I was just a punk kid who didn't know any better. That's the first thing I want to make clear. Well, it wasn't exactly a long time ago, so I guess I'm still a punk kid. But I'd like to think I at least know better now.
At the age of 18, I was kicked out of my parents' home. I guess they would have done it sooner if it hadn't been for those pesky age-of-majority laws. They were the usual Ozark hillbilly trailer trash you'd expect to find in the Holy Christian Kingdom of North America. But then, so was I. We didn't get along—too much alike, I guess.
So I was out on the street, living from hand to mouth, working what odd jobs I could. I didn't have much education, so it was mostly manual labor. So I guess it's not much of a surprise I drifted into bad company. Without a support network or any real system of beliefs behind my outlook on the world, I was easy meat for being recruited—that's what my counselor says, and it makes sense to me.
It started when I started going to church again. My folks had always tried to pound the importance of church into my head as a social network, a way to meet people. And so I went. At first I wasn't too sure about what they were saying. It seemed a little strange to me to blame our problems on furry "gene-jobs". I hadn't met very many of them, of course, but the ones I'd met seemed just like real people.
Heh. "Just like real people." Meaning of course, they're not really real people, only just like them. Of course I wouldn't use that phrase now, but I'm sure I must have said it several times back then. So as far as bigots went, I guess I wasn't a bad one. Maybe I didn't even know I was one.
But there were always plenty of people around ready to help me see the errors of my tolerant ways. And like I said, my life was empty enough back then that just about anything would fill the hole. I just didn't realize what I was being filled with was so much crap.
When I had about a quarter tank of crap, that was when they first approached me. One of the guys from the congregation who spent a lot of time talking to the minister came over to me. He was real friendly, said he understood how hard it was living alone, and he was well-connected in the community, and maybe if I came to some special meetings he might be able to help me get a better job, cheaper housing, all that. So I went. Wasn't like I had anything better to do.
They started me out at the shallow end of their philosophy, taking some of the groundwork laid in sermons and running with it. If the Federation wasn't going to protect humans from the gene-jokes, then maybe it was up to humans to fend for themselves. And there were some hints dropped about how the HCKNA might be willing to turn a blind eye to said fending humans.
When I look back on it now, if it hadn't been for the church kind of easing me into it, what I heard at these meetings might have sent me away in disgust. But that church had been the gateway drug, and had sown just enough seeds of doubt in my head that the harder stuff was easier to accept.
I don't mean to say all churches are that way. I still have a very strong Christian belief in God. I know Jesus Christ died for my sins. But I believe in the Jesus who taught that we should love our neighbors even if they happen to be something horrible, like criminals or prostitutes or even something really nasty like tax collectors. It's funny how hard that particular Jesus was to find in the teachings of the HCKNA state church.
Anyway, they poured more crap into my head. But they also made me feel like I belonged. They were nice, good, friendly people—at least to "their own kind." They wouldn't have kicked a puppy, but God help any baby wolftaur or foxtaur to cross their path. After all, "God made the puppy." Yeah, let's forget about the thousands of years of selective breeding between that puppy and the wolves it came from.
When my tank was half-full of raw sewage, they sent me off to a "church retreat" in the middle of the Mark Twain National Forest—a section of it reserved solely for human use, with no stewardship from the foxtaur clans who'd been given the rest of the woods. One of the things they made a point of mentioning was how sickly the forest was in that area—a lot of trees were dying, and there wasn't a lot of game to hunt. This was, naturally, because the Federation gave the best land to the four-legged freaks—not because those "four-legged freaks" might be better at taking care of the forest than humans.
We started learning some really hard-core stuff. Mostly it was a "how-to-fight-furries" class. We learned about digitigrades' and Taurforms' weak points—where to strike to do the most damage or cause the most pain. It was all pitched as self-defense, of course—when the gene-freaks attacked, as they were sure to sooner or later, we needed to know how to defend ourselves. If we let ourselves believe that, it was all too easy to ignore the way most of what we learned was more offensive strikes than defensive blocks. I guess the best defense was supposed to be a good offense.
At the end of the session, one of the instructors came and told us we were in for a "special treat." They gave us masks to put on to hide our faces, then dragged in a foxtaur hunter from the nearby community that they'd caught "spying on us." What happened next wasn't real pretty.
My counselor told me that it's a standard technique of indoctrination, to get the person you're trying to brainwash to take part in some kind of horrible act. It reinforces the conditioning with what shi called "cognitive dissonance."
It goes like this: Johnny thinks he's a good person. A good person wouldn't do bad things. Therefore, taking part in beating a furry to within an inch of her life must not be a bad thing, because if it were a bad thing, Johnny might be a bad person. And Johnny can't be a bad person. Q.E. fragging D. It also means you're less likely to go to the authorities even if you do eventually come to your senses, because you have to admit you took part in it.
I still don't know what happened to that poor hunter. I'd like to think that she survived, if only because a death would have brought too much heat down on the group right then even in the Holy Kingdom…but I've never had the courage to try to find out.
I came back from the retreat with three quarters of a tank and a burning desire to help wherever I could do the most good. It wasn't right that these furry freaks were living high on the hog while a lot of HCKNA'ers were living in poverty. Of course, now I know that most foxtaur communities' standard of income is even lower than those poverty-stricken humans', but they live simply so they don't need as much money to get by. I didn't then.
So now that they knew they could "trust" me, they inducted me all the way into H1—"Humans First." They gave me a hood and a club and sent me out with some more "experienced" members of the gang to do my worst to whatever furry freaks got in my way.
I was full of pride that I was finally getting to do my part to help strike a blow for decent humans everywhere. So full that I didn't realize I was basically just there as a sacrificial lamb—someone the leaders could toss from the sled when the cops showed up while they made their own getaway. They were the ones who did the really important—the really nasty stuff. Landing the crippling blows, pulling the trigger. We were the ones who got to take the fall.
Even so, I was lucky. I somehow managed to avoid getting caught at all those first few times. And the more I went out, the more I convinced myself I was doing the right thing. That was me, a good little brownshirt. I had a nice little cottage in an all-human community, which I never stepped outside of. I never had to interact with any of the furries as if they were real people. I could continue to live with my warped image of these evil remnants from mankind's darkest war, tainted with the original sin of the Twenty Gig—the twenty billion humans who died during the Gene War.
And so my tank ranneth over. Yeah, I was so full of shit.
One day one of the higher-ups from Humans First was there to address our meeting. He introduced himself as "Brother Jeremiah"—no last name. He was an older, white-haired, statesman-like guy. You know the type, they're everyone's grandfather as long as you're one of their kind of people. He was full of praise about the good work our chapter had been doing, and he was looking for someone for a very special, very dangerous mission.
Of course, like idiots, we all fell all over ourselves to volunteer. Sometimes I wonder how different my life would be now if they'd picked someone else. I'd probably be in prison now, or dead. Sometimes I still wonder whether they might be better alternatives to the way I am now, but my counselor says my worst days are behind me.
