Going Stag

by Lynx-Eye

 

-Chapter 3-

 

            "The one and only," I said, turning toward her voice, "accept no substitutes."

 

            As I turned around, there stood an auburn-headed doe with Tabitha's face, only slightly altered.  Overall, her changes were quite similar to mine.  Her hands looked more typically human than mine, and her eyes looked bigger.  They were still the color of milk chocolate, while mine had stayed like semi-sweet.  Her ears were a fraction shorter than mine.  She had no antlers, of course, being female.  That, plus her smaller stature, made her ears actually look bigger than mine.  Her figure was, if anything, even more curvaceous than ever (Re-score: 950 millihelens!).  It fit wonderfully into her shorts (borrowed from Barbara, I found out) and "Preserve Wildlife –– throw a PARTY!" T-shirt, and even better into my arms.  (I didn't remember moving toward her.)  I was half a head taller than her.

 

            She whispered, "Don't you accept any substitutes, either!"  She ran her hands over the muscles of my shoulders, chest, and upper arms, and said, "Tabitha like!"  A low rumble started in my throat.  She gave me a sharp look, and whispered, "Are you . . . purring?"

 

            Another voice said, "Oh, no!  Now we'll have to pry them apart!"  That was Bambi.

 

            Taking my eyes away from Tabitha, I saw that she'd brought the rest of the eye candy brigade (a phrase I was wise enough to never utter aloud), including my statuesque cousin Felicia (Uncle Bob's youngest).  She hadn't been at the pool because of her summer job.  A blue-eyed blonde even taller than Glory, she could pass as a pure (although her contempt for the Pures was common knowledge).  She'd inherited moderately enhanced athletic abilities from Aunt Sharon.  Her own bout of MORFS, when she was thirteen, changed her hair color, tweaked her speed, and added about two cup sizes.  875 millihelens.

 

            I noticed my nostrils flaring in and out, and realized that, although they’d all clearly brushed their teeth, and all but Tabitha had used scented hair products, I could still smell what each of them had eaten for breakfast.  Glory'd had cornflakes and tomato juice.  Barbara'd had bacon, eggs, and buttered toast, with coffee.  Bambi'd had tea and toast, with strawberry jam.  Dolores'd had a breakfast burrito with milk.  Jenny'd had shredded wheat and grape juice.  Felicia'd had pancakes, with plenty of maple syrup, and pineapple juice.  Tabitha'd had oatmeal and orange juice, the same as I had, but with blueberries instead of bananas.

 

            I said, "Oh, no!  I'm surrounded by beautiful women!" and then in a faint and tiny voice, "Help me! Help me!"  Tabitha swatted my arm.

 

            Mom was, by this point, on the verge of laughter.  I turned to face her, with one arm still around Tabitha's shoulders.  "Mom, this is obviously Tabitha.  You already know . . ."

 

            "Felicia," she nodded, "and Dorcas."

 

            "Call me Bambi, please, Mrs. B."

 

            I continued the introductions.  "And this is Gloria Jones, . . ."

 

            "Morning Glory."

 

            "And Barbara Washington, . . ."

 

            "Don't you have a nickname?" Mom asked.

 

            "Nothing I care to repeat.  I haven't found one I like yet."

 

            ". . . And Dolores Tortosa, and Jenny Carlyle."

 

            They exchanged greetings with Mom, then the eye candy brigade went to get their food while we sat back down.  Before I could start eating, Mom pulled a bottle of calcium supplement out of her shoulder bag and pointedly set it in front of me.  I nodded and swallowed several tablets before picking up my food.

 

            While I dug into the first of my veggie burgers, my ears pivoted toward the brigade.  I heard Barbara's comment, "Honey, I like your taste in men.  Bucky is one fine animal!" which was followed by assenting murmurs.  I didn't hear a reply to her whispered, "Are you sure you two haven't been exchanging genetic information?"

 

            They made their varied selections, and each returned with a tray of food.  I noticed that Barbara's was real meat.  The smell didn’t bother me, and I took that as an encouraging clue for later.  Soon, all nine of us were seated around the picnic table.

