User:Jetfire/The Bear Facts
|Paradise story universe|
|Works by Jetfire on Shifti|
The Bear Facts
Shiloh grunted and lifted the heavy case of recording equipment into the back of the van. She shoved it to one side and pulled her own bag forward, rummaging around inside it. Finding the mic and recorder, she pocketed them and slammed the back of the van shut. She pushed the airport baggage cart back to a corral.
The raccoon climbed into the front seat of the van and turned it on, turning up the heat. Even fur couldn't completely cut out the chill of a Newfoundland spring evening. She adjusted the seat so her tail was only mildly cramped instead of completely crimped, and clipped the mic to the collar of her shirt.
"Recorder? Check. Maps? Check. Water? Check. Snacks? Check," she mumbled to herself preparing to hit the road. Satisfied that all was in order, she put the car in gear and followed the directions to the road to Corner Brook.
"Personal journal, May 27. Well it's about 9PM local time now, and I'm back on the Rock, just leaving Stephenville. As usual, the weather is lousy," she paused and flicked the wipers to a faster speed as a gust of freezing rain hit the windshield. "and I've got to figure out how to spin this story both for the Changed and for the norms.
"So far the story has stayed fairly quiet while others have worked to bring the man back to life. But local and other media have been sniffing at it. With him being a Changed who's not used to the spotlight, the risk is simply too great he'll reveal something he shouldn't talking to Normal reporters.
"Thus, I found myself called off the oil discoveries in Saskatchewan and flown back to the Rock to talk to the Haywards and prepare a story safe for the normal media. Hopefully once the initial news shock fades, combined with their remote home location, there won't be many norms poking around. WHOA!
She felt a gust of wind hit the side of the van and the wheels begin to slip on the road. She twisted the wheel and got the vehicle back under control. She eased her paw off the pedals and let the van slow a bit more while she calmed down.
"Anyways, I'm staying in Corner Brook tonight. Gonna do some more research and then meet the Haywards out at Lark Harbour tomorrow. Now I'm gonna stop talkin' before I talk myself right off this damned highway."
She flicked the recorder off and peered ahead through the darkness. The high-beams of an approaching vehicle blinded her a moment before he shifted back to low-beams. She blinked the stars from her eyes, cursing under her breath. "I hate two lane highways," she grumbled, bracing herself as another glow approached, partly hidden by a hill in the road.
She pulled off the side of the road and took out her camera. The reporter climbed out of the vehicle and walked ahead, turning the camera on to film some establishing shots. Voice overs could be added later, covering any story from the restoration of the fishing industry, to the story on the furries living in small remote villages and towns.
The sky overhead was overcast, threatening showers like most spring days did. Weather reports, for what they were worth out here, weren't expecting any significant rainfall until the evening.
A headland extended out into the dark sea, both clear of snow and ice now, but blocks of white ice dotted the horizon where the open ocean lurked.
Below the headland, nestled in the curve of a rocky beach, was a village of about four hundred people, going about their business as usual. She wasn't an expert on fishing communities by any stretch of the imagination, but there did seem to be a lot of new-looking gear and equipment around the village. Signs of the reopening fisheries most likely.
Judging she had enough establishing footage, she climbed back into her van and checked the map. Rebeca's instructions were clear, not that there were many roads to get lost on.
She drove down the gravel road that bent around a large hill, and finally saw the residence, nestled in a slight valley, it's back against the forest. The house itself was new, but built in the style of the salt box style that made up the village nearby. Two trucks and a car were parked in front of a large combination garage and storage shed. The driveway itself continued past the shed into the woods where she could just make out the framework of something being built.
Shiloh beeped the horn twice, then turned the vehicle off and stepped out. Her ears swiveled a bit, picking up hints of conversation and construction coming from the site deeper into the woods. She was beginning to think she'd have to move in deeper when the front door of the house opened.
A normal woman walked out, dressed for the weather and carrying a covered basket. "How's she goin' b'y? You must be the reporter Becky said was coming out. Come on in and make yerself at home. I gotta go fetch the others," she called out to the reporter.
Shiloh hid a frown that threatened to show on her muzzle, annoyed at the presence of the woman. The agreement for the interviews had been to have no normals around, yet here was one. In the back of her mind, she placed the woman's accent, the normal Newfie dialect, tempered from the city, probably St John's. "So this is the Hayward residence? I'm Shiloh, the reporter as you guessed."
The woman smiled. "It sure is. Get your gear and take it right on in. I'll go fetch the others." She walked down the steps and headed towards the path before stopping and glancing back. "Now don't you be thinking of swiping anything while you're in there alone," she said with an exaggerated wink.
Shiloh stood there a moment, wondering what to make of the comment, and wondering what she had got herself into. She shook her head and started grabbing her gear, her mind moving ahead, reviewing her question lines and figuring out which ones were too furry to ask in normal company.
"Can I give you a hand with that?" a new male voice asked her, jolting her back to the present.
'Newfie native, only slight urban polish', she mentally classified the accent, turning to face the speaker. She fought down another groan, seeing a normal man waiting for permission to grab the camera case. "Sure, if you don't mind," she granted, grabbing a bag of cables and her note pad. One normal she might have been able to make excuses to send away, but two made things extra difficult. She briefly toyed with the idea of rescheduling to another day.
"I don't mind at all. Name's Richard. Me girl, Sherry, met me on the path and told me you was here," he explained, hefting the camera and grabbing the tripod case. He waited for her to close the doors of the van, chuckling when she hit the lock button on the remote out of habit.
"So you're the cub reporter sent out to break our story," he commented as he lead her to the house.
"The what?... err yeah I guess so," she recovered, swishing her tail in annoyance. Richard seemed to find something amusing about her irritation, but she couldn't figure out what. The names clicked from the briefing on the discovery; the two had been with the furs when Eric found Fred. There hadn't been any mention about them knowing the truth though.
The house was somewhat sparse, but well lived in. Her nose easily picked up the scents of wolf, ferret and bear, along with the smells of a hot meal from the kitchen. To the side of the door, was a mat with normal looking footwear and a couple of pairs of boots she recognized from Furgonomics. She was surprised to see them out in the open like that. She tried to hide them with her own bag as she crouched to take her own shoes off.
"Nah, don't bother. Becky said not to mind yer shoes," Richard assured her, setting the camera case down at the base of the stairs. "They'll be here soon. Didn't want to leave that sheet half nailed up after all."
"Sure, thanks," Shiloh said, her eyes and nose taking in the house. The big room to her right had been redone into a temporary bedroom. From the strong smells coming from it, it seemed to be where Fred was staying for now. Ahead of her, was a staircase leading to the second floor and the bedrooms and whatever else would be up there. On her right, another large room served as the family room, the couch moved closer to the TV to make room for a misplaced desk and office setup.
Richard looked around the entry and the two side rooms and hm'ed to himself. "You'll probably want to do the interviews outside. Fred's sleeping in the old office right now, which makes the living room rather cramped. Dining room's not much better. But you're the expert at this. Let me give you the nickel tour."
He lead her through the living room and into a dining room, the table covered in paperwork, some Coast Guard related, most lawyer related from the brief glance Shiloh could see. The dining room lead into the kitchen where her nose told her a cooked fish of some sort was in the oven. Other pots simmered on the stove. The kitchen table here was cleared and set for five. A closed door lead into the former office, and another door lead to a combined laundry and bathroom.
"Mmmm nice to be getting this on the cheap again," Richard said, inhaling deeply. "Sherry's cod's not quite as good as ma's, but it's damn close."
"It does smell delicious," Shiloh admitted, a flash of white out the window catching her eye. She moved to the sink and looked out, spying three figures walking through the forest, heading to the back door. The white was from the fur of the arctic wolf. Beside him, a brown furred ferret, with black paws and a black mask walked. On his other side, strode the first woman she had seen at the house. Laughter reached her ears through the open window.
She tapped her claw on the side of the sink, studying the trio. Something about them was setting her instincts off, and she couldn't figure out what. Her eyes drifted lower and everything fit together. She stamped down a grin and turned to the door to greet her interview subjects. She would not need to change her question lines after all.
"Shiloh, this is Eric and his fiancé, Rebeca. And since she probably forgot to introduce herself in her rush to leave, that is my girl, Sherry," Robert introduced them.
She reached out and shook hands and paws. "Good to meet you," she said. She took Sherry's now empty hand and grinned. "Don't worry, this raccoon's got no interest in swiping your silverware. I'm just after your information."
Sherry's face fell, and she mock glared at Richard. "You warned her!" she accused.
He held up his hands defensively. "I did not! I didn't hint a thing!"
Shiloh smiled, glad to have pulled one over on them, since they'd clearly been planning to pull one over on her. "He didn't, he's... mostly innocent. Eric and Rebeca tipped me off. They forgot to put on shoes today, even ghost ones, and none of you even noticed."
The group chuckled and began to move about the kitchen, preparing lunch.
"Well, welcome to our home in any case. And thank you for offering to help us make Da's big announcement. I doubt he's in any condition to handle a full press scrum. Not if we want to keep the Veil intact at least," Rebeca said, her accent similar to the Newfies, but reflecting her upbringing on Cape Breton.
"Of course. I love the Rock anyways. It certainly beats doing another story on those oil fields out in Saskatchewan. Or another Olympics story in BC." Shiloh glanced out the window, looking for another sign of movement. One hand slipped into her pocket to turn on the recorder. "Where is Mr Hayward anyways? He isn't sick is he?"
Eric shook his head. "Nah, he prefers to eat alone when he can. And it takes him some time to prepare himself before he meets strangers. Seven years of isolation and some bear instincts make him just a bit antisocial. Luckily we're far enough from major population centers that being social isn't a big requirement. He'll be along in his own time."
Shiloh nodded. 'Rural Newfie, no city veneer when among friends. DAMN I'm gonna need to subtitle the entire interview at this rate,' she mentally classified his accent and its implications.
"No problem, seeing you all together now, I think I'd rather start by talking to you first, and bring him in later. I can always reorder it in edit it afterwards depending on how things go," she explained.
"Eat first, business second," Sherry said, forcing a plate into Shiloh's paws and giving her a gentle shove to the table.
She sat down and waited for the others to settle down and say a brief Grace. "So I take it you looked me up when you heard I was coming or something? Mmmm this is delicious."
"More or less. I remembered you from that announcement in January, and Becky looked up the rest. Not that it would have mattered. Sherry can see through the Veil," Eric explained.
Shiloh lifted her eyebrows and looked at Sherry. "You can? That's a very rare ability, to see clearly."
The woman blushed and swallowed. "Yeah, I have no idea what makes me special. I mean, my twin changed but I didn't, so I figure it might be related to that or something but..." she shrugged.
The reporter let the thread drop and listened as the conversation moved around her, doing her best to get used to the accents so she'd be ready for the task ahead of her.
"So that building out back, I take it you're making a new place for your dad?" Shiloh asked during a lull in the conversation.
Eric nodded, sipping a cold beer. "Yeah, the house is big enough for the three of us, but he likes his own area, and Becky and I have to think of our own futures too. A place out back, far enough away to offer privacy, but close enough that he doesn't become a complete recluse is going to work well."
She nodded and waited a beat, to try and see if any more was coming, or any other topics were coming up. She decided it was time to give them an overview.
"Okay, well then, I'll go over more details once we get started, but I'd like to give you an overview of what the interviews will be like. I'll be asking you questions, about your lives, what set you off to look for Fred, what you did to find him, and what it's been like to have him back. Please be honest with your responses.
