Alaska finds her paws.

 

Ten days later, Alaska, her eyes having opened two days previously, wanted to go exploring.  She heard other community members speaking of places she’d never even dreamed of.  Some spoke of woods, others of the spar pool, others still of a great room where animals could lounge at ease which was enormous.  Alaska, able to see, but not yet able to walk on her paws, wanted to see all these places.  She was bored of staying with her mother and older sister, love them dearly though she did.  Alaska wanted adventure.

 

To that end, she waited until Allie and Younger Arki were asleep one night, and then crawled away from the lie up.  Moving as noiselessly as she could, Alaska soon found herself out in the passage.  She knew patrols of lions and tigers roamed the passages as well as the woods outside, for she’d heard her mother talking to them when she should have been asleep.  Alaska now wanted to go exploring, and hoped no patrol found her, for if they did, she’d be straight back to her lie up, and Allie would be furious.  Turning right and crawling carefully, Alaska found her way to a door in the left hand wall.  This door was grey; indeed, it was not like any other door she’d yet seen.  Allie had called it a lift.  Alaska pulled herself up the wall paw over paw, the toes of her hind paws now bearing some of her weight for the first time in her life.  She found that by shuffling her hind paws forward a bit, she could stand upright, her forepaws resting on the wall.  Alaska could see something in front of her, two lights, one pointing towards the ceiling, and the other towards her toes.  Alaska knew she was quite high up, but didn’t know how far further she could go.  Allie had walked up four flights of stairs to get to their home.  Alaska knew this to be the second floor.  Hitting the arrow pointing down, Alaska waited.  Soon the door opened in the wall and Alaska, hearing someone coming down the passage, ran straight in and hid in the corner.  The lift doors closed and she found herself alone in a small room.  Alaska looked about her, a light, good light, directly in front of her nose was the wall, Alaska herself being sprawled on the floor at the back of the lift after she’d thrown herself in when the voice had been heard.  Crawling over to the door, Alaska looked at it, then at the wall to the left of the door.  On the wall were buttons and a grill.

       “Can anyone hear me?”  Alaska asked.  A voice said:

       “Welcome to the automated voice activated elevator control system.”

      “Um, thank you,” the polar bear cub replied.

         “Where would you like to go now?”  The voice asked.

       “I don’t know,” Alaska replied, very confused.

        “Here are your choices,” the machine said in a very pleasant voice, “you can go to the ground floor, first floor, second floor, third floor or fourth floor, boss’s quarters, or the basement.  To make your choice, just say ground, first, second, third, fourth boss or basement.  If you want help, just say help, or if you want to open the door, just say open.”

        “Where am I?”  Alaska asked.

       “You are on the second floor,” the voice said.

       “Oh, thanks,” Alaska replied.

       “Do you want the basement, ground, first, second, third, fourth or bosses floor?”  The voice asked.  Alaska looked up, seeing a camera in the top left corner of the wall ahead of her.  She knew cameras were everywhere, was someone watching her now?  If they were, she was sure to be found out and punished for leaving her lie up.

 

The truth was someone was watching, Nanuq, in control that night, had watched Alaska from the moment she’d left the lie up.  Indeed, it was he who was on the other end of the intercom, though Alaska didn’t realise she was talking to a real entity, for Nanuq didn’t want to frighten her.  He’d seen the little cub getting more and more frustrated as the days went past and she went nowhere, and now he was helping her to explore.

       “Where do you think I should go?”  Alaska asked.

        “Say basement, first, second, third, fourth or boss.”  Nanuq replied, trying not to smile, for that would have changed his tone and given the game away.

       “This lift is very helpful,” Alaska thought, and quite without thinking, spoke her thoughts.

         “You’re being very helpful, thanks for that.”  Nanuq nearly laughed out loud, but caught himself just in time.

         “I think I’ll go to the basement,” Alaska said.  Nanuq switched off the mic, pressed the button for the basement and laughed quietly to himself.  He wanted to help Alaska to have a good time without her knowing she was being helped by any kind of intelligent life.  As far as he could work out, Alaska thought his voice that of some computer and that was fine by him.  Nanuq watched the lift stop at its destination and he held the doors for a few seconds.

       “You are now on the basement level,” Nanuq said into his mic, then, as Alaska looked scared and began to shout at him, he realised he’d not turned his mic on.

       “Let me out! Let me out!”  Alaska yelled, banging on the door with her paw.

        “This is the basement level,” Nanuq said, “please do not be frightened, I am a new system and am a little slow.  The door will now open.  On this level you will find the new snow room, this is a place where it is permanently winter.”

         “Okay,” Alaska said, reassured by the voice.  Nanuq opened the door and said:

      “The snow room is on your immediate left as you leave the lift.”  Alaska smiled and gently patted the lift wall as she left.

        “Thank you for your help,” she said, Nanuq trying not to laugh merrily.

 

Alaska padded from the lift and turned sharp left as instructed, a door in front of her opening before she’d even got to it.  Once she was through the door closed behind her hind paws, then another opened.  A blast of freezing air hit her full in the face, and she crawled through into a strange world.

 

The world was all white, with cold stuff beneath her forepaws.  Alaska saw she’d left paw prints in the stuff on the floor, and claw marks where the toes of her hind paws scraped along the ground.  The place was freezing cold!

       “What is this place?”  Alaska asked herself.  It was enormous, a huge room with a snow slide, rocks and what looked like a cave, all covered in cold stuff.  The air was freezing too.

       “Where am I?”  Alaska asked aloud, “Please, where is this place?”  A huge paw rested itself on her tiny one.  Alaska screamed with fear!

       “It’s okay,” Nanuq said gently, “I won’t hurt you Alaska.”  The cub stared at a huge male polar bear, he was enormous!

        “You, you scared me,” the cub stammered, “I, I, I, oh dear, are you safe?  A friend?”  Nanuq sat back on the snow and picked Alaska up in his forepaws.

        “I won’t hurt you little one,” Nanuq said.

       “What do I call you?”  Alaska asked.

        “Um, just Nanuq,” the polar bear replied, “my son cub’s also called Nanuq, but let’s keep it simple shall we?”

         “Well, Nanuq, how did you know I was here?”  Alaska asked.

       “I followed you here,” the bear replied, omitting the fact he’d been in the control room, and had left it in Nanuq junior’s control, racing down to the snow room when Alaska had gone in.

        “I live here,” Nanuq said, bending the truth a bit.  He’d spent time in here advising the boss on how things should be for a proper polar environment.  As it was, snow was falling, and a gentle wind had sprung up from the west.  Suddenly a fierce wined began to blow, driving the snow into Alaska’s face and stinging her paws.

       “Let’s get out of here!”  The cub screamed above the wind, “It’s awful!”  Nanuq dragged the cub into the cave and blocked up the entrance with ice blocks and snow.

       “We should be okay in here until the blizzards over,” Nanuq said, snow melting off his fur and paws.

        “Will the blizzard stop?”  Alaska asked, forgetting she’d not been outside the house.

        “It might take some time,” the big male polar bear replied, “now let’s keep you warm Alaska.”  Alaska was cold, though she didn’t want to admit it.  Looking down at her own paws, she saw they were shaking.

        “Would you curl round me?”  Alaska asked.  Nanuq smiled and did just as she asked.  Alaska snuggled into the polar bear’s warm embrace.  His paws were huge!

       “I, I’ve just thought of something,” Alaska said, suddenly horrified, “when, when, when I go back to mum, that’s Allie, she’ll know I’ve been away, because, because, well, my paws are all wet, and my fur smells of your scent, and you’re not family, for you haven’t got the scent, but you feel like family, well sort of, and it’s all going wrong!”

       “I know your mum very well Alaska dear,” Nanuq replied.

       “How?”  Alaska asked.

      “Do you want to hear a story?”  Nanuq asked.  Alaska smiled and nodded.

      “Yes, please,” she replied.

        “One day,” Nanuq began, “in the frozen wastes of the arctic, for this is a true storey Alaska, I was wandering alone across the ice.  I came across a great number of male polar bears who were trying to dig something out of a den in a hillside.  I asked them what they were digging for and they said there was a mother having cubs in a den in the hillside, and they were trying to get to her to eat her cubs when they were born.”

       “How horrible!”  Alaska replied, “So this female bear, like my mum, was having a cub, and these males wanted to get to her and her cubs to eat them?”

       “Yes,” Nanuq replied, “well, when I got to the den, which they’d not broken into yet, I scraped away the entrance and crawled in.  The males wanted this, for all they’d done was threaten the female and dig ineffectively.  I dug down to her, and she was very close to having her cubs.  When she saw my face looking down at her she nearly lost it, screaming and roaring as a contraction gripped her.”

        “Did you want to eat the cubs too?”  Alaska asked, now nervous.

        “No,” Nanuq replied, “but I had to make the males think I did.  So while the mother was screaming in pain with a contraction gripping her I growled at her a bit then turned and chased the males off.  I went mad at them!  There were only two or three, and I ran at each of them, for I was bigger than any of them and angrier too!  They fled!  I then went back to the mother to be, who was just delivering her first cub.”  Alaska looked at Nanuq, exploring him with her eyes.

       “You have scars on your face and you can’t use the toes of your left forepaw very well,”  Alaska said, “Nanuq, you didn’t just yell at them did you?”  Nanuq looked down at his damaged left forepaw.  He’d forgotten about the nerve damage caused when one of the male polar bears sank his teeth into that paw.  He’s just got on with his life, but now he was made aware of his immobile toes.

        “I fought them Alaska, every dam one,” Nanuq replied, covering his face with his paws.

        “you need not have made the story less gruesome for me,”  the cub said, “I know male polar bears don’t just give up because another male tells them to go home Nanuq.  You fought for that female polar bear and her cubs.  But why?  You’re male, you’ve had cubs, and I’ve met Nanuq junior.  What stopped you from doing what those other male bears wanted.  Why did you save that mother and her cubs?

        “I lost my own cubs to a male,” Nanuq said softly, “lost my mate too.  The male killed the cubs then drowned my mate in a seal’s ice hole.  I found her body and the bodies of my two newborn cubs on the ice, frozen stiff.  My mate had told me to leave her to give birth to our cubs and she’d come and find me in the spring, so I did.  I stuck around though, and knew when she went into labour.  I kept watch from a distance away, several other males in attendance too, as they are always looking for easy pickings.  My mate’s labour was long and hard; her cries of pain and scrabbling paws could be heard a long way away.  It was while she was in the full throws of labour that the attack happened.  The male polar bears, four of them, piled in and wrecked the den, and then in a display of total blood thirstiness, they tore the cubs from my mate and left her and them to die.  It was sport to them, pure sport.  They didn’t care about the cubs.  I could do nothing against four, or thought I couldn’t then, so I ran off, returning four days later after the shock had worn off a little.  My cubs were okay, but dead, my mate though, her body, it was in a dreadful state after what they’d done to her.  It seems they tore the cubs from her then drowned her in the ice pool.   I hate to think what she suffered.”

      “Why would they do such a horrible thing?”  Alaska asked, thinking this wasn’t the kind of story her mother should ever know about.

        “They were hungry, or that’s what they said,” Nanuq replied.

       “But you said, said that, that they ripped the cubs from your mate and left them,” Alaska replied, “you never said they ate the cubs or your mate.”

        “They didn’t touch the bodies of the cubs, or that of my mate other than to do enough damage to kill the cubs,” Nanuq replied hoarsely, “they wanted my cubs dead at all costs.  I promised to avenge my mate’s death and the deaths of my cubs.  To lose them naturally would be one thing, I could cope with that!  But to have these horrid creatures plot and scheme to kill my mate during her confinement was too much!  That was unnatural behaviour.  I can understand males taking cubs when in the open, but not like that, not when they are unborn!  So I vowed to avenge the deaths of my cubs and mate and not let any other poor mother go through what my mate and cubs had.  It was a short time later I found the males clustered round the den of the labouring mother polar bear.”

       “You didn’t just scare them off did you,” Alaska said, “You killed each and every one.”  Nanuq, now crying, nodded.

       “They were the same male polar bears,” he sobbed, “I couldn’t let them do the same thing again, not again!”

        “You never told me that,” a voice said, as a large paw tore down the barricade at the entrance to the snow den.  Allie stuck her head in at the door and looked at Nanuq and her youngest cub curled up together.

        “Mum!”  Alaska exclaimed, terrified and waiting for a thrashing from Allie, who was crying.

       “I didn’t mean to cause you fear!  I was bored!”  Alaska pleaded.  Allie lunged forward with her forepaws, grabbing Nanuq and almost yanking him out of the den.

        “Why didn’t you bloody tell me?”  She demanded.  Nanuq couldn’t reply.

      “The story was too horrible to tell,” Alaska said, “it only came out today because Nanuq wanted to tell it.  Deep down he wanted others to know what drove him to do what he did.”

       “I love you Allie!”  Nanuq sobbed, Allie hugging him close.

       “It’s okay now,” Allie said gently, though she felt anything but okay.  To hear what she had and act normally was crazy, but she knew she must.

       “Your mate was named Allie wasn’t she,” Allie said softly.  Nanuq nodded.

      “My mate died at the paws of dreadful creatures,” Nanuq sobbed, “I wanted, wanted to be reminded of her, so I gave you the name she had, for you are my cub Allie!”  Allie cradled Nanuq in her paws, the big male bear inconsolable.

       “I know I’m your cub,” Akko said gently, “I always have been.”  Nanuq kissed her nose.

       “Please, don’t get angry at Alaska,” Nanuq said, confessing all his involvement in getting the twelve day old cub to where they now were.

      “I thought I was talking to a robot!”  Alaska said, “Though, if I’d known you were at the other end, I probably wouldn’t have gone any further, been too scared probably.”  Nanuq smiled, the blizzard forgotten by all.

      “So this is a polar simulation,” Allie said.  Nanuq smiled and nodded.  The wind died down, and Allie, Nanuq and Alaska left the den.  Allie picked her cub up in her mouth and carried her out of the room, the door closing with an automatic hiss and thud.  Allie’s paws were freezing and she was glad to get onto soft warm carpet again.  Nanuq, still emotional, picked up Allie’s left forepaw and held it in his right fore, stopping the female polar bear.  Setting Alaska down on the carpet, Allie turned frustrated and angry eyes on Nanuq.

      “Nanuq, I can’t walk if you’re holding my paw. Please.”  Nanuq’s eyes burned into hers.

       “I have nightmares about my dead mate’s death,” Nanuq said, “nightmares, which I can’t describe, for they are too awful.”

       “Does Brunetta know about them?”  Allie asked.  Nanuq nodded.

      “She knows I have them, but doesn’t know their contents,” he replied, still holding Allie’s paw in his.

       “Let go of my paw Nanuq, please,” Allie pleaded.  Nanuq wasn’t listening however.  Allie looked into the male polar bear’s eyes and their expression scared her.

       “You shouldn’t have told Alaska that tale!”  Allie snapped.

       “I needed to tell someone,” Nanuq sniffed, “and it came out while Alaska was with me.  Now she knows, and you know.”

       “You must get help for your nightmares,” Allie said.

        “What I need to know noone can tell me,” Nanuq replied, “I know my mate suffered horribly, but what of her cubs?”  Allies was about to reply when her eye fell on Alaska lying on the carpet.