He interviewed us all, one on one, in a private room of the old American Legion Hall where we had our meetings. I still remember how nervous I was when I went in and sat down, across an old scarred wooden table from him. He was sitting there, quietly shuffling some papers in front of him, giving me a chance to get over the worst of it before he looked at me. "Hello, son," he said. Everyone was "son" to him. I never did find out whether he'd call a woman "daughter"; there didn't seem to be all that many female members of H1 that I ever met.
"Er…hello, Brother Jeremiah," I said.
"And what might your name be?"
"Johnny, sir," I said. "Johnny Walker."
He smiled faintly, and I groaned inwardly. I knew just what he was going to say, because everybody said it. "Like the brand of Scotch?" he asked.
"Yes, sir," I said meekly, stifling my urge to roll my eyes and mutter. Just another reason to hate my parents—either they thought it was cute to name me "Johnny" intentionally, or were dumb enough not to realize what they were naming me. Either way, everybody thought they were being witty to point it out, but it had gotten old after the first hundred times I'd heard it.
"Well, you know why you're here," he said. "You volunteered for a dangerous assignment, and I wanted to ask you just a few questions to determine your eligibility. Tell me about your family. Are you close to them?"
"Just my mother and father, sir," I said. "And no, we're not close."
"You could be away for as long as several months," Jeremiah said. "You would not be able to contact your parents, or they you, during this time."
"We haven't talked in over a year," I said. "That won't be a problem."
"Very good." Jeremiah smiled his warm, friendly smile. "And I see on the records you were at the Maranatha Camp this summer. How did you find the last evening's activities?"
There could only be one thing he was referring to. "Very…enlightening, sir," I said, my face wooden. If this was a test of loyalty, I didn't plan to fail it.
"Good, good. Johnny, I think you'll be hearing from me very soon."
It was only a couple of days before several men dressed in robes with H1 logos showed up at my door. They gave me a few minutes to pack some clothes and toiletries, then put me in a PTV with a windowless rear compartment and drove me around for several hours. We wound up at a stone bluff out in the middle of the forest. Brother Jeremiah was waiting for me at the foot of the bluff. Behind him, a cleverly-concealed door was standing open, revealing a hole that led back into the mountain.
"Johnny, my son! Glad you could make it!" He clapped a hand to my shoulder in friendly greeting. "Come on in, get settled. We'll discuss the mission in the morning." He led the way through the door, through a winding warren of narrow passages to a small cul-de-sac closed off by a door. It had a bunk and old wooden dresser, both of which might well have dated back to before the Gene War. There was no telephone or computer or anything that could be used to phone outside, and my PADD and comphone couldn't get a signal from this deep in the rock.
I later learned that this base had been an old Gene War bomb shelter, and had saved the lives of several dozen of the Holy Kingdom's founding fathers. For all I know, it might have been in continuous use since those days, as a place where the worst anti-fur fugitives could hide out. It had an even darker purpose now.
The next day, I was led through a maze of twisty passages (all alike) to a conference room. It, too, had old furnishings, but the comms and displays were all new tech. Brother Jeremiah was there, along with a couple of robed and hooded guards. He smiled kindly at me again. "Good day to you, Johnny. I hope you slept well last night?"
"The bunk was a little harder than I'm used to, but not as bad as those Maranatha cots."
"Good, good." Jeremiah reached toward a panel of buttons in front of him, then paused. "Now before we begin, I want you to understand that this is still a volunteer mission. If you should wish to back out before you hear the briefing, say so now; we will return you to your cottage and it will not be held against you. After you hear the briefing, you may still back out, but you will have to remain within the base until the mission has been completed by another volunteer. Do you understand?"
I nodded. "Yes, sir."
"And you'd still like to hear the briefing, knowing what it will mean if you turn the mission down?"
I certainly didn't want the shame of having to return to my cottage before I'd even gotten started. "Yes, sir." Right then and there I swore to myself that whatever the mission was, no matter how distasteful, I would do it. I couldn't bear to be sitting around doing nothing for months on end. Being out and doing something would be better than being a prisoner, no matter how bad it might be. Boy, did I have no idea…
"Good." With that settled, Jeremiah powered up the wall display behind him. On the screen was a picture of a furry creature I'd never seen before, but needless to say I now know a whole lot about. It looked like someone had taken a big hunting cat, chopped its head off, and then stuck the headless top half of a woman on in its place, stretched its fur to cover, and put the cat's head back on again. It was some kind of "cat-taur" or "felitaur," I guessed.
In color, it was a uniform white, with black "socks" around its paws, black "gloves" around its hands, and a black tailtip. The head was human in size, somewhere between a housecat and a cougar in shape, but with a higher forehead to make room for a human-sized brain. It had a mane of black hair falling to its waist. The contrast against its white fur was not entirely unattractive to me even then.
"This abomination is called a 'Chakat,'" Jeremiah said. "It is an abomination in several different ways, you'll see. To begin with, it is genetically modified at all. Secondly, it combines the form of a human with that of a four-footed beast. And third…"
He tapped a control and the screen flickered to show views of its human breasts (the Chakat was naked, so they were clearly visible), then of the female genitalia under its tail…then of the cock sheath between its legs. "…it combines male and female sexual organs. This particular one calls itself Chakat Testpattern, and is a Star Corps transporter technician. And you will come to know it—or 'hir' as they prefer to be called—very well." His mouth twisted in a grimace of displeasure as he pronounced "hir". It sounded kind of like "hair," but not quite.
I stared at the screen. Shi was almost pretty in a graceful, feline kind of way—except when I considered what shi had between her legs. "I don't understand."
"What would you say if I told you it was possible to disguise you as that creature?"
I blinked. "Disguise? What, you mean with another person in the back half of a costume?"
Jeremiah snorted. "Hardly. I mean a kind of disguise so effective that the best scanner the Federation has couldn't tell the two of you apart if you were standing next to each other."
Now I was staring at him. "But…that's impossible."
He shook his head. "No, in fact it is quite possible. But perhaps 'disguise' is not the right word, for it would be more than a mere disguise. In fact, it would be taking one of the enemy's own perverted devices and turning it against them."
I still couldn't quite get what he was saying. "Tell me more, sir?"
The screen changed to a display of a Popular Science article about a new "surgical" procedure. There were pictures of "before," showing a human, and "after," showing a Chakat or foxtaur or other furry creature. "This Chakat, Oceanwalker, has developed a technology that allows humans to throw away their God-given bodies and replace them with the bodies of abominations. But since we've gotten our hands on their research data, they will soon find out this is a double-edged sword."
I might not have had much formal schooling, but I know what two and two is. "You're saying that…you're going to turn me into…that Chakat? Testpattern?" I asked weakly.
"Into a duplicate of it, yes." A sort of mad fire was in Jeremiah's eyes. "You will study the creature. Learn its mannerisms, its ways of moving—learn to imitate it in all respects. Then, when you are ready, you will infiltrate, spy, and sabotage in its place."
I gaped. "But…how can you ask me to do this? You know what those things are! How can you expect me to let myself be turned into a…a beast?"
