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Transgender / Transformation stories in English
Chapter 1

Through the dark, gold-tinted glass shielding I could see the technicians
working. Their monitors lighted their intense expressions. Their movements
were economic, exact and -- though they had done this many times before --
I sensed their excitement. It -- the big It -- would happen soon. Very
soon.

Drawing a shaky breath, I glanced at the grating under my feet, the
high-conductivity mesh that would, at any second, carry a modulated burst
of intense electro- magnetic energy through our bodies, changing the
vibratory rate of our molecular building blocks. I couldn't help but look
around the room, at my equally nervous neighbors.

Most of them were locked in manacles and leg irons, as befitted convicts in
transit -- ten felons -- all male. They were mostly street gang members
convicted of serious crimes. These were the bad ones, the violent
two-legged shark that society could deal with least effectively, the kind
that you never dared turn your back upon. They were the vicious, fatherless
sons of urban America, the wild beasts of the crime-blasted wastelands, the
rotten fruit growing from the poisonous ground of the authoritarian state,
the sorry distillation of sixty years of social planning. They were the
random marauders that would kill a fourteen year old for a pair of Nike
shoes or a sharkskin jacket. They were the gang warriors who fought bloody
battles over drug territory. They were the hijackers and burglars and
stickup men who killed without need and without remorse. They were the
murderous pimps who knifed their own girls, or their rivals on the street.

You didn't get sent to Tiresias for minor crimes -- crimes like grand theft
auto, or assault and battery that couldn't be twisted into a political
offense. Police didn't even try to make arrests for such infractions
anymore, not unless they happened right under the nose of a patrolman. The
prison on Tiresias was meant for a much more serious sort of human debris.

Even in their teens and twenties most of the convicts in the transportation
chamber had long records of unpunished crime. The first-time-convicted
malefactor averaged ten prior felonies, which usually included at least one
homicide. Even older criminals were afraid of this upcoming generation.
Life meant nothing to these kids -- not even their own. Put them into a
traditional prison and they'd only line up into new gangs and start wasting
one another, just to control a few miserable acres of exercise ground. As
little as courts liked locking up the inner city criminal (the judicial
knives, for the most part, were out for the political offender), the
prisons were overflowing with them.

It was to control prisoners without self-control that the facility on
Tiresias had been established at great expense. It was not that internment
there was so brutal; it was just that the possibility of a Tiresias
experience was supposed to "scare straight" kids who were still at home --
young males with the exaggerated but brittle machismo of the gutter. Was
the policy succeeding? I didn't see that it was; every year yielded a
bumper crop of new criminals even worst than the last. Even so, all
government policies, no matter how ill-conceived or badly managed, were
ballyhooed as overwhelmingly successful. I couldn't think of one federal
policy that hadn't been overwhelmingly successful, though civilization
itself seemed to be crashing down around our heads.

As I looked into the prisoners' youthful faces: some savage, some just
stupidly brutal, some dangerously cunning. They deserved their fate, all of
them. If you paid me, I couldn't think of a sweeter bunch of guys to turn
into women.

Turn into women. Incredible. Twenty years ago the idea would have sounded
like a demented fantasy. Today it was a scientific reality.

To think that the once-secret Philadelphia Experiment had come to this --
inter-dimensional transfer! The World War II files which had been locked up
for sixty years had been exhumed under the Gore administration. The
technological advances six decades had allowed physicists to solve the
serious problems that had baffled government scientists in the 1940's, and
which had been so injurious to the U.S. servicemen whom the White House had
allowed to be experimented upon without their consent.

It had always been hard for me to comprehend that different universes
occupied the same space and time. Tiresias was one of the "alternate
dimensions," or "parallel worlds," that fantasy literature had speculated
upon for so long, but which science had actually been discovering, and even
exploring, during the last couple decades. But going to a parallel world
was not like going to another planet. In interplanetary travel the ground
rules at least remained the same. Inter-dimensional transference was much
different. Each world had its own logic, and it accepted intruders only on
its own harsh terms. Some undefinable "world mind" seemed to be operating
in each different universe -- and they did very, very strange things to
persons from a different "reality."

On Acteon, for example, human beings were transformed into antelope-like
creatures suitable for feeding on grass and breeding in great numbers, but
not much else. That made Acteon almost useless for any purpose that human
beings might want to put it to. With hooves instead of hands one couldn't
even mine its mineral deposits. (Interestingly, some law and order types
suggested making it into another prison world for lifers without parole.
Just turn them out to permanent pasture).

On Triton, on the other hand, people became a rather repulsive species of
bipedal amphibian which could breath in the seas of that watery world. On
Nessus, Earthers remained human-looking, but gained a couple more bodily
organs which helped them survive environmental toxins that would have
swiftly killed a normal person. Likewise, native "people" taken from the
parallel worlds to Earth changed into ordinary human beings -- ordinary for
our world, that is. One of the intelligent antelopes born on Acteon had
actually transformed into a pleasant-looking woman when abducted to Earth
-- much to her shock. Tiresias had its quirks, too, but those quirks made
even less sense than those of the other worlds. On Tiresias, Earth men
became women, and vice versa. It was as simple as it was astonishing to
contemplate. What purpose could this serve the God-mind of the Tiresias
universe? No one could explain it, it was just the way things were.

These prisoners were scared about their impending fate, all right. It
showed in the way they looked at one another, or refused to look at
anything at all, except their own feet. For most of them, courage had
always been false bravado, their daring deeds amounted to little more than
attacks on the weak, or of the many upon the few. The street gang warrior
was no real man, after all. Only a man can make a boy into another man, and
these street kids had grown up without supervision, with no one to model
themselves upon except the older pimps, pushers, and gunmen. When you got
right down to it, the young career criminal was just a messed-up kid
playing at being an outlaw. Unfortunately, he played for keeps. Most older
career criminals alive today had come from their pathetic ranks, of course,
but there weren't a great many older criminals. The death rate in these
urban wolf packs just ran too high.

There were practical reasons for using Tiresias as a prison for violent
offenders. Besides the demoralizing aspects of a radical physical
transformation, there was the accompanying loss of size, weight, and upper
body musculature. All this made a prisoner a little less dangerous to his
guards, and which both physically and mentally sapped him of his
confidence. Also, studies had demonstrated that the Tiresias transformation
brought with it a marked psychological change. Just as women changed to men
became more aggressive on Tiresias, males changed to women became more
passive. That was just the reality of sexual psychology and it made for
more docile prisoners.

But the trouble was, us correctional officers were going to be transformed
right along with them!

I regarded the other three custodians who were being "sent over." Two
males, one female. The female, Rother, was big-boned for a woman and fairly
ugly. She seemed pretty steady, considering the incredible thing that was
about to happen to her. I guessed that she was a volunteer. Women who
volunteered for Tiresias usually hated men, motivated by an androphobia
that was carefully nurtured by our educational system. If the power-elites
were to remain in control, they had to keep society divided into splinter
groups at permanent war with one another. The support of the government
could be transferred from one faction to another on short notice, the end
always being the same -- the ruling class remained the ruling class. The
sexual antagonism which had made America the wonder and laughingstock of
the world was one of this band's proudest achievements. So, given
relationships were a running sore, why did such number of such women want
to come to Tiresias and become men? I suspected that it was just envy,
though I don't know why anyone should envy a man in the United States of
the Twenty-first Century. But even with American males topping the list of
the under-employed, under-paid, and under-educated, the militants still
raged against them as if it was still 1900, pretending that they still had
the best of everything, and at the expense of everyone else.

The men who shared our chamber seemed much more dubious about our journey
than did our female colleague. That figured. Very few men volunteered for
Tiresias; those who were sent over were mostly the screw-ups teetering on
the brink of charges for misconduct or who had to work off "black marks."
Their Tiresian tour was seen as discipline or atonement. Some few men
volunteered for Tiresias, naturally, but these were few -- mostly gays,
tv's, and ts's. But the Service did not have nearly enough willing men of
any stamp to staff Tiresias year after year, despite all sorts of
recruitment inducements. Hence the arm-twisting.

I couldn't help but imagine what my brother officers would look like as
women. I wagered that Brady, the smaller man, might translate into the
average housewife type -- not much to look at, the sort that populated
supermarkets and dreamed dreams of glamour while reading glossy fashion
magazines. The other, Volsted, was a big Scandinavian-looking guy who
looked like he lifted weights. Whatever he became, I was pretty sure that
he wouldn't be the sort of woman that I'd ever want to take to bed -- but
of course that wouldn't be my option. -- That was what bothered me.

Then the space around us hummed, I felt a low-voltage current coursing
through my body, and I suddenly felt hollow inside.

Holly shit, it's starting!

The power throbbed along the floor grid, vibrated through our skeletons and
made my teeth chatter. I tasted something strange in my mouth. I cried out
as every nerve in my body charged like a live wire. But the pain lasted
only a few seconds before everything went white.

No wonder you had to pass a physical! Too bad I was as healthy as a horse.

My vision cleared, but I still had an intense ringing in my ears. I stood
reeling, only dimly aware that the throbbing under my feet had faded away.
The room was coming back into view and only slowly did it dawn on me that
wasn't the same room. It was a transfer chamber of about the same size as
the first, but the paint of the walls were apple green instead of steely
gray, and the setting of the fixtures were different, or at least they were
installed in different places.

Oh, my God! We're there!

#

There was an obscene mutter around me. As the transference energies
dissipated, I realized that I was standing behind a crowd of a dozen women,
most of them cuffed and ankle-chained, and just one guy -- a big,
ugly-looking palooka in clothes much too tight for him. It was a good thing
that "he," Rother, had been warned to loosen his tie and buttons before
entering the chamber. I was aware of a different smell to the air,
something hiding under the prevailing odor of ozone. It wasn't bad, just
different. I realized that it must be the air of Tiresias. We had reached
another planet, or at least a parallel world of Earth! But whatever we
were, the reality of leaving old Earth behind came as one hell of a shock.
Despite my emotional state, I had a sense of adventure that could not be
denied.

As I shifted slightly, I noted the looseness of my clothes. It had
happened! I'd lost stature. I had the urge to look at myself, to see what I
had become. But I fought off the impulse, just as a disfigured person will
refuse to look into a mirror. I didn't want to touch myself either, and so
let my arms hang slackly at my sides. I felt an over-stuffing in my duty
jacket, even though it hung amply on my shrunken shoulders. Oh, Lord, was
it true? Did I have breasts? Sure I did! Intellectually I knew that I did.
I hoped that they would do no more than fill an A-cup, but they felt huge.

For a moment my imagination ran away with me. I had seen hundreds of
pictures sent back from Tiresias, printed as before and after shots. It
was, in fact, routine for pictures of prisoners to be sent back to their
hometown and neighborhood news services. (It had taken years and a Supreme
Court decision to allow this practice. Many privacy advocacy and prisoners'
rights groups had spent millions to defend the tender sensibilities of
killers, drug pushers, and rapists).

The idea was that a person in a criminal society had a hard time
functioning successfully if he had suffered a devastating lost of "face."
And among the outwardly tough, but inwardly brittle, young men of the
street gangs, puncturing their pose of machismo -- usually a ersatz one
anyway -- with public postings of their feminine incarnations was a good
way to do it. That most of these mortified and broken criminals soon became
alcoholics or wasted drug-users was not important to the establishment. The
burgeoning numbers of people with special needs only proved that more
social programs were in order, even though those on the books often had to
go unfunded due to the progressive impoverishment of the tax pool.

I glanced at my colleagues again. Brady had become a small woman, just as
he had been a small man -- a Plain Jane really, but one who looked like she
had been a woman from the day of her birth. Volsted was still a big person,
but not so tall or broad-shouldered as before. "Miss" Volsted looked like a
strong working class girl who might casually pick up a blacksmithing anvil
in some screwball comedy set in the Wild West. And damn! Were those a pair
of muskmelons tucked into her jacket? Her face wasn't bad though. If she
had been just a little more fine-boned, I might have --

Volsted was returning my look of amazement --

Christ, what do I look like to her?

I might have laughed, if it all hadn't been so fucking horrifying. The
gorge rising to my throat burned like acid. The worst thing was I didn't
dare yell and rant and rave and let my emotions out. I had to take it on
the chin like a good officer. I had to protect my ass and keep my career
perking along until retirement age. I had to appear steady and unflappable.
If I lost this job it would be very hard to find another. I wouldn't even
have the dignity of being a tax-cow then. And when I was totally dependent,
a welfare bum, the feds would really have me by the balls.

Balls? As long as I remained on Tiresias I would have to change my
metaphors.

Just then the doors slid open with a hissing sound. A man in a lab coat
stepped inside our chamber, regarding us with interest and, probably, with
mild amusement. "Ladies, gentleman, welcome to the United States Federal
Penitentiary, Tiresias," he said. "Some of you are correctional officers,
some of you are -- inmates. Don't be nervous. The type of transformation we
undergo here usually doesn't have any bad side-effects. We haven't lost
anyone in a long while.

"Prisoners will be taken to holding cells," he went on, "to begin
orientation. And you new personnel shall be immediately conducted to the
infirmary and checked out. You won't have any regular duties until you have
attended introductory classes and have made the necessary adjustments. From
experience, we don't expect any problems."

He raised a hand and several guards, both male and female, came in,
prodding, and in some cases, helping, the transformed prisoners from the
chamber. As far as the women inmates went, there were a couple of
fantastically ugly suckers there, but two or three foxes as well. I
particularly noted a Latina girl, about twenty years of age, with
modest-length curly black hair. Prisoner pants were tailored tight these
days, but now, on this one, they were cracking-tight across her ass. I
grinned sardonically as I watched her sashay away. A pretty little se orita
for sure!

Then I shook myself. Don't worry about her; worry about yourself, guy. What
did I look like? I felt a little dizzy just then and looked around for
something to hold onto -- until the white-coated man steadied me with an
arm around my shoulders. I looked up at him towering over me, looking about
seven feet tall, until I realized that I must have lost some inches from my
own height. He also seemed a little too solicitous in the way he held me. I
didn't like being singled out as the weak sister in the room.

"It's a little shocking at first, I know," the man said, not unpleasantly,
"but don't worry. You've made a fine transformation, Mr. --" he read my
name tag "-- Carter -- Miss Carter, I should say, of course. You'll be
fine. You're a very lovely young woman."

I blanched.

A very lovely young woman? That was all I needed!

#

Dr. Trent was a good-looking female of thirty-something, her hair a light
brown. Her eyes sometimes seemed yellow-brown and sometimes green; they
were keen, intelligent, and striking when they fixed on one, but they
didn't do so in any particularly intimidating way. The second most
outstanding particular about Dr. Trent was that she was pregnant. Very,
very pregnant.

That shocked me, knowing that she must have been a man just a few months
before. Almost nine months before, I guessed. To have grown that big
already she would have had to have gotten knocked up "just off the boat" --
That is, if her tour was only for a year like most people's was.

It shouldn't have thrown me for such a loop. I had read that pregnancy was
possible for Earth males on Tiresias; in fact, that was one of those
sensational aspects of the planet that had caught the imagination of the
supermarket tabloids. But to be confronted with it so soon. . . .

Trent picked up on my unsettled stare and touched her enlarged belly with a
smile. "Don't let it throw you, Mr. Carter. It won't happen to you, unless
you're careless."

"Were -- were you careless?" I asked with a stumble in my voice -- a voice
that sounded like a stranger's.

"Only in my choice of wives," she replied ambiguously as she adjusted my
position under the diagnostic scanner. Her hand motions were efficient and
very precise.

"Your wife?" I instinctively began thinking in terms of the conventional
lesbian marriage, but I quickly grasped that she really did mean wife, as
in "man and wife."

"It's a long story,," Trent replied. "Maybe we'll be able to talk later
over a glass of prune juice."

"Prune juice?" I muttered with distaste. "Is that what people drink here?"

"No. It's just me. I've had a craving for prune juice lately." She shook
her head. "It's crazy what pregnancy does to you. But it's wonderful," she
added with a thin smile.

Wonderful? I couldn't believe that. A nightmare would be more like it. I
was glad when the doctor dropped the subject to turn her attention to the
settings of her equipment. "Don't move," Trent told me as the scanner light
went on and advanced along its track, over the entire length of my body --
a woman's body that was now draped in a simple examination pullover. I
still hadn't had the stomach to look at my own face, and couldn't help but
shudder when I had had to take my clothes off in the antechamber. But even
a brief, loathing glance at my nudity had confirmed that I had sizable tits
-- and all the plumbing that went with the sex imposed upon me. As
distraught as I was, I wondered how the physician expected to get a valid
blood pressure reading from me.

While the examination went on Dr. Trent didn't discourage me from talking.

"Is your -- wife -- happy about the baby?" I asked.

She shook her head. "I'm divorced."

I almost asked "who did it" or pried into why she hadn't had an abortion,
but those questions seemed just too personal to throw at an -- individual
-- whom I had only just met.

"What did you do to get here?" she asked me suddenly.

That subject brought back a lot of pain, so I just shrugged. "Maybe I
volunteered."

"We don't get many male volunteers and, anyway, volunteers don't look so
hangdog. You must have screwed up pretty badly, my young lady, to get
posted to Tiresias."

"I'm not a young lady!" I flared.

"You're under thirty. And I'm willing to assume that you're a lady until
you prove otherwise."

I glanced annoyedly into her face, but the whimsy I saw there disarmed me.
"Okay," I said, cooling it, "I was on report for -- sexual harassment."

She smiled sympathetically. "Nasty. Did you have a female EEOC officer?"
"How did you guess?" I asked, my tone dripping with sarcasm.

"I've got an idea how things operate in that loony bin back home."

"It was a bum rap!' I protested. "Is asking the same woman for a date twice
harassment?"

"Of course it is, if she complains about it. Do you think America's a free
country or something?"

********

Chapter 2

I sized up the doctor anew. There had been no humor in her last words. Did
she feel like I did? Beat up on, put upon, victimized? I held so much rage
inside just then that I wanted to blow up, but though I wished to unburden
myself to a sympathetic ear, I didn't dare say much. Trent could be a
provocateur who would report me, and I could ended up doing an extended
tour as a female officer! Or, worse, be fired and packed home as an
unemployable. Uncle Sam needed unemployables. Spreading destitution made
the people who controlled the money pump more secure in their power. It was
as if someone had chosen Haiti for the model of a future America.

Anyway, even if the doctor wasn't an informer how could I trust her? There
had to be something wrong with a man who would come to Tiresias, get
pregnant, and think it was wonderful.

Then Dr. Trent pivoted the scanner away. "Get up, Miss Carter, and get
dressed. You're as healthy as a Missouri mule."

I'd rather be called a mule than a "miss," but I supposed that it was only
one of the indignities that I would have to get used to. I sat up and
rubbed my thighs. Bad idea. They were slim and smooth under the thin skirt
of my gown; they reminded me of my present condition.

"What happens next, Doctor?"

"Oh, you'll be taken to your quarters to rest and be by yourself. Rest is a
good way to start your period of adjustment. You'll meet your roommate
before long. She'll be more of a counselor, actually. She'll help you to
get oriented over the next few weeks." Trent gave me an ironic grin.
"She'll even help you get ready for your ingenue party."

"My what?"

"Your initiation. All the new Sallys and Charlies get an ingenue party.
It's hardest on the Charlies."

She mistook my "I don't want to believe it" look for a misunderstanding of
her terms, which was not the case at all. I had done plenty of preparatory
reading.

"Charlie and Sally were characters in a couple of classic movies who got
sex-changed suddenly and against their will," she explained. "It's just
slang. If you don't approach Tiresias with a sense of humor it'll drive you
crazy."

"What's this initiation like?"

"Sometimes it gets pretty heavy, like the Equator-crossing ceremonies back
home. You'll have to wear a party dress, dance with all the men who want to
dance with you, receive a gift that will embarrass you to hell, and then
you'll get to watch a porn movie or two."

"That sound humiliating! Does the whole staff come to gawk?"

"No, its mostly just the rats who want to give the new people a hard time."

"Shit! Do I have to go through with this?"

"I'd advise that you do, Miss Carter. We have a lot of bad asses on the
staff, especially among our `men.' If you come off as a good sport, you'll
earn their respect and your tour probably won't be a bad one. But if they
get the idea that you're a jerk or just a scared little rabbit, the hazing
could go on for months."

"Hazing? I thought the feds were going to protect me from that now that I'm
a -- a --" I couldn't say the word.

"You were a second class citizen at home, my dear, and you're a second
class citizen here. Face it; if people like you or me are ever expect to
get justice, we're going to have to start a revolution."

There it was again, the sense that some sort of rage smoldered under Dr.
Trent's genial exterior. I felt mad enough to be a revolutionary myself,
but I rarely had heard a superior in government service talking that way. I
looked squarely into the doctor's strangely compelling eyes, and thought I
saw something in them that told me that I had just made a friend.

#

After my examination, I was escorted to the dormitory by a uniformed woman
-- a "Charlie" -- who didn't bother to give her name. I was shuffling along
in over-sized shoes, which added to the awkwardness caused by my
unaccustomed new size and weight. Arriving at the room, my silent usher
left me and I saw that my assigned quarters were simple but comfortable
enough, with two queen-sized beds standing separated by just a narrow
aisle. There was a phone on one of the two dressers, and a tv\audio unit on
the other. Obviously they could provide local service only.

I peered into the closet, which contained very little except linens and my
luggage, which some porter had neatly arranged upon on the floor. As I
stood there contemplating unpacking, I caught a glimpse of my hand on the
door frame. It was a woman's hand, naturally, and a stranger's hand. I bit
my lip and steadied myself against a sudden rush of despair.

A woman! I still couldn't believe it. Not until one has lost his identity
so completely as I had, can he understand how it devastates a normal
psyche. Well, it wouldn't do to go to pieces the first day, and so I bucked
myself up and, turning around, I noted that there was a mirror. I almost
yielded to the compulsion to take a look at myself -- but couldn't find the
courage. The man in the lab coat had said that I was "lovely." I wasn't
sure I wanted to be lovely. I wanted to be invisible. I wanted to blend
into the background of Tiresias penitentiary and go unnoticed for the
entire year of my tour.

I tossed my jacket on the floor, then flopped down on the bed, dead tired.
DCE, Dimension-Crossing-Enervation, the books called it. It would pass, Dr.
Trent had assured me, but it as sure as hell had left me as weak as a
kitten just then.

I think I napped for a while, but a rattling sound woke me up with a start.
A young woman was coming through the door loaded down with suitcases. She
saw me blinking at her and smiled my way. I smiled back mechanically. It
had to be my new roommate.

Not too shabby. A well-stacked girl.

She set her gear down beside the unoccupied bed and gave an exhale of
relief. I estimated that the newcomer would probably be in her mid- to
latter twenties. Her long amber hair was tied back with an elastic hair
band and she wore the standard duty uniform -- jet slacks, a short-sleeve
gray shirt with black trimming and simple cloth epaulets. Her insignia told
me that we were of equal rank, U.S.C.S.O. First Class.

She sat down upon her mattress and took my measure, her eyes benign,
wide-set, and richly blue. She had a pretty mouth whose smile brightened
her whole face.

"Hi," she said. "You've got to be Officer Carter, right?"

I nodded.

"My name is Milholland -- Alice. That comes from Alex -- Alexander. Most
people call me Allie." She waited attentively for my reply.

Struggling up to a sitting position, I said, "I'm Aaron. -- Christ, will I
have to use a girl's name around here, too?"

"It's the custom," she grinned. "You'll be getting one Saturday night, at
your ingenue party."

"Somebody else names us?" I asked, not liking that idea at all.

"That's the privilege of the Sally with the longest continuous service on
Tiresias. That'll be Mort these days. He's not so bad. He won't call you
anything raunchy. Maybe he'll think up a feminine version of your real
name, or maybe just pick one out of thin air, like Melanie, or Laura. -- I
think you'd make a good Laura," she observed.

I fell back upon the mattress and stared dismally at the ceiling. "I don't
need this. Take me out of here, Lord! Please, take me out of here."

Allie got up and stood over me. "Aaron, you can't let this get to you.
You'll make it. I was in worse shape than you are now eight months ago."

"I don't want to be a girl! I don't want to be a girl! I don't want to be a
girl!" I chanted the words like a mantra.

Allie sat down on the edge of my bed and put her hand on my forearm. "It's
hard, Aaron, know. That's why I'm here to help you. I hope we can be
friends. I just lost my best bud, Jodie, when she went back to Earth. I
hope you didn't leave a lot of people behind. That's always tough."

"No," I answered dejectedly. "I don't have anybody, anything. I'm nothing.
Nobody will miss me. So turn me into a girl. Humiliate me! I don't care!
I'm giving up. I'm checking out."

She laughed softly. I liked the sound and, despite my best intentions to be
miserable, I felt the ends of my lips tighten into a pained smile as I
glanced up into her sympathetic features.

"That's better. I think you'll be all right. If it gets too rough, if you
really need to get your head fixed, we have a couple psychs on the medical
staff who specialize in identity problems. Most new Charlies don't need
them, actually. It's usually the Sallys who get the worst reaction."

I arched my neck. "Why's that?"

"I don't know," she shrugged. "Maybe so many of them have wanted to be men
for so long that when it actually happens it's a letdown. Us Charlies set
our expectations kind of low. Or maybe girls just have more fun!"

"Please!" I exclaimed. "I'm not a girl!"

"Well, don't decide about anything so important right away." Her hand
remained on my arm to encourage me, but it didn't feel like a sexual
come-on. Normally I would have welcomed a come-on from a girl as attractive
as Allie, but here -- well, it had to be different.

"Aaron, it's all a matter of attitude," the amber-haired officer coaxed in
a comradely way. "Believe me."

I rolled away from her.

"You could resign and go back right away," she admonished, "but you'll
probably never get a decent job again. It's like a punishment to be sent
here, I know, but it's also an experience that can be of a lot of value
later on."

"Like what?" I grumbled.

"Like, I think I'm going to be a lot smarter about getting into a woman's
pants after being a woman myself for a year."

I almost cracked up. Apparently Allie didn't have a philosophical bone in
her body. "I'd think you'd have had enough of women's pants by now!" I
fired back, looking at her hips.

