Truths and Responsibilities Are Life's Measures
(Near Enough Is Never Good Enough II)
By Cassandra Foxx © 2004
(Based upon an idea by Eric Kern [a.k.a. Kathris])


Previously, Kera had managed, thanks to Professor Oceanwalker's process, to rid herself of her cybernetic disguise and become a complete flesh-and-blood vixetaur, in body as well as soul. Now, having returned to Terra and as she discovers herself completely as a vixetaur, she finds that truths and responsibilities are always present, no matter how we might try to avoid them.

Marissa had woken up and found Kera and Keely had gone out. After doing her morning ablutions, she wandered downstairs and looked around. The thing that really caught her attention was the lack of photographs, or rather, the lack of certain photos. There were plenty of pictures of Kera and them in numerous and colourful poses on many trips, but there were none of Kera as a young vixetaur, no photos of her family or any of her more recent than five years ago, which was about the time that they and Kera had become friends. Marissa found that to be very strange indeed. She also realised there was nothing in the house older than five years old. The furniture, the fittings, everything dated back no more than five years old, except for things that were obvious antiques. But there was nothing that told of Kera before that time. No mementos, no knick-knacks from childhood or teenage years. Even Marissa had several plushies and other things she had kept from when she was a cub, but there was nothing to indicate that Kera had ever had a childhood at all. The lack of evidence of Kera's childhood only deepened her suspicions and made her more determined to find out what was truly going on with their friend.

Tanya yawned as she walked downstairs. " 'Morning, Marissa." She said sleepily.

Marissa looked at her and grinned. "Boy, you slept in this morning. One would think that you'd been the one playing Twister with the two taurs instead of me."

Tanya razzed her and headed into the kitchen and towards the softly-gurgling coffeepot. "I always feel good here, Mari. Kera has the softest beds."

Marissa replied "Yeah, I know." Then she thought of something else. "Tanya, when have you know Kera to play Twister like that? Every time before, she either was out early, or begged off entirely and was the caller. But last night she played it like she'd never played before."

"You still sus about her?" Tanya asked. She walked to Marissa and said in a harsh tone "I tell you, Marissa, don't push things. We four are good friends and I don't want to see that end. You hear me?" Tanya poked Marissa in her cold black nose.

"Alright, Tanya. I won't spoil the rest of the day." Marissa replied, ears flat and tail dead still, seconds before the front doors opened and Kera and Keely came rushing in, giggling and laughing. "You two look like you've been enjoying yourselves." Marissa commented.

Kera managed to stop laughing. "Keely and I just went to get breakfast," she replied. "We also stopped for a game of tag in the park and then chased some birds all the way home. I'm exhausted!" Kera explained as she went into the kitchen for some cold drinks. Marissa gave Tanya the 'How-about-that-then?' look and Tanya just scowled at her in return. Keely flopped down again, then Kera came out again with a cold drink for Keely. "It'll take me about half-an-hour to do breakfast. Can you wait that long?"

"Sure, Kera." Tanya replied quickly. "Take your time." She went into the kitchen, watching Marissa as she did so. Marissa just looked resigned and sat down as well.

It was two hours after breakfast that Tanya left with Keely, leaving Marissa and Kera alone. Marissa had just helped load the dishwasher and was watching Kera move. She shook her head. If Marissa didn't know better, she would have thought that the vixetaur in front of her had to be someone else. Kera moved so smoothly now, like nothing had ever been wrong with her. "So, Kera, tell me about what really happened on Chakona."

Kera looked at her. "What do you mean? I told you just about everything."

Marissa shook her head. "No, not everything." She replied. "Tell me why you have nothing around here that shows your family, or anything older than about eight years old at the most."

Kera was starting to get worried. "I'm not sure I know what you mean..."

"Sure you do." Marissa replied. "I mean, you appear out of nowhere five years ago, join up at the College, then become part of our group. You've never mentioned your past, you never mention your family, you live alone, you supposedly had a terminal degenerative disease that caused you to move like a... like a machine!" Then a thought struck Marissa. "You were a robot, weren't you? Something made to simulate a living being."

Kera sighed. Maybe it was time for someone to know the entire truth. Marissa had obviously been snooping, so maybe it would keep her from nosing around more. Maybe she could even be trusted. "No, Mari, I wasn't a robot. But that's not far from the truth."

"Oh?" Marissa looked startled, her ears standing up straight. "So what is the truth?"

Kera sat down and looked at her. "First, you have to promise me that you'll keep this to yourself and not even breathe a hint of what I'm going to tell you to anyone else. It could mean my life otherwise."

"Okay, but why so melodramatic?" Marissa asked.

"You'll understand once I've told you." Kera sighed. "It all started about ten years ago...." She began to recall.

Keely was sitting beside Tanya in the taur cradle she had installed in the passenger side of her car. Once the seats were folded back or removed, it was easy to fit at least one taur in her car with two others. "That was the best night ever, wasn't it Tanya?"

Tanya grinned. "It sure was." She looked at Keely. "Keely, what do you think of Kera since she came back from Chakona?"

Kelly giggled. "She's great fun! She and I went running through the park this morning and played Tag, and did lots of other things. She's lots more fun to be with!"

"Do you think she's changed in any way?"

Keely thought for a moment. "She's not as shy anymore. She hugged into me last night like my older sister used to. She never did before. And she's just so huggable now, too. It's like she wants to be touched and hugged and just be with people, not like she was before. She used to be... kind-of apart from everyone. Now she wants to be close."

Tanya nodded. "Maybe that's all it is." She murmured. "Maybe now that she's cured, she can let people get close to her." Tanya decided that Marissa's suspicions were stupid anyway. So what if Kera had secrets? So did everybody.

As they approached Keely's house, they saw one of Keely's older brothers storm out of the house and drive off in a rage as a window was smashed at the front of the house. "Uh-oh." Keely said, trying to hide behind the dashboard. "Momma and Dad and Shepan have been fighting again. Daddy's gonna be real mad."

Tanya watched her shudder, heard the loud raised voices coming from inside the house, then made a decision. "I think we'll go back to Kera's place for the moment, until things cool off, Okay?"

Keely looked relieved. "Okay, Tanya. At least Kera doesn't get mad like my parents do."

Tanya nodded. "Yeah. No matter what, Kera's one of the most level-headed people I know." Tanya turned her car around and headed back for Kera's home. "Maybe it's time you stayed with her permanently," she whispered.

Marissa was speechless. What Kera had told her was barely within her capability to believe. "So, you used to be a human male, that got bombed by other humans and really badly injured, testified against the ones that killed your parents and injured you, and then was disguised as a female foxtaur by the doc that helped you adjust to living again to escape a contract on your life." She ran through it out loud. "You had a cyborg lower body that was slowly failing and went to Chakona where some chakat professor, with the help of a transporter, turned you into a real vixetaur, and now you're 18 again and are just going to live on like that?"

