Chapter 1

Tuesday, October 10, 2045

"Everyone! Listen!" Darryl ranted once again. His blond hair was slicked back as always, but his normally impeccable look was ruined by the fact that his right arm was strapped tightly to his chest and encased in a cast. He stood in the middle of the room that we used for our meetings. I glanced up at him and smiled as I watched him wince when his right arm tugged against the bandages holding it against his torso. Darryl had been rushed to the hospital yesterday after a failed attempt to jump a changed sophomore, and it was clear that he was uncomfortable with his injured arm.

As he continued to scream at the gathered students, I took a moment to scan the room. It was immediately clear that only his girlfriend, Gina, was paying him any attention. I had to smile about that. He might consider himself the leader of the "pure" faction at Independence High School, but few of the others followed his lead. He did have a nasty reputation, and often bullied newly changed kids, or weaker ones when he could catch them, but the larger student body cared nothing for his quest to "make Independence High a beacon of purity in the valley."

I'd just about given up on Darryl finishing when I heard him call my name. "Hector! Hector, you big oaf!" he cried. "Why don't you join in and lead this great crusade?"

I turned back to Darryl and wondered again how he had ever mastered the team's offense well enough to be a quarterback. Actually I wondered how he remembered to tie his shoes in the morning. Coach Davis was a fair man, but he was going to be livid that Darryl was missing a week of practice because of that broken arm. Stories and rumors were still circulating, but the most often told was that Darryl had stalked and cornered Irene Connors, a bird hybrid, and threw her against some lockers. He was following that up with a punch when Eddie Gershom jumped in the way and took the punch on his back. Eddie is a turtle hybrid and the effect was the same as if Darryl had attempted to punch a brick wall, shattering one of the bones in his forearm. As Darryl collapsed in pain, Eddie and Irene ran away before any of Darryl's shocked followers could intervene. Now Darryl wanted someone to punish Eddie.

"Why don't you give it a rest?" I replied as Darryl and Gina glared at me. "It's not like anything short of a heavy sledgehammer is going to hurt Eddie. Besides, this incident didn't happen because Irene strayed into any of the pure hangouts. You ambushed her outside the library, which has always been neutral territory. You might like living dangerously with beating on the 'brids, but I'm due to graduate this year and I'm not going to get suspended or expelled for tilting at windmills."

I heard a snort of laughter from one of the tables behind me. Probably Angela, I thought. The freshman was a lover of classical literature, and only attended these meetings to support her best friend Tina.

Of course my lack of support only made Darryl madder and his face turned red while his left hand clenched into a fist. Gina watched him and then turned to glare at me.

"I can't believe you!" she screamed. "A human. A pure human has his arm broken by one of those filthy animals and all you can say is that you don't want to be suspended? What about the purity of the race? These hybrids aren't human. They don't belong at school with us. They should be locked up in cages!" She turned to the rest of the students in the room. There were about thirty today, which was a decent turnout considering that Darryl was the one who'd announced the meeting. "How about the rest of you? Are any of you brave enough to stand up for purity?"

My instincts were to shake my head and laugh, but I squashed that thought and concentrated on keeping a neutral face. Gina and her militancy always amused me though. She was a junior like Darryl, and had been dating him for more than a year. However, where Darryl was against hybrids mostly to impress Gina and the other students, Gina honestly believed that she was untouched by the syndrome because of her spiritual purity. She hated anyone different and feared that being around hybrids would contaminate her. Her parents had petitioned to have all hybrids thrown off campus when she first arrived. Principal Smith refused, but I had noticed that during her three years at Independence with nearly half the student body being MORFS survivors, Gina had never sat in a class that had any hybrid students.

I decided to spend a moment looking over Gina before responding. She liked to act like some kind of incredible beauty, but I always found her looks to be somewhat lacking. She had hair as golden blond as Darryl, although she let hers fall down to her waist, and her blue eyes could be striking. I knew a few guys who were in awe of her large breasts and slender waist especially when she was dressed for cheerleading, and I must admit that she did stay in excellent shape. However, she always seemed to be scowling at someone or something and it gave her a pinched and bitter look. She was someone I could tolerate at a distance, but I never had any interest in getting to know her better.

