The Last Straw
by Tim Rumph
Chapter 8: Getting Ready To Go


Things in the Cochran household settled into a routine. Will would fix breakfast and would have brought Jo hers in bed, but she insisted on joining Will and Teri on her second day home. Andre would come over a couple of times a week to make dinner and get stuff for lunches lined up. Some of the kids that had left the school would meet at Eleanorís house and various parents would help with instruction. Will took over the math and science portion of the studies, but most of the learning was by computer on the childrenís PADDs. Even though they werenít in school any more, they still had access to the schools districtís electronic files and resources. John dragged all the kids outside when the weather allowed for P.E., but he was soon busy with weight training for the kids at the high school that competed in the heavy events, shot putt, javelin, discus, and hammer throw, for the spring track and field season. Lindsey shifted his schedule around at his dojo so he could stay home in the mornings and the other parents took turns covering the afternoons. They found, as do most home-schoolers, that they could get more done in less time than when the kids had been in school.

It was Wednesday before John and Lindsey could make it over. The Cochrans had just finished dinner and Jo hobbled out to meet them, still using a cane to get around. She got a hug from Eleanor and her dads, then Eleanor went off with Teri to hir room to work on their history project. Jo invited John and Lindsey to sit down in the living room and she sat down on the couch and asked Lindsey, "So how many students does Richmorland Elementary have now?"

Lindsey laughed at that, "Only eight, the ones that live in walking distance from here."

Will, having finished cleaning up the kitchen, came out and asked, "What, you donít have the whole crowd I saw Monday afternoon?"

"No, thank goodness. Thereís not enough room in the house for all of them at once. There are several groups like this in various areas. We keep in touch with each other to coordinate activities for the whole group, like that trip to the science museum. A couple of weeks from now, weíre going on a day trip with a wildlife biologist from the university. He does some research with one of the foxtaur clans, so weíre going out there."

Jo smiled, "I know that Teri will enjoy that. We had been planning on taking a little overnight trip up there last weekend, before our plans were interrupted."

John asked, "So, how are you doing? You seem to be getting around pretty well, all things considered."

Jo shook her head as Will gave her a little squeeze. "The therapy is going well. I get some time with a low power healing field while Iím there, but I canít overdo it." Will rubbed her belly, and gave her a kiss. She kissed him back and then smiled, "Down, boy." She turned back to John, "My biggest problem is that I donít have anything much to do. I obviously canít go back to work yet. I tried to do some weaving, but my leg isnít coordinated enough yet to work the treadles properly, and I just made a mess. Taking it back out took a while, but wasnít very fun."

John nodded, "Have you had a chance to look at the job market on Chakona?"

"Yes and there wasnít anything listed in Curtisport in my area, but I sent a message to the local hospital anyway. Trauma surgery is specialized enough so that many jobs arenít listed, but just filled through the word of mouth network." She chuckled, and said, "You think of Chakona as being a settled world, and Curtisport one of the major metropolitan areas, but itís still small enough so that they only need one major hospital. It is still definitely the frontier. There are medical clinics that are looking for doctors, but Iíd rather find something in my field."

Jo sighed, and then turned to Will, who gave her a slight nod. She gave his cheek a lick, and then turned back to John and Lindsey. "Thereís something we need to tell you. We should have done this before, but when we found out that you had taken Eleanor out of school, we decided that we didnít have any choice."

Lindsey asked, "Does this concern the reason you took Teri out of school?"

They both nodded and Will gave Jo another squeeze. He said, "When we took Teri out of school, it was because we were blackmailed. Johnson had pictures of the pool party where we asked Sean to help us have a baby. He threatened to circulate them to make John lose his job."

They both frowned at that. John said, "I understand you were trying to protect me, but I wish you had called him on it. I would have been more that willing to give him a piece of my mind." He glanced at Lindsey, and then turned back to Will and Jo. "Regardless of the reason, Teri and the other kids are better off not being in that school. Iím worried though about the fur kids whose parents donít have the educational background to teach their own kids and who canít afford to take them out of school. It also upsets me that they will now have free rein to teach their prejudice and hatred to another generation of children."

Jo shook her head. "Since I told Will to take that job in Curtisport, Iíve been feeling bad about leaving. My family has to come first though. After what happened the other night, I canít stay here any more."

Lindsey nodded and said, "I understand. We havenít said anything to the other parents yet, but John and I are trying to round up funding and staff to open a private school that can take these kids in and give them a good education that their parents can afford. Iíve got enough in my savings and my pension from the marines so that we can get by on just Johnís income. I donít want it be all furs though. I want to start building bridges between the human and fur communities."

Will looked at John, "Wonít that jeopardize your job at the high school?"

John nodded, "Probably so, but I just heard that Johnson was appointed to a vacant seat on the school board."

"I thought that school employees werenít allowed to serve on the school board."

"They arenít, but apparently they can make an exception in this case. The way that the public schools are headed, I donít think I will want to work there very much longer."

Will glanced at Jo, then turned back to their friends, "I just found out that Quontís business is going to be paying for our passage to Chakona, so I think that we can help you with the financing for this project."

Lindsey said, "Thank you both. We appreciate anything you can do."

On Thursday, Andre joined Will and Jo and Teri for lunch. After lunch, they sat down in the living room together to wait for their visitor from the Chakonan Consulate. Jo asked Andre, "How is your job hunt going?"

Andre smiled, "From what I hear, better than yours is. I had no idea that they would be so desperate for music teachers. Iíve already been offered a job that includes housing, and they are willing to pay 20% of my travel expenses. That means that I can afford to bring my harpsichord with me."

Will said, "I thought musical instruments didnít count against your weight allowance."

"Your fiddle doesnít, but that doesnít stretch to include an instrument that is nearly two and a half meters long and weighs more than fifty kilos."

Teri asked, "Will you be teaching at my school?"

Andre picked hir up and set hir on hir lap. "No, they already have a music teacher, but my school meets on the same days that yours does, so weíll have time to visit each other."

"But I though all schools were Monday through Friday."

Shi chuckled, "The calendar is different on Chakona. They have eight days in a week, rather than seven."

"What do they call the extra day?"

"They donít use the days we do. They call them Firstday, Secondday, and so on. Both schools meet on Secondday through Sixthday, and they have Seventhday, Eighthday, and Firstday off every week."

Will nodded, "Quontís company works the same days, so that their employees can be off with their families."

"That seems silly, but itís nice to have a three day weekend every week."

The door announcer went off and Will got up to answer it. He opened the door and said, "Shir Softtongue? Please come in. Iím Will Cochran."

The chakat at the door was colored like an orange and dark yellow striped tabby, with white on hir breast and belly and white toes and fingers. Shi smiled and said, "Pleased to meet you. I am Chakat Softtongue, child of Redtail and Sungold." Shi accepted Willís offer of a hug, and then came into the living room. Will made introductions. "Shir Softtongue, this is my wife, Jo, and out daughter Teri, and Teriís grandmother Andre."

Shi hugged Teri and Andre. Jo smiled and said, "I hope you donít mind if I donít get up."

Shi said, "I understand, and please just call me Softtongue. How are you doing?"

"Iím getting stronger every day, but itís going slower that I would like."

Will invited hir to sit down on a ítaur pad next to the coffee table, and then sat down next to Jo. Teri came over and sat next to him. Teri said, "My grandma was just telling me that you have eight days in a week."

