"Come on, sweetie, you'll miss breakfast!"
"Okay, okay, I'm getting up!" Natalie Grayswift slowly arose from her bed. She blinked a few times, looking up at her mother, Lorna. "What's the damage?"
"Oogh, maximum bedhead, kiddo." The mature wolf woman shook her head, smirking. "At least two cycles to fix. Why don't you hop in the shower? I'll work on breakfast."
"Okay! Pancakes, please!" And with that, she was off to the shower in her pasted-on skivvies.
Halfway down the stairs, Lorna spotted a pretty, well-dressed and quite brutish cat girl sitting on the living room couch. "Oh, hello, Carrie."
"Morning Ms. Grayswift!" She waved, pressing a wrinkle in her school uniform of a time long past. "Have you seen my good friend Natalie?"
"Don't you mean 'girlfriend?'"
"Oh, that's right!" The milk-white cat gave a faux-shocked expression, then replaced it with a dimpled smile. "She is my lovely girlfriend, isn't she."
The wolven woman laughed softly, quirking a brow. "Uhm... this is news to you??"
"Nope!" Natalie, now clean and free of her hair disaster, walked down the stairs slowly. She straightened her outfit- pink and white hooded sweatshirt and matching short shorts- and explained, "She's just reveling in the fact that we can't give each other babies."
"And here I thought that school taught you kids something."
"No, Mom! Remember, in the news? That thing with the Life Party- they wanna pass a resolution that every couple has to breed."
Carrie smirked smugly. "That's right. No kids for us! Wrong parts, so sorry!"
Lorna folded her arms. "You know, there's plenty of ways they could do that."
"Hunh?" The cat's smile faltered.
"As a matter of fact, there's two girls in this relationship, so you could both carry!" A cheerful tap of the cheek.
"What?! No way!" Carrie burst out, standing up and balling her fists. "The first doc that comes at me with an eyedropper gets socked in the gawkers!"
Natalie laughed softly. "Easy! We're in a population crisis, but what else is new? They're not gonna flip the whole world upside down." She pacified her lover with a kiss on the cheek.
"Yeah, you're right," she conceded. "They should just give stuff to big families or something."
"We should suggest that at the next Town Meet!"
"Oh, hey, Mom, weren't we having breakfast?"
Lorna blinked, then smacked her forehead. "Duh! Sorry. Have a seat, girls, I'll whip you up something."
They sat in the dining section opposite the kitchen. Carrie leaned against the wolf girl. "You think there'll be time for OC later?"
"Yeah, didn't you hear?" Natalie wriggled her hand under her girlfriend's skirt and fished the brush out of her shorts pocket- after a playful squeeze of the rear, of course. "There's a party at Shelly Iverson's after school."
"Awp!" Carrie grinned a bit. "Shelly Iverson? You know her?"
Nat brushed the girl's drill-shaped powder blue hair patiently. "I know everyone. Well, kind of; we're in Band together. But I figured why not. You don't mind, do you, Carr-bear?"
The cat girl relaxed visibly, leaning more intimately against her and smiling. "Eh. Nah. As long as you're there, let 'em watch."
Breakfast was served and eaten without fuss or discussion, and afterward, the girls walked into the kitchen to help clean up.
"Thanks for the breakfast, Ms. G!"
"No problem, Carrie, you're always welcome in our house," the older woman smiled.
"Hey, Mom, can I have one of those old-fashioned puddings you made?" Natalie piped up. "I wanna have it for dessert after lunch today."
"Again?? That's the third one this week!"
"Yeah, but they're sooo good!"
Her mother wagged her finger disapprovingly. "Natalie, those are full of sugar and fat and-"
"-Cap'n Comet ate fruit pies all the time, and they had sugar and fat!" Natalie sweetly protested.
"Your comic book character also ran around the city all the time, if I remember right."
"Aw, c'mon, Mom, pleeease??"
Lorna smirked, relenting on the teasing and obligatory gatekeeping and turned around. "I better not make these too often or you'll start getting soft like me."
"Aw, Mom. I know I stopped Gymnastics, but I still work out." Natalie grinned impishly.
Her mother opened the refrigerator and bent over to retrieve the dessert, her huge denim-traced posterior oscillating as she rummaged. Carrie smirked at Natalie, looking at her, then her mother's rear, then her again. "That's gonna be you," she mouthed silently. "Just you wait." A wink.
