Love and Livestock
by John R. Plunkett
Professor Kasegawa whistled cheerily as he left the breakfast nook and moved into his office. One nice thing about working from home was a very easy commute. The corollary, though, was that one was always at work. Tenshiki didn't mind, though; he enjoyed his work immensely. When, that is to say, there was any of it to do. He opened his appointment book and studied the pristine, unmarked pages. "Any new appointments, Mellie?" he called.
"No, Doctor," Melisende responded from the kitchen.
The professor sighed heavily, flipping through page after page of empty days. Well, he'd known it would come to this. Big Jake Yasperson wasn't the sort whose friendship one discarded lightly. Since Tenshiki refused to accept Big Jake's gracious offers Big Jake clearly felt obligated to starve the professor into submission. Sadly, Big Jake wasn't exaggerating when he said he could get to just about any one by appealing to his well-placed friends. These days, Flesh for Fantasy Bodsculpting's only business came from the very occasional walk-in and the usual under-the-table stuff. There were always Morphs looking to flee their masters, escaped convicts wishing to change their appearances, murderers wishing to dispose of inconvenient corpses, and criminals of all types needing to distance themselves from potentially embarrassing forensic evidence. The work paid well if one could get it, but doing so wasn't exactly a matter of merely hanging out a shingle. And even there Big Jake had a great deal of influence.
Mr. Yasperson would no doubt have been glad to hear that his plan was succeeding admirably. Despite the occasional job he'd managed to scrounge, Professor Kasegawa was sinking, slowly but inevitably, into debt. Just yesterday the Society of Gene Engineers had sent him a letter informing him that a lien had been filed against his license, the first step to having him disbarred and repossessing his engineering plant. Which wasn't the end of the world, however grim it sounded. He had enough money socked away to keep him going for a while... and with clever lawyering he could stall his doom for months. He'd lose in the end, of course... but by then he'd have done what needed doing, and his current legal problems wouldn't matter anymore. One way or another.
Far above the professor's head, on the roof of his townhouse, a pigeon landed. It strutted over to a roof vent and pecked a lever which caused the vent to open. Then it hopped in a slid down the pipe. It landed with a squawk in a cage hanging from one end of the Professor's bookcase. In case no one happened to be present, a bell chimed.
The professor glanced at the cage and removed what appeared to be a darkroom developing tray from a bottom drawer of his desk. He filled it with liquid from several small bottles and placed in it a sheet of thick paper, like parchment or vellum. With the paper thoroughly wet he retrieved the pigeon and drew a small amount of blood from its body with a syringe. Despite this treatment the bird stood quietly and watched, with apparent interest, while the professor squirted the blood into the tray and stirred it with a small metal spoon. After a few minutes words faded slowly into existence on the paper, just as an image might slowly appear on a photographic print being developed. Tenshiki lifted the page out of the liquid with a pair of tongs and read the words. He frowned, then sighed. He dropped the page back in the liquid and added the contents of yet another bottle. The words faded out. "Mellie!" he called.
Melisende appeared in the doorway. "Yes, Doctor?"
"Feed this to the plant," he said, encompassing the tray, bottles, and bird with a single brusque gesture.
"Something wrong?" Mellie ventured as he gathered up the items.
"You could say that." The professor massaged his temples. "Mr. MacGregor purchased a forged certificate of manumission for Alysa."
Melisende almost dropped the tray. "But- why? I mean- I thought you said she had a legal one?"
"She does," the professor replied. "It seems that Jimmy purchased a forged one, then immediately applied for a real one. Anyone doing a casual audit wouldn't notice anything amiss unless they examined the dates very carefully. Which is why it took Big Jake this long to find out about it."
Mellie gulped. "What do we do?"
"We push up the timetable," Tenshiki replied. "It's either that or lose them all. Big Jake will have Jimmy convicted of forging a Certificate of Manumission. The state will seize his assets and Big Jake will arrange through one of his clients to purchase them at the public auction. For the rest, he'll argue to have their manumissions overturned."
"But- but- the Mighty Gorgon isn't ready yet!" Melisende exclaimed.
"It's ready enough," the professor replied. "All we're doing is stalling for time. We knew it would run out sooner or later. It turned out to be sooner rather than later." He brought a medical bag out from under his desk. Out of it he drew a vial and a syringe.
Melisende watched while Professor Kasegawa tied a rubber tourniquet around his arm and prepared to give himself an injection. Suddenly she hurled the tray; it spun through the air, discharging its contents in a fan-shaped spray. The empty tray didn't have much weight but it struck the professor's face hard enough to stun him. Melisende bounded across the desk and took him down with a chop to the neck. He slumped bonelessly in his chair.
"I'm so sorry, Tenshiki," Melisende whispered, securing the tourniquet around her own arm and picking up the syringe. "I can't let you die. Even if I have to die in your place."
Sevi awoke with a start, gasping and clutching at the bed upon which she lay. Then she groaned, laying back and squeezing her eyes shut.
A moment later Professor Kasegawa entered the stables. He looked much older and more haggard than before. "I'm sorry, Sevi," he said. "I know you feel awful, but tonight's the night."
Sevi took several deep breaths, then pushed herself up to a sitting position. She blinked repeatedly; her eyes couldn't seem to focus on the same thing at the same time. "What-" she began.
"There isn't time for that now," the professor interrupted. "We have to go. Now."
Sevi sighed heavily. "Give me a sec." She reached for her face but her hand smacked into her nose. Since her head resembled that of a horse's her nose stuck pretty far out in front. Her eyes crossed as she tried looking at it. "But-" She looked at the professor, frowning. There was something... but that didn't matter, if this was indeed zero hour. There'd be time to work it out later. Or not, but if so she wouldn't be in a position to care. She swing her legs off the bed, then spent a moment studying them. Long and exquisitely shaped they were, etched with muscle and most attractively padded on the thighs and hips. In place of feet they terminated with cloven hooves, like a cow's. A wavy fetlock, like a goat's hung from each ankle. With one hand she explored her chin but no beard hung there, thank goodness. The hand too was masterfully made but powerful, and connected to a similarly crafted arm and shoulder. Looking straight down, Sevi observed that her chest also bulged, but not with muscle. Or, more accurately, not only with muscle. Her breasts were enormous. And there were four of them, a second pair just below the first, with large, pale pink nipples. But even that stood out against the dazzlingly white hair that covered the rest of her body.
Interesting, yes, but not pressingly important. Sevi put her feet under her and rose-
"Watch your head!" the professor warned.
Sevi froze, half up. Cautiously she lifted her head. The tip of her horn hit the roof. She grimaced and bent her head forward before getting the rest of her way to her feet. The horn added half a meter to her height, which was already around three hundred and forty centimeters. The stable ceiling wasn't that high.
"Your clothes are in here," the professor said, patting a cabinet. "Wash up, get dressed, and we'll go."
"Right." Sevi nodded. The gesture felt strange for reasons she couldn't quite grasp. Well, it didn't matter anyway. She bent forward to open the cabinet and a wisp of her mane fell across one eye. She brushed it back... and paused, noticing suddenly that the hairs were greasy and stringy. On the heels of that realization came another: she stank. Like- well, a horse. She shuffled into the wash stall, crouching low under the transom. Giving herself a thorough washing and brushing felt damn good. Getting the sweat and grit out of her coat enhanced it natural luster to the point where it seemed to glow. She didn't bother drying; her coat shed water well enough on its own. From the cabinet she drew a body stocking made of soft, supple, non-reflective material that was very dark gray instead of true black. She pulled it on; it fit like a second skin, covering her completely except her hooves, eyes, and horn. Black make up, made by mixing dye with water-based lubricant jelly, applied to the orbits of her eyes and her horn took care of them. Standard nail polish covered her hooves, though she used an emery board to take the shine off.
"Ready?" Professor Kasegawa returned. He wore a similar body suit, with boots and gloves, an equipment belt, and numerous cargo pockets.
"As ready as I'll ever be," Sevi replied.
"Your gear's in here." The professor led the way through a door into the back of the house. Sevi had to crawl through it. She found a 7.75mm heavy machine gun, on a tripod mount. Though it would take two strong men to carry the weapon it had a forestock and buttstock, just like an assault rifle. On the ground next to it lay an ammo box containing a fifty round linked belt. Sevi picked the weapon up one handed; without its tripod it didn't feel any heavier than an assault rifle would be to a normal person. She frowned slightly while stripping the lock mechanism and inspecting it; she was pretty sure she hadn't ever seen a weapon like this before but somehow she knew exactly what to do with it. This particular specimen seemed to be brand new; the mechanism was properly oiled and in perfect shape. She fed the belt into the loading gate and drew back the bolt; when she sent it home it took the first round perfectly, the loading claw holding the rest of the belt in place.
"Get in the truck, Sevi," the professor said.
"Right." The truck looked like an ice wagon on the outside but lacked any insulation on the inside. Sevi climbed in; the springs groaned under her weight. She sat against the front of the box, watching the professor out the open rear doors while he went to the back wall by the stem of the engineering plant, which resembled a gigantic tulip.
If asked why the plant was up against the wall instead of freestanding in the center of the room, as was typical in such installations, Professor Kasegawa would have said something about space limitations. Though if someone surveyed the block, they might have found that the wall here didn't align with the rear wall of the houses opposite. In fact there was a dead space between them.
Professor Kasegawa uncoiled a tendril from the side of the plant's stem and blew into it. The whole plant trembled. Dozens of pods suspended all around the plant opened, spilling hundreds of baseball-sized black spheres all over the floor. The professor hurried to the van, closed the rear doors, and climbed into the cab. The freight doors opened automatically, allowing him to drive into the stable without getting out. They closed behind him, and the stable doors opened. He exited onto the street; the stable doors closed behind him.
Some minutes later, once the erstwhile delivery van was well out of sight, the whole building shuddered. The false back wall bulged, then gave way with a crash. Something huge and dark moved through the hole, crushing black balls under its feet. They emitted puffs of vapor. At the cargo doors it paused, studying the obstacle. It put its head down and pushed; the doors popped out of their frame and fell over with a crash. A similar treatment dealt with the stable doors.
A few pedestrians, out in the early evening, saw what looked like a massively muscled bull emerge from Professor Kasegawa's stable. If, that is, any bull existed that stood just short of four meters tall at the shoulder. The enormous bull glanced left and right, as if orienting itself, then set off at a trot, ignoring the vehicles that frantically swerved out of its way. Proper bulls weren't covered with interlocked metal scales instead of hide and hair, and their eyes didn't glow Hellish red.
Suddenly the Professor's townhouse exploded with such ferocity that all the buildings adjacent to it collapsed and windows all along the street were shattered by the concussion. A gout of searingly bright flame erupted into the sky, fading quickly to malevolent black. Flaming debris rained out of the sky, starting a score of secondary fires. Not that it mattered; the remains of the Professor's townhouse burned with such intensity that all the buildings around it caught as well, fire walls notwithstanding.
Against the backdrop of fire and chaos, it is perhaps more understandable that a gigantic metal bull could trot through city streets without being remarked more than in passing. It didn't have far to go in any case, just to the edge of River Bend, the next borough over. Sensing its quarry near, the bull put its head down and broke into a run.
Two guards on duty outside the Stag Club felt the ground shaking and looked up in surprise. Earthquakes were not unknown, but still uncommon, around Mazama. In the distance they could a flickering glow from the fire Professor Kasegawa had started. Then they saw the Mighty Gorgon come around the corner and full speed, its hooves tearing up cobblestones as if they were dirt clots. One of them froze in shock. Neither were timid men; that sort didn't last long in Big Jake's organization. But facing down enemy foot soldiers wasn't the same as standing firm before this terrifying monstrosity, bearing down on them like a runway freight train. The second at least had the presence of mind to draw his gun and start firing. Not that it mattered; the bullets from his hand weapon skipped off the Mighty Gorgon's armored hide like raindrops. That was too much for both of them; they dove out of the way. Which was fortunate for them; the Gorgon weighed as much as a railway locomotive and had reached sixty kilometers per hour by the time it hit the facade.
People inside the building felt the ground shaking and, like the guards outside, thought it to be an earthquake. The doorman pulled back the view slit and peered out. What he saw made him wet his pants. He ran, but had only reached the bar when the entire front wall of the building exploded inward as if a bomb had gone off. People screamed, but their voices disappeared in the infinitely greater noise of shattering timber and brickwork. The Mighty Gorgon stumbled forward on its face and the floor, already damaged, buckled under its weight, dropping it into the basement. Only those who'd survived the terrible shrapnel storm were still screaming, but there were plenty of them. The Gorgon picked itself up and glanced around; with its feet on the basement floor its head was above the ceiling. It opened its mouth and a jet of metal enriched napalm spewed out. The rod of blazing liquid burned so brightly it looked white instead of yellow, and everything it touched burst into flame. Next the Gorgon reared back, slamming its horns into the floor above until it gave way and collapsed. Tilting its head back it hosed napalm into the second story until that too was ablaze, then struggled out of the wreckage and into the street.
Meanwhile, Sevi and Professor Kasegawa pulled up to the back of the building. Just as they got out the Gorgon hit the front. Sevi emerged holding he machine gun one handed, with the stock braced against her side, holding the belt with her left hand so it wouldn't jam. She sighted on a door, lit by a single forlorn looking bulb, and opened fire.
Big Jake didn't skimp on security. All the ground floor windows of his building had heavy bars over them and the doors were made of metal. Very solid, yes... but only against the sort of weapons a rival gang might employ: pistols, shotguns, sub-machine guns, and maybe rifles. The heavy machine gun hammered the lock to pieces in seconds. A blow of Sevi's hoof smashed the door open; the professor lobbed a grenade inside. Fortunately for the kitchen staff it was a flash bomb, designed to stun rather than kill. Nevertheless Sevi poured in a hail of fire as she squeezed through. Aimed high, so it tore up the walls and cabinets and sent flatware, pans, and canned goods flying everywhere but anyone with the sense to drop would be okay. These were just Big Jake's employees; she had no quarrel with them. She merely wanted them out of the way.
