|Paradise story universe|
|Works by Jetfire on Shifti|
Thursday, July 31, 2008
Of all the times for the government to fall, it had to be now. We knew it was only a matter of time before Michel Tremblant's Liberals would finally wake up and bring down Michael Horner's Torys. After holding out for two years though, we had hoped (and Known advisers in the party had begged) for him to hold it together until after August. It hadn't happened. Horner took a chance, figuring there was no way Tremblant would bring the government down with the Olympics going on, and Tremblant called his bluff. Canada was heading back to the polls.
It wasn't as if we weren't ready for it, or not expecting it. A date wasn't even set yet and already the news was showing election signs popping up all over the country. And the attack ads from all parties had been playing constantly for weeks. It just meant that the '08 Change Day just became a lot more complicated.
A deep voice spoke out of my computer. "Heal Me!". I tore my attention from the news and thoughts, and tossed a heal on the warrior, Toko. Hamy had already covered my momentary lapse of attention, but I made sure to watch a bit more closely.
"Sorry guys, was distracted by the news. My government just fell," I said over Teamspeak to the group.
"Oh no! Are you in danger?" Riki asked back.
"Was it Change related?" Toko asked. We had a full group, just guildmates grinding some AA's and doing some quests together. What few others realized was that we also made up the bulk of the Changed and Known in guild. Our groups and chats over Teamspeak had become common since the Fan Faire.
"Nah, it's no big deal. Just how our system works. A motion failed to pass, confidence was lost in the party leading, so we go back to the polls. A couple months of campaigning, we vote, and the government picks up where it left off.
"The problem is, Change is only a few weeks away. They're going to be campaigning when the Change happens." I kept an eye in game and started doing some quick research on Wikipedia to satisfy my own curiosity and to get a feel for what was coming. It didn't look nice.
"What's so bad about that?" Zoyan asked once we had a moment between pulls.
I refreshed a couple of buffs and pondered her question. "Well it means that instead of the three hundred-odd Federal politicians we'd normally be keeping an eye on during the Change day, we'll have to be watching... lets see, Tory's, Liberals, NDP and Green'll have nearly full slates of candidates each. The Blockheads in Quebec for another seventy-five... and then all the misc parties. We'll have probably fifteen hundred, maybe even two thousand people scattered all over the country to watch for Changes, not counting anyone running who's already Changed. And not counting the Provincial and Municipal levels that still need to be watched.
The cougress hissed softly into her mic. "Yuck, yeah that sounds like a mess. Good luck with that."
I chuckled and shrugged. "Oh well, we'll figure it out. It'll come when it comes no matter what. So who still needs what from around here?"
Friday, August 1, 2008
"Heads up Horns!" a familiar voice shouted out. Turning my head I saw a flash of yellow coming at my head. I ducked down but not quite enough. It bumped into my horns and caught on a tip, the plastic disk hanging there a moment before falling free. I crouched down and picked it up, puzzled by the 'Magnetic Hill Casino' logo on it. Looking up towards the source of the disk, I spotted a black furred figure jogging my way.
"AT! What are you doing here?" I called out. She was dressed surprisingly nicely for an evening at the park, wearing a pair of dress pants and a shirt that would normally have had a tie.
She caught up to me and we hugged and exchanged a quick kiss on the muzzles. "I was in the area and figured I'd drop in and see yah," she explained, plucking the Frisbee from my hands.
"In the area? What are you doing up here?"
"Actually I was in Moncton, for a job interview." She hesitated a moment and grinned widely. "It's not confirmed yet, but they all but gave me the contract right then and there. You're looking at Magnetic Hill Casino's first head of customer relations."
I reached out and hugged her again. "Congratulations! That's wonderful news!"
She began to pull me back down to the parking lot. "I know. I was so nervous. I figured I didn't have a chance, but as my papa said, you'll never know what you can get unless you reach for it. Come on, I'm treating you to dinner. The Casino's treat."
"Your... condition didn't cause any problems?" I asked, climbing into her car. The Convention's TG curse had finally hit her in April, and caused her more than a few issues since then.
The newfie shook her head and put the car in gear. "Not at all. That was the strangest thing. There were five of them, high ups in the company and stuff, and they all Knew. They Knew what I really was. I was completely floored. Looking back now it makes sense; You can't get far in this industry without realizing what's happening to your customers, but the thought had never crossed my mind at the time.
“And the best thing is, it'll virtually be a clean break for me. Sure some of my clients will follow me up there, but for the most part it'll be a brand new staff and brand new clients. I know it's still a couple of years away but I can't wait! I'll finally be able to be me!"
"Alex is up here, he's got tickets to the concert too," I said on the phone after dinner. Mom and I had tickets to the Eagles concert in Moncton on Saturday, Now that AT was up, we had to tweak our plans a little, but it all worked out.
"He's got a rental car. Soon as you get down, we'll drop it off at Enterprise and the three of us can drive together. I'll drive him back to Halifax while you head to the island with Greg and Craig."
"See yah tomorrow. Love yah too." I hung up and looked over at AT. "It's TIVO you know. You can fast forward through the commercials."
"I know, I just watch them to see how many Changed are on them. Like that one." She stopped on a commercial for cat food, with the tag line 'Only cats can be cats', with a cat morph acting like a cat.
I glanced at the commercial and shook my head. "That's been on forever.... Ugh, fast forward, quick. It's that stupid chihuahua movie ad."
She chuckled and made no move to fast forward. "You know, you gotta wonder sometime. Maybe someone in Disney's become a chihuahua morph. That might explain that movie."
"Nah, not even changing into the canine rat could make someone make that sort of movie." I dropped down on the futon next to her and leaned back, horns scratching fresh tracks on the wall. "Good to have a day to relax though. Couple more weeks and it's crazy time again. Wish I could be here."
She lightly punched my arm. "No you don't. Admit it, you're glad to be out on the road during the Change. No need to worry about who's joining us around here, rushing out half changed to help a newbie or things like that."
I grinned back at her. "Maybe, there is that. But it's not my fault they scheduled the Fan Faire on Change weekend. Anyways, I'm sure I'll have enough Change stuff to do in Vegas one way or another. Worst case, I'll be burning up the long distance minutes checking in with you and Liz and Nat and Chris and everyone else."
"If you say so... isn't that the new razor ad?" She paused and backed it up a few seconds.
I rolled my eyes even as the woman morphed into a cat. "Close but no cigar. She looks nothing like a real cat morph. Clearly they didn't have any Changed in their ad company. And a peacock morph woman with tail feathers like that?"
"Oh lighten up Joey. It's just a neat coincidence. Wonder if they realize their market's gonna fall apart in a few more years?"
Saturday, August 2, 2008
A little less than two years ago, we all had gathered in Halifax for a Rolling Stones concert. Now, we found ourselves in Moncton for the Eagles. But what a difference two years had made. Back then, I was the only Changed in the bunch, the only one who Knew, and freshly TG'ed at at that. This time, I had AT by my side, and Craig, Tanya and Alan all Knew. Plus the weather was a lot nicer than that rainy, chilly concert night. Though by the early evening, I was torn over whether wet, winter-thickening fur was more annoying than August sun warmed summer fur.
Mom, AT and I got to the site first, only slightly delayed from dropping off AT's rental and going back for forgotten tickets. (I put them on the fridge precisely so I wouldn't forget where they were. So when we were driving past Oromocto the first time, I could say I knew exactly where they were; they just weren't with us). We were at an edge of the crowd just after Sam Roberts finished his set, and trying to decide if we wanted to give up an arm and leg for food, when AT heard a voice shouting out over the crowd. She quickly focused on it, and pointed to Tanya and the rest of the family waving to us.
We hooked up, and introduced AT to Craig, Alan and Greg. Tanya and AT knew each other from a prisoner in Tanya's care. "Did you have much trouble finding us?" I mumbled to Tanya while everyone else was distracted. She'd been practicing on piercing the Veil since she found out, and could almost break through at will now.
"No, your horns made it easy to track you down, once I knew where to look," she whispered back with a smile. "Though I was almost thrown off by that ram over there."
"Bah, his horns are nothing like mine." I retorted, flicking a finger on my straight lengths and grinned. We caught up to the others and joined the more normal conversations going on.
After the concert, we retreated back to Tanya's place to recover before we went our separate ways; mom up to visit her father, and me to spend the long weekend with AT.
Maybe it was the special 'scents' from the concert (not as bad as the Stones, but definitely noticeable, especially for AT and I), or maybe it was that Changed and Known outnumbered the Unknown five to two, but the post concert talk veered dangerously close to Changed territory, especially with AT. Greg saw her as a woman (as did Craig and Alan, but they knew to cover for her), while mom still saw her as a guy. The five of us ended up doing a lot of fancy voice work to sidestep that confusion the rest of the night. None of us really relaxed until mom and Greg went to bed.
"Woo-wee... what a night," I mumbled as soon as I heard the doors close upstairs. I slumped back on the couch in the family room and put my arm around AT's shoulders. "Be honest guys, who do you see next to me? Alexander or Alexis?" I asked, pointing to each cousin.
"Alexis," Alan said.
Craig nodded. "Alexis as well. Definitely made things harder. Couldn't we have pretended it was Alexis and your mom was mixed up?"
"Alexander. But I met him... her... ARGH! you'd think I'd be used to this after watching Justine so far? Anyways I met them before AT got the curse."
"Well thanks for covering for her at least. It was a big help. I don't know what we would have done if you two especially didn't Know," I said, nodding to Craig and Alan. I squeezed AT's shoulders, waking her from her dozing. "Mom knows too much about her as is to fool her into thinking Alex was really a girl all this time. Even if she was."
AT yawned and leaned her head against my shoulder. "Aye thanks for the cover guys. And thanks for letting us crash here tonight Tan."
"No problem. You're always welcome here." Tanya cast a concerned gaze towards the stairs leading to the second floor. I flicked my ears and listened over the post-concert ringing, but I couldn't hear any movement from up there. "You're gonna have to tell them soon, Joey," she said.
I sighed and nodded. "I know, I know. I'm going to wait till we get back from Vegas, tell them both then, once the Change rush dies down."
We fell silent for a moment, late night news from Ontario playing quietly on the TV, a story on the location of the new nuclear reactors was just wrapping up and the news announcer was leading into a prerecorded interview with some MPP about revitalizing the slumping manufacturing industry. "So," Alan finally broke the silence. "What do you think you'll become? When you Change?"
AT cracked an eye open, while I leaned back, swallowing a chuckle that threatened to come up. I covered with a bit of pizza-cud. Craig gave a lazy stretch and grinned. "Oh I don't know. I haven't really thought that much about it," he started.
"Oh bullcrap! It's probably been gnawing on your mind ever since you found out," I exclaimed, tucking the cud in my cheek to speak.
"Okay, okay, yeah I have thought about it. But we don't have a choice right?" he shrugged. "If I did have a choice? Maybe something big. A bear or a bull maybe. Or maybe a dog of some sort, a bulldog."
"Or a Rottweiller maybe. I've seen pics of a rott-morph, I could easily see you as one."
He nodded to me. "Maybe. How 'bout you Tan?"
Tanya shrugged and got up to gather glasses. "I don't know. Whatever it is, I'd make it work one way or another."
"You're just dodging the issue. I could see you as a fast form. A deer of some sort maybe, or a pronghorn."
"Or a cat. Panther or cheetah or something," Alan pipped up.
"Cheetah's the wrong continent. She probably wouldn't get that. It's not unheard of though," I corrected him.
"A ferret," AT's quiet voice added in. "She's got the build for one, lean, lithe, agile. A bit tall but doable."
"I don't know, as you said, she is a bit tall for rodent types," I started to correct her.
"So? You know Claude. You've seen his pre-Change pictures. Big, burley lumberjack type, who's now the short, stout but strong beaver. And Tanya and I both know Officer Ramsey, short guy who's now the big moose morph. Human build has little to do with Changed form."
I yawned and let her have that point. "True true. How 'bout you, Alan? What do you want?"
He grinned and raised his hand, flexing his finger tips. "A cat. I've always liked the cats, maybe a jaguar, or a cougar like you were."
I chuckled again. "I can see that. But if you want to practice the swipe ahead of time, spread your fingers apart more, and only curve the tips of your fingers... yeah that's more like it."
We continued fantasizing about who might Change into what for a bit longer, until AT finally drifted away to sleep and even Alan's head was bobbing. We shared our good nights and found various spots to crash.
Sunday, August 3, 2008
"So have you guys heard what this is going to be about?" MD asked from the couch in AT's condo.
"Not a clue. Details have been scarcer than hen's teeth." AT called back from the kitchen.
Word had come out on Saturday about a big announcement coming from Edmonton on Sunday for Changed, Monday for the normals. Speculation ran rampant ever since, but no one had any more details. The only other details that came out from Edmonton was that they were NOT doing a mass reveal of the Changed. Some of the quieter rumours hinted it may be election related, but it was all guesswork.
As the hour of the webcast approached, AT and I invited MD and Jenn over to watch and try to figure out what the big news was going to be. At the appointed hour, AT connected to the server and a grainy video started up, showing a room with a group of furs, a covered sign and a podium.
The webcast video stream flickered, the servers nearly overloaded with everyone curious about what the announcement was going to be. Through the grainy video, I saw a prairie dog morph, standing with a male lynx and a female muskox on a stage. There was a small group of reporters seated in front of the podium, all with what would become a clear view of the sign. I saw a raccoon head that had to be Shiloh, and a bull morph I didn't recognize, along with a couple unchanged, but clearly Known journalists.
The prairie dog stepped up to the podium and waited. "Thank you for coming everyone. I know you are all anxious to find out what we're here tonight for, but first some introductions. My name is Scott Gavel, from Edmonton. With me is Ryan MacFarlane, from Vancouver, and Judy Mehler, from Yellowknife. We are here today to announce that we are throwing our hats into the ring in the upcoming Federal election. We, and others who will be making similar announcements over the next few days, will be running for our respective seats as a single party. A Changed-only party. Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the resurrection of the Furry Party of Canada."
Our own jaws collectively dropped at the announcement. "He can't be serious..." I mumbled, watching as the other two candidates pulled aside the sign covering to reveal the party name written in deep purple.
On screen, Shiloh's paw and a human hand shot up almost immediately. Scott tried to ignore them. "I know you will have questions, but let me get through this first and hopefully cover some of your questions.
"To save you some research, yes I said the resurrection of the FPC. When I and some of the other founders of this party started looking for a name, we were surprised to find there had once been a Furry Party here. It was a joke party founded in Toronto back in the 90's. They ran a couple candidates in '93 and '97, and dissolved soon afterwards. Even more surprising, no one involved back then were Changed. They were Furry in the original connotations of the word.
"They would have remained a foot note in Canadian political history had the Change not been happening. Last year, I started to think about the Changed, and the future, especially our needs for the future. I gathered other Changed and Known and we've been tossing ideas back and forth about what we could do. And then the Election was announced and I knew what we could do.
"We knew what we were going to do, but not what to call ourselves that wouldn't blow the Veil completely away. Then Ryan pointed out the Furry Party. It was too good an opportunity to pass up. I contacted the original founder and discovered he had Changed back in '01. I outlined my ideas and plans, and while he has no intention of running again, he did give us permission, even his blessing, to resurrect his party.
"So, that said, what is the modern Furry Party? We are all Changed, or at least all of the Candidates are changed and must be Changed. Our website should be active shortly and will have the sixty candidates so far who are willing to run for us on it. We recognize that we are effectively a joke party, but winning seats is not our main goal. Our main goal is to raise awareness WITHOUT blowing the Field. We want to be in the news, we are prepared to be laughed at and ridiculed. But by being in the news, getting our pictures in the papers across the country, we hope we can encourage the other Changed out there who are still hiding, who haven't realized they aren't freaks. And with the Campaign spanning Change Day, we want to be out there and ready to catch the new Changed who will be joining us in a couple of weeks.
"That said, we do have two key planks underlying our party. The first is setting up FurCOA, the Furry Canadian Opportunities Agency to encourage development of Change-specific industries for our needs and the needs of the future. From footwear and clothing to adjust to our forms, to special seats and flooring, building and health regulations, we will quietly campaign to help companies trying to help us adapt.
"The second is much more important. Whether we are elected or not, we will be working with whatever Changed resources we do get in Ottawa to make sure that when our condition becomes public, the laws are ready to protect us. Though we were all originally human, technically we are not any more. The laws need to be ready to give us the same rights and privileges we had before we were Changed.
The connection hiccuped again and went blank, a 'connection lost' message appearing on the screen. AT tried to refresh it, but word had spread quickly and the poor server was effectively Slashdotted.
"They're nuts. They're abso-fracking-lutely nuts." I mumbled, slumping back in a chair and shaking my head.
"Maybe, but they're well organized nuts," AT said, giving up on the webcast and bringing up the FPC website. As promised, there was a list of the candidates so far, most located out west or in the big cities. "And he's got a point, especially that last one. You can't be fired now just because you are black, or a woman or disabled... but any of us could be fired now just because we're a morphic dog, or a goat, or a porcupine, and we'd have no recourse. We've got the Veil hiding us now, protecting us from that sort of risk, and, baring another miracle, it'll be irrelevant in another dozen years. But that's still a long way to go in the mean time."
The front page of the site seemed harmless enough, about what you would expect from a joke party, advertising free fur brushes for all, tails and ears for anyone who wanted, and similar joke platform stances, their two serious planks intermixed among them. There were signs of a hidden Changed-only section, but the site was too sluggish to get through the registration to get in there, let alone see what was in there. Their message boards were still completely locked down as well.
"Is that such a bad idea what he's doing? Most people are just going to take him as a joke party, like those Yoga fliers we had running when we were in High School. Only the Changed and Known will know what they're really about," MD commented.
I shook my head again. "I suppose. It's not like we don't have a history of these single issue parties. Or joke ones for that matter. But the risk.... How many gatherings can they have without risking another Tall Tales event?"
"It's not that bad Joey. Hell it's not much worst than you guys trying to get on air at the New Years party a few years back. They're just doing the same thing you did back then, get some publicity so others know where and who to turn to," Jenn added.
"I suppose so. It'll probably work out.... But man, we haven't even gotten on the boards and I can already feel the flames from here." I grinned and sipped my drink before getting up to get a refill. "No matter what, this election just got a hell of a lot more interesting."
As expected, the announcement (and the 'official' announcement the next day) caused quite the flame war. Three of the candidates ended up dropping out over the backlash, but another dozen signed up. Some of the flames got rather irate and brought out the cops (real cops, we had a Changed officer in Hamilton and another in Regina, not to mention Winthrop and Ramsey) to warn people they were treading really close to the line and to leash it in before they were forced to bring out the muzzles.
In the Real World, the press had a field day with it drawing the expected comparisons with the other parties. The FPC Changed website proudly copied as many of the Editorial cartoons they could find and displayed them for all to see. (My personal favorite was the scratching post outside Parliament, followed by the cats vs dogs setup in the Lower House)
On Tuesday, the election date was finally officially set. We went to the polls on September 16th. But the important date was August 17th. As the big parties solidified their rosters, the Changed were pouring over the announcements and planning on who would check on which candidates come Change Day. Even though I was going to be out of the country for Change Day, I still did my best to help organize things in my neck of the woods.
Outside of the FPC, it was surprising the number of Changed that were in the parties. The Green party alone had fifteen on their roster once their candidates were announced. The other three national parties averaged around five each, while the Blockheads had one lone Changed running in a lost-cause riding in Montreal. Even more surprising was Edmonton Centre. Counting the FPC candidate (Scott), there were three Changed running in there. Both the NDP and Liberal candidates were Changed, and the Green party candidate was Known. All four of them promised to do a Changed-only debate at some point as soon as their organizers could work out a time.
A week after the FPC announcement, I packed up everything I could and left the rest of the handling to the other local furs. I had to pick up mom at Tanya's, after which I'd be spending time at home until our flight. Part of me wished I was staying, but with Fan Faire and Changed day overlapping, it meant we (mom and I and this time dad) were taking a week long Vegas vacation just before the world Changed for another million people.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
The trip down to Vegas was uneventful, to my relief. After dealing with the election and preparing for the Change day, I needed the break. My passport still showed my cougar form (a male cougar at least; the TTC curse seemed to have corrected that at some point for me), but it didn't cause any trouble at the Houlton Border crossing. We drove down to Bangor and flew out from there. For what was left of Monday, all of Tuesday and the first bit of Wednesday, mom, dad and I took in the sights of Vegas, finally making it down to Freemont street and even taking a tour out to the Dam.
Wednesday evening, I took my leave of my parents and headed down to Quarks where the Developers and 'Community Leaders' (the program that replaced the Summit and Correspondent programs earlier that year) were gathering for an ice breaker before the meetings the next day. Aidan greeted me, joking about finally being able to see the horns he'd helped usher me into it. Melody was around as well; she was involved in a similar program on the EQII side. I was surprised to see a buck at the table. Aidan introduced me to Chanus, another cleric player in the program I knew, but whom I'd never realized was changed. We chatted a bit before melting back into the general crowd, the only Changed there at the time (well the only Changed other than a squirrel waiter in a Star Fleet uniform.) I kept an eye on the Unchanged to see if any of them showed signs of breaking the Veil like I had way back then, but no one acted any stranger than expected.
Thursday came and passed mostly in various game discussion meetings. By the end of the afternoon sessions, everyone was worn out and ready to start partying and the actual Fan Faire.
After the meetings, I wandered out to the registration area and the large gathering hall where attendees were mingling. I knew that theoretically we should have twice as many changed as last year, but as I scanned the hall, it felt like there were more of us. In fact it felt like it was dangerously close to the TTC limits, but when I actually counted we were only around 75 or so. I spotted a familiar bushy tail and grinned, beginning to weave through the crowd.
The two furs had their back to me, and the normals who faced them didn't notice me through the crowd. I followed a small group of people as they walked behind the squirrel and suddenly reached around and covered her eyes. "Guess who."
If the tail hadn't blinded me a moment, I would have been able to dodge the elbow that shot back at me. With an oof, I bent forward, letting go of her while she turned around. "Saroc! I'm sorry!" Riki called out.
"I'm fine. My fault," I gasped out and grinned. Vahkan and a woman I didn't recognize smirked. Betila looked at me, squinting and her eyes widened in surprise. Hamy laughed then turned away, blowing his nose for the third time since I'd spotted them. "How are you all doing?" I asked.
"We're fine, just plotting and scheming as usual," Zoyan said. I looked at the cougress, surprised with the ease she was fitting in. The past year had been difficult for her; that long Sunday evening Riki and I had spent on Teamspeak after he had become a she was still clear in my mind. Now she was clearly comfortable with what she was. She dressed in unisex clothes, but she pulled the look off well. What was even more surprising was how similar she looked like what I used to be. It really did look like she'd picked up the form I had shed last year.
Still, even with the curse, there was one danger still. I clasped her hand in greeting and leaned in close. "How does she see you?" I whispered quickly, flicking my ear vaguely towards Vahkan.
"A guy. We're gonna have to be careful," she hissed back, letting my hand go.
I nodded and looked at the stranger, squinting on the name tag. "Pau! Good to finally meet you in person," I said recognizing the beastlord's name.
We stood in the hall chatting and catching up. We were interrupted when someone shouted "Saroc!" and silver furred arms suddenly hugged Zoyan from behind. I grinned and tapped the shoulder of the ferret. "Close, but no cigar," I told Guntur.
