After breakfast the next morning, there was a knock at the door of the den. Linny answered it, to find a chakat in the uniform of Star Fleet Security. Shi carried a sidearm, and behind hir were a male wolftaur, a female otter morph, and a male human. These last three were also, apparently Security, but they were dressed in light body armor and carried energy rifles.
The chakat smiled at Linny and said, "Good morning. Are Will, Jo, and Teri Cochran here?"
Linny turned looked over her shoulder, but not enough so that she couldn’t keep an eye on their unusual visitors. "Jo, there’s a chakat in a Star Fleet uniform here asking for you."
Jo came out of the kitchen, where she had been unable to convince anyone that someone who was due to give birth in less than a month, much less a biped, should help cleaning up after breakfast. They hadn’t let her help for some time, but she kept trying. She smiled as she recognized the ‘mystery chakat’ that she and Will had met several times in the woods around the foxtaur village. "So, do you have a name now, since you are apparently here officially this time?"
"Yes, ma’am, I am Lieutenant Chakat Redtop, Child of Ghostpelt and Nightshade. I’m here to take you and your family to the Chakonan Consulate, to get ready for your trial later this week." Hir name suited hir, since shi had a mass of red hair on hir head, which looked odd given hir overall cougar coloring.
"Will and Teri aren’t here right now; they’ve gone out for one last stroll in the woods. Would you like to come in and have a seat until they return?"
The lieutenant said, "Thank you, ma’am," and came in, sitting near Jo as she sat on the rolled up pads that still served as their ‘sofa’.
Tara came out of the kitchen and said, "Lieutenant would you or the others like something to eat or drink?"
"No thank you, ma’am, we’ve already eaten."
"I didn’t hear the alarm in the parking area go off."
Shi shook hir head. "No, ma’am."
Tara frowned, and was about to ask how they managed that, when Teri rushed in and said, "Mom, did you see … Oh!" Shi stood there staring at the lieutenant with hir jaw hanging open.
Jo smiled and said, "Teri this is Lieutenant Redtop. Shi’s going to take us to the Chakonan Consulate to stay for a while."
"Hello Lieutenant. I want to go to Star Fleet Academy."
The lieutenant smiled. "I’m glad to hear that Teri, and I’ll be glad to talk to you about it later, but I’m on duty right now."
Teri smiled and nodded. "I understand."
Will came in and was introduced to their visitor. "Lieutenant, it’s nice to finally have a name to call you."
"Yes, thank you sir."
The other members of the household grabbed the Cochrans’ things and carried them down to the parking area. Quite a crowd had gathered and followed them down the trail, to find a fairly nondescript ‘taur van in the parking area. Proceedings were delayed for a few minutes as many of the members of the clan wanted to get a last hug with Will, Jo, and Teri before they left. Finally they climbed into the van and everyone got out of the way so that they could leave.
Will had noticed that the construction of the van was much heavier than initial appearances would indicate, and thought that some odd looking bulges around the inside of the roof were probably force field generators. The wolftaur and the human had gotten into the front, which was separated from the rear by a thick, transparent barrier. He turned to Redtop and asked, "Isn’t this just a little overboard?"
Shi shook hir head. "No, Mr. Cochran. When the house outside of Akron was attacked, the attackers had heavy weapons and personal shields. We think that this is an appropriate response to the situation."
Teri asked, "Why didn’t you use an armored shuttle?"
Redtop smiled. "As far as we know, no one connected to Humans First knows that you have been here for the last three months. We don’t want to do anything to attract attention to your friends here."
Teri nodded, and then leaned against hir mom and watched out the window as they rode along.
It was a pleasantly uneventful trip, and when they arrived at the Chakonan Consulate, Lt. Redtop showed them to a suite of rooms that included two bedrooms, a living room, and a small kitchen and dining area. The dining area looked out over a small garden. The Lieutenant said, "I’m afraid that I have to ask you not to use the garden. There are exercise facilities available, and please let me know if you would like to use them. I have stocked the pantry with some staples, and you should also let me know if you need anything else. Food is also available from the cafeteria, and is quite good.
"Now, your attorney will be here in about an hour and a half, so I suggest that you get settled in and get some lunch." Shi handed them all com badges. "If you need anything, these will connect you to me, or to one of the others if I am not on duty."
With that, shi turned around and left them to get settled in. Will and Teri unpacked while Jo checked out the kitchen, finding that though it was small, it was well equipped. The vegetables in the pantry also appeared to be fresh and she wondered who had been shopping at the farmers’ market. She found that the pantry was well enough stocked so she could make a raspberry vinaigrette to go with the salad she threw together. She also found that there was a small robot, with basic instructions printed on a plaque on its front. It could apparently do basic cooking as well as cleaning. From her research into Chakona, Jo had learned that such things were fairly common there, where they would be considered an extravagance in the HCKNA.
Will and Teri found that the beds and toilet facilities were designed for ‘taurs, which didn’t really surprise them. Typical of many of the chakat households that they had visited, there was just one large bathroom that included both ‘taur and biped style toilets, four sinks in the vanity, and a separate shower and tub, both equipped with fur dryers. The shower was large enough so that Will, Jo and Teri could have danced in it, and Teri could practically swim laps in the tub. They knew that chakat families preferred to share these facilities, and they had gotten used to that since the foxtaurs had similar feelings about them. They also found PADDs for all three of them to use.
When they finished lunch, Teri was fascinated to watch the robot clearing the table and cleaning the kitchen after they ate. Jo noticed that if she left a knife on a cutting board, the robot left it alone, but if it was placed on the counter, it would clean up both the knife and the cutting board. She figured that it could be configured differently, but was satisfied with its default programming, since they wouldn’t be here very long.
A short time later, the door chime sounded, and Will answered it to find Lt. Redtop. Shi said, "Hello Mr. Cochran. Mr. Jacobs and Ms. Mannix are here. We’ve arranged for you to meet in a small conference room, I thought it would be better than meeting in your flat."
Jo and Teri had come up while shi was talking. Will said, "That sounds reasonable. Is there someone available to watch Teri?" He looked down at hir and rubbed hir head. "I don’t think you’d enjoy our discussion with Pete and Theresa very much."
The Lieutenant smiled and said, "Teri, if you will come with us to meet Mr. Jacobs, you and I can come back here and I will answer your questions about Star Fleet Academy."
Teri smiled at hir. "OK."
When they got to the conference room, Pete got up and offered Jo a handshake, but she wasn’t having any of that, and gave him a hug instead. He stepped back, smiling. "I don’t know if I can, heh, keep up with two good looking vixens."
Jo grinned at him. "You’ll just have to learn to deal with it. Now I’ve got one of those for Theresa too." After everyone had finished, the Lieutenant took Teri back to their flat, and Will and Jo sat down at the table with Pete and Theresa.
Pete started. "Here is a copy of the documents that we’ve filed with the court." He transferred them to Will and Jo’s PADDs. "All of our allegations against the HCKNA fall under Article Three of the Stellar Federation Charter, which stipulates the responsibilities of the member states to their citizens. The HCKNA is a signatory of this document through their membership in the United Nations of Terra World Government. As you know, the UNTWG doesn’t have much enforcement power of its own, outside of the Terran Defense Forces, which mostly operate under the direction of Star Fleet. It has, over the years, evolved into a bureaucratic go between, so that the Federation only has to deal with one political entity on Earth."
Jo nodded. "From my studies, the UNTWG was cobbled together after the Gene Wars, because everyone realized that something had to be done to prevent anything like that from happening again."
"Yes, that is essentially correct. Some of the more reluctant states, such as the HCKNA, were, heh, forced to join under threat, but that has since been downplayed.
"The first part of our case will deal with Teri’s treatment at the school shi was attending. We have found quite a few witnesses, from several schools, who have agreed to corroborate your testimony in this area. Most of these are furs, but some are human as well. We also have several that have not taken their kids out of the schools because, heh, they just plain couldn’t afford it."
Jo asked, "Will John and Lindsey be testifying?"
Pete shook his head. "It is better if we don’t include personal friends of yours in this."
Will frowned. "If we take that to its logical end, it will involve discussion of the pictures that Johnson had of that pool party we discussed before. This will be in the public record and, from what you’ve told me, will be very closely followed by the press. I don’t feel right about putting John through that, since he is working for the school system that we are, in effect, suing."
Theresa said, "I have something here that should put your mind at ease about that." She called up a vid on the conference room display. It showed John and Lindsey sitting on the couch in their living room, with Eleanor sitting between them, none of them wearing a stitch. John said, "Will, Jo, we know that Pete is going to be using Teri’s treatment at the school as part of your case. We also know that you will be reluctant to take that to its end, because you will have to talk about the pictures that Johnson had. We want you to know that we’re not worried about that, and you should do whatever makes your case the strongest. I’ll get along just fine without the Waxhaw District Schools."
Eleanor smiled and said, "Also, if that doesn’t come out in the trial, I’m going to post this vid on the nets, so you may as well do it."
Lindsey looked at John. "She’s only nine years old, what are we going to do with her when she’s a teenager?"
John rubbed his chin. "Big locks on the outside of her door?"
Eleanor roller her eyes. "Dads, this is serious!"
John and Lindsey just grinned at each other, and then started tickling her from both sides. Eleanor shrieked, "No! Stop," and then became incoherent and fell on the floor, her dads following her. The vid also started shaking, and they could hear other people laughing as well, then the vid cut off.
Theresa smiled and said, "Eleanor told me to cut that last part, but I thought that it made it much more believable. There are also affidavits in the documents we gave you from all three of them confirming what they said here, and you can check the bio-seals on those."
Will shook his head. "Where do we get friends like these?"
Jo smiled. "If I remember correctly, John was one of yours, and Lindsey and Eleanor just came along for the ride." She turned to Pete. "Will Eleanor be able to come and visit Teri?"
Pete sighed. "Our friends from Star Fleet say it would be better if she didn’t."
Jo frowned. "Even though we just arrived, I’m already beginning to feel like a bird in a very pretty, gilded cage."