Professor Kasegawa used a hand grenade- a frag, this time- to blow open an interior security door at the back of the kitchen. It exposed a stairway leading up to Big Jake's private rooms. He dashed up, a gas bomb on his left hand, and automatic pistol in the right, outstretched before him. The door opened; he snapped off three rounds. One hit the wall and one hit the door but the third went through the gap; someone fell back with a cry. He popped the gas bomb's safety ring and lobbed it. It hit the door but ricocheted into the room just as the door slammed. He continued up, slapped blast putty on the door, tamped it with plastic bags filled with water, and lit the fuse. While it burned he hurried back down, put his fingers in his ears and opened his mouth as far as he could. The explosion nearly knocked him down from shock alone, but it also blew the door out of its frame. He dashed up, tendrils of gas curling past his legs. Upstairs he found that the gas had done its work; everyone in the room was sprawled senseless on the floor. Which wasn't a good thing; already he felt heat through the wall and could smell the fire. Big Jake himself lay face down half in and half out of his private elevator, which would have taken him to the escape tunnel leading out of the building. Tenshiki pulled a piece of paper out of his suit and placed it on Big Jake's rump, then slapped a syrette through it. Everyone else present got a syrette as well.
Big Jake's desk, a massive object constructed of solid oak, contained a hidden safe. Tenshiki tried the drawers but they were all locked. He looked up thoughtfully a Big Jake and his goons. A smile spread across his face. Big Jake wouldn't hesitate to use gene-engineering technology but he didn't trust it. Tenshiki ran to Big Jake and patted him down. In his coat pocket the professor found- among other things- a leather folder full of papers. He slipped the folder into one of his cargo pockets, then dragged Big Jake and all the goons into the elevator and sent it down. Killing them would be easier- and surely just, given what they'd done- but that wasn't the message Professor Kasegawa wanted to send. He paused at the security door, listening carefully. Gas flowing down should have taken care of anyone in the stairwell, but it paid to be careful. Hearing nothing suspicious he opened the door. Searing hot smoke boiled up; the fire was moving fast. The professor dropped and lizard crawled down the stairs. Smoke filled the kitchen except for thirty or so centimeters against the floor, which felt warm if not hot. The van was right where he'd left it; he scampered to it and climbed into the cab.
Where Tenshiki went upstairs, Sevi went down. Instead of waiting for the freight elevator she opened the gate and dropped down. Stepping out of the cage she found herself in what might be called a zoo. Cages along all four walls contained Morphs of every description. And not a few who defied description. some looked as if they'd been made from the parts of several different individuals. Others had extra body parts, including a few with more than one head. Still others had grotesquely oversized breasts, penises, and bellies.
None of the cages were locked. They weren't cells. Besides, it wasn't necessary. Where would any of these poor bastards go, other than to a freak show? Even then one of Big Jake's agents would recognize them and bring them back. Then there would be severe repercussions for the attempted escape. But this time- if Tenshiki had done his job- Big Jake and his flunkies would have more immediate problems. She opened a zipper in her crotch, baring her vulva. Something emerged from her vagina which resembled the head of a snake, except that it had no eyes and its scales were metallic purple. She hurried into the room, tore open the first cage, and grabbed the first Morph she could reach. As she hauled him out the snake-thing bit him on the thigh; it had fangs like a viper. "You're free! Now get the Hell out!" she screamed. He got the message, or at least he was sufficiently afraid of her to flee up the stairs. She set the machine gun down so she could use both hands and quickly worked her way through the all the cages.
"I'd like to run away," the last Morph said quietly. "But I can't."
"I see that," Sevi replied, fingering her chin. Her orders were specific: process all the Morphs and drive them out onto the street. She'd rather help them escape... but that wasn't possible. Except-
All along Sevi had felt that there were things she should remember but didn't. This particular Morph brought out those feelings even more strongly than ever. She hesitated a bit longer... but she was rapidly running out of time. She grabbed up the last Morph in one arm, her machine gun in the other, and hurried out.
There weren't any people milling on the street, as Sevi had more than half feared. Of course the Mighty Gorgon was sill rampaging about; surely even emotionally broken Morphs would see the value in fleeing for their lives, or at least taking cover. It also meant there wasn't anyone to notice when Sevi climbed into the back of the van with the last Morph in her arms like a baby. So she did that, leaving the machine gun laying the doorway. I wouldn't be of any use any more, one way or another.
"How'd everything go?" Tenshiki asked from the cab.
"Perfect," Sevi replied, settling against the bulkhead with the last Morph in her lap.
"Good." Tenshiki pulled off his hood and replaced it with a slouch cap. His gray suit could pass for a uniform in poor light, and it wasn't likely anyone would look closely at it. He started the van and drove away. There wasn't anyone to see; the Mighty Gorgon kept the police and firemen away as well as casual spectators. Even when there were they paid no attention to the van; if the firey destruction of the Stag Club didn't hold their attention then the Mighty Gorgon surely did.
Tenshiki drove right out of Mazama without attracting any attention. What was one more delivery van? He drove on, through the night, until false dawn lit the horizon.
"Mistress?" the last Morph asked quietly. "I... have to go to the bathroom."
The van wobbled as Tenshiki flinched violently. He looked over his shoulder, then realized that wasn't a smart thing to do while driving. He pulled off the road and stopped. "Sevi," he said sharply, "What the Hell did you do?"
"I brought her with me," Sevi replied, lifting the last Morph so Tenshiki could see her.
Tenshiki ground his teeth. "I don't have paperwork for her," he growled. "She'll be recognized! It'll jeopardize the plan! We can't do this!"
"Then we could always kill her and leave her body in the woods somewhere," Sevi replied, as if it were no matter at all.
Tenshiki bit his lip. Silence dragged on.
"Or you could let me off nearby and I'll walk to Mr. MacGregor's place," Sevi added. "I'll square it with him."
Tenshiki ground his teeth. Then he turned around and threw the van into motion. The choice was every bit as simple as Sevi said it was. He was even pretty sure Sevi would agree if he ordered her to kill the Morph. But he wouldn't give that order. Just as Sevi had known he wouldn't. He drove a little ways, then stopped again where he could pull the van into some trees. He got out, checked to make sure there wasn't anyone around, then opened the rear door and took the last Morph in his arms. He staggered a bit as he carried her into the bushes; despite her small size she was pretty heavy. "All right, do your thing," he grunted. She did, then he carried her back to the van.
"Is it true, Master?" the last Morph asked as Tenshiki handed her back to Sevi. "That I'm free?"
Tenshiki hesitated. There wasn't a simple answer to that question and there wasn't time to discuss it. "You're free of Big Jake, at least," he said.
"Thank you, Master. Even if you'd killed me and left me in the woods I would have been better off."
Tenshiki flinched. He closed the doors so he wouldn't have to meet the last Morph's eyes. He got back in the cab and drove on without a word.
"Wake up, Sevi."
Sevi's eyes snapped open. The last Morph still lay snuggled in her arms... and though she didn't remember doing it, the front of her suit was open, baring one of her breasts. The last Morph had the nipple in her mouth. A wave of intense emotion swept through her, bringing tears to her eyes. Whatever the cost might be down the road she was absolutely certain that, by rescuing this poor creature, she'd done the right thing.
"Here's your papers." Tenshiki handed back a folder. "And here's the list." He handed back Big Jake's folder. "And..." he grimaced. "Don't do anything to draw attention to yourself if you can help it."
"I know." Sevi nodded.
Tenshiki looked away, unable to meet Sevi's eyes. Was she starting to remember? Probably not, but she would eventually. "Listen, please," he whispered, his voice quavering and tears filling his eyes. "I... I know this won't make any sense now but it will later. I... I'm sorry things turned out this way. I... even think I understand why you wanted to this in the first place." He glanced at the last Morph. "But... I like to believe that God will forgive anyone if they inspire love... and I love you. I always have. More than anything." He stroked Sevi's cheek. "So much that I can't let you throw yourself away. You have... so much more good to do." He swallowed. "Remember this, Sevi. Promise me."
"I will," Sevi promised.
"I will too," the last Morph said. "If she forgets, I'll remind her."
Tenshiki nodded. "Thank you. Both of you." He sighed. "Now go. Time's up."
"Okay." Sevi set the last Morph aside and wriggled out of her suit.
"Here's a map," Tenshiki added, handing back a page he'd torn from his book. "We should be here. If you follow the stream you should reach Mr. MacGregor's place eventually."
"Thank you." Sevi took the map and studied it. Tenshiki opened the rear doors. Sevi climbed out, then retrieved he last Morph. The van was stopped on a gravel road; to its left a brook gurgled along in its stony bed.
"Goodbye, Sevi." Tenshiki took her hand and squeezed it. Then, after a a brief pause, tugged. "Come down here." Sevi knelt. Tenshiki kissed her tenderly on the nose. "And you..." he took the last Morph's hand. "There will be a time when you don't have to do this. When all Morphs can be free. I swear it."
The last Morph said nothing. She merely held Tenshiki's hand. He let go- reluctantly- and turned away. Tears burned his eyes and he felt sobs bubbling up in his throat. He got in the van and drove away.
Sevi rose to her feet. The feeling that there were things she should know and didn't hit her more strongly than ever. She pushed it aside; the mission wasn't over yet. Without her suit she didn't have any pockets and carrying the last Morph took one hand by itself. She handed the map to the last Morph, then inserted Big Jake's folder into her vagina. The other folder, her own, she carried in her hand. She slid carefully down the bank into the stream and rinsed away the black makeup. That done she started walking. If the professor was right about the map she had a long hike ahead of her.
Time passed. The sun climbed into the sky. Sevi wasn't particularly conscious of it; making sure she didn't spill herself by stepping on a loose stone required most of her attention.
"Mistress?" the last Morph asked.
"Yes?" Sevi replied.
"I'll have to lay my eggs soon."
Sevi nodded, scanning the banks. She waded on a ways, then stepped out on a fairly level spot and lay the last Morph on a bed of ferns. "How long will it take?"
"About half an hour to get them all, usually."
"All right." Sevi sat. She couldn't say that half an hour would make much difference at this point and a rest would be welcome. Then a thought came to her. "What's your name?"
"Pleased to meet you, Moira. I'm Sevi." Reflexively Sevi offered her right hand, then noted that it might not be convenient for Moira and offered her left instead. Moira took it and squeezed it briefly.
Moira was a rabbit Morph. Her pelt consisted of white and light gray patches in about equal measure. Sevi estimated her standing height at around 165 centimeters, which she could increase by another thirty or so centimeters with her ears. Her figure was full and voluptuous, almost but not quite pudgy. Her breasts were beyond enormous, each one being somewhat larger than her head. Nerveless they somehow stayed mostly round. Her nipples, in the center of pale pink aureolae, were nearly thumb sized. Her belly also protruded, as if she were about eight months pregnant. She might have trouble standing up, Sevi though- except that other factors rendered that a moot point. Moira's abundant thighs terminated with a pair of scarred, hairless stumps only a few centimeters below her crotch. She lacked a right arm, too; in its place a cluster of eight hairless tentacles, complete with suckers, sprouted from her shoulder. The skin on them seemed to be a mottle of earthy tones but Sevi noticed that the patterns changed slowly over time. Overall, the tentacles seemed to be somewhat longer than an actual arm would have been.
"Why did you save me, Mistress?" Moira asked.
"I'm not really sure," Sevi admitted. "It seemed important at the time."
"Oh." Moira's tone suggested nothing but mild curiosity.
A few minutes later Moira closed her eyes. Her labia parted and an egg popped out onto the bed of ferns. It looked exactly like a chicken egg, with a light brown shell. A minute later she laid another. And another. And another...
"How many are there, usually?" Sevi asked.
"Two dozen, most mornings," Moira replied as another egg came out. "Sometimes more, sometimes less."
"Hmm." Sevi rubbed her chin. That was a lot of eggs. A lot of energy, too. "Do you mind if I eat them?"
"No, go right ahead. That's what they're for."
"Thank you." Sevi picked one up and cracked it into her mouth. As each one emerged she ate it, setting the empty shells in a neat pile. The last few eggs, though, she set aside. "You should eat a couple yourself," she said.
Moira shook her head. "I don't need them. You do."
"All right." Sevi finished off the eggs and buried the shells.
"I need to drain my breasts too."
"No, I can wait."
"That's good." Sevi rubbed her tummy. "Two dozen egg are quite a mouthful, even for me. I'd rather let them settle a bit first." She relieved herself in the bushes, collected Moira, and resumed her march. Some time later- an hour or two, perhaps- she stopped again and propped Moira against a fallen log. While exploring the texture of Moira's breasts with her hand Sevi frowned. "Your breasts feel awfully tight. Let's get them drained now."
The relative sizes of the participants made the process difficult. In the end Sevi lay down on her belly. She caressed Moira's left breast to bring down the milk, then took the nipple into her mouth and sucked. Quite a bit of milk came out, even on the first draw. Sevi set a slow, steady pace; drinking too fast would fill her up and make travelling difficult. For that reason she spent only a few minutes at each breast, then resumed the march. Instead of draining Moira all at once she'd stop periodically for a drink. That would keep the pressure down and prevent Sevi from possibly getting ill.
The day wore on. "My breasts need to be drained too," Sevi said in the late afternoon, when she stopped for a rest. "Would you take care of that, Moira?"
"Okay," Moira replied. Sevi settled Moira in the crook of her arm and Moira got to work. In truth Sevi's breasts hadn't accumulated much milk at all. Certainly not enough to be uncomfortable. Fact was, she didn't like the idea of Moira giving so much and receiving nothing in return. Besides, feeding her like this made Sevi feel... warm inside.
After a time Moira slowed down. "I think that's enough for now," Sevi decided. "Let's be on our way." She shifted Moira to the crook of her arm and set out once more.
"Your milk tastes very good, Mistress," Moira said.
"I... I'd be happy to drink more, if it would help."
"It will." Sevi nodded. All at once she realized why doing that felt odd. Her long muzzle gave the gesture a certain momentum. She couldn't imagine why she'd noticed, though. Her face had always been like that. Hadn't it? "In fact, it would help a lot if you'd drink some more this evening."
Sevi frowned. "Moira, please don't call me mistress. I'm not your owner."
Several minutes passed. "What should I call you, M- ah..."
The M sound struck a resonance in Sevi's mind. There was a term with similar connotations that Moira might find comforting, without the negative ones Sevi didn't like. It even started with the same sound. "You could call me mother, if you like."
"I do like that," Moira whispered, snuggling her face against Sevi's shoulder and putting her arm around Sevi's neck. "Thank you, Mother."
