Love and Livestock
by John R. Plunkett
"Boss! Come quick! Bessie's messed herself up good!"
"Son of a bitch," Jimmy muttered, throwing down his pencil. One wouldn't think that being a farmer involved much paperwork but it did, more than one might think. Taxes, licenses, goods and supplies to be bought, produce to be sold, planting schedules to be kept track of... the list went on and on. Jimmy didn't mind the physical labor of farming but he hated doing paperwork. Now that he'd psyched himself up to it wasn't the time for an interruption. But Carty wouldn't have burst in if it weren't important.
On his way out the front door Jimmy grabbed an ancient, battered Stetson from the hat rack and jammed it down on his head. The province of West Mazama was better known for its rain than its sun but Jimmy had a very fair, almost pallid complexion, and he'd fry like a rasher of bacon given even the slightest provocation. There were lotions and such not, but covering up carefully cost less and served nearly as well.
Carty waited by the donkey, which was a small, six wheeled vehicle with balloon tires, a bench seat, and a tip bed. The donkey's combination of small size, low ground pressure, and excellent maneuverability made it excellent for getting into places where the truck, or even a tractor, might get bogged down. Such as down in the lower fields, near the stream, where the ground could get positively gluey.
As soon as Jimmy's bottom touched the seat Carty stomped the accelerator and they took off. Jimmy held onto his hat; the donkey didn't go especially fast but it did bounce around a lot. Carty kept both hands on the wheel; in any case he wasn't wearing a hat, nor even shirt: he managed with naught but a pair of overalls. He didn't need any more; his rugged, nut brown hide resisted the sun far better than did Jimmy's.
Carty was a Morph, which meant that he combined elements of human and animal in his construction. In Carty's case, the animal in question was a horse. His head was unquestionably that of a horse; he had hooves, and even a tail, poking through a slit in the back of his overalls, though he kept it bobbed. In between, he looked human: two arms, to legs, upright posture, and so on. He was covered with fine, chestnut hair, just like an actual horse would be. Also, he was big. He stood a full head taller than Jimmy, who may not have been a giant or anything but certainly wasn't a shrimp, either. He outweighed Jimmy by a good two and a half times, every gram of it solid, rock-hard muscle. His trunk was as thick and solid as a tree's, his arms and legs massive and powerful. He'd been working, so he smelled like a horse, too. Jimmy didn't notice; having spent most of his adult life in Carty's company he'd gotten used to it. Besides, if Jimmy had been out in the fields working he'd have smelled just as bad.
The trip didn't take long. Around the barn, down the hill, across the creek on the old stone bridge, and into the pasture where Jimmy grazed (non-Morph) sheep and horses when he had them. At the moment he didn't; the pasture's sole occupant was Bessie, the farm's milk cow. No sooner had they reached the gate then Jimmy knew something was terribly wrong. Bessie lay in a heap near the fence; Jimbo, the other farmhand, crouched beside her.
"What happened?" Jimmy demanded as the donkey slid to a stop.
"She stepped in a gopher hole, boss," Jimbo replied, shaking his head sadly. He looked like nothing so much as an older version of Carty. One might even think they were father and son- if one didn't know they were both geldings. Jimmy knew a dozen operators who'd swear up and down that their intact horse Morph stallions did ten times the work an equal number of geldings but they all had crews of human overseers. Even cold blood stallions were prone to violence and Jimmy worked his spread all by his lonesome. Carty and Jimbo did enough work and they were gentle souls despite their hulking appearances. Jimmy wasn't about to upset a system that fit everyone involved as comfortably as old jeans. He'd already had his share of civil strife with Darla, thank you very much.
"Son of a bitch," Jimmy muttered, pulling off his hat and scratching his dirty brown hair. Bessie hadn't just stepped in a hole. She'd stepped in a hole and snapped her leg like a dry twig. The hoof on her right foreleg flopped loosely; blood stained her hide where jagged bone ends had torn right through it. "Somebody get the rifle," he said, squatting down on his heels and fanning himself with his hat. Three bloody milk cows lost to gophers in six months. Twelve hundred Tars down the bloody drain.
Carty offered the rifle butt first. Jimmy rose and took it, drawing the bolt and inspecting the chamber before loading a round. He put the rifle to his shoulder, flicked off the safety, and stroked the trigger. Crows in the field took flight at the sharp report. Jimbo caught the spent cartridge out of the air when Jimmy drew the bolt to eject it. "If that son of a bitch who sold us those worthless gopher traps ever comes back around, I swear I'll put a bullet in him too."
"Amen to that," Jimbo muttered, his ears flicking back.
Jimmy sighed heavily, thumping the rifle's butt into the ground and leaning on it like a cane. "Nothing for it, I guess. Dress her up like the last one. At least with the county fair coming up maybe I can buy a new one without getting scalped too badly."
Jimmy walked slowly past the line of pens, sipping at an iced lemonade, admiring the beautiful cows. Beautiful, expensive cows. Every time he looked at one he saw it sprawled on its side, some leg or the other flopping loosely, bleeding from a perforated fracture. Every time that vision came to him he felt an acute pain in his wallet.
"Say, buddy. You looking for some dairy livestock?"
Jimmy turned. A small, skinny fellow with a Kaiser Bill moustache and a loud sports jacket stood there, grinning insincerely with a set of gleaming white, perfect teeth. City slicker, Jimmy thought. "Maybe," he allowed. "What's it to ya?" He didn't feel particularly social right now, especially not to a hopped up city kid like this.
"I happen to have some that I guarantee you is a better deal that any of this lot," the stranger said with a contemptuous sniff at the penned cows.
"Really." Jimmy crossed his arms. "How could you be so sure? You don't exactly look like the farming sort."
"I ain't," the stranger countered. "I work at a germ plasm lab."
Jimmy uncrossed his arms. Germ plasm labs produced Morphs. That being so it wasn't at all inconceivable that the stranger was telling the plain truth. But then why was he hawking his wares at the Brooks county fair, a place not exactly in the center of things even by local standards?
The stranger's grin widened. He knew he'd piqued Jimmy's interest. "I hear you lost a cow to gophers," he said.
"How-" Jimmy began, then cut himself off, cursing silently. Because if he didn't know I just told him. Not to mention that Brooks County had a very efficient rumor mill and any number of old biddies who'd talk your ear off given half a chance.
"Lotsa folks having problems with gophers recently," the stranger continued. "Lucky for you I happen to have just the thing to solve that problem, too."
Jimmy frowned. His bullshit-o-meter was moving rapidly into the yellow. "And what might that be, pray tell?"
"Well, since you ask," the stranger replied expansively, "Why don't you step on over to my tent and I'll show you. She'll produce as much high-grade milk as any of those heifers over there and eliminate your gophers at the same time."
"What exactly is she?" Jimmy wanted to know.
"A milk vixen," the stranger replied.
"A-" Jimmy's brow furrowed. "Pardon me, but did I hear right? You said a milk vixen?"
"That is correct."
Jimmy rubbed his temple. A vixen was a female fox. Foxes, as he recalled, were small canids who sometimes broke into the chicken houses and made off with his hens. Trying to imagine one with bags big enough to produce as much milk as a dairy cow made him shudder. "I suppose she eats gophers, too," he added.
"Sure does," the stranger agreed. "Digs 'em right out of their holes."
Jimmy stroked his chin. This was starting to sound more and more like an elaborate practical joke. "She's in your tent, you say?" he asked.
"She is." The stranger nodded. Then, for a moment, his smile wavered. "And she'd not some cockamamie story cooked up by a bunch of your hick friends, either."
"All right," Jimmy agreed suddenly. The stranger's aggravation had just enough of a ring of truth about it to tip the scales. If the man really did have a milk vixen in his tent he'd have a devil of a time convincing people it wasn't a joke. Besides, Jimmy's curiosity had been aroused.
"Right this way, sir," the stranger said, bowing from the waist and gesturing for Jimmy to precede him. Jimmy wondered if he wasn't the first person who hadn't laughed in the fellow's face. At the end of a brisk walk they arrived at a tent just outside the area normally used for livestock showing. It was in fact in the area where the sideshow operators set up, though it remained slightly separate from them- as if trying to distance itself- and lacked a sideshow attraction's traditional flash and glitter. A single small, neatly lettered sign advertised the attraction: See the Milk Vixen, one Tar.
"Do I pay you a Tar to get in?" Jimmy asked.
"Absolutely not." The stranger sniffed disdainfully. "That's to keep the gawkers away. You, sir, are clearly a rural professional of some note and a prospective client at that."
Jimmy suspected that he'd been insulted but let it pass. He wanted to see the milk vixen. The stranger lifted the tent's flap and waved Jimmy inside. As he waited for his eyes to adjust he tested the air. An animal was kept here, without a doubt, and it wasn't a cow though the tent was large enough for at least a couple. It smelled like... a dog, perhaps? Maybe there really was a milk vixen after all. Then his eyes adjusted and he saw her.
She wasn't a fox, at least not the four legged variety. She was a fox Morph: humanoid in the body like Carty and Jimbo, with a fox head, paws instead of feet, and a long, fluffy tail. Silky fur the color of firelight reflected in burnished copper covered her all over except for a white patch running from her chin to her crotch and reaching out along the insides of her upper arms and thighs. On her arms up to the elbows, her legs up to the knees, and the backs of her ears, the fur was black. Finally, a white tag decorated the tip of her tail. Jimmy need not have worried about the size of her bags; her breasts were quite large and she possessed a second pair mounted just below the first. Taken all together they appeared at least equivalent to a cow's udder. Breasts that size would have looked odd- if not grotesque- on a regular sized woman but the milk vixen probably measured around three meters tall standing up. At the moment she knelt in the straw lining her pen, her hands upon her knees, watching Jimmy with large, yellow-gold eyes. The rest of her figure matched the promise of her mammaries: fulsome and voluptuous but still reasonably firm. She looked pretty strong, too; thick, well-defined muscle showed on her arms, shoulders, back, belly, and calves. Her wrists, ankles, hands, and feet appeared quite sturdy but not disproportionately so. Black, canine style claws adorned her feet; her fingernails matched the color and while not claws per se did come to blunt points. At the very least she shouldn't have any trouble tearing up a gopher burrow.
Ever so slowly Jimmy pulled off his hat and fanned himself with it. It seemed hot here in a way that had nothing to do with air temperature but did have to do with the fact that the milk vixen sat with her knees apart and wore not a stitch of clothing. "How does she... stay up?" Jimmy heard himself asking. The milk vixen's ample curves seemed to defy gravity in a way he'd never seen in a human woman, at least not without the aid of specialized support garments. The milk vixen, by contrast, wore no such things. In fact, she wore absolutely nothing at all. Her entire form, in all its glory, lay revealed to Jimmy's discernment.
"Through the miracle of genetic engineering," the stranger replied, smiling expansively. "A network of ligaments just under her skin acts like a brassiere, girdle, and hose, all built in." He gave Jimmy a conspiratorial wink. "Don't you wish your wife looked like that?"
Jimmy found himself thinking of Darla, who had looked like that, albeit less amply developed. "I don't have a wife," he replied shortly, catching himself before adding anymore. "How much does she produce?" he added. He was here to replace a milk cow, after all. If the milk vixen couldn't produce she wasn't worth the money no matter what she looked like.
"We've had her up to about twenty liters a day," the stranger replied, once again all business. "According to the bigwigs she'll do thirty. That's with a midnight milking as well as morning and evening, which we didn't do in our trials."
"Is she producing now?" Jimmy wanted to know.
"Absolutely," the stranger assured. "Milk vixens lactate throughout their adult lives."
"Hmm." Jimmy rubbed his chin. A milk cow had to be bred before she'd produce. If a person owned only the one, that meant stud fees, which Jimmy could do without. On the other hand, the calf could be sold for profit, eaten, or kept, if it looked to be a good producer. Morphs couldn't breed, so making the milk vixen pregnant in order to start her milk production wasn't possible. Which, in a way, was a relief. The milk vixen was interesting, to be sure, but he didn't think he'd want to breed them. What would he do with the babies? Especially if he couldn't sell them? He could imagine his place becoming overrun with milk vixens, and shuddered slightly. Besides, where would he find a stud? Put an ad in the paper? Wanted: stud for milk vixen. Must be willing to make love to giant, four breasted female. The scary part was, Jimmy could imagine all sorts of people showing up. Including plenty of humans men, who'd be glad to give it a try even they weren't the right species.
Jimmy almost walked out right there. He had a vision of a of a cow stepping in a gopher hole, breaking its leg, falling on its calf, and crushing it to death. He winced.
"I want to see her produce," Jimmy decided. "That is, actual milk from her actual nipples." He wanted to get away from the whole question of breeding; it made him uncomfortable. Besides, milk was the point of this whole exercise. Without it, the whole thing was a non-starter.
"Of course," the stranger replied. "Alysa, fetch the stool and bucket. This fine gentleman requires a demonstration."
"Yes, master." Alysa spoke with a deep, sexy voice. A bit too deep for Jimmy's tastes but only to be expected given her size. She rose smoothly to her feet. Jimmy's eyes followed her up, his mouth hanging slightly open. She was every bit as tall as he'd estimated: double his own height, and maybe a bit more. She didn't bother opening the gate to her enclosure; she stepped right over the fence, giving Jimmy an excellent view of her legs and backside as she did so. They were, Jimmy had to admit, every bit as powerful and perfectly sculpted as the rest of her. When she squatted to pick up the stool and bucket tucked away in one corner of the tent, Jimmy got an even better look at her backside; her tail lifted up, out of the way. No, she wasn't wearing anything at all, not even panties. She had... all the right equipment, in all the right places. Scaled to her size, naturally.
Alysa placed the three-legged milking stool directly behind Jimmy. Then she placed a hand on his shoulder and gently pushed him down. For all its delicate, fine-boned appearance, the hand was twice the size of his own. The palm wasn't as hard as field hand's but it wasn't baby soft either; whatever Alysa had done before coming to Brooks County, she'd definitely worked. She was strong, too; every bit as strong as she looked. Up to a point she had to be, just to support her own weight. But it was more than that. She had a well developed, well toned physique, and she knew how to use it. If Jimmy had resisted Alysa could surely have forced him down without much effort at all. As it was, his knees folded and he dropped onto the stool with only a touch. Alysa placed the bucket in front of Jimmy, then got down on her hands and knees, waiting expectantly.
A moment or two passed before Jimmy responded. West Mazama wasn't nationally famous for its dairy products, like some other places, but it did well enough. There were plenty of dairy farms and pretty much everyone had a cow or two. Jimmy had grown up on the farm and been milking all his life. In addition to cows he'd milked goats, ewes, and on one occasion a mare. He'd never milked a woman, though; Alysa might be a Morph but despite their abundant size and number, not to mention being covered with fur, her breasts were structurally identical to those of a human female, a fact of which Jimmy found himself intensely, uncomfortably aware.
You came here to buy a milk cow, Jimmy reminded himself sternly. If you can't handle the milk vixen then march your ass back to the stock pens. He would have left right then had not more images of a cows with a broken legs flashed through his mind. Even if Alysa did step in a hole and break her leg she could be treated. Presumably she had the brains not to do it in the first place, which couldn't be said about most cows. An image of Alysa with a mangled, bloody gopher carcass clenched in her jaws flashed into his mind and his face split in a grin of savage glee. The idea of her turning them into milk that could be sold at the farmer's market was much too deliciously ironic a notion to discard lightly. Let the little bastards put some money into his pockets instead of taking it out in the form of lost cows and useless traps.
"Dip?" the slicker inquired, offering a can of bluish gel.
"Thank you." Jimmy scooped some up with his finger and rubbed it on his hands. The dip cleaned and disinfected his hands so he wouldn't convey infection either to Alysa's breasts or the milk she produced. It also softened his skin so he wouldn't chafe Alysa's nipples by handling them. He reached under her torso, stroking her lower left breast from base to nipple. In the process he squeezed and probed gently, looking for lumps, sores, or any other inconsistency in texture that might indicate ill health. He found not a one; Alysa's breasts felt as perfect as they looked. They were a bit firmer than he was used to, and the coating of soft fur was also a new thing. Moreover, since Alysa had four separate breasts instead of an udder with four teats, the nipples weren't exactly where he expected to find them; he had to grope around a little.
The stroking served another purpose as well. Udders- and breasts- were not merely bags of fluid waiting to be drained; their internal structure was more sponge-like. Milk collected in thousands of tiny sacs; stroking caused the sacs to squeeze their contents into a network of ducts that eventually emptied into a chamber just behind the nipple. Muscles surrounding that chamber contracted when the nipple was stimulated, causing it to eject a squirt of milk. It wasn't tugging or squeezing that got the milk out, as many non-farmers tended to think. One merely took advantage of the breast's natural pumping mechanism.
When Jimmy did finally get his hands on the nipples they felt wrong: they were too small. Alysa had nipples, just like a human woman, though twice as big, obviously. (Or maybe a bit more; even if she'd been human sized Alysa would have had large, prominent nipples.) Point being she did have nipples, and not teats, like a cow. Groping for them like this made Jimmy think of Darla, which caused him to flush hotly. Fortunately the stranger stood behind him and Alysa couldn't see his face.
The pumping mechanism in Alysa's breasts worked exactly as advertised when Jimmy took a nipple between his fingers and squeezed gently; it obligingly discharged a generous spurt of milk into the pail. Jimmy squeezed off a couple more squirts, inspected the product, then tossed it out before moving to the next nipple.
Cows spent a lot of time outside; they lay down in the dirt or other filth, and they didn't bathe. "Stripping" the udder helped to flush out anything that might pollute the milk. For her own part Alysa might smell somewhat dog-like but she obviously bathed regularly and otherwise took care of herself; her breasts looked clean and the milk did, too. Since everything looked fine Jimmy started milking in earnest, doing both nipples on one side, just as he would with a cow. In short order the bucket was half full; he started to rise but Alysa beat him to it, straightening up, turning around, and going back down on hands and knees, presenting her other side. Jimmy stroked, inspected, then stripped the breasts on this side, then proceeded to fill the bucket the rest of the way. Alysa's milk flowed easily and generously, and from the look of things she had plenty more to give. Jimmy nodded in satisfaction; she may or may not produce twenty liters but she'd produce more than enough for himself, Jimbo, and Carty.
"Here, try some," the stranger suggested, dipping a cup into the bucket and offering it.
Jimmy took the cup. He could tell it wasn't cow's milk; the consistency wasn't quite the same and the color slightly off somehow. Nevertheless it smelled quite good, and it radiated lingering body warmth through the cup. He brought it to his lips and took a sip.
No, it definitely wasn't cow's milk. It was richer, almost like cream. Sweeter, too. And... with a curious undertone. Somehow, it reminded Jimmy of a milkshake, though he couldn't exactly say why. It wasn't that sweet, nor as strongly flavored. But there was something, to be sure. Jimmy took another drink, swirling it in his mouth like a wine taster. "That's it!" he exclaimed aloud.
"What is?" the stranger asked, looking, if anything, mildly amused.
"Malt," Jimmy declared. "It tastes like malt."
The stranger grinned. "Tasty, isn't it?"
"Yeah," Jimmy allowed. He'd started to say it was too sweet to drink with breakfast. That may have been true, but it was amazingly good. It might not be the same as cow's milk but Jimmy found himself looking forward to it even so. He smiled, but the smile vanished almost at once. Thinking of breakfast reminded him of something important.
"What does she eat?" Jimmy asked. Regular foxes ate chickens, and lambs if they could get them. He could just imagine how fast a vixen that must weigh around four hundred kilos would go through his hen house.
"The short answer is anything you'd eat yourself," the stranger replied. "The slightly longer answer is anything you'd feed a horse, except for raw grain and grass. Her digestive system could handle it but she doesn't have the teeth to chew it. She can eat raw potatoes, raw greens, and such so long as they aren't too hard to chew. You can also feed her raw meat and raw fish. Just remember she's not a horse; for best health she needs some meat."
"Okay," Jimmy replied. "Let me look at her teeth, then."
Without waiting for direction from the stranger Alysa rose and turned to face Jimmy squarely. Having her tower over him from such close range startled him into jumping to his feet. All that accomplished was to leave him staring at her belly button. Then she sat down on her heels, which lowered her face to a level only somewhat higher than his eye level. She lowered her head and opened wide.
Jimmy flinched; he couldn't help it. Like a dog, Alysa could open her mouth a lot wider than could a human. Her long canines and sharp incisors were unquestionably those of a predator and seeing them from the business end, as it were, unsettled him. Still, they were clean, bright, and quite solid looking. Surely no gopher stood a chance against them. And... seeing them gave Jimmy an idea. The question of how to keep Alysa fed without spending a fortune had troubled him. With choppers like that, though, she could easily handle meat that might be too tough for human consumption. Of which there was plenty in Brooks County, if one knew where to look.
Despite that the railroad brought many wonderful things, draft animals were still the prime mover in these parts. And every user of animals eventually faced the question of what to do with ones that could no longer earn their keep. Some got sick or wounded and had to be put down. Others simply got too old. Disposing of them was an industry in itself. With fairly little effort a person could obtain such animals for next to nothing. Some operators would give them away, just to get rid of them, provided the taker handled transport and disposal. Jimmy could buy one, have Alysa butcher it, eat what she wanted, then smoke or salt the rest. Every few weeks he'd buy another. That way, he didn't have to turn so much valuable produce into feed.
"Not bad," Jimmy allowed, still inspecting Alysa's teeth. Then he took a step back and turned to face the stranger. Alysa closed her mouth. "I'll give you five hundred for her."
"Just because I'm not a country bumpkin like you doesn't make me a fool," the stranger replied. "Fifteen hundred."
Jimmy recoiled in shock. "You city folk think we grow money out here along with everything else?"
After some friendly haggling they settled on equitable price. Alysa might be pretty as all get out but that didn't count for much in a place where she'd have to work for a living, especially in light of her non-standard size. On the other hand, she was strong and healthy; she might not be ideally suited as a labor Morph but she'd do. Besides, it was evident that the stranger hadn't enjoyed much success in trying to sell her, if he'd found it necessary to go looking for buyers instead of waiting for them to come to him.
"A pleasure doing business with you, Mr. MacGregor," the stranger said, fondly eyeing Jimmy's check. "One thing."
"What?" Jimmy asked.
"Watch out for tods."
"Male foxes," the stranger clarified. "They're a randy lot, foxes are." He kissed the check then put it away in his breast pocket. "Alysa, I'd like you to meet Jimmy. He's your master now."
"A pleasure to meet you, Master." Alysa bowed while remaining seated.
"You too, Alysa." Jimmy offered his hand; Alysa took it- engulfing it in her own- and shook gently. "One thing," he added.
"Yes?" the stranger replied.
"By any chance does she have any clothes?"
Whistling tunelessly to himself, the stranger finished loading the folded tent on the back of his truck. He climbed into the cab and drove, leaving the fairgrounds for Brooks proper. He parked at the railroad cafe and went inside. Catching the eye of the short order cook, the stranger produced a dime, holding it up where the cook could see before placing it on the counter. The cook nodded. The stranger nodded in turn and stepped up to the telephone. The railroad cafe was the only place in town with a phone that was available to the general public.
From his back pocket the stranger withdrew an object that seemed to be a pair of heavy plastic disks fastened together. He separated them with a deft twist; they remained connected by a wire. One disk went over the phone's mouthpiece, the other over the earpiece. An indicator light on the mouthpiece disk came on, glowing red. The stranger punched his code on the keypad, then turned the crank. The phone made a single ding to indicate that the code had been properly sent. The light on the mouthpiece turned yellow and started blinking.
There was a click in the earpiece when the phone at the far end of the connection picked up, but no one spoke. The stranger also remained silent, watching the blinking light on the mouthpiece. After a few seconds it turned steady green. "Hello, Professor," the stranger began. "I got a sale." He fished the check from his pocket. "James Fennimore MacGregor. Box 28, Rural Route 14, Brooks, West Mazama, ANR-476." The stranger laughed. "No, it wasn't hard. The milk did the trick." He dropped his voice, after scanning the room with only his eyes. "No, no one saw me who might recognize me," he said softly. "I'll be back soon. Goodbye." He detached the disks, screwed them back together, and returned them to his pocket before hanging up the phone. On the way out he winked at the waitress, who was a young skunk Morph female. She giggled in return. Whistling tunelessly to himself, the stranger got back into his truck and drove off.
"What'd you say she was again, Boss?" Jimbo asked, looking up at Alysa somewhat doubtfully. Neither he nor Carty were exactly short but still she towered over them. She wore a pair of overalls and a white cotton tee shirt. It sounded like enough to easily satisfy the needs of decency but it wasn't. Not the way Alysa wore it, at any rate. For starters, the overalls had been tailored to show off her form, rather than the traditional loose, comfortable fit. Also, there was a fairly large opening in the back for her tail, with only a button at the top to hold it closed. In all fairness it didn't reveal that much, but the top of the cleft between her buttocks was clearly visible. And the shirt... Jimmy could hardly have imagined a garment that covered so much while leaving so little to the imagination. Alysa's breasts stretched the material like fruit in a bag. When she walked they swayed back and forth. It was rather painfully obvious that she wasn't wearing a bra. She did have a top, but it was made of shiny black leather and decorated with silver studs. Even so, if Jimmy had anticipated that things would be this bad he would have told her to wear it under her shirt.
"A milk vixen," Jimmy replied. Saying it out loud to Carty and Jimbo embarrassed him more than he cared to admit. But damn, he'd paid his money. If he was going to back out now he'd need a better reason that simply because his delicate sensibilities were shocked.
"Huh," Carty said, somewhat dubiously. That's what he said when he didn't think his audience would appreciate what he really thought.
Jimmy wasn't in the mood for it. He shot Carty a baleful look and patted the truck bed. "Up here, Alysa."
"Yes, Master." Alysa sat. The springs groaned and the bed sank precipitously. It didn't quite bottom out. The bed was rated for half a ton and Alysa probably came pretty close to that all by herself.
"Hoo boy," Jimbo commented, scratching his ear.
"She'll be fine," Jimmy declared with an assurance he didn't feel. From the standpoint of weight distribution he should have put Alysa in the stock trailer. But for her it would be narrow and confining; she'd have to sit in the dirt and filth. She might not be human but she wasn't an animal, for goodness' sake. So Jimmy put her in the truck and transferred all the other good they'd bought into the trailer. It had seemed like a good idea at the time. The story of my life, Jimmy thought gloomily.
The worst part was they way everybody smirked knowingly. Jimmy was a young- youngish- single man. For several years now, since the ending of his marriage, he'd lived with naught for company but his two (male) Morph farmhands. Now he comes to the fair and buys a sexy female Morph. It don't take a genius to do that math.
It's not like that! Jimmy wanted to scream. He felt like his face was burned permanently red. He didn't say anything because even he could see that making effusive protestations while Alysa stood behind him with her boobs hanging out all over the place didn't exactly enhance the moral authority of his position.
Besides, it wasn't as if Jimmy were the first. Not even close; stuff like that happened all the time. At least Jimmy was single; quite a few who engaged in such things still had wives. Or husbands; not all of them were men.
To be sure, Jimmy appreciated the allure of sex on demand with a partner who couldn't talk back. He could even allow that a woman might enjoy such an arrangement as much as a man. He simply couldn't believe it really worked that way. A wife was supposed to respect and obey her husband. Darla had never openly defied Jimmy- except at the very end- but she'd never been anything like obedient. A Morph would be property, with even less right to object. Which, in Jimmy's mind, didn't change a single thing. If she were unhappy she'd find ways to make his life miserable. As her owner Jimmy could replace her, but that cost money, just like replacing a wife. And the replaced concubine would spill her guts to her new owners, who would surely pump her for all the juicy bits. (Jimmy had seen that happen, too.) Far better to stay out of the whole mess. For those who absolutely couldn't do without, there was Grandma Jenny's Comfort House. Technically it was a bed and breakfast- sort of a boarding house with rooms rented by the night- but it was an open secret that the girls provided extra services, for a consideration. Once upon a time Jimmy had frowned upon such behavior. Now he saw it as more of a refuge for the casualties in the War of the Sexes.
Jimmy climbed into the truck's cab. Jimbo joined him. Carty got in back with Alysa. With all of them on board Jimmy knew the truck was over its weight limit. Oh well; nothing for it. He switched on the fuel cells and waited for them to warm up.
"Where we gonna keep her?" Jimbo asked, with the air of someone just making conversation.
Jimmy's hand froze in the act of punching "Forward" on the drive selector panel. It took a great effort not to curse. The question hadn't even crossed his mind. She was too big for the house; if he put her in the field worker's shack with Jimbo and Carty, none of them would have any privacy. Putting her in the barn troubled him for the same reason as had putting her in the livestock trailer: she might be a Morph but she wasn't an animal. Which left- which left-
"We'll clean out the storage shed," Jimmy decided. "It's just full of junk anyway, and it's got a stove." He congratulated himself on coming up with that as if he'd had it in mind all along. Unfortunately, Jimbo had noticed that it took Jimmy several beats too long in order to respond. By now Jimbo knew his master far better than Jimmy would have been comfortable knowing. But Jimbo merely nodded, taking the response at face value. It really didn't matter in any case. They'd get by somehow, like they always did.
Jed Hagar and his wife, Trina, drove by in their truck with their six sons in the back. Jimmy smiled and waved; Jed and Trina smiled and waved back. The boys whooped, hollered, and wolf-whistled, their attention clearly focused on Alysa. She waved, which caused the truck to sway alarmingly. Jimmy grimaced and gripped the wheel more firmly.
"Everybody in West Mazama's gonna know about this by sunup," Jimbo commented.
"Yeah," Jimmy agreed, hunching his shoulders. In formulating his plans he hadn't given much thought to what people would say, as usual. To avoid talking to Jimbo any more he looked at the fields on the opposite side of the road. A horse-drawn reaper- guided by a horse Morph- cut hay and fed its output into a fuel-cell powered bailing machine carried in the bed of a horse-drawn wagon.
Though born and raised in farming country Jimmy found the juxtaposition of advanced and primitive technologies oddly unsettling. That was, perhaps, because he'd always had more of an affinity for machines than livestock. That was how he, Carty, and Jimbo managed to run a farm essentially on their own. Unlike a great many farmers in West Mazama Jimmy understood machines. He could judge the cost of hardware as compared to what it could produce; not merely in terms of the up-front price tag but maintenance and other long-term considerations. When machinery did break down he could usually repair it himself without resorting to expensive service calls. Everything that had to be done was mechanized to make it as efficient as possible and Jimmy avoided growing crops that couldn't be mechanically processed. Perhaps by doing that he didn't earn so much as some of his neighbors... but he maintained a steady, comfortable income in no small part by avoiding costly labor problems. There were some who might, if pressed, say that Jimmy MacGregor got along better with machinery than he did with people.
What bothered Jimmy the most was that people acted as if Morphs were somehow distinct from machinery when, in a technical sense, they were machinery. In the distant past, some time before the Cataclysm, human scientists had invented Morphs. Modern germ plasm labs created new Morphs but they used ancient technology they really didn't understand. The machinery survived because it was capable of self-reproduction. When Jimmy tried to imagine the pyramid of knowledge required to actually invent that stuff- instead of merely copying it- his mind boggled. And yet it had existed... before the Cataclysm swept it away. Nearly all of society, so far as Jimmy could see, was built on the wreckage of what had once been. Nobody else seemed to care but he couldn't help wonder what that boded for the future. That might also account for why he wasn't much of a socialite. He couldn't shake the feeling that he and his entire civilization existed on borrowed time.
With great relief Jimmy pulled into the barn yard back home. It was an end to the harrowing journey and relief- at least temporarily- from what the local folk thought of his latest addition to the family.
"Right," Jimmy declared, climbing out of the cab with some relief. Alysa merely stood up. "Let's clear out the shed. Come along, everyone."
The barn and the main house framed the barnyard on the left and right, respectively. At the far end, opposite the drive, stood the chicken coop, the field worker's shack, the shed, and the bath house, which had remained half finished ever since Darla's departure. Jimmy decided at once that he would complete it; aside from the wash station in the barn, it was the only place Alysa could bathe.
Unfortunately, the padlock on the shed had rusted during the winter. Even after oiling it liberally Jimmy couldn't turn the key. When Carty tried, the key broke off on the lock.
"Nuts," Jimmy exclaimed, without much heat. He should have expected something like this. "Oh well. Carty, go get the crowbar."
"Righto." Carty hurried off.
When Carty and the crowbar returned, Jimmy slipped the bar through the hasp of the padlock and was about to give it a pull. He paused. "Alysa," he said, "Get this thing off for me, won't you?"
"Yes, Master." Alysa moved forward and took the crowbar. In order to work effectively she had to sit; she did so with her feet tucked under her buttocks and her knees spread, just as she had in the stranger's tent. She slid the crowbar through the hasp so that half its length stuck out on either side. She rotated the bar until it bound, then set her hands and heaved. The loop attached to the door frame broke with a band. With one hand she returned the crowbar to Jimmy; with the other she shoved the door open. It squealed on the tracks but it went.
"Very good," Jimmy pronounced. Well, Alysa was strong, no doubt about it. "Now, let's see..." He cast an eye over the contents of the shed.
Most of what the shed contained was junk, pure and simple. Stuff Jimmy had put away because he'd meant to fix or strip it later. Of that, the vast majority had been rendered irrelevant by something that had happened since: he'd changed his mind about the design, he's gotten rid of the equipment the parts would be for, or he'd bought a new replacement part instead of refurbishing an old one. So, with the exception of a few bits needed for the bath house, it all went on the scrap pile. Which left the shed empty, but badly in need of a cleaning. So Jimmy and Alysa swept, dusted, and mopped while Jimbo and Carty put away all the stuff bought at the fair and got dinner started.
"There," Jimmy pronounced, leaning on his mop. "Ain't that nice?" It had been a heck of a lot of work but he couldn't help grinning. Having a female in the household made Jimmy care about things he hadn't before.
"Yes, Master," Alysa replied. The shed had a peaked roof but not interior ceiling, so she could stand up.
Jimmy licked his lips. "Alysa-" he began. In truth, the whole 'master' thing was getting to him. Yes, Jimbo and Carty were technically his property, but they'd all lived together so long the formal distinctions had blurred to unintelligibility. Alysa was every bit as polite and deferential as a slave should be, which only served as a constant reminder to Jimmy that she was one.
There were people who ruled over their Morphs like the Lord God Almighty. As a child Jimmy had never noticed; he accepted it as the way things were, like the weather. After Darla, though... she'd lorded over him. Not as overtly, perhaps, but it had been painfully obvious that she considered her husband to be a member of a lower order. After her departure Jimmy had felt a tremendous relief, as if a great weight had been lifted from him. Now, every time Alysa called him Master he felt like he was becoming something like Darla, and that bothered him greatly.
"Alysa, you don't have to call me Master," Jimmy said, getting it all out in a rush.
Alysa blinked. "Master?"
"Call me Jimmy," Jimmy tried. "We... we're not so formal here. We're just... a little family, y'know? So there's no need for all that 'sir' and 'master' stuff. Okay? Please?" Jimmy knew he sounded desperate. He couldn't help it; he felt himself teetering on the edge of an abyss. Yet another thing he should have anticipated and hadn't.
"Yes, Jimmy, I understand," Alysa replied after a brief pause.
Jimmy grinned with relief. That sentence was the first time he felt like he'd spoken to the actual Alysa instead of the dutiful servant persona she'd adopted for herself. It was a subtle distinction- there wasn't any significant change in her tone or demeanor- and yet it made a huge difference. Jimmy slapped Alysa... hip, since that's what he could reach. "Wonderful," he pronounced. "Let's go see if dinner's ready." He turned and went skipping off without waiting for an answer.
"Okay, Jimmy," Alysa replied. Since he'd turned away, Jimmy didn't notice Alysa's expression or the tone of her voice. If he had, he might have been very, very alarmed.
Like the horses they resembled, Jimbo and Carty ate no meat. Usually they stewed up a mess of greens supplemented with bread or grits. Other times- like today- they made meatless vegetable soup with oats or dumplings in it. More often than not Jimmy ate it right along with them, because it was easier than fixing his own food separately. When he absolutely had to get meat he'd bake a chicken or get something from the smokehouse. Today, there hadn't been time. For himself Jimmy wasn't unduly concerned but he worried a little about Alysa. As it turned out he needn't have; she seemed perfectly happy with the vegetable soup, bread, and a pile of raw cabbages.
While sopping a piece of day old bread (which was probably more than just a day old), Jimmy watched Alysa eat. They'd set up a table in the yard so Alysa wouldn't have to try wriggling into the kitchen. She picked up a head of cabbage, dipped it in her soup, then sprinkled some salt on it. She took a bite, using the side of her mouth in order to bring her back teeth to bear. They sheared a collop from the side of the cabbage without any difficulty, like a regular person taking a bite out of an apple.
"Thank you very much," Alysa said to Jimbo and Carty, after swallowing her mouthful. "The soup is wonderful, and this cabbage is delicious." She took another bite with evident relish.
"You're quite welcome, ma'am," Carty said, pleased and embarrassed at the same time.
"Oh, you don't have to call me ma'am," Alysa said with a chuckle. "We're all family here, right?"
"Oh, it's my pleasure, ma'am," Carty replied, his eyes shining. "May I get you some more soup?"
"Yes, please," Alysa replied, handing over her bowl. Carty ladled more soup into it.
"You like cabbage?" Jimmy inquired.
"It's nice, but I prefer spinach," Alysa replied. "In the city it's hard to get the really good fresh kind, though."
"No need to worry about that here," Carty put in. "We grow all this stuff ourselves. Can't get any fresher than that." He chuckled; Alysa laughed with him.
Jimbo, who had been following the conversation but saying little, gave Carty a kick under the table. Carty started, then subsided quickly, clearing his throat.
"What did your previous master feed you, Alysa?" Jimmy asked. He'd been debating with himself whether or not to ask about her previous owner. Sure, he was curious. But just as much, he wasn't sure he really wanted to know. That leatherette getup spoke volumes all by itself.
"Raw beef, mostly," Alysa replied, dipping a bun in her soup and taking a bite.
"Raw?" Jimmy asked, blinking.
"Yes, it helps keep my coat shiny," Alysa replied.
"Huh," Jimmy commented. "What about chicken?"
"Not to speak of," Alysa replied. "I'd like to try it, though, if I could."
"We can arrange that," Jimmy replied. "Ever butchered one?"
"No," Alysa admitted. "My meat always came pre-cut. Still cold, often as not." She made a face.
"We'll look into that tomorrow," Jimmy replied. The coop's egg production was slacking off; he had a bunch of old hens who'd reached the end of their productive life. He'd intended to slaughter them anyway; now he could have Alysa do it.
"That sounds wonderful," Alysa said, which only proved that she had no experience slaughtering chickens. She put down her cabbage. "Would you like a glass of milk, Jimmy?"
"We don't have any..." Jimmy started to say. No, there wasn't any milk in the cooler. The only milk nearby was on Alysa's person, as it were. Surely she didn't mean-
"But we do," Alysa says with a mischievous giggle. She shrugged the straps off her shoulders, letting the front of her overalls flop down. Then she rolled up her shirt, baring her breasts.
You stop that right this instant. The words formed in Jimmy's mind but didn't make it to his mouth. What did come out was a dab of spittle that he sucked back hastily. Alysa plucked his glass from his limp, unresisting fingers and poured the water out. With her other hand she aimed a nipple into the glass and started massaging. Remarkably few spurts later, the glass was full. Alysa placed the full glass back in Jimmy's nerveless grasp.
Jimmy's jaw didn't drop but his eyes bugged until they looked ready to fall out of his face. He stared at the glass because that's where his eyes pointed and he couldn't seem to move them. You bought her because she's a milk vixen, remember? whispered a mocking voice in the back of his mind. He turned the glass, feeling the warmth of Alysa's body still in the milk it contained. "Right," he said, raising the glass in salute. "Thanks." He took a drink. Once again he was struck by the smooth, sweet flavor. For a moment he was transported back to his childhood; his mother used to prepare sweet milk for him, warming it on the stove and adding a pinch of sugar for flavor. At the time he'd thought it the best thing he'd ever tasted. So it had remained, right up to the point when he'd first tasted Alysa's milk. It had only taken him a while to realize it.
"May I have a glass?" Carty asked, hopefully.
"Sure," Alysa replied. She filled one for him and another for Jimbo.
Jimbo studied the glass a moment, swirling the contents and sniffing them. Then he took a sip and his eyes widened. He took another sip, than a gulp. "Damn," He exclaimed. "That's good!"
"Ain't it, though?" Jimmy put in, taking another pull. "Like a warm milkshake."
"Better," Carty added.
"I do my best," Alysa said. Her words and tone were modest but she beamed with pride.
Just then a car drove by on the road. Jimmy started, nearly tumbling out of his chair. The car didn't slow and the passengers couldn't possibly have seen anything but it reminded Jimmy that he wasn't alone out here, whatever it might look like. "Alysa, put your shirt back on," he said shortly. By now Jimmy was surely the hot topic all over the county. Already everyone thought they knew why Jimmy, lonely bachelor, had splurged on a sexy, four-breasted Morph female. If someone happened to see her half naked like that-
Jimmy shuddered. He was used to being the town pariah; even as a boy he'd never been overly social. He was the one the other boys always picked on. Then Darla came along and he caught ten kinds of Hell because of that. After she left it was even worse. Everyone said that taking up with Darla had been a mistake. Then they acted as if losing her was even more of a mistake. What the Hell do you people want from me? Jimmy wanted to scream. I did everything I was supposed to. When I didn't get married, everybody talked. When I got married, everybody talked. When it all turned to shit everybody talked ten times as much as before. With a snarl he slammed his glass down on the table. It didn't break but the sound echoed like a shot and plates jumped. Milk slopped out, spraying in a fan across the wood.
When he looked up, Jimmy saw that Jimbo, Carty, and Alysa were all staring at him. Jimbo and Carty looked like people watching a madman have a fit. Alysa had her shirt back down and her overalls half up. Her expression revealed nothing at all. She'd reverted to her 'polite servant' persona.
Jimmy swallowed. Alysa's reaction hurt him the most. He'd told her they were a family. She'd believed him and acted as if it were so. Sure, expressing milk right there at the table was a bit much. But what had he expected? She hadn't been built for farm work. Her last owner had probably had her in a strip club or a brothel. Or... there were stories about private clubs. Places you went in the big city, where you only got in if you knew somebody. And what happened there... Jimmy didn't believe most of what he heard. It was simply too fantastic. Still, he vividly recalled how Alysa hadn't shown the least discomfit at being naked in front of him the first time they met. He suspected that she'd deliberately flashed her bottom at him while getting the pail and stool. She could have squatted, but instead she bent over. Of course Alysa was a sex Morph. She was merely serving her new master as she'd been taught. And he'd snapped at her because he'd been too wrapped up in his own problems. Now she'd think all that stuff about being a family was nothing but hot air.
