When Doves CryMature

In the grim world of the late 21st century, an autocratic regime has come to power. Auggie Starrett, a young vixen and resistance member, is thrust into a situation more complicated than she could ever have dreamed of when she is assigned an intimate and incredibly dangerous mission that will blur the lines between political and romantic entanglements.....

Brief author's note: As you will see, this story takes place in a world that is very much like our own, save for the fact that this world is populated solely by anthropomorphic animal characters rather than humans. This story will become extremely dark as it progresses, so just bear that in mind as you read. The next chapter should be up within a week or so.

 

Prologue: When Doves Cry

May 16th, 2083

A gray-furred vixen emerged from the car and stepped onto the street, closely followed by her younger brother, Ike. Augusta (or Auggie) Starrett was a twenty-one-year-old Island Fox, with the customary steel-gray fur and reddish chest, ears, and stomach. Her eyes were a pleasant shade of green and she wore her hair down. It was a rich, dark shade of brunette, the slightest bit wavy and cropped a bit short. A good chunk of her right ear was missing, as though it had long ago been bitten off, and on her left arm there was a tattoo of a red-and-black snake with long fangs ready to strike.

 Isaac Starrett junior, or Ike, Auggie’s brother, was ten years old. Auggie had been his sole guardian for the past three years, when their parents had died under mysterious and unsettling circumstances. In contrast to his sister, Ike had light, golden-blonde fur with large patches of white all over his body. His eyes were blue, and in appearance he took much more after his father than their mother. Ike had always been a clever, inquisitive child, but as he grew closer to adolescence, he was beginning to show his true colors as an incorrigible, sarcastic smartass. She loved her brother and vice-versa, but the two inevitably did not always get along, especially now that he was getting older.

 Auggie was dressed in a simple navy gown, and Ike in a tuxedo his sister had purchased for this occasion- he looked very awkward and unnatural in it, however. The two were attending the wedding of their cousin, Sterling- who, in actuality, was gay. Four years Auggie’s senior at twenty-five, the two had grown up together. The family had known Sterling was gay since he was a teen, but the times being what they were; it was simply impossible for him to live openly as he really was.

 Officially, homosexuality (with emphasis on male homosexuality in particular) had been criminalized for sixteen years under the current government administration. Punishment could be anything from Reformation- a state-sponsored psychiatric program that claimed to turn homosexuals heterosexual- or extensive jail time. As for so-called ‘repeat offenders’ (though these were uncommon), there was often no other choice but capital punishment. Despite these tyrannical restrictions, however, a handful of gay bars and clubs supposedly still operated, sparsely-scattered across the country. Nearly all of these (if indeed they were real) were located in urban areas such as Elizabeth City, the capital, where Ike and Auggie lived.

 And Sterling was all too aware of these regulations. He’d never implied himself to be anything but straight, never spoke of homosexuals in decent company, or visited any public place where the sexually-corrupt were known to gather. Indeed, he’d worked hard for much of his life to maintain an image of ordinary heterosexuality, and nothing less.

 Sterling Starrett would much rather play it safe and play by the rules society had set, however unfair. There was no way he would ever be able to make a living if he went around shouting he was homosexual for the world to hear. If anyone were to find out, he could easily be sent to Reformation, or worse. His family, too, would struggle to maintain a ‘clean’ reputation. There was simply no point in exploring his identity any farther, it just wasn’t worth the risk.

 Sterling hoped to put an end to this by getting married to a vixen named Heather Daniels- who had come from an old-money family and was, as such, very well-off. As to how successful this union would be in the long-term……that was anyone’s guess.

 Ike and Auggie got out of the car (which was battered and not in the best condition) and walked past Sterling’s parents’ house, making their way toward a white-painted wooden gate that separated the front yard from the garden in the back.

 Ike paused to awkwardly adjust and re-adjust his crooked black tie, fingers fumbling. He’d never worn a suit before and wasn’t terribly enthused about wearing one either.

 “Are we late?”

 He mumbled, attempting to make conversation to lighten the mood a little.

“No, I’d say we just made it.”

Auggie quickened her pace.

“We’d better hurry, though, or we’ll miss the start of the ceremony.”

Ike, getting the message, walked a little faster himself. A silence quickly fell. Feeling awkward about this whole affair, the younger fox asked:

“Auggie, why is Sterling marrying Heather if he’s gay?”