Sevi shifted her grip so Moira faced in against her chest instead of out. It seemed to be what Moira wanted... and Sevi didn't want Moira to see her face just then. Being called mother had knocked something loose. Not a memory, exactly, but the sensation of one. Unfortunately, this shadow of memory suggested that Sevi was somehow responsible for Moira's condition. That hurt more than Sevi would have believed possible. Nevertheless she marched on. Whatever might have happened in the past had no bearing on the needs of the present. And one of them was that Moira needed a mother. Sevi shifted her papers to her other hand and gently stroked Moira's back. Being Moira's mother wasn't in the original plan, but it was a duty Sevi found herself looking forward to instead of merely needing to do. The suspicion of culpability only made it more important... and more of a joy, strangely enough. She knew that her mission, if successful, would undo a great many past evils, though she didn't understand how. Even so, the opportunity to undo one small, very personal evil meant more to her than all of it. "It's okay, baby," she said. "Everything will be all right now. I promise."
"Are we here?" Moira asked, because Sevi had stopped.
"No, but we're close," Sevi replied, looking at the map. It showed the stream intersecting a railroad track, with a pool on the upstream side. She'd just come upon a railroad crossing, and they were walking upstream, so if this were the right place there would be a pool on the other side. She looked left and right before climbing the embankment, less for safety's sake than security's. They'd come this far without being seen- or, at least, remarked- and she hoped to keep that up as long as possible.
The hoped-for pool lay exactly where the map said it should be. Sevi smiled; their journey was almost done. And a good thing too, given that dusk was nearly upon them. Still, as she waded into the pool Sevi paused once more. The water was deep and clear, the bed clean sand and gravel. She knelt and drank deeply, then cupped water in her hand for Moira. "Since we're so close I think we should clean up," Sevi announced, sitting down in the water with Moira on her lap. She ran her fingers through Moira's pelt and frowned; not only was there trail dust and sweat absorbed from Sevi's coat, there seemed to be quite a bit of detritus left over from the cells. Big Jake apparently hadn't worried overmuch about keeping her clean and groomed. Sevi did the best she could with only her hands, even checking the tentacles. Despite their slender construction they felt firm and muscular, with a possibly bony core. Some of the suckers were awfully dirty, though, especially up near the shoulder. Sevi washed them all, rubbing and massaging to get the worn-in grit out. During all this Sevi noted with interest that the tentacles took on a much broader range of colors, adding bright greens, yellows, and reds as well as rich purples and blues. Not only that but sometimes the skin would tense, sprouting a forest of knobby protrusions, then relax and smooth out. Sevi stroked them just to feel the changes in texture.
"You should wash too, Mother," Moira said, turning around in Sevi's lap. With the water supporting most of her body weight she could move on her own without so much difficulty. Her hand rubbed Sevi's belly while her tentacles snaked between and around Sevi's breasts. Sevi gasped; the tentacles felt like eight impossibly long, powerful tongues, licking and squeezing her breasts from all sides at once. The knobby skin protrusions enhanced the sensation considerably, like the prongs of a French tickler. The suckers felt like hundreds of tiny, ardently kissing mouths. Sevi lay back in the water, almost but not quite floating. It felt good to relax, surrendering to the sensation... and it would give Moira more access.
Moira took the hint. She turned back around so she faced Sevi's hips and leaned forward, anchoring herself with her arm around Sevi's thigh. Her tentacles slid between Sevi's legs, exploring her crotch. The tip of one caressed Sevi's labia, then parted them and reached inside. It drew out Big Jake's list and tucked it under Moira's arm. Then it entered Sevi once more... followed by another... and another... and another...
Sevi inhaled sharply through clenched teeth. Incredible as the sensation of the tentacles on her breasts had been, the sensation of them in her vagina was a hundred times more. Like tongues, fingers, and tickers all rolled into one. Then one of the tentacles found her anus, teasing it gently for a moment before tenderly penetrating. And it kept penetrating, sliding deeper and deeper into Sevi's rectum while the other tentacles squirmed inside her vagina like a nest of vipers. Moira stopped only when going any further would mean dunking her head, and without a break drew the tentacle back out. In and out, the cycle continued until hot, sticky pleasure filled Sevi's being the way magma filled a volcano. She threw her head back and her hands clawed at the stream bed, throwing up clouds of silt.
Moira seemed ready to have another go but Sevi gently dissuaded her. "We're almost home, darling," Sevi said gently. "Then we'll have time, I promise." She gave Moira a gentle kiss on the mouth then got to her feet, leaving Moira in the pool, and squeezed the water out of her coat with her hands. It didn't take long; her short, fine hair shed moisture easily. Doing Moira the same way took nearly as long, despite her smaller size; her longer, fluffier coat took more coaxing to give up the water soaking it. That done Sevi wadded up the map, thrust it into her vagina, and rubbed her clitoris until she felt another orgasm wash through her. After waiting a minute or two for good measure she squatted and expelled the map. Gray, fibrous mush dripped out of her vagina and into the stream, where it diffused as it floated away. A few splashes cleaned up some lingering traces and Sevi returned Big Jake's list to its hiding place. Libations complete she set out on the final leg of her journey.
At a place where the trees thinned Sevi left the stream and entered a field of soy beans. A road bordered the field's opposite edge, beyond which lay cluster of farm buildings that, presumably, belonged to Jimmy MacGregor. Near a gate leading to the road someone tinkered with an agricultural sprinkler. Sevi glanced around but saw no one else. She started forward. Just as she came up to the sprinkler the person working on it rose, wiping his face with a handkerchief. He was a powerfully built, middle aged horse Morph, dressed in comfortably worn, oft patched overalls. He turned toward the open took chest resting on the bed of a donkey parked nearby but caught sight of Sevi in the corner of his eyes and whirled, grabbing a heavy wrench. "Bloody Hell!" he exclaimed, raising the wrench threateningly. But as he looked Sevi up and down it sank slowly to his side. "Bloody Hell," he repeated, this time in a tone of awe.
"Good afternoon," Sevi began. "I'm Sevi, and this is Moira. Mr. MacGregor ordered us to boost his milk production, but we got lost along the way. Is this the right place?"
"Yes," the man replied distantly. His eyes kept roving over Sevi's body, from her head to her feet and back again. When his gaze dropped Sevi risked a glance at his crotch. His loose clothing made it hard to tell but she couldn't detect any reaction at all from his nether regions. Unless his tager was absolutely microscopic, he had to be a gelding.
"Could you tell me where to find him?" Sevi asked.
"Sure," the fellow replied. "I'll take you to him." He piled his tools on the donkey, his eyes never leaving Sevi. Even as he drove he kept glancing in her direction. She followed him across the road and into the yard of the complex across the way. "I'm Jimbo, by the way," he said suddenly.
"Pleased to meet you." Sevi gave Jimbo a friendly nod.
"Likewise." Jimbo's tone was polite but terrible pain showed in his eyes. He turned away and did not look at Sevi again as he went to the house.
"I need to put you down for a second," Sevi said to Moira, setting her on the ground. "Don't say anything until I tell you." She glanced around; they seemed to be alone in the barn yard. She nodded; that would make things much easier.
A few minutes later Jimmy came out, looking perplexed. He stopped in the doorway and looked Sevi up and down with in a very different way than had Jimbo. "Who the bloody Hell are you and what are you doing here?" he demanded suspiciously.
"I'm Sevi and this is Moira," Sevi explained, offering her papers. "Professor Kasegawa sent us."
"Look, I appreciate everything the professor's done, but I can't take any more of you," Jimmy replied. He ignored the papers but did step forward.
"I'm sorry to hear that," Sevi replied. She lunged, grabbing Jimmy's arm and head.
Jimmy tried to scream but Sevi's hand covered the whole lower half of his face. He struggled, also to no avail; Sevi's frame carried even more muscle than Alysa's. The snake-thing emerged from her vagina and bit him on the arm. He stopped struggling and his eyes turned glassy.
"You ordered us to expand your milk production," Sevi said. "Here's my papers. Moira doesn't have any right now but that's not a problem. They'll arrive later. Is all that clear?"
"Yes," Jimmy replied tonelessly after Sevi released his head.
"Good." Sevi set Jimmy back on his feet and snapped her fingers. He blinked, looking around as if he'd just woke up. He looked at Sevi as if he'd just noticed her... then nodded. "Well, you'll have to stay with Jaquetta until we get another room made up." He glanced at Moira and tried not to grimace. "I... guess she could stay in the house," he said doubtfully.
"Mother?" Moira exclaimed, glancing up fearfully.
"Yes, dear?" Sevi crouched to put herself closer to Moira's level.
"I'd like to stay with you," Moira replied. "If..." she looked down. "If I may."
"Of course you may." Sevi gathered Moira up in her arms. "Thank you very much. Mr. MacGregor," she added to Jimmy.
"You're welcome." He glanced at the papers in his hand, then watched Sevi cross the yard and enter the barn. He retreated inside with a shiver, reflecting that he should have known better than to expect the professor to send him normal Morphs.
Dr. Corin Bryce got to his feet before the aircraft came to a complete stop. He reached the door just as the flight attendant was opening it; he shouldered her aside and lowered the air stair himself. Three people waited on the ground.
"Doctor Bryce, allow me to say what an honor it is to have you in Mazama, and how grateful we are that you've come at such short notice," the oldest of the three began, stepping forward and reaching out his hand as if to shake.
"Yes, thank you," Dr. Bryce responded, ignoring the hand and giving only the briefest of nods. "Where are the Morphs?"
"We have about half of them at Skinner Heights Medical Center," the second oldest member of the trio put in.
"Half?" Dr. Bryce frowned. "Where are the rest?"
"Dr. Bryce, if there's anything you need from us-" the original speaker began.
"Yes, there is," Dr. Bryce cut in, his hard, gray eyes shifting like gun muzzles seeking a target. "You can keep silent until I require your input."
"The rest've been snapped up by various newspaper people and the Freedom Foundation," the second speaker supplied. "A few are still at large."
"How did these people get there before you did?" Dr. Bryce wanted to know.
"Someone tipped them off," the youngest of the three supplied.
"Take me to the Morphs," Dr. Bryce ordered.
The eldest of the three turned and waved; a limousine pulled up. He held the door for Dr. Bryce and the others.
"Who are you people?" Dr. Bryce inquired as the car worked its way through Mazama's late afternoon traffic.
"Tim Darlington, attorney general fro the province of Mazama," said the second oldest man.
"Gray Phipps, special assistant to Governor Tatem," the youngest put in.
"Ah, Dr. Herbert Astlee, president of the local chapter of the Society of Gene Engineers," the eldest supplied after a brief hesitation.
Dr. Bryce nodded. "I'm sure all you gentlemen know who I am." The others nodded. "Good, because I doubt if we have time for small talk."
"I'm sorry, Doctor, but I don't understand why this matter is so pressing," Mr. Phipps put in. "Surely this is just a spat between criminals? A gang war writ large?"
Dr. Bryce's lips compressed momentarily. He didn't care for the interruption any more than he had from Dr. Astlee, but Mr. Phipps represented not only the Governor but, by extension, the ruling party. Additionally, he was not Dr. Bryce's subordinate. "I was told that all the Morphs in question had been driven out into the streets," Dr. Bryce began. "Furthermore, they all had a gap in their recollection of about one hour, so none of them could remember how they got onto the street of why they went. Lastly, every one examined so far has had its ownership markers scrambled. Is this correct?"
"Yes," Mr. Darlington confirmed.
"Any reasonably competent gene engineer could manufacture RNA strings that would temporarily block short term memory," Dr. Bryce explained. "The subject wouldn't remember anything from the blocked period and wouldn't even realize he was being blocked. Essentially, if he noticed that he seemed to be forgetting things he would forget that, too. Altering a Morph's ownership tags isn't hard either. Doing it so that the change isn't obvious and can't be reversed is much more difficult... and can only be done with the use of an engineering plant whose copy protection controls have been cracked. Finally- and this is the reason I'm here in person- such work could only be done in the lab."
Mr. Phipps frowned. "Forgive me Doctor. I realize you'd just said something very important, but I'm not grasping it."
Dr. Astlee snorted. "Professor Kasegawa would have had to take each Morph to his lab and do the changes individually. Are we to assume that happened and Big Jake simply didn't notice? Or was the professor carrying his engineering plant around with him in his back pocket?"
"How small can an engineering plant be?" Mr. Darlington asked.
"There's no simple answer to that," Dr. Bryce responded. "The brain, which does the actual DNA sequencing, can't be less than about a liter and a half in volume. About as big as a reasonably sized honeydew melon. If you want it to live more than an hour or two it needs a metabolic engine. A body, in other words. The smallest possible self-sustaining one would be about the size of your chest, Mr. Phipps, and weigh around fifteen kilos. You'd have to feed it specially formulated, high-energy food. If you made it about twice as big you could equip it to consume ordinary food."
"It's possible, though?" Mr. Darlington inquired.
"Yes," Dr. Bryce replied. "Once he obtained a plant whose copy protection controls had been defeated, or defeated them himself, he could use it to create a portable plant capable of doing the things observed in this case."
"How, then, did he manage to build a war beast in his basement without anyone noticing?" Mr. Phipps wanted to know.
"Did he do any nano-engineering for Big Jake?" Dr. Bryce countered.
"Yes," Mr. Phipps replied, thoughtfully, rubbing his chin. "He built Bioroid love beasts as well as Morph ones."
Dr. Bryce nodded. "I can't see that getting a cracked nano-engineering plant would be any more difficult than getting a cracked gene engineering plant. He could use the gene plant to manufacture fuel for the nano plant, just as is done in legitimate nanotech factories."
"Building that much fuel would adversely affect his practice," Dr. Astlee put in. "And where would he get fuel for the gene plant?"
"Fuel?" An odd expression flicked across Mr. Darlington's face. "What sort of fuel would he need? Would home heating oil be of any use?"
"Not very efficient, but it would serve," Dr. Bryce responded. "Why?"
"Professor Kasegawa had a network of pipes under his whole block," Mr. Darlington explained. "It seems he was stealing heating oil from all his neighbors. I couldn't figure out why he'd want to do that. It seemed like a lot of trouble for a very minimal return."
