She remembered feeling sick, running a fever, and stumbling out of bed to answer the door. She had a vague impression of opening the door to a posse of locals and then, nothing…
Well, she was in her own bed, that was a start. The curtains were open though, and she always slept with them closed. Her mouth was dry and she was lying on her side, her orange-furred and clawed hand resting on the bed sheet in front of her face.
She was human. She didn’t have fur. She didn’t have claws. Her visible hair was dark brown, not orange – none of her hair was orange!
She threw off the covers and swung her feet onto the floor. They were delicately arched and padded, with orange claws neatly protruding from orange fur at the end of each of her toes. They were very elegant, but they were not human feet. They were not hers. But they were. Eyes and orange, velvet-furred hands told her that those elegant feet were on the end of legs that joined to the body that led to the neck that supported the head her eyes sat in. Somehow more disturbing was the discovery of her old war-gotten scars, nestling in her new orange pelt; thin, pale lines of not-fur.
Her bladder was making demands of her now, so she stood to walk to the bathroom and discovered that her feet seemed to work differently with their changed shape. She had a tail too, and it had a mind of its own, but that mind seemed inclined to be helpful in terms of balance and where it should go at any given time. Fortunately, if she tried to tiptoe, then she could stalk and that was how she made it to the bathroom where she saw to her bladder’s needs and spent an informative session in front of the mirror.
She was, it seemed, still herself, but she’d somehow been changed. She was human and had, she’d previously thought it needless to say, always been a human. Now she was a sawaab, a native of this world where she was her family trading company’s representative. She’d served in a mixed unit with sawaaba during the late war, which was why her cousin had given her this job, but nothing she’d heard then had ever suggested anything like this transformation.
When she left the bathroom two female sawaaba in nurse’s dress were waiting for her. One was holding a bed table with food while the other was carrying clothes. “You’re awake and walking,” the nurse with the elegant dun pelt, who was carrying the clothes, said brightly. “Now you need to eat a little, then we’ll get you clean and dressed. You have some important visitors coming shortly to talk about what’s happened to you.” With that they put her back into bed and fed her.
After she’d eaten they took her back into the bathroom and took her through her ablutions, including washing under the shower. Normally, she would have objected to being treated like a child but she had no idea how to look after her pelt and was grateful for the instruction. The thing was though, they were treating her like a child, using the non-adult pronouns and honorifics. That was a step up from the past three years of being addressed as an ‘intelligent’ non-sawaab, and that had been a hard fall from the equal-and-close-colleague mode she’d become accustomed to from her sawaab warband-mates. She didn’t complain though and was grateful, too, for the help in getting dressed.
She did have a question. Her pelt was feathered, something she’d not seen in the sawaaba. “Excuse me, Nurse,” neither of her helpers had given their names, “should I be trimming these tags off?” She held up her arm to show what she meant.
“On no account,” the grey-green pelted younger nurse admonished. “It’s a grace note, a distinguishing mark. You must keep them!”
“I thought I had my pelt colour for that.” She’d never seen or heard of a sawaab with this bright a pelt. This intense, yes for dark browns abounded, but nothing in this shade.
“A grace note is a thing you cannot help which distinguishes you from others,” the nurse told her charge. “I’m sure that once you are declared an adult, you will have many suitors.”
On that note the two nurses took her downstairs to meet her guests.
Her receiving room was crowded. The room was only small for, as an alien, she went about her business cloaked outside her home and thus had only a small acquaintance and would not need to entertain large numbers of sawaaba. The administrator of the district was there, with two assistants and his body guards. The head of the district merchants’ guild was there too, with an assistant, perhaps called in as she was an associate member of the guild so her family’s business could operate here. There was another male sawaab, of the same apparent rank as the guild head, whom she did not know but whose hard eyes and presence made her want to flatten her ears in submission. There was a knot of three older female sawaaba who were lower in status and whom she characterised in her mind as “aunties.” The final group were the surviving sawaaba from her unit, and they looked friendly but formal.
“Mougain,” the administrator used her given name with the sound changes his language required, “we must apologise for the discomfort you have been put through. When your kin advised that your posting here would be indefinite, we had to take steps to allow your integration into our society, hence the virus you were given to effect the changes you have undergone. Your species, like ours, is a social one and to insist on an extension of the conditions under which you have been living would have been an unconscionable cruelty. The head of your trading house gave permission for your integration.”
“I suspect, Esteemed Administrator,” she was surprised how easy it was to flatten her ears in the appropriate submissive gesture, “that my elder cousin did not understand how extensive an integration he was agreeing to.”
“That is true,” the administrator conceded graciously. “I have heard that your people do not have the ability to integrate others in this fashion. I was surprised to discover, however, that you were a warrior among your people and not a merchant.” There was an accusatory note to that and Morgan could read sawaab body language well enough to know that she needed to explain this truthfully.
“In the war many humans were called into the military who would otherwise never have been warriors, myself among them. When I returned home, my elder cousin had already given the security jobs in our business to other cousins in the same position. As I was the only one who spoke siawaab, he sent me here to be the company’s agent.”
“Ah!” His mood lightened and the unknown male with the hard eyes relaxed. “That explains matters. Now, we have arranged for you to have tutors to teach you how sawaab behave.” He indicated the “aunties.” “Your old warband has volunteered to drill you to pass the tests for the warriors’ guild to the guild master’s satisfaction.” The previously unknown male inclined his head and Morgan bowed back as she had learnt to do to senior sawaab officers. The administrator continued, “Now all you need is a use name to replace your milk name.”
“Excuse me, Esteemed Administrator,” that was Swasza from her warband, “but she has a use name. We call her Miikwa.” The administrator’s body guards and the Warriors’ Guild master smiled.
“I don’t understand,” the administrator said carefully.
“The miikwa is the smallest blade in a Warrior’s traditional arsenal,” the guild master explained, his smile in his voice.
“And you have seen that I am quite short,” added Morgan known as Miikwa. “It’s also better than Tunnelrat, which was my human nickname.”
“I am enlightened,” the administrator stood with a smile, “and now I will leave and allow all your training to be organised.”
After he’d been bowed out of the room and the house, Swasza seized the floor. “I think I speak for everyone, little sister, when I say that the first thing you need to do is learn how to walk properly.”