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Chapter 20: The Birth of Attila

Tiger seems anxious to disentangle us from the adversary lawyers and the reporters. I go along with her. Unfortunately one of the reporters senses that something is afoot.

Tiger: Ms. Donegal, you have a phone in your car, don't you? I need to call Dr. Newman and I don't feel like using the pay phones. Attila wants to be born.

I stop Tiger and give her a big hug, and Coyote and Mariposa join in. Ms. Donegal joins the outer layer.

Reporter: You started labor in the courtroom?

Tiger: The performance is over. No, I'm feeling generous; I'll answer. Once the kitten gives the signal lion people choose the time of birth, within five days. When my doctor comes, then I'll do it. Attila, say hi to the reporter. Ouch! She doesn't like you. Come on, let's get to your car, Ms. Donegal.

We lose the reporter by cutting through a crowd of jurors.

Me: Hah, I'm not surprised she didn't like the reporter.

Tiger: Are you coyote? Not likely. I made that part up. Does anyone have an idea where we're going?

Ms. Donegal: How about I take you all out for pizza? Tiger, ride in my car and use the phone.

Coyote: When the judge asked how often I eat out, Mother of God, I hardly could hold myself back from the right answer! That was so funny, so coyote!

Tiger: Thanks for using some judgment with the judge. I assume it's some kind of slang code with a sexual connotation?

Coyote: Right. It means...

Tiger: I think my vocabulary is colorful enough already. Food, think about food. And I have a call to make. Decide which car you're going in.

It's Thursday. Tiger thought to give birth on Saturday, so the kids wouldn't miss school, but that would be the fifth day, and lacking experience in lion obstetrics she and Dr. Newman decided not to push the parameters. He came down yesterday evening. Though Coyote generously offered his bed, Dr. Newman slept on his own air mattress and sleeping bag, which he has now rolled up out of the way. He's brought the Lion Foundation's good video camera, a tripod for it, and a giant external disc, and Coyote and I will be making a training video for the other lions. Dr. Newman and both of our kids, our human kids, are dressed for it in their Lion Foundation shirts. I'll handle as much of the camera work as I can, but I want to participate as much as possible too, and Coyote will do a few key sections. We rehearsed what I'm guessing will happen, and he now knows how to do a simple pan. Camera running, Tiger lays her exercise mat on the kitchen floor and covers it with newspaper.

Tiger: Mariposa, would you show your materials on camera, please? She has a full roll of paper towels, a mixing bowl of warm water, which I hope will stay warm, a cloth towel, and a box of tampons. Dr. Newman, you have the medical kit ready? Could you do a final check that Attila is pointed the right way? She's been awfully active the last few minutes.

Tiger lays on her back and Dr. Newman smears her belly with jelly. I cut to the image from the ultrasonic probe.

Dr. Newman: She's still head down. You can start any time.

Tiger: OK, just a sec while I get this stuff off my fur. I'm going to begin now. Could I have a paper towel for my butt? I'm just going to sit at first. I hold down button three. Prepare for twenty minutes of waiting.

Nothing much is happening, but there's plenty of space on that disc. Mariposa whispers to Dr. Newman, and I turn up the volume to catch it for possible future use.

Mariposa, whispering: Dr. Newman, how long has it been? When's it going to happen?

Dr. Newman, whispering: About ten minutes more.

I'll edit this whole section out, later.

Tiger: My uterus just contracted. I don't know if I need to, but I'm going to keep pressing the button.

Me: What did it feel like?

Tiger: It didn't hurt. It's like when I have an orgasm. I wonder how long until the next one.

We wait about a minute.

Tiger: Ow! That's a lot stronger and it's still squeezing. I think I'm going to get in a squatting position. It's stopped now. I'm really excited, to finally bring Attila out. I wonder what she looks like.

We wait another minute. Suddenly murky fluid gushes out from underneath Tiger. There's a sudden odor of moldy cardboard.

Tiger: Ouch! Mariposa, about three towels, please, and hold out the trash can so I can throw them in. That one was stronger and longer. I can feel pressure. I think her head is wedged into my cervix. Could I have two more paper towels to put under me?

We wait one minute more.

Tiger: Ow, here she comes! I'm squeezing with my belly muscles and my legs. It hurts. She's stuck half in and half out! Can anyone see her head? I can't. The contraction's over and she's not out. Dr. Newman, what do I do? I see blood!

Dr. Newman: Steady, girl. Wait patiently for the next one, and so will Attila. In humans this stage can drag on as long as half an hour.

One minute wait.

Tiger: Come on, Attila, you'd better get out of there now! Move! Move! Attila! Hi, Attila!

Me, for the microphone: Hi, Attila! Tiger is stroking her but not picking her up, to let her get oriented.