"He'd need an awful lot of it," Dr. Astlee pointed out.
Mr. Darlington shrugged. "If it were me, I'd place orders under false names and have the oil delivered to one of my neighbors when I knew he'd be out. Then I'd slurp it up using my underground transfer system. If I were careful, spreading the orders over different companies and delivery addresses, I could accumulate a tremendous amount of fuel without anyone knowing I'd done it."
"There's still a matter of time," Dr. Astlee continued. "You don't throw a beast like that together overnight."
"Big Jake cut off his business because of a spat over some product," Mr. Darlington said. "For three odd months now Professor Kasegawa's practice has sat idle while Big Jake tried staving him into submission."
"Or not," Dr. Bryce put in.
"Or not," Mr. Darlington agreed with a nod. "Which means we have opportunity and a weapon. What is the motive?"
"The list," Mr. Phipps said.
"What exactly is this list, and why is it so important?" Dr. Bryce wanted to know.
The other three occupants of the limo glanced at one another. "Jake Yasperson got his start as a pimp," Mr. Phipps explained. "He diversified into drugs, nightclubs, massage parlors, and pay-by-the-hour hotels. His business really took off when he bailed Professor Kasegawa out of some financial difficulty and the Professor repaid him in trade, so to speak. Since then the cornerstone of the business has been that Big Jake provides custom made sex Morphs for any taste, regardless of how extreme or perverted. Needless to say his success made him a target, to those who wanted a bigger cut of the profits and also because he necessarily learned his customers' dark, dirty secrets. He started keeping a list of what he sold and to whom he sold it. Then, if anyone gave him trouble, he called up one of his 'loyal customers' and asked for a favor."
"I see." Dr. Bryce stroked his chin. "Whoever holds the list holds the power to destroy the reputations of whomever's on it. Who are all of West Mazama's most powerful and influential politicians, captains of industry, and religious leaders."
None of the other passengers confirmed Dr. Bryce's conjecture but they didn't refute it either. In fact, of the three only Mr. Phipps would meet the doctor's eyes squarely. Dr. Bryce nodded; he'd bet his last Tar that Dr. Astlee and Mr. Darlington were on the list. Mr. Phipps may or may not, but the Governor himself or someone very close to him would be.
"Still, this is all conjecture, unsupported by hard evidence," Dr. Bryce continued. He spoke to smooth ruffled feathers, not because he believed the words; he even used a soothing tone. "Once I've examined the Morphs you have in custody, a solution will no doubt present itself."
In due course the limousine arrived at Skinner Heights Medical Center. Despite coming to the emergency room entrance instead of the main one, a crowd of reporters surged out. Half a dozen policemen did what they could to clear a path through the press, which wasn't very much. Dr. Bryce forged ahead, using his briefcase as a cutwater; Mr. Darlington, Mr. Phipps, and Dr. Astlee struggled along as best they could in his wake.
"Are things really so bad here that you only have six officers here to watch the hospital?" Dr. Bryce demanded once he reached the safety of the foyer, pausing to smooth his rumpled suit.
"I'm afraid so," Mr. Darlington admitted. "There's officers investigating Professor Kasegawa's townhouse, Big Jake's headquarters, searching for the Morphs still at large, following the Professor's escape, keeping order while fire and rescue crews do their jobs... and guarding the top floor, where we're keeping the Morphs we've already found. The rest are watching the front door."
"I see." Dr. Bryce nodded. "Let's not waste time then."
An elevator whisked the four gentlemen to the top floor. The doors opened to reveal four officers in riot gear.
"Don't you have any Bioroid officers?" Dr. Bryce asked.
"There was an appropriation for it a few years back but the voters turned it down," Mr. Darlington responded. "The Morphs are in here, Dr. Bryce." He opened a door.
"Thank you." Dr. Bryce entered, finding himself in a moderately sized lounge. At present some thirty odd Morphs occupied it. Most were female and all of them, regardless of sex, stunningly attractive. Many had been... optimized. Or enhanced in various fanciful ways. All were naked; a few passed the time playing games or reading magazines and newspapers that had been left out but more than half had chosen to while away the hours by masturbating or engaging in more interactive sexual activity. All that stopped mid-motion when Dr. Bryce entered, and all eyes turned to him.
Dr. Bryce kept his expression carefully neutral as he opened his briefcase and set it on a table, drawing up a chair for himself. Having seen the back side of sixty, beautiful naked people didn't compel his interest like they once had. On top of that, he'd always preferred humans to Morphs as sexual partners. Finally, this lot was simply too strange. More like what he'd expect in a freak show rather than a cabaret or a brothel.
"You, come here," Dr Bryce commanded, selecting a member of the group more or less at random.
A fox and rabbit Morph responded to the summons, leaving behind two partners who promptly turned their attention to one another. Dr. Bryce wondered briefly whether to call the grouping a threesome or a foursome; the fox, on the left, and the rabbit, on the right, each had only half a body, divided vertically. The two halves had been joined together, forming a single new body with two separate heads sprouting from its shoulders. Nevertheless, both fox and rabbit had two complete arms and breasts. An extra pair of arms sprouted from the bottom edge of the pair's shared rib cage, and an extra pair of breasts attached just below the primary set. A single fox tail sprouted from their hips, ruddy orange on one side and silver gray on the other.
"Sit," Dr. Bryce instructed, indicating a chair. The pair did so, showing excellent dexterity and coordination. "Name?"
"Angelina," the rabbit said.
"Zora," the fox put in.
Dr. Bryce opened his briefcase. It was, in fact, a portable computer, with a keyboard in one half and a screen in the other. He took some notes, then started a voice recorder. "Tell me what happened last night."
"We were in the basement cells," Angelina began. "And then-" she glanced at Zora.
"Then we were on the street, running away," Zora chimed in. She sounded mildly perplexed.
"You don't know how you got out, or why you were running?" Dr. Bryce inquired.
Angelina and Zora both shook their heads. "No sir," Angelina replied.
"We were afraid of something," Zora added.
"But we couldn't remember what," Angelina said.
"Then the police picked us up and brought us here," Zora concluded.
"I see." Dr. Bryce opened a compartment to the right of the keyboard and removed an object with a slender, pistol grip handle that had a large, cylindrical head with a cone projecting from the front. A thick flex cord connected it to the computer. He swept the object over Angelina's and Zora's heads, torso, and limbs; as he did so a false color image of the girls' body appeared on the computer screen. "Give me your arm," he commanded; Zora extended hers. Dr. Bryce pressed the sensor against her bicep and pressed a switch with his thumb. The sensor emitted a quiet thock. Zora didn't even blink; the sampler used a battery of tiny, sharply focused force fields instead of physical needles. They stunned the nerves around where they penetrated, then cauterized the holes after drawing their samples. The subject hardly felt a thing and even a sophisticated unit like Dr. Bryce's would be hard pressed to locate the disruption.
If Professor Kasegawa had used a similar unit to introduce his mutagen into the girls' bloodstream,
to penetrate the skin and draw out a stunned the nerves around where its needle entered, handset with a thick plastic disk mounted to the top. It looked something like a microphone, even to being connected back to the computer by a thick flex cord, except that the head was large, cone-shaped protuberance activated the scanner built into his computer; the display changed to a false color image of Angelina's and Zora's shared chest. In response to Dr. Bryce's commands layers of flesh disappeared one by one, revealing the structure underneath. He spent a moment studying their heart and the blood vessels around it, all of which had been very competently redesigned to meet the needs to two separate heads. More from curiosity than anything else he followed the esophagus down from each mouth, finding that they both emptied into a shared stomach... which in turn connected to a second stomach. He didn't understand the reason for that until he noticed that the walls of the first stomach contained striated as well as smooth muscle. He drew a breath to ask Zora and Angelina a question but stopped himself, deciding that he really didn't care to know why someone would want a Morph capable of vomiting on command, to say nothing of having two heads, four arms, and four breasts. And at that, Zora and Angelina weren't even the strangest of the lot. "Hold still," he instructed, programming the scanner to conduct a full body examination. Some eight minutes later the scan concluded and Dr. Bryce reviewed the results. Contusions and abrasions, but no more than one would expect in someone who'd fled in panic from a confined area amidst a crowd of people. The worst of these were a bruise on the right big toe plus scrapes on the left knee and the heels of both upper hands. The pair had most likely tripped while running, skinning their hands and knee when they fell. Abrasion in the esophagi spoke of frequent vomiting, though that wasn't the danger it might have been since the first stomach produced only mucous, not acid. Abrasion and minor bruising in the vagina and anus spoke of frequent and sometimes violent penetration. And-
Dr. Bryce's eyes narrowed. Ignoring the keyboard, he manipulated the scanner by touching virtual controls on the screen itself. Beyond that Angelina and Zora were quite fit and healthy, as opposed to exotics who'd been designed by less competent or conscientious engineers.
Dr. Bryce's lips compressed into a line. The examination told him very little that he hadn't known already. "Give me your hand," he said. Angelina extended hers. Dr. Bryce pricked her thumb, squeezed a few drops of blood into a test strip, and fed it into a reader slot to the left of his computer's keyboard. The machine processed for a while, then produced an analysis of Angelina's and Zora's DNA. No obvious traces remained of the mutagen that had scrambled the pair's ownership markers and temporarily suppressed their memory. Gene fragments and metabolic by-products would remain for some time, but picking them out from the clutter of normal metabolic functions would require a much more complex and detailed analysis. It might even lie beyond the ability of the portable scanner; for this type of work one really needed an engineering plant.
"That will be all," Dr. Bryce said, giving Zora and Angelina a curt nod. "You may go. Have every one else line up and pass by me one at a time, presenting their right thumbs."
As each Morph filed past and offered a drop of blood to be sampled Dr. Bryce' expression hardened even more. This should have been done last night, when the evidence was still fresh. But it wasn't surprising that it hadn't. The hospital didn't have an engineering plant on site; it contracted out for all its gene work. Which would have meant trooping the sex menagerie past the mob of reporters waiting outside. As if this whole matter weren't sensational enough already. No one in West Mazama had anything like Dr. Bryce's portable scanner; the doctor himself had one only because he'd built it himself, and there weren't more than three or four other engineers in the whole country could have duplicated the process.
Once he'd received blood samples from every Morph and set his scanner to processing them Dr. Bryce returned to the hall, closing his briefcase and taking it with him. "Show me where big Jake is being kept," he said.
"Down here." Mr. Darlington led the way to the end of the hall and opened a door.
Big Jake lay on a bed, covered by a sweat, urine, and vomit stained sheet, restrained by leather straps across his chest, hips and legs. He writhed and thrashed like a snake with a gut ache, moaning constantly. Six others also occupied beds in this room, all in similar states of distress.
"What's wrong with them?" Mr. Darlington asked while Dr. Bryce drew blood samples and fed them into his scanner.
"They've all been injected with a mutagen that's making radical changes to their physiological structure," Dr. Bryce replied.
"What are they becoming?"
"Impossible to say without a more detailed analysis than I can perform right here and now." Dr. Bryce fed the last test strip into his scanner. "I need a place where I can work for an hour or two without being disturbed."
"In here." Mr. Darlington led Dr. Bryce to a lounge the police had appropriated for themselves. Mr. Darlington chased out the off-duty officers except for two he charged with keeping the doctor supplied with tea, donuts, and whatever other refreshments he required. That duty proved tedious; Dr. Bryce worked for two and a half hours non-stop, completely ignoring the drinks and pastries left out for him.
"Call in Mr. Darlington, Mr. Phipps, and Dr. Astlee, if you please," Dr Bryce said suddenly. The officers scrambled to comply.
"What is it?" Mr. Phipps demanded as he and the others took their seats.
"I'm 95% certain that Professor Kasegawa did in fact have some sort of portable engineering plant with him when he visited Mr. Yasperson's establishment," Dr. Bryce announced. "He used it to process the Morphs he drove out into the street. He may or may not have used it to create the mutagen infecting Big Jake and his lieutenants."
"Mutagen?" Mr. Darlington inquired.
"Yes." Dr. Bryce nodded. "Big Jake and his lieutenants all received the same mutagen."
"I didn't think that was possible," Mr. Phipps put in.
"Under certain circumstances it's possible to generate non-specific mutagens," Dr. Bryce explained. "Many mutagens designed to fight disease or perform certain bodily modifications don't have to be keyed. For example, if a person wants to be taller, have more muscles, or darken his or her skin, it's simply a matter of stimulating natural functions that are common to all members of the species. They generally aren't used in cosmetic engineering because precise control of the effect is difficult. Furthermore, if not designed and used very carefully, such mutagens can have serious side effects."
"What do you mean?" Mr. Phipps asked.
"Let's say I design a non-specific mutagen which causes a woman's breasts to grow," Dr. Bryce said. "What happens if a man takes it?"
For a few seconds no one spoke. "What does happen?" Mr. Darlington inquired.
"Is most cases, the man will merely grow breasts," Dr. Bryce responded. "In some cases, he may loose body hair and muscle mass. In others he may suffer from marked personality shifts, sexual dysfunction, and a high instance of prostate cancer later in life. Of necessity, non-specific mutagens make assumptions about the subject's physical and genetic structure. Given a system as complex and varied as the human body, where the outcome of any change can be profoundly affected by subtle variations in what came before, such assumptions are dangerous."
"If Big Jake and his buddies are, as you said, experiencing 'radical changes to their physiological structure,' what's the chance of them surviving?"
"I'd almost guarantee that all or most of them will," Dr Bryce responded.
"How can you be so sure?" Mr. Phipps challenged.
Dr. Bryce's eyes narrowed. "Because so long as Big Jake remains alive, the possibility exists that he might be able to tell us what happened to the list. If he dies- or forgets- his usefulness ends."
Mr. Darlington rubbed his chin. "Therefore we have to take care of him, keep him away from the reporters... and everyone else who wants the list."
"And while we're fighting amongst ourselves, Professor Kasegawa strolls off into the sunset," Mr. Phipps concluded.
"More to the point, I think that what's happening here is a fancy show designed to keep us from noticing something else," Dr. Bryce responded. He rose to his feet. "Gentlemen, you all know perfectly well that the nature of this case is such that none of you can effectively pursue it on your own. The press and special interest groups like the Freedom Foundation will be dogging your steps while fear and greed tear your organizations apart from within."