       “Nanuq,” Allie said, “I’m sorry, so sorry, for what I said.  Of course you need to know if they suffered or not.”

       “It’s the not knowing which is the worst of it,”  Nanuq replied, “if I knew, then I could work it through, sort my head out, sort out the shit in my mind!”

         “Your mate suffered a great deal, as did your cubs Nanuq,” Rowena said, gently placing her paw on Nanuq’s.

      “Would you help me Rowena?”  Nanuq asked, “For I didn’t mean to tell the tale to Alaska, it just came out of me, seeing her in the snow room all alone triggered those memories.  Now I’ve screwed her head up.”

       Alaska will be okay,” Rowena said, “Nanuq what you did was brutal but loving too.  Yu saved Allie’s mum and Allie herself from a death noone should go through.  What those bears were doing was unnatural, and they had to be stopped.  They killed your mate for some kind of sport, and your cubs died because they could not live without their mum.  Love your cubs Nanuq.  I know Nanuq junior loves you with all his heart.”  The truth was that younger Brunetta didn’t love her sire one bit.  She wanted nothing to do with him, despite Brunetta’s attempts to talk her round.  As Rowena spoke, Nanuq junior padded round the corner of the passage Ian headed for the bears and lioness.  Seeing his sire, the young male polar bear walked up to him and gently removing his paw from Allie’s, sat down and embraced him tenderly.  Older Nanuq let his son cub draw him into a huge bear hug, letting the massive polar bear hold his paws and stroke him.  Soon both bears were embracing each other, Nanuq junior’s huge paws embracing his sire, the older bear embracing the younger one with equal urgency.  Hind paws pressed together, the two bears sat back, maintaining contact with their hind paws, one curling his toes round the other’s toes, holding them tenderly.

       “I love you Nanuq,” Older Nanuq said.

     “I’ve never doubted that for one minute,” the younger polar bear replied, pressing his paws hard into his sire’s, “I feel it in the way we play together, in contact between our paws.  I love our times together Nanuq.”

      “I love them too my dear son cub,” the enormous male choked, tears rolling down his face.

 

Nanuq junior’s sister looked out at the scene from where she was hiding in her lie up.  Younger Brunetta hated her brother and sire’s antics.  Her mother’s paw play addiction angered her too.  Indeed, the she bear did not like any physical contact at all.  She watched Nanuq junior and their sire playing with each other’s hind paws, taking each paw in their forepaws, stroking each other’s paw pads and playing with each other’s toes.  Younger Brunetta turned her head away, trying not to throw up.  She hated the thought of two bears playing with each other’s paws; she could not guess what pleasure could be got from touching each other’s paws.  Younger Brunetta also never saw her sire or brother washing their paws, whereas she was forever washing her paws.  The she bear thought her brother and sire unclean for playing with each other’s paws.  Angry, Younger Brunetta ran from her hiding place and attacked her brother and sire!  Slamming into them, she tried to punch her brother on the nose or slap his face.  Allie ran away with Alaska, concerned for her cub.  Nanuq launched himself at his youngest cub and floored her, winding her and kicking her paws to stop her from running away.

        “You horrid unclean animals!”  Younger Brunetta screamed, “Playing with each other’s paws, how disgusting!  I hate you, I hate it!  You two are horrible and disgusting, and filthy!”

        “Stop that now!”  Brunetta screamed, running in to stop the fight.  She’d seen everything, and was furious with her youngest cub!  Slapping her cub with her paw, Brunetta screamed at her.

       “You!  Will! Not! Attack! Your! Brother!”  She screamed, slapping her cub’s face and paws, as well as pulling at the disgraced she bear’s ears.  Younger Brunetta swore at her mother, over and over again she used the most disgusting words towards her mother, brother and sire.

       “We leave you alone to compulsively wash your paws and be anti social,” Brunetta snarled, “so you leave us alone to play with each other’s paws and be social okay?  No questions!”  Younger Brunetta was now begging for her life.

       “Let me go, let me go!”  She yelled.

       “Your attack on your brother was disgraceful!”  Samson roared, charging into the fight.

       “This is bear’s stuff, leave it out lion!”  Younger Brunetta screamed.  Samson knew he could not break up the fight, but he was desperate to do so.  Curling his toes into the carpet to stop him, he ranted and roared at the bears, telling them they were stupid, idiotic and crazy!

        “This is wrong!”  Samson screamed, “paws are okay to play with, cubs do it, adults do it here, it’s what we do Younger Brunetta, if you can’t cope with that, then you’d better leave, for we won’t stop playing with each other’s or our own paws!”  Younger Brunetta snarled at the lion and left off, furious with him but unable to fight against the weight of opinion.  Meanwhile, Nanuq and his male cub were walking away.  They were traumatised by the attack, their paws wanting more contact, their minds a whirl of distress.  Padding away from Brunetta and the others, the two male bears kept in step, their forepaws touching from time to time as they walked away.  Nanuq was almost crying, the big male polar bear sniffing and gulping hard.

        “I can’t believe she did that,” he choked.  Nanuq junior squeezed the toes of his sire’s damaged left forepaw.

       “Let’s settle down and embrace each other’s paws,” the bear suggested.

       “Yes,” Nanuq sniffed, “let’s do our own thing Nanuq cub, let’s do our own thing!”  The polar bears padded to Kamchatka’s lie up, the nearest place they knew where they’d be undisturbed.  They found Kamchatka playing with her own hind paws, the sight making the polar bears smile.  Older Nanuq sat down, his son cub suddenly rolling onto his back and waving his paws in the air, Older Nanuq catching hold of the young bear’s right hind paw in his left fore and tickling the sole.  Nanuq junior laughed helplessly as his sire’s toes tickled the toes and sole pad of his right hind paw.  Nanuq junior arched his back, bringing his forepaws in range of his right hind paw; clamping his sire’s left forepaw in his own right fore.  Kamchatka, abandoning her own paw play, watched the polar bears.

        “Love your paws and those of your fellow bears,” she said.  The two polar bears smiled, for they knew what she really meant.

      “Love the paws as much as you love their owner,” Nanuq junior thought.  Older Nanuq felt the pads of his son cub’s right hind paw wrinkled and rough under his own pads.  He remembered the first time he’d touched the cub’s paws when Nanuq junior was only a day or two old, the thrill the cub felt transmitted to his sire through the pressure on his large toes from the cub’s curled toes holding them.  The pressure was fierce, regent and pleading, wanting more, the cub needing more stimulation to his paws.  Now the cub was almost grown up, and waving his paws in the air like the tiny cub he once was.  Withdrawing his left forepaw from his cub’s grip, older Nanuq looked Nanuq junior over, from his black nose, to the black wrinkled pads on the soles of his hind paws.  Nanuq loved every hair on the cub’s body and inch of the cub’s wrinkled paw pads.  Older Nanuq touched the fur on the top of his son cub’s right hind paw with the toes of his right fore, and then massaged the wrinkled pads on the sole of the large polar bear’s right hind paw.

       “Lovely bear paws ay Nanuq?”  Kamchatka said.  Older Nanuq smiled, his cub grinning.  Older Nanuq smiled as his cub’s toes curled round his, the pads beneath his own bunching into wrinkled furrows.  Older Nanuq brought his right forepaw into play, embracing the toes which held his.  Nanuq junior’s left forepaw covered his sire’s left fore.

     “I love these times,” Nanuq junior said.  Older Nanuq smiled, and then kissed the furry top of his cub’s left forepaw.  Nanuq junior reached up to older Nanuq’s nose with his left forepaw, touching it with his toes.  Nanuq kissed the toes which briefly touched his nose, Nanuq junior gulping hard, tears rolling down his nose.

        “I love you Nanuq,” he said.  Nanuq removed his right forepaw from his son cub’s right hind, then, cradling it in both forepaws; he leant down and kissed the pads of Nanuq junior’s right hind paw.

        “I love watching you two,” Kamchatka said.  Nanuq and his cub looked at her.

        “Let’s play with her paws next,” Nanuq suggested.  Kamchatka grinned.

      “I can’t wait,” she replied.

 

Meanwhile, back in the passage, Younger Brunetta had lost the fight with her mother and Samson watched incredulously as Brunetta dragged her own cub away to the prison.  The lion knew the bears were in control of this, and all he could do was watch.  Padding to younger Brunetta’s lie up, he tracked Brunetta and the disgraced half grown cub’s exit.  Once Brunetta had slammed the door on her cub, she returned to Samson and stood in front of him.

        “She’s no danger to anyone now,” Brunetta said.  Samson stared at her.

       “You took things into your own paws!”  He yelled, “it’s for me and Nauru, not you, to decide what happens to her!  We, not you, review the camera footage and make the decision as to how to punish Young Brunetta!  You usurped my authority!  I’m leader here!”  Samson shouted.

        “Samson, please,” Brunetta started to say gently, but the lion shouted at her, waving his paw at her.

        “You want to be part of this community but you don’t obey our rules!  She should have been brought to me!”  Brunetta raised a massive forepaw and held it in front of the lion’s eyes.

      “Stop Samson, shut up!”  Brunetta yelled.  Samson took one look at the huge paw held in front of his face with its huge claws and massive pads, and decided to hold his tongue.

       “Listen to me Sammy, please,” Brunetta pleaded.

       “Okay, okay, I’m listening,” Samson said.  Brunetta placed her paw on the lion’s, the one he’d been waving at her a minute before.

        “Samson, dear Sammy,” Brunetta said gently, “do you know why my cub disregarded your instructions to stop fighting with Nanuq junior?”

        “Because she’s a disobedient cub!”  Samson roared.

        “Partly that, but also because she’s a bear, and bears don’t have the same family structure as you lions.  You treated her like a lion cub, but she’s not a lion cub!  We bears accept this community and choose to be part of it, but our mentality is a solitary one.  We don’t have families like you lions.  That was why my cub gave you no respect.  You love us bears, but you know little about the way we work.  You know me and Allie and a few others, who all, to a bear, love you dearly, but you don’t know us intimately.  Bears are solitary creatures for the most part, lions aren’t.  That was why you were dismissed by my cub and by me, this was bear’s stuff.  I’m sorry Sammy.”  Samson swallowed hard, knowing Brunetta had approached him like she had because she knew she could.

       “Your cub should not have attacked her brother,” Samson mewed, his eyes showing acute distress.

      “No she shouldn’t,” Brunetta replied, “but she has, and now we’re faced with Nanuq and our eldest cub’s distress.  I don’t know where my cub has got to, but I’m sure he’s not too far away.”

        “You bears would be good leaders,” Samson mewed, “but the pride model is best for a community like this.”

       “Let’s see where the polar bears are,” Brunetta said leading Samson to the lift.  Once in the control room, Brunetta had Rowena, who was on duty, look for Nanuq and his son cub.  Finding them in Kamchatka’s lie up, Rowena rewound and reran the video from that camera.  What they saw moved Brunetta to tears and even Samson was dabbing at his eyes with a paw.

        “Older Nanuq playing with Young Nanuq,” Rowena mewed, “how lovely, how sweet!”  Samson gulped hard.

        “I now know how much those two love each other,” he mewed.  Brunetta knew she was not as close to her son cub as her mate was, and was secretly upset.

       “I suppose I was the career bear and Nanuq is more the homely one,” Brunetta mused, “for he can play with his cub like I should be able to.  I used to you know, but then, then my life took over, the cub grew up and now he and I are distant.

         “Nanuq junior would love to play with you, I’m sure of that,” Samson said, hearing the bear’s distress.

        “I’ve left my cubs to be brought up by their sire Sammy, and I didn’t even realise I was doing so.  That time in the lie up when we played with each other’s paws, Nanuq junior told me he would play with my paws as much as he could if I’d only play with him.  I was touched deeply by that, still am, but now he’s found a new playmate in his sire.  Not a bad thing, but I’ve lost that time with my cub.  As for younger Brunetta, she’s a lost cause, she hates her brother’s paws on approach to life, it makes her sick, I’ve seen her be physically sick after seeing White Theo playing with Clarence’s paws, and she can’t cope with that.  I saw the build up to what happened today, and failed to stop her in time.  Sammy, the bears are here because they want to be.  Any who don’t want to be under your command won’t be, that’s just it.  You know us very superficially; you know those bears who accept you as leader.  They let you play with their paws and they play with yours and you have a great time, but now you’ve seen the decanting other side, the bear that doesn’t are about you or your rules, and it’s all because of our mentality kicked off in one because one paw pad touches another.  It’s so, so sad.”  Samson looked at Brunetta.

      “I’m no bear,” he said, “I suppose I was shouting into the wind a bit there.”   Brunetta smiled and touched her leader’s paw.

      “Let’s go and see if we can cheer up two very distressed polar bears,” Brunetta said.  Samson smiled sadly and padded after Brunetta.

 

Brunetta and the community leader found Nanuq and Nanuq junior playing with Kamchatka, one polar bear tickling her forepaws, the other her hind, the grizzly bear herself in the middle, laughing helplessly.

       “Sorry to break up the party,” Samson said, “but we need to investigate what happened between Younger Brunetta and yourselves.”  Nanuq junior looked at his leader and then jerked his head at his sire.

        “We were having a bit of family time,” Nanuq junior said, “all right it was in the passage, maybe not the best place to start playing with each other’s paws, but we couldn’t help ourselves.  We love each other.”  Samson picked up the phone to Rowena and got her to rerun the footage from the camera in that passage.  As he watched the unfolding drama, the lion got more and more distressed and angry.

       “She will be punished more for this!”  He roared.  Nanuq took his son cub’s paw in his.

       “We will get through this,” he said to his cub.  Nanuq junior looked as shell shocked as his sire had earlier.  The feelings Older Nanuq transmitted to him through contact with his hind paw in Kamchatka’s lie up had affected him deeply.  Nanuq junior rested his head on his sire’s shoulder, the older bear squeezing his son cub’s paw as best he could, for without thinking, he’d taken it in his damaged left forepaw.  The slight pressure of his sire’s touch, so clearly meant to be a firm reassuring squeeze to his paw upset Nanuq junior even further.

       “It’s okay,” Nanuq said to his son, “I promise its okay.”  Nanuq junior buried his head in his sire’s shoulder.

 

     “How do you intend to punish a bear for her actions?”  Brunetta asked.

       “I know,” Samson mewed, “I’m a lion, she’s a bear, and she doesn’t respect us lions.  What we’re going to have to do is find out what she hates about Nanuq and his son’s paw play, for it is that she hates.”

      “Let’s go and see what she has a problem with,” Brunetta said.

 

Younger Brunetta lay in the concrete prison contemplating her lot.  She realised that losing it at her brother was stupid.  She hated the paw play because she saw paws as tools, not as playthings.  She was a traditional bear through and through.  Taking her lead from her mother, Younger Brunetta had worked to get a job in the community, but due to her rejection of paw play, had got nowhere.  Paw play was integral to the community, and younger Brunetta didn’t like it.  Her musings were cut short by her mother’s arrival.

       “We need to talk,” Brunetta said.  Her daughter cub sat up and looked at her.

         “I want to help,” Brunetta said, “I want to find out what you hate about Nanuq and your brother’s play.”  Younger Brunetta looked at her mother.

        “The paws are not playthings,” the sow brown bear replied, “they’re tools, not toys.  Nanuq and my brother are too into playing with each other’s paws like cubs!  Paw play is cub stuff!”

