Minor Adjustments
by Jon Sleeper

1997


June 19, 1996

The dream image of my face in the mirror changing, over and over again, awoke me before the crack of dawn. Or maybe it wasn't the dream. I couldn't be sure anymore. I didn't know too much about whitetail deer yet, and I was sure that reference material would be hard to come by for a long time to come.

But no matter how hard I tried I couldn't get back to sleep. And then I panicked for a moment as I forgot that I was supposed to have all that face in front of me. Not to mention all that fur. But it was a fleeting thing and I eventually started to calm down again. I got calm enough that I even started to drift off again... until the cat jumped onto my bed and started to lick my muzzle about halfway down. "Cleo! Sheesh. I'm not breakfast!" She sat there on my chest looking smug. It had been past midnight last night before I'd fallen asleep. The cat wasn't helping any.

I looked at the clock and found it was barely five a.m. I groaned, but already felt wide awake. My stomach (or was that stomachs?) was rumbling. I decided to have a shower first. Then I caught my reflection in the bathroom mirror.

Like I had done for a lot of the day yesterday after Captain Nightsky had left, I just stared at myself. For about ten minutes. Until I felt my ears twitch towards a sound, and I saw my mother standing in the doorway (easy with my nearly 270 degree field of view), dressed in her robe. "How are you this morning?"

"As well as could be expected, I guess."

"I know how you feel. I think today I'm going to break down and give this house a through cleaning from top to bottom. It doesn't smell too good..."

I hadn't noticed, but then it was my room. "Heh. Probably a good idea."

"Don't you have to go to the police station at seven?"

My ears perked at that, giving away my surprise. I grabbed them out of reflex. Damn, these things are huge. I thought. "Thanks for reminding me. Now I think I'm going to get a shower..."

My mother's tongue lolled out of her muzzle in a fox-grin and she wrinkled her nose. "Do that. And I should tell you that Charles called while you were out yesterday. He won't be able to give you a ride. He didn't say why." She left the room.

It was then that I realized that I was still naked. But I was already getting used to it. My neither region was covered by a coating of fur anyway. One would have to get really close to see anything. Before my shower I checked to make sure that I had all the towels that I needed (about five with all my fur), then I got in.

It was just getting light outside when I got out. Absently I reached for my electric razor, and even turned it on. The high-pitched noise made me balk and I realized just what I was doing. I'd look pretty silly with a bare chin! Rubbing myself with the towel once more brought how I'd changed to the fore. Muzzle, tail, velvet-covered antlers, fur, three-fingered hands, and digitigrade feet. After I was dry enough I carefully sat in the chair in front of my computer and got a closer look at them.

I sat cross-legged, and ran my hand along my toes. Or what had been my toes. The bones had fused and elongated, my smallest toe had vanished, and the middle two of the remaining four had swelled and hardened into a very hard, black cloven hoof. The outer two toes were smaller, and a bit higher up. They ended in a knobby hoof. I knew they were called dewclaws. I was very amazed I could even walk on two legs without tripping. It went against all logic for a biped to have feet like this! But then, whoever said the Universe was logical?

According to The News Channel, everybody had changed to a different "Degree". I was apparently in the lower "Hi-Degree" category. I had an odd turn of thought suddenly. I decided to get up and shift to normal deer ("Norm", I guessed it could be called). The sensation of shifting sent an electric thrill up my spine. I went to look in the mirror again. Seeing myself, I smiled. Or something... my ears twitched around instead. It was still an odd sensation, one I knew would take months to get used to. I shifted back to morph and went downstairs.

I smelled my sister's scent before I saw her. Yet another thing I was getting used to. There was also a smell just starting to come from the kitchen. I looked in there and found the bread maker whirring away at it's task. I lingered over the machine for a while, taking in deep breaths. Wonderful. I love this nose. I thought. There was about an hour until it was done. My mouth was already watering.

Walking into the TV area I found a very bleary eyed osprey morph that was my sister, Stephanie. "Good morning, Jon." She said tiredly. "I know what you're thinking. I've still not figured out how to sleep at night. I think I need some kind of perch. My feet are huge." She flexed her taloned feet, getting one snagged on the carpet for a moment. "Darn it. I put more holes into the carpet!"

My ears rotated backward towards some sound from the stairs, and I smelled my mother. I turned to face her. "Is that bread I smell?" she said, grinning. I could see the back of her robe swaying from her wagging tail. She didn't seem to notice. She looked at Stephanie. "Don't worry about the carpet. We'll figure it out. Where's Geoff?"

"The dear went out to find us some food. I feel lucky that that fish farm opened up last year. He should be back soon. I'm famished." But she didn't look particularly happy that she'd have to eat the fish raw. She used to be a pretty strict vegetarian. In fact, she had eaten some salad earlier. But I guessed it hadn't agreed with her.

"Fish sounds pretty good to me, too. Then who's the bread for?"

