Near Enough Is Never Good Enough
By Cassandra Foxx © 2004
(Based on an idea by Eric Kern [a.k.a. Kathris])

She walked down the corridors through the Gateway Station a little slower than most, seemingly taking her time. Everyone who'd seen her over the last three months as the liner Star Princess had made the run from Earth to Chakona, knew that the young femme foxtaur had a problem by the way her legs didn't seem to move as smoothly as others of her kind did. She had spent most of the trip in her cabin, but as the Star Princess sat docked with the Chakona Gateway, she made her slow and quiet way from Customs down to the main shuttle bay, where a shuttle from the Star Princess was waiting to take her down to Chakona.

A pilot and officer from the Star Princess were waiting there, the pilot nonchalant and relaxed, the officer somewhat nervous. "So, sir, what's the rundown with this passenger?"

The Lieutenant-Commander looked at the pilot, who was just a Lieutenant, and replied as he paced slowly. "She's a medical case. Can't be transported." He looked at his watch and continued to pace. "Where is she?"

"I don't care," the pilot replied. "She'll get here eventually. Besides, Commander, we get people like this all the time. It's just another part of the routine." He moved and checked inside the shuttle again. Emerging, he added, "Mind you, they pay a hefty fee for the trouble."

"Indeed," the Commander said absently as the doors to the shuttle bay opened. In walked the young vixetaur. The Commander managed to crease his face with something approximating a smile and said, "Your shuttle is ready, Miss. I hope everything on the Star Princess during the voyage was to your satisfaction?"

"Eminently, Commander," came the reply in a lovely voice that sounded a little strained. "I have had all my expectations so far fulfilled." The pilot came and took her luggage into the shuttle as she looked at the Commander. "I need to land in a certain city. Is that possible?"

"Of course it is," came a reply from inside the shuttle. The Commander's smile drooped somewhat at being pre-empted, but reasserted itself as the young vixetaur looked back at him. "Indeed, Miss..."

"Silverback," she replied in her slightly off-centre voice. "Miss Kera Silverback."

"Of course," the Commander acknowledged. "Just tell your pilot where it is you want to be landed and he will certainly oblige you."

The pilot indicated that she could board now. As she went on board, she looked at the Commander and said, "I'm grateful to you and the rest of the staff for all your hospitality, Commander. Thank you for everything." She gave him a nice, shy smile. The Commander's pseudo-smile seemed to change a little and became more genuine as the ramp at the rear of the shuttle started to rise. He moved back to the control console for the shuttle bay and started the launching sequence.

In the cockpit, the pilot was making Kera comfortable. He noticed she had a little trouble bending and sitting down, but she made it eventually and he strapped her in. "Thank you, Lieutenant."

"Hey, call me Rusty, Miss. It's what everyone calls me." He tousled the mop of russet-red hair that adorned his head.

For the first time, Kera seemed to show a little bit of genuine amusement. "That hair looks like it should be on top of a tod's head. Are you sure you're not partially Voxxan or Vulpine?"

"Nope. Just born lucky, I guess," Rusty replied as he sat down and strapped in. "You just sit tight, Miss Kera, and enjoy the view. I'll give you a really smooth ride down." Kera did so as she saw the doors to the bay open, then felt the slight bump as the shuttle rose on its anti-gravs and move forward. There was the slight tingle of passing through the magnetic barrier over the doorway, then they were in open space. Below, Chakona glowed in all its glory. "So, where are we headed, Miss Kera?" Rusty asked as he saw her looking down at the planet below with a little awe.

"Umm... Amistad," she answered. "I have business to conduct there."

"Righty-oh, then. Amistad it is. It's a nice town. Know quite a few people there myself, mostly chakats and a few skunktaurs that go there from their archipelago and are good friends." He turned to look at her. "I always try and get the Chakona run. It's such a great place to come to."

"I hope so," Kera almost whispered. She looked down on the planet that held her one, final hope for a normal life.

*             *             *

Re-entry and the landing were very smooth, just as Rusty had promised, especially compared to the ride Kera had had going up to the Star Princess from Earth. She was actually sorry to leave Rusty, and thanked him profusely as she left the shuttle. "That was the smoothest ride I've ever had. Thanks again, Rusty."

"It's nothing, Miss Kera. Take care, and I hope you find what you're looking for." He waved to her as Kera walked towards the terminal building. "Damn! Wish every passenger was like that," Rusty said to himself as ground crews approached. "The job would be perfect if they were."

Kera waited in the terminal for what seemed like an interminably long time, but eventually she found her way to the hotel were she was booked in. Finally making it into her room, she put her bags down and seemed to sag visibly, now she was alone. Kera looked down at a rather complicated computer unit on her left arm that was far more than a personal data-unit. Noting the readings it was giving off, she opened one of her cases and retrieved a smaller case that, once opened, revealed vials of liquids and hypo-syringes. Kera sat down and winced as she injected herself three times with three different vials. Sighing as she watched the readings on her Bio-comp unit return to normal, she whispered, "It has to work. It has to. I'm almost out of time. I can't take this anymore." Kera pulled a copy of the magazine Scientific Chakat from her bag and took a look at a single article in it, dated six months ago. "You're the last chance I have."

*             *             *

The next day, Kera walked in her slow way to a certain building that was mentioned in the article in the magazine. It was very clean and sterile inside, like the hospitals she knew so well. Eventually, a cheetah-spotted chakat came out to greet her. "Are you here for the clinical trial?"

Kera smiled as warmly as she could. "Yes, I'm here for the Transporter experiments."

"Good. Just take a seat, and the Professor will be out in a minute." Shi moved back behind a reception desk as Kera lowered herself onto a couch. Soon, a tiger-striped chakat come out, wearing a lab coat.

"I'm Professor Oceanwalker, but you can just call me Professor if you wish," shi said with a smile, motioning Kera to follow hir. "Now, what can I do for you?"

"I saw your article in Scientific Chakat, Professor. About you being able to change the species of a person using a transporter. I need you to help me using your procedure," Kera explained as they walked along.

Oceanwalker motioned Kera into an office. Shi noted the way Kera was walking, and the way she'd risen and sat down as shi sat down hirself. It was obvious to Oceanwalker that there was something seriously wrong with her. "Need my procedure? That's a pretty strong term. Let's get some details first, shall we?" Oceanwalker picked up a pad and asked, "I need your name and personal information so I know who you are."

Nervously, Kera answered. "My name is Kera Silverback. I'm currently residing at the Ridian Hotel in Amistad, room 6A."

"Alright, now, what's your age, what species are we trying to make you, and who should we contact in the event that all doesn't go well?"

"I'm 28, and I don't have any family left to speak of," Kera replied, her nervousness growing. "I guess you could always contact Doctor David Graven of the Institute for Rehabilitational Research in Brisbane, Australia on Terra. He's been looking after me for the last ten years."

Oceanwalker found this strange, but not unacceptable. "And the species you wish to become? I take it it's another taur?"

"No, Professor. I want you to make me into a... a vixetaur," Kera replied, her nervousness becoming even more pronounced.

Oceanwalker was now very confused. "You want me to change you into a vixetaur? Isn't that rather.... circular?"

Kera's nervousness seemed to peak. "It's... a very long story, Professor, but it's what I need you to do."

Oceanwalker could see there was something here shi wasn't understanding. "Maybe you should just start from the beginning."

Kera nodded. 'Well, you see, I wasn't always as you see me, now." She put her hands behind her and tapped her lower back. "This wasn't always here. I was once a... human. A male human."

Oceanwalker's eyes opened wide at this. No-one but hirself had ever managed to perfect the transporter-based species-switching process before. There was more here than shi could yet see. "Go on, please." Shi said.

"It all started about ten years ago," Kera started to explain. "My parents and I were travelling around Australia by ground-car, having a nostalgic vacation. But the trip wasn't completed. Some human supremacists, trying to kill some morphs who were travelling the same route as we were, planted a bomb under the old road, covering it up and leaving it there. But they'd gotten their timing wrong, and we were in front of the car with the morphs in it. The bomb destroyed the car we were travelling in." Oceanwalker could see the tears welling up in Kera's eyes. "My... parents were killed outright, but when the med-teams found the wreck, they managed to extract me from it... minus my legs and a good section of pelvis. I was effectively crippled." Kera wiped her eyes.

"And what happened next? That doesn't really explain why you're as you are now," Oceanwalker replied.

Kera went on, "You see, I nearly died so many times, it wasn't funny. The bombers were found, my testimony was enough to condemn them to death or rehabilitation, and I was placed on the organizationís hit list. It was Doctor Graven, who took me in after I started to recover, and who gave me an option: to hide myself as another species." Kera patted her lower legs. "This lower body of mine is all cybernetic. I've been living as a vixetaur now for nine years, taking hormones to keep me feminine and anti-rejection drugs to keep the fur grafts and other grafts from being rejected." She shifted slightly. "Originally, it was fun, and being able to walk around was something that was absolutely wonderful after being stuck in a bed and wheelchairs for a year."

Oceanwalker accepted what she said for the moment, and asked, "So, if this new body of yours is so good, why do you want to change things?"

