The Last Straw
by Tim Rumph
Chapter 9: Legal Difficulties


Jo was very happy to get back to work Monday afternoon. When she got there, she got a message from Dr. Morgenstern asking her to come into his office. His office door was slightly open, so she knocked and stuck her head in, saying, "Phil?"

Breeze pulled the door open with hir tail as he said, "Come in, Jo."

Breeze said, "Hi Jo, welcome back." and gave her a hug, which Jo returned with enthusiasm.

Jo turned to Dr. Morgenstern and said, "Am I interrupting something? I can come back later."

He said, "No, no, come on in and have a seat. Breeze and I were just finishing up reviewing the counseling for the staff that were here the night of the attack."

Jo smirked and glanced at Breeze, "Let me guess, this was the only way you could tie Phil down long enough to finish up with him."

Breeze smiled and nodded, and Phil said, "It was either that or Breeze threatened to tie me up in the childrenís ward." He gave Breeze a gruff look, but then smiled, "I will admit though that I do feel a lot better after our session."

Breeze said, "You ought to follow Joís example Ė she usually comes looking for me when something is bothering her."

"I will try, but old habits are hard to break." His expression turned more serious and he said, "Iíve actually asked you both in here for a reason other than discussing my therapy. Since the attack when Jo was injured, there have been a dozen more fur-owned businesses vandalized. Two furs have been killed in these attacks."

Jo and Breeze glanced at each other, then turned back to Phil, all trace of levity evaporating from the room. He continued, "Detective Smith called me this morning. He said that there are indications that H1 activity is going up and he asked that all of the fur staff come to and from work using their PTVís rather than public transportation. He also asked that when people arrive or leave after dark, you come to the hospital entrance and have your PTV come up to meet you rather than walking through the parking lot. For those that donít have their own PTV, Iím arranging pickups. Iíve already spoken to most of the fur members of the staff about this privately, and will be speaking with the rest of them as they come in tonight.

"How did you two get here this afternoon?"

Breeze said, "I took the bus, as usual."

Jo put her arm around Breezeís shoulder and gave hir a squeeze. "Will made me take the PTV. He said he didnít want me being jostled on the bus."

Phil nodded, "Could you give Breeze a ride home tonight?"

"Of course, Iíd be happy to do that."

He stood up and came around his desk. "Thank you. I know what the rumor mill is like here, but please donít say anything about this for the next couple of days. Iím going to be calling the staff who arenít working today in the morning and letting them know whatís going on."

Breeze nodded, "Certainly, I understand."

That Friday when Will came out from meeting with a client, there was a message waiting for him from Jo Ė just a note to call her, but it wasnít marked urgent. He got in the rented PPT that he had been using and called her as it got going back towards town.

When Jo answered, she looked worried. "Hello Will, thanks for calling so soon. I couldnít remember if you were planning on going to lunch with your client."

Will shook his head, "No. Now, whatís the matter? You donít look well. Is your leg OK?"

"My legís alright, but I got a message from the State Department today. The exit visas for Teri and me have been denied."

Will looked shocked, "What!? Did they say why?"

Jo closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Will thought he could see tears, but it was hard to tell on the small video display in the PPT. Jo looked back up at him and said, "It says that the reason is that there are pending legal actions against us. I called Pete and he said that heíd look into it. How long will it take you to get back?"

"It will be about an hour and a half."

She nodded, "Thatís about what I figured. Can you meet us at his office?"

"Of course. Iíll give you a call when Iím about twenty minutes out. Have you mentioned it to Teri yet?"

She shook her head. "Not yet. I wanted to talk with Pete first and get all the facts straight before I talked to hir. Iím bringing hir with me. John and Lindsey just left to visit Johnís parents. When I called Andre, hir AI told me shi had a gig this afternoon and shi would be back around four."

"Iíll meet you there. I love you, Jo."

She smiled, "I know. I love you too, Will. Hurry home."

Will called the client he had been scheduled to meet that afternoon. "Hello, Richard? Ö Yes, Iím fine, thank you. Something just came up and Iím not going to be able to meet you this afternoon. Can we reschedule it for next week? Ö Yes, Tuesday morning will be fine. Thank you and Iíll see you then."

As he approached Peteís office, he passed Jo and Teri as they got out of the PTV. He stopped the PPT and released it, then walked up and hugged them. He wrapped his arm around Joís shoulder while Teri held her other hand. They walked into the office to see a fox morph behind the desk. Will said, "Hello, Iím Will Cochran. This is my wife, Jo, and our daughter Teri. Weíre here to see Peter Jacobs."

She nodded and got up. She was digitigrade and had a very full figure. She was also a bit taller than Will. She said, "Weíre expecting you. Iím Theresa Mannix. Please come this way."

Theresa led them into an office. When they came in, Pete got up and embraced Theresa and gave her a kiss. He then turned to the Cochrans and shook their hands. He smiled and said, "Theresa and I are mates. When I asked Jo about being Mrs. Cochran, it was for personal rather than academic reasons."

Jo nodded. "I understand. I wish I could have told you that we were legally mated."

Theresa smiled, "Weíre mated enough, just as you are. The opinion of a bunch of church flunkies isnít going to change what we feel for each other." She looked down at Teri and said, "What do you say that you and I go find something to do? Weíll let Peter talk to your folks about all this boring legal stuff."

Teri smiled and took her hand. "OK." As they were leaving, they heard hir ask, "My brother is digitigrade. Will he be as tall as you?"

"I donít know, how tall was his sire? Ö" She then pulled the door closed.

Pete smiled and said, "Please have a seat and Iíll tell you what Iíve managed to find out so far."

Will and Jo sat down and Pete went back behind his desk and took his seat. Jo said, "You didnít tell us you were mated to a fur."

Pete smiled, "It just didnít come up. Weíve been together for eighteen years now." He took a PADD out of the desk. "Now, this is what Iíve been able to find out so far. One of the Assistant Solicitors has a - heh - charge pending against Teri for attacking Hughes on the night you were attacked."

Jo jumped back up and leaned over Pete, looking ready to rip his throat out. "Charges against Teri! Shiís only seven year old! Hughes was also beating me with a piece of pipe! What do these idiots think theyíre doing?"

Will got up and took hold of Jo. "Jo! Sit down. Peteís trying to help us."

Jo sat back down and took her head in her hands. "Oh God, Iím sorry Pete. This whole thing is really getting to me."

Pete said, "I understand. If it helps to scream at me, please do. I have, in the past, had clients come right over the top of the desk to get at me, so I can deal with a little screaming."

Jo just shook her head, still holding it in her hands. Will gave her a hug and sat back down. He said, "You said that he had charges pending. They havenít been filed yet?"