The wolf girl blanched. "U-Uhm... you know, on second thought, Mom, I'll just grab a bagel from the lunch room. Whoops, look at the time! Gotta catch the bus. See ya, Mom, love you, bye!" And with that, the girl was out the door.
Her mother blinked. "Uhh... okay? What was that all about?"
Carrie simply shrugged and smiled. "She's a strange girl sometimes, Ms. Grayswift."
A six inch long, three inch wide, hot pink rectangular box emitted a clicking noise. A logo spelling out 'Personal Electronic Taskmaster' lit up on its screen. The image of an equally pink keyboard projected itself across the flat back of a backpack.
Mom makes the best pancakes! I wish I wasn't hungry so soon after, though. Lunchtime never comes quick enough. Forget the population thing, I want there to be a resolution on school lunchtimes! Maybe I can drop by the Principal's office and suggest it later. Uh, maybe not, though, I should probably wait- she didn't like my practicing kung fu on the school mascot last week.]
"Natalie...? I know you're busy, but, uhm..."
She looked up from her PET, spotting her bespectacled ferret friend. "Erwin? Oh, no, it's okay, what's up?" The device went into 'standby.'
"This isn't about your understicker again, is it?" Carrie asked, glaring through one open eye as she tried to catch a nap on the way to school. "I told you to buy a bigger one."
"No! N-not this time," Erwin clarified. "You know Cedric?"
"The big dumb badger bully that makes everybody miserable if he can help it at all? Never heard of him," Natalie replied smoothly, flipping him a smirk.
"R-...Right, yeah, well, uhm. Yesterday, I was taking my lunch from the chemistry lab..."
"Erwin Goldstein!" Came the hushed, furious voice of one prissy blonde bat girl sitting in the seat in front of them. "You know what he said would happen if you told!"
"C'mon, Sam, you know h-he was just trying to scare us..."
"Whoa, guys, what's...?" Natalie interrupted, blinking confusedly.
"And he succeeded!" Samantha took on a defensive tone. "Oh, don't worry about it, Natalie, it was nothing."
Carrie's brows creased. "It doesn't -sound- like nothing..."
"He took my lunch!" Erwin blurted out. "I was walking and he took it from me! And he ate it!"
"Oh, dude, now you did it!" Wailed the high-pitched, gravelly voice of one iguana by the name of Max Tangent, seated next to Samantha. "He already gave me a swirly! Now he's gonna do something even worse!"
The wolf girl blinked. "He actually stuck your head in the-"
"Yeah! And flushed like three times! And did the clean and dry cycles, waaaugh!" He flailed about, eyes rolling wildly. "All I remember was blue light, water and the smell of butts!"
"Uagh, gross, that fiend!" She blinked in disbelief.
The reptile gnawed on his own tail. "He's a sick man! A monster! And he wears pants that are way too tight!"
"Yeah! What??" Carrie said, confused as usual.
"And what's more," Samantha added, "He and his goons, Alliston and Coul, surprised me mercilessly all day, just to make me do my echolocator squeak! So embarassing. And they told me that if I told anyone, they'd... they'd... they'd give me an atomic wedgie. I don't even know what that is, but it sounds horrible!" She fretted, causing her male compatriots to shudder in their equal fear of the unknown.
"This is serious," Carrie concluded.
Natalie nodded in agreement. "Cedric's really stepping it up... he isn't usually this bold. And he targeted you three specifically." Max, Erwin and Sam were the girls' closest friends, and an assault on them was an assault on everything the duo stood for. While Cedric was well-known for his tenacious ability to terrorize anybody in the school, he hadn't ever focused on a group before... minus, of course, Nat and Carrie themselves. "... And that's why you guys need to fight back!" the wolf girl concluded for what very well sounded like the umpteenth time.
The three of them were silent for a very heavy moment.
"I-I don't want to get in trouble..."
"My goodness, but fighting is dangerous!"
"He's bigger than us! All three of us on top of each other's shoulders and on a ladder!"
She sighed, her face in her hand. "Guys, he picks on you because you don't fight back. You'd really rather be terrorized than try?"