Kera looked at hir, desperation creeping into her eyes. "Professor, the drugs aren't working anymore. I have less than three months before my body starts to overcome the drugs' lessening effects and begins to reject the grafts and cybernetics, and if I don't find a way around them, I'll either be back to square one or I could die. There's nothing more Doctor Graven can do for me. And I can't get a transplant or another graft, either, because the drugs have slowly ruined my immune system. My physical body just couldn't handle the shock." Kera's head drooped towards the floor. "I had resigned myself to dying before I read your article. You're literally my last hope."

Oceanwalker was unsure about what shi'd been told. "Alright. Say for a minute I don't believe you. What proof can you offer me that what you've been telling me is real and not a deluded fantasy?" Kera nodded, then moved her rear around slowly until her lower body was close to the Professor. As Oceanwalker watched, two panels on Kera's back opened up, revealing the complex electronics and mechanisms inside. Oceanwalker, a little stunned at this, peered in. Nodding, shi sat back as the panels closed again. "That's very convincing proof, Kera." She stated with a smile. "So, I think you're definitely a candidate. But what can we do about your cybernetic body when we do the change? I don't think it would be wise to include it in the transport."

Facing Oceanwalker again, Kera explained "I can detach from this part of me with help. It's not easy on me, but it's not too hard to do with some assistance. Then you could just leave it behind when you convert me."

"Yes, that could work," Oceanwalker nodded. "But are you sure you want to be a vixetaur? Wouldn't you rather want to become human again, or a todtaur? After all, you were male before," shi asked.

Kera answered firmly, her voice changing from one filled with nervousness to one filled with conviction "I'm sure. I am a vixetaur now in every way but one, and I like being Kera. I have plenty of friends who know me as Kera, and I'm studying for doctorates in genetics and cybernetics. Besides, I have nothing else to return to." She lowered her head, a slight tear trickling out into her cheek fur.

Oceanwalker nodded. "I understand. One other good thing is you're already skilled in walking on four legs and talking with a muzzle, not to mention dealing with a tail." Shi grinned. "I think we can do what you want." Shi rose up and motioned for Kera to follow hir. "The first thing we want to do is get a scan of your pattern, to see if there's any inconsistencies that might prevent the program from accepting you. Also, we can log down your current fur pattern and add it to the new pattern we'll be placing you in."

"You can do that?" Kera asked, surprised.

"It's something we've developed just recently." Oceanwalker said with a little pride. "We can now customise your new form, to some extent. It's not as completely customisable as I would like it to be, but if we have a scan of your fur pattern and colour, we can now overlay it on the basic transporter pattern we will use on you. That's the part of the process I'm trying to improve at this time." Oceanwalker turned and looked at Kera. "We could also make you a little younger, if you wish. We have some vixetaur patterns that range from 15 years old to 30 years old. Maybe you'd like to start again, but a little younger." Shi motioned Kera up onto the transporter pad.

"Maybe, if I could become eighteen again..." Kera said softly as she took her position on the pad.

Oceanwalker scanned the vixetaur in front of hir, then handed the results off to a young Voxxan assistant. "Well, I'll review this data and get back to you later. I'll call you in the morning, if you like, or you may stay here until we've evaluated the data and then we can begin."

Kera came slowly down off the pad and replied, "I do feel weary and it's not all just the drugs. Maybe I should return to my hotel for the night."

Oceanwalker smiled softly. "All right, then. You do that, and I'll call you in the morning when we're ready for you."

"Thank you, Professor. I can't tell you what this means to me." Kera said, then she turned and followed the receptionist out to the doors. Kera felt her weariness try to flood her, so she ordered a taxi back to the hotel, then crashed into an exhausted sleep as soon as she'd secured herself in her room and made it to the bed.

*             *             *

Professor Oceanwalker carefully reviewed the scans shi'd gotten from Kera, amazed at the sophistication in her cybernetic lower body. She had told hir everything truthfully, for the scans revealed it all. The program said it had no problems in dealing with the cybernetic body. Oceanwalker, however, thought differently. "Maybe it would be best for her to disconnect, and we'll go on her organic parts only." Shi could see that several of Kera's internal organs, such as the intestines and bladder, had been replaced with cybernetic equivalents and that her lower spine was socketed into a connection with her lower body, providing control for her. But that wouldn't matter when it came to the transport, when all that would be replaced with living, vibrant organic tissue. "This is going to be the best use of the process we've ever put it to." Oceanwalker said softly to hirself. Shi had always dreamed of helping people like Kera who were disabled in some way. Changing those who wanted to be something else, either just for the thrill of being another species, or even for love, was not what shi'd originally set up the process for. Now, with Kera being the first truly needy case for hir process, Oceanwalker knew that it would finally fulfil the design shi'd had for it all along.

It took Oceanwalker less than two hours to reconfigure the pattern of a eighteen-year-old female foxtaur shi had on file with Kera's fur pattern, and customise the body slightly to make her as pretty as possible. Then, as a huge yawn overtook hir, Oceanwalker laid hirself out on the big comfy couch shi always kept ready at the back of hir office and slept.

*             *             *

As Kera slept, she moaned and shifted about restlessly, memories invading her sleep and troubling her mind. She groaned as she dreamed, images of fire raced over her, a terrible noise filled her ears, then nothing but pain. Her eyes focussed upwards, still seeing but showing no signs of life. Then she heard voices, imprinting themselves on her psyche. Shapes of people appeared around her as she lay there, and she recognised them. As every night, they were the humans who had planted the bomb that killed her parents. She heard them again and again, always the same words:-

"Are you sure we got them?" said one voice.

"No way they could survive.... Oh Hell! This is the wrong car!" another one of them added.

"What? That's impossible! We saw the animals head out this morning first!" a third person stated. Kera fixed the voices in her mind with the faces she saw.

"That as may be, but these aren't the freaks in this car, they're human, three of them," said the second voice.

"Damn it all! What are we gonna do now?" the first voice, the youngest voice, asked with an air of frustration.

The voice she heard then was so smug, it made her hate it all the more every time. It was older, and was their leader. "Simple. We blame the whole thing on the freaks and make it look like they did it. Then these three will become martyrs to the cause and we get lots of free publicity. Come on, we'd better make ourselves scarce before the rescue teams get here." And they fled.

Kera laid there for she didn't know how long, then others appeared. Rescue workers in their bright uniforms came to her and when they found that she was still alive, they lifted her out of the wreck. She didn't know that her legs and a fair bit of her pelvis were left behind in the wreck. She only found that out later on.

It was a month later that another human face insinuated itself into her life, in the form of Dr David Graven, who helped her regain her strength and made sure she was ready for the trial. It was long and drawn out, but with her memories burned deep into her mind, her testimony sealed their fate. The leader shouted out as he was lead away "You're a dead man, Simkins! You won't live out the year!"

Then Kera awoke, saliva and foam streaming through the fur around her muzzle and with a small yelp slipping out as well as she came fully awake and realised where she was. She looked at the clock which read 3:00AM Standard Chakonan time, and she flopped back onto the bed. Deep racking sobs filled her chest as she said softly, "No, no! Not here, not now! I thought this was all over!" She eventually rolled over onto her other side and tried to get back to sleep, but it continued to elude her for the rest of the morning.

*             *             *

When Kera walked back into the centre again later that morning, Oceanwalker was there waiting for her. "I have the results of your tests, Kera, and you seem to be a prime candidate for conversion," shi said happily. Kera was overjoyed. "But we will have to detach you from your cyberbody. It might have some unusual effects if we don't."

"That's all right, I can deal with that," Kera replied. "Will the process take long?"

"About three minutes from start to finish. Also, I'll have to measure your upper-body weight without your cyberbody in order to know how much organic material we will have to include in the process," Oceanwalker answered. "How hard is it for you to disengage from your cybernetic half?"

"It's not too hard," Kera explained. "All I need to do is disengage the locking clamps that hold my hips in place, then have someone lift me while I unplug myself from the computer. Once that's done, though, I can't really move around much, and I can't be disconnected for much past four hours."

"That's not a problem," Oceanwalker reassured her. "You won't be without your other half for any longer than half-an-hour before you'll have a new body taking its place." Oceanwalker led Kera down to the lab, where a large transporter array stood waiting. Two other chakats and some humans stood waiting there as well. "I need you to disengage, Kera. Chakats Bluewater and Greyhame here will help you get around."

Kera nodded, then the section of her lower body around her hips seemed to expand like a flower. "Grab my shoulders and lift me." She said. The chakats moved either side of her, lifted her up by her shoulders and there was a faint noise of metal stroking metal as she slid free of the mounting points of her lower body. Oceanwalker could see the plates that had been grafted into her reconstructed pelvis for attachment to a cybernetic body, and the hoses and cyber-link connections running out of the base of her spine and abdomen, which Kera proceeded to unplug. Now totally helpless, Kera was carried over to some grav-scales where her weight was measured, then she was returned to Oceanwalker's side.

Oceanwalker pointed to a display which showed a vixetaur's image on it. "This is what you'll look like after the procedure."

