User:Jetfire/Clearing the Air

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Paradise story universe
Works by Jetfire on Shifti
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This touches on some fall out from the Tall Tales Con, as well as handling some other information about Joe's family and activities

Clearing the Air

Author: Jetfire

Tuesday, October 22, 2007

"Damn that convention. How could something that should have been so helpful cause so much trouble?" I grumbled to myself skimming the Changed boards at work and trying to make sense of what had happened, like everyone else who had ever heard of Tall Tales Convention, Changed, Knowing and Unknown alike.

The convention had started out so hopeful; a chance for us to really see how far this Change was spreading and to mostly be ourselves. Had I had the money and vacation time I would have been there myself. But in the end, it was a disaster. The fallout from it was rippling across our little community, spreading arguments, flames, rumours and confusion well beyond the ability for the moderators to control.

Even the more private higher level boards and channels I had access to were clogged. The discussions were more civil, but only slightly. There was a lot of confusion out there over what happened, and what was now 'safe' for us. The double whammy of the 'TG TTC curse' and the large gatherings Field failure had the community leaders running in full scale damage control mode and no clear guidance had come out yet.

Rubbing my horn bases, I started closing down forum windows, shrinking back to just the public Internet forums. Even there, I couldn't quite escape the fallout. On the EQ forums, I found a post shouting out how "The world is going furry!". The post disappeared into the graveyard before I could click on it, with a simple note from the 'Honorary Halfling' moderator saying 'No it is not.'. I had to grin at the irony of it; I didn't know who that volunteer mod really was, but I did know they were the only Changed mod we had on those boards.

"What an Effed up mess," I grumbled again.

I heard a chair squeak behind me as my coworker turned around. "What is?"

I swung around to face the smaller black furred goat coworker and spread my arms. "Everything. Everything since that stupid convention. We thought we had it hard before, but now we've got an on-line riot going on and no one knows what to do."

"Just give it some time. Soon enough people will tire of it and things will calm down and sanity will return," Chris tried to reassure me.

"I suppose so. But times like this I just want to shout it to the world and get it over with." I sighed and tried to mentally shift gears back to focus on my paying job. Now that he had my attention though, Chris wasn't done talking.

"Speaking of headaches, have you skimmed the spam filters recently? My guild's forums caught a few interesting ones last night."

"Interesting in what way?" I asked switching to the cleric's forum. It was the only public forum I was the moderator on. I brought up the moderated thread window and groaned at the number of fresh spam threads. Things had been quiet for a few weeks but the spam traffic had picked up again. I skimmed the thread titles in case any true newbie posters had gotten caught, and my eyes widened.

"Add more tines to your antlers?.... Increase your udder size? Who would even WANT that?... add shine to your hooves? Get a poofier tail?... What the hell?"

Chris got up and peeked over my shoulder. "Yeah those are the ones. It may just be a coincidence, or some way they're trying to add more noise to the filters. But I think the explanation is even simpler...."

"We've got a Changed spammer." I finished for him. I sighed and punted them into digital oblivion. "Well, nothing we can do about that. Who knows? Maybe it'll bring a few more out of the woodwork... Changed that is, not spammers."

"So how do we look locally?" he asked. Even though he had access to the same boards I did, he rarely read them. Instead he depended on me to keep him informed on what was going on.

I tapped my hoof on the metal leg of my desk and glanced around. We were in an isolated island at the moment, with coworkers busy in meetings or on break.. "A small scale version of what's going on the main boards. We had a dozen or so at that damned con, and it's split us in half. AT's turned herself into a virtual hermit trying to avoid any and all contact with those con-goers, and anyone who has had contact with them and so forth. With MD, Michael, and Natalie on that list, it's put a real crimp on our planning. Hell! She's barely speaking to me now, and I didn't even go to the damn thing."

"So she's trying to avoid that curse?"

"Yeah, MD was down there, so now he's 'Mitchel', according to his license. AT's paranoid she'll 'get it' and lose the last aspects of her old self." I sighed and shrugged. "Can't say I blame her, but it's a major pain in the butt. MD... Mitchel... Mindy... whoever, keeps threatening to go down to the Casino on AT's shift and getting this over with, but I've held him back for now. If this goes on much longer though...."

I twitched my ears, hearing some people returning from their break. "Anyways, I'd better get back to work. Considering everything else going on, that geometry test case failure is almost a relief."

He nodded and looked up, seeing Juanita returning with a few others. "Sure. Keep me informed on what's happening."

I purposefully kept myself off the net for the rest of the day, trying to make some progress on my job's real tasks. I finally felt I was starting to make headway in deciphering the geometry code, when my cellphone rang, ruining my concentration.

I flipped it open and growled into it. I know goats don't normally growl, but I can get a good rumble if I want to. Legacy of my cougress I guessed. "Hello?"

"Joey?... Dad wants to know if you're still at work. We're just... where are we?... Okay, we're just going past the Blue Canoe now, so we should be in town shortly."

It took me a minute to place the voice and remember what was going on. As an early Christmas gift, mom had paid to fly Liz home for a week. Dad was driving her home from Moncton's airport now.

