A fox goes to the Bureau of Orthomorphic Management for a routine appointment and runs afoul of red tape. Mature.
Robin found the yellow envelope waiting in his mailbox on Thursday. It announced, in thick letters, that it was his final notice from the Bureau of Orthomorphic Management, and that he needed to renew his license by Friday or it would be revoked. As well as the final notice, it was also the first notice, and the only notice, that Robin had gotten.
The thought of letting his license lapse as some sort of protest came to mind, but then Robin remembered what a nightmare his friend Nick had gone through when he'd gotten his license revoked. He didn't even get his old name back; he'd had to take a crummy public-access name like Reginald.
So shortly after noon and still a little sleepy, Robin tugged the garage door open, threaded himself between his apartment-mates' cars, and climbed into his own. It wasn't a long drive, but he didn't want to leave his license's fate to the whims of the local bus route.
The building of the Bureau of Orthomorphic Management looked like a brick of tofu. It did have windows and doors, which aren't features of tofu, but even the un-tofu parts of the Bureau building were infused with that bland simplicity. Robin imagined vandalizing its facade with spraycans of sauce and spices.
There was a short concrete walkway that led to the front door, guarded by railings made lumpy by so many re-applied coats of black paint. Beside the double doors were two plastic signs mounted to the wall. The first said, 'Bureau of Orthomorphic Management, Regional Office'. Below, next to a small intercom, was the second sign. A drawing showed a stick-figure with large tusks hunched over, trying to fit through a door too short for them. 'Persons needing assistance please press button,' it said.
Robin pulled the door open and stepped inside. The top of the doorframe cleared his ears with two feet to spare. Foxes like him weren't the tallest species, but you'd have to be a giraffe to have trouble with the front door.
Past the front doors, Robin came to the lobby. The lobby was meant to have a directory. But at some point, someone had thought to pin up a sign directing visitors to their department. Then everyone else had realized what a good idea that was, and by now, the lobby had grown into a jungle of signage. Sheets of printer paper with arrows were taped to the walls and pinned to bulletin boards and stapled on top of each other, all begging the reader to follow their directions.
If you were coming to see the Exercise and Fitness Approval Board, that was on the other end of the building. Nonstandard Locomotion Permits could be found on the sixth floor, stairwell access only. The Body Planner's Office announced that it was "on the Mezzanine", which Robin thought was likely a made-up word to trick young interns.
Robin brushed aside some of the overgrown signs to peer at the actual directory. L. Legal Affairs...Leg Chair...Licensing. There he was. Room 204.
A machine by the door of the licensing office spat out a ticket for Robin with a noise like blowing a mechanical raspberry.
The waiting area was presided over by a large TV screen, which displayed each number in the queue as it came up. These provided an exciting break from the friendly Bureau tips that cycled through when someone wasn't being called up to the windows.
Support the environment and save on permit fees. Stop by the Species Permitting Office to opt-in to a Heritage Conservation species today!
Robin settled into a middle-school-quality seat, his ticket (G34) in hand. He reached into his wallet and picked his license free from its slot. A shaggy red-haired fox smiled back at him from the photo. Still that high school picture. Suddenly self-conscious, he combed his hair (he'd since cut it shorter) with his claws.
To comply with new photo regulations, we must ask you to remove any hats, headgear, eyewear, contact lenses, piercings, optional features, and emotions from your head before taking your photo.
They were only up to G28. Robin sunk further into his seat. It couldn't take long once he got called up, at least. What was the worst that could happen? They need him to retake his picture? He had hours before the Bureau closed. He closed his eyes and leaned his head back.
Did you know that you can make an appointment online? Join the queue and start the wait at home!
The automated voice was background noise by now. Robin wasn't quite asleep, but he definitely wasn't listening the first time it called his number. Luckily, it called G34 again. This time, his ears twitched, and his head bobbed up. Clutching his license, he hurried over to window 3.
On the other side of the counter sat an older mouse. Her hair was pulled back in a bun and jabbed through with a pencil covered in bite marks. A red-and-blue-and-yellow button pinned to the collar of her blouse shouted "We're the BOM!". She had a mild resting glare and a bored frown.
"New or existing license?" she asked, barely lifting her eyes from her computer screen.
"Uh, existing. I'm here for a renewal," Robin said. He set his licence and his ticket on the counter. The mouse clerk met his gaze for a moment, then swiped up his licence and set it between the keys of her keyboard.
"Robin Smythe, correct?" Her claws clacked on the keys.
"That's right. S-M-Y-T-H-E, like an old-timey farmer." Robin smiled.
The mouse met his eyes again, said nothing, and went back to typing.
"Date of birth?" she asked.
"October 5th, 1995."
Robin squinted toward the ceiling. "187-5-26X-920."
The clerk lifted her eyebrows. Robin smiled sheepishly and shrugged.
She flipped his license over and looked down at the back. Then she kept looking at the back for longer than she should have. Then she made a noise, a hum of mild concern. It made Robin feel quite a bit more concerned.
"Is something wrong?" he asked.
The mouse held up his card and tapped her finger next to one of the small fields. Robin leaned over the counter to see. Line 43, 'SEX: MAEL'
"Oh. That's just a typo," he said. "It should be 'male'."
"It's incorrect," she said, "Which means I can't put it into the system. I'll need to see some other proof of sex." With a gesture, she indicated a sheet pinned to her cubicle wall titled 'Acceptable Proofs of Legal Sex'.
Robin leaned over the counter to peer at the sign. The clerk was disapproving of him wasting her time so vigorously that he felt the heat of it against his cheek. He leaned back and turned toward her again. (She was rolling the pencil from her bun between her fingers.)
"What if...I don't have any of those?" he asked.
The mouse motioned with her pencil. "Go down to the first floor. Follow the red arrows to Room 198. Fill out an Affidavit of Declaration of Sex DS-1067, get it stamped at the counter, and bring it back here. In absence of any other documents, the affidavit will serve as your proof of sex."
Robin nodded. Room 198. Stamped affidavit. "All right, thanks. Be right back!" he said.
"Mm," the mouse almost-said. She turned back to her computer and began to gnaw on her pencil.
As he climbed down the stairs, Robin checked the time. It was one-fifteen. He had a little over three hours to get his license renewed before the Bureau closed. No big deal. As long as he got the affidavit he needed, he'd be out the door with hours to spare.
But first he had to find Room 198, and that meant picking his way back through the jungle of signs in the lobby. To make matters worse, spotting simple red arrows was nearly impossible. There were crimson chevrons, but they led to the Limb Development Office. Scarlet pointers directed him toward the Wing and Fin Committee. Vermilion motion indicators showed the way to the restrooms.
Shoulder-deep in the scent of copier toner, Robin searched for the way to Room 198. Behind him, he heard the swing and hiss of the front door's hydraulic hinges, then the sharp click of heels on tile, and then a sigh. He glanced over his shoulder. A skunk in a pinstripe suit that followed the contours of her own stripes had stopped in the middle of the lobby. There was a sour look on her face like a lawsuit waiting to happen.
"Hah. Hard to find where you're going, right?" Robin said over his shoulder, with an awkward grin.
The business-skunk glanced his way, as if calculating whether it was worth talking to an obvious slacker like Robin. Then she looked back at the signs and pursed her lips. "I'm looking for the Species Permitting Office," she said.
"Oh! I saw that when I came in," Robin said. He approached one of the bulletin boards and pushed back the outermost layer of signs. After a few moments of digging, he pulled a thumbtack free and held out a sheet of paper. "Species Permitting and Census Records Office. B13, lobby elevator access only," he read, then held it out to show the skunk.
"Thank you," she said. She stepped toward the elevator and was about to hit the call button when she paused. With a small sigh, she looked back over at Robin. "What are you looking for?"
"I'm not sure," Robin said. "The woman at the licensing office just told me to follow the red arrows, but I—"
The skunk pointed at the floor.
