You don't remember Kathy when she was living with me, do you? Well, she was one of the best friends a guy could have, and after all these years I miss her terribly.
I remember very well the first day we met. My former flatmate had left three days previously, and as a result she had taken quite an appreciable amount of the furnishings, leaving me with a scarcity of things and a rent bill due in a fortnight. I had rung the local paper, placing an ad in the "TO Let" classifieds, but so far, none of the replies had worked out, and I was starting to worry. This was the first apartment that I had that was any real good, but like all things good, it had a price. And I intended to stay there....
The door of my apartment closed behind me with a muffled thud as I came home. I collapsed into the sofa and surveyed my bare room, wincing slightly at the memory of the breakup, before going to the fridge and pulling a beer out. I popped the can top, and moodily flopped back onto the sofa again. It was starting to get dark now, now that autumn was coming, but I hadn't turned the lights on yet, opting instead to watch the sunset.
The door bell rang, and I went to the door to answer it.
"Hello," came a soft low female voice from the comparative darkness of the corridor. "I came about the room?"
The figure moved into the light, and I saw her for the first time. To say I was surprised was an understatement. For there before me stood a shy-looking red-furred vixen 'morph, standing about five and a half feet tall. She looked a little nervous, and seeing my surprised look she shrank away and turned as to leave.
"Ah, yes, the room." I hurriedly regained my composure, hoping like hell I didn't look too stupid. Then again, she was only a recom. "Please, come in."
She perked up a little, nodded, and followed me into the room, her paw feet softly padding on the carpet and her tail gently swishing behind her. I closed the door, and studied her a little more closely once I tuned the lights on. To be honest, she didn't look too bad, for a recom. What I could see of her coat was obviously well-groomed, and her figure, even accounting for her digitigrade legs, wasn't so objectionable as what some others thought. Then again, recoms were hardly numerous, and this one was the first time I really got a good look at one.
"Are you the Dave from the ad?" she asked.
I nodded. "Yes, that's me... and you are...?"
"Kathy, " she said. "Kathy Lawrence." She looked around. "It looks a nice place you have here."
"Well, I'll give you the grand tour, and you can see what you think." And with that, I led her off around the apartment.
When we eventually returned to the living room, I had become rather impressed with Kathy. She seemed to have a pleasant personality, and a sense of humour that was close to mine. She was really interested in the room, which was good. As for her being a recom... well, life wasn't perfect, and frankly I was more interested in being able to pay the bills and keep the place now. It shouldn't be a problem, I thought.
I told Kathy that the room was hers if she wanted it, and she accepted - yes, the room would be just fine. I felt a little self-conscious as to what I had to ask next. "But just one thing... I have to see your... documents, I'm afraid. You know, just the law..." I shrugged.
Wordlessly, she produced her papers, the documents that all recoms had to carry with them at all times. They listed her address, occupation and "origin", and at any time a human could ask to see them. Officially, they were for the recom's own protection, as many people still had trouble dealing with these genetically created life-forms, and the documents were supposed to convey 'personhood' - whatever that meant - to the owner. Anyway, it was the law that a recom had to have valid papers for working and living in a human area. I looked at them, noting she worked for an agency or other, and handed them back. "All okay," I smiled...
Anyway, she moved in next day. She didn't have too much in the way of gear, just a few boxes, a bed and a couple of old pieces of furniture, so she got settled very quickly. I guessed that recoms didn't have the need for possessions. Well, when was the last time your cat bought something?
The news of Kathy moving in with me provoked the usual responses from my circle of friends and co-workers that a new flatmate always did, though I did conveniently forget to tell my fellow workers that Kathy wasn't exactly human. Even I, with my somewhat blinkered and occasionally naive look at the world, realised that some humans still had problems dealing with creatures that bore resemblances to animals, but were as able to talk and think as the rest of us. My landlord however, didn't care one way or the other of course, he was just glad I was able to keep making the rent each week.
We did have one or two of the usual misunderstandings people have when they start to live together - magnified by the fact we weren't even the same species. I remember once...
One night soon after she moved in, Kathy offered to cook the evening meal - "My friends tell me I do a really good steak dinner!" so without much thought to it I said yes. I enjoy a steak dinner as much as anyone.