It was something Darla would do. Had done, often enough.
Jimmy surged to his feet. The thought of being like Darla made him want to throw up. He licked his lips. "I..." he began. But what could he say? He felt a decade of pain pushing at the inside of his mouth, struggling to escape. For any of it to make sense he had to explain all of it. And that... was too much. "Look, I'm sorry," he mumbled. "Jimbo, Carty, the soup was wonderful, like always. And thank you for the milk, Alysa. It's good. It's really, really good. But I'm... I'm not feeling good. I'm gonna go lay down. Jimbo, would you milk her this evening? And finish getting her room set up? Thanks." He slouched off, shoulders hunched and his hands thrust into his pockets.
Jimbo rose slowly to his feet, his eyes fixed on Jimmy's retreating back. "Carty, you clean up here, okay?" he said. "Alysa-" he took her hand gently- "Let's go up to the barn and take care of the milking. There'll be plenty of soup left over if you'd like something later."
"Okay," Alysa replied. She didn't return the pressure but allowed herself to be led.
Carty made a face, as if he were about to protest. Jimbo glared at him. Carty subsided with ill grace and started picking up the supper dishes.
In the barn, Jimbo went about collecting the stool, a pail, and a milk can in a leisurely fashion. Alysa looked around, then sank to her knees. She watched Jimbo work, her gaze curiously intense and yet detached.
"Jimmy had a wife, you see," Jimbo began, as if apropos of nothing. "She wasn't a good woman. She didn't like him for who he was. She liked him for what she could get out of him. She married him 'cause she thought she could make him do what she wanted. She could, too, mostly. But only to a point. Jimmy don't have the fire like some folks. He ain't out to take the world by the horns. He just wants to get along. Darla realized that, finally. So she left."
"Just like that?" Alysa asked.
"'Course not," Jimbo replied. "She did it in the worst possible way, that would hurt Jimmy the most. I think she wanted to punish him for not being good enough for her. Anyway, he's always been kinda shy about women. Darla only made it worse. So what I'm sayin'..." he paused briefly. "I know you're just trying to be nice, but please don't try to... entice him. He won't go for it. It's nothing against you, he's just... not that sort."
"You mean he won't have sex with me?" Alysa inquired.
"Uh... yeah." Jimbo fiddled with the milk can in order to cover a flash of embarrassment. There were advantages to a male only household.
"You mean he really only bought me for the milk?" Alysa exclaimed. She sounded as shocked as Jimbo had felt when she pulled up her shirt at the table.
"I think he bought you because you're pretty, and he wanted something pretty in his life," Jimbo replied. "But he also needed milk. Just... don't expect to be his- his-" there was a word for it, Jimbo knew. Like a personal call girl, but somehow more respectable.
"Concubine," Alysa suggested.
"Yeah, that's it," Jimbo agreed. "He'll like you to look at- he isn't that sort- but don't try dancing naked on his back or anything." Then Jimbo laughed. If Alysa danced naked on someone's back, they'd better be awfully darn strong or she'd pound them into pulp.
Alysa chuckled too. Then her expression changed. Her eyes flicked down to Jimbo's crotch, then back to his face. "What about you?" she inquired.
"I'm a gelding," Jimbo replied, taking a seat on the milking stool. "That stuff don't make no matter to me."
"Really." Alysa's tone made it clear she didn't believe a word of it. Casually, she shrugged the strap off one shoulder, then the other. Then she gathered the hem of her shirt and slowly, languidly, rolled it up, turning the act of undressing into a strip-tease.
Jimbo watched. This wasn't anything new; there were some females in town- and a couple human women, too- who apparently thought he was only pretending to be a gelding and kept trying to catch him out. He'd never understood why it mattered so much to them. A few diehards kept right on trying, no matter how often he failed to respond. This wasn't even the first time a female had stripped for him in an attempt to get him aroused. On the other hand, it was the first time the stripping had been done by a professional. Jimbo may not have appreciated Alysa as a sex object but he did appreciate craftsmanship, and Alysa was very good at what she did. Jimbo admired her, and her performance, just as he would have a singer or an instrumentalist.
Alysa finished by unbuttoning the flaps that gathered her overalls around her waist and let them slide off. Then she stepped out of them and stood before Jimbo in all her naked glory, She tossed her head, initiating a motion that propagated down to her shoulders and hips in turn, transitioning slowly from facing him squarely to offering him a three-quarter view of her back, standing hip shot with one hand resting casually on her outhrust pelvis, gazing at him over her shoulder with an expression that was at once coy and challenging.
Alysa turned on her heel. She wasn't acting any more but the motion was no less precise than before. Her gaze dropped to Jimbo's crotch, studied it for a moment, then returned to his face. "You're mocking me," she stated. There wasn't anything accusatory in it; just a statement of fact.
"Not at all," Jimbo protested. "You're beautiful, and it was a beautiful performance. I don't have to get randy as Hell to appreciate that. Fact is, I think not getting randy lets me appreciate it more."
"You really are a gelding," Alysa observed
"Toldja," Jimbo replied. "Now, if you don't mind, can we get on with the milking?"
"No." Alysa turned away, her arms crossed over her chest. It didn't help as much as it might; her lower breasts bulged out to the sides, sticking out under her arms.
"Why not?" Jimbo inquired.
Alysa looked back over her shoulder. "I'm no cow, Jimbo, and I refuse to be treated like one. You want something from me. I want something from you."
"And what would that be?" Jimbo inquired.
"Show me," Alysa replied. "You say you're a gelding. Take off your clothes and let me see for myself."
"Why should I?" Jimbo responded.
"Because you're not my master," Alysa pointed out. "You don't have the authority to order me. You could ask Jimmy to do it, but you won't. Because he's not that kind of master. Having to lay down the law would hurt him terribly. You're going to sacrifice your virtue to me in order to protect him."
Jimbo got to his feet, his expression stern. "Stop this, Alysa. You're being silly."
"I'm totally serious," Alysa replied. "You want milk. I want a look. You can't force me. Sure, you could call the sheriff or something, but you won't. You'd have to explain to Jimmy why you'd done it, and that would bother you a lot. Besides, you're the one who said that stuff don't make no matter to you. Why should you care if I want to embarrass myself?"
"Okay," Jimbo replied, slipping the straps off his shoulders. "Go right ahead and embarrass yourself." His overalls fell at his feet. His hips were smooth and straight, his belly flat and hard, for all that he was somewhat past his physical prime. He did have good genes; he'd been designed to have an optimal physique. Farm life gave him plenty of opportunities for exercise and even during the slow periods he contrived to stay active; sitting around too much left him feeling bloated and lethargic. He stepped out of his overalls and waited patiently.
"Shirt too," Alysa directed. Jimbo's shirt ended just above his crotch, so it didn't hide what she'd asked to see. Nevertheless, he took it off and laid it on his overalls. He stood, awaiting Alysa's judgement, hands clasped loosely behind his back.
Alysa looked Jimbo up and down. He had a very nice body. Solid and quite heavily muscled, but artfully sculpted even so. His creators probably hadn't cared much about appearance, but in making him strong and healthy they'd also contrived to make him strikingly handsome, if not overtly beautiful. Farm life had marked him with a few scars here and there, but Alysa felt they added far more to his character than they detracted from his physical perfection.
And finally... Alysa's gaze arrived at, and lingered upon, Jimbo's manly organs. The corners of his mouth quirked up in a smile; though flaccid, his penis was as large and powerful as the rest of him. Erect, it would be as long and thick as a summer sausage. She couldn't imagine any reason Jimbo needed such impressive wedding tackle, so it must have been pure conceit on the part of his designer.
Alysa's smile faded. Jimbo had told her he was a gelding and he quite evidently was. His impressive member didn't in any way conceal his lack of testicles. It made his crotch look somehow misshapen, way out of proportion with the actual size of the missing parts. Alysa slipped a hand under his penis and lifted it. His scrotum wasn't completely gone; there was a bit left, with a faint scar running down the middle of it. The surgeon had done a good job, at least. Alysa moved her hand upward, caressing his belly and chest. Losing his testicles didn't appear to have cost him any muscle mass, though his coat did feel a bit softer than she might have expected, and his body odor seemed slightly muted.
"Finished?" Jimbo inquired. He'd stood calmly, stoically enduring the manhandling.
"No," Alysa replied. All the touching apparently hadn't affected him in the least; his penis remained as soft and limp as an overcooked noodle. Alysa knelt, sitting on her heels so she could reach Jimbo easily with both hands. She ran a hand up onto his chest, massaging his pectorals, while at the same time stroking and squeezing his buttocks. He had an incredibly nice ass. The coating of hair made it sleek and silky, even more of a pleasure to touch.
"Enjoying yourself?" Jimbo inquired.
"You bet," Alysa averred. "Don't you think maybe you're overdoing the gelding thing a bit?"
Jimbo sniffed. In truth, Alysa was probably right. But she had insisted on making it a point of honor.
"We'll see about that, won't we?" Alysa purred. She licked his nipple, then nibbled at it gently. Her hand slipped between his legs, caressing his scrotum and stroking the underside of his penis.
Jimbo drew a sharp breath. He suppressed it, but not quite quickly enough. Losing his testicles had pretty much eliminated his sex drive, but that hadn't deprived him of the ability to experience sensual pleasure.
Losing his testicles had considerably reduced his sex drive. Over the years it had faded away completely. Losing his testicles had pretty much eliminated his sex drive, that was true. But cutting off his body's supply of testosterone had also left his naturally occurring estrogen to do its work unmolested. Some geldings actually developed breasts. Jimbo hadn't, but his nipples were somewhat more developed than they might have been otherwise. And, as a result, they were very, very sensitive.
Alysa sensed that she'd discovered a gap in the defenses and she attacked it mercilessly. Her lips, tongue, and teeth assaulted Jimbo's nipples, drowning them in sensation.
But it wasn't erect. It hung there, as limp as an overcooked noodle. Alysa slipped a hand under it and stroked Jimbo's crotch with her fingertips. As promised there were no testicles; just an empty space with a little flap of scrotum covering it and a small scar. "I aim to get everything I can out of this." She knelt, with Jimbo standing between her knees, so she could use both hands. She caressed his neck and shoulders with one hand and fondled his buttocks with the other.
really are a gelding."
"Toldja," Jimbo replied.
"You enjoyed the show," Alysa pointed out, stroking the back of her head.
"I did," Jimbo admitted. "It was beautiful, and so are you."
"But you still don't feel anything for me?"
"Didn't say that," Jimbo corrected. "
For a moment Alysa didn't respond. "I'm sorry," she said. "I can't believe that. I can't believe in a world without love."
"Love and sex ain't the same thing," Jimbo pointed out. Darla had proven that, beyond any shadow of a doubt.
"They aren't the same thing, no," Alysa allowed. "But they're connected. They're the opposite sides of the same coin. You hug and kiss people you wouldn't have sex with, just like you have sex with people you don't love. But most people are in the middle, where the two sides blur together."
Then, slowly, she slid the straps of her overalls off her shoulders, letting the front of her overalls fall into her lap. Slowly, slowly, she removed her shirt, stretching languidly in the process.
Jimbo knew exactly what she was doing: she was testing him. It wasn't anything new; there were some females in town- and a couple human women, too- who simply couldn't believe he had no interest in such things. They'd try to entice him, as if they thought he was fooling. Jimbo had never understood why. If they wanted it so much, why not focus their efforts where it would do some good? But no; they only wanted him, and when he failed to respond they redoubled their efforts. He waited patiently until Alysa finished.
Alysa ended up once again on her knees, now entirely naked from the waist up. She clasped her hands above her head and stretched languidly. Jimbo had to admit that she was good. The females in town were motivated, and some very experienced, but Alysa was a professional. She'd trained her whole life for this, and it showed. He found himself enjoying the performance, even though he didn't feel any stirrings of lust. He didn't need a raging libido in order to appreciate beauty. If anything, he suspected it got more in the way than it helped.
"Either you're a gelding or you're a really good actor," Alysa commented, dropping her arms and examining Jimbo's crotch.
"Toldja," Jimmy responded.
"Huh." Alysa crossed her arms. Her upper breasts bulged out over her arms, while the lower pair bulged out below. "Let me see," she said.
"What?" Jimbo blinked in surprise.
"I want to see for myself," Alysa announced, snaking out a hand and catching the front of Jimbo's overalls. He pulled back, but she had a grip on one strap and it came off his shoulder. She responded with a deft tug, at just the right moment while he was still off balance, and he stumbled back toward her. Somehow she got the other strap off and his overalls fell down around his ankles. Alysa had broad, sharply flared hips that held the overalls up even when she let the straps off her shoulders. Jimbo's hips were smooth and straight, as befitted someone who'd spent his entire adult life working on a farm. The overalls bound his legs and he would have fallen on his face if Alysa hadn't caught him. He ended up leaning against her torso, his body cushioned by her breasts, her arm around his waist. Her other hand she slid down his belly and explored his crotch.
"There, that wasn't so bad, was it?" Alysa purred into Jimbo's ear while her hand caressed his genetalia. "In fact... let me show you something. Something wonderful."
"No, I-" Jimbo began. He didn't get a chance to finish. Alysa lunged forward; Jimbo ended up flat on his back with the weight of Alysa's torso pinning his legs. She scooped up his penis, massaging it wing her fingers. It didn't stiffen but Jimbo couldn't help gasping at the sensation. Then Alysa licked the glans and drew her fingertip along the underside, from base to tip. She sucked the whole thing into her mouth, like a noodle, and started kneading it with her lips and tongue.
"Would you like a glass of milk, my lord?" Alysa inquired.
"I'd love one, but we haven't got any," Jimmy replied, taking a drink of water.
"That's what you think," Alysa tittered, taking the glass from Jimmy and pouring out the water. She unfastened the shoulder straps of her overalls and let the front panel fall, exposing her breasts. Holding the glass in one hand she took a nipple in her other hand and massaged it until it produced a stream of milk. Once the glass was full she set it on the table, curling Jimmy's nerveless fingers around it. For a dizzying instant he found himself transported back to childhood, thinking of his mother working at the stove. He stared again at the glass, wondering why it should have that effect on him. Raw milk wasn't anything new, not even straight from the cow- or vixen, in this case. He took another drink- and as soon as the milk touched his tongue he understood. It didn't quite taste like he'd expected. Slightly sweeter, with just a hint of- of-
Jimmy passed the glass to Jimbo, who took a drink. After a moment he took another, this time swirling it around in his mouth like a wine taster. "It's malted," he pronounced.
"Really? Lemme see," Carty asked. Jimbo passed the glass; Carty took a sip. "Creamy, too," he added, then finished it off, smacking his lips. "Swell!" he exclaimed. "Malted milk, straight from the cow! Er, vixen." He grinned.
"Hoo boy." Jimmy rubbed his temples. I'd better make sure no one ever finds out about Alysa's other outfit. As if having bought a giant- and exceptionally sexy- four-breasted vixen that gave flavored milk wasn't enough already to set tongues wagging all over the county, if not the entirety of West Mazama.
"May I have another?" Carty inquired hopefully, offering the glass.
"Since you like it so much, you can milk her this evening," Jimmy said shortly. He could just imagine the local kids flocking over to leer at Alysa. Great; he'd have his own bloody sideshow on top of everything else. Why, why couldn't he ever think of these things before taking the leap?
"Bitchin'," Carty exclaimed, grinning. He didn't seem at all sorry for the extra duty, a rather surprising change from usual.
"But- aren't you going to milk me, my lord?" Alysa asked.
Jimmy sighed. "I'll get it in the morning," he said. In his preoccupation he didn't consciously notice the emotional loading in Carty's and Alysa's words. Jimbo did and frowned, glancing at one then the other. "I've got paperwork to do so I probably won't see any of you until morning," Jimmy continued, rising and gathering his dishes. "An excellent meal, as always, Jimbo, my thanks. Let me know if the place burns down."
"Sure thing boss," Jimbo said to Jimmy's retreating back.
"C'mon, darling." Carty jumped to his feet and headed for the barn, beckoning for Alysa to follow. When she didn't come at once he paused, looking back.
Jimbo looked at Alysa. Not her chest, as Carty was, but her face. She looked after Jimmy, with what Jimbo interpreted as a wistful, worried expression. "Go on," he said gently. "If he said he'd be along in the morning then he will. Now go with Carty like, like his lordship said."
"Okay," Alysa said abruptly, starting toward the barn. She kept glancing at the house, though.
Jimbo gathered up what remained of the dishes. Jimmy was a good master as such things went. He didn't lord over people- or Morphs- simply because he could. He treated Jimbo and Carty like- well- employees. Which was a Hell of a lot better than being treated like, say, servants or slaves. As a supervisor Jimmy understood his limits, meaning that when he gave someone a job he left them to it. If he thought he could do something better himself he did it. If experience demonstrated otherwise he let someone else do it next time. When underlings got into trouble he helped them. When problems came up he worried more about fixing them than assigning blame. Where it came to women, though, Jimmy MacGregor was not only woefully ignorant but shockingly naive. Darla proved that clearly enough. That's what comes of marrying the first woman you ever slept with and only because she turns up pregnant, Jimbo thought. He still felt Jimmy should have divorced her when the baby turned out not to be his but Jimmy wasn't like that. So he endured ten years of marital strife that ended only when Darla ran off with that farming machinery salesman. Now there was Alysa. Jimbo couldn't shake the feeling that Jimmy had managed to block out the fact that she was a woman as well as a strong worker and milk producer... and that the people who built her hadn't intended her to work in a dairy. Even a forty-six year old gelding like Jimbo could see it. That Jimmy apparently couldn't wasn't a surprise, actually; Darla had scarred his emotional receptors. Finished with the washing up, Jimbo carried the dishes into the house and put them away. Out of deference to their long relationship he'd watch to see if things improved before talking to Jimmy. Carty, on the other hand-
Jimbo grinned wickedly. Talking might not be necessary. If the young fool got so hypnotized by Alysa's tits he forgot that she could break him in half without hardly trying she might just remind him in a very pointed way. His grin vanished; if things came to that it would probably hurt Alysa more, in the long run. But a person could dream, couldn't they?
Jimmy awoke as dawn lit the eastern horizon. He stayed in bed until the last of morning's stars faded from the sky then got up and dressed. Across the gulf of years he heard his mother's voice, berating him for being such a slug-a-bed. He missed the fresh bread she baked every morning for breakfast. He could bake it himself- she'd given him the recipe and he seemed to have a knack for cooking- but it just wasn't the same when you baked it yourself. You couldn't wake up to the smell of it. Darla refused to get up that early and couldn't cook worth a damn anyway. She told him to buy a Morph cook if he couldn't live without fresh bread. He couldn't rationalize the cost so he did without. He ambled into the kitchen; no bread this morning, not even day-old. With the fair yesterday none got baked. Potatoes, cabbages, turnips, carrots, beets... no shortage of vegetables around here. A bit of salt pork. He could fry up the pork and potatoes, using the grease for gravy. Without biscuits or bread to round it out, though, it didn't seem very appealing. He could stir-fry some cabbage with a bit of garlic, a shot of cooking sherry, and some pork thrown in for flavor. That would go down better without bread. Living with a pair of horse Morphs- more importantly, sharing cooking duties with them- induced him to learn more about cooking vegetables than most people bothered with. How often could a person eat vegetable soup without meat, after all? He set a cabbage on the cutting board and selected a knife from the rack but stopped there. Even stir fry didn't excite him today. What he really wanted was- was- a glass of milk. Assuming Carty had done his job last night there'd be some in the cooler. On reflection, though, he didn't want it cold. He wanted it like- like last night. Blood warm, just the right temperature to bring out the malty flavor. He could warm some on the stove, true- but why bother when he could have it pre-warmed, straight from the source? He had said he'd do the milking this morning. Whistling happily he sauntered off to collect the pail, stool, and an empty milk can. With everything set up he went to fetch Alysa.
"Come in," came the reply when Jimmy knocked and announced himself. He slid the door open and stepped inside.
Alysa lay on her belly, supported by a pile of cushions and blankets she'd pushed up against one wall. She wasn't dressed- her overalls hung from a roof beam- and her legs weren't anything even remotely like together. "Sorry," she gasped. "I have to... lay my egg. I'll be... ready in a moment."
Jimmy didn't respond. Some things are simply too much for a man to take before he's had breakfast or even a cup of tea. (Jimmy didn't drink coffee; he didn't care for the taste.) He could only stare as Alysa took several deep breaths and strained. Muscles in her belly tightened, the lips of her vulva parted, and a white spheroid oozed forth, dropping onto a conveniently placed cushion.
"There." Alysa rolled off the cushions, retrieved her overalls, and pulled them on.
Jimmy stared at the egg. In shape, color, and texture it looked exactly like the ones his hens laid. But it was huge. Bigger than a grapefruit, smaller than a honeydew; about the size of a cantaloupe. A coating of vaginal fluid made it glisten. "So... you lay eggs too?" he heard himself saying.
"Every other day, give or take," Alysa replied. "Didn't my previous lord mention it?"
"No, it must have slipped his mind." Jimmy couldn't look away from the egg. All he could see, seared into his mind's eye, was the vision of Alysa's labia stretching to pass the egg then not quite snapping back after it emerged. The scene played over and over in his head.
"Go ahead and take it," Alysa offered, securing the straps on her overalls. "I could never bring myself to eat them and I wouldn't want it going to waste. I'm ready."
"Sure," Jimmy agreed. "Go... go on up to the barn. I'll meet you in a bit." He entered and picked up the egg. The shell felt much sturdier than that of a chicken egg, but nevertheless he gripped it with both hands; he guessed its weight at around two kilos. It felt warm, almost hot; it retained the heat of Alysa's body much more effectively than would a smaller thing. Drying fluid made the shell tacky under his fingers and radiated a mild but very distinct odor. Jimmy hurried back to the house, holding the egg at arm's length; the combination of warmth, tackiness, and odor conspired to remind him how much time had passed since he'd been even this close to a woman's reproductive organs. The realization made him uncomfortable.
Inside Jimmy set the egg in a bowl on the kitchen table but instead of going at once to the barn he sat down. He wasn't surprised the stranger hadn't mentioned Alysa's egg laying; it would have been enough to convince him the whole thing was just too ridiculous. And yet it all made sense in a twisted sort of way. Obviously someone at a germ plasm lab had decided to indulge himself. What man wouldn't find a voluptuous, four-breasted vixen appealing? Since it's all fantasy anyway why not have her produce milk? And lay eggs? Jimmy wasn't sure why she had to be so big but since when did fetishes have to be rational? Somehow the person- or persons- managed to actually create their wet-dream Morph. After that it didn't take a genius to guess that they got in trouble. Had to dispose of the evidence. So, ship her off to a remote place- like West Mazama- and sell her for whatever the market will bear. As luck would have it along comes Jimmy MacGregor, the right person at the right time. Or the wrong person at the wrong time, depending on how one looked at it.
Alysa's musky smell clung to Jimmy's fingers, transferred by the egg. Unable to resist the temptation he licked them. He shuddered; all too easily he could imagine his tongue stroking that flavor from Alysa's pouted labia. His face would be buried in the soft fur of her crotch, his arms around her thighs. He shook his head violently to dislodge the image; sleeping with one's Morphs led to trouble. Not that people didn't do it anyway; some operators maintained all female work crews, claiming them to be easier to handle. No one believed it, not when you could buy geldings instead. Contrary to what many people thought, getting along with Morphs was harder than dealing with human employees. You couldn't simply fire one you didn't like. You could sell one, sure, but people wouldn't rush to buy a Morph you obviously thought was a bad egg. You'd get a fraction of what you paid, a serious problem considering how much Morphs cost. Do that too many times and you'd run yourself into bankruptcy right quick. You could force them to work- if you didn't mind spending a lot of money on human guards and overseers. Only big spreads that produced high value or high volume crops could afford that on a continuing basis. In situations like that Morphs tended to run away, which led to even more unpleasantness.
Unhappy workers cost more than they're worth, Jimmy had always told himself. Once, as an exercise in accounting, he'd tabulated the cost in lost productivity due to runaways, poor worker health due to maltreatment, and general bad feeling. Even by his admittedly amateurish estimations the totals were staggering. Jimmy's own success was due in large part to the fact that Jimbo and Carty worked their asses off for him. They did that because Jimmy made sure they received full measures of praise and profit, exactly as if they were his own family. In a very real sense Jimbo and Carty were his family. His real relatives lived in Shasta, too far distant to visit more than once or twice a year. He couldn't bear to face them anyway; they'd warned him about Darla.
Darla would never have let Jimmy buy Alysa. He wondered if that was actually why he'd done it. If so it was an empty gesture; Darla wasn't here see it. She'd run off with that city fellow she'd been seeing, without even leaving a note. The only reason Jimmy knew what had happened was because one of the regulars at the railroad cafe had seen her and the fellow board a train.
Jimmy turned the egg, listening to its shell scrape against the porcelain bowl, while visions of Alysa's naked body writhed in his mind. No, Jimbo and Carty didn't fill all of the void Darla had torn in his life. He'd merely convinced himself that the rest didn't matter.
"What?" Jimmy leapt up so fast his knees slammed into the table edge. He hissed in pain, staggering against the wall.
"You okay, Boss?" Jimbo asked, helping Jimmy into a chair.
"Yeah," Jimmy gasped. "What's wrong?"
"Oh, nothing serious. Alysa said she was waiting for you in the barn and was starting to get worried."
"Yeah." Jimmy rose, much more carefully this time. "Sorry. Just- woolgathering, y'know? I'll go take care of it." He left the kitchen and headed for the barn, walking slowly and carefully. His knees hurt like crazy.
Jimbo followed Jimmy out but hesitated in the doorway, looking back over his shoulder. He returned to the table, looking at- at- well, it sure as Hell looked like an egg sitting in a bowl except that it was too damn big. He reached out- then jerked his hand back. He wouldn't like Jimmy messing with his things, after all. He had work to do; he could ask Jimmy about the- the thing- later. He left the house, closing the door behind him.
Jimmy found Alysa in the barn, sitting up against the wall. She'd laid out the milking stool, a bucket, and a milk can, as well as letting down the front of her overalls. "I was starting to get worried," she commented.
"Sorry about that." Jimmy shrugged and looked away to cover the flush he felt rising in his cheeks. "Just got- distracted. Won't happen again." He rubbed his hands together, noticing suddenly that they were still sticky from the egg. Hastily he washed them at the tap and sat down, scooting the bucket into place and reaching for Alysa's nipples-
Alysa yelped and pulled away. "What's wrong?" Jimmy shouted, leaping to his feet. His whole body quivered with tension.
"Your hands are freezing," Alysa admonished, rubbing the offended nipples. For the lower one she reached across her torso with the opposite hand.
"Sorry," Jimmy stammered, thrusting his hands into his armpits. "It won't happen again, I promise."
"It's okay," Alysa said gently, settling back down. "It surprised me, that's all."
"I bet," Jimmy muttered. Cows never complained about being milked by cold hands. But cows were, well, cows. On second thought maybe they did, after a fashion. Cows could be easy or difficult to milk. He'd never stopped to wonder why, though. He wouldn't enjoy cold hands fingering his nipples, that was for sure. That thought brought to mind images of Alysa stroking his naked chest. He shook his head, caring not at all for where that led. He kept his eyes averted while his hands sought out the nipples and squeezed them.
"Careful, you're spraying it all over the floor," Alysa warned.
"Sorry." Jimmy took a deep breath and forced himself to look. If he concentrated on aiming the streams he didn't dwell so much on the fact that he was fondling Alysa's breasts. So intent was he that as the streams started to give out he kept working, squeezing and stroking the nipples and surrounding breast to coax just a little more. When he realized what he was doing he stopped, wiping his hands self consciously on his trousers. "Ah... I think it's time for the other side now."
"Okay." Alysa turned around.
Try as he might Jimmy just could not keep his mind focused. When his hands started to shake he rubbed them against his thighs. All this for a lousy glass of milk.
"If that's all you wanted, why didn't you just say so?" Alysa asked, sitting up.
Jimmy started. "I- I-" he stammered. He hadn't realized he'd spoken aloud.
Alysa wagged her tail. She turned her torso toward Jimmy, lifting her lower right breast and aiming the nipple straight at his face. With her other hand on the back of his neck she guided his lips onto it. A gentle squeeze with her right hand sent a stream of milk into his mouth.
Jimmy's arms flopped, no more coordinated than the severed tail of an earthworm. He knew he couldn't escape if Alysa didn't let him. She could crush him to death just by laying on him. On second thought he didn't particularly want to escape. He slipped his arms as far as they would go around her torso and crushed his face against her breast, sucking greedily. In the end he gave out before she did; milk still came from her nipple though his stomach was achingly full. As he sat back on the stool it wasn't just his belly that hurt. His penis strained so hard against the material of his underpants he feared it would rip right through or break off trying.
Buttons closed the sides of Alysa's overalls so they'd go over the swell of her hips but still fit snugly around her waist. More buttons closed the back so she wouldn't have to thread her tail through a tiny hole. She undid them one set at a time and stood up; the overalls slid off and fell in a heap at her feet. Still seated on the stool, Jimmy found himself looking slightly up at her crotch. The insides of her thighs didn't quite touch; in the triangular space between them and her pelvis he could just see the outline of her vulva through a screen of soft fur. The lips of her labia major stood open; the edges of the labia minor thus revealed curled back slightly, forming a rosy blossom whose petals glistened wetly. She lowered herself again, flexing her knees and swinging them outward so they wouldn't hit him. Now Jimmy found himself staring at the mighty cleavage separating her upper breasts. As she gently undid the buttons on his overalls her upper arms pressed her breasts together, sharpening the gap between them.
"No!" Jimmy exclaimed, scrambling away frantically, clutching at his overalls because he didn't have sharply flaring hips to hold them up without the shoulder straps. The stool overturned and he landed hard on his rump; as he kicked frantically he knocked over the milk pail. White fluid ran across the barn floor, wicking into the fur on Alysa's calves.
"But-" Alysa looked perplexed.
"No!" Jimmy repeated, scrambling to his feet. "You- you're just doing this because that's how you're made! You don't really care!"
Alysa flinched as if she'd been struck. Her face twitched; she shuffled backward on her knees, picking up her overalls. She didn't try to put them on, just used them to cover the front of her body. Spilled milk formed great, dark stains on the fabric. "Yes, you're right," she said in a quavering voice. Tears welled up in her eyes and rolled down her cheeks. "It is how I'm made. But- there's nothing I can do about that! And- you aren't like the others! You- you treated me like, like a person, not just- just a slab of meat!" She wiped her face with a forearm, gulping back a sob. "How else could I reward you?" She leapt up and dashed away. The barn floor, ten centimeter slabs of solid oak laid on joists four times as thick, boomed as she ran.
Jimmy picked himself up. "Bloody," he muttered, retrieving the pail. Half a finger's width of milk swirled in the bottom. "Bloody," he repeated, raising his arm to fling the pail across the barn. "Bloody." He let his arm fall; he lacked the emotional strength even for a meaningless tantrum. Thank God Carty and Jimbo were off doing what they were supposed to be doing, unlike him. The sweet smell of the milk in the pail made him sick; he dumped it in the yard. After putting away the milk can- still empty- he sprayed down the barn floor. His electric well pump allowed him to put a storage tank in the loft. It supplied water to various places about the farm, at least when the pipes didn't freeze. He'd considered installing heaters and insulation but that was expensive-
A klaxon hooted loudly. Jimmy walked out into the barn yard just as a rickety old pickup came up the drive. Two people rode in the cab and five more in back. Jimmy groaned inwardly; since they were all men it had to be the first load of spectators come to gawp at Alysa.
"Hey, Jim-boy!" one of the men in back shouted, grinning and waving. It was Eddie Rimmer, who worked at the grain elevator by the railhead. As the lot of them piled out- before the truck had completely stopped- Jimmy recognized more. Bill Clyde from the general store, Sam McDonald who operated a horse ranch, Joe-Bob Crass, Mickey Blount, and two other fellows Jimmy knew by sight but not name.
"Morning," Jimmy called in a carefully neutral tone. "What can I do ya fer?"
"Jeeze, Wayne!" Eddie exclaimed. "We wanna see your milk vixen!"
As he looked at the eager, leering faces it occurred to Jimmy that at another time he would have given them exactly what they wanted. He wouldn't have any compunction about charging them, either; though he knew them well none of these guys were really what he'd call friends. Hell, he could probably earn way more than what he'd get selling her milk and eggs. A Tar, say, for a milking demonstration. Two and a half if a fellow wanted to milk her himself. Five for-
Jimmy's left cheek twitched. Why not take it to its logical conclusion? It wasn't illegal to have sex with a Morph. It wasn't even illegal to charge for it. Men would come from all over Mazama once word got around. They'd pay well, too. Sex, as a commodity, always brought top Tar. It wasn't like Alysa could object; Jimmy owned her. Within broad limits he could do whatever he wanted with her. Besides, by her own admission that's what she was made for.
You aren't like the others. You treated me like a person, not a slab of meat.
Jimmy swallowed hard. "I... don't think now's a good time," he said hoarsely. Too much, too soon-
"S'matter? Keeping 'er for yourself?" Eddie grinned, punching Jimmy in the shoulder.
Jimmy's mouth opened, then snapped shut. He wasn't sure exactly why but Eddie's bonhomie offended him and crystallized his resolve. "Well, of course I am," he said in a bantering tone. "Wouldn't you?"
That drew a chorus of knowing chuckles. "Sure I would," Eddie agreed, his grin widening. "So what'll it take, mate?" He reached into his pocket.
"Now now," Jimmy admonished. "Since you're all my friends, the first one's on me. But only the first, you understand?"
"Sure we do." Eddie clapped Jimmy companionably on the shoulder. Neither he nor any of the others apparently noticed that while Jimmy's mouth smiled his eyes stayed as hard as granite. "So where is she?"
"I'll get her. You lads wait here." Jimmy detached himself from Eddie's grip and strolled off to Alysa's shed. He knocked to announce his presence, then opened the door and slipped inside. Alysa lay on her pile of cushions, her overalls hung up to dry. She caught the edge of a blanket and drew it up over herself, watching Jimmy suspiciously.
"Get dressed, if you please," Jimmy said. "There's some men where who'd like to see you."
"Wouldn't they rather see me undressed?" Alysa asked.
"Absolutely," Jimmy agreed. "But I'm running a farm here, not a freak show. You're a member of my crew, not a- a-" The analogy he'd chosen indicated that he say freak but he couldn't bring himself to do it.
Alysa looked at Jimmy for a long moment. "Okay." She put on her overalls and followed him to the barn yard.
"Strewth," Eddie muttered, looking Alysa up an down.
"Just look at those casabas." Joe-Bob wiped his brow.
"She really produces milk?" Mickey asked excitedly.
"As much as a cow," Jimmy replied.
"So, Jimmy, you tried 'er out yet?" Eddie asked, grinning lasciviously.
"Yep," Jimmy replied evenly. "Carty milked her last night and I milked her this morning. She produced just like the slicker promised."
"Bet you pumped her good, didn't you?" Sam asked, chuckling.
Jimmy felt a sticky warmth rushing through him like a blush spreading on his skin. "Now for the demonstration," he said aloud. "You can see for yourselves how well built she is. Just look at those muscles." His lips drew back in what the men probably thought was a smile. "Alysa, I'd like you to show the lads here how strong you are. See that pickup over there?"
"Yes, my lord." Alysa squatted by Eddie's truck, gripping it firmly under the running boards. After taking a deep breath she straightened up- lifting with her legs, keeping her back straight- and the truck crashed over on its side. She stepped back, dusted her hands, and flexed her shoulders to loosen them.
"Hey!" Eddie shouted.
"Why, you-" Bill stepped at Jimmy, bunching a fist. Alysa leaned over the group from behind and slapped him on the side of the head. Though only an open hand blow it knocked him to his knees and left an angry mark on one side of his face. When Mickey rounded on her she bared her teeth and growled. Caught between her and Jimmy the group quickly lost its nerve; six against two didn't seem like good odds when one of the two weighs as much as five of the six put together.
"I bought Alysa because I needed to replace a milk cow and since the opportunity presented itself I got an extra field hand, too," Jimmy declared. "I'm running a farm here, not a brothel." He knew he should stop there but the hot flush drove him on. "If you wanna fuck Morphs, go bone Sam's horses." His attention centered on Eddie. "If I needed a lay I wouldn't buy a Morph for it. I'd just do your sister!"
Eddie's jaw dropped in surprise. Then his face hardened. "Why, you-" he stepped and swung even as the words left his mouth. Jimmy saw it coming but not in time to do anything; Eddie's fist smashed into the side of his jaw. The blow left him reeling; though no one who worked on a farm could be considered weak he wasn't accustomed to fighting.
"Stop it!" Alysa bellowed. Eddie spun around- and found himself alone. His erstwhile companions skittered aside, clearing a path between him and her. She stood with her knees flexed, her fists raised and clenched, her elbows close to her sides.
Eddie wasn't exactly a trained fighter either but he'd done plenty of brawling. At the very least Alysa looked as if she knew how to throw a punch. Even if she didn't it would take a lot of skill for one man to overcome her advantage in reach and strength. "You don't talk about my sister that way," he growled, spitting near Jimmy's feet. "Come on." He brushed past Alysa on his way to the truck; she stepped aside to keep him at optimum striking range. The others skirted widely around her.
Jimbo and Carty pulled up in the donkey as Eddie and his crew struggled to right their vehicle. Jimbo glanced at Jimmy and jumped down with a spade in hand; Carty joined him holding a fence post. Alysa crouched at Jimmy's side, lifting him gently and laying his head in her lap. Finally the pickup crashed back onto its wheels; given the generally dilapidated condition of its bodywork it seemed none the worse for wear. Only after it vanished from sight down the road did Jimbo drop his spade and check on Jimmy. "You okay, boss?" he asked.
"Nowif-" Jimmy began. Pain exploded in his jaw and face when he tried to talk; he felt heat radiating from the swollen flesh of his cheek and tasted blood in his mouth. He groaned, fighting the urge to clutch his face. That would only make it hurt more.
"He needs a cold compress," Alysa said.
"I know," Jimbo replied. "Carty, get the medicine chest and some clean towels."
"Okay." Carty jogged off to the house. When he returned Jimbo wet one of the towels and carefully washed Jimmy's face. Another he wet and lay over the over the already purpling bruise.
"Do you have ice?" Alysa asked.
"In the ice house," Carty replied. "But only in big blocks."
"Crush some and wrap it in a towel," Alysa said. "It'll make the swelling go down faster."
Carty hesitated, glancing at Jimbo. Jimbo nodded and Carty hurried off. Out here in the sticks ice didn't come cheap. Some town folk had them newfangled electric ice boxes but Jimmy hadn't ever found one he liked for a price he'd be willing to pay. When Carty returned Alysa shifted Jimmy into the crook of her arm, as if he were a baby, and gently pressed the ice pack to his face.
"Cheeze Louise," Carty muttered, noting how Alysa's breasts pressed against Jimmy's head and torso.
"Listen, sonny." Jimbo caught Carty's face and turned it toward him. "He's the boss so he gets dibs, you know that. Besides, in case you hadn't noticed, she's sweet on him. If you need somewhere to sheath your rod go look in town. Or go stroke behind the wood shed for all I care. Right now, tho, we is gonna get back to mending the fence. Boss'll be along when he feels better." With a firm hand on Carty's shoulder Jimbo impelled him toward the donkey.
Jimmy wanted to ask Jimbo to wait but calling out would strain his face in painful ways. And... oh, Hell, why not admit it? He liked the sensation of being cradled in Alysa's strong- and pleasantly furry- arms. Not to mention that with his head nestled in the crook of her elbow it put his face right against her breasts. If not for the material of her overalls-
She offered you her breasts- not to mention the rest of her- and you sent her packing, Jimmy thought. Now you're daydreaming about the very thing you turned down earlier. For a terrifying instant he teetered on the brink of temptation. He could just order Alysa to strip. By her own admission she'd been made for sex. What could possibly be wrong with putting something to it's intended use?
Jimmy grimaced. Hammers and pickup trucks didn't have feelings. Abusing them only made your life miserable.
"I'm sorry." Alysa repositioned the ice pack.
"No, I'm sorry." Jimmy laid a hand over Alysa's. The ice had relieved his discomfort and talking didn't hurt too much if he moved his mouth as little as possible. "I shouldn't have snapped at you in the barn. I know you meant well. I'm just... not ready for it."
Alysa held the ice pack with her wrist so she could stroke Jimmy's head. "I shouldn't have presumed. And... thank you for not giving me to those men. A... another master might have seen it as a chance to, to punish me."
Jimmy didn't grimace this time but he felt an unpleasant chill in his gut. He'd done it before, taking revenge on people for slights they'd given him. It always felt right when he did it but afterward... sometimes he lay awake at night, thinking about it. Finally he'd decided that if he didn't like how it made him feel he just wouldn't do it, no matter how much it seemed like the bastard deserved it. "I shouldn't have said that about his sister."
"She probably has a cute Morph gardener," Alysa replied.
Jimmy frowned. Come to think of it Eddie's sister did have a Morph housekeeper. A gelding, of course, but that didn't necessarily mean anything. Geldings could still have sex; only the testes were removed.
"My lord?" Alysa asked worriedly.
Reluctantly Jimmy sat up. "There's nothing I'd rather do than spend the morning here in your arms-" with a shock he realized he meant it- "but the fence needs to be mended, the chickens fed, eggs collected, and a thousand other things." He looked Alysa up and down; with only three of four breasts drained she looked shockingly lopsided. "That includes milking you," he added. Suppressing a twinge he forced himself to smile and stroke her bosom. "Then you can help us drive stakes for the new fence."
"Okay, my lord!" Alysa smiled, wagging her tail as she bounced to her feet. Literally, considering the way her breasts flopped up and down. Only after she turned away did Jimmy grimace. It made perfect sense, actually; things would be much simpler if the milk vixen enjoyed being milked. He couldn't help but wonder, though, about the ethical implications of making someone like that. Unfortunately, thinking about that opened questions about the whole practice of using Morphs... and that was too much, coming as it did on top of everything else. He put the thought out of his mind and followed Alysa into the barn. One thing at a time.
After carefully checking the line Alysa placed the spade and leaned on it. Her weight drove the blade deep into the soil. She wrenched it out, laid it aside, and selected a stake from the bed of the donkey. She forced it into the cut made by the spade until it stood straight on its own. Next she took up the maul- one handed, like a hammer- and struck an overhand blow that drove the stake thirty centimeters into the ground and left it ringing like a bell. Another power blow and a few taps set the stake to just the right depth. That done she hung the spade and maul on the donkey's tool rack and dipped a pan of water from the tank trailer. Instead of drinking it she poured it over her head and shoulders.