Robin didn't know what she meant. Was she...asking him to kneel or—Robin's eyes fell to the floor under his feet. Some of the tiles had been cut and laid to form the shape of red arrows, leading from the lobby off down one of the hallways.
"Thanks!" Robin said, then set off along red arrows.
The skunk tapped on the elevator call button and folded her arms. "Don't mention it," she said, mostly to herself.
Robin bounced from arrow to arrow down the halls. The Bureau building had grown over the years, built in several stages of construction and renovation. Each stage was designed by a different architect, each of whom seemed to absolutely despise the work of their predecessors. Finding your way through the building was like navigating through a five-way architectural shouting match.
In the portion of the building made by the architect who liked stone floors and symmetrical halls, the red arrows made a left turn underneath a large door.
The small placard to the right of the door said 'Room 198'. Below that was a sign screwed to the wall with quarter-inch steel bolts that said, 'Department of Sex'. Below that was another sign, which said, 'Please do not steal sign.'
Robin pulled open the door and stepped inside. Across the room was a row of counters, with a few small queues set up in front of them. Off to the left, along the wall, was a set of small booths like department store changing rooms. The floor was firm low-pile carpeting and the air smelled a little like warm printer paper.
Beside the door, Robin was met with a shelf about as tall as he was, filled with cubby holes that were filled with forms. There were reams of complicated business sex forms, color-coded forms for couples to fill out to declare the intended sex of their child, applications for sex changes, sign-ups for counseling sessions about choosing the right sex for you...
Robin crouched down and tipped his head to read along the tops of the forms, looking for the word 'Affidavit'. His eyes stopped on a row of color-coded forms. There it was: Affidavit of Declaration of Sex, form DOS-1067-D. He tugged out one of the light-blue forms.
Clipboards with pens attached were provided next to the shelf. Robin slipped his DOS-1067-D under the clip and shuffled his way into one of the queues. There were only two people in front of him. One was a doe carrying a backpack, who was looking over her six-page forms for the third time since he'd come in. The other was a Shetland in a suit and tie with a briefcase in his hand, whose head only came up to Robin's shoulder.
Robin double-checked his phone. One-thirty. Plenty of time.
The pony stepped forward, set his briefcase on the counter, and flipped it open. The doe moved up a step, and Robin did too.
Filling out the affidavit was thankfully simple. 'I, print name here, affirm that this document shall constitute official proof of my sex for all legal and official purposes in lieu of other legal proof of sex,' on and on for a full page. Sign and date at the bottom, next to the empty square for stamping the form.
Up at the counter, the pony slipped his papers back into his briefcase, thanked the clerk and clopped (as much as anyone could clop on carpet) off toward the door. The doe still had her head down in her forms. Robin coughed gently. Her eyes snapped up and she hurried over to the counter.
Robin stuck the pen under the clip of his clipboard and started looking around. There were a few posters hung up on the walls, advertising some of the services offered by the Department of Sex, which they were very careful to call 'services offered by the Department of Sex' and not 'sexual services.'
"Thank you!" the doe said, taking a few quick steps toward the booths, then doubling back. She'd almost forgotten her copy of the forms. With a sheepish smile and more profuse thanks, the doe slipped into one of the changing rooms and shut the door.
Robin stepped up to the counter, his affidavit in hand. He was met by a bright smile from the brown bear behind the counter.
"Hi! Welcome to the Department of Sex. What can I do for you today?" he asked. Between his voice and smile and the captioned internet photos pinned to his cubicle walls, talking to him was a bit like trying to drink a very sugary, very caffeinated drink. He had two 'We're the BOM' pins pinned to his turtleneck sweater.
"Hi, I wanted to get this stamped so I can get my license," Robin said. He unclipped the affidavit and passed it toward the bear. The bear swiped the form off the counter and held it in front of him, scanning over it quickly. He glanced back at Robin in a way that made him feel odd.
"You're sure you want this stamped?" he asked.
Robin narrowed an eyebrow. "Uh, yeah. Just stamp it."
"Okay! Just making sure, no judgement." He grabbed a large-handled stamp off of a shelf. Stuck on the side of the stamp was a printed-out label that said, 'D.O.S. PROPERTY DO NOT STEAL'. The bear thumped it onto a pad of red ink, and then thumped it down onto Robin's form.
"Is stealing really that much of a problem?" Robin asked.
The bear leaned in a little closer, like he was telling a secret. "It's mostly the other departments, really. They think the name's funny." He slid the form across the counter, now stamped with 'Approved by DEPARTMENT OF SEX' next to the signature.
"Yeah, I dunno why," Robin said.
The bear smiled through Robin's sarcasm. "Me neither! Anyway, if you want to use one of our changing booths, feel free."
"Thanks," Robin said. Then paused. Then said, "Wait, why would I need a changing booth?"
"I mean, you filled out DOS-1067-D, right?"
Had he? Robin glanced at the form to make sure. "Yes..."
"Affidavit of Declaration of Sex, Female?"
Blood started pounding in Robin's ears. Heat rose to his cheeks. If he hadn't been gripping the counter, he might have stumbled. "But I just figured the blue one—!"
"If you wanted the Affidavit of Declaration of Sex, Male, you should have filled out the pink form," the clerk said. "There should be a handy little Sex Legend just..." He propped his arms against the counter, leaning up, looking across the room at the shelf of forms. "Hmm. Looks like it got stolen again." The clerk pursed his lips, then smiled. "But don't worry! We'll get this worked out. You probably do want to use the changing rooms first, though."
There were a number of angry things Robin wanted to say, but it was hard to say them to such a sincere smile. The bear held out the stamped affidavit. Robin grabbed it and stuffed it into his back pocket, then hurried over to the changing rooms.
He brushed past a stag, who was tapping the tips of his short, fuzzy antlers with a fascinated look on his face. "Scuse me," Robin said, then ducked into the booth the stag had just left and shut the door hard behind him.
Along one side of the booth was a bench, and facing it, a tall mirror. Robin sat down, brushed back his hair, and took a few breaths. The pounding in his ears slowed. This wasn't that bad. Some of his friends had gone through this whole thing—the proper way, not by filling out the wrong form. He'd never asked them how it felt, though.
Deep breaths. He leaned back against the cool wall. People went through this all the time. It couldn't be that bad, or he would have heard about it or something.
His shoulders shifted. His shirt dragged across his front. Normally, he wouldn't have noticed the brush of fabric, but this time, the cotton felt like it was sparking against his fur. His shirt was warm and uncomfortable. He needed to take it off. So he did: he pulled it over his head, then shook out his hair.
Hang on. Was his hair a bit longer than usual? He grabbed a handful and tugged experimentally. His hair spooled out into his fingers, falling against his cheeks, then his chin, then his shoulders. The feeling of hair pouring from his scalp sent a shiver down his spine. Quickly, he tried to grab up the excess and bunch it back up against his scalp, but it didn't work in reverse. He was stuck with shoulder-length locks.
Robin leaned forward as he tried to tame his new, longer hair. But that put pressure on his stomach, which was unpleasantly tender. He couldn't lean back, either, because that stretched out his front, and his chest was so sensitive, his own fur was bothering his skin. He sat up as straight as he could and tried to hold still. He tried not to think about his sides slowly bending inwards. He was already losing body mass.
Robin's arms were spread, fingers splayed against the walls. If he kept his arms up, he couldn't accidentally brush up against his own body and bother his tender skin.
The affidavit was in his pocket. It was the only thing "proving" he was female. He could just rip it up, you know. Maybe that would stop the change. ...or maybe that would kick off something even worse. He didn't want to end up legally neuter.
Every so often, a pang of pain clutched his lower abdomen. He'd tense, hiss between his teeth, and shift in his seat. Then the pangs grew more frequent, and began to overlap, until he had a dull, pulsing ache from his thighs to his navel. His thighs clenched together. Still male, for now. But not for long.