I was smirking from Steph's "little dear" comment. I knew she was talking about Geoff, but I saw that there was some expressions that would need to be revised. Steph seemed to be glaring at me for a moment, then I smelled something. It was kind of a sweet scent. She was smiling in her own way. "Thanks Steph. That cheers me right up."

"Don't mention it. You had a harder day two days ago than we did." Steph replied.

While the bread was baking I decided to go upstairs and get my camera. I'd been wanting to take some candid pictures of everybody. Taking pics proved to be a challenge. My muzzle interfered with looking directly forward, so I had to turn my head to one side and do it that way. My eyes we larger than they had been, and some colors seemed muted. At least I no longer needed my glasses! Mom took a couple pics of me, too. I couldn't wait to see those! Geoff got back fifteen minutes later with a bag full of smelly fish. To my family it seemed mouthwatering. To me it merely stank. I somewhat managed to block out the fish smell and focus on the bread, that helped but not much. I looked at the clock and saw I still had fifteen minutes until Nick was supposed to arrive.

The bread machine beeped, and I dumped out the whole wheat loaf onto a cutting board. I had to wait for it to cool a little bit, else burn my tongue. I waited all of two minutes before grabbing it, announcing I'd wait outside for Nick, and left for the tree where I'd met him.

The wreckage of my car still sat in the parking space nearby. I'd cleaned up the area a bit the day before, but the way things were going it would be a week at the soonest that it'd be hauled off. The buses weren't operating either, the few that were operating were jam packed. It was about ten miles to the main police station, so Nick and I had elected to try running in norm if Charles said he couldn't pick us up.

Considering that I'd run at least that far already without tiring much I was quite looking forward to it!

I let the bread cool off a bit more and then I bit into it. The smell drowned out everything else. I ripped the loaf in half and finished one while the other cooled a bit more. The bread was crusty, and combined with my new sense of smell I knew that I'd never enjoy food in the same way again. To say "it tasted good" would be an understatement.

Nick walked up a moment later. "Is that bread I smell?" He asked, smiling. I merely nodded, broke off a hunk and gave it to him. He took it with a "thank you" and ate it. "Fresh baked, huh? Well, you'd better finish fast. You'll be able to rechew that later anyway, you know. We've only got a half hour to get there. You got Charles's message, right?"

I'd almost forgotten that I was a ruminant. But at the rate I was stuffing down the bread without chewing hardly at all would've surprised me had I thought about it. I had one little bit left. I looked forlornly at the last scrap of bread and sighed. Reluctantly, I put it in my mouth and down it went. Nick shifted to norm, and I followed suit.

The run was very exhilarating. Every time my hooves hit the ground was a new thrill. My instincts fell by the wayside as a very human feeling of euphoria overtook me completely. We were a mile past the police station before we realized we'd gone too far! We ended up making a race of getting back to the front door. Who won? Who knows.

I was panting hard when I asked Dave Stalker, the cougar morph officer who'd helped Mike before the stampede, how Mike was. "He's recovering nicely for having a punctured lung. Once Captain Nightsky is through testing I'll take you two to see him. Oh, a guy named 'Charles'--who also seems to be a deer--left a message for you. He says he's sorry he couldn't give you a ride here today, but he'll pick you up from the hospital when we get through there."

"You have a good memory, sir." I said respectfully through my continued panting.

"Yeah. It's a funny thing, too. I was never too good at remembering details before. Not that I mind, though..." He seemed to be thinking about something for a moment. He absently started to lick his paw-like hands. I blinked in astonishment, but he growled once in frustration once he realized what he was doing. "Damn it! I hate cats! I've always hated them..." He walked away grumbling before I could say anything.

A familiar owl morph with wings and arms was walking awkwardly down the hallway. She smelled nearly as tired as my sister had. "Ah, Mr. Sleeper and Mr. Cummings. Won't you come in here, please?" She opened a door in the hallway. Nick and I walked in.

What greeted us was a low degree rodent of some kind. She had a clipboard in each hand. Nightsky gestured for Nick and I to sit in some provided chairs that had open backs. Somebody had cut a notch in the seat already so tails wouldn't be sat on. The rodent handed Nightsky the clipboards. "These are aptitude tests. They should take you about an hour. This test will determine whether you'll be given a desk job or field duty."

"I thought you needed all the field officers you could get," Nick said.

"Truthfully we need both," Nightsky replied. "Now, pick up those pencils and get started. We're in a bit of a hurry." With remark she left the room.

"She's in a bit of a snit, isn't she?" Nick said.

"You stay awake for two days, dealing with situations that have never come up before, and see how you feel!" the rodent said curtly. "Now, get going on those tests. She was right about being short on time. You're not the only draftees we're inducting today."

It took the better part of an hour to complete them. Nightsky reappeared like magic almost the second we put down the pencils. Throughout the test Nick had smelled... Well, I wasn't sure how he smelled. But his body language (like the way his ears kept on rotating against his neck each time he seemed to come to a hard question) seemed to indicate that that scent was anxiety. He noticed I was looking at him. He turned to face me. "I just know I got a desk job!" he said through clenched teeth. I didn't reply. I was sure I had one, too.