Allie laughed again. "That's good! I think I like you already, Aaron." She
offer a handshake.

I took it firmly. The feel of her hand was like that of many another young
woman, but the smallness, the softness, of my own gave our clasp a fit that
I was not used to. Even so, I perked up a little.

Allie got to her feet, flung a suitcase on her bed and began unpacking.
"Whenever any new people come," she said over her shoulder, "a lot of us
get juggled around. My old roommate was Dori. I can't wait to introduce
her."

I still didn't feel like unpacking myself. Instead, I watched the girl fill
the closet and the dresser drawers with her things. The sight of some very
feminine apparel seemed, on one hand, very normal, but on the other a
little disturbing. I also noticed that Allie's motions were not manlike in
the least, particularly in the movements of her nice hard bottom. I closed
my eyes. I needed to stop thinking about Tiresian women that way; it could
only lead to frustration.

After a while, Allie paused in her chores and mopped her beaded brow with
the back of her hand. "Like I said, Aaron, getting along is all a matter of
attitude. You're going to be a woman for a year; accept it and don't let it
get you down. After all, it's been the experience of half the human race
since the Garden of Eden. Treating it like a joke is a good way to handle
it at first."

"It doesn't make me feel like laughing."

"You can have fun with the idea. Play act. Be the sexiest thing on two
legs! I was bummed out like you wouldn't believe when I came here, but
being a girl hasn't killed me and it's not going to kill you either. We
have some assholes, particularly among the guys, but there's a lot of good
people here, too, and I think you'll come away with friendships that'll
last a lifetime."

"I'm all for friends," I murmured without much spirit. Then I raised a
question that had been bothering me since leaving the medical unit. "Allie,
is Dr. Trent all what she seems?"

The blonde glanced at me incredulously. "Pregnant? Of course she is!"

"I don't mean that. It's just that she was kind of outspoken. She's not a
shill for the warden, is she?"

"Oh, no. Dr. Trent's great! No one ever got into trouble by confiding in
Dr. Trent."

I really hoped I could take Allie herself at face value. I expected to have
a hard time on Tiresias and getting through twelve hard months could be
made much easier if I had a real friend, and not just an impersonal
counselor, or a company spy.

"Why is she pregnant?" I pressed. "What sort of man would do that to
himself?"

Allie leaned back against the dresser, clearly made uncomfortable by my
question. "Well, that's her personal business, Aaron. I just don't like to
gossip about people that I like. She'll explain it if she takes to you. Doc
told me all about it when I asked her. It's --" Allie checked herself with
a will and the look in her eyes suggested that Trent's story wasn't all fun
and games.

I changed the subject. "Allie, sometimes I get confused about how people
use pronouns around here. Sometimes I'm not sure who's meant when I hear
the words "girls" and "guys" and "he" and "she."

Allie grinned. "Tiresias is a crazy place, all right! We'll, my sweet young
thing, we always look at things from the Tiresian perspective. You and I
are girls, or women, hers and shes. The people with the cocks and balls are
always the guys, or men, the hims and hes. Keep that in mind and everyone
will understand you."

"For Pete's sake, I'm a `she,' I moaned. I sank into my pillow, closed my
eyes, and tried to shut out the cruel world.

#

After Allie had unpacked, she left me alone to continue resting. I had
liked Allie. From her exuberance I had drawn the slim hope that if she
could handle this sex-change business, maybe I could, too. I slowly
gathered in my willpower, then got up and walked to the full-length mirror.

Holy shit!

If I had had a sister, that would have been her looking back at me. At
first, all I recognized was my hair, which never could decide whether it
wanted to be light brown or dark blond. Then I noticed that I had a nose
like my mother's, but the rest of my body was strictly from fantasy land!

I looked away for a moment, sorting out a jumble of feelings which ran the
gamut from deadly shock to sheer panic. Then I had a terrible thought.

People will think that I'm a woman!

Of course, idiot! Get used to it!

Standing there in my shirt and tie, wearing drooping trousers, I faced up
to the mirror for a second time. I had been sporting my hair longish, in
the current male fashion. Now its length added to the general impression of
femininity in my reflected face. I always had a rather full lower lip, but
it now looked positively bee-stung and pouty. In fact, it was just about
the sexiest mouth I had ever seen on a girl! I just couldn't believe it. I
really was pretty. Some guy might even look at me twice. Thrice. Damn it,
I'd have to beat the studs off with a hammer!

Lord, please, don't do this to me! Whatever you think I did, I'll never do
it again!

All right, all right, chin up. You're a tougher bastard than that, Aaron
Carter.

I steadied myself and took a third look. I couldn't tell much about my
build with my oversized shirt and pants on. I pulled up a sleeve. I had a
slender arm; the muscles that I had carefully built up through many a game
of tennis were still there, but reduced to their feminine equivalent. I
touched my ribs. Bones. I must have been quite slender. I probed lower. My
waist was small -- but my hips weren't. I had already caught a couple
horrified glimpses of my breasts when changing clothes at the medical
department. I didn't know what size they were, but they had seemed like
whoppers. The evil gods of Tiresias had smitten me with an hour-glass
figure! What next?

Allie's key clicked in the lock. I turned, feeling as if trapped in a
naughty act. She came in carrying a bag.

"Oh, good, you're up and around," said my roommate cheerily. "It's time we
took you to Supply to get you some new clothes. Here's something to keep
you from looking like an unmade bed until then." She pressed the bag into
my hands. It contained a pair of unisex coveralls and sandals.

"Thanks," I said. "Better this than a bikini."

"Don't be so sarcastic, Aaron. I just bet that before you get off Tiresias
you'll have your own bikini and be proud to strut your stuff in it."

"That'll be the day!"

That'll be the day that I die!

#

So, we went to Supply and got my basic measurements taken. Uncle Sam (or
was he Aunt Samantha here on Tiresias?) paid for two uniforms, a pair of
shoes, some underpants (which were only sort-of sexy), a couple bras, a
pair of off-duty slacks, and two print shirts. I was also issued a pack of
three women's tank-top t-shirts, three pairs of socks, and a grooming kit
containing a comb, some hair pins, soap, lotions, and hair-care products.
The issue had exhausted my special clothing stipend and everything else
would cost something from my pocket for the rest of the month. Therefore I
decided to put off making any additional selections until I saw a distinct
need, though I knew I'd soon need another pair of leisure pants. I didn't
notice any lingerie or skirts on the shelves, a circumstance which I was,
for some reason, grateful.

"Do we get all our things here?" I asked Allie.

"No, just official issue and the settling-in stuff. There's a store for us
staff, and even the prisoners can order from it. Of course things are
expensive and the inmates earn next to nothing."

I donned my uniform in the changing room, only to be startled at the sight
of the sharp-looking female officer reflected in the mirror. Afterwards, we
made a brief stop at Administration to get my new badge and insignias, then
Allie led me to the cafeteria. They were serving the same junk that every
staff cafeteria had been dishing out since time began, only it tasted even
more preserved than usual.

I crossed the dimensional barriers just to dine on Spam?!

"Over at the salad bar they have some fresh fruit and vegetables,"
suggested Allie. I nodded gratefully and we walked over to the bar to load
up.

"We grow some stuff here," my roommate remarked. "Tending the garden's one
of the things that we have the prisoners do."

"I hope it's washed thoroughly." Those bastards-turn-bitches would surely
do a lot worse than spit in the master's soup if they could get away with
it.

"We also buy produce from the barbarians," Allie replied amiably. "It's
tricky doing that, though. Only specially trained people like Dr. Donnalyn
are allowed any direct contact with natives. It's what they call the `Prime
Directive,' after that old Star Trek series. We're told that we have to do
everything we can to avoid contaminating their indigenous culture. The
Tiresians must know practically nothing about us. I heard that some of them
think that we're gods."

"What do you know about the native cultures here, goddess?"

"You probably know more than I do, if you've done any reading," she
shrugged. "They're human, just like us. We can even breed together."

"Breed? What poor Charlie had to get knocked up to find that out?"

"I don't know how the experiments were conducted," she responded with an
ernest grimace.

Eating my first meal since I had arrived on Tiresias both strengthened me
physically and improved my morale. Looking around the cafeteria I could,
for a moment, imagine that the people in it were just ordinary folks like I
was used to. There seemed to be more women than men, though -- which was
reasonable, considering that this was a woman's prison -- in one sense at
least. I was to find out in time that the discrepancy in male and female
staffing was even greater than it appeared, since a fair number of Sally's
did multiple tours while few Charlies chose to stay on for more than one
year. I could understand that. There were many more men in the Correctional
Service than women back home. -- And I was already anxious to return to
good old Earth.

Allie kept up a cheery conversation. It turned out that we had practically
been neighbors while growing up in the Midwest. She was from around Cedar
Rapids, Iowa, and I was from Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

She worked in the Properties office. In fact, she practically ran it, her
supervisor being a goof-off who spent most of his time away drinking coffee
with his Sally friends. Anyway, there was not much to do at Properties. The
prisoners had been allowed to bring very little with them and the expense
of inter-dimensional transport precluded that many gifts and parcels would
be sent from home.

In her down time, Allie did a lot of odd jobs around the prison, such as
helping the medical staff by watching sick prisoners, or preventing one or
more Sallys from being left alone with an inmate. Without such precautions
it was so easy for them to launch a false complaint and get away with the
most outrages charges. These would always be treated as if serious, even if
made by an inmate with a history of concocting nonsense. For the last three
generations America had had a strange and contradictory ethos that combined
sexual license with an inquisitorial Puritanism.

The better I got to know Allie, the better I liked her. If my roommate
turned out to be a company rat underneath it all, I was going to be very
disappointed.

Chapter 3

A dark-haired man in a guard uniform approached the table while my
companion and I were chomping down our greens. "Hello, Allie," he said. "I
don't think I know your friend."

The amber blonde nodded pleasantly to the newcomer. "This is Aaron Carter.
She's my new roommie. Aaron, this is Bob."

It was the first time I had been referred to as a "she" in public and I
didn't care for it.

The man extended his hand. "Hello, Aaron. I'd heard that a foxy new Charlie
had just come across, but rumor didn't do you justice."

"Foxy? Me?" I echoed incredulously.

"Haven't you looked in a mirror yet?"

"Oh, I have. I nearly lost my cookies!"

"Well, take it from me, you're a --"

"Nice piece?" I suggested with a smile of pure poison.

"Well, let's just say that I wouldn't miss your ingenue party for
anything!"

"Lucky me. See you there, Bob," I replied. He grinned cockily and left.

"What should I make of that?" I asked Allie.

"Bob's sort of okay. He's not as bad as Jake or Hank, but -- You know, it's
probably too early to bring it up, but I should anyway, just to be on the
safe side."

I studied her across the small table. Her eyes were intense, serious, and a
little sheepish. "What exactly are you driving at?"

"Aaron, almost every girl here --- well, I mean, she short of experiments a
little before she goes home. That's to be expected, I suppose. It's the
chance of a lifetime to find out what it feels like from the other side."

I regarded her suspiciously. "Where's this thread leading, Alexander?"

"I just want to say that if you ever begin to get curious about trying out
-- the equipment --, you should first buy some birth-control pills at the
medical office."

"Thanks for the advice," I replied coldly.

"I mean it! Things are different now. We're not just men in women's bodies.
We really are women!"

"I don't feel like a woman," I informed her.

"It's not something that rings in your head like a bell, Aaron. It's much
more subtle. You're going to be feeling more good and bad emotions than you
ever have before, and it's going to be harder for you to keep from showing
them. That's not so bad, actually. You'll be surprised how good you feel
after letting it all out. The men have it worse. They're always complaining
to the psychs that their emotions feel locked up."

"Okay, so I'm going to have crying jags and laughing jags and I'll love it,
but what about --"

"I'm just saying that you might be very vulnerable for a while. Don't get
yourself get emotionally involved with any of the guys -- not until you can
handle yourself -- and a year is hardly long enough to learn to do that."

"Handle myself? Am I going to be tempted to paw those gorillas?"

"No, but you might start feeling an attraction for somebody, and he might
not feel the same way about you. Real women are taught how to hold back,
but us guys are used to following our feelings. If you like a person more
than he likes you, you could be taken advantage of."

"Check, no love affairs." My tone was absolutely condescending.

"This is serious, Aaron," Allie pressed. "A lot of the Sallys come here
with some really bad ideas about men. Some of them think that when they do
us in, they're getting back at Men with a capital M. They don't see that
they're only hurting their friends and co-workers. So watch yourself."

"How do they hurt us?"

Allie shifted closer, and he tone lowered: "There are people who'll do
rotten things, like taking you up, then letting you down -- hard -- just
for spite. There's even the kind of sleaze who'll sabotage his condom and
try to get you pregnant. That's why contraceptives are so important."

Jeez! Can't I go ten minutes anymore without the subject of pregnancy
coming up?!

"What happens when you knocked up?" I asked tersely.

"What do you think? You either have a baby or you have an abortion! And
don't think that there's any easy answer, Aaron. I knew a Charlie who got
in a fix, got scared, and terminated. Afterwards she was sorry that she
didn't have the baby instead. It just broke her. She was sent home on a
medical order."

"I understand basic biology," I explained stiffly. "I was just asking about
the official rules and responsibilities of everyone involved."

Allie frowned. "Listen -- a woman can cut off your dick back home and then
charge you with being abusive! It's no different here. The Sallys get away
with pretty much whatever they want and it's always your fault. The system
doesn't cares if we get hurt. So, I'm warning you: Don't make a dumb
mistake by trusting the wrong person."

Her voice had begun to waver and I realized then that Allie must have had
some personal experience in trusting the "wrong person." Impulsively, I
took her left hand and pressed it between mine. She looked up, met my
glance, and smiled. If we hadn't best buds before, we were from that point
on. Allie and I discovered that we both like checkers, so we signed out a
set at the dormitory recreation desk. As my bombshell roommate studied the
red-and-black board, I studied her. I had to keep reminding myself that
this personable young woman used to be a man -- and would be a man in just
a few months. It seemed nearly impossible to think of her in that way; she
appeared female to the core, even in her patterns of speech. Yet nothing
she said suggested that she had started out effeminate in any way. If such
was the case with Allie, I wondered what sort of person I would be by the
time I had finished my own tour. And if I did start thinking and behaving
as a woman, what would the experience mean for the rest of my life?

"Have you ever had sex -- with a man?" I asked suddenly.

The blonde looked up uneasily. Something told me that her hesitancy was not
just ordinary shyness. "Yeh. That was a no-brainer," she admitted at last.
"I guess I really learned what it feels like to be a woman the hard way."

"How so?"

"I'll tell you about it sometime."

"Okay, I didn't mean to pry. We just met, I know."

She forced a smile. "Hey, come on, Aaron! In a few days we'll be chatting
together like old school chums! There's just so many better things to talk
about than my boneheaded mistakes."

#

The rest of my week was filled with orientation classes and tours around
the facility. The classes focused not only on staff procedures, but also
topics that were intended to help us fit in as women on Tiresias. The most
insufferable subject to come up was feminine hygiene. The body which I now
occupied seemed to require a lot more maintenance than I was used to. The
worst of it all was menstruation -- which we were assured would come
tapping on the chamber door in some three or four weeks' time.

The classes were small -- just us new Charlies -- Brady, Volsted, and me --
sometimes with our roommates sitting in. Allie almost always monitored my
classes, probably because we had hit it off so well. Some of what we
learned in class turned my face red despite my every effort to be stoic.
Had my roommate actually been the young woman that she appeared to be, her
presence would have been a distinct embarrassment. But I knew that Allie
had occupied the hot seat before me, a fact that created a bond of shared
experience.

#

I passed the greater part of my first day off scanning the grounds outside
the prison by means of a telescope mounted upon a high terrace. The prison
occupied a river island overlooking a pretty countryside. I thought it
looked like rural Kentucky, with its succession of emerald hills and patchy
forests as far as the eye could see. It occurred to me how hard it must
have been to build the prison complex, with all the material and
construction equipment needing to be phase-shifted from Earth. Even with
prefabrication and local gravel for concrete, construction must have been a
Herculean feat. I wondered whether the transformed construction men
whistled at one another while they worked? Possibly. Here they would only
be risking a fist in the jaw from the offended Charlie. Back home, a
construction man's wolf whistle or admiring stare at a passing woman would
almost certainly result in his unemployment. I didn't see how such
attempted mind-control could be equated with progress, but that was the
ruling ideology.

When I finally came home I found Allie waiting for me. "I'm glad you're
back," she piped excitedly. "I started to get worried."

"That I committed suicide?"

"That you'd be late for your ingenue party!"

Damn! I almost had forgotten -- or at least forced that ordeal out of my
consciousness.

Allie bustled to my bed and picked up the frock that she had lain out
there. "How do you like it?" the blonde asked, holding it up in front of
herself with a crooked grin.

"Fuck!" I adjudged seriously.

"I guarantee it fits!" Allie assured me. "I took your measurements when we
first went to Supply. I didn't pick out the style, though."

I was glad to hear that; otherwise I would have had to murder my best
friend! I really must have fallen down the rabbit hole if anyone in Never
Never Land expected me to get into a rig like that. It was a little white
party dress with bare-shouldered, a low cut, and spaghetti-straps. The
thing didn't look large enough to cloth a woman half my size.

"No way, Jose!"

"All the girls are going to be dressed up," Allie coaxed. "You can't go to
an ingenue party in your uniform! It's just not done!"

"Then I won't go!"

"Be a good sport, Aaron! I'm going to go in my ingenue dress. Are you
saying that I've got more nerve?"

"You can do what you want! I'm just saying that not all the brow-beating in
the world will ever get me into that bimbo outfit!"

Just fifteen minutes later my lungs were straining for breath against the
anaconda hug of Spandex and Allie stood behind me, fixing my hair.

"You've got wonderful hair, Aaron. I love it! You shouldn't keep on combing
as if you were still a guy. I hope you'll let it grow out as much as you
can."

"I think I'll shave it off!"

"Don't be so cranky! All us girls had parties and we lived through them.
Are you a wimp?!"

"We're not girls!"

"Sure we are, at least until our year is up. Remember what I said about
attitude?" She started to sing: "I'm a girl and by me that's only great! I
am proud that my silhouette is curvy -- that I walk with a sweet and
girlish gait, with my hips kind of swively and swervy --"

I frowned back at her. "Alexander, are you trying to be funny, or are you
seriously sick?" She pulled my hair playfully. "Ow!" I yelled. "Do you know
what you're doing?"

"Trust me. I found out that I have a knack. If I ever get thrown out of the
correctional service, now I know I can fall back on cosmetology. Come to
think of it, that would be a great way to meet more women. Say, I can do
your makeup, too; is that okay? A little perfume will make it perfect."

"Perfect for what?" I groused.

"If you got it, flaunt it!" she answered cheerfully.

I thought Allie was role-playing, but I wasn't so sure. Rather than plumb
the mental illness of my roommate, I merely asked, "Why did you come here,
Alex? You don't seem like the sort of congenital screw-up who'd get
disciplined."

"I guess I was one. I was -- I was AWOL a lot," she replied in a low voice.

"Why?"

Allie continued to work on my hair, but her fingers were less steady now.
"My sister had cancer," she whispered. "We didn't have any money, and there
was no one else to take care of her."

I hadn't expected anything like that. "I'm sorry."

"She needed an expensive treatment," my friend went on, "but the family
farm was estate-taxed when our parents were killed by housebreakers. We had
to sell it off to pay. There wasn't much left."

I felt a knot in my stomach. "Did -- did they catch the -- killers?"

"Nah," she sighed. "You know how it goes. When people like you or me do the
least little thing wrong, we're always caught and they throw the book at
us. But if some strangers walk into your home, rob it, turn it into a
slaughter house, the police can never find the culprits."

I swallowed hard. People like Alexander and his sister, people who owned or
inherited anything, were routinely taxed into poverty and then left in the
lurch when they got into trouble. Although National Health Care still
supported thousands of wage-drawing bureaucrats, it had effectively gone
bankrupt years earlier and now existed only in name.

I reached back and put my hand on Allie's. "I'm so sorry," I said. "Did
your sister --"

Her voice began to break. "Yeh. I stayed with her as much as I could those
last months. But because of a technicality, I couldn't get any family leave
from the U.S.C.S. I almost lost my job, but then union arbitrated and got
the offense reduced. To get the black mark erased, I had to accept a year
on Tiresias. I didn't have anything left back home anyhow, so I decided it
might be better to try to get away from the memories. . . ."

"Allie," I said. "You don't have to tell me anymore --"

"You've have liked my sister Gladys, Aaron," she went on as if she hadn't
heard. "She looked a lot like I do now. Sometimes it makes it hard to look
into the mirror. . . ." Her words trailed off and Allie withdrew to her
bed, her breathing ragged.

Now all my grumbling about clothes and some ridiculous initiation seemed
peevish and trivial. I left my chair and sat down beside a young woman whom
I hadn't even known existed a week before, but who had since become my best
and only friend in a strange new world. And whether her name was Alice or
Alexander, it didn't seem wrong to wrap my arms around her, to hold her
close until her breathing lost its shakiness. Then I kissed her on the
cheek and tasted the salt of her tears.

"Can you help me finish putting myself together?" I asked cajolingly. "I'll
look a sight tonight without you."

She returned a faint smile.

#

The administration building had a pair of large connecting rooms sometimes
used for social gatherings. It opened onto a wide balcony terrace; a cool
night breeze wafted in from a pair of open doors, and its caress reminded
me of the sparing way in which I was dressed. I flashed back to that bad
dream I'd occasionally had of coming to a party naked. The dress I had on
was so short that I thanked God for creating pantyhose, and cut so low that
I couldn't help looking down, just to make sure that my jugs hadn't made a
break for it.

There was a bar and a large table set with appetizers, sandwiches, and
snacks. The Sallys were all in dapper suits, while the Charlies wore a
variety of party dresses -- some as daring as mine, which was actually a
relief to me.

"You'll be able to keep the outfit, Aaron," Allie had said. "It's a kind of
a welcoming gift from the management. If you pay half, they'll pick up the
rest of the cost."

"Pay good money for something that you couldn't cut a decent-sized
handkerchief from?!" I exclaimed. "Who picked it out anyway?"

"The recreation committee chairman. Mort."

Mort. I'd heard that name before. Now I had a grudge against the bastard!

Allie stepped into the party room wearing a red slit-skirt sheath, and
balancing upon three-inch heels. She had mentioned that only one girl on
the present staff, Billie Walters, had learned to walk nimbly on four-inch
spikes. My two-inchers were already putting enough pressure on the ball of
my foot to become a fun-killer and I dreaded dancing in them. When I asked
Allie why the Tiresias females insisted on torturing themselves just like
the women did at home, the amber-haired correctional officer suggested that
it was just the challenge of the thing -- like climbing Mount Everest, or
swimming the English Channel. "And, besides," she said, "high heels make
our legs look terrific!"

Sometimes I didn't know if Allie wasn't just hamming it up, or if there was
some sort of genetic coding that compelled a woman to go around half-naked
and walking on her toes. Every day and in every way I wanted to be a man
again! Brady and Volsted were there, both in party frocks, but neither of
them as outrageous as the dress that Mort had foisted upon me. They both
looked rather doubtful of the proceedings, but seemed determined to get
through them without showing weakness. I also saw the fourth member of our
quartet, Officer Rother, natty in a double-breasted suit and a bow tie. I
hadn't liked his looks as a woman, and still less did I like them as a
male. When Rother turned my way I could tell from his double take that he
only belatedly recognized me as the man whom he had briefly met at the
transference center.

Allie drew me to the side, where a group of chattering Charlies were
congregating. She introduced me to four girls in particular, those whom I
gathered were her own gang -- Dori, Andrea, Jordana, and Mickie. Each was
atypically pretty, which caused me to wonder whether all the foxiest
Charlies belonged to some sort of clique. The flashiest femlins in high
school seemed to, but I had always supposed that the association had come
about innocently -- from getting to one another during group-dates with
local sports heroes.

"This is Aaron," Allie said in way of an introduction.

"She won't be Aaron for long," chimed a bosomy black girl with pale green
eye shadow and ruby lipstick. She held out a dark hand. "Put it there. I'm
Andrea -- Sergeant Leonard, C-Block. I was Andrew before. I wonder what
handle Mort'll come up with for you."

"She looks like a Jennifer to me," suggested the sleek brunette named Dori
Gurtz, Allie's former roommate. Dori, I soon learned, was an administrative
clerk and the father of two back in Ohio. Sleight of hand was her hobby,
performing sometimes in community groups back home. Dori showed me some
impromptu card tricks. As she performed, I couldn't help but visualize her
not as a magician in top hat and frock coat, but as his sexy assistant in
fishnet hose and high-heeled pumps.

"No, I'd say a Penny," offered Jordana McNallen, an ash-blonde with lively
gray eyes. She turned out to be a accountant from Colorado. Jordana played
the guitar for a hobby and had a penchant for writing songs in the
bluegrass folk tradition.

Allie stood back a little after the introductions and let me chat with my
new acquaintances over sundry cups of punch while we sized up one another.
As with Allie, I found it very hard to remember that all of these young
women used to be males. I guess I actually did forget, because, as we
talked, they started exchanging wry glances and smothering laughter. I
wasn't used to that sort of reaction from women whom I was trying to charm.
Then I realized what it was. I was using the body language and voice tones
of a man on the make. Given their nature and mine, there was no surer way
to make myself look ridiculous.

I instantly tried to cool it, then found myself at a loss as to how I
should act, smile, or even gesticulate. There was a mode of behavior
expected of me, I now fathomed, but no one had bothered to cue me in as to
what it was. I began to feel awkward, uncomfortable, and generally out of
my element. I looked yearningly at the clock on the wall, only to discover
that just fifteen minutes had passed since I had entered the room. How
could I tough out this fiasco for three hours more?

*******

Chapter 4

One of Mort's friends brought over a camera and we four new people had our
pictures taken. It was hard for me to smile. I was uneasy with the prospect
of a picture of me "in drag" getting back home and circulating among people
who knew me.

