SUNSET OF FURMANKIND
— by Ted R. Blasingame
“May we see you in private?” asked a whispered voice.
Marcy Lagrange looked up from her Personal Business Juxtapositioner. Although they were orbiting over two hundred miles above the Earth, the PBJ was still queued to relay Sissy’s daily news release from the Adirondack Furmankind Institute. The nurse was in the large common room, floating quietly with her legs crossed, letting the station’s lazy air currents take her where it would around the chamber while she read about proposed fashion changes for furman garments. Jenni, Kristen and Cheryl Dalton all looked a little anxious, so she closed the clamshell case of her PBJ and gave them her full attention.
“What can I help you girls with?” she asked in a quiet voice.
“Can we go someplace where we can't be overheard?” Cheryl requested, looking around to make sure no one else was nearby.
“We can go to the Infirmary,” suggested the nurse. “Even if someone is there, the place is equipped with several private rooms where we can close the door.”
“Yes, please,” Kristen answered with a nod.
Marcy tucked her PBJ into the side pocket of her scrubs and then looked a little baffled. The four of them were several feet away from the nearest wall and none of them had anything to push off from.
“I’m afraid I’ve not yet gotten the hang of swimming out in the air without a handy wall or grab rail,” she muttered, “and I'm not close enough to use my sticky booties.”
Cheryl gave her a lopsided smile. “That’s why I started carrying a stick,” she told her, holding up the extendable walking cane she had picked up in Florida. She pushed a spring-loaded button on the side of the shaft and then extended it to its last hole. She held out the cane toward the closest wall and was able to push off hard with it. As she glided by Kristen, she tossed the cane to her so that the botanist could do the same. One by one, each of the women was able to get enough momentum to float across the room, tossing the 'stick' over to the next in line as they passed. Jenni brought up the rear, holding onto the cane while Marcy chuckled at the Border collie’s inventiveness.
Moments later, they were pulling themselves along grab rails in the corridor. They reached a closed door labeled “Z-Gee Infirmary” that Marcy opened for them. Once the three Furs had pulled themselves inside, the nurse closed the door behind her.
The Infirmary consisted of a solitary terminal desk equipped with a seat and lap straps. The curved walls of the compartment were literally covered over by cabinets, each holding medical supplies or instruments strapped into place. Behind the desk was a door leading down a short passage to other rooms. Sitting at the desk was a male Fur that took everyone by surprise.
Instead of the typical feline, canine, vulpine or ursine hybrid, they saw a short red panda furman dressed in a white lab coat, quietly tapping away at the desk keypad.
“Uh, excuse me,” Marcy said to him, floating up to the desk. “I'm Nurse Lagrange. Who are you?”
The firecat looked up at her with a patient smile, his eyes narrowing in amusement. “Hello, Nurse Lagrange, I am Doctor Masanori Mochizuki,” he said with a distinct Asian accent, giving a slight bow from his seated position. “Please pardon. I am merely updating personnel files and will be out of the way momentarily.”
Marcy nodded quietly. “Of course, sir,” she replied, unconsciously giving him a short bow in return. She gestured toward the women to follow her in through the doorway behind him, and then into the first open room they came upon. Inside were three gurney platforms strapped to a wall, as well as a clean counter top beneath more storage cabinets. Instead of the earth tone carpeting throughout the rest of the Z-Gee section of the station, the Infirmary walls were all white linoleum that could be cleaned and sterilized. When all four of them were inside the room, she closed the door and then turned to face her companions.
“Okay, ladies, what can I help you with?” she asked. All three of the female furs looked from one to another briefly, each exchanging a silent nod. Then in unison, Jenni, Kristen and Cheryl reached up to the neck straps of their halter tops, pulled them over their heads, and then uncovered their chests for the nurse to see.
Marcy blinked at the unexpected baring of breasts and simply looked back at them. Despite the halters that had been provided for the female Furs, the absence of gravity had been a constant frustration to the women since their arrival. Without an actual bra to provide some form of support to hold them in place, the breasts regularly floated free beneath the thin cloth material.
The nurse took a moment to examine what had been bared, but she saw nothing out of the ordinary. At the moment, they did not even seem to bob in weightlessness. “What seems to be the problem?” she asked after regaining her composure. “I don’t see any malformations.”
