“Leeane! I’m glad you could make it!”
Dr. Hensworth smiled, bright white teeth showing across dark umber stick. I felt my own grin widening as my teacher and mentor wrapped me in hug women a foot taller would’ve been hard-pressed to match.
“Mama Wee-anne? Pwease no shakey Minty baggie!”
We pause, looking down at my carrier bag. A faded green Earthy peers up from the mesh screen on it, holding onto a stuffed rabbit.
“Well, is this my little lady?” she cooed.
“I did promise you one of Fortune and Lucky’s foals,” I laughed. “Say hello to your new mama, Minty.”
“Nyu mama? Fow Minty?”
“Yes I am, sugar,” Hensworth crouched down, offering the back of her hand to Minty to sniff. Head cocked, the fluffy’s muzzle pressed up against the mesh, nostrils flared.
“Nyu mama smeww wike fwuffy?”
“Oh yes, little one. C’mon, I’ll show you my babies.”
Hensworth unzips the carrier, scooping up the awaiting filly. Minty snuggles into her “nyu mama”, holding on with little hoofs to the large black woman’s arm. As we head towards the University’s agriculture labs my mind is flooded with the sounds of students milling about, talking to each other, themselves, to teachers, a few muttered prayers while pouring over books. I try not to laugh or cry; school was hard but it was good as well.
The din subsides well before we enter the ag labs. Minty ooh’s and aah’s at the various crops being grown in small plots before being distracted by butterflies dancing about. Before hitting the double-doors she spots some short-haired Earthy fluffies milling about in a pen, big and fat-bellied. Dr. Hensworth shifts the little fluff to the other side where chickens are squawking.
“Those big boys for the smoker?”
“It is fund-raising season.”
Minty is asleep in another room, tired from listening to us adults talk. While Dr. Hensworth did play with her quite a bit, the constant academic talk proved to have the same effect on fluffies as it did on humans. In the meantime? While she’s being fluffy-sat by an intern the two of us have gone to the second floor of the building.
“Is your phone on silent?” she asked, going off a checklist.
“Yep. Not even on vibrate.”
“Good. Same here,” was her reply, checking at the ePhone. “And remember, we need to keep our voices low and calm.”
The hallway was a bit longer than I expected, with walls and ceiling covered in pyramid-tiles of black acoustic foam. Two white spots poke out emitting a low hum on either end of the corridor. The carpet is thick and dense. When we open and close the door, I notice its covered in a similar acoustic foam as the hallway, although its white for visibility. The second door a few feet past is similar.
“One of our students was ex-Navy. Came up with this whole ‘sound-lock’ concept.”
“Not too bad as adults, but, well…”
As we entered the sound-proofed room the difference in mood is striking. White acoustic foam with bright cut-out felt shapes lighten up the feel considerably. Classical music is played at a low volume, while students play with the five fluffies on the ground. All the toys are soft and stuffed, no hard balls, no blocks, nothing that makes noise.
“Hewwo mama Hen-ny!” hummed through the air.
“How is every-fluffy today?” she responded. A pink stallion came up, holding an equally pink thing in its mouth, eyes teary. A blue mare followed right behind him, eyes darting back and forth, nudging forward a fleshy ball.
“Sowwy mama Hen-ny…,” he said after dropping what he was carrying. “Pep-to wose weggie again.”
“Again? But it was finally done growing! Why did you lose your leggie, Pepto?”
“Sowwy mama Hen-ny,” the blue one said. “Bwue-Chew poopie pwace made woud tooty an’ Pepto wuz too cwose.”
“When Pepto got aww scawies den Bwue-Chew got aww scawies! Den Bwue-Chew’s miwkie pwace feww off, huu-huu…”
“The autotomy kicked in over that?” I whispered, watching the two fluffies trying to comfort each other. “That’s hardly existential.”
She shrugged. “In properly functioning autotomy it wouldn’t be a problem. But that’s millions of years of evolution and multiple parts of an organism functioning together.”
Dr. Hensworth petted the two, then instructed one of the students to change two’s diet while another took the leg and teat to the biology department. As she got up, a thick hand waved towards a room in the corner marked “Soon Mama Room.”
“BIGGEST POOPIES!” was the loudest thing I heard in five hours, but like the rest of the floor the room was sound-proofed. Hensworth was right there with Snowball, a white unicorn, as labor made the mare’s face contort. A quick nod of the head and I took up position behind the mother as a small head began popping through the birth canal.
A red earthie plopped gently into my hands, squirming and gasping for its first breath, its first peep. I hand it to Snowball. The afterbirth was filled with nutrients and oxytocin that the first time mother desperately needed for this litter to be successful. No sooner than I had gotten one foal to her a second head provoked a screech from the mare. A tiny unicorn’s horn was caught on her mother’s fleshy labia; I freed the foal and mother, hearing labored panting from Snowball.
A gray unicorn covered in placenta. No time to see if it was a colt or filly though. Off to momma as it peeped wildly.
The white unicorn screamed again, pushing out another foal. Even with the afterbirth I could tell it was white. Its little horn was perfect, and its wings small and delicate. As I stood in awe of the alicorn it fell out of her abruptly, half the foal I was expecting.
Minty happily chomped away at the fluffy chow in her bowl. Breakfast was always her favorite meal. Dr. Hensworth and I stared out the window of the office as the sun rose, coffee in her cup while I nursed a Monster.
“I was hoping she’d have more living foals,” she noted.
I nodded. “Do autotomic fluffies have a high still-birth rate?”
“Very,” was dryly replied. “The amniotic fluid is an excellent conductor of sound, so the foals hear and feel every sound many times more than an adult does.”
“Remind me to bring my gloves next time, Doctor.”
“That was good of you to fish out the remaining foal bits. A few of them were already going bad inside of her.”
“How is she doing? Snowball?”
“Better now that she’s got four living foals to tend to. And some antibiotics.”
“Shame about the alicorn. It won the genetic lottery in looks, but its breaking plane being right in the center of the chest? Geez.”
“Well, one of the surviving foals is a colt, but seems like his breaking plane is actually around his genitals.”
“How can you tell?”
“There’s a bit of a birthmark around the area. Its like the body recognizes something should be happening there, but doesn’t know what.”
“Doesn’t show on the fluff?”
“How will the little guy take it when he gets older?”
“Not sure. I’ll have to ask some of the folks in psychology.”
“Any idea where the others will break at?”
“The red filly ‘s break point is on her left thigh. Its a pretty big one, so I’m not sure if we’ll get to a first birthday with her.”
I nod. Autonomic animals generally sacrificed limbs or other extremities as a defensive mechanism, but it was very taxing on their bodies. Having enough of a scare to make her lose a whole leg would be very detrimental to her health.
“The gray unicorn? His snout seems like the breaking plane.”
“What do you think his prospects are?”
“That’s not too bad from a metabolic standpoint. We can make a fake snout for social purposes and have ways to get food into him.”
“And the brown one?”
“Well, she won the lottery.”
My eyes perked up.
“Her breaking plane is her tail.”
“Just like a lizard?”
“Just like a lizard.”