a story by
(c) 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002,2003, 2004 by Chris Yost and James Bruner. Chapter 1 (c) 1999 by Chris Yost. All rights to story content reserved. Characters Tabitha, Sabrina the Skunkette, and Amy the Squirrel (c) Eric W. Schwartz. Character Thomas Woolfe (c) Michael Higgs. Characters Chris Foxx, Cindy Lapine, Clarence Skunk, Wendy Vixxen, and Calvin (c) Chris Yost. Character Mark the cheetah created for Mark White. Character Terl Skunk (c) Rodney Stringwell. Character ZigZag (c) Max BlackRabbit. Character James Sheppard (c) James Bruner. Character Iron Raptor (c) his player. Character Psychofrog (c) His player. The band "et al" (c) Chris Yost All rights to additional characters reserved by their respective owners. Story conceived by Mark White. Based on characters and situations created by Chris Yost and Eric Schwartz. Amiga (TM) Amiga Computers.
Chris and Wendy carried their drinks as they walked through the wood and ornate glass doors into the supper club up the stairs from the single’s bar. A jazz guitar and bass playing on stage was piece by piece becoming a combo and by the time they were seated wonderful sounds were carrying out over the diners.
“What a nice place,” Wendy said as she picked up her menu. Looking out from their table she watched a rabbit couple walking paw-in-paw to join the other couples on the small dance floor. “Ever been here before?”
Chris nodded as he opened his own menu. “Only once; you remember Dexter and Angel Collie, don’t you?” Wendy nodded. “I came as their guest when they were celebrating their son Jeremy’s college graduation. I always wanted an excuse to come back.”
He looked past his menu at Wendy, noticing again just how radiant she looked when a glimmer from her jeweled necklace caught his attention. Just as a smile crossed his muzzle his attention was caught by another couple walking toward the dance floor; a male fox and his lady skunk. And that feeling of melancholy came to him; they were a young couple, just about the same when he and Sabrina …
“Windy,” he said, setting his menu beside his plate and standing, extending his paw, “would you care to dance?”
She widened her eyes. “You still dance?” she asked with a smile and a wink, placing her paw in his as she stood.
“It’s been a while,” Chris said as he led her to an opening with the other dancers. “But I’m willing to give it a serious go.”
The music wasn’t too slow, but it was definitely at a tempo a pair of canids could dance to and take great pleasure in. Chris took Wendy’s left paw and placed his left paw on her hip; Wendy shook her head. “Huh-uh,” she scolded; taking Chris’ paw she slid it behind her and sidled up against him, placing both arms around his neck as his right paw joined his other behind her.
Wendy smiled a toothy smile as they began to move to the rhythm of the music. “That’s better,” she said, “just like old times in college. Remember?”
“I remember,” Chris said, feeling himself mold against Wendy. “Memories aren’t too vague, and they were wonderful memories.”
“Mm-hmm.” Wendy slid her muzzle along Chris’ shoulder as she nodded. She repositioned her arms as they danced and closed her eyes.
Chris molded himself into Wendy … she felt so good, and to be so close to her once again, after all these years … for the first time, Chris felt warm, special … wanted.
It felt good.
Wendy lightly grazed her muzzle over Chris’, and as it seemed, pressed herself just a little closer as they danced. And Chris felt a stirring … in an attempt to be gracious he pulled himself away, as much as his embrace with Wendy would allow. Wendy, however, slid a paw down below his tail. “Oh, no you don’t,” she admonished with a sly grin. Chris blushed beneath his fur as she nonchalantly ran her paw over his bottom and upwards atop the base of his tail as she pushed him back against herself. She giggled as he cleared his throat and politely returned her arm to join her other as they turned slowly, dancing to the music.
Wendy closed her eyes and listened to the soft jazz, and nestled herself into Chris’ shoulder. She was finally home.
Tabitha was slowly discovering she had no tears left to shed. The professional part of her brain was reviving slowly and was now reminding her that she was curled on the body of their dead boss in front of the entire design and technical team.