Auggie sighed a bit. She and Sterling had spent so much time together growing up, she’d wholeheartedly accepted him when he revealed he was gay and never treated him any differently. But the times being what they were, she was even more concerned for Sterling’s safety than usual. The fact that he had to keep up an image of heterosexuality was one thing, but the fact that he was entering a lavender marriage with a woman who knew nothing of his sexuality was another.

 “He feels like it’s the only choice he has, he thinks it’s the only way he’ll ever get anywhere in life.”

She explained.

“Its not something I approve of, but of course, you know he can’t live openly…..”

Ike nodded. He was just old enough to understand why, exactly, Sterling was different from most people and why he could face penalties for it if anyone found out.

“It’s not fair either way. If he doesn’t love her, he shouldn’t marry her…”

Ike’s eyes were sad, and it was clear he had similar thoughts about this whole affair as Auggie.

“I agree, but in this day and age there aren’t many alternatives….”

She gave him a sad smile.

“When did you grow up overnight, Isaac Starrett?”

Ike smirked.

“I’ve always been grown up.”

“Oh, stop that!”

Auggie laughed, her mood suddenly brightened just a little.

 “Come on, we’ve got a wedding to crash.”

And with that, the two went into the garden where the ceremony was to be held.

The ceremony had only just begun when Ike and Auggie came hurrying into the garden, both a bit out of breath from having run so hard in such a short time. Luckily, as Auggie had predicted; they were not late for the ceremony- rather, they had arrived just in time.

White wooden folding chairs had been set up in row after row for the guests to sit, and the two siblings managed to claim a pair of unoccupied seats in the middle of the aisle. A brick pathway wound and snaked its way through the yard, surrounded on all sides by lush, immaculate flowerbeds: there were peonies, violets, petunias, marigolds, primroses, and little blue forget-me-nots, neatly partitioned off into their own little sections. Various family members (both close and extended), close friends, and out-of-towners were crammed into their seats, eagerly waiting for the much-anticipated appearance of the bride and groom.

Despite the somewhat-claustrophobic atmosphere, all the bantering and discussion was in good nature, and it was hard to imagine a more perfect scene or a more perfect day for a wedding. There was a sudden, collective roar of applause and cheering, however, when Heather and Sterling strode out from the neatly-trimmed hedges at the back of the garden, close to the house, accompanied by Heather’s father, Greg.

Sterling was a handsome, if a bit slim-looking fox who was twenty-five years old. He was of average height, with black-tipped ears and striking gray eyes. His fur was mostly white in color, but accented with reddish trim around his face, head, and tail. He was attired in the pseudo-militaristic uniform of the typical government employee: a dark, blue-gray tunic with shoulder boards and a high black collar, tight-fitting military style breeches in the same color, jackboots, and a black leather shoulder belt.

Despite all of this regalia, however, Sterling was insignificant, barely more than a glorified office drone. For instance, there were no pretty silver trinkets decorating his collar to signify he was someone of importance. Sterling’s job was that of a mere records keeper and little else, and he spent the bulk of his day being ordered about by self-important bureaucrats who wore the exact same uniform as he did.

Heather, on the other hand, had very light green eyes, dirty-blonde hair, and made a lovely bride in a white silk dress with short sleeves and an empire waist. It had a high neckline as well, decorated with little lacy flowers. A circlet of white satin roses was perched atop her head, attached to the gauzy veil that hung down to hide her face. She clutched a bouquet of fresh hydrangeas, in pale blue and lavender, and a silver heart-shaped locket hung about her neck.

The two made a lovely couple, and everything fell to a deathly hush as the two took their places under the wooden archway at the front of the path. Heather waved at her beaming mother, Lauren, who was seated in the front row, and Sterling gave a polite nod of acknowledgement.

At last, a black-clad, grim-faced official stepped forward- the representative from the Bureau of Reproduction and Family Planning who had come to wed them. He began to read from the standard handbook in a dull, utterly humorless tone:

“Dear citizens. We are gathered here today to celebrate the union of Sterling Starrett and Heather Daniels,”

He turned to Heather’s father Greg, who was standing beside her and shyly smiling, unable to believe this was all really going on.

“Who gives this woman to be married to this man?”

Mr. Daniels cleared his throat.

“My wife and I do, sir.”

Lauren Daniels could be heard sobbing into a handkerchief from her front-row seat, and one of her friends gave her a reassuring pat on the back. Mr. Daniels, for that matter, was blinking back tears as he gave his daughter away and stepped aside so the two could exchange their vows:

“Do you, Heather Daniels, take this man, Sterling Starrett as your lawful wedded husband?”

