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User:JonBuck/After Hours

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After Hours: A Paradise Story

Author: Jon Buck

Separator k left.png Chapter 1 Separator k right.png

August 17, 2009

Rooney's wasn't a bad place to work. The borderline schlocky décor inside the sports bar suited Sean Frost's tastes very well. He lived only a few blocks away, easily walkable in good weather. Hyannis was a traffic nightmare in summer. Sean rarely left the Cape during the busy season anyway. Twelve hour shifts from one in the afternoon to one in the morning will do that to a person.

Just trying to get across the Sagamore Bridge was a nightmare in August, in either direction. It was an order of magnitude worse now since the state had decided to remove the rotary.

Sean ventured out into the sultry Monday afternoon from his cool one bedroom apartment. With the thunderheads building to the southwest he expected the weather to turn nasty before eight. "That's going to scare the tourists away..." he muttered with a sigh. Crowded bridge or not, there were fewer tourists this year, even with gas hovering around two dollars a gallon. There was just so much going on, from the continuing anarchy in Africa to oil prices see-sawing wildly between twenty and sixty dollars on a monthly basis. It made for anticipating what the next day's gas prices would be a crap shoot at best.

A twenty year old Chevy Caprice pulled up beside him on the left as he walked. "Sean! Why the hell are you walking to work in this soup after being sick? Get in here!" Mike Dane leaned over and opened the passenger door. Sean realized his white dress shirt was getting more sweat-soaked than he wanted, so decided to accept the offer, though it was only a couple more blocks.

"At least loosen that tie," Mike continued. Dane was about fifteen years Sean's senior, and a semi-regular at Rooney's. Like everyone else this summer he was minimizing his driving just to save money. His love of large cars meant in cooler weather he was more often around town on his electric scooter. The large man regarded Sean with some concern. "I've never understood why Chuck insists on that fancy getup." He gave Sean a rather curious, and a little confused look. "You're looking better. Finally over that funky summer flu?"

"Yeah. I feel great! Got over the dregs last night." White dress shirt, black slacks, a red tie, and black armbands to keep the sleeves from moving around too much while mixing drinks. The owner of the bar, Chuck Polinsky, thought it gave the place a "classy" air. "I think the uniform looks pretty good," Sean said. He turned two of the vents on him and cranked the air conditioning to full blast. "Thanks for the ride, Mike. I see you got the AC working on this jalopy."

"Shuah thing," he said in an affected New England accent. He wasn't a local, just someone who had retired young and settled in his vacation house on the Cape. The man didn't own a car newer than 1991, and all of them were American makes. He bought older cars and restored them to working condition as a hobby and probably had contacts with every junkyard in the Northeast for parts.

When he was finished getting them running again he'd donate them to some charity, then start anew.

"So, how's that Honda of yours holding up?" he asked, one eyebrow raised.

"Mike, it's four years old. There's nothing wrong with it," Sean insisted for the sixth time. "Really, I can't afford to put gas in one of your land yachts, even for a winter ride."

The older man smirked. "Got my hands on an '84 Honda Civic CR-X. You know, the one that got almost seventy miles per gallon on the highway? Fifty five in the city? It just needs seats and a new headliner. Nothin' to sneeze at even if gas drops to a dollah."

Sean felt speechless. "You said you'd never touch a Japanese car!"

He made a strange nickering sound, almost like a horse. It was uncanny sometimes they way he did that. "Yeah, I know. But money talks and I could still sell this car for three times what it'd get last year, even with the price drop. Everyone still remembers the shortages and six dollars. Seventy miles per gallon, Sean. And I'm giving you first shot at it. If you can come up with a thousand bucks, it's yours." Dane stopped in front of the bar.

The bartender's hand hovered over the door handle. A grand was still a lot of money, especially since this tourist season was so sparse. He had an emergency fund he'd have to use some of in order to buy it. He could easily use his one credit card, which didn't have a balance right now. "Can you give me a couple of days, Mike? My Civic is already pretty good on the mileage and it's almost paid for."

"I should have the parts to fix 'er up in about four days. Let me know by then, okay bud?" He extended his hand.

Shaking Mike's hand was always a strange experience. Sean thought he felt more hair than there was, and that man had a strong grip. He'd seen the older mechanic lift car parts by himself that Sean wouldn't have done without one or two other people. The cars he drove actually creaked when he sat down. "I will. Thanks again." He pulled on the handle and got out of the Caprice.

As the bartender walked around the front end, Mike rolled down his window. "Say... you didn't feel anything odd getting over that flu, did you?"

"Like what?"

The man shook his head. "Never you mind. I'll be in for the Red Sox game tonight with some friends, bud. See you then." He drove off.

Sean watched him go and shrugged. Mike and his friends were always a little weird anyway.

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The sports bar was divided into four large rooms, each of them with a half dozen 50" HDTVs. They were devoted to various sports, depending on what was in season. Baseball, basketball, football, soccer, horse racing, hockey, the Olympics, NASCAR, Formula One, the Tour de France. Whatever people wanted to see, Chuck Polinsky would oblige. Each room had its own fully stocked bar and seated about forty people in booths, tales, and the barstools combined.

Sean entered through the back door and headed for the break room next to the kitchen to clock in. The chefs and their staff were busy prepping for lunch. Sadie waved at him as he'd walked in.

A few minutes remained before the bar opened. Since daytime was generally quieter than the rest of the day only two of the four rooms opened. Sean could already see his fellow bartender at her bar, taking her usual inventory of spirits and liquor. Before he did the same thing there was an important errand to take care of. He went upstairs to the office and knocked on Chuck's door before opening it.

Chuck Polinsky was in his mid-forties, but you wouldn't know it to look at him. He had a runner's physique and competed in the Boston Marathon every year. "You're looking better, Sean. Over that stomach flu?"

"It pretty much evaporated this morning, Mr. P. I feel great! I just wanted to pick up my paycheck before I started work," Sean said.

Polinsky leaned forward behind his spotless oaken desk, scrutinizing his employee from head to toe. Sean Frost was an American Mutt. One quarter Chinese, with the rest spread among Irish, English, and Italian ancestors. The results were an unlikely mix of slightly Asian facial features and a medium build. "You sure you're feeling like yourself? Everything's where it's supposed to be?"

"Never better, sir."

Polinsky combed his fingertips through his iron gray hair. "Uh... I hate to say this, but there's been a mix-up with the payroll company. We're working on straightening it out, of course."

"Mix-up? What do you mean by that?" Sean replied worriedly.

Sean's employer handed him an envelope. The bartender stared. "Who the hell is Serena Frost?"

"Your sister?" Chuck quipped with nervous laughter.

"I have two brothers. What did ADP say?"

"It'll probably work itself out pretty quick," Polinsky said. He looked very nervous now, nostrils flaring. "I'm sure she'll be along... soon."

"She has my address and employee number. I'm going to rip ADP a new one," Sean snarled.

Tapping his fingertips on his desk, Polinsky pondered what to say next. "I'm glad you're feeling better. You're one of my best employees. But if at any time today you start feeling strange, or you start seeing things--I had that flu a couple years ago--feel free to leave your post and lock yourself in my office. Okay?"

"Um, okay. Thanks boss."

"Remember, Mike and his crew are in the Red Sox Room today. They've rented the whole place this time, so it's just going to be you and Traci out there this afternoon."

That was clearly a dismissal. Sean nodded and headed back downstairs.

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Most of the bartenders at Rooney's were women--they tended to get better tips. Traci was a graduate student at Wood's Hole Oceanographic Institute. She had wavy light brown hair that always looked perfect, and smelled a little of sea salt after her excursions out to see. She normally wouldn't give Sean the time of day, but when he entered and told her they'd be working together today, she actually seemed shocked.

"You sure you're feeling okay?" she asked him in a sisterly tone, nostrils flaring like Chuck's had.

"Yes, I'm fine! Except my paycheck got screwed up. Some girl with my last naaa..." There was no pain. And its absence was one of the things that he would remember most. But he started coughing, and when next he spoke, his voice had changed pitch and timbre. "Some girl with... with... What the fuck?" Sean's hand flew to his throat.

He found no Adam's Apple. And his voice no longer resonated. "What... what do I sound like?" he stammered.

Traci put her hands on his shoulders. "You're going to be okay, Sean. You'll be fine. Just don't panic, and just let it flow through you."

"Let what flow through me!" he shouted. He spoke with a woman's voice. "I'm having some sort of relapse. This is hella strange laryngitis..." He stared at his co-worker. "Are you wearing heels or something?"

She let him go and dashed upstairs. Just in time for the dam to break. He felt a tightness in his groin, a growing pressure in his hips. Everything started happening at once, too fast to think straight. It was all he could do to stay upright by grabbing hold of the brass rail on the side of the bar.

"You left him in the middle of the Change?!" Chuck shouted from above. "Get down there, woman!"

There was a moment, a brief moment, when the two creatures who reappeared distracted Sean from twisting sensations from his body. An anthropomorphic coyote and a female (definitely female) cougar stood there in Chuck and Traci's clothes, mouths agape. But the image flickered and then they were both standing there again. "Is that it?" Traci said. "Where's the rest?"

"I don't know, but it fits with what I've read on the boards," Chuck said.

The twisting sensation slowed, then vanished, leaving only a strange buoyancy behind. Sean stared down at the view, and with slender fingers and polished nails, loosened the tie and unbuttoned his shirt halfway. Then all at once his new body slammed his senses with its bulges, curves, breasts, and breasts. A singular sensation between his legs was somewhat familiar, but far more concentrated. Even his slacks had been replaced with a skirt, like what Traci wore. "Um... I... I'm a woman? How? Why... the..."

"Catch her if she faints, Chuck," Traci said.

"No, I'm okay. Really. I'm fine!" Sean insisted. In fact, she felt fantastic. She turned around and removed some of the bottles from in front of the mirrored backing behind them, and had a look. Her hair had lengthened down to her shoulders, and the girl looking back looked like the sister Sean had never had. She put her hands on the sides of her breasts and smushed them together. "Ow!"

"Is she going to stay human?" Traci said.

"I don't know," Chuck said. He flickered again.

Sean suddenly felt a little dizzy. Overwhelmed with dissonance. "Um... You mean I'm not... I wasn't seeing Wyle E. Coyote standing where Chuck is a second ago?"

"I'm going to be straight with you, Sean," Chuck said. "That paycheck wasn't a mistake, and we knew this was going to happen to you this morning. Mike was shocked as hell when he saw you walk out of your apartment a male human. I was expecting to have him bring you here, er... different. Sort of like you are now."

"Only sort of?" Sean stammered, staring at the girl in the mirror. Not the girl. Herself. The girl whose name was on the paycheck. "I'm Serena Frost?"

"ROB thinks of everything these days," Traci said. She'd briefly gone into the break room and retrieved a denim purse. She handed it over, giving Sean another feline flash. "This is yours. Check your driver's license, everything. As far as the paper trail's concerned, you're Serena Frost."

Sean's license did show a slightly younger woman than the one in the mirror with the ubiquitous unready expression on her face. Same birthdate, everything. "That still doesn't answer my question! Why am I a woman!"

"For the same reason I'm a man. Or male, at least," Chuck said gravely. The middle-aged man tilted his head. "What do you see when you look at us? Traci and myself."

"Like you always are, what..." There was that flicker again, lasting much longer this time. If Sean's back wasn't already against the bar she wouldn't fallen over backwards. Suddenly gaining a pair of breasts and ovaries didn't matter any more. The people standing in front of her were unquestionably still Chuck and Traci. Aside from the almost cartoonishly human eyes, there were a couple of furries standing there instead. As the glimpses before, a coyote and a cougar on two legs, looking like they'd evolved that way. "Holy shit! You're animals!"

Sean fumbled for one of the bottles she'd removed from the shelf. Some Jose Cuervo tequila. "I need a drink."

Chuck-the-coyote took the hard liquor out of her unresisting hands. "Talk, first. Then drink. You're not done changing yet, and I have a lot to explain.

"And I'm going to start with..." He visibly girded himself. "Two years ago, my name was Cynthia. And I don't expect I'll be her ever again."

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Sean listened for an hour as Chuck explained how the world worked now, beneath the surface. During that time she paid little attention. Between her own new body and the continually arriving furries, everything felt surreal. Like stepping into a Disney cartoon, or maybe that creepy rabbit movie Watership Down she'd seen as a child. When a horse-man wearing Mike's dingy flannel shirt and cutoff denim shorts entered, she gaped. "Holy... No wonder!"

He had dusky reddish fur with a black mane and tail, and white feathering over his hooves that had been trimmed back around his hands. He carried himself like Mike, and suddenly a lot of odd habits had an explanation. Like the odd handmade shoes he'd taken to wearing last year. He towered over her, his ears almost brushing against the ceiling fans. He had to duck a little. "You're a horse!" Sean sputtered.

"And you're a woman," Mike replied. "And still human? What's up with this, Chuck?"

"I don't know what's going on with her either," Polinsky said. "But we're just waiting for the other paw-shoe to drop. But her paper trail is all taken care of. I double checked everything I have access to."

