The Last Straw
by Tim Rumph
Chapter 4: A Fall of Despair

 

When Will got home, the house AI told him that Jo was waiting for him in the hot tub. It was nearly midnight, but he smiled as he went through the living room and out onto the back deck. Jo was sitting in the tub, looking up at the night sky. Will also noticed a heavy terry cloth bath robe draped across the back of a chair next to the tub. He started taking his clothes off as Jo turned around and smiled, hearing him coming out of the door.

Will smiled back. "Iím glad you remembered that my poor, furless, hide will need some protection when I get out." He climbed into the tub and kissed Jo as they slid under the water. When they came back up, he said, "Iím just glad youíre in the tub and not the pool."

Jo gave him a sly grin. "When Iíve done that before at this time of year, some things get too hard to find, and having you turn blue with your teeth chattering isnít exactly romantic." She kissed him again. "How was your trip?"

He made a sour face. "The afternoon went pretty well, but I got stood up this morning. When I arrived, the receptionist told me that my appointment had been cancelled. I demanded to see the owner and he told me that he wasnít going to do business with Ďsomeone who snubs his fellow humans in favor of a furball floozyí."

Jo growled and said, "Next time, bring your Ďfurball floozyí with you and Iíll show him what I think about that. And then Iíll stitch him back up with rusty needles and gut sutures. Thatíll teach him." She glared at the water, and then asked, "How did they know about me? While you never hide our mating, I donít see it coming up in casual conversation when youíre with a client."

Will shook his head. "I donít remember brining it up when I was there before. I generally donít talk about personal things on these trips because it isnít any of their business."

"Hadnít you already done some work for him?"

Will nodded and said, "Yes. Iíll call our lawyer on Monday and see if I can get some of my fee from him. But enough about that, what did you and Teri do today?"

Settling next to him on the bench, Jo licked his cheek and started gently stroking him under the water. "Teri and I worked on biology and English today, and then Andre came over for hir piano lesson. This afternoon, I took Teri with me to see Dr. McQueen for my six week check-up."

Will kissed her and rubbed his hand across her belly. "So Teriís had two biology lessons today." He kissed her again and dragged her back to the bottom of the tub. When they came back up, he asked, "How is our baby doing?"

Jo smiled and said, "Dr. McQueen said that everything looks fine, and that we are going to have a tod. I think that Teri was hoping for a sister, but shi didnít seem too disappointed." She reached down and stroked him again. Smiling, she said, "I think that this is ready. My pregnancy is inspiring you!" With that, she took a deep breath and slid under the water.

Will closed his eyes and started scratching behind her ears when he heard the door open. He glanced over and saw Teri. "I thought you were in bed."

"I woke up and heard splashing. Whereís Mom?"

Will, who was a bit distracted, said, "Sheís in the tub."

Teri walked up and looked into the tub, seeing hir momís head in Willís lap, with a few bubbles starting to come up. "Can I get in too? Whatís she doing?"

"Wait until your Mom comes up for air. Sheís Ö helping me to Ö um Ö relax after my Ö trip." The bubbles started coming up faster, and then started slacking off. "Now be quiet for a minute."

With that, the bubbles quit altogether, and Will closed his eyes and tried to concentrate on who was in the tub, and not on who was next to it.

After a few more seconds, Jo flung her head out of the water gasping for breath. She blew the water out of her nose and said, "What took you so long? I thought Ö Oh, hi Teri Ö um, did we wake you up?"

Shaking hir head, Teri climbed into the tub as hir mom moved up onto the bench next to hir, sandwiching hir between hir parents. "I just woke up and heard splashing."

Cuddling hir from both sides, hir parents could tell that something was upsetting hir. Jo stroked hir hair back out of hir eyes and asked, "Whatís wrong dear?"

Teri hugged hir Mom and said, "I miss the kids at school."

Hugging her back, Jo said, "I know you do, but some of them are coming to Eleanorís birthday party next week. Weíll talk to their parents and see if we can get together more often."

"Thanks Mom." Shi smiled, rested hir head against hir mom, and went to sleep!