He clapped a hand on my shoulder. The grip was like iron. "But men have been beasts before, in the Bible. Remember how Nebuchadnezzar, in punishment for his sin, lived as a beast of the field for years! And God does not always send us comfortable tasks. Remember what He asked of Jonah. Remember what He asked of Abraham. This is God's work, Johnny. This is our holy war against the abomination. If the Devil can quote scripture, then how can we scruple from using our own 'abomination' as a weapon?" I didn't have a whole lot to say to that. I think I just sat there staring, slack-jawed.
He smiled again. "But don't worry, Johnny! No one is asking you to give up your humanity forever. We will store your original body pattern when we make the change. When your mission is complete, we will simply beam you back into it, and you'll be just like you were before you left us."
Jeremiah pushed back his chair and got up. "You don't have to make your decision now, of course." He pushed a thick folder across the table. "Here is all the information we have on the Oceanwalker process, and the demands it will make of you. Study it and let me know if it will be bearable for you. If so, we will begin preparations. If not, you will be our guest for the next few months while we find another volunteer and put him through the same process."
He started to walk toward the door, then turned. "I have a good feeling about you, Johnny. I believe God led me to you. I know you won't let me down." He left before I could say another word. The silent guards followed him out.
With trembling hands, I reached forward and opened the folder. On top was a brochure which asked in big, bold letters, "Do You Suffer From Species Identity Disorder?" I opened it and began to read.
I'd heard about people who thought they "weren't born right," of course. And I'm not just talking about plastic surgery. It's one of those things that kids in puberty learn about and look up just to freak themselves out. Kind of like hiding porno mags under the bed—I think we all do it. Transgenderism had been going on since at least the 20th century, when they used scalpels and hormones to make people's bodies sorta-kinda look like those of the opposite sex.
Since then, medicine marched on, and now they make those changes using syringes of genetic retroviruses and nanites. Spend a few months sweating and uncomfortable as some things shrink and other things grow, and you're just like nature should have intended. Not just gender, either—you could change your hair color, your eye color, lack of body fur, anything. And now this Oceanwalker character had come up with something "even better" for people who thought they weren't born the right species. Certainly a lot faster, even if the physical therapy afterward meant the overall time difference between procedures wasn't as great as it looked.
As I flipped through it, I wondered the same thing I'd always wondered whenever I thought about transgenders or transspecies: is it really possible to know you want to make such a change? What if you just think you do? How are these people sure? What if you only think you want to change until just after it's too late? At least Oceanwalker's procedure promised to be fully reversible if that happened. Just reverse the transportation and you get your old body back. Still, it was a huge change to make.
Then I almost laughed out loud as I realized how ironic it was. Here I'd been wondering how you'd know if you really wanted to make such a major change—and I was seriously considering making such a change when I knew I didn't want to. But if the alternative was to stay cooped up in the base for several months while they got someone else to do it…
I threw the brochure down. "I can't believe I'm honestly considering this." I walked around to where Jeremiah had sat and fiddled with the controls, managing to bring up the picture of Chakat Testpattern again. I hit another control that changed the image from a still picture into a moving one. Testpattern was pacing back and forth in a small room, muscles rippling under that black and white pelt. Shi looked angry.
Would it really be so bad to look like that? some traitorous inner voice asked.
But she's— I protested weakly. You know. Breasts. Vagina.
But you'll still have a dick, too! the inner voice said. Best of both worlds! And it's shi, by the way.
Shi's a beast! An animal! I rallied.
Who exactly are you trying to convince of that? the other me retorted.
I growled and got back to my reading. If I had to give Jeremiah an answer, it would at least be an informed one.
"All right, I'll do it." Jeremiah, his guards, and I were again in the conference room—and I had just announced my verdict.
It had taken me two days of serious soul-searching to come to the decision. Jeremiah had let me be, knowing that it wasn't the easiest choice to make. I don't know if I can point to any one factor that decided me. Part of it was that, like I said, it would drive me crazy to sit around for several months doing nothing. Part of it was curiosity, and perhaps part of that curiosity was the lure of Forbidden Fruit.
I mean, even as much as I'd been taught to hate them, I couldn't help being curious about what it must have felt like to be a furry "abomination". And here not only was I getting the chance to do it, but one of my religious elders was insisting on it. It was like I was being given an Indulgence—a license to sin.
"So when does it…um…happen?" I asked Jeremiah.
"Oh, not for some time yet, my boy. First, you need to study up on your target." He pushed another folder across the table to me. "This is a complete dossier on Testpattern. We also have audio and video recordings—not to mention the original article."
I blinked. "The original—"
"We have it caged elsewhere in the base," Jeremiah went on. "Nobody will miss it for some time yet—it took a six month leave shortly before we captured it. We have it under observation, and you can view interrogation footage of it or even watch it live."
"I, uh, see," I said. Though I didn't, really—not yet.
"It is handy to have around for calibrating the duplication process, as well as for study," Jeremiah explained. "While we are making sure everything is set up properly, you will have the extra time to study and commit everything about it to memory. There will be some…acclimation necessary after the process is completed, and it would be best for you to be able to do most of your studies while undistracted by a new body."
"Yes, sir. Thank you sir." I picked up the dossier. "Will there be anything else, sir?"
Jeremiah stood again. "No, we will leave you to study. The room has been set up for your use, stocked with every audiovisual and database record we have of the subject." He moved toward the door, then stopped just before reaching it. "Oh—there is one more thing."
He gave me a hard, cold look. "Don't be fooled by what you're going to read in there. I've been through the file. It's filled with instance after instance of beasts acting just like people. No matter what they try to make you think, they are not people. They are nothing but soulless constructs, relics of a war that should have been cleansed away with the rusting tanks, rotting landmines, and other obsolete weapons. With your help, we may yet see this happen."
"I know, sir. I hope so too, sir."
"Good man." He swept out of the room, followed by his guards. I couldn't help but shiver. Something about his manner unnerved me—the way he'd gone from being so grandfatherly one moment to pure cold steel the next. I agreed with what he was saying, or at least I thought I did, but he seemed to take the hatred to a whole new level. If I'd had a lick of sense, it would have scared the Hell out of me.
But I didn't, so instead I opened the folder and began to study.
Chakat Testpattern. 30 years old, daughter of Chakat Technicolor and Chakat Landline. Both parents were technicians, from families made up largely of technicians and engineers—well, that explained their names, anyway. Shi'd gone into Star Corps training at the youngest possible age, passed with flying colors and gotten hirself assigned to Chakona Station right out of the academy. Now shi was taking some accumulated vacation time in a lump.
Humans First had suckered hir in. Though shi was on vacation, they'd lured Testpattern with a lucrative private contract to install a transporter facility in a lab belonging to Sterling Pharmaceuticals—a big biotech firm headquartered in the Holy Kingdom. So shi'd come, set it up, tested it—and been imprisoned for hir trouble. I could almost feel sorry for her—but no, I told myself. Shi wasn't a person. Shi was only getting what shi deserved for pretending to be one.
H1 must have had its eyes on hir for some time. They'd built up quite an impressive dossier of surveillance—including tapped phone calls, photos, video footage. They knew what hir favorite food was, where shi usually ate and what shi always ordered, the state of hir love life (currently single), even how many socks were in hir sock drawer.