"What do you mean by that?" Sean said.

"What he means, Serena, is that you'd better start thinking of yourself with that name," Mike said. "You're Serena Frost. Your birth certificate, tax records, credit history, even photographs, every damned thing will show you as the woman you are now. I think it's God's way of telling people like you and Chuck to move on with your lives. Getting tits certainly isn't the end of the world, you know."

"Whoa. Hold the phone," Sean said. "That doesn't make any sense. If God or whatever can erase all the physical evidence of being a man, why can't he make me think I was always a woman? It'd make life easier!"

The coyote lolled his tongue. "I don't think ROB likes being so... direct. It doesn't alter memories directly. Maybe he has a moral code against it? I dunno, but I bet you're feeling pretty good right now, right? Not feeling any panic or hysteria? Can you look at your face in the mirror and think of that reflection as your own without feeling strange about it? I'm betting you can. I did."

Mike had pulled up a chair and was sitting in it backwards, his tail swishing behind him. He nodded in agreement. "You were pretty well adjusted when I met you, Chuck. You're not exactly an effeminate guy, either. I mean, look at this place."

The new woman gestured for the men to stop. "Whoa, just wait. If I'm going to be Serena, fine. Honestly, looking at you two I'm more scared of walking out of here with rabbit ears than a pair of breasts and all the rest." She smiled brightly. "Honestly, I feel great! It's not like I was looking for this, but here I am. Serena Frost. And I'm going to find out just who she is. It'll be fun."

"How very glib," Traci said dryly. Her tail tip swished under her skirt. "Say that again in a year and I'll believe you, 'Serena'. Until then you're still a man in a woman's body." Her ears folded back. "She is going to change again, isn't she? I've never heard of one happening before the other unless they went furry the year before. Never changing sex first. It's freaky seeing Sean like this."

Then I'm a man in a woman's body, Serena thought, mentally shrugging. She scooted out of the booth. "You know what? I'm going to go into the restroom and do jumping jacks with my shirt off. If I start changing into a mole or something I'll shout. Leave me alone for a bit, okay?" she huffed. "I have to pull my thoughts together. Because when you get down to it, I'm not supposed to be a woman and you all aren't supposed to be whatever the hell you are."

Traci's expression softened. She walked up beside Serena. "Look, I didn't mean to come off so pissy. You're not always going to feel so positive about this. That body isn't some sort of fancy costume, sister. You're really, really a woman inside and out, just like me. You'll have a lot of questions, so just ask. No matter how squicky."

"Hey, I can answer 'em, too," Chuck pointed out. The coyote shifted in his seat. "Um, maybe. It's been a while."

More furries were entering. Some of them were obviously new to their forms. It was definitely time to get out of line of sight. Besides, there was the little matter of bladder relief she hadn't felt like mentioning to them. Serena headed for the staff restroom.

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It wasn't her bladder. She just didn't want to feel like she was the star attraction when the next part of the Change hit.

Serena locked the door behind her. The staff restroom was unisex, kept as clean as possible in a place like this. It smelled like pine Lysol and Windex. She kicked off her shoes and yanked off her socks jut as the pressure had become too great to ignore. She dropped her skirt to the floor, followed by panties, but aside from unbuttoning the shirt all the way and loosening the tie, left it on. She wasn't wearing any bra.

The female face in the mirror was already distorted, taking on a triangular shape, like watching Michael Jackson's transformation in "Thriller". The pressure between her buttocks revealed a growing nub of a tail.

So, what's it going to be? Gorilla? No, they don't have tails. Monkey? Mole? Cow? What? she stared at her reflection, sad that the human girl she had only just become was about to vanish beneath a furry shell.

Her fingertips sprouted claws that quickly tucked inwards, enveloped into a hand that developed pinkish pad-like surfaces over her palms and fingertips. Tan-gold fur sprouted over them, with large "cloudy" black spots emerging on the backs. Distinctly feline paws.

The lights flickered and went out, but the restroom was only dark momentarily before a harsher, battery-powered emergency light came on, illuminating Serena from behind. She probed her mouth with her tongue and found growing canines, top and bottom. Her entire jaw began to shift and push. Serena's ears didn't so much rise as her forehead shrank to meet them as they came up. Her already-black hair remained bound neatly into the ponytail the first change had given her.

Serena's tail extended, longer and longer, as the light from behind silhouetted her slender waist and prominent hips. Her breasts were even a touch larger now. As if the idealized human figure she'd only just gained wasn't enough.

There was commotion from outside, growing voices, and an oddly high-pitched one that only sounded vaguely human. Someone knocked on the door. "Uh... Serena? Are you okay in there?" said Chuck.

"Oh, I'm fine. Just turning into a catgirl. With spots," she said, as if it meant very little.

"Cheetah? Leopard? Something like that?" he said.

I need a drink. Really, really need a drink. "What happened to the power?"

"Don't know yet. But we have a very interesting visitor. I think she's going to cause a stir, even more than you have. Need a few more minutes to finish up?"

The transformation squeezed almost the last of the humanity from Serena's face. Her eyes had adjusted to the darkness. They glowed green back at her from the mirror. Some kind of leopard, but none she was really familiar with. Serena pulled her panties and skirt back on and made an attempt to button the shirt up, only getting partway before hooking one of her claws in the fabric and almost tearing the silk. She decided it was enough to pull it over her breasts as much a she could and keep her tie between them.

When she opened the door Serena found the entire Red Sox Room full of furries in various states of undress, near-panic, transformation and shocked amazement. Rooney's had somehow become a kind of furry triage. Every local who had changed had flooded in just before the power outage. Chuck looked completely overwhelmed, the coyote wrung his handpaws with concern, claws clicking on the hardwood floors as he went from victim to victim, trying to touch base with everyone like a good host. He rushed over to his employee. "Let me button up that shirt for you. We've got kids in here. And I mean goats. Go open the rest of the bar when I'm finished, will you? I swear you're setting some kind of record for adjusting to this. I'm not gonna look a gift horse in the mouth."

"She's not a horse!" Mike whinnied from across the room, where he sat between four other equines, including a male and female pair of zebras. He towered over even those equines. "And she looks great!"

Chuck carefully buttoned up her shirt. "You're kind of tight in the bust here. I think you went up a cup size or two. You were pretty modest before, honestly."

"What the hell am I?" Serena muttered. Half the room was clustered around someone near the kitchen. Someone with blue skin and... No wonder nobody was talking about her any more. "Is she a dolphin?"

"Having trouble talking, that one," Traci said, slinking over. She gave her sister feline an appraising look. "Clouded leopard. Welcome to the feline side, sister. We'll have to have a smug-off at some point, but right now I'm having a harder time with another transgender. If you're already so well adjusted, I think she could use your support."

Her charge sat at a two person booth under one of the Budweiser light fixtures and a half dozen autographed pictures of 2004 Red Sox players. She was short, stocky, but curvy and quite well endowed. Her hair had been tied up in cornrows, each neatly tied at her neck. She had a wide white stripe down the top of her muzzle, starting at her nose, white cheek ruffs, and small triangular ears. She looked up at Serena. "Leopard, right? You have splotches all over you," she said glibly before going back to giving her breasts a careful squeeze with her beclawed fingers. "And I think I'm a badger."

The leopardess extended her hand. "Sean Frost. Though now I guess I'm Serena. That's what it says on my license. I'm a clouded leopard. Don't ask me anything about them since I really haven't a clue."

"I haven't looked at my driver's license yet," the badger replied. "I don't even wanna know. Frankly, the tits are a sideshow. I feel like I'm in Kung Fu Panda, don't you?" She snorted and looked around the room. She covered her nose with one hand and made a sour face. "Smells like an effing zoo in here."

"I didn't catch your name?" Serena said, extending her hand again.

"Oh, right. Bernard Voss. Of course, now it's probably something like Bernadette or Bridget. I've got a purse now. An effing purse! You should see what my apartment looks like now. Scared the shit out of my roomie this morning! He saw me as a chick right away. Even my bedroom looks like a chick lives there. It's like the Universe up and decided I'd look better with tits. And a stubby tail. And fur. And look at this face!" She let go of her breasts long enough to tap the sides of her muzzle. "So much face!"

She had obviously just tossed on whatever clothing was close at hand. A tee shirt that was a size too small and a pair of khaki shorts. Correction. A khaki skirt.

"Um..." Serena took a seat across from her at the booth. She reminded herself that women normally sat with their legs together. But she had no idea what to do with her tail. She curled it around her waist and fumbled for something to say. Everyone who wasn't clustered around the dolphin was off in their own little worlds. The room had begun to go quiet. Serena spoke softly. "So, who did your hair?"

"My roomie. Last night. Before the tits," Bernard replied ruefully. "I had a Bob Marley thing going. He said it looked femmy. Now it really is girl hair. Traci said that this 'Random Omnipotent Being' made me a female me. I have no idea what that means. It's not something I ever thought about before.

"So I guess I need to find out what kind of girl I am." The badger picked up her purse from the seat beside and handed it over. "So, tell me the bad news, Sean-Serena. Bridgette or Bernadette?"

Much like her own, the purse was well-worn and seemed lived in. She fished out the wallet and flipped it open. A black girl was on the photo. "Neither. You're Brooke."

"Fine. I'm Brooke and you're Serena. God says so, and I ain't going to argue with Him. Happy to meet you, kitty girl." Brooke leaned forward and whispered. "Kung Fu Panda, I tell you."

"Are you okay?" Serena asked.

"No. I'm just talking to keep my mind off of you-know-what and floating on this buzz they told me about, hoping it doesn't wear off before I'm used to the tits and ass. I'm just glad I'm not alone. If I start talking your kitty ears off, let me know."

Serena noticed Sadie and a couple of the waiters--they were also furries, but it had to be them in those uniforms--moving through the now-quiet crowded room. Sadie was a skunk, and she had actually covered her huge tail in an all-over hairnet. Rosa, the waitress, was a white mouse, and shorter than she appeared before. Not counting her ears, maybe five feet tall. Frank was an affable husky, gray-white with a curly tail.

With everyone quiet, Chuck jumped up on one of the tables. The coyote raised his hands for attention. "Okay, everyone! Since I'm the host here I think I need to say hello. I've got some news about the power outage, too. It's not looking too good outside the Cape, frankly. This year's Change isn't running as smoothly as we hoped.

"First, anyone who's had, ahem, gender issues this morning, we're opening up the Patriots Room after this. Getting really crowded in here."

"No kidding?" Mike said from his growing herd of hoofstock. Horses, deer, and the rest had clustered around him. "Smells like a zoo in here, bud."

Chuck laughed with a low bark. "I know, I know. And there shouldn't be so many of us in one place. Frankly, I didn't expect nearly this many. We'll break up shortly so we don't put too much strain on the Veil.

"Anyway, to sum up. This year's Change isn't happening all at once. Before the power went out I got word on the web that it's happening over several hours. We didn't expect this. And there's a lot of tourists here on the Cape..."

"No kidding?" a goat-man said dryly. His wife was a red squirrel, and their children were both goats. "I want to know is who I've got to knock on their ass to change us back! I'm not going to start eating tin cans!"

Serena's new friend leaned forwards. "And if I hear anyone start singing that stupid 'badger badger badger' song, I'm going to use these pretty new claws of mine," Brooke said, brandishing them.

"The Federal Government knows about this and gave us a bunch of handouts. There's Sleeping Sickness Hotlines you can call and get all the information. And there's instructions on how to access confidential forums. The short of it is that sometime this year President Hutchinson is going public with this. They'll need your name and contact info to make preparations."

"Dude, have you even looked at the TV the last three months?" Brooke said. The media was on a "What if the World Went Furry?" binge. The Discovery Channel had already shown several "What if humans had evolved from X animal" programs already. "That wasn't CGI, was it? And why didn't they show something so I'd know what'd happen if I got ti... if I became a woman?"

Someone who wasn't as tactful spoke up. "Shit, man. It really sucks to be you," he said.

Serena couldn't see him, but from where he stood Chuck did. "That could be you next year, bub. I'd start reading up on how to buy bras, if I were you," he said, only half kidding. The coyote looked around the room. "Are the Janssens here somewhere? The new deer could use their help."

"They wanted a room to themselves and the baby for a few minutes, so I sent them up to your office," Traci said. "I hope you don't mind, Chuck. Janice still has to nurse. Cute little buck."

"No problem, Traci. We'll break for an hour anyway. It's getting hot in here." Chuck said. "Dinner's on the house, everyone. I encourage you to share notes with the more experienced furs. Serena, I need to talk with both of you. Your lives are even more complicated than everyone else's now."

"No shit!" Brooke replied, loudly, standing up and jiggling her breasts. "To all the ladies in the room, how the hell do you live with these? I could use some help here." Clearly meant as a joke, the comment only got some nervous laughter in response, and a good number of uncomfortable looks. "Tough room," the badger grumped before following Chuck and Serena into one of the currently unused rooms of the sports bar.

"Look, Chuck, I really need to head back to my apartment for a few minutes. Pull myself together. Get a good look at this new anatomy. That sort of thing," Serena said.

