SUNSET OF FURMANKIND
— by Ted R. Blasingame
Kristen awoke with a start, opening her eyes in the darkness of her sleeping capsule, disoriented and confused for a moment before another jolt of pain shot through both lower legs. In the week since the Adirondack Furs had arrived on Space Station Sebra, the absence of gravity had allowed their shifting bodies to accelerate the transformation in some areas, even though they still had months of change ahead of them. No two Furs experienced identical painful skeletal alterations at the same time, so the whole group was mostly in some form of distress around the clock.
The botanist gritted her teeth, clutching at her ankles and trying to muffle the screams that wanted release. Although she had seen cat feet all her life, she had never really taken a close look at their design. When the reformation was complete, she would be walking on the equivalent of her toes with what was left of her heels rarely touching the ground. She had no doubt that she would be taller after it all, but the stretching and remolding of her bones and the surrounding tissue was accompanied by pain. Fortunately, it was not constant pain, but every time a bout hit her, she could practically feel the bones and muscles moving into place. For now within the station, she was thankful she did not have to currently walk on the digitigrade extremities that her feet were becoming.
Almost ten minutes of agony passed before she could relax again. She gasped and panted, her chest heaving from the exertion, and her toes were numb. She had long since kicked off the tubular blanket, but she could feel it floating beside her, so she snared it out of the air and wadded it up in her arms by her face to have something, anything to cling to.
She floated in the darkness for a long time, listening to the cries and whimpers of others who suffered similar distress in the night. After a while, she wiped her eyes with the blanket and then felt around for the one smooth wall of her six-sided capsule. She found that she had spun around in the night, facing an opposite wall, but she managed to get herself turned around to tap on the light switch. The recessed lamp came on dimly at first, programmed to strengthen slowly in order to give sensitive night eyes a chance to adjust.
She opened a storage drawer, pulled out a box of tissues, and then blew her enlarged nose into it. She replaced the box, tucked the used tissue through a rubber slot in the wall into a trash receptacle, and then reached back into the drawer for her old wristwatch. She could no longer wear it, as the metal links pulled at the fur on her arm, but she was unable to make herself get rid of it. The space station's time zone was set to Greenwich Mean Time and her synchronized watch read 03:27.
Tentatively she flexed her right foot, but there were no more pangs of agony. The muscles felt a little sore, but did not sharply hurt anymore. She sighed in relief, hoping this session was done for the night, and then she tried the other foot to the same effect. The absence of pain was almost an excuse to celebrate, but she decided to settle on a hot shower instead. Her body had not yet completely lost all functioning sweat glands, and her heightened olfactory senses already told her she was rather ripe after the night’s stress.
Kristen pulled off her thin nightshirt, stuffed it into a recessed hamper, and then opened the drawer where she stored her clean clothes. The first item she grabbed was a pair of modified furman shorts that had elastic bands added to the leg openings to keep them closed in weightlessness. She sometimes felt the bands were a little binding, but she and the other women endured the quick fix to keep their privacy. The same could not be done to the furman robes they had all been used to wearing, but Commander Holden had understood the female Furs' need and had appropriated several halter tops for each of them from the station's commercial public stores in the E-Gee section — charged to the Institute, of course. While this tended to press down upon their fur, the edges of the garments fit snug enough to preserve decency; it would be a tradeoff for the duration of their stay in orbit.
Two days after their arrival, Kristen discovered that she needed to exchange the new garments that had been given to her. Not all changes to her anatomy were accompanied by pain, and the redistribution of body fat had the effect of slimming her down to a smaller size of clothing. She had already seen some weight loss before they had left the Institute, but further changes with the absence of gravity turned out to be an added benefit. She did not know if being weightless had anything to do with it; the timing could just be a coincidence with the natural process of overwritten DNA. Whatever the reason, slimming down was doing wonders for Kristen's self-esteem.
The botanist grabbed a towel and her bath kit, shut off the light in her compartment, and then turned toward the end of the capsule. She raised the shade quietly, pushed herself out into open air and closed it behind her.