"Yeah, I'm still at work. You should be here in about," I paused and mentally estimated the distance. "about fifteen minutes. I'll wait for you outside."

"Sure enough. We'll see yah soon."

I clicked the phone off, and looked at my screen. The code that had just begun to click for me now looked like the foreign language mess it usually did. Her call had knocked me right off the train of thought I needed to work on it.

Liz's voice had brought back the other problem I had been avoiding. For months, I had planned that this trip would be the one where I would 'induct' Liz into the ranks of the Known, and maybe even tell mom and dad. But in the post-Con turmoil I was having serious doubts. I ran around in mental circles, weighing the costs and benefits of telling versus not telling.

My phone jangled again, and I realized I had been staring unseeingly at the same block of code. "Hello," I answered.

"We're outside now. You ready?"

I looked at the time, and the code and shook my head. I began to shut down the windows and updated my time sheets. "Yeah, just give me a couple of minutes."

Soon enough I was squeezing into the cab of dad's truck. Normally there would be tonnes of room in there, even with three of us, but Liz had the back seat packed full of stuff. I had no idea how she managed to get it all onto the plane in the first place. I pulled the passenger seat ahead as much as I could, and slouched down, hoping we wouldn't hit any bumps that would send my horns through the roof's fabric.

We pulled into Pizza Delight's parking lot without incident and made our way in for dinner. Dad stayed mostly quiet while Liz and I caught up, covering a lot of details on recent (non-Change related) events that didn't come across well on ICQ and email.

"Are you still planning on heading down to Halifax while you're down here?" I asked as dad walked off to the bathroom.

Liz nodded. "Yeah, I'm gonna head down on Thursday, crash at Mindy's."

I chewed on a piece of garlic bread and swallowed. I made my decision, for now at least. "I have a favour to ask of you."

"What sort of favour?"

"I want you to stop in and see me on your way down. Just call me at the office whenever you're about to drive through."

"Sure, I can do that I guess. You have something you want me to take down there?"

"You could say that." I fell silent and stabbed at a piece of romaine in my salad. She looked at me puzzled, but I didn't add any more. "You know, " I said, shifting topics as dad came back. "I'm still amazed at all the work going on over on the North side. New Wal-Mart, new Kent, new Canadian Tire..."

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Thursday, October 24, 2007

Elizabeth 'Liz' Ford drove down the highway, singing along with the radio. She was sorely tempted to blow off the visit with her brother and continue straight on to Halifax, but the way he had talked, both at the restaurant and on the phone the night before, had perked her curiosity. She signaled and pulled into the lane of the highway that lead into the city, and called in.

"Hey Liz," her brother answered the phone. His voice sounded off, like he was tired or stressed out over something.

"Hey Joe. You still want to see me?"

"Yeah, you almost here?"

She signaled again and pulled onto the exit ramp. "Yup, I'm turning off onto the Hanwell now. Should be there in a couple of minutes."

"Great. If you don't mind, could you swing by Tim's and get me a muffin? A Carrot one please, and a bottle of OJ."

She sighed and continued her turn right into the shop's drive-thru. "Fine, a carrot muffin and an OJ. Not choco-chip?"

"Nah, cutting down on the chocolate a bit. I'll see yah soon."

She made the purchases and drove down to her brother's building and waited. She was about to call again, when she saw him come out, jacket-less despite the cool October temperatures She watched as he walked up to the car, shaking her head a bit. The beard and the gray, nearly white hair still threw her off. All while they grew up, Joe had been the rock in the family, always sticking to what he was familiar with. To see him looking so different seemed wrong to her.

"Let's take a walk, it's not far," he told her, taking the bag and juice she passed out to him.

"Is this going to take long?" she asked, killing the engine and climbing out.

He shrugged, "I have no idea. I've never done this before. A lot of this depends on you."

"On me? What about me?"

He pointed across the road. "Come on, I'll explain over in the park. It's a bit more private, and it's familiar surroundings for me."

He turned and started walking, tapping the button for the crosswalk signal. She rushed to catch up to him. "Joe, what is this all about? What are you being so damn cryptic about?"

Joe stubbornly refused to answer her, leading her across the parking lot and along a path to a picnic table set up near the edge of the woods near a pond, greatly shrunk after the dry summer they'd had. He made a show of checking for anyone else, but the park around them seemed deserted. "Please sit down. I've never done this before, and I'm not quite sure how to do it," he said, rubbing his wrist.

Liz was beginning to get angry with all the dodging he was doing. "Never done what before? Piss me off? You mastered that long ago." She took another look at his expression and noticed how frustrated and confused he seemed. She also saw the silvery bracelet he was rubbing and lightened her tone. "Is something wrong? Are you sick? Dying?"

To her surprise, he started laughing. "Sick? No, no. If only it were that simple. No what I have to say to you is much more complicated, and much more unbelievable. But I have to tell you."

He got serious again and sat on the top of the picnic table. He pulled out the muffin and contemplated it for a long moment. He flipped it over and carefully pulled the paper cup off the bottom. "Thanks for picking this up for me," he thanked her before biting from the exposed bottom.