Though only half again taller than a regular person Alysa's body enclosed two and a quarter times the volume and contained a shade more than three times the mass. That, combined with the fact that she lacked sweat glands except on the bottoms of her feet, made disposing of excess heat a significant problem. Fortunately the germ plasm engineers had given her fur that shed water easily; keeping it damp actually cooled her more effectively than sweat on bare skin- but only so long as she exposed maximum surface area. Thus her overalls lay folded on the donkey's seat until evening brought cooler temperatures. She didn't mind working undressed, in fact she preferred it. The overalls irritated her nipples and bunched her fur, as well as acquiring unsightly stains when milk leaked from her breasts.
Alysa arched her back to loosen the muscles, wagging her tail and letting her tongue loll out. Jimmy, Jimbo, and Carty found her habits of undress excessively distracting. Therefore she drove stakes for the new fence along Fanno Creek while the men cleared drainage ditches in the upper field. The work felt good- she'd get fat if she didn't exercise- and it wasn't especially demanding, at least not for her. It did feel a little strange not having people staring at her-
Suddenly Alysa turned about, her eyes scanning the trees and brush along the creek's edge while her ears twitched back and forth and her nose tested the air. An eddying breeze brought her... something. A wisp of a smell, a rustle of sound, or a flicker of motion, she wasn't sure. On impulse she picked up the spade and used it to mash down the screening foliage.
In a hollow near the stream lay a fox.
Even with a screen of brush protecting him from the sun Frederick's tongue lolled out and he struggled not to pant. He lay on his side because physiological considerations made laying on his stomach decidedly uncomfortable. His left hand gripped his stiffly erect penis, pumping vigorously. Yet again he forced himself to slow down; he had all afternoon to go and if he came now she might notice. Nevertheless the tempo of his activities kept increasing. With her there he couldn't help it.
Frederick wasn't the name he'd received in a germ plasm lab some years ago. That name he considered a gift- meaning that he could reject it if he chose. Then too there was the fact that his original name might lead to connections being drawn between him and a couple suspicious deaths over in Manzinita. So it was, at least in the local area, that people knew him as Frederick the Jobber, a pleasantly friendly and deferential Morph fox who wandered from farm to farm doing odd jobs for food, clothing, or shelter. The menfolk saw him as a harmless vagrant. The womenfolk... well, suffice it to say word got around that Frederick was good for more than just mucking out drains. He didn't spend every night outside or in a barn, not by a long shot. Which he saw as only right and proper; a goodly number of human men fucked their Morph servants. Frederick simply returned the favor.
What even the women didn't know was that Frederick used his jobbing as a way to case out the farms for nighttime activities of a very different sort. He never took money, that would bring the sheriff for sure. If he ended up in the county lockup someone might notice that his Certificate of Manumission wasn't exactly as official as it appeared. A chicken here, a sheep there, an armload of tools, a meat pie, a few loaves of bread... anything that could be carried off without too much difficulty and whose loss wouldn't arouse too much suspicion. Whatever he didn't use himself he fenced.
The MacGregor place was a veritable gold mine. All sorts of strange oddments lay about, far more than the small crew could possibly keep track of. Some items fetched amazing prices, even on the black market. Then, last night-
Last night Frederick stumbled upon something of incalculable value. After swiping a chicken to satisfy his hunger he stole to the shed where Jimmy kept his junk. He would have walked right in but he saw that a lot of work had been done recently. He peeked through a gap in the shutters... and there she was, curled up on a pile of pillows. He'd nearly creamed his pants on the spot.
Today Frederick should have been out jobbing, casing the spread he'd hit this evening. Staying in one place was dangerous; people started noticing things. Instead he'd found this spot on the banks of Fanno Creek where the brush formed a natural blind. He lay in his hide, watching, as she worked her way toward him. The spade looked ridiculously small in her hands; using it forced her to bend way over, exhibiting her deliciously curved buttocks in the best possible way. When she swung the maul to drive each stake reaction made her breasts jounce up and down in a particularly fascinating way. On top of that- icing on the proverbial cake- she worked in the nude. He would approach her, of that there was no question. Scenario after scenario played out in his mind but each time he ended up jumping ahead to the aftermath, where he had his arms around her torso, his face buried between her breasts, and his shaft sunk deep into her body. Those images made it very difficult to plan and led directly to why he lay on his side with his trousers down around his knees.
Frederick prided himself on his self control. The women he serviced might question his character but they never complained that he discharged his duties prematurely. As such it caught him quite by surprise when he felt a rush of intense pleasure in his loins. He let go of his penis but it was too late. He felt the semen flowing up from the inner recesses of his body like lava rising in a volcano. He also knew, from past experience, that his body seemed to produce semen in direct proportion to how much sexual stimulation he received beforehand. He'd thought of nothing but her since last night and masturbated, off and on, all morning. Fluid spurted from his penis with amazing force; he heard it splattering on the ground beside him. It kept coming, pulse after pulse, for what felt like forever. Normally he thought the moment didn't last nearly long enough; he probably would have felt it even now if not for the fact that this was the worst possible moment to lose control. She was right there, at the closest approach to his blind.
He must have made a sound. Maybe she smelled the semen; there was enough of it, to be sure. She turned about suddenly, eyeing the brush and trees growing along the creek's edge. She stepped over the old fence, reduced to a tangled, choked mess by spring floods, and used the spade to sweep aside the foliage. By then Frederick had got to his knees but his pants were still down around his thighs as he struggled to pull them up. His penis, now only semi-erect and fading fast, drizzled a line of wetness across the faded, battered denim. He looked up; he couldn't help it.
Their eyes met.
For what felt like an eternity Alysa could only stare. The fox man looked young, in his late teens or early twenties. His body was lean and hard, with clearly defined but not particularly large muscles. As she watched his penis contracted back into his crotch, leaving a trail of wetness across the front of his trousers, a battered, oft-patched, and somewhat stained garment currently bunched around his thighs. He didn't seem to have a shirt or a cap. A great deal of semen stained the ground around where he'd lay, so much that Alysa smelled it clearly. The scent seemed to bypass her brain and go straight to her crotch; she felt herself getting excited by it. "What are you doing?" she demanded, in an effort to remain intellectually in control of the situation.
"Watching you, my lady," the fox replied.
The forthrightness of his reply caught Alysa up short. She'd prepared herself to become angry or indignant but it didn't materialize. "Why?" she asked.
"Because you're beautiful," he said.
Alysa licked her lips. He didn't sound flattering or hopeful; he spoke as if he'd pronounced a simple truth and no more. Somehow that touched her more profoundly than blandishments ever could. "You startled me," she said gruffly. She couldn't help wondering what his cock looked like fully erect. Long and thick, she surmised, a conclusion that didn't help her state of mind any.
"I'm sorry," he replied. "I didn't mean to interrupt you. I... I couldn't help it." He looked down.
"You should probably be on your way," Alysa said, considerably less forcefully than she'd meant to.
"Oh, please." He looked up, entreating. "Let me make it up to you. I could help you plant the rest of those fence posts. It'll be easier with two of us."
"Well-" Alysa glanced along the line of old fencing. That she appreciated the work didn't mean she liked it. "What do you expect in return?" Considering what men usually wanted from her, not to mention what he was doing when she found him-
He frowned. "I'm doing you a favor as a way of apologizing for my rudeness. It's not for me to make conditions."
"Oh."Alysa fidgeted. He was only trying to be polite. "I- I'm sorry-"
"It's all right," he insisted gently. "I know it sounds terrible, but a beautiful woman like you probably gets taken advantage of a lot."
"I suppose," Alysa allowed. Men wanted sex from her and it was her duty to provide it- at least to her master, or to those her master specified. That's just how things were, wasn't it?
Except that Jimmy wasn't like that. He refused to have sex with her, even though he wanted to so badly she could practically see it oozing out of his skin. That didn't make any sense, not in the world she knew.
"May I ask your name, my lady?" the fox man inquired.
"What's yours?" Alysa countered.
"Frederick, my lady."
"I'm Alysa," she replied shortly.
"It's an honor and a pleasure to make your acquaintance, my lady." Frederick extended his hand; when Alysa took it he bowed, raising her knuckles briefly to his lips. His face wasn't designed for kissing; instead he licked, running his tongue through the gap between her middle and ring fingers.
Despite her best efforts Alysa shivered. The sensation of his tongue sliding over her skin seemed to travel like an electric shock up her arm and straight to her nipples. "Right, then." She snatched her hand away, massaging it in an attempt to banish the memory. It didn't work. "Let's get to work, shall we?"
"Of course, my lady." Frederick dropped his trousers, folded them, and lay them on the donkey's seat.
"What are you doing?" Alysa demanded tensely. She should tell him to stop but though the words perched on her lips she couldn't bring herself to let them go.
"I wouldn't presume to be dressed when my lady isn't," Frederick replied, dipping a pan of water from the tank. He drank some and poured the rest over his head and shoulders. A brisk shake dislodged the excess and filled the air with his scent. A human would probably have said it smelled like wet dog; in Alysa's nostrils the odor was intoxicatingly masculine. A part of her brain that knew nothing of the proper relationship between a Morph and her master said that this was what a man should smell like.
"Okay." Alysa picked up the maul. She supposed she could probably refute his argument if she tried but in truth she didn't want to. She liked looking at his naked body. She studied the line of posts and made a cut for the next one. Frederick grabbed a post from the donkey and set it in the cut. He held it steady with both hands, crouching on his heels with his knees splayed apart. Alysa stepped back, raising the maul for an overhand swing.
Driving the post with Frederick holding it should have been trivially simple. Alysa had spent her whole life training; given her size and strength an incautious or ill-considered movement could lead to serious injury for herself or others. She'd worked on the stakes all morning and had the rhythm down. Ironically, the problem was Frederick himself. Squatting like that highlighted his genitals much more than when he stood upright with his legs together. Moreover, his penis appeared to have recovered from its exertions. Strictly speaking it wasn't erect or even semi-hard but it had filled out enough that it bowed instead of hanging limp. As she started her swing Alysa's eyes wouldn't stay fixed on the head of the post. Fortunately Frederick himself wasn't unfamiliar with physical labor. He noticed Alysa's swing go wrong even as she began it and did the most sensible thing under the circumstances: he let go and tumbled backwards out of the way. The maul rang against the post's shaft, driving it slantways into the ground. Reaction threw Alysa off balance; she dropped the maul and staggered back.
"Omigod!" Alysa rushed to Frederick's side. "Are you all right? I'm so sorry!"
Frederick looked up at her, blinking. He lay on his back, knees bent, torso propped up by his elbows. "I, I think I'm okay," he replied, somewhat tentatively.
Alysa scooped Frederick up and carried him to a patch of grass shaded by overhanging trees. She sat cross-legged, laying him across her lap. "I'm so sorry," she repeated, stroking his head. "I wasn't paying attention and I, I could have hurt you."
"You didn't," Frederick pointed out. He reached up and stroked her cheek. She leaned her face against his hand.
Frederick couldn't believe his luck. Usually when he sought a woman he treated it as any other job, scouting the terrain in advance and formulating a plan with contingencies. This encounter he'd handled entirely by instinct. Yet it- and fortuitous coincidence- put him exactly where he wanted to be. He'd heard it said that it's better to be lucky than good; at the moment he had to agree. The warmth of Alysa's flesh against his and the rich aroma of her in the air charged him with desire so intense he swore he felt it crackling in his fur. His penis stiffened until it ached. The swell of her breast pressed against his face; he had only to flick out his tongue to caress her nipple but he restrained himself. Having come so far he wasn't about to lose his prize by acting too swiftly. He pushed himself up until he sat on her thigh. He slipped an arm around her back and lay the other on her opposite shoulder, using the leverage to press himself close. Her nipples poked the front of his body; they felt about as hard as his cock. Gazing deep into her eyes he licked her throat. He felt her quick intake of breath, her body tensing under him. He kept at it, nuzzling the fur on her cheek and chin. Her eyelids fluttered and closed; she let her head loll back, baring her throat. He let his hand drift down to her breast; he caressed the great fleshy curve, then settled his hand with her nipple pressed against the web of his thumb and squeezed hard. She drew a sharp breath and wrapped her arms around him, crushing him against her, falling backwards onto the grass. Frederick quickly shifted position, straddling her waist. With a regular sized woman he would have knelt between her legs but Alysa's body was too long for that. He wrapped his arms around her breasts, squeezing them together as if trying to lift them. Only now did he work his tongue down from her throat and across her chest until it found a nipple. He played with it for a moment, running his tongue over the aureole and surrounding flesh. Then he wrapped his lips around it and sucked. He didn't even bat an eye when a stream of milk spurted into his mouth. Glancing aside he saw milk oozing from her other nipples as he squeezed her breasts. He slurped greedily, moving from one to the next, his hands constantly in motion. He wished that he had four hands and four mouths so he could do all her breasts at once. At long last he straightened up. Milk drizzled from all of Alysa's nipples; her aureola gleamed with saliva, the fur around them spiky and damp. He licked spattered milk from his muzzle. He couldn't guess how much he'd drank but his stomach felt almost uncomfortably full. Yet Alysa's nipples spurted as strongly as ever. It occurred to him that, given her size, he'd do as well trying to drain the udder of a cow. He wagged his tail; in his day he'd stolen his share of milk, or perhaps a little more, often as not direct from the source. When you're hungry, sucking on a cow's nipple isn't as repulsive as it might be otherwise. No question, however, but that this won hands down. Filling and pleasant at the same time. Suddenly a tremendous belch forced its way out of him; he blinked in surprise. Alysa giggled.
"I'm not done with you yet, my dear," Frederick murmured, stroking the side of Alysa's muzzle. She licked his fingers. Keeping his eyes locked on hers he rose and stepped between her legs. She spread them wide for him. He sank to his knees, then his belly, wrapping his arms around her thighs. The musky smell of her vulva evoked such a wave of lust in him that he almost came right then and there. But Frederick was made of sterner stuff; he would wring every drop of pleasure to be had from her. He ran his tongue across her labia and nibbled gently at her clitoris; she hissed sharply, arching her back and clawing at the grass. Muscles in her thighs bunched and spasmed. He jammed his face against her crotch, probing deeply with his tongue so as to lap up every drop of hot, sweet nectar from the flower of her womanhood. He needn't have worried; at every stroke of his tongue the quivering walls of her vagina secreted ever more.
This time Frederick pushed himself upright because his tongue hurt. And his neck, from spending so long kinked at an odd angle. He couldn't tell how long he'd been at work; his memory was nothing but a haze of hot, sticky pleasure. Not long enough, not by a long shot, decided, but his face needed a rest. He stepped over Alysa's thighs and knelt with his knees nearly in her armpits. Even as he did so he realized that it wouldn't work; her chest was so big around that he could hardly straddle it. Alysa solved the problem by grabbing his pelvis and rolling over, laying him on his back. She put his legs over her shoulders and gripped his buttocks, squeezing and kneading them. She cupped his testicles with her tongue, bouncing and tweaking them gently. Then she slid her tongue up the underside of his shaft from base to tip. Finally she took his penis into her mouth, rubbing it with her tongue and squeezing with her lips, right down until her nose butted against his belly. It occurred to him later that this is what it must have felt like for her; with his legs over her back he couldn't get any leverage and so couldn't thrust into her. All he could do was lay there while fiery pleasure poured endlessly from his loins. It seemed to burn him away from within until nothing remained but a penis, sliding rhythmically in and out of her mouth. When he felt his orgasm swelling to the point of eruption he couldn't do a thing to stop it, slow it, or alter it's course in any way whatsoever. He couldn't move or speak; it was as if he'd forgotten how. Once again he felt the semen flowing through his penis. As it burst forth he gasped, his entire body tensing. Alysa matched her rhythm to that of his tensing muscles, taking him deep and swallowing at the end of every spurt. Finally the pulses died out; his penis softened and shrank like a deflating balloon, still twitching with the memory of orgasm. She gave it one last lick and looked up at him, her tail swishing idly back and forth.
Frederick gasped for breath. He still couldn't move or speak; he felt like he'd ejaculated every ounce of his being, leaving only an empty skin. When the tide of post-coital bliss receded enough that he could move he found that he didn't care to. "Oh, my lady," he murmured. It had been a long time since he'd experienced an orgasm like that. If he ever had experienced an orgasm like that.
"I'm not done with you yet, my dear." Alysa nipped playfully at Frederick's penis, then got up and dipped a pan of water from the tank. She drank most of it and poured the rest down her chest. She returned, licking her lips in a decidedly predatory fashion, and lay down between his legs. Her hands massaged his thighs, belly, and chest while her lips and tongue teased his penis and testicles. He moaned; he wanted to please her so very much but the performance her mouth and hands demanded just didn't seem to be in him. She kept on, though- and in less time than he would have thought possible he felt his energy surging back. His penis stirred, then stiffened to attention. "You know what comes next, right?" she inquired. To underscore her point she turned about, presenting her backside to him, her tail held off to one side.
"Yes indeed, my lady." Frederick got to his knees and caressed Alysa's buttocks. The broad flare of her pelvis provided an excellent grip. She sank down onto her belly, which was just as well; with them both on their knees her vulva butted against his abdomen, well above his crotch. He took his time positioning himself; she arched her back, thrusting her vulva at him. He chuckled, reaching between her legs and rubbing her clitoris with the heel of his hand. Her labia fairly dripped. She was ready, oh yes. He wouldn't mind teasing her some more but he was ready too. He licked his hand and leaned forward, luxuriating in the sensation of her buttocks pillowing his lower body. Finding the hole wasn't difficult; her vulva was built on the same impressive scale as the rest of her. At first he feared it might make her seem loose but she quickly disabused him of that notion. Not only in size but also in strength did her vagina match the rest of her construction. "My God," he gasped. From the way she squeezed he bet she could have shot a ping pong ball across the room. His lips drew back in a feral snarl as he hammered at her; the delicate constructions- or psyches- of some of his clients forced him to be gentle with them. Alysa merely soaked up everything he poured into her. He tightened his grip and pounded harder. She gasped in time with his thrusts, slipping her hands under her torso and squeezing her breasts, upper right and lower left.
For a terrifying moment Frederick feared that despite the strength of Alysa's vaginal muscles he wouldn't be able to push himself to climax. By now she was so wet he wasn't sure he could get adequate stimulation. Moreover, this would be his third in a very short span when usually he did no more than one or two in an evening. Nevertheless he resolved to continue until he dropped from exhaustion if that's what it took. For the sake of his own honor, certainly. But also for the sake of the pleasure she'd given him, he felt he owed her at least that much. He leaned forward farther and farther until nearly all his weight came down on his hips, grabbing double handfuls of Alysa's fur to improve his grip.
Frederick's orgasm didn't burst upon him this time; he coaxed it out bit by bit through determination and effort. For a long time he hovered on the step, working like mad to hold his place but unable to push over. Until Alysa reached between her legs, using one middle finger to stroke the underside of Frederick's penis as he drew it out, thrusting the other firmly into his anus, and squeezing his buttocks. Somehow that did the trick; he let out a yelp as the pressure within him finally released. His muscles pumped mightily but he felt only a trickle of semen issue forth. Under the circumstances he counted himself lucky to have any at all; he'd shot a Hell of a load today. Twice, no less. He slumped forward onto Alysa's back, panting heavily, his tongue lolling out.
Alysa shifted a hand from Frederick's crotch to her own, caressing her clitoris. She hadn't come this time around but she wasn't at all displeased. The memory of his lips and tongue on her nipples and vulva sent a wave of hot, sticky pleasure surging through her. She particularly liked the way he'd used not only his hands but his whole upper body to stimulate her breasts. His penis, she felt, was particularly well designed: only slightly longer than average but with a substantial thickness and a heavily textured exterior. And yet, she couldn't help wishing there was more of him. She wanted to feel his hips slapping against her thighs while his penis drove deep into her vagina, his chest crushed against her breasts, his tongue ardently exploring her mouth. But she couldn't; he wasn't large enough. She estimated that in the missionary position his head would be about even with her lower breasts. Furthermore, for all its quality, his penis was only about the size of her middle finger.
As the pressure of orgasm built within her Alysa's eyes flickered shut and her breath came in short gasps. Under the right circumstances a finger or two was all it took. The size of Frederick's penis hadn't in any way diminished the experience of his semen gushing into her mouth. She looked forward to experiencing it gush into her vagina and even her rectum. (She didn't count his final, admittedly rather pitiful spurt. Under the circumstances it didn't seem fair to hold it against him, though she did regret the tremendous load he'd wasted on the floor of his hide.) She didn't think she'd get any more out of him in the immediate future, but that didn't preclude other possibilities. In fact, in one particular area his relatively small size would be a distinct advantage. She rolled onto her side, tipping Frederick off onto the grass, then swung her leg over him, placing him between her calves, and rose onto her hands and knees.
"What, still not satisfied?" Frederick inquired mildly, running his hand up the inside of Alysa's left thigh, then idly tracing around, but never actually touching, her vulva. Her buttocks were, in his opinion, absolutely perfect: round, full, and soft to the touch yet firm, like a ripe peach, with thighs to match.
"By your own admission you are in my debt, sir," Alysa purred. "I intend to collect in fullest measure."
"By your command, my lady." Frederick sat up, caressing and kneading Alysa's buttocks and thighs while admiring her crotch. She had the kind of vulva he liked the best: labia that opened when aroused like a delicate blossom, exposing their dark red inner faces. But even so the turned back lips were neither excessively large nor loose. He wouldn't mind licking them- eating his own sloppy seconds didn't bother him- but decided that he wanted to watch this time. With the index and middle fingers of his right hand he stroked her slit from top to bottom, then thrust into her vagina, stroking her hot, wet interior.
Alysa sighed, thrusting backward against Frederick's hand, her labia squeezing tight around his fingers. It was obvious, though, that two fingers weren't enough; proportionally speaking her vagina would have been large even had she been a more typical height. He added his ring finger, then his pinky, without any difficulty. Yet even the full breadth of his palm didn't stretch her unduly, and even with his thumb jammed right up against her perineum- the place between her vulva and anus- he wasn't anywhere near bottoming out. He drew his hand out completely, rubbing his fingers together. His hand was soaking wet and there was so much fluid in her vagina that it drizzled from her distended labia. Nerveless he went to the water tank and rinsed his arm, thoroughly wetting the fur. That would make it easier to clean later as well as aiding lubrication; if things went as he suspected he'd need it. After returning to his place he gripped the base of Alysa's tail for support, made a fist with his other hand, and thrust into her with a firm, decisive motion, watching in amazement as her vulva swallowed not only his hand but most of his forearm before his knuckles finally touched her cervix. He set to rhythmically pumping, drawing his arm almost completely out before shoving it all the way back in. He angled his hand downward so it bore on the wall of her vagina closest to her belly; for some women it greatly enhanced their sexual reaction. Alysa turned out to be one of them; she drew a sharp breath between tightly clenched teeth and thrust against Frederick's arm with increasing force. He responded by increasing the force and tempo of his own thrusts.
In very short order Alysa was bucking hard, her breath coming in short, ragged gasps, her tongue hanging out. Frederick's arm felt like a great big, meaty cock drilling deep into her; its girth stretched her labia nicely and the fur on it enhanced the sensation even more. She grunted, squeezing it as hard as ever she could. Orgasm crashed upon her like a tropical storm: suddenly and violently, hot and wet. When it passed she panted, head drooped, shoulders slumped.
Frederick spent a moment stroking the interior of Alysa's vagina, then drew his arm out, shaking it to relieve a bit of soreness in his shoulder. He massaged his forearm, too; her grip was absolutely incredible. He rose, stretched, went to the water tank, and rinsed his arm. After filling the pan he knelt before Alysa, offering it to her; she smiled and lapped gratefully. Frederick drank from the opposite side. Somehow, in the midst of that process, their tongues fouled; he looked up. Alysa leaned toward him, nuzzling and licking his face. Her tongue gently but firmly parted his lips and reached within, exploring his mouth with slow, sensual thoroughness. He set the pan aside and returned the attention, his tongue and hers writhing in a hot, slippery embrace. His hands caressed her cheeks, neck, shoulders, and arms, all the way down to her hands.
Without breaking the kiss Alysa pushed Frederick down onto his back. Her fingers ran through the soft fur on his chest, massaging the firm flesh underneath. His figure was lean and firm, with no excess fat and modest but well defined muscles. She stroked his chest, belly, and hips, reveling in his warmth and texture. She forced her hands under his rump and fondled his buttocks, which were deliciously firm. She wanted to massage herself with him, rub herself all over with his body. Instead she lowered her torso, crushing her breasts against him.
Time and Alysa's overwhelmingly female presence recalled Frederick's penis to its duty; he felt it stiffening, poking against her breasts. She noticed too, breaking off their kiss and straightening up. Frederick started to rise but she pushed him back down with a casual shove. She took his penis in hand, squeezing and stroking it while fondling his testicles and stroking his crotch with the other. Her hands were everything he could have wanted: soft, smooth, and so very strong. Under their insistent attention his tool hardened as if nothing before had happened. She let go only long enough to shift her hips and lower herself onto it, guiding it into place with the tips of two fingers.
Frederick grunted as Alysa's hips bore down on his own. It struck him suddenly how very heavy she was; if she pressed too hard she might cause him a serious injury. Furthermore, though he had nothing against the subordinate position- under the right circumstances he enjoyed it immensely- in this particular case he was stuck: he would remain here until Alysa let him up. He couldn't have shifted her by force even if he wanted to.
Under other circumstances these thoughts might have caused Frederick's Peerless Part to loose some of its resolve, but Alysa would have none of it. While pressing with her hips she also rolled them, her vaginal muscles squeezing rhythmically. To Frederick it felt as if her vagina was giving him a blow job; he hissed sharply, throwing his head back, arching his back, and clawing at her thighs. Just as her size and strength commanded his subordination her sex commanded his orgasm, summoning it and drawing it forth, as if she could suck the cum out of his penis by main force. Frederick could do nothing at all; even the pacing of events was entirely at Alysa's discretion.
Alysa giggled; she knew exactly what Frederick was thinking and feeling. He couldn't know that laying a two kilo egg every other day for all of her adult life had toned and hardened her pelvic muscles to an amazing degree, as well as making her exceedingly facile in their use. He seemed to be enjoying the results, though.
When he came Frederick cried out; he couldn't stop it any more than he could stop the semen erupting from his dick. Which, while not the great, sloppy load he'd blown the first two times, was quite respectable, significantly more than his previous output.
"Mmm, I think I'll keep you," Alysa purred, leaning forward and nuzzling Frederick's face. "I'll keep you in my bedroom and fuck you every day until you beg for mercy."
Frederick's face twitched. For all of Alysa's undeniable attraction he knew he shouldn't get involved; for one he didn't know if she were free or not. For another, his lifestyle didn't lend itself to settling down. It was too dangerous for a variety of reasons; primarily it might bring him to the attention of people wondering about the mysterious deaths of two human teenagers. An unknown Morph fox male had been seen in their company; if it were thought that Frederick might be that one- and it could very well be; Manzinita wasn't so terribly far away and his vagabond existence might be construed as an attempt to evade official scrutiny- then things would turn ugly right quick. There wouldn't be a trial; not for a Morph who'd supposedly raped and murdered a human girl and her boyfriend. A stout rope from the nearest tree would do just fine. If someone felt particularly magnanimous they might actually check the warrant, but doing so wouldn't affect the outcome any.
Though clearly of vital importance to Frederick's future, all these thoughts materialized only as a brief spasm in his facial muscles. Post-coital bliss suffused his being, immersing him in warm, soft joy, holding his cares at arm's length. It was a foregone conclusion, really; he'd have to give Alysa up. He'd have to leave the county and take up elsewhere, so he wouldn't be tempted to come back. The prospect saddened him immensely, but such was life. As Morphs, both of them lived only and the sufferance of their human masters. As a freed Morph Frederick didn't have a specific master any more, but it could not be disputed that the race of humanity was his superior in every respect.
For that matter, Alysa herself was beginning to have doubts, even as she slipped a hand between her legs and caressed her vulva. Jimmy seemed like a nice man, and he gave her a great deal of freedom... but how would he react to this? She'd known men who could be very liberal in most respects, then highly possessive when it came to sex. That thought caused her to glance guiltily at the donkey; she was supposed to be working, not slaking her lusts.
But Jimmy wouldn't do it... and slaking her lusts wasn't nearly as casual an affair for Alysa as it might be for others. She'd been made to like sex. To crave it, in fact. In the course of her intended profession she'd satisfy herself with customers or other sex Morphs. But here... Jimmy wouldn't touch her and other opportunities were sharply limited. Carty was solicitous- he peered at her though a hole in the side of the barn while she showered- but while his penis was intact, without functional testicles his ability to sustain an erection was sharply limited. Jimbo also had a dick but might as well not have; so far as Alysa could tell females dimply did not exist for him. Oh, he was friendly and courteous, but he'd never shown even the slightest twinge of interest or even awareness of Alysa as sexual being.
A shaft of sunlight struck Alysa's eye, she twitched her head away... and froze. Suddenly she noticed how far the shadows had moved; the sun hung low in the sky, slanting in under the trees so she and Frederick were no longer in the shade. Icy fear clawed at her guts; Jimmy had told her to finish the fence and meet them at the house for dinner. As an order it was mild at best, but he was her master. Skirting his instructions was one thing; directly disobeying was something else entirely.
"Alysa?" Frederick asked. He felt her unease; her whole body tensed, her labia major pinching shut.
"Omigod!" Alysa leapt to her feet. "Frederick, you've got to help me plant the rest of the stakes!" she exclaimed, grabbing him by the shoulders and shaking him. "They have to be done by dinnertime!"
"Okay!" Frederick agreed, mainly to make her stop shaking him. Her fingers bit painfully into his flesh. In short order he came to question his acquiescence; never in his life had he worked like he did that afternoon. He drove the donkey to the next location. Alysa grabbed a stake. He made a cut with the spade. Alysa planted the stake. He held it while she drove it. So it continued, endlessly, without pause. The labor wasn't physically demanding- at least for him- but keeping the pace Alysa set required concentration. On the other hand, he got to watch from the best possible angle as Alysa's breasts jounced with every swing of the maul. If that didn't make it all worthwhile it at least helped considerably.
Frederick yelped when the maul missed the head of a stake, and very narrowly, his knuckles. With the power Alysa put behind a swing even a glancing strike would cost him fingers and possibly cripple his hand.
"S- sorry," Alysa wheezed.
"Alysa?" Frederick looked up in alarm. Her head and shoulders drooped; she made no attempt to lift the maul. Her tongue hung out of her mouth; her panting had taken on a wheezing, labored quality. She blinked a few times, then dropped heavily to her knees and fell over on her side. "Good Christ!" Frederick exclaimed, rushing to her side. Her chest heaved, her gums looked blotchy red instead of healthy pink, and her breath felt like blow-by from a furnace. He knew at once what had happened and cursed himself for it. During the morning she'd worked at an easy, comfortable pace, stopping often to wet herself. In the headlong rush of the afternoon she'd worked desperately hard- and neither she nor he had stopped for water. Even Frederick panted hard and he'd done far and away the smallest share of the work. Not to mention that Alysa's temperature and heart rate were already up because of her other exertions. She'd overheated and passed out. He dipped a panful of water from the tank and slowly poured it over her. If he cooled her too fast she'd go into shock. If he didn't cool her enough she might suffer brain damage or possibly die. He poured pan after pan of water over her, spreading it with his hands to fluff up her fur so it would dry faster and carry away more heat. Finally- with only a couple hands of water remaining in the tank- the labored sound of her breathing eased and her skin no longer felt burning hot. Frederick poured a pan of water over his own head, then drank most of another. Alysa might be out of immediate danger but she wasn't safe, either. He glanced at the sun; it hovered in the trees at the opposite side of the field, casting long, sharp shadows on the ground. Already the air felt cooler. Alysa needed water; without it she couldn't regulate her temperature properly. Unconscious she couldn't drink and as the temperature fell with coming night she might very well get too cold. She needed a doctor. Frederick glanced at the donkey. He could unload the stakes but he didn't think he could get Alysa onto it. He wasn't sure it would bear her weight in any case. "God damn it!" he screamed in frustration at the world at large. The situation left him only two choices: abandon Alysa to her fate... or do what he'd sworn never to do: get involved.
A sound drew Frederick's attention. He turned and saw, in the distance, a truck enter the field and turn toward him. Instinct tensed his muscles to run even though he knew the driver could see him as easily as he saw the truck. He waved excitedly and pointed at Alysa. In a way this was a relief; it saved him from having to make a decision and it would have pained him if Alysa died.
Jimmy sighed with relief as he brought the truck to a halt in the barn yard. After a day of mucking out drainage ditches he would appreciate his bed like never before. But only after a big dinner. By God he could eat a- he glanced guiltily at Carty- big ol' mess of vegetables. Right.
Half way to the tool shed with a hoe over his shoulder Jimmy froze in his tracks. The donkey wasn't back. He peeked in the barn, finding neither it nor Alysa.
"'S matter, Boss?" Jimbo asked, dusting his hands. He looked like he'd been rolling in mud. So did Jimmy and Carty; clearing ditches wasn't clean work.
"Alysa's not back," Jimmy replied. He felt absurdly guilty for leaving her on her own. She knew how to work, she was loyal, and not exactly defenseless. If someone came after her when she had that maul in her hand they'd regret it either for a very long or a very short time, depending where the blow landed. She could probably snap a man's neck with her bare hands. But would it even occur to her to defend herself from a human? "Let's go," he said, climbing back into the cab. Jimbo and Carty piled in back.
Jimmy felt particularly foolish as he pulled out onto the road. The residents of West Mazama could be a bit parochial at times but they weren't hardly a pack of lascivious Huns on the prowl for helpless women to assault. That proved an unfortunate thought, however. What were Eddie and his crowd if not that very thing? Jimmy didn't see Alysa on the road so he turned toward the lower field's north entrance. He'd left her at the south end but the truck would bog down the soft earth where the lighter donkey, with its balloon tires, wouldn't. He scanned the trees lining the creek as he drove into the field. He caught sight of the donkey... and someone near it, waving... and something large, lumpy, and orange, sprawled on the ground. He mashed the accelerator, driving across the field at an unsafe speed. The truck slid and fishtailed as he brought it to a halt but thankfully didn't crash into anything or bog down. Jimmy leapt out and ran up. He found Alysa sprawled untidily on the ground, panting and shivering at the same time. Almost as an afterthought he turned to the other figure. "Hello, Frederick," he said. "What are you doing here? What happened?"
"I was walking along the road and saw Alysa working," Frederick replied. "I came down and she asked me to help. While we were working she overheated and passed out."
Jimmy frowned. "Why were you helping her?" In his experience Frederick never did any more work than absolutely necessary. He never could understand why the farm wives seemed to like him so much.
Frederick rolled his eyes. "She's a beautiful, naked vixen with four breasts," he said.
"Oh." Jimmy took off his hat and fanned himself with it to cover his embarrassment. Asking why a young man like Frederick found Alysa interesting was a stupid question.
"Boss, if she's overheated we need to get her to Doc Holiday right away," Jimbo said.
"Yeah." Jimmy plucked at his chin, glancing at Alysa, then the truck. He didn't think even the four of them together could lift her into the bed. "Jimbo, Carty, unload the donkey," he ordered. "Take off the bed and set it over here against the back of the truck. We'll use it as a ramp to slide her up."
"Gotcha, Boss!" Jimbo shouted. He and Carty dashed to the donkey. Jimbo unhitched it from the water trailer and Carty drove it forward to clear the back end. Locking pins just under the left and right front corners of the bed held it down; Jimbo pulled one, Carty the other, and they both heaved upward. The bed tipped, dumping the load of stakes off onto the ground with a crash. With the load off, detaching the bed was a simple matter of removing two pins: one in the main hinge, the other securing the hydraulic damper that kept the bed from slamming back and forth. Jimbo and Carty completed the process in a matter of seconds, with all the loose parts returned to their proper places; they'd done this thousands of times, and on not a few occasions with equally urgent need. They carried the bed to the tuck and set it in place.
Meanwhile, Jimmy ran around in front of the truck and set the winch unwinding. He threw the cable over the cab, across a notch in the roll bar intended for just this purpose, and walked the hook over to where Alysa lay. At this point he saw a problem with his plan: when strain came on it the cable would cut her flesh like a knife. She wasn't a hunk of machinery he could just toss a bight around and show no more for it than a few scuff marks. He needed a sling to spread the strain. "Frederick, fetch me her overalls. They're on the seat of the donkey."
Frederick flinched; talk of overalls reminded him forcibly that he wasn't wearing his own. Or anything, for that matter. So far no one had remarked on it, but that couldn't last. Still; he jumped to; he had an idea of what Jimmy had in mind.
"Jimbo, Carty, grab her arms and lift," Jimmy commanded, shaking out the overalls. "Frederick, pass them under her shoulders."
Between them Jimbo and Carty managed to lift Alysa's torso high enough that Frederick could feed the overalls around her chest. Jimmy tied the ends together in front of her, then had Jimbo and Carty haul on them to set the knot as much as possible. Next Jimbo and Carty lifted her again while Jimmy slid the knot around behind her. Lastly Jimmy put a few turns of cable through the improvised sling and clipped the hook to the running end.
"Now we find out if these dungarees are really as strong as the ads say," Jimmy commented, holding a wire while operating a control set on the rear corner of the truck's bed. The winch started, taking up the slack.
"Wait," Frederick interjected. "Put her tail up between her legs. Like this." He demonstrated with his own, pulling it up against his crotch. "So it won't jam against the ramp." Jimmy nodded; Jimbo lifted Alysa's knee, Carty pushed the tail through, and Frederick pulled it the rest of the way.
"Make sure she slides on her back and guide her so she doesn't get hurt," Jimmy directed. He waited while Jimbo and Carty stationed themselves to either side, holding Alysa's arms so she wouldn't slip out of the sling and ready to lift her if need be. Frederick supported her head, adjusting the sling so it wouldn't strain her neck.
Jimmy started the winch. This was a technique he commonly used to load heavy objects onto the truck's bed when a lift or crane wasn't available. When planning to load something he carried planks to make a ramp, an assortment of slings, and a pair of shear legs. Fortunately his improvised effort appeared to be working: With Jimbo's and Carty's help Alysa rolled onto her back as the cable tensioned and slid easily across the grass. The angle of the cable over the truck's roll bar raised her shoulders so they went up without difficulty and kept her spine from flexing backwards as it went over the lip at the top of the ramp. The flare of her buttocks threatened to catch; Jimbo and Carty linked arms under her rump and lifted, grunting with the effort. In part of was height; they had to carry the load on their arms instead of their bodies. Also it was that because of her build, Alysa's mass was centered below her waist instead of above, as would be with a man. As she came up to the roll bar Frederick tipped her head forward, against her chest; she was all aboard except for her feet, which hung out over the tailboard.
"That'll do," Jimmy decided, locking the winch. "Let's go." Jimbo and Carty immediately climbed into the cab; having nowhere else to sit Frederick settled himself with Alysa. Jimmy hesitated, his hand on the door; he'd noticed suddenly that Frederick was naked. Or, rather, he remembered; he'd noticed at the beginning but other concerns displaced it. He climbed in and set off; there wasn't time to worry about it.
The truck's tires slipped dangerously as Jimmy turned it around but they made it out of the field. On the road he threw caution to the winds and floored it. Evening had fallen by the time they pulled into the town of Brooks, for which the county was named, or vice versa, no one seemed to know. Enough daylight remained that anyone still out got an eyeful. They stopped and stared as Jimmy drove past. He hunched over the steering wheel, staring fixedly ahead, wishing he'd had a tarp to put over Alysa. It was all proper first aid... and it would also make her slightly less of a spectacle. I'll never live this down, he thought grimly. Never ever.
Doctor Josiah Holiday and his daughter Ilsa occupied a small but elegant Queen Anne with painted gingerbread molding, the second fanciest house in Brooks after the elaborate (and, in Jimmy's opinion, needlessly gaudy) Second Empire mansion owned by Lars Owen, the walking horse breeder. Jimmy brought the truck to an abrupt halt and lay on the klaxon. In due course Doc Holiday appeared, polishing his spectacles before perching them on his large, bulbous, and heavily veined nose. His snow white hair fell to his shoulders after a fashion twenty or thirty years past, just like the gray waistcoat, pinstriped pants, and spats he wore. "What's going on here?" he called in a voice that didn't seem like a shout but nevertheless carried clearly.
"Alysa's overheated and passed out, sir," Jimbo replied.
"Take her 'round back to the barn," the doctor instructed. Jimmy had the truck in motion before he finished speaking.
Behind the house Jimmy found the doctor and his daughter- a formidable physician in her own right- waiting for them. With no apparent regard for her skirt- or the quantity of leg she flashed- Ilsa mounted the truck's bed. She took Alysa's pulse at the throat, then pried open her mouth and inspected her gums. "Her pulse is weak and her temperature's low," Ilsa reported. "Jimmy, back her under the chain hoist. Jimbo, Carty, rig a sling." The doctor's gear was meant for handling livestock but it functioned adequately in transferring Alysa to a wagon cushioned with hay and burlap.
"If she overheated, how can she be too cold?" Jimmy asked as he, Carty, Jimbo, and Frederick spread horse blankets over Alysa's unconscious form.
"Someone wet her down," Doc Holiday replied, running his hand through the spiky fur on Alysa's thigh. "She overheated because her body's temperature regulating system broke down. It's still broken down so we have to regulate it for her."
"For a regular sized person we'd use hot water bottles full of warm or cool water to heat her up or cool her down," Ilsa put in. "We don't have enough on hand for her."
"Jimbo, Carty, head down to the general store and buy up all the bottles you can," Jimmy said. "Tell McClusky to put it on my tab but I'll return 'em in the morning."
"I'll go with you," Doc said. "I'm sure he'll be reasonable when he realizes it's for a medical emergency."
Jimmy nodded. He doubted it very much; Jake McClusky believed in money and nothing else. On the other hand, everyone in Brooks county owed Doc Holiday favors. If he couldn't square things it couldn't be done.