Kera looked with intense interest. The body was incredibly beautiful to her eyes, young, voluptuous and very attractive with her old fur pattern all over it. "That's going to be me? It's gorgeous!"

"Yes, and as soon as they bring the correct amount of bio-solution, we can make you into your new form." Oceanwalker replied. Kera waited, then watched with interest as a circular vat with some rather icky-looking goo was brought in. She was then placed next to it, the chakats gently lowering her to the floor. Supporting herself on her hands, she waited expectantly. Professor Oceanwalker powered up the transporter and Kera felt very light as she was dissolved into her component molecules. "It felt as if I was riding on the softest clouds," Kera commented later. Then any sensations at all ceased.

As soon as Oceanwalker received the reports that Kera's mind matrix pattern was stable, shi began to feed in the new physical pattern shi had put together last night. As it overlayed itself on top of Kera's original pattern, warning signals started appearing on the control board. "Hmmm... her hip plates seem to be interfering with the pattern realignment." Oceanwalker readjusted the settings to have the plates deleted from Kera's pattern sequence and rematerialised immediately. "The computer mustn't have liked the idea of rematerialising them at the same time," shi concluded as the warnings died down and the control panel resumed its normal functioning. Once the plates had been removed and shi had checked that the new physical pattern was stable, as well as that the mind matrix had reintegrated normally and the final safety checks had come back positive, Oceanwalker activated the rematerialisation sequence.

Kera felt herself reassemble, as if waking from a dream. She felt dizzy for a moment, then her natural sense of balance reasserted itself. She looked around, puzzled, then looked down at herself. A smile of pure ecstasy crossed her face as she saw herself standing on four legs again. Reaching behind herself, she ran one hand gently over her lower back and this time she felt every part of the soft stroke, in a way she'd never felt it before. Purring, she checked the rest of her new form over and she realised her fur pattern was slightly different. Instead of an off-whitish grey, her back-stripe which had given her name was now a real silver, bright and shiny. Also, her tail-tip and ear-tips were silver as well, replacing the off-white grey. Her fur coat was longer than it had been, with medium-length fur that felt so soft, and long russet-red hair that reached down past her lower back and to her front legs. She walked down off the transporter array carefully, feeling for her new body's balance, then asked, "Well? How do I look?"

Oceanwalker smiled, and the others grinned. "You look positively radiant, Kera." Oceanwalker replied. "The look really suits you. And you handle yourself as if you were born to that body."

One of the other assistants brought something over to Kera. "A souvenir."

Kera looked at them and saw that these were the plates that had been attached to her hips. She knew now how they had been fitted into her pelvic bones, the barbed protrusions from the backs of them looking cruel and horrible, and she shuddered slightly at the thought of how these would have been bonded into what was left of her hips. "Glad to be rid of these," she said softly, and Oceanwalker nodded.

"What do you want to do with your old body?" Oceanwalker pointed to where her cyber-body stood, quiescent.

Kera walked over to it, the memories still somewhat painful but happy as well. "I think I'll send it back to the Institute on Terra. Maybe someone else might have need of it, but I sincerely hope it'll end up as a museum piece." Kera placed the attachment plates inside the front cavity and looked at Oceanwalker. "Professor, could you have it packed up for me? I'll pay for the freight costs back to Earth."

"I'll have it packed up and returned to you," Professor Oceanwalker agreed. "Now, come this way. There are a few more tests we have to run, and then you can go home."

Three hours later, Kera walked out of the building, feeling tired but extremely satisfied. The tests had all been very positive, with no instabilities in her new body at all. Now, she was feeling tired, but also very hungry. As she passed by a nice take-away, she stopped and ordered two huge sub sandwiches. She had never felt this hungry before, but Kera knew that her new body had much bigger stomachs than her human one used to have, and unlike her cybernetic body, this one didn't run on nuclear fuel cells. But she was surprised when she'd not only finished off both sandwiches but a litre of soft drink as well, yet she didn't feel stuffed, just comfortable. Purring to herself, Kera returned to her hotel. Kera ran a long, deep, hot bath, something she'd been unable to have for eight years, since her cyberbody wasn't that waterproof. It could stand rain and showers, but not total immersion. Kera relaxed into the gorgeously-hot water and felt all the tension just run out of her. She made use of the various fur shampoos and conditioners that the hotel thoughtfully provided, and after rinsing off, she tried out the fur dryer in the shower cubicle. The sensations of the hot air rushing through her new fur were totally different from the ones she remembered from before. Her entire body felt completely alive with the ticklish sensations as she brushed herself out while her fur dried, paying special attention to her lovely long hair, which now was as long as she'd always wished it would grow. Braiding it carefully for sleep as she exited the bathroom, Kera felt her weariness returning with increasing intensity as she entered the bedroom. She fell asleep barely five seconds after getting comfortable on the bed.

*             *             *

Oceanwalker, meanwhile, had taken time to look over this cybernetic body Kera had left behind. It was, shi decided, quite a piece of work, even down to having a life-support system to make up for Kera's partially-missing digestive tract. "Whoever designed this was very skilled, maybe even a genius. Disguising a fugitive human male as a female foxtaur. What an idea!" Oceanwalker grinned. "The ones who were after the male Kera had been must have been so confused when he vanished. A pity that it had to fail after working for so long," shi sighed. Shi watched as Bluewater and Greyhame brought in a large packing crate. Oceanwalker watched as they wrapped and sealed the body for shipping, then Bluewater pushed it into the crate, closed the side, filled it with packing and sealed the crate. "There. Hopefully by the time it's needed again, it won't be," Oceanwalker murmured softly to hirself.

"Where shall I put it, Professor?" Bluewater asked.

"Have it taken to the spaceport and ship it on the next available transport back to Terra." Oceanwalker answered. Once Bluewater was gone, shi added with a grin, "After all, medical goods pay only a fraction of the shipping costs everything else does." Something being shipped from one medical facility to another would cost Kera far less than if she tried to ship it home herself, Oceanwalker knew. Shi would bill Kera later. Right now, shi wanted to calibrate the transporter array and prepare for the next patients, whoever they were and whenever they arrived.

*             *             *

Kera was walking down to the local travel agent's office the next morning, eager to make a booking back to Earth. Although she wanted to see more of Amistad and Chakona, she did feel the longing to be home again churning in her heart. She was pleased to find that the next liner to call into Chakona and heading for Earth was the Star Princess again, in about three weeks time. She grinned. "I wonder if I could get the same cabin again? It was nice in there." She went inside and went up to the booking clerk, a nice ermine and grey chakat.

"Can I help you, Miss?" shi asked.

Kera smiled. "Yes, I'd like to book passage on the Star Princess for Terra, thank you."

"Certainly. Could I have your name and what class you're wanting to travel in?"

Kera looked over the layout of the ship on the monitor before her. Finding the cabin again, she replied, "Could I have Cabin 118 in First Class please? My name is Kera Silverback."

"Certainly, just one minute... there, you're booked in." The chakat looked at the screen and remarked, "I see that according to our records, you came out here on the Star Princess. Going back so soon?"

"Well it's not like it gets in here tomorrow, is it?" Kera grinned.

"True," replied the chakat with a grin.

"And if I do decide to stay a while, then I can either change my booking or I'll just cancel."

"That's your prerogative, sure. Just try and do it before the ship actually arrives, or it drives the purser crazy." Shi laughed.

"I'll do that." Kera laughed as well, then left with her ticket. Looking around, she realised that she really hadn't seen much of Chakona, but then again she did want to get back to Earth, even if it was just to see Dr Graven again. He had, in many ways, become sort-of a replacement parent for her, especially after the accident, keeping the press away and taking care of her until she got steady on her new legs. Kera remembered what it was like after the accident: the days of endless pain or drugged stupor as she healed, and once they were over came the trial when she was finally able to think coherently, and the near-riots outside the courthouse. Then the hiding and seclusion as she underwent so many operations to make her ready for her new body, like the muzzle and ear implants and fur grafts that changed her entire appearance; then there was adjusting to a new form with four legs and a tail, and the slow creep of femininity over her as she practised and was counselled, taught and tested until she was ready to face the outside world again. It had taken well over two years for those who looked after her to feel she was ready to start moving amongst other people again.

Kera moved along, the 'streets' here far easier to walk along than those on Earth. There were chakats everywhere and other races too. Here, she didn't stand out like a sore thumb, the way she had on Earth. Her movements had always been slow with her cybernetic body. It had been designed to be really only temporary while they cloned her a new lower body to attach in it's place. Then came the Human Supremist raid on the facility where the cloning was done and the massive damage they caused, shattering Kera's hopes of a quick change. By the time they were once again ready to clone the replacement body, her tests showed her immune system was so badly corrupted by the drugs she'd had to take that she couldn't receive a graft even if there had been one ready that day. Worse yet, the anti-rejection drugs were starting to lose their potency and Kera had been forced to take higher and higher doses to maintain their efficiency, and these were doing her harm as well. The only thing that seemed to be still working right were her hormone injections. She had told others at the college she attended that she suffered from a degenerative neural disease, and that they were working on a cure. That seemed to satisfy everyone.