So I sat back and relaxed as she bustled around in the kitchen, occasionally pointing out where things were, but just letting her get on with it. "So where do you work, Kathy?" I asked as she laid the table for us both.
"I work for an, ah, agency that specialises in work for us people," she replied, fussing about with the tablecloth and placing the cutlery out. "I do different sorts of work, sometimes is different each day." She seemed hesitant talking about it for some reason, so I decided not to press her about it.
Kathy was obviously going to a lot of trouble to impress me with this meal. She brought out our plates in her paws, and happily placed our meals down on the table. "Hope you like it, Dave!" she smiled.
I grinned back, thanking her. I picked up my knife and fork as she settled down at the table, and started to eat. The potato was cooked just right, and a nice small amount of salad was dressed nicely, and the steak...
Blood-red raw. Peppered and marinated, but...
I looked up to see Kathy hungrily attacking her own uncooked steak, slicing chunks out of the bleeding meat and contentedly chewing. I cut a small piece of my own steak, and lifted it to my lips... but I couldn't bring myself to eat the raw meat, and I dropped it back onto the plate.
She noticed me, and looked up from her meal. "Is something wrong, Dave?"
I gulped. "Ah, Kathy... did you actually COOK the steak?"
"Yeah, cook, as in like rare, medium, well-done?"
She opened her eyes wide, and her smile vanished. "You - you do not like it?"
"It's raw, Kathy... "
"You don't LIKE steak?"
I shook my head. "It's not that I don't like steak, Kathy... I can't eat it if it's raw!"
"No-one's said anything before about it where I lived before... " Kathy whimpered. She looked so sorrowful that any thought I had of being angry about my ruined meal was lost in the obvious disappointment she was experiencing. She had tried so hard to make a good impression...
Then I realised. "Kathy... where you lived before, it was with other recoms?"
She nodded, sniffing a little.
"And there were no humans living there, right?"
"Yes" she whispered. "I used to live in the Addingstone area... all furries like me there."
Ah. "Kathy," I said, reaching over to her, "It's okay... you just didn't know about humans, right?"
I explained to her about cooking meat, and she nodded, seeming to understand.
She still looked a little embarrassed at her mistake, but after seeing the sorrowful look on her muzzle I didn't have the heart to tease her about it. Instead, I gently took her into the kitchen and tossed my steak into the frypan, showing her what I meant.
Kathy sniffed at the odour of cooking meat, her nose twitching and scenting the air as I worked "Interesting... you do this with your meat all the time?" she asked. "Seems most strange."
"It's normal for us," I shrugged. "I guess that's a difference between humans and recoms."
She sighed a bit, and lowered her head, not saying anything. I dismissed it, thinking she was still upset about ruining my meal. It was not until much later in Kathy's stay with me that I realised just what social gulfs existed between our two races.
As the weeks passed, Kathy and I did get to know each other better. I learned she had a good ear for music, and had a talent for dancing that took me quite by surprise. She moved with a quiet grace, even with walking, and I found that I never tired of watching her. For her part, Kathy grew more relaxed with living with me after her rather shaky start, and we developed an unspoken agreement about meals. I cooked my own meat.
Y'know, telling this story to someone else now, I admit that it feels kind of disjointed. Like when you recall events like this from your memory, like I'm doing now, that you tend to remember only the bits that stick out. Of course more happened over the months that Kathy was living with me, and we had some misadventures based on the fact that we're two different species, but somehow they're not as memorable. It's not like I had a diary or anything like that anyway. I just felt I had to tell this story to someone, because Kathy was important to me.
The funny thing was, even after a couple of months, I still didn't know what Kathy did for a living. My vixen flatmate would sometimes come home from her work very late, and very tired, occasionally looking like she had, as my mother put it, "come through a gorse bush backwards", but every time I asked her she quietly evaded the subject. She seemed very uncomfortable about being asked about her work, brushing me off with questions about my own work, or simply saying she was too tired to talk. I eventually gave up asking her, figuring she would tell me when she was ready. Could be she was simply ashamed of having a low-level job, like most recoms, doing stuff that was too degrading for humans. Well, I could understand that...
It was about three months later that I did find out, and in the worst way...
I had just come home from work on a stormy winter's night, when I got a call from my friend Barry.
"Hey Dave! A group of us are heading out on the town - wanna come?"
"Sure!" I replied. Kathy wasn't home yet, but this was normal of late. "Meet you where?"