Jenni was the first to speak. “You’ve examined me before, Marcy. Don’t you see it?”
The nurse disliked guessing games, wishing the leopard female would just come right out and tell her what she was supposed to be looking for. Uniform over the woman’s breasts was a fine coat of fur with longer tuffs that covered over enough that her nipples were barely noticeable at all, even in the cool circulated air of the station. If she was supposed to be looking for lumps beneath the surface, she doubted she would find any with just her eyes.
“Okay, I give up, Jenni. What am I looking for?”
The woman snorted. “Look at theirs too,” she responded.
The nurse waved toward the others to come in closer. There was no way she could do this examination without it becoming doctor-patient intimate. Kristen swallowed and seemed embarrassed to have her chest examined so carefully, but Marcy leaned in close and looked over her breasts without finding anything abnormal. Before she was prompted, she turned to Cheryl. The canine woman was not part of her Wing, but apparently there was some distress that the other two women shared with her.
“Is this something I’m going to need to feel?” Marcy asked irritably, seeing nothing out of the ordinary with Cheryl’s chest either, other than the fact that her species’ fur was longer so that her breasts were practically hidden altogether even under the floatation of weightlessness.
Cheryl shook her head. “What Jenni’s not telling you, ma’am, is that our girls are getting smaller! It’s happening to all our women, not just the three of us, but no one else wants to talk about it. Look at us; we're almost flat-chested!” It was true, their breasts were smaller, though far from being entirely flat.
Marcy raised both eyebrows, but then turned and gave Jenni a look of sufferance. “Why didn’t you just come out and tell me that?” Jenni looked affronted and opened her mouth to speak, but Marcy cut her off with a wave of her hand. “Listen, there's nothing wrong with any of you. It's a natural part of the transformation.”
“Why is this natural?” Kristen complained. “I've lost a bunch of weight, or at least have had a bunch of it redistributed, but why does it have to come from my chest? I was just starting to feel better about myself!”
The nurse shook her head. “I know that some of you have made friends with a few of the other fully-formed Furs at the Institute,” she told them. “Many of them go around topless now, because they have enough fur to cover their nipples and their breasts aren't large enough to need much covering anymore. Hadn't you noticed?”
Cheryl looked embarrassed. “I just thought they were all flat-chested,” she admitted.
“Well, ladies, I hate to tell you this, but it's happening to you too,” Marcy replied. “You are a hybrid of human and animal, so you will have attributes of both. Breasts on an animal are not prominent until they are needed with the birth of offspring, so right now the actual function of your breasts is not needed. Once you're fully formed and part of a colony settlement, you can choose to mate and get pregnant; then your breasts will swell up full of milk for your children. Until then, they aren't needed.” She crossed her arms, suddenly conscious of her own chest. “You can spread the word to the others if you want. There's nothing to be alarmed about. This is normal and you're in no danger.”
Kristen frowned, but nodded, accepting the explanation from the nurse. Cheryl shrugged her shoulders and pulled her halter top back into place, but Jenni looked down at her chest looking sorrowful.
“I'm gonna miss you, girls,” she said to her breasts in a quiet voice. Then a thought occurred to her and she looked up at the nurse with a sudden smirk. “If that part of us is going to mimic the critters we're becoming, does this mean we're also going to develop six nipples?” Kristen looked alarmed at the question, but Cheryl snickered.
Marcy grinned back at the spotted leopard woman and shook her head. “No, and that is part of your human heritage. You only get the two you have now.” Jenni made a mock whine, but then the nurse held up a hand to silence her. “I guess this would be a good time to tell you that although you are taking on characteristics of your respective animal species, you will all still have to endure your usual human monthly cycle.” All three Furs groaned aloud at this.
“Fortunately,” Marcy added, “the effects will not be as adverse as what you're used to. At least you have that to look forward to.”
At that very moment, Jon entered the same Infirmary behind Doctor Renwick. The feline volunteer had grabbed the physician before he could head out to the E-Gee section of the station to join his research partners. Renwick had tried to send the furman to his nurse, but Jon had stressed the necessity to see him about an immediate medical need.
The copper-headed doctor gave a partial wave toward the red panda still sitting at the desk terminal and motioned a staring Jon to follow him into the doorway beyond. The door to the first room was closed and they could hear muffled voices behind the panel, but the next room on the opposite side of the small hallway was empty. Renwick pulled himself inside and flipped on the light. When the door was closed, Jon hooked a thumb over his shoulder toward it.