He looked at me, confused, then back at Zoyan. "You're behind the times. That's Zoyan," I hissed, while Zoyan playfully flashed her claws. Guntur gulped and oh'ed silently before recovering.
The next two days passed in a blur, a fun blur, but a blur nonetheless. A few more guildmates showed up, and we stayed a group through the Live Quest and hung out together at the bar party. There was a bit of confusion with Zoyan, since some of the newer guildmates, saw her as a girl, while the ones who'd met her last year saw her as a guy, but we managed to gloss over the confusion. It was even weirder in that some of the guildmates knew her voice before she changed, but not her looks; luckily her voice was low pitched enough that they didn't notice the difference. For the rest, considering her in-game toon was female, we used that as an excuse as often as we could.
Hamy got sicker and sicker as the days went by. He tried to brush them off, saying they were allergies from all the fur around him, but the Changed (and Betila) knew the signs when we saw it. It was all but confirmed when he started seeing the real us at the final night dinner on Saturday. Hamy was going to Change before he left Vegas.
For me, I began to feel queasy in my stomach on Saturday, but I brushed it aside as fatigue and pushed on. In the back of my mind I knew what it had to be, but I was in denial. Soon after the dinner (and after Brenlo finished awarding the prizes), Hamy and Riki bade farewell to the guild and went to bed. About half of us were heading home the next day, but the rest of us (mostly Changed and Betila) would be around for most of Sunday. No Changed or Known wanted to be traveling on Change day if they could at all avoid it. Those of us who were staying arranged to meet for brunch on Sunday and the group dissipated. I swung by some of the Leader groups and other groups before finally calling it a night myself. The music and flashing nights were giving me the mother of all headaches.
Sunday, August 17, 2008
The signs were unavoidable; the Change Flu was back for me. I returned to our room about eleven that evening, and crashed out on my bed, not even going on-line. Mom was nowhere in sight, but dad was dozing on the couch, the TV on. We exchanged a few words about the dinner and banquet before I was out like a light.
I tried to sleep in, I wanted to sleep in, but my body had other ideas. Around four in the morning, I jolted awake, my stomach churning badly. Trying not to wake my parents snoring in the next bed over, I stumbled to the toilet, less coordinated than usual on my hooves. I barely got the door closed before my stomach cramped again, bringing up in a bad way the little dinner I had choked down. I only had to look at the white fur going tawny to know my cud days were finished again.
I flushed and glanced around the shower and toilet room. I wasn't sure what I was going to do, but I couldn't stay in the room, not while I was changing, not with my parents next to me. I turned off the lights and walked back out quietly, listening to my parents. Their sleep didn't seem to be disturbed. I pulled on a shirt and grabbed my phone and room key and eased myself out of the door.
I leaned against the wall in the hall and considered my options, even as my fingers began to cramp and shift. I debated calling Zoyan, but she wasn't staying at the Hilton. There was only one couple I felt comfortable calling, mostly out of a sense of misery wanting company. I dialed the number I'd gotten earlier.
"Hello?" A tired, but awake and slightly stressed voice answered after the fourth ring.
"Riki? It's SarAWK." I coughed, my voice suddenly cracking. I tried to clear my throat and hold my voice steady.
"Saroc? What's wrong? Oh my god..." the squirrel caught up to the implications.
I looked at my hands, my nails shrinking and reshaping into claws as I watched. The fur turned a familiar tawny colouring. "I'm... I'm changing again. I can't stay in my room, not with my parents there."
"I understand. Come on up. We're in 2015."
"Thanks Riki. I'll be right there." I disconnected and walked bare hoofed to the elevator bank. My tail twitched, growing longer. Thankfully, it didn't take long for the elevator to arrive.
I got off on the twentieth floor and headed to room 2015. I knocked on the door awkwardly with a half-changed hand. It opened quickly.
"Saroc! Come in! Come in!" the squirrel all but pulled me in. "Can you tell yet?"
I sighed a bit, hearing her close the door behind me. I raised a hand and rubbed my shorter horns. "It's like riding a bike. I'm going back to JF."
I shrugged. "It's life. ROB's playing dice with me and keeps rolling snake eyes it seems." I looked over at the bed, where Hamy was resting. He was scratching at dark fur growing over his arms. "How are you doing there?"
He grunted and bared his changing teeth. "Well enough. I can't believe what you guys look like for real now. And what I'm going to look like."
I collapsed on the couch next to the AC unit. "I'll try not to give you too much of a show while this is going on."
Over the next hour, we talked and changed, I back into my cougress form, and Hamy into what obviously became an old black bear, complete with silvery fur around his muzzle. For the most embarrassing part of my change, I excused myself to their bathroom, going in barely a man, coming back out as a woman. We talked a bit longer, about my own experiences, and what Hamy had to look forward to now, before the three of us dozed off.
The beeping of a cellphone jolted us awake. Three furry faces looked around before finding the offending phone; my phone. I flipped it open and tried to sound awake. "Hey mom."
"Joey? Are you OK? We woke up and you were gone. Dad said he thought he heard you throwing up or something."
"I'm fine... Fine now. Something at dinner didn't agree with me. I had to get some air for a bit," I said, partly lying and hoping I didn't sound too strange to her. I looked at Riki and Hamy, then at my reflection in the mirror.
"Where are you now? Do you need me to go get something?"
I shook my head and gulped. "No, I'm fine now. I'll be back soon. I'm with Riki and Hamy at the moment."
"They're still here too? Tell them good morning from us."
"Will do. I'll be back soon."
We said our good-byes and I closed the phone. I let out a long rumbling sigh, rubbing my newly swollen chest.
"They aren't Known, are they?" Hamy noted. I shook my head slowly. "Thought about telling them?"
"All the time. There's been so many close calls, I'm shocked they haven't figured it out yet. We don't usually spend so much time together at least, but they're close enough to my place to drop in, and these trips are regular enough...." I trailed off and sighed.
"Getting home is going to be fun to. That damn curse is probably on me now. Everyone else is gonna see me as a girl."
"When are you flying out?" Riki asked.
"Tomorrow morning." I stood up and adjusted my clothes, tail swishing over the top of my shorts. "I'd better get going. Are you guys going to be around? I think I'm gonna need some support... and maybe some clothes shopping."
"You've got our number if you want to get a hold of us. We're staying till tomorrow too. Hamy's probably gonna need some new stuff as well."
I smiled and made my way to the door. "Thanks guys. I'll be in touch."
Pausing outside the door, I gulped and prepared myself. Through the door, I could hear water running, and the murmur of the television. I slid the key card through the reader and stepped in.
Mom was standing at the sink, brushing her teeth. I could only see dad's feet on the bed, but the TV was on, showing scenes of anguished families filmed at an airport. The crawl on the screen gave a flight number that crashed coming into San Fransisco.
"Mmmey!" mom mumbled before spitting. "What happened to you?"
I raised a paw and ran it through my now-tawny hair. I opened my mouth to give the 'lost a bet' story, but I couldn't do it. Not any more. I gulped nervously, and caught my tail as I walked deeper into the room, trying to figure out how best to tell them. I didn't have the horns any more to do the reveal I did with Liz, and a hotel room seventeen stories in the air didn't have much soft ground to leave tracks in. But I had to tell them.
Mom rinsed her mouth and followed me. The news briefly switched their coverage to some atrocity going on in Africa, but dad turned it off. He seemed to sense something was up.
I stood there, facing both of them, whiskers twitching unseen to them in the air. I let my tail go and rubbed my wrist, making a mental note to update the species on the bracelet, then refocused on what I was doing. "Mom... Dad.... I... " I gulped and closed my eyes. "I've got something to tell you. About the sleeping sickness, and some other things that have been going on without you realizing it."
I excused myself and stepped out of the room to take a breather. Down the hall, I smelled the strong scents of cleaning supplies as the hotel workers cleaned rooms. Mom and Dad had taken it well enough, all things considered, but it clearly hadn't sunk in much yet. After the initial reveal, I called in reinforcements, and Riki and Hamy were in there now. Still, it was a tough story to swallow, especially since I couldn't do the horn trick any more. Riki and I had managed to show our tails with a cup on the end, but it didn't quite have the same impact.
I hung a 'Do not disturb' sign on the door handle and walked down to the elevator alcove, to collect my thoughts and break the mental loops I found myself in. Refocusing on Change work seemed like a good idea. Being out of the country meant I had to trust everyone back home to try to handle Change Day by themselves, but I had meant to be more active than I was currently. My laptop was stuck in the room with my parents, so I couldn't get on the boards, but there were a few things I had to do. Wincing at the thought of the roaming charges I was racking up, I dialed AT.
"Hey Horns, how's Vegas?" she greeted me.
"Hot and dry, but I'm not Horns any more."
She gasped a bit, both at the sound of my voice and my comment. "You changed AGAIN? No wonder you can't win a lottery. You're spending all your luck on Change Day. So what is it?"
I smiled a little and sat on the window sill, feeling the hot August morning sun coming through the window. "The Cat came back, the very next year. I went cougress again."
"Well, keep your hopes up a bit, maybe you'll do a five-peat and hit Billy again next year," she said, unable to hide a bit of disappointment from her voice.
"Maybe. It's not the only thing that's gone on." I quickly filled her in on the rest of the morning events, on Hamy's change and my reveal.
"You couldn't wait until you got home to tell them?" AT asked when I finished.
I pulled out my passport and looked at it for the first time. "I probably could have, but the travel would have been awkward either way, with the Curse and stuff. Ugh, it made me a Josephine. Definitely keeping Joey publicly. Anyways, it may actually have been easier to tell them down here, where they're off balance from being in a strange place and stuff.
I sat on the window ledge and changed the subject. "So how are things back home?"
"Crazy across the board. We've already got over a hundred newbies, most of them coming our way from the Furry Party ads, but a surprising number of them were Known or Family. Boards are hinting that seems to be a universal trend or something."
"Interesting. I'll take a peak later, maybe CM knows about it. Speaking of the Furry Party, how are we looking on the government scene?"
She sighed and I heard the creak of a chair. "We're still sorting things out. Locally we got a City Councilor here in Halifax and an MPP from down towards Yarmouth. Most of the Federal Candidates so far are still clean though, that we've been able to track down, but we've only checked on half of them so far.
"Sarah from up your way sent a message in. She's concerned about a candidate in her riding. Seems he suddenly canceled a trip to Grand Falls, and a visit to Florenceville tomorrow's also been canceled, both due to illness."
"Who's sick? Can she check into it?"
"Mike Savoy, and no she can't. She's about to head to work, and she has to drive up to Tobique right afterwards for a personal matter. He lives in Woodstock from what she says."
I sighed and tried to think of who else could handle it. Other than Sarah, the county only had Erma who couldn't really handle a briefing, and a McCain cousin who was down in South America on business. I pondered seeing if Chris or Freddy could head up river, but decided it could wait. "I'll be back tomorrow evening, somewhat late, but I'll handle it. Maybe you could ping Francois for me though, ask him to take a look into it." Francois was the Furry Party candidate for Miramachi, and the only one we had in the Maritimes. "Mike was leading in the polls wasn't he?"
"By a healthy margin. A few days shouldn't hurt too much. There doesn't seem to be much else going on up there, but it's hard to know for certain without you up there."
"I know, I'll be back tomorrow and digging into what I can find out."
"Sure. In any case, this is probably costing you a fortune, and I've gotta go meet that Councilor to let him know about this. Oh yeah! You'll never believe who Changed. I won't tell you, but watch the news on Monday if you can get home in time."
"The news? So Bruce changed?"
She laughed. "Nope, he dodged the bullet this time, but... well you'll see. Talk to you later, Claws."
I stared at the dead phone and shook my head. One down, two to go. The second call was semi local at least, and hopefully wouldn't take long.
"Yo, Aidan speaking," the bull's voice came over the phone.
"Hey Aidan, it's Saroc... Joey... JF." I introduced myself.
"Hey Joe, how yah doing? Oh...." He picked up the implications of the last name quickly.
"Yeah, I changed again. But that's not why I'm calling. Are you still at the Hilton?"
"Sure am. We're just doing the last bit of packing up. You need something?"
"Yeah, if you don't mind. You see, I'm doing a reveal to my parents, and well, since I went feline again, I lost my best revelation tool. I was wondering if I could borrow your horns for a few minutes since I seem to have misplaced mine."
He took a moment to answer. I could hear the squeak of Styrofoam packing sliding into a box. "I'm a bit busy, but give me half an hour. I'll give you a call when I'm on my way. What floor are you on?"
"Seventeenth, room 26. Thanks Aidan."
I checked the charge on my phone and stretched. The next call could be the most difficult. I watched the monorail leave the Hilton station, and decided to stop stalling. I pressed the speed dial button.
"Well it's about time! Where have you been?"
"And good morning to you too, Liz. It's been a busy one for me. What's going on?"
I heard a thump as Liz settled in her chair. "Oh everything. The family's in a tizzy today. Jessica changed, into a monkey like Danny. Chris and Cheryl are still clear though.
"Mom's side though... we're gonna need to tell her. If we don't, Greg is sure to."
"He changed today, black bear. Craig and Alan are already there to help him. Tanya called AT and she's going to ask Mike and Crystal to swing by too when they get a chance. They're just a bit busy though; Crystal finally changed. Arctic Vixen to Mike's joy."
I really wished I had my laptop with me to help sort out the flood of information Liz was passing along. I could already feel details going in one ear and out the other. "Let me get this straight. On mom's side, no one's changed but Uncle Greg?"
"Yeah. We haven't heard from Holly yet, but we doubt she's changed. She would've been the first."
"The first? Oh yeah she's back teaching in Korea isn't she? I'm sure she'll be in touch soon enough. Could you ask Greg to wait until we get home before he calls mom? They've had enough shocks so far, I'd rather give them a bit of time to let it sink in."
"Shocks? What sort of shocks?"
I pulled the phone away from my ears a bit. "I... I told them this morning."
Even with the extra distance, her voice was very clear. "You did what?!?"
"Right after I changed again. My ghost lost the beard and changed hair colour so I had to tell them something. And I couldn't stand the thought of lying any more."
I explained what had been happening on my end and why I wasn't on-line. Even with everything she knew about the Changed, she had a hard time believing she had a sister now, but we moved past it.
We talked about the events and how people were handling them much longer than I expected to. So I was surprised to hear the elevator ding, and catch the reflection in the window of a familiar bull morph and another cougress stepping out of the car.
"We'll call you later Liz, time to give them another shock for the day." I cut the connection in mid exclamation from her and turned off the phone. "Hey Aidan, thanks for coming. Zoy! I didn't know you were coming."
The other cougar closed her mouth and shook her head. "Hamy gave me a call and asked me to swing by.... Damn! I didn't believe it till I saw it with my own eyes. We're practically sisters! You seem to be taking it well at least."
I shrugged and motioned for them to lead. "I don't have time to take it any other way. Not yet at least. And it's nothing I haven't been before, sadly. Once the Change rush wears off and I start thinking deeper on it I'll probably be in trouble, but frankly, I don't have time just now. Room twenty six."
I listened at the door for a moment, hearing the mumble of voices before I swiped my card. The room went silent and four pairs of eyes turned our way. Things seemed to be going well enough as far as I could tell, but there was something off in mom's eyes when she looked at me. Dad seemed to be taking it in stride at least. I was glad Riki and Hamy were around; they were closer to my parent's ages than to my age, and that seemed to have made a difference.
Mom looked briefly at Aidan, then focused on Zoyan. Her eyes looked puzzled for a moment. "So she is one like you too?" she asked.
"More like me than you might think. You don't remember, but you met her last year, at the Fan Faire. Only she was unchanged, and a guy then. Mom, Dad, this is Zach, otherwise known as Zoyan. She's a cougar like I am now." Zoyan gave them a wave.
"And this is Aidan, a bull, and always a guy. He's the first Changed I ever saw as a Changed, and he helped me tonnes when I first went Billy. Guys, these are my parents, Jean and Mac Ford."
The room was beginning to get crowded, and I could smell the scents getting stronger. Hamy and Riki moved over to the other bed to sit there, while the three of us stood near the couches. Dad gave Hamy a wary look but tried not to look nervous.
"I'm afraid I can't stay too long. We're almost done packing up downstairs, and I've gotta get on the road back to San Diego. But Sa- Joey said he wanted my help for a demonstration," Aidan explained once the rest of the introductions were done.
I checked the shelves near the sink and found a plastic cup. "As the saying goes, Seeing is Believing. We've told you all this, and even shown you it as best we could, but it's hard to accept. I did this with Liz last fall, when I told her, and it was effective. Maybe too effective."
"You told Liz before you told us?" mom exclaimed, interrupting me.
"Yes, as I told you before, I told her last fall, when she was down. She was probably going to find out at Mindy's anyways. Could you sit down please Aidan? And do you mind if I touch your horns?"
He sat down, putting his head in easy reach for me. "Go ahead, Sar."
"Thanks. As I said, Aidan is a bull morph. He has horns, permanent horns, like I had until this morning. Imagine a minotaur, nose roughly to here, eyes back here, ears around here, and horns starting here and extending out to here and here," I described, point near the appropriate parts of the bull's head. He snorted a little and smirked. "Keep that in mind, don't be scared and watch."
I held the cup upside down over the tip of one horn and let go. It clattered a bit, hanging on the tip of the horn. Mom gasped and covered her mouth. Dad simply stared, as if he could not believe what he was seeing.
"It's no trick. What you are seeing is real," Aidan confirmed, turning his head from side to side a little. Having been forewarned, the initial shock faded quickly, but it was clear they still didn't know how to take it. The five of us answered and reanswered, their questions for a bit longer until Aidan had to leave, and Zoyan reminded us of the brunch plans we had made.
"You guys head down, we'll catch up in a bit," I said, escorting them to the door. "Thanks for your help, but I think we need a bit of family time," I said quieter, glancing back before accepting Riki's quick hug.
"We understand. Glad we could help you out," she said.
I closed the door behind them and walked back to the main part of the room. It was dead silent, save for the air conditioner labouring against the August Vegas sun and the scents of five furs. I sat down sideways on the couch, tail twitching and looked at my parents, trying to read the mood and feeling very alone. Dad seemed confused and concerned mostly. When our eyes met, he looked away first.
Mom was the harder read. She didn't avoid my gaze, but there was something to her that was different, something that had changed. She looked at me like I was a stranger. I felt my heart tighten, sensing something had died between us.
"Who are you?" she asked, breaking the silence.
I tensed a bit, understanding the weight of the simple question, a question that couldn't be asked among strangers. "It's Joey, ma. Changed, but the core is the same. I'm the same person you always knew," I said, trying to be as emphatic as I could.
"I just don't know. You look like him but you're different. You're more secretive, And you wouldn't be doing that!"
I looked down and realized my claws had dug into the couch back, leaving short scratch marks. I pulled in my claws and put my hands on my lap, trying to figure out what to say, what I could say. Mom and I had always been close, but now a big furry wedge had been driven between us, and I didn't know how to remove it.
Dad seemed to sense my frustration and made his move. He reached over and took mom's hand, squeezing it gently. "It's okay, Babe. I'm sure it wasn't easy for him to keep quiet about this all these years. The point is, he's telling this to us now, before he had to. He could have waited longer but he didn't."
Mom looked to dad, then back to me. The wedge had loosened, but was still there. We stared at each other in silence, letting looks try to mend what words couldn't.
"You must be hungry after what you... after what happened this morning. Go, go have brunch with your friends. We'll get our own meal later," mom finally said.
I looked at her, and realized she needed the time, just her and dad. I stood and straightened my shirt and pants as best I could and started to the door. Before I reached it, I remembered something. I didn't really want to spill it this soon, but it seemed like a good way to strengthen the frayed bond between us.
"There's one more thing. I was talking with Liz earlier, while you guys were with Riki and Hamy. I was trying to find out what's been happening back home," I said, turning to look back at them. "Jessica changed, she's a match to Danny now.... And Greg changed. A black bear apparently, though I don't know any more details than that. She said Alan and Craig are there to help him."
Mom seemed too overloaded to fully process that. I waited for anything else, but she wasn't even looking my way. Dad hugged her and made a quick shoo motion towards me with his hand. I stepped out of the room and closed the door, letting out a long breath.
The restaurant was busy with people recovering from late night, and a few clearly recovering from an experience they weren't expecting. I waved as I passed a few furs I recognized from the Faire. Most waved back, but they didn't recognize me; the disadvantage of changing again. My own group was hard to miss; even though he wasn't as big as a grizzly, Hamy's black bear bulk was easy to spot.
I waved to Riki and Betila, but I didn't go directly to them. I paused at another table, where a group was clearly doing their best to shake off the remnants of the party. Very few of us had our badges on any more, which made it hard to remember names to faces, but I recognized them from the Summit meetings before the Faire. The only fur at the table, a deer of some sort, looked at me curiously, clearly trying to figure out who I was. Chanus had changed last year, so he'd never seen me as anything but a billy, until now.
"Hey guys, sorry I bailed on the party so early. Something wasn't agreeing with my stomachs," I greeted them, grinning at the confused buck. "I'm feeling a lot better now at least."
"Hey Saroc, pull up a chair. Glad to hear you're feeling better. You do something to your hair?" Nanya said, reaching back to pull a chair from a side table. The buck's jaw dropped open in surprise and he openly stared.
I grinned and shook my head, ignoring the hair question. "Thanks, but I was just saying hi and bye. My guild's sitting over there. Good to see you all though. Talk to you on the boards." I wiggled around their table, putting me close to the buck on my way to my guild. "You're cud's showing," I hissed to Chanus, smirking and waving to the others at the table. He snapped his mouth closed and shook his head. "We'll talk later I'm sure," I added slightly louder but clearly directed at him. He nodded and finally looked away.
Most of my guildmates had already left for home, but enough of us were still around to make a full table. Beyond Riki, Hamy and Zoyan, Betila, Vahkan and Holy were still there. I greeted them, swiping a slice of bacon from the plate in front of Hamy. He started to growl back at me, but was startled by the sound he made. I grinned to him and crunched on my stolen slice, taking a seat next to Zoyan.
It was good to get back to normal somewhat. Even though I was a girl cat now instead of a billy goat, I was able to relax in ways I hadn't been able to since I changed. Some of the concerns of the morning were chewing at the back of my mind, but I shoved them aside. It didn't hurt that everyone left, even if they didn't know about the Changed, were ones who had 'seen' me as a cougress first. Sadly, it didn't last for long.
Zoyan noticed them entering the restaurant first. "Saroc, over there," she whispered, her tail pointing towards the door. My parents, looking somewhat better but still shell shocked, were at the entrance.
I gulped down some juice and wiped my muzzle. "Excuse me, I'll be right back," I said, standing up.
Mom saw me coming, and looked like she wanted to leave. Dad kept a grip on her arm, holding her in place. "We should go somewhere else. I thought they'd be done by now," I heard her say.
"No, there's no need to leave. We're almost done anyways," I said, getting in easy speaking distance. "Come join us, or at least sit next to us," I added, stopping myself before I reached out to take her arm. They began to follow me back, but I saw them trying not to look like they were looking at every person sitting in the restaurant. "There are about a dozen like me here now. And I don't know how many Known." I whispered.
"How do you keep track of it all? Who knows and who doesn't and all that stuff?" mom asked back quietly.