"I'm still planning on opening tonight, if the power comes back on. You'll need another uniform because that one's a little mussed up." The coyote looked thoughtful. "The way things are going lately ROB's been very thorough. It wouldn't surprise me if you found your entire wardrobe feminized. It happened to the clothes you were already wearing. But if you don't have another skirt, or you don't want to wear one, I think I've got some slacks your size. And Traci said she has a spare pair of pawshoes."

"I can answer that question. You should see my closet. It's all chick stuff now." Brooke said. "Yeah, I wouldn't mind stretching my legs either. I think I need to go mess with my roommate's head some more and try and squeeze these goddess-like jugs into a bra."

"We're opening at seven tonight. If you want to call in sick, you don't have to come in. Otherwise, I hope you feel adjusted enough to come to work. Everyone's going to see you as a woman now, Miss Frost. Think hard about what that means. We'll have that talk when you get back."

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With the power still out Serena heard a number of gas-powered generators. Rotating her ears around she was able to pinpoint where they were very well. The air smelled strongly of sea salt and rotting fish. Not a pleasant combination. The streets were mostly empty, with only a few die-hard tourists out in this heat. Brooke fluffed out her shirt and folded her muscular arms over her chest. "Aw, hell. I walked over here thinking they'd be able to cure me. Do you think they can see us? Just how good is that Veil thing anyway?"

"I don't know, but I don't think people are going to be looking at my tail," Serena said, watching a couple of young men across the street. They had paused to watch the two new women. "Maybe after it comes down they will. Guess they were right about humans not seeing us."

"Oh, they see us," Brooke said, discomfited. "I don't know what's worse. That they can't see us as furries, or they actually see us as females. This just gets weirder by the second."

The duo started walking. "What the hell am I going to tell my landlord? Where do you live, anyway?"

"We're already going the right direction. It's a house, actually. I'm just here for the summer. Hell of a vacation, huh?" She chuckled weakly. "So, have you peed yet?"

Serena stopped in her tracks. "That was rather blunt."

"I'm serious, girl. I'm thinking hard about this practical crap. It's not like I'm trying to wax poetic about suddenly having tits and how amazing being a woman is. I've been one for what? Two hours? Less? I'll probably wake up a week from now and scream," she stopped and clapped both hands to her breasts as if for the first time. "'Oh my God! I'm a woman!' or some shit like that. Of course, that's what it says on my driver's license. Maybe I have always been a badgergirl and I was crazy before. Butterfly dreaming he is a man or a man dreaming he's a sexy furry chick and all that. Ha!"

She went on and on like that through the entire walk to Serena's place. Brooke liked to talk. The leopardess wondered if she'd been a chatterbox as a man, or if there were some mental adjustments. All the while the few people on the streets watched the two barefoot girls in bewilderment.

They were only halfway there when the lights in the shops flickered back on. Serena saw an opportunity to get a word in edgewise. "Oh, good! The air conditioning should be back on in my place now."

"Good! This fur is murder in this heat. Are badgers supposed to sweat? Or is that a holdover from our human forms?" Brooke said. Before she got off on yet another tangent, she saw where they were walking. "Wow. You live here? It's like something out of Coraline."

The apartment building was a huge refurbished Victorian house. Every apartment still had its own kitchen and bathrooms. The landlord/owner had her own. Unfortunately the elderly woman was outside, covering her plants with plastic sheeting. The skies in the west were darkening quickly and the wind had picked up. "If you've got anything on your balcony, Serena, you'd better bring it in. We've got a severe t-storm watch," she said, not looking up. Then she paused and made a show of looking confused. "Oh dear. What did I just say? Oh dear. Where did that name come from?"

Mrs. Bailey was in her mid-seventies and very worried about going senile. There was simply no way to hide it. "That is my name now, Mrs. Bailey."

The befuddled old woman looked up. "Oh. Are you Sean's sister?"

"In a way..." Serena replied. When that woman found that all her rental records were under that name, the leopardess was afraid she'd have a heart attack. "In a way, we're closer than that."

Mrs. Bailey, wearing her wide-brimmed straw gardening hat, gloves, and holding a rubber mallet, stood up and gave Serena a sly look. "You do look related. It's in your face. Anyway, did Sean give you a key?"

"I have one."

"Oh, good. He's been sick lately and I guess he called you to help out where he works?"

"Actually Sean turned into a woman this morning and she's just trying to make the breast--best of it," Brooke said glibly, gently patting her friend on the shoulder. "Happened to me, too. I don't think I've ever been so confused! At least we turned out cute. Cuddly, even."

Serena snarled to herself. Brooke, I'm gonna... But instead of getting mad, she decided to get even. "We both went furry, too. She's a badger and I'm a clouded leopard."

Maybe she was going senile. Or maybe she just had a strange sense of humor. Perhaps the Veil was weak for her to begin with. For a moment Serena was afraid the old woman would faint, or scream, or laugh, or shout for help. Anything but what she said next. "It's a small world, isn't it? I'm not going senile, girls. I can see what you are. This Veil of yours never worked for me. Plus, my granddaughter changed as you did this morning. When I remembered you got sick too I was just waiting for the shoe to drop. By the by, your rent's past due, Serena."

It was always due in the middle of the month rather than the end. "I still have to deposit my paycheck, Mrs. Bailey. I'm just... you can see me?"

In response, her landlord took her by the hand then pressed into the pad on the palm. Serena's claws extended neatly. "You're a woman now, yes. But don't forget you're a cat also. You're going to have to decide if one change is more important than the other. You'll eventually have to deal with both, I think. Take it in small bites. You have the teeth, Miss Pretty Kitty.

"The way I see it, as your elder it's my job to help smooth things for you youngsters. Frankly I don't expect I'll live long enough to change myself. Now, if you don't mind I could use some help with my flowerbeds. I'd throw on something for yard work, if I were you. Soil's bad for silk."

Amazingly, the only obvious differences in Serena's apartment were her wardrobe and some of the pictures on the wall. As she doffed her skirt for a pair of jeans and a tee shirt, Serena felt like she'd just been played. Only when she was finished staking down the covers over the flowerbeds surrounding the Victorian apartment building did she head back upstairs.

Hot, sweaty, and panting as they finished just ahead of the approaching storms, Serena fought an urge to lick her dirty handpaws clean the whole way.

There was no way the girls were going anywhere until the thunder stopped.

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"Breasts. Boobs. Jugs. Funbags. Dumplings," Brooke said, looking at the ceiling while sitting in front of one of the two window air conditioners. She ticked off each word on her fingers. "Tits. Mammaries..."

Serena had just come out of the bathroom, having finally gotten a good look at herself in the fur. She'd had enough of breasts for now. "Brooke."

"Melons. Airbags."

"Brooke..." Serena folded her ears back in annoyance.

"Thelma and Louise. The Twins."

"Brooke! Stop! Look, I know you're obsessed about your breasts and all, but there's more than that going on here," Serena huffed from across the room at the other bay window. "Forget you're a woman for now, okay?"

"That's like asking Ted Striker if he'll ever get over Macho Grande. You're no fun, Serena," the badger replied petulantly, hands on her hips. Outside the rain came down in torrents, running in rivulets down the window sills and pounding on the roof. "Look, I've used all these words before. I'm just getting a kick that they actually apply to me now." Brooke sighed at her new friend's glare. "Okay, fine. But what else is there?"

The clouded leopardess raised her hands, palms forward, and flexed her fingertips. All ten claws emerged, hooked and obviously sharp. "Right now I'm wondering if they could drag me off to jail for concealing deadly weapons." She raised her lips in a mock-snarl. "And what about these? My entire body is a deadly weapon!"

"And I'm a giant badger chick on two legs. I've got claws, too," Brooke pointed out. She pulled on the corners of her mouth, revealing carnassial teeth of her own. "I'd rather think about the girly bits. I have no idea how to live with being half animal. How we're actually going to live in with a vast number of different species. I don't care if we can still interbreed. We'll still divide ourselves up, like in 'Planet of the Apes'. It's scary, Serena. As women we know where we stand in society, more or less. I'd rather start with what we know. I don't like the idea of inventing social norms as we go along."

Serena considered that. "Are you worried we'll screw things up?"

"What makes you think we haven't already? Look, have you looked at the way our numbers are growing? It's exponential! There just isn't enough time to do this without massive upheaval. We'll be lucky if we don't start eating each other." The badger frowned at the window air conditioner. "When was the last time you put coolant in this thing?"

"Huh?" Serena said, taken aback by the abrupt change of subject. "It's like five years old. Bought it at Goodwill after I moved in here after college."

"Well, replace it. You're making the other unit do all the work. I do HVAC repair and maintenance for a living. I have no fucking idea how I'm going to explain this to my boss, but I'd rather tell him that I pulled a Kafka and woke up a woman one morning than the rest of... this." She spread her hands apart. "Tits before tail for me, girlfriend."

"You know, you don't talk like a repairman. Sorry, I mean woman."

Brooke chuckled and scratched an itch on her lower jaw, then combed her fingers through her cornrows. "I majored in social work and sociology, then I found out just how little money there was in the profession. So I apprenticed and learned how to repair heating and air conditioning systems. I'm making sixty dollars and hour and there's always work at this time of year, even in this shitty economy. You?"

"I just sort of ended up in this job. Graduated with a degree in Greek Philosophy from Northeastern in '04 and found out I couldn't do a damned thing with it. So I grabbed the first career I could think of. Learned bartending mostly on the job. Only got my certificate a couple years later after I found I actually like doing it. Listening to other people's problems all the time makes my own feel a hell of a lot lighter, frankly. Solvable. I'd like to own my own place one of these days."

Raising an imaginary glass, Brooke toasted. "You'll make a great businesswoman. That is, when you're not hunting down small mammals to feed your cubs. Vodka's going to be hard to come by."

"You're so cynical," Serena said, shaking her head. Outside the rain was letting up and the weakening cold front wrung out the remaining moisture. There had been no hail, just a lot of rain and some gusty winds. The power had even stayed on. Of course, now the air was completely saturated and it was near 90 degrees outside.

Serena went back to her closet. It did look like a woman lived in this apartment now, but only barely. There were a few small touches here and there, but whatever supernatural being had made the changes had only put out minimal effort. She was going to have to buy her own bras. Though all her undershirts had been changed, they didn't fit right. She recalled she'd apparently added a cup size or two after going furry, so that explained it. Aside from the work uniform skirts, everything else had simply been resized to fit with a bit of lace or a few ruffles added.

"We'll have to have to buy tampons," Brooke said from behind the door. "We'll both need them."

Serena packed the bartending uniform in a hangar bag she used for weather like this and dug out something casual. Shorts and a polo shirt that fit rather snugly around her breasts. Buying bras, maybe a dress or two, was a given. First thing tomorrow a trip to the pet store was in order. She flexed her claws again, hands and feet. "I'm going to need some really good clippers."

Clean uniform in handpaw, and feeling like going to work was just the thing to keep her busy enough to take her mind off, Serena grabbed her car keys and drove herself and Brooke back to Rooney's.

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By the time she arrived back at work most of the new furries had broken up, going back to their homes or motel rooms, with the tourists wondering if they should try and salvage any of their vacation. The dolphin had a big problem. She was from Florida and loudly insisted there was no way she was going to swim all the way south. She needed to return to saltwater every ten to twelve hours, at the most. And with her thick, fluked tail using her car was simply out of the question. Chuck and others were helping out with the logistics.

There were other furs there in staff uniforms. A shocking number of them. Serena only recognized them by their nametags. The majority of the waitstaff and bartenders were female. Serena felt like an unwilling turncoat.

"Looking good, Serena," Traci said. She was the only other feline, and her friendly tone of voice was a surprise. "That outfit looks better on you now."

"It's the same old stuff I usually wear," Serena replied. "Just shrunk to fit."

"I know. And you fill it out better. But, no bra?"

"I wasn't supplied with any that fit. Besides, I don't really need one here, do I?" the leopardess pointed out. Since she'd been hired eighteen months ago Chuck had been moving the place in a Hooters direction without losing the formal classiness. Tighter silk blouses and shorter skirts were showing up in the uniform wash. "Besides, I'm just one of the girls now, right?" Right?

"You're about to get some intense 'on the job training' in that, Serena darling," the cougaress said. "Frankly I think you should go home and do those jumping jacks you talked about earlier. Sit and stare at yourself in the mirror. Get used to the view."

Serena and Traci had never spoken much. Not out of dislike per se, just huge indifference. She hadn't been Sean's kind of girl anyway, and they'd never shared more than a few polite words in the months since Serena had started working there. Her human ghost had worn glasses and had a supermodel's body. The reason was obvious now, since Serena shared that "benefit" of the Change.

"I'll be fine, really," Serena insisted. "I'm more worried about accidentally scratching somebody than showing off my breasts."

"Both of those are weapons, in their own right. Let me clip your claws for you at least," Traci said. "They still leave scratches through the Veil. Be damned careful, you hear me? And I have a pair of paw-shoes you can borrow." She fished some claw clippers out of her purse.