Will kissed the top of Teriís head, and then looked up at Jo and kissed her. "I envy hir. Shi tells you hir problems, and knows that Mom will fix it, and shi can go to sleep again."

They both looked lovingly down at their daughter. Jo said, "I wish it were really that easy." Jo looked at Will gave him a cross look. "Why didnít you tell me shi was here? I thought I was going to drown before you came."

Will grinned at her. "When have you ever told me when shi found us together?"

"Well, thatís true." She kissed him and then asked, "So what are we going to do now?"

Will looked back down at Teri. "I hate to wake hir up and take hir to into the bathroom to dry off, but we have a soaking wet child who is sound asleep. We canít stay in the tub all night."

Jo thought for a moment. "You go ahead and get out and get dried off. Get all of the bean-bags and Ďtaur pads in the living room and Teriís room and the towels in the pool linen closet. Make a nest in the kitchen and weíll curl hir up between us to keep hir warm."

Will nodded and climbed out of the tub, wondering who was going to keep his naked fanny warm, but smiled as he finished drying off, put his robe on, and went to get everything together.


The next week, Will and Jo went across the street to Eleanorís house to chat with the other parents and see when John and Lindsey thought the kids would be done. As they were getting ready to leave, Sharon Forrester, the mother of one of Teriís human friends, Linda, walked up to Will. She had an upset look on her face as she, "Hello Will."

He nodded, "Hello Sharon. What can I do for you?"

She glanced around, and then asked, "Can we step around the corner? Iíd like a word with you in private, if you donít mind."

They stepped into the hallway, and Sharon started. "I hated to see your child run off like that from the school. Thatís a terrible way to treat anyone."

Not wanting to air their personal business in public, Will said, "Weíd been thinking about it for some time. Itís just that lately, Iíve had some extra free time open up in my schedule, and Teriís grandmother has agreed to help us out with caring for and schooling Teri."

She glared at him. "I hope youíll excuse my language, but thatís bull shit. Linda is a friend of Teriís, and sheís been telling me about the stuff that Teriís been going through. I canít imagine what has gotten into the school administrationís Ö well, I can." She looked flustered. "Maybe I should just start at the beginning.

"Iíve been a member of St. Michaelís," this was the local congregation of the State Church, "for all of my life. I was baptized there, went to Sunday school, everything. For all that time, our Holy Father has always been a member of the Interpretive Wing of the church. We knew that the Fundamentalists were gaining strength in the church in general, but, with the university here, we didnít expect that to affect the St. Michaelís.

"Early last summer, Father James Ďretiredí, even though he had only just turned sixty. He was replaced by a Fundamentalist. After the second term ended for summer break, Bishop Johnson showed up. He doesnít have an official position at St. Michaelís, but Father Raymond is firmly in his pocket. Bishop Johnson has political connections, and Father Raymond is ambitious.

"After Teri left the school, Bishop Johnson started letting everyone know how he considered it a victory, and, well, I wonít repeat everything he said, but he called Teri a Ďherm beastí."

Will frowned. "Iíve heard him say those sorts of things."

Sharon took a deep breath. "Itís not just because Teri is a herm. There are chakat kids in the school. They are having some trouble, the same as the other furs, but arenít singled out in the same way that Teri was. Teriís father was politically active, trying to reduce discrimination against furs. I know you know this story, but after shi was elected to city council, and I and a lot of my fellow church members voted for hir, shi was killed in that Ďaccidentí. There was never any real investigation. That was squelched by the Federal Monastery.

"It might have stopped there, but then you married Jo. As far as the HCKNA is concerned, youíre not really married, but here you are, an obviously intelligent, prosperous, human living with an equally well off, intelligent fur. Youíre an engineer. You have your own business; youíre active in your church, even if itís not the State Church. Joís a surgeon at the hospital, and also in your church, where you were married. You obviously love Teri and Jo."

