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SUNSET OF FURMANKIND

— by Ted R. Blasingame

Chapter 17
Hairless Apes

 

The assembly hall on the second floor of the Clark Savage building was not as large as the volunteers thought it would be, considering the size of the building itself. Arranged in the manner of typical university classrooms, there was a speaker's podium before a large smart-screen video panel, and then bench seats with slotted backs set in stadium tiers before it with long curving tables for students. The total capacity of the room was less than one hundred and even then, it seemed overlarge with only sixteen volunteers and a smattering of faculty and visitors occupying the seats.

Jon looked around the room when they entered through the door and he immediately spotted Marcelo Delgado sitting near the upper back tier of the stadium seats, watching over everyone as they came in while absently stroking his Van Dyke beard. He and Jon locked eyes for a moment, but the red-haired man simply nodded to him and continued on to find seats with his housemates.

The others scattered around the room appeared to be mostly volunteers in their twenties and thirties, although he did see a few people older than he was in the crowd. It was easy to spot the volunteers. They were the only ones wearing the furman-style garments.

Dante led them to a spot near the middle of the room, an equal number of rows in front of and behind them. Seated nearby was another group of four. When Kristen saw who it was, she sat down next to Jon on the opposite side of the other group, effectively putting the bulk of the larger man between them. Jenni sat beside her, with Dante on the blonde's other side.

Curious, Jon looked over and exchanged smiles with Cheryl Dalton, the cowgirl who had kissed him the previous day. Reclining lazily behind her was Travis Tyndall, whose eyes were not upon Jon, but on the dark-haired botanist beside him. Kristen pointedly did not look back at him, choosing instead to gaze around the room at the other volunteers, guests and faculty who filed into the room in twos and threes.

Travis got to his feet and scooted past the older couple seated beside Cheryl, but when he recognized Jon, he stopped suddenly, a hand unconsciously going to his sore breastbone where he had been struck during their previous encounter. Jon raised an eyebrow at him and suddenly Travis puffed up in renewed bravado, a smirk upon his face.

He stepped over several seats so that when he approached the Felis volunteers, he was right behind Kristen, standing away from her companion who watched him with narrowed eyes.

“Hello, beautiful,” he said smoothly, placing a hand gently upon her shoulder.  Kristen flinched, but did not look at him or reply to his greeting, though a bit of color crept into her cheeks. “I apologize for my earlier conduct. I was heady from your beauty and I was not thinking straight. I'm sorry.”

Kristen turned to look at him with narrowed eyes. “Would you have been sorry after raping me if my friends had not been there to stop you?” she asked icily.

Travis blinked, taken aback by her response. He cleared his throat, shifted his eyes briefly to her companions seated beside her, and then lowered his head closer to her ear. “That… was never my intention,” he tried to assure her in a soothing voice. “I merely wished to woo you in private.”

Woo me? You tried to force me to go with you,” she hissed. “I still have the bruises on my wrist!”

“I apologize, milady. I really do. I still find you beautiful.”

Kristen studied him over her shoulder for a moment. “I'm flattered that you think so,” she said in mock sweetness. Then in a menacing tone, she added, “I'm not interested. Now, please leave me alone.”

Travis held up one hand as if to show he was backing off, but at the same time, he put his other hand lightly on the back of her neck to stroke the skin beneath her dark cascade of hair. She shivered from his soft touch and then glared back at him with gritted teeth.

“Stop touching me!” Kristen exclaimed, loud enough to carry across the assembly hall.

Jon and Dante were both on their feet instantly and Travis quickly looked up at each, from one to the other with a scowl upon his face.

“Am I making your house lovers jealous?” he said into the woman's ear, leaving his hand right where he had placed it.

Jon reached out and grabbed the other man's wrist, forcefully pulling it from Kristen's neck. Travis began struggling to free his arm, muttering obscenities at the other man. Every eye in the hall was drawn to the sudden commotion.