 

            Morning Glory expressed her appreciation for the fact that we weren't in the shade.  Her tie-dyed hot pants and halter set contrasted brightly with her green skin, a lot of which was left uncovered.  Not that I was complaining.  (It also contrasted with Jenny's long sleeves and long pants.)  I commented, "You certainly seem to enjoy soaking up the rays."

 

            "I always have been something of a sun worshiper, but since I morfed last spring I just can't seem to get enough.  I love the feel of it on my skin."

 

            Tabitha asked me, "What shopping have you already done?"

 

            When we told her about the cobbler and the overhooves, she said she'd been there the previous afternoon.  The ones she got for gym class were silver.  The only other thing she'd done so far was visit a beauty salon for a hair styling and to get unscented products.  Priorities, and all that.

 

            When we started talking about the problem of finding tail-friendly clothes, Barbara scoffed, "Tell me about it!  If you want a comfortable fit that looks decent, you have to hunt far and wide.  I can show you the better places here in town, but the pickings are pretty slim.  And they're not much better in Salem or Portland, either.  I've had two years to look.  The best I've found is a Swap Shop in Portland.  They mostly have ordinary clothes that people trade in after they go through MORFS, and that helps the ones who've changed size or gender.  Lately, they're adding more clothes that are altered for wings or tails, but the selection is still pretty limited unless you use their custom alteration service.  We don’t have time to go there today if you’re going to do any shopping here in town."

 

            Morning Glory asked, "What about the outlet mall in Woodburn?"

 

            "Do you know of any store chains that sell nice clothes for people with tails?"

 

            "Oh."

 

            "Right.   'Oh.'"

 

            Tabitha asked, "What about that new company that just opened up in the Portland area last year?  Bingwear?  Don't they specialize in making clothes for hybrids?"

 

            "Does this," Barbara's tail waved over her head, "look like a pair of wings?  I don't see any wings on you two, either.  Remember, Bingwear's slogan is 'Fashions for Flyers'."

 

            "Oh, shi-" (Tabitha glanced at Mom) "-oot!  I forgot about that."

 

            "Relax.  You're new to the joys of hybrid shopping."

 

            Mom said, "That's a lovely tail, and you're a beautiful young woman," to which Barbara mumbled her thanks.  "It's a shame you can't find clothes to flatter you properly!"

 

            "I recognize that look," Tabitha said.  "Barbara, do you remember the renaissance dress I showed you?  The one you liked so much?"  When she got a nod in reply, she pointed at Mom and said, "She made it."

 

            Barbara's eyes lit up at the possibilities.

            For the next few hours, Barbara played the part of the expert shopper, showing us where she'd found the most tail-friendly fashions.  She steered us away from some places that were hostile to MORFS survivors generally, or hybrids specifically, and we welcomed  her hard-won knowledge.  Some businesses were up-front about their bigotry, with signs declaring sentiments such as "HUMANS ONLY".

 

            Of course, avoiding hostile merchants doesn't guarantee that you'll avoid all of the other hostile types who might be out and about on a bright, sunny weekend.  (Some of them come out from under their rocks occasionally.)  We caught some nasty looks and heard a comment about the "freak squad", plus a few other comments we weren’t meant to hear, but nobody actually did anything hostile or violent.    Maybe they didn't have the nerve unless their targets were outnumbered.  Some shoppers pointedly avoided us, usually with expressions of blatant disapproval.  Of course, there were also people who were warm and friendly, or at least courteous and polite.

 

            There were also a few times when Tabitha and I encountered people who reeked of perfume, cologne, or less pleasant odors.  The worst were the ones who preferred scent to soap, layering fragrance on top of odor.

 

            It seemed that tails were better accommodated in underwear, swimwear, and lingerie than in outerwear.  Maybe it was because of the lighter materials and often simpler designs, or maybe it was because the lighter materials made faulty design or workmanship too difficult to conceal.  You can't sell what nobody wants to buy.

 

            As I carried my second armsload of purchases to the van the gals had come in, I asked if anyone had thought to invite the other guys.  Barbara answered my question with a question.

 

            "Now, why would we want to do that?"

 

            "Maybe to provide a longer pack train?"

 

            Bambi laughed.  "Don't you think they know that?  Besides, Tacitus and Brother Wiley probably have their heads together, trying to think up new pranks.  They're determined to be remembered as the Fred and George of Silverton High.  We don't know what their latest deep, dark secret is, but they've promised not to take any stupid risks.  Oh, and by the way: you don't look like any mule I ever saw, even with those ears!"