She was also becoming aware of her elder sister beside her, in her time, and witnessing a lot more than she was comfortable. Including this. Pulling herself together she managed to kneel upright over Richard Badger’s body, snarfling one last time. A flash of white caught her eye; she looked up to see Barbara handing her a tissue from a box she had liberated from her office desk. As she freshened her eyes Barbara knelt down with her, and they hugged, comforting one another as they made the transition from teary-eyed girls to professional women.
Sabrina was still coming to terms as to where she was, and when. Almost everyone present were ignoring her, including her own sister who brought her here in the first place.
She thought about that. Was this her sister, her baby sister?
Sabrina thought about that. She couldn’t deny where she was, and how she got here. And the rabbit, the tall white rabbit, with his half-rude welcome.
She’d looked up at him. One of her best friends was a rabbit, but this one was taller than average, not counting the ears. Casually dressed and about as un-casual as anyone she’d met.
“Welcome to the twenty-first century,” he’d told her as she looked up from Tabitha’s side. That was when she rose. The words danced in her head; twenty-first century. That didn’t start for several months yet, depending on whether you felt it would start in 2000 or 2001.
“You mean,” she’d asked, pointing to the other skunk, “that everything she told me is true?”
“I don’t know what all she told you,” Harvey had replied. “But I’ll bet it was enough to do what she’d set out to do. You’re here.”
Sabrina pointed back to the portal through which she’d just arrived. “But how … how did I … ”
“All magic,” Harvey’d replied. The tone of his voice had the distinct air of disgust about it. “Excuse me.” And he’d walked back to the main console. There was nothing there needing his attention, he only wanted to distance himself from the situation.
Sabrina was unaware that she was wandering, her mind working on piecing together a one-color jigsaw puzzle when the pieces didn’t fit. Her sister, or at least a skunk who claimed to be her sister … it could be … Sabrina also could not deny that if she used the artisan-trained portion of her brain, she could see where there could be a resemblance to her five-year-old sister … turning, she watched the ocelot release the skunk who had brought her here, watched them exchange words and nods, another hug ...
The decoration against the wall held an intrigue that distracted her thinking. Sabrina was a collector of robot action figures, and this certainly qualified. It was a gleaming chromium-plated metal with brilliant red eyes and a tail that could wrap more than halfway around its midsection. As she watched, the red in its eyes had been dimming, growing weaker until it had dissipated completely. She walked over to it, drawn to it … as she grew slowly closer she could watch her distorted reflection in the curves of the polished metal.
She breathed a quiet “Wow,” her eyes wide with wonder as the highly-polished behemoth lizard reflected in her eyeglasses. Timidly, as if she knew someone would scold her if she touched it, she ran a white-furred paw gently over it’s chest plating.
Then she felt the scream stick in her throat when the very quiet hum of two servomotors turned and angled the head to look down at her. She quickly pulled her paw back to her side.
“Hello,” it said to her. “You must be Miss Sabrina.”
Sabrina gasped so loudly that she caught everyone’s attention. But she never knew it, her full attention was taken up with the Transformer From Hell, something that could crush her in two steps as easily as look at her.
“It’s nice to finally meet you,” it continued, “Tabitha has spoken of you many times.”
“Ah ……. ” Sabrina stammered. It was talking to her. To her! Its muzzle and mandibles moved in exact precision to its words.
Barbara had to smile. She tapped Tabitha with her paw and pointed, and when Tabitha looked, she couldn’t help but grin. “She has to be in Heaven right now,” she said. When Barbara looked inquisitive, she explained, “Sabrina had this incredible collection of transforming robot toys just like him. Can you imagine that and meeting a walking, talking, real-life one?”
“Ah, uh … nice to … meet you, too.” Sabrina made an uneasy shift to her left and stole a quick glance at the back, looking for a catch or a zipper that held the costume together.