Softtongue nodded, "Thatís right Teri, in fact," shi referred to hir PADD, "right now it is Secondday of Week Five, Year Ninety. Itís 13:28, so most people in Curtisport are finished with dinner."

Will said, "Weíll call Quont and hys family when weíre done with Softtongue."

Teri smiled, "Will they have Spots with them?"

"I imagine so."

"Good, Iíd like to see hir again."

Jo smiled, "It wonít be long and youíll be able to meet hir in person."

Softtongue smiled, "Itís nice that you already have a friend there. Now, letís get started." Everyone nodded and shi turned to Jo. "I just need to ask you some questions, and Iíll be gauging your emotional reactions as well as noting your answers. Jo, why donít you start and tell me about Teri and hir sire."

Jo nodded, "Teriís sire, Marcus Fleetfoot, and I became mates in June of 2322. We met just after I started working at University Hospital. We decided to have a child and I was pregnant when shi was killed in a traffic accident at the end of November. Teri was born on June 14, 2323."

Softtongue turned to Andre. "I understand that you are Marcusí mother."

Andre nodded, "Yes, Marcus was one of three children that Jacob Jenkins and I raised before we broke up. Marcus was the only one that I bore, I sired the other two."

Shi turned back to Jo, "And Andre has stayed close to you?"

Jo smiled, "Yes. I donít know what I would have done without hir." Shi squeezed Willís hand, "Iím glad that Andre and Will got along so well together."

"How did you two meet?"

"We met at a Scottish Country Dance Ball." Seeing Softtongueís eyes widen, Jo explained, "My line of fox morphs were created at the University of Edinburgh by Sir David McKinnon. When I discovered that, I developed an interest in Scottish heritage and culture. After we met at the ball, we fell for each other and were mated the following June."

Softtongue turned to Will, "You seem much more comfortable with me than most of the humans I meet here, even more than many of the morphs."

Will smiled, "We have a number of friends who are chakats, and Iíve always had friends who were furs."

Jo grinned, "Will also had a skunktaur as a companion when he was in graduate school."

Softtongue gave Will a questioning look. He kissed Jo and said, "That was Quontiale, House of Bluepaw, who is one of the founders of Cargo Engineering, where I will be working."

"Do you still have a romantic relationship with hym?"

Will turned to Jo and smiled, "No, Jo is my wife, and that is all I need. Hy and hys mates are just friends of the family now."

"So the fact that Jo had a child who was a herm wasnít an issue for you."

Will gave Teri a squeeze and shi smiled up at him. Jo said, "I was worried how Will would react to Teri when he met hir, but they hit it off well right away." She smiled, "I didnít know about Quont until later."

Softtongue nodded and then smiled at Teri, "So Teri, what do you think of Will?"

Teri smiled and gave Will a hug. "Heís my dad."

"Does he help you with things?"

"Yes, he helps with math and science and he helps me when I have other problems. Mom works at night, but Dad is here, or Grandma if he has to go out of town." Hir smile faded. "He came and got me the night Mom was attacked, along with Uncle Lind."

Softtongue looked her PADD, "Uncle Lind? Ö"

Teri smiled, "Heís not really my uncle, heís one of my best friend Eleanorís dads. They live across the street."

"Oh, OK. One of her dads?"

"Ah huh. Eleanor has a sura Ö" Shi glance up at Will.

Will said, "Surrogate".

Teri smiled and nodded, "Eleanor has a surrogate mother, who is Lindseyís sister, but she is just her dadsí daughter. Mom can explain how that worked."

"Are Eleanor and her dads morphs?"

"No, theyíre human. Lindsey used to be a marine in Star Fleet and John is a gym teacher."

Softtongue nodded and made some notes on hir PADD. "How are you doing with your school work? I understand that youíre home schooled now."

Teri nodded, "Itís a lot better now, but I still miss some of my friends." She thought for a moment, "School was OK when Shir Redfoot was there, but it got worse after shi left and Bishop Johnson came."

Softtongue nodded, "I understand. Your parents are teaching you now?"

"Yes, and my Grandma too. Since Christmas, some other kids have left too and thereís a group that meets at Eleanorís house every day."

"Good, it must be nice to be around others your age." Teri nodded, and Softtongue turned to Andre. "Andre, it seems that you spend a lot of time here, but you donít live here, correct?"

Shi nodded, "Thatís right. While I love my granddaughter and hir parents, I prefer to be on my own."

"What did you think when Will started seeing Jo?"

"Frankly, I was a little worried at first. Iíve seen too many of these mixed matings go bad, and I thought that Jo was still suffering some after Marcusí death. As well as that, a lot of humans also have problems with herms, and I was wondering how Will would react to Teri." Shi smiled, "Looking back on it though, I think that Will has been the best thing that could have happened for Jo and Teri."

Softtongue made some more notes on hir PADD, and then looked up at everyone and smiled, "Well, I can definitely say that you do qualify as a family unit under Chakonan law. Now, Will has a confirmed job offer. Have Jo and Andre had a chance to do any job hunting?" Shi glanced at Jo.

Jo said, "Iíve contacted the hospital in Curtisport, but they didnít have any openings for trauma surgeons. I got the impression that Curtisport was a larger city than it really is, and was surprised to find only one hospital there."

Softtongue smiled, "Yes, despite appearances in the media, Chakona is still a frontier world."

Jo nodded, "Also, I hadnít considered the effect of the local population demographics." Will, Andre, and even Softtongue looked curious about this, so she continued. "Skunktaurs make up about 60% of the population of Curtisport. They are all empathically linked, and a third of them are telekinetics. That has greatly reduced the need for trauma surgeons. They donít have many traumatic injuries because most of the circumstances that would lead to them are avoided before there are any injuries."

Softtongue nodded, "I can see that. Are you considering a position outside of trauma surgery?"

Jo shook her head, "Not yet. The chief of staff at the local hospital said hy knew of someone else who might be interested in talking to me, and asked if hy could send my information to them. Hy didnít give me any other details and I havenít heard anything else yet."

Softtongue made some more notes on hir pad, and then turned to Andre, "Has your job search been any more successful than Joís has been?"

Andre grinned, "Surprisingly, yes it has. I have no doubt that your records show that Iím a musician and music teacher. Iíve already been offered a position at one of the schools in Curtisport, with a very generous compensation package. I just need to talk with some more people there before they can confirm it. That is scheduled for next week."

Softtongue smiled and nodded. "That doesnít surprise me. On a young world like Chakona, the population still leans heavily in the direction of technicians, scientists, and engineers. Recruiting people, particularly educators, in the arts has been a challenge. You all are aware of the studies showing very strong links between the arts and academic achievement in other areas. The Chakonan government has been trying to improve this for some time."

Shi turned back to the others. "I think that is all I need. Do any of you have any questions?"

Teri said, "My dad said that I would be back in a regular school again?"

Softtongue nodded, "Yes, I think that you will like the schools in Curtisport. The schools on Chakona are much better than the schools here."

Teri hugged hir dad, "Good. Being home schooled is OK, but Iíd rather be in a regular school."

Softtongue looked at the others, and then down at hir pad, "The normal queue for new immigrants to Chakona right now is about nine months, but Will already has a confirmed job offer and that would normally move you up some. When Andre gets confirmation of hir job that will help also. When were you thinking of coming?"

