Ik’itili idly kicked her legs in the soft dirt, her work-booted heels making little ruts in the ground. Her leggings were already dirty from fighting that evil Terror-beast, and the sudden voice call from Ngruzren was worth taking a bit of a break to catch up anyway. Admittedly, Ik’itili was hoping to get the gang back together and start hanging out again; ever since Ngruzren had his pups he dropped off the face of the earth…

“[-So then they showed this video of a baby little-needs-protecting and it couldn’t stand and kept falling over-]”

…but she hadn’t been able to get a word in edgewise for the past 15 minutes.

“|-ok so-|”

“[-aaaaa and they weigh like nothing at all so when the baby little-needs-protecting would fall it would just land with a pomf and then look around all confused and just-]”

Not that she’d want to – this was gold.


As Ngruzren continued to babble about incredibly adorable things, Ik’itili gave the side eye to “Bench”, the evil terror-beast. Her manager, the other handlers, and every little-needs-protecting she ever ran into refused to admit the malice, the pure evil cunning that lay behind those compound eyes.


Ik’itili watched as the pure animalistic evil of the terror-beast’s machinations was made manifest; with malicious purpose Bench beat its’ wings, bumping his head against the aluminum canopy. The shock of the impact caused the animal to float down for just a moment… before evilly attempting it again.

Well. Assumedly evilly attempting it again. Point was, Ik’itili was not going to trust this animal ever, and it’s always better to err on the side of caution.

“|…especially with evil.|”

“[I’m sorry, what?]” Ngruzren said, the confusion of the statement stopping him mid-rant.

Ik’itili sat up on her haunches, slowly standing up to her full height, stretching the knots out of her legs. “|Nothing, nothing. I’m just… the last thing standing between civilized society and the beasts that prowl the night.|”

“[… wait I thought you were a farmhand-]”

“|I am an omni-agricultual facilitation engineer, non-sapient existence technician, bio-genetic disposal professional and a class 2 rated biological assistant.]”

[Yeah. You plant crops, tend animals, shovel shit and are a cheap, talking forklift.]”

Ik’itili paused for a moment, then shrugged. “|. . . Yeah well black fur on you is tacky.|”

There was an over-exaggerated gasp from her friend, followed by a stream of faux-insults. Ik’itili smiled as she walked out of the cage, making a point to look as pure and innocent as possible.

She knew. She knew the mind of evil.

“[-three-feathered crest! That’s what I get for befriending a south-side degenerate like yourself! I bet you’re still sending primary pictures to guys you like-]”

Ik’itili ignored the playful rant, continuing to pretend to be innocent, which, of course, she was. The gentle bonking subsided, and there was an inquisitive flap of wings-on-air.


“|Mmm, yes, yes. I learned it from you – what was that trick you used to do? Rip a few holes around your scarf so your mane would poke through-|”

Another gasp from her implant, and a playful growl. “[That was high fashion you computer nerd! I wouldn’t expect someone like you to understand art-]”

Another wingbeat, this time closer. Ik’itili looked down at her feet, the bright light of the arena casting shadows on the ground.

And one of those shadows grew closer. More defined.


“[-ing to find anyone out there anyway and I doubt you’ll be more flexible as-]”


“[-flip the switch, the trolley car would just run over-]”


“[-lled himself Pickled Rick. It was the funniest thing-]”


“|RAAAAAAAAAAAAA-|” With a mighty roar, Ik’itili squatted and launched herself into the air, clearing the side-railing and the first few rows of bleacher seats, arcing her back and tilting her head to start a slow, controlled backflip. She had practiced this maneuver before because defeating evil and protecting the little-needs-protecting is what she did.

Well. That and resetting the farm’s router.

Òẘó?!” Went Bench, the evil terror-beast, as his natural inquisitive state betrayed him yet again; with a mighty thok Ik’itili slapped the bright blue helmet on the terror-beast’s head, the sound of two hollow coconuts slapping together ringing throughout the auditorium. Bench wobbled in his flight before landing on the ground, his wingbeats kicking up the dust around his form.

Ik’itili landed on her feet, one hand punching into the soft dirt, her muscles flexing as her body ate the force of impact.


“[Good heavens I had no idea you could jump that high-]”

“[Momma why did she talk to herself-]”

“[Look buddy if that’s how I have to get flight trained I’m leaving right now-]”

Ik’itili tensed and turned her head, letting out a nervous trill. Standing not 15 feet away from her was her first group of trainees… and the owner of the ranch, Juan Esteban, who was covering his face with his hands.