Wondering where Will had gotten to, Jo found him in the hall with Lindaís mom, and came up to him. He put his arm around Joís shoulders. Sharon glanced at Jo, but continued. "Bishop Johnson is out to get you. You two represent everything that the Fundamentalists hate about our world, and they want to purge it from the HCKNA. Linda would be broken hearted if Teri was to leave, but youíd be better off if you went to, at least, the GNA, if not to Australia or Europe, or one of the colonies, if you can manage it." Sharon looked like she was about to break down and cry. She pulled a tissue out of her pocket and blew her nose. "This is supposed to be a happy occasion, and Iíd better go before the kids see me like this and wonder whatís going on. Please call me if I can do anything for you."

Will and Jo moved out of the way so that she could go out the door. Watching her leave, Jo looked up at Will and said, "Iíve already said goodbye to John and Lindsey, and the kids are too busy and excited to notice that weíre gone. Letís go home."

As they crossed the street on the way home, Jo said, "I only caught the tail end of that. I take it that she brought it up?"

Will nodded as they went into their house. "You know that Sharon goes to St. Michaelís. She said that theyíve always had an Interpretive priest there, until earlier this year. They got a new, Fundamentalists priest, and then Bishop Johnson showed up a few weeks later. Sheís been upset by what heís been doing, and also by what her daughter has been telling her about Teriís trouble at the school."

Will and Jo climbed into Willís recliner together. Jo said, "She talked to me earlier, but didnít bring up anything like this. She just said that since she worked at the science museum, if we wanted to bring a bunch of the kids down sometime, sheíd be glad to set it up." She cuddled up closer to him. "I guess can understand how she might be more comfortable discussing this with you rather then me."

Will nodded and wrapped his arm around Jo, but they both sat there in silence, each lost in there own thoughts.


Will was working in his office when the com alarm sounded. "You have a call from Quontiale, House of Blue Paw from Chakona. Accept?"

Will looked up and smiled, "Yes."

The com on his desk then cleared to show not just Quont, but also his family. Quont said, "Hi Will, I hope itís a good time."

"Of course, of course. Let me call Teri and Andre in here so we can make introductions." Will switched the call over to the holo tank that he had in his office, then went out to the kitchen where Teri was helping hir grandmother get lunch together. Will said, "Come on out to my office, Quontís on the com with hys family."

Teri started jumping up and down, "Do they have their new cub with them?"

"Yes, theyÖ," but by that time Teri was already half way to his office. Will looked up at Andre and said, "I think I just stole your assistant. Would you like to come and meet Quontís family?"

Shi smiled, "Yes, thank you."

When they got to Willís office, Teri was saying, "Shiís so cute! Whatís hir name?"

In the holo tank were Quont, in male phase, and Track, another skunktaur in female phase, and a chakat cub who was trying to grab Teriís hand, but not succeeding. Quont said, "Shiís Skyspot." Quont looked up. "Hello, Andre, I remember meeting you at the wedding." Andre smiled and nodded, and Quont continued, "Youíve probably figured out that the chakat is Track. This is our mate, Slirparton. Slirparton, this is Will Cochran, whom Track and I have told you about, and his daughter Teri, and hir grandmother, Andre Fleetfoot." Slirparton had typical skunktaur colors of black and white, but the white was in spots rather than stripes, and had white hair and a red paw print on hys breast.

Just then, the cub turned to hym with an upset look on hir face. Slirparton picked hir up and cuddled hir. Hy said, "Iím afraid that Skyspot is a little confused. Shi wants to play with Teri, but canít touch or smell hir." Skyspot was mostly black and spotted like hir sire, but hir spots were various shades of blue, from the blue of a clear, winter sky, to almost white, and shi had blue hair. Shi also had a red smudge on hir breast.

Skyspot started making mewing noises, so Slirparton lay down on the floor and pulled hys top off, offering hir a nipple, and shi started suckling. Everyone smiled at hir, and Track turned to Will. "I was hoping to meet Jo too while we were on here. Isnít it just before noon there?"

Will answered, "Yes, youíve got your times right. She would normally be here, but she had a staff meeting this morning, so she had to go in early."

Shi nodded, "Well, Iím sure weíll have another chance later. Please give her our love."

