The room was typical of a ten-year-old girl. The walls were done up in pastels, especially pink. Stuffed toys and dolls littered the bed and the floor, and unicorn prints and posters of the latest boy bands were tacked up here and there. There was also a desk, made of nicely varnished maple, with a computer on it.
Sitting in a comfortable swivel chair in front of that computer was the ten-year-old girl in question. She was wearing a plain white T-shirt and cut-off denim shorts, and her blonde hair was pulled back in a ponytail (except for her bangs, which she had to keep brushing out of the way of her bright blue eyes). The girl stared intently at the widescreen monitor, and tapped the space bar to page through search-engine listings. She chewed absent-mindedly on her knuckle. She was getting frustrated: she'd already hit several dead ends in her search, and it was getting down to her last chance.
"Oh, I hope this works." She reached up and turned on the webcam on the top of the monitor, then clicked the chat link.
In another bedroom, whose furniture was designed for someone with more limbs but was otherwise not so different in decor from the other, a young chakat sat before hir own computer. With the multitasking abandon common to hir generation, shi had three different chatserver sessions open and was also browsing the web and listening to hir digital music collection at the same time.
Then an instant message window popped up in the middle of hir screen:
Fr0stipawz: Video chat request from ShadeElaine. (Accept/Deny?)
The chakat blinked and considered it for a moment. Shi had no idea who ShadeElaine was. What if it was a reporter? Then curiosity won out, and shi clicked "Accept". The indicator light on hir own webcam lit up as the girl's face appeared on the screen.
"Uh, hi." The girl peered at the cam-chat window. She'd known what to expect, of course, but that hadn't fully prepared her for the reality of seeing a fully-articulated cat face looking back at her out of the monitor. It had medium grey fur, with a white muzzle and a mane of lighter grey hair. And it was grinning at her.
"Mrrrrowdy there," the chakat purred. "I'm Frostypaws! Like my handle, only spelled more boringly. But you can call me Frosty. You must be ShadeElaine?" Frostypaws blinked, then giggled. "Hey, that sounds like 'shady lane'. That's cute!"
"Yeah. Um…hi. I'm Elaine." Elaine swallowed. Time to ask the question. "Um…does my brother live there?"
The chakat blinked, cocking its head as if puzzled. "Your brother?"
"Johnny—oh, I think he's calling himself Walkerblack now?" Elaine remembered the name change at the last moment.
"Oh, yeah! Shi lives here—shi's not home right now, though."
Elaine blinked. "'What did you say? 'Shay'?"
Frostypaws grinned. "Uh-huh! Spelled 's-h-i'. It's what we say instead of 'he' or 'she'."
Now it was Frosty's turn to blink. "Nobody ever told you?"
"I, uh, don't know much about chakats," Elaine admitted.
"Well, it's because you say 'he' for a boy or 'she' for a girl, but chakats are both boys and girls at the same time, so you have to say 'shi'."
Elaine goggled. "You're what?"
"Look!" Frosty backed away from the computer, revealing that hir grey coloration extended to her whole taur-form body—except for hir hands and all four paws, which had the same white color as hir muzzle. Shi wasn't wearing any clothing.
Frosty patted hir chest, which was mostly flat but showed the beginnings of a couple of bulges. "First off, I've got boobs, like you do. Or like you will, anyway."
Frosty turned around and lifted hir tail. "And I've got girl parts, like you do…"
Elaine stared in fascination, unable to take hir eyes away. This chakat had a lot less modesty than the girls in the locker room at gym class. "I, uh, see…"
Frosty turned to face the monitor again, and reared up on hir hind legs. "But I've also got this!" And to Elaine's consternation, she saw what could only be a penis poking out of a sheath between Frosty's hind legs.
Elaine was speechless for several moments. "But that's…it's not…" She was starting to understand a little better some of the things she'd heard older kids saying at school. "How can you have both?"
"How can you only have one?" Frostypaws replied, grinning insouciantly. "It's just the way we are." She dropped to fours and approached the camera again. "So anyway, when you talk about a chakat you say 'shi' instead of 'he' or 'she,' and 'hir,' h-i-r, instead of 'him' or 'his' or 'her.'"
Elaine frowned, remembering her spelling lessons from school. "Wait a minute. If it's spelled s-h-i, why is it said like 'shay'? And why does h-i-r sound like 'hair'? 'I' doesn't have an 'ay' sound."
"Well, if you pronounced them like you spelled them they'd sound the same as 'she' and 'her' and everyone would get confused." Frostypaws thought about this for a moment. "Well, more confused than they already are, anyway. I just like to say they're foreign, 'cuz everyone knows foreign words don't sound like they're spelled."