The bottles arrived. So did a crowd of rubberneckers. While Jimmy, Jimbo, Carty, and Frederick filled and placed the bottles under Doc's direction Ilsa turned on the crowd and drove them off with a tongue that cut like broken glass. In spite of himself Jimmy shuddered; Ilsa reminded him of Darla- except that everything Darla was, Ilsa was a thousand times more. Darla had been merely pretty; Ilsa was drop dead gorgeous. Tall, trim, and aristocratic she was, nothing at all like the plump, apple cheeked girls Brooks county- and West Mazama in general- tended to produce. A shock of curly, intensely red hair framed her face and bounced whenever she moved, like a corona of fire. Her stern but finely formed features looked as smooth and perfect as those of a china doll. Her skin seemed almost fair enough to be porcelain except for a dusting of freckles on her cheeks. The open neck of her dress revealed a heavier concentration on her shoulders and the tops of her breasts, as if they'd been sprinkled upon her from above like cinnamon on cookies. In keeping with current fashion she wore her dress snug around the waist but without a corset. She hardly needed one; all by itself her body tapered down from an ample but not excessively large bosom and compellingly curved hips to a trim waist and firm, flat stomach. A voluminous, ankle length skirt hid her legs but they had to be long, considering her height. She stood only a few finger widths less than Jimmy himself. Not for the first time Jimmy wondered how she could be Josiah's daughter; the old doctor's features, figure, and complexion resembled nothing so much as a poorly made and somewhat overcooked dumpling. On the other hand, no one in West Mazama had ever seen Mrs. Holiday. Her untimely death while bringing Ilsa into the world had reportedly driven him to leave a thriving practice on the east coast and resettle here in the far west. Perhaps she'd been a great beauty like her daughter. Then too anyone who bred livestock knew that throwbacks popped up every now and then. Ilsa might only represent a collection of genes that had remained hidden for a generation or two. Or perhaps the doctor's spouse hadn't been entirely faithful. Jimmy found that the most likely explanation, though he kept it strictly to himself. He wasn't the gossiping sort and besides, Doc and Ilsa were good people.
"I- I'm sorry?" Jimmy stammered, realizing suddenly that Ilsa had spoken to him.
"I said, 'lift her leg, I need to take her temperature,'" Ilsa repeated, nodding at Alysa and brandishing an enormous thermometer smeared with petroleum jelly. It was one normally used for cattle.
"Oh." Jimmy flipped back one of the horse blankets, gripped Alysa's leg behind the knee, and swung it out of the way. Ilsa climbed up on the wagon and knelt. After studying Alysa's crotch for a moment she slid the thermometer into Alysa's anus. A half instant too late Jimmy realized that he should have looked away. Now he couldn't tear his eyes from the slender glass shaft more than half buried in Alysa's rectum.
"Are you aware that she engaged in coitus not too long ago?" Ilsa inquired.
"What?" Jimmy blinked. He heard each individual word but couldn't to assemble them into a coherent whole, probably due to his preoccupation.
"She had sex," Ilsa said. Jimmy got the distinct impression that she refrained from rolling her eyes only through a tremendous effort of will.
Frederick glanced toward the barn door, which still stood partially open. Jimbo noticed the monition and took a step to the side, placing himself where he could intercept if Frederick bolted. Jimmy caught the motion in the corner of his eye and turned toward it. For a second or two he couldn't understand what had happened. Then, in a flash, it hit him all at once. He'd been wondering why Alysa, who'd shown herself to be a careful worker, would allow herself to overheat. Now he saw a scenario in his mind: she and Frederick fritter away the afternoon having sex, she suddenly realizes how late it is, and tries to make up lost time in a mad dash. Jimmy's eyes narrowed as anger at Frederick flared up- to be quenched almost instantly by a wave of guilt. Alysa had wanted to have sex with Jimmy and he'd refused. He remembered what the salesman had said: "Watch out for tods." Then he'd said "They're a randy lot, foxes are." Not tods but foxes. Up until now Jimmy would have called the distinction was meaningless; now he wasn't so sure. It was the difference between saying "male foxes are randy" and "male and female foxes are randy." Given the current situation that wasn't a small thing. In fact, it radically altered the implications of the entire situation. "Frederick-" Jimmy found himself moving carefully because of his own uncertainties- "you do realize that caring for Alysa is going to incur a significant cost."
Frederick's attention shifted to Jimmy. He said nothing but Jimmy felt the intensity of his gaze.
"I think it's only fair if you worked off part of it," Jimmy continued.
"How much?" Frederick asked in a voice utterly devoid of inflection.
"Half," Jimmy replied. That would allow him to recover some costs- not a trivial thing, considering that Alysa's purchase had put him rather significantly over budget- and salve his conscience at the same time. He actually felt more than half responsible but he did have a farm to run.
"All right," Frederick agreed after a brief hesitation. It wasn't like he had much choice; if Jimmy called the sheriff Frederick was sunk, pure and simple. Whenever a Morph came to Sheriff Harrington's professional attention he checked the individual against all outstanding warrants as a matter of course. Nor did the forces of law have to rely on anything so crude as an eyewitness description or even a mug shot. The germ plasm labs kept records on all the Morphs they created; as required the lab could produce a test strip that would change color when treated with the blood of any Morph in their records. The trick, of course, was knowing which record to ask for, which was why Frederick changed areas- and names- frequently. Besides, Jimmy MacGregor had a reputation as a gentle master... and working for him would allow Frederick to stay close to Alysa. "Then your first job is to help us care for Alysa," Jimmy decreed. "What do we need to do, Miss Ilsa?"
"Monitor her temperature, warming or cooling her as necessary," Ilsa replied. "The first day or two are the most critical because even with her temperature in the correct range it won't stay on its own. She needs fluids to replace what she lost; I'll run an IV but if she wakes up get her to drink. Make sure the water's lukewarm, not hot or cold." She tapped he inside of her elbow with her other hand. "If you drip it on your arm here and it doesn't feel warm or cool it's the right temperature. Otherwise... we wait and see."
"Here you are, sir," Frederick announced, setting a plate before Jimmy and whipping away the cover with a flourish.
"Thank you, Frederick," Jimmy replied, with feeling. His plate contained cabbage, carrots, spinach, and green onions that had been chopped and stir fried in olive oil with ginger, garlic, and a touch of soy sauce for flavor. Brown rice and fresh rolls rounded out the meal.
"Where'd you lean how to cook like this, Frederick?" Jimbo asked.
"From the local housewives," Frederick replied, taking his place and starting in on his own meal. "That's what I do, mostly, is help them with domestic work."
Jimmy nodded. Frederick knew how to clean, sew, wash clothes, and bake as well as cook. In fact he made a far better housewife than Darla ever had. Then another thought struck him: the local housewives couldn't have taught Frederick to serve food like a waiter in a fancy restaurant. How, then, did someone like that end up as a jobber out in the sticks?
The sound of a klaxon from the road blew the thought from Jimmy's mind. He jumped to his feet along with Jimbo and Carty and rushed outside; Alysa was expected back any time now. Sure enough, Doc's truck rolled into the barnyard- with Ilsa at the wheel. She wore a blouse, riding boots, and pants as if to go on a hunt. All she lacked was a helmet and a jacket.
"Is she all right?" Jimmy asked breathlessly as he jogged up.
"See for yourself." Ilsa walked around and lowered the truck's tailboard. A canvas top mounted on bows covered the bed, just like an old time covered wagon. The truck shifted as something moved inside, and Alysa stepped out.
Jimmy gaped. Alysa looked hale, hearty, and well fed; obviously Doc and Ilsa had taken good care of her over the past six days. But she wasn't wearing her overalls. Instead, she wore... a dress. With a pleated, ankle-length skirt and a short sleeved blouse equipped with a clever double bodice. The pale yellow material looked heavier than he'd expect, but Jimmy didn't suppose that regular cloth would do.
"Do you like it, my lord?" Alysa asked, lifting the skirt and turning about. Her tail passed through a slit in back that buttoned shut.
"It's... amazing," Jimmy said hoarsely. "Where... did it come from?"
"Miss Ilsa and Mr. Torvaldson the tailor helped me make it," Alysa replied. "I gave him an egg," she added in a worried tone. "I hope that's all right?"
"Yes, that's fine," Jimmy replied. At this point anything that saved him cash would be welcome.
"He gave you all that for one egg?" Carty asked, scratching his head. Jimbo's eyes widened and he gave Jimmy a funny look.
"Ah-" Jimmy felt a blush rising in his face. He could easily imagine Benji Torvaldson trading a dress for one of Alysa's eggs. Especially if he got to watch while she laid it. "She lays eggs as well as giving milk," he mumbled.
"What kind of eggs?" Carty looked Alysa up and down thoughtfully.
"Remember that big mess of scrambled eggs we had a few a days back?" Jimmy asked. "That was one."
Carty did a double take. "You mean all that came from one egg?"
"Uh huh." Jimmy nodded.
"Good grief." Carty scratched his head. "That was like a dozen regular eggs."
"Two dozen," Jimmy corrected. Out of curiosity he'd weighed the egg before preparing it. "Alysa ate half; we got the rest. How are you feeling, Alysa?"
"I still get tired easily," Alysa replied. "And... I'm afraid my milk production's going to be off for a while." She looked apologetic, as if that were somehow her fault.
"I'd give her at least a week, with plenty of fluids," Ilsa suggested. "I think it would probably be a good idea too if you kept her on light duty."
"Sure." Suddenly Jimmy felt dizzy; he leaned against the truck to keep from wavering. Though Alysa had recovered quickly and apparently without any ill effects Jimmy understood how serious her condition had been... and how close he'd come to loosing her. Even more shocking, it wasn't the thought of the money he'd spent that bothered him the most. He inspected his shoe and cleared his throat to cover his discomfit. "We were just settling down for dinner," he said. "Would you care to join us, Ilsa?"
"Thanks, Jimmy. I'd love to." Ilsa nodded politely but didn't smile.
Frederick had cooked plenty and Ilsa didn't eat a great deal so her inclusion didn't thin the table any. Alysa ate raw vegetables Frederick washed for her, though she tried some of the stir fry and pronounced it delicious. While she expertly butchered a chicken Jimmy found himself thinking of his plan to buy some old horses. He could probably save even more money by having Alysa butcher them. She seemed to know what she was doing and looked strong enough to handle the heavy carcasses.
"My compliments to the chef," Ilsa said as she mopped up some stray bits of rice and vegetables with a piece of bread. "Why, Jimmy, If I'd known you set such a wonderful table I'd have come to visit more often."
"Actually, we didn't until Frederick came along," Jimmy admitted. In the corner of his eye he watched Alysa, who kept glancing at Frederick in a way that could only be called longing. Part of him wanted to tell them to go to her room and get it over with; another part wanted to beat Frederick to a bloody pulp merely for thinking about it. In the end he said nothing; going either way meant confronting his feelings toward Alysa, for which he felt particularly unprepared at the moment. Especially with Ilsa Holiday sitting right there at the table with him.
"Have you had any more trouble from Eddie and his gang?" Ilsa inquired.
"What? No." Jimmy shook his head. But Eddie would find a way to pay him back for the insult, of that he had no doubt. As if he needed another thing to worry about right now.
"I think this new dress will help," Ilsa added. "Now she looks like a regular farm hand."
Jimmy nodded, though he really didn't agree. The dress didn't in any way mask Alysa's size and the double bodice- at least in his eyes- only served to emphasize the number and dimension of her mammaries.
"Why did you buy her in the first place, Jimmy?"
Jimmy fumbled his fork. In a mad scramble to recover it his elbow caught a bowl of rice, catapulting its contents through the air to distribute themselves across Carty and Frederick. The flying fork knocked over Jimbo's water glass, dumping it in his lap, finally coming to rest in the middle of Ilsa's vegetables. Jimmy gripped the edge of the table to stop his hands from shaking and to avoid upsetting anything else. He took a deep breath to steady himself and hoped Ilsa didn't notice his knuckles whitening. "I needed to replace a milk cow," he said. To his credit his voice sounded more or less normal. "I'd lost three in the last half year. Now I have an extra farm hand as well as a milk producer that's immune to gophers."
"Who also happens to lay eggs," Ilsa commented.
The image of an egg emerging from Alysa's vagina burst into Jimmy's mind with such force that he almost gasped. He cleared his throat to keep from choking but felt his face go ashen. "The salesman didn't tell me about that," he said hoarsely.
Ilsa took a bite of a roll and a drink of water. Jimmy fidgeted; her gaze seemed to burn right through him. "If anyone else told me he'd bought Alysa just for milk I would have called him a filthy liar," she commented. "But for you... hmmm."
"Why do you think I bought her?" Jimmy demanded shortly. He regretted it almost before he'd finished speaking but of course it was too late.
"Because she has four huge breasts, of course," Ilsa replied.
"I did," Jimmy replied archly. "Those breasts produce as much milk as a cow's udder. And it's flavored, even."
Ilsa's eyes narrowed ever so slightly but she said nothing. She finished her meal and rose. "Thank you ever so much for your hospitality, Jimmy," she said. "It has been my pleasure to dine with all of you." She nodded to each of the Morphs in turn. "Please accept my heartfelt apologies for eating and running but I'm afraid my evening isn't anywhere near through yet. I do hope I may come again some time."
"Of course," Jimmy replied, though he didn't feel nearly so expansive. But seeing as how Junior and Senior Holiday represented the only doctors in Brooks county, offending them did not strike him as a winning strategy.
"Then I bid you good evening." Ilsa returned to her truck, started it, and drove away.
What the Hell did I ever do to her? Jimmy thought darkly as Frederick collected the dishes. Normally Jimmy helped but tonight he didn't. Frederick didn't complain. In fact, he never complained but Jimmy wasn't disposed to notice right then.
"My lord, I think I may need to be milked this evening," Alysa said.
"Sure," Jimmy replied distractedly. "Take care of that, would you, Carty?"
"Sure!" Carty replied at once, grinning excitedly.
Jimbo frowned. He opened his mouth to speak but Jimmy got up and left the table, ambling back to the house with his hands in his pockets. As such he didn't notice the dismayed expression on Alysa's face.
"C'mon, darlin'!" Carty leapt to his feet, caught Alysa's arm, and tugged her in the direction of the barn. For a moment she resisted, looking after Jimmy. Then she relented, following Carty with her head and tail drooped.
"Blast!" Jimbo snarled, smacking the table with his fist. Frederick continued collecting the dinner things as if nothing had happened. But he kept his face lowered so no one would notice his eyes.
After a measly half bucket Alysa's milk petered out. Carty worked diligently but could coax no more. He seemed inclined to keep trying but Alysa straightened up, sitting back on her heels. "I think that's it," she said.
"Oh," Carty replied, crestfallen. He also sat up, rubbing his face. "Oh well." He emptied the bucket into one of the cans. He kept glancing at Alysa's chest while he worked.
Alysa watched Carty as well. He wasn't that much taller than Frederick but he weighed considerably more. The interplay of muscles on his arms and shoulders as he moved the cans around intrigued her. He didn't smell like Frederick but Jimmy clearly wasn't interested and Frederick hadn't responded to any of her overtures. She craved sensual stimulation; if neither of her first choices would provide it she'd just have to make do. She got to her feet, took off her dress, and hung it over a beam.
When Carty turned back he almost dropped the can he carried. Alysa knelt, her knees apart. "Come here," she commanded, crooking her finger.
Carty set down the can and approached, his mouth slightly agape. Alysa massaged his chest with one hand and his crotch with the other. He drew a sharp breath; she felt his penis stiffen abruptly. Hastily he shed his overalls and started forward but she halted him with a sharp jab in the chest. "Lay down," she directed. He complied. She leaned over him, running her hands over him, reveling in the feel of his hard, muscular body. He reached for her breasts but she slapped his hands away. "No grabbing," she admonished sharply. He lay back, though he watched avidly. Carty's penis, in keeping with the rest of his build, was thicker and longer than Frederick's. With one hand Alysa squeezed and stroked it; with the other she pressed gently at the place where his testicles had been. He gasped.
A male who'd been gelded at or after puberty could still enjoy full sexual function, though with diminished drive. Carty was clearly one of those; after all he needed some testosterone for his musculature to develop properly and without that he'd be less useful as a worker. Alysa understood that some women actually preferred geldings; it made them docile and gentle in bed as well as elsewhere. But that was a two edged sword, Alysa had observed; what use was a quiet, gentle man with soft hands if he had no interest in performing or lost interest too quickly? Carty, for example, seemed quite content to lay back and let Alysa handle him but he declined to produce what she would regard as a suitably firm erection. She took him into her mouth and sucked, using her tongue on the underside of his shaft and what remained of his scrotum. The surgeons had left part of it when they removed his testicles. He hissed through clenched teeth and arched his back, thrusting into her mouth. After a while he attained an acceptable hardness; she rose, knelt over his hips, and lowered herself onto him. He still wasn't so large as she would have liked but not too bad. She leaned forward, taking his hands and placing them on her breasts. He set to work with them and his lips. Alysa rode him until she felt orgasm burst inside her. Without preamble she rolled off him and onto her back, grabbing his head and pulling it into her crotch. He wrapped his arms around her thighs and parted the lips of her vulva with his tongue, probing as deep as he could. His muscular and dexterous lips brought her to climax yet again. After that she felt in the mood for something a little more daring. She rolled onto her belly and spread her buttocks. Carty took her meaning without needing to be told; he guided his penis into her anus. She lifted her hips and brought his hands around in front; in that position he could just reach around her hips to her clitoris, which he caressed as she directed. As she built toward her third orgasm, though, Carty himself came, quite suddenly and unexpectedly. His organ spat a very modest quantity of semen into her rectum and turned as flaccid as a dead earthworm.
"Sorry," Carty mumbled, self consciously scratching his head.
"It's all right." Alysa wet a cloth and wiped Carty's crotch, then set to it with hands and lips, but to no avail. His manhood steadfastly refused all stimulation.
"It's just like that, I'm afraid," Carty said, stroking Alysa's head. "It comes and goes. I can look but when it comes to doing, well..." he shrugged fatalistically.
Alysa prodded halfheartedly at Carty's crotch. His penis had contracted down to practically nothing and without testicles that part of his body looked disturbingly empty. "Doesn't that bother you?" she asked.
"Not really," Carty replied. "It almost never turns out as good as I imagine. So mostly I just watch."
"Almost?" Alysa looked up.
"Almost." Carty kissed Alysa on the nose.
Alysa licked Carty's cheek, then sighed. "I suppose you should get to bed before Jimbo gets suspicious."
Carty shrugged. "He knows, I'm sure."
"Won't that be a problem?" Alysa asked.
"Don't think so. He would've burst in if he thought it would be."
"Well... good night, then."
"You too." Carty pulled on his overalls and chuckled Alysa under the chin. The touch of his powerful fingers made her shiver and she licked his hand but he turned away and left, whistling to himself.
For a while Alysa lay there, staring at nothing, then started rubbing herself between the legs. She wasn't finished. In fact, Carty had merely whet her appetite. she considered approaching Jimbo but rejected the idea. In all the time she'd known him he'd never shown even the slightest sexual interest. Frederick, now... she felt confident he'd come out for an evening tryst but he was staying with Jimbo and Carty in the worker's shack. There wasn't any way for her to contact him discreetly. On top of that, she wasn't sure exactly where her relationship with Frederick stood in the eyes of her master. Jimmy hadn't said anything but it was painfully obvious that the whole affair disturbed him profoundly. That at least would explain why Frederick hadn't responded. He didn't want to upset Jimmy.
None of which did a thing to relieve Alysa's pressing problem. She got up and wandered around the barn because she didn't care to sit still. Over the years Jimmy had amassed quite a lot of junk, most of it unfathomable to Alysa and probably to Jimmy as well. Then something caught her eye: a length of pipe with a chrome plated ball joint on one end and a hose fitting on the other. It measured about as big around as two of her fingers and half again as long as her hand. She picked it up; a hole pierced the end of the ball joint. She couldn't imagine what purpose it might have been constructed to serve but in her present state of mind it reminded her of a penis. She carried it to the sink, washed it in warm water, then applied just a touch of soap to the ball. Fortunately Jimmy provided regular hand soap in addition to the lava soap he used after working on machinery. Feeling decidedly naughty Alysa spread her buttocks and slipped the pipe into her rectum. It didn't feel like a penis but it was all she had at the moment. She stroked it in and out with one hand while masturbating with the other. Suddenly another thought came to her: the pipe could be attached to a hose. She contemplated that notion while continuing her ministrations. Why not? she decided, picking up a coil of hose and attaching one end to the faucet. She ran water until it came out at the right temperature then turned the flow down to a trickle. She didn't want to injure herself, after all. With the water still running she attached the hose to the pipe, which she'd left inserted. It didn't feel like a man coming inside her, no... but it didn't stop after a couple seconds either. She leaned against the wall, fingering herself vigorously.
A sharp, sudden discomfort interrupted Alysa's self-stimulation. She actually heard water gurgling as it penetrated deeper into her bowels. Her anus relaxed, relieving the pressure; water ran down her legs and spattered on the floor. She shut off the faucet and pulled the pipe out, standing with her legs together and her buttocks clenched to hold the water inside her. After a moment she relaxed, letting it dribble out. Halfway through she bent forward, spread her legs, and expelled the rest in one long, powerful squirt. She giggled; there were probably men who'd pay to see her do that. Of course there were men who'd pay to see her do just anything at all so long as she was naked while she did it. She turned on the faucet once more, waving the pipe in lazy circles and watching the water play from the tip. Then she tucked it between her legs from behind. Now she resembled a man taking a leak. She took the pipe in hand, intending to put it back in her anus, but instead played the stream across her vulva. The sensation of water impacting her flesh was mildly stimulating. She turned up the pressure a bit. After a while she slipped the pipe into her vagina and let it fill. Then she put in her anus. With that filled she turned off the water and coiled up the hose but detached the pipe and kept it with her. It didn't seem to be doing anything when she found it and had definite entertainment value. She squatted over the sink- which she could do, given her height- and expelled all the water. There seemed to be a certain pleasure merely in relieving the pressure. But as the water rushed out of her anus something else came out too, something more solid. With growing unease she turned and looked. Laying there in the sink was a- relatively- small stool.
For some time Alysa could only stare. Her first inclination was to leave it but then Jimmy, Jimbo, Carty, or Frederick would come upon it eventually. It wasn't fair of her to leave a mess for someone else to clean up... and she found herself not wishing them to guess what she'd been doing. Even to herself she found it difficult to articulate a reason why; all she could say was that the experience had been special because it was personal. For most of her life others had used her body for their pleasure; now she had a chance to use it for her own. None of which had any effect on the turd in the sink, of course. The inescapable fact was that she'd have to dispose of it herself. She searched about and managed to locate a shovel blade from which the handle had broken. She carefully scooped up the turd, went outside, and flung it away into the darkness. That done she washed the sink, herself, the shovel blade, and her pipe, then collected her dress and retired to her room. There she lay back on her pile of cushions, pleasuring herself with her pipe and her fingers, until she grew tired and went to sleep. She dreamed that Frederick and Carty had grown to her size and came to her, both at once. After nursing Frederick penetrated her anus while Carty applied his lips to her vulva. Unfortunately what would otherwise have been an intensely pleasurable experience was marred by the presence of Jimmy, fully clothed, seated on his milking stool and holding a bucket. He seemed to be speaking but Alysa couldn't hear what he said. Every time she looked at him his face was shadowed; she couldn't make out his expression. Did he approve? Or was he perhaps one of those men who enjoyed watching? When she tried to ask him he disappeared. When she turned back to Jimbo and Carty they'd disappeared as well. Frederick watched her from beneath a screen of brush, casually masturbating. His penis grew until it measured as long and thick as his arm. Alysa reached for him but without moving he receded, always beyond her grasp. Then he too vanished, leaving her completely alone. She sat down and cried until Jimbo summoned her from sleep for the morning milking.
As he emerged from the hen house Jimmy caught sight of a plume of dust on the road. From this angle he couldn't make out what caused it but whatever it was moved at a pretty good clip. By the time he reached the barn and started washing the eggs he heard a vehicle pull into the yard. Someone exited the vehicle and entered the barn, their shoes tapping lightly on the planks. "Good morning, Jimmy," Ilsa's voice said.
"Good morning," Jimmy replied without turning around. "What brings you out?"
"How's Alysa doing?"
"Great," Jimmy replied. "Her milk production's still off but she's laying regularly and seems healthy enough. Right now she's helping Jimbo lay pipes for the new bath house."
"I saw. You still have her working in the nude, I notice."
"I have to," Jimmy replied, more defensively than he would have liked. "She can work all night, or even inside, but outside in the sun we have to douse her every now and then to keep her cool. Wearing clothes keeps her from shedding heat. Besides... she likes it that way."
Jimmy cleaned and candled four eggs before Ilsa spoke again. "You do realize that she wasn't built to be a farm hand, don't you?"
"Yes." Jimmy resisted the urge to slam down the egg he'd just cleaned. That wouldn't be productive.
"I can't imagine why they'd sell her all the way out here..." Ilsa's shoes scraped on the floor. "Since she is here, I'd suggest you bring her to the Spring Dance."
Jimmy fumbled the egg he'd just picked up and almost dropped it. He set it back in the tray and gripped the edge of the table with both hands to steady himself. "Why?"
"Around town, the gossip's flying so thick you could cut it with a knife and sell it at the Farmer's Market," Ilsa explained. "The best way to dispel it is to let people see that Alysa isn't really what they think she is."
Jimmy gripped the table edge until his knuckles whitened. He felt a dark chasm yawning before him and Ilsa pushing him from behind. "I- couldn't go by myself," he stammered. "If people thought I was bringing Alysa-" he couldn't finish.
"You won't have to," Ilsa replied. "I'll go with you."
Jimmy spun around. He felt like running outside to see if the sky had turned green or if there were any pigs winging their way south. He searched Ilsa's face and saw no evidence that she was being anything but completely serious.
"Did you know that Eddie Rimmer went to see Alysa just before you did?" Ilsa inquired. "He wanted to buy her but didn't have the cash on hand. When he went home to get it you came along."
Jimmy couldn't think of any appropriate reply. He imagined Eddie as Alysa's master and shuddered.
"That's what I thought too," Ilsa continued. "The truth is-" she folded her arms, her face taking on an expression Jimmy found alarming though he couldn't call it accusing per se. "You are the last person I'd expect to buy a- a Morph like Alysa. On the other hand, it seems just like you to buy a Morph like Alysa merely to replace a milk cow." She grinned crookedly. Then, as quickly as it came, the expression vanished. Now she did look angry. "Jimmy, why the Hell did you- oh, never mind." She scrubbed her face. "It's none of my business, and ancient history to boot." Her face assumed the brisk, businesslike expression it habitually wore. "I'm doing this because I'm worried about Alysa. She's had some bad breaks in her life." Her expression softened; somehow Jimmy found that even more alarming than when she was angry. "I'm worried about you, too. You've had some bad breaks in your life." In a flash she became all business once more. "If you have a nice suit, bring it and all the accesories to my house this Thursday. If you don't, come anyway and we'll get you one." She walked up to the sorting table. On one side stood a wire basket containing newly collected eggs. Next came a basin for washing, a light box for candling, a scale for weighing, and finally a rack for sorting. Ilsa passed it all by with hardly a glance, her gaze settling instead on a single, vastly larger egg sitting off by itself, perched on a shallow porcelain dish. She picked it up, turning it in her hands, examining it from every side. She estimated its weight as nearly equal to that of all the eggs in the wire basket put together. "How are they?" she asked. "Good quality?"
"The best," Jimmy replied, relieving Ilsa of the egg and washing it in warm water. "One every other day, just like clockwork, and every one of 'em absolutely perfect." The candling box had a light bulb inside and a hole in the face; normally one placed the blunt end of the egg against the hole, its pointed end tilted down by about forty-five degrees. Light shining through the egg revealed the yolk and air sac, as well as any imperfections in the shell. Twirling the egg and observing the motion of its contents would reveal to the experienced eye whether or not the egg was fresh or stale, and whether the yolk contained meat spots- developing embryos- or blood. On a whim Jimmy put Alysa's egg to the hole, but not a single trace of light showed through it. Candling an egg of that size required a light source much brighter than was practical. "She's more reliable than most of my hens and keeps her eggs a lot cleaner too."
"More productive also," Ilsa added. "Not many hens can lay two dozen eggs at once."
"She eats a lot more than fifteen chickens, though," Jimmy responded.
"How much milk does she give?" Ilsa inquired.
"Ten liters per milking, usually," Jimmy replied.
"Does she eat more than a cow?" Ilsa wanted to know.
Jimmy thought for a moment. "Don't think so," he allowed. "She eats different things, so it's not quite the same. Mostly it's what I grow anyway, so at least I don't have to buy feed."
"What do they taste like?" Ilsa asked. "The eggs, I mean?"
"Eggs," Jimmy replied with a shrug. "A few days back Frederick whipped one up into the most incredible omelette you ever saw." Jimmy couldn't help sighing at the memory. "I can't imagine where he learned it but he's a damn fine cook."
"A few years ago the railroad started using fox Morphs as porters, valets, and waiters," Ilsa said. "Started a fad. Now all the big hotels have them."
"I don't know," Jimmy replied doubtfully. He tried to imagine Frederick all dressed up and working in a luxury hotel. He just couldn't see it.
"How much do these eggs go for?" Ilsa asked.
"Don't know yet," Jimmy muttered. He'd put off taking them to market; if properly chilled, eggs would keep for several weeks. Now that Alysa's milk production had started to recover he couldn't put it off any more; milk wouldn't last more than a day or two without pasteurization.
"You going to the market today?" Ilsa wanted to know.
"Soon as I'm done here," Jimmy responded.
"Great. I'll come with you."
Jimmy grimaced but said nothing. He didn't feel safe with Ilsa around but couldn't think of a way to get rid of her. Still, once he finished sorting the eggs she helped him load them and the milk cans onto the truck. Alysa's eggs rode in two crates padded with wood shavings, since ordinary egg cartons were clearly inadequate. While placing them on the truck bed Ilsa laughed. "You'd need an awfully big carton for a dozen of these babies," she commented.
"That you would," Jimmy agreed, nodding.
"I can just imagine that at the local market," Ilsa added with a chuckle. "'Vixen fruit: one doz.'"
"Vixen fruit?" Jimmy blinked. "Oh, right," he continued, a bit sheepishly. Chicken eggs were sometimes called hen fruit. That hadn't been the first thought that came to him, though. He climbed into the truck's cab; Ilsa joined him on the passenger side.
The Farmer's Market was in full swing by the time Jimmy rolled into town. When he hove into view, though, it seemed like all conversation stopped and everyone turned to look at him. If not for Ilsa he might have turned around right there. Instead he gritted his teeth and pulled up to the dairy stall.
"What'cha got there, Jimmy?" Eddie shouted, pushing his way through the crowd.
"Milk," Jimmy replied shortly, rolling the cans onto the dock.
"This your vixen milk?" Daniel Hardcastle inquired. A swarthy fellow about Jimmy's age, he purchased milk for the dairy.
"That's right," Jimmy replied.
"It tastes funny," Eddie warned.
"And exactly how would you know, Eddie?" Ilsa inquired, her tone as cold as a fell winter. "Did Jimmy invite you over for tea?" Some people chuckled; Eddie cursed but said nothing more.
"Let me see." Daniel opened one of the cans, dipped out a ladle full, and sipped. His brows rose. "It does taste- no not funny." He offered the ladle to his assistants.
"Different," one suggested.
"Good." The other smacked his lips.
"Yes, but not like regular milk," Daniel concluded. "Sorry, Jimmy, but I don't think we can use it."
"Why?" Jimmy heard himself asking as he felt the world collapse around him. If he couldn't sell the milk-
"Too sweet," Daniel replied. "It is good, I'll give you that, but if we mixed it with the regular kind it'd taste funny. I think we could market it separately but that isn't practical with such a small production base."
Eddie laughed. "You could still make money charging to let people milk her," he pointed out.
"And I could make money charging people to let them kick your fat ass," Ilsa growled.
Eddie cursed and bunched his fists but at least half a dozen men stepped up between him and Ilsa. Doc Holiday and his daughter were well liked in Brooks. Eddie wasn't. He cursed again and shoved his way brusquely through the crowd.
Jimmy barely heard any of the exchange. His mind was still fixed on the fact that Daniel wouldn't buy Alysa's milk. Without that income he wouldn't be able to keep her. He'd have to sell her... and she'd most likely end up in the hands of someone like Eddie.
"Come on, Jimmy." Ilsa tugged him off the dock. "If the dairy won't buy your milk we'll find someone else who will."
"Who?" Jimmy asked morosely.
"Someone who'll appreciate sweetened, flavored milk," Ilsa replied. "Ah, just the man I wanted to see. Mr. Hardesty, if I may..."
Gerrold Hardesty looked like he should have been an undertaker. Tall, lean as a scarecrow, with a face as sharp as a hatchet blade, he could look quite formidable. And yet he had a remarkably engaging smile, which he used frequently. "Ah, good morning, Miss Ilsa," he responded. "How may I help you?"
"I recall a few days ago you bemoaning the cost of importing flavor ingredients for your ice cream," Ilsa replied. "I thought you might like to try some of Jimmy's milk."
"Ah, you'd be the fellow with the milk vixen," Gerrold replied, grinning broadly. "How is she?"
"Well, thank you," Jimmy replied.
"Here, try this." Ilsa dipped a sample.
Gerrold sipped, swirling it around in his mouth like a wine taster. His brows rows. "Hmm. Very interesting flavor."
"It's better warm," Jimmy put in hopefully.
"No doubt," Gerrold mused. "But no, I'm afraid it won't replace any of my existing flavors... still I think it might make an interesting flavor on its own."
"Tell you what," Ilsa put in. "I'll commission you to do this batch here. Then we'll see."
"Very well, my dear." Gerrold offered his hand and Ilsa shook it.
"But-" Jimmy protested.
"Oh, calm down," Ilsa cut in breezily. "Trust me, Jimmy. Once people get a taste of this they won't be able to get enough."
"If you say so," Jimmy replied. But he didn't object when Ilsa paid him, in cash. After all, it's what he'd come here to do.
"Where's the ice cream?" Jimmy asked when he drove into town two days later with his next batch of milk.
"There isn't any," Ilsa replied, putting her foot on the truck's running board and resting her elbows on the window frame.
"What happened to it?" Jimmy asked pensively.
"Sold out," Ilsa replied, with a grin. "I earned half again what I paid you, and that's including all of it I ate myself."
Jimmy blinked. "You mean people like it?"
"Like it?" Ilsa snorted. "Try love it." A crowd of children rushed up to the truck, jabbering excitedly. "It's all anyone can talk about. How'd you do with the eggs?"
"The railroad cafe bought them," Jimmy replied. "Apparently they run through quite a lot of eggs there."
"I can imagine, with all those railroad workers coming through there all the time," Ilsa commented, then grinned. "Looks like your milk vixen's a big hit."
"Looks like it." Jimmy grinned himself. Then he did something absolutely unbelievable: he gave Ilsa a kiss. She laughed and gave him one right back.
"Alysa?" Carty stopped and looked around. He ended up turning in a complete circle without seeing her anywhere.
"How long is it to the Spring Dance?"
"Two weeks," Carty replied, turning around once again. Then he looked up, and finally saw Alysa: perched on the roof of the barn, just behind the hoist serving the loft. "Why?"
"Just wondered." Alysa turned her face toward the sunset, which awoke firey highlights in her fur. She sat straddling the roof peak, gripping the base of the hoist beam with both hands and rocking slowly back and forth. "Where's Master Jimmy?"
"Off in town, I think," Carty replied, scratching his head.
"Yes," Alysa replied. "With Mistress Ilsa."
Carty frowned. With Alysa facing away and the vertical distance between them he couldn't quite make out what she'd said. He opened his mouth, intending to request a clarification, but closed it without speaking. She didn't seem in the mood to talk. He shrugged and continued on to the field worker's shack. "Hey, Jimbo," he called. "Did you know that Alysa's sitting on the barn?"
"Yeah," Jimbo replied as he carefully stitched up a torn shirt. His needlework wouldn't win any prizes but it got the job done. "She's started doing that whenever the boss man goes out on one of his evening jaunts."
"Huh." Carty rubbed his cheek. "He's been doing that a lot lately, hasn't he?"
"Yeah," Jimbo agreed. He'd noticed that... and that a great many, if not all, the expeditions involved Ilsa Holiday. Which left him feeling very conflicted. Ilsa wasn't anything like Darla. In point of fact- at least in Jimbo's admittedly biased opinion- when compared against Doc Holiday's daughter Darla Hemphill didn't even qualify as a human being. Jimbo would have called Ilsa the very thing to put Jimmy back on track... except that Alysa very clearly regarded Ilsa a rival for Jimmy's affections. Jimmy, naturally, was completely unaware of the tangle at whose center he stood.
"Shouldn't we... um... get her down?" Carty ventured.
"Why?" Jimbo demanded shortly, irritation at a situation he couldn't change flaring up in his reply. "She ain't hurtin' nobody, is she? The roof'll take her weight. If it don't, we oughta fix it anyway."
"Sure, whatever," Carty agreed hastily, backing into his corner and sitting down on his cot. "I just wouldn't want her getting hurt, is all."
Too late for that, Jimbo thought but didn't say. Thinking about Alysa instead of his sewing caused him to mislay a stitch. He cursed under his breath and picked it out.
"Here, let me get that," Frederick said, taking the shirt and setting to work. His smaller, more dexterous fingers not only corrected Jimbo's mistakes but finished the rest of the job in less than half the time Jimbo had taken already.
"Frederick," Jimbo said abruptly, "Has Jimmy talked to you about Alysa?"
Frederick glanced up. His fingers continued laying down perfect stitches, apparently without the need for conscious direction. "No," he replied.
"Have you been with her?" Jimbo continued.
"No way," Frederick insisted.
"Why not?" Jimbo wanted to know.
Frederick snorted. "Coming between the boss man and his squeeze ain't a smart thing."
"Jimmy's not like that," Carty insisted.
Frederick snorted again. "Bullshit. They're all like that. Give him a woman who isn't allowed to say no, one he doesn't even have to pretend to respect, and suddenly he's head bull. The master-" his tone made the word drip with scorn- "won't let nobody else touch Alysa. He'll say he's not that sort, he'll say he's protecting her from men like that... but what he's really doing is saving her for himself."
"Jimmy ain't like that," Carty insisted, but he stared down at the floor while doing so.
"Then why'd he buy geldings?" Frederick inquired.
"That was Darla's idea," Jimbo said icily. "Not Jimmy's."
"He didn't correct it, did he?" Frederick countered.
"Correct it?" Carty exclaimed, leaping to his feet. "What they gonna do, stitch 'em back on?"
"'Course not," Frederick replied. "They give you a shot. You get sick as a dog for about three weeks and your crotch hurts like a sonofabitch, but when it's over you've got a new set of jewels."
"I suppose you know," Carty grumbled.
"I do," Frederick replied. "Once upon a time I worked at a fancy hotel in Mazama, as a body servant, which means I helped people dress, did their hair, fixed their makeup, and so on. I gave massages and helped people bathe, too. Naturally some customers wanted more... intimate service, which I also provided. 'Till one day some old biddy's husband took offense. A couple of his bravos held me down while the boss man performed surgery with a straight razor. Fortunately they left me afterward, and I made it back to the hotel. My boss decided that I wasn't any use to him without hardware so he sent me back to the germ lab for a fix-up. Of course nothing happened to razor-man, except I hear he had to pay for my treatment." Frederick rolled up his bedding and threw it over his arm.
"Where you goin?" Jimbo asked. He hadn't spoken before now because he'd turned cold inside. He liked Jimmy; Jimmy was the best master he'd ever had, and he'd had several. But having adjusted to being gelded wasn't the same as not minding. He wanted to believe that Jimmy hadn't known about this treatment. He didn't want to believe that Jimmy had known and just hadn't bothered mentioning it. That it had simply never occurred to Jimmy that his Morph assistants had anything like human feelings.
"Outside," Frederick replied. "At the hotel I earned enough in tips alone to buy this whole farm a dozen times over. I'd rather sleep outside and eat squirrels because at least that's my choice." He closed the door behind him without slamming it.
"Jerk," Carty mumbled, settling down on his cot.
Jimbo said nothing. At times he really despised Carty for being an idiot. But other times- like now- he had to say that a lack of imagination made things much easier. It kept a fellow from dwelling on things he shouldn't. He lay down on his bunk, but his eyes remained open for quite some time.
Meanwhile, from the roof of the barn, Alysa watched the sun settle onto the horizon and sink gradually below it, deforming and fading from bright yellow to red like a slug of fresh iron dropped on the floor of a foundry. The failure of light didn't concern her much; her vulpine genes gave her excellent night vision. Also, the cooling air brought a plethora of scents to her nostrils. She continued rocking slowly; the peak of the roof applied pressure to her crotch which she found mildly stimulating. Her pipe with the ball joint on the end protruded from her right back pocket; she drew it, exploring the metal with her fingertips while keeping her eyes on the distant horizon. Proximity to her body kept it relatively warm but cold night air sapped the heat quickly. Her thumb explored the hole in the tip; she imagined water pulsing from it, filling her vagina until the excess splashed out on the ground. Her eyes narrowed and her lips drew back from her teeth; in a quick motion she cocked her arm back and flung the pipe away. It vanished into the darkness, whistling as it spun. It wasn't a real penis and she no longer cared to spend the effort pretending that it was. The fingers of her other hand strayed to her crotch but passed without making contact. Masturbating wasn't fun anymore; it only reminded her of what she lacked.
A new scent reached Alysa's nostrils. She turned, craning her neck to see past the barn. Frederick came out of the worker's shack and spread his bedding on the ground next to the new equipment shed. Her mouth worked; she almost called out to him... but he'd spurned her every advance. He wouldn't touch her- he wouldn't even look at her- without Jimmy's express permission. And Jimmy wasn't here to ask; he was off in town with Mistress Ilsa. Her grip tightened on the hoist beam; If not for the fur on them her knuckles would have been white. In her mind's eye she saw Jimmy and Ilsa sitting on the love seat in Doc Holiday's front parlor, listening to a radio show or perhaps the phonograph. No doubt they'd be snuggled close together, Jimmy with his arm around Ilsa's shoulders. Eventually he'd work up the courage to give her a hug and nuzzle her cheek. She'd giggle and playfully bat him away, but not seriously. Or maybe not; Mistress Ilsa seemed like an... assertive woman, and Jimmy not the kind to... seize the initiative. Maybe she'd smile and give him a peck on the cheek. He'd blink in surprise and maybe stammer something. She'd take his chin in her hand and silence him with a kiss on the mouth. Jimmy might be slow but he was a man; he'd return the kiss, snuggling her against him, slipping his free hand up onto her chest. He'd cup her beast, lifting and squeezing, caressing it through her blouse. She'd lean against his hand, lifting her back away from the couch so he could reach the zipper on the back of her dress. He'd let go of her breast long enough to reach around her and undo the zipper. Then he'd gently slide the dress off her shoulders, baring her torso. He'd kiss her on the mouth, then work his way down to her throat and finally her chest, running his tongue along her cleavage. While doing that he'd unhook her bra and gently pull it off. She'd sigh and lay back; he'd take her bare breast in his hand, lifting and caressing it, teasing the nipple with his tongue. After a moment he'd draw it into his mouth. Her hands would roam over his chest and shoulders, undoing the buttons on his shirt and tugging it off. She'd push him back, unfastening his belt and pants, pulling them down to bare his hips. She'd take his penis in her hand, squeezing and caressing it until it stiffened to erection. She'd lean forward, stroking the shaft with the tip of her tongue. Finally she'd take it into her mouth, sucking deeply and swallowing at the end of each stroke. Jimmy would arch his back, his breath hissing through tightly clenched teeth, his hands clenching at the love seat's upholstery. His breaths would come faster and faster, his hips thrusting into Ilsa's mouth, until-
The night air brought a faint sound. Alysa's ears swiveled, focusing on the source. A fuel cell powered truck with squeaky rear springs and a cooling fan with a bad bearing was crossing behind the south field. Alysa watched and, in a few moments, saw the head lamps through the trees. Eventually the truck turned onto the high road and came up to the drive. It pulled into the barn yard and stopped by the house. Jimmy emerged from the cab, whistling cheerily. He looked around but not up; he did not notice Alysa looking down at him. He paused a moment, gazing at Alysa's cabin. She leaned forward but he turned away before she could make out his expression. Nor did his scent reveal anything conclusive about what he'd done in town. Then he vanished into the house.