Kera pulled up to a long bench and slid onto it, taking a breather. She needed to acclimatise to her new body and its limitations, and she was feeling tired. She closed her eyes and continued to reminisce of how the day finally came where she knew she was doomed. Dr Graven was the one to pronounce sentence.Ö

"Kera," Dr Graven said when he walked back into the examination room where she waited for the results of her latest tests, "I've got the results here, and..."

"They're not good, are they?" Kera finished.

"No, they're not." He handed them across. "It's gone beyond anything we can do for you at this time."

Kera looked over the reports and she'd seen enough of them to know what this one meant. Her immune system was trashed, her hormones levels were fluctuating, and the grafts were showing beginning signs of deterioration. Even her link with her cyber-body was starting to very slowly degrade. Kera sighed sadly. "I'm doomed," she said softly.

"I'm sorry, Kera." Dr Graven replied, his arms moving around her shoulder. "I wish there was better news. We're looking at a couple of things at the moment, but if they don't work then we estimate that your systems will eventually collapse, probably in about a year or so." Dr Graven looked straight at her. "I didn't think it was right to not tell you everything. You've proven yourself a fighter in the past, and I know you can hang on until we have a cure."

Kera sighed. "I'll try, Doc. I just hope there is one."

*             *             *

Then, nearly six months later, came the serendipitous happening that eventually saved Kera's life. While reading through a series of medical journals in her dentist's office, she came across a three-month-old copy of Scientific Chakat. Flicking through it idly, Kera's eyes nearly bugged out when she read the article about the trials being held on Chakona of a process to change or heal a body using transporter technology. Kera hung on every word, realising that this could save her and give her a normal body again. She stuffed the magazine into her shoulder bag, leaped to the reception desk and cancelled her appointment, then raced out of the office.

The receptionist looked extremely startled. When the dentist came out a few seconds later, he asked, "Where's Miss Silverback?"

The receptionist just looked at him and answered, in a stunned voice "She... she just... took off! She was reading a magazine, then jumped up, cancelled her appointment, then ran out!"

"How strange," the dentist replied. "I wonder what caused her to do that?"

The receptionist just shook her head in wonderment.

Kera, meanwhile, had raced off to the nearest travel agent. She needed to get to Chakona as quickly as possible, but she was told that the only ship headed for Chakona besides military vessels was the liner Star Princess, and that it would arrive at Chakona only after three months of touring places between Earth and there. Kera did some fast calculations, realised that she didn't want to hire a ship and the next direct flight would take too long to return for her to get to Chakona fast enough. It looked like the Star Princess was it. She booked a first-class cabin and started making arrangements to leave Earth for a time. It was a week later that she boarded the Star Princess and began the voyage that would save her life and lead her to where she was now.

Kera grinned as she realised she had beaten the odds. She looked around herself at the city of Amistad. She had never really associated much with others of her kind before, because she'd always been scared that they would be able to see past her story and reject her. Now, her confidence was up and she decided to see what it felt like to really be a 'taur amongst 'taurs. But then she got to her feet and swayed unsteadily on them as a wave of tiredness came over her. "Maybe... I'll go shopping tomorrow." Kera said to herself. Calling for a taxi, she retreated to her hotel and slept almost from before dusk until past dawn.

*             *             *

The next morning, two waiters from Room Service were heading up in the service elevator and talking. "So, you have the Lupine couple in Suite 6F, eh? They still going at it?" the first one, a young Voxxan who was working his way around space, asked.

"Yep!" the second one replied. He was a Feline that had immigrated from Earth after the Humans First riots when his company had transferred him out here for his safety. "Those two could almost be like the old stories of breeding rabbits, you know?" They laughed. "So, who are you serving, Matker?" the feline asked.

"That vixetaur in 6A, you know, the one that's been in and out of here every day since she's been here? The one that basically goes out, comes back in and never leaves her room for anything else? I wonder what's behind that?" The Voxxan named Matker asked.

"Who knows? Maybe she's dealing drugs."

"Naah. I could have smelled them if she had them. No, there's something else going on here. Desk said she came in yesterday at dusk and went straight up to her room. She looked really tired out, you know."

"Maybe that's it." The feline replied. "Maybe she's a hooker."

Matker snorted. "Get your mind out of the Terran gutters, Sebast. No need for hookers here." Matker though for a moment. "I did smell medicines in her stuff, though, some pretty powerful ones, when I brought it up here. Maybe she's here for medical treatment."

"Yeah, that could really tire you out." Sebast agreed as the doors of the lift opened on Floor 6. "See you later, pal," he said as he headed off down the opposite corridor. Matker nodded and headed into the section containing Suite A. This was the second-richest section of the hotel, he knew. The rooms here were very expensive and only the penthouse was above them. "Whoever she is, she has to have plenty of credits," he commented under his breath. Stopping outside her door, he rang the bell and waited

Kera had awoken slowly that morning, purring softly to herself as she stretched completely for the first time in ten years. Oh, her old body could do the motions, but it never felt as good as it did now. She spent several minutes just stretching and feeling the incredible pleasure of being whole again. Then her new body told her it had requirements too. Kera giggled as she headed for the bathroom. She also showered, exulting in the sheer pleasure of being able to feel herself all over now. Before, her cybernetic body never really could 'feel' as such. This one, though, sent shivers of delight through her as she slowly brushed its fur out after her shower. "Goddess, I never really knew what I was missing out on." Kera said to herself as she brushed under herself. "This is gonna be fun, finding out what I can do now." Then the doorbell rang. "Dammit!" she said, slightly miffed. "Just when I was nearly finished." Kera marched out to the front door, not yet realising she was still naked.

Matker was standing there about to press the button again, when the door opened to reveal a sight that sent his heart racing and his hormones soaring. There she stood, naked, in front of him. Her body was even more beautiful, now that he was seeing it up close. She was slim, yet 'stacked' as his friend would have said. And what a fur pattern! "Yes?" She asked, and her voice was like liquid silver to his ears.

"Uhhhhh..." He started, then shook himself. "Your breakfast, Miss." He indicated the trolley.

Kera smiled and moved aside. "Come in," she said, her voice welcoming.

Matker wheeled the trolley into her dining area and began to set up as he surreptitiously watched Kera walk around the room, still naked. He was glad of his apron, hiding what the sight of her and her pheromones were doing to him. "Gods!" he thought. "She is so absolutely gorgeous! And she looks a lot younger than they said she did. They said she looked about forty, but she's no older than eighteen, I'd swear it!" He finished setting up the table with a meal that would have satisfied three bipeds, but was standard for a 'taur. "Is... there anything else, Miss?" he asked courteously, but his hormones were still churning hard as he turned and saw a sight that had him harder than ever. Kera was brushing her long hair out, and her arms being held over her head only accentuated her large bust. Matker nearly fainted with frustration as she turned to look at him, her body just so.... incredible. Her scent was very strong, almost as if she was in heat, but she wasn't acting like she was. Then she walked over towards him.

Kera was feeling... sensuous. There was something in the air, something that made her feel ever-so-sexy. She had realised that she had no top on, but for some reason, she felt no need to put one on yet... not with that handsome young Voxxan tod in the room. Something about him seemed so attractive, but she couldn't quite understand why. Then as she approached him, she could see that he was erect in his pants. She then knew he had been watching her and was excited by her attractive new body. She felt flattered, but didn't understand why she was feeling aroused too. She then sniffed and realised what it was. They were both putting out huge quantities of pheromones. That was it! He had started putting out male pheromones when he had first seen her, and her body was responding to his by putting out her own pheromonic messengers. No wonder she felt so aroused! Now she was face-to-face with him and felt his presence almost like a palpable cloud around him. "Ummm.... Thank you." Kera said.

"Nnnnnno problem, Muh..mi..misss." Matker replied, barely able to hold himself in check. He knew that he'd be finished here if he did what his body was screaming out for him to do.

Kera could see how hard he was and knew that it must be painful for him. She'd been that way, too, in a distant past. "Come with me," Kera said as she led him through her room to the bathroom, smiling at him. To Matker's sheer delight and terror, she unbuttoned his fly and took his rod of iron out of his pants. Then, holding him in one hand and turning his head to one side, Kera kissed him full-on, locking her fangs around his and plunging her tongue down his throat. Matker couldn't hold back any longer and he blasted everywhere inside the shower stall, his ejaculate spurting so hard it hit the opposite wall and splattered all over the walls. On and on the kiss went until he was spent. Then he almost collapsed into Kera's arms, the ecstasy and relief of release so overpowering. Kera smiled. He could really kiss and that was the best kiss she'd ever had in her life. But the smell of his cum was driving her crazy as well, and she didn't want to get any hornier or this guy would not leave her room that day. She lifted him and carried him out, laying him on the bed as her tail shut the bathroom door. Now that he was down, she carefully cleaned him up and returned his sheath to his pants.