"I know, but someone has tried to kill you four times, and we don’t want to give them another chance, or put any of your friends at risk."
She sighed. "I wish we could just haul Johnson into court and have a skunktaur telepath peel his mind like ripe fruit."
"That is our ultimate aim, but as a Bishop of The Church, he is, technically, at least, a member of the legislature of the HCKNA. The Stellar Federation Charter therefore provides him with broad protection from capricious lawsuits, and while you and I are sure that he is at the root of all this, it is, heh, suspicion. What we need to produce in court is overwhelming evidence of his direct involvement."
Will wrapped his arm around Jo’s shoulders and gave her a kiss before asking Pete, "So what else do we need to turn our suspicion into evidence?"
Theresa answered him, "The next piece is what we’ve been able to make out from the com records. Demitry has been poking around and the messages that your AI sent to the police department did, definitely arrive. They were diverted inside the police data network."
Will said, "I kind of expected to see Demitry here with you."
Pete gave him a smirk and said, "We are trying to avoid bringing him in on this, but just passing along, heh, ‘anonymous’ tips to the Lieutenant that Star Fleet has assigned to execute the warrant that we have. I know that the King’s Solicitor is going to raise a stink over that, but the subpoena and accompanying warrant read, in part, ‘… all communications, be they data, voice, image, or other medium, between any communication device owned by William David Cochran, Josephine Cochran, or Teri Fleetfoot, or embedded in any property owned, leased, rented, or used by them, or any data stores owned by them or held by anyone on their behalf, and any part of the government of The Holy Christian Kingdom of North America, or any government or entity subservient to it, …’ it goes on for a while more, but you get the idea. The KS duly turned over the records of the communications that you were aware of, tax records, visa applications, school records, etc. When we turned over the mountain of records that Star Fleet found, I though that the KS was going to have a heart attack right there on the spot."
Will smiled. "So this guy from Star Fleet is good."
Pete nodded. "He knows his stuff, but he’s not as good as Demitry is. On the other hand, he’s not worried about being discovered either, so he can forget about subtlety and go at it with a, heh, sledgehammer, so to speak."
Jo asked, "What about the attacks on me and my family?"
"That is the last part of our case. It turns out the H1 goon who was leading the attack on the house in Akron really didn’t want to have to face a charge of attempted murder in addition to assaulting a federal officer, and has been answering our questions. He has identified one of Hughes’ known associates as the source of the military grade equipment used to attack your house here and the house in Akron, and he was formerly in the HCKNA military service. Also, in addition to being wanted by a half dozen governments, there is also an outstanding Federation fugitive warrant on Hughes. The court is perfectly within its rights to drag him in and, heh, ‘peel his mind open’, as Jo says, right there in open court. I’m sure that he will provide the link that we need to get Johnson in there as well.
"Now, while you have been at the foxtaur village, I have been dealing with the hospital where Jo works, and with Will’s clients, as your Attorney in Fact."
They both frowned at this. They hadn’t been thinking much about the other consequences of their extended absence. Jo asked, "What was Morgenstern’s reaction to this? I was back on the job for all of four days and have now been gone for three months."
Theresa smiled and said, "Jo, you have been on extended maternity leave due to ‘unanticipated complications’ regarding your pregnancy. That reminds me, Dr. McQueen will be here later this afternoon to conduct an examination. She and Shir Springbreeze have been hounding us about you, until finally we had to be very blunt and tell them that you were all right, but telling them anything else might get you killed."
Jo shook her head. "I can’t say that that surprises me." She took Will’s hand. "What about Will’s clients?"
Pete sat back. "They have basically split into three groups. The first group wanted to know if there was anything that they could do to help, and a few wanted to pay for services that you hadn’t even rendered yet. The second, and largest, group, I met with and we came to amiable terms about what you were owed for the work you had done. The last, and most vocal group, started serving me with papers to take you to court for breech of contract."
Will said. "I bet I could give you a pretty good list about who was in which group."
Pete smiled. "I don’t think I’ll take that bet. As far as the last group goes, you will soon be out of their reach, and it will be more a matter of protecting your reputation rather than monetary damages."
When they finished their discussion with Pete and Theresa, they were met by the wolftaur that had met them in the foxtaur village with Lt. Redtop. As they were walking back, Jo chuckled and turned to Will. "You know, Will, this whole thing started with that toilet incident at the school."
He nodded. "Um-hum?"
She smiled. "Well, I’ve noticed that since we’ve been living with Chandar’s family, Teri has stopped bothering with the seat they had for us, and just squats over the ’taur toilet and doesn’t even think about it any more."
Will chuckled and shook his head. "Shi decided that was better than taking the time to put the seat back when shi was finished. I admire hir flexibility about learning new things."
Jo wrapped one arm around Will and stroked her belly with the other hand. "I do to, but I was certainly happy to use that seat. Being pregnant isn’t the best time to learn that sort of thing."
When they got back to their flat, they found that Dr. McQueen was there with Teri and Lt. Redtop. The Security personnel left them alone and Jo and Will hugged Dr. McQueen. Jo said, "Ruth, it’s so good to see you. You have to tell me what’s been happening at the hospital."
Ruth smiled and said, "We’ll get to that, but first let me exam you. You seemed to have missed your last few appointments with me."
They all went into the bedroom and Jo took off her clothes and lay down on the bed so that Ruth could examine her. Ruth finished that and said, "You and your kit both look perfectly healthy. Do you have the records from your doctor in Ohio?"
Jo sat up and looked at Will. "Will, do you think we can tell her?"
Will said, "This is all coming out pretty soon anyway, I don’t think it will hurt anything."
Ruth looked at Jo and Will, her confusion showing on her face. Teri hugged hir mom and giggled, which just added to her confusion. Finally, Jo took pity on her and said, "Ruth, we weren’t actually in Ohio, but have spent the last three months living with some friends of ours in a foxtaur village."
Will went over to the night stand and took a data chip out of it. He said, "Here are the records of Kirle’s examinations of Jo while we were there."
Ruth put the chip into her PADD and looked at the records. "These look to be very complete and, if anything, more detailed than mine are."
Jo said, "Kirle doesn’t have many patients who aren’t foxtaurs, so she wanted to err on the side of completeness."
Ruth nodded. "So, tell me about this Kirle."
At that point, figuring that this was headed for a session of talking shop, Will excused himself, and he and Teri left – Teri to look at some of the information about Star Fleet Academy that Redtop had left hir, and Will to see about getting dinner put together.
Everyone assembled in the courtroom, and the judge, Rashan ap Shandoz na Rashan entered. He was a Rakshani, and was large even for that race, at nearly 2.4 meters tall, and broad enough across the shoulders that he had to turn slightly to come through a door that had been designed with Quange in mind. Rather than the somber black that human judges usually wore, he was dressed in the formal robes as the head of his house, with the colors of the Stellar Federation outlining a border around the edges, designating his current role as a court official. This being a civil trial, neither side had requested a jury, so na Rashan was the sole authority in the court. The bailiff and the court recorder were both chakats, and there was also a skunktaur telepath in attendance.
The gallery was full, mostly of members of the media. There was, as promised, a force field between the gallery and the court proper. There were also a number of Star Fleet Security members stationed in the gallery to help keep order.
As predicted, once the opening statements had been read, the King’s Solicitor, Monsignor James Holland, started the trial by saying "Inquisitor, I must protest the inclusion of these records by Star Fleet."
na Rashan glared at him. "Solicitor Holland, the presentation and defense of these records is not on the agenda at this time. What is so pressing about these documents that they need to be addressed now?"
"Inquisitor, entering these records in open court is a violation of the State Security Act of 2320, duly enacted by the Conclave of Bishops and signed by His Holy Majesty, …" He was interrupted at that point by an audible growling coming from the bench.
"Solicitor Holland, I have never conducted, and never plan to conduct, an inquisition. You may refer to me as ‘Your Honor’ or ‘na Rashan’. I must also remind you that this court does not fall under the jurisdiction of The Holy Christian Kingdom of North America, and its laws have no bearing on the conduct of this court. Please take your seat and allow Mr. Jacobs to present his first witness.
Holland’s mouth hung open for a moment in shock, then he said, "Yes, Inqui … um, Your Honor, sir," and he sat down.
Jo leaned over to Pete and asked, "What’s going on? Are all of the KS’s this inept?"
Pete just shook his head and shrugged as he got up and called his first witness. "Your Honor, we would like to call Sandra Fricke to the stand."
A female cat morph came up and stood in the witness box. The bailiff came over to her and said, "Please state your name for the record."
"I am Sandra Fricke."
"The truth of your testimony will be monitored by the Court Telepath, Rizna, House of Redpaw. Any falsehood will be treated by the court as perjury, do you understand?"
"Please be seated."
Shi stepped aside and Pete came up and asked, "Mrs. Fricke, do you have a child who was in the Waxhaw District Schools?"
She nodded. "Yes sir, my son was in the St. Bartholomew Middle School."
"Is he still attending school there?"
"No sir, we took him out of the school last November."
"Why is he not attending school there any more?"
"He was beaten up on the way home …"
Holland rose up. "Objection, In … Your Honor."
na Rashan frowned and said, "Sustained. Mrs. Fricke, your testimony must only include the facts as you saw them, not your conclusions or assumptions about those facts."
She nodded. "One day when he got home after school, he was badly injured. I was concerned enough to take him to the neighborhood medical clinic for treatment."
Pete asked, "Were there any other incidents leading up to this?"
"Yes, there were other times that he was injured when he got home, but never this badly. Also, his grades had started slipping. He had always done very well in school before. His father and I went in to see the principal about this several times."
"What did the principal say to you?"
"That our son just needed to work harder."
"Did you ask him about your son’s injuries?"
"Yes, he told us that he couldn’t be responsible for anything that happened off of school grounds."
"When did you notice this change in his performance?"
"Towards the end of last August, near the middle of the third school term last year."
"Is that about the same time that you started noticing that your son was injured when he got home from school?"
"Yes, it is."
"How have you been educating your son since he left the school last November?"
"We enrolled him in a private school."