"And the irony is, he's only interested in my breasts," Alysa whispered, slipping her overall straps off her shoulders and rolling up her shirt, baring the aforementioned organs. Before coming to the MacGregor farm she would have said that not having sex for a while would be a relief. Which was true: it had been... for a while. But there was a difference, she'd found, between taking a break from sex and being completely celibate. She couldn't go without sex indefinitely; she'd been made to crave it. And she did. Her left hand crept down the front of her overalls, gently but firmly massaging her clitoris. With her right she lifted her upper right breast, took the nipple into her mouth, and started sucking. If Jimmy would not satisfy her needs she would do on her own. Not even duty to her master could overcome the craving.
"Morning, Jimbo," Jimmy called brightly as he left the house. For the first time in a very long time he really felt as if things were looking up. Alysa's milk and eggs were selling like crazy and Ilsa... well, he wasn't exactly sure what she wanted but spending time with her wasn't the hardship he'd feared. In fact, he almost looked forward to it. "How's Alysa this morning?"
"Down another half liter," Jimbo replied.
Jimmy's face turned blank. For a subjective eternity he stared at Jimbo as if he'd never seen him before. Icy dread clawed at his guts; this wasn't the first day Alysa's production had been off. In fact, it had been going on for days... but he'd figured it for nothing but a temporary fluctuation. Except that her production seemed to have dropped a little every day for the last week. "But she laid her egg, right?" he heard himself ask. Every day, like clockwork-
"No, boss. No egg today."
"What did you get, total?" Jimmy inquired. He seemed to be standing beside himself, watching the conversation rather than taking part in it.
"Five and two-thirds liters," Jimbo responded.
Jimmy took his hat and slowly fanned himself. Alysa should be giving ten liters per milking. She needed to; vixen milk had become a hot commodity. As a result of the ice cream experiment a lot of people had tried it, and almost all of them ended up liking it. Now everyone wanted vixen milk: for ice cream, in coffee and tea, or merely to drink. Just this once the county rumor mill had actually done Jimmy a favor... and now, in his moment of triumph, he was about to fall on his face because Alysa's breasts were drying up. "Go into town and get Doc Holiday," he decided. He winced as he said it; a house call was one more expense he didn't need. "I'll go check on Alysa."
Because of his preoccupation Jimmy did not notice that Jimbo hesitated before responding. "Yeah, boss," Jimbo said to Jimmy's retreating back, then hurried over to the truck. He glanced back over his shoulder with an odd expression.
Jimmy found Alysa sweeping the barn. The cleaning wasn't really necessary but she couldn't work in the fields- at least not steadily- and she couldn't fit in the house so she had to do something. On the other hand, the barn and outbuildings had never looked so good and he didn't have to search for things anymore. On top of that she'd relaid the broken drain pipe behind the barn, fixed the gutters on the equipment shed, repainted the field worker's shack, and brought the landscaping around the house under control. In fact the house was starting to look shabby by comparison; a number of shutters needed to be repaired, the gutters cleared, and the whole exterior repainted. He caught himself before asking her to do it; that wasn't why he'd come. "Morning, Alysa," he said in what he hoped was a bright, cheery tone.
"Good morning, Lord Jimmy," Alysa replied, laying the broom aside.
By the way Alysa's ears had flicked Jimmy wasn't so sure his attempt at bonhomie had come off. He decided to try a blunt approach. "Are you feeling all right?" he asked.
Something flickered across Alysa's features. Since she wasn't human- or a horse Morph- Jimmy wasn't sure how to read it, but it made the uneasy sensation in his stomach a great deal worse. "Yes Master," she replied. "I seem to be in excellent health."
Jimmy regretted having started this conversation but couldn't back out now. "Your milk output's fallen off. Do you have any idea why?"
Alysa's expression revealed nothing at all. "Why don't you ask Dr. Holiday? I'm sure she could figure it out."
"He's on his way," Jimmy replied, fingering the brim of his hat. "He'll want to examine you, so... stay around the barnyard, okay?"
Jimmy hurried out. Stepping into the sunshine felt like surfacing after too long under water. Memories- nightmares- of Darla flashed through his mind. Things he'd forgotten... things he wished he'd forgotten. His whole body quivered; he wanted to run and keep running until he collapsed. He ran through the list of chores he'd scheduled and recalled that brush needed to be cleared from the outer fence on the upper field. Yesterday he hadn't considered it a high priority but right now it seemed very important. He picked up a shovel- then threw it down in disgust. Bad enough that he'd let Darla- a human- push him around; now he was about to let Alysa- a Morph- do the same. He headed back toward the barn, his expression grim. Alysa was his property, damn it. If she wouldn't get that through her head then by God he'd-
Shock of realization hit Jimmy so hard that he almost fell and had to lean against the pump house for a few minutes. In his mind's eye he saw his father, face florid and twisted into a rictus of rage, taking off his belt. The belt had been Shamus MacGregor's answer to every discipline problem and he applied it vigorously. In fact, Jimmy couldn't recall a single time when the belt had come off that Shamus hadn't been in a screaming rage. Jimmy drew a shuddering breath and headed off to the chicken house. There were plenty of chores that really needed doing and didn't require him to interact with Alysa, though they might not take him away. Besides, work- any work- would take his mind off what he'd contemplated... and how very like his father he'd almost acted. So deep did he loose himself that when the truck pulled in he looked up in surprise. When Ilsa jumped out of the cab his surprise deepened. "Hey, Ilsa," he called, straightening up. He almost added what are you doing here but caught himself at the last possible second. He'd sent Jimbo to fetch Doc Holiday. He hadn't specified which one, though he'd meant Josiah. He would have preferred Josiah but he daren't say so now, with Ilsa already here. He hurried up to the truck.
Ilsa wore her riding clothes. She halted Jimbo when he tried to fetch something from the truck's bed and retrieved it herself. It was a satchel of medical tools and supplies, and much larger than what one might expect. Appropriate, Jimmy supposed; the Holidays' patients were livestock as often as people or Morphs. "You two stay outside," she ordered as she entered the barn.
Jimmy halted, realizing only then that he'd been following. He looked at Jimbo, who looked back with an expression that must have mirrored Jimmy's: a sort of stunned, blank amazement.
Carty appeared, coming up from the lower field with a hoe over his shoulder. "What's happening?" he asked.
"Doc Ilsa's here," Jimbo replied.
"Why?" Carty continued.
"Looking at Alysa," Jimmy explained.
"What for?" Carty wanted to know.
"Female problems," Jimmy said shortly.
"Oh." Carty retreated a step a looked about to cross himself. "Well, better get back to work," he said hurriedly, and withdrew hastily. A moment later Jimmy and Jimbo followed.
"Hello, Alysa," Ilsa called, stepping into the barn. She pulled the door closed behind her; the interior wasn't dark, exactly, but contrast between exterior brightness and interior dimness made it seem gloomy.
"Hello, Dr. Holiday," Alysa replied. Her voice seemed to drift from the shadows.
Ilsa stepped forward and found Alysa sitting on her knees in a corner, behind a row of milk cans. She looked down and to her left, her arms crossed over her chest. "Is something wrong, Alysa?" Ilsa gently inquired.
Alysa glanced up. Through a effort of will Ilsa resisted he impulse to step back. Being a doctor she dealt with a broad variety of Morphs on a fairly regular basis; vulpines weren't at all common in Brooks County but other canids weren't unknown. As such Ilsa knew how to read canine body language... and Alysa radiated such intense hostility it formed an almost visible corona around her. Not a good thing under the best of circumstances, and not at all a good thing in a person of Alysa's size and strength. But Ilsa was not so easily intimidated; she set her jaw and approached. Slowly, yes, but unflinchingly. "Please tell me what's wrong, Alysa," she asked. "I'll do whatever I can to help, I promise."
Alysa's ears lay back and flipped forward several times. "What do you think you can do, Dr. Holiday?" Alysa demanded.
"If there's anything you need, I can have Jimmy-" Ilsa began. She didn't finish because Alysa surged to her feet, slapping the empty milk cans out of her way. They scattered across the barn with a horrendous din.
"You say you want to help," Alysa growled, ears back and eyes narrowed. "You don't know how funny that is. You're the problem, Dr. Holiday!" She stormed out, forcing Ilsa to jump out of her way. Alysa smacked the barn door open; it jumped out of it's track and hung askew. A moment later Ilsa heard the door to Alysa's shack slam loudly.
Several moments passed. A chorus of footsteps heralded the arrival of Jimmy, Jimbo, and Carty. They rushed up to the barn, then milled a moment before Jimmy worked up the courage to peer inside. He found Ilsa standing amid the scattered and dented milk cans, picking distractedly at her lower lip. "Um... Ilsa?" he managed. "Is... everything all right?"
What the bloody Hell do you think? Ilsa wanted to scream, and would have but for clenching her teeth tightly. She couldn't blame Jimmy, not really. Yes, he'd bought Alysa in the first place... but with the advantage of hindsight Ilsa could all too easily see how she'd contributed to the situation. Alysa wasn't a farm animal, she was a love beast, a living sex toy. No doubt her creator had given her an enhanced sex drive along with her beautiful body and large breasts. What good was a sex toy that didn't crave sex? She would also have been endowed with a strong devotion to her master. That was standard for all Morphs; it made them more tractable. Of course she was sexually attracted to her master; she was made that way. But Jimmy wouldn't be ready for that. Darla had affected him like lightning striking an ancient oak: the external wounds might have healed but the cracks ran deep, all the way to its core. He might have purchased Alysa because some dark part of his id had momentarily come to the surface... but when faced with the reality of Alysa's presence he'd retreated in panic, slamming the door and welding it shut behind him. Which wouldn't have mattered had Alysa been a cow, or even an ordinary Morph. But she wasn't. She'd been designed to fill a particular role... and she couldn't stop filling it any more than she could stop breathing. Then, as if to top it all off, here was Ilsa, engaging Jimmy in what might appear to be the prelude to an intimate relationship, while Alysa did without. That would be like twisting the knife. And Ilsa was the person who should have known better, who'd warned Jimmy in the first place!
"Miss Ilsa?" Jimbo ventured hesitantly.
Ilsa opened her mouth and shut it. The problem was so simple... and yet so very, very difficult, because it lay precisely in the place where Alysa's and Jimmy's blind spots converged. Likewise the solution. So easy and obvious... if both Jimmy and Alysa forgot their feelings and took the expedient way out. "Jimmy... I'm sorry but there's nothing I can do," Ilsa said. The impossibility of explaining to Jimmy was as self-evident as everything else. "Alysa's problem... isn't something I can medicate away. I think... you should talk to the engineer who created her."
Jimmy blinked. "You... you know who created her?"
"Yes." Ilsa nodded. "Dr. Tenshiki Kasegawa of Flesh for Fantasy Bodsculpting, 632 East Orchid Street, New City, Mazama."
Jimmy blinked. "How... how did you know all that?"
"She told me when we had her in before," Ilsa explained. "I looked up the address in the professional directory. I think... you should go there, explain to Dr. Kasegawa about what's happened, and ask for his advice."
Jimmy removed his hat. Instead of fanning himself with it he fingered he brim. "I see," he said at length. "But... what if something happens while I'm gone?"
"Tell-" Ilsa began. She stopped, thinking hard for a moment. She'd been about to say tell Frederick to make love to Alysa as often as possible. That would at least treat the problem but she couldn't come out and say it any more than she could explain what was wrong in the first place. "Do this, Jimmy. Assign Frederick to take care of Alysa. Make sure he has all the duties, no matter how insignificant. No one else is to do them. And- this is important, Jimmy, most important of all- you explain to him that he has your permission to do anything- anything at all- in the service of Alysa's well being." Jimmy's mouth opened to protest; Ilsa silenced him with a hard glance. "Jimmy, she may not be dying like she was last time but if you don't do what I say you will loose her, just the same."
Jimmy swallowed, then licked his lips. "I see," he muttered. "Well... okay then. I guess I better get packed." He turned away.
"Jimbo, make sure he tells Frederick exactly like I said," Ilsa added, catching Jimbo's arm. "For her sake and his."
"Okay." Jimbo nodded. But afterward, as Ilsa was driving home, she couldn't help thinking that Jimbo had seemed somewhat... distracted.
"Here you go, Boss," Carty said, bringing the truck to a stop.
"Thanks." Jimmy climbed out of the cab, retrieved his carpet bag from the bed, and joined the line in front of the ticket window. "I'd like a round trip to Mazama, please," he said when his turn came.
"Five Tars, please," the agent responded. Jimmy paid; the agent pulled out a ticket, wrote some notations on it, stamped it, and passed it over. As Jimmy slipped it into his jacket's breast pocket he heard a distant whistle. The train was almost here. He hurried out onto the platform to watch it arrive.
The town of Brooks sat right next to Ruby Junction, which was where the Mazama Traction Company's Peedee branch and Enterprise branch joined to form the King's Valley Line. Also located there were the county grain elevators, the railroad cafe, a depot, a livestock terminal, and a small switching yard. Brooks wasn't itself a major stop but did serve as railhead for the surrounding area.
A locomotive emerged from the distant tree line. It was of a type known as a steeplecab because of how its operator's cab stood in the center of its frame with sloping hoods running down toward either end. It wasn't very large, either, only long enough for its two trucks and the cab between them. A single pole mounted atop the cab collected electric power from the overhead wire.
Behind the steeplecab trailed the rest of the King's Valley Local. It consisted of four passenger coaches that looked to have been retired from mainline service about twenty years ago, a baggage car, a railway post office, and half a dozen assorted freight cars. The Slug, as it was more commonly known, served every stop on the King's Valley Line and along the way picked up or delivered any incidental freight that needed moving. As such it could take quite a while for the train to complete a circuit. Hence the name.
In fact, while Jimmy waited to board, a young man in pinstriped overalls- skunk Morph, Jimmy incidentally noted- climbed out of the locomotive's cab and uncoupled it from the train, then rode on a step while the steeplecab shunted to another track and collected a tank car, which ultimately joined the rest of the freight. By that time Jimmy had almost found his seat; the sharp jar as the tank car coupled sent him sprawling. Judging from the number of curses he had plenty of company. As he righted himself Jimmy wondered briefly why he hadn't opted for the more luxurious- though more expensive- Sunset Limited. He realized, though, that in posing the question he'd answered it, the key words being more expensive. Besides, the Sunset Limited didn't stop in Brooks except by previous arrangement and the Slug came through four time per day.
As the train lurched into motion Jimmy gazed out the window. His eye lingered briefly on a tall, trim fellow in a gray jacket with a matching fedora. That alone would have marked him as a city fellow; the cut and style of his jacket fairly screamed it. But the presence of a slicker in Brooks wouldn't have interested Jimmy even under the best of circumstances; he let his gaze settle upon scenery in the middle distance and dismissed the city fellow from his mind.
The city fellow, meanwhile, quickly scanned the dispersing crowd under the guise of adjusting his hat. Then he strode briskly to the railroad cafe; a bell jangled merrily as he opened the door. He took a seat at the counter and waited patiently until the waitress, a young skunk Morph woman, approached. "May I help you, sir?" she inquired.
"Tea, please," the stranger replied, smiling warmly. The waitress would have been pretty, he decided, if she wasn't so fat. An excess of flesh made her limbs seem a bit stubby, as well as giving her love handles, a pot belly, and enormous buttocks. All of which the stranger had ample opportunity to observe as the woman collected his tea; her pink dress and white apron seemed to be half a size too small. She'd wrapped her tail with netting to keep it out of the way in the confined space behind the counter.
"Here you are, sir." The waitress placed a cup, saucer, and spoon on the counter, then served tea from a large kettle. After returning the kettle she delivered a bowl of sugar, a tiny pitcher of milk, and a small pot of honey.
"Thank you very much." The stranger produced a nickel, which the waitress scooped up with a nodded thanks. Then the stranger added a spoonful of sugar and a shot of milk to his tea, stirring it with the spoon while surveying the menu. His brows shot up when he noticed a particular item. "Miss?" he called.
"Yes?" The waitress turned back.
"I'm sorry if I seem crass, but can you tell me why the One Egg Omelette costs two Tars?"
The waitress grinned. Several patrons giggled or laughed outright. "Wait'll you see one, Strangy," a fellow at the end of the counter called. "But if you order one, you better be really hungry. Or bring a couple mates with you."
"Two Tars for an omelette made from a single chicken egg would be pretty unbelievable," the waitress allowed, still smiling broadly. "But we have some special eggs." She stuck her head into the kitchen. "Specs! Hand me one of the big 'uns!" She turned around holding an egg. In both hands, because while carrying it one handed might have been possible it certainly wouldn't be safe. The egg was huge.
"My word," the stranger exclaimed. "You must have some pretty impressive poultry around these parts."
The waitress laughed. "No, sir. There's a fellow out by Fanno Creek who bought a milk vixen. Turns out she lays eggs, too."
"Really." The waitress either did not notice or chose to disregard the strange light which flickered briefly in the stranger's eyes. "Could you tell me about him?" He drew a pad and pencil from his inside vest pocket.
Eddie Rimmer sat in the Knothole Tavern, nursing a beer and a grudge. He really should be home but if he were he'd have nothing but grief. Edith was pissed at him again. "Bitch," he muttered under his breath. Now there was a woman in desperate need of some discipline. But after the last time her brother had stopped by and explained, in no uncertain terms, that if he saw any more bruises on his sister that Eddie would end up with broken bones. Lots of them.
"Good day, sir," a voice said as someone slipped onto the adjacent stool. "I hear there's a fellow 'round here who owns a milk vixen."
"What of it?" Eddie demanded sharply. He wasn't in the mood to be friendly, and especially not to some dickhead city boy.
"She was sold illegally," the stranger continued. "I've been empowered by my employers to repossess her. And to pay a hundred Tars each to any stout lads who'll help me out."
In a flash Eddie's thoughts came into crystal sharp focus. "You can keep your Tars, least as I'm concerned," he replied, turning to face the stranger. "Gimmie a few hours alone with her and you got a deal. And I'll hook you up with a couple other blokes who'll help out."
The stranger grinned, offering his hand. "Done." Eddie took the offered hand, shook firmly and grinned back.
Alysa sat on the roof of the barn, watching the sun sink out of sight. She wanted to dive into it; she imagined herself falling, surrounded by sullen redness, the cares and woes of the world lost in its glow. She leaned forward-
Alysa blinked, returning to the present with a start. She looked down... and saw Frederick standing there, a milk pail in one hand. Her breath caught; she hadn't really looked at him for quite some time. Regular meals had packed a lot of weight on his frame and working on the farm had toned it. He'd never bulk out like Jimbo and Carty but his arms and shoulders and chest had developed a mass and definition that Alysa found very pleasing to the eye. Her pulse quickened; it was about time for her evening milking and to see him with the bucket-
"I'll be milking you from now on," Frederick added.
"I'll be right down!" Alysa swung her leg over, grabbed the hoist beam projecting from the peak of the roof, and let herself dangle at arm's length from it. That left her feet hanging more than half her own body length above the ground; nevertheless she let go, her knees flexing to take the impact. The slap of her pads against the hardened dirt wasn't especially loud but the ground shook. She stepped forward, shrugging the overall straps off her shoulders and pulling off her shirt. Her nipples were already so stiff they ached. But Frederick turned away, leading her into the barn, showing no overt sign of arousal. Alysa followed; perhaps he intended to wait until they were inside. She hastily unbuttoned the side flaps and stepped out of the overalls while coming through the door. That left her panties; she slipped them off while Frederick sat down on the stool and positioned the bucket. She threw as much roll into her hips as she could while walking around and settling on hands and knees before him. He sniffed a couple times before reaching for her nipples; he couldn't possibly fail to notice the odor of her arousal. She practically reeked of it. But as he took her nipples and gently persuaded them to give up their treasure he did so without any detectable trace of sexual awareness. He might as well have been milking a cow. Nevertheless, feeling him manipulate her breasts left Alysa gasping for breath; but in the end it stimulated her appetite far more than sating it. After the milking ended he got up, apparently with every intention of gong to bed. "Frederick?" Alysa asked, catching his hand.
Frederick licked his lips, laying his other hand on Alysa's and stroking it gently. He let his eyes wander up and down her body, lingering on her upthrust buttocks. The crotch of his overalls stirred... but only a little. He sighed unhappily and let his head droop, then gently pulled away. "I'm sorry," he said while putting away the milk can and washing out the bucket. "I want to, I really do but... I can't."
"That's all right," Alysa assured hurriedly, rolling to her knees. "I know sometimes it takes a bit to get started. I know some things that can help."
Frederick chuckled humorlessly. "That's not the problem," he sighed. "I almost wish it was, as embarrassing as it is. 'Cause I know you'd- you'd help me through it."
"There's quite a lot we could do, even without it," Alysa added, laying her hands on Frederick's shoulders. After a second she slid them down and around the sides of his chest underneath his overalls. Good food and regular grooming had left his pelt as smooth as silk; she reveled in the feeling of it between her fingers.
"But it's not that, Alysa." Frederick took her hands and gently but firmly detached them from his torso.
"Then what is it?" Alysa demanded sharply, an edge of frustration on her tone. "If I was good enough for you down by the creek, why aren't I good enough now?"
"It's not that!" Frederick insisted, grabbing Alysa's hands and holding them tightly. "You... you're too good for me. You always have been."
"Then why are you still dressed?" Alysa inquired, relenting only slightly.
Frederick's face worked. His ears flicked back and forth, his tail twitching restively. "It's... it's because Jimmy told me to."
"What?" Alysa surged to her feet. Only by chance did she miss cracking her head on a roof beam. "Frederick- that's the most ridiculous thing I ever heard!" Her voice started out more or less normal and rose to a shriek by the end of the sentence.
"Alysa, before coming out here I worked at a big hotel in Mazama," Frederick began. "My job was to entertain the hotel's female patrons. Stimulating conversation, private massages, helping them bathe, and going to bed with them if that's what they wanted. The hotel paid a modest salary but you wouldn't believe what I earned in tips. Or maybe you would." He eyed her thoughtfully. "I imagine you've made quite a bit in tips yourself."
"Yes," Alysa admitted quietly. But she'd never been allowed to keep it. Then her attention fastened back on Frederick. "If it was all so terrible, what about what happened by the creek? Was that a freak accident?"
"No," Frederick insisted forcefully. "That was-" He scrubbed his face. "The hotel treated me like a king. I had all the sex I wanted; between customers all the staff girls wanted to sleep with me. As soon as I possibly could I left it."
"To become a penniless drifter?" Alysa demanded, frowning.
"Yes." Frederick met Alysa's gaze unflinchingly, his eyes burning with a strange, inner light. "I hated it, Alysa. Everything I did, everything I was, existed for someone else's pleasure and profit. What I felt, what I wanted, never figured into it at all." His eyes narrowed. "I may be broke, I may sleep outside half the time... but whatever I do have is mine and mine alone. I'm free, Alysa. That's a treasure more precious to me than all the Goddamn money in the Goddamn world." He drew a deep breath and blew it out in a heavy sigh. "What happened by the creek... that was special because it was ours. Yours and mine alone. Now... I'm right back where I was in the hotel. The reason Jimmy sent me to look after you is because Doc Holiday told him it'd keep you happily producing milk and eggs. What you or I think has nothing to do with it. We're both nothing but livestock."
Alysa's mouth opened, then shut. She shifted uneasily from foot to foot. She would have argued every point except one, which she couldn't. "W... which Doc Holiday?" she asked in a quavering voice.
"Guess," Frederick replied.
Alysa swallowed. Her whole life had been about being a good, obedient Morph. It was right that she should be subservient to her master. It was right that she should have a master. What Frederick said was absolutely nonsensical. Worse, it was crazy. As if he actually thought he was human!
But that Ilsa had suggested this course of action put a completely different cast on things. A part of Alysa's mind couldn't help thinking of Jimmy as hers. If he'd been a proper master it wouldn't have been an issue, but by not being one he'd encouraged it. Then Ilsa came along and seemed well on her way to taking Jimmy for herself. All without the slightest regard for what Alysa felt. As if she weren't even aware. But then this came along. Oh, and we'll throw the foxie a bone to keep her occupied. Alysa's hand clenched and her lips drew back from her teeth. Had she not been such a well behaved Morph she would have imagined her jaws snapping shut on Ilsa's lily white neck. And she didn't feel particularly well behaved at the moment. She could have endured being treated like a Morph. She could have handled being treated like a person, too. But not both at once.
"Goodbye, Alysa." Frederick tipped an imaginary hat.
"What?" Frederick's comment shocked Alysa out of her reverie. "Oh. Good night."
"No." Frederick shook his head. "Goodbye. I'm not working for Mr. MacGregor any more."
"But-" Alysa blinked, her rage of a moment earlier lost under a new wave of confusion and dismay. "You- you're running away?" That was a crime even more heinous that a Morph presuming to human prerogatives.
"I ran away a long time ago," Frederick replied. "The hotel wouldn't ever have let me buy out my contract no matter how much I paid. I was making too much money for them." He sighed. "I'm sorry, Alysa. I wish we could have spent more time together. But please know I'll always treasure the time we had." He blew her a kiss and lay his hand on the door latch.
Alysa couldn't move, couldn't speak. She tried, but couldn't force the words out. Her jaw worked and her hands twitched. She wanted to grab Frederick, tear his clothes off, and force herself upon him, but that wouldn't do any good. It would destroy the very thing about him she'd come to cherish. Suddenly she realized that he was still standing by the door with his hand on the latch. "A truck's coming," he commented. "It's Eddie's."
"Eddie's?" Alysa blinked.
"Eddie Rimmer," Frederick clarified.
Alysa felt her blood turn to ice. Jimmy wasn't home and now Eddie was coming in the dead of night. She didn't like the sound of that, not one bit. "We should call the sheriff," she decided.
"No time," Frederick replied, opening the door just a crack. "We can't even leave the barn. They'll see us go." He looked around inside. "Grab that pipe over there."
"But-" By the time she stopped herself Alysa's hand had already closed around the length of iron tubing. Frederick looked over his shoulder; Alysa swallowed and took up the pipe.
"Now, I want you to stand here and hold the pipe like this," Frederick explained. "And when they come..."
Eddie brought his truck to a stop in the barn yard. Bill Clyde and Joe-Bob Crass rolled out of the back; the stranger- who said his name was Henry- exited the cab in a more leisurely fashion. Eddie switched off the fuel cell and grabbed his shotgun. Bill and Joe-Bob were similarly armed; Henry was not. "Take the shack," Eddie directed, pointing with the muzzle of his shotgun. "His hands'll be in there. I'll take the house."
"Better check the barn," Henry suggested. "There's a light on in there."
Eddie glanced at the barn. There weren't any lights on in the house that he could see. "Right, then," he decided. "Even if he's in there, it won't matter once we get his hands and the vixen." He turned toward the barn.
The door to the field worker's shack opened, with Jimbo silhouetted against light from within. "What's goin' on out here?" he shouted.
Joe-Bob snapped his shotgun to his shoulder and let fly. Fortunately for Jimbo the weapon was loaded with bird shot and not carefully aimed; the center of the pattern shattered the door frame by his shoulder. Nevertheless enough of it struck him to shred his overalls and send him tumbling backwards, his face and chest reduced to bloody ruin. Joe-Bob pumped his weapon's charging slide while Bill ran past him into the shack. "Freeze, muthafucker!" he screamed, leveling his weapon at Carty. The command was redundant; Carty was already frozen by the shock and horror of seeing Jimbo laying sprawled in a bloody heap on the floor.
Eddie paused a second to survey the situation, then kicked open the barn door, stepping through and sweeping the area with his shotgun. He should have stayed outside; as soon as he entered Alysa lunged, stabbing with the pipe as if it were a spear. It struck the side of Eddie's skull and punched right through into his brain, throwing him violently against the door. Frederick leapt in from the other side, grabbed the shotgun and wrenched it out of Eddie's grasp.
Henry's hand ducked into his coat and came out with a compact, acid blacked automatic pistol. He snapped off four rounds as fast as he could pull the trigger. Two of them should have gone right through Frederick's heart but instead hit Eddie between the shoulder blades. In a proper fight Eddie would have fallen out of the way but the pipe was stuck in his head and Alysa still had a death grip on the other end. Thus his now limp, twitching body remained where it was, hanging from the pipe. The last bullet took care of that; the third expended itself in the barn wall but the fourth punched through to embed itself in Alysa's hip. She screamed and staggered back, dragging Eddie out of the way. Even as that happened Frederick twirled the shotgun to get it pointed the right way, stepped forward, set it to his shoulder, and fired. The muzzle of Henry's pistol came swinging back but not quickly enough. Eddie's shotgun was also loaded with bird shot but at a range of only three or so meters it made no difference. Henry's face exploded in a spray of gore; his pistol fired as his fingers spasmed in death. The bullet tore a furrow in the side of Frederick's chest just below his armpit.
Joe-Bob turned toward the noise. He saw Henry fall and Eddie sprawled. Light from the barn's interior cast a fan of light on the dirt, revealing black stains spreading under both bodies. It also cast Frederick's face in stark relief as he charged his shotgun and turned in Joe-Bob's direction.
Joe-Bob swallowed. He'd taken the hundred Tars because it seemed like easy money. He hadn't seriously expected any real resistance; what could a bunch of unarmed Morphs possibly do to armed men? He dove just as Frederick fired; pellets sleeted against the front of the shack like deadly hail. Without breaking stride Joe-Bob rolled to his feet and crashed out through the rear of the shack and took off at a dead run, leaving Bill gaping at him. As Bill turned to shout a question Frederick appeared at the front door; Bill caught the motion in the corner of his eye and spun around. Frederick fired; the blast punched through Bill's sternum and threw him against the wall. He leaned against it for a moment, then sank to his knees and flopped forward on his face. Bright pulmonary blood poured from the gaping hole in his chest.
Alysa shuffled out of the barn and hobbled as quickly as she could toward Frederick. Her hip felt as if a red hot poker had been driven into it. She saw Jimbo laying on the ground and gasped.
"Well, that's done it," Frederick commented, repeatedly working the shotgun's slide to eject the unused shells. He put them in his pockets, then he picked up Bill's weapon, which hadn't been fired.
"Frederick, we have to call the doctor," Alysa exclaimed. Her gaze flicked back and forth between Jimbo and Bill, unable to break away from the carnage. "We have to call the sheriff."
"Alysa, I already have an outstanding warrant against me," Frederick replied. "When the sheriff sees I've been involved with the murder of a human he won't even bother taking me to jail. He'll throw a rope over the barn hoist and be done with it right here." He sighed. "I'm sorry, Alysa. You really are the most beautiful thing I've ever seen." He reached up and brushed her cheek.
"Frederick!" Alysa clutched his hand. Her voice quavered; tears streamed down her cheeks.
"The time it takes for you to get to town and fetch the doctor will be long enough," Frederick said. Gently but firmly he pulled his hand from Alysa's grip. "Jimbo needs help, Alysa. Bandage him to control the bleeding, then wrap him in a blanket to keep him from going into shock. Load him in the back of the truck and take him to Doc Holiday. Have Carty drive." He kissed her hand, then darted through the door.
Alysa stood staring out into the darkness. A moan from Jimbo snapped her out of it. "Carty!" she shouted, grabbing him by the shoulder and shaking him. "Grab those sheets! We'll put Jimbo on the cot, tie him down with the sheets, then throw a blanket over him. Move!"
The tone of command in Alysa's voice shocked Carty into motion. He obeyed like an automaton, following Alysa's instructions without any thought of his own. In a few minutes they had Jimbo strapped to his bunk and loaded in the back of the truck; Alysa held him on her lap while Carty drove. As the farm dwindled behind she started sobbing.
Some people said that Sheriff Penn Harrington looked more like a clerk than a lawman. His round, jowly face and pudgy, pot-bellied body certainly did nothing to dispel that impression, nor did the thick spectacles he wore. At least he dressed like a sheriff, in dark brown pants, a tan colored short sleeved shirt with his badge on the left breast, and a well kept Stetson. He did not wear a pistol; instead he carried a lever action rifle. Which was, at the moment, slung over his shoulder. "How's she doing, Doctor?" he inquired in a deep, rumbling voice.
"Well enough," Ilsa replied tersely, glancing up. Alysa lay on her side, covered by a sheet except for her left hip. Ilsa had shaved a patch of skin around the wound, made an incision with a scalpel, and extracted the bullet with a pair of forceps. Now she was closing, applying Fleshbond from a syringe and clamping the tissues until the glue set. "She'll make a full recovery with no scarring to speak of." The Holiday's barn wasn't exactly a sterile operating theater, but Ilsa had already administered a shot of genetically engineered bacteriophages that would stop any infection, no matter how severe, dead in its tracks.
"Glad to hear it." Sheriff Harrington nodded. "I do need to speak with her when she comes around. May I see the bullet?"
Ilsa gestured to a tray in the process of collecting her instruments and carrying them to the sink. Soap and water would take care of any dirt, blood, or flesh; and overnight bath in bacteriohage solution would sterilize them.
Sheriff Harrington picked up the tray, rolling the slug back and forth. Punching through the barn wall and Alysa's flesh had smashed it out of shape but an expert eye could still identify it. "Nine millimeter Parabellum," the sheriff commented. "Not what you'd expect a local boy to be carrying."
"Did that strange fellow have any ID?" Ilsa asked.
"No," Sheriff Harrington admitted. "Nothing but a fancy automatic pistol in a cutaway shoulder holster and a roll of cash that would choke a horse."
"He shows up late in the evening with a couple local fellows he'd obviously paid off," Ilsa pointed out. "Alysa and Frederick were defending themselves. Look what happened to Jimbo." Who was currently in the front office, which doubled when necessary as an operating theater, under the care of Holiday Senior.
"Now Doctor, I don't tell you how to patch cuts, do I?" Sheriff Harrington admonished. His tone sounded much the same as before but with an unmistakable edge. Then he relented, at least a little. "I suspect that's true," he added. "But the fact is, we have three dead humans. It may be that one's a stranger with questionable motives and the others weren't exactly beloved of the community but that doesn't make the killing any less serious. I need to know where Frederick's got to."
"Since there's a Morph involved, he must have done it?" Ilsa demanded acidly.
"You and I may not think so, but some will," Sheriff Harrington replied, unruffled. "Can't have people think I'm not doing my job. Which I am, by investigating the truth behind this matter." He set his fingers to his mouth and whistled loudly enough that Ilsa winced. A side door opened and a bloodhound entered.
The newcomer was a Morph. He stood half a head taller than Sheriff Harrington and looked as gawky and angular as a scarecrow. His smooth, precise movements belied that notion, as did the hard, sharply defined muscle on his bare arms and torso. He wore denim pants and four revolvers, two in cross-draw holsters at his waist and two more in shoulder holsters. Ilsa thought to herself that he looked more like a bandit than anyone she'd ever met, yet he'd been the sheriff's deputy for years.
"If you'd be so kind as to draw some blood, Doctor, we can get on with testing the warrants," Sheriff Harrington said.
Ilsa's hand drifted toward the instrument tray but hesitated. The Fleshbond had sealed the wound completely; it didn't even require a dressing. "Surely-" she began.
"What I think makes no matter, Dr. Holiday," Sheriff Harrington interrupted. He didn't raise his voice but there was no more give to it than in the blackened steel of his rifle's receiver. "It's the law. In case of a violent crime, all Morphs involved are checked against outstanding warrants. Murder's about as violent as it gets, wouldn't you say?"
Ilsa licked her lips but said nothing. She picked up a syringe and draw a few milliliters of blood from Alysa's arm. Sheriff Harrington opened the briefcase his deputy had brought and laid the warrants out on a side table. Ilsa came over, holding the syringe with the needle pointed upward.
Each warrant included a picture, a description, and a brief summary of the alleged crime for which the warrant had been issued. They'd been printed on notebook sized sheets of thick, mottled paper that looked almost like parchment; along the bottom edge of each sheet were a row of boxes, some of which contained dark blobs as if someone had dripped something on the paper. Ilsa did so now, squeezing a drop of blood onto an empty box on each sheet the sheriff had laid out. The blood soaked into the paper and turned black; if, on the other hand, genetic tags in the blood had matched those encoded into the paper, the stain would have turned bright green. This did not happen on any of the warrants presented.
"Thank you, Doctor." Sheriff Harrington gathered up the warrants and put them back in the briefcase. "Would now be a good time to see your pa about Jimbo?"
Ilsa's mouth worked. You think Jimbo might be a wanted criminal? she wanted to ask. But Sheriff Harrington was just doing his job, as she and Dad were by taking care of Alysa and Jimbo. "No," she said. "He'll be picking pellets out all night. Best try back tomorrow."
"Very good." Sheriff Harrington tipped his hat. "Thak'ee much, Doctor. Not to worry, we'll have this all straightened out in a jiff." He left, with his deputy right behind.
Ilsa ground her teeth. It was illegal to use genetically tagged warrants on humans. It wasn't practical; humans didn't have their genetic patterns on file at the labs where they'd been born. The possibility that such a repository might be created was one reason why the warrants were illegal. The idea that a public agency might have that sort of information ready to hand upset a lot of people. It also meant that human criminals walked free where Morphs were punished, often as not without anyone bothering to see if the charges specified in the warrant were justified.
While tidying up the operating theater and waiting for Alysa to come out of anesthesia Ilsa's eyes fell upon the medicine cabinet. After a brief hesitation she opened it and took down a bottle of amber colored fluid. Left to its own Alysa's leg would heal up in a week or two; a shot of regenerative would do the same in a couple hours. But the medicine wasn't cheap; as Alysa's legal owner Jimmy would have to approve the cost and he was still in Mazama.
Ilsa assembled a clean syringe and measured out a dose. She'd pay for it herself if necessary. She strongly suspected that Alysa would need to be in best possible shape to defend herself- in a court of law, or against whomever had sent that mysterious stranger in the first palace. Not to mention that she felt more than merely a pang of guilt at her own contribution to this whole affair. It irked her to no end that people ignored the thoughts and feelings of Morphs as if they didn't have any... and here she'd done that very thing herself, overlooking Alysa's feelings for Jimmy. The supreme irony was that she'd attached herself to Jimmy for Alysa's benefit, to make sure he treated her well.
Gentle pressure applied to the syringe's plunger sent the regenerative on its way into Alysa's veins. Like most things in life, Ilsa thought sadly. You do what you think's right and hope for the best. Then she sat down, face in her hands, and wondered what the Hell she was going to tell Jimmy when he got back.
At a certain point, as the train rattled its way toward Mazama, one first caught sight of a factory or two among the farms and other rural structures. From then on the factories became larger and more numerous while the farms diminished. The frequency and size of small towns also increased. Eventually all those towns blended together into a continuous urban belt, whereupon most visitors considered themselves in Mazama, though they wouldn't cross the city limits for a while yet.
Jimmy started out the window, watching it all slide by. Under other circumstances he would have paid more attention; he'd only been to the city a few times in his life. Worrying about Alysa drove it all out. He did perk up a bit as the train passed a collection of beautiful mansions built along the bank of the Roaring River. "At least someone's getting rich around here," he muttered under his breath. The mansions slipped out of view and the train crossed the river; for the last couple kilometers the tracks ran down the middle of a city street. A busy one, too; trucks, jitneys, wagons, and electric streetcars struggled for room in the press. The train rolled through it all, slowly but steadily. Jimmy cocked an ear for the crashes and screams that must inevitably come but heard nothing. Apparently folks knew enough to get out of the way. At a T intersection the train ran straight into an enormous shed with a glass roof supported by iron trusses. In spite of himself Jimmy rubbernecked; the Waiting Room was an impressive piece of architecture by any standard.
Fighting through the press on the platform diminished Jimmy's awe. With only his carpet bag he didn't have to wait in line to retrieve luggage, thank goodness. He won free of the bedlam in the station... only to find himself in a greater chaos on the street. Pedestrians clogged the sidewalks; not the easygoing walkers one saw in the country but folks in coats and dresses rushing along as if their lives depended on getting where they were going. In the street was the same traffic Jimmy had seen from the train; from street level it looked far more intimidating. Jimmy fished a hanky from his pocket and mopped his face; not only did all that concrete and metal pick up heat, but with thousands of fuel cells powering everything from home appliances to factory machinery, the air was unbelievably humid as well.
An open topped jitney with a black and white checker pattern painted on its door cut in front of another, similarly decorated vehicle and screeched to a halt by the curb. "Hey, mac!" the driver called, ignoring the steam of invective aimed at him by the other driver. "Need a lift?"
Jimmy considered his options. The streetcar cost a dime, but he'd have to find his own way. "How much?" he asked.
"Penny a klick, plus half a Tar to turn on the meter," the cabby replied.
Jimmy wrinkled his nose. "Oh, what the Hell," he decided.
"Hop in." The driver reached across and opened the passenger side door with one hand while throwing the meter flag with the other. Jimmy sat down after loading his carpet bag in the back seat. "Where ya headed?"
"Six thirty-two East Orchid Street," Jimmy replied.
"New City?" The cabby asked, launching his vehicle away from the curb directly into the path of an oncoming delivery van. The van's driver slammed on his brakes, laid on his horn, and shook his fist out the window.
"Yeah." Jimmy gripped the edge of the door until his knuckles turned white. But though he noticed the aftermath of a couple accidents none of them involved him. Despite driving with apparent disregard for any other traffic the cab driver brought his vehicle and passenger safely to their destination. "How do you do it?" he blurted while he counted out coins. "Avoid smashing into things, I mean?"
The cabby grinned. "Easy, mac. You don't watch the other cars. You watch the spaces between 'em." He tipped his cap and took off.