Kera nodded. "You said you wanted the truth. Well, that's everything." Kera shifted slightly on the couch and waited on Marissa's response.

Marissa nodded back. All the pieces had finally fallen into place. "No wonder you don't have anything to show your former life, not to mention seeming older than anyone else. But why did you stay as a vixetaur?"

Kera smiled as she replied "Professor Oceanwalker asked me the same thing." She rose and moved around. "Marissa, I've been a vixetaur, albeit not a complete one, for the last eight years. I can hardly remember what it was like to be a human male. This is me, now. I have a life, friends, a home, and a career pending as Kera Silverback. Hell, I can't even remember what my old name was anymore." Kera giggled. "This," she gestured at herself, "is who and what I am. What you knew of me before wasn't an act, not by the time I met you guys anyway. There was no way I could ever think of going back. And I'm going to live out my life as me, for as long as I live." Kera looked at Marissa for a reply.

Marissa pondered this. "So why didn't you tell us all this before?"

"Because of a number of things." Kera explained. "One: the bounty on my former self still exists. I was scared that, if someone besides Dr Graven knew my past, they might find me again. Two, I was scared of what you and the others might think of me if you knew."

"Think of you? About what?"

Kera shook her head. "Marissa, don't you understand? I was male once, remember? You go on all the time about 'Girl's space', how only girls can understand other girls and other such things. Can you realise how that made me feel at the time? There I was, someone who had been male before and was still coming to terms with being female, and you saying things like that in front of me. I thought that if you had known, you and the others would have either rejected me or would never have treated me like one of the girls ever again. I would have become an outcast from everyone. It may have been more than I could have handled, especially in the last nine months when I was slowly dying again. I needed your support more than ever then, and I am still grateful for everything you, Tanya and Keely have done for me. That's why I started the Friday night pizza binges and sleepovers, so I could repay you for some of what you three did for me. It was my way of saying thank you for being my friends."

Marissa looked at Kera and saw the sincerity in her eyes. She moved to the vixetaur and hugged her gently. Kera purred and returned the hug. Moving back a small distance, she looked Kera over. "Well, there's no-one who could tell now to look at you and watch you that you're not exactly what you look like: A very pretty 18 year-old vixetaur." Kera blushed slightly. "And your mannerisms are almost perfect. You really have become female, haven't you? There's nothing masculine left that I can see," Marissa said critically.

"I had the best teachers. Sociologists, psychologists, models, then you three when I came here. And each of you three taught me more of what it means to be female than any ten of the others combined." Kera admitted. "They taught me how to look and act female. You three, though, taught me what it meant to be a girl and a vixen. You made me what I am today, in a way. Without you three, I would have still been struggling to fit in, no matter where I went."

Marissa smiled. "I'm glad to have helped, albeit unwittingly." She sat back. "So, what now? Now that you're completely a vixetaur, what are your plans?"

Kera grinned. "I'm going to finish college first and get my degree, then maybe go to University if my marks are good enough and get my doctorate as well. If I'm lucky, I might meet a nice handsome todtaur and we might settle down together and start a family of our own someday."

Marissa giggled. "So, you can even have cubs?"

"Of course I can." Kera replied. "I can do everything a normal vixetaur can do, including drool over handsome males." At that both girls laughed and giggled. Then Kera heard Tanya's car pull up outside. "Hello, Tanya's back. I wonder why?" Kera rose and moved to the front door, just in time to be bowled over again by a very tearful Keely. "Keely? What's wrong?"

Keely sobbed. "Mmmm... Mom and... D-d-daddy... are... f-f-fighting again!"

Kera looked at Tanya and pulled Keely out of the doorway, steering her to one of the big couches. As she sat down beside Keely, Tanya added. "Oh yeah. They were having a good old shouting match and throwing stuff when we got there, and her older brother had just stormed out as well. We didn't even go in, I just turned us around and we came back here."

"C-c-can I... s-stay with y-you, K-Kera? P-please? I... I don't w-want to g-g-go home," Keely asked, still sobbing.

Kera looked at the one vixetaur she knew better than herself. "Of course you can, Keely. You go and clean yourself up, okay?" Keely nodded, then got up and headed back to the bathroom. Kera looked at Tanya and said "Thanks for bringing her back here, Tanya. I'd hate to think of what her parents might have done in the mood they were in."

Tanya grinned happily. "Hey, no problem. I couldn't leave her to face that by herself. I'm just glad she's got some place to come to that is kitted out for her. My parents' place is nowhere near suitable for taurs."

"Mine neither," added Marissa. "I'll contact her mother once the fighting has quietened down and tell her that Keely's safe. Her parents don't know where you live, do they Kera?"

"No, not to my knowledge. I've never even been there, so they don't know me and I don't know what they're like except from what Keely's told me." Kera looked down the hall. "But she's safer here, there's no doubt of that."

"Very true," Marissa agreed. "Tanya, how about giving me a lift home, okay? I'm ready to go."

"Sure, Marissa. Give me five to put the front seat back in place." Tanya rose and walked outside.

"I'll see you around, Kera," Marissa said in parting. "I'm glad things worked out for you."

"Thanks, Mari. Take care!" Kera replied and escorted her to the door. Tanya had just gotten the last lock-bolt in place when Marissa joined her, then they drove off together. Tanya was looking at Marissa as they drove along. "So, did you ask her?"

"Yep." Marissa replied.


Marissa smiled at the answer. "No real mystery after all. Everything she had was either lost in a fire at her parents' home, or sold because she couldn't use it any longer. She just wanted a fresh start, and the reason there's no pics is because it hurts her too much to have the few she has left around, as they still remind her of her parents."

"Oh." Tanya said softly. Marissa nodded, and they drove on in silence.

Kera shut the door and went looking for Keely. She found her curled up on Kera's bed, thumb in muzzle, hugging into a pillow and looking like a three-year-old cub who's just been through a traumatic time. Kera sat down and gently stroked Keely’s hair and ears, smiling as this elicited a purr from the sleeping Keely. Sighing, Kera moved back to the kitchen and made herself some tea. She remembered how her own parents used to fight sometimes, but the fights never were serious ones, just loud disagreements. By what Tanya and Keely herself had told her, Keely’s parents were having more than disagreements. Kera imagined what foxtaurs could do to each other, with their teeth and claws. She shuddered and was glad that they weren't felitaurs. "At least chakats don't act like that," she thought to herself. Sighing, Kera went out and lay down on the couch in her study, turning on the television and pulling over the college work she'd sorted out earlier.

It was several hours before Keely woke up, and she looked up to see Kera looking at her. "Hello sleepyhead." Kera said softly to her. "Sleep well?"

"Uh-huh." Keely replied. Looking around, she realised that she wasn't at home. "I'm still at your place?" she asked. Kera nodded. "Can I stay here for a while?" she asked.

"As long as you want," Kera replied.

Keely purred and hugged Kera. "I'd like that. Be close to my big sis."

