A teenage giraffe sat down in a seat a little too small for him. He took a deep breath and swallowed, trying to steady his heart rate, even though he normally relished the feelings of his veins awash in adrenaline. The fear of uncertainty was a little different.
The smell of the building was great, almost like a new car. Clean, shiny materials with rounded edges boasted the most bleeding-edge technology that Zootopia had yet seen.
This was his chance, thought the giraffe. The chance to finally feel what he'd been deprived of through no fault of his own.
"Okay, looking over your waiver," a middle-aged male racoon murmured, going over a release of liability form. He chuckled up at the extremely tall form of the giraffe. "Now, Andy. You sure you're eighteen?"
"Uh, yeah, don't I look it?" Huffed Andy. It was a lie, though only by a few years. He gripped tighter on the armrests of the machine.
"Just have to clear myself legally, you understand," the raccoon smiled apologetically. "Your voice is a little... eh?"
"We've got real long necks," Andy said, trying to stare straight forward. "Lots of room for something to go a bit wrong during puberty." The giraffe had no idea if this was true or not, but it sounded plausible, both to him and the raccoon.
"Marjory, can you reach him up there?" The raccoon called out an entire floor above, where a mezzanine outcropping allowed an anteater female to adjust the position of a headset.
"Everythin' looksss good here," Marjory confirmed with a nod. Having to speak louder robbed her over some of the control of her voice, but the raccoon got the message, nodding.
"Now, you're lucky, Andy," the raccoon grinned. "You're only the third mammal today to get to try our new 'complete VR' experience. And what was it you wanted to experience again? Sorry, your handwriting is kinda... walking between...?"
"Two tall buildings, walking between two large buildings, can you do that?" Andy felt the strange weight of the headset on his muzzle, his ear batting.
"Ah, of course!" the raccoon waggled an index finger, gesturing to a few of the passersby. "In fact, that's great! Using our advanced simulation technology, we can simulate a lot of the feelings that a regular virtual reality set just can't give you. Our air vent array will provide the feeling of whipping winds, whereas we can even transmit subtle smells with the headset and a selection of chemicals! And of course, your eyes will be treated to the most cutting-edge, photorealistic graphics possible!"
"I'm ready," Andy said, though his gentle voice crackled as much as his nerves were.
"Okay, starting the simulation," the racoon said with a showmammal's flair.
It was as though Andy had actually stepped out of the building and onto its roof. A din entered his ears as "wind" whipped at his extremities and filled his ears. The graphics were, indeed, amazing. The signals sent by twitching his legs even let him walk around on the roof, but something did feel off about the walking. Then, he made the mistake of looking down.
Now, if he was "only" looking down at the massive gap between the two buildings, he might have been fine, but he was looking down at the floor, his "feet". The feet were those of a deer. Not only that, he had the sensation of falling as the ground was far, far closer than he was used to.
"Gh..." Andy felt his stomach lurch. "Wh-what?"
"What's wrong?" The raccoon blinked up.
"I'm... too short," Andy tried sitting up in the apparatus. "This feels so weird. Am I supposed to be a deer?"
"Marjory...!" The raccoon called up to the anteater. "Didn't you set the user specs to a giraffe's!?"
"No!" She called back out, her brow furrowing. "What do you thin' I'm doin' up here? I'm on the hardware sssside! You're down there with the sssoftware!"
"Okay, um, no need to get cross," the raccoon chuckled nervously. "What we can do is cut the feed and-" A look of horror grew on the raccoon's face as Andy's stomach began to pulsate. "D-disengage, Marjory!"
The anteater just managed to snap the incredibly expensive headgear away from Andy before disaster could strike, and it eventually did.
Andy's lunch had a long way to travel, both up and down.
An hour later, and Andy still felt queasy.
He'd ditched school to pull his little stunt at the Zootopia Electronic Expo, and he needed to find somewhere to hang out until he was supposed to be home. At a dearth of ideas, he ended up wandering into Mezzo Park, which wasn't too far away from the convention center.
The young giraffe found a bench capable of seating him and sat down hard on it. He wanted to slump his head down, though moving it too much still stirred his stomach's pot.
Andy wondered how many other kinds of animals had such a rough puberty. As emotions and hormones swelled into a volatile cocktail within him, he found his breaths shuddering, and he started to sob, gripping his legs tightly with his hands. It was a few minutes of sniffling before he heard a small voice.
"Hey. HEY! Up there, can you hear me?"
Andy's ear bat, and he shamefully looked in the direction of the voice, trying to bat at his long, wet eyelashes. It was basically impossible for a giraffe to pretend they hadn't been crying.
Near his ankles was a nondescript male squirrel.
"You okay?" Asked the squirrel. He had a youngish voice.
"Yeah, f-fine," Andy lied.
"Uh, if you say so!" the squirrel tried raising his voice to carry it further upward. "You look kinda sad."
"You wouldn't get it," Andy replied, shuddering. "You're a squirrel."
Andy missed the scrunching of the squirrel's face.
"It's like that, huh?"
A small wave of guilt tugged at Andy. "I mean, literally, you wouldn't get it. ...How old are you?"
"Sixteen," the squirrel replied, looking mildly put off.