Heather answered calmly and without hesitation:

“I do.”

“Do you swear your absolute fealty to the state, and to fulfill your destined role as a mother and wife?”

Heather, looking slightly nervous all the while, paused for a moment.

“…..I do.”

“Do you swear that you will remain faithful to him, and that the children you bear will be his alone?”

A hesitation. The bride was beginning to sweat. Heather sucked in her breath.

“I do.”

The official then turned to Sterling:

“Do you, Sterling Starrett, take Heather Daniels to be your lawful wedded wife?”

Sterling seemed to tense just the slightest, but answered smoothly:

“I do.”

“Do you swear that you will never lie with another woman, or commit unnatural acts that would bring your family shame?”

 Sterling winced, but it was nearly imperceptible. His trembling fingers went to adjust his collar.

“I do.”

“Do you promise to love her, treasure her, and support her in all things?”

“I do, your honor.”

He heavily exhaled.

“May your wedded life be a fertile one, and may your seed be fruitful. I now pronounce you man and wife, congratulations.”

This was the standard marriage blessing imparted to new couples- with the birthrate as distressingly low (and falling) as it had been in the past several years, many brides prayed, fervently, for viable pregnancies and healthy babies. And with that, Sterling leaned forward and very gently lifted Heather’s veil. He kissed her, deeply and very slowly on the mouth.

 The guests assembled in the garden burst into deafening applause, and what had to have been moments later Heather’s bouquet of hydrangeas went sailing into the air. Then, both bride and groom received their rings. The applause only seemed to grow louder and more earache-inducing as the newly-married couple strode confidently down the aisle, Heather smiling proudly on Sterling’s arm. Shortly after the happy couple had finished walking down the aisle, Ike seemed to perk up a bit, and one of his ears twitched.

“So, can we go home now?”

As it was, the boy was not quite old enough to be interested in the lavish wedding party and reception that was to follow the ceremony itself. His restrained impatience throughout the ceremony had been understandable given his age, and Auggie planned to drop her younger brother off at home before returning to attend the party and reception by herself.

“We can. Come on,”

Auggie got awkwardly up from her folding chair- movement was difficult due to being surrounded by other people on all sides- and carefully made her way out of the garden, Ike following close behind. The siblings walked back to the waiting car in silence, the sounds of laughter and happy cheering growing quiet and quieter behind them.

It wasn’t until after they’d gotten into the car and left the house behind them that Auggie broke the silence.

“Well, that was your first wedding. What did you think of it?”

In the backseat, Ike only shrugged.

“It was kind of boring, I guess. A lot slower than I thought.”

“Well, we all have to take time out of our day to pay our tribute to the powerful, all-knowing state,”

Auggie muttered under her breath, also rolling her eyes as she spoke.

Ike spoke again; in a quiet, even somber tone of voice:

“I wonder if they’re going to be very happy together. In the long-term, I mean….”

Auggie sighed a bit, memories of the ceremony still all too fresh in her mind. Still, she kept her firm grip on the steering wheel and continued driving.

Indeed, Auggie was still very worried about her cousin’s well-being in the long term. She wished him luck in his endeavors, despite the fact she certainly had no love for the regime- despite this, it was troubling that he was entering into a sham marriage with a woman he barely knew. And there was no telling how Heather might react if she ever learned the truth about Sterling…..

“That, I can’t say. I hope they’ll be happy together, I really do, but I…..well, I just worry about Sterling and the fact he’s living a lie. I hope they’ll be able to find a way to make it work out, somehow.”

“But she doesn’t know he’s gay, does she?”

“No, she doesn’t…..And I really don’t want to think about what might happen if she did.”

“Sorry.”

Ike looked sheepish, more than a little embarrassed. He was not used to having such grown-up conversations, and still felt very awkward talking about these things.

“It’s all right, you’re old enough to start understanding these things….. I agree, none of it makes sense. But hopefully things won’t always be this way.”

They drove further and further away from the little gated community where Sterling’s parents lived. The well-off neighborhood of pastel-colored houses, perfectly-trimmed lawns and flawless blue skies began to fade; as they drove back into the messiness and urban filth of the city’s heart.

The roads got bumpier and rougher, with deep cracks in the black asphalt resembling scars. The claustrophobic cityscape was packed with steel skyscrapers, multi-storied corporate offices, and the occasional brownstone rowhouse, most of which were decrepit and crumbling.