The grip of his waistband was too much to bear. Robin slipped the button open and wiggled his jeans down his legs. The air was cold, and the tenderness made his skin feel like it was radiating heat. His pants were off, but his boxers were staying on, no matter how uncomfortable he got. This wasn't something he was interested in watching.
With every breath, Robin's chest tightened. The growing pressure sat against his ribcage, so that every time he breathed in and his chest rose, it rang out tight and tender. The feeling of growing breasts wasn't all bad, but it was definitely over-sensitive. It reminded him of the lingering sting of a belly flop. His back arched, pushing his chest forward, trying to give his skin some space to breathe.
He bet he'd be sore from this all day, even once he was a guy again.
All the cramps in his stomach tightened at once into one, and it pulled upward, hard. Robin's knees tapped together and his lower body tightened into a knot. The way his stomach was drawing inward, it felt like a big thumb was squeezing his waist and pushing all his mass out into his hips. His boxers wrapped tightly around his legs.
The cramp rolled to one side of his body. His voice retreated into the back of his throat and he let out a squeak. There was one tight pop inside of him, a queasy feeling, and a gentle pressure against his abdomen. Then the cramp shifted sides, and there was another pop, another feeling of tightness. The cramp eased; he let out a sigh that sounded softer than he expected.
Reorganizing his bodily tissues left them feeling stiff and warm, which was why his thighs were pressed together. The feeling was familiar, but it wasn't an erection. Robin's cheeks were warmer even than his loins.
Every movement he made reminded him of his lighter frame and changing figure and longer hair. At least the hair hadn't gotten any longer since last time he'd checked. His muzzle was a bit smaller, his pelt smoother, his fingers and pawpads slimmer. His chest was far too tender to even touch, but he was aware of how the weight shifted when he settled in his seat.
It was almost over. Robin tried to sit still. He brushed his hair back behind his shoulder. He'd been looking away from the mirror, but slowly, cautiously, he turned toward his reflection.
Girl Robin wasn't that different from Guy Robin. It was weirder how similar he looked, to be honest. He was like his own female twin. He was neither androgynous nor super-feminine; he was just an average-looking vixen.
Maybe a little above average. He had vixen good looks on his side now.
Robin's little smirk was cut short by a sudden churning cramp. He bent forward and his knees curled toward his chest. His half-scrunched grimace in the mirror was the least dignified expression he could have had. A little squeak slipped from his throat. His tail bushed up. And then it all came unwound and his back bumped against the wall and his legs fell open. It took a few slow breaths before he was able to lift his head again. His boxers clung to his cute hips. Carefully, with the side of his thumb, he pushed open the waistband of his underwear, and tipped his head over his chest to peek.
He wasn't sure what he'd expected, honestly. A sign to pop up saying, 'Don't worry, you've still got your dick'?
The underwear snapped back against her waist. At least she'd get her proper equipment back soon. As she got up to start squeezing back into her clothes, she paused for a moment and looked over her shoulder at her reflection. I'd date myself, she thought. Probably a good sign: it meant her standards weren't too high.
What she hadn't counted on was how different her clothes fit. With how sensitive her chest was, her shirt felt like burlap hanging off her shoulders. Her pants now dug against her thick hips. She almost felt like crouching down and scratching at her clothes with her foot like a wild fox. But scratching herself wouldn't help anything. Hopefully, now that the change was over, the tenderness would start to go down.
She'd be back to being a male again soon, anyway, right?
Robin swung the door open, stepped out of the changing booth, and was hit by a wave of self-consciousness. It felt like everyone in the room was staring at her, even though that wasn't true. She flushed red beneath her fur and tried to bury herself in her shirt as she went back to the shelf of forms.
Each of the five color-coded forms was an Affidavit of Declaration of Sex, DOS-1067-A through E. In the minor panic of being told she was turning into a female, she'd forgotten which one was the one for males. So she grabbed one green, one yellow, one pink, and one orange form, and got back into line.
Robin walked up to the counter once it was her turn, and found that while she had easily seen over it before, now it just about came up to her shoulders. She stood up on her tiptoes and leaned against the edge of the counter, to make up for her lost height.
"Hi, how can I—oh, it's you again!" the bear said. He gave her another big smile.
Robin flopped the four forms onto the counter in front of her. "Yeah, it's me. So which of these do I need to fill out to be a guy again?"
The bear sat up in his chair to look at what Robin had brought. "Well, you would fill out the pink one. DOS-1098-C, Affidavit of Declaration of Sex, Male."
"I 'would'?" Robin raised his eyebrows.
"You would, but since you've got a legal Proof of Sex now, our system recognizes you as female. If you want to change your official legal sex, you get to fill out a Change of Sex form and pay the appropriate filing fee!" He sounded so enthusiastic about paperwork.
She dug her claws into the edge of the counter. "I'm not waiting in line again."
The bear looked down at Robin's tight grip, then back up at her face. His smile was a little more anxious now. "Sure! Just let me grab a copy of the form..." He slid open a drawer, ruffled through the folders for a moment, and pulled out a stapled sheaf of forms. There were six pages to fill out: personal information, medical history, agreements to bear the risk of side effects, a notice that the Bureau would automatically reassign a name suiting her new sex (but since she was still Robin as a girl, they must have considered that name unisex), and so on.
With all six pages filled out and signed and initialed, she passed the form back to the clerk. Robin had to come down off her tiptoes to give her feet a rest. Robin folded her arms on top of the counter and rested her chin there.
He looked over each page, then began to type in all the information.
The typing stopped. "Oops!"
"Oops." Robin lifted her head. Her eyes narrowed.
"It looks like you've got outstanding fees on your account. So, unfortunately, I can't process an elective charge like a Change of Sex until you clear out the existing fees," the bear said.
Robin's ears began to wilt. "So can I do that here, or...?"
"Nope! You'll have to talk to the department that brought the fees." He paused, peering at his monitor. "Looks like it's the Species Permitting Office. Need directions?"
Robin remembered helping the skunk woman find her way there. She took a deep breath and gathered herself up. "I'm fine. If I go there and pay them, then I can come right back here and get my sex fixed, right?"
"Okay," Robin said. "I'll be back."
"Al right. Have a good day sir-and-or-madam!"
Robin folded her arms across her chest. The pressure of her arms was preferable to having her shirt shift around against her breasts. On her way out, she paused to tug the cuffs of her jeans out from under her heels.
She checked her phone. It was a quarter past two, which meant she had a little less than two hours to pay her species permit fees, get her proper sex back, and get back to the licensing office.
At least she knew where she was going this time.
Robin followed the red arrows in reverse, back through the halls, back to the tangle of the front lobby. Coming up on the elevator, she found that a new sign for the Horn Assessor's Office covered up the elevator call button. She brushed it aside and hit the button. After a few moments' wait, the doors clunked and tumbled open.
The elevator wobbled slightly as Robin stepped in. She reminded herself: Species Permitting Office, B13.
The elevator's buttons were mounted on an old brushed-steel panel, and listed the following floors: 7B, 3, 2, 1 (with a star next to it), B1, MM, two confidential floors which had been firmly redacted with black tape, and one floor which had its label and button covered with a folded piece of paper that had 'DO NOT USE' written on it in pen.
Robin flipped the folded piece of paper up. The label for the floor said '??'. She decided not to risk it and hit B1.
The elevator doors tumbled open again on B1. Robin stepped forward and nearly ran face-first into a black-scaled naga. The naga's eyes widened and she reared back. Then, with a curt "Ssorry," she scooted backwards on her tail to give Robin room.
"It's no problem," Robin said. Enough time had passed since talking to the clerk at the Department of Sex that she'd briefly forgotten the strange feeling of someone else's voice coming from her mouth, but there it was again. Like lip-synching and speaking at the same time.
Robin stepped out of the elevator, then paused. Turning around, she took another look at the naga, who was trying to corral her tail into the elevator. Her pinstripe jacket was familiar, and the stripes of white scales that ran down her back look almost like a skunk's.