I shrugged and slowed my pace a bit. "The Changed can recognize each other on sight of course. As for the Known, it's memory mainly, remembering who you told or who told you they know. And watching behavior and listening for hint dropping. Most of the time we treat the unChanged as unKnown until they indicate otherwise.
"Speaking of which, when we get to my guild mates, Holy and Vahkan don't know, but Bets does. Please keep that in mind." I sat them down at the table near where I was sitting and redid the introductions.
Keeping the conversation on safe subjects proved more difficult than it should have been. The Change was clearly the number one thing on their minds. Luckily we didn't have to watch for too long. Holy and Vahkan excused themselves to finish packing; their flights were leaving in the afternoon.
Once they were out of earshot, attention shifted to the Ford table. Betila moved over and sat down at the table. "Riki filled me in on what happened. How are you really doing Saroc?"
I shrugged and sighed. "Well enough I guess. Disappointed to change again, annoyed to be... no offense intended, but annoyed to be a girl again."
"Good, then get up and go wait outside or something with the rest of the furred. It looks like your parents need some Known talk." I opened my mouth to object, but she didn't give me a chance. "Look, you were never a Known, not really. There are just some things that are easier to say when you don't have a Changed in front of you."
I still wanted to object, but I looked to my parents first. Dad was looking at me, but didn't say a word. Mom didn't even meet my gaze. I picked up the bill for the three of us and stood up. "I'll be nearby," I said, before heading to the cash.
The others joined me just outside, blocking my view of the inside. "So,, did you have any plans for today, Sar?" Zoyan asked, sitting next to me.
I leaned from side to side, but a black bear makes an effective wall when he wants to be one. "I don't know. We were going to wing it a bit, have one last day in Vegas before heading home, but now...." I tugged at my shorts a bit. "Actually, now, I could really use a Wal-Mart or Target or something to pick up some new clothes. I wasn't expecting to go cougress again."
"Hamy could use a few things too. Lets see what your parents do, and we can track down a store that won't rip us off too much," Riki said, tugging on the bear's sleeve.
"When are you guys heading home? You don't have to stay on my account."
"We're flying out tomorrow, just like you. I don't think any Changed or Known wanted to be doing much travel today if they could help it."
"And I drove down, so I can leave whenever. I was already planning on heading home tomorrow," Zoyan added.
Betila came out of the restaurant first, looking thoughtful. She joined us and punched me lightly on the arm. "You didn't tell me her brother had Changed too."
"I didn't have time to. He just changed this morning. Besides, he's got his son and son-in-law there to help him. Probably Mike and Crystal too by now. One experienced Changed, one new Changed and two relatively experienced Known."
"Well it's worrying her sick. She's been trying to call him but there hasn't been an answer."
I shrugged hopelessly. "There's nothing I can do about it. I haven't even touched a keyboard all day." I peeked around her trying to see where they went. "How are they?"
"Overwhelmed, scared, confused, shocked; I could pull out a dictionary and just about every adjective would probably apply. I've done what I could, but it's up to them and time." She sighed and squeezed my paw. "With more time, I could probably do more, and I wish I could do more. But I need to get going."
I got up and hugged her. "I understand. Thanks for doing what you could. Have a safe trip home."
She smiled and began to hug the rest of them, saying her goodbyes. "Man, I almost wish my number had come up so I could see you guys clearly. Maybe next year."
"Yeah maybe. It was good seeing you again. Swing by if you're out our way," Hamy said when she hugged him.
"I always do." She waved and set off through the casino towards the elevator bank. Riki pulled out a handkerchief and dabbed her eyes.
I saw my parents coming out of the restaurant and wiped my eyes with the back of my furry arm. "Guys, how about we meet up in thirty minutes right here? I should know by then if I'll be spending family time, or if I'll be going Target hunting with you guys," I said, fighting to keep my voice from catching. I was never good with good-byes. "I'll let you know one way or another by then."
I approached mom and dad and tried to get a feel for how they were doing. In their stance and the way they looked at me, I could tell Betila was right; they were not taking this well, despite my initial suspicions. Mom especially was having a hard time even looking at me. "So what're the plans for today?" I asked, forcing cheer into my voice and starting to guide us back towards the elevators. Mom flinched away when my hand came near her arm.
"Joey... I..." mom started to say but had trouble figuring out what she wanted to say.
Dad stepped in as we got in the empty car. "What mom's trying to say is, given everything that happened today, it may be best if we just went on our own. That we took the time to get used to this idea, about what happened to you."
I stayed quiet while the floor counter ticked up into the teens. "I understand. We're going over to the Rio to the buffet for dinner, if you want to join us. I'll give you a call when we decide we're going there, and you can join us if you want."
We got off the car in silence and walked to the room. We stood at the foot of the beds and stared uncomfortably at each other. Dad once again nudged us in the right direction. "You've got people waiting for you, why don't you do what you need to here first."
I nodded and gathered my brushes and a change of clothes, not hiding what I was doing. I freshened up a bit, hearing them talk but purposefully not listening close enough to make out the words. I yearned to get on the laptop and catch up on what was going on and get back into my comfort zone, but we needed distance. I pocketed my wallet and passport and room key and paused. "Are you sure...?"
"Go. Have fun Joey. We'll see you tonight," Dad called back.
The door closed behind me and I leaned against it, trying to sort myself out. Mom hadn't said a word to me since we got on the elevator, and that hurt worst than anything she could have said. Finally, I wiped my nose and eyes with the back of my forearm and headed back down.
"So what's the word, Sar?" Zoyan asked.
"I..." I gulped and coughed. "I'm free. Lets go shopping."
Riki looked sadly at me, but didn't say a word. We followed Zoyan to his car and loaded in, Hamy in the front, Riki and I sharing the back. We tracked down a department store and made our way inside.
"All I need is to get a pack of panties, that's all," I insisted as we walked through the doors.
"You changed back before the curse, didn't you? You're seen as a girl now, you should dress appropriately," Zoyan countered.
"Yeah but my coworkers know me as a guy, I can't go to work dressed like a girl."
"Worry about that when you get home. Here, no one knows you. The selection's not the best but let's see what we can find."
A subtle check with a worker was all we needed to know as far as the rest of the world was concerned, I was now female. For the rest of the afternoon, we did a mix of tourist stuff and shopping. Among other changed, and guild mates and friends, I was able to relax and have a bit of fun, putting the concerns with my parents behind me.
Zoyan had only been really living as a woman for half a year, since the curse hit her, but she was making the most of it. Considering our species were the same, her experience served me well. Despite her best efforts, I refused to get a bra, or a blouse. I stuck with t-shirts and shorts and slacks. I changed into some of my new clothes in a bathroom, and we were off for dinner. I called to let mom and dad know, but they politely declined, not even asking how my day was. It sent my mood crashing down.
We made our way to the Rio and entered the busy buffet It was a little surprising at the number of furs in there, many of them with the awkward movements of the recently changed. In hindsight, it did make sense; a buffet was a great way to work off any post-change hunger, and to figure out what your new likes and dislikes were.
The other three did their best to try and cheer me up, which I appreciated. I also found myself slipping into helper mode, talking with some of the new furs while they were gathering food or just trying to figure things out. Having both a carnivore and a herbivore background gave me a somewhat unique set of experiences to draw from. Soon enough we were having an impromptu Changed support session at one end of the restaurant, to the confusion of most of the waiters and waitresses.
Eventually, we had our fill of food and strange company and excused ourselves from the group. Zoyan drove us back to the Hilton where we sorted out our purchases.
"I think Hamy and I are going to call it a night. It's been a big day, and our flight is early tomorrow," Riki said as she loaded her husband's furry arms with the bags. She looked at me, my own paws filled with my stuff. "Your parents do love you, anyone can see that. Just give them some time to come around, get used to it, and things will get back to normal."
I set my bags down and hugged her. "I know, thanks for the kind words." I gave Hamy an awkward hug as well and grinned. "Have a good flight guys, I'll see you in game."
I watched them walk into the hotel and crouched to grab my bags. To my surprise they were gone. Zoyan rustled them and smirked, handing over a couple of them. "Lead the way, Sar."
"You don't have to walk me to my room, I could manage it myself."
"Sure you could. But I figured, the night's young, its your last night in Vegas, and as far as I know you've got no other plans. Lets see what we can do, two girls against the town."
"A town famous for chewing up and spitting out naïve people," I retorted, walking into the hotel, Zoyan walking next to me.
She flexed the claws of her free hand and grinned. "You need to lighten up Sar, it's not as if we don't have our own hidden defenses. Besides, we'll just wander around and see what's up. We won't do anything bad or go down any dark alleys or anything."
"Famous Last Words," I grumbled, but I held the door open for her and we made our way up to my room.
We could smell the scent of my parents in it, but they were gone when we arrived. She pulled a bag out of the bunch and walked to the bathroom. "Mind if I get changed?"
"Go ahead," I called back, sorting through the bags and pulling out receipts. I tucked the receipts in a folder for customs the next day, and noted the place of manufacture for the new clothes as I packed them into the spare suitcase we'd brought with us. Once again, I felt the pull of the laptop, but with a guest in the room, I was too polite to dive back into my on-line life.
I heard the bathroom door open again and steps behind me. "So how do I look?" Zoyan asked.
I turned to face her and my jaw dropped. "You're going out in that?" I asked incredulously. It wasn't that bad, but knowing what I did about her past, it seemed extra daring. The shorts just a tad too short, especially pushed down at the back for her tail like they were. The top cut just a bit too low over the chest, showing too much cleavage while not showing much at all.
"No, WE are going out like this," she retorted, tossing a bundle of clothes at me that I'd taken to be what she had worn before.
"We?... No, I can't...." I started to say, barely catching the bundle. She reached out and grabbed my arm, all but shoving me to the bathroom.
"Sure you can, now get in there and get changed. We've got the entire strip to explore and only a few hours to do it in."
The door closed behind me and I looked at the bundle of clothes as if they were radioactive. Finally, I stripped to my panties and pulled on the shorts. They were tighter than I was used to, flattening my fur uncomfortably and pinching the base of my tail, but they fit.
"Look Joey, you may have had a year of experience with this already, but you had the Field working in your favour back then. You were a woman living as a man. Now, you need to live as a woman, something I have had more experience than you," Zoyan called out while I got changed.
"I don't need lessens from you Zoy.... What is your real name now anyways? I don't think I ever heard it."
"Used to be Zach, but now I'm Zoey. Zoey and Joey, they're really going to think we're sisters." Zoyan chuckled from behind the door.
"Right right, anyways I don't need lessons from you. I need to be a guy at work still, they knew me before after all. And I can get help from AT if I need it in the wild." I tugged on the top and tugged it down, feeling the stiffness in the new cotton of the shirt. It was tighter than I would normally got, and the neckline definitely plunged further than I liked. It rubbed against my nipples, but was thankfully thick enough not to show anything.
"A bird in the paw; from what you said, AT is a day trip away from you. Good for weekend visits, but not as good for day to day stuff. We've got the rest of the night, I figure it's a good time to give you a crash course."
I sighed and tried to adjust my breasts in the shirt ineffectively. No matter what, they definitely showed. And with the Extreme Makeover: Changed Transgender Edition, there was a lot to show off. I gathered up my clothes and stepped out to face Zoey.
She looked me over and nodded. "Looking good... but don't slouch. Now get your ID, some cash and a credit card or two or whatever it is you use, and we'll go. No wallets, they'll bulge in these shorts. Cell's are bad enough as it is."
Feeling a bit rebellious, I took some time to brush my fur and my teeth before I loaded my pocket with the minimum she indicated. I folded what I had been wearing and closed up the cases, casting one last forlorn look at the darkened laptop. Only it knew what was happening back home. Finally I was ready and we walked out.
She lead us to the monorail station and we road it to the other end, getting off at the MGM. The normal lions were long gone from their display area by then, but as we roamed the casino floor, it was obvious this hotel seemed to have a disproportionate number of feline morphs wandering around. I became increasingly self-conscious and uneasy from the looks we were getting from Changed and Unchanged alike, feeling like everyone could see that we were two former guys trying to be girls. I wasn't sure what exactly Zoey was looking for in there, but after a lion morph smiled at me and shook his head, causing his mane to wave in a way that seemed way too suggestive to be possible, I couldn't take it any more.
"We have to get out of here. I can't take any more of this," I said, grabbing a hold of her arm.
She patted my paw gently and started towards the door. "Sure Joey, just relax, try to have some fun."
I stayed tense until we were outside, in the cooling evening air. The sidewalks were still crowded with people, but we were just two more of the crowd. I felt like a few people did double takes with us, but not enough to set my nerves on edge.
We reached the Bellagio just in time for the fountain show. We wiggled our way through the crowd to the fence and watched the dancing water show. When it finished, I'd almost forgotten what was going on, and definitely felt relaxed. We moved along with the dispersing crowd, heading past Ceasars and up into the Mirage.
"Any particular reason you picked this one?" I asked as we walked past the delicatessen near the entrance. The scents were making my mouth water, even though my stomach was overly full from the buffet. Mom and I had eaten there before the Cirque show last year, and it was very tempting to go for seconds.
"Not really, I just like this casino is all," she answered, leading us among the tables and slot machines.
Unlike the MGM, the Changed we noticed in passing seemed to be a more normal mix, with no species type dominating. We paused outside a busy poker area, the signs indicating the opening rounds of a tournament were in progress.
"Now that's a cliché if I ever saw one," Zoey chuckled and pointed. A black Labrador morph was playing at one of the tables near us, and doing well judging from the chips in front of him.
The dealer dealt out the hand as we watched. The canine watched his co-players carefully, sniffing occasionally. He checked his hand when his turn came up and pitched the cards back. After a few more rounds I became aware of more details.
"He's got a tell, a couple of tells actually," I whispered. "But I don't think anyone would notice them. When he gets a bad hand, his ears flick, twitching downward just. And when he has a good one, his tail lifts."
Zoey nodded. "I noticed. I think he's got a read on his tablemates too. See how he sniffs the air when the guy on his right picks up the cards? I'd say he's got a scent cue on that guy, the guy's sweat or something. Damn, I wish I had more time. I'd love to get in there and play."
"Not me, I'd probably get the Queens and shred the table in excitement."
We watched a bit longer before wandering away. I began to feel eyes on us again, and had a small revelation. They weren't staring at us because we were TG'ed. They were staring at us because we were pretty women. It didn't help my mindset much. Luckily we were already making our way out of the casino.
Zoey looked up and down the strip, pondering where to drag us next. Her eyes rose up in the sky. "Do you have a fear of heights?" she asked.
I laughed, shedding some of my insecurities. "Over the past three years, I've been a mountain goat and a mountain lion. Any lingering fear of heights were lost long ago."
"Good good. Follow me." With that she set off down the strip at a fast walk, dodging around the crowds on the sidewalk.
I followed her as best as I could, tracking by scent almost as much by eyes. We passed Treasure Island, a mall, a construction site and Circus Circus without pausing. By then the crowds were thinning a bit and I caught sight of our destination. From the sidewalk just outside the casino, I tilted my head way back, and watched something with flashing lights swing out over the side of the tower, the echo of screams wafting down to us.
"Come on Sar, are you a scaredy cat?" Zoey asked, grabbing my arm and pulling me towards the entrance.
We got our tickets and rode the elevator to the top of the Stratosphere tower. She looked up at the signs and pulled us towards something named 'Insanity'. I began to think that described my thoughts about the rogue perfectly.
"I don't think a Vah Shirian safe fall skill is high enough to drop from this height," I said getting more nervous. I knew the ride had to be safe to be in action, but an animal part of my mind was cringing already.
"Don't be silly. It's completely safe Sar. I rode it last year, it's great!"
We got to the line and watched a crane-like contraption bring in a five legged device from the edge of the rooftop. With a hiss of hydraulics, the legs locked into place and lap bars opened up.
I studied an empty rider slot and brought my tail around. "You sure it's safe for us? I mean we don't exactly fit cleanly any more."
"We'll work it out, now come on!"
The last of the previous riders cleared the area, and we moved in with the rest of the ticket holders. We claimed an arm for our own and sat down, wiggling to try and avoid pinching our tails as much as possible. Though I knew we had physics on our side for this type of ride, the lap bar seemed woefully inadequate for what we were about to experience.
With a hiss, the lap bars closed in over our thighs and tightened in place. A bored worker checked to make sure they were firmly locked in place. "Have a good ride, ladies," he said to us when he finished.
Zoey gave him a thumbs up, while I simply gripped the foam of the restraint tight enough to dig my claws into it. My toe claws scratched at the metal of the base ineffectively.
With another clunk the arms suddenly came loose and lifted a little. The world began to spin and a couple more daring souls lifted their arms into the air. I felt forces pushing me back into the seat, pinching my tail even harder. The arms lifted up, facing me towards the platform on the roof of the hotel. With another barely felt shudder, the crane started moving us and suddenly the platform disappeared, showing us the traffic and lights of the strip, 900 feet below us.
Cougars don't roar. I once read that it's one of the things that separates us from the true big cats. On the other hand, as I hung face down over 900 feet of open air, I did everything but roar. I shouted, I cried, I snarled, and I'm pretty sure I did a damn close imitation of a roar as my inner animal recoiled in fear. Instinctively, I found myself reaching out with hands and feet as if it was only a drop of a few feet, but equally instinctively I knew it was way too far to drop.
After an eternity spent spinning over the neon lit city, we swung back in and the spinning slowed down. Our arm shuddered as it locked into place and there was a long hiss as the lap bars loosened.
"Woo hoo! That was incredible!" Zoey shouted out, getting to her feet and climbing down. I stood and stumbled down next to her, my butt numb.
"Can you feel your tail?" I hissed, reaching back and rubbing my numb tail, feeling it tingle as nerves awoke.
"Not at all, and I don't care. That was even more fun than I remembered."
I rolled my eyes and followed her to the next ride. My tail was only just getting back to normal when we were seated down on another formed seat that didn't account for it, and shoulder restraints were lowered over us. With a roar and a sudden surge of pressure, we were shot into the air along a rail on the tower and then, somewhat slower, we descended back down. Were I not distracted by the pain in my butt and the unusual feelings of the harness against my breasts, I probably would have enjoyed it.
I barely recovered my balance from that ride when she dragged me to the third ride on top of the tower. She made sure to get both of us in the front seats of the eight person car, the only restraints being a lap and shin bar. Once we were locked into place, we began to rise into the air, the far end of the track becoming visible, hanging off the edge of the building, ending in thin air. We hung in the air, facing down the track for a long moment before the brakes clicked off and we were moving, rolling to the rapidly approaching track end with thin air behind it. Like on the other ride, I screamed, putting my hands out in front of me as if to stop the fall. My scream ended with a loud OOMPH as the brakes brought us to a sudden stop right at the end of the track. We hung there, facing the ground hundreds of feet below us, and then the track began to lift, tilting back to horizontal. The car rolled gently back to the station.
Zoyan had insisted we buy the unlimited pass, saying it was the best deal for the buck. What I hadn't realized at the time was she intended for us to make the most of it. Over the next hour, my tail and hips and butt grew numb as we were spun out over empty air, tilted over it, or shot up and drifted back down. By the third round of rides I was actually used to it enough that I started admiring the views we were seeing more than the experience itself. After the fourth round, even Zoey had had enough.
"I can't feel my tail, my butt, my breasts or my thighs any more. And my fur's an absolute mess," I grumbled, looking at my reflection in the glass while we waited for the elevator. A couple of people looked strangely at me, but I was past caring; as far as I was concerned, they would find out eventually, one way or another.
"Yeah but you had fun, you gotta admit that," Zoey retorted, running her claws through her head fur.
I rubbed the base of my tail and stretched a bit, feeling my spine pop. "I did, I'll give you that."
We left the Stratosphere and crossed the road, beginning to walk back towards the Hilton. We paused at a restaurant for a late evening snack.
"So how was it? You feeling normal again?" Zoey asked between bites of her meal.
I chewed on my own hamburger and thought it over. "As normal as this place gets I guess," I said, smiling back. I could still feel eyes on my back, and see we were literally turning heads as people walked by the windows, but I could handle it now. I looked up and saw her still looking at me. "I'll be fine. Thanks for dragging me out, I did have fun."
She smiled back and refocused on her meal.
We got back to the Hilton soon after finishing our meals. I was beginning to feel tired from the early morning I had, but I was still too wired up to get any sleep. My eyes drifted to the blackjack tables as we walked past.
"How's your gambling budget looking?" I asked.
"I suppose I could spare a hundred or so. Why?"
"Because the minimums just dropped into my budget range, and I've always wanted to give it a try. Pick a table that feels lucky."
She found us a table just off the main paths. The dealer was a young man with a friendly smile. I don't know why she picked that particular table, but I had to admit, the dealer candy was easy on the eyes. It turned out he was as friendly as his smile indicated. When I explained it was my first real game of blackjack, he took the time to explain the nuances that were not readily apparent in computer games. After a subtle check with his pitboss he even dealt us a quick freebie demonstration hand before we got into the real game. Soon enough, I was down twenty, Zoey was up forty, and all of us were having a fantastic time.
I caught a whiff of cologne and dismissed it without a second thought while I focused on the game. So when the voice spoke up, I nearly knocked over my bottle of water in surprise.
"Excuse me, would you ladies mind if we joined you?" a deep baritone voice asked to my left.
Looking up, I saw a pair of young men, the older having dark hair, the younger having dirty blond hair, neither of them changed, but both well built enough to be Changed ghosts. For some reason, my first impression was that I was looking at real life versions of the Hardy boys.
Zoey recovered before I did. "Not at all, pull up a seat guys," she invited them. The men pulled out chairs and sat down, flanking us. I reached for my water and took a swig from the bottle.
"Thank you, it's much more fun playing with company. My name's Carl and that's my friend Aaron," 'Frank Hardy' said from my left. 'Joe Hardy' waved from Zoey's side.
"I'm Zoey and this is my friend Joey," she introduced us while the men handed over a few hundred bills for chips.
"Friend? Not sister? You look similar enough to be related," Aaron commented.
I felt my eyes redden and tried to focus on my cards. Zoey laughed and indicated for a hit. "Nope, just old friends."
We finished off the hand and I glanced at Carl. "So what brings you two around here?"
"Business mainly. We have some meetings starting tomorrow. And you two?"
I took my eyes away from him and looked at the table. "Pleasure, we were down for a gaming convention and stayed an extra day." My attention was shattered, half listening to Zoey talking with Aaron, trying to pay attention to my cards, and trying to listen to Carl.
"You have a very nice accent. If you don't mind me asking, where are you from?" he asked me.
I could feel his eyes watching me and barely kept myself from spearing the card with my claw. "It's Canadian, east coast. And you?"
He chuckled softly, sending a strange shiver down my spine and almost made me hit on a nineteen. "I travel a lot, but mostly I'm from the Windy City."
I nodded and gathered up my chips from the hand. To my right, Zoey and Aaron's conversation started to sink in. I stood up abruptly and looked to the dealer. "Excuse us a moment, could you watch our chips? We need to visit the facilities," Without waiting for an answer, I had a hand on Zoey's arm, already tugging the surprised cougar to her feet.
"Saroc! What are you doing?" she asked once she managed to get her arm free from my grasp and moving on her own power.
I lead us into the bathrooms, but she had to correct us before we ran into the mens room. In the woman's washroom, I leaned against the sinks and tried to collect my thoughts. "I can't believe this is happening. Hell, I can't believe I just did something this clichéd to go to the bathroom with a partner... But I had to do something! You were flirting with him!"