Jo smiled and rubbed her belly, "We still need to sell the house and get some things finished up here. I had planned on staying until our kit is born. Heís due near the end of May."

"That is sensible. You should be getting the paperwork in a few weeks, and you will also need departure visas from the HCKNA."

Will smiled, "I doubt that they will have any problem with us leaving, it seems to be what they have wanted for some time."

"Well, if you need anything else from us, please feel free to call me. It was a pleasure to meet you all and I think that you will be happy on Chakona."

Andre said that shi had something to do, so Will, Jo, and Teri went in to Willís office to use the holo-tank there. When they called, Track answered. Shi was laying on a pad on the floor, nursing Skyspot. Shi said, "Hello, itís good to see you. We were expecting a call yesterday, I hope everything is alright."

Jo smile and said, as Quont and Slirparton joined Track, "Everything is going OK, weíve just been busier and Iíve been more tired than we anticipated."

Teri said, "Spots has grown since I saw hir last!"

Track smiled, "Yes, itís all that good chakat and skunktaur milk shiís been drinking."

"Weíre coming pretty soon, after my brother is born. I canít wait to meet hir in person."

Slirparton and Quont had settled on either side of Track. Slirparton held out hys hand and Spots wrapped hir tail around it. Hy looked up at Jo and asked, "How are you doing, Josephine?"

She smiled, "A little stronger every day. Bored though, Iíll be happy when I can get back to work."

Hy nodded, "I can understand that. From Teriís comment, I trust youíve talked with someone from the consulate there."

Will said, "We just finished talking with Chakat Softtongue. It looks like everything is proceeding nicely."

Quont said, "Good. Weíve been having a time with turning this into a production process."

Track whacked hym with hir tail and said, "We can pick Willís brain later. I want to know more about whatís been happening." Shi turned to Teri, "I understand that your grandmother will be coming with you."

Teri smiled and nodded, "Yes, and shi already has a job at a school there, but not the one Iíll be going to."

"Thatís great. I didnít know shi was a teacher. What does shi teach?"

"Shi teaches music. Iíve been taking piano from hir, and shi also teaches singing and plays old music."

Quont smiled, "And what is Ďold musicí?"

Teri looked at hir dad, who answered, "In this case, really old. Shi plays with a group that plays pre-industrial music, mostly from the fifteenth through the eighteenth centuries."

"Yeah, thatís old. How about you Jo?"

Jo smiled and shook her head. "I still donít have anything yet. Iíve talked to the people at the hospital in Curtisport, and they donít need another trauma surgeon. They said they wanted to pass my information along to someone. I havenít heard anything from them yet."

Slirparton looked up from playing with Spots, who had finished nursing. Hy said, "I canít say that surprises me. I talked with them when Will first told us you were coming. It turns out that there are only two doctors with trauma experience here, both ex-Star Fleet. They donít even work for the hospital, but are just on call in case something comes up."

"That agrees with what Iíve discovered. It seems that a city full of skunktaurs doesnít have many traumatic injuries."

Hy nodded as hy smiled down at Spots, "Iím sorry itís making you have a hard time getting a job, but I wouldnít want it any different."

Jo smiled at that, "Since my mate and children will be living there, I agree. Iíll find something eventually."

Spots had been wandering around, batting some of hir toys, but ignoring the images of Teri, Jo, and Will. Shi had learned that shi couldnít play with them. Shi came back and gave Track and Quont a snuggle, then curled up in front of Slirparton. Hy picked hir up and said, "I think itís time for someone to go to bed. I also know that these engineers have been waiting very patiently to talk shop with your engineer. Let us know how things are going and Iíll see you later."

Jo smiled and said, "Good night Slirparton." She turned to Teri and asked, "Shall we let your dad talk with Quont and Track about engineering stuff?"

Shi smiled, "OK. Goodnight Spots. Weíll see you later."

Jo and Teri went back out into the living room and sat down on the couch. Jo said, "You sound pretty pleased with us going to Chakona."

Teri thought a moment, "It will be nice to be in a regular school again, but Iím going to miss everyone thatís been having school at Eleanorís house." Jo gave hir a squeeze and rubbed hir head. Teri looked back up at hir mom. "Do you think that Uncle Lind can help me find a martial arts instructor on Chakona?"

"I think so. I notice that youíve been practicing more lately."

"If I work hard, I can get my purple belt before we leave. Iíd like to do that."


Teri frowned, then looked at hir mom again. "When those men attacked you, I couldnít help enough to get you away from them. I want to be able to help people who need it, maybe be a police officer like Detective Smith."

Jo looked across the room, then back at Teri, "Thereís a lot you need to know to be a police officer other than martial arts."

Teri nodded, "Thatís what Uncle Lind said. He said I need to study history and sicol Ö"


"Yeah, thatís figuring out how people think, right?"

Jo nodded, "Thatís right."

"He said I also had to study about the law."

"Thatís a lot of stuff to learn, but youíre a good student, you can do it."

"Yeah." Shi hugged hir mom, "But sometimes you need to know how to fight, to help protect people."

"Sometimes you do." They sat in silence for a few minutes, each lost in their own thoughts. Joís stomach grumbled and they smiled at each other. "I think, using the psychology that I learned in school, that your dad has forgotten that he was supposed to cook dinner tonight. How about if we call out for Chinese?"

Teri smiled and nodded, "Itís not as good as Dadís cooking, but Iím hungry too."

The next week, Teri asked to speak with Lindsey after hir class at his dojo. Shi came up to him and, bowing, said, "Sensei."

He nodded, "Teri, please be seated."

They both sat down, and he continued, "You had something to ask me."

Shi nodded and said, "Sensei, is it possible for me to achieve Sankyu rank before we leave for Chakona?"

Lindsey looked at hir for a moment. "You just earned Gokyu last month. Iíve noticed that you have been working harder and been better prepared for class lately."

Shi nodded, "Iíve been practicing more at home."

"This started before your mother was attacked."

"Yes Sensei."

"But that attack gave you greater Ö incentive for this?"

Shi licked hir nose and said, "Yes, Sensei."

Lindsey watched hir and thought for a moment. "If this were just a reaction to that attack, I could not condone it, but I think that there is more to this. You have told me about your interest in becoming a police officer." Shi nodded. "I have said that there is much more to police work than fighting. In fact, you are already at the level in unarmed combat of many of the police officers that I train. Tell me more about why you want to do this. Is it so you can protect your mother if she is attacked again?"

Teri thought for a moment before answering. "No, Sensei. There were lots of people hurt at the concert. I want to help protect Ö well, all of them."

"Even if you were Judan, you could not fight all of the people who were attacking at the concert."

Tears started running down hir cheeks. "I know, but what else can I do?"

"Tell me, how could someone have protected all of those people?"

Shi thought and then answered, "You would have to stop them before they got there."

"How would you do that?"

Shi frowned, "You would have to know about what they were going to do before it happened."

He nodded, "Yes, that is the key, and that is what police work really is, preventing this sort of thing from happening in the first place. When we talked before, I told you about police jurisdictions. What I sense now is that you would rather be able to go anywhere that is required to help stop this sort of thing, is that so?"

