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User:Erastus/The Cart Before the Centaur

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The Cart Before the Centaur

Author: Erastus Centaur

Life is now different in a lot of ways than it was 18 months ago. Since cars became horses, people don't travel as far. When we order goods from a catalog, overnight shipment has became weeks. There aren't planes anymore either. Even computers were eventually replaced with something simpler.

Back before the telegraph, ideas could only move as fast as a horse. Now that so much technology had become something else, the spread of ideas had slowed a bit, though the still working radios and phones allow ideas to spread faster than a horse. Long distance news tends to be a bit old. But even old news can grab one's attention.

This is the article that did it:

Scientists reported today that the milkmen, bovitaurs
created by the EVENT, have proven to breed true. These
milkmen were caught in their electric delivery carts
when the EVENT happened and became creatures that are
human from the waist up joined to cows from the shoulder
down. Scientists theorize that since the carts were
carrying milk, the men's bovine part became female.
Their wives adapted to this problem by stepping into a
nearly completed cart that held vials of bull semen and
allowing someone else complete the cart and triggering
the change. They remained female above and became male
The couples were able to mate and conceive. The first
of the babies was born yesterday to Phil and Marie at St.
Catherine Hospital and proved to be a bovitaur like its
parents. It is confusing to know what pronouns to use as
the child appears to be human male and bovine female, just
like the original milkman.

The story was short, but it was enough. I realized a childhood dream was in my grasp. I talked to my wife, showing her the article. She saw the twinkle in my eye. She said I could pursue it if I wanted, but she wasn't convinced yet.

What I've always wanted was to be a centaur, a graceful melding of human and horse. I've collected dozens of images of centaurs, a hobby I've indulged in over the years. If these carts can use the EVENT magic to make their occupants into bovitaurs, it should also be possible to make me into a centaur.

My wife Rose and I are still young. We have no children - yet. I would love to have my children grow up as centaurs. I also love my wife. I would not do this without her.

I heard of other people becoming centaurs because of the EVENT, but that had looked to be a one-time artifact of the EVENT. But this news article indicated that my dream was a possibility. The company that made the carts was still around and at least producing the parts. Or at least they were at the time the milkmen's wives made the change.

I had to do a lot of digging to find the name of the company and get their phone number. The name had been omitted from the news article. With number in hand, I called.

"Centaur Industries. May I help you?" The voice was a sweet female.

"Uhh, I seem to have dialed the wrong number. I dialed 313-555-8723."

"Yes, you reached that number."

"Uhh, I was expecting to talk to someone from McKay Motor Company."

"That is our old name, sir. How may I help you?"

"I saw the newspaper article about the milkmen and their wives --"

"You'll want to speak to a representative," she interrupted. "I'll connect you."

They didn't leave you in hold limbo here. A few clicks later and I heard a rich male voice. "Jackson here. How may I help you?"

"Uhh." Why so hesitant? "I saw an article about milkmen --"

"And you want to do it too."

"Yeah! Well, not exactly. I want to be a centaur, not a bovitaur."

"We can help you with that too. We've worked with a variety of 'taurs."

"So what do I do?"

"Are you married or otherwise in a relationship?"

"Yes, I'm married"

"What does your wife think of centaurs?"

"She's uncertain, but willing to explore the idea."

"That's good. The first step is for me and my wife to pay you a visit to present the whole procedure in detail. This isn't a decision you want to take lightly. The earliest I can come is next month. It will take a while to get there as I'll have to hoof it."

We worked out my location and travel time (no more jumping on a plane), agreed to meet for lunch at my house with Jackson bringing the food, then said goodbye. He assured me it would be easy to spot him.

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Indeed it was easy to spot him. As the appointed hour approached, I heard a commotion outside. I poked my head out the door to see what was going on. I quickly called my wife to see too. What we saw was a pair of centaurs, one male and one female, walking down the street towards us. Hoofing it, indeed. Each was pulling a wagon covered by a tarpaulin. The cover on his wagon carefully covered its contents. The cover on hers seemed to create a tent - well fastened, but letting the breeze blow through. The pair had attracted a lot of attention, most good, some not so friendly. Both endured the crowd with quiet dignity.

The male was a huge creature. The lower part was a draft horse. I saw that I would have to study breeds in more detail if I wanted to choose one for myself. I wondered if I could choose. The coat was a dark blond (were those the right words?) with shaggy pale blond socks (definitely a lot to learn). The color of the fur matched the thick, close cropped hair of his beard and on his head. He wore a jacket that came down to the top the forelegs in front. I could see the chest muscles bulging underneath. The cap on the top of his head had a stylized centaur logo, as did the side of the wagon.

The female appeared to be more of a racer, definitely built for speed rather than power, and a little shorter. Her fur was blond (tan?) with black stockings. Her coat matched the blond hair on her head. She wore a jacket to match her partner, though the curves under it were obvious and ample.

Both of them were gorgeous creatures! I had lots of drawings and composite photos of centaurs, but none matched the reality in front of me. I glanced at my wife. She had a look of awe on her face. I had the feeling she could be easily convinced to go through with it.

You would think that if I was so interested in centaurs, I would know all the proper terms for horses. Amazingly, that is not true. I guess I was fascinated with the centaur form, not the horse, and since the centaur was unattainable, there wasn't much need to learn all the details. That had now changed.

The centaurs stopped in front of our house. "Are you Nate and Rose Greenslade?" We nodded, a bit too overwhelmed to say anything. "I'm Jackson. We talked on the phone." I nodded again. "This is my wife Jenny." By this point, we had walked down to the curb and shook their hands. Jackson went on, "We have a lot to talk about so perhaps we should get started. I doubt we would fit comfortably in your house, perhaps we can meet in your back yard?"

Jackson and Jenny maneuvered their wagons into my little used driveway. Rose moved to help Jenny unpack the lunch and guide her to the back yard. That left me to encounter the crowd on my own. I surely didn't have the intimidation factor of the centaurs. Many voices expressed their awe, but one stuck out. "What are you doing welcoming those demons into our town!" Jackson came over just then and the voice's owner fled.

The less timid took a moment to talk to Jackson, asking him where he was born (Toledo, Ohio), was he born that way (no), how did he get that way (the EVENT), does he like being a centaur (yes). Some even ventured to touch his flanks, then began to pet him. He apparently had been in crowds before and let them get used to him. I admired his public relations skills.

After several minutes, we did move to the back yard. Jenny and Rose had the lunch set up in the middle of the yard, avoiding the awning we usually favored. It was just too low.

Jackson spoke. "Before you go through with becoming a centaur, there are a lot of things for you to think about. It will be a major disruption to your life and in good conscience, we can't let you go through with it before you know what you are getting into, not to mention the possibility of lawsuits."

The meal happened to be vegetarian, and delicious, though I like meat with my meal. While we ate, Jackson told his story.

"Before the EVENT, I was an all-around handyman at McKay Motors. I was primarily a junior salesman, but I helped out in any way I was needed." That explained his PR skills. "I happened to be helping out on the assembly line, about to finish the night shift when the EVENT happened. My job that night was to drive the completed three wheeled electric delivery carts from the last station of the assembly line out to the shipping lot.

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Jackson's story.

"This one is done!" Dave shouted. I hopped in and turned the key. The electric motor started right up. I had been doing this for several hours now. Drive the cart out to the lot, park it, and walk back in time to get the next one. The operation wasn't like an automobile assembly line that had a car completed every thirty seconds. This was more like one every 10 minutes. The demand for electric carts isn't quite the same as for cars.

I got as far as the big doors when I suddenly felt dizzy and blacked out. When I awoke, I found I had done a face plant on the cement floor. I later felt grateful I hadn't gotten out to the gravel of the lot. My face had a few scratches, especially my nose, which stung a bit and felt bruised. The rest of me just didn't feel right.

I noticed the room was quiet. Someone must have hit the emergency shutoff for the line. I lay there and tried to sort out the sensations. My dizziness had passed, so that wasn't it. I pushed up with my hands and tried to draw my knee, which didn't seem to provide the right sensations. As strong as I was, doing a pushup should have been a piece of cake. I was rather confused when it wasn't.

About then Dave said, "Uh, Jackson, just stay still for a moment. This is really weird. We have to unhook this wagon to get you untangled." What wagon? I wondered. From my face down position, I couldn't see much and didn't want to move much if Dave thought it was a bad idea. "Jackson, uhh, it seems you somehow got blended with a horse."

"Dave, I can do without the nonsense right now," I said.

"It isn't nonsense," he protested.

Eric McKay, the owner's son came up. Eric was finishing up his schooling in engineering and working in the plant to get a feel for the engineering problems. We didn't think he would take over from his father. More likely, he would end up running the engineering department. This might be a lot to say for someone who was still in school, but in Eric's case it looked likely. Eric's said, "Cool! A centaur! I've always thought they were so neat!" Centaur?

The factory had gotten so quiet that I could hear some faint noises of perhaps cloth against cloth. I felt something like a big belt being loosened from around me, but it didn't seem to be in right place to be me. It certainly didn't feel like the right place for my waist and seemed to be more than a simple belt. Then I heard squeaking wheels moving a short distance away.

Dave again, "Jackson, why don't we roll you onto your side. At least you can see a bit more clearly what is going on around here." My first attempt didn't seem to work right, something kept getting in the way. Dave and Eric and some other guys helped by moving my legs out of the way (though they didn't quite feel like my legs) and a second attempt worked. I ended up with my right shoulder against the floor.

Dave was right. I seemed to have been blended with a horse! My work jacket was where it should be as I glanced down at my chest, but my pants were not. Instead, there was what appeared to be horse forelegs. "I wish I had a camera for that expression," said Dave. I looked at one leg and thought of moving it. It moved! I reached down and touched it. My hand felt fur and the skin below the fur felt fingers! I craned my neck around. There was a huge horse body attached! My brain was having a hard time dealing with this.

"I now know exactly what 'hung like a horse' means," said Dave. To have all that on display (if indeed it was me) was mighty embarrassing! Dave and Eric checked for anything broken by rubbing their hands along each leg. The back legs and tail (I had a tail!) had moved so the backbone must be OK. My mind had trouble sorting out what the sensations of hands on my fur meant.