“What was that sitting out there at the desk, Doc?” he asked in surprise. “I thought all the Furs were supposed to be either cats, dogs, foxes or bears. Does a red panda count as a little bear?”
“That's Doctor Mochizuki,” Renwick explained. “He's the director of the Institute in Toyohashi of the Aichi Prefecture in Japan; he's Doctor Delgado's counterpart there.”
“But… a red panda?” Jon tried again.
Renwick gave the large furman a deep frown. “That… was a mistake,” he responded in a hushed voice. “Remember when you asked Marcelo why he had never gone through the transformation himself – that the director of such a project should be someone with firsthand knowledge of what his patients must go through?”
Jon's jaw dropped. “How do you know that?” he asked in surprise. “You weren't there when I asked him that!”
“Marcelo told me, as we were both aware of Dr. Mochizuki's case.”
“Ah, okay,” Jon muttered.
“I believe Marcelo's response was that those who are transformed are contracted to colonize other worlds, and that is something he had not chosen to do.”
“Yeah, that's what he told me.”
“Unlike Marcelo, Dr. Mochizuki chose to undergo the transformation himself for the very reason you stated. He obtained authorization from the Furmankind Institute's corporate committee in Stockholm, but he waived the bonus prize money in exchange for remaining on Earth to oversee his branch of the Institute.” Renwick hooked a foot on a small cabinet outcropping near the floor to keep himself in place and placed a hand on the counter. “He had planned on mixing his DNA with that of an Akita Inu, the doctor's favorite dog breed. In fact, it was his own pet that was to provide the donor DNA material.”
“Unlike Marcelo, whose doctorate is purely academic, Mochizuki was also a geneticist who frequently worked with the Japanese Preservation Society by sampling and preserving genetic material from the animals of the world for the GAGV.”
“Global Animal Genetic Vault. It's an underground facility where collected genetic material from all animals, birds, reptiles, fish and insects are kept in the event of world cataclysm or the sudden extinction of a species. Cloning techniques can now be used to prevent a permanent extinction of any life form on the Earth as long as we have a sample. Of course, that's the idea anyway. There are so many forms of life in multitudes and variations that it may take several lifetimes just to collect a fraction of what's here on our blue world.” Renwick shrugged. “It's a similar effort made by the World Seed Bank for preserving seeds and spores from Earth's flora.”
“So what does this have to do with Doctor Suzuki, or whatever his name is?”
“When it came time to prepare Dr. Mochizuki's formula for the McEwen process, a relatively new lab assistant chose the wrong vial from the freezer. Instead of the doctor's prize dog's genetic material, she picked up an unlabeled vial of Ailurus fulgens DNA.”
“I'm assuming that's a red panda?”
“That's right. The mistake was not discovered until the transformation was well under way and the doctor was looking nothing like his Akita Inu. Of course, since the process is irreversible, Mochizuki had no choice but to go through with it. He suffered great mental anguish at the mistake, but over time came to terms with what he is, the only Fur of his kind on or off the Earth.”
Jon looked angry. “I hope the assistant was sacked for her mistake!”
At this statement, Dr. Renwick laughed aloud. “Actually, Dr. Mochizuki married her! They can never have children, but they do seem to be happy together.”
“What?” Jon clenched his fists, an old hatred surfacing. “A human and a furman! That's…. that's bestiality!”
Renwick snapped his fingers sharply, getting Jon's attention. “Marcelo told me about your prejudices,” he informed him in clipped tones. “They have no place here, especially not from a volunteer going through transformation!” The furman crossed his arms, hunching his shoulders, but said nothing more. “Listen, Jon, I can't say whether or not Dr. Mochizuki is having sex with his legal wife or not. That's none of my… our business. What's important is that they are happy together.”
“For her mistake, she should have volunteered to become a red panda too. At least then they could have been a mated pair,” Jon mumbled.
“She did,” Renwick informed him, “but he wouldn't have it. Mochizuki didn't feel like there was a need for both of them to suffer, so now she keeps his house, grooms him and he tends to her needs as well as he can. She continues to serve as his lab assistant, so she still has important work to do too.”
Jon snorted. “I guess they both should feel lucky she didn't give him the DNA of a fly instead.”