Nightsky simply took the clipboards from us and left the room. Nick and I sat and chatted about what might happen when we hit the Rut while we waited. "I can't wait until this velvet comes off!" he said, smiling.

"You know what, herdmate?" I replied, smiling. "Neither can I." I rubbed my velvet with a hand. It tickled a bit. I swallowed the last bit of cud from my breakfast. Throughout the test I'd found that chewing cud had a marvelously calming effect.

"A-hem!" Nightsky said, getting our attention. Then she smiled. "Officer Sleeper, Officer Cummings, if you two would stand up please." Calling the two of us "officer" really got our attention. "Raise your right hands... or hooves. Whatever. Now, repeat after me..."

We were duly sworn in, given provisional badges and other things. But we weren't given clubs or guns. Instead of a normal uniform I was given khaki vest. It went very well with the color of my fur, I thought. Nightsky motioned for us to sit down next to our lockers (they already had our names on them) and said, "I'm not giving you guns just yet, that might come later if need be. But I can tell you this. Nick, I'm putting you in the dispatchers office along with... um... Greenwind. Our parrotish dispatcher." She grinned. Later, I would find out that bird morphs would have the highest percentage of name changes.

Nick wasn't too disappointed. "Well, that's fine. I guess."

Nightsky turned to me. "Mr. Sleeper. Frankly, your test indicates you are more suited to a desk assignment. But according to Officer Fleming and Officer Stalker you have some kind of Power that makes you immune to bullets. Not only that, but you can throw their energy back at them! This makes you too valuable to waste at a desk." Then she pointed a talon at me. "But I have to order you to do one thing, for the good of everyone."

"What's that?" I asked.

"Don't noise about that you have this Power. I want you to be our 'ace in the hole' as it were."

I didn't like the sound of that. "You don't mean that..."

She nodded. "Mr. Sleeper, even though you are what you are you showed incredible bravery confronting that man. He is a lion, by the way. He was DNA typed and the computer identified some leonine genes.

"Starting tomorrow the both of you will be on active duty. There are enough officers left that I'm going to pair each of the field recruits with an officer. I don't know who you'll be paired with, Mr. Sleeper. But I'll make sure your personalities are compatible." She got up and pulled out a couple of what looked a lot like celphones, only in place of a keypad they had glowing screens. "These are your police scanners. Keep them turned on at all times. They've been programmed to show you what each code you'll hear is, so you'll familiarize yourself with police procedure.

"One last thing. If you leave Carlsbad, because the situation is so bad, you'll be required to help other officers should they have need anywhere else in the county. That's all for now. I'll see you both bright and early in the morning. Welcome to the force." She abruptly left the room.

Nick looked at his scanner for a moment, and the vest he too was wearing that it was clipped to. "Well, this is great. But how are we supposed to use these things if we can change our forms?"

Nick turned to take off his uniform and rummaged in his locker. He pulled out a elastic belt of some kind. He thought a moment, and put it on, clipping his scanner onto the belt. Then he shifted... and the belt didn't come off! It simply stretched a bit more taut around his larger torso. He shifted back. "See if you have one, Jon."

I rummaged around, and found one just like it. They just seemed a lot like normal belts. It was the elastic that did the trick. What luck! I smiled. "This'll work. Let's go."

We went up to the front desk and asked about who was supposed to take us to the hospital. Officer Stalker seemed to have disappeared. A Low Degree robin morph appeared. He looked a bit odd. He didn't have wings, and was pretty human shaped. But his head was almost fully bird-like. In fact, I'd noticed that with most bird morphs, no matter if their body was high or low degree, they were fully covered in feathers (and none wore clothing) and their heads were almost totally nonhuman. I'd also noticed a distinct lack of facial expression. I'm glad I'm not a bird... I guess. I thought.

The bird man was human enough that he could sit in the police cruiser without getting his tail feathers in a bunch (they stuck through a large slit that had been cut through the seat). The man (at least, I assumed he was a he from his coloring) said nothing until we got out of the car. "Say 'hi' to Mike for me," he said in a fairly high voice. He then drove away quite fast.

Mike was already out of ICU and was coming along fine. He smiled when we showed him our provisional badges. "You two will do fine. You seem to have more smarts than the others I've seen around here. But I think that we're going to have to add 'Abject Stupidity' as a cause of death." He blinked once. "Have you two seen any news today?"

I shook my head. "Not at all. I've tried to stay away from TV since it'll be only you-know-what. And besides, when do we need to watch TV to follow what's happened?"

"True, I guess," Mike replied. "I'm having hard enough time myself. I mean, I have cats all my life as pets and never really thought much about dogs, and now look at me? Talk about irony..." His voice was fading a bit.

A nurse who looked a lot like a giant Canada goose came into the room. "I'm afraid that visiting hours are over, gentlemen... or would that be 'gentle deer? I don't know anymore..." she said.