"Private schools can be very expensive, are you having any trouble affording the tuition?"
"We’ve had to draw on some of our retirement savings to afford the tuition."
"How has your son been doing since he started attending this private school?"
She smiled. "He has been getting A’s again, and seems happier. We consider it worth what we are spending."
Pete nodded. "Thank you. Your Honor, I have no more questions."
na Rashan turned to Holland. "Solicitor Holland?"
He got up and brought a PADD with him and showed it to Mrs. Fricke. "Mrs. Fricke, did you and your mate seal this document?"
She looked at it and said, "Yes, we did."
"This is a request to remove a student from the school. Were you coerced into signing the document?"
"The way that they had been …"
He interrupted her. "Please just answer the question. Were you coerced?"
She gave him a nasty look. "No."
"Thank you, I have no more questions."
na Rashan said, "Thank you Mrs. Fricke, you may stand down."
Things continued in this vein for the first two days of the trial, as Pete called about two dozen witnesses, both furs and humans, who had decided to remove their students from the local school, and another eight furs who testified that they would have liked to remove their students from the schools, but could not afford the tuition at a private school, and also could not afford to take time off from work to home school their children. At the end of the second day, he called Jo to the witness stand.
"Mrs. Cochran, what were …"
Holland rose. "Objection, Your Honor, William Cochran and Josephine Cochran are not legally wed under the laws of the Kingdom."
na Rashan glared at Holland, then turned to Jo. "Ms. Cochran, how do you prefer to be called?"
"I prefer Mrs. Cochran."
"Very well, but let the court record show that Mr. and Mrs. Cochran are not, in fact, legally mated. You may continue Mr. Jacobs."
"Thank you Your Honor." Pete turned back to Jo. "Mrs. Cochran, what were the circumstances leading up to the removal of your daughter, Teri …"
"Objection, Your Honor. The use of the term ‘daughter’ implies that Ms. Cochran’s child is female whereas, in fact, it is a hermaphrodite."
Pete, Jo, and na Rashan all glared at Holland, but Pete just shook his head and said, "As I was saying, the circumstances leading up to the removal of your child, Teri Fleetfoot, from St. Matthew’s Elementary School?"
"Two weeks after the third term started, Teri asked Will to make hir a seat to use on ’taur style toilet. I spoke with the principal of the school the following Monday, and was told that Teri would no longer be allowed to boys’ restroom at the school. When I offered the seat that Will had made for hir, Ms. Watson, the principal, told me that they could not have unapproved equipment in the school. I gave her a document that Will, who is a licensed engineer, had produced attesting to the fact that the seat was structurally sound and met all the required codes."
"Very well, what happened next?"
"On the Seventh of August, Teri and hir friend, Eleanor Richmorland, were suspended from school."
"What was the reason given for the suspension?"
"They were involved in a fight on the playground."
"Had Teri ever had any discipline problems at the school before this?"
Jo shook her head. "No."
"Did the school supply you with any documentation regarding this suspension."
"Yes, they gave Will a video recording of the fight, but there was no audio."
"Did you later remove Teri from St. Matthews?"
"Why did you remove Teri from the school?"
"When Will and I were called in on the Twelfth of September by the school counselor, Bishop Eli Johnson, he had some photographs of Eleanor and her fathers taken at a barbeque and pool party that we had hosted on the 23rd of August at our home. He threatened to distribute the photographs if we did not remove Teri from the school."
"Why would distributing these photographs be a problem?"
"At the time, all of us were unclothed. One of Eleanor’s fathers, John McDonald, works for a high school in the area. I felt that the release of these photographs would result in John losing his job."
"Is the area around your pool screened from the neighbors’ houses?"
"Yes, it is surrounded by an opaque fence. No one at any of the neighbors’ houses can see into our back yard unless they climb up onto their roofs."
"How did you continue your daughter’s, excuse me, child’s education after you removed hir from the school."
"Will and I, and hir paternal grandmother, Andre Fleetfoot, home-schooled hir."
Pete turned to na Rashan. "I do not have any more questions for this witness at this time, Your Honor."
He sat down and Holland got up. "Ms. Cochran, are you aware of the laws of the Holy Christian Kingdom of North America regarding public lewdness?"
"Yes, I am also …"
He cut her off. "That will be all Ms. Cochran."
Jo turned to the judge. "na Rashan, may I continue?"
Holland turned to him "Your Honor …"
na Rashan said, "Solicitor Holland, if Mrs. Cochran feels that a more elaborate answer is required, she is within her rights to continue, so long as she refrains from making unfounded assumptions based on personal opinions."
Jo nodded to him. "Thank you. As I was saying, I am aware of these laws, and I am also aware of the protections of the Charter of the Stellar Federation for reasonable expectations of privacy."
Holland frowned. "Do you have copies of these photographs?"
"Have these photographs been found in the records of the school that your child was attending?"
"Not so far as I know, no."
"Then we have only your say-so that these photographs …"
Pete stood up. "Objection, Your Honor."
na Rashan turned to the skunktaur sitting next to the witness box. "Shir Rizna, is Mrs. Cochran’s testimony truthful?"
Hy nodded. "Yes Your Honor, Mrs. Cochran believes that all of her statements are truthful."
na Rashan turned to Holland. "Solicitor Holland, you may be assured that if any witness in this court is not being truthful, Shir Rizna will inform us of that fact. You may continue."
Holland paced back and forth for a moment. "Ms. Cochran, were you able to examine these photographs in detail?"
"Would you be able to tell if they were, say, altered in any way, or possibly a collage of publicly available images?"
"No, I have no training in that area, but," Holland opened his mouth to object, but na Rashan glared at him and he apparently thought otherwise, "the images depicted events that I know to have happened."
Holland said, "I have no more questions, Your Honor."
na Rashan nodded and turned to Jo. "Mrs. Cochran, you may step down." Jo got up and went back over to the plaintiff’s table. na Rashan said, "This court is in recess until 09:00 Monday." Everyone rose as he stood up and left the courtroom.
Jo winced as she was getting into the ’taur van for the trip back to the consulate. Will asked, "Are you all right?"
She sat down and smiled weakly. "My back’s just bothering me." She rubbed her swollen belly. "Sitting in one place all day isn’t very comfortable in my condition."
"Well, we’ve got a couple of days off."
"Yes, but I know what I want right now." She turned to Lt. Redtop. "Lieutenant, could you please call ahead and have that very courteous AI at the consulate draw a hot bath for me?"
Shi smiled. "Of course."
Jo looked at Will and took his hand. "That tub is big enough for me to stretch out and float in, and I think that’s what I’m going to do for the whole weekend."
He smiled. "Then Teri and I had better take turns watching you so that you don’t drown in your sleep."
Jo just smiled and kissed him, as she reached between his legs and let him know that she didn’t necessarily want to be alone in the tub. Neither noticed Redtop’s satisfied smile as shi placed the call to the consulate, thinking that perhaps they had spent a little too much time in that foxtaur den.
On Monday morning, Pete had Chakat Redfoot, who had flown back from Colorado, take the stand. Pete asked hir, "Shir Redfoot, did you once hold a position with the Waxhaw District Schools?"
Shi nodded. "Yes sir. I was the Student Counselor at St. Matthew’s Elementary School."
"How long did you hold that position?"
"Six and one half years."
"Why did you leave St. Matthew’s School?"
Shi glared at Holland, and said, "On the day before the third school term started last year, I went in to prepare for the upcoming term. I was met in my office by two deputies from the Sheriff’s Office. They served me with an injunction requiring that I immediately leave school property, and forbidding me from contacting anyone at the school."
Pete handed hir a PADD. "Is this the document?" The system in the court also showed the document on a large display visible to those in the court and the gallery.
Redfoot glanced at it. "Yes, that is it."
"Did you have any contact during this time with the school administration?"
"Did you ever receive any documentation from the school system regarding this matter?"
"No, the only thing I got from the school system was the notice of deposit of my pay from my last employment period."
"And, of course, you were barred by the injunction from contacting the school administration to ask them about this."
"Yes, that is so."
"Did you have any indication before being served with this injunction that your performance in your job or your behavior was in any way unacceptable?"
"No, I have always received performance evaluations of ‘Above Average’ or ‘Outstanding’. No one ever complained to me about my behavior when I was not on the job."
"Thank you, I have no further questions."
Pete sat down and Holland got up. "Shir Redfoot, were you, while working for the school system, legally mated?"
Redfoot narrowed hir eyes and practically snarled. "No."
"Did you, during this time, engage in sexual inter …"
Pete rose and said, "Objection, Your Honor. The witness’s choice of behavior with other, consenting adults in private is protected by the Charter of the Stellar Federation."
na Rashan said, "Sustained. Solicitor Holland, you will stop this line of questioning unless you can produce evidence of nonconsensual conduct or inappropriate conduct involving minors."
He frowned and glared at the judge. "I have no more questions, Your Honor."
na Rashan nodded. "You may step down, Shir Redfoot." He nodded to Pete.
Pete rose. "I would like to call Eugenia Watson to the stand."
She came up, and was advised of the rules about perjury, and sat in the witness box. Pete asked her, "Ms. Watson, do you hold a position with the Waxhaw District Schools?"
"Yes, I am the Principal of St. Matthew’s Elementary School."
"How long have you been in this position?"
"I have served in this position for just over ten years."
"During the time that Shir Redfoot was working as a counselor at St. Matthew’s, did you ever have any concerns about hir job performance or behavior off of the job?"
"No, shi always performed hir duties well, and, in my professional opinion, had the best interests of the students as hir first priority. I have stated this on hir annual performance evaluations."
"Was it a surprise to you that shi did not return to school for the third term last year?"
She looked hesitant. "Somewhat, yes."
"Why only somewhat of a surprise?"
"Bishop Johnson told me that shi would not be returning."
"What is this bishop’s full name?"
"His full name is Eli Hezekiah Johnson."
"Did he say why Shir Redfoot …"
Holland rose and said, "Objection, Your Honor. The council for the plaintiff is asking the witness to speculate or engage in hearsay."