Dave and Eric helped me to stand. It was a slow process. Eric directed the operation by indicating which leg had to bend in which manner. He and Dave then touched and guided that leg to give my poor brain and idea of what muscles needed to be moved. I rarely got it right the first time. Fold up left rear. Fold up right rear. Do the same for the front. Roll so the legs are under the body. Straighten and push up with front legs. Do the same with the rear. I was now breathing heavily, more from the concentration than the exertion. I didn't dare take a step with any leg for fear of collapsing in a heap.

I was now in the center of a rather large crowd. Workers will always take advantage of a stopped line and most people are curious. There was a noticeable gasp as I got onto my hooves. I glanced at the crowd -- and realized I could see way over everyone's head! The tallest one came up to my chest, most of the rest came up to a lot lower than that. I was a lot taller than I had been!

"Thanks guys," I said, "but I feel OK now." Well, not exactly OK. In fact, definitely not! But I didn't feel sick, and I didn't hurt. Well, except for the nose. "Shouldn't you get back to work?"

"No," said Dave. "Take a look." I turned to look down the assembly line. There were nine horses standing there, each harnessed to a wagon. I realized that each cart that had been complete enough to move under its own power had been replaced by a horse and wagon. The rest of the line still had unfinished electric carts.

Dave said, "Just after you drove that last one away, I turned my attention to the next one. It started shimmering and rippling, and soon reformed into a horse and wagon. I looked down the line and saw a few more horses and the last few carts shimmering. I turned to see the cart you were in do the same. Whatever changed our carts into horses also changed you. You just had the disadvantage of doing it at ten miles an hour. That sent you sprawling."

I looked at the wagon near me, the one apparently created when I was transformed. It was a little two wheeled thing made of an aluminum frame and a fiberglass box - quite similar to the cart it came from. There were two aluminum poles extending forward from the sides. Draped over the side of the box was the harness that had evidently been around me. The harness looked to be made out of nylon, similar to the straps of a backpack.

Mr. McKay came in through the big doors with Snyder, the parking lot security guard, and Jennifer, his "Administrative Assistant", behind him. You could hear the capitals when she used the title. He saw me and his eyes bugged out. "Jackson?"

"Yep, that's me," I said. He stared. I continued, "I was inside one of our carts when it suddenly decided to be a horse instead."

That brought him back to his task. "Snyder tells me that all the cars and trucks in our employee parking lot have also decided to be horses."

He was interrupted with a shout, "My Corvette!" A man dashed for the door. On factory pay, that Corvette must have cost him dearly.

Mr. McKay continued once the man had left. "On the way here, I passed the shipping lot. All of our product has made the same decision, though each of those horses was harnessed to a wagon. I have no idea what we are going to do with all those horses. And here are more at the end of the line." Mr. McKay scratched his chin for a moment and studied the horses in front of him.

The boss turned back to me and looked me over. "Well, Jackson, all this happened in the line of duty. I'll get insurance to help you out with whatever you need to help you live."

He thinks this is permanent? I hope not!

Mr. McKay, with Eric in tow, walked down the assembly line past the horses to the last almost-working cart. "Sam, let's see if I'm ruined. Let's make this cart operational." Sam made the last few connections to the motor. Just as he finished, I saw Eric jump into the cart. I yelled at him, as did his father and others, but he just grinned through the windshield at me as the cart started to shimmer and ripple. No one dared stick an arm into the shimmer to attempt to pull Eric out. Moments later, there stood a second centaur. His one-piece overalls abruptly ended with a neat seam at the waist. The fur below was a riotous mix of white and red patches.

Eric awoke to Mr. McKay berating him for being so stupid. Eric looked down and grinned. I realized what he had done. Eric wanted to be a centaur and took advantage of the opportunity. The whole time Mr. McKay ranted (and very little of it is repeatable in polite company), Eric just grinned and moved his hands over the fur just below his overalls.

I'm sure the grin infuriated the father as it took a while for the ranting to end. Mr. McKay turned to stomp off. Eric said, "But Father, this will save your company!"

Mr. McKay stopped. He turned not to his son, but to the surrounding crowd of workers. He paused for a moment before speaking. "I'm not sure what happened here this morning. I have no idea if it is temporary or permanent. All I know is that completed carts become horses or turn an occupant into a freak. At the moment, I don't dare restart the assembly line. I don't know what that will do to the company, surely nothing good. As of this moment, you are all on sabbatical. I don't know how long I can pay you. I will announce a plant reopening if it ever becomes possible. Good luck with the horses that have replaced your cars. Foremen, please begin vacation shutdown."

Mr. McKay turned around and stood there. I could see a tear building in his eye. The old man had shown many times how much he cared for us and I'm sure the tears were because a couple hundred families would soon lose paychecks.

The workers took that as a sign to leave. I got some "interesting" expressions cast in my direction as the men passed me, which they did at respectful distance. I'm sure Eric received some too. I don't think Eric paid any attention to them. He had an exasperated expression on his face as he stared at his father's back. I saw a few tears finally escape the father's eyes. Most of the footsteps faded after five minutes as did the sound of timecards being punched. The foreman began to secure things and to unfasten the wagons and lead the horses away.

I didn't go anywhere as I wasn't sure I had anywhere to go, not to mention feeling unsure about walking. I had serious doubts about fitting in the stairs up to my tiny second floor apartment.

Finally Eric spoke to his father's back. "Dad, we can reopen, even if the world doesn't come back to normal. I doubt Jackson and I are the only casualties of whatever it is that happened. We can retool to make things that centaurs would need. I'm just the person to help design such things! I also think there are lots of people that would jump at the chance to become centaurs. We could have them step into a cart as we finished it."

"NO!" shouted Mr. McKay, wheeling around. "I will not be responsible for turning people into freaks!" He took a deep breath. "I know you have had a fascination with centaurs since you were a small boy. The decorations in your room show that clearly as do the hours you spend talking to your Internet friends. Well, you have your wish." He most certainly did. "But it isn't my wish for you. I would not have wished for you to be a freak. I won't be responsible for any others becoming freaks."

"But Dad, just let me ask those Internet friends if they think centaurs are freaks and if they would buy a cart to become one."

"I said no. And you are not contacting your friends. Your computer will stay in your room and I'm sure you won't fit up the stairs and around the landing to get to it." This time he did stomp off.

Eric had an expression of defeat and steely resolve. This could get interesting.

In the short term, now what? I was feeling tired and very hungry. Food and sleep were rising pretty high on my personal agenda. Come to think of it, even if I could get to my apartment, the keys had been in my pants pocket. I didn't have those pants anymore. Perhaps I should rephrase that. I am those pants. I'm also that electric cart and now half horse. This was getting to be too much to think about while tired and hungry.

The food problem was solved for the moment when Jennifer returned. She was carrying several boxes of instant oatmeal and a couple bags of carrots. She went into the break room and came back with the hot water urn. As she made oatmeal she said, "This may not seem like a great meal before sleep. I'm guessing that you digestive system may be more horse than human, so I brought food that a horse might eat. Just to be on the safe side, you probably should eat vegetarian for a while before reintroducing meats and non 'horse' foods."

Eric and I ate -- nearly all Jennifer brought -- while she studied us. Her expression was totally unreadable.

It might have been time for the rest of the world to come to work, but we had been working all night. Jennifer got some blankets from Mr. McKay's office where he kept a cot. Eric introduced me to walking on four feet instead of two. It turned out to be easier than I expected. Some adaptation of the brain must have come along with the change. Eric guided me to the grassy field behind the plant where we bedded down on the ground. We were able to use our caps as eyeshades from the morning sun. We slept soundly.

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I woke up to a sore right shoulder. I tried rolling over to relieve the ache. That didn't work at all! I was suddenly wide awake. I wasn't in my bed or my apartment. I was lying under a blanket on the lawn with my hat pulled down to keep what was now mid afternoon sun out of my eyes. It all came back now. I couldn't roll over as I didn't have the simple human shape anymore. Time to start in on the life of a freak.

I must have made a face as Eric said, "I see you're awake and feeling grumpy. Welcome back to the real world. After some food, I have some ideas to help with that mood."

With Eric's guidance, I got onto my hooves, then rubbed my sore shoulder.

Eric said, "I only woke up about 15 minutes ago. Jennifer was just arriving with our food. I asked her to get some things from my office and leave us alone for a while. She'll be back later."

Jennifer had provided more oatmeal and carrots for our "breakfast". I could get real tired of that, even with a variety of oatmeal flavors.

In between mouthfuls, Eric said, "I have no idea if our current shape is permanent. We might as well assume that it is." He had a bit of a smile that said he would prefer that permanence. "We'll have to get used to our new selves so we can deal with permanence if that is the case." My grumpy mood continued and we ate in silence until the oatmeal was gone.

"Come with me," Eric said. He led me into the main office lobby and its mirrored wall. The desks and chairs looked a lot lower than they used to. "It is time to introduce you to the new Jackson. We approached the mirror, standing at an angle.

"Lets start at the top," he said. I took off my cap. And stared. I didn't have a bald spot anymore! I'm not yet thirty, but I had started serious balding at 22. The hair was now quite dense. The color was no longer dark brown, but somewhere between dark blond and red. The hair just above the center of my forehead was a pale blond, almost white. I wondered about that. My eyebrows were the same new color as my hair. I ran my fingers through it and tugged on it a bit. It was definitely mine.

My eyes got as far as my cheeks before stopping again. That was quite a five o'clock shadow! That was saying a lot since it was slightly lighter as what was on the top of my head. I rubbed my fingers over the stubble. It didn't seem any longer than it should have for not shaving for 24 hours, but it was definitely more dense and the bare area on the front of my chin had filled in. The rest of my face looked the same as before.

I looked at Eric. The hair on his head had been blond, but was now the same dark red of his fur. He definitely could use a shave too. I had never before seen a hint of stubble on his chin, and I didn't think that was because he shaved carefully. He rubbed fingers over the stubble and with an amazed tone said, "I do believe I'll give up shaving. I'm not interested in trying to work my way through this every morning." I decided then to do the same.

