“This is stupid!” Harley snarled as she stood on the sidewalk in downtown Under Dome with B.H. and Harry. “I can’t believe Roper’s having a parade at the same time the Vole Sports Network is airing the Mary Lou Retton gymnastics special! I mean, I’m recording it to watch later, but it won’t be the same as seeing it live,” she groused.

B.H. nodded his head in agreement. The tiny t-shirt he wore sported a photo of Mary Lou Retton at the moment of her 1984 Olympic triumph, arms up, a victorious smile on her face as she received thunderous ovation after she stuck a perfect dismount from the vault. Even though Harley had ordered the XXX Super Small size from Volezon.com, B.H. swam in the shirt. The sleeves were rolled up so many times the resulting cuffs were puffy and kept the little vole from being able to put his arms against his sides. On a normal sized form, the image of Mary Lou Retton would have appeared as a small picture in the middle of the shirt front. On B.H., she appeared to be about the same size as he. With her upraised arms it looked like his head was floating on her outstretched fingers like some sort of bizarre trophy raised high in victory.

“I just don’t know why he keeps truckin’ those Beaver Tested Vole Squads around town,” she continued her tirade. “Everyone knows they’re there – it’s not like those bright yellow and green uniforms are hard to spot. And, really, what kind of message does it send about Under Dome Security when you see them marching behind the Buffaloes, looking like little fluorescent droppings skittering along the streets?!”

Harry cleared his throat. “They’re Beaver Trained, Harley – not tested,” he reminded her gently. “And Roper has been working very hard to keep the Under Dome and it’s territories safe for everyone. I really think you should be more supportive of his efforts,” he finished. He cast a pointed look in her direction.

“Fine. But it’s not like he’s supportive of the things that are important to me,” she replied ungraciously.

Harry shook his small head disapprovingly, but thought better of mentioning all the technology and other resources that Roper had (albeit unbeknownst to him most of the time) made available to Harley for her various hobbies and entertainment pursuits.

About that time, a soft trumpeting sound announced that the parade was about to begin. Voles lining both sides of the main thoroughfare began to stir excitedly, clapping their paws and cheering. A few even whistled shrilly.

Harley started to roll her eyes but caught sight of B.H. whose eyes glowed with excitement. His tiny paws were clapping together with such enthusiasm that Harley feared he might injure himself. She chortled as she watched him put two claws in his mouth and try to whistle. He ended up spluttering wetly, vole spit dribbling down his front. Still, he looked totally thrilled. Harley sighed and, shaking her head ruefully, prepared to watch the parade without comment. For B.H.

The crowd spotted the shaggy Buffaloes first and began to chant loudly. Shouts of, “Gordy!” “Prescott!” “Noble Bison!” “Sentry of the American Frontier!” could be heard as the two great beasts made their way in stately fashion down the street.

Harley couldn’t contain her laughter when she saw that each Buffalo was sporting a uniformed beaver on his hump. The beavers were dressed in military-style uniforms of olive green and brown. One wore a pair of highly polished brown boots over a pair of tan jodhpurs. His jacket was covered with ribbons and shiny medals and the epaulette on each shoulder boasted six small gold stars. His hat was reminiscent of a captain’s hat, except that rather than the traditional navy/white color combination, it was olive green and brown. The bill was embroidered in golden thread with what appeared to be mirror images of a beaver tail instead of the nautical version’s golden leaves.

The second beaver was similarly dressed. He had, however, only four stars on his shoulders and instead of jodhpurs, he was wearing tan trousers with an olive green stripe down the outside of each leg. He wore polished brown shoes, not boots.

Both beavers stood at attention, ramrod straight and unwavering. Or at least as unwavering as one could expect while riding down the street on the hump of a buffalo.

Harley laughed louder as the beaver commandos saluted the Very Important Roper Box as they passed by. Roper had built the structure so that he could watch any parade in which he wasn’t marching, in safety, above the crowds of street level. Now, Roper, Fluffy and the twins observed the spectacle from the plush accommodations. Roper offered a gentle wave in response to the beavers’ salute, flagging his paw back and forth like a beauty pageant contestant. Harley snorted.

Harry looked at her sharply. “You need to be more respectful, Harley,” he chided. “Those are very important Beavers – a six star and a four star general in the United Beaver Battle-ready Army. They were in charge of training our new Under Dome security personnel. It’s a real honor to have them in our parade. Brigadier General Huston is a combat veteran – he fought in the great Armadillo Invasion of 2006. And General Potts survived being a POW in a New Money prison camp. He was captured after his log jammed in enemy territory. They’re both real heroes,” he said reverently.

Harley looked at Harry to be sure he was serious. Clearly, he was in awe of the military beavers. “Sorry,” she muttered. “I’m not really up on Beaver history, I guess.”

She could tell by the looks on their faces that the Buffaloes were not enjoying themselves. She’d heard them mention countless times how embarrassing it was to be in these silly parades of Roper’s. Of course, she said to herself, I don’t see them turning Roper down. She understood that both Buffaloes (Prescott especially) secretly liked the attention they got from the crowds, even if they did feel momentary discomfort during the event itself.