Matker lay there, blissed. He'd had sex before, but never had a single kiss had such an effect on him. He didn't want to really go and as he looked up, her face appeared above him, smiling softly. She now had a top on and it seemed to soothe his tortured hormones. He closed his eyes and lay still, recovering. Kera left him there and went out into the dining area. She had finished breakfast by the time Matker staggered out of the bedroom, looking more like himself. Matker straightened up his hair and uniform, then turned to look at Kera, slightly embarrassed. "Ummm... Miss, I'm sorry for..."

Kera rose and walked over to him, then placed her finger over his lips. "No apology necessary." She said softly. "I should apologise for teasing you like that. I just hope it won't get you into trouble."

Matker grinned uneasily. "It shouldn't, I hope. But I almost have enough to get off-world again, anyway."

Kera thought for a moment, then walked over to her purse as Matker cleaned off the table. She returned with a roll of credit notes. Behind him, she counted out ten thousand and then handed it to him as he turned around. Matker looked astonished. "This is for you. I hope it gets you where you're going." Kera said.

Matker was beyond words. He just shoved the cash into his wallet and gulped. Kera then softly kissed him again, which broke his dazed state. "Whhh... Why?" was all he could say.

Kera sighed. "My money comes from a settlement for a terrorist act that killed my parents and left me nearly dead. I think it's only right to help someone whose done for me what you've done. Take it, please, from me to you." She closed his hand around his wallet gently, but with insistence.

Matker hung his head, then nodded. She smiled softly at him, then saw him to the door. Just before she shut it, he said "Wait." Kera opened the door again. He asked "My name's Matker. What's yours?"

"Kera." came that soft, sensuous voice again, then she shut the door.

"Kera." Matker said, running it over his tongue. "What a lovely name," he said as he pushed the cart down the hall towards the lifts. He made it down into the kitchen and turned the cart over to the kitchen staff, then went out to where he would wait for his next assignment. Not less than three minutes later, his feline friend Sebast returned, looking smug with himself.

"Hey there, doorMat, you look exhausted. What happened, did the vixetaur pounce you?" Sebast said cockily, using his pet name for Matker.

Matker smiled softly. "Not really," he replied. Then, as Sebast sat down, he sighed.

"So? What happened then? Come on, kid, tell," Sebast pressed.

Matker looked at him and knew that it would be wrong to brag about what happened to Sebast, as he'd be sure to broadcast it all over the place. "Nothing happened, Sebbey. She's just the most beautiful vixen I've ever seen, that's all."

"Huh?" Sebast queried. "I heard she was about forty, and crippled."

Matker shook his head. "Totally wrong. She's eighteen, if that, and absolutely gorgeous. The way she moves, and smells..."

"You in love, foxy boy?" Sebast looked at him closely.

Matker grinned. "Nope. But I got a glimpse of heaven, Sebbey. The vixens are going to have a lot to live up to in my eyes from now on."

Sebast just nodded, then he began telling Matker about what he saw in the honeymooners' room. But Matker wasn't listening. His mind was full of only one sight, one sound, one smell, one vision of loveliness that he knew would be with him for the rest of his life. Then more trays were pushed towards them, and they went back to work.

*             *             *

Kera, in the meantime, was also feeling the after-effects. After hosing down the shower, she went out and collapsed on the bed, her body on fire and so hot inside. The area under her tail where her vulva was now was itching with pent-up emotions, and it made her whimper with frustration. Her hands wandered under her top, and soon it was on the floor. With one hand on one of her breasts and the other around under her tail, Kera experienced her first orgasms as a female. The sheer ecstasy that flowed through her was incredible, and the lingering scent of tod in the air just made it go on and on and on....

Later, when she finally felt satiated, she walked back into the shower and washed herself off, making sure the walls were clean of Matker's cum. To her surprise, she had been tempted to lick it off and taste it, the smell driving her crazy with desire. But after she'd washed she was almost back to normal again, but with a glow that seemed to fill her and made her feel like she was floating. Once she was dry and brushed again, Kera put on the top she'd discarded, one of the biggest tops she had, and noticed it barely fitted her now. She grinned. She'd gone from having only a very small bust to having well over a E-Cup, and it felt great. But she knew she needed to go shopping. Kera headed out and hailed a taxi. Once inside, she asked "Where's the best place to shop around here?"

"Well," answered the chakat driver, "there are the markets. They're open today, and there's a lot of good things you could get there, or you could try the shopping district."

"I'll try the markets, I think." Kera decided. The driver nodded, and within ten minutes, Kera was alighting outside a large complex full of sounds and smells. Paying the driver, Kera then headed inside. Everywhere she looked there were people. There were chakats, of course, but then there were others, too: humans, Voxxans, felines, morphs of every type and even skunktaurs and Quange. Kera grinned and plunged headlong into the maelstrom of bodies.

Several hours later Kera emerged, fed and shopped-out. She'd had her fur trimmed and shaped, her hair was arranged and styled, she was wearing a lovely soft leather vest that complimented her body and fur colour and wearing a new set of panniers that were full of things she'd bought. Kera had, in one place and in a few hours, replaced her entire wardrobe of clothing with clothes that fitted her now. She also had things like rain cloaks and special gear. She was feeling exhausted, not really tired but very happy. She sat down outside a cafe and decided to have a cool drink.

Aila and her mate Terak had been shopping as well. They were here on vacation, and Aila had been running her mate ragged with shopping and sightseeing. Terak looked at her and said exhaustedly, "Aila, I need to take a break."

She looked back at him, then nodded. She saw a lovely little cafe near them and headed for it. Then she saw that all the tables were taken. "Oh, poot," Aila said.

"What's the matter?" Terak asked.

"There're no tables." Then Aila saw a table that had only one other foxtaur seated at it and she smiled. "Come on, maybe she'll share her table," Aila added.

Kera was enjoying the cold cola drink that the owner said he brewed himself, when two foxtaurs approached. "Hi, can we share your table?" the vixen asked.

Kera looked at the tod and saw that he was even more exhausted than she had been. His pleading look convinced her. "Of course. Have a cushion and rest your pads," Kera replied.

Terak sighed with relief and sank to the ground, letting his back rest as his panniers sat off his back. Aila sat with him and looked Kera over. Kera guessed they were in their late thirties, and ordered them cool drinks when the waiter returned, as well as another for herself.

"Thank you so much, dear. It's been a huge day and Terak here is just so tired after carrying all our things this way." Aila explained. "I see you've been doing some shopping, too."

"Yes. I needed some new clothes and my driver said this was the best place to shop." Kera confirmed.

"That it is, dearie, that it is. We always come here when we're on Chakona." Aila added. Then she said "Aren't you a little young to be here by yourself? Or do you live here?"

Kera smiled. "I'm older than I look. And I'm here on Chakona for medical reasons. I've just finished a course of treatment for DMS. Luckily, they managed to cure me."

"Ahhhh. I'm sure your parents are relieved." Aila stated.

Kera hung her head with a sigh. "I'm sure they would be, if they were..."

"Enough, Aila." Terak butted in. "Leave the young girl alone." Aila turned her head away and looked elsewhere.

Kera smiled again. "No, it's alright. I've learned to fend for myself."

Then Terak looked concerned. "Don't you have any family? Surely your relatives would have taken you in?"

Kera shook her head. "No-one but me. I'm used to being alone."

Terak's brow furrowed more and Aila looked shocked. "That's terrible. How can a young, beautiful vixen like you be alone in the world? What about your village?" she asked.

"Don't have one," Kera replied quietly. She didn't know where this was going, but she didn't like all the questions. "I'm sorry, but I have to go." Kera rose and left, handing the waiter a ten-credit note as she walked by hir.

Aila was stunned. Terak looked at her. "See, I've told you not to pry so much, haven't I?"

"But Terak darling, we can't just let her leave like that! All foxtaurs need family, you know that." Aila answered.

Terak watched Kera as she disappeared into the crowd. "There's a very sad story behind her, I'm sure of it. But she needs time, Aila. Time to feel she can trust someone with it. Hopefully, she'll find someone to tell it to eventually."

*             *             *

Kera returned to her hotel, almost in tears. No-one had ever asked her such poignant questions. Not even Professor Oceanwalker's questioning had made her feel so... apart from everyone else. She had barely got her door shut when the tears came. It wasn't that they were asking questions, Kera realised, it was what they were asking. They'd asked the few questions Kera couldn't answer. She had no clan, no village to return to, because she had been born human, not Foxtaur. It was true, though, that she had no relatives anywhere that she knew of. If there had been any, they must have abandoned her after the trial, when the human terrorists had proclaimed a death sentence on the male she had been and the same for anyone who helped him. That's when Dr Graven suggested that she might want to consider becoming another person entirely, as different from her former human self as was possible. She had looked at several different genotypes, then decided on becoming a foxtaur. But it was Dr Graven that had made her female, convincing her that it would be the ultimate disguise. And now she was a vixetaur completely. But she had no family or background to cover herself against these extremely awkward questions. She wondered what she could do to find answers. Maybe Dr Graven would know what she could do. Kera knew she needed to return to Earth and find herself a background.