Apart from the surveillance footage, there was also video of hir interrogations since shi'd been captured. It was hard for me to watch a lot of it, but I knew they would be tracking when the files were accessed, I had to at least look like I was studying it. It was pretty amateurish stuff, I've been told. Torturing someone for information just doesn't work, because you can't believe anything they tell you. But there the H1 goons were, jabbing hir with a painstick just for the fun of it.
As the recordings mounted and mounted, I finally had enough. I went to Brother Jeremiah and asked that it stop.
Jeremiah looked down his nose at me. "But why would you care what happens to it? It's just a beast."
I swallowed. It was really hard for me to stand up to Jeremiah, still. He was my elder, in Humans First and in the church. He knew what was best for me. But I had to try. "First off, I'm still trying to study hir, to learn how shi acts and thinks. If your interrogators break hir, I don't get to see how shi acts normally."
Jeremiah nodded. "That does make sense. Secondly?"
"There's no information shi can give that we don't already have, and I'm against unnecessary cruelty to animals."
Jeremiah nodded. "There is sense in what you say. I will see to it." Then he fixed me with his steely gaze. "But you are heeding my warning…?"
"Oh, yes sir," I said. "I wouldn't get too sentimental about an abomination. It's purely concern for the mission."
I believed what I was saying, I knew I did.
So why did it feel like I was lying?
After a couple of weeks of intensive study, I felt as though I knew Testpattern backward and forward. I could almost recite hir life story in my sleep (and once or twice I'd swear I woke up doing just that). I had a good idea of how shi moved, and the idioms shi liked to use in conversation. But it remained to be seen if I could translate that knowledge into action once I had my new four-footed form.
Finally it was the day, and then the hour, then I found myself standing in my cul-de-sac, looking at myself in the mirror. Nothing really special looked back at me—just a kid. Brown hair, clean-shaven, freckles, hazel eyes. Funny thing—I'd never really thought much of my looks, but now I just couldn't stop thinking about how handsome I really was.
"Feels like I ought to have something pithy to say to myself here," I told the face in the mirror. "'Here's looking at you, kid,' or 'See you in the funny papers.'" I shrugged. "Weird to think I'm not gonna see you again for a while. I'm gonna look in the mirror and see a Testpattern." For some reason, that struck me as hysterically funny. Once I got control of myself, I nodded to the reflection and then left the room.
I made my way through the twisty passages down to the transporter room. (I'd gotten to know my way around pretty well over the last couple of weeks.) As I headed down there, the base power flickered and dimmed, but I'd gotten used to that. It had been doing it a lot over the last week or so. Probably the wiring wasn't quite up to the load a transporter put on it. They'd added a small antimatter reactor to the base just to run it—a risk a lot of facilities wouldn't have taken, but they needed the power supply and they were out in the middle of nowhere anyway.
As the lights came back on, I again wondered what it was they were transporting. The base didn't seem to have a lot of materials needs; I thought the transporter was to be used solely for the shapechanging project. But I guessed it wasn't any of my business; if they wanted me to know, they'd tell me.
Brother Jeremiah, the silent guards, and several transporter technicians were waiting for me in the transporter room. The transporter pad itself was little more than an alcove carved into the cave wall with two human-sized pads on it—big enough for two humans or a single Chakat, but not much else. One of the technians was maneuvering a big drum of something off of a dolly onto one of the pads.
"What's that?" I asked.
"Biogel," the technician explained. "It's going to make up the difference between your human body mass and the Chakat form you're turning into."
"I see," I said weakly.
Jeremiah clapped me on the shoulder. I nearly fell over, but recovered. "Johnny Walker. Good lad. I just want you to know how much I, and all the others, appreciate the sacrifice you're making today. Even though you will look like an abomination from now on, we will be doing our best to remember that this particular abomination still has a human soul, and treat you accordingly. You will have to forgive us if we sometimes slip up—we are, after all, only human."
"Even if I'm about not to be," I mumbled.
Jeremiah chuckled. "Glad to see you're keeping your sense of humor through this."
I felt like I could have used a shot of my namesake about then, but there was no point crying over spilt milk. "Well, it's about the only thing I'll be keeping." I sighed. "All right, let's get this over with."
Jeremiah gave my hand a squeeze. "Just remember what a glorious thing you are doing for the purity of the human race."
"Right." I climbed up onto the transporter pad, and glanced over at the transporter technicians behind the control console. "I sure hope you guys know what you're doing."
"We ought to by now—" one of the technicians started to mutter, only to be stilled by a glare from Jeremiah.
I wondered if there were any famous last words I ought to say. "I regret I have only one body to give for my country?" maybe or "One small step for man, one giant leap for a Chakat?" But Jeremiah took the opportunity away by saying, "Energize."
The room vanished behind a thickening curtain of glittering sparks. A moment of darkness, of immobility, and the curtain lifted—but the room looked subtly different. The colors were all off, and I was looking at it from about a foot lower down.
"Dih ih wook?" I asked—and in the asking, answered my own question. My tongue felt too thick, and my mouth was the wrong shape. I'd have to learn how to talk again.
Not trying to move my legs yet, I instead brought my hands up in front of my face. There they were: white-furred arms with black fur "gloves," and wicked-looking claws that poked out when I flexed my fingers. "Ih wooked," I said, reaching up to feel my face. My jaw was shaped completely different, jutting out into the feline muzzle that was so familiar to me from my Testpattern studies.
Then I looked down at the two lumps jutting out from my chest. Chakats were well-endowed in general, and Testpattern was no slouch. I reached down, intending to feel them, but my self-examination was interrupted by Brother Jeremiah clearing his throat loudly, then beginning to applaud. "Welcome back, Johnny Walker." After a moment, the technicians self-consciously joined in, then one of them came forward to help me down from the transporter pad.
"Just take it easy," he said. "We'll help you to your new quarters, and get you started on physical therapy right away."
It's hard to describe what it felt like to have two extra limbs. Did it feel like I had another pair of arms attached above my shoulders, or sticking out of my butt? I don't know. I'd lost the frame of reference. My body just didn't feel like a human's anymore. It had its own set of instincts. I was really clumsy walking, and would have fallen over a couple of times without the transporter tech's support.
Then I remembered the advice in some of the brochures I'd read from Oceanwalker's institute. "Just look straight ahead, don't think about walking, but just…walk." It was a little hard to do at first, but after a couple of minutes I got the hang of "zenning" it enough to make it down the hall to my room without any trouble.
The new room was bigger than the other one. I thought it might have been another meeting room; it looked like furniture had been moved out to make way for my bulk. There was a 'taur pad in one corner of the room, and a dresser in the other filled with tops and jackets to cover my chest. There was a body-length mirror on one wall. This room had an actual door to close it off, and there was another door to a bathroom with a 'taur-style toilet.
I shooed the transporter tech away and closed the door behind me, then wobbled over to thump down on my haunches in front of the mirror. I stared at my reflection, and watched Testpattern's body do whatever I did.
