communicator chirped. “7-Zark-7 to Jason. Come in, Jason!”
“What’s going on, Zark?” Jason kept his voice down.
“Spectra’s forces have been detected within the Porcellus system! As soon as you drop off your passenger at the safe house, you must rendevous with the Phoenix immediately!”
Jason took a deep breath and slowly let it out. If only the safe house was closer...
Four humanoid forms on motorbikes approached from the opposite direction just as the rain began coming down in torrents. They were practically within spitting distance before Jason could see the green uniforms. He gripped the wheel tighter as they zipped by.
There was a small gasp from the back seat. When did she wake up? “Shayson, I think they recognized – ”
Cabiay didn’t need to say any more; Jason could see in the rearview mirrors that they were slowing down and turning around.
“Get ready for a rough ride!”
“I’m ready for a fight!”she replied as she flexed her feet, revealing a set of stiletto blade-like nails.
“Take it easy – you’ve got a bun in the oven, remember?”
“I wasn’t baking anything....and what does that have to do with – ”
“I mean you have to be careful – your baby’s due at any time.”
Jason pressed the gas pedal as the Spectran soldiers started positioning themselves to surround the car – one at each corner. They still managed to catch up and position themselves. Jason hit the brakes. However, the car hydroplaned and turned just enough to knock over three of the Spectran cyclists.
“Are you all right?” Jason called to the back seat as soon as he regained control and brought the car to a stop.
“Yes.” Cabiay replied, “But we need to worry about – ”
The soldier who hadn’t been knocked down had turned his bike around. He pulled something the size of a baseball out of a storage pouch on the side of the bike, and lobbed it at the car’s undercarriage.
The car bucked beneath Cabiay and Jason before all four wheels rolled off in different directions.
The cavy let out a small moan and unfastened her safety harness. Before she could do anything else, Jason had turned around in his seat and reached back to her, placing a hand on her arm. But before he could ask, she said, “I won’t be all right if they get to me.”
Jason returned his focus to the four Spectrans. The one who had remained upright dismounted, pulled out a pistol, and started toward the car. Two of the three who had been knocked down had pulled themselves to their feet, drew their pistols, and were limping toward the car. The remaining soldier was still under his bike, struggling as if he’d broken his leg.
“Shield your eyes, Cabiay!”
The three soldiers from Spectra jumped back a little when they saw the flash come from inside the car.
“You only threw one, right?”
“Yeah. Maybe it malfunctioned....”
“We’d better make sure they’re dead.”
They drew closer. Just then the front door flew open and the Condor leapt out, throttling two. The third opened the rear door and threw himself into the back seat.
Jason heard an angry shriek and a short squeal of pain as he dispatched the two soldiers in his hands. He turned in time to see the last Spectran drop to the ground in a bloody heap. He pulled the body out of the way and leaned into the passenger cabin. Cabiay was stretched out in the seat, the toenails on one foot covered in blood. Her breathing had become labored and she let out a series of small, low grunts.
“No, my litter’s dropping.”
“I’ll call the Phoenix – ”
He looked around at the cabin. Blood was splattered all around, and water pooled on the floorboards. This wasn’t a good place to give birth.
He pulled himself out of the car and scanned the countryside. “Can you see that building off to our left?” He pointed toward a mound on top of a small hill a short distance away.
“That barn?” she said between grunts, “I think so...with your help...”
Jason ended up carrying Cabiay through the doorway, up the entrance ramp, and down into the burrow underneath the mound. Right away the warm, dry interior was a welcome relief from the torrential rain they’d rushed through. Lights automatically turned on and slowly came up to a comfortable level.
There wasn’t much inside the cavy barn – just a pile of leafy material against the wall at the far end. They went over to it, found that the pile was very soft, and decided to use it as bedding.
On board the Phoenix, Mark worried. The Early Warning System lost track of Spectra’s attack force just after Zark confirmed their presence in the Porcellus system. And Jason was overdue. The Condor wasn’t known for being precisely on time every time, but more than a comfortable amount of time had passed.
“Jason, where are you?” Mark said into his communicator.
“We ran into some problems. We were ambushed – ”
“Can you handle them?”
“Already did, but – ”
“So you’re on your way now.” Mark stated.
“No.” Jason’s voice had an edge to it, “Cabiay’s in labor.”
“Are you sure?”
The sound of the cavy letting out a long, shrill shriek filled the Phoenix’s cabin.
“I’ve got his location, Mark.” Princess said from her station.
“Hang on,” Mark said into his communicator, “we’re on the way!”
* * * * *
“You’re doing fine.” Jason said as Cabiay followed a pattern of panting and pushing. She squatted over the bedding and he had positioned himself to catch a pup. He quietly prayed the two species were similar enough...
Jason’s had extensive paramedic training. He nearly spat at the thought of Anderson’s vote of confidence – clearly it was a challenge to whatever Powers That Be, a dare to find a new way to make matters rough for him!
Cabiay let out a long grunt.
“You’re crowning.” Jason said, hoping the same terminology applied to cavies, “Not much longer now.”
“Break the sac.” she commanded.
It took a moment for Jason to realize what she meant. He reached down and caught the pup as it slipped out. He cradled it in one arm and used his free hand to pull the membrane away from the muzzle. He watched the white, furry face as the pup took its first breath and let out a tiny yip. A slight grin formed on his lips as he ripped away the rest of the birth sac.
Before Jason realized it, Cabiay was reaching for her baby. “Spectra’s here!” she said, straining to keep her voice calm as she took the pup into her arms. He then heard a footfall on the entrance ramp.
The Condor dashed over to the ramp just as two green-uniformed soldiers with automatic rifles started coming down. The two froze when they saw him, let out a horrified gasp, dropped their guns and ran away.
Jason took a step after them but then he heard a cry from Cabiay. He turned and saw the pup – a tortoise shell colored ball of wet fur – scampering toward him. “Hold on there, hot shot!” he said as he scooped up the little cavy and strode back to Cabiay, “You need to stick with your mom.” The pup let out several angry squeaks as Jason placed it into it’s mother’s hands.
“Not even five minutes old and he’s already acting like a typical boar!” she sighed.
Jason started back toward the entrance but then stopped short of the ramp.
“You look....a mess!” Keyop called as soon as he reached the top of the ramp and looked into the barn. The pup let out a happy trill at the Swallow’s voice.
“Well, that explains what those two Spectran soldiers were talking about!” Princess proclaimed as she and Keyop entered the building. Jason glanced down at himself and realized he had drying birth matter on the front of him.
“They claim,” the Swan explained, “that you were running around, grabbing up every living thing, and gutting them with your teeth.”
Keyop rushed over to Cabiay to tickle the pup under the chin and make cooing sounds.
“So what were you doing – ” Princess asked with a chuckle, “gnawing the cord?”
“Can I hold him?” Keyop asked. Cabiay placed the pup into his arms and positioned him so that the little cavy was close to her belly. The newborn turned his head and finally began nursing.
“Don’t we have a Spectran invasion force to take care of?” Jason said with a voice showing how annoyed he was growing toward his teammates’ leisurely pace.
“Porcellus Defense turned them back.” Princess replied.
“Kicked ‘em....to the next star!” Keyop added. He then returned his focus to the cavies. “Does baby have a name?”
“Yes.” Cabiay replied, “Shayson.”