Kera giggled. Only Keely called her 'Sis' and she liked being called that. Maybe helping Keely move out from her parents’ house would be the right thing to do. After all, it was obvious that she wasn't happy there. Kera did have three other rooms that she had only used for storage since she occupied her home. Maybe Keely would like one or two of those. "Keely, would you like to come and live here permanently? Away from your parents and the rest of those who hurt you?"

"Uh-huh!" Keely stated emphatically. "I hate it there, Kera. They are always fighting and shouting. I can't get anything done or leave anything where I want it. I thought about moving away, but I had nowhere to go to and no money to buy or rent a place."

"Well, you can come and live here. All I have to do is get some rooms ready for you. How do you like that idea?" Kera asked. The squeal of joy that Keely gave out and the huge hug she received told Kera enough of Keely's opinion. She told Keely to get something to eat while she checked out the spare rooms. Kera unlocked the doors as Keely headed for the kitchen. Inside, Kera found something she'd completely forgotten about: the servicing equipment for her cyber-body was still there, covered over but still evident by its sheer size. "Gonna have to send that back to the Institute," Kera muttered. She began moving the other boxes of stuff out of the rooms and into her shed, most of them being the boxes for the various appliances she'd bought over the years and the things she'd brought with her from the Institute when she moved out. Soon the shed was full, and the cyber-gear was packed and covered under the shed’s awning. Kera looked at the pool. Summer was coming and it was about time she had the pool checked over and filled again. Now, with her new body, she could get some proper use out of it for a change. Once the rooms were empty, Kera looked them over and decided they needed painting again. "Time to strip walls and slap paint." She said to herself. Kera made a note to ask Keely what colours she liked. The ensuite in the bedroom was clean, with plastic still covering most parts of it. Kera carefully cut the plastic away and checked everything over. She ran the shower, the bath and the sink for some time, making sure the pipes were clear and flushed the toilet until it flowed clean. At least now Kera didn't have to worry about Keely taking over her bathroom. Then Keely appeared with a glass of cold water and some sandwiches. "Keely, you must've read my mind," Kera said in gratitude. "Thank you. How did you know I was feeling hungry?"

"Was logical," Keely replied. "After all, you have been in there for three hours."

"Three hours?!" Kera exclaimed. She estimated it was Noon or past by now. "It didn't seem that long. Thanks." Kera took a sip of the drink and picked up a sandwich. "So, what do you think?"

Keely looked around. "It's big," she said absently. "My room at home was smaller than this." She looked in the side door. "I have my own bathroom?" she asked disbelievingly.

"Yep. Just for you." Kera took a big bite and chewed on the sweet meat sandwich, tasting the bacon and mustard Keely had added to it.

Keely squealed again with delight. "I never had a bathroom to myself before. Momma and Daddy used to time everyone when they were in there to make sure no-one stayed longer than they could." She looked around inside. "It has a bath AND a shower! The old one only had a shower, and we could never use it for long because it'd use up the hot water and then Momma would get angry."

Kera was incredulous. "Did you ever get clean?"

Keely hung her head. "Not really," she replied in a small voice. "Tried my best, though."

Kera was fuming. "All right, that's it." She walked over to Keely and led her off gently.

"Where are we going, Kera?"

"To bathe properly," Kera replied. Kera led Keely into the big bathroom, undressed both of them and led Keely into the shower. Sluicing the water through Keely's fur using the hand-nozzle revealed a whole lot of crud that flowed out from it. Kera was disgusted. She lathered Keely up, working her hands right into the purring vixetaur’s pelt, then used a comb to try and get as much of the in-built deposits of dirt and other stuff out. It took three latherings and one-and-a-half hours, but when Keely emerged, her entire coat glistened like Kera had never seen it glisten before. She looked so much more alive now, and her pelt was no longer a dull yellow-grey, it was a glistening gold. Kera carefully brushed Keely's fur out, taking care to remove anything left in it and untangling any knots. Kera marvelled at how long her coat really was. "You need a clip, Keely. Whoever did your last one was a butcher."

"Momma did it," Keely admitted. "She said that we couldn't afford it any other way."

"Well, that stops here and now. I'm taking you to get a clip done this afternoon," Kera stated, and Keely just smiled happily. Kera phoned her fur-stylist and made an appointment, then made ready to go out.

After making sure Keely was secure in the big passenger taur-seat of her van, Kera drove them around to the fur stylist she used herself. Janna, the owner and a bipedal vixen, looked a little horrified at the condition of Keely's coat. "Oh dear!" she said, her foxy tail swishing in annoyance. "She is as overgrown as you said she was, Kera. By the way, love the new you! Come this way, dear." And she led Keely out to a work area, behind a privacy screen. Kera sat and waited, finding a copy of the latest issue of Scientific Chakat amongst the gossip magazines. Grinning, Kera sat down and started to read. "I must get a subscription to this someday soon," she murmured to herself.

Keely stood still as three groomers worked on her, moving around and discussing what should be done. "Would you like your hair long or short, dear?" asked the owner and head vixen, Janna.

"Long hair, short fur, like Kera has,." Keely replied.

Janna smiled. "And so shall it be, dear. Just wait and see."

Keely stood there, waiting patiently as they started to clip her. Once her hair was evened out, it was braided and coiled up on top of her head to allow access to the areas it would normally cover. Cascades of soft golden fur floated down or flopped in clumps as the three groomers worked. Janna did Keely's tail, shaping it properly while the two human females worked on her body. Janna then moved to Keely's front, gently clipping the fur around her breasts while leaving a nice V-shaped puff of long fur covering her cleavage, as was the current fashion. Janna even carefully clipped Keely's face and shaped her cheek ruffs as the other two worked up Keely's backs. Then they styled her hair into a nice shape with her bangs braided and framing her face. It took almost an hour but when Keely emerged, she was a beauty to dazzle any todtaur's eyes.

Kera rose and walked around her. "How does that feel, Keely? You like it?"

Keely giggled and hugged Kera. "It feels great! I'm not hot anymore and I don't feel heavy. My hair feels nice, too."

"That's good. As long as you're happy, I'm happy too." Kera paid for the clip, then they walked outside. Walking back to where the van was, the girls were whistled at by a group of males of various species from across the street. Kera smiled, but Keely hid behind her, looking a little scared. Kera noticed this, but said nothing yet. Only when they were back in the van did Kera ask, "Keely, did those guys scare you?"

Keely nodded. "Some of them look like my brother, and he always tries to... you know. He thinks any female is his."

Kera nodded gravely. "That's bad, all right. But not all todtaurs are like that."

"I know, but I'm still scared."

Kera hugged Keely again. "Then we'll steer clear of them for a while, okay?" Keely nodded. On the way home, Kera bought furniture for Keely, allowing the young-minded vixetaur to choose what she wanted, within reason. The bed with the dancing cubs all over the frame didn't come in an adult size, after all, but Kera managed to buy sheets and covers with the same motif. Kera arranged for delivery before the day was out, then the girls went shopping, and then home.

