Return to the Library

SUNSET OF FURMANKIND

— by Ted R. Blasingame

Chapter 15
Point of No Return

 

The old building vibrated in resonance with the low rumble of the thunderstorm that raged over the region of the Adirondack Mountains where the Furmankind Institute resided. Although there were windows located high on the outer walls of the Felis Wing, they must have been covered over on the inside long ago, for they were non-existent within. Having no windows but the overhead skylight to see to the outside, Jon Sunset stood in the open door of the building's solitary public exit, his hands in the pockets of his jeans.

Although late in the morning, the skies over the forest were dark as night, save for the frequent lightning that illuminated the roiling clouds from within. Only the occasional electrical bolt would arc to a tree or mountain peak below, but most of the energy remained high overhead. Hard sheets of rain fell, drenching everything outside in a late season storm accompanied by a fierce cold wind.

The change in weather matched Jon's mood. He had been sullen since the previous day, and although he had helped his housemates clean up the Wing, his responses to anything that was said to him were short and to the point. Neither Jenni nor Dante could figure out why his disposition had turned dark, but Kristen was certain that she was the cause. He had barely spoken a handful of words to her since announcing her choice to become a mountain lion like him.

She had accompanied Marcy to grocery supply to stock up their kitchen later in the day, and during a private conversation, the botanist had issued the request to change her choice. Marcy reminded her that she had already had several days to make her up her mind, but that it was now too late to change; the formula was already processing and it would be administered the next afternoon. The nurse was sorry that things had not worked out as well as Kristen had hoped, but as she had stated herself when the time had come to choose, the decision would stand.

When he was not needed for housekeeping chores or called to eat his meals, Jon stayed in his room or wandered the grounds alone. He spoke to no one any more than necessary, and even when Kristen had gone to his room to talk with him privately about her decision he had no interest in listening to her, feigning a headache with a request to be left alone.

Later that evening when he had gone to the exercise room for his nightly workout, she had followed him inside. She did not try to talk to him but merely watched him while he went through his routine, lost in her own thoughts. Eventually she left so he could shower afterward, and disappeared into her own room.

Conversely, Jenni and Dante were more boisterous than usual. With the new understanding between them, the younger man had taken to teasing her and chasing her about the saloon. Jenni seemed to enjoy the play, as it allowed her a distraction from the melancholy mood of her other housemates.

The nightmares had returned to Jon's dreams during the night, so he had spent the majority of the early morning hours watching old classic vids on the screen in his room. Before the sun had risen, however, thunderstorms moved over the Adirondacks and it had been raining all morning. Sometime later that day the injection would take place, and then he would be past the point of no return, contract or not. The penalty for death OF a Fur was death BY a Fur, or in his case, death AS a Fur…

Now that the kitchen was stocked for their personal diets, none of them had a reason to leave the Wing in such weather for a meal, but Jon was bored and the climate had matched his mood. It was close to lunchtime, but he had no patience for preparing his own meal at this time.

Grabbing an umbrella from the canister by the door, Jon opened it beneath the awning and then stepped through the puddles across the walkway to head to the large stone building next door. The rain drove down upon the umbrella and wind whipped the raindrops at him from the sides, so by the time he arrived at the cafeteria, his jeans and the back of his shirt were all wet. The western boots had kept his feet dry, at least.

He shook off the umbrella, folded it down, and then left it in a large clay container just inside the door that held others that all looked alike.  He stomped his feet a few times and then went to see what was available at the serving line.

There were only a handful of patrons in the place, all seated at a table on one side of the room. They were a mix of humans and Furs, and from what Jon could see from just an initial glance, they were all female. Several of them watched as he walked across the room, and by the time he had picked up a serving tray, they were all looking at him.

Jon grunted to himself quietly, aware of their eyes upon his back. A young man on the other side of the counter who looked as if this might be nothing more than a late seasonal job was the sole worker at the moment. When he had a good selection and a simple glass of water, Jon took his lunch across the room to the same table in the corner where he sat on his first evening there. Instead of putting his back to the room, however, he sat in the corner itself.  This time he wanted to be aware of anyone who might try to approach him, especially if that person's name rhymed with Travis Tyndall.

He ate quietly and tried to ignore the females at the other table, but when he was almost finished with his meal one of the humans got up and approached him.

“A penny for your thoughts, cowboy,” she said with a friendly smile. 

Jon looked up at her and wiped his mouth with a paper napkin. The woman looked as if she might be as tall as he was.  She had shoulder-length brown hair that was topped by a western straw hat accented with a blue-tipped white feather and she wore simple stud earrings in her small ears. Her soft curves were hugged by a pair of blue jeans tight enough that she probably didn't need the leather belt with a shining silver oval buckle depicting a rider on a bucking horse. On top, she wore a black and white flannel shirt that was open to a simple white tee shirt beneath. The outfit was complete with western boots that were a similar style to the ones he wore himself. She stood with most of her weight upon one leg and both hands clasped together behind her, quietly smiling at him with mesmerizing grey eyes.

“Good evening,” he responded with a courteous nod. Something about her looked familiar, but he could not place her face at the moment. “Do I know you?”