"Gina," I called out, after no one responded. "We all are sorry that Darryl got hurt. It's not going to help the football team, and it's an embarrassment to the pures. But what can we do? Darryl did a great job proving just how hard Eddie's turtle shell is, and somehow I doubt that any teachers are going to ignore one of us bringing a weapon that might actually hurt Eddie onto campus. Now, we have spent most of our lunch here listening to Darryl talk about his injuries. But, I think its time to end this meeting and start heading to our lockers. We still have more classes to attend today."

Gina scowled and Darryl frowned, but everyone else was nodding and gathering up books and notes. Darryl stalked up to me, but I rose from my chair and although he could look me in the eye, I outweighed him by a good twenty pounds of muscle and didn't have a broken arm, so he backed down quickly.

I watched Darryl walk over to Gina for a quick kiss before he grabbed his bag and headed to his math class. I was putting the homework I'd been working on into a folder when Tristan Pendergast walked over. Tristan is a good friend and starts at right linebacker to my left linebacker spot on the football team. As I was finishing gathering my stuff a small piece of paper fell from the folder. Tristan moved to pick it up, but I recognized it and quickly reached down to grab it before he could look at it.

"Love letter?" Tristan said with a smile. He knew about my reputation for not dating and saw the opening.

"Just something personal," I replied. "Sorry, but the rumor mill at this place is just a bit too efficient."

"Well, since we share biology class, shouldn't we start walking?" Tristan said, as I slid the paper into my shirt pocket. With a smile he headed to the door, just as the warning bell for the end of lunch rang. I grabbed my bags to follow him.

I'm sorry. I just realized that you probably are wondering who is writing this tale, and what is happening.

My name is Hector Lynwood. I'm a high school senior trying to make his way in what my father calls the crazy post-MORFS world. Right now I'm attending Independence High School in southwest Bakersfield. It's actually part of a cluster of schools now. Independence High was opened in 2008, shortly before the outbreak of MORFS. Once the effects of MORFS were better understood, the county decided to expand the campus and establish Liberty Elementary and Freedom Junior High Schools next to the first campus, so that "local students could have a stable educational environment". Included in this expansion was the establishment of a school uniform code. For boys this meant clean slacks, a white button-down shirt and black tie. Girls could wear a similar outfit or they could replace the slacks with a knee length or longer skirt. A number of studies claimed that having a school uniform improved learning and reduced stress on the students, all I can say is that it did make deciding what to wear in the morning much simpler.

I'm currently in the top ten of my class academically. I do start at linebacker for the school football team, and a few smaller colleges have visited and watched me play. But while at six foot two and two hundred thirty pounds, I am perfectly sized for my position; so many players at the college level are MORFS survivors that a pure human struggles to be competitive. A few scouts have told me that they are impressed by my tenacity and drive, but that I would not succeed at their school. I should be disappointed, but while I enjoy football, I know it will never be a career for me. My father and I have often talked about my future and he knows I plan on attending Bakersfield Polytechnical University to study psychology. He has always supported me and during several evening discussions has helped me map out a plan for the future.

As my introduction indicated, I am a member of one of the high school's "pure human" organizations. In fact, I've often found myself the spokesman and leader for the group in the last year. It's not something I'm proud of. My mother signed me up for the Pure Human Patrol when I was ten, and as the years passed, I have not made any effort to leave the group or the friends I made there. As my friends joined other anti-MORFS groups I have quietly followed, although I find it increasingly hard to accept the hatred and fear that permeates them. If my mother was still part of my life, I might care more, but she left my father five years ago and took my younger sister and brother with her. She said that the only way to protect children from MORFS was to maintain a high spiritual purity and that Bakersfield was not sacred enough. My father did not want to move, and I choose to stay with him. From the letters Heather and Howard send me, mother had taken them to Kansas and is now married to some minister of a rather nasty anti-MORFS group. Both of my siblings are attending meetings of anti-MORFS youth groups, and mother has ordered them to cut off all contact with father and me. They send letters regularly and I try to reply through friends, even talking a couple of the scouts who visited me into mailing letters for me once they returned to their home campuses. I miss my siblings.