Jimmy sighed, glad beyond words that he wasn't driving in that mess. He turned to see what sort of a place Flesh for Fantasy Bodysculpting might be. The sidewalks weren't so crowded here, so he had a chance to stand back and look.
Whatever Jimmy had expected, this wasn't it. A row of elegant brownstones that had seen better days marched along the block. The only thing differentiating number six thirty-two from the others was a very small sign that said "Flesh for Fantasy" in elegant, curlicued letters. They'd been carved into the wood and embossed with gold, but years of weathering had dimmed the bright paint. Beneath it stood a fancy door with leaded glass inserts; windows with lace curtains flanked the entrance. If not for the sign Jimmy would have said it looked like the sort of place a doctor or lawyer might live. But only a modestly successful one; the woodwork desperately needed fresh paint. At least the owner kept it clean. Jimmy mopped his face, took off his hat, and rang the bell.
After some moments a bolt withdrew from behind the door. The right valve swung inward. Jimmy found himself face to face with the strangest creature he'd ever seen, even including Alysa.
Morphs were readily identifiable by the fact that, while they might walk upright, have hands, and talk, they looked conspicuously like animals. That was the point; it was illegal to manufacture a Morph that wasn't conspicuously non-human. Apparently someone had decided to push the envelope; the woman Jimmy found himself facing looked, from head to toe, completely human. Except, of course, for the whiskers sprouting from her cheeks, the tail sprouting from her rump, and that her ears were long and sharply pointed. Not to mention that a layer of soft, feline style fur covered every visible part of her and presumably everywhere else as well. On her body the fur was a rich, creamy tan; on her hands, feet, face, ears, and the tip of her tail it darkened to a rich, chocolate brown. "Good afternoon, sir," she said, stepping back. "How may I help you?" She spoke with a deep, burring, and incredibly sensual voice.
"Ah..." Jimmy started to fan himself with his hat but repressed the motion. The woman wore a peach colored halter that only barely enclosed her bosom and a darker colored, French cut bikini bottom that covered her crotch and nothing else to speak of. If she was indeed a Morph her designer clearly favored women with broad hips, large breasts, and firm but generously fleshy bodies. This woman had all that in spades; as with Alysa it stayed up in apparent disregard to gravity. "I... own a milk vixen," he stammered, unable to tear his eyes away from the woman's incredible cleavage. At least he didn't have to look down too far; from head to toe she actually stood a couple centimeters taller than him.
"This way, please." The cat-woman turned and impelled Jimmy forward with a gentle pressure between his shoulder blades. Her tail curled back before touching the floor and swayed with the roll of her hips. Jimmy had some trouble keeping up with her, not because of her stride but because he kept looking over his shoulder at her tail and because his pants seemed too tight all of a sudden.
When he thought to look Jimmy noticed that the interior of the building looked like someone's home. Cherry wood paneling, oak floor, plaster ceilings. Ornate brass light fixtures. Paintings, end tables with vases, nice carpets, couches and chairs with lace covers. Then the cat-woman impelled him through a door into an office.
The central feature of the room in which Jimmy found himself was an enormous oaken desk. Shelves full of books lines every wall and freestanding cases held even more. Books, portfolios, and loose papers formed a palisade around the edge of the desk, though a gap in front meant that Jimmy could sit in the one available chair and still see the man behind the desk. That worthy, Jimmy would say, looked at least as old as Josiah Holiday. But where Josiah was big and meaty, this fellow was tiny and rail thin. He looked decidedly Oriental, with slanted eyes and a small, delicate nose. An olive complexion made his deeply lined face resemble old leather.
"Ah, good afternoon," the man said in a dry, raspy voice. He rose, leaning across the desk to offer his hand. When Jimmy took it in his own it felt like a bundle of dry twigs wrapped in cloth. Nevertheless, the man's grip was firm. "How may we assist you, good sir?" he continued, settling back.
"He owns a milk vixen," the cat-woman supplied.
"Ah." The man's face split in a grin; his teeth seemed dazzlingly white against his face. "A pleasure to meet you. I'm Professor Tenshiki Kasegawa, president and chief designer here at Flesh for Fantasy Bodysculpting. This young lady-" he indicated the cat-woman with a gesture- "is Melisende, my assistant."
"Jimmy," Jimmy said. "Jimmy MacGregor from Brooks."
"A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Farmer MacGregor," the professor announced. "Alysa is doing well, I trust?"
Jimmy started so violently he almost fell out of his chair. "How- how-"
"Nothing mysterious, I assure you," the professor explained soothingly. "There's only one milk vixen, you see, unless someone else made one. In which case you wouldn't have come to me."
"Oh." Now Jimmy really felt foolish. "Well... I'm sorry, Professor, but things aren't so good. Her- well-" he clasped his hands together to keep from fidgeting- "Her milk output's off and she's not laying steadily any more. I had the local doc take a look but there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with her. Though she is kind of- of-"
"Moody?" the professor suggested. "Snappish?"
"Well, yes, now that you mention it," Jimmy replied. "Almost like- like-"
"She's having her monthly?" the professor concluded.
"Yeah, I guess." Jimmy frowned. "I- I didn't come all this way for that, did I?"
The professor shook his head. "No. Alysa doesn't have monthlies. Your local doctor didn't find anything wrong because the problem isn't physical."
"What is it?" Jimmy demanded.
The professor laced his bony fingers together before him on the desk, studying Jimmy intently over the digital construction. Jimmy fidgeted; he felt like an unruly student being presented to the principal. "Am I given to understand that you bought Alysa primarily for her ability to produce milk and eggs?" he inquired.
"Well, yeah," Jimmy admitted. "Though I didn't know about the egg part until later. I bought cows and they kept stepping in gopher holes..." he looked down, flushing hotly.
"Do you like the milk?" the professor asked gently.
"Yeah," Jimmy explained, looking up. "Warmed on the stove, or in your morning tea, it's the best thing in the world. There's a fellow making ice cream out of it, too." His face fell. "I... that's the heart of it, really. I had some trouble at first but now everyone wants milk and she's not producing."
The professor nodded. "I confess that when I made her I hadn't envisioned her working in a dairy."
Jimmy shrugged. "I kinda figured that, 'specially once I saw that studded leather getup." He shuddered dramatically. "But... is there anything I can do?"
"Yes," the professor replied. "The treatment for Alysa's condition is very simple. However, it needs to be applied regularly."
"What do I do?" Jimmy leaned forward eagerly.
The professor stared back a moment before responding. "Mellie," he called, gesturing. She came and stood beside him. "Your top, please," he continued. She slid the straps down off her shoulders, baring her breasts and letting the garment settle around her waist. "Lactation is controlled by the hormone prolactin," the professor began, as if lecturing before a classroom. "Human women produce this hormone in quantity only when pregnant. Alysa, due to a modification to her anterior pituitary gland, produces it constantly. However, estrogen and progesterone, which are released by the follicles in her ovaries, antagonize the operation of prolactin by blocking it's receptor sites. Over time her milk production would diminish to a trickle, though never cease entirely. Expression of milk is controlled by the hormone oxytocin, whose release is occasioned by mechanical stimulation to the nipple and aureola." He indicated one of Mellie's nipples, which were large and prominently cylindrical, then the circular patch of hairless, slightly bumpy skin around it. Both areas on Mellie were dark brown, like her points. "Oxytocin causes smooth muscle groups in the ampulla, which are enlargements of the milk ducts just behind the nipple, to contract, expelling the milk contained within. It also stimulates the anterior pituitary to release more prolactin, which overcomes the inhibiting effect of estrogen and progesterone, increasing milk production. I might add that oxytocin also stimulates bonding behavior." He grinned, as if he'd just made a bawdy joke. "In short, Mr. MacGregor, what Alysa requires is stimulation of her nipples. It will increase her milk production and put her in a gentle, affectionate mood."
Jimmy's jaw worked. The only part of the professor's presentation that he'd understood were the last two sentences. "What... sort of stimulation do you mean?" he asked in a strangled voice.
"Sucking would be best," Professor Kasegawa replied. "Stroking or gentle pinching would also suffice. Be aware that the amount of milk she produces will be in direct relation to the amount of stimulation she receives. She may require more than the act of milking provides, especially if her production has fallen off significantly."
"More than half," Jimmy muttered.
The professor nodded. "Then I'd recommend at least an hour per day, above and beyond milking. The more time you spend at it the more quickly she'll recover."
"I see," Jimmy mumbled, staring morosely at his feet. He felt a chasm opening up before him. "Will this help with the eggs too?"
"Not directly, no," the professor replied, eyeing Jimmy closely. "Thank you, Mellie." He nodded; she replaced her halter and stepped away. "The conditions are related, yes, but not the same. As with the bird from which the design of her uterus was drawn, Alysa's production of ova is stimulated by coitus."
Jimmy's mouth opened, then shut. "What?"
"The production of ova is stimulated by coitus," the professor reiterated.
Ova, Jimmy knew, meant egg. But- "What's coitus?"
"Sex," the professor replied. "In other words, stimulation of her clitoris in a fashion that ultimately leads to orgasm."
Jimmy couldn't speak. The room seemed to waver around him, as if he were seeing it through swirling water. Suddenly a lot of things made sense... but the implications terrified him. "You're saying I have to have sex with her," he said after a very long silence. He seemed to be floating beside himself, watching his body carry on the conversation.
"For best results." the professor nodded. "It shouldn't surprise you to hear that her brain was designed to desire this form of stimulation."
Jimmy nodded. When it came to relationships, saying he wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed was the understatement of the year. But viewing it as a technical problem put the matter in a very different light. Suddenly it all made sense. Alysa was made to crave sex. Not having it made her moody. The lack of stimulation, coupled with emotional depression, caused her production to fall off. Jimbo and Carty wouldn't be any help; they might still possess the hardware- except the testicles, of course- but they lacked the inclination to use it. Jimmy could do it- part of him wanted to very much- but then he wouldn't be able to look at himself in the mirror, to say nothing of what people around town would think. Not that they didn't already think it. Which left-
Jimmy's face split in a beatific grin. He surged to his feet, caught the professor's hand and pumped it enthusiastically. "Thank you ever so much, Professor," he exclaimed. "I'm sorry to have troubled you, but you've helped me immensely by explaining everything." The solution was so obvious now that he understood the situation and spent a moment thinking about it rationally. For once things were going right; when he got back to Brooks his problems would be over.
Alysa woke up. Her hip still hurt but the pain had diminished from a sharp agony to a dull ache. She sat up, then gingerly got to her feet. She desperately needed to empty her bladder. There not being any suitable place for that in the barn she tried the door. It was locked on the outside. "Bloody Hell," she muttered. Well, at least there was a drain in the floor; she squatted down over it and let fly. Water from a coiled hose cleaned up the mess and banished the smell somewhat. That taken care of she returned to the door... and found her attention drawn by sounds from outside. She crouched down and peered through a small, barred window.
The Holiday's house blocked most of the view but Alysa could make out that quite a number of people had gathered in the town square, in spite of the fact that it was pitch dark out. Some of the people carried torches, others carried lanterns or flashlights. Even Alysa's sharp ears could only pick out occasional snippets of conversation but the overall tone couldn't be mistaken. There was a lynch mob in the making.
Someone shouted for attention. It sounded like Jake McClusky, who ran the general store. "That no-account drifter, Frederick, has gone and killed Eddie Rimmer," he shouted. "The sheriff's on it but needs help tracking the bugger down." An angry roar drowned out his next words. "-search," he said. "Get your horses and trucks. Half of us'll circle south along the creek; the rest of you head east along the railroad."
Alysa sprang back from the door. The mob dispersed but remained purposeful. Alysa had led a fairly sheltered life, but she knew well enough what would come next. They'd hunt Frederick down and hang him. Assuming that they didn't beat or drag him to death instead. Then, sooner or later, someone would ask what had happened on the farm... and she'd have to say that she'd smashed Eddie's skull before the stranger shot him. Speaking of whom, Alysa strongly suspected that either he'd been sent by Big Jake or was currying favor with Big Jake by retrieving her. Alysa had earned Big Jake a ton of money; she couldn't understand why he'd suddenly decided to sell her. But Professor Kasegawa had told her himself, and shown her the order. How could she possibly doubt him?
Not too long ago Alysa would have been glad to go back. She was a star; the staff at the club had doted on her and she got the pick of clients. Looking back, though, it occurred to her that the pens in the basement of the club were full of Morphs who had once been stars and now were not. They worked in the brothels, required to serve whoever came, never even allowed to leave the building. Who was she to think that Big Jake wouldn't cast her aside when she went out of fashion, or he simply tired of her?
Which wasn't to say there wouldn't be more attempts. A lot of people wanted Big Jake's favor, and he was person who believed in taking the most direct route to solving his problems, then using his money and influence to smooth over the legalities. Even if there weren't Alysa would find herself enduring life on Jimmy's farm having tasted the indescribable joy of Frederick's presence... and knowing that she never would again.
Alysa felt a sharp pain, as if something inside her had broken. In a way it had, though not physically. Jimmy wasn't a good master, just a timid one. A cowardly one, in fact, afraid to face his own desires. He'd never have sex with her and he'd never let her have sex with anyone else. Life, under those circumstances, would be intolerable.
A thought came to Alysa, one that she couldn't possibly have had under any other circumstances. There was an out. She could take her own life. As Frederick had done; steal it away from its rightful owner and keep it for her own.
Alysa chuckled grimly. Strange that a man with whom she'd had only one tumultuous encounter, then hardly spoken to in the subsequent weeks, could have had such a profound effect on her. But Frederick hadn't done it on his own; if Jimmy hadn't been as he was Frederick wouldn't have mattered so much. But all that was water over the dam now. If these revelations meant anything at all she first had to escape this barn.
Ilsa had locked up all the tools and instruments; there wasn't a handy shovel or crowbar laying about. Alysa's eyes zeroed in on the hoist and grinned. Ilsa couldn't have taken it down without help... and she probably didn't regard it as a dangerous tool. Or, more likely, she never thought Alysa would get it in her head to escape in the first place. She untied the running end of the hoist rope and dragged the hook over to the door. She set it around one of the bars in the window and took up the slack-
Someone was coming. Footsteps hurried up the drive, crunching quietly on the gravel. Alysa released the rope and went to stand beside the door. She didn't have a pipe but her bare hands would to plenty. The footsteps stopped just outside; keys rattled faintly. A lock opened, a bolt drew back. The door opened. Someone entered. Alysa grabbed the person around the face and neck. Just as well, it turned out; the person tried to scream. All that got through Alysa's iron grip was a muffled squeak.
"Quiet!" Alysa hissed. Her victim went limp, shivering violently. It was a fat female skunk Morph. "Are you Rosalind from the railroad cafe?" Alysa asked. The woman nodded. Alysa relaxed her grip; Rosalind drew a shuddering breath. "Are you alone?" Alysa added before Rosalind could speak.
"Yes," Rosalind replied in a tiny voice. Her eyes looked huge in the darkness.
"Why are you here?" Alysa demanded.
"To check on you," Rosalind replied. "Miss Ilsa told me to before going off with the sheriff. But I had to wait until that horrible mob went away. It didn't seem safe to be out with it around."
"No, it wouldn't be, would it?" Alysa muttered. "Well, I'm sorry about this." She carried Rosalind to the table. "I'm glad you're worried about me... but I have to be going." She picked up her shirt and tore it into strips.
"Where?" Rosalind asked.
"Out." Using the rope from the hoist Alysa tied Rosalind's hands behind her back and bound her muzzle. She started to leave, but recalling her own situation she tore the skirt off Rosalind's dress and removed her panties. "If you have to go before someone finds you, there's a drain in the floor here," she said, tapping it with her foot. Then she put on her overalls and, holding her breasts in her arms to keep them from jouncing, lit off into the night.
Pre-dawn light filled the sky as Ilsa pulled up in front of her house. After switching the fuel cell off she sat for a moment; working on Alysa, helping Dad with Jimbo, and running around all night trying to reason with Sheriff Harrington had left her feeling wrung out and miserable. It didn't help that her worst fears had been confirmed.
Finally Ilsa dragged herself out of the truck and stumbled listlessly toward the barn. Perversely, it all would have been so much easier if the sheriff hadn't been so... reasonable about everything. When pressed he'd eventually said that he had his doubts about Frederick's guilt. Then, just as calmly, he'd added that it wouldn't make the slightest difference. The mob wanted Frederick; if Sheriff Harrington didn't deliver him then they'd have Sheriff Harrington instead. And that was that. The sheriff wouldn't risk his own neck to buck the status quo. He didn't even see why he should.
At the barn door Ilsa stared stupidly at the padlock for a moment before remembering why she'd put it there. The county lockup hadn't been designed with people like Alysa in mind. Personally Ilsa wouldn't have bothered but the sheriff had insisted. Alysa was a material witness and a possible suspect, he'd said. As if it matters, Ilsa thought bitterly, fishing the keys from her pocket. The sheriff had already as much as said that testimony and evidence wouldn't have any effect on the outcome of this case.
For an instant, as her hand hovered halfway between her pocket and the padlock, Ilsa seriously considered opening the lock and telling Alysa to head for the deep woods. Then she put the thought out of her mind; that solution was, at best, short sighted. Besides, how could she possibly explain it to Jimmy?
Once inside the barn it again took a moment for Ilsa's brain to fully process what her eyes reported. She looked over the room, then looked it over again more carefully. Finally the inevitable conclusion registered: the figure laying on the table wasn't Alysa. It was too small and black instead of orange. Ilsa rushed over; it was Rosalind, bound with the hoist rope and gagged with strips torn from her own dress. Ilsa couldn't pick the knots out, they were too tight, so she cut them with a scalpel. "What happened?" she demanded as soon as the gag came off.
Rosalind sat up, rubbing her face and arms. "I came by last night" she said. "It was late. That- that horrible mob was out there forever." She shuddered. "When I got here Alysa was up. She grabbed me and tied me up. She said she had to go."
Ilsa had to lean on the edge of the table for a minute. "Good God," she whispered. Alysa had run away. Ilsa drew a breath to swear but no invective could possibly do justice to what she felt. "Come on," she said, helping Rosalind off the table. "I need your help."
"But Avlar'll be home today!" Rosalind protested. "Besides, I need a shower and a change."
"We'll leave him a note," Ilsa replied. "It won't kill him to fix his own breakfast once or twice. As for the rest of it-" Ilsa scrubbed her face. "I'm sure I need it worse than you, but right now we gotta stop somebody from getting killed." If that's still possible, she added to herself.
The county road ended more than a kilometer short of Dirty Face's shack; calling what continued on a track was still more than it deserved. Not for the first time Ilsa was glad Daddy had gone ahead and spent the extra money for a truck with motors in all four wheels. A lot of vehicles had two motors driving only the front wheels, or a single motor driving the rear ones. Any one of those would have become hopelessly stuck. And from here, in the foothills of the mountains framing the Mazama Valley, the walk back to Brooks would be very long indeed.
Not to mention dangerous. Ilsa glanced at the rifle laying on the seat beside her. It was a commonly known secret around Brooks county that Dirty Face sold moonshine. It was not common knowledge that he received stolen property and helped runaway Morphs escape to the Outer Territories. Even Ilsa didn't know, but sometimes people- even Morphs- would say things to their doctor that they wouldn't to anyone else. And the railroad cafe wasn't only a place to eat, it was a social center where people came to meet friends or simply to pass time. Being a waitress there, as well as much liked by her patrons, meant that Rosalind heard things as well. Putting those two sources together meant Ilsa knew as much or more about what went on around town than Pastor Hendricks or Sheriff Harrington. Unlike those two men, Ilsa could treat with individuals like Dirty Face without being required to take official notice of what she might uncover in the process. Which did not make her safe, not by a long shot. Josiah would have had a fit if he'd known his daughter were coming here.
The track wound up a narrow cleft; at the end of it Ilsa found a small yard bordered by tall trees and a tumbledown shack, its roof laden with moss. A ferret Morph lounged on the veranda, reclining on a chair made from boards propped on a barrel. Two bloodhound Morphs of indeterminate age crouched by his feet, apparently playing dice but watching Ilsa. A rifle lay against the wall within easy reach.
"Why, iffen it ain't Miss Ilsa, the good doctor's daughter," the ferret called in a cheerful tone. He wore a pair of tattered and dirty overalls without a shirt or shoes. His fur was spiky, fading from a dark cream with brown highlights on his chest to a light coffee color on his extremities. A pair of diffuse rings surrounded his eyes as if he'd dabbed his hands in mud and rubbed them on his face.
"Hello, Dirty Face," Ilsa called back. It took an effort of will to leave the rifle sitting on the seat as she got out but she knew it wouldn't help her now. Besides, the bloodhounds kept a close and suspicious eye on her despite Dirty Face's bonhomie. "I need some help."
"Sho' thing, we's all friends here, ain't that so?" Dirty Face grinned and clapped one of the bloodhounds on the shoulder. The bloodhound continued to regard Ilsa as if she were a poisonous snake: something to be let alone so long as it went its own way but killed instantly should it get uppity.
Ilsa forced herself to breathe normally. Surely if they'd meant to kill her they would have done it straight off; Dirty Face wasn't the sort to play silly games. Besides, another dead human- and one as generally well liked as Doc Holiday's daughter- would bring Sheriff Harrington and the posse down on this place as surely as the sun rose. Not that it would do Ilsa any good, of course. "Your sister in law doing all right?" Ilsa inquired.
"Sho'nuff Miss Ilsa," Dirty Face replied. "One shot o' dat med'cine 'n she's up like nutn' happened," Dirty Face replied. "I sho' is grateful to you, Ma'am." He nodded.
Ilsa nodded in reply. A few months ago she'd delivered several bottles of bacteriophage antibiotics. The explanation given was that Dirty Face's sister in law had come down with a nasty infection as a result of cutting herself while butchering a hog. Ilsa strongly suspected that the medicine had instead gone to runaways who'd been injured while escaping. She'd suspected even before and sold him the medicine anyway. She'd even taken steps to insure that the transaction wouldn't be noticed by suspicious authorities. Morphs weren't the only people who objected to the current system. "Glad I could help," Ilsa declared, walking slowly but steadily up to the porch. "Say, while I'm here, do you suppose I could pick up a couple jars?"
Dirty Face grinned. "Medicinal supples, Miss Ilsa?"
"As good as anything that came out of a germ plasm lab for what ails you," Ilsa replied, returning the grin. "And a heck of a lot more fun to take."
"Ain't that the truth?" Dirty Face slapped one of the bloodhounds on the shoulder; that individual got up and went inside without ever taking his eyes off Ilsa.
Ilsa put her foot on the rickety porch's lowest step and hesitated. Now came the hard part. "I'm terribly worried about Frederick," she said, as if apropos of nothing.
"Always knew that boy's dick would wind up gettin' 'im in a jam," Dirty face replied. "But man what a jam, eh?" He winked lasciviously.
"Indeed," Ilsa responded, a bit of a flush rising on her cheeks. Not, she had to admit, that women were any less susceptible to thinking with their genitals. Look at Alysa, for instance.
The bloodhound returned. He carried a pair of one liter canning jars, one in each hand. The jars contained clear, faintly amber colored fluid. He set them on the porch closest to Ilsa, still watching her suspiciously.
"Thanks, Dirty Face." Ilsa pulled a bank note out of her pocket and, under the guise of shaking his hand, pressed it into Dirty Face's palm.
Dirty Face blinked. His customers almost invariably paid in coin; paper money was something only humans carried. Only humans were flush enough to need it. He glanced at the bill and his ears twitched. It was a fifty Tar note.
"If you happen to see Frederick about, or know anyone who does, please let him know that I'd really like to see him," Ilsa said.
"Sheriff Harrington wouldn't 'prove o' dat," Dirty Face replied, his tone unchanged, as he tucked the bill inside his overalls.
"Fine," Ilsa replied shortly. "Let him. He doesn't go around stitching up cuts, so I figure I shouldn't go turning in runaway Morphs."
"I see." Dirty Face fingered his chin and something glinted momentarily in his eyes. "We-ell, I guess I c'n have a peek, see'n's you helped my sis in law 'n all. I don't promise nuttin' mind'yer. Wid' things as they is Frederick'd be a fool to come here and I'd be an even bigger fool to lets 'im."
Ilsa nodded. "I understand. But... If you do hear anything, you'll let me know?"
"Can do, Miss Ilsa."
Ilsa sighed with released tension. She hadn't been at all sure that Dirty Face would agree, for any amount of money. Stepping into the mess back in Brooks would be a good way for any Morph to end up dangling from a tree. Dirty Face would be assuming an added risk because Sheriff Harrington suspected his other activities but so far hadn't managed to prove anything. "Say," she added as if she'd just thought of it, "I need a good sniffer. You know anyone I might ask?"
"Sho'. Red here." He slapped the bloodhound who'd fetched Ilsa's jars. "You go help the nice doctor lady, y'hear?" he instructed, shaking a finger in an admonitory fashion.
"But-" Red protested.
"Miss Ilsa's a friend of ours," Dirty Face cut in. "I'll make it good. Now git, and no mo' jawin'. 'N carry the lady's jars while you's at it."
"Okay." Red picked up the jars and carried them to Ilsa's truck, placing them carefully on the passenger side of the cab. He installed himself in the bed.
"Thanks, Dirty Face," Ilsa said, with feeling. She bit her lip, wondering if she should dare. Well, nothing ventured nothing gained, and so far Dirty Face had been very agreeable, more even than she'd expected. "Say... if you hear anything about Alysa, I'd be glad to know about that, too. She... ran off last night."
Dirty Face shook his head mournfully. "Sorry, Miss Ilsa. She too darn big. Now how to hide. Anyone see, they run da' other way. Or gets the Sheriff." He chuckled dryly. "Powerful sorry, Miss Ilsa, but if Alysa takes it on the lam she get caught fo' sho."
Ilsa nodded glumly. She'd hoped, but she'd been extraordinarily fortunate that things went as well as they had. "Oh, well. Thanks anyway, Dirty Face. Take care of yourself, okay?" She turned to go.
"You too, Miss Ilsa." Dirty Face raised a hand. The way he held it, and his expression, reminded Ilsa of a pontiff giving benediction.
Ilsa climbed into her truck and started it up. Dirty Face watched it out of sight, then rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Ain't that sumtin'," he mused.
"She's trouble," the remaining bloodhound pronounced.
"Sho' nuff," Dirty Face agreed, nodding. "But she is a friend of our'n." He rubbed his chest, smoothing the spot on his overalls under which the bill lay. "Go have a look-see."
The bloodhound got up and wandered off into the woods. Dirty face drew out a clay pipe, cleaned it thoroughly, packed it carefully, and lit it with a kitchen match. He completed a leisurely smoke, knocked the pipe out on the porch rail, and had another. After three bowls- separated by long spaces of quiet humming or staring off into space- the bloodhound returned. "No one 'bout," he announced.
Dirty Face jumped to his feet. His actual age wasn't known but said by the cognoscente of Brooks county placed it in the late forties or early fifties. Dirty Face, who knew his actual age to be sixty-one, found this immensely gratifying. Despite the years his body retained every bit of the flexibility one would expect from a ferret. Watching him jump to his feet was like watching a whip crack. To most of the humans of Brooks, who'd only seen him lazing about, the silken suppleness and spring steel precision of his movements would have come as quite a shock- which was, of course, his intention. In the past he'd carried a switchblade; he'd given it up because the blade took too long to unfold. He still carried a switchblade but only for show; for real work he used a plain, thin bladed dagger. He left the porch and walked around behind the house, whistling cheerfully. After only a short distance the woods ended suddenly at a sharp precipice.
Some when in the ancient past a volcano had thrown great ropes of lava across the land. Over time the rock wore and spit apart; dirt filled narrow crevices while wider ones, full of softer material, eroded away. The result was a series of small, narrow valleys, like axe cuts in the flanks of the mountains. The ridges between them were as steep and sharp as knife blades; climbing them safely without a great deal of gear was impossible... unless one knew the hidden paths. Lava tubes pierced the ridges, leaving passages down which the adventurous could move without being spotted from above. It was in this three dimensional maze that Dirty Face hid his still, as well as the stolen goods and runaways he brokered. In fact, the still was only a couple hundred meters from the house, though getting there took almost an hour. It sat in a cleft, beneath an overhang that was almost a cave; high ridges hid it completely unless one stood directly in front of it. A lava tube chimney carried the smoke up to an outlet more than two and a half kilometers away. When they arrived Frederick had just finished loading the day's produce into a backpack for the laborious journey to the house, supervised by a rat Morph whose face and chest were coated with slick, pink keloid.
"Change o' plan," Dirty Face announced without preamble. "You ain't goin' out, Frederick."
Frederick straightened slowly, his expression fixed. "Why?" he asked in a flat, toneless voice.
"You gots a date with Doc Ilsa," Dirty Face replied, grinning. "She wants you, man." The grin vanished. "'N far as I's concerned, you'se bought and paid for, boyo."
Ilsa didn't see any one as she pulled into Jimmy's barn yard. She sighed with relief; she really didn't care to explain herself, not right now. There should have been a deputy or two keeping an eye on the place- this was a crime scene, after all- but it was also Brooks, not Mazama. Sheriff Harrington had only a handful of deputies and right now they were all supervising the hunt for Frederick. So there wasn't anyone to stop her as Ilsa got out of the truck and glanced around. Except for a few suspicious stains, no one would ever realize that anything untoward had happened. "Red," she called, "I want-" she scrubbed her face, cudgeling her brain into action. "Look around. I want to know... how many people were here. Where they went. Most importantly, if anyone left." She scrubbed her face again. "I'll just- just sit here for a moment." She climbed back into the cab, letting her head loll back. She needed to rest for just a moment-
"Suh?" Ilsa came awake with a start. A trail of spittle had drooled from the corner of her mouth and stained the shoulder of her blouse. "W... what is it?" She blinked; her eyelids felt leaden.
"I'm done, Miss," Red reported.
"What-" Ilsa sat up. Things looked... somehow different. It took her a minute to realize that the shadows had changed. It was late afternoon!
"Dere wuz four of 'em," Red continued in a slow, laconic voice, interpreting Ilsa's stunned silence as permission to continue. "Dey came in a truck. Dey gets out. Two goes dere, to de barn. Two goes dere, to de shed. In de barn, foxy boy and foxy girl are waiting. One feller goes in. Gets shot by his buddy, maybe clonked on the head too."
"The man outside shot the one who went into the barn?" Ilsa asked, frowning.
"Yup." Red nodded. "Shot foxy girl too." He indicated the bullet holes to one side of the doorway. "Foxy boy comes out and smokes the other feller." He pointed to a dark bloodstain on the gravel.
Ilsa nodded. The humans had fired first. That wasn't much but it was something. "And there?" She pointed at the field worker's shack.
"One feller shoots horsey," Red continued. "Dey both goes to shed. Foxy boy comes out, shoots at shed. Goes to shed, smokes one feller. Other one skedaddles." He pantomimed walking with his index and middle fingers.
Ilsa bit her lip. Frederick shooting the man who'd shot his buddy and Alysa could be seen as self defense. Shooting the man in the shed, well... that could still be considered self defense but it would take some doing to convince a jury of it, especially around here. "Was the one Frederick killed in the shack the one who shot Jimbo?"
Red shook his head. "He ran. Foxy boy shot da other one."
Ilsa swallowed, an icy fear chilling her gut. "Did the one Frederick shot shoot anyone?"
Red shook his head. "Nope."
Ilsa ground her teeth. This was bad, very bad. The jury would only see that Frederick had killed a human who'd only been hiding in a shed. Never mind that he and his buddies had come armed, in the middle of the night, and tried to kill Jimbo. If Frederick, Alysa, and Jimbo had been humans and the attackers Morphs there wouldn't even have been an investigation, except perhaps to track down the missing one. "Can you track the man who ran away?" she asked.
"Sure," Red responded. "But 'twouldn't be a good idea."
"Why not?" Ilsa demanded sharply.
"De Sheriff's depity- da one called Red- is already on de trail."
As daylight waned Alysa paused, resting for a moment against the trunk of a gnarled old tree. She panted, though not heavily; she'd pushed herself but not excessively. She'd already made it deep into the woods beyond the farm belt surrounding Brooks. Crossing the open fields and having to pass near roads and houses had been the most dangerous part of the journey so far; all that remained now was to get far enough into the woods that she could get some sleep without the sheriff's posse catching up to her.
Footsteps drew Alysa's attention. She looked up; Frederick came walking toward her, smiling warmly. He was naked, his penis prominently erect. Alysa watched as he knelt between her knees, lifting her lower right breast and taking the nipple into his mouth. His other hand caressed her vulva, then gently probed inside. She lay back, surrendering to the intense pleasure of his touch-
Alysa's eyes snapped open. Full dark had fallen. Warm wetness soaked the front of her overalls; her nipples had expressed spontaneously. As she got to her feet she winced; the fur on her crotch was all wet and sticky as well. She cursed under her breath; the dream wasn't unwelcome but it could have come at a better time. She started moving, slowly at first to loosen stiff muscles, then picking up the pace. She wasn't out of danger, not by a long shot.
A sound brought Alysa to a sudden stop. Somewhere up ahead a lighter scraped. A point of light appeared in the darkness, then disappeared. A moment later the scent of smoke drifted down on the night air.
Alysa held perfectly still, though her whole body seemed to be vibrating. Someone had lit up a cigarette not more than a dozen meters away. It could only be the sheriff and the mob, springing a particularly cruel trap. She should run but she couldn't. Besides, what difference would it make?
Time passed. The smoker finished his cigarette and stubbed it out. Alysa's terror gradually eased; for a bust this was taking far too long. She gulped several breaths of air, keeping her mouth wide open so as not to make noise. If she hadn't been caught her greatest priority was to get the Hell away. She tested the air, but other than the cigarette smoke she couldn't identify anything. Carefully, quietly, she crept forward, lizard crawling on her belly. Despite her size she could move very stealthily when she wished; dexterity, like strength, was not merely a desirable quality for one of her intended profession but a necessary one for a person her size. Besides, normal foxes were crepuscular predators, active most in the morning and evening. Moonlight filtering through the trees was enough to her eyes, with their large irises and mirrored retinas. That, plus her sharp ears and sensitive nose, painted a vivid picture of what would, to a human, be merely impenetrable darkness. Those senses indicated, as she cast about, that the smoker seemed to be alone but that he had a small kerosene powered appliance of some sort.
With that realization Alysa found herself pondering. She hadn't stopped to eat; there hadn't been time, nor anywhere she dared show herself. This mysterious camper obviously had supplies of some sort, ones she'd need if she intended to strike out into the mountains. After a moment, her ears lay back and her tail fluffed up like a bottle brush. Yesterday the notion of mugging a human would have been unthinkable, but so would running away. A lot had changed since then. Making that one decision, she discovered, opened the door to an entire realm of possibilities that simply hadn't existed before. Right now that allowed her thoughts to center on three cognizant facts: that even a large human wouldn't be more than a third her mass, that she had sharp teeth and claws which humans lacked, and that while germ plasm engineers might have altered her digestive system she was still, at heart, a predator. She could eat vegetables but she'd always preferred meat. She stole forward, creeping through the underbrush.
The smoker had set up a small camp in a clearing just off an abandoned logging trail. He travelled in style, pitching a tent in the lee of his truck, on the bed of which he'd packed his gear and supplies. While Alysa watched he plugged a radio into the truck's take off port. At least he had the sense to keep it low; even Alysa's ears could barely make out the sound. Which wouldn't do him the least bit of good, because with his head up against the radio like that he'd neither see nor hear while Alysa stole upon him from behind. But the conditioning of a lifetime wasn't to be discarded in a day; as she penetrated the last barrier of foliage Alysa found herself paralyzed by doubt. She'd run away, yes, but so far she hadn't done anything seriously wrong. Filching someone's camp supplies didn't fit in that category, by her way of thinking, but she couldn't possibly do that without incapacitating the camper. Deliberately and cold-bloodedly beating up a human was serious, by any possible standard. Doing so would be crossing a frontier from which there could be no returning, a change as permanent and irrevocable as death. And like death, the prospect terrified her.
But all that food. Alysa's size and strength came with a commiserate metabolic cost in terms of the amount of fuel it needed to keep going. Running away would require more than usual, which was already more than what a regular sized person would need. Hunting for food on her own would delay her escape and expose her to added danger. But taking this food-
Alysa's stomach growled.
The camper heard it and whirled, grabbing frantically for a knife. It was Joe-Bob Crass.
Alysa drew a sharp breath. She didn't know his name but she recognized him. Suddenly things changed: this wasn't some random human she planned to bash over the head and leave for dead. This was a person who, it could be argued, was in a direct way responsible for her predicament. He'd forced her to give up the two things she cherished most: her master, and Frederick. And... he was a man. In that respect he could stand for all the men who'd used and abused her throughout her life. Not so long ago she wouldn't even have noticed; it was simply the right and proper way of things. But Jimmy MacGregor had changed all that. Now even he was gone... and what that left behind was all the rage and frustration that duty and obligation had held in check. She rose slowly to her feet.
"S- stay back!" Joe-Bob stammered, scrambling back against the truck and holding the knife out at arm's length. The tip shimmied in an irregular circle as his hand quivered. His eyes were so wide they looked about ready to fall out of their sockets, his entire body shook, and the stink of fear rolled off him in palpable waves.
"Or what, little man?" Alysa demanded coldly, taking another step, her eyes locked on Joe-Bob's. "If you poke me with that sticker the best you'll do is piss me off." Her lips drew back from her teeth and a growl built up in her chest.
The weapon in question was in fact a Bowie style knife with a chisel point and a twenty centimeter blade. Handled properly it could easily inflict a grievous, possibly fatal, wound even on someone as large as Alysa... but right then Joe-Bob was almost peeing his pants in terror and Alysa was way past caring about such things. She stepped forward and snatched it, twisting it cruelly out of his grasp. He yelped and pulled back massaging his fingers. Then he gulped as Alysa tested the edge with her thumb.
Suddenly, Alysa's thoughts came into focus. She really hadn't planned what to do; even grabbing the knife had been driven by formless rage. Now, as she felt the cold, hard steel under her fingers she knew exactly what she wanted. In the big city they called it scoop or payback, as in 'to get/take some.' All her life she'd been used and cast thoughtlessly aside. Here, completely at her mercy, was- at least symbolically- one of her users. (He'd meant to, even he hadn't, strictly speaking, succeeded.) Yes, she knew exactly what she wanted. "Stand up," she ordered.
"But- but- please-" Joe-Bob blubbered.
"Shut up!" Alysa snarled, grabbing Joe-Bob by the front of his overalls and hauling him bodily upright. He was short and possessed of a pronounced pot belly; holding him one handed was a strain even for Alysa. She dropped him and brought the knife up, turning the blade so it winkled in the dim light. "Strip," she ordered. He stared without moving, like a deer caught in a truck's head lamps. Alysa snarled and grabbed his ankle; he let out a terrified squeak as she hoisted him by his leg. Using the knife she slit the laces on his boot and pulled it off. Then she did the other foot. That done she threw him spread eagled upon the ground and pinned him with a hand on his chest while she sliced the buttons from his overalls. Lastly she laid the knife aside, grabbed the cuffs of his overalls, and unceremoniously dumped him out of them. He lay in a heap, whimpering, dressed only in a flannel shirt and underpants. She grabbed the collar of his shirt and jerked viciously; buttons popped and he screamed as his arms were forced backwards. Now he wore nothing but his underpants; Alysa rose, dusting off her hands, staring down at him and letting her lips curl back in a sneer. Frankly, he reminded her of nothing so much as a pig. He even looked like one, with too much flesh on his body, coarse pink skin, and stiff, wiry hair coming out all over. But still far too sparse and much too bristly for a proper pelt. She chuckled grimly. Humans were such ugly creatures. With pasty, slick skin like that of grubs and either no hair or pitiful, vestigial coats like this poor sap. Just looking at him made her want to throw up. But he wouldn't get off that easily. He had a lot to atone for, in the name of his species and his sex. "Lose the dainties," she commanded, leveling a finger at his crotch. Then she crouched and picked up the knife. "Or would you rather I cut them off?"
Joe-Bob's Adam's apple bobbed as he swallowed nervously. He dragged his underpants down off his hips and let them fall at his feet.
Alysa sneered. To her way of thinking Joe-Bob's masculine attributes were nothing to crow about. She couldn't hardly see his organ amid the rolls of fat around his waist and crotch. It did not occur to her that fear probably made the situation worse than it really was. She wouldn't have cared if it had. Even if he'd been hung like a horse she wouldn't have taken pleasure with his penis. That might have given him pleasure, which she had no intention of doing. She'd resolved to do what his type had always done: take her pleasure, and be dammed what he thought. "I see why you want to fuck Morphs," she commented acidly. "If I were a human woman I wouldn't touch that miserable thing with gloves on." She slammed the knife into the truck bed; it sank a good centimeter and a half into the wood. Joe-Bob flinched violently. "But don't worry, you won't need it," Alysa added, unbuttoning her overalls. She shimmied out of them, letting them fall at her feet, then stepped out of them. "Let's see your hands." She grabbed his arm and bent his fingers open. "Hmm, guess it'll have to do. On your knees, boy." She shoved him brusquely down and shifted her feet apart. "Now get those hands busy. Do a good job and maybe I'll let you eat. If not..." She bared her teeth. "Maybe I'll eat you. You look plump enough to be tasty."