He could see that shi had not considered this before. It was the light of a new idea for hir. "Yes. Is that possible?"

He nodded, "If that is what you really want to do, then the place to do it is Star Fleet Security."

Shi looked confused, "But I though they were just on ships."

Lindsey shook his head, "No, Star Fleet Security is the police for the Stellar Federation. Their investigations cover things that are beyond any one of their member worlds."

"How would I do that?"

"The best way would be to attend Star Fleet Academy. They only take the very best though; you would have to work very hard at school to be accepted there."

"Shir Softtongue said that there are very good schools on Chakona. That would help, right?"

"Yes, but it is still you that has to do the work. Now, back to original question, there is not enough time before you leave to earn Sankyu, but you could earn Yonkyu."

"Do you know an instructor in Curtisport that I could study with?"

He shook his head, "I donít know anyone there, and Iím not sure that there is a school of this discipline. I can ask though, and will let you know what I can find."

Shi bowed to him, "Thank you Sensei."

"You are welcome. Now, I think that it is time for you to get home. Iíll see you in the morning."

They stood up and shi gave him a hug, then left to get changed and go home.

One night the next week, Will was late and missed dinner, but got home in time to say good night to Teri before shi went to bed. He had been gradually building up his workload in his engineering business over the last few weeks, and had had dinner with a client that night, celebrating the completion of a project that he had been working on for several months. After saying good night to Teri, Jo gave him a kiss, and then turned out the lights and took his hand and lead him into the living room where a ítaur pad was set up in front of the fireplace. Will said, "This is a good night for a fire."

Jo kissed him as they sat down. "Is it as bad out there as they have been predicting?"

Will gave her a gentle grope and nodded, "It was starting to freeze as I was getting close to home. The forecast is calling for it to turn to sleet tonight and then snow by the morning."

"Definitely a night to stay in." Jo pulled Willís head down and gave him a tongue bath and a kiss. "Theyíve already cancelled school for tomorrow. We donít get enough snow here to justify having the equipment to deal with it." She kissed him again and then smiled. "I guess tomorrowís lesson is going to be the proper engineering of snow forts?"

Will grinned, "Thatís an idea. Iíll call all the kids and get them started, then Iíll come back in and we can drink hot chocolate while I supervise by watching them out of the window."

Jo chuckled, "Do that and youíll have a mutiny on your hands."

"Well, I guess itís just as well then that the kids insisted on having the same snow days as the school system."

Will pulled Joís shirt off and then started untying her shorts when she interrupted him. "You know that I hate to stop you, but if I donít Iíll forget this." She sat back up and held his hands. "Iíve got a job interview tomorrow afternoon. I wanted to use the holo tank in your office if I wonít be in your way."

"Sure, I was scheduled to visit a client tomorrow, but Iíve already cancelled." He kissed her and asked, "Do you want a peanut gallery?"

She smiled, "Yes, I trust your instincts about people."

"Who are you going to be talking to?"

"Chakat Sungold."

Will frowned, "That name sounds familiar, but I canít quite place it."

Jo nodded and smiled again, "Youíre a good judge of people, but terrible at names. Softtongueís sire is named Sungold."

He smiled, "Thatís right. So how many Sungolds do you think there are on Chakona?"

"I think that thereís a good chance that shi is Softtongueís sire."

Will nodded and started untying her shorts again. "So what is the position?"

She smiled and started unbuttoning his shirt. "Trauma surgery."

Will stopped and looked at Jo. "I thought there werenít any positions in your field in Curtisport. Where is the position?"

She had gotten down to his pants and started undoing his belt buckle. "I donít know. Hir message just said that living in Curtisport wouldnít be a problem. Itís all very mysterious." She unfastened and unzipped his pants, then leaned back and pulled her shorts off. Reaching around behind her she picked up a blanket next to the Ďtaur pad. "Weíll just have to find out tomorrow, now finish getting undressed, Iíve been patient enough for one night."

When they woke up the next morning, they found Teri and Fluffy with them. When Teri saw that they were awake, shi asked, "Can we have pancakes and hot chocolate this morning?"

Jo smiled, "Yes! An excellent suggestion! Weíve also got some candy canes left over to put in the hot chocolate." Teri and Jo got up, but Jo wrapped the blanket around Will as he started to get up. "You stay here, I turned the thermostat down last night." She grinned and kissed him, then looked at Teri. "Go get your dad one of his sweat suits and a pair of heavy socks. Iíll get breakfast started."

Teri smiled, "OK!" Shi gave hir dad a hug and a kiss, then ran off to get his clothes while Jo headed for the kitchen, limping just a bit. While spending the night on a ítaur pad in front of the fire was romantic, it didnít do her still-healing leg a lot of good, but she considered it worth it.

Teri brought back his clothes, and then watched Will get dressed. Will joined them in the kitchen, Teri and Jo just in their fur, and they had breakfast, then everybody got dressed warmly and ran outside to play. The snow had a hard crust over it and wasnít much good for snow fort engineering, but packed well for snowballs. Teri was at a disadvantage in ammunition supply because shi wasnít heavy enough to break through the crust without jumping up and down on it, but that was made up for by hir being quicker, since shi could run around on top of the crust, if shi was careful. Even though the snow wasnít very deep, if Will tried to move too fast, the crust would trip him up. Jo mostly stayed on the sidelines, just pelting Will with snowballs when he started getting the upper hand. Eleanor and her dads joined them, and they all wound up at Eleanorís house for a lunch of soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.

After a leisurely lunch, Teri went off with Eleanor to her room while Jo and Will went back home and shared a hot shower before Joís interview just after 15:00. Will sat down at his desk, out of the pick-up range for the holo tank, and Jo answered when the call came. The image in the tank was of a chakat with a striking fur pattern. There was a gold patch on the forward part of hir lower back, disappearing under the blue tunic shi was wearing. There were stripes radiating from it around hir lower torso, and the rest of hir fur was a medium tan color. Hir hair was the same color as the patch and cut just short of shoulder length. Shi wore a com badge on the front of hir tunic which Jo though looked vaguely familiar, but couldnít quite place it, and an ID badge on a lanyard around hir neck. The chakat smiled and said, "Josephine Cochran?"

Jo smiled and nodded, "Yes, and please call me Jo."

"Very well, Jo. Iím Chakat Sungold, Child of Sirocco and Nightbreeze. You can call me Sun."

"Itís a pleasure to meet you, Sun."

"Thank you. Now, Iíve looked at your record, and it looks like you would be an excellent candidate for the position that I have open here."

"Iím happy to hear that, but Iím still a little unclear about what this position is."

Sun nodded, "Sorry to keep you in the dark, but Iíve found that it is best if I donít fully describe the position until I have a chance to talk with the candidate. I am the Director of the Chakona Gateway Station Health Services Department."

Joís smile froze on her face. Now she recognized the com badge. She had seen pictures of Chakona Gateway, and the com badge was a stylized image of the station. She said, "I hadnít been planning on living on the station, but with my family in Curtisport."

"I understand. I live in a small village in the northern part of Nova Belarus. Many of the permanent station staff live on Chakona and commute to their jobs by transporter. Iím home with my mates every day, just as if I was working right there where I live."

Jo glanced at Will, wishing she could ask him some questions. She turned back to Sun. "Isnít that rather, um, expensive?"