Robin's ears perked up. "Hey! Didn't we meet in the lobby?"
The naga had one hand on the door to hold it open. With the other, she was scooping up the coils of her tail and spooling them into the elevator. She glanced back over her shoulder and flickered her tongue out of her mouth. "Oh. You're the fox? Congratss," she said.
"Oh, no, this isn't—" Robin pointed in the general area of her chest. "I didn't want this. I just misfiled a form."
"I'm not ssurprissed," the business-naga hissed. "Half of my cassess are againsst the Bureau."
"Oh, you're a lawyer? " Robin asked.
The naga's tail filled up all the available space on the elevator floor, but some of her coils were still sticking out. Robin, unable to stop her helpful instinct, bent down and picked up the naga's tail. She gave it a gentle push to get it through the door.
There was a hint of a blush against the black of her cheek scales. "Yess. Adminisstrative law, mostly." She tapped the button for the first floor and folded her arms.
"Oh, cool, uh, see you later!" Robin said, leaning to the side as the doors began to close.
"Ssee you," the naga said, and then the doors thunked shut.
The door to room B13 creaked open, and that creak echoed. Robin peered inside, but all she saw were rows and rows of old wooden card catalogs, and emptied drawers from the card catalogs stacked up on rolling shelves. She looked closely at one; the yellowed label on the front read '1896, A - Be'.
"Coming!" someone called out over the shelves.
Now obligated to stay put, Robin stepped inside and pushed the door closed.
Room B13 had the echoey emptiness of a large room, though Robin couldn't quite see over the shelves to tell just how big it was. What she could see, though, were the tips of two feline ears bobbing along just above the tops of the shelves.
From the adjacent aisle of shelves, a serval in a dusty jacket and dusty whiskers emerged, wearing an apologetic smile. He was tall enough that Robin had to crane her head to look up at him, and that wasn't even counting his ears.
"Sorry, hello, pardon the mess," he said.
"Hi, I'm here for the Species Permitting Office?" Robin said as if it was a question..
"Right, yes. Just this way, back to my desk," he said, gesturing down the row of catalog shelves.
While they walked, the echoes of their footsteps filled the empty space. As if wanting something to hear other than the slightly floppy sound of Robin's slightly floppy shoes, the serval began to make small talk, of a sort.
"It's a mess because we're going through all the old census records and importing them into the new database system. A lot of things got overlooked before the big switchover to digital back in the eighties. So we started with records from all the way back when the Bureau was founded, and we've been working forward from there," he said.
Robin had her arms crossed over her chest. Her body wasn't as tender as when she was fresh out of the changing booth, but keeping up with the serval's long legs meant that she was walking briskly, and that made things jostle about more than she was comfortable with. "So how far have you gotten?" Robin asked.
"It's been about three months of work, but we've almost made it up to 1900," he said.
At the other end of the card catalogs was a small space with a long desk squeezed into it. On top of the desk were a computer, several stacked up drawers taken from the card catalogs, and a pile of aged cards with spindly, intricate handwriting on them. He shifted a stack of cards off of the chair in front of the desk, to let Robin sit, before setting himself down behind his computer.
The serval sat up and wiggled a bit of dust from his whiskers. "So, what can the Species Permitting and Census Records Office do for you?" he asked.
Robin took in a small breath. He'd been polite, so she didn't want to seem testy, but it was hard to completely scrub out the frustration in her voice. "Apparently, there's some fines that I need to see you about."
"Oh! Of course. Sorry to hear that. I'll just need your name to bring up your records," he said.
"Robin Smythe, S-M-Y-T-H-E," she said.
He paused, mid-keystroke. "Hm. Sounds familiar," he muttered, then kept typing. The computer's fan let out a dusty whine while he twirled his mouse in circles, waiting for the query to return results. "Ah, there we go, Robin Smythe, fox. It looks like for the past five quarters, you've been underpaying on your species permit."
The clerk nodded. "Yes, the rate was increased to forty dollars monthly, but it seems like you were paying at the old, thirty-two dollar rate."
Robin closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Great. She could just see the yellow Bureau envelope sitting in some forgotten pile in the post office. It wouldn't do her any good to get angry with him, even if it would feel really good to do so. She wanted to yell, but she needed him to fix this for her first.
"Okay, so like...a hundred twenty dollars? Is there a penalty for being late?" she asked.
"You will have to pay a twenty-five dollar late payment fee," he said, but his sentence didn't end. He stopped speaking, but there wasn't a period. Robin could tell.
She raised her eyebrows and leaned a little closer. "...and?" she prompted.
"...and unfortunately, your fox permit has been revoked."
Her chair scooted back against the concrete floor. Robin was on her feet, her hands on the desk, her fur puffed out. "What? Why!"
The serval spoke gently. "I'm sorry, but delinquent payments for more than four consecutive quarters means that your permit may be revoked if the species is in high enough demand. And foxes are one of the highest-demand species out there."
Robin's ears fell and her tail drooped. She almost wanted to grab onto them and hold tight so they wouldn't get taken away. There wasn't anything wrong with being another species, plenty of her friends were other species. But she was a fox. She'd always been a fox, and if she changed now, she'd have to spend so much time getting used to a new body she didn't even want.
The clerk frowned. "I could put you on the waitlist, at least."
"How long does it usually take?" she asked.
"For foxes? Around two to three years usually," he said.
"Well, I want on it," she said. Maybe she'd get lucky and it wouldn't take that long. Or maybe she'd be able to bargain with someone to trade permits with her. But if it was going to take years before she'd be a fox again, her question was: "What do I do until then?"
The serval's face lit up and he wiggled a xeroxed flier out from underneath the stacks of card catalog drawers. "You can register for a permit for any species that's not currently waitlisted, but we've just started offering a special Heritage Conservation program for for vulnerable but ecologically important species." He passed the flier to Robin.
The weight of it all pulled her back down into the seat. Her eyes were too heavy to lift, so instead they fell onto the flier in her hands. Flipping the flier over, she gazed down the list of species: green sea turtle, proboscis monkey, pangolin, whale shark, giant kangaroo rat.
"There's details in the pamphlet, but basically, you get your species license fees waived, and credit against certain services with the Bureau of Orthomorphic Management."
Robin gently set the flier on top of the nearest stack of empty drawers. "I don't know if any of these are...really speaking to me," she said. "Can't I just get a permit for dog or something instead?"
The serval tapped lightly at his keyboard. "It looks like the shortest waiting list for any dog breed is about six months."
"And I'm guessing I can't be on two waitlists at once."
The serval shook his head. "Sorry, no." The disappointment must have shown on Robin's face, because he leaned toward her and said, "I'm not strictly supposed to do this, but I can set up a temporary permit. It's meant to be for auditing and diagnostics, but it'll let you try out some species and see which you're partial to."
"That's really nice of you," Robin said, "But I don't even know where to start.
The serval had a helpful smile on his face. "Oh, that's no problem. Let me start you off with something. Let's see," he said.
Robin assumed he meant he'd suggest something for her to try. He tapped a few keys on his keyboard. He was probably bringing up a database of available permits.
A small kink twisted in Robin's neck. She placed her hand just under her jaw and leaned to one side. Her neck stretched as far as it could, but the stiffness was still there. She tried to turn her head.
Just then, her neck shot out two inches longer.
Her hands clutched the sides of her head, as if it might roll right off her shoulders. "Hey, did you j—" she began to say, before another jolt of growth made her neck twist and stretch. She had to reach up higher to keep her hold on her head.
"Sorry, what was that?" the serval asked, glancing up at Robin from his computer.
"Did you just give me a species?" she asked. Her voice felt long in her throat, having to travel more distance just to make it to her mouth.
The same tight feeling that had cropped up in the ligaments of her neck now twinged through her knees and elbows. The bursts of growth came almost randomly: right leg first, then her left, then right then left arm. Another tight burst of growth in her neck put her head taller than the serval's.