Amid coos and greetings, the tiny rat-sized blob lays on her back in a smear of blood on the soaked paper towels. Her lion colored fur is soiled and matted with six months of skin secretions as well as a few streaks of fresh blood. Her giant bug eyes are sealed closed as yet. She coughs and spits up a few globs of mucus. Then, getting her priorities straight, she yawns widely, showing four tiny Smilodon fangs. She rolls over onto four feet and digs her cute little claws into the sodden paper and, presumably, the vinyl cover of the exercise mat. I move around to kneel over the bowl of water and Coyote takes over the camera. Attila shakes her head violently, and fluid spatters, then drains like tears from her cheek sinuses. Passive infrared now activated, she scans for warmth and locks onto the massive leg beside her. Wobbly, she begins to climb. She is brought abruptly to a stop by her umbilical cord, loses her grip and falls with a squelching sound. ``Yaah'', she cries in anger, and she pushes the unhelpful cord away with her hands as we watch, fascinated. She climbs again, steadier this time, but with no higher progress. She shoves hard at the cord to motivate it to let go of her, but her coordination and strength aren't up to hanging on with only three hands; she swings away from Tiger's leg and loses her hold again. Plop! She shrieks her high pitched ``yaah'', bends double, and bites off the offending member. Haughty as victor, she climbs unimpeded to her throne.

Well, not quite unimpeded. Wearing leather gloves I reach around Tiger's leg and pick Attila gently off and dunk her in the waiting water. As she slashes and snarls I rinse the birth fluids, skin waste and blood off her. Coyote has the camera pointed the right way; I hope it comes out. Quick as possible I dry her off, as she savages the margin of the towel with fangs and claws. I hope baths aren't this traumatic every day. Letting her stand four legged on my gloved palm, which she seems to identify as a spacious floor and not a slashable enemy, I return her to Tiger, still squatting, to the leg that she didn't soil previously. She nearly leaps to the infrared source, and after a hiss of rage over her shoulder she resumes her climb onto Tiger's body. She can smell the pocket; Tiger holds it open for her. She drops in and gives a little ``eep'' of pleasure. Mercurial, isn't she?

Tiger: She's suckling. Wow! What a little lion, she really earned her name, didn't she?

Coyote: Awesome! We could get money for this video.

Mariposa: She's so small but she fights! Nobody better mess with her!

Me: Right, kids. We talked about safety rules. She's not strong enough yet to bite through bone, but you could get a really nasty gash if she thinks you're hurting her.

Dr. Newman: We didn't get her weight, or her recognition code.

Tiger: You want to try it? There are the gloves.

Dr. Newman: Not really. Let's try to get those at the first toilet break, when she'll let go voluntarily. I don't want you slashed up if we try to take her out of the pocket by force. Tiger, could you tell the viewers how much it hurt, there at the end?

Tiger: Rather a lot. Remember when I hogged half the chocolate cake? I said I'm going to have a belly ache for this, but it's worth it. Attila is like that. As I felt the pain, it was like a belly ache from major overeating. Ow, it feels like something's tearing in there. My uterus was contracting kind of half strength while all that was going on, but it's picked up now. I have this urge to itch the placenta out with my claw. I assume it would be a big mistake to pull on the cord.

Dr. Newman: Right, keep your hands off the cord unless the placenta is clearly detached and it hasn't come out for fifteen or thirty minutes.

Tiger: I'm hyper! I want to get up and run. Mariposa, would you get my machine, please? Just unplug it. Right, set it where there isn't any spatter. Yuck. This thought just came to me about the quantum logic I'm working on and if it works I'm going to call it the Attila bypass. Ouch, it's tearing again. If that didn't pull off the placenta I don't know what it takes. I hope this isn't like drug fever because if this gate works out I can save half a cycle per subunit.

Coyote: Eeew! What's that?

Attila's placenta slides out of Tiger's vagina and flops on the paper towels in a bloody pile.

Tiger: So what are we supposed to do with that? We can't just toss it in the garbage.

Me: We can't dry it and hang it up as a souvenir.

Dr. Newman: Well, I can't really think of anything better than the disposer. That's where you kids' placentas went.

Tiger: I heard it adds body to barbecue sauce.

Dr. Newman: Nice joke, Tiger. If nobody's going to volunteer, I'll do the honors. Nothing is supposed to gross out a doctor.

On camera, he deftly scoops up the placenta in two paper towels folded together, and off camera he noisily runs it down the garbage disposer.