"We're starting at Bailey's Bar, then we're doing the grand tour, " Barry excitedly continued. "See you there!"
And what a grand tour it was! We started at one end of the main street, then worked our way around the central business district stopping at each bar along the way. For a start we were fairly restrained, but as the evening progressed we were able to let our hair down, singing and laughing as we semi-drunkenly wandered through the rain from one watering hole to another.
Eventually, we wound up at the last bar but one from where we started, and we pushed our way through the mostly human crowd at the door. I was quite lightheaded from the ales I'd been drinking, and was chuckling with the others as we tried to figure out what to do next.
"The night's still young!" laughed Barry. "Shall we go 'round again?"
One of the other guys spoke up. "I know this place down Ford Street - "
"Geez, ya randy bugger!" I grinned. "Of course, YOU would know that!"
"Ever heard of the Pink Pussycat?" he continued, chugging the drink he was holding. "They've got a floor show, really good now I hear. Nice girls, even got some recoms dancing there that look almost human... but what they can do with a tail - phrroooah!"
Barry spat at the mention of recoms. "Filthy creatures - why the hell anyone wants THEM dancing is beyond me. BUT," he continued, a smile breaking over his face, "I'm in the mood for girls! Let's go, guys!"
"YEAH!" rose a chorus from our group, myself included. Barry turned and winked at me.
"How do you reckon you'd explain this to your flatmate, hmmm?" he grinned. "Won't she object?"
"Naaaah," I replied. "Kathy's not like that, she's pretty cool."
"But won't she get jealous?" Barry pressed, drunkenly laughing and nudging me in a non-too-subtle way. "You ARE sleeping with her, yes, yes?"
I laughed and shoved back at him. "Not with Kathy, Bazza - she's waaaaay too different for me!" Sure, like a completely different species, no matter how attractive she looked!
Barry conceded the point, chuckling, and took a last swig from his beer, downing the contents in a long gulp. "You know, I've really got to meet her someday, Dave! You don't talk much about her, so can you blame us for thinking you've got some real fox secretly hidden away!"
Now THAT got me laughing for a good few minutes! God, if only he knew!
The "Pink Pussycat" was one of those places in what people euphemistically call the 'red-light' area of town - a neighbourhood full of strip joints, massage parlours, and the occasional 'adult video' rental. Despite the efforts the locals had in lighting the place up to make it look better, on this winter's night it hardly looked its best. Still, the lights from the various entrances exuded a welcoming glow for any rain-drenched passer-by to take haven in.
We poured into the place past the bouncer, and checked our coats in at the cloak-room before entering the club proper. It was certainly packed tonight, but we managed to get a table for the half-dozen of us that were still in a party mood without too much trouble. A rather nice looking lapine recom, dressed appropriately enough in a light Playboy Bunny outfit that complemented her light grey fur, took our order for drinks, and returned a few short minutes later with them. I noticed Barry barely paid the waitress any notice at all apart from the bare minimum, but shrugged it off - anti-furry feeling wasn't that uncommon, and in any case the show was getting under way again.
Our guide was right - the show was indeed excellent! The dancers were professional, and extremely good-looking. And so were the few furry dancers in the show, in fact even Barry seemed to enjoy the number where a satin black panther sensuously slinked around the stage to encouraging calls and whistles!
"What d'ya think, Baz?" I said, clapping loudly as the pantheress took her bows at the end of her routine. "Barry shrugged non-committally, but his eyes were still glued to the stage. "Yeh - she was good... but I preferred the redhead in the first set. Now SHE was a looker!" he grinned.
All too soon, it was time for us to head back to our respective homes. We called for a cab to take us home, and waited outside under the night-clubs awning, keeping a respectable distance from the door to the 'Sandy's Massage and Outcall Service' next door. We were just talking, reliving the evening as we waited hopefully for the signs of our taxi coming down the street, when from the entrance to the massage parlour I heard some muffled thumps and bangs - as though someone had fallen down stairs. I turned to listen, and heard a muffled voice speaking roughly.
"C'mon, bitch - I've paid for you, I have, so you better do as you're told... Now get up!"
The voice grew closer. "That's it, bitch, you behave nicely, or it's back to the lab for you..."
I felt uneasy. What was going on? By now, one or two of the others had heard, and looked around, following my gaze up the flight of stairs into the parlour.