Just then the dance music started, ending the photo session. As it
happened, the gang of Sallys running the affair had made it the rule that
our dancing should be kept strictly traditional. That meant they wanted to
rub sex roles into our faces. To drive home the point, or twist the knife,
two couples demonstrated some dance steps for us newcomers, emphasizing the
art of leading and following. After the exhibition was done, the rest of us
tried our hand at it.

Us new "girls" were the first ones asked to the floor. There were both
classic ballroom dances offered, as well as more current ones. At least
they didn't foist an Apache dance off on us, but I did find the female role
in the tango a very strange experience. I greatly preferred the
contemporary numbers, where the music was hot instead of cloyingly
romantic, and the sex roles were not so obvious. I guess I did all right
hoofing it. Anyway, my partners changed rapidly and I didn't have a chance
to get acquainted with any of them -- not that I wanted to.

I had been dancing enough to make my feet sore, when the music stopped and
the time came for Mort to bestow our new Charlie and Sally names. Mort was
a gray-haired senior administrator whose broad, if smirky, smile tended to
deepen the creases face into canyons. He brought each of us new people
forward in turn and poured a dribble of plain water upon our heads to
christen us -- liquor being too expensive on Tiresias to waste. Volsted
became "Olga," Rother "Chester," and Brady "Dotty." Then it was my turn.

"The best for last," announced Mort loudly. "This young lady has to have a
name just as lovely as she is."

I cringed a little at the idea of getting "special treatment," Tiresian
style. I couldn't help but tug nervously at the hem of my dress, which was
riding too high. I stopped when I realized that I was only calling the
men's attention to my nylon-sheathed legs, the last thing in the world that
I wanted to do.

As I felt Mort's cold libation sinking through my hair to my scalp, I
clenched my teeth, wondering what "Mort"-tifying moniker the duffer would
saddle me with.

"I christen you Erin!" he proclaimed. The crowd seemed to like his choice
and there was applause and appreciating laughter.

Erin? That wasn't too bad, actually. It sounded so much like "Aaron" that I
really couldn't tell the difference unless I listened very carefully.

"Now speeches," trumpeted Mort. "Tell the people something about
yourselves."

Wanting to be good sports, each of us, despite our misgivings, spoke for
about five minutes. The crowd was getting a little loose and it wouldn't
have held still for more anyway. When my turn came, I mostly talked about
where I had been posted, my hobbies, and other impersonal subjects.

"Why were you sent here?!" a Sally yelled.

"Maybe someone didn't like my face!" I answered with a forced grin.

"He'd sure like it now!"

Maybe she would have -- the dyke!

"Presents! Presents!" bellowed Mort over the laughter and the noise.

The presents were swiftly conveyed from the closet and we ingenues were
given gift-wrapped boxes as the men and women crowded around us. I had been
warned that our "gifts" would be a test of our intestinal fortitude and so
I braced myself. Olga received a latex dildo. I patted her big shoulder
commiseratively. "Mine must be even longer. My box is bigger anyway." I
told her.

Rother got a bundle of cigars, and Brady a box of tampons that evoked a
heavy sigh from her. I opened my parcel to discover that somebody's
fantasies must have been running wild since I'd made planetfall. It
contained a skimpy, mint-green sleeping tunic, along with a matching hair
ribbon. Additionally, there was a tiny bottle of perfume, "Passion in the
Dark."

"Thanks, guys," I said with a tolerant smile. "But I'll have a gray beard a
foot long before any of you degenerates get to see me wearing this crap!"

They laughed, and I laughed along with them.

Then the tone of the party relaxed somewhat and became more freeform. The
last scheduled event would be a vid and we were told that we "girls" should
get to know the men quickly, because we'd be expected to watch the movie
while sitting on the lap of a gentleman of our choice. Chester Rother, for
his part, would have his pick of any Charlie present. I anticipated my fate
grimly and again looked up at the clock. The hour it registered didn't give
me much comfort.

There was more dancing then and I tried to be gracious whenever I was asked
to the floor. I also kept a lookout for any male congenial enough to double
as a comfortable chair, but without much luck.

By far the most agreeable part of the evening was getting to know Allie's
friends. A lot of other Charlies introduced themselves, too, and offered me
their handshake. The staff seemed to like welcoming new people into their
little exile. I was asked repeatedly about current affairs from home;
political being was heavily sanitized by the time it reached them through
official channels.

I turned out that they had heard nothing about the latest jailing of
dissidents or the South American drug-smuggling operation that was charged
against the current administration. In fact, I had only heard of this stuff
myself through the BBC world broadcast. There was no point in hoping that
crime and tyranny would bring down the government, though. Official denial,
a press corps that would have won the respect of Joe Stalin, and a friendly
majority in Congress always smothered political scandals before they harmed
the majority party.

Besides a hunger for news, I perceived friendliness from the Charlies. It
was hard to put aside my reserve, though; it was awkward being invited into
a society that one didn't want to identify with.

Dr. Trent came by to pay her curtesies. I would have liked to have talked
more to the physician, but it was hard for her to stand around and
difficult for me to avoid being interrupted by third parties. I did notice,
though, that the whole staff was very polite to Dr. Trent, even to the
point of reverence. Very few children were born to Earth people on
Tiresias, of course, and the arrival of the medic's baby seemed to be
awaited with excitement and good will by all.

"What are you drinking, Doctor?" I asked when I managed to break away from
the others. "Can I freshen it for you?"

"Gabrielle," she corrected me. "-- From Gabriel, of course. It's just
mineral water. I'm not about to put anything down my throat that I wouldn't
put into a baby bottle."

I nodded. She was being conscientious about this pregnancy, that was for
sure. I was still bothered by questions that I would have loved to ask, but
Andrea arrived just then to make a new introduction, this time to Billie
Walters, a pretty young woman wearing a scarlet sequined minidress. Blonde
with blue-green-eyed, Billie seemed a nice, funny, and enthusiastic girl
whom I liked at once, but I nonetheless regretted losing my opportunity to
talk longer with Dr. Trent.

The Mickie Olson came up to me again and engaged me in a chat about
personal computers. I learned that "she" lived in Pennsylvania and had a
young wife there. As it turned out, promotion came slowly in her company,
which provided computer maintenance service for the U.S.C.S. The Tiresian
slots were hard to fill and so Mike had decided that accepting the transfer
would look good in his file. Mickie's main regret seemed to be that there
was no hookup to the ISH available on the planet. Once I understood that
that was her main concern, it came as no surprise to learn that "she" and
her wife didn't have any kids.

When Mickie got to talking technically about her equipment -- computer
equipment that is -- I tried hard to keep my eyes from glazing over.
Perceiving this, she nimbly changed the subject, asking me if I was
married. I had to admit that I wasn't and the redhead expressed a mild
condolence. I gathered that her own marriage was a good one.

I didn't care to go into it just then, but I actually had asked a woman to
marry me once. She had been a rising star in a food wholesaling firm. In
fact, she was earning a good deal more I was. For me it was about love and
not money, but her parents started looking daggers at me once my
aspirations to marriage became known. I could sleep with their daughter, of
course -- who could ride herd over an adult woman anyway? -- but they'd let
her marry a "fortune-hunter" over their dead bodies. It was all inferred
very politely, of course, over white wine and Brie.

In the end, the love of my life yielded to the irresistible biological
imperative that Woman must marry up. She was soon afterwards happily
conjoined with a senior executive of her company -- a man twice her age and
a driven workaholic with no time for a home life. But I couldn't fault him
for being what he was. It's all about making oneself more popular with the
ladies. If that means disappearing into a corporate gopher hole and coming
up only infrequently for air, so be it. If the female population suddenly
decided that they wanted to bear only the children of poets, we'd soon be
up to our kazoo in poets.

As Mickie and I we were chatting, I became sensible of some harsh male
laughter and a simultaneous agitation among the Charlies. I looked around,
wondering what the excitement was, and I saw a distraught Allie holding
something in a shaking hand. Mickie saw it, too, and we both started toward
her.

But Allie saw us coming and ran out onto the terrace balcony. Just then
Jordana intercepted Mickie and me, asking, "Did you hear yet what Jake and
his gang did?"

Mickie frowned. "No, what?"

"They got some pornographic pictures made of Andrea and some other girls."

I felt a clutch in the pit of my stomach. "Allie, too?"

"I don't know. But Andrea's going off the deep end!"

"Try to help her, you two," I said. "I want to see if Allie's all right."

I hurried out onto the dark terrace and I saw my roommate sitting huddled
all alone against the parapet, half-hidden behind a potted tree. I padded
over to her, as if approaching a wild bird, so as to not frighten her away
again.

"Are you upset about Andrea?" I asked softly.

"Andrea? I'm sorry for her, sure, but -- oh, God, Aaron!"

"Allie -- Alex -- did Jake have pictures of you, too?"

She bit her lip and nodded.

"But they're just fakes, right?" I asked, hoping against hope.

"N-No," she sobbed. "They're not. -- Do you hate me?"

"Hate you? For what?"

"For making you room with a slut!"

I knelt beside her and took her hands in mine. "Allie, you're not making
sense. I don't know what's going on!"

She wiped her nose on the back of her hand. "I hate dresses. No place for a
handkerchief."

I didn't have one either, but I plucked a paper napkin from the small table
next to us and handed it to her. She blew her nose, then, shaking with
sobs, told me the story.

After being on Tiresias for a few months, Allie had gotten friendly with
one of the Jake's friends, Buck Channey. His gang had a bad reputation, but
she and Buck seemed to get on pretty well. The trouble was that Buck kept
nagging her about having sex. Allie actually had been getting curious about
that subject, and so she let herself be persuaded. But the next day Allie
learned that Buck had had a hidden camera working during their lovemaking
and he had printed out some very explicit images. Now Allie realized how
much she had been played for a fool. Buck told her that some of his friends
were interested in her, too, and that if she'd treat them right, no one
would ever have to see the pictures.

I don't know how many real women could have been blackmailed that way, but
Allie had been a guy and the cruel trick had left her feeling guilty and
humiliated. She went along with Buck's demand, but the poor girl never
guessed what she was getting into. She found herself being passed back and
forth between four different guys -- Buck, Jake, Hank, and Rocky. They were
a bad bunch all around, power-trippers who liked to bully women, all of
them on their second or third Tiresian tours. Back home they'd all been
militant feminists, hated men, and had done dirt to a quite a few of the
Charlies before Allie's turn came around.

"The more I did, the more pictures they took," said the blonde miserably,
"then I was really hooked. They would always talk down to me, like I was a
whore. I had to do all sorts of disgusting things that I never would have
wanted to do with men, especially not with men I hated so much. They even
made me take a little money from them now and then, just to rub it in. I
guess they were pulling the same thing to some of the other girls, too. We
could have stopped them from hurting more people if only we weren't too
ashamed to talk. "After about a month," she went on, "they just let me go,
but they said that they wished they could do to every man back on Earth
what they'd done to me. There was such hate in their voices. They didn't
seem to have anything personal against me, though -- it was just that I
used to be a man. But I never treated any woman that, so what was the deal?
What, Aaron?" Tears were rolling down her face.

"I don't know," I answered, stroking my roommate's hair and drawing her
close.
^$&
Allie finished her story then. She seemed to be off the hook, but was^$&
always afraid that the gang would start blackmailing her again sometime.
They didn't, but tonight the other shoe had dropped. They had made up this
set of pornographic "trading cards" with "Collectable Hookers" printed on
the back and the names of the girls whom they had abused captioned in
scarlet letters. The men had blacked-out faces, which made the pictures
look as impersonal and vulgar as imaginable.

I simply couldn't believe what I had been told. Or I should say that while
I believed it, I couldn't understand how people could sink so low. And
innocent person had been blackmailed and passed around like a domestic
animal, then finally humiliated in front of all her friends and coworkers.
And Allie wasn't even the only one whom they had treated that way!

"They'll all get fired! Maybe even indicted for -- for whatever!" I tried
to reassure her.

"No they won't," choked Allie. "Warden Gershom likes them. It'll be covered
up, and maybe us girls will even be charged with being prostitutes or
something. All the Sallys here have an old-girl network, just like the
women do at home. We don't have anything. We've just got to take it. Oh,
Aaron, I wish I could die!"

Tears were flowing down my cheeks, too. I didn't know what to do to help,
except to hold Allie and whisper stupid things in her ear -- like that it
wasn't so bad, that people would understand, and that no one would blame
her for making one little mistake. Especially not the other girls.

Then Mickie found us. "Andrea went back to her room" she jabbered
excitedly. "Those rats got Frankie and Jean mixed up in their dirty
business, too." The redhead bent her head. "Frankie's a little wild, I
know, but Jean's an angel --"

"Don't blame Frankie, and don't blame any of the others, either!" I cut her
off angrily. But my anger wasn't directed at Mickie. "The people who pulled
this rotten stunt aren't girls. Watch after Allie for me, I've got to do
something."

Exactly what I'd do I'd worry about after I caught up with Jake!

#
I found the smug bastards responsible in the second party room, where most
of the men had congregated. Jake was a big guy with a narrow beard and
large ears. I knew he was a senior sergeant in Cell Block D and that he was
reputedly a tough customer, very good at keeping the wild animals there in
line.

I stomped up in front the creep and stared venom up into his face. "They
say you made those pornographic pictures, Jake. Do you deny it?" I
demanded.

"What if I did?" he replied with amusement. "What's a pussy like you doing
to do about it?"

"Listen, shit head, I don't know the other girls very well, but I know
Alexander Milholland and he'd never do anything to deserves what you did!
And I just bet it's the same for all the other girls, too!"

He grinned. "You women really stick together." He reached out and tried to
touch my face. I slapped his hand away. "You're mascara's running, Sweet
Cheeks. Been bawling?"

I clenched my fists, wanting to punch him out, but I thought that force
wasn't the way to handle the situation. I just didn't have the strength to
do the job. But if not that, what?

"You're beautiful when you're angry," Jake teased, giving a broad leer to
his cronies who were gathering around us -- the guards Hank, Buck, and
Rocky.

"Don't mind her, Jake," laughed Rocky. "It's PMS. You know what that does
to a woman! It makes her opinionated and bad tempered!"

I had a temper all right, and it was getting hotter by the second. If any
man back home ever made a PMS joke to a woman co-worker in front of
witnesses he was dead meat as far as his job was concerned. But there was
no versa in the vice, no symmetry in the system, no fairness, no recourse.
I was on my own. And so was every other female on Tiresias.

I jabbed my index finger into Jake's rock-hard chest. "You bottom-crawling
scum-sucking piece of slime!" I growled. "You've got no sane grudge against
anyone on this planet, but you still lay awake at night thinking of ways to
make other peoples' lives a living hell!"

There was laughter behind me. "I think we've got an angry white male,
here," Hank taunted. "Only she doesn't seem so male anymore. Hey, Love
Lips, do you think you still have balls there under that little white
dress? Check it out. You've been castrated."

I couldn't let that kind of oral diarrhea get to me. It was hard enough
tough trying to talk tough dressed the way I was, with all the outward
symbols of power and virility stripped away. I ignored Hank for the pet dog
that he was and concentrated my ire on his ring leader:

"You haven't got the guts to tell a person you hate him just for what he
is, so you lie and you defame, you demonize and dehumanize! You use the
system like a lynch mob. That's about all there is to that sickness you
call feminism!"

"You can call me anything you want, but watch what you say about feminism,
Baby."

"Don't call me Baby, Fuck-Face!!" I gnashed back.

I was getting to him and he reached for me. I stepped back, but Rocky and
Hank were Johnny on the spot, like a pair of backstops, keeping me penned
in. Jake figured he had the advantage now and touched my cheeks, ran the
back of his fingers over my nose and lips.

"I like your skin, Baby. And that sexy mouth. It give me a hard-on. I keep
thinking about what those lips would feel like tugging on my sausage." He
moved his hand lower and stoked my cleavage.

"If you keep touching me, I'm going to get really mad," I warned.

"And what does a little piece do when she gets really mad?" he asked,
beginning to fondle my breasts in earnest.

I lifted my hands, as if to remove his, but at the last instant I made them
into fists and snarled: "This!"

I swung my fists down, hitting Hank and Rocky, who stood behind me, each
precisely in the balls. They crumpled like men made of Reynolds Wrap. As
Jake gaped at me in surprise, I took a half step back -- and kicked him in
the crotch with all my strength. He didn't curse, he didn't yell. He just
went down, grasping himself and wheezing like an asthmatic.

"You dames wanted to have nuts," I trumpeted above their sprawling forms,
"so now enjoy them."

Just then I spotted Buck in the corner of my eye and swung around, just in
case he was coming to blind side me. My face must have been positively
witch-like. The pseudo-man returned my stare for just a couple seconds,
then dropped his glance and walked briskly away, not having lifted a finger
to avenge his stricken cronies.

I just threw up my hands in disgust and stormed back to the balcony. I
wanted to see how Allie was coming, but the terrace was empty when I got
there. I wondered where Mickie had taken my despairing roommate.

Suddenly somebody stepped up behind me, blocking the light. I wheeled and
found myself squared off against a man's broad-shouldered silhouette. Did
Jake have another friend with a taste for vengeance, one with more spine
than the pathetic Buck Channey?

I gritted my teeth, ready for the worst.

Chapter 5

"Take it easy, Erin; I just want to talk."

When I didn't answer, the man stepped closer. In the moonlight I could see
that he was about my age, tall, dark haired. And I recognized him; he was
one of my dance partners. In fact, he had been the only person to dance
with me twice -- once before we opened the presents, and once after.

"Talk about what?" I asked brusquely. "I said what I wanted to say inside."

"I heard. I was wondering if you were all right."

"You mean all right in the head?"

"No, I don't mean that."

He strode closer, causing me to step back to maintain a comfortable
distance. "Just what is it that you want?"

"I'd only like to say that I thought Jake and the others had it coming."

"Okay, so now you've said it!"

"You might not believe this, but what those idiots did made me just as
angry as it made you."

I gave him a bitter grin. "Oh, yeh? I'm the one who had to bust their
balls, Sir Galahad. You did squat!"

"Touche!" he conceded amiably, then extended his hand. "My name's Rod. It
used to be `Rhoda Ganners.' In a couple months, I guess it'll be Rhoda
again."

"Unless you've got a yearning to homestead in a prison colony." I regarded
him carefully. He was a good-looking male. He must have been a attractive
woman. "Something tells me you're not a guard. Are you in administration?"

"No. I'm a journalist."

"A journalist? Here?"

He moved around me and rested his arm upon the parapet "People are
interested in all these parallel worlds," he said, "but most of all in
Tiresias."

"Figures. People are hooked on anything that has to do with sex. So what
are you writing? It is about the prisoners, the system --?"

"This sex-change business mostly, and how people cope. I thought that
coming over here to interview first-hand sources would be the best
approach. I'm glad that I did. Nobody could understand this experience
until he's lived it himself."

"Why is it always the women who come here voluntarily?"

"Tell me why you think that is, Erin."

I regarded him warily. His body language wasn't threatening or mocking in
any way, so I decided to give him a straight answer.

"I think its because a woman defines herself by the fact that she can make
a baby. It's a simple business -- you can do this, so you're that. A man's
identity is only a set of ideas, hard to string together, even harder to
hold on to. You don't want to tamper with it if you don't have to, because
if you lose it, you're not a man anymore. You're not a woman. You're
nothing at all, except pathetic"

"I think I understand what you mean."

"Is that all that brought you here, Miss Ganners? The story?"

He looked back into the big lighted room. "Not quite. I've always had
trouble trusting men. Besides winning a Pulitzer Prize, I hoped I could
finally catch on to where men are coming from. Maybe what I'm finding out
can improve my social life."

I laughed.

"What?" he asked.

"Allie and me were just talking about that."

"But that's not the reason you came here, obviously."

"We came here because we had to. If we get to understand women along the
way, it's all gravy."

"Are you beginning to understand anything?"

"What's there to understand?"

But he wasn't buying my ingenuousness. "I think you've got better insights
than that, Erin. I wish you'd open up. What my book needs is the point of
view of someone other than myself. I can do pretty well with the
woman-as-man perspective, especially after interviewing so many Sallys, but
I need to get into the head of an intelligent man looking at a woman's life
for the first time. You, for example."

"You want me to help you with your book?"

"You might as well. You're going to be in it, after what you did tonight."

"Don't I get a choice?"

"Why? Do you have a problem with giving me a hand?"

I gave him a searching glance. "And I suppose that while we work on your
book, we'll be seeing a lot of each other. Lots of private sessions, lots
of time to win my trust, to get my guard down. Maybe what you really want
is a story about a Charlie who gets fucked then dumped. Or will it be the
one about how a male personality has to choose between abortion or
motherhood? That would be good copy -- a grown man going through hell,
trying to decide whether he should hold on to a shred of his own identity
and abort, or save the life of his child -- just the sort of thing to give
your readers a laugh! Who could imagine that men out here are human beings
with feelings?! We're just Charlies. Just dirty jokes!"

Maybe I was getting a little hysterical, but how could I be civil to any
Sally after what had happened to Allie and the others?

"So, you're one of those women who think that men are only after one
thing?" he replied ironically.

"Don't make me sound like some stereotyped female! I'm being logical."

"Don't you think that those stereotyped females can sometimes be logical,
too?"

"I don't know about them. The world they're always whining about doesn't
exist anymore. What I really think is that they should wake up and hear the
birdies sing."

"Look, Erin, I just want to understand your experiences. I certainly don't
want to seduce you. In fact, I'd advise that you don't try sex for a long
time yet. It's a brew too strong for kids."

"I'm twenty-seven. Don't I look it?"

"You look about twenty-two," he smiled. "But from what I've heard, you were
born just a few days ago. You've got a lot of growing up to do, young lady.
And, to your credit, you've done some of that tonight."

I looked at him hard, not quite sure what to think.

He extended his hand. "Friends and collaborators?"

I hesitated. I knew how low a Sally could sink. But I also didn't want to
condemn half the human race just because of Jake and his buddies. After a
moment's reflection, I took the proffered hand. "I don't trust you," I
warned him, "but until you double cross me, or I hear that you've hurt
somebody innocent, I'm giving you your chance. But I'm going to be watching
you every second."

"I'm going to be watching you, too, Erin, and I bet that I'll have a lot
more fun than you will."

I regarded him sourly. "That's lookism! It's a federal rap."

"Not on Tiresias."

#

A charming bastard, I thought. But bad things had happened to Allie and
Andrea because they trusted liars. I wasn't about to suffer the same.

"Can I take your picture?" he asked with a suddenness that made me blink.
"For my book."

I eyed him suspiciously. "Maybe for your wall, too?"

"What of it? You're decent."

"Just barely."

"Please, I'd really like to."

I wondered if I should dare to go along. I'd already been photographed in
my party getup and, anyway, no one could blackmail me just for wearing my
ingenue dress. What I had to do was avoid was getting myself seriously
compromised like Allie had.

"All right, shoot!" I decided.

"Thank you, Erin. Could you stand over by the parapet? I'd like the light
on the river for a backdrop." I did as asked. "Rest your arm on top of it.
That's pretty good, except don't look so angry. When people read about you,
I want all their sympathy to be on your side."

"You're running a big risk," I cautioned sardonically. "It's not smart to
hang around with a ball-buster."

He looked up from his view-finder. "I don't think that you want to bust
anybody's balls. I bet that you're just the sort of person who gets worked
up when she sees innocent people being pushed around."

"You could be wrong."

"I don't think I am. But I'll wear a box until I'm sure."

I laughed. Damn, but this guy's manner was disarming.

"I like that grin," he said excitedly. "Keep it steady, one-two-three!"

He snapped the picture and then, the ice broken, he directed me in posing
for several more. Before I realized it, he practically had me doing
cheesecake!

"Just a little more leg! Drop a strap over your shoulder! Great! Lean
forward -- gorgeous!"

I knew I had to be careful about this character; he could "handle" me much
too easily. I knew that other Sallys had gotten to other Charlies in the
past, often to their grief.

Sex. Who needs it?

Just then the balcony doorway grew crowded with women -- Allie with her
friends along with some others. They saw that I was talking to someone so
and paused waited for us. Rod, reading their desire to speak to me, backed
away saying, "I'll look you up later. You can count on that."

The journalist went back indoors and the Charlies came toward me en masse.

"You were incredible!" chimed Dori.

"Did you see Buck run?" laughed Mickie. "Those scum-suckers are cowards!
What have we been so afraid of all this time?"

Allie stepped up and put her arms around my neck. "Thank you," she said.
"You're the best friend a guy ever had." When she let go, Mickie hugged me,
then passed me to Jordana, who did the same.

"Hey, come on, people, don't get mushy on me!"

"You've given us a new motto, Erin," suggested a grinning Billie: "If thy
guy offends thee, kick him in the nuts!"

"They might kick back," I warned.

"Not if we kick first!" someone pronounced.

Then all the others pressed closer, squeezing me or shaking my hand.

"Thanks, Erin. Tonight you taught those bums that some of us can't be
pushed around," Jordana said solemnly, "but I'm afraid that by tomorrow
it'll all be back to the way it was before."

I turned serious myself. "Look, we've got to stop being so blasted passive
about this stuff. It's easy to play the ostrich and hope that the lion will
eat somebody else but, sooner or later, it's going to be your turn to die."

"We know that," said a woman. "But what do we do about it?"

"What we have to do is do what the women back home did fifty years ago --
raise hell until the people running things give us what we want."

"Women had it easy last century. Their men really cared about them. Nobody
cares about us."

"We must have some king of leverage," I suggested. "Some of these Sallys
act as horny as wart hogs. Why don't we try cutting off their sex until
they shape up?"

"Cut off their dicks?! Gross!" exclaimed a girl who had been introduced to
me as Davida. I suspected now that she had had too much to drink.

"No," I explained patiently, "we just won't sleep with them. That old
stunt's been paying women good dividends for a million years."

"I can't help you there," apologized Davida, "I've never slept with a man."

"Then start sleeping with somebody -- and then push him out of bed the
second he steps out of line!" suggested someone.

They all laughed. I lifted my hands to quiet them, saying, "We've got to do
some serious thinking about our situation, girls -- uh, people."

"No justice, no piece!" suggested a woman in the back.