And the first thing I did was…well, what would you do first if you suddenly found yourself in a body with two sets of "equipment"? Yeah, that's what I'm talking about. Some things still felt the same, but others were things I'd never felt before. The size of my cock was gratifying, when I could tease it out of the sheath, but it was hard to get used to the idea of having breasts and a vagina too. Just looking at myself kept turning me on!
And it seemed like I could hear…muttering. There weren't any words or anything, and I couldn't seem to localize the source of the sound no matter how I swivelled my ears. Then I realized I wasn't hearing it with my ears, but inside my head. There seemed to be several sources of it, and the angriest "sounded" like Brother Jeremiah. When I concentrated, I could "localize" the muttering. It felt like he was on the level below me, a few hundred feet east—where his room would have been. He sounded really annoyed.
But how was I "hearing" him from that far away? Then I remembered something I'd run across in the documentation about Testpattern—a side note on Chakat biology. Chakats had a kind of psionic empathy—they could sense what nearby people were thinking, and project it too. I frowned, and Testpattern's reflection frowned back at me. Had I been projecting the results of my self-exploration? If so, no wonder others might be annoyed. I blushed, and decided to leave further experimentation until a time when not so many people were awake.
The next few days were dawn-to-dusk physical therapy sessions. Humans First had so many people from so many different occupations in it, naturally some of them were professional physical therapists, and Brother Jeremiah had rounded up as many of them as possible. They had thoroughly read all of the therapy documentation that had been filched from Oceanwalker's clinic so they knew what sort of exercises I needed. They couldn't provide a telepathic skunktaur as was recommended, but they could do just about everything else.
But the therapists were a mixed blessing. Though they had all been told that I was really a human in a Chakat's body, and they knew it rationally, I could feel it didn't sit well with them emotionally to be helping a Chakat no matter how "noble" the cause. I could feel their disgust and loathing, no matter how hard they tried to conceal it—especially when they were touching some part of my body to help me move it. After a few days, when I was able to get around with just a little leftover clumsiness, I finally had enough of it and told them their services wouldn't be needed anymore. I'm not real sure who was more relieved for us not to have to see each other anymore.
To work out the last kinks, I took to prowling the tunnels late at night. I knew I was being watched—I'd been around enough to notice all the closed-circuit cameras mounted in the ceiling—but everybody knew who I was by now anyway, and there weren't many areas of the base that were off-limits to me.
One night, I took a turn I hadn't noticed before, and found myself on a lower level of the base than I had seen before. And just at the limits of my empathic range, I began to feel something I hadn't felt before. If the humans I'd felt had been "muttering," this was somewhere between outright yelling and crying, and it was coming from somewhere below me.
It must have felt me at the same time, as the feeling changed to puzzlement, then to a sort of desperate hope. And then it hit me: this was where they'd been keeping the real Testpattern. Before I even knew exactly what I was doing, I was walking faster, then trotting downward, navigating through the twisty passages on empathy alone.
And then…there it was. A single guard was sitting between two doors—one marked "Observation" and the other a heavy cell door. My appearance startled the guard—I could feel him reacting to my body shape, which he "knew" was supposed to be behind the cell door. He grabbed for his sidearm, then stopped himself—he knew who I really was, of course. "You're not supposed to be down here," he said suspiciously.
"Couldn't sleep," I said. The lisp was almost entirely gone from my voice by now. "And I hadn't been down here before, so I thought I'd take a look. God knows I've studied it on camera often enough, I thought I ought to see it in the flesh." In my head I apologized to Testpattern for calling hir an "it," but if it helped keep me on the guard's good side it would be worth it.
The guard jerked his head at the "Observation" door. "Go on, then."
I started for the door, then glanced to the guard. "Are you down here alone?"
He shrugged. "There were a couple others, but they never stayed very long. It gives them the willies. Puts me a little on edge, get right down to it, but I can deal with it." He picked his nose thoughtfully. "Anyway, they got cameras all over and the lock is good. It's not like they even need me 'less someone wants to go in and get let back out again."
I nodded, and entered the observation room. I'd seen it before, in camera footage from some of the interrogations. It was spacious enough for a half-dozen people to occupy without crowding. It had a great big glass window between it and the cell next door, which could be polarized into a one-way mirror, and banks of monitors with which to watch cameras in the room. I'd talked to some of the people who worked here, and they told me the monitor bank could also serve as a backup base security station, in case the security chief on duty wanted to sit in on an interrogation.
I stepped up to the window, and got my first good look at Chakat Testpattern. Shi was, well, gorgeous. The pictures and videos hadn't done hir justice. In person, shi had a kind of nervous energy to hir, like shi was always in motion. Shi wasn't used to standing still.
Or was it just that I hadn't been a Chakat yet the last time I saw hir, and I was now? Was that the attraction, my Chakat instincts reacting to the site of a pretty body even if it was identical to my own? That thought actually disturbed me a little, and it took me a moment to calm down.
But Testpattern was anything but calm. Shi was pacing the floor of her cell, agitated and puzzled. Hir tail was lashing back and forth as shi looked around, trying to see me. Shi couldn't—the mirror was set to one-way—but shi could pretty clearly sense where I was. It was uncanny to see hir blindly staring right at me—and then hir head move to follow me if I stepped a few paces to the left. "Who's there?" shi demanded. Hir voice came through speakers next to the monitor bank. "Who are you?"
I don't know what made me do it, but I reached for the polarizing control and dialed it all the way down, stepping up to the window so shi could see me. The reaction was instantaneous: hir eyes widened, hir jaw dropped, hir ears flattened back against hir head, and hir tail stuck straight out like a wire. "What the hell? Who are you? What are you?"
Then it came to hir. Shi was a transporter tech, no reason it would take hir long to guess. "The Oceanwalker process! Those sons of bitches!" Hir eyes narrowed, and hir bewilderment focused into an anger of laser-beam intensity. "Of all the sheer unmitigated gall! You bastard!" Shi lashed out at me with her rage, and I fell backward. It felt like I had just been dipped in molten lava. "How dare you steal my body! How dare you!"
I wobbled unsteadily to my feet, and slapped at the polarizer again. Darkening the window helped some, but not much. Feeling more than a little drunk, I staggered out the door into the hall and fled back upstairs, tail between my legs. "Wow, whatever you did, you pissed it off good! I sure felt that!" the guard called cheerfully after me.
I didn't stop until I was back in my room. I clumsily pulled the door shut behind me, flopped down on the 'taur pad, and—to my own bewilderment—began to cry.
The next day was the first time I saw Brother Jeremiah face to face since the shapechange. I was pretty nervous about it, though perhaps not as much as he was. Actually, I knew I wasn't as nervous as he was, because I could feel his worry that he wouldn't be able to make himself treat me as a human anymore. But there was something else worrying him, too—something just below the surface. I wondered if I could tease it out somehow.
"Ah, Johnny, my—ah—boy," Jeremiah said. "You are looking well. Have you gotten used to the new body by now?"
"I have," I said. "And I've been practicing with the tapes of Testpattern. I think I've gotten her down pretty well."