She looked at me, confused. "Yeah, so? We're both adults. What's wrong with that?"
I cast a quick look around the bathroom, but it was empty at the moment. "You were a guy! That's what's wrong!"
"Was a guy. Key word WAS. I'm a full blooded girl now in all ways and we both know it. Hell so are you. Something your body knows even if your mind doesn't quite recognize. Don't think I wasn't listening to you and Carl there."
I felt my body warm with a blush under my fur and shook my head, looking at my reflection in the mirror. I thought back over the little we had said and realized there was a bit of flirtation there. "Oh my god... what did I do?" I mumbled.
Zoey stared at me strangely. "I hope I'm not being too personal, but you've never had a girlfriend before, have you?"
I shook my head. "I've had tonnes of girl friends, but not girlfriends, or boyfriends or anything like that."
Joey shook her head. "We're friends, that's all. She helped me a lot more than I'd care to admit, hell we've helped each other a lot, and we do visit each other as often as possible. But we're just friends."
Zoey reached up and rubbed my shoulders. "You may have more experience with the Change than I do, Sar, but I outrank you in this situation. I long ago came to terms with what I am now, something you'll have to do in your own way." She paused a moment, debating whether to outright say what was in the back of both of our minds. Four changes was almost unheard of, a fifth next year would be incredibly improbable. Even though I wasn't quite facing it yet, this probably would be what I would be for the rest of my life.
I pushed on before she could actually voice those thoughts in my mind. "I guess so, but the way you acted with him there. It didn't... doesn't seem right. What if you... you know."
She laughed and shook her head. "So what if we did? We're both consenting adults, and he's not Changed so it's not like I could get pregnant. And we'd use protection anyways, Changed or not Changed.
"But honestly, though he is yummy looking, he isn't quite my type. And I'm not really in the mood for a one night stand. He is nice to talk to."
"One night... You... You've done it? Since you?" I blinked in surprise, unable to handle it. On the one hand, as she said, she was an adult. But she seemed too young to be doing that sort of thing.
She laughed lightly and rubbed the back of my neck. "You really did have a sheltered life out there, didn't you? Of course I've done it. I was curious, and it was quite nice."
I gulped then shook my head and sighed. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have interfered like that. I'm not your mother."
She gave me another hug. "It's okay. It's been a long day, especially for you. Not to mention all those new hormones in you. Wash up and lets get our chips, say our goodbyes to Carl and Aaron, and I'll walk you back to your room."
I did use the facilities and wash up a bit, beginning to feel just how long I had been awake. We made our way back to the table, where the two men were still playing.
"Welcome back, ladies," Carl called out.
"Hey there. I hate to do this, but Joey here has been up a long time, and she has an early flight in the morning. I'm going to see her back to her room," Zoyan explained while I recovered our chips. Somewhere along the line, I had gone up by 20, so I tossed it to the dealer as a tip in thanks.
We said our farewells and caught the elevator to my floor. I stopped in the elevator lobby on my floor and faced the other cougar. "Thanks Zoy, for dragging me around tonight and just helping me out."
She gave me a quick hug. "You looked like you needed it. Just keep today in mind on your flight home, and don't let your parents get you down. They'll come around eventually."
"I know, I know. I just need to get back into my normal routine, one way or another. Tomorrow and Tuesday will be rough, but once I'm back to work, it'll be clear sailing."
I hugged her once more. "Drive carefully, and I'll see you in game."
"Sure enough, Joe."
I paused outside my door and waited, listening. Somewhere down the hall, someone was watching TV in their room, but our room was virtually silent. I took a deep breath and opened the door.
The light over the sink was still on, but the rest of the room was dark. I eased the door shut behind me, and could hear two people breathing slowly, deep in sleep. I pulled off my Crocs and wiggled my toes, yawning hugely. I found myself in the strange position of being too tired to sleep. With only a few hours to go before we had to get up for our flights, I decided it was past due time to see what else I had missed.
Walking quietly, I changed my shirt to something more my style, and picked up my laptop. I set it on the sink counter and made sure the headphones were plugged in before I powered it up and got on-line. Almost immediately, a dozen message windows popped up as the backlog of Change related issues came through to me. I logged onto IRC to say hi in the mostly sleeping channels, then started going through the backlog. All things considered, things had gone fairly well.
I heard movement over by the beds and froze, listening. Dad appeared and walked past me, heading to the toilet, still too asleep to really notice me. When he came out he paused and blinked, looking at me.
"It's late, you should probably get some rest," he said quietly, waking up enough to acknowledge me.
I shrugged and stretched, popping my back. "I'll rest on the plane. Got too much stuff to catch up on. Yesterday was a busy day for us, and I was off-line for all of it."
He frowned and considered what I said. "It's not reversible, is it? Your condition?"
"Not as far as we know."
"And it's going to get all of us eventually?"
"Twelve years at the current estimates," I answered.
He looked down at his hands, shaking in the air. The tremor was an old family trait that had gotten worst through the years. "Does this Change... does it fix things?"
I understood what he was getting at. "Sometimes. It seems to depend on the person and what needs fixing. But it may fix your shakes. It gives you a body in excellent health, regrows teeth and so forth. It may not cure them completely but it will probably roll back the clock on your diabetes and gout a good decade or so too. We won't know until it happens for you though."
He nodded and patted my shoulder. "That's one thing to look forward to, I guess. Thanks for finally telling us."
"I'm just sorry I didn't tell you sooner. I should have told you back with Daniel at least, if not sooner." I sighed and looked at the screen, there were a few important messages that I was already late in answering.
"Try to get some sleep at least. You look exhausted, no matter what your body really is," dad said before heading back to the bed.
I nodded to his back and yawned again, mentally composing the messages to be sent.
The beeping of the alarm jolted me back to consciousness. Yawning, I glanced at my watch and slowly got my mind back in gear. I couldn't remember when I fell asleep, but at least I had avoided landing on the keyboard.
Of the three of us, dad is the only morning person. So he was the first on his feet, not even trying to wake mom more fully yet. I moved the laptop back to the table and tried to work out the fatigue aches I was feeling. He nodded to me while he started brewing coffee in the room's machine. I simply grunted, still working on automatic. There was something very comforting about the quasi-normal routine we had.
"What time is it?" mom's half awake voice asked from the bed. She didn't seem to remember what I had told her yesterday, and I savoured the moment as long as I could.
"Just after five. We've gotta get going for our flight," I explained, sorting through the bags on the couch and starting to spread them out into various suitcases.
She groaned again, and almost rolled over to go back to sleep, but thought against it. I could feel her eyes on my back as I emptied bags and gathered receipts. Dad brought over a cup of coffee for her, and even though I couldn't see her, I felt the wedge reform between us. I sighed sadly.
It didn't take long to finish packing up and getting ready. I even managed to finish up some of the messages I had fallen asleep composing while mom was in the shower. She never spoke to me, at least not any more than she had to, or to answer questions I sent her way. At least the talk I vaguely remembered having with dad the night before seemed to have brought him around.
The airport was surprisingly busy for that hour of the morning. The plane crash in San Fransisco had sent ripples and delays through the entire system that were still being worked out. I'd read some speculation that the crash may have been Change-related, but information was still too sparse.
We waited patiently in the line and were soon at the agent.
"Three for Boston, continuing on to... Bangor Maine?" she asked, looking up our ticket info.
"That's correct," I confirmed. At least my image matched my passport now.
"The flight to Boston is rather full; I can't find three seats together. Would you mind being split up?"
"That would be fine," Mom interrupted and confirmed quickly. My tail drooped down a bit and I sighed. I would have agreed to the separation, but the speed she had agreed to the request made it clear she still didn't know what to do with me.
We finished the rest of the check-in ritual, and made our way through security. After a pause to grab breakfast at a restaurant, we settled down to wait at the gate with time to kill. Mom didn't even last five minutes. She excused herself and wandered around to check the stores with dad.
I decided to leave her be and stayed with our carry-on gear. I pulled out my laptop and connected. There was a fresh message from Craig, copied to Liz, Tan and Holly.
'Hey Guys, I just wanted to give you a quick update on Da. As I said on the phone yesterday, he Changed yesterday, into a black bear, though neither Alan nor I can see him. We've gotta figure out that True-sight trick.
'He's handling it well enough, though he's having a hard time believing we knew what was happening to him.
'Sorry we've been so quiet. We were up at the Country getting ready for hunting season and the battery died in my phone after I sent the word, and Da put a claw through the keypad of his phone. We're back home now, well I am at least. Da and Alan went out to check on Grandpa Johnny, and Mike and Crystal are going to meet him out there.
'Joey, Liz mentioned you told Aunt Jean. You two should give us a shout soon as you're home. We haven't mentioned your second (fourth?) change yet, nor that Jean and Mac know.
'I gotta go now. Gotta head up to the highlands to check on some of the clinics up there today. I'll check in from time to time and should be back this evening.
I made a small dent in my backlog of messages, then shut down again. The flight was boarding soon and my parents weren't back yet. I gathered up the carry on bags and began to wander, sniffing and listening for their traces. Fairly quickly, I tracked them down to one of the casino stores. They weren't visible from the outside, but their scents were strongest in there. I fought back the urge to try and sneak up on them, and instead forced myself to walk in and make a show of looking around the shelves, to give them a chance to notice me first.
"There you are," I called out, finding them at the rear of the store, looking over sweatshirts. They both looked up at me. "Our flight's boarding soon. We should be heading back to the gate," I continued.
"Thanks Joey. We'll be there shortly," mom called back, almost sounding normal.
I nodded to them and browsed among some of the wares while waiting. Soon enough we were in the line waiting for our section to be called to board the plane.
"Are you sure you don't mind sitting alone?" Dad asked.
"I'll be fine." I yawned hugely, putting my paw in front of my muzzle. "Gonna try to sleep as much as I can and try not to let the engine drone and canned air get to me."
Somehow I managed to get some sleep on the flight. I'm not sure how, and I'm pretty sure my tail bumped into the person next to me while I slept, but I made it and was a bit more rested at least.
In Boston, we had a couple hours before our transfer. After we found our gate, I excused myself and wandered away. Coming off of a five hour flight, I needed to freshen up and get something substantial in my stomach, but there was something else I needed to do first.
The phone rang thrice before it was picked up. A woman's voice answered it. I briefly considered trying to force my voice deeper, but decided to keep it natural. "Hi Christine, is uncle Greg around?"
Christine was my uncle's rebound wife, after his first wife died a few years ago. For various reasons, she didn't really get along with the family, but her son, Alan, fit in swimmingly. From the tone of her voice, she seemed frustrated over something. "Greg? Sure just a second," she said curtly.
The phone clunked on a table, and I could hear shouting. Soon after, I heard the handset fumbled and heavy breathing on the end. The voice had an ursine rumble to it. "Hello?"
"Hey Greg, how are you doing?" I asked.
"Liz? Is that you dear? You sound different."
The thought that I now sounded like my sister gave me a sense of sibling ickyness, but I got over it. "Close, but think older."
"Joey? Man this must be a bad connection, you sound like a girl."
"It is a bad connection, we just got into Boston and I'm calling from the airport. But your ears aren't deceiving you." I explained what had happened to me, what I had told mom and dad, and what had happened since.
"Jean can be stubborn at times, but she'll come around. You really should have told her sooner though."
"I know, I know. But short of a time machine, there's no changing it now. How are you doing?"
"On the verge of freaking out. It's one thing to have this happen to you. It's another to find out your sons and daughters knew it could happen and didn't warn you. My mind's still spinning, trying to figure out how this could happen and what I'm going to do now. I've got 3 cars in the garage waiting to be painted and I can't even wear shoes?"
"I'm sure you'll figure something out. It may seem strange, but try not to think about it too much, just act naturally and things will mostly fall into place. Trust me on that, I've had three years and two forms worth of experience with this."
"If you say so. Is Jean around? I could talk to her for you, try to smooth things out."
I looked down the concourse, seeing them at the far end getting dinner at a Wendy's. "No, they're getting dinner before the flight. I should grab a bite as well before I end up gnawing on my seat mate. We get into Bangor around ten your time and should be home around midnight or one or so. I'm sure she'll call you tomorrow."
He let out a long sigh, reluctant to leave it at that, but having no other choice. "Fine, take care Joe, I'll talk to you later."
"Night Greg." I closed the phone and looked back up the concourse. I could join my parents but I didn't feel like having another uncomfortable meal. Instead, I backed up to the opposite end of the concourse and found another little restaurant to get some sandwiches at.
The flight to Bangor was somewhat more pleasant, though that was just a factor of being less crowded and a shorter trip. Technically our seats were together, but once it was obvious the flight was only half full, I moved a few rows up. We arrived in Bangor without incident, collected our luggage (which arrived at the same time as us, miracles of miracles), and were soon walking out to the parking lot.
I was loading the bags into the back of the Escape when mom went to the driver's side door. She opened it, and saw a pair of scratches in the fabric covering the underside of the roof. Her hand went up to trace them, and I suddenly felt her eyes on me. Following her hand, I blushed a bit.
"Sorry, that was me," I explained. "I didn't think the pothole was as bad as it was, and bounced up, scraping my horns against the roof." I smiled and flicked my ears, adjusting the baggage. "At least I don't have to worry about it any more. No more horns."
She didn't say a word, not even a smile like she would normally have done. Instead, she climbed in and started the vehicle. I sighed in disappointment and shrugged to dad as I slammed the hatch back down. He tried to get me to sit in the front seat, perhaps in an attempt to mend our bridges, but I declined.
"Anyone want anything before we get on the highway?" mom asked as we left the parking lot.
Dad shook his head. "I'm fine, how about you Joe?"
My stomach was on the verge of rumbling, and I was feeling dehydrated, but I hated the idea of imposing any more than I had to. "I'm fine, let's just get home."
We were on the road for half an hour before the silence was broken again. "I'm freezing, how about you?" Mom asked dad, reaching to twist the temperature knob back to the middle. Dad grunted softly but barely woke up. I looked up, maybe a bit too expectantly. In normal times, she would be asking how I was in the back, if I was too warm or too cold. I was disappointed though, she simply glanced back at me, and returned her attention to the road.
The silence drug on another five, ten minutes, before I had to say something.
"I spoke with Uncle Greg," I said loud enough for her to hear. I saw her hands tighten on the wheel, and her eyes glance to the mirror. I soldiered on.
"He's doing well, adjusting to his Changes. He's in shock still, but he'll be fine." I outlined his problems with the cell phones the day before, and what we had talked about on the phone. I could tell both of them were listening, though neither looked back at me. As I finished, the silence grew again, this time filled with anticipation.
"Why?" Mom finally asked, barely loud enough for me to hear over the road noise. "Why didn't you let me talk to him in Boston?"
"Because I didn't think we'd have time. Not enough time for you to have the talk you need to have. And it was too risky. There was too much risk someone could hear what you were talking about. We just want to live normal lives and we can't do that if word gets out and the spotlight's turned on us. That's why we only tell people we trust."
"So that's it then? You didn't trust us? 30 years spent raising you, helping you through damn difficult times, and you couldn't trust us with what happened to you?"
My heart felt like it was on the verge of splitting, the furry spike being driven in deeper with each accusatory question mom shot at me. "It's not that!" I cried out, trying to keep my voice steady even as my eyes blurred. I wiped my muzzle with the back of my forearm.
"No it isn't. It's about you, all about you. You protecting your secret, living your hidden life, playing games or whatever it is you were doing."
I wanted to hide. I wanted to run away into the pine forests we were driving through and put this all behind me. If we weren't doing 120 klicks an hour on the highway, I probably would have done just that. What I really wanted was to rewind the clock; take back the past two days and keep quiet longer. Or roll it back three years and tell them back when I first changed. But what was done was done and now I had to face the consequences.
"No, it's not like that at all," I stammered out, wiping my nose and eyes again. "I just wanted to protect you, give you a few more years of normality while I could. And I didn't want to burden you any more than you already were. Between taking care of Grandma Ford and Grandpa Johnny, and Grandpa Ford's death, and your cancer and dad's diabetes and everything else, I just thought... I thought it would be better not to tell you, not yet, not till now."
I looked down at the wet, matted fur on my forearms and flexed my claws. "But when it happened to me again, in front of you practically, I couldn't take it any more. I couldn't keep lying, couldn't keep making up stories about what was happening. That's why I told you."
I heard movement in front of me and saw dad twisting around in his seat to look at me. I didn't meet his gaze, I just lowered my head to my paws. "I'm just so tired of this shit, so tired of living this secret life as you said. I just want to be me again, to be normal. But I'm not even sure what normal is any more."
Once again, the silence stretched out. I gulped and sniffed, taking a few deep breaths to try and calm down again. "I'm sorry. Sorry I didn't tell you sooner. Sorry I broke it to you the way I did. I've helped dozens of people through this, I should know how to do this better, but I messed up...."
I stole a glance up at her. Her gaze was focused on the road, her hands almost white on the steering wheel. Her cheeks glistened with wetness. "I know it will take time, more time than this trip, but please, try to forgive me eventually. I need you. You may not have realized what had happened to me, but your support, your love got me through to now, and I hope I'll be able to count on it for the future too. Not just for me, but for Greg, and Jessica, and Danny.... well, Danny only really needs some bananas and a set of monkey bars. But you get what I mean." I tried to force a bit of a laugh, but it wouldn't come out. It sounded more like a choking sob.
I looked up again hopefully, but her eyes never left the road. Once she was sure I had stopped, she spoke again. "I'll always love you, Joey. You're my son; you'll always be my son, no matter what you say you are. But I just don't know what to make of this. Maybe eventually.... but for now, I love you, but I don't know who you are any more."
Feeling emotionally and physically drained, I slumped back in the seat, feeling my seatbelt across my breasts. It was a start at least. I closed my eyes, and the next thing I knew, we were stopping at the border. After a quick trip inside to pay the taxes and duty on the little we were over the limits on, we were back in Canada, and soon enough back home.
I climbed out of the car and stretched out, flexing my claws in the gravel of the driveway. A sleepy Triton yawned and looked puzzled at us from the end of his chain. I waved to him and caught dad looking at me strangely.
"What is it?" I asked, licking my lips and wondering if I had something caught in my teeth or fur.
Dad shook his head and still looked puzzled. "I must be tired. Your eyes, they looked different in the garage lights. Almost like they were glowing, like the cats."
I felt mom's eyes on me and turned my head slowly, trying to keep my eyes open. She shuddered a little and walked away without a word. I sighed and shrugged. "Well, it's not that strange. I am part cat now after all. But the Field should have covered that sort of thing."
"Well, they do look normal now I guess. Just surprised me." He yawned and crouched down, scratching the white cat that had run out from under the RV Trailer. "Guess I'm just tired. Hey Mister B. You miss us?"
I opened the back door of the car and started unloading the luggage. Most of it went directly to the laundry room. Dad, having work the next morning, went straight to bed. Mom tossed a load into the washer and settled down to watch TV, never once looking at me. I tried not to let it get to me while I set up in my usual corner and caught up on the day, making plans for the next. After dozing off more than once, she finally gave up on the TV and got up.
"Good night," she said curtly, climbing the stairs to the bedrooms.
"Night mom. Love yah," I called back hopefully. She froze a moment, then continued on without another word.
Dad was up and gone long before I woke up the next morning, leaving just me and mom in the house. I found her sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee in front of her. At first I thought she was working on a crossword, but it soon became clear she was staring at the pictures on the wall over the table. I debated leaving her alone, but avoiding the issue wasn't helping. My claws clicked on the tiles as I walked over and sat down at the other end of the table.
"Mornin'" I greeted her.
We sat there in silence. I was about to give up on this attempt when she spoke. "How many of them are real?"
"How many of what?" I asked, following her gaze. Her eyes were on a frame containing a variety of pictures taken on the trips the four of us had taken, either together or individually. Most were of her and her trips with students, but Liz and I were in a decent chunk of them. It was weird, seeing a human face, a goat face and a cougar face looking out of the frame and knowing they were all me.
"Of those, how many of those pictures are of the real you?"
"I don't understand, they're all of me. Well the ones with me in it."
She took her gaze from the pictures and finally looked at me. "But they're all human! You said you've been that... that creature for years now. But all those pictures are human!"
"To you they are. To me, I see me in them. Me as the Billy, and me as the Cougar. And Me One Point Oh with the black hair in the oldest pictures."
It was clear she was having a hard time getting it. "It's the Field I told you about. The one that makes me look normal. It also makes pictures of me look normal. Until you-" I stopped myself hard and quickly rephrased my next statement. "As long as the Field is in play, you'll see me... my ghost in those pictures. When it is gone, you'll see the real me."
"Until I what?" mom asked, not missing the misstep I made.
I sighed and almost mumbled. "Until you change. But that's not the only way to get past the Field. With practice a lot of Known have managed to see it without being Changed. There are even people, unchanged people, out there who can see through the Field with ease."
The silence hung in the air uncomfortably. I was tempted to make an escape, but knew I couldn't keep running. Not now that we were home.
Mom broke the silence again, looking at me directly for the first time that day. "When do you want to head back down?" she asked, shifting the conversation towards more neutral ground.
I smiled, relieved at the little bit of normality that was coming back. "Whenever is good for you. I've got some errands to do in town before we go, but as long as I'm home in time for work tomorrow morning, I'll be fine."
"An errand? What do you need to do? Is it...." she trailed off, unable to quite get it out.
I briefly debated lying again, but stuck to my personal promise to keep telling them the truth. "It could be. Mike Savoy took sick and canceled a bunch of appearances since Saturday. I want to visit him and see if he really has Changed."
There was the barest hint of a frown before mom moderated her expression back to neutralness. "Dad left a message for you, said to check the voice mail," she said, changing the subject.
"Voice mail? Why would there be something for me here?"
She shrugged and sipped her coffee. At least she didn't seem to have as much trouble looking at me. I grabbed the cordless phone and put it on speaker mode and started checking the voice mail. There were two messages saved on it.
The first message came in yesterday. "Hi Mac, this is Michelle, from Doctor Tomah's office. You have an appointment on Wednesday for a checkup, but I'm afraid we'll have to reschedule it. Dwight's come down with something and canceled his appointments for this week. Give us a call when you can and we'll reschedule."
I stared at the phone while it waited for me to save or delete the message.
"Do you think he got what you have?" mom asked, voicing the same question that was rolling around in my head.
"Not all illnesses in August are Change sickness, but it's worth checking out. Honestly, I hope he has Changed. We desperately need some more medical types down here," I answered, pressing the save button.
The second message was from mom's childhood friend, Diana. "Hey girl. How's Vegas? Wish I could've been there with you. Nothing's wrong, just forgot when you were getting home. Clearly you aren't home yet. Give me a call when you get a moment."
Clearly nothing even remotely change related, I pressed Save and hung up the phone. Mom had a confused expression on her face as I set the handset onto the table.
"Something wrong?" I asked.
"What do I tell her? What can I tell her?"
"Tell her whatever you want. Talk about Vegas, and everything you saw and did and everything you feel comfortable talking about."
"But you... and your friends... and Greg...."
"Will keep doing our own things whether you tell Diana or not." I looked closer at her and held out my paw with the phone. "I trust you to use your head about who you tell and don't tell. I'm sorry I didn't let you talk to Greg yesterday too. I should have; but I was tired and not thinking straight."
She took the phone and looked at it, before putting it down. "I have to think of it. It's too early to call her anyways."