"Exactly what are we supposed to do about it?" Mr. Phipps demanded querulously.
"Leave it to me," Dr. Bryce replied. "I'm as close to a disinterested third party as any of you are likely to get. I have the resources to follow through, and to keep my activities out of the public eye."
"The governor isn't going to like that," Mr. Phipps muttered, crossing his arms.
Mr. Darlington bared his teeth, then ground them. "The longer we spend arguing, the greater the chance of the list ending up somewhere we'd really rather it didn't." His gaze settled on Dr. Bryce. "What do you plan to do with the list if and when you find it?"
"Destroy it," Dr. Bryce responded.
Mr. Darlington let out an angry hiss and surged to his feet. "Dr. Bryce-" he began hotly.
"Would you rather I sold it to the highest bidder?" Dr. Bryce cut in sharply. "Or kept it for myself? Even if I gave it to you, do you think you're strong enough to hang onto it? I shouldn't have to remind you that it's lust and short sighted greed that brought us all here in the first place. Every one of us has reasons to dislike the status quo. Are we really prepared for the consequences of casting it aside, especially knowing that the chances of things going against us is far greater than the chances of them going in our favor?" Calmly but very deliberately he met and briefly held the gaze of each person present. "Personally, I'm not inclined to risk everything I have on such a mad gamble. I've worked far too long and far too hard to get it."
Mr. Darlington's face tightened until it looked about ready to split. With an explosive but inarticulate curse he dropped back into his chair.
"What are we supposed to do while you investigate?" Mr. Phipps asked.
"What you've been doing," Dr. Bryce responded. "Keep up the investigation. Keep this lot under wraps. Hold enigmatic press conferences."
"Put on a big show so no one pays attention to what you're doing?" Mr. Darlington ventured.
Dr. Bryce nodded. "In a nutshell." He rose. "I need to return to the airport and confer with my staff."
"Right." Mr. Darlington scrubbed his face with one hand. "Would you take him, Phipps? I need to talk with my staff."
"I'd be happy to-" Dr. Astlee began.
"I'm sure, but I need you to hold our first press conference," Mr. Darlington interrupted, grinning like a shark. Dr. Astlee gulped, his face turning ashen.
A short time later found Mr. Phipps and Dr. Bryce in the back of Dr. Astlee's limousine, headed back to the airport. "We can't trust Dr. Astlee to keep quiet," Dr. Bryce said.
"Are you sure?" Mr. Phipps asked.
"Yes," Dr. Bryce responded. "He's the reason Professor Kasegawa had all that unlicensed equipment. Big Jake gave Dr. Astlee a free pass to the club in return for keeping the inspectors away. He'll spill his guts as soon as the heat comes on."
"What am I supposed to do about it?" Mr. Phipps wanted to know.
Dr Bryce snorted. "You didn't get to be the governor's aide without knowing your job. You know as well as I do what needs to be done."
At the airport Dr. Bryce left the limo and returned to his aircraft. "Button up," he told the flight attendant. She nodded and pulled the air stair up behind him. He walked briskly to his private lounge and sat. "Faust!" he shouted. "Bring me the scrambler!"
A door leading into the next cabin opened. The deck creaked as Faust crouched and scooted sideways through the opening. Even in the center of the cabin, though, he couldn't stand straight; the horns jutting from his head forced him to stoop. In his left hand he held a briefcase; a pair of handcuffs secured the handle to his wrist. He unlocked the cuffs with a key taken from a pouch hanging around his massive, Herculean torso and lay the briefcase on Dr. Bryce's lap.
Dr. Bryce opened the case. It contained a built-in computer, like his scanner, and a telephone handset. The doctor typed on the keyboard, then picked up the handset. A flashing red icon turned yellow when the call connected, but Dr. Bryce waited until it turned green, indicating that the scrambler had engaged, before speaking. "Good evening," he said pleasantly. "This is Dr. Corin Bryce, general secretary to the National Society of Gene Engineers. I'd like to speak with the President, please." Pause. "Yes, I understand that the President is a very busy man and I'm afraid I don't have an appointment. I'm calling about a matter that's come up rather suddenly." Another pause. "Let me ask you a question. Do you know how many of the President's supporters, contributors, and party bosses in West Mazama have purchased custom made sex Morphs? No? Would you like to find out by reading about it on the front page of the Mountain? Then let me talk to the President right now." The ghost of a smile flicked across Dr. Bryce's features. "Thank you," he most graciously concluded.
Partway through polishing a silver serving platter Rosalind found that she couldn't tell which side she'd done and which she hadn't. In fact, as she looked at the modest but tasteful selection on Jimmy MacGregor's sideboard she couldn't remember where she'd started. Every single piece had been polished until it practically glowed. The sideboard itself had received at least as thorough a treatment. The floor had been swept, mopped, waxed, and meticulously buffed. The curtains had been laundered, mended, ironed, and carefully re-hung. The dining room walls had been thoroughly scrubbed, the paint and plaster carefully retouched. The room couldn't have looked better on the day it had been made.
Which, was ironically, was part of the problem. Since the departure of his wife Jimmy hadn't used the dining room. Someone had dusted and swept it every so often- about twice a month- but that was all. Jilly had launched a major renovation but had to give it up when Jimmy discovered that she understood accounting. First he'd set her to cleaning up his own books; now she managed them and Mr. Hardesty's both. The pristine condition of the dining room was due almost entirely to Rosalind's efforts.
Now the job was finished. Strictly speaking it had been done yesterday. Which meant... there wasn't any more to do. Unless Jimmy decided to throw a fancy dinner party, which didn't seem likely. Rosalind returned the platter to its stand and wandered out into the hall. It too had been swept, mopped, and scrubbed. With so many people on the farm Rosalind would have expected there to be a lot more housework to do... but Jimbo and Carty, Alysa and Frederick, Jaquetta, and now Sevi and Moira all occupied separate quarters and looked after themselves. Only Jimmy, Jilly, Rosalind, and Avlar used the main house. Even then the living arrangements worked out more like those in a rooming house than a family; Jimmy and Jilly saw to their own spaces and contributed to the upkeep of joint areas. Which left Rosalind with only slightly more work than she'd done while she and Avlar lived alone. It had seemed like a lot when she also had her job at the cafe. Now-
Rosalind moved slowly down the hall and into the small bedroom she and Avlar shared. Housework by itself wasn't nearly enough to fill the long, empty hours of the day. Moreover, not even all the housework in the world could replace the social interaction she'd had at the cafe. She felt herself choking slowly on its absence, like she would in air too thin to breathe.
The only mirror in Rosalind's new room was a small handheld one. She took a seat on the bed and picked up the mirror, then set it down again without looking into it. She didn't need to be reminded what she looked like. At least she had clothes now; at present she wore a blue gingham caftan. Of necessity she'd made it herself, with some help from Jilly in taking measurements. It felt comfortable to wear but made her look, she felt, like a tent thrown over a pile of potato sacks. A bra would certainly help, and she felt confident enough in her sewing skills to make one. She'd roughed out a three-tiered design, where the shoulder strap attachments of the lower levels fastened to the chest bands of higher ones, and even devised a clever system of clasps that effectively divided the garment into three sections, allowing her to don and remove it without assistance. She hadn't started on it because materials weren't available; they'd have to be mail ordered. And... because undertaking the project underscored the permanence of her condition. It brought to mind visions of her doing all sorts of prosaic things: working at the cafe... visiting her parents... shopping at the general store... going to church-
Rosalind started. The voice had come from the hall. "Yes?" she called.
The door creaked open and Jimbo peeked in. "Sorry to bother you. If you aren't too busy, Sevi wondered if you'd mind spending some time with Moira."
"Oh... I suppose it's all right," Rosalind replied. Frankly, she felt uncomfortable associating with the love beasts... but now the need for companionship overrode her reluctance. Besides, she couldn't help wondering about Moira, and this meeting might give her the opportunity to ask.
"Shall I bring her in, then?" Jimbo asked.
"Ah... let's use the parlor," Rosalind decided. Her bedroom didn't have chairs; there wasn't room for them.
"Okay." Jimbo withdrew.
Rosalind glanced at herself and couldn't help noticing that cleaning and polishing had left her caftan somewhat the worse for wear. She shed it, gave herself a quick brush, and donned another, this one made from a light, pastel green fabric. After a moment's thought she gave her mane a once-over and secured it with a ribbon. Thusly made presentable, she came out into the parlor. She found Moira seated on the couch... and wearing not a stitch.
For several long seconds Rosalind stood, staring. Treating socially with naked people was not in her repertoire. Also, she couldn't help noticing how very, very large were Moira's breasts. They maintained a firmer, more rounded shape, but Rosalind guessed that their volume matched, or even possibility exceeded, that or her own. On an individual basis, of course, given that Moira had only two. The nipples also were markedly larger than Rosalind's, and set off from the white furred breasts by their pale pink color.
"Hi," Moira said, as if having a chat while naked were something she did every day.
"Hello," Rosalind managed. "Do... don't you have any clothes?"
"No ma'am," Moira replied, as if it were nothing at all.
"Do you-" Rosalind began, falling silent as her gaze shifted to the cluster of tentacles sprouting from Moira's right shoulder. They did not look well suited for needlework. In fact, they struck Rosalind as generally impractical. Because she'd been taught that staring was impolite she deliberately shifted her gaze... but found it settling on the stumps of Moira's thighs, just visible under the bulge of her tummy. The surgeon who'd dressed them had cut three triangular flaps of skin and stitched them together, leaving a very distinct, three-pointed scar. "Would you like something to drink?" Rosalind asked in a desperate attempt to set things off in a more positive direction.
"Yes please, ma'am," Moira replied.
"I'll get some tea." Rosalind retreated quickly into the kitchen. She closed the door, then took several deep breaths to restore her composure. Then she opened the cooler and pulled out the jug of nectar sweetened tea Frederick always kept there and poured two drinks. She'd never expected to meet someone more bizarre looking than herself, and certainly not so soon. Even more amazing was that Moira acted as if it was all completely normal and natural.
With both drinks and the pitcher on a tray Rosalind returned to the parlor. "Here you go," she said, automatically smiling as she set a glass in front of Moira.
"Thank you, ma'am." Moira waited until Rosalind sat and picked up her own glass before taking a drink. She used her left hand; the tentacles remained at her side.
"You previous master sent you all the way out here without any clothes at all?" Rosalind couldn't asking.
"He made you leave your clothes behind?" Rosalind frowned.
Rosalind thought for a moment. "Do you mean to say you never had clothes? Even before he sent you out here?"
"But-" Again Rosalind fell silent. She could imagine all too many reasons why Moira's former master would not have bothered giving her clothes. "Living out here must be quite a change from the big city."
Rosalind took a sip of tea, in part to mask her expression. Moira's two-word answers were beginning to grate on her nerves. "I've only been to the city a few times," she said. "It seemed terribly crowded and noisy, with people rushing every which way. It seemed like everyone in the city was always going somewhere else, and in a tearing hurry to get there." She took another sip. "What did you like the most about living there, Moira?"
"The music," Moira replied without hesitation.
"Tell me about it," Rosalind prompted.
Moira's expression turned distant. "Every night there'd be a jazz combo in the main hall," she began. "The stage was right above the cells, and the music came down through the floor." She smiled in fond remembrance. "I'd sit for hours and hours, just listening to it."
Rosalind couldn't help smiling. "Then let's see if we can do a little something to help you feel at home."
Jimmy had a radio but no phonograph. Rosalind switched it on; as it warmed up strains of twangy bluegrass swelled from the speaker. Rosalind grimaced; her parents listened to that but she preferred music with a bit more kick. She spun the dial, seeking one of the stations to which she and Avlar usually listened. The first wouldn't come in, and the second only sporadically, but the third came through loud and clear. She turned up the volume, filling the parlor with brassy trumpets and thumping basses.
"Thank you, ma'am, that's beautiful," Moira said. Tears welled up in her eyes.
"You're welcome, Moira." Rosalind felt her own eyes stinging. "I... I know what it's like to, to suddenly be away from what you know." She took a seat on the couch and took Moira's hand, putting her other arm around Moira's torso and drawing her close. "I... didn't expect to be here myself."
"Ma'am?" Moira asked after some time had passed.
"Is... does Master Jimmy like rabbit?"
"Well-" The question caught Rosalind completely off guard. "I don't know for certain but I've never seen him eat it. There's some bacon in the cooler, but other than that the only meat we have around here is chicken."
"Ah." Moira sounded very relieved. "The tentacles are okay, but it's not like having an arm." She wiggled the fingers on her remaining hand.
Rosalind blinked. The exchange made absolutely no sense to her. "I'm sorry, Moira, I don't understand. What does Jimmy liking rabbit have to do with your tentacles?"
"Oh, that's what happened to my legs and arm," Moira explained as if talking about the weather. "My former master cut them off and ate them. He liked it so much he wanted to keep doing it, so he had his engineer design a way they'd grow back after he cut them off. It worked-" shi wiggled her tentacles- "but not exactly like he expected."
"Is... this something people do in the city?" Rosalind managed after a lengthy pause. In venturing into any urban area she worried about the usual things: getting lost, not being able to find a place to say, and being robbed, raped, or even abducted. That bits of her might wind up in someone's stew pot was a notion that hadn't ever occurred to her, and now that it had it bothered her more than all the others combined.
Moira shrugged. "I don't rightly know, ma'am. But Master Jake did have vore parties every now and then."
"What's a vore party?" Rosalind couldn't help asking, though she suspected that she'd really rather not know.
"When the guests arrive they're presented with a selection of girls to choose from, and invited to taste them to find one they like," Moira explained. "The girls that get picked are butchered and cooked. The ones that aren't do the serving."
"B- butchered?" Rosalind stammered.
"They have a kitchen set up right in the middle of the dining room," Moira continued. "Usually the cooks dismember the girl first and serve up her arms and legs as some kind of appetizer. If that goes over well they gut her and skin her for the main course. A couple times they had a surgeon come in so they could pull a girl's guts out without killing her."
"But- but-" Rosalind stammered, unable to form coherent speech in the face of such horror.
"Oh, they kill her in the end, of course," Moira went on. "But the guests complain if she dies too soon."