"Onward," said Eric. He removed what had been the top half of his overalls as well as the shirt underneath. I took off my company work jacket and my shirt. The familiar muscular chest and arms had more hair on them than before. That hair had also changed from brown to dark blond. I ran my fingers through it. The hair was about the same length as before, there was just a lot more of it. It also extended all the way down my abdomen. My eyes and hands worked their way down my torso, my fingers sliding through the hair. There was a sudden change from skin with hair to fur.

I glanced at Eric to see he was watching me. He said, "There is a question running through my brain. Would you please twist your shoulders away from me?" I was puzzled, but did so. "That answers it. You don't have a mane, just normal body hair." As I turned back, he twisted his shoulders. "Do I have one?"

His back appeared to be normal human skin. "Sorry, no mane," I said.

Eric said, "Though we may be the first centaurs, I've talked to people that have tried to define centaur body parts. A favored term for where the fur begins is the 'blend'. Above the blend is the trunk. Behind it is the barrel."

I could feel that the line of the blend went from just above where my human butt had been, around the sides above where my hips had been, then down around and under my abdominal muscles. The bare skin extended lower in front than at the sides or in back. The abdominal muscles stood out as before, the skin just as firm.

I moved my eyes lower. It took a moment to reengage the brain. My human legs were gone. What I saw was most definitely horse. I saw horse fur, horse flanks, horse tail, horse legs, horse hooves. I moved my hands around the blend, crossing from skin to fur and back again, then moving my hands across the fur. I felt the fur with my fingers. The skin under the fur felt the movement of my fingers over it. I kept thinking, "This is me. This really is me. Whether permanent or not, I now have fur. I have four legs. I have a tail."

The fur over my barrel was the same shade as the hair on my head. The long hairs that started below the knee and covered my hooves were a pale blond. My tail was pale blond and hung nearly to the ground. I twitched some muscles back there and it swished back and forth. I would be slowly getting used to all the muscles that hadn't existed before.

I've always wondered about the structure of horse legs. The hoof is not directly under the leg. What held it all in position? With a full set of my own now, I was all the more curious.

The muscle development of my horse part seemed to match those of my chest and arms, bulging when I lifted a hoof. It all spoke of power.

I now looked over at Eric. He was doing the same close examination that I had done on myself. His blend followed the same line as mine, dipping under his abs, though his muscles were less defined. I guessed they were about as well defined as they had been. His chest was also quite hairy with red hair. His fur had large patches of red and white. His tail was white.

Eric produced a tape measure and a ruler. "Everyone will want to know how tall we are." I put the ruler on my head, then held the end of the tape measure where the ruler touched the mirror. Eric bent over from the waist and flexed his forelegs to pull the tape to the floor. "Eight foot one," he said. He put the ruler along the back of the blend and measured from there to the floor, "five foot two, or just under sixteen hands."

He picked up a book of horses from the end table and paged through it, glancing from me to the pictures. "Ah, here we are," he said, holding up the book for me to see. "Your coloring is called bay with flaxen feathers and tail. I think the breed is Jutland, a type of draft horse, though your fur is light for a typical Jutland. Under sixteen hands is a bit small for a Jutland. I guess your horse part is chosen to be in proper proportion with your human part." He eyed me critically. "Your height from the blend up is about the same as the length of your legs, a pretty good balance. I think your hair now features a star marking." My hand went to the spot of pale hair as I studied it in the mirror.

I measured Eric. Seven foot five for total height, fourteen and a half hands at the blend. Eric paged through the book again, then held it up. "It appears I am a pinto modeled on the Arabian breed." He was a lot sleeker looking than me. He also looked well proportioned.

Before yesterday, I had been just a shade under 6 feet tall and, thanks to high school and college sports and an active life since then, I had well developed muscles. I guessed that had influenced what breed I had become. Eric had been slim without much muscle development, a rather short 5 foot six. His horse part reflected his slimness.

"Stretch out your arms and let's see how far you reach," commanded Eric. He did the same. "First the downward reach." Arms down, my hands came to the top of my forelegs. I could roll my shoulders and bend at the blend to reach most of the way down my forelegs. Following Eric's example, I bent a foreleg up to feel all the way down to the hoof. Feeling the hand through the fur was quite an eerie experience as was feeling the hoof in the hand. Following Eric's lead again, I reached between my forelegs. I didn't reach very far. I twisted my torso (not very far), leaned back (actually quite far), and reached. I could just wrap my hand around the base of my tail. I pulled my hand up, feeling my tail move with it, then let my tail slide through my grip as I raised my hand. I could feel where the skin and bones of my tail ended, leaving just hair. I ran my hand down my back and saw how far I could reach along my flanks.

"A human can touch every part of his body with one hand or the other," said Eric. "That isn't true for us. There are things we will need someone else to do for us -- like wipe our butts." My eyes widened. "Yeah, I know a horse doesn't do it, but a horse also smells like a horse and isn't usually permitted into polite company. We may be stuck with each other for a while." Eric was a nice guy, but there were some things a guy would rather do for himself and would rather not do for others.

Eric said, "I think it's important we know how we're put together, at the very least so we don't tell a doctor there is something wrong 'back there'. I'll turn around so you can use me as an example of how you are put together. I'll do the same with you." I almost refused, but he was being so practical. I certainly couldn't see back there and couldn't touch much either. Eric turned around and came alongside me, but stayed forward enough that I could bend at the waist with a hand on his back and still see underneath his barrel. I could feel Eric's hand on my own back.

It was huge! Since Eric was smaller than me, it implied mine was even bigger! And Eric was getting a good look at mine. I felt the embarrassment rise.

A thought struck me -- about knocked me over -- unless I found a female centaur or wanted to get friendly with a mare (a very distasteful idea), I was about to become a monk in certain aspects of life. Women may like a well endowed man, but not this well endowed!

I also gazed at Eric's hindquarters, hooves, and tail. I even ran my hand over it's base and through the long hairs. I was likely to become very familiar with this part of Eric. Bah!

I straightened up and turned my head. Soon Eric did too. "Now that we know what we look like, there is one more measurement to make." We went through the factory to the shipping scales. I topped out at a good 1950 pounds, Eric at a modest 1125.

Now it is time to see what these bodies can do," said Eric. We went outside and back to the field. We seemed to have the walk down, so he took me through a trot and canter, describing the pattern of leg movements. We did a couple laps around the field with each gait. Then Eric described the gallop and we took off. Wow! The field suddenly became a lot smaller! Such power! Such speed! So what if my draft horse form was slower than Eric's racer. It was still much faster than any human. Such stamina! We went several times around the field before I felt tired.

When I did stop, Eric noticed the grin on my face. "I knew that would make you appreciate your new form!" he said, with a grin of his own.

"One more exercise," he said. "We need to work on sitting down and lying down and getting up again. It should take no more thought than getting out of bed used to be." He guided me into folding my legs under me so that my barrel was on the ground but my trunk remained upright. It was easier than it was last night but we still practiced getting into that position then getting back on our feet. We also lay down so that our feet stuck out to one side and one shoulder was against the ground and rose from that position. That took more concentrated effort. Then Eric demonstrated the complete roll. This included bending at the blend so that the back of his trunk and the top of his barrel were both on the ground as he rolled from his right shoulder to his left. "Once all this is automatic, you should be able to go from a lying position to your feet in one smooth rolling motion," Eric said. I got the hang of it faster than I thought I should.

"All right," he said, "it is time for an assessment. There are some advantages to being a centaur." He held up one hand to count off his points with the other. "Things like a powerful body and an imposing and noble image." He touched two fingers. "You now have a big intimidation factor." He touched another finger. "If vehicles have been replaced with horses, we can get from place to place more easily than others." A fourth finger. "If we find mates, I would bet we're in for a fabulous experience." He tapped his thumb. "And though it may not count, I think we simply look cool."

He switched what his hands were doing "As for the disadvantages... We won't fit well inside many buildings." One finger. "We may be vegetarian -- which some think is a good thing." I grimaced. He ignored it. A second finger. "There are some things we can't do for ourselves." A third finger. "And at the moment, I don't know of any possible mates. We could be stuck as bachelors." He touched his little finger. "Finally, many humans -- like my dad -- will consider us freaks." He touched his thumb.

An even count, though some of those disadvantages were large in size. I wasn't convinced.

"I know you didn't choose this form, but I did. I've always thought of centaurs as wonderful and noble. I don't think of centaurs as a piece of human stuck on a piece of horse, but a blend of the best parts of each. I've always felt I should have been a centaur and jumped at the chance when I could. Even if this is temporary, I'm glad I took that chance. I know you felt like a freak after you woke up. I hope I've been able to change your mind at least a little bit and you will change it more over the days to come. Whatever happens at this point, I want to help you out as much as possible."

As I pondered what Eric said, Jennifer returned with dinner. It wasn't oatmeal this time. She had stopped at the best vegetarian restaurant in town and brought a large selection. Eric and I set up a stack of boards on sawhorses to get a table at a more comfortable height, though it was near Jennifer's armpits. We laid the meal out on that. The supplies were complete with tablecloth and real dishes. As the three of us ate, Jennifer gazed at us -- well, mostly at me.

She told us of the news outside the factory compound. There was now a battalion of thirty centaurs at the army base. They were out in the tracks during the EVENT. It affected them the same way being in a milk cart affected me. Eric paid close attention to that item. I suspected we would be paying a visit soon.

Jennifer also told us about the chaos that resulted when all vehicles had become horses. Anyone that lived through it already knows about it so I won't repeat it.

Eric handed his book to me. It was open to a diagram of a horse with all tha parts labeled. "I suggest you spend some time studying this to the the proper names of things," he said.

After we finished eating, Jennifer, still gazing at me, said, "You have such an incredibly hot bod!" Then she winked. I was suddenly very aware that we hadn't put our shirts back on. "And I don't mean just your hairy chest." I was even more aware that I don't have pants to put on. My maleness was on display for anyone that wanted to look and I would have been surprise if Jennifer hadn't looked. I'm sure my face turned a bright red. Eric quietly chuckled and gave me a thumbs up and a wink.