I smiled. "It's your decision. If you do decide to tell her and want some local help, I can ask Mike and Crystal to swing by."
"We'll see," she took a deep breath and things almost seemed like normal again. "If you have some errands to run you should go get cleaned up and get going."
I looked at the stove clock and stood up. "You're right. It can be hard to guess how long a briefing will take. Do you know where Doctor Tomah lives?"
"Near his offices on the reserve, on Lower Main. Look for the big white house, probably with his new hybrid parked in front."
"Thanks mom, I'll top the tank off too while I'm down there." I got up and started to take a step closer to her, but saw her stiffen. We'd chipped away a bit of the spike that separated us, but it was still there. I turned around in mid step and took the stairs two at a time to go get ready.
A short time later, I was sitting in the car, adjusting the seat to not crimp my tail too much and trying to get used to the feel of the pedals on paws instead of hooves. I glanced at the mirrors, and checked around to make sure none of the cats were too close. Triton watched curiously from the side of the garage. Beside me, the address and directions to Mike Savoy's house were scrawled on a sheet of paper, along with a quick list of groceries mom had made up.
The highway would have been faster to get to the reserve, but I had time to spare, so I took the back roads. I rolled the windows down, feeling the air on my fur and smelling the scents of farming and the other industries and houses around the area. My route eventually took me out onto lower main street, where it ran along the river. I began to drive slowly up the road, back towards town, when I saw the white house with a mailbox with D&L Tomah at the end of the driveway. I parked behind the new hybrid and got out, shouldering my laptop bag.
The door opened before I could ring the doorbell. An older native woman stood there, looking at me with a confused look, as if she could almost but not quite place who I was. She clearly recognized mom's Escape, but didn't know who I was.
"Mornin'," I greeted her, holding out a paw. "I'm Joey." I introduced myself. I wanted to mention my parents but I couldn't tell if she saw me as a boy or a girl.
"Joey? OH! Jean's son!" the woman exclaimed, then looked at me puzzled. I suspected she had thought I was a girl at first until she connected who I was. The Curse definitely made things awkward. I briefly worried what tomorrow at work would be like, then refocused on the task at hand.
"What can I do for you? I'm afraid Dwight isn't seeing any patients," she continued, unaware of my brief distraction.
I tried to remember Doctor Tomah's wife's name, but kept drawing a blank even though it was on the tip of my tongue. I pushed on, hoping to figure it out before I needed it. I still wasn't sure this visit was Change-related, but there was the barest hint of a scent that indicated it might be.
"Actually, I am here to see the doctor, but it's not medical related. At least not for me." I faltered a bit, not sure how to continue. Technically, I had no real reason to visit him in person. If she recognized me, she probably also knew I had no medical training of any sort. I looked into her eyes and realized there was something else in them, a bit of fear and confusion unrelated to me. "Maybe you can help. Could you tell me what the past few days have been like? When did Dwight get sick?"
She stood to one side and motioned for me to come in. I noticed a laptop bag next to a table in the hall with a name tag on it. As I approached it, I bumped the tag with my tail and caught the name 'Lisa' on it. She sat me down in the living room, and I caught a stronger scent that strongly indicated a fur nearby.
"It started on Friday. He had the afternoon shift up at the hospital, but he came home early, saying he wasn't feeling well.
"He went to bed early, burning up with a fever, and slept through most of Saturday and the start of Sunday. He was feeling better on Sunday at least, but not enough to go to church, so I went alone. When I got back, he had locked himself in his office, saying he was still sick and to stay away. I haven't seen him in person since then."
I thought I heard something move deeper in the house but like the scent, it was fleeting. I made a show of rubbing the band around my wrist, waiting until I saw her eyes follow the movements of my paws to it. "This will seem very strange I know, but I think I can help your husband. His... symptoms sound similar to something I went through. Could you take me to his office?"
She hesitated a bit, but nodded and stood up. "This way please."
She lead me up to the second floor to a door just off the landing. My nose picked up a strong scent, not an animal I readily recognized, but definitely an animal scent. There was definitely a Changed in the house. My ears twitched back as she knocked on the door. "Dwight? Joe Ford is here. Mac and Jean's son. He thinks he can help you."
A higher pitched, but still male voice called out from the room. "Please ask him to leave. I'll be fine, just need some rest," the voice called back.
I looked at the door and the floor and considered my options. I pulled my wallet from my pocket and started searching through it.
"What are you doing?" his wife asked.
"Looking for a way in," I whispered back, not sure how he would react to hearing a female voice from 'Joe'. Not that I could hide it much longer with what I had in mind. I found my license and briefly looked at the nanny mountain goat in the picture. Hopefully it would work. Crouching, I put the license picture up on the hardwood floor and flicked it under the door.
Pitching my voice as low as I could, I called out. "Doctor Tomah. I'm sorry but my license fell from my pocket and got kicked into your office. Could you please return it to me?"
Lisa looked at me strangely, but I held up a claw to keep her silent. In the room, I could hear a figure get up and approach the door. "Fine. But please-" the voice went silent suddenly, about where I estimated the license had ended up. I heard the voice murmur something like 'what the hell?'.
"Could you please leave us alone for a bit? I need to talk to Dwight privately," I asked, looking at Lisa.
She looked at me, then at the door, then reluctantly went back downstairs. I waited until I heard her well away from the staircase, and pressed the side of my face against the door. "Doctor... Dwight, we need to talk. I know what happened to you and I can explain things to you. Just let me in please. It's just me out here, Lisa went back downstairs."
The steps came closer to the door, and a deadbolt slid back. The knob twisted and the door cracked open, barely showing a furry face peeking out. What I could see of the muzzle dropped open in surprise.
I didn't waste time trying to convince him to open it further. I pushed harder against the door with my shoulder and felt him stumble back. With the door open wide enough, I slipped into the room, pulling my laptop bag with me. I stopped a few feet into the room and looked around.
The office was much as I expected it to be. A big window overlooking the river with a desk set to one side, a laptop on the desk already powered up. Shelves took up two walls of the room, loaded down with medical books. The desk and floor were covered with piles of books from those shelves. A short chipmunk morph, dressed in a closed bathrobe stood behind the door where I'd pushed him back.
I pulled the door from his paws and closed it for him, but I left the deadbolt unlocked. "Hi Doctor, long time no see. Lets get the standard basics out of the way first. Yes, I am Joey Ford. Yes I know what I look like and what you look like. No you are not going crazy. Now have a seat and get comfortable, we've got a lot to talk about."
It took a couple of hours to get him briefed and signed up online. At least he had had a couple days as a Changed to get past the 'Oh My God, I'm a chipmunk!' stage, so that sped things up a bit. On the other paw, I had to dig through the lists and find some of the medical forums for him to read up on later.
"I hope you'll be ready for it, cuz you're going to be getting a lot more calls from all over the Maritimes now," I explained towards the end while we waited for a page to load. "You're one of the first, if not only docs we've got around here. Luckily, we try to be extra careful generally and don't get hurt too often, but there have been more than a few close calls. As is, very few of us have had any sort of checkups since we changed."
The chipmunk rubbed his forehead and stared at the screen in information overload. "Just give me a moment, Joe. Let me get used to what has happened before you start expecting me to treat, or even examine others."
I chuckled and held my paws up in surrender. "Fair enough. I was just warning you." I glanced at my watch and began to disconnect my laptop. "In any case, I should be going. You feel up for a road trip, maybe see another Changed in the flesh?"
"Maybe. I haven't confirmed whether he actually Changed, or if he had a regular old August flu. All we know for sure is he's canceled his campaign stops for the past few days."
Dwight looked at the screen full of websites. He then looked at the floor, though I suspected his mind was thinking of his wife. He finally looked at me. "If I stay, I'll either be locked in here reading all of this and forgetting most of it, or I'll be with Lisa and I'm not sure I'm quite ready to talk to her. I'll come."
"Good good. Why don't you go get dressed, and I'll talk to Lisa, let her know you're all right."
With my laptop packed, I went down and reassured Lisa that her husband was fine, and would be down in a bit. I also told her we were going out to do a checkup on someone, but he'd be back before dinner. To Dwight's surprise, she didn't even bat an eye when he hesitantly came down the stairs to join us.
I excused myself and went out to the car, tossing my laptop in the back and starting the engine. Soon enough, the doctor joined me.
"That was the scariest thing I've ever done in my life," he said, shaking.
"Even scarier than sitting next to a cougar?" I asked, grinning and flexing my claws out. I waved to Lisa and pulled out onto the road.
"Frankly yes. I was scared she would notice something... anything, and this would all fall apart... but she didn't see a thing."
"The Field at work." I signaled and pulled into the gas station on the Reserve and parked at the pumps.
A young native, barely out of high school walked over from the picnic table where he was chatting and laughing with friends. "Hey Doc, how yah doing?" he asked through the passenger window.
The doctor startled, as if, once again, he couldn't believe people didn't see anything strange about him. "I'm... I'm fine now. Thanks for asking."
"Fill it with Regular," I called out, climbing out of the driver's seat and padding to the store area. "You want anything Dwight?"
He shook his head and slumped down lower in his seat as if trying to hide. The worker set the nozzle to fill the tank, and started washing the windshield.
I wandered the convenience store for a bit, keeping an eye on the car through the window. When he hung the nozzle up, I gathered up my selections and went to the checkout. The total made me wince, but there was nothing to be done about that, not till the new fields and new refinery started producing. I tossed a tube of sunflower seeds through the window to the doctor and climbed in, and we were off again.
Mike Savoy lived across the river, almost halfway between Woodstock and Hartland. So we ended up going through town, crossing over to Grafton, and driving along the winding road that hugged the valley wall. His actual house was higher than the road, reached via a steep driveway. The view of the river the house had was spectacular, but the thought of getting to the road in the winter with the snow and ice made both the billy and cougar in me cringe.
We parked behind an old convertible that looked vaguely familiar and got out. As we walked past the convertible, I recognized the paperwork in the back, and the driver's scent. "No matter what, you're going to meet your second Changed here," I explained, heading towards the door.
Before I got there, the wind shifted and I picked up voices coming from the back of the house. I motioned for Dwight to follow me, and followed a gravel path to the backyard. Dwight gasped and my grin grew wider when I saw the two figures seated at a patio table. One was a golden furred canine type with extra large ears, a coyote most likely I decided.
The other was much more impressive. Even while seated, he towered over the coyote morph, covered in thick chocolate coloured fur, with a wide muzzle and thick fingers. But his most impressive feature rose from his head, a pair of antlers that formed a large C shape over his head. With the wind blowing from them to us, it was clear they hadn't sensed us approaching.
"'ey Francois! Nice rack!" I called out.
Both twitched in surprise, the caribou almost falling off the bench he was sitting on. The coyote flinched and tried to slouch down and hide, a habit I'd seen many newly-Changed do. The caribou recovered and looked to us, smiling confusedly.
"I'd say the same to you, but I don't believe I know you and I'd rather not get to know those claws," he called back, his English excellent, with only a hint of a French accent.
"Oh you know me Francois. I just had my annual body tune up and sex change on the weekend." The two new furs didn't seem to know what to make of our exchange as we got into talking range. "It's Joey, though I guess I should probably go by JF again now.... Nah stick with Joey."
Francois took my paw, recognition spreading over his face. "Mon dieu! I know you mentioned you'd been a cat before, but I didn't expect you to change again. How are you doing?"
"Been going a mile a minute since I changed, so I haven't thought too much about it yet. Just too much to do to stress about what I look like. This is Doctor Dwight Tomah, another newbie from in town. And I take it that coydog over there is Mike Savoy?"
Francois nodded, while I pulled up chairs for us. "Doctor, this is Francois Bridgeo, from the Miramachi. He's the Furry Party candidate up there."
"Furry Party... You mean that party is serious?" Dwight asked, his mind catching up slowly.
Francois tilted his head back and laughed. "As serious as a clown. We know most of us don't have a ghost of a chance of getting elected, but it's good publicity for finding new furs."
"As opposed to Mike here who has an excellent chance of being elected. How are you doing Mister Savoy?" I asked looking over at the coyote. I was glad Francois had gotten there before me; it saved me the trouble of going through another briefing session and let us get right down to business about what to do next. The biggest priority was getting the new furs settled enough to get back to their jobs and their Changed lives back to normal, not the easiest of tasks but easier with two experienced people to guide them.
He shook his head, looking between the three of us, then at his own furry hands. "Well enough I guess. Mary's in at the office, keeping things going while I get over this illness." He laughed, a short barking laugh that he cut off quickly.
"Just take your time and I'm sure you'll get the hang of things real quick," I comforted him.
We settled down around the table while Mike poured a couple more glasses of water. "So, do you think my condition will be a problem with the election?" he asked.
I looked at Francois and we both shook our heads. "I doubt it. Most people won't even realize you're changed. Hell, most ridings don't have enough Changed and Known combined to really swing the vote one way or another, especially out here. You and Dwight make up half of the Changed here in Woodstock, and the next nearest northward, that we know about, is one of the McCain cousins up in Florenceville. Then there's a junior high student in Perth Andover and a couple more in Grand Falls."
I sipped from my glass and shrugged. "Well there may be more after Sunday, but the newbies haven't popped up that way yet. That's the main reason you need to get back on the campaign trail. To get your new face out in the open, even if most don't realize it's new. Once you're elected, then we'll see what you can do for the Changed on a larger scale."
We talked through most of the rest of the afternoon, Francois and I sharing our experience and tips for living as a Changed, and just reassuring the new furs that they wouldn't be seen as monsters yet. By the time Mike's wife (and campaign manager) called to check up on him, he felt he was ready to be seen in public again. Dwight was less confident about being seen again, but there was less of a rush for him since he'd already cleared his schedule for the week.
Around five, we broke up to go our separate ways. I dropped the doctor off back home, reassuring him that he'd do fine, then drove back through town to Sobeys. I kept my eye out for any more Changed, but it was unlikely. Two newbies in this Change period for this town was almost too many as it was, but you never knew how the dice would come up. I picked up the groceries, and some steaks for dinner, and called home while I was in line, tail swishing slowly behind me.
"Hey mom. Could you turn the barbecue on? I'm picking up some steaks for us for dinner, then we can drive me home afterwards."
"Steaks?... Fine I can do that," mom replied, almost sounding normal, but sounding distracted. "How did your visits go?"
"Two hits. I'll talk to you about it when I get home. You need anything else? I picked up everything on the list."
"No, that's it. We'll see you soon."
I pushed my cart next to the belt and began to unload it. "Sure, be back soon-OWW!" I let out a very feline scream as my tail erupted in pain. Hopping out of the way, I pulled it away from where the cart behind me had slammed it against the end of the belt. A young boy, elementary school aged at best, stared at me wild eyed from behind the handles of the cart as I fought the urge to grab my tail to inspect it.
"Joey!? What happened?" mom's voice called from the phone. I ignored it, hissing softly and trying to look back enough to do a visual check. My tail throbbed up and down its length, but I didn't see any blood in the fur.
"Duncan! I told you to be careful!" the boy's mother scolded the boy.
I regathered my wits enough to lift the phone to my ears. "I'm fine, see you at home," I told mom before disconnecting. I wiped tears of pain from my eyes and looked back at the mother and her son. "It's OK, no harm done. The... crash just startled me is all," I explained, gritting my teeth a bit to try not to show the pain I was really in.
"Are you sure? You look like you are hurting. Did he jam your hand or something miss?"
"Nope, all good. See?" I held my paws up and turned them over so she could see them hopefully unblemished. "Just be more careful when you're pushing that, bud."
The boy continued to stare at me a bit before he was prodded by his mother. "I'm sorry," he finally said.
I finished unloading my cart and tossed a pained smile at him, "It's okay, just watch where you're driving."
With my tail still throbbing, I managed to get checked out and back to the car. Once the cart was unloaded, I opened the driver's door and sat down, pulling my tail around and checking the tip. It still stung, but other then a few drops of blood from a very slight scratch, there was nothing wrong. "Great, not even hours after telling Doctor Tomah how the Changed tend to be careful and not need as much medical attention, and I damn near become his first patient," I growled to myself, smoothing the fur down on the tail. I got the feeling I was being watched. Looking up, I saw Duncan watching me. He had a puzzled look on his face while his mom loaded their own car. I blushed and waved to him before getting the rest of the way into the car and buckling up.
Back at home, I gathered the groceries and carried them in. Mom met me in the front hall and grabbed some of the bags. "Are you OK Joe? You shouted on the phone, I didn't know what happened."
"Yeah I'm fine, a kid just jammed my tail against the end of the belt. Hurt like the Dickens, but no harm done." Mom cast me a strange look again at the reminder of my true nature, but didn't comment on it.
I helped put the groceries away, leaving out some potatoes to be nuked and the bag of salad. Downstairs, Live At Five was just wrapping up on the TV. Mom unwrapped the steaks and started seasoning them, pausing when she got to the third one. "How should I make this Joey?"
"Same as you always make it. My tastes aren't that different," I reassured her. "Did you talk to Greg yet?"
"Only briefly. He had some errands to run and couldn't talk long. Christine was nearby and I don't think she's been told yet, so he wasn't willing to talk much anyway. It's so strange though; he sounded like he's always sounded, but he sounded different."
I nodded and grabbed the plate. "Medium for you and da, right?"
"I guess so... how do you take it now?"
I couldn't resist, I bared my fangs and grinned. "Rare, but not raw. We are still civilized after all. And there is a safety factor too." I carried the meat out to the BBQ and tossed two of them on the grill. I stayed outside on the deck while they cooked, watching traffic go by on the road, mostly vehicle traffic but more than a few people biking and walking in the beautiful late summer evening. When their steaks were almost done, I tossed my own on and headed back inside for a clean plate.
'Live at Five' had ended and the evening news had started. I heard Steve talking about the carnage in Zimbabwe, but his voice sounded different. Curious, I looked down as I walked past the stairs, and nearly dropped the plate in shock. "Oh. My. God." I exclaimed, jaw dropping open.
Dad looked at the screen, then up the stairs at me. On the screen, a feline of some sort was reading the news. His build and colouring seemed to indicate a wild cat of some sort, a bobcat most likely since he didn't have the tufted ears of a lynx. As I watched, it was clear he was still somewhat unused to his new form; his ears twitched constantly and his claws nearly shredded the notes on the glass desk. Still, he was a professional and he didn't let his new form get in the way of his job.
"Steve... He changed. That's what AT meant," I answered, halfway between shock and laughter. I shook my head and swapped plates. "Wow... a Changed on the air to a million Maritimers every day.... Wow...."
We settled in the family room to eat our dinner and finish watching the news. I told them about Dwight, Mike and now Steve, partly so they knew who else was in the area and partly to keep the subject in their minds. Mom was a bit uneasy about having a Changed doctor now, but I assured her that he was neither the first, nor would he be the last. It may not have been the best thing to say to her at that time.
Once dinner was done, we loaded my gear into the car and set off for my apartment. The drive was quieter than usual, everyone lost in their own thoughts. I was looking forward to getting back to my place, back to my normal surroundings. With everything that had happened, I felt like I needed a vacation to recover from my vacation.
"Do you need anything before we drop you off?" Mom asked, jolting me out of my woolgathering. Outside, we were approaching the exit into the city.
I shook my head and stretched. "No, not yet. I need to sort through what's home, and figure out what fits and what I need to replace."
She didn't say another word until we pulled into the parking lot. I grabbed the suitcase and bags and struggled to get a comfortable grip on them all for the trip upstairs.
"Mac, give him.... give her... " mom faltered, not sure how to say what she was trying to say.
"No need, I can get it," I called back, knowing what she was trying to say even if she couldn't get it out. I left the big suitcase near the door to the complex and went back to the driver's side window. "I can get it from here. Thanks, for everything. If you have any questions, or just want to talk or anything, I'll be here," I tried to reassure them. I leaned into the window and kissed mom's cheek. "Love you,"
Her hand went up and rubbed where my whiskers had brushed against her ear. She still looked confused but stammered out another 'Love you' in return.
"We'll be fine. Thank you for finally telling us, Joey," dad called from the other side of the car.
I waved to them and grabbed the suitcase, pulling it into the building even as the lights of the car pulled away. For the rest of the evening, I busied myself with putting things away and hauling out the clothing I'd had the last time I was a cougress. Luckily most of it still fit well enough.
By the end of the evening, my apartment was straightened up, billy clothing tucked in lower drawers, cougress clothing put back in the closet and upper drawers. I'd chatted a bit on IRC, and cleared some of the saved shows on TIVO, and finally decided it was time to crash out.
I clicked off the desk lamp and made my way to the bedroom in darkness, my eyes quickly adjusting to the dim city lights coming through the windows. I pressed the sleep button on the radio so it would turn off in a couple of hours, and turned the volume down until I could just hear it. I stripped out of my clothes and crawled into bed and tried to doze off, truly alone for the first time since I had changed on Sunday.
With no other distractions to occupy my mind, the mental barriers I had put up shattered. All of the thoughts I had refused to let myself think of since I went cougress again came roaring into the forefront of my mind. Whimpering, I hugged a pillow tight to my breasts and curled up tighter. What was the future going to hold for me? How would my coworkers handle the new me? Did they know me well enough to still see me as a guy? What if I didn't go Billy again, could I stand to stay like this for the rest of my life?
My mind spun in circles, trying to answer the questions but not willing to accept the answers I made. My imaginations kept coming up with various scary scenarios that I couldn't shake out, no matter how hard I tried to think of other subjects. After an hour of tossing and turning, I finally got up again and tried other methods. I tried reading, but my mind couldn't focus on the words. When I reread the same page for the third time in a row, I finally tossed the book aside and started pacing my small apartment. I dug out an old DDR Dance pad and hooked the PS2 to the TV. I turned the volume down low and tried to tire myself out physically. Non-retractable foot claws plus a cheap plastic mat plus a lot of jumping and hopping are not exactly the best combinations, but I managed to keep it mostly intact. Eventually, I was panting hard and my legs burned too much for me to go on. I gulped down a bit of water,turned off the lights and collapsed on the bed.
Sleep still evaded me. My body was physically exhausted now, but my mind refused to shut down. I groaned again and tried to shift to other mental subjects, but now that those worries were out, they refused to be ignored. Around four in the morning, I finally drifted off into unconsciousness, but it was not restful at all.
The radio clicked on at its normal time, but I didn't stir. An hour later, it clicked off, putting my apartment back into silence, and still I didn't move. Around nine thirty (according to the voice mail time), my manager called, but I didn't hear it.
Finally, soon after noon, I stirred. Still mentally exhausted, I moved stiffly to the washroom to clean up, my mind refusing to get into gear. Somewhere in the back, I knew I should call someone, seek some help from MD or AT or anyone, but I couldn't bring myself to exert the effort. Naked, I sat down on the edge of the tub and started slowly brushing my fur.
A knock on the door jolted me back to the present. A glance at the clock showed it was after one; somehow I had lost almost an hour without realizing it. It was sorely tempting to just ignore whoever was at the door, but I regained my wits enough to shove those thoughts aside.
"Just a minute!" I shouted, tossing the brush next to the sink and rushing to the bedroom to get dressed.
I tugged my shirt down a bit and glanced myself over as I padded to the door. My breasts felt exposed, even when covered, but I was slowly getting used to that again. I left the chain on the door, flicked the deadbolt open and peeked out. "Yes?"