"'Gentlemen' is fine, ma'am. No reason to get that specific," Nick replied. He turned back to Mike, who had forgiven him for running. "We'll seeya later." Nick and I shook Mike's hand, and we left him to recover.

We went into the front waiting area and met Charles. Charles was a whitetail deer morph like I was, except he wasn't nearly as high Degree. His feet had remained somewhat plantigrade, he had the tail, his muzzle was shorter, he had a real forehead (whereas my head was more or less a normal whitetail's), he'd kept his human hair (though it had changed color and texture), and nearly normal hands. The one thing that I noted was that his antlers were a lot smaller than mine would be, for all they were only half grown like mine and Nick's were. "Hi guys," he said. "I'm sorry about the ride. I wasn't able to get a hold of my friend's convertible until about a half hour ago. He doesn't need it anymore because he can fly."

"What is he?" Nick asked.

"A swallow." Charles smirked.

"Wasn't this that friend of yours you told us was a body builder?"

"Yeah. He said the flying made up for it, though. Do you guys have any plans for the rest of the day, perhaps?"

I thought a moment, and I really didn't. Nick did, though. "I sorta need to get a new TV. I smashed mine on the seventeenth. If you know what I mean..."

"I heard Circuit City is open," I said. "Why I really don't know..."

Charles smiled. "Well, looking at new electronics equipment has always been a favorite pastime of mine."

The car was a brand new BMW 325i convertible. The back seat was spacious enough that I was somewhat comfortable in it. I buckled my seatbelt even though I ended up sitting on my tail. Charles pulled out of the parking lot and took El Camino Real to Highway 78. Then eastward to Vista.

There were a surprising number of people on the road (and in the air!). Charles drove rather slower than the speed limit because we discovered if we went too fast the whistling of the wind hurt our ears. In order to keep them from flapping in the breeze too much I rotated them back against my neck. I astonished myself when I did it without really thinking about it much.

The parking lot was fairly empty. There had been surprisingly little looting in San Diego County, though there were some spots in the United States where Hell might be a more pleasant place. At least three major cities were almost totally destroyed.

We found a parking space and went inside. For once I was able to scan the whole place without moving my head. Right away I noticed about half the TVs were off. A salesperson (a beaver) with a cheerful expression on his buck-toothed face immediately intercepted us. "What can I do for you gentlemen today?"

"I need a new TV," Nick said. "And I don't have a very big budget."

"I wouldn't recommend any of the sets you see turned off," the beaver-man replied. "They'll hurt your ears something fierce. The electronic video and sound equipment companies never had to deal with the frequencies that most people can hear now." He pointedly looked at Nick's huge ears (even compared to mine). "If you know what I mean."

"Oh, you mean these satellite dishes? I'm surprised I don't get cable already with these things!" Nick joked.

Charles was a bit curious about what the salesman had meant, and turned on one of the TVs (a Goldstar brand). I clapped my hands to my ears (which had rotated backward against my neck), but it wasn't enough to block out the high-pitched squeal that came from the TV speakers. The salesman dashed over and shut it off. "Now you gentlemen see, or rather hear that a few changes are going to have to be made."

I nodded, still deafened a bit. The salesman rejoined Nick in his browsing.

Charles and I wandered over into the computer section. Over the past month or so I'd thought about replacing my old Alpha III 433Mhz system with one of the newer Intel Pentium IV 666Mhz. I was also looking at a 21" monitor. Charles and I went to look at those and were drawn to the bright, flickering screens. I heard a voice in the back of my head. -Ooooh... look at all the pretty colors- it said. I stared...

...a pair of furry hands shook me, breaking me out of the trance. "Sir! Are you okay?" I took a deep breath and looked at the burly low Degree white rabbit morph. I still couldn't take my eyes away from the bright screen, though. The rabbit man turned it off. "There! You okay now?"

I closed my eyes and blinked a couple times, the spots I'd been seeing clearing up. "Yeah, thanks. I don't know what happened..." I said, dazed.

"I think he had the brightness turned up too high."

"Thanks anyway," Charles said, having come out of it too. He shook the rabbit man's hand. "I guess that different species are going to have different requirements."

"I'm sure," the man replied. "I think the salesman is finished with your friend now. I'm a frequent visitor here, so maybe I'll see you around."

Nick was standing at the pick up counter, never having noticed our little predicament. I thanked the rabbit man again, getting a good look at him. He seems kind of familiar... I thought to myself. But then, I'm probably just deluding myself. As we left the building I did hear the beaver say to the rabbit man "find what you were looking for, Kevin?" That made me stop and think a moment. But only for a moment; then we all got back into the car and headed to Nick's place.

Just my luck that he had a second and third floor condo like I lived in, and his TV room was on the third floor. I'd been scrunched to one side as the box for the 35" TV set had taken up most of the back seat. "I thought you said you had a low budget!" I complained.

"So I went a little overboard. It was on sale, too." Nick replied. "Let's watch a bit of that news. I do want to know what's going on."

