SUNSET OF FURMANKIND
by Ted R. Blasingame
Of life at the Furmankind Institute, there was one daily occurrence that every volunteer followed with almost religious attendance. Precisely at eight o'clock every morning, Sissy transmitted a small newsletter from the main office recapping events and incidents from the previous day, late-minute current news and tidbits on upcoming occasions. She included the various menus from the main cafeteria, sales on new items available in the Shoppette, as well as miscellaneous training sessions that could be attended by anyone at their convenience. Sometimes she included news from established furman colonies or rumors she had picked up concerning other stars where habitable planets may have been discovered.
Sissy kept the Institute informed of new developments at the complex, including reports on the progress of each Wing's group. All PBJ units were tuned to receive her daily newsletters, and although there was no directive to do so, just about everyone picked up their PBJ around the same time to see what Sissy had sent them. Even director Marcelo Delgado read her daily transmissions, sometimes discovering news or rumors that he had not been aware of himself and often wondering what her sources were..
By mid-November the leaves of all deciduous trees had dropped, but the abundant evergreens in the forest surrounding the Institute continued to provide a break against the increasingly cold mountain winds. There had been several days of snow, but for the most part the weather remained cold and grey with overcast skies.
Unrelated to the pain of transformation, other behavioral tendencies were surfacing among the Furs. The Ursis volunteers were lethargic in the cold weather, even though they would not require a seasonal hibernation like the bears from whose DNA was harvested, but the Canis volunteers, particularly the two becoming wolves, were enjoying the chilly temperatures. Likewise, the Vulps did not mind the winter weather, but the Felis preferred to stay indoors reclining near the fireplace.
For the first time since the transformations had begun, the volunteers experienced changes on a daily basis that were more than mere topical alterations. Their softened skeletal systems suffered increasing aches and pains from slowly elongating limbs of bone, tendons, blood vessels and muscles, and each person had to put out a great effort just to get out of bed each morning. The temptation to remain in bed was great, but despite the weakness, the doctors made them all get up and walk around periodically to keep atrophy from settling in.
Over the past two weeks the pain had been barely tolerable at times and each day promised an increase. The attendant doctors and nurses provided what relief they could, but soon it would take more than pharmaceutical assistance to endure the ever-increasing pain.
With this situation, all volunteers had been released from attending instructional classes, so without something specific to occupy them, the days felt longer, even as the approach of the Winter Solstice shortened the amount of daylight filtering in through the overhead skylights of each Wing. Information on their classes could be found via link either through the PBJs or through each group's terminal systems.
In the Felis Wing all of the back and bottom cushions from the pit's couches had been removed and scattered on the carpeted floor in front of the saloon fireplace. Dr. Renwick had graciously provided the kindling and split logs, and Jon kept it fed so that the fire had been going all morning. All four volunteers had parked themselves on the cushions with their PBJs, Jon and Jenni reading Sissy's newsletter transmission, Kristen perusing a botanical report from the Fur-colonized world of Bastien and Dante simply browsing the Net in boredom.
Jon set aside his PBJ, closed his golden-brown feline eyes and then rubbed the bridge of his nose with a sigh. His nose had begun to broaden even as his whole lower face slowly lengthened and spread out into the muzzle of a mountain lion. Fortunately, as a feline his face would not stretch out in front of him as much as those of the other three Wings would. The Institute's on-site dentist was likely to get a lot of calls all over the complex before the transformations had progressed much more. He fully expected fillings, caps and crowns to begin popping out of their mouths soon.
Although they had yet to begin moving up on their heads, the fleshy helix of their ears were already thinning out and reshaping into the ears of cats. This gave Dante something to tease Jon and Kristen about, since theirs were elongating a little more than his and Jenni's were, almost giving them the appearance of fuzzy elves. The inner workings of the ears would be slowly creeping up their skulls with the softening of the bones, and they had already been warned of ear aches when this occurred. Despite this, they had already discovered that with the new formation of extra muscles beneath the skin, they could swivel and move their ears for automatic directional hearing. Without conscious thought, their ears would also move in tune with their emotions as an added outward expression of mood.
Jon opened his eyes and looked at his hands. Although there did not seem to be any difference in the length or form of his fingers, there were two marked changes that had developed in the past few days. Although they did not feel swollen, the palms of his hands were puffy, and when he rubbed his fingers across them, the surface skin felt thicker somehow. He had gone to nurse Marcy out of concern when he had first noticed it, but she had only laughed, saying that he was developing pads upon his hands so that when his fingers later shortened and the configuration of his legs changed, he would have the capability of running on all fours, even though he would still be primarily a biped. To make her point, she had him lift a foot and then pointed out that the soles of his feet were developing the same pads and thicker skin, something that had completely escaped his notice until then.