"Joe! I've got a long drive ahead of me, and I'm still partly jet lagged. Can you get to the point?"

He finished the muffin and raised his hands. "Fine fine. I'll tell you." He looked around one more time and took a deep breath.

"It started a few years ago, two years last August. Though I suppose for me it started that summer." He thought a bit more. "No wait, I forgot about CM, technically it was a few years even before that, but that doesn't really count."

Liz growled. "Joe! Stop stalling."

"Right right, for me, it started that August, when I got sick with what we later called the 'Sleeping Sickness'. Really it isn't either. I slept a lot, but it was more flu like, and once it's second stage hit, I definitely wasn't sleeping. Hell it really isn't a sickness, we haven't found any carriers for it or anything."

"You're doing it again, Joe."

"Sorry, this is just so difficult to get out. Usually when I'm doing this, I'm doing it with another victim,. They've got evidence they can't ignore that helps me out. With you, I'm feeling around blindly, trying to figure this out...."


"I'm a mountain goat."

The words hung in the air for a moment, both of them staying silent, staring at each other. Liz noticed how those four words seemed to lift some of the weight off her brother's shoulders, but her own mind couldn't process them.

"What was that?" she asked.

"As Danny so clearly pointed out last month, 'Me Goat'," he said, tapping his chest. Now that it was out, he didn't seem to have trouble getting it out now.

"Is that a club or something?" Liz asked, trying to make sense of it.

He laughed and sipped the juice she'd brought. "No no, not a club. I am really, in the flesh, a mountain goat. A morphic one actually, that's a mix of human and animal traits. So I still walk on two feet, and have fingers and can talk. But even though you can't see it, I've got fur, and horns and hooves instead of feet."

Liz stared at her brother, then looked around. "Just how gullible do you think I am? Are there cameras around here? You setting me up for something?"

He didn't move his gaze from her, but he emptied the Tim's bag and began to play with it, flattening it on the table and rubbing all the wrinkles out of it. "I assure you, I am being the most serious and honest I've ever been with you. I really am different from what you see. I, and roughly a million other people worldwide, have been changed into various morphic mammals. It's not 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' or anything; I've changed three times now and I clearly remember every moment as my body became something else.

"The problem is, in your case at least, is there is a field around us. It keeps unchanged people from seeing us as we are now. Really good for helping us try to keep our normal lives going, but it makes it hard for us to tell the truth to people when we want to."

Liz was beginning to get worried. Some of the stress seemed to have left Joe's body, but his actions and story were increasingly weird. She shifted her gaze to his hands and watched as he played with the bag. At first look, nothing seemed wrong about it, but the movements felt wrong the longer she watched. His pinkie never seemed to move far from his ring finger, no matter what he did. And strangely, the paper seemed to be flattened by something a lot larger than his fingers indicated.

He picked the paper bag up again and looked at her. "The Field is good, but it has its weaknesses. Our tracks for example. If the ground wasn't so dry, you would see me leaving hoofprints instead of footprints. I could go into the pond and show you, but I still have to go to work, and wet fur, even if it's just leg fur, is a pain.

"Most everything else obvious you can think of however, is covered by the field. Touch mostly, you feel a normal hand and normal body. Smell, well, it's not exactly a human strong sense to begin with as I've discovered. I've got a bit of a musk, but you don't really pick it up much. Taste... well lets not go there, but it's probably covered. Sight clearly is out. Even hearing gets modified somewhat.

"Face it, we're too adaptable, too used to retconning our memories and coming up with 'logical' explanations for the weird shit we see. The Field amplifies those tendencies and give you a nudge to believe what you want to believe, instead of what you actually sensed."

Liz watched her brother, equal parts fascinated and scared. His mannerisms were similar to what she knew of him, but what he said made less sense than normal. She felt herself begin to tense, a flight instinct building in her mind.

"But sometimes you can beat the Field for a little bit. If we do something that is outright impossible for a human to do, it can sometimes cause the field to flicker, and give you a glance through the looking glass, so to speak. I really hope this works, cuz I don't want to get my hooves wet."

He stopped playing with the bag and opened it up, wiggling a finger in it to keep it open. He held the bag, open end down and lifted it over and behind his head. He waited and made sure she was looking at him. Then he brought his hands forward. Something unseen began to fill the small paper bag and push against the bottom of it. The wax paper tore around an unseen pointed object. And then she saw it.

A ringed black horn speared through the bottom of the bag. She briefly saw misshapen hands lowering away from it, leaving the bag held up by the horn, but it was the rest she was looking at. Her brother's head had been replaced, literally in mid blink.

Instead of a human head, a different creature's head, a mountain goat's head, looked at her expectantly. The big, down-sloping muzzle, covered in thick white fur, with the beard and black nose, were familiar to her from living out west. The eyes focused on her, dark and wrong looking, and yet they held a familiar intelligence to them. The horns stood at the top of the head, with a slight curve to bring the tips backwards. Below the head, a thick furred neck lead to the polo shirt and an otherwise human body. As she watched, the long ears twitched towards her, and the mouth opened.