Andy almost laughed, looking down at him. He did manage to crack a wobbly smile. The squirrel was barely a foot tall, maybe not even.
"Really? Fully grown, huh?"
"Pretty much!" The squirrel nodded. Finding it a bit irritating to shout up at the giraffe, he noticed that there was a tree with a convenient overhanging branch that would put him closer to the giraffe. In a gray and brown furry flash, the squirrel scurried up the tree and onto the branch, where he was nearly at eye-level with the sitting giraffe, though a little higher. "Name's Larry. How old are you?"
"Tch," Andy got a bitter look on his face. "Fourteen." A bit closer to the truth, though he still had a couple of months until that date.
"You're younger than me," Larry stated obviously with a small smirk. Andy scowled harder. "What's wrong?"
"Ugh, it's stupid," Andy folded his arms, his voice cracking. "But I'm jealous of you."
"Huh?" Larry's eyes squinted. "About what? You've never seen me in your life."
"Well, I just saw you scamper up that tree," Andy nodded to its trunk before looking up at him. "I'm seventeen feet tall. I can't do something like that."
Larry let out an impressed squirrel chirp. "Wow, and are you done growing?"
"I hope so," Andy grunted.
"So, uh, you're mad you can't climb a tree?" The squirrel titled his head, confused.
"Not really... I mean, I... ugh," Andy slumped a little. "I wish I was a smaller mammal. I dreaded puberty my whole life. Giraffes grow like weeds on mutant fertilizer, obviously."
"Isn't it cool to be a giraffe? Have such a wide view over all us peon mammals?" Larry tried a smirk.
"No, least of all if you like rollercoasters," Andy thrust his muzzle away from Larry. "I had to get on all of the ones I could when I was young. Real young. Ever since I knew I liked thrill rides."
Larry blinked. He too, had an affinity for such rides, though he didn't know if he should speak it aloud.
"And life for you must be like that, like a ride," Andy scoffed. "I mean, look at how you blasted up that tree. That looks fun as hell."
"I mean, all squirrels gotta do it to get around," Larry shrugged. "It's not that great. Kind of a chore, heh."
Larry wasn't a very good liar. He got that from his adoptive mother. Andy didn't seem to notice, or at least, he didn't care.
"There's lots of places we can't go," Andy went on. "It's like, I always hated growing up. It's like a prison sentence. Every few months there's something else you can't do. And for what? Just to 'be tall'. I mean, there are no rollercoasters or any kind of thrill rides made for giraffes. They'd be way too expensive to make and to do the safety precautions on them and all of that. Just isn't a 'big' enough market or whatever dumb crap."
"Uh, I wish I knew what to tell you," Larry replied nervously. "But if you like thrills and stuff, uhh. Have you tried videogames?"
"Videogames?" Andy blinked. "Those don't really- I mean those aren't much of a thrill."
"Maybe you should try a competitive game or something," Larry smiled. "Those can give you like an adrenaline rush when you're about to lose or win."
"Uh, maybe. I mean, I just tried a VR thing. That didn't go too well."
"Pff, I think VR's just a gimmick," Larry let out a loud scoff and kicked forward with his feet. At this, he lost his balance and tumbled out of the tree. "Whoa-!" After a couple of rotations, Larry landed on the ground with a soft whump.
"Oh-! Sh- damn! You okay!?" Andy quickly craned his neck down to check on the squirrel. Larry almost instantly sprang up and dusted himself off.
"Whoa, you did not just see that," Larry looked quite embarrassed. "I'm not that clumsy."
"Jeez," Andy winced. "You need to go to the hospital or something? Does it hurt anywhere?"
"Uh, nah, I'm good," Larry nodded, pounding at his chest and stomach with his paws.
Andy looked at him skeptically. "Dude, you just fell over ten feet out of a tree."
"Surface area," Larry indicated his body length. "I heard of an electrician mouse that fell off the Antler tower and survived with only minor bruising. Unless I landed on my head, a fall like that is nothing."
"Wow," Andy's eyes half-lid. "Now that is a raw deal. A giraffe can break their legs or die from even tripping if they fall wrong. You see these spindly-ass legs?" He kicked both of his.
Larry looked uncomfortable, shrugging. "Sorry for being a squirrel?"
"I mean, not like that," Andy groaned. "But, uh." He tried to direct his thoughts more positively. "Thanks for the advice anyway, maybe I'll try to rent a console or something and see if it's up my alley."
"Well, good luck, and uh, I hope you don't get any taller!" Larry pointed at him. "I should probably go before I-"
A chinchilla bolted over to the squirrel. Andy blinked at how a chubby little fluffball could move so fast.
"Where you been, Lares?" The chinchilla asked. "Dude, I have it on authority from a 'spy' that someone is coming to the park today."
"Huh?" Larry tilted his head.
"I'd give you a hint," the chinchilla smirked deviously. "But you'd need to 'ferret' it out of me."
"Whoa!" Larry's eyes bulged. "Uh, gotta go, Andy, nice to meet ya!" He saluted and scampered off quickly.
"Haha, what a moron," the chinchilla chuckled. "Bye, giraffe guy!"
Andy waved slightly, watching the two rodents go off. He sighed, feeling a bit of melancholy. He supposed he had some growing up to do.
He just hoped he wouldn't get any taller.