Rosalind said nothing because she didn't trust herself to speak calmly or civilly. If she let her mouth open it would spew forth a stream of blistering obscenities that would surely strip the paint right off the walls. Yes, it was true that an owner of Morphs had the legal right to do with them as he chose, just as he did with any other property. Nor did the law stipulate any exceptions, other than general ones stating that an owner could not instruct his Morphs to do anything illegal, nor allow it through oversight. Nor could a person, deliberately or by oversight, keep Morphs in such a fashion as to constitute a threat to the safety and well being of others. To Rosalind's admittedly untrained eye, it appeared that, so long as the girls were healthy and free of disease, and the butchers and cooks observed proper food-handling procedures, it was all quite legal. Which did not, even for the tiniest possible fraction of a second, mean that she had to like it.
Hatred- that is, the deep seated, lasting kind, as opposed to short term anger- was not a thing that came easily to Rosalind. It grew best in hard, cold hearts, while hers was generally considered to be about as cold and hard as a toasted marshmallow. Furthermore, she disliked people who hated and had no wish to become one herself. But even a marshmallow could cook down into a lump of caramelized sugar. For Moira's former master, and the people who came to his obscene parties, Rosalind found reserves of hate she never imagined could have existed... and she didn't mind, not even one tiny bit. Quite happily- with pleasure, even- she gave them the entire lot.
"Would you like me to help you make a dress?" Rosalind asked softly. She didn't dare speak, or even think, about Moira's former master at that particular moment. If so she'd do something rash, like borrowing Jimmy's rifle and taking a trip to town.
"I wouldn't know where to start, ma'am," Moira admitted. "I've never done anything like that."
"Well then-" Rosalind hesitated. She'd expected as much; she'd phrased the question to politely side-step the issue. "Would you like to help me make you a dress?"
"I don't think I'd be much good at that either," Moira continued, now sounding really regretful.
"You'd do more good than you think," Rosalind said. "You could even learn to make your own clothes in time."
"Really?" Moira's eyes widened... and something glimmered faintly, deep inside. A ray of hope, perhaps? Then, as quickly as it came, it vanished. "Thank you, but I wouldn't want to upset Master Jimmy."
"And why ever would making you decent clothes upset him?" Rosalind snapped, anger at Moira's former master boiling up through her mind like miasmic swamp gas through mud. "If he is, you can be absolutely certain that I will set him right."
No sound came from Moira's mouth, but her face spoke volumes. She was terrified. Under the circumstances it didn't take a genius to figure out why... which only made Rosalind angrier. "Jimmy doesn't own me," she declared, firmly but softly, so as not to upset Moira any further. "I'm only here because-"
Moira looked up slowly. "Ma'am?" she tentatively prompted when Rosalind failed to continue after a lengthy pause.
Rosalind swallowed. She hadn't meant to explain about her situation, and now she had no choice. "I'm just-" she tried, but once again ran headlong into the thing which had stopped her before. She was here, at Jimmy's, because of her unfortunate transformation. More to the point, because she didn't want family, friends, and neighbors to see her unfortunate transformation. She couldn't abide them thinking of her as- as some sort of love beast. Like, oh, Alysa, or Jaquetta... or Moira, for instance. Now, looking into Moira's big, soft eyes, Rosalind saw the logical conclusion to that line of reasoning.
I don't want people that I like and respect to think that I'm like you.
"Oh, God," Rosalind whispered, clutching her hands to her face. Realizing that prejudice had taken root in her heart- without her even noticing- felt like taking a haymaker straight on the chin. Yet it paled to insignificance in light of the realization which came after it: that at the far end of that very line of thought lay Moira's former master and his obscene parties. The reason she used to explain hiding out at Jimmy's farm was nothing but a watered down version of the very same one used to justify murdering people like Moira as a form of entertainment. Then, as if all that weren't quite enough already, came a third realization, capping and completing the other two like a cherry on a sundae: that, but for having happened to encounter Moira at this precise moment, under these particular circumstances, she might have lived out the rest of her life without ever discovering the truth about her apparently innocent feelings.
When the shock finally wore off sufficiently to allow some semblance of rational thought Rosalind's first impulse was to apologize. To Moira, certainly, but more to the woman she'd always thought she was and whom she'd presented herself to others as being. That woman's heart was pure, not rotted by the killing touch of hypocrisy. When she opened her mouth what came out was not speech but her partially digested lunch. She managed to turn her head so as not to spray vomit all over Moira; instead it splashed on Jimmy's formerly spotless floor and all over the front of Rosalind's caftan.
"Oh, God!" Rosalind croaked, surging unsteadily to her feet, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. The room seemed to tilt and sway; her diaphragm spasmed again as her body struggled to rid itself of poisons that, unfortunately, were spiritual rather than physical. She ran for the bathroom; her foot slid on spilled vomit but somehow she managed not to fall. She fell to her knees in front of the toilet, though nothing more came up but gobs of mucous.
Rosalind turned her head slowly. Moira stood in the doorway, if that were the proper term for how she balanced on her stumps. Rosalind said nothing; stomach acid had stripped her vocal chords and shock had stripped her will.
Moira hesitated. Initiative was not a quality she'd been encouraged to develop. On the other hand, Rosalind had taken great steps to be friendly while others on the farm (except Mother, of course) mostly ignored Moira's existence. And things had changed. So far, the very worst day on Jimmy's farm was heaven compared to the very best in Big Jake's stable. Lastly, though she hesitated to admit it even to herself, Moira found Rosalind's soft, fleshy body and huge, supernumerary mammaries to be breathtakingly beautiful. In the end that, and Rosalind's pitiful expression, spurred Moira into action. She knew she'd never forgive herself for missing this opportunity, no matter how she suffered for taking it. She moved forward with an odd, waddling gait, rolling her hips so she could lift each stump in turn and maintaining her balance by gripping with her hand and tentacles anything which happened to be convenient. She'd seen legless people move by repeatedly sliding their hips but she couldn't do that; the interior design of her tentacles were such that they could squeeze and pull to great effect but they couldn't push. As such she couldn't use them as she would an arm, to lift her weight off of her rump.
Rosalind still said nothing, and offered no resistance, as Moira wet a cloth and wiped away the strands of mucous hanging from Rosalind's mouth. In part Rosalind's acquiescence came from lingering shock, but mostly it came from conscience. Refusing Moira's aid felt too much like straying back into the darkness she'd only just quit. Besides, at that moment Rosalind greatly appreciated being cared for. She did not object when Moira removed the caftan; she even aided the process. It was the logical thing to do, after all. Nor was it inappropriate for Moira to apply the wet cloth to Rosalind's bosom. The caftan had a wide neck; some of the mess had fallen directly on Rosalind's topmost breasts and even gotten into the cleavage. So when Moira lifted Rosalind's topmost breasts to clean between and beneath them Rosalind allowed that Moira was merely being thorough.
When Moira started on the second row Rosalind felt a twinge of unease. Only the outer portions of the lower breasts, where they'd pressed against the caftan, were directly affected, but Moira nevertheless reached between and beneath them just as she had for the top pair. Still, Rosalind let it happen; Moira's soft, gentle fingers evoked a very pleasant feeling in Rosalind's breasts. A voice in the back of her mind warned that such behavior wasn't seemly for two adult women, but Rosalind ignored it. For one, it was obvious that the social conventions of Moira's world were not those of Rosalind's; conscience squelched any objection based only on the matter of propriety. What could be the harm of showing a little tolerance? Clearly Moira had known little enough in her life.
When Moira put her hand around the end of one of Rosalind's breasts and squeezed gently Rosalind let out a shriek and surged back against the tub, clutching at the rim and hyperventilating. It wasn't Moira's actions that precipitated this reaction, however. It was that Rosalind's nipple discharged a stream of milky fluid. Rosalind stared down at herself in mute horror; fluid beaded on her nipple and a trail of drops showed starkly against the black aureola. "What-" Rosalind began. She'd started to say what did you do to me but bit it off when she looked up and saw the stark terror on Moira's face. Nevertheless the feeling that intimate contact with Moira had somehow infected her remained. She squeezed her eyes shut and took several deep breaths. That helped, at least somewhat. With much trepidation she put her hand on another breast and squeezed gently the way Moira had. That nipple also discharged a stream of what could only be milk. She felt an urge to test every breast in turn but suppressed it. She told herself it wouldn't make any difference, really. The truth was that she feared what such a test might reveal. "Moira," she said, struggling to keep her voice calm, "It it possible for a person to start... giving milk and not know it?"
"I- I'm sorry, ma'am, I don't understand," Moira whimpered, staring at the floor.
Rosalind started to reply, then grimaced. There was too much emotion in the air; she'd have to calm Moira down before getting any answers, and before that she'd have to calm herself down. She took a deep breath. "Moira, I'm not mad at you, I'm just... surprised. But I need some answers right now. Just- just wait here until I come back. I'll only be a moment, I promise." Rosalind got to her feet and left the bathroom without waiting for an answer. In her bedroom she went through her dresser but turned up only a nightgown. The caftan she'd puked all over had been her last clean outfit; not being able to wear any of her old clothing having to hand-make replacements had left her with a sparse wardrobe. She donned the nightgown, reasoning it to be better at least that going out naked, but immediately changed her mind. Moira's tender ministrations had left Rosalind's nipples in a prominently erect state; the gown's sheer material accented rather than hiding them. She wrapped a spare blanket around herself and peeked out the front door, praying fervently that Sevi wouldn't be the first person she saw. Explaining the situation to someone she couldn't help thinking of as Moira's mother was a prospect she didn't relish in the least. Her prayers were answers in that Sevi didn't appear. Neither did anyone else. Rosalind bit her lip; she didn't want to go out like this but there wasn't a choice. While she waited here Moira waited in the bathroom, cowering in fear of whatever fate might await her. Rosalind set her jaw and hurried to the barn; ignoring Moira's plight was something her former master would have done, and therefore something Rosalind would not.
Peeking into the barn, Rosalind hoped to see Alysa. She did not; she saw Frederick sitting at a table, carefully disassembling some kind of pipe and valve arrangement. She stepped back but he'd heard the door open and looked up. "Hey, Roz," he called. "What's up?"
Rosalind wanted to say she was looking for Alysa and leave it at that. But the press of time remained, and Alysa could be anywhere on the farm. She might even be with Jimmy, Jimbo, and/or Carty. Rosalind would then have to pose her delicate and sensitive questions in front of a very inappropriate audience. Even discounting that possibility she'd end up spending quite a bit of time out of doors in a state she couldn't help regarding as one of undress, despite being covered by a blanket. That Alysa and Jaquetta liked to work in the nude had gone all over the county; there were always rubberneckers hanging about, hoping to catch a glimpse. Compared to the prospect of being seen by those people, discussing her intimate, female issues with Frederick didn't seem so bad at all. "Ah, hello Frederick," Rosalind said, somewhat hesitantly, stepping into the barn and closing the door. "Do you know anything about... giving milk?"
"I've never done it myself," Frederick replied, using a small tool with a flat blade to prize an o-ring from its channel. "Still, I've picked up a few things from Alysa and Jaquetta. I'd be glad to tell you whatever I can."
Rosalind licked her lips. Now or never. "Is... is it possible for someone to start giving milk and not know it?"
Frederick looked up. Rosalind swallowed; she could see from his expression that he was reading between the lines and therefore discerning more about her situation than she would have liked. "On the whole, I'd say no," he pronounced. "Among humans, lactation only starts at the end of pregnancy, which is a hard thing to overlook. For us Morphs, you'd have to take a mutagen or-" he stopped, stroking his chin thoughtfully. "Let me rephrase that. I don't know that there's no way to make a woman start lactating without her knowing about it. There might be pills or something you could slip in her food. Assuming that's so, the onset of lactation would bring changes that are hard to miss. The breasts swell up and sometimes get sore. The nipples become more prominent and sometimes get very tender." He tapped his chin, his brow furrowed in thought. "Still, I can imagine all that slipping by if a woman were dealing with a bunch of other stuff at the same time. The specific symptoms could be lost in the shuffle, as it were."
"What causes the milk to come out?" Rosalind asked.
"Stimulation of the nipples," Frederick replied. "There's tiny sacs just behind the nipple where milk collects. Sucking action causes them to contract. Before that, though, the milk has to be let down. It's made by groups of little glands that connect to common ducts, like clusters of grapes on a vine. Normally milk stays in the glands."
"What makes it come down?"
"Stimulation of the breast. Stroking down from the base toward the nipple. Works best if you go all the way around, stroking every side. One circuit's usually enough for Alysa. She has a strong expression reflex, so all I have to do then is press gently, just behind the nipple, and milk spurts out on its own. When it comes in dribbles instead of streams it means there's no more. With Alysa I always start over once I've finished; unless she's sick I've never seen her let down less than twice, and more often than not she'll go three times."
"How long does it takes? To build up, I mean? To where it's ready to come out, that is?"
"Depends on the individual," Frederick responded. "Alysa can completely refill her bags in eight hours. It isn't instantaneous, if that's what you're wondering."
"Ah, thanks." Rosalind offered a somewhat anemic smile. "Bye!" She fled before Frederick could ask any embarrassing questions. On the way back to the house she thought intently on what she'd learned. Moira had done just as Frederick had described, even to applying pressure just behind the nipple. Rosalind wondered if Moira had known, or just hoped, but it hardly mattered either way. Nor, upon reflection, was there really any great mystery about how all this had come to pass. Thinking back, Rosalind remembered prattling to the gene engineer about Alysa and Jaquetta giving milk. She even remembered her breasts hurting, though against the general malaise of her transformation she hadn't thought anything of it.
A chilling thought brought Rosalind to a dead stop in the middle of the barnyard. Had she mentioned eggs or nectar while shooting off her mouth?
A moment later Rosalind started walking again. So far nothing unusual had come out of her vagina. It did seem that she produced significantly more lubricant while in the throes of passion, but nothing like Jaquetta and her nectar. Nor had Avlar remarked on any change in flavor. Rosalind hadn't noticed any change either, though in fairness she received her samples secondhand, from Avlar's penis, fingers, and mouth. Even if she did suddenly start laying eggs or expressing nectar, what was the point of worrying about it? She could have an analysis done but that would cost money, more than she and Avlar could reasonably afford with her income from the cafe cut off. Why bother spending all that money to find out if they couldn't do anything about it anyway? Reversing the changes would cost even more than the analysis.