In a voice that impossibly sounded like her brother, the creature spoke. "I take it from your reaction, it worked?"

That snapped her loose. She let out a scream and shoved back from the table, stumbling to her feet. The creature hopped to its feet and reached out to her with one hand. With it's other, it reached up and pulled the bag off its horn. Her brother's usual-yet-unusual face returned, but the goat head stayed clear in her mind's eye.

Liz shied away from the creature's touch, scrambled to her feet and started running.

"Liz! Wait! We need to talk!" the creature shouted from behind her. Thumping sounds let her know that it was following her.

Her first thoughts were to get back to the parking lot and the street, where others would be. She turned in that direction and caught movement out of the corner of her eye. The creature, running easily, had already moved to block that route. She looked around frantically for anyone else, but the park was deserted. Herded by the creature, she started following the path deeper into the forest that made up the bulk of the park.

Liz put on speed and tried to get her bearings. She wasn't familiar with Odell park, but she knew it was surrounded by the city. She just had to get to an edge before the creature got to her. Her path began to climb upwards, heading up the side of the river valley the city spanned. She began to worry about the steepness sapping all of her strength, and looked for a side path.

"Liz wait!" the creature shouted, hardly sounding winded. Fear lent wings to her feet and she redoubled her speed.

Ahead, she saw a sign post, and a path turning to her left, running along the valley instead of up the valley side. She glanced back and despaired. The creature was off the path, moving among the trees and keeping even with her. It would reach the side path long before she could turn onto it. She gasped for breath and kept on running up the hill.

"Liz! Please stop! We need to talk. I'm not going to do anything to you, but we need to talk."

Liz shuddered. It was her brothers voice, but it couldn't be him. She was breathing hard, barely able to gasp anything even if she wanted, but he barely sounded winded. She dared another look over to the creature.

It was pacing her, staying off the path and maintaining the same distance from her, but keeping her on the main path up the valley. It looked like her brother, but it ran weirdly, running a few steps and then jumping up a steeper section of the hill, its heels never going to the ground. It had a strange expression on its face too, a focused look that only left her long enough to make sure it wasn't running into a tree. It was a look she knew; she'd often seen it in her cats when they were chasing something down.

She whimpered in fear and felt her legs and chest burning. She tried to urge more speed out of her body and sprinted up the steepest section of the path. Another side path went to the left, but the creature had gotten ahead of her and was already there. It clearly knew the park and its paths better than she did.

"Liz, please. It is me. Please stop, slow down at least before you hurt yourself," it begged of her from that path, watching her run past.

"Stay away from me!" Liz cried out and tried to push herself more, trying to stay as far from it as she could while staying on the path. She made it a little further down the path and saw a bench just off to the side. Her legs gave way and she crashed heavily against it, gasping for breath, sweat streaming off of her. Over her gasping, she heard crunching of dry leaves as the creature slowly approached. She heard it stop, and forced herself to roll over to look. The creature in her brother's body had stopped a few meters away from her and was watching her. It was barely breathing hard. It shook its head and the hunter's look faded from its eyes.

"There.... Is... No way.... You can... be Joe," she gasped out. She gulped and continued. "He's in worst... shape than me. I'd've lost him... halfway up ... the hill."

The creature took another step to her and stopped when she tensed. It pointed at the bench she was leaning against. "Please, sit down and catch your breath before you give yourself a heart attack. And use your head, sis. I've been walking this hill in all weather for nearly three years now. It's a great way to build up endurance, even if I didn't have the Change workout advantage. And with my current form.... Well, trying to outrun a goat in their own territory isn't exactly the wisest thing to do."

Liz pulled herself onto the bench, never taking her eyes off the creature. Her own breathing was coming under control, but he wasn't even panting any more. "Don't call me Sis! I don't know who you are, but you aren't Joe. You look like him, you sound like him, but you aren't him!"

It sighed but stayed back. It turned its head from side to side, listening, then refocused on her. "Fine, lets say for the sake of argument I'm not Joe. Will you at least listen to me? I promise, I won't hurt you or do anything to you. I just want to talk to you, tell you what I know, and let you decide for yourself."

It crouched down a little so it wasn't towering over her and pleaded. "I'm sorry for how I broke that to you. I didn't know how it would seem to you, or if it would even work. I should have gone with the hoof prints route...."

Liz wiped her forehead and groaned. Whatever this creature was, it managed to nail Joe's nervous babbling down. She began to doubt herself. "Look! Whoever you are, just stay back and give me a minute to catch my breath and think!" she snapped.

"Okay, okay, I'm sorry. I'm sorry I chased you like that too. I don't know what came over me. You did well though; that last section is a killer...." He caught her gaze and gulped. "Going quiet now."

She turned her glare away and looked around. She knew they were at the top end of the park, but wasn't sure where that was in relation to the rest of the city. "Well, if you know this park so well, where the hell are we?"

He stood up and leaned against a tree on the edge of the trail, watching her on the bench. He pointed further down the trail. "Right behind my apartment. A five minute walk or so that way will put you right next to them."