"Since I'm basically doing two interviews, one intended for general use, I will repeat questions, and I'll indicate if I want you to downplay and hide the furry elements. If you can't figure out how to answer a question without mentioning the Change, or your furred natures just say so, we can work out an answer, or try approaching the question from a different angle that may make it easier.
"When I ask a question, wait until I finish before answering. It'll make it easier for me to edit the pieces together if we aren't talking over each other.
"The official story for your father is that he was dazzled by the snow and ice out there and wandered away from his crew and got lost, including losing his hat. Luckily for him, he wandered across the ice, westward until he reached land. Somewhere along the line, he had an accident, a conk on the noggin, and forgot who he was and where he was trying to get to. So once he reached land, he found a cave, set up home and lived there in isolation until you found him."
She noted the expressions on the quartet and held up her paw. "I know, I know, not the best of stories. Any sailor worth their salt up here would believe it as far as they could throw their boat. But it'll play well on the Mainland and it's enough to get him back in the Living in the government systems.
"Lets just hope we can hold off CTV and CBC from doing a 'Movie of the Week' on it until more change and the REAL story can come out."
Eric nodded, still unhappy with the story, but accepting it. He stood up and gathered some of the plates. "Well, we're wasting daylight now. Where do you want to set up for the interview?"
She stood as well and picked up her plate to help with the cleanup. Sherry reached over and snatched it from her paws. "Leave the cleanup to us; you have some preparations to do," she told the raccoon.
"Fine, fine. As for the interview, I had hoped to do it inside, but you don't really have the space. Not for five of you. I'll check around outside and try to pick a spot, but probably next to your garage will be best. The ground looks dry enough there, and the garage itself is a neutral enough colour to act as a backdrop. I just need to check the light levels."
Rebeca started wrapping up the leftovers. "Okay, Eric, why don't you go check on your father. Richard, help Shiloh with what you need. Sherry and I can finish the cleanup here, and we'll get some clean shirts for you two and Da."
Richard and the reporter headed back to the front of the house and gathered the equipment. Together, they went to the garage. Shiloh walked around it slowly, scanning the building and the area with an experienced eye.
"Okay, we'll need to move the cars back, shut the door and get five chairs. This is probably the best angle we can go with, right in front of the doors," she announced. She rummaged in the bags and pulled out a light meter, and frowned. "We're going to need more light though. And not that sodium bulb over the door."
"What about the truck's lights? He's got spots over the cab," Richard pointed out. "We've got some work spotlights out at the construction site too; I could call Eric and ask him to bring them in."
Shiloh thought the options over and nodded. "Those would work. Bring'em in."
Together, they assembled a makeshift studio in front of the garage, setting up the two cameras she brought, placing chairs and running power cables to plugs in the house and garage.
"Four throat mics, six speakers. This isn't going to work," Shiloh was musing to herself, trying to figure out how to stretch her supplies.
"Where do yah want da lights?" a deep voice growled for her attention.
She jumped, dropping a battery pack. Turning to the speaker, she saw a chest of white. Her eyes lifted up and up and up until she finally saw a dark nose and the rounded face of the polar bear. She locked eyes with him for a moment and felt a cold shiver ran down her spine.
"Um over there please," she pointed vaguely, trying to recenter herself. She'd dealt with large furs before, from Wallace the moose prison guard, to the Inuit Muskox in Yellowknife, and they'd never been a problem for her. She'd even dealt with predators and bears before; the black bear in Richmond BC had been a really pleasant to interview. But Fred was different. His eyes had something she'd never seen before. She now realized her other subjects all had one thing in common that Fred didn't have; they had all kept their ties to civilization after they changed.
This man of a bear was different though. He had gone native soon after changing, and was only a few weeks back in human life. His eyes especially were inhuman. They were intelligent, scarily intelligent, but they showed a patient hunter waiting for the need and the opening to make his move.
She watched the bear easily set down the pair of heavy worklights he was carrying and stand them up.
"Shiloh, I'd like you to meet my father. Fred Hayward. Da, this is the reporter we told you about, Shiloh Watson. She's going to keep your return from becoming a media circus," Eric introduced them.
"As opposed to the normal circus this house usually is," Richard commented dryly, earning a glare from Eric.
"A pleasure to meet you, sir," Shiloh said politely, offering her hand. She barely winced as it was engulfed in the white paw and squeezed.
"Thank you," the big man rumbled, releasing her hand.
She smiled at him and turned shaking her paw in the air once it was hidden by her body. "Now, lets get this together. Fred, do you mind sitting on a box instead of a chair? We need to equalize your heights a bit. I need those lights up now, and pointed to the chairs."
She set the three men to work to finish the setup. The girls came out soon enough, with flannel shirts for the wolf and bear to put on, which forced her to readjust the lighting again.
She glanced up at the thickening cloud cover and clapped her paws together. "Okay people, I think that's as good as this is gonna get. Lets get into position and get ready. Fred, you're on the end, Eric next to him then Becky and Sherry and Richard. Richard, I'm going to need your help with this."
"Me? What do you need me for?"
"I need your unChanged eyes, to make sure the cameras are centered in the right positions, and to make sure we aren't busting the field unintentionally. Normally I'd have a techie with me to handle this sort of stuff, but we weren't able to scare up a Known one in time. I was just going to wing it, but since you're here, you're drafted."
Richard looked a little disappointed. "So you won't be interviewing me too?"
She chuckled. "Sure I will. You'll be on camera with the rest of them most of the time. I just need your help to make sure I don't cut off ghost heads by mistake. Places please people.
"This camera is the overview one. It won't move through the interview, but provides the big group shot. Please try not to look at it," she explained, pointing to the centered camera while adjusting the seating positions.
"The other camera is for closeups. I'll be controlling that one and using it to focus on you when answering questions. That is the one you want to look at, but you don't have to look at it all the time. If it helps, look at me behind it when answering. Richard, can you come take a look at this?"
She looked at a pair of screens set up near the cameras and adjusted the main camera. "Are any of the fur's cut off or anything? I'm centered on their trueforms now."
Richard looked at the screen, then back up at the people sitting. "You're a bit low on Eric and Becky. Not much though. Fred's fine."
"He's fine?" Shiloh asked, disbelievingly. She looked up at the big mass of a man-bear at the end of the group. "You must have been a big man before you changed, sir."
"I was," the man rumbled, uncomfortable under the lights and attention.
She shooed Richard back to his seat and adjusted the closeup camera. Finally, she checked the sound levels from the four throat mics and the hand mic she'd scrounged up for Richard and Sherry to share. "Sorry for the delay everyone. It's a lot for one person to do. But considering your situation and our subject, an UnKnown tech wouldn't work. You have no idea how many tech's and cameramen have become or almost become Known because they were filming Changed.
"Remember, answer normally and truthfully. Don't hide your true nature. If I need a non-furry take on a question, I'll mention it. And if you don't feel like answering a question, just say so and we'll move on. I'm on your side here after all. The questions may seem to be in a weird order, but don't worry about it. I have to cut this down to a five minute article and a two minute clip anyways, so most of it will never be seen past my eyes anyways."
She started the interview, focusing mostly on the quartet of friends first to give Fred time to get used to how it would work. She was surprised to discover they had only known each other a few months; from their interactions she would have guessed they had been together for years. Most of the questions she knew wouldn't apply for the final cuts so she didn't press when furryness slipped into the answer. There were a few questions that had to be answered non-furried.
"Okay Eric, lets try that question again, this time for the norms. Feel free to drop into cliches if you need to. What made you so certain your father was still alive out there for you to find?"
She zoomed in on the wolf, staying far enough back to catch the other two furs looking at him for the answer. "It's hard to say what made me so certain. 7 years, that's a long time after all. I guess I just had a hard time giving up on him. He was the master outdoorsman all while we were growing up. I couldn't accept that the outdoors had finally gotten him. So I put out feelers basically, not sure what I was looking for exactly, and eventually, rumors of a hermit living far far from anyone else got to me and I had to look into it."
She gave him a thumbs up and shifted to the bear. "Fred, when Eric finally found you, what were your thoughts?" She wanted to use the second half of the interview to focus on the bear, but she tossed a few questions his way to keep him in the discussion and to draw him out more. Her attempts were working.
The bear hesitated, gathering his thoughts. She worried he had frozen again, but his rumbling voice spoke up.
"Confusing. That's what my thoughts were at first. Who was that creature? Why was he in my territory?Why was he so persistent? I didn't recognize him at first, but then he showed me the picture and things started coming back to me." She nodded approvingly when, without prompting, he pointed to the picture they had set up on a covered table next to his crate. It wasn't the actual picture Eric had taken, but a blown up version the family had made afterwards.
"Then there was more confusion. What was he doing there? What had happened to him? Was Jeffrey okay?"
"And finally there was relief. I wasn't alone any more. I wasn't the only monster out there."
She nodded, making a mental reminder to cut the last line out for the public record.
"Eric, what about you? What were your thoughts as you approached that cave?"
The wolf tilted his head while he thought over his answer. "They were a mess, that's what they were. I had my doubts about if it really was him. And worries that he might not even be there, or that I couldn't convince him that I was his son. And I was scared shitless that I might do something to anger him. I've read up on polar bears, seen dad's work first hand out on the ice, and heard rumors of an incident with another bear out west, and I didn't fancy the thought of being mauled."
"An incident with another bear?" Shiloh asked, her curiosity piqued.
He shrugged. "It's all rumors from what I could discover. Something about a bear morph out west in the States, and how he may have killed someone in his house. Happened a few years ago I think."
She made a physical note to not forget about it, and moved on to a few more questions on other subjects. Finally she called a break.
"You're doing great guys. Take ten while I make sure everything's recording right. When we get back, I'll be focusing more on you Fred, and your life on the ice and in the woods."
The family and friends got up and stretched, some wandering back to the house. Becky brought out a tray with cups of coffee and ice water. Shiloh took the mug of coffee and nodded her thanks, sipping it black. She plugged in a set of headphones and randomly checked the recorded scenes, nodding in satisfaction. She reset the equipment to prepare for the next half and wandered over to the others.
"How are you all holding up?" she asked, casting a purposeful look at Fred.
"Doing fine," he growled softly.
She sipped her own drink. "Good good. No need to rush, the rain's holding off," she said, glancing up at the clouds.
Eric flicked his ears and sniffed the air. "Not for too much longer. But we should have a good hour before it breaks."
"Right, okay then, in that case lets get this done before we get rained on. Places please."
After a few final checks, she started the cameras and nodded to Fred. "Okay Fred, lets go back to late 2000. If you don't mind, can you share a few words about your change? What were you thinking back then and that sort of thing."
The polar bear seemed nervous at first, not sure where to begin. Shiloh waited, letting him go at his own speed.
"It's been a long time, but I guess I was concerned... concerned and worried. I was worried about what I saw myself as, wondering if it was all in my mind. I quickly figured out that it wasn't. Then I worried about what my boys would do if they saw me... and what they would do if I was gone. They were still in school, and it was only two years since Mary left us," he lowered his head in mourning for a moment, then continued.
"When they couldn't see me... the real me, I only became more confused. These claws, they were real, and very strong, yet they only saw the old me. I didn't know what to make of it.
"I began to worry ma boys would get whatever I caught, and started to distance myself from them. I couldn't cut them loose, not completely, but I left them more and more to their own devices. Eric, he had a good head on his shoulders, I knew he could keep him and Jeff together, but it wasn't easy I know."