I was mildly curious myself. I had to admit, it was a really nice TV. The turned to TNC. What was on at the moment was an update on the situation on the Mir space station and the shuttle. From what the reporter was saying it was a life threatening situation on the Mir. The shuttle crew was having some trouble using their equipment. Two of the crew had been on a spacewalk at the time of the Change. It had been a miracle that they'd even gotten back into the shuttle alive. After a bit of channel surfing and finding that hardly any other channels were on the air Nick turned it off. "That's enough of that," he said. "I feel like going out. Where do you want to go?"

"I'm a bit hungry, I think," Charles said. "How about we get some food?"

"I don't have anything around there. We could either find an open restaurant or just go graze." Nick grinned knowingly.

"I'm not really equipped for that kind of thing, guys." Charles said. "I'd rather go find an open restaurant. Plus I think you wanted to hear about what I know about deer. I hunted them for a long time, you know."

The fact that Charles had been an avid (and good) deer hunter was mildly disturbing. Though yesterday he gave us a solemn vow that he would never touch bow and arrow again, I was frankly a little apprehensive. Yesterday I'd been to his place. There were empty spots on his walls that undoubtedly had had deer heads and sets of antlers. So it was understandable when I said with a bit of nervousness, "sure Charles. Whatever you want to tell us."

We ended up having lunch at a vegetarian place that was packed full. It took a half hour to get a (uncomfortable) seat. Nick and I actually ended up leaning a lot in those couple hours. Considering that there seemed to be a mental Degree as well as physical, I was left wondering just how much I was affected. There were certain behaviors that I didn't want to experience. Charles explained the aggressiveness of bucks, mostly due to the fact that does generally came into heat around mid November. Oh, God... Looks like I'm in for it. I thought. -Youbetcha- was the response from my inner voice. I groaned.

"What is it, Jon?" Charles asked, concerned.

My ears felt very warm, and I knew I was blushing. "It's just that... umm..."

"Just take things as they come, herdmate. What I'm more worried about is that the three of us will quit being friends during that time."

We all looked at each other, tension in the air. "Well, then we just can't let that happen, can we?" Nick said confidently. "We may have new instincts, but that doesn't mean we should give in to them..." He trailed off as he got a blank-faced look. "Darn it! I wish he'd shut up!"

My ears perked at that. "Who?"

"This damned voice in my head. He insists that he's me, but not me."

"I have that voice too, Nick," I said, "but it's really... well... it doesn't make much sense. Mostly broken phrases and feelings. I think it's helping me learn what means what."

"Well, mine talks in coherent thoughts. He's very confused at what he terms 'two-legs society', but he's willing to learn. You have it too? I was thinking I was going nuts."

"It's been on the news, guys," Charles interrupted. The psychologists say that it's just an expression of our animal instincts. I guess it's to be taken as normal because nobody knows what to do about it."

I rubbed the back of my long neck nervously. The voice was quiet. But then, that was probably only the third time I'd heard it. "So, what do you guys want to do for the rest of today?"

Charles smiled. "I've heard that Balboa Park has become a meeting place for everybody of every type. Fish, birds, reptiles. Everybody. I thought we'd go try to find some females of the species. If you know what I mean." He raised his eyebrows a couple times and winked.

I couldn't help but smirk. "You'll get no argument from me."

"Me neither," Nick said, an odd tilt to his large ears.

We hopped into Charles's car and headed southward, ears flapping in the breeze. "Oh, now you go fast!" Nick said. Charles shrugged in response, and grinned.

There was a big traffic jam around Sea World on Mission Bay. Traffic was being moved by traffic cops who'd changed into some interesting predators... One of which looked distinctly saurian to my eyes. Though from a quarter mile I really couldn't be sure.

It was pretty much impossible to find a parking space anywhere near Balboa Park. "I guess four legs are better than four wheels, guys," I said.

"Guys, I can't do four legs," Charles complained.

"Well, have you at least tired running at all?" Nick said.

"Actually... no, I haven't."

"It would seem to me that you'd be able to run pretty fast even on two legs," Nick continued. "A deer is a deer is a deer..."

Charles shrugged. "Okay, fine. I'll try it. Just go slow. I don't know if I can keep up..."

Nick and I shifted and started walking, Charles just behind us. Then we broke into a slow trot, I heard Charles's breathing the same distance behind. A faster trot. Still the same distance, and just a little faster breathing. A bit faster and we heard him say "That's fast enough guys! I think I can keep this pace up!"

Neither Nick nor I could speak in norm form, so we only nodded and kept up our slow canter. We'd had to park at least three miles away, we got there in no time.

The first thing that struck me were the sheer numbers of people. People of all kinds. Birds, rodents, equines, lizards, waterfowl, pretty much everybody. I spotted a small group of does of varying species of deer moving purposefully through the crowd. They looked like they knew where they were going, so we shifted to morph and rushed to catch up. "Good afternoon, ladies. May we join you?" Charles said with a winning smile.