As for the paper I hid. It was a simple note from my father: "Come home right after school. I'd like to talk to you." I know you might think that it was innocent, but it might have inspired Tristan to ask questions I was not ready to answer. I had a suspicion as to why my father wanted to talk, and if I was right I would be very happy for him, even though it was going to cause trouble with the more militant pures like Darryl and Gina.

Well, now back to where I was, just after the bell rang, signaling the end of lunch.

Naturally, I hurried off to my next class. I had Biology immediately after lunch. It was a subject I found interesting, especially since we had a good teacher, who was willing to talk about MORFS and its effects on the biosphere. Yvonne Masters reportedly had been a professor somewhere north, but her interest in the new species created by MORFS and the changes the biosphere underwent to accommodate them had resulted in the university she worked at refusing to grant her tenure. She soon discovered that the university and its professors poisoned her reputation and no other university was interested in hiring her. She might have remained unemployed had not one of Independence High's science teachers quit just days before the start of the school year. Yvonne heard about the opening and managed to talk Principal Smith into hiring her. Once hired, she decided that her senior year classes would concentrate on developing an understanding of MORFS and she was putting a great effort into making the class interesting and informative. I heard a few freshmen complain that her classes were boring, but I was learning more about MORFS than I ever thought possible without a full university science lab. Early on she had made it clear that the transformations were not prevented by prayer, or caused by evil. She did explain that conventional science said that the syndrome, which was actually caused by a failure of the body to prevent massive mutation of the DNA, should be killing its victims rather than simply modifying them and changing them, but obviously the current science was inadequate for the reality it faced. It was equally obvious that she had done some extensive research into this.

The period ended, and everyone rushed to his or her next class. My school day finishes with home economics. My father had often bragged that a man who knew how to cook could always impress the ladies, and I had decided to challenge this. After one month of classes, I must admit that I was enjoying the experience, and realized that my father was highly skilled at cooking. When I signed up for the class I got my father to agree that I would cook one meal a week, and I was determined to impress my father with a well cooked meal before the semester ended. The challenge this represents keeps me working hard and concentrated in class, so I'm always surprised and a little disappointed to hear the teacher call for everyone to clean up before the bell rings indicating the end of class.

Once the class let out I started to walk home. Normally I would stay at school to attend practice, but Coach Davis had given everyone the day off as we didn't have a game on Friday, and he wanted everyone to have some extra rest.

My father and I live in a house just on the edge of one of the town' s commercial districts. We have moved here after my mother decided to leave and my father had the house modified to serve as a combination home and office for his insurance sales. The front part of the house is now an office for people to come and confer with him or his employees on their insurance options, while the back of the ground floor and the second floor are our private living space.

His insurance business is one of the most successful in the Central Valley. Normally this might be a difficult job to do well in, but once mother moved he started to offer hybrids insurance policies at fair rates. Most other agents in town do not treat hybrids well, and my father's agency and reputation have grown rapidly. He now has a thriving business with a second office in the town centre.

I hurried home because of his note, and entered through the office door rather than the side door, which opens directly into our living area. I smiled to see the brightly colored sign on the door. "Horace Lynwood, Insurance Agent. We Work to Protect your Future." The sign was a design of Janice Gordon, a young lady who lives two doors down the street from us. Her parents had been killed four years ago during a riot sparked by some anti-MORFS fanatics. To help make ends meet she used some of the insurance money to establish a sign making business in the house she inherited, and my father had been so impressed with her courage and dignity that he'd ordered the sign. Janice still comes by regularly to visit and to eat with us. Soon my thoughts, however, turned to the note as I looked around the front office.