A female voice. "I-I-I'm okay now, sir... I'll be good..." it stuttered fearfully.
I stood there, stunned. I KNEW that voice!
As if to confirm my fears, suddenly the first voice exclaimed "Don't talk back to ME, you BITCH!", followed by the sound of someone being hit and a shriek of pain. A dark form fell down the stairs, out onto the pavement outside under the lights, and slowly, painfully, picked itself up.
A female recom.
Red-furred, a thin muzzle, and sharp-pointed ears, bleeding and bruised.
It was Kathy.
"Ohmygod..." I whispered. "Kathy?"
She looked up, and her eyes met mine. Wide-eyed and tearful, she whispered "D-Dave? Is that you?"
Before I could answer, a large burly ugly-looking man stormed down the stairs. He grabbed Kathy and picked her up by the scruff of her neck, roughly shaking her. "Get up, bitch, we're off now!" the thug growled at her, as she whimpered softly, her hands fluttering up to her face, trying to protect herself.
At this, my heart filled with a cold anger at seeing my flatmate and friend treated like this. "What the FUCK is going on here?" I demanded.
Kathy's assailant turned in surprise at the sound of my voice, then, noticing us for the first time, his face screwed up in an angry frown. "None-a your business. Nothin' ta do wi' you..."
"The hell it isn't!" I yelled. "You can't just beat someone up like that!"
Barry laid a hand on my shoulder. "Careful, Dave... he's bigger than you, don't antagonise him. Besides, she's only a recom - it's not like they're human."
I turned briefly to Barry, and coldly looked at him. He was serious, all right - I knew he didn't like people like Kathy, but to leave someone to be beaten up? I glared at him, and Barry seemed to wilt under my gaze.
"'That recom', as you put it, is my FRIEND." I angrily threw his hand off my shoulder, and advanced towards Mr Ugly. "You leave her alone, buster... NOW!"
"Ha! You dunno nuthin, asshole!" he sneered. "I bought her, I PAID for the bitch, an' I'm gonna get my money's worth!" As he said this, he grabbed Kathy in a choke-hold, and pulled her against him, the battered vixen gasping for air, pleading for mercy...
That did it.
My fist slammed into Ugly's belly, followed closely by another punch that just missed his face. He gasped in pain, but recovered long enough to strike out at me with his free hand, his fist pounding my shoulder. I cried out in pain, but my temper was up and I came back at him swinging, grabbing the arm that held Kathy and wrenching it away from the fox-girls neck.
Kathy immediately fell to the ground, slumping against Barry's feet, panting raggedly for air as Barry watched on in amazement.
"Y-you mean... this THING is your... your...?" Barry gasped, unable to believe his eyes. Kathy moaned in pain at his feet, but he ignored her, his mouth hanging open in shock as he realised for the first time the truth about my living companion.
I didn't answer him - I already had my hands full, as it were. Ugly had managed to get his breath back and was landing blow after blow, causing me to stagger back against the wall. Wildly I swung at him, but my blows were blocked every time. He advanced towards me, laughing cruelly, as punch after punch slammed into my pain-wracked body. I lashed out in desperation, kicking what I could reach, but nothing I did slowed him down. Glancing out of the corner of my eye, I saw my so-called 'friends' were standing to one side, watching but motionless... Great. Just great...
Ugly pinned me against the wall by my shoulders, and leaned towards me, his face twisted with sadistic malice. He paused, savouring the moment of my helplessness. "I told ya it's none o' ya business... you shoulda lissened to ya friend here, smartass.. left her alone..." He raised his fist, ready for the final blow. "Say goodnight, ass - AAAAHHHHHH!!!!!"
Something slashed across Ugly's face, tearing bright red strips of flesh from his cheek. He cried out in pain, turning to find his new assailant, only to find a set of vulpine jaws clamping hard down on his arm! That was all the distraction I needed - I swung a hefty kick at Ugly, hitting him right in the groin. He screamed in agony, doubling over, keeling against the door of the nightclub, sobbing as I shakingly picked myself up and ran to Kathy, who had released her bite-hold on him and was kneeling on the pavement, gasping for breath.
"Kathy!" I cried. "Oh Kathy... what have they DONE to you?"