I got the joke, which held more wit than the original canard, "No justice
no peace" -- pseudo- revolutionary claptrap. Better to say, `No peace, no
justice,' since in all history no nation ever had established social
justice under the cross fire of permanent class and group warfare.

"Well said! If we can keep a sense of humor," I predicted, "we've got the
battle half-won already. But the bottom line is that we're decent people
who deserve respect. I'm not sure how to go about getting it. We can't beat
up all those guys because they're bigger than us. We can't sue them because
the courts are on their side. We need ideas. Get together, talk things
over, try to pin down what might work for us here and now. Once our ideas
are formed up, we'll be able to draw up a plan of action!"

The Charlies seemed to like my idea because I got some more kisses and
hugs. It was then that I realized that my emotional distance from these
female officers had evaporated during the crisis of the night and the
camaraderie of the moment. These people had become my tribe, my comrades.
It was suddenly as if the most important thing in the world was that I
didn't let them down.

#

Back inside, the excitement had died away. Mort, passing along the word
that the movie was about to begin, stepped up to me. "If you haven't picked
out anyone for the evening yet, Erin, don't sweat it. I'm not too old that
I can't hold a little thing like you on my knee."

I had decided that the codger was harmless, so I just smiled and shook my
finger at him. But tradition was tradition, and so I weighted my options.
Bob hadn't offended me since I'd arrived, but I didn't really know him well
enough that I wanted to sit on him. I had danced with a good many Sallys,
but they had all come off as anonymous pressed suits. So far there had been
only one man who had treated me with the least little respect.

I looked up Rod and I took hold of his sleeve. "Come on, guy, you're the
lesser of fifty evils."

"I'm flattered."

"Just don't try anything clever in the dark." Dotty and Olga had found
their seats, too. Olga's was a small man; the Scandinavian looked heavy
enough to break his thigh bones. Chester chose pretty Billie Walters to
join him for the showing.

Us new "girls" were granted seats of honor up front near the wide screen,
Rod and I laying claim to a comfortable settee. Once we settled down, his
hands went instantly to my waist.

"Hey, what are you? Some kind of octopus?" I chided, pushing his mits away.
Then I leaned back against his sturdy shoulder and made myself comfortable.
I noticed only then that Rod was wearing a spicy cologne.

The movie began with a dance number under title credits reading The
Love-Slave of the Warlord. Because the actresses were wearing skimpy
Hollywood-style barbarian slave girl outfits, I expected that the movie
would be erotic. The title didn't jive with the opening scenes, though,
which were set in modern America. I quickly grasped what was going on. It
was a movie about an archaeologist on his way to Tiresias. I had seen a
couple films set on Tiresias over the last few years (including one
starring supermodel-turned-actress Kathleen Randall as Capt. Lester
Pierson!), but there were several more which I had never bothered with --
mainly low-budget sexploitation films.

Long before the scene changed to Tiresias I picked out which character was
going to be the "love-slave" of the "warlord." He was a swaggering
chauvinist who apparently spent the greater part of every day doing things
that would have gotten him kicked out of any real-world university in
nothing flat. He was a coarse stereotype of a man -- nothing but brag and
bad manners. It was Hollywood up to its old male-bashing habits again.

Just as I expected, the hero went to Tiresias, turned into a knockout girl
(played by a popular porn actress, Tina Rae), and then, on "her" first
night out with her party of scientists disguised as native travelers," she
catches the eye of a barbarian chief. The sly rogue steals to her tent that
night, cuts off her pajamas with a hunting knife, then takes her away to
his village, bound and gagged. All the rest was unimaginative porn.

There were a lot of things wrong with the movie. The "warlord" seemed more
like the lazy and voluptuous chief of a second rate village, but he was
hung like a gorilla. The big pie-faced actor who had played the
archeologist as a male could never have morphed into a fine-boned beauty
like Tina Rae. And while the story might have been interesting done well,
all plot development stopped twenty minutes into it. It took only about
thirty seconds for the warlord to spank the rebellion out of his new slave
girl, reducing her to model of boring passivity for the rest of the movie.

After an initial banging by the warlord, the "slave" had to engage in a
threesome with the warlord's "blood brothers." The dauntless duo ordered
her to begin their "pleasuring" by sucking both their cocks at the same
time. Merchant traders showed up at the village right afterwards, and the
hospitable warlord loaned them his love-slave. The
archaeologist-turned-sex-bomb had to dance nude to the beating of the drums
(at least Tina Rae was a competent erotic dancer) and then she was

busy day, the archaeologist still had enough energy to initiate a lesbian
scene with one of the warlord's kept women at bedtime. Through it all, the
heroine never formed a real relationship with any of the other characters.

Why had the committee picked this particular vid for us ingenues to see? I
supposed that the joke was to remind us who were not girls about the
dangers of this planet. If so, it I didn't get an anxiety attack. The story
had been just too unreal, the characters too unlifelike.

At the end of the film, the girl gets rescued and taken home, where she
becomes a guy again. But his strange experience has wiped out his
self-confidence and he becomes a wimp who can't work up the courage even to
ask an ugly girl for a date. The script writer had proved himself every bit
as inept in character psychology as he in plotting. Pretty weak stuff.

While the vid progressed, Rod's hands were like a pair of swallows coming
back to Capistrano. The third time his birds roosted around my waist I
ceased to shoo them away. Part of the reason that I had become so tolerant
was that one of the Charlies had been assiduously serving drinks to us
movie-watchers all along. I had already drunk enough to begin to feel a
little sleepy and nestled down very cozily against Rod. That was when one
of his hands slipped down to my thigh.

Boys will be boys.

After the vid ended, people started leaving the party. Allie had not stayed
for the vid and I wanted to get back to our room and check on her. I picked
up my gifts, said goodnight to such new friends as were still there and, a
little unsteady on my sore feet, made by goodbyes to Rod. When he asked if
he could escort me to my quarters I didn't see any harm. I could use
someone to lean on just then.

*******

Chapter 6

Things moved rapidly on Sunday. Some of us from the party got together and
organized ourselves as the charter members of the "Tiresian Women's Rights
Association." Before I knew it, I was elected chairperson.

"Why me? I just got here!" I complained.

"Because you've got the balls for it, Erin," explained Andrea.

"I wish I did!"

"Listen, Erin," said Mickie, "the rest of us can gripe all we want to, but
the Sallys will just shrug it off. But you've got special credibility. You
faced off with four goons and when the smoked cleared you were the only one
standing."

"There's got to be more to leadership than kicking an asshole like Jake in
the nuts!"

"Like what?" asked Dori. "Anyway, this is just for now. Once we get
rolling, all the officers will be up for election by the full membership. I
bet everybody will want to join."

Being stuck as chairperson, I decided the first order of business had to be
appointing a temporary committee of officers. I asked Jordana to be
treasurer, which was a snap because we didn't have any money. I also
invited Billie to be secretary.

"Do I have to take the minutes?" she asked.

"Sure."

"I can't do that."

"Why not?" I asked. She sat there roiling in anguish for just a moment,
then got up and left.

I looked bemusedly to the others. "What did I do?"

"Billie can't read or write and she's sensitive about it," explained
Jordana.

"You mean -- ?"

Andrea nodded. "Our fucking public education system! I can hardly read
myself. Do you think I'd still be herding cows down in the exercise yard if
I was good for anything else?"

The system had been damaging innocent young lives for over thirty years,
but whenever a candidate promised to be an "education president," it only
meant that he was in the pocket of the wealthy teachers' unions. And most
of Congress was no better. The United States, long placing behind Indonesia
in student performance, lately had fallen behind Congo. There had long been
a brain drain to America to make up for the scientists and technicians that
our own schools were not training. This flow was only now slackening
because U.S. companies could no longer compete with the high wages paid in
healthier economies, such as Thailand's, or the Philippines.'

Getting back to the business at hand, I asked Allie to take the job that
Billie had turned down.

"Okay," she laughed, "if you don't try to make me sit on your lap."

"Please, I don't swing that way," I demurred.

#

The "hooker trading card" incident never developed into the terrible ordeal
that the victimized girls had expected. Maybe that was because Jake and his
gang had ended up with egg on their face themselves. The rest of the Sallys
seemed embarrassed by the trick.

That was all to the good, but the offense had been a serious one and it
couldn't be allowed to lie. Because Jake's clique hadn't been called to
account by the warden, or even by the Guards supervisor, we submitted a
written complaint to Gershom's office, demanding disciplinary action
against the four men. When he stalled, as we expected he would, we did the
paper work to appeal directly to the Director of Prisons on Earth, and to
the EEOC, alleging sexual harassment. Finally, we filed a formal grievance
with the officer's union.

We were not very optimistic about being heard sympathetically in any of
these official snake pits. The agencies were part of the system, and
therefore part of the problem. The public employees unions had always been
gung-ho for the in-party. Union bosses, as the Chinese used to put it, were
its "running dogs." Although the law protected all people equally in
theory, in practice it was only what empire-building bureaucrats and
crusading judges said it was for this week. To enforce its guarantees
impartially, or even reading it as written, wouldn't have occurred to any
of them.

Well, we were no babes in the woods and we knew how the system worked.
While doing all we could though channels, we understood that the real
progress would have to be made through group action. The first big step was
holding a general meeting of Tiresian women. Toward the end of the week we
met with most of the staff on the lawn outside the dormitory. The assembly
(alas) confirmed me and all of the temporary officers I'd appointed for
one-year terms, then we settled down to discuss business and grievances.

For whatever reason, the group had trouble getting to the meat of our
predicament and the first complaints voiced seemed distressingly trivial.
For example, somebody thought the nickname "Charlie" was demeaning and we
should demonstrate to ban it.

"Listen, people," I said after a lot of pointless discussion, "these aren't
important issues. I think word games are for -- well, now don't be insulted
-- but they're for intellectuals."

My plea was only partially heeded. The discussion next turned to ingenue
parties. Some people thought that initiations should be prohibited. Finally
a woman named Georgette threw the question directly on to my plate:

"Erin, you just had your own party, and it was one of the worst that I've
ever seen. What did you think about it?"

I leaned back on the bench reserved for association officers. "Oh, that's a
hard question!" I finally replied. I really didn't want to go, that's for
sure. Unfortunately, all I wanted to do was crawl into a hole and hide for
the next year. I hadn't met anyone except Allie up till then, and I didn't
want to. I felt like a freak. And, well, I guess that's what I was thinking
all of you were, too. When I look back at it now, I can see that wasn't a
good attitude to have.

"I think that having an ingenue party is like being a fledgling pushed out
of the nest. You've got to fly or you've got to die. That's just the way it
is. My party wasn't a total disaster. I met a lot of you people there --
and I even met a decent Sally. I think the experience did a lot for my
self-confidence and it helped me to fit in a lot faster than I would have
otherwise.

"-- And after wearing that goddamned dress, I know that I've got the nerve
to try anything!"

There was some laugher and we were finally able to get on to the more
important matters -- like fair job assignments, promotions, -- and equal
protection under the law.

#

The next day I was introduced to my duties as a personnel clerk. It was the
sort of work I was used to, having bid out of my entry-level jailor's job
as soon as I could. The dismal state of reading, writing, and arithmetic
among the usual job recruits had made me a good candidate for office work.
Guarding prisoners had always made me feel like a lion tamer -- all by my
lonesome and surrounded by bloodthirsty predators. I disliked the shadowy
cell block corridors with their slamming doors, the echo of surly voices
and wary footsteps, the feral hatred in the prisoners' eyes. My job was
just a job to me; I had become a correctional officer only because I didn't
figure in the quota lists for the better jobs.

Rod was after me every day to give him an interview. I had mixed feelings
about seeing the Sally again; I still didn't trust him very deeply. I was
getting used to the Charlies, but the Sallys still made me uneasy. Rod
looked like a man, and outwardly acted like a man, but deep down I knew
that he wasn't a man. Worst of all, he was a journalist. To me that
suggested a cynical propagandist for the status quo and -- worst of all --
an intellectual. One could not underestimate the damage that the press had
caused to America. Without journalists to sugar-coat the poison pill, the
Establishment never would have become the Establishment.

But despite all these misgivings, I made an appointment to speak with Rod
on my next day off.

We met up on the parapet, where he was waiting for me with a pitcher of
lemonade. I passed the next couple hours answering a series of probing
questions. In particular filling him in on my first days upon Tiresias and
the impressions that I had drawn from them. He was especially interested in
our "rights association" and encouraged me to talk about it at length. I
did so, until my voice got hoarse.

"We've got a lot of stuff down on CD," he said at last, clicking off he
recorder and refilling my paper cup with lemonade. "Maybe we should knock
it off for now. -- Just the interview I mean. I'd like to take you to
lunch."

"You mean chow down on the cafeteria's barf?"

"For today. Maybe we can do something special later on. I'm not a bad
cook."

"I'm not either."

"We'll have to trade recipes," he suggested.

I was slumped down in my steel-wire chair, sipping my sweet-sour drink.
"You do look like a boy slouched down there," Rod observed.

"I am a boy -- a man, I mean!"

He changing the subject: "You said you were home-schooled. Didn't you ever
get lonely for kids your own age?"

"I thought the interview was over."

"It's just a friendly question. I'd like to know more about you."

"No," I reminisced, "I wasn't lonely. My folks pushed me into all sorts of
community and church activities. Did I ever tell you that I was a Boy
Scout? I went the distance -- to Eagle Scout! Anyway, I did go to a public
high school. What a waste that was!"

"You're a Boy Scout! I should have known!"

"Would you recognize a Boy Scout if you met one? There can't be many where
you come from."

He ignored my jibe, asking, "You've never been married?"

I shook my head and slurped some more lemonade

"Why not? You're such a beautiful woman, you must have been a handsome
man."

"Looks don't cut it with women. It's never enough. You know what I mean."

"Suppose you tell me."

"Women select rich killer-males. What first class woman is going to marry a
one-pay-check-from-homeless-ness, downwardly-mobile prison officer?"

"You don't sound like you have much self-esteem yourself."

"After all I've told you, can you blame me?"

"No, probably not."

"At least you're open-minded."

"I'm a journalist."

I laughed.

"I guess you think that everyone in the press corps is out to change the
world."

"Don't flatter yourself. You guys want to keep the world exactly the way it
is. Massa's running the plantation and you wordsmiths are his happy house
servants."

To my surprise, Rod didn't toss back a zinger, but looked thoughtful. "A
lot of us were like that when we started out. But Tiresias doesn't just
change bodies; it changes minds."

"How so?"

"Lots of little things sneak up on a person. I'm seeing the little
meannesses, little injustices everywhere. To cut to the chase, I don't see
anything wrong with what you and your friends say you want."

"Well, thanks. But don't be so sure that there's anything `little' about
the meanness or injustice around here."

"Maybe not."

#

A couple days after our first big association meeting, the shit hit the
fan. A Sally, Jesse, had beaten his Charlie lover, Christy, to a pulp.

I guess they were a disaster waiting to happen. The two of them had been
into some weird stuff-- a French-maid bondage fetish. But Christy had been
getting more and more unhappy and finally decided to call it quits after
attending our first big meeting. Unfortunately, power-tripping Jesse like
things the way they were. Before their argument was over, Christy had been
sent to the medical division with severe bruises and multiple cuts and
abrasions.

I was with Rod when word came about the domestic abuse case. I realized at
once that I had to get on the stick and call an emergency meeting of the
association. Rod asked me to let him monitor it, and I told him that it
would be all right.

As the women gathered on the lawn ground, I could see that the news about
Christy had come to them as a terrible shock. Our association was little
more than a week old and already we felt ourselves in crisis. None of us
were particularly proud of the fact that Christy might have gotten hurt
because she had acted on our rhetoric.

It wasn't easy to get the discussion rolling. People were too upset even to
be angry. And Rod's presence only added to peoples' unease, making me
wonder if I had done the right thing by letting him attend.

"Friends, I guess we all know about Christy," I began slowly. "Me and the
committee officers are going to go over and see her at the infirmary as
soon as we finish here."

"Maybe we're finished already," suggested a Charlie whom I had only lately
met -- Donna.

"No, we can't look at it that way!" I said firmly. "Maybe we thought that
this was going to be easy. It's not. There may be more of us who'll get
hurt. We have to accept that; we're fighting a kind of war. But I will tell
you, if it comes down to beating after beating after beating, we can't win.
They've got everything --the muscles, the system, rules that they wrote
themselves. All we've got is justice, and it's been a long time since
American justice has been anything except a statue wearing a blindfold."

"So what do we have?" asked a woman.

"We have a lot of disadvantages," I said. If we can win at all, it's
because our opponents -- most of them anyway -- are decent people. Decent
people will let other decent people win. Sometimes they let people who
don't deserve to win win, too. The story of America is the story of the
head taking advantage of the heart. Sometimes I think that that's how our
society got so fucked up in the first place. But anyway, even if we lose we
can just expect more of what we're already gotten used to. If we win, it
should make things better for us, and especially for our kids. But then
we've got to kill the insurgency dead -- stone cold dead. We all know what
its like to live under a permanent revolution run by limousine radicals.
Nothing gets done; progress can't be made, the infrastructure rots. Men and
women should be on the same side -- against those people who are really the
problem."

"Maybe we shouldn't be talking with a Sally listening," suggested a
Charlie.

"What difference does it make?" I asked resignedly. "You can bet Gershom's
got an electronic ear or a hidden mike hearing every word that we're
saying. If you're worried about Rob, I'll tell you right now that he's my
friend and I'm willing to vouch for him. If he's willing, maybe he can help
us by writing about what's going on here."

Rod stood up. "Can I say something on my own behalf, Madame Chairman?"

"The chair recognizes Rod Ganners," I replied with like formality.

"I'm not here to spy on you folks, or to put you on the spot. It's just
that I think that something important is happening with this group and I
want to understand it. As for Christy, the very idea of what happened to
her makes me sick.

"Listen, you may think that it's demeaning to be put at the end of the line
for all the good things of life. But you don't realize how degrading it is
for someone like me, someone who's supposed to have all the advantages. I'm
good at what I do. I'd the best there is under any system. Even with the
same training and an equal chance, I think I could beat out any man trying
to do my job.

"But now I'm beginning to realize that I've never been treated like the
best there is, but as some sort of incompetent little waif who'd still
waiting on tables if mainstream men got a fair shake at competing. -- And
this lesson isn't being taught by any so-call male chauvinists, but by the
very institutions and persons who are supposed to be on my side. They work
on you from childhood, try to make people like me dependent, to make us
afraid, and to turn that fear against people like you. It's a racket -- a
power game. That's all it's ever been. And, well, I'm dealing myself out of
it!

"I guess all I have left to say is that Erin doesn't have to worry about my
wanting to help." He fell silent then.

"Rod," I spoke up soberly, "the best way you can help us is just by doing
your job the old fashioned way. Just tell the truth. The rest will take
care of itself."

He only nodded, apparently talked out. The Charlies, too, were quiet for a
moment, but then Dori spoke up: "We sure can use all the help we can get,
but how do we keep more people from being beaten up like Christy?"

"We have two choices," I told everyone. "We can be nice, tame little girls
here, and be nice tame, emasculated men back home. . . ."

"Those aren't much for choices," put in Davida suddenly.

"Davida, that was only the first choice," I explained. "The second choice
is that we refuse to let Christy's sacrifice be in vain. She's our first
fallen soldier and what's happened to her should mean something."

"What does it mean?" asked Mickie dolefully.

"I want to get some pictures of Christy bruised and cut as she is now, and
make up some posters. We've got to put the mirror up to the ugly face of
this system. We have to show the Sallys exactly what they're defending. In
fact, I'd like to have Christy photographed in that maid cap of hers. It
would speak volumes for what the status quo is. Unfortunately, I don't know
how to get the cap. It's probably still in Jesse's quarters."

"I've got one you can use," volunteered Billie.

"You have a maid's cap?" I asked incredulously.

"Shucks," Billie gushed, "I've got the whole outfit!"

"William. . . " I sighed.

Chapter 7

Directly after the meeting, I followed Billie back to her room in order to
borrow her maid's cap.

It was true; in Billie Walters' closet there hung the complete outfit of a
little French maid, down to the feather duster. Never having understood the
excitement around the French maid (except that I could always appreciate a
good set of legs), I now found myself wondering where the fetish tradition
could have come from. French bawdy houses? I couldn't imagine that any
well-to-to 19th or early 20th Century household would have accepted for
decent entertainment a servant costume that looked like a cross between a
miniskirt and a ballerina's tutu.

Had Billie lived a strange lifestyle back home? If not, how else could she
have come by the ensemble? I asked her.

"The Sally's had an all-guy party a few months ago," Billie explained
cheerfully, "and they needed someone to play the maid and serve drinks. It
seemed like it'd be fun, so I helped them out. They all chipped in to get
me this uniform. When I go home I'll have to pass it on to one of the other
girls here, but I'll be taking back some of the cutest pictures of me
wearing it when I do. Do you want to see them?"

I let the question go.

But I did want to see those pictures!

"Billie," I began uncomfortably, "I'm sorry that I embarrassed you the
other day."

"That's all right, Erin. You didn't know. I suppose that I'm just stupid. I
couldn't learn much in school no matter how hard I tried. All I can
remember being taught is that the president, Congress, and the Supreme
Court are the best and smartest people in the world, but that America is
the worst country there, with the cruelest and most selfish people, -- and
that teachers aren't paid enough."

I put my hand on her shoulder. "No, you're not stupid! I'd be in the same
boat as you, except that I was home-schooled. Dad went to a private school
and Mother attended a parochial one, so they had all the basics. They gave
up a lot of quality time so that I could have the same chance that they'd
had."

"You're lucky you had parents like that," she said wistfully. "How are they
doing now?"

I looked down uncomfortably. "They're dead. A boating accident." I changed
the subject: "Say! I could teach you to read and write, if you'd like me
to."

The girl stared with disbelief. "Honest? If you could do that -- I mean,
I've felt like half a person all my life. But -- but it's too much to ask
of a friend."

"What are friends for? I like to keep busy. What else is there to do at
night? Go out and get laid?"

"Maybe," Billie suggested teasingly. "You seem to be getting awfully chummy
with that Rod Ganners guy."

"We're just good friends."

She smiled wisely. "I understand. But if you ever want to borrow my maid
outfit --"

"Stuff it, Billie!"

#

Rod, Jordana, Allie, and I met with Christy at her infirmary bed. She was a
terrible sight to see, eyes blackened, lips broken, bruises all over her
face and, where there were no bandages, dark cuts just scabbing over.

The patient seemed to withdraw into herself as we came in, not knowing any
of us very well. Beating victims, I had read, often felt humiliated. But we
did our best to reassure the young woman and we soon had her coaxed into
talking.

"Maybe it was my fault," Christy suddenly said.

"Your fault? How can that be?" asked Jordana, who was just a little better
acquainted with the girl than the rest of us.

"I was doing some bad things. What else can happen to you when you do that,
except something bad?"

"Why did you do those things, Christian?" I asked softy. I had used her
real name without thinking. Whenever we Charlies tried to express a serious
or intimate thought, it seems more sincere to use our male names.

She shrugged her bruised shoulders, an act that registered discomfort at
the corners of her swollen lips. "I didn't feel very good about myself, I
suppose. I had trouble making friends. Then Jesse came along, and one thing
just led to another."

"Well, we want to help you now, Christy, so you won't have to depend on
people like Jesse after this," Jordana promised.

Was Jordana right? Or did we just want to use Christy's tragedy for our own
ends?

"But we need your help, too," continued Jordana, "so that nobody else will
ever have to go through what you did."

"How can I help?" the battered girl asked.

"We're going to start a Violence Against Women action against Jesse,"
explained the ash blonde. After that, when you're better, we want to get to
know you a lot better. I suppose that it's always the shy people who
overlooked. We're all sorry for not paying more attention to you."

We had to try to use the VAWA, of course, as well as the hundreds of other
hate-crime statutes that Jesse had broken. But I been advised by people
more experienced than me that no VAWA claim had ever been acted upon on
behalf of a Charlie. The Women's Protection Commission was staffed with
feminist lawyers who treated any pro-female legislation as an upper-class
women's empowerment scam. If men -- even men on Tiresias -- became the
beneficiaries of such legislation, it would simply confuse the crucial
issue -- which was always power, never justice.

There was no Men's Protection commission, of course, no People's Protection
commission, and despite the broad language that the gasbags had used in
writing the VAWA, there was not, truly, even any Lower-Class Women's
Commission. When an elitist male did dirt to a non-elitist woman, it was
like it was like the year 1700 all over again. I remembered a hushed up
scandal during the Daschle administration, when White House higher-ups had
raped a rural-Southern file clerk with "big hair" and only trade school
credentials during a drug party. Even the Supreme Court had gotten into the
act to prevent her case from being heard.

"How can anyone help me?" Christy asked glumly.

"If you just want somebody to mistreat you," replied Allie evenly, "there's
nothing we can do. But we want to start a support group for people who have
special problems. Sometimes the psyches just don't understand us."

"I don't want a support group. I don't want anyone feeling sorry for me,"
Christy whispered. "I just want a few friends." She had said that as if it
had taken a lot of courage. I guess it had.

We talked for a little while longer and the battered girl finally consented
to let us take some pictures of her. Rod had said nothing all this while,
but I think he was affected by Christy's plight as much as or more than the
rest of us. Maybe he was feeling guilty just because he was a Sally and a
Sally had hurt the girl. I didn't care for that. Good people should never
feel responsible for what scoundrels have done -- unless, of course, they
had voted them into office. Wrongless guilt just leaves people open for
other scoundrel to manipulate them. Whole societies can be twisted out of
shape by a cunning and disciplined pressure group playing the blame game.

Rod took the photos and Jordana promised to visit Christy again the next
day. As we were leaving, Dr. Trent intercepted me in the receiving room.

"Erin," she said with some slight agitation, "I'm sorry that we haven't had
a real chance to talk since you arrived. Are you doing anything for dinner
tonight?"

"No, Doctor. What did you have in mind?"

"Gabrielle. My place. Eightish?"

"I'll be there. Thanks -- Gabrielle."