She shook her head, but held out a hand. “We've never been introduced,” she replied. “My name is Cheryl Dalton.”

“Jon Sunset,” he nodded, standing up to take her hand courteously. Her skin looked soft, but her hand felt rough, as if she were used to hard work, and her grip was firm. “Have a seat.” Cheryl cast a brief glance at the table she had vacated and then they sat down together, she across from him. “Is there something I can help you with?” he asked.

“No,” she confessed, “but my friends and I wanted you to know that you’ve made quite an impression on us all.”

Jon raised an eyebrow. “Really,” he remarked lightly. “I didn’t realize that eating my supper was all that impressive.”

She laughed at his dry wit and put both hands upon the table. “I was talking about the way you stood up for your lady friend yesterday.”

“I imagine that was only the first round,” Jon replied, listening to the thunder rumbling overhead. “The guy will likely try to pay me back for intruding upon his conquest.”

“You don’t sound too concerned.”

“Should I be?”

“Concerned?” she mused a moment. “Probably not concerned, but wary nonetheless.” She gestured back toward her table of friends and remarked, “Ever since he arrived, Travis has been after all of us, human and Fur alike. So far, none of us has fallen for his smooth words, but that doesn’t keep him from trying. He’s relentless.”

When the man made no further comment she shifted forward to look at him, studying his features. It had been a while since she had last spoken with a guy who did not seem to be preoccupied by her appearance. “Where’s your lady friend tonight?” she asked after moment. “Is she your girlfriend?”

Jon sighed inwardly. “She's just one of my housemates and I imagine she’s probably back at the Wing staying out of the weather.”

Cheryl suddenly looked interested. “Which Wing are you in?”

“The cat house,” he replied. At her look of amusement, he added, “The Felis Wing.”

She laughed at his secondary title for the place. “I’m the only single girl in the Canis Wing,” she told him, “the same place as that idiot Travis.  However, three of my new friends over there are a family of sisters in the Vulps Wing. They have one skittish guy living over there with them, and even their attendant doctor and nurse are both women. If you need a buddy, I would think he would be grateful to have another guy to talk to. His name is Kevin.”

“How did three sisters wind up in the program at the same time?”

“Both of their parents died last year in a terrible accident, so they felt they had nothing left for them on Earth.”

“Triplets?” he asked.

“No, they're all different ages.”

“Ah, okay.”  He picked up his water glass and drained the last of it.

“Would you like to join us at our table?” Cheryl asked after a moment. “We’re all glad to know there’s someone here who's chivalrous.”

“Thank you, but no. It sounds like the storm may be letting up and this would be a good time to return to my Wing.”  What he neglected to explain was that he had no intention of joining a table where there were Furs present, female or not.

The woman looked disappointed. “What’s your hurry?” she asked, adjusting the hat on her head.

“We’re due for our injections today,” Jon explained with the simplest of excuses, “sometime right after lunch.”

Cheryl nodded. “We get ours later this evening.”  She did not appear to be in a hurry for him to leave, and just as he was about to get up, she added, “What kind of Fur are you going to be?” she asked. He gave her a brief stony glare that she did not understand. “I know it’s a feline, but what kind?”

“Mountain lion,” he stated with a frown.

“Border Collie, myself,” she offered. “I grew up on a ranch and my family has raised them all my life, so it only seemed natural when I looked through the pictures to see which one I might choose.”

Jon was beginning to get impatient with the topic on Furs and it seemed this woman was determined to talk. “What about Tyndall?” he asked. “What’s he going to be, a jackal?”

Cheryl suddenly laughed. “No, but that certainly would be appropriate,” she admitted. “He said he’s going to be a German Shepherd.”

“And the others in your Wing?”

“Carl and Ellie Amaranth? They're an older couple planning on becoming a mated pair of wolves.”

“Wolves?” Jon asked in surprise. “Are they that vicious?”

“No, silly – wolves have an extremely strong sense of family values, something the Amaranths share themselves. Anyway, I don't think the pair of them enjoy being associated with Travis either. However, we all signed our contracts last night, so we’re stuck in the same Wing with him.”

“Is your restroom coed like ours is?”

Cheryl nodded with a frown. “Yes, and Travis keeps trying to take advantage of that fact too. I was the first he started working on; I'm probably not the last one to slap his face either.”

Jon stood up. “This is all very interesting, but it sounds like the rain is slowing, so this would be a good time to go,” he said. “It was nice meeting you, Cheryl. Excuse me.”

The cowgirl got to her feet and then quickly moved around the table to face him directly. “May I walk with you?” she asked, putting the fingers of one hand lightly on his arm. “I would like to see your place.”

Jon was correct in his original assessment. She was just as tall as he was and could look at him eye to eye. Her floral perfume tickled his nose, but it was not unpleasant. Despite this, however, he did not understand her attentiveness. He was not ugly by any means, but he was not exactly handsome either, and he had given her no sign that he was interested in her. His internal warning bells were going off, though, and he could feel his personal barriers forming to protect him.

“Perhaps another time,” he said as courteously as he could muster. “The injections after lunch, remember?”