Jennifer said, "Eric, it looks like the two of you need someone to groom you. I know you could groom each other, but I'd like to learn how." Eric nodded.

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Though Jennifer had cautioned patience, I wanted to try some meat by the second day. Jennifer protested, but brought a hamburger. Not long after eating a few bites, my stomach began to hurt and I lost my appetite. A few moments later and I thought it wise to try to induce vomiting, and was surprised when it didn't work. Eric clued me in - horses can't vomit.

Jennifer called a doctor. Eric called a veterinarian. Both made house calls as that was easier than bringing a patient to the clinic on horseback (especially me!), though the doctor hadn't had time to develop good riding skills yet. Both were quite surprised when they saw their patient.

The human doctor found his stomach pump didn't go far enough, though I was most uncomfortable during his attempt to learn that. The vet had a stomach pump that reached far enough, but its diameter was a bit too big for my throat. It took the rest of the night and half the next day to recover. You can be sure that was the end of my desire for meat.

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Jennifer couldn't convince my landlord to give her a key to my apartment, so she brought him to the factory. His eyes bugged when he saw me and bugged some more when I explained what happened to my key. He began to rant about not letting me into my apartment as the floors would not support my weight, but I stopped him by saying I didn't think I would fit up the stairway and considered this as giving notice that I was moving out. I wasn't particularly attached to the place. I got him to waive the requirement of giving 30 days notice.

Over the next few days, Eric rigged a tent for us. Jennifer brought shirts and jackets from my apartment and from Eric's parents. She also put a crew together to empty and clean out my apartment. The stuff she didn't bring to the factory grounds went into a storage unit. I'd have to decide whether to keep the furniture (and the pants -- I still had hopes this was all temporary), but it was cheaper to pay for a storage unit than for an apartment.

We discovered that normal human clothing didn't work very well. The clothing was still the right size, but as my mother would say, it didn't quite cover the situation. Dress shirts -- what few I had -- just don't look right without pants. Casual shirts tended up bunch up at the back of the blend and not cover the bottom part of the abdominal skin. I tried on my parka and found it had the same problem. Things could get chilly on the exposed parts in winter. It was time for new clothes, and they would have to be hand tailored -- and expensive for my dwindling bank account.

A tailor soon arrived on his horse. Eric thought he had better have the works -- suit jacket and all -- while I settled for casual shirts, sweaters, and jacket. The tailor measured us -- or at least our trunks for now -- and made some drawings proposing what he would do. He drew a parka that would cover both the trunk and barrel. I suggested he keep that idea on file until the weather got cold and the bank account recovered. With no job I wasn't sure how it would recover. His drawings for shirts looked more like long tunics than what I wore before, with a pouched belt at the blend - one had to do something instead of pockets. We talked a bit about style before he went off to work. Eric's family may have money, but my savings just took a big hit.

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We trotted over to the Army base to visit the centaur battalion. The guard at the gate to the army base was reluctant to let us in, but he did call the captain of the battalion. Once the captain heard there were two centaurs at the gate, he ordered the guard to let us in.

It didn't take long for a private to escort us to the proper barracks. It was obvious that he didn't particularly enjoy the task. Once inside, Eric and I stopped and stared at what was before us. We didn't feel bad about that as they were staring right back.

There were thirty centaurs in front of us, twenty-seven men and three women. They would have clustered around us if there had been room. Instead they stood quietly beside their sleeping pallets down the length of the room. What had been room for more than a hundred men now seemed quite full with thirty centaurs.

The captain introduced himself, breaking the silence. His name was Dan. Eric didn't have to open his book of breeds in Dan's case. Even I could have figured it out. Dan's horse part was Clydesdale. The hair on his head was a chocolate brown and featured a white star.

Captain Dan escorted us around the room, introducing us to the members of the battalion.

Samuel had black skin - about as dark as possible - and white fur. The hair on his head was also white and now quite straight.

Moses had skin just as dark with jet black fur and white socks. His black hair was also straight and featured a star. The whole effect was imposing.

Jerome appeared to be a true son of Africa. His horse part was zebra. His skin almost matched his black stripes, making the white stripes stand out. In contrast to Moses, Jerome's black hair was still crinkly.

The rest of those of African descent had skin the color of coffee with various amounts of cream. Ossie's horse part was also Clydesdale. The brown of his fur was only a bit darker than his skin, creating a handsome combination. The rest had brown or chestnut fur with black socks, though the breed varied a lot.

John Chin of Chinese descent had fur of a yellowish cream that was lightest across the underside of the barrel and darkest on the legs and near the blend. There was a black stripe down his back and dark bands across the legs. His fur color complemented his yellowish skin quite well. The odd part was his hair and tail. Instead of being the same color as the coat, his hair matched his tail. There were three different colors of hairs - white, near black, and the darker yellow-cream. The hair on his head also did a good job of sticking up and out, not laying flat against his head.

John Chin's breed was not at all obvious. Eric paged through is book, finally declared a match and held up the book to show the wild Przewalski's horse from Asia.

The two other Asians had dark brown coats and black socks. The breed of both of them was Thoroughbred.

Karl, a Caucasian, had white fur with dark red spots in a manner similar to a Dalmatian. I guess I expected the hair on his head to be spotted as well, but it was a solid dark red. Eric declared his breed to be Knabstrup, one that is common in Denmark. Karl was intrigued at the reasoning behind whatever process chose his horse part as his parents were immigrants from Denmark. He also noted that Jerome was part zebra and John was blended with a wild Asian horse.

I responded that there was no such obvious logic as the Jutland is also a Danish breed and my ancestors are Irish and Swiss. Besides, Ossie's breed was Clydesdale, which was not African, and the other Asians were Thoroughbred, which was an American breed.

The rest of the Caucasians were rather standard looking centaurs, if centaurs could by any stretch be called standard. They had coat colors ranging from black through chestnut and bay on through cream, flax, and white. There were even a few dapples and "fleabitten" patterns, a couple more pintos, and an Appaloosa.

A few of the guys had thick four-day beards. The rest of them tried -- with poor success -- to follow the Army's clean-shaven guidelines.

The three females in the group were Ann, Terry, and Calla. They were stunningly beautiful. I felt some stirrings and quickly put a stop to that line of thinking. If any of these women ever gave the slightest encouragement, there would be stallions battling it out. Their eyes suggested that they were strictly off limits for everyone, at least for now.

We became a support group. The first topic was shoes. The Army, being bureaucratic as only the Army can, was insisting the battalion be shod by the base farrier. The battalion resisted as they felt the standard steel shoe would not be good for indoors.

This got Eric asking whether the shoes should be permanent, what they should be made out of, how they should be attached, and whether covering just the hoof was enough. I could see his engineering mind working.

Captain Dan shared the findings of the base doctor and veterinarian. I was glad I had escaped the poking and prodding. The DNA test showed that we were neither human nor horse, but a blend of the two. That meant we were a new species and would breed true! I heard Eric try out the phrase "Homo Equus Sapiens" a few times. Eric took a copy of the report for us to study later.

Other topics ranged from reactions from others (everything from hostile to staring to curious to friendly to attempts at anatomical liberties) and how to deal with them, what the future might hold, what problems result because of our size (height, length, and weight), how we have to help each other, what we can and cannot do, what was safe and good to eat, where to get vegetarian recipes and how to get them into the hands of the Army cooks (and how to endure taunts from other soldiers who implied that Real Soldiers Eat Meat), and helpful hints on how to live. Eric kept his notebook out and made careful notes. We talked of our tailor for a bit, but the soldiers decided to wait until we could show them. Their camouflage clothing which had changed with them would serve for now and the Army could duplicate that for a spare set of clothes.

The important item was saved for the end -- the reactions of wives, children, and girlfriends. The three females had been unattached and essentially had their pick now. Some wives had already filed for divorce. Some girlfriends had already broken off relationships. The rest seemed to be committed, but puzzled about what they were committing to. The reactions of the children -- when not whisked off by departing wives -- was almost always, "Dad's a centaur? Cool!" Various daughters had to be told in no uncertain terms that Dad's tail was not for braiding nor for ribbons.

I suggested the wives and girlfriends also form a support group and the two groups meet together on occasion.

On the way back to the factory, Eric commented, "I think we may be able to get some men back to work. A few of these ideas have market potential." One item to be considered was a stool to allow wives and girlfriends to give a proper hug and kiss. He also had one of the plant engineers talking to a farrier and a shoe manufacturer to work out a design. The farrier welcomed a new source of shoes. He had suddenly run out of supplies now that all the former cars needed shoes. It was only a few days before Eric has a small part of the plant humming again.

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Mr. McKay showed up the next day, looking much older and less well and very much not pleased. Along with him came a man I didn't know. Mr. McKay said, "Mr. Caldwell, this is Jackson." He indicated me. "Jackson, this is Mr. Caldwell from our insurance company."

I held out my hand to Mr. Caldwell, who reluctantly reached up and shook it. He then looked me over.

Mr. McKay said, "I have explained to Mr. Caldwell what happened to you and why I think his insurance company should pay you. He asked to speak to you directly." I nodded.

Mr. Caldwell said, "How are you feeling?"

I said, "I guess the best way to answer that is to say that I'm not in pain. My body seems to be working well -- though I must avoid meat now. I seem to be stronger than before. Even my nose has healed. Other than that, I would say I feel less strange than when I was first changed."

He asked, "Are there things you can't do now?"

I said, "Since I can barely reach my tail, I need help in the bathroom and shower. There are places I can't go because of my size."

He asked, "Would you consider yourself employable?"

"Well," I said, "I've been helping Eric around here, so I guess that means I could hold a job. There are probably jobs I can't do because of my size and the job location. There are probably jobs that I am more suited to now." That didn't improve Mr. McKay's expression.

Another question, "What are reactions to you by people you meet."