#

Being a senior staff physician had its advantages. Gabrielle had a private
two-room apartment and her own small kitchen. The air was warm and sweet
with the cooking aromas. Our main course was Tiresian "duck" (it looked
more like a loon, actually) bartered from barbarian bird-catchers. I could
appreciate a skilled chef because I was an amateur gourmet cook myself. We
talked pleasantly, about cuisine mostly, until we moved to the sofa, when
our conversation grew more serious.

"Was there any particular reason that you asked me over tonight,
Gabrielle?"

She nodded, touching her gravid belly. "I've regretted not attending your
meetings, but there's so much on my mind these days. But I've been very
impressed by what you're doing," she went on, "-- organizing the women, I
mean."

"I don't know," I shrugged, "it was more their idea than mine."

"You've taken a load of guilt off my shoulders, Erin. As the ranking --
Charlie -- I should have been doing more to help our people." She lowered
her gaze. "Remember, the very first time I met you I brought up revolution.
Me? A revolutionary? That's a laugh!"

I smiled sympathetically. "Don't feel bad, Doctor. For all its jawboning,
our group hasn't really accomplished anything yet."

"I think you've done quite a bit for morale. Men -- Earth men -- have lost
the art of standing up and bitching. Back home, it's all taken so much for
granted that we sometimes forget how low we've really sunk. Once you get to
Tiresias, though, the blinkers come off. We're living a feminist fantasy of
the Bad Old Days and it's hell. Sometimes people need that kind of good
slam in the face to wake them up."

"Christy got slammed in the face, I know."

"We're all at risk. Just be careful," Dr. Trent warned solemnly. "The
system doesn't like anyone rocking the boat. Remember that policeman in
California who tried to start a male officers' advocacy group?"

I remembered. Such things were -- unofficially -- always suppressed in the
Land of the Free. Even Senegalese illegals had their own advocacy groups
with the blessing of powers on high. But the California officer, an honest
crime-fighter with a sterling record, had been suspended, harassed, and
finally driven from the force. I slumped back into the sofa fatalistically.
The future for a rebel under tyranny was never bright. "A man has to do
what a man has to do," I finally said.

"Yes, we do, don't we. What's next?"

"We're following the official channels as far as we can. And we'll be
putting up those posters. If the Sallys are going to defend their position,
we have to show them exactly what kind of sleaze they're defending."

"It's a good start," Gabrielle nodded. "We have to change things. But we
can't stop with just Tiresias. We have to set matters right back home,
too."

She suddenly grimaced self-deprecatingly. "Big talk from a do-nothing, I
know. It's easy to spin one's wheels. I didn't live badly before. A
cardiovascular surgeon of either sex can get along, even as a second class
citizen. Maybe I don't deserve any better; I don't know." Gabrielle then
touched her stomach thoughtfully. "But that's not good enough for my son.
My son can't be second class to anyone!"

I knew that the boy would be exactly that, unless some important changes
were made, and quickly.

"It's going to be a boy, then?" I asked, skirting a subject that was just
too big for me.

"It's going to be a girl here on Tiresias, but he'll be my son back on
Earth."

I could tell that that was the way she wanted it. "I'm very happy for you."

"Thanks. The baby should be here in a couple weeks. "I should be a father a
couple weeks from now. That's incredible."

"You don't think of yourself as a mother?" That seemed slightly incredible
to me.

"Biologically, I'm the baby's father. I couldn't bring viable semen for
artificial insemination across from Earth, so I found a willing egg-donor
and had as many of her eggs as I could fertilized in vitriol with my sperm.
She was a concert pianist with a 160 IQ and a family of good physical and
mental health. The sex of the eggs changed when I brought them over, of
course, but their viability remained. I had to have three eggs implanted
before one took. That wasn't bad odds at all. I guess it was fated."

"What would you have done if all the implants had failed?"

Trent frowned. "Then I would have found a Sally willing to do the job for
me. I wouldn't have liked the randomness of it, naturally, but any port in
a storm."

I nodded but remained in the dark as to why such a seemingly normal and
intelligent person like Dr. Trent would go to such lengths to bear a child
herself. So, despite the delicacy of the subject, I put the question to
her.

"That's what they all want to know," the doctor smiled wanly. "The truth
is, I had a bad experience in marriage. One of the worst a man could have.
I swore that I'd never trust a woman with a child of mine again."

"Those are strong words. It must have been a terrible experience."

"It was," she sighed.

The young doctor explained that she had been a staff surgeon servicing
cases referred over from the Mayo Clinic. "I was married and wanted
children very badly," she went on. "My wife had seemed to want the same
things that I did when were courting, but after we were married she kept
putting off starting a family for the sake of her career. She was an
English professor -- quite a mediocre one, really, but she had connections
and could work the University quota system for all it was worth. If she'd
judged on her merits, she wouldn't have had any career to worry about."

Gabrielle, lowered her gaze abashedly. "I'm sorry. That's my bitterness
talking."

"No problem. I'm still mad as hell about what my fiancee pulled on me."

"Well, you can imagine," Trent went on, "that my wife's attitude was
driving me up the wall. By the time she'd gotten pregnant, because of
contraceptive or condom failure, things weren't at all good between us. She
was very ambivalent about having the child. I did everything I could to
encourage her, but toward the end she decided that it just wouldn't fit in
with her plans.

"To get me off her back, she got a restraining order and put me out of our
house. No problem there; it's easier to get a court order against a husband
than it is to get a fishing license."

Right, carp, but not husbands, are a protected species.

"But even on her own she kept vacillating, giving me hope, then taking it
away, until the baby was due. Then she opted for one of those partial-birth
abortions. You know how they go -- the doctor pokes hole into the baby's
head when it's already emerging from the birth channel, then sucks out the
brain with a catheter. It's infanticide in everything but name."

Trent rested back in the sofa, her face gaunt. "I loved my son, even
unborn. I would have been glad to rear him alone, if that's how it had to
be, but I couldn't do anything; the whole system all against me."

Her mouth turned down bitterly; I listened quietly as she went on. "I knew
where my son was going to die. I knew when he was going to die. I knew who
was going to kill him, but I couldn't stop it. The man is supposed to
protect and preserve his family, isn't he? I failed miserably. After you've
washed out that badly, you stop being a real man. Tiresias is as good a
place for me as any."

No, Dr. Trent's story was not fun and games at all.

When agony like Gabrielle's comes out -- especially out of a person whom
his listener doesn't know well -- his company can only sit in stunned
silence. He doesn't know what to say, he doesn't even know what to do with
his hands and feet. When to blink or swallow becomes a major decision. Even
so, when Dr. Trent fell silent I reached over and laid my hand upon her
forearm.

She looked my way gratefully. "Sorry to get so emotional, Erin, but you did
ask. That's all there is to it. I have to do this. At least this way
there's nobody in the universe who'll ever be able to say that I don't have
any rights as a parent!"

By the time I left the apartment I had become pretty solid with Dr. Trent.
What she had said had given me a great deal to think about.

#

By now life on Tiresias had started to fall into some kind of routine. I
met with Rod almost every day and filled him in on everything that happened
to me, but he would never let it go until I had also told him exactly what
I felt about it. In a way, the journalist had turned into my confessor. I
could talk to Allie and some of the others, but the greatest relief was to
talk to Rod. Maybe it was because Rod could be considered one of "the enemy
camp" that I felt a special need to talk to him, to justify myself,
regarding the life I was living, and how I was living it.

"I'm going to have to remember that my book is about everybody on Tiresias,
not just you," Rod remarked one day. "I want to write about you so much --
I mean, the material that I'm getting from you is so good -- that it's
making the whole work top-heavy. Erin-heavy."

"You can't let that happen, as if I were something special," I cautioned
him over a glass of lemonade.

"It's tough."

I wondered exactly how he meant that.

Usually, after the formal interview, we'd pass some time in friendly
banter. Rod once asked me: "Do you girls teach one another how to walk that
way?"

"What way?" "That sexy way."

"Do you mean I still walk like a guy?" I asked, feeling glad to here it.

"No, I mean you walk like a sexy girl."

I wasn't glad to hear that. "I do not!"

"You do so!"

"I do not!"

We seemed to end a lot of conversations like that. I usually got in the
last "I do not!" Maybe the instinct that men had for conceding arguments to
women was built into the interaction of the male and female pheromones.

Even though I didn't think of myself as a woman, Rod believed that I should
be full of new insights into male-female relationships. If anything, life
on Tiresias had only confirmed what I had known intuitively for years. My
new perspective had, in fact, given me the confidence to articulate my
thoughts more clearly and defend them more doggedly than I ever had had the
nerve to do before.

"Why do men fear commitment so much?" Rod once asked.

"He doesn't want to diminish the intimacy of the relationship," I replied
without batting an eye.

He seemed genuinely astonished. "You're joking!" "For crying out loud, Rod,
its a plain as that Grecian nose on your face!"

"Explain."

"Commitment is a swell racket for a woman," I said, feeling quite wise.
"When she commits, she's taken care of financially. Marriage sets her free.
She can work full-time, work part-time, or not work outside the home at
all. She can putter at low-paying jobs that carry personal rewards, like in
volunteer groups. If she's a particularly stupid and self-deceived
specimen, she even has the luxury of feeling morally superior to the man
who's giving her all her options. The woman in a commitment has choice, and
choice is power.

"But pity her poor husband. His part in the commitment game forces him to
work harder at the same old dull grind, only now he's supporting two people
where he only supported himself before. Then before long there'll be kids.
The burden gets heavier, the hours of work get longer. He has no time for
romance, he can only be a part-time parent. He has to kiss up to people he
can't stand because the promotions have to come at any cost. And then he
gets the real payoff for having "committed" -- his family hates him for
neglecting them."

"But hasn't the economic success of women changed things?" Rod asked..

"Where have you been?! Does a millionaire woman ever feel secure enough to
marry a handsome, amiable guy who'd has the time to be there for her? Not
on your life! If she has money, she'll insist on chasing after men who have
even more. A growing boy learns that looks and personality won't cut it in
the mating game, like it will for a girl. If he ever expects to win the
femlin he wants, or keep her after he wins her, he has to be an economic
success. He's always being judged by the filthy buck in his pocket, or the
power he wields in the work place. A man never gets any credit just for
being a fine person, or for supporting his family in any way except the
financial one. Men want sex and beauty; women want material security. Women
are expected to raise hell if her guy treats her like a piece of ass, but a
man isn't supposed to get worked up if his lover just sees money tree when
she looks at him. The two views are just the male and female version of the
same thing."

What I liked was that Rod usually didn't get contentious when I graced him
with a gem of my wisdom. In this he way encouraged me to be frank and open
whenever he asked me a question.

"Why do you think that women always want their husbands to change and men
always want their wives to stay just the same?" he asked me at a point
early in our association.

"Because men marry for love and women for money."

"There you go again!" Rod moaned.

"Open your eyes! If you like somebody because of the person she is, and the
way she looks, you don't want her to change. But women never marry a man.
They marry a wallet which only happens to have a man attached. Only after a
woman has her hands on the gold, does she remember to take a look at the
man who earned it. She'll never have considered it important before whether
she ever liked his looks, his personality, or could tolerate his human
habits. A husband might as well be something that a woman pulls out of a
grab bag. When you get a weird piece of merchandise that you can't take
back, what do you do? You try to find a use for it -- even try to make it
do something that was never intended by the manufacturer. A man is expected
to serve his wife's function, not his own, or he goes out with the trash."

Another good question was: "Why are men such jerks about sex?"

I threw up my hands. "You'd be a jerk, too, if you had to do all the work
that goes into building a relationship and run all the risks that goes with
it! If you're a woman you only have to sit there rating your suitor's
performance. If a man makes one misstep, or tries to angle a little
pleasure for himself in exchange for all the bankrolling and ego-stroking
that's expected of him, he's suddenly a jerk."

"Am I a jerk?" Rod asked all of a sudden.

I regarded him with surprise and couldn't help but smile. "You've got your
good points," I said.

******

Chapter 8

But understanding the deplorable state of male-female relations was a far
cry from being able to do anything about them. I didn't even try, there was
so much else going on. The association members made up some great posters
for our shame-campaign against the Sallys, featuring the beaten-up Christy.
The most effective on that we concocted was a picture of the doe-eye girl
smiling shyly at the camera wearing her ingenue party dress juxtaposed
against a close-up of the battered woman.

"This is Progress the Establishment way!" the sign said. It was crucial at
this stage that we tar the status quo with both physical and psychological
brutality. This wasn't a new strategy, and we surely hadn't invented it,
but history had proven it an effective means of propaganda.

I could be detached, even cynical, about launching what, if we could be
perfectly frank, was essentially a campaign of half-truths. What we
Tiresians were confronting was an entrenched set of assumptions born of a
broad anti-male, anti-Western social revolution. Considering our country's
history and Jeffersonian traditions, it should have been rejected by
American society at every level.

Instead, a faddish political and social doctrine (born of upper middle
class ennui in the salons of the wealthy) had been enshrined into a harsh
permanence through the fatuous reading of Constitutional law. The system,
granted, was unfit to live under and hurt most of all those whom it
pretended to help, but its methods of choice were psychological coercion
and manipulation. Only when it felt especially threatened, or its most
unstable supporters were allowed too much freedom of action, did it sink to
physical brutality, as in the case of Christy. Our opponents had shown
great skill in keeping a large population of oppressed people anesthetized
back on Earth, but our desperate hope was that the unique conditions of
Tiresias would somehow render the keepers of the faith so disoriented that
we could manage some change for the better.

Knowing all this, we of the association steeled our stomachs against what
we had to do. After all, no revolution can get off the ground if it lets
itself be embarrassed by its own tactics. Still, aware of the dangers
inherent in stirring up passions, I tried to impress moderation upon some
of the more excitable association women, such as Andrea. No matter what we
said for public consumption, we had to keep ourselves grounded in reality.

To my mind, taking an extreme stance prior to sitting down to negotiate has
to be accepted. The danger is that an immoderate starting position will
decay into an uncompromising doctrine. Bad things happen when any
movement's leaders get too full of themselves. They will eventually make
compromises with the Establishment in their own interests, not their
peoples,' and are often bought off with cushy commission appointments
tendered by sly politicos. The revolution then takes on the trappings of
permanence, though it has in become an empty shell coopted by the system
for its own ends. We Tiresians were a long way from being coopted, though,
I was therefore a long way from my tax-supported limousine and cellular
phone. (And may I be dead before I accept them!)

Beside my work with the association, I occupied myself teaching Billie to
read and write. I enjoyed these sessions, owing to the Virginian's
liveliness and charm. The girl was no airhead either, I found out, though
she tended to be reticent about those things which she could do well. It
was hard to imagine the mild and agreeable Billie as a prison guard but, in
fact, she worked closely with Andrea in Cell Block C.

Beside a knack for entertaining, Billie had a surprising aptitude for
language. I discovered that she had picked up a good command of Spanish,
and even some passable Chinese, just by growing up on the edge poor
immigrant neighborhoods. Gregarious to a fault, Billie had mingled with
foreign-born neighbors and had often helped them to get along. The boy's
interpreting skills had been especially helpful when his immigrant friends
had to deal with the brusque personnel of government agencies -- cold and
remote men and women who spoke only a thick bureaucratese, and that only
between the hours of nine and five-thirty.

Billie's antics on Tiresias were surely the actions of a person trying to
get her fair share of attention in spite of many handicaps, of which
miseducation was the most painful. She instinctively used every asset that
she could martial, especially her charm and good looks.

The golden-maned girl was learning to read and write at a pace that I could
never have predicted at the outset. It was a terrible indictment, of our
educational system and the posers who benefitted from it, that they had so
utterly failed to educate one as bright an eager to learn as William
Walters.

About that time, and much to my dismay, Jordana composed a humorous
fight-song that made me look like some kind of hero. Maybe Stonewall
Jackson could go all the way to the grave and never let his friends down,
but I was just simple Aaron Carter -- and sooner or later I was going to
fall on my face. When I did I would see people shaking their heads and
saying, "Some hero!"

Even so, Jordana was a good chum and I never doubted that her intentions
were among the most innocent.

Her song went:

Come all you proud women and open your ears,
Of Jake and his bullies you quickly shall hear.
They went to a party, but came not to dine,
They came to bash Charlie and keep her in line.

All rowdy, all shouting, and giving the yell,
Like so many demons just burst out of hell,
The gang was all drunken on power and wine,
They came to bash Charlie and keep her in line.

They came to bash Charlie, they came not to pay,
But bold Erin Carter stepped into their way;
Their faces turned purple, their blue tongues stuck out;
They discovered at last just what Charlie's about.

All rowdy, all shouting and giving the yell,
Like so many demons just burst out of hell,
The gang was all drunken on power and wine,
They came to bash Charlie and keep her in line.

They came to bash Charlie, but dared not to stay,
Buck Channey knew Erin was heading his way,
He saw her eyes flashing and got such a fright;
He ducked in the toilet to get out of sight!

Oh, Carter's a fighter and everyone's friend,
Yet woe to the Sally who tries to offend;
She takes what they dish out and serves them back more,
But for good folks their's never a bolt on her door.

#

Whenever Tiresian officers went back to Earth at the end of their tours,
new personnel were sent over for the first time. That had always been the
case, but now there was a difference: the rights association was providing
an unofficial welcoming committee for new Charlies. I went along with the
first delegation, to find out for myself whether the new committee would
turn out to be as good an idea in practice as it was in theory.

I remembered my strange state of mind on my own first day, so I knew that
it would not do to put any additional strain upon any person so
disoriented. I knew, too, that we shouldn't come off as seeming excessively
political, nor make the association sound like a coercive outfit that
everyone had to join. And I especially didn't want us committee persons to
look like the local gang of bull dykes trying to put the move on a fresh
fish. So, we delegates agreed to keep the meeting short, friendly, and to
avoid specifics, except to answer those questions which might occur to a
new arrival. There was much that should rightly be left to a person's
roommate/counselor. Allie, after all, had done pretty well with me.

My spiel to each new Charlie was this: "Turning into a woman isn't easy to
adjust to, but we've all been through it and it's really not an
all-negative experience. The main problem on Tiresias is that sometimes the
system doesn't treat us very well, and we're doing all we can to peacefully
change that. There are times that you're going to feel alone, but you don't
have to. Help and advise is only a phone call away. And we're starting some
group hobby groups and sports clubs. If you want privacy, you can have
privacy. But if you want to get into the thick of things as quickly as
possible, we'll do all we can to help."

That was about it. We ended by passing along some phone numbers.

One of the new Charlies was not a correctional officer at all, but an
anthropologist named Lyle Rudensky. The prison required a team of trained
ethnological scientists for dealing with the aborigines, but few officers h
ad contact with these people. Dr. Steven Donnalyn had for the last couple
years headed the detail, normally aided by two or three assistants. But one
by one these associates had been reassigned back to Earth, there to assist
the human studies department of Duke University, which was preparing a
major expedition to Tiresias. To replace Donnalyn's experienced staff in
the interim, the correctional office had recruited a promising graduate
student, Lyle, who was then working on his doctorate in the Shantee
language, the tongue spoken by natives in the vicinity of the penitentiary.

Normally, Lyle would have been oriented by a Charlie from her own special
detail, but Dr. Donnalyn was now running the alone and he was a
self-involved prig who couldn't bother himself with "little people." So
Billie Walters had been asked to become Lyle's roommate\counselor.

I thought it amusing that a staid young academic would be paired up with a
fun-loving eccentric who, through no fault of her own, was so ill-educated.
Yet, as it developed, the two of them got along fine. In fact, as I thought
about it, because Lyle was lacking in social graces the outgoing Billie was
exactly what she needed to acclimate herself into our peculiar little
community. And given Billie's interest in new languages, the match was an
inspired one. Since it had come down through the bureaucracy, however, it
had to have been dumb luck.

About twenty-five years old, Lyle was tall for a girl, thin, and had a
pale, translucent skin. I suspected that she could respond to make-over
very well, but her too-large, male-style glasses, balanced precariously
upon her pert nose, gave the impression of ungainliness. A stock comic
character came to mind, the nerdy girl in the unbecoming clothes and
frumpish hairstyle who always could turn into a raving beauty with the
removal of her glasses and the unbinding of her do. I would be interested
to see what Lyle Rudensky would look like once Billie had worked some
cosmetological magic upon her for her ingenue party.

#

A few days, the party took place. I wore my white dress again, having taken
the government up on its half-price offer. After all, I was no stay-at-home
by nature and a person needed something to wear for those special
occasions. What's more, as chairman -- chair person -- of the rights
association, I had to maintain a confident public profile.

Jake and his boys were on hand, too, but this time they seemed a little
subdued -- which was all to the good. Jesse, I noted, didn't show up at
all. Christy attended, accompanied by Jordana, with whom she had become
very friendly. The poor girl still had on some bandages and many scabs and
dark bruises showed.

Christy's appearance in that way sent a message, telling everyone that
physical coercion would not break the spirit of the Tiresian women, not
even the meekest of us. When our Establishment types saw the marks of the
girl's beating I hoped that they would be asking themselves, "Is our system
so wonderful that it can only exist by doing things like this to people
like Christy Giustini?

I danced with Rod often that night; most of the Sallys being polite but
stand-offish toward me. Maybe I really had earned the reputation of being a
ball-buster! But, after all, the party was for the new people, not us
old-timers who had been there for almost a month, and I so tried to
introduce the ingenues to as many genial people as I could.

Mort had christened Lyle Rudensky as "Lila." Billie had introduced her to
several of her Sally friends, and one of them she would duly ask to join
her for the vid showing. In her short, mist-blue party dress, I was amazed
to see how much the tall, slim Lila looked like a Parisian fashion model.
She even had the small breasts common to the distinctive denizens of those
Parisian runways.

When I had first come to Tiresias, I had envied the Charlies with tiny
breasts. But by now I had stopped pitying myself and actually felt sorry
for girls who had been "shorted" by Nature. My own thoughts surprised me. I
must have been getting vain, because I certainly knew of no practical use
that my more womanly mammae might serve, either for me or for anyone else.

The movie that wound down the night was porn like the last one, but it had
nothing to do with Tiresias. "Bad Babes," it was called, I think. One of
the ingenue Sallys asked me to adorn his lap during the showing. I hadn't
expected this, and I didn't really want to be torn away from the deep
conversation that I was having with Rod, but I couldn't hurt an innocent
man's feeling, nor break the community tradition, by refusing.

Anyway, the guy must have thought I was pretty.

#

The next day came news of community-wide importance. Dr. Trent had gone
into labor.

All the gossip for the rest of the day was about Dr. Trent. Then in the
late afternoon the word came that Gabrielle had given birth to a strong,
healthy baby daughter, and that the mother was alert and doing well. A
cheer went up all over the office.

I reflected on the event. It was an astonishing thing, really. Less than a
year ago Dr. Trent had been a man who was hoping to be a father. Tonight he
-- she -- had given a new human life to the world, and from out of her own
being. As awesome as it was, there was an unnaturalness to it that gave me
pause.

Amazing to tell, Gabrielle was already back in her apartment by noon of the
next day. Rod, Dori, and I went over together to pay our respects and to
see the baby. Even if it were only for the benefit of his book, and not for
the fact that he and the doctor were already friends, this was one call
that Rod could not have failed to make.

Gabrielle's small apartment was full of baby things now, most of them only
half-unpacked from their storage boxes. The greater part of her tour was
already over, but a year's extension had been approved and I understood
that the doctor would have six months unpaid maternity leave and then
function in a part-time and advisory capacity at reduced pay until the end
of her second tour. It seemed that the surgeon had sufficient private
resources to make this arrangement palatable.

"A baby does best if he's suckled and has a mother's attention for as long
as possible," Gabrielle explained. "It was good of Warden Gershom to
approve my extension, especially since I'm not going to be able to give my
job anything like my full attention anymore." That the warden had done
right by Dr. Trent was something in his favor, I granted, but otherwise the
Sally's acts, both of omission and commission, been hard on the Charlies'
morale.

"Who's going to baby sit?" asked Dori.

Gabrielle blinked bemusedly. "It's strange," she finally answered, "I
bought nearly every baby thing I could find in the catalog before I left
Earth, but neither then nor anytime afterwards did I give a single thought
to who I'd find to take some of the burden off me. Maybe it never occurred
to me that a baby might be a burden."

"Don't worry, Doc. I've got two kids," offered Dori. "I think I can take
care of your little girl once in a while without breaking her."

"If only you could," the new mother replied gratefully.

I was happy to hear that Dr. Trent would remain part of our little
community during the whole of my exile upon Tiresias. I liked her a lot and
realized that the weeks and months to follow my other Charlie friends would
be leaving one by one.

But I was not easy to think of Dr. Trent as merely a Charlie now. It was
almost as if she had undergone some arcane rite of passage, emerging
ennobled in some way, a real woman amid a flock of us sorry make-believes.

"What are you going to name her, Gabrielle?" I asked.

"Eva. That's her mother's name. I'm going to call him Evan when he's a
boy."

It was disconcerting to be reminded that Dr. Trent was, biologically
speaking, the father of the infant. I found it disconcerting, too, that she
instinctively thought of the tiny girl as her son, not her daughter.

Boy or girl, she's lucky to have a parent like Dr. Trent.

Rod stepped closer. "May I hold her, Gabrielle?" Consenting without words,
the woman passed her precious blanket-wrapped bundle to the journalist's
arms. Rod held Eva like a woman would.

"I'll be forever glad that I was able on Tiresias at the right time to see
this," he remarked, rocking the infant back and forth. Then he looked
across to me. "Erin? Would you like to hold her?" We both glanced to the
mother for permission. Trent nodded.

I took the child with the same care I would have afforded a loaded and
cocked .45. I couldn't manage to cradle her exactly like Rod had, but
without starting Eva crying, I successfully took hold of her and clutched
her gently. Gazing down into that miniature face, many stark impressions
whirled through my mind -- just like the birds on the turning mobile that
Gabrielle had already erected above the baby's crib.

The newborn was surely no beauty, except for those striking eyes that were
so much like her "father's." Otherwise, Eva looked sort of wrinkly,
flushed, and pinched, just as, I suppose, all day-old babies do. The tyke
yawned as I held her, an action that reminded me of a monkey which I had
seen in a zoo shortly before leaving Earth.