There was no one else about at this hour, even though the sounds of personal pain continued to issue from some of the other capsules. She shook her head and tried not to listen, pushing herself toward the open pressure door.
Just outside the sleeping compartment was the large common room, and all but one of the lights in the chamber were turned off for the night. It was largely open space with only carpeted walls and recessed light panels. Without gravity, there was no need for furniture, and there was room enough that all four Wings could gather into separate groups at different areas of the space if needed.
Branching off from the common room were several more pressure doors leading in other directions. One door led to a cross corridor connecting the rest of the station to the external hatch where they had come in. The Branson was long gone, having rotated select station personnel back to Earth, and the hatch was double sealed against the outside vacuum.
Another corridor led off from the common room to the lavatories; the ones specifically designed for women on the left and the men on the right. A third door off the gathering area led to the showers. None of the self-contained shower pods were gender-specific, but there were six of them lined up in a row for anyone to use. Water was used sparingly in them along with special soaps and shampoos, since the water was recycled through a purifying reclamation system. The doors were programmed not to open until the vacuum system had completely drained the chamber of all free-floating water, so the pods were also equipped with body dryers; however, they were designed for human bodies, so towels were still needed for the furmen whose pelts might retain water droplets within the hairs of their fur. There was an emergency door release, but to be used only in the event of an actual life-threatening situation. The outside of the panel was also equipped with a lighted 'occupied' indicator that automatically activated whenever the lock was engaged from the inside.
One door led to a zero-gee dining area, another to a laundry room, and the final one to a low-impact workout room. Kristen could hear voices from the exercise room, and to satisfy her curiosity, she floated up to the door of that chamber but did not go in. Instead, she clung to the door frame and just eased her nose around the corner to peek inside.
As she had expected, Jon was in there doing his customary exercises. The wide-shouldered man was looking more like a hybrid mountain lion every day, though his head seemed misshapen in its partial formation. His legs had not yet gone through the same agonizing transformation into digitigrade limbs as hers were doing presently, but other aspects of his physique had him resembling a cougar more and more. He was still relatively broad across the back, but the configuration of his shoulder joints had changed in such a way that it would be easy to see him one day running either upright or down on all fours.
Despite his usual practice of starting and ending each day with exercises, his bones were just as soft and malleable as the other Furs, so he could not push himself to the same limits as he could down on Earth. Still, it was required for all of them to exercise each day as possible and Jon continued to make use of the facilities, even if at a lower impact.
At present the furman was jogging lightly upon what looked like a standard treadmill, only he was wearing a harness attached to straps mounted to the treadmill base to keep him firmly planted against the moving belt. The square room was not large; home for two treadmills on one wall, two exercise bikes on another, and a resistive exercise device mounted to another.
Jon was currently running up the wall from Kristen's point of view, and although they had been on board for a week, scenes like this continued to amuse her sense of perspective. Her housemate was wearing nothing more than furman shorts as he jogged along, his eyes closed and tongue lolled out as he panted to keep cool. Although she knew he was not exercising very strenuously, it looked like he was just as physically engaged as he usually was back in the Felis Wing. She watched him for several minutes, admiring his physique, as well as his dedication to keeping himself fit. She might have been tempted to join him despite the painful episode she had just endured with her feet, but he was not alone in the small room.
Cheryl and Jasmine each occupied an exercise bike on what her mind said should be the floor, both wearing their modified shorts and halter tops. The Border Collie and the eldest of the vixen sisters were chatting quietly as they pedaled up the miles on their stationary bicycles, and although Jon was not engaged in their conversation, Kristen could see his feline ears occasionally twitch and reorient toward them as he jogged.
When Kristen noticed that both women’s eyes were glued to the man’s rear end and the wide leg openings of his shorts, she narrowed her eyes. If her claw nails had not already been permanently extended, they would have come out then; without realizing it, she left several scratches in the surface of the metal door frame. She also felt a growl forming deep in her throat, but she quickly swallowed it to remain quiet. She did not like the fact that two other women were paying attention to Jon’s backside. He was by no means a handsome man, and although she had no claim to him for herself, it rankled her sense of his belonging to her Wing. It wasn’t right that they should be admiring him too.