The three doe morphs, all Mid Degree and wearing no clothes, turned to face us. Smiles in their faces. One who had a spots on her furry coat looked at the others and grinned slyly. "Well girls, what do you think?" They looked at the three of us critically, looked at each other, and nodded. The spotted one took Charles's arm, one who had a more brown color to her coat took Nick's, and I found myself face to face with one who was so dark as to be almost black. I held out my elbow for her to take, which she did.

As we followed the others she asked, "So? What's your name?"

"Jon."

"Jon, huh? I'm Kathy."

"Nice to meet you."

"I have to admit that it's very nice to meet some others like me. I never even considered that something like this could happen! Can you believe it?"

"Before day before yesterday? It had crossed my mind. Did I think it would actually happen? No," I replied.

"I don't even know what kind of deer I am!" We stopped and she turned around for me once.

I rubbed what little chin I had, looking at her critically. She wasn't a whitetail, her tail wasn't at all like mine. She wasn't a mule deer, her ears were too small. And she didn't have the spotted coat of the other woman, who I knew to be a fallow deer. "Well, Charles up there is a deer expert. He used to hunt them..."

She stopped abruptly, ears perking forward. "Hunt them? And now he is one?"

"Ironic isn't it?" I told her about the empty spaces on the walls in his house. "He's sworn off the practice, of course."

"I hope so!"

We had to rush a little to catch up to Nick and Charles. It turned out we were nearly to the spot where other deer-types had gathered. It was a grassy area near the Ruben H. Fleet Space Theatre and Science Center. One of my favorite places. They were just beyond a rather large group of equines. The noise from all the conversation was nearly overwhelming. I suspected that to normal human hearing things might be a bit quieter than that, but that was mostly because everybody had enhanced hearing. And then there was the scents of so many confused people all around me. I was nearly dizzy.

"Are you okay?" Betty asked.

"I think I'm near odor overload," I replied.

"I know what you mean... whatsay we both find a quiet spot to sit and talk? I think I'd like to know more about you." She smiled, and tickled my furry chest a bit with her fairly normal hand.

I felt my ears go hot a bit and could only nod in reply.

It turned out that we had quite a few things in common. We found a shady spot under a tree and lay on our stomachs facing each other on the cool grass. We exchanged Change Day stories (I showed her my scanner and provisional badge, she was impressed, and I left out my Power), and otherwise sat and people-watched. Quite a herd of other cervids had gathered. "At least we know we're pretty common," I said.

"Yes. Too common if you ask me... You know I've heard that there's some dinosaur people over around the Natural History museum. Want to go have a look?"

"Maybe later... I bet they're being crowded as it is." I was feeling a bit hungry, but the grass was trampled. I decided that food could wait until I got home. I seemed to recall a crudely made sign pounded into the ground on a wooden stake that said "NO GRAZING" on it. Not that anybody was obeying anyway.

Both of us laughed when a big polar bear morph grabbed his low Degree rabbit morph friend and said in a big dumb voice, "oh boy, oh boy. My own little bunny rab-bit. I will love him and hug him and call him George..." The two had been pushing their way through the 'herds' of other hoofers on the way to their own areas. The rabbit morph just laughed and replied "Lenny! I told you not to call me a 'bunny rabbit'!" But he was laughing with the rest. It was obviously an act.

Even more funny was when I overheard somebody say: "You know, Gary Larson has to come out of retirement now! I mean, we're living one of his cartoons!" Of course, the buck who said that had the "bummer birthmark".

A few minutes later I was surprised to find Charles with his arm around a lizard woman! I excused myself from Kathy and took him aside, "I thought you said you wanted to find some females of the species," I said with a wink.

"Yes, but I didn't say which species, did I?"

Kathy tapped me on the shoulder. "Whatsay we go for a walk, Jon?"

I didn't hardly have to turn my body to face her my neck was so flexible. "Not a bad idea," I looked at Charles. "I'll be right back. I need to stretch hooves anyway."

While we walked in the thick grove of eucalyptus trees that covered a large part of the park. It was then that I realized the feeling I had was total infatuation. It could be absolutely nothing else. The fact that she wore no clothes anyway wasn't helping things. I could see... about as much as she could see of me, really.

I didn't mind much when she tickled me on my white-furred chest again with a finger, making me laugh. I especially didn't mind when she planted a kiss full on my lips. When it was done I almost fell onto my tail. I felt like I was melting...

It was when she shifted to norm and walked into the thick underbrush with a "come hither" look on her cervid face that alarm bells started going off in my head, and I decided to put my hoof down and stop myself before I did anything I might regret. She walked up with a puzzled expression and shifted back to morph. "Is something wrong with me?"

I immediately saw that getting out of this wasn't going to be easy. Especially since I wasn't sure I wanted to get out of it. "Look, uhh..." I began diplomatically. "We're not animals, you know..."

"Aren't we?" she interrupted. "Look at yourself. How much humanity have you left?"

"Enough so I wouldn't consider doing anything like that!" My anger had replaced any want to do anything with her.

She just snorted. "You weren't even interested at all, were you?"