But to feel the weight of her (and she was heavier than I expected),
experience the reality of her, was something to give one a moment. Getting
pregnant was on my short list of things that I least wanted to have happen
to me during my tour, but knowing and respecting Dr. Trent the way I did,
my thoughts on the subject were no longer simple. This child, in a strange
way, represented the incredible new world of possibilities of which I was
now part -- whether I liked it or not.

I looked to Dr. Trent, who never took her eyes off her child. How different
her life would be because of this birth, I realized. And the incredible
possibilities! If this child lived and had children of her own, and they
had children, too, and they had children -- ad infinitum -- the issue of
Dr. Trent would, in the course of generations, number in the many
thousands. Each of them would be a person who never would have lived
without a strange and courageous act on the part of a man named Trent. And
by their numbers the world itself would be transformed, made-over into
something that it could not have been had Gabriel Trent never lived.

Dr. Trent was making himself forever part of the future by the simple act
of parenting, perhaps to the very end of the human race. This was true of
any parent, naturally, but how much more starkly the cosmic significance of
it registered upon one's mind when he was allowed to think in terms of the
archetypical mother with her newborn child.

I passed the child back to Gabrielle. She regarded her baby's face as if
she was seeing it for the first time, though I doubted she had ever taken
her eyes off it for more than a few minutes since leaving the infirmary..

"This planet made a miracle," Dr. Trent whispered as tears -- of humility
and awe, I think -- began rolling down her cheeks. She pressed the cooing
infant to her soft breast. "I love this world," she murmured," but I
couldn't tell whether she was speaking to us, her visitors, or to some
entity much greater than any of us will ever be.

Chapter 9

I was taking dinner with Mickie and Jordana when Billie and Lila came into
the cafeteria. Billie, being Billie, had on a low-cut white blouse, a
mini-skirt, and high heels. Lila was wearing a woman's wine-colored leisure
pants suit, which I knew she had had the foresight to bring from home. The
young scholar was squinting right and left as she crossed the dining room;
Billie had advised her charge that such unflattering eyewear should be kept
out of sight, and her new spectacles were not yet ready. In fact, I
understood that Lila was expected to return to Earth, if briefly, for laser
surgery to cure her hyperopia. She had a phobia against contact lenses,
alas, and wearing glasses during her future field work upon Tiresias would
make her a curiosity to the tribesmen.

As I waved Billie and her roommate over, I noted that Lyle had misjudged
Lila's size and, her overly-long pantslegs slipping under her heels, she
stumbled into the back of a man standing in the lunch line.

But Lila was far from the most coordinated person whom I had ever known.
When the pair had gotten their dinner and joined us, Lila bumped her chair
against the leg of our table, scrambling what was left of our meal. A
moment later, being introduced to Mickie and extending a handshake, she
knocked over a paper cup of soft drink.

The disruption notwithstanding, we wished to welcome Lila into our odd
little community as warmly as possible. She was rather isolated in her own
department with no one but the self-absorbed Dr. Donnalyn for company. The
disorientation and strangeness of life on Tiresias could be a deadly thing
at times. Loneliness had lured Christy into a bad mistake; none of us
wanted the same thing to any other Charlie.

The young linguist seemed as ill-at-ease as she had during our earlier
meetings. Very probably us working stiffs were not Lyle Rudensky's
accustomed company. As with most egalitarians, class distinction was the be
all and end all. While Lyle had not been himself an elitist (after all, he
had been a male of poor background, limping to a degree by means of
tax-subsidized scholarships), his education had conditioned him to be a
loyal bootblack for the ruling class.

Fortunately, most intellectuals crave an audience and playing to that trait
in Lila was the best way to help her to relax. We had already discovered
that whenever we got the slim brunette talking about any of her favorite
subjects she became lively and animated. And, in fact, what she could tell
us was always very interesting.

"I've wondered why we don't have a company of marines here," remarked
Mickie. "We're just a little island of civilization in a sea of warlike
barbarians."

"Attack is always a possibility," admitted the linguist, "but a remote one.
Your guards are drilled in using military weaponry, should the need arise.
That makes each of you worth twenty to a hundred barbarian warriors.
Anyway, troops could be sent across from Earth at short notice."

"I remember the training I got when I first arrived," put in Billie
excitedly. "I'm pretty good with an M76!"

So, the vivacious blonde had another talent that I hadn't suspected --
weapons proficiency. I felt a bit envious.

"I've never been trained," I said.

Billie shrugged. "Budget cuts."

"The prison is built in a backward, low-population area," Lila assured us.
"Primitive people are friendly to strangers, provided they're shown
strength but not aggressiveness. Mountain men used to travel among the
Indians all their lives -- and Jim Bridger lived to be seventy-seven. What
the Indian traders did in the American West, we're trying to doing here --
a non- judgmental appreciation of aboriginal cultures: learn the local
languages, treat the people with respect, and provide a market for their
trade goods. In fact, trading helps to defray some of our expenses. Museums
still pay well for Tiresian artifacts."

I silently chuckled at the very idea of old Jim Bridger filling in some
band of craggy frontiersmen about his "non-judgmental appreciation of the
Shoshones' aboriginal culture."

"But there are cities on this world, too," I reminded her.

"Oh, yes. They're on the level of the Bronze Age of Earth, which is
actually quite impressive. We're making aerial surveys of the closest of
these city states from Base Gephardt."

"I wonder what the natives think when they see a helicopter," grinned
Jordana.

I had read about Base Gephardt, another major "punch" site for two-way
traffic between Earth and Tiresias. Unlike the penitentiary, Base Gephardt
was strictly scientific in its purpose. There also were nonspecific reports
of other, smaller "crossing points." Some good work was being done by
foreign institutions, too.

"Gephardt? That's a new word," murmured Billie. "What does it mean?"

"It's the Tiresian god of greed and destruction," I quipped.

Lila, somewhat short in the humor department, gave me an annoyed glance and
cleared up the matter factually: "Speaker of the House Gephardt led the
fight to get tax funding for the exploration base. Duke University honored
his patronage by naming it after him."

Ugly names and crass political patronage aside, Tiresias was a fascinating
place for many reasons.

The planet's fauna was very rich, and a large portion of its animal species
appeared to be the same as, or merely minor departures from, Pliocene
mammals of prehistoric Earth. It was as if the biology of the two worlds
had run in close parallel until recent geological history, after which the
worlds for some reason went their own different ways.

The reasons why some beasts became extinct on Earth while they survived on
Tiresias was not at all clear, except that Tiresias seemed not to have had
any Pleistocene glaciation. Perhaps the Ice Age had forced evolutionary
changes in wildlife that only had proven to be a detriment to them after
warm weather had returned. But the survival of ancient mammals on a
neighboring world intensely excited the world's zoological gardens, which
were bidding desperately for specimens. Care had to be taken when
transferring animal life back and forth between planes of reality, though.
Who could say that dangerous microbes might not be transferred with them?

So far, though, no new diseases had been spread via transdimensional
exchange. In fact, virulent new cultures often translated into commonplace
ones during the transfer process. Even so, extreme care had to be taken
lest a Tiresian plague sweep unchecked across the Earth, or vice versa.
Like so many other bureaucracies, the United States Center for Disease
Control had its thumb in the Tiresian pie. Actually, the U.S.C.D.C.'s
contribution could potentially be the most useful.

The subject of xeno-exploration was an extremely exciting one. If only I
could "boldly go where no man has gone before, to explore strange new
worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations." How I envied what shy,
clumsy Lila Rudensky was about to do. But where was my opportunity to do
the work which I craved? I had been born in a country too wracked with both
social and economical ills for that. Despite our talk about
interdimensional diseases, Lila seemed more interested in another kind of
contamination. She emphasized the lengths that official policy went to
avoid passing on Earth-specific knowledge, and particularly American
traditions, to the natives of Tiresias. Clearly she was parroting the
accepted cant, not thinking deeply in any independent fashion. Everything
about a new culture was wonderful and exciting to the sort of people who
had trained her, while everything about Western Civilization was decadent
and corrupting. I recalled a line from "The Mikado": -- "the idiot to
praises with enthusiastic tone, every century but this, and every country
but his own."

But it was just as well that government policy was what it was. Their
actual intention was to protect aboriginal innocence from Voltaire and
Charles Dickens, of course. But, in doing so, they were also protecting the
Tiresians from their own civilization-killing ethos which held that Truth
was "situational ethics," Love was "sex," Social Customs were "politics,"
Faith was "fantasy," and Accomplishment was "winning the lottery."

"It really sounds like they treat women rough!" Billie observed when Lila
described how the proudest act of Tiresian manhood was to kidnap an enemy's
woman, tame her with the whip. Then, branded, chained, and collared, they
were trained to cook, clean, make love, and dance.

"It's a paternalistic culture," Lila replied without any of the posturing
and loathing that usually went with that word. "Woman-stealing makes sense
for them. It keeps the gene pool stirred. But you're right, Billy," she
went on; "you shouldn't go outside these walls under any circumstances.
You'd probably be considered by the locals what they call `sheri tigi' - -
`slave meat.'"

"I'm not the one who's going out there," Billie reminded her pointedly.
"You are."

The young scholar fell silent. Did Lila only now begin to doubt that coming
to Tiresias might have been such a wise career move?

#

I began my first menstrual period the same night as our lunch with Lila and
Billie. Allie, coming home to find me in a funk and reading the
instructions on the back of a box of tampons, took charge and did her best
to talk me through the terrible days which followed. She even made an
effort not to enjoy my suffering too much.

I was already better by Friday night when my roommate popped in carrying
Rod's camera and a brown paper bag. But what struck me at once was the
excited mischief in her blue eyes. "What's the camera for?" I asked,
looking up from my library book, a piece of male-bashing tripe called "The
Weaker-Minded Sex." It was a book of cartoons which couldn't decide whether
men were bullies, wimps, conceited asses, or just plain basket cases. Its
strained gags accused them of everything at the same time. I had only
borrowed the book because it was so easy to see in the illos the very real
vices our Sally tormentors.

"I want to take some pictures of myself!" Allie chirped. "Will you help me
out?"

"Sure." I sat up, pitched the book aside, and reached for the camera.

"Not yet! Let me put on something sexy."

"What kind of pictures are they going to be?" I asked suspiciously.

"Lingerie, bikini shots. My tour is up in three months and I want to have
something to remember this planet by."

"Allie, I thought you'd be the last person who'd ever want to be
photographed again."

"Oh, Erin, those trading cards were dirty-minded and sick! This is going to
be fun.'

"Different strokes for different folks."

"You know," she said, "I was thinking that maybe I'll become my own
favorite pin-up girl!. `Who's that hot chick on your desk, Alex?' she
mimicked a man's voice. `She's a real turn-on! Where can I find that
babe?'"

"All right, I'll photograph you, if that's what you really want. But isn't
the backdrop here pretty grungy?"

"That doesn't matter! A good paint program'll plug in any sort of
background that fits -- a beach, a boudoir, a Wild West saloon -- anything.
Say, do you think I could make a convincing saloon girl?" She held up in
front of herself a modern version of a sassy Victorian bustier.

"Is that what you have in the bag? Costumes?"

"Yeh! I don't have a lot of lingerie of my own, so I borrowed what I could
from the other girls. Billie has a pile of the stuff."

"That's our darling Billie. Did she loan you the French maid costume, too?"

"Oh, jeez! I forgot to ask!"

"You're getting weird, Allie."

"Oh, well, I've got plenty. Maybe later."

For the next couple hours I was able to live out a personal fantasy of
mine, of being the man behind the camera of a girly magazine.
Unfortunately, the girl in front of the camera wasn't a real girl, and the
man behind the camera wasn't really a man.

Not that Allie didn't look every bit like a girl. I snapped her in baby
dolls and then in garter belts, in bustiers and camis, in teddies and
briefers, in bras and panties, and bikinis. She started getting carried
away and, before long, she had me photograph her with her bra almost off,
then completely off, her panties gradually rolled down to the last modicum
of modesty, then shed entirely. My roommie sure looked cute naked and
hugging that borrowed teddy bear.

If the shots turned out well enough she might even make some money by
selling them to a magazine, I knew. Sometimes serials like Ruby or
Gentleman's Agreement ran photo features of gorgeous Charlies along with
their regular fare of all-girl models. In fact, I had seen one pictorial
entitled "The Girls of Tiresias." That had come out almost a year before my
planetfall, and so none of my current friends had appeared in it. I
wondered, though, whether my roommate would show up in some future issue. A
man has to earn what he can, wherever he can, considering the economy.

Allie then fell back on the bed, tired out from all the costume changing
and posing. "I guess that's enough for me," she panted. "I wonder what my
grandchildren will think when I show them those pictures someday."

"I just hope you wait until they're over eighteen!"

She gave a rippling laugh; it hardly sounded grandfatherly. "Say, Erin, why
don't you let me take your picture, too, now that we've got all this stuff
already here?"

"Me? I don't think so."

"Come on, A.C. Be a sport. You'll probably want to do it before you leave
anyway. When will you have a better chance?"

"No way!"

About fifteen minutes later I was wearing a purple bikini, holding a beach
ball, and pretending that I was happily broiling under the golden sun of
Acapulco. Allie had a knack for talking me into the silliest things!

After overcoming my initial reluctance, I actually had fun. With Allie's
help I went through many changes of hair style and makeup, trying on
garments which I would have loved to have ogled upon the body of a
well-proportioned, natural-born girl, but which didn't exactly sit right
with me. Nonetheless, Allie's mania proved infections and, just to show
that I didn't have less nerve than she, I posed for my own series of
semi-nude, and nude shots. My Svengali roommate even coaxed me to going to
the absolute limit -- hugging the teddy bear in the buff while looking as
cute and empty-headed as I could manage.

Then, on my own initiative, I went to the drawer and brought out my one and
only real piece of lingerie, the green tunic that Mort's gang had given me.
I slipped it over my head and Allie helped me with the hair ribbon. Then
she clicked away and, even as the shots were being taken, I knew that this
experience was going to seem unbelievable after I had my proper sex
restored -- an event that I looked forward to with relish.

Then, just as worn out as Allie had been, I collapsed into bed. My roommie
fell in beside me, wearing only panties and a flower-printed cami. She
looked so exciting just then that I couldn't help thinking, "If only I were
a man and she wasn't."

"You're incredible!" Allie exclaimed.

I closed my eyes and stretched like a cat. "If I have to be a woman, I
prefer to be a gorgeous one. Not that I wasn't gorgeous as a male."

She reached out, putting her hand upon my bare thigh in a way so unlike her
that I looked up in askance. Her smile began to fade as if some troubling
thought was passing through her mind like a dark cloud.

"Erin, I --" she began haltingly, "I've been wanting to ask you something,
but -- but no matter what it is, you have to promise me that we won't stop
being friends."

"You sounds serious," I remarked slowly, losing my own smile. "Well, sure,
I promise. I'd never want any silly little thing to come between us."

"That's good," Allie grinned weakly, as if not wholly reassured. "I --"

Her question was still sticking in her throat; I got the strangest feeling
that it might be better if she not ask it at all. Despite my misgivings, I
reached out and took her hand in mine. "What is it, Alexander?"

I think that calling her Alexander actually encouraged her to swim out into
dangerous waters, and so its use probably had been a mistake. "I don't know
how to say this, Erin," she struggled, "but -- but sometimes, like now
especially, I get the strongest feelings -- about, well, like asking you to
--"

I studied her troubled expression carefully. "What, Allie?"

" -- to let me make love to you."

I sucked in a long breath.

She had said it. Her face, though forcing a smile, was braced hard, as if
expecting pain. I don't think my own expression changed, but my discomfort
was keen and my mind raced to find words to answer.

Oh, Alexander, why did you have to ask me that?

I knew what my reply had to be, but how could I express it a way that would
give no hurt? Allie, my best friend, had asked me something very personal,
very difficult, and by so doing had rendered herself very vulnerable.

I stared at her, taking in the way in which the fluorescent light
illuminated her amber hair. A feeling of crisis squirmed within me. It was
like my best friend had just dropped the bomb that she was gay and wanted
me to be her lover. But this wasn't homosexuality, not really. What was
happening to Allie, I realized, was that she was reaching back into her
male persona and seeing me, and not herself, as an attractive woman. What a
strange thought!

"Erin?" she asked in a ragged whisper, licking lips that suddenly felt dry.

I was taking a long time to answer, true, but it was only because I didn't
know how to frame that answer. One wrong word and our friendship would be
scorched, scarred forever. We might still smile and have comradely words
afterwards, but it would never be the same. Allie was opening her heart to
me, baring her soul. If I couldn't reply in a similar spirit something very
precious to both of us would be lost forever.

At last I gazed directly into her eyes, as if I was a pilot trying to guide
my ship through a mine field.

"Allie," I said, "I won't be able to take very much away with me from
Tiresias. Some souvenirs, some clothing, some sexy pictures, but that's
about it. Except for one other thing -- something that's more important
than anything else. It's something so important that I don't want to leave
it behind no matter what."

"W-What do you mean, Erin?"

"Our friendship, Allie. I came here expecting a bad time and some hard
knocks, but I found a best friend instead. I want to see you again when
we're both back home. I want to see a lot of you. I want to be best buddies
for life."

"That's what I want, too."

I squeezed her hand. "I know. But we've got to be careful or it just won't
happen."

"You're mad at me!"

I winced, as if an exploding torpedo had just torn the bottom out of my
hull.

"No, Allie," I insisted, "I love you. I love you in almost every way that a
-- human being -- can possibly love another. But we don't dare love each
other -- that way."

"Why not? I love you, too!"

"Because we're living an illusion! It won't last. What we do today will be
gone tomorrow, no matter how hard we try to hold on to it. But if we're not
careful, it's an illusion that'll ruin things for the rest of our lives."

She didn't reply, so I hurried on.

"Allie, I could very, very easily make love to you. I could have a
wonderful time being a lesbian, I'm sure. In fact, that's probably what I
really am."

"Don't make it sound that way, Erin."

"I only mean that there's no one I'd rather go to bed with than you. I know
I could be gay as a girl. But -- but I could never be a gay male. Could
you?"

"No! Of course not! But it's not about being gay."

I stroked the back of her hand. "Back home we're going to be two guys
again. That's great, but if we have sex together now, could we ever look
one another in the eye later on? All we'd feel is embarrassment. Straight
guys like us couldn't handle that. It would drive us apart. Don't you
understand?"

Allie bent her head. I studied her expression anxiously, afraid that I had
hurt her despite my best efforts not to.

"Damn it, Aaron!" she said.

She had used my male name. What that meant I wasn't sure. I waited with
baited breath for the other shoe to fall.

"Damn it, Aaron -- you're right!" she exclaimed.

#

She dropped back to the spare pillow beside me and her azure irises rolled
up toward the ceiling in self-censure.

"What was I thinking?!"

I raised myself on one elbow and looked down into her grimacing face. "You
were only expressing what I've thought about doing a hundred times, Allie.
You just had more nerve than I did."

"But less brains!"

I smiled and felt a surge of relief. Even though I had sexually rejected
her, I really dared to believe that I had saved our friendship!

I stroked her pale hair. "I've had sex before, Allie, but I've never had a
friend like you. I'd never want to do anything to spoil what we have. I
only wish that we could be the opposite sex when this is all over."

"Me, too."

"Of course," I added, "I'd want to be the man."

She cocked her head in surprise. "Hey, why should it be you? I want to be
the man! You make a better woman than me."

I looked at her incredulously. What she was saying was so patently
ridiculous that I picked up my pillow and hit her with it. "What do you
mean I make a better woman?! You've got woman written all over you!"

She took her own pillow and replied in kind. "I do not!"

"You do so!" and I hit her again.

"You're the hottest chick on the whole planet!" she laughed, smacking me in
the face. "I bet you're great in bed!"

"I am not!" I yelled and the pillow fight went wild. Once we had pummeled
one another for all we were worth, we fell down together, laughing
hysterically, our arms wrapped around one another -- in care, in trust, and
comradeship.

*****

Chapter 10

There really could be an upside to being a woman, (which didn't include
menstruation, of course). On the other hand, there could be a downside to
being a man, as some of the Sallys were belatedly finding out. Men needed
more sex than women -- or, rather, women could sublimate their drive so
much easier than men were able to do. It didn't help the Sallys that so
many of us Tiresian females were holding off from sex, while even those who
didn't shun it were cutting back, in many cases, to punish piggish
boyfriends -- exactly as I had recommended the night of my ingenue party.
The tension of the situation mounted. Interestingly, some of the most
gonadal types, like Jake and his randy pals, seemed to remain their usual
steady, obnoxious selves, as if nothing was happening. Go figure.

The news came down that Jesse was being recalled to Earth to be charged
with a criminal assault against a co-worker. He was confined to quarters
until then.

It was just a token gesture on the part of the Establishment, we all knew,
but history demonstrated that tokenism often goes in the vanguard of real
concessions. It meant, possibly, that our movement as a whole was making
progress.

#

On Thursday night Dori and Andrea invited me to go watch a taped Falcons vs
Jets football game in the dormitory monitor room. The event was a courtesy
of the official prison recreation committee, intended for the entertainment
of the staff and, after them, the prisoners. I really preferred baseball,
though, and the pigskin action soon had my mind wandering. On the other
hand, because I was not very deep into the game, I began to see in it some
things that I had always glossed over before.

Why would a man make a career out of the physical danger and punishment of
professional sports? The money? The cheerleaders? The popularity? I
suddenly realized that I wasn't looking at strong men exercising a power
that they took for granted, but of desperate males trying to escape the
consequences of a systemic powerlessness.

To win the esteem of his parents, his community, the more attractive girls,
and even of his peers, every boy wanted to become an athlete if he could.
The majority of us who couldn't cut it lived vicariously through the sports
hero's life. Everything outside of sports that a young boy could do was
considered second best. If he performed well in school, he was just a nerd.
If he excelled at the arts, he was a sissy. The lad who made the field goal
was a champion, while the boys who couldn't perform for the crowd were
ignored. Did such youths find power in just being a male? Hardly. It was a
whole different world from their sisters.' To win esteem, a woman simply
had to be what she was, her challenge to the world was, "Take me as I am."
A man was considered incomplete in his own being; he had to make something
out of himself -- no matter what the cost to his health and soul.

To me, in this light, the professional athlete was not a being to be
envied. Where was the cheerleader who would tell Rocky Rhodes, a has-been
at thirty-five with the knees of a geriatric, "I don't care that you'll
never walk again without a cane, Rocky, that any woman you marry will have
to work to support you. You've got a cute face and I love your
personality." Fat chance.

The whole history of the male in society was one of his trying to get
around the unescapable fact of powerlessness. It was the male who wore the
prosthetics acquired in the course of dangerous work that women could
disdain, it was the male had to endure the lonely sea voyages, bleed and
die protecting hearth and home with the weapons of war. There were plenty
of bad men -- like the prisoners of Tiresias, twisted products of a twisted
culture of dependence, but the brute male of modern sociological fantasy,
burning and raping his way across human history, had to yield to the
reality -- that of a very human being whose capacity for self-denial and
self-sacrifice bordered on the heroic. Or was it something else -- a
disfunction, a craving for outside approval at any price?

#

As I did almost every day, I got together with Rod. We both liked tennis
and so we agreed to have a few sets of love while talking about stuff for
his book. Neither of us owned a real tennis outfit -- we wore just T-shirts
and workout shorts; it made no sense to buy a lot of expensive clothes for
Tiresias that we couldn't use back home.

The employees had no special tennis court for themselves, so we had to use
the prisoners' during those hours when it was closed to them. Surrounded by
a high wire-mesh fence and with plenty of tough Sally guards patrolling, we
felt safe enough, though the court abutted the recreation grounds and some
of the prisoners were able to press up close to the wire and gawk at us.

Rod and I had earlier discussed the Jesse business in detail. Rod thought
that the Service's decision was just a sop to the Charlies and I tended to
agree. Tiresian women didn't appreciate that Jesse wasn't being charged
under the draconian VAWA, which had become a sort of Jim Crow law to
handicap American males in any confrontation with women. That in itself was
"privileged treatment." We also agreed that it was significant that Jake
and the others, so far, hadn't received any discipline at all. But because
rehashing the subject, though, was lousing up our game, we cooled it and
concentrated upon the sport for the next quarter hour.

Once, when Rod was chasing after the ball, my attention wandered to the
prisoners watching us. Some of the inmates were pretty good-looking,
especially one wearing cotton-Spandex shorts with high-cut tulip legs, and
a tank-top that advertised 36 or 37 inches of jiggle. She was a beautiful
hispanic whose black hair bounced thickly in large ringlets. Her outfit
looked genuinely feminine -- as it was intended to. Transforming a
prisoner's self-image was part of the psychological conditioning. The more
these killers and thieves thought of themselves, and one another, as women,
the less dangerous they tended to be. Much more could have been done in
this regard, but this was federal prison, not some transvestite humiliation
fantasy.

But I thought that I recognized the girl. Of course! She was the same hot
tamale that I had seen at the end of my own dimensional crossing -- the one
with the knockout ass. She had just as good a face, I could now see, with
dark liquid eyes that could send shivers down a man's spine. Despite my
transformation, I wasn't totally immune to a woman's beauty. But, I
reminded myself, the femlin wouldn't have been there at all if she didn't
possess the mind of a violent criminal.

"Allie invited me to Andrea's bikini party," Rod commented as we broke for
the evening and headed toward the gate.

I nodded. It was the custom for a person to get a going-away party at the
end of his or her tour. The most popular variety was the "bikini party," a
last chance for the Charlie to "strut her stuff" and to get some photos of
her best buddies made up in a way to blow the mind.

"I didn't know that you and Allie were such good friends," I remarked. "Are
you escorting her?" There had been a hint of irritation in my voice. I
hoped that Rod hadn't noticed it.

"No. She said you were unsure about going. She thought you'd be more likely
to go if I escorted you."

"I wasn't unsure. I told her flat out that I wasn't going!"

"Why not?"

"Because she said I couldn't go if I didn't wear a bikini. Well, I -- I
don't own a bikini. I don't have any real swimsuit at all! They cost too
much here."

"You can borrow one."

