Ngruzren-of-Arzgr inhaled the fresh air deeply, then sighed.

The bright warm sun bathed his tired frame, sounds of the city melting into a comfortable background haze. His pups – all five of them – harassed each other in the bubble cart, it’s deep bowl-shaped reinforced cloth basket squirming as his children burned off what seemed to be an endless amount of energy trying to burrow through the basket and possibly each other.

Ngruzren, for his part, looked every bit the new father; on his back he wore a pack filled to the brim with toys, food, medical supplies and multiple changes of clothing (for both him and his young), his outfit put together to achieve maximum comfort while still being street legal. Idly, in the back of his mind, he was certain there were a few stains on his robe or his leggings, but… but he was far too tired to care.


“{I’m not talking to you, you little bastard.}” Ngruzren sweetly smirked, resting his hand on his fifth daughter and gently pushing her down into the stroller-cart. He was rewarded with a chorus of ecstatic squeals and a half-dozen little paws scratching at his hand and wrist, and Ngruzren laughed to himself as he fussed with his children before removing the attacking limb.

“{Seriously though. I don’t even know how you got between those couch cushions…}”

Ngruzren sighed once more. Yes, his pups were little shits, and yes they were worth it, but damn if it wasn’t so much work. He’d burned half the day doing basically nothing: caring for a single non-threatening head wound, finding his lost daughter burrowed under the couch cushions, then getting them all fed and cleaned – If you had asked him, Ngruzren would swear that he woke up before dawn to get a head start on the day, and yet now here he was, trying to get out of the house to find some place nice to eat lunch.


“{Well, aren’t you great at putting yourself down.}” Ngruzren said to himself, reaching behind the cart to pull it’s transparent shield over the top. His species learned millenia ago that leapers meant leapers, and the last thing any father needs is his children orchestrating an impromptu prison break once they get their back legs fully developed. Checking his pockets once more to make sure he had everything necessary for the excursion ahead, Ngruzren stepped out into the sidewalk proper, pushing his cart of pups before him, the gate to his starter home locking automatically behind him. The excitement of being out and about at first had a calming effect, as each pup stared bright-eyed at the flora, fauna, buildings and other sapients that passed them by.

This docile effect lasted, at best guess, about 2 minutes at most. With a full-body wiggle one of his pups bounded – well, leapt – eer. Her legs aren’t that developed, so let’s just generously call it a hop with ambition and gently booped her whole head against the soft reinforced rim of the basket. This was apparently the sign that all of Ngruzren’s other pups were waiting for; within a few seconds each pup was leaping, hopping or just plain full-body wiggling in an attempt to escape the bubble-cart and see the wide world around them. The more Ngruzren pushed the stroller, the more animated his pups became, tiny little balls of mottled fur popping up into the clear plastic top shell before gravity inexorably pulled them back down onto their sisters.

Ngruzren exchanged polite pleasantries with the people who walked by, every so often stopping to let an older mother or father playfully poke at the clear dome much to his pups’ delight. It was an ideal day in an ideal city on an ideal planet, and he was living an arguably ideal life with all his needs taken care of.

And yet.

Ngruzren waved kindly to the elderly Jornissian couple as they finished cooing over his pups, another soft sigh escaping his lips. Everything was going “right” for him, and he really had nothing to complain about at all – so why did he feel so empty? Was it really just him being so needy as to have to have a wife with him at all times? Was he always this boring? Or was this all there was to life? Is it so wrong to want more? What doth life-


Ngruzren frowned as an errant piece of litter – an ad, it seems – pressed up against his pups’ pushcart. They attacked it with ineffective and curious zeal, of course, and Ngruzren quickly snatched it away. Turning it over in his hands he hummed, softly.








Ngruzren turned the ripped sheet over in his hands – apparently someone else had pulled out the contact information – and thought for a moment.

He did have free time to volunteer.

He was a tiny-chomper trained professional.

He was already caring and nurturing pups, on his own, so-

Ngruzren nodded, pulling up his implants’ HUD as he started to walk to a transportation hub with purpose. “{Search term: tiny-chomper nurse practitioner opening…}”

The door to the hospital side entrance opened up silently, a gentle chime and the change of air pressure the only indication that someone stepped through. Multi-species hospitals were, by their nature, built to the lowest common denominator of every species, made to accept the widest variance possible of the sum total. Therefore, doors were unreasonably wide, tables are far too low, vending machines are boring, seating arrangements were universally uncomfortable, and almost to a clinic the walls were just… bland. Eventually, once you were put into a more species-appropriate wing things became more tailored to your genetic triggers, but until then the cold beige welcome room screamed professionalism, and that was absolutely fine for everyone who came in and for those who worked there.