"No, and it doesnít look like they are likely to be either. Iíve developed some contacts in the Solicitors Office. In order to press charges, someone has to file a complaint. In this case, that someone would be Hughes. From what Iíve been told, he never comes out of his cell except for the required exercise periods and to see his lawyer. I think that the chance of actually pressing charges against Teri is very slim."

He stopped and looked at Jo and Will, "Now, believe it or not, that is the - heh -good news. The bad news is that they donít have to remove that pending charge from your record. As long as it is on there, they will not issue an exit visa. Without that, no one will let you board a ship, and even if you could get to Chakona, you would be turned back at immigration."

Jo shook her head, "Why would they want to keep us here? Everything theyíve been doing seems designed to drive us away."

Pete grimaced, "You thought that Eli Johnson was behind this." They nodded and he continued. "Well, this has convinced me that he is."

Will said, "You mean that heís done this sort of thing before."

He nodded, "Iíve studied him for many years. Mostly he is satisfied to drive the furs out of the local school, and doesnít bother with where they go. However - heh -when he runs across a couple like you, a human and a fur together, it seems to get under his skin. He canít stand to see you together, and then it gets much moreÖ umÖ personal."

Will said, "So Sharon was right Ė this doesnít have anything to do with Teri being a herm."

"No, itís you two, not Teri. I have, in the past, helped some couples slip quietly into the GNA. The border is porous enough so that it isnít so difficult to do. Iíve seen other couples who split up under the pressure he applied." He leaned toward them. "I know of at least one family who died under mysterious circumstances, which were never adequately investigated by the state."

Jo looked stunned, "Like when Marcus was killed."

Pete nodded. "Yes, just like when your Shir Fleetfoot was killed."

"What about you and Theresa? Youíve been together for a lot longer than we have."

"True, but weíve never had any kits. Weíre outside of his - heh - sphere of influence."

Jo shook her head, "So what can we do? Considering what we do, neither of us can get a job without a very thorough background check. We canít just slip away."

Pete sat back and interlocked his fingers on top of his belly. "We have two choices at this point. The first is for you to go the GNA and ask for asylum. There is no love lost between the GNA and the HCKNA, but they are neighbors, and they have to get along to some degree. Iím pretty sure though that I can get them to grant you asylum and, eventually, exit visas."

Will said, "But they donít have any jurisdiction here, so they canít do anything about Hughes and Johnson."

Pete nodded. "That is correct. The other alternative is to file suit in Stellar Federation Court. The drawback there is that the Charter of the Stellar Federation presents quite a high hurdle that has to be overcome before they will meddle in the affairs of a member state. There is another - heh -slight drawback."

"Which is?"

"Filing this suit is not something that can be done quietly. If you do, the GNA may consider you Ďtoo hot to handleí and wonít want to have anything to do with you."

Will took Joís hand and turned to her. "You know that Iíll support you regardless of how you decide to approach this, but this is your call."

She lifted his hand up and smelled it. "Do I take the easy way out for us, or do I do whatís right and try to stop Johnson from continuing to do what he has been doing?" She closed her eyes for a moment, then looked back up at Pete. "I need to think this over and weigh the costs before I can decide what to do."

He nodded, "I understand. A little time will not make any difference. Just call me when you have decided or if you want to discuss this in more detail."

She looked back at Will and said, "I think itís time to tell Teri something. Shi knows somethingís not right; hir nose has been telling hir that much."

Will nodded. "Shi needs to know that the exit visas have been denied, but I donít think that we should mention the charges against hir at this time."

"Yes, I think thatís best, but shiíll know that isnít the whole story." She turned back to Pete. "Could you ask Theresa to bring hir back in?"

He nodded, "Certainly."

When they got back to the PTV, Will saw that his old toboggan was tied to the top and there were a couple of duffels and his fiddle case in the back. He turned to Jo and asked, "Are we going somewhere?"

Jo smiled, but Teri beat her to answer hir dad. "Mom and I decided that we ought to go visit Chandar."

Jo grinned at Teri. "Well, somebody," she said poking Teri, who giggled, "decided that." She looked up at Will. "Iím actually off the whole weekend and donít need to be back at work until Monday afternoon. We were planning to go up there before, and I think that we all need this after everything weíve been going through."

Will smiled and hugged them both. "I canít argue with that. Are you up to traipsing through the snow and the woods?"

Jo shook her head, "Itís only a kilometer up the trail from the parking area to the village, I figured we could spend the weekend in the guest hostel and stick around the village. We were going to stop at Andreís to see if shi could take care of Fluffy. Hir AI told me that shi should be back home about now and shi only lives a few blocks from here. If shiís busy we can call someone else."

He nodded, "Sounds good to me."

When they got to Andreís, shi was home and let them in. Shi said, "Come in and have a seat, I wasnít expecting you tonight."

Jo said, "Actually, weíre on our way out of town. Weíre headed up to the Swannanoa Clan territory for the weekend. We wondered if you could check up on Fluffy for us this weekend."

"Well, Iím busy tonight, but I could swing by the house tomorrow and Sunday, when will you be getting back?"

Jo glanced at Will and he said, "Weíll be back Monday morning, if thatís alright."

Andre nodded. "That should be OK."

Teri looked up at hir and asked, "Grandma, where are you going?"

Shi smiled down at Teri, "Well, actually, Iíve got a date with your friend Eleanorís Mama Lee."

"Cool, I canít wait to tell Eleanor."

The territory controlled by the Swannanoa Valley Foxtaur Clan was in the mountains northwest of where the Cochrans lived. Before the Gene Wars, the local economy had depended on tourism, but it had been largely depopulated after the wars. About 75 years before, the HCKNA had signed a treaty with the foxtaurs which gave them control of the territory so that they could restore it to its original, natural condition. In exchange, they could use the resources that could safely be removed without disturbing the environment. It was a little different from most such territories in that there was a major transport lane, both road and rail, that ran through the territory, but the mountains in that area were rugged enough so that you didnít have to get very far away and you couldnít tell it was there.

It was just after dark when the Cochrans got to the parking area at the base of the trail leading to the village. Not surprisingly, there were no other vehicles there when they arrived. There was a large garage where the clan kept the few vehicles that they owned. It was a clear night and there was enough of a moon so that even Will had no trouble seeing where they were going. He tied the duffels and his fiddle case to the toboggan, and then they went up the snow-covered but well-packed trail to the village. As they came into the village and headed toward the lodge where the clan offices and the guest hostel were located, they saw a foxtaur heading down toward the lodge. This wasnít surprising, since there was a sensor in the parking area that sounded an alarm when anyone came in. As they got closer, they could see that she was a vixen and was in her fur only, her winter coat easily warm enough to be comfortable on a nice night like this. They recognized her as Tara, one of the co-mates to Linny, Chandarís mother. Chandar was a tod about Teriís age and his father was Tatro. There was another vixen in the mated group, Jamara, and four more kits of various ages, all vixens. They had been friends of Willís since before he met Jo.