I chuckled a bit. "Your own reaction was a mild one compared to others. I haven't been attacked, mostly because I look so imposing, but some responses have been hostile. Other reactions have been staring, comments about the freak, and a few of interest and delight."

"Hmm," was all he said for a long moment. He turned to Mr. McKay and said, "I see the basis for your claim. I don't think I would call it disablement, but rather disfigurement. The payout won't be as big, but will still be substantial." He turned back to me. "A claims check should be ready in a week."

I felt like I had been kicked in the gut -- with a much more substantial gut and Moses from the battalion doing the kicking. Under Eric's careful guidance, I had begun to feel pretty good about the new me. Then comes this guy saying I'm disfigured! I'm a freak! I'm only fit to be stared at or hidden away!

Eric whispered beside me, "We'll talk later. Shake his hand and say 'thank you'." Still in shock, I complied and began to wander away.

The voice of Mr. McKay brought me back to here and now. "Eric, Dave thanked me for calling him back to work. Since it wasn't me, I think you had better start explaining."

Eric said, "I've got a list of things the centaur Army battalion thought would be useful."

"I don't want to deal with Army bureaucrats!" growled Mr. McKay.

"I'm not!" said Eric. "I'm selling only to the men. They are in the same situation as Jackson." I noticed he carefully excluded himself. His change was voluntary. "The Army seems to be a little too inflexible and slow to deal with it."

This time, I did wander away, brooding as I went. It looked like Eric and his dad had lots to talk about.

Eric found me about an hour later with Jennifer in tow. "I asked Jennifer to test out the prototype of our new hugging stools," said Eric. "I want to be sure they are the right height." I shrugged.

Jennifer planted the stool in front of me and climbed onto it. Her head was about even with mine. She put her arms around me and gave me a kiss, which proved to be quite passionate. Within a brief moment, I was responding. We remained in a serious lip-lock for several minutes.

When we finally parted, she said, "Good. For a couple days now, I've been wondering if you had been gelded. It is good to know you aren't. I'm sure Mr. Caldwell didn't help matters with his verdict. She put her arms around me again. "I think you are pretty special just the way you are. I love you from the bottom of your hooves to the the tip of your sweeping tail and all that fur in between. I love your thick beard and broad shoulders. I love your kind manner and your concern for others. If the rest of the world considers you a disfigurement, that's their problem. They don't see your nobility and sexiness." The way she said that word left no doubts to the meaning. "Perhaps it is just as well. It means I'll have less competition." She winked, hugged and kissed again, then climbed off the stool. "Eric, this one is mine. Just perfect." Eric nodded. Did she mean the stool or me?

Eric may be a few years younger than me, but he had proven to be very wise in a lot of ways. I felt a whole lot better.

I began to court her, even with my qualms that I was simply too big for her. She responded by helping me (well Eric too) with bathing as well as the grooming chores.

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Our first real date was to the local drive-in movies. This was the last one in the area, having escaped being turned into a shopping center. The large screen was still there, but since there were no more cars, a few things had changed. A patron rode a horse onto the grounds, then tethered it to the post that held the sound system. To avoid spooking the horses, the window mounted speakers had been replaced with headphones. The concession stand sold bags of oats in addition to popcorn. A patron usually dismounted and sat in a lawn chair (available for rent) to enjoy the show. The next morning, the grounds crew had a lot more than popcorn boxes to get rid of.

Jennifer rode me bareback. Once we chose a spot, I folded my legs under me so that I was at a bit of an angle to the screen. Jennifer could sit on my barrel without having to peer over my shoulder and could nestle against it. My neck was a bit sore by the end of the night, but it was a small price to pay.

I doubt either one of us could tell you which movie we saw or what it was about. I'm sure only some of that was because we had our headphones partway off so that we could talk. I only remember it was a pre-EVENT movie as it had cars in it.

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The insurance check came a week later. I was astonished at the size, though Eric wasn't. I thought this made me rich, but apparently not.

I decided the first need was a house -- centaur sized. I offered to let Eric live with me -- at least for a while. He accepted and put me in contact with a real estate agent and the corporate architect.

I would have liked to have kept the whole 500 acre farm that was for sale. I settled for building on one very large lot and dividing the rest up for sale to others that needed big lots. I figured we would have eventual buyers from the Army battalion. It wasn't far from the Army base.

I didn't want narrow halls or tiny rooms that would be tough for me to turn around in. The design was of a house on one floor with high ceilings, one large room for the kitchen-dining-living area, high counters in the kitchen, three large bedrooms (who knows?) and one special bathroom.

The ever resourceful Eric pulled out a small pamphlet that he had printed off the Internet before the EVENT. It described what a centaur house would be like and considered many aspects I wouldn't have thought about. It also got a few details wrong since it was based on a hypothetical centaur that didn't quite match the real thing. Thankfully, it recommended a style that did not mimic a stable!

Eric got an engineer working on a design for a centaur toilet, one that we could straddle and take care of both parts of business. The bathroom would contain a huge shower with multiple nozzles. Since cleaning required an assistant, two might as well shower together and each help the other.

I selected for my house the part of the farm that was most wooded. In addition to just liking woods, I wanted privacy, even if my neighbors were fellow centaurs. If I married, there were probably activities that would not fit inside the house.

I was amazed at the amount of things that needed to be done before the house could be built and how long it all took. I had to get a zoning variance as the house wouldn't meet some standards - and considering my size, these were standards that didn't make sense. I had to spend time finding a builder that was willing to follow the plans even if those plans didn't match the standards he was used to. All of it was such a bother.

As the shell began to take shape, I felt the bother was worth it. I began to envision a community of centaurs with centaur sized buildings, such as offices and stores, growing up from the acreage I had for sale and other nearby farms. I went back the realtor to lay out a town instead of just a subdivision.

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Jennifer began attending the wives and girlfriends support group. She was definitely my girlfriend. The next time all the centaurs met with the wives and girlfriends as one big group, the women had a few things to say. "I love my husband dearly, but something has to change. He is living in the barracks, I'm at our house. Even when we are together, his anatomy is too big for mine. If he can't change back, can I be changed to match him? If Eric changed voluntarily after the EVENT changed everyone else, can that same technique be used again?" There was a lot of discussion about this one.

The battalion captain declared he would work out new housing arrangements so that families would be together again. He also suggested that wives and girlfriends take over the grooming chores the men had been doing for each other. If they wanted to be centaurs, they needed to be more familiar with what was involved. A few of the women said it was about time!

As we left the meeting, Jennifer said, "I'll volunteer to be first." I was about to object until I saw the look of determination in her eye and the grin on Eric's face. I'm sure they noticed my frown.

In the shower the next morning, Jennifer didn't hide behind me to clean herself. She even asked me to help with her hair. When she shampooed my fur, she didn't stick to business. She paused to tickle and stroke. I could feel the stimulation start to have an effect. "Please," I said, "I don't think you should do that. We aren't married." I have a strong sense of morals. "And it wouldn't work anyway. Without that option, I don't want to get stirred up."

She stopped. Her eye kept the twinkle. "A big healthy male like you has to deal with it sometime. And I think the best way to deal with it is to help me to be a full mate to you. I have been with you long enough to know what is good and bad about being a centaur. I want it for myself. I want you to desire it for me too."

Her hugging stool wasn't in easy reach, so with shower water still spraying over us I folded my legs under me so we could share a proper hug and kiss. I sighed. "If you're sure about going through the change, I would want you as my mate."

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Eric led us to the most complete cart on the assembly line. We were away from the part of the factory in use and there was only Eric, Jennifer, and myself. Eric looked over the cart, then around the nearby area. He soon gathered tools and parts, then folded his legs, lowering himself beside the cart. "Jennifer, would you please step into the cart?" She did. "It won't take me long to make it operational and trigger the change". He muttered under his breath while he attached a few things and made a few connections. She waited patiently. Eric said, "This should do it." I started my camcorder. Eric made the final connection and leaned back. The cart began to ripple and shimmer. When it subsided, she stood there in all her centaur glory! It worked! A moment later, she awoke and looked down, a big smile spreading across her face.

Eric opened the book of horse breeds. After turning a few pages, he held it out. "Definitely Thoroughbred lines," he said. "A cream coat with black stockings." He led her into the front office to get a good look in the mirrors. He pulled out the tape measure to get all the measurements he had done for me. She was now seven foot two and fourteen hands.

She was gorgeous! There was most definitely an attraction. When Eric was done with her, she came over to me and gave me a kiss and a hug. "Eric," she said, "It is time to give my hugging stool to someone else."

"Eric," I said, "It is time to clean out my storage unit. All the old clothing -- especially the pants -- should be given to someone that needs them. It is also time to decide what furniture we should keep for humans that happen to visit our home."

Jennifer -- well, Jenny now -- and I were married the next week. The ceremony was held in the woods beside the shell of our new house. Eric was best man. Calla from the Army Battalion was maid of honor.

We didn't have elegant clothes to wear. There just wasn't time to have our tailor make a tux for me, never mind making any type of elaborate dress for Jenny. We didn't want to postpone our wedding just for fancy clothes. Our tailor was able to create a tux shirt for me and a simple elegant white blouse for Jenny. She bought a headpiece to serve as a veil.

Eric never did move in with me. After the wedding, he started building his own house in the lot next to mine.

The video of Jenny's change showed nothing. The shimmer obscured all hints of what happened during the change.

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"Th next part of the story would naturally be our wedding night," said Jackson. "But there are some things we don't want spread all over the neighborhood. I will tell you it was wonderful! Later, we can talk man-to-man and woman-to-woman about centaur sex. I will tell you now that our sexuality is more human than horse, in spite the size of the equipment. We are fertile all year round."

Jackson turned the pages of his scrapbook to photos of the wedding. We had already seen photos of himself, Eric, Jenny, and most members of the Army battalion. As we studied them for a moment, Jackson held his fingers to his lips. We could hear voices belonging to two women on the other side of the high wooden fence.

"Rats! They aren't going to tell the good parts!"

"Shame on you! You shouldn't be listening to a private conversation!"

"How else can I find out about them?"