She also pointed out that another human attribute he would keep was his fingerprints. They would be slightly altered, but virtually the same as what hed been born with, though he would have to be re-printed after the transformation was complete to update his thumbprint for future legal signatures.
It was an odd thing to be seeing so many small changes taking place across his body, and even though he knew this was happening to the others as well, it sometimes filled him with terror in the middle of the night if he thought on it too much. He had the head knowledge of the transformations, but to see it actually occurring filled him with dread and even some disbelief. Although he had put up a good front to his colleagues, Jonathan Sunset was inwardly afraid of what he was becoming. The aches and pains that accompanied some of these changes only further strengthened his notion that he would completely lose his humanity one day. So far, he had been able to manage the pain, but his subconscious was another matter.
Jon balled his hands into fists and instantly regretted it. His fingernails were still in the process of converting to feline claws, becoming extensions of his finger bones, just as his tail was an extension of his spine. Unlike the great cat he was becoming, however, the human aspects of his genetic soup prevented his claws from retracting and making a fist usually led to tiny skin punctures in his palms. The geneticists who had designed his DNA mixture had planned for him to keep the dexterity of fingers and opposable thumbs for handling the tools they would need colonizing other worlds, so retracting his claws was not an option. He was reminded that as a half-feline, he would not have all the traits of a full mountain lion, just some of them.
His feet, however, would be a different matter altogether. As he changed, he would be able to stand upright as a biped due to enlarged digitigrade back leg muscles and bone structure, and his feet would be changing to something less human than his hands. His toes had become a little bulbous on the ends and the bones within had already started redeveloping as retractable claws. As a fully-formed Fur, he would have the ability to extend his toe claws to aid in extra traction when running or climbing.
Jenni and Kristen had already made the best of the situation concerning their new claws, as it presented them with new extremities to decorate with nail polish. Jenni had covered hers with a subtle pink polish, while Kristen had used scarlet.
Of all the recent changes, however, the one that seemed to delight Dante the most was the growth of feline whiskers. Not only did he think they looked cool sprouting from both sides of his face, but the sensations they produced was almost intoxicating to him. Dr. Renwick had informed him that their purpose was to help him navigate in dark and narrow places. Dante thought he was pulling his leg, as he had never heard of that before, but when the physician pulled up a video on cat senses that profiled the whiskers, the younger man confessed that he had been ignorant of this part of a feline's makeup; he'd always thought the whiskers were merely cosmetic.
Be that as it may, Dante had developed a habit of stroking his whiskers just for the thrill of the sensation. Jon warned him that he could go blind playing with himself that way, pleased that he had something to tease him about for a change, and Jenni could not resist taking up the torch as well, slowly warming up to him again.
Almost simultaneously, all four PBJs issued a ping, signaling a late-breaking addition to Sissy's newsletter. Kristen, Dante, Jenni and Jon picked up their electronic tablets at the same time, each one tapping a claw tip on the screen to see what new morsel the Institute's administrative assistant had to tell them.
Good morning, once again!
As we all know, tomorrow is the American holiday observance of Thanksgiving, a time to reflect upon the good things that life has brought to each and every one of us. There are many things we take for granted that will be left behind forever, so as you partake of the traditional meals that will be delivered to all personnel at the Furmankind Institute, please remember all the things you have to be thankful for be it something in your past that led you to where you are now, or some goal in your future to look forward to.
Project Director Marcelo Delgado has asked me to convey an announcement that he will be making rounds to each of the Wings tomorrow with a message of utmost importance to each volunteer of Class Sixteen. When asked why he did not simply pass on his news within this very venue, he responded saying that this was a new development he felt he must present in person.
No matter how much prompting and offers of bribery I set upon him today, he has refused to give me even a tiny hint as to its meaning. I suspect it has something to do with an important call he received late last night, but beyond this, I have been unable to guess what this is about.
Be sure to watch for our Director tomorrow as he visits each of the Wings to make his announcement. You can rest assured that I will get no sleep myself tonight, wondering what development has arisen that requires a personal release of information.
Stay tuned, furry friends. I will keep you informed of any news that comes my way.
Sissy Quinn, Administrative Assistant of the Adirondack Furmankind Institute
Unless otherwise noted, all material © Ted R. Blasingame. All rights reserved.