I knelt down beside her, and examined her, shocked at what I found - bruising on her face under her fur, scratches bleeding profusely, her body trembling in fear and shock. Placing my arms under hers, I struggled to lift her up, slipping and staggering under her weight.
"Help me... dammit, give me a hand here!" I gasped. "She's hurt... gotta get her to a doctor..."
The others just stared at me, particularly Barry, looking on in disbelief as I managed to barely support Kathy into an upright position. For Gods sake, couldn't they see? She's in pain, she's bleeding... can't you see her snow-white neck-fur streaked with her own blood?
"Help me... please!" I pleaded again. Kathy groaned in pain as I moved her, her head-fur now straggly and plastered over her face with the rain. Still my companions did not move.
"DAMMIT!" I shouted, frustrated, turning to look each one of them in the eye.
Finally Will, our guide for the evening, came forward, and lifted up the vixen by her other shoulder, supporting her between us. As we both struggled with Kathy, the others drifted off into the night, not daring to turn back and look.
"Hospital... got to get her to a hospital..." I rasped as Will and I carried Kathy through the rain to the taxi-stand. "She's hurt bad I think... gotta help her..."
Will shook his head. "Dave, they won't take her."
"She's a recom. Hospitals are human-only, Dave...you know that!"
I stopped in my tracks, facing Will. "You're kidding!"
"I'm not, Dave - honest! They won't take her... perhaps a vet? I dunno who _would_ take your er, ...?" His voice trailed off in confusion and embarrassment.
Angrily I shook my head. "No - I'm taking her home. She's not any damn animal," I growled, "She's intelligent, and what's more, she's my friend."
Well, Will did help me back to the flat with her, and we laid her out on her bed in her spartan little room. I darn near emptied my First Aid box with all the bandages it took, and had some difficulty with cleaning her wounds through her fur - I had to resort clipping some of it off in order to get to her skin for the worst of her injuries - but eventually I felt I had things under control. Kathy slept or dozed for almost a day, waking up occasionally whimpering a little, but I was there for her, patting her reassuringly.
I did a lot of thinking as I kept my vigil by the fox's bedside. Looking around at the sparse furnishings of her room, I realised how little I really knew about Kathy or her kindred recoms, and the life they faced. I stroked her fur as she was sleeping, marvelling at how nice and soft it was, thinking of what would make such a beautiful - I had to admit it now, I found her beautiful - creature do the things implied by people like Ugly. My eyes filled up with tears, imagining the pain, the degradation... all because she was different. How many more out there were like her?
I don't know how long I slept by Kathy's bedside, but I was nudged awake by a cold wet nose at my shoulder. I woke with a start, and turned around to see Kathy's battered face before me.
"Kathy... " I groggily asked, "How.. how are you feeling?"
The vixen shrugged, slowly sitting up in her bed, pulling the covers up around her. "I hurt all over... and my head still aches some... I think I'll be okay." She looked me over, noticing the bruises I had gained from the previous evening, and murmered, "I feel as good as you look, Dave."
I chuckled a little at that, smiling, and running a hand over a raw bruise on my cheek where I had hit the wall. "Point taken. You should see the other guy though."
At that, Kathy broke into a smile for a few moments, before sighing sadly to herself and slumping back against the back of the bed. "I have to go back to work tonight, you know."
She hung her head. "I have to, Dave... "
"The hell you don't!" I retorted. "You're injured by God-knows-what happens in that place, you're bruised all over and heaven-knows-what besides! You're not going ANYWHERE till you're healed up properly... and you tell me just what is going on!"
Kathy sighed, and after a long silence, she spoke.
"It's... it's not something I'm really proud of myself, but I had to.You see, when you're a recom..."
I had already known at the time that Kathy was one of the race of 'furries' that had been originally been produced by the major genetic labs. Built from the DNA code upwards, they were originally intended as an experiment in defining human intelligence and as 'designer workers', to do things that were beneath or beyond what humans could do, but were too complex for machinery and robots. And another advantage they had was that they created more of themselves without intervention - becoming "highly adaptable non-linear programmed workers that could be mass-produced by unskilled labour" as the convuluted but entirely true story went. However, many had escaped from the labs in the early years, and lived in small isolated communities for decades, developing themselves into a unique society, before they were re-discovered and assimilated back into human culture.