"Sustained, please go to your next question Mr. Jacobs."
"Were you aware of the injunction that was served to Shir Redfoot?"
"When Shir Redfoot did not return to school, did you then hire Bishop Johnson?"
"Yes, with Redfoot gone, we were short of required staff, and Bishop Johnson had the necessary educational background, the required certificates, and came with good recommendations."
"When did Bishop Johnson begin his duties at St. Matthew’s?"
"On the second day of the school term."
"When the third term started last year, did you tell Teri Fleetfoot to stop using the boys’ restroom at the school?"
"Yes, I did."
"Why did you do this?"
"Bishop Johnson informed me that he had received complaints from the other parents about Teri using the boys’ room."
"When did he inform you about this?"
"On the third day of the school term."
"So Bishop Johnson told you about these complaints on only his second day on the job."
"Yes, sir, he did."
"When Shir Redfoot was in this position, did you ever get any complaints about Teri using the boys’ restroom at the school?"
"Did Bishop Johnson suggest any possible solutions for this dilemma with the restroom?"
Holland stood up. "Objection Your Honor, this is hearsay."
Pete turned to the judge. "Your Honor, I am merely trying to determine Ms. Watson’s decision process in this matter."
"Overruled, you may continue Mr. Jacobs."
He nodded to the judge and turned back to Ms. Watson. "Please answer the question, ma’am."
Watson frowned. "Bishop Johnson suggested that shi use the restroom for ’taurs."
"Were there any accommodations made so that Teri could use these facilities easily?"
"Our school custodian made a seat for hir, but Bishop Johnson was concerned that using this uncertified device could leave the school liable for any injury that shi might suffer."
"Were you aware that such devices are readily available in the GNA?"
"No sir. If I was, I would have procured one."
"When Mrs. Cochran brought you a similar device, you started using it?"
"Yes, she supplied appropriate documentation, produced by her husband, who is …"
Holland rose. "Objection, Your Honor, William Cochran and Josephine Cochran are not legally wed under …"
na Rashan practically growled at him. "That has already been noted in the record, Solicitor Holland, please sit down."
Pete asked, "You were saying?"
"Um, Mr. Cochran is a licensed engineer, and he supplied the appropriate documentation. Also, the only one using it would be his daughter."
Holland started to rise again, when there was a clearly audible growl in the courtroom, coming from the bench. He stopped half way up, and na Rashan said, "The court is aware that Mr. Cochran is not the legal parent of Teri Fleetfoot, and the term ‘daughter’ is commonly used for hermaphrodite children. These objections over trivial matters do not contribute to this proceeding and only serve to waste time."
He nodded and sat back down. "Yes, Your Honor."
Pete turned back to Ms. Watson. "Ms. Watson, several weeks after you spoke with Mrs. Cochran, her daughter Teri Fleetfoot was suspended from school."
"Yes sir, shi and hir friend Eleanor Richmorland were involved in a fight on the playground. The video clearly shows that Teri and Eleanor started the fight."
"When Mr. Cochran came to the school, the copy of the video that he was given did not have any audio."
"Yes sir, the audio system on those cameras had failed."
For the first time in the proceeding, Rizna spoke up. "na Rashan, the witness believes this statement to be false."
na Rashan said, "Ms. Watson, would you like to correct that statement?"
Watson looked flustered, and looked back and forth between na Rashan and the court telepath. "Um, yes Your Honor. When Bishop Johnson gave me the recording, I asked him about the missing audio, and he said that it was clear that Teri started the fight, and that the audio was not necessary. He told me to tell Mr. Cochran that the audio had malfunctioned."
Pete said, "You said that Bishop Johnson told you to lie to Mr. Cochran about something involving Teri being suspended from school."
"Um, …" she glanced at the skunktaur, "yes sir."
"Did not Bishop Johnson work for you?"
"Yes, but … um."
"But what Ms. Watson?"
"I got the feeling that, rather, the understanding that, I should pay, um, close attention to Bishop Johnson’s advice."
"What gave you this feeling or understanding?"
"Just, um, some things I had heard about him."
"When Mrs. Cochran removed Teri from your school, were you aware of the details of their discussion with Bishop Johnson?"
"Did you observe any reaction in Bishop Johnson to Teri’s removal from the school?"
"Yes, he seemed to be … pleased, sir."
"Thank you Ms. Watson, I have no more questions."
na Rashan turned to Holland. "Solicitor Holland, you may proceed."
Holland stood up and said, "I have no questions for this witness, Your Honor."
na Rashan nodded and turned to Ms. Watson. "That will be all Ms. Watson, you may step down."
She got up and practically fled from the courtroom.
na Rashan turned to Holland and said, "Solicitor Holland, you had some concern earlier about evidence provided by Star Fleet Security concerning records of communications between the Cochrans and the local police department."
He rose, not looking as confident as he did on the first day of the trial. "Your Honor, these records should not have been turned over to the court, I suspect someone in the local police department of violating the State Secrets Act."
na Rashan said, "Solicitor Holland, the subpoena issued by this court required the Holy Christian Kingdom of North America to supply the court with all communications between the plaintiffs and the Kingdom. This order supersedes local laws. When Mr. Jacobs presented convincing evidence that compliance with this subpoena was not complete, this court issued a warrant, which was carried out by an officer of Star Fleet Security, who produced these documents. You will have a chance to challenge that officer and cross-examine him in this court."
"I understand, Your Honor."
"Very well, Mr. Jacobs, please call your witness."
Pete stood up. "I would like to call Lt. Glides Like Water, um, I have no hope of getting the proper Ratarsk pronunciation. I apologize, Lieutenant."
A male Caitian wearing the uniform of a Star Fleet Security Officer stepped up onto the witness stand. "That’s alright sir, you can just call me Lt. Waters."
He was charged by the bailiff, and then he sat down and Pete started. "Lt. Waters, what is your position in Star Fleet?"
"I am a member of Star Fleet Security, and I specialize in data and document control systems."
"What qualifications do you have for this position?"
"I have what is approximately the equivalent of a Master’s Degree from the University of Ferasanna, on the planet Cait in IT Systems and Artificial Intelligence. I have had further, specialized training in data and document recovery at Star Fleet Academy."
What followed was two days of extremely technical testimony about data systems and communications protocols. After going back and forth between Lt. Waters and the head of the IT department for the Waxhaw District Police Department, Reanna Ammons, na Rashan finally put them both of the stand together, and then did his best to keep their discussions on a level that the others in the courtroom had some hope of being able to follow. On Wednesday afternoon, it was generally agreed that the Cochrans’ AI and coms had, in fact, been monitored by the police department computers, but it was unsure where the information went from there or who had access to it. na Rashan asked Holland, "Solicitor Holland, does the Kingdom have some legal justification for this monitoring of the Cochrans’ com and AI’s?"
Holland approached the bench. "Yes, Your Honor, this is a warrant issued under the State Secrets Act for this surveillance. I also have a translation from the Latin …"
na Rashan had already started reading the document. "That will not be necessary, Solicitor." After several minutes, he asked, "Solicitor Holland, does this document exist only in this paper form?"
"Yes, Your Honor. Such warrants are never entered into any electronic system."
na Rashan frowned. "Very well. Bailiff, please give this document to the Recorder to enter into the court records. I think we have had enough for today, this court is in recess until tomorrow morning, at 09:00."
The next morning, Pete had Jo take the stand again. After she was charged, Pete turned to na Rashan. "Your Honor, I am about to ask Mrs. Cochran about the incidents that occurred on the night she was injured while attending the concert at the First Night celebration. We would like to ask Shir Rizna to link with Mrs. Cochran and relay these incidents to the court."
This caused some stirring in the gallery, and Holland stood up. "Your Honor, I must challenge this procedure. The Holy Christian Kingdom of North America has not been able to gather convincing evidence that this sort of procedure is anything more than speculation and hearsay."
na Rashan turned to him and sighed. "Solicitor Holland, Shir Rizna is a licensed court telepath. This method of providing testimony has been extensively studied and has been settled law in the Stellar Federation for more than a century. Do you have objective evidence refuting this procedure?"
"Not at this time, Your Honor, but I reserve the right to challenge it at a later time."
"Very well, Solicitor Holland, you will have an opportunity to do so when you present your case." He turned to Jo. "Mrs. Cochran, do you consent to this procedure of your own free will?"
She nodded and said, "I do, na Rashan. I insist on it."
He turned to the skunktaur, who nodded to him. na Rashan said, "Very well. Shir Rizna, you may proceed."
Hy nodded and stepped up into the witness box. "Mrs. Cochran, if you lift the left hand arm rest, you will find controls for the seat back and leg rest that are built into the seat. Please adjust them so that you are comfortable. When you have done that, you will find a lap belt, please fasten it snugly around your hips."
She had already adjusted the seat, but now looked confused. "This thing has a seat belt?"
"Yes ma’am. While we are linked, you will be, for all practical purposes, unconscious. In our experience, some people have slid out of the seat under these conditions. If you would rather, we can supply a cot that you can lay down on."
Jo fastened the belt as instructed. "No, Shir Rizna, I am quite comfortable."
"Very well ma’am." Hy sat next to the seat in the witness box. "Please close your eyes and try to relax. As I initiate the link, you will feel a sensation similar to being under a mild anesthetic. Do not worry about this; I will just be suppressing the motor centers in your brain. I would like you to think about what happened that night."
Jo nodded and did as instructed. Rizna closed hys eyes and, after a few minutes, started speaking:
Teri is holding my hand as we wait in line for the toilets. Of course, everyone waited until intermission, so it is a little backed up. We get to the front of the line and Teri looks up at me and asks, "Do you need to go too, Mom?"
I smile at Teri and say, "No, I didn’t drink ten gallons of lemonade. You go ahead and I’ll wait for you here."