She considered her options. Her legs still burned from their uphill sprint, but not as bad as before. If she needed to, she felt she could do another run if needed, especially if it was fairly short. The creature seemed content to move at her pace at least. She hoped she could use that to her advantage, to get back among other people and away from it.

She stood up and Joe... no the creature straightened up expectantly. "I'm giving you until we get to your apartment complex to convince me you are really Joe. We are going to take a nice leisurely stroll, but you're going to stay at least a certain distance away from me. If you fail to convince me, I'm going right to your landlord's offices and calling a taxi and getting out of here, never to see any part of you, goat or otherwise, again."

"But how can I convince you? That's not enough time! Not out here at least."

"Well then, that's your problem to figure out. I'm sure Joe could figure out a way."

The Creature looked puzzled and sighed. He motioned with one hand for her to go ahead. She started walking slowly down the path, looking back to make sure he wasn't following too close. The fact that it looked so human, looked and sounded so much like her brother, kept throwing her, but the flash of the goat head she had seen was still locked in her mind.

"How about the old cliche? I talk about our past until you're convinced one way or another. But where to start?... Do you remember that Christmas the car broke down outside Antigonish on the way to Nan and Grandpa's? Freezing cold out and it was the middle of the night. We were lucky we got the lift into the Tim's, though we had to leave Missy and Corky in the car till Greg came down with Grandpa's truck. Spent the entire night in the donut shop. We even went to a convenience store across the road, and I got a Transformers comic there...."

She listened to him and followed him, his words ringing true to her memories with no obvious flaws. By the time they reached the apartment complex, she stopped him and pointed to a pair of wooden chairs with a table between them. "Sit, and keep talking," she ordered him.

She sat on the arm of the opposite chair and studied him closely while he talked. He looked so much like the Joe she knew that she was beginning to believe it really was him. And the stories, it wasn't just the details that began to win her over, it was the little family quirks too. Either this creature had been hiding and living in the family for decades, or, it really was Joe.

"Stop! Stop," she said, holding out her hand and silencing him. "I... I believe you. But what the hell happened to you? How did... How did you become THAT?"

He looked relieved again. "Thank goodness. I was running out of stories. I can tell you but not out here," he said, nodding across the lawn. An apartment worker was weeding one of the flower gardens. "Let's head upstairs and get something to drink, and I'll tell you everything."

She hesitated, then shrugged. "In for a penny, in for a pound I guess. Do mom and dad know yet?"

Joe shook his head and lead her towards the buildings. "Not yet. I wanted to tell you first. As far as I know, Chris, Jessica and Danny know, and Chris told Cheryl. There's no one else yet."

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I lead her up the stairs to my apartment, trying to stay calm and not show the nervousness I felt. We were past the initial shock now, so the worst was theoretically over, but I definitely hadn't expected her reaction. And even more unexpectedly, I hadn't expected my own reaction. When she started running, something had come over me, guiding me in following and chasing her down. Goats weren't hunters, so it couldn't have been instincts. On the other hand, I didn't just have goat instincts. I had a years worth of feline in me too. But as far as I knew, those should have gone with the physical form; Not woken up when I needed her again.

I made a mental note to ping CM and see if she had similar experiences with her quartet of forms, and unlocked my apartment door. I glanced around as I walked in with her, trying to see it through Liz's eyes. The big bowl I used for salads was in the sink where I'd left it, and a bag of garbage hung off a lower cupboard door, waiting to be taken out. Not much else in the kitchen indicated my change, unless you poked in the fridge.

Liz stepped past me and into the living room. I followed her and followed her gaze. The wall was slightly gouged over the futon, where my horns tended to rub. The metal arms were also chipped and scuffed up from my hooves. Unseen, but I knew it was there, the edge of my chair mat under the computer desk was ripped and due to be replaced from the tips of my hooves. And the computer desk itself had scratches I'd dug into it, from both my claws and the tips of my hoof-like fingernails.

She shivered a bit, though it was a natural shiver. Even though winter was coming on fast, I still had all the windows open. "Damn, it's an ice box in here. But I guess you've always preferred the colder temperatures," she commented.

"Yeah pretty much. I'd probably still have the windows open even if I wasn't a goat," I replied. "Can I get you anything before we start? Juice? Chocolate milk? Water? An Apple? I think I've got some Diet Pepsi mom left."

"A glass of water I guess," she said, stepping to the alcove that lead to the bathroom and bedroom. I let her be, and filled a glass from a jug of water I had in the fridge. I gulped down a bit of juice for myself and grabbed an apple before rejoining her. She was still looking in the other two rooms.

The bedroom was in its usual mess, clothes on the floor vaguely near the container I used as a hamper, bed unmade, pillows piled against the headboard. I had always been a bit of a pillow freak, keeping six or seven on the bed at a time, but they now served an additional purpose. They helped hide all the gouges I had made in the headboard with my horns.

The bathroom wasn't much better. The bathmat and sink were covered in white fur, and the mat in the tub was past due for replacing. Like the mat under my desk, my hooves had practically torn the rubber to shreds. I saw her wrinkle her nose a bit and knew this was where my scent was strongest. When mom and dad came down, I usually had to use almost an entire bottle of Febreeze per room to take the edge off.