In the bathroom doorway Rosalind paused once again. Moira seemed to have taken Rosalind's instructions literally; she did not appear to have stirred so much as a millimeter. Nor did she acknowledge Rosalind's presence in any way, though she must have sensed it. She remained as she was, hand and tentacles clasped before her, staring at the floor. Now Rosalind understood why she'd been so upset at the prospect of being thought of as a love beast: because, in her heart of hearts, she knew that she was one. She also realized that having a class she could look down on as lower than herself made her own servitude easier to bear. Being a freebirth might not be a picnic but at least I'm not a love beast. Never mind that only an accident of birth separated them, and a slim chance at that: far more Morphs end up sold into slavery than purchased by freebirth clans. Never mind also that to humans the distinction meant nothing at all. It mattered only that Rosalind could- in the privacy of her heart, at least- call herself a master instead of a slave. All it cost was that she number herself among those who killed and ate their Morphs as a form of entertainment.
In that moment Rosalind made a decision. She would do whatever it took to bring down the grotesque edifice of Morph slavery. Anything, no matter how small, to spite the self-proclaimed masters and chip away the foundation of their power. And she would start right here, right now. She took off her blanket and wrapped it around Moira's shoulders. Then she knelt and drew Moira into an embrace. "I'm not mad at you, I promise," she whispered into Moira's ear. "I promise also that nothing bad will happen to you because of all this. If it's anyone's fault it's mine." She stroked Moira's head and shoulders, rocking gently back and forth. "There is one thing, though. You mustn't call me 'ma'am'. I'm not a master. I'm not anyone's master." Her tone hardened; she couldn't help it. "Frankly, the very notion revolts and insults me. So... you must call me Rosalind. Because that's what friends call one another, isn't it?" She caressed Moira's cheek.
Through it all Moira didn't react in any way. She didn't resist but she didn't participate either. Then, quite suddenly, she started shaking. Rosalind tightened her grip, cooing softly. Moira clutched at Rosalind like a drowning swimmer clutching at a life preserver, sobs bursting from her despite a Herculean effort to hold them in. Rosalind continued her comforting ministrations, waiting patiently for the paroxysms to subside. "I'll teach you how to sew," she promised. "Together we'll make you a pretty dress, and a hat... and we'll work out an easier way for you to get around. There's a doctor in Harrisburg who fits false limbs for railroad workers who've had accidents and can't get regenerated for whatever reason. We'll go see him as soon as your first outfit is ready."
Moira sniffed, wiping her face with the back of her hand. Rosalind offered her a hanky from a stack next to the sink. Moira dabbed at her eyes then blew her nose. "But... why? Why would you do all this for me?"
"Because that's what friends do," Rosalind answered. "Being nice to people makes you feel warm inside."
"What about the people who... aren't nice?"
"They aren't warm inside," Rosalind declared. "They're cold, like ice. They don't have friends, either, and they aren't happy. They're mean because they're miserable, and they want everyone around them to be more miserable. They figure they're ahead because they hurt less."
"I wouldn't want to live like that," Moira whispered. "I'd rather be dead."
"And that, so far as I'm concerned, makes you a better person than the whole lot of them," Rosalind announced, hugging Moira firmly and stroking her back.
Moira put her face against Rosalind's neck and returned the embrace. Rosalind let it linger for a while, then gently broke away. "I'm sorry," she apologized. "I need to brush my teeth." She grimaced. "And clean up that mess in the parlor, too, for that matter."
Moira looked up hesitantly as Rosalind got to her feet. "May I... help you?"
Rosalind opened her mouth to speak but stopped herself before anything came out. She'd been about to say that she didn't need any help brushing her teeth. No doubt Moira was actually offering to help clean the parlor. Even so, Moira's physical constraints would likely make an already unpleasant job even more so, for her if not for Rosalind. Which was, Rosalind saw even as the thought crossed her mind, entirely beside the point, just as it had been when Rosalind offered to help Moira make clothes. "Why, thank you Moira, I'd love that," Rosalind said, smiling warmly. After brushing her teeth- and gargling twice, once before and once after- she offered her hand. Moira took it, using the support to help keep her balance while stumping along. She abandoned the blanket; Rosalind almost asked why but the reason was clear enough. For Moira, wearing it in such a way that she wouldn't trip on it would be extremely difficult. Rosalind kept her pace slow and steady so Moira could keep up.
"M... Rosalind?" Moira asked.
"Yes, Moira?" Rosalind kept her tone as gentle and encouraging as she could.
"Ah... you might want to take off your gown," Moira said. "So it doesn't get spoiled."
Rosalind looked down at herself and grimaced, imagining what stale vomit and dirty mop water would do to the delicate fabric. "That's a very good point, Moira, and I'm glad you mentioned it," she declared. Then she stopped dead in her tracks, realizing the implications. She'd have to work in the nude, since the gown was her last clean outfit. For an instant or two she dithered, then she released Moira's hand and removed the gown without any further hesitation. It had occurred to her that calling nakedness wrong, then forcing love beasts to go without clothing, was just another way of de-humanizing them, of emphasizing the distinction between superior and subjugated. Out of deference to Moira Rosalind would go naked herself rather than be dressed when Moira wasn't, and if anyone didn't like it, well, that was just too God damn bad. In point of fact, While she fetched a mop and some wash rags and filled the bucket Rosalind felt sufficiently bloody minded that she almost wished someone would come in and make a snide remark, just so she could take a strip out of them.
Rather to Rosalind's surprise, Moira handled herself quite well with the wash rags. "Sometimes I couldn't make it to the latrines, and had to clean up after myself," she said by way of explanation when she noticed Rosalind watching.
Rosalind's face tightened. To mask her reaction she glanced aside and rubbed her chin. In truth it didn't surprise her in the least to hear that Moira's former master didn't even care about her basic hygiene. Still, it brought up an important point. "How are you getting by here?" she asked.
"Mother carries me to the toilet," Moira replied.
"We will have to do something about that," Rosalind pronounced, thrusting the mop into the wringer with more than necessary force. "Mister Jimmy seems to be such a clever fellow, I'm sure he can work out something to make it possible for you to use the bathroom on your own."
"I wouldn't want to impose," Moira said.
Rosalind said nothing. The fear in Moira's voice made her vision blur red around the edges momentarily. "It won't be," Rosalind declared. "He built a bathroom for Alysa and Jaquetta, after all."
"But..." Moira looked down. "They're valuable employees."
Rosalind had to stand perfectly still, eyes squeezed shut, gripping the mop handle so tightly her hands trembled. If Moira had spoken sadly or resentfully... but she didn't. She spoke as if it were only natural that her basic needs be ignored because she wasn't a 'valuable employee.' Only when Rosalind was absolutely certain she had her voice firmly under control did she speak. "It doesn't have to be that way," she said quietly.
Moira's expression wasn't disbelieving. It was more as if Rosalind had said something in a language Moira didn't understand. The statement simply had no meaning to her.
"It's true, Moira," Rosalind insisted. "There will be a time when Morphs don't have to live this way." Her mouth fell open and her eyes widened. That she'd said it didn't surprise her nearly so much as realizing that she believed it. Never mind that what she spoke of was the destruction of an entire way of life, one that had been for all of recorded history. Never mind that Rosalind had no idea, and couldn't even begin to imagine, what sort of a world that time would bring. For the first time in her life, Rosalind saw the institution of Morph slavery not as a fact of nature, like the weather, but something built by human hands. And if human hands could build a thing-
Rosalind let go of the mop, gazing thoughtfully at her own hands. Her face might be that of an animal, but her hands were identical to a human's in every respect, except only for being covered with fur. They'd do just fine for tearing down what humans had built. Her expression of shock gave way to one of almost savage glee. She couldn't wait to get started.
"Don't you worry, Moira," Rosalind said gently, caressing Moira's cheek. "It'll happen. I promise. For starters, I'm going to free you and your mother."
"I don't know," Rosalind admitted. "But I will find a way. As sure as the sun rises."
Moira said nothing. But in her eyes... it was just the faintest glimmer, but nevertheless unmistakable. A ray of hope in a life that, until now, had been nothing but bleak despair. Seeing it made Rosalind's heart soar. It made worthwhile all the upset she'd endured, all the hardship yet to come. She grinned broadly and quickly finished mopping.
"Rosalind?" Moira asked as she finished touching up the area with her rag.
"Yes?" Rosalind wrung the mop one last time.
"Thank you for letting me help."
"It was my pleasure, Moira." Rosalind took the dirty rags and hung them over the side of the mop bucket.
"You need to wash yourself, too," Moira continued. "May I help?"
For a fraction of a second Rosalind hesitated. There were things that adult women shouldn't do. Bathing together might not specifically be one of them, but Rosalind suspected that she'd already crossed the line by letting Moira fondle her breasts. Then she noticed the hope and longing Moira eyes and felt her reservations crumble. "Why, thank you, Moira, I'd love that," she said, smiling warmly. Seeing the way Moira's face positively lit up with joy more than made up for any personal misgivings. In fact, Rosalind would have endured far more for that particular reward. And what more fitting way to thank Moira for that blessing than giving her the opportunity to experience it in turn? She took Moira's hand and walked her back to the bathroom.
In the bathroom Rosalind first closed and latched the door, then opened the taps in the bathtub. Once she had the water at a comfortable temperature she set a bottle of shampoo, a currycomb, and a bath brush within easy reach of the tub. "Do you need help getting in, Moira?" she asked.
Moira studied the tub. It was a double-ended cast iron clawfoot, with the taps mounted over one side. Easily large enough for two people, especially when one of them had no legs. "Yes, please," she said.
"Okay." Rosalind squatted then paused, debating with herself about how exactly she should proceed.
"Let me turn around and face you," Moira suggested. "Lift me under my rump, and I'll hold onto your shoulders."
"Good idea," Rosalind agreed. As she slipped her hands into place she couldn't help noticing two things, however. One, gripping Moira's buttocks put her hands in very close proximity to Moira's crotch. Two, being face to face like this crushed their breasts together. Once again Rosalind found herself thinking of the things adult women shouldn't do. She put the thought firmly out of her mind; it was much too late for misgivings. If she hadn't meant to follow through she shouldn't have agreed in the first place. Backing out now would do incalculable damage to hers and Moira's relationship. So she took a deep breath and lifted- using her legs, not her back- and lowered Moira into the water. "Can you think of anything we could do so you could get in on your own?" she inquired as she settled herself.
"Well..." Moira looked up and around. "My tentacles are plenty strong," she said, wiggling them in the air. "With them and my arm I can lift myself, but only by pulling myself up toward something above me. I can't push down against something below me."
Rosalind also looked up. "Maybe we could hang something from the ceiling for you to grab," she suggested. "I'll have a word with Jimmy about it." Seeing Moira's expression, Rosalind glared belligerently. "He will do something," she declared, "or I swear, I'll bite him until he does."
For a subjectively long time Moira simply stared, her expression gradually transforming from blank shock to dismay and fear. Then, just as Rosalind was about to speak some reassurance, Moira's eyes widened and she burst into a fit of hysterical giggles. Rosalind struggled for self control, but only briefly, before giving in to the inevitable and breaking down herself. A playful impulse moved her to flip a little water at Moira, who responded in kind. There ensued a short but furious bout of activity, punctuated by more giggles and delighted shrieks. Once it had spent itself both Moira and Rosalind looked somewhat disheveled, and there was water all over the walls and floor.
Rosalind found herself sitting face to face with Moira, close but not quite touching. Neither spoke, but it was a friendly, companionable silence, the sort that exists when nothing need be said. And in Moira's eyes, Rosalind saw something she never had before. Something so small she hadn't even noticed its absence, but which nevertheless changed Moira's whole demeanor in a profound way. Thinking back, Rosalind found that she had seen, but not noticed. Through all their interactions, though Moira had spoke and showed expression, underneath it all there's been... an emptiness. A place devoid of human presence, as if Moira had merely been going through the motions of being alive. Now the darkness and lifted. Or at least opened a bit, allowing a glimmer of a human soul to peek through.
If Rosalind's heart had been soaring before, it went into orbit now. Only an hour or so of kindness had already begun to undo the terrible destruction the coldhearted masters had inflicted upon Moira's spirit. Rosalind didn't speak; she couldn't. Her throat had closed up tight. It didn't matter; words couldn't begin to do justice to her feelings. Instead she took Moira in her arms and hugged her fiercely, letting the tears flow as they would. Never once did any thought of propriety enter Rosalind's mind, and if it had she would have spit.
Moira struggled against her own upsurge of emotion for perhaps half a second, then let it go. Tears streamed down her face and sobs racked her body. Rosalind, in little better shape herself, merely offered a friendly presence and a gentle touch, stroking Moira's head and back. Moira, for her own part, simply clung to Rosalind as a drowning person clung to a bit of floating debris.
Eventually the storm of emotion played itself out. As they sat, still embraced, thoughts of propriety did enter Rosalind's mind. She sent them packing, with orders never to return. If maintaining propriety meant ignoring Moira's emotional needs then propriety had to go, and good riddance to it.
"Why are you nice to me?" Moira whispered. Rosalind barely heard, even with her ear right near Moira's mouth.
At another time Rosalind might have tried to explain. Then and there, her mind crowded with new experiences and awash with emotion, she simply answered the question. "It makes me feel warm inside," she said.
Moira relaxed her grip, leaning back a bit so she could look at Rosalind's face. Her own eyes were red and puffy, her cheeks soaked with tears. Nevertheless, her expression wasn't sorrowful in the least. It was... as far opposite of sad as one could possibly get. Then, before Rosalind could consider any further, Moira kissed her full on the mouth.
Rosalind returned the kiss as avidly as Moira gave it. For reasons that wouldn't have made sense if she'd tried explaining them, the kiss didn't surprise her in the least. It was the natural, the inevitable consequence of everything that had come before. Propriety, in this case, didn't trouble her in the least: not because she didn't think of it, but because it only dealt with doing something wrong. This felt as right as promising, before the preacher, the people, and God himself, to be Avlar's wife for the rest of her natural life.