Cheryl looked disappointed, but gave him a smile anyway. “Sure, I understand, but if you would like the company of someone outside your Wing, please don't hesitate to call on me.” She looked over her shoulder at the other table and then added, “For that matter, any one of my friends over there would love to make your acquaintance.”

Jon studied her for a moment, and even glanced briefly at the other table of women. “May I ask you a question?” he ventured cautiously.

“Anything.”

He put a hand up to his chest and asked, “Why the sudden interest in me?”

Cheryl chuckled and put her hand upon his. “We were all in here when you stood up for your friend, even if she wasn't a girlfriend.” That explains why she seemed familiar, Jon thought to himself. “Travis has hit on all of us, and it was nice to see someone put him in his place.”

Jon took her hand from his chest and held it for a moment. “Now I understand. You see me as a protector.”

“Initially, but I'm sure we could find other things of interest to discover about one another.” She curled her fingers around his hand and leaned closer.

Jon held her gaze for a moment and resisted the temptation to take up her offer. “My armor's not very shiny,” he told her, “and I'm not the gallant knight you seem to think I am. How do you know I'm not a killer in hiding?”

The woman gave him a smirk. “I know that cats and dogs are supposed to fight, but you, oh modest knight, can slay me anytime,” she whispered saucily. Then without warning, she wrapped her arms around his neck and gave him a kiss full on the lips, instantly causing a stir among her friends.

The action took him by surprise, but when the hoots and hollers from the other table suddenly hushed, he pulled back and looked around. He fully expected to see Tyndall standing nearby, but it wasn't him.

It was Kristen.

The dark-haired botanist stood just inside the entrance, a dripping umbrella in her hands, and she was staring at him and the lingering cowgirl in astonishment. Her expression fell to indifference as she found her feet and walked toward him.

Cheryl dropped her arms and took a step back when Kristen stopped beside them. “Doctor Renwick is ready for us,” she told her housemate in monotone. “Marcy sent me after you.”

Jon swallowed and then looked back at the woman beside him. “Time for my shot,” he told her.

“Good luck,” Cheryl told him in a soft voice. She and Kristen exchanged brief looks and then the cowgirl retreated quietly to her friends.

Jon looked down at his housemate and did his best to look composed. “Let's go,” he said in a casual tone.

Kristen turned without a word and headed for the door, the red-haired man following two steps behind her.  He looked back at the table of females and several of them waved to him. He inclined his chin in response, but then dropped it when he noticed his companion looking back at him, her expression deliberately neutral.

Jon raised an eyebrow at her and then stopped to retrieve an umbrella at the door; they all looked alike, so he didn't think it mattered which one he took. Kristen moved out into the rain in silence without waiting for him and stepped around puddles on the way back to their Wing. The storm had indeed calmed down from its earlier state and the raindrops were now light without a driving wind. More thunder rumbled in the distance, but for now it was calmer than it had been.

They walked back in silence, and when they reached the door to their Wing, Jon reached for her umbrella out of courtesy. She moved it from his reach and opened the door without looking at him. Before he could get inside, there was a loud clunk of her umbrella tossed into the canister. She had already slipped out of her shoes and was peeling off her wet socks by the time he closed the door behind him. She turned toward the saloon and began walking at a brisk pace.

“Kris… wait.”

At the use of her shortened name she stopped, but did not turn around. Jon slipped out of his boots and then walked over to her. He stepped around until he could face her.

“Kris, I apologize for yesterday,” he said quietly. “After my last relationship, the comments about being a mated pair last night caught me off guard.”

“They were only joking,” she said icily, “and then you started avoiding me.”

“No, I don't think they were joking. When you chose to become the same species that I have to be, I’m sure it looked like that to them too.”

“I explained my reasons,” she defended. “I thought you were my friend.”

“Kris… I want to be your friend. We will be going through this together as we agreed – but I’m not your mate. After Rebecca, I’m not looking for a mate.”

She looked up at him with a borderline sneer. “What about your new girlfriend in the cafeteria?”

“I’m not looking for a mate,” Jon repeated. “She’s had the same trouble with Travis that you had yesterday and was thanking me for standing up to him.”

“Uh huh… I really believe that,” Kristen replied, her voice dripping in sarcasm.

This was entirely the wrong thing to do.

Jon scowled and leaned in so that he was practically nose to nose with her. “You can believe this.  We’re going to be in close proximity to one another for the next year or two, but don’t expect any kind of a friendship if you’re going to get jealous of me over another woman. I don’t need it and I’m getting to the point where I don’t really care what others think of me. You know who I am, so if I have to go through this abomination alone without any friends at all, it'll probably be for the best anyway.”

Without waiting for a response, he turned and walked away. Kristen stared at him open-mouthed, but before he had taken half a dozen steps, she ran after him.

“Jon… wait!” she pleaded.  The man stopped and turned to give her a dark look that halted her in her tracks a few paces away. She swallowed in hesitation and then moved forward to put a hand on his arm. “I’m sorry,” she said earnestly. “Please forgive me.”

Jon stared at her for another moment before his expression softened. “Friends?” he asked her.

She wiped moisture from her eyes and nodded, “Friends,” she confirmed. Then she looked up at him in hesitation. “I know we’re only friends,” she said in a quieter voice, “but may I have a hug?”