The next toilet opens and Teri goes in. I step out of the way so that the others will know I’m not in line and will go on. As I’m waiting for Teri, I hear something behind me and turn to look. I realize that it is screaming, and I turn back around and people in black sweat shirts with H1 on the front come out of the dark from the side away from concert area. I’m standing in a shaded area, and it looks like they don’t see me, but they start beating the other furs waiting at the toilets. Most of them, both furs and humans, run away, but a dog morph female runs up to one of the toilets and starts pounding on the door and calling out. One of the men hits her with a piece of pipe and she falls down. He yanks the door open and swings the pipe at someone inside, but I can’t see in there. Most of the H1 goons chase after the furs who have fled, and I start moving toward the toilet where Teri is when I hear something behind me. I turn around and see another human in the H1 get-up running toward me and he swings the pipe at my head, but I block it with my arm, and then fall down. It feels like my arm is broken, and I look back up at him. I hear someone call out, "There she is," and run up, chasing off the one who hit me.
They pull me back up to my feet and one of them says, "We found her, we’re over by the toilets," into a com he has in one hand, holding me with the other hand. The other one is holding my left arm with both hands, and when I glance at that arm, I decide that it is definitely broken. I hope that Teri stays in the toilet, but I can’t risk calling out to hir.
I start to struggle with the men holding me when another man walks up to us. He has the same black hood and gloves and is carrying a piece of pipe like everyone else, but he is dressed in a black suit, a jacket and trousers, and seems calmer than everyone else. He walks up and punches me in the abdomen before he says anything. He hit me very hard, and I double over and feel sick to my stomach. I hope that my kit’s alright. I stand up as they start dragging me backwards and say, "Damn you, let go of me."
The man in front of me says, "Where is that poor excuse for a man, the backsliding fornicator, who thinks he’s your mate, and that little herm beast?"
I say, "Fuck off, bastard," and he hits me in the face.
He says, "Tell me where they are."
I can see that Teri has come out of the toilet and turns toward us. I want hir to run away so they don’t get hir too, but I don’t dare say anything. I pull my good arm loose from the man with the com and hit the man in front of me, tearing his hood off. He is an old man and is wearing a clerical collar. He snarls at me and swings the pipe at my hip. I hear something crack, and almost pass out from the pain. The man on my left lets go of me and I fall on my broken arm and nearly pass out again. I look up from the ground and see that Teri has jumped up on the old man’s back and is raking his throat with hir claws. I can smell the blood that is pouring down his front. He falls over and Teri jumps off of him. Shi looks at me, and then looks around and runs away.
When I wake up, I am being dragged by my feet across the pavement. I have something over my head, so I can’t see anything, but I can smell garbage, so I think I must be in an alley. I can hear several men around me arguing. One says, "It just about killed him."
Another one says, "Our times up. Finish her off and let’s get out of here."
Rizna opened hys eyes and shook hys head. Hy said, "When Mrs. Cochran regained consciousness, she was in the hospital with her mate." Jo started to come around and Rizna turned to na Rashan. "na Rashan, I would recommend that we recess for a few hours. Mrs. Cochran and I need some time to recover."
na Rashan nodded and said, "Court is in recess until 13:30 this afternoon."
Will supported Jo while they followed Pete to the small lounge where Redtop had been bringing them lunch while the trial had been going on. Theresa was waiting for them there. Will sat down on the couch and Jo curled up next to him, and said, "Hold me, Will."
He wrapped his arms around her and gave her a kiss. "I’m sorry you had to go through that again."
Jo shook her head, "I didn’t, really. It was strange. I knew what was going on, but it was like a dream that someone else was having, and I was just watching. I just feel kind of hollow and … drained, I guess."
Redtop came in with a glass of milky looking liquid. Shi handed it to Jo and said, "Rizna says to drink this – it will make you feel better."
Jo took the glass and sipped it, and then made an awful face. Redtop smiled and said, "I know it tastes terrible, but it is loaded with electrolytes. It really will make you feel better."
Jo finished the glass and handed it back to Redtop, then curled up against Will again. Will thought that she went to sleep, but she still seemed tense, somehow. When Redtop went out to get their lunch, Jo sat up and ate with the rest of them, but stayed close to Will. As they got up to go back to the courtroom, Will asked, "How are you feeling?"
Jo smiled and gave him a kiss. "I do feel better. That gunk that Rizna sent and a little nap and lunch seem to have helped."
When court resumed, Pete asked Jo to take that stand again. "Mrs. Cochran, when you were in the hospital, were you interrogated by Detective Bill Smith from the Waxhaw District Police Department?"
Jo nodded. "Yes, I was."
Pete turned to na Rashan. "Your Honor, a recording of that session has been entered as evidence. I would like to play it now."
"You may proceed."
Pete nodded and started the recording of Jo picking out the picture on Smith’s PADD. After the recording, he displayed a picture on the courtroom monitor. "Mrs. Cochran, is this the picture you selected that afternoon?"
"Yes, it is."
Pete turned to Rizna. "Shir Rizna, does this man match the appearance of the man who assaulted Mrs. Cochran?"
Holland got up and said, "Your Honor, I … uh …"
na Rashan just glared at him, and he sat back down. "I’m, um, sorry Your Honor."
Rizna answered Pete, "Yes, Mr. Jacobs, that picture strongly resembles Mrs. Cochran’s attacker."
Pete nodded. "Thank you. This is a photograph of Reverend Edward Hughes. Rev. Hughes was checked into Memorial Hospital on the night that Mrs. Cochran was attacked with severe lacerations to his throat. I also have a statement by Dr. Covington, a specialist in blood type and DNA matching who works for the Waxhaw District Coroners Office. In it he states that the blood sample taken by Detective Smith from Teri Fleetfoot’s hands matches the blood of Rev. Hughes." He turned back to Jo. "Mrs. Cochran, before you were attacked, had you ever met Rev. Hughes?"
"Had you ever even heard of Rev. Hughes?"
Pete turned back to na Rashan. "It seems, however, that Rev. Hughes knew enough about Mrs. Cochran so that he and his associates could pick her out on a dark night, and also knew that she was, um, living with a human and had a daughter who was a hermaphrodite.
"Mrs. Cochran, did you later, at the request of Detective Smith, go down to the police department to make another identification?"
"Yes, I did."
"I have a recording of that session as well." He played the recording of Jo smelling the jackets.
Holland got up and said, "I object, Your Honor. We have no objective evidence that Mrs., uh, Ms. Cochran can reliably make this sort of identification."
na Rashan turned to Pete. Pete said, "I have here the procedure that Star Fleet Security uses to collect and verify olfactory evidence from witnesses." He displayed the document on the screen. "You can see that Detective Smith may as well have been reading this procedure when he collected this testimony."
na Rashan said, "Your objection is overruled, Solicitor Holland."
Pete continued. "The jacket that Mrs. Cochran identified belonged to a Mr. Josiah MacPhatter. Mr. MacPhatter and two others were arrested and charged with attempting to break into the Cochrans’ home, based on the evidence of this recording." Pete then played the recording that the household AI had made the night that Jo was attacked. "Most household AI and security systems do not meet the requirements to be admitted as evidence in court, but it seems that Mr. Cochran took special care when this system was installed, and this recording was certified by the Waxhaw District Solicitors Office as meeting those requirements." Pete turned to face Holland. "I have also learned that these men were released on bail, and that charges against them have subsequently been dropped. I attempted to serve a subpoena to Mr. MacPhatter, but have not been able to locate him." He turned back to na Rashan. "Your Honor, I have no more questions for Mrs. Cochran."
na Rashan said, "Solicitor Holland?"
Holland, looking rather dazed, stood up and said, "I have no questions for this witness, Your Honor."
na Rashan said, "Mrs. Cochran, you may step down."
Jo got up and went back to the plaintiff’s table. Will gave her a brief hug as she sat down next to him.
Pete said, "I would like to call Detective Captain William Smith of the Waxhaw District Police Department to the stand."
Smith came in and started toward the stand, but Holland rose and said, "Objection, Your Honor. Mr. Smith is currently suspended pending an internal police department investigation."
Pete said, "Your Honor, Detective Smith was assigned to the investigation into the assault on Mrs. Cochran and has important information for this court. I also plan to use his suspension as part of my case against the Holy Christian Kingdom of North America."
na Rashan said, "Detective Smith, please take the stand."
Smith was charged, and then Pete asked him, "Detective Smith, how long have you been a member of the Waxhaw District Police Department?"
"What did you do before that?"
"I was an investigator in Star Fleet Security for five years, and before that I had served in the Star Fleet Marines for twenty years."
"How did you come to be assigned to Mrs. Cochran’s case?"
"I received a call from Lindsey Richmorland asking me to look into it."
"Is this a common thing, for a detective to get a call like this?"
"Yes sir. Detectives are encouraged to develop contacts in the community. Many of our investigations are initiated by this sort of call."
"How did you know Mr. Richmorland?"
"We served in the marines together."
"Is this the same Lindsey Richmorland who is the father of Eleanor, Teri Fleetfoot’s friend whom we heard about in Mrs. Cochran’s earlier testimony?"
"Does Mr. Richmorland have any ties to the police department?"
"Yes, he is a civilian contractor who is hired to teach unarmed combat to police officers."
"Did you know the Cochrans before your involvement in this case?"
"Describe what you did the night of the attack."
"I met Mr. Richmorland at his sister’s home. There I met Mr. Cochran and Teri. I recovered a blood sample from Teri Fleetfoot’s hands and interrogated her with the help of Chakat Springbreeze, who is an empath licensed by the Stellar Federation and who works with Mrs. Cochran at the hospital as a staff counselor. I then brought Mr. Richmorland and Mr. Cochran with me back to the scene of the attack at the First Night celebration. While traveling there, I filed a report of the results of my investigation and requested an APB on anyone seeking treatment for throat lacerations consistent with what Teri told me. As we arrived, I received a call that Mrs. Cochran had been found and taken to University Hospital. I took Mr. Richmorland and Mr. Cochran to the hospital and spoke with the Chief of Staff, Dr. Morgenstern, requesting that he call me when I could speak with Mrs. Cochran."
"What further contacts did you have with the Cochrans in the next few weeks?"