Then there were the sad, abandoned buildings with wooden boards crudely-nailed across the windows and decaying wooden roofs; which looked as though they’d been uninhabited for decades. Many such of these buildings were former nightclubs (a place that had once been an art museum was in there somewhere as well), and many still had their neon signage, forever dimmed.

These deserted places also held other sad reminders of their recent past; such as fading, rotted movie posters or concert advertisements for a band that did not even exist anymore. These buildings- clubs, a few museums, and other such public venues had been forcibly shuttered for well over a decade now; the government deemed them ‘threatening or suppressive institutions’.

Places such as these were deeply depressing sights, and Auggie felt a wave of dark nostalgia as they drove by- her parents had only taken her to the movies once, when she was four years old. It was the summer, long before Ike was born, and shortly before she would start preschool. Only a few scant months before the takeover, and everything would change forever.

Movies still existed, and of course the filmmaking industry had survived; but not unscathed. Extremely strict protocols were put in place about ‘moral and socially acceptable’ content filmmakers were not allowed to show- this applied to homosexuality, contempt for the state, and the glorification of illicit activities. (drug use, prostitution, and so on.) Due to this, it was a vast understatement that the moviegoing experience was never the same afterwards; and Auggie had simply taken her parents’ word for it when they advised her to simply not go to the movies at all.

They drove by a few department stores and the fast food chains that still managed to operate (by this point they had reached a slightly less-grimy part of the city), made a few more turns, and finally made their way to the slightly better-off part of town they called home.

A quiet and deserted street, with several crammed-together rows of brick apartments. These, at least, were in better condition than the pathetic brownstones earlier, and were thankfully livable enough. Auggie parked on the side of the street and the siblings got out, making their way up the stone steps.

The front room they walked into looked as though someone’s grandmother had attempted to conceal the squalor, and failed horribly. Beige walls decorated in a pattern of flowers, the wallpaper badly cracked and chipped from age, the flowers themselves long faded. There was a wooden coatrack by the door, though it was utterly bare since no one went around in coats or jackets at the end of May.

The flooring had once been green-and-white tiled at some point, but the white had since faded into a creamy yellowish color. A dark green, circular fringed carpet lay on the floor in front of the second floor, battered and dirty-looking. The balustrade was made of some dark wood that had probably once been burnished, but was now coated in a heavy layer of dust. Additionally, there was no carpet-runner covering the stairs.

The place could certainly stand for renovation, yes, and they were aware of how it must look to outsiders, but this was where Ike and Auggie had grown up. They’d known no other place- the apartment complex had actually been very well-maintained in Auggie’s youth, and it wasn’t until the years after the overthrow that things slowly began to sink into disrepair and rot.

The siblings went up the stairs and to the door of their second-floor apartment. Auggie fished around in her dress pocket for her key and let them in. The living room in the Starrett apartment looked no different from anyone else’s; there was the beat-up old coffee table with the tacky waxed fruit, reproductions of famous old oil paintings framed on the walls. An ancient but working flat-screen television, and two upholstered black leather recliners. Dark brown carpeting. The furniture did look a bit tired and shabby, yes, but it was home. It was lived-in and had a sense of character.

The instant they arrived, Ike immediately flopped onto the sofa and reached for the remote.

“Just remember,”

Auggie warned, smiling a bit mischeviously.

“The sitter should get here any time.”

Ike groaned miserably and set the remote back on the coffee table before he’d even turned the TV on.

“I’m too old for a babysitter,”

Auggie just shook her head- she’d heard this complaint every year starting when he was seven, and she was still steadfast in her position.

“Look, Mom and Dad let me stay home starting when I was twelve, and we’ll do the same for you. In the meantime……”

She looked a bit nervous at the idea.

“I just don’t like the idea of you staying home alone, so I’m going to have someone watch you.”

Due to the important work that she did, Auggie was indeed justified in her fears that something terrible might happen to Ike when she wasn’t home. He was growing up so fast, but he was still only ten, and she didn’t know what she would do if something like that happened to him.

Ike scowled.

“But that doesn’t mean I have to like it….”

“You are impossible sometimes,”

Auggie said, exasperated, but she couldn’t hold back the inevitable smile, and as she looked back to Ike’s face it turned out he was grinning as well.

About fifteen minutes later, the babysitter showed up; and despite Ike’s pleas, Auggie was certain he would be just fine. And so, she got back into the car and drove out to the hotel where the reception and party were to be hosted. She drove off into a more well-off neighborhood, where shopping malls, movie theaters and department stores were commonplace- in addition to the few fast-food chains that still managed to stay open.