"Oh, my apologies! I thought you wanted me to go ahead," he said, shrugging sheepishly.
Robin leaned down to clutch the side of her face with her hand. "Ugh. I think I've got vertigo."
The red of her fur broke up, allowing lines of lighter fur to weave between the shrinking red patches. The patches themselves turned a copper color. Aside from a tuft of hair at the tip, her tail was losing its fur—not shedding, but simply back into a thin coat that ran to the tip of her tail.
Trying to stay comfortable in her seat was difficult, as her proportions shifted from moment to moment. While she was growing roughly evenly, the unpredictable spurts meant that her limbs could be entirely different lengths at any given time. Trying to balance in her seat felt like trying to stand on top of a surfboard on top of an angry octopus.
Her nostrils spread wider and the tip of her snout tapered out longer. The front of her nose sloped forward, no longer flat like a canine's. A noise like 'guh' came from her mouth as her jaw fell open and her tongue draped out. It was long, and prehensile, and an oddly pale-bluish color. "Groth," she decided, before awkwardly pulling it back behind her flattened teeth.
The feeling of skin pulled tight, which was becoming a more familiar sensation as the day went on, brought her attention to the top of her head. Two firm protrusions were growing just above her hairline. They were short and knobby, and covered in fur.
"I've got horns?" She patted her hand along the tops of the knobs.
The serval sat up straighter in order to look up at Robin's face. "Well, to be accurate, they're ossicones, as they're made of cartilage, not bone."
Robin huffed through her nose. "Thanks. That helps."
While her torso hadn't grown quite as fast as the rest of her, Robin no longer even covered her navel. It had fit just fine when she was a male fox, and it had been baggy on her as a female fox. Her pants were similarly inadequate, sitting like capris with the cuffs closer to her knees than her ankles. And again, her shoes fit oddly, though now because they bulged out around Robin's hooves stuffed inside of them.
The new giraffe crossed her arms across her chest, leaned back in the chair, and shifted her knees, trying to make space for them without feeling like she was crouching on the chair. She loomed tall enough over the desk that if she leaned forward, she could even see the mess of windows and database dialogs open on the serval's computer.
"If it's any help," the serval offered, "I do think the height suits you."
It was (begrudgingly) true that Robin's natural figure plus the lankiness of a giraffe's frame evened out to a slender-but-attractive body, but Robin wasn't planning to stick around as a female for long. There were plenty of more practical concerns—like how was she supposed to fit into her car like this? Trying to move her arms and legs felt like there were stilts strapped to her hands and feet.
Despite the lack of wind, Robin felt like she was swaying in the breeze. "Uh, thanks, but no thanks on the giraffe," she said. "This is way too tall for me."
The serval looked a little disappointed about 'too tall', but he nodded and turned back to his computer. "I'm sorry. Let's see..."
Robin leaned forward and twisted her head around, trying to see what was on his screen. "Wait, are you going to do another—"
Her neck snapped shorter. It felt like a pole ratcheting down in length; a quick fall and a sudden jolt at the bottom as her vertebrae clacked together. Her joints, both in her neck and in her limbs, grew warm and stiff. Her arms and legs stuffed themselves back down toward a more familiar set of proportions.
"Oh, sorry!" the serval said, biting his lip. "I thought you wanted me to go ahead and give you another. I'll wait next time, I promise."
The shrinking of her neck came in quick bursts. Each vertebra snapped back to its original size, then she had a few seconds to get her bearings before the next jerk downward. She held her head in her hands and slowly worked her neck, trying to stretch out the stiffness. Soon, all seven vertebrae were back to their normal sizes, and she only felt as sore as if she'd slept funny.
Robin had a few moments where she felt back to normal (somewhat), but before long, those moments had passed. Now instead of feeling stretched out, she felt squished, though she wasn't getting any shorter. She was getting broader. Her limbs and hands and feet were thickening out, while her fur—already a giraffe's short pelt—shrunk back even more, until she began to feel bare-skinned.
"What nnnnuh-" she tried to say. Her nostrils twitched and the noise died inside her nose. She wrinkled her snout and sniffled. In response to scrunching her face, her snout slid forward, drooping slightly off the front her face. She jerked back. Her elongated snout bumped against her lips. "Gah!" she gasped. She took a swipe at it. That made it swing back and forth, and with each swing, it dangled down a little longer.
Robin had to kick off her shoes or risk losing them to her rounder, growing feet. Again, her clothes posed a problem, but instead of just being too small in height, now they were too small in width and depth. Her shirt clung to her rounder torso and rose up against her belly, while her jeans were struggling to stay on around her heavier hips. Even her hands were broader, with thick fingers that were ill-suited for quickly undoing small buttons and zippers. She was shorter than a giraffe, but still plenty taller than a fox.
"Get this fpprRNNT!" Robin began to say. Her own sonorous trumpeting cut her off. Her trunk hung down to the level of her chest now. It was thick enough that it could lift itself up and move. It swung of its own volition in front of her. Her flattened ears folded back against her head. Leaning back in her seat, she tried to grab at her trunk, but its uncoordinated wiggling made it tough to catch. By using two hands, she was able to get a hold of it and tug it off to the side.
Robin had to breathe evenly, because any breath too deep would threaten to rip right through her shirt. The tightness made it wrinkle across her body, stretched around her chest and her stomach. She was scared to move too much in her seat, because her jeans felt like they would split open if she so much as tensed her thighs.
Robin narrowed her eyes at the serval. "Get rid of this trrRPPTT!" she trumpeted. Scowling at the tip of her trunk, she squeezed it tight enough to block off her nostrils. "Ged rid of dis god damb trungk," she said.
The serval pointed at his computer screen anxiously. "You said last time not to, um...can I...?"
"Yes, just ged id off me!" Robin said, slamming her free hand onto the desk. The card catalog drawers jumped and clattered against each other.
"Yes, yes! Sorry!" the serval said, and threw himself onto the keyboard.
Robin wanted to peek at his screen, but she was unwilling to risk leaning forward. A twitch ran through her trunk. Robin grimaced and gripped it with her other hand to hold it still. It finally began to retreat toward her face. She let out a small sigh of relief as it threaded its way back into her snout.
The rest of her body was slimming down. The excess weight on her torso eased, relieving the stress on her shirt and her waistband. Her clothes were probably stretched out now, but since the scale of her body was varying so much, it was hard to tell for sure. Robin took a deep breath of relief. She could curl her fingers tightly and even wiggle her toes again. Even just having toes instead of hooves was an improvement.
Her ears were also pointed again, instead of broad elephantine flaps. They twitched. The computer on the clerk's desk let out a soft whine that burrowed straight into her eardrums. She could hear the click-click-click as the serval clenched his teeth in a nervous tic. Swiveling her ears away from the desk just meant she was now hearing the hum of the fluorescent lights above.
As if her shirt hadn't been ill-fitting enough as a female fox, now it draped heavily across her shoulders, four sizes too big and drooping down over her pants. Her jeans were threatening to swallow up her toes. The rapid changes in size were making her legitimately dizzy.
At least she had fur again: short brown fur that covered her body. It grew in thicker and fluffier around her neck. She tugged on her loose collar to free some excess fur from beneath her shirt. Her collar brushed against something fleshy between her fingers. She let go, lifted her hand in front of her face, and spread her new-grown leathery webbing.
Robin sighed. Were there any normal permits?
She stretched out her hands. The creaking and stiff joints in her fingers reminded her of her growing neck. The bones popped and shifted, her tendons stretched, and her webbed skin was pulled longer. Her hands hovered awkwardly out at her sides. Robin bared her teeth, which were splitting apart into sharp fangs, as her fingers grew long and spindly and the leathery webbing filled in between them. Flaps of dark skin spread back along her arms, running all the way down to the side of her torso. If she wasn't somewhere around four feet tall, her wings might have ripped right through her sleeves by now.