"Where I come from you don't borrow intimate things," I fibbed. The real
reason was that being photographed in a swimsuit in the privacy of my own
room was one thing, but wearing a bikini outdoors was another. For Christ's
sake -- under all this deceptive flesh I was still a man! I had my pride.

"I'm sorry you feel that way, Erin. Maybe you'll change your mind."

"Don't count on it!"

#

I was rather surprised and a little disappointed when Rod failed to make a
date for Friday night after our Thursday get-together. Resigned to pass a
quite Friday night alone, I was reading "Riders of the Purple Sage" when
the phone rang and Allie practically broad jumped across the room to answer
it. "Yes," she replied excitedly to some unknown question, "send him up."

"You're expecting a guest?" I asked. "Are you taking a date to Andrea's
party?" This in itself would have been interesting, because I knew Allie
wasn't the dating type. I think that Buck had burned her too severely for
that.

"Not exactly," she hedged.

My friend clearly wanted to play it coy, so I decided just to wait her out.
The mysterious Sally would be here any second and then I could then see who
he was. To my surprise, Rod showed up at the door. "Look who's here!" Allie
piped in a tone that simply resonated with dark conspiracy.

I saw them exchange knowing glances and grasped at once that there was
something going on between the two of them. Come to think of it, Allie and
Rod had actually been getting very chummy of late. She had gone to him to
borrow a camera, even though some of the other girls had them. Maybe Rod
had offered to escort her to the party after I had definitely refused him.
All right, that's fair. But why hadn't Allie mentioned it? I thought that
she would have, unless she felt guilty and wanted to conceal it. But why
would she feel guilty? She wouldn't -- unless she had something to feel
guilty about! "Are you here to see Allie or me?" I asked with a touch of
asperity. I immediately felt stupid. What was wrong with me, to ask such a
question to such friends in such a tone?

"To see Allie?" Rod echoed, taken aback. "No, I came because I've got a
gift for you."

"For me?" I blinked, mildly surprised and incredibly relieved.

He held out a little carton, about the size of a candy box. When I took it
I instantly realized that it was much too light to contain candy.

"It's not my birthday. It's not any holiday at all. What's the occasion?"

"It's Andrea's last night on Tiresias."

"What's that got to do with me --?" As my fingers loosened the tape and
fumbled the box open I had my answer. It was a leopard-spot bikini with a
wrap -- one of those high-cut items with a sparing halter, practically a
thong!

"What's this for?" I asked sourly.

"It's your outfit for the party," Rod said. "You said you didn't have a
bikini of your own, so I bought you one."

I scowled. "You were in this together! What is it about seeing me naked
that turns you two on so?"

"Nobody at the party is going to be naked," grinned Allie. "Anyway, wearing
a bikini isn't the same as being naked. If it really bothers you, you've
got a cover-up!"

"You picked it out, didn't you?" I accused my roommate.

"She didn't have to," Rod broke in. "I know my way around bikinis. I used
to look pretty good in one, if I say so myself."

I threw the suit at his smirking lips. "Fine, you wear it!"

"Erin, be fair," pleaded Allie. "You never told Rod you were against
wearing a bikini on principle. You just said you couldn't afford one and
wouldn't stoop to borrowing. So he got one for you, and it cost a lot.
You're being unreasonable."

"You could have told him the facts!" I snapped.

"I don't tell personal things about my friends!" she explained ingenuously.
"Come on, be a sport. You don't want to hurt Andrea's feelings. When I told
her that you were getting a bikini, she took it for granted that you'd be
at the party!"

"Every time somebody tells me that I have to be a sport, I end up having to
do something dumber and more humiliating than the last time."

"What's the big deal, Erin? We're all going to be in bikinis."

"Except me," put in Rod.

#

Most of the girls were already at the pool when we arrived. Allie ran ahead
of Rod and me, laughing, "Okay, everybody, `Two, three, four. Tell the
people what she wore!'"

They all began to sing:

"It was an itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny, wild leopard spot bikini,
"That she wore for the first time today!
"An itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny wild leopard spot bikini!
"So in the locker she wanted to stay!"

I froze in my tracks, then wrapped my coverup tightly around myself and
spun on my heels. "I'm out of here!" I declared. But Rod took hold of my
shoulders and I could no more defy his well-exercised male strength than I
might have dragged a mountain. The other girls, all wearing their own
two-piece swim wear, surrounded me.

"It was just a joke, Erin," pleaded Dori. The others offered their own
blandishments as they hugged and kissed me.

"Hey, cut it out!" I rumbled. "I can't stand being kissed by men!"

"I don't know about you, baby," said Andrea, striking a glamour girl pose,
"but I'm not going to be a man until tomorrow."

"Chill out!" Jordana told everybody, taking custody of me from Rod. "Erin's
a good sport and we love her."

"What am I supposed to do with you guys?" I sighed. "Thank Heaven you only
want to humiliate me, not sell me into white slavery."

"The white slavery don't come until midnight, buttercup," Andrea teased.

They led me back to the pool chairs and, still disgruntled, I plopped down
into one. Allie sat at my left side, and Rod took the chair to my right. I
adjusted my short wrap to cover as much of my thighs as possible.

"Bullshit aside," grinned Andrea, "I'm awfully glad you came, Erin."

"We all are," seconded Dori.

"You shouldn't be ashamed of your body, Erin," urged Billie. "You're so
beautiful."

"Don't make a federal case out of it. I'll be all right!" I said grumpily.

"Everything is a federal case these day," corrected Rod.

"You're beginning to sound a lot like me," I remarked appreciatively. "It's
a big improvement."

"You become what you love, they say."

I gave my friend a searching glance. What had he meant by that?

#

Mickie had shown up just a little after Rod and I did, but she had quickly
taken stock of things and started filling paper cups with Cool-Aid. Dori
pushed herself up to assist the redhead in passing them out. I could have
used a stiffer drink than grape Cool-Aid.

"I guess you're excited about going home," said Jordana to Andrea.

"I suppose I am. But I'm gonna to miss all of you."

"In less than a year you won't know anybody here," said Mickie.

"Jake'll still be here, I bet," Billie quipped.

The black girl laughed bitterly. "Earth doesn't have much to recommend it,
but it's gotta be a better place with him/her/it over here!"

"You've got people at home?" I asked.

"I sure do, if any of them have survived the last year. Their neighborhoods
are like war zones! They can't get jobs or the government will take the
welfare away and tax them to the sky to boot, their kids can't read but,
man, can they push drugs!" Her expression turned dark. "I get madder every
time I think about it. If a revolution comes, I'm gonna get me a gun an'
start running up the body count. Either that or I'm movin' to some free
country, like Uganda or Singapore. Hell, maybe I should take a page from
your book, Erin, and start the revolution myself."

None of us were quite sure whether we should laugh or not. There had been
an angry edge in Andrea's voice. She had always felt keenly about the
ruling intelligencia's rampant class and sex-based discrimination,
especially after her ordeal with Jake, but this black mood went beyond her
usual cynicism.

"Body counts aren't part of my book, Andrea," I replied evenly. "The
trouble with revolution is that the people who get killed first will just
be the honest fools doing their duty. The people with the power are going
to hide in the rear until the last."

"They won't be able to burrow deep enough to get away," Andrea predicted.
"Remember the guillotine and the French Revolution? Man, if I could just
get my hands around the throat of a federal judge, or some fancy commission
chairman ---" She made a pantomime of strangling someone in the air.

"Hey, all this talk is getting heavy!" laughed Billie nervously. "Anybody
want to join me in the pool?"

"I will," volunteered Rod, rising.

Billie plummeted into the water like a playful teenager, and Rod leaped
after her. The driblets from his mighty dive rained down on my bare legs.
As I watched the two of them plashing around the pool my brows knitted.
What was my escort doing swimming with the most beautiful girl on Tiresias?
Actually, I more felt those words than thought them; I was not at all sure
about what I was thinking or feeling just then, as I rolled to my feet and
walked to the diving board.

"Take your cover off and come on in!" called Rod.

"I'm not taking anything off," I yelled back. Then, clothed as I was, I
leaped into the water, knifing down, feet-first, between the swimming
twosome.

"Oh, Erin, you're so silly!" the dunked blonde exclaimed.

"Will you stop making a big deal about my clothes?" I complained as I
leveled off and began to float.

"It's not fair that you get to see all of us in our swimsuits and we can't
see you."

"Just drop it!" I told her sharply as Rod glided around behind me.

Suddenly my treacherous boy friend grabbed my arms. "I'll hold her,
Billie," he cried. "You undress her!"

"You voyeuristic bastards!" I yowled as the traitorous Billie undid the
ties of my wrap. Then, when they were loose, Rod stripped the cover-up off
my back and dodged out of reach. Billie also dog-paddled a little distance
away, so that I couldn't punch her out. I turned angrily toward Rod, who
was breast-stroking it to the ladder. He quickly climbed up to the tiles,
holding my cover-up like a token of triumph.

"Come on our, Erin. Let's see what you look like!" Jordana called in
apparent amusement.

"Not on your life, you degenerates! I'll stay in the water until it's
dark!"

They all laughed; Allie, padding over to the edge of the pool, yelled,
"Better come out, Erin, or we'll sing `Wild Leopard Spot Bikini' until you
do!" "Go to hell!"

She was as good as her threat:

"Two, three, four, stick around we'll tell you more!
"Now she's afraid to come out of the water. I wonder what she's
going to do.
"Now she's afraid to come out of the water, and the poor little
girl's turning blue!'

"Everybody sing!" "No! No more!" I pleaded. "I'd rather be tortured in the
cellars of the National Organization of Women!"

I swam over to the ladder and clambered up it, dripping wet. "All right,
laugh if you have to," I growled. "That's what all this is about anyway!"

"Photographs!" shouted Mickie and there was a click-click-clicking all
around me; every hand seemed to have a camera in it.

Given my mood, it was a wonder that the water beading all over my flesh
didn't steam. Then Rod sidled over and put his about my waist. "Simmer
down, Erin. It's just because you're always making such a big deal about
women's clothes that you invite a lot of joking around."

"Yeh, sure. What's next? Do you want me to drop my top?"

"Do your thing, baby. We're all grown-ups here!" yelled Andrea.

I sat down with gritted teeth, but my pride kept me from retreating back
into my soaking-wet cover-up.

You look really wild in those leopard spots," observed Andrea. "Don't let
the barbarians see you in that getup, or one of them is just apt to throw
Erin the Jungle Girl over his shoulder and take her off to the woods for
some major whoopee!"

"Remember what Lila said about brands, collars, and slave dances," put in
Mickie with a tinkling laugh.

"You broads have been watching too many porno flicks," I told them. "Will
you stop making me the center of attention?"

"She's right," agreed Allie. "We've had enough fun with poor Erin. Let's
get off her back." She turned my way. "Would you like to take some picture
of us for revenge now, roommie?"

I accepted the camera that she offered me. "I guess so; I can always make
some trading cards out of them."

"That was low," shuddered Andrea, and even Allie looked pained.

Chapter 11

Things settled down after that and we all chatted, swam together, and then
played some volley ball in the adjacent court. After another quick dip to
cool us off, we repaired to the chairs again and the topic of Rod's book
came up..

"When's your research going to be done?" asked Jordana.

"It's really done already," Rod said. "I mean, it could go on and on. I'm
always learning new details, but I have what I honestly need and, anyway,
my leave is almost up. I won't have a job to go home to if I stall any
longer."

"Have you been stalling?" wondered Billie.

"A little," he admitted.

I hadn't realized that Rod was so close to leaving. I had almost eleven
months to go on Tiresias myself; I suddenly felt very much alone.

"W-When do you go?" I asked, appalled by my telltale stumble.

"At the next big transfer. It's not scheduled yet, but it will certainly be
in less than a week. They have to send Jesse back for sure, and Andrea's
tour is up, but they still want a few other things to come together before
they pull the switch. Operating a transfer isn't cheap."

"Are -- Are you going to miss this place?" I asked haltingly, despite every
effort to be nonchalant.

"Some things I'll miss very much," he replied, casting a long glance my
way.

"When I get back to Earth I'll want to look you up," I said carefully. "Is
that all right?"

"I'd be very sorry if you didn't."

I thought I should say something more then, but the words just wouldn't
come. Suddenly I wished that I could leave the party gracefully and go off
by myself to have a proper funk.

"It's strange, but I almost regret the prospect of being a woman again,"
the journalist remarked wistfully.

"You wouldn't if you had to put up with what we do back home," advised Dori
seriously.

Rod shrugged. "I suppose that's true."

"You know," Andrea interjected, "this place has changed my head. I've seen
the system with its pants down. From now on all I care about is what's good
for me, my friends, and my family. If anybody says `boo' to that, the
fuckers better duck for cover!"

"You're turning into quite a revolutionary, Andrea," Dori observed with a
troubled smile.

"Damned straight!" the black girl snorted.

It was getting dark and the insects bothersome, so we started breaking it
up. I had had a good time, over all, up to the point where Rod had said
that he would soon be going home. That fact bothered me more than I had
ever thought possible.

#

Rod and I had spent much of the weekend together, without directly
addressing the subject of Rod his imminent departure. But it finally
couldn't be put off any longer.

"Erin," he suddenly said when we met in the dormitory lounge, "the word's
final now. I'm leaving on Wednesday morning."

I felt a huge emptiness. I had expected at least a couple more days than
that. "That's not long," I said, trying to hold my voice steady. "You never
mentioned how little time you had left before the party. Why?"

"You never asked."

I gaped incredulously.

"No, that's not what I wanted to say. I mean I wasn't looking forward to
leaving, not after I met you. I was trying not to think about it and I
didn't want to bring it up.

"Why?"

"-- Because I was worried that, well --

"That what?"

"-- That you wouldn't think that it was any big deal."

"Rod! We're better friends than that. We --" I was reaching for something,
but couldn't get a grasp on it. "-- We could have given you a party."

He laughed, amazed. "I don't need a party."

"I think you should have one."

He squeezed my upper arms. "Erin, listen. I just want to spend as much time
with you as possible before I have to go. That'll be my party."

I kept my chin up. "Sounds good. Are you free Tuesday night?"

"I didn't make any special plans. What did you have in mind?"

"I'd like to cook you a last supper."

"A last supper? Erin, that's sweet, but I'm not being executed!"

I scowled. He laughed gently.

"I'd love to taste your cooking, but you really don't have to make it sound
so final."

"It won't be. I'll be seeing you once I get back to Earth. I promise." For
some reason, my mind flashed back to our first meeting. "You know, I was
positive that you were out to seduce me that night we met," I commented. I
didn't add that I was a little disappointed that he had never even tried.

"I didn't want it that way, Erin. Making love to you would have been
wrong."

"Why?"

"Because there never was a time when it would have felt right. Maybe things
were developing that way. I don't know. But we ran out of time, that's all.
I hope we'll be given another chance, later."

"We never did have a chance, did we?" I said, almost accusingly.

"Of course we did. But we both had a lot of past baggage to overcome."

I turned away. "Why am I feeling so wasted? It's not like we ever had a lot
going. We've never even kissed!"

His drew me close up against himself, forced me to face around. "We could
change that, if we wanted to."

"I suppose we could."

"When?"

"We're running out of time, so we'd better shake a leg."

"That's what I was thinking."

He moved quickly, enfolding me in his arms. It felt strange to be engulfed
by such mighty strength, but I stayed steady. He lowered his lips,
tentatively, and I raised mine. Our mouths came together for the first time
and his five o'clock shadow prickled my tender flesh as our faces touched.
It felt, well, if not wrong, new, and l had a sense that a door was opening
in front of me, while another was closing behind my back.

But for all its newness, being held in Rod's big, strong arms felt
surprisingly right and natural.

#

Rod's impending departure and our first kiss preoccupied me the whole next
day, and all I could think about was seeing him again. In fact, we had a
date to go bowling with Jordana and a friend of hers, Mark.

The day before had brought Rod and me to a watershed. We no longer needed
to pretend that we were meeting just to interview. Now I could admit to
myself that I simply wanted to be with him. How I regretted that our
relationship had moved forward at the pace of a glacier and that we had
wasted so much valuable time. But now the emotional rush left me reeling,
unable to believe that I had kissed a man and wanted to do so again. I
didn't know whether I should go bury my head in shame, or start dashing in
slow motion across a field of flowering poppies.

I made plenty of blunders at work that day, so I wasn't too surprised when
the warden called me in. I guessed that my supervisor had complained about
my sudden ineptitude and forgetfulness, or that Gershom was about to lower
the boom on me for creating the Tiresian Women's Rights Association. I had
a premonition that things would never be the same again once I got out of
that office.

Warden Gershom was an overweight Sally pushing sixty. "He" had been active
in the women's movement in the 'eighties and 'nineties and then moved into
a cushy job in the federal bureaucracy, helped to the top by the "old girl
network." (Old bull dykes never die; they just become government thugs).

"Please, sit down, Mr. Carter," he said with a pleasantness that threw me
for a loop.

"Mister Carter?" I murmured when I had collected my wits.

"Yes, mister. I have very good news for you. That little matter which led
to your Tiresian transfer has been resolved entirely in your favor. Leda
Cavendish's complain has been set aside as being completely without merit."

I couldn't believe what I was being told. And to tell the truth, I was in a
state of mind which couldn't bear many shocks.

"That's good," I muttered, somewhat dazed. It was good news, no denying.
Trashing that nonsensical charge of sexual harassment would take the single
black mark off my otherwise spotless record of service.

Gershom seemed to want to say something more, but was taking his time dear
about saying it.

"Do these happy circumstances have any further ramifications?" I asked with
clumsy formality.

"Indeed they do, Officer Carter. The main office agrees that it's not at
all proper that you be asked to fulfill your tour of duty at this
installation unless you absolutely want to. That means you can return to
Earth immediately and you'll have a good new assignment waiting when you
get there. In fact, the next transfer is scheduled for Wednesday morning.
You may have Tuesday off, with pay, of course, to get ready, if you wish."

I was stunned. I could come away from Tiresias with a clean record and,
better still, go back with Rod! Excitement rippled through me. I was
already starting to think of him as "Rhoda." We'd finally be ourselves
again -- and together. We could find out whether what we had as a woman and
a man was real and if it could survive a life lived as a man and a woman. I
almost sang out loud, "Yes, sir, thank you, I will!"

But I was suddenly warned off by a vague skepticism. As hard as I had
fought to defend my good name, the system had been stacked against me, its
ears closed. I had been railroaded into an ignominious exile as a matter of
course, to feed a cannibalistic system that had to be experienced to be
believed. Why would the EEOC division of the U.S.C.S. bother to keep my
case open once I was safely out of sight and out of mind?

It was a dirty little secret that the EEOC had a discipline quota and that
its officers were expected to meet it; a certain number of heads had to
fall per quarter or it looked bad on their performance record. In the best
bureaucratic tradition, they offered incentives for employees to accuse
their co-workers on every imaginable pretext. Any self-anointed victim,
like Leda Cavendish, only had to perjure herself to get some "white marks"
placed into her file. The innocent person who was made into the goat for
someone else's personal ambition became a useful statistic for proving that
the bureaucracy's work was far from done. For whatever reason, this
"clearance" of my record was calculated to help the Service, not me.

"Shall we plan on your departure Wednesday, Officer?" Gershom pressed. He
seemed overly anxious to see the last of Aaron Carter. Why?

"I'd like some time to think about this, Warden, sir. -- I've made a lot of
friends here," I ended lamely.

"Of course, Mr. Carter, if you like." Gershom seemed bemused. I suppose
that he had expected me to leap onto the shore to take the bait right out
of the pail.

"I think I can give you an answer by tomorrow," I suggested.

The fact was, I had no idea as yet what that answer would be.

#

I wanted to talk things over with someone, but I didn't get the chance
before Jordana called me down to the lounge to meet Mark and Rod. We all
went bowling and, because Rod and I both had so much on our minds, Jordana
and Mark slaughtered us in all three games. If it had been only Jordana
with us, I probably would have brought up the subject of my meeting with
Gershom, but I didn't know Mark Norwich at all well.

After we all left the recreational area, Jordana and Mark split off. Rod
and I went up to the big lounge between the men and women's dormitories and
found a private corner. Rod had been picking up my unspoken signals that
something serious was on my mind and was anxious to talk to me about it.

I told him what had happened. He gave me a hug. "That's great!"

"Is it? I don't know."

His elation faded. "Why? Are you having second thoughts -- about us?"

"Oh, yeh, sure I'm worried. But that's not what's bothering me."

"Well, then?"

"Rod, this smells bad. I've been wondering all evening why they'd want me
out of here so badly that they'd clear my name."

"What have you decided?"

"That they think they can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar."

"How do you mean?"

"I think they're worried about the rights association. They're thinking
that if they can get rid of its leaders it'll die off of its own accord."

"Will it?"

"I don't know, but if they're manipulating me, I don't want any part of
it."

"So what are you going to do?"

"I don't know. I want to go with you, but I keep thinking about Gabrielle's
baby."

"What's the baby got to do with you and me?"

"Gabrielle had to go through a lot to create something wonderful."

"Yes?"

"And, well, I've created something, too. Doc's staying on Tiresias to
suckle her baby. Maybe my baby needs suckling just as much."

Rod looked grim, but I think he understood my point.

"I've gotten people's hopes up. It hurts to think of leaving them in the
lurch," I clarified.

"What more can you do?"

"I don't know. I don't want to think that I'm indispensable. Maybe one of
the other girls could do the job better than I could. But even if that were
so, they'd just go after her next."

"It's not fair to take all this on yourself, Erin, but it's just like you."

I looked up at him. Had I made him angry?

"It's why I love you so much."

"You love me?" I echoed. But that begged another question: "Like, ah, what
do you mean? What kind of love are you talking about?"

He was struggling. "The best kind of love, I guess," he said finally. "The
boy and girl kind of love."

That was mind blowing, but I answered with a quip: "Is that right? Who's
the boy and who's the girl?"

"Maybe we should flip a coin."

The crazy guy. I felt like kissing him. So I did.

Oh, baby, you've come a long way.

#

On Tuesday morning I put in for the whole afternoon off, then went in to
see Warden Gershom. There was no trouble in getting an interview. No
trouble at all.

I told the old Sally that Tiresias had so far been a good experience for me
and I absolutely wanted to stay for my whole tour. He seemed decidedly
unenthusiastic about my enthusiasm, and made it a point to keep the offer
open, should I change my mind.

Rod had warned me the night before that if the Service couldn't get rid of
me by playing nice-nice, they'd start riding me so hard that I'd be forced
to take the early out. Maybe they would, but I was determined to make
myself a tough burr to get rid of.

After work, I went to the provisions department and picked up the food that
I had ordered early that morning. It cost me a lot and it exhausted my
monthly allotment of special purchases, but the occasion warranted a little
splurging.

I carried my stuff back to the dormitory, where I bypassed my own room and
went directly up to Dr. Trent's. I'd seen her the night before and she had
given me permission to use her kitchen. I left the bags on her counter and
then went to see Allie. I had to ask her a big favor.

"You want what?!" my amber-haired roommate exclaimed, her blue eyes almost
starting out of her head.

"You heard me, damn it! Do you want me to shout it down the hall?"

"Erin, are you sure? You've hardly been here six weeks. This is moving
pretty fast. You won't be setting the record, I grant you, but it's still
pretty fast. You're the last person I'd have thought --"

"All right, so I'm human after all. All I want to know is whether you can
let me have one!" My abruptness was born out of pure embarrassment.

"Of course you can have one," she said without further argument, going to
her drawer and locating the bottle. She explained how I should take it,
then with a suddenness that startled me, she gave me a big hug, whispering:
"Go to it, gal."

Once I had my best friend's blessing I felt worlds better. There was so
much to do that I was sorry that I hadn't asked for the whole day off. We
began by dismantling Allie's bed to make a serving area. With the
permission of the housefellow on duty we temporarily stored the bed. Allie
did me the favor of going back to the desk to sign for a small dining
table, while I hurried back up to Dr. Trent's place.

While I puttered around in the kitchen, little Eva started crying up a
storm and Gabrielle hurried to her crib. Checking her diaper and finding it
dry, she next unbuttoned her blouse and offered a nipple, which didn't meet
with the baby's satisfaction either. So, finally, the new mother tried to
calm it by singing lullabies and rocking it gently in her arms. Dr. Trent's
voice had a lovely lilt to it I noticed. For the next couple hours, while I
filled the little apartment with aromatic cooking odors, I listened to her
singing herself breathless.

"There was an old woman
Who lived in Dundee,
And in her back garden
There grew a plum tree;
The plums they grew rotten
Before they grew ripe,
And she sold them quite wisely,
Three pennies a pint. . ."

I smiled grimly; there was a down side to being a mom. Eva kept up her
crying jag the whole time, with only brief lulls between cranky outbreaks.

During one such respite a tired Gabrielle came into the kitchen to look
over my shoulder. "Are you finding everything?" she asked in a hoarse
whisper.

"No problem. Eva's being tough on you, isn't she, Doc?"

The physician chuckled sadly. "Last night it was like sleep-deprivation
torture. Everything you read about infant care doesn't add up to one ounce
of the reality. It all has to be learned by the seat of your pants." She
paused, then sighed, "Be very careful about what you ask for, Erin. You
just might get it."

Her words struck me. I, too, was asking for something, and the odds were
that I would get it, too. Once I had it, what was I going to do with it?

"Just to stay sane I'm going to have to find some quiet time," Gabrielle
remarked, touching her much-reduced belly, "especially some time to work
out. I don't want Eva to be stuck with a dumpy hausfrau for a mother."
Looking her over, I got the idea that once Gabrielle had tightened herself
up, she'd have a fine figure.

But more than that, I noted that Dr. Trent had unthinkingly referred to
herself as a mother and not a father.

"The association is thinking of sponsoring an aerobics class," I told her.
"Dori might lead it; she's reading every exercise book in the library."

"I could use it. By the way, do you need any help in here?"

"I could use a hand chopping the onions."

"Sounds fine; I could use a good cry," Dr. Trent jested softly.