The weather remained breezy and mild as Auggie managed to escape the dirt and squalor of the city’s center and pulled up in front of the Ivory Tower Hotel. Built over a century a half ago in the 1930s, the Ivory Tower had once played host to celebrities and politicians of every era; though in the past twenty years or so it had begun to fall on hard times. The prices per night were notoriously expensive. Additionally, many tourists found the novelty of spending a night or two at one of Elizabeth City’s most prestigious and historic hotels was simply not worth coughing up the money.

Though its popularity was slowly beginning to wane, the Ivory Tower was still considered a very opulent venue that had catered to a who’s-who of major historical figures. And today Auggie was going to find out if the place was worth the exorbitant check-in prices.

Parking the car on the street, the vixen took a moment to glance at the hotel’s grand façade. Over a century old, and it certainly showed its age- the building looked very weathered, yet somehow dignified; it had a fresh and relatively modern look to it and seemed to have aged very well. Walking under the shaded, dark blue awning covering the entrance, Auggie stepped inside. She was clutching the party invitation she would have to show to whoever was working the front desk.

The room Auggie entered felt ancient, as though she was stepping into the past, a world inhabited by the influential and exceptionally wealthy- something that felt more than a little alienating- there was a vaulted ceiling, antique Persian rugs adorning the floors, dark, paneled walls, neo-classical velvet couches with clawed feet. A gold-framed Montgolfier chandelier that dripped with crystal beads hung from the ceiling.

As Auggie made her way to the semicircular little reception desk at the front of the room, the girl at the desk- a young dog of indeterminate breed who seemed to be in her early twenties- quickly put away the celebrity videomagazine she’d been engrossed in and forced on a hasty smile.

“Hello, welcome to the Ivory Tower, ma’am. How may I assist you today?”

“I’m here for Heather and Sterling Starrett’s wedding party,”

Auggie briefly flashed the invite as proof.

 “Could you please tell me where the event is being held?”

“Of course,”


The girl fumbled with one of the desk drawers before pulling out a printed map of the hotel’s interior and grounds.

“It’s in the convention center.....Here, you might want to take this,”

“Thank you very much….”

And with that, Auggie turned and walked away, consulting the map on where to go next- the girl behind the counter promptly returned to her melodramatic celebrity divorce stories just as the vixen had gone.

Auggie made her way down what seemed like an endless amount of twisting passageways on the first floor, making the halls seem more like a maze. The Ivory Tower was an eerily still, silent place, and the only other people Auggie encountered in her travels were a porter wheeling a luggage cart, or tourists in t-shirts and bathing suits on their way to the heated pool.

At last, she found the convention center (which was also the ballroom) and pulled open the white French doors. The room Auggie stepped into had a very similar ambience to the lobby; it conveyed an atmosphere of exclusiveness and snobbery. Antique carpets similar to the ones in the lobby, beige-colored walls, and white silk tablecloths over every table. Crystal glasses of assorted wines.

The room also contained a massive stage, with heavy black velvet curtains on either side. A holographic image projector was mounted above it. Heather’s mother, Lauren, stood on the stage alone. She was speaking into a microphone with a trailing black cord attached to it, and several large speakers amplified her voice throughout the room.

Auggie sat down at an empty table fairly close to the stage and made herself comfortable, just as Lauren Daniels was in the middle of her speech:

“I still can’t understand the way time flies by. It feels like only yesterday I was sending Heather off to the first day of preschool.”

A blown-up, holographic image appeared of Heather, as a small child who couldn’t have been over three. She was wearing denim overalls and a t-shirt, beaming at whoever had taken the picture. The guests applauded raucously.

“And now she’s finally found the happily-ever-after she wanted for so long!”

The image shifted to a grown-up Heather passionately kissing Sterling during their wedding ceremony. Once again, the crowd went wild with cheers and applause.

“Congratulations, Heather. Your father and I are so proud of you.”

Lauren then turned to look at Sterling, who was sitting next to Heather at a nearby table and sipping wine. He had since changed out of his uniform and into khaki jeans and a black sport shirt with a tan-and-gray print design featuring geometric shapes. The sunglow fox looked much more relaxed in street clothes. More natural.

“And Sterling, welcome to the family. Greg and I are so excited to have you as our son-in-law. Sterling, how’d you like to say a few words?”

