Dear reader: This is the last of these stories which I have ready to hand, and given its length and relatively recent production, no more are likely this season. Thank you for going this far with Victor, Mike, Nora, Jane, Susan and everyone else, and for your reading pleasure, here is a PDF with all the stories to date in their proper font, leading and with all the paragraph indentation intact.
Mike had barely sat down and Jane was only two bites into her sandwich when Susan arrived at their table. “What kept you?” Jane asked.
Susan bent down, placed her hands on the table and looked into Jane’s eyes. “Damn you, Jane Hayworth. After all these years, you finally win.”
As Susan put her tray down and sat next to Jane, her friend asked, “What the hell are you talking about?”
“This,” Susan replied, placing a piece of folded white paper on the table. “Just look at it.”
Jane picked up the page, saying, “Whoa!” Almost as soon as it opened in front of her. Mike leaned forward and Jane looked at Susan who sighed and gestured to allow Mike to see it. After they had both examined it for a couple of minutes, Jane only slowly taking bites from her meal, she put it down. “Is that supposed to be a wolf or a panther or what?”
Susan took the picture and put it in her bag. “A little bit of several things. Mainly lupine and feline. I drew it last week and I haven’t been able to forget about it. I originally made it for you as a sort of joke as to what I’d look like if I joined your animal friends but I began to actually think about what that would be. There would be a lot of wolf there because of my friendship with you, but dark of course to match my color preferences and with some feline to show my curiosity and sense of style. By the time I was done, I’d made all of these.” She pulled out a sheaf of papers and threw them down on the table. “Reference sheets, background, studies.” Susan stared hard at Jane. “And since this is your fault, you’re going to make it for me.”
Jane knew where this was going, but she wanted to string this along further. “Make what, oh dearest lone one?”
“The fursuit, of course!” Susan replied, her shout only kept down because of the students surrounding them. She turned on Mike. “And you’re not blameless either. It was you showing up and flinging hormones back and forth with Muscles here that pushed me over the edge, so you’re helping her.”
“You know, I’ve been offering to do this for her for years,” Jane said to Mike. “I just never thought I’d see the day when she’d accept.”
“I know,” Mike replied, “So much for the pure observer. She’s a member of the tribe now.”
“Sure, make fun of my affliction.” Susan muttered.
“We intend to,” Jan shot back. “Especially when you refer to it as an affliction.” She stacked the pages neatly. “Everything I’ll need is here. Are you sure you want me to do it, though? I mean, now that you’re serious and all.”
“Sure I do,” Susan replied. “Because you’ll do it for below cost.”
"Did this seem a bit quick to you?" Mike asked from his position lying on his chest across Jane's bed, his head and feet hanging off the sides.
Jane was sitting next to Mike's shoulder and didn't look up from her box of swatches. "Not really. I've been actively furry for years, and once you showed up, she was exposed to a lot more than just be wearing my tail around and kidding her about taking her to conventions. I knew conversion was close when she asked to interview you, and imminent last Halloween."
"Imminent? That was three months ago." Mike turned his head to look at Jane, his gaze passing the swatches. "That one looks about right."
Jane held the fur she was holding close to her eyes. "About." She said slowly. She put it down on one of Susan's pictures. "Not quite, though. A little too much red intensity to it."
Mike rolled over and looked directly into Jane's eyes, his hand resting on hers. "Too bad these things don't come with hex codes or RGB values."
"Nor do Susan's pencils and inks," Jane replied. "One of the benefits to using Photoshop, not that it would help given the lack of values on the fur." She placed the square back into its box and pulled out another. "Besides, she uses a CRT monitor and I have an LCD. Throw in the difference caused by a printer and I may as well just use whatever color I feel like. Besides," she added, pulling out a square of bright red fabric, "what looks good on paper doesn't always look so hot when you try to use a petroleum product to create it." She tossed the swatch back and moved on to the next.
"Where is Susan anyway?"
Jane put another square on the drawing to compare. "She's running behind on her homework, so she’s skipping today and tomorrow. She insists she has to come over during the weekend, however, to ‘check my progress.’ I think she hasn’t quite gotten the time frame down yet." She held up a swatch, “What do you think of this one?”
Mike gazed at it for a few seconds. “C11A34, though it varies.”
Jane looked at the swatch, then back at Mike. “Balderdash. You can’t possibly be able to identify a color that precisely just by inspection.” She held up the reference sheet she’d been using. “And what shade of red is this, then?”
Mike replied, “CA3767, Jazzberry Jam. However,” he added, pointing to another, “In that one, she’s using Razzmatazz, E3256B.”
Jane put everything down and stared at Mike. “How the hell did you do that?”
Mike smiled lazily. “Check the back of the sheet. She wrote her color information right there.”
Jane turned the page over, and then put the swatch down next to her. “I think we can lock this one in. It’s about as close as I expect to get.” She looked at the sketches again. “At least I don’t have to worry about shades of black,” she said, pulling a square of fur decisively from the box. “The fur handles itself quite well in that regard. And last I looked Susan had a perfect white wig to add to it. That ought to handle the fur colors, though I think I’ll get some white and use this as an opportunity to work on my airbrush skills.” She looked at the red again. “Are you sure that’s C11A34? It looks more like C50045.”
Mike leapt up. “Jane! That’s programmer!” He bent down and began kissing her arm. “Speak some more! Shell! Clock speed!”
Jane pulled her arm back, laughing. “You’ve been watching too much Addams Family lately.”
“Maybe,” Mike replied, attempting to sound suave and pulling a pen out of his pocket and biting down on it. “But you have to admit that it makes me more romantic.”
“Susan now, code monkeys later.” Jane said firmly.
“Okay,” Mike replied, sitting back on the bed. “So what else do we need to do today?”
Jane looked at her progress. “Not a lot, I suppose. Most of the rest of this is stuff I’ll have to figure out on my own. I guess we’d better do our homework and then you can go home and see if you can get any parts out of Victor. I need to talk to Susan, but this critter looks mighty androgynous, and we’ll need something to cover up Susan’s squeak.”
“Dad probably has something, but wouldn’t it be more appropriate if you got the voice changer? Wortag still doesn’t have one.”
Jane shrugged. “I’m better with my voice than Susan is. I’m so used to doing Wortag’s voice that the changer might actually mess me up now. Still, if you can con two of them out of him, I wouldn’t mind.”
Mike said, “I might as well go home now, then. I don’t have any homework tonight.”
Jane cast a meaningful look at the fox paws sticking out of Mike’s bag. “Then you can stay while I do mine and give me a fuzzy backrub.”
Mike rose and bowed deeply. “Cara mia.”
A week passed, and though Mike and Jane saw Susan both at school and at Mike’s house, she seemed to be avoiding going to Jane’s. Mike commented on this to Jane, who said, “We agreed that it would be best if she didn’t see her suit until it was finished, and that meant staying away from here for the duration. It was easier than me cleaning things up every other day.” She sat at her computer ordering materials while Mike sat behind, his hands and arms up to the elbow in orange and black fur around her middle.
“How can you know what to get?” He said after awhile. “I didn’t think you had Susan’s measurements.”
“Tim.” Jane replied absently.
“Not Tim the name, TIM. Technology Indistinguishable From Magic. I borrowed some stuff from Victor and know a few tricks of my own.” Jane ran one hand along the arms wrapped around her.
“That’s TIFM.” Mike replied, saying each letter in turn.
“Which makes it an intialism and not an acronym.” Jane said. “I prefer something I can pronounce.”
Jane reached over, careful not to break Mike’s hold and flipped a short rod with a red half-sphere on the end. “This, among other things. Victor’s laser scanner. You know how girls always go to the bathroom in pairs? Well, me and Susan got ourselves excused from algebra a week ago and took a bit of extra time for me to scan her.” She looked back at Mike. “Naturally, I can refer to the numbers while you’re around, but not the image. Susan made sure to put that condition on, not that I’d go around showing boys a precision 3D image of my best friend. That and the use of a fur fabric that stretches but doesn’t lose its furry feel make it pretty easy to work this out.” She sighed as she moved on to another item. “I hate doing the heads, though. It’s the most artistic, but the biggest pain in the ass if you screw something up. I’m just not that good a sculptor.”
Mike rested his head on Jane’s shoulder. “Maybe you should get Susan to do it. After all, she’s not paying you nearly enough.”
“She’s paying me plenty, and I’d rather she get the entire thing all at once.” Jane replied. “Why do you think your dad let me borrow his scanner? We all want to see this.”