 

            I was glad the blush didn't show through the thin layer of fur on my face.  I kept my mouth shut, delivered the load, and went on to the next store on the list.

 

            We eventually finished our day of shopping, and went our separate ways.  The van was loaded with people and purchases (not all of them Tabitha's).  All of my purchases fit into the trunk of the convertible, easily.  The back seat was left empty.

 

            We were on our way home when Mom stunned me by commenting, '"Tabitha tried not to show it, but you really hurt her this afternoon."

 

            It took me a moment to even respond with a "Huh?"

 

            "That’s what I thought.  You didn't even realize you were doing it.  You were with Tabitha, but a lot of your attention was on Felicia and Dolores.  You positioned yourself where you could usually keep them in sight, you postured when they were looking, and you kept putting yourself between them and other guys.  You didn't confront anyone or get in their face, but it was plain to see.

 

            "There are two things you need to do.  First, apologize to Tabitha.  Second, you need to always be aware of what you’re doing and what message it sends.  Think about it."

 

            There was silence in the car for the rest of the drive.

 

            When we got home, Mom naturally wanted me to model the new clothes, but I escaped with a minimum of that before I put everything away and headed into the back yard with my archery gear.  I strung the bow and set it aside.  Then I put on my arm guard, but saw that my shooting glove would no longer fit over my thicker fingers, with their reshaped nails.

 

            Leaving it off, I picked up the bow and nocked an arrow.  The conventional western style of draw is to hold the nock of the arrow between the index and middle fingers; they and the ring finger are used to draw the bowstring back, with the string held at about the last knuckles.  A special glove, or a piece of leather called a tab, saves wear and tear on the fingers.  The Asian style of draw involves a thumb grip, often using a special ring on that thumb.  I decided to try a variation of the western style I was used to.  Instead of holding the string on the fleshy parts of my fingers, I drew the string with my heavy fingernails, or I guess you could call them forehooves.  The tip of my outstretched index finger lightly held the arrow nock in place.

 

            I started slowly and carefully.  I had visions of my nails being painfully ripped out of the nailbeds, like some medieval torture.  There was no hint of that happening, and in fact the string seemed to come back with less effort than I remembered it taking.  I guessed I'd gotten a little stronger, even in my fingers.

 

            Drawing back to my aiming position, I held for a moment before pulling back my index finger and then straightening my other fingers to let the string roll off the ends of my forehooves.  The arrow sped toward the target, and was soon joined by five more.

 

            The six arrows were all over the place.  Two were outside the scoring area, and another one even missed the target butt completely.  It was pathetic.  And that was only from the twenty-yard line!  I hadn't practiced in about a week, and I'd been sick.  On top of that, the body I'd been used to had changed, and I had to adapt my draw grip.  I settled in for some serious practice, and I was starting to get my grouping back down to a respectable tightness by the time I was called in to supper.  I put my stuff away and washed up.

 

            Dad was back by then, with no hint as to where he'd been or what he'd been doing.   Supper was excellent.  As promised, the menu was strictly vegan.  We were just leaving the table when the doorbell rang, and Dad answered it.  "You missed your cue, little brother.  Guests are supposed to show up when we're sitting down to the table, not when we're leaving it!  Come on in."

 

            Sure enough, it was Uncle Fred, with the head of maple-leaf-green hair that I'd known all my life.  With him was my cousin Howie.  He's a couple years younger than me.  At five foot two, he was the shortest person there.  He leaned out from behind his father and waved.  "Hi, Bucky.  Aren't you taking scholastic loyalty a little far?  Growing your hair in school colors?"

 

            "It's not like I had any choice, and it's only orange.  There's no silver or black."  He just grinned back at me, as if to say,  gotcha.

 

            Then he said, "You're lucky you didn’t morf like that when you were my age.  Then you'd've had people calling you 'Spike'."  (First-year antlers typically have no branching tines.)

 

            Uncle Fred shook Dad's hand as he came into the house.  "Evening, Charlie, Joyce, Bucky.  Louise had something she couldn't get away from.  You'll see her at the canton meeting on Wednesday, of course.  Teresa's at a friend’s house."  That last was a reference to Howie's little sister.