       “Have you tried playing with paws?”  Older Brunetta asked.

      “No, but, but I don’t want to,” her cub whimpered,” It’s terrible!”

       “How can you say that when you don’t know?”  Nanuq junior asked, padding into the concrete cell.

       “I know, believe me I know, and get away from me with your horrid paws!”  Younger Brunetta screamed.

       “Let me show you what I and my sire were up to in Kamchatka’s lie up,” Nanuq junior said, “I want to know what you hate about what we were doing.”  Brunetta and her daughter cub followed Nanuq junior to the nearest screen, where he reran the footage of him and his sire in Kamchatka’s lie up.  Horrified and sickened, Younger Brunetta watched through the gaps between the toes of her forepaws with which she’d covered her face.

        “Your sire was playing with the toes of your right hind paw like you were a cub again!”  Younger Brunetta squealed, “You aren’t a cub any more!  Also, male polar bears should not be acting like that!”  She snapped, “It’s wrong, unnatural, and unexplainable!”

        “Okay,” Nanuq junior said, “now sister, would you be prepared to try paw play?”  Younger Brunetta looked at her brother, appalled by his suggestion.

      “No, no no no!”  She screeched, her eyes filling with tears.  There was something in her brother’s eyes which disturbed her, something which she saw in the entire paw playing animals, a peace which she knew she did not feel.

         “Sit here sister Brunetta, please, let me show you,” Nanuq junior pleaded, “your attack on me hurt me more than the physical injuries.  I want to help heal the mind of the bear that launched that attack.

      “Playing with each other’s paws is unclean,” Younger Brunetta mumbled, “its cub stuff.”  Nanuq touched his sister’s paw.

        “Take a deep breath and let me take your right hind paw in my forepaws, please,” Nanuq junior pleaded.  Younger Brunetta felt her hind paws becoming hotter; she couldn’t stand that for long.

      “Okay,” she whimpered, “my paws are uncomfortable, here are my hind paws.  She pedalled the air with her hind paws, her brother crawling to them and taking her right hind in both his forepaws.  Younger Brunetta felt herself pressing her toes into her brother’s pads, she couldn’t help herself.

       “I can’t stop it, I can’t stop it!”  She wailed, trying to pull her paw away, but finding she was unable to do so.  Younger Brunetta panted and whimpered, her hind paw telling her she was beaten, her attitude was wrong, and her brother’s touch was what she really wanted, needed, must have at all costs.

       “Stroke my pads Nanuq, massage my toes!”  Younger Brunetta pleaded, surprised at her own desperation, “don’t let my paw go!”

       “Let yourself go, focus your mind on nothing, just follow your paw,” Nanuq junior suggested.  Younger Brunetta braced her toes against her brother’s pads, then pressed the whole of her right hind paw into her brother’s forepaws, whimpering with fear and pleasure as her mind was consumed by a feeling she’d never experienced before.

       “I don’t know what to think,” Younger Brunetta said dreamily as her brother massaged her right hind paw with the toes of his left fore, “I’ve been so horrible to you and to our sire that I don’t know where to begin fixing what I damaged.  What I saw in the passage wasn’t just paw play, it was an expression of uncomplicated unconditional love between our sire and you brother Nanuq.  All I needed was to have my paws grabbed by you and be told I was being a stupid bear and to give you all four of my paws until you decided you’d finished with them and me.  I hated what I didn’t understand, and hated the fact two male polar bears were breaking the ursine code.  Everyone here breaks one code or another.  Bears being friendly with lions are something which often happens here, but is unnatural in the wild order of things.  I know I seem to have come round quickly, but, brother Nanuq, you don’t know the true power of your paws.  You touched my forepaw, and I had no choice but to let you have access to my hind, they wanted to be massaged, and I had no choice, I had to obey my paws.”

        “Now will you try playing with your own paws?”  Nanuq junior asked.  His sister covered her face with her forepaws as she thought about her reply.

        “I could try,” she said, “Nanuq, show me how.”  So Nanuq released her right hind paw, sat down and took his right hind paw in his right fore, his sister watching his every move.

      “So I sit down with my hind legs out in front of me, and then bend my right hind leg until my right forepaw can comfortably reach my right hind.  Then I curl the toes of my right fore around my right hind paw so they are touching the sole pad of my right hind?” Younger Brunetta asked.  Her brother nodded.  Nanuq watched as his sister did something she’d never dreamed she would ever do, and once her right hind paw was held in her right fore, she looked up at her brother.

       “This feels strange, very strange,” she said, “the toes of my right hind paw want to curl round my right fore, and should I let them?”  Nanuq nodded. 

    “Your paws know what they want,” he replied, “follow your paws sister Brunetta.”  Younger Brunetta smiled as she felt the toes of her right hind paw touch the fur of her right fore.  The pads of her right hind paw beneath the toes of her right fore bunching slightly as her toes curled into a relaxed state.  Nanuq junior watched his sister relax into the act of holding her right hind paw in her right fore.

       “This feels natural, as if my paws were meant for this!”  Younger Brunetta exclaimed.

       “Maybe our paws were meant to be played with,” her brother mused, “all I can say is it feels bloody good.”  Younger Brunetta unconsciously reached over to the toes of her right hind paw with her left fore and began playing with her toes.  Then she looked up into the camera above her and then at the screen on which she’d so recently viewed the footage that had changed her life.  The screen showed a close up view of herself sitting in the lie up, her right hind paw cradled in her right fore, playing with her toes.  To check this wasn’t a digital trick, Brunetta wiggled the toes of her free left hind paw and stuck her tongue out at the camera.  This made her brother laugh helplessly and younger Brunetta herself become tearful.  She’d tried to break his love for his paws and those of his sire with violence, whereas he’d taught her with words, touch and kindness.

       “How does playing with your own toes feel?”  Older Brunetta asked.  Her daughter cub smiled with genuine pleasure.

       “Wonderful,” she replied.  Younger Brunetta then realised something else.  Her paws had guided her to her brother’s paws because they wanted to feel a gentle touch, and Nanuq junior was very gentle.  Then she revised her thoughts.  It wasn’t her paws who’d wanted to feel gentility, she had.  Younger Brunetta then did something she never thought she could or would ever do ever do.  Letting go of her right hind paw, she went to her brother, took his left hind paw in both her forepaws and closed her eyes.  Feeling his huge left forepaw covering the toes of his left hind paw and most of her own forepaws, she took a bee breath and relaxed totally before speaking to her brother.

       “Brother Nanuq,” Younger Brunetta said, “I’ve always wanted this, but my own fear has stopped me from asking for guidance.  Mum tried, our sire Nanuq tried, but I didn’t listen to either of them.  You did, and look where you are now.  I followed our mum into a career, but got nowhere because I hated the community I wanted to work within.  Mum though, she got her work by being paws on, totally paws on!  First she prepared vegetables for the community, and what did she use to control the knives she used to chop the veg? Her paws of course’s Then she got her job in the medical side of the community, and that is even more paws on.  Mum used her paws, you use your paws, and Sire Nanuq uses his paws.  I hated and feared my paws and the paws of others.”

       “Do you still think paw play is unclean?”  Nanuq junior asked.  His sister shook her head, then leant down and gently kissed the toes of her brother’s right hind paw.  Nanuq junior smiled at his sister.

      “Love your paws my dear,” he said.  Samson stared at the two bears in shocked silence.

       “There was me thinking I’d have a war on my paws,” he mewed.

       “A war over the paws maybe,” Older Brunetta replied.  Younger Brunetta grinned hugely.

       “I was disarmed by gentle paws,” she said, hugging her brother tenderly.  Nanuq junior smiled with genuine pleasure.

        “I want more paw contact!  Lots more paw contact!”  Younger Brunetta said suddenly.  Nanuq junior smiled at his sister and kissed her nose.

       “You are serious about this then,” Older Nanuq said.  His daughter cub looked at him, and then took his damaged left forepaw in hers.

       “I am,” she replied, “Nanuq, I’m sorry for attacking you and my brother.”  Nanuq hugged his youngest cub, Young Brunetta smiling, her eyes filling with tears.

       “I want to be shown how to enjoy my paws, not fear them,” younger Brunetta said softly.

      “I will show you how to enjoy your paws,” her brother promised.

      “Thank you,” Younger Brunetta said.  Younger Brunetta went to her brother and kissed his nose, then the pads of his left forepaw.  Samson stared at the bears in astonished silence.

       “How, how can you reform that quickly?”  Samson asked.

       “I can reform quickly because I feared my own paws,” Brunetta said to her leader.  Samson looked down at the she bear’s paws.

      “You have very beautiful paws,” he mewed.

        “I didn’t understand what was happening when my brother and sire stroked each other’s paws,” Younger Brunetta said, “but now, now I understand only too well, after, after my brother took hold of my right hind paw in his forepaws.”

        “So you are repentant?”  Samson asked.  Younger Brunetta looked at him, totally confused.

       “I am what?”  She asked.

      “Repentant, sorry for what you did,” Samson replied, stunned the bear could not understand his words.

      “Yes, well more than sorry,” she replied.  Samson looked into younger Brunetta’s eyes.

       “If I see you attack anyone like you did earlier ever again, I’ll break your paws!”  He snarled.

        “Samson!”  Allie snapped, padding in with Alaska riding on her back, “you need not talk to her like that.  Younger Brunetta’s learned her lesson I’m sure.”  Samson turned his head and looked into Allie’s eyes, her expression making him step back from confronting Younger Brunetta any further.

        “Let’s face it,” Allie said, “you couldn’t break a bear’s paws Samson, not unaided, but they could break yours.”  Samson looked at Nanuq junior’s powerful forepaws and had no trouble imagining them as powerful killing tools rather than things of play and pleasure.

       “I’ll go now,” Samson said suddenly.  With that he almost ran from the room.

 

Pounding to his lie up Samson nearly collided with fleur.

       “That was stupid,” Fleur said, nodding at the screen where she’d just viewed the entire goings on in the other lie up.

      “You don’t understand!”  Samson pleaded.  Fleur shook her head.

      “No Samson, you don’t understand,” she said softly, “I work with Brunetta all the time, and she’s told me about bears.  I know them better than most.  Younger Brunetta’s change of heart is complete, and she will follow her paws, take it from one who’s followed hers all her life.”  Samson looked down at the paws he loved dearly.

        “You know more than anyone else about following your paws,” Samson mewed.  Fleur looked into her mate’s eyes.

       “You need not do the big leonine thing where those bears are concerned,” fleur said, “Sammy, they know how to police their own internal squabbles, and you were putting your paws in places they weren’t wanted.  Let the bears do their own thing.”  Samson kissed Fleur’s nose.

       “I need to learn quite a bit,” he mewed, “bear cubs aren’t lion cubs.”  A huge paw landed on his, and Samson looked up, straight into Kamchatka’s face.

         “You are right there,” she said.  Samson looked the huge female grizzly over.

        “I don’t really know you,” he said.  Kamchatka shook her head.

       “Little Theo knows me better than my leader does,” she said.  Samson knew as much.

       “That cub,” he said, “Theo’s so observant and willing to learn, not like his sire.”  The sound of paws entering the room made Samson looked towards the door, straight into the clear eyes of his white cub.

        “Hi Theo,” Samson mewed, going to him and hugging him.  The quarter grown cub smiled and embraced Samson tightly.

       Kamchatka and I talk together a lot,” the white cub said, “she and I stroke each other’s paws while talking together, it’s lovely.”  Kamchatka smiled broadly.

       “Your mum and you often spend time together doing the very same thing,” she said.  Theo smiled.

      “Mum and I do yes,” he mewed.  Samson looked at the lion that he’d sired.  Theo was handsome, very handsome indeed.  Samson touched his cub’s right forepaw, feeling his cub’s surprisingly strong paw beneath his pads.  Theo removed his paw from beneath his sires, covering Samson’s paw with his, his toes gripping his sire’s paw.  Samson felt the quarter grown cub’s strength in the grip of his paw, strength that while already immense, would grow as Theo grew into a handsome lion.

        “Are you eating meat yet?”  Samson asked.  Theo shook his head.

       “Not yet,” he replied.  He was now approaching six months old, and had not yet eaten a single mouthful of meat. 

      “Will you ever try meat?”  Samson said, realising he was pleading with his cub.

      “No Sammy I won’t!”  Theo replied.

      “Why not?”  Samson asked, though he thought he knew.

        “Mum looks so lonely eating alone,” Theo mewed.

       “Maybe that’s how she wants to eat,” Samson said, “you know, you can’t remain placing your paws in her paw prints forever Theo.  You must try finding your own way.”

       “If mum can get pregnant, carry, then give birth to a healthy cub while eating just vegetables and drinking milk I think I have little to worry about,” Theo said.  Samson realised the white lion was right.

        “I’m sorry Theo,” he said.

        “All right,” the lion snapped, “just leave me and mum alone Samson!”  Theo looked at Kamchatka, removed his paw from his sires, and walked out briskly, the grizzly bear following.

        “You twerp!”  Fleur snapped, “Samson, for Eohippus sake!  What the hell were you thinking?”

       “I want my cub to eat meat!”  Samson snarled, “Not eat veg like his mum when there’s no reason why he can’t eat meat.  Theo is a lion, not a caribou!  He should be eating meat fleur, like me, you and Clarence do!  Talking of Clarence, does he eat veg too?  If he does, if you’ve let him, I’ll go so bloody mad fleur, I really will!”  Fleur looked down at her paws.

       “I won’t pretend he hasn’t been eating with Theo and Petra, he and Theo are brothers after all,” she replied, “and no, he’s not just been eating meat, he has had some vegetables and fruit too, as have I.  After all Sammy, it was you who taught us to pick from the forest.”

        “I know, I know!”  Samson growled, “But I just don’t like the idea of my cubs eating vegetables exclusively.  There’s no need for them to do so!  Theo will end up with allergies to all sorts of stuff if he carries on, just like his mum!!”

       Petra’s meat allergy almost killed her once Sammy!”  Fleur yowled, “You can’t call that stupid!”

        “I Think Theo’s going the wrong route!”  Samson yelled, “For Eohippus sake fleur! He’s my bloody cub, not yours, so shut up!”  Samson suddenly felt something crash into him, then he was falling, sprawling on the carpet, then Samson found he could hardly breathe!

         “Now let’s talk sense shall we?”  Kamchatka asked, pinning Samson down beneath her forepaws.

         “Sense?”  Samson coughed, “what sense was there in ambushing me?  You could have killed me Kamchatka!”

      “I knocked you down, that’s all,” the huge grizzly bear replied.  Samson writhed beneath the bear’s paws, but he couldn’t get free.

        “Talk sense about what?”  Samson asked, his breath returning.

        “Sense about whom I think you mean,” Kamchatka said, “Samson, please, let Theo do his own thing.  He’s happy eating with Petra, and she isn’t worried about his welfare.

       “You’re that family’s enforcer I suppose,” Samson growled.