Tara came up to them and said, "Will, Jo, Teri, what a pleasant surprise!" She hugged them and then held Jo at armís length, a concerned look on her face. "Jo, you were limping as you came up the trail. What happened to you?"

Jo shook her head, knowing that the huntress would see that. "Did you hear about the attack at the concert on First Night?"

Tara nodded. "Yes, the band from a neighboring village was playing there. If youíre still limping, you must have been hurt badly."

Jo nodded. "Thatís why we didnít come up that weekend."

"Is your kit alright?"

Jo looked down and rubbed her belly, now visibly swollen even beneath her jacket. "Yes, heís fine. We were very fortunate." She looked back up at Tara. "If youíll open up the hostel, weíll get settled in."

Tara shook her head and gave them a toothy grin. "Nope, canít do it. Since you didnít call ahead, thereís no fire in there, and the place is freezing. It would take hours to warm up. Jo is pregnant and injured, and Will doesnít have any fur, so you will have to come with me and stay in our den. Weíve got a blanket you can use, and weíll pile the kits around you to keep you nice and toasty."

Will shook his head. "Tara, youíve been trying to get us into that den since I first brought Jo and Teri up here."

She nodded. "Not just me, but the whole family. I know youíre not body-shy, so now youíve got no excuse not to join us."

She took the rope on the toboggan from Will, and they started toward her den. Teri asked her, "Are you pregnant? You smell good."

Tara smiled and ruffled hir head fur, "Yup, Iíve got a Winter Festival Kit, bringing new blood into the clan. A visiting tod caught my eye and we got lucky. You happy to have a new brother on the way?"

Teri nodded, "Yes, but after heís born, weíre going to Chakona, so I wonít be able to see Chandar any more."

"Well, I understand, and weíll all miss you, but I think you will be better off there than you would be where youíre living now."

They got up to the den and were warmly greeted by the rest of the family. Jamara turned to Chandar and said, "Why donít you and Teri go down to the hall and bring back three stools. Weíll need them for breakfast."

He smiled and said, "Sure, Jamara." He grabbed Teriís hand and dragged hir out the door with him.

Jamara and Linny folded up a couple of pads for Will and Jo to sit on, and gave them each a piece of apple pie, made with apples that had been preserved from last fallís harvest. Tatro sat down next to them. "Will, itís good to see you and your family again. Weíre just a little surprised Ė you usually call first."

Jo smiled. "This was Teriís idea. When shi suggested it, it felt so right that we just packed everything up, grabbed Will, and here we are."

Will put his arm around her shoulders and gave her a squeeze. "Weíve all been under a lot of stress lately, and we need to unwind. A weekend here in the woods is just what we need."

Tatro looked concerned. "Tara told me that Jo had been injured in the attack at the concert. There have been other things as well?"

"Yes, but Iíd rather not think of them right now. We just want to visit with good friends."

Tatro smiled. "Well, I can understand that. As it happens, we are having a feast tomorrow. Lydia has mated with a tod that she met at university, and weíre giving them a send-off. They are going off with a Star Corps colonization project. I know that she will enjoy having another chance to sing with you before they leave."

"She has a beautiful voice, and Iíll be happy to play for her. Tara said that the hostel is unfit to live in right now, so I guess weíll have to borrow your guest room."

Jo took his hand and shook her head. "No, I think it will be busy tonight." She glanced over at Kalas, Tatroís oldest daughter.

Kalasí ears blushed, then she smiled and looked up at Jo. "Iím just coming into my First Heat, and Dadís going to help me with that tonight."

Jo nodded. "Thatís what I thought. Youíve been very patient, but I think itís time."

Kalas nodded, then got up. Tatro also got up and took her hand. "Thank you, Jo. You all have a good night and weíll see you in the morning."

With that, they went into the guest room and closed the door.

Will looked around at what suddenly looked like a very hungry group of vixens surrounding him. "So Iím going to be the one adult male surrounded by this group of beautiful vixens."

Jo smiled. "Weíll play nice, and youíll have Teri to protect you."

The next morning they all got up and somehow, amidst the chaos in the den, breakfast was prepared and served. Linny made a lunch for Chandar and Teri to take with them, with the admonition that they would be back in time for the feast, or there would be a price to pay.

Will and Jo also headed out into the forest, holding hands and just taking it easy and slowly wandering along the easiest trails. After walking in silence for some time, Jo said, "Iím going to miss these mountains when we get to Chakona, especially in the winter."

Will smiled. "There are parts of Chakona with climates like this."

Jo laughed. "Yes, but those areas are all full of Scimitar Cats. Somehow, I canít imagine that being followed around by robotic, automatic weapons so that you donít get eaten would help the mood any."

"I am sure that we will find new things to treasure that we never imagined here."

She smiled and pulled him closer. "Of course we will. Going somewhere else isnít better or worse, just different. The leaving though, is always melancholy. Iím glad that you will get to play with Lydia one last time before she and her mate go off on their journey through the stars."

They came to a bend in the trail that, during the winter, looked out over the mountains and valleys in the distance. They cleared the snow off of a fallen log and had a seat, enjoying the view.

After a few minutes, Jo said, "You know, if we did have to sneak away and be undocumented, we have enough knowledge of life in the forest that we could make a place of our own. We could get by on hunting and trapping. I could trade my weaving for other things we need and we could still give Teri a good education so that shi could do anything shi wanted to do." She looked at Will, "You could take up blacksmithing."

Will chuckled at that, "Iíve got the theoretical background for it, but it would be a steep learning curve, paid for in sore muscles and blistered hands. I donít know that I could convince anyone to take me as an apprentice."

She leaned against him and he put his arm around her shoulders. After a few more minutes of silence, she asked, "What do you think, do we get our own family out to safety, or do we try to stop Johnson and Hughes?"

Will didnít respond for a few minutes, finally he said, "You know, if you had asked me that two months ago, before the attack, I would have said cut and run. Now, with what we have learned from Pete, Iím not sure I could live with myself if we did that." He shook his head. "Iím like you Ė weighing the cost of our choice isnít easy."

They sat there for another few minutes, then Jo said, "Sitting here isnít getting anything decided, and my buttís starting to get numb. Letís go down and help get things set up for tonight. Weíll stay busy enough to take our minds off of our troubles."