 

            Uncle Fred stopped to get a good look at me.  "So, nephew.  This is your new look.  You're an impressive figure of a man, if I say so myself. Do you have any special abilities?"

 

            "No.  Nothing I'm aware of yet, anyway.  My post-MORFS exam is tomorrow.  As far as I know, I just have ordinary physical stuff like improved senses of smell and hearing.  That, and this hair color that might help keep me from ending up on somebody's wall.  One of my friends got an interesting ability that we just discovered the day I got sick.  He can almost fly."

 

            That got a snort of laughter from Howie.  "'Almost'?  How does he 'almost' fly?"

 

            "Well, as best I could tell from what I saw that day, his body can generate just enough levitation thrust for one gee of acceleration.  That's only enough to balance the pull of gravity and stop or control a fall, but not enough to lift him up."

 

            "That sounds frustrating."

 

            "Maybe.  But, mostly, he seemed eager to explore the possibilities."

 

            Uncle Fred said, "I'd like to explore some pictures that I understand you took last week."

 

            Mom laughed and said, "I told you so!"

 

            Dad and I laughed, as well.  I went to get the recording.  "I'll be right back."

 

            While I was out of the room, I could hear Mom say, "Tabitha was down with MORFS at the same time as Jason."

 

            Distracted by my eavesdropping, I bumped my antlers on the doorframe ("Damn!") again.  Even after kicking the door shut in frustration, I had no problem hearing the rest of the conversation.

 

            "Gisela?"  That was Howie's voice.

 

            "Yes.  Now she's a doe hybrid.  They make quite the charming couple."

 

            When I got back to the living room, I turned on the TV and plugged the memory chip into the socket in the front.  Then I just took a seat with the others, and used the remote to cue up the wildlife video.

 

            It was much more impressive on the larger screen.  When it was over, we all sat there stunned for a moment.  Finally, Uncle Fred said, "You're a damn good photographer, Bucky, but to get that sequence, you were also one hell of a lucky sumbitch!  No offense, Joyce."

 

            "None taken –– this time."

 

            I retrieved the memory chip and handed it to Uncle Fred, saying, "Your copy."  Then I connected my phone to the TV, and called up the swimming pool video with the announcement, "And now, it's time for something completely different!"

 

            The laughter started almost immediately.  Brother Wiley is that good at physical comedy.  I think he studied some of the old masters, like Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd, aside from Looney Tunes and the like.  My relatives had no trouble understanding his new nickname when they watched him pantomime chasing something off the end of the board, then making a big show of realizing he was standing on empty air until the lifeguard told him to get out of the way of the next diver.  It was hard to believe he didn't have coyote ears to sag as he turned his dejected face back toward the camera, waved bye-bye, and plummeted into the pool.  They also liked Tacitus' tag line about parachutes, when that came up.

 

            Eventually, Uncle Fred said he had to work in the morning.  After a round of see-you-Wednesdays and goodnights, they were gone and the house was quieter.

 

            Mom told me that she'd be taking the next day off from work, and would drive me to my appointment.  Yes, I had my driver's license, but I was still a minor, and there was sure to be paperwork requiring adult signatures.  In the afternoon, we would take our MORFS paperwork to the DMV and update the photos and descriptions on Tabitha's and my  licenses.  She'd see me in the morning.

 

            I turned on my clock radio to a digital rainstorm, and asked Dad if I could talk to him for a moment.  When he stepped into my bedroom, I pointed to the clock radio.  "While I was fetching the memory chip, I could easily hear the conversation in the living room.  We might want to explore our options for bedroom soundproofing."

 

            He nodded.  "Thanks for the heads-up.  I'll look into it," he said as he left my room.  A moment later, the radio in my parents' room was turned on.

 

            I went to bed with only the briefest check of my e-mail.  The next morning, I woke up feeling even better than I had the day before.  A few good meals and a full night of normal sleep did me a lot of good.  Since I had the time, I grabbed a granola bar and got in another hour of target practice before I showered and had breakfast.  I wore a blue T-shirt with a crowned white griffin and the caption "Summits Coronation" across the top and "Summer LXVII" across the bottom.