Kera finally started going out again about three days later, but she was really looking forward to the time when she'd be able to head home, to Earth. Luckily for her peace of mind, no-one asked her any more awkward questions. She did the tourist thing, went for a couple of hikes in the forests surrounding Amistad and even went into some of the real wilderness areas with a camping tour. Being away from all the people calmed Kera's nerves greatly, and she'd almost got her confidence back by the time she was flown back to Amistad. Then came the news that the Star Princess was due in the next day. Kera spent most of the night getting ready to leave. "At least this time I won't need a shuttle to get up to the ship," she said to herself. Then she fell asleep for a few hours, setting her small clock to wake her at an appropriate time.

When Kera arrived at the spaceport terminal, however, she found that all passengers were being taken up by shuttle, due to the transporters being off-line for some reason. Kera easily took it in her stride and waited her turn. The familiar smells and surroundings of the Princess, after the busy bustle of the Gateway station, served to relax Kera even more as she made her way to her cabin. Once inside, Kera put her day bags down and went straight to a large round section of the wall. Pushing a button made the section open up like a giant iris, revealing open space outside. Kera sighed and spent time just losing herself in the vastness of the view and soon all else was forgotten.

*             *             *

Rusty Conager was sitting in the lounge, off duty after ferrying close to three hundred passengers to and from the surface to the Chakona Gateway station, helping the local shuttle services cope with the problem. With the transporters offline, he'd been kept very busy doing what they'd normally do, but now they were on their way out of Chakona's system, and headed for Earth. He'd come to the main lounge to try and while away some of his off-duty hours talking to the passengers, something that would have gotten him fired from any other ship in the Canaris Starline fleet. But aboard the Star Princess, the practice was kind-of encouraged here by the Chief Purser, who had found that the passengers often liked to talk to crewmembers about their adventures and discuss what they knew of the planets they'd be visiting, especially the shuttle pilots. So Rusty decided that he could do worse than hang out here and be wined, dined and danced about by some of the gorgeous and/or fairly wealthy passengers. Occasionally, some of the girls had taken him back to their rooms for more fun, but that was rare. Rusty wasn't over-sexed like some pilots, but if the offer came up, he rarely refused.

The lounge was fairly full at the moment. Leaving orbit always looked good from the aft lounge, and it was popular. Then Rusty saw someone who looked somewhat familiar. A young vixetaur had just walked into the lounge, wearing clothes that suited the mood. He knew he'd seen her before, for her fur pattern was strikingly familiar, but she had changed somewhat from whom he remembered. He disengaged from the bar and headed over to her.

*             *             *

Kera had decided that she would not stay entirely in her room this trip. So, after finding a frilly and very becoming top and body-skirt, she headed out to see some of the areas of the ship that she hadn't seen on her first trip. Finding her way to the aft lounge, she walked in, feeling a little shy. It seemed so big, but the view was breathtaking. Then she heard a voice she remembered.

"Hello there, Kera. How have you been?"

Kera looked around to see a human in a pilot's uniform coming towards her. She was confused until she saw the shock of red hair he had on his head, then recognition came instantly. "Rusty!" Kera exclaimed as she turned towards him. "I'm feeling very well, thank you."

"You're looking well, too, if I do say so. You sure don't look like the same person I took down to Chakona. If it wasn't for your fur pattern, I might've mistook you for someone else," Rusty said off-handedly.

"Come, let's find a table and talk a while," Kera said. Once they were seated, she asked. "How have you been?"

"Oh, I'm doing all right for myself. Can't really complain about being on the Star Princess," Rusty smiled. "But you! Wow! Whatever treatment you got back there really fixed you up! You're the prettiest vixen I've seen in many a day, Kera, and that's no word of a lie."

"Flatterer!" Kera said softly. She looked around, noting that the lounge was slowly filling up.

"So, what are your plans now, Kera?" Rusty asked. "Are you finally cured? Gonna go back to Earth and take up where you left off?"

"Yes, I'm cured," Kera replied absently. Then she turned around to face Rusty again. "As for taking up my life again.... I'm not so sure. Ever since I was diagnosed, my life has been a search for a cure, or an understanding of what I had. Now that that's over, the motivation's no longer there." Kera sighed and looked at the table. "I don't really know where I'm going anymore. Maybe I need to rediscover who I am, now that I don't have to worry about dropping dead without notice."

Rusty nodded. "It must be hard. I've always wanted to be what I am now. Maybe not here, but Star Fleet was too picky about some of my ways. But serving on liners isn't bad." He looked close at her. "Kera, it never hurts to stand back and take stock, you know what I mean? Taking time to find and understand yourself is sometimes the best thing to do if you don't know where to go. You're young and easily able to choose a career and pursue it. It can't hurt to look over all your options."

Kera smiled. "Thanks, Rusty. You're one of the first people that have given me advice that makes sense." Kera looked out across the stars. "Maybe it is time I find out what being a foxtaur is all about," she whispered to herself, so softly that Rusty didn't quite hear what she'd said.

Rusty nodded. "There you go, then. How's about a drink and a meal to celebrate your new path?"

Kera laughed. "You're just after a free meal, but all right. I do feel like spending some money tonight." Rusty called a waiter over and Kera ordered a nice big meal for herself and something for Rusty. As they ate, they talked and laughed, Rusty even taking Kera out for a dance on the floor once. Later, he escorted her back to her room. "I have to thank you, Rusty. I haven't relaxed like that in ages."

"Think nothing of it. We aim to please," Rusty responded. To Kera's amazement and later amusement, Rusty softly kissed her on the cheek and waited until she was in her cabin before heading off, whistling to himself and very pleased with how the night had gone.

*             *             *

Kera spent the next three months just being herself. She exercised her new body, becoming even more familiar with it; re-read the textbooks on Foxtaur anatomy, culture and behaviour she'd read when she'd first become a foxtaur, and generally practised being amongst other foxtaurs. She learned anew that there were a lot more vixetaurs than there were todtaurs, and interacted with other foxtaurs in ever-increasing amounts. Soon she knew what to do if she was asked the questions that had so rattled her back on Chakona, and what to do if she did make a faux pas. She now also understood the subtler types of communication that foxtaurs transmitted with their body language, meaning there was less chance of her missing something important. She also practised some of the traditional skills and arts of the foxtaurs, such as archery, leatherworking, hunting and other pursuits that others might expect to have knowledge of as a foxtaur growing up in a typical village. And her knowledge of electrics and electronics might help her too. This she kept up every chance she could until the Star Princess once again pulled into her berth at the great facility around Earth owned by the Canaris Line.

This time as she passed through customs she wasn't kept waiting at all. A brief check, a perfunctory round of questions and she was on her way down to the transporter areas. Stepping out of the terminal on the surface, Kera took a big, deep breath and smelled the air. For some reason, it had never really smelled as good as it did now. It was different to the air on Chakona, her now-very-sensitive nose could tell, but just as nice... "Maybe because it's the air of home," she thought to herself. Grabbing a baggage trolley, Kera made her way to where her van was parked, close to the terminal end of the long-term parking area. She grinned when she saw it was still there. "Good old girl," Kera said as she gently ran a hand over her van. "Miss me? Have they been keeping you safe?" Kera opened the back and transferred her belongings into the van, then pushed the trolley back. "After all, a credit is a credit." She said as she recovered the two-credit piece from the handle. "I may have a huge amount of credits, but it's still important to make every cent count."

The traffic was bad, as usual, this time of the afternoon. Kera had driven several times up and down the main terminal road, getting the feel for her car again. The pedal system seemed so sensitive now that she didn't have cybernetically-precise paws to press just so on the precisely-calibrated pedals. She had to feel her way around it again. By the time she got home, Kera was tired but feeling happy. Moving her new belongings into her home was a chore, but she said to herself "Once it's done, it's done."

Her stomachs started to protest their state of emptiness, but Kera knew she had nothing in the house, as she'd emptied everything out before she left. She looked at her small fridge. "That's never going to hold enough for me now." Kera muttered to herself as she checked through her phone book for a good takeaway. "Going to have to get a new fridge tomorrow and a chest freezer, too." Finding her favourite pizza takeaway's number, she called through and asked for "Two large thick stuffed-crust pizzas with everything, and two bottles of Cola." Then Kera sat down and turned on her vid-system to see what was on the entertainment channels.

Two hours later, Kera was full, the pizza boxes were empty, and she was feeling tired again. She looked down at the empty boxes and commented. "I didn't think I could eat that much." She grinned. "My eyes are no longer bigger than my stomachs." She giggled to herself. "I'll have to order some for the morning." Kera got on the phone and ordered again, then waited until the pizzas were delivered. Once they were in the fridge, she ran a nice bath for herself. Settling into it, Kera sighed and purred. "Goddess, this feels good." She said softly. "It's never the same, taking a bath in someone else's bath. Same with someone else's bed. It's going to feel so good tonight."

As Kera brushed herself out in her bedroom, she hung up the top she'd worn down from the ship, then looked at her old clothes. She realised just how plain they were, compared to her new wardrobe. "Definitely going to have to... (YAWN)... do a cleanout tomorrow." She said to herself as she lay down in the bed and slid the sheets up over herself. It took Kera less than five minutes to fall asleep and, as had been the case since she'd been transformed, no nightmares invaded her sleep anymore.