"I met Mr. Cochran at his home the next morning and obtained a copy of the recording of the attempt to break into his home. I met with Mrs. Cochran that afternoon, and interviewed her about the attack. The following Sunday afternoon, the Fourth of January, I showed Mrs. Cochran a line-up where she identified Reverend Hughes as her attacker. I then called Mrs. Cochran on the Twenty Sixth of January and asked her to come to the police station to see if she could identify any of the people we had arrested for attempting to break into their home."
"These last two interrogations were the ones we reviewed earlier?"
"What happed after Mrs. Cochran identified Mr. MacPhatter as her assailant?"
"I went to the Solicitors Office to speak with Solicitor Purnell, who had been assigned to this case. I presented him with the recording that you saw, and asked him to speak with the Inquisitor about holding Mr. MacPhatter for further questioning."
"Was Mr. MacPhatter held as you requested?"
"No sir. He was released on bail that evening."
"What happened the next morning?"
"I was told that I was being removed from Mrs. Cochran’s case."
"Did you, in fact, stop working on the case?"
"I felt that this was an important case, and that I was making progress. I did not want to see it dropped."
"Did this lead to your suspension?"
"Yes sir. I was reprimanded for continuing to work on the case, and then suspended pending an investigation for insubordination."
"I have no more questions, Your Honor."
na Rashan asked, "Solicitor Holland, do you have any questions?"
Holland stood up and said, "Not at this time, Your Honor, but I may ask that Mr. Smith be brought back when I make my case."
"Very well, you are dismissed, Detective Smith."
Smith got up and left the court, and Pete approached the bench. "Your Honor, we have heard evidence from various sources, including school officials where Teri was attending school, records of interference and monitoring of the Cochrans’ coms and AI, and, finally, an apparent attempt to interfere with the investigation of the assault on Mrs. Cochran which leads me to suspect involvement by various officials of the Holy Christian Kingdom of North America. I would like to petition the court to bring in Reverend Edward Hughes to testify. Since Mr. Hughes has several outstanding fugitive warrants, including one from the Stellar Federation District Court for Northern Europe, I believe that he will not cooperate with this court, but that he does have valuable information that is necessary to this proceeding. I request that he be required to provide testimony with a telepath so that we may discover any ties that he may have with these officials of the government."
Holland stood up. "Objection, Your Honor. You cannot bring someone in here and pry into his mind like this."
na Rashan took a breath and let if out slowly. "I will make a ruling on this matter tomorrow morning. Court is in recess until 09:00." He then got up and left the courtroom.
The next morning, after everyone arrived at the courtroom, na Rashan came in and took his seat. He said, "This court hereby issues a subpoena requiring Reverend Edward Hughes to appear on Monday morning at 09:00. I understand that Reverend Hughes has secured legal counsel. At that time, his counsel should be prepared to present arguments in the matter of the compulsory testimony of Reverend Hughes. I do not see that much can be accomplished until this matter is cleared up, so I declare a recess in this proceeding until 09:00 Monday morning."
With that, he got up and left the courtroom.
That evening, Bishop Johnson received a call to come to the office of the bishop presiding over the Waxhaw District. When he got there, he found, not the Presiding Bishop, but rather the Archbishop of Appalachia, Cardinal Joseph Strongbow. Johnson immediately came up to him and knelt, saying, "Your Excellency, I did not know that you here."
Strongbow allowed Johnson to kiss his ring, and then said, "Eli, please have a seat, we have some things to discuss."
Johnson got up and sat in the chair facing the cardinal. "Of course, Your Excellency."
"Eli, for many years, you have been doing excellent work ridding our schools of these genetic abominations, so that they become places where human students can learn without their insidious influence. You have been doing this well enough so that we have overlooked your, shall we say, odd feelings regarding aliens who have been living here."
Johnson started to say something about this, but realized that it was not the time or place for it. He just said, "Thank you, Your Excellency."
The cardinal nodded, accepting his due. "The only concern that we have expressed to you is your tendency toward vindictiveness when you encounter a human living with one of these creatures."
"But Your Excellency, the very idea of a human being with one of these … things. It makes me sick to my stomach even thinking about it."
"Eli, I share your disgust with this idea, but it is a distraction from your calling. Most of those you have harassed have been in no position to resist, but these two are not like the others. This is not a case of a trucker and a housekeeper, who are barely educated and living from one paycheck to the next. This William Cochran and his ‘mate’, for want of a better term, are both well educated, determined, and have the financial resources to mount a vigorous defense. They have convinced the court to bring your tool, Brother Edward, into the court."
"But Your Excellency, Reverend Hughes will not cooperate with this court. If anything, he is even more disgusted by this that I am."
"Eli, this is not the King’s Court. They don’t need Brother Edward’s cooperation. That Godforsaken telepath can rip his mind open right there in court."
"But surely they can’t …"
"You fool. They most certainly can and will. What do you think that Rakshani hellcat will do after Hughes reveals everything he knows about you and your contacts with him? It will be you up on that stand next."
"But God will protect …"
"God will protect your soul from eternal damnation, but He won’t protect your mind from that skunktaur!"
Johnson’s mouth moved like he was trying to say something, but nothing was coming out.
Strongbow continued, "Now, I have to tell you that there has been an unfortunate accident. Brother Edward has died in a fight in the prison where he was being held. I have removed this case from Solicitor Holland. My personal counselor, Sister Lowery, will take over the case. On Monday morning, she will advise the court of Brother Edward’s untimely demise, and offer to settle with William Cochran and his ‘family’."
"But, Your Excellency …"
"Sister Lowery tells me that it is likely that this Rakshani judge will impose some local sanctions as part of this settlement, but we can keep you out of his court. Eli, I think that you should consider retirement at this time. We have prepared a place for you at one of our centers for retired clergy, where you can spend your time in prayer and meditation, away from these distractions."
Johnson looked stunned. His whole purpose in life had just been yanked out from under him. Finally, he said, "Of course, Your Excellency."
Monday morning, Holland was not present. Instead, there was a black woman who looked to be in her sixties standing at the defense table when na Rashan came in. After he and the rest sat down, he said, "Solicitor Lowery, it is, shall we say, unusual, for the defense in a trial of this sort to change its legal representation at this time."
She stood and said, "I understand, na Rashan. Solicitor Holland has been reassigned elsewhere and I have been asked to settle with Mr. and Mrs. Cochran on behalf of His Holy Majesty."
"That is all very well, but this court issued a subpoena requiring the presence of Reverend Edward Hughes this morning. I do not see him or his counselor in this court."
"Unfortunately, na Rashan, Reverend Hughes died Friday night."
"That seems rather, shall we say, convenient. Have you determined the cause of death?"
"He was apparently stabbed with an improvised weapon during a fight at the prison where he was being held."
"This court will insist on outside corroboration of this finding."
"I anticipated that, na Rashan. The remains have already been turned over to Star Fleet Security, who are planning on conducting a full post mortem examination."
na Rashan sighed, and then said, "Mr. Jacobs, are you prepared to present your demands for this settlement?"
Pete stood up. Both he and the Cochrans looked stunned by the turnaround in the court. "Your Honor, we have not prepared for this outcome."
"I understand that, Mr. Jacobs. I would just like a broad outline to insure that I can close this matter and let you and Solicitor Lowery to work out the details."
"Very well, Your Honor. Our first concern is that Bishop Eli Johnson be removed from his position with the Waxhaw District Schools and not be allowed to take up a similar position elsewhere."
na Rashan looked over at Lowery, who said, "Bishop Johnson has decided to retire at this time. We would be willing to grant that assurance."
Pete continued, "There is also the matter of the monetary settlement. This should include the lost income that the Cochrans have experienced, the cost of damage to their homes both here and in Akron, the cost of legal representation and investigation. I think, also the cost of transportation to their chosen home on Chakona, and sufficient funds to establish them there."
"We would agree, in general, to these terms."
na Rashan now spoke again. "The court also has conditions to place on this settlement. Because of evidence brought forth in this proceeding, there must be an audit by Star Fleet Security of the data and communications systems of the Waxhaw District Police and the Office of the Solicitor, as well as the operations of the prison where Reverend Hughes was being held. In addition, the Waxhaw District School System must operate under the direct oversight of the Ministry of Education of the United Nations of Terra World Government, said oversight to last not less than ten years, and not more than twenty five years. Annual reports must be made to this court of the progress made in reducing the harassment of and discrimination against non-human students and staff in the district."
Lowery pursed her lips, but said, "We will agree to these conditions."
"Very well, you and Mr. Jacobs will bring the detailed settlement to this court within two weeks for our approval. This court is adjourned."
One of humans in the gallery stood up and shouted, "Leave us alone, you damn furball!" He picked up a chair and threw it at the front of the court, which bounced off of the force field and fell among the members of the press. As na Rashan adjusted the force field to make it opaque and stop the transmission of sound through the field, Lowery walked over to the plaintiff’s table and asked Jo, "Are you Josephine Cochran?"
Jo, looking confused, nodded and said, "Yes."
"As an Officer of the Court of His Holy Majesty, I hereby serve you." She handed Jo an envelope, which Jo took.
Jo opened the envelope and removed several documents, two of which she recognized as the exit visas for her and Teri. The last document was in Latin and, while she had a fair command of Latin, the combination of Latin and legalese was beyond her. She handed it to Pete as na Rashan said, "Would you all please approach the bench?"
Lowery turned and said, "na Rashan, this matter does not concern this court!"
"Solicitor Lowery, if you are going to serve papers in my courtroom I will make it my business."
As they walked up to the bench, Pete smiled and said, "This is an expulsion order for you and Teri. Of course, heh, it doesn’t really apply any more and frankly isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on."
Lowery looked at him crossly, "What are you talking about?"
na Rashan said, "May I look at this order?" Pete handed it to him and he quickly read it. "This seems, while unfortunate, to be in order. Why would it not apply to Mrs. Cochran?"
Jo smiled and handed na Rashan the passport that had been given to her the night before they left the foxtaur village. na Rashan smiled. "Yes, I see what you mean. This document doesn’t have any force."