“Do you think we’re making too much out of this?” Mike said after a pause. “Susan tries to act tough, but it doesn’t seem to take much to drive her away.”
“Trust me,” Jane replied flatly, “once she’s decided to do something, she does it. And no, I think we’re giving her everything she deserves. After over a decade of her trying to make me her test case, it’ll be nice to have her be just as out there as me.” Jane half-smiled. “Of course, she’s more alternative than she likes to let on. You’ve never seen her house.”
“Perhaps once she’s been liberated by a happy kitty-doggy body, she’ll actually let me have a look.” Mike laughed.
“So,” Susan said as she sat at the lunch table, “how far along are you?”
Jane counted on her fingers. “You actually managed to resist asking that for two whole weeks. Unfortunately, I’ve only just gotten all the materials yesterday, so not very far.”
“She has been doing a lot, though,” Mike said as he joined them.
“I’m sure,” Susan replied, “but I’d still like to be able to come over her house sometime soon. Not to mention the suspense of wondering how it will look. Your dad’s nice and all,” she said to Mike, “but it feels weird sitting around at your place while you and Jane sneak off and do heaven knows what. I’m starting to wonder if you’re using this as an excuse to make out while I’m around.”
“If only,” Jane sighed.
“And you don’t have to worry about it being weird for my dad. You may be uncomfortable, but he’s fine with it. He doesn’t have many friends outside of work and so any conversation he gets that isn’t from me or mom is a bonus. He actually told me recently that if you wanted to hang out with him while Jane and I are working at her house that he’d be fine with it.”
“Does everyone want to put me in an animal costume and see me frolic around?” Susan asked. “Only it seems like this is more of a conspiracy than I’d imagined, and I’m usually the paranoid one.”
“Susan,” Jane said, “my dearest friend. If you ever, ever feel the desire to frolic I want you to call me immediately. I’d be willing to pay top dollar to see that. We’re just trying to make you comfortable while this happens. I get the feeling that you thought this wouldn’t take long. Try to remember when I first built Wortag. The first version was pretty low end and it took me over a month. I’m on body number four and head number three, and you were there for most of the construction of all of them. Or is that why you waited until the new year?” Jane grinned. “Because you thought I might have already had something up my sleeve for you and didn’t want to have to explain that very interesting gift under the tree to your family?”
“Please,” Susan snorted. “My family would barely have noticed amongst all the other weird stuff we give each other. My mom probably would have wanted to try it on or take it – or even worse, me in it - to one of her naturalist meetings.” Susan shuddered. “That thought alone makes me doubt this venture.”
“I hope you aren’t going to just take the suit, put it in your closet and forget about it,” Jane replied.
“Are you crazy‽” Susan said. “I not only intend to wear it privately, but I’m going to the next con you two do. I’ll be able to blend in so well!”
“Plus,” Mike smiled, “you can make some money selling prints of some of those lovely drawings we’ve been using for reference؟”
“So,” Jane said, standing back from the finished product, “what do you think?”
Mike looked at the black furred head on its stand. Black fur with a black nose and long black hair going down to where Susan’s mid-back would be if she were wearing it. All different shades of black, of course, but it still required the contrast of the thin red lines which crossed both cheeks in a design reminiscent of a Celtic Knot. The eyes also provided some difference, human rather than animal style and only slightly larger than they would be on a comparably sized human face. They were almond shaped, the blue irises and black pupils fixed in the center. After turning it around a couple of times, Mike said, “Brilliant. I wish I was the one getting it.”
“Good. I was hoping to get that kind of reaction. That’s how I feel about it.”
“Interesting choice in making the eyes fixed.” Mike commented.
Jane reached under the head and picked it up. “They aren’t. Watch.” She brushed her hair and that of the costume head’s aside and slipped it on. “Lucky for me that Susan has a slightly larger head than me, though a bit more angular.” The head’s mouth moved with her speech and Mike knew it would be perfectly in sync with Susan. Jane moved the mouse on her computer around to dismiss the screen saver and opened a program. The eyes on the suit began to move. “Eye tracking,” Jane said. “And once I get a sample of Susan’s voice inside the head, I can do the voice modulator as well.” She closed the program and pulled the head off, replacing it on its stand. “I bought the equipment off of Victor .”
“So now her fursuit is higher tech than either of ours,” Mike said.
“You can always ask your dad to throw it in on the next upgrade. I figured you hadn’t because Jamina’s an heirloom and you didn’t want to change it more than you had to.” She saw Mike’s expression of confusion and laughed. “You’re taller than your dad now, silly! Not by much, but enough. He’s had to alter it at least once since we met and probably will again by fall. I guess he didn’t want to bother you with it. Anyway, like I said it isn’t like any of this is something we can’t add in pretty quickly. Yours is already so stuffed with machinery that you probably just have to reconfigure something that’s already there and I’ve changed out stuff on mine enough that the current head was built with upgrade space.”
“You know,” Mike said, wrapping his arms around Jane and looking at the head. “You looked pretty hot in that.”
“Cool it, Tex.” Jane replied. “Think of the implications of you saying I look good with my best friend’s face.”
Mike’s brows drew together. “Oh yeah. That would sound a bit wrong.”
Jane turned around in Mike’s grip and kissed him. “You’re quick enough on the uptake for me, wee man.”
As Jane put the head away and started arranging things for the rest of the suit, Mike said, “You’re putting a lot of work into this. I’m actually a bit surprised.”
Jane turned, seemed about to say something and then went back to what she was doing. “I sometimes forget that you haven’t been there the whole time. You don’t know Susan like I do.” Mike didn’t reply and after a pause to gather herself, Jane continued. “Neither of us were ever big joiners. When I got into furry fandom, however, I did become part of something more and a group of people I could feel comfortable around. Susan never had that. Her family is into individuality in a big way, and though they get along, they also don’t feel as much of a compulsion as most families do to be together all the time. They gather on holidays and the like, but apart from those occasions most of them are far away doing things and those that are still home tend to spend most of their time doing their own things. Susan’s mother is a nice woman and tries to be involved with her, but also recognizes that Susan is like the rest of the family. They have some shared interests, but they all express themselves in very different ways and with different people. So I have had both a larger community and my own family to fall back on. Susan has herself and me. This art means more than just wanting to be closer to me; it’s the first step into a wider world. Notice how the reference sheets are almost quintessential. She didn’t just remember what they look like; she made sure by finding some herself. By becoming a part of the fandom, she not only gets closer to me but also opens herself to the possibility of more friends and people who might care about her for reasons other than a lingering sense of filial duty. So yes, I’m working very hard to do this right and as quickly as possible. You might not have seen it, but when she said she was going to a con with us, I almost jumped for joy. Victor saw it too. You said last month that he hasn’t got that many friends outside of work. Maybe he was an outsider too and maybe he wasn’t quite as successful as we were. Perhaps he sees the chance to help someone go to that degree that he couldn’t and that’s why he’s so supportive as well.”
Mike lay back on Jane’s bed and thought about that. He often forgot about how much his father cared about helping people and making them feel better. Of course, that’s how it all began.
“You even gift wrapped it,” Susan said, taking the huge box from Jane, “and my birthday isn’t for another two months.”
“Yeah, well don’t expect too much this year,” Jane returned, sitting down on the sofa next to Mike.
“After that fedora with the fox ears you gave me last year, I’m quite content with surprises.” Susan replied, shaking the box slightly. “It’s not half heavy, is it?”
“What do you expect?” Victor said from his spot next to the armchair. “It’s not so bad once it’s distributed across your entire body.”
Susan looked at the assembled near-crowd. “I’m starting to think that I was right. Everyone wants to see me in this.”
“Don’t feel compelled,” Nora said, shifting in the armchair. “If you want to take it home and try it on there, then come back later and show us, that’s fine. It’s not like three of us don’t live here”
“Ah,” Susan shot back, “so you do want to see me in it!”
“Susan,” Jane said, “that’s the point. Well, one point anyway. I suppose the main one is to release your inner catbeast. But there’s plenty of point left for you to be putting that on and showing us once you’re done with enjoying it alone.”
Susan put the box down and sat next to Jane on the sofa. “So I don’t have to now? I thought you were all here-“
“Two of us are here in this room because we’re interested. After all, if I don’t make it home in time to usurp the kitchen, the men of the house will make dinner. I’m not in the mood for a meal that can be measured in kiloscovilles.”