She seemed so tired that I felt sorry for her. Gabrielle was finding out
how tough it was to be a single parent. But she was keeping her sense of
humor and I was sure that she'd come through with flying colors. Her
friends were rooting for her, too. All of us Charlies would be ennobled if
just one of us could prove out to be a good mother. I wanted to personally
do something to help Dr. Trent succeed. Maybe it was time that I learned
how to baby sit. But I couldn't start that night. I had a full and pressing
itinerary.

At the dining table, Dr. Trent cut the onions with the precision of a
surgeon. As I watched her working, occasionally wiping away a tear on her
cuff, a saying that I had not heard since childhood came back to mind for
no special reason.

To be a surgeon, the saying went, one needed the eye of an eagle, and Dr.
Trent's alert and discerning eyes had impressed me at our very first time
meeting. The surgeon also needed the heart of a lion. Well, our good doctor
seemed not to lack for courage. And, finally, he needed one more thing, a
thing which seemed especially fateful and ironic in our present
circumstances.

He must have the hands of a woman.

I squeezed Gabrielle's shoulder. She looked back, wondering what it was
that had suddenly moved me.

#

After I got back to my room loaded down with Pyrex and Tupperware, Allie
did everything she could to help get the dinner ready. While my best bud
set up the service, I took a quick shower to get rid of the kitchen
residue. Afterwards, when I emerged rosy and well-scrubbed, she did my hair
and make-up. Then, bless her, she made herself scarce.

"I guess I can clear off a piece of floor in Dori's and Jan's room for the
light."

"I owe you one, pal."

"No you don't!" With a wink, she took her pillow and blanket and vanished.

Well, Aaron, it's all up to you now!

Afterwards, I went down to the main lobby and waited nervously for my
guest. Seeing me dressed up, everyone was curious and every blasted one of
them felt duty-bound to ask me if I was expecting someone. I felt as
awkward as a school girl going to her first prom. Then I saw him! I sprang
from my seat, at once regretting that I couldn't play this thing out more
coolly.

"Well, look at you!" he said with a broad grin.

"Well, look at yourself!" I replied.

He had on his natty ingenue party suit, while I was wearing my little white
dress. I had considered borrowing something which Rod hadn't seen me in
before, but decided against it. Both of the nights on which I had worn my
outfit had been good ones. I had begun thinking of it as a lucky piece and
didn't want to tempt fate.

"Well, come on up," I said nervously.

He took my arm. "I'd love to."

*******

Chapter 12

The dorm wasn't cold, but as soon as he touched me I was covered with goose
bumps. Showing so much skin, I must have looked horrible. But Rod didn't
seem to notice as he ushered me into the elevator and up to my own door.

I put Mozart's "Serenade for Winds" into the player and after that we had a
quiet little supper. The main course was poached salmon fillets augmented
by skillet rice with shrimp. For dessert we had papaya-buttermilk
smoothies. The wine was Grable's White Label, a California brand that
somewhat embarrassed me, though I really couldn't have afforded better,
even if it had been available. We didn't talk much at first. I guess that
knowing we soon would have to part didn't leave much room for empty
chit-chat.

"I wish I could go with you," I finally said.

"You could! I'll help you pack tonight."

"Don't tempt me, Rod. I just can't. Does that upset you?"

"No, I understand, or I wouldn't take no for an answer. What worries me is
that we're up against something so big that we won't be able to beat it.
We're going to be two completely different people soon, doing completely
different things. Maybe it won't be so bad if we have a chance to think
things over."

On a sudden impulse I got up and stepped behind him, putting my arms
loosely around his neck and leaning forward. "It'll be bad," I whispered
into his ear.

He clutched my wrists then and kissed them each in turn.

"Rod --" I muttered throatily, "I've been trying for two days to think of a
way to ask you -- about something -- and -- and I thought of a lot of
different ways to do it. The trouble is that now that the moment's here,
every way I thought of sounds stupid."

"You're trembling, Erin. What is it?"

"For Christ's sake, how can one guy ask another guy to let him make love to
him without sounding gay or something?"

"What guys are you talking about?" he asked with a puzzled blink.

I rapped him on the side of the head. "I'm talking about you and me, damn
it!"

He chuckled and pushed his chair away from the table.

"That would have been my first guess."

He captured my right arm, then, drawing me around carefully, put me upon
his lap.

#

"Erin this is a big step," he said soberly. "I don't think things can ever
be the same if we do it. Are you sure you're ready?"

"No. So don't ask me that question again!"

We sat their quietly for a moment, just looking at one another
thoughtfully. Then Rod said, awkwardly, "I didn't bring -- anything." It
frustrating me a little that he could be so practical at a time when I was
so flurried with emotion.

"I'd have been awfully disappointed if you did," I managed to reply.
Obviously, if Rod had brought a condom it would have meant that I hadn't
surprised him.

"Women! I'd never understand you at all if I hadn't been where you are a
few times myself."

"A few times?"

"A couple times -- once!" he clarified.

"That's better," I said, giving him a hug. "I hope you took the pill that
time. I did. One of Allie's." My face flushing hotly when I made my
confession. Maybe just so that he wouldn't see me blush, I crushed my mouth
against his. This time I barely noticed the texture of his shaven face as
our lips met.

"Have you ever made love to a woman?" I asked.

"Not on Tiresias."

"What the hell --?!"

"Take it easy, Erin, I'm only joking."

"Okay. Okay," I grinned uneasily. "I shouldn't get so up tight."

"No, you shouldn't." He squeezed me again.

"What's up tight is that dress!" Rod observed. "I don't know how you can
breath in it. I don't even remember how I used to breath in outfits like
that."

"I almost can't," I said wryly. "What are we going to do about it?"

"Maybe if you were naked. . . ."

"Mr. Ganners! You don't know what you're leading to!"

"Of course you do. Let me show you!"

He turned me around on his knee. Damn, but as a former woman Rod was good
at undoing eyehooks and zippers a record speed! I let him have his fun, but
then I pulled in the reins, not wanting my scheduled program to be spoiled.
"Whoa!" I said.

"Wait? For what?"

"I want to make it perfect."

"It's a perfect now --"

"Spoken like a man," I remarked. I liked the chagrined look on his face
when I said that.

At that point I pushed away and got up, holding up my unfastened dress to
keep him from getting an eyeful. My unexpected exit into the bathroom
seemed to exasperate my guest. Well, he could chock it up to learning. When
he got home, he -- she -- might appreciate a man's plight better. For
whatever reason, it was always the woman who set the pace and wrote the
meter of romance. I had used to think that this was only because the man
needed the woman more than she needed him. Beggars can't be choosers. But
that could hardly be true with Rod and me. I think now that it's just part
of the baffling dynamics of male and female intimacy.

I returned a few minutes later, fragrant with "Passion in the Dark." I also
had on my little green tunic with its matching hair ribbon. I was hoping to
look glamorous, provocative, sexy, but when I stepped into the room I felt
more like an out-of-sorts and very plucked chicken.

Oh, God, don't let me make a hash of this.

"I don't see any foot-long gray beard," Rod teased even while enjoying the
view.

"Don't remind me," I muttered. "We all say silly things sometimes. I'm
trying to look like a sexpot. How am I doing?"

He came over and placed his hands upon my hips, gazed down into my face.
"You're doing fine, but I'm not sure I want a sexpot."

"You don't? Well, then, I'm a silly goose!"

"No. I think you're wonderful. In fact, I've had fantasies about you
wearing that thing, ever since I saw it at the party."

"Fantasies, huh? Got any others?"

Did he! He kissed me boldly, while running his hands up and down my naked
back, tracing the curvature of my waist and hips through the hardly-there
fabric. I reeled, feeling a little light in the head; rather than let me
collapse, Rob scooped me up and carried me to the bed. It was like I was
weightless; it was the first time that I had felt completely safe in the
company of someone who was much stronger than me.

He placed my head over the pillow and eased me to the mattress. "Whew! We
really got here in record time," I said. "-- I'm actually not that kind of
girl," I added with a twisted smile.

"Neither am I," whispered Rod as he loosened his tie. His shirt was
instantly off. I felt myself tense up. "Relax, Erin. We can stop anytime
you want."

I looked up at his lightly-furred pecs. "Oh, yeh? You'll traipse off to a
cold shower if I say so."

"If I have to."

I reached out and playfully tugged at the dark tufts upon his chest.
"You're too good to be true."

"I am. You're lucky you found me."

"I only had to go to another planet and get a sex-change."

"A piece of cake." He kissed me once more, and now his hands were on me
again. He fondled my breasts at first, then his fingers located the elastic
band of my thong panties and I felt a tugging.

Hey, guy! I just put that on!

I swallowed hard as Rod slipped my briefs down my thighs, across my knees,
along my shins, and over my feet. Despite my wishes to be pliant and
playful, my body felt as stiff as a board.

"Please, Aaron, I love you so much. Calm down. I'd never do anything to
hurt you."

I nodded and closed my eyes. Suddenly, he turned me on my face like I was
an oaken plank. It was a lovemaking position with which I was unfamiliar; I
tell you, I got a little worried. But I shouldn't have; Rod simply wanted
to massage my neck and shoulders.

I needed it. How good it felt. But then I became anxious about the rest of
my agenda, about losing my virginity, and all his efforts to thaw me were
undone.

Hey, what is this? Am I frigid? Get it together, Aaron! My virginity? What
was that? I had lost my virginity when I was seventeen and never looked
back. But now, suddenly, in a different way, both Rod and I had become
virgins again. That was the miracle of this planet. Good old Tiresias!

I savored the massage he was giving me. I had tried to go too far too
quickly, only to discover that I wasn't as ready as I had supposed. I hoped
that my boy friend wouldn't start to think that I was a jerk.

But then I relaxed, melted in fact. No need to fear. Women are never jerks,
no matter how inept they may be when making love. I tried to remember
exactly what I would have wanted a nervous virgin to do when I had been a
man. I decided to let Rod take charge, to lead me through this jungle of
passion at his speed. In fact, he could have done just about anything he
wished at that moment and would have gotten no complaint out of me.

What he did was turn me over, draw my tunic down over my arms until I was
pinioned like a captive bound in a rope of silk, then pressed his face into
my breasts kissing and lip-nibbling them.

Hey, confident guys are fun!

Someone was moaning up a storm in our room, and I realized that it was me.
Rod was laughing softly. I tensed again; had I done something silly? But
when I unclenched my eyelids his face was mild and reassuring. My touch, my
expression, conveyed him the permission to carry on. He moved smoothly to
undress me further, pushing my tunic down to my waist. My arms were free
now, but I kept them close to my sides as he drew his sensitive fingers
along my thighs, across my stomach, and up to my breasts.

What is this? I'm so passive! This guy is playing me like a violin!

He now noticed how my nipples had hardened and were standing right up.
Tears burned my eyes as I realized that my reactions were making me seem
"easy" and not worthy of respect.

But Rod never let on if he thought that. He kissed my lips, as his languid
hands continued to explore my breasts and belly, finally peeling my tunic
away completely. He clutched me close then, but something else intruded,
changing the equation utterly. His maleness was growing hard against my
thigh even while his soft lips played suction cup with mine.

I could hardly breathe, and it wasn't just because Rod's face was covering
my mouth and nose. My heart was racing around like some small animal
trapped inside my rib cage; if I had had a coronary condition it would have
been curtains for me right there. Rod broke away at that moment, but only
to pry off his shoes, kick his trousers down and away, then remove his
socks.

"I always hated when a man didn't undress completely," he explained.

"M-Me, too," I murmured. "I mean --"

"I know what you mean."

He began to ease down the weight of his upper body; he felt heavy,
out-weighing me by at least sixty pounds. I hadn't realized it before, but
my ankles were pressed close together, as if they had been tied. This
didn't suit Rod, so he slipped his fingers between my thighs, teasing them
apart with a light burrowing and twisting motion. I tried to cooperate, but
my pegs had a mind of their own and, before I could unstick them, Rod had
brought in the heavy equipment, working one of his knees between my own. I
swallowed a painful gulp of air; the moment of no return was getting close.

Erin, as a sex kitten you're a washout!

I was as jumpy as a colt. Hadn't intended to be so inept, but --

He kissed me again, but this time pushing the tip of his tongue inside my
mouth. It would have surprised me more, except that this wasn't first time
the big lug had tried that. I pried my teeth apart with an effort and our
mouths began to play together like two wet, warm oysters making love.

I understood that he was bringing me along slowly and carefully, like a
doughboy guiding a blind buddy through no man's land. I guess he knew
something of what I was feeling, because the care he took encouraged me.
But I was still afraid -- afraid that I wasn't very good in the sack and
that I couldn't please him as much as I wanted to.

Rod was nuzzling my neck as his right hand continued to swivel over my
body, finally arriving at the curls between my legs. I shuddered as he
stroked my vaginal lips and a shiver went through me when his fingers edged
close to my clitoris. The next thing I knew, one of them was probing inside
me, working its way deeper, deeper. Gasping, I involuntarily clutched his
sides, my nails biting into his taut flesh. Regardless, Rod moved his
finger up and down, up and down, letting my lubricants moisten me and
slowly overwhelming my anxiety with arousal.

He withdrew his single finger only to replace it with two. I sucked in my
breath sharply and my hips raised all of their own accord, seeking
additional penetration. He withdrew his digits before long and changed
position. His penis now inadvertently dragged over my left thigh,
communicating its great size and hardness.

He was going to do it! But I couldn't let him go all the way! I couldn't --
I --

My skin prickled with a renewed surge of panic. He was about to take
something from me that I could never get back again! Yet I forced myself
calm. I was going to do the same thing to him, of course. We weren't
misusing one another; we were sharing something. But if only the feeling of
such a permanent, unrecoverable change didn't go with it.

I put my hands under Rod's arms, preparing myself for the inevitable, but
unable to keep my eyes from closing. Doubts still nagged at me.

Can I let him do this? Do I dare?

I sensed his fingers guiding the head of his penis to my loins. I
stiffened. What was wrong with me? Why the dread? I had started this
myself! I had wanted it to happen. I tried to find comfort in the memory of
my own feelings when I had held girls the way in which my lover now held
me.

"Erin," Rod whispered, "I love you more than my own life."

I looked up into his eyes, looming so close to mine that I could see my
reflection in them. His words soothed like a balm upon raw flesh. They made
me feel like a person once again, not a piece of meat dangling above a
grinder. I relaxed just a little, then lurched at the feel of his manhood
kissing my fur-covered lips. "Shhhhh," he whispered as he pushed himself
into me. I pressed my head back upon the pillow, groaned, and endured.

What was I? A sausage casing being filled? It was nothing like I had ever
experienced before. Except that it was so strange, it wasn't a bad
sensation, once I made the effort to savor it. The intimacy of it was
incredible. It was like we were merging into one physical being.

Rod wound his way inside me carefully, until something seemed to stop him.

"You have a maidenhead," he mentioned softly.

"Inconvenient," I chuckled somewhat hysterically. But I knew it was my FDA
seal of freshness that was under attack. The thing proclaimed my purity for
all the world to know. Once it was broken, it would not be coming back;
everyone after Rod would know that I was used goods. Everyone else? As if
in a nightmare I suddenly fantasied myself jaded with a slew of lovers. I
saw myself like a jar of coffee, once opened I'd be dipped into again and
again, then finally used up and thrown away. What a fate!

Nonetheless, I braced my heels against the sheets, preparing for General
Patton's breakthrough like a brave soldier on the Siegfried line defending
the bridge at Remagen.

The breakthrough came with little effort required of the mighty general --
except for a slight back-and- forth jarring of his hips. I felt something
letting go with a twinge of pain and he slipped deeper into me -- perhaps
by only an inch, but it felt like a mile. Rod had tight-going after that,
but he went in smoothly, probingly. His weight was full on me now, his
maleness filling me, the total effect being overwhelming. It felt like
being inside a woman as a man, only completely different.

Rod didn't pump me at first; he instead kissed my eyelids, my temples, my
cheeks, and my neck. While he did so I sensed that he was trying hard to
keep his passion under leash and keep me calm. A futile task, for his
lovemaking seemed to give off sparks of fire, my edgy desire being all the
starting fluid they required. I moaned in both misgiving and pleasure. That
I could feel pleasure at all just then astonished me.

Then Rod began to move, slowly at first, causing my breath to quicken and
my heart to beat a wild staccato. I felt his penis grow longer and thicker,
filling me even more, though I'd thought that I had reached my limit. My
nipples' twin erections were so large and hard that they hurt when his
chest bounced lightly upon them. While Rod "took" me he was also caressing
my haunches, sending ripples of rapture up my spine as if it were a
high-conductivity cord. He put his hands under me, raising my hips
slightly, and I unconsciously propped up my knees, allowing him even easier
access into the warm, moist recesses of my body. His thighs slapped
rhythmically against mine as they worked me over. When I took a second to
think about it, I simply couldn't believe what was happening.

How did you get from there to here, Aaron boy?

Rod's thrusts grew stronger, more abandoned, as his primordial male drive
crowded out any civilized desire to be gentle. His organ was like a fire
stick sparking my inner tinder, rasing a heat, forcing me to smolder into
flame. The passion kept building and building, making the tears roll from
my eyes, forcing me to cry out. But for all that I wanted to receive
everything that Rod had to give me. It was like I believed that what was
happening to me would never happen again; because of this, I wanted nothing
to be left to the imagination. It seemed he was purposely not climaxing,
despite his inexperience, but trying instead to drive me into a ever-higher
state of excitement, until finally I quaked and my skin because covered
with perspiration.

As I lay there under him, rattled by his thrusts, my body seemingly cast
off all conscious control, making me just a passenger in it. Then the rush!
Waves of pleasure swept thorough me, like water through a sluice gate, its
sharpness increasing with each surge until I thought I was going to lose my
mind. My legs reared up and locked around Rod's waist, my arms clenched his
neck. My breasts were flattened by his weight and with the pressure with
which I was holding him. My skin had gone all prickly, and my insides
seemed to be ablaze -- hot and soft and oozy -- as though I were melting. I
felt my nails dig into his back, rake across his skin, and when he grunted
I knew it was partly from pain and partly from the pleasure.

Not bad for a couple of virgins.

Suddenly we were both sharing climax. I moaned at the sensation flowing
though me, charging not just my genitals, but every atom of me. Rod groaned
and buried his face in my hair as his spasms overcame him. Warm fluid
gushed into my womb and I clasped his buttocks, holding him flush against
me so that none of it would be spilled.

Then it was all over, except for the afterglow. Rod stilled and became like
dead weight upon me. Then, little by little, he recovered himself and
rolled to the mattress at my side. He did not release his hold on my body,
though, nor did I release my hold on his. Our ragged, wasted breathing,
harsh at first, gradually turned to light sighs as we lay entwined. Rod
looked sleepy though his heart was beating wildly near my ear. Reluctantly,
each of us took our turn in the bathroom, then returned to sleep side by
side.

My tears flowed silently down my cheeks as I realized what I had done, what
I had undergone. My spring-like innocence of the ways of Womanhood had
departed, never to return. It was my summertime now. I was no longer a
virgin field upon which the pioneer only gazes with dreams of conquest; I
had been fenced, plowed, sewn. But would I hereafter know a husbandman's
kindly attentions, or would it be simply slash and burn?

Foul your nest and move West?

Rod fell asleep quickly. The last thing I remember myself was drawing up
the opposite sides of the bedspread that we lay upon, to cover our damp,
nude bodies with it, like with the folding wings of a butterfly.

#

I slept until Rod's movements awakened me in the night. I let him think
that I remained asleep as he got up and went again to the bathroom. So much
to think about. So many impressions to sort out. I was suddenly worried
that Rod would hurt me when he came back, should he realize that I was
awake.

Not a physical hurt; I didn't fear that, of course. But I been rendered so
vulnerable. Irrational thoughts fluttered through the dome of my brain like
moths seeking escape. What if Rod didn't really care? Was it possible that
he had set me up, had brought me along until I had actually believed that
what we had done had been my own idea? One mocking word, a single unkind
sentiment, would burn me like a match set to tissue paper. Poor Allie. How
had she survived after Buck had betrayed her? Could I be so brave and
resilient? Would it be my turn to find out? I wiped away the tickle of a
tear from the corner of my eye.

It was like I had felt the Midas touch and had turned into brittle crystal.
One small act of insensitivity, one deprecating remark, one suggestion that
the miracle which we had shared had been only a physical thing with him,
and I surely would shatter into fragments. But I didn't want silence from
him either. I wanted -- more than anything else -- some word of tender
reassurance. I needed some small token to prove that Rod still respected
me.

Oh, God, how I had changed! I had never worried about these sorts of things
before. They had never been absent from my mind when I had been a man, of
course, but they had only lurked in the background. They seemed so
important now. I realized that hadn't made love because I wanted pleasure
for myself. Just holding Rod's hand gave me pleasure, his hug was bliss, a
kiss from him sent me to Heaven. What I had wanted was to impart to him a
small parting gift. I had wanted to prove my love in a way that he could
take home with him. I had wanted to say, without words, that I understood
that to be loved is to be changed, that I trusted him and wasn't afraid to
be changed by him. I wanted -- Oh, I don't know what all I had wanted! I
had wanted the world; I had wanted nothing. I had wanted to take; I had
wanted to give.

I had wanted to form a bond of understanding that might help our love to
survive in the strangeness of form and role that must overtake us when we
returned to Earth.

Rod was coming back. I clutched at the bedspread, then pretended to sleep.
He paused over me. Somehow he knew that I was awake. I never knew why, but
it was always so hard to fool Rod about anything. He eased himself down
beside me and I could feel the warmth of his moist cheek against mine. When
I realized that he was going to speak, my breathing stopped. What would he
say? I feared that I might misconstrue almost any innocent word that he
might utter and ruin something fine and beautiful.

"Thank you," he whispered.

I opened my eyes, saw the gentleness in his expression and let the two
words sink in. He had said `thank you.' Simply `thank you.' They were
exactly the words that I had needed to hear!

He hadn't intoned them like "Thank you, I've got to be going. Maybe we'll
run into each other again someday." It was more like, "Thank you for
accepting me into your life, into your being. Thank you for becoming a part
of me, and letting me become a part of you."

I nestled closer, my eyes hot and wet with emotion. We clenched hands. His
were so much larger and stronger than mine. I marveled at the gentleness
with which they could touch me. Rod, still smiling, was asleep in moments,
but I lay awake for just a little longer.

It was after midnight, I knew. Later today Rod would be gone -- not just
from the prison, not just from the continent -- but from the planet, the
universe. I could search from pole to pole, ocean to ocean, like Psyche
searching for Eros, and never find him. Even an exploration by rocket ship
would be in vain. Rod would, in a sense, have ceased to exist. Not even a
grave would be left behind for a monument.

I blinked away the dew in my eyes. I'd be left alone with my girl friends,
with the rights association, with the routine of my job -- if I could
manage to hold onto the latter with the management breathing down my neck.
Could these little things fill up the vast canyon of emptiness that Rod's
absence would create in my soul?

Did I love him?

Yes.

Did I love him in that special way, that way which would forever after
leave me incomplete in myself? I didn't yet know. I thought that only time
could prove what kind of love ours was.

Did fashioning a lasting bond take a little longer than our brief
springtime on Tiresias had allowed? Perhaps. Possibly the seed which we had
planted might grow again on Earth, but was that so? Could what we had
nurtured here, under a strange, star-lit sky of an exotic planet, bright
and new, survive in the bleak, cold, decaying world of Twenty-First century
America? I could not say; I could only hope.

What I did know was that loving Rod had changed me. I might again be a man
in a year's time, but I could never again be exactly the same man that I
once had been. I had become someone else, something else; I had taken the
man whom I loved into my bed and poured out my heart to him.. The old
portrait of myself had been painted over with fresh colors, ingenious new
shapes. It might be repainted yet again by future experience, but the
buried colors would always remain as the undercoating, unforgotten and
unforgettable. Some changes are transitory, some are not, I realized.
Living transforms us in ways that only death may eradicate completely.

If even that.

There had been a time when I had thought I could be master of my emotions,
that I could use reason to avoid the folly of others. Now I knew that that
was impossible. Likewise, there had been a time when I had believed that I
might stand along the sidelines of life upon Tiresias, watching, learning,
but not experiencing. That, too, had proven only a dream.

I was no longer sure of what I was, or what I was capable of. But I better
recognized my limitations, my humanity. I knew I could not go through life
wearing detachment and cynicism for a suit of armor. There was no iron in
me. My flesh was soft; my spirit yielding. If injured, my blood would flow
as freely as another's. But worse than any physical hurt might be the hurt
that a heart sustains. I could not care and yet not feel. I could not tread
close to things alluring and sweet without, sometimes, becoming entrapped,
like the fly who steps into a drop of honey. I could not ride the
vicissitude of life like some fearless rodeo star on the back of a bucking
Brahma bull. No matter how desperate my hold upon the reins, occasionally I
must be thrown off. And when I crashed to earth I might lie there injured,
blue with bruises. When my fall came, I hoped that I would be able to
struggle to my feet under my own strength, or, in the absence of such
strength, to have loving friends who might help me to rise.

I had learned a little more about the man -- the person -- that Aaron
Carter was. I had learned that I could not always be brave, nor wise. I
could not always be calm, aloof, and rational. I could not always be
dignified. I could only be that simple, wonderful, multifaceted, but always
human and fallible creature which the inscrutable gods of Tiresias have
decreed that I must be.

A woman.

THE END?

Erin Carter, our beautiful and plucky prison guard, will return
(sometime, I hope) in the projected sequel, Slave Girls of
Tiresias. If you thought that Erin had a hard time standing up to
the piggish Sallys, wait until she has to butt heads with the
woman- mastering barbarians of a new Bronze Age! (If I never
write the story I've sure wasted a lot of foreshadowing!)

Coming up next (in the first part of September, after I get some
distracting commitments out of the way) will be an all-new tg
story with a gangster theme. I call it "Noel." The break should
also give me time to finish an additional story that I've been
working on (between feverishly polishing the rough drafts of
these Tiresias sections) and which I hope the readers of this
newsgroup will find of interest.

The author welcomes the reposting of this story by interested Web
and newsgroup archivists, as long as my name and copyright notice
are fatefully reproduced.


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JULIJANA: Волшебные превращения мужчины в женщину

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