Marcelo Delgado had watched the proceedings silently from the back of the room, but when Kristen's outburst prompted her housemates to their feet in her defense, the director jumped up as well, ready to intervene. However, when Jon released the younger man's arm and Travis scrambled away, he waited to see what would happen.

Rubbing his arm and hurling more obscenities at Jon, Travis stormed away to his own housemates, all of whom appeared embarrassed to be associated with him after his public display.

Dante sat down again and Jon watched Travis a moment longer before he returned to his seat. Satisfied that further disaster had been temporarily averted, Marcelo sat down, his eyes never leaving the back of Tyndall's head. The reassurances the man had given him after his last incident appeared to have been empty promises, so he would have to keep an eye out on this one.

Oddly enough, the one Marcelo thought he should be having difficulties with had done nothing but react to defend his housemate, this time backed up by another from the same Wing. Mr. Sunset had allowed Ms. Eisenberg the opportunity to accept or reject Tyndall's advances, but once she had made it clear she was not interested, the ex-convict had stepped in to prevent further harassment. Marcelo had no illusions that the man would have remained passive had Tyndall persisted, but would Sunset have thrown the first punch this time?

So far, Sunset had only been reactionary on behalf of his housemate. Marcelo had watched the man's facial expressions while Tyndall had hurled profanity in his face, but the larger man had not seemed outwardly concerned by the insults.

Most of the assembly had arrived and taken seats, so a movement below diverted his attention from his musings. Tyndall had seated himself beside Cheryl, the only single female in his wing, but she got up and left him in disgust, moving instead toward the Vulps group that was sitting behind and to the left of the Felis group.  She spoke to the company of four and they indicated that she was welcome to join them. Cheryl sat down without a look back at her own group.

Conversations around the assembly hall hushed when a heavyset, silver-haired man in a charcoal grey suit stepped up to the podium and tapped lightly on his lapel microphone.

“Hello everyone, I am Professor Kenton Chesterfield, the personnel instructor of the Ursis Wing. Although you have been here several days and are now under contract with the Anthro Human Colonization Program, I bid you welcome to the Furmankind Institute. Over the course of the next three days, I and my associates will begin your instruction into the basics of colonial life.  This will cover an initial understanding of the typical conditions you will all likely face when you are assigned to a new world. Each session will be four hours long, broken up by a fifteen minute break at two-hour intervals and a one-hour lunch period.”

He put his hands behind his back and looked around at the volunteers. “It is my honor to begin today, so if you will all focus your attention on the smart-screen behind me, we can begin.”

He picked up a remote control from a recess within the podium and thumbed a pad without looking at the controls. The screen came to life, displaying the AHCP logo upon a blue starfield. The logo disappeared and a bulky, cumbersome-appearing space freighter filled the screen upon the backdrop.

Built more for functionality than aesthetics, the ship resembled nothing more than a winged, fat cigar flattened on the bottom and narrower at the back around the interstellar slip-drive engines. While unneeded for space flight, its massive upper delta wings would be essential for descending into a planetary atmosphere, giving the vessel the appearance of a large airplane. Large cargo doors were flush with the curved sides of the vessel just forward of the engines. Its stubby nose was adorned with a single row of glassteel windows for the bridge flight deck and the overall external color scheme of the ship was dirty white with its name and registry number painted green in small block letters across its four huge retractable cargo doors.

“This is the Francisco Coronado, a Traveler-class Heavy Freighter,” Chesterfield explained. “This is one of three such vessels in use by the AHCP to ferry colonists and their supplies to each new world opened up for settlement. It is the sister ship of the Meriwether Lewis and the William Clark.  There was a fourth ship, the Ferdinand Magellan, but it vanished without a trace as it approached its destination a decade ago.  Now, this freighter and personnel carrier has a heavy payload capacity of….”

The instructor stopped and looked at the four men seated down near the front. One held up a hand in interruption. “Yes, Mr. Nicholas, you had a question?”