“Still,” Susan said, her hand straying to the box, “I feel weird not opening it at least.”
“Nonsense,” Nora replied, “the others are right. You should experience it alone at first. I didn’t, but then again we’re not going to get into why that was.”
“Ah, querida,” Victor murmured.
“It runs in the family, doesn’t it?” Jane said. “You’re not even blood relatives and it manages to pass to the next generation.”
“I did have excellent upbringing, didn’t I?” Mike replied. “Ah, if only we had a harpsichord.”
“It’s a good thing we don’t.” Nora replied. “You never learned how to play.”
Susan lay on her low bed looking at the box. She’d pushed it as far into her closet as the mountain of fallen clothes had allowed, but she could still see the shiny wrapping paper gleaming in the lights from her computer and stereo. She knew that if she opened it, she’d have to put the thing on and keep it on for awhile. It was late, and she wanted to wait until there was time. Luckily it was Thursday, so she wouldn’t have too long before the weekend. If necessary, she’d spend her whole Saturday morning that way.
She looked to the side and up at where a large bare section of wall had been covered with a myriad of pages depicting her character in various places and the others she’d started adding to the situations. Though most of her wall space still held the sketches and paintings in various styles that she’d done previously, the furry section was slowly expanding. On her easel right now was a larger work in progress in oil paints of her character sitting on a hill and looking at the moon. She had to admit that she had it bad.
On the few occasions her mom had found a reason to drop by, she’d naturally approved. Most of her family was more into New Age than anything else, and so they appreciated what she was doing now more than what she’d been working on before. Her father wasn’t due back from his foreign service station in Burundi until the summer, so that was one person in the household she wouldn’t have to talk to about this until she was much more ready than she was now. She hoped. As she fell asleep, Susan wondered what it would feel like to be covered in fur. She hadn’t even asked Jane what she was supposed to wear under it. If anything.
The next day’s lunch went by without any reference to the suit as did her readmission to Jane’s room. Susan tried as hard as she could to keep her mind on talking to Jane and Mike as well as making a big show of enjoying being allowed to go to Jane’s again, but she found herself constantly thinking about the fursuit in her closet. The fur she hadn’t yet felt, how she imagined it would envelop her and the weight of the tail hanging from her back and the culminating sensation of warmth all over as she put on the head. It was becoming insufferable.
When she’d said her goodbyes to Jane – taking a moment to find out what she should be wearing under the suit the first time – she went home and did everything she could to forget. It was no use; she may as well go to bed so that the morning would come sooner along with the promise of putting the suit on as soon as she possibly could.
For the first time in years, Susan found herself up, awake and energized before eight in the morning. In fact, by seven thirty she had brushed her teeth, eaten a whatever-was-in-the-fridge-before-expiration breakfast and was standing in a tank top and undershorts with the still-wrapped box on her bed. The door was locked, had a chair on her side and a sign on the outside reading ‘beware of the leopard.’ She figured her family would get it one way or the other. Still, it wasn’t a leopard that would inhabit the room but a panther…wolf…hybrid thing. Susan made a mental note to think of a name, though she suspected that Jane would be able to come up with something better than her first inclination: wolfter. She also might want to come up with a name for her character. She tended to think of it as “Susan-beast,” but that was silly. Now that the moment had arrived, Susan realized, she was trying to stall herself. Well, no more of that. She tore off the paper and pulled the tape off, opening the box to get her first look at her second skin.
The first impression she got was of lustrous black hair in two colors. As she gripped whatever was on top, she realized it was the head. Pulling it out, she wondered why Jane always claimed not to have much skill. It looked great to her. With the blue eyes not too wide, the designs on the cheeks she wasn’t sure would transfer right but did and the black ears somewhere between the cat’s smaller rounded and the wolf’s larger pointed variety. All blended together to form an expression of mixed joy and disdain, which suited Susan just fine.
Susan put the head beside the box, knowing from watching Jane that it tended to come later on. The feet and hand paws were next down, which were covered in a lustrous black fur that matched the head and body beneath them. Susan took a moment to look at the hard plastic claws attached to both and the slender fingers of the front paws which she could tell already were precisely the same size as her own digits. Jane had been precise to an absolute with this thing. She pulled out the body finally and took some time to look closely at it. It looked exactly like the body of the person – animal, whatever – she’d drawn, right down to the designs which went down from the cheeks and all over the body, thick as her pinky in places, others hair thin. The tail which was underneath the body and looked like it had to go on first was braced on the back so it would stand up. It was long and sinuous like a panther’s, but also fluffy, melding lupine with feline. After staring at the whole set for awhile, Susan said, “Well, here I go. This must be some kind of insanity. I’ve never felt like this before. So drawn to something, and having made no conscious choice to do so. I’ve had by sojourns, but I’ve always planned it out. I wonder if this is how Jane felt when she first did this.”
Susan picked up the tail and wrapped the elastic belt that was already inserted in its looks around her waist, pushing the bracing so that it sat flat against her rear. Already enjoying the feel of the tail –and wondering how much weirder it was going to get - as it bounced up and down behind her, she bent and lifted the suit body in front of her. Jane had gone with her own tastes in some places, putting the zipper on the back as she seemed to prefer. Susan wasn’t quite sure what the point of that was, but didn’t give it too much thought as she pulled it down and stepped into the left leg of the fursuit. It gave her some resistance and clung tightly to her leg once her foot was out of the bottom. As she got her right leg into it, she wondered how the fur seemed to stay as thick even when distended like that. She gave it a couple of tugs to get it up all the way and slipped her hand down the back to fix the brace into a recess made for it. The back side had been padded slightly so that the bracing wouldn’t be obvious, which went down her legs as well to make it seem balanced while also adding a slight digitigrade element to the legs. The crotch was tight and as Susan ran her hand along her leg to feel the silky smooth fur, it reminded her of a pair of furry tights rather than the bulky bottoms she saw on the internet on these suits.
Her arms were next, and the sleeves of the fursuit clung just like the legs. Once she was satisfied everything was where it ought to be, she reached back and fumbled with the zipper. She wasn’t used to such things and it took several tries just to get a grip on it. Fifteen minutes later, a rather disheveled Susan looked at herself in the mirror. Her black hair was now all over the place and her face was reddening from the effort, but she had to admit that it was worth it so far. The entire body was as elastic as the arms and legs; she’d realized that as she was pulling up the zipper. It clung to her body in a way that no other clothing she’d ever owned had. Susan had never gone in for showing off her body since she didn’t think she had much of one, but now she was starting to reconsider. Her curves seemed curvier and her flat chest wasn’t quite as flat as she remembered it being. It didn’t feel like Jane had put any padding in, and Susan still looked rather androgynous, but shading towards female rather than towards male.
Satisfied that the suit looked as good as it felt so far, and having cooled down a little, Susan sat on the edge of the bed and slipped the foot paws in, pulling the legs of the suit down over the bit of the footpaws that extended up her calf. With that done, the design that went down her legs now appeared to continue unbroken over the top of her feet. She recalled that Jane usually put the head on next, and though the gloves looked pretty dexterous, she decided to go with what Jane always did. Susan picked up the head again and turned it over, seeing something that reminded her of the facial additions on Locutus of Borg inside. There was also a small page. Susan opened it and read:
I put some stuff in this thing that might surprise you.
Just situate the eyepieces over your eyes, the throat thing
as tight as you can make it and then tighten the straps.
You should be fine.
Susan wasn’t sure what more of a surprise could be in store, but carefully inserted her head into the costume’s. Since her hair was the same color as the wig, she didn’t make any special effort to tame it until she realized it would feel weird if it just hung down and kept the head from sitting flush all the way around. She pulled it off again and tied her hair up. The eyepiece felt cold against her eyes, as did the metallic contact on her throat, but they warmed up before she’d managed to tighten the girth around her head. A glance past the mirror made her gaze snap back. Her eyes were moving! That is, the suit’s eyes were. She stared for a moment, slack-jawed and then noticed that her ca-feline jaw was hanging open as well. She closed her mouth and the suit did the same. The wolfter rolled her eyes, “Typical Jane,” she said in a pleasant alto. “Oh, and she even added something to make me sound different. That’s my Wortag.”