Probably the most handsome males among the Adirondack Furs were Aaron Bleys and his cousin Gerard Nicholas, both of the Ursis Wing. Even in only the beginnings of their nine-month transformation both retained their charm, wit and a good measure of their looks. Kristen had talked with them during meal time on occasion, and she had enjoyed their company, but right now, she wished that Cheryl and Jasmine would go ogle their physiques instead of Jon’s.
Fighting down a vocal outburst of ire, Kristen backed out of the doorway very quietly and then pushed herself toward the shower compartment. Without even looking, she knew there was a raised ridge of fur along her back, but as she floated along, she willed herself to calm down, fearing the adrenaline might set off another wave of leg cramps.
For most of her adult life, Kristen had always loathed mirrors, but when she entered the chamber that housed the shower pods she saw several of them mounted to the walls and paused in front of one. She stared at herself for several long moments, but then she looked around surreptitiously to make sure no one else was in the area; neither seeing nor hearing anyone else, the botanist quickly stripped off her garments. She held them in one hand with her towel and her shower kit with the other, and then allowed herself to do a small pirouette so that she could better examine her reflection.
It was the first time in a long while that she had taken a thorough look at her naked body, and she had to admit that she was pleased by what she saw. She was not as slim and well-built as either Cheryl or Jasmine, but compared to what she had been just a few weeks ago Kristen was amazed that she didn't think she looked fat anymore. She still had some meat on her, but no more than many good-looking friends she had known in the past.
Kristen examined herself in a new light, seeing not just her weight, but a total picture of her new body. Her fur pelt was a uniform brown that faded into beige upon her chest, belly, around her crotch and on the underside of her arms. Where the different colors met, they merged gently into one another without a distinctive border. The fur down the back of her neck and the middle of her back tended to be a little darker than the rest of her fur, but the human style scalp-hair upon her head was slowly growing back in, just as black as it had been all her life. Even with the accelerated growth associated with the transformation, it would be some time before her hair might be as long as it had once been. She was not sure she would let it grow to that length again, perhaps just enough so that she could put it into a ponytail, but now it was barely an inch or two long. Still, it was nice to see it coming back. Despite that she had first grown mountain lion fur on top of her head, she and Jenni both thought they had looked bald without their human hair.
Kristen looked back toward the door. She thought she had heard a sound, so she pushed off from the wall toward the nearest shower pod. She might be pleased with her newly slimmed figure, but she was still just as modest as she had always been. Once inside the pod, she clipped her towel and garments to a set of clamps on the back of the door and then let her shower kit simply float in place; she then went through printed steps on a sign affixed to one wall to begin the shower and recovery system.
The botanist took her time, letting the hot water jets help relax her stressed muscles and mind. Perhaps it was because her senses were heightened as she neared her monthly cycle, but seeing the other two females watching Jon's tail had generated a surge of jealousy she had not known was there. In her own favor, however, she had secret knowledge that because of his ex-fiancé, Jon was pointedly not intent on getting into another relationship. He might not be attracted to her, but she knew he was not interested in the other two either. At least she was part of his Wing and got to spend more time with him than anyone from another group.
Once Kristen was clean and rinsed she enjoyed the full body dryer, and then used the towel to pat down the rest of her fur afterward. Once the internal sensors detected that the shower pod was again dry of free-floating water droplets, she heard the tumblers of the lock click to allow her to get out.
She plucked her clothing from the door clamps, put them and the shower kit together in one hand, and then wrapped the towel over her arm while she pushed the door open. She pulled at the door frame to guide herself out into the shower room and was mostly out when she realized she was not alone.
Kristen's eyes widened in surprise when she came face to face with Jon. He had just floated into the room following his exercise routine and just happened to be oriented right-side up facing her. He was still in his shorts, but had his own towel and shower kit in hand. Neither of the other women was with him and she started to give him a friendly smile, until she saw his eyes flick over her body before suddenly averting his gaze. With a quickly sinking feeling, she realized that she had not covered up at all before exiting the shower.