"I'm surprised at you! You know what your father would say!"

"Yes, I do. But he is sooooo dreamy!" Jenny nudged Jackson. They both grinned. "She's not too bad looking either." Jackson winked at Jenny. "It sounds like the Greenslades invited the centaurs for a visit because they want to be centaurs too!"

"How horrible! People should be happy with what they are and not try to be what they aren't. To disfigure yourself so! I certainly hope you have no intention of doing the same."

"Oh, I don't know."

"Alright! Inside with you! Another word and it will be time to wash that mouth with soap!"

Jackson paused until he heard a door slam and then close a second time more gently.

I was about to apologize for my neighbors, but Jackson waved his hand. "I got over the disfigurement issue a long time ago. You can't be responsible for your neighbor's feelings. But as usually happens, I'm likely to make more than one sale." He winked.

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Jackson's story resumes.

In the week after the wedding, several things seemed to happen all at once. The battalion wives saw Jenny and clamored for the same. Eric's father heard about Jenny's change and was most irate. And Eric's Internet friends found him, though he swears computer and modem problems prevented him from contacting them. The Internet seemed to be slowly falling apart after the EVENT, so I felt Eric was telling the truth.

Bob and Jack were the first to arrive, followed shortly by John and a few others. The idea of centaurs, things equine, or just human animal blending had been a passion of all of them. The story of the milkmen had fired their imagination. They had emptied savings accounts to make the journey and start a new life. Eric explained that he hadn't actually met any of them before, they had only communicated by e-mail. Even, so they seemed to know a lot about each other. They all congratulated Eric on his good fortune and admired both Jenny and me.

Eric brought his friends to a support meeting at the barracks. "I have a proposal," he said, "that I think will interest all of you. Once my father learned about Jenny's successful change, he made all kinds of threats about what he would do if we ever did that again. He is also brokenhearted that his company failed, throwing out of work many of those that depended on him. My proposal is that we buy the company from my father. We would then be free to use the inventory and equipment of the factory to change as many of you as would like to be changed. Those of you who become shareholders would be entitled to a change at no additional cost. Everyone else, including any future customers would be able to buy any of our centaur products and services, including possible changes."

Almost as soon as Eric was done speaking, Bob said, "I'm in." The rest of his friends were almost as quick. I glanced at Jenny. She nodded. We had already been changed, we now had a chance to "pay" for our changes. I still had a chunk of insurance money. I nodded to Eric.

The battalion members were clearly interested, but such ventures don't come easily on soldier's pay. I could see a few wives standing on their stools leaning against their mates and talking in whispers. We would make sales later, but no investors now.

Back at the boardroom of the factory, we -- the investors -- held a meeting. It didn't take long to vote Eric to lead us as he had been working with his father for many years, in spite of his age. Though Eric would have preferred to head an engineering department, we didn't have a big pool of talent to work from. We then pooled our money. The total looked like a great deal, but was only a part of what Eric said the company was worth and he didn't want to be a part of a company that cheated on its purchase price.

John asked, "What about your money? Can you contribute your inheritance to the pot? Can you borrow against your inheritance or ask for it early?"

"Sorry, no," said Eric. "Once my dad heard that we had changed Jenny he cut me out of his will. I have no money. Even the house being built for me is owned by my father. He will provide for me, but he won't allow me to own the factory."

I don't know enough about finance to understand how we did it, but there was finally agreement from the group on how to come up with the remaining money. I didn't become an investor to make a fortune.

Eric said that since his father did not approve of what we wanted to do, he should not be on the team to make the proposal to Mr. McKay. Bob and Jack agreed to do it. They would leave out their eventual use and emphasize that Mr. McKay and his stockholders wouldn't be facing worthless stock. The rest of us waited impatiently until they reported success. It was another month before the papers were all signed and Centaur Industries was born.

It was easy to convince Eric to pose for our logo. We worked from a photo that showed Eric at about a 45 degree angle from the front. He had a bare chest, his rear legs were stretched back, one foreleg stretched forward, the other one raised up. He was holding a pennant along his right arm with his left arm across his chest to support it. On the pennant were the letters "CI" designed to look like they were made out of old steel horseshoes. It looked a bit Old English, but with a big difference. The embroidered patch for clothing came out well, the decal for wagons looked even better.

During our wait, we talked strategy. Jack wondered if we needed everything in the cart for the change to happen. He used the example of the speedometer. We could offer a cheaper change if we could put less into each cart. Jack dubbed the almost completed vehicles as "The Cart Before the Centaur". We all groaned. There was still the question of how to determine what was needed and what wasn't. Bob had ideas from the news of the milkmen and of the EVENT as a whole, but nothing definite.

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At the next support group meeting, Bob said, "We have a guess that the price of a change will be five thousand dollars. We understand it is steep for many of you. In exchange for a free change, we would like some volunteers to help with our trials. What we propose is to make a stripped down cart operational to trigger a change to see what happens. I will tell you now that we don't know what will happen. It could be no change, a partial change, or a completely different kind of change. If it is a partial change, we can try for a complete change. If it is a different kind of change, you will probably be stuck that way. Is there anyone interested?" Three wives and both sons of one of them agreed. We made sure we got their signatures on documents we explained in great detail.

Back in the factory, there was a whole assembly line full of carts in various stages of assembly. We went to one near the beginning of the process that had a complete frame and not much else. Jack and John added the electric engine and drivetrain to it. They asked Cheryl to stand in it as they finished. Nothing happened.

We moved down the line a ways and tried again. Still nothing. We then had a discussion about what might and might not be needed to create a "complete" cart. Jack added an old battery with little charge left. Cheryl shimmered and her feet became hooves. She also had a tail. She decided that was enough experimenting, so we took her to the end of the line and initiated a change. She became a brown furred centaur with a blend noticeably higher on the trunk than what was normal for the rest of us. She certainly didn't quarrel over such a small detail. After we unhooked the wagon, her husband carefully guided her as she learned how to walk on four hooves. They went to the main office where she could get a good look at herself.

The next attempt was with Janice. We tried a cart similar to the previous one but with a fully charged battery. Janice awoke to having rear legs and tail of a horse, the equivalent of a satyr. She decided she wanted a more complete change but was willing to try another experiment to get it. We took her about 3/4 of the way down the line and triggered a change. When the shimmering stopped, we saw a female centaur covered in cream colored fur to her neck and with horse ears. This was definitely overdoing it, but after calming down with the help of her husband, she decided it was better than no change or the first change. At least she could mate with her husband again. That was good as we couldn't change her back. We couldn't afford a lawsuit either.

After watching procedures with Cheryl and Janice, Hannah looked a bit like someone had whacked her between the eyes with a club. She was determined to try, especially after some reassurance from her husband Hank. We again discussed what should be included and what could be left out. We decided to try the fully charged battery, the whole engine and drivetrain, four wheels, complete frame, and the steering mechanism. We took out the seats, all the dashboard indicators, the lights, and windows. Hannah stepped in and we made the final connections. When the shimmering stopped, Hannah was a classic female centaur, a beautiful sorrel color and a strong racing physique. We decided this was close enough. We had our recipe.

Hannah's son Peter was next. He was thirteen and hadn't hit his growth spurt yet. He very much wanted to be like his dad. He couldn't be very far into puberty if he still thought dad was a hero. We configured a cart like the one for his mother and triggered the change.

Apparently age or size was a factor in the outcome. Peter also had fur to his neck and nearly to his fingertips along with horse ears. His face seemed to be a bit long. His horse part had the appearance of a short colt, so he would likely grow to standard size. His coat was a bright bay with black tail and stockings. The fur on his arms changed from bay to black at his elbows. In contrast to most of the centaurs I had seen so far, the hair on Peter's head matched his socks and tail instead of the color of his coat. Once his beard grew in the only bare skin would be around his nose, and eyes, on his forehead and on the palms of his hands. I was relieved when he saw his furry arms and said, "Cool!" I'll never understand teenagers. I hope he feels the same way when he starts dating.

Before Peter's younger brother Nathaniel took a turn, we huddled again. Bob proposed a cart with a proportionally smaller body. This would take some extra shop work, so it was a couple days later before we tried it. The smaller cart didn't look all that great as we didn't bother with carefully rounded corners and properly molded sides. We only wanted the proper size and weight. Nathaniel stepped in and Bob made the final connections. We got it right! Nathaniel was a beautiful colt centaur, brown with black stockings and tail. Nathaniel was a bit disappointed that he didn't have furry arms like his brother. I told him that his arms would grow hair like his father when he grew up. He decided that was good enough.

Each person that was changed kept the wagon and harness created with the change. All of them wanted the company logo on the side.

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It took a bit of work to plan the assembly line around what we needed for a cart that would trigger a change. We also planned for the possibility that some of the crew would be centaurs and would need extra space. I didn't think many would work here without making the change themselves. The shorter assembly line freed up floor space to make other centaur products. We positioned the end of the line to be near a pair of change rooms. These rooms were large enough for several centaurs to move easily around a cart. We filled them with a lot of light and put big mirrors on the walls. We added two sets of large doors, big enough to wheel in a cart on one side and for a centaur and wagon to walk out on the other side.

We hired back a large part of the old crew. A few had left the area and a few others didn't want to be involved in changing humans to centaurs. The rest liked the idea or didn't care and were happy for the work.

It was during the last part of the line configuration that Jenny came to me with some news. "Honey, I'm pregnant."

"That's great!" I said. "Wow! Our child have the chance to grow up a centaur!" Jenny didn't look quite so pleased. "What's wrong?"

"I'm not sure what it is I'm going to give birth to." I knew it was time to enfold her in a hug as she talked. "We don't know anything about it, how long it takes, whether I get morning sickness -- which could be nasty if you can't vomit, and whether the result will be centaur, horse, human, or some weird thing."

I said about the only thing I could say. "Whatever happens, I'll be with you. We will deal with it together."

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With a complete assembly line, we started it up and offered changes to battalion wives, employees, and the general public. When the first general public customer walked through the door, Jack realized that we had better not shove them into the next available cart without giving him clue as what he was in for. Jenny and the Army wives knew what was involved in dealing with a centaur. The general public did not. Jack was afraid that a lawsuit might result.