Elaine nodded. That actually made a lot of sense. "Like the invisible 'y' in 'senor'."
"Zackly! Oh, and also, you don't say Mister or Miss or Sir or Ma'am to a chakat, you use s-h-i-r. But it's not said like 'shirt', but like 'share'." Frostypaws giggled. "Shir, 'cuz it's definitely not Sonny."
"Sorry, twencen music joke. One of my cousins is into that stuff." The chakat on the screen grinned. "So you're Black's sister?"
"Yeah. I've been trying to reach him—" Elaine frowned. "Or should I say 'hir' now?"
"If you want," Frosty said amiably. "It's okay if you don't, though. Shi still thinks of hirself as a 'he' anyway."
"Right. Um. I've been trying to reach him but your home comm number is blocked and I don't have his personal one."
"Oh right. We been getting a lot of reporters calling." Frosty paused. "How'd you find me?"
"Uh…" Elaine said. "Well, I heard chakats all lived together, so I websearched a lot to find the names of Testpattern's sisters and checked to see if they had IM accounts."
"Huh. That's really clever," Frosty said. "I hope the reporters don't think of it."
"So…um…" Elaine tried to figure out how to ask something she'd been wondering a lot. "What's it like being a chakat?"
Frosty shrugged. "I dunno. For me, it's just normal. You'd have to ask Black, shi's the only one who's been something else. What's it like being a human?"
"Um." Elaine thought about that for a moment. When you put it that way, it was kind of a dumb question after all. "So Johnny—I mean, Walkerblack? He's got…girl parts now, too?"
"Uh-huh. Hir body's just the same as my older sister's, down to the tiniest hair." Shi shrugged. "Or at least it was. They've changed hir fur color some so we can tell them apart better now. Had hir scent glands modified too."
"But that's just so…weird," Elaine squealed. "I can't even think how that must be for him."
"It kinda freaked us out some, too," Frosty admitted. "I mean, all of a sudden I've got twin big sisters? The one Testy was bad enough!"
"Um…wait. If he's got both parts, why do you call him your sister?" Elaine asked.
Frosty grinned. "'cuz whoever made up the new words stopped after 'shi' and 'hir'. They didn't make up any more new words we could use, and trying to make up our own sounds silly. I mean, 'brister'? 'sother'? So we mostly just use girl-words like 'sister' and 'daughter', I guess 'cuz that's what we look more like than boys."
Elaine giggled. "I don't think Johnny thought he'd ever be anyone's sister." Then she thought of something. "If he's my brother, and your sister, what does that make us?"
"I dunno," Frosty said. "Would you like to be my sister too?"
Elaine considered that. "Do I have to get turned into a chakat?"
"Not if you don't wanna!" Frosty said brightly. "Of course, once you find out how cool we are, you might just wanna after all!"
Elaine doubted that, but appreciated the offer. "Then I'd love to be sisters."
"Great! Then do like this!" Frosty raised hir right hand. "I, Chakat Frostypaws, child of Landline and Technicolor, hereby adopt Elaine…" Shi paused and glanced at Elaine. "What's your last name, and what are your mom and dad's names?"
"Walker," Elaine said. Then added, "Child of Martha and Rod."
"…as my sister, with all rights and responsibilities thereunto."
"What does 'thereunto' mean?" Elaine asked.
"I dunno—but it sounds important, doesn't it?" Frosty grinned. "Okay, your turn!"
Feeling slightly silly, Elaine raised her right hand. "I, Elaine Walker, child of Martha and Rod, hereby adopt Chakat Frostypaws, child of Landline and Technicolor, as my sister, with all rights and responsibilities—" She tried to remember the unfamiliar word.
"Thereunto," Frosty supplied.
"Thereunto," Elaine finished.
"Then we're officially sisters." Frosty grinned. "Welcome to the family."
"Uh, thanks." Elaine considered how she felt about being a chakat's sister. Then she remembered that she was one aready, so it didn't necessarily have to feel any different. "So what's 'our' family like?"
"Glad you asked! I've got some snaps I can show you," Frostypaws said. Shi reached out of the webcam's pickup range, and through the speaker Elaine heard keys clattering loudly. The webcam view slid down to an inset as a still picture took up the rest of the window. The picture showed Frostypaws standing next to a larger chakat. Shi had similar markings to Frosty, but instead of grey with white socks, gloves, and tailtip shi was pure white with solid black socks, gloves, and tailtip. Shi also had a full mane of long black hair.
"There's me and my big sis Testpattern. You probably heard about hir on the news with Walkerblack?"