Her first reaction was to tense up as she had done another time when she had stepped out of the shower and found him in the room with her, but this time, she swallowed and forced herself to relax, quickly positioning her damp towel in front of her.
If it had been anyone else, she might have had her usual negative reaction, but the memory of her slimmer reflection reminded her that she was no longer as overweight as she had once been. Jenni had often chided Kristen about her self-image, suggesting that she be more comfortable with her appearance around others, but until now it had been a concept she had never fully grasped. Willing herself to remain calm, she resisted the urge to flee and simply remained floating in place.
As soon as she emerged naked from the shower pod in front of him, Jon had fully expected a shriek and a violent response, but instead Kristen had done nothing more than simply position a damp towel in front of her. Perhaps she had finally become comfortable with herself with the changes of transformation. He had no way of knowing that the presence of the other women in the exercise room with him had also partially influenced her decision to stay put in front of him.
He finally remembered his manners, still keeping his eyes averted toward a nearby pod door. “Hi, Kris,” he mumbled quietly. “If you'll excuse me, I'm just heading for a shower.”
He turned toward the nearest pod and the botanist eased away from her door frame with a gentle push. When he opened the shower door, Kristen reached out and touched him on the arm. He looked over at her, keeping his eyes decidedly above shoulder level.
“I can wash your back for you,” she offered in a voice just above a whisper; she casually moved the towel aside, discarding all efforts to cover up now. “I know it can be difficult to reach the fur back there.”
Jon swallowed again. It had been a long time since he had shared a shower with anyone and he was momentarily tempted to accept her unexpected offer. Since she was making no attempt to hide herself, he moved away from her just enough to look her over. Pleased that he was looking, she smiled and spun slowly in mid air to allow him to view her from all sides. In a moment of uncharacteristic mischief she flicked her tail at him so that its end brushed his belly, causing the muscles in his stomach to jump. While it still wasn’t the full length of a typical cougar's tail, it was plenty long enough to tease and his muscular flutter had amused her.
At first, Jon saw a graceful, female body freely offered to view in a private setting. With the exception of a few misshapen areas due to the present transformation process, she was well proportioned and although fully nude, her chest fur had grown thick enough to modestly cover her breasts, leaving only the hint of nipples peeking through; likewise, the fur at her crotch was thicker than the rest and sufficiently hid everything beneath. Her hips were nicely rounded, and although her lower legs were enlarging in the process of becoming digitigrade there was a nice curvature to them.
But then Jon's mind came back to life. Not long ago he had been sitting in a prison cell destined to die for the premeditated murder of a furman mountain lion like the one he was now becoming. He looked at Kristen again with a different perspective, but this time all he saw was an animal with a human female’s shape. She was months away from being fully transformed, her face and body a conglomeration of both human and animal features, and he suddenly felt repulsed by her appearance.
Jon had thought that being constantly surrounded by other Furs-in-the-making, he would eventually get used to being around them. For the most part he actually had done just that, but all his conditioning came crashing down around him in one grim moment. He could feel the curl of his lip beginning to pull up, but he forced it back down by feigning a cough into his hand. Despite the monstrosity she was becoming, Kristen was still his friend. He did not know how to decline her offer gracefully, so he finally swallowed once more and averted his eyes again to look only into the shower pod beside him
“Uhm, thanks, but no thank you…” he mumbled. Without waiting for a response, he pulled himself into the shower and closed the door behind him.
Kristen stared at the panel in shock and disbelief. She had finally overcome her modesty in front of the only man in her life she would have allowed to see her like this, and she had even been so bold as to suggest an intimate shower with him. His reaction was a slap in the face.
She felt a sudden flash of anger, and although she wanted to shout a heated response through his shower door, she turned away instead feeling dazed and dejected, her eyes suddenly moist. She heard the water start up inside his pod as she heaved a great sigh, then she pushed off to float toward the exit. She had almost reached the corridor when she remembered her state of undress, so she put her shorts and halter top back on quickly in stiff motions.