"Excellent! We are almost ready for your first assignment." There was that other worry again. I could almost feel it. If it weren't for Jeremiah's iron control…
"Great. You know I'm looking forward to doing my part to help my fellow men," I said without irony. Though for some reason, I had started to get considerably less excited about it over the last few days. Maybe it was being exposed to the hatred of every human who came near me—even the ones who "knew" I was really human under the skin—that did it.
Then a thought hit me. I barely managed to keep my reaction to it off of my face, but it was a close call. What if every Chakat—or even every furry in general—is just as human under the skin as I am now?
It was such a stunning thought that I almost missed what Jeremiah was saying now. "—beam up to the geosynchronous Star Corps space station and install some special new equipment. Once it is installed, you will beam back to earth."
And that was when I felt exactly what it was Jeremiah was trying to hide. And I was glad I had that practice on keeping that poker face, because this was a real doozy. Jeremiah was lying to me.
"Uh…tell me about this equipment?" I probed.
Jeremiah waved a hand. "It's—" a bomb "—just some monitoring apparatus. It will let us know who is beaming down, and to where."
I felt a trickle of cold sweat slide past my ear. "And I'm just there long enough to plant it?"
"Absolutely," Jeremiah said. "As a transporter technician, no one will find it odd Testpattern should be making repairs; we will forge a work order for you showing you—that is, Testpattern—hired on as contract labor for a little extra spending money." That much was true. "As soon as it is planted, you can beam yourself back to earth, and that will serve as a test of the monitoring equipment." But that was a lie.
I didn't have any kind of training, so it was hard for me to read single thoughts out of the muddle of Jeremiah's head. And I'm not a skunktaur, so "thoughts" weren't really what I was getting—rather, emotions, associations, the occasional image. But as nearly as I could make out, I was going to be blown to bits as soon as I connected the bomb to the transporter equipment—along with a large chunk of the station.
But it didn't make any sense! Why were they going to so much time and effort to change me, train me, equip me, just to blow me up? Then another set of emotions bobbed to the surface. Jeremiah felt awfully bad for me, but I was only a test run to see how the process worked out before they tried it out on one of their more experienced people.
After all, if the beast-body drove me crazy or something, better to waste some punk kid who nobody was going to miss than a valuable agent with a lifetime of skills and experience. And the bomb was just the icing on the cake—that way I wouldn't leave any evidence behind that Humans First had the Oceanwalker process, and they'd be free to use it with someone else for something far more deadly.
"I said, are you all right?" Jeremiah looked concernedly at me.
"What? Oh, yes. Just a little tired, I think," I said. "This body needs a lot more sleep than I'm used to, and I've been sleeping on my old schedule. I'll try to get more before the operation. When did you say it was, again?"
"Tomorrow," Jeremiah said.
I blinked. "That's…not a lot of time," I said. "I was hoping to have a little more time to study, practice, brush up on my infiltration skills."
"I'm sure you'll do—" well enough to get the equipment in place and be blown up "—fine," Jeremiah said, giving me a friendly past on the shoulder. "Just fine."
Now I know what those of you reading this deposition are going to say. "Oh, he only turned coat because he found out they were planning to kill him." I'll admit that's part of it, but it's not the whole picture. The shock Jeremiah had given me really opened my eyes, and I began really listening to him, really sensing him. And by the time I got out of that room, I was wondering why I'd ever listened to him in the first place.
He was such a hypocrite! Everyone else in H1 that I ever sensed at least had an honest hatred of furries. I might not agree with it anymore, but at least they were acting based on their own beliefs. But Jeremiah wasn't even honest about that. Oh sure, he hated furries, but that wasn't why he was in Humans First. He saw the group as the fastest route to power for himself, in the church and in the Holy Kingdom government, and he'd do whatever he could to get there. I don't think he even told his superiors about the Oceanwalker plan; he was just going to give them the results.
But even the rest of the people in H1 weren't much better. Their minds were like steel traps—rusted shut. Here they were being presented with solid evidence that a Chakat could indeed contain a human soul—mine—and to a man they were ignoring it. They couldn't let themselves even consider that they might be wrong about the whole thing. Instead, they now hated me just as much as they did Testpattern. Had I been like that?
And that started a kind of domino effect in me. Because, God help me, I had been like that. I saw it now. I had fed myself up on their mindless hatred because it was easier than thinking for myself. It had taken getting put into a new body to break the cycle, but it was well and truly broken.
God, I am so sorry for the things I was a part of! If by some miracle they don't send me to jail after this, I swear I'm going to try to find that foxtaur hunter, and anyone else I hurt in the mob actions, and beg for their forgiveness. I'll do whatever it takes to make it up to them. At least I have to try.
When the meeting was over, I wandered back to my room and fell down on the 'taur pad. I sure hoped that any feelings of shock and desolation I was radiating might be put down to "pre-mission butterflies". Nobody came through my door with a gun, so I guess it was.
One of the quotes I remember from high school history or literature or whatever was something about how knowing you're going to be hanged the next morning really helps you concentrate. I guess it's true for knowing you're going to be blown up the next morning, too, because by the time I hit that pad I was already starting to come up with a plan. I'd have to wait a few hours for people to be in bed, but it was all starting to come together. I could do this!
Because if I couldn't, I'd be dead.
Right around midnight, I made my way back down to the lower part of the base, following my empathic nose back to where Testpattern was being held. As I got closer, I could feel hir noticing me, hir anger starting to heat like an ember pumped by bellows. I tried to broadcast remorse back at hir, but I couldn't tell whether it was working. By the time I got to the two doors, I was already starting to feel the beginnings of a headache.
The guard looked up, and snorted. "Back for more, eh?"
"I guess I'm just a moth drawn to the flame," I admitted, heading into the observation room. I made sure the door was shut tight behind me, then went to the recording equipment and turned everything off. The security system only had cameras—the microphones were separate and controlled from here, so hopefully nobody else would hear what I was about to say.
I turned back to the glass, and there was Testpattern, pressed up right against it, ears laid back and tail lashing, glaring unerringly at exactly through the one-way glass to exactly where I was. "You again," shi growled. "Come back to gloat? Or maybe you want to study the 'abomination' up close so you can impersonate it better?"
I winced. That was remarkably close to the truth, or at least the truth of the last few weeks if not now. But then, shi was an empath. I dialed down the polarization so shi could see me. "No, I'm here to get you out of here. Would you please can it with the anger for just long enough to read me? I know you can tell if I'm lying."
Hir eyes narrowed—then shi blinked. "You aren't lying. Or at least you think you aren't. I don't understand." Hir tail stopped switching, and hir ears cocked forward.
"It's a long story, but let's just say a change of body gave me a change of heart. I am so sorry I was ever a part of this hate group, and I just want to get my own body back and get out of here. I have a plan to get us both free, but I'm going to need you to help me."
"You're still not lying," shi said wonderingly. "All right. What do you want me to do?"
I pointed at the security control panel. "I've heard it's possible to 'loop' security cameras, so the people watching them just see the same thing over and over again. But I don't know how to do it. Do you?"
Shi thought a moment. "I think so. But I can't get up there to do it, whoever's watching the cameras would see me come out of the cell."