“I am a model seven-seven-one heuristically programmed low-scale defense system, build two-point-zero Mark three, military construct, converted for civilian security use. I am referred to as ‘Iron Raptor’.” It parted its legs and slid open it’s codpiece, and as Sabrina watched aghast it slid out a seven-inch shining metal tube, tilting it down slightly and holding it in one gleaming paw. “Would you care for coffee?”
“Don’t ask for cream,” Mark snickered among the other giggling technicians.
“N-no, thank you.” Working up the courage, Sabrina placed her own paw on its right forearm, her expression now one of wonder as she ran it up and down, satisfying herself this was not someone in a costume.
Tabitha grinned, and her grin quickly faded when she looked at the figure of her fallen boss. Before tears had a second chance to well, she forced out the name, “Ezequiel.” She cleared her throat, and in a stronger voice, “Ezequiel!”
Quickly stepping out from his colleagues, he darted over and stood on the other side of Doctor Badger’s body. “Yes, Doc -- Tabitha?”
Tabitha’s chest visibly rose and fell with each breath as she forced her breathing to return to normal. She never turned her head to look at him; she didn’t look at anybody, only the floor past Barbara’s feet. “Ezequiel, I want you to go and get the loopback module.”
Barbara tilted her head inquisitively.
“Our test module?” Ezequiel asked. “But certainly we’re done with it, the system -- ”
“Ezequiel,” Tabitha forced, “please-just-go-and-get-it.”
With the feeling of a fur chastised, he ran to the equipment room at the far wall.
Barbara stood and helped Tabitha to her feet. “The loopback module splits the portal into two time zones,” she said in a quiet voice. “You’re going to do what he tried to do to you, go back and stop him, aren’t you?”
“Wouldn’t you?” Tabitha asked. “We’re time travelers, we’re the only ones who can fix this. And it’s my fault he’s … ” She couldn’t bring herself about to say the word.
Harvey’s sensitive hearing was picking up what the women were discussing. He walked over. “I don’t believe this,” he said with a tone to his voice that would’ve curdled milk. “Maybe he was right after all, we’re sticking our proverbial … privates … were they don’t belong, screwing with the natural order of things.”
“Since when did you become a philosopher?” Barbara barked.
“When I watched I.R. carry his body back through the portal.”
Barbara caught Tabitha’s lower lip quivering. It was finally becoming clear to her why Tabitha was planning this.
In the meantime, Ezequiel had returned with the module, but good sense kept him several feet back.
“Look, strange as the idea is, you’re in charge here now,” Harvey continued, “but this project isn’t your personal cure-all for your own private ills.”
Barbara sighed as she watched how his words affected Tabitha. “You’ve got all the sensitivity of an oncoming truck,” she told Harvey. Addressing Tabitha and hoping to help and stay on subject, she said, “There’s another problem. It seems there’s a pretty good power drain on the system. I overheard eight point three percent. Haven’t had a chance to analyze a report yet, and not sure if it worsened when he and I.R. went through, and you came back.”
Tabitha did her best to listen, making her brain collate what she was told. “Brunner Effect, that’s the only -- Richard and who went through??”
Barbara realized Tabitha didn’t know about that, either. “Uh, when Richard was hit, Iron Raptor ran through the portal after him.” As Tabitha’s muzzle opened to express her disbelief, Barbara finished with, “It happened too fast, we had no way of stopping him.”
Tabitha took a moment to digest this new information.
“Brunner Effect?” Harvey asked. “Doctor Brunner? That crackpot?”
“He’s no crackpot,” Tabitha said in her first clear voice since returning. “He wants people to think that, but he’s the authority on temporal physics no matter what the journals and pundits say about him.” She looked at Barbara. “Eight point three, that high, huh?”
“Could it be a fault in one of our generators?” she asked hopefully.
“We haven’t had a chance to investigate anything yet,” she replied.
A break in the conversation gave Ezequiel the chance to politely clear his throat. “I … have what you asked for, Tabitha,” he said in a meek voice, wondering if it was proper to address the new head of the project by her first name.