"It's okay da. I understand what it was like for you now. I can't even begin to imagine what it was like for you to do it alone," Eric comforted his father, squeezing a paw.
"So you took care of your boys while trying to keep away from them, to keep them safe. What made you decide to go sealing the next spring?" Shiloh asked.
"Well, the winter, she was difficult. The house was too hot for me, but I tried to hide it. I became less worried about the boys catching whatever changed me, and more worried that I might hurt them in other ways. These claws aren't just for show after all.
"By spring, I'd read up on polar bears and I had to know. How much of me was bear and how much of me was me. I'd never gone sealing before, but I'd been fishing and crabbing and hunting, so I didn't have trouble getting on that crew and heading out to the ice.
"We found a small colony pretty early on, and set out onto the ice. I anchored one end of the line of hunters and we surrounded the colony and moved in for the kill. Jimmy made the first one, not that it mattered much since soon everyone else was in there, swinging and skinning.
"The smell of blood filled the air, and made me feel weird. It made me feel hungry, a hunger I never knew I had before. I looked around the killing ice, and was torn, part of me wanting to go in and eat my fill, another part wanting to scare off the intruders, and another scared about what I was feeling. That last part won out in the end.
"Not wanting to hurt anyone, I ran. I didn't know where I was going, but I just ran, losing my hat, not that I needed it." He laughed nervously. "All that and I didn't even kill a seal that day.
"A storm rolled in soon after I ran and I knew I was in trouble. I should've gone back to the ship, but my feelings were a mess. I didn't know if I could go back there, with all that blood and meat, and keep control of myself.
"I took shelter in the lee of a chunk of ice and waited the storm out. I knew it was cold out there, but it didn't feel bad at all for me. I could barely feel the wind except on my face, and even that wasn't too bad.
"When the storm was over, I backtracked, to where we had done the first kills. I found the blood and some left overs, all covered in a thin sheet of ice, but the ship was gone. I was alone on the ice pack."
The bear fell silent for a moment. Shiloh let it hold, moving the camera over the rapt expressions on the other four before urging him to continue. "What did you do after you discovered you were abandoned?"
The big bear-man shrugged. "I did the only thing I could do. I shifted to survival mode. I was beginning to feel ravenous by then, so I started to chip out some of the bloody ice when I heard something crying over the winds. I found a white coat at the edge of the ice. I know I shouldn't have hunted it, but it was either me or him, and I was bigger.
"From there, I figured I had to find another ship to head back to shore on. We had landed in the middle of the pack, so one direction was as good as another, so I set out, following the edge of the ice pack, looking for another ship.
"I lost track of time and place, just wandering out there, on the edge of the pack. When I got hungry, I would follow my nose and the signs on the ice until I found another seal. It wasn't until I saw land across an open stretch of water that I realized how far I had to have gone. I wasn't lost exactly, but I just wasn't paying attention to where I was.
"Had I thought about it, I probably would never have done it. But my fur was getting grimy and it just seemed so natural. For the first time, I dove into the water and swam to shore. Don't get me wrong, that water was COLD, but not as cold as I expected. To be honest, it felt great, and drove home just how different I was."
Shiloh glanced around to make sure the equipment was working fine. She didn't want to interrupt the bear's narrative too much with side questions, nor did anyone else. "So what did you do once you reached shore?" she prodded him to continue.
"Turns out the land I saw was an island. Anticosti if I remember right. I found an isolated area near the sea and set up my base there. There really isn't much to say about it though, I just worked on living, catching some deer and rodents and foraging and stuff."
"You weren't interested in finding others any more?"
He shook his head. "I think my mind went a bit fuzzy from being alone for so long. Sometimes I'd get close to the village, or go near some hikers and campers in the summer, just to hear them talk, but I never felt the need to approach them. I missed my boys, but I was satisfied out there. And I figured the rest of the world was safe from what had made me like this if I kept myself away from them."
"So what were your days like?"
"It depends on where I was. When I was on the ice, it was just wandering around, star gazing at night, hunting during the day.
"When I was on land, I still did a lot of star gazing, but I also took up wood carving, when I wasn't foraging and hunting. And sometimes hanging out near other campers and such as I mentioned before."
"You weren't found on Anticosti island. You were found on the Labrador Peninsula. What made you move?"
"Luck I guess. Good or bad is anyone's guess. Though I set up a small camp on the island, I wasn't particularly tied to it. And in the winter, I found myself spending a lot of time out on the ice and in the water anyways. A few years or so ago, the ice wasn't as thick as it normally is, so I wandered further and further north. When it was time to go to shore for the spring, I was no where near where I usually was. So I cut my loses and made a new camp, in the cave where I was found."
"Speaking of where you were found, what were you thinking when they found you? I understand you tried to warn them away ahead of time?"
He lowered his head and nodded. "I found their camp near my cave late that night. I wasn't in a particularly good mood either that day. A deer I'd been hunting had gotten away from me after a chase. I was tired, hungry and in a foul mood.
"I had no idea who they were at the time, just that they were intruders. So when one of them... when Richard went off by himself I warned him away. Had I known Eric was with them, I'd've just turned around and kept walking. That boy's got his mama's stubborn streak and then some," he grinned at his son.
"Speaking of your son, what did you feel when you realized it was him who had tracked you down?"
"I didn't believe it at first. That wolf man couldn't be him. There couldn't be more like me out there. Then I was saddened, sad that I hadn't been able to keep what happened to me from happening to him. And then as he told me everything that he'd been doing I was proud. Proud of what he had done, and what he was doing, both before and after he Changed."
"Do you have any regrets? Anything you wish you could undo?"
The bear took a long time pondering his answer. "I regret leaving my boys like that. For not being with them all those years. For not being able to tell them how proud I was of them for doing what they did."
Shiloh smiled and zoomed in on the wolf, catching Eric's mix of embarrassment and pride at his fathers comments.
"Now that you're back, what are your plans?" she asked after letting Eric wiggle a bit.
"I plan to take my time, get used to the changes going on in the world. Maybe head out on the ice or the boats again, now that I know I'm not a freak nor am I a risk to change anyone else. No matter what I do, I know I'll have a home waiting for me here, and I will use it.
"I also plan to make sure I don't miss any more events. Eric and Becky, a fine young lady for my boy, have their wedding coming up. And Jeff will be graduating next year. Plus he's got his own Change coming sometime. I'll be there for them, and anything else that comes up."
Shiloh nodded and shifted her line of questions, bringing the other four back into the discussion with some easier questions while she mentally reviewed Fred's story. She asked a few more questions about his story, giving him hints about what to say to hide his true nature. Finally, as the mist thickened in the air, verging on rain, she called it.
"Thanks guys, that is more than enough," she announced, turning off the cameras with a flourish.
"So you've got everything you need for the news hounds? Enough to keep them away?" Becky asked.
She nodded. "It'll take me a few days to do the cutting and organizing, but the TV networks will have their blurbs. And I'll have someone I trust do some transcribing to send to the papers. You might get some local reporters swinging by for more flavour, but the big guys will just take what we put out on the wires."
"That was a lot of filming for a fairly short interviews. Did you really need all that?" Richard asked, joining her to help start packing up.
She grinned and wrapped up some cabling. "It's the nature of the biz. But I admit, I do have an ulterior motive. The Field is going to fall in a few years, one way or another. No one knows when, but eventually there'll be too many Changed to keep it up. And when it comes down, the media's going to want all the stories they can get. I figure I can recut your story for a 15 minute or even a 30 minute block on W-FIVE or the fifth estate. Worst comes to worst, Discovery will want it eventually. When that day comes, they'll probably be by to do a 'where are they now' update, but the bulk of it will be what we did today."
Packing up went much faster than unpacking did. Soon enough they had her van reloaded, and everything else put away, just as the mist thickened into actual rain.
Shiloh started to say her good-byes to the family and friends.
"Are you sure you can't stay for tea and sweets?" Becky asked as they shook paws.
She smiled. "I really wish I could, but I have a lot of editing to do and not much time to do it in. I need to get back to Corner Brook and get at least the first few passes done while it's all still fresh in my mind. Thank you for the offer."
She moved on and took the big bear's paw in her own hands. "And thank you for sharing your story, sir. It really was fascinating."
The man grunted and smiled at her. She finished talking with the others and climbed into her car. With a wave out the window, she turned around and set off for the road, her mind already piecing together the various articles she had to make.
"I'm sorry, Miss Watson, I can't let you into the lodge. Your name is not on the list. This group was quite insistent that no one not on the list was allowed into their meetings," the normal secretary at the entrance of the building told her again.
Shiloh fought down the urge to hiss and stopped herself before her claws dug too deep into the counter. "Your list is out of date. Please send someone to find Martha Goodwin. She'll let you know I'm cleared," she said through gritted teeth, ears pressed back. Between the flight delays coming out of Chicago, her rental car's map system getting lost trying to guide her here, and now this immovable host, her patience was worn down to the last stripe on her tail.
"Did I hear my name?" a new voice interrupted the stalemate. A human woman walked through the doorway into the halls beside the desk.
"Mrs Goodwin. I'm sorry for the disturbance, but Miss Watson here is insisting she is part of your group," the host explained.
"Shiloh Watson? The reporter?" Martha asked, squinting a bit while looking at the raccoon.
Shiloh nodded and showed her ID. Martha glanced at it and looked back at the host. Shiloh had the feeling she was being watched from the corner of the woman's eyes. "My apologies, I forgot to send down an updated list. She is a late addition for the meetings this weekend."
"No problem, I'll add her to the lists then. Just a moment please." The host set to work on the computer, while Martha held her hand out to Shiloh.
"I'm sorry for the confusion. How was your flight?"
"Delayed, long and bumpy. There were storm cells moving through the Dakotas that were causing hiccups all through the system. But it's over with now," Shiloh explained shaking the hand.
"Excuse me, which symbol do you want on her badge?" the host interrupted them.
"The paw please. And add 'Press' to it. Miss Watson is here as a reporter." Martha pointed to her own badge and the human hand print in the corner. "Keeps the Known from giving themselves headaches squinting at other Known," she added in a quieter voice.
The host took a sheet of paper off the printer and folded it up, slipping it into a badge holder. He handed it over to Shiloh. "Enjoy the conference."
The reporter nodded her thanks and dropped the badge around her neck, glancing at it to make sure her name was spelled right. The badge itself was simple, her name, with 'PRESS' under it. The top of the badge had the name of the conference, "Good Life, Good Health". She dropped it back down and picked up her camera bag, and followed Martha into the hall.
"We've got about fifty people here this weekend, split roughly equally between Furs and Known. We've got a mix of doctors, nurses, paramedics, techs, vets, and even a Known firefighter. They're coming from across the north western states and western provinces. Basically anyone who knows how to treat injuries professionally and knows about the Change is down here. Anyone that could get the time off that is," Martha explained, leading her deeper into the building.
She sniffed the air, picking up a variety of human and furry scents. Since the Convention, large gatherings were discouraged, but this one was well under the limits guessed at for Field failures. And unlike the Tall Tales Con, the attendees were encouraged to spread their hotel rooms around Helena, hopefully lessening the strain on the Field.
"I'm afraid you missed the general introduction session. We're in smaller groups covering more specific topics that you may or may not be interested in. I can get you an updated list of what the sessions really are about if you want."
"I'd appreciate that. Though I'm mainly here to talk to people individually, get their takes on the difficulties the Change is causing their professions. Maybe even get some tips from the Known like you on what we Changed can do to help you out and spread the word from there."
