Judy Danvers stood by the door to the gift shop and stroked her tail. She’d arranged to meet at noon, but it was already a quarter after.

She scanned the lobby of the Marriott for raccoons. Two guys wearing ripped jeans and Tony the Tiger sweatshirts ambled past, followed by a woman toting an armload of stuffed leopards. An eagle-headed Griffin backed away from the front desk, flapped its mechanical wings, causing several bystanders to point and clap.

At the moment, the Griffin was the only complete fursuit in the lobby. This was her first real convention. When she arrived, Judy thought everybody would be in full costume. But after a day at the Las Vegas FurtherCon, she realized most furs were like her – fascinated by anthropomorphism, but not compelled to stay in character the whole time. Of the thousand people at this year’s event, less than 10% dressed from head-to-toe in fur.

Judy would’ve loved to have her own fox suit, but the cheapest cost over two grand. She made do with fuzzy slippers, brown sweats, and homemade tail. In the dealer area, one vendor sold gloves in the shape of animal paws, but they were $119 and she’d only brought $100 to last the entire weekend.

Where was Cutiecoon? Unfortunately, Judy didn’t even know what her friend looked like. They’d met last year on a MUD site – an online, multi-user text environment hosted by Theriantrope.com – and meeting up in Las Vegas would be their first interaction in RL (Real Life).

Cutiecoon had been stuck at work yesterday, so Judy was forced to handle registration lines and first-day jitters on her own.

The elevator pinged and a raven-haired woman wearing sunglasses and loose black dress walked out. She looked around, smiling when she saw Judy.

“FoxyJude? Is that you? It is! It is!” Cutiecoon enveloped her in a suffocating hug. “So? How are you? Are you having a great time or what? Didn’t I tell you it was going to be outrageous?”

Judy wasn’t sure which question to tackle first. Without waiting for an answer, her on-line buddy launched into a breathless story about why she was late (stupid backpack zipper, stupid airport parking, stupid taxi driver).

Midway through describing how she’d called housekeeping because the blow dryer was on the fritz, Cutiecoon reached out and stroked Judy’s tail – nothing overtly sexual, just an instinctive gesture of affection.

Judy had noticed that furs at the convention were similarly touchy feely. This was the first time she’d allowed another person to touch her tail, and it was surprising how the contact put her at ease.

She normally felt disconnected from her body. Hardly surprising, given the number of times her mother told her: “If you don’t lose fifty pounds, no man will ever want you.” Judy’s weight, combined with weak chin and blotchy skin, ensured she immediately bypassed the cheerleading track. She knew it was never going to happen, no matter how many calories she counted.

Her IT job paid well enough; she didn’t need a man to support her. Still, it’d be nice to find a guy with similar interests. Someone to snuggle up with on the couch, eating popcorn, watching videos.

“Let’s go see the artwork,” Cutiecoon enthused. “I’m dying to pick up a Vicky Wyman original. Will you help me shop for a new tail? I tried to wash my old one and it got really clumpy, so I left it at home. You’ve been over to the vendor area, haven’t you? It’s supposed to be sooooo cool this year!”

She nodded and Cutiecoon grabbed her arm, steering them across the lobby.

Judy felt most comfortable in front of a keyboard, her thoughts a direct current from brain to fingertips. Keeping up with friends on IRC or Instant Messenger had never been a problem; however, she was quickly realizing that Cutiecoon operated at high bandwidth in all aspects of her life.

Instead of fighting it, Judy allowed herself to get swept into the current. Cutiecoon seemed to know every other person on the convention floor. With each new encounter, she’d shriek, give the man/woman/rabbit/kangaroo/dragon/cheetah a hug, introduce them to Judy, chat a few minutes, and move on.

Cutiecoon even knew the guy selling paws. With her help, Judy was able to buy a pair for $50, with a promise to send the vendor a check for $50 next month and let him be on their team at the bowling tournament that evening.

What a gas. Judy couldn’t remember ever being this social. Something about being in Cutiecoon’s orbit gave her the courage to talk to total strangers. After wandering a few hours, checking out a game room, bidding in a silent auction – where Cutiecoon lost out on a framed Wyman poster, but picked up a signed print by Terri Smith – they decided to split up and get ready for dinner.