“When will we start to see the first effects of the transformation?” asked a young man from the Ursis group who looked as if he might have been a college linebacker.

Chesterfield looked confused. “I'm sorry, son, but that is not my area of expertise. I was about to give you the background of the stellar vehicle that will take you and your colony supplies out to the planet chosen for you to tame.” Another hand went up from the Canis group. “Yes, you have a question about this freighter, mister uh…?”

“Carl Amaranth, Professor. No, I was wondering if you could explain how a plantigrade foot will form into digitigrade without depleting tissue mass.”

“No, Mr. Amaranth, I cannot,” Chesterfield replied with tightly pressed lips, “but if you will all listen to what I have to say, you will learn the nature of my instruction.”  Another hand went up and he sighed in impatience.  “Ma'am, do you have a question about the Coronado?”  The hand dropped and the youngest of the Vulps sisters shook her head quietly.

“Thank you,” the professor told her. “Now, a Traveler-class Heavy Freighter has a heavy payload capacity of…” 

*** 

Jon felt a tap on his shoulder and he suddenly jolted awake. Kristen smiled at him in amusement and whispered in his ear, “You can wake up now. We get a fifteen minute break before the next speaker begins.”

Jon hid a yawn behind a hand and then blinked in rapid succession. “Mm, sorry,” he mumbled. “I hope I wasn't snoring.”

“You weren't, but Dante was,” Jenni piped in with a chuckle, standing up to stretch. “I had to elbow him three times.”

“That was a lot of dry information,” the younger man grumbled.

Jon wiped his eyes and saw several other drowsy volunteers around the assembly hall. “How far did I make it through Chesterfield's monotone presentation before I nodded off?”

“About forty-five minutes,” Kristen replied lightly. “C'mon, get up and walk around. Get a drink of water and go visit the little boys' room.”

“Yes, ma'am,” Jon said, forcing himself to his feet. He glanced down at the podium and watched the silver-haired professor put his notes away into a briefcase, silently hoping the information he had covered would be shared to their PBJs. He doubted the lecture was given without a reason, and Jon still wanted to look it over despite its dryness. He had always enjoyed academic studies, but sometimes the speaker's voice could drone on and on.

The next speaker was the mentor assigned to the Vulps Wing, a dark-skinned woman named Jean Dessau whose expertise was in transterrestrial botany. Her instruction would be discussing similarities between the plant-life on Earth to those they had found on the other worlds that had been discovered thus far. Kristen sat riveted in place through her presentation, and even though there were few others in the room with a background in botany, Ms. Dessau was an experienced speaker who knew how to hold the attention of her spectators. The settlers would be taking a great amount of food and seed with them, but eventually they would have to attempt growing Earth-type food plants in the alien soil or they would have to discover edible vegetation among the native plant life.

Before long, the class was over and a greater amount of the audience was still awake than had been with Chesterfield's presentation. The assemblage was given an hour for lunch, and since the cafeteria was on the ground floor of the same building, the majority of the crowd congregated there for their noon meal.

Jenni led her group to a long set of tables near the middle of the cafeteria, and after the Felis group had taken their seats with their trays of food, it was apparent why the blonde nurse had chosen these tables.  Behind them in the serving line were four women and one young man, and when they wandered out looking for a place to sit down, Jenni waved the whole group over to them. 

Cheryl and three females sat on the end of the table beside her and Kristen, but a lone male stood with his tray in disappointment when there were no more seats among them.  With a sigh, he moved to the opposite end and approached Jon and Dante.

“May I sit here, please?” he asked timidly. A long forelock of the young man's sandy blonde hair fell into his grey eyes, but both hands held onto the tray leaving him without a way to brush it from his face. The dark blue furman garment he wore was almost too large for his lanky frame.

Dante merely nodded, but Jon looked up at him with a friendly smile. “Sure, have a seat.  Your name is Kevin, right?”