I'd already thought of that. "Think you can talk me through it? Tell me what to do, and I'll get these rooms and the hall outside looped. Then we can get you out and do the rest."
"All right." Testpattern frowned. "First off, put the views from the cameras you want to loop on the monitors. Then press the 'select' button under each screen, and…"
Shi talked me through the process easily. I guess shi'd worked in tech support as well as tech maintenance. I got stuck a couple of times, but shi patiently guided me until I had everything set up. "Now stand very still for the next minute or so, then press 'playback.'"
I did as shi said, then watched the monitors as I moved back from the panel. It still showed me at the controls. "It's working!"
"Good." Testpattern put hir hands on hir hips. "Now what?"
"Can you concentrate all your anger and hatred at these people and drop it on the head of that guard outside?" I nodded toward the hallway.
Shi grinned, showing teeth. "It'll be a pleasure."
"All right, give me a moment." I looked around for something heavy I could cosh the guard with while he was distracted—then my eye fell on the painstick they had been using for Testpattern's interrogations. They'd never bothered to put it away, and it still had most of a charge on it. I dialed it up to maximum and headed for the door. "Okay, count to ten, then do it."
It worked like a charm. As I opened the door, the guard jumped to his feet, grimacing and clutching his head. I swung the stick and gave him something to grimace about. Then I very nearly joined him twitching on the floor as my Chakat empathy caught the backwash of his pain. "Ow, shit."
I dropped the stick, leaned against the wall until my legs stopped trying to collapse, then fumbled for the guard's keys and sidearm. A moment later, I had the cell door open, and a cross-looking Testpattern joined me in the hall. "Warn me next time you're going to do that, all right? Ow."
"Sorry. But at least it got you out, right?"
"Right. So now what?"
I pulled the jacket off of the unconscious guard. It was similar to the one I was wearing to cover up my breasts. It barely fit Testpattern. "Congratulations. You're now me."
Shi snorted. "Well, that's a reversal."
"Now come here a minute." I led hir back into the observation room and used the monitors to walk her through the path up to the transporter room. "Go up this hall and take a right, then—"
Testpattern frowned. "You're not coming with me?"
"If you meet anyone, it'd look funny for there to be two of you. This way, they'll think you're me. As soon as you're in the transporter room, I'll follow you. Meanwhile, you pull up their pattern record of me and get ready to reverse the Oceanwalker process—no offense, but I don't want to be in a copy of your body any more than you want me to be."
Shi nodded. "All right, I think I can do that."
"Then set some coordinates and beam us out. Here, you'd better take this." I handed over the guard's sidearm—a heavy stun pistol. "I don't know how to use it, but I know you had weapons training."
Testpattern took the gun, and gave me a puzzled look. "You know, I could stun you and make my own getaway."
"And you could beam yourself out of the transporter room before I ever get there," I said. "If I were in your place, I probably would. But it'd waste time for me to go first—I wouldn't know what to do at the transporter room—so I'm just going to have to trust you."
Shi frowned. "Damn it. I probably would skip out on you, too, but I owe you big for getting me out of that cell. All right, I'll do it. But hurry. We're probably not gonna have much time."
"Then get going. Remember, act casual."
As shi left, I turned back to the security console, and followed the instructions shi'd given me to loop the camera in the transporter room. Then I watched hir progress through the corridors, looping each camera as soon as shi'd passed it. As soon as shi got to the transporter room and vanished from my view, I was on my way.
The trek through those halls seemed like an eternity. I forced myself to walk, in case I met anyone—and I knew the cameras couldn't see me anymore—but I was still scared as hell. I had a lot of time to think about what I'd done, what I was doing…and I had a sense of foreboding. Surely things couldn't be this easy…could they?
But I made it to the transporter room without incident, slipping in and locking the door behind me. Testpattern was standing behind the console, working the controls. I hopped up onto the platform. "As soon as you hit it, the lights are going to flicker all over the base so they'll know something's up. Hope you've got the beam-out coordinates ready."
Shi looked up. "There's a problem."
I tensed. "What?"
"Your original body's pattern isn't anywhere on file. They didn't bother to store it when they changed you." Hir eyes met mine. "I'm afraid you're stuck like this."
I stared dumbly at hir. "B-but—but they said—" Then I realized what an idiot I sounded like. If they'd lied to me about the bomb, of course they'd lied to me about this, too.
In shock, I stared down at myself: the immense breasts jutting out in front of me. The fur-covered arms, and below them the powerful forelegs with their articulated hand-paws. The long and lean feline body, with the thick and flexible tail. Over the last few days, I had learned to move this body until it was almost second nature. But I had always told myself that it was temporary; I'd get put "back to normal" at the end of the assignment.
But now, there was no way that was going to happen. I'd read the literature, I knew that without a body pattern, the transformer simply couldn't reconstruct what I had used to be. My human body was gone for good now, the atoms that made it up being part and parcel of my new Chakat shape. I would be a Chakat forever. My God, what was going to happen when I came into heat? Or rut?
Testpattern must have felt my distress, for shi stopped what shi was doing and came over to hug me. "I'm sorry."
"I…I'm sorry, too," I said. "I know you don't like me being in this body—looking like you. I didn't mean to…" I choked back a sob.
"It's all right," Testpattern said. Shi stroked my back, and I felt hir calmness pour over me like a wave. "What's done is done. The important thing now is to get through this, and I'm here for you."
I looked away. "I should've figured," I muttered. "They planned to kill me from the very beginning. Of course they wouldn't waste space on my pattern." I tried to smile. "But…thanks." I had to admit, the hug felt nice—but it was over too soon, as shi moved back to the console to concentrate on getting us out of here.
"And that's not all," Testpattern said a moment later. "It looks like you're not the first person they did this to."
That got my mind off my own troubles in a hurry. "What?"
"Looks like they did ten test runs before you. Just to calibrate the equipment, I guess. Don't know who the subjects were. Probably just people they grabbed off the street."
"So there are…up to ten more people running around in your body?"
"If they didn't kill them afterward," Testpattern said. Shi snorted. "If I'd known my name was going come true so literally, I'd have changed it to something like 'Billionaire'." Shi tapped keys. "They beamed them all to somewhere out in space. Looks like an orbiting freighter. Probably a slave ship, or planning to meet with one." Shi tossed me a PADD and I snatched it out of the air—nothing wrong with my Chakat reflexes. "I've downloaded everything to that—for evidence. I'll beam you out, then I'll set the console to beam me automatically and crash for good after I'm gone."
"Where are we going?" I asked.
Hir fingers danced over the controls. "I'm bouncing our signal through one of the space stations to land us at New Canaveral Spaceport. It's about the most fur-friendly place I can think of on this side of the globe. They'll have a hard time getting to us there, and I can call in Starfleet."
"Why not just go right to the space station?"
"Security protocols. They won't accept a transmission from an unknown source, but they will relay it to somewhere else." Shi slapped a key. "Looks like it will take about ten seconds for the power to cycle after I beam you out, so I'll see you then."
"Okay." I shuffled my feet—all four of them—on the transporter pad. "Um…thanks."