Martha chuckled, "Well I can tell you one of the main things we'd love to see. We'd love to see species on those bracelets you guys are sporting. Engrave it on the back or something, so when you guys are in the emergency room those of us that Know can make better sense of the ghost reports we see."
Shiloh nodded and tugged a notepad out of her pocket. "Good idea. I'm surprised no one has thought of it before."
"Just one of those 'duh!' moments is all. It wasn't my idea, but someone brought it up this morning and we've been kicking ourselves over it ever since. Considering the secrecy you guys usually try to work under, it's not that surprising you never thought to do it before."
They passed one room with a dozen normals in it, and a nanny goat morph. People were squinting at her, tilting their head, jerking their heads around. Some were even trying to look at her through the red and blue 3-D glasses.
"One of the many sessions we're doing on trying to learn to see past the Veil. Most of us have developed our own tricks to handle it, so those sessions are just brainstorming and see if we can come up with easier ways." Martha explained.
"You can set up in this room. We've got it rented, but didn't need it in the end. We'll be breaking for lunch in fifteen with the meal set up in the main meeting room. I'll have an agenda for you then."
"Thanks Martha." Shiloh walked into the smaller room and quickly assessed it. She began to set up her equipment, finishing just as the rising crowd noise in the hall told her the break had arrived.
Clipping a mic to the collar of her blouse and pocketing a recorder, she stepped out into the hall. She smiled to the people milling about, the furs looking at her curiously but unconcerned, the humans usually casting her a worried look until they could see her name tag clearer. She followed them into the main meeting room.
The room was filling fast, with about a fifty/fifty mix of humans and furs as Martha had described. Most were gathered around the food tables, grabbing sandwiches and salads and other vegetables. Martha spotted her and made her way to the reporter. She passed a sheet of paper over to her, still hot from the printer. "Are you ready to meet your fans?"
Martha raised her voice to cut through the chatter in the room. "Attention please. Can I have your attention please." It took a few moments, but soon most of the eyes were on you. "As I mentioned this morning, we have a reporter coming to do a feature story on us and the difficulties we encounter because of the Change, and to help create some introductory videos for new Changed and Known medics. She was held up a bit by weather, but she is here now and ready to listen to our stories. Please welcome Shiloh Watson."
Polite applause broke out around the room and Shiloh waved. "Thank you, everybody. I'll be here all weekend, so if you have any interesting stories you would like to share with the public, please see me and we can book some time." She paused a moment, seeing two large furs enter the room, talking to each other. The buffalo excused himself and joined the crowd at the table, while the polar bear slumped into a couple of chairs under the AC vents. "I won't keep you any longer, so please enjoy your lunches and I hope to speak with many of you later."
She moved to a side wall of the room and glanced at the agenda, plotting out some sessions she wanted to visit and making slots for interviews. She was interrupted by people wanting to book sessions, and soon her afternoon and the next day were mostly booked.
During a lull she made her own raid on the lunch table, grabbing a glass of water and some food. By her planning, she found herself next to the buffalo morph.
"Doctor Bristol? I was wondering if you might be interested in an interview session later on," she asked, reading his name off the badge.
The buffalo seemed surprised. "Me? I'm afraid I don't have much to say. Despite being changed, not much has happened to me. Not like... some of the other stories I've heard." She noted how he caught himself from saying something else. She moved closer to him, causing him to back up reflexively without realizing it.
"That may be, but you are a practicing hoofed doctor, which is rare in itself. There's just you and the goat from what I've seen. Everyone else here has claws or fingers. Surely you have some insight on the difficulties thicker fingers cause." She began to guide him around the lunch tables to a slightly quieter section of the room.
"I suppose so. It has its difficulties, but it isn't impossible. I mostly do checkups anyways and I can pass the harder stuff off to my assistants."
She held up her paw to stop him. "Save it for the interview please," she laughed.
"Okay, okay, I'll wait. When do you want to talk?"
"I've got an opening tomorrow, just after lunch if you want. It'll only take ten, fifteen minutes I'm sure."
"Sounds good. You know, I'm pretty sure that was cleaned before they put it on the tray."
She blinked at him in surprise, then looked down. While talking, she had picked up a shrimp from the trays and peeled the shell off. It was now half dunked in her water glass, all without thinking about it. She forced herself to put it back on the plate and tried to laugh it off. "I guess they did. It's just a twitch I've developed since I changed."
She moved on quickly. "I saw you walk in with Dr. Clay. Do you know him?" she asked, nodding to the big polar bear. He had gotten a large, meaty sandwich and a glass of ice at some point.
"A little. We met in DC a couple years back, soon after we Changed and found out about others.. We've kept in touch a bit since then, but only by email and stuff." She picked up a bit of hesitation in his voice that set her reporters instincts on high alert.
"So what is he like? Friendly? Gruff? Scary?"
He shrugged his big shoulders. "I don't really know him all that well. But he did seem friendly enough when we talked. Not dangerous at all...."
She sensed there was more. "But?" she prompted him.
"But... we're off the record right? You aren't hearing this from me right?" He glanced around quickly to see if anyone was in easy earshot, but she had managed to get them in a quiet spot.
"We're off the record, feel free to speak."
"Well, let's just say I had never met a real Killer before. Never met anyone who had killed someone else."
She feigned confusion, trying to see how much this doctor knew. "A killer? You mean he lost a patient due to some mistake he made?"
"No, no, no. That sort of thing is tragic when it happens, but we know the risks of our profession. Especially nowadays while we're rewriting Gray's Anatomy for the Changing world." He stole another glance over to the polar bear. "Doctor Clay is different. He killed someone in his own home with his own hands. It was self defense and all that, someone broke into his house and attacked him with a crowbar. But still, one swipe of his hand and the man was dead." The big bison shuddered and drained his drink.
"He seems like a good man, and he's a good doctor from everything I'm hearing out west. He's been doing a lot of good out his way too, finding Doctor Frasier and helping refine our admissions search criteria and stuff. But personally, I'd rather keep my distance from him."
"Thanks Doctor, I'll talk to you later," she said, letting the buffalo go. She popped the shrimp she'd unconsciously washed into her muzzle and studied the polar bear from afar.
He didn't know it, but he was the real reason she was at this conference. Granted, the story she'd be able to make from the conference was gold in and of itself, but the only reason she was here was because he was here. And all because of a stray comment from a Newfie wolf.
Figuring out which bear 'out west' he had meant hadn't been too difficult; there simply weren't that many bears, especially polar bears, in the Changed system yet. Finding the incident had proven to be more difficult. As far as she was able to find, the story had barely gotten a single article in the local paper. Transcripts of news reports in Seattle briefly mentioned it the day it happened, and then nothing. The police records hadn't been helpful either; a system crash had wiped out the electronic records, and no one seemed eager to dig out the paper records of a closed case to fax to her. Her only breakthrough had been at the coroner's office, where someone had managed to find a copy of the autopsy. In hindsight, she was glad she hadn't gotten much more than that.
She watched the bear finish his meal and pondered how best to approach him. Her musing was interrupted by Martha.
"Attention please. Attention please!... Okay the next sessions are starting in about five minutes, so we should start moving to the rooms. Have a good afternoon everyone, and remember the barbecue is scheduled for six. It is being run by lodge workers, so please go easy on the Veil while out there."
Shiloh finished her sandwich and dropped the plate at the end of the table. She followed the crowd into the hallway and headed to her interview room to wait for her first subject.
The man was normal, dressed in a nice shirt and jeans. He wore a ball cap with SLC FD on it. He stared into the camera uncomfortably at first, waiting for Shiloh's cue to start. She counted him down silently and pointed.
"My name is Alan Meech. I'm a member of Battalion Two of the Salt Lake City Fire Department. I am a trained first responder.
"I guess my most interesting story is also the one where I discovered how the world is changing. It was late last fall, fairly early in the morning and the roads were icy. I wasn't even on duty at the time, I'd just dropped my kid off at school and was going to run some errands, when the truck in front of me slid out and rolled off the road.
"I stopped of course and called it in right there. Then I went to see what assistance I could provide. It was weird. I could hear the driver groaning, but it also sounded like he was bleating or something. That was probably the first sign that something was different. The first sign I remember at least.
"The driver was hurt, but his injuries didn't seem too bad. Thankfully, he was wearing his seatbelt. The top of his truck had crushed in a little though, and he was sitting forward with his head held at a strange angle. There was no physical reason he should not have been able to move his head, but he stayed in that position, as if pinned there. That's when I started having flashes. Every time I looked at him, I would see an animal-like face, and these horns going up to the roof. They were what kept his head pinned like that. But when I blinked, his human head returned and nothing was holding him in. It was very weird.
"I did a quick assessment, and he didn't seem too injured from what I could tell. A few scratches but no major injuries. Except he couldn't move his head. And every time I tried to move it, it felt like there was something jammed there and the animal vision was clearer. I did see the bracelet on his wrist, and called it in like we were trained to do, but I didn't know what else I could do.
"More arrived, and they were as baffled as I was. As far as I could tell, I was the only one who saw the animal though. Everyone else figured it was some strange muscle locking or something. Cutting seemed like the only way we could get him out. We were just getting ready to start cutting when the ambulance arrived.
"I knew the driver, Ryan McCarthy. Regretfully, he couldn't get the time off to come to this gathering. Anyways, we weren't friends exactly, but our teams sometimes went out for drinks together, and we often responded to the same incidents. I hadn't realized it before that day, but he had the same bracelet the driver had. He is Changed.
"When he arrived, I began to have the same weird vision flickers that I did with the patient. When I first looked at him, or caught him out of the corner of my eye, I saw some sort of man-sized chipmunk, not the guy I knew before.
"Anyways, he got there and took one look at the situation, and shouted at us to stop cutting so he could examine the patient better. He then said cutting wasn't needed."
Alan chuckled softly. "He started arguing with the chief over how best to get him out. Ryan insisted that a crowbar was all that was needed, but the Chief wanted to play with his toys. Somehow, Ryan won."
"He drafted me and another fellow, not knowing what I was seeing, and had us get some pry bars. If you looked at the guy, you'd have no idea why Ryan positioned us like he did, but the animal glimpses made it clear. We were trying to loosen up his horns from the crumpled roof.
"We were working blindly, under the guidance of Ryan, but soon enough they popped free and the guy was able to move his head back finally. Getting him out of the truck from there was fairly easy and soon enough he was on a gurney and Ryan was taking a closer look at him.
"It was hard to be certain, since my vision kept flickering, but one of his horns seemed shorter than the other. So I took another look in the truck, and found a tip in the metal and padding of the roof. I pulled it out, it was only an inch or so long, and took it over to Ryan.
"I asked Ryan if he needed that piece of horn, and I had him cornered. He took it and tried to say it wasn't important, but I had managed to rattle him. I took a chance, and told him what I saw, of him and of the patient, and hit pay dirt. He told me to meet him at a local bar after his shift, and left with the bus."
"The rest of the day was weird. I knew what I saw, but it made no sense. I found myself looking at other people more closely while I was running errands. If I hadn't seen anything else, I would probably have dismissed the whole thing, but I wasn't that lucky. I flickered on a few other people who looked completely normal otherwise."
"I met Ryan at the bar, and I didn't know what to make of it all. I was beginning to think I was losing it, but Ryan proved otherwise. He told me everything, and told me what to look for and stuff. It was hard to swallow, but glimpsing the chipmunk telling it to you gave it a lot of weight."