A gentle smile crossed Jon’s face before he wrapped his muscular arms around her shoulders. She put her arms around his middle and then laid her head upon his chest.  “Thank you,” she whispered, soaking up the closeness. “I may need these in the months ahead, so please don’t be offended if I ask for one.”

Jon sighed inwardly and tightened his embrace slightly. “I once had a friend who always needed hugs,” he admitted to her. “She and I were never more than good friends, but she always said that hugs were important.”

“Hugs are important,” Kristen agreed. She reluctantly released him when he pulled back, and then she tried to compose herself.

“Hey, there you are!” called Jenni’s voice. “It’s almost your turn, whichever one of you wants to go next.”

Both of them looked across the room and saw the blonde woman walking toward them, absently scratching the back of her neck. Instead of the clothing she had been wearing that morning, she was now dressed in a lavender pair of shorts and one of the matching furman robes.

“How do I look?” she asked, turning around so that they could see her outfit from all sides. She hiked up the back of the robe so they could also see the dip in the shorts, and although the low spot was designed for a tail, it currently revealed a little more of her backside than Kristen was comfortable seeing.

Jon chuckled and covered over his eyes in mock embarrassment. “Hey, put that away!”

Jenni grinned widely and wiggled her hips. “What, you don't like looking at my tail?” she asked playfully, dropping the hem of her robe back into place.

“You can proudly display your tail when you have one!” Kristen remarked.

“All we saw was a plumber's crack!” Jon laughed.

The blond whirled on him with a pointed finger. “You won't find anyone with a plumber's crack as nice as mine!” she challenged him in mock seriousness.

Jon and Kristen exchanged looks of amusement before they glanced back at her. “I can't argue with that,” he remarked with a smirk.

Jenni laughed aloud, pleased that her two melancholy housemates appreciated the levity. She scratched the back of her neck and walked with them into the saloon.

“So, what was it like?” Kristen asked her. “Did they use a big needle for the shot?”

The blonde shook her head. “I never saw the needle,” she admitted, “and to tell the truth, I never felt it go in.”

“I'm going to get into some dry clothes,” Jon told them. “The rain was coming in sideways when I walked over to the cafeteria.”

“Don't bother,” Jenni told him. “Once you've had the injection, they make you start wearing these things right away, so you may as well keep what you have on now so you won't have extra laundry to wash later.”

Jon shook his head. “I'm going to get into my sweats anyway,” he said, leaving them for his room.

“My feet are cold and my socks are wet,” Kristen complained. “I need my slippers at least.” Jenni followed her to her room, though she kept looking down at the new outfit. “Why would they make you start wearing them now?” Kristen asked. “Do they expect your tail to sprout immediately?”

The blonde reached around to rub her fingers across the waistband dip. “They didn't say,” she asked. “I don't feel anything yet.”

Kristen laughed as she led the registered nurse into her room and then felt around beneath the bed with her toes. She found a pair of fuzzy blue slippers and slid her feet into them, relishing the instant warmth.

“So, are you feeling better now?” Jenni asked her in a quiet voice. “You two looked like you'd had a lover's spat yesterday.”

The botanist gifted her with a look of frustration. “Jenni…” she said, shaking her head, “Jon and I are not lovers. We're barely just friends.”

“But…”  The blonde looked confused. “Dante said the two of you slept together the night before and that's why you chose the same feline as Jon.”

“Dante has a big mouth,” Kristen muttered, “but he was only partially right.”

“Oh? Which part?”

The two of them sat on the edge of the bed together and then Kristen told her what happened that night. By the time Jon emerged from his room in matching grey sweats and socks, his female housemates had moved out to one of the curved couches in the pit, laughing together at some private joke.

“So, how long does it take?” he asked the blonde, taking a seat at the table.

“About twenty minutes,” she answered, scratching the back of her neck. “They take some measurements and then make you lie face down on a bench for the shot. Not much to it, really.”

“That sounds anticlimactic,” Kristen remarked.

“Did you expect a lab full of Tesla coils with giant arcs of electricity overhead?” Jon asked.  Before Kristen could retort, a large rumble of thunder from the storm outside rattled the building.

“On a day like this,” she replied with a grin, “it would have been appropriate!”

“Urrrrrrrr…” moaned another voice from across the room. Everyone looked up and saw Dante approach the pit walking stiff-legged, his arms outstretched and a blank stare fixed on the distant wall.  “Urrrrrrrr…” he moaned again.

“Ah, Doctor Renwickenstein's monster walks!” Jenni laughed aloud.  Dante rolled only his eyes to look down at her just before he burst out laughing.

Like Jenni, the dark-haired man now wore furman garments, his navy blue. He looked over at Jon and Kristen and stepped down into the pit. “The doctor is ready for you,” he said.

“Which one?” Kristen asked in sudden hesitation. “Me or him?” She had never liked needles, and until now she had tried not to think about what was coming.

Dante shrugged his shoulders and then scratched at the back of his neck. “He just said to send in the others.”

Jon looked over at Kristen and got to his feet. “I guess they'll tell us which one they want first when we get there.”

“Beware of the black wall,” Dante murmured cryptically.

“Huh?” Kristen asked. 