Tabitha nodded to him. “Thanks, Eze. Please plug it into Channel Two.” Lowering her voice, she lamented, “Great, another variable.”
“Tabitha,” Harvey reminded, “we still have to deal with the doc’s body before rigor mortis sets in. We’d thought to use a cover story to say that he was hit outside in our lot.”
She shook her head, looking down. “No, we can’t do that.”
“We also can’t keep going back in time to fix things the way we want them,” Harvey said with a rising timbre to his voice. “He was a hell of a good man. Let him rest in peace.”
Tabitha raised her head. “Harvey, local Columbus history as we stand here records an unknown male struck and killed by a car, and a huge robot coming out to gather him up and take him away. Not to mention the mass hysteria that must’ve gone on. And it coincides with the disappearance of a local art student who has never turned up.” She used her thumb to point over her right shoulder at her sister engaged in conversation with the Iron Raptor. “There’s just too much to not fix.”
Harvey looked at Sabrina, then at their fallen boss. “You know that theory,” he said, “that says when you go back in time and save someone from dying, that someone else has to go in order for the books to stay in balance?”
Tabitha nodded her head. “Did you know I never bought it? That is, unless the person you saved failed to prevent the other person from dying.” She looked at her wristwatch, then took Barbara’s paw and pulled her arm out so she could look at hers and compare the times. “Lookit, I’ve got things to do, and so does everyone else. I want to be ready to go as soon as possible. I need to pull the program for the loopback and make some revisions.”
A thought came to Barbara. “And when you send your sister back,” she asked Tabitha, “how are you going to ensure she’s going to keep all of this to herself? She’s seen the future, your future as well.”
Tabitha shook her head. “All I can do is tell her not to talk about it. And if she does, no one’s going to believe her, would you?” Tabitha felt terrible; it was a horrible thing to say about her elder sister, but it was the truth as well. “It may not be too late an evening if we’re lucky. Harvey, call and reserve a block of tables at Danny’s, we’ll treat everyone to dinner to make up for it.”
Harvey hit himself in the forehead with an open paw. “Oh, crap! I forgot to call Mark’s wife! She thinks he’s screwing around on her, and I promised I’d call and explain about his coming in so early this morning.”
“I forgot about that, too, no wonder I’m tired.” She was anxious to get her backside into motion, and to finish what she’d set out to accomplish in the first place. “Good excuse to invite spouses, make sure everyone knows, and give everyone tomorrow off, too. Any questions, I’ll be in my office.” She turned and started suddenly when she was suddenly reminded of Richard’s body between her and the door.
She walked around and touched Sabrina’s arm. “Come with me, Sabrina. We’ve got a lot to do.”
Wendy wiped the corners of her muzzle. “That salad was especially good for some reason,” she said and placed her napkin back across her lap. “Must be the company,” she added with a smile.
“I’d like to think it is,” Chris said with a smile. “It is a good one. Usually a ‘salad’ to a restaurant is a bowl of lettuce with a wedge of hothouse tomato.” He ate another bite of his own. “So, what’s it like in Vermont? As green as the pictures make it look?”
“Oh, absolutely! Until winter, then it’s nothing but white as far as the eye can see.” She stuck her tongue out. “I swear my fur got twice as thick after my third year there.” She let Chris laugh before she went on. “You’d like it up there; the house and grounds are quiet, there’s plenty to see and do within a half-hour’s drive, I’m told the fishing’s pretty good and you did take an interest in it as I remember.”
Chris nodded. “I did. It was good therapy after Sabrina … and it was a fun bonding experience with Alan.”
“How’s he doing?” Wendy asked. “Do you still see him?”
“Off and on,” Chris told her. “He’s in California after all, and we try to stay in touch as much as we can. A healthy dividend from the investments I made using the settlement from the trucking company gave him a good start out there. Physically, though, I see him once or twice a year if I’m lucky.”
Wendy thought about that. Chris was an independent soul, but now approaching his golden years and spending them alone … she understood being alone, and it was all she’d wanted after her failed marriage and attempt at having a family.