I had to admit, the prospect was a tempting. But I felt... nothing from my instincts. I reflexively took a sniff and heard them say -doe notready.- That little confirmation gave me some courage. If she wanted to act like animals, then I had the perfect way to get out of this with my dignity intact. I put my hand on her cheek. "My dear, perhaps if you call me in November I might consider it. But until then, shoo, shoo, shoo...."

"Well, I'm going to go find somebody who's not afraid to experiment." With that, she shifted again and vanished into the underbrush.

"Yeah? Well you can bite me, lady!" I muttered under my breath. I decided not to shift, but instead to wander around the park a little more.

I spent an hour walking around all the museums. Balboa Park was San Diego's center of the Arts. For a half hour I listened with a crowd of varying types to someone who was playing the gigantic pipe organ at the Organ Pavilion near the Space Theatre. I found a group of aquatic morphs hanging out near the fountain that was also close by, so I spoke with an orca morph for about fifteen minutes comparing notes about our Changes. And to my surprise, the Space Theatre was open! However, there weren't too many in line to see one of the (free) films. "Where is everybody?" I asked a employee who looked a little bit like a songbird of some sort.

"Nobody can sit in the seats," he said in a high tenor voice. "They're a little hard on the tail."

I decided to endure it, though. I was treated to a showing of "Blue Planet" that totally blew me away! For once I could see the entire dome of the OMNIMAX screen. And the sounds... There was nothing like it. Even though my tail was sore for ten minutes after I knew that I would come back again soon, new seats or not.

I ran into Nick and his girlfriend near the fountain. "Where's Charles?" I asked.

"He went off with his new reptilian girlfriend. Linda here is taking us home when we want to go," he replied. "You don't want to go yet, do you?" It was getting dark, but the crowd showed no signs of dispersing. "Where's your girlfriend?"

"It... didn't work out. What happened to Charles's friend, do you know?"

"I don't actually. But then, none of us really know each other very well. But do you want to go?" Nick didn't want to, that was clear.

"No," I lied. "I think I'll check out one more museum. I want to see if the Museum of Man is open."

"That's a good idea," Linda said in a contralto voice. "I've always liked history."

It was a whole new perspective for me. I was a Physics major, but one of my other loves was history. That visit would be one of the factors that would eventually make me change my major some months hence, when school started once more. During a certain adventure with certain friends of mine.

The pace we set though the museum was about the same that we'd set earlier in the day. The museum was moderately crowded, and the floors were a bit slippery under our hooves, but we lingered at certain exhibits. A diorama of a some Roman soldiers being inspected by their commander was especially interesting for me. I wonder how a getup like that would look on me... I thought.

"What're you thinking about, Jon?" Nick asked.

"Halloween costumes, my big-eared friend," replied.

Nick gestured at himself. "Isn't this costume enough?"

"Maybe. But I wonder how things would be if the world had always been this way. I have a few furry comics at home. One of which called 'Romanics' has the leader of such a legion a stag of some kind."

"I'd like to see that..." Nick said with a smile.

"I'll be happy to oblige you." We moved on.

Seeing all those things, from prehistoric to Roman to Medieval to Modern times was an eye-opener. But while I was looking at a replica of the inside of a Gothic cathedral was when I first heard it. "We should throw it all away..." I couldn't pinpoint where the voice was coming from. "We're not human anymore. None of this has any relevance! We should burn the place!"

I consciously moved and rotated my ears around to try to locate the source, but I couldn't find it. But the voice was familiar. It was Kathy's. I'm glad I didn't stay with her, I thought.

She spoke more of burning and fire for a while, then her voice suddenly stopped.

Nick dashed up to me in norm form and shifted back, panting. "Jon! There's a mob outside and they've got torches! And I think I saw someone you know!"

"Did you use your scanner to call for help at all?"

"D'oh! I forgot I had it. Wait a sec..." He took his scanner off of his belt, along with his badge. "Um... This is Nick Cummings, Carlsbad badge number P8995402 at the Museum of Man in Balboa Park. We need some help! We've got an angry mob ready to burn the place down!"

The reply was a long time in coming. "This is SDPD Dispatch. We'll be there as soon as we can... Can you hold them off?"

"There's only two of us damn it!"

"You're cleared to deputize who you need. Out."

Nick gritted his teeth and looked at me. "Boy, they're a big help, aren't they?"

But I already had my badge out. I walked over to a burly-looking black bear of a man. "You. What's your name?"

"Call me... Ursus," he said with a bit of flourish. "And should I call you 'Buck'?"

I rolled my eyes. "You can if it means you'll help me keep an angry mob from burning this place!"

"Nooooo problem!" He replied.

Wonderful, that's all I need. A cocky bear, I thought. Nick and I got a few more deputies of similar build (all predatory) and got out there just in time to confront the mob. We formed a line between them and the museum entrance. I thought it would be a good idea to say something that sounded "official". I held up my badge and said, "Police! You will all disperse and go back to your homes!" The response was a rotten tomato that splatted on my chest as I'd forgotten to turn on my shield. Something which I rectified.