Tiger: I want to sit down and this place is a mess. Just a sec, that's enough notes so I can finish the gate design later. Somebody, Coyote, would you take my machine away? Thanks. Now let's try to get all this crap into the trash can... Mariposa, slide a paper towel under me; I'm dripping on the mat. OK, will the wet papers fit in the can? If I shove, they will. I'm all hyper! I want to show off Attila. Let's have a, not a damn barbecue, a pizza party and we'll invite everyone in Casa Serena to see Attila. Who has the tampons? Dr. Newman, do you have any idea how one of these things goes into a lion person?

Dr. Newman: Turn it around so the string is on the outside. If you use the plastic holder you can put it in without getting blood on your fingers. You have it tilted; make it more perpendicular to your body. Is that hurting your vagina at all?

Tiger: It feels funny, like after you do a pelvic exam on me. Mariposa, another paper towel, please; I want to wipe some of the blood off me. I've got to get in the shower and wash all this ick off, and I'll take the mat in with me. Attila, Attila, you're going to have a shower! I wonder if I could give her a bath, fill up my pocket with water and bathe her before it all runs out the bottom hole. It's a lot more pleasant than that slash and bash routine. Look, the tampon is holding back the blood. I'm going out visiting!

I pull back to a wide angle. Whatever happens, it's going to be recorded.

Me: I don't think that's such a good idea. Don't you want to take a shower?

Dr. Newman: You really should rest after giving birth.

Tiger: Strong as a lion! I got most of the blood off, and the ultrasound jelly. They're going to be looking at Attila, not my fur. Bye!

Me: Coyote, stick with her like glue; I have to shut this down.

Coyote: Leave the door open and film out of it! The cable will reach. You can't miss this. You can yell at her from the door.

Infected with Tiger's hyper spirit, I do as Coyote says. Tiger is standing on the new fallen snow on Mrs. Fisher's porch, and Dr. Newman and the two kids, barefoot and without jackets, are on the walk behind her, shifting frigidly from foot to foot in the snow. Mrs. Fisher has just responded to Tiger's knocking. She and Tiger are easy to film.

Me: Mariposa, bring out shoes and jackets please. Now!

Mrs. Fisher: That's Attila? How cute she is, so small! May I pick her up?

Tiger: Better not; she bites. See, she hears your voice and she's trying to find you on infrared. We're going to have, jeez, I'm so hyper I can't plan stuff, but this afternoon or this morning or something we're going to invite people in and show the video. What a fighter she is! She earned her name today and you can see it. I'm going to climb a tree and show her the world.

Me: Show her from our upstairs window.

Tiger: From a tree! We're lions!

And she takes off over the snow, followed by her entourage, half-tied shoes flopping, and she scrambles up our cedar tree. I give her credit: it's easy to climb and the strong branches are safe to go up on, and she checks each branch as she should. But she's not supposed to be up a tree at all. And the scarlet blood now is clearly visible around her vagina.

Coyote: Tiger, come down, please. Come here! You're bleeding and it's grossing everyone out. It's not polite to bleed all over the tree. I have to climb it too, you know.

Tiger: Be a dear and get me another tampon, would you?

Coyote: They're in the house and you can't change it in the tree; you have to go in the house. And stay there. Please be steady!

That hits a nerve.

Tiger: Attila, have one last look around, and we have to go in now.

She's on the ground at last. The video is low comedy, not tragedy. Tiger is not dismayed by her misbehavior; in fact, she leads her untied retinue across the snow like a queen, through the door as I back up. While I reposition the camera she places a folded pair of paper towels on her mat and sits. The tampon really hasn't been all that effective.

Dr. Newman: Now that we're settled down a little, let's take that tampon out and let you drain. Look at that; there was a lot of blood backed up behind it. No wonder it leaked. No, don't put in another, let's let it drain for a while because I want to see how much blood is coming out.

Tiger: Maybe I over-hypered. But I just have this urge to expand! I can't imagine that just climbing one tree would make me bleed so much.

Dr. Newman: Well, the whole fetal blood supply was torn off, and it's not surprising that it continues to bleed for a while. I'll want estimates of blood loss each day, and don't be surprised if it bleeds a little for several weeks. Knowing lions, I don't think the tree climbing had that much effect, but it's not something I'd recommend.

Tiger: When can I run?

Dr. Newman: Tomorrow morning. Not before. Running makes you jounce inside, and it could knock off blood clots. I'd rather you walked tomorrow morning and ran the day after.

Tiger: I can handle disappointment. How about if I take a shower now? I really would like to invite people in, and I want to look nice, and I want to try out my bath idea for Attila.

Dr. Newman: Sit or lay here for an hour, and ooze onto paper towels. If the blood is mostly stopped, then put in a tampon and take your shower. OK? Pass the time by flying your simulator; I know you like that. You can wreak hyper havoc on somebody's tanks and buildings.