Erwin shook his head. "W-We're scared, Natalie. We've seen the fights you've gotten into, people can get really hurt." He shuddered. "Not everyone's as tough as you," he admitted with a bit of hurt in his voice.
"Scaredy pants is right," Max nodded. "We're not cut out for fighting, no matter what you think. He'll crush me to pieces, and I'm tougher than both of these other two put together." He thumbed toward Erwin and Samantha.
Carrie rolled her eyes. "That's depressingly true."
"Don't say it like that," the ferret protested. "Nobody in this school knows how to fight, other than Cedric, his goons and you two! I asked my dad, and he's never been in a fight in his life!"
"You guys are the weird ones!" Max licked the top of one of his eyes for a moment.
"This is useless, Natalie," Carrie sighed. "They're too soft for this."
"That's why we're counting on you to help!" Sam pleaded. "You're the tough ones! We need you! Isn't that what your..." She unsuccessfully searched her memory for the name. "-Comic book hero person would do? Captain Planet?"
"Cap'n Comet," Nat corrected. "And... yeah, he would. He always did."
Carrie smirked. "Heh. This is like when Cap made those friends at the diner, then that same day Doctor Nhilus captured them."
"But why target us??" Max groaned. "Why not just threaten you two?"
"... He wants us angry," Natalie snapped her fingers. "He wants to make us so mad that we'll just haul off and hit him first thing."
"Aw, he's gonna get you in trouble and get off scot-free again!" Erwin complained.
Carrie pursed her lips. "So what do we do?"
"Nothing," the wolf girl smirked. "Not a thing."
It was at this point that Samantha butted in, "But Natalie! You have to do something, everyone on this bus heard us talking. I'm too young to be wedgied!" she pleaded.
"Oh, we'll still protect you," she stated simply. "I've got a plan."
Sneak sneaky sneak!
A masked youth moved silently along the halls, invisible within the crowd of students shuffling from one class to another, he deftly maneuvered so as to be unnoticed by the ones he surveyed. A well-timed step, a quiet slide, a disappointed glance, and finally, a strategic retreat to the bathroom, where a do-ragged vixen and a broad-chested badger awaited him.
"Okay, I found 'em." Coul's sleazy voice seemed a bit less mirthfully malevolent with his findings today.
Leaning against the sink, Cedric smirked at the diminutive raccoon boy, looking down through his dark undercircled eyes. "And?"
"They're with them. The girls."
This earned a deep, thoughtful frown from the badger. "What do you mean 'they're with them?' They don't even have any classes together this period."
"They show up at their classes when they're over, then walk them to the next one," Coul replied. "They're escorting them."
"Dammit!" Cedric pounded the counter with his fist. "First they walk by us like they didn't hear a thing- and I know those crybabies told, I know it!"
"Of course they told, they're whiny when nothing happens," supplied the vixen, Alliston.
"-Then they hold their baby friends' hands so that they won't get a little wedgie," he mocked, rolling his eyes. "I'm getting really burned about this..."
"Why don't we just call it off?" The raccoon suggested, pulling off his skullcap to scratch his unkempt hair. "I mean, they're being total dorks about this, and probably loving milking this hero thing. Why don't we just go to Shelly Iverson's party?"
Cedric narrowed his eyes, a redundant act. "Are you scared?"
"I'm just saying, it would probably be way more fun-"
"You're scared, aren't you?? You think we're gonna lose somehow!"
"-she always has awesome food and games-"
"Think they're gonna beat us this time!"
"-And OC, man! Come on, none of that tempts you??" Coul pleaded for reason, but only met the steely gaze of the badger.
"Fine. You wanna ditch? Abandon everything we've worked for? Go ahead."
There was a pregnant pause. Coul placed his cap back on and sighed. "No, Cedric, I don't. I was just... thinking about my permanent record." He muttered the last part.
"Good, glad to hear you come back to your senses." The taller boy smirked, turning to Alliston. "You're not leaving, are you, do-rag?"
The vixen hmphed, smiling. "Nah, I wanna see the look on their faces when we beat 'em. But how are we gonna get 'em to throw the first punch now?"
"Hmm." A half-grin grew on Cedric's face. "I've got a plan."
"So that was the plan."
