The Last Straw
by Tim Rumph
Chapter 1: Summer Vacation

 

Will and Jo Cochran finished the waltz with a flourish, gave each other a hug and a kiss, and then turned to join in the applause for the band. Will was a human male, about 185 cm tall and just under 90 kilos. He had brown hair and blue eyes and was wearing a kilt made from the Cochran tartan, a black vest, white dress shirt, and black bow tie. His Prince Charlie jacket had been put aside earlier in the evening.

Jo was a female plantigrade fox morph. She was a little less than 170 cm tall and slimly built, with breasts that Will called "a comfortable cuddle." She had typical red fox coloring, with golden eyes and red fur down her back and sides, a cream colored patch that ran from her chin down her belly, black tips on her ears, a white tip on the end of her bushy tail, and black "gloves" and "socks." Her hair was the same red as her fur, and drawn into a long pony tail. She also had a darker patch of fur on either side of her muzzle and an area across her back that was nearly blond, some of which was visible in the scooped back of her white ball gown. She was also wearing a tartan sash that matched Willís kilt.

Will lead Jo to the side of the gym where there were chairs set up for the dancers. He sat down and started taking off his dance shoes as another of the ladies at the dance came up and hugged Jo. Jo said "Hello Esther, itís good to see you again."

"Hello Jo. You and Will make such a lovely couple. Where did you get that lovely corsage?"

Jo ginned, "My daughter made it for me before we came over this evening."

"Where is shi? I donít recall seeing hir tonight."

"Teriís with hir friend Melissa. Weíre sharing a cabin this year with Melissaís folks, Susan and Weston Stewart."

"But I thought shi enjoyed Scottish country dancing!"

"Oh, shi does, and shiíll probably be willing to help you with the younger kids tomorrow. Shi just isnít as thrilled anymore about spending the evening at ĎThe Ballí with hir parents as shi used to be."

They both grinned at this, Esther having gone through the same thing many years before with her own kids. "Warrenís a piper isnít he? So theyíre watching the kids tonight?"

"Yes, to both. Itíll be our turn tomorrow."

"You are coming to the caleigh tomorrow night arenít you?" Esther said, implying with her look that Jo would be there.

"Weíll be there. I couldnít keep Will and his fiddle away from that. Susan and I will take the kids back to the cabin when they start to sag, and leave the boys to jam until the wee hours."

Will, finishing another conversation, came up and put his arm around Joís waist. "Hello Esther. Another grand ball. You put together a good program tonight."

Esther smiled and said "I had lots of help. You will be coming to the afters party I hope."

Jo gently shook her head. "I volunteered to help get the Weaversí Guild tent set up, so I need to be up at the Meadow early tomorrow. Weíd better get back to the cabin."

"Well, you have a good night and Iíll see you tomorrow."

As they left, one of the men at the ball came up and said hello to Esther. "How did those two get together?"

"They met here at the ball four years ago. The next year, they came back on their honeymoon. It was what you might call a whirl-wind romance."

He frowned. "A man is better off sticking to his own kind."

Esther glared at him and said "I guess some people have a broader idea of what their Ďown kindí is than others." She had danced with him a couple of times, and he was a fine dancer, but she decided that she didnít need to in the future.


On Sunday morning, Jo left the weaversí tent, and went down to snag a bottle of water before the lunch rush started in earnest. Today she was wearing shorts and a fitted, v-neck t-shirt, with a sash that she had made with the McKinnon tartan. Even here in the mountains, it was hot enough that the idea of wearing a wool skirt over her natural fur had very little appeal.

As she passed the first aid tent on the way to the main gate, a man with a sour expression stopped her. "Where do you get off wearing a McKinnon tartan?"

His attitude seemed unpleasant, but Jo tried to be friendly whenever she met new people. "As it happens, my ancestors were created by a research team working at the University of Edinburgh headed by Sir David McKinnon. I figure that I owe him as much respect as you do your ancestors."

"What ever. He created your kind as tools. It seems you have all gotten all high and mighty since then."

Not, then, simple ignorance. Well, she had to try. Jo said, "Dr. McKinnon thought enough of his children that he was with them at Hoover Dam when it was destroyed during the Gene Wars. His journals are available at the University of Edinburgh. It might do you good to read them." With that she ducked past him and made her way up toward the main gate.

Teri and hir friend Melissa ran up to her just before she got there.

"Hi Mom."

"Hello Ms. Jo."

Teri and Melissa were both seven and were in the second grade. The third term of the school year started in about two weeks. Melissa was a human and had curly blond hair. Teri had similar coloration as hir mother, but the spots on the sides of hir muzzle were not as dark, and shi lacked the blond patch on hir back. Hir hair was darker than hir motherís, and was cut just short of shoulder length. The two youngsters had met a few years before at the games and had drawn their parents together. They only saw each other at the games, since Melissaís family lived in Wisconsin. They did keep in touch the rest of the year though.

"Hello kids. What have you been doing today?"

"Oh, stuff. Do you want a bite of my meat pie?" Teri said, holding it up to her mom.

Jo did have a broader range of things she considered Ďgood to eatí than most humans, but it did not include this staple of highland games everywhere. She smiled and said "You keep it dear. Your dadís got lunch stuff over at the fiddle tent. Where are your sandals?"

"Youíre not wearing shoes either!"

Jo gave her daughter Ďthe parental lookí. "I donít mind you running around bare foot, I just donít want to loose your sandals like we did last year."

"Oh. I gave them to Dad. He put them in his music bag."

"Good. Are you going to come hear your dad play?"

"Can we sit on the rock?"