Kera later on drove out to where Keely's parents' house was and looked it over. It once had been beautiful, but now the gardens were overgrown and the house had seen better days. Several smashed windows attested to the violence of the arguments that went on there. Kera saw that there seemed to be no one at home, so she went and knocked on the door. To her surprise, a young vixetaur, no older than eight, opened the door and said, "Who are you?"

"I'm Kera, Keely's friend," Kera replied. "Is your Mommy and Daddy home?"

The youngster shook her head. "They'll not be back for hours. I'm Kessa," she informed Kera, then sniffed at her. "I can smell Keely on you. Why are you here?"

"I need to get Keely's things. She's going to be living elsewhere from now on, okay?" Kera explained.

Kessa nodded. "This way." And she led Kera down a corridor that looked like the cubs had been allowed to run riot in there. Keely's room was as she described it: cramped and not pleasant at all. Kera did note it was neat, however. Kera began packing Keely's things up carefully, Kessa helping. It took until five o'clock, the best part of two hours, but soon all of Keely's things were in Kera's van. Kera looked at Kessa. She was young, but her eyes showed that she had matured beyond her years, probably to cope with her parents' constant fighting. She was also rather thin, enough to start Kera worrying. Kera asked, "Kessa, are there any more cubs here besides you?"

Kessa shook her head. "All the others are old. My brother closest to me is fourteen. Kanara and Andon aren't here anymore, they moved away," she said, the sadness in her voice evident.

"I see," Kera mused. She wondered if it would be doing the right thing, but she felt she couldn't leave such a young girl in such a place. "Would you like to come and live with Keely and me?"

Kessa's face brightened and she nodded. "Let's go see your room, then." As Kessa led her back inside, Kera thought to herself "I hope you know what you're getting yourself into, my dear girl..." Kessa's bedroom was worse than Keely's had been. It was obvious she shared it with about two others, but at least it was big. Kessa didn't take much stuff, just some clothes and toys and her favourite plushie that Kera could see needed some repair work. Kera took copious quantities of photos of every room, the house and the surrounding land, to show just how bad the living conditions were here. Kera had Kessa leave a note that she was going to stay with Keely for a while, then they both drove off after locking the house up as best they could.

To say that Keely was surprised to see Kessa would be accurate, but to say she was glad to see her would be a grievous understatement. Keely hugged her younger sister close for what seemed like an eternity, Kessa crying on her older sister's shoulder. Then they moved Keely's belongings into her room and fitted it out, as the furniture had been delivered and set up while Kera had been away. Kera decided that Keely would just have to do without a separate study for the moment and made the fixings to give Kessa the room on the other side of the bathroom. Moving the normal double bed in from the guest bedroom gave Kessa a temporary place to sleep, and other furniture was shared for the time being. Kera learned that Keely and Kessa's mother and father had been thrown out of their clans and villages because they had eloped and taken each other as mates secretly, against their parents' wishes, and they never let each other forget it. The expulsion seemed to have over time become a bitter bone of contention that was the root cause of all the fights in the household. Kera decided that this situation was intolerable. She wasn't about to allow Kessa or Keely to be forced to go home to parents like that. But she would have to wait until Monday to call her lawyer and start the proceedings going.

Keely and Kera enjoyed bathing and grooming Kessa that night, and the little vixetaur was extremely appreciative of the large meal Kera served. But Kera noticed how subdued she was. It was almost like Kessa had received the maturity that Keely had missed out on. Kera vowed to help Kessa find her inner cub again. And she also secretly hoped that it might help herself find the cub in her, too

Sunday morning Kera took her houseguests out to the park where she and Keely had played on Saturday morning. Kera encouraged Kessa to play, teaching her some simple games that anyone could play. Kessa slowly began to warm up to things, especially when a human with several collies arrived. Kessa opened up as she threw a Frisbee around to them and they fetched it for her, catching it in mid-air time after time and doing wild aerial acrobatics. Kera sat and watched as the two other vixetaurs thoroughly enjoyed themselves, while she sat and set down on her laptop a full report of what Keely and Kessa had told her and what she'd seen at their parents' house. Kera had an inkling that this was going to be a difficult fight. She did join in a little later as the taurs and the collies raced from one end of the park to the other. As it was, the collies barely won, as the foxtaurs proved they were just as fast as any normal canine.

Later that night, Kera lay on the big couch with Keely beside her and Kessa between the two of them. Kessa was close to falling asleep against Keely when Kera motioned the two of them off to bed. Yawning as she herself walked back to her bedroom, Kera checked out the report that had been printing out, then placed it in a folder along with printouts of the photos she'd taken and put it where she could find it easily. It barely took her five minutes after laying down to fall asleep.

Monday morning saw Keely off to University while Kera took Kessa with her to see her lawyer. Kera bought Kessa a nice dress-top on the way with a frilly front skirt-flap that made her look quite pretty. When Kera arrived there, she asked Kessa to wait in the playroom as she saw her lawyer, a human called Marcus Raymond.

"You're looking very upmarket this morning, Kera," Marcus said, referring to Kera's suit-top as he closed the door to his office. "And you're looking a lot better. I almost didn't recognise you."

"You're looking well too, Marc," Kera replied. "I found a treatment on Chakona that cured me for good. I'm no longer sick."

"That's good to hear," he grinned at her as he sat down. "So, what can I help you with?" he asked.

Kera handed him the report. "A friend of mine is staying with me because of mental abuse and possibly physical abuse from her parents. She is 18 and asked me to let her move in."

"Okay.... so?" Marcus asked, looking over the report.

"She also has an eight-year-old sister who is currently doing the same," Kera explained. "I went to pick my friend Keely's belongings up from their parents' home and found things as you can see in the pictures."

Marcus was looking disgusted as he looked through the pictures. "This is horrible! I always thought you foxtaurs, second only to chakats, were the souls of cleanliness."

"I know," Kera replied. "I've never seen a house in such a state. Young Kessa was living in the room marked with her name. Apparently she shared it with two older brothers. Keely and Kessa are the two females that were living there at the time. The other five siblings are male. Apparently there are two other siblings who have left home already as well, one being the oldest sister. "

Marcus finished skimming her report and asked "So, what would you like me to do?"

"I want to try and get Kessa into another home, away from all of that, preferably with Keely and I. You know me and how responsible I am. You also know my financial situation and that I could support a child like Kessa easily. And I know she wants to stay with her older sister." Kera explained further. "What I want to know is, can it be done?"

"Well," Marcus began, "there's no doubt you're mature enough to look after a child, but alone?"

"I won't be alone. Keely is living with me as well."

"Mmm, there is that, true," Marcus considered. "You know there's going to be background checks left, right and centre?"

"My background should pass any scrutiny, shouldn't it? After all, you helped put it together," Kera answered.

"You're right," Marcus admitted. "Your background is so bullet-proof, it's not funny. You've got a large house easily capable of catering for three taurs, a large property and a history of responsibility and respectability. Also, you have good character witnesses in Dr Graven and some of the other specialists."