Testpattern shrugged. "You want to thank me, how about telling me your name? I can't keep thinking of you as 'that other Chakat in my body.'"
"Oh. Um. Well, my human name was Johnny Walker." I sighed and waited for the inevitable Scotch reference.
But this time, it didn't come. "Pleased to meet you, Johnny. Now hold on tight, and please make sure your arms, legs, and tail remain inside the ride at all times. Energize!" The curtain of sparks came down and blocked out the rest of the room. Then it lifted and I found myself somewhere else.
The fifteen seconds I spent gawking around after I rematerialized were some of the longest I had ever spent in my life. I had no way of knowing what was going on back in the H1 compound. Was Testpattern going to be able to beam out after all? What if shi had abandoned me and beamed hirself somewhere else?
Then a shimmer of light appeared next to me, resolving itself into a familiar black-and-white Chakat. Shi sighed in relief. "Whew. Made it."
Much relieved, I took the time to look around. We were standing on asphault, outside of a cafe with a big sign that read "Welcome to Carol's Gulp 'N' Gallop". "Come on, let's get something to eat," Testpattern said. "I'm buying." Given that I didn't have any money, or even any ID with my new face on it, I could hardly refuse.
We entered the cafe and sat down at a taur-form table. A pretty foxtaur waitress came by to take our order, and I shuddered as I was reminded of the huntress at the camp. I sat quietly while Testpattern ordered for both of us.
"I didn't know you were a twin, Testy," the waitress said.
"I am now, Ketta," Testpattern said. "Long story. Two veggieburgers with the works, please. Put 'em on my tab."
As Ketta went away to deliver our order, I sighed. "Why are you being so nice to me? I…stand for everything you should hate about humans. You should turn me over to Starfleet with the rest of them."
Shi reached over the table to pat my arm. "That's not true, Johnny. I'll admit, I didn't like you much the first time I saw you, but you've more than made up for that lousy first impression. If it weren't for you, I'd still be stuck in that cell."
I sighed. "I guess that's true."
"And you actually admitted you were wrong, and changed your attitude," shi went on. "Not something many anti-furry bigots will ever do. If anything, you stand for everything that gives me hope about humans."
"But I'm not human anymore." My ears drooped. "I'll probably never be human again."
"We're all human," Testpattern said. "Humans, Chakats, 'taurs, morphics…that's the whole point that groups like H1 keep missing. The only difference is some of us have more fur, legs, or other bits." Shi grinned. "And speaking of which…" Shi reached for the PADD shi'd given me, which I'd set on the table. "…I'd better go ahead and call this in, so Starfleet can round up that H1 cell before they can get away."
And that was more-or-less that. Shi called in and talked to a succession of Starfleet officers, and two of them were waiting outside by the time we had finished our meal. They took us into custody and we spent the next couple of hours telling them everything we knew, separately and together.
That wasn't the end of it, either. They'd beamed a squad of marines onto that freighter, and recovered eight more carbon-copies of Testpattern. Two subjects hadn't survived the process, and two more had different degrees of mental damage, but the other six were more-or-less all right (except, of course, for the obvious fact that they were in an unfamiliar new body). It turned out they had all been activist furries (two morphics and one foxtaur) or furry-sympathizers from the Holy Kingdom. Humans First had quietly disappeared them for use in its experiments.
The Oceanwalker Institute immediately stepped forward and offered to take care of them, including another shapechange for those who wanted it. They asked Testpattern and me if we'd help with their physical therapy, and we both said we would. (At least, if I end up staying out of jail. Starfleet's still deciding if they want to charge me with anything.)
At about the same time, it turned out that another cell of Humans First had just been caught using a similar process to plant some spaceport bombs. They'd been entirely independent of "my" group, and hadn't worked it quite the same way—they hadn't learned as much about the Oceanwalker process, and had to come up with a lot of it on their own. The good news is, with two incidents like that coming so close together, Starfleet's going to put a lot tighter controls on transporter technology in the future. It's easy to see how the whole thing could get right out of hand.
And speaking of "my" group, Starfleet was able to act fast and round them all up. But then you already know that. After all, that's why I'm giving this deposition—for the trial of Brother Jeremiah. It's a funny thing, though—turns out he's done so much other stuff that this is only one of the many crimes for which he's on trial. Sort of didn't give me a whole lot of leverage to cut a deal for immunity in return for testimony, given they don't really need me to put him away for several life terms.
But that's all right. Trying to cut a deal would have given the wrong impression anyway. I know it may be hard for some of you to believe, but I want to do the right thing because it's the right thing, not for what I might get out of it. I think I've been punished enough already, but that's not up to me to decide.
Punished already…heh. That gives me an idea. I think the sentence for Brother Jeremiah, or for any hard-core Humans Firster for that matter, ought to include beaming them into the body of a Chakat and making them live back in the Holy Kingdom among all their furry-hating friends. I'll bet that would change their attitudes pretty darned quick. It sure did for me.
Oceanwalker's offered to change me back to something as close to my old human pattern as they can make up, but I turned hir down. It wouldn't really be the "old" me, and I'd just as soon not have to get used to yet another new body all over again. To be honest, this body feels as "natural" to me now as my old one did, and I'd rather stay like this than have to go through all that again. I did ask hir to set me up with some fur-color modification, adding black bands around my human and feline torsos and black markings on my muzzle, so it would be easier to tell me and Testpattern apart.
So since it looks like I'll be staying Chakat for the long haul, I went ahead and picked out a Chakat name. I was thinking I'd just be Chakat Walker, but then I checked the database and found there are already a few hundred of those in various places—plus a whole bunch with Walker as part of their name, like Forestwalker or Skywalker…or Oceanwalker, for that matter. I wanted something a little more unique.
The answer came, of all things, from the association of my human name with a brand of Scotch—the one thing I thought I'd be glad to give up. I thought about Johnnie Walker Black, the more expensive kind of J.W. Scotch. And I just happened to remember that my paws—the part of me that I "walk" with—are black. I checked the name this suggested, and nobody else had taken it yet, so I went ahead and registered it.
I guess that's about all I've got to say. I'm going to finish this recording, let them notarize it, then head out to meet Testy for lunch. After finding out what I did for Testpattern, hir parents formally adopted me into their family. I'm living with them right now, while we wait to find out what's going to happen to me. I'm doing the best I can to get used to the Chakat lifestyle, but it's not easy sometimes. Testpattern's family is helping me, and so is the Chakat counselor that the Oceanwalker Institute has assigned me. Somehow, I'm going to get through this.
So anyway, it's been a real pleasure setting this down. It feels good to get it off my chest. I hope it's useful to all of you as well.
I'm Chakat Walkerblack, child of Technicolor and Landline, and that concludes my deposition.
Read the short sequel Suddenly Sisters
The Chakats, Chakona Space setting, and Oceanwalker are the creation of Bernard Doove, and used by permission. Certain other events were created by other writers in the Chakona Space shared setting.
Skunktaurs are the creation of Bob Reijns.
All other characters are copyright © 2009 Chris Meadows firstname.lastname@example.org
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