Kristen saw no one else on her way back to her capsule and was glad of it. She pulled herself into her private sanctum, quietly stowing her shower kit in the drawer and stuffing the damp towel into the hamper. It was not until she had removed her clothes to slide into a fresh nightgown that the tears came. The station stewards had drilled it into them constantly about the dangers of free floating liquid drops, so she hastened to grab her tissues. Once she had a wad of them in each hand, she allowed herself to break down and cry.
Kristen awoke slowly to the sound of nearby voices. She opened her eyes in the darkness of her sleeping capsule, once again disoriented and confused, but then she remembered where she was. She yawned, flattening her feline ears against her skull, and her pink tongue curled up over itself as she stretched languidly. She remembered having bad dreams during the night, but at the moment could no longer remember what they had been about.
Her long whiskers informed her that she was floating up next to one of the padded walls. The tube blanket was bunched around her waist so she kicked it off and then wriggled out of her nightgown. She clicked on the light and then rummaged in a drawer for a fresh pair of shorts and a halter top. Before she got dressed, however, she bent over to examine her legs. Although she could not recollect her dreams, she did remember the painful episode of the night. She ran her hands over the soft fur of her legs starting at the knees, and marveled at the visible changes the transformation had made in them. Her feet had angled downward, elongated to nearly double their original length, and her ankles had moved up closer toward her knees.
If she were walking around the station instead of floating, she would now be walking primarily on her toes instead of the whole of her feet as she had done all her life. However, her toes were still mainly human extremities, though a little stubby due to the retractable claws that had grown within them as extensions of her toe bones. She'd had this for a while, so she was puzzled why they had not progressed any farther compared to the other changes she had experienced; the enlarged bone structure and leg muscles just below her hips made putting on her modified shorts a little difficult, but the leg openings were wide enough to accommodate her new chassis design. The best part was that her legs no longer hurt. They were still far from complete in their changes, but for now they felt, for lack of a better term, normal.
Kristen reached behind her and snared her thick rope of a tail. She pulled it around and stretched it out, examining its length. Mountain lions in the wild had long tails that nearly equaled the length of their bodies, used primarily as a counterbalance in running, stalking and leaping after prey. It was the single most item of pride that she had toward her new body, and she checked its length daily. It still had nearly two feet to grow, if her calculations on its finished length were correct, but she could tell day by day that it was growing ever longer.
Satisfied that her development was going well so far, she hoped that there would be no more pain today. Rather than hide herself away while her body went through painful contortions, she wanted to visit the space station's zero-gee hydroponics greenhouse. As a botanist, she was curious how well certain plants could thrive in the absence of gravity, in addition to the gardeners' watering methods in a section of the station where even a single drop of water floating free was cause for concern.
Smiling to herself, she slid into her shorts, wriggled into the halter top, and then checked the time on the wrist watch stored in a drawer. It was well after eight o'clock and a small rumble in her belly begged for breakfast. She put the watch away and then opened the end of her capsule.
Kevin floated outside the end of another capsule, his hands upon the edge of the opening, talking quietly with Rose Fleur in a low voice. The red-furred vixen lay on her belly looking out at him and chuckled lightly at something the young fennec fox had said. Neither of them noticed Kristen when she pulled herself out of her quarters and closed the shade behind her. She smiled briefly to herself and then did a quiet somersault in the air before pushing off toward the door.
Several of the Furs and their physicians were grouped together near the middle of the larger outer room, engaged in a lively conversation about something that she was not privy to, so she continued through the air toward the dining area. Mounted upon the walls of that chamber were standard tables with bench seats, all equipped with lap straps to go across patrons' thighs as a means to stay in place while they ate their meals.