"And my teachers," Kera added.

"Yes, them too," Marcus agreed. "Money is in no way a problem for you, and I know for a fact you're a caring, kind person." He put the report down and looked at the computer. "Are Kessa's parents aware that she's moved out?"

"They'll know Keely has by now," Kera replied. "But whether they have realised that Kessa has left for more than a sleepover is debateable. We did leave a note behind stating that Kessa was going to stay with Keely for a while, but that's all."

"Right, then. I'll fill out the paperwork and get onto the police to make sure they don't assume you've kidnapped her. That wouldn't do you any good right now." He called up someone and spent ten minutes talking to them, then he hung up and turned back to Kera. "That's that sorted. The police now have on their records that Kessa has not been kidnapped but is staying with you voluntarily. I'll fax the paperwork later. You said she's actually here?" Kera nodded. "Even better. We'll get a statement off her, too, and pass it on to the police and that will help in case her parents do try and say she's been kidnapped." He looked seriously at Kera. "This is going to be a tough one. I hope you're up to it, Kera."

"Any tougher than when my life was in the balance?"

Marcus chuckled. "I forget that you've already stared Death in the face more than once and told him where to go each time." He sat back. "I think Kessa's parents are going to find that they are going to have to really work hard to convince any judge that they're suitable parents to bring up a young child, especially with your report, which I'll get you to sign in front of our Justice of the Peace, and all these photos. This is really going to screw their case."

"I hope so," replied Kera as she rose. "I'll go and get Kessa, okay?"

"Fine. I'll get someone else in here as well when I take down her statement. And then there's the video as well." He pointed to a camera in the corner.

"Good. I'll get her." And Kera walked out of the office. A few minutes later, she came back with Kessa at her side. Marcus smiled at her and brought over his sweets jar for her. Kessa shyly took one and sucked on it. Kera saw the stenographer and one of the other partners, a bipedal lynx-feline, sitting to one side, and the video camera watching. Marcus said "Kessa, Kera's been telling me things about you and your sister Keely. Things that could possibly get Kera into trouble. What I want to do is ask you some questions that will help me clarify what she's told me and to see if you agree with what she's said. Will you answer my questions?"

Kessa replied in a quiet voice. "All right."

Marcus nodded and started. "Maybe you should start by telling me what it's like, living with your parents."

"Okay." Kessa answered. "Mom and Dad are okay sometimes, but unfortunately..."

All the time Kessa was being questioned, Kera sat where Kessa could still feel and smell her presence, but where the camera could see if Kessa asked Kera something, and where it could record that Kera wasn't coaching her in any way. After about three hours of talking, Marcus sat back and said "That was fantastic, Kessa. You did very well." He handed her a cold bottle of water from his fridge and had one himself as the stenographer packed up and took the videotape with her. "Now, once that's all written up, I'm going to get you to sign it, then I'll sign it and so will Miss Alexter who was typing away there so quietly. That way what we've written and taped will be an official record of what you've said to me. Understand?"

"Yes, Marcus," Kessa answered, smiling.

"Then I think that wraps that up, Kera," Marcus said to Kera. "Once the transcripts are back and signed, then you and Kessa can go home and relax for a while." He rose and shook hands with her. "I'm going to wish you luck on this, and I think we have a good chance of winning."

"Thanks for all your help, Marcus," Kera replied. All three of them sat and chatted until the transcripts were brought back, then Kessa signed them and the two foxtaurs took their leave. Kera took Kessa to her favourite sub sandwich shop and let her choose what she wanted for lunch (Kera had her usual ranch-chicken sub). Then it was back to the furniture store to choose things for Kessa's bedroom. Kera bought all the things that she knew Kessa needed, and a few she wanted, like the soft sculpted chakat nightlight. Kera smiled at seeing Kessa hug it to her. After arranging delivery for the big items and having the smaller ones put in the van, Kera and Kessa headed home. They spent most of the afternoon cleaning out the pool and filling it, then enjoyed themselves swimming around.

Later that week, Kera finally went and saw Dr Graven. As she entered his office, Dr Graven's eyes bulged slightly as he took stock of the exquisitely-beautiful young vixetaur that came to stand in front of him with a huge smile. He smiled back, then opened his arms. "Welcome home, Kera," he said just as she slipped her arms around him and hugged like a cub hugs a parent. He then moved back and looked her up and down. "My, my, my! The treatment from Chakona really did work then. And how it worked! You're much more beautiful now, more so than even the graft-body I had planned for you. How does it feel?"

Kera blushed a little. "It feels... like me, David." Kera replied, using Graven's first name. "It's been incredible, finally being myself, and I just feel so alive. All the drag and stiffness has gone. I can move like a real foxtaur, now."

"Well, you are one now, Kera." He chuckled. "I just wish I had been able to do this for you ten years ago. Then you wouldn't have had to go through everything you have."

Kera nodded. "Maybe, but I have a life now, thanks to all that time, very good friends and a home of my own. And I'm young again, too! It's looking much better the second time around."

"I thought you looked younger. How old are you now?" David asked.

"Eighteen again," Kera answered. "I've regained all the time I lost, and now I'm going to live it as I should have."

"As you should," Dr Graven agreed. "Now, come down to the lab and we'll do some scans of you, just to confirm everything's all right. I'm very interested in seeing how they put you together." As they left the office, David added, "Also, your cyborg half arrived here two months ago from Chakona."

"Good. I also have the maintenance equipment to be picked up as well," Kera informed David.

"Ah, I'll assign someone to pick it up later this week," David replied. "As for your former body, I've put it into storage, just in case it's needed, and with the data we obtained from your experiences, we might be able to overcome the rejection problem."

"I hope so," Kera replied as she shuddered slightly when she remembered everything she went through with that cyborg body. "Hopefully it'll never be needed again, ever."

"Well, if this new process they used on you proves to be as good as you say it is, then we might look into talking to the creator about licensing it from them and using it ourselves," David replied as they entered the lab. "Now, take your top off, sit up on here and we'll start the scans."

Kera laid herself out on the scanner bed he had there, and the scanner head made three lengthways sweeps of her. "My, you have changed!" David replied. "All your internals are exactly as I would expect in a vixetaur your age, and some appear to be in better shape than that." He looked at deeper scans. "You even have ovaries. I wonder what your genetic pattern would look like? I must get an egg sample from you sometime." He moved closer and gently ran his hands over Kera, checking her over. "Your skin and fur feel very good. You've been taking good care of both, I see." Kera smiled and blushed, bowing her head in a coquettish style that was now so natural that David just smiled back. "You even act as if you'd always been a vixetaur." He gently fondled Kera's breasts, feeling them over and slipping a cardio-scope by her lower ribs. "Hmm, your heartbeat is loud and strong, and these lovely feminine attributes are firm and yet soft, with no internal lumps that I can feel." He grinned at her.

"Huh! You just like examining the girls so you can feel us up," Kera accused him lightly with a giggle.