"Sure"

At that point, Melissa chimed in, "Mrs. McNeill has homemade shortbread!" The two took off around the outer track toward the Clan MacNeil tent. There was a boulder behind it that overlooked the fiddle tent. Jo shook her head and smiled, then went out through the main gate and down the hill to the fiddle tent.


The Stewarts piled into the PTV with Will and Jo and Teri Monday morning for the trip back down to the Cochransí house. The Stewarts were spending the night there before flying home the next day. Will had a client on the way home, so he dropped the rest of them off at a local mall with plans to meet them in the food court.

Wilson & Sons was a saw mill that supplied hardwood lumber for the local furniture industry. Will, who had his own engineering consulting business, had completed a project here about six months before. He met Tom Wilson, the fifth generation of the family to run the mill, having recently taken over from his aunt, who had decided to retire at age eighty-two.

"Welcome back Will. How was your trip to the mountains?"

"Fine, Tom. Every time I go up there, itís harder to come home."

"I know what you mean. Weíve got a place on a lake up there, but we donít seem to get up as much since the kids have grown up. Come on out to the plant and see how your babyís doing."

Will had redesigned the transport system that brought logs into the mill. The old system had been breaking down frequently and, while the company was doing alright, replacing the whole thing would have put a financial strain on them that they had managed to avoid with Willís help.

Tom said "The new system is doing fine and is a lot more reliable than it was before."

"You seem to have a pretty good supply of timber. I trust youíve taken care of some of your supply problems."

"Yes, there have been a couple of new foxtaur villages established that are starting to bring some timber onto the market. The foxtaurs practically breathe forest management, and can protect the forest and the resources and still increase the timber yield in the areas they move into."

Just then, the line stopped and the large saw whined to a stop. Most commercial lumber was cut using energy beams, but that left a glaze on the lumber that caused problems in subsequent manufacturing operations, so Wilson & Sons still used saws in their operation. The blades, though, were carbon composition with mono-crystalline diamond teeth that were only one fourth as thick and lasted much longer than the old steel and carbide blades.

Will frowned and asked, "Do you have a problem with you head saw?"

Tom chuckled, "No, itís just that since the transport line isnít breaking down three or four times a day, the trimming line canít keep up with it."

"Do you want me to take a look at it while Iím here?" Will said, reaching for his PADD.

"Sure, come on this way."


They all arrived at the Cochran household just before two that afternoon. Melissa and Teri ran off to Teriís room, while the adults settled down in the living room.

Weston turned to Jo and asked "Why do you stay here in the Holy Christian Kingdom? I saw how you were treated in some of the places at the mall and nobody at home would put up with that."

Jo gave a rueful smile. "I grew up here and I guess part of it is that Iím used to it. I have family and friends in the area, and a good job at the local hospital."

Susan replied "I can understand the family ties, but as a skilled trauma surgeon, you could get a job where ever you wanted. Will has clients all over the continent, so he could work from anywhere."

This conversation reminded Will of a common area of discussion between them, but kept that to himself. He said, "Having a major research university here helps reduce that attitude in this area. It can get much worse in some of the rural areas."

Just then the kids ran back into the living room and Teri said "Mom, can we go swimming?"

"Go get changed and Iíll come out and keep an eye on you."

Teri turned to Susan. "Mrs. Stewart?"

Susan was a little surprised at the unusual formality. "Yes Teri?"

Teri had hir hands behind hir back and was looking at hir toes, but rolled hir eyes up to meet Susanís. "Does Melissa have to wear clothes in the pool?"

Susan glanced at her daughter, who was doing her best not to actually look at her mother while also not turning away. Susan smiled at Teri. "No dear, she doesnít have to wear clothes in your pool."

The kids cheered and ran out the back door toward the pool hand-in-hand. Susan looked at Jo and said, "Judging by the look on your face, that wasnít what you expected."

Jo shook her head to get over the shock and replied, "I was thinking about how to broach this subject on the trip down, but finally just gave it up as a bad idea. My daughter seems to have stepped into it though." She turned toward Will with a cross look. "You donít seem very surprised."

Will said "Itís just that I get out more than you do. Once you get out of the HCKNA, attitudes about this sort of thing are considerably more relaxed. Iíve occasionally run across public pools in the GNA that are clothing optional even for humans."

"Well, Iíd better get out there. Teri wonít let Melissa get into the pool until thereís a lifeguard on duty." She got up and grabbed a stack of towels from the linen closet. The other adults watched as she went out the back door, picking up the trail of discarded clothing on the way. She put the stack of towels down on one of the chairs on the back deck, the clothes on another, added her clothing to the second pile, and then all three of them jumped into the pool.

Will grinned at his guests. "You realize that with this precedent, when we rent the cabin next summer, Jo is likely to start shedding clothing as soon as she comes in the door?"

Weston laughed and pointed to his wife. "She wonít be the only one."

Susan just smiled sweetly and said, "I take it that if we drop in unexpectedly we should expect to find the three of you running around without a stitch on?"

"There is a good chance of that, provided you donít come in the winter."

Seeing the confused looks this got him, Will added, "When their winter coats come in, they would be perfectly happy setting the thermostat at about 12 degrees. We compromise a bit on that, but you wonít see me bare very often that time of year."

Susan looked back out at the mayhem going on in the pool. "They are having way too much fun out there for us to just sit in here. Iím going out to get wet!"

 


To be continued in Chapter 2.

Thanks to Bernard Doove and all of the other authors and artists who have created this rich, exciting world, and to Allen Fesler for lending me a muse or two.

Copyright © 2008 Tim Rumph – tarumph AT gmail.com

Chakats and the Chakat Universe are the creation of Bernard Doove and are used with his permission.

The Holy Christian Kingdom of North America is the creation of John Plunkett.


 

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