Had Rosalind actually thought that consciously she might have balked, recalling that part of the vow was to forsake all others. The part of her currently in the driver's seat didn't think that way. Realistically it didn't think at all; it dealt only with feelings. And it really, really enjoyed the feeling of Moira's flesh pressed ardently against Rosalind's, their mouths locked together, their tongues writhing together in a passionate embrace. Committing the sin of adultery would have created a sufficiently strong feeling of remorse and guilt to override the pleasure, but that didn't happen. Like Avlar, Rosalind had subconsciously attached a sex-specific connotation to all others, translating it as all other men. Moira wasn't a man, so no problem.
Rosalind shifted Moira into her left arm, freeing her right to explore Moira's vulva. With her index and middle finger she massaged Moira's labia, maintaining a gentle pressure against her clitoral fold. Moira whimpered, her fingers clawing and Rosalind's back, her tentacles snaking through Rosalind's fur. As Rosalind's fingers continued their insistent work Moira threw her head back, gasping. Rosalind licked Moira's throat and face.
Orgasm burst upon Moira in the form of a moan that crescendoed into a shriek. Her whole body quivered, her arm and tentacles locking Rosalind's torso in a crushing grip. As her passion cooled from white hot to cherry red Moira sighed contentedly, relaxing and snuggling herself into Rosalind's arms.
Now Rosalind thought about propriety. Much in the same way that a person with a smoking gun in hand and a body bleeding on the floor thinks about the law. Her own actions had rendered all considerations of rightness and wrongness entirely irrelevant. The only meaningful question was what to do now.
Moira had her own ideas about that. She smiled languidly and kissed Rosalind's nose. When Rosalind felt Moira's tentacles sliding down her body in the direction of her crotch she knew, with absolute certainty, what was coming next. In her mind Rosalind heard herself explaining to Moira that, notwithstanding anything else that had happened between them, this was not appropriate behavior for a married woman. Somehow, though, the words never reached Rosalind's lips. Her hands did not push the tentacles away, she did not get out of the tub. All in spite of the fact that Moira gave her plenty of time.
The sad truth was that Rosalind had a terrible record when it came to resisting temptations of the flesh. Her rotund figure derived in no small part from the fact that she enjoyed eating as much- or more- than she enjoyed cooking. In other areas, at the tender age of thirteen and two months she'd discovered that rubbing certain parts of her body felt very, very good. Since then she'd made a practice of masturbating at least once a day, sometimes even twice or three times, and never less than once every other day if she could possibly help it. Upon catching sight of Avlar for the first time she'd resolved, then and there, to bring his naked body into intimate contact with her own through whatever means necessary. In aid of that she further resolved to do for him whatever it was that other women wouldn't. Nor was following through on that particular commitment any sort of hardship; in fact, she persuaded him to try a few new things. Being married to him hadn't slowed her down in the least; it meant only that she didn't have to sneak around any more. (With one or two notable exceptions. The stationmaster at Ruby Junction would probably not be at all happy to learn wherefrom had originated the mysterious stains on his desk blotter.)
Now, as the tips of Moira's tentacles stroked Rosalind's inner thighs and caressed her vulva, Rosalind found herself on the threshold of an entirely new realm of sensation... and she could not decline to enter it any more than she could have given up masturbation after her first orgasm. When the tentacles parted her labia and entered her vagina Rosalind drew a sharp breath, clutching Moira against her. The tentacles felt like so many long, powerful tongues, filling and probing every part of her vagina. But the best was yet to come, as she soon discovered. The suckers felt like a host of tiny mouths, ardently kissing her inside and out. The skin of the tentacles alternately tensed into a forest of knobbly projections and relaxed smooth, like a living french tickler. Lastly, two of the tentacles found their way to Rosalind's anus and lavished upon her rectum the same treatment the other six gave her vagina.
Rosalind couldn't have said how much time passed before she came except that it wasn't nearly enough. She held Moira, panting with the intensity of her stimulation and climax. But not for long; however tumultuous, the experience had only whet her appetite.
But what she really wanted to try next wouldn't be practical in a bathtub. Avlar had attempted it once and nearly downed. In any case, they both still needed to bathe. Rosalind picked up the shampoo bottle, poured some onto her hand, and lathered Moira's torso. Moira responded in kind; in this her tentacles served as well, or even better, then a hand. In a sense they were like having eight little hands instead of one big one.
"Have you ever used a fur dryer?" Moira asked while Rosalind brushed her with the currycomb.
"A what?" Rosalind responded.
"A fur dryer. My old master had a big machine that would blow hot air on you. It would dry you off and leave your fur all fluffy."
"It sounds terribly expensive," Rosalind commented. She'd managed so far in her life with a currycomb and a good towel. The currycomb not only removed loose hairs and spread necessary oils, it removed water too. A pass with the comb, a good buff with the towel, then another pass with the comb usually did the trick. It didn't leave one completely dry, of course, but enough to air dry in a reasonable amount of time. Here Rosalind did herself instead of letting Moira do it. She was getting impatient, and the tail could be tricky if one didn't know how to handle it. Moira's puffy little bunny tail wasn't even close to the same class.
"What do we do now?" Moira asked as Rosalind finished up.
"Let's go to my room," Rosalind suggested. "We can sit in there without hurting our bottoms on this hard floor."
Moira smiled. "Thank you. It's nice having a well padded rump, but there's limits."
"Amen to that." Rosalind offered her hand; Moira took it, and together they perambulated to Rosalind's room. Rosalind lifted Moira onto the bed and sat beside her.
"This is a wonderful bed," Moira commented, running her hand over it.
"Anything you're going to spend a third of your life in ought to be the best you can get," Rosalind quipped.
Moira looked deep into Rosalind's eyes. "You spend a lot of time in bed, don't you," she said.
"Yes, I do," Rosalind replied. She knew perfectly well that Moira wasn't talking about sleeping, and explaining that she didn't like sex that much to a person with whom she happened to be in bed, naked, struck her as hypocritical at best and sanctimonious at worst.
"Is Avlar a good man?" Moira asked.
"Yes," Rosalind said. "He's kind, gentle, dedicated, and... very skilled."
"You're lucky to have him." Moira's eyes dropped and her face fell.
"I know." Rosalind gently lifted Moira's chin. "But... it wasn't all luck. I worked really hard to win Avlar. There were a whole bunch of girls after him, and most of them were prettier than I could ever be. I learned to cook the things he liked... I worked on finding things we both liked doing." She chuckled. "That's how the radio club got started."
"Radio club?" Moira asked.
"One evening we were listening to an adventure show and I could tell Avlar was getting impatient," Rosalind said. "I asked him to explain, and he said he thought the characters in the show were acting silly. If he'd been there he would have done something else. We started talking about it... and next thing we knew we were brainstorming a new ending to the show, and even acting out some of the parts. From there it just sort of snowballed. We invited a few friends over, typed up scripts, and put on our own little show. We've been doing it for a couple years now, usually once a week on Friday or Saturday night."
"That's amazing," Moira whispered, her eyes wide.
"Well..." Rosalind fidgeted. "I don't know," she said, somewhat self consciously. "Talking about it like this makes it seem kind of... childish."
"It doesn't seem like it to me," Moira insisted, quietly but firmly. "I mean... once a week you get to stop being yourself and be... whoever you want. Whoever you can imagine."
Rosalind felt a sharp pang. All too easily she could imagine that Moira might not especially like being herself. Rosalind enfolded Moira in her arms, laying Moira's head against her shoulder, and rocking her gently back and forth. "When Avlar comes home this weekend I'll ask him to do a show so you see what it's like," she said.
Moira said nothing. After a moment she turned her face up; her eyes were liquid. "Do you know what I like the best about radio shows?"
"What?" Rosalind asked.
"The end," Moira replied. "Where the hero takes his lady into his arms... and as the music swells he gives her a kiss." Suiting actions to words, she fastened her mouth over Rosalind's.
Rosalind closed her eyes, returning the kiss as avidly as Moira gave it. While her tongue explored Moira's mouth her hand found its way to Moira's chest. She stroked and kneaded one of Moira's breasts, marvelling at its voluminous, feminine softness. She stroked the aureola with her thumb and pinched the nipple between her fingers. Without really thinking about it she squeezed just behind the nipple... and started in surprise when it discharged a spurt of milk. "Oh," she said, breaking the clench and looking down. "So that's why you know all about giving milk." Her expression turned thoughtful. "So... did you know? That I was, I mean?"
Moira looked perplexed. "Actually, I didn't really think about it," she admitted. "Back in my former master's place almost all the women do, so I just assumed."
Rosalind grimaced. Given the sort of person
"Well-" Rosalind began. 's comment didn't necessarily refer to sleep. A second objection appeared on the heels of the first but she quashed it as well. Explaining that she didn't like sex that much to a person with whom she was in bed, naked, struck her as more than a little bit hypocritical. The objections sprang from not wanting anyone to think she wasn't a proper young lady.
"I'm sure." , then carefully lowered herself onto her side and rolled onto her back. She opened her thighs, baring her crotch.
Rosalind's eyes roved over Moira's body, from her face, down to her crotch, then back to her face. In that position Moira's belly was the highest part of her body. Her breasts, being not as firm, slumped to the sides, covering her upper arm and the bases of her tentacles. Her labia were pale pink on the outside, just like her nipples, and a deeper, darker red on the inside. The inner faces glistened wetly, and not because she'd bathed recently.
The invitation couldn't have been any more explicit if Moira had stated it aloud. Nevertheless, Rosalind hesitated. Not that she didn't want to go on. She did; with all her heart. But a new- and very unpleasant- aspect of the situation had just occurred to her. She took Moira's hand, holding it in one of her own and stroking it with the other. "Moira," she began softly, "Are you sure... I mean... after everything that's happened to you... I don't think I'd want to- to-" Rosalind stumbled to a halt. The notion that she might somehow be contributing to Moira's debasement was so horrific she couldn't bear to think it, must less say it.
Moira blinked. A first she looked surprised, then her expression softened. Her fingers squeezed Rosalind's. "You remember saying that you're nice to me because it makes you feel warm inside?"
Rosalind nodded mutely.
"I want to be with you, Rosalind," Moira continued, her voice quaking and tears welling up in her eyes. "Because- because it makes me feel warm inside. I- I never felt that way before when... I was with someone."
Rosalind lay down at Moira's side, keeping ahold of her hand. "Moira," she said, softly but seriously, "I want you to know that you don't have to. If you don't... for any reason or none at all... just say so."
"Rosalind-" Moira began. Her tone and expression seemed angry, but only from the intensity of her feelings. She stopped because her throat had closed up and, in any case, what she felt wasn't a thing for words in any case. Even with her eyes full of tears her mouth unerringly found Rosalind's and fastened upon it. Her tentacles drew their bodies together and held them that way, while her hand remained tightly, almost painfully, clasped in Rosalind's.
Rosalind, the last of her doubts dispelled, threw herself into the experience with joyful abandon. While her tongue wrestled with Moira's her hand found one of Moira's breasts, stroking, fondling, and squeezing it. Using the weight of her body she pressed Moira onto her back, supporting her torso with her right arm so as to leave the other free. Her mouth now left Moira's, trailing down her throat to her chest, and finally to nipple of her left breast, while her hand continued working the right. She teased the nipple with her lips and tongue, then took it into her mouth. She jerked back with a yelp when an avid suck caused it to discharge a spurt of milk.
"Rosalind?" Moira asked worriedly, struggling to sit up.
"It's all right," Rosalind replied soothingly, gently pressing Moira back down. "It just... caught me by surprise." Then she grinned. "So that's how you know all about giving milk," she commented, using her left thumb and forefinger to squeeze gently just behind Moira's right nipple. A generous stream of milk spurted out. Then a thoughtful expression crossed her face. "Did you know?" she asked. "About me, I mean? Could you tell that I was..." she gestured vaguely. "You know?"
Moira hesitated briefly before responding. "Actually, back at the... where I came from, all the women with big breasts gave milk. It never occurred to me that you wouldn't."
Rosalind's face tightened. It made perfect sense when she thought about it... and was just one more unpleasant reminder of how the masters regarded their property.
Moira, by now, understood that Rosalind wasn't reacting to her, specifically. She also knew that he mood was evaporating fast. She snaked a couple tentacles between Rosalind's legs and caressed her vulva.
Rosalind gasped, her eyelids fluttering. The immediate sensation wasn't particularly dramatic but it awoke memories of what had gone before. Which had the effect of putting her thoughts back on their previous course. "You know," she commented, sitting up and fondling Moira's breasts with both hands, "I haven't nursed since I was a baby." Morphs might not be able to get pregnant but they could get hormone shots to make them lactate. Freebirth babies were always breast fed, even if a wet nurse had to be brought in from elsewhere. It was an important rite of passage, from being a piece of property to being a member of a family.
"Don't hesitate on my part," Moira responded, gathering up her left breast and offering the nipple.
"Actually..." Rosalind's gaze drifted down to Moira's crotch. "There's something else I'd like to try, if that's all right."
"Go right ahead," Moira replied.
Rosalind settled herself on her belly, her arms around Moira's thighs, her face only centimeters from Moira's labia. Once, on a dare, she'd kissed another girl's vulva. Which, she realized, wasn't anything like what she contemplated right now. Then, she and the other girls had all been children on the cusp of adolescence, fooling around as adolescents are wont to do. The experience couldn't really be considered sexual, as she now understood the term. Another aspect- which hadn't become fully apparent until this very moment- was that never before had the thought of intimate physical contact with another woman filled her with the sort of hot, wild lust that she felt toward men, and Avlar in particular. She couldn't help wondering if her mutation might have somehow altered her perception of such things, just as it had altered her body. Frankly, that notion disturbed her a lot more than waking up with seven enormous boobs.
Very deliberately Rosalind ran the tip of her tongue between Moira's labia minor, from the vestibule at the bottom to the clitoral fold at the top. Maybe her mutation had changed her sexual orientation and maybe it hadn't; in spite of everything she wasn't entirely certain. Changing it back, just as with her body, wasn't practical. Fretting about it would only make her unhappy. Besides, regardless of how it had come to be, she liked it. The flavor of Moira's hot secretions on her tongue sent a thrill of pleasure through her. She pulled herself closer, jamming her face against Moira's crotch, stroking the walls of Moira's vagina with her tongue, teasing her labia and clitoris with her lips. Moira writhed, clutching at the bedclothes, whimpering and moaning, trying to drive her crotch against Rosalind's face. She orgasmed with a sharp exhalation that was almost, but not quite, a cry.
To Be Continued