 

            The MORFS clinic was in a modular annex to the hospital, connected by a covered walkway.  The air conditioner on the roof seemed unusually large to me.  The hospital, itself, was larger than you might expect for a town the size of Silverton, but it served a large part of two sprawling counties.

 

            Tabitha and her mother were in the waiting room when we arrived.  Tabitha was a vision of beauty in khaki shorts and a green T-shirt emblazoned with, "What part of 'NO' don’t you understand?"  Deborah Hirschberg (800 millihelens) was an older version of her daughter's former appearance, and the family resemblance was still easy to see.  It gave me hopes of how well Tabitha would age.

 

            I gave Tabitha the single yellow rose (listed as meaning apology) I'd bought on the way there, and asked her to forgive me for my thoughtlessness the day before.  She hugged me, and then her name was called, and Mom and I were left to amuse ourselves.  She handed me the clipboard of forms she'd been given when she checked me in (I was a bit distracted), then reached into her shoulder bag and pulled out a project involving green yarn.  I thought it might be a snood.

 

            My forehooves made holding a pen and writing a little awkward, but I managed.  After I'd finished what I could of the paperwork, I passed it back to Mom.  I glanced at the old magazines on the table, and pulled out my mobile to continue reading an ebook I'd downloaded.

 

            Before long, Mom asked, "What's so funny?"

 

            "Oh, I'm reading a book by Patrick McManus, full of comical yarns about outdoor activities like hunting and fishing.  A lot of them involve his childhood in the Idaho panhandle.  This one has him and a friend experimenting with some gunpowder they found.  The title is, 'Poof!  No Eyebrows!'"

 

            A while later, my name was called, and I went into the examination room.  The first thing I noticed was the louvered vent grate I had to walk across, just inside the door.  There was also a closed set of industrial-looking louvers in the ceiling, and a smaller set on the outside wall.  A plunger switch labeled EXHAUST was conspicuous next to the door.  Otherwise, it looked like an ordinary medical exam room, with a few extra bits of modern equipment.

 

            I did, indeed, see a pair of white overhooves.  They were being worn by a nurse (750 millihelens) who was a ewe hybrid.  She took my basic stats, then the doctor came in.  He looked like he was about my parents' age, and introduced himself as Dr. Cooper.  I got undressed, and he started giving me the most thorough exam I'd ever had.  The less details, the better.  (Trust me, you don't want to know.)  Meanwhile, he muttered a lot of hmms and uh-huhs and ahs, which was rather annoying.

 

            When it was finally finished, he told me, "You can put your clothes back on, now, Master Buchannon.  Our telepath is waiting for you in the next room down the hall."

 

            The indicated room was only dimly lit.  The silhouette I saw was one I easily recognized.  This person was a great horned owl hybrid.  He sat on a stool, with his folded wings reaching up past his shoulders and down almost to the floor  As my eyes adjusted and I could see more details, I had the impression that he was maybe ten years older than me.  Then he spoke.

 

            "Hello.  Jason, isn't it?  You can call me Alex.  I'm going to be taking a look inside your head in a moment.  How are you feeling?"

 

            I said I felt fine, and soon I was seated in a chair facing him.  He told me to look into his eyes, and those big yellow orbs reminded me of the griffin's gaze.

 

            "Have you really seen a griffin?  I see it was last week;  it just popped to the surface of your mind."

 

            "I can show you the video later."

 

            "I'd like that.  But for now, try to clear your mind."  I thought I felt something brush through my head, but I wasn't sure I hadn't imagined it.  It reminded me of some encounters with Aunt Melissa.  He said, "Oh-ho!" and started to note something on his clipboard, then did a double-take.

 

            "Melissa Urquhart is your aunt?"  When he saw my confirmation, he went on, "I shudder to think what she'd be like if her power level matched the strength of her personality."  He clenched a talon that he probably called a hand.

 

            Returning to his original train of thought, he finished his notes and said, "I'm done now.  You mentioned video?"

 

            I pulled out my mobile and showed him the wildlife video.  He loved it.

 

            "Marvelous!  I had no idea there was such a creature so close.  Thank you for sharing it.  Well, if you go out to the waiting room, in a few minutes you'll be called back in for your results.  But, before you go, a word.  You and the young lady who came through here just ahead of you are one of the most compatible couples I've ever encountered, but nothing is ever a sure thing.  Every relationship takes effort to make it work."