Her range of sight was somewhat diminished by the suit, but she found that a minor inconvenience as she pulled the front paws on. They seemed pretty nimble and she had no trouble pulling the sleeves down over them. Now the creature was complete, its red markings seeming to run from head to toe unbroken, going down its arms and legs to its hands and feet as well as across its back and even on the back of its head. The wolfter looked in the mirror and whispered, “Solvezia. That’s my name.” And raised her arms as she did a little twirl in front of the mirror. “I look awesome!” She exclaimed to the mirror. “I’m not going to pay Jane cost for this. I’m going to pay her quintuple! Oh, I feel so…” Susan faltered and stared at her reflection again. “I feel so alive. So this is what Jane’s wanted me to do all this time.” She ran to her desk, “I have to write this down. I have to capture it before it’s gone. I don’t know what kind of weirdness makes this happen, and I’m probably going to analyze it to death later, but for now, I’m going to enjoy this!” She wrote furiously and then stood up. “I think I’ll go see Jane now. I’m sure she and the others will just love a visit from the animated incarnation of all the work they’ve been doing.” She was grinning under the mask as she reached the door and stopped. “I can’t believe I’m going outside like this. I’ve become everything I’ve ever snarked at. I’m going to regret this tomorrow – heck, I’ll regret it by the time Jane’s finished her first sentence – but until then, I’m going to feel marvelous. Geeks in the streets!” She called as she ran out the door.
“Have fun, dear,” her mother said as she passed. “And try not to startle the neighbors. Oh, too late. Hello, Mrs. Klamtree.”
Susan began to wonder about her choice as she walked the five blocks to Jane’s. It was still early enough on a Saturday morning that not many people were out, but the looks she was getting were not encouraging. A middle aged woman was pushing a toddler in a stroller, who tried to get out and run up to her, but was restrained. She arrived at Jane’s door feeling very nervous but still suffused enough with her original feeling of vitality that she wasn’t about to turn around now. Jane’s mother answered the door at her fur-muffled knock. “Hello, Susan.”
“How did you know it was me?” Susan asked, the voice changer not entirely managing to handle the even higher pitched whine that entered her voice when something went wrong.
“Who else?” Mrs. Hayworth replied. “Black on black with some red. Besides, I’ve seen Janie’s room in the last month. Come on in. I’m sure Jane will be down in double time when I tell her you’re here.”
Jane did indeed appear at the top of the stairs with little delay, already talking as she got there. “Susan. What are you doing here so ear – whoa!” She stopped short a quarter of the way down, and then almost leapt the rest of the way and put her arms around her best friend. “That was quick!” She laughed as she took a step back and looked Susan up and down.
“What? No comments?” Susan asked, half kidding.
“Oh, I think your own inner monologue will be doing a better job of that than I can,” Jane replied. “Well, since you’re obviously feeling good about your decision, I’ll just go up and change. Mike and Victor will definitely enjoy a spontaneous visit from Wortag and…”
“Solvezia,” Susan said quietly. “I’m not sure-“
“Sounds fine to me.” Jane turned and raced up the stairs. “It won’t take me long, especially if you come and help me.”
Susan took this as a way out of having to hang around downstairs and talk to Jane’s parents while dressed up as a panther-wolf. “I’m right behind you.”
The black fe-lupine was soon back on the streets, now accompanied by a somewhat well muscled grey wolf. Susan had sometimes felt a little weird talking to Jane when she was wearing the suit. Not just because she looked odd, but because sometimes she’d shift to acting entirely like the wolf. Now that she herself had a similar appearance and the addition of a new persona, it felt more right for Solvezia to talk to Wortag. “Do you think we’ll have another companion soon?”
“Are you kidding?” Wortag laughed. “Jamina will be out within fifteen minutes.”
“You think Mike will be that enthusiastic?” Susan asked.
“Oh yeah.” Jane replied. “I was, wasn’t I? What’s going to be more problematic is what we’ll do when Jamina’s ready to go. I mean, an impromptu fur outing is fine, but we have to figure out where we’re going to go.” The wolf looked back and forth carefully before crossing the main avenue that separated her neighborhood from Mike’s as the black creature next to her flicked her eyes back and forth with less care. “Still, I think we’ll have some help on the other end.”
Jane’s ring of the doorbell was answered swiftly by Mike, who stared for about a second and a half and then turned around. “I’ll get Jamina.”
Victor looked up as they entered and said, “Jane, Susan. I didn’t expect to see either of you here so early. Still, I can guess what happened. Do you have any plans?”
Wortag shook his head. “No. We figured we’d just wander around and hope to think of something.”
Nora entered, carrying long-strawed drinks. “It looked like you left in a hurry, Jane.” She put down the glasses and reached up to smooth out Wortag’s fur and arrange it more carefully. She looked at Susan. “Quite understandable, however. It looks good on you.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Falkner.” The two said in unison before laughing and sitting down.
“I’d better go help Mike,” Victor said. “After which, we’ll give it some thought and I’ll drive you where you need to go. Three fullsuits out on the town without a minder is not the wisest course. I know you and Mike tend not to bother, but we can’t have Susan having a less than stellar first outing.” He rose and departed, returning presently with Jamina. The teenage vixen was wearing her customary large skirts, though cut up to the knee since she wasn’t sure where she was going and didn’t want too much hindrance.
“Dad told me he’s going to give us a lift,” she chirped. “It’s good to have a family in the fandom.”
“Now for the big decision,” Victor added. “Who sits where? The three of you might be able to fit into the back seat, but it would work better if one sat in front.”
“I’ll do it,” Susan said. “These two ought to be together.”
“I ought to,” Jamina insisted firmly. “Since you two should have time to talk about this.”
“I’m already up to speed, so I should.” Jane replied.
“Call, will you?” Victor said, throwing a six-sided die into the air.
“Two!” Jane shouted.
“Six!” Mike responded.
The die fell on a one. “That’s Jane.” Victor said. “So the men folk will sit in front while the females get to know each other in the back seat. Come on,” he said, opening the door. “We’ll think of something on the way.”
Wortag went forward with Victor while Jamina and Solvezia hung back, waiting for him to unlock the car door before they went on. “You really do look great,” Jamina said. “The whole thing came out so silky and lithe.”
“Jane does good work,” Solvezia replied. “Though the shape is more me than her.” She stretched, showing off her red designs and black body. “It almost makes me want to go to the mall and pick out some clothes that fit me better.”
“That’s not a bad idea,” Jamina said. “The mall’s indoors and the people there are almost used to seeing Wortag and me. I’m sure they’ll give a newcomer a good welcome.”
Solvezia said, “I dunno. I thought maybe we could go to a field someplace and run around.” She ran her hands down her sides. “This body’s made for movement.”
“That’s not the Susan I remember,” Mike said, smiling under his muzzle as he opened the car door for her.
“No,” Susan said. “Given my current appearance, should it be?”
“Again, you did a brilliant job,” Mike said as the car started moving. “Seeing it in motion on the person it was meant for makes a big difference.”
“I’m glad everyone is enjoying it,” Jane replied.
Susan put her paw to her muzzle. “This thing’s a bit stuffy now that we’re more indoors.”
“Click your nose,” Jane replied.
“Press the tip of your nose.”
Susan pressed a single claw to the end of her muzzle and there was a slight but audible click. Solvezia leaned back and put her paws behind her head. “That’s much better.”
“I figured you’d want to be able to turn the fan on and off.” Jane replied.
“It’s a bit of a silly place for it,” Mike said.
“Aren’t we silly people?”
“Yes, we are,” Victor interjected. “You still haven’t said where you want to go.”
“Jamina suggested the mall, but I’m more up for running around in the fresh air,” Solvezia said.
“The mall’s a bit crowded for a first go. I think the park is a good idea,” Victor said. He turned left at the corner and in five minutes he pulled up to the curb and they got out. “There won’t be too many people here this time of year, and you’ll have plenty of room to get used to the difference in your perception.”
Solvezia stepped out of the car, looking around as she did so. “I don’t notice a big change, actually. Jane does excellent work.”
“You shouldn’t keep complementing me,” Wortag said, rounding the front of the car and stepping up onto the curb. “I might try to do it professionally, and then I’d have to deal with customer service, which would eventually lead to me killing you.”
“He’s not kidding,” Jamina said, smoothing her skirts as she exited the vehicle.
“I know,” Solvezia responded.
They descended into the bowl of the field, sometimes walking and sometimes running down the gentle slope until they reached the broad flat lawn in the center of the park. Victor watched tails bob and fur flow as they ran down to and continued running around the lawn. He descended at a more sedate pace, watching the few spectators as much as the teenagers whom he'd accompanied.