*             *             *

The sun shining through her curtains was what woke Kera the next morning. She glimpsed at her bedside clock. "Eight o'clock," she slurred. Yawning, she stretched again, rolling onto her backs and feeling her lovely new body stretch its strong muscles to their limits, then she relaxed and yawned wide. She scratched at her lower belly with a hind paw as a small itch made it's presence felt. It took Kera almost twenty minutes to finally coax herself out of bed and walk slowly to the kitchen. Luckily, her favourite coffee blend was still there, and she made herself a really big cup after sliding the pizzas from last night into the oven. The coffee quickly brought her to full consciousness, and she stretched again as she'd seen chakats do. The smells from the oven told her the pizzas were ready and she sat down in her lounge and watched the news service on the vid-system while eating. There wasn't that much news, she found. Some rumours of border skirmishes with pirates out near the Connadis system, and another diplomatic team from the Furrderation arriving to take their place with the Council of the Stellar Federation. Kera scowled, then switched over to the home shopping channel. "At least I might be able to buy something decent on here."

Later, Kera spent some time cleaning out her old clothes and putting her new ones away. She marvelled at the smallness of most of the tops she used to fit into. Now she was much bustier and enjoyed being that way. She packed the old ones away and decided to drop them off in a charity bin on her way to buy a new fridge and freezer. She also moved her old fridge into her study, where it would serve as a fridge for drinks while she studied.

As Kera moved through the streets of Brisbane, she felt far more at ease here. People were everywhere, but hardly anyone gave her a second glance, unlike she used to get with the stiltedness of her cyborg body. She chose and bought her new fridge and freezer and dumped her old clothes off, then decided she was hungry and headed for the nearest sushi shop. No sooner had she purchased her lunch and was looking for a place to eat, when she heard her name being called across the crowded hall. She saw hands waving, and as she drew close to where they were, she saw a sight that filled her hearts with joy. Three of her best friends were seated at a table, obviously enjoying lunch as well. "Kera! Come and sit down!"

"Marissa! Keely! Tanya! Where did you girls spring up from?" Kera asked as she seated herself.

"Hey, it's more like 'Kera! Where have you been and why did you disappear so fast and so sudden you didn't tell anyone you were going?' After all, we came looking for you after the first week," Keely said indignantly. She was a vixetaur herself, about the same age as Kera now was, but with fur that was more golden than russet red.

"Yeah! We thought you might have been in real trouble. We kept pestering Doc Graven until he told us you'd gone to Chakona," Tanya, a female human about their average age added.

"And dammit, girl! What happened to you there? We almost didn't recognise you, except that Keely pointed out that there couldn't be two vixetaurs with that silver stripe down their back like you have. Damn, you're looking good!" Marissa, a russet-red and white bipedal vixen added.

"Thanks, Marissa," Kera answered shyly.

"Well? What happened?" Tanya asked bluntly.

Kera sighed. These were her friends, her support group, her Clique as one teacher had put it. They were the best friends she'd ever had. They'd supported her and made her feel like she was... special, even with her problems. These were the people she missed the most when she was on Chakona. "Okay, I'll talk." She took a deep breath. "As you all know, I was suffering from a variety of degenerative syndromes that were slowly destroying my body..." Kera started, rehashing her old cover story.

"Uh-huh." They chorused.

"Well, about six months before I left, Dr Graven told me that the drugs I was on to help keep them under control were losing their potency as my body was slowly building up tolerance to them. I was slowly dying and there was nothing more he could do." Kera went on.

"Wowww!" Keely said.

"Yeah, wow," Tanya agreed.

Marissa was listening intensely. "So? What happened? Why did you leave in such a hurry?"

Kera continued. "Well, you know that I'd been trying everything I could for a cure before I left, right? I found an article that told of a revolutionary new process that, literally, was my only hope," Kera explained. "When I heard that the Professor that had perfected the process lived and worked only on Chakona, and was offering clinical trials to whomever wanted to utilise hir process, I knew I had to take the chance. As it was, I barely made it there in time. I had less than three months to live by the time I reached Chakona." Kera could tell that the others, while she ate and recalled her trip, were hanging on her every word. "So I went through hir process, and bingo! I'm cured and back to how I should have been looking. No more diseases, no more death sentence," Kera finished.

"That's great!" Keely shouted, to Kera's consternation. She felt like every eye in the hall was turned their way. The three girls pulled Keely back down onto her belly-cushion.

"Keely! Enough with the enthusiasm!" Tanya hissed. She shook her head slowly, then gave a long-suffering smile to Kera. "She's been frantic, you know," Tanya whispered to Kera, who giggled.

"Was not! I just was worried, that's all," Keely refuted. "After all, Kera's the best friend we've had since Mishka had to go home."

"Yeah, Mishka..." Marissa said dreamily. The other girls giggled. They all knew that Marissa had had a fast and furious relationship with the Siberian husky-morph exchange student, but most of them could only speculate as to exactly how close that relationship got. They all knew that Merissa was bi, and it was rumoured that Mishka had been lesbian. Keely broke the silence by taking that moment to purr and hug Kera. Kera just smiled. Keely seemed to cling to her like Kera was her elder sister, or something similar. Kera didn't mind taking that role upon herself. She had never had any siblings before, and having Keely around was never boring, that was for sure! She seemed to have the personality of a vivacious and hyperactive 14 year-old, but her mind was also very sharp. Kera knew she was studying for a doctorate in Advanced Mathematics and Physics and doing very well. She just was a very happy personality.

Kera had finally finished her lunch and Marissa, out of her daydream, asked,"So, Kera, when are you coming back to college? The beginning of next term?"

"I hope so," Kera replied after swallowing the last of her cola. "Dr Graven wrote to the Principal about my sudden departure, so I should be covered. I mean, it's not like I've been gone any longer than seven months."

"True," Tanya nodded. "But Old Baldy was really mad when you didn't show up to do your dissertation, you know." 'Old Baldy', as everyone affectionately called him, was Mr Baldan, their psychology professor. He had a nasty habit of making sure that those students who failed to bring in assignments or be ready for assigned projects never forgot it.

"Oh, damn!" Kera exclaimed softly. "I forgot! It's sitting at home right now on my desk." She looked worried. "Well, seeing as how I do have a valid medical excuse, hopefully he won't be too harsh on me."

"You can hope..." Tanya said in a unhopeful tone.

"Tanya, you're not helping!" Merissa hissed at her. "Kera's had more to think about than bloody term papers and dissertations. Her life's been at stake."

"Yeah, I know,." Tanya whined. "But he made me do mine early because she was gone!"

Kera smiled at Tanya. "Tell you what, Tanya. I'll make it up to you, somehow, for taking my place, okay?"

"Well....." Tanya began, then at the exaggeratedly-exasperated sighs of the others, she grinned. "Okay. From now on, you buy lunch for us every day for a week, right?"

"All right, greedy guts!" Kera laughed. "I have to get home. I have some stuff being delivered." Kera rose from her seated position.

"Can we come around after college?" Keely asked. "After all, it is Friday night! And you know what that means?"

"Pizza night!" they all chorused.

As they laughed, Kera replied, "Okay, you can all come over. Just wait until seven, will you? I've got a lot of things I have to get ready first."

"Okay!" the other three chorused. "See you at seven!"

Kera was feeling so much better after she got home. Seeing her friends again had raised her spirits no end. She had gone shopping on the way home, and knew that it would be delivered within the hour. She pulled into the driveway to see a delivery truck waiting for her outside her home. She ran down the front after opening the doors up. "I'm so sorry! I hope you haven't been waiting long?"

The driver just smiled. "Nah, we just got here, you're okay," he replied. His offsider, a big muscular bull-morph who looked like a cross between a water buffalo and a bodybuilder, opened the back of the truck and they started getting the appliances out. After aiding Kera in setting them up, the driver, a human, said, "Sign here please." Then added, "Thank you, Miss. Have a nice day." And they left. Kera sighed. She had forgotten all about the delivery coming when she'd been caught up in the shopping. At least she had made it home just at the right time. Kera made sure the fridge-freezer pigeon-pair and the chest freezer were set up and cooling down before she went up to her study. Sure enough, right on her desk in the 'Assignments' tray, was her dissertation, ready and waiting. Kera sighed. "Well, at least I don't have to write it out again," she said to herself.

Once the groceries had arrived and been packed away, Kera checked what other assignments she had to do and what lectures she may have missed. To her relief, none of the lectures covered anything she hadn't already done, and Kera knew that Tanya recorded all the lectures, so she could borrow Tanya's files and get up to date. Also, there was only one assignment that she needed to do, so Kera made some notes about what books she'd need and what references she could look up. When she looked up at the clock, to her surprise it was six o'clock already. "Where did the afternoon go?" Kera wondered to herself as she walked to the front of the house. Kera shut the door leading off into the bedroom and study area, then began preparing for a visit of the Clique, ordering eight pizzas and making sure the drinks were cold, then getting trays of nibbly finger foods ready as well. Kera munched absently on a carrot stick as she made sure the oven was nice and warm to keep the pizzas from getting cold before the other girls arrived.