More of the other employees were coming into the break room now, watching the two cats curiously. The humans were obviously wondering who the new girl was, while the furries--a good two dozen of them, mostly other women--nodded more politely with only a few smirks. Most avoided her, and she avoided them in return. Serena was abruptly painfully aware how socially awkward a position she was in now. Only Traci seemed to know what to do with her.

"Chuck asked me to help you with the grooming," Traci said. "Once I'm done with you, head to his office. It won't take that long. I don't intend to explain what or how I'm doing. I just need to get you presentable for the bar. You'll be my partner tonight in the Red Sox Room." She tapped her partner on the chest, claws retracted. "Remember that human girl you were earlier. That's what most patrons are going to see."

After all that the cougaress said no more. In the dressing room Serena found the skirt was more practical than the slacks, and cooler anyway. Once she was finished Serena obediently went upstairs to Charles Polinsky's office.

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If Serena had to choose a single word to describe Traci, that word would be precise. She had the mind of a scientist through and through. Before every shift she spent an hour inventorying every single bottle displayed behind the counter, making sure she hadn't been shorted. She never needed a jigger/pony cup to measure out portions. Patrons were never shorted, and always got precisely the cocktail they asked for. Her human ghost had a porcelain beauty that made her very popular, despite her cocktails' mere technical brilliance.

Before the doors opened Traci helped Serena straighten her blouse and dust off some imagined piece of lint. "They're not going to be looking at your face, you know," she said.

"You don't need to tell me what men are like," Serena replied. "I'm just going to do my job. So what if I'm a woman now?"

"I'm not going to lecture you. I'm sure you already got an earful from Chuck."

The leopardess flicked her ears. "Boy, did I. Brooke is still up there talking with him. She's really curious about what it's like to come from the other direction." The indecipherable look Brooke had given her as she had headed back downstairs bothered the new woman. She'd only known the badger for a few hours, after all. Not nearly enough time to know that much about her.

She did seem oddly enthusiastic about her double-Change, as if it was an adventure. Serena was more worried about the rest of the sports bar's furry staff. The majority of the thirty people working here were furries, or knew they were working for one. Except for Sean and two others who had been kept in the dark since they normally didn't let anyone in on it unless they figured it out for themselves.

Serena felt like a complete idiot for not noticing. It explained so much. Oh well. If you dwell on hindsight too much you don't see what's about to smack you in the face, she thought as the Hostess opened the doors.

The nervous mood of the crowd of regulars and tourists slammed into her. Serena was totally unprepared for the sensory assault. Being able to read the crowd was very important. There were a surprising number of locals who frequented Rooney's. And they made up a larger percentage than usual during this tourist season. Today, Serena swore she could smell their worry. It flowed off of them in waves.

"Remember, you're the new girl. So try to act like one," Traci muttered. The cougaress smiled ferally. "Remember, you're a huntress, not prey." Somehow that wasn't a very reassuring statement. But it was the most friendly tone of voice Serena had ever heard from Traci. "We're quite a pair, at least our human ghosts are..."

She couldn't say any more or the patrons would overhear. The first to make it to the barstools were obviously a pair of tourists. They both ordered Guinness, then demanded to view the Cubs game.

For the next two hours until she took her break, Serena barely had time to think, let alone respond to anyone ogling her chest. And they obviously were. During one of the few moments of quiet, Traci whispered, "If you want to go home, be my guest. But you're doing better than I thought you would, for a newbie who got a double-whammy. I think half a dozen guys made a pass at you, staring right at your chest. You handled them well."

A human bus boy came to get the latest batch of dirty glasses and deliver more clean ones. "I wouldn't say that. I just plain ignored them. I was paying more attention to the mood in here." Serena rested her hands on the bar and raised her ears, turning them to listen to snatches of conversation. And the smell. Even the numerous furry employees and miasma alcoholic fumes couldn't obliterate the nervous human odors. Nobody was saying anything, though. There seemed to be less disruption than the previous year's Change, but only because of more secure energy supplies and the already depressed economy.

Serena swished her tail in agitation. The crowd was tense. As if they have already figured out what was happening to the world, but nobody wanted to say anything, for fear of being right. Several of the TVs were on commercial, with the now ubiquitous furry imagery. The clouded leopardess's tail was long enough to curl it up and over her shoulder. She absently started playing with the tip. It needed a brushing.

Traci gave her a nudge. "I know it's fascinating and feels strange right now, but it looks funny to humans."

"Would you prefer I play with my breasts?" Serena replied primly.

To Serena's surprise, Traci actually laughed. But with that, the lull was over and they were back to making cocktails.

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August 28, 2009

There were mice in the kitchen. Serena could smell their droppings, but they had eluded her for a week now. Her body's natural pose for a pounce wasn't too comfortable. Her breasts got squashed and sore after a while, so she tried a crouch, tail lashing behind her, lights off, curtains drawn. Around the apartment she rarely wore more than a thin camisole and a pair of boy-short panties. Even with both air conditioners running it was too hot for a furry. She normally slept in the nude, with no covers, in whatever position felt comfortable. Air conditioner number three was on order. Brooke had promised one at a huge discount, once the trucks started rolling again.

"Come on you little..." Serena growled, scanning the kitchen floor. Then she started to feel like a cartoon cat waiting for the mouse. But what would she do when she caught it? She was big enough to swallow it whole, bones and all. But that thought repelled her. Maybe she could learn to make mouse stew? Like that guy in that movie Never Cry Wolf Brooke kept talking about. Serena got to her feet again. Ick... just... ick! I'm going to the grocery store. Steaks don't need hunting.

The World Health Organization and the CDC had declared a Pandemic Alert, like the swine flu earlier in the year, though that one had quickly fizzled. Somehow she had out of the hospital, because God or whatever had basically altered all her records back to the birth certificate that now read Serena Kayla Frost, October 8, 1982. Whether she would have to wear a medalert bracelet was still up in the air. She preferred to go without that kind of stigma. That everyone saw her as Serena, family and friends included, was enough stress.

Even the photos on her hard drive showed that human girl now. As for her parents and other family, they still remembered Sean. And they weren't taking the Change well.

"Give it time," Chuck had said. "It's a greater shock to them than yourself. My mother still doesn't accept the 'loss' of her daughter, let alone accepted me as a 'replacement' son."

Serena had awoken at an early hour for her. Nine in the morning, since she needed to run several errands. Only a single trip to Target before the Shutdown so far. Traci had been very helpful, explaining how bras fit and which were most comfortable with furry breasts. The two felines spent a lot of time together both during and after work. Last weekend Traci had driven them up into Boston to window shop on Newbury Street. There was little else they could do, unfortunately. The world had shut down for almost a week and was only now returning to some semblance of normal.

Traci was leading her gently into womanhood, only moving as fast as Serena was comfortable with. It was the strangest friendship Serena could think of. Mutual indifference had been blasted out of the water. They were the only two felines on Rooney's staff, for one thing. Then Serena had asked Traci point blank if it was because she was a woman now, also.

With her characteristic precision, she had answered yes. It was the estrogen. "No offense, but we had nothing in common before. I mean, nothing," she had said a week before. The bar had been closed (to humans, at least) during the national shutdown.

"I get a pair of ovaries and suddenly we're inseparable?" Serena had replied without malice. Having friends in these circumstances was a good thing. Besides, it wasn't as if they'd hated one another.

"Look, Serena, I've never been able to relate to men. It's a personal failing. Some women can read them like an open book, but I just lack the skill. So once you became a woman also, something clicked in me. I can't explain it," was her apologetic reply. "You're a fascinating woman to be around.

"I like showing you and Brooke the ins and outs of being one. Frankly, you already act more feminine than you realize. I'm liking what I see. Maybe it's the hormones. Or you have a female brain now. Or both." She'd smiled cryptically. "Resistance is futile. One of us. One of us. One of us."

It was better to let bygones be bygones. Between the cougaress and Brooke, Serena had plenty of new friends to get through these tough times.

As for the old, still-human friends? A problem to solve later. Maybe they'd all change sex, too. Serena admitted she'd get a real kick out of that. And her friendship with Mike hadn't changed at all. She had spent one of the days of the shutdown helping him with a 1986 Cadillac Fleetwood for a fur in Boston.

Besides, being half feline was proving to be a much bigger problem.

Problem number one, grooming. While she didn't have the stereotypical feline aversion to water, humid New England summers were not conducive to drying off after a shower. While shaving her legs was certainly not an issue, most furries had retained some percentage of their sweat glands. This kept them cool, but made their fur matted and smelly if they stayed outside for any amount of time. There were solutions to that, though. Serena was about to get her fur thinned out.

Serena put on a cool almost-backless halter top with a built-in bra, and a short denim skirt borrowed from Traci. She hated it having to expose so much "skin" as humans would see, but it was strictly for hot weather comfort and not showing off. Skirts were cooler and didn't need modification for her tail. She shouldered her purse when her cell phone buzzed inside. Fishing it out from next to the lint brush, she flipped it open. It wasn't anyone on her calling list, so she answered with her full name rather than her initials. "Hello? This is Serena Frost."

"Miss Frost. Hello there," came the friendly male reply. "I'm Richard Sobel with the Boston Globe. I've learned that on the first day of the Sleeping Sickness outbreak a group of previous victims of the disease gathered at your workplace. There were also several people there who had freshly recovered from that illness on that very day. Could you comment on that?"

Shit, she thought. Somebody must have spilled the beans somewhere. "Have you tried contacting my employer, Mr. Sobel? You should really speak with him."

"Did you contract Sleeping Sickness, Ms. Frost? If so, what variant? I understand there are several dozen types with various animal side effects. Some are blaming this disease for the swine flu outbreak earlier this year, as there is a porcine variant."

"I really don't have time right now, Mr. Sobel. I have errands to run and a twelve hour shift ahead of me," Serena said, trying to be firm.

His tone of voice changed immediately. "I understand, Miss Frost. I'll contact you another time." He hung up.

"Okay. That was way too easy." The last thing she needed was some Intrepid Reporter poking his nose into her life. There had been rumors of real furries and especially the transgendered types flying around for years. Impossible for the government to contain. Twitter had been down for almost a week because of "server overload" but was back up again. She took a moment to smooth out her skirt.

There was another good reason for the skirt, and for that she was thankful. The now-yearly decay of the Veil was continuing apace, and many furries had some very difficult-to-explain clothing modifications in addition to the weird shoes they had to wear. She knew that there were large numbers of furs in the media, but it was a sword of Damocles over everyone's head. The government planned to go public with this in a little less than a year, but...

There was no place on Cape Cod discreet enough for the grooming she needed. She grabbed her purse and headed out to the Honda CR-X Mike had given her. Unlike her Civic SI hatchback, this one had seats modified for furs, with a tail hole in the back. Mike actually had a strong business in modifying vehicles in that regard, in addition to giving old cars "reFURbishment" as he'd called it. It ran well, and since gasoline had temporarily jumped back up to six dollars a gallon during the shutdown, seventy miles per gallon came in very handy.

After a thirty minute drive she arrived in Plymouth, her windshield-mounted GPS giving its stilted directions to the groomer's. It was somebody's house, and impossible to miss. There were cars parked up and down the street, and at least a dozen furries standing on the front porch. I'm glad I made an appointment, Serena thought.

The majority of furs ended up some species native to the continent. Serena's Chinese ancestry had made her what she was, since her species was native to southeast Asia. Those waiting included several deer, a tabby housecat, a bear, two rats, and another badger. This time male, so it couldn't be Brooke. Serena parked, then drummed her fingers on the steering wheel. Chuck had told her point blank that "licking yourself doesn't constitute a bath" and said that unless she wanted her hours cut, she needed to come here.

Serena nodded hello to the others waiting out front, and headed inside for her appointment.

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"I am never, ever going back there," Serena complained to Traci during their dinner break. Upon entering she'd discovered why everyone waited outside in the muggy heat. The indoors had smelled like her grandmother's living room, full of clashing sweet odors from vanilla oil and simmering floral-fruit potpourri. It was like stepping inside of a fruitcake. The women running the grooming service were a trio of Veil-free humans in their mid-50s and completely unaware that their clients had far better noses than they did.

They were friendly at first, complimenting her on her irregular spots, gorgeous hair, and stunning figure. "Then I introduced myself using my initials, like the other transgendered furs do. They gave me this astonished look, and their demeanor changed instantly." Serena paused and folded her ears back and took a hungry bite out of her hot dog, scissoring it savagely with her carnivore teeth. "I'm never doing that again. I've never been so patronized!"

"I've done all my own grooming," Traci replied. She wrinkled her nose at the cloying strawberry odor that surrounded her friend, pausing to take a sip of ale. "What happened next?"

Serena described the assembly line nature of the grooming in the basement. Clothes off, then a ten minute soak-and-scrub in a modified hot tub in the back yard. Next, the excess water was toweled off. Then came the jerry-rigged dryer setup. A half dozen pet dryers bolted to a metal shelf from top to bottom did the job in fifteen minutes, but left her all frizzed out. She'd needed help to brush herself down enough to fit back into her clothes. "That strawberry flea shampoo is horrible. It's going to take weeks to get rid of it," Serena grumbled. "But here's the worst humiliation. The absolute worst."