He heard Jamina's musical laugh as she grabbed Wortag from behind, his rough voice momentarily rising into Jane's giggles before the wolf twisted and half-lifted the vixen off of the ground. The newcomer, meanwhile, watched them play and ran in occasionally to deliver her own attacks on them both, but just as often she would separate from them. During these solitary forays, Solvezia tended to look at herself as she ran and try to turn to watch her own tail. She stretched and batted at leaves that had clung to the trees all winter and been disturbed by their motion. No one approached the three in their merrymaking down in the shallow bowl and presently, they tracked back up the slope and joined Victor halfway. They were showing signs of being tired, but were still quite cheerful as they entered the car and didn't even argue as Jamina took the front seat.
"If your conventions are anything like this," Solvezia said. "Then I think this is going to be a lot more fun than I'd thought."
Victor offered to drop Jane and Susan at their respective houses and Mike heard Susan whisper to Jane, "How do I clean this thing?" As she was getting out and Jane said she could make her own way home after helping her friend.
Tyranny of a Sort
Mike didn't see either Jane or Susan until lunch on Monday, at which point a familiar scene unfolded. He and Jane were sitting when Susan arrived, bent over and put her hands on the table. "I say again, damn you, Jane Hayworth."
"Enjoy the weekend?" Jane asked brightly.
"Far more than is decent." Susan replied. "I've been to concerts, festivals, seminars and a couple of my mom's New Age circles. If I put all the fun I've had making fun of these things together, I might rival what happened on Saturday. The problem I'm having is-"
"It wasn't you." Jane interrupted simply. "It was Solvezia having the fun. You were just along for the ride."
"That's a rather ... it's not how I'd say it, but the gist is about right." Susan struggled to express herself, something that hadn't happened in years.
"You felt free, like all the expectations of the world were gone. You didn't have to be anything. No one would judge you if your defenses fell and you did whatever you wanted. So you took advantage. You felt compelled by the possession of that absolute freedom to use it. You ran, you felt the air on your fur, you played with others just as free and just as fuzzy as you were and it was a feeling that both frightens you and makes you wish for more. You want to do it every day but you're scared of what that will make you. Scared that the new you, the free you, will overshadow the cynical, sarcastic girl we've all come to know and love. Is that about it?"
"Just about," Susan admitted. "So it happens to everyone?"
"Not to me," Mike said, "but I had my horizons blown open at an early age."
"It makes him paradoxically well adjusted," Jane said. "He can't be overshadowed because he never had any artificial expectations to live up to. The wee man has the advantage of not knowing anything's impossible, and so he's never affected when he does it."
Susan replied, "OK, I'll buy that. From what you've told me, he chose to be a femme just because he thought it would be fun. You, however, are quite vulnerable to social fears. So how do you reconcile this conflict?"
Jane smiled at Susan's directness. "In a way, I sort of didn't. Wortag is the free me, but also the me that I try to be in real life but fail to be because of my sex. My femininity is something that is expected of me, and though I tend towards androgyny, I also don't go nearly as far into acting and looking manly as I would if there weren't any expectations. You ought to know that quite well."
"That doesn't explain how you keep the two separate." Susan prompted.
"I don't have to worry about it as much as you think now, and neither will you. Go home, lock your door and do your own thing. You'll probably act different than when you're around people. That sort of societal adaptation isn't as easy to shake as it feels like now. You acted as you did because you were wearing the suit, yes, but also because you were around others who were wearing their own. I'm willing to bet that once the newness wears off, the you that is just alone in a room and the you that is alone in the room in a fursuit will not be all the different."
"I hope you're right," Susan sighed.
"I know I'm right," Jane replied. "I'm right, right?" She said to Mike.
"Right!" He said.
"You'll also have some time to get used to the suit before you take the next step and go to a con. There won't be one in range for another two months. In the meantime, start bringing your paws and tail when we hang out and we'll get you acclimitized. The first wearing was supposed to be a surprise, but one thing about selling out and becoming a member of the herd is that there's always someone around like you who can help out."
"I still feel silly," Susan said, holding her black paws pad-up. She looked at her black-clad feet and reached around to flick her long, fluffy black and red tail to swaying life.
"Of course you do," Jane replied, stepping up to her and standing on tiptoe to slide a headband with a pair of black ears onto Susan's head. "There you go. A little something extra I made for casual dress."
Susan looked in the full length mirror on the door of Jane's closet and reached up to pinch one of her new and prominent ears. "I'm not sure that's what I meant." She twisted and put a paw to her hip. "Cute, though."
Jane laughed, pulling her gray wolf-paws on as her tail swayed between her legs. "That's the spirit!"
"It's not like you have to put them all on all the time," Mike added, his own fox tail wagging behind him. "I don't wear breasts under my shirt when we hang out, after all."
Jane grabbed his chest and squeezed. "You don't need them, wee man."
Mike slapped her gray paws aside with his black and orange. Susan watched them and said, "I never quite understood that. Are you two touchy-feely because you're a couple or because you're a couple of furries."
"Check both columns for us," Jane replied, turning to face Susan as Mike sat on the bed and started batting at her tail. "Then again, I've gotten a lot more accepting of that sort of thing since I met Mike. Try imagining what I would do if it were any other male in the world."
"So I don't have to start grooming people when I meet them and scratching them behind the ears?" Susan asked.
"Not unless I missed a really important memo." Jane replied.
Susan sat on the edge of a chair, reaching behind to adjust her tail. "Thank god!"
Jane sat all the way back in her computer chair. "I do so prefer tails without spines in them," she commented. Answering Susan, "You don't have to do anything. Some people let loose by getting more physical, some people just act silly. A few like the wee man are the same person all the time. Like I said earlier, it's all a matter of how you approach it."
"It's just so strange. I wonder if this is anything like falling in love. I always said I was going to try to avoid that sort of thing."
"Susan, I know you've had boyfriends." Jane said flatly.
"Yeah, but I just wanted to have fun with them. They wanted the same. It never lasted any longer than it took us both to get bored with each other. Love is different. This is different."
Jane laughed. "It is, isn't it? You remember the story about how I met Mike. The realization that my life might change drastically was not entirely pleasant, but apart from that first instant when I realized he was male, I never wanted to back out. We all have these jarring moments. Trust me, the interesting possibilities far outweigh the likelihood of discomfort of embarrassment."
Susan's nervousness decreased quickly as the weeks passed, and she settled into their old routine in less time than she'd expected. Though Susan didn't always wear her own paws, ears and tail with the other two, she still found herself doing so with regularity and even enjoying how it made her look and feel. She almost forgot about the con she'd insisted on going to until the week before, by which point Jane had taken the liberty of getting her a membership and a special fursuit box. "You're not getting out of this, my black beauty," she said to Susan when her friend tried to protest. "But you are going to pay me back for it."
Her mother hadn't been any help at all. On being informed that she was going off for a weekend with her best friend, his boyfriend and his father to a hotel full of people in animal costumes, her mom had said, "That's great, dear. It'll be a nice change to spend some time with a larger social circle. I wish you'd told me about it earlier; I might have come with. It all sounds very liberating."
So Susan, knowing she was beset on all sides, resigned herself to go. Her non-fursuit luggage contained a couple of days' clothes, a large quantity of note-taking equipment and her overnight gear. She tried to think of something else she ought to bring, and finally settled on some of her art supplies. Perhaps she'd feel the urge to draw something. In fact, she thought with a sigh, she was likely to spend more time drawing the furries than taking notes about them. In retrospect, she ought to have gone to cons before she started feeling the need. Fewer distractions were involved when you weren't obliged to join in, but could just watch from the sidelines.
Susan was struck as soon as she entered the lobby with Mike, Jane and Victor. Some of the members must have arrived very early, if not the day before the official start, since the entryway was already dotted with people in themed T-shirts, accessories and suits ranging from one quarter to full. Victor picked up the keycards for the two rooms as Jane caught sight of someone she knew and went over to talk to her. "Susan, Mike, this is Keila. Keila, my best friend Susan and my new squeeze, Mike."
"Hi," the slender blonde said, her fox tail bobbing behind her as she greeted them. "I think I remember Jane mentioning you, Susan, and if I recall, you were very pretty in MOSFUR's masquerade last fall, Mike."
"Keila has a surprisingly good memory," Jane said as they sat in well-stuffed armchairs around a table, Keila bending the wire spine in her tail so she could sit back on it. "I bet you can tell me what con we first met at, what the panelists said and who the guest of honor was."