Tiger: OK, Doctor, I'll follow the prescription, in the Korea scenario. Mariposa, you've done a good job over there. Could you get my machine again? And my lap board.

Well, I guess that's it for the video, at least this part. The disc is about two thirds full, and I want space to put the pocket bath if I can, and the first toilet break. Dividing bladder volume by my formula consumption rate at that age, I estimate that will happen every two hours: one hour from now, on the unlikely assumption that Attila started out empty. Every two hours day and night? Bleah. Coyote and I move the camera, disc and computer upstairs so the bathroom can be covered. Meanwhile Dr. Newman keeps an unobtrusive but watchful eye on Tiger's vagina.

Coyote: Suppose after lunch we mix up a big batch of cookies, and we'll bake them as the guests come in. They can eat warm cookies and juice. We have lots of paper cups. Mariposa, Tiger, did you hear? Do you think that would be nice?

It's a good plan. However, Tiger is interrupted by a muffled ``yip'', Attila's instinctive urination cry.

Me: I'm coming right down. Coyote, you remember how to work the zoomer? Keep the camera on the tripod and carry the whole thing into the bathroom when we're in. Hey, Tiger, I'd like to make sure what we agreed: I get Attila after this, right?

Tiger: One part of me says no, the other part says I want to get you in the habit of sharing equally. I've had her for six months, so now it's your turn.

Me: Maybe not that equally. Hi, Attila, how's the bladder? This is supposed to work without gloves, but I want you kids to use the gloves every time until we and Attila know how we're going to respond. Until I say we're ready. OK? My skin is opal reinforced so I won't be cut through, unlike you. OK, Attila, come to Simba.

I get one hand under Attila so she can stand on it, slightly lifting her up, and she gingerly lets go of the folds of Tiger's pocket and puts her weight on me, one leg at a time. I slowly place my other hand over her, and I can feel her tension at the implied threat. I gently and slowly massage her back with one finger until the tension seems to decrease. Then I slowly lift her out of Tiger's pocket and place her against my chest, her side pressed against my fur. I walk as smooth as I can up the stairs.

Me: Coyote, wide angle of me approaching and going in. Good. Later we have to get a shot of how to take her out of the pocket. Now I'm going to hold her over the toilet. Don't jump in, Attila! Zoom so you can see what's happening. Ready? Now I'll extend her clitoris with button one. You have to be careful to get the right one, because the buttons are so small. Oh, that's neat, she crouches with her butt off the edge, if she would just move back a little. That wasn't clear in videos of us. Come on, Attila, move back. Oh, her clit reset. And now she'll move, that's enough, don't back off my hand. There, now, button one, crouch, and voila, button two!

A tiny golden stream neatly descends into the toilet.

Me: Good, Attila, very good! Apparently she freezes until her program resets. Now, Attila, let's sniff your recognition code. 3207, would someone write that down? And if Dr. Newman would set up the scale I'll see if she'll hold still for a weighing. You don't have to film that, Coyote. Shut it off.

I take her downstairs to where Dr. Newman has the scale on the dining table. She's trying to climb off my hand onto my fur, to get to my pocket which she can smell. I tilt her onto the scale; on losing her grip on my hand, she extends claws and scrabbles on the stainless steel. The scale is designed for wigglies, and reads 315 grams.

Attila: Yaaw. Yaaw!

Me: Attila, I'm right here, don't worry. Should I put her straight in my pocket, or make her climb?

Dr. Newman: Climb. She needs to work on strength.

I let her climb onto my hand again, and put her down against my ankle. She immediately begins climbing my fur. What a strange sensation! I'm ready to catch her if she falls. At mid-thigh she pauses, but she resumes climbing after getting her breath back. Finally she goes over the edge of my pocket and flops head down into it, then gets turned right way up.

Me: Oh, she's sucking! That feels good! It's going right to the reward center in my brain, like sex. I like this. You human males, I'm sorry for you, what you're missing.

Dr. Newman: I made you, remember.

Me: I'm sorry, I was too hyper, I wasn't thinking. Thank you for this.

Coyote: Come on, it can't be that good.

Dr. Newman: I know how he's wired, remember. Enjoy it, Simba; you're what we humans wanted to be.

Me: Kids, I think a triple load of cookie dough will feed our guests and leave enough for us to eat afterward. Would you get that started? I'm going to edit the video, a quick job, so we can show it this afternoon, and when I'm done I'll help you mix the dough.

Mariposa: We used the big mixing bowl for Attila's bathtub!

Me: Well, wash it! Here, I'll empty it out for you, it's heavy, and you finish the job.

Mariposa: You can do that while Attila is nursing? And it's so weird that the man is doing it.

Me: Never forget, I'm not a man. You could get in trouble psychologically if you mix Tiger or me up with humans. The judge wasn't entirely wrong to worry about that.