Sun nodded, "Transporters are more expensive than shuttles, but when you compare it to the cost of providing a station this size with power, gravity, and environmental control, it is not unreasonable."

"Well, if you say so. What kind of operation do you have there?"

"The Health Services Department is divided into two sections. There are several outpatient clinics that mostly serve the residents of the station and also provide some services to transients who need it. Then there is an emergency room, which is where the position is open. My own background is in emergency medicine, and we have need for a surgeon in this area. Finally, there is the Health Screening Section, which is not part of the Health Services Department, but is part of the Chakonan Ministry of Immigration."

"It seems surprising that a space station would need a system like that."

"I agree, until you realize that Chakona Gateway is nearly three kilometers across and typically has a population, at any given time, of between forty five and sixty thousand people. Then there is the cargo port and the ship repair operations, which can be quite hazardous even with the best safety protocols in place. Chakona Gateway would be the fourth largest city in the system, after Amistad, Curtisport, and Berdoovia, except that sixty percent of the people here are transients, only spending a few hours on the station. Unlike a spaceport on the surface, the entire infrastructure has to be here, in the station. There is no surrounding land, obviously, and no nearby city. Also, with the exception of the Star Fleet operations at Star Base Two, everything that goes in and out of the Chakastra System comes through Chakona Gateway. You can add to that the fact that Chakona Gateway is the headquarters for the Chakona Defense Forces, and we stay plenty busy."

Jo glanced at Will, then turned back to Sun, "I guess that does make sense. Well, you surely have some questions for me."

Sun seemed to relax slightly and smiled, "Iíve already spoken with Dr. Morgenstern and Shir Springbreeze at the University Hospital and have no doubt of your qualifications. I noticed that your educational record includes several courses in space medicine."

Jo nodded, starting to feel more comfortable now that this was starting to turn into the sort of interview that she had imagined. "Yes, I had thought once about joining the Star Corps, but other things came up that made me decide to stay here instead."

"Iíve also noticed that some of your continuing education has also been in this field."

She smiled, "Iíve found the field interesting, even though there doesnít seem to be much use for it here. I have made some use of it though. There are several lakes in this area that are deep enough so that we occasionally get cases of decompression sickness due to diving accidents. Decompression sickness is basically the same whether it is due to a diving accident or pressure loss on a station or ship."

"That is true. Have you had any experience with treating patients in free fall?"

Jo shook her head, "We had some simulations in medical school, but during my practice, I have always been able to assume that the gravity would keep working."

Sun grinned, "Yes, a planet is a wonderfully reliable gravity generator. If you were to start working here, the continuing education requirements would include free fall simulations on a regular basis. Even those of us working here do not get regular exposure to those conditions, but it is best to be prepared. We have a Starwalker Foxtaur on staff, a surgeon on C shift, who takes care of that training."

Jo frowned, "A Starwalker Foxtaur? Iím not familiar with them."

Sun smiled, "Have you heard of the Stellar Foxtaurs?" Jo nodded, so shi continued, "There are several breeds adapted to different environments. The Starwalkers are adapted to the space environment."

"Surely they still need suits when working outside?"

"Oh, yes, even though they can survive much longer than other people if there is an accident. But their fur is a solid black, with a special pigment to protect them from some forms of radiation, and they are at home in free fall and long term exposure to free fall does not have any adverse health effects for them." Shi held up a hand-paw. "They also have something very similar to my hand-paw on all four legs, so that they can grab anything."

"I can see where that would be Ö well, handy."

"Yes, very much so." Hir smile faded, and shi continued, "I hope you wonít consider this prying, but I also asked my daughter to check out your attitude."

Jo smiled and glanced at Will, "My mate and I wondered if Softtongue was your daughter."

Sun nodded, "Yes, shi is. The HCKNA does not have a very good reputation for tolerance, even among its fur population. If you start working here, you would be exposed to and have to work with a wide variety of people. I would not have considered you for this position without some sort of confirmation of your own attitudes in this regard. Iím happy to say that Softy gave you very high marks in this area, not just you but your whole family."

"I understand completely."

"Very good. Now, do you have any more questions for me before we finish today?"

Jo looked down and rubbed her hand across her noticeably swollen belly. "Will and I are going to have a baby soon. When Teri was a baby, the hospital had an on-site day care, and my schedule was flexible enough so that I could nurse hir during my shift. Do you have similar facilities there?"

Sun smiled, "Yes, there is a child care facility here at the clinic, which is located in the safest area of the station. We understand the needs of nursing mothers and have wet nurses on staff if something comes up to interrupt your schedule. We also have provisions for storing and using your own milk if you would rather."

Jo nodded, "That sounds a little better then the facility at University Hospital. Are the wet nurses all chakats?"

"Yes, only chakats and skunktaurs produce the CKF hormone in their milk that chakat cubs need. CKF has no effect on other morph species or humans and is also tolerated by all of the mammalian aliens that we have had contact with up until now."

Jo thought a moment, "What about any effects of frequent transportation on young children? Iíve not kept up on the literature in this area."

"The medical school at Dewclaw University studied that extensively before we starting using them for the staff. They found no adverse effects at all. The peer reviewed studies are available from them."

"What are your facilities like there?"

"What we have here is a combination of what you would have in a large trauma center in a major city, and the medical section on a starship. The only thing youíll find different is that all of our equipment is made so that it will function properly in free fall as well as under gravity. The entire center has its own power for life support, which is true for all sections of the station, and the operating rooms have completely independent systems for power, environment, and gravity. We have a staff of paramedics who handle most of the rescue and transport. They have clearance to go anywhere in the station at any time. One section of our facility is set up with quarantine systems. That area is connected to the parts of the station outside of the health screening stations, so that nothing can be introduced to the station or Chakona if someone in that area needs urgent medical care."

Jo nodded, "So I take it that you donít do any regenerative procedures or the like there on the station."

"That is correct. We patch them up and then send them down to Amistad or Berdoovia for that."

"What is your shift schedule like?"

"We operate three shifts per day, with four days on and four days off. Most of the staff prefer to work consecutive days, but we allow some flexibility there if you want to work a different schedule and find someone who wants the complimentary schedule. There is a reduced staff on civil holidays, because many of the operations at Chakona Gateway are shut down or operating at reduced levels. The position that is open works A shift, which roughly corresponds to day shift in Amistad. Are you familiar with how our clock and calendar work?"

Jo nodded, "Iíve studied it, twenty hour days, and eight days a week. Forty Eight weeks in a year, plus a year day or two. Iíll have to think about it for a while, but I imagine that it will become second nature fairly quickly."

Sun smiled, "Yes, new arrivals generally get the hang of it in a few weeks. This position starts at 07:40 and goes until 14:60. The shift start and end times are staggered to spread out the load on the transporters, so A shift can start anytime from 05.50 until 08.50. If you take this job, you would work Firstday until Fourthday, and have Fifthday through Eighthday off. Naturally, we have to shift things around a little to cover vacations and such. Each shift overlaps the others by a half hour on either end."

"So C shift gets off at Ö 07.90 and B shift starts at 14.10."

Sun nodded, "Yes, thatís right. Now, Curtisport is about three hours east of Amistad, so your shift would start about noon in Curtisport and go into late evening, though it would still be 07.40 to 14.60, since everyone uses the same time zone."