Alan reached into his pocket and pulled something out. "I joined the ranks of the Known, and met the antelope I'd helped save a few days later. He was thankful for my help, and gave me the horn tip. Said he didn't need any more horn than he already had. I keep it with me, to remind me of what's really out there.
"I guess that's about it. Ryan and I and a couple Known cops in the city keep an eye out for further incidents, but so far we've been lucky and haven't had any more emergencies. Ryan and I have been called in for some medical cases, but no actual emergencies."
"Thanks Alan. Can you hold the horn tip up again?" Shiloh zoomed in on the worker and his trophy. She turned off the camera and lowered it. "That's great. Thanks again. I'll see you around I'm sure."
Shiloh opened the door to let the nurse out and found a cougar waiting outside. "Hi there, I'm your two-thirty. Terri Hallet," the cougress greeted her, holding out a paw. The raccoon shook it and lead her in.
"I'm afraid I don't have much of a story for you. I'm just a vet who moved out to Calgary. I just wanted to meet the fur who managed to get the drop on my sister."
Shiloh stopped and looked at her, trying to place the name, or the accent. "Your sister?"
The cougar nodded and sat down, making the chair look a lot more comfortable than it really was. "Sure, you interviewed her on the Rock a month ago about discovering the polar bear out there."
Shiloh wracked her memory and tried to put the clues together. "You're Sherry's sister? You've got a different last name."
"That's right. I'm married but we're separated. I moved out to Calgary to get closer to my animal roots, and to get away from him before he made me do something I'd regret." She flexed her claws out and grinned toothily.
"So is there anything in particular you wanted to talk about?"
"Not really. I'm just a vet, so I'm not doing too much medically other than advising other docs. In emergencies, I'm sometimes called in to be their eyes, and I've offered tips on specific fur dangers, but yeah, my professional life is pretty quiet."
While she had the time, she prepared the camera to take into one of the sessions. She and Terri chatted, talking about her interview with the Haywards and their life in general. They were about to head out, when Terri remembered something.
"Oh yeah! I don't know if you've heard yet or not. A bunch of us are heading to a bar in town later tonight. The owner's Changed and he's arranged an unofficial private gathering for us and the local Changed community," Terri said.
"Oh? Sounds like it could be fun."
"Sure, it's at a place called Sweetwaters. I'll get directions later for you."
Shiloh left the washroom and considered her options. The last sessions were going on, but their topics didn't really appeal to her, neither on a personal nor professional level. With no interviews arranged either, she found herself wandering the halls. Her nose soon picked up the scents of roasting meats.
Following the scents, she found herself looking through a glass door to a large stone patio. Umbrella covered tables were scattered around, with the scent coming from a row of barbecues along the side of the building.
She stepped outside and inhaled deeply, her mouth beginning to water. A new scent pinged on her awareness under the BBQ scents. Turning her head to follow it, she looked to the far side of the patio, where it edged a decorative hot spring. A large, white furred body was sitting in the shade, a battery powered fan blowing directly into his face. She checked her recorder and approached him.
"Doctor Clay? Do you have a moment to talk?" she asked, approaching him. She found herself comparing him to Fred, noting the differences. Unlike Fred, Bryce was comfortable being around people. He seemed pudgier than Fred, still in good shape but not as good a shape as seven years in the wild had made Fred. She met the bears eyes and waited for his response. It was hard to tell but she thought she caught a hint of the predator she had seen in Fred's eyes.
"I suppose I do. They won't serve any food until dinner time anyways. Pull up a chair."
"Thanks." She pulled a chair up across from him while he sipped a big glass of ice water. "If they knew what was really asking them, I'm sure they wouldn't be so unwilling to feed you," she said, casting a glance at his paws. The coroner's report jumped to the forefront of her mind, reminding her that those paws were bloody in ways Fred's never were.
"I suppose so. But it wouldn't be civilized. I can wait. You're that reporter aren't you?"
"I am. I was surprised you didn't sign up."
He crunched on a cube of ice and looked out over the hot spring. "I don't have much to say. My story's the same as everyone else's."
"Maybe, but I don't mind hearing them again. Everyone usually has a bit of uniqueness, a particular point of view that makes their story different."
"I don't want to talk about it," the bear said bluntly.
Shiloh twitched her tail and mentally backed off, shifting her questioning tactics. "You know, you're the second polar bear I've met recently. There's another one who lives in Newfoundland. That's a-"
He seemed interested at that. "I know where it is," he interrupted her.
"Right, anyways, he's a nice fellow, and has a great family, all things considered."
"All things considered? Did they have some troubles?"
"Something like that. He actually changed back in 2000. But he's been missing, living alone in the wild since '01. His son and his fiancé, both changed, tracked him down and brought him back," she explained.
"Why did he go missing? Did he just wander out into the woods?"
"Not quite. He wandered out on the ice floes. Sealing is a big thing in his area of the isle, so he signed up with a crew and went out with them but never came back." She was surprised at the reaction her comments caused. The bear tensed, as if she had hit on some inner fear.
"Is something wrong, Doctor?"
"No, nothing's wrong. Just thinking a bit. The other bear is fine though?"
"Yeah, he's readjusting back with his family now. Still prefers to be alone, but he's friendly enough, and not hurting anyone."
He gave her a strange look and stayed quiet. She stole a glance at her watch and realized she didn't have much time left to get him talking.
"Okay, well you know what sort of stories I'm after. Have you had any incidents you might like to talk about that illustrate difficulties you've had with the Change?"
Even as she asked her question, she knew it was the wrong one. A chill formed between them, colder than the North Atlantic. "Just what exactly are you fishing for, Miss Watson?" he asked, putting down the fan and staring at her.
She did her best to keep her voice steady and her eyes locked with his own. "I'm looking for just what I've said I've been looking for. Stories to document and highlight what this Change has done to us."
He growled in frustration. She couldn't help breaking the eye lock and glancing down at his paws, her imagination filling in the blanks from the coroner's report. "You want to know what it is doing to us? It's killing us, that's what it is doing. Because of all this, people are dieing that needn't have died. If it wasn't for all of this, Maria Shotts might still be alive. But no, she's dead now. All because I couldn't get there in time to keep the ER from chopping off her horns!" he snarled in frustration and stood up. The shocked reporter watched him head to the door back into the building. The attendees were streaming out the door for the barbecue, but they quickly made space for the massive, annoyed bear.
"Who's Maria Shotts?" She finally asked the empty air in front of her.
The alarm next to the bed started beeping, waking her up. She blinked in the dim light from the screen's screensaver and got up to turn the alarm off. She woke the computer and tried to figure out when she'd dozed off.
She'd stayed for the barbecue long enough to be polite, but messing up the interview with Doctor Clay had thrown her off her game. When the opening presented itself, she gathered her equipment and returned to her hotel, intending to salvage what she could. Instead, she had barely found a news article on the death of Maria Shotts ( "Due to complications from a fall") when the day had caught up to her and knocked her out.
She stretched and looked longingly at the portable editing station on the desk. She wanted to keep working, but after the debacle before the barbecue, she needed some party time to clear her head. She took her time getting cleaned up and changing her clothes.
Opening the door to the hall, she was blinded by the sudden glare of the hall lights. As she blinked away tears, she realized she hadn't bothered turning on the lights in her room while she was preparing. She squinted and headed down to the lobby, intending to ask for directions to the bar.
"Shiloh! Over here!" a familiar voice called out from near the doors. A cougar was waving to her.
"Hey Terri, I didn't know you were around here," Shiloh called back.
"I didn't know either. You heading out to the party? It's only a few blocks away. We can walk it," Terri explained.
The bar was a single story building, set back from the road, a concrete patio leading up to it. The name of the place, "Sweetwaters", was lit in blue neon over the main entrance. The doorman was a bull morph, blocking the entrance of a quartet of twenty somethings.
"Come on Johnny, you know we're regulars. And we've NEVER missed Age of Confurzion playing. Why can't we go in?" one was saying.
The bull shook his head. "Sorry guys, I know you guys are regulars, but we have a seriously private party booked tonight." He nodded to the two furries and opened the door. "Good evening, ladies. Enjoy your evening."
"What?!? Why are you letting them in! You didn't even check their ID's!" another objected.
Shiloh and Terri dug out their passports and showed them to the bull. He glanced them over and nodded, still holding the door. "You're still good to go. Have fun tonight."
"Wait! Terri!" another person shouted from the road. Shiloh saw Alan tossing some bills to a cab driver and jogging to catch up.
The bull eyed the human warily and glanced at the ladies. "Is he a friend of yours?"
Terri nodded. "He Knows. He's at the conference with us," she confirmed.
Shiloh watched the thwarted young men while Alan was cleared. She realized though they looked young, they were all college aged. She shook her head and flicked her tail, trying to shake the jolt of 'oldness' it gave her. One of the quieter ones gave the three furs a strange look, as if he was on the verge of breaking the Veil, but couldn't quite take the last step.
"Shiloh? Lets head on in," Terri said, tugging on the raccoon's arm.
"Okay guys, I can't let you in, but if you want to hang out at the doors here, I'll turn a blind eye to it. I can even talk to Sweety, see about getting the patio speakers turned on," the bull was telling the regulars as the door closed behind them.
The raccoon's eyes adjusted quickly to the dimmer light inside. A stage was set up against the far wall with a large dance floor in front of it. A bar manned by a couple barkeepers, neither Changed but both Known according to Terri, A DJ, unseen in his booth in a corner was already pumping out tunes.
"Thanks for waiting guys. Changed get a free pass in, but Knowns need to be escorted in tonight," Alan said, following the women towards the bar.
"No problem, glad to help you out. First round's on me, guys," Shiloh said, reaching the bar and placing her order. She recognized about half the people mingling in the bar from the conference.
The band started soon after they arrived, playing a few covers but mostly their own music. Shiloh found herself tapping her paw along with them through an increasing alcoholic haze. She wandered the floor a bit, dancing with a few people, but found herself returning to Terri a lot.
"There he is," Shiloh said, pointing across the dance floor. The big fur's normally white fur was purple tinted in the dark lights around the dance floor. "He's the reason I came down here," she slurred out.
"You mean Doctor Clay? What did he do?" Terri asked, following the pointed claw.
"Yer sister's friends pointed me to him. Ah wanted his story. But I blew it." She drained her beer and went to get another one.
"What's so special about him?" Terri asked when she got back, trying to remember how many drinks the reporter had had.
"Not sure exactly. Got a lot of hints but nothing firm. Not till I can get him to talk." She sipped her drink. "I'm gonna go talk to him. Try ta fix things up."
Terri shook her head. "Maybe you should wait till morning. Lets go get a plate of nachos to dilute that beer in you."
"What are you saying? You saying I'm drunk? I'm not drunk. Can't get drunk on this piss they call beer. But nachos would be good. You go get them and I'll talk to da Bear."
"But you've been drinking the local micro... never mind. It's your funeral." The cougar watched the raccoon weave across the floor towards the bear. She placed an order at the bar and waited for the tray.
Shiloh approached the bear. At first he didn't notice her, busy talking to a couple of others from the conference. One nodded to her as she joined them, drawing his attention to her.
"Can I help you with something, Miss Watson?" he asked coldly.
Shiloh looked up at him and forgot what she was going to say. "Damn yer big... and yer fat. Fred was big too but yer pudgier."
"Is that what you wanted? To come and insult me again?" he growled.