Eric and Jack decided that with my sales experience, I should take the job of counseling our customers. Jenny agreed to be the female counterpart. We weren't pleased with the idea that the task required our bodies to be on display. Some people wanted to put their hands in the most annoying places. Others could come up with the rudest jokes.

Our experiences with our first public customer helped us to map out what our counseling sessions should cover. I was pleased with his willingness to take whatever came his way and to offer suggestions about how to make it easier for the next guy.

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In addition to carts, Centaur Industries launched into production of things that only Centaurs need. Some of the products we made in the factory, some of it we contracted out. Our products included horseshoes, toilets, and home furnishings scaled to centaurs. Eric even contracted our tailor to make patterns for centaur clothing of a variety of styles and then contracted a garment maker to make the stuff.

Unfortunately, while all these products was necessary, they could not be made with any economy of scale, at least not yet. Our fledgling company became very close to not surviving.

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A week later, Eric got a call from Marie, the wife of one of the Milkmen. Her husband, Phil, had become the combination of human male and bovine female. She wanted to become the reverse. That got Eric a bit flustered, and Eric doesn't fluster easily. He told her he had no idea how to make that happen. She assured him that she did. All she needed from him were the pieces to a cart that would trigger a change. She would do the rest. Eric isn't one to turn down hard cash, especially considering how he got to be what he is.

That was how I got my first assignment in the field. I loaded the pieces of a cart into my personal wagon as well as a huge tent. Jenny reminded me that I shouldn't travel alone if I wanted to avoid smelling like a barnyard. I was pleased to have her along, even with the potential problems of her pregnancy. With complete directions in hand, we went to visit Marie. The only way to get there was by hoofing it. It took 4 days. We spent nights in the tent. No hotel could hold us.

Marie had directed me to the house of her friend Janet, who led me into a spacious garage. Janet even thought about having a full length mirror available. Marie came soon after I did.

Both women exclaimed over Jenny and were soon talking womnen stuff from the point of view of a centaur. Jenny said that they should be asking me questions since Marie wanted to be a functioning male. I only said that many aspects were like being a human male and for that, Marie should ask her husband. For any other aspects, her husband already knew about them.

With my assistance, the two women assembled the cart up to just before the trigger. Janet went into the house and soon came out with a box that obviously just came out of the freezer. "Bull semen," she said. She set the box in the bed of the cart.

Janet looked at Marie. "Are you really sure you want to do this?" her friend asked. "There's no way back."

"Do it," Marie said, taking a deep breath.

Marie stepped into the cart. Janet made the final connections. The cart shimmered. When the shimmering stopped, Marie was the same from the waist up, but bovine below. Janet ducked her head underneath about the time Marie woke up. "Yes!" Janet said. "You are definitely male down there!"

Marie looked down at herself in satisfaction tinged with fright, and stepped forward. "Well, at least we can have kids now, although I don't think this was they way either of us expected to do it when we married." She giggled, and hugged Janet, who hesitantly hugged her back and wished her luck.

I suggested Marie do the same close exam that Eric had used with me several months ago. The final inspection would need to be done by Phil.

Marie said, "I want to thank you Jackson. You have provided the way to save our marriage. If this is as good as I think it will be, you and Centaur Industries will have a lot of customers."

We went to find Phil. When he saw Marie, it was obvious she had done it without telling him. When all the yelling died down, he gave her a hug. It was then obvious they wanted to be alone.

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"Bull semen, eh?" said Bob.

Bob, Jack, and John had not taken advantage of the shareholder rights yet. From their initial enthusiasm, I had wondered why they waited.

"We'll have to tell Eric to install freezers in the change rooms," said Jack. "There are lots of items we'll need to stock there."

"Oh?" I said. Some days I'm slow on the uptake.

"Yeah," said John. "With well stocked freezers full of semen, we can offer a change into a particular breed of horse. Well, at least the males. We'll have to experiment to see if the same effect holds true for mare's milk." I finally understood.

"And it might not have to be a horse," said Jack. "Marie managed to become part bull. I was thinking for myself something more on the lines of a mule."

"Careful," said Bob. "Unlike your Internet stories, mules in real life are sterile." He winked.

Bob chose Shire. Jack decided on donkey. John wouldn't tell us what he was thinking.

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It was two weeks -- two very busy weeks as orders began pouring in from milkmen wives -- before John claimed a spot in the production line. When his turn came, he wanted Bob, Jack, Eric, and myself in the change room with him. One or two assistants are normally enough.

He muttered something about demonstrating new product development as he closed the door. John walked over to the waiting cart and opened a satchel. He pulled out a big piece of fur. "Whitetail," he said. He laid it across the bed of the cart. Next was a large vial. "Whitetail deer semen. I got it from a local deer processor who also does taxidermy. I usually avoid such places. Gives me the creeps." The vial was slid under the hide. One more item from the satchel. "Whitetail antlers. Also from the taxidermist. He helped me rig them in the way I suggested." John seemed to be untangling the pair of antlers - from what, I couldn't tell - then slipped the whole thing on his head. That's when I realized the antlers had been entangled in wire and the wire now held the antlers upright.

"Let's do it!" John said, and stepped into the cart. Eric completed the connections. When the shimmering stopped, John was a deertaur, complete with antlers. Wow! He was majestic! It made me jealous that horses didn't have antlers.

Saying that John was pleased with the outcome only hinted at his joy. He ran his hands over the antlers as he stepped up to the mirrors.

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A bit of experimentation showed that mare's milk from various breeds did determine the breed of the resulting female centaur. I didn't think there was any DNA in the milk, but Eric concluded we were dealing with magic which followed its own rules.

Jack's change showed that only one vial of semen was needed to guide a change for a male. The full case that Marie had used wasn't necessary. We found that one quart of milk was enough to get the desired breed or species for females. All later male deer changes visited the taxidermist for antlers. No one wanted to be the test case that would find out that one needed antlers to end up with antlers. They didn't want to take the risk of being without them.

It wasn't long before we had several freezers in a room between the two change rooms. We had milk and semen from 60 horse breeds; a dozen cow breeds; whitetail, mule, and three other deer species; various elk and moose species; and African species such as zebra, gnu, wildebeest, and giraffe. I don't want to know how they made such acquisitions.

The guy that prompted us to acquire giraffe ended up a bit disappointed with his change. His human torso was longer than before, but his giraffe part was scaled accordingly. He was ten feet tall, but not the eighteen he had hoped. He was pleased with everything but the height.

I added a new session to my orientation class. I now had to discuss breeds and species.

It was in the month after John's change that I began making regular sales calls around the country, sometimes with Jenny, sometimes with John or Bob. We found we were the best possible advertizement. I never made just one sale.

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During one of my periods of counseling at the factory, two men came in for a session. It didn't take much to realize they were lovers.

They marveled over my form, checking me over with respectful dignity, as I told them about life as a centaur. They paid close attention when I explained what was in the freezers and how it guided the change. They took careful notes during my sessions on having to deal with a much larger body and on the need for centaur interdependence. They offered menu suggestions for the factory cook book during my session on diet. They seemed bored during my session on dealing with the public. They had already been there. They took delight in my descriptions of centaur houses and seemed resigned when I talked about restrictions to jobs.

I had their full attention when I talked about anatomy and sexuality. When Jenny came into the room to discuss the feminine side, they didn't do the usual male snickering or leering. They were quite respectful of her and showed a great deal of interest, enough so that I was puzzled.

The two studied the scrapbooks of prior changes and the photos in the freezer catalogs with great care. They quietly discussed their choices. The interest in Jenny became clear when they told me what to pull from the freezer. "We both want a vial of semen and a quart of milk in the cart when we change," said Adam, the taller one.

He continued, "We want to be hermaphrodite, both male and female. We heard of the milkmen and their wives and thought it would work for us. Neither of us wants to give up the male to take on the female, though we could live with being female if this doesn't work. We decided we both want to try adding the female to the male and both be happy."

"We have done cross sex changes before," I said, "but we haven't tried what you suggest. We don't know what the result will be."

"We understand," said Jesse, the shorter one, though not shorter by much. "We are prepared to sign a legal release saying that we understand the results are not known. We will accept the outcome, whatever it is."

It didn't take long to draw up such a paper. I was reluctant, but Eric and Jack said that we should know what the results might be and using volunteer test subjects, especially enthusiastic ones, was the best way to find out.

Adam and Jesse wanted to be a matched pair, so they both chose Quarterhorse, even to the same bay color. I offered the vials and milk containers for their inspection, as I always do. They confirmed the labels and loaded the beds of the carts themselves and climbed in. I made the connections on one while Eric worked on the other.

We were soon rewarded with the sight of two handsome centaurs. As each awoke, he turned to his partner and admired him. "Lookin' good!" said Jesse, once he saw Adam was awake. "Time for the real test." Jesse turned around carefully so that he could peer underneath Adam. "Nipples and cock! Female and male!"

"You have both too!" said Adam. "I like the size of that thing!"

While holding a handful of Adam's tail, Jesse said, "Then it worked! Shall we find a secluded clearing for the night? I don't think we'll bother with sleep!"

I took them through the basic exercises to help them get used to their new bodies and guided them through a complete exam, each of the other. Adam and Jesse then readily agreed to photos for our scrapbook, even insisting we take closeup pictures for scientific documentation.

I hoped they could wait until they got some privacy.

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Nine and a half months after the start of Jenny's pregnancy, we began to be concerned when she hadn't delivered yet. At 10 months we checked books on horses and consulted both a vet and a doctor. The books said that horse gestation was 11 months. The vet and doctor scanned the ultrasound images and declared the fetus to be healthy, though small. It was a full year before Zander put in an appearance.

He was quite small! Much smaller than a newborn colt - perhaps twice the size of a human infant and not any stronger. Zander certainly wasn't going to be walking any time soon. We quickly acquired the knack of holding him without his legs getting in the way and putting a diaper on around his tail.