Teri asked hir, "How old is Skyspot now?"

Track smiled, "Just over five weeks. Letís see Ö thatís just over six weeks on the Terran calendar."

"So you and Shir Slirparton both nurse hir."

Slirparton smiled, "Please just call me Slirparton, Teri. I drank some of Powertrackerís milk at the birthing party. That made me start lactating and locked me into female mode until Skyspot is weaned."

"So that works for skunktaurs just like chakats! Thatís cool. My Grandma Andre told me that I can nurse kits that I sire someday, but it wonít be that simple. Iíll have to get shots from the doctor." Shi didnít look like that had much appeal to hir.

"It is worth a little trip to the doctor to experience nursing your child. Now, if itís not too much of an imposition," hy said, smiling down at Teri, who was still watching Skyspot nurse, "we do have some business to talk about, and these FTL calls donít come cheap."

Andre smiled and tousled Teriís hair. "Letís go finish getting lunch ready and let your dad get some work done."

"Ok, it was good to meet you, especially Skyspot! Iíll see you later, bye!" and shi was off again toward the kitchen, followed by Andre.

Will smiled as he watched his daughter leave, then turned back to the others. "I take it you have some progress?"

Quont nodded and picked up a ceramic ring that had been cut in two. He turned it so that Will could see that the inside of the ring was shaped like a pinion, and the teeth were coated with something blue that, from the color, could be Boronike. "This is the first try at doing the shell with Boronike. The team that we found practiced first with titanium, before we started using the expensive stuff."

Will looked at the pieces, wishing he could actually hold them. He thought again about getting a full holo-sym set-up for his office, but the cost made it hard to justify. He said, "Thatís astounding for a first try! How thick is the Boronike?"

Track said, "Itís twenty microns, plus or minus about 8%. The team we are working with says that they think they can get the tolerance down to 3% with some more practice."

"How did you control the application so well? Jerry and I were never able to get anywhere close to that, and thereís hardly any overspray."

Slirparton looked up from Skyspot. Shi had apparently been nursing more for comfort rather than hunger, because shi was now curled up and had started napping. "Thatís the advantage of using a skunktaur team for this work. A team consists of a telepath, a telekinetic, and an astral traveler. Mostly people think about them for moving large, heavy equipment, or doing work in hostile environments, but they can also be very effective at small, fine work. The fact that the Boronike spray is hot enough to vaporize virtually any metal doesnít bother a team who is using telekinesis to manipulate it. This team is especially adept at fine work, so closing down the astral senses to a small area isnít a problem for them."

Will nodded. "I wish we could have had that team while we were doing our research. Iíd like to meet them."

Slirparton replied, "Theyíd like to meet you too, but we had a lot of trouble with the delivery system for the Boronike. It was nearly midnight when we finished this first piece, and they are all exhausted. I doubt that you could wake them up now if you put a whole brass band in there with them."

"I can understand that. Have you got the plans for your delivery system? Ö"


When Jo walked up from the bus stop after her shift at the hospital on a Sunday night a few weeks later, she found Will in front of the house, packing up the pressure washer. She said, "This is an odd time to be doing chores outside."

Will gave her a crooked smile and nodded. "The eggs and paint are a lot easier to get off if theyíre fresh."

Jo picked up the hose and followed Will as he carried the washer tank into the garage. Putting them away, Jo asked, "Isnít it a little late for Halloween pranks?"

Turning to go into the house, as the AI closed the garage door, Will said, "Sharon called tonight, to warn me to be looking out. Our favorite bishop had a revival tonight. She said that he used Leviticus 20 as his sermon text."

Jo shook her head. "Iím afraid that my eyes tend to glaze over when I start trying plow through the old Hebrew laws, youíre going to have to remind me about that one."

"It includes the passage that goes something like, ĎIf a man has sex with an animal, you must kill both of them.í His text probably didnít put it quite that bluntly, but you get the idea. It apparently inspired some of his listeners to throw eggs and paint bombs, since there didnít seem to be any stones available."