“Nothing…” Dante murmured beneath a smile.

Jon looked to Jenni for an explanation, but she tried her best to look innocent. Kristen was not exactly reassured by their manner, but then Jon tugged on her sleeve.

“C'mon,” he said.

The botanist accompanied him to the lab, and when they got to the double doors, he opened one of them to let her go in first.

Doctor Renwick and Nurse Marcy looked up in unison. “Good afternoon,” Renwick said after making a brief notation with a stylus on a black computer tablet.

“Hi, Doc,” Jon replied. “Which of us do you want first?”

Renwick stepped forward and gestured toward the two medical benches in the center of the room. The bright lights gleamed off numerous metal instruments, but remarkably none of them was near the benches. “Either or both,” he said with a smile.  “Marcy told me that the two of you had chosen the same feline, so we thought we could do both of you together, but only if you consent.”

“Together?” Kristen repeated. She looked up at Jon with imploring eyes and he read her expression correctly; she had been dreading this moment and wished to draw on his strength.

“Sure, why not?” he answered for them. She smiled at him in gratitude.

“Okay, together then,” Marcy told them with an odd smirk. “Follow me.”

Jon looked at the benches as they passed them toward a door off the side of the room labeled with a small plaque that simply read, Imaging.

“Where are we going?” he asked.

“Before we begin the process,” Renwick said from behind them, “we need to take precise measurements of your bodies to use as a baseline for the transformation. Identical measurements will be taken halfway during the next nine months for comparison and then again at the end when the process has been completed.”

“Ah, okay,” Jon replied.

Marcy led them inside and then Renwick closed the door after joining them. The doctor indicated one wall of the room that was coated in an odd, black substance.  A large conical device faced the wall from a swing arm attached to the ceiling. “We need each of you to stand spread-eagle up against that wall while the laser scanner takes measurements of you from the front, back and sides.”

“Sure,” Jon said, taking a step forward. He figured that if Kristen saw him do everything first, it would put her more at ease. However, Marcy waved them over toward a counter.

“Okay, please disrobe and put your clothes up here,” she instructed.

“Disrobe?” Kristen asked in disbelief, her eyes suddenly wide. Jon blinked in surprise.

“Completely,” the nurse instructed. “Both of you. The laser scanner is extremely precise and all foreign material will be misread. If you are wearing any watches, rings or other jewelry, you will need to remove them as well.”

Kristen pointedly refused to look at Jon while she removed her earrings, her face beet red in embarrassment. She had always been self-conscious about her body due to her slightly-overweight appearance, and now she was being made to undress, not just in front of a physician, but one of her male housemates as well.

“I changed my mind,” she squeaked. “Let's do this separately.”

“Once again, you've decided too late,” Marcy told her with a shake of her head. “I promise you will not die of exposure.”  The nurse looked over at Jon, who had already removed his sweatshirt and was peeling off the cotton sweat pants. He wore nothing underneath and he raised an eyebrow at her look of appraisal.  She turned back to Kristen, but the botanist had her back turned to everyone in the room, grudgingly removing her clothes.

When Jon was completely bare, he stepped up to the black wall and looked over at Renwick. “How do you want me, Doc?”

“Forehead against the wall, standing spread-eagle with your arms all the way out away from your sides and with your fingers spread out, too. The laser scanner will do the rest. It will take about five minutes and then you will turn around for a scan of your other side.”

“Will I need goggles?”

“No, we need this scan without foreign material obscuring any part of your face. You only have to keep your eyes closed, but there's no need to squint hard.”

The broad-shouldered man did as he was instructed, seemingly indifferent to the two women in the room with him and his nudity.

“Face the wall directly,” Renwick told him while making an adjustment to the controls of the device, “and do not turn your head to the side.” Jon did as instructed, feeling as if he were a moth squashed on a giant windshield. “That's perfect,” said the physician. “Close your eyes and hold that position until I tell you that you can move.”

“Got it,” Jon said into the wall. Immediately a bright blue, pencil-thin, floor-to-ceiling light issued out of the scanner just to the left of Jon's outermost extremity. The equipment gave out a deep hum and then the laser began tracking toward the right.

Kristen stood near the wall beside the door to the room and watched as the blue light mapped across Jon's naked backside. She appreciated the man's physique from this angle, but knew that in just a few moments it would be her up there on display. She bit her bottom lip, unable to take her eyes off the spectacle, and she did not see the look of amusement on Marcy's face when the nurse looked over at the short, dark-haired botanist.

Five minutes can seem a long time when spread out like an insect in a specimen box, but Jon tried not to think about the time and instead concentrated on an old classic vid he had watched in his room during the night.

“Okay, you can drop your arms and relax for a moment,” Renwick's voice said finally. “I will need to reset the scanner and then we will do your other side.”

Jon did as suggested and then rubbed both arms to get some of the feeling back in them from being held in one position for so long. He momentarily forgot about his state of undress until he turned around and saw Kristen suddenly look away, clutching her clothes in front of her. Suddenly feeling self-conscious, he glanced over at Marcy, but she was focused on a monitor screen, quietly tapping in data on a small keyboard.

“Okay, Jon, once more, facing outward now,” the doctor instructed.