The young man looked surprised and delighted. “That's right,” he said as he set his tray on the table and then sat down. “Kevin Rockwell.”

“I'm Jon Sunset and this is Dante Capanari. We're the male half of the Felis Wing.”

“I'm the only guy in the Vulps Wing,” the newcomer supplied with a frown, brushing the long bangs from his face. “Even my doctor and nurse are both women.”

“The black wall must have been a nightmare for you,” Dante muttered, blowing on a hot bit of food on the end of his fork.

“I was glad they made me close my eyes,” Kevin confessed.

Jon studied the young man for a moment. “Excuse me for being blunt, but are you old enough to be in the AHCP?” he asked.

Kevin hesitated before responding. “Barely,” he admitted with a frown, dropping his eyes. “I turned eighteen last month.”

There was something about the young man's manner that bothered Jon. “Did you actually volunteer for this?” he asked in a voice so soft that Kevin almost did not hear him. The youth looked up  and found no mocking amusement in the older man's face. Finally, slowly, Kevin's eyes dropped to his plate and he shook his head.

“My folks made me sign up for it.  I'm their only kid and they want me to set them up for the rest of their lives with the prize money.”

“I hope they know that you have to survive five years on an alien world to get that prize,” Dante supplied from across the table. “What skills do you have?”

Kevin looked frightened. “None!  I… I've never even had a job,” he confessed weakly. “I just graduated from high school four months ago!”  He looked at his food in disgust, as if he had just lost his appetite. “I've never even been away from home longer than a week of summer camp before.”

Jon felt pity for the young man; here was someone else there against his wishes. Experienced as Brian Barrett, he had survival skills that might benefit him on another world, but this boy had none. He did not even look as if he had played many sports.

“The Institute plans to train us all in skills we'll need for the colonies,” he assured him, picking up a BLT sandwich from his plate. “They aren't going to just ship us out and drop us off as we are now.  I don't think any of us would survive for long if they did that.”

“I would certainly hope not.”

“Listen, why don't you come over to the Felis Wing and visit us whenever you feel like your vixens are putting too much estrogen in the air,” Jon invited.

Kevin blinked. “Vixens? Estrogen?”

Dante laughed at the boy's naiveté. “A vixen is a female fox,” he told him. “Do you know what testosterone is?”

Kevin nodded. “That's basically what makes a man a male.”

“Close enough,” Dante chuckled. “Estrogen is the same for a woman. It's what makes them all fussy and girly at times, and when there's too much of it in the air it usually makes most guys want to steer clear of them and hang out with other guys.”

Kevin grinned. “Yeah, I can understand that!” he replied.

“Come on over anytime you feel like it,” Jon said again.

“Thanks, Mr. Sunset!”

The older man laughed. “Please, first names only, remember? I'm Jon and that's Dante.”

Kevin slunk down in his seat a little. “I tried being friends with Cheryl's roommate, but that Travis guy only made fun of me for being a single guy in a house full of available women and that married couple only seems to look on me in pity.”

“Forget Travis,” Jon told him. “Listen, if you don't mind spending time with a couple of older guys…”

“Older? Hey, I haven't made it over the hill like you yet!” Dante complained. “I'm still in my twenties!”

“You're still older than me,” Kevin countered with a grin, “but none of us are as old as the Amaranths!”

Jon laughed and shook his head, and then suddenly remembered some of the background that had been fabricated for him. “You know, you're about the age my younger brother would have been.”

“Would have been?” Kevin asked. Dante looked up in curiosity.

Jon nodded and pretended to study his sandwich for a moment. “I lost my kid brother a few years ago to a lake accident. Now that I think about it, he would have been graduating this year.”

“What was his name?” Kevin asked somberly.

“Nathanial, but I always called him Nate.”  Jon took another bite of his BLT and the others returned to their meals for several quiet moments. After a bit, Dante reached across the table and tapped the edge of Kevin's plastic meal tray.