"That will take getting more used to than anything else, I think. It will just seem odd to be getting up at three oíclock in the morning at sunrise. Those hours work well for me though. Iím used to working the evening shift here, and thatís about what it would be in Curtisport."

"Thatís right. Do these days work for you?"

"I think that they should. My mateís company and my daughterís school both operate Secondday to Sixthday, so that should work pretty well."

Sun nodded and smiled. "So youíll have two days off with your family and two for yourself. Do you have any more questions?"

Jo shook her head, "Not right now. You have given me a lot to think about. May I contact you if I think of anything else?"

Sun nodded, "Certainly, you have all of my contact information. Even though this is our first chance to meet each other, I think that you would be an excellent fit here and I hope you seriously consider this position."

"I may want to talk to Softtongue before I make my decision."

Sun grinned, "Turnabout is fair play. I asked hir about you, so thereís no reason that you shouldnít ask hir about me."

"I will let you know. Thank you again."

Jo terminated the call and turned to Will as he came over and sat next to her. She asked, "Well, what do you think? Is what shi said reasonable?"

He nodded, "On the whole, I would say yes. Using transporters to allow the staff to commute from the planet surprised me a little, but what shi said is right. Providing power, especially gravity, to a station that size requires huge amounts of power, so running those transporters shouldnít add that much to the load. I would imagine that they would require several warp cores to power it, thereís no way that on-site solar collectors would handle that sort of load."

"What did you think of Sungold?"

"Shi seemed honest and straightforward, though that can be difficult to judge without meeting hir in person. I can understand hir wanting to Ďcheck us outí prior to talking to you."

Jo sighed, "Unfortunately, so can I. Do you think that this place will ever get better?"

Will shook his head, "Iíd like to think so, but right now it seems to be headed in the opposite direction. It seems that H1 keeps getting more overt in their activities, and the local courts donít seem to be doing much to stop them. If things keep up like this, the Stellar Federation will eventually have to step in, but I donít see how that can do anything but make the whole thing worse. Iím afraid that weíd wind up with an open civil war."

Jo frowned and sighed, "Well, we are leaving. If you could check out the engineering aspects of the station operations, I would appreciate it, and Iíll look at those studies shi mentioned and also look into the public performance records on hir operation there."

"I can do that. I also got a message from Jack while you were talking to Sungold. Heís contacted that lawyer he was telling us about and he wants us to meet him at his office Monday morning."

Jo nodded, "Good, Iíll let Lindsey know that weíll be out then." They stood up and Jo gave Will a hug and a kiss. "Now, itís been a while since weíve cooked anything together, letís go see what we can find to make for dinner."

When Will and Jo got to their lawyerís office Monday morning, Jackís receptionist showed them into a small conference room. Jack got up and shook their hands. "Will, Jo, Iíd like you to meet Peter Jacobs. He is the attorney that I mentioned before. Pete, this is Will and Jo Cochran."

Peter Jacobs was a human male, a little shorter than Jo. He had a bit of a paunch and his brown hair was starting to go to gray at the temples. He got up and shook their hands, saying, "Mr. and Mrs. Cochran, itís good to meet you."

Joís eyes got wider and she held his hand for a moment. "Mr. Jacobs, are you the attorney that helped Chakat Gildedtongue get acquitted?"

He blushed a bit. "Yes, but Iíve had somewhat more mixed results since then."

Jack chuckled, "Thatís just because you donít take any easy cases." He turned to Jo, "Taking on the HCKNA in their own courts is a bit like tilting at windmills."

Peter glanced at Jack, "That is one of the more, heh, pleasant ways Iíve heard other lawyers describe what Iíve been doing." He turned back to Will and Jo. "Please just call me Pete." They all sat down around the table and Pete asked, "So tell me, how did you two manage to be Mr. and Mrs. Cochran?"

Will smiled, "We were wed in a church, obviously not the State Church, but, rather, ĎIn the eyes of God and this congregationí."

Pete frowned and turned to Jo, "So, Jo, you are not, in fact, Mrs. Cochran."

Jo shook her head and took Willís hand, "Technically, no, just Ms. Cochran or perhaps Madam Cochran." She smiled at Will, "Sometime just Ďthat furball floozyí. There is no law, however, prohibiting me from changing my name, which I did as soon as we got back from our honeymoon."

"Heh, and here I had hoped youíd found a loophole that I might be able to exploit. Well, tell me what you think that I can do for you, and Iíll tell you what I think that I can do for you, and weíll see if we can meet somewhere in the middle."

Joís smile faded and she gave Willís hand a squeeze, "I trust that Jack has filled you in on the basic facts of the case."

"Yes, he has."

She nodded, "The actions that Hughes and the others took that night and what they said made it obvious, at least to us, that they were looking for us in particular that night. Weíd never even heard of Hughes before, but we think we know who told him about us."

Pete said, "Iíve run across Hughes, and he is vile, but also very slippery. Who do you think pointed him at you?"

Jo frowned, "We think that it was a Bishop Johnson, who is a Ďcounselorí at the school our daughter used to attend."

Pete could hear the quotes around the word counselor. He asked, "Bishop Eli Johnson?"

Jo nodded, "I take it you have heard of him."

Pete got up and started pacing back and forth, "You could say that." He stopped and looked at Jack, "Trying to go up against a bishop of the church, particularly this bishop, isnít tilting at windmills. Itís sitting in a cage with a tiger, pelting it with pebbles while youíve got a steak tied around your neck." He turned back to Jo and Will, still standing and placing his hands on the back of his chair. "I would dearly love to personally chain Bishop Eli Johnson to a rock and find a few eagles to pick his eyes out. He has been going around schools for years, harassing furs until they leave the school, replacing teachers and administrators who even think about treating them as people, and leaving pits of hatred and prejudice in his wake."

Will said, "He has just been appointed to a vacant seat on the local school board."

Pete shoved the chair up against the table and started pacing again, "Damn!" Jo thought that he smelled like he wanted to shred something, a feeling she was familiar with. Pete turned back to them, "Mark my words, he will be chairman of the school board inside the year. Heís found a place here in this university town where he has enough to keep him busy for the rest of his foul life." He pulled the chair out and sat back down, muttering something. Jo though she heard, "Frank shouldíve Ö damned cousin Ö drown." He looked back up at Jo, "Any reasonable government would have locked Eli Johnson up ages ago, but the courts in the HCKNA wonít touch him."

Jo looked distraught, "Does that mean you canít help us?"

Pete leaned back in the chair and looked up at the ceiling, taking a deep breath and letting it out. "Whether I can help you remains to be seen, but that doesnít mean I wonít try. Now, what do you want me to do?"

Jo glanced at Will, and then turned back to Pete. "I want you to stop Johnson from doing to anyone else what he did to us."

Pete smirked at Jo, "In other words, youíre telling me that youíre willing to pay me to do something Iíve wanted to do for a long time." He pulled his PADD over and took out the stylus, "Tell me everything you know or suspect about him, and weíll see what weíve got."

Jo looked at Will, "I guess it starts with the toilet incident." He nodded and she turned back to Pete. "Two weeks after the third school term started, last July, our daughter Teri came home and told Will that shi needed a toilet seat for the school. Our daughter is a herm, and shi had been using the boysí room. They told hir that shi couldnít do that any more, and shi had to use the restroom for Ďtaurs."