But all I had learned before about the likes of Kathy's race had come from textbooks and magazines. Now, I was listening to one of the products of that great experiment telling me her story, and it seemed like I was having my eyes opened for me over a chunk of my world I'd never thought of before.
She had been raised in one of the outlying recom settlements, close to the mountains, about five hours travelling away from the city. The conditions were primitive by our standards - rough shelters, dirt streets, very basic water supplies and so forth - but they served the communities fairly well. In some respects, it was very like where we were hundred of years ago before we became a technological society.
"My father was still quite young when the humans came," Kathy said. "I remember him telling me stories of how men arrived one day and tried to round him and the others up. They fought them off, but the humans came again and again..." Eventually, there was a compromise between us and the recoms, allowing the genetic-engineered races some local autonomy in exchange for integration into the wider civilisation.
Kathy left the village of her birth when she was eight years old - the equivalent of late teens for humans. "I wanted to see the world beyond my home, you see," Kathy continued. "A lot of cubs and kits like me did that about my age then. I managed to get a ride into the nearest human town, and was able to make a living packing boxes in a warehouse. Eventually, I got tired of that, and moved on... I was doing simple work like that for the next two years or so, eventually coming here about seven months ago."
As what happened to a number of people, both human and furries, Kathy found that life in the city, while potentially better than the small outlying towns, wasn't necessarily the fufilment of her dreams. To make matters worse, recoms were only given very basic education by the State, and were not encouraged to better themselves - in any case, a lot of natural prejudice against furries still existed, particularly in people like Barry who saw recoms as competition for their jobs.
The vixen paused for a few moments, sniffing tearfully as she struggled to bring herself to tell me what happened next. I replaced her cold cup of coffee with a fresh cup, and patted her reasurringly, encouraging her to continue.
"I couldn't find work here when I arrived, Dave," Kathy said, her ears drooping in shame at the memory. "There wasn't anything available that I could do... no-one could give me anything to work for. I ended up in a building that had been taken over by some of us furries, doing odd jobs to help us all get by, but my papers were almost expired before I met Mr Taylor, my... my... my master."
I almost couldn't bring myself to ask the next question, but I had to. "What sort of work did you do for him, Kathy?"
Silence reigned for long moments before she spoke. "He said that he wanted females to work for him, to... provide services to customers, he said. He fixed it with my papers so I wouldn't be seized and taken to the relocation centres, and he paid me well... five credits an hour, more than I ever got before!"
Five credits an hour. Most human labourers got paid seven, minimum. I was on fifteen for office-type work... but to her, five creds per hour was a fortune that most furries dreamed of. Not to mention the business with her papers - every recom had to have valid ID papers, presentable by law on demand to any human offering them accomodation or employment. A recom being caught in human areas without valid documents faced immediate pickup off the streets to relocation centres, where periodically the unfortunates were shipped to designated recom territories for resettlement - or back to the laboratories that had spawned them. No wonder Kathy had jumped at the sleazeball's offer without asking further questions!
The 'services' that Kathy provided to her clients were, as I'd suspected, sexual. While a majority of humans shuddered at the thought of having relations with something that looked like a distant cousin to ordinary animals, according to Kathy there were sufficient people with exotic tastes in that sort of thing to make it worthwhile. Naturally, she was frightened when she found out the truth about her new job, but by that time it was too late. "The... first time, it was scary, I didn't know what to do with him," Kathy whispered. "I mean, I was a full-grown recom, and I knew about that sort of thing before I left home, but... doing it with... with humans was strange. I had to wear gloves on my paws so I wouldn't accidentally scratch them, I had to do everything they asked, not matter what."
Sh struggled to sit up some more in her bed. "But it wasn't all bad though, some were nice and just wanted to talk... Sometimes they would hire me for a week, and I would be a um, a 'maid', I think they said it was, during the day, and I would sleep with them at night. That was nice to get away from Master - I mean, Mr Taylor - he would hit me if I did anything wrong."
I fluffed up Kathy's pillow for her, making her more comfortable while I thought over what she'd told me. A cold chill ran through my heart as I pondered the injustices and cruelty that my kind had inflicted on the beaten and bandaged vixen recovering in the bed before me. Using a sentient being like that because she had no choice... my hands formed fists of rage as I struggle to control my emotions. I was almost ashamed to be a human being.