Grinning all the while, the mother of the bride stepped off the platform and left the stage, taking her place at her own table beside her husband. Auggie found herself wincing. Sterling was clearly unprepared for this, and her heart went out to him.

Walking slowly onto the stage, Sterling tapped the microphone twice to make sure it was working, and he was obviously very tense. He stood there in a stiff, awkward position, but at the same time doing his best to compose himself because he was about to make a very public, very improvised speech in front of some sixty-odd people. He took a shaky breath and straightened.

“Thank you, thank you very much, Lauren, and thank you so much to everyone who’s come out here tonight….”

He cleared his throat loudly, smiling. When Sterling spoke, he sounded casual and composed, but his speech was almost-imperceptibly rushed:

“My wife, Heather, is the most remarkable woman alive.”

He began, the whole room listening in silence. Heather blushed.

“Really, I couldn’t have been luckier. I’ll never forget the day I met her two years ago. Since we met I’ve had some of the best days of my life. We’ve had all sorts of romantic getaways, and we’ve gotten through hard times together. I hope our marriage is one that lasts a lifetime. Lauren, Greg, I can’t thank you enough for introducing me to your amazing daughter. She’s changed my life. To Greg and Lauren!”

Sterling stepped unceremoniously from the stage, and the whole room toasted both the in-laws and the newlyweds. He had looked so nervous at first- and understandably so- but in the end, he’d pulled through and made an excellent speech. Even more so when one considered it was entirely improvised, and Auggie felt just as relieved as her cousin had to be.

Fortunately for him, Sterling was not called back onto the stage to speak again. The rest of the party and reception passed in a whirling blur of wedding cake, excess, and wine. Guests sat at their tables or wandered the room, mingling and chatting amicably with friends and acquaintances.

There was an open buffet serving pasta, chicken wings, and other offerings. Some local, high-class restaurant had done the catering. Auggie had a glass and a half of the white wine and enjoyed it immensely, but elected not to have any more since she would have to drive herself home .

She chatted up some of the guests; some of which were family members or friends she recognized, and others complete strangers. Refreshingly, most of them were polite, cordial, and all-around approachable. As the evening continued, a few of the guests made their way to the ballroom- where a live band was currently playing- but Auggie had no desire to join them.

She’d always felt awkward about the subject of dancing, and it wasn’t as though she had anyone to dance with anyway. At ten o’clock, as the evening was starting to wind down, the gray-furred vixen made her way to the buffet table with the intent of grabbing the last chicken wings before someone else took them.

As she grabbed the metal tongs and started to scoop them onto her plate, though, she felt a gentle tap on her shoulder and nearly jumped out of her skin. Startled, she turned around and immediately felt silly for such a reaction; as it was only Sterling.

“Hi, I’m so sorry about that.”

She gasped.

“I just wasn’t expecting you. Were you looking for me….?”

Sterling reached into the nearly-empty plastic container containing the few remaining celery sticks and picked one up, biting into it.

“I was.”

He frowned slightly and looked around, as though uncertain whether or not anyone was watching them.

“Auggie, there’s something I’ve been meaning to talk to you about….It’s very important. Would you mind if we talked in private?”

“No, not at all.”

And indeed, Auggie did not mind. She had actually been meaning to talk to Sterling on the subject of his relationship with Heather for some months now, but he’d been so busy both with work and planning the wedding and reaching him had been nearly impossible. Given, after all, the nature of the marriage he’d just entered into, and his subtle uneasiness onstage, Auggie suspected Sterling was now getting back to her as he’d promised. But even in the event it was something else, she’d be more than willing to lend an ear, whatever the reason.

 “Did you have anywhere in mind?”

“The outdoor pool, come on.”

Auggie nodded. She still had her map of the Ivory Tower crumpled into the pocket of her gown, so she could always consult that in the event they got lost. And with that, the two made their way out of the congested, claustrophobic convention center.

Luckily, the two foxes did not lose their way and reached the outdoor pool and deck as planned. By now, the pool was deserted; and the deck had the usual hotel pool paraphernalia: Two rows of white deck chairs on either side of the pool, and a few shaded, circular tables with triangle-shaped umbrellas over them. They sat down at the table farthest from the door, the cloth umbrella fluttering weakly in the early summer wind.

“I’m so sorry we weren’t able to talk before now. I know you’ve wanted to,”

Sterling sighed heavily as he sank into the hard plastic of his seat, his words confirming Auggie’s earlier suspicions. The gold of his wedding band gleamed in the May dusk, a silent but clear reminder of his new marital status.