This room looked like an office so much, that it was hard to imagine that just behind a well-camouflaged door was the rest of the house. It would not be out of place in any other office complex downtown. Usually it was a bustle of activity with my father's two assistants working hard at updating data or scheduling appointments. However, I was surprised to see neither Evelyn nor Frank in the office, instead my father was alone and he was talking on the phone.

"Oh, just one moment," he said to whoever was on the other end of the line. He hit the mute button and then called out to me. "Turn the sign over to closed, lock the door and then go wait in the living room. I'll be right there, Hector."

I was more than a bit surprised, but followed his instructions as he returned to his phone call. From what little I overheard, he was handling a claim involving an auto accident over the weekend.

Once in the living room, I took a moment to set my backpack down and then sat down on the couch. I looked around and noticed that my father had set up a couple of items on the coffee table, and I quickly had a good idea of what the talk would be about. One was a picture of him, Laura and me during our visit to Disneyland just before school started. However, it was the jewelry box resting next to it that provided the ironclad evidence of what the conversation would be about. I could understand his nervousness, but there was no way I was not going to support him in this.

A moment later my father walked into the room, and I could see that his face was lined with concern. I shouldn't have done anything, but my sense of humor took hold of me and I quickly said. "So you finally decided to make an honest woman of fluffy tail? Does this mean I should set up the tree house for the honeymoon? Or should I just roast up a ton of chestnuts? Perhaps you'd prefer if I planted an acorn tree in celebration?"

My father looked at me in horror for a moment, but then saw the smile I was unsuccessfully trying to hide and started chuckling. I joined in and our chuckles became full laughter as my father sank into his recliner in relief. "Okay, you got me," he said. "I was sure you would cause trouble over this. I know you have not been able to date much since you didn't want your dates to find out, but I'd worried that it was because you were ashamed of the relationship."

"Ashamed? Of the fact that my father has found a woman he loves? Laura loves you as deeply and truly as any woman could love a man. Her life away from work revolves around making you happy," I replied. "I could never be ashamed of you or Laura. I just couldn't leave the bloody pure patrol without a good reason, and if they found out about Laura, the fights they would start with me in school might interrupt my studies."

I picked up the picture from the coffee table. I still remember that day and the wonderful feeling of being a part of a family, even if most of my friends would have cursed me for being in the picture. My father is a big man, six feet tall, and most of it muscle. He is a bit lighter than me because his workouts concentrate on fitness and endurance while I'm still trying to maintain the strength necessary for football, but it was the woman standing between us who seemed to dominate the picture, even if she was only five foot three or so.

I once told Laura that she was one of the most beautiful women I ever had the pleasure to meet. I am sure she did not believe me then, and probably still questions my feelings towards her. After all, how many members of a militant anti-MORFS organization would admire a squirrel hybrid, let alone accept her as a potential stepmother.

"Father, she makes you happy. Heck, she makes me happy. There is something about her. I know you have been lonely since mother ran away from reality, but she offers you a chance to build a new family. I only ask that I get to stand as the best man at the wedding." I smiled at him and turned the picture to remind him of that day.

"Hector, if she says 'yes' there is no one else I would or could ask to stand as my best man," my father said. He stood up and picked up the jewelry box. "Here, see the ring I got for her."

The box opened to reveal a spectacular diamond ring, surrounded by a set of deep red rubies. "Wow, this is going to be a special birthday for Laura. Do you want me to make myself scarce tonight?" I asked.

Father laughed. "No, I want her to see your smile when I propose. She's been even more worried than me about how you would react. She's convinced that you are just biding your time until you can completely embarrass her."

I paused for a moment. "I guess this means I shall cook dinner while you entertain her before the meal," I mused. "As a way to show her that I welcome her into the family."

My father paled for a moment. "Um ... I want her feeling good and happy tonight at dinner, not sick to her stomach," he said, although he smiled at me. "It's not a bad thought, but I think we should save that for when your skills are a bit more developed."

I laughed and reached over to pick up my books. "Well, I'll go to my room to finish my homework. Call me down once dinner is ready."