Now Lowery looked completely confused. "na Rashan, what are you all talking about?"
na Rashan turned the document that Jo had handed to him so that Lowery could see it, but did not give it to her. She now looked outraged and said, "She’s not a foxtaur!"
na Rashan turned to Jo and asked, "I trust that Mr. Cochran and Teri Fleetfoot also have similar documents?"
Jo smiled and said, "Yes, na Rashan, but Teri’s is in the name of Teri Cochran, not Fleetfoot."
He nodded and turned to Will. "Congratulations, sir, on the adoption of your daughter Teri."
Will smiled and growled something to him that the rest could not follow, except that some caught something that sounded like "na Rashan" in the middle of it.
na Rashan responded in a similar manner, and turned to Lowery. "Solicitor Lowery, appearances to the contrary, from a legal stand point, the Cochran family are, in fact, foxtaurs of the Swannanoa Valley Clan. I trust that you will pass this information along to your superiors. It would be very unfortunate if anything were to happen to them when they come to visit their extended family."
She glared at all of them. "I will do so, na Rashan." She then turned and stalked out of the court.
na Rashan handed the documents back to Jo. "If you don’t mind my asking, what are your plans now?"
Jo smiled at him and gave Will a hug. "na Rashan, I am going to go home and deliver my baby among those I love, and then my immediate family and I will be traveling to Chakona to settle in Curtisport."
"I wish you an easy delivery and a safe journey."
About six weeks later, Eli Johnson returned to his bungalow after dinner at the communal dinning hall at the retirement center. He found some unexpected guests waiting for him.
"Hughes! They told me you were dead!"
Reverend Hughes got up out of the chair he was sitting in and faced Johnson. There was an oriental woman with him who had some sort of device that she was adjusting. Hughes said, "Being dead sometimes has its advantages. I don’t think you’ve met my associate, Yuki Kabayama."
"But the media said that your body had been turned over to Star Fleet."
Kabayama said, "That was a replicator duplicate. I used one of the guard’s bodies for input mass."
"But that would leave him mindless."
Hughes said, "He was fornicating with the animals in the prison, and he was dead anyway, so what does it matter?"
Johnson shook his head, and said, "I heard that you were injured."
"That Beast you asked us to find tore open my throat. It jumped me before I saw it coming and I was out before I had a chance to do anything. Then those idiots that YOU hired to help me messed up and didn't even kill its mother, and wound up getting me arrested and charged with assault and practically dragged into that cat’s court to have my mind raped. Now, I can use your connections and their funding. Let’s get out of here."
Johnson stepped back and said, "I’m not so sure about this now."
Kabayama smiled and said, "I could always use more replicator test subjects."
Hughes glared at her, but didn’t say anything. Johnson turned pale, but went with them when they left.
When they got back to the Chakonan Consulate, Softtongue presented them with new visas that matched their credentials from the foxtaurs, and then Lt. Redtop took them back up to the Swannanoa Valley Clan village. Before they left though, Jo had a chance to call Pastor Lanier and he came to meet Jo and Will at the consulate and discuss some of their plans for the immediate future.
They returned to the village and settled back into the den with Tatro and his family. They were happy to extend their visit, but everyone knew that they would be leaving shortly. Several hunters did report meeting Star Fleet Security personnel from time to time in the forest around the village. They were always courteous, but never prone to chat. The consensus was that the ones that were seen were meant to be seen, and that there were others that they did not encounter. This did cause some grumbling in some quarters about Star Fleet butting into the foxtaurs’ business and impinging on their independence.
Near the end of May, Ruth McQueen and her mate, Toby, came out to visit. Jo was near her time, and Ruth wanted to make sure that the expectant mother and hir kit were going to be alright. Demitry was also with them, and he explained that he was there to remove the security application from the village’s com system. He also had a replacement computer for the Cochrans’ PTV. While Demitry and Randa took care of the security application, Will gave the computer and the title to the PTV to Ranas, telling him that they were free to sell or use the PTV as they saw fit. Then Demitry and Randa came back and spoke with the Cochrans privately. Demitry told Teri that he had the remains of Teri’s cat, Fluffy, with him. After thinking about it for a while, and asking Randa some questions, shi and Randa went out to collect downed wood for a pyre. Will offered to help, but Teri said that shi wanted to do this, since Fluffy was hir cat.
After the materials were collected, Will, Jo, and Randa watched Teri carefully prepare the site of the pyre, so that there would be no danger of the fire spreading. Shi then asked that Chandar and his family join them. Teri, with Randa’s help, laid the pyre and then Teri carefully placed the remains of Fluffy, wrapped in a small shroud, on the pyre. Teri then took out a flint and steel fire starter, which Will had given hir the previous year, after shi showed that shi knew how to be careful with fire, and used it to ignite a bundle of tinder, which included some of Fluffy’s fur, as well as some of hir own, which shi had collected, since shi was in the end of the process of shedding hir winter coat. Teri used this to ignite the pyre, and stepped back between hir parents, who held hir as they all watched the pyre consume Fluffy’s remains.
After the pyre had burned down to ashes, Teri turned to hir mom, who hugged hir while shi cried for a few minutes, with Will holding both of them. After this, Teri turned to Randa, and Randa asked hir what they should do with the ashes. Teri gave her a sad smile, and said that the ashes should be spread in the lake. Randa looked surprised at this request, and Teri explained that Fluffy would often put her food in her water dish and play with it, making a mess that Teri would have to clean up. Also, Fluffy would be a bit of a pest whenever hir parents would cook fish for dinner.
After this was done, Teri went off with Chandar and several of the other kits. Demitry asked to speak with Will and Jo, and they went to the lodge to use the office there. Demitry told them that the post mortem examination of Hughes’ body had revealed that it was not, in fact, his body, and that they had to assume that Hughes had once again escaped and was at large. He could not tell them how this came to occur, since that was classified, and that he had gone out on a limb telling them what he had. He also told them that Rizna, the court telepath, had disappeared. This seemed to be particularly troubling to him, but once again, he could not give them any more details.
By this time, it was getting into the evening, so Ruth, Toby, and Demitry were invited to have supper with Tatro and his family. They spent the night in the visitors’ hostel. The next morning, Ruth gave Jo and her kit a thorough examination, observed by Kirle. She said that both were in excellent health, and that the kit could be born at any time. The three of them discussed their options at this point, since it would take Ruth at least an hour and a half to get to the village if she went home. Kirle was, in fact, a fully accredited physician, having attended the university where Jo had worked at the hospital. She was not, however, prepared to deal with any possible complications that Jo might have during her delivery. They decided that it would be best for Ruth to induce labor so that the delivery would take place while she was in the village. She gave Jo an injection, and said that she should start her labor in about two hours.
The original plan was to use the visitors’ den in Tatro’s home, but after his family asked if they could join Will and Teri observing the birth, they moved it to the main den to hold everyone. Jo’s labor started right on time, and after about an hour and a half, her second child was born, with Kirle assisting Ruth. He was pronounced healthy, and started suckling eagerly when put to Jo’s breast. Jo and Will decided to name him Peter David, which Jo suggested, to honor Will’s grandfather, who had been the only member of his family to dance with Jo after the wedding. Will’s Grandpa Peter had, unfortunately, died two years earlier. Will thought that the help that Peter Jacobs had given them probably also had an affect on Jo’s suggestion.
Teri’s birthday was on a Sunday about two weeks later, and the village had several guests who arrived on Friday afternoon. These included Eleanor and her dads, as well as several other friends of Teri’s and their families. Springbreeze and hir mate and cubs also came, along with Redfoot. They learned that Redfoot had been chosen to be part of the Ministry of Education oversight committee for the Waxhaw District Schools. Pete and Theresa also came up, but the biggest surprise for Jo was that Will and Pete had arranged for her parents and brother and his family to fly in from California for the occasion. Jo told Will that she was sorry that none of his family was there, but since their wedding Will’s family had largely ignored him, even though they lived close by.
The next morning Pastor Lanier, his wife, and three of the elders of their church came up to the village. Pastor Lanier had been working with the church session as well as the elders of the village to do what Jo had asked of him after the trial. That morning, the Cochrans and the pastor and elders met privately in a secluded spot in the forest near the village. There Peter David Cochran was baptized, and Pastor Lanier shared Communion with them and prayed for a safe and speedy journey to their new home.
That afternoon, the whole village and all of their friends and family were invited to a wedding. Jo and Will reaffirmed their vows, and Pastor Lanier had consulted with Randa to insure that the ceremony included the necessary elements so that Jo and Will were declared lifemates under foxtaur law. Will was wearing his Cochran tartan kilt and Jo was in one of her ball gowns, which they had recovered from storage. Teri and Chandar’s oldest sister, Kalas, had picked flowers and made garlands for Jo, Teri, and Breeze to wear during the wedding. Breeze stood with Jo, while Will had asked Tatro to stand with him. The village had turned out every stool and chair that they had, but the children still wound up sitting on the ground at the front around the wedding party.
Fortunately, the weather was fine, because between the outside guests and the members of the village present, they could not have fit into the village hall. There was, of course, a feast, with good food, music, and dancing. For once, they would not let Will play his fiddle, but said that he had better things to do. Jo’s brother said to Will that he thought that a kilt was a very practical garment for people with tails, much better than trousers. Will gave him some information on several kilt makers that he knew who he was sure would be happy to work with him on this.
That night, Will and Jo were allowed to use the visitors’ den in Tatro’s home. Judging by their condition the next morning, they had enjoyed themselves, but hadn’t gotten much sleep.
The next day, Teri and hir friends had a birthday party, complete with cake and ice cream. Afterwards they all ran down to the lake to go swimming, a couple of teenaged vixens going with them to keep an eye on things.
The Cochrans went to California and spent a week with Jo’s family before going to the spaceport at Big Sur to take the shuttle up to the ship that would take them to Chakona.