The first time around, Jon hadn't had a problem with being scanned, since it had been his backside exposed to the others in the room, but now that he would be facing everyone in nothing but his birthday suit, he could feel his face begin to flush. With two women watching him, one of them naked as well, it was imperative that he think of mundane things while spread out across the wall in front of them to prevent an unwanted reaction.

Putting himself in basically the same position as before, he closed his eyes and tried to recall the months of frustration after Rebecca had thrown him over for that mountain lion. Suddenly remembering the reason for his presence at the Furmankind Institute, he had no problem dispelling any sense of embarrassment relating to his complete exposure.

“Jon, please don't make a fist,” Renwick told him. Following a few more instructions and forced relaxation, the scanning began again. After a first initial glance at Jon, Kristen turned to face the wall behind her, ashamed at herself for taking a peek.

Marcy looked up from her duties to examine the man, recalling the first time she had taken part in such a measurement scanning; it had been another man with red hair spread out in front of her. After the end of that first time, she was never sure who was the more embarrassed, the man or his nurse. Now several years later, she could look at her patients without even the faintest rise in blood pressure, even if she did appreciate what she saw.

“Now drop your arms straight against your side and turn so that your left shoulder is against the wall,” the doctor instructed.  “Face directly in front of you. This won’t take as long, and then we’ll scan your other side.”

Jon did as directed, keeping his eyes closed, though acutely aware of the profile he must be presenting to the women. He kept his thoughts mundane as the scanner recorded him from both sides.

“Thank you, Jon. You can get dressed now,” Renwick announced a few moments later. “Kristen, you're next as soon as I reset the scanner.” Marcy mentally shook herself from her musings and began tapping in data on the scans.

When Jon stepped away from the black wall he looked around for his sweats, but on the counter where he had put them was now a matching set of the furman garments in hunter green. He checked the tags and was not surprised to note that they were his sizes, but briefly wondered what they had done with his sweats.  Without looking at his housemate, who deposited her clothes on the counter and turned quickly away from him, he swiftly donned the garments.

The dip for a tail felt peculiar, as if he needed to hike them up in back. Fortunately, the robe covered the waistband oddity, but the shorts were so loose that they did not provide him with any real support, feeling more like boxer underwear than shorts to wear out in public.

The material was different as well. The air handling system for the Felis Wing had come on a few minutes earlier and he could feel a bit of the breeze through the material making up his new garments. He remembered Marcy telling them earlier that the lightweight material was made of an open weave so that it could be worn over fur, but yet allowed air to pass through so that fur beneath would not feel stuffy. Despite earlier reassurances, he did not think they would be warm enough through the coming winter months even inside the heated building. He would want the Turkish robes they offered.

He found a padded roller stool next to a counter, so he sat up on it and settled in to watch the proceedings. Kristen was facing the black wall as he had, but her legs were pulled together and her arms were barely extended out away from her.

“No, you need to stand spread-eagle,” Doctor Renwick was telling her. “Spread your feet out so that no part of your legs are touching one another and extend your arms and hands out flat against the wall.”

“Doctor, with my weight, my thighs are always touching,” she grumbled.

“Nevertheless, you will need to spread a little wider,” was his clinical reply.

“Is… is this really necessary?” the botanist asked, extending her arms as instructed. She was still reluctant to spread out her legs.

“Yes, Kristen,” the doctor said patiently, “it is absolutely necessary that we have precise measurements over the months for comparison to make sure your transformation is proceeding without a problem.”

“What kind of problems have you had?” she asked.

“Malformation. If there are problems, we want to know ahead of time so they can be corrected before anything gets out of hand. We can do this. Please spread out your feet.”

“Now you're really scaring me, doctor,” Kristen said with a quaver in her voice.

“That's not happened since the early days,” Renwick assured her, “but we will take no chances. Spread your feet, please.” Kristen rolled her eyes upward and finally did as she was told, feeling incredibly indecent. “Okay, close your eyes and put your forehead flat against the wall. No, don't turn your head to the side.  Yes, that's good. Close your eyes and hold that position until I tell you to move.” 

“Jon, are you looking?” she mumbled.

“No,” he lied with a grin.  Marcy looked over at him and he merely smiled back at her. He had already suffered his indignity being on full display, so he felt no guilt as a spectator.

“I don't believe you,” said Kristen.

“No more talking,” the doctor scolded. “You must not move or we will have to do this again.”

With a deep hum, the blue laser lit up beside the botanist and began scanning. Kristen kept her eyes shut, but she could tell when the laser was near her head. Her eyelids glowed blue on the inside, and although she felt nothing, she waited impatiently for the humiliation to end. Before it was finished with her backside, however, she remembered with dread that she still had to be scanned with her front exposed. Her embarrassment was nothing right now, compared to what it would be shortly.  She groaned low in her throat, but was careful not to move.

At last, the first scan was over and the doctor told her that she could relax for a moment. Marcy went right to work on her data while Renwick reset the scanner. When Kristen opened her eyes and turned only her head, she felt Jon's eyes upon her.

“Don't be bashful,” he said when she pressed her face to the wall again. He may still be looking at her rear, but she had not yet turned around to reveal any more of herself than necessary.