Jenni, Dante and Marcy sat together at an inverted table clinging to the ceiling. Kristen smiled at the sight and then proceeded to the serving station mounted at a wall that consisted of a counter top below several three-by-twelve inch slots. She read the handwritten labels on each of them until she found a selection she liked. She punched a button beside the one she wanted and the thin opening to the slot unlocked and flipped out. A warm, pre-heated tray slid out into her hands and she took it amidst the fresh aroma of eggs, bacon, and potatoes. Each partition of the tray contained a paste-like substance that she knew equaled the foods she smelled. She did miss having toast with her breakfast, but assumed that something like tiny bread crumbs might get into the station's systems if they floated out of the dining area.
At one end of the counter, she plucked a plastic spoon from an enclosed container, and then she opened one of two side by side cabinet doors. One contained chilled drinks in squeeze bottles with clipped end straws, and the other held drinks in similar bottles that were heated. She did not feel like having coffee through a straw, so she pulled out a chilled tube of orange juice instead.
Once she had all her selections, she pushed off from the carpeted floor with her toes and eased up to the table where her friends sat. “Good morning,” she said cheerily, flipping around so that she could sit upside down next to Marcy at the table. She set her food tray on a lightly magnetized tabletop and the tray snuggled up to the table where it would stay in place until she was finished and pulled it loose. Her hands free, she plucked the free ends of a lap strap and connected them across her thighs to keep her seated on the bench.
“G'morning,” Jenni answered politely.
Dante merely nodded beside her as he took a swig of his morning coffee and Marcy replied with a simple, “Morning, Kristen.”
“How are things today?” Kristen asked, putting her spoon into a pale yellow paste that she knew was the zero-gee space food equivalent of scrambled eggs. The paste was thick enough that it could be eaten without fear of pieces floating off through the room; although the consistency upon the palette was not as good as the real thing, the taste was a decent approximation, even if she felt it could use a little extra pepper for flavor. There were rumors that real food was available to those who resided in the E-Gee section of the station and the developing Furs harbored envy after those allowed to visit that area.
Jenni rested her head upon Dante's shoulder with drowsy eyes. “I could use more sleep,” the furry nurse replied, “but I have cryogenics preparation training with the station's chief medical officer in a little while.”
Dante took another sip of his coffee and shrugged his shoulders, making the female leopard's head bob up and down. “After I shower, Doctor Renwick wants to check my ears,” he answered quietly. Kristen blinked and looked at the white tiger's ears as if seeing them for the first time. They were higher up on his skull than they had been two days ago.
“Do they hurt?” she asked in concern.
“Not anymore,” he replied. “I had quite an ear ache all night, though. What about you? I thought I heard you crying out from your bed.”
Kristen frowned, swallowing a bit of paste that looked like play-dough with the taste of bacon. “It was my legs, moving and stretching. It was horrible — quite painful, but I'm feeling better now.”
Marcy looked concerned. “We should probably examine your legs too,” the human nurse suggested.
“I think I'm okay now. Besides, I have a tour of the greenhouse today, so I'll be away for a while.”
“You know, the medical station is just up the corridor from the greenhouse,” Marcy reminded her. “I'd still like to look over your legs, just to be sure.”
Kristen nodded. “Okay, I'll swing by after my tour.” She looked around the room at a few others sitting at the other tables. She saw Gerard sitting by himself, his head down in front of nothing more than a juice container, and Cheryl was chatting with Doctor Aristotle, though the older physician looked a little ill this morning. At the sight of the Border Collie, Kristen narrowed her eyes. “Where's Jon this morning?” she asked without taking her eyes off of the canine.
“He and Norman are out at that big observation window up the corridor that looks over the Earth,” Dante explained. “Whelan’s still having a difficult time dealing with the transformation and they’re trying to encourage him.”
Kristen nodded quietly, thinking it was ironic that someone with an attitude toward furmankind such as Jon should be giving someone else encouragement about becoming a Fur. Her eyes went back to the brown bear sitting alone. “Is Gerard okay?” she asked with a frown.
“He awoke this morning to find all his teeth floating around his sleep capsule,” Marcy answered, “so he's on a liquid diet for a few days until his ursine teeth grow back in – thankfully at an accelerated rate.”
Kristen cringed and put a hand up to her jaw. “Ow, that's gotta hurt,” she gasped.