The leopardess stood up, then leaned forward with her hands on her knees. "They gave me a look like I was a six year old girl and said, and I quote," she switched to a cutsey tone of voice. "'You're a pretty kitty! Yes you are!'" Serena snarled. "It's like they thought I was some kind of pervert because I am what I am now. It cost me seventy five bucks!"

Traci groaned. "What a waste. If I'd known you were going I would've invited you over to my place. That shampoo is pretty ripe. I'm sorry they were so insulting."

Serena picked up a breadstick and broke it in half before devouring it and patting Traci on the shoulder. "Don't apologize. It's not your fault, Traci. But I'm never going use my initials again. I don't want anyone--or anyfur--to know I was a man before August 17th. It's a moot point and I just don't want the baggage. So from here on out I'm Serena Frost, just like my birth certificate says. I'd rather be thought of as a just another catgirl than endure that kind of prejudice again.

"I'll just do what comes naturally." She poked her tawny friend's shoulder and gave it an affectionate stroke. "Besides, I have a good teacher for girly stuff. It's not like I can completely ignore it."

The other feline nodded. "I think you're on the right track. But Serena, there's no pressure here, even from me. You don't have to act like you're swimming in estrogen. You'll pick up what works for you." She checked the clock on the wall. "We'd better get back down and reopen the bar. It's heavy down there tonight."

Since they worked such long shifts the bartenders all got ninety minutes of break time during the day. There were four full bars in the building, and there were normally three open at the same time. It was now just after nine in the evening. The two cats had taken one of the later dinner breaks. The sports bar was as crowded as Serena had ever seen it. Chuck was overjoyed and had called in additional help. The only issue was supplies, since not everything was back up and running yet.

"How much rum did we have left before we closed up?" Serena asked. Rum-and-Cokes were very popular tonight.

"One bottle of Bacardi and two of Captain Morgan," Traci replied. "I think we can persuade more patrons into the highballers. It'll keep them from getting rowdy anyway. That is, if we use the right kind of persuasion." The tawny cat smiled, then undid the top two buttons of her blouse.

Serena smirked. "Here I thought you didn't know how to read men."

"I don't, really, but I know how to make them read me the way I want them to. A little more cleavage, the right tone of voice, and you can talk them into almost anything. Just watch out for the girlfriends. We'll get an earful."

Since three quarters of the bar's patrons were men anyway, there wasn't that much danger. Serena chuckled and did likewise, going one button lower, and the cleavage limit Chuck would allow.

There was a familiar face waiting when they returned. "Brooke!" Serena exclaimed in relief, giving the female badger a hug from behind where she sat on the barstool. "Where have you been for three days? I've been worried."

"Oh, here and there," Brooke said. "Rum and Coke, if you please milady."

The patrons here were all dressed casually. Tank tops, tee shirts, baseball hats on the men, and summer dresses or even bikini tops for the minority of women who frequented the bar. Brooke stood out in her stereotypical little black dress, open down to the small of her back, where a sequined butterfly met the thin straps. Her hair had been redone from cornrows to a rather fancy updo with a silver comb holding the weave together. She sported silver bracelets and a chain necklace with a small emerald pendant. Her ears had been pieced in two places, a gold chain connecting the diamond studs in each hole. Someone had dressed her to the nines not too long ago. And there was an obvious masculine odor mixed in with her normal scent.

There was something very wrong here. She slumped on the barstool and there were signs of tears, though without any makeup to run it was difficult to tell aside from a salty odor.

"Give me a couple minutes, okay? Let me get these barhounds satisfied and we can chat," Serena said.

It was actually starting to quiet down a little now, since all four bars were open. Serena had spent part of her lunch hour counting her tips, which had gone up by fully a third over before her Change. Traci had smirked and called it a "booby prize" of all things. There weren't many orders to fill now. The clientele were too busy watching their games, or had a pleasant buzz on.

"You've been to Frederick's," Traci observed, eyeing the deep neckline with heaps of cleavage and six-inch slits on the thighs. "And with another fur."

Serena picked up Traci's meaning and gaped. "You went out on a date? Isn't that a little fast?"

Self loathing filled the badger's eyes as she stirred her highball glass of fizzing cocktail. She hadn't touched it yet. "I figured that if I was going to bite Eve's apple I might as well eat the whole thing. Yeah, I found this guy--a skunk--and we... uh... we..." she looked askance at Traci. "I ate the whole thing. Seeds and all."

Serena had to swallow to stifle her gag reflex, and immediately wished she hadn't.

"Oh dear. You wouldn't be the first to go that far so soon after a Change, Brooke," Traci said. She turned to Serena. "Can you handle the bar by yourself for a while, sis? I think I need to play Big Sister for a while."

The leopardess stared at Brooke, who looked very embarrassed and couldn't look at her in the eye. The dressed-up badger sucked up half her drink in one go before Traci went around front and led her away for a woman-to-woman chat.

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They still hadn't returned by eleven, but after the early rush people were starting to filter home. From where Serena stood, she could see the Hostess at the front door. She was cleaning off the bar when one of the female patrons nudged her. "Get a load of Clark Kent," she said.

A tall man with conservative brown hair, wearing a dress shirt, slacks, and a fedora had entered. He scanned the diminished crowd, then caught her eye. A flash of recognition crossed his face. He removed his hat and approached the Red Sox Room.

Who the hell could he be? Serena thought. There was no sense in pretending she hadn't seen him. So when he sat down on an open barstool she just smiled. "So, what'll you have, mister?"

"Miss Frost, I'm Richard Sobel," he said.

Serena didn't back off. There was a strong possibility he could see through the Veil. "Okay, Mr. Sobel. That's me. How did you know what I look like?"

"I Googled your name and found your account on Flickr," he replied.

All those pictures were public. Vacation photos, mostly. It made sense that her account name and any photos of Sean would have been changed also. There were probably a good number of herself--her human version--in a bikini from that trip to the Bahamas. Still... "That is really crass, Mr. Sobel."

"I know, you caught me. But I couldn't think of another way. And call me Rich, please," he continued in a voice that dripped with honey and a note of honest apology. He didn't make any comment about her appearance, oddly enough. Not that he had to, the way his eyes were roving over her. "This isn't about the story I called about earlier, Miss Frost. It's more a personal matter. Can we talk somewhere private?"

"Let me think about that, but I can't leave this bar right now anyway. I'm the only one here," Serena replied, repressing a growl. Driving sixty miles just to make a proposition to some girl didn't sit right. There was something else going on here and she couldn't be sure there was ill intent behind it. Perhaps it wouldn't matter so much. The Change had given her a way to easily defend herself. "Are you going to sit there admiring me or are you going to buy a drink?"

Sobel actually blushed. On his young face it looked endearing. "Oh, I'm sorry. I'm driving so I'll just have a regular Coke."

By midnight he was on his fourth soda and showed no sign of leaving. Rooney's was nearly empty now, though the bar was technically open until one, the last alcohol was served at midnight. Serena was busily making drinks for the few left when Traci and Brooke reappeared. Brooke had changed out of the little black dress and was in less form-fitting green Rooney's tee shirt and a pair of shorts. Aside from the necklace, the rest of her jewelry had been removed. And she looked more composed than before.

"I'll tell you about it later, Serena," Brooke said neutrally. She turned to Traci and gave her a long affectionate hug. "Thank you. Oh God, thank you."

"Any time," Traci said.

Brooke got a look at Sobel, who was politely looking the other way. "You look like Brandon Routh's and Christopher Reeves' love child," she said with a trace of her normal vitality. "If you squint and tilt your head a little."

"Superman is my role model," Richard replied. "I have to use the restroom. Thanks for the compliment, Miss." He nodded politely at the women then retreated.

Once he was gone there was only the three furry women in the room. Serena came around front and sat on the barstool next to Brooke. "Where have you been for three days? I've been worried sick!"

"I suppose you could say I've been 'girling'. I tossed everything masculine out the window and wallowed in it. Went way overboard," Brooke replied with regret. "Traci tactfully called it 'hormone shock'. You know how she is. I'll just call it cunt crazy. I've got it out of my system. Can I get some sweet vermouth? I'd really like some right now."

"It's after midnight. I can't serve any more alcohol," Serena said.

"Damn." The badger took a couple of sniffs. "Damn, girl! Where did you find that shampoo? Faugh!"

The leopardess chuckled. "That is a long story, and I'd rather hear yours."

Brook shook her head. Traci had obviously braided back in her cornrows. Her small triangular ears flicked. "No offense, but I've already spilled my guts once already tonight. I'll give you all the sordid details later. I will say this, though." She leaned in so the cat could pick up a whisper. "It's... just like Tiresias said it was. And salty. Yech."

"I'll drive you home," Traci said. "Chuck said I could knock off early tonight, Serena. Can you handle closing by yourself?"

"I'll be fine. Go, go! It got real quiet while you were talking and everyone else went home early. It's just me here right now."

"I'll tell you everything once I can get my head around it," Brooke added. She held the palms of her hands to her low forehead. "If I can get my head around it. Shit! I need to do something manly to balance this out. I'll give that horsy friend of yours you introduced me to a call tomorrow. Maybe he could use a hand fixing up that Caddy."

The Globe reporter came out of the Men's Room a discreet few minutes after Serena's friends left. He took his place on the barstool he'd claimed and looked around. Three of the four barrooms were shut now, and only a few die-hards nursing their last drinks sat in a corner booth. "Nice place you got here," he said conversationally.

Serena squirted some Barkeeper's Friend on the countertop and wiped it clean. "Okay, Mr. Sobel--"

"Rich."

"Okay, Rich it is. Say what you came to say. Do you want to interview me?"

"Actually, I'd like to tell you something that's going to sound a little crazy," he began. He took a nervous gulp of the last of his Coke. "And I'm just going to come right out and say it." He still hesitated.

"Well?" Serena said, feeling her claws twitch a little. He can probably see me...

"Well, no matter what my birth certificate says, I wasn't born a Richard. I was more of a... Rachel," he said, hands shaking. "About eight years ago I woke up one September morning, put on my bra and makeup as usual, then went to my first class my Sophomore year in college. I turned into a man on the way there. Right in the middle of the Harvard Quad."

Serena gaped. That was totally unexpected. "You... you what?" And he wasn't a furry?

"It's like Rachel never existed. Sure, I remember being her, so do my family and my close friends. But even her paper trail was replaced. Even my professors and other classmates didn't seem to remember, exactly, my original gender. It was just... weird! People just don't up and change sex on the way to class, do they?" Sobel said.

Since he definitely wasn't drunk, Serena wasn't sure if she could take him seriously or not. "Okay, 'Rachel', why are you telling me this?"

"I've researched this ever since, Miss Frost. That's why I became an investigative reporter. It's taken a long time and I've had a lot of false positives, but I think this has been happening for ages. Whatever is doing it damn well knows how to cover the trail. As of eight years ago I was Richard Sobel my entire life."

Serena pursed her lips as best she could. Okay, so he couldn't see she was a furry. But she had changed sex before changing species. Which had never happened before from what she'd read on the various TG Changed forums. She groped for something neutral to say. "Is there something wrong with being a man?"

"No! No. Of course not. But you wouldn't believe what that kind of change does to your social life," he replied with a half-hearted chuckle. Then he gave her a look. "Or, maybe you would."

Oh, boy. Oh, girl for that matter. What do I do? What do I say? "Well, I've always been Serena Frost," she replied, "just like you've always been Richard Sobel."

The way his eyes lit up was amazing to see. "Except you were only always Serena Frost a couple weeks ago? I..."

Chuck chose that moment to appear in the doorway. The coyote might have overheard, but was tactful enough not to show it. "I'm all locked up, Serena. New friend?"

"Maybe," she replied. She made a show of looking at Sobel from head to toe. "He's not bad looking."

"No, he isn't," Chuck agreed. He flicked his ears. "Look, we're technically closed, so if you two want to have something to drink, have some quiet time together, be my guest. I won't tell anyone. Just don't get smashed on the tequila. I'll know if you get rowdy."

"Thanks, Chuck. Good night."

Her boss nodded and headed for his flat upstairs.

Serena reached out with her handpaws and clasped Richard's hand between them. From the expression on his face he felt the fur and the pads, rather than human skin. Serena could feel the Veil fall away like a pane of broken glass. He stared at her face, her chest, her handpaws, dumbfounded, intrigued, and aroused. "Well, Rich, you're definitely on the right track," she said. "But I'm afraid that you're only halfway there."

She could see the gears turning in his head. He took his free hand and stroked the back of hers, confirming the fur was absolutely real. He even went so far as to touch the side of her muzzle. "Holy shit! How could I have missed this? I need a drink."

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"You haf four tits. Four," Richard Sobel said through an alcoholic haze, looking into her open shirt. "Four ov 'em. What's up wit that?"

Serena, who'd had a few shots of Jose Cuervo herself, shrugged. "I just do. Two breasts, four tits. Tits and tail." She looked down at her unbuttoned shirt and wondered where her skirt had gone. She was just in her shirt, loosened red tie, and her white satin panties. "I haven't had a drink since my change. Guess I can't hold my likker as well as a chick."