“Look, I know you’ve wanted to talk to me about this for a while. But Heather and I were so busy planning the wedding since March, we barely had time to talk to anyone. Believe me, I wanted to get back to you, but there just wasn’t time.”

“No, Sterling, you don’t have to be sorry. It’s just….”

She shook her head and searched for the right words, grimacing a bit. The vixen had been anticipating having this conversation for several months now, and now that they were having it, she hoped it would go smoothly.

“I’ve been worried about you lately. I know there must have been a lot of pressure about the wedding, but I just wanted to make sure this is really what you want.”

Sterling, though, did not react as she’d hoped. He was on the defensive now. His gray eyes hardened, and his jaw set. His voice grew just a touch cooler:

“Augusta, I appreciate your intentions. Really, I do. But there’s no other choice.”

Sterling shook his head. His expression remained hard and cold, but for a moment there was something like sadness in his eyes. Perhaps she had found the chink in his armor.

“We all have to make sacrifices in life, and this is mine. I’ve accepted it. Heather loves me, Auggie. She loves me. Can’t you see it?”

His expression was pleading.

“But Sterling, are you doing this for yourself or for Heather?”

“And that is not open for discussion.”

Auggie held up her front paws defensively, and spoke in a calm, level tone:

“Look, I’m not trying to provoke you.”

She began, at once feeling embarrassed and frustrated the conversation was beginning to go downhill so rapidly. She hadn’t planned for this, but she would deal with it as best she could.

"If you really don’t want to talk, I’ll be inside.”

Sterling, though, took a few short intervals to calm himself. He cupped a paw to his forehead and began to massage his temple as though he were in danger of a headache.

“Forgive me,”

He muttered, looking slightly exhausted, as though his sudden outburst had drained him.

“I never meant to get so out-of-control. Wedding jitters, I guess.”

His last words were clearly a feeble attempt at bringing some humor into the situation. Though it fell flat, Auggie responded with a weak smile nonetheless.

“The point is, she’s in love with me, and I’m going to support her, no matter what.”

He choked.

“And I’ll be true to her. We took our vows, and I plan on honoring them.”

Sterling’s gaze strayed down to his simple, unadorned golden wedding band. He traced its cool, smooth surface with a fingertip, as though still not quite able to believe he was married; and to a woman at that.

“Are you going to try for a family?”

This was Auggie’s attempt at lightening the conversation and diverting it elsewhere. It seemed to work, as Sterling smiled warmly, excitement in his eyes.

“Oh, yes. We’re scheduling a consult as soon as the honeymoon’s over.”

But it was more likely than not the results would be negative ones. Fertility specialists were now in extremely high demand, and it was all too common for eager young newlyweds to throw away a fair bit of their savings on treatments that might not even work.

Babies were still born every year, but at some of the lowest rates in modern history. It had become customary for wealthy family to sequester their children inside for the first three or so years of life; when they were often still fragile and prone to sickliness. What with all the mutated and antibiotic-resistant infections running rampant these days, no one wanted to take the risk of losing the sweet angels they’d worked so hard to bring into the world to begin with.

Still, perhaps Heather and Sterling would get lucky. Auggie certainly hoped so, despite how clear it was the odds were stacked against them. It was clear that Sterling was excited about the prospect of being a father, and if he and Heather could start a family together, maybe the marriage might work out in the long-term after all.

“Well, congratulations, Sterling. I hope you and Heather have a wonderful life together.”

Auggie beamed and hugged Sterling gently but tightly, and he responded in kind, clapping her on the back. After the two embraced, he said, beaming:

“She loves me, and I’m going to try to be the best husband I can.”

Before Auggie could say anything more, though, the glass sliding door came open with a slight squeal. Heather came strutting across the stylish stone deck tiling. Heather Daniels Starrett was quite the attractive vixen, with her tannish-beige fur and expressive green eyes, and a black-tufted tail. She was uncommonly pretty, and she was three years older than Sterling at just twenty-eight years old, and with a slim, petite figure.

Despite having since changed out of her wedding gown, Heather was still every inch the blushing bride. She wore a delicate, knee-length pink tulle dress with a sweetheart neckline and a satin belt. Her dark blonde hair was straight, impeccably-styled and just longer than shoulder-length. A beautiful necklace dangled from her neck on a silver chain, a pink morganite heart studded all around with little diamonds. Pink flats and a silken rose hairclip completed the attire.