"Can, but won't." Keila replied. "People get that odd glazed look in their eye. Seems to happen a lot when I'm around. Unless I'm losing my touch, however, I believe you're a neo, Susan. No cons under your belt."
Susan shook her head, "No. I only recently became ... engaged in the fandom."
"Ah, and outsider who got pulled in." Keila nodded sagely. "Happens a lot. You're an artistic type, someone asks you to make a stuffed animal for them and before you know it, you are the stuffed animal." She rose, "Wish I could stay, but I can't. I'm one of those suckers who lets herself get programmed for Friday afternoon." She bent her tail back to its horizontal position and rummaged in a sling bag. "Here, allow me to be the first to give you a button. You get a lot of them in con life, and if you actually collect them up, you might be able to make a suit of armor in a few years." She turned and bounced away, her tail lagging behind by about a half-cycle.
Susan turned the button over. "The Furtress, an alternative publication. Am I supposed to put this on now?"
Mike said, "Only if you either like the mag - which you've never read - or Keila - who is a nice enough person. It's not like you won't be changing to something else by tomorrow."
Susan put the button in her pocket. "I think I'll pass. It's one thing to proclaim my own individuality. I'm not sure I'm ready to start accepting commercials."
Victor approached and leaned on the back of the chair Mike was sitting in. “Our rooms won’t be ready for another hour. I’ve had them put the luggage in the storeroom, so let’s go get our badges and see if there’s anything amazingly interesting in store for this year.”
“Shouldn’t you know by now?” Mike asked as they went up the ramp and towards the first ballroom. “You’re on every tech panel from now until Sunday, so you’ve seen the schedules already.”
“True, but I can’t remember them,” Victor replied. “It’s hard enough remembering where I’m programmed.”
“Your dad’s on panels?” Susan asked.
“It’s not as hard or as much of a compliment as it sounds,” Victor said dryly.
“There are only two requirements.” Mike added.
“You have to think you know what you’re talking about, or at least be crazy enough to suggest a panel you have no expertise in.” Jane said.
“And you have to be stupid enough to allow yourself to get involved.” Victor finished.
They stood on the ‘G-N’ line. “We have to get ours elsewhere,” Victor said, “since I’m a participant and he’s my guest.”
“Both of ours are under my name,” Jane said to Susan. “I know how you hate anyone ever hearing your last name.”
“You mean Che-“ Victor started.
“-especially not here!” Jane said over him. More quietly she hissed, “Think about where we’re standing right now. After the Petroleum Heresy, do you think anyone wants to be associated with him?”
“Right,” Victor said. “I’d almost forgotten, even though I grew up during it. You have a different perspective when you’re inside the story.”
They were efficiently dealt with on the other end of the line, Jane supplying her last name at the volunteer’s demand and collecting her and Susan’s badges, fursuit badges, pocket program and large program full of pictures. Jane tossed Susan a lanyard and clipped her own badge to a lanyard she produced from her pocket. They exited through a rear door and climbed two broad flights of stairs before passing down an even broader hallway with doors and corridors branching out. On the other end, the hall narrowed and split, their party taking the righthand fork. “One of the benefits of being an Institutional.” Victor commented. “We may be boring, but we know where committees are likely to put things.” They passed down a wood paneled hall before taking a left into a much smaller room full of panic. Victor called out, “Falkner,” and was rewarded by a flying manila envelope which he caught. “Thank you,” he called over his shoulder as he beat a hasty retreat. “They’re always like that. Some of the guests aren’t quite as easygoing as I am.” He fished out a pair of badges and a single lanyard. “They always do that,” he commented as he also pulled one out of his pocket. He handed Mike’s badge and a set of programs to him, putting his own set along with the page telling him what he was on that weekend into his shoulder pack. “Now, let’s find a quiet spot and see where we’ll be all weekend.”
They found a spot just off the main corridor with a couch and sat down, spreading out the insert sheet inside of their main programs and looking at the schedule grid printed on it. Victor circled five slots. “Here, here, here, here and here. That’s a goodly chunk already taken care of.”
Jane leaned over and circled three, Mike copying her choices onto his own. “Those look interesting enough. I think I’ll skip the one about how to dress outside the fandom.”
“I would too if I hadn’t gotten stuck with it,” Victor admitted.
“I’m guessing I’ll be tagging along with you two?” Susan asked.
“Not if you don’t want to.” Jane replied. She put the point of her pen over a panel. “If Solvezia shows up at this one, though, we’re going to have to have you join Jamina at the front as an example of how certain upgrades work.”
“I mind, she won’t.” Susan said. “I get a feeling I’m going to get a lot of practice at doing representative poses tomorrow.”
“You’ll also get plenty of compliments,” Jane said.
“I like to think I deserve it,” Jane smiled.
Mike, meanwhile, had continued to study his schedule paper and had already circled everything up through Sunday. “Right, that’s me done.”
Jane looked over. “I see you’ve left room for the masquerade and green room. Another one on the fly?”
“We really need to start working these things out in advance,” Mike agreed.
Jane looked at Susan. “You know, Solvezia looks a lot like Jen Jetra from the Chronicles. I wonder if we could persuade you…” She trailed off, elongating the last vowel.
“Let me think about it,” Susan replied. “I’m not sure I want to take that kind of a leap right off the bat.”
“Plenty of time. We don’t have to sign up until tomorrow morning,” Jane said.
“Plenty of time indeed,” Susan sighed.
Fifteen minutes saw both parties in their rooms with the doors open and their bags unpacked. Susan watched with interest as the other three efficiently placed all their items in either drawers or the mirror-doored closets and their toiletries on the counters of their respective bathrooms. “I thought this was only your second,” she said to Mike, who was as quick as the others.
“Doesn’t mean I haven’t traveled. Dad’s a big believer in taking time off in the summer to return to the homeland.” Mike said, laying back on his bed.
“Israel?” Susan asked.
“Scotland,” Mike replied. “Though I’ve also been to Germany, Italy and Greece. Holidaying in resorts doesn’t have nearly the appeal that climbing around ruins and wandering cathedrals does.”
“Lucky,” Jane said. “We’ve only been to the United Kingdom. Mom and dad like traveling, but they can’t get vacations together every year.”
Susan snorted. “You’re both lucky. Try being dragged around forests, jungles and deserts. I’d give a lot to be able to tour civilization. Or civilizations that are surrounded by other civilizations still extant. My parents have to see the Amazon and climb bloody ziggurats.”
Jane looked at her watch. “Much as I’d like to continue, there’s a Meet & Greet in twenty minutes we should be at. You’re both new enough to have plenty of people to get acquainted with, Susan especially because she isn’t from a known family.”
“Not known in the good way,” Susan muttered.
“Come on,” Jane shooed Susan towards the door to their side. “We need to get ready.” She stuck her head around as she closed the door. “Jamina coming?”
Mike swung his leg around and caught the vixen head in midair. “Naturally.”
Victor yawned. “You kids run along. I think I’ll go and sit with the fogies for awhile. You get to appreciate the Klatches more when you know over half of the people reading.”
“You’re right. This goes a lot faster when there’s more than one person to help.” Solvezia said, already twisting and admiring herself in the closet mirror.
Wortag turned around, “Is everything where it should be?”
Solvezia bent closer and then with an annoyed grunt, pushed her muzzle up to allow her human eyes to focus. “You’re fine,” Susan said, pushing her muzzle back down.
“Great,” Wortag replied, pulling his vest on and placing his had between his ears. “Let’s go see if the girly one is ready.”
They waited in the hall for almost five minutes after knocking before Jamina answered. “Can you help me?” She turned around and showed the zipper on her dress only partway up. “It always sticks on me.”
Wortag pulled it the rest of the way. “There.”
“Thanks!” Jamina fluffed out her iridescent blue and pink full skirt. “Think we’ll meet anyone?”
Wortag led the way down the hall. “Probably. I hope so since plenty of my friends will be here this time. I expect a few will make it today, and we’ll run into the rest tomorrow.”
“I feel a bit underdressed with you two,” Solvezia said. “And that’s a very strange statement since I’m covered head to foot. At least you’re wearing a vest, packboss. She caught her reflection in a hall mirror and twisted slightly to admire herself as she went by. “Then again, I can’t think of anything that would improve this.”
“Thank you for the compliment,” Wortag said over his shoulder.