Joe-Bob swallowed, glanced up fearfully, and tentatively reached for Alysa's crotch. His hand quaked as it brushed her vulva, gently as a feather. He crooked his muddle finger and stroked, barely parting the labia. Alysa stepped back and slapped him viciously; the blow knocked him to the ground and left an angry welt across one entire side of his face. "You useless sack of shit," she growled. "You don't even know how to pleasure a woman with your hands, do you? Of course not. It wasn't like you ever practiced on your wife. You just stuck it in, shot your load, rolled over, and went to sleep, never once giving a damn about her sexual needs and desires. I know this comes as a surprise to you but, believe it or not, women are sexual creatures. They have feelings and desires too. When one goes to bed with you all she wants is to go to the happy place with you. Do you care? Of course not. If you ever even thought that women might experience orgasm you probably said 'what's the point?' It's not as if it made her a better mother or housekeeper, did it?" She bent over. "Now the get the Hell up!" she screamed in his face. Joe-Bob screamed and scrambled to his feet, his back pressed hard against the side of the truck. "What I need to make painfully clear right now is that there is no option for failure," Alysa said in an almost conversational tone. "You fingers are going to send me. Again and again, as often as I want. Until I get tired of going, as a matter of fact. If they don't-" she grabbed his wrist and forced his arm up. "I'll bite your fucking hands off and suck on the gory stumps until you fucking die. Then I'll take this knife-" she wrenched it out of the bed casually, one handed- "and carve your fat, ugly carcass into hocks, bacon, and ribs. I'll rip your God damn heart out and swallow it whole. And I'll leave your slimy guts right here on the ground for the coyotes to fight over. Do we understand one another?" Joe-Bob nodded frantically, a faint mewling sound escaping his throat. "Good," Alysa declared, dropping to her knees. "Now pay attention, because what I'm about to say may save your worthless life. Hold your hand like this." She raised her own. "Index and middle finger together, thumb cocked, ring and middle folded back, as if you were holding a softball. Insert your fingers into the vagina with your palm toward her belly. That way your fingers touch the Grafenberg Spot, which is located on the anterior wall of the vagina, about halfway between the vestibule and the cervix. Where it is exactly varies from person to person. Use your thumb to stimulate the clitoral hood." She paused. "You don't know what the Hell I'm talking about, do you?" she concluded, noting Joe-Bob's glassy-eyed expression. For an instant her own expression relaxed, then it hardened into something that made Joe-Bob cringe away. "Which is no less than I'd expect from an ignorant, dumb ass redneck hick. Guess we'll have to do this the simple-minded way." She turned around, facing the bed of the truck, bent over, spread her legs, and hiked her tail out of the way. In this position she could enjoy Joe-Bob's ministrations while at the same time going through the boxes of food he had stacked up. "Pick up that canteen there and rinse your right hand," she instructed, looking back over her shoulder. "It'll go in easier if it's wet. KY jelly would be better but I don't happen to have any on me and I rather doubt you do either. Now put your hands in your armpits until they feel warm. I'm not having you fondle me with ice cold fingers." She spend a moment checking the boxes. Apparently Joe-Bob wasn't a very imaginative eater; all she found were cans of beef strew and baked beans. If he hadn't ducked out for a cig I probably would have smelled him anyway, she mused. Not as it mattered; she'd no intention of letting his nether regions get anywhere near her face. "Gimmie a can opener," she added, reaching back with one hand. Joe-Bob hesitantly placed one in her palm, jerking his hand back afterward as if afraid he might lose it. Alysa opened a can and wolfed down its contents, pouring them directly into her mouth then licking out the can. At the moment she rated cold beef stew straight from the can as only a small step below mana from Heaven. "Right," she declared, licking her muzzle and selecting another can. "You get busy back there. Use your left hand to open my pussy. Reach in with your right, pressing down with your fingertips."
Joe-Bob drew an uneasy breath, bringing his hands out from his armpits. His fingers might not be cold but the rest of him was. The chill of night was still in the air and took its toll on his bare skin. At this point, however, disobeying Alysa was not to be considered. He reached out with his left hand, then pulled back. Her vulva was closed, nothing but a slit in her crotch. After a second of panic he poured some water onto the fingers of his left hand, warmed them in his armpit, then tried opening her labia major with the index and middle finger of his left hand. It worked, after a fashion, but his fingers weren't strong enough by themselves to overcome the tension in her vaginal muscles. He inserted the index and middle finger of his right hand.
"Use your mouth," Alysa suggested around a mouthful of baked beans. "A kiss will open all sorts of doors." She chuckled. "In fact-" she straightened up suddenly. Joe-Bob yelped and scurried back. Alysa turned around, a box of supplies tucked under each arm. She carried them to where he'd spread out his bedroll and set them down. She folded the bedroll into a cushion and lay down so that it supported her head and shoulders. Lastly she drew her knees up and shifted her feet apart, exposing her crotch.
Joe-Bob swallowed and shifted uneasily. Never before in his life had any part of his mouth come in contact with female genitals. The thought of it struck him as more than a just little bit disgusting. It was right next to her ass, for God's sake. She pissed out of something in that area too. There was all that hair, and it smelled funny. Worst by far was thinking about all the cum that had must have been unloaded in there. Contemplating the possibility that any of it might end up in his mouth, however inadvertently, almost made him gag.
"'S matter?" Alysa asked, opening a can of beef stew. "Never done this before either? Never had a slice of hair pie, gone muff diving, got a hair between your teeth, ate the taco?" She tipped the can, letting gravy dribble into her mouth. "You've asked women to suck your dick, though, haven't you," she continued in a softer but more menacing tone. "Would you like me to suck your dick?" She flipped a slice of potato into her toothy maw, which closed on it with a vicious snap. Joe-Bob flinched violently, his hands moving to cover his crotch. "I even swallow, you know." She laid a piece of carrot on her tongue, tipped her head back, and swallowed without chewing. "Right now there's nothing I'd love more than to put your dick in my mouth... and swallow." With her lips drawn back she very deliberately bit a chunk of meat in half. "Now quit fucking around and apply those blubbering lips to my twat with all dispatch before I start contemplating some other way you can entertain me."
Joe-Bob shivered, and only partly because of the cold. The notion that any woman who'd taken his penis into her mouth might have bitten it off scared him spitless. Admittedly it wasn't a risk to which he'd exposed himself frequently, or even occasionally, but that really didn't matter. Suddenly women weren't soft and weak, helpless in the face of his male prerogative. They were dangerous, capable of wounding him in the most intimate and horrible way imaginable. He lay down between Alysa's legs, wrapping his arms around her thighs both to get them out of the way and to support himself. The idea of licking her cunt still revolted him but now he didn't see any choice. The alternative was simply too horrible to contemplate. Because his thoughts were focused elsewhere he didn't consciously notice that her labia had parted, even though his eyes were only a few centimeters away from them. He licked... and shuddered as his tongue came away with a load of hot, slimy fluid. In a way it was a relief; the worst had happened... and it wasn't that bad. Not like he'd feared, at any rate. No worse than open mouthed kissing, he decided. Which itself had seemed pretty disgusting when he first heard about it during his pre-teen years. Nevertheless he'd grown keen to try it as puberty took hold of him. His first actual experience might not have been everything he'd imagined but the achievement of having his tongue inside the mouth of a real live girl more than made up for the lack.
"Lick in a circle," Alysa suggested. "Run your tongue along the rim of the hole, all the way around. Pinch the clit with your lips and suck on it gently."
Joe-Bob did as instructed, with rather more verve than he'd shown previously. Up on the left, down on the right. After a few circuits he took the labia minor between his lips, sucking gently and stroking their inner surfaces with his tongue. When he got around to the clitoris he found, to his surprise, that it was stiff, like a miniature nipple. He sucked on it and probed under the hood with the tip of his tongue.
Alysa's breath came in short gasps. Her hands clawed at the ground. Her legs twitched as she resisted the urge to clamp them hard around Joe-Bob's head. He wasn't a skilled lover but he showed an enthusiasm that was, at the very least, commendable. She rolled her hips back and forth, driving her crotch against his face. But he lacked the skill and experience to bring her to orgasm by mouth alone; even as she felt herself approaching the glowing moment his performance faltered. He slowed down, not sucking so hard or probing so deeply. At one point he stopped entirely to pick a hair out of his teeth. Another problem was that he hadn't shaved recently; fur on her inner thighs protected them but occasionally he'd scrape her labia with a stubbly lip or cheek. "Fingers," she gasped.
Joe-Bob started guiltily, looking up at Alysa. She lay back, her chest heaving. He shifted position, slipping the fingers of his right hand into her vagina and planting his elbow to support his torso. Getting in wasn't a problem now; her labia pouted invitingly, glistening with fluid. He rubbed her clitoris with his left thumb, adding the occasional lick or nibble for good measure.
"Harder!" Alysa gasped through tightly clenched teeth. "Faster! Deeper!"
For curiosity's sake Joe-Bob thrust his hand as deep as it would go. It went in past the wrist and a ways up his forearm without undue difficulty.
"Don't stop!" Alysa snarled. "Pull it- all the way out- and shove it- all the way in! Make a fist!"
Joe-Bob went through one complete cycle with his hand open. Alysa's vagina emitted a wet squelching sound on the thrust and withdraw that reminded Joe-Bob of someone walking through thick mud. Then, with some trepidation, he made a fist before pulling his hand out. Rather to his surprise Alysa's labia stretched sufficiently to pass it, though not without some effort on his part. Since it came out presumably it would go back in, which in fact it did. Alysa drew a shuddering breath between tightly clenched teeth and her vaginal muscles contracted tightly around Joe-Bob's wrist. He grimaced; Alysa had an amazingly strong and flexible birth canal. He withdrew and thrust, in and out, again and again, while Alysa moaned and gasped, writhing and arching her back. Suddenly her whole body tensed and she let out a long, drawn out hiss. Finally the moment passed and she relaxed with a deep, contented sigh.
Joe-Bob also sighed. Getting his whole hand into Alysa's sex had been a strange but exciting experience but the exertion left him spent. He relaxed and let his head droop.
"I didn't tell you to stop," Alysa said, delivering a stinging slap to the back of Joe-Bob's head that made his ears ring.
"Yes, by all means, keep going," another voice added.
It actually took a second or two for the implications to penetrate the warm fog of afterglow shrouding Alysa's mind. Then, realizing what had happened, she kicked out with her legs, throwing her hips up so she rolled back onto her shoulders. From there she executed a flip that put her on her feet, in a crouch, ready to strike. In the process she sent Joe-Bob sprawling head or heels, blood spraying from his smashed nose. For all the good it did, which was exactly none. Across the clearing, too far away for Alysa to strike even with her exceptional reach, stood a bloodhound Morph. He held a rifle, easily but firmly in both hands, the butt socketed against his shoulder. He wasn't especially large or muscular, though he was nicely toned; Alysa figured she could break his neck or stave in his skull if she could reach him... but she knew just as surely that she'd never get the chance. He'd put a bullet through her eye before she'd so much as twitched.
"Amusin' as all this is, the sheriff wants a word," the bloodhound continued. "So why don't we get up- nice and slow, mind ye- and start back to town?"
"Train's here, Miss."
Ilsa's eyes opened and she was on her feet before her brain had completely woken up. The Local stood at the platform, a handful of passengers debarking. In Ilsa's mind shreds of dream stuff still clung to the image, giving the scene a hazy, insubstantial look. She'd been awake- more or less- for more than thirty-six hours. As such her grip on reality was... a bit tenuous, it might be said. But the searing need blazing at the center of her soul would not be denied. Still, when she finally caught sight of Jimmy she found herself thinking of those romantic stories where the man comes home and his lady friend is waiting at the train station. Their eyes meet through the crowd and they rush together joyfully, arms outstretched. Which probably explained why she charged up to Jimmy and flung her arms around him.
Jimmy grinned broadly as he stepped off the train. The sun was shining, birds were chirping, God was in His Heaven, and all was right with the world. Since everything was so much in hand he'd decided to overnight in Mazama, then catch a few sights before returning home. He'd spent the night in a flop house and toured the city by streetcar, true, but it was the thought that counted, wasn't it? Anyway, he was home now and ready to face the world.
If asked Jimmy most likely would have said that facing the world definitely didn't involve being violently accosted by some ratty, wild-eyed harridan who hadn't bathed in longer than was strictly polite. He let out a shriek as she cannoned into him, loosing his carpet bag and going down in a heap. He struggled frantically to escape but she hung on like grim Death. "Jimmy!" she shrieked. "Will you stop fooling around and listen?"
Jimmy froze. It was the eyes; they seemed to leap out at him. "I- Ilsa?" he stammered.
"Jimmy, listen carefully," she said hurriedly. "Bad things have happened. We gotta move fast to fix 'em."
"Um... may I get up now?" Jimmy asked timidly.
Ilsa blinked. She seemed to notice suddenly that she was laying on top of Jimmy with a death grip on his lapels. "Right," she muttered, letting go and getting somewhat unsteadily to her feet. She retrieved Jimmy's carpet bag while he rose and returned it to him. "Jimmy, I-" she began, but the words choked off as if they'd become lodged in her throat. Which, in a sense, they had. Looking at him here, so happy... what she had to say would crush him. And she, through her meddling, had brought it about. Indirectly, perhaps, but it was still her responsibility.
"Ilsa, what's the matter with you?" Jimmy demanded, perplexed. "You look- you look-" He couldn't bring himself to say awful, though it was undeniably so.
Overriding need shoved Ilsa's thoughts back on track. "Come with me," she said, taking Jimmy's arm and marching him around behind the station. "Jimmy, listen and please don't interrupt. This city fellow showed up. He hired a couple locals, Eddie Rimmer and Bill Clyde and someone else, and went 'round your place. There was a big fight; the stranger, Eddie, and Bill were killed. Jimbo and Alysa were shot. Frederick and the other fellow ran off and disappeared. Jimbo made it, Dad and I managed to pick out most of the pellets, but he's not in good shape. Alysa was hit in the hip, not so bad after I fixed it up, but then she- she-" Ilsa swallowed. "She ambushed Rosalind and ran away."
Jimmy stared, his mouth hanging slightly open. "Where is she now?" he asked. The only reason he could speak at all was because he seemed to be watching himself from far, far away.
Ilsa shook her head. "Don't know. I'm just... I'm afraid. Dirty Face doesn't think she can get away, which means she'll probably be captured. With everything that's happening Penn'll throw the book at her. But I've thought about it, see?" She grabbed Jimmy's lapel, then forced herself to let go and hesitantly smoothed it down. "There's a way to save her, even now."
"What?" Jimmy asked morosely. How typical, he thought. Just when things looked rosiest they came apart at the seams.
"Manumit her," Ilsa said.
Jimmy stopped so suddenly Ilsa bumped into him. He hadn't really been listening; Ilsa's words got deep into his head before he noticed them. "What-" he exclaimed.
"Shh!" Ilsa clapped a hand over Jimmy's mouth. "Let's get you home, okay?" She pulled him quickly to her truck and fed him into the passenger seat. "Walls have ears, y'know?" she switched on the fuel cell, glancing around uneasily, and took off with a lurch.
"It won't work," Jimmy pointed out. "Manumitting her now won't do any good. I'd have to have submitted the paperwork a week ago."
"You did," Ilsa replied.
"I did?" Jimmy blinked.
"That's what the notary seal will say, at any rate."
"But-" Jimmy began. Then what Ilsa had said finally registered. "But-" he exclaimed, his expression horrified. Forging a certificate of manumission was a crime. A very serious one, at that.
"They'll whip her," Ilsa said, as if merely making conversation. "Three hundred and three lashes. Then they'll brand her."
Jimmy said nothing. He'd seen a whipping once when he was a boy. A mere two dozen, but it left the horse Morph to whom it had been applied looking like he'd been half skinned by a drunken furrier. And there'd been so much blood. It had run down the Morph's back and legs, staining his hair. He'd left a trail of it on the ground as workmen dragged him away afterward. And the sound he'd made while it was happening... it still haunted Jimmy's dreams sometimes.
What Alysa got would be much, much worse. Depending on how well she held up it would take several days, possibly a week. Three hundred and three lashes would take the skin right off her. She'd live- they wouldn't let her die- but her back would be nothing but a mass of ridged and puckered scar tissue, devoid of fur. She'd be crippled too; scar tissue and muscle damage would impair the motion of her spine and arms. She'd still be able to work... and there wasn't any reason to think she'd stop giving milk or laying eggs... but she'd never be beautiful again.
"You could always have her regenerated," Ilsa said, as if reading Jimmy's mind.
Jimmy flinched violently. He could, couldn't he? He could paper over the visible damage and pretend that it never happened. When he looked at himself in the mirror he could say it didn't matter, she was only a Morph. He could learn to ignore the looks Jimbo and Carty gave him behind his back. "Oh, what does it matter anyway?" he demanded miserably, clawing at his face. "The professor said she needs sex. With Frederick gone-" He rocked back and forth, moaning.
"I can get Frederick back," Ilsa said.
Jimmy looked up slowly. "Are you serious?"
"I can get him," Ilsa replied. "And... it may be that we can make this legal problem go away. Some humans died, yes... but I think they were trying to steal Alysa. All Frederick did was stop them, which is... what he should have done, as your employee."
Jimmy slumped back in the seat. He scrubbed his eyes viciously; hope taunted him, calling loudly about how very near it was, right beyond his fingers. Just lean out a teeny bit farther and you've got me, it said. As if he hadn't been there so many times before, as if he hadn't slipped and fallen screaming into the abyss. "Where are we going?" he asked suddenly. They were heading out of town on the high road in the direction of his farm.
"Depends on what we're planning to do," Ilsa replied, watching Jimmy with a gaze so intense he almost felt it.
Jimmy licked his lips. It all hinged on one simple choice: reach out or pull back. But, like simple choices were wont to do, it would change his life completely. And there'd be no going back, whichever way he chose. For the first time in many years he actively, instead of accidentally, thought of Darla. He knew at once what she'd do... and somehow that made the choice easy as well as obvious. "We're going to get Alysa manumitted," he said.
For several long seconds Ilsa didn't respond. "Then we're going the right way," she eventually said. "We'll need to stop by your place and pick up Alysa's deed. Then we head back to town and see my dad."
Josiah Holiday sat in his parlor, swirling a snifter of brandy in one hand. A book lay on the table beside his chair and the radio played quietly in the background. To all appearances he seemed calm and content, ready for a relaxing read. But a person would think that only up until the point they looked into his eyes.
"Any minute now," Josiah mused, glancing at the grandfather clock with its inlaid face and elegant, scrollworked case. There were things he should be doing, but here he was. There were things he'd like to be doing, but here he was. Because...
Oh, why not admit it? Because Ilsa would be here soon. He might tell himself it was because he meant to put a stop to this foolishness once and for all but that was bullshit and he knew it. If he really meant to say no he wouldn't be here, waiting anxiously for Ilsa to put him on the spot.
A truck pulled up outside. Josiah closed his eyes for a moment. The moment had arrived.
The front door opened. Two sets of footsteps entered the front hall. Josiah turned just as Ilsa and Jimmy entered. Josiah allowed himself a shocked expression at Ilsa's condition, as if he didn't know what she'd been doing for the past two days. "Ilsa, dear, you look terrible," he exclaimed, the soul of parental concern. "Have a bath and lay down for a bit."
"I'd love to but there's no time," Ilsa replied, stepping forward. "I..." she paused, looking down. "I'm sorry to come to you like this, Daddy..."
"What's wrong, dear?" Josiah asked, taking Ilsa's hand. "Jimmy, my boy, sit down," he added, glancing past Ilsa. "Drink?" He offered the snifter.
"No thanks." Jimmy perched nervously on the piano bench.
"What's happened, darling?" Josiah asked, gently patting Ilsa's hand. As if I didn't already know.
"Alysa's gotten herself in terrible trouble," Ilsa said. "Running away and all that."
"That is serious," Josiah agreed.
Ilsa nodded. "We could help her if she was manumitted."
"Too late for that now, isn't it?" Josiah inquired.
"I thought... Mr. Tunstall over in Gladstone could help expedite things."
"Yes, I imagine he could," Josiah replied slowly. But you could just as easily go see him yourself. What do you need me to do?
"I'm... really worried about Frederick," Ilsa said.
"What could anyone do for him?" Josiah wondered. "Assuming he could even be found?"
"All he did was defend himself and Alysa," Ilsa insisted. "Four men came in the night, armed. They shot Jimbo. They're the same ones Jimmy wouldn't let at Alysa before. They wanted to... take her, or something."
"You'd need some compelling evidence of that," Josiah pointed out.
"I think the evidence is there if anyone bothered to look for it," Ilsa replied. "I- I've tried talking to Sheriff Harrington but he won't listen to me."
So that's it. Josiah almost nodded but restrained himself. "I don't know," he temporized, stroking his chin. "Penn's hard but not unreasonable. It could be there isn't anything to be done."
"Please, Daddy!" Ilsa clutched Josiah's hand in both of her own. "I know Frederick's no saint... but he's innocent of this, I'm sure of it!"
Josiah sighed heavily. "Well, I suppose it wouldn't hurt for me to sound him out," he conceded.
"Thank you, Daddy!" Ilsa flung her arms around Josiah and hugged him tightly. Remembering herself, she backed off hastily. "Sorry," she apologized. "I'd love to stay but... we need to get over to Gladstone right away."
"Of course you do." Josiah made a flipping motion with his hand. "Go on. Be careful, though. Jimmy, it might be better if your drove."
"Daddy!" Ilsa exclaimed.
"I will, Doc," Jimmy said, jumping to his feet, clearly relieved to be going.
Ilsa and Jimmy withdrew. The truck started and drove away. Josiah sat for a time, then picked up the snifter and knocked it several times against his forehead. Then he rose and walked into the front hall. He picked up the telephone receiver and put it to his ear. "Good morning, Mabel," he said after a short wait. "This is Doc Holiday. Is Sheriff Harrington in? Ah I see. Would you please give me a call when he gets in? Thank you ever so much. 'Bye." He hung up and sighed. Now at least he could get back to work.
A city fellow going through would probably say that Brooks and Gladstone were indistinguishable, nothing but two more podunk hickvilles. Jimmy would have objected strongly; the two towns might have been of similar size but they were not the same. Admittedly there was the school, the dairy, the general store, the railroad depot, and a couple taverns... but every town had those, just like they all had streets. Quite simply, Brooks was mostly a produce town while Gladstone leaned more toward fruit and dairy. The differences occasioned by that were quite obvious to the trained eye: for example, the grain elevators in Gladstone were smaller and the freight depot larger, with a sizable cooled warehouse. Anyone who knew the first thing about farming would see it at once.
Jimmy eased the truck to a stop by the general store. The Holiday's vehicle was, he couldn't help noticing, much more comfortable and easier to drive than his own. Faster, too; they'd managed the trip in a bit more than two hours. Of course it had cost something close to twice as much, and he couldn't help wonder about maintenance. He'd bought the truck he had because a lot of local dealers carried the brand and the parts for that particular model were interchangeable with many others. The best machine in the world wasn't any use if you couldn't keep it running.
Ilsa lay against the passenger door, emitting a rhythmic sound somewhere between a strong sigh and a very gentle snore. Jimmy watched her a moment; he couldn't argue that she needed the sleep. He was particularly impressed that she'd managed to doze off with him driving like a maniac over marginal roads; it spoke to how great her need for rest really was. But she'd insisted on coming and getting started right away.
She was right, too. "Ilsa, we're here," Jimmy said, giving her a nudge on the shoulder.
"Znrk?" Ilsa blinked and sat up. Long seconds passed before the light of reason truly dawned in her eyes. "Down there," she said, pointing. "Turn left, come up behind the block."
Brooks had been laid out around a small green a short distance from the railroad, and grew into a soft sided square deformed at one corner by the presence of the interchange yard. In Gladstone the tracks ran straight through the center of town; new development tended to follow the right of way rather than expand outward, creating a long but very narrow settled area. Shops and businesses faced the tracks, with a row or two of houses behind them. In one of the outer rows Jimmy came upon a house that seemed to have been made of mill scraps. Nevertheless it was well kept, with a neat if unadorned yard.
"What does this fellow do exactly?" Jimmy asked, switching off the truck's fuel cell.
"He's an engraver," Ilsa replied, climbing out of the cab and stretching.
"And he lives in a place like this?" Jimmy frowned.
"His production's off since he lost his right hand," Ilsa explained.
"How'd that happen?"
Ilsa bent backward, flexing her spine. "Fellow named Big Jake Jasperson stuck it in a meat grinder. Daddy dressed it and gave him a regenerative but it never did grow back properly."
Jimmy couldn't help rubbing his right hand and grimacing. He followed Ilsa up to the front door and waited while she knocked. In time the door opened, revealing a short, pale skinned, jowly individual wearing a green eye shade, glasses so thick they made his eyes look huge, a ratty vest, and faded denim pants. Jimmy felt like he'd come into the presence of some reclusive subterranean creature.
"Hello, Ilsa." The man adjusted his glasses; a leather glove completely enclosed his right hand except for the tips of his fingers and extended up his forearm. Metal rods sewn into the leather gave the thing and eerie, skeletal look. "Who's this?" His attention shifted to Jimmy.
"James, this is my friend Jimmy," Ilsa explained.
"Oh." James grinned; his teeth were yellow and crooked. "The fellow with the milk vixen, right?"
"Uh, yeah," Jimmy replied, trying not to wince. They were talking about him all the way out here?
"That's why we came, actually," Ilsa put in. "We need a certificate of manumission."
James' grin vanished as if it had been turned off with a switch. "Come in," he said, stepping aside.
"Can you do it?" Jimmy asked. James' house seemed to consist of two rooms: a workroom in front, and everything else in back. The front room contained a work table... and so much junk there almost wasn't room to move around. Stacks of paper, boxes of tools, machines of undefinable purpose, and piles of parts. Oddly enough, it didn't look cluttered; it was simply that James seemed to regard storing his stuff as more important than creature comfort.
"Got the deed?" James shot back.
"Right here." Jimmy pulled it out of his pocket.
"Fill this out, then," Jimmy responded, sitting down at his work table and pulling a form from somewhere underneath it. "Sign it but leave the date blank."
The form looked like a typical government document, right down to the Provincial seal in the lower right corner. Jimmy looked at it, then glanced around. James handed him a pen. Not seeing any other available space he lay the form on the edge of the work table. There wasn't much to fill out anyway; his name and address, the name of the Morph in question, and the title number. That done he passed it over.
"Good." James squinted at the paper. "There's a five Tar filing charge. Takes two weeks to process, by the way."
"But-" Jimmy protested.
"Jimmy," Ilsa cut in, "Why don't you wait in the truck?"
"Jimmy, James is an honest man," Ilsa said. "He'd never consider doing anything illegal."
Jimmy opened his mouth to protest once more but closed it without speaking. You mean he'd never consider doing anything illegal when there's someone he doesn't know in the room. "Yes, of course," he said aloud. "Pleasure to meet you, sir." He nodded to James and returned to the truck.
Not long after Ilsa emerged. She climbed into the truck's passenger seat and handed over a document. It was, by its own declaration, a certificate of manumission issued and approved by the Province of West Mazama. To Jimmy's eyes it looked official as all get out... and its issue date was five days ago.
For what felt like a very long time Jimmy stared at the paper. His fingers quivered. I just gave away fourteen hundred Tars. He glanced at Ilsa, but she'd fallen asleep. He swallowed, then folded the paper in half and put it in his pocket. It could be argued that he'd paid fourteen hundred Tars so he wouldn't have to watch Sheriff Harrington strip the flesh off Alysa's back with a bullwhip. He switched on the fuel cell and pulled out, driving slowly so Ilsa wouldn't be joggled unnecessarily. It might also be said that he'd paid fourteen hundred Tars for the privilege of being able to look at himself in the mirror without gagging. In that case, he decided, he'd definitely gotten the better end of the deal.
Josiah left his house and strolled down the street, whistling tunelessly. He came around the corner and saw a stake bed truck parked in front of the sheriff's office. While he watched deputies unloaded Alysa, who was chained around the wrists, ankles, and neck, and fed her into the building. Josiah stopped whistling and shook his head sadly. Then he noticed another person being taken in, a Terran, who shielded his face as if he feared being recognized. Josiah shook his head again, this time in disgust. Joe-Bob Crass was a fool if he thought anyone in Brooks wouldn't recognize him. On the other hand, Joe-Bob was a fool most of the time; this wasn't any way out of character.
"Good afternoon, Josiah," Sheriff Harrington called as the doctor entered the building.
"Good afternoon, Penn," Josiah responded. "Matters are well in hand, I trust?"
"So far," Penn allowed, nodding. "Refreshment?"
"That's right neighborly of you, Penn," Josiah replied with a friendly smile. "Don't mind if I do."
"Step into my office." Penn opened the door and ushered his guest inside.
Josiah took a seat in front of the sheriff's desk while Penn shut the door, opened a locked cabinet, and extracted a bottle of whiskey and two shot glasses. "How's Jimbo?" Penn asked while he filled both glasses.
"Very, very lucky," Josiah replied, taking the offered glass with a nod of thanks. "With care he'll be up and about in a week or two. Nothing I can do about the scarring, though, unless Jimmy opts for regeneration." He took a sip; the label on the bottle notwithstanding, he doubted that the Parson Brothers of East Anglia had ever seen this liquid. Far more likely it had come from Dirty Face's still and Penn kept it in a labeled bottle for the sake of appearances. "Was that Joe-Bob Crass I saw your boys bringing in a bit ago?" he added.
"It was." Penn's features assumed an expression of controlled disgust, such as might be seen on someone who'd just stepped in something unpleasant.
"He wrapped up in this affair?" Josiah inquired.
"It appears so," Penn replied. "Red says he was at Jimmy's place. I went to ask his wife about it and she said he'd lit off into the woods all of a sudden."
"The mark of a guilty conscience," Josiah commented.
"Quite," Penn replied. "He won't talk but if he ain't in this up to his eyebrows I'll eat my hat. Especially considering how Red found him."
"Oh?" Josiah leaned forward eagerly.
The sheriff allowed himself a wicked grin. "From what Red says, Alysa stumbled across his camp out in the forest. 'Parently she decided to relieve him of some of his food." He took a drink. "And his virtue."
Josiah's eyes widened. "She didn't!"
"She did." Penn nodded slowly, the oracle dispensing holy wisdom.
Josiah tried to take another sip but his diaphragm wouldn't behave. Finally he laid his glass aside and clapped a hand over his mouth while his shoulders shook. In time the spasm passed; he sighed deeply, mopping at his face with a hanky. "It is a wonder what people get up to, isn't it?"
"It is," Penn agreed, solemn as ever.
"Penn, this is some mighty fine whiskey," Josiah added, taking a sip. "I do hope I can persuade you to come around to dinner some time. Ilsa'd be powerfully glad to have you, and so would I."
"I'm not so sure about that," Penn responded. "She seemed awfully upset last time I saw her."
Josiah shrugged. "It's this whole affair," he sighed. "Got her in such a state. You know how kids are."
Penn nodded. He didn't have any biological children but he'd raised Red from a boy. Also, this wasn't the first time he and Josiah had spoken about Ilsa. "I'm not sure what could be done about it, though."
Josiah shrugged. "Maybe I could at least have a word with Joe-Bob, persuade him to 'fess up. That'd at least be one less thing on your mind."
Penn leaned back in his chair, idly fingering his chin. He seemed relaxed and at ease- except for his eyes. To all appearances they might just be two old gents having a friendly chat over drinks but without a doubt a bargain was in the offing. Josiah had made his pitch; it only remained whether or not Penn chose to buy. "That would be nice," he mused, "But there's still the matter of Frederick. Curing half a headache's better than nothing, but less than what a person might hope for."
"He's just scared," Josiah replied, shrugging dismissively. "'Fraid he'll end up dangling from an oak tree, so he rabbits. I'm sure he'll turn himself in if he thought he'd get a hearing in front of a judge instead of a lynch mob."
"Won't help any if he's guilty," Penn pointed out.
"He was just defending his boss' property," Josiah pointed out. "A slicker with a fancy gun hires a bunch of local bravoes and heads out to Jimmy's place in the middle of the night, armed with shotguns? They weren't there to play cards."
"There is that," Penn allowed. "Depends on who shot first, though."
"I'm sure Joe-Bob'll be glad to straighten it all out for us," Josiah said.
Sheriff Harrington stroked the arm of his char with his fingertips. "Yes, I imagine he would," he mused, eyeing the doctor thoughtfully. "After you persuaded him to cooperate."
Josiah said nothing. All the cards were on the table now.
"It is a pity, right enough," Penn mused softly. He knew all about Frederick and the services he provided, to farmers and more importantly to their wives. Quite a number of homes in the Brooks area remained calm and peaceful because Frederick's activities relieved tensions that might otherwise flare into open violence. In a few cases Frederick did his thing with the knowledge and consent of the husband. Penn wasn't sure he approved of that because it spoke of a marriage maintained solely for the sake of appearances, with no substance underneath. But that wasn't Frederick's fault... and because Frederick did what he did, often as not, it meant Penn didn't have to do what he did.
Which didn't for an instant mean that Penn wouldn't act if he thought it necessary. Yes, he felt that things ran more smoothly with Frederick plying his trade... but if the community would run more smoothly with Frederick hanging from a tree then Penn wouldn't hesitate to make it so. Josiah thought he could smooth things over... and quite possibly he could; he'd become something of a kindly old uncle to the whole county. If he couldn't things wouldn't be any worse than they already were, and the sheriff's reputation would remain intact. If he succeeded things would go back to more like they were in the beginning... and Josiah would owe Penn a big favor, a thing not to be taken lightly. People would say things to their doctor that they wouldn't tell their minister, to say nothing of the sheriff. Having a tap into that font of knowledge would go a long way to making Penn's duties as sheriff more pleasant.
"I'd be right glad to have your help, Josiah," Penn announced, rising to his feet and offering his hand.
Josiah's face split into a grin. "It'd be my pleasure, Penn." He rose and took Penn's hand.
An observer might have thought the handshake looked a bit more formal than might be expected from two old friends having a chat. The observer would be right; a deal had been made, and now it was sealed in the traditional way. They did everything but spit on their palms.
Joe-Bob looked up hopefully as the door to his cell opened, then quickly looked down to avoid meeting the doctor's gaze. The cell door closed once more.
"Bit of a mess you've got yourself into," Doc commented.
Joe-Bob said nothing.
"Tell me what happened," Doc cajoled gently. "I'm not the sheriff. I just want to see the truth of things."
Joe-Bob swallowed. The truth of things was the last thing he wanted right now.
"Eddie came to you, didn't he?" Doc continued. "Him and that slick stranger. Offered to pay you a hundred Tars."
Joe-Bob shifted uneasily. He clenched his hands to keep them from quivering and sweat beaded on his brow.
"What did he want, Joe-Bob?" Josiah prompted, leaning forward a bit and smiling warmly. "I'm just looking to help you out, see? But I can't do that if I don't know what happened."
Joe-Bob licked his lips. Doc Holiday sounded just like the sort of kindly old grandfather you heard on those soap opera radio shows the womenfolk always listened to. To make matters worse, Joe-Bob hadn't had a kindly grandfather; his had been a mean old bastard who thought a stout switch was the only proper way to deal with children. It might just have been that, deep down, there was some part of Joe-Bob who wished he'd had a kindly old grandfather. "He said she'd been stolen!" he exclaimed, driven by the need to unburden his soul. "Said he just- just needed some help..." he trailed off.
"Did he show you anything?" Josiah asked. "A bill of sale, a warrant, anything?"
Joe-Bob shook his head. The door was open; closing it now would be more effort than holding it shut in the first place had been.
"What happened next?"
"I got my shotgun," Joe-Bob mumbled. "Henry- the stranger- said I should oughta have it. We got in Eddie's truck and drove out to Jimmy's place."
"Eddie told me and Bill to check out the shack," Joe-Bob continued. "Him and Henry went the barn. There was a light on."
Even tightly clenched Joe-Bob's hands wouldn't stop shaking. He saw the light, cast in a fan on the ground, as Jimbo threw open the door. Then he demanded to know what was going on, in that tone that made him sound like Grandpaw just before he got the switch-
"Jimbo came out to see what was happening," Doc suggested. "And then... someone shot him."
Joe-Bob bit his lip until it bled.
"It was Bill, wasn't it?"
Joe-Bob's mouth opened to offer a correction but the rational part of his mind intercepted the impulse just in time. "Y-yeah," he stammered, "That's what happened."
"Suddenly there was lot of shooting from the barn," Joe-Bob said. Now that he'd been delivered from the awful truth the wasn't so reluctant to speak. "I looked that way and... there they were on the ground. Eddie and Henry. And then- and then-"
Joe-Bob shuddered, then tried to stop when he realized what he was doing. He'd managed to forget- or at least put out of his mind- the expression on Frederick's face as he stepped out of the barn. That, not the shotgun in his hands, is what had caused Joe-Bob to dive for cover.
"Did you threaten Frederick?" Doc inquired.
"No!" Joe-Bob exclaimed, genuinely shocked. "I-"
Joe-Bob did not have a reputation for perspicacity. Thick as a brick was the phrase that most often came to peoples' minds. Nevertheless, he wasn't lacking in mental capacity so much as a lazy thinker. Now, with desperation nipping at his heels, he found himself achieving undreamed of levels of sagacity. The notion of him threatening Frederick, in light of his recollection, shocked him to the bone. At the same time, though, he realized that correcting that misapprehension would likely expose another misapprehension, to wit that Bill had shot Jimbo. But since Bill was already taking the rap for that- and wasn't around to say otherwise- why not give this to him also? "It was Bill," he said, after only a short pause. Fear lent speed to thought processes that normally went about their business in a much more leisurely fashion. "I, I peeked out to see what the noise was. There was Frederick." He faltered briefly. "Bill came out too. He, I don't know if he meant to shoot or just- just pointed with his gun, but Frederick must'a thought he meant it. I dove back just as he fired. I- please, Doc, I never meant any of this to happen! I dropped my gun and ran!"
Josiah nodded slowly. His face smiled warmly but something glinted in the very backs of his eyes, something as hard and merciless as diamond. "That's my boy," he said in the sort of gentle, friendly tone a cat might use while addressing a mouse pinned under it's paw. "Just say that to Judge Burkhardt when he comes around and everything will be just fine." He concluded with a gentle pat on Joe-Bob's shoulder.
Joe-Bob's mouth hung slightly open. The cold, venomous look in Doc Holiday's eyes alarmed him far more than had even Frederick's open hostility. But at that time and place Frederick's hostility had at least made sense. Josiah's expression, on the other hand, was as completely out of place as Father Christmas with a machine gun. As such, Joe-Bob did what people usually did when confronted with what was, to their way of thinking, impossible: he pretended it hadn't seen it. He even smiled, albeit a touch hesitantly.
Josiah rose and turned toward the cell door. He knew he'd slipped; letting Joe-Bob see while he struggled with himself would only add to the folly. By the time a deputy showed up to unlock the cell the kindly old country doctor was back as if he'd never gone in the first place. On the way out he considered stopping to see Alysa but decided against it. Ilsa would be along to take care of that end of things... and Josiah didn't entirely trust himself to behave appropriately. "And here I thought moving out to the country would get me away from all this," he mused as he strolled back to his house. Certainly he knew better now. If I'd really meant to get away, he added to himself, I shouldn't have brought the problem with me.
As Jimmy pulled up to the Brooks county sheriff's office he found himself very much wanting to drive on. The seriousness of what he was about to do came back full force, and frankly it scared the crap out of him. He'd spent his life avoiding problems, but now he'd pass through the fire no matter which way he went.
Jimmy started violently. He slammed on the brakes; the truck slid to a stop. Slowly, fearfully, he turned to look at Ilsa. She sat up, lucid and alert, watching him intently. He sighed and pulled the certificate of manumission out of his pocket. He'd made his choice and the reasons for making it were just as valid now as they'd ever been. He gritted his teeth, then threw open the door and exited before he had time to reconsider. He walked up the steps and into the office. He opened his mouth to speak but as he did he caught sight of Alysa, sitting hunched in a cell because she wouldn't fit any other way. There wasn't enough space for her to stand up or lay down.
"What may we do for you, Mr. MacGregor?" Sheriff Harrington inquired.
"Ah-" Jimmy forced himself to relax his grip on the certificate for fear of tearing it. "Yes, actually. I just got back from business in Mazama and I hear Alysa's been locked up." As if I couldn't see her sitting there, he added sourly to himself.
"She's involved in the deaths of three humans," Sheriff Harrington replied.
"Yes, I... heard about that," Jimmy said, faltering when Alysa lifted her head and caught his eye. He couldn't help flinching even though he knew- intellectually, at least- that her gaze wouldn't piece him like bolts of steel. "Is she... what's she charged with?"
"She smashed Eddie's head in with a pipe, she's an accessory to the deaths of Bill Clyde and the fellow known as Henry, she assaulted Rosalind, and she ran away. That's flight to evade prosecution as well as leaving her legal master without permission."
"Oh." Jimmy deflated some. "Well... when did all this happen?"
"Morning after you left for Mazama."
"Ah." Jimmy presented the certificate. "I this'll take care of the last thing, at least. I meant to do it sooner but... well, it just arrived."
Sheriff Harrington took the certificate and inspected it closely. His eyebrows drew together until they almost touched. His gaze flicked to Jimmy- who flinched- then Alysa, who met it stonily, and finally Joe-Bob, who wouldn't meet it at all. "Now, son, why'd you want to go do a thing like this?" he inquired in a kindly tone.
Jimmy swallowed. "Sheriff... after Eddie showed up the first time it got me to thinkin'. I know now that Alysa wasn't- wasn't-" he blushed- "meant to work on a farm. If I couldn't keep her she'd, she'd end up owned by someone like- like Eddie. I... didn't want that. At least... this way she's got a chance." He looked up hopefully.
"I see," the sheriff replied in a tone which suggested that he saw much more than merely what was said. "It is your choice, after all. You do realize there's no going back?"
Jimmy nodded. "Yessir."
"All right then." The sheriff turned and walked up to Alysa's cell. "Put your finger out here, would you?"
"W- why?" Alysa asked in a quavering voice. But she obeyed, putting her index finger between the bars. "W- what's that?"
"A certificate of manumission, signed by Jimmy over there," the sheriff replied. A deputy handed him a small device with a shallow, finger shaped depression on its top that had a small barb in its center. When the sheriff pressed it against the tip of Alysa's finger the barb made a tiny cut. A drop of blood formed, which the sheriff pressed against the document. It left a dark stain... which, after a few seconds, turned bright green. "Which means he's no longer your master," the sheriff continued. "You are your own master now." He folded the document and passed it between the bars.
After a long delay Alysa took the paper. She unfolded it slowly and stared at it as if she expected to find the secrets of the universe in it.
"Can we get her out of there?" Jimmy asked.
"I'm afraid not," the sheriff replied. "She's shown herself to be a flight risk."
"Why?" Alysa screamed, throwing down the certificate, flinging herself against the cell bars, and trying to reach through them. Jimmy reeled back but she couldn't fit her arm between the bars. "Why did you have to wait 'till now, you filthy, motherless bastard!" She collapsed in a heap, sobbing.
"She's.. um... distraught, I'm sure," Jimmy heard himself say in a tiny, distant voice. "Alysa-"
"What good is this now?" Alysa interrupted, crushing the certificate in one hand while pushing herself up with the other. "First you won't be a proper master. Then you dangle Frederick in front of me but won't let me have him. Then you tell him to come to me! Because she said so!" She slammed her hand against the bars; the wadded certificate flew out and landed at Jimmy's feet. "Now you come along and give me that now that Frederick's gone and all it'll do is remind me of everything I've lost!" She curled up in the back of the cell, facing the wall.
Jimmy's mouth opened and closed repeatedly. What Alysa said made no sense whatsoever. She's mad because I wouldn't let her have Frederick, then she's madder because I told her she could? His face tightened; he'd down that road before, oh yes. Darla had taught him all about female logic. He scooped up the certificate, hurled it into a waste basket, and marched out.
"Mr. MacGregor!" the sheriff roared.