Will nodded, "Iíve seen that room, and itís just big enough for a sink and a Ďtaur style toilet. In fact, a Ďtaur would have to stand over the toilet to wash their hands in the sink. It was used by both students and faculty. I think the only reason Teri mentioned it was because shi nearly fell in one day."

Pete asked, "How many Ďtaurs were in the school?"

Jo thought for a moment, "It seems there were about a dozen students, mostly foxtaurs and wolftaurs and two chakats. There were no Quange. The only chakat on the staff was the councilor, Redfoot. At least shi was there up until that term, when Johnson replaced hir. But getting back to this incident, Will made a seat to use in there, and I took it in with me when I talked to the principal. Willís a licensed engineer, and had also supplied documentation that it met all the codes, so they had to take it. I talked with the custodian as I was leaving, who is a fur, and he said that he made one on the first day of school, but they told him to take it out."

"What is his name?"

"Davey Wilson. Heís a raccoon morph."

Pete made a note on his PADD. "Did you find out what happened to Chakat Redfoot?"

"Yes, shi called me later that day, as it happened. Shi said that when shi went to the school the day before the term started, shi was met by two sheriffís deputies. They served hir with an injunction to stay away from the school and not to contact any of the staff or students. I knew Redfoot even before Teri was born, but it took hir a while to get the injunction modified so that shi could call me."

Pete nodded, "Iíll get a copy of the injunction. Did Redfoot say why shi was replaced?"

"Shi said that they said that they had evidence that shi had been Ďcontributing to the delinquency of a minorí, but shi was never charged with anything. Shi has since moved to Colorado, in the GNA."

"It will take a subpoena to get the personnel records. Did shi meet or talk with Johnson before shi left?"

"Shi didnít say that shi had, but shi did look into Johnsonís background after shi left. Shi said that he had been doing this sort of thing at other schools."

"Thatís consistent with what I know about him. What else?"

Will continued, "From what I could tell, all of the furs were getting harassed, but Teri seemed to be getting it worse than the others. We thought at the time that it was because shi was a herm. The next big thing came when shi and hir best friend got into a fight with some other kids on the playground. Hir friend is Eleanor Richmorland, a human girl who is a year older than Teri and lives across the street from us. The school called me and one of Eleanorís dads in to see the principal about that and they were suspended for two days."

"One of her dads?"

Jo smiled and nodded, "Lindsey Richmorland and John McDonald are gay and they conceived Eleanor using a combination of their own genetic material, which was inserted into an ovum donated by Lindseyís sister, Leanne, who also carried Eleanor to term. They have two more fertilized ova stored for implantation later."

"I can just imagine how that went over with the neighbors."

Will said, "They were about as enthusiastic about John and Lindsey as they were about Jo and me moving in. Lindsey was in the Star Fleet Marines and John grew up practically inside a wolftaur territory, and spent more time with them than he did with human kids."

"Both of those things would broaden your perspective. Did the school have a video of this fight?"

"Yes, they gave me a copy. There wasnít any audio and the principal said that there was a malfunction in the system, which I had suspicions about, knowing the system that they have at the school. I gave it to one of the IT guys that I know at the university and he said that the audio was deliberately removed."

"Iíll have to add that to the subpoena for the personnel records. Could you also send your copy to me? Itís been through too many hands to be used as evidence, but knowing what happened to it could lead to other things. Did you talk to Johnson any during these incidents?"

They both shook their heads and Jo said, "No, I had meant to talk to him the day I talked to the principal about the toilet thing, but I was so frustrated after that that I didnít trust myself to see him then. Weíve seen him at school assemblies and PTA meetings and the like, but he never spoke with us until he called us in to meet with him in September."

Jo took a breath to collect herself and looked at Will, then turned back to Pete. "The next incident requires some explanation first. As Teri was growing up, we would often not bother with clothing if it was more comfortable to do without. When I started seeing Will, he soon joined us in this unclothed state when we were together. After we were mated, we bought a house that had a swimming pool and a tall, solid fence around the back yard. When certain close friends visited us, we didnít bother getting dressed when we were using the pool. That group included Lindsey, John, and Eleanor. John is the athletic director at one of the high schools here in town. When Johnson called us in, he had pictures of one afternoon when we were having a cookout by the pool. He threatened to release the photos, which would have surely cost John his job. Seeing John and his daughter naked together would have raised an outcry in the community."

Pete nodded, "Just having those pictures would have been grounds to bring him up on privacy rights violations in Stellar Federation Court, but Iím sure that they have been destroyed by now. Is that when you took Teri out of school?"

"Yes. We didnít say anything to John and Lindsey until a couple a weeks ago, after they had taken their daughter out of the school as well."

"So Johnson had succeeded in getting you to remove Teri from the school, and then Jo was attacked at that concert?"

Will said, "Actually, there were a couple of other things. Later that fall, I started losing some of my clients that I had been doing engineering work for. Jack recommended a private investigator and I had him look into it. It turned out that there was a list making the rounds in some churches of businesses owned by furs. Since we arenít legally married, Jo and I, with Jackís advice, have worked out a system where she is the majority stock holder in Cochran Engineering, which holds the deed to the house. We suspect that Johnson is behind that list. Jack can give you a copy of that report."

Pete made some notes, "Iíll look at that, but unless we can find someone willing to testify against him, it may be impossible to tie Johnson to that list. Anything else before the attack?"

Will nodded, "I had a chat with the mother of one of Teriís friends, Sharon Forrester. Her family are members of St. Michaelís, which is the congregation of the State Church that is closest to us. She said that their priest, who had been an Interpretive, was unexpectedly retired last summer and replaced by a Fundamentalist. Johnson showed up a few weeks later and she said that the new priest seemed to be trying to make a good impression with him. Sharon was very upset with what her daughter had been telling her about how Teri had been treated, and a lot of the other members there felt like she did. She also said that Johnson was gloating after we took Teri out of the school."

Pete nodded, "Anything else?"

Jo shook her head, "Just some petty vandalism, and then the attack." She looked at Will, "You said that Sharon told you that Johnson was preaching that night?"

Will nodded and turned to Pete, "She said he was using parts of Leviticus 20 for his sermon text."

Pete made some notes and then said, "Qui cum iumento et pecore coierit morte moriatur pecus quoque occidite."

Will gave Jo a puzzled look and she said, "He who has sex with a beast or livestock, put him to death, and kill the beast as well." She glanced at Will, "I had to study Latin while I was in medical school, and you told me about that sermon when I got home that night."

Will shook his head, "English has been the universal language of engineering for so long that I just had the general foreign language requirement in undergraduate school." He smiled, "I took three semesters of Katang Low Tongue on a dare and wound up spending almost as much on throat lozenges as I did on food."

Pete shook his head, "You two are nuts, but in a nice sort of way. Anything else?"

Jo shook her head, "Thatís all I can think of, just the attack."

"I have all of your statements from that, so we donít need to go over it again. Let me look into some things and see what I can do with it. I understand that you are planning on emigrating to Chakona."

Will took Joís hand and said, "Yes, sometime after our baby is born, which should be towards the end of May."

Pete looked distracted for a moment, then said, "I think thatís all I need for now. Iíll get in touch with you when Iíve have a chance to dig a little bit. Meanwhile, let me give you my contact information so if anything else comes up you can contact me."