“Fortunately, that doesn't hurt much,” the nurse assured her, “though his gums will be a little sore for a while when the new teeth and nerves form.”
“Is that going to happen to all of us?” Dante asked.
“I'm afraid so, but like everything else, it will hit everyone at their own schedule.”
The botanist ate more of her breakfast in silence, but then she felt someone's toes lightly brush her ankle. At first she thought it was just an incidental touch under the table in weightlessness, but the toe continued to stroke up and down her ankle, almost as if petting her leg fur. She closed her eyes for a moment, but then shook herself.
“Excuse me,” she said with a raised eyebrow at no one in particular. “That feels nice on my leg, but…”
“Oops…” Dante said with a sudden gulp as the touch left her leg. “Sorry about that, Kristen. I thought that was Jenni.”
Jenni looked at him in amusement. “You were playing footsie with Kristen under the table?” she asked with a chuckle. She looked over at the botanist and gave her a smirk. “Do I need to be jealous that you got attention meant for me?”
Kristen sudden gave her a conspiratorial nod in return. “Maybe…” she replied. “It did feel good to have my leg fur petted; perhaps I shouldn't have said anything.”
Marcy laughed aloud and pointed a finger at the tiger male. “Am I going to have to put a sexual suppressant in your food, mister?” she teased. Dante gave her such a look of horror that made all three women burst into laughter. Marcy was feeling especially mischievous that morning and narrowed her eyes at him. “Perhaps if you petted my leg instead, I'll overlook your obvious flirtation with the other gals!”
Jenni leaned over the table, her eyes now bright with amusement. “Listen, girl, if your legs are as hairy as ours are to be petted, perhaps you should invest in a razor – something we don't have to bother with anymore!”
Marcy opened her mouth in mock offense, but she could not keep from laughing at the expression on Dante's face. The skin beneath his white fur was turning crimson and clearly visible through his pale facial hairs. To make matters worse, Jenni leaned against him and whispered something up into his ear that made him swallow hard.
He cleared his throat and tried to stand up quickly from the table; had his thighs not been under the straps, he might have shot across the room. He fumbled the strap loose and then gathered up his tray, spoon and squeeze tube. “That's my cue for a cold shower,” he said hoarsely.
Jenni, Kristen and Marcy all laughed aloud as Dante pushed off from the seat and spun around to aim for the serving counter. They watched him push his drink tube into an enclosed receptacle built into the wall, and then slide his empty tray into a slot where it would later be cleaned by someone chosen for kitchen duty — likely Travis again, due to all the punishment that Aristotle had given him for hitting him on the day of their arrival.
Jenni and Marcy leaned toward one another over the table to giggle together at Dante's embarrassment, but Kristen followed him with her eyes until he disappeared through the door. Seeing he and Jenni flirting with one another was no real surprise, now that the two of them seemed to have patched up whatever tiff had been between them back on Earth. She felt a little sense of longing, knowing there was no one here to flirt with her other than that cretin, Travis.
She smiled inwardly when she thought of the German Shepherd. He had initially been attracted to her because she was overweight, but now that she had slimmed down, she wondered if he would even show interest anymore. Kristen was not bold enough to find out, though, since she still had a fear that he would stalk her anyway. Perhaps he was only after her because he knew he couldn't have her, but she didn't want to take the chance. His eyes had followed her from the group in the common room he was with, but his expression had been unreadable.
The whole situation with Jenni and Dante was amusing, but then her thoughts turned to Jon. She had purposely refrained from thinking of him that morning, especially after the way he had snubbed her the night before, but now that he came forward in her mind, she sighed and took a long final drink from her squeeze tube.
Was his rejection because he was still resistant to another relationship following the disaster that had brought him there in first place, or was it her specifically that he had rejected? She had felt better about her physical reflection than she had ever been since becoming an adult, but she needed to know if last night's ending had anything to do with her or not. She was not vain about her new looks, but surely he must find her appearance more attractive now.