"Sorry, I haven't cleaned up recently. I'm worst than Triton when it comes to shedding. You should've seen me in the spring," I said. She jumped in surprise and spun to face me. I held out the glass of water for her.

"You'll find bathroom habits change a lot with people like me. I'd go through a store's worth of towels and hair dryers if I took a long shower now. So most of the time I just hop in and out to get the grime off, and do a big soak over a weekend once a month or so. The aquatic types, they have it easier somewhat. Claude... he's a beaver up north, he swims every day practically, and can dry off in a snap. Me? I get my underfur soaked and I'm itching for days."

I took her free arm and gently tugged her towards the futon. "Come on, lets get this over with. It's time to guide you the rest of the way through the looking glass Liz."

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Liz crossed the bridge into the city, nervousness rising in her. Joe had told her Mindy-now-Mitchel had changed as well, after they had broken up. She wasn't sure how she was going to take that. On top of that, her attention on the drive into the city was even more fractured; she kept trying to peek into each approaching car, wondering if it held one of these Changed. The chances of that happening was slim, even if she could see the Changed. Joe had told her he estimated they only had a couple dozen in the Halifax region, but it was a nervous habit she couldn't break.

She followed the directions Jenn had given her, and found herself at a small apartment complex that overlooked the shipping docks. She climbed out of the car and began to stretch, calling Jenn's number.

"Hey Liz. How's it going?" Jenn answered after a couple rings.

"Going well, all things considered. I'm outside now and wondering which is your place."

"All things considered? Is something wrong? Never mind, we'll talk inside. I'll be right out to get you."

The line went dead and Liz found herself alone again for a moment. She shook her head and closed the car door, walking around to the back to grab her overnight bag and a bag of gifts for her friends.

"Over here Liz," she heard Jenn shout. She slammed the back hatch closed and shouldered the pack, and waved to Jenn, standing outside a door. She jogged over and hugged her old friend, letting her take the bag of gifts. Jenn seemed normal enough, but Joe said she hadn't changed. She did Know though; had Known since Mindy changed.

"Is Mindy home?" Liz asked as she was lead through the building's halls.

"Heh- She got home about half an hour ago. We're just getting dinner ready. You're looking great Liz."

Liz noticed the hiccup and frowned. It seemed that Joe had kept his promise and not warned them at least. She was still feeling torn, betrayed that her best friends since school hadn't told her about this, but understanding why they hadn't at the same time. The fact that Mindy had changed after she'd moved out west made it even more comprehensible, as much as this mess could be comprehended.

Jenn let them into an apartment, a two level place with three bedrooms and lots of room. The kitchen was on the upper level, along with the living room and dining room. The smells of frying chicken filled the apartment.

"LIZ! Welcome home!" a voice shouted from the kitchen. A figure rushed out and gave her a quick hug before she could get a close look at her Changed girlfriend.

Liz cautiously returned the hug, Mindy's back, covered by a t-shirt, feeling normal enough but with the barest hint of something more substantial under it. They broke apart and looked at over.

Mindy was similar to how Liz remembered, but different. Her face was harder somehow, and her hair style was spiker, like it was gelled. Under the shirt, she wasn't wearing a bra, and her bust size seemed smaller than Liz remembered.

The trio moved into the dining room, where they could talk at the table while MD tended to dinner. They talked about neutral topics to start, but Jenn and MD knew Liz well enough to tell something was eating her.

"Okay Liz, Spill it. What's eating you up so much?" Jenn finally confronted her.

"Eating me? Not-" Liz started to protest, then decided not to. "Nevermind... It's Joe. He didn't call you guys right?"

The other two looked at each other and shook their heads. Liz soldiered on. "Well, he asked me to stop off and see him before I came down here. Said he had something he wanted to tell me."

Another set of looks was exchanged, knowing looks this time. MD reentered the dining room and turned a chair around and sitting down.

"And what did he tell you?" Jenn asked.

Liz sighed. "He told me everything. About him, and Alex and Erma and Sarah... I don't even know who Sarah is, but he told me about her. And Claude and Michael and Crystal... and you two." She looked up, as if daring them to deny it, wanting them to deny it and prove her brother wrong. "Is it true?"

Jenn looked over at MD, leading Liz's eyes to the porcupine morph. MD didn't say a word, but reach to the base of her neck and tugged. She flicked her wrist and a couple of quills landed on the table, their tips clipped, but the hairs thick and stiff.

"It's true," MD said, letting the quills speak for themselves.

"Why?... Why did that happen to you? Why didn't you tell me before? What's going on here?" Liz finally asked after an uncomfortable silence.

"I didn't tell you before because we'd already broken up when I changed... and you've been out west ever since. This isn't exactly the sort of thing you can break over the phone. Just think about it Liz, when could we have told you before now?" MD explained. "As for the rest? No one knows."

Jenn got up and checked on dinner, beginning to set it out on plates. "So you told Jenn before you told me?" she heard Liz get out, trying to come to grips with the situation.