She glanced at his hands, seeing the long claws and had a moment of sobriety. "No... No that's not what I wanted. I... We... we got off on the wrong paws. I wanted to say I'm sorry for how it went earlier today. And if yer willing to give me another chance, I'd like ta talk to you tomorrow. No lies, no beating around the bush. Just straight talk. Dun even haff ta be on da record."
He seemed to consider it. "How do I know you're sincere? You're drunk."
"Oh I'm sin-hic... I'm sin-. I'm good on mah word. You can trust me."
He stared her down, then shrugged. "Tell you what, if you remember in the morning, ask me again and I might consider it."
The raccoon started pawing at her clothes. "Oh I'll remember. I'll write it down. I'll... Well I'll remember it."
"Good, now have some nachos and lets go. Sorry about that Doctor Clay." Terri arrived and shoved the tray into Shiloh's paws.
"No problem. We were just talking. Having a good time?"
"We are. We'll see you tomorrow!" Terri lightly dragged Shiloh further away. The bear watched them leave and shook his head, returning to his other discussions.
Shiloh escaped her feline watcher and found herself near a booth. She squinted through the strobing lights and recognized the people sitting there. She gripped the back of the booth, claws tearing into the leather and looked down at the quartet. "I thought... I thought you guys weren't allowed in here."
"Johnny's an old friend. He took pity on us and let us in after all," the first young man spoke up, grinning.
"I don't think so... You-" She tried to point and nearly lost her balance. "You guys snuck in. You shouldn't be here."
They looked a bit panicked at her accusation. The first speaker tried to push in deeper into the booth, squishing himself against a local housecat morph. "Shhhh. Yes we snuck in. But all will be good. They know us here."
Shiloh fixed her gaze on the one who had seemed to nearly break through outside. He now looked confused from the feline all but sitting on his lap. "And you guys don't notice anything weird about us?"
"Weird? What would be weird? We're just here for the music and company anyways. Care to join us?"
She looked around, then shrugged her shoulders. "Yeah sure, might as well. Whatcha got here? Next one's on me. I'm Shiloh." She half listened as the boys and the feline introduced themselves. She flagged down a waitress and waggled her claw over the table and raised her finger.
"So what do you think of the group?" Matt, the second speaker, shouted as she sat down. "They're great aren't they? I still can't figure out how Tim gets those sounds from the guitar."
She looked up at the stage, a wolf of some sort was playing and singing a country song . "Give it a few years, I'm sure you'll figure it out eventually."
Terri stepped out of the washroom and moved out of the way of the crowd. She rested an arm on a rail around the bar and waited for her eyes to readjust to the dance floor lights. She idly tapped her claws on the rail in time with the beat.
A small commotion in a booth nearby caught her attention. Four normals and two furs were sitting there, a familiar looking one slumped on the table. One of the guys was shaking her shoulders. Terri sighed and started towards the booth, seeing others moving closer as well.
A large white furred mass beat her there. "I've got her. Give her some air and watch her tail!" the bear growled out, easing the raccoon out of the booth and onto the floor.
Terri caught up to the crowd and found herself next to a young man from the booth. He looked familiar but she couldn't place where she had seen him before. He also looked terrified, more terrified than the situation warranted. She ignored him and focused on the doctor and the reporter.
"What the hell is she?... Are they?... What the hell is going on?!" she heard the man say, his voice speeding towards panic.
She regretfully took her eyes off Shiloh and looked at him. He was beginning to back up a bit, realizing how surrounded he was. She finally recognized who he was and realized what was happening. She lightly touched the arm of a normal beside her. "We've got a problem," she said.
She leaned in closer and shouted into his ear. "We've got a problem." She flicked her tail towards the boy, then realized the Known couldn't see it. She pointed with her other hand. "He and his friends don't Know. And he's about to break through. You need to get him out of here now."
The Known nodded and startled, recognizing the man. He stepped past Terri and grabbed the man's arm. "Come on Roger. Weren't you and your friends told it was a private party tonight? Lets get you guys home."
"But... what... but..." Roger stammered, pointing towards Shiloh.
"But what? You're drunk and way past your bed time it would seem," The man caught the eye of a few friends and pointed to Roger's companions. Over their objections, they were pushed towards the door. Terri faintly heard an angry bellow from that direction, before she refocused on Shiloh.
"Does anyone know where she's staying?" Dr. Clay called out, holding Shiloh's paw.
"I do. She's at the Wingate, like me. It's only a block or two away." Terri said, wiggling her way to the front of the crowd..
The bear looked the cougar over, then the unconscious raccoon. "Okay, lets get her outside, and you can lead me there. She'll be fine, but she needs to sleep this off." He lifted her up carefully and followed the cougar back to the entrance.
Shiloh groaned and began to stir in the bear's arms when the cooler night air reached her. He set her down on a concrete bench and checked on her again. Terri looked towards the road and saw the bull making sure the four young men got into a cab. Her ears were ringing too much from the music to hear him, but it was clear he was telling the driver to make sure they got directly to their homes.
"Easy now, how do you feel?" the bear was asking, helping the raccoon sit up.
Shiloh tried to focus, dark eyes blinking rapidly. She opened her mouth to speak, but before a word could get out, she twisted to one side and threw up. Doctor Clay held her shoulders while she heaved, carefully directing her away from everyone else.
Terri twitched her ears and heard the clopping of hooves on concrete behind her. The bull held out a couple of bottles of water to her. "Here, you'll want these," he said, no stranger to dealing with drunks.
She smiled her thanks and crouched next to Shiloh, twisting off a cap. "Rinse your muzzle out and then take a few sips of this. You've gone and dehydrated yourself my dear."
"Notta deer... Ahma coon," she slurred out, but took the water.
They gave her a few moments to drink and clear her head a little, Doctor Clay keeping a paw at her back to hold her steady. Terri fetched a few more bottles of water from the bull.
"Any idea how those guys got in?" she asked.
Johnny chuckled. "Security's only as good as your weakest link. And this time it proved to be the band itself. They're friends with the drummer, so he left the side door open for them to get in. Should've known something was up when they didn't come back."
"Do you think they'll remember much? One of them seemed really close to a break through. Or a break down."
"Nah, three of them were only a drink or two away from your friend's situation. I doubt they'll remember a thing tomorrow. Roger though... He's a smart one and doesn't drink quite as much. He's come close a few times but always backed off. If he remembers tonight though, I'll probably Tell him."
They shifted their attention back to the bear and raccoon. He was leaning in closer to check her eyes.
"Shiloh? Do you think you can walk? It's only a few blocks to your hotel, then you can go to sleep," he asked.
She tried ineffectively to push him away, then gave up. "Ah can walk. Just point me where ta go," she slurred out and tried to stand. She ended up leaning heavily against the bear's chest.
"I think it's time we got going. Thanks for your help," Terri told the bouncer.
"All in a night's work. Have a couple more for the road," he said, passing over a few more water bottles. She nodded her thanks and went to help Bryce.
"I know you could get her back by yourself, and handle anything that might remotely come your way. But I insist on escorting you back," he told her, already helping Shiloh towards the side walk.
Terri grinned. "Well this queen of the mountains wouldn't mind the company of the king of the ice. And I won't tell your wife you went to a hotel with two drunk women if you don't." Her grin widened, and she was sure the bear's ears turned bright red.
Without further incidents, they half walked, half carried the raccoon back to the hotel and to her room. While the doctor set Shiloh down on top of the covers of the bed, Terri took a quick look around the room. It was a double room, but the second bed was covered in cases of equipment, most bearing the markings of a local studio. The desk was similarly covered in a mess of cables, headphones, cassette drives and card readers, all centered on a laptop.
"She's asleep now, but someone should stay and keep an eye on her till the morning." Bryce said, glancing around the room himself.
"I can do that. Just let me put some coffee on in my room. It's down the hall." Terri excused herself and went to her own room. She set the complimentary coffee brewing and changed into more comfortable clothes. She returned to Shiloh's room, a crossword book tucked under her arm, and was surprised to see the bear looking at the laptop screen, his shoulders slumped a little.
"Something wrong?" she asked.
He shook his head. "No... Not really, not now at least. I shouldn't even be looking. I bumped the desk and it woke up and I recognized the headline." He sighed and turned away. "I told her the name earlier today, I guess it's not surprising she would look it up."
She stole a glance at the screen, seeing a newspaper article about someone's death. "An uncaught fur?" she asked.
He nodded. "In my area too. A pronghorn who'd taken a nasty fall down a hill. She probably wouldn't have survived anyways, but they started at her head, with her horns. Died before I could get there to even realize what they were doing."
She touched his arm. "I'm sorry to hear that."
He shrugged. "It's behind me now.... Do you have everything you need?"
"Yup, I'm all set to camp out here. Thanks you for coming, and helping with her."
He nodded and checked on the sleeping raccoon once more before taking his leave. Terri moved the chair in front of the window and cracked the curtains open so she could get some of the light from outside. She sat back and opened her puzzle book to finish off the night.
Shiloh woke slowly, trying to assemble the shattered pieces of her memory. Her eyes closed, she sniffed the air cautiously, picking up a couple of strange scents, one fading, one still strong. The stronger scent seem to trigger a danger signal in the base of her brain. Without waiting to figure it out in further detail, she squeaked and rolled away from it. The soft ground suddenly fell out from under her and she crashed onto a harder surface, partly pinned somehow.
She heard a thump from further away, followed by the creak of springs near her head. The danger scent grew even stronger.
"Shiloh? Are you okay? Are you awake?" a voice asked from the strongest direction of the scent.
She groaned and pulled her eyelids open. Gradually a tawny and black furred face looking down at her came into focus. She dredged up a name. "Terri?... What happened?"
The cougar held down a paw. "I was going to ask you that. You were sleeping off your drinking when suddenly you rolled right out of bed. Lucky you rolled this way, or you would've conked your head on the bed table."
She stood back up and leaned against the wall until the room stopped spinning. She groaned and sat down on the bed. Terri shifted over to make room. "What happened? I remember the party but..."
"You drank too much there. Doctor Clay and I got you home and I've been watching you all night."
The name rang a bell in her mind, something she had to remember, but the thread escaped her before she could grab it. "Thanks, I-" she stopped and stood up, stumbling to the toilet.
"There's aspirin and some ice water beside the sink here," Terri told her gently once the heaving stopped.
The raccoon shook her tail a bit and wiped her muzzle. She took the two pills set out for her and downed it with the glass of water. Slowly her head began to shrink back to normal size. "Ugh... never again... haven't done that since University... before I changed. How long was I out?"
"Lets see, we got you back around one, and it's just before ten now. So nine hours?" Terri shrugged. "You needed the rest."
"Ten? But the conference. We're late!... Ugh too loud." She rubbed her forehead and waited a moment.
Terri waved her paw dismissively. "Don't worry about it. The morning sessions are all on human-Changed treatments, nothing I'm particularly concerned about. They've got a few other Vets around who can say what I would say. The big one I wanted to see isn't till this afternoon."
"What's this afternoon?" She tried to reassemble more of the night before, still feeling the band's music pounding in her temples.
"The second half of the toxology talk. We did herbivores and rodents yesterday, today it's carnivores and everything else."
"Oh right, I remember now. I booked an interview with the sheep nurse who talked then." She saw the memory thread again but couldn't quite pin it down. She sighed in frustration and let it be. "Okay, thanks for staying with me. I really do appreciate it."
"It was nothing. Between drunk roommates and sick animals, it's nothing I haven't done before. Though this was the first time I had both at once," Terri grinned.
Shiloh forced a smile of her own and looked around. "Right... I think I'm good now. I really should get cleaned up and head to the conference though. You too."