Heather was grinning from ear to ear as she hurried over to Sterling and Auggie’s table.

“Sterling, I was wondering where you’d run off to!”

She exclaimed, flashing them both a smile so dazzlingly white it didn’t quite seem real.

“And hello to you, Auggie.”

She added cheerily, though it was almost as an afterthought.

Turning to Sterling, she quickly dropped the cheerful facade and spoke urgently, just louder than a whisper:

“The reception’s not even close to finishing yet, we still have two hours….”

Sterling rose slowly, wearily from his chair.

“Oh, yes…..Right.”

He sounded exasperated, and there was no enthusiasm in his voice.

“I hope I didn’t miss much.”


“No, but let’s hurry, I don’t want us to miss any more than we already have….”

Clearly anxious about potentially missing more of the reception, Heather went rushing back towards the sliding door, Sterling walking closely beside her. Before the two disappeared back into the hotel, he turned and waved to his cousin, grinning shyly.

“Goodbye, Auggie!”

He called.

 And just as Auggie returned the wave, they had already gone.

“Goodbye……”

But she was just a few seconds too late. Her voice trailed halfheartedly off. Now she was alone. The sun had set about half an hour ago, and crickets chirped obnoxiously in the slightly-overgrown bushes. Auggie heavily sighed. Sterling was gone, and now she felt so dejected. Alone. But sitting around and moping would not help her in the least bit, either.

Her private meeting with Sterling had not been perfect, no, but then, few things in life can be called perfect. If Sterling had remained single, he would be taking a risk in and of itself- Young, healthy men and women had the best chance at being fertile, and thus, people in their early twenties and older were often heavily-pressured into getting married. But for Sterling, of course, this marriage would only ever be a sham- he’d married a naïve and idealistic young heiress who had no greater ambitions than to be a housewife.

If Heather somehow found out the truth of Sterling’s sexuality, he could be sent to Reformation or even face time in prison. And the last thing Auggie wanted to happen to her cousin and close friend was for him to get a stab in the back from the woman he intended to stay with for the rest of his life, romantic attachment or none. But it was clear that Sterling had no intention on walking out on this marriage, at least, not yet; and either way, it was very much his choice.

Either way, Auggie wished Sterling luck in the long run but desperately hoped he would be able to avoid the torturous punishments inflicted on those who were homosexual. The whole thing was just so cruelly unfair, but then, nothing in life these days was fair. But sometimes, it was still a very hard fact to accept.


And with that, Auggie walked back to the door and returned to the hotel. From there, she found her car outside and drove home, where Ike would be waiting. The next day was Monday, and it was yet another tedious day at work. Life went on.



As everyone expected, Sterling and Heather went on their honeymoon- some island in the tropics- and sent back plenty of photos for everyone. After getting home, they contacted various fertility specialists to see what their chances were of successfully starting a family. And despite all the odds, everything seemed to check out.

They started artificial insemination, and after several tries, Heather finally became pregnant. She announced this big news in October, and in February, they threw a baby shower- which Auggie attended. Since by this point they knew they were having a girl, Heather and Sterling’s suburban home was absolutely saturated in all things pink.

There were pink rubber balloons festooned all over the house, and the usual gimmicky merchandise exclaiming IT’S A GIRL! Everywhere there were baby dolls, bottles, dozens of pastel-colored little outfits, nursery furniture, and other assorted junk.

Auggie immediately felt awkward and out-of-place, as nearly all the guests were Heather’s wealthy society friends, many of whom were several years older than she was. Additionally, it seemed like little was discussed at the baby shower apart from how precious or adorable this outfit or this toy was. Auggie did her best to make conversation regardless- though, at least, it was reassuring that Sterling seemed very self-conscious about all this baby business as well.

He’d always wanted a daughter, but suddenly being assaulted with all this pink, frilly imagery was a bit overwhelming for him. Regardless, he did his best to associate with the guests as well, and at least the whole embarrassing charade was finally done with before dinnertime.

Finally, after much nervous anticipation and excitement, Rain Starrett entered the world on May 22nd, 2084. She was such a beautiful baby, and it was immediately clear how proud Heather and Sterling were of their newborn daughter. Auggie was infinitely happy for them, yet at the same time, she felt more than a little depressed that yet another innocent child would have to grow up in such a hostile, unwelcoming world as this.

If she had any say in the matter, however, perhaps things would not always have to be this way.

Perhaps.

The End

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