        “I’m the only one you’ll take seriously,” Kamchatka corrected, “for if Petra came to you you’d argue with her, you refuse to hear Theo’s wishes, and as for Leo, you wouldn’t take anything from him because he’s not Theo’s father.  Petra needs to eat veg exclusively, and Theo chooses to eat it exclusively.  Please Samson, let your cub do his own thing.  Let him be with his mum at mealtimes.  You need to get paws on with your own family, for you sired two cubs, not just one.  You don’t know Theo, Petra or Leo that well.  Your cub Clarence knows them better than do you.  Indeed, as an act of solidarity and brotherhood with Theo, Clarence ate vegetables with Theo and Theo ate meat with Clarence.  So your cub is not entirely meatless.  Though it is true Theo eats more veg than meat now.  Indeed, I’ve tried spicing up the vegetables by dipping baby sweet corn in warm peanut sauce.  It’s great!”  Samson nearly vomited at the thought.

        “Ugh no!  Sweet corn dipped in peanut sauce? What!  How disgusting!”  Kamchatka smiled and nodded at fleur who padded over to the corner of the room, picked something long and yellow out of a bowl with her teeth, dipping it almost lovingly into another bowl full of brown semi solid stuff.  Samson stared at her.

        “What are you doing?”  He asked, as fleur, now having withdrawn the thing from the bowl of semi solid brown stuff, turned to him, holding the yellow thing, now covered in the brown stuff in her teeth by one end.  Samson realised what she was doing and covered his mouth with his paw as she sucked down the long baby corn which she’d just smothered in peanut butter.

     “That was a disgusting display!”  Samson whimpered.  Fleur grinned, picked up another corn and smothered that in peanut butter before consuming it with evident enjoyment.

        “I can’t believe you eat that shit!”  Samson moaned.

       “What shit?”  Petra asked, padding into the room and surveying the scene with evident shock.

       Kamchatka, what the hell are you doing to Samson!”  The white lioness demanded.  Fleur told her everything.

        “Oh, like that is it?”  Petra asked, scowling at Samson.

       I just don’t think Theo eating vegetables to the exclusion of everything else is healthy!”  Samson roared, still pinned under Kamchatka’s paws.

       “Let him do his thing,” Petra mewed, “for as he would have no doubt said to you.  He does look very well on fruit and veg.”

      “Nuts too,” Kamchatka reminded her.

      “Yes Kamchatka, nuts too my dear,” Petra said smiling, “that peanut sauce Is very nice.”  Kamchatka smiled happily.

        “I could peanut sauce chicken or other meat for you Samson,” she offered helpfully.  Samson shook his head.

        “You’re not getting me to eat that peanut crap,” he snarled.

        “What happened to the happy lion I used to know Sammy?”  Petra asked.  Samson looked at her.

        “He’s wondering if he’s any good at his job Petra love,” Samson mewed piteously.

        “You just have to let the bears sort their own quarrels,” Kamchatka said, “the over all community is well run thanks to you lions.”

        “I don’t know,” Samson mewed, “sometimes, well, sometimes I feel bears would make better leaders, but then I think of the family spirit of this community, and know bears don’t have that inclination, well most don’t.  Nanuq and his son do, but most don’t.  If us lions liked paw play as much as bears did, we’d be home and dry, but we don’t.”

       “You love it,” Kamchatka said, “and don’t tell me you don’t, for Allie told me you did.”  Samson smiled:

      “It’s not just playing with paws, it’s a bear’s versatility, how adaptable and resourceful you bears are.  Also, also, the ability you have to accept those who are not of your species into your families.  Kamchatka, Clarence loves you so much, he speaks of you all the time, and he knows you and Petra better than he knows me!  The bears are ascending, the lions descending in the community hierarchy.  Kamchatka looked into Samson’s face.

       “Are you feeling threatened by this?”  She asked.

        “You acknowledge that it is happening?”  The long haired lion asked.  Kamchatka shook her head:

       “I don’t know it’s happening for sure, but if it did, would you feel threatened by it?”  Samson lowered his eyes; it was quite clear how he felt.

        “The community would disintegrate!”  He roared, “It would be an unmitigated disaster!”

      “But there are no others to take over,” the bear said, “the tigers couldn’t do it.  They wouldn’t anyway.  They’ve got less of a family ethic than us bears.”  Samson groaned in misery.

       “I must strengthen the hold I have on this community, if I don’t, it will fall to bits!”

       “How about a partnership between bears and lions?”  Kamchatka suggested, “We work together.”

       “There must be a community leader though, one whom everyone else looks to for guidance and leadership,” Samson wined.

        “You’ve already got fragmentation in this,” Kamchatka replied, “Rowena’s spiritual leader, you and Nuru are only leaders in non spiritual matters.  If the spirit is wrong, the community is busted, so in affect, you are no longer leader Sammy.”  Samson tried to leap to his paws, but couldn’t due to being pinned by a huge grizzly bear, only managing a writhing snarling protest instead.

       “How can I not be leader!”  He roared, “Fleur, that’s dreadful!”

        “No it’s not,” Theo said padding into the lie up, “how would it be if Kamchatka spoke for the bears and non ursine community members, Petra for the lions and all the cats, and Rowena balancing the whole thing up with the equine perspective?”

      “Why should any of those three get jobs?”  Samson roared.

       Kamchatka’s a wonderful bear, Rowena’s in touch with eohippus and mum, well, she’s just cool,” Theo mewed.  Kamchatka laughed merrily at this.

       “You can’t vote in your own mum,” she said, “its wrong!”

       “Is it?”  Theo mewed.  “I’ve been talking to some of the community, and mum has done things which make her more than suitable for the role in my view.”  Theo then told Kamchatka and Samson what they already knew.

       “Yes, I know of her adoption of Simba and Rowena.  She’s also very gentle n’all that, but she’s still your mum!”  Samson said.

      Petra’s wonderful, and she happens to be my mum, so what?”  Theo asked.

      “I’m feeling something going on here,” Samson mewed.

      “Yup, there is,” Nuru mewed, padding into the lie up, “you and I have no longer got jobs Sammy mate,” Nuru said.  Samson stared at the lion.

       “How?”  He asked.

       “Bears and other community members have been meeting, and it has been decided that as the lions have no real grip on the community any more, that the main groups within the community would elect a representative, then the reps would meet and discuss major issues, with every day things being sorted within family groups.  Kamchatka, Petra and Rowena are elected, Kamchatka for the ursine view, Petra for the feline, and Rowena for the equine.”

      “Rowena’s no horse!”  Samson roared, “And what’s a horse doing in our community anyway, they hate us!”

       “One horse doesn’t,” Rowena mewed, padding into the room.

      “Oh, um, yes,” Samson mumbled, having forgotten about Eohippus.

       “Who will look after the interests of the minority groups, such as the primates and woodlanders?”  Samson asked.

      “The who?”  Theo asked.

       “Baboons, badgers, otters,” Samson mewed.

      “They’ll have to align themselves with either the bears or the cats, probably the bears,” Kamchatka replied.

        “Have you consulted these minorities?”  Samson asked.

      “Did you when you assumed you lead the whole community?”  Kamchatka asked.

      “Um, ‘er, well, no,” Samson mewed, realising he’d not consulted the bears, who were no minority before he took over.

      “Babi doesn’t worry about who leads the community,” Nyegere said, padding into the room, “and us badgers and other woodlanders, well, we’ll go with the bears.  So Babi’s along with us really.”

      “How about the mongoose?”  Samson whimpered, remembering he had two young mongooses in the community.

      “They’ll go with the badgers,” Nyegere replied, “Honeyfur, Percy and their cubs are with the bears, so the bears talk for badggers and Babi and the mongoose.  Kalahari, the meerkat has abstained from voting, as he said he is above all that stuff.  The pandas are with brown and polar bears.  So that’s just about covered.”

       “So we’re out of a job!”  Nuru whooped dancing round the room on his toes like a cub.

       “I’m confused!”  Samson whimpered, closing his eyes.  Kamchatka released the lion and went over to the bowl of peanut sauce.  Getting a spoon, she levered some out and, after carefully scraping off the excess, carried it over to Samson:

     “Open up?”  She said gently, Samson instinctively opening his mouth, the bear dropping the sauce onto his tongue before quickly withdrawing the spoon in case he slammed his jaws shut on it.  Samson felt his mouth burning!

      “Ugh no!”  He roared, running for the bowl of water which he drank like a dying lion.

        “That stuff is disgusting!”  Samson yelled.

       “You don’t know until you try,” fleur mewed.

       “Go away!”  Samson mewed pitifully.

       “So we can take it that you are in full agreement to change the structure of the leadership to a new style.”  Theo said.

       “Yes, I mean no, no Theo no!”  Samson roared.

       “Why not?”  The white lion asked, “You don’t have mating rights, all you do as leader is wave your paws about and roar a bit.  The bears aren’t respectful of you, even though some like you, they can’t be relied upon to defend the lions.  It wasn’t the lions they were defending when Nuru here attacked the community in a former life, it was their community, and their way of life they were defending... we have many groups here, not just lions.  So we now have a parliament, representative of everyone here.”

       “I suppose,” Samson grudgingly replied, “though, please, let me speak to the whole community.  I need to hear it from them.”

         “Okay,” Kamchatka said, hoping Samson wouldn’t request this, as she could see the lion’s devastation clearly.

 

That night, every member of the community gathered in the great room, all except Ruslana and Afua, Ruslana unable to attend as she’d recently given birth to two cubs, which were less than three days old.  Kodiak, up in the control room, fed a live link into Ruslana and Afua’s lie up, enabling them to be heard and see as well as hear the meeting.

 

Samson arrived a little late, determined to show the community he was still in charge.  Samson stood on a raised platform as he’d been used to doing, the fabric feeling rough beneath his pads.

       “”I call this meeting to order!”  Kamchatka barked, the whole room falling silent.

       “I’m bored already,” Alaska complained, her words heard by all.

       “Who’s that?”  Portia enquired.  Gosheven telling her.

      “Tell Allie to keep her cub quiet.”  Portia snapped.  Allie gently subdued Alaska who began drumming her paws in a most annoying fashion.

       “This is part of community life, so get used to it!”  Allie hissed, slapping Alaska with her paw, making the cub squeal with indignation.

       “Allie, keep your cub under control please,” Kamchatka said.  Allie was about to square up to the grizzly and cuff her, but thought better of it.

        “Samson has something to ask you all I believe,” Kamchatka said to the assembled community.

        “Yes, um, well,” Samson began, his paws sweating and anxiety plain for all to see, “I want, want to clarify something.  I’ve heard, heard that you no longer want a lion as over all leader.  That you’d rather have members of your own species as leaders of your own groups.  My son Theo communicated this to me, as did Kamchatka and fleur.  Now, I don’t believe what I am hearing.  Therefore, I want to test the water.  Anyone who does not agree with this change of government, stay here.  Anyone who agrees, leave now.”  Samson watched as all the creatures, led by Alaska who fled with amazing speed considering she was not yet able to walk on her paws, left the room.  Only Samson remained, completely stunned by the change in his lifestyle.

       “We agree with the majority too Samson,” Ruslana said from her lie up, “so you are on your own.  Samson left the room and fled to his lie up, throwing himself down and covering his face with his paws.

       “They hate me,” Samson thought miserably, “I am reviled, chucked on the scrap heap.”  A huge paw stroking his whiskers made Samson open his eyes.  Fleur lay beside him.

        “They don’t want me here any more fleur,” Samson whimpered.  Fleur shook her head.

       “The community just wanted a change of leadership,” she said, “I’ll be quite blunt about it and say your handling of the situation with younger Brunetta sort to confirm the community’s feelings, but this would have happened sooner rather than later.  Lions can’t run a community full of bears and tigers.  The lions impose family, whereas the other communities need to find family for themselves.  Look at me for instance, I’m a tiger snow leopard cross, infinitely solitary in nature, or that’s how I’m supposed to be, but no, I love my family.  Nanuq and Nanuq junior are meant to be solitary male polar bears, but they aren’t.  They love each other as much as they did when Nanuq junior was a tiny cub, if not more.  Samson, community can’t be imposed; it has to be from within each and every one of us.  Law and order is upheld by the consent of the majority.  Now Kamchatka and Petra have the responsibilities and you don’t.  Enjoy the freedom Sammy.”  Samson got to his paws, shook himself and looked at his mate.

        “I suppose I need to focus on my family too,” he mewed, “for my cub hardly knows me.”  Fleur covered his paw with hers.

       “I think that might be a good idea,” she said.

      “I’ve watched Clarence’s birth video over and over again,” Samson mewed, “and I still can’t believe he’s our cub.  How was his birth for you fleur dear?”

      “Painful and hard work, but worth every straining effort,”  fleur mewed, “nothing like pretending to have a cub though, that’s easy, giving birth for real is much harder work.  Though experience acting out cubbings does help when the real thing comes along, because you can express yourself without worry.  Mewing, growling, puffing and panting are all in a day’s work, but the pushing isn’t.  When I act out cubbings, I’m bracing my paws during a mock contraction.  When cubbing for real, its grip with all four paws and push down into the tail rather than the soles of the hind paws.  Giving birth to Clarence was a bit of a squeeze, for he was a large cub, and I had to push really hard to bring him into the world.  Petra was a great help to me, and me to her, or so she tells me.  Once Clarence was born, the relief was amazing.  During labour I felt as if something was stuck, as if I was constipated almost.  I knew this was the cub coming into the world.  The pain was worse than any constipation however, and pushing was all I could do, just push, push, and push at that cub sometimes aided by my body, sometimes pushing on my own.  The rules say push when you feel a contraction, but it doesn’t work like that.  Allie will tell you the same thing.  I’ll bet she pushed against Alaska when she wasn’t supposed to.”  Samson had seen Alaska’s birth on video, right down to the emergence of the tiny cub and the way Allie’s paw pads and toes bunched and curled as she played with her paws or curled her toes during a contraction.  He’d watched Allie’s face; paws and body do everything to give birth to her cub.

      “I’ve seen the birth of Allie’s youngest cub,” Samson mewed, “it’s a wonderful video.  Fleur, thanks for talking about the birth of our cub.  While it’s public viewing, what happened to you is private stuff.  I was part of that time with you, and I will never forget it, but you need not tell me everything.”

         “Samson,” fleur replied, “I saw the joy on your face as you played with Clarence that first night.  I knew your joy, for I felt it too.  You want to know what I felt during the birth of our cub, and that’s fine, for I want to share it as best I can.  I’m not ashamed of mewing, crying, pushing and sweating, for it’s natural during the birth of a cub.”  Samson remembered the mock cubbings fleur was fond of springing on him.  She would suddenly get an urge to act out a cubbing, sometimes in the middle of the night.  Samson would help her through her imaginary labour, and then both would settle down.  It seemed to Samson fleur needed the mental stimulation which something as intense as a cubbing provided.  The lion knew Arki re-enacted cubbings for the very same reason, it was a challenge and she liked it.

       “I like helping you during your mock cubbings,” Samson mewed, “and I would have helped you during the birth of our real cub.”

      “I know,” fleur mewed, “but I didn’t want it then.  My focus wasn’t on myself really, it was on Petra.  Petra was the one who was a novice at the cubbing thing, I wasn’t, and I knew what I was doing.”  Allie and Alaska padded into the room.  Well Allie padded in, Alaska crawled in.

        “Hey Samson!”  Alaska said, crawling to the lion, rolling over and presenting four tiny paws to be tickled.  Samson smiled and tickled the polar bear cub’s tiny paw pads.  Alaska smiled broadly, Samson laughing merrily.