Chris took one look at me and stepped back in surprise, almost bleating. "I'm sorry, Miss. I didn't expect Joe to have a guest. His manager was worried something was wrong, so I said I'd check on him on my lunch. Is he around?"
It took me a second to clue in to what he said. When I did though, a manic laughter started to bubble up from deep within. I managed to close the door enough to open the chain before the laughter broke out. Chris looked at my paws, then at my fanged muzzle and looked worried.
"Come on in Chris, I'll be just a minute, " I said, trying to regain control. I left the door opened and backed up to the living room.
The goat sniffed the air cautiously and followed me in, wary of the crazy laughing feline. "Do we know each other? Or did Joey tell you who I was?"
I flopped onto one end of the futon and looked at him. "You could say that. Remember what I told you what most of '07 was for me? Well it looks like '09's going to be the same way."
The goat's muzzle dropped open and his eyes widened. "Joey? But... damn!"
"Tell me about it." I sighed and looked at the tears in the DDR pad I'd left the night before. "Sorry I didn't go in yet. I... I had a small attack last night, couldn't get to sleep from worrying about this." I pointed to myself. "Didn't crash out till really late... or early... or whenever, and slept through till about an hour ago."
He stayed quiet for a bit. "I think I understand a bit. But Change was three days ago. I would have thought you... especially you, would have gotten through this sort of attack long ago."
I heh'ed and shook my head. "You would think that. But I was too busy." I went over what I'd been doing since Changing.
"So you didn't really think of what work would be like till last night? I guess you were doing other stuff."
"Pretty much. I'm not sure I can face them. Outside of my family, they're the ones who see me the most now. Hell they see me more than my family now. How can I explain that Josephine works there now instead of Joseph? Do they know me well enough to still see me as a guy? What if it's half and half?" As I voiced those concerns, I felt the panic rising in me.
Chris seemed to pick up on that. He sat down next to me and took my paw, squeezing it. "Why don't we see what is going to happen before you stress yourself bald worrying about what ifs?"
"I can't. I need to be prepared. I need to... I don't know what I'll do. But I need to be ready to do SOMETHING."
"Joey, calm down. Please calm down." he winced a bit, feeling my claws on his palm. "I know you like to plan, but sometimes you just need to fly by the seat of your pants. We just don't know what will happen, but you've been through this before. I'm sure you can handle it on the fly. You just need to get out of here and DO something."
"I... No. I can't. Maybe tomorrow."
He stood up and pulled on my hand. "Yes, you can. Are you ready to go out? We're going to go get a bite to eat, and we're heading back to the office. If they see you as Joe, then fine, things stay as they were. If they see you as... who was it? Well if they see you as a girl and they notice it, then we'll tell them, or we'll do something. But one way or another, you ARE going into that office today."
I resisted at first, but finally relented under his steady pressure. I pocketed my keys and wallet, pulled on the crocs, and followed him out to his car. We picked up lunch through the Wendy's drive thru, then he drove us back down to the office. I slowly munched on my fries, unable to shake the feeling of a condemned woman having her last meal.
"So, I guess you are... what is it? JF now?" Chris asked on the way, trying to keep me talking.
"Technically, yes, I guess. But I'm just going to stick with Joe, or Joey. Less hassle all around, and the name is neutral enough that it won't draw too many weird looks."
We pulled into the parking lot and entered the side entrance. The stairs and coat room were deserted, to my relief, but my ears easily picked up the conversations and keyboard clicking going on just beyond the doors. I began to pull on my work shoes when another thought occurred to me. "Did anyone else change?"
Chris swallowed a gulp of his drink and shook his head. "Not that I could tell. A few people are still out on vacation, but no extra sick days beyond you, and everyone here is accounted for."
"I see," I answered, not sure if I was relieved or saddened that the company had dodged the TF ray.
I tied the laces and the shoe faded away, showing my bare paws again. I wiggled my toes, barely getting a sense of the ghost shoe, before we walked up to our own area of the cubical farm.
A couple of people were standing at the coffee machine while a fresh pot brewed. They looked to the door as we walked through. "Hey Joey, how was Vegas?" Patrick asked.
All of the advice I gave new changed, to act and react normally and to trust the Field, flew right out of my mind. I don't know if I was trying to make my voice lower, or higher, or something else entirely, but the 'Fine' I squeaked out was barely understandable, even to me. Heart pounding, I walked past them without another word and went to my desk.
Chris set the bag of food down next to me and glanced around. Shirley was on the phone with someone, and Matt was a few rows over talking to someone. He nodded to Kevin, and sat on the edge of my desk, his back to the coworker. "That wasn't so bad now, was it?" he whispered, covering his words with the noise of the paper bag. "They didn't notice anything amiss, nor did Kevin. Just relax, Joey. Things are fine."
"I suppose," I mumbled, powering up the monitors and logging in. I opened Thunderbird and waited while it connected to the mail server. A long list of unread messages popped up, but nothing too important from what I could tell of the subjects. That wasn't what I was looking for though. I scrolled down to the latest messages, and found one from this morning, addressed directly to me. Seeing the "To: Joey Ford (firstname.lastname@example.org)" line on the screen almost made me cry in relief.
Chris looked at the screen. "See? It's all good. Just relax and settle down and no one will tell anything is different."
I smiled at him and reached for the burger I'd picked up. "Thanks Chris, for everything," I mumbled.
Things did quickly get back to normal, as normal as anything could be with my new life. Chris, Kevin and I talked about my trip, at least the non-Change related part of the trip while we finished our lunches. After being so open about my true nature, retraining myself to watch what I said proved trickier than I thought it would be. I know I slipped up more than once, mentioning a tail here, a species there, getting the wrong gender every so often, but Kevin (and anyone else who had their listening ears on around us) didn't seem to notice it. After lunch, I shifted back to work, real work, and quickly fell back into my routine, the panic and fears that had kept me up the night before mostly gone.
Monday, August 25, 2008
The rest of the week and the weekend passed by quickly. The more normal things I did, the less weird I felt. Sure, some of the customer service people whom I rarely met looked at me strangely, but for the most part the company still saw Joey, and that was how I liked it.
Saturday was payday for me, most of which went directly on the Vegas bills. What was left over went into restocking my kitchen and picking up a few more comfortable clothing items and other necessities for my new form. The trip to the malls was nerve wracking. On top of my extreme self consciousness about how I looked now, there was the Shoe Field to worry about too.
Word of shoe field failures out on the west coast had spread quickly over the networks, and everyone was on edge, wondering if they would be the next 'forced' to go bare pawed. The Furgonomics servers crashed multiple times with people trying to get on and place orders. A few other furs and Known who had previously offered to make Furry Footwear independently of Furgonomics all but disappeared under the deluge of shoe requests. I, and probably every other fur, couldn't take a step, or put on a shoe without wondering if that was going to be the last with 'normal' footwear.
Without me around, mom went into a bit of denial about all things Changed. She was talking to me again, but when I tried to mention myself or Greg's real natures she would quickly change the subject. I tried a few times to bring the subject up directly, but she would clam up, if not outright hang up on me.
I tried not to mention my panic attack to AT, but she found out somehow; I think Chris ratted me out to her. She ended up tearing a few metaphorical strips off of me for letting myself get that bad without calling her, no matter what the hour. I waited her tirade out, and was surprised to feel relieved by the end of it. Not relieved that it was over; but relieved to know there was someone out there who cared enough to get that angry at me over it. With that behind us, we shifted our conversation to the changed news anchorman, and some upcoming plans for the Labour Day weekend. We had planned for me to visit her that weekend, and my new nature didn't change that. She hinted there might be more going on, but wouldn't explain further, to my annoyance. I think it was revenge for not telling her directly about the panic attack.
Monday morning, I was back at my desk at the usual time, skimming over some web comics before I shifted my focus to work, when my phone rang.
"Joey? It's Susan. Could you come down to my office as soon as you get a moment?" the voice asked as soon as I answered. Susan was in the Human Resources and Accounting departments.
"Sure, I'll be right down," I said, my heart flipping in nervousness. I didn't know what it was about, but her tone was serious, more serious than I had ever heard her before. I hung up the phone, and looked around my desk, wondering what it could be about. I walked to her office next to the stairs from the coat room, and knocked on the open door.
The older, white haired woman looked up, just in the process of sealing a final envelope. I recognized them as the payslip envelopes that she usually delivered the workday after the pay was deposited. A sneaking suspicion began to form in the back of my mind as to what this was about.
"Hey Joe, come on in and have a seat. Close the door behind you please." She watched me follow her instructions, automatically straightening the piles of envelopes on the corner of her desk. I noticed there was still one folded payslip with an envelop next to it. The envelope bore my name.
"Joey, we seem to have a problem that I can't figure out. Do you know a Josephine Ford?"
I winced and tried to keep my expression neutral. My claws dug into my knees out of nervousness. "No, not off hand," I said, trying to lie.
She looked me over carefully, so carefully I was sure she would pierce the Veil. She looked puzzled, and leaned back in her chair. "Well, I'm not sure how it happened, but our records have been tampered with. In particular YOUR records with us have been tampered with. We no longer have a Joseph Ford in our systems. Instead, all those references have been replaced with this Josephine Ford. Everything else matches with your details, but the name.
"I've asked the IT guys to look into it, see if they can find any traces of someone hacking into the system over the past two weeks or so, but it's a puzzle. As far as I've been able to tell, only your record was changed, and only your name at that. Why is that?"
I shrugged and focused just over her head, hoping it would seem like I was meeting her gaze while not actually meeting her eyes.
She frowned and looked at the piles of payslips. "One record or a hundred records, it doesn't matter. It's a sign that our HR systems were tampered with by someone. That is a major security breach, and we will be investigating it fully. Since your records were messed with, it definitely looks like it involves you somehow. So I ask again, does that name mean anything to you?"
Inwardly, I cursed myself for not thinking of this before, and I cursed ROB for putting me in this situation in the first place. Outwardly, I let out a long sigh and reached into my pocket to pull out my wallet. My options were severely limited as it was; tell Susan now and maybe avoid a full investigation and probable firing, or stay silent, be inspected by everyone and very likely be fired. "It does. But it is REALLY hard to believe. Josephine is really me. As of last Sunday, that became my real name."
She looked puzzled, thinking over what I just said. I began to pull a variety of cards from my wallet. "I didn't think you were that way, Joe. But that's your own personal choices I suppose. That doesn't mean you have the right to hack into our systems and change your records. There are proper ways you could have done it."
I couldn't help but laugh a bit. "Oh, I didn't hack into any systems. Nor did I ask anyone to. Nor am I 'that way', not intentionally. The name change wasn't my decision, just like the... other changes weren't my call.
"No, whatever hacking was involved, was at a more fundamental level than just our HR systems. It hit my Driver's License, my SIN card, Medicare, Health Insurance, Visa, Debit, Mastercard, AirMiles, Prescription drug card and probably more I haven't even found yet." As I named the card, I tossed them onto her desk, privacy be damned. All of them showed some combination of 'Josephine Samantha Ford' where less than a week ago they had shown 'Joseph Samuel Ford'. And most of them showed enough natural wear to clearly show they hadn't been made recently. The SIN card alone, was fifteen years old now, and it showed, with cracks in the plastic and a signature strip worn away to nothing.
She picked up the license, with the picture of the nanny goat on it, and looked from me to the picture and back. She rubbed her forehead and looked again. "Joey? What is going on?"
I leaned forward and considered how best to break it to her. I put my hands on her desk and pressed my finger tips together, claws in. "What I am about to tell you is going to sound incredible. Too incredible to believe even. But it is all true. The world is Changing. Changing in a way no one knows how. We're in the middle of what I'm sure will be considered one of the biggest paradigm shifts humans have ever seen. It started back in the 80's, it'll finish in another ten years or so. And no one knows what is going on."
And with that, I started telling her about the Real World. Midway through my explanation, I heard the clicking of hooves on tile, and brought Chris in before he made it to his desk. It took most of the morning, but together we finally convinced her.
"So we three are the only three who know about this?" Susan asked, finally beginning to get what we were telling her.
"As far as we know. Chris and I are definitely the only two Changed in these offices. There's a slight chance there are other Known here that don't know we're Changed, but it's a remote chance."
She sighed and looked at her desk again. "Fine.... But what am I supposed to do?" Next to this week's payslip were a few more envelopes with my name on them. They had still been sealed when I brought them in from my desk, but when we opened them those slips too said 'Josephine'. It was one of the things that had finally convinced her that what had done this went far beyond mere hacking.
"Nothing," Chris answered her. "Well, call off the IT search for a hacker, not that they'll find anything. But otherwise, just keep acting normally. That's all you can do."
"But Joe's records... Should I correct them? What if someone else sees them?"
"No! Don't correct them. It'll just cause more trouble, especially come tax time. I'm sure my tax records list me as Josephine now too, so I need to keep that link." I began to gather up my papers. "Just leave them. If I change back in August, it'll probably correct them automatically. And if anyone else sees them before then.... we'll cross that bridge when we get to it."
"Should I tell Doctor Mitchelson? This... I don't know what to make of it." she asked, mentioning the company founder and owner.
Chris shook his head. "Please, not yet. It's not directly affecting him yet as far as we know, lets leave it at that."
She was clearly unsure about taking that course of action, but it was the only option we left for her. "Is there anything else I can do for you two?"
I glanced at Chris, who shook his head. I almost said no, before I happened to glance down, remembering the other big thing rumbling through the community. "There is one other thing. We told you about the shoe field, that lets us wear normal footwear and make it fit somehow right? Well, that field is failing. It may stop with the few people its failed for so far, but most likely it'll reach all of us eventually. Which means we won't be able to wear 'proper' footwear when that time comes.
"There are companies and people out there making new shoes for us, stuff that we can properly wear, which the field does seem to make look normal. But we weren't expecting to need them so quickly.... heck we weren't expecting to need it at all. Needless to say, they are just a bit swamped right now with orders.
"What I'm getting at is sometime in the next few months, Chris and I will probably have to wear some... unusual shoes. I know the dress code's pretty lenient with the developers anyways, but when that day comes, we may need some extra slack."
Chris looked at me in surprise, he clearly hadn't heard the latest news. Susan thought over the request and nodded. "Not sure what I can do, but when that day comes we'll see what we need to do. Is there anything else you think you guys will need?"
I shook my head. "No, not until the next emergency at least."
She picked up the piles of envelopes and stood with us. "Then fine, get out of here you two. I'm late enough in my duties as is..... Oh and Joey. Next time it looks like something is messing with our records, could you try to give us a heads up?"
I chuckled a bit, paw on the doorknob. "I'll try. But it's hard to guess what a random omnipotent being is going to do next." I opened the door and motioned for Chris to lead us out. Susan closed and locked the office behind us, while we walked back to our desks. He perched himself on the edge of my desk, clearly wanting to talk more.
"The shoe field is failing?" Chris hissed after a quick glance around for people in earshot. "When were you going to tell me?"
"When could I tell you? It only started failing on Friday, I heard about it on Saturday, and I only just saw you when I heard you walk in and pulled you into Susan's office." I cleared the screen saver and glanced at my email box. "If it's anything like the TTC curse, we'll have a few months before it gets out to us at least. It started on the west coast, but it is spreading."
He rubbed his thick fingers and glanced around again. "So this is it then, isn't it? The beginning of the end of the Field?"
I shrugged and leaned back to look up at him. "I wouldn't exactly say that just yet. We've probably got a few more years. But yes, when all is said and done, this and the TTC curse will probably be the first signs of the Field failure. They're definitely showing that ROB may not be as all powerful as it may seem. Or maybe this was his plan. Only it knows.
"In any case, all we can do is handle it whenever it happens, and keep doing what we have been doing in the mean time. It's out of our paws.... Mornin' Kevin."
Chris nearly fell off the desk as he twisted around, seeing our cube-neighbour walking towards us. His hooves clicked onto the tile and he crossed over to his desk, nodding to Kevin as well. I swung back to my machine and picked up on my work.
Friday, August 29, 2008
Mom was hard to read. In the two weeks since she'd been told, she'd retreated from the knowledge, pretending that the Change didn't exist. I talked it over with dad, Liz, Greg, and the rest of the family, trying to figure out what to do about her. It was tempting to let her take her time about it, but Greg decided that a little push wouldn't hurt.
As a hobby, my uncle restored and raced old muscle cars at meets around the Maritimes. The last major race of the season was Labour Day weekend in Wolfville. I'd already made plans to visit Halifax that weekend, so things dovetailed nicely (though had I not already pre-made those plans, I would have loved to go see the races). She and I would drive down to Truro to spend the night with Tanya, while Greg and company would come down and take her to the races. Hopefully by the end of the weekend things would be back to normal, or as normal as we could make our conditions.
When she picked me up after work, she had seemed almost normal. But any attempts I made to bring up my new form, or her brother's form, or what she was going to see when she got to Tanya's were ignored. We did talk at least, speaking on normal subjects, the election (but not on Savoy's particular situation, or the Furry Party), the new reactor at Lepreau, the new refinery the Irvings were building, the experimental tidal generators in Fundy that would partly power that refinery, and other 'safe' topics. All in all, on the surface, things almost seemed like they were before. If you could ignore the tawney cougress in human clothing in the car with us.
We pulled off the highway and waited at a traffic light. Another car pulled out of the gas station next to us, getting ahead of us just as the light went green. I had a glimpse of a lot of black hair and did a double take. "That's Greg!" I exclaimed, reaching over to honk the horn, then rolling down the window to wave. The massive figure in the car twitched and looked up in his mirrors. His passengers twisted around and waved back. We followed them the rest of the way to Tanya's.
The moment the car stopped, I was out of it. Craig and Alan didn't wait much longer. "Hey guys! How's it going?"
Alan did a quick double take and shook his head. "Hey Joey. Going good. You're looking good."
"The Change does that to you. Best workout you can get, I've always said." The car rocked and a massive figure climbed out, grunting and struggling a bit. He shook himself once he was clear and focused on me. I became very aware of how I looked and almost crossed my arms over my breasts. Instead I turned the movement into a step forward and held out my paw. "Hey Greg."
He stared and shook his head, noticing my paw after the fact and taking it. "Joey? Good lord.... I know you told me but seeing..."
"Seeing is believing, yeah." I squeezed his paw a moment, noticing the paint stains on the back of his hands and forearms. "Looks like you figured out how to paint those cars."
"Getting there. I'm still trying to find a good balance. If I cover up too much, I die of heat exhaustion. If I don't cover up enough, I'm picking fur out of paint for the rest of the day... and picking paint out of fur for the rest of the week."
The car door closed quietly, but it sounded like a gunshot, reminding us of the fifth person here. As one, the four of us turned our gaze to the other side of the Escape, where mom had quietly climbed out and was now watching us from across the hood, her expression betraying a variety of emotions. Greg let go of my paw and lumbered around the car, holding his arms open. He literally gave her a bear hug (though not a crushing one) that she hesitated before returning.
"Hey girl, how're you doing?" he asked quietly, not letting her go.
At first, nothing seemed to happen. But then it was like turning on a tap. Her hug tightened around him and her shoulders started shaking. "Oh Greg.... I just don't know anymore. What's going on? What's happening to you? To everyone?" she sobbed out, finally letting out the confusion and fears that had been festering since I told her about my condition.
I walked away a bit, feeling uncomfortable hearing my mom like that. Craig and Alan joined me as we focused on the house and pretended we couldn't hear our elders as Greg comforted his sister. "You know, I don't think Tanya's home," I commented, forcing my voice to sound normal but not quite making it.
"I don't think so either," Craig answered, trying the door and finding it locked. "She should be here; she got off work at eight, or was supposed to." He hopped off the porch and felt around underneath. I heard some faint clicking and a rattle of metal as he pulled a key up, hanging off the front half of a lock box. "She won't mind if we let ourselves in. Better than putting on a show for the neighbours at least."
He opened the door and replaced the key under the deck. We entered the house that was clearly deserted. Greg guided mom to the living room where they continued to talk in hushed tones. The rest of us set up in the kitchen to wait. It was hard to pretend not to hear what they were talking about. I dearly wanted to go in there, to help explain as best as I could. But I perched on a stool at the breakfast bar and waited, claws scratching on the marble counter top. For anyone else, my experience would have been an advantage. But this was something she had to hear from anyone but her children.
My ears twitched and I looked up towards the door, hearing a vehicle pull up and turn off. Not even bothering with my shoes, I rushed to the door and saw my cousin still dressed in her guard uniform, gathering bags from the grocery store. I headed out to help her. Craig and Alan were behind me, though not as quick.
"Hey Joey, guys. Sorry I'm late. Had a small incident just as my shift was ending that kept me later, and I had to get some stuff for dinner. Hamburgers fine for you all?" she called out as she saw us come out.
"No problem, we weren't waiting that long," I answered, plucking a couple of bags from her grip. "Your father's talking to mom right now. I think it's going well, but it's hard to read," I added in a quieter voice.
Tanya nodded and locked the car before slamming the door closed with her hip. "I understand. You're looking good Joey." She lead us back into the house where we dropped the bags off on the counter. "Craig, Joe, Alan, can you three start getting things ready? The barbecue should be clean and ready to start. I'm gonna go get changed and I'll be right back down." She poked her head into the living room on her way to the stairs to greet mom and Greg and was gone upstairs.
By the time she got changed and came back down, we had the patties on the grill and were busy chopping up some tomatoes, cheese and fresh buns. Greg joined us soon after, getting a drink from the fridge and catching my eye. He flicked his eyes towards the living room, a clear indication mom was ready for me, or as ready as she would be. I gulped and nodded, making my way around the kitchen to the living room.
She was sitting on a couch, her back to me, looking up at a picture of Greg's first wife. "Mom?" I said quietly, slowly walking around a coffee table to bring myself into her view. She looked drained, but better somehow. I took it as a good sign. She patted the couch next to her.
I sat down where she indicated, turned so we faced each other, my tail swishing over the end of the couch. We sat there a long moment, listening to the rest of the family prepare dinner in the kitchen, talking in hushed tones. It was tempting to speak first, but I waited on her.
"Greg... Greg's been telling me a lot of things. What the past month has been like for him. What he's learned about the... the Changed. How they are handling it, how hard it can be to decide who you trust with this secret and who to keep quiet to.
"He hasn't told Christine yet. He thinks he will soon, but he isn't sure yet. I never realized how hard that sort of decision can be for you guys."
I nodded in agreement. "For most of us, it's not something we tell lightly, unless we have to. Sometimes our paws are forced and we have to, for our safety, or security, or for someone else's safety. But most of the time, it's a fine line. Do we bring in those close to us, reveal the truth to them, with all the burdens that entails? Or do we continue the lies, let them continue their normal lives for a little longer, and through them, try to keep a grip on your own old life? Both sides of the equation can make us look like selfish jerks."
She smiled at me and it almost reached her eyes. I lowered my paw and placed it on her knee and squeezed it lightly. She covered my paw with her own hand, the first real contact we had had since that morning in Vegas. "Greg's also told me what you've been doing. You and your friends and how you've been helping find others with your... your condition."
I blushed and looked away, ears twitching back. "I just saw something that had to be done and did it. It wasn't that special."
She squeezed my paw and let go. "I know you think that. And for all that, and for that especially, I'm proud of you. I don't pretend to know what's going on; I don't think anyone does. But I understand a bit better now why you took so long to tell us. I wish you had told us earlier, but I know why you didn't."