“What're names of your cute housemates?” he asked with a sly grin. “They're all sisters, aren't they?”

Kevin raised an eyebrow, but shrugged and indicated each of the dark-haired women sitting with Cheryl on the other end of the table.  “The oldest one with the long dark hair is Jasmine Fleur,” he whispered. “The one next to her with the short curly hair is Dahlia, and the youngest beside Cheryl with the short hair is Rose. They're all in their twenties, just a few years apart between each of them.”

“What are they like?” Dante wanted to know.

“I dunno. They all tease me,” Kevin said bitterly, “so I spend most of my time in my room.”

How do they tease you?”

Kevin's brow furrowed. “They keep saying how cute I am, how lonely I look, or wonder how snuggly I might be,” he grumbled. “This morning, all three of them were waiting for me when I got out of the shower.”

“What'd they do?”

Kevin swallowed with difficulty. “They all dropped their towels at the same time.”

Dante's eyes widened with his grin. “What did you do?”

“I ran to my room!  But I—”

Dante cackled. “What I wouldn't give to trade places with you!” he exclaimed, sitting back in his chair.

“I was halfway to my room before I realized they all had on peach-colored swimsuits beneath their towels.”

“Kevin, don't let them bother you,” Jon told him, pushing away his finished plate. “That's typical female behavior, and they only do it because they know it embarrasses you. If you stop showing shock and surprise, they'll stop bugging you.”

“I don't know if I can stop being surprised,” Kevin mumbled. “I didn't grow up around sisters, and I didn't date much in high school.”

“Virgin!” Dante cackled.

Kevin frowned, but nodded. “I am, but I'm in no hurry,” he retorted.

“Uh huh, right. What interests do they have?”

“All three are into martial arts, something else that makes me afraid of them.”

Jon shook his head. “We'll have to find some things in common to help you pass your free time while we're here,” Jon remarked. “What do you like to do?”

“Well,” the young man began, eager to chat with his newfound friends, “I like to read adventure books, watch football and hockey, go jogging, cycling and hiking…”

The guys visited for a little while longer until Kristen stood up from her seat and announced that it was time to head back up to the assembly hall. Despite the earlier awkward moments between her and Cheryl the day before, the two women seemed to have enough mutual interests that they had enjoyed their discussion over lunch.

Jon and Kevin brought up the rear as the entourage made its way to the stairs, and just before they left the cafeteria, Jon noticed Travis still sitting by himself in the far corner of the large room; not even his remaining housemates were sitting with him now. The other man glared at him with brooding eyes, but Jon did not give him more than a glance before disappearing up the stairs.

The rest of the day went without incident, the time spent listening to the presentations given them, and they were directed to bring their PBJs with them upon the following day for taking notes and sharing information.  

***  

When Jenni opened her eyes the next morning, she knew instantly that something was different. Her sleep-addled mind was not yet alert enough to realize what it was, only that something did not feel quite right.

Before she had a chance to open her eyes to look at the clock, there was an odd sensation all over her body. It was not unpleasant, just odd. Heaving a sigh at having to get up, she struggled into a sitting position. She reached to the lamp beside the bed and tapped it on, but it was still a moment or two before she opened her eyes to the illumination.

She did so at the same moment that she pulled her covers back, and she immediately saw something under the sheets with her. She felt a brief instance of fear at the strands of a yellowish material before she realized what she was seeing.

In disbelief, the woman reached up to her head and put a hand upon her scalp. It was completely smooth and the naked skin felt mildly tingly beneath her fingers. Although she had known that the hair of the volunteers would be replaced by fur, it had never occurred to her that the hair would simply fall out.

She looked back down at her sheets and realized that there were more than just her blonde strands upon her pillow and beside her on the bed. She got up out of the bed and then whipped back the cover sheet and the fleece blanket. Puffs of other fine hair showered the air and then she stepped back.