"AP's been sittin' on this story for a coupla years. 'M sure of it," Sobel continued. He tapped his empty bottle of stout from a local microbrewery. "Good stuff. Dead soldier, here. My dad always said. Heh."

Serena got two shot glasses, then using her feline agility despite being half drunk, leapt over to sit on the bar in front of him, legs hanging down. She set the glasses between her legs and poured one for herself. "You like tequila? I like tequila. Want some?" She made a show of pouring the first glass, holding the bottle with its pouring cap at breast-level. Her tie rested in her cleavage, the shirt open just enough to show her right nipple. She splattered a little on her tie. "Whoops."

"You ended up a pretty kitty. Thought I was lookin' at something from Alien Earth for a second. You know? That show on the Discov'y Channel? Humans evolved from big cats," he said with less slurring. He stood up and took an iPhone out of his pocket. "Do that again. I'll take a picture. You're absolutely gorgeous in that pose. Gorgeousprettykitty."

Coming from him, those two words sounded sincere. She liked him. Despite everything, she really liked Richard Sobel. He was handsome, endearing, intelligent, and she had little reason to doubt what he'd said about himself was true. Not after she'd gotten her tits-and-tail double whammy. Why couldn't someone simply change sex? Splattering a little of the golden liquid on the counter, swishing her tail behind, Serena smiled at Richard as he snapped the picture.

Richard lifted his glass, and Serena took hers. She raised it for a toast. "To Rachel Sobel," Serena said.

"To... uh..."

"Sean," Serena supplied.

"To Sean Frost."

Serena tried to find the right words through the alcoholic haze. There were times when something poignant was appropriate. She couldn't think of a better time, or a better companion for it. She was no Brooke, but Serena felt like doing something that felt appropriately feminine. To get her feet wet rather than dive off the deep end. The half-naked clouded leopardess got off the bar and sat on Richard's lap, draped her arms over his shoulders and gave him a little lick on the nose, then a long, tight hug before letting each other go.

"May they live on in both of us," Serena said. They clinked the glasses together and chugged them down in honor of their memories.

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August 29, 2009

Serena awoke in a sunbeam from her apartment's east-facing window. She realized she was all twisted up, arms and feet outstretched as she lay on part on her side, and part on her back. Her tail swished the low-pile carpet. The air conditioners hummed away. In one fluid motion she twisted and rolled so she was upright, then sat with her legs crossed, leaning back a little to face the sunlight. She wore not a stitch of clothing.

Richard must have brought me home, she thought. She was very thirsty, the only apparent effect of a hangover. Standing up she went to her kitchen and filled a bowl with cold water from the 'fridge, then started lapping it up.

When her bedroom door open she jumped, hackles raised, claws extended, turning to face the unexpected intruder. Richard stifled a yelp and shut the door again. "I'm sorry! I won't do that again 'til you're decent," he said, frightened.

She forced herself to relax, wondering how she must have looked to him. "I'm the one who's sorry, Rich. I'm still learning the ins and outs of being feline."

"With my luck I'll end up a fuzzy bunny rabbit," he replied, re-opening the bedroom door sheepishly. He hopped on the balls of his feet. "A tasty fuzzy bunny rabbit."

"I'd rather see you in spots or stripes myself, tiger," Serena mused, pulling on the panties and shirt she had left on the floor last night. The skirt was probably still on the floor at Rooney's. She was going to get an earful from Chuck when he found it. "Okay. I'm decent enough. I'm going to have to go in there to change clothes anyway, Rich."

He opened the door again, looking much the worse for wear than Serena felt. In the midmorning light there was less celebrity resemblance. And he seemed older, maybe mid to late twenties. He wore his own dress shirt, now very rumpled, whose tail went down over his front. "I'm sorry I couldn't carry you all the way to your bed. When I got in I accidentally dropped you on the floor, but you just curled up into a ball and started purring. Nothing else happened, honest."

"I believe you, Rich. I do," she reassured. She hadn't buttoned her shirt back up, but after what he'd seen last night, she didn't feel too body shy. "You've been a gentleman through and through."

"After I changed my parents spent a year pounding that into me," Richard said. "Had to re-learn everything from the ground up. Whatever changed me into a man didn't conveniently tell me how to act and react, or little things like how to shave." He snorted then looked at the clock on the wall, squinting in the sunlight. "Where's my iPhone? I'd better make sure my boss didn't toss anything new into my inbox that has a deadline."

"I'll put on some normal clothes, if you don't mind."

"You know, I see you as a human now. That ghost, as you called it, returned when we left the bar," he said, pushing buttons on the touch screen. "For a second I saw you as you really are when you snarled at me. Serena, you're very pretty either way. Maybe it was all that tequila."

"Maybe," Serena replied, trying to remember the newbie reading material she'd been given. There had been at least fifty furs in the bar fairly recently. Weren't there warnings about having that many in one place? Some kind of disaster of a convention a couple years ago. "Back in a few minutes. I don't have much of a wardrobe yet. And it's mostly tank tops, halters, or camisoles. Just too hot for anything else."

The black-haired man didn't look up from his iPhone. "To be honest I don't know much about women's clothing any more."

Serena was fussing with the clasp on her front-close bra when her own cell phone rang. She let go and allowed the bra to hang loose. The ringtone was "Kokamo" by the Beach Boys, which meant it was Chuck calling. "Hello?"

"You get your pretty girly ass over here right now!" Chuck growled into his phone. "I told you to lay off the Cuervo! You didn't clean up after yourself and damned if I'm going to make Katie do it. There's a Sox game starting in an hour and I want that bar spotless!"

"Gimme five minutes, Mr. P. Just five minutes." She hung up on him and fastened her bra, a plunging V-neck tank top, threw on the nearest skirt at hand, and didn't bother with any shoes. Rich was finished with his phone conversation when she came out. "We left a mess last night. My boss is pissed and I need to go clean up before we open."

"Need a ride?" he asked.

"Faster to run, actually."

"I'll lock up and see you there in about ten minutes, then." He grimaced. "Hope we didn't..."

Serena was already out the door and leaping down the outside stairs. She had never moved like this before, and the heaving motion of her breasts was an unwelcome distraction. The bra wasn't quite up to the task of a sprinting leopardess. The straps dug into her shoulders through the fur at the low point of each bounce. There were times when Serena thought they'd hit her on the chin.

People stared as she ran by. A barefoot woman in a short skirt, wearing a tank top wasn't something a lot of men wouldn't stop to watch. By the time she was halfway there that bra and shirt were soaked through.

Her coyote boss was waiting for her at the back door, scowling. Serena entered without a word, went into the Red Sox Room and got a look at the damage.

There were a half dozen empty bottles of microbrew, one of Jose Cuervo, and a dozen unused shot glasses. Her uniform skirt lay on the floor in front of the bar. Serena had a vague memory of sitting on Richard's lap with his face buried in her cleavage. Purring.

Her tie hung over one of the ceiling fan blades overhead.

Polinsky's scowl faded as she only needed fifteen minutes to clean things up. Only after he inspected the bar did the coyote's anger visibly cool. "Efficient, as usual. I think you've picked up some habits from Traci since you've been working with her."

"I hope we didn't get too noisy last night, Chuck," Serena said apologetically.

He lolled his tongue in a canid grin. "Actually all I heard was some playful giggling. It was nice to hear you happy, and since there's nothing broken..."

"I owe you about fifty for the beer and the tequila."

"What you owed me was a clean, ready-to-open bar. I have that now, so it's on the house. I'm glad you and your new boyfriend had such a great time."

"He's not my..." the denial died on her lips. "Okay, I guess he is."

"Good catch, too. If I was still a woman I would've snatched him up, myself."

Serena self-consciously folded her arms under her sweaty breasts. "Do you think I'm going too fast? I mean, after that lecture you gave me?"

The shorter coyote shrugged. "There isn't a checklist, Serena. If you want to jump right in as a straight woman, be my guest. Just keep some condoms in your purse."

"I'll keep that in mind. See you Monday." After what Brooke had done the past three days, Serena was going to wade into that estrogen ocean at a much slower pace.

Behind the bar was a new, silver Honda Fit. Richard sat inside, and leaned over to open the passenger door. The leopardess examined the seat. She had to curl her tail around her waist to get anywhere near comfortable. She turned the air conditioning on full blast and the vents on herself. "Nice car."

"It's like driving a soap bubble, but I like how it looks. Distinctive," he replied. He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel. "I hate to ask this, but can you ask your boss if he'd be willing to let me interview him? The Globe is looking at the CDC's response to Sleeping Sickness, and since there was a large gathering of 'victims' here, all apparently healthy after their--ahem--recovery. Healthy as a horse, even."

She ignored the pun. "I'll ask him, but I can't make any promises. Where did you get a change of clothes?"

Richard had dressed in shorts and a polo shirt, managing to still look very professional even in a casual outfit. "I'm a reporter, Serena. I always keep a packed bag behind the back seat. I never know when I need to go somewhere. I've had this car a month and there's already a couple thousand miles on it."

It took some convincing--Chuck had already gotten calls from local papers as well as the New York Times. "What's one more? Since you're here, Mr. Reporter, ask away. You're a Friend now, just keep any mention of furries out of it. I have something I need to give you from the Feds on this, too."

"I'll be in the Red Sox Room waiting for you, Rich," Serena said.

She sat on the barstool Rich had occupied the night before. It still smelled like him. She took a lowball glass and filled it with water. The air as she had cleaned felt a little strange. She waved her hands in front of her, where she had sat on the bar the night before. Strange, she thought. There was an air pocket where the texture somehow felt different, if air could have a texture. It was smoother.

"Do that again," Richard said. About ten minutes had passed. He looked upset, but was holding it in.

"Do what again?"

"Wave your hands there. I thought I saw paws again. Handpaws, anyway."

Serena obediently put her hand into the "smooth" area then extended her claws a couple times. "How's that?"

"It's... bigger, I think. A little bit. It was about the size of a basketball before. Is this something new?"

The leopardess tried to quell a rising panic. "Hey, Chuck! Get one of the human staff members in here, quick!"

"What? Why?" the coyote replied from upstairs.

"I need to check something important! I think we're losing the Veil in the Red Sox Room!"

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The first to arrive was a small team from MIT that said they were supposed to look into an event like this, should it ever happen. They arrived with a van full of equipment. Polinsky shut the Red Sox Room reluctantly, despite the hole in the Veil. "What possibly could have done this?" the coyote asked. "Serena, you and your boyfriend were in there all night. What were you two doing in there?"

"We cuddled a little. That's all," Serena said, blushing under her fur. Her ears felt hot.

The coyote's brown eyes narrowed. "Forgive me if I don't completely trust your recollection of that. I know how you guzzled Cuervo before you Changed. You can't hold your liquor nearly as much as a woman. I'm sure of that. From the scent on the glasses you only had three shots."

Serena held her palm-pads to her eyes. "Look, I'm sorry. What am I supposed to do now? I remember sitting where that 'hole' is last night. Richard and I were, uh, toasting the memories of our, uh..."

"Your what, Serena? Plural? Your boyfriend's not furry yet."

"I'm sitting right here, Mr. Polinsky," Richard said.

"You're hiding something, I can smell it," the coyote said, scowl returning. "Cough it up. It could cost me my bar."

"You might as well tell him, Rachel," Serena said, using Richard's female name to make her point. "It's not like it's something you need to hide."

Richard snorted. "You're right, Sean. Okay, Mr. Coyote sir, here's the short version..."

As Richard told her boss what he had told Serena, the leopardess watched the team from MIT set up several lasers to crisscross the hole in the Veil. It was hard to decide which was more fascinating, the MIT furs or stunned expression on her boss's canid face as Richard ended up going into more detail than he had with her the night before.

"Do you see that?" the female raccoon said excitedly. "Refraction!"

"It's about a meter wide now..." the human muttered, writing down observations. He looked about twenty five, and Chinese, though his English was perfect with only a trace of accent. "I'm sorry, what?" he said to his companion.

She grabbed him by his shirt collar and dragged him over to the growing hole, where she used a small smoke machine to illuminate the beams. Even from across the room Serena could see that the narrow lasers were offset enough inside the hole that the beams looked broken into three segments. On the other side the beam continued on to the walls. "We're going to need some quantum spackle for this job," she quipped. "We've got a hole in reality!"

"You sure about that, Nikki? That isn't any kind of refraction effects I've ever heard of," her partner said, removing his glasses. "Sit in there, will you? I want to see if I can see you in the fur without these. Frankly, you've got it bass-ackwards. It's the hole showing actual reality. I think the RDF is just an overlay of some kind. It's supposed to hide you furs from us future furs. So have a seat, neh?"

Serena folded her arms. The air felt stranger in here now, as if she was wrapped in loose plastic. Chuck looked like he felt it, too. He started rubbing his forearms, as if trying to peel it away. The fur on the back of his neck pricked up, with Serena's following a second or so later.