She bit her bottom lip lightly, making a quick decision. She unfastened her lap strap and stood up from the table slowly, gathering her things. The other women looked up at her and she shrugged her shoulders.
“I need to get ready,” she told them, “so I'll see you later.”
“Okay, see you,” Jenni replied.
“Don't forget to stop by the Infirmary,” Marcy reminded her with a finger wave.
Kristen pushed off from the table and then disposed of her breakfast items before leaving the compartment. She had a plan to implement before she lost her nerve.
Dante never noticed his shadow on the way back to the sleeping quarters, even when he crawled into his capsule to retrieve a towel and his shower kit. Kristen followed after him as quickly as she could, ignoring the looks from others floating about the common room who wondered at the speed at which she launched herself through the compartment. Back inside her own sleep area, she grabbed a fresh towel and the shower kit, and then waited until the tiger departed toward the showers.
Kristen followed after him, but he did not go directly to the shower pods. When he stopped off at the men's toilets, locking himself in an unoccupied stall, the botanist smiled at her good luck. Although she had never peeked inside one, she knew from talk she had heard that the men's lavatories were a little more complex to operate than the women's stalls, so she knew she had a few extra minutes to prepare her plan. She continued on to the showers feeling both nervous and anxious.
When Dante stepped out of the lavatory a short time later, he closed the door behind him and pulled himself up the corridor toward the showers along a grab rail mounted to the carpeted wall. Once in the room, he pushed off from the railing out into open air toward the shower pods, but had he been on solid ground he would have skidded to a stop.
Kristen was standing just outside a pod with a foot up against a door, preparing to go in for a shower of her own. She did not appear to see him, as she was digging for something inside the vinyl case of her shower kit, but Dante's eyes threatened to pop out of his skull. Staring at her completely nude form, he did not see the wall beside him and he bumped into it noisily.
Kristen looked up in surprise at the noise, releasing her shower kit, and put a hand up to her bare chest as if to quell her heart from shock. “Oh!” she exclaimed. “You startled me, Dante!”
“Uh, uhm, uh….” was all the young man could say. He tried to avert his eyes from her body, but he didn't seem to have the willpower to look away.
The botanist gave him a sweet smile intended to curl his toes and then she seemed to remember her shower kit. A few things had floated out of the open case, so she made a slow effort to pluck each of them out of the air. Her toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner and grooming brush had all spread out in opposite directions, so she had been forced to turn around this way and that to retrieve them, surreptitiously giving the male tiger the opportunity to view her slimmer form from all angles. Once she had everything back in place, she faked a yawn and then made a languid stretch of all her limbs before she seemed to remember that he was there, still gawking at her nakedness.
The look on Dante's face was lecherous, almost hungry, and Kristen suddenly wondered if she had made the right decision. Her smile faltered for an instant, but then she cleared her throat and gave him a wink, figuring that if he made a move, she might just go with it; she was feeling lonely and even a little adventurous today.
The tiger looked as if he was going to push off the wall in her direction, but at the last moment he shook his head as if waking from a dream and clutched at the wall.
“Wow, Kristen,” he said with a silly smirk. “You… you're looking great!”
“Why, thank you, Dante,” she replied with a heartwarming smile. “That's awfully sweet of you!” She turned herself around fully in a pirouette, her tail trailing in a slow spiral around her as if it might be a ballerina's gossamer ribbon. “I think weightlessness suits me.”
“That… that it does,” he replied, swallowing with difficulty. Then, he realized the effect her daring exhibition was having upon him, so he hastily grabbed the nearest unlocked shower door and opened it. “Uhm, excuse me,” he said with a last bold look at her exhibition just before he disappeared into the pod.
The door lock clicked into place and a wide grin spread across Kristen's face. The young man had shown considerable restraint, even though he could not hide his growing interest in the view she had willingly presented to him. His reaction had given her the absolution she had sought from him, and she felt fully vindicated against Jon's rejection the night before. The problem was his, not hers.
— NEXT CHAPTER —
Unless otherwise noted, all material © Ted R. Blasingame. All rights reserved.