 

            Just as Alex had predicted, Mom and I were soon seated in a little conference room across a table from Dr. Cooper, who had a folder open in front of him, along with a computer pad.  He started out, "It's only involved in a small minority of cases, but many patients and their families are concerned about a possible gender change, so I like to get that issue out of the way first."   He gestured at my antlers.  "It should come as no surprise that you're still male, with every indication that you're fully functional as such."

 

            He paused for a moment.  "You're a stealth chimaera.  Obviously, your gross form is that of an absolute deer hybrid."

 

            I nodded, "Blacktail, to be exact."

 

            He harrumphed and went on, "But there seem to be some cat genes lurking in your chromosomes, as well."

 

            I smiled and said, "Cats are sneaky that way.  I have a Russian Blue.  He has an undercoat like this, and claws" (here I brandished my thumb claws) "like these.  And deer don't purr."  He looked a little miffed, so I said, "Hey, I'm not claiming to know your job, or anything.  It's just that you started with the stuff I can see with my naked eyes.  I pay attention in science class, and I'm a hunter, and a wildlife photographer, from a family of hunters.  I notice details.  But, I don't have your training or equipment, so the only other change I could find on my own is that my peripheral vision is a little wider and my binocular vision is a little narrower."

 

            Seeming somewhat mollified, he said, "Speaking of your vision, you seem to have gotten the best of three worlds.  You still have the acuity and color vision of a human, and your night vision, including some near infrared, is about as good as it can get without having the reflective tapetum lucidum layer found in the eyes of a deer or a cat.  That could have cost you daylight acuity.  You do have the feline nictitating membrane, what you might know as the 'haw', on each eye.  You may not have to blink as much now.  Your eyes are angled only a little wider than human norm, more nearly the arrangement of a cat than the three-hundred degree vision of a deer.

 

            "Your ears have the full independent pivoting action of a deer's, and they're just as sensitive.  And you can hear pitches fully as high as any a cat can detect.  You've probably noticed a lot of background noise that you have to sort and filter out."

 

            I nodded.

 

            He went on, "I'm sure you also have a much stronger sense of smell now.  The human nose is perhaps the weakest in the animal kingdom, and you have genetic input from two creatures with excellent noses.  The vomeronasal, or Jacobson's, organ in the roof of your mouth is now fully developed and appears to be fully functional.  In most humans, it's just vestigial, but in other mammals it's the primary receptor of pheromones.  That may make you more susceptible to them, but you have some conscious control.  You may have seen your cat make a sort of grimace when investigating odors?"

 

            I nodded again.

 

            "That's called the flehmen response, and it opens the passages of the organ.  Both felids and ungulates do it.  If you resist the urge to do so, the scents shouldn't hit the organ with full force.  Even if the pheromones do affect you, remember that they can't control your mind.  They can influence your emotions and incline you toward certain instinctive behavior patterns, but you can still consciously override those urges if you choose to."

 

            At that point, Mom gave me a stern look but said nothing.

 

            "You have the omnivore teeth of a baseline human, whether that's because it is your baseline, or because it's a compromise between absolute herbivorous deer and obligate carnivorous cat.  Your digestive system is only partially modified.  You don't have a four-part stomach, and you shouldn't find yourself chewing cud, but you will get more food value out of vegetable matter.  You also kept the gall bladder that deer lack.  Without it, your ability to digest fats would be reduced.

 

            "With your new hybrid shape, it would be surprising if you weren't at least a little bit stronger and faster.  The big surprise is lurking inside."  He grinned at my open curiosity.  "Your skeleton is reinforced with carbon nano-tubules.  Your antlers, however, don't seem to be getting any such reinforcement.  Your skull is especially stout, and there's a degree of protection against a concussion;  but only a degree.  It'll be very difficult for you to get a broken bone.  Even a sprain or a dislocation is unlikely, but don't get stupid and careless.  Remember, your soft tissues are still soft."

 

            At that point, he visibly inserted an aside.  "If you don't mind, I'd like you to set up periodic appointments to come back for monitoring.  It's nothing to worry about; more a case of scientific curiosity, but it will affect you.  There are some significant seasonal changes in the physiology and endocrinology of deer.  The antler renewal cycle is only the most conspicuous.  Such changes are minimal in humans and cats.  It would be prudent to determine what sort of seasonal changes your body will be going through for the rest of your life."