“It’s not good to be alone.”
“It’s sure no fun, that’s for sure,” Chris agreed as their food arrived.
Wendy closed her eyes as the plate was placed in front of her, inhaling the aroma. “Mmm, smells wonderful.” She used her fork to break open her twice-baked potato. “It completely amazes me you stayed single.”
“I’m a todd,” Chris said with a shrug. “A male fox or wolf loses his mate .. ”
“ … he stays single the rest of his life. That’s a touching tradition, but in the twenty-first century it just doesn’t work.” She picked up her fork and picked at her stuffed flounder, studying its flakiness.
“I like tradition,” Chris said as he cut into his bourbon-marinated steak.
“Tradition has its place,” Wendy countered. “Sabrina was a wonderful, wonderful wife for you, and I know how much you loved her. But it’s not right for a guy like you to spend the rest of his life by himself.” She raised a paw. “I know it’s none of my business, but I’m concerned.”
Chris answered with only a nod while he chewed his bite of meat to the corner of his mouth so he could speak. “Not to worry, I appreciate that concern more that you know, Windy.” He finished chewing and swallowed. “I did try, once.”
Wendy shook her head. “It was too soon for both of us. We were both lost and lonely, our motivations were both selfish and rushed; we tried to make it work and that’s why it didn’t, then.”
“Yeah, maybe if we’d waited … ” Chris took a sip of his water. “ … or maybe not.” He looked at Wendy, trying to imagine her as if she had become his second wife. He had to admit, she’d kept herself in remarkable shape, she was aging so gracefully she barely looked as if she’d seen 50 yet, let alone 40. She was still a vixen who could turn heads in a way that would make a television evangelist repent for real.
As they ate they continued to catch up and learn what each other had been up to for these past years. Chris learned more from Wendy, his penchant for being a good listener and a gentleman coupled with her inbred female willingness to talk. All in all, dinner went along way too fast.
As the waiter took their empty plates, Wendy placed one last order. “Two Irish coffees, please.” After he left Wendy touched the back of Chris’ paw. “I’ve come to enjoy one of those once in a while, especially after a meal like this one. It’s very relaxing.”
Chris sat back in his chair and forced a burp back down where it’d come from. “I haven’t had one of those in ages. That’s a wonderful idea. Although my doctor’s gonna yell at me, between gin, wine, Irish whiskey … ”
Wendy’s eyes got bigger. “You’re having medical problems?” she asked. “You never said anything.”
“On purpose, I wasn’t going to screw up this evening. Besides, an occasional adult beverage is good for you, it’s been proven.” He saw the concern on Wendy’s brow deepening, so he confessed. “I had a stroke some months back. But I’m recouped and much better now.”
“I had no idea!” Wendy exclaimed. “My God, a stroke??”
Chris nodded. “Luckily I had friends visiting; they were just gearing up to leave when it happened. Timing, eh?”
“Yeah, I’ll say.” Then, “Should you even be having this then?”
Chris leaned into the table. “It’ll be my sister-in-law who gets in trouble if I get yelled at, she signed my release papers from the nursing home.” He winked. “Besides, I’m due to be released, so I must be better, yeah?”
He never paid attention to the fact that their fingers had intertwined.
Wendy still looked concerned. “I guess so … ” A thought crossed her mind. “Is she still your sister-in-law?” she asked. “I mean, considering you’re no longer, well, you know … ”
“As far as I’m concerned, she’ll always be my sister-in-law,” Chris declared. “Heck, I practically watched her grow up, I can’t think of her as anything but family.”
Shortly their Irish coffees arrived, the tops thick with whipped cream, the ridges tinted green with a liqueur.
The conversation had lulled as they sipped at their coffees, each laughing at the other for the colored whipped cream on their muzzles.
“Y’know something Chris, I’ve been thinking.”
Wendy cradled her coffee with her fingertips on the table top. She searched for the words she wanted to use. Nothing to shock, that wasn’t her intent.
It took a few moments.