“|I can… explain.|”

“[Wiggles, you do know that Bench has a roosting command, right?]” Juan sighed, rubbing his forehead in exasperation.

“|Well yes, but-|”

“[And that if you had just closed the cage door he wouldn’t have gotten out? As protocol dictates whenever we suit up a terror-beast?]”

“|Certainly, but-|”

“[Not to mention, you haven’t suited up any of the other terror-beasts-]”

“|Well you see-|”

“ÖẘÖ.” Bench the moth added, idly walking along the dirt floor towards the group of little-needs-protectings.

Ik’itili pouted, pointing an accusing claw at the retreating fuzzy little bastard. “|You’re not helping-|”

“[Just… ok. Anyway.]” Juan turned towards the group of flight hopefuls, clapping his hands together. “[We’re a little short-staffed today, so Wiggles is going to be your trainer-]”

“[Wiggles!]” a few of the younger little-needs-protectings chanted, doing that full-body wiggle that made the name worthwhile. Ik’itili smiled, waving a hand in their greeting custom, as the parents and adults… smiled. Kindly.

“[-and before anyone gets concerned, yes, she is flight training rated. Today, however, we’re just going to be doing clutch training.]” Juan continued, reaching over to pet the helmeted head of Bench, the inquisitive moth, as the animal gently poked the humans’ leg.

“[As you can see, this is Bench, and he’s a very friendly fellow.]” Juan emphasized, staring pointedly at Ik’itili as she sassily snapped her teeth at him. “[He’s what we call a training moth; we make it a point to take some of every clutch and have them imprint on multiple people, and have our trainers re-enforce the same commands. This means that he will respond to commands given to him from anyone – as such, please only give commands when you’re in the pilot’s seat.]” Juan kneeled, clasping the helmet’s strap under the moth’s chin with a little click. Bench looked up at the human, somehow seeming more… determined.

“[Wiggles, if you’d continue explaining, I have to go help in the parlor. If anyone has any questions or concerns, Wiggles here is one of our best employees and will make sure you’re all safe and protected. With that-]”

“|Ah, yes. So. Today is clutching training, so nobody will actually be gaining altitude today. The goal of today’s training is to get you used to being …handled by these beasts in a safe and effective manner.|”

“[AAAAAA-]” Ngruzren suddenly yelled, being so kind as to remind his friend that he was still on the call.

“|NGY’’’AH!|” Ik’itili screeched, doing a full-body flail.

The little-needs-protectings flinched, a few of the adults tensing up in a fight-or-flight response. Juan, for his part, just… stared at his farmhand, silently mouthing ‘why can’t you be normal’.

. . .

“|…I can explain.|”

The Karnakian sat against the side of the training barn, sighing as the sun began to set and the wind shifted, the temperature starting to drop. She had finished her 5 hour fill-in, and was… exhausted wasn’t the right word, but the right word was definitely neighbors with it.

“Not bad.”

“[Hmm?]” Wiggles trilled, tilting her head to examine her boss. “[Listen, I know I’m not supposed to take calls on company time, but I wasn’t working with any heavy machinery-]”

“Nah, not that.” Juan said, sitting down next to his larger farmhand. “We all do it, hell, I’m making calls as I walk everywhere. You’re smart enough to know when to go on DND. I mean, more, we only had what, 6 ejections?”

“[I think it would have been fewer, but once we started practicing quick releases a few of our cadets kept angling themselves to be launched into the foam pit.]”

“It is fun, you have to admit.”

“[It’s fun to jump in, sure, but I’m not about to let a couple of those things work in tandem to drop me into a pit.]”

Juan whistled softly, and Wiggles furrowed her brow before relaxing. “That sounds like a terrifying amount of common sense.”

“[Yes, well. All in all, a good day? How did the cows fare?]”

“The girls are fine, but they’re getting spooked by the smoke coming in from the east.” Juan took off his hat, running his hand through his hair again in a worried tic. “I know we’re not going to keep a monopoly on this, I get it, that’s fine, but people are just clear-cutting and burning hectacres of land, sometimes even without a MOTHER in sight.”

“[Don’t you need a slew of permits to start a Moth hatchery?]”