From one tip of her wings to the other, Robin's wingspan was greater than her height. Her clawed toes clutched the edge of her jeans, since they couldn't reach the ground while sitting in her chair. Her shirt was like a smock. Her wings scuffled and scraped at the sides of the chair, trying to grab the armrests with her thumbs for support.
If there was any consolation, it was that her muzzle felt more familiar, with its black, blunted nose and tapered shape. If it wasn't for the wings, she could have dealt with being so much smaller. How did bats even grab things? Very carefully, she guessed.
"So, do you like it?" the serval asked, leaning forward with a tentative smile. "it' s called a flying fox, so I supposed—"
"Do I like this?" Robin asked, her voice sharp and squeaky, especially after briefly being both a giraffe and an elephant. She lifted her arms toward him and spread her fingers wide. The leathery skin pulled tight with a flap.
"Oh. You don't like the wings then?" the serval asked.
Robin folded her fingers back and stuck her arms down at her sides. "Look, I don't want a super long neck, or a trunk, or wings, or anything like that. Just give me a normal body. Is there anything normal that isn't waitlisted?"
The serval returned to his computer screen, scrolling with a concerned look on his face. Every click of the mouse wheel was so loud that Robin felt like she could tell exactly where it was, even though she was too short to see over the desk.
"What about a tapir? They've not got much trunk," he offered.
Robin sat up to fix him with a stare. "No trunk."
"Right, yes, no trunk." There was another space of silence, or in Robin's case, quite a bit of noise that no one else could hear. "How do you feel about bovids?" he asked.
"It wouldn't be a cow, those are waitlisted. Species tourism, you know," he said. "Take a month out of your summer to get milked, and all that. But the Heritage Conservation program does include bison."
"And there's nothing secretly weird about bison, right?" Robin asked.
The serval rolled his eyes in thought, pursed his lips, and then shook his head. "Nothing that I'm aware of. Hooves, horns, fairly standard bovid features."
"Fine. Bison it is."
"Right away!" he said. With a little flourish of finality, he hit two keys on his keyboard.
Robin's wings twitched. She stretched out her fingers, which pulled the skin tight, then she gave them a firm shake. Joints and tendons shifted back towards her wrists. She shook her hands out, until the tips of her fingers felt numb—though by then, she could curl them around to touch her palms. Her fingers kept quivering while their tendons shortened back to their proper length.
As her frame grew, her shirt slipped to one side, then the other as it caught on her broadening shoulders. She noticed her chest pressing outward against the front of her shirt, surpassing the size she'd had to deal with as a fox. Heat rose to her cheeks. She leaned backward, almost as if trying to get away from her own chest. The serval was looking her way.
"Could you not watch me?" Robin asked.
"Oh! Yes. Sorry. Yes," he said, turning to the side and staring as intently as he could away from her.
The webbed skin retreated from the backs of her shoulder. She stuck an arm out, rubbing over it with her other hand, feeling the thickness beneath her fingers. A bison's build came with a bison's muscle mass. It felt as if her whole body were tightening: less flexible, but more powerful. She arched her back and her abs streched. Her clothes fitting more properly now, aside from the tightness across her chest. Not that it was going to last long.
Her pelt thickened from fine bat hair to a thick bison coat. The dark brown fur grew especially dense across her shoulders and the top of her chest. The feeling of growing horns wasn't entirely the same as growing ossicones. The nubs of her horns formed and pushed their way through her skin—not painful, but sore, and a relief once they were free. She shook her head. The weight of two curled horns hung against her skull. Her hair caught against them, so she had to brush it back behind her shoulders.
Robin missed having a narrow muzzle, but at least a bovine snout wasn't a trunk. Her nose was broader and blockier and took up more of her face. She wrinkled her nose, patted her snout, and made a mildly frustrated groan. She'd just have to get used to how big her face was now.
'Big' was becoming a broader issue. Between her thicker frame and her heavier chest, the neckline of her shirt stretched downward and its seams dug into her shoulders. The proportions of her feet were shifting back toward hooves too large to squeeze into her shoes. Her shaggier hair took more swiping and batting to keep it tucked behind her long, bovid ears.
Any sense of scale was scrambled after bouncing back and forth between big and small, but judging by the fit of her clothes, she had to be a good six and a half feet tall by now. A little more, if you counted her hair and horns. She had no metric for judging how big her chest was getting, but it was big enough that it was going to be impossible to hide.
Bovids and their big bustlines. At least it wasn't an udder.
Robin filled up quite a bit more of the chair than she had as a fox (though not nearly as much as she had as an elephant). Her posture was stiff; she was well aware how tight her shirt was right now. And she was braless, of course, which meant—
She looked down. The outline of her nipples was unmistakable against her perilously tight shirt.
Her ears drooped and her eyes narrowed. Great.
"You can look now," she told the clerk. He lifted his cheek from his palm and turned in his chair, then snapped his head up stiffly. He seemed to be making an effort to look her in the eyes.
"So, do you feel that'll suit you?" he asked, with a timid smile.
Robin snorted softly. At least her new, bulkier body was intimidating. "It's not my first choice. But yes."
"Brilliant. Now let's get those fees paid and you'll be on your way," he said.
With her sneakers in hand and her new bison permit in her back pocket (next to the Affidavit of Declaration of Sex, Female), Robin ducked under the door as she left Room B13. She didn't actually need to duck, but she was far closer to the top of the frame than she remembered, and she didn't want to know what it felt like to smack your horns against metal.
Everything had felt off-balance after her inadvertent sex change, and now her center of gravity was all wrong again. Plus, she couldn't take more than a short step without feeling the stitches of her clothes straining. Balancing on hooves was just different enough from balancing on her feet that it threw her off, and she struggled to find a way to walk that didn't sound like she was stomp-clopping down the hall.
The elevator sagged and groaned as Robin stepped inside. She could swear it was chugging harder to lift her up to the first floor. Once it let her out, she was back in the jungle of signage, and then following the red arrows along the floor again. Each step was firm, and each made her body jostle. That was why she had her arms firmly folded over her chest, even if it made her look even more like she was about to kick someone's door down.
Which, in a few moments, she was about to.
The door to the Department of Sex was locked. No rattling at the knob would open it and no one responded to her banging on the door.
Robin wiggled her phone out of her pants. She hunched over it, careful with her thicker fingers. 'Department of sex hours', she searched, then thumbed through three pages, clicked through three different landing pages, and finally downloaded a PDF. Friday hours were listed down at the bottom: 9 AM to 3:30 PM. The time on her phone was 3:41.
Robin reared back and kicked the door. It clattered against its frame and shook the wall. The bolted-on Department of Sex sign rattled, and the sign asking visitors not to steal the first sign flipped onto the ground.
With an angry snort, Robin bent down and squished the fallen sign back onto the wall.
So she was stuck as a woman, at least until the Department of Sex opened again next week.
But although she was stuck for now, she did have a stamped Affidavit of Declaration of Sex. Yes, it was for being female, but even if she was a female bison, she'd rather have a proper license than have her identity revoked and not even get a choice in the matter.
The lethargic chairs of the licensing office felt like old, fond memories by the time she sat down again, with a new ticket (W414) in hand along with her old license, her affidavit, and her species permit. She wasn't going to be caught without documentation this time.
Each minute was slow and weighty. Not even her phone could distract her from the fact that she was in a race against time—and worse, against civil servants.
Q936. W411. Q938. W412.
Robin's jaw clenched rhythmically. It was annoying, but as soon as she stopped paying attention she'd start doing it again. She just needed like a stick of gum or a toothpick or maybe some grass. ...ahh, so that's what it was. More bison stuff.
She propped her elbow on her leg and leaned against her fist.
Q937. W413. Q939. W414.
Robin stood up, double-checked that she had everything, and walked up to the open window. It was the same mouse woman with the same bored look, and a brand-new, unchewed pencil stuck through her bun. Presumably, the old one had broken..