"We were roommates. It's rather difficult to hide a change like mine, especially those early days before I figured out all of my tricks. So of course she found out. And I doubt I'd have been able to get through it all without her help."

Liz fell silent again, as Jenn served the dinner, her gaze locking on MD then looking away. Finally, about halfway through the meal, she seemed to reach her decision. "So.... What is it like?"

"What's what like?" MD asked, looking up.

"You know, being that..."

MD grinned a little. "It's very... surreal. People see you as one thing but you are really another. I have to be careful especially with people behind me and stuff. And ever since I got back from the States, I've had to dress even more unisexly. Friends, like you, see the old me, but strangers see me as a guy.

"A guy? Oh right... So which is better?"

MD blushed bright red and looked away. She finally chuckled. "We'll be debating this for years to come I'm sure. And I haven't exactly had time to experiment. But it's different. Better? Worst? I'm not sure, but it's different."

The conversation moved on to other subjects while they cleaned up from the meal. There remained an uncertain undercurrent in their talk, but familiar subjects helped them get back somewhat to normal. They retired to the living room for some video gaming and chatting.

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Friday, October 25, 2007

Liz walked onto the Casino floor and looked around, but didn't see Alex. She picked a machine at the end of a row and tossed in twenty while she waited. Joe had told her about the Convention and Alex's changes since then. He hadn't specifically asked her to talk to him, but he had strongly hinted at it.

Soon enough she spotted a familiar head of dark hair near the employee's only door at the cashier's windows. She hurriedly cashed the machine out and carried the coins over.

"Alex!" she called out when he seemed to finish his conversation.

He looked her way and looked puzzled a moment before recognition dawned on his face. "Lizzy! What are you doing here?"

She gave him a quick hug. She had the faintest impression of breasts but she couldn't be sure she wasn't just imagining it. "I'm just down for a few days. Visiting the home lands for a week. How have you been?"

"Been well. Just doing the same ole' same ole'." Alex said, hesitating.

Liz nodded, and took a deep breath. "Do you have a few minutes? A many few minutes? And a place we can go to talk privately?"

Alex looked at her and tilted his head. "Sure I guess so. But what's it about?"

Liz stared at Alex. She tried to see the female Joe and Mindy said Alex really was, but she couldn't see it. Nor could she imagine Alex as a morphic dog. The concept seemed too strange for her. But these were strange times apparently. She took a deep breath. "Joey talked to me before I came down. He asked me to talk to you... To talk to AT."

Liz watched a variety of expressions go across Alex's face before settling on resignation. "He told you? I guess I'm not too surprised. Come on, there's a spot we usually go to talk. It's fairly quiet in a public sort of way."

He lead her out to the boardwalk outside the casino and sat down on a bench at the end, overlooking the water. "So Joe told you everything?"

Liz nodded. "He did. But... well it's hard to believe. You don't look..."

Alex nodded. "I don't look like a girl yet. But a few more weeks... a few more months? Who knows. That damn curse..." he sighed.

"Yeah.. he mentioned what happened down there. It's gotta be rough."

"More than you can believe." He stared out into the harbour, avoiding her gaze.

"But is the curse really that bad? It means you won't have to hide any more. Mindy seems to be doing well as Mitchel now."

"You've... well I suppose you would have. But Mitchel's different. A girl can wear guys stuff and not attract attention. But me? I can't wear a dress or carry a purse or anything without getting a lot of looks."

Liz shrugged. "So why wear one? Or carry a purse? You don't need those to be a woman. Hell look at me. I can count the number of dresses I've worn on two hands. And I've been a girl my whole life. And a purse? Bah, I can't be bothered with one. A wallet works fine for me, or a backpack when I need more. As you said, a woman can wear men's styles without drawing attention."

"I suppose... but I don't know if I'm ready for that step yet. To everyone, I'm still a guy. I can go out with my friends... my unchanged friends, and still be who I was, playing pool, or hockey or just going to the bar. If... when that curse reaches me, everything will change. I won't be one of the guys any more. I'll be different."

"But you're different now."

"Yes but to everyone else I don't LOOK different... other than being black haired now instead of brown."

"And in a few more years though.... wait you play hockey?"

Alex laughed. "Not any more. I beg out of it due to 'health reasons'. Man I wish I could still play. Maybe when Furgonomics can make furry skates. Still, I head to the arena, cheer the guys on and head out afterwards with them too."

"Cool. Well once you can get skates that work with you again, you can play hockey again. I played it in high school, and I'm sure your friends will welcome you back on the team, even if you are visibly a woman by then. I'm sure a dog morph, no matter what the sex, could out-hit a rat or squirrel or whatever morph on the ice."

"Maybe.. I don't know. I just don't think I'm ready to take that step yet."

Liz reached out and took his hand and squeezed it. She couldn't tell if it was her imagination or not, but she swore she could feel the fur on the back of it. "Well the step or not is one thing. In the mean time you've got Joey and Mindy and Jenn really worried about you. You've been cutting yourself off from your new friends over something that might happen doesn't seem right."

"But if I don't, I could get that curse too. I shouldn't even be talking to you."