       “Can I love this cub?”  Samson asked.  Allie smiled as Alaska clamped her forepaws round Samson’s paw, squeezing it hard and pedalling her hind paws frantically.  Samson gulped hard, leant down and kissed Alaska’s nose.

        “Soppy lion!”  Alaska said.  Samson sniffed hard.

        “I don’t know what to say!”  Samson choked.

       “Love me, love my cub,” Allie said.  Samson smiled:

       “I do,” he mewed.

 

Meanwhile, in another part of the house, Arki was talking with Kamchatka.

      “We’re looking for another female bear to help with preparing the mother’s to be for cubbing,” Arki said to the huge grizzly.  Kamchatka nodded:

       “And you want me to help?”  She asked, “I have helped with Allie’s last confinement, but that was winging it a bit, remembering my own cubbing more than anything else, and asking her what she wanted to do.”

       “That’s great,” Arki said, “but helping mothers to be and their mates is a bit more than that.  You did a wonderful job, but there’s another bit to it.  Have you ever seen fleur acting out a cubbing?”  Kamchatka hadn’t and told Arki so.

       “I suppose acting out a cubbing is a way of preparing the mother to be and her mate for the actual event, well sort of?”  Kamchatka asked.

       “Yes,” Arki replied, “fleur does it for the cats, and I do it for the bears and other woodlanders, either talking them through it before the event, or if they are a bear, acting out a cubbing so they know what to expect.”

       “And you want me to learn to act as if I’m giving birth to a cub?”  Kamchatka asked.

       “I would like it if you’d give it some thought,” Arki replied, “for you’d be good at it.  You’ve seen it, done it, and could relate to mothers to be.  I would ask Bramble or some other polar bear, but Allie’s got her security job, and Bramble’s not had cubs yet.”

      “How is it done?”  Kamchatka asked, “How do you have a cub, without actually having a cub?”  Arki smiled:

       “It’s all in the mind,” she replied, “You have to be in the right frame of mine to do it.  Once you get going, the emotion takes you and you can’t stop until you’ve had the cub.”

       “And you want to show me?”  Kamchatka asked the idea appealing to her.

       “Yes, now,” Arki said, “Just work with me as you did Allie.”  Kamchatka nodded.  Arki settled down, her head on her forepaws and closed her eyes.  She then seemed to wake suddenly, pant a bit, and moan with pain.

        “Is it first contractions?”  Kamchatka asked.  Arki nodded and smiled.

        “Not time for help yet, but your time will come soon,” she said, “While we’re in the first stage, I would like you to run your paws from my nose to the pads of my paws,” Arki said.  Kamchatka did as Arki ask, running her paws all over the polar bear’s body, from her nose to the pads of all four paws.

        “Feel my paw pads,” Arki said, “explore them with your own paws.  Get to know my paws.”  Kamchatka did, Arki curling the toes of all four paws around whichever of Kamchatka’s paws was touching them, be it a fore or a hind.  All the while, Arki, getting more and more distressed, moaned and panted as her contractions became more forceful.

       “Things are really getting going now,” she gasped after about an hour.  Kamchatka looked at Arki.

      “What do you want me to do?”  She asked.

       “Hug me, hold me, please!”  Arki begged, Kamchatka embracing her in a huge bear hug as Arki panted and moaned.

      “Oooaahahahah!”  Arki roared as the first serious contraction hit.  Wriggling, kicking and grunting, Arki twisted and fought her way through her pain.

        “I want, must, get some pain relief now!”  Arki panted.

       “Do you want me to massage your hind paws?”  Kamchatka asked.  Arki, breathing hard, wriggled free of Kamchatka’s hug and thrust a hind paw at her.

       “Work your magic on my paw,” Arki gasped, “Oooh it’s getting worse!”  Arki suddenly opened her mouth and screamed with pain, curling the toes of the hind paw Kamchatka held while pressing it into her forepaws.

       “Oh, ah, ow, ah, ow! Ow! Ow, ow ow!oh! Awowowowwowoow!  Arki yowled.  Kamchatka looked into Arki’s face, the female polar bear’s eyes were screwed tight shut and she was bouncing about on her backside, her forepaws over her mouth, panting hard, and trying not to cry out.

      “I can’t fight this!”  Arki panted, “Must, must push again!”  Kamchatka saw Arki reach for her freehind paw, grip it in both her forepaws, then push her hind paw down hard into her forepaws.

        “You’re doing well Arki, so well!”  Kamchatka encouraged.  She felt the polar bear’s sweat on her paw pads and knew how much physical effort Arki was putting in.  Kamchatka held Arki’s hind paw in her forepaws as the polar bear groaned, grunted, puffed and panted, growled, then screamed lustily while pressing down into her hind paws with all her strength.

        “Cub’s close now, really close!”  Arki panted in a lull between contractions which gripped her every few seconds now, “I want to give birth squatting!”

      “One more contraction and we’ll get up,” Kamchatka said.  Arki nodded, squealed her way through the contraction, then stumbled to her feet and squatted down.

       “I want my hind paws massaged, and I can’t while like this!”  Arki panted.

      “Try a crawling posture then,” Kamchatka suggested.  Sweat was now covering Arki’s paw pads and matting her fur.  She really was going for an Oscar winning performance.  Kamchatka crawled to Arki’s hind quarters, placing her left forepaw on Arki’s right hind, feeling the polar bear’s claws scrape her pads as she curled her toes, the large sole pad on Arki’s right hind paw bunching as she curled her toes.

      “Must push, now!”  Arki roared.  Kamchatka gently stroked the ever curling and relaxing right hind paw of the labouring mother polar bear.

        “Oahahaahah must push!  Push, push push!”  Arki said, her voice strangled with the effort.

      “Go on Arki, you can do it!”  Kamchatka heard herself saying, Arki panting:

       “How far have I got,” Arki asked.

       “Head and forepaws out,” Kamchatka said, the next push should bring the body out.  It’s a big cub!”

       “I know that!”  Arki growled, “I can feel that!”  Arki set to pushing some more, Kamchatka half trying to see what Arki was doing to give realism to her act, and half trying to be the concerned midwife, for she was now really concerned.

        “The cub’s body’s out now,” Kamchatka said, touching Arki’s tail with her paw, “I’ll catch the cub, one more push Arki, one more my dear, come on!”  Arki braced her forepaws, set her teeth and screamed her way through another effort.

      “That’s it!”  Kamchatka said.

       “I hope so too!”  Arki panted.

       “That was amazing Arki!”  Kamchatka said.

      “Now you know how much of me it takes to give a good re-enactment,” Arki replied, “every hair of my body, every pad on my paws, everything.

       “While you were pushing against your cub while sitting down you pressed your hind paws into mine and your own forepaws,” Kamchatka said, “but how did you do it when you were on all fours?”  Arki, sitting down, smiled.

      “I pushed down against my forepaws, lowering my head until my nose nearly touched the floor.  That’s how I do it.”

      “But you were groaning, screaming and grunting,” Kamchatka said, “you sounded in real pain!”

    “All imagined pain.”  Arki replied, “But I’d got into character, I was having that cub Kamchatka, I really was!”

      “I know,” Kamchatka replied.

        “Wow!”  Someone said, “That was amazing!”

       “What are you doing here Alaska?”  Arki demanded.

       “I heard the screaming and thought I’d come take a look,” the month old cub replied.

      “This is adult stuff!”  Arki protested.

      “No it’s not,” Alaska said, “you were giving birth to a cub, so its cub stuff too.”  Neither adult bear could argue with that.

       “Was that how mum gave birth to me?”  Alaska asked.

       “Kind of,” Kamchatka replied, “your mum remained sitting the whole time though.  It’s personal choice.”

        “That was amazing,” the cub said, “Arki, would you let me take Kamchatka’s place and help you through the birth of your next cub?”

        “I think I’ll be having the next cub,” Kamchatka said, “You can help me Alaska.  Alaska, eager to help, crawled forward to touch Kamchatka’s paws, just as she’d seen Kamchatka touch Arki’s.  The grizzly bear’s paws were enormous!

        “I can’t massage your paws Kamchatka, they’re too big!”  Alaska said.

      “I’ll give birth to my cub on all fours, just like Arki did, so you can stroke my hind paw,”  Kamchatka promised, “but before |I do that, I think you’re mum is here now, and she might want to take you home.”  Allie padded in, and Alaska launched into a detailed account of what she’d seen.

       “Arki was really screaming and grunting,” Alaska said, “just like you did when you gave birth to me mum, and I remember that.”  Allie looked concerned.

       “You shouldn’t have seen that,” she said sternly.

       “Mum,” Alaska said, “why not?  Cubs see it all the time!”  Noone could argue with her on that point.

       “You can watch your birth on video if you want,” Allie said, “now let’s go home!”

       “Oh all right,” Alaska said sadly as her mum picked her up and carried her from the lie up.

        “I think she saw everything!”  Kamchatka laughed.  Arki grinned.

      “No harm in that,” she replied.

        “It’s a good thing I’m used to playing with my own paws isn’t it,” Kamchatka said, “If I’m going to help show mothers how cubbing is.”  Arki smiled and nodded.

       “Your turn next,” she said, “your turn to have an imaginary cub.”  Kamchatka smiled:

      “I can hardly wait, and neither can the cub,” she replied.

 

Kamchatka groaned and panted, rubbing her belly with her forepaws.  Mild contractions turned violent pretty quickly, and Kamchatka was soon rolling on the floor, pedalling the air with her hind paws and squealing her way through contractions.  Lying on her back, her forepaws crossed over her belly, Kamchatka growled, grunted, and squealed in excruciating pain.  Arki tried to get close to Kamchatka to massage her paw, but the grizzly bear’s hind paws were pedalling so frantically she couldn’t get a hold on either of them.

       “This is bad, really bad!”  Kamchatka shrieked, “I must push, got to push, ow, ow, owww! Oww, owww oww, owww, oww, oww, ahhh, ahhh!  Panting hard, Kamchatka rolled about on the floor, groaning and straining hard.

       “Must get a grip on this!”  Kamchatka whimpered, drawing her hind legs to her, gripping the curled toes of both hind paws with her fore and writhing in agony.

      “Push Kamchatka Push!”  Arki encouraged, going forward and massaging her friend’s belly.  Kamchatka rocked back and fourth, her forepaws gripping both hind paws with urgent strength.  Rocking, panting and sobbing with effort, Kamchatka screamed with pain and pressed her hind paws into her fore with all her might.

       “Cub’s nearly here, one more push Kamchatka, Try again, and try again!”  Arki encouraged.  Kamchatka grunted and heaved.

       “Cub’s here now,” Arki said gently.  Kamchatka lay back, exhausted but happy.

      “How was that?”  She asked.

      “I couldn’t get a paw in edgeways, but it was unusual,” Arki said.

       “I made it as different from your cubbing as I could manage,” Kamchatka replied, “and it worked didn’t it.”

       “How did it feel for you?”  Arki asked.

      “Amazing!”  Kamchatka replied, “Totally amazing!  I loved every minute of my mock cubbing!”

       “I watched everything, from your face contorted in what seemed real pain, to your paw pads and toes curled and bunched up with effort,” Arki said, “Kamchatka, you don’t need training up.  You are ready to go!  That was a spirited and emotional performance.  Well done!”  Kamchatka grinned.

      “Thanks,” she replied.

       “That was real fast!”  Alaska said, crawling up to Kamchatka and hugging her right hind paw in her tiny forepaws, which was the best she could do.

       “How did you get back here?”  Arki asked.

     “Mum dropped me off at the lie up and left me, so I escaped,” Alaska replied, “mum’s probably hunting all over the place for me now.

      “Mum’s right behind you,” Allie said.  Alaska knew she was in real trouble now.

       Alaska!”  Allie screamed, “You disobeyed my instructions to you to stay in the lie up!”

         “But mum!”  Alaska protested.

     “Mum nothing, you are a disobedient cub!”  Allie yelled, smacking her cub hard with her paw.  Alaska crawled away in tears.

     “I wanted to see a cubbing; I wanted to see a cubbing! She wailed.

      “You will be confined to your den if you don’t obey my instructions!”  Allie growled.

       “I thought I could help!”  Alaska wined.

      “Let it go Allie,” Kamchatka said, “its okay for her to see a mock cubbing.  She needs to understand the pain you went through, talk to her about your experiences, tell her what it’s like to have a cub.”  Allie looked at her cub.

      “I wanted her to be introduced to cubbing gently,” Allie said.

       “Cubbing? Gentle?”  Arki said, “That’s a joke!”

      “Look, mum,” Alaska panted, now getting very distressed, “all I wanted to do was watch, I wouldn’t touch anyone!”

       “You enjoy the re-enactments Allie,” Kamchatka said, “so why can’t your cub?”

       “The cubbing isn’t the point,” Allie replied, “it’s the fact I put her in the lie up and she ran off!”

      “Crawled away I think,” Arki corrected.

      “Oh all right, crawled away,” Allie snapped.

       “I wanted to ask how I was born,” Alaska said, “and now I know, I saw it, well not you giving birth to me mum, but a bear giving birth, or pretending to.  That’s all I wanted to see!”

       “Okay, all right!”  Allie snarled, now confused and outwitted, “curiosity was the reason for your disobedience.  Bears are naturally curious, so yes, okay.”

      “Do you want to feel me having a cub?”  Kamchatka asked Alaska.

       “That cubbing was violent,” Allie said, “you’ll hurt her if she gets too close, even if you don’t mean to.”

      “I can do everything I did earlier but make the cubbing slow and gentle,” Kamchatka said.  Alaska was on the tips of her toes now, eager and excited.

       “Yes please!”  She enthused.  Kamchatka was soon lying on her back, gripping the toes of her hind paws with her fore and groaning in pain.  Alaska crawled up to Kamchatka and touched her forepaws, which tightly gripped the toes of her hind.  Kamchatka groaned and curled her toes even harder, her whole body trembling with the effort of giving birth to her cub.  Alaska heard Kamchatka’s groan of pain, a long drawn out sound, ending in a wail of agony.

      “Push Kamchatka Push!”  Alaska encouraged.  Kamchatka wriggled a little, growling and snarling with pain.  During a lull in contractions when Kamchatka let go of her hind paws, Alaska managed to catch hold of Kamchatka’s right hind paw and hold it, the grizzly bear’s toes flexing.  Alaska watched the bear’s pads bunching and relaxing.

     “The cub’s nearly here,” Alaska said gently, stroking the sole pad of her friend’s paw, “push hard again Kamchatka, give it your all, don’t worry about my paw, think of the cub!  Go on Push!  Kamchatka wriggled, snarled, then roared with effort, pushing hard into Alaska’s paws.

       “Cub’s nearly here push!”  Alaska encouraged.  Kamchatka kicked her hind paw free of Alaska’s grip and began to rock back and fourth, and then she heaved convulsively, the toes of all four paws curled tightly.

       “That’s it!”  Alaska said.  Squealing with pain, Kamchatka brought her legs up to her body, once more gripping the toes of both her hind paws in her fore.  Moaning in agony, Kamchatka heaved once more.  The grizzly bear clearly loved her job, and was prolonging her fifteen minutes of fame.