"New or existing license?" she asked.
Robin set her documents on the counter. "I was here before. Robin Smythe?" she said.
"Oh," the mouse said.
Neither said anything for a moment. Robin held out her license and said, "Existing. I'm here for a renewal."
The mouse took it, looked down at the picture, looked back at Robin, squinted, typed a few letters into her computer, squinted at the screen, then looked at Robin again. "Right. Robin Smythe."
"Do you have your official Proof of Sex now?" she asked.
Robin slid the Affidavit of Declaration of Sex across the counter.
"And since you've updated your species status, I'll need to see your permit."
Robin slid her permit across the counter, too.
From the other side of the counter, there was quiet typing, the sound of a productive bureaucrat. Robin folded an arm along the edge of the counter and leaned against it lightly, trying to wait politely and not peer at the clerk's computer. Before, as a fox, she'd been about eye to eye with the mouse. Now, she stood a foot or two higher than her. She could see just how the mouse's pencil was stuck into her bun.
"All right. You'll need to take a new picture," the clerk said. She stood and leaned forward to point at an X marked in tape on the floor. "Stand there, please."
Robin took up a position on top of the X, in front of a white screen hanging from the ceiling. The camera mounted on the desk in front of her swiveled to life. Each adjustment came with a little whirr, and Robin could almost feel the digital crosshairs trying to center on her nose.
"No smiling," the clerk said. Robin hadn't thought she was, but maybe she was just eager to be done with the Bureau for the day. She tried harder to not look pleased.
The flashbulb popped. Robin wiggled her jaw and brought a hand to touch her lower lip. It felt a bit fatter—and while her skull was still new to her, it felt like her cheeks and snout had been gently tugged.
"If you're feeling a little discomfort, that's just the facial recognition software adjusting you so you're easier to recognize," she said.
"Oh, all right." Robin pursed her lips and wiggled them a little. Her hand brushed along her cheek and she worked her jaw up and down a few times. Still felt strange, but in the scheme of things, an adjustment to her bone structure was minor compared to the rest of the day.
A few moments later, the machine attached to the camera spat out a card blank, printed with Robin's information and her new photo. The mouse picked it up, slipped it into a little envelope, and set it on the counter.
Robin picked it up and slid it back out of the envelope. Finally, she had it. Robin Smythe, female, bison. She didn't look bad, either, once you compensated for it being a license photo. Date of birth...wait a minute.
She held the card up toward the clerk. "This says my date of birth is October 5, 1895."
The mouse looked mildly surprised. "Oh. Let me see that," she said, taking Robin's new license back and turning toward her computer. "That is strange. It's showing up in your official record, too. It looks like it's auto-populating from the census database. There must be someone else with the same name and species, and your records got crossed."
Robin scratched anxiously at her shoulder. Was it just her, or was her shirt tighter than it had already been? Her heartbeat traced a lazy vein down her bicep. With every breath, her clothes felt a little tighter.
Don't even think about milk, she told herself.
"So what am I supposed to do?" she asked.
"I can't change this here. You'll need to go to Census Records and sort it out there."
Robin raised her eyebrows. "Wait. Room B13?"
"Oh, good. You don't need directions, then," the mouse said, passing the license back across the counter. "Your license is still valid, but you'll want to update it as soon as possible once you correct your information."
Robin grabbed her forms off the counter, let out a stiff snort, and lowered her horns.
Robin clopped down the stairs carefully. Her shirt was minutes away from giving up the ghost; the only question was whether her chest would rip through the front or her shoulders would tear through the sleeves first. Her arm was wrapped across her chest to keep it still, in a last-ditch attempt to keep everything together until she could fix her census records.
Whoever this other Robin Smythe was, she'd had one hell of a back to hold up all this weight.
Robin hit the landing above the first floor lobby and turned to find someone blocking the stairway, from one railing to the other. It took a moment for Robin to recognize the striped, ex-skunk naga, because instead of the trim figure she'd had before, she seemed to have put on a few hundred pounds—maybe closer to a thousand, once you counted all the mass of her thick tail. Her scaly hips filled up the entire stairwell, leaving only a gap too small to for even fox-Robin to slip through.
The naga's pinstripe suit did its best to cling to her chest, but with all the weight she'd gained, it was a miracle that it hadn't burst open. Her breasts perched high on top of her belly, with extra support from the straining buttons of her suit. Her skirt was fighting a similarly valiant and similarly futile battle to stay wrapped around her hips. Beyond her hips, her tail was just as thick, snaking all the way back down to the lobby.
She clung to the railing, dragging herself up the stairs hand-over-hand, fighting gravity for every step. She had a particularly sour look on her face. Or she did beneath her pudgy snout, at least. "Move!" she snapped at Robin. She crossed her arms, grabbed higher up along the railing, and dragged her obstinate tail up another step.
"Um, do you need help?" Robin asked.
"I need to get to the ssixth floor," she hissed.
On one hand, Robin was in a hurry. On the other, so was the naga, and at the rate she was climbing, she wouldn't get to the Nonstandard Locomotion Permit office by the time the Bureau closed. And there was no way Robin could get past her without backing up a floor, especially given both of their new sizes.
Robin stepped closer, planted her hooves firmly on the steps, and wrapped her arms around the naga's waist. With a tight grip, she pulled. It felt like trying to haul a plow through frozen soil.
Huh. That was a strange thought to have all of a sudden. Maybe she'd better pick up the pace.
Arms locked and back straining, Robin began to haul the naga up the steps, rounding the landing and continuing up the next flight. "It's me, by the way," she said through her teeth. "Robin. The fox."
"Sshould have guesssed," the naga said. "They overturned my exercise approval because of the new body they forced me to get."
The naga's claws gripping Robin's shoulder. As her glare sharpened, so did her hiss.
"I sssswear to god I'd do anything to get back at thissss bunch of incompetent idiotssss."
Robin wasn't struggling as much as she was before. And if she paid close attention, she could almost feel the muscle spreading across her shoulders and back. She could stand straighter and haul the naga faster, but that wasn't too encouraging. She needed to get back down to Census Records before her skillset became entirely plow-related.
"They messed up my census records," Robin said. They were coming up on the fifth floor. Not much farther to go. "Got me confused with someone with the same name and species born in 1895. Now they think I'm a hundred-and-twenty year old farmer."
With a deep breath and a worrying creak from the seams of her pants, Robin set the naga down on the sixth floor. She began to coil her tail behind her, pulling the rest of it out of the stairwell.
The sides of Robin's shirt began to snap open. She clamped her arms down around her sides, trying to keep the holes from widening. Her broader waist strained the waistband of her jeans. She just needed her clothes to last until she could get down to Room B13 and tan that cat's hide.
"I need to go, so—" she started.
"Wait. Let me be your legal counsssel," the naga said. She slipped a hand into the pocket of her jacket, which was no small feat given how tightly it was stretched. She passed her business card to Robin: 'Emma Pound, Attorney,' it read, along with her office address and phone number.
"Um, why?" Robin asked.
"If the Bureau'sss going to ssscrew you, let'sss ssscrew them right back. Look, you don't have much time. Just agree to let me represssent you,"
Robin wasn't entirely sure, but Emma's piercing glare pulled the word, "Sure," out of her throat.
"Yeah. Robin Smythe, S-M-Y-T-H-E." She left off the old-timey farmer bit. It was a little too sensitive a topic right now.
"Good. Sssee you when I'm done." Emma said.
Robin nodded, then turned and started down the stairs. "See y'all later!" she called over her shoulder.
Uh oh. That 'y'all' didn't sound good. She picked up the pace, taking the stairs down to the lobby two at a time.
One elevator ride later, the door to room B13 slammed open, bumping a rolling cart of empty drawers out of the way.