Jimmy froze. The sheriff's shout seemed to strike him like a physical blow. Slowly, fearfully, he turned around. "Yes?" he tried to say, but the word wouldn't come out.
"Defacing a certificate of manumission is a crime, Mr. MacGregor," Sheriff Harrington pointed out. "It is a legally binding contract between you and the Morph in question, in perpetuity. In other words, all sales are final. No refunds, exchanges, or substitutions."
"Uhhh..." Jimmy sidled toward the waste basket under the sheriff's icy stare. "I'll... um... just leave this with you, then," he said quickly, pulling the certificate out, smoothing it flat, and laying it on a desk. The sheriff nodded; Jimmy scampered out at only slightly less than a dead run.
"Oh, what the Hell do you care, Penn?" Joe-Bob demanded querulously.
Sheriff Harrington surged to his feet, crossed the room in a few long strides, and slammed the butt of his rifle against the bars of Joe-Bob's cell, which rang from the impact. "That's Sheriff or Mr. Harrington to you!" he bellowed. "And I care because it happens to be the law, you worthless sack of shit." He twitched his shirt back into place and marched into his office. It was the law, yes, but that was only part of it. It was entirely too convenient that this certificate should show up right now; he'd bet his eye teeth that Ilsa had encouraged Jimmy to obtain it through less than entirely legitimate means. But just as surely, Penn was certain, he'd never prove it. Not without expending far more effort than finding out would be worth, at any rate. But there was no way in Hell that Jimmy would use the law when it suited him and cast it aside when it didn't, not if Penn Harrington had anything to say about it. As for Joe-Bob, that slimy little worm really needed to develop a healthy respect for the law. Failing that, a healthy fear of the sheriff would do just fine.
Ilsa sat up as Jimmy drove out to his place. She'd passed right through fatigue and come out the other side; she was alert though not, she suspected, entirely lucid.
"I don't understand," Jimmy exclaimed suddenly. "I thought- I thought she'd be glad to be free! But she- she- I swear, if those bars hadn't been there she would've ripped my head off!"
Ilsa sighed heavily and rolled her eyes. She found suddenly that she had no more patience for Jimmy's naivete. "She's in love with you," she said.
Jimmy stomped the brake. The truck fishtailed to a stop; Ilsa cursed venomously, clutching her face where it had been thrown against the dashboard. "Exactly what did you mean by that?" he demanded shortly.
Ilsa gritted her teeth to keep from screaming. "Jimmy," she began in the tone of voice adults used on truculent children, "Alysa is a love beast. Her purpose in life is to have sex with people. She was designed and raised to have strong feelings for her master. Then you went and treated her like a person instead of a sex object. But she can't stop being a love beast; she needs more than just friendship. She needs a lover."
"That's why you told me to have Frederick look after her," Jimmy said, then frowned. "But then why didn't he?"
Ilsa blinked. She hadn't expected such perception from Jimmy. "It is," she allowed. "As to the rest... I don't know. We'll just have to ask him."
"Can we?" Jimmy inquired frowning.
"We can." Ilsa nodded. "I've made arrangements. But... we'll do it tomorrow. Right now I really need a shower and some rest."
"Me too," Jimmy muttered, putting the truck back into motion. The journey continued in silence until they reached his barn yard. There didn't seem to be anyone around; he got out of the truck and looked around. "Carty?" he called.
"Boss?" The door to the field worker's shack cracked open. "That you?"
"Yeah, I'm back," he replied, retrieving his carpet bag. "Would you like something to eat, Ilsa?"
Ilsa climbed out of the truck, stretched, and scrubbed her face. "No, thank you. But I... I'm not sure I should drive. Could I use your shower and have a lay-down?"
Jimmy bit his lip. He wasn't at all comfortable with the idea of Ilsa staying, but he couldn't in conscience send her away. "Uh, okay, I guess," he allowed.
"Thanks." Ilsa went into the house. Jimmy and Carty stared at the front door long after it had closed.
"I'm staying with you in the shack," Jimmy announced suddenly.
Carty started. "Boss?"
"I'm staying in the shack," Jimmy repeated, shouldering his bag and heading toward it. I've already had too much female trouble in my life, he added to himself.
Ilsa awoke in the middle of the night. For the first time in what seemed like forever she felt rested, alert, and above all clean. On his own or at Darla's insistence Jimmy had installed running water and a large bathtub in his house; soaking in it had been an absolute joy, though she'd fallen asleep three times. She got up, pulling the comforter around her, and switched on the light. Due to the number of electric appliances he had, Jimmy left his generator running all the time. She opened Jimmy's wardrobe and looked through it; her own clothes were still in the bathroom and would require a lot of laundering to make them usable, if they could be salvaged at all. She picked out a shirt, an undershirt, pants, underwear, and a pair of socks; interestingly enough it all fit better than she might have expected. She lacked Jimmy's height but only by a few centimeters. The shirt hung loose and the pants were a bit too long and too tight across the hips but that was only to be expected. Jimmy apparently didn't believe in brushes so she had to use a comb on her hair. While doing so, and watching herself in the bathroom mirror, a thought struck her. She re-combed her hair in male fashion, then pulled her tresses back with one hand. The effect was interesting, to say the least; she had fairly strong features and Jimmy's clothing hid the shape of her body. If she cut her hair and strapped her breasts she might actually pass for a delicate young man. Which, unfortunately, caused her to imagine Jimmy in a dress, a mental picture that caused her to break out in giggles. They'd make an interesting couple, that was for certain.
"We'd make an interesting couple," Ilsa said aloud, her smile vanishing. In her mind's eye she saw an image of herself and Jimmy, arm in arm, smiling happily. She wore a fancy white gown trimmed with lace, he a glossy black suit with a white silk shirt and matching gloves. In other words, the sort of clothes a person might wear to a wedding. She both saw and felt a flush rising in her cheeks. She turned hastily away from the mirror and quickly combed her hair into something like its normal shape. "Crazy thoughts," she muttered, hurrying outside to her truck. She had other things to think about right now, such as getting Frederick back and, hopefully, preventing him from being hanged. She switched on the fuel cell, waited a moment for it to warm up, then pulled out.
Driving out to Dirty Face's place at night took longer but was safer- in some respects- than going in daylight. Just in case she took a more roundabout route than usual; that stretched the time even more but hopefully she'd avoid unwanted attention. The track leading up to the shack, however, was such a harrowing experience in the dark that Ilsa almost turned back, and more that once. Each time, though, she resolved to press on. She'd made it this far, after all.
In front of the shack Ilsa paused a moment to collect herself. This time when she left the cab she took the rifle, with a round chambered and the safety off. "Hello?" she called. "Dirty Face, are you here?"
"I'se here, Miss Ilsa," a voice replied out of the darkness.
Ilsa jumped and took several deep breaths to steady her nerves. "I'd like to get Frederick now, if that's possible."
"Just you have a sit there, Miss Ilsa. He'll be along in a bit."
Ilsa sat on the truck's running board with the rifle laid across her lap. The trees around her looked ominous, reduced by starlight to rustling zones of darkness. She searched them again and again but couldn't see anything. Dirty Face could have had an army in there and she'd never know it.
Time passed. Ilsa carried a pocket watch but couldn't read it in the darkness. It didn't help that her imagination populated the forest with hordes of villains, just waiting for their chance to strike.
Ilsa started. Fortunately she missed the trigger when she grabbed up her rifle so she didn't fire it accidentally. "Who's there?" she demanded.
"Frederick," a different voice replied.
Ilsa rose and turned. Red stood there, right by the truck's front bumper. Beside and slightly behind him stood Frederick. Ilsa took a deep breath, saftied the rifle, and slung it over her shoulder. "Frederick," she began, "I need you to come back with me. Dad and I have worked it out with the sheriff; you won't be charged with killing Eddie and his friends."
"What is it to you?" Frederick countered.
"To me personally-" Ilsa began, then cut herself off. "That's a long story," she said instead. "Do you care for Alysa? Do you want to be with her?"
"Yes," Frederick. "More than anything." His eyes narrowed. "Why do you want me to be with her?"
Ilsa clenched her hands. "I hate the whole idea of slavery, Frederick. I can't make it go away, so... I do whatever I can to hurt it. To get around it. You and Alysa should have the right to be together."
"Even if that's true, it doesn't do me any good," Frederick pointed out. "Alysa isn't mine. She can't ever be. She belongs to Mr. MacGregor."
"No." Ilsa shook her head. "He freed her. She only belongs to herself now."
In the dark Ilsa couldn't read Frederick's expression but he did hesitate before responding. "Makes no difference," he said. "I'm not free. I have an outstanding warrant for murder. If I go back to Brooks I'll hang, one way or another."
The ground seemed to lurch under Ilsa's feet. Everything had been going so well and now this comes along. The worst part of it was realizing that she should have known. Frederick was intelligent and clearly well educated; surely someone with his qualifications could do better than sleeping in peoples' barns and jobbing... unless, of course, he was hiding from the law. It all made sense in hindsight. Which left Ilsa in a quandary. Having come this far she couldn't just say oh well, it wasn't worth the effort to go on. It would be a betrayal of everything she claimed to believe in... not to mention Jimmy, Alysa, and Frederick himself. "There's... something that can be done about that," she said.
"There is?" Red and Frederick asked in unison.
Ilsa nodded. It would be perilous, very expensive, and require her to go places and meet people she and Dad had gone to great lengths to escape, but there wasn't any other option at this point. "I'll need a blood sample," she said, reaching behind the truck's seat and extracting her tool kit. "Hold out your arm."
With her work area illuminated by the truck's head lamps Ilsa assembled a syringe, drew blood from Frederick's arm, and injected it into a specimen bottle. The bottle contained gel that would preserve the blood without the need for refrigeration; a specimen thus packaged could even be sent through the mail, a great boon to doctors like Ilsa and her father who worked in remote areas without labs nearby.
"How long will this take?" Frederick asked while Ilsa cleaned her instruments and put them away.
"I'm not sure," Ilsa replied. "Only a few days, I hope, but it could be longer. I do promise, if it's in my power, I'll make it as short as possible."
"You can really make a warrant stop working?" Red asked.
"It's possible to change a person so a keyed document, like a warrant, won't react to them anymore," Ilsa clarified. "If you get a new warrant issued against you, though, you have to be changed again. To do it at all you need a lab, a good engineer, and access to the person's original file. And it's like- like any kind of forgery. A good enough engineer can tell it was done." She tucked her tool kit back behind the truck's seat. "Would there be a problem with Frederick staying here a little longer?"
"Not right now, no," Dirty Face replied. He seemed to be on the porch, as he always was at least when Ilsa came around. "But don't take too long, y'hear?"
"I won't," Ilsa replied, switching on the truck's fuel cell. I hope.
"Excuse me?" Jimmy said after a long, uncomfortable pause.
"Frederick has an outstanding warrant against him," Ilsa explained. "He can't come back until it's cleared."
Jimmy heaved a huge sigh and scrubbed his face with both hands. "And how the Hell are we supposed to do that?"
Ilsa licked her lips. Jimmy had come a long way but she couldn't help worrying; what she was about to suggest was far more serious than faking a certificate of manumission, which was itself a grave offense. "It's possible to change a person's DNA so a keyed document won't work," she said.
"I suppose you know someone who does this," Jimmy muttered through his fingers.
"Yes," Ilsa replied. "I do."
Jimmy parted his fingers and looked up. "You really mean that?"
"Oh, God." Jimmy let his head fall to the table and covered it with one arm. "What's the penalty for faking a certificate of manumission?"
"Three hundred lashes," Ilsa replied.
"Three hundred lashes or the penalty for the most serious offense the person you aided was charged with."
"What offense is Frederick charged with?"
Jimmy groaned. "Are the sentences concurrent or consecutive?"
"Wonderful." Jimmy plucked at his hair. If convicted he'd get three hundred lashes for faking Alysa's certificate of manumission, three hundred more for helping Frederick evade arrest, and then he'd be hanged. "Ilsa," he asked, "If certificates of manumission are supposed to be keyed, how could your friend make one for Alysa if he's never met her?"
"The paper keys automatically to the first blood that's used on it," Ilsa explained.
"Oh." Jimmy picked distractedly at the tabletop. "Bloody Hell," he muttered. "This keeps getting more and more complicated."
"It's very simple, actually," Ilsa said. "Either you turn back or your don't."
"Easy for you to say," Jimmy growled.
"Really?" Ilsa's expression turned hard. "I'll hang right beside you, Jimmy. And you know perfectly well that stopping in the middle of something is worse than seeing it through."
"I also know that only a fool rides a loosing streak, hoping it'll get better," Jimmy countered.
"We haven't lost yet," Ilsa pointed out. "Also, if you fold your hand you loose your stake. I trust I don't have to remind you what's on the table?"
Jimmy gritted his teeth. "No," he said glumly. "I know what's on the table." He pushed himself up, slumping back in his chair. "I also know this is gonna cost like a sonofabitch."
Ilsa sighed. "Yes, it probably is. I'll pay two thirds of whatever it ends up being."
For a long time Jimmy stared off into space. Rays from the morning sun slanted through the curtains, tinting them with gold. He sneered; it all looked so damn cheery and he wasn't in the mood for it. "What do I have to do?"
Ilsa heaved a mental sigh of relief. She'd been terribly afraid for a bit there. "Go see Dr. Kasegawa again. I'll write your a letter of introduction. You'll also need to take a couple things with you. I... I wish I could go but it's too dangerous."
Jimmy grimaced. "Nice to know where I stand."
"You won't be in danger," Ilsa said. "You're just some hick from the sticks. But I might be recognized... and that would cause problems."
"I'm sure I don't want to know," Jimmy grumbled, scrubbing his face. "Aw, Hell. There's time to catch today's train if we hurry."
"Here we go again," Jimmy muttered under his breath as he knocked in the door to Professor Kasegawa's brownstone. Sure enough, Melisende opened the door. She smiled warmly and led Jimmy to the professor's office.
"Ah, Mr. MacGregor," the professor said, looking up and smiling. "Things are going well, I hope?"
Jimmy clenched his teeth to keep from saying something scatological. "No," He replied, producing Ilsa's letter and handing it across the desk. "This ought to explain the situation."
Professor Kasegawa opened the letter and read it. Jimmy saw his eyes scan the lines of text, his brows moving in and out. Then he looked up. Jimmy produced the first item he'd been directed to show: a small plastic bracelet with a pattern of thin black lines printed on it. The professor held out his hand; Jimmy handed him the bracelet. The professor studied it as closely as he had the letter, if not more so. "Hmm, you might have forged this letter, yes," he mused. "But only someone Ilsa considered a friend indeed could have this." He wiggled he bracelet.
"Doctor, how is it that you and Ilsa know each other?" Jimmy blurted.
The professor's brows rose. "She told you not to ask that, didn't she, Mr. MacGregor?"
Jimmy blushed hotly, staring morosely at his feet. "Yes," he admitted.
"You should listen," the professor said. "She knows of what she speaks." He lay the letter and the bracelet side by side on his desk. "Do you know what's in this message?"
Jimmy shook his head. "No sir. She gave it to me sealed. But... I know what she meant to ask."
"Then you have something else for me, do you not?"
"Yes sir." Jimmy pulled the specimen bottle out of his pocket and handed it over.
"Who is this young man that you risk so much for him?" the professor inquired.
Jimmy bit his lip. Events of the past few weeks flashed through his mind. "Alysa likes him," he mumbled. The rest was too complicated and sounded crazy even in his own ears.
A smile tugged at the corners of the professor's mouth. "I suppose that's as good a reason as any and better than some." He put the specimen bottle on one of his desk drawers. "Please excuse me for a moment. It shan't take long." He clasped his hands, settled back in his chair, and closed his eyes.
Jimmy blinked. To all appearances the professor was taking a nap. Then he noticed that the professor's hair seemed to be moving. No, it wasn't that, Jimmy realized with a shock. Like Josiah Holiday, the professor wore his hair long but it was wispy and thin, enough that Jimmy could see scalp in many places... and also that what caused the movement wasn't in the hair. It was under the skin. Jimmy swallowed and looked away hastily. How gene engineers did their work wasn't something people talked about. Based on this experience he decided that he really didn't want to know.
Thirteen minutes later, according to a clock tucked away on one of the book cases, the professor opened his eyes and sat up. He removed the specimen bottle from his desk drawer and handed it back to Jimmy.
"Can't you do it?" Jimmy asked in surprise.
"I can," the professor replied. "I just did. What you need is in that bottle. Ilsa will know what to do with it. You must promise me, however, that if you think you're about to be arrested or if anyone tries to take that from you, you must destroy it. Break it open and flush it down the toilet. Smash it on the ground and grind it into the dirt. If even the tiniest trace of a clean sample can be extracted then you and I both will hang."
"I... see," Jimmy stammered. The professor's warning brought to mind aspects of this affair he'd rather not think about.
"If you need a reason to explain why you came to see me, use this," the professor continued, producing a bottle of clear liquid and handing it over.
"What is it?" Jimmy asked.
"It makes your penis bigger," the professor replied. "A very popular item, I might add."
Jimmy blushed and hurriedly put both bottles away.
"Now we discuss my fee," the professor announced, putting his fingertips together to form a steeple.
"O- okay," Jimmy said, trying not to wince.
"I do need money but I doubt you could pay me enough to make it worth while," the professor said. "So... we'll have to settle for the next best thing." He rose to his feet. "Come with me."
The professor really was tiny, Jimmy realized. Most likely he wouldn't even reach Ilsa's shoulder. Jimmy rose and followed him out of the office, through the kitchen, and into what looked like a stable. But it was much cleaner and didn't smell. Not like horses, at any rate.
"Jaquetta!" the professor called. "Come out, please!"
A stall door opened. A Morph stepped out.
Jimmy gulped. The Morph- Jaquetta, presumably- had been built along the same lines as Alysa. She stood just as tall and possessed the same voluptuous, powerful build, not to mention the extra breasts. The main difference- and the most striking, to Jimmy- was that where Alysa had been modeled after a fox, Jaquetta had been modeled after a skunk. Her muzzle was shorter, her face more cone-shaped, her ears round instead of pointed. Silky black fur covered her entire body except for a white stripe running up the bridge of her nose and vanishing into a dazzlingly white mane that hung down to the level of her belly button. The professor made a circular motion with his finger and Jaquetta turned slowly around; a pair of white stripes ran parallel to her spine from the back of her neck all the way to the base of her voluminous tail, which was black with a white patch covering its top.
"Jilly! Your turn now!"
Another stall door opened and a second Morph emerged, this one a rabbit. She was normal sized, with only the usual number of breasts, but she had excatly the same figure, albeit on a smaller scale. Jimmy stared, just as he had at Jaquetta; he'd never before in his life seen fur that particular shade of intense, flourescent, yellow-green. Her lips, nipples, labia, and nails were darker green, with less yellow; her eyes and the insides of her ears were just the opposite: brighter yellow, with less green. Her arms and legs were smooth, brightly polished silver, as if she were dressed in decorative, tight-fitting armor that only covered her limbs.
Next to Jaquetta she looked almost prosaic: normal sized, with only the usual number of breasts. Exceptionally busty and well curved, yes, but under the circumstances that didn't strike Jimmy as unusual. Though he'd never seen a rabbit- or any kind of Morph or animal, for that matter- with fur that particular shade of florescent chartreuse. Her lips, nipples, and other soft tissues were a slightly darker green with less yellow, her eyes just the opposite: brighter yellow, with less green. As if all that weren't enough her arms and legs appeared to be made of brightly polished silver decorated with gold filigree on the backs of her hands and feet that reached up toward her elbows and knees. Textured black pads covered the front of her hands and the soles of her feet.
"You will find that Jaquetta's requirements are nearly identical to Alysa's," the professor said while Jaquetta turned this way and that, posing artistically. "Including, I hasten to add, the type of care and handling she needs to maintain optimal health and happiness. Such as we discussed at our previous meeting." He fixed Jimmy with a meaningful look. "In return she will produce milk, of the same type and in the same quantities as Alysa. She does not lay eggs, however. She produces nectar." The professor clapped his hands twice. "Ladies, if you please, Mr. MacGregor requires a demonstration."
Jimmy's mouth worked but he couldn't speak. Needless to say Jaquetta and Jilly wore not a stitch of clothing and seemed not the least bit discomfited by that fact, which was definitely not the case with Jimmy. He tore off his hat and fanned himself frantically; things were moving much too quickly. He had a sneaking suspicion about where Jaquetta's nectar came out and he wasn't at all sure he wanted to see it happen but horrid fascination held him paralyzed.
Jaquetta got down on hands and knees, facing away from Jimmy and the professor, with her tail hiked up. Jimmy flinched; this was not a position from which one wanted to see a skunk; it generally meant that severe unpleasantness was imminent. Jilly fetched a stainless steel pan; after placing it on the floor between Jaquetta's ankles she knelt to one side, caressing Jaquetta's vulva with one hand while reaching under Jaquetta's belly to rub her clitoris with the other. Jaquetta sighed, lowering her face to the floor and reaching forward with her fingers spread. Jilly flashed a dazzling smile- her teeth seemed to be made of steel- and pressed her fingers into Jaquetta's vagina, stroking its interior and toying with the labia. After a moment Jilly withdrew her fingers and presented them, dripping with vaginal fluid, then licked them clean. Her tongue was the same dark green as her lips, and very long: thirty, perhaps thirty-five, centimeters. She demonstrated it further by applying it to Jaquetta's nether regions, stroking the labia major, teasing the labia minor, tickling the clitoris, then reaching into the vagina. After each lick the tongue brought a load of fluid back to Jilly's mouth as if she were trying to lap it all up; if so it was a hopeless task; Jaquetta's vagina produced fluid faster than Jilly could lick it up. In short order it had soaked Jaquetta's crotch and Jilly's face and even dripped on the flagstones below. After a time, as if sensing the hopelessness of her task, Jilly stopped licking and went back to using her fingers. This time, with each thrust she reached deeper and deeper until her whole hand had gone in. Her arm followed, nearly to the elbow; she shifted position, bracing herself with her free hand, drawing back until her clenched fist nearly emerged, then thrusting all the way in.
Jaquetta had closed her eyes; her breath came in short, sharp gasps and she thrust back against Jilly's arm with steadily increasing speed and force. Her breasts jounced back and forth with every thrust; after a while she shifted the support of her torso to her elbows so she could take her breasts in hand, caressing and squeezing them. Suddenly her whole body tensed; she threw back her head, drawing a sharp breath through bared, tightly clenched teeth, her fingers sunk deep in the soft tissue of her bosom. Jilly drew her hand out, holding it a short distance from Jaquetta's vulva, palm forward and fingers spread. A jet of dark, honey colored fluid erupted from Jaquetta's vulva; without Jilly's hand deflecting it into the pan the stream would have spattered the flagstones for quite some distance. After the initial pulse came another, and another, and another; the force and volume of fluid ejected held steady for the first few, then diminished steady to a drizzle, like water from a leaky faucet. Despite a quantity of fluid splashed on the floor the pan was full; three and a half to four liters, Jimmy estimated. Jilly cleaned up by licking her arm, her face, and Jilly's crotch.
"The nectar is sweet and has a pleasant, fruity flavor," the professor said. "In raw form it can be used as sweetener, in place of honey, maple syrup, or corn syrup. Cut with water it makes a very refreshing drink, especially when chilled. You don't have to use it, of course," he added, noting Jimmy's expression. "But you might as well since you'll need to harvest it at least once per day. If you don't her belly will swell up as nectar accumulates in her uterus. If you wait too long it'll leak out when she walks."
"Erk," Jimmy managed.
"Show the nice man what you do, Jilly," the professor instructed.
Jilly put the pan of nectar aside and fetched a milk can. Jaquetta sat up, facing the audience. Jilly stood beside her, facing the opposite way. turned ninety degrees, presenting her side to the audience, still on her hands and knees. Jilly stood by Jaquetta's hips, facing the audience, and thrust her belly forward. Four slits along the lower edge of her abdomen opened Jimmy noticed four openings, previously hidden by fur, along the lower border of Jilly's abdomen. Two were just beyond the points of her pubic triangle; the other two were further out, near the top of the crease between the tops of her thighs and the bottom of her pelvis.
There were two on each side, and from them emerged things that Jimmy at first thought were snakes. They were covered with fine scales, like snake skin, and colored a deeper, darker green than her fur. The tips even looked a little like snake heads but only vaguely, lacking anything like eyes or nostrils and being symmetrical, top to bottom. As one they opened, revealing chartreuse orifices resembling lampreys' mouths without teeth. Jilly knelt and turned sideways, resting her arm on Jaquetta's back, while the tentacles reached under Jaquetta's torso and attached themselves to her nipples. Then... they started sucking. As they worked Jilly's belly gradually expanded. In due course they stopped and let go; Jilly turned once again toward the audience and placed the milk can before her. The tentacles opened and each one vomited a stream of milk into the can. When they finished Jilly's belly had shrunk back to normal size.
"Jilly, as you may have noticed, is not actually a Morph," the professor began. "She resembles one but she is in fact a Bioroid. Where Morphs are made of flesh and blood just like ourselves, Bioroids are made of... well, let's just say synthetic materials that work just like flesh and blood. The technology to make them has existed for as long as that to build Morphs but is more difficult to use, so... oh." He fell silent because Jimmy obviously wasn't listening. Jilly had come up to Jimmy, knelt before him, and with her eyes locked on his, very deliberately unzipped his pants. She reached inside and drew out his penis, which was already quite firm. Her fingers felt like plastic instead of metal, and as warm as living flesh. One of her tentacles opened and pressed itself down over his shaft, stretching to accommodate it like a snake swallowing a frog. Then it started sucking.
Through it all Jimmy could only stand and stare, holding his hat in a white knuckled grip. Shock piled on shock left his brain stunned, like a deer caught in a car's headlights, unable to respond. Even worse, a traitorous part of him was perfectly happy to let things proceed and the intellectual part couldn't summon enough resolve to overrule it. Then a wave of sensation from his crotch banished the possibility of any kind of thought. If ever a woman existed who had the strength and muscular control of her mouth in her vagina then having sex with her might have felt something like what Jimmy experienced. His whole body shook, his eyes rolled back, and spittle dribbled from the corner of his mouth. When orgasm broke upon him his knees buckled; he would have fallen if Jilly hadn't caught him and eased him down gently, her tentacle never missing a stroke. He lay there, moaning and twitching, while his penis pumped out semen with such frantic intensity it almost hurt. Finally it stopped; Jimmy smiled beatifically, his mind settling into a warm fog of post-coital bliss.
"I think we have a satisfied customer, ladies," the professor declared, grinning broadly and rubbing his hands together excitedly. "If you'll come with me, Mr. MacGregor... Jilly, give him a hand, there, if you please? No, not that way. You know what I mean."
Jimmy found himself back in the professor's office. Jilly stood behind him, hands on his shoulders so he wouldn't sag out of his chair. "My price for services rendered, Mr. MacGregor, is that you must purchase Jilly and Jaquetta," the professor said briskly. "For the sum of... oh, let's say one Tar." He laid several documents on Jimmy's side of the desk. "Sign here and here, initial here and date here. Ah, thank you Jilly." She'd put the pen in Jimmy's hand and directed it to the appropriate locations. "I'm in a spot of financial trouble, you see, and frankly I'd rather give the ladies away than let my creditors take them. This way there's nothing they can do; your rights as owner supercede theirs. Ah, thank you again, Jilly." She'd reached into Jimmy's pocket and extracted a one Tar coin, which she handed to the professor. "They can sue me, of course, but all they can hope to get is this." He flipped the coin and caught it. "It's been a pleasure doing business with you, Mr. MacGregor, and I look forward to a fruitful relationship in the future. You will remember, I hope, that because she's a Bioroid Jilly has special dietary needs?" He studied Jimmy's face. "Mmm, perhaps you'd better take these instructional pamphlets with you, just in case." He handed them across the desk; Jilly tucked them into his coat. "Mellie?"
"Yes, Master?" Melisende appeared in the doorway.
"See to it that Mr. MacGregor and the ladies get safely aboard their train, won't you please?"
"Of course, Master." Melisende helped Jimmy to his feet and let him out. As Jilly turned to go the professor caught her hand. "Don't worry darling," he said. "We'll be together again before this is all over."
"Is everything going to be all right, Miss Ilsa?" Rosalind asked.
Ilsa sighed, fingering her tea cup. "I hope so," she said. "I've done everything I can. All we can do now is pray."
"I will," Rosalind declared. "Frederick's not a bad person. He doesn't deserve this."
"None of us do," Ilsa muttered while Rosalind moved off to help another customer. The railroad cafe sat between the station itself and the express office; technically it was for MTC personnel only but over the years they'd started serving whoever dropped by. The company turned a blind eye because the business turned out to be quite profitable.
In the distance a whistle blew. At the same time the lights on the schedule board changed, indicating that the King's Valley Local had arrived. Ilsa finished her tea and strolled out onto the platform. The train pulled up and stopped; as usual there weren't a lot of passengers but lots of freight. Mail and packages were unloaded from and placed aboard the express car while the locomotive dropped a tank car and picked up two cattle cars. In due course Jimmy stepped down, his carpet bag in hand. "How'd it go?" Ilsa asked, hurrying up to him.
"Just fine," Jimmy replied, rather too glibly. "I got everything you asked for without a hitch." He looked Ilsa up and down. "You look better in your own clothes."
Ilsa giggled. "So do you." Her expression turned somber. "Now let's get you home and we can... take care of everything." She turned toward her truck.
"Ah, not quite," Jimmy interrupted. "I still have some luggage to collect. Oh, and you owe me sixty-six cents."
Ilsa blinked. "Sixty-six cents?"
"Your share of the doctor's bill," Jimmy explained.
Ilsa stared. "You mean to say he charged you ninety-nine cents?"
"An even Tar, actually, but I'm not concerned about the odd penny," Jimmy corrected. "But that's only the cash part of the fee, you understand. Ah, here we are." He turned.
Jilly came walking down the platform, carrying two large suitcases. People scooted out of her way and stared as she passed, even though she wore a very sober, dark grey, long sleeved dress with an ankle length skirt. Her bright green head and silver hands stood out like the lantern of a lighthouse.
"Ilsa, may I present Jilly 697C, who is-" he hesitated for an instant and one side of his face twitched- "a Bioroid milkmaid. Jilly, this is Dr. Ilsa Holiday."
"Pleased to make your acquaintance, my lady," Jilly said, setting down the cases and curtseying expertly.
"What's a Bioroid?" Ilsa asked.
"A form of synthetic organic life, my lady," Jilly replied. "The technology to build us has existed all along but creatures like me aren't common because of our special dietary considerations."
"Which are?" Ilsa wanted to know.
"Diesel fuel, wood pulp cooked in a mild acid solution, and used gearbox oil," Jimmy supplied. "She likes to snack on kerosene, paraffin, and olive oil."
"Oh," was all Ilsa could say.
"Go check on Jaquetta, will you?" Jimmy asked.
"Right away, my lord." Jilly picked up the cases and hurried off.
"Jaquetta?" Ilsa raised an eyebrow.
"This way," Jimmy replied, gesturing.
On the freight end of the platform a group of pigs were being herded off the train. Eventually they got out of the way and Jaquetta stepped out, crouching slightly so she wouldn't knock her head. She wore a plaid shirt, a pair of overalls, a straw hat, and a net around her tail. "Hi, my lord!" she called, waving. Then she ducked back into the car and came out with a suitcase that, for anyone else, would have been a small trunk.
"Jimmy, what in the world are you doing?" Ilsa demanded.
"This is the price," Jimmy replied. "Instead of charging me money he made me take these two and promise to look after them. I'm not allowed to sell them, give them away, or let them be taken. I can manumit them if I want but I still have to make sure no one else gets ahold of them."
"For how long?" Ilsa demanded.
"Until the professor comes for them."
Ilsa gritted her teeth. "I should have known," she growled. After everything that happened there's no way Tenshiki would let it be easy.
"Hey, you're the fellow with the milk vixen, ain't'cha?" one of the express agents said while Jimmy signed for Jaquetta and her luggage.
"Uh, yeah," Jimmy admitted hesitantly.
"Going for a set?" the agent inquired, grinning. His colleagues chuckled.
"Something like that," Jimmy replied woodenly. He tore off his receipt and marched out without a word. Ilsa, Jilly, and Jaquetta fell in behind him.
"You two in back," Jimmy said, pointing at the truck's bed while climbing into the cab. Jaquetta sat down and lifted Jilly up, arranging bits of luggage around them. Ilsa's truck had better suspension that Jimmy's and wasn't already loaded but nevertheless the rear end sagged quite a bit. Ilsa switched on the fuel cell and pulled out, driving carefully because of the weight in back. Just great, Jimmy though glumly as they headed out of town. Along the streets he saw people pointing and taking. A few more and I'll be ready to open a side show.
"What did he give you for Frederick?" Ilsa asked.
Jimmy fished around in his pocket. He pulled out two bottles and dropped them on the seat.
"Did he say anything?" Ilsa continued.
"Only that you'd know what to do," Jimmy replied.
Ilsa bit her lip. "Jimmy-"
"Ilsa, I appreciate your concern, I really do," Jimmy interrupted. "But... I'm really not ready to talk about it right now, if that's okay."
"All right," Ilsa sighed. The journey continued in silence.
When they entered the barn yard Carty didn't appear until Jimmy called. Jimmy couldn't blame him, really, but it annoyed him nonetheless. "Carty, while I was away I picked up a couple more hands," he announced. "These are Jaquetta and Jilly. Ladies, this is Carty, one of my hands. When Doc lets Jimbo go you'll meet him, too. Right now-" he stopped, looking around. "Damn, damn, damn," he muttered, turning in a complete circle. "Carty, put Jaquetta in Alysa's room for the moment. We'll work out a permanent place for her later. Jilly-" he picked at his lip. Putting her in the field worker's shack didn't seem right. "Do you mind sharing with Jaquetta for now?"
"Not at all, my lord," Jilly replied.
"Good." Jimmy nodded. "We'll figure something out eventually. Partition the barn or something, I don't know." He scrubbed his face. "Either of you know how to cook?"
"I do," Jilly replied.
"Then go to the pantry and whip something up," Jimmy instructed. "No meat for Carty, remember."
"And for you, my lord?"
"Whatever." Jimmy threw up his hands. "Ilsa, you're welcome to stay if you like but I need to go lay down for a bit." He hurried into the house.
"I've things to do in any case," Ilsa said to no one in particular. She took a step after Jimmy but hesitated. She did have things to do. But there was something very wrong with Jimmy, of that there could be no possible doubt. Have to see to it later, she decided. "Afternoon all," she said aloud, climbed back into her truck, and drove away.
Red, Dirty Face, and a number of others clustered around to watch while Ilsa loaded a syringe with the contents of the first bottle and injected it into Frederick's arm. "Jus' like that, huh?" Dirty Face mused.
"This is just pouring the moonshine into your glass and having a drink," Ilsa responded, loading the contents of the second bottle into another syringe. "A lot has to happen before you get there." This shot went into Frederick's other arm.
"Don' it, tho," Dirty Face agreed, nodding.
"What happens now?" Frederick wanted to know.
"It'll take a few days for the change to happen," Ilsa replied. "You may get sick, like you've got the flu. Fever, can't keep things down, the runs. If that happens drink lots of water and only eat things that are easy to digest, like crackers without salt. No milk, no meat, nothing with fat. No butter, milk, or anything with oil in it." She put the last of her tools away, looking around at the faces watching her. "I wouldn't suggest drawing some of his blood and injecting it into yourselves. Do that and you'll die in horrible agony."
"What do I do when it's over?" Frederick asked.
"Turn yourself in," Ilsa said. "Make sure it's to Sheriff Harrington directly, not one of his deputies."
"And then?" Frederick persisted.
"Pray," Ilsa replied, climbing into the truck's cab.
"I don't suppose I have any choice about this," Frederick commented as Ilsa's truck vanished down the trail.
"Nope," Dirty Face replied cheerily. "Mebbe you get hanged, mebbe you spends de rest of your life makin' love to dat sexy vixen."
Frederick rubbed his chin. "Well, since you put it that way..."
Sheriff Harrington paused with his foot on the top step of the sheriff's office and looked over his shoulder. An ancient, unbelievably dilapidated truck came rattling down the street; it seemed in imminent danger of disintegrating on the spot. Nevertheless it arrived intact in front of the building. Two bloodhound Morphs rode in back with a wrapped bundle between them.
"Hey, Sheriff!" Dirty Face leaned out of the cab and waved. This wasn't hard since the truck didn't have any doors. "There a bounty for dis critter here?" The bloodhounds uncovered the bundle revealing Frederick, bound and gagged.
"'Fraid not," Sheriff Harrington replied.
"Aw, nuts." Dirty Face gestured; the bloodhounds dumped Frederick on the ground. "Good day t'you, Mister Law!" he called, swung his truck around and drove away.
"Well, well," Sheriff Harrington commented, coming back down the stairs. "You got here just in time. Judge Burkhardt will be through tomorrow. I'm sure I can persuade him to stop for a trial." He frowned. "What in the world is wrong with your pants, laddie?"
"...and then I ran away," Joe-Bob concluded. "I know it wasn't right, Your Honor, but I was scared."
Josiah nodded fractionally. Joe-Bob had repeated, almost word for word, the story they'd agreed upon in his cell.
"Is that all?" Judge Burkhardt inquired, looking up and adjusting his glasses. He was of a similar age as Josiah; he even wore his hair in the same style. But where Josiah Holiday was quite robustly built, Clarence Burkhardt was skinny as a rail. It was sometimes said that the judge, in his flowing black robe, could earn extra money standing in fields to scare away crows. But not in any place where the judge might possibly overhear.
"Yes, Your Honor," Joe-Bob replied.
Judge Burkhardt scanned the crowd. A lot of people had shown up but that was only to be expected for a murder. "Does anyone else have anything to say?" No one spoke, so he arranged his notes. There'd been quite a bit of testimony; Frederick, Alysa, Jimmy, Carty, Ilsa, Josiah, Penn, and Red had all had their say. "Very well then," he announced. "I'm prepared to deliver judgment. The defendants will rise." Joe-Bob, Alysa, and Frederick dutifully stood up. Fortunately the courtroom, which was actually a conference room in the town hall, had a high ceiling. "Alysa and Frederick, on the charge of murder this court finds you not guilty." A wave of angry protest swept the gallery; the judge drove it down by hammering mercilessly with his gavel. "Order in the court!" he bellowed, in a remarkably strong voice considering his lean frame. "They defended themselves and their employer's property from a gang of armed yahoos who were there to steal Mr. MacGregor's property and who tried to kill one of his hands. That Alysa'd been manumitted beforehand makes no matter; they didn't know that when they went to take her and I seriously doubt they'd have cared if they did. That Jimbo didn't die makes no matter either; they weren't trying to be gentle with him. You oughta be ashamed of yourselves for wasting my time with this." He turned the full weight of his scorn upon the crowd, which at least had the decency to look suitably abashed. "Now let's get on with this so we can all go home and get some real work done. Joe-Bob Crass, you may not have done anything but you should have known better than to get involved with something like that. This court finds you guilty of trespassing, flight to escape justice, and being an accessory to kidnapping with violence. You are hereby sentenced to twenty lashes with the cane."
"What?" Joe-Bob screamed, lunging forward. Three of Sheriff Harrington's deputies hauled him back. "You're letting them off and convicting me? She attacked me God damn it!"
"Silence!" the judge roared. "For that I'm adding five lashes to your sentence for contempt of court," he declared icily. "But let it not be said I won't give a man his say." He crossed his arms, leaning forward on the desk that served as his bench. "Who do you say attacked you?"
"Alysa," Joe-Bob replied.
Joe-Bob drew a breath but froze before it came out in words. Through his righteous anger realization had struck: that, to prove his case against Alysa he'd have to explain how she'd caught him, forced him to strip, and do... all those things. Right here, in front of the judge and what looked like nearly everyone in Brooks county. And what if it didn't get him off? Getting caned wouldn't be a picnic but it happened to lots of people. Him and Alysa, though... that was the sort of story people would be telling long after the both of them were dead and buried. Joe-Bob swallowed, his face ashen. "I- I'm sorry, Your Honor," he mumbled. "I- I spoke out of turn."
"That you did," the judge replied. "And you used the Lord's name in vain in my courtroom." His eyes narrowed. "Fortunately for you, it's not my duty to enforce God's law. I'll leave that in Pastor Hendricks' capable hands and be satisfied with the punishment you've already earned for challenging the dignity and authority of this court." He gave Joe-Bob a long, hard look. "If you've nothing else to say, this court is now adjourned." He rapped his gavel.
The Brooks town hall had a portico supported by elegant Corinthian columns. They were made of wood covered with paint mixed with sand to give them the appearance of stone but nevertheless the community was quite proud of them. After leaving the building Jimmy slumped against one of them, clawing repeatedly at his face.
"Jimmy?" Ilsa asked worriedly, hurrying up. "What's wrong? You won. We can finally put this whole mess behind us and get back to- to-"
"Were you about to say normal?"" Jimmy inquired. "Let me tell you something about that, Ilsa. I now have a milk vixen who lays eggs, a milk skunk who secretes nectar, a Morph milking machine, and a farm hand whose job is to have sex with them." He turned around. "Don't talk to me about normal! That word doesn't exist for me anymore." Then his gaze shifted and he turned his head. "Frederick," he began, "Why in the world are you walking like that?"
"Pants are too tight," Frederick replied, tugging at them.
All at once several memories slotted into pace. His face turned ashen and he emitted a strangled sound.
"Jimmy?" Now Ilsa sounded really worried. "Are you okay? What's wrong?"
Jimmy waved Ilsa away and forced himself to breathe deeply. "Everyone into the truck," he ordered hoarsely. Alysa, Carty, and Frederick climbed onto the bed; Ilsa joined him in the cab. They rode in silence, with Ilsa staring quizzically at Jimmy, until they'd left town. "Ilsa," he said, "When I came back from Mazama I gave you two bottles, didn't I?"
"Yes." Ilsa nodded.
Jimmy sighed. "Only one of them was, was it. The other... was something the Professor said I should use to explain why I'd come to see him if anyone asked."
Ilsa frowned. "What was it?"
Jimmy grimaced. "He said it was something to make your- I mean- to make a fellow's, um, private parts bigger."
Ilsa blinked. Her mouth quirked up into a smile, then a grin. She clapped her hands over her mouth in an effort not to laugh, with minimal success. She gulped and whooped while her shoulder shook. "I think- I think- he's gonna need it!" she managed, then gave up all pretense of control and doubled up, shrieking with laughter.
Jimmy stared at Ilsa for a moment, then felt the corners of his mouth turn up. Aw, what the Hell; it was funny if you looked at it the right way. Besides, after everything, he figured he could use a good laugh.