"Yeah. She—shi was kidnapped by some nasty people and somehow my brother got turned into a copy of hir. I can't get a whole lot of the news feeds about it, and Mom and Dad wouldn't explain it to me."
Frosty hesitated for just a moment. "Uh…kinda like that, yeah. Anyway, shi works on transporters for the Star Corps, though shi's still on vacation right now. Shi's staying with us and helping Walkerblack get used to being chakat."
The picture of Frosty and Testy was replaced by another one. This one showed a chakat patterned more like a cougar—covered in tawny fur, with a mane of long brown hair and a thin, darker brown stripe going down hir spine all the way to the tip of hir tail. "This is Landline—my Mom and Testpattern's Dad. Shi—"
Elaine blinked. "Wait. Shi's your Mom and Testpattern's Dad?"
"I toldja, didn't I? We all have both parts? Well, they both work!" Frosty giggled. "So sisters have the same parents but they don't always do the same thing."
"But…how do they know which one should answer when someone says 'Mommy'?" Elaine asked.
"I guess they just listen to see who's doing the asking!" Frosty replied. "Anyway, Landline is a computer geek. Shi does techie stuff for the spaceport. But whenever shi tries to explain what, it all goes right over my head."
"Okay…" Elaine said.
The picture changed again. This one showed a chakat whose fur pattern was roughly calico, but with far more colors to it than any calico cat Elaine had ever seen. She guessed there was a patch of every color there it was possible for a cat to be and then some. "This is my Dad, Testy's Mom. Shi's Technicolor."
"Shi sure is," Elaine said. "Wow."
Frosty giggled. "No, no, I mean that's hir name. Shi works at a TV station. Was kinda handy 'cuz it means shi has pull with some of the news reporters. Though shi did have to give some of them an exclusive."
"Yeah, and boy does shi ever know it." Frosty rolled hir eyes, then grinned. "Shi gets a lot of offers from magazines to pose for them."
Elaine blinked. "Porno magazines?" She'd never seen a porno magazine herself, but had a pretty good idea what they were—she'd heard a lot of the older boys at school talking about them when they thought nobody else could hear them. She gathered that they had naked pictures of pretty people in them, and it was bad to want to look at them. Not that this stopped the older boys from doing it anyway. She wasn't sure why.
Frosty giggled. "Some of them, maybe. I'm not suposta know about that stuff yet, but I read stuff on the net. A lot of porno magazines want chakats. There's even a lotta humans who do chakat porn. I guess 'cuz we got fur, big boobs, and both kinds of bits. Some human people are really into that kinda stuff."
"Uh-huh." Elaine wasn't sure what else to say to that. She only had a vague idea of what people even wanted to look at porn for, but everyone said she'd understand when she was older.
The next picture was of a pretty black chakat whose fur was dappled with white rosettes. Shi looked very distinguished in a red Starfleet uniform tunic. "And this is Mom and Dad's denmate, Starbright. Shi's in Starfleet, but shi's home right now. Shi's transferred to the Reserves 'cuz shi's expecting. Mommy's gonna be a Daddy again!"
"It just sounds so weird when you say that."
Frostypaws grinned unrepentantly. "Well, that's not all. Daddy's planning to be a Mommy again, too, so the baby will have company growing up." The webcam view of Frosty expanded to fill the whole window again. "And I guess that's everyone living with us right now. I got a lot of other cousins and sisters, but they're off doing other things in Starfleet and Star Corps and stuff so I don't see them as much."
"Um…" Elaine paused, trying to get up the nerve to ask. "Do you have any, um, pictures of Johnny? What he looks like now? Most of the news stories about him are blocked from here."
"Oh! Sure! Hang on a sec. Think I just took some today…" Shi reached out of pickup range and grabbed a small camera, glancing at the display on the back. "Right! I'm syncing the pics now. Here's one." The webcam image shrank again, and another still frame displayed in the main window. In the image, Testpattern was falling over, a surprised expression on hir face, as another chakat shoved hir out of the way. This other chakat had similarly black and white fur and black mane, but with the additions of black muzzle fur, a black band across hir breasts like a sports bra, and another band around hir lower torso like a saddle. Shi was reaching for a frisbee, slightly blurred with motion, in the upper part of the frame.
Elaine stared. Until this moment, the idea that Johnny was now a six-limbed furry cat-beast had been purely theoretical. Everybody had been talking about it, but it was only talk with no actual emotional reality behind it. But this picture changed all that.
It was not simply that someone was showing her a picture of a chakat and claiming it was her brother. She could tell it was Johnny from the body language, and the intent expression on the chakat's face. She'd seen both of those on Johnny countless times when they'd been playing frisbee themselves. The way he held himself, the focus on the frisbee—the eyes might be the wrong color, but they were still Johnny's eyes.