“So, what's he doing up here?” Jon asked. “Are the volunteers of his Institute coming up here to join us?”
“He's here as a researcher on the same team as the one I have been invited to join, as a matter of fact,” Renwick answered. “I'm sure his people will eventually make it up here just as you all have done, but his facility is currently undergoing a complete renovation after the recent Nankai-Tokai earthquake and they have no volunteers in class session right now. While the processes at his Institute are on hiatus, he has come up to Sebra to make good use of his time while his wife oversees his household in Toyohashi.”
“Huh…” Jon said at last. His anger had passed and now he was beginning to feel a little impressed by the red-furred Japanese geneticist. The man had undertaken the transformation so that he could better relate to the volunteers who came through his facility. That was something he doubted that Marcelo Delgado would ever do himself.
The broad-shouldered mountain lion fell silent, lost in thought until his companion cleared his throat. He looked up and Renwick was studying him.
“Now…” the physician said at last, “what was so urgent that you needed to talk to me in private – something that you could not take to my nurse instead?”
Jon's ears went back flat against his head and he suddenly felt like his tongue was three times thicker than usual. “Uhm, ah, that…” he mumbled. Renwick waited for him to continue, but the room went quiet. He watched Sunset fidget, as much as the guy could while floating off the floor near a medical storage cabinet. Impatient, the doctor pulled back his sleeve to look at his watch.
Sensing that Renwick was going to leave him if he did not say something quickly, Jon cleared his throat. “Listen, Doc…” he began. “I… uhm, something changed last night…”
“You are changing all of the time,” the physician remarked dryly. “What has you so flustered?”
Jon opened his mouth again, but then closed it just as quickly. He did not like what he was about to do, but instead of trying to find the words, he reached under his furman robe and grasped the waistband of his shorts. He pushed them to his ankles and then lifted up the knee-length robe so that the doctor could get a look at what had happened.
Both of Renwick's eyebrows crawled up his forehead, but then he quickly regained his composure. “Ah,” was all he said.
Struggling to find his voice again, Jon finally managed to say, “I didn't expect this when I woke up this morning. When all I found was a lump, I… I thought…” He swallowed in difficulty, knowing how silly it must sound to the doctor who had likely seen this before in his experience. “I thought it fell off.”
Renwick blinked. Fell off? Jon was watching him in fear of ridicule, so it took a mighty effort for the doctor to keep a straight face.
“…I even looked around my sleeping area to make sure…” Jon added, giving Renwick more reason to fight his natural reaction to such a revelation.
When the physician did not say anything for several long moments, Jon's ears drooped along with his whiskers. Had they not been in the absence of gravity right then, even his tail would be hanging limp behind him.
Once Renwick figured he had himself composed again, he ran a hand across his face and then looked at his patient. “Jon,” he began, choosing his words, as well as his tone, carefully, “please remember that you are a hybrid of human and mountain lion. Parts of you will still be human, while others will take on the aspects of your feline half. We've said this from the start. However, perhaps I should have warned you ahead of time that you would become sheathed.”
“Yeah, but I guess I just assumed that this part of me would remain human.” Jon mumbled, releasing his robe and bending over to grab his shorts. In pulling them up, he released his hold on the counter beside him and began a slow tumble, suddenly giving his companion a flash of his furry backside. When he finally got his garments back in place and himself somewhat upright and stable again, he shrugged his shoulders.
Renwick shook his head. “Don't worry, Jon, it's all still functioning, just configured a little differently than what you're used to.”
“You're telling me,” Jon admitted with a heavy sigh. “I've been afraid to use the restroom until after I had a chance to talk to you. How am I supposed to do that?”
The doctor finally allowed himself to smile. “I'm sorry, Jon, but that's something you will have to figure out for yourself. I'm fairly certain you may make a mess of things the first time or two until you determine how your altered equipment works, so prepare to shower afterwards.”
Jon snorted at the man's amusement. “Maybe I should just bypass the toilet and go straight to the shower. At least then I can clean up immediately if I pee all over myself.”
Doctor Renwick wrinkled his nose. “I wouldn't suggest it, but if you do, please make sure you clean down the shower pod thoroughly before you leave it.”
— NEXT CHAPTER —
Unless otherwise noted, all material © Ted R. Blasingame. All rights reserved.