Jo sat on a blanket spread out under a tree where she had a good view of the fiddle tent at the Amistad Highland Gathering, nursing Peter. When Peter was hungry, she had simply taken off her top and put him to her breast. She smiled, thinking how no one had cared, or even appeared to notice, that she was sitting here is a public place, bare breasted, nursing her son. Teri was around somewhere, but she wasn’t worried about hir. Shi had her com, and since they had arrived on Chakona shi had showed responsibility beyond what Jo had expected for someone hir age. Shi was probably scouting out who had the best meat pies.
There was a higher proportion of humans here than she had seen anywhere on Chakona since they had been here, but it was still only about thirty percent of those present. In fact, when she and Will had been walking around earlier, they had seen a pipe band made up entirely of Quange, wearing full highland military regalia, less only the kilts and hose, with fly plaids in the Blackwatch Tartan. Since they were all morphs of shires and other large draft horses, the spats were ‘standard equipment’. There were also furs in other pipe bands, and she hadn’t seen any that were entirely human.
She was a little warm, since it was summer here, and therefore winter in Curtisport, so her coat was a little heavy for this weather, despite the mild winters in Curtisport. They would not be here long enough though to make her start shedding. She wondered how working on the station would affect her coat. She was due to start working with Sungold at the hospital on Chakona Gateway when they returned from this trip. The village where Sungold lived had winters that were quite severe, and she would have to ask hir about that when she started.
When they had arrived and cleared customs, immigration, and health screening, she had fed Peter and then left him with Will and Teri in an observation lounge where they could see part of the cargo operations of the space station while she had gone to talk with Sungold and see hir facilities. She had been impressed with Sungold’s facilities and found that she liked hir as well as she thought she would from speaking with hir on the com. She had also had a chance to meet several other members of the staff and looked forward to working with them.
She had had to drag Will and Teri from the lounge, where they had been watching a large freighter that had docked with the station. The station was picking cargo pods off of the ship with its tractor beams. Teri had told her that the ship was the Mwraa’ch’ka (but hadn’t told her what that meant) and it made scheduled runs between Chakona and Cait.
They had to scramble a bit to catch their shuttle to New Bletchley, where they were met by Andre, Quont, Track, Slirparton, and Skyspot. Curtisport was the industrial center of the Skunktaur Archipelago, and indeed of most of Chakona, but the commercial shuttle service from Chakona Gateway mostly went to the capitol of the archipelago, rather than to Curtisport. After hugs all around, they had taken a train to Curtisport. Quont had gotten them adjoining compartments, which opened up to make one large room. Teri sat next to the window, with hir grandmother sitting next to hir. When Slirparton finished feeding Skyspot, shi climbed up on their laps and went to sleep, two laps being about right for an eight month old chakat. Andre also insisted on holding Peter for a while, and seemed happy to have three of hir ‘grandchildren’ together for the first time.
Teri seemed very happy in the school in Curtisport, and had surprised both Jo and Will when shi asked if shi could have a birthday party with hir new school mates on the beach! When Will said that shi had just had a birthday party in the foxtaur village, Teri showed him hir PADD where she had calculated hir birth date in the Chakonan calendar, and it worked out to be Fourthday of Week 29. Will pointed out that it would be only hir seventh birthday, but Teri said that having hir seventh and eighth birthday twice was OK with hir. That was a school day, so they all met on the beach after school and had a blast. Will and Jo also got to meet some of hir classmates’ parents that they had not met before.
Lindsey had managed to use the ‘old marines’ network’ to find Teri a martial arts instructor in Curtisport that was within walking distance of hir school. The instructor was a female Rakshani whose mate was, improbably, a male Voxxan. Jo still wasn’t quite sure how, exactly, they had wound up in Curtisport. The instructor, whose name was Dinae, had shocked Jo and Will when she came and asked them for permission to start training Teri with firearms, both energy and projectile. After some consideration, discussions with both Dinae and Teri, and an FTL call to talk with Lindsey, they had agreed. Dinae also encouraged Teri to start participating in hand to hand combat competitions, saying that it was important to have experience with a variety of opponents, and this was the best way to get that. Teri had done quite well, and they were going to New Bletchley in a few weeks for a regional competition.
Will had started working at Cargo Engineering, and seemed very happy there. One thing that Jo liked was that, while skunktaurs worked very hard, when it was time to quit, they went home. Will had also been getting some requests for consulting, not just from Curtisport, but from other parts of the planet as well, mostly because of the papers that he had published in conjunction with the university. He had begged off on these for the time being, wanting to concentrate on getting the manufacturing operation up and running.
Peter finished nursing, and Jo changed him and put him down for his nap. She looked at her shirt, and decided to just fold it up and put it in her bag for the time being. She stood up and stretched, and was approached by a man wearing a McKinnon kilt. He said, "Hello, I’m Tom McKinnon. Do you mind if I ask you something?"
Jo smiled and shook his hand. "I’m Jo Cochran. What can I do for you?"
"I noticed that you have a sash with the McKinnon tartan. I was wondering if you were descended from the line of fox morphs that Sir David developed at the University of Edinburgh before the Gene Wars."
Jo’s smile got wider. This was a much better encounter than the one at the last games that she had attended. "Yes, I am. Thank you for asking."
"You are most welcome, ma’am. Would you be interested in joining us tomorrow morning for the Parade of Tartans?"
"I would be happy to."
"Excellent, just stop by the clan tent when you get a chance and ask for me or my wife, Julia."
Jo fished her com out of the bag and said, "I’ll do that. Let me get your contact information just in case."
They exchanged information, and then the marshal for the fiddle contest announced that the results were ready. Jo said, "Excuse me, Tom. My mate is competing in the fiddle contest and I want to see how he did."
"Of course, I look forward to seeing you later."
It turned out that Will took second place, beaten by a foxtaur vixen named Fenella Greytail. Will came over to where Jo was with Fenella and a male wolftaur, who had given Fenella a hug and lick kiss after the announcement that she won, and was carrying her fiddle case.
Jo congratulated Will in a similar manner and then Will made introductions. "Jo, this is Fenella Greytail and her mate, Heinrich. Fenella, Heinrich, this is my wife, Jo."
Fenella smiled and said, "Jo, it’s a pleasure to meet you. Your mate is a fine fiddler."
Jo hugged her, and then said, "Well, you’re quite a fiddler as well. It sounds like you are from Scotland."
"Yes, I grew up in Inverness."
Jo offered Heinrich a hug, which he accepted. "With a name like Heinrich, I would guess that you are not from Scotland."
He smiled and said, "You’d be right. I’m from Munich. Fenella and I met when we were both in school in Glasgow."
"It is good to meet you. Judging by your coats, you also live in the north. Would you like to sit down in the shade for a spell? I’ve got a cooler here with some chilled fruit juice and water."
They thanked her and sat down while Will put his fiddle away and then joined them. He picked up Peter, who had woken up, and held him. He said, "This is our son, Peter. Our daughter Teri is around somewhere. So, where do you live? Not here in Amistad, from what Jo said."
Fenella smiled. "No, I’m a com tech and Heinrich is a general maintenance tech at a biological research station in the northern part of New Belarus."
Jo asked, "I have a friend who lives in the village of Osov. Is it anywhere near that?"
Heinrich answered, "Not really, but Osov is closer than about anything else. It’s about two hours away in a small flier. How about you?"
Will said, "We live in Curtisport. I’m an engineer at a manufacturing company there, and Jo is about to start her job as a surgeon in Chakona Gateway."
Before Fenella could ask her about that, they both spotted familiar figures running up to them. When they got there, everyone could see that all six of their feet were muddy. Heinrich said, rather sternly, "Darren, I tried to call you on your com earlier. What happened to it?"
Darren, who looked like what Jo expected a foxtaur/wolftaur hybrid to look like, said, "Sorry Dad, I dropped it in the creek." He pulled out the com, which was still dripping.
Fenella said, "Dropping it in the creek shouldn’t hurt it. This one is certified to two hundred meters."
He grinned at his mom, "Well, I kind of cracked the case last week."
She just shook her head with a pained look on her face as Teri said, "Hi Mom, Dad. I’ve still got my com." Shi held it up so they could see it. It was tied on a lanyard around hir neck.
Jo said, "That’s nice Teri, but where are your clothes?"
"Darren and I found a creek that had these little crawdady things in it. They were good to eat."
Now it was Jo’s turn to look cross. "Teri, this isn’t Earth. Just because something looks good doesn’t mean it’s safe to eat."
"Oh, there was a chakat with us that said they were OK."
Jo just shook her head. "Teri, a chakat can eat just about anything and only be a little sick to hir stomach, but you’re not a chakat. Now, your clothes?"
Shi looked down at hirself. "I took them off so they wouldn’t get wet."
Jo rubbed her head. "I’m glad that they aren’t wet. Now, where are they?"
"Oh!" Teri turned around and ran back the way shi had come.
Darren looked at his dad and said, "Can I go with hir?"
Heinrich waved his hand. "Go on."
Darren took off after Teri.
Fenella chuckled, "Darren is hell on tech. I swear he can break anything."
Will and Jo laughed at that. Will said, "Fortunately Teri has gotten past that stage. I know of a company in Curtisport that makes handheld coms for the marines. They also make a civilian model that you could run over with a truck and it won’t break. I can give you their information, but they aren’t cheap."
Heinrich said, "At the rate he goes through these things, I’m not worried about cheap, if it will survive."
Jo asked, "Where are you staying? Do you have any plans for tonight?"
Fenella said, "We’ve got a room in town. We don’t know anybody here, so we don’t have any plans for tonight."
"We’re staying in the camp ground here. Why don’t you join us for dinner? I’m sure that Will will find or start a jam somewhere afterwards."
Fenella glanced at Heinrich, who smiled and nodded, "Thank you, I think we’d enjoy that."
Copyright © 2008 Tim Rumph tarumph AT gmail.com
Chakats and the Chakat Universe are the creation of Bernard Doove and are used with his permission.
The Holy Christian Kingdom of North America is the creation of John Plunkett.
Skunktaurs were created by Bob Reijns.
Peter Jacobs, Theresa Mannix and Chakat Gildedtongue were created by Robert Adrian.
Edward Hughes and Yuki Kabayama were created by Lars V. Jensen
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