"There were others there too, like me," Kathy continued in a small voice, seemingly grateful now to be telling someone her story. "About five of us, all told...two rabbits, a feline, some others I weren't sure of, and me. Master would use us as well, sometimes one at a time, other times he'd take us all together with some customers at the same time, tying us up... smacking us with something hard..." At this point she began sobbing, burying her pretty muzzle in her paws.
I held her close as she cried in my arms, trying to comfort her. Eventually she regained control of herself, and spoke in a hoarse whisper, "That's why I couldn't tell you what I did when I went to work, Dave - I was so ashamed and scared that you'd throw me out if you found out what I really was. Living with you here has been the best thing that I have had... when I saw you after Master hit me, I was sure you didn't want a dirty recom living with you anymore..."
I slowly rocked Kathy in my arms. "No Kathy, I won't turn you away... I saw what that bastard did to you, you don't deserve that."
Her face screwed up into a quizzical frown through her sobs. "Why, Dave? Why did you help me?"
I stared at her, tears welling up in my eyes. "I couldn't leave you there, Kathy...you were hurt, in pain..."
Kathy's soft throaty voice interrupted. "No, not that Dave." She sighed. "I mean, all this..." she said, gesturing at the room. "You took me in, you look after me, with wanting nothing more than the rent per week, no strings attached - no human's done that for me before."
I leant over to her, and took her paw in my hand. Funny, I'd never really noticed how soft her fur was. "At first, when you came... I have to admit I just needed the rent money. But now..." and here I broke off, unable to speak. I took a deep breath and started again. "But now... well, I like you Kathy, you're nice to be with, and... and..."
The vixen stared up at me, her mouth open. As I looked into her now misty eyes, something welled up inside me, making me tingly all over. My mind was in turmoil.
"... I love you." I finished lamely.
There. I'd said it. Kathy looked up at me, a look of shock on her face. We just stared at each other for what seemed an eternity, stunned at the enormity of what I'd said. Eventually, Kathy found the courage to speak.
"Y-you... you don't know what you're saying..." the vixen stuttered. She tried to sit up, coughing with exertion. "You're human - I'm just a recom, an animal..."
"Easy now, easy Kathy..." I said to her, easing her back down into bed. "Save your strength, you're still not well enough to get up." She obeyed hesitantly, her eyes wide and round and filling with tears as she continued to stare at me. Despite her injuries, despite the fact she looked more animal than human, at the moment I could scarecly imagine anyone more beautiful than her.
"B-b-b-but you can't..." she whimpered, still weakly protesting. "I mean, I like you too, Dave, and I care about you... but love? Don't you know what that means? I'm just an an animal in human form, I know that..."
Gently, I brushed Kathy's brow, my hand lightly touching her soft fur. "You're a friend, Kathy, no matter what you are on the outside," I reassured her, slowly managing to calm her. "Shush now... you need your rest." I continued to stroke the vixen, whispering soothingly to her, till her eyes closed and she sank into a weary slumber. Pulling the covers up for her, I softly kissed her wet black nose as she lay there sleeping, before leaving the room. She twitched and muttered to herself in her sleep.
"... never knew love before..."
I didn't know what to think at the time. Kathy was right - the divisions between recoms and humans ran deep, and relationships between the two... well, it was unthinkable. Recoms had no reason to trust humans beyond what was necessary, and humans generally wouldn't lower themselves to have strong feelings for what was still at heart an animal. Sure, some humans saw recoms like Kathy as an exotic sex-toy, but even they would balk at treating it as an equal partner. What was I thinking?
I know what you're thinking now, I can see it in your face. You're thinking that I simply felt sorry for Kathy after her ordeal, and it was some sort of reassuring action on my part to make her feel better. Well, some of that might have crossed my mind at the time, but at the time - and even today - I was dead sure that I loved her for what she was inside... and even for what she was outside as well.
I sat in the darkness of early evening, thinking deeply about my feelings for Kathy when the phone rang, shattering the silence with its intrusive warble. I glared at it for a few minutes, before giving up and answering it.
It was Will.
"Dave," he said, "Everyone at work's worried about you. Is everything okay?"
"Yeah... everything's fine so far," I answered wearily. "I should be back at work in a day or two."
"You crook, mate? What's up?"
"No, it's not me..." I sighed.
"Oh." The line went silent for a significant time. "You mean your... friend?"