I looked back at her and blinked a bit, feeling my cheek fur get damp. The spike was gone. There was still a wound there that would take time to heal, but the spike between us was gone. She stood up and took my paw, pulling me to my feet. "Come on, I'm starved," she added.
"So am I," I answered, then pulled her into a hug. She held it for a long moment, then we rejoined the family.
A burden shared truly is easier to handle, especially when everyone knows about it. The conversation over that late dinner didn't focus just on the Changed, but for the first time in a long time there was nothing hidden, nothing danced around. No one stumbled over trying not to say something they shouldn't say (other than people being unable to figure out if I should be called a him or a her). For the first time in a long time, even when I was among other Changed, I felt comfortable with what I was and what was coming.
Saturday, September, 6, 2008
"Joey! Hurry up! We're gonna be late!" Alexis called from her bedroom.
I stood in my underwear in the bathroom, staring at the offending clothes, hanging on a hanger on the shower rod, trying to catch up on the whirlwind afternoon she had dragged me out on.
Even before I could turn the engine off, she was there, climbing in the passenger seat. "To the mall, Claws," she ordered, grinning and pointing.
"The mall? Okay, I guess. What do you need out there?" I asked, setting the car back in motion.
"I don't need anything. But you need a new wardrobe."
My paw slammed onto the brakes and the car stopped in the middle of her condo complex's parking lot. "What did you say?"
She pulled on her seatbelt and looked at me. "Come on Joey. Every scrap of clothing you've got comes from Mark's. That's sad, even for a guy."
"That's not true!" I objected, then thought about it for a moment. My voice lowered into a mumble. "Some of it last Christmas comes from JC Penny's." Growling under my breath, I took my paw off the brake and pulled to the end of the parking lot and waited for a break in the lunch hour traffic. "Zoey put you up to this, didn't she?"
She chuckled and shook her head. "Not exactly. But I did email her to get your sizes and some tips. Oh relax, Joey. It's not the end of the world."
I sighed and navigated through the traffic to the Mic Mac Mall. "Fine, but no girly stuff."
"No girly stuff, I promise. But you will get some womanly stuff." She held up a paw to silence my objections. "We've got a dinner meeting tonight at a nice restaurant downtown. You should at least look nice. Everyone there will either be Changed or unknown to you, so everyone will see you as a woman anyway."
I grumbled again and pulled off the highway. "What is this dinner meeting anyways? You haven't told me anything about it. I'm going to feel so unprepared for it as is."
"It was Steve's idea, after Bruce introduced us. He just wants to meet with a few experienced Changed, get their views on what's going on and what's to come. Shiloh's going to be here, and Mike and Crystal are coming down too. Just the seven of us basically, maybe Bruce and Steve's wives too since they Know."
I pulled into a parking spot and looked at her. "I suppose that isn't so bad."
"You got it, Claws. Now come on. We're dining on Steve's dime and the place he's taking us to does have a dress code."
What followed was a few hours of hell. Normally, I like malls, especially big malls. Even before I changed, I loved wandering the corridors, seeing if anything caught my eye. Granted I was mainly hopping from bookstore to knick-knack store to game store and avoiding the clothing stores, but it was fun. On the other paw, what Alexis was dragging me through was many things, but 'fun' was not a word I would use to describe it.
When she said she wanted me to look nice for the dinner, I hoped it meant it would be a quick trip to get a single outfit. I had forgotten she said she was getting me a new wardrobe. She dragged me through practically every clothing store on all three levels of the mall, making me try on various things (I still refused to wear anything but pants and shorts though). It was the colour blind leading the fashion blind, but with the help of clerks and the tips sent from Zoyan, we didn't pick things that clashed too much. I did have to grudgingly admit, having clothes that fit better did feel better. (Though nothing fit perfectly, the tail and other musculature differences between homo-felis and homo-sapiens meant the mass produced stuff would need adjustments.)
"Alex, seriously, I don't need all of this stuff. It's not like I can wear it at work, or even back home. Too many people know me as me." I said as we left Reitmann's with another bunch of bags. I was still wincing at the costs of all this; woman's clothing was a lot more expensive than the polo-shirts and slacks I usually got at Mark's. Not that the costs were coming out of my budget; AT insisted on paying for it all, saying it was an early Christmas present.
We caught the escalator up to the food court and deposited the bags at an empty table. I sniffed the air, picking up the mixed scents of fresh bread, deep fat frying grease and overcooked chinese food. "Relax Joey. You can leave most of this at my place for when you visit. And you'd be surprised at how much you could wear to work. It may have a woman's cut but it looks male enough for casual contact. Trust me, I've been doing this for what? Four years now?"
I rummaged around in one of the bags and pulled out a camisole that was part of a three piece set she'd picked out. "Male enough eh? I doubt this would pass."
She rolled her eyes. "I didn't say it ALL would work. What do you want to eat?"
There was a knock on the bathroom door. "You need any help figuring it out, Joey?" AT called from the other side.
I sighed and lowered my arm where I'd instinctively raised it to cover my breasts at the knock. "No, just give me a few more minutes," I called out. Gritting my teeth as best I could, I finally took the clothes off the hanger (a little ironically it was the three piece that I had used as my counter example in the food court) and struggled into it. It felt weird to have my shoulders and the top of my breasts exposed like that, but I eventually got the top and the light jacket assembled into something that looked right. I checked myself in the mirror, brushed my fur out one last time and stepped out.
AT was waiting just outside the door, and all complaints I had about having to 'dress as a girl' momentarily fled from my mind. She was in a similar outfit to mine, and even my fashion-blind eyes could tell it matched perfectly to her black fur. Around her neck was a silver chain holding a small a green emerald.
"You look wonderful," I stammered out.
She smiled and stepped towards me, bringing her paws out from behind her back. I saw the glint of light yellow and felt something settle around my neck. "There, now you're set too." she said after fiddling with something behind my head.
I backed into the bathroom and looked at myself. The gold chain all but disappeared in my fur, and even where it was visible it was hard to see with my colouring. It was just long enough that the yellow stone hung just above my cleavage.
"Alex, I can't-" I started to say, reaching up to touch it.
"Sure you can. And don't go saying it was too expensive; I picked it up at Zellers. It's just to give you something around your neck, to get used to it." She stood next to me and we watched each other in the mirror. "It's a yellow garnet, your birth stone."
I felt my ears redden and lowered my paw. I leaned over and gave her a kiss on the side of her muzzle. "Thank you."
She grinned and gave me a quick peck in return, then shoved me towards the door. "Come on, we've really gotta get going."
We settled into the car and I started it up, heading for the downtown. "All of this today, it was too much. I'll repay you for it somehow," I said as we drove across the bridge.
She smiled, twisted in her seat a little to face me, and to keep her tail somewhat clear. "Don't worry about it Claws. But I am expecting a good Christmas from you."
As AT had hinted at, the restaurant was a higher class establishment, set up on the harbour a few blocks from the Casino. She had me park at the Casino and we walked along the boardwalk to it. Walking to the place, I began to feel self conscious again, feeling the eyes of the long weekend tourists and the natives glancing our way, and worrying about what they saw. I was greatly relieved when the maître d' escorted us to a private dining room at the back of the restaurant. Despite AT's worries about being late, we were the first two there.
"How many people are we expecting again?" I asked, looking around the room and the number of place settings at the table.
"Mike and Crystal, Shiloh, Steve, probably Bruce. And then their wives probably. Shiloh may have a guest too."
"That's probably it." Before I could say more, we both caught the whiff of more furs approaching the room. I recognized the fox scents and turned to face them.
The silver fox had his arms around the shorter vixen, her own fur dark and dense, still in summer mode but with a white undercoat already growing in. "Mike, Crystal. Good to see you two again," I greeted them, holding out my paw.
Mike smiled and shook it before Crystal pulled me into a hug. "Good to finally see you, Joey. I'm sorry about what happened to you."
I smiled at her. "It's okay. Nothing to be done about it. So how are you liking your new vixenness?"
She smiled and shook her tail a bit, if she was blushing it was impossible to tell under her thick fur. "It's a very... different feeling. But Mike's been a great help." She rewrapped her arm around her husband and grinned.
He looked down at her, their tails rubbing against each other. "Wasn't there something else you wanted to tell them?"
"There was?... OH! There was!" She smiled and her hand went to her belly. "I just found out a few days ago. You're the first to hear. I'm pregnant!"
We gave her our congratulations and settled down in the middle of the table, catching up on events. Soon enough two humans, one recognizable from television, were escorted into the room. Both had a very faint scent of a deer on them. AT stood up and greeted them.
"Bruce, Theresa, it's good to see you again. How is Corey doing?" she asked, shaking hands.
The TV host smiled. "Three years old and running a mile a minute. But I don't think he's losing his fawn-spots yet. We're still trying to figure out his breed."
"Check around the boards, I think there is a deer that doesn't lose its spots. One of the European Changed is like that at least." AT turned a little and introduced the rest of us. She just finished when a familiar raccoon scent and another scent I almost recognized lead the next pair in.
"Hey guys. How are you all doing?" Shiloh called out, storming the room. Behind her, a muscular boar made me do a double take.
"Evenin' Shi. We're all good. Who's your friend?" Alex called back.
She grinned and pulled the boar to the forefront. He was dressed in a nice enough suit to get in, but clearly looked like he would be more comfortable in jeans or leathers. "Guys, this is Doug, my new cameraman. Doug, this is Bruce, Theresa, Michael, Crystal, AT and JF. Doug and I met the end of July and he changed this August, so we decided to pair up for a bit."
I shook his hoof when he got to me and grinned. "I'm sorry if I stared. You reminded me of another boar I met a few years ago. And it's just Jo or Joey. With the curse, the initials don't seem as needed."
He smiled and nodded to me. "No problem, miss. A pleasure to meet you."
We returned to the table to wait for the last people. Waiters (one Changed, one Known) served drinks and appetizers while we chatted on various subjects.
Shiloh especially had a lot of information on the Changed view of the election. "Have you heard about Judy Mehler yet? Her shoe field failed last week just before she had a photo op at the recycling centre in Yellowknife. Her hooves shredded the shoes she was wearing when it failed."
"I heard that. She had special shoes ready to go or something, right?" Bruce added.
"Right. She had had a pair of boots hand-made by an Inuit craftsperson just for her hooves standing by, just in case. Well, it turns out, she probably should have been wearing them all the time; they proved to be a great photo op to bring in the Inuit vote. She's now seen as a serious contender for the seat. Imagine that, a Furry Party candidate actually having a good chance to win."
Bruce chuckled and sipped his drink. "I've been seeing those reports coming down from the north. From what I've read, the rest of the parties are splitting the vote badly, and she's coming up through the middle, and she's picking up a big chunk of the 'Anyone else but them' vote. Doesn't hurt that she seems to have the Elsie Wayne effect in her favour. Judy was a popular mayor in Yellowknife in the late nineties, and people still remember that; She could probably have run under the Communist Party banner and still have a good chance of being elected."
"Elsie Wayne? The name's familiar but I can't quite remember it," Shiloh asked.
"She was a mayor of Saint John back in the eighties before she went to the Feds. When the Tory party self destructed, she was one of the two Tories to survive in Parliament, largely, it was said, due to her general popularity," I supplied.
"I see." Shiloh went silent, her eyes focusing on someone over my shoulder. Turning around in my chair, I saw a bobcat morph being lead into the room with a normal woman. He was easily recognizable, especially as he spoke. I gulped nervously and glanced around the table, noticing that Crystal and Michael seemed to have some of the same nervousness I felt.
"Good evening, everyone. Sorry I'm late, I'm still underestimating how long it takes to brush this much fur," he greeted us. We laughed and the ice was broken. He and his wife started around the table, speaking to people on their way to their seats at the end.
AT and I stood as they reached us. "Good to see you again Steve, Alicia. This is my friend Joey, from Fredericton, that I told you about." she introduced me.
I hesitated a moment then held out my paw sideways so he would have to take it in a handshake. He paused a moment, and then seemed to remember whatever AT had said of me. He nodded, taking my hand and shaking it. "A pleasure to meet you, Jo. I've heard a lot about you from Shiloh and Alex."
"Thuh-Thank you sir. I've been watching you for years, since you were on Live," I stammered back, nervous as hell. He wasn't a big Hollywood actor or anything like that, but in this region, he was probably more recognizable than the latest so-called A-listers from Tinsel Town.
He smiled warmly to me and let my paw go. "Well I hope I don't disappoint you in person. I look forward to talking with you more tonight, about your own experiences with this condition."
"I'm afraid I'm not all that prepared," I excused myself, casting a quick glare at AT. "But I'll offer what I can."
He moved on to talk with Bruce before taking his seat. The waiters returned and took the orders, and we settled down to eat.
The conversation stayed light through the dinner, and I gradually lost my nervousness about eating with 'celebrities'. We talked about our experiences over the past few years. Bruce talked about his son, AT and I shared our views on the TG'ed, and even Steve mentioned some close calls he'd had through the years when he almost figured out the Change before his own Change.
"Speaking of close calls, Steve. When are you going to tell the rest of the newsroom?" Shiloh asked.
The bobcat shrugged and sipped his wine. "I'm not sure yet, probably soon, but we're sorting out who best to tell first."
"Don't put it off for too long. You're in a room daily with a room full of people who are always looking for hints of something hidden. Hell, I only rarely swing by, and I've had more than a few close calls with you guys."
"I know. Bruce and I have already talked about it a few times since I got back."
The dinner rolled on, moving on to the main course, and on to other topics. By the end of the main course, as the plates were being cleared, the talk reached a lull.
"So," I asked, "Does anyone know what's going on in the States? My friends down there think their government is up to something but no one can figure out what."
"When aren't they up to something?" Mike quipped, sipping his wine.
Shiloh snickered and nodded. "True, but this time something is up. My own sources aren't sure what it is, but the Changed in Congress, there are four now, have pulled together a committee of some sort with a lot of other fairly high profile Changed and a few others. No word yet on what it is, other than that it is Change-related."
"Bah, Committees. Spend months talking about crap and finally come out and announcing that the sky is blue. Waste of time if you ask me," Doug snorted scornfully.
"Maybe. But we'd probably have one going on up here too if we didn't have the Election going on. Expect a Federal commission or something like that as soon as any two of those Changed MP's get together after the dust settles."
"But any ideas what they could be doing down there?" I asked, trying to steer us back on track a bit.
Shiloh shrugged again. "Your guess is as good as mine. My gut feeling is they're looking to do the same thing any government tries to do when something new comes up; they're trying to figure out ways to control the Change. If not direct the Change itself, at least control how word of it spreads. It's much too late for that now, but that's never stopped them before."
"Maybe they're getting ready to tell the world?" Crystal suggested.
"Tell the world what? The rest of the world can't see us. And we are still only two million people. A lot of people yes, but a drop in the bucket on the world scale," AT shot back.
I shrugged and sipped my water. "Two million Changed, and how many million more Known? More and more people are figuring out what's going on, either from the clues we leave, or out of necessity, or just because we get tired of lying about ourselves. Four years ago, the ranks of the Known were effectively irrelevant. Now, they're growing faster than the Changed numbers. And the more who Know, the harder this will be to keep quiet.
"On top of that, we're a lot more public than we were before. Changed politicians, Changed news casters, hell, a Changed Political Party running as Furrys. The more we're out there, the more encounters with us the Unknown will have, and the more often people will start putting two and two together and getting four.
"And finally, the field is failing. And failing fast. The TG Curse last year, the Shoe Field failure this year, all the people glimpsing or seeing through the field. It's fading and we'd be idiots not to see it."
"But we're still only two million. That can't be the tipping point? Even twenty million is still barely a drop in the world population," Crystal pointed out, sounding a bit worried.
"It all depends on which twenty million you're talking about," Doug countered. I nodded in agreement to the boar who continued. "Twenty million scattered evenly across the world there'd be nothing to worry about for awhile yet. But that isn't what we have. We have our two million Changed and who knows how many Known largely concentrated here in the States and Canada. That's going to speed things up a lot I'd dare say."
Shiloh sighed. "Before we get all doomy and gloomy, we do still have time at least. It's not like the reveal is happening now. But as Doug said, we'd be idiots not to see it coming. Like I've been doing practically since I changed, we need to get ready; figuring out how to tell the rest of the world what's happening in a way that doesn't cause a panic. That's probably what they're going on about down there."
Steve nodded. "That's partly why I wanted to meet with you this weekend; to meet some more experienced Changed, and to get your feel for what's coming and where we go from here. Until we find out what that American Committee is doing, and what our own Changed MP's decide to do, we'll be spinning our wheels somewhat. But when the time comes, we will be an important part of the reveal and how it is explained to the world. We can't be unprepared. How much time do you figure we have?"
Looks were exchanged around the table, until they settled on AT, to her surprise. I nudged her and whispered, "You're the longest Changed of us. You've got the most experience. So what's your gut say?"
"My gut says I don't want to even think of this," she whispered back then looked back around the table and spoke louder. "Well, ideally, I would hope we could get another four or five years of cover. That'll give us, what? 30 million?, 60 million?, something like that, of us. A big population that should more than cover everything. Realistically though... given how many are being told now and stuff. My gut says we'll be lucky to make it to 2011."
"So that gives us a couple years, give or take a bit," Steve said.
Alex nodded back. "Pretty much. It's not a revelation tomorrow, but two years of prep will probably be all we get."
"Right. Two years to prepare, and lets hope the American's don't speed things up too much. With that in mind, what do we do?" Steve asked, looking around the table.
The table went quiet for a moment while we thought it over. "We need to tell more people. Especially you people," I said at last, nodding to the reporters. "The best way to keep the confusion and the panic down is to make sure the media is reporting the truth clearly right off the bat. If most of them are shocked about the news to start with, there's going to be a lot of misinformation. You need to be ready to nip that in the bud. Two... four... eight million lives will be hanging on you guys getting the right word out as fast and as far as possible once the news breaks."
"That makes sense. We'll have to pick who we tell and when we tell them carefully though. The more who know, the harder it will be to hide, especially in this industry." Bruce said.
"You guys or at least the UK media, kept Prince Henry's deployment quiet for months. And this has been mostly quiet for years now. Two more shouldn't be that hard, right?"
The reporters shook their heads and chuckled nervously. "We'll sort it out one way or another. Any other ideas?"
"The politicians. We'll need to get more of them involved and ready for this announcement, especially in the days before. Especially the leaders and premiers and mayors and such," Alex added.
"Anyone with any sort of public profile really. Radio announcers, public figures, actors, whoever we've got by that time. Changed and Known. We'll need the Known to try and comfort the Unknown that we aren't really all that different. Not in the important ways," I continued.
"Leave the actual message to us; it's probably too early to be forming that yet, but it's not a bad idea. We'll definitely need to have anyone with any sort of public profile on standby to give statements when the reveal happens," Steve said.
Crystal spoke quietly, almost too quietly to hear. "The schools. Maybe not the school boards at first, but principals and teachers will need to be told. Especially if there are Changed kids in the classes. Thank goodness the Change is in August, hopefully they break this before school goes into session, or we could have a mess. Panicked parents withdrawing kids, not wanting their children to be taught by a freak, that sort of thing." Mike squeezed her paw to try and comfort her.
"Speaking of panicking, the emergency services will need to be filled in too, so they're ready to handle the worst if it happens," Doug spoke up.
I shook my head and sighed, realizing just how big this was. The task was going to be daunting. Bruce seemed to have similar thoughts. "Well, we're only one facet of this. Lets let the other experts do their own planning for their own specialties. The cops don't-... err bad example. The teacher don't tell us how to film, and we don't tell them how to teach."
There was a murmured round of 'good idea', and we wound down from there. We finished off our drinks, said our farewells and started leaving.
Mike and Crystal walked out with AT and I. We paused on the sidewalk, looking out over the harbour and just taking in the sea air in silence for a moment.
"Well, we should get going. We have to go get a hotel room," Mike finally said.
"A hotel room? I thought you were staying with Jenn and MD?" Alex asked.
Crystal nodded. "We were, but then Jenn had a death in her family. A great aunt died and the funeral was this weekend. They're both back in Woodstock for the funeral."
"You should have said something! I've got a spare bedroom at my place you two can crash at."
"We figured Joey was there. And we didn't want to be a burden."
I bah'ed and waved my paw. "No bother at all. I can crash on the couch or something."
"It's settled. Follow us home and you can crash there."
"Joey!" a familiar voice interrupted us. Shiloh waved and jogged across the street to catch up. "Good, I worried you had already left."
"Hey Shiloh, what's up?" I asked.
The raccoon took a moment to settle her fur down. "I was wondering what you were doing tomorrow? I'd like to do an update on you, since you changed again this year." Since the first meeting we had, she'd managed to pin me for a follow up every year after. I didn't think I was that interesting, but she thought she had struck gold with me.
"Well, Alex is working tomorrow afternoon and evening, so I figured I'd head down to Wolfville and check out my uncle's races. If you don't mind a bit of a drive, you could head that way too. My uncle just Changed this year, and all of my family down there now Know."
She nodded, glancing at Doug who had caught up to her. "That could work. Where is the race?"
"Annapolis Valley Dragway. You'll have to check the maps, I can't recall the directions off hand."
"We'll be able to find it. Thanks Joey. See you tomorrow."
We returned to AT's condo and relaxed for the rest of the evening, chatting and catching up. Late in the evening, we finally started to retire to the beds. I went to grab a few spare pillows when AT stopped me. "Don't bother Joey," she said quietly, pushing me back towards her bedroom gently. "It's a queen sized bed, lots of room. And it's not like we haven't slept next to each other while camping."
I smiled at her and let myself be led. "Fine, fine. But just sleeping. Nothing else," I insisted, sensing the wine at dinner and a couple beers after dinner had gone to her head.
She simply smiled and we prepared to bed, and sleep did eventually happen.
Tactfully (well I am a mountain lioness after all), the foxes didn't mention anything the next morning, even though both of them woke up before AT and I. I used my normal morning grumpiness to stay out of the activities until I more fully woke up and settled down. Unless she had a reason (Like Change Day) to be up early, AT was even less of a morning person than I was. She probably would have slept in until her shift started, if I hadn't gone in to wake up our host. Eventually, we were all up, fed, cleaned up and off on our separate ways.
I set off heading up the 101, windows down, enjoying the wind blowing through my fur. About halfway along the route, my cell rang, mom's ring. I put the windows up and answered. "Hey mom, wassup?"
"Hey dear. Are you coming up here today?" mom asked.
"Oh yeah, I should have called you guys. Alex is working this afternoon, so I decided I'd see how things are going at the races. How'd you know I was coming?" Mom often had her feelings about certain events, her witchy sense as she described it, but being able to tell I was coming was strange even for her.
"There's a reporter and a camera man here. They said they know you." She lowered her voice so it was almost drowned out by the roar of engines behind her. "Greg says they're a raccoon and a boar."
I laughed. "Yeah, that's Shiloh and Doug. Don't know Doug well, but I've known her for years. She wants to talk to me about the Change. We've done this the past few years. She'll probably want to talk to the rest of you too if you'll let her."
I could hear a bit of nervousness in mom's voice. "I see. We'll have to think about it a bit I guess. How long before you get here?"
"I'm about ten klicks from Windsor. Probably thirty minutes before I get there." I suddenly remembered something else. "Is Tanya there?"
"No, she had to work today. She was going to take it off, but she's subbing in for a guard who broke her arm playing softball yesterday. Why?"