       “Come on, get that cub born!”  Alaska encouraged.  Kamchatka whimpered, clenched her teeth, closed her eyes, breathed deeply, squeezed the toes of her hind paws as hard as she could with those of her fore, and then strained with all her might.  As Kamchatka panted, Alaska rolled on her back and waved her paws in the air like a newborn cub, Kamchatka laughing at her antics.

      “The cub’s born now,” Kamchatka said.  Alaska smiled.

      “That was wonderful,” she said.  Kamchatka smiled and gave Alaska her right forepaw, still damp with sweat from her exertions.

       “You believed in that cub didn’t you,” Alaska said.  Kamchatka kissed her nose:

      “I did,” she replied.  Kamchatka examined her forepaws, and then asked Alaska to examine her hind, which Alaska did, crawling over to the grizzly bear’s hind paws and looking at her pads and toes before touching them with her tiny forepaws, rubbing and exploring the large sole pad and toes of Kamchatka’s right hind paw.  Kamchatka held Alaska in her forepaws while the tiny cub explored her huge right hind paw with her own tiny forepaws.

       “Two bears loving each other,” Allie said.  Arki smiled:

     “Yes,” she said.

       “I can copy what you did,” Alaska said to Kamchatka.  The cub rolled onto her back, reached down to her hind paws with her fore and gripped the toes of her hind paws with those of her fore, curling the toes of her hind paws hard.

      “Like this!”  Alaska said.  Kamchatka smiled broadly and tickled the bunched pads of the cub’s left hind paw, Alaska laughing merrily.

      “I couldn’t have laughed like you did while I was in pain,” Kamchatka said.  Alaska shook her head.

      “I know,” she replied, “I was only playing Kamchatka,” Kamchatka saw the cub was getting upset.

      “It’s okay,” Kamchatka said, “I was only playing too, I was acting as if I was in pain.”

        “You did well, really well!”  Alaska said, “You seem to enjoy it too.”

      “I do, and so do Arki and fleur,” Kamchatka said, “they pretend to have cubs too you know.”

       “They have real cubs too,” Alaska said, “and I know what kind of a job you do, for I spoke to a panda who’d been helped by Arki before she had her cub.  I like seeing bears and cats enjoying themselves, though you don’t look as if you’re enjoying it while it’s happening,” Alaska said.  Kamchatka grinned and hugged Alaska tenderly.

       “I would like to see you have another cub,” Alaska said, “I know it’s an act, you’re pretending.  My mum and I pretended our paws were stuck together once, we sat down opposite each other and touched hind paws, then we struggled to free ourselves, but mum couldn’t free her paws from mine, nor could I free mine from hers.  Our hind paws were glued together, and we couldn’t free ourselves, so called it a draw.”  Kamchatka smiled broadly.

       “I almost want to have the cub right now,” Kamchatka said.  Alaska crawled up to Kamchatka and touched her right hind paw.  Kamchatka, sitting until then, clenched her teeth, panted, and then gripped her right hind paw in both her forepaws before toppling over onto her side, squealing in pain.

       “Oh, awawawawowowow!”  She screeched, curling the toes of her right hind paw hard round her forepaws and kicking with her free hind paw.  Kamchatka rolled onto her back, grabbed the toes of her hind paws in her fore and squeezed them hard.

      “awowawowww, oww, oww,!!” She moaned.  Alaska saw the pads and toes of Kamchatka’s hind paws bunching and curling as she fought her contractions.

      “Can I touch your paws?”  Alaska asked.  Kamchatka panted, gasped and replied that she could, please, stroke her paws.

        “I’m coming,” Alaska said.  Kamchatka rolled onto her side and let the polar bear touch the pads of her right hind paw.  As soon as Alaska’s toes touched the sole pad of her right hind paw, Kamchatka groaned and curled the toes of all four paws even harder.  Alaska felt the grizzly’s pads bunch beneath her toes, the claws of the huge bear’s toes scratching her paw fur.

       “What can I do to help?”  Alaska asked.  Kamchatka breathed deeply.

      “Just, just be with me, help me that way!”  Kamchatka screamed.  Alaska stroked the bunched pads of her paw, Kamchatka howling with pain and wriggling convulsively.

        “Avow, ow ow ow!”  Kamchatka wailed as she bore her pain, “I want to push, must push, try to push, to have this cub!”  Alaska stroked Kamchatka’s paw pads, belly and ears as the she bear birthed her cub.  Kamchatka remained forepaws gripping hind paws for about an hour as she rode out her contractions.  Then she relaxed her hind paws, rolled onto her back and kicked furiously at the air with her hind paws, snarling and roaring in pain.

      “Cub’s nearly here!”  Alaska encouraged.  Kamchatka breathed hard, squeezing her eyes shut and wriggling frantically.

        “Got to push some more, have this cub, got to have this cub!”  She screamed.  Alaska held onto Kamchatka’s right hind paw, the grizzly bear pushing hard into the cub’s tiny paws.

     Oahu, Oooh, ooahawowowowoooah!”  Kamchatka squealed, pressing her hind paw hard into the tiny cub’s paws.

      “Go on, don’t worry about my paws, push into them if you want to!”  Alaska encouraged.  Kamchatka moaned deeply, puffing and blowing hard.

       “Go on, push!”  Alaska said, “the cub’s nearly here!”  Kamchatka grunted, bearing down into her paws with every imagined contraction.

       “The cub’s on its way!”  Kamchatka panted, “Oowowowahah!”  She wriggled, squirmed, roared and bounced about a bit, this last action causing Alaska to lose her grip on the grizzly’s paw.  Kamchatka got to her paws, bounced on her toes, then collapsed onto her side, screaming and kicking.  Alaska, her eyes alight with excitement, called out to the labouring grizzly bear:

      “This cub’s nearly here Kamchatka, nearly here!”  Kamchatka bore down again, and again and again, pedalling the air with her hind paws and screaming, while Alaska tried to hold on to her right forepaw.  Kamchatka, her nose only inches from Alaska’s, opened her mouth and screamed into her face!

       “owww owww owww owww owww owww,!  Cub’s coming, really coming now!”  Alaska crawled to Kamchatka’s hind paws and reported back to her.

        “The cub’s forepaws, head and body are out, pant Kamchatka, pant!”  Kamchatka panted, imagining the cub sliding into the world.  Then she pushed down hard for the last time.

      “It’s nearly over!”  Alaska said gently.  Kamchatka gave one final heave and lay back exhausted.

      “That was amazing!”  Kamchatka said, Alaska clambering over Kamchatka’s body and allowing her to hug her.

      “Thank you for letting me get close to you,” Alaska said to Kamchatka.

       “If you act like you did during a real cubbing, I’d like you to be close to me again,” Kamchatka replied.  Alaska kissed Kamchatka’s nose.

      “I love you dearly,” Alaska said, “for you helped me be born by helping my mum during her labour.”  Kamchatka cried real tears for the first time since she’d entered the room to talk to Arki about the new job.

      “I love you too,” the grizzly bear sobbed, holding Alaska tightly in her forepaws, the toes of both her hind paws curling involuntarily with the intense emotion of the moment.

         “That was amazing Kamchatka,” Allie said.  Arki looked at her two friends.

        “I think all cubs should be shown a cubbing as soon as they can understand what it is,” she said, “it should not be hidden away.”  Theo and Clarence padded in smiling broadly.

       “That was amazing Kamchatka,” they said, Kamchatka still absorbed in hugging Alaska.

        “We should not be ashamed of how we look during cubbing,” Kamchatka said, “I can’t wait to watch the video of my attempt at re-enacting a cubbing.

        I didn’t know Kamchatka was pregnant!”  Nanuq yelled, sprinting into the room.  Alaska pretended to be newborn, snuggling into Kamchatka’s hug.  Nanuq looked around; searching for the cub which he was certain had been born a few minutes ago.

       “Where’s your cub Kamchatka?”  He asked.  Alaska laughed merrily.

        “It was a pretend cubbing!”  She whooped.  Nanuq looked deflated, as he realised he’d been taken in.  He’d seen Kamchatka’s first attempt at re-enacting a cubbing, and hadn’t seen her first demonstration for Alaska or her second cubbing attempt after her acceptance into the acting profession as it were.

        Kamchatka’s cubbing looked real!”  Nanuq complained.

       “It felt real enough, well, sort of,” Kamchatka said.

      “It looked very real Kamchatka,” Arki said, “very real indeed!”  Arki had tears in her eyes.

       “That’s a real rush!”  Kamchatka said, “I want to do it all again!”

       “Many of us who learn to act out cubbings use it as stress relief,” Arki replied, “had a bad day? Take it out by screaming and squealing, rolling and kicking until you’ve had enough.”

      “But surely with the videos there’s no need for this acting any more?”  Allie suggested, only half serious.

     “No mum, don’t say that!”  Alaska said, “Watching videos is one thing, but you can’t really experience a cubbing that way!  ? The emotion of it just isn’t there!”  Kamchatka felt her eyes filling with tears.

      “You’re right Alaska, you’re so right!”  She sobbed.

      Kamchatka, can you show me how you locked your fore and hind paws together?”  Alaska asked.  Allie snorted:

      “You know how it’s done!”  She snapped, “You were doing it earlier!”  Kamchatka smiled and crawled over to Allie, touching her paw.

       “Didn’t you want your mum to show you things over and over?”  She asked.  Allie swallowed hard.

       Alaska loves you as much as she does me doesn’t she,” she said.  Kamchatka kissed Allie’s nose.

       “Yes,” she said, “I think you know how that feels too Allie dear.”  Allie looked at Nanuq, the male polar bear going to her and hugging her.

       “You can love your parents, both absent and present,” Kamchatka said, “Alaska loves me because I helped her into the world, and I love her because of that very reason.  I also love her family too.”  Nanuq went to Kamchatka and hugged her tightly.  The grizzly bear returning his hug by embracing him tightly.

       “I love you too,” he said.  Alaska looked at the grizzly bear.

      “Please would you show me how you held the toes of your hind paws with your fore?”  She asked.  Kamchatka smiled and turned to the cub.

      “First of all,” she said, “can you sit up?”  Alaska rolled into a sitting posture, Allie gasping with delight.

      “Now reach forward and take your right hind paw in your right fore, like this,” Kamchatka said, taking her right hind paw in her right fore.  Alaska did as she was asked, exclaiming as the toes of her right forepaw touched the sole pad of her right hind.

      “Oooh, this feels, feels lovely!” she exclaimed.  Kamchatka smiled as Alaska instinctively reached for the toes of her right hind paw with her left forepaw.  Soon the cub was playing with her right hind paw, massaging her right hind paw with her right fore and playing with the toes of that paw with her left fore.

      “I love this, I love this!”  Alaska yelled, “It’s, it’s, it’s as if, as if my paws were made to be played with!  This is amazing!”

      “What’s more amazing is that you’ve sat up for the first time in your life!”  Allie said.

     “Never mind that!”  A; Alaska said, “This paw play is wonderful!”  She swapped her attention to her left hind paw without Kamchatka’s intervention.

      “Right, now I’ve stroked my hind paws and held them in my forepaws too, can I learn how to take the toes of my hind paws in my fore?”  Kamchatka grinned and said:

      “Take hold of the toes of both hind paws with your forepaws and roll backwards,” she suggested.  Alaska did, feeling how her hind paws fell into place with her forepaws.  She then curled the toes of her hind paws gripping those of her forepaws.  Toes of both her fore and hind paws locked together, Alaska looked up into Kamchatka’s face from where she lay.

      “Now grip with all four paws and then push with your hind paws and pull with your fore,” Kamchatka said.  Alaska tried this, her forepaws flying away from her hind.  Snarling with anger, she tried again, and again, until she got it right.

      “I must free my hind paws from my fore!”  Alaska said, “But I don’t want to let go of them with my fore!”  Alaska pushed at the toes of her forepaws with those of her hind paws, and pulled with her forepaws against the pushing toes of her hind paws.  Alaska found herself whimpering and snarling with the effort of controlling all four paws.

     “Just relax into it,” Kamchatka suggested.  Alaska stopped trying so hard to keep her paws together, and they held onto each other without her struggling to correct them.

      “Now push and pull at the same time.”  Alaska tried this, and found she could concentrate on the feel of her toes in contact with each other, enjoying contact between the toes of her fore and hind paws.

      “Now you have hold of your hind paws with your fore, try curling your toes harder from time to time,” Kamchatka said.  Alaska tried this, concentrating on varying the lengths of time she put pressure on her hind and forepaws.

     “This is a real challenge,” the cub said, “so you do this, and whenever you curl your toes hard into each other, you groan with effort?”  Kamchatka smiled and said:

     “What would you do if you were me?”

   If, if I wanted to act like I was pushing against a cub, I’d make sound while curling my toes and push against my paws, then pant while I relax them,” Alaska said.

       “Cubs have always played at giving birth,” the grizzly said, “it’s a fun game, pretend play is wonderful.”  A; Alaska smiled, then curled the toes of all four paws, pulling with her fore and pushing with her hind, whimpering, rolling and panting as she tried to increase the pressure on the toes of all four paws.

      “Oooh owwwww owwwwww, awwww aoaoaoaaowwwww!”  She whimpered.

       “That’s how I do it,” Kamchatka said as Alaska relaxed after five minutes of rocking, rolling and pushing against her own paws.

      “So this also works to strengthen your legs and paws!”  Alaska exclaimed.  Kamchatka began massaging the cub’s paws.

      “It does,” Kamchatka said, helping Alaska to her paws for the first time.  Alaska stood on the soles of her four paws for the first time in her life.  Alaska then watched Kamchatka walk away copying her.  Allie stared at her cub.

       “But that’s my job!”  She whimpered.

       “Maybe Alaska’s interest in my job strengthened her paws and legs enough to let her stand for the first time,” Kamchatka said.  Allie stared at the cub walking behind Kamchatka.  She was unsteady, but she was focused on her paws, feeling the ground with her toes, loving her mobility.

       “I’m walking!”  Alaska whooped, “if, if, oh mum, Kamchatka, if learning about Kamchatka’s job leads to me walking, I want to learn more!  I want to do everything, right now!”  Kamchatka laughed.

      “All the things we do during cubbing are linked to paw play which you learn to do as a cub,” she replied, “learn to play with your paws and enjoy that, then you can cope with a cubbing by playing with your paws.”  Alaska smiled broadly.

      “When I held my right hind paw in my right fore, I felt the pads bunching as my toes curled, that felt wonderful!”  She exclaimed.  Kamchatka turned and kissed Alaska’s nose.

       “We’ll show you the birth of your sister younger Arki,”  Kamchatka said, “you can see that for yourself then decide if you still want to help.”  Alaska smiled and nodded.

       “I want to help, I want to help!”  She said enthusiastically.

 

Allie showed her youngest cub the video of the birth of her older sister.

       “You’re in pain mum,”  Alaska said, You’re squeezing your toes and playing with your paws, then on all fours, just like Arki was during the mock cubbing, you’re pushing against younger Arki.”

      “What did you feel when you saw my pain and heard me squealing?”  Allie asked her youngest cub.

      “Mum,” she said, giving Allie her tiny left forepaw, “I wanted to help, I really wanted to help.”  Alaska’s eyes filled with tears.

        “I knew I shouldn’t have shown you that!”  Allie snapped furious with herself.