I stood up and headed up the stairs to my room as I heard my father go into the kitchen and start moving items around. He was whistling happily and I had to smile. Laura's entry into his life had definitely turned to around, and our home was a much nicer place since she first entered his office looking to buy insurance.

My homework wasn't overly difficult, but there was quite a lot of it. I was trying to maintain at least a perfect four point average for the semester, so I took my time and was just completing my English assignment for the week when I heard the sound of the garage doors opening. I quickly organized my books for later use and grabbed the package I had hidden under my desk for the last week. I had remembered Laura saying that it was difficult to find any clothing, which could accommodate her tail, and after a discussion with my father, had tracked down a company that designed clothing for women like her. The special order I placed had arrived last Saturday, and I was hoping she would enjoy having and wearing something elegant. With that I hurried down the stairs just as my father shouted. "Hector! Laura's here."

I ran down the steps and surprised Laura by sweeping her up into a hug. "Happy Birthday!" I shouted as my arms wrapped around her. She giggled and then pushed me away.

"Back off, boy!" she said with a laugh. "What would your father think?"

My father was standing behind her holding a pan and wearing a chef's hat. "His father is right here. And as long as it's only a hug, I'll only feel a little jealous. After all, you did say you would save your kisses for me?"

Laura broke away from me and turned to my father, sweeping him up in a passionate embrace and kiss that lasted quite a while. "I just better not find you giving your kisses to anyone else," she said as she broke the embrace and stepped back to remove her glasses.

I guess now would be the perfect time to describe the woman my father loves. As I hinted before, she's a petite squirrel hybrid who entered our lives about a year ago when she was hired to teach second grade at Liberty Elementary. She is the first hybrid to teach at the school. She stands about five foot three with long black hair that she always ties up in a bun while at school. Her face doesn't show much sign of the changes, but her arms, body and legs are covered by light brown fur, and she has an impressive fur covered tail, which reaches the top of her head when she is excited.

I found that I had to duck said tail as she excitedly started smelling the aroma coming from the kitchen. "Wow! Something smells wonderful." Her tail swept up and down as she took a deep breath and then smiled at my father. "You must have pulled out all the stops. I smell sesame, peanut and even some walnut? I know you love to tease me about being crazy for nuts, but this is too much."

"Not for a birthday," my father said. "Now if you will excuse me, dinner will be ready in just a minute. Hector why don't you go and finish setting the table while Laura takes a moment to freshen up."

I recognized the dismissal and headed to the dining area, trying to hide the package I was holding. I found that my father had already set out the plates and silverware, so it only took a few moments to set the glasses on the table. While I was busy doing that I almost stumbled over a wine bucket my father put up between the chairs where he and Laura usually sat. I made sure to fill it with ice and found the white wine my father had cooling in the refrigerator. At least I think it was a white wine, it's not a subject I know much about. It was obvious he wanted this to be a perfect dinner.

"Dad!" I shouted. "The table is ready. I'm going to go and make myself a bit more presentable."

"Be quick, you know that Laura isn't going to take too long to get ready," was the muffled reply from my father as he checked on the dish he had cooking in the oven.

I made a mad dash upstairs and changed into the outfit I had used the previous year when I had participated in several debate contests. It wasn't quite a professional business suit, but it was formal and Laura said that it looked good on me. I returned to the dining room to find my father lighting a candle in the middle of the table. Now also dressed formally himself, he called up the stairs. "Laura! Dinner is ready. You should come down while it's still hot!"

There was a cry of joy from upstairs and Laura came down the stairs in a quick leap. She was dressed in a fetching green mini-skirt and blouse set which set off her brown fur. The smile on her face was completely unfeigned and she seemed to flow into my father's arms. He and I both laughed. He gave her a quick kiss and then released her to pull out her chair.

Laura giggled as she took her seat, carefully pushing her tail so that the back of the chair did not crush it. As she settled in, my father turned and pulled a sizzling pan from the oven. "Tonight's entrée will be a sesame and peanut chicken with a walnut potato au gratin," he said as he turned back to the table. "Laura, it's your birthday, you have the honor of being served first."