The CSI-style lasers suddenly looked chopped into dozens of segments, as if the Veil had started to shred to pieces, or shatter like glass. It took only seconds, the air shimmering like off of hot blacktop, but the lasers were quickly in straight paths again. What the shattering left behind was a feeling like fresh, cool air, of all things. Serena felt invigorated, energetic, as if the Veil had kept her from feeling fully at ease with herself. She wrapped her arm around Richard's waist and leaned against him, trying not to purr.

Richard stopped midsentence and stared at the both of them. "I see you are you really are now. Both of you. What's happening?"

The raccoon had the biggest oh-shit expression on her face Serena had ever seen. "Zhao, call Veil hotline. I mean right fucking now!"

The rest of the sports bar was open. Each room had large glass windows that went from halfway up the wall to the ceiling, making it easy to see what was going on in the other rooms. A curtain had been drawn for privacy. Chuck stood up in the booth threw it open. Serena expected him to start swearing, instead he stood completely still.

It was too much. Serena stood so she could have a look too.

A strange tableau. Patrons and employees alike had stopped where they were. Frank was serving drinks two a young couple obviously out on a date. There was no panic, no screaming, just vast confusion on the humans' faces. Frank started wagging his tail.

The next few moments would likely decide how everything would go. Voices were muffled, but Serena heard him speak pretty clearly. "Um.. uh... can I have my Mai Tai, please?" the young man said. "Just... hand it over?"

The husky lifted the drink off the serving plate, setting it down in front of him. The woman's drink looked like a Long Island Iced Tea. Or perhaps just regular iced tea. Serving done, he held the serving plate by the rim. "Can I get you anything else?"

"Uh... some hot wings," the man said. "Make 'em real hot. My girlfriend and I eat jalapenos straight. Look, we're Friends, okay? Is the Veil gone?"

"Who the hell knows?" Frank visibly relaxed and dutifully noted that down in his order book. Some patrons were starting to leave, but not nearly as many as Serena thought. Others, all of them locals, still appeared to be turning over what they were seeing in their minds, trying to fit it into their world. There were an unusual number of furs on Cape Cod to begin with, probably due to the seasonal nature of the employment here.

"I don't hear anyone rushing for the doors," Richard said. "Ack! Your tail's tickling my nose, Serena."

"You're a dog, Frank," one of the thirtysomething female locals said. "And..." she looked around the room. Three other furry employees were in there also. "A whitetail doe, and a... what the hell are you?" she pointed at a waitress.

Barbara had a long nose, large triangular ears, a tawny coat, leopard-like spots, and a long stripy tail. "Common Genet."

Polinsky hopped out of the booth and walked into the Patriots Room. When he opened his mouth Serena was inexplicably reminded of Ross Perot. "Okay, everyone, here's the deal..."

The genet's cell phone beeped just then. She pulled it out of her apron pocket and flipped it open. The sound she made was something like a squeak, something like a chitter. "Oh dear. Chuck, it's not only us. Just got a text from a friend in Chicago. Another hole, and a big one. As of now, we're outed." It beeped again. "And the city isn't on fire yet. This is a good thing."

Serena couldn't help smirking at Richard and tickled his nose with her tail tip. "Looks like you've got a big scoop for the Globe, Rich. Get out your pen and your press creds."

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August 31, 2009

There were more holes in other cities, worldwide. From San Diego, to Seattle, to Boston and Miami, there were holes in the Veil ranging from a few yards wide to a few miles. The largest number were centered around Chicago, site of the first furries to show up in the world. They even appeared in places like Lagos, Nigeria; Katmandu, Nepal; and one large enough to cover the entire McMurdo base in Antarctica, where there were a half dozen furs on the research staff there already.

Rooney's and Hyannis in general became the de facto gathering place for furs in the state. Family members came with them, and after them were the Friends (Or Known, in some circles) and the merely curious.

Curious, not panicked, not an frightened mob. There were no torches and pitchforks. Nobody threatened anyone. Maybe it was just too surreal. Maybe being flooded with furry imagery in just about every medium for years had prepared people for this. If so, it was an incredible success. Serena said so over and over again to Richard as they'd loafed around in her apartment all day Sunday.

"Less unlikely than getting a penis between the student union and your history class, Sean?" he'd replied.

In private they'd taken to calling each other by the names ROB had edited out. "Guess not."

Four million wasn't a small number by any means. CNN had reported that the medical community had known something was up for several years now, but had only gotten the means to properly treat the Changed early this year. The feeling so far among the Changed community was profound relief.

On Sunday night President Hutchinson gave a speech that essentially explained everything that was known so far. Serena couldn't recall that much of it. Just some very firm words there would be no rounding up of citizens, no property taken, and no violations of persons under the guise of removing deadly weapons. No forced declawing. But Congress was going to investigate the actions of a committee created to address "Sleeping Sickness" only last September.

Brooke had her eyes on Representative Sandrick. There were now eleven Changed in Congress.

Monday morning Serena rose early again and dressed in a tee shirt and a longer skirt. It was up in the air that Rooney's would be able to reopen until the state health inspectors came in and declared it clean. She called Chuck as soon as she was out of bed. The coyote had said they were going over the place with a fine-tooth comb. But he actually sounded optimistic. "I've passed every inspection since I bought the place, and there were furs working here before then. And the Veil never did cover shed fur."

The hole in the Veil around Hyannis was about a two miles wide--or about three kilometers to the rest of the world. There was a much smaller one in downtown Boston, only a couple hundred feet in diameter, in an apartment building where a few dozen furries had rented flats in defiance of the recommendation not to concentrate so many in one place.

Serena felt relaxed. She had spent much of Sunday dozing--catnapping, really--or talking with her boyfriend as he came in an out, interviewing locals. A worldwide media circus, a perfect storm for local and international media alike. Many of them were furries themselves. She made Rich and herself breakfast--lunch for him--waiting for that call. "I feel like a housewife. Would you like syrup with your pancakes, dear?"

Rich raised one eyebrow, but didn't comment. "I should head back to Boston and see my editor face to face. I think I've wrangled all I can out of the locals here," Rich said.

"Didn't the Feds want to talk with you about your own experience?"

"They can do it just as easily from my office. Frankly, I don't think they believe me. Nobody ever has, until I met you and your boss. They have bigger fish to fry right now anyway." He watched her for a few minutes. "You know, you and the other Changed look like you're enjoying yourselves now."

"A lot of pent up pressure and worry's been released." She lifted up the pan and flipped the pancakes with a quick flick of her wrist.

Rich shook his head. "No, that's not quite it. Hard to pin down. You're more fluid, more natural when you move, like you've thrown off some uncomfortable restrictive clothing. More feminine in your case, Sean. Isn't more angst normal for transgendered furs?"

"Screaming and crying wouldn't change a thing, now would it? I see no reason why I can't accept myself as a woman. I'm actually having fun on this side of the fence. Especially with the Veil gone. I'm a sexy girl.

"I'm just more worried about the cat in me than the woman. On the gender-side I'm on a well-trodden path, you know," Serena said. She slipped the pancakes off the griddle onto a plate. "I've told you that before, Rachel. I don't see why I should angst over something that's a known quantity. How long did it take you? Years? Months?"

"Well, during that year of 'be a man' training my Dad thought it'd be a good idea to catch up on twenty years of my being his daughter instead. Comes with being an only child, I guess. Fishing--lots of fishing--hiking, hunting, sports, you name it. I don't think I had time to miss my breasts or my womb after the first month." The Globe reporter chuckled. "And there's stuff I just don't miss. I won't make you guess. I'm sure you already know."

"Well, you ended up a good man. Tell your Dad your Pretty Kitty said that. Food's ready."

He stood up and walked over to his plate. "Mind cooking that sausage a little more? It's kind of on the raw side."

By noon Chuck still hadn't called, so Serena called him. "Still waiting. Doubt we'll hear anything today. But they're not exactly stopping us from being partly open, at least to other furs."

"Do you need me to come in?" she asked.

"No, I have Traci here and a few others. Tonight might be another story. If you have any plans for today try and be back by seven or eight," the coyote said.

"You want to come into Boston with me? I don't mind carting you back tonight," Richard asked, obviously overhearing the conversation.

"Sounds like a good idea to me, Rich," she replied, handpaw over the phone. She uncovered the handset. "I'm going up north with my boyfriend for a few hours, Mr. P. I won't be back until nine at the earliest."

Her boss chuckled. "Take the night off. I think you need some 'we time' with him. Get to know each other better. Let him scratch behind your ears. That sort of thing."

"I think I can arrange that. See you tomorrow, Mr. P." She hung up. Richard didn't need to say a thing. "I'm going to pack an overnight bag."

There was a store in Boston proper that catered especially to furs that hadn't been open during the Shutdown. Serena sighed. "Guess I do need to some shopping, as stereotypical as that sounds. I'd like some shorts that fit my tail. Tired of skirts and dresses." Think I'll call ahead. That place on Newbury is probably swamped.

"I think the media zoo's calmed down a little. Let's see if we can slip out on a side street," Richard said.

Since Serena knew the area so well she knew all the back roads. They drove east, and quickly arrived at the edge of the bubble--or hole--in the Veil. The MIT team from yesterday were the only people there, in this quiet neighborhood hidden in the oak and maple. Two others had joined them. One of them was a panda (female) and the other another human. The panda and Zhao were conversing in Chinese. Rich parked about twenty feet short of the apparent boundary. "Hey there. Anybody bothered you here?"

Zhao recognized Richard, and especially Serena. "Just some kids watching our furred classmates walk back and forth across the border. We're still trying to quantify the Field effects. So far the only way to detect it if you're not a fur is the refraction effect with the laser."

"But it's damned hard when the border keeps moving. Bubble's growing what? A meter an hour?" the raccoon said. One of the bigger CSI lasers sat some distance in front of the border. The beam was barely visible, but the movement of the Hole border was just on the edge of perception.

"At least," Zhao agreed. He pointed down the road. "See that chalk mark? That's where it was when we got here."

Curious herself, Serena got out of the Fit. The chalk mark was about fifty feet behind where Richard had parked. As she peered at where she thought the border was, the panda said something to her in Chinese. The bartender looked at her. "I'm sorry, what?"

"You're a clouded leopard," the panda said. "You're not from China? Thailand, maybe?"

"My grandmother was from China. But I don't speak a word." Her grandmother had fled when Mao and his ilk took over. "Sorry. I know I stand out."

The panda grimaced. "Oh, I'm sorry. My mistake."

Serena watched as the raccoon in the lab coat walked back and forth across the moving Hole border, shivering with each crossing. She dutifully wrote down her observations with a notepad. She wondered if the raccoon had met Traci when she was at the bar. "What's that feel like?" Serena asked.

"Walk across and feel it for yourself. It's like putting on a pair of nylons that don't fit, or a bra. Know what I mean?"

The leopardess smiled brightly. "Not yet. See you around."

Richard drove through the border slowly. Serena felt like she'd been smacked in the face with plastic wrap and gasped for air. For a few moments it was difficult to even breathe. Richard pulled over. "Should we turn back? You appear human again."

A few deep breaths and Serena felt more herself again. "No, I'm fine. Really, I'm okay! Just keep going. I'll have to see if someone's started mapping holes on Google Maps, though. That wasn't pleasant."

The reporter took his handy notepad out of his shirt pocket and noted those facts down. "I won't attribute anything to you, okay? But this is info other furs should know."

She couldn't find anything to disagree with there. She pointed at the road in front of them and patted Richard on his shoulder. "Drive, boyfriend."

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Barrett Clothiers had been closed during the Shutdown, just like ninety percent of non-critical businesses. Located in a brownstone basement on Boylston Street, only a couple blocks from the Boston Public Library. The owners had been furs for several years now and had been highly recommended on the Forums. Just how many furs had taken that to heart was evident. The police had cordoned off the block where the store was located. And as they got closer to it in Richard's Fit, Serena felt the tingle that indicated there was a bubble here.

"You look like yourself again," he said. There were some police standing near the border of the expanding bubble. Richard rolled down his window. "How big is this one?" he asked an officer.

"Just these two blocks, sir. I..." his eyes widened on seeing Serena. "There's a big crowd of you furry people out front of that store. I suggest dropping her off and finding somewhere else to park. We're keeping human folk out who aren't next of kin or spouses."

Richard fished his press credential out of his pocket and showed it to the man. "I'm covering her shopping trip, officer."

"Just show that to the guys on the sidewalk and they'll let you in, Mr. Sobel. Frankly I don't think it's worth the wait. My wife changed a couple weeks ago and she decided to whip out the scissors and thread. She'll do it a hell of a lot cheaper than those price-gouging thieves."

"Thanks for the offer, officer," Serena said to the black man. "I'll keep that in mind. I never learned to sew."

There were few cars in the cordoned-off block. Richard stopped in front of the storefront, where there wasn't really that much of a lineup. "This doesn't bode well. Did the Forums say anything about price gouging?"

"No, but it wouldn't surprise me if there was a run. They're supposed to be very good. Can't hurt just to browse."

The reporter looked at the dashboard clock. "I didn't think there'd be this much traffic. I'd better head to the office. I'll take the T back here in about an hour. Can you handle yourself, Sean?"