Movement at the corner of her eye drew her attention to her reflection in the large mirror over the dresser and she approached it. Jenni had never been vain about her looks, but she had always taken care to make herself presentable.  She leaned in close to examine her scalp, and it was while she was up next to the glass that she realized that her eyebrows were missing, as well as her long eyelashes!

All of her hair?

She furrowed her brow in sudden suspicion and then stripped off the cotton night clothes she had slept in. The shapely woman stared back at her bare image with her hands on her hips, lightly chewing on her bottom lip in thought. Her body was completely devoid of all hair.

Yes, all of it.

Perhaps her family's free lifestyle had conditioned her, but after a moment of contemplation, Jenni shrugged her shoulders and turned back to the bed. She pulled off the top covers and shook them out over the carpet before depositing them in a corner beside the room's recliner. She would have to vacuum later, but for now she wanted her former tresses off the bed. She pulled off the pillows and the bottom fitted sheet and did the same with them.  Some of the smaller hairs would not seem to shake off, so she pulled out a set of the furman garments from the dresser and slid into them before leaving her room to get another set of linens from the saloon closet.

When she stepped outside of her door, the lights were already on out in the common area. Jenni smiled when Jon looked up at her on his way back across the room, his arms already laden with fresh sheets, pillow cases and a blanket for his bed.  Like herself, she knew that the large man was just as hairless. His head of rusty-red hair was now a taut dome of skin and the expression on his face was almost comical without the thick eyebrows above his eyes.

“G'morning, Baldilocks,” he quipped, his gaze roving over her nude head.

“Good morning,” she replied, crossing her arms and then putting a finger up under her chin, her head slightly tilted to the side. “Have you ever considered a gold earring?” she asked with a smile.

Jon gave her a look of longsuffering for such a comment so early in the morning. “I have enough holes in my head without putting another in my earlobe,” he retorted with a wry smirk.

“He would look like the mascot of that old cleaning fluid commercial,” added Dante's voice from behind her.  Jenni whirled around and saw the younger bald man grinning at her, his face oddly plain without its pencil-thin mustache.

“That's what I was thinking,” she agreed.

“Or… we could paint his skin blue and he could be Aladdin's genie,” Dante quipped. “Halloween's coming up, y'know.”

Jon grinned easily, taking the ribbing good-naturedly. “Well, at least we all have a sense of humor about losing our hair,” he told them, leaning up against the wall beside his room. “However, I always thought I would be like my grandfather and go to my grave with a full head of hair.”

“Now you'll go with a full body of fur instead!” Dante did not see the sudden dark look the other man gave him. He had his head tilted upward and he was running a hand across his smooth chin. “At least I have the satisfaction of knowing that I'll never need a razor again.”

Jenni raised a naked eyebrow and then looked down at her legs. “Me either,” she supplied. “I suppose that's a good thing.”

“I look like a shop window dummy in a department store,” Dante exclaimed.

Jon smiled at that, mentally noting that he got the dummy part right. “Actually, you look like a hairless ape, with the way your ears stick out on either side of your head!”

Not to be daunted by the verbal exchange, Dante bent over and curled his hands up under his now-hairless armpits, grunting in a simian manner.

“I wonder why they didn't make furman apes when they discovered the process,” Jenni wondered. “The DNA is close enough that I doubt there would have been many problems with the changes.”

“Yeah, Dante would have been a perfect specimen,” Jon said with a chuckle.

“I think it's because the body mass of an ape is too heavy,” Dante mused aloud. When the other two looked at him, he shrugged. “I saw it on a nature show. Apes can't swim because their muscle mass weighs too much, and this is why a lot of zoos put them on islands surrounded by water instead of behind cage bars.”

“That's a good point,” Jenni agreed.

“Hey, do you guys have to have a nature conversation outside my door this early in the morning?” asked a groggy voice.  All three of the housemates looked aside at their fourth. Kristen was standing just inside the doorway of her room, sleepy-eyed and yawning. “You woke me up.”