Everybody was excited about the feast, and two of the hunter groups had managed to take feral sows, so the smell of roasting pork filled the village before noon, making everyone work harder to get things ready so that they could eat. The wild pigs were all descended from domestic hogs that had escaped, and not native, so they were taken whenever they were found. One of the clan elders, Randa, had been up since early in the morning, seeing to the cooking. She also took charge of the kits, including Teri, and sent them where they could do the most good and the least damage. Teri and Chandar wound up helping to get tables set up and mats unrolled in the village hall, and also pulled out three stools, placed near the front of the hall for their guests. In addition to the pork, there was a huge assortment of breads, tubers and vegetables that had been preserved, and a few greens that were hardy enough to survive the relatively mild winters in this area. There was also a huge table loaded with sweets and treats, but Randa made sure the kits were busy enough so there wasnít too much pilfering. There was also hot cider, both Ďweakí cider flavored with cinnamon for the kits, as well as Ďrealí cider for the adults.

Once everyone had their fill, most of the tables were removed and Will joined the local musicians and played a couple dance sets. After working off part of their dinner, someone called for Lydia to get up and sing something.

She spoke with Will, and then Will started the introduction of an old emigration air. It was a melancholy song about leaving home for new places. Will wove an accompaniment around Lydiaís melody that reinforced the emotions of the song. By the time Lydia finished singing, there wasnít a dry eye in the hall. Lydia then started a set of old railroad songs. These had become a tradition in the clan, since the railway line passed through their territory, even though it was entirely automated, electrically powered, and virtually silent. Everyone knew these and joined in on the choruses.

After those were done, Will played the first few bars of an old Scottish reel about a railroad that had been written for dancing. He had brought that tune with him many years before on one of his first visits here, and it had become a favorite. While the Scottish country dance it had been written for was not at all suited to ítaurs, the foxtaurs had devised a new dance to go with it that fit the mood of the tune nicely. Teri paired off with Chandar and kept up the best shi could, hir two legs working hard to keep up with everyone elseís four. After several more dance sets, more singing, and a couple of wacky skits, the evening ended with a waltz, and Will put his fiddle down and coaxed Jo out onto the floor for one dance. They laughed when they saw Teri dancing with two vixens hir age.

Everyone pitched in to get things cleaned up and put away, then they all started going back to their dens. As they started leaving, Randa stopped Jo and Will. She said, "Thereís a message waiting for you in the office. Itís been there since this afternoon, but I didnít get in there until we were about to serve dinner, so I decided to wait until we were finished. Itís from a police officer down there where you live."

Will looked at Jo, then turned back to Randa. "I think you did the right thing, but weíd better go look at it now."

Randa nodded. "Come on over to the office and we can take care of it."

They walked across to the office. Randa called up the message and it was, as Will and Jo suspected, from Detective Smith. He asked them to call him on his personal com as soon as they got the message, regardless of what time it was. Randa got up to leave them alone, but Jo said, "Please, Randa, I think you should stay. The issues that we have been dealing with at home may, someday, reach out even this far and affect you and your clan."

She sat back down. "If you want, of course Iíll stay."

Jo smiled at her, and Will placed the call to Smith. He answered it on his handheld com, so there was no video, only audio. Will said, "Detective Smith, Will Cochran here. Iíve got Jo with me, as well as Randa Greyears, one of the elders of the Swannanoa Valley Clan."

"Thank goodness, Iím glad that you are all right. When we get done, you need to call Teriís grandmother, Shir Fleetfoot, and let hir know as well."

"Of course. What happened?"

"Someone broke into your house sometime Friday night or early Saturday morning."

Will looked at Jo. "How did they get in? Iíve strengthened the doors and locks since they tried it last time."

"As far as we can tell, they blew the entire lock mechanism out of the door with a shaped charge."

Will and Jo both looked stunned. Will took Joís hand and shook his head, trying to get his thoughts back together. "What about the system that you had put in around the house to prevent this sort of thing?"

"It never made a peep. I also didnít get anything from your household AI."

"I gave you the access codes for the AI Ė could you get anything from it?"

"No, they broke open the enclosure for it and put an incendiary device into it. It is now all just worthless slag. Then they went through the rest of the house and trashed it."

"How did you get notified if both of these systems were taken down? Apparently the neighbors never bothered to call about it."

"Shir Fleetfoot called me when shi went over this afternoon to take care of the cat. When shi saw that the door was blown open, shi didnít go in, but waited until I got there."

Joís face fell. She asked, "Did you find Teriís cat?"

"Iím sorry Mrs. Cochran, they killed her."

Jo collapsed against Will, weeping. Will held her and said to Smith, "The AI had a continual, off-site back-up, but that requires a bioscan to release it, and I canít do it from here. Can your people find out why the com systems failed?"

"Mr. Cochran, there isnít anyone here that I think I can trust to look into that."

Will sighed. "Please call Demitry Melonovitch. Heís an IT professor at the university that Iíve worked with before. He does some security and com consulting for Star Fleet. Iíll call him and tell him to expect your call. He has access to that back-up that I mentioned. He may be able to tell what happened from it."

"Iíll call him in the morning. Now you had better call Shir Fleetfoot. Shi was on pins and needles the last time I spoke with her, worried about you."

"Yes, weíll call her now. Thank you, Detective Smith."

"Good night."

Jo sat back up and looked at Will, the fur on either side of her muzzle matted with tears. "Will, that stuff that Smith described Ė wouldnít that require military grade equipment and knowledge?"

He nodded. "Yes, those werenít things that could have been easily improvised."

She looked away and licked her nose. When she looked back at him, she said, "Will, we canít let them get away with this kind of thing. We have to try to stop them, even if it means that we canít go to Chakona. We can get as far as Europe or Australia. That doesnít require any special visas, and they will certainly grant us asylum."

Will nodded. "I agree, we have to do what we can to prevent this sort of thing."

Randa, who had listened to this exchange in stunned silence, said, "It sounds like you donít have much of a house to go back to. I want you three to stay here until you figure out what is going on. Iím sure that the other elders will agree with me to offer you sanctuary here."

Will hugged her. "Thank you Randa."

They called Andre and let hir know that they were OK, then called Demitry and let him know to expect a call from Smith. They all three went back up the hill to Tatroís den. When they came in, Tatro, Tara, and Kalas were still up, but the others had gone to bed. The conversation stopped when they came in, and Tatro asked, "Will, what happened?"

Will shook his head. "We need to get Teri up and tell hir something. The rest of you should know as well, but try not to wake the other kits."

Tara and Jo went in to wake Teri, and Jamara and Linny came back out with them. Teri, Will, and Jo sat down on the folded up pads, and the others gathered around them. Teri looked up at Jo and said, "What happened, Mom?"

Jo wrapped her arms around Teri and said, "Teri, last night, someone broke into our house. We think that they were trying to hurt us, but we werenít there, so they tore the house up. They killed Fluffy before they left."