A bespectacled 40-something skunk woman in a plain dress and a flowery vest lectured her students- not with boring monotone, but actively telling the story of history as if spinning some wild tale. "Science had a job to do, and it had to do it right this time. Nature had brought us as far as she could, but we had to go the extra mile if anyone was going to have a future." She smiled inside as the suspense built, a serious look on her face all the same as she paced about the room. "To make matters worse, people were dying. Every day they didn't have a solution, somebody died. They had to unlock the secrets of the genetics..."
From her desk in the middle of the class, Natalie felt a rumbling in her hoodie pocket. She withdrew her PET and read the message alerted.
[BrushFerret: This was a great idea, Natalie! I haven't been so much as approached by Cedric or his cronies!
PrettyKitty: That's right, they know better. Your understicker is safe around us, kid. :P]
She smiled. Her plan to escort her friends to class was working!
[BagelHunter: Cool! What about everyone else?? =) ]
"... it was decided that this was the only way. Naturally, there was some dissent to being made to look like animals, but for the most part, the instinct to survive took over and made the world's population by and large agree to this change. Desperate times called for desperate measures!"
[Classybat: I've remained untouched. It's like having my own personal bodyguard. So chic~!
The_Lickinator: My face itches! 8D
PrettyKitty: Then lemme scratch it.]
Natalie fought the urge to giggle.
[BagelHunter: Sounds like we're golden! But stay on your toes. It's almost time for lunch, and Cedric might lose patience then. Wait for us, 'kay?]
"... Dr. Chu had decided, with a number of his colleagues, that if they were going to write up the genome anew, they might as well make what they considered improvements. He was met with fierce debate, and his ideas were rejected by his superiors. But in the end, he decided that the changes were too important to put to committee."
[BrushFerret: Sure, Natalie, no problem!
Classybat: With bells on, darling. <3
The_Lickinator: Alright lets do this!!]
She exited the chat program and started up a journal.
Cedric wants to bait Carrie and me into hitting him first and having the high ground to get us busted, but I won't give him the satisfaction. We'll escort our friends from class to class every day if that's what it takes. That jerk won't get the best of me.]
Natalie shut off her PET and looked back up to the teacher.
"... And that, children, is the cornerstone of our society- why we can succeed where our ancestors failed. Greed, paranoia and self-interest would exist in these new people, but they'd take a back seat to the good of society as a whole in our subconscious. At least, that's what they wanted." She smirked and leaned forward. "Your mileage may vary." This got a laugh. "But! I'll tell you more about the end of The Great Skin Plague and we can start on The Neo-Medieval period tomorrow. For now? It's lunchtime."
As if on cue, the lunch bell rang, and the class cheered.
Natalie gathered up her backpack and set out toward the door. "Good class today, Ms. Hendrix!"
"Whoa, where are you off to in such a hurry, young lady?" queried her oft-enthusiastic teacher.
Nat stopped where she was, and stood with a very serious air. "To fate. To destiny! To protect my friends, stop injustice, and punish evildoers wherever they lurk. That, is where I'm off to."
Ms. Hendrix frowned. "Oh, Natalie, you're not going to go getting in a fight, are you?"
"... Hopefully not," she answered truthfully. "I don't want to, but sometimes some people don't give you a choice."
"..." Her teacher sighed. "Young lady, criminals get in fights."
"Yeah." She nodded. "And when those criminals are too smart for the system to catch them, what do you do? Become a victim?" she asked. "Let them abuse your friends?"
The skunk took her glasses off and cleaned them thoughtfully. "I don't endorse what you're doing, Natalie." She replaced them with a gentle smile. "... But I understand. And you may want to get out there before they take all the bagels."
"Hunh? OH!" Natalie hastily made her way out the door. "See ya Ms. Hendrix!"
It took her a good thirty seconds to round up Max and Sam- and for a minute, she was afraid she might have missed Erwin, but Carrie had accompanied him from Math class. "Good hustle, jell-o butt," teased the cat. "If I didn't know better, I'd say you were in Track- but you'd only win 'cause the other runners couldn't get by."
The iguana cackled. "Ooh, burn! So hot, so hot!"
Nat smirked. "I'm surprised you could even see our little friend Irwin with those huge gazongas in the way." She looked down toward the ferret. "Did you have to tug on her skirt, or just stand across the room?"
"Ohhh, back at her! Calienté!" Max laughed delightedly. Suddenly, without warning, the iguana froze and gasped.