Jo shook her head and, when Will started to head into the living room, she turned him towards their bedroom. She took off her clothes and dumped them in the hamper, then went into the bath and started the shower. Will joined her a few minutes later and, after they both had a good soaking, she soaped up a washcloth and started on his back. Will gave a little jump and said, "Watch it, thatís bare skin youíve got there!"

Jo hugged him, and then said. "Sorry dear, just a little frustrated tonight." She reached down with a soapy hand and stoked him. "I think that this can take care of that, though."

After they finished, and then got clean again, they came out and Jo headed for the bed, but Will said, "Not just yet, youíre still in knots, and the bedís too soft for a massage." He came out of the closet with a mat that he laid on the floor. Jo grabbed a pillow, and then laid face down on the mat. Will started working on her lower back, working up toward her shoulders and neck. He didnít need any oil, since the amount of friction between his hands and her fur was right for this, and the oil would have made a mess of her fur anyway. He said, "You had a hard night at the hospital?"

"Um-hm"

Will nodded, "Do you want to talk about it?"

"There was another fur owned business vandalized tonight. This time, though, a bunch of not too bright furs caught them in the act and decided to do something about it. They didnít seem to take into consideration that the H1 goons outnumbered them, and were also equipped with sledge hammers and bats and other instruments of destruction."

"So this brainless bunch of furs got the stuffing beat out of them."

Jo closed her eyes, relishing in the feeling of Willís fingers running through her fur. "Uh-huh. When the police got there and arrested the lot of them, we got the furs, and they took the humans to Memorial. There were a few broken bones and some concussions, but only two of them were hurt badly enough to be admitted."

Will was getting high enough on her back to make talking difficult, so they continued in silence. When he finished, she got up and hugged him. "Thanks love, I didnít realize how wound up I was."

As they got into bed, Will said, "You felt like you were tense enough to have trouble sleeping."

Jo curled up and laid her head on his chest. "Will, I donít know what to do. Everything seems to keep going down hill, with no end in sight. Iím afraid that weíre going to get to the bottom and crash. Andre even said that shi thought you ought to take that offer from Quont and Track."

"Shi wants us to take Teri away from hir?"

Jo turned her head up and kissed him, then licked his chin. "Shi says that shiíll let Jacob run the family here. Shi has enough saved up to come with us."

"What about your folks?"

Jo started caressing his belly. "Weíve only seen them a couple of times a year since they moved to California to be near my brother. Iím not sure what theyíd do, but they are well enough off that they might come to Chakona once to twice a year to visit."

Will rubbed her back. "So what do you want to do?"

"I donít know! Why donít you tell me?" Jo looked back up at his face, to see him give his head a little shake. "Mean old Pa; make me make up my own mind!" She laid her head on his chest again, listening to his breathing and his heart beat. "But itís not just you and me and Teri any more. Now thereís a kit on the way too."

"Speaking of babies, I think itís time for an inspection." With that, Will rolled her over on her back. He then started running his hand over her belly. "Everything feels OK. I think Iíd better listen for him."

Jo grinned and whacked him gently on the fanny. "Silly, I wonít even be showing for another two months, what are you going to hear?"

Will pressed his ear against her belly and looked up at her. "Let me seeÖ I hear something Ö yes, thatís it! I hear a chicken sandwich on rye being digested!"

"Come here, you nut!" She pulled his head up and planted a kiss on him, filling his mouth with her tongue.

After a little more than a minute, he pulled back and gasped a little, then smiled at her. "While Iíve learned to love it, I canít breathe while youíre doing that."

She returned his grin with one that had a lot more teeth in it. "Iíd better stop then, because youíre going to need your breath." She rolled him over on his back. "And there goes your little friend again, right on cue. My pregnancy comes up and he stands up to attention."

Will smiled, "I did warn you!"

"And inspiration is a wonderful thing! I know what I want you to do. Take that thing and screw my brains out until I forget all of this and go to sleep, or your balls fall off, whichever comes LAST!"

And he did.


It was a Saturday morning when Teri and Eleanor ran into the study where Jo was setting up her loom. "Mom, look! Song of the Forest is going to be here at First Night!"