Mariposa: OK, I'll remember.

Me: Attila is so convenient, so far. She's finished nursing already but she's just holding onto my nipple. I like it and I guess she likes it. When she's in my pocket she can take care of herself and I can do jobs, not like a human baby that you have to hold, and change diapers. Now the challenge is going to come in a few days when she doesn't want to stay in the pocket.

Mariposa: Tiger, could I ask you something? When you were having your contractions, did it hurt a lot? Should I be scared about when I have my babies?

Tiger: I'll be doing this seven times more, and I'm not scared; I'm looking forward to it. But I think a human female hurts more when giving birth, because the baby is bigger yet the hole is the same size. Don't handle it with fear; rather, accept the pain joyfully, no matter how much. When you had your shots, did you fear them?

Mariposa: Yes, but I stayed steady.

Tiger: Yes, you did, and that's good. Next time, be steady again, but also try to be happy that they're hurting you.

Mariposa: Happy? That's crazy!

Tiger: It's not easy and it took me a lot of practice to do it right. Don't be surprised if you're not perfect the first time, or the fiftieth.

Mariposa: How can you practice that? Did you get hurt a lot?

Tiger: Yes, a lot! We all had blood drawn every month, plus immunizations. We still do. And liver biopsies too. Dr. Newman never met a liver he didn't want a piece of.

Me: I never did learn to be peaceful in pain. I think it's a blind spot in my personality. That's why I draw my own blood.

Mariposa: Wow, I've got a lot to learn, to be a lion.

Me: You've got a lot to learn to be a human. And one of the items involves cookie dough. And for me, a lot of people really want to see our video.

I edit the video very simply. I solarize a frame of Tiger sitting and put text ``Twenty Minute Wait'' over it, accompanied by Mariposa's whispered question which I captured for the purpose. Similar frames of squatting replace the inter-contraction waits, and there's a good shot of Attila standing on my hand in the bathroom which, minus background and solarized, becomes the background for the title, and the transition into the toilet break. I slice out a few awkward camera movements, but I leave most of the action just as it happened. There, that's done. I ship it off to the Lion Foundation's server, linked from my web page -- not a swift operation over an ISDN line -- and I send a message to the other lions and the project staff, who are probably waiting with bated breath for news. I'll do a more detailed job later, including the pocket bath, if it works, and the demo of picking Attila up.

Dr. Newman finally clears Tiger to put another tampon in, the blood flow having nearly stopped. She's happy to be able to move freely, and she's hungry, so after washing her hands and arms she bustles around fixing lunch. Attila waits until we're almost completely finished eating before asking to go to the toilet again. Tiger takes her back, and afterward tries out the pocket bath idea as I film it. Attila likes it, or at least tolerates the water, and Tiger can give her a proper bath with soap and fur conditioner. Unmatted, her fur turns out to be long (for such a little person) and silky. And Tiger bathes herself thoroughly as well, of course. After blow drying, we're able to actually use a worn-out toothbrush to brush sulfur dust through Attila's fur, without complaints or biting. The key is that Attila feels secure in someone's pocket, and in control, having a good grip on the soft foldable skin. Tiger doesn't need sulfur dust today, but she smells a lot sweeter and less rank, minus the blood and fluid smears.

We delay the party until 4:30, when people will start coming home from work. The (human) kids make and put up signs. It's a big success, and we're visited by a few neighbors we've never managed to meet. Attila doesn't seem to mind being shown off as long as she's allowed to hang on to Tiger, and as long as the pocket is closed some of the time. She's fascinated by the variety of voices and scans over her shoulder for every one, matching up her auditory and infrared positional maps. We've got the cookie assembly line going, and people then gather round one of our five computers, including Dr. Newman's, that are showing the video via a multicast packet stream. More than one teenager is seen to involuntarily cover up his crotch when she bites off her umbilical cord, and then self-consciously take his hands away. Many of the guests ask questions. No question is stupid, but a number are worth saving for appreciation after the guests have gone.

Lady: Do you take your fur coats off at night?

Tiger: No, Ma'am, we're like cats and other nonhuman animals; our fur is permanently attached.

Me (thinking, not saying): Unlike your wig.

Boy: Is Attila a boy or a girl? I saw something sticking out when she peed.

Mariposa: Attila is a lion kitten, not like us. All lions have something sticking out to pee through, because it's neater that way. She's female, but the only way you can tell is by her scent or by DNA, because her vagina won't open for another year and a half. Both male and female lions are fierce and strong. It's good for humans to imitate them.

Man: Isn't it queer to have, you know, what a woman has for the baby?

Me: Queer as in strange, certainly humans would feel that way. I nursed Attila for the first time today, we both did, and I really enjoy it. That enhances my pair bond with my mate, not weakens it.