"Kathy, yes." I replied. Of course he knew, didn't he? He helped me get here here...
"How... how is she?"
"She's sleeping easily now. It's mostly cuts and bruises, nothing serious that I can tell. But it looks like she's had a rather rough life lately."
"I'm... glad to hear it, Dave. That's she's feeling better."
The voice on the other end sounded apologetic, and rather hushed, as though he didn't want anyone else to hear. "I'm sorry for... for... for not helping you sooner the other night. I don't know why - "
A sudden upwelling of anger at the memory flowed through me, and I cut him off. "I know why you didn't help, Will, it's because Kathy's a recom and they're not much more than animals, right?"
"Dave - "
"'Only a dirty recom', just a beast in human clothing, Doc Moreau's monsters... I've heard it all before, but goddammit Will, they're intelligent, they're people!" I snarled down the phone, my racial guilt at Kathy's treatment transmuted into rage. "People like Barry say they care, but when it comes to the crunch, when it comes to the test they turn their backs and walk away like the rest of them! Can't anyone else see what they're doing to them?"
"Dave, calm down!" Will urged. "I know you're upset, it's understandable... please, calm down!"
That got to me. I looked up and stared through the window into the darkening sky. "Will.... I'm sorry," I sighed. "I didn't mean to blow up at you like that. You did help me in the end, and that's something."
"It's okay, Dave. Look... do you want me to come round after work? We could talk..."
I shook my head, then realised Will wasn't actually with me. "Thanks Will, but... I'll be okay."
"You sure, mate?"
"Yeah. I'll give you a call tomorrow, Will. G'night."
Next morning dawned bright and clear, and as I took Kathy's breakfast to her I found her sitting up in bed, looking a lot better. "Morning Kathy," I cheerily said, laying the breakfast tray down on the small sidetable next her bed. "How're you feeling?"
"Better... I think." she hoarsely whispered, shuffling under the sheets, her whiskers and ears twitching. "Dave - what you said last night... did you mean it?'
I sat down next to her bed, and took her paw in my hand. "About what I felt for you?"
I rexamined my feelings, and found nothing had changed. "Yes Kathy, I do love you. You're the best thing that has happened to me."
"But your friends - other humans - what..."
"It doesn't matter Kathy. I don't care what they think." Hearing myself say those things was like I was in a dream, like it was happening to someone else, but I mean what I was saying.
"You mean... it doesn't matter I'm not like you?" the vixen 'morph asked.
I nodded. "It's what's inside that counts."
She turned away from me, facing the wall. "No-one's ever said that before to me..." she whispered. I saw a tear run down from the corner of her eye over the russet-red fur of her cheek. "I feel like... like... I don't know, it's all different, tingly... Dave, what is this? What is it I'm feeling?"
I sat on the side of the bed next to my confused flatmate, and gently hugged her, carefull not to disturb her wounds. "It's okay Kathy, I'm here... just let it out..."
Slowly, she reached out to me, tentatively putting her arms around me. We just sat there for a long time, cradling each other, tears flowing freely as our hearts reached out and touched each other.
The rest, as they say, is history, and I'm sure you know the rest. I've got some photos of the house we moved into together, and of the children we raised. They weren't ours in the physical sense, of course - the genetics between us were too different, and besides neither of us wanted to be a gunea-pig for the various labs - but we adopted several recom and human orphans as our own, and we never regretted it. See, that's Leah - she's working in the House of Representatives now, you wouldn't think that such a bundle of lion fluff would have the determination to be a party leader from looking at that, would you?
It's a sad fact that recoms don't have the lifespan of humans, you know, else Kathy would still be here today. The end when it comes is no less hard for someone you love regardless of the species, and I still regret the day we took Kathy into hospital - a real one - for the last time. She lasted four months there before she finally faded away, all of her family was around her when we said goodbye. Little Audrey still asks me where her mommy with the red fur and soft tail is...
Sorry, excuse me - just need to wipe my eyes. Even after this time, thinking about it still gets me emotional.
I'd like to stay and chat with you some more, but I've got to go. They've asked me to speak at the opening of Lawrence Park, and I'd better not be late. I've known their benefactor better than most - that's why they wanted me.
It'll make a fine memorial to Kathy, don't you think?
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Copyright 1996 Terry Knight.
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