Teri took her PADD while Eleanor chimed in, "They are the best music group ever! Do you think we can go Aunty Jo?"

Jo looked at the vid on the PADD, and turned up the volume a little. Song of the Forest was a group of four foxtaur vixens and one tod, who played Celtic inspired music. Jo handed the PADD back to Teri and said, "Well, I donít see any problem with that. Do you think that you should ask Eleanorís dads?"

They cheered loudly enough so that Jo shied back and dropped her ears, then they ran for the front door, nearly running over Will as he was coming in. Will turned and watched them, to make sure that they stopped and looked before dashing across the street to Eleanorís house. Jo came up behind him and gave him a squeeze. He turned around and kissed her, then asked, "What was all that about?"

"You know that foxtaur group they like?"

"Song of the Forest?"

Jo smiled; trust Will to be up on his daughterís interest in music if it involved anything acoustic. He was a fiddler, after all. "Thatís the one. Theyíre playing at First Night this year and the kids want to go."

Will smiled. "I wouldnít mind seeing them either, even if their fiddler does sound mostly Irish rather than Scottish."

They turned and walked into the house. Jo grinned at him. "Not everyone is as crazy about strathspeys as we are; she plays what she likes, just like you do. Do you think theyíll talk John and Lindsey into it?"

Will nodded. "I know that John will go for it. Heíll bring Lindsey around, even though Lindsey claims to favor chamber music over Ďtrivialí music."

Will hung his coat up in the closet, then they went into the kitchen and Jo brought Will a mug of soup and a sandwich. She got some for herself and, as she sat down, said, "Teri and Eleanor have already had lunch, they said that they were Ďstarvingí and didnít want to wait for you."

Will smiled as he sipped his soup. "Well, if they are going to be running over old men, they need all the energy they can get."

"Youíd better not start calling yourself an Ďold maní! What does that make me, since Iím four years older than you are?" Will just smiled at her and kept drinking his soup. Jo smiled and continued, "At least you know when to keep quiet." Her smile faded a bit. "We never did get around to talking about what your lawyer said when you met yesterday."

Will nodded. "We were a bit, um, distracted last night." That brought Joís smile back for a moment. "You know that Iíve had two more clients cancel contracts. Jack has hired a private investigator and it turns out that there is a list making its way through some of the more conservative churches. Itís a list of businesses with fur connections. Apparently, Cochran Engineering is near the top of that list. You are listed as an officer of the company, even if most of the details arenít in the public records."

Jo frowned. "From what Sharonís told us, that would be the kind of thing that Bishop Johnson is stirring up." She shook her head and set her mug down, glaring at it. "Does that sound as paranoid as I think it does?"

"Is it paranoid when they really are out to get you?"

Jo snorted, and then picked her mug up and had another drink of soup. "Youíre supposed to be the level headed one who doesnít jump to conclusions. Has he had any luck recovering your fees?"

"One of them had the decency to actually pay me for the work Iíd already done. We havenít heard anything from the others. Jack didnít tell me not to pursue it, but I get the impression that he thinks it would be a waste of time going to court over it."

"What about your patent royalties?"

Will smiled, "Those are still coming in like clockwork. Almost all of that is either with larger corporations, or with companies that Iíve been dealing with for a long time and that have never had a problem with Ďusí. Also, a lot of them are in the GNA rather than the HCKNA. I could shift more of my business to the GNA, but then Iíd be traveling more. I donít want to do that right now."

The front door opened and Teri and Eleanor came pelting back in. Teri said, "Uncle John said we can go!"

Will smiled and said, "Iím glad that itís OK with John if I go to First Night."

Teri and Eleanor giggled at that, and then ran back to Teriís room.


They took John and Lindseyís PTV downtown for First Night. They wound up getting a parking place behind the venue where Song of the Forest would be playing later, so they had to walk all the way around it to get to the entrance. Jo smiled at Lindsey and said, "I told you we should have taken the bus. Itís going to take forever to get back to the PTV and then get out of there when the concertís over."