"Ouch, that sucks. Tanya and Shiloh have met before. Shiloh's been trying to arrange a talk with one of the prisoners in Tan's care, but I don't think she's gotten it yet. I'm not quite sure how friendly they are to each other, on a professional level at least," I chuckled and slowed down a little to not blow past a car on the side of the road facing the other way. The occupants were stretching their legs while two of them checked a tarp-covered trailer, clearly a university student and his family heading back to campus. I was surprised to realize that one of the tarp-checkers was a familiar house cat morph.
I honked the horn and slowed the car down to a crawl, lowering the window again. "Eyes up!" I shouted to him as I drove past. The cat laughed and lifted his head higher. I waved again and picked up speed once I was past him.
"Just passed Richard on the road here. He's looking good. On the way back to Dal by the looks of it. How's Greg doing?"
"He's tinkering on the car at the moment. They made it through to the semifinals yesterday. Jimmy's driving since Greg can't exactly fit in any more."
"Great! Does Jimmy Know?"
"Yeah, they told him when they made him the driver."
"Okay. Well, tell whatever you want to Shiloh. She is a nice reporter and a friend. And I'll see you in about half an hour."
"Love ya hun."
"Love ya too, mom."
The dragway was located just off the main road, on the outskirts of the town in a wooded area. I parked and made my way to the ticket booth. My ears pressed back against my head as the throaty roars of highly tuned engines erupted from behind the bleachers. "One please," I shouted, ears ringing as the roar morphed into the crowds cheering.
Beyond the gate, a bored worker was sitting on a flipped over bucket. He took my ticket and held up a stamp. I hesitated a moment, then turned my hand over, holding out my palm for him to stamp. He gave me a puzzled look, but stamped on the only bare skin I had on my hands.
Once inside, I listened to the muffled voice of the announcer going over the results of that heat, and more cheers from the crowd. Once the squawking stopped over the loudspeakers, I called mom.
"I'm by the bleachers now; Where are you guys?" I shouted, the loudspeaker crackling back to life just as mom picked up.
"We're in the pit area. Head that way and I'll come out and get you."
I walked across the bottom of the bleachers, blushing a bit at some of the catcalls shouted my way from above. On the track, the Christmas Tree flashed, engines roared, and two cars took off down the track. Around me the crowd erupted in cheers. Mom appeared at the end of the stands I was approaching and looked around. Her eyes went over me and continued without a hitch, as if she didn't see me, or didn't recognize me. I broke into a jog as best as I could in the crowd and waved to her. Her eyes went past me again, then shot back and focused on me. She waved back, looking confused at first, then seeming to recognize me.
"It's about time!" I said once I was in earshot.
"I didn't recognize you. I just saw a woman waving at me for a moment and I didn't know who she was... then you appeared." She shook her head. "Damn, that Change stuff gives me a headache."
I gave her a quick hug and fell into step behind her. She handed me a neck badge similar to the one she was wearing. "Join the club, sometimes I wish I still had the blissfulness of the Unknown on my side. How're things going?"
"Greg's next run is in thirty minutes, then he has a couple hours clear. We'll be getting some lunch then, if you haven't eaten yet."
"Sounds good. How 'bout Shiloh?"
"Who? Oh! The reporter. I haven't seen her since she introduced herself. But she said she'd be back later, when you showed up."
She led me to the pit area set up beyond the head of the drag strip. Rows and rows of cars were lined up, with groups working on them or just talking and showing off. At the far end, about as far from the dragstrip as you could get, I saw Doug with a camera recording Shiloh who was talking to an official looking-man.
We paused and waiting while two cars went by on their way to the strip, engines growling in anticipation. "Joey, what are you wearing?"
I looked down, having a brief flash of panic that I had worn some of the clothes AT had picked up. But I wasn't really. The t-shirt was new and technically a woman's shirt but you couldn't really tell those apart. And the shorts were and old pair I'd adjusted for my tail long ago. "Just what I usually wear," I said, not sure what she meant.
"Around your neck. What is that?"
I oh'ed and tugged the necklace out to show it. "Alex gave it to me yesterday. Just some cheap necklace she got at Zellers.
"May I see it?"
I lifted the necklace from my furry neck and felt carefully for the clasp, unhooking it with my claw. I passed it over. "I forgot all about it. It's not too uhm... girly is it?"
She smiled. "No, not really. It's very simple looking, could be worn by anyone really. But I've got news for you, Joey. This didn't come from Zellers or Walmart or anywhere like that. This gem and its setting are not exactly cheap."
Taking the necklace back, I looked it over more closely then carefully put it back around my neck. "I'll kill her. She's been spending way too much on me," I laughed, shaking my head.
We crossed the lane and continued on. Mom chuckled, "Well it's not crazy expensive. But it did come from a jeweler and not a department store. And on you, it's not even noticeable unless you see the gem. I can barely see the chain at all."
"Probably my fur. The colour's a fairly close match. Has Greg seen any more Changed around here?"
"He spotted a dog of some sort in the stands, and one of the drivers is a horse. The guy's got a medical waiver to race without a helmet."
I recognized the black furred mass bent under the hood of the Olds 442, and waved to Craig and the others who were nearby. "I'll keep my eye open for them. The horse must be an older change though; I doubt an 08 Changed would have a medical exemption yet. It's strange though, I don't remember any horses interested in drag racing. Oh well, Alex knows the Nova Scotian crew better than I do. Hey guys!"
The bear stepped back and the engine roared into life, drowning out conversation. My uncle tilted his head and listened a moment then nodded. He made a cutting motion and the engine died.
"Hey Joey. Glad you could make it. How's AT?" Craig called out.
"She's good. Annoyed to be working this weekend, but that's her job. Her duties have been increasing to get her ready for her new position."
I heard a whistle from the car. "Wow, THAT'S Joey? Damn."
My ears pressed back, but my uncle answered first. "Stay focused Jimmy. Remember she's more than she appears to be. And she's my nephew, however that's supposed to work "
"Sorry Greg, just weird stuff is all. I think she's ready to go in any case."
"Yeah, I think so too. Lets get her out to the track. See you after the race, Joe."
"See yah Greg," I debated wishing him luck but I wasn't sure the right way to do it for him. I just stayed quiet and stood next to mom as they drove the car out of their pit slot. Greg and Craig walked with the car, while the rest of us walked to the end of the track. We could hear the crowd roaring as the latest sprint finished.
We joined the crowd on the other side of the track, far enough back to be safe but close enough to see the race. I watched the cars getting into position, then scanned the bleachers, looking for the dog morph. It wasn't hard; he was staring openly at Greg, then at me. Definitely an '08 Changer.
"You with CTH Racing?" a voice shouted next to me, directed to me.
I looked, seeing a stranger next to me. "Yeah, Greg's my uncle."
The young man nodded and grinned. "He's got a sweet car there. Always great to watch him race."
We were interrupted by the loud speaker cracking back to life, introducing the racers. The rumbling engines began to roar, attempting to drown out the loudspeaker by themselves. I winced in pain and pressed my ears down, then clasped my paws over them, barely bringing the noise down to a tolerable level. The lights flashed and the cars roared down the track. It was close, but Jimmy managed to edge Greg's car ahead in the last seconds. The cheering (including my own, caught up in the moment) sent my ears ringing again.
"Congratulations! Great run. Can't wait to see you guys in the next round," the man said, holding out his hand.
I shook it and grinned at him. "Thanks, I'll share the grats."
We met the car as it made its way back from the end of the track and walked with it to its pit. Greg was talking to Jimmy about something. We got back to the slot and Jimmy climbed out. We congratulated Jimmy on the run, and chatted a bit before Greg sent us away to get some pizza's for lunch.
Shiloh and Doug showed up while we were eating. I offered them a couple slices and we chatted a bit. Doug filmed us a little after asking for permission, and Shiloh got most of her interview-update out of the way.
While we were filming, the results came in, setting up the final challenge tree. If he went all the way, there'd be three more rounds to do, the first one coming up right after the lunch break and runs for some of the other classes. Shiloh moved on to do a few more talks and to prepare the piece for the news (the official piece she was working on, not our talk). I tracked down the other Changed that Greg had noticed; the horse had actually Changed in '06, but he wasn't active in the Changed community. The Labrador acted like he wanted to run from me when I approached him, but after introducing myself and talking with him, he began to relax. As I suspected, he was a recent Changed who had seen his first Fur in the fur here at the drag strip. He'd been lucky that a Known coworker had recognized the signs of his own Change and filled him in on what was happening.
When Greg's first race of the finals came up, I rejoined the family on the other side of the track I adjusted the earplugs I had bought while we got the pizza and cheered myself hoarse when Greg's car was announced. Engines roared again, only slightly more tolerable with the ear plugs, the lights flashed and they were off.
The cars were even as they took off, but by the halfway point the Olds was inching ahead. At the three quarters mark though, there was a loud bang that echoed across the strip, and a cloud of smoke erupted from the hood of Greg's car. It quickly lost it's speed and limped to a stop, engine dead at the end of the track. Jimmy scrambled out and raised his hands to the crowd to show he was fine.
"Looks like the engine blew. Da was worried that would happen," Craig mumbled, having joined us after the car was in place. "Jimmy said he felt something was off on the high end, but we couldn't figure out what."
With the help of the track crew, they pushed the car off the track to await a tow truck. I had no idea how he did it, but Greg's massive bulk was already down at that end of the track, his furry head poked under the hood, wisps of smoke still coming out around him. We heard him growling in frustration as we approached.
"What happened, Da?" Craig called out.
The bear looked up, paws full of grease. "We blew a gasket. We're done," he sighed, looking depressed.
"Well we gave it a great shot. Better it blows at the end of the season than the start." Alan said, trying to be cheerful. We moved to one side for the tow truck.
Jimmy headed back to the driver's seat. "Sorry Greg. I shouldn't have pushed it so hard."
Greg began to wipe his paws off and slammed the hood closed again. "Shit happens. We both knew it was iffy. Lets get it back and enjoy the rest of the races at least."
We got the car back to the pit area and checked it out enough to make sure it was truly shot for the day. Some of the other racers came by to offer their condolences on the unlucky break he had gotten. We packed up most of the gear, but left the car out for display.
Most of us retreated to the bleachers to watch the rest of the races. It was a small consolation that Greg's competitor won the stock car class in the end. After the awards and the rest of the classes, we finished loading the car onto the trailer and headed out for dinner.
We went our separate ways after dinner. Mom and the rest of the family went back to Tanya's. I headed back to AT's. I was watching the new Power Rangers series on her TIVO when she got home. (It was one of my guilty little pleasures, plus the Tiger-morph red ranger wasn't bad on the eyes; one of the few Changed Kiwi's I'd heard about.)
"So you picked this up at Zellers did you?" I called out as I heard her walk in, pausing the screen.
"Picked what? Oh yeah, I did," she called back, looking tired.
I smiled, "Funny, mom said that this sort of quality isn't usually at the department stores. She did like it though."
She sighed and collapsed on the couch. "Okay, okay, you got me. I picked it up at Charm awhile back. Never had the chance to give it to you till now. You made such a big deal about me buying the clothes, I decided to lie about how much it was. So she liked it?"
"She did. Scared me when she noticed it at first, but she liked it. So how was your day?" I got up and rubbed her shoulders. She mrred and leaned back, tongue hanging out a little.
"Exhausting. I hate long weekends. Sunday's are always the worst. 'least things will be back to normal tomorrow. How was the race?"
"Fun, but the car blew a gasket or something in the first round of the finals. But we all had a good time, and there's always next year."
"That sucks. But glad you had a good time. When are you heading back?"
"I told mom I'd be around sometime in the afternoon. You and Tan both have evening shifts and mom's first classes are on Tuesday."
She smiled. "Well that gives us the evening at least."
I reached Tanya's soon after noon. Greg's car was still there, along with Tan's car. I climbed out and shook myself a bit to resettle my fur, then walked to the door. I knocked once and opened it up. "Hello! Anyone lose a cat?"
"We're trying, but she keeps coming back. We're in the kitchen." Tanya shouted back.
After tugging off my shoes, I padded into the kitchen. "Well maybe if you kept the catnip locked up I- err.... hey Stephen."
Tanya's ex-husband (they separated amicably) and her daughter were in the kitchen with everyone else. Mom had a panicked look that probably mirrored the one I briefly showed.
"Hey Joey. What cat?" he asked.
"It was nothing. Just teasing mom is all. How are you doing?"
He looked at me, a little puzzled, then shrugged. "Doing well. We're getting ready for the frigate refit projects. It should keep me busy in Halifax for the next few years."
"Mmm-hmm," I mumbled, choking back a comment on the refit. In the years to come the refit program would need to have more to it than first planned, but I couldn't say something like that just yet.
We stayed for an hour or so, but it quickly became obvious that mom wasn't sure how best to dance around Greg and my conditions with Unknowns present. The rest of us managed to brush past a few slipups, but it was with great relief that mom and I took advantage of an opening to escape when we saw one.
The drive back was fairly uneventful. Seeing Greg and what he was going through had really helped to mend our own bridges, but there was still a little bit of strain. We both did our best to take care of it.
"Joey, what should I do? What can I do to help you?" she asked as we entered the long stretch of mostly-Irving owned forest between Salisbury and Cole's Island.
"Just do what you've always done, even when you didn't know you were doing it. Treat us normally, and be there when, if we need it."
"Yes, but isn't there anything else I can do?
I shrugged and adjusted an air vent to blow against my face. "I'll forward you more links about what's going on and stuff. You can practice 'seeing' us if you want. Keep an eye on Erma too, mention you know about us, maybe tell her daughter and husband if she thinks she's ready for them to know, but don't pressure her."
"Didn't I tell you? Eugene passed away in July. Peacefully in his sleep."
"He did? Oh...." Now that mom mentioned it, I remembered a note about it being sent my way but I hadn't paid it much attention. "I'm sorry to hear that."
"He had a long life, but the past year has been especially hard."
I nodded and briefly wondered if Erma told him the truth before he died, then shoved the thought aside. It was none of my business.
Mom shifted topics to get us off those morbid thoughts. "Anything I can do at school that might be useful?"
"I have no idea. Keep an eye out for any kids acting strangely I guess, or anyone who isn't there but should be. But Woodstock, even the area covered by WHS, is a small area; odds are the four furs in that area are all there are so far. We might have another Changed in some of the other schools though. Keep an eye out at the other schools if you're out that way."
The rest of the trip stayed on safer subjects until we got to my place. We both got out there, and I went to grab my gear. I ignored the plastic bags in the back, but mom noticed them. "Are those yours, Joey?" she asked.
I set the laptop bag down and grabbed one of them. "I don't think so.... why that sneaky little...."
"What are they?"
Pulling out some of the clothes from the bags, I held up the jacket AT had bought for me. "We went shopping before our dinner on Saturday. I meant to leave them down at her place, but she snuck them into the truck."
Mom started snooping and stared in surprise. "Are these?"
"Yeah, they're women's clothes. That's why I meant to leave them down there. I can't wear them here, too many know me as a guy." She looked like she was having a hard time with it, so I quickly grabbed the bags from her hands.
"Well, make sure you hang them up so they don't wrinkle too much," she said numbly.
I hugged her and kissed her cheek. "I will mom. Thanks for everything. Love yah."
She shook her head and hugged back, visibly struggling to act normal. "Love yah too, honey. I'll call you later."
September 16, 2008
Here goes nothing. I typed into the chat channel as the hour clicked over to 8:00. Polls were now closed everywhere Ontario and eastward, and the results of the 40th election were about to start coming in. The last few weeks had been particularly nasty, as the parties scrambled for every last vote they felt they could get. Polls had been seesawing all over the place, even briefly swinging to an NDP minority as both the Tory and Liberal campaigns suffered simultaneous missteps on completely different subjects. (The polls immediately after that announcement showed a strong Tory majority, but the experts brushed it off as a nationwide reflex action to the thought of the NDP in power.) Now, as the pollsters analyzed the exit poll results, the only conclusion they could make was that they had no idea what was coming. Since Friday, I had retreated to the American networks where and when I could, and finally to my DVD collections, just to avoid all of the vitriol coming through the Canadian networks. But now, it was time to see the results.
For the first half hour, it was all talking heads, as the networks filled in time with various political specialists talking about the campaign that was and the inconclusive exit-poll results. Leaving it on ATV, I focused on Everquest, forming up a group and getting ready for the night's raids. The first polls started reporting in, a St. John's riding that had been Tory last time, but now was solidly Liberal, and a Liberal stronghold in PEI also going red. The experts gnawed over those preliminary results, pondering if it was a harbinger of a red wave, or just backlash from broken Tory promises to the Eastern provinces.
Thankfully, more results started pouring in, faster than the experts could chew over individually. I occasionally flipped back and forth between Lloyd and Mike on CTV and Peter and the CBC crew, but for the most part I stayed with CTV so I could catch Steve, Bruce and Star covering the local results whenever the mother network let them on.
I followed the raid out to Ashengate and went through the normal preparations for the Dyn'leth event. For the most part, the Maritimes were swinging Liberal red, only a couple spots going Tory blue and a lone orange NDP slot in Nova Scotia. But the talking heads were nervous, and even a political novice like myself could tell why. The numbers behind the 'wins' were much closer than they'd ever been, even in the guaranteed ridings. And the fringe parties were taking up a larger chunk than expected. Francois lost, as expected, but he still squeaked into a respectable third place. On the other hand, Michael was quickly declared the winner in Tobique-Mactaquac, one of the few ridings to go mostly as predicted. With five polling stations reporting in the riding, he became the first Canadian Changed MP.
Quebec and Ontario turned into a bloody battleground, with ridings swinging from one party to the next faster than the graphics could keep up. Tory blue and Blockhead Light blue were the main colours in La Belle Province, with a stronghold of Liberal red holding on in Montreal. Ontario was mainly a patchwork quilt of Red, Blue and NDP Orange, but the Green party put in a strong showing and was even shown leading in a few ridings as the night wore on. To my surprise, there was even a brief flash of Furry Party purple somewhere down near Windsor or London, but it disappeared almost as quickly as it appeared. With more and more ridings reporting, the experts dropped 'majority' from their discussions and were talking about the chances of another minority government with either major party.
I tuned the results out for a bit and focused on the raids, taking down the drakkin and then the dark dragon. During a rebuff break, I checked on Shiloh's Changed blog. She was in Ottawa, but she was tracking how the Changed candidates were doing across the country. It turned out, I hadn't imagined the flash of purple; a Furry Party Candidate had briefly led in London West, but was now a distant fourth. Shiloh figured the first polls counted had come from around the university where the experts were anticipating more rebellion voting against the bigger established parties from the student vote.
As for Changed candidates in general, besides Mike, there was another in Ontario, and a third leading their riding in Manitoba. Considering our numbers, it looked like we were in good standing to be represented finally.
Out of the corner of my eye as I moved with the raid to the next target, I was surprised to see a green bar on the "Leading and Elected" graphs on the TV screen. Mixed in with the usual groups, the Green party seemed on the verge of coming into it's own with two seats in Ontario all but won now.
We plowed through the next encounter, but to my annoyance, no cleric loot dropped. I refocused on the results, just in time to see a swath of purple take over the Northwest Territories. Judy winning her riding had been a remote possibility, but there'd been a Liberal resurgence up there over the past week that many expected would have left it red. The results, while still preliminary, were showing something else. They showed the Furry party candidate with a healthy lead that only grew as a second and third polling station reported in. The experts seemed as stunned at that result as I felt. They tried to focus on the rest of the ridings, but the big purple cap on the graphs of the country was hard to ignore.
I don't believe this, I typed into the serverwide Changed channel. Those fools actually did it; we've got a Furry Party... an actually Furry Party member elected. From the other comments flying by in that window, I wasn't the only one shocked and babbling about it.
Polls in British Columbia and the Yukon closed as we were preparing for our last encounter of the night. Normally by the time the western province and territory came into the picture, the election was all but decided, but this was not a normal year. The Liberals had a slight lead, but the west was normally strong Tory territory. The way this election was going though, no one was taking anything for granted.
The raids wrapped up for the night, but the counting was still going strong. One of the Green seats in Ontario winked out, but more were glowing brightly on the west coast. The purple cap, bracketed by red on either side now, still held, the experts grudgingly declaring Judy the winner. Edmonton Center went to a Changed candidate, but which one was still unknown. The rest of the Changed drifted down in the results, often placing well, but not quite well enough. Shiloh's blog updated, declaring the final Changed count of 5 Nationwide, and at least 3 Known.
I'm not sure if I should feel proud to have someone elected as a Changed, or at least as a Furry... or be scared that such a person is now in the public eye for all to see, I commented in the channel, joining the general babble going on.
What the hell was she thinking? Were any of them thinking? Running in the election like that. By running as a party, they turned this country into a laughing stock on the world stage. By actually voting one of them in, we're gonna be the World Clowns! an EQ2 player ranted. I recognized his nick as someone who had been looking for Furry guilds on the EQ2 boards a few months before. He'd been a recent Changed who was looking for a guild of other Changed.
Only for the short term. Once the Field fails, or once we go public, it'll probably be seen as amazingly prescient, an EQ'er from Quellious said.
I'll have you know, she is now MY MP, and I'm proud to have voted for her. She was a great mayor and she's a great person in general. If she had wanted to, she could have run as an independent and STILL won. But she recognized the needs of the Changed and joined the party as a way to help us. This was another EQII'er, somewhat appropriately posting from the Halas server.
I sighed and pushed back from the desk, stretching and running my claws through my arm fur. The results on the TV showed that it was still a virtual tie. The winner wasn't going to be decided until late in the evening, when all of the polls got in, and even then probably not until some of the ridings were recounted. The experts were going on now about how the coffers of the major parties were running low due to the various costs of the campaign, and that whatever party formed the government, they would have to work closely with the rest of the parties to stay in power and not trigger another election too soon.
I tossed out my farewells in game and on IRC and prepared for bed. I didn't really care who ended up being named Prime Minister; the fact that we had five MP's in Ottawa Changed now was the main thing I had wanted to stay up and see.
I did stay up long enough to watch the shocked musk ox's acceptance speech. Shiloh's blog in a side note mentioned how the networks had asked Judy to hold off on her speech for half an hour while they moved in crews from the headquarters of the other candidates. Her speech itself was fairly standard, thanking her competitors for a good race, her staff for helping her win, her cobbler for the emergency set of 'orthopedic' boots midway through the campaign, and all the people who trusted her enough to vote for her. She promised to do her best to represent the needs of the North and it's people, irregardless of who they voted before. And somewhat cryptically (to the Unknown at least) she promised to do her best to also represent those who are going through Changes in their lives in this Changing world.
The camera crew showed her supporters (a few hundred people gathered in a small hall in Yellowknife, including what had to have been every Changed in Northern Canada) cheering her on at the end of the speech. Before the talking heads could come back on, I clicked the TV off and turned off the lights. What was done was done, and the fallout would be someone else's problem. For now, I had work in the morning and ROB only knew what else coming.
Not even bothering to turn the lights on in my bedroom, I set the sleep timer on the radio and crashed into bed, Thankfully, they were done with their own coverage and playing music again. I curled up on top of the sheets, tail swishing slowly over the edge, the fan blowing over my body to try and keep it somewhat cool. I was asleep before the song finished.
|The Veil (A Paradise Series)
(First: Holes in the Veil)
--ShadowWolf 18:50, 14 February 2009 (UTC)