The couple moments of shock was enough for the mob to move closer. "I'll say it again!" I yelled louder. "GO HOME!!!" The crowd rushed me.

But since I had my shield operating nobody could touch me. So I stood there for a few moments until it nearly hit them. Then I hit something I'd stumbled on the previous day when Nightsky was testing the extent of my Power. A little mental "button" that released all the pent up kinetic energy I was storing. We'd also determined that the bluer my antlers, the more charge I had. I was already up to Blue level by the time the mob started to realize that they weren't causing me any harm. I pushed that mental button and the blast knocked out every one who was attacking me as well as some that weren't. "Next!" I yelled.

The mob had obviously learned it's lesson from my little "outburst", and did not move forward. Then a familiar doe showed herself out from the crowd. "Stand aside, Jon. Or I'll have to make you."

I looked at the others who were barring the way, and back at her. "Kathy, you can bite me," I said.

She only smirked and suddenly her hands were surrounded by fire! "I do hope you like things hot, Jon. Because if you do not move, things will get hot!" I was sure I'd be able to take any physical hits. But this. But in a burst of either courage or stupidity (I wasn't sure which) I stood my ground. She fired (literally!)

It was then that I discovered just how high deer could jump.

Ten feet! Even on two legs I leapt ten feet into the air! My legs were like springboards! When I landed I felt so giddy that I said, "Do that again!" Which she did, and I dodged the short flame burst just as easily, zig-zagging to the side. It might have been the adrenaline, but I said, "Just one more time, please?"

But she was panting and tired out. "Lenny! Get your tail over here!" A big Mid-Degree elk morph appeared. "Get him! Get him for me!"

While the mob milled around, still shocked by my previous actions and being held back by the others Nick and I had deputized, the elk turned to face me. Then his antlers began to glow, then grow! His velvet fell off in glowing chunks! Then I felt a tingle from my own antlers, and red-glowing chunks fell off of them too. I briefly noted the same thing happening to Nick, who was about twenty feet to the right of me, before a burst of pure animal anger hit me like a ton of bricks.

I fell to norm-shape instantly as did the elk. In that moment all that mattered was that there was another buck in front of me, and he was going to take away my does! I didn't matter how big he was, because I was going to kill him. There was no simpler solution. A more rational part of me noted that it might be a really bad idea to charge a buck that weighed twice I did. But I stomped that part down with a mental hoof.

With a snort-wheeze as a challenge, I sprang from the top of the steps and into the crowd of animals, who scattered from my path. They seemed nearly as angry as I was... odd. I only barely noted yet another buck charging the same one I was. Not two, but three sets of antlers clashed! CRACK!!! With our combined bulk me and the other buck, unwittingly acting as a team, shoved back the larger one. Our hooves dug into the grass, and the other buck, smartly taking a brief moment of weakness in the other Big Buck, flailed out with his hooves and hit the Big Buck in the head, knocking him out cold.

But whatever was keeping us angry didn't shut off with the Big Buck's unconsciousness, a more rational part of me noted. Rather, the anger worsened, and spread.

Fights broke out all around the other buck and I. But that was only at the periphery of my perceptions. Now it was just him and I. We took just one more moment to try and stare each other down, then had at each other.

He had a larger set of antlers and was bigger, but I was more agile. Crack! It was a hollow sound. Crack! He shoved me backward. Crack! I countered with a twist the next time. Crack! The next thrust would finish him, he'd obviously used up more energy fighting the Big Buck than I had. Bang! Thock! There was a sudden sharp pain in my behind, and I blacked out.

I'd been tranquilized. So had Nick and most of the others in the mob. The tranq didn't last long, though. But it was long enough for whatever the elk had done to me and Nick to wear off. My antlers were back at the half-grown state. I awoke on a cot in the San Diego Police Department Emergency Shelter. Even before I opened my eyes I smelled someone familiar. Captain Nightsky. I opened one eye, "Uh... good evening, Captain. Good to see you."

She only stood there with that inexpressive avian face of hers, arms crossed.

"Did I do something wrong?" I asked sheepishly.

Her reply was a weird-sounding chuckle. "No, you didn't do anything wrong. In fact, you did something really right. Both you and Mr. Cummings did. You delayed that mob long enough for us to get to you."

I had a bit of a headache, and could only groan in reply. "What happened?"

"Seems that whatever Power that elk had made everybody act like it was mating season. But I'm not talking actual mating here. I'm talking things like territorial fights no matter the species. It also lingered in the minds of those he initially affected, I guess. And he affected a lot, too. Everybody within a hundred feet! We had to tranq everyone!

"I'll get the full report for and from you in the morning, though. Or I should say in about four hours. It's two in the morning. You've been out for a while."

"Great, just great."

"Oh, and your mother's here to take you home."

I groaned again.

Back at home I fell into bed and slept as deeply as I could. Once more, since the alarm wasn't enough to wake me up, the cat was happy to act as substitute.

It was going to be another long day.



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