“You know … ”
Chris raised an eyebrow over one lens of his eyeglasses.
“You’d really like Vermont.”
Inwardly she felt herself cringe.
Chris smiled, and shook his head. “I’m sure I would.”
Wendy waited for the word. She knew it was coming.
“But … ”
“Think about it,” she pitched, purposefully metering her voice learned from years of practice with investment counselors and business furs of her own, “I’m financially well-off. I have this huge house, huge grounds, near a thriving community … you’d wont for nothing at all. You’ve worked hard and earned your retirement, and with a medical condition it’s not a good idea for you to be on your own.”
Chris had to take this all in. Wendy was offering him something absolutely generous, and what most males would dream of. And it was just at this moment that he not only noticed their fingers entwined, but felt the gentle squeeze of Wendy’s paw.
“I … I couldn’t. That’s a wonderful offer, but … ”
“Your words,” Wendy said, “used to be, ‘anything before the ‘but’ is B.S.’.”
Chris shook his head. “Oh trust me Windy, it’s not B.S. But seriously, I have a house.”
Wendy shrugged. “Which you could make a rental property and use it as a money-earner. Or you can give it to Alan, or Tabitha.”
Yeah, I could … “I have too much stuff.”
“I have plenty of room. Plus there’s always self-storage.”
There was a brief pause as Chris digested this all.
Wendy smiled at him. “Now what’s your excuse?”
Chris could feel his head swim a little. He could also feel a well of anxiety building in the pit of his stomach. “Windy, I’m pretty set in my ways ... ”
“I appreciate that.” Wendy pulled herself closer. “I’d never ask you to change anything. The companionship would be good for you, for both of us.”
She chose her words very carefully at this point, her soft fluffy tail subconsciously bouncing against the floor behind her. “I’m not going to lie to you Chris, a very large part of me never stopped loving you. And I’m not trying to corner you into the idea of eventual marriage. You’d come and go as you wished, you’d be your own fox just as you are now.” She gently squeezed his paw again. “The only difference is that you wouldn’t be alone anymore, and neither would I.”
Chris was beginning to wonder if he should’ve asked for his Irish coffee to have been a double. For the moment, it went forgotten. “Windy, what you’re offering … I don’t know what to think … it’s so generous, it’s hard to fathom. And I’d be lying too if I said I didn’t still love you, I do … but I’d be … ”
It took a moment before he could finally say the word, “… cheating.”
“Oh, Chris.” Wendy released her fingers from his and just stroked the lightly graying fur on the top of his paw. “I don’t want to sound like I’m being cold or selfish, but Sabrina’s been gone for a very long time. You need to let go; believe me, I know how hard it is to do that to someone you’ve loved so much. I promise you, you’re not cheating.”
It was deep down in his heart that he felt it. Wendy’s words joined a chorus from his doctor, Alan, Tabitha, Endora, Susan Felin, Dexter and Angel … all people he respected and believed. The only person he’d refused to believe was himself. He knew what she and everyone had said was true, but …
That’s what always seemed to get in the way. Another “but”.
Chris felt foolish, he was becoming misty-eyed in front of his date. Wendy was too, but the offer was being presented to him, an offer to have a new life, what was left of it. Reaching around he unashamedly removed his pawkerchief and slid a corner beneath each corrective lens and dried his eyes.
“I know … ” He replaced the pawkerchief in his hip pocket. “I know I’d be a fool if I turned such a wonderful offer down. I just plain don’t know what to say.”
Wendy nodded an understanding nod.
Chris let it run through his head once more: a new, larger home. No neighbors, better scenery. Comfort, freedom. And a beautiful vixen to see every day. A companion, a friend, a … a lover, maybe? Someday?
He had to let one other thought breeze through his vulpine brain.
Chris and Wendy Foxx.
He had to think. He had to think long and hard.
And he knew that’s also what screws a lot of wonderful ideas up.
He took Wendy’s paw in both of his, and squeezed it.
End of Chapter Twelve
This Way to Chapter 13