Then Keely burst through the front door, like she always did. "HI, KERA!" she shouted, then gave Kera a huge hug when she came to greet her. Kera was used to this, but this time, things were different. Kera didn't feel herself starting to slide backwards, like she had every time before. Then she realised why. Her feet and claws were gripping the carpet in a way her cyber-body could never have done. Her body had reacted instinctively to Keely's weight and compensated, just like any other foxtaur. This elicited a purr from Kera, feeling that she was becoming more and more like a foxtaur that had been born that way every day.

Keely flopped down on one of the huge 'taur-sized bean bags Kera had bought. Someone had said they'd been invented back around the year 1970, but Kera had found them to be comfy and very accommodating for odd-shaped physiologies, such as herself. Also, they'd been easy to get in and out of when she'd had her cyber-body. "So, you been redecorating?" Keely asked, looking around.

"Not much," Kera answered. "Just hung up a few things I bought on Chakona, that's all." Her gaze fell on the huge wall hanging that filled one blank wall. It was a lovely scene showing 'taur cubs and 'morph cubs at play together. Kera had always been dissatisfied that that particular wall had remained blank. She hadn't wanted to just cover it up with bookcases or some such furnishings, and it had remained blank until she found the wall hanging that now took pride of place in her lounge room.

"Pretty," Keely purred as she looked at it. Turning back to look at Kera, she asked "What's Chakona like?"

Kera grinned. She'd expected Keely to ask that question. "Well, it's a lot like Earth, except it's never been polluted or touched by war. It's very green, and there are lots of 'taurs like us there, mostly chakats, but there are lots of other 'taurs as well. People there are very friendly, too. They almost seem to act as one big family. It's a nice place to visit, but I'm not really sure if I could handle living there full-time." Then the doorbell rang, and the pizzas had arrived. Kera handed them over to Keely as she paid for them, then they both took them into the kitchen and stacked them into the oven to keep warm. "So," Kera asked as they returned to the lounge room, "how have you been while I was away?"

"Well, it's been lonely," Keely admitted. "No-one understands me like you and Marissa and Tanya do. Some of them treat me as though I'm stupid. But you know I'm not, don't you?"

"Of course not, Keely." Kera hugged her as they sat together. "You're not stupid, it's just your mind thinks it's younger than your body tells everyone else you are, that's all. That doesn't make you stupid, just a little silly sometimes, but in a good way." Kera nuzzled her in a sisterly way (she hoped). "You've helped me out in the past in ways I could never really explain to you. You've treated me just as if I was your big sister who needed your help, and I have always been grateful to you for that."

Keely purred and snuggled into Kera in a way Kera had seen on Chakona: the way of family. Kera really did think of Keely as a younger sister, even though she'd never had a sister in her life. It had taught Kera so much about relating to others as well, and watching Keely had taught Kera much about how she should move, but sometimes her cybernetic lower half had made that impractical. Now there was nothing to hold her back. Kera knew she was a full foxtaur, and she was determined to be a foxtaur in every way. She knew for sure now that near enough was never good enough, and near enough a foxtaur was no longer a part of her life.

*             *             *

It was about this time that Tanya and Marissa were driving towards Kera's home. "Tanya," Marissa asked her, "Did you see the way Kera was moving today?"

"What do you mean?" Tanya asked in reply.

"I mean the way she was walking when she left us this afternoon. You may not remember, but I used to watch her walk sometimes. She always seemed to move as if her legs took a little time to understand what she wanted them to do. And she always seemed to have to concentrate when she walked, or sat down and got up again,' Marissa explained. "Now, she does it as easily as Keely does. She was talking and walking and didn't miss a step. And the way she flopped down when she reached us, it was like she'd never been sick at all."

"So?" Tanya was perplexed. "We know she'd had a very bad case of Degenerative Muscle Syndrome and a neural disease as well. Would you expect someone with those conditions to actually walk normally?"

Marissa pondered this for the moment. "Not really. But I can't help thinking there's something more than what she's told us. Something doesn't gel."

"Come off it, Marissa," Tanya replied, laughing. "If Kera does have any deep, dark secrets, then leave them alone. After all, we haven't told her everything about ourselves, have we? No-one confides 100% in anyone, unless they're chakats and life-mates."

Marissa sighed and smiled weakly. "I guess you're right," she said, but without much conviction. Her mind kept churning over the things she had observed, but she couldn't formulate an answer. Then they arrived at Kera's.

Tanya looked at Marissa and said "Look, Mari, if you really want to know, why not just ask Kera? But do it after Keely and I go home, ok? Don't spoil the first evening that Kera's back."

"Okay, okay," Marissa answered testily. She climbed out of the passenger door and pulled her bag out. Tanya locked up and they proceeded to where Kera was waiting for them at the front door.

*             *             *

The night proved to be good for everyone. After a hearty meal of pizza and various soft drinks, Keely came out with a huge floor mat and a spinner board. "Time for Twister!" She cried out. Kera, Tanya and Marissa groaned, but smiled. This was Keely's favourite game, and the mat was of a size that 'taurs could also play without being at an advantage. Keely spread out the mat as the others moved furniture back, then handed the spinner to Tanya.

"Okay, girls, let's go for it!" Tanya said. "Keely, left rear paw, Green." She instructed after spinning the spinner.

An hour later, Keely and Kera were left on the mat, Marissa having dropped out, literally, when she couldn't reach a spot over or under the vixetaurs. Keely was arched over Kera's back, her forepaws barely touching the mat. Kera had manoeuvred herself into this position, where she knew she had an advantage. Then it was Keely's turn again.

"Right front paw, Red!" came the cry from Tanya. Keely was concentrating hard on keeping her balance and stretched for the spot that was closest. Closer and closer her paw came, then, with a squeal, Keely toppled over and rolled onto her backs. "Keely's out!" Tanya yelled.

"And, for the first time ever, Kera's the winner!" Marissa added.

Kera blushed as she walked off the board. "I didn't realise this game was this much fun," she said. Then Keely hugged her hard from behind. "Ooof!"

"Good one, Sis! That was the best Twister ever!" Keely almost yelled in Kera's ear. Kera grinned helplessly as she was dragged over to one of the beanbags and pressed into it by Keely.

"Keely! Let me up!" Kera said with a smile. Keely giggled, but allowed Kera to rise. After several hours of taking and other activities, Tanya decided it was time for bed, so she took Keely up as well. Kera also followed, making sure that Keely was comfy on Kera's bed, which was the only one big enough to hold more than one taur at a time. When Kera slid in behind Keely, the feelings she felt were so vastly different than those she remembered. Keely's warm body felt so inviting, Kera couldn't resist snuggling in as close as she could, unlike before when she'd always kept her distance. Keely purred and Kera returned it as the two young foxtaurs slipped off to sleep.

*             *             *

The next morning Kera awoke to find Keely there in front of her, curled up against her front-to-front. Kera knew Keely didn't mean anything by it, since she was still too mentally young to really desire sex, but it was still very erotic and had Kera slightly aroused. Kera rose cautiously, not wanting to wake Keely, then went into her ensuite, emerging half-an-hour later feeling better. As Keely stirred, Kera groomed herself, brushing out her lovely soft fur and enjoying the sensations of her new body. Then she saw Keely's eyes open and look at her. Keely smiled softly as she looked at the one other Taur that understood her and purred. Climbing slowly off the bed, Keely grabbed a brush and began to groom Kera's backs gently, eliciting deeper purrs from her. "Thanks, Keely," Kera said. "I needed that."

"It's always good to have a good brushing, isn't it?" Keely replied.

"It certainly is. I feel like I'm properly groomed for the first time in my life. Thanks." And Kera hugged Keely gently. Keely returned the embrace, then said, "I'm hungry."

Kera giggled. "Well, I'm hungry, too, so let's go down and get something to eat, Okay?"

"Okay!" Keely replied enthusiastically, and the two girls headed out to get some breakfast.

Kera walked down the streets of her home suburb, seeing things in a new light now that she was whole again. Things definitely felt different. It was almost as if all the years she'd spent as a pseudo-vixetaur were just a dream, now that she was 18 again, but they had still been important, for without them she wouldn't have been as adept at being a foxtaur now, when it counted the most. Kera smiled as Keely almost bounced along, feeling energetic in the morning. "What the hell!" Kera replied, and she took off after Keely, bouncing along with her and engaging in a game of Tag through the park. Kera and Keely skipped home along the path through the park after getting enough provender for two hungry and active foxtaurs and two others. Kera felt alive, alive for the first time since the accident, as though she had finally reclaimed the life that was taken from her. She looked at Keely and knew that Keely had been an essential part of that recovery, too. Keely had taught her how to enjoy herself and to be comfortable around others like herself, and that was the most important thing.


To be continued in Truths And Responsibilities.


Professor Chakat Oceanwalker is copyright Eric Kern.

Chakats, Chakona and the Chakat Universe are the creations of Bernard Doove and used with permission.

The Furrderation is copyright Terry Knight and is used with permission

All others are copyright © 2004 to Cassandra Foxx.

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