"... What?" The wolf girl looked over in concern.
"..." Suddenly, Max's tongue darted out and slapped against Natalie's side, slurping up her armpit before spiralling back into his mouth.
"EUGH!" She winced, making a disgusted face. "What was that for?!"
"You had paaaancakes~..." He replied dreamily, taking in the flavor of spilled syrup before gasping, freezing and fixing his stare on Carrie.
If one had blinked, one would have missed it, but in half a moment, the cat was holding the end of Max's outstretched tongue inches from her chest. "Try that again, and I use your face for a paddleball."
"I am shorry!" He covered his face in shame before Carrie let go of his licker and allowed it to snap back into his face. "It is SO LONG they make us wait for the lunches!"
What might have sounded to someone else like a lame excuse to be a pervert, the rest of them knew was simply Max being weird; in other words, being Max. Nat sighed. "Look, we'll be eating soon, just hang in there, alright? And keep your tongue in your mouth, I don't need you experiencing anymore of my B.O. than you already have. Hey!" She noticed Carrie rubbing her saliva-coated hand on her shorts.
"He's your friend," she justified.
"Guys?" Erwin interrupted. "I've got a bad feeling."
"You've got a bad feeling..." Carrie rolled her eyes, "... About lunchtime. I'm pretty sure-" She stopped, however, upon realizing that the line to the lunchroom was extending out to the hallway- and there seemed to be great discontent.
"What...?" Samantha shook her head. "What's going on? The line is never this long, even on sweet bun days... I'm going to complain to the Principal!"
Carrie grabbed the girl's arm, her eyes narrowed. "Hold on, this doesn't feel right." She looked back. "Natalie?"
"Right." With a nod, the two girls pushed past the line and into the lunchroom, a large place with a glass roof and a dozen or so rectangular tables. There was no mess on the floor anywhere, so that didn't account for the slowness- no, not slow, it was stopped! No kids were eating lunch anywhere, save for the few who had brought them from home.
The line terminated at the serving area, where a crawfish tried to keep things under control. "Childrain! Childrain! Do not fear, ze transport wiz your food will come soon, I promaise!"
"Mr. Zucer!" Natalie jogged up to the counter. "What happened here?"
"Ah, Natalie, mon petite frere!" The man waved his claws in the air in a mixture of hysterics and relief. "But am I glad to zee you! I was accosted before lunch period, and all of ze pre-boxed lunches 'ave been stolen!"
"Stolen??" Carrie staggered. "All of them?? Who takes a transload of food and makes off with it? And why didn't you stop them, Jean?"
"Because I am a cook, not a police officair!" He responded crossly, hands on his hips. "I was zhreatened! Not everyone is cut out to viciously battle othair peoples."
"Threatened by who, Mr. Zucer?" Natalie inquired.
The crawfish cowered. "'E told me not to say... or 'e would give me..." His voice became grave. "..Ze Atomic Wedgie."
He shuddered. "It sounds horraible!"
Natalie frowned. "Cedric."
"If he asks, I didn't tell you!" Noted Zucer.
Carrie, meanwhile, was surveying the lunch room to try to find the fiend responsible. Suddenly, she froze. "Natalie."
The wolf girl blinked as she looked over. "Huh?"
Carrie looked to her with intensity. "Erwin. Max. Sam. We left them alone!"
"Aww, so you did."
The duo spun around toward the source of the voice- Cedric. He walked through the door holding Samantha's arms behind her back, marching her out as a hostage. Alliston and Coul had Erwin and Max in a similar position.
"Cedric! Let them go!" Natalie declared, standing tall.
"... That's so cliché," the badger complained. "You really don't have anything better than that?"
Carrie narrowed her eyes. "Let 'em go or you'll drink your next ten lunches."
"Better," he nodded approvingly. "But still predictable."
Natalie looked at each of her three friends, one after another, nodding. "Guys! Plan D!"
All at once, many things happened. Samantha raised her heeled designer shoe and brought it down on Cedric's sneakered toes, making him curse loudly and release her. Max darted his tongue out and licked from Alliston's lower back up between her shoulder blades, grossing her out and allowing for Erwin's freedom. In the confusion, Max ducked as Carrie's milky white fist met the lone 'coon captor right in the face. All three of them ran behind the intrepid duo. The reaction in the lunch crowd was one of shock and surprise, unsure of what to do about this development.