Teri broke into tears. "NO!" Shi grabbed Jo and started sobbing. Will wrapped them both in a hug. Teri said, "I want to go to Chakona now!"

Jo hugged hir tighter. "I know, and so do we, but we canít do that right now. Weíre going to have to stay here with Chandar for a while, until we figure out what to do."

Teri cried for a few more minutes, then pushed away from hir mom and turned to face Will. "Dad, those H1 people didnít want to hurt us, they wanted to kill us, didnít they?"

Will hugged hir. "Yes Teri, I think youíre right, but you saved us."

"How, umÖ" shi sniffed and licked hir nose, "How did I do that?"

Will gave hir a small smile. "It was your idea to come up and visit Chandar, so the H1 men donít know where we are. The only people that know are your Grandma Andre and Detective Smith."

"They wonít tell anyone, will they?"

"No, they wonít."

Teri nodded. "Then we can stay here." Shi turned back to hir mom and curled up against her, weeping softly.

Will looked over at Tatro and said, "If youíre not it using tonight, I think weíd better use the guest room tonight."

Tatro shook his head. "No, Will, what you and your family need now is to know that someone loves you and cares for you. The best way that we have to show that is by inviting you into our den and sharing our warmth and companionship by sleeping together." He smiled. "When with the foxtaurs, you must do as the foxtaurs do."

Will got up and hugged Tatro. He and Jo got undressed, then they all went into the den. Teri curled up between Will and Jo, and Tatro and his family all around them. Randa pulled another pad in, and curled up across the door, with her back against most of them. Tara looked at her, puzzled. Randa said, "I am an Elder of the Clan. It is my job to protect the ones I love."

The next morning, Randa left after helping get breakfast put together for everyone. Will, Jo, and Teri seemed to be on autopilot, but everyone else found enough for them to do to keep them busy and near each other, Chandar sticking close to Teri all of the time. Randa came back in mid-morning and said, "The rest of the council has agreed to grant you sanctuary for a year and a day."

Will smiled and hugged her. "Thank you Randa, I hope that it wonít take that long."

Randa let him go and said, "You and Jo need to come with me. Your Professor Melonovitch will be calling soon." She turned to Teri, "You need to stay here with Chandar while your parents talk to him."

Shi smiled. "OK, I like him; he brings me treats when he visits us."

Randa smiled. "Good, weíll be back in a little while, and are just going to the lodge."

As they went down to the lodge, Lydia and her mate, Ganor, ran over to meet them. She hugged Will, then said, "The elders only told us that you canít go home right now, but Ganor and I are leaving this morning. Iím glad that we could sing together before I left, and I hope everything goes well."

Will smiled. "Thank you, Lydia. Have a safe voyage and send word when you can."

Lydia and Ganor went down the trail toward the parking area, while Will, Jo, and Randa went into the lodge office. Randa turned on the com, then said, "Your Professor is sending a security application to me. It will take a few minutes to download and install it."

After the application was installed, the com cleared to show what Will recognized as the inside of Demitryís usually cluttered office. He had cleared enough space so that there was room for Detective Smith, Peter Jacobs, Theresa Mannix, and Andre. He smiled and said, "Will, Jo, it is so good to be seeing you."

Will grinned. "Hello, Demitry, itís good to see you too. I see you have quite a crowd with you."

"Yes, and we must go over some rules of the ground first. No one here is to say anything on any com system about anything involving the Cochrans. I will go to Peterís office and make sure that it is secure, but his com wonít be. Elder Randa, the application that you installed will make it so that anybody who is monitoring your com will not even know that it is connected to my office, or that it is even turned on. When we get this situation finished, I will come out there personally and remove it from your system. Donít ask me how it works, I canít tell you that."

"Now, Will, you must, as soon as we are finished, destroy the coms that belong to you, Jo, and Teri, without turning them on." He looked at Randa. "Gracious Elder, do you have a blacksmith there in your village?"

She nodded. "Yes, we do."

"Good. Take all three coms, and the computer from the automobile, and have your blacksmith place them in her forge. Heat them to white heat, and then pound what is left of them flat. Then she should take two pieces of steel and forge weld them together with the pieces in between them. Finally, find a nice, deep lake, and toss them in there."

Will shook his head. "Iíd think that any one of those would do the job by itself."

"Yes, but I want to make absolutely sure. When you take the computer out of it, you will have to hide the automobile somewhere."

Randa smiled, and asked, "Can we put it in the garage, or do we have to bury it?"

Demitry laughed. "No, no, gracious elder, just put it in the garage. We only need to conceal it from aerial surveillance. Now, I will let Detective Smith speak first, and then Peter and Theresa, and I will talk some more. Gracious Shir Fleetfoot will have to wait for later, because hir communication is not of a technical or legal nature. Detective, please proceed."

Smith looked at Demitry, then turned to Will and Jo. "Well the first thing is, you may as well start calling me Bill. It looks like you wonít be able to call me detective much longer. I was taken off your case two weeks ago, but obviously didnít actually stop working on it. The Solicitorsí Office is trying to put a lid on this whole thing, quietly turn over Hughes to the Stellar Federation, and cover up any involvement on the part of Johnson so that he can continue his Ďimportant workí. I am now on administrative leave, pending an investigation for insubordination."

Jo asked, "What about Sgt. Langstrom? Will she be alright?"

Bill nodded. "Yes, her part in this was so minor that it has gone unnoticed. She will, however, keep us informed about what is going on the police department."

He turned to Pete, and Pete started his story. "Will, Jo, I was about to go to the Stellar Federation Court to try to get a warrant for the Professor to rummage around inside of the police department computers. It turns out that is not necessary, as he will tell you in a moment. It looks like we have a much better chance in that court than I originally thought."

Will and Jo nodded. Jo said, "Iím happy to hear that. After we learned that our house was broken into, Will and I decided that we needed to do whatever was necessary to try and stop Johnson and Hughes."

Demitry smiled and said, "I am glad to hear that. You see, I have a warrant, well, it is practically Letters of Marque, it is written so broadly, from the Stellar Federation, to monitor the com and data traffic in this Holy Christian Mess that they call a government here. You see, in addition to my job at the University, I have been authorized to tell you all, but you must not tell anyone else, that I am a commander in the reserves of Star Fleet Security. The Federation Court Judge for this region, Rashan ap Shandoz na Rashan, he was given his own house name, by the way, for all the good stuff he has done, really does not like the HCKNA, but doesnít have the justification to sink his claws into it. He is also worried that doing so indiscriminately would hurt a lot of innocent people."

Jo said, "I can understand his frustration. Teri has talked some about wanting to go to Star Fleet Academy and then into Security."