Lady: When you nurse the baby, how do you control how much milk she gets?

Me: We don't, she does. Most of the young lion's life is controlled by herself.

Boy: Do lion people have super strength?

Tiger: I'm stronger than most humans my size because I work on it, and because my muscles are programmed to respond to exercise in a predictable way. Most humans who worked as hard as I do would get the strength I have. A few would have to work harder than I do.

Man: What are the swellings on her head?

Me: Those are her eyes. They're closed to protect them during birth, and they'll open in a few days. They're so big because the retina can't grow; it has to be put in at the adult size. Do you see Attila looking at me, when I talk? She's using passive infrared. Look close at her cheeks: see the dark spots where the fur is thin? With those, lion people can see in total darkness. We regularly run in the park at night before going to bed. It's hard for you to see Tiger's or my infrared sensors because our fur is dark.

Boy: Black is beautiful and all that, but your black is x-treme! So why is Attila white?

Tiger: See my tail tip; that's white. Attila is lion color. The color hormones that I take don't pass through the placenta into her, so she gets the no-hormone color, which is lion color. But the hormones do come out in our milk, and she'll get a mixture of mine and Simba's, which will come out to... let's see... auburn and black stripes, auburn tail tip and black skin. Not the most attractive combination. She'll shed when the warm weather comes, and that's the color she'll become. When she's off our milk, next year, we'll give her just T-y hormone for the black tail tip, and she'll go back to lion color except for that. Finally, when she has the discipline to stick with one color scheme for half a year, we'll let her choose.

Lady: Why are some people so upset with you? You know, witchcraft and stuff like that. You don't seem like a witch.

Tiger: We weren't created by God, we were created by Dr. Newman and the rest of the Lion Foundation staff. That bothers some people who think that only God should create life. This is the first I'd heard about witchcraft, though I'm not surprised. Advanced genetic engineering can seem a lot like witchcraft, to ignorant people. I wish those people would just get to know us, like you're doing.

Girl: Do you have to be a lion person to get the lion disc? My daddy says you do.

Me: Anyone can buy it for 25 bucks, and most software stores have it. If you have a computer, earn the money and buy it yourself. Check the price first and don't forget tax.

Mariposa: My brother and I really learned a lot from the lion disc. It's worth it.

Boy: My big brother, he cut school today and he saw you up a tree and you were bloody, you know, down there. Weren't you shy? And why were you up that tree, anyway?

Tiger, laughing: I really shouldn't have climbed, because I was still bleeding, and if I had fallen I would have hurt Attila. But I was really hyper; I still am. I was so happy to have Attila out at last, and I wanted her to see the world. Of course her eyes aren't open yet and all she has is passive infrared. Now on the shy issue, to the people who were grossed out, I'm sorry, and I should have thought of humans' feelings, when I was too hyper to think properly of consequences. But for myself, I don't care who sees my vagina, or whether blood outlines it. Of course I like to be neat when people see me, and I forgot about that. I'm glad I didn't fall, and once that's true, the whole thing is a big joke.

Lady: But weren't you exhausted and sore after giving birth? I know I was.

Tiger: Not at all. See how small Attila is; it's so much easier to bring her out than a human baby. You saw the video; my labor only lasted five minutes, or ten counting ejecting the placenta. I'm so happy to have Attila outside where we can do things together, and I kind of let my hyper spirit overcome my steadiness.

Man: The little one is sure different from a human baby. What a fighter! What other ways are lions different? I mean, besides the fur and teeth.

Me: There are lots of metabolic and anatomical differences, but I think you mean behavior. We're not just humans in fur, but, see, a person's behavior comes about equally from genes, from training, and from how he specifically learns in the school of hard knocks. The genes for our behavior come from human sources, but our creators chose twenty variants of each one that they thought would give a good result. For example, Attila didn't give up when she lost her grip; she identified what was holding her back, dealt with it, then tried again. The genes that might contribute to flopping on the floor and bitching weren't included in us. But even so, there's a lot of variability between lion people, same as among humans. A big difference from humans is in our training. No, that's wrong. Some humans buy the lion disc, and there's a big difference between people, lions and humans, who do our training, and those who don't. We learn more topics, and each topic is learned essentially perfectly, however long it takes us to finish it. We also get training in attitudes, such as thinking before acting, which is not necessarily carried out error free, but on the whole we do very well. There's another difference. When growing up I never had to worry that I might be beaten up. The human children who grew up with us had to worry about a thoughtless slash, but they had exactly the same self-defense training we did, and if they followed the training they didn't have to get hurt. Coyote and Mariposa started out pretty good at taking care of themselves, and they're a lot better now, but physical safety was always a big issue for them, and some kids end up as doormats, which is very bad for their development. I think that's about enough on differences.