“[Um, Hello?]”

Rrr’ssrpprinsse looked up from her terminal, the sky-blue and white Jornissian shaking the notifications out of her vision. Standing before her on the soft foam floor was a Male Dorarizin, an obviously confused look on his face. “[Ah, I’m sorry. Welcome to Caring Touch Hospital and Clinic.]” She gave the male a quick once-over, noting no limping, tilting, unfortunate discharges or flaking fur, then noticed the still-rambunctious bowl of pups-

“[Oh! Here for a checkup? Do you have an appointment, Mr…-]”

“[No, no. Eer, I’m Ngruzren-of-Arzgr, but I don’t have an appointment.]” Ngruzren gently placed a torn ad on the countertop. “[I saw this, and I was wondering-]”

Rrr’ssrpprinsse sighed, rippling her neck in a gentle no. “[Oh lightspice, hon, unless you’ve got a tier 3 handling clearance-]”

“[Oh! But I do – you can run me through the system, I used to be a tour guide – an unaccompanied one – for the warm-cuddles. Ngruzren-of-Arzgr, ID#: 255-7’’-$~~4@-]”

“[Ah, I got you, I got you.]” Rrr’ssrpprinsse interrupted, pulling up the public file of the citizen before her and giving it a very quick once-over. “[Yeah, it seems like you’re more than experienced – sorry. You have to forgive me, once those ads were placed we got a flood of well, everyone wanting to play doctor with the warm-cuddles. I’m Rrr’ssrpprinsse, and it’s a pleasure to meet you Mr. Arzgr.]” Rrr’ssrpprinsse raised herself up, giving a slight professional bow to the young father. The Dorarizin copied the bow, uncertainly, his pups bouncing around with the infinite energy of youth.

“[So, uh, congratulations? You’ve basically passed the first few hurdles-]”

“[Wait, there’s no interview process or vetting-]”

“[Oh! No, no there definitely is-]” Rrr’ssrpprinsse leaned down, working the controls on her console. “[We’ve… well, talk about luck, we’ve got a new hire orientation going on right now. It’s the first step after warm-cuddle handling qualification – which you’ve already passed, and your cert is still good – so we can just slide you in there.]”

“[Uuuhhh…]” Ngruzren blinked, looking down at his basket of pups, rolling his shoulder to let the bag of supplies he was carrying drop to the ground. “[I am in no way prepared for an interview, Rrr’ssrpprinsse – ma’am. I just wanted to inquire-]”

“[Mr. Arzgr, it’s not an interview. We ask all prospective new hires to sit in through about 10 days of orientation to understand what we’re actually asking them to do, and the ones that stick through it are the ones that are then interviewed for positions. We find that this sifts out all those who are here out of curiosity from those who are called to help. The lucky part is that we’ve just started a new round, so you can begin at the beginning. If you’re not interested, then it…]” Rrr’ssrpprinsse checked her terminal, hands flying over the keys. “[It’ll be another few months before we open up for another orientation round.]”

Ngruzren grimaced. “[10 days…]”

There was a pregnant pause as Ngruzren looked down at his pups, letting out another sigh. “[I don’t think I’m able to make that commitmen-]”

Rrr’ssrpprinsse thought for a moment. “[You know, we have an on-site nursery that’s free for employees-]”


Rrr’ssrpprinsse chuckled, rumbling as she shrank back down. “[Wonderful. Give me a few minutes and we’ll go drop off your pups and get you into class.]”

To the uninitiated – or those just passing by – it looked like Ngruzren was just talking to a giant pile of baby supplies sitting on a desk.

“[-and Rgez needs to be fed at least twice an hour-]”


But to anyone who bothered to dig under said supplies, you would find one very bemused Karnakian day care receptionist processing a waiver for a new batch of young Dorarizin pups.

“[Gragd only likes minced food; she’s not on solid just yet-]”


Of course, Ngruzren had no reason to use day care up until this point; it was very much an alien concept to him, and so he just defaulted to what he knew: Treat the adult like they’re a babysitter, give them the run down, and pray no one gets hurt while you’re out on a date night.

“[-to be laid down for a nap, even if Re-]”


Ngruzren tensed up a bit before relaxing, looking appropriately sheepish. “[Sorry, I just-]”

“[Sir, it’s all right. We’ve got 80 other pups that we take care of on a daily basis; I’m certain another 5 won’t be an issue.]” T’ciki’briiki said, laughing softly, her sandy yellow-orange feathers shaking with joy. “[Trust me, you’re not the first new father to do a drop off, everyone will be fine. I promise.]”