Watching Zander develop reminded my of a comment by Isaac Asimov. He had written an encyclopedia of mythical animals. As part of his description of the centaur, he declared that it wouldn't work due to the differences in maturity rates of human and horse. The rest of us became centaurs after maturity, so it was up to Zander to answer Mr. Asimov.

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Nate's story resumes.

I heard the cry of a small voice coming from the wagons. Jenny got to her hooves and walked over to her wagon. She extracted a small, noisy form from under the cover and returned. "This is Zander," she said. "He likes sleeping in his tent. I'm pleased he was able to sleep through our lunch."

Zander proved to be quite an armful, even though he didn't squirm much. The head and trunk was that of a typical 5 month old human. The barrel was a lot smaller than any horse body I had seen, not that I've seen many, but was properly proportioned to his trunk. He had his mother's coloring and many of her facial features. The feathering around his tiny hooves showed he might have inherited his father's physique. Zander smiled shyly, then turned his face towards his mother. She soon draped Zander's blanket over her shoulder so she could feed him.

Jackson's scrapbook was still open to the photos of Adam and Jesse. He pointed to Adam and said, "I know it sounds strange saying it this way but he's pregnant. He should deliver in two months. Jesse didn't waste time either and should deliver in five months.

Jackson got up and walked over to the fence. A voice on the other side whispered (though we could hear it clearly) "Hi." We could see Jackson's head nod. The voice whispered again, "You're one of the centaurs, aren't you." Never mind that two feet of a human would not be visible above such a tall fence. Jackson nodded again. "If my mom ever heard about Adam, I'd be locked in my room until you were gone. I think he and Jesse are wonderful!" Jackson dug into his jacket pocket. "Here is my card. Call me in a few years." He paused for a moment before returning to the table and settling himself.

Jenny said, "We'll be camping nearby for a few more days." She named the campground. "Just by being out in public, we do some pretty effective advertizing. I'm sure we'll have the chance of telling our story a few more times before we leave."

"In the meantime," said Jackson, "you have a lot to think about. Many aspects of our story were included to warn you about life as a centaur. It is quite different from being a human. Please consider in what ways your life will change and whether you can live with the changes. You will have to get used to a new body and a new way of mating. You will be much larger. You will need a new diet. You will have to help each other in more ways than you do now. You will need a new house. You may need to get a new job. You will be an object of public attention whether you want it or not." He stood again and posed, showing off his form to best advantage. "Then you need to decide if all those tradeoffs are worth getting this." He gestured as himself. "I think it is, but then I'm rather biased. Just let us know if you want a spot in our production line."

Zander had finished eating. Jenny laid the blanket on the grass and put Zander in the middle of it. Zander lay on his side, then rolled onto his back, putting two arms and four legs into the air. Rose moved around the table to sit beside the blanket to play with him. It was clear that he didn't walk yet. Humans at five months didn't walk either.

I paged through the scrapbook again while Jackson and I talked of all kinds of things. Actually, we talked mostly about centaur sex and I'm pretty sure Jenny and Rose were doing the same.

It was getting to be late afternoon. Jenny had packed up the wagons and settled Zander into hers. I turned to Jackson and said, "I have one final question. Why was it so hard to find your phone number?"

Jackson smiled. "We don't publish our number partly because we don't need to -- we have more than enough business -- and partly to weed out those that aren't really serious about wanting to be a centaur. By finding our number you showed me it was worth my effort to come for a visit."

I knew my answer. Rose and I would have a chance for a long talk now that she had a chance to see a centaur baby up close.

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That evening, Rose sat beside me on the couch. "Yes," was all she said. I smiled and we hugged. The long talk wasn't necessary.

The next morning, I called the factory. We were given a date five weeks in the future.

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We spent the next month getting affairs in order. We put the house up for sale. We changed our diet to mostly vegetarian, though we ate one last meat meal, a farewell to steaks. We arranged to have a new house built to centaur standards. I stopped shaving - no need to continue a task I was going to give up anyway. Soon enough we were off to the factory in our last ride in a horse-drawn carriage.

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Jackson met us in the reception area and soon introduced us to Eric. We joined the current "class" and went through the full orientation session. We spent plenty of time browsing the freezer catalog and debating whether we wanted to let the magic make its own choice or whether we wanted to choose the breed. If we chose, did we want to be a matched pair?

We decided we wanted to keep some sense of individuality, not immersing ourselves in being a pair. I also decided not to let the magic choose. I was too interested in breeds with feathered fetlocks. It also happens these breeds were big and strong, certainly not a detraction. Rose commented about the male feeling the need to be the stronger of a pair. She decided to let the magic take its course.

The cart before the centaur doesn't look like much. There is no attempt to make it look nice. I understood why this was so, but it made me wonder how something so ugly was a necessary piece in making something so beautiful.

We loaded my cart first. Rose and I had agreed on Clydesdale for me, so the proper vial was placed in the bed of the cart. I suddenly felt nervous.

"Second thoughts?" said Jackson.

"Yeah," I said. I paused for a moment and said a mental goodbye to my toes. "But I'm going to do it anyway." I stepped into the cart. Jackson reached down to make the connections.

The world disappeared for a moment. I awoke to an eye level more than a foot higher than what it had been. I glanced at Rose who now seemed much shorter. She had a smile spreading across her face. I glanced down.

The first view was most disorienting. My legs don't look right! What happened? I felt panic rising. Jackson stepped beside me and put an arm around my shoulders. "Easy," he said. "It's OK." I looked at him. Hmmm. We were eye to eye now. I took a deep breath.

Bob and Jack stepped forward to undo the straps of my harness and back the wagon away. Jackson said, "We'll talk about pulling a wagon later. Believe it or not, you can walk on those legs. Let's give Rose a turn now. Then we'll take you closer to the mirrors."

A second cart was wheeled forward. Rose stepped in, showing confidence I had lacked. That bothered me as this was my wish we were pursuing, not hers. When she makes up her mind, she doesn't waver. When the shimmering stopped, I saw before me the creature of my dreams. I meant that quite literally -- I had been dreaming of a female centaur since we made our decision. Letting the magic choose her breed had been the right choice.

Rose was unhooked from her wagon. With guidance we both carefully walked to the wall of mirrors, a bit amazed that we could walk at all, that our brains really could properly control four hooves.

"Wow!" was all I could say when I saw our reflections. I had a magnificent body -- strong muscles, chocolate fur on the body, white fur on the legs, beautiful feathering covering the hooves, and thick brown hair on my head with a prominent white star. I think the muscles of my arms and chest were also improved.

Rose had become an Appaloosa, a patchwork of tan and white. While my form emphasized strength, hers stressed sleek beauty. Her hair was now a matching blond with a white star larger than mine.

Jackson led us through the inspections and exercises to acquaint us with our new bodies and each other. We were both mighty pleased with the results! It had been the right choice for us.

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It has now been five years since our change, seven since the EVENT. Tom is now four years old and is a wonderful kid. He has my coloring but will likely have his mother's build. Sandra is a year old. Her Appaloosa coloring is darker than her mother's and she has white feathering around her hooves to match mine.

My neighbor is the young woman who had been my neighbor before my change. She became a beautiful bay Arabian centaur, much to her parent's dismay. She is now married to a young centaur who had chosen to be Thoroughbred. I have seen her parents around. They seem to have decided that centaur grandchildren will be OK.

Adam and Jesse now have six children. Since the two decided to be a matched pair, their children are all similar, only differing a bit in the shape of the face and their current size. Since Adam and Jesse tended to give birth at about the same time, even the sizes are similar. The children are all hermaphrodites.

I've heard that Centaur Industries has been close to capacity since it went into full cart production. They added a second shift within a year of the EVENT. They turn out 60,000 carts in a year and they still have a waiting list. The centaur equipment and clothing business is also doing well, now that there are enough 'taurs for good economy of scale.

Between the EVENT itself, changes by Centaur Industries, and births, the population of centaurs is now over half million. The population of bovitaurs is over a million, though a large percentage of them were changed because of the EVENT itself. There's also a few thousand other types, such as deertaurs, elktaurs, zebrataurs, and giraffetaurs. John inspired a woman to become a deertaur and join him. He and his family are doing fine.

The house we bought is in Kyron, the community that Jackson started at the edge of the city. He named it after the ancient Greek centaur known for wisdom, but he changed the spelling so people would pronounce it right. There is a population of about 60,000 'taurs here.

Jackson and his consultants did a good job in designing the place. It was expressly laid out as a "post automotive" town. There are no paved streets. Instead, there are well maintained trails that weave amongst the many trees that Jackson had planted. There are lots of parks for playing and fields left open for galloping.

The schools are built, but don't have many children in them yet. Not many parents want to put their children through the change. The school situation is different in kindergarten and first grade with the oldest of the natural born centaurs filling the rooms. There aren't enough of the older students for full sports teams. We're not sure who we would play anyway.

My job in construction -- I build centaur size buildings -- is going well, though I have to hire humans to do the roof.

I met Peter when he was 15 years old, after his beard had grown in. It is blond, matching the color of his coat and contrasting sharply with the dark hair on his head. Peter is now 19. His furry torso has not kept the girls away from him.

Peter is going through a punk phase, though as rebellions go, it is rather mild. He made the dark hair of his head stand up between his horse ears and trimmed the sides so that it looks like a mane. He keeps the beard trimmed short to look like fur. When he doesn't wear clothes, a quick glance will make you think a horse is there, a game he relishes. He convinced Centaur Industries to create a line of punk clothing, though they agreed no leather items. I heard him talk enviously of tattoos, but he has no skin (except his forehead) on which to put one. He even mentioned branding, but decided that was too painful. He settled for using dye to put designs in his fur, though the fur eventually sheds, making the design fade. That only gives him a chance to create another one.

There are a few community sports leagues that pull in the young adults along with the students. Football and basketball don't seem to work. Centaurs are too hard to tackle and block and when your arms are higher off the ground, dribbling is harder and sinking baskets is easier. We may have to think about creating a centaur version of baseball. Polo and soccer are popular and Peter excels at both.

Life is good.