“Doctor Renwick?” she said in a muffled voice.

“Hmm?” he responded distractedly from the controls of the scanner.

“Jon's already had his scan. He can leave the room now, right?”

The physician looked up with a frown. “Sorry, no. We can't allow any volunteers alone out in the main part of the lab with your solutions out on the table. Legalities, I'm afraid.”

Kristen grumbled to herself and Jon smiled at her frustrations.  Then, before she was ready, Renwick said, “Okay, Kristen. Turn around and spread out up against the wall as you did before, only facing outward.”

“Do I hafta?”

“Yes, please turn around. The sooner you do this, the quicker it will be over. Just a few more minutes.”

When the plump botanist turned around, one arm covered her chest and the other was down in front of her crotch. She saw Jon's eyes flicker briefly over her body and she groaned aloud.

“Spread out, dear,” Marcy told her softly. “All three of your housemates have already done this.”

“Jon, close your eyes,” Kristen pleaded. The red-haired man gave her a brief grin and then made an exaggerated show of putting both hands over his eyes.

“Thank you,” she said at last. “Now keep them there.”  Then, slowly and with great embarrassment, she spread out her arms and legs as instructed, keeping her eyes firmly upon Jon's face to make sure he did not peek.

“Spread out a little wider,” said the doctor.

“Listen, I'm already fully exposed,” Kristen complained. “How much of an intimate look do you need?”

“Just spread your arms and legs out a little more, please,” Renwick told her impatiently.  Kristen rolled her eyes in total embarrassment and did as she was told. “That's good. Now hold that position.”

“Pictures of this better not wind up out on the network,” she warned with an almost animal-like growl. “I know people!”  Jon snickered.

“Close your eyes,” Marcy reminded her.  Kristen shut her eyes, but not before checking to make sure Jon still had his face covered.

Although she could not know for sure, she was certain that Jon peeked at her when the hum of the laser began. This was at a time when she could not open her eyes to check, nor could she say anything to him. She had almost considered the previous physical examination a violation, but now she felt absolutely obscene, completely spread out as she was.

That second scan was the longest five minutes she had ever experienced, but when she was finally given permission to open her eyes and relax, she looked over at Jon and found him flipping through a magazine from a stack on the counter beside him. Relieved that he had left her with the illusion of some dignity, she sighed and moved quickly to get her clothes.

“No, Kristen. We still have to scan you from both sides,” the doctor reminded her. “This won't take as long.”

Groaning again, the woman returned to the black wall and followed Renwick's instructions. After several minutes, he graciously allowed her to go for her clothing.

Marcy had already switched out the garments and Kristen found an outfit of pale yellow. Keeping an eye on Jon, she quickly dressed and then looked over at the physicians. The nurse was busy entering data into her terminal and Renwick was spraying down the wall with a cleansing solution in one hand and a clean wipe cloth in the other.

The doctor and the nurse finished their duties at nearly the same time. “There, that wasn't so bad, was it?” Marcy asked.

“Says you…” Kristen growled with animosity. “You didn't have your privates precisely measured, examined and put on display!”

“True enough,” Marcy conceded with a smile. “Now, if the two of you will return with us to the lab, we'll take care of the very thing that brought you to us.”

Jon set his magazine aside and stood up beside his housemate with a smirk that admitted that he had indeed peeked during her final scan. She gave him a dark scowl and pointed a menacing finger at him.  Marcy shooed them into the other room, and as before, Renwick brought up the rear. 

“I will need each of you to lay face down upon one of the medical benches,” Renwick instructed. “Place your face in the opening and then let your arms relax beside you.”

“Do we have to get naked for this too?” Kristen asked grumpily.

Marcy actually laughed. “Not unless you want to,” she replied.

“Not on your life,” the botanist grumbled. Then she looked at Renwick and added, “Not on yours either.”  The doctor merely gave her a look of patience and gestured to the benches.

Jon looked up and briefly studied the armature dangling from the ceiling on a large rotating axis between the benches. It could be maneuvered above either patient, and the instruments that gleamed in the lab light looked wicked. Although he had dreaded the scanning they had just endured, a sudden fear went through him and his initial assessment of the doctor came back to haunt him.  One of the nightmares he had experienced the previous night had included a scenario where Marcelo had paid off the doctor to botch the injection when it was time, leaving him in a vegetable state so they could do whatever they wanted with him.

When Doctor Renwick saw the sudden panic in the man's eyes, he gave him a practiced look of compassion. He had seen many strong men crumble at this point when it came time for the actual injection, so he stretched out a hand to the man.

“Don't worry, Jon,” the doctor told him in a soothing voice. “I have sworn to see you safely through all this. Although the injection is the most important event of your stay here, the act itself is safe and precise. No harm will come to either of you, I promise.”

Jon hesitated, and then grasped the proffered hand as Kristen looked on with a worried expression that mirrored his own. Now down to the wire, both were scared.  Jon swallowed as he shook Renwick's hand. Would this be the execution he had escaped several days earlier?  He was almost certain it was, but he was now at the point of no return. There was no appeal and his pride would not allow him to beg for mercy, so he finally nodded and gave the doctor a final weak smile.