 

            I agreed that it sounded like a good idea, and he made a note in the file.  Before he could go on, I asked him, "Do I need to schedule a bit of minor surgery through your office, too?"  In answer to Mom’s questioning expression, I explained, "I need to be re-circumcised."  She nodded, mouthing a silent Oh.

 

            Dr. Cooper said, "You're not the first, by any means.  Over the last several years, our hybrid patients have generally been happier with the treatment they get here than at the main hospital.  I don't know how much that has changed in the light of new official policies, or what the attitude of your regular physician is.  The decision is yours."  The way he made eye contact with both of us made it clear that the "yours" was plural.

 

            Then, he turned a page and said, "Your telepathic scan shows that you have some power as a teleporter.  Nothing very strong, but it will require training for safety considerations.  That's why Mr. Henderson didn't make any effort to unlock the ability.  We've found it's generally best to leave that to the instructor."

 

            Mom and I just sat there, stunned.

 

            He continued, "You're conditionally cleared for school, so you'll be able to start with the rest of your class unless something goes wrong with your teleportation instruction."  He handed over a few forms.  "That instruction can begin tomorrow, and shouldn't take much more than a week or two in your case, so it won't overload your schedule unduly."

 

            Mom and I looked at each other, and I asked, "Where do I need to go for these lessons?"

 

            Dr. Cooper chuckled for the first time and responded, "What kind of teleport instructor would he be if he couldn't get himself to your home?  Familiar ground is the best starting point."  He handed over a booklet, and asked if there was a problem with starting in the morning, and what time would be best?

 

            Arrangements were made, and we returned to the waiting room, where the receptionist (500 millihelens) scheduled an endocrinology workup for me a couple weeks later.  Tabitha and her mother were still there.  She and I reassured each other that we were both cleared for school, and then I told her what Dr. Cooper had told us.

 

            "I'm not surprised that you have a hard head," she said, "but teleporting?  That's a pretty special ability."

 

            "Remember, he said it's not a very big power.  What about you?  Anything special, other than your stunning beauty?"

 

            "Well, there's no cat DNA in my make-up.  It seems that my legs are strengthened in a way that should provide short bursts of incredible speed.  But, I'll get really hungry any time I use the ability.  I also have a new organ in me, with 'associated augmentation' in my limbs.  He said it looks like it has something to do with energy manipulation.  It's pretty low-level stuff, and he stopped short of saying for sure that I'm some kind of elemental."

 

            Before going to the DMV, we all went out to lunch.  After we placed our orders, I pulled out the booklet Dr. Cooper had given me and thumbed through it.  Sitting next to me in the booth, Tabitha read over my shoulder with undisguised curiosity.

 

            The title was "Rules of the Aether: Teleportation Safety".  It had obviously been compiled on the pattern of similar publications put out by the Department of Motor Vehicles.  I easily recognized the format, having got my driver's license only a year and a half before.  (I still had a digital copy of it in my phone, and a printed copy had its own place on my bedroom bookshelf.)  A surprising number of safety rules were listed, as well as various laws and regulations on issues of trespass, privacy, and public access.  Some of it was common knowledge, such as the need to keep teleportation points clear when not in actual use.  A separate section covered topics of liability, confidentiality, and certification for commercial teleporters.

 

            One thing, I didn't find in the booklet.  There was no hint of instruction, anywhere in it, actually telling how to teleport.  When I mentioned it, Tabitha said, "Well, of course, silly!  Can you imagine what could happen if a typical teenager –– especially a teenaged boy –– suddenly knew how to teleport without any real instruction or screening?  It'd be like handing out car keys to everyone who turns sixteen, without driver's ed or testing!  And, they wouldn’t even be limited to the roads!"

 

            I understood her point, even without her emphasis.

 

            Before the food arrived, I followed the listed address and downloaded a digital copy of the booklet into my phone.  Then I put them both away and paid attention to my food and my dining companions.

 

*          *          *

 

 

The entire MORFS  Universe can be found at http://morfs.nowhere2go.org/

 


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