"Awww! You found me out!" he replied with a laugh. "And this is just as enjoyable." He walked over and retrieved an endoscopic instrument with a long tube attached. "I'm going to have a look inside you, Kera. I want to see if you have anything in there that could prevent you from having cubs."

"Alright. I trust you," she replied, and lifted her tail up.

"Mmmm.... what a lovely sight," David commented as he walked around to Kera's rump and sat down directly behind her. "Now, I'm going to stimulate you a little, to help you become lubricated inside. I find that a sample helps with my evaluation, as well as making the entry of this endoscope much easier. Understand?" Kera nodded, looking back at him. "All right, then. Here we go." And he gently started to stroke her vulva with something soft.

Kera purred and felt herself start to become really aroused as he stroked that soft whatever-it-was over the sensitive outer lips of her vulva. She purred deeply as David felt her open up and grant him access to her inner lips and clitoris. These he stroked with nimble fingers wet with his saliva. "Goddess!" Kera thought. "He is sooo good at this!" She bit her lips slightly as he stroked her clit with one long finger and she felt herself getting very wet inside as her vagina opened up as well, Kera becoming receptive as she would for any male pleasuring her like this. Then she felt something warm and hard enter her gently, and it slid around in her for about ten seconds, then withdrew. It just served to heighten her pleasure and receptibility. "All right, Kera," came David's voice. "I have the sample I need, so let's get on with the internal examination." Then Kera felt the long tube of the robot endoscope slowly enter her, David watching everything on a monitor. "Ahh, very good," he said after a few minutes. "Your vagina looks completely normal, and I have some skin scrapings. And here's your cervix, which is open and slightly dilated. I'll just take some samples, then we'll proceed inside your uterus."

Kera just nodded. Having this thing slithering around inside her like a snake just drove her pleasure higher and she wasn't being given any chance to rest, either. As it slid through her cervix, Kera gasped and orgasmed, a slight howl of ecstasy escaping her muzzle. Purring even more as the tube moved deeper into her, Kera was unable to resist the sensations and revelled in them instead, padding with her front feet and caressing her breasts with her hands.

David smiled. He'd had a chance to examine more than a few vixetaurs in the past and had always found that direct stimulation was easier and far better for them to get them ready for the endoscope. He'd never do this with a human female, but both vixetaurs and chakats responded better to being stimulated first, then probed. He'd learned this from the first chakat he'd ever examined. But the responses he was getting from Kera, including her orgasm's timing, was exactly within the parameters of every other vixetaur of her age he'd examined: one more piece of evidence that this process she'd undergone had truly changed her into a full vixetaur. The human part of her was gone, as was any sign of remaining masculinity. She seemed completely female now, more than at any other time during her transition. Even all the counselling had never had such an effect as this on her. Then David understood: if Kera had been given a female foxtaur's pattern via a transporter, even her brain would now be that of a vixetaur. She couldn't react in any other way than how she was, since her brain was now wired completely for feminine behaviour and for life as a taur. It all made sense, and was far better than anything he'd come up with, even Kera's cybernetic body could never surpass this. He returned his full attention to the screen and completed his examination.

As the endoscope slowly wormed its way out of her, Kera felt herself peak as two orgasms overwhelmed her, one after the other. This was the first time she had ever been penetrated in any way and the pleasure's intensity was unlike anything she'd ever experienced before. This time without any thought of restraint, Kera howled out at the top of her lungs, the power of the orgasms taking her into unknown territory but they were so incredibly welcome that she didn't think of trying to suppress her feelings but gave full vent to them. Then came the slow, soft drift back down again. She felt someone gently stroking her lower back, then two arms gently hug her. Purring loudly, Kera returned the hug as the soft afterglow settled through her, making her feel as if she was drifting on clouds. 'That... was incredible," she said softly.

"Haven't had intercourse yet, eh?" David asked. Kera shook her head. "Then that's about the closest thing to it you've felt so far. Now you know at least a little of what to expect." He smiled at Kera. "I think you're ready to find yourself a todtaur and start a family, and once I get these samples analysed, I'll be able to tell what your cubs will look like, generally." He helped Kera off the examination table.

Kera grinned and hugged David. "Thank you," she said, feeling more satisfied than she had ever felt in her life.

"No problem. Now, you take care and find yourself a regular foxtaur doctor to take care of you. But do feel free to come back anytime you want to talk," David stressed. "I would like to see what your cubs look like." He grinned.

Kera blushed slightly. "I'll do that," she agreed. As she left the Institute, Kera felt like she was walking on air, the feeling of satiation still flowing through her as she headed back to her car.

A week later, a letter arrived from Marcus about her custody case for Kessa. It asked Kera to get in contact with him. Kera walked back inside to the lounge, lay down on one of the long couches built for taurs and pulled the videophone over to face her. Dialling Marcus' direct number, she waited for him to answer. "Hello, Delan, Telmon and Raymond, Marcus Raymond speaking."

"Hi Marcus, it's Kera."

"Kera! I was just thinking about calling you." Marcus replied as he switched the vision on. "You got my letter, then."

"Right here. What's up?" Kera asked.

"Well," Marcus began, "I received a notice from the court yesterday. The parents have filed a counter-claim on Kessa, and the judge has decided to have the hearing convene in three weeks' time, on the 12th. Is that all right with you?"

Kera flipped through her schedule. "The 12th is fine. Kessa's going to be on holidays, so she'll be able to attend without disrupting her schooling. Also, on that note, the teachers who assessed her said that her education has been lacking. She admitted to them, on record, that her parents pulled her out of full-time schooling when she was six to help them with the chores. I'd say she was doing everything there herself. They did say she was very bright, though, and was catching up easily."

"Good to hear. One thing," Marcus asked. "How are your own studies going?"

"I'm doing all right," Kera admitted. "I've switched to tele-attendance. I delivered a paper the other day in front of the whole class from my lounge room the other day, and was even able to answer questions. Having a 5-gig cable connection means I can give a lecture in real-time. I'm even assessing getting myself a holo-projection set-up built in a dome out the back to give me greater access. I think I'll not have any problems in keeping up with my studies. And Kessa is so neat that I rarely have to do anything extra to keep things clean." Kera grinned. "And you know what?"

"What?" Marcus echoed.

"Kessa's discovered disco."

"You're kidding!" Marcus exclaimed.

"Not at all," Kera explained. "Apparently some of the disco music from the 20th century has become popular again, and Kessa loves dancing to it. I think it's the free-style dance steps that allow her to just cut loose and have fun. And I must admit, it's fun to dance to, that's for sure."

Marcus laughed. "That I'd like to see." He stopped laughing. "Getting back to the court case, I know the parents' solicitor. He's cheap and sleazy, and very few judges will listen to him, but he'll try every dirty trick in the book. Keep an eye on Kessa, too. They might try to snatch her before the case and hide her away."

Kera frowned. "I didn't know foxtaurs would do such a thing, but I'll take precautions anyway."