Officially, yes.” Juan Esteban said, frowning. “But my brother, Juan, did some digging because our complaints to district weren’t getting anything done. Apparently they’re not burning to start a moth hatchery, but if a MOTHER just so happens to land and spawn in their bonfire as they’re “clearing” dead brush…”

[Ah.]” Wiggles said, nodding her crest. “[So they suddenly find themselves the ‘lucky’ owners of ‘wild’ moths…]”

Juan Esteban frowned. “There’s too much money for everyone involved right now – farmers, breeders, the entire industry… government too.” He reached down to run his hand through the brittle gray ‘grass’, tiny stalks breaking off in his grip. “They don’t pupate ‘em, Wiggles. They barely raise ‘em, and I’ve yet to see one actually trained. They grab too tight, they fly aggressive-

Wiggles smiled as Juan ranted; it was nice to see him so animated, so passionate about his work. As he continued to talk and complain about … well, a little bit about everything, the wind picked up. It would have been un-noticeable save for a gentle flurry of something that began to gently fall to the ground.


“See? Damnit, what did I just say!” Juan growled, holding out his hand to catch some of the ash. “They’re burning the rooters too hot! A MOTHER doesn’t want to land on the fucking sun, she needs coals!” Juan stood up, coughing at the irritation. “Ah, fuck. Just great – I can’t tell if I’m coughing cause Jim got me fucking sick or if it’s this smoke shit…”

Wiggles hummed to herself, the sickly-sweet taste of the slightly-ashy air filling her lungs. “[Mmmm. I know a guy in code enforcement I could give a call-]”

“You get something about this done – I don’t care if they’re burning, but they don’t need to burn this close to my farm – and you get a month off with pay.”

“[Deal! I’ll give Persimmon a call.]”

“Oh! Oh yeah! How is that stick-in-the-mud doing, nowadays?”

The hallways were busy with the buzz of constant activity, the beeping of machines behind doorways, and of course, professionals moving to and fro in their daily rounds. However, none of them would be confused with anyone in Code Enforcement, because checking in on Persimmon is for next chapter, and we are, of course, in a Hospital.

Ngruzren kept chuckling to himself; Ik’itili was always a bit of a scatterbrain – brilliant, sure, but sometimes she just… forgot things. Forgot to carry an integer, forgot to load a level, or forgot that she was on a call and suddenly launching into a battle-scream would cause anyone else on the other end of the call to freak right out. Surrounded by people. In the cafeteria.

Ngruzren licked her thumb and smoothed out a food stain on his forearm; most of his snack found it’s way onto the ceiling, but a few errant drops on his clothing here or there were to be expected.

“[Well. I hope you all enjoyed your break.]” Dr. Hre’preshn said, cool eyes scanning across the room. “[Everyone’s paperwork is mostly in order, but we should be good to continue for the rest of the day. Everyone excited to continue orientation?]”

Dr. Hre’preshn smiled wide as there was a roar – a reasonable roar – of approval, palpable excitement in the air. “[Excellent, that’s exactly what we like to hear! Our tiny-chomper hosts should be returning in the next few minutes, so let’s all get set up beforehand. If you’ll all log into your consoles and pull up ‘Day 1 – Orientation pt.2’-]”

There was a slight pause as Dr. Hre’preshn tilted his head to the side, before giving the class a knowing nod. There was a change in the atmosphere almost immediately; still excited, sure, but now professionally excited. A few moments later there was a telltale click of a magnetic door lock disengaging, and the sound of 3 sets of small feet.

“[Ah. Welcome back.]”

Dr.Tiny-chomper-wiggle-hands gave a light bow of his head as Dr. Hre’preshn moved away from the podium. To say all eyes were on the tiny-chomper group would be correct, but also a misnomer; they had everyone’s rapt attention.

Exactly as kekaiku.

“[Good afternoon! Our next presentation will also be a bit of a test; you are simply graded for the length of time you pay attention. This is critical, because you are not going to be doing any normal job – this is a hospital, and you will be expected to be professional regardless of the situation that arises.]”

Ngruzren frowned, slightly. If it was boring material, he was used to it – half of what he learned in training already was nothing more than weights, measurements, and appropriate ways to take body temperature. Some more of the same wouldn’t be-

The terminal in front of Ngruzren turned on, suddenly, his implant pinging to life with incredibly low-fidelity audio. A body-cam, apparently.

It was a maternity ward; a tiny-chomper had given birth. The person wearing the body camera was yelling orders, and the group of tiny-chompers were moving as a cohesive unit.

That wasn’t what Ngruzren was noticing, however. There was… blood. So much blood. He was there when his wife gave birth, so he wasn’t… afriad, but. Some viscera from the mother – an umbilical cord of some sort – seemed to be entwined with the newborn…

…and the infant was blue.

“[We have gone over, briefly, how we live once we are born.]”

Dr. Tiny-chomper-wiggle-hands looked over the auditorium with cool, unflinching eyes, watching as people violently turned away from their screens.

“[Now, we will go over, briefly, how we die.]”