“[I just… alright.]” Ngruzren said with a certain twinge of defeat, rolling his stroller of pups to the side of the reception desk. “[I’ve just never, yanno.]”

“[I know. Trust me, I know.]” T’ciki’briiki said, gently pulling the stroller of pups to her side. “[We’ll put them in a play den within view of others their age, get them used to the attention and smell and then tag’em and let them out.]”

“[Well, socialization is important…]”

“[There, see?]” T’ciki’briiki smiled, crest rising with joy. “[And they’ll be isolated for the first few days, so there won’t be any teething accidents, and everything is under camera and full-spectrum monitoring. If something happens, we’ll know before these little ones even do.]”

Ngruzren stood there, at the desk, a tablet slid gently under his hand, the text on the screen gently but insistently asking for his permission to sign various forms. He looked back at his pups, the basket of wet noses and soft eyes all looking at their father in unison, knowing not what was going on but that it was a change and that change needed an adult to manage.

“[Mr. Arzgr, we need to go soon.]” Rrr’ssrpprinsse said softly. “[We can skip the initial paperwork signing and filing, but once the presentation starts the doors are locked.]”

Ngruzren looked at his pups, hard, and then at the form. With a titanic effort, he scribbled his signature, pressing his hand against the screen to record his biometric consent.

“[I’ll be back soon, sweetmeats, I promise. Be good, ok?]”

Ngruzren was strong enough to not look back once he walked out, which was to his credit.

Ngruzrenwas not strong enough to stop second-guessing himself once his pups began to cry.

The Jornissian pressed her keycard against the door, pushing it open with her free hand, the muffled voice behind the threshold suddenly ringing out clearly into the hallway.

“[-to help with further integration. I don’t need to explain to you all how delicate the tiny-chompers are; their physical attributes are weaker, yes, but do belie a surprising amount of resilience and strength. The goal over the course of these sessions is to introduce you to the tiny-chompers without the veneer of propaganda,-]”

Rrr’ssrpprinsse pointed to an empty seat near the back-middle of the auditorium, giving Ngruzren a reassuring pat on his forearm. The Dorarizin nodded his thanks, silently slipping into the room.

“[-to show you the state they will arrive in, and to truly explain to you what this job will demand of you. You cannot coddle them, you cannot make excuses for them, and you cannot let them break you; there will be those we save, and those we lose, and you need to be ok with both of those outcomes.]” The elderly Jornissian presenter, a doctor by the look of his uniform, switched to the next slide, the auditorium-wall sized presentation deck landing on it’s end slide.

Ngruzren took his seat, the terminal before him lighting up to ask for his login information… which he absolutely didn’t have. Frowning slightly, he turned on his own implant, recording everything he could for further note-taking later.

“[Without further delay, I’d like to present to you the first group of tiny-chompers who are going to be touring with us over the next few months; these doctors and nurses will be teaching us all through experience what you are expected to learn on your own through structured education and training. Tiny-chompers?]”

At that announcement, a door to the side of the stage opened up, a group of four tiny-chompers making their way to the center of the stage. The Jornissian presenter moved out of the way, giving the first tiny-chomper – a male, from the looks of it – a deferential bow. He walked up to the podium, flanked by three other tiny-chompers – another male and two females – all of which looked professional, well-groomed and totally nonplussed as they scanned the room. The first tiny-chomper reached down and did something at the base of the podium, then stepped up to it…

…oh. Oh. It was a pull-out step.

“[Aww…]” Ngruzren murmured, resting his chin in his hand.

“[Good day to you all. I am Doctor Tiny-chomper-wiggle-hands. Behind me are Nurses Tiny-chomper-sassy-slaps, Tiny-chomper-needle-poke and Tiny-chomper-lookit-him-jump. You are all well trained in how to handle, especially physically, our species. This course, as Dr. Hre’preshn stated, is to show you a deeper view into tiny-chomper physiology. Whereas all of you are trained in handling sapients who are sane, calm and collected, you will now be expected to handle us when we are dying, insane and in fear. In short, the worst and most vulnerable parts of tiny-chompers will be on display.]”

The slideshow started again, and a gasp – not of shock but of joy – rippled through the audience.

“[So we’re going to start with the most vulnerable of the vulnerable.]”

On the screen, on full display, were about a half-dozen tiny-chomper infants.

“[Now, in regards to infant behavior…]”