Robin was now tall enough that her head stuck up above the card catalogs as she walked The serval was sitting at his desk at the far end of the room. His ears snapped up a moment before his eyes did. When he saw the look on her face, he climbed out of his seat and pushed it in, as if trying to put a little more distance between him and the angry bison.
"Hah, um, how can I help you?" he asked from behind his chair.
Robin smacked her fist down against her desk and leaned over it. "Somethin's wrong with my census records and you're going to fix it."
"Yes!" he said, as if it was a reflex. "Um. Yes, the name was...Robin...?"
"Robin Smythe, Y-T-H-E." The wood groaned beneath her knuckles. Her dark fur was poking out underneath her arms, where her shirt was splitting apart stitch by stitch. She wasn't bothering to control her breathing, so the collar of her shirt strained with each breath in.
The clerk hunched down behind his computer screen. "Ah...it looks like there was a collision in the database. It seems there was a Robin Smythe, female, bison, born October 5, 1895, census date 1915, and because it only reads the last two digits of the year..."
Robin wasn't sure if her patience had run out, or if her anger was more of Robin Smythe, 1800's Bison bleeding through. She didn't have time to fret about it. She snorted and leaned down closer to the serval's face. "So what are y'all gonna to do to fix it?" she asked.
"Well, if you wouldn't mind filling out a census card, I'll be able to separate your records again." He carefully groped for a drawer, then pulled it open and took out a card that looked like a standardized test form. He slid it, along with a number two pencil, toward Robin.
Name, Robin Smythe; sex, female; species, bison. Date of birth, October fifth, eigh—nineteen ninety five. She shook her head. Come on, keep your head on straight.
The sides of her shirt had split open from her armpits down to the bottom of her ribs, and she could feel the threads in her collar snapping. Her head buzzed; it was either unpleasant memories of taking the SAT, or her personality being forcibly merged with someone else's. Robin moved down to the next row.
Married, no. Children, no. Education... She closed her eyes and concentrated. A one-room schoolhouse flickered in and out of her thoughts. But, no, she'd gone to high school, definitely. College? Ah, that was harder. There was a lot of time spent tilling fields, as she recalled, but she could have been doing that over summer break. But she was supposed to be a fox. But not like a fox couldn't have worked the fields either. High school, she decided.
Occupation. Well, on one hand, she clearly recalled farming. On the other hand, she remembered lying in bed at home and doing little to nothing because she was unemployed. She chewed on her lip and squeezed the pencil between her fingers. She wrote in, 'Part-time farmer'. There, that was a good compromise, right?
The last line: height and weight. Robin didn't know what to do with those. Her sense of scale was all off after all the growing and shrinking she'd done. She didn't want to end up short or scrawny, either, if she was going to be stuck with being a bison. She guessed she was probably six feet, eight inches right after getting her bison permit. And how heavy? Three hundred pounds? That sounded a bit heavy, so she tipped the scale slightly: two hundred and seventy-five pounds. That sounded...accurate-ish, at least.
"Here," Robin said, pushing the card back toward the serval. He lifted it off the desk and fed it into a small scanner beside his computer.
For a few moments, Robin continued to grow. The collar of her shirt split open, leaving a small tear that hung open above her chest. The denim of her jeans gave up more of a fight: it bristled and ripped as her waist tore the button straight off of the waistband.
And then, her mind cleared. Robin relaxed and let out a breath of relief. Her shirt was hanging on by a thread, and it was only the various pressures of her rear and her thighs that were keeping her pants up. But she wasn't growing any bigger or any heavier. "Finally," she sighed.
"There you are. Sorry for the mix-up, we've never had a problem with the database like that before," the serval said. His eyes slid over to the pile of satisfaction survey pamphlets sitting under his monitor, with the 'We're The BOM!' slogan printed on the front. He gently nudged them out of sight, and gave Robin an apologetic smile. "I hope that's everything?" he said.
"Yeah," Robin said, standing up from her seat. "I better not have to come back here." She was relieved as well to hear that her voice was...not back to normal, but at least back to being her own.
The serval laughed and sunk down between his shoulders. "Hah, um, I do get that a lot."
Once she'd reached the lobby, Robin wiggled her phone from her pocket to check the time. It was 4:26, four minutes until the Bureau closed. She didn't have time to get back to the licensing office, so she figured she might as well leave and come back on Monday. As long as her census records were right, she could live with a misprint on her license..
But as Robin reached for the door, a voice hissed from the stairs, "Oh good, you're sstill here!"
Robin knew who it was before she turned to look.
Emma's broad body was coiled up at the first landing. With a small push, she started sliding down the stairs. Down was much easier than up, and she came skidding down like the stairs were a waterslide, and let the momentum bring her right up to Robin. "I needed to sserve you these," she said, holding out a pair of thick folders.
Robin lifted them from Emma's hands. There had to be at least forty pages of documents all told. "What are these?" she asked.
Emma indicated the top folder with a claw. "Thiss one iss from Land Management. It'ss the deed to Robin Ssmythe'ss homesstead, thankss to the Homesstead Act of 1862. The other iss approximately one hundred yearss' worth of unpaid farming ssubssidiess."
"Is this...legal?" Robin asked.
Emma shrugged, which was not an entirely reassuring gesture coming from a lawyer. "You were legally a hundred-and-twenty year old farmer for about half an hour. If it'ss legal for the Bureau to do that, it'ss legal for you to do thiss."
Robin was about to question that conclusion. Then, she considered what the last four hours had been like, and decided that she was going to follow the advice of her lawyer. "Huh. Thanks, Emma."
"You have my card," Emma said. "Call me if you have any more trouble with the Bureau," she said. She smiled, flickered her tongue, then turned and slid off through the front doors—plural, as she had to use both to fit her hips and tail through.
Robin shuffled through the papers, reading them still in a haze of mild disbelief while the chubby tip of Emma's tail vanished through the doors. Once Emma had left, Robin headed out through the doors herself. As she passed the threshold, she glanced up at the top of the doorframe. Another foot or so, and she'd have to stoop down to get through them.
Robin's new homestead was a plot of semi-forested land tucked behind the foothills and about a fifteen-minute drive from the edge of town. An old stone farmhouse still overlooked the unkempt fields. And with those back-paid farm subsidies sitting in her bank account, Robin easily paid for a new roof and windows and floors and everything else it needed to actually be livable.
It was about a month after first getting her homestead that she finally moved in—that was when the internet service was installed.
Robin pulled up in her car and ducked down to climb out. More and more, she was feeling comfortable with her body. Wearing a tank top and shorts that actually fit helped immensely. She swung the car door shut and walked up the stone path and steps up to the front door.
A light breeze rustled the trees. Robin squinted and turned her head into the wind to keep her shaggy hair from blowing back into her face. Out beyond her house were the fields, which had been left to grow wild for years. An itch crawled up the back of her neck. Look at those weeds. And that un-tilled soil. It was begging to be plowed.
Robin reached under her hair and scratched at her neck. She stared out at her fields for a few moments longer, then opened the door and went inside.
On an early morning a few days later, Robin was on her knees outside her house, trowel in hand and a pouch of tomato seeds torn open beside her. She was starting small, seeing if a garden was enough to soothe the urge to see things grow.
Off by the road, the post office truck pulled up, paused by the new mailbox she'd bought for a considerable amount of time, then pulled away.. Brushing the dirt from her knees, she got to her hooves and walked out along the driveway to the edge of the road..
Her mailbox was stuffed to the brim with yellow envelopes stuffed with the Bureau seal. She wiggled one out from the bunch and checked its post date: it was ten months ago. Pulling out a couple more, she found one that had been sent a year and a half ago, and one from three months ago. Her change of address form had unclogged some stuck valve at the post office. There was her first notice about license renewal, and her warnings about insufficient payment for licensing fees, and everything else the Bureau of Orthomorphic Management had sent her in the past eighteen months.
Robin dragged her recycle bin in front of the mailbox, then pulled out each letter, checked it carefully, and one by one tossed them all into the bin.