Despite her confidence, Solvezia felt a little nervous as she entered ballroom B. An enterprising artist was already making custom badges for new furs and Wortag showed the utility of his vest by pulling forty dollars out of his pocket to buy Solvezia a badge. “My debt to you is really piling up,” she commented.
“My birthday isn’t that far away,” Wortag said cheerfully. “I’m sure you’ll think of something.” They loitered at the table for a few minutes, and in a surprisingly short amount of time, the artist handed Wortag the finished product. “Thanks, Kol.”
“Welcome, Wortag,” the young man said, turning to his next customer.
“You know him?” Solvezia asked as they walked away.
“Course I do.” Wortag replied. “Wouldn’t have bought you this if I didn’t think he did good work.” Wortag fixed the clip on Solvezia’s lanyard so the new badge hung just under her con badge.
Solvezia held it up to her eyes and looked at it as best she could. “Nice. It even has my name on it. Thanks.”
They started looking for friends of Jane, but oddly enough the first person who approached them spoke to Mike. It was a short man with large glasses and thick hair parted on the left. “Hi, Victor. Still doing the Chronicles, I see.”
Jamina shook her head. “It’s Mike, Jake.”
“Oh, right.” The man said, seeming unphased, “I’d heard that you inherited the girl from your father. Works a lot better on a teenager, I can tell you.” He leered, and Wortag was about to take vocal offense when Jamina laughed. “Is that any way to talk to your godson?”
“When he looks like you do, it is.”
“Since when were you into this sort of thing, anyway? I thought you were vanilla fen.” Jamina replied.
“I got tired of Victor having to truncate his sentences when he starts in on a furry reference, so I decided to see what the hell was the difference between this kind of con and the ones I go to every goddamn week.” Jake said, warming up. “Frankly, I’m starting to wonder if I ought to come to these things more often.”
“Let me guess, the women are better looking?” Mike said, grinning underneath his vixen mask.
“Better looking and more exotic.” Jake responded. “Oh, and the best part is that no one knows who I am. It’s great.”
“Who are you?” Wortag asked.
“If he said, he’d have to leave,” Jamina said. “He has a Rumpelstiltskin complex. The moment someone says his full name, he winks out of existence.”
“It beats signing autographs.” The man said. “Well, I’d love to stay here and ogle you some more, but I see a strapping specimen right over there.” He pointed at someone dressed as Krystal. “Let’s see how she likes it when I pull out my ten and a half Hugos.”
“Don’t worry,” Jamina said as Jake walked away, “they’re not his.”
For Solvezia, there wasn't much difference between the first conversation and any of the others. Friends of Jane in a variety of different costume parts representing animals of all kinds greeted them, both Jane and Mike talking about things Susan only knew from stories and books. She barely said anything to any of them, even when they complemented her on her appearance. She just couldn't get into it anymore. In fact, for most of the time she was keenly aware of just how ridiculous she must look, a rather plain girl covered head to foot in fur. It was all so silly.
Neither of the other two said anything about it on the return trip to their rooms, but when Jamina had gone to her own to change, Jane sat on the end of her assigned bed and took her head off. "You were surprisingly quiet." She said, removing her handpaws.
Susan did likewise, also kicking her footpaws off and laying on her front on her own bed. "I was suddenly so self-conscious. Like someone was going to suddenly point out 'hey, there's Susan in a fur costume!' I couldn't get into it anymore."
"Well, obviously you pointed that out," Jane replied, laying back and pulling her tail around her. She turned on her side and looked at Susan. "In a way, that ought to make you happy. You were so worried that the pure joy of it would take you over. Told you it wasn't so easy to let go of your programming."
Susan laughed. "I guess I ought to be glad for that much. It just seemed so much more fun back in the park, or with you guys. I didn't have to work to stay in character. It just flowed."
"You didn't expect us to judge you, and you shouldn't worry here. No one is going to score you on how well you hold up. Well, except tomorrow evening."
Susan buried her face in her pillow. "I'm not looking forward to that."
"Join the club," Jane said wryly. "That boy's nuts. I never do masquerades without a plan, but he just slams something off in his head and runs with it. It's infuriating."
Susan looked up and Jane and grinned. "At least there's something he does that annoys you. I was beginning to wonder."
"Plenty of things do. I just don't get worked up. I ought to apologize to you, though. We didn't make it any easier by talking shop the whole time we were down there. I forget that you don't speak fluent fen."
"Yeah," Susan replied, "but that first guy was such an opportunity. He was ripe for the brazen and flirtatious routine, but when I thought about going for it with someone else, I froze. Odd. I've never had that problem with guys before. I don't do flirtatious, but brazen comes in plenty."
"Well, maybe we'd better call it a night, then. Mike and Victor will, and I'm actually tired myself." Jane lay back and looked about to fall asleep in what remained of her suit.
"You stay in." Susan said, getting up and sticking her feet into her footpaws as she picked up her head. "I think I'm going to go solo for awhile and see if I can do better when I don't have to compete with someone who knows everyone. After all," Solvezia said as she finished pulling herself together and winked at the mirror, "once they get a good look at this without Jamina's fluff blocking their view, I think they'll warm up enough to give me all the encouragement I need."
"You must have been out late," Jane commented as she entered the room to find Susan just finishing brushing her teeth. "We've already been to breakfast. Here," she put a paper bag down on the table-desk, "I brought you a bagel and a banana."
"Thanks," Susan said, sitting down and reaching into the bag for it. "Things did go on for awhile." She took a bite out of the bagel without spreading anything on it. "I went down to the steampunk ball. Interesting idea, but I prefer metals that keep their shine. I'm a low maintenance gal."
"I take it that you met some people." Jane said, indicating the wolfter head that now sported a strap on monogoggle. "You didn't bring any money with you."
"There was one strapping young buck. Well, dog, anyway. He bought me that after I danced with him for awhile. Nice guy. I think he said his name was Eloncus Modul?"
"Ecrosis Menu, I think." Jane said. "Shorter than you, black labrador ears, tail and handpaws? Likely to be wearing a backpack comprising of a lot of pipes and strange looking gear which reaches around to his front as a cross between a gun and a hose?"
"You know everyone, don't you?" Susan responded, opening the milk carton Jane had included.
"Reputation only, in that case. I'm not into the steampunk scene very much."
Susan repeated, "Nice guy. I hope I see him again."
Jane reached up to the closet shelf and pulled down Solvezia's head. "Wear this again and you will. Whenever I've seen Menu with a girl, she's been slender, energetic and worn black."
Susan yawned. "I think I can manage energetic in another hour."
"You'd better. We have a panel to catch and you're the main attraction." Jane replied, pointing at the program. "'How far can electronic enhancements go?' You're Victor's display piece along with Jamina."
Susan got up. "I'd better get myself together, then. I'd hate to disappoint my benefactors and creators."
Wortag sat in the front row while Jamina and Solvezia stood next to the panelits' table. They'd been joined by the other panelists' creations including a cat who towered over all of them on his fully digitigrade leg enhancements, a collie who demonstrated his neural link by wagging his tail and a leopard whose claws extended and retracted on command. Solvezia felt a little like a dog herself when asked to speak for the crowd in her own voice and that of Susan, and she wondered how Jamina took it so calmly. Most of the time, however, she just stood there and occasionally posed or got into some mischief with the others there who seemed about as happy as she was to be stuck in the front. About half an hour into the discussion, however, they all decided as one to pad away as quietly as they could and Wortag joined them in the back of the room since neither Jamina nor Solvezia could sit in the chairs.
"At least you're getting plenty of practice being in the spotlight," Wortag said as they left at the end.
"I'm definitely not used to that, even if I deserve it." Solvezia replied, trying to keep up the character.
"You did fine," Jamina chimed in. "Dad gets a bit didactic when he's allowed to, so don't take it too personally if he didn't ask you to do stuff."
"I guess I can overlook it this once," Solvezia sniffed, getting comfortable again.
The next two panels passed without much incident, and the three met Victor for lunch at the hotel's restaurant after removing their suits. "I think I'll skip suiting back up," Mike said. "I'm getting a bit hot."
"Yeah, and there aren't any panels in the afternoon that are improved by it anyway." Jane agreed.
"I don't know," Susan said, "I think I might go back. I ran into Menu while you two were off at your Furries in Mainstream Literature panel and I agreed to meet him in about half an hour. Mind if I hang out with him instead?"