Demitry nodded. "I hope that by the time shi does, I will be out of this hell-hole, oh, pardon me ladies, my current assignment, and will be teaching at Star Fleet Academy. Now, my superiors think that your situation may justify me breaking my cover and testifying in open court. We will try, however, not to do that, but use what I find to write subpoenas to get the information in other ways. If we can get this Bishop Johnson and force him to testify with a telepath, it will please na Rashan no end.

"Now, let me tell you what I have found. Will, your AI has been compromised for some time. When you decided to visit your foxtaur friends up there in the mountains, did any of you say anything about your plans on the com?"

Jo though a moment, "No, in fact we didnít. Teri and I just packed up the PTV while we were waiting for Will to get home. We drove to Andreís house after we left Peteís office, and then came straight here. We didnít even call ahead to let them know we were coming."

"That is what I thought. I have learned that your friends, Mr. Richmorland, Mr. McDonald, and Missy Eleanor have gone away for the weekend. Did you talk with them about this on the com?"

Jo nodded. "Yes, I spoke with them Friday morning."

"And what did you tell them about your plans for the weekend?"

"I said that we were just going to have a quiet weekend at home."

Demitry nodded. "Yes, that explains this. The people monitoring your com thought that you would be home and that your only nearby friends would be gone, leaving you alone." He turned to Randa. "Gracious Elder, have you and the other elders in your village offered sanctuary to the Cochran family?"

Randa nodded. "Yes we have, for the traditional year and a day."

"Very good, but this will not take that long. As I said, your AI has been compromised, and someone was monitoring your com. It looks like it is going through the police department, but I wonít know for sure until I do some more work. This also accounts for the com call that it placed on the night of the attack and this past Friday night not going through, as well as the failure of Detective Smithís system.

"Now, I want to assure you that your asylum papers are in the hands of my superiors in Security, already signed, sealed, but not yet delivered. If you like, we can have you picked up there at the Swannanoa Valley Clan village and you will all be on a starship tomorrow, headed for Chakona. From what you say, however, and this would help us greatly, you want to stop this sort of thing from happening any more. Is this true?"

Jo took Willís hand and looked at him. He gave her a slight nod, and she turned back to face Demitry. "Yes, we want to help you stop this from happening to anyone else."

"Very good, now, Peter will file the suit tomorrow, but Theresa tells me that it will take some time to work its way up the docket. Then there will a bunch of legal bureaucracy that has to happen, subpoenas, discovery, they know all about that. I am a technician, not a lawyer. Anyway, it will be most likely mid-May before your case comes up. We cannot afford to attract attention to it by speeding things along unnaturally. Jo, during this time, you will not be able to work at the hospital. Will, your engineering business will be destroyed. You must stay there, out of sight, until the trial begins."

Will nodded. "I understand. We have enough to live on until then."

Demitry shook his head. "No you donít. You cannot access any of your credit, or it will give your location away. You will sign a broad Power of Attorney to Peter. He will see to the repair of your house and having it sold off. Any of the personal effects will be placed in storage." He smiled. "He will use his existing networks to Ďclandestinelyí move your assets into the GNA. This will likely be discovered, since you are much bigger fish than he has helped before. We will provide him with other, more secure means, to help others in your situation." He turned to Randa. "Gracious Elder, do you think that Will and Jo have sufficient skills to barter for what they need to live for this time in your village?"

She smiled. "I have no doubt of that."

"Very good. Now you must understand, these people, and I use the term loosely, very much want to kill you. If they manage to do that, it will bring down this whole thing, and it will come to naught. Despite what na Rashan would like to do, he must follow the law, and that is as it should be. He must have live witnesses to testify in his court in order to do this.

"Now I think that we are done. Please go and get little Teri so that shi can speak with hir grandmother, who has been waiting very patiently during all of this."

Randa stepped outside and asked one of the passing kits to have Teri and Chandar come down to the office. When they got there, Bill, Pete, and Theresa had left, so Demitry and Andre were the only ones left. Teri ran up to the com and said, "Hello, Grandma! Are you all right?"

Shi smiled. "Yes, dear, Iím fine. How are you doing?"

Teri looked down at the floor, and Jo gave her a hug. "Weíre OK, but Iím sad that they killed Fluffy."

"I know, Teri. I wish I was there with you."

"Yeah, but we have to hide, and if you come they might find us."

Andre looked at Demitry, a surprised expression on hir face. He said, "You are right Teri. Now I have spoken with your dear grandmother about something, but it will be very hard for you and your parents."

Teri looked up at him. "What is that?"

"Your parents told you that the government would not let you leave, correct?" Teri nodded. "Well, your grandmother has all of the documents shi needs to leave. I think it would be best if shi were to leave now. The bad people have not bothered hir, but since they canít find you, they may decide that shi can tell them where you are."

Teri grabbed hir mom and started weeping. Jo held hir for several minutes, then Teri turned back to hir grandmother. "Grandma, I want to hug you, but if you stay here," shi stopped and sniffed, but kept looking at hir grandmother, "if you stay here, the H1 people will hurt you and make you tell them where we are, then they Ö they will kill all of us."

Andre was now openly weeping as well. Demitry reached out to hir, and shi laid hir head on his shoulder while he hugged hir. Teri said, "Grandma, you have to go and live with Quont and Track and Slirparton and Spots. They will take care of you."

Andre looked at hir, "I know they will, love. Iím going to miss you, and I love you very much."

"I know. I love you too, Grandma."

Will looked at Demitry. "Demitry, wonít they be suspicious about Andre buying a ticket and leaving so soon?"

He shook his head and gave Will a little smile. "No, Will. You see, Andre bought hir ticket this morning, but shi bought it six weeks ago. It is just a little game with the computers."

He looked at Teri. "Now Teri, listen to me please." Teri sniffed and licked hir nose, but looked up at him. "Your mother and father have decided to help me try to stop Bishop Johnson and the H1 people from hurting anyone else, but to do that, you have to stay there with your friend, Chandar."

Shi sniffed again, and said, "Uncle Lind told me that police try to stop people from getting hurt before any one attacks them. Are you a police man?"

He smiled. "Yes, sort of, but it is a secret, and you must not tell anyone."

Shi nodded. "I want to stop them too."

"Good. Now we have to go. Your grandmother must get ready to leave, and I will talk to your mom and dad from time to time, but it would be best if we donít tell you about what we say."

"I understand. Good bye Grandma."

"Good bye Teri, I love you."

"I love you too."