Girl: Could I get, you know, a pocket? It's so handy for holding the baby.

Tiger: Sorry, you can't. You have to be born with it. But I've seen humans using cloth pockets for a baby. I'd show you Attila's pocket except she'd fight being exposed like that. It's feasible to install a few of our metabolic changes into a human's soma, such as the vitamin and amino acid production and, I think, nitrogen fixation. Unfortunately it's also illegal due to a law that was passed a few years ago.

The guests are thinning out, going home to prepare dinner, and we think about doing likewise. The kids go out to find and take down their signs. We fry up a potful of soybeans that have been soaking since noon, with a proper sauce containing cheese and a few bits of beef and some pork ribs and lots of tasty spices, and we wrap the mixture in corn tortillas. A bowl of fruit complements the heavy main dish and doesn't need to be cooked. The burritos plus fruit are nutritionally complete for humans so the kids don't have to make a supplementary dish today.

Dr. Newman: This is delicious! I should take the recipe back to Mrs. Ragland.

Me: Actually it's her recipe, but we kind of Mexicanized it. We picked up the sauce idea from Mrs. Solano, putting cheese in it, and the chili powder. Did you see how many spices we have? We get a new one once or twice a month, just to see what it is.

Dr. Newman: What are the crunchies?

Me: I smashed some pork ribs; that was the pounding you heard. Just spit out the bits that are too big for you.

Coyote: I'll bet you have lots of kinds of trees up in the mountains. I wish I could go up there someday and see them, and climb them. I'm getting to like trees since the lion people showed me how to climb properly. It helps to be strong.

Dr. Newman: It's awfully quiet in our forest now. Only a few children are left. When the weather warms up, come and visit. Remember when you lions and Willie and Cathy would go tearing through the forest naked, screaming at the top of your lungs? It's too tame now, too adult.

Tiger: I remember one game: after we hunted and hid, it eventually ended up as a straight line run to the goal, and I tried with every dyne of determination to not let Cathy beat me, but she did anyway, and I was furious, not at her, but at how my feet are constructed. After we cooled off, temperature and mind, she said I should have forced the confrontation onto my strengths, blocking her path so we both had to run in zigzags. And we tried that and I won. We all learned so much from each other, and I wish we could go back to be kids.

Coyote: I wish I'd been there. Chasing a naked girl through the forest sounds like fun. Actually you still act like kids sometimes, like this morning.

Tiger: I should hope so! To get as dull as you my brain would have to be pickled in formaldehyde. It's not polite to bleed all over the tree, hah! Seriously, I stay a kid as much as I can; I do the minimum of dull stuff to get by. No, that doesn't say it fairly. We lions work hard, and we always did, and some of the work, like arithmetic and typing practice, is dull. But we're doing it for a reason, and I refuse to let my core goals get polluted with dullness. You're Lion Foundation members now; let's take you kids up there to see the place. Let's say, first week of May. We may have to work around work crises, but let's make that the target.

Coyote: Yeah! That would be cool! Do I have to do anything to get ready?

Dr. Newman: Willie and Cathy brushed their skin daily to minimize scratching, and before barefoot season they scrubbed their feet with a scrub brush. They swore they could go straight out on a ten klick hike the first day with no risk, whatever I told them about strengthening their foot pads gradually. Also if you're interested in trees and plants you should study a good field guide. I can give you a reference if your guardians don't have it.

Mariposa: I'd like to do it too. Are there bears? I'd like to see a bear.

Me: When we were there the bears stayed away; they were scared of us. Maybe they've come back now.

Dr. Newman: I saw one last year, but they're rare on our mountain.

Mariposa: What would happen to school? My teacher wouldn't like me to be out for a week.

Coyote: Mr. Butthead would be overjoyed if I were out for a week.

Tiger: What about other classes?

Coyote: Phys ed, I'd come back as strong as when I left. No problem. English, Ms. Ramirez spends most of her time acting like the writing analyzer for one kid at a time. I have my own, and she lets me do my writing assignment in class. I take the paper to the office and they make a copy; you've seem me typing those in. I can do two a day the previous week. Social studies, I've figured out how to read the book, and I can just ask her what to read, and do it ahead. We don't really do that much; a lot of the kids sleep through that one. Same for music; she plays discs of dull stuff and we sleep. Study hall, hah.

Dr. Newman: What about science?

Coyote: That's for the academic track, not the Mexican track.

Tiger: How about for the coyote track?