"Fine by me," Jane answered. "As I recall, you weren't too keen on what any of us were interested in." She switched to a bad Yiddish accent. "Go, be with your new friends. We'll just be here waiting for you when you get back."
Susan stuck out her tongue as she rose, but waved as she turned the corner towards their wing.
"So she's made friends with the Shadebreaker's daughter." Victor said.
Jane looked up from her two foot tall sundae. "Menu's female?"
"I know her parents," Victor said. "They're very handy with hammer, tongs and a forge. Their daughter did a tour in the Marines before joining them in making brass and clockwork."
"That's - wow," Jane stammered. "I can usually read people better than that."
Victor shrugged. "She could bench press our entire con party. The girl makes Rosie the Riveter look like a faerie girl. I'm not surprised you and Susan thought she was male."
"Susan's going to lose her cool if she finds out," Mike said.
"Solvezia might be able to take it in stride. If nothing else, Menu is good for that." Jane said.
"But what if he breaks her?" Mike asked.
"Susan likes her fun, but even Solvezia won't go that far that fast. Unlike us, Menu doesn't need prosthetics to look manly. I think we'll be able to break it to her afterwards and slowly."
Jane found Susan already in their room and out of her suit when she arrived to get ready to go down to the Green Room. "You're back early."
"Indeed," Susan said. "I decided not to wear Solvezia, by the way. Ecrosis didn't mind. He said I was hot either way and would be cheering from the audience when we went on." She picked up her bodysuit. "I guess that means I'm in."
"Don't worry," Jane said as she lifted her own and stepped in. "Mike actually came up with something good."
"He does so well thinking on the fly." Susan replied. She laughed. "He wouldn't have been able to keep you if he didn't." She pulled up her bodysuit and put her arms into the sleeves. "I know I've said this about ten times already, but he really is nice. I kinda like him."
Jane coughed and almost dropped her footpaws. "Like as in like, or as in really like?"
"If you're going to go all girly on me, like as in extremely like. As in, this guy might not be a one week fling if I could see him outside of the con. As in, I'm hot under the muzzle for him." Susan picked up Solvezia's head and looked into its eyes before turning both sets to look at Jane. "I'll say this once. He. Is. Dreamy."
"Um, Susan," Jane said as she picked up her own head and loosened the straps. "We're going to have to talk about this tomorrow. Preferably after the con."
"If it's about Ecrosis being about the butchest lesbian on Earth, don't bother. I figured that out when I let him kiss me. Natural born men don't kiss like that." She saw Jane's expression and rolled her eyes. "Don't give me that look, you know I've tried it with girls. I figured I ought to give it a chance before I dismissed it, and I did."
"But you're straight," Jane said. "You've always-"
"Still am," Solvezia said as she adjusted her head. "I mean, seriously. That girl probably shaves with a torpedo. She has a freaking mustache. I'd love to see the first biggot who calls her a dyke. They'd probably find pieces of him in Utah, Nebraska and Norway." Solvezia gave a broad wink to Wortag, who had decided to finish suiting up despite his surprise. "You could learn manliness from him. Why didn't you tell me, anyway?"
"I found out after you left lunch," Wortag said, tugging on his handpaws. "Victor told us. He knows Menu's parents. He's an ex-Marine and a blacksmith."
"I think our football team could learn manliness from him," Solvezia said. "I never thought I could fall for someone like that."
"Big and masculine. I tend towards the artistic type." Solvezia corrected.
"He is an artist. Just an artist whose medium happens to require a bellows." Wortag said as they opened the door.
"I thought you weren't going to bring that up until after the con," Jamina said, moving towards them from her position by the window.
"I brought it up myself," Solvezia said, putting her arms around both of them. "Shame on you two. You're such prudes."
"And what happened to our nervous little girl who was afraid she wouldn't fit in?" Wortag said.
"She found a hunk!" Solvezia answered. "Meeeeow, awoooo and woof-woof all at once."
"There's our hybrid." Jamina laughed. "A perfect balance between the exhibitionist animal without and the cultured pervert inside."
"It's convenient," Solvezia purred. "I can do case studies on myself."
The masquerade entry went quite well considering Solvezia had only had half an hour to learn her part. Everything had been pre-recorded, so she just had to do the motions, which she attempted with as much flare as she could put into it. She saw Ecrosis in the front row and even blew him a kiss when he clapped as loudly as he could for her. She wasn’t very bothered by not winning anything, since according to Wortag a lot of these entries were planned months or years in advance. After posing alone and with the other two for the photographers and hangers on, she joined Ecrosis, who was one of the people taking pictures. Jamina and Wortag made their excuses to leave the two of them to each other and Solvezia didn’t see either of them until Ecrosis was finished and they went up to the parties.
When Solvezia heard ‘party,’ she did not envision the manifold definitions this seemed to have for fen. Some rooms were full of people dancing and drinking as she’d expected, others were just a bunch of people standing around and talking. She found Victor comfortably seated in a group of fen ranging from thirties to seventies, and he greeted her without rising. Ecrosis seemed to be trying to guide her away, but she pulled him back to talk to Victor. “Hello, Susan,” he turned to Ecrosis, “Sandrilene.”
“At least you didn’t call me ‘Sandry.’” Ecrosis said. “But couldn’t you at least go as far as ‘Laine’ if you’re going to insist on calling me that?”
“Just being the embarrassing elder,” Victor replied. “Susan doesn’t seem to mind.”
“I do-“ Susan began.
“Susan’s a much better name.” Ecrosis said at the same time.
“I personally like Sandrilene,” Susan said. “Though I admit you didn’t exactly grow into it.”
Ecrosis grinned. “Would you have preferred that I be a bookish brunette in big glasses and a medieval dress?”
“Oh no,” Susan replied, returning the grin even if Ecrosis couldn’t see it, “I much prefer someone whose arm I can sit on.”
They left the more staid party to find Jamina and Wortag in a somewhat younger group, though with a few people above thirty mixed in. “Anything interesting going on?” Solvezia said as they approached.
“Shh!” Wortag said. “She’s almost got it.”
Keila, now wearing handpaws and footpaws, was bent over a bowl that smoked and steamed, her blonde hair almost touching the deep green liquid. “Gatorade!” She called. Jamina passed her a bottle of green Gatorade, which she passed back. “Pale blue, silly.” When that was produced, she poured the entire bottle in and the smoke blasted out of the bowl and pooled around their feet. A liquid that shaded through every color as Solvezia’s head moved was now revealed. “Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster.”
“Should it have changed color like that?” Wortag asked. “I’m pretty sure it was supposed to stay green.”
“Not the way I make it!” Keila said, dipping a metal cup into it. The metal began to tarnish even as she drank. “I’m getting the lemon,” she said, “but where’s the brick?” She took a step and fell onto the bed.
“Brick.” Wortag said helpfully. “Come on. That’s the end of the party. She always does this.” Wortag turned and then looked at Solvezia and Ecrosis. “Unless someone else would like to try it.”
Neither of them were too keen, and so they moved on to the next room and beyond. By the time Susan found herself in her room, numbly spraying cleaning mist into her suit, it was almost two in the morning. “Wow.” Was all she could say before falling onto the bed, asleep in midair.
Sunday morning passed quickly, and Susan found herself sitting next to Ecrosis saying goodbye before she realized that the con was winding down. She’d opted to spend the morning in somewhat more comfortable attire, only her ears and footpaws showing the wolfter she had been the two days before. “I suppose I’ll see you at the next con.”
“Almost certainly,” Ecrosis said. “We’re at every single one we can manage. It’s the job.”
“Yup.” Susan said, not knowing what else to add. “Well…” She trailed off.
Ecrosis leaned over and kissed her lightly. “I know. You’re giving serious thought to coming with. Don’t worry about it. First off, you have your own life to lead and besides, I’m twenty-four. The age gap’s a bit much at this stage of our lives. When you’re twenty-two and I’m pushing thirty, I think I’ll be a bit more comfortable with something less than a romantic friendship.”
“If you haven’t found something else,” Susan said.
“If neither of us have, yes. Until Fall or perhaps Summer, Querida.”
Susan was quiet on the drive back and when they stopped in front of Jane’s house, she got out as well. “I can manage to get my stuff back to my house from here,” she said. “I think I’d like to talk to Jane for awhile. This has been about the weirdest weekend I’ve ever had.” She paused and looked up at the sky. “You guys kick ass!” She shouted and, seeming to ignore the weight of her bags as she pulled them behind her, she raced Jane to the front door of her house.
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