Dante grinned and motioned for the others to join him. All three stepped up to their companion and leaned in close, placing their bald heads side by side in front of her.

Kristen stepped back, suddenly suspicious of this action, but it only took her sleep-fogged mind a few heartbeats to realize that something was out of place. Then it hit her. 

“You… you all shaved your heads!” she exclaimed with wide eyes.

Jenni shook her head, bumping her male bookends on both sides. “Guess again,” she said in a lilting voice.

Kristen furrowed her brow. “I don't understand,” she replied. “What's going on?”

Jon stepped forward and gently took the botanist's hand. She watched mutely as he raised her fingers upward and then placed her hand on top of her own head. Her fingers froze upon the smooth flesh of her scalp and she blinked several times in rapid succession.

“You… you shaved me too!” she suddenly wailed, grasping her bare head in both hands. “Is this some kind of sick joke in the night? I can't believe you would—”

Kris!” Jon barked sharply. “Stop!” The short woman did as commanded, her eyes growing moist as they locked upon his face.  “Kris, you haven't been shaved, and neither have we. All our hair fell out during the night.  It's part of the furman process.”

“It fell out?” she squeaked.  “All of it?”

Dante smirked and glanced down toward her shorts. “Every last little hair!”

Kristen looked at him in momentary confusion, but then the lecherous expression on his face registered. She coughed nervously into her hands and then suddenly darted back inside her room, slamming the door behind her.

“She hadn't even noticed,” Dante quipped, looking back at his companions. He reached up and put both hands upon his smooth scalp. There was not even a hint of stubble across its surface.  “I wonder how long before the peach-fuzz of our fur begins to come in.”

“A few days, I think,” Jenni answered. She lingered at the other woman's door even as the guys turned away, wondering if she should go in and offer her support. She raised her hand up to knock, but the door panel suddenly opened.

Kristen stepped out of the opening, tears streaming down her cheeks, long strands of her former dark tresses spilling out from her hands. “It took me years to grow my hair out that long…” she whispered, looking up at her female housemate.

“Didn't you know this would happen?” Jenni asked quietly. Jon had already taken his clean linens into his room and Dante was heading for the far side of the room to get his own from the closet. “Our bodies have to get rid of human hair follicles to prepare our hides for incoming fur.”

Kristen looked down at the hair in her hands. “I guess I didn't really think about it at all,” she admitted. Then she looked up at the other woman, the hint of resignation upon her face. “Even with the injections we got with the modified DNA, I suppose it never really seemed real to me until now. Our bodies are going to change. It's no longer something that's going to happen. It's started. We are becoming furmankind.”

Jenni placed her hands on top of Kristen's, cupping the long black human hair between their palms. “This is who we were,” she said, giving her a confident look. “Now it's time to be someone else that we have chosen to be. Don't be afraid of the future, Kristen. Look forward to it!”

The once-dark-haired botanist sighed and then gave her companion a small smile. “With friends like you and Jon, I think I can,” she admitted finally.

Jenni tilted her bald head. “What about Dante?”

Kristen shook her head with a smirk. “You and Jon are becoming good friends. Dante's like an annoying little brother.”

Jenni grinned. “You can choose your friends, but you're stuck with your relatives,” she quoted from memory.

“Exactly!”  Kristen looked down at the hair in her hands again and frowned. “I have a lot of hair in my bed. I'll never get back to sleep with it in there now.”

“That's what the rest of us were doing,” Jenni remarked. “We'd all come out to get fresh linens when we all bumped into one another.  C'mon, let's get ours so we can get back to sleep. There's still a few hours before we have to be up and back at the assembly.”

Kristen suddenly smiled. “There will be a bunch of bald heads in there this time. I hope Travis is traumatized by his!”

“That's the spirit!” Jenni said with a laugh.

NEXT CHAPTER

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