"We can go together; it'll save the cab cost for me at least. And I'm sure you wouldn't mind another paw with all this stuff." Before Shiloh could object, the cougar was already heading to the door. "I'll be back in a bit to help you. There are some fresh baked oatmeal cookies next to your computer if you think you can stomach anything."
She shook her head and winced, closing the door behind Terri. She then took her time cleaning up and making herself presentable for the day. Running a brush through her hair and head fur, she grabbed one of the cookies and woke the computer up. The article on the screen brought the memory thread back, only this time she managed to grab it.
"I told you I'd remember," she mumbled, grinning wide enough to threaten to split her aching head. .
The pair made it to the conference lodge shortly before eleven. Terri helped her carry stuff in, but was shooed off right after. Shiloh preferred to do all the equipment warm-up fiddling herself. Soon enough, she heard the sounds of the sessions getting out. She grabbed a clipboard, making sure her final ace was on it, and headed out in search of her target. She found him refilling a water bottle at a fountain.
"Doctor Clay!" she called out getting his attention.
He looked up at her, his expression hard to read. "Good morning, Ms Watson. Feeling better I trust?"
She smiled and stole a quick drink from the fountain to clear her mouth. "More or less. Terri told me you helped me back. Thank you."
"You're welcome. But I'm sure anyone else in my position would have done similar."
"Probably, but it was you who helped. Considering our earlier encounter.... " she let it trail off for a moment to see if he would speak up. He simply watched her, keeping his expression neutral. "Well anyways. I admit much of last night is a haze for me, but I do remember one thing. Have you considered my offer?" She picked up a slight tensing of his shoulders and braced herself, holding her ace close to her chest.
"I did, and honestly, I don't see the need. My 'story' is no different than anyone else's. Why should both of our times be wasted going over what everyone already knows?"
She took a deep breath and let it go slowly. "I was worried you might say something like that. But remember I also said no beating around the bush. I know more about your situation than you may think I know. I just want to hear it straight from the bear's mouth." With that, she turned her clipboard over and passed it to him.
Bryce took it from her paws and looked at the top page. It was a wounds diagram from a coroner's report, though at first he couldn't figure out why she was showing it to him. Then the details sank in. His grip tightened on the board, claws digging into the paper. "Where. Did. You. Get. This?"
Shiloh held out her paw to take it back, but she didn't tug. "A friend of a friend of a friend. You know how reporters work. Now, would you like to talk about it? On or off the record, your choice."
He released the board and sighed heavily. "It's old news; it was self defense and I was cleared. Why are you so determined to reopen it?"
She watched him carefully, trying to get a read of his body language. "Because the true story needs to be available. There will be an accounting eventually, when the field comes down. Your case may just get lost in the chaos coming, or it may be raised as an example, who knows? But if your story, the real one is available, it'll be better for you over all.
"And personally, it's an itch I can't help scratching. The rumours are already out there, spreading on the nets. Hell, I first heard this all the way out on the Rock. I had to dig into it and find out for myself what really happened, even if you don't want it told to anyone else."
She locked eyes with him, sensing the predator stirring uneasily in the back of them, but she pushed on. "And finally, frankly, you need to unload it. Now I ain't a head doctor, and we barely know each other. But I've seen this before, in my classes and in a few others I've met. Those deaths are eating you up, even while you deny it. I don't know if talking with me will help or not. But it's usually a good start at least."
She made sure she kept eye contact until he looked away. "Fine. This afternoon, after the toxology talk. I'll tell you everything I can tell you. You can even record it." She had to fight to keep her expression still. The bear looked back at her. "BUT! You can't release it until I say you can, in writing. "
"That's fair enough."
"And I'd prefer you didn't hold onto the tapes."
"What?... No I can't do that. I promise you, on my reputation, that no one will see them without your say so. But I need to keep them. I need to do some basic editing at least, and when the time comes I need to have them handy for release."
They locked eyes for a long moment, neither willing to budge. "There may be another option," Bryce finally said.
"What is it?" Shiloh asked cautiously.
He shook his head. "I need to make a call first. And I need to get to the next session. I'll see you after and we can decide how we go from there. Excuse me."
Shiloh watched him leave and let out a long breath, a line from an old show seeming very appropriate at the moment. "I think that went well," she said to the mostly empty hallway.
Shiloh sat near the door of the large room, half listening to a Known doctor with an Australian accent she couldn't quite place, go on about possible toxic substances for and from Australian furs and what should be done. The Toxology talk was the last session planned for the conference, and pretty much everyone was listening in on it, including her. She had thought it would be a good element to get on film, but while the information was good and important, it was also boring. After the first few presentations, she left the camera pointed at the podium and just let it run.
The doctor finished to the polite applause of the crowd and she stole a glance at her watch. They were close to the scheduled end time of the session, and the end of the conference. Sure enough, she saw Martha walking to the podium. Shiloh adjusted the camera to catch the closing remarks.
"Thank you, Doctor Williams. And thank you to everyone who have shared their own experiences and discoveries over this weekend. Technically this session, and the conference are at an end now, and some of us will have to leave shortly to start going home, but everyone is welcome to stay later and mingle for as long as you want. Well at least until they kick us out.
"This conference has gone extremely well, in my opinion. I am sure we have all learned a lot about the Changed and dealing with it. Please, take this information and share it with your colleagues in the Know who couldn't make it here. I know it will save many lives in the future. Thank you all for coming."
Shiloh panned over the room to get some images of the applause, and the mix of furs and humans that had joined together to save lives. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Martha turn off the microphone and step down, the crowd slowly breaking up into smaller groups. Martha exchanged words with a few people, before making her way to the reporter.
"Did you get everything you were looking for?" she asked the raccoon politely.
Shiloh set the machine down and turned it off. "Just about. I have one more session to do, with Doctor Clay. But overall it has been really good, even if I missed big chunks of it. Thank you for inviting me when I asked about it, even with the short notice."
"I was glad to have you. How soon do you think you'll be able to finish them?"
"I'll probably have an overview cut together before the end of the next week and posted on some of our networks."
She nodded. "That quickly? It'll be nice to have some briefing videos available, to help new Known and Changed doctors adjust."
"It'll only be a first pass. I'm sure I'll have some more questions to send you guys to catch details I missed. But with an August deadline for the next wave of Changed, I don't want to keep this waiting for too long. We're going to need something to help prepare the next million. I'll definitely be in touch with you about it." Shiloh turned her head slightly to keep her target in view. Bryce didn't seem to be in any rush to leave, talking under an AC vent with a small group.
Martha smiled. "Good good. We'll be in touch then. Have a good trip home."
"Home? Where's that? I won't be seeing home again till September at this rate, and that's only if the Change is fairly uneventful." Shiloh chuckled. "Once I get this gear back to the local station, I'm off to the tar sands. Another interest story on how the new fields around here will change their development and stuff like that. Oh well, it pays the bills till I can sell this stuff."
They shook hands and parted ways. Shiloh glanced at the bear and went to get a drink for herself while she waited. She exchanged a few words with others while waiting. When the bear man finally started lumbering towards the door, she was ready.
"All set for your interview, Doctor?" she asked, catching up to him in the hall.
He sighed and looked back at her. He clearly had hoped that she had forgotten, or that he could escape before she noticed. "I suppose so. But we have another matter to handle first. Ladies first." He stood to one side and motioned for her to lead.
She lead him to her mini-studio and replaced the camera in its spot. Despite the heat from the equipment, Bryce closed the door and pulled out his phone. "He should be waiting for my call back now. He was open to the idea, even expanded on it, but I'll let him explain."
"Fair enough." She rummaged around a bit and found a mic and recorder. She put a new card into the recorder and set them on the table. "I'm all set, just waiting on you."
The bear sat down across the table from her and placed the call. He put it on speaker and set it on the table. It only rang once.
"Alan Saylor speaking," the British accented voice answered.
"Hi Alan, I've got Ms Watson here, ready to talk about what we spoke about earlier. You're on speaker, and she is?" Shiloh nodded, trying to keep her jaw from dropping too far. "She is recording."
A chair creaked on the other side of the line and there was the faintest clicks. "Fair enough, I'm recording as well now. So lets get down to business, shall we?
"Ms Watson... May I call you Shiloh?"
"Sure, if I may call you Alan," she said, fighting to regain her mental balance. She recognized his name from the industry. That Bryce knew him, and knew him well enough to reach him on a weekend evening, caught her completely off guard.
"You may, Shiloh. As you said to my friend there, let's be frank with each other. Why are you so determined to get his story? The events are already two years old. By the time you can make it public, it'll be dead wood. You might get an A&E or some Discovery clip out of it, but that would be about it. It isn't even really a cover-up you could get a Watergate-style conspiracy out of. All that was done was an explanation provided for those who can't see reality yet.
"Trust us, it really was a self defense issue. If there had been even the slightest hint of malice in Doctor Clay's actions, we would have let justice take its course unhindered. Just like was done with the Dementyev case up your way a few months later." She saw the bear squirm uneasily in his chair, looking away from her and the phone. The voice continued, unaware of the reaction it was causing in the room. "So, why are you looking to reopen these old files?"
She licked her lips and fiddled with a light meter, trying to gather her thoughts and feeling like she was back in first year presenting her first story to the class. "I want to reopen them to make sure the truth is available. Not necessarily out yet. But I want the truth to be available, so when the covers come off, it'll be properly told without the taint of anger and betrayal that will surely be in the air then.
"And I want to know it for myself. The rumours are out there, and they caught my nose and I just had to find out more. I couldn't consider myself a journalist if I didn't start digging to get to the truth, one way or another."
He chuckled on the other end, his next words knocking her mental balance off again. "Winthrop thought as much when I asked if he knew of you. Said you were stubborn and tenacious enough that you should have been a mule, or a bulldog. He also said that you're still not going to get the Dementyev or the LeBlanc interviews, even if you ask through me. We'll talk about them later.
"In the mean time, we have a problem here. On the one hand, I can see where you are coming from, and what you are doing, and for the most part I agree with you. It's high time we started shifting from downplaying Changed stories to... well not quite up-playing them, but just letting them be. And from what I've found of your long term goals, I have no issues with them.
"On the other hand, even though Clay's story is effectively dead, if it were to come out, even just among the Changed community, maybe especially among the Changed, it could have unintended consequences to his reputation. And frankly, we are too short on experienced doctors like him to lose him."
Shiloh frowned, trying to figure out where the editor was heading. It was an awkward feeling, reminding her of just how junior she really was. "So what do you propose as a solution?"
A chair creaked on the other end before he spoke again. "A deal, plain and simple. The simplest solution would be that I hire you; but frankly our styles are too different for that to work.
"Instead we'll make a deal for the story itself. Assuming Doctor Clay is fine with it, this is what I am proposing. You can do your interview with him, and edit it into a story however you want. When you are done, you will send the story, and all materials related to it, including originals to me for safe keeping. That would be anything related to Chris Mandrake's death that you have now and that you discover in the future.
"I will keep the material in trust for you, making no changes to it, not even reviewing it unless you want me to. We can arrange visitation rights for if you come across more information and want to make further edits, but most of the time it will remain in my possession and in my control.
"When Doctor Clay feels the time is right, or when the story breaks open naturally, whichever comes first, you may sell the story however you see fit. BUT, I reserve the right of first offer on it.
"There are more details we'll need to work out later I'm sure, but that is the gist of it. Are those terms acceptable to you two?
"I'm fine with that," the bear assented. Shiloh had the feeling they had worked out most of the planned deal ahead of time.