"Good girl," Marcus replied. "Foxtaurs wouldn't, but that lawyer of theirs is certainly capable of it," he warned. "And it wouldn't help your case at all if that happened," he also reminded Kera. "Now, we've been scheduled to go up before Judge Panstripe Longtail, and I'm sure shi will keep things equable. Having raised close to ten cubs of hir own, shi'll know what's what, that's for sure."

"All right. I'll leave things in your hands, then," Kera affirmed to Marcus before she said her farewells. Kera looked at the time, and decided that it might be an idea to go to the school where Kessa was a little early today, just to make sure. She climbed in her van, backed out of her driveway and headed off in the direction of the school.

At that moment, a large van pulled up outside the school, taking a position just down along the footpath with a clear escape into traffic. Inside were seven human males, six in the back and one in the front. They were looking at pictures of Kessa. "Right," said one of them. "This is the target. It's to be taken gently, no rough stuff. Whose got the face mask?" One of the others held it up. "Right. You and you take the front end." He pointed at the one with the mask and the male standing next to him. "The rest of us will grab the front and back legs. We grab it gently but securely, put the mask on to knock it out as we race it on-board, then get out of here. Nice and neat, and we'll get paid well."

All the males nodded. They were seasoned at this, but this was the first time they'd ever tried to grab a foxtaur before. However, none of them felt it would be difficult. And so they waited...

Kera decided it might be best if she went around the back entrance and parked there. She passed right by the van where the kidnappers were hidden without even noticing it. Neither did they notice her. Behind the buildings that hid the front from the back, Kera parked and went inside, moving to where Kessa's last class was being held. Kera waited just down from the door until the bells sounded all over the school. Most of the students poured out onto the verandas, dodging around Kera with practised ease. Then Kessa and another young vixetaur appeared. "Kessa!" Kera shouted.

Kessa looked around to see Kera standing there. "Mama!" Kessa shouted back and waved. Grabbing her backpacks, she and the other vixetaur waded their way through to where Kera was waiting in the thinning stampede. Kera smiled down at Kessa. "Mama, this is my friend, Sulara. She lives not far from where we do."

"Hello, Sulara," Kera said. "Kessa, I'm going to be picking you up from now on, Okay?"

"Sure, Mama. Can Sulara get a lift home too?" Kessa asked hopefully.

"Of course," Kera answered with a smile. She was so pleased to see Kessa with a friend her own age. "Come on, I'm parked around the back." Kera led them down by the back ramps and out to where her van was waiting. After seeing the two youngsters strapped in, she took her place in the front and drove off, keeping an eye out for anyone that looked like they were following. A little later on, Sulara pointed out her house as they approached. Kera pulled into the driveway and stopped the van.

"Mama, can I go and see Sulara's room? She said she's got some great stuff!" Kessa asked.

"I can't see why not." Kera answered with a smile. "Let's go, then."

After extricating themselves from the seat harnesses, Sulara led them up to the front door and knocked. A vixetaur who looked about thirty to Kera answered. "Sulara!" she exclaimed. "Who's this?"

"Hello," Kera said. "I'm Kera Silverback. My daughter Kessa and Sulara are in the same class at school."

"Mother, can I show Kessa around my room?" Sulara asked.

Sulara's mother looked at Kera, who nodded. "All right, Sulara, but don't you two make a mess." She stood back and the two youngsters raced past the adults with wild abandon. "Come in. My name's Marana Stripetail." Sulara's mother explained as Kera walked in. Kera placed her palm against Marana's in greeting, then Marana showed Kera into the lounge room. "I'm sorry if Sulara caused any inconvenience," Marana said as she entered the kitchen.

"It's no bother," Kera replied as Marana made coffee. "I'm just glad Kessa's made some friends. She used to be a very lonely little vixetaur."

"Oh?" Marana said as she brought a tray out. "How come?"

"Kessa's parents used to keep her home all the time. She never went out at all, not even to school," Kera explained.

"She's not yours?" Marana asked. Kera nodded. "I thought you looked a little too young to have an eight-year-old daughter," Marana admitted.

"I'm actually older than I look," Kera replied, "but Kessa's original parents were abusive and really not suited to be her parents, so I took her out of there after her older sister requested it. Now she lives with me and I'm trying to get custody of her permanently."

Marana shook her head. "To think that one of us would abuse such a lovely little vixetaur." She sipped her coffee. "Have you been living around here long?"

"A little over eight years," Kera admitted. "But before Kessa came into my life, I was fairly busy studying and dealing with a neural syndrome I had. Now that that's cured and I have Kessa, it's taken me into some new areas I have never tackled before."

"What about your own parents? Surely your mother could help."

"I'm sure she would, if she and Father were still alive," Kera sighed.

Marana just nodded. "I know, Kera. Losing family is hard. After Sulara's father died, I was left alone to try and make my own way. Trying to work and take care of Sulara is hard, and I find it means I can't really give her the care and attention I'd like to. And with so few taur families in the area, it's hard to find someone who'll look after her when I'm at work." She sighed. "There used to be a chakat couple who had two youngsters in Sulara's class last term, but they moved back to New South Wales during the break. Now I have to leave work early to be here for her, and it means it's hard to pay the bills."

"I understand. If you like, Sulara can come and stay at my house while you're at work. I'm sure Kessa would love it, and she'd be no trouble, I assure you," Kera offered.

"You'd do that?" Marana asked, surprised.

"Of course," Kera returned. "After all, we're both foxtaurs and mothers. If we don't help each other, who will?"

Marana looked so relieved that Kera could guess the strain she'd been under. "Oh thank you so very much!" Kera was surprised when Marana just hugged her. Kera could feel tears running down her back and knew that the strain had pushed Marana close to cracking. "I'd almost considered taking a night job, just to make ends meet," Marana confided in Kera. "It's so hard, and everything's so expensive. I hope I can hold off the bill collectors and the bank until I make some money."

Kera felt shocked. "How much do you need?" She asked as she reached into her shoulder bag for her purse.

Marana looked shocked then. "I couldn't..."

"You need help, Marana. I have plenty of money, more than I could spend in a hundred lifetimes. Let me put some of it to good use, instead of keeping it locked away in my bank, Okay?" Kera explained. "How much do you need, and don't skimp. Tell me all of it."

Looking at her feet, Marana told Kera about her mortgage, the many bills she had and how she needed work done on the house as well. Kera nodded. "But I can't expect you to just give me that much money," Marana said sorrowfully. "Surely that's asking too much."

"Not at all." Kera handed over to Marana a cheque for three hundred thousand credits. Marana's jaw nearly hit the floor. She looked from the cheque to Kera and back again. "But..." Marana started to say, but Kera stopped her.

"I'm a very rich young vixetaur, Marana, many times over," Kera explained. "That little bit of money is nothing for me, but to see it put to such good use makes me feel as if it's actually doing some good for once. Please," Kera put a finger over Marana's lips, "don't argue. This is from one vixetaur to another. I couldn't see you two living with all that hanging over your heads."