They all went back up to Tatroís den, then Will left with Randa. They stopped and got the village blacksmith and stonemason and her apprentice to go with them down to the parking area. Will had to turn on the PTVís computer to open it, but then he shut it down so that it wouldnít set off the automatic alarm, and took it out of the PTV. He then climbed under the car, after carefully chocking the wheels, and disabled the brakes on all four wheels. Fortunately, the front wheels were straight, but without the computer, the steering system was not functional. The three strong foxtaurs had little difficulty lifting the front of the PTV and pointing it the way they wanted it to go. They rolled it into the back of the garage, where it would be out of the way. In addition to vehicle storage, the garage also contained a complete maintenance and repair shop for the ítaur van, the bus, and the truck that the clan owned. After putting it where they wanted it, they chocked it securely, and took the computer and the coms back up the hill to the forge. Will followed slightly behind the others, asking the smith something.

When they got back to the village, Will went and got Teri. Jo, Chandar, and the rest of Chandarís family came along with them to see what was going on. When they got to the forge, the smith, an old tod named Ranas, smiled at Teri. Ranas was another of the village elders. He said, "Teri, I want you to help me with something." He took the coms and the computer out of his belt pouch. "Those bad H1 men were using your coms to keep track of where you were and what you were saying, so we, you and I, are going to wreck them so that they donít know that you are here." He smiled at Teri. "Will you help me do this?"

Teri looked up at him and nodded. "Yes sir."

Ranas chuckled. "Teri, Iím a foxtaur Ė you know we donít do all that sir and shir and maíam stuff. Now, will you help me?"

Teri smiled at him. "Yes Ranas, I want to help you."

"Good!" Ranas opened a cabinet and got out an apron, and pair of gloves, and a pair of safety glasses and brought then to Teri. "See if these fit."

Teri put them on, and everything did fit reasonably well. Ranas had been training apprentices for many years and had a good eye for these things. He said, "When youíre working around a forge, safety is always important." He already was wearing his apron (in fact, some people said he slept in it), and he put on his glasses and gloves. "Now you take these," he set the coms and the computer on his anvil, and bent over and pointed to a part of the forge, "and put them right here. Just drop them there, and then my apprentice is going to start working the bellows."

Teri carefully picked them up and dropped them where Ranas said, quickly pulling hir hands back so that shi wouldnít get singed. Ranas took a heavy steel plate and put it over that part of the forge, then nodded to his apprentice, and she started working the bellows. Ranas turned to Will and asked, "Will, how many batteries are in the computer?"

Will smiled, "Two."

Ranas nodded, and then a bright, white light lit up the forge as the magnesium cases on the coms ignited. After a few minutes, there was a loud bang, which startled everyone but Ranas and Will. This was followed by four more bangs, and then Ranas waited a few more minutes just to make sure everything was done. He turned to Teri, and said, "Now, Iím going to take the pieces out of the forge, and I want you to pound them flat. Everyone else needs to step back please." They moved back, and Ranas handed Teri a small hammer. "Teri, I am going to pull the pieces, one at a time, out of the forge and place them on the anvil. I want you to hit them until they are flat. Have you used a hammer before?"

Teri nodded. "My friend Mike and I built a tree fort last year."

"Good, then you know you just need to let the hammer fall, you donít need to swing it real hard. The metal is real soft, so it will flatten easily. Donít worry about hitting the tongs Ė you wonít hurt them."

With that, Ranas pulled the first piece out and Teri proceeded to flatten them, the ceramic parts making crunching noises as Teri hit them. After they were all flat, Ranas put them back in the edge of the forge, and then took a bar, heated it, and folded it with the pieces inside it. He then put it back in the forge to reheat it so that he could seal the edges. When he was done, he dumped it into a trough of water, which steamed and hissed. He said, "Good, now, come back after lunch, and Riaza," pointing to his apprentice, "will go with you up to the lake to toss it in there. Thank you, Teri, for your help."

Teri smiled at him. "Youíre welcome si Ö uh, Ranas."

"Good, now take off your stuff and you and Chandar go on."

That night, Will didnít even bother trying to suggest sleeping anywhere but in the den with Tatroís family. He was a little surprised though when, after the kits had gone to sleep, Jo rolled over and started stoking him. She said, "Itís been a while, and you know how this calms me down."

"But Teriís right Ö"

Then he felt a cold nose against the back of his neck. He jumped a little and a shiver ran down his spine. Linny, who was curled up behind him said, "Will, you know that we love you, but if you donít take care of your mateís needs, Iím going to throw your naked butt out into the snow, and Iíll take care of her."

Will could just make out the glint off of Joís teeth as she grinned at him. He gave her a grope and a kiss, and then rolled over onto his back, pulling Jo on top of him. "I should know that in a foxtaur village, it is vixensí rule, even when the vixen in question isnít even a foxtaur."

Jo just smiled and kissed him again.

The next morning Will and Jo decided to take a little walk in the woods together. Just before they got to the overlook that they had enjoyed a few days before, a chakat wearing a short fur jacket and a pack came around a bend in the trail towards them. Everybody stopped and Will, giving hir a suspicious look, said, "I didnít know anyone was up here."

Shi smiled and said, "Neither does anyone else." Shi reached into hir pocket and pulled out a small bag, which shi handed to Will. He looked at it and saw that it was full of peppermint balls. Shi said, "The Professor told me to give you those for Teri." Shi reached into the other pocket and pulled out a PADD. "I have the Power of Attorney Statements that he mentioned."

Will took the PADD and looked over the document. He snorted and said, "This gives Peter the right to do anything he wants with everything we own, and all of the account numbers are already in it."

Jo smiled. "If we canít trust Pete and Demitry, you had better ask Ranas about that blacksmithing apprenticeship, and Iíll start studying midwifery with Kirle."

Will gave a little laugh, and then sealed the document. He handed the PADD to Jo, who called up the other document, for herself and Teri, and sealed it. While they were doing this, the chakat took off the pack and set it between them. Jo handed the PADD back to the chakat. "Youíre not going to tell us who you are, are you?"

Shi shook hir head. "It would be better if I donít. This pack contains some additional clothes for you two and Teri, and if you need anything else from your house, let the professor know when you talk to him."

Jo glanced at Will, then turned back to the chakat and said, "Does he have our catís body? I think that Teri is going to need some closure in that Ö um."

The chakat nodded. "Yes, we have Fluffyís remains in a stasis chamber, and will work with you for the arrangements as you see fit."

Jo just turned to Will, who hugged her. He said, "Thank you, we will let you know."

The chakat nodded, and then turned around and walked back up the trail.

As it happened, Will did apprentice with Ranas, sort of, but mostly he worked with Riaza. Ranas wanted to observe her teaching someone the craft before she became a journeyman. Will also designed a wind powered blower for the forge, which Riaza built for her journeyman project. Completion of that, of course, called for another feast.

Jo worked with Kirle, improving Kirleís surgical skills, while Kirle taught Jo midwifery for ítaurs and some things about herbal medicine, which meshed nicely with Joís interest in gardening. Kirle also made sure that Jo kept up the therapy for her leg. Her leg improved, but as her pregnancy progressed, that made her heavier and more awkward.