"Joe and Mindy told me. So far there's no known cases of that 'curse' spreading past those that were at the Conference. You're chasing away your own support network over what you're imagining could happen."

"It happened once. It could spread."

"But it ISN'T." Liz sighed and let go. "Never mind. It's not my fight. Not yet at least. I told Joe I'd give it a shot at least."

Alex looked at her and smiled. "Thanks for trying. I... I won't promise anything, but I'll think about it. I need to get back to work."

"Sure, sure. Man this is some weird shit Joe's got me in. My ex-girlfriend's a guy who can kill balloons at fifteen paces, my brother's a goat, and his girlfriend is a guy."

Alex started sputtering "He-We... We are NOT like that. Our status in the Changed world just has us working closely together is all."

Liz waved her hand dismissively. "Sure sure, whatever. You didn't hear how he talked about you. Anyways, look, I'm staying at Mindy and Jenn's tonight. We're catching a show at 8 and just hanging out afterwards. If you want to come visit, you've got their number. I'm sure you'll be welcomed."

Alex recovered and stood up. "Fair enough. And thanks for stopping by at least. It was good to see you again. Say hi to Joe for me. I'd say to give him a kiss for me but that's too weird in too many ways."

Liz chuckled. "Yeah, just a bit weird. But it explains a lot at least. Uhm, could you validate my parking?"

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The trio mingled with the crowd leaving the theatre, heading back out to the parking lot. A cold mist had blown in off the sea, forcing the two normals to tighten their coats. MD simply shook himself, feeling his quills shake out a bit as best they could under his loose shirt.

"So, were there any Changed in that movie?" Liz asked curiously.

"None of the principals, but there were five or six background characters. Even one with a speaking role," MD answered.

Liz shook her head. "I couldn't even tell."

"Not yet. A few more years and who knows."

The three got in their car and headed back to the apartment. MD noticed the figure sitting outside the building's entrance first, sensing the movement in the darkness more than seeing it. The winds shifted around the building, bringing the figure's scent.

"Oh my god!" he gasped in surprise.

"What is it?" Jenn asked, then saw the figure standing up.

"Uhm, hi guys. Lizzy invited me out. I hope you don't mind." AT shuffled her feet nervously in the grass.

"Of course not! Come on in! You know you're always welcome here."

Jenn lead them to the apartment, the canine trailing a bit. "I thought about what you told me Liz, and you're right. I'm sorry I've been such a jerk guys. I just didn't want to take the chance. But it doesn't matter. I can't keep hiding. Too many of you are depending on me... and I depend too much on you guys."

"Oh stop it AT. All's forgiven. Now come on in. We've got Nachos to make, and butts to kick." Jenn said impatiently, but smiling.

"... And maybe you could tell me about the conference? What was it like? To have so many of us in one place?" MD added, glancing at the dog. He saw AT was nervous but trying to relax.

Jenn and Liz went to the kitchen while MD flicked on the television. "It was incredible. Even with the field failing, it really gave us a taste of what's to come," AT started, flopping into a rocking chair.

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Saturday, October 26, 2007

"Hey Horns! Open up!" Liz called out, banging on the apartment door. She heard the locks rattle quickly and it cracked open, showing her brother in shorts and without a shirt.

"Not so loud!" the goat-man hissed, glancing out the door. The floor was otherwise empty, no one seeming to hear her. He stood to the side and let her in. "So how was the drive?"

"It was a drive." She flopped onto the futon and looked at him. "Man... after three days in your universe I still can't believe it. Could you at least put a shirt on?"

"Well believe it. Thanks for talking to AT. It really helped." He grabbed a shirt from the back of the chair and tugged it on.

"You're welcome. So you want a lift back home for the rest of the weekend? Give you a chance for free laundry at least. And mom making a late Thanksgiving dinner with all of us home."

Joe considered it and shrugged. "Yeah, I was planning on it. Just let me finish getting my stuff." He got up and trotted to his bedroom. "Do you think it's time? Time to tell mom and dad?"

"NO! Not yet! Not this time of year. You know how busy they are. It's not the right time to shock them like that."

"Well I don't have to do the horns trick like I did with you. Hooves and wet ground should be easier..." He came out of his room, a duffle bag in hand.

"Yeah but I just don't think it's time to tell them yet. Maybe later, when things are less busy." She lead the way out of the apartment and down to the parking lot.

Joe sighed. "That's easy for you to say. You don't see them as much any more. We've had more close calls than I can count. Hell if Dad hadn't been so tired from the drive, he probably would have clued in at the wedding."

Liz unlocked the car and climbed in. She waited for him to get in as well, noting how he slouched in the seat. "Well, lets finish our generation first. You said Chris and Jessica and Cheryl know? Well lets tell mom's side next, get them on board and we'll sort out the rest of the family from there."

He started chewing on something, though she didn't see him put anything in his mouth. He swallowed again and nodded. "Fine fine. I won't tell them. Not yet at least."

"Good. Now lets head home."

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Preceded by:
Six Furries and a Wedding
The Veil (A Paradise Series)
(First: Holes in the Veil)
Succeeded by:
Rising Waters