She stayed silent as she considered the offer. It was her turn to look away as the bear's expectant gaze settled on her. On the surface, the deal seemed fine, it seemed better than she would have hoped for. Which made her uneasy. She mentally turned the deal over and over in her head, her hands unconsciously mirroring her mental movements, looking for hidden pitfalls. She tried very hard not to think of the types of stories she might be able to get with Saylor opening doors for her. And she tried especially hard not to think of his implied promise to get the interviews with Boris and Justine.
"Okay, I'm in. BUT, your right of first offer expires twelve hours after it is invoked. We both know how fast news blooms and dies. I don't want to be stuck waiting while you ponder accepting it over tea.
"AND, I get to keep a clip. A quick statement from Doctor Clay, only saying things that are already part of the public record. Enough so that when I do go to sell it and am waiting for you to send me my work, I'll have something to shop around and tantalize my customers with."
The voice chuckled softly. "I'm fine with the expiration clause. Bryce, how do you feel about the clip?"
The bear hesitated. Shiloh spoke up again, to try and set him at ease. "A short clip, introducing yourself, and just saying you are going to talk about Mandrake's death. No accusations, no guilt, nothing like that."
"Fine, I'll do it. I'm still not comfortable with it, but I'll do it."
"Thanks Bryce. I'll let you two do whatever you need to. Bryce can give you my contact, Shiloh, and we'll be in touch tomorrow to finalize the details."
They made their farewells, and the line went dead. Bryce folded up the phone and pocketed it. "Let's get this over with," he growled.
"And that's a wrap. Thank you Doctor Clay," Shiloh said, beginning to power down her equipment. "Seriously, thank you. You were fine. I hope I wasn't too hard on you with my questions."
The bear slumped back in the chair, causing it to give a creak of protest. He reached for his water bottle, and found it bone dry. "No, you were a perfect lady. Gentler than I expected to be honest. It's just a difficult subject to talk about."
She opened the door and peeked out, waving the door to restart the air circulation. She turned back into the room and started packing the gear, carefully removing the tapes and data cards from the recorders. "You've never spoken about it to anyone have you? Not the whole story at least."
"No, never. Not even the cover one. I didn't want to slip up by mistake."
She shook her head sadly. "You shouldn't have held it in so long. It's not healthy. I'm sure if the judge hadn't been so eager to sweep it under the rug he'd've told you to get some counseling too."
"I'm a doctor! Doctor's deal with death all the time. I don't need any counseling."
"You're a family doctor. Not a field medic. Not an ER doc. You deal with death at arms... err not a good example. You deal with death at a distance. Telling someone 'I'm sorry, but I've got bad news. You're going to die in the future.'. It's not the same sort of death."
She saw him flex his fingers and tried to shake the image of them tearing into flesh from her head. "Never mind, I'm sorry I brought it up. But my advice, for what it's worth, have a few sessions with a head doc to help you get past Mandrake and Shotts and anyone else you may feel guilty about."
"Do you need me for anything else?" he asked brusquely, not even acknowledging her statement.
"No, I'm finished with you. I know it wasn't part of our deal, but if you want a copy of this when I'm done, I could send it to you."
"I doubt it. Have a good evening, Ms Watson." He picked up his empty bottle and walked quickly out of the room. Shiloh heard him grumble something just outside in the hall, and another voice speaking.
"No problem, Doctor. I was hoping I would bump into you too. Shiloh? You in there?" Terri's voice came through the door.
"What is it Terri?" she called out.
The cougar stood in the door, her gaze shifting from the hall and into the room. "A bunch of us, mostly the carni's, are heading to a steakhouse for dinner. The locals say it's the best one in the state. The reservation is at eight. Or if you'd rather, the herbi's are heading somewhere else."
"I'll think about it. But I have to get going now," the bear growled, his claws clicking on the floor as he left.
"Phew, what did you question him about?" Terri asked, after watching him leave.
Shiloh wrapped up some cables and tossed them into a carry case. "This and that. You need a ride back?"
"I wouldn't turn one down. Need a paw?"
Together the women got the room packed up and moved back into Shiloh's van.
"Okay, be ready for seven, and I'll come and get you. I've got directions to the place," Terri said, adding the last case to the pile in the room.
"Sure , sure, I'll be ready. Glad you could give me a hand with all this."
Shiloh locked the door behind the cougar and looked at the bag with the tapes in it, debating doing more work. She shook her head and stripped, heading for the shower. If she so much as looked at a video clip, she knew she would never be ready in time.
She was working on drying out her fur when she heard a knock on her door. "Terri! You're way to early!" she called out after a quick glance at her watch on the counter. "You know how long it takes to dry fuh-errr," she fell silent after peeking through the peep hole and seeing a familiar young man standing nervously there.
"I- err... I could come back later. Or just go away. It isn't really important," the man said through the door.
"No, no. Just give me a couple minutes to get presentable." The raccoon tried to recall his name while ran the towel over her fur one last time and started pulling on her clothes. She opened the door, but blocked it, keeping him from coming in. "Can I help you with something, Richard was it?"
"Roger actually. I uhm... I just wanted to make sure you were all right after last night. And to apologize for letting you go that far." He seemed nervous, shifting his feet and having a hard time looking at her.
"It's not your fault. I'd had a bad day that day anyways, but it all worked out in the end. A few more dead brain cells and a bad headache was the only harm done." Her eyes widened as she recognized his behavior. "That's not the main reason you searched me out, is it? You had to try and see for yourself right?"
He gulped and nodded. "Yeah. Uhm, do we have to talk about it out here?"
She debated leaving him in the hall, but figured he was safe enough. She stepped back inside and motioned him to enter.
He stepped in, his eyes darting around the room, settling on the brush selection on the sink counter. He returned his gaze to her. "Well erm really I think I suspected for awhile but never really believed. You were just the straw that broke the camel's back... Are there any camels yet?"
"Not that I'm aware of, but I've never looked."
"Yeah, well anyways I've been glancing a lot of your type around. Johnny, Tim, he's the lead of Age of Confurzion, and others around here. After last night, I finally went and confronted Johnny and he filled me in."
"Mmm hmm. Is there something else? I don't want to be too impolite, but I am getting ready for dinner."
He blushed bright red and spoke quickly. "Oh I didn't think of that. I'm sorry. I guess that was it. I just wanted to apologize and stuff. Especially if I sat on your tail by mistake or anything."
Shiloh chuckled softly. "No problem, keeping our tails out of the way is something those that need to learn learned quickly. Besides, if you sat on anyone's tail, it was probably the feline who was practically on your lap most of the evening." He exceeded her expectations by turning an even deeper shade of embarrassed red. She reached past him and reopened the door. "I really must finish getting ready. Terri, my cougar friend, will be coming to get me soon and she might get annoyed if I'm not ready in time. It was really nice to meet you, and thank you for letting me sit at your table last night and talk with you."
He picked up the hint and stepped back of the door. She smiled and waved farewell to him before closing the door.
"Never again," she promised herself once more while locking the door again.
Shiloh tilted the chair back, half listening to the audio through headphones, and trying to plot out a story from what she had recorded. Dinner had been excellent, as had been the company, other than Doctor Clay avoiding her. By all rights, she knew she should be exhausted, but the darkness seemed to invigorate her. It was just another little life style habit she found she had picked up since Changing.
She smiled, a few ideas sticking together and giving her an idea for something else. She stopped the playback and picked up a microphone.
"Instincts, the Unnoticed Change." she started out, speaking into her recorder.
"They are with us from the day we Change. Helping us get used to our new bodies, balancing on toes or hooves, moving tails, retracting claws, wiggling ears. But few of us ever really think about them. When an unseen force goes and physically changes our bodies into something else, to imagine it also going in and changing our minds, rewiring our brains is a very scary thought. And yet, it happens. It makes those grasses more appetizing. It helps ruminants adjust to chewing cud, or makes the extra rare steaks extra yummy. But what else are they doing to our heads? What have they done to us that we may not even realize was done to us?
"Many of these instincts are relatively harmless, if not outright beneficial. For example, take myself. Before I changed into a raccoon, I used to be the ultimate morning person; up at the crack of dawn, bright eyed and bushy-tailed. Since then, my sleep pattern has changed. Though I am really bushy tailed now, getting up for the morning is more and more difficult, I find I tend to see dawn from the other side, easily working through the night. In my profession, that sort of sleep schedule has its uses.
"But there are other incidents out there, incidents of instincts being much more extreme than a simple sleep schedule change. Over the past few months, I have come across three major cases of instincts... animal instincts going against modern society's norms. How will we react in the future to these situations? Who will bend first?
"Consider Case one, a hoofed male. He so desired to form his own herd, that he kidnapped other female hoofed Changed and kept them in a farm outside the city. He was caught, and is now serving time, but is he an aberration? Or will we need to watch others for similar behavior? And what about packs? Will the gangs of the future be primarily wolf packs and similar group hunters? Is that something we should be worried about? Or is it just a natural evolution of our changing society?
"Then there is Case Two. A Bear Changed who changed in isolation. He had no idea what was going on in the world. He eventually found himself in a situation very similar to what his animal type would be in, and he effectively lost himself in his animalness. For years, he lived on the cusp between man and beast, living a solitary life, and mostly living off his instincts. He has since been rediscovered and returned to society, but anyone who sees him, who spends time with him, can tell that there is more to him. A Beast within him that is stronger than the beast in others. What will we do in the future for people like him? Will we let them go wild, to follow their instincts? Or will we try to counsel them, teach them to live in a society that their instincts can not easily handle? What do we do when those instincts lead to them harming someone else, even unintentionally?"
"Which brings us into Case Three. Case Three is another bear morph, only he is still civilized. He wakes up every morning, goes to work, has a social life, loves his family. Yet he has a secret. When he was cornered, and attacked in his own home, his instincts took over and he lashed out. With bare bear claws, he killed another man, an unchanged man who had no idea just what he had cornered. But for that brief moment, Case Three has lived a normal life, as normal as any Changed hiding their condition from their family can do. And yet that moment is key. It may be important for all of our futures.
"The animal kingdom is filled with weapons and defenses designed for 'kill or be killed' situations. The Change has now put many of those weapons and shields in our own hands, and given us the instincts to use them on a personal level, but on a cultural level we are still unprepared. As more and more incidents, similar to Case three and worst, occur, we as a society will have to form new rules. When are attacks and retaliations due to instincts acceptable? Can we even determine those situations from normal attacks? Will claws need to be registered as weapons? What about horns or hooves or quills?
"Of course, I may just be making a mountain out of a mole hill here. These concerns I'm raising may only apply to the Changed. After all, most of us have decades of human instincts and experiences to shape our behavior, onto which our animal instincts have been tacked onto, like a modern addition to an old house. Our children, having grown up with these instincts may have a better grip on them, able to control them better than we Changed adults can. Time will tell what will really happen. But in the mean time, these concerns will remain, and they will have to be resolved eventually."
She stopped the recording and reviewed what she had said. It was still rough, but she could build on it eventually. She added it to her already burgeoning ideas directory and stood up to stretch, her mind organizing on her priorities. Number one was to finish Clay's article and getting it down to Saylor so it would be out of her paws. Then there would be everything else. Some had to be released on the Networks soon, but most would just go into her archives. She shook herself and glanced at the time.
"One hour of work then off to bed. You can work on this tomorrow afternoon while waiting for your flight," she mumbled to herself, knowing full well the sun would be up before she really crashed out.