Unbidden, Elaine's eyes filled with tears, and a sob began to work its way up her throat. "It's—that's really him. My br—brother's a—a chakat." She couldn't hold it back any longer. She began to cry.
Frosty peered concernedly out of the monitor at her. "Are—are you okay?"
But Elaine couldn't answer. Her head filled with memories of her older brother—the young man who'd always been there for her when Mom and Dad couldn't be while she was growing up, even though he didn't get along that well with Mom and Dad. She remembered him holding her, letting her cry into his shoulder when she'd skinned her knee or sprained her ankle or suffered some other hurt that she couldn't even remember. And now that man was gone forever—buried in the body of a chakat.
"Shi's—he's still your brother, you know," Frosty said quietly. Elaine caught herself in mid-sob and looked up. "I'm sure he wouldn't want you crying about him. He's having a hard enough time getting used to all this already."
"But he's—he's so different now."
"But he's still the same, too," Frosty said. "Or at least that's what he says, in all the ways that count. He's still your brother on the inside."
Elaine hiccuped. "I'm sorry. It's just—I'd heard, but…I hadn't seen."
"I know. It musta been kinda shocking to see a chakat being your brother like that." The webcam image expanded back to fill the screen, banishing the Testy-and-Black picture.
Elaine got her breathing back under control and wiped away her tears. "Can you—email me that pic?" she asked. "I want to put it on my wall. It might—help me get used to things."
"Sure thing. Sending it over right now." Frosty tapped a key, and a moment later Elaine's computer made a "new mail" ding.
"Thanks. Um…I'll be right back, 'kay?" Elaine went into her bathroom to blow her nose and wash her face. When she got back, she felt altogether better.
"When was the last time you saw Johnny?" Frosty asked, in the same quiet voice.
"It was a couple years back, just before he left." Elaine sighed. "He and Mom and Dad got in a great big fight. I don't even know what it was about now. They just…got all mad and blew up, and Johnny packed his stuff and went away. He told me he'd send me his new comm number, but he never did, and I couldn't find it in search no matter how hard I tried."
"Do you think you could maybe come down here sometime and see him? I bet he'd like to see you."
Elaine shook her head. "I dunno how. Mom and Dad would never let me go all the way to California."
Frosty opened her mouth to reply, then stopped. Her expression slowly changed to a sly grin. "Maybe we could fix it so they never know you're gone."
Elaine blinked. "How?"
Frosty cocked her head. "I don't wanna say right now just in case it doesn't work out. I need to talk to Testy and Starbright first. But I know it would really help Walkerblack to see you, especially if shi loves you as much as you love hir. Uh, him. And I'd like to meet you in person too!"
"That would be awesome."
"Well, no promises." Frosty leaned back and stretched. "But I'll see what I can do. Talk to ya later?"
"Okay!" Elaine smiled. "It was great to meet you!"
"And you. Tail high!"
Elaine blinked. "Huh?"
"That's how we chakats say goodbye!" Frosty said.
"But I don't have a tail."
"Well, if you pretend you have a tail, have it high."
Elaine giggled. "Okay. Tail high to you too." The image blinked out as Frosty broke the connection.
In hir bedroom, Frostypaws peered thoughtfully at the monitor, marshalling the arguments shi would use on Testpattern and Starbright. Hir idea would break half a dozen regs and possibly a few laws, so it was possible they'd shoot hir down. But it was such a good idea, and for such a good cause. Surely they'd be willing to bend a few rules and help out.
Frosty tapped a key on the keyboard, and clicked and dragged a slider. The recording played back. "—hereby adopt Chakat Frostypaws, child of Landline and Technicolor, as my sister—" Shi stopped the playback and synced the recording to a PADD for use as ammunition in hir persuasive arguments.
So maybe the ceremony wasn't legal in a human sense—especially since Frosty had more or less just made it up on the spot. But Chakats were more liberal about that kind of thing. Frosty was pretty sure that if they'd both meant it, then Elaine really was a member of the family now. At least, that was how it had worked when Mom, Dad, and Bright had adopted Walkerblack. (Well, all right, that ceremony had been a little more complicated, and had involved a lot of ritual breast-milk-exchanging. But still, "We adopt you as our daughter, I adopt you as my family" was what it had all boiled down to, wasn't it?)
Frosty grinned. If shi had hir way, life in the Technicolor household was about to become even more colorful. Scooping up the PADD, shi left the room in search of Testpattern and Starbright.
The Chakats and Chakona Space setting are the creation of Bernard Doove, and used by permission.
All other characters are copyright © 2009 Chris Meadows firstname.lastname@example.org
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