Will and Jo were driving to the clinic for Joís physical therapy when they got a call from Detective Smith. Will answered, "Hello, Will Cochran here."

"Hello Mr. Cochran, this is Detective Smith. Iím just calling you to let you know that we caught the three people who were trying to break into your house on the night of the attack."

Will glanced at Jo, "We were wondering about that. I didnít think that it would take you this long."

"They didnít have any previous criminal record, and it takes a while for the system to search through the ID database. This kind of search generally has a pretty low priority, so it tends to be slow."

"What about the PTV that they were driving?"

"It was reported stolen. We found it, burned and dumped into a lake."

"If it wasnít recovered, I guess that rules out that it might have been loaned rather than stolen."

"Yes, also the PTV was owned by a fur."

Jo shook her head and said, "At least theyíre consistent. Is there any chance that I might be able to try to identify them? Looking at them wouldnít be enough, Iíd have to be able to smell them. Maybe you could hold their bed linens?"

"Hello Mrs. Cochran. I doubt that we can hold them overnight. The only charge we have on them now is unsuccessfully trying to break into your home. Iím sure that they will be out on bail in a few hours. We took their coats from them when we arrested them, will that work?"

Jo smiled and nodded, "Yes, that should do fine. Should we meet you now?"

"Yes, Iím at the station. Just ask for me at the front desk."

"Fine, weíll see you in a few minutes."

Will hung up and Jo said, "I need to call the clinic and tell them Iíll be late, but this shouldnít take too long."

When they got to the police station, they walked up to the desk in the main entry. The officer there, a human woman who looked to be in her forties, looked up at Jo and said, "Waddaí you want?"

Jo said, "Weíd like to see Detective William Smith."

The officer placed a call, "Thereís a morph up here to see you." She listened for a few seconds, then said to Jo, "Sit down over there," pointing to a row of chairs along the wall, "heíll be here in a minute."

Will and Jo sat down, but Jo perched on the front of her chair. It had a solid back with nowhere for her tail. After a few minutes, Detective Smith came out and said, "Mr. and Mrs. Cochran, thanks for coming down. Please come this way." They went through the security station and he led them to an interrogation room. He took out his PADD, "This is Detective Smith. I am with Josephine Cochran. William Cochran is also here, but is not participating." He turned to Jo, "Please state your full name."

"I am Josephine Cochran."

"There are eight coats on the table, please see if you can identify any of them."

Jo walked along the table, not touching any of the coats. She leaned close to three of them, smelling them. She turned to Smith and said, "The third one belongs to the man who was holding my left arm as Hughes was beating me." She smiled, "The fifth one belongs to you, Detective Smith, and the last one belongs to the officer at the front desk. I donít recognize the others."

Smith smiled and nodded, "Ms. Cochran identified the coat belonging to Josiah MacPhatter as belonging to one of her assailants. She also correctly identified the coats belonging to me and to Sergeant Langstrom, who was at the front desk when she came in." He turned off the recorder on his PADD, then opened the door. "Sal, you can come in now."

The officer who had been at the front desk came in and said, "Hello Mr. and Mrs. Cochran. Iím not usually that unpleasant to people, but I wanted you to remember me."

Jo smiled, "I understand." She turned to Smith, "Can you use this identification?"

"Itís a little dicey whether it will be admissible in court, but we can use it to put pressure on MacPhatter and he may lead us to other things that we can use."

"Is there anything else you need from us?"

"No, I think that will do it. Iíll keep you informed about what I find out."

Will said, "We have retained an attorney for this matter. Could you also please send him a copy of whatever you send to us?"

Smith nodded, "Certainly." Will gave him Peteís contact information, then Smith said, "Thanks again. Sergeant Langstrom will see you out." He shook their hands, then the sergeant led them back out to the main entry.

Later that week, Will was working in his office. Jo had gone to her physical therapy that morning and had an appointment with Dr. Edwards in the afternoon. She came in and walked into the middle of the engineering simulation Will had going in the holo-tank, and then kissed him. Will saved his work and, smiling, said, "I trust things went well this afternoon."

Jo smiled, "I have been authorized to return to work Monday!"

Will grinned, "Good! Just in time to start your maternity leave."

"That wonít be for a while yet. When I was pregnant with Teri, I worked into my eighth month."

Will rubbed his hand across her belly, "Maybe so, but I wasnít here to complain about it."

Jo reached down to caress the bulge in Willís pants. "I think I need to let something out to celebrate."

"Before you do that, take a look at the PADD on the desk."

"Oh?" Jo took a step over to the desk and picked up the PADD and started reading. "Weíre cleared for immediate settlement? I didnít think that the Chakonan government considered your job that important, and while Iíll probably take that job that Sun offered, we both decided to wait until we can meet in person and I can take a look at their facilities."

Will walked over and hugged her from behind, stroking her belly again. "Keep reading."

Jo smiled and placed a hand on his while she scrolled down on the document. Her jaw dropped as she got further down on the page. "Andre is cleared for immediate settlement!"

"Um-hum. Weíre just hangers-on because weíre extended family. Chakonans place a lot of value on family ties and music teachers."

Jo put the PADD down, turned around, and started unbuttoning Willís shirt. "I guess itís time to call a real estate agent and put the house on the market."

Will kissed her and nodded, "Sheíll be here Tuesday morning to take a look at the house and sign the listing contract."

Jo frowned, "Sheís a human."

Will nodded, "Yes, I thought that she could sell the house faster than a fur."

"I own a controlling share of Cochran Engineering."

"Yes, and if you want to hire a different realtor, Iíll call her and cancel. I just want to get the house sold as quickly as possible."

Jo hugged him and laid her head against his chest. "Itís not fair, you doing the logical thing. It shouldnít make any difference. We should be able to hire a Rakshani realtor and still sell the house."

"I agree, but if we could, then Teri would still be in school and we wouldnít be selling the house and going to Chakona." He felt Jo start to shake and lifter her face up to look at her, "I expected to see tears, but I just realized youíre laughing."

She smiled, "Iím just imagining a two meter tall column of fur, muscle, teeth, and claws walking through the house explaining the benefits of heated granite floors, the well-appointed kitchen with a large dining area, and a state of the art household AI to a pair of mouse morphs."

They heard the door open and close. Jo kissed Will and stepped away from him. She called out, "Teri, come in here please. Weíre in your dadís office."

Teri came up to the door and stopped, "Are you sure, you smell Ö um Ö"

Jo smiled, "I know, I smell like Iím about to rip your dadís clothes off, but I promise I wonít," she glanced at Will, "just yet." She turned back to Teri, "Weíve just gotten a message from the Shir Softtongue that we have been approved to emigrate to Chakona."

Teri cheered and ran in to hug her parents. Shi said, "We should call Grandma and go down to Luigiís for pizza!"

The started heading out of the office and Jo looked at Will. He said, "Sounds good to me."

Jo nodded and smiled, "The decision is unanimous!"

Teri looked up at hir mom and asked, "Do you think they can put locust on it?"


To be continued in Chapter 9.

Copyright © 2008 Tim Rumph – tarumph AT

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 and Chakat Gildedtongue were created by Robert Adrian.

Edward Hughes was created by Lars V. Jensen.


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