Harley, B.H. and Harry continued to watch the parade as it wound its way down the street. Harley grudgingly admitted that the new security team uniforms were a vast improvement over the neon colors, although she maintained that making them march directly behind the Buffaloes was still a bad idea.

A group of vole children passed by, dressed in colorful leotards, doing a gymnastics and dance routine to the delight of the crowd. They were followed by a troupe of jugglers who tossed sponges into the air and caught them with a flourish. The onlookers ooh-ed and aah-d. A small band of mustached guitar players had just passed in front of the Very Important Roper Box when a loud shriek pierced the air.

The crowd fell silent and everyone looked around trying to pinpoint the source of the noise. Another loud, ear-splitting squeal sounded, followed by a crash. Parade goers gasped as the Very Important Roper Box began to shift and sway.

“Look out!” Harley shouted. “Roper’s Box is going to fall!” She turned to Harry, “Take B.H. and get him to safety.” Harry nodded, took a frightened B.H. by the paw and led him away from the restless mob.

Harley began to make her way toward Roper’s viewing box. I’m no hero, she thought. But I might be able to keep Roper from having a complete meltdown if that thing crashes.

Voles and moles began to scramble away from the shuddering structure. Suddenly, Roper himself appeared, clutching the edge of the box.

“Help! Help!” he screamed. “Something is wrong with Fluffy! I need an ambulance, a medic, a log!” He looked deranged. His ears were askew. The small boutonniere he had donned for the parade was hanging upside down by the stem. His electric blue caftan was wet and wrinkled, giving him a disheveled appearance.

A Medical Vole Squad rushed up the rickety stairs into the Box. They reappeared moments later bearing Fluffy on a litter. They whisked her into a waiting ambulance and raced away, sirens blaring softly. Roper stumbled down the stairs, weaving like a drunk. He looked around like a wild dog, his crazy eyes finally settling on Harley.

Behind him, a vole Harley assumed was the twin’s new nanny led Griff and Taffy down the steps and bustled them away from the parade scene. Not before she cast a dirty look in Roper’s direction, however.

“What the heck is going on, Roper?” Harley demanded, grabbing him by the arm and giving him a quick shake.

Roper stared at her without blinking for several moments before another shake finally spurred him into the moment. “Where’s Fluffy?” he asked in a trembling voice. “Where did they take my Treasure Pup?” He sniffled noisily.

“I think they took her to the hospital,” Harley replied. “What happened?”

“I’m not sure,” Roper whispered miserably. “I was watching the tumblers and thinking how scary they were. I don’t think we’ll have gymnastics in parades anymore – it was terrifying,” he began to ramble.

Harley shook him again. “Focus, Roper,” she snapped.

“Oh, well,” he glanced over her shoulder. “I remember thinking maybe I should grow a mustache like those musicians and then Fluffy started panting. I asked her if she was hot and I tried to find someone to get her a cold drink. She just gave me one of her looks – you know, like when I give her a new log for her birthday – and she kept panting and groaning. I got scared and looked around for Harry. I forgot he said he was watching the parade with you today so I was looking for him but he wasn’t in the Very Important Roper Box. Maybe if I’d called it the Very Important Roper and Slightly Less Important Harry Box he would have been here,” Roper began to sob quietly. Snot streamed from his nose.

Harley grabbed a napkin from the street, obviously left by someone in the crowd and handed it to Roper. He mopped at his wet eyes and nose then continued.

“I decided that I should probably get someone to help me with Fluffy. She wasn’t being very nice to me at that point. She said I was a scourge that needed to be eradicated or something and I thought she should have someone else taking care of her because I didn’t know what was wrong or what to do and I couldn’t find Harry …” he trailed off into more sobs.

Harley rolled her eyes, then took a deep breath. “Roper,” she said with exaggerated patience. “What. Happened?”

Roper blew his nose loudly. “I turned to send the nanny to find Harry because Harry always knows what to do and I think I bumped something in the Box. It started to shake and then Fluffy kicked me in the haunch and screamed. It was a horrible scream. It scared me so much that then I screamed. The she just started kicking me and pummeling me with her paws and yelling at me to get an ambulance.” He dabbed his moist eyes again. “It was horrible!”

Harley nodded. She realized what was going on and decided to take pity on Roper. He really was a complete mess.

“Roper,” she said as gently as she could manage. “Did Fluffy seem to be in a lot of pain?”

Roper nodded vigorously. “She sure seemed like it and I know she was causing me a lot of agony!” he said indignantly.

“Roper,” Harley announced. “I think Fluffy is having her babies.”

“Babies?” Roper seemed confused. “Fluffy is having babies? Oh, that’s right,” he said, suddenly understanding. “Fluffy is having babies.”

His expression brightened. “I’m going to call Jose and get started on a wardrobe for the babies!” he declared. “Rhinestones and ribbon and satin – the babies will look fantastic!”