"Ngh... very clever." The badger stood up from nursing his assaulted foot. "But you punched one of us. You started it, and everyone saw. Now..." He chuckled darkly, popping his knuckles. "... You'll leave here in a stretcher."
"Nobody's afraid of you, Cedric," Natalie retorted. "Least of all us."
"EVERYbody is afraid of him, stupid!" Coul fired back.
Alliston shook her head, smirking. "The kids, the teachers, even that low-budget security guard can't do -anything- about us."
"Yeah, because you hide from him!" Natalie smirked. "Easy not to get caught if you run away."
"We'll see who runs away!" Laughed Cedric sadistically.
The white cat had finally had enough of this, clasped hands with Natalie for a moment, then assumed a fighting stance. "Talk's cheap, let's do this!" She took the opportunity for surprise and run up, giving Coul a second slug in the face- sending him to the ground.
The lunch line went from being riled to exploding in a cacophony of sound. Cheers, chatter and sympathetic cries of pain flared through the large room and echoed throughout.
Reality seemed to spin for Natalie, who found herself being rushed by Cedric and Alliston both. She stayed low and took one punch on the arm, pushing away the other, larger fist at the wrist with her off hand. Using the momentum, she turned around and thrust her leg out, roundhousing the big badger in his chest- and making him tumble into Alliston.
By the time Cedric got up, he had Carrie breathing down his neck. She hoisted him to his feet and threw a haymaker right into his cheekbone when he turned around, making him stumble. He returned with a hook to her own face- left, right, then left- but the cat seemed unphased, grabbing his shirt and headbutting him without hesitation. The badger wasn't going down alone, however, and dragged her onto the floor with him.
Alliston got up quicker than Natalie expected, and threw a quick punch toward her face. She ducked, but caught part of the blow on the forehead- which made it impossible to hear Coul coming before he crawled over, grabbed her ankle and tossed it up in the air. She landed on her butt with a grunt, seeing the two crouching down to pummel her. Nat quickly reached out, grabbed their heads and smacked them together, sending the both of them sprawling in opposite directions.
Carrie wasn't flinching away from Cedric's blows, but rage and adrenaline was coursing through him. It was this point that became dramatically clear when he pulled her over his shoulders, climbed on top of a lunch table, and threw her to the ground.
"Carrie!" Nat fretted from across the room, wincing as she heard her girlfriend hit the ground with a ~THUD!~ Baring her teeth, the wolf girl sprinted the gap between them, leapt and grabbed Cedric's calves with her arms and shoulders as she cleared the table, sending the badger boy's chest onto its hard surface and knocking the wind out of him.
The cat, however, hadn't had nearly enough. She stood, watched Nat charge the big goon, and marched toward Coul and Alliston. She slammed them against the wall with her palms on their chests. "Don't even -think- about moving." Bruised and whimpering, they didn't seem like it was on their minds.
Natalie dragged Cedric by his shirt with both hands, pushing him up against the lunch bar. Carrie joined her, allowing his goons to stand, licking their wounds. The lunchroom had become a riotous din, a noticeable number of the students who had poured in to watch the fight now chanting "Nat and Cat, Nat and Cat!", a moniker that had stuck for their two-girl team years back.
"So, Cedric," the 'Nat' half of the team inquired, "Still think anybody's afraid of you?"
He hesitated a few moments, regaining his breath. He clenched a fist so hard the blood rushed to it. It was practically red. "Just wait. You will."
The two girls walked away from the thug and bowed to the watching crowd, wrapping their arms around each other and sharing a strong, warm kiss. The cheering increased, and they looked up from their nuzzling for a moment to blush slightly... and do something as innocent as giggle.
"Students! Children!" In rushed a heavyset blue jay the kids all knew as the Principal of the school. "You have to evacuate immediately, leave the school in an orderly-"
"Miss Mayberry?" Natalie blinked, but she was interrupted by a loud, deep-sounding boom outside that shook the glass roof violently. "What's-"
"There's no time! Everybody get out, quickly now! To your homes, they haven't-" Her words trailed off in the panic. Kids were already running out of the lunchroom, and the booming happened again, and again, more and more frequently, until-
"Natalie, watch out!"