Around the beginning of May, Will and Jo were talking to Demitry, Pete, and Theresa again. Demitry said, "I have spoken with Andre recently, and shi said to tell you hello, and everything is going well on Chakona. Shi also sends hir love and is looking forward to seeing you all again." He gave them a big grin. "Shi told me that your friend, Quont, is teaching young Spots to call hir ĎGrandma Andreí."

Will just shook his head. Jo smiled and said, "I can see that being mated has not changed Quont one bit."

Will looked at her. "Did you really expect hym to?"

When everyone had collected themselves again, Demitry said, "Now, Peter and Theresa will fill us in on the legal front."

Pete started, "Your trial comes up next week in the Stellar Federation District Court for Eastern North America, the honorable Rashan ap Shandoz na Rashan presiding. Now, there has been another attempt to - heh - assault you, at least. Probably attempted murder, but that is yet to be determined."

Will and Jo looked at each other, confused. Jo turned to Pete. "Pete, what are you talking about? As far as we know, nobody has even come close to us here."

Pete looked at Theresa, who grinned at Jo. "It seems that the police in the GNA have arrested three people while attempting to break into your farm house outside of Akron. All three are citizens of the HCKNA, and are known to have ties with Humans First."

Will said, "But weíve never owned a home in Akron."

Demitry smiled, "Oh, Will, but you have. You see, when you purchased this home, you tried to hide your identity, using falsified papers, but someone seems to have followed the money trail, in spite of your best efforts."

Pete nodded. "It seems that these three vigorously resisted arrest by the local authorities, and they had to call in the GNA Federal Police for assistance. The local D.A. is trying to decide whether he can make a charge of attempted murder stick. Charges of Assaulting a Federal Officer will be a cake walk, considering that - heh - the whole thing was captured on several secure, police department video cameras.

"Now this attack makes four attempts on your lives, including the original assault on Jo at the concert. The HCKNA has failed miserably in their duty to protect you, as subjects of the Kingdom, despite the sure knowledge that you were being targeted by extremists. This is sufficient grounds for na Rashan to order a Star Fleet Security detail to protect you when you come back here. The Chakonan Consulate has - heh - graciously offered to house you during the trial, since they have approved your emigration to Chakona, and since Andre is already there, and is part of your family. The trial will be held in the Stellar Federation complex, downtown. This will be a public trial, but security will be very tight, and there will be force fields between the court proper and the gallery. na Rashan wants to make sure that there will no attempts on the lives of his plaintiffs in his courtroom.

"The security detail will arrive Monday morning to bring you two and Teri back here. I hope to spare Teri from having to appear in the court, but the Kingís Solicitor may force my hand in this. The recording that Shir Springbreeze made is powerful evidence in our favor, but it cannot be introduced unless shi testifies, since the KS has a right to challenge our witnesses. A right that we, in fact, would not have if this trial were being conducted in an HCKNA court."

There was, of course, another feast the night before the Cochrans left. At the end of the evening, Ranas came to the front of the hall and asked for quiet. He said, "I know that we are all sad to see Will and Jo and Teri leave, but I hope you will join me in wishing them all the best in their upcoming trial, and a safe voyage to Chakona." There was thunderous applause at that, and it took a few minutes before Ranas could make himself heard again. He then said, "Tara, I believe you have something to present."

She trotted up the front of the room. "Teri has joined in all the activities with the other kits in the village, and shi has shown very good progress in hir abilities with the bow and the sling, as well as hir academic studies. Teri is the right age for this, so I would like to take this opportunity, as a Master Huntress, to appoint Teri as one of my apprentices, and present hir with this arrow, fletched with the clan colors, as is traditional. Teri, you now have the right to take small game while in clan territory under the supervision of a journeyman huntress."

There was more applause as Teri came up and gave her a hug, then took the arrow and went back to join hir parents.

After things settled down again, Randa came up to the front of the hall. "We cannot make Jo and Will apprentices, and Ranas tells me that Will would have a lot of work to do to become a smith." There was some general laughter at this, and then Randa continued. "They have both, though, pitched in and helped in any way that they could, and have also been willing to learn from us as well. Now Will and Jo are about to go to court and sue the HCKNA and, regardless of the outcome of that, they will certainly not be welcome to return to the kingdom in the future. This family still has many friends in the kingdom, and it seems unlikely that they will see many of them in the future."

The hall was quiet now, as everyone was listening carefully to their Senior Elder. "This family places great value in their friendships, just as we do. Now, when they arrived here, they were just planning to stay for the weekend. That weekend has turned into more than three months, and the elders have had some lively discussions about what the proper thing to do was. Many of us have known Will for nearly twenty years, since he first wandered up here to ask our permission to hike and camp in our forest. In all that time, he has been an excellent steward of the forest, and has also freely shared his gift of music and his knowledge with us. Four years ago, he brought his mate Jo and her daughter Teri with him, arriving in the middle of a blizzard, and they wound up trapped here for five days until we could get the road cleared. They may not have formalized that mating yet, but we old vixens could tell what was in their hearts, and knew them to be lifemates. Will has treated Teri in a manner that any our tods would treat their own kits, and shared with Teri his love of and respect for the forest.

"As I said, there was some disagreement about what to do when we saw their need, and granted them sanctuary, for a year and a day. I am proud to say that there is now complete agreement on the proper thing to do."

She turned to Will, Jo, and Teri, and pulled three small booklets from her belt pouch. She handed them out and said, "These are passports and diplomatic credentials. With these, the HCNKA must allow you free passage to this village at any time that you desire to visit. Your friends are all welcome here, and whenever you get back to Earth, we hope that you will come and visit us, and let us meet your other friends as well."

Teri looked up at Randa. "Elder Randa, mine says Teri Cochran, but my name is Teri Fleetfoot."

She nodded. "That is so. Since both of your parents have chosen the name Cochran, we felt that you should have it as well. Would you rather be called something else?"

Teri looked up at Randa and smiled, tears running down from hir eyes. "No Randa, this is what I want." Then shi hugged Randa before running over to hir dad and hugged him. Randa wiped a tear from her own eye as she turned back to the assembly in the hall. "My friends, the Elders of the Swannanoa Valley Foxtaur Clan have, in unanimous accord, named Will, Jo, and Teri Cochran to be full members of the Clan with Ö" She stopped even trying at that point, since she couldnít even hear herself over the roars of approval. She also was distracted by trying to avoid being run over as, it seemed, everyone in the village tried to hug their newest clan-mates at the same time.


To be continued in Chapter 10.

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, Theresa Mannix and Chakat Gildedtongue were created by Robert Adrian.

Edward Hughes was created by Lars V. Jensen.


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