Lindsey smiled back, "I just like to have my own transport close by. I guess itís one of those old marine habits that are hard to break."

As it turned out, it didnít make much difference, because they had a couple of hours to wander around and see what else was going on and get some dinner before the concert started, and they already had tickets, so they didnít have to wait in that line. Jo made sure that Teri and Eleanor had some Ďreal foodí before they hit the stand with the funnel cakes, and the kids also found a place that was doing face painting and also had fur dies so that they could both get one.

They got to the concert site early enough so that they could get good seats, but not right on the front row where the kids wanted. It was close enough, however, so that the kids could go up in front of the stage and Ďdanceí around with the other kids while their parents kept an eye on them. After the first hour, the band went to take a break and the kids game back up to their folks. Teri told hir mom that she had to go, so Jo asked what everybody wanted for snacks and drinks, letting the kids know that they didnít need another funnel cake, and then she and Teri went up out of the main entrance where the vending stands and portable toilets were. Eleanor said, "Papa John, theyíve got their new recording here, and itís not even up on the net yet! If I get it tonight, theyíll even sign it!"

John glanced at Lindsey and Will, then turned to his daughter, "And here I thought you brought that PADD so you could study during the intermission."

"Dad Ö" He smiled and got up and they headed toward the trailer around the side of the stage, his daughter said, "Teri said shi wanted Ö"

Will turned to Lindsey and asked, "Well, what do you think?"

Lindsey smiled and said, "I know youíve been trying to convince me that there are similarities between 18th century classical music and the Scottish traditional music of that time, but I donít think it really sank in until I heard them play some of those pieces."

"It kind of surprises me, because theyíve been playing more tunes in the Scottish style than is on most of their recordings. Anyway, the best fiddlers and composers in Scotland at that time were what we would now call Ďclassically trainedí. They just didnít make the distinctions between the music that we do now."

Will stopped and looked up toward the entrance, hearing a disturbance, and then started hearing some screams. Will jumped up and ran up that way, forgetting Lindsey, just trying to get up to where Jo and Teri probably were. There was a crowd around the entrance, some trying to get out, others trying to get in, resulting in nobody going anywhere very much. He could see some humans in and around the entrance wielding clubs. When a space finally cleared so that he could move forward, he stopped and stared at a human with a black sweat shirt emblazoned with ĎH1í on the front holding a club of some kind. He froze and wondered what he was going to do now when someone came up from behind him and tripped and pushed him, dumping him face first onto the ground. By the time he lifted his head up, spitting out dirt and grass, he saw the H1 guy laying on the ground, and Lindsey turning around and coming back to check on him. The club was nowhere in sight.

Lindsey helped him up as they heard sirens approaching. He said, "Sorry about that Will, but I didnít have time to let you know I was here."

Will, still a little dazed, said, "Thatís fine, but whereíd the other ones go?" He started heading toward the entrance again, making better progress now.

Lindsey came with him and said, "They seem to have bugged out just before the sirens started."

They passed several people down on the ground, but frankly, all Will could think of were his wife and daughter. Will took out his com and, looking at it, asked, "Shouldnít you be with John and Eleanor?"

Lindsey shook his head. "We got them out through the back fence; theyíre in the PTV waiting to hear from us. I decided that you probably needed more help than they did."

"I canít argue with that." They got up to where the toilets were, and Lindsey followed as Will went around behind them, and then picked up something. It turned out to be a partially smashed com. "This was Joís com. Teriís com is about 800 meters southwest from here."

He started to call hir, but Lindsey stopped him. "Let me see that for a second." Confused, Will handed Lindsey his com. "Shiís moving, but itís intermittent, like shiís trying to stay in cover. Shi probably hasnít thought to turn off the ringer, so if we call hir, it may reveal hir position to someone shiís hiding from." They started heading in that direction. The police were setting up a barrier around the area, trying to stop everyone and get statements before they got away. They also saw several ambulances come in and start to treat the wounded. An officer started to stop them, but Lindsey showed him something and the cop let them go. He said to Will, "Civilian coms arenít supposed to be able to do this."