“Okay,” he said in a voice that was steadier than the way he felt on the inside. “I'm ready.”  He looked down at Kristen and suddenly wrapped his arms around her, giving her the hug he knew that she needed as much as he did.

“Come on,” Marcy prompted. “This won't take long, and then you can rejoin your housemates. Jon, take the bench on the right. Kristen, the other one's yours.”

Kristen and Jon climbed upon their respective benches and lay down with their faces cradled in the donut hole. The angle of the headrest was tilted downward so the back of the neck was stretched taut, but it was not as uncomfortable as it felt like it should be. Each tried to relax as they had been told, and as they awaited whatever, the botanist asked, “Where does the injection go in?”

“Probably the same place we get all our shots that aren't in the arm,” Jon mumbled beside her.

Marcy chuckled as Renwick readied the instruments mounted above the benches. “No, this one doesn't go into your buttocks,” she told them. “This injection will go in at the base of your brain.”

Jon was not sure he heard her right, but Kristen exclaimed, “What?  You're going to put a needle into our brains!”

“Hush,” Renwick said calmly. “There's no need to get excited. The tiny needle is short and it will not actually penetrate your brain tissue. The small amount of solution with your modified DNA will be injected into the cerebra-spinal fluid only, where it will then be absorbed into the cerebral cortex.”  Neither of the patients was really comforted by this explanation, but the doctor continued as he worked. “The position is exact and will be computer controlled for precision. A mild electric current will be applied to numb the area just before the needle is inserted, so you won't even feel a thing. Just lay there and relax. You'll be back up and on your feet in a few moments.”

Jon felt the doctor's touch on the back of his neck and he closed his eyes tightly. This is it, he thought to himself. Time to die. As the doctor applied a small amount of pressure at the base of his skull, the convicted killer knew what it was that he had done wrong. No matter that Parker had destroyed his life, he should not have killed him. That had been his mistake. There were other things he could have done to exact his revenge, leaving the wretched cat alive, but he had acted upon impulse to rid Creation of the abomination. Now it was too late. Now he would finally be executed for his crime.  He only took small comfort in the knowledge that at least he would not be eaten alive by a deranged monster in the basement of a prison.

Would dying hurt? he wondered. Would he see the fabled white lights or would it be all darkness and oblivion?

“Okay, Jon, you're done,” Marcy's voice said in a quiet voice beside his right ear.  The convict opened his eyes in surprise.

“Done?” he asked in disbelief.

“All done,” she reassured him with a pat on his shoulder. “Just lay there for a moment while the doctor attends to Kristen, and then you can both go.”

The big man blinked back the tears that suddenly welled up in his eyes. Done and still alive? He reached around beneath the bench where his hands could get to his face, and he hurriedly wiped the moisture from his cheeks.

He was still alive!

Several moments later, the nurse helped him into a sitting position and she was puzzled by the look of euphoria upon his face when he looked back at her. She had seen expressions of relief on the faces of other volunteers, but not of this magnitude. She smiled back at him, and suddenly got the impression that if she didn't move away quickly he was going to kiss her.

The thought made her blink, and hesitate, but before either of them could act, the doctor pushed instrumentation back up toward the ceiling and announced, “You may get up now, Kristen. You're all done.”

“Done? Are you positive?” Kristen asked in surprise. “I didn't feel anything.”

“Positive,” the doctor assured her. He gently pulled on her elbow, directing her to get up off the bench. Kristen pushed herself up with her hands and then looked over at Jon, whose face was split with a grin so big it was almost comical. What was up with him? she thought with a silly smile of her own.

Renwick helped her down off the bench, and when she turned to look up at him, she had a look of relief on her face. “Really? It's done?”

The doctor chuckled. “Yes, the process has started,” he told her. “The modified DNA is now within your system and the McEwen process is already becoming active.  Over the next nine months, your bodies will undergo an irreversible change, transforming into something more than human, something more suitable for taming new worlds that will benefit the planet Earth for generations to come.  Congratulations, you two. You have just begun a journey that will last the rest of your lives.”

“Wow,” Kristen said in awe, now realizing the scope of what she had just done for the first time. Sure, she knew what it was all about, but now that it had begun, it was more real to her.

“What happens now?” Jon asked, his voice strangely tinged with emotion.

Marcy gestured toward the double doors of the lab, indicating that they could go. “You won't feel different right away,” she told them, “but one of the first effects usually noted comes within forty-eight hours when your skin will begin to itch. It's nothing to be concerned about – it's just new follicles developing for the fur that will begin to sprout. Then you'll get nothing more than a little fuzz at first.”

“That's not so bad,” Kristen remarked.

“We have a good supply of anti-itch cream if you feel you need it,” Marcy informed them, “but since this fur will be sprouting all over your bodies, keeping it applied may become a hassle.”  She opened the doors for them and they saw their housemates waiting for them in the pit.

A small spot on the back of Jon's neck began to itch and he scratched at it absently, not realizing that it was the exact entry point of the injection needle. Nothing had hurt, he was still alive, and in full control of his faculties.

Perhaps he would survive this after all.

NEXT CHAPTER

Unless otherwise noted, all material © Ted R. Blasingame. All rights reserved.