He carefully set the pan down and taking Laura's plate began cutting the meat. The smell was heavenly and Laura was almost bouncing in her chair as my father finished serving me and then filling his own plate. He returned the pan to the stove and then opened the wine and poured glasses for Laura and himself. "Sorry, Hector. But you'll have to suffer through cider."

Laura giggled and I smiled and showed him that I'd filled my glass earlier. "In that case, I claim the right to the first toast. To Laura on her birthday, may others find her smile and joy as wonderful as I."

Laura looked closely at me as we gently brought our glasses together. I could almost see the wheels in her mind turning about what I had said. My father smiled and waited until we all had taken a sip of our drinks.

"Well, let's save the remaining toasts for after the meal. Laura I cooked this specially for you as I know how much you love your nuts."

Laura just laughed. "Must be the squirrel in me I guess." She started to dig into the dish before her and in moments the only sound in the room was the three of us cutting and eating the wonderful meal my father had created. Dinner passed quickly as we emptied our plates and took in the familial moment. My father smiled as Laura finally finished, seemingly disappointed that there were no more nuts to nibble on.

The candle had burned down about half its length when my father coughed quietly and looked towards me. I nodded and reached underneath my chair to pull out the package I had brought down earlier. As I did my father removed the plates from the table.

"Laura, today is your birthday and it's only right that you receive a few gifts," I said as I brought the present above the table. "This here is for you."

The package brought a smile to Laura and she took it gingerly. With careful motions she carefully unwrapped what I handed her, revealing a two elaborate clothing boxes. There was a nervous giggle and then she them on the table. She struggled for a moment to open the first one, found the tape holding it closed and parted it with her fingernails. Pulling the cover away revealed an elegant black dress. Laura at first looked puzzled, but then held up the dress to see the specially cut slit in the back designed to wrap around a tail and still flow below it.

"Is this?" she said as she looked at me.

"I had noticed that all your outfits were skirts or slacks," I replied. "I did some research over the internet and found that most hybrids who had tails complained that dresses rarely fit properly, unless they were nearly backless and had a snap just above the tail. It took some searching, but I found a designer in of Seattle who developed some tail friendly dresses and nightgowns. Dad helped by providing your measurements so I could get everything made."

She turned to look at my father. "Is that true?" she asked him. "You do realize that giving such information to a teenage boy is not wise. You just offered him prime blackmail material." Laura then spoiled the moment by giggling.

My father and I smiled as she carefully returned the black dress to its box and then opened the next box. She gasped as she revealed a lacy red nightgown. "Why Hector? What ever do you think of me?" she said with a giggle.

"Well, you are sexy, intelligent, and have brought so much happiness to my father that it's an honor to know you," I replied.

Laura's laughter was so much like birdsong. "Ooh, so this is really a gift for your father. Now I get it."

My father coughed again. Laura turned to look at him and I noticed that she missed the fact that my father was holding his right hand below the table. He waited for a moment and then spoke. "I think Hector has given me a perfect lead in. Laura, just over a year ago you walked into my office looking for some insurance and you walked into my life. Since then you have been a warm and loving lady who has reminded me just how wonderful life is. Tonight, we are celebrating your birthday, but I'm hoping that we can celebrate something even more special." He brought his hand up from below the table to reveal the engagement ring he had shown me earlier. "Laura, you mean everything to me, and I would be greatly honored if you would grant me the greatest gift by becoming my wife."

The box dropped from Laura's hands and she lowered her head to the table. Suddenly she gave a small sob and then looked up at my father with tears in her eyes. "Yes," she whispered. "Yes, I will marry you." With surprising speed she flew out of her chair to envelop my father and give him a deep and passionate kiss. The kiss continued and I noticed her hands going to the buttons on his shirt and start to undress him. I smothered a laugh and with a quick wave retreated from the dining room to give them some privacy.

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Story tagged with:
Romantic / Science Fiction / Slow / Transformation /