"You mean that you canít track Eleanorís com with yours?"

"Well, yeah, but Iíve got connections with the city police."

"Mine are with the people in the IT and electrical engineering departments at the university. Different routes to the same end."

Lindsey started to nod when Willís com rang. Lindsey answered it, "This is Lindsey, Teri. Your dadís fine and heís with me, and John and Eleanor are back in the PTV. What is your situation?"

"Iím hiding behind a trash dumpster. Whereís my Mom? I saw some of those H1 men hit her." They could hear hir starting to sob and picked up their pace. "I donít know where I am."

Lindsey said, "We know where you are and weíre coming. Is there anybody else around?"

"No."

"OK, you just stay there until we get there. Iím giving this com back to your Dad. Heíll say hello, and then I want you to hang up and stay quiet, but leave your com on and turn it to vibrate."

Shi said, "OK, Dad?"

Getting his com back, Will said, "Weíre on the way Teri, just sit tight until we get there."

"OK. Love you Dad."

"I love you too dear, now hang up and weíll be there in a few minutes."

Will heard her hang up, and then glanced at Lindsey as he called John. "Ö shiís just off of Fourth Street between Mint and Poplar. Ö Weíll get over there to meet you. Call me if anything else comes up." He terminated the call and said to Will, "The closest John can get is the corner of Fourth and Cedar, weíre going to have to go over there and meet him." After another minute, Lindsey asked Will, "Is that the dumpster?" Will nodded. Lindsay continued, "Go on over and call hir when you get about 3 meters from hir, then let hir come to you. Iíll keep a watch out to make sure that there really isnít anybody else around."

Will did as Lindsey suggested, and called out, "Teri, your Uncle Lind said for you to come out here to me."

Teri came out from behind the dumpster and ran over to hir dad, hugging him as he knelt down to pick hir up. He turned toward Lindsey who said, "Everything looks OK. Lets get back into the shadows and then youíll need to set hir down again for a second."

They went back up behind the dumpster and Will knelt down again so that Teri was standing up, but kept his arms around hir. Lindsey came up and knelt next to Will, taking Teriís shoulder. "You did exactly the right thing Teri, Iím proud of you."

"But Mom Ö"

"Weíll find your mom, but first we have to get you and Eleanor somewhere safe. Now, I know you hate this, but you need to pull your pants down and stuff your tail into your pants leg."

Shi unfastened hir pants and pulled them down, doing as he said. "I need to look like a human, right?"

Lindsey smiled at hir. "Yes, thatís right. Your dadís going to take his jacket off and wrap it around you. Keep your head tucked down against his chest while he carries you, and your hands under the jacket. Weíve got to go a couple of blocks to get to where John can pick us up."

Teriís tail was bushy enough that this operation took a few minutes. Finally shi finished and pulled hir pants back up and fastened them while Will took off his jacket and wrapped it around hir. Hir tail made some odd looking budges in hir pants, but that was mostly covered up by Willís jacket, which also covered hir head. Will picked hir up and they started heading down the street at a normal, walking pace. The police must have started letting people go, because there were a few others headed down the street too. These were almost all human, since that was who lived in the neighborhood. Most of the furs would be heading for the transit terminal to go to other parts of the city. The humans seemed to be avoiding the few furs that were among them and giving them suspicious glances, but no one looked twice at Will and Lindsey. Will understood Lindseyís precautions now, but wondered about peopleís reactions to the furs, since what happened tonight certainly wasnít the furs fault. After crossing a major route on an overpass, Lindsey called John again, holding the com out so that Will could hear, and said, "Weíll be there in 90 seconds."

"Got it. Iím headed North on Cedar, so you will be on my right side and can climb in as I get there."

They got up to Cedar Street just as John pulled to a stop and the doors on the right side opened. Will and Teri got into the back with Eleanor while Lindsey got into the front with John. John asked, "Where to?"

Lindsey said, "Go to my sisterís house, Iíll call her and let her know weíre on the way."

 


To be continued in Chapter 5.

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.

Boronike was created by Allen Fesler.


 

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