Coyote: Coyote learns what there's a reason for. The school doesn't work that way. I can see what you're thinking: scream until they switch me to academic track. I can handle academic math that they did at the beginning of school, but it's not the beginning any more; it's next year. I have to work more with the lion disc to catch up. English, I don't know. I've gotten better, but I don't know if I'm good enough to switch. The other classes, I don't know what they're doing, and I haven't worked on catching up, either. I don't have time.

Tiger: You're putting a lot of time into school classes and not making progress from them. There ought to be some kind of counselor you can complain to.

Coyote: I'll imitate Attila: I'll climb the mountain, and then I'll go klunk against the umbilical cord of how the school operates. So I make noise and push against it. It'll be entertaining, but don't expect anything more. Don't get me wrong; I'll do my best, but I'm realistic.

Tiger: What did Attila do then?

Mariposa: Madre, if Coyote quit school Madre would be very, very sad.

Tiger: What did she want for Coyote that he would get from the school?

Mariposa: An education. Not to be a dumb Mexican.

Tiger: Let's look at two copies of Coyote. One is in school. The other is out of school studying lion lessons. Which one is getting the better education? Which would your Madre want to become the whole Coyote?

Mariposa: I don't think we're allowed to quit school. The cops would catch us.

Tiger: I'll give you the URL of the relevant law sections. We lions learned totally from the lion disc; we never went to a public school, and we kept the school officials off our backs very successfully. How would you feel about home study?

Mariposa: If I quit school and did it all from the lion disc, I'd never see most of my friends. I wouldn't like that. Some of school is really boring. It used to be that I didn't know the stuff, but now I do know it. Both are bad, because I'm bored not getting much out of the school. But there are good things in school, like the teacher brings in stuff you never thought of. Her great great great grandfather fought in the Civil War, and she read a letter he wrote. I'd like to learn more about that. And you have friends from all around, not just Casa Serena. My Madre wants me to have the best education I'm able to learn, but I wish I didn't have to lose the good parts of school.

Coyote: It's scary, but it's coyote! What happens if I screw up? Suppose I get into goofing off? Suppose I study the wrong things? How do I know if I'm doing enough?

Me: If you screw up you have to fix it. If you goof off, well, you've worked pretty hard for the last seven months, and I think you like the results you're getting, so you're likely to continue. If you don't, I have the feeling you're no worse than if you had goofed off in the dumb Mexican track. You're already missing out on study topics; if you find you're putting effort into stuff that's not useful, change it. And how much is enough? Basically, when you can do what you want, that's enough. The programs will let you know clearly what they expect, but you don't have to go along; you can adjust them up or down.

Coyote: So do I just waltz in and tell Butthead, your wish has been granted: this is my last day?

Me: I don't think so. Imagine Judge Ramirez' reaction. Do the counseling thing, and let them know how badly they're serving you. And take the time to really dig into those questions you asked: what should you study, and how much. Then once we have final custody, decide and act.

Mariposa: What about me? I don't have a counselor.

Me: Tell your teacher what's going to happen and talk to her about what you're going to miss. We'd also like to meet with her and try to work out a compromise. I'd like you to seriously look at the same questions Coyote will: what should Mariposa study, and how much. OK?

Mariposa: I'll make this work, because I'm tough as a lion.

Tiger: We'll all work together: me, Simba, you and Coyote. And your teacher. We certainly will make it work.

Attila: Yip!

Tiger: Great timing, Attila. OK, who did you decide would be first for toileting?

Mariposa: Me, me! I've got the gloves. Can I just pull your pocket open? Now I lift under her... she's standing on my hand. So small!

Tiger: Don't rush. Attila looks nervous. Stay inside my pocket, and very gently stroke her back, and speak to her.

Mariposa: Hi, Attila. We're going to the toilet now. Won't that be fun? You're cute.

Attila: Yip!

Tiger: I think that means she's ready to go with you. Cover her so she doesn't fall off, and lift her slowly out of my pocket.

Mariposa takes Attila upstairs and Tiger tails along, followed by Coyote and me. Tiger talks Mariposa through the process.

Mariposa: But I can't feel the buttons through the gloves! They're too thick.

Tiger: I hadn't thought of that little detail. What do you think, Simba, she holds and I press buttons? Or could she do it without gloves?

Me: It's up to you, Mariposa.

Attila: Yip!

Mariposa: I'll be brave, and careful. Could you take the glove, please. Oh, her buttons are so small! I wonder what yours are like. Now, button one, and two! How cute!

Attila: Yarp!

Tiger: When her clit retracts, then hit button four. She wants to caca.

Mariposa: Eeew! Just press it? OK, button four. That's it? Do I have to wipe her, or anything?

Tiger: No, she's self-cleaning. Set her on Simba's ankle and let her climb his leg.

Mariposa: That was fun! And so neat. Coyote, it's your turn next time. We're really a lion family.

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