      “No mum, I want to see it again,” Alaska replied, “but, I want to help the bear in the video through her cub’s birth!  I want to stroke her paws, soothe her, and tell her it’s going to be all right!  The male polar bear did a wonderful job!  But, well, I still wanted to help in any way I could, just like I helped Kamchatka.”

      “That was an act,” Allie said, “my cubbing wasn’t.”

     “I know mum,” Alaska said, “but I’ve seen a real cubbing now, I’ve seen the cub emerging and the pain and effort you had to make to deliver her.  I’m not scared of that.  I, I just want to help!  Mum, I want to help at cubbings, and if that means learning to re-enact a cubbing that’s what I’ll do!  I want to do it, I want to do it!  I know I’m only a young bear, but I want to do this!  My head wants to do it, my paws want to do it, and my heart wants to do it, to help mothers to be having their cubs in as much comfort as possible.”  Allie knew her cub was serious.

       “Okay,” she said.

     “I can see the video still affects you mum,” Alaska said.

      “How?”  Allie asked, for she could not lie to her cub.”

      “You took your right hind paw in your right fore and played with your toes the whole way through,” Alaska replied.  Allie nodded.

        “Contractions are like constipation,” Allie said, “I wanted to squeeze my hind paw with my forepaws as hard as I could throughout the video.  Even now it’s finished I want to do it, but I know I’m not having a cub, so I stop myself.”

      “Go on mum,” Alaska said, “squeeze your paw, scream and growl if you need to.”  Allie breathed deeply, looked at her cub, and then took her own right hind paw in her forepaws.

       “This is wrong!”  Allie sniffed, “I’m not having a cub, Allie, for Eohippus sake, you’re not having a cub! But, but I must squeeze my hind paw, I want to so much!”

      “Go on then mum,” Alaska said, “squeeze your paw.”

         “Must try and fight it!”  Allie whimpered.

     “No mum, don’t worry,” Alaska said, “go with the flow.  Let it all out,” she touched her mum’s free left hind paw, “come on,” she said, “let it go.  Deep breaths, then push, really push!”  Allie breathed deeply, then, gripping her right hind paw with all her might, pushed hard.

       “Oaowwww!  Aaahhhh!! ow, ow owww!”  She whimpered, “I must try harder, much harder!  Both hind paws, hold both hind paws, that’s it, owwwwwarhrhrhrhrhh, ow ow, ow ow!”  Allie gripped the toes of both hind paws with her forepaws and lay on her back, much like Alaska had.  Allie’s mind was playing tricks on her, but she couldn’t fight it this time.  Whenever she watched a cubbing video reality became blurred, and she could usually fight the feelings by massaging her paws, but not now, not now her cub was telling her to let her feelings out, to push like she wanted to.

       “Got hold of my hind paws in my fore now,”  Allie thought frantically, “now, now, must push, must push, got to push, oh, ow! Oooh!  This hurts, but, oahhh! Oooooowwww! Must Push, ooooooaaaaaawwwwwaaaoooaaahh!  Allie push!  You can do it!”  Allie pressed down against her forepaws with her hind, grunting and moaning in agony.

       “What the hell’s going on!”  Sam asked, bursting in.

      “Mum will be all right in a minute,” Alaska said, “she’s just in pain at the moment.  She’ll be fine in a bit, let her push as much as she wants.”

       “I’m going for fleur!”  Sam said, “This is wrong!”

     “No Sam, no!”  Allie gasped, “Let me get through this, please!  I will be okay, just, just leave me to it.”  Sam turned to Alaska, angry with her.

      “You’d better explain this bloody well!”  He snapped, storming out.  Allie, now left alone, puffed, blew and then strained hard, bearing down into her hind paws with all her might.

       “This is helping, it’s working, must push more though, must push more!”  Allie gasped.

      “Mum,” Alaska said, “when I touch the sole pad of your right hind paw, I want you to push really hard, go on.”  Allie nodded.  Alaska touched the polar bear’s paw and Allie pushed hard!  Holding the toes of her hind paws tightly with her fore, she bore down into her hind paws again and again, pushing with all her strength and will power.

        “That’s it, that’s it!”  Alaska encouraged.  Allie opened her mouth and wailed with pain.

        “Oawwww! Owwww! Aowwww, owwwwwwahhh!  One more push should do it!  Alaska, I want to push once more!”  Alaska touched Allie’s left hind paw this time, and the polar bear, with a strangled cry, bore down into her hind paws for the last time.

      “That’s it!”  Allie panted, “The cub’s born!”

      “What on earth was that for?”  Sam asked.  He’d returned with Rowena.

       “She’s let go of a force within her that she’s been keeping under wraps ever since she had her first cub Sam,” the white lioness said, “Allie can’t explain it, and so I will.  Ever since she had Orsa and Bjorn, she’s been keeping a flashback of a cubbing hidden.  The birth of her first cub was traumatic, and she hid it until now.  She had to re-enact that birth to cleanse her mind.  Alaska helped her do this by letting her do what she wished after seeing a cubbing video.  The videos always bring the memories back, and Allie’s way of coping was to go into a false labour, which she controlled until now by forcing herself to think of the here and now.  Massaging her hind paws was as far as she’d let her flashback go.  Now Alaska’s let her go the full journey.”  Allie was now stretched out on the floor, sobbing into Alaska’s fur.

       “You had two cubs on the ice didn’t you mum,” Alaska said, “one had a horrendous birth and died shortly after; the other’s birth was easier but that cub got killed on the ice some months later.  The second cub’s birth and death you could understand, but the first cub’s birth and death you couldn’t.  You blamed yourself for the difficult birth, so forced yourself to relive it so you could punish yourself for the death you thought was your fault.”

        “I couldn’t help it!”  Allie sobbed, “I just had to do that, I just had to give birth to my first cub again!”

       “Can you let that cub go now?”  Alaska asked, “Now you’ve given birth to her spirit, can you let it go?”  Allie clung to her fifth live cub, sobbing inconsolably.

       “I can, now, now I’ve given birth to the cub properly,”  Alaska hugged her mum tightly.

       “I want to help mothers to be mum, please, let me help them!”  Allie smiled and kissed her cub’s paw pads, slowly kissing the pads of each paw in turn.

         “I love you Alaska,”  she sobbed.  Alaska hugged her mum with all her might.

       “I love you too mum,”  she whispered.  Allie and Alaska began stroking each other’s paws, the tiny cub exploring her mother’s huge paws, Allie exploring her cub’s tiny paws in return.  Allie felt her emotions welling up again.

       “You understand me Alaska, thank you dear cub,” she sobbed.  Alaska kissed her nose.

       “You need not feel guilty about the death of your first cub mum,” Alaska said gently, “it wasn’t your fault.  Eohippus understands what you felt you had to do.  Allie hugged Alaska tenderly.

         “Thank you for giving me the courage to let things take their course,” she whispered.

      “Mum,” Alaska said, “nature has to take its course, so does grief.  Cubbing works out for the best almost all the time if nature is left to do its thing, and so does grief.  You expressed your grief in physical effort because you felt you had to, that’s not wrong mum.  I don’t want bears slipping into the woods to give birth to their cubs, and the bears here don’t want that.  They want to feel a paw on theirs while they’re giving birth, and I want to be the one who holds their paws.  Nature took its course, Kamchatka had her cub the way she wanted, Arki did too, and so did you when you gave birth to me.  Kamchatka helped you, but only in the way you wanted her to.  There was no intervention with the cub at all.  I want to help other mothers mum, I want to, please, let me help them.”  Allie smiled:

       “Yes Alaska, yes my dear cub,” she sobbed, “I would love it if you helped those mothers like you helped me today.  Thank you Alaska, from the bottom of my heart thank you.”

       “Your first cub’s name was Alaska too wasn’t it,” Alaska said.  Allie nodded.

        “I believe more strongly than ever now that you came into the world to help mothers to have their cubs Alaska.  Sam named you, but Eohippus told him what name to give you.  You are here to help the cubs live through their births,” Allie said.  Alaska, understanding a little, smiled at her mum.

       “I will help them and their mothers too!”  She said, “I promise mum, I promise!”  Allie kissed Alaska’s fore and hind paws one at a time.

        “You helped me Alaska,” she sobbed, her tears wetting her cub’s face and paw pads, “you helped Kamchatka too!  We’re all very grateful.”

      “I don’t want praise or plaudits,” the cub said, “but thanks for saying that mum.”  Kamchatka, padding into the room, beckoned to Alaska.

      “When you’re finished there, could I hug you?”  She asked.  Alaska smiled and nodded.  Allie kissed Alaska’s nose once more, then patted her paw.

      “You go, go to Kamchatka,” she sniffed.

      “No, no mum, I won’t go, not, not until you are okay.”  Allie wiped her eyes with the back of her paw.

       “I’m okay,” she gasped, “I’m, I’m okay Alaska, I’ll be fine.”  She gulped hard, fighting to keep control, “I can’t pretend I’m all right, I’m not!  Giving into my urge to re-enact the birth of the cub helped a little, but I’m still very upset.”

        “I’ll go to Kamchatka, but if you need me again, you only need to call,” Alaska said.  Allie smiled and pushed Alaska to her paws, the cub padding over to the grizzly bear.  Settling down beside Kamchatka, Alaska took the grizzly bear’s right forepaw in her tiny ones.  Kamchatka closed her eyes, concentrating on the contact between her paw and the cub’s.

 

Once Kamchatka was asleep, Alaska left her and ventured out into the wood.  She knew she was setting paw into the unknown, but she was full of the same sense of adventure which had led her to the arctic room.  Putting one small paw in front of the other brought her to the outside door, then into the wood, the woodland paths rough beneath her paw pads.  Alaska felt the wind through her fur, and her fur getting wet from the sky, Alaska thought her mum had called water falling from the sky rain.  Alaska padded along the path, feeling mud, sticks, dirt and stones beneath her pads for the first time.  Dancing on her toes caused her to lose her footing, then her balance and fall over, rolling down a small slope towards a bush which she crashed into.  Laughing with delight as she got covered in mud, Alaska scrambled to her paws and fell over again.  Suddenly a cry of pain and fear stopped her in her tracks.

       “Hello?”  Alaska asked, regaining her paws and shaking herself.

       “Ow, owwww! Ow, ow ow!”  The voice said.

      “Are you all right?” Alaska asked.  The owner of the voice gasped and panted a bit.

       “I’m having a cub, I am pregnant, was pregnant, and walking through the wood, I got my right hind paw stuck down a hole, and while trying to free it contractions started.  Digging my paw out, I managed to crawl here, and now, now things are awful!”  Alaska crawled under the bush, it was a big bush.  Crawling forward, she explored with her forepaws, coming into contact with the toes of a paw, a hind paw too.  The toes jumped slightly as she touched them, then curled as their owner endured a contraction.  Alaska was wondering if her mum would punish her for helping when the animal began shrieking with pain:

       “owwwo, owww! Ow, ow, ow, ow! owwwwahh!owwwwwwooowwww!”  The animal screamed and groaned some more.  Alaska felt her way over the paw, feeling a large sole pad just like she had on the sole of her own hind paw.  Counting toes, she counted five.  The paw was enormous!”

        “Are you a female bear?”  Alaska asked.  The animal squealed with pain!

      “Yes, yes, brown bear!”  She screamed, “Must push!”  The brown bear female raised herself on her forepaws as much as she could in the confined space, braced the toes of her hind paws against the ground and heaved.  Alaska watched the cub emerging into the world.

      “Do you want me to stroke your hind paw?”  Alaska asked.  The mother bear, panting and snarling, gasped with pain and fear, collapsing onto the ground once more:

       “Yes, I mean no, no, no, no!  Ow! Ow! Owwww! Oh I don’t know, ok yes, well, no, oh, ow! Ahh owww! I don’t know really, okay yes!  Anything to help this pain!”  the brown bear   mother yelled.  Alaska began massaging the bear’s hind paw, her left hind as Alaska found out when she touched the toes of the paw.

        “It’s helping, helping!”  The mother bear wailed, “Ow, ow, ow ooow aaowwww!”  Alaska kept stroking and massaging the sole pad and toes of the mother bear’s left hind paw, the bear herself grunting and pushing hard against her cub.  Alaska caught the cub in her paws as the cub’s mother gave birth to it.

       “Push once more, go on push!”  Alaska encouraged excitedly.  Soon the cub was born, the mother bear having born her cub lying on her stomach almost the entire time.

     “Cub’s here now,” Alaska said, sitting down and picking up the tiny cub.  The bush was so large she could sit quite comfortably beside the mother bear’s hind quarters, cradling in her paws the cub which was smaller than her.  The huge mother brown bear shuffled backwards until her head and forepaws were level with Alaska.  Staring at her in the semi darkness, the mother brown bear could hardly believe her eyes.

      “But you’re a cub yourself!”  She exclaimed, “You shouldn’t be out here in this weather.”

       “I know she shouldn’t!”  Allie snapped, having tracked her cub with scent and paw prints to the bush and heard everything, but been to amazed and angry to interveen.

       “So you’re her mum?”  The brown bear asked.  Allie nodded.

      “Has she been harassing you?”  Allie asked.

      “No,”  the mother bear replied, tears filling her eyes,” no,”  she swallowed hard, fighting for control, gripping the earth with her forepaws, “polar mama, your cub, she helped me through the birth of my own cub.”  Allie stuck her head beneath the bush for a better look, seeing Alaska cradling the cub to her, imitating the way Kamchatka cradled her.

        “Don’t punish your cub, please!”  The mother brown bear pleaded, “She was good to me.”  Allie saw the mud and fluid on Alaska’s fur and paws, and knew she’d helped out with the birth of the tiny cub she now cradled.

        “I really want to help out mothers to be now mum,” Alaska said.  Allie wiped tears away with her paw, which was now as muddy as her own cub’s.

         “I know,” she sniffed.

       “Your cub’s wonderful!”  The brown bear said.  Alaska shuffled out backwards from beneath the bush, still cradling the cub in her forepaws, digging the heels of her hind into the ground and pushing backwards while shuffling backwards on her backside.  Allie watched her cub’s resourceful behaviour.

        “You have been very good here Alaska,” she said.  The mother bear sat down in the mud on the track, the rain soaking her fur and paws.  The mother brown bear having taken her cub from Alaska, Alaska herself was able to get to her paws.  Staring round her, she saw the way the weather had changed from light rain to a heavy downpour.  Alaska herself was black from ears to paws with mud from her roll down the slope, a slope she found, clambered to the top of, and rolled down again, just for the fun of it, the adult bears laughing helplessly at her antics.

       “Let’s get you indoors!”  Allie said.

      “Mum, please, let me roll onto my back, like this,”  Alaska said, rolling onto her back, “then hold my paws up in the air, I can then catch rain and feel it on my paw pads.  Wow! That’s wonderful!”  She then sat up, scooped mud up with her left forepaw and, smiling broadly, rubbed mud into the pads and sole fur of her right hind paw.

       “I’m just going to rub mud into my other hind paw, and then I’ll come home, promise,” Alaska said.  Allie smiled, then sat down and did the same as her cub.  the brown bear mother watched the two polar bears, who now looked like black bears because of the mud in their fur:

       “Would someone rub mud into the pads of my hind paws?”  She asked, “I would do it myself, but I have a cub I need to look after.”  Alaska and Allie looked at each other.  they then nodded, sat opposite the mother brown bear, Allie slightly to her right, Alaska slightly to her left, then picked up pawfuls of mud and rubbed it into the bear’s hind paws, working it well into her sole fur and paw pads, the mother bear curling her toes slightly with pleasure.  Laughing with delight, the polar bears then rubbed mud into each other’s facial fur, then belly fur.  Rolling about a bit, they made sure they were black from nose to tail, from ears to toes.