Waiting for the elevator, Judy turned and found herself staring into the blood-shot eyes of a gigantic albino werewolf.

It had to be one of the most elaborate fursuits she’d ever seen – with solid gold armbands, green scaled cuirass, and a glowing ruby placed three inches above his sternum. Surely it would be in the running for a top prize in tomorrow night’s costume show.

She pointed to the ornate scabbard hanging from his utility belt. “That’s so awesome. Can I touch it?”

The wolf nodded, and she ran her hands across the jeweled handle. The weapon felt solid, not at all like a prop. What she really wanted to do was run her hands across the creature’s bulging muscles, to see if they were real as well.

Ping. The elevator opened, they both got in. Judy noticed a small flyer posted above the emergency stop button: “FurtherCon’s Best Room Party: 412”

“I’ve never been to a room party,” she said. “I heard they can get a little wild.”

“A waste of time.”

“I’m going bowling tonight with some friends. Do you want to come along?”

Judy couldn’t believe she’d blurted that out. More amazingly, the werewolf accepted, but said he’d need to stop by his room to pick up his wallet. He asked if she wanted to come along, see the bow and arrows matching his sword.

She nodded eagerly. “This is my first con. I can’t believe how nice everybody is. I know the media wants to make us into freaks, but today I met a lawyer, a doctor, an accountant – normal people who like to get fuzzy. So what do you do?”

“I kill people for money.”

Her mouth opened in time with the elevator door.

The wolf looked down at her. “Just kidding. I’m an engineer.”

Judy laughed. “Really? What kind?”

“Aerospace.”

“Wow. I work for the San Bernardino school district doing tech support. But in college I took a class in structural engineering – talk about tough.”

They continued to chat until reaching Stargod’s room on the third floor. Stepping inside, she was surprised to find a totally clean room – no bags, no clothes on the floor.

“Where’s your bow?”

He closed the door behind her. “You ready for your first room party?”

Stargod’s voice reverted to a harsh growl and Judy tensed, rooted in place, wishing she was back on the convention floor.

“Don’t you find this form attractive?” The werewolf touched something on his wristband, extending gleaming claws from his gloved fingers.

With two strides of his powerful legs, he closed the distance between them.

Judy began to shake. “What’s going on? Who are you?”

“You should be honored to be my consort.”

“I’ll scream.”

“And I’ll gut you.” Stargod slashed at a corner lamp, his claws turning the shade into instant origami.

He unfastened the snaps holding the green armor over his groin. Underneath, Judy saw a flat, white canvas.

She retreated a step, off-balance, wondering how things had turned so quickly. The wolf pounced. Judy lost her footing, tumbling backwards, landing at the base of the queen-sized bed. As she got to her knees, she was enveloped by a mountain of fur.

The impact knocked her breathless. Iron hands clamped around her wrists. She collapsed under the weight, her chin meeting the beige carpet.

A ripping sound and her backside exploded with ribbons of fire. Helpless, she felt the elastic waistband – which held her sweatpants and costume tail – give way.

Her lungs ached for oxygen. She tried to yell for help, but no sound came out.

The chilly hotel air burned her exposed, flayed skin. He forced her knees apart with his thighs. Judy felt an unmistakable bulge under his fur as he pushed into the crack of her ass.

The more she struggled, the faster the beast rubbed himself against her. She wasn’t penetrated as much as used as a scratching post. With each thrust, his vocalizations got louder. She unclenched her eyes, seeing a long snout, jagged fangs, and the glowing jewel. Hot breath smothered her cheek.

The grip on her wrists tightened and her assailant howled. One final pump and he froze, suspended, then disengaged himself.

She could breathe. Her hands were free. Not able to cry, she felt numb from the waist down.

Stargod pressed a button on his wristband, the claws disappearing into his gloves.

Before leaving, he crouched over her huddled figure. “When you go crying to the jackoffs running this pathetic show, tell ‘em Bode was here.”