Marana cried and hugged Kera again. "Oh, thank you! Thank you so very much! How can I ever repay you?"

"Be a friend to me," Kera answered. "I've had so few vixetaur friends in my life for so long that every one is precious to me. And one more thing. Don't tell anyone where you got the money, or that I'm rich, Okay? Or I'd have people wanting 'Donations' around myself and Kessa day and night and we'd never get any peace."

"I understand," Marana agreed. "Thank you again, for this and for helping with Sulara."

"Hey, anytime," Kera said, and both vixetaurs smiled at each other. "I would appreciate any tips or help you want to give on raising cubs, though. Kessa is my first."

"Of course!" Marana said with a grin. "Anything you want to know right now?"

"As a matter of fact..." Kera began and the two settled in for a long chat.

Meanwhile, the kidnappers had waited, and waited, but no-one matching Kessa's description had walked out. "All right, guys," said the leader finally, "It's obvious she slipped away this time. But we'll just come back every day until we get her or we're called off. After all, we still get paid our day rate even if we don't get her." He grinned. "My shout." The others cheered softly as the van drove away.

Upstairs, Sulara and Kessa were having the time of their lives playing with Sulara's collection of plushies and dolls. Kessa had never seen so many in her life. "And your mama buys them for you?"

"Usually, for my birthday and Christmas and anytime I've really been good, you know," Sulara explained. "Doesn't your mother buy them for you too?"

"I haven't been with Mama Kera that long," Kessa admitted. "And my other mama never bought me much ever, so I don't have many toys."

"Wow!" Sulara replied. "So Kera's not your real mother?"

"She is too!" Kessa snapped vehemently. "More than my other mama ever was. I want to stay with her forever, because I love her."

"Okay!" Sulara said back. "You really do love her, don't you?"

"More than anything," Kessa stated. "I have my own bedroom now, it's big and clean, and I can play whenever I want to as long as my room is tidy. And Mama Kera doesn't make me do all the housecleaning, either. She gets someone else to do it for her."

"Wow! Your mother must be rich. My mother can't afford a housekeeper," Sulara admitted.

"Nah, not real rich, she just has a good job," Kessa explained. "And she works from home, too, so she's always there for me."

"I wish my mother worked from home, too," Sulara said absently. "I miss her when she's working."

Kessa hugged Sulara. "Maybe you could come and stop at my place when your mama's working?" Kessa suggested. "I'm sure Mama wouldn't mind."

Sulara pulled back and looked at Kessa. "You think so?"

"Yep!" Kessa nodded.

"That'd be great!" Sulara replied. "I'd love to have a friend to stop with again. Ever since Sharptooth and Nightclaw moved away, it's been lonely."

"Let's ask your mama and mine before we leave, okay?" Kessa suggested.

"Sure!" Sulara agreed. "But first, come outside and see my swing set." And the two vixetaurs ran out the back of the house together, all sadness forgotten in an instant.

Kera and Marana had talked on until it was nearly dinnertime. Marana was the first to notice. "Goddess! I've kept you talking and it's almost dinnertime! I'd better let you get on your way."

Kera laughed. "It's not a problem, Marana," Kera replied. "Thanks for the company."

"And thank you for everything," Marana replied as she and Kera hugged again. Marana then went upstairs. "Kessa! Your mother wants to leave now."

Inside Sulara's room, Kessa looked up from where she and Sulara had been drawing. "I got to go now," Kessa said to Sulara.

"Uh-huh," Sulara replied. "See you tomorrow?"

"You bet!" Kessa replied and the girls hugged, then they walked quickly out and downstairs. Kessa crossed to Kera and hugged her lovingly, while Sulara pressed herself into her mother.

Marana looked down at Sulara and asked her, "How would you like to stay at Kessa's house while I'm at work?"

Sulara looked up. "Like when I used to stay at Sharptooth's and Nightclaw's house?"

"That's right."

Sulara grinned. "That'd be great! Thanks, Mom." She looked at Kessa. "Hear that? I'm gonna be coming home with you after school!"

"Momma?" Kessa looked up at Kera, who smiled and nodded. Kessa's face lit up as well and the girls hugged each other. "It'll be such fun!"

"Yeah!" Sulara replied.

"But for now, young lady," Kera looked down at Kessa, "you and I are going home. Hopefully Keely hasn't tried to cook dinner yet."

"Okay, Momma." Kessa packed up her things and waved to Sulara and Marana as she went out to the car.

"I'll pick them up from school tomorrow, just like today," Kera said as she walked out the door.

"Fine. I'll be around to pick Sulara up at around six," Marana replied as she and Sulara watched Kera climb up into her van. Kessa waved enthusiastically as Kera backed out of the driveway, and Sulara waved back as they drove off. Marana looked down at her daughter, hugged her, and said as they moved back inside, "I think things are going to changing for the better from now on, Sulara."

Sulara grinned and went off to set the table for dinner.

Kera and Kessa arrived home to find the house still there. Kera breathed a sigh of relief. "Your sister didn't try and cook then."

"Uh-huh," Kessa agreed. "Even I can cook better than she can."

"I don't doubt it," Kera grinned at her charge. "Let's get inside. I made lasagne for tonight and it should be ready to cook by now."

"Goody!" Kessa jumped out of the car the instant it pulled up in the garage and headed inside. Kera followed with a little less haste after locking up. Kera found Keely in her study, doing her homework. "How's college, Keely?"

"The usual. Professor Tennant was in a mood again. And he's still wanting your paper."

"I'll give it to him when I drop you off in the morning. Kessa's made a new friend, by the way," Kera mentioned.

"She has?" Keely brightened considerably. "That's great! What's she like?"

"She's another vixetaur her own age, named Sulara. She's going to be coming over here after school while her mother's at work," Kera explained.

"Sounds like fun! It'll be great to have her around here," Keely replied as she rose from her seat.

Kera smiled as she went to her bedroom, changed, then came back down to the kitchen to make dinner. Kera had found that she really enjoyed cooking now, since it was much easier for her to move about, and she indulged her friends with her skills, trying out new recipes any time she felt like cooking something different. Then, as the lasagne was heating up, Kera read the mail. Amongst the rest of her usual things was a letter from the courts, setting the date of the hearings as Marcus had said, in three weeks on the twelfth. Kera pinned it to the fridge and sighed. This was a huge commitment, Kera knew, but when she looked at Kessa sitting outside in the lounge, she couldn't help but know that this was a defining moment in her life. She'd never known responsibility for anyone but herself, and as she'd been told once: 'Responsibility defines our character by how we respond to it, and it becomes a truth within our lives as we develop our attitudes towards responsibility.' Kera was just starting to understand what the psychology professor had meant when he'd said that to the class she'd been in.



To Be Continued

Chakats, Chakona and the Chakonan Universe are © copyright Bernard Doove and used with permission.

All other characters are © copyright Cassandra Foxx.

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