       “We’ll need a bath now,” Alaska said.  Allie nodded.

      “But it feels wonderful to be covered from nose to toes in mud!”  She whooped.   .  Alaska smiled at her mother, padded to the brown bear mother and touched her paw, the mother bear lowering her head so her face was level with Alaska’s,Alaska kissing the brown bear mother’s nose.  Alaska and Allie sat down, watching the brown bear mother feeding her newborn cub.

       “I think we’ll give the brown bear mother and her cub a home mum,” Alaska said, “my paw told me she was a good bear.  Allie hesitated:

     “But Samson will go mad!”  She protested.

     “Samson’s not leader any more,” Alaska reminded her mum, “the ones we need to convince are the bears, and once they’ve heard, um, sorry, what’s your name?”

       “My name’s Olga,” the mother bear said smiling.

       “Well,” Alaska said, “when they hear Olga’s story, they’ll come round to our way of thinking!  If, if they don’t, then.”  Alaska looked upset, “she’ll be chucked out with her cub won’t she mum?”  Allie saw her cub’s mounting distress, as did Olga.  The mother brown bear then did something which moved Allie to tears.  Giving her half hour old cub to a mother polar bear she’d never met to look after, Olga gathered Alaska to her and hugged her in her muddy paws, while  Allie was left  cradling the tiny brown bear cub in her own paws.  Meanwhile, Alaska was snuggling up to a mother brown bear she’d hardly met, but now felt she had known her whole life.

       “Thank you for your help earlier,” Olga said, “I don’t know your name yet, but thank you.”

      “My name’s Alaska and my mum’s name is Allie,” Alaska replied, snuggling hard up to Olga, for the day was turning cold.

        “My name fits my current position,” Olga said, “for I feel blessed with the presence of your cub Allie.  Alaska was so gentle with me, so, so, gentle,” Tears ran down Olga’s face, “tell me,” she choked, “how old is your cub?”

      “A month old today,” Allie replied.  Olga gulped hard.

       “She’s so gentle, so knowledgeable too, she helped me have my cub Allie, and she was wonderful, calm and so, so gentle.  She should be paws on with all cubbing mothers I think, for even though we’d never met, by the end of my confinement, about twenty minutes after hearing Alaska’s voice for the first time, I loved your cub.  As soon as her toes touched the sole pad of my left hind paw, I knew I would be safe with her. She was calm, concerned but did not panic.  I felt totally safe putting my cub’s birth in her paws,”  Olga said.  Allie looked at Olga.

      “How did you give birth to your cub?”  She asked.  Olga, unashamed, released Alaska and lay down in the exact posture she’d adopted during the birth of her cub, on her stomach, head on forepaws, hind outstretched behind her.

       “this was the only position I could get into quickly and comfortably,”  Olga said, sitting up once more, “I know giving birth to my cub on my back or sitting on my backside reclining a little would be easier, but I couldn’t get into that position, so there I was when  your cub came rolling down the slope and crashed into the bush.  It was that which woke me from a semi dazed sleep full of pain and fear.  I then lost my fear as the toes of a tiny cub touched the sole pad of my left hind paw.  Allie, please believe me!”  Allie did, and told Olga so.

        “I know Alaska did well,” Allie said, “for I can see you’re well and I can feel the evidence of her gentility in my paws.”  She looked down at the cub in her paws, examining it from nose to paw pads.

      “A lovely cub,” Allie said gently, “have you thought of a name for her?”

       “How about Helga,” Olga suggested, “for she’s as blessed as I feel today.”  Allie smiled broadly.

       “I like that,” she replied.

      “Now mum,” Alaska said, “it’s raining!  We’re covered in mud and it’s getting dark.  Most of all, Olga and Helga need to get into somewhere warm and dry and then have a wash.  Indeed, we both need a wash too!”  Allie smiled and handed Olga her cub.  Olga waited for Alaska to shuffle away and get to her paws, and then she got to her own paws, picking up her tiny cub in her mouth.  Allie and Alaska led the way back to the house.  Leading the brown bear mother and her cub into the shower room, Allie and Alaska began to shower Olga down, Allie showering the big brown bear, while Alaska looked after her tiny cub, the two cubs soon playing together, Alaska introducing the tiny cub to the delights of playing with the paws of other bears, and having her paws played with.  This play being something Alaska herself picked up by the end of the first day of her life.

      “I love you little Helga,” Alaska said, kissing the cub’s nose and paw pads.  Helga grinned:

       “My mum loves you a lot,” the cub said, “and so do I.”  Alaska knew then, she knew more than ever that she wanted to help mothers have their cubs.

       “You do know that not all cubbings work out well,” Ruslana said, padding into the room having been given the low down by Fleur who was watching everything from the control room.  Alaska, looking up into the eyes of the lioness, saw her devastation.

        “Come with me,” Ruslana said, leading Alaska away, to the annoyance of one cub and the astonishment of two grown female bears.  Ruslana took Alaska to her lie up, where she sat her down and gently picked up her second cub that’d died of natural causes half an hour ago, placing the tiny form in Alaska’s paws.  Alaska looked down at the lifeless form in her paws, Ruslana waiting to see what the polar bear would do.  Then, to Ruslana’s surprise, Alaska kissed the cub’s nose, and returned the body to her...

      “Go in peace little one,” Alaska whispered.

       “I thought you’d react badly to dead cubs,” Ruslana mewed.

        “Why should I react badly?”  Alaska asked.

       “No reason,” Ruslana replied, overwhelmed by the polar bear’s gentility towards her dead cub.

      “You thought you’d be able to scare me off?”  Alaska asked.

     “No, but, but, I thought, thought you bears, well, you wouldn’t be so gentle with the cubs of other species,” Ruslana said.  Alaska was about to leap to her paw in preparation to run out the door in disgust when she felt something take her right hind paw with desperate strength.  Ruslana looked down at the owner of the paws holding Alaska’s paw.  Her first cub cocked an ear at her.  Ruslana was about to cuff her cub with her paw in anger when Alaska wiggled her toes to free her paw from those of the tiny cub, lifted the cub up in her forepaws and kissed it on the nose.

       “Don’t you ever try to make out that my cub would attack or treat anyone without respect?”  Allie screamed, having watched everything from just outside the door.

       “I’m sorry, so, so sorry,” Ruslana mewed, hiding her face with her paw, as if that would do any good.  Allie snorted, and then whacked Ruslana round the head with her paw!  Ruslana screamed with pain and collapsed on the floor, knocked unconscious.

      “Showing my cub a dead cub is one thing, impugning her integrity is another!”  Allie screamed at Gosheven who ran in at the sound of his daughter cub’s scream.

      “Ruslana wasn’t, she didn’t!”  Gosheven shouted.

       “She dam well did!”  Allie yelled, stamping her paw, “come on Alaska, we’re going, a cub really misses you.”  Alaska kissed Ruslana’s one remaining cub once more on his nose and the pads of his left forepaw, the cub laughing merrily at her antics.

      “Got to go little one,” Alaska said.  The cub kissed her nose, and then crawled away to Gosheven who was helping a confused and Angry lioness to her paws.

       “I didn’t mean to impugn your cub’s integrity you stupid polar bear!”  Ruslana screamed hysterically.  Allie turned and spat at the lioness, before turning tail and padding down the stairs with her cub.  Alaska had barely set paw in the shower room when Helga gripped Alaska’s right forepaw in both her tiny forepaws.

       “Don’t leave me again, please!”  Helga pleaded.  Alaska smiled at the tiny cub and rolled her over with her nose, the tiny cub forced to let go of her hold on Alaska’s paw.  Once Helga was laid laughing on her back with her paws in the air, Alaska blew on the pads of Helga’s forepaws, the cub wriggling and laughing hysterically.

     “I love that, I love that!”  She whooped.  Olga looked at her cub and at Alaska who was still covered in mud.

     “I hate Ruslana; I hate her for what she did!”  Allie yelled, “Yes, Alaska needed to learn about dead cubs, but not yet!”

      “Mum, it’s okay,” Alaska said, “I know cubs do die at or shortly after or even before birth.  Mothers do sometimes give birth to dead cubs.  I know that, but it is part of nature.”

      “I know that Alaska love,” Allie replied.  Alaska smiled sadly and turned to her mum, hugging her tightly, Allie kissing her cub’s nose.

     “Now let’s get you clean,” Allie said softly.  Allie and Olga washed Alaska in turns, the polar bear cub getting two washes about which she wasn’t in any mind to complain.

      “Roll onto your back Alaska, so we can wash your belly and the soles of your paws,” Allie said to her cub, who eagerly complied.

     Alaska’s a lovely cub,” Olga said to Allie, who smiled broadly.

       “I think your cub’s lovely too,” Allie replied, kissing Olga’s nose.  Olga smiled shyly.

      “What is a feral bear doing in here?”  Samson roared.

        “This feral bear had a cub three hours ago Sammy dear,” Allie replied, “and you have no say as to who comes into or leaves here any more.”  Allie flicked her paw in the shower, soaking Samson.

      “You crazy thing!”  Samson roared, spitting water.

       “I helped Olga here have her cub!”  Alaska yelled.  Samson looked down at the tiny bundle of life lying on the tiles using her forepaws to play with her tiny hind paws.  Samson looked closely at the cub, his whiskers tickling Helga’s nose.

      Alaska did help me into the world big lion,” Helga said, reaching with a tiny forepaw for the whiskers which had just tickled her face.

      “I wish we’d caught this on camera,” he mewed.

      “I’ll ask Kamchatka if she’ll re-enact the cubbing with info from Olga,”” Allie said smiling.  Samson roared with laughter:

     “She wouldn’t, would she?”  He asked.

      “If only I’d given birth to my cub in here,” Olga said, “I know this place, that’s why I was so close, I was coming here to ask for sanctuary when I got my hind paw stuck down a hole, and the rest is history.  I know you record the births of all the cubs on video, and I wish we could have recorded Helga’s birth warts and all.”

       “You might be in luck,” Nanuq said round a DVD held in his teeth.  He threw it on the tiles at Olga’s feet.

      “One DVD of a brown bear female having her cub,” he said.

     “How did you get that?”  Allie enquired.

       “Secret cameras under a bush!”  Nanuq laughed, “They were to monitor badgers, but we got a lot more than that tonight!”

        “Oh wow, oh how wonderful!”  Olga said, nearly crushing the DVD under her right forepaw as she danced for joy.  Alaska grinned hugely.

      “I might be able to watch my cub’s first patient having her cub without feeling guilty about my own first cub’s birth and death,” Allie thought.

 

Half an hour later, the DVD was in the player and Allie, Kamchatka, Arki, Alaska, Olga and Helga was watching Helga’s birth.

 

The video started with a shot of the space beneath the bush, then the sound of crawling paws, scuffing leaves and whimpering, which heralded Olga’s arrival.  Olga settled down on the leaf litter, clearly very uncomfortable.  Olga, lying on her chest, wriggled and twisted, screaming into her forepaws as she bore her pain.  Then she gripped the ground with her forepaws, the toes of her hind curled tightly as she clenched her teeth and rode out her worst contraction yet, ending it by wailing in agony.  It was then that Alaska’s voice could be heard, and Alaska herself could be seen just outside the mother bear’s bush refuge.

 

      ““Hello?”  Alaska asked, regaining her paws and shaking herself.

       “Ow, owww! Ow, ow ow!”  Olga yelled.

      “Are you all right?” Alaska asked.  The owner of the voice gasped and panted a bit.

       “I’m having a cub, I am pregnant, was pregnant, and walking through the wood, I got my right hind paw stuck down a hole, and while trying to free it contractions started.  Digging my paw out, I managed to crawl here, and now, now things are awful!”  Alaska crawled under the bush, it was a big bush.  Crawling forward, she explored with her forepaws, coming into contact with the toes of a paw, a hind paw too.  The toes jumped slightly as she touched them, then curled as their owner endured a contraction.  Alaska was wondering if her mum would punish her for helping when Olga began shrieking with pain:

       “Owwwo, owww! Ow, ow, ow, ow! Owwww, aaaahh! Owwwwwwooowwww!”  The she bear screamed and groaned some more.  Alaska felt her way over the paw, feeling a large sole pad just like she had on the sole of her own hind paw.  Counting toes, she counted five.  The paw was enormous!”

        “Are you a female bear?”  Alaska asked.  The bear, now known by all as Olga, squealed with pain!

      “Yes, yes, brown bear!”  She screamed, “Must push!”  The brown bear female raised herself on her forepaws as much as she could in the confined space, braced the toes of her hind paws against the ground and heaved.  Alaska watched the cub emerging into the world.

      “Do you want me to stroke your hind paw?”  Alaska asked.  The mother bear, panting and snarling, gasped with pain and fear, collapsing onto the ground once more:

       “Yes, I mean no, no, no, no!  Ow! Ow! Owwww! Oh I don’t know, ok yes, well, no, oh, ow! Ahh owww! I don’t know really, okay yes!  Anything to help this pain!”  The brown bear   mother yelled.  Alaska began massaging the bear’s hind paw, her left hind as Alaska found out when she touched the toes of the paw.

        “It’s helping, helping!”  The mother bear wailed, “Ow, ow, ow ooowww aaowwww!”  Alaska kept stroking and massaging the sole pad and toes of the mother bear’s left hind paw, the bear herself grunting and pushing hard against her cub.  Alaska caught the cub in her paws as the cub’s mother gave birth to it.

       “Push once more, go on push!”  Alaska encouraged excitedly.  Soon the cub was born.

     “Cub’s here now,” Alaska said, sitting down and picking up the tiny cub.  The bush was so large she could sit quite comfortably beside the mother bear’s hind quarters, cradling in her paws the cub which was smaller than her.  The huge mother brown bear shuffled backwards until her head and forepaws were level with Alaska.  Staring at her in the semi darkness, the mother brown bear could hardly believe her eyes.

      “But you’re a cub yourself!”  She exclaimed, “You shouldn’t be out here in this weather.””

 

“It was then I came in,” Allie said, drying her eyes with her forepaws, “Alaska and I got rather dirty with mud on the track.”  Kamchatka nodded, and smiled at Alaska.

      “We saw everything,” she said, “but we didn’t intervene, for we knew you Alaska wouldn’t be able to resist Olga’s cry for help.  Alaska, if you’d got into trouble someone would have been there to help, for we saw Olga crawl into the bush.  She was safe, and we didn’t move her for the safety of her and her cubs.  It was easier for her to be left where she was.  She was safe, though neither she, nor anyone else involved knew that until now.”

        “Thank you for leaving us to it,” Olga said, “for now Helga and I have a very special polar bear cub friend.”

     Alaska needed to have her paws free, and she had free paws, now she knows what a real cubbing is.  She was wonderful, and I’m sure I speak for all when I say we all love and praise her for her work.”  Arki said.  Olga was crying now, as were all the bears accept Alaska and Helga, the former tenderly cradling the latter in her forepaws.

 

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