"I'll be fine, Rachel. It's not like I haven't been around people in this body. See you then." She made sure to grab her purse and got out of the car. There wasn't a line any longer, so she strolled right inside. It smelled like Febreze and frustration.

While there was no line outside, the inside was still full of people, humans and furs alike. The racks were neatly organized, with a picture on top of each one showing a picture of feline, canine, or "other" types of tails. The left side was men's, the other women's. The clothing there was hardly sparse. There clearly wasn't a shortage now. But from the groans and growls as they looked at price tags, the store's reputation was taking a massive hit.

"This is highway robbery!" a lynx snarled. "I was just in here with my wife two weeks ago! You've tripled your prices!"

The owner was a gray fox, about the same height as the lynx and three inches shorter than Serena. The vixen blinked placidly. "Shouting won't do you any good, sir. It's a growing market so I'm sure someone cheaper will spring up. But my clothes are made of all American cotton. You do want to buy American, don't you?"

"A hundred bucks for a freaking pair of shorts!" he shouted.

"These are designed with our new physiology in mind, and sir, you don't have much tail to begin with," the fox said, looking down her nose at her customer. "Though I admit I haven't had an opportunity to get a good look at lynx or bobcat tails yet. If you're willing to let me take some measurements I'll discount it by half."

Serena couldn't afford to buy anything here, but she found a pair of Capri pants in the Feline section that she wanted to try on anyway. I hope I'm reading this size right. Traci, you've been a good teacher. There was a familiar badger odor inside. "Brooke!"

"Serena? Fancy smelling you here!" she replied behind one of the doors. Cloth rustled behind the door. "Gimme a few. Wait until you see this dress..."

"If it's anything like the one you wore for your date..." Serena said.

"Oh, it's better. More... me. Ready? I'm coming out."

It was a lot easier to accept Brooke for the woman she was now. Neither of them had known each other as men before their Change. So, in a way it was easier for them to experiment with being a woman around one another for just that reason. No pressure. The leopardess tried to think of something to say. "It's... purple."

"Grapevine is what it says on the tag," Brooke supplied, twirling around. "Lovely, isn't it? And it's not going to cost me an arm and a leg."

"You do realize that--"

"My boobs are the only thing holding it up. Pretty cool, huh? It's a bra top. I think I can pull a Marilyn Monroe pose in this--"

"Brooke," Serena interrupted for a change. "Doesn't this feel strange to you in any way? It doesn't feel wrong to prance around in women's clothing?"

"I'm a woman, aren't I? So're you. Why would it? You're the one who's worried about the cat bits, kitty girly girl... Holy shit! What's going on up front?"

The police must have unblocked the street and not notified the store owners. But it wasn't an angry mob flooding in. It was people dressed in animal ears and tails, taking pictures with a blinding strobe of flashes. Serena chuffed irritably and shaded her eyes with her forearm. "Who the hell are they?"

"Damned annoying! That's what," Brooke said. A woman wearing a facsimile of badger ears approached her. "Will you put that camera down!"

"I knew it was real! I knew it!" the young woman squealed, reaching out and grabbing Brooke's forearm. "You're all real!"

"Yes, we are," the badger replied, jerking her arm away. "Look but don't touch. What the hell are you? Some kind of furry groupie?"

"Look, lady, we have enough problems right now," Serena said, arms folded and ears back in warning.

"Hey, are you really men under all that fur? It shows, you know," the groupie continued in the same bright, cheery tone of voice. "It's totally obvious. You don't stand right. And you're not wearing that dress right, either."

"I said," Serena snarled, curling her lips. She flexed her claws and thought she heard tearing fabric, but her anger forced her to ignore it. "Leave us ALONE!"

The woman cringed and backed away. "Sorry! I'm sorry! Don't hurt me!"

"Do you think we're wearing costumes?" Serena continued, snarling. "Do you think these tits aren't real?" She almost tore off her shirt in her anger, but Brooke put a restraining hand on the leopardess' forearm. "It's not like I asked for this!" Brooke gripped more tightly, her claws digging into her skin.

Serena automatically cuffed her on the side of her muzzle. The female badger hissed in shock, and reacted with a sharp swipe of her own. Her claws tore right through Serena's tee shirt, making her roar with shock and pain.

Before they could do any more damage to each other, Brooke and Serena were grabbed from multiple directions by other furs and forcibly separated. They dragged them out the back door, with more cameras flashing. "Calm down!" a female equine voice rumbled. "Come on, cat! Shut it down!"

Breathing hard, Serena struggled to contain her anger. Then she realized that she had almost hurt that furry groupie, and worse, had actually hurt Brooke. "Oh shit..."

"That hurt you bitch!" Brooke snarled back. "Get the hell away from me! You slashed my face!"

Serena's sudden anger just as quickly turned to sobs. Just then, the vixen owner stormed in. "You owe me two hundred bucks for the ripped Capris, you nut! Pay up and don't you dare come back!"

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September 2, 2009

"Take a vacation," Chuck said, not too subtly suggesting she lay low for a while.

"Get out of town for a while," Traci suggested.

Brooke wasn't saying anything. She refused to answer her cell phone, even when Traci made the call. The weather outside continued warm, not too hot, and dry. There were just a few fluffy cumulous clouds, the weather defiantly refusing to reflect her mood. The only positive sign was that she apparently--maybe--wasn't going to press assault charges. The bandages on Serena's left shoulder covered a shaved area and several deep slashes that required six stitches. Serena hoped she hadn't hurt Brooke's face as much.

The worst was that somebody had recorded it and put up about a minute of the fight up on YouTube. Though they had taken it down quickly enough, it didn't take long for it to make the rounds on the internet. The local news had picked it up, but Serena learned that hers was hardly the only "Fur Fight" incident happening recently. All had happened inside the holes in the Veil. "You're lucky this got lost in the noise," Richard said. "World's going furry crazy."

But it wasn't going crazy crazy. The whole thing was getting folded into world culture, as if there was another version of the Veil put in place as the old one quickly decayed. A weirdness censor. She folded her arms tightly under her breasts and looked out the window, all three feet of tail lashing across the window seat. "I'm trying to be an adult about this and not an angsty teenager, Rachel. I really am. I just can't get past the scent of her blood on my claws."

"You have those cuts on your forearm. I think she probably squeezed you pretty hard on accident, from what I was able to piece together from witnesses. Her claws weren't clipped. And she's not pressing charges."

"Yet," Serena said darkly.

"Now you're acting like a sulky teenage girl, Serena. Stop moping and do something! Brooke's an adult, herself. You're both in an exceptional situation. I'm sure this has happened before between furs. It can't be the first time."

"All the same, I think I need to let things cool down. There's no more calls bugging me for an interview, are there?"

"Not with me as your press agent." Richard poured hot water from a steaming kettle over a bag of tea. With the weather so nice, even a few hints of Fall here and there, all the windows were open. "Yeah. Everyone's talking about economic fallout from the Shutdown instead of the world going furry. The politicians think it's more of an economic opportunity than anything. It's just a broken window fallacy if you ask me."

She looked at her handpaw, flexing her claws in and out. Before the incident she hadn't clipped them for a few days. Now they were as close to a nub without drawing blood. "I should've been a deer, or something. Maybe I should get declawed."

"You're doing it again, Serena. Have some tea, after it's cooled off." He handed her the steeping liquid.

"I miss hot drinks," the clouded leopardess said, accepting the mug. She blew the steam off the top. The mug warmed her handpaw pads. "Kitty lips and these teeth make things complicated. Every place I've looked online are out of muzzle cups."

Half an hour later, with half the cooled tea downed with a careful pour through a funnel, Serena decided to try Brooke's number one more time. Not that she expected more than the last five tries. "Please, pick up. Brooke, please..."

"Hullo, Serena." There was a wealth of information in those two words. Doubt, more than anything. Doubt mixed with sorrow and worry. Not a trace of anger. "Traci got a hold of me, finally. I haven't been home and left my cell phone here. Needed to be alone for a while. Had a swim."

"I understand," Serena replied. "Brooke, I--"

"I'm so, so sorry! I'd never clipped my claws! Traci told me you needed stitches!" She was almost shouting into the phone.

"It's not that bad, really," Serena said.

"Bullshit, kitty cat!"

"What about your face? Did I--"

"Barely a scratch. Only drew a little blood," Brooke interrupted, voice shaking. "Why didn't I keep my claws clipped? Why didn't I? Oh God, I can't even look at myself in the mirror. I'm just a fucking animal!"

Brooke's rental was only a block away. Serena was already heading out the door, dashing madly for the badger's home. "You're not an animal, Brooke! No more than I am! Did you see the look on that woman's face when I snarled at her? If you hadn't--"

"You're coming over now, aren't you? I'll open the door," Brooke said between sniffles. "If you're worried I'm going to kill myself or something--"

Serena reached her door. Her friend opened it just as she dashed up. "I would have done it yesterday. I almost swam out to sea and let myself drown."

Brooke smelled like sea salt, and her fur was matted. She wore only a robe to cover herself and hadn't even bothered to close it in front. Serena came inside at her beckoning then gave her a close hug, despite the pain in her shoulder. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Serena said. "Everything shat on me at once in there. I just reacted."

"Join the club. If those horsey gals hadn't been there I don't know when it would've stopped," Brooke said, patting her carefully on the back. "Are you okay? I don't want to open those stitches."

"I'll be fine once you get yourself cleaned up and we head to Rooney's. I think the best thing right now is for us to be seen with one another to show there's no hard feelings." Serena let go and checked the bandage. There would be scarring, but once her coat grew back in there'd be no sign the marks were even there.

"Serena, you're a better woman than I am without even trying." Brooke pouted, a neat trick with a badger's face.

"That's the point. I'm not trying like you've been. One way or another folks are going to notice. The gender-changers have been media darlings even more than the regular furs. So I'm just being me."

Brooke looked at the floor, pondering what to say next. "Frankly, so am I. But I'll try it your way. Nice tank top, by the way. Makes your assets very bouncy."

The leopardess felt her ears grow hot. "Let's just take care of that bath of yours and go over to Rooney's. I think if people see us together we'll stop the rumors."

"And your boyfriend can film us having fun and put it on YouTube. I'll be in the shower."

Serena sank down on Brooke's couch as she was left alone in her living room. It's okay, sister. Just one day at a time.

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November 15, 2009

Serena awoke at the scent of another cat.

The clock-radio on the nightstand glowed 4:05, only a couple hours since she'd arrived at her new home in the Plymouth Bubble. On the bed next to her Richard sighed and rolled over. He had learned to sleep without covers quickly. They shared a king-sized bed, which he complained she frequently managed to take over during the night.

She licked her nose and sniffed again, then looked at the peaceful form of her boyfriend next to her.

There was a bulge in his pajamas, but since his back was to her, it couldn't be the obvious. There were no signs of feminine curves, at least not yet. She rolled him over on his back to see if he had breasts, just in case.

He awoke before she could awake him. Richard's eyes glowed greenly. "What..? Are you okay, honey?" he rumbled. His face was already starting push into a muzzle. The changing human sat up like a shot and winced as he got his growing tail in a kink, hissing in pain. "Damn! I'm changing?"

"Yes you are, tiger," Serena replied. She reached for the bedside lamp and turned it on.

He yanked his pajama shirt off, tearing it in the process. His chest was already covered with light orange fur, darkening on his sides and back, with a pattern of black stripes emerging. "Tiger? What the...? This is way out of phase!"

"I have no complaints," Serena said. They had chosen Plymouth since it was midway between their workplaces. Richard could take the commuter rail into Boston from here. The Plymouth Bubble was five miles wide and the fastest growing in the state. Within a month the foreclosed, empty homes had been filled with furries, since it was so uncomfortable to be in areas that were still Veil-covered. The housing market in the Bubbles was posting a quick recovery. "Congratulations, Rachel."

"Mmph..." he said, a sudden surge compressing his head into the big cat shape. His human hair shrank away into normal feline fur. He looked at his chest, with its prominent pectorals and six-pack. He flexed his biceps. "Guess I really have Superman's physique now. Wow! Is this how you felt after your Change?"

"Like a million dollars," Serena purred. Seeing him aroused her in ways she never thought possible. A month since they'd moved in together, and they had experimented a lot, but never going all the way. Richard surprised himself with how much he remembered about having a woman's body. And there were things his father never taught him about being a man. It was a delightful time of self discovery for both of them.

Richard was still a male virgin, though his edited history said otherwise. And he'd never been able to have a girlfriend longer than a couple of months. So he was understandably nervous about their six week old relationship.

Serena felt like she was up to her neck in that estrogen ocean now. It was time to submerge and see if Brooke was right.

The clouded leopardess stood up just as he was taking off his pajama bottoms. She walked around front, putting a provocative sway in her hips, and stood in front of the window. Seeing him like this made her nipples stand on end and her vagina feel slick, readying itself. His masculine feline odor filled the room. He was easily six inches taller than she. "Well, loverboy